The Writer's Life: Film & Book Reviews, Observations, and Stories
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Posts from — March 2009

Oh Ezra

We looked around the castle where you lived,
And found nothing of you there, save your things,
Dusty objects now several decades old,
Though it was easy to imagine how beautiful it was
In summer when alpine flowers bloomed
And water trickled from sluices to rows of vines,
As cries of birds and insects
Carried on the wind, and workers with mellifluous voices
Shouted to the gods–while you, Ezra,
Locked inside your head,
Stopping up your ears with candle wax,
Ignoring meter, rhyme, and sense,
With barely a heartbeat or footfall,
Wrote that awful verse–and I wondered, really wondered
Whether it was worth exchanging that fragile mind of yours
For the title “first modern poet.”
Oh Ezra, no one ever suffered more.

March 31, 2009   Comments Off on Oh Ezra


It’s an easy hike to the top of Vesuvius and the view from there is spectacular. In this photo we’re looking down at the Sorrentine Peninsula and can see the island Capri at the tail. One day the volcano will explode again, threatening the lives of the millions who live within its reach. In the mean time, “meno male,” as the Italians might say, “less bad.”

March 31, 2009   Comments Off on Vesuvius

Personal Effects

Personal Effects

Now and then a film comes along that surprises me. One such film is Personal Effects, starring Kathy Bates, Ashton Kutcher, and Michelle Pfeiffer. Interestingly, it went from film to video without being distributed to theaters. Not sure why. I suppose the producers decided it would not draw at the box office. Also, interestingly, it premiered in Iowa City in December, 2008 as part of a fund-raiser for Iowa Flood Relief.

The film is first-rate. Not the kind of thing that comes from Hollywood. It has a touching story line, understated acting (Michelle Pfeiffer and Ashton Kutcher are fabulous), and gives a rich emotional experience to its audience. The theme (that tragedy distorts our perceptions and changes us) is intelligent and well developed. You feel like you’ve been given something positive in the end—not gone on some roller coaster ride of too much sex and violence.

Get the DVD. It’s well worth seeing.

March 31, 2009   Comments Off on Personal Effects

U.S. Brain Trust (the coach is on the right)

The Braintrust

So I’m watching the United States soccer team get trounced by two goals in El Salvador during World Cup qualifying (from high school defender mistakes) and I’m thinking about the U. S. Soccer Federation, an old boys’ network of like-minded individuals whose motto is that only-Americans-never-Europeans-or-South-Americans-can-coach-United-States-athletes (never realizing that almost every team they play against has a smarter coach), and I can’t stand it any longer and switch off the game—I do get rather passionate about the national team—and the next day I look up the score and find that our guys came back and tied the game 2-2. Uffda, I wondered, how did they do that?

Feeling like a moron, I managed to get a copy of the second half and discovered that with eighteen minutes left to play and the Salvadoran keeper pretending he’s hurt (to prevent a restart after their second goal), with the blue-and-white clad fans going crazy and the keeper being “stretchered” off a few minutes later (we’re now down to fifteen minutes), Jozy Altidore finally scores in the 77th minute and, then, more El Salvadorans fall to the ground like flies pretending to be hurt and more minutes tick away (there are less than eight to go now), when we score again off a corner in the 88th minute.

Of course, this madness will continue. The majority of players are second tier at best, and there will be no thought of changing the coach, but it’s still my team and I’ll cheer for them until they lose in the first round of the World Cup and start all over again with a new American coach, and I watch the cycle repeat itself.

March 30, 2009   Comments Off on U.S. Brain Trust (the coach is on the right)

Keeping an Open Mind

Machine Head

Although never fond of heavy metal and only casually interested in Deep Purple’s hit songs (“Highway Star” and “Smoke on the Water”), I was, nevertheless, fascinated with the documentary that showed how their famous album “Machine Head” was created. The hall in Montreux which they had rented to make the album burned to the ground in front of them, and they found themselves in an old, rambling, empty hotel, where they played and recorded everything. More astonishing were the band members themselves, who, although very English (two demerits there), were classical trained musicians. No schoolboy buddies these. Their idols were Bach and Mozart.

How strange to find that a form of music you assumed was tawdry is actually refined and intellectual. It just goes to show that life becomes interesting when you keep an open mind.

March 28, 2009   Comments Off on Keeping an Open Mind


Someone wrote a very nice review of my site at StumbleUpon (the online community that discovers and rates Web pages, images, and video). It’s so rare for me get a compliment (due, I suspect, to my less than sterling personality) that I didn’t know how to react at first. Oh, wait. That’s not true. My first thought was that I had written it myself.

On closer examination of said positive review (read literary “exegesis”), it was determined that another person had actually written it. It wasn’t my style at all. And then I thought, maybe a friend wrote it. But my mind quickly countered, “Dimwit, you don’t have any friends.”

So the question is…Who the hell said something nice about me? Who’s wanking me around?

March 28, 2009   1 Comment

Essential Reading

Two essential novels, which I often reread, are Love in the Time of Cholera and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. I will not sell them. I’d rather give up the Bible or stop eating.

Love in the Time of Cholera

Love in the Time of Cholera, especially, is a magical piece of writing from beginning to end. I am fascinated with the structure. First, we meet the doctor (Fermina Daza’s husband) who has the good sense to die, then the two lovers with their star-crossed fate, and then (and only then) do we hear the tale. I love that it takes Márquez so long to get down to it.

In his biography, Márquez said it was his parent’s story and, having heard it a thousand times when he was growing up, he simply put it into words, as if it were no big deal—like anyone could do it. What false modesty. The novel is pure genius.

March 26, 2009   Comments Off on Essential Reading


Red catalpa pods
Flaccid as hungry leeches
Dreaming of April.

March 26, 2009   Comments Off on 171

That Rare Good Book

Roberto Bolaño Ávalos

Finding a book that interests me—captures my attention and rewards me with its language, structure, or thought—is becoming increasing rare. Most novels are very formulaic—not unlike the films they become. You know from the start what you’re in for—a desperate attempt to keep your attention at all costs. With few exceptions, these are the novels that are published in our time, because the large publishing houses rule. The concept of marketing is everything. If there’s a potential market segment for a novel (read “product”) then the literary agents actively seek suitable manuscripts, especially from known authors, and funnel them to the publishers. Of course, this is normal when all decisions are based strictly on money.

There are some exceptions. A wonderful aspect of Robert Bolaño’s writing is that he’s not afraid to be misguided, off-topic, boring, and just plain awful. He more than makes up for it when you get caught in the strong undertow of his language and find yourself in a different universe, a place you never imagined existed, thinking strange thoughts and feeling part of an interesting dream of how life might have been with a different set of gods.

Recently, I’ve been selling my library of books through Amazon and find it amusing to remember what I learned from a particular book and what caused me to buy it in the first place. Mostly, it was a reflection of whatever dream (read “illusion”) I was living under at the time. There were the books on mysticism (the dream of achieving some kind spiritual status), the ones on literary criticism (the dream of being a college prof), those on sculpture (the dream of being a famous sculptor), and the books on good sex, et cetera.

Funny, isn’t it? As humans, we are powerful and powerless at the same time. No wonder we’re so confused.

March 26, 2009   Comments Off on That Rare Good Book


Red River rising
With the nonchalance of wind
Rippling through clover.

March 25, 2009   Comments Off on 170