Friday, April 29, 2011

Say It Isn't So

Just shy of seventeen months ago we moved to New Port Richey from Pittsburgh, PA., perhaps the most screwed-up city on the planet.  Bear with me and I’ll explain, with the hope that I won’t offend my friends who still live in the Black and Gold center of the known universe.
It’s not the people so much as the mindset that’s warped.  People have joked for years that Pittsburgh is either a football town with a drinking problem, or a drinking town with a football problem.  The answer is both…and neither.
This relatively small market as compared to cities like, for example, New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles, is a thriving sports town.  And a thriving drinking town.  And it is perhaps the only town in the United States that has an unofficial official City Religion.  The official unofficial ‘state’ religion of Pittsburgh is Roman Catholicism.  That is not a criticism, simply an observation.
Pittsburgh’s real problem, is it’s skewed sense of priorities, an image best observed in the antics of the accidental Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.  Young Luke (not to be confused with Skywalker) was serving in his rotation as President of the City Council, a job that pretty much all elected city council members hold if they stay in office long enough, when the Mayor of Pittsburgh, Bob O’Conner, Jr., died in office.  By law, the President of the Council ascends to the position of Mayor, a position he keeps for the remainder of the deceased mayor’s term.  If he likes the job, he can run on his own merits.  At age 26, barely out of diapers, he liked the job, and since he didn’t accidently nuke the city or outlaw beer, he got re-elected.  He also used his position as mayor to get into sporting events to which he would not have otherwise been invited, nor have afforded season tickets, or, in the case of the golf tournament he crashed so he could meet Tiger Woods, afford a ticket.
And that mindset of sports over reality is the priority issue that haunts – even taints – Pittsburgh.
With homeless people sleeping under overpasses and panhandling on down town street corners, Ravenstahl approved – fought for, even, city funding to bring Casino gambling to the city of three rivers.  He easily folded when Penguins owner Mario Lemieux said “Build me a new arena at the city’s expense, or I’ll move the team to Kansas”.  With streets still home to vagrants living in cardboard boxes, the Boy Mayor said “Build him that stadium.  We can’t hope to get the Stones to come to Pittsburgh and play the Igloo.”  The Stones did come, by the way.  They played Heinz Field.  The Mustard Palace was already there.  After the new hockey deal was signed, sealed, and people started getting displaced, Lemieux told Pittsburgh Press “I never planned to move the team.  That was just leverage to get a new arena like the Steelers and Pirates got.”
How misplaced are Pittsburgh’s priorities?  One hot July night, five children were murdered in a drive by shooting in one of the east side neighborhoods.  What was the lead story in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette the next morning?  (Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback and alleged rapist “Big” Ben) “Rothloesberger Feels Good Coming Into Training Camp”.
Yeah.  You read that right.  The local sports hero gets first page billing while the senseless murder of five children is relegated to page two of ‘neighborhood news’.
The homeless and hungry go hungry and homeless while Pittsburgh deals out money to build a casino and hockey arena the City really doesn’t need.
Now, to put this into perspective.
The Tampa Bay Rays are threatening to move if the city does not build them a new stadium.  Tropicana Park is one of the nicest fields in Major League Baseball.  The Rays don’t come close to filling it on most nights, and tickets are priced out of most middle-income fan’s range as it is.  Tell me I’m wrong, but generally speaking, new stadium=higher ticket prices.
And Tampa and its surrounding communities are working hard passing anti-panhandler laws faster than you can say “Hot Dogs!  Get your Fresh hot, Hot Dogs”.  Homeless people are sleeping in parks year round because at least winter in Tampa isn’t accompanied by -25° temperatures and four feet of snow.  And the COMFORTABLY WEALTHY Rays Owner wants a new FREE stadium, funded by the City.
Please tell me the new Tampa Mayor is smarter than the boy mayor of Pittsburgh.  I’d hate to think that the hedonistic stupidity and senseless waste of the Steel City hasn’t followed me to the Gulf Coast.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

