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The Pale King

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I have no problem quitting books I’m not interested in (see If on a winter’s night a traveler) and I’ve pushed myself to finish books I really didn’t want to (see Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). But I find myself in the extremely unusual position of wanting to quit reading a book I’m actually interested in.

Last month I picked up a few books from the CF library, one of them being The Pale King, the book David Foster Wallace was working on when he died in 2008. His editor collected the manuscript and draft computer files and compiled a book out of the pieces. It’s about 500 pages long, of which I’ve read about 150, but the chapter on deck is 98 pages (I’ve flipped ahead to look) and I feel antsy about spending so much time on this book and I feel like quitting where I am and move on to two books I’ve read before but have been increasingly wanting to reread: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and (before the movie comes out next month) The Hobbit. 

My usual rule of thumb with a book is that, if I’m not hooked within the first 50 pages, I give up and move on. Life is short and there are too many books I want to read (with what little free time I have during nights and weekends not allocated to movies). I feel I remain on-track to reading somewhere in the neighborhood of 500-600 books before I hit my eighties — legitimate old-age.

So back to The Pale King… it’s not that I’m not interested in the subject matter, because I am. And I’m not turned off by Wallace’s writing style; I did, after all, slog my way through Infinite Jest over the final months of 2005, his tome of 1,079 pages. Like that work, and like most of McCarthy’s novels, TPK can’t be skimmed: the beauty is in the words, the sentence structures, the dialogue, the imagery, et cetera. Each sentence deserves to be read deliberately, or not read at all.

Tomorrow I will remove my 1994 bookmark and return TPK to the library. It will remain on my to-read list for 2015, along with a dozen other titles I did not find time for this year.


Written by camcarlson

November 21, 2014 at 11:11 PM

In loving memory

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The greatest obituary I’ve read in quite a while. I may have to borrow some lines from this finely written piece when my time comes to escape to another dimension. I would like to repost it in its entirety… so many gems… but I will instead quote a few gems:

Walter George Bruhl Jr. of Newark and Dewey Beach is a dead person; he is no more; he is bereft of life; he is deceased; he has rung down the curtain and gone to join the choir invisible; he has expired and gone to meet his maker.

He drifted off this mortal coil Sunday, March 9, 2014, in Punta Gorda, Fla. His spirit was released from his worn-out shell of a body and is now exploring the universe.

He was surrounded by his loving wife of 57 years, Helene Sellers Bruhl, who will now be able to purchase the mink coat which he had always refused her because he believed only minks should wear mink.


There will be no viewing since his wife refuses to honor his request to have him standing in the corner of the room with a glass of Jack Daniels in his hand so he would appear natural to visitors.

Written by camcarlson

March 12, 2014 at 10:00 PM

Posted in Literature

The Words & Works of Watterson

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I’ve been a busy bee this week, more so than usual, but I wanted to post… something… before I make any noteworthy announcements. So here are a couple items regarding my all-time favorite comic strip, Calvin & Hobbes.

1. The fan-based documentary “Dear Mr. Watterson” comes out November 15. I’m not holding my breath it’ll be screened at any theater within hydrogen bomb-range of the Cedar Valley, but it will also be available via VOD the same day. Perhaps I will splurge and watch it early.

2. Mental_floss magazine somehow scored an exclusive interview with famously private Bill Watterson. The full interview will be featured in the December issue; here are a few choice sample Q&As:

Years ago, you hadn’t quite dismissed the notion of animating the strip. Are you a fan of Pixar? Does their competency ever make the idea of animating your creations more palatable?
The visual sophistication of Pixar blows me away, but I have zero interest in animating Calvin and Hobbes. If you’ve ever compared a film to a novel it’s based on, you know the novel gets bludgeoned. It’s inevitable, because different media have different strengths and needs, and when you make a movie, the movie’s needs get served. As a comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes works exactly the way I intended it to. There’s no upside for me in adapting it.

According to your collection introductions, you took up painting after the strip ended. Why don’t you exhibit the work?
My first problem is that I don’t paint ambitiously. It’s all catch and release—just tiny fish that aren’t really worth the trouble to clean and cook. But yes, my second problem is that Calvin and Hobbes created a level of attention and expectation that I don’t know how to process.

Owing to spite or just a foul mood, have you ever peeled one of those stupid Calvin stickers off of a pickup truck?
I figure that, long after the strip is forgotten, those decals are my ticket to immortality.


