Tuesday, January 31, 2012

George Clooney Running, Kaui King, Kaui Hart Hemmings, And Love

Native Kentuckian George Clooney was four years old when Kaui King, a son of Native Dancer destined to turn gray as he matured, won the Kentucky Derby in 1965.

Now a bit gray himself, Clooney can still run.  In The Descendants, after he discovers that his wife may have been cheating on him, Clooney makes an emotional run to his neighbor's house, where he is going to try to either verify or discredit what his daughter has told him.  This running scene is not in the book, though author Kaui Hart Hemmings achieves the same effect, with equal understatement and humor.

As Clooney's character, Matthew King, awakens to the truth, he also begins to awaken or reawaken to the nature of love and responsibility.  It is a fine book and a fine movie, one in which the author was cast as King's secretary.

What we talk about when we talk about love depends upon our personal experience.  Those Ayn Rand psychopaths incapable of love think that all lovers are simply faking it or else stupidly confusing love with pseudo-sentimentality and desire.  Young love is often possessive love, an extension of the ego.  Mature love is unconditional, as Shakespeare wrote of it in the sonnets, an unchanging love which does not alter when alteration is found.

Matthew King's run in the movie is in character, showing a man who has let himself go in important ways, a man who needs to catch up to himself and rediscover what is important in life.  George Clooney plays it beautifully, but I doubt if Clooney himself is in such sad shape as some critics have suggested.

Even us old guys can run a bit, some of us.  And some of us have learned how to love.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


The old women exists in the young one at least as a potential, and the young girl exists in the older, wiser woman.  The child is the mother of the woman.  All present in this visage.

The image of Zola Budd once flashed across the television screens of our minds, running barefoot, kitteny yet intense.  Now she's older and wiser, yet I cannot read about her nor look at recent pictures of her without seeing the young girl there too.

We disagreed with her country's politics, we found her father authoritarian or despotic, but we didn't have it in us to think badly of kitteny Zola, who said she just wanted to run, without regard to money or medals.

In 1984, America's Olympic dream finished up the track after Zola's accidental clipping of heels with Mary Decker.  The race is a slow motion replay, still repeating over and over, frozen forever in eternity.

Do we remember the winner?  Heck, no.  We only remember the tragedy hyped and suspended there, the possibly errant course of history, haunted by the lost potentials of the moment.

The eidetic imagery that appeared in the movie Run Lola Run also reminds me of Zola Budd.  We pull for Lola as we once rooted for Zola, even though her family and love interest are flawed, involved with bad things.  In the movie, Lola is given three shots at redemption for them.

Possibilities stretch out in all directions, but Lola learns to reflect on her previous errors in a world in which people do their best when kind, who learn gratitude through reflection toward empathy.

We can't control chance.  What free will we have is really a free won't, as David Eagleman says.  We can choose to react to situations with empathy instead of ego, to choose mercy over revenge.  We can choose to be kind.

At the end of Run Zola Run, the immediate crisis is resolved, but things are still potentially dire.  Her boyfriend is still a mule for the drug dealers, who are still in business.  Just as at the end of It's A Wonderful Life, Mr. Potter still has the stolen money and he still has the upper hand.

This is the way of the world.  We can't control the world, we can only control how we respond to it.  We would hope to see that Lola talks her boyfriend into getting an honest job, and it's possible, but that isn't what this movie is about.  Like Groundhog Day, Run Lola Run is about the choices we make every day.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Humorous Political Books

Politics has never been funnier than in the current Republican primary.  Adding to the hilarity, for me, is the Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert stuff plus my tandem reading of Thomas Frank's PITY THE BILLIONAIRE and Jason Heller's TAFT: 2012.

I kid you not, in TAFT: 2012President Taft disappears the day Woodrow Wilson takes office and reappears in the fall of 2011 and enters the Republican primary.

It is a semi-epistolary novel, full of memos and dispatches that are fun to read, given Taft's positions on trusts and foreign policy and the humorous juxtapostions.  I had to go on line and look up Taft's history to see how much was genuine and I was amazed.

