Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Top 20 Books, #6

My #6 favorite book of all time is Water Music by T. Coraghessan Boyle. You've heard me talk about Boyle before, way back in the infancy of BillyBlog here (to see a photo with me and the author) and here (discussing his last novel The Inner Circle).

I believe the first Boyle book I ever read was World's End, but Water Music was second, and that one-two punch made me a fan for life. I try and see him whenever he comes to town. He's very prolific and, despite his gift with the novel, he's just as talented as a short story writer. Anyone who is a regular reader of The New Yorker should be familiar with him.

Water Music is grand. It's phenomenal. It is spectacular. This book actually began as his doctoral thesis, as legend serves, and took on a life of its own. I'll let the author himself describe it, as lifted from his website:

Water Music is my first novel. It was published by Atlantic-Little, Brown in 1981 (though it actually appeared in early January, 1982), and was subsequently published by Penguin in soft cover, now in its 21st edition. This is a wild ride of a book, the one that taught me to follow my imagination, and it consists of 104 chapters, each a story in itself. It was three years in the writing. The back cover of the current Penguin edition has this to say: "Funny, bawdy, full of T.C. Boyle's inimitable flights of imaginative and stylistic fancy, Water Music follows the wild adventures of Ned Rise, thief and whoremaster, and Mungo Park, explorer, through London's seamy gutters and Scotland's scenic highlands--to their grand meeting in the heart of darkest Africa. There they join forces and wend their hilarious way to the source of the Niger." I remember that when the book was half-finished at about 250 pp., both my editor and agent advised me to cut out the Ned Rise story, worrying in concert that the novel was getting out of hand; I assured them that I had a plan and that Ned Rise had to stay. I hope I was right. In any case, I've never looked back.

You can read an excerpt from the first chapter here.

Boyle is dark. And witty. And bawdy. And brilliant. He is very accessible to his fans, and his website is a fan's delight. At one point, there was a message board linked to the site on which Boyle would respond to readers' queries. He's a book collector's dream, as he is not only prolific, but he will sign books until the cows come home, if you should come to a reading with a cartonful of books. By best accounts, I have signed/inscribed copies of 18 of his books (not including multiple copies). He is firm is his stance on not signing advance reader's copies, or uncorrected proofs.

My copy of Water Music, alas, is not inscribed to me, but to someone named Marjorie. However, I am proud to have her copy, whoever she may be. A signed first edition of Water Music is a scarce item, although not as much as it used to be, apparently, based on a recent web search. A fine signed copy starts at $60 and runs upwards of $300, depending on the dealer and/or condition of the copy.

If you haven't read Boyle, start with this one. It's a wild ride.

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil

Not on my list of top 20 books is any title by George Saunders. It's not through lack of effort, however. I alluded to borrowing The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil from the Brooklyn Public Library in a post on December 19. I finally read the little bugger, not because it took that long (I started it on the train home on Friday and finished it this a.m.), but because I've been reading other stuff.

This is a wonderful, quick, little read. George Saunders rocks, and I recommend him to anyone who likes quirky, out-of-the-box fiction. He's not for everyone. He is the author of two short story collections, Pastoralia and Civilwarland in Bad Decline. It is safe to say that no one around is writing like this guy.

Here's a couple of quotes:

“An astoundingly tuned voice—graceful, dark, authentic, and funny—telling just the kinds of stories we need to get us through these times.”
–Thomas Pynchon

“Like the illegitimate offspring of Nathanael West and Kurt Vonnegut…Mr. Saunders’s satiric vision of America is dark and demented; it is also ferocious and very funny.”
–Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

Ok, this book, novella, 130 small pages, is a morality tale with parallels to our world, but it is a strange place indeed. Here's what the book flap says:

Welcome to Inner Horner, a nation so small it can only accommodate one citizen at a time. The other six citizens must wait their turns in the Short-Term Residency Zone of the surrounding country of Outer Horner. It's a long-standing arrangement between the fantastical, not-exactly-human citizens of the two countries. But when Inner Horner suddenly shrinks, forcing three-quarters of the citizen then in residence over the border into Outer Horner territory, the Outer Hornerites declare an Invasion In Progress, having fallen under the spell of the power-hungry and demagogic Phil.

