Friday, December 28, 2012

Writing & Reading: New Year's Resolutions

I will make more of an effort to write fully-formed fiction and non-fiction in 2013, rather than spending so much time on blog posts and Facebook posts. Among the things I plan to do:

  • Finish my story 2012: A Parable, about Karl Rove's efforts to swing the 2012 election towards Republican candidates, especially the Presidential Election.
  • Finish my story "Abducted," about a man who believes he was abducted by aliens and is now recruited by a shadowy government agency to develop a language for communicating with an alien captured after its spacecraft crashed in Roswell, NM near Area 51.
  • Write a short story or novella about an alien invasion of Earth that involves an alien presence totally unexpected.
  • Write an op-ed about the gun debate in America titled, "War of the Worlds," which explores the diametrically opposed world views of the Second Amendment fanatics and the vast majority of sane Americans.
  • Refocus my non-fiction blog on climate change
  • Write and study various forms of poetry.
  • Re-write and re-publish my collection of poetry, "All Hearts Break, All Dreams Die."
  • Publish my novel, "The Lion and the Sun," in hard copy (possibly using Createspace).

I plan to read these books, among others, in 2013. The list is in no particular order.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Are these really the "best novels ever?"

Robert McCrum's choice of the top 100 novels of all time published in 2003 and updated in 2005. Which have you read? What would you add to the list? What, if anything, would you exclude?

