2014 in review

Thanks to those who tune in to Gridley Fires blog. I like to say that my followers are few, but they’re rabid and somewhat deranged. And that’s a GOOD thing. So maybe you’d like to see yourself mirrored in the below report.

Thanks, have a safe but happy new year’s, and I hope you’ll urge all your friends to follow the blog.

See you next year, Bob

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,500 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 25 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Superficiality and Avoidance in Texas

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Friendswood, by Rene Steinke

There are several things that make a book an absorbing read. First there must be a story, compelling, if you please. The characters must be vivid, representing real, imperfect people. The writer’s diction must have impact – strong in word selection, poetic at times without seeming high-flown. Dialogue must be concise, the characters’ voices clear. Narrative must flow well and supplement dialogue. Steinke’s book, Friendswood, has most of this in spades, but I’ll come back to that in a moment.
The story takes place in and around a Texas town, Friendswood. The ground for miles around has been polluted by oil businesses, then the land turned over to developers and subdivisions built. But as homeowners begin to find themselves sick from ground toxicity, a divorcee, Lee, takes on the task of exposing these conditions, but her efforts fail to bear fruit – no one in local political authority, it seems, cares, and federal bureaucrats are less than helpful. Then daughter Jess joins the legions of the sick, and it spoils nothing to tell you that she dies.
Meanwhile, young teen Willa shows up at a party, is given a roofie, and is raped. She remembers nothing of it, but a boy, Dex, is there and seems to want to expose the rape.

There. That sets up Steinke’s braided story, and for the most part she carries it off well.

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But I found my mind wandering where I would’ve expected to be compulsively turning pages. After all, it gives the reader both sides of a modern moral fable. Occasionally Steinke creates a scene or narrative passage so damned good as to keep me faithfully turning pages. What, then, was wrong? Was my attention drawn elsewhere? Not really. As above, the author pulled off many fine aspects of literary writing. But there were points in which the dialogue was bland as white bread; in others, her characters carried on (or not) in scenic ways that I often found boring or disengaging, and the narrative arc ground to a stop.

I’m wanting something near-perfect in such a story. Steinke is a fine writer with many writerly tools at her disposal, but this book didn’t live up to my expectations.

15 of 20 stars

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Gifts of the Season

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Whether you celebrate this season as Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Arba’een, or something other, let’s all see one another, despite our different colors, cultures, and religions, as one people. We’re here on earth to learn happiness and contentment, and to help one another in that quest.

May you have a warm hearth, the gift of laughter and joy about you, and many, many friends to enjoy.

Visit my website here. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

Faith’s End and the Unknown

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Waking Up – A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, by Sam Harris

Neurologist and philosopher Sam Harris has been pushing the limits of both fields for some time now, and with this book, he may well lose his street cred as one who insists on accepting nothing by faith. But such a persnickety view of Harris will be misguided based on a superficial reading of this, his latest broadside.
He has staked his claim to being the U.S.’s most prominent spokesperson for atheism. Still, in The End of Faith, he left his readers hanging with a paean to meditation and explorations in consciousness. And so with this book, Harris is asking his readers to jump into these waters with him. What does he mean by consciousness? This question must be answered in order to know what it is he’s asking readers to explore.
Here I’ll paraphrase from my own such extrapolations in consciousness, knowing that Harris, upon reading this, would probably snort and ask me for the reasoning behind them. Consciousness, then is the basis of everything, but it’s unknowable. How does one deal with such a paradox? One must become ego-less, one much renounce ownership of thought. He doesn’t mean to make moods of these abstractions, mind you; instead one must approach them through the vehicle of mind, which must itself be transcended.

Does this seem laughable, a Woodstock Nation morsel of food for thought? Then you may not want to read this one, even if you’ve followed Harris’ work to this point. But if something here rings a bell, no matter how faintly, pick it up.