20 Classic Novels You Can Read in One Sitting - DailyWritingTips

I would love to tell you that I came up with this on my own.  In fact, I could just tell you something like that and you'd really have no way of knowing otherwise unless you:
a. Subscribe to the same internet/electronic e-mail newsletters I do, or
b.  know anything at all about me and would, therefore, know I'm not at all that clever.
Therefore, I confess.  I have blatantly stolen this from Daily Writing Tips, a free English language  newsletter of which I am a subscriber/recipient.  (subscribee?) It is frequent enough as to be an annoyance yet useful enough to assist you in overcoming the aforementioned annoyances.  I stipulate 'English language, meaning American English and not UK English, with the proviso observed by the Very Proper English Gentleman's Butler (VPEGB) in Dame Agatha Christie's timeless masterpiece, Murder on the Orient Express, in which, the VPEGB, that is, and not Dame Agatha, when queried  "Does Signor Foscarelli speak English?" replied with "A form of it, Sir.  Signor Foscarelli is from Chicago." as are the publishers of the missive from which this article has been appropriated.
The title is confusing, as are most AP Style Guide titles.  It's not entirely clear whether the writer means that you can read all twenty books in one sitting, presumably intertwined with a catheter, colon bag and IV- drip to  ensure hydration and nourishment, not to mention a healthy serving of caffeine or no-doze, or, more likely, spread this over twenty independent sessions, one per book.  This is the more likely recommendation, especially in Chicago.
Not being entirely certain of the un-named columnist's preference or intent, I can only answer for my ‘self’, who, in response to the question, "Self, what do you think it means," replied thus:
"Well, Boyo (Self calls me that a lot),  as you well know, we, which is to say 'Self' which is to say, 'You' read most of these during the summer of 1965.  You were thirteen at the time, and they came from the adult section of the Library, a location whose title implied something very different forty-six years ago than it does today."
And that, as a Pastor friend of mine is known to say with alarming frequency, is the introduction.  Here's the main bit:

You know that in order to become a better writer, you need to become a better reader — and so polishing off some classic novels is in your future. But who has the time?
You do. Nobody’s admonishing you to get your book report in within two weeks. But if you still feel pinched between the hour hand and the minute hand, ease into great English literature with these short novels (most have fewer than 200 pages):
1. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
Spectral visitors take miserly businessman Ebenezer Scrooge on a tour of the past, present, and future to prompt his reevaluation of the wisdom of his skinflint ways in this Victorian fantasy that helped usher in the nostalgia-drenched Christmas tradition. To this day, innumerable stage adaptations knock elbows with ballet productions of The Nutracker Suite and singing of Handel’s Messiah. Dickens’s Hard Times is another relatively quick read.
2. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
The intrepid young hero, a half-feral but good-hearted boy, flees the deadly embrace of civilization, takes up with a freed slave and a couple of con men, and, with the assistance of one Samuel Langhorne Clemens, makes a library’s worth of observations about the human condition in one thin volume — a triumphant survivor of censorship and political correctness. (The n-word pervades it — quick, hide the children’s eyes and make reality go away!) See also The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which this book is a sequel to, and Pudd’nhead Wilson.
3. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
A young girl wanders into the woods and falls down a rabbit hole into a disconcertingly absurd hidden world in Oxford mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s satirical romp, laced with contemporary caricatures and poking at problems of mathematical logic. Like many great works of art, it was a critical failure but a popular success — and, in the long term, the critics have come around. See also the sequel Through the Looking-Glass.
4. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
A modern fable by the author of Nineteen Eighty-Four relates what happens when communism comes to Manor Farm: “All animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others.” Orwell (birth name Eric Blair), a proponent of democratic socialism — by definition, the antithesis of Stalinism — wrote the story in response to his disillusioning experiences during the Spanish Civil War, when totalitarianism cast a shadow over socialist ideals. British publishers concerned about the manuscript’s frank condemnation of the United Kingdom’s World War II ally the Soviet Union rejected it, but you can’t suppress the truth down for long.
5. Around the World in Eighty Days, by Jules Verne
Fastidious Victorian gentleman Phileas Fogg makes a foolhardy wager at his club: He will circumnavigate the planet in eighty days. With resourceful French valet Passepartout by his side and a Scotland Yard detective — who mistakes him for a fugitive from justice — on his heels, he sets out with his fortune, his freedom, and, most importantly, his honor on the line. These and other novels by Verne have, from the beginning, fired the imaginations of readers from all over the world, though poor early English translations led to them being long mischaracterized as juvenile pulp fiction.
6. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
After an introduction to a horrifyingly regimented future “utopia,” readers meet John, a young man who has grown up in an isolated, unenlightened community before being brought back to civilization, which, shall we say, does not match his expectations. Huxley’s novel, one of the most celebrated in twentieth-century literature — and also impressively high on the lists of books targeted for censorship — depicts a future in which hedonism, not repression, is the greatest threat to humanity.
7. Candide, by Voltaire
Everybody’s favorite scathingly funny French philosopher introduces a young man raised in indoctrinated, isolated innocence who is repeatedly blindsided by reality when he becomes a citizen of the world. Anticipating the antipathy with which secular and religious authorities would condemn his work, Voltaire published it under a pseudonym, but everybody knew who had done the deed. Candide was widely banned, even in the United States into the twentieth century — high praise, indeed.
8. Cannery Row, by John Steinbeck
A run-down street in seaside Monterey, California, is as colorful a character as any of the people who populate it in this sweet Depression-era story about a community of the world’s cast-offs. This semiautobiographical novel, a warm wash of nostalgia, also serves as a requiem for a lost world the author could never find again. Steinbeck often kept it short and bittersweet: Look also for The Moon Is Down, Of Mice and Men, The Pearl, The Red Pony, and Tortilla Flat.
9. The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger
Reading this mid-20th-century anthem of adolescent angst remains a rite of passage for high school literature students, who get a thrill out of reading one of the most frequently banned books of all time. The narrator’s sour sensibilities and his frank assessment of the world’s crapitude captivate many young readers, although the author (who exacerbated the allure of the book through his notorious reclusiveness) intended the book for an adult audience. Salinger’s other works include novellas and short stories, including Franny and Zooey, Nine Stories, and the twofer Raise High the Roofbeam Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction.
10. Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton
This flashback novel immerses the reader in the tragedy of a romantic triangle, as the title character agonizes over his affection for his sickly wife’s cousin, who has come to live with them and help around the house. Warning: Things don’t end well. The critical reception to Wharton’s work was mixed, but those who praised it recognized it as a compelling morality tale (though based on a real incident and thought to allude to the author’s own unhappy marriage).
11. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
In a dystopian future where firefighters ignite inflammatory books (that is, all of them) rather than suppress conflagrations, one member of the book-burning brigade, increasingly alienated in his decadent society, is lured to the light side. Bradbury initially denied that the theme of the story is censorship, fingering the boob tube for libracide instead, but he later graciously realized he could have it both ways.
12. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
A scientist conceives the idea of creating a man constructed from body parts and bringing him to life but is disgusted by his creation, which, devastated by the scientist’s and others’ rejection as it struggles to learn what it means to be human, exacts vengeance. The novel, written by the daughter of philosophers who began working on it when she was still in her teens, initially received mixed reviews, but its stature has steadily grown, aided by its wealth of classical allusions and Enlightenment inspirations, not to mention its profound psychological resonance.
13. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
A young man gets caught up in the world of wealth during the Roaring Twenties, especially that revolving around the enigmatic millionaire Jay Gatsby, but he discovers how superficial and hollow the American dream is after observing the petty passions of the rich. Fitzgerald’s novel was well received but did not fare as well as his earlier works, and when he died in relative obscurity years later, he believed himself a failure. During and after World War II, however, The Great Gatsby experienced a resurgence, and it is now accounted one of the great American novels.
14. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
A riverboat captain in the Belgian Congo, looking forward to meeting Kurtz, the manager of an isolated upriver colonial station, is devastated when the man he meets turns out to be quite different from the imagined ideal. Conrad’s story, overshadowed by Francis Ford Coppola’s loose film adaptation, the antiwar epic Apocalypse Now, should be read on its own merits. Though much praised for its psychological insight, is also considered one of the most potent criticisms of colonialism in literature.
15. Night, by Elie Wiesel
The author’s harrowing account of his early adolescence spent in Nazi concentration camps — during which his father, with whom he was incarcerated, gradually becomes helpless, and young Elie rejects God and humanity — is full of raw, stark power. Its critical reception was complicated by various factors: It is a memoir that contains a great deal of fiction, and it was published in quite different forms in Yiddish, then a pared-down French translation, from which a further abridged English version was derived. But that form at least is widely acknowledged as great art.
16. The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde
A beautiful young hedonist sells his soul for the price of agelessness, while a portrait of him painted by an admirer marks his physical dissipation. Wilde’s first novel was attacked for its homoeroticism and the scandalously frank depiction of debauchery but was received more favorably when the author toned down the former. Rich with allusions to, among other works, Faust, The Picture of Dorian Gray stands on its own as a tragic morality tale.
17. The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane
A young Civil War soldier overcomes his initial cowardice, but, despite the fact that he acts heroically in a later battle, his humanity is diminished. Crane, who finished the novel when he was only twenty-four (he would die just five years later after a series of debilitating lung hemorrhages), was celebrated for its authentic detail about the conduct of war, though he had never experienced it himself. It was also hailed as a triumph of both naturalism and impressionism, as it realistically portrays the ordeal of battle while achieving allegorical stature.
18. The Sorrows of Young Werther, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Written primarily in the form of a series of letters, this semiautobiographical story relates the tragedy of a young man who falls in love with a woman already betrothed to another. Although it made Goethe’s reputation at a young age, it also precipitated “Werther Fever,” prompting a fad of overwrought young people lamenting the vicissitudes of unrequited love, and Goethe later disavowed it and decried the Romantic literary movement it epitomized.
19. The Stranger, by Albert Camus
This existentialist classic chronicles the nihilistic life of an apathetic man who aimlessly commits murder and, once incarcerated, renounces humanity, which he has passively estranged himself from. Camus’s portrait of a man without a soul was a manifesto of his belief that life is bereft of meaning, and that the efforts of humans to find meaning are futile.
20. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte
This complex melodrama about the compounded consequences of acting on selfish and vengeful motives has been overshadowed by Hollywood’s treatment of the thwarted love between a young woman named Catherine and her untamed foster brother, Heathcliff. But the story boasts an unflinching honesty about its deeply flawed protagonists, and though critical response to its publication was mixed, it has lived on as an expression of star-crossed ill fortune.