Beautiful morning, Tampa
What’s going to happen to Tom Branson and Lady Sybil?
As “Downton Abbey” fans watch Sunday for the next plot twists of the popular “Masterpiece” series on PBS, some might be wondering about the backdrop in Ireland at the time. Season Three begins with Tom and Sybil living in 1920s Dublin.
Here’s a quick primer on what happened in Irish politics immediately before and during this period:
I’m an unabashed fan of the novel “Cloud Atlas,” so I was pretty nervous about the idea of a movie. After the critics panned it, I should have been forlorn, right? But I saw it for myself and loved it, really loved it.
The reviews of the movie “Cloud Atlas” have struggled to summarize its storyline because its based on a novel that heaps storyline upon storyline and leaps from one time period to another. It’s about a young attorney in the 1700s on a voyage through the South Pacific who succumbs to a strange illness and tries to help an escaped slave. It’s about a dashing young musician in the 1930s who wins an apprenticeship with an aging composer. It’s about a muck-raking reporter in 1970s California who tries to expose a cover-up at a nuclear power plant. It’s about an aging English publisher in the 1990s; he’s unwittingly committed to a nursing home by his malicious brother. It’s about a science-fiction future, when a clone tries to escape enslavement from “corpocracy” and inspires others to rebel. And it’s about the farther future, after “The Fall,” when humanity tries to put itself back together in Hawaii after apocalyptic cataclysm.
Like most postmodern or post-postmodern novels, “Cloud Atlas” the book reminds readers constantly that what they’re reading is fiction. Its purpose is to layer multiple stories on top of each other so that a larger, different story emerges, much the way impressionist painters layered paint on canvas. It’s not a traditional narrative, but a story of ideas. “Cloud Atlas” then becomes a meditation of how the strong prey on the weak, how the predators justify their actions, and how the weak find ways to resist.
The movie, interestingly, embraces most of the novel’s strange quirks and narrative play. (It also takes some interesting liberties with the book’s plot.) This isn’t a movie with a beginning a middle and and end, but many beginnings, many middles and many endings.
Different actors play different roles in the film, and some have suggested that one way to read this casting is as the same souls traveling through time. I would reject this reading of the progression of souls — even if the filmmakers intended it. For one thing, the idea doesn’t make much sense, and in the movie there’s no natural sense of how the characters are particularly connected. And for another thing, some of the actors are in such heavy make-up that you can’t even tell it’s the same actor. (I strongly disagree with the reviews that claim the actors always remain recognizable.)
So then why do I think this casting “works” anyway? Because it reminds you that the specific stories are connected thematically, not literally. It’s like a live stage play where the actors play different roles; it serves to remind you that you are watching a narrative that was created by human beings to explore ideas.
I went to “Cloud Atlas” with someone (Mark) who hadn’t read the book. He said he enjoyed the movie and could follow it easily; it wasn’t as complicated as the reviewers would have you think. So with all that in mind, I would urge you to see “Cloud Atlas”. It doesn’t tie up all the loose ends in a big bow or end with a big musical number. Instead, it’s just an interesting, beautiful movie that will make you think.
I really liked this journalistic account of the life of David Foster Wallace. Its primary focus is on how his professional and personal life resulted in the publication of his novels and nonfiction, so a lot of it is about the publishing industry, universities where Wallace worked, and his literary friendships. Some of the reviews I read on Goodreads seemed to think the book wasn’t long enough, but it satisfied me — I did not want to read a long scholarly biography or extended analysis of his early childhood, etc.
A lot of this book is sad, though. It made me realize how private Wallace was in his life, and how little I knew about him (despite being a big fan) when he was alive. A lot of the revelations here involve his somewhat troubled personal life. I guess it should have been obvious to me that whoever wrote “Infinte Jest” would not be Mr. Happy Happy Normal, but I always liked to think of Wallace as living a life of basic contentment and balance. This book shows that wasn’t the case, at least part of the time, and in detail. On the whole though, I enjoyed this book, it was very readable, and it will certainly enhance my understanding of Wallace’s work. While I was reading it, I found myself constantly going back to my bookshelf to pull down Wallace’s work, and I can’t think of a better compliment to a literary biography than that.
