Well, I watched the new Spider-Man movie and hated it. Schilling might be in my head. Then again, the Peter Parker they chose was pretty awful… Anyway, the best parts of the movie were the parts involving Spider-Man actually fighting like a spider against his enemies. There’s this one scene against the Lizard where he wraps him in a cocoon and that was pretty sweet except for the fact that they had to do it with CGI.

So I’m there watching a movie where the only interesting parts of the film may as well have been cartoons.

I already have cartoons.

I’ve also watched some more Babylon 5 and met the “What Do You Want?” guy who dates the show more than anything else. You see his hair and you say “This was made in 1994.” I mean, seriously. When your children ask you “dad, what was life like in 1994?”, you show them that guy’s hair. “This is what we had to deal with. This and grunge.”

Which, co-incidentally, I have also been listening to.

So… what have you been reading and/or watching?


Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to


  1. I just finished the novel version of “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”, which I found far better than the movie adaptation of the same name. I don’t sign on to many of the books critics, which found it emotionally exploitive and trying to ride a 9/11 wave. I found the book to be about much more than the tragic events of that day and much more an exploration of how we mourn or, more specifically, how we respond to tragedy. As someone who has been fortunate enough to avoid much tragedy in his relatively young life, I can’t say how accurate the portrayals are, but I’ve interacted with enough humanity (read: watched enough reality TV) to know that the human race is various enough that all of the responses noted seem plausible. The fact that every character seems to so acutely be struggling with tragedy was a stretch, but given that the narrator was unreliable, it is possible that he was either projecting or overstating the case.

    However, what stood out most to be was the main character, who seemed so obviously on the austism spectrum (likely Aspergers) but never officially noted as such. A quick Google search indicates a number of people felt similarly, though others find that an unfair reading. If the character was intended to be as such, I wish the author had been a bit more explicit because I think this was the type of work that could have humanized autism for a great number of readers.

    I struggled with the dual narratives and inconsistent structure of the book, though by the end was riveted as it became increasingly clear they were going to blend (having seen the movie, some of this was obvious, but there were enough differences that there were still some major surprised). The structure of the book, with random blank pages and several jarring images from 9/11, was offputting at times, both practically and emotionally, which might have been what critics were responding to. I’m not sure if all version of the book had these elements; I had a copy that featured the film poster, FWIW.

    I’ve since moved on to “A Long Walk to Water”, which tells the true story of one of the Sudanese “Lost Boys” juxtaposed against a fictional story about a young girl living their in contemporary times. It is part of our 4th grade curriculum so I’m reading it in support of that.

    • Have you read Everything Is Illuminated. It’s essentially two books, and one of them, the one set in the present, is really good. The other one, the historical one, isn’t. I felt like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was much closer to the historical novel. And not just because it was manipulative, which I think it was, but because it didn’t have that spark that the language of the one novel in his first book did.

      • I heard a lot of really good things about EiI and didn’t realize they were by the same author until doing some post-read research. It appears that even fans of ELIC found the first work to be superior. I might look into it. I didn’t love ELIC, but didn’t find it as problematic, on the whole, as some of its critics. But I struggled until about the 2/3 mark and I’m still not entirely sure who Anna was.

      • I liked Everything is Illuminated but strictly on the basis of the (very funny) writing and the magical realism, which I thought was fun.

        I understand there were…complaints about the actual history referenced therein, but at the time I was unaware of these.

        • I’ve heard the term “magical realism” used often, especially by a particular book critic I like… but I really have no idea what it is. Can anyone give a bare bones explanation of it and/or some well-known examples?

          • It’s a genre in which magical or supernatural things occur and are treated as a natural part of the everyday mundane world. But it’s not a fantasy genre. Harry Potter is not magical realism. The magic or supernatural is not the primary focus of the story, but is treated as just another character of the real world.

            The most famous practitioner, probably, is Gabriel Garcia Marqez (who I, unfortunately, just can’t bear to read–others will rightly condemn me for that). My favorite example is the television show Northern Exposure, in which magical/supernatural things occur, and are treated as a normal part of life (except by the NY Jewish doctor, who stands in for the overly modern man who’s lost touch with the non-concrete and steel world).

          • You can find a description here – the thumbnail is that while the world being described seems mostly realistically like our own present or past (it’s not Mordor or Atlantis or whatever), some strange explanation-defying stuff (stuff we’d think of as “miraculous”) happens there anyway. (Of course, I have also just described every supernatural horror story ever written also).

            Some canonical book example are Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s books, like One Hundred Years of Solitude. (I think GGM has fallen from fashion a bit?, but I think his books are well worth reading)

            If you want a pop-culture example, certain TV shows IMO fall under this – Twin Peaks might be an example, DEFINITELY things like Wonderfalls or Pushing Daisies, or even potentially things like Lost (though Lost sort of feints towards sci-fi handwavey explanations for some of its run).

          • What’s [all that stuff save for “Lost” you just mentioned]?

            Would Alf have been magical realism? Or, perhaps a better choice, ET?

          • Alf and ET aren’t – since there is an “explanation” offered for the intrusion of the miraculous, they are sci-fi.

            In magical realism, the explanation (if one is even offered at all) is basically “magic / weird s**t just happens sometimes”.

            But like I said, this doesn’t explain why most any ghost story wouldn’t be magical realism.

          • Hmmm… is Brian the talking dog on “Family Guy” an element of magical realism, even if the show itself might not be?

          • I would think yes, though in MR the “magical” elements are often used to communicate “mystery” rather than “comedy” (but not always)?

