30 September 2008

Bird on a Bottle

The Famous Grouse is a well-known blended whisky from Scotland, having been made in Perthshire for over 100 years. Me, I can't resist a bird on the label. I'm a big fan of Wild Turkey, and the Irish malt named for a robin, Redbreast. So it was only natural I would come to The Famous Grouse. The Glenturret distillery in Crieff is the source of the whisky, and the blend includes Macallan and Highland Park as well. It is a very smooth and approachable drink, but with a full flavor, so I suppose its popularity is understandable. Sometimes the choices are daunting--where does one start when looking for a good dram? I've discovered over the years that they all have something to like about them. The Famous Grouse hooked me with its cool label. I suppose that's as good a reason as any to pull something off a shelf.

27 September 2008

The M.A.X.

Rarely have I read a book so bloody fookin' funny as Ken Bruen and Jason Starr's third installment of the "Max Fisher" novels, The M.A.X. Now, Donald E. Westlake is one of the genre's masters, and a very funny fellow. I'm a huge fan and admirer of his noir stuff and his comic stuff. What sets Messrs. Starr & Bruen apart is their willingness to stand knee deep a gutter of shit, blood and depravity and find genuine mirth in the circumstances. Bursting out loud with uncontrollable giggling is a rare event for me when reading, especially when reading noir and the other sorts of crime fiction I enjoy. Trust me, it is a regular occurrence with Max Fisher and His Gang of Losers. Without revealing too much, a fourth book in the series is not impossible, considering the way this one ended. Do yourself a favor--grab hold of Bust and Slide, the first two novels in the set. When you get to know Max Fisher, the protagonist of both, and the Most Fatuous Douchebag of all time, you'll be hooked.

22 September 2008


I looked outside early this cool (40 Fahrenheit!) morning and the moon--at Last Quarter--was nearly overhead. The morning twilight obscured the nearby stars, but my Sky Calendar says they would have been Castor and Pollux, the twins of Gemini. Today is the AUTUMNAL EQUINOX. "Autumnal" is a lovely word, eh? My authority for such matters is the venerable United Stated Naval Observatory, and their Earth's Seasons page. According to the site, the Autumnal Equinox begins today at 15h 44m Universal Time. For Pacific Daylight Time, subtract seven hours--thus the equinox occurs for me at 8:44 a.m. My reference to UT means Coordinated Universal Time, that is the time kept by cesium clocks and referenced to the Greenwich Meridian (zero degrees longitude). "True" Universal Time, called "UT1" by astronomers and navigators, is a direct measurement of the the sun's position or "hour angle." Clocks, of course, are human devices, and do not account for the vagaries of nature (q.v. UT). The earth and sun move merrily on their own ways despite how we describe, measure, and catalog them. Speaking of moving--I'd better. The clock at work ticks inexorably, like they all do. Wouldn't do for the teacher to be late.

10 September 2008

Desert noir

Edward Abbey's Fire on the Mountain is not really noir. Tragedy is a more suitable descriptor. It is a single, simple story with dramatic power, evoking fear and pity. Moreover, it meets Aristotle's demand that tragedy must have both lexis and melos (diction and melody). Mr. Abbey is well-known for his beautiful prose, in particular his descriptions of the American Southwest. It is unfortunate that his most famous book, The Monkeywrench Gang, bears little resemblance to his other work. That book is a potboiler, a comic romp, with a cast of characters that fall somewhere between the A-Team and The Merry Pranksters. The constant Abbey themes are there--rebellion against authority, the struggle for individualism in a mass-produced world, and the loss of our connection to nature and wildness--but the humorous tone, for me, borders on silly. I much prefer the dark, sardonic power of Good News, for example. Plus, like a good work of noir fiction, it is short. Terse, tense, well-paced, no wasted words, that is where Abbey shines. I think you will find the lesser-known novels far more rewarding. I read his seminal non-fiction book Desert Solitaire in college, and it had a profound impact on my life and thinking. I think anyone who loves our wild country should start there. Warning: you won't see the world the same way afterwards.

