I’d really like to get back into this blogging business, but I’m not going to make any promises. So I’ll start with some light fare.
A few weeks back, I finished reading 11/22/63 by Stephen King. Incidentally, this is the FIRST Stephen King novel I’ve ever read. Over the years, I’ve had several friends tell me that Misery is a great jumping-on point for the worldof Stephen King; but no, I chose to take on this nearly eleven-hundred page behemoth for a starter.
Time travel stories have always been a big favorite of mine. As an adult, I have become fascinated by the assassination of John F. Kennedy and all the theories surrounding it. A novel that marries these two favorite topics of mine seemed almost too good to be true.
11/22/63‘s main character is Jake Epping, a school teacher and divorcee – that’s where the similarities between Jake and Your Favorite Blogger end. Jake is almost moved to tears by an essay written by one of his GED students, Around the same time, Al Templeton, the owner of a local diner, tells Jake of a time portal located beneath his establishment. After Al introduces Jake to the wonders of time travel, the two address a question that has become the stuff of time-travel cliche – What if you could change history? Al defines the assassination of John F. Kennedy as a watershed moment in world history and charges Jake with the task of preventing it.
There are of course, a few catches. This is not a “time machine”. Jake can only travel back to a certain point in time, in this case 1958. Should he decide to stop Lee Harvey Oswald, he’ll have to wait for events to unfold in the past. Much of the novel’s action includes Jake living in the past, waiting and preparing for the fateful titular day in Dallas. The novel explores the idea of a man living in and having a working knowledge of the past, but addresses the conflict of unfamiliarity with everyday life there.
I was absolutely hooked on this book. I typically don’t read books of this size, but I was amazed at how quickly I moved through it. At times, I found it easy to get lost in the daily minutiae of Jake’s life in the early 1960s – making a living, working, personal relationships – and actually lose sight of his over-riding mission to save the President. To that end, I was absolutely amazed at the level of research that King, and his researcer put into the creation of this story.
If you were history, how would the world be different? What would be the inherit dangers of something as exciting as time traveling? These are all questions the novel explores. Inevitably, King does have to address the conspriacy theories regarding Kennedy’s death. He makes a nearly-definitive statement on this matter – stating both in the novel and in interviews that he’s pretty sure Oswald acted alone – though in the story Jake does take steps to determine once and for all if Oswald was infact, the sole assassin.
Does Jake succeed in saving JFK? Does he even bother, or let history unfold as we know it to be? How would the world be different if Jake did save JFK that day in Dallas? And what becomes of the people he meets while living in the past? Of course, many other conflicts and complications arise through the story. I’ll let you, the reader, find these answers for yourself; but I will say this: at 1100 pages, there is a little something for everyone in this novel.
Here’s one I’ve been waiting a while to write. A few months back, I decided to check out Louie on Netflix. For those unfamiliar with the show, Louie is written, edited, directed by and stars comedian Louis C.K. It is semi-biographical in that it tells the story an aspiring stand-up comedian juggling his a career and his children while he muddles his way through date and his forties in the aftermath of a divorce.
This show resonated with me on a lot of levels: first and foremost, it’s funny. Louie intersperses stand-up comedy bits with skits about his personal life, à la Seinfeld. Louis C.K’s humor is honest, self-deprecating and at times dark, but it is almost always funny.
Perhaps the one line that sticks with me most from the show is in an episode from the show’s second season. In it, Louie says that divorce “makes you look at yourself in the mirror and realized that there’s no one left to be an asshole to.” It is part funny, part true and all honest.
Just as any stand-up comedian goes out on stage and occasionally bombs, here have been a few misfire episodes: one in particular that comes to mind was when Louie pined for an African-American grocery cashier – simply because she was Black – only to be completely and utterly shot down by the woman. In the episode, Louie comes across as stalker-ish, rather the victim of unrequited love. But taking chances is the hallmark of any god comedian. Some stuff is funny; other bits will bomb. As an aside, I recently read that the stand-up skits in each episode are brand-new material. Louis C.K. does not use material from his real-life stand-up act in the series.
I’m looking forward to getting caught up on the rest of the series. so much so, that I’ve gone ahead and read the synopses for some later episodes. God bless Netflix for introducing binge-watching to unsuspecting world.
