Archive for August, 2009

Half Price Books in Mayfield Hts – Store Review –

August 13, 2009

Yesterday my girlfriend and I were out and about and looking for a cheap place to buy some books. So we made the drive up to Mayfield Hts to check out the Half Price Books up there and see if we couldn’t finish shopping for her school books and pick up some stuff for ourselves.

For anyone not familiar with Half Price Books, it’s a national chain that deals in used books, movies and music. If you’re looking at paperbacks, the general rule is that they will be half off the cover price while the hardcover books are discounted a bit more steeply. They also have various clearance racks and special savings nooks where they have placed books they want to move a bit quicker or just get out of the store.

If you’re looking to sell them some of your old books or whatever the process appears to be pretty simple. You take your stuff to the appropriate counter (in this case, it was against the right wall when you walk in), someone looks it over and makes a cash offer which you can either take and go or put towards future purposes at the store.  I haven’t went to sell any books to them, so I can’t say exactly how fair their system is, but it seems straightforward enough.

Looking at books is easy and enjoyable. Aisles are wide, the place is very well lit, and it is very well organized. It’s a large chain store and it’s maintained that way. If you’re a fan of little “mom and pop” used book stores with musty smells of old books lining beaten shelves, this is not the place for you. If you want a (much) cheaper alternative to Borders and want to keep the nice “big store” amenities, you’re built for this place.

Getting to the store in Mayfield Hts is incredibly simple. If you’re coming from the east, just get on Mayfield Rd and keep going. If you’re coming from the south, all you have to do is hop on 271 and get off on Mayfield Rd. exit. It’s right off 271 on the southside of the road in a large shopping plaze with many other fun stores and a handful of places to eat. It could be an easy place to make a day of it.

Half Price Books

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Black Hole – Review

August 12, 2009

The world of the graphic novel is a land that I have traversed only slightly. Very slightly. Like only Maus I and II slightly along with the handful of things i have picked up and leafed through while loafing around Borders or Barnes&Noble. But it’s also been something that I have always been curious about, just without the requisite money to jump into. So praise be the local library for allowing me to get into this.

The story is pretty straight forward. It’s 1970s Seattle and there’s an STD called “the bug” or the “teen plague” that results in physical mutations to whoever contracts it. The comparison to teen adolescence and the needs to fit in while also finding a personal identity are fairly clear and, in my opinion, don’t really need to be looked into too deeply. It’s a good story about kids struggling to become adults in a world where teasing someone because they’re fat or “nerdy” or whatever else is taken to the extreme of “youve got a third arm!”

Oddly enough, I think Black Hole may actually bear quite a bit in common with old slasher films from the 1980s. These were the films where you always knew that among the first to die horrible machete inflicted deaths would be whoever has had the most (and only) sex in the first thirty minutes. A fair rule  is that if you’ve seen her boobs, she’s going to die. And so will whoever else in the movie has seen her (or anyone’s) boobs.  In Black Hole, if someone has sex, you know they’re going to get “the bug” and suffer something akin to death from their social circle.

Perhaps it then isn’t surprising to read in Black Hole’s Wiki that the “look of the comic is meant to evoke the feel and atmosphere of classic 70s teen horror films like The Last House on the Left, Carrie and Halloween.” All are movies where sex and death came together to share a dance of some form and they seem to have bled into more than just the appearance of the Charles Burns’ novel.

Still, if you have the opportunity to sit down and read Black Hole, it’s an opportunity worth taking. The art work is very well done, the plot is solid and you don’t have to worry about getting bogged down and not wanting to turn the page – the thing is certainly a page turner.

Black Hole at Amazon

back to school? MFA dreams and scheduling conflicts

August 10, 2009

lately, with the difficulties and horrors of the move to Cleveland falling upon me like starving mongrels upon the barest scrap of flesh upon discarded bone, I’ve been considering something that I swore I didn’t want to go back to. After accompanying my g’f to the university a couple of times to fill out paperwork and talking to a couple mutual friends, I’m considering going back to school.

Sitting in the hall while my g/f talked to one of the profs about teaching comp, I have to admit, I began to miss it. I enjoy being around university english departments. There’s a feel there that is comforting and known. But school has also been the one constant in my life. It’s known for a reason. I’ve always been doing it for nearly as long as I can remember and the only reason that it’s a “nearly” is because I do still have a few remnants of memory from when I was around four years old.  I have been going to class for a very long time.

But it’s also something I question the use of. At least for what I would be going back for (MFA in creative writing). I don’t care to workshop and I have read more in my life outside of a classroom than inside of one. I enjoy it and do it a lot. I trust my abilities to read and re-write my own work.