          • Magical realism — here’s my take:

            The storyteller begins his tale. He sets the stage, he gives us characters, they begin to move about, do things. We the audience are lulled into a sense of the place, much as a stage magician’s artful patter distracts us from his crafty doings. An excellent comedian gives us the same sensation, setting up his joke. We’re constantly creating such artifices, just to maintain ourselves in the context of the real world. We have to create them or we’d be overwhelmed by reality.

            A weak magician or comedian doesn’t thrill or amuse. Nor can a weak storyteller. The punch line of a joke must provoke some shocked sense of the absurd in us — or we won’t laugh.

            Gregor Samsa is turned into a disgusting insect. So far, so bad. Now what? The rest of the story is how poor Gregor and the people around him cope — or don’t cope — with his horrible predicament.

            The difference between fantasy and magical realism, in my view of things, is the difference between a bad joke and a good joke. Yes, the impossibility of a man becoming an insect is apparent, but why is The Metamorphosis such an important story where some tired old Swords ‘n Sorcery potboiler is not? A good joke stirs up something instinctive, tickles some Funny Bone — it’s an art, telling a good joke. Even good slapstick is all about timing.

          • So “The Metamorphosis” would be MR? That seems like a great example. How he became the bug didn’t matter; all that mattered was that he was the bug and things proceeded from there.

          • I might add in passing: it’s a lot harder to fool a small child with stage magic than an adult. Those artifices upon which we hang our dealings with the world? Most of what passes for intelligence is a process whereby we attenuate what we think doesn’t matter, filtering for the faint signals of what we’ve learned Does Matter.

            Fantasy and Sci-fi can set up a world where birds talk to people or two alien races are in contention for resources. We’re given the ground rules — the aliens behave like this, they look like that — all that is straight fantasy, which isn’t to denigrate fantasy or sci-fi in any respect. It just means intelligent readers are amenable to the ground rules upon which the story depends: e.g. without the spice worms, there’s no interstellar travel. Such a scenario isn’t magical realism.

            Magical realism depends on the absurd.

          • That’s absurdism, which is different. In absurdism, the unexplained and often inexplicable is jarring because it is such a clear departure from the mundane and natural. Check out “The Marquise of O…” for a great, though more subtle example (a big influence on Kafka). Magical realism creates a seamless magical and mundane world. Absurdism shatters the mundane, and doesn’t always use magic to do it.

          • I meant to add, both absurdism and magical realism have their roots in romance, especially gothic romance, which I love. I recommend checking some of it out (I can make some recommendations).

          • Perhaps my example did veer off into absurdism, but I would argue magical realism does contain a strong sense of the absurd. Murakami is constantly giving us craziness in his magical realism. So Okada’s cat runs away. Everyone who’s had a cat run away, or even those who haven’t, could grasp the beginning of Wind Up Bird Chronicles.

            That book grows most exceeding weird thereafter.

            The earliest romances all ended in tragedy. Love as madness and obsession, deceit, betrayal, Arthur and Morgana le Fay, Lancelot and Guinevere, Merlin and Morgause. Tristan and Iseult. These stories never end happily. The Gothic Revival just stirred in more weirdness and fear to the danger and mystery of romantic love.

            Magical realism is

          • –ugh, lost my last sentence there… Magical realism is an attempt to reinvoke the level-setting routine which is normally established in the story’s beginning. In dreams, there is the part which is seen and perceived. But there’s the other, more troubling part, what is not seen yet understood, the ground rules which establish the possibility of being devoured by some monster in the dark or the ability to fly, that sort of thing. It’s that second part which Magical Realism invokes and reinvokes.

          • But like I said, this doesn’t explain why most any ghost story wouldn’t be magical realism.

            Ghost stories that literature professors like are magical realism. Ghost stories they don’t like are genre fiction.

            Magical realism is one of those terms that has value when applied narrowly to describe a specific type of fantastical literature, but in practice is often used as a way to separate works that a critic wants to address as literature from works the critic believes lack artistic merit.

          • Heh. I’ve heard that criticism about Magical Realism. I return to my point about good jokes and bad jokes: you don’t have to be a literature professor to know the difference. But if you’re trying to write a good joke, sorta helps to have some talent. Writing one good joke means writing a thousand bad ones.

            For my money, the best bit of Magical Realism ever written was Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. Manuscripts don’t burn.

          • Would the ending of “Safety Not Guaranteed” qualify it as magical realism?

          • Time machines are sci-fi. Whether they are boats or DeLoreans.

          • Big Fish, Pan’s Labyrinth, Midnight in Paris… Those would be films firmly within the magical realism genre.

          • In Tom Powers’s The Anubis Gates, time travel has both SF and fantasy aspects. (It’s his best book, in my opinion, and that’s saying a lot. Chris, you should look for a Kindle edition.)

          • Big Fish… Perfect.

            On “Pan’s Labyrynth”, which I haven’t seen in years… Aren’t we left wondering whether it is real or just a dream/fantasy? If it is the latter, is it still MR? Or did I totally not get that movie?

          • We are, but it’s more about the way the fantasy and the reality are interwoven.

          • Mike – while time *travel* itself could fall into any one of a number of genres, the minute we introduce a “machine” to effect or explain the travel, we are firmly in SF, no? There is now a (however handwavey) mechanism to explain the (presumably most glaring) impossible condition of the story.

          • But in SNG, the *science* didn’t work. Or, at least, there was no scientific explanation for it. That it did work seemed more magical than scientific.

      • I thought Incredibly Loud was too precocious by half.

  2. I jut finished Live By Night, which is Dennis Lehane’s latest novel. It’s a direct sequel to his The Given Day, which is a terrific historical novel about the Boston police