Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: January, 2017

Postcard #85 – From St. Augustine

Before you hardcore postcard swappers start clutching your pearls and foaming at the mouth and reporting me to the authorities, I’d like to say that this is NOT a Postcrossing card and is simply a card sent to me by a NaNoWriMo friend Tiakall. She also explicitly gave me permission to post this on this blog, so if you want to double check if this is true and I’m not lying, you can contact her. (Although I’m pretty sure an influx of messages from the postcard police would annoy her and she doesn’t suffer fools gladly.)

Okay, with that disclaimer out of the way, I will say that this card looks simple with the line drawing of a house. Also the printed message about this restaurant and inn doesn’t make it sound all that scintillating either. But Tiakall says this place is haunted. And I think that’s awesome. Not because I think it’s really haunted (hey, I’m a scientist–I don’t believe in ghosts), but because it makes a cool story. And perhaps this place is also a little weird even if it isn’t reflected as such on the card. I mean, it would have to be weird whether or not there were real or fake ghosts there. It’s billed as a romantic getaway, so wouldn’t it be awkward at best having a (non-)corporeal voyeur drifting around while you get it on with your SO?




Some Notes from the Museums

I love going to museums, but sometimes the other museum patrons drive me nuts. I thought today would be a great day to go to the local museums because most people would be staying at home due to the iffy weather. Unfortunately, that didn’t help me avoid the lady who glared at me as if I should just crawl back into the nearest ghetto even though I wasn’t bothering anyone while I was looking at a painting. Or overhearing some old guy loudly complaining that one of the latest exhibits was “dated”. Seriously, dude. Everything in that exhibit was made before 1973. What did you expect?! Pictures of Justin Effin Bieber?

Anyways, aside from that, I saw some new art exhibits at Balboa Park. As I’ve mentioned on Twitter, the Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA) is a really interesting gem that not many people pay attention to. Currently, they have some Ansel Adams photographs as well as an exhibit of contemporary Californian photographers. It’s fascinating contrasting the two–Adams is well known for grand nature in black in white which can, in turns, evoke timelessness and nostalgia (although these days with the destruction of the environment, it feels like Adams has documented a past that will never be any more). The contemporary Californian photographers have also documented nature, but in color, abstraction, and scarring by humans on the landscape. It’s as if nature is not simply nature any more but some kind of idea that humanity has marked, transformed, and destroyed. There’s a sort of beauty to that, too, but it’s also stark and terrible.

At the Mingei International Museum, which specializes in folk art, I’d like to point out one of its newest exhibits on tools and utensils. There’s all sorts of interesting tools there, everything from rug beaters to betel nut cutters (as well as the usual saws and hammers and mixing spoons). An entire section is devoted to Japanese lacquer tools. Apparently the hairs on the brushes are made from human hair–specifically of Japanese women. Which is pretty creepy if you think about it for any length of time.

The major new exhibit at the San Diego Museum of Art is a retrospective of Louis Kahn, an American architect. I think the only work of his that I’ve seen in person is the Salk Institute in La Jolla. He primarily worked in Philadelphia and transformed urban planning in that city. Kahn’s style is very geometrical. There’s a lot of evidence that he drew his inspiration from nature and science, yet at the same time, his structures don’t feel quite comfortable–they are too perfect to fit into the landscape. Postcard aficionados out there would also find this exhibit particularly interesting because a number of Kahn’s postcards to his family are also on display. It’s less about the message than his choice in postcards, though. He always chose postcards that showed the ancient architecture of the places he was visiting. And the classic lines of these ancient buildings also influenced his style.

Another new exhibit was one entitled “Visible Vaults”, where a section of the museum was transformed into a replica of its archives. Most of the museum patrons, I noticed, passed by this exhibit, too afraid to touch anything even though there were signs encouraging interactivity. Me? I was like a kid in a candy store–I looked in all the cases and pulled open every drawer to check out what was inside. I found some really cool stuff, like a nightmarish etching by Goya of men with bat wings. Or a drawing by Andy Warhol of butterflies.