My rating: 17 of 20 stars

Visit my website here. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

The Wolf of Man

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Hold the Dark, by William Giraldi

The question that seems to be most on author Giraldi’s mind in Hold the Dark: Is humankind evolving or devolving? And whatever the answer one comes up with, what is the real nature of humanity, animal or something grander?
We’re first treated to Russell Core, an aging naturalist with a passion for wolves. Core is lured to the Alaskan village Keelut at the request of a woman, Medora Slone – something about her son and wolves. This is one of the first of several ambiguities the Giraldi presents, without leaving the reader with some sense of understanding. Medora’s husband, Vernon, returns from a desert war to learn that Core has discovered Medora’s son dead – probably at her hands.
This sets the stage for several Cormac McCarthy-esque acts of violence, the central one not involving Slone at all. Core is all but left dangling here while Slone stages his trail of violence on the way to some mysterious rectifying of Medora’s filicide.
A local police detective, Donald Marium, elbows his way into the story by killing Slone’s murderous pal Cheeon, and then urging Core (remember him?) to help him find Slone. Their intents are somewhat opposing: Core wants to rescue Medora from Vernon’s assumed wrath, and Marium wants to bring Slone to justice.

As convoluted and unsatisfying as Giraldi’s novel plotting is, his writing is compelling – even mesmerizing at times – and his depictions of these characters at the far reaches of civilization are vivid and realistic. In the end, though, Giraldi never quite settles on what aspect of humanity he’s drawn to depict: The need to live like and learn from the animal world in such forbidding territory? The self-affirming nature of violence? The urge to nurture, despite such a forbidding and violent environment?
Such questions all but demand that this short book be read and read again in search of solid footing for both the story and its author’s vision. My concern is that such further readings will leave the reader as barren as the territory Giraldi’s book inhabits.

My rating: 15 of 20 stars

Visit my website here. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

Thunderous Silence Speaking Volumes

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I’ve had to let slide, for obvious reasons, promotional activities of my book from 2013, Sam’s Place: Stories. But as I begin to consider that again, I recognize that I’ve had reactions to the book ranging from “Good on ya!” to thunderous silence. Why the kudos? And why the silence?

I have a fairly good grasp on my readership, small and somewhat deranged as it is, so I’m not only able to put the actual comments in place, but also a good part of that overloud silence. And that comes down to reader’s views of the society we live in. I take on at least a portion of the postmodern ethos in my writing – the portion that comments on society by deconstructing the lives of at least some of my characters. For this to make sense I should give a bit of a depiction of these stories.

They take place in Striven, a small town in rural Alabama, stories built about Sam’s Place, a pool hall and bar frequented by characters on the outskirts of Striven society. These folks don’t show up at the Elk Lodge, don’t have particularly good relations with the local police (sound familiar?), rarely warm the pews of Striven’s churches, and are deeply flawed people – at least by the idealized and totally fictitious image we tend to create of personal and family life in these United States. Yet they’re attractive people; they have larger than life personalities. They dare to contradict. They dare to be outrageous. They persist in their living-large existences, despite being shunting aside by the city fathers, even despite violence against them (again, sound familiar?).

These people are necessary to life, in every city, town, and social setting. Some readers recognize this, some not, and I get a pat on the back, perhaps a warm word or two. But why the not? Because these fictional people establish limits on the goodness of us real folk, taken together as society. If this confuses, ask.

Okay, in plain language, why the silence of some who trifle with this book? I think it’s largely this: the mass of society presumes to live comfortably within these social limits, and when they see “good” characters inverted to represent everything wrong in society, and the “bad” characters setting things to rights, perhaps accidentally, they don’t like it; they see themselves at the outskirts of a society flipped on its postmodern head. Through these characters, “good” and “bad,” they begin to see in glaring detail the limits to our society, the limits we’ve created to our harum-scarum, always mutating, less-than-perfect society. And it’s the less-than-perfect aspects of what we’ve created within these United States that allow some – change that to many – to imagine otherwise. And nothing speaks to the ensuing upset more so than silence.

Visit my website here. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.