50,000 Words

Don Theo Writes. (Sometimes)

Moving Sale

All right. This was meant to be a nanowrimo blog that extended itself to include book reviews and other nonsense. I’m abandoning theonano/50,000 words until next November, but I will continue to post things of interest to my new blog Biblio Circus.

So if you follow this blog, maybe you will be so kind as to follow Biblio Circus.

Also, at BC if you would like to contribute a review or anything else bookish then let me know via the contact tab on the page. I love guest contributions!

Thanks for reading,

Don Theo III

Kurt’s Rules

In case you haven’t read it yet, here are Kurt Vonnegut’s perfect 8 rules for writing.

Now lend me your ears.  Here is Creative Writing 101:

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist.  No matter sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person.  If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible.  To heck with suspense.  Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Review: An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England

An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England
An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England by Brock Clarke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This reviewer had never read or heard of Brock Clarke before reading this book. Apparently he has contributed to several magazines and written three novels.

In this novel the narrator accidentally burns down Emily Dickinson’s house at the age of 18 while unwittingly killing two people in the process. He spends 10 years in prison and when he gets out his parents send him off to college. From there he manages to build a nice suburban life for himself with a good job, wonderful wife and kids and a home in a suburb called Camelot.

Then several famous authors’ homes in New England start going up in smoke and our narrator is forced into the position of ersatz detective, trying to figure out who the arsonist is in order to clear his own name.

This book is about many things. Yes it’s about stories of arson, yet it is also about so much more. It’s a story of a man searching for his true self. It’s a story about a man who discovers family secrets that were hidden from him all of his life. It’s an homage to books and literature. It’s a criticism of readers who take themselves and their books too seriously. And of course it’s about fire. Lots and lots of fire.

The author has a very dark sense of humor and this is a great benefit to the reader. The narration is delightfully sprinkled with aphorisms that are both unique and humorous.

There are some very subtle self effacing jabs in here as well. At one point the main character, Sam Pulsifer, is browsing in a big box book store looking for a book (or more appropriately the reason for books) and runs across a title that the author has previously written. After a brief flip through the pages Sam re-shelves the books in disinterest. Brilliant.

Here’s another piece of strange: He pokes fun more than once at reader’s groups and discussions. And what do you find at the end of the book? One of those appendices that lists suggested questions for reader’s group discussions. Funny.

Also, after the main feature, there is a “discussion with the author.” Yet this is different from any of the others you have read at the end of a book. In the discussion the story’s main character (Sam) interviews Mr. Clarke. (Make sure you don’t miss this, ereaders!)

My only complaint about the book is that Sam sometimes waxes introspective a little too much. There were a couple of meanderings that I had to struggle to read.

Note to authors: It will never be entertaining for the reader to read an account of your character’s dream. I know this is a good technique for getting Freudian with your characters but please, save it for the movie.

There is no black and white line drawn in the novel when it comes to morality and while that may bother some readers, I found it refreshing in the liberty that it allows the story line.

All in all I thought it was a good read that stepped away from the norm. If you have an appreciation for dark humor and a love for New England or it’s writers, or are just looking for something completely different then I recommend it. After all, where else will you find passages like this?:

“It was the kind of snow that made you wish you had a sled, an old one with metal runners, and it was also the kind of snow that made you forget that you were the kind of person who wouldn’t ever take care of the runners and they would rust and soon the sled would be useless, which is another way of saying that it was the kind of snow that tricked you into thinking things were better than they actually were.”

Go back and read that again…it was one sentence. One very well written one. And there are hundreds more like that in this book.

Don Theo III

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Read Your Bookcase.

By Italian designer Arredamenti Saporiti

Love That Nick Hornby!

A “sort-of review” of  Juliet, Naked

Man I love that Nick Hornby.

I love his British wit; I love his razor-sharp dialogue; I love how me truly makes me care about his characters; I love how I can always count on him for some laugh-out-loud moments and I love how readable he is.

Juliet, Naked is a fun read. The only thing I didn’t like about it was that the American character, Tucker Crowe, uses a handful of British colloquialisms that Americans just don’t use. I can forgive it though because he was able to make a morally bankrupt character extremely like-able and that takes talent.