So begins The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil. Fueled by Saunders' unrivaled wit, outlandish imagination, and incisive political sensibility, here is a deeply strange yet strangely familiar fable of power and impotence, justice and injustice, an Animal Farm for our times.

I'll let you all judge for yourselves. You can go to Inner Horner by visiting these sites: http://www.reignofphil.com or Saunders' fansite here.

For an excerpt of the book, click here.

Saunders frequents The New Yorker, and his last story there can be read here. All I can tell you is that you will either love him or think he's a paper-waster. He may not be everyone's cup o' tea. But unless you try a new tea now and then, you'll never expand your horizons.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Industrious Clock

UPDATE 2/8/2006, moments later...I found a variation here.

UPDATE 2/8/2006: I had this link bookmarked for several years and within 2 weeks of blogging about it, it has been dismantled. I hope I am not responsible.

Check this link here. It's a nifty little clock you can leave up on your screen when you're not working.

If that bores you, so be it, it's Saturday, and the job drained me this week.

This is a Justin Case Post, filler to sit here just in case and I can't make it back and post something else.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Challenge to Remember

The New York Times reminds me that today is the 20th anniversary of the Challenger disaster. So many thoughts, so many memories. Some say that that, for my generation (X), it was the equivalent of the assassination of JFK, the "I remember what I was doing when I heard..." moment, although 9/11 trumped that, although by then we were in Gen-Y.

Anyway, 20 years ago today, I was a freshman at Occidental College in Los Angeles. I had been one of the first students in my geology class to finish a test. I had turned in my work and was leaving Fowler Hall, exiting from the stairs at the North end of the building. The building was quiet, as classes were still in session. I ran into one of the geology professors, Don Woodhead. He looked like he had just seen a ghost. "What's wrong, professor?" I asked. "The Space Shuttle exploded." He may have said more, but those were the only words I heard.

My next class, I believe it was a 10 AM (PST) "core" class called "Collegium," a year-long melange of liberal arts core discussions covering multiple subjects. That day's lectures were to be held on the North end of campus, which was where I headed. I ended up in the lobby of Newcomb Hall, the dorm closest to the lecture location. Dozens of students had already gathered. I believe only a handful of students showed up for class. We were all glued to televisions watching over and over again.

A senior at Oxy named Bill Cochrane had been on a game show called "Press Your Luck." Bill was one of the chief attractions of the Occidental Yell Squad, and a very popular guy. Many of us had planned watching him later that morning after class. His episode never aired. He told me later that he was pissed off about that, but understood under the circumstances. He missed his 15 seconds of fame. He had been hit by an entirely different Whammy.

It seemed that everyone focused on Christa McAuliffe, the ill-fated school teacher who had been among the crew. Not to take away anything from Ms. McAuliffe's legacy, but for a small segment of the U.S. population, she was not the chief object of mourning. I know I felt a greater tug at my heart when I heard one of the other astronauts was Ellison Onizuka, the Hawai'i born astronaut. He was a home-town hero to the people of Hawai'i. We related to him because of where he was from, as I'm sure each of the seven astronauts had entire states and regions mourning especially for their own home-town heroes.

That term in college, Collegium participants had to complete "creative" projects. My friend Chris Konzelman composed an original piece for the piano called "To the Challenger." My project, called "Poetography," was a series of photos I took, about which I wrote poems. The last poetograph consisted of a photo of the administration building. It was a black and white shot. The flags on either side of the building fly half-staff, limply. A woman is sitting on the stairs, reading. The structure has two columns of white cement on either side. In the picture I took (not the one below), the white starkness of those two columns is

contrasted by a trick of light, or shading, or developing, two faint black images mirroring the white columns, rising vertically into the air.

