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Diary of a Book Fiend
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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in peterpendragon's LiveJournal:

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Saturday, June 20th, 2009
11:10 pm
Here we go again
I haven't been in one of these moods for a long time ... about 12 years, I think. At least I've been through this movie before. The last time there was actually some question about how it will all end.

The feeling can best be summed up by quoting Joe Bonamassa's song, "If Heartaches Were Nickels":

"If wine and pills were hundred dollar bills
I might keep you satisfied
If broken dreams were limousines
I might take you for a ride
But all I can do is think of you
And wish you were here by my side
If heartaches were nickels
I'd be the richest fool alive."

Since I can't actually say this to the person I'm thinking of, I'm posting it here, just to see it in black and white.

And yes, I do know how this movie ends. Time will pass and I'll get over it, and that's all there is to that.

To quote another, more famous song (by the Doors):

"Realms of bliss, realms of light
Some are born to sweet delight
Some are born to sweet delight
Some are born to the endless night."

You can put that on my tombstone.
Wednesday, March 25th, 2009
4:05 pm
I'm not going anywhere --- not yet, anyway --- but I've moved my journal to a blog at wordpress.com. The idea is to get it networked into Facebook so that more people will read it.

Live Journal is great, but it has a much smaller user base. Also, I've become infected with Facebook-itis and I spend most of my cyber-time there.

So, if you've been reading my posts, you can find me at svetzelspretzels.wordpress.com , or friend me on Facebook if you know my name.

I'll probably visit here to check my friends' posts, but the setup at wordpress looks like more fun.


Sunday, March 22nd, 2009
1:06 pm
I've spent most of the last few days re-reading Isaac Asimov stories. I was only going to read one, but I kept reading "just one more" until I'd gone through the contents of "Earth is Room Enough." I originally read this collection back in 1976 so it's almost like reading them for the first time.

They're dated, they're sometimes corny, characterization is usually nil, and a couple of the short-shorts are downright bad, but they're still enjoyable. Asimov's plain, direct writing style is deceptively smooth. Reading these stories is like eating potato chips, without the calories.

The first Asimov I read must have been Fantastic Voyage, which is not even an Asimov story. It's just a movie tie-in. But he still wrote it. About the same time I read the I, Robot collection and of course, the original Foundation books, which made a big impression.

I re-read Foundation in 1967, but I didn't get around to reading his other works until I was in college, in the mid-70s. I read Foundation for a third time, and then moved on to the other novels like The Currents of Space, Pebble in the Sky, and the End of Eternity, which I read in a single sitting. Then I started on the short story collections.

Later in the mid-90s, I had another Asimov revival, which included reading Foundation for the fourth time. (Along the way Asimov had added three novels to the series, as well as two robot novels, and I read these as they were published.) This time I started reading his mystery stories (which are mostly logic puzzles, as are most of the robot stories), and all three volumes of his autobiography (about 700 pages each). This got me through a rough time.

Like Bradbury, Asimov was one of the literary voices who shaped my thinking. It seems as if he was always there, with his calm, rational, moderate points of view, his clear, lucid explanations of scientific fact, and of course his marvelous stories.

It's too bad there aren't more hard SF writers who can write a clear, understandable story. In fact, I can't think of any, other than Larry Niven, whose work often wanders into the incomprehensible. I still don't understand Neutron Star and I don't particularly care; but at least there's a story. Hard SF writers like Gregory Benford I avoid because 1) I don't understand what they're talking about; and 2) They don't tell a compelling story. Poul Anderson I like when he tells a good story, as in Brain Wave, The High Crusade, the Time Patrol stories, and even his paean to unfettered capitalism, the Polesotechnic League stories. But when he writes something like Tau Zero, I feel I need a thorough grounding in physics to keep up with what's happening. The hard SF content seems to vary in reverse proportion to storytelling ability.

And yet Asimov could make these things clear. In fact he published far more books of explanation (science, history, art, even religion) than he did fiction. But it's his SF that he is remembered for, and for that we can thank the clarity of his prose. Too bad there aren't more people who have that gift.
Tuesday, March 17th, 2009
1:03 pm
Under the skin
Last night I finished reading "Under the Skin" by Michel Faber. It's no stretch to say this was unlike anything else I've ever read. You don't want any spoilers with this one --- the less you know, the better --- but it's the first book I've ever read that could both be described as a literary masterpiece and a great SF novel. Even though it's not marketed as SF. And some people wouldn't describe it that way.