But a stipend would be really nice and it’s work that I know I can do. And maybe this is where people would have a problem with me going back. I would be doing it for the money. And the fact that I view someday working for auniversity, teaching creative writing, as a pretty cushy way of life. There’s work involved but coming from a family where my uncle worked 12+ hour days in a hot kitchen as the kitchen manager/chef, my grandfather worked as a construction laborer, my mom works in the (basically) un-airconditioned laundry of a nursing home and a dad who works in a prison – grading papers and talking about writing is pretty damn cushy. So maybe a fair share of it is just perspective.

The bad news is that I don’t know if it would work with my g/f’s schedule and watching the kid. We might be able to bend it to work but it’d be a bitch. So I’m looking into that. And we wouldn’t have the money to hire a babysitter and we still don’t know anyone in cleveland with whome we would trust the kid.

Whatever I do, I need to make my decision quick as I want to get in for the spring enrollments for the local MFA program. I need to decide if pursuing an academic career is something I really want to do. Or whether I want to look for another job that will help get us by while, hopefully, giving me time to write on the side.  The idea that I could have a career getting paid to write without really being successful (as I have viewed the majority of the writing instructors I have had) is fairly interesting to me. But, in the end, I just don’t know. It is something I have to sort out in the near future.

Front Right. Back Left.

August 5, 2009
Roger Ebert
Roger Ebert

I don’t read a lot of blogs.  Maybe this makes me like one of those people who uses P2P filesharing apps but doesn’t share themselves. It’s a one way street with me. I either give or take and how much pleasure I derive from it usually determines which I do. Maybe not reading a lot of  different blogs makes me like that. But I do read Roger Ebert’s blog.

It amazes me. I always enjoyed watching him review movies on television, first with Gene Siskel and then with a cadre of other reviewers before settling on Richard Roeper. He was informed, articulate and funny. He is the Image of what I have also found to be every good professor I’ve ever had.
I do not write my blog half as well as he writes his. I’m not yet knowledgeable enough about literature in general, nor aware enough about my own writing process, to do it. But I’m getting there. And Roger Ebert is helping me lately.
I read one of Mr. Ebert’s blogs about how to “read” a movie. In it he talks a bit about his own learning curve when he first became a movie reviewer and he mentions a  few other critics/reviewers/books along with some methods he has picked from those books that he has found useful and right. One of these methods is how to read the physical position of characters on screen and how it helps shape how we, consciously or unconsciously, percieve them.  Roger Ebert eloquently defines it in part as:
In simplistic terms: Right is more positive, left more negative. Movement to the right seems more favorable; to the left, less so. The future seems to live on the right, the past on the left. The top is dominant over the bottom. The foreground is stronger than the background. Symmetrical compositions seem at rest. Diagonals in a composition seem to “move” in the direction of the sharpest angle they form, even though of course they may not move at all.
Thinking about this, I wonder if this couldn’t be applied to fiction as well – in the analyzing of it but also in the writing of it. From action/dialogue to the physical construction of the work, I have been wondering if there is a way to incorporate this “intrinsic weighting” into the construction of a work to lend it the same effect as it lends film.
This is something I’ve only begun thinking about recently, but it is something I think I will start looking for in the works that I read and begin experimenting with in my own writing. If it leads somewhere, I’m curious what it will lend to my work and how it may help in reading the work of others.

Sputnik Sweetheart – Review

August 4, 2009

Murakami excels when plumbing the depths of human loneliness and isolation while being surrounded by humanity.  In Sputnik Sweetheart, the narrator is known only as K.  He is a teacher who is madly in love with a woman two years younger than named Sumire. Sumire doesn’t reciprocate these feelings and later finds she wants to pursue a homosexual relationship with an older woman named Miu. Sumire comes to work for Miu and then disappears from a small Greek island while on a business/vacation trip with the older woman.

As with most Murakami stories, the attempts at a sexual life by the main character (and, as it turns out, all of the characters) is stunted, at best. At worst, the ability to have a sexual relationship is entirely missing. It’s probably worth noting that the one character who most fully overcomes their sexual shortcomings and even makes  a proactive attempt at finding a sexual life promptly disappears. 

There is a similar setup to Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. In an existence where the narrator’s life is literally split into two simultaneous halves, his sexual lives tend to culminate with going “underground” in some way to a strange and foreign place. Murakami seems to be forming a sort of equation where fully realizing your sexual fulfilment results in a distinct seperation from the conventional world – and at times it is leaving the conventional world that is required for this sexual fulfillment.

Still, this leads away a bit from the true essence of Sputnik Sweetheart. While sex, or the absence of sex, plays a large role in the story, it’s really a story that seems to revolve more around unrequited love and the isolation such love forces upon you. Miu, unable to enjoy sex-or equally share/build a relationship – because of an event from her youth, leads a life that substitutes independence for her isolation.  Meanwhile, K. has several sexual relationships but no real relationship because the one woman he desires and doesn’t have sex with is the only woman who seems to hold any interest for him on a deeper level.

