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Ice + Trees = Sad Trees

My parents lost a tree during Friday's ice storm, it fell in three pieces. Luckily, there was no damage, it could have taken down power lines, fallen on the garage, or damaged my father's truck. Now there is little left of it aside from the trunk and a couple of scrawny branches. Pictures behind the cut.

Sad TreesCollapse )

Best Books of 2008

Whenever I'm experiencing LJ-related writers block, I post a list. And the end of the year is ideal time for a list. So here are my picks for the Best Books of 2008. That being said, few books on this list were actually published in 2008.

Heart-Shaped Box ~ Joe Hill
This book is simply a great ghost story, set in modern times and seen through the eyes of a Gen X guitar hero, and it still manages the atmospheric spookiness of old times ghost stories. I hope Joe graces us with more of his amazing writing. It would be hard to be as prolific as his father (Stephen King) but even if he manages half the library SK has given us, I'll be excited about it.

A Simple Plan ~ Scott Smith
This is one of those books that will haunt me for a long time. I found myself talking to the main character, whispering "Don't do it" even though I knew he would. It's a story of the destructiveness of greed, and in this story the destruction is devastating and concussive, like a high speed train wreck.

The Ruins ~ Scott Smith
It's really too bad that Scott Smith only wrote two books, because they are both so good. He seems to specialize in the horror that people will inflict on themselves and others when placed in extraordinary circumstances. This circumstance happens to be a sentient killer plant.

Candy Girl ~ Diablo Cody
I read this in a day, it's a fun and easy read about her time as a stripper. It doesn't get to heavy with judgments about the work, the humor of the book is the real winner here.

The Audacity of Hope ~ Barack Obama
I want to put this in a little perspective. I read this in February, before the economy really started going downhill. At the time, it was clear we were in for a slowdown, but no one was talking about just how bad it could get. At that time, I read it and thought that if Obama became president, we might be comparing him to FDR, more than JFK. It's because Obama spends so much time talking about the New Deal, and the reasons why that worked. With what is happening now, his talk about the New Deal seems even more prescient. Overall, it's an uplifting read that makes me excited about having someone in the White House that knows how to put a sentence together.

Duma Key ~ Stephen King
It's not his best, but not his worst either. What the story lacks in action or tension it makes up in character and setting. And it's Stephen King, so let's face it. I'm a little biased.

Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt ~ Anne Rice
I'm not exactly a Jesus freak, but I appreciated this story. It starts out following a seven year old Jesus on his return to Nazareth after exile in Egypt. It's not usually the story you get to hear, everyone hears about baby Jesus and adult Jesus. You rarely hear about kid Jesus. The different perspective is refreshing, as is the adherence to scripture. For those without the wherewithal to read the Bible (myself included), this is a good way to get to know the historical Jesus.

Midnight's Children ~ Salman Rushdie
This should really be an honorable mention, as I'm still reading the book. I'm loving the images the book evokes, India is shown as both opulent and squalid at the same time. I wish I could say more about it, but it feels like I've only just gotten into the story.

Ron Jeremy: The Hardest (Working) Man in Showbiz ~ Ron Jeremy
This is another fun one, from sex tips to an inside view to the workings of the porn industry.

Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations ~ Craig Nelson
Thomas Paine wrote Common Sense, arguing the case for American Independence from the British. He inspired Benjamin Franklin and went on to have a hand in the French Revolution as well. This is a fascinating book, and really got me interested in the ideals behind the Revolution.

The Shack

The Shack has been on the bestseller lists for ages, it’s been reviewed almost 2000 times on Amazon.com. The reviews are mostly glowing, giving five stars and using words like “amazing, beautiful, life-changing, inspiring, great, engrossing”. It leaves me wondering if the legions of people who have read and loved this book have ever read a book before. And the negative reviews all have to do with the theology. There are plenty of people out there who have given the book only one star because they disagree with the theology. The theology itself was what interested me in the book; a new-age, alternate look at the message of Christianity. I never got to the theology however, I stopped five pages short of the moment God actually appears. Because I just couldn’t take it anymore. I’ll admit that I analyze everything I read. I took a course in college called “Intro to Literary Criticism” which changed the way I read books and watch movies. I’m always measuring what I read against the yardstick of good fiction. The best books are the ones that quiet my inner analyst and let me put down my mental red pen and just enjoy. When reading The Shack there was not a second when I could put down that mental red pen, not only could I not put it down, it was constantly in motion.

