The Balloon Strongman

Once there was a strongman who was made out of a balloon. He was pretty intimidating. His muscles bulged out all over the place. He squeaked ominously. After he showed up at Floyd’s Gym, he strutted around like he owned the place. People thought he would never leave. No one ever seemed to see him exercise, even though his bulging pecs and glutes and whathaveyou always seemed to get bigger and bigger, until he just seemed to fill up the room. The strongman, with his greasy curled mustache, loomed over the gym, casting his bulbous shadow over all the hard-working gym rats (they weren’t literally rats). The strongman would leave his messes all over the place: puddles of strangely colored energy drinks, piles of muscle growing shake powder, and just endless protein bar wrappers. The guy was a slob! Whenever anyone tried to call him on it, he would squeak and bulge even more ominously, sort of bobbing back and forth in what people assumed was a boxer’s fighting stance. People would sort of cower and cringe away. Finally (it was a Saturday) the people of the gym had had enough. Brenda (a pretty intimidating weightlifter if I do say so myself) stood up to the strongman and pushed him back a little with her strong right arm. To her surprise (and everyone’s) the strongman just floated all the way to the other side of the gym. “Hey!” someone yelled, “this guy’s just a balloon!” So they shoved him out the door and he floated away. Some time later (it was a Tuesday), a stray dog dragged a bedraggled pink rubber mess out of the gutter.

Moral: Sometimes the guy who’s throwing his weight around is only filled with hot air.

Reading Slowly

In spite of having a lot of extra time, I feel like my reading speed has slowed way down. It’s not that I’m reading any less than I normally do–though I’m not reading more–but I’m making my way through books much more slowly. I don’t think this is a good or a bad thing, but simply an observation. Still, I’ve read a fair amount, I suppose.

Erasure by Percival Everett: I think his book of short stories, Half an Inch of Water, is still my favorite book of his, about people living in extremely rural settings. This one, Erasure, is some pretty brutal satire about a black academic who deliberately writes the worst book he can about a street thug and drug dealer. The book goes on to become a runaway success and win a prestigious national award. Dark.

The Monkey’s Wedding: and Other Stories by Joan Aiken: Delightfully weird and charming and funny little stories, mostly about love and relationships. Definitely worthwhile. I especially liked the title story and “Spur of the Moment”.

Die: Split the Party (v2) by Kieron Gillen: People from our world go into a fantasy world, only it’s the fantasy world they cooked up as kids for their roleplaying game. Mostly about hurting people behaving badly in desperation. The art is pretty slick. I don’t really know where the story is going at this point.

Jade City by Fonda Lee: An organized crime story set in a fictionalized Taiwan (maybe? I’m not really sure) with magical powers–bestowed by jade jewelry, but also addictive and destructive. I don’t normally go in for organized crime stories, but this was solid and I enjoyed it.

The Vorrh by Brian Catling: Super weird. There’s a cyclops with miraculous and contagious healing powers and a hunter with a sentient bow and a photographer who’s mysteriously affected by light and a group of zombies exploited by capitalists, to name a few things. Fascinating stuff, but pretty dark, and definitely not for everyone.

Potted Meat by Steven Dunn: Exactly the type of book being skewered by Everett in Erasure. So, I had that in the back of my mind the entire time I was reading it. Still, not without some merit.

The Invisibles (Book 1) by Grant Morrison: I hadn’t read this since about 2000 (or maybe 2006?). It holds up pretty well, I’d say. It seems less sophisticated and groundbreaking since then, but I think that’s because so many have borrowed Morrison’s writing techniques and subject matter since these first came out.

The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington by same. Weird like Aiken, but without the warmth and humor. That seems harsher than I intend, but the starkness of these stories caused them to hit harder for me. Some days I want warmth and humor, some days I don’t.

Koko Takes a Holiday by Kieran Shea: Sometimes I want a quick dumb read. This science fiction action story fit the bill. This would be a perfect beach book. Koko is a semi-retired assassin/mercenary who gets roped back into things when a former colleague decides to take her out. Had some good action scenes and a sort of sly humor.

Queen’s Play by Dorothy Dunnett: If you like historical fiction, Dunnett’s up there at the top of the list, I’d say. (I don’t read a ton of this genre, so I’m sure there are many writers I’m completely ignorant of.) The writing is superb and the characters are fascinating, especially Francis Crawford, who is sort of like a Bruce Wayne of the 16th century. Some very funny scenes. Also, the rooftop chase is an exceptional piece of writing and makes the whole book worth reading just on its own.

Permutation City by Greg Egan: Reminded me a lot of Neal Stephenson’s Fall, or, Dodge in Hell. Explores the question of the nature of consciousness when that consciousness is being simulated in a computer. This book gets pretty science/mathy and I’m not sure I was in the right headspace to grok it, but there’s some pretty fascinating stuff here. I’m pretty sure I read his book Diaspora too and enjoyed it slightly more than this one. If you like crunchy science fiction, Egan’s worth checking out.

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel: I’d been meaning to read this book for years. I think I’ve perpetually had it checked out from the library for basically years. (It’s amazing how many times you can renew a book when no one else wants to read it.) I finally got around to it and I’m glad I did. I’d put Mantel up there with Dunnett as far as historical fiction goes. There’s no one like Mantel for putting you in the headspace of a 16th century Englishman. And Thomas Cromwell is a fascinating one at that. Everything in this book underscores how important being able to be in a room with someone else is for understanding…. well, everything. I’d certainly recommend reading Wolf Hall before this one, but I think it would stand on its own pretty well.

