A penny saved is ridiculous.

A penny saved is ridiculous.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Rich, subtle story and... My GOD, what IS that??

As well as being a very edgy, very compelling reading experience, Stephen King's Revival also presented an interesting mix: the main body of the novel was a sweeping drama about a guy named Jamie Morton, covering (in Jamie's own words) his life, loves, challenges (personal and career oriented), tragedies, all that. It's a great tale, rich yet full of subtlety, and it'll probably remind you of some of Mr. King's other, more literary-tinged works (you know, the ones that get made into movies that don't advertise the fact that they come from Stephen King novels).

The other part of the novel, though, involves a guy named Charles Jacobs, who Jamie first meets when Jamie is a young boy and Jacobs is the town pastor. Jacobs then appears, disappears, and reappears throughout the novel, and every time we see him he is doing something new involving his intense interest in electricity. And this is where the novel's weird mix comes in: while Jamie's story is mostly subtle and naturalistic (basic life drama stuff), the Jacobs story is pretty much out and out horror, and ultimately the kind of intense, neon horror that Mr. King usually saves for his short stories (the ones that remind you of those gory EC comics from the 50's that got Congress up in arms). It's great stuff, but very scary, very over the top, and by the end, very slimy, gory, and disturbing-- disturbing because of what you see and what it all means.

I'm not saying that these two aspects- rich story, gory horror- don't fit comfortably together in one novel, only that it's a strange mix. But it's all involving and compelling, and (without telling you to much) it all eventually moves to a very effective communication of the idea that we should all really appreciate our lives right now, because... (well, to go further here would be telling you too much). But I will say this, the other strange mix in the novel occurs during the close, because in order to deliver his fairly upbeat message about smelling the roses in the here and now, Mr. King doesn't allow himself to pull any punches when presenting the disturbingly dark scenes and revelations that are required to deliver and contrast that message.

So, yeah, great rich story, small scares that escalate into some very big ones (and delivered via some very memorable imagery), and a fair amount of stuff to think about when you close the book. What more can you want from the Master?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Introducing "Brief Asides"

In addition to my regular posts here at Kindle Taproom, I’m going to debut a monthly column about what I’ve been reading and seeing, called Brief Asides.  Each column will include a bunch of short items and quick recommendations, things readers will hopefully find interesting.   Anyway, this is the first installment, which just made it under the wire for January’s offering!

Speaking of January, often at the beginning of each year I’ll try to take on a reading assignment, usually involving reading or re-reading a favorite series of years past.  This year it’ll be a sort of combination of those things, as I’m going to put Isaac Asimov’s famous Foundation series in my sights.  It’s a combination because I’ve already read the three central novels in the series- Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation (for decades those were the only books in the series, which were collectively described as The Foundation Trilogy), but I had never read the two prequels and two sequels Dr. Asimov periodically added to the central trilogy later in his life.  The books are great fun (well, the ones I already read are great fun, anyway), both mind expanding and laced with adventure. So now I’m going to try to do all of them this year, four for the first time.

If you want to join me, here are the seven books in the series, presented in chronological order as their events unfold (that’s how I’m going to read them, not in the order they were written): Prelude to Foundation; Forward the Foundation; Foundation; Foundation and Empire; Second Foundation; Foundation’s Edge; and Foundation and Earth.  I’m reading Prelude to Foundation right now on my Kindle, and enjoying it a lot so far.

Oh, one final thought on the topic.  HBO and Warner Bros. television are now working to adapt the Foundation series for HBO, with Jonathan Nolan (successful screenwriter and brother of director Christopher Nolan) producing.  This is exciting news, and it’s what gave me the idea to read all the books in 2015.  I’m sure the show will be great, but I want the original source material fresh in my mind first. 

On the television front, I’m also enjoying a few good things on both broadcast and premium channels.  On the CW (channel 13 on my Philadelphia area Comcast system), The Flash is great fun, demonstrating that a superhero show can have action, danger, and drama, while still remaining fresh, bright, and upbeat.  I hope this one lasts a while.

On pay cable, Banshee is finally back! Now in its third season on Cinemax, Banshee tells the tale of a gritty ex-con who (through a series of unlikely but entertaining circumstances) assumes the identity of sheriff of a small Pennsylvania town in Amish country.  And he’s actually a pretty good sheriff, though he still performs (along with his entertaining cronies) the occasional bank or armored car heist in his off hours.  Unapologetically violent, sexual, pulpy, and over the top, the series is great fun (I know, I’m using that phrase a lot here- but that’s what this column is all about: things I find to be great fun).  Also, I like the fact that the show is extremely cool, but doesn’t constantly remind you that it’s cool:  It just consistently does its thing and keeps moving.

For me, January is also a time to check out all the movies that have been nominated for Best Picture Oscars.  It’s not that I need the Academy of whatever it’s called to tell me what the very best movies are in a given year, but I find that making an effort every year to see the movies nominated for Best Picture always results in my seeing a bunch of very good movies, some that I might not have sought out otherwise.  This year I have a lot of work to do to see them all, as when the nominations were announced earlier this month I had seen only about one or two of the movies nominated (eight were nominated for Best Picture this time).  I’ve since seen three more of the films, with a few more to go.  Check out my other posts for some thoughts on these movies, but for now I’ll tell you that I really enjoyed The Imitation Game and The Theory of EverythingBoyhood was very good, too.

That’s it for now. The next installment of Brief Asides will be put up sometime in February, along with a few other posts, I hope.  I want to breathe a little more life into Kindle Taproom in 2015, and I want this column to be a successful part of that initiative.  And, please, share your own thoughts about some of this stuff.  It would be nice to get actual comments on this blog again!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Universal appeal

The amazing life journey of Dr. Stephen Hawking was wonderfully portrayed in The Theory of Everything, another of this year's strong contenders for a Best Picture Oscar.

Blessed with a level of genius few could comprehend, yet trapped in a body that had betrayed, crippled, and threatened him at every turn, Dr. Hawking has nevertheless managed to redefine astrophysics, marry twice, father three children, and get honored by the Queen.

While definitely paying tribute to his intellect, as well as the irony of being a man with a super advanced brain and a debilitated wreck of a body, The Theory of Everything concentrates on Dr. Hawking's lesser known personal life and how that life, and particularly the people in it, were impacted by both his genius and his disease.

Inspirational figure and a great, fascinating movie- and, believe it or not, one that is largely upbeat. Like The Imitation Game, this is another bio-pic that's well worth a trip to the theater.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

At the movies

The Imitation Game is a terrific World War II movie, telling the not very widely known story of British math geniuses trying to break the Nazis' formidable Enigma code.  Undoubtedly an extremely complex series of events in real life, the movie skillfully distills everything down to an engrossing and fast-moving two hours.

Benedict Cumberbatch is compelling as team leader Alan Turing, a troubled, tragic figure now credited as being one of the fathers, if not the father, of the modern computer.  Keira Knightley (of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies) and Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister on Game of Thrones) are among the many excellent supporting players.

More capsule reviews of this year's Best Picture-nominated films will be posted here in the weeks to come.