The columns look like two black trails of exhaust, driving the building into the earth.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Entirely Unrelated Notes

A few weeks back, I bought an external hard drive for the PC at home, primarily to allow me to move more of my CDs onto digital storage which, in turn, gives the iPod a vaster library to pull from.

Late last night/early this morning, as I was taking a break from rubber-cementing Jolee's science project onto the cardboard display (Apple's Changing Colors: No Matter How You Slice Them), I added more music, surpassing the 9000 song mark with Living Colour's Vivid LP. My iTunes now surpasses 40 MG which means, in turn, my iPod is now 2/3rds full.

I know, whatever.

Anyway, the shuffle gave me an interesting mix this morning, and uncannily threw in a heavy metal song as I was standing in line at Starbucks realizing I hadn't heard any metal. I was going to list the songs, but I scrolled past the first selection and the shuffle reset, but I will tell you I had a healthy mix of jazz from Chet Baker and Bill Charlap, some Robert Johnson and Jimi Hendrix, a little Lucinda Williams (the only remotely "country" singer I truly enjoy), Jimmy Page with the Black Crowes, the aforementioned metal song "Poison" by the band Venom, and a few other selections.

The crowning moment came in the middle of the list with the full-length version of the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight," which, as was recently reiterated to me in old friend Jeff Chang's highly-acclaimed book Can't Stop, Won't Stop, is the literal flash point for the mainstream acceptance of hip-hop. I still remember trying, as an adolescent and listening to KIKI, island radio, to write down the lyrics as they poured out of my boombox.

On an entirely unrelated note, I finished Nicole Krauss' History of Love (previously mentioned here) this morning. Overall, quite enjoyable and recommended, although I was left wanting more, despite knowing why I wasn't getting more. It seemed a little too dangly.

On another entirely unrelated note, I also finished the third installment of Patricia Cornwell's At Risk, a weekly fiction feature in The New York Times Magazine. Loyal readers may recall I posted about the inaugural feature, a story by Elmore Leonard, which ran from September through December. I highly recommend following this, either in print or on-line here.

And on one last entirely unrelated note, I found one of my old posts linked to another blogger's post, from way back in September '05, in BillyBlog's infancy. There's something somewhat validating about seeing your creation linked in another person's blog, especially if you don't know them. The post is here, and I am linked among several others in discussing the Best American Poetry series.

Things I Found on the Subway, Part 3

It's just a torn scrap, but it jumped out at me on the R train as we rolled into 95th Street Thursday evening. There are three key legible elements: first, my name, Bill. Then, the segment of sentence "that makes," and finally, "the wrong reason".

Its mystery will forever be unknown, but I thought I'd share anyway.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

My Father Has Something in Common with Edward Van Halen

No, he doesn't play a mean guitar. It's his birthday.

Happy Birthday, Leon Cohen and Eddie Van Halen.

Work has been kind of hectic lately, so I am posting this early enough to not distract me from my humanly resourceful duties.

I have never met Mr. VH, but I have met David Lee Roth, but that's a story for another day.

Take a moment today to find a Van Halen song, preferably from Van Halen or Van Halen II. Listen to it. And by listening to it, I mean, filter out the bravado of David Lee Roth and isolate the guitar. Take a moment to appreciate the skill of Eddie Van Halen, and appreciate how amazing his guitar work was on those early albums, before his genius was watered down by the hundreds of imitators and emulators.

I still can identify the first Van Halen song I ever heard, way back on Honolulu's 98 Rock. Originally released in 1980, "And the Cradle Will Rock..." led off the band's Women and Children First. It still brings a smile to my face when I hear it.

In 1987, I played air guitar a la Eddie with friends Lance Friedman, Rob Cunningham and Roger Riviere in the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity's popular air band competition at Occidental College. We all wore spandex and I had a brown wig which was launched into the front row during our homage to "Beautiful Girls." My guitar was a broom spray-painted red with masking tape stripes.