Finally, at the Fleet Science Center, I went to see the world’s largest display of LEGO art by Nathan Sawaya. The start of the exhibit starts out pretty safely with replicas of famous art in those tiny plastic bricks. But then, as you wind further into the exhibit, things take a dark turn as Sawaya gets into his own art. The penultimate series of LEGO sculptures was probably my favorite because they were a nihilistic interpretation of traditional American postcards. In some ways, it was surprising this got exhibited at all. The science center caters more towards kids and you’d think that anything with LEGOs should equal happy fun times. But I’m glad this was shown because it’s a great illustration of the fact that you can still express some serious, adult ideas with media that society might arbitrarily deem “childish”.

TBR Pile #2 – The Shape of Desire by Sharon Shinn

Note: The TBR Pile series of posts aren’t strictly book reviews. It’s my excuse for writing a rambling blog post. While it will contain some of my thoughts about the book, I’ll may digress into other topics.

Okay, so my attempt at posting more regularly by writing about my to-be-read pile is not going as smoothly as I’d like. For one thing, I’m pretty busy with work stuff and I just haven’t found all that much free time to devote to reading. And another thing, despite my higher expectations for Shinn’s The Shape of Desire, this has turned out to be a dud. It was even less interesting to me than the first book on the TBR pile. So much so that I’ve decided to give up on it after page 70. Because I really don’t want to waste my time trying to slog through the rest of the book when there’s other stuff I could be reading.

Of course, the book could be absolutely awesome in the latter half. But I don’t have the patience for that. If an author is going to put out a book, it really should hook me from the beginning. I mean, it doesn’t have to be utterly brilliant straight in the first chapter, but it has to have something there in order to make me think, “Hey, something cool might be going on, I’ll read further.” For this book, it really did not help that it was in first person and the main character was an emotional wuss. It didn’t even matter if interesting stuff was happening around her, being in this main character’s head was straight up Boringsville. I don’t have to like the character–I’ve read first person stories before where the main character was a total asshole and yet I couldn’t wait to turn the next page to see what the hell was going to happen next–but the character has to be compelling. This character was not compelling.

Anyways, I am pretty disappointed. I enjoyed all of Sharon Shinn’s Samaria novels and a number of her short stories and novellas, but I didn’t find this urban fantasy novel on that same level. My only consolation is that I got this book at a used book store so I won’t have any qualms about returning it. Maybe the next reader will find it more to their liking.

The next book on the pile is the first book in Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart series, The Ruby in the Smoke. And since sometimes I’m more in the mood for non-fiction, I will also be reading Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep by David K. Randall at the same time. I started Dreamland about six months ago, but then things got busy and I kind of forgot about the book until now.

TBR Pile #1 – Sixty-One Nails by Mike Shevdon

Note: The TBR Pile series of posts aren’t strictly book reviews. It’s my excuse for writing a rambling blog post. While it will contain some of my thoughts about the book, I’ll may digress into other topics.

At the moment, my bookshelves are mostly unorganized. I say “mostly” because all the fiction books are together and all the non-fiction books are together, but that’s it. I haven’t really had time to organize them alphabetically. So when I made this year’s goal of trying to reduce my to-be-read pile, I simply started by picking the book that was closest to me. And that happened to be the urban fantasy novel Sixty-One Nails by Mike Shevdon. It was first published in 2009, which was approximately when I bought it, randomly at the bookstore. (Yes, I’m one of those people who sometimes buys random books at bookstores.) There are a lot of books on my TBR pile that I bought randomly simply because the back cover blurb sounded interesting.

Unlike a lot of people, I would rather not read series. And I thought this was a standalone since there was no indication on the cover otherwise. So I was rather surprised when I got to the end and there was an excerpt for a sequel. And according to the author’s website, this was simply the first in a quartet. In any case, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to continue on with the series. The first hundred pages was a bit of a slog before the plot picked up and I never really warmed up to any of the characters. The main character/narrator was, frankly, boring. If you’re going to bring the reader into his head, at least make him interesting. Instead he was rather bland–perhaps he was a blank slate for the reader to put themselves into his shoes. I know there are a number of readers who like to do that, but I’m not one of them.