1. Don Quixote, Miguel De Cervantes
The story of the gentle knight and his servant Sancho Panza has entranced readers for centuries.
2. Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan
The one with the Slough of Despond and Vanity Fair.
3. Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe 
The first English novel.
4. Gulliver's Travels, Jonathan Swift 
A wonderful satire that still works for all ages, despite the savagery of Swift's vision.
5. Tom Jones, Henry Fielding 
The adventures of a high-spirited orphan boy: an unbeatable plot and a lot of sex ending in a blissful marriage.
6. Clarissa, Samuel Richardson
One of the longest novels in the English language, but unputdownable.
7. Tristram Shandy, Laurence Sterne 
One of the first bestsellers, dismissed by Dr Johnson as too fashionable for its own good.
8. Dangerous Liaisons, Pierre Choderlos De Laclos 
An epistolary novel and a handbook for seducers: foppish, French, and ferocious.
9. Emma, Jane Austen
Near impossible choice between this and Pride and Prejudice. But Emma never fails to fascinate and annoy.
10. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley 
Inspired by spending too much time with Shelley and Byron.
11. Nightmare Abbey, Thomas Love Peacock
A classic miniature: a brilliant satire on the Romantic novel.
12. The Black Sheep, Honore De Balzac 
Two rivals fight for the love of a femme fatale. Wrongly overlooked.
13. The Charterhouse of Parma, Stendhal
Penetrating and compelling chronicle of life in an Italian court in post-Napoleonic France.
14. The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas 
A revenge thriller also set in France after Bonaparte: a masterpiece of adventure writing.
15. Sybil, Benjamin Disraeli 
Apart from Churchill, no other British political figure shows literary genius.
16. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
This highly autobiographical novel is the one its author liked best.
17. Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte 
Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff have passed into the language. Impossible to ignore.
18. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte 
Obsessive emotional grip and haunting narrative.
19. Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray 
The improving tale of Becky Sharp.
20. The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne 
A classic investigation of the American mind.
21. Moby-Dick, Herman Melville
'Call me Ishmael' is one of the most famous opening sentences of any novel.
22. Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert 
You could summarise this as a story of adultery in provincial France, and miss the point entirely.
23. The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins 
Gripping mystery novel of concealed identity, abduction, fraud and mental cruelty.
24. Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll 
A story written for the nine-year-old daughter of an Oxford don that still baffles most kids.
25. Little Women, Louisa M. Alcott 
Victorian bestseller about a New England family of girls.
26. The Way We Live Now, Anthony Trollope 
A majestic assault on the corruption of late Victorian England.
27. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy 
The supreme novel of the married woman's passion for a younger man.
28. Daniel Deronda, George Eliot 
A passion and an exotic grandeur that is strange and unsettling.
29. The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky 
Mystical tragedy by the author of Crime and Punishment.
30. The Portrait of a Lady, Henry James 
The story of Isabel Archer shows James at his witty and polished best.
31. Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain 
Twain was a humorist, but this picture of Mississippi life is profoundly moral and still incredibly influential.
32. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson 
A brilliantly suggestive, resonant study of human duality by a natural storyteller.
33. Three Men in a Boat, Jerome K. Jerome 
One of the funniest English books ever written.
34. The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
A coded and epigrammatic melodrama inspired by his own tortured homosexuality.
35. The Diary of a Nobody, George Grossmith 
This classic of Victorian suburbia will always be renowned for the character of Mr Pooter.
36. Jude the Obscur,e Thomas Hardy 
Its savage bleakness makes it one of the first twentieth-century novels.
37. The Riddle of the Sands, Erskine Childers
A prewar invasion-scare spy thriller by a writer later shot for his part in the Irish republican rising.
38. The Call of the Wild, Jack London
The story of a dog who joins a pack of wolves after his master's death.
39. Nostromo, Joseph Conrad 
Conrad's masterpiece: a tale of money, love and revolutionary politics.
40. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame 
This children's classic was inspired by bedtime stories for Grahame's son.
41. In Search of Lost Time, Marcel Proust 
An unforgettable portrait of Paris in the belle epoque. Probably the longest novel on this list.
42. The Rainbow, D. H. Lawrence 
Novels seized by the police, like this one, have a special afterlife.
43. The Good Soldier, Ford Madox Ford 
This account of the adulterous lives of two Edwardian couples is a classic of unreliable narration.
44. The Thirty-Nine Steps, John Buchan 
A classic adventure story for boys, jammed with action, violence and suspense.
45. Ulysses, James Joyce 
Also pursued by the British police, this is a novel more discussed than read.
46. Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf 
Secures Woolf's position as one of the great twentieth-century English novelists.
47. A Passage to India, E. M. Forster
The great novel of the British Raj, it remains a brilliant study of empire.
48. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald 
The quintessential Jazz Age novel.
49. The Trial, Franz Kafka 
The enigmatic story of Joseph K.
50. Men Without Women, Ernest Hemingway 