We didn't win, but we had a rocking good time.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Greatest Songs Ever

A co-worker subscribes to a music magazine called Blender and he passes it on to me when he's done with it. It's a nifty little publication and has a cool semi-regular feature called "The Greatest Songs Ever". They take a page to analyze a specific song and discuss its creation with the key players. The current issue on the newsstands discusses Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer."

Under the guise of having "the greatest songs ever" on my iPod, I have complied them in a playlist, with the exception of "Superstar" by The Carpenters, which has eluded me. I'm not sure if I'll let that one go or not.

Anyway, if you want to check out their archive of these articles, click here. If you're ever bored, just run over and read one or two of the pieces. It's quite interesting, such as the explanation of the brief atonal piano chord at the beginning of the song "Roxanne" by The Police:

“I was just about to sing the first line,” remembers Sting, “when I noticed a stand–up piano. I was tired, I’d been up all night, so I just sat down. I thought the piano lid was closed, but it was open, so I wound up playing this incredible chord with my arse. It was this sort of atonal cluster that went nicely against the chords we were playing. We thought it was funny, so we left it in.”
I had never noticed it before and when I went to listen after reading this, there it was, an aural blink of sound before that first note is sung. This fascinating trivia makes my day from time to time.

The archive runs from July 2001 and covers most of '03 and '04, with only one listed from '05, so I'm guessing it's not a "complete" list. Worth a look-see, nonetheless.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


I was hurting for content today and didn't want to borrow, so I unearthed this gem, which I don't really ever see a market for, so it will live a short life here, and then die an anonymous death. Comments are appreciated.

I believe I was playing the "give me a word and I'll write a poem" game, played most successfully by my pal Jill. This one, if memory serves me right, came from my friend Chris. His word was "Aspen". What follows is the bastard child born of that word:


He kept his donkey in an ass-pen.
As a child, he would always
ask his mother for a children's Asp'in
whenever he had a headache.
He became famous in the wrestling world
for his unbeatable move
known only as "The Ass Pin."
He was always taking other people's cars
and going for a spin.
He was fond of poisonous snakes and
housed his favorite
asp in a giant aquarium.
He died one year in Aspen,
victim of a freak accident,
clutching an Oakland
A's pennant as pins
and needles dropped
on the asphalt
resulted in a blowout,
his car in a spinout,
in the wreckage
gaspin' for air.

Monday, January 23, 2006


Sometimes blogging is all about ripping off stuff from other sites. Those with BlogBlock surf a bit to get the blogjuices flowing and find interesting things. Today is one of those days.

Click here to play "Name that Candy Bar". It's not very sophisticated, but it's a fun diversion. You click on 1 of 12 photos of a cross section of certain chocolate candies. Guess before you click. See how you rate as a chocoholic. I scored 7 out of 12, not bad, I guess, especially because one is a total rip-off. You'll know it when you click it.

The true afficionado can click a link to a second page here to try some truly tricky ones. I got 1/12 but I gave up when I saw some truly obscure items. It helps if you frequent Great Britain or just spend way too much time in my family's favorite candy store, Dylan's Candy Bar.

For those of you who have never been to Dylan's, Ralph Lauren's daughter has created quite a nifty little candy shoppe here in NYC which is a must-see if you're up near Bloomingdale's. Although no longer available, this is what their "deluxe" $300 gift basket looked like:

Click on the photo to enlarge it so you can truly appreciate it in all its glory.

Sunday, January 22, 2006


I can hear the non-poetry fans cringing, but I was made aware of something a while back and wish to pass it on to any who may be interested.

I first learned, through Ron Silliman's blog of an amazing treasure trove of audio files that are free for personal use, for those who may want to experience them.

The website is www.ubu.com and is a humungous archive of literary recordings that may or may not interest you. For example, I just downloaded recordings of Charles Bukowski, Amiri Baraka, Frank O'Hara, Allen Ginsberg, and Kenneth Koch reading in public from 1959 through the 1979. That may not excite many of BillyBlog's loyal readers, but hey, it's Sunday, I don't want to overstimulate any of you.

