Regrets Only

Dear Tina Brown:

I must decline the invitation to the Nuptials of THE DAILY BEAST to NEWSWEEK MAGAZINE. I’m busy that day…getting my hair washed…or no, my cousin from Indiana is vistiting…wait, better, QVC is showing an afternoon cavalcade of their Diamonelle Jewlery and I just can’t miss it.

"It's big, it's really big. It's really, really, really big." Wordmaster Tina Brown

You see through my lame excuses? All right, I’ll tell you the truth because it’s obvious none of the witchy, skeletal syncophants that surround you have enough intestinal fortitude to give it to you straight–your gleefully prepared statement, “The metabolism of the Daily Beast will help power the resurgence of Newsweek, and Newsweek amplifies the range of talent and audience the Daily Beast can reach. The two entities together offer writers, photographers and marketers a powerful dual platform.” is consistantly met with a luke-warm, “Up to a point, Ms. Brown.”

Madame, this is a bad idea. You’ve aligned yourself with the Titanic. It’s big, it’s gaudy, it’s got a lot of fanfare and it’s going down.

I’m going to use this decline to further tell you how I feel because it’s been eating at me since you started up this idyll website of news and opionon which is mostly aggregated links to articles written by other news outlets and who’s original content is often peppered with accusations of plagiarism. You snatched the title of the best satirical novel written about journalism and plastered it on a mediocre website that is neither witty enough nor sharp enough to merit the moniker “The Daily Beast”. As I don’t know you well enough to compare you to Lord Copper, I can guess that your lackeys and yes-people have a reason not to talk you out of this unholy matrimony.

She makes a handsome bride!

If you really are a devotee to Evelyn Waugh, please consider his biting short story, “Bella Fleace Gave a Party”. NEWSWEEK is most definitely the Bella Fleace of todays journalistic world. Obviously, she’s thrown enough money your way for you to agree to tart her up in the finest designer gown and smear layers of vaseline over the camera lenses to make her look good for the photos but it doesn’t change what she is: an aging, outdated dame who hasn’t been able to keep up with the frenetic pace of life–I mean really, in this lightening-fast internet age, news from last week is practically ancient history!

But if you insist on going through with it, what shall your blended name be? Something to distance yourself from my beloved Evelyn, I hope–still thinking about BEAST WEEK? How about NEWSBEAK? Just an idea for you to parade out to your love-muffin. And how will you blend the family? Oh my, will all those step-children get along or will a bunch of them be shipped off to private unemployment school? Hopefully your betrothed will be kinder to your kids than Evelyn Waugh was about his own children: “My unhealthy affection for my second daughter has waned. Now I despise all my seven children equally.” I have no doubts you’ll work yourself blind making this a happy, happy, happy merger. If you’re taking advice about the kids, I’m telling you, get rid of Meghan McCain–no brains, no original ideas and poor writing skills–she’s a bad influence!

While I apologized deeply for raining on your happy parade, I can’t tell you what a relief this has been for me to unload all the anger and outrage I’ve been feeling about your usurp of The Daily Beast. It still bothers me most people today will think of your website instead of SCOOP, but I think you’ll get your payback with the NEWSWEEK marriage. Pardon me? What’s that? I was never invited to begin with? Well, hmmmph.

VTY, Sweetman

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BRITTEN AND BRULIGHTLY. Graphic novel by Hannah Berry

Britten and Brulightly. Hannah Berry. Jonathan Cape 2008.

BRITTEN AND BRULIGHTLY

I often turn to the graphic novel when I’m in between books or as a follow-up after finishing a really great book. A good graphic novel has a way of cleaning house, getting rid of clutter and clearing my mind. They are quick yet satisfying. And don’t call them comics.

Britten & Brulightly

Britten and Brulightly is a highly stylized, very smart debut graphic novel by Hannah Berry. I love a well rendered graphic novel. I am in awe of the artists ability, with a few drawings to pull the reader through pages of action, drama and dialogue. When done well, what a gift.

Hannah Berry has this gift well in hand. Her debut graphic novel is written and drawn with a mind and hand of an old pro, not of a twenty-something woman.

Britten & Brulightly

Fern Britten is a private detective that is carrying a very heavy load. He’s decided to take on a suicide case to try to atone for all  the damage he’s wrought throughout his career. His partner, a most unlikely partner, Stewart Brulightly is the lighthearted foil to Britten’s gloom. They are working on a case with twists and turns, danger and despair. Despite Britten’s best efforts to bring light and peaceful closure to this case, he’s left with yet another unhappy end.