The first thing I learned when I started writing, the seminal rule of good fiction, is “show, don’t tell”. It is a constantly repeated mantra in every writing book I’ve read and every writing course I’ve taken. There is a reason for it, it’s not just something that someone pulled out of the air. Here’s why. It’s not enough to tell your reader that there is a spooky house on the hill. You have to show your reader why it’s spooky. What does it look like, why is it scary? Did something happen there that makes people afraid? The best writing will not only make the reader know and understand why the house is spooky, they will be spooked themselves. They will feel like they are walking down the street with your character, quickening his step a little so as to get away from this house looming dark and foreboding over him. What happens when you break this rule is that the writing is dry and uninteresting, there is no connection to the characters or the places or the action. At first I felt like I should push through The Shack as a learning experience. Reading like a writer means that you read the bad stuff as well as the good and use it to improve your own writing. And certainly I did learn from the 75 pages that I read. The writer not only breaks the “show, don’t tell” rule, he beats it into the ground with merciless frenzy. The book reads like a term paper or a screen play, one where the writer is trying his best to rush to the next scene. And certainly this writer has a lot of back story he needs to establish to get to the main point of his story: God. The result is bland and fast-paced. Many reviewers did mention it was a page turner. Here I don’t think the pace is a good thing. The writer loses out on some big opportunities to establish his characters and connect to the reader by quickly moving through the action.

Research is certainly lacking here too. If you are going to have a member of the FBI appear or if there is going to be a police investigation, you should know how crime scene investigation works. Anyone who has read mysteries or watched Law & Order is going to see through you in a second if you are just making shit up. And it’s very clear that this writer has not done a lick of research. There is no excuse for this. In the internet age, research is about as easy as typing www.google.com (or clicking on that link I handily provided).

The scary thing about the 75 pages that I read is that if the writer had taken a couple of creative writing courses and followed the “show, don’t tell” rule, those 75 pages could easily be 300. He is trying to pack that much back story into what is supposed to be a spiritual message, an allegory about God. He really should have cut most of that out, for a short book (248 pages) there is no excuse for doing that. And in the end it would have left him more room to express his message. That 75 pages I did slog through was a tough slog indeed. I’m glad I didn’t spend money on the book, I borrowed it from my dad. At that I didn’t put it down after 30 pages because I felt an obligation to read it because my dad had liked it and loaned it to me. I have too many unread, potentially good books sitting on my shelf waiting to be read to waste my time on this. Ars longa, vita brevis. Art is long, life is short.
I've done a lot of time wasting today, so I figured I would load some of the pictures I've taken around the house (almost all are of Seri) onto flickr. So here I am sharing them on LJ, as always. You'll find them behind the cut.

In other news, my parents got a Wii. It's been in their house for a week and Michelle has been the only one to play it. I'll be going up there in a little while to change that.

Cute KittyCollapse )

I voted!

It's hard not to get excited today. There are so many aspects of this election that make it a historic event, and to be part of a history making day is a great feeling. I don't know how late I will be staying up to watch the results, but I'm going to give it a shot. I walked to my polling place today, which was as good a feeling as voting itself. Not only that I would walk roughly half a mile round trip without getting winded, but that I avoided burning some gas and putting some pollutants into the air.

I hope that everyone went out to vote today, and didn't have to wait in line. I waited maybe two minutes in a line 4 people long.

How Not to Write a Novel

  • Watch Dancing with the Stars
  • Watch House
  • Wait to go to the gym until after Family Guy is over (even though you've already seen the episode three times), so that by the time you get back it will be too late to get any writing done
  • Worry about your cat's health without actually making any decisions about what to do (it also helps to feel guilty about thinking about your novel when your cat is having health problems)
  • Create a sountrack for your novel (soundtrack listing after the cut, subject to change)
  • Download music for your already overfull iPod
  • Spend time on the weekend (ideal writing time) screwing around on the internet
  • Jam your Google Reader so full of stuff you only have a marginal interest in reading so that it takes about 30 minutes a day to clear it all out
  • Two words: Perez Hilton
  • Grow your hair so long it takes 20 minutes a day to contend with it
  • Play Guitar Hero (it's important to replay songs you've already played 10 times at the same difficulty level that you've already played 10 times)
  • Get interested in politics (the ultimate time-waster)
  • Bake cookies, even though you are on a diet
  • Perfect your Sarah Palin impression even though you don't have any Halloween plans (you betcha)
  • Decide that you really need to re-read everything you've written before writing anymore, and follow the above reccomendation to ensure you don't have time to get that reading done

November is National Novel Writing Month. If you don't wish to participate, see the list above.