I should add, however, it goes beyond poetry. There are recordings of William S. Burroughs, Gertrude Stein, Henry Miller, Glenn Gould, Guillaume Apollinaire, Marcel Duchamp, Samuel Beckett, Jean Cocteau, Salvador Dali, Frank Zappa, Timothy Leary, Max Ernst, Eugene Ionesco, James Joyce, John Lennon, and on and on. All free, as long as you use it for personal enjoyment and do not reproduce it commercially.

It's always nice to sandwich a little James Joyce reading from Ulysses between Metallica and Outkast on the old iPod.

Anyway, it's worth checking out.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Saturday Sunset

Unseasonably warm in Brooklyn. Amazing sunset.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Top 20 Books, #7

Lucky Number 7 on my List of Top 20 Books is Paradise News by David Lodge.


I'm willing to bank on the fact that, compared to Toni Morrison's Beloved, this book is as obscure as a bartender's guide in a Mormon library.

What I mean is, I'm certain many of you may have never heard of this book, let alone its author.

However, I understand that BillyBlog readers have discerning tastes, so many of you may already heard of him. Hopefully, those of you who haven't will check him out if you haven't.

I first came across David Lodge in 1995, when his novel Therapy was favorably reviewed in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. After being blown away by this witty, British writer's humor and style, I went back through his catalogue and read most of his previous work. When I learned that Paradise News was set in Hawai'i, I dropped everything to read it.

When Lodge described his main character disembarking the plane in Honolulu and smelling, in the humidity, the mix of tropical flowers and jet fuel, I remember nodding and thinking, "Yes, he's got it!"

Lodge consistently infuses his tales with academia and Catholicism, so be prepared for that aspect. A synopsis of Paradise News reads (from Amazon.com):

"Bernard Walsh is planning a quiet visit to his sick aunt in Hawaii. A cynical ex-priest in search of a well-needed vacation, he is unprepared for this zany package tour from Hell populated with all the "types": dueling newlyweds, boring salesmen, video happy seniors, romance starved spinsters, and a sexy native girl on a collision course with fate (or at least Walsh's father). Lodge combines an interesting mix of viewpoints and writing styles, switching among characters and including such diverse approaches as diaries and postcards. Essential for anyone who loves to travel or wishes they could, this is highly recommended for vacation reading collections."

This narrative flexibility, in which Lodge deftly switches between narrative voices, is one of his greatest strengths, and is what hooked me when I read Therapy. He has written several novels featuring professors. One called Changing Places juxtaposes a stuffy English professor with his counterpart from Berkeley as they engage in a professional exchange program. This novel boasts a much-cited scene in which the professors play a party game called "Humiliation," in which each player is required to name the most important book they have never read, which would subsequently "humiliate" the academic. For example, I would imagine it would be humiliating for an American Literature professor to admit they had never read The Scarlet Letter. (For me, I would guess my book would be Moby Dick). But, I digress.

I would strongly recommend Paradise News, and other David Lodge novels to anyone, but especially Paradise News to folks familiar with Hawai'i. It is one thing to grow up there, but it is often hilarious to see the 50th state viewed through the eyes of aliens to the life and culture there, especially from those as far away as Britain.

If you are interested in more, you can read the beginning of the first chapter here.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

A New Slogan

Gone is "Dispatches from the Corner of Pualei Circle and Seventh Avenue." In is "Food for the Creative Imagination." Catchy, no? Now, let's see how devoted you really are. Introducing:

Yes, the official BillyBlog T-shirt. Show your friends and family how hip you are by sporting these new threads. You can purchase them at this storefront.

Note, the back features a photo from BillyBlog's "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" series.

Am I serious about the shirts? Not completely, but check them out. I can customize any shirt, as well. And am currently selling other styles of shirts, with a coffee mug on the horizon.

On a completely random note, today is also the day that Janis Joplin would have celebrated her 63rd birthday.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

2000th Hit Update

At 10:33 AM, Eastern Standard Time, BillyBlog registered its 2000th hit. The visitor hailed from somewhere in the vicinity of Columbus, Indiana. Based on the length of their visit to BillyBlog (0 seconds), it is unlikely they will return to learn of their significance to the life of this endeavor.