I've already said too much.

Started coming down with a cold yesterday and I'm pretty fuzzy around the edges. I'm going to force myself to go to work because I need the money and I like my job anyway, but I may not put on my best performance today.

I'm sad about the Seattle PI, but I'm sadder that the newspaper business is crumbling nationwide. I'm starting to feel like Captain Kirk's lawyer in the episode "Court Martial", where the attorney is the only guy around who still uses books. This makes me feel old.
Monday, March 9th, 2009
5:46 pm
OK, I just have to say this. Yes, it's silly and possibly mean-spirited. But, just the same:

The name "Gretchen" just bugs me. I can't imagine why anyone would name their daughter thus. It sounds like itchin', scratchin', and bitchin'. Plus there's that grrr.... sound at the beginning, which conjures up certain Teutonic images.

Gretel is a bit better, because it doesn't rhyme with itchin', bitchin', and scratchin'. Still, anyone named Gretel is doomed to suffer a lifetime of idiotic jokes about Hansel and Gretel.

The only reason I mention this is because my dentist is named Gretchen. Today's appointment was possibly the briefest dental visit of my life: I was in and out of the chair in something like twenty minutes. However, Dr. Gretchen used the brute force method to do it.

My previous dentist retired last year after 30 years, so I'm still adjusting. Obviously I don't really care what the dentist's name is, or whether she's as cool as Carol was. As long as the job gets done. But she's not Carol, that's for sure.

I'm just sayin'.
Sunday, March 8th, 2009
4:53 pm
Spring Forward
This is a first for me ...

I actually had no idea we were going to Daylight Time today. I didn't see anything about it in the newspaper. It wasn't until I looked at the on-line New York Times and saw an announcement that I found out.

Of course, they keep moving it around. I can remember when DST didn't kick in until the end of April. More recently, it was the end of March.

Still, it's odd to be caught by surprise like this.

Currently reading: Anna's Book, by Barbara Vine (2x)

On a weightier note ... I don't like to be pessimistic, but the words "recession" and "downturn", which the media and the politicians are careful to use, don't seem to describe what's really going on. I can't ever remember this kind of uncertainty in my lifetime.

I remember being baffled by the famous Merrill Lynch TV commercial, which began airing in 1971. You saw an open plain, somewhere in the Southwest, perhaps. Silence. Then, in the distance, a rumbling. The rumbling grew louder. A herd of bulls appears, thundering across the screen. Once again, the plain is empty. Then the tagline: "Merrill Lynch is bullish on America."

Obviously I wasn't the only one who was puzzled by this. In 1980 there was a Saturday Night Live prime-time special that spoofed this ad, with Chevy Chase intoning: "Merrill Lunch: we don't know what 'bullish on' means, either."

Well, by 1980 I knew what it meant. But now Merrill Lynch is gone. And no one seems to be bullish on America, or anywhere else in the capitalist world.

Hopefully things will get better, but my prediction is that it will take a couple of years, and even then it won't be the same. Eventually there will be some hot new idea or invention that will give rise to new industries, but a lot of the old ones are on the way out (newspapers, for example).
Friday, March 6th, 2009
12:46 pm
Currently reading: "The Third Deadly Sin", by Lawrence Sanders (2x)

Having *finally* waded through T. C. Boyle's infinitely dense "The Women", it's nice to read something with pacing, for a change. Sanders is known as a bestselling pop novelist which causes people to take his work less seriously. However, it's my opinion that unlike the vast majority of thriller/suspense/police fiction, Sanders was a true genius. Pacing alone won't make a book readable for me anymore: weak, cookie-cutter prose intrudes so prominently on my attention that it destroys whatever pacing there may be.

But Sanders is several cuts above. His wry, sometimes stylized prose has a rich flavor all his own. Sometimes dramatic, often satirical, he's able to keep a story moving at a breakneck pace, with clear but vivid language. He will never be treated as a "literary writer", but that, in my opinion, is a mistake. In his own way, he's as sophisticated as Ruth Rendell, if more antic and satirical.
Saturday, February 28th, 2009
11:22 am
Almost There...
After two long weeks reading T. C. Boyle's "The Women", the home stretch is in sight. I have reached page 380; only 70 pages to go.