What I am constantly impressed by is Mr. Hornby’s skill in creating multi-layered female characters. This is sometimes a challenge for male writers but Hornby is arguably the best in the game when it comes to pure texture with the women in his novels. Annie’s journey in this novel is nothing short of a metamorphosis and it was a pure treat to vicariously join her in her physical and psychological travels.

Some further examples of Hornby’s prowess in creating and developing female characters can be found in his novel How to Be Good where the entire novel is written in first person by Katie Carr. Also fans should definitely check out the film An Education, in which the screenplay is written by this blogpost’s hero. (Incidentally, the sketch of the character in An Education, coupled with Carey Mulligan‘s fearless performance earned her an Academy Award nomination for best actress.)

I’ll refrain from making pretentious overarching statements about the subtext of Juliet, Naked because that would be a disservice. After all, this is what the other Hornby novels are: A good read, a well told story and a piece of work that grabs your emotions.

The only thing I don’t like about Nick Hornby is that he just doesn’t write enough books. I’m one away from having read all of them and I’m putting off downloading the last one on the kindle because I just hate that feeling of having read a favorite author’s entire oeuvre and having nothing else left.

So if anybody reading this has any contact with Nick Hornby, tell him thanks for all he’s done and please go write some more books!

Don Theo III

Review: The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe

The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe
The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe by J. Randy Taraborrelli
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I haven’t read any other biographies on Miss Monroe so I don’t really have a measure to place this experience against .

After reading this book I have become entranced with the effects of fame on 50’s era celebrities.

I had no idea how troubled Marilyn’s ubringing was before reading this book. She was basically tossed around amongst several mother-like characters with a total lack of father figures in her life.

That explains a lot when it comes to the image that Marilyn created for herself.

Monroe’s (or Baker’s, or Mortensen’s) constant need to be wanted manifests itself in her behaviour of always being late or absent on set over several years of her mega-stardom and this makes sense after reading her childhood background.

Regarding this book, as a neophyte to Miss Monroe’s biographical sketch I was very happy with the map that the author laid out. He did great research and placed about the landscape of his book a nice pilgrimage representing his own studies across the lexicon of myriad Marilyn stories.

I really appreciated the author’s extra effort in fact checking which helped to dispel a lot of erroneous accounts one will find plastered about prior to his book.

The title almost comes across as a misnomer. You would think that “The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe” would be an account of gossipy half-truths but in essence Mr. Taraborelli’s book helped to set straigh many untrue accounts out there.

I should give it more stars and the only reason I don’t is that the book comes across as a little dry.

That being said, this was a sober account of a very non-sober life and after spending several days fact checking after completion of reading it…it seems that the author spent a good ten years filtering out all of the B.S. that one would realize in reading most biographies of Miss Monroe’s life.

Whether you are new to the tragic story of Miss Monroe or a veteran looking to vet the diorama of hyperbole currently fluttering about the internet and airwaves, I think you will find a sobering and realistic account of Miss Monroe’s life here.

And I hate that you will also have the same feeling as me after reading it; no matter who you are you will agree with me that this was a life that was not lived long enough.

Don Theo III

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Ayn Rand on Marilyn Monroe: Through Your Most Grievous Fault

This essay, from Thoughts in Reason: Essays on Objectivist Thought was written by Ayn Rand and published on August 19 (my birthday, though a few years before I was born) 1962 in The Los Angeles Times.

The death of Marilyn Monroe shocked people with an impact different from their reaction to the death of any other movie star or public figure. All over the world, people felt a peculiar sense of personal involvement and of protest, like a universal cry of “Oh, no!”

They felt that her death had some special significance, almost like a warning which they could not decipher–and they felt a nameless apprehension, the sense that something terribly wrong was involved.

They were right to feel it.

Marilyn Monroe on the screen was an image of pure, innocent, childlike joy in living. She projected the sense of a person born and reared in some radiant utopia untouched by suffering, unable to conceive of ugliness or evil, facing life with the confidence, the benevolence, and the joyous self-flaunting of a child or a kitten who is happy to display its own attractiveness as the best gift it can offer the world, and who expects to be admired for it, not hurt.

In real life, Marilyn Monroe’s probable suicide–or worse: a death that might have been an accident, suggesting that, to her, the difference did not matter–was a declaration that we live in a world which made it impossible for her kind of spirit, and for the things she represented, to survive.

If there ever was a victim of society, Marilyn Monroe was that victim–of a society that professes dedication to the relief of the suffering, but kills the joyous.