It is both funny and sad, but you might as well laugh.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Look For The New Cormac McCarthy Movie -- The Counselor

In case you haven't heard, Cormac McCarthy sold his new screenplay, The Counselor, to the folks who brought us The Road and Tree of Life.

They're looking for financing now, but the details about the script so far indicate that it is to be another drug war film involving a lawyer, with two women in strong supporting roles.

I finally saw THE ROAD. They did a bland job of it. Robert Duvall is fine actor, but they should have left McCarthy's own dialog in the film. Instead, they paraphrased everything and it came out not only bland but pointless compared to the novel.

When Eli says that we'll all be better off when everyone's gone, the wonderful comic irony of the line is something you wouldn't think would be cut out of the movie.  But it was. 

In the book, the man and boy have very little. They have not yet come upon the cache of canned goods. They meet Eli who is more spiritual, funny, and threadbare than the Eli in the movie by far. They argue over whether they should give him any food or not. They finally decide on the reflective, human side and give him food and a blanket.

Then they are rewarded by karma or by God or by their own sub-consciousness. They find the cache.

The movie reverses the plot and ruins any such interpretation of the movie.  And that isn't the only thing they got wrong.

I read the novel before it was published.  My review of it then can still be read at Amazon--the spotlight review there--and it is the book that will linger forever in my mind.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Our Top To-Be-Read Shelf

Waterwalk: A Passage of Ghosts by Steven Faulkner.  Kent Craven reviews it at this link.  Sounds like my kind of book.

Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism by Sheldon S. Wolin.  Recommended by Chris Hedges on C-Span.

Norman O. Brown's Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History.  Been meaning to read this one for years.

Shawn Green's The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness At 95 MPH.  A transcendental fastball.

I have but have not yet read the uncorrected galleys of John Burdett's VULTURE PEAK and Geoff Dyer's ZONA.  Burdett's series, always good, is continued.

Dyer is also the author of the beautifully written jazz memoir But Beautiful, the crazy brilliant D. H. Lawrence conjuring, Out of Sheer Rage, and other books I've quoted in this blog.

The subject of ZONA: A BOOK ABOUT A FILM ABOUT A JOURNEY TO A ROOM is the Andrei Tarkovsky film, Stalker, which I haven't seen yet but need to rent.

Possible tandem reads: Allison Krauss's A Man Walks Into A Room or Emma Donoghue's Room: A Novel.  Perhaps even The Enormous Room by E. E. Cummings.  Plato's cave, maybe.

We'll see.

Meanwhile, I've been having fun reading all of the new books on consciousness, almost all of them written by well-qualified brain scientists.  Besides the several I've read and listed on the best books list, I'm now reading Nicholas Humphrey's SOUL DUST: THE MAGIC OF CONSCIOUSNESS.

If I had to recommend only one of them, it would be David Eagleman's INCOGNITO: THE SECRET LIVES OF THE BRAIN. This book, along with my other reading, has shored up the way I look at free will (or free won't), and Eagleman has introduced me to several concepts I might have read somewhere but never took seriously before, such as "the Ulysses contract."

Free will seems to depend upon the circuitry in the prefrontal cortex, which is not yet developed in teenagers and never develops at all in some people.

Also new here:

Penelope Lively's How It All Began, a novel of interconnectedness, karma, the butterfly effect, a rose by whatever name you choose.

Sally Denton's The Plots Against The President: FDR, A Nation In Crisis, and the Rise of the American Right.  Glad to see this one from Denton, the author of The Bluegrass Conspiracy.  She used to be a reporter in Lexington, Kentucky.

Paul Johnson's Socrates:  A Man For Our Times.  A keeper.  I perused this when I first looked at it, was surprisingly drawn into it, so I sat down and read every word, cover to cover.  Of course I'd read books on the Greeks before, but this one has a different slant.  Highly recommended.

WIRE TO WIRE by Scott Sparling.  I picked up this mystery/thriller after reading the review of it at Spinetingler Magazine.  The author gives his soundtrack for the novel over at Largehearted Boy's blog  at this link.