07 September 2008

Noir and not noir

Jordan Fisher Smith's Nature Noir is a fine read. But it is not noir. Mr. Smith was a ranger in California, working the American River country. His intriguing memoir is filled with law enforcement stories, something perhaps most folks don't associate with rangering. If you spend any time in State Parks, National Recreation Areas, and the like, you see guys in Broncos and pickups with guns and badges. Public spaces have cops--even outdoor public spaces. So although the writing is good, and the stories of drugs, destruction, and death are interesting, they don't shock or surprise me. They sound like the stories you read about in your local paper. The descriptions of the natural settings are superb however, Smith has a keen naturalist's eye and a poetic pen. You learn a lot about the profession, and get a bit of "police procedural" as well. In the end, the convoluted decades-long story of the proposed Auburn Dam, and the land it may still some day inundate, is the center of it all. I put the book down thinking I'd gained an appreciation for a place I didn't know, and a better understanding of how we--the people--shape the fate of our public lands.

So what qualifies as noir then? I don't think events or subject matter constitute noir, necessarily. Tone, voice, style, attitude, outlook, sub-text--these are the the key elements. I don't recall anyone classifying S.E. Hinton as noir, but having just finished That Was Then, This Is Now, I think I can make a case for it. Ms. Hinton doesn't waste words, creating fully-fleshed out characters in a few paragraphs. These characters inhabit the edge of society, on the borderline between Main Street and Skid Row. They get caught up in conflicts of love and loyalty that result in violence and death. They are forced to make decisions that tear their very worlds apart, and suffer the tragic consequences. Just because these folks are teenagers and the books are marketed as "young adult" fiction does not mean they aren't noir. I love Hinton's terse style and brisk pacing, and her sympathetic portrayals of mixed-up juvenile delinquents, oddballs, and regular joes struggling to get ahead in life. I spend a lot of time around teenagers (I'm a HS teacher), and I can tell you that the last thing I want to read about is adolescent angst and coming-of-age sturm und drang. But the writing is too good to put down.

06 September 2008

Back to Barry

I don't like Buzz Bissinger. I saw him make an ass of himself on TV with the always-fatuous Bob Costas and a seemingly-bewildered Will Leitch (formerly of "Deadspin") having a discussion of the merits of blogging. Suffice to say Mr. Bissinger was one ill-informed and ill-mannered dude. That, of course, does not take away from his considerable accomplishments as a writer. And he's written a fine piece for the NY Times ( link ) about our Beloved and Beleaguered Erstwhile Giant and Home Run King, Barry Lamar Bonds. It is too bad it took the blackballing of the greatest player of all time for media types to see that their "piling on" had gone too far and for far too long. The Feds chasing Barry have always had the tacit or even outspoken approval of the mainstream sportswriters and their employers. Now they are finding out what a bad taste their silly biases have left in their mouths, and are doing a little something to make up for it. Too bad it is too little, too late. But it is something. For that, thanks Buzz.

01 September 2008

Didn't make the cut

My story did not get picked for OOTG5. I have been fortuntate working with that magazine and editor Matt Louis. I've had two stories published ("Tweaker" in OOTG2 and "Lonnie's Ride" in OOTG4). This time my stuff did not make the grade. I'm a big boy. Time to get to work on new stuff. Looking forward to reading OOTG5--always inspiring.

My Blogger experience this weekend has been terrible. I cannot use my wysiwyg editor! And I cannot see my entire blog page in layout mode, nor work on all the components! Something is wrong, I hope Blogger gets it together. Otherwise I'll have to do something. The whole reason I use Blogger is that it requires very little from me but input. The software and my interface has always been easy and fairly seamless. We'll see. In the meantime I'd best do some net-crawling and see if I learn anything.