None of the objects of the humanitarians’ tender solicitude, the juvenile delinquents, could have had so sordid and horrifying a childhood as did Marilyn Monroe.

To survive it and to preserve the kind of spirit she projected on the screen–the radiantly benevolent sense of life, which cannot be faked–was an almost inconceivable psychological achievement that required a heroism of the highest order. Whatever scars her past had left were insignificant by comparison.

She preserved her vision of life through a nightmare struggle, fighting her way to the top. What broke her was the discovery, at the top, of as sordid an evil as the one she had left behind–worse, perhaps, because incomprehensible. She had expected to reach the sunlight; she found, instead, a limitless swamp of malice.

It was a malice of a very special kind. If you want to see her groping struggle to understand it, read the magnificent article in the August 17, 1962, issue of Life magazine. It is not actually an article, it is a verbatim transcript of her own words–and the most tragically revealing document published in many years. It is a cry for help, which came too late to be answered.

“When you’re famous, you kind of run into human nature in a raw kind of way,” she said. “It stirs up envy, fame does. People you run into feel that, well, who is she–who does she think she is, Marilyn Monroe? They feel fame gives them some kind of privilege to walk up to you and say anything to you, you know, of any kind of nature–and it won’t hurt your feelings–like it’s happening to your clothing. . . . I don’t understand why people aren’t a little more generous with each other. I don’t like to say this, but I’m afraid there is a lot of envy in this business.”

“Envy” is the only name she could find for the monstrous thing she faced, but it was much worse than envy: it was the profound hatred of life, of success and of all human values, felt by a certain kind of mediocrity–the kind who feels pleasure on hearing about a stranger’s misfortune. It was hatred of the good for being the good–hatred of ability, of beauty, of honesty, of earnestness, of achievement and, above all, of human joy.

Read the Life article to see how it worked and what it did to her:

An eager child, who was rebuked for her eagerness–“Sometimes the [foster] families used to worry because I used to laugh so loud and so gay; I guess they felt it was hysterical.”

A spectacularly successful star, whose employers kept repeating: “Remember you’re not a star,” in a determined effort, apparently, not to let her discover her own importance.

A brilliantly talented actress, who was told by the alleged authorities, by Hollywood, by the press, that she could not act.

An actress, dedicated to her art with passionate earnestness–“When I was 5–I think that’s when I started wanting to be an actress–I loved to play. I didn’t like the world around me because it was kind of grim–but I loved to play house and it was like you could make your own boundaries”–who went through hell to make her own boundaries, to offer people the sunlit universe of her own vision–“It’s almost having certain kinds of secrets for yourself that you’ll let the whole world in on only for a moment, when you’re acting”–but who was ridiculed for her desire to play serious parts.

A woman, the only one, who was able to project the glowingly innocent sexuality of a being from some planet uncorrupted by guilt–who found herself regarded and ballyhooed as a vulgar symbol of obscenity–and who still had the courage to declare: “We are all born sexual creatures, thank God, but it’s a pity so many people despise and crush this natural gift.”

A happy child who was offering her achievement to the world, with the pride of an authentic greatness and of a kitten depositing a hunting trophy at your feet–who found herself answered by concerted efforts to negate, to degrade, to ridicule, to insult, to destroy her achievement–who was unable to conceive that it was her best she was punished for, not her worst–who could only sense, in helpless terror, that she was facing some unspeakable kind of evil.

How long do you think a human being could stand it?

That hatred of values has always existed in some people, in any age or culture. But a hundred years ago, they would have been expected to hide it. Today, it is all around us; it is the style and fashion of our century.

Where would a sinking spirit find relief from it?

The evil of a cultural atmosphere is made by all those who share it. Anyone who has ever felt resentment against the good for being the good and has given voice to it, is the murderer of Marilyn Monroe.

(source: The Los Angeles Times.)

 

 

James Dean. Movie Star.

James Dean blazed the silver screen and became an American icon even though he only made 3 films.

Jimmy had great success with live T.V. dramas and tore up Broadway with his performances in See the Jaguar by N. Richard Nash, which despite it’s lack of success was great for the actor. The Immoralist by Andre Gide cemented JD as a star and allowed him the opportunity to murder the silver screen in:

East of Eden directed by Elia Kazan based on the John Steinbeck novel.