Thanks again everyone!

Snax on the Trax

Yesterday before I left the house, I grabbed my camera. Jolee wanted to know why I needed it. How could I explain? Subconsciously, I knew I would need it for something. Something important. Well, sort of.

The photos you see before you now were taken at the 34th Street stop on the local track that hosts the R train and the W train. I generally don't pick up the R here, despite the fact that I ultimately end up on an R. I generally grab an express (N or Q), as I am likely to catch up to another R closer to home.

Down on the tracks, in the middle of the platform, lay the biggest zip-lock bag of Froot Loops I had ever seen. So, what's the big deal? There's always trash on the tracks. This is New York, after all. But I, believe it or not, see more than just the things, but the backstories, the imaginings of how things became what they are. As a parent, who travels on the subways with children, I know the necessity of bringing snacks. In fact, my youngest one, Shayna, has a keen Pavlovian response to subway riding and immediately announces her hunger once we sit on a train.

But this was no snack bag. This was a big, honkin' gallon-size bag of Froot Loops. And I thought it photo-worthy. Imagine the scenarios of how someone might lose a big bag such of this.

I see a child on the platform, waiting with his or her parents for the R train. I see him pulling the snacks out of the diaper bag. I see him hurling the bag onto the tracks, to the sheer horror of the parent(s). I see the other commuters shaking their heads. I see the parent, most likely a mother, shaking with rage, as the child trembles with a mixture of laughter and fear. A train rolls in. A train rolls out. The mother and child have boarded, Brooklyn-bound, as the bag of Froot Loops remains, abandoned on the tracks, a potential sugar high for the rats hiding below.

I might add, while taking these pictures and mulling the Loops, my iPod was cranking out "The Rock" from The Who's Quadrophenia album. The music seemed perfectly subterranean.

I think that cereal was on my mind because of a comment posted yesterday by an anonymous reader, who referred me to the wikipedia entry for Cap'n Crunch. Therefore, I am compelled to refer readers to the entry for Froot Loops. Wikipedia is a neat online resource, which in itself has a unique history. It is an ever-changing web-document, and can contain inaccuracies, if inserted and not corrected by other wikipedia online community members. Check out this great story about wikipedia here from the Villlage Voice.

Anyway, today BillyBlog will get it's 2000th hit. Thanks to all who read! I appreciate your continued interest in my inane and random ramblings!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Dazed and Confused

Today is the 37th anniversary of the release of the first Led Zeppelin album in 1969. Thanks to my 2006 Fender Custom Shop Guitar Calendar for that bit o' trivia. Almost hard to imagine that an album that rocks that hard can be so old.

It's not their top-selling album, but it has topped 10 million copies. On Rolling Stone's "Top 500 Albums of All Time," this record ranks #29, ahead of all the others in the band's catalogue, including Led Zeppelin IV (#66), Physical Graffiti (#70) and Led Zeppelin II (#75).

To quote from the Rolling Stone blurb:

On their first album, Led Zeppelin were still in the process of inventing their own sound, moving on from the heavy rave-up blueprint of guitarist Jimmy Page's previous band, the Yardbirds. But from the very beginning, Zeppelin had the astonishing fusion of Page's lyrical guitar playing and Robert Plant's paint-peeling love-hound yowl. "We were learning what got us off most and what got people off most," said Plant, who was, in 1969, a relatively untutored twenty-one-year-old from England's West Midlands. The template for everything Zeppelin achieved in the 1970s is here: brutal rock ("Communication Breakdown"), thundering power balladry ("Your Time Is Gonna Come"), acid-flavored folk blues ("Babe I'm Gonna Leave You")."

Crank it up!

Literary Déjà Vu

As a regular reader of The New Yorker, I occasionally find myself experiencing a form of literary déjà vu, as I did this morning when I cracked open Nicole Krauss' novel The History of Love.