He is remembered for his novels, but it was the short stories that first attracted notice.
51. Journey to the End of the Night, Louis-Ferdinand Celine
The experiences of an unattractive slum doctor during the Great War: a masterpiece of linguistic innovation.
52. As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner 
A strange black comedy by an American master.
53. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley 
Dystopian fantasy about the world of the seventh century AF (after Ford).
54. Scoop, Evelyn Waugh 
The supreme Fleet Street novel.
55. USA, John Dos Passos 
An extraordinary trilogy that uses a variety of narrative devices to express the story of America.
56. The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler 
Introducing Philip Marlowe: cool, sharp, handsome - and bitterly alone.
57. The Pursuit Of Love, Nancy Mitford 
An exquisite comedy of manners with countless fans.
58. The Plague, Albert Camus 
A mysterious plague sweeps through the Algerian town of Oran.
59. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell 
This tale of one man's struggle against totalitarianism has been appropriated the world over.
60. Malone Dies, Samuel Beckett 
Part of a trilogy of astonishing monologues in the black comic voice of the author of Waiting for Godot.
61. Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger 
A week in the life of Holden Caulfield. A cult novel that still mesmerises.
62. Wise Blood, Flannery O'Connor 
A disturbing novel of religious extremism set in the Deep South.
63. Charlotte's Web, E. B. White 
How Wilbur the pig was saved by the literary genius of a friendly spider.
64. The Lord Of The Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien
Enough said!
65. Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis 
An astonishing debut: the painfully funny English novel of the Fifties.
66. Lord of the Flies, William Golding 
Schoolboys become savages: a bleak vision of human nature.
67. The Quiet American, Graham Greene 
Prophetic novel set in 1950s Vietnam.
68 On the Road, Jack Kerouac 
The Beat Generation bible.
69. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov 
Humbert Humbert's obsession with Lolita is a tour de force of style and narrative.
70. The Tin Drum, Gunter Grass 
Hugely influential, Rabelaisian novel of Hitler's Germany.
71. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe 
Nigeria at the beginning of colonialism. A classic of African literature.
72. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark 
A writer who made her debut in The Observer - and her prose is like cut glass.
73. To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee
Scout, a six-year-old girl, narrates an enthralling story of racial prejudice in the Deep South.
74. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
'[He] would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; if he didn't want to he was sane and had to.'
75. Herzog, Saul Bellow
Adultery and nervous breakdown in Chicago.
76. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
A postmodern masterpiece.
77. Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, Elizabeth Taylor 
A haunting, understated study of old age.
78. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, John Le Carre 
A thrilling elegy for post-imperial Britain.
79. Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison 
The definitive novelist of the African-American experience.
80. The Bottle Factory Outing, Beryl Bainbridge 
Macabre comedy of provincial life.
81. The Executioner's Song, Norman Mailer 
This quasi-documentary account of the life and death of Gary Gilmore is possibly his masterpiece.
82. If on a Winter's Night a Traveller, Italo Calvino
A strange, compelling story about the pleasures of reading.
83. A Bend in the River, V. S. Naipaul 
The finest living writer of English prose. This is his masterpiece: edgily reminiscent of Heart of Darkness.
84. Waiting for the Barbarians, J.M. Coetzee 
Bleak but haunting allegory of apartheid by the Nobel prizewinner.
85. Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson
Haunting, poetic story, drowned in water and light, about three generations of women.
86. Lanark, Alasdair Gray
Seething vision of Glasgow. A Scottish classic.
87. The New York Trilogy, Paul Auster 
Dazzling metaphysical thriller set in the Manhattan of the 1970s.
88. The BFG, Roald Dahl 
A bestseller by the most popular postwar writer for children of all ages.
89. The Periodic Table, Primo Levi 
A prose poem about the delights of chemistry.
90. Money, Martin Amis
The novel that bags Amis's place on any list.
91. An Artist of the Floating World, Kazuo Ishiguro 
A collaborator from prewar Japan reluctantly discloses his betrayal of friends and family.
92. Oscar And Lucinda, Peter Carey 
A great contemporary love story set in nineteenth-century Australia by double Booker prizewinner.
93. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Milan Kundera 
Inspired by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, this is a magical fusion of history, autobiography and ideas.
94. Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Salman Rushdie
In this entrancing story Rushdie plays with the idea of narrative itself.
95. LA Confidential, James Ellroy 
Three LAPD detectives are brought face to face with the secrets of their corrupt and violent careers.
96. Wise Children, Angela Carter
A theatrical extravaganza by a brilliant exponent of magic realism.
97. Atonement, Ian McEwan 
Acclaimed short-story writer achieves a contemporary classic of mesmerising narrative conviction.
98. Northern Lights, Philip Pullman 
Lyra's quest weaves fantasy, horror and the play of ideas into a truly great contemporary children's book.
99. American Pastoral, Philip Roth 
For years, Roth was famous for Portnoy's Complaint . Recently, he has enjoyed an extraordinary revival.
100. Austerlitz, W. G. Sebald 
Posthumously published volume in a sequence of dream-like fictions spun from memory, photographs and the German past.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