Started a new job this week. It reminded me of this passage from William Gibson’s newest book, Agency. (Fortunately, my unease passed pretty quickly due to my colleagues’ warm welcome.)

More Time for Reading

I’ve had a little extra time for reading, but haven’t felt much like writing. I thought I’d remedy that.

Fortress in the Eye of Time by C.J. Cherryh. This very much felt like Forrest Gump, but in a medieval, fantasy world. There’s a protagonist who is simple and foolish, at least from the perspectives of all around him, but whose goodhearted nature and positive intentions generally work to the good. A charming, quiet book that spends a lot of time ruminating about life and what it’s all about.

Atomic Robo and the Ring of Fire (v. 10) by Brian Clevinger. This might be my kid’s favorite comic series and I like to have stuff to chat about with him. I certainly wouldn’t start with this one because it builds so heavily on what came before, but if you like giant robots fighting giant monsters, you’ll probably dig this.

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs. I didn’t read this book for its advice, such as it is, but I did find that I met a kindred spirit. Jacobs enumerated what I get out of reading books more than just about anyone else I’ve read. His inclination to read at whim is one well worth modeling, in my view. I’ll definitely look for other books by him to read.

Batman: The Fall and the Fallen (v. 11) by Tom King. As with most comic books, I barely remember the plot of this. My impression was of rising up from bleak desperation, as is true of many of the best Batman stories, implacability in the face of impossibility.

Black Widow: Welcome to the Game by Richard K. Morgan. A pretty decent spy story. I picked it up for the art by Bill Sienkiewicz, who doesn’t disappoint here, but only did a couple of issues in this collection as far as I could tell.

Agency by William Gibson. I had this feeling of wanting to start over again with this as soon as I finished it. A bit more of a sequel than some of his others. From his most recent books especially, I get this visceral sense of the strangeness of the time we’re living through. High recommended, of course.

Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series by Eliot Asinof. There are some painful similarities in 1919 to our present moment it turns out. A flood of criminals and scoundrels skirling around trying to make a buck with no compunctions for legality or decency. The elevation of the wealthiest to a place of preeminence which they don’t deserve. The fools and saps and patsies who let themselves be led around by everyone else. The legal system that only seems to come down hard on the lowliest and least informed, while ignoring the career criminals who snub their nose with impunity. Also, there’s a lot about baseball too. Not a lot has changed in a 100 years, it seems, or there are just certain cycles that repeat themselves.

Why I Am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto by Jessa Crispin. I definitely felt like I was crashing a party when I read this one. A lot of food for thought, but the book wasn’t written for me. Not at all. As it should be, probably. Jessa Crispin’s podcast, Public Intellectual, is well-worth listening to, by the way.

Fish in Exile by Vi Khi Nao. My kid asked me about this book when I was about 50 pages into it. I said, I’m not sure I’ll finish it. He asked me about it again when I was about 100 pages into it. I said, I’m going to finish it now. He asked me why. I said, I wasn’t sure what was going on at first, but the book makes sense to me now, so I’m going to finish it. Sometimes a poet writes a novel and it can be a lot of work. In this case, I think it was worth it. Navigating the loss of children through a kind of mythologizing. The sentences reminded me of John Ashbery’s poetry.

The Blind(folded) Lemmings Meet Their Doom

Once there was this lemming who convinced a bunch of other lemmings to put on some blindfolds and follow him around. These lemmings hated lemmings with squeaky voices and this one guy, let’s call him Stu, did not have a squeaky voice. A bunch of the squeaky lemmings said, hey, maybe that’s not such a good idea. But all those squeaky-hating lemmings were all, what do you know, squeakers, poo! The squeaky lemmings just sort of rolled their eyes. They weren’t so concerned at first. But then a LOT of lemmings started putting on blindfolds and rushing around after Stu. Including rushing near this massive cliff at the bottom of which were rushing rocks and resounding locks and crashing clocks of coastal turbulence (it was the infamous seacoast, after all, upon which many creatures and mariners had lost their lives). Soon the squeaky lemmings were squeaking as loud as they could, look! for the love of god just take your blindfolds off! You’re all going to die! But those blindfolded lemmings just chortled and pulled their blindfolds on more tightly. It was just so satisfying to irritate those squeaky lemmings, I guess. Stu kept shouting about how great everything was and how everyone could take their blindfolds off as soon as they got where they were going, but they never seemed to get anywhere, just rushing back and forth, getting closer and closer to the edge of that terrifying cliff. Some of the squeaky lemmings just covered their eyes, it was too scary! They also tried to tell the blindfolded lemmings that Stu was blindfolded too, but the blindfolded lemmings just screamed that they were liars, even though they were getting a little dizzy from all the running back and forth. Finally, inevitably, all the blindfolded lemmings ran over the edge of the cliff, tumbled down among the crashing rocks and surf, and died.

Moral: Everyone knows that lemmings don’t really rush off cliffs, in spite of that staged bullshit in a Disney nature documentary and that ancient, popular video game, but it goes way, way back beyond that.

Another moral: Just because you hate someone, that doesn’t mean they’re wrong.