At Home He's a Tourist

He fills his head with culture/ He gives himself an ulcer.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Trivial Observations--Please Ignore

K.'s wife A. has made a habit of coming into the tech services offices in the afternoon with two year old son in tow. The bored kid prances about the office and squeals while A. and L. trade stinging gossip about mutual acquaintances. The Boss finally said something to K.; the situation has improved but now A. just comes in when The Boss is away. Looks like I'll have to ask L. to cut their backbiting sessions short, or at least use the phone--that way I'd only have to endure one side of the conversation.

Our Chinese-American buffet has made a lot of cosmetic changes. They purchased the space next door, knocked down the wall and doubled their square footage. They laid down new carpet, bought new furniture and installed a large flat screen TV on the wall, which they use to show Chinese language programs. And the svelte hostess with the bobbed hair and impressive cheekbones has traded her jeans and sneakers for marvelously tight Shanghai dresses and heels. Unfortunately the menu is pretty much the same; I was excited at first to see sushi but it turned out to be vegetarian, not too fresh either, and the wasabe was diluted in condenscension to the intolerant local palate.

I finished watching The Simpsons Season 4. I was a little disappointed. I think the first three seasons are funnier. There's nothing in Season 4 like, say, the brilliant fugu fish or stolen cable episodes. The writers seem to have attempted to cover up the inherent weakness of the material by being edgier: Bart uses more foul language, the Itchy and Scratchy cartoons are more gruesome, and transvesticism is a favorite motif. When season 5 comes out I will probably rent a disc or two first before I buy. Still, it's interesting to switch the language track to French and find out how the translators deal with American references. (Muddy Waters becomes Luc Plamondon, New York becomes Montreal, Sunday School is "La Catechese", etc.)


Wineapple, Brenda. Hawthorne: a life. Knopf, 2003. 509p bibl index afp ISBN 0-375-40044-3, $30.00.

Choice: "A lively tale. As for speculations, Wineapple presents evidence without insisting on a conclusion. Respectful but honest. She succinctly states critical insights. Writing for a diverse audience, Wineapple summarizes more than Hawthorne scholars will need. Well illustrated, this book is meticulously researched and beautifully written. Essential." Library Journal: “Fascinating. Rich in archival details and perceptive analysis. Interesting particulars and insights keep readers engaged throughout and take them back to Hawthorne’s time. Written in remarkably simple language, this book is successful in capturing the spirit of the age and commenting on the making of the author.” Kirkus: “A thoughtful, absorbing life of the gloomy prince of American literature. Richly detailed and nuanced: a model of literary biography, and an illumination for students of Hawthorne’s work.” Nation: “A smart, revelatory portrait.” Booklist: "A portrait both convincing and memorable." Wilson Quarterly: “Vivid. A rounded portrait. Especially praiseworthy in this biography are the literary-critical passages. A sensitive reader of the various fictions, Wineapple is especially perceptive about the decidedly autobiographical Blithedale Romance. Wineapple occasionally resorts to awkward, quasi-poetical stylistic shortcuts, but she draws us into her narrative with élan.” New York Times Book Review: “Brenda Wineapple, the author of biographies of Janet Flanner and of Gertrude and Leo Stein, is the latest writer to tackle Hawthorne's life and try to distill his shadowy essence. If the attempt is in any way unsatisfactory, it is probably because of something unsatisfactory in the subject's own character; Hawthorne withdraws from the biographer as successfully as he did from his family and friends. But Wineapple is a good storyteller and has created a vivid account of a highly interesting life; she has also managed to communicate, if not to resolve, the man's puzzling contradictions. Wineapple gives very little space to analysis of her subject’s novels and stories. And while she has written alively narrative, there is something basically discordant about the work. Her slangy style, combined with frequent solecisms and awkward sentences, sometimes seems untrue to Hawthorne’s fastidious artistry and smooth Latinate diction.” Publishers Weekly: “The biography assumes a reportorial style, presenting confliting view without putting forth any pet theories or compelling evidence to sway the reader one way or the other.”

Thursday, June 17, 2004


The pattern of alcohol consumption, not just the average amount, affects the risk of developing liver damage, says University of Buffalo study. "The suggestion is, if you drink, drink in moderation and in a healthy way—with food—and spread the consumption over a longer period of time rather than a short period, such as a weekend." That's the way I do it (usually), so guess I'm safe.


Larson, Edward J. Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory. Modern Library, $21.95.

Library Journal: “A clear, concise, and highly informative overview. This outstanding book is highly recommended for all academic and public libraries.” Kirkus: “A brisk survey. Larson aptly summarizes the familiar story of Darwin’s discoveries and the ensuing sensation, with good coverage of such important supporting figures as T.H. Huxley and Alfred Russel Wallace. He also offers balanced treatment of the religious objections, as well as to the idea of ‘improving’ the human species by selective breeding. Larson does a fine job of showing the main intellectual currents, effectively setting them in historical context. Thoroughly readable, evenhanded, and well documented.” Publishers Weekly: “This latest entry in Modern Library’s Chronicles series isn’t ‘evolution for dummies’—it requires concentration and some effort—but Larson’s survey should make valuable reading for young people going into the sciences and other science buffs.” Virginia Quarterly Review: “Who would dare attempt a sweeping history of evolutionary theory? Edward J. Larson pulls it off with seeming ease. Difficult concepts distilled into elegant prose.”

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

More Adventures in Consumerism

  1. Art prints from $100
  2. Canvas-backed folding chair for patio: $75
  3. Polo shirt: $45
  4. Simpsons Season 4 on DVD: $40
  5. Knickknacks from Target: $50
  6. Booze: $25

I probably should watch my spending, but next weekend it looks like I'll need to get 2 tires ($120+), a car wash ($20), frames for the posters ($50+), and new shoes ($50+).

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Going to Hastings tonight, credit card in hand!

Monday, June 14, 2004


It's no Elmer Gantry, but Saved! is nevertheless a pretty solid satire of American born-againism. The screenwriters show familiarity with the particularities of the evangelical subculture, especially its sometimes pathetic attempts to be "relevant" by aping the lowest common denominator of secular pop culture. ("Jesus is in da house!" the pastor whoops at the school's opening day assembly, and his son is a Skateboarder for Jesus.) Some of the jokes are good. On the other hand, the movie's worldview is as simplistic as the biblical literalism it mocks. It shares the liberal prejudice that the marginalized are ipso facto more thoughtful and morally upright than conformists. The heroes of the film are a Jew, a gay, a disabled boy and an unwed mother. No one is likeable who doesn't to a greater or lesser extent reject traditional Christian teachings. And there's an annoyingly didactic bit at the end where the screenwriters use a couple of characters as mouthpieces to homilize in favor of diversity, tolerance, and moral ambiguity. All said, however, the movie passes the only test that matters, that of being entertaining.


Roger Ebert to donate papers to UIUC library.

Sunday, June 13, 2004


California study suggests that "the age of menarche—when a girl first starts her monthly menstrual periods—is later among daughters of tea drinkers than among daughters of moms who typically choose coffee or another beverage." Southern girls, then, should hit puberty later than their northern counterparts.