Archive for September, 2009

Pages: “The Magicians”

I really wanted to like The Magicians, by Lev Grossman, I really didmagicians jacket. But now that I’ve slogged through it, I’m not sure if I did. The first half of the book drew me in completely; instead of going to a traditional college, Quentin is unexpectedly whisked away to Brakebills, an exclusive college for the magically inclined — Hogwarts for grownups, albeit darker. Quentin’s continued fascination with the Fillory books from his childhood lured me along with the promise of Fillory fiction within fiction. But once Quentin and company move into the real world and then out of it again, Grossman lost control of the story. He alternately plods along in maddeningly repetitive detail about who has slept with whom and how much booze is consumed as Quentin and the gang sit around, boring the reader with their navel-gazing ennui. Then the action careens off, only to sputter again in upstate New York and then the Nietherworlds before careening off into a comic-book cliche of a climax. And then the denouement left me thinking, “What the heck was THAT?!?!”

My biggest frustration, however, was Quentin himself and a disturbing trend in American fiction. Just what IS the deal with wimpy, narcissistic male protagonists? Are anti-heroes like Quentin supposed to pass for complicated, three-dimensional characters? Or is that as close as male authors can get to concocting sensitive new age males? I’m so done with that. And all of the high-falutin’ talk in literary circles about how a character simply must develop over the narrative arc? Forget it here, unless you can count what happens to Quentin. Yet at the end he’s still bored, still self-centered, still navel-gazing.  Give me Jamie Fraser any day, people! At least he’s not a wuss!

Countdown to Dan Brown’s Next Bazillion

Lost symbol jacket

I know I promised I’d write about Texas books and authors, but this is just too big to ignore. In case your All-Seeing Masonic Eye has been on the fritz, Dan Brown’s long-awaited follow-up to The Da Vinci Code drops just after midnight on September 15.

In The Lost Symbol, symbologist Robert Langdon is back in another frenetic hunt, this time racing through our nation’s capital! Chasing after Freemasons and big tattoed eunuchs! Solving some Mensa-type puzzles! Looking at some symbolic art and architecture! And and who knows what all else, all in the space of 12 hours!!! Whew, that wears me out, just reading about all of that in the preliminary reviews. Maybe Langdon’s angling to replace Jack Bauer? After all “12” would be perfect for people with A.D.D.

If you simply have to know more, here’s the review from the New York Times review — which, by the way, broke the Random House-imposed embargo on the book by publishing the review on Monday. Take THAT, Matt Lauer — scooped by a newspaper! Ha ha ha!

Or go stand in line at your favorite bookstore on Tuesday. And let me know if anyone shows up dressed like their favorite Dan Brown character — Mary Magdelene or albino monks, anyone? Maybe I’ll run over to BookPeople at midnight to see what’s happening there. Then again, maybe I’d rather just call it a night and get some All-Seeing Shuteye. After all, I’ll be reading all about it later this week.

This piece is also posted at DogCanyon, where I’m weighing in on books and authors and all things literary.

Howling About All Things Texas at DogCanyon

The Armchair CoyoteMy pal Glenn Smith has just launched DogCanyon, a new web site about Texas culture, politics, mystique, et cetera et cetera. As the literary editor, I get to blogging about books, authors, writing, bookstores — basically, “Lone Star Lit 101” (my first post!). I’m hoping to post one longer piece a week, with some shorter tidbits in between.

Dr. Greg Jackson is also going to be writing about health care there too — we’re still trying to find a home for that book of his. His first piece is “How to Fix the Costs of Health Care? Let’s Do the Math.”

DogCanyon is also going to be an online media partner with the Writers’ League of Texas, so eventually other Leaguers will also be posting there.

Check out the Dog!

Quote of the Week (Maybe the Month)

“It’s like debating the difference between aspirin
and Tylenol for a cancer patient.”

— Dr. David Himmelstein, when asked about the health care reform bills in Congress

Dr. Himmelstein is an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who he helped write major studies finding that medical bills were a leading contributor to personal bankruptcies in the United States.

Read the whole article in the New York Times here.

And for more on health care, visit my client Dr. Gregory Jackson’s blog, “Reality Check: How to Live Better Longer.”

High School Flashback, Courtesy of ZZ & Pink

Proust had his madeleines; for me, it’s music. Driving in to work this morning, I had a high school flashback triggered by ZZ Top’s “La Grange“: dragging Main in Colby, Kansas, in our infamous Green Sleaze (1970 Malibu Chevelle) with the eight-track blasting out Tres Hombres. Then I flipped over to KLBJ and caught Pink Floyd’s “Breathe,” which took me right back to 1974 (give me those big old headphones).

How I love the randomness of radio!