Murakami is one of my favorite writers, so my opinion towards his work is slanted, but Sputnik Sweetheart is an entirely readable little novel that clocks in at around 200 pages. Like all Murakami works, it is something that can be read as superficially as you like but which has a surprising depth given its size and the deceptively simple construction. For summer fare it would make for leisurely reading on the beach or on vacation or, for those unfamiliar with Murakami works, a good introduction to him. For those familiar with Murakami, it makes for a quick jaunt into his universe and hits upon familiar themes and images.

Sputnik Sweetheart at Amazon

and that’s why there are stars

August 4, 2009

The g/f had papers to sign, forms to fill out and hands to shake at the university today which meant I got to watch the brat for an extended period of time. It wasn’t a disaster. What we ended up doing was trading stories we made up on the spot, which was an odd experience with a five year – especially when he told pretty decent stories. He had the basic structure down. A bit simplistic (he is a five year old) but still good.

What I realized, though, was how difficult it was to tell kid stories. And it also made me think my distaste for clearly poorly done kid stories is entirely well earned by the people half-assing it.

to put it mildly, I don’t write kid’s stories. I don’t write anything that I would consider wildly inappropriate or pornographic but it’s also not stuff that the typical five year would get into. So coming up with stories to capture the attention of a five year old proved unnaturally difficult for me.

But it’s also something I’ve found enjoyable so I think I’m going to start working on writing some children’s stories. the need to keep the stories deceptively simple while having a deeper pool to plumb is the real goal for me.  it’l be interesting to see how it goes.

Mac’s Backs Paperbacks – Store Review

August 2, 2009

I’ve finally had the opportunity to get out and look at one of the used book stores in cleveland. It’s a little place called Mac’s. The lady working there was nice and helpful. Oddly enough, for a small bookstore, I get the impression that she may not have been either an owner or a long time employee. This isn’t a bad thing, just sort of odd in face of my prior experiences with little used bookstores.

On the plus side is a very solid selection for such a small store. It’s not even close to being the largest used bookstore I’ve been in but they do a good job of hitting pretty much every major author you could want, especially newer authors. They also have a commendable selection of children’s books, something more appreciated by me since I’ve started going around with a 5 yr old in tow.

The selection also leads to a bit of a negative – the pricing. The reason they have so many newer authors is that they have, well, new books mixed in with the old books. This is annoying in that you walk down an aisle and you see something and think you have a nice little find, only to pull it out and see the thing is fullpriced. For some paying fullprice for a book is no big deal. For me, considering I’m looking through a usedbookstore and won’t shop from borders unless I have a nice sized coupon, it’s a bit of a roadblock. But it’s not a huge deal.

what’s a bigger pain in the butt is that they have three or four different pricing methods. I’ve seen pretty much every pricing method. from prices written in the corner of the first page, to little stickers to big stickers to just prices posted on a wall.  For some reason this little store tried an “all of the above” approach.  So be prepared to look for prices.

All in all, not a bad shop. If you’re in cleveland, check it out.

Mac’s Backs Paperbacks

Baby Steps. Baby Steps. Baby Steps.

August 1, 2009

Lately I’ve been working on re-reading and editing my novel. This is before I start re-writing it.  the re-write process is something I’ve never been overly familiar with. My main process for writing has always been to sit down, open the wordprocesser adn start writing and whatever comes out, comes out, to hell with whether or not it makes any sort of sense.

As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve been hit by a need to perfect what I’m doing and have recognized the need for re-writnig and the effort that really needs to go into it. What also goes into it, for me, is a lot of note taking. I’ve gotten into the habit of keeping note books for my novels. In them I keep track of things like character names, character traits, plot points, thoughts/ideas on the story, themes/motifs explored in the stories, etc. Tonight, while writing this blog, my printer is busily at work spewing out its own work to be taped into one of these notebooks. It’s just a way I have found to lend organization to my work while keeping a certain chaos to it.

While going back over my novel, I have found myself working over it chapter by chapter. I read a chapter, make notes in the text and along the margins, and then I take a 3×5 notecard, title it with the chapter I’ve read, and jot some more thoughts onto it before paperclipping it to the chapter and then moving on to the next chapter.  I’m not exactly sure how this will work with my re-writing, but I’m expecting it to work well, and I’m expecting it to work in conjunctin with the notebook I’ve got going. Between the two, the multiple paperclipped chapters and the book of rambling thoughts and notes, I’m thinking I should be able to tear the original work down a bit more constructively that I would have otherwise.

Now am I advocating this specific practice for everyone? of course not. It has got to be specific for each individual. But finding an effective method for approaching re-writing your material is a necessity.