What was left behind

I thought about you yesterday
Christmas Eve
and the day before
And today
When the snow lay
Soft and silent on the
rolling hills
I wondered if you were happy

I thought about you
As I put on my boots
And left the house
Heading up towards the crest
of Jump Off Joe mountain
You’d look up and say
But this is just a hill
And you’d be right

To an old man a hill like this
is mountain enough to climb
On a cold winter day
Sloughing through snow drifts
Ankle high
Thinking thoughts of yesterday
Days gone by
What was left behind

At the top
I turn and stare down
From whence I came
My breath making puffs
Of vapor in the clear air
Disappearing as quick
As they are formed
Unlike my thoughts of you

Which stay with me
As I make my way back down
Stepping in the tracks I’ve made
An easier proposition altogether
Going back the way you came
But perhaps I should have
Tried a new track
What might I have found?

I thought about you yesterday
Christmas Eve
and the day before
And today
When the snow lay
Soft and silent on the
rolling hills
And wondered if you were happy

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sweet Memories

Have yourself a merry little Christmas. 
Let your heart be light.
Next year all our troubles 
Will be out of sight.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas.
Make the Yule-tide gay.
From now on our troubles
Will be miles away.
Here we are as in olden days,
Happy golden days of yore.
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Will be near to us once more.
Someday soon we all will be together
If the Fates allow.
Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow.
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Intelligent Life and Death -- A new story idea

Cases of flesh eating bacteria multiple.  Doctors puzzled as previous cases responded to treatment with antibiotics. Alarm grows as cases increase among unusual demographic -- medical professionals and scientists. Scientific team assembled at CDC / NIH. They discuss origins of bacteria -- we all carry them in a symbiotic relationship. Cyanobacteria probably responsible for beginnings of life on earth. Data reveals long-term trend of increasingly antibiotic resistant bugs. This has been known for some time, but the recent data seem to indicate targeted members of the population. How can that be? Do the bacteria exhibit a form of intelligence? Depends on how you define intelligence, doesn’t it? Consider the jellyfish. It has no brain, and yet it adapts, survives, thrives. Distributed intelligence? Is there a hive of bacteria directing attacks? Alarm grows when members of the team begin falling prey to previously treated bacterial infections. It seems that the bacteria are eliminating anyone with the knowledge to thwart the attack, while keeping enough humans around to act as “hosts.”

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Picture of a Woman

Picasso, Woman with a Blue Hat

I think about her constantly
An exaggeration?
Then, I think about her
Every minute of every day

As I shave in the morning
Looking in my eyes
Reflected back at me
Asking questions
I will not answer

At breakfast
Wondering what she’s having
For her breakfast
A roll and coffee
Fruit and cheese?

Here at my computer writing
Or while I’m painting
Yes, I’ve taken up painting again
And I see her in my mind’s eye
And wish I could paint her

How I would treasure that painting
But I have no image of her to copy
And even if I did
I haven’t the talent
To reproduce her image on canvas

But if I had her photo
At least then I would have
Something to look at
And I would talk to her
Instead of mumbling to myself

In the mirror
While shaving
Send me the photo
You promised
Send it!

Dave Brubeck, 1921 - 2012

Friday, November 23, 2012


Chapter 21: Religious Liberty Should Count for Something

Karl Rove struggled against the wind, rain stinging his face. Hunching down and pulling his trench coat collar up he hurried across Wisconsin Avenue from the Georgetown parking garage to Filomina’s Italian Restaurant.

He was meeting with Kristina Arriaga de Bucholz, the Executive Director at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The Becket Fund’s offices had been closed due to the storm, but Rove was just as happy to meet at the restaurant, as he found the offices of the Becket Fund sterile and its reception staff somehow off-putting. Maybe it was their unrelenting cheerfulness.

Rove wanted to check with Arriaga on the Becket Fund’s latest lawsuits addressing what their constituencies considered infringements of religious liberty on such things as mandated contraception coverage for employees of organizations whose owners claimed  exemptions based on their beliefs.

Hobby Lobby was one of the organizations whose owners had claimed an exemption to the new health care law’s requirement that their employee health insurance cover the morning-after birth control pill. They considered it akin to abortion. Rove himself could give a shit about Hobby Lobby’s religious beliefs. After one-too-many swallows from a flask he’d been offered, he told a decidedly anti-religious hunting friend that, “If the owner of a fucking Seven-Eleven is a Christian Scientist he could claim his employees health coverage should be limited to prayer!” They’d both laughed, and then sprayed the sky with buckshot.

But whether he agreed with them or not, Rove wanted to make sure that the Becket Fund’s cases were being pursued in swing states to the maximum extent possible, and he offered Arriaga funding from his American Crossroads PAC to help in pursuing the cases and in advertising the suits. Keep the base stirred up.

