October, 2004


19
Oct 04

Houston, Land of Yuck

I’ve been trying to write a bit about the cities that I visit lately, and Houston is where I’m just flying out of now and all I can say is that I’m glad I’m on the end side of this trip instead of the beginning. I’ve been to and through Houston a number of times (one of the hazards of living in Texas, really), and I can’t think of a single reason to really recommend it. It’s always been hot & muggy, and somehow both incredibly sprawling and congested at the same time. The humidity/AC combo (it was 93 degrees today and wet) has the fantastic effect every time I walk outside of completely fogging up my glasses at least until I get into the car. Funny joke the city likes to play on me.

Today I’m on one of those flights where the sun is heading towards sunset and it feels like there’s a carpet of cotton candy clouds — I find that I keep staring out and just watch. such a textured, ephemeral, layered, light, heavy, big set of feelings when you look at them like this. Lately on flights I mostly get into a mode where I don’t notice the flying — I turn on my iPod, or open my laptop, and try to get from one place to another without thinking about how silly/impossible the idea of flying big boats in the air across the country is. But just now I’m thiking that I shouldn’t take it for granted.

For all the griping that I’ve done about flying, it’s something else entirely to think about how my grandfather lived, driving from town to town in the south. The idea that I can wake up Monday at home with Kathy, end up in Houston, spend all day Tuesday in meetings, then be home in time for a late dinner with Kathy again is amazing. A nice luxury to be sure. I suspect that I don’t get to know the places that I go as well as I’m sure my grandfather did, driving through them, and that’s too bad — when I think about his trips, or read books like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance or Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, I can’t help but think that we’ve gone out of touch with a sense of place. It isn’t just flying, of course. It’s also the Interstates and the Internet, McDonald’s and Border’s, things like that. On the other hand, I’ll be awfully glad to be at home tonight with Kathy.

Then tomorrow off to Detroit. Another place that isn’t incredibly high on my list of destinations.


19
Oct 04

Peter and the Starcatchers, by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

This seems to me to be a real Golden Age for children’s literature, really fueled by the whole Harry Potter thing. When I was growing up, my staples were The Hobbit and The Narnia Chronicles and whatever schlock Piers Anthony wrote. All books that hold a special place in my heart, no question. But every time I walk into Borders now, it seems like there’s another interesting book for kids or young adults: Eragon or Abarat or the Lemony Snicket books or, of course, Harry Potter. What it’s done for me is to create a whole new category of book that I read (in addition to history, other non-fiction, or, generally, novels): page turners aimed at kids — I find them super-enjoyable, and handy when you’re stuck in something that’s harder to read — it’s easy to pick these up and read them in a weekend — sometimes all that I need to get kick started in my reading again.

Anyway, Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson have written this book which is a putative prequel to the Peter Pan saga — chronicles how Peter learned to fly, how Never Never Land came to be magical (and called that), how the crocodile started ticking, and how Captain Hook lost his hand. Not fantastic writing, but sort of fun to read. Also probably another one to borrow from me instead of buying.


19
Oct 04

Florence of Arabia, by Christopher Buckley

The third posting in my series of not-very-heavy things to read, Florence of Arabia was written by my favorite sarcastic writer Christopher Buckley (son of William F.). Among his other books are Thank You for Smoking (a must read!), Little Green Men, and No Way to Treat a First Lady. I think it probably goes without saying that these are all basically sarcastic polemics about current events — I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to figure out what each one’s about. ­čÖé

Anyway, Florence of Arabia is a novel about a fictitious US Government ploy to destabilize the Middle East (oops, sorry. i meant "democratize the Middle East" — it so easy to get the two terms confused). Starts with a simple idea, then hilarity ensues, with all the requisite beheadings, burkas and well-meaning involvement from the French that you’d expect.

It’s a good book, pretty funny. But if you haven’t read Thank You For Smoking yet, you should hurry out and get it. It’s terrific.


19
Oct 04

Naked Pictures of Famous People, by Jon Stewart

Funny little book by Jon Stewart before he hit it big with his The Daily Show (one of our favorite shows, hands down). Lots of little vignettes — the funniest one is a fictional interview by Larry King of Adolf Hitler. Favorite quote: "Larry, I was a bad guy, no question." Not as funny as America: The Book, which I’ll put up another note about shortly, but pretty funny nonetheless. I’d suggest you borrow it from me, though — probably not worth buying.