A few days ago I finished reading Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl. I’ve personally read the play “the diary of Anne Frank” a few times as a student and have now taught it several times as a teacher; but this was the first time I read the diary – from which the play was based – itself. Having said that, I knew the story, as it is fairly common knowledge – Anne Frank, a Jewish girl, spends two years in hiding with her family in order to avoid be arrested in Nazi-occupied Holland – but I was surprised at how much the play glossed over some of the real-life facts. Granted, the play would have to leave out some details for the sake of time, but I think that the play does so to a point that it doesn’t do Anne Frank – the young girl or her thoughts and experiences in hiding – justice.
3 things prompted me to read the diary at this time: One, As a teacher on summer break, I have the time. Two, Anne Frank and her experiences have been discussed in two movies I recently re-watched: Freedom Writers and The Fault in Our Stars (both based on books themselves). Three: While teaching the play this past spring, I had a student ask me “What is the big deal about this book?” I thought the answer was so self-evident that I struggled to even answer it.
I’m not going to try and critique the diary or say anything new about it. Countless other critics and historians who are far more articulate than I am have done that. Rather, I want to point out some difference between the play The Diary of Anne Frank and the original work The Diary of a Young Girl.
Some of the things that stuck out with me:
- the extent of frustration Anne felt with both her mother and her father. This is not so surprising to hear from a teenager, but the play glosses over Anne’s clashes with her mother and virtually ignores her growing disconnection with her father.
- Anne’s burgeoning sexuality and the fluidity of it. The play addresses the courtship of Anne and Peter, but completely ignores Anne’s innermost personal thoughts and curiosities about members of the same sex.
- The sheer monotony of life inside the Secret Annex. The Anne Frank of the play talks of life in the Annex as if it is some adventure. While in the diary Anne does at times romanticize her time in the Annex, she makes sure to address the sheer monotony of life there.
- the hardships that come along with living in forced isolation: having to remain silent out of fear of being discovered; being forced to eat the limited food options available, never being able to go outside, as a young person, growing out of the few clothes – among others.
If I could have a conversation with that one student who asked me “What is the big deal about this book?” I would probably tell them this:
The Diary of Anne Frank was written by a girl who was your age (or close to it) and tells of her first-hand experiences trying to survive through perhaps the greatest atrocity in human history – The Holocaust. It is a story about a young person going through a lot of the same hopes, fears, dreams and anxieties as yourself. From a historical point-of-view, The Diary… is the great primary-source about life in Nazi-occupied Europe. For millions of people worldwide, it has been the gateway into learning about the Holocaust. And finally, it well-written personal journal by an extremely gifted writer who was cut down way before her time.
I don’t normally talk about stuff like this on this blog, but I have toyed with the idea of having a “Rob’s Book club” type feature on here for some time.
As some of you may have noticed, I like to review movies or books that I find to be interesting or thought-provoking. In keeping with the origins of this blog, I also like to review “guy books” or “guy movies”. In this entry, I will review the latter…
A few weekends back, I chose to finally sit down and watch Don Jon . Don Jon, the writing/directorial debut of Joseph Gordon Levitt ended up being a mixed bag. I remember the ads for this movie as it was being released theatrically. They made it looked like a straight-up fratire-style comedy. I expected this to be a bawdy “guy movie”. In the beginning it was, only to turn into something much different.
JGL (as The Auteur calls him) plays John, a stereotypical Italian-American “juice head” in the tradition of John Travolta’s Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever. He loves his clothes, his car, his apartment, his family and his church. On the surface John is a Lothario, bedding women left and right and is definitely the alpha-male of his entourage. However behind closed doors, John is a closet porn addict. In fact, he admits to liking porn better than actual sex – much to the chagrin of his in-movie girlfriend Barbara – played by Scarlett Johansson.
At this point, I expected John to spend the rest of the movie trying to win back Barbara in typical romcom fashion, but the story takes a few different turns. At Barbara’s behest, John returns to college. There, he meets Esther (Julianne Moore). John and Esther have some May-September chemistry that ultimately turns physical. Their tryst is therapeutic for both of them: Esther comes to terms with her own personal losses; John ultimately learn the difference between casual sex and making love, thereby enabling him to pursue deeper more meaningful relationships.
The movie’s ending is anti-climactic. We never see John find Ms. Right, or even a Ms. Maybe for that matter. Ultimately, Don Jon is a slice-of-life personal narrative. It isn’t happily ever after tale it was portrayed as in commercials. It simply tells the story of a young man and an experience that made him a better person. It was one of those unusual experiences where advertisers sell us one story and the filmmakers tell us a better one.