3. The archivist/perfectionist in me is glad I gave my entire C&H collection to my sister so her kids could enjoy them, rather than buy them the 20th anniversary tome that came out several years ago, as it now appears that edition might not be entirely complete:

To celebrate the strip’s 20th anniversary in 2005, publisher Andrews McMeel issued a hernia-inducing collection of Watterson’s entire body of work—sort of. [Universal Press Syndicate editor Lee] Salem recalls a minor blow-up from readers when Watterson published two strips in the 1980s that depicted Calvin mocking the idea he might be adopted. In one strip, Calvin’s complains that “I’ll bet my biological mother would’ve bought me a comic book…” It was later changed to, “I’ll bet a good mother would’ve bought me a comic book…”

Another strip, featuring Hobbes in a washing machine, is missing from the collection entirely. Some have speculated that putting the tiger in a spin cycle might be an unwelcome hint he’s not real. No one, including Watterson, ever wanted to have that question answered.

4. [from the extensive Derkins Library] In 1992, Bill’s brother Tom Watterson had a pop/rock band called The Rels. Bill did the artwork for the band’s releases, using the pseudonym Fang Wampir. The scan is from the cassettes.


Written by camcarlson

October 22, 2013 at 9:16 PM

Xmas 2012

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I’m smack dab in the middle of a 10-day vacation from work, aside from a brief 6-hour layover at work on Monday — more like an appearance than actual work. I’ve spent my time trying to catch up on my sleep (with limited results), eating far more than I should, watching a few good movies (though I could be watching more) and generally being a lazy loaf. A blizzard rolled through last Thursday and left about a foot of snow on the ground, an annoying layer of frozen snow & ice on the roadways and a chill in the air. This has led to the vast majority of my time being spent indoors.

With my time off I have finished reading “Carter Beats the Devil” and have seen “Les Miserables” which I was surprised in that I liked it more than I thought I would, as I normally don’t go for musicals. Also saw “Forbidden Games” on Hulu, a 1950s French film about how young children cope with warfare. I have a couple more films from Ebert’s Great Movies list to watch before next week, when I perform my annual update & purge of my film list, and at some point I’d like to see “Django Unchained” and “Zero Dark Thirty”, though the latter isn’t likely to come here until January.

Before I left work last Friday I made a list of things I wanted to accomplish with my time off. Things like clearing out my long list of internet bookmarks, purging 2012 pictures from iPhoto, going to the gym for at least one hour every day, catching up on email correspondence, et cetera. So far I’m not doing a solid job on tackling this list. I’m redoubling my efforts today.

Written by camcarlson

December 26, 2012 at 8:51 AM

Posted in Cinema, Literature

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Enjoyment

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I saw the first installment of “The Hobbit” last night at College Square. A preface: when “Fellowship” came out in 2001 I waited in line for hours inside the mall on opening day (which was a Wednesday if I recall correctly), in the hallway where the arcade used to be next to the Cinemas entrance. I loved the first film. During the following summer I read “Lord of the Rings” and loved (to a slightly lesser degree) “The Two Towers” and “Return of the King” when they came out in 2002 and 2003, respectively. I can’t remember when I first read “The Hobbit”, though I know it was sometime after 2003, and I reread it a couple winters ago.

Viet and I went to the theater last night for the 7:30 show. 48 fps 3D screenings are only taking place in Des Moines and Davenport, so we opted for the cheaper 2D version over the 24 fps 3D. We lingered about with six (!!!) other people before the cleaning crew came out and let us take our seats. I was literally aghast and slightly upset by the fact that there was no line for this movie, though I conceded most of the true fans probably gone to the midnight screening (which was not an option back in 2001, 2002 or 2003; had it been, I would have attended). We sat in the second to front row in the stadium.

The movie was pretty good. The first hour slogged along at a mildly boring pace, but I’ve come to expect that from big-budget action/adventure films (like “The Avengers”, the last few Harry Potter films”, the last two Matrix films, etc.). After Bilbo, Gandalf and the dwarves depart the Shire, the tempo picks up a little. I know Peter Jackson had to borrow some characters from other Tolkien works to fill out the too-long 170-minute running time for this film, but this didn’t bother me at all. [SPOILER] In fact, I got more of the thrill out of the tiny glimpse of the Necromancer than I did from the glimpse of Smaug at the end.

Like I said, it’s been a couple years since I read “The Hobbit” but I know there doesn’t seem to be enough material to convert into three separate three-hour-long films. Peter Jackson took Azog of Moria (I don’t remember him from the book but maybe he’s tucked away in there somewhere) and turned him into the main villain, the Pale Orc. Martin Freeman is *perfect* as Bilbo. I can’t imagine anyone else in that role (except, obviously, for Ian Holm as the older version). Christopher Lee is back (yay!) as Saruman, and Andy Serkis gives the best performance of the film as Gollum — the scene with him and Bilbo in the depths of the Misty Mountains is by far the best of the film. I’ll repeat what I said of the original trilogy, that Serkis should be given some kind of special Academy Award for the brilliant work he’s done bringing Gollum to life.