There is a deeply dark undertone in Britten and Brulightly that received some bad press, implying Ms. Berry was insensitive to the topic of suicide, so reader be warned if you carry that type of baggage, you might want to reconsider reading this. That said, I was not distracted or disturbed by the dark presence of suicide in this graphic novel. It was part of the story. My only criticism, which is often my criticism in most of the graphic novels I read, is the leap to the end of the story, almost a rush to wrap-up which had me re-reading the final few pages without really feeling as though I had a full grasp on all the lose pieces. Not to worry, the graphic part of the graphic novel usually fills in the gaps for me.

Britten & Brulightly

Enjoy Britten and Brulightly for it’s noir, it’s 1940’s detective novel flair and for the stong debut of Hannah Berry, breaking through with this terrific graphic novel

 

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“Byron in Love. A Short Daring Life.” by Edna O’Brien–a tedious and boring ordeal

The interview on WBUR’s On Point with Tom Ashbrook “Mad, Bad Byron” was a far better look into the short, daring life of Lord Byron: http://www.onpointradio.org/2009/07/the-loves-of-lord-byron

Byron in Love by Edna O'Brien

Ms. O’Brien was certainly more clear, organized and better versed during the interview than she was in compiling this confusing collection of names, places, events and histories. I gather she must have sifted through volumes of letters and books for this biography, I don’t doubt her effort or the amount of information she amassed to write it. I have trouble with the organization. It’s tough to get a handle of Lord Byron’s life, his gift for poetry and (I gather this is the gimmick to get us to read all about him) his charisma with the ladies and gentlemen in his short daring life.

Really, the interview with Tom Ashbrook is one hour. Reading the book was a trial of many hours–listen if you’re interested and save your reading time for something much more enjoyable.

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BICYCLE DIARIES by David Byrne

BICYCLE DIARIES DAVID BYRNE

I loved this book. It was a quick read, very interesting and now I AM DYING FOR A FOLDING BICYCLE!

I know I can pay better attention to life around me and see interesting things in typically boring places. I know I’ll be able to find a concrete box building with just one metal door and a lightbulb affixed to the side of it as its only decoration fascinating if I am riding on a folding bicycle. I just know it.

The lovely character of this book is that you feel as though you  are alongside Mr. Byrne. He recorded his thoughts as he rode around cities while he was touring. It sounds so glamorous but through his writing and observations we learn there is little glamour on the road and there is less glamour on two wheels–which is the beauty of this book.

David Byrne leisurely rides through cities like Detroit, MI,Rochester and Niagara Falls, NY, Valencia, CA (outside of LA–there isn’t a soul around but anchored on the sidewalk is a bronzed statue of a mother and daughter carrying shopping bags! *shudder*), Sweetwater, TX and Columbus, OH. Places that simply aren’t on the proverbial destination map of even the most wayward traveller.

We get a good looks at  these small parts and get a great feeling of the vibe. Unexpectedly, interestingly, he is a terrific teacher of city and highway infrastructure! America is a car-nation, that is a certainty and David Byrne is a brave adventurer to hazards into the heart of some of these places. It’s a beautiful, rare and honest view of some of the life in America you’d probably never ever knew you cared about.

He takes his bike to Europe and South America, the Philippines and Australia. In those locales he gives us glimpses of people, places and life that just can’t be experienced from a hotel, a tour bus or a tourist attraction.

I knew I would love this book because it’s about travel, writing and a bicycle. I had no idea I would love it for its perspective, for the feeling that I too experienced his encounters and observations.

You must read this book!

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Writing for thiszine!

How exciting!

My post on Manners and Etiquette is on thiszine . Please visit often, there are excellent book reviews and interesting articles.

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McKAY’S BEES, A Novel By Thomas McMahon. The Review by Sweetman

McKay's Bees book cover

One Star. Not good.

Sorry Professor McMahon, you really seemed to throw a lot into this novel and of course, I wanted to love it because it’s about bees, but that just didn’t happen.

This novel was all over the place: bees, Kansas, New Orleans, steam boats, abolition, industrialism, Darwinism and probably more but honestly! I lost track. Because it was like a hippy train-wreck, things just scattered about which made it was difficult to follow. It was spead so thin that everything that was happening was just uninteresting. More unfortunate, the writing was pretty flat and the characters were very..meh. After reading the author bio: “Professor McMahon, author of Principles of American Nuclear Chemistry: A Novel is a Professor of Applied Mechanics and Biology at Harvard”, I’m not surprised. It read like a dry textbook.