SoundtrackCollapse )

Leaf Peeping

In lieu of my trip to Salem, which I canceled due to Seri's illness, Mom and I went to Hunter Mountain to check out the fall colors. It was a little overcast, so the pictures weren't that spectacular. There seems to be a constant haze over the mountains in all of them. We also checked out a small set of falls at the opening to the trail to Kaaterskill Falls. We didn't brave the trail as sunset was approaching and the half mile trail went straight up into rocky terrain. It's an area I would definitely like to explore some more. There is a two mile hike to where we were on Hunter Mountain to the summit, where a fire tower is available for some spectacular views. I would love to hike that, however I will probably have to wait till spring, as the Skyride (ski lift with a fancy name and $7 price tag) is only open until the 19th, when snow making will most likely begin. When we were up there all the snow making equipment was out and prepped for the start of the season. I've included a picture of the Skyride, which doesn't do it justice. I dreaded the trip up, I dreaded the trip down. I kept my eyes closed most of the time. It was my dumbass idea to get on that thing, and I was scared shitless the whole time. If you check out the picture (behind the cut, with a few others) you'll notice the cables dip down dramatically towards the right side of the picture. The entire trip down the mountain was like that, a stomach churning drop down the side of the mountain. It was on the trip down that they stopped the lift for a few moments. My exact words were "Oh, sweet Jesus."

Peak at the PeakCollapse )

Meme Stealing

I figured while I was waiting for my photos (I took another large batch at Hunter Mountain on Monday) to load onto flickr, I would steal a meme from Carin. I decided to change it up a little bit, because that's the way I roll.

1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
2) Italicize those you intend to read.
3) Colorize (RED) the books you love.
4) Asterisk (*) the books you have no intention of ever reading, or were forced to read at school and hated

Sharon's Amendments:
5)Colorize in blue the books you've started to read and haven't finished.
6)Underline books you've read voluntarily (i.e. - not at school) and hated

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte*
4 The Harry Potter Series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman*
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Romeo and Juliet - William Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien*
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
37 Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
38 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
39 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
40 Animal Farm - George Orwell
41 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
42 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
43 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
44 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
45 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
46 Far From the Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
47 The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
48 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
49 Atonement - Ian McEwan*
50 The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon
60 Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On the Road - Jack Kerouac*
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte's Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet in Heaven - Mitch Albom*
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Pork Barrel Parity

In the Economic bailout bill which was signed into law on Friday includes a bit of legislation that surprised me. I’ll talk a little about why it surprise me later, first let me tell you what it was. The bill included a mental health “parity” law, which means that mental illness must be covered the same way as any other illness. If any of you out there have ever checked out your mental health coverage, you may notice it is different than your regular coverage. Co-pays and deductibles are probably higher, the annual or lifetime maximums are lower, and there may be a visit max that you don’t have on your medical policy. The parity law will ensure that employers adjust their benefit plans to cover mental illness without these differences. Many states have already enacted parity laws, New York recently enacted “Timothy’s Law”, named for a 12 year old Schenectady boy who committed suicide after a prolonged battle with mental illness. The dis-parity in the way mental illness is covered is discriminatory, and I’m glad it has come to an end.

Let’s talk about why it surprised me that this was in the Economic bailout bill. I know all about Washington’s famous pork barrel, it’s no surprise that there is plenty of pork in this bill. However it surprises me that a law that would make health care more costly for employers is included in a plan meant to save the economy from collapse. In many cases, the money that is paid to providers comes from your employer, and not from the insurance company. Your employer will need to find a way to pay that extra coverage that the law now mandates. If your plan is insurance funded (this usually is limited to HMO’s), then premiums will be going up to accommodate the extra coverage. Coming at a time when employers are struggling with the credit crunch, many businesses are highly dependent on the constant flow of credit to keep afloat, will put just another stress on business. On the other hand, it is stress taken off those people that this bill was meant to assist. The people that have been hurt by the dis-parity in mental health coverage will now have more money to spend and more treatment to help them recover from their illnesses. What worries me is that the parity law does not require employers to cover mental illness, simply that it be treated the same if it is covered. Which means employers may choose to cut mental health coverage if this becomes too much of a hardship. That may not happen however; there has been much attention paid lately to the connection between mental health and physical health, and much attention paid to the added productivity an employer can get out of a happy, healthy employee.

This add-on to the bailout made me wonder what else might be in there.

  • Tax breaks for makers of wooden arrows (Sec. 503)
  • Tax breaks for film makers who chose to make movies within the U.S. (Sec. 502)
  • Federal tax deductions for residents of states that don't pay a state income tax (Sec. 201)
  • Some incomprehensible crap about race tracks (Sec. 317)
  • Some equally incomprehensible crap about the excise tax on rum (Sec. 308)