While I thought a number of the elements in the story were too typical for the urban fantasy genre, it was really interesting how the author managed to weave a real world ceremony into the plot. It’s probably the best thing about this book.

Anyways, what’s really bothering me about the book now is the genetics. (Warning: if you don’t want any spoilers, don’t read further.) The main character of the book is part human and part Fey, specifically wraith. And it’s assumed that somewhere in the past, his wraith ancestor dallied with a human. That seemed like the logical conclusion even though the wraiths were part of the group of Fey called the Untainted because they didn’t want to mix with humans. The different courts of the fey are divided by what type of fey they are. The assumption was, if your parents were one type, then you would also be like them. Simple right?

Not exactly. At the end of the book, we find out that mixing in human genes means that it would be completely random what kind of Fey you end up being. Which means that the main character’s ancestor could be a leprechaun for all he knows. This seems counterintuitive to the rest of the book. The main character’s companion/mentor is also part human, but her abilities were just like her mother’s. And since the other Fey did mix with humans, didn’t they have trouble trying to decide which court the kids belonged to if they turned out differently than their parents? And surely there had been other wraiths who had unexpectedly popped up in others’ family trees. If so, why didn’t they just start a new group of good wraiths to counter the bad ones? Or is the protagonist just that special?

Final verdict? Meh. If I weren’t trying to clean out my TBR pile, I would have probably stopped reading sometime before the second chapter and put it back on the shelf. I don’t know what I was thinking when I first bought it in 2009. Maybe my tastes have changed. There are some good points in the book, but not enough to make me want to read the next three books.

The next book on the pile is The Shape of Desire by Sharon Shinn, the 2012 Ace paperback edition. It’s another urban fantasy, this time about shape shifters. I have slightly higher expectations with this because I’ve read Shinn’s Samaria novels and liked them a lot.

A New Hobby (Sorta)

New year resolutions are silly because almost no one ends up keeping their promises. People want to do something to improve their lives, but then they fall back on their old habits. That’s why I never make new year resolutions. It’s bound to end in disappointment and the same-old same-old.

At one point last year, I was regularly posting on this blog again because I had taken up the hobby of exchanging postcards. But then that ended abruptly when some overly obsessive postcard enthusiasts threw a fit, so I’ve been trying to think about what else to post to keep the blog going. I suppose I could write about writing. But I consider myself a rank amateur and I’m generally not chatty about my own stories unless there’s something like NaNoWriMo going on at the same time.

Recently, I saw a documentary on minimalism and I found myself agreeing with many of their points. Our lives are basically filled with too much stuff and I’ve generally found it a lot more easier to manage when I’ve migrated it online. I used to keep paper planners about to help me organize my day, but in the past couple years, I’ve gone completely to Google Calendar. And I’ve managed to prevent turning my apartment into a book hoard hazard by switching to ebooks (mostly).

However, it’s that “mostly” that’s the sticking point. Because I still have a lot of physical books. Probably about half of them are in the “to-be-read” (TBR) pile. And I know not all of them are keepers. Simply put, I need to buckle down and read them to determine which ones I’ll keep and which ones I’ll give away or sell. So, here’s what I’m going to do for this year:

  • Only read books from the TBR pile.
  • Write a blog post/review about the book after I finished it.
    • Exception: the book is so bad that finishing it would be a waste of time.
  • To keep me from temptation, I am not allowed to buy new books unless:
    • I’m gifting them to someone else
    • Three or more people have personally recommended a book to me
    • Or it is no longer 2017.

Of course, book reviewing isn’t without the risk of stirring the wrath of the crazy either, but we’ll see. If an author or their fans threaten to sue and/or kill me because I’m not all sparkly rainbows and sunshine about the story, I’ll probably stop this experiment. You and I will know that scenario is ridiculous, but I don’t have the money, time, or spoons to deal with the crazy–so if it happens, it’ll just be easier to discontinue.

Anyways, here we go. I’m starting this with Sixty-One Nails by Mike Shevdon, the 2009 US paperback edition. Why? Because it was the first book on the nearest bookshelf. Feel free to let me know how you liked (or hated) it.