His style made me think of The Men in a Boat and Three Men on a Bummell by Jerome K. Jerome–raucous and rolicking, kind of non-sequitor but it lacked the irreverence and it was just too disjointed. I didn’t really find his beekeeping or bee knowledge very intriguing but I’m chocking that up to it’s date of publication which was 1979.

Eh, I gave it a good try but it failed for me. I admit I really wanted to like it, it seemed to come from a good heart.

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AMONGST WOMEN by John McGahern

AMONGST WOMEN by John McGahern

Library find, Irish Literature, short novel, well written

4 of 5  Stars

Read in August 2010

Recommend: to readers and those who like Irish literature. Don’t read on a gloomy day.

Dry, sparse, dark but very well written.
I hate to read stereotypical novels and I think this falls into the stereotype of the overbearing Irish father who either bends his children until they nearly break or cuts them off forever if they don’t comply. It leaves me sad and hollow.
That is the beauty of this book. It’s burdened with heavy darkness. The language is perfect, evocative. This book has sparked some intense conversations and debates, I’m certain. It says so much in so little.

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“The Master” by Colm Toibin

Yes, I am posting positive reviews today for a reason. It’s been brought to my attention that I wax prolific on things I don’t like and I say more about what I dislike (namely Lady Silly Girl (GaGa) and The Twilight Series) than what I do like.

It is true.

It’s far easier  and much more fun for me to delve into what’s wrong with things that are so incredibly popular but so incredibly crappy. It’s clear that I’m insulting and acting superior to those who like, love, revere what I’m trashing. My apologies for my hautiness but I stand by my opinions. They aren’t intended to insult those who like what I designate “crap”.  My intention is to bring to light a new perspective. Let’s not be herded by popular culture! Let’s look at what the media is trying to shove down our throat before we gobble it and let us decide if it’s really good! We can do this, we have that ability! We don’t have to be part of a culture of mediocre or even lousy just because it’s popular!

That said, please enjoy my glowing review of The Master by Colm Toibin. I should have posted this long before I trashed Brooklyn.

The Master by Colm Toibin

5 Star Review

Recommended for all; particularly those who love good writing, thorough readers, Henry James fans.

Henry James has long been one of my great fascinations. I was first introduced to Mr. James by my high school teacher who insanely assigned The Ambassadors to the senior class for summer reading. I have yet to finish that book. It’s my holy grail. I worship anyone who did read it. I couldn’t even fathom the Cliffs Notes but I knew Henry James was important. I knew his writing mattered and that he was in another realm that my pea-brain longed to exist.

I’ve trained for The Ambassadors by reading and thoroughly loving Washington Square, Daisy Miller, Turn of the Screw, The Aspern Papers, The Pupil and Portrait of a Lady. These were all fantastic but I still can’t conquer The Ambassadors. I was at the point of declaring it unreadable (instead of calling myself an idiot) when my sister Ann gave me The Master for my birthday. What a wonderful gift!

The novel starts at nearly the end of Henry James life. He’s in London preparing for the debut of his play, “Guy Domville”.  The play stunk, James was hissed, heckled and jeered at when he went to take his bows. To make matters worse for Mr. James, Oscar Wilde, that-that-that Oscar Wilde! was enjoying glowing success with his silly play just across town. I was instantly drawn in as Toibin was able to present this untouchable author as a real human in a vulnerable, no painful situation with emotions that I can feel, understand and fully appreciate.

Historical fiction is a risk. If the author appears to be taking liberties by superimposing emotions and actions on the subject, it becomes a fantasy. This did not happen in Toibin’s The Master. I believed I was in the house and mind of Henry James. Toibin stayed true to the Master’s spirit and character. His observations are polite, circumspect but very clear.  It wasn’t an expose of the presumption of Mr. James homosexuality although the subject was delt with clearly. This book reflected the reserve and polite observation that defines Henry James writing. Toibin’s voice was exact. His descriptions of James demeanor and actions perfectly illustrate the tone of his subject’s writing.

I’ve often wondered if Henry James could possibly exist in today’s culture? Would he be able to write successfully? Of all the authors I love and try to emulate, I believe my best writing is in the desperate attempt to imitate Mr. James. It is those pieces I work (over work, sometime slaughter) the hardest yet they leave me knowing I need to do better. Funny, those are the pieces that are poorly received and poorly reviewed. I am not Henry James. Colm Toibin is in The Master and I applaud his accomplishment.