Do I dare to eat a peach? #Prufrock (Taken with Instagram)
Just a few months ago, I replaced my PC with a Mac, and I’m kind of surprised that I did. Here’s my personal technology history, briefly:
The first computer I remember seeing was around 1986 or ‘87, when my dad brought home a “portable” Compaq that was the size of small suitcase. It had an operating system called DOS. I didn’t get anything my own computer-like device until late high school, when I got a Panasonic word processor. The Panasonic took me all the way into my senior year of college, when email was just starting to become common. My first computer was an Apple LC III (Or was it II? Hard to remember).
At my first newspaper job in 1994, we wrote our stories on Macintosh Classics with those teeny tiny black and white monitors. The World Wide Web hadn’t been invented yet. When it was, around 1997, we got up from our Mac’s to use the special “Internet computer,” which was PC. (Yes, I’m serious that it was the special “Internet” station.) I still had the LC III, but my roommates had PCs that I’d use from time to time.
In 1998, I bought my first laptop, a Macintosh Power PC. By the time 2002 rolled around, though, I wanted a newer, faster computer. But I was put off by how high the prices for new Mac’s. I’d also been having problems with sharing documents between home and work, and with files from the Internet that wouldn’t work on a Mac. So I bought a cheap, fast laptop, and I was pretty happy about it.
I stayed with PCs for 10 years. But then a bunch of little things happened that planted the seeds for an eventual return to Mac.
I’m somewhat techy, but I did need help with certain things from time to time, especially with modems and routers. Around midway through my PC run, I noticed that the customer service offered by my PC maker (Dell) was deteriorating noticeably — the reps just were not as helpful, and it was obvious they were all based overseas. Another thing: I could see that the compatibility issues for documents and other files were going away. My students (I teach as an adjunct) had Macs and were navigating those issues just fine.
I had the misfortune to buy my final PC during the terrible Vista years, and as time went on, it created many aggravations. Meanwhile, Apple was launching its iPods and iPhones, and offering more services. I also started noticing that while the price difference between Macs and PCs were still there, they were less than they had been, while Apple was offering more services and options.
This year, when it was time to buy a new computer, I was well disgusted with my PC, so much so that I was willing to pay the extra money and switch back to Mac.
I’m writing all this down here now, and it makes a coherent story. But I have to say the ACTUAL thought processes for making the switch were much less linear and much more intuitive, and not a decision-tree type of thing at all. It was more like this: PCs=aggravating, Macs=interesting. Purchase.
Thus are the impulses on which rise and fall the fortunes of the major tech companies.
I am a Cook’s Illustrated fanatic. That is not too strong of a word to express my devotion to that magazine. My grandmother was a wonderful cook, but for whatever reason, she didn’t pass down her skills to me. In her defense, I never asked. So I feel like Cook’s Illustrated taught me how to cook.
One of their many tag lines is, “Recipes that work.” And CI recipes really do work. If you follow the instructions exactly, the food is excellent. And after many years of following CI recipes to the letter, I finally learned my own technique. Little things, like how hot the pan has to be to put a good sear on a piece of meat. How to roast vegetables. When to pull the cookies out of the oven at the perfect moment.
After more than 10 years of Cook Illustrated issues arriving in the mailbox every other month, though, I do believe they have offered recipes for everything I’m in interested in cooking. Frankly, I noticed this for the first time about two years ago, but I was in denial. Now I’m admitting grudgingly that the heyday of Angie and Cook’s Illustrated is coming to its natural end. And frankly, I’m tired of keeping dozens of raggedy back issues organized in my kitchen’s limited space.
Fortunately for me, I have options — many options. What makes Cook’s Illustrated special has no ads, and this is a good thing. But it also means they’re always packaging and re-packaging their content, to sell it again and again. Thus the Cook’s Illustrated spin-offs of Cook’s Illustrated Online, America’s Test Kitchen, Cook’s Country and The Best Recipe Cookbooks.
I’ve had a subscription to the website for sometime now, and it’s always been handy. It’s an instant index to the paper issues, for one. And sometimes I would decide at work to cook a certain recipe that night; it was wonderful to be able to log on and see the ingredients so I could stop at the store on the way home.
So here’s my plan to reorganize my own personal library of Cook’s Illustrated received wisdom: I’ve bought two giant CI cookbooks, The New Best Recipe (updated edition) and More Best Recipes. I’m storing my hard copy back issues in anticipation of recycling them at a future date. I will keep the website subscription. (And to be honest, I’m thinking of getting the iPad subscription to the magazine, too.)
Why this long, rambling post about all this? I think my relationship with Cook’s Illustrated is a case study in information management.