Overall, I liked the film, though I’m not sure I’d want to see it again unless I had the chance to see what all the fuss is about regarding 48 fps.

Written by camcarlson

December 16, 2012 at 4:58 PM

Autumn marches on

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Bleh. I really don’t have a reason for not posting anything in the past couple weeks aside from the usual excuse of being lazy and/or uninspired. I work, I exercise, I watch movies (in smaller doses than I used to), I apparently don’t read anymore (something I need to remedy very soon), I almost never go out drinking anymore unless it’s with co-workers on Friday afternoons, and I continue to find random items to purge from my apartment. Just this past week I sold two things on ebay, netting a tiny sum for each, which will no doubt be used to procure Xmas gifts for the family in short order. So it goes. This just happens to be one of those slow quiet times of the year, though that will change with Thanksgiving this Thursday (like Xmas Day, it’s an excuse to eat like a pig), friends may or may not be coming back to town this weekend and next weekend, not to mention the usual inflow of regulars over xmas break next month. Like last year, I have the week between Xmas and New Years off. Eight solid days of sleeping in and hopefully catch up on some movies and literature I’ve been putting off this season.

In other news, the Cedar River has gotten so low that water no longer flows over the spillway at the dam.

Written by camcarlson

November 18, 2012 at 8:54 PM

Transition Vacation

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On the last Friday of August I drafted a long list of things I could keep myself busy with during the first week of September, my third and final week-long vacation from work for 2012. Random chores and to-dos that I had either been putting off for a while or had just recently reminded myself needed to be done.

As expected, I took a vacation from such tasks. My priorities for the week, in order: sleeping, watching movies, bicycling, eating out at least once each day, napping, reading, and more napping. I did take care of a few of the errands I had committed to the list, namely a visit to Hancock Fabrics for a button to fix my shorts and a zipper tab to fix my winter coat, and I donated a box of books to the Book Nook.

I like taking the first week of September off as I only need to use four days of PTO (as I automatically get Labor Day off) and the weather is usually going through a transition between summer and autumn. I intended to get in at least 100 miles of bicycling, but on a few days I found myself more in the mood to go jogging in the morning. I still managed about 73 miles, which isn’t too shabby.

I finished reading Film Magic by David Hutchison and read The Kon-Tiki Expidition, Thor Heyerdahl’s account of his South Pacific voyage in 1947 from Peru to the Tuamotu Islands via a balsa log raft of vintage Polynesian design. Both were good reads. I recommend the former to anyone interested in pre-CGI special effects and various film formats, and the latter to lovers of travel/adventure stories.

Though confined to the Cedar Valley, I managed to satisfy my various cravings with a mix of cheap in-&-out meals (Jimmy Johns, Pita Pit, Hy-Vee Chinese) and quality please-be-seated meals. Tuesday I feasted at Steamboat Gardens, enjoying two 99¢ Tugboats and a cool draw of PBR (!!!), all for $3.72. Can’t beat that!

Tuesday felt like summer: hot and windy. I nearly fried myself reading out on the beach at George Wyth. I considered finishing Film Magic with a couple pours of Millstream on the deck at the Cypress but when I bicycled by there was a sign on the door stating they were closed for that day only for renovations. I resigned to the old stand-by, the Panther Lounge, for the rest of that evening.

Wednesday I joined Sharina at Wasabi, the 1st St Hibachi restaurant, where we enjoyed scrumptious crunchy roles, red snapper and (types of sushi) for the criminally low price of $13. Thursday I dined at Rudy’s Tacos and kicked back with a couple cocktails in the Lava Lounge. Friday felt like autumn; nice and cool thanks to an overnight storm.

I finally subscribed to an online movie site – Hulu Plus, which offered a free one-month trial service. I went with Hulu over Netflix (for now) as Hulu has a bevy of Criterion films in their catalog, many of which I have wanted to see for years. Over my nine days off I watched Picnic at Hanging Rock, L’Atalante, Pandora’s Box, The Match Factory Girl, The Earrings of Madam de…, An Autumn Afternoon, Floating Weeds and The Only Son. All are great movies! The last three were made by Yasujiro Ozu, who also made Tokyo Story and Late Spring, which I’ve already seen and love both.

Saturday I joined Swestka at Highland Park for a revival of the old-time block parties they used to have each year. Joyce organized it and Dan manned the grills. Checker and the Bluetones provided quality live music. Joyce had asked Ben and I to man the beer kegs from 8:30-9:30pm but they had both been tapped out before our shift began. We helped tear down and spent the rest of the evening at the Ankrum’s, polishing off the remaining beer and burger patties and wrestling with their dogs.