It hasn't been all bad. While the book is never totally compelling, it's not junk-lit like James Patterson, for example. But usually, when a book takes me longer than a week to read, it's because it's not gripping. My mind keeps wandering and I keep setting it down and taking naps.

My meeting with Mr. Boyle was very enjoyable, however. He is a very entertaining speaker and genuinely enjoys meeting the public. He mentioned that he'd been reading a lot of Nabokov and that Pnin was his favorite Nabokov novel. So when I asked him to sign my copy of the book, I explained that my father was the model for the character Pnin, and told him the story of my Dad and Nabokov in the elevator ("Ve are all Pnins!"). Boyle was very impressed. I had him sign the book, "to Pnin's son."

Hey, I loved his other 11 novels. Just not crazy about this one.
Sunday, February 22nd, 2009
3:45 pm
Dog Day Afternoon
I spoke with a professional trainer today, who says he can housetrain older dogs. He doesn't guarantee success, of course, but he's charging a reasonable price and has some suggestions that make sense, so we made an appointment for next Friday.

It took me a while to get this far, because every time I think about giving my dogs away, I get very upset and want to cry. It will take me a while to work through this.
Tuesday, February 17th, 2009
9:12 pm
Writer's Block: Dream Trip
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?

9:06 pm
I had another one of my "Ohmigod I can't possibly go to Korea" mornings, followed later this afternoon by an "Of course I'm going" mood. I contacted another recruiter because they have a great web site that answers almost every question you could think of, in detail. The guy I've been working with may be legitimate, but he's probably just working on his own, which means he'll do whatever it takes to get the commission.

Of course, the really profound questions have yet to be answered. Is there Starbucks in Korea? If not, is there decent coffee of any kind? Will iTunes work? I'm pretty sure the free episodes of network TV shows won't work over there, but iTunes would be a fallback position. What are the grocery stores like? Full of vegetables, I suppose...

Being that there are Burger Kings and McDonalds in Cádiz, Spain (a fairly small town), I wouldn't be surprised if they have them in Korea, at least in Seoul, Pusan, Incheon, and the other large cities. Not that I *want* fast food, you understand: I just don't know how to cook. Hopefully they have noodle bars, as shown in Blade Runner.

I looked at some Shih Tzu Rescue sites earlier this morning, and started crying. Later for that...
Monday, February 16th, 2009
8:44 pm
Quick Update
The new T. C. Boyle novel has become more readable --- or perhaps I adjusted my attitude.

Boyle is one terrific writer, but he does have his faults. One of them is a tendency to show off by writing very lengthy sentences that should be spaghetti code, but manage not to be. Clause tumbles upon clause in a cascading waterfall of prepositions, conjunctions, and paranthetical asides, cramming so much information into one breathless, hyperventilating sentence that the reader is sometimes left panting for breath, and is forced to return to the beginning for another go, just to make sure that he/she hasn't missed anything.

Boyle gets away with this most of the time because he doesn't make mistakes. But ... he's a show-off. And when his storyline is anything less than riveting --- as is the case in "The Women" --- these sentences-on-steroids can be a distraction.

I'm all for maximalism when it works.

I'm still planning on seeing him Wednesday night in U. Village. I last saw him in 2000 and he was at least as entertaining as one of his books. I promise to be polite. After all, I'm hardly the sort of person to go to an author reading and say, "Why aren't you writing exactly the way you used to?"
Sunday, February 15th, 2009
3:36 pm
Don't you hate it when...
...one of your favorite authors comes out with a new book, and you're looking forward to reading it, and ...
50 pages in, you realize you're bored and would really rather be reading something else.

You feel obligated to keep going because you've always loved this person's work, but you also know that if you hadn't read this author before, the book would have already been set aside.

Unfortunately I am not getting more patient as I get older, at least, not with books. This is why it's virtually certain I will never read Moby Dick, for example. 19th Century literature usually takes a lot of patience. I like the clarity and brevity of modern fiction.