James Patterson and the New Math

James PattersonPublishers Weekly noted that James Patterson just inked a deal with Hachette to produce 17 — yes, that’s SEVENTEEN — books by the end of 2012. That would be 11 adult titles and six young adult titles in three years. Let’s see, if we start from today, that would be a total of 40 months, which means that each book would take approximately 2.36 months. Now, that’s what we call cranking them out.

Makes those authors who take two or three years to write one book look downright unproductive.

Is James Patterson the superhero of the literary world or just really good at  literary math? No, he uses the TEAM Patterson approach, also known as the “James Patterson Business Model”!

Hey, if it works for Thomas Kinkade, why not try it in books? I’d say Patterson is one smart cookie! He knows his brand. After all, how many authors are the subject of a Harvard marketing class?

Real Voices for Change: Health Care Reform Rally

I started the day watching the funeral of Senator Ted Kennedy, the third of the brothers I witnessed being laid to rest. In honor of the Lion of the Senate, I decided to attend today’s Real Voices for Change Forum with Congressman Lloyd Doggett here in Austin.

On my way to meet my friends Nancy and Debi, I spotted a hulking black SUV loaded with bumper stickers, so many that the only ones I caught were “Where’s the Birth Certificate?” and “Where’s the Fence?” Go figure.

I thought it was a real possibility that we’d get yelled at by some angry teabaggers, so I briefly considered packing a few used teabags, just in case. (NOTE: THAT WAS A JOKE!) I also wondered if those who embrace the “teabagger” moniker so wholeheartedly even know of the salacious meaning of that particular term. But I suppose they don’t.

Anyway, around 2:15 p.m., Nancy, Debi, and I headed over to the First United Methodist Church, site of the forum. An orderly line snaked around the church with pro-reform signs. A small group of the opposition was camped out on the island on 12th Street, again orderly and relatively quiet. Instead of standing in line, we opted to go to the overflow room at the AFL-CIO building. We claimed chairs and were handed official signs. One thoughtful woman even handed out some snacks! By the time the event started, the room was full, probably around 200-250 people. The only squawking I heard was a baby out in the hall. Definitely a pro-reform crowd.

One woman who sat next to us said she’d been at the Capitol earlier for the rally and hung around afterward, watching the TV crews glom onto the teabaggers, even though they were hugely outnumbered. (Of course, the secessionists had a rally earlier in the day in which they claimed that Sam Houston supported secession — fact check, PUH-LEASE!). But our roomful of people was quite cheerful and supportive and quite enthusiastic when the show started.


  • Pastor Jim Rigby of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church: “If you talk about helping the poor, you’re called a Christian. If you actually try to help the poor, you’re called a socialist” and “Some people think your right to life ends when you’re born.” I’m going to go check out St. Andrew’s — love the Social Justice bent of that church!
  • Geoff Tudor: A former health-care industry attorney told his poignant personal story about losing his health care coverage after having a heart ailment and moving back to the Texas to take care of his family. The bottom line is he needs a procedure to replace the battery of his pacemaker in eight months and has no coverage and doesn’t know if he’ll be able to have the surgery. I wish I could find a transcript of that speech — it was stunning.
  • Lloyd Doggett arrived to a standing ovation:
    • “Doing nothing in a country as prosperous as ours is unconscionable.”
    • “If you try to listen to what these fears are expressing so strongly, it uncovers some truths. These claimed describe what’s wrong with health care today that we want to fix.”
    • “What the opponents are describing are not the dangers of reform but about doing nothing.”
    • He also pushed for the public option! Yippee!

At one point, one speaker asked all of the veterans to stand, and one of the men in our room stood, revealing a red “Faux News” T-shirt.

We decided to head back over to the church to check out the action. DPS troopers were patrolling 12th Street. The island had maybe 50 people on it, hollering and waving signs. I saw the Obama as Hitler poster at the LaRouche table  and the creepy Obama as the Joker T-shirts. That bugged me. Although they were standing out in the sun and heat, so… What surprised me the most was that they seemed to be mostly middle-aged and young white people. Very few older people.

Pro-reformers lined the north side of the street, offering good-natured back and forth. I found a shady spot and watched for a while, but aside from the occasional shouting, nothing much seemed to be happening.

Nancy announced, “I’m going over there,” and walked over to the island where she stood unaccosted. Then Debi and I walked across the street to get a picture of Nancy with the Baggers, and one woman accosted Debi, telling her that she was stupid for supporting reform! Debi just walked away.

Overall, it was quiet and relatively civil. And the numbers tell the story: The headcount  at the church and the overflow venues was estimated at 1,500 to 2,000 while I counted around  50 protesters. But of course that’s where the TV cameras were!

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