Rebel Without a Cause directed by Nicholas Ray with Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo and Mr. Magoo.

And Giant, directed by George Stevens and starring Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson.  James Dean died in a car accident before post-production was completed and many of his scenes were voice dubbed by Nick Adams, an actor that played one of the hoods in Rebel Without a Cause.

Like Marilyn, his psychological discombobulation would fuel his fire on the screen, and he died way too soon at a mere 24 years old.

Here’s some pics of Jimmy.  As you can see here, he owned any camera shot he was in front of.

Miss Monroe

There are so many (hundreds) of great pictures of Marilyn Monroe. Here are ten of the best.

Review: The Devil and Sherlock Holmes

The Devil and Sherlock Holmes
The Devil and Sherlock Holmes by David Grann
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Some good articles in here. I gave it three stars because there were a couple of them that I eventually stopped reading to move on to the next one.

Loved a couple of them though.

This is a collection of the articles that Mr. Grann wrote for various magazines, most notably The New York Times.

I’ll try not to spoil anything here, but here’s a quick takedown:

“Mysterious Circumstances”- Brilliant and this is the story that lends the Sherlock reference. About the worlds foremost Sherlock Holmes scholar who dies by Mysterious Circumstances. Is it due to his tracking down never before seen Arthur Conan Doyle documents or something untoward? This story inspired the lovely novel The Sherlockian by Graham Moore.

“Trial by Fire”- This one kept me on the edge of my seat. This might be the account of the first person who was wrongly executed. What was really interesting was Republican Presidential hopeful Rick Perry’s negligent involvement revealed towards the end of the article.

“The Chameleon”- Loved this one about a con-artist/impostor named Frederic Bourdin. Won’t say more because I don’t want to spoil it but very interesting.

“True Crime”- A man writes a novel that may or may not detail how he may or may not have murdered a man. Interesting story. While not the most compelling of the collection, it’s well written and well presented.

“Which Way Did He Run?”- A story about a 9/11 firefighter that has amnesia about that fateful day. Interesting, inspirational and a nice snapshot of what actually happened on that day.

“The Squid Hunter”- The author accompanies an Australian oceanographer on the quest for Architeuthis, or the giant squid. Very interesting.

“City of Water”- Wow this one was LONG. Didn’t even make it halfway through it. Honestly this one bored me to tears but that’s just me. It’s about the huge underground sewage/water infrastructure in NYC.

“The Old Man and the Gun”- Easily my favorite article in the collection. This is about a lifelong bank robber with more charm than you can shake a stick at. He was a regular Houdini with his escape efforts. His name was Forrest Tucker, which just sounds cool. The story opens with him on a heist in his twilight years and works it’s way backwards. I read this one twice. This article won the award for Best American Crime Reporting of 2009. Worth the price of admission.

“Stealing Time”- I really enjoyed this article about Rickey Henderson but that’s partly because I’m a big baseball fan. This is a great sports profile piece and there is much to be gleaned about the personality of successful sportspeople here. According to this article, Rickey was and still is hugely narcissistic, often referring to himself in the first person. (George is getting upset!). This is a nice portrait of when the sportsman’s body starts to slow down before his verve does. I’ll leave it at that.

“The Brand”- This one is pretty bone chilling. It’s all about the most dangerous prison gang ever. The Brand is an Aryan group that maintained a merciless network across prisons of the U.S. Often times in this collection of articles the reader cannot help but to marvel at the author’s bravery and this article represents the nexus of that thinking.

“Crimetown USA”- There’s a little town in Ohio that loves it’s gangsters and this sentiment dates back several years. The article culminates with an expose on embattled politician Jim Trafficant. You will marvel at the acceptance of corruption in this town as you read this one.

“Giving the Devil His Due”- This is about a Haitian death squad commander that resurfaces in NYC after exiling from Haiti to escape trial. Another long one. I didn’t finish this one either. Started out with a bang but I lost interest after several pages. I had no sympathy for the guy and there wasn’t enough tension or a suitable enough protagonist to keep me involved.

So I guess I finished all but two of them. I’d say it’s worth picking up, just for “The Old Man and the Gun” but as you can see there is a little bit for everybody in this collection.

Mr. Gann is a great writer. There’s no hyperbole and his precision in telling his stories is to be admired.

If you are a fan of strong investigative journalism then you will be happy with this book.

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