T. C. Boyle's new novel is (50 pages in) something of a slog. He's trying something different here, and I'm not sure it's working. But because I've been a huge Boyle fan for more than ten years, and have read all 11 of his previous novels and all seven of his short story collections ... I feel like I can't just give up, at least not yet.

He's going to be in town this Wednesday, so maybe I'll just go ask him if the book is going to get any better anytime soon.

I'll let him autograph the book before I ask him that.
Friday, February 13th, 2009
2:24 pm
The Land That Time Forgot
Here's the web site for the Korean City of Goseong-gun, the Land of Dinosaurs.


Take a look:

2:11 pm
Currently reading: "The Women" by T. C. Boyle

I just talked to a woman (in Burnaby, B.C.) representing a school in a small town in Korea. It's a government run school, and they've never have a native speaker teach before (or maybe they don't have one now; her accent was occasionally hard to understand.

I'm certainly not going to dismiss anything out of hand, but a rural posting doesn't sound ideal for me. My TESL teacher said there is better medical care in the bigger cities, including some facilities run by the U.S. military. On the other hand, it might be quieter; most of the cities in Korea are very noisy, according to the information I've read. Also, it's an elementary school. I have a hard time seeing myself working with kids, but hey, they're people too. I'm not much of a disciplinarian, but Korean children probably aren't as difficult as American kids.

It looks like I'm leaning pretty strongly towards going. Cassandra is pressing ahead with her plans to remodel my house; the other day she got a bit put out with me because I didn't want her contractor coming over at the crack of dawn. She started to complain about "frittering away the day" and I pointed out that, as busy as she always is, she can find something to do for two frickin' hours.

I suppose I should be glad that she's offering to do this, but she definitely wants something in return. It's not an act of unselfish generosity.

A brief note on the stimulus package: probably too little to keep things from getting worse; parts of it will help a bit. As for the bailout, the first half didn't work, so why should the second half be any different? Failing banks should be nationalized, and once the bad debts are cleared up the banks can be broken up into smaller pieces and sold back to the private sector. I've had enough with this "too big to fail" nonsense. Too big? Make them smaller.
Thursday, February 12th, 2009
1:59 pm
I've been having trouble with Facebook for a week now. Most of the time I couldn't get on, and Internet Explorer would then lock up and have to be taken down. When I did get on, I usually got the same Explorer crash after a few minutes.

So, I decided to try Mozilla Firefox. I downloaded it and set it up in less than ten minutes. And yes, it solved the problem. Not only that, but it's light-year FAST. I don't know if my Explorer is so encrusted with add-ons and plug-ins, or whether there's some other issue, but on a five-year-old computer I'm used to most things taking a little time, broadband or not.

But Firefox is FAST.

So far, I can't really find anything to complain about here ... if this continues I'll probably never look at Internet Explorer again.
Sunday, February 8th, 2009
6:43 pm
Seouldad Brother
I am bifurcating into two people:

One says, "Me? Go to Korea? You have to be joking! OF COURSE I can't do something like that. Don't be absurd!"

The other says, "Hey, ho! Let's go!"

I talked to my teacher from the TESL certification course I took in 2007. She taught in Seoul for a year or so, and we had an interesting chat about her experience. She had a really good time; but of course she was something like 25 or 26.

It seems like it would have been much easier to do it when I was younger, because I was in better physical condition; but actually I was much more chickensh** in 1977 than I am now. Back then I wouldn't have remotely considered going overseas for a year. I was in that stupid cult and thought I had to stay here in Seattle because I had responsibilities. Also, I had a girlfriend, and got married in 1978.

In any case, the idea of teaching never even crossed my mind. Never even occurred to me. I was so brainwashed into thinking that I didn't have to plan for my future and that the cult would figure it all out for me. It was very sobering when I graduated from college and realized that I would, indeed, have to figure it out for myself. And it took me thirty years.

I got out of the cult in 1979; once I started working full-time I completely lost interest in all those late-night activities. When I was in college and could get away with skipping morning classes half the time, it was a different story.

(If you don't get the Seouldad Brother reference, there was a famous black radical activist named George Jackson who, while incarcerated in Soledad Prison in California, wrote a book called Soledad Brother. "Soledad" is Spanish for solitude or loneliness.)