A New Literary Running/Jogging/Walking Blog

Last year we had a feature called Mindfulness Monday where, among other things, we touted new running books and novels which feature a jogging protagonist.  We dropped it like a New Year's resolution as the year went on, but what the heck, we've started it again in a brand new blog, meant to inspire while remarking on books, movies, and especially running soundtracks.

Here's the link.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Earworm of the Day: TODAY IS MINE written by Jerry Reed Hubbard, performed by Glen Campbell

The real name of Jerry Reed was Jerry Reed Hubbard, singer, guitarist, actor, screenwriter, and composer.  In films and on television, he often played the hick sidekick, as with Burt Reynolds in the Smokey and the Bandit movies.  I used to have his song, "Amos Moses," on my running soundtrack back in the 1980s.

The Wikipedia profile for him is long and interesting but it doesn't mention what I think was by far his best and most beautiful song, "Today Is Mine," which was recorded by Glen Campbell on an early album.  What a lovely song!  Did its message of beauty and mindfulness keep it from becoming a hit?

(as recorded by Glen Campbell, from the album 'The Last Time I Saw Her')

When the sun came up this morning
I took the time to watch it rise
And as its beauty struck the darkness
From the sky

I thought how small and unimportant
All my troubles seem to be
And how lucky another day
Belongs to me

And as the sleepy world around me
Woke up to greet the day
All its silent beauty
Seemed to say

So what, my friend, if all your dreams
You haven't realized
Just look around you
You've got a new day to try

Today is mine, today is mine
To do with what I will
Today is mine
My own special cup to fill
To die a little that I might learn to live
To take from life that I might learn to give
Today is mine

Like most men I curse the present
Void of peace of mind
And race my thoughts beyond tomorrow
To envision there a sweeter time

But as I view this day around me
I can see the fool I've been
For today's the only garden
That we can tend

Repeat chorus.

Jerry Reed Hubbard died in 2008 at 71 years of age, but his song plays over and over in my mind--so you might say a part of him lives on right here.

Here's the Youtube link:

Friday, January 13, 2012

This Week's Tribute to the Book Cover: TIGER ART

Of course, 2010 was the Year of the Tiger, yet book jackets featuring big cats in the title or in the cover art were abundant in 2011 too.  We've already announced our 2011 Track of the Cat Award winners, but here are some of our favorites from the last two years:

Friday, January 6, 2012

Friday's Forgotten Book: LAND OF THE BLIND by Jess Walter

This is one of those rare books of genre that not only entertained and amused me, it knocked me over.  I reread this over the recent holidays, and my original take on it remains.  Astonishingly well-written, laced with humor and insights. A little known gem of a book. It is a story within a story, a coming of age story within an unconventional murder mystery, a literary whodunit/whydunit/howdunit.
It is, on the surface, a story of the internet bubble and bust and the way it affected the lives of a couple of high school buddies over the course of their lives.  This story is framed by a police procedural run by Detective Caroline Mabry, the protagonist of the author's previous murder mystery, Over Tumbled Graves

But there is a deeper humanistic and compassionate level.  In the second part of In Land Of The Blind, there is what I took to be an interesting riff on Blood Meridian (which is to say, on human nature and war) combined with a riff on Jean Sheperd's "Red Rider Nails the Cleveland Street Kid" which was adapted into the wonderful movie, Christmas Story.  The kid protagonist is bullied and conscripted into a gang and made to fight another everyman, his nerdish and autistic doppelgänger named Eli, and both are drawn into a BB gun war. This is one of the best mini-parables of war to be found in a mystery novel, and the writing is consistently keen throughout the novel.

Eli, the protagonist's alter ego, is autistic (long before there was such a diagnosis).  The author makes him a very empathetic character.  After I closed this book, I immediately set about obtaining this award-winning author's entire works, and while nothing else quite measured up to this reading experience, any novel that appears with his name on it is now a must read.  Jess Walter is on my list of authors talented enough to write the Great American Novel of this century.

Do yourself a favor and read this one.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Book Art of the Week: Kim McElvoy's "Night Run"

Artist Kim McElvoy's poem, "Night Run" appears opposite her art, which shows the horses in the night surf, bringing to mind a powerful metaphor.  Her blog can be found at this link.