What I’m finding in this case is that sometimes more information isn’t better. It’s just more. I’m trying to find a way to get less information, but information that is more relevant to me and better organized. Sixty magazines are hard to keep organized. Two cookbooks are easy.
Photos of our trip to Ireland, June 2012. The top photo is Ballybunion, where we stayed while we attended the Listowel Writers Week. The window is in the National Library of Ireland, where I viewed the Yeats exhibit. The church is on the town square in Listowel, as seen from the Listowel Arms Hotel at twilight.
When the spouse and I went to Ireland in 2007 for the first time, I was in full-on James Joyce obsession, and we saw a lot. We did the Dublin Writers Museum. I had the glass of burgundy and gorgonzola sandwich at Davy Byrnes. We drove out to Sandycove to see Joyce’s Martello tower and the museum there. And in Galway, we went to Nora Barnacle’s home.
For our most recent trip, I was (am?) in full-on William Butler Yeats obsession. Sadly, though, we did not go to Sligo. There were good reasons for that, involving travel time and logistics and such like. So the ultimate Yeats tour of Ireland is still out there waiting to be undertaken.
No regrets, though! We had THREE great literary moments in our latest trip to Ireland, which I will recount here.
1. Dublin Literary Pub Crawl/Seamus Heaney radio interview. The pub crawl put together stops at Dublin’s historic pubs with dramatic readings from Irish literature — Samuel Becket’s “Waiting for Godot,” James Plunkett’s “Strumpet City,” Oscar Wilde on his travels in America. The actors who proclaimed the roles did a great job, and the pubs had great ambiance, too. The capper on our night out, though, was the ride back to our cousins’ house north of Dublin in County Meath. As we were leaving the city, a radio interview with Irish poet Seamus Heaney was just beginning.
It’s very difficult to summarize the career of Seamus Heaney briefly, so I won’t try. I’ll just note here that he won the Nobel Prize in 1995, and I’ll link to the Poetry Foundation’s biography of him and let you take it from there. Or, you could take a moment to read “Whatever You Say, Say Nothing.” (“Smoke-signals are loud-mouthed compared with us:/ Manoeuvrings to find out name and school,/ Subtle discrimination by addresses/ With hardly an exception to the rule.”)
As we were pulling into the driveway at home, the radio interview had just ended, we had listened to some of Heaney’s major works, and it was the perfect ending to a memorable evening in the city of Dublin.
2. Yeats exhibit at the National Library. We went to the National Library of Ireland on one of our first afternoons in the country, so the spouse could do some research. Lo and behold, their very notable exhibit of The Life and Works of William Butler Yeats (see worthwhile NYT write-up here) was still going! This exhibit opened in 2006, and we wanted to go when we visited in 2007, but we got too busy, and like I said, I was obsessed with Joyce back then, not Yeats.
This time, I got to spend a blissful hour and a half in the exhibit while the spouse did research in the library’s reading room.
Most, most wonderful about the exhibit was the area that showcased Yeats’ poetry. You couldn’t miss it, it was a screened seating area right when you entered the exhibit, and it included wall-sized renderings of his poems with out-loud readings. The recorded reading were by Yeats himself, Seamus Heaney, Sinead O’Connor and several others. Sinead did a particularly haunting job with “Easter 1916.” (I’ve looked for a CD of these readings to no avail, sad.) The National Library has posted a virtual tour of the Yeats exhibit, and I’ve spent time on it even now. It’s fascinating.
3. Listowel Writers Week/Paul Durcan reading. The reason we went at the time we did this year was so we could go to Listowel Writers Week, the literary festival is in its 41st year, in County Kerry. Listowel is a charming town, and the highlight of the week was getting to see the poet Paul Durcan read on Friday night. Durcan is another one of Ireland’s celebrated poets; the Irish Independent says he “comes second only to Seamus Heaney as our most famous living poet.”
Durcan’s new book, “Praise in Which I Live and Move and Have my Being” was in every bookstore we stopped at in Ireland (Dublin, Ballybunion, Kinsale, Clonakilty). The night of the reading, the spouse stood in a very, very long line to get me an autographed copy. It’s one of my favorite presents I’ve received in a long time and my best memento of the trip. My favorite poem is “The Recession.” The inscription reads, “For Angie, Warmest wishes, Paul Durcan, Listowel, 1 June 2012.”
Just one more thing I love about being a journalist: Sometimes I get to interview authors of books I really like. Here’s a link to my interview with Jonathan Haidt, a moral psychologist who wrote “The Happiness Hypothesis” and “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Religion and Politics.”