Currently reading: Collision Course by Barrington J. Bayley (previously read in 1976 or 1977)
10:40 am
Bridge of Sighs
I finished reading "Bridge of Sighs" by Richard Russo last night, and I have to say it's one of the best books I've ever read. This one was truly difficult to put down. One of the tests of great fiction is whether it makes you think about the characters as if they are real people, and the characters in this novel are so three-dimensional as to be palpable. You can feel them and taste them, and (in some cases) smell them.

While not as tightly plotted, or as humorous, as his Pulizer Prize-winning "Empire Falls", I actually found this one more engrossing and compelling. I think more people will prefer "Empire Falls", but in "Bridge of Sighs" Russo evokes unique people in the most pedestrian setting imaginable, and makes their stories vibrate.

I was somewhat disappointed in the ending, which starts to drag a bit in the final seventy pages; this leads me to speculate that perhaps it could have been edited down, but only perhaps some 20 pages out of 640. I'm more inclined to think that I didn't understand exactly what the author wanted to do, and this is thought-provoking. He does introduce a new character at the very end whose impact on the story is unclear to me ... but I'll give it some more thought.

This is modern English language fiction at its finest: real writing, real characters, real insights into human life. There's a richness in literary fiction that's almost impossible to find in SF or mystery/thriller genres, where the emphasis is either on plot or ideas. Most fantasy, for example, features types, not characters. There was a real movement in SF in the 70s and beyond to counteract this, but I don't think it really got anywhere.

If you haven't read Richard Russo, you might want to start with "Empire Falls" instead, as it's more conventionally plotted and has more humor and suspense. But for me, "Bridge of Sighs" is a masterpiece.
Wednesday, February 4th, 2009
8:05 pm
As some of my friends now, I have been thinking about going to Korea to teach for a year.

I am flip-flopping about this worse than any politician; but when the recruiter called me tonight and said he'd found a school that had an opening in May, I said, "Sure!"

Well, I couldn't really say, "Nah, let me think about it." If this guy thinks I'm not serious, he's not going to spend any time on me. I can always tell him I have too many health problems if I decide not to go.

To me this is like jumping off a cliff. So when somebody says, "When do you want to jump?" it's a bit difficult for me to give a coherent response.

Basically it seems like a great idea, except that my health is mediocre and hauling my prematurely aging carcass halfway across the world is a bit of a challenge. Also, I have to find homes my two dogs, which is really, really, hard.

Still, I have to start thinking seriously about making money at some point. If I wind up living another ten to fifteen years I'm going to need it. I think I only need another 10 years to qualify for Medicare, but a lot could happen in that time.
Monday, February 2nd, 2009
4:45 pm
Dogs Are Crazy
At least, my dogs are going crazy in their dotage.

Molly, having recovered from her recent illness, actually has the energy of a puppy. At the wrong times.

Molly hardly ever barks. Nor, in 12 years, has she ever woken me up.

Until two weeks ago, when she woke me out of a sound sleep with frantic barking. I thought the house was on fire or something. No, it turns out that she was barking at her life partner, Beau, to give up his usual place on the couch. In times past, one simple yap from Molly would inspire Beau to move; but now that he's old and crotchety, he ignores her. He doesn't even appear to wake up.

This is what I figured out when Molly woke me up at 2:00 a.m. this morning. Previously I thought she was getting impatient for her breakfast, but maybe she's just piqued that Beau won't instantly obey her commands.

Of course once I was up, she was leaping about the room, suggesting that she be fed. I gave her a treat and went back to bed, deciding to have her shot at sunrise. Fortunately for her I went back to sleep and woke up in a somewhat better mood ... besides, she's way to cute to shoot. She's so cute, you can't even really yell at her. And she uses that.

Beau, for his part, has taken to making annoying noises after being fed. As far as I can tell, he's doing the Oliver Twist routine, without the "Please, sir." The poor guy lost most of his eyesight last year, and it seems that he's lost even more now. Still, he finds his way to the supper dish immediately it's put on the floor.

On the package for the dog treats I usually buy it says, "Dogs go crazy for ....!" To which my response is: Dogs already ARE crazy.
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