The New Yorker runs fiction in nearly every issue and, more often than one would imagine, the fictional piece, which appears to be a short story, turns out to be an excerpt from a current or upcoming novel.

I would protest this practice loudly, but the periodical does not falsely advertise, it labels the section "Fiction," not "Short Story." Nonetheless, when I read a novel, I will find myself thinking that things are very familiar. "But how could this be?" I ask, "I've never read this before!"

It's like having a conversation with someone at a party, and slowly realizing from the conversation that you have met this person before, you've heard the story before, you are familiar with this turn of events.

You are reminded that if the story was unmemorable when it first appeared, the book would suffer. But you remember this story, and you realize that this bodes well for the book.

Allow me to digress: I remember first learning what déjà vu meant. I thank Monty Python. Growing up with my Mom in Hawai'i, we lived for period of time with her boyfriend and his teenage son. The teenager was a huge Python fan, so I was exposed to its brilliance at an early age in the mid-1970's. There is a Python sketch, in their 16th show called "Déjà vu". It is not nearly as funny in print as on screen, but if you're interested, you can read the sketch here.

Back to the book at hand, which we are reading for the Bay Ridge Jewish Center book club. I am enjoying it so far, and I hear good things about it, and that is all I can say at this point. Ms. Krauss is married to another amazing novelist Jonathan Safran Foer, whose Everything is Illuminated is phenomenal, and which I strongly recommend be read, if you haven't yet, before Hollywood releases its film version. Oh wait, I just noticed it did, back in September. That doesn't bode well for the film, as I have heard little since then. Let's see...Roger Ebert liked it.
Yet it only made, as of the end of November, $1.7 million, after 11 weeks. Doesn't appear that Warner Brothers was behind this with much enthusiasm.

Read the book. Then rent the DVD. I'll report back on The History of Love at a later date.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Found Spice

It was a cold day in the city, but my pockets warmed when I found this seemingly brand-new container of paprika on the bridge at Fort Hamilton Parkway running over the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (aka Interstate 278).

Of course, anyone with enough sense to use paprika in my home will be loathe to use this, and the 2.12 ounces of seemingly fine spice will more than likely be discarded. I mean, I did find this on the sidewalk and, I must admit, the most interesting thing about this is the disclaimer on the back of the label that announces: "SILICON DIOXIDE (ADDED TO MAKE FREE FLOWING)."

Wikipedia, an amazing online resource, states that silicon dioxide, or silica "is also used as a food additive, primarily as a flow agent in powdered foods, or to absorb water."

Here are some other fun facts about paprika (all courtesy of wikipedia.com):

Paprika is noted for its high vitamin C content (150 to 250 mg/100 g). In fact, vitamin C was first isolated (by Hungarian cientist Albert Szent-Györgyi) from Hungarian paprika.

Peru is probably the world's leading producer of paprika, exporting as much as 75,000 metric tons in 2005. The United States, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Hungary are significant producers as well. The United States is the world's leading consumer of paprika, consuming as much as 40,000 metric tons in 2005.

In the United States, California, New Mexico and western Texas are the main producers.

If you are ever traveling to Hungary, you should visit the Pick Salami and Szeged Paprika Museum in Szeged.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Found Art

I found this small work of art in a copy of Saul Bellow's More Die of Heartbreak at our local thrift shop. It is composed on a post-it, from green high-lighter. If interested, I will sell it to the highest bidder.

What is it? Comments please....and do not be offended by my guess, but it looks like the Mona Lisa making an obscene guesture, perhaps left behind by a disgruntled reader who was not enjoying Mr. Bellow's novel?

Things I Found on the Subway, Part 2

In my continuing series, Things I Found on the Subway, I present this crumbled up note I found this morning on the "R" train.

I love the ambiguity of the hand-written note:

"I think easier w/the girls on Friday."

Interpret it as you like, submit your guesses in the comments section. What does this mean?

By the way, Norvasc is a high blood pressure medicine.