Rove struggled out of his trench coat and handed it to the coatroom attendant. He started toward the maĆ®tre d' when he remembered his smart phone and went back and retrieved it. He was shown to a table he had requested; one in the back with some privacy. Arriaga hadn’t arrived yet, and Rove took a seat facing into the restaurant so he could watch the entrance. He ordered a San Pellegrino and starting surfing tweets on his phone.

Rove had another reason for meeting with Arriaga, instead of the Becket Fund’s president, Bill Mumma. Rove wanted Arriaga to go to Florida to energize the Cuban-American vote for Romney, and to serve as the Republican Party’s lead lawyer on the ground during voting and the vote count. Arriaga was a Cuban-American herself, was smart as a whip, attractive, and a tiger. If he could convince her to go down there, all expenses paid, and then some, the GOP might pull off another win like the Bush win in 2000.

Rove went to the address book on his phone and started down the contacts list for Ohio Republican Party chairpersons. His first call was to Matt Borges in Ohio. Borges was the Executive Director of the Republican Party in Ohio. Borges picked up on the first ring.

“Yeah, Matt. Karl Rove. How’re you doing, buddy?”

“Good, good, Karl. Working hard, knocking heads, you know the drill,” Borges said.

“I do, I do. That’s a fact,” Rove said. “Listen, I need to know the latest numbers. You know, how we’re polling in the counties. You have that, or do I need to call each county chair?”

“I was just about to get updates. Let me call you back on that,” Borges said.

“Well, how’s it looking?” Rove said.
“Good, good. I think we’ve got a shot at winning the state,” Borges said. “You know Husted has really tried to limit early-voting. The sites are only gonna be open on weekdays, so a lot of Obama supporters are gonna find it hard to vote early. If we’re lucky, maybe they won’t vote at all.” Borges laughed.

Rove took a drink of his water. “We need Ohio, Matt,” Rove said.

“Don’t I know it, Karl.” Borges said. “We’ve been averaging more than one hundred and fifty thousand doors knocked on every week. Last week we got to two hundred and fifty thousand. You know, we’re speaking to as many, everyday people as possible. Regular people, who don’t want another four years of Obama,” Borges said.

“What’s Gary Johnson polling?” Rove asked. He was still concerned that the third party candidate might draw enough votes away from Romney to swing the election to Obama.

“Not enough to worry about,” Borges said. “Romney is polling at about 95% of registered Republicans.” That was a bit of an exaggeration, but Borges liked round figures.

“How about likely voters, irrespective of party?” Rove asked.

“Uh, not sure on that Karl. We’ll get you the figures. But I’m sure it’s good. All the polls are running our way,” Borges said.

“Matt, let’s tie things down here. We need to firm up our figures. Okay.” Rove ended the call before Borges had a chance to respond.

After talking with Borges, Rove called Brad Courtney, the Chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party. While Courtney’s phone rang, Rove checked his watch. Arriaga was late. Rove’s call was transferred to Courtney’s voice mail and Rove ended the call. He was about to call Brian Schimming, Courtney’s Vice Chair, when he got a call. It was Arriaga. She wasn’t coming. She had family on the East Coast and was trying to stay in touch with their situation. Rove tried to keep Arriaga on the phone. Maybe he could still convince her to go to Florida. But it was no good. Rove ended the call in disgust.

Rove noticed the waiter hovering and motioned him over. He ordered the red house wine, a cheese steak panini, and a small salad. When his lunch came he ate while he scanned the major news outlets on his smart phone, and texted people in the campaign offices. He was being told that crowds at Romney events were enthusiastic. A number of people inside the campaign were predicting a big Romney win.

Rove downloaded a memo from GOP staffers titled, “Path to Victory.” It said that Romney was even or ahead of Obama in key battleground state polls, and concluded that, The Republican ground game is going to push us over the top.”

Rove called the waiter over and ordered an espresso and New York style cheese cake. He was starting to feel pretty good about the election.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination, or used fictitiously, and any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.