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Sweetman reviews “The Talented Mr. Ripley”

A Five Star Book.
Library Find
Thriller, Psychological Drama
Recommended for Everyone
“The Talented Mr. Ripley” by Patricia Highsmith is a book that stays with me. I’ve read it twice and knowing the secrets the second time around did very little to take away the tension and suspense of this psychological thriller.
Tom Ripley is a 23-year-old living in New York City. He’s liar and and a schemer with vague aspirations for better life. We quickly learn that Tom’s vision of better equals rich. Ripley’s “better” is every aspect of their lives, including their sneering opinions of him. He’s a hanger-onner to friends who barely tolerate his presence–a fact  we quickly learn he’s well aware,  yet he choses to expose himself to their disdain and contempt.  This is exactly what I believed The Great Gatsby might have thought of the clingey Nick if Fitzgerald gave him a voice!
We also learn very early in the book Tom Ripley is extorting people by impersonating an agent of the IRS. He’s clever, calculating and completely amoral. He knows the difference between right and wrong but he is utterly indifferent to either. This makes for a most fascinating protagonist.
Ripley’s fortune takes an interesting turn at a most opportune time (he’s certain he is about to be caught for his IRS scheme). He is hired to return the son of a wealthy ship builder. Richard “Dickey” Greenleaf is living a life of ease in Mongibello Italy. This displeases his wealthy father, Herbert Greenleaf. Ripley, a bare acquiantance of Dickie’s, is commissioned to bring Dickie back to New York and back to the proverbial helm of his father’s ship-building empire. Ripley’s intentions are good as he sets out and then the bottom falls out of that well-intentioned goodie basket.  We are taken on a dark roller-coaster ride of deception, jealousy, deceit and murder. Then evasion and more deceit. It is riveting.
In getting into the eerily empty room that is Tom Ripley’s conscience, I never thought I could sympathize with such a cold and calculating character, yet I was captivated. The story spirals horrifically, the tension was incredible. I read this book well into wee hours of my work-day because I simply could not stop! It electrified me. I was amazed! There is not one fiber of my being that sympathizes with someone who harms others yet…I could not bear the thought of Ripley’s failure. Wow!
Written in the 1950’s, Miss Highsmith exquisitly captures the sense of the time and place in New York City and of the enviable life of a wealthy American abroad. She describes in lovely detail the nuances that made life so wonderful for those Ripley admired. It made me want to go back and live there too. Her writing is elegant and crystal clear, simple yet it provides the depth of distinciton to deprive the reader from a restful night’s sleep.
Sweetman’s advice: You must read this book!
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Book vs. e-reader

This You-Tube skit is really funny and worth the time to watch it. Can anyone guess where I’m going with this series?

One of my favorite quotes of late is, “Books don’t break” in reference to the e-reader. They don’t run out of power or malfunction if they get wet (well the pages getting stuck together are a problem). You don’t have to sign a contract to read a book and you certainly don’t need a doctor’s note!

This isn’t to say that I don’t think there’s a place for the e-reader. I think it’s a fantastic invention! It’s very portable, it holds a library of books and you can take it most anywhere. The screen is, for most brands, easy to read in most settings and the reader can adjust the print size–a big bonus for me in my late forties–I can not read a thing without my glasses!

I would have loved an e-reader in nursing school. I broke my back and the bank on those stupid text books! And I donated every single one of them after the semester–a mere 6 months after purchase!–because they were considered  “out of date” at the college book store.

I would love to see school kids carry e-readers instead of  lugging around those killer backpacks. And the feature where you can look up a word or reference? Fantastic! It’s a way to make learning/reading simpler without dumbing it down. Good grief, why did these take so long???

Is that it? There’s my endorsement? Just cast aside the book because the e-reader saves the day?

Well of course not! I love books! I live for books! To hold, hug, carry, flip through, toss in a bag, back pack, on my bedside table…. Books are my life, I would be lost without reading and I honestly believe they aren’t going away.

I think there’s plenty of room for books and the e-reader. I don’t think books will disappear quickly because there is such a huge reading public. I know, I know, we all thought the 8-track and VHS were impervious to the next-best-thing and the e-reader could be the demise of the printed book but I don’t think that books will be wiped out forever! They’ll be around for quite a while, filling the minds of those ready to be lost in their wonder. So we read it on a screen instead of a page? Is that going to be the end of the world?

My allegiance lies with the physical book but I say “Welcome e-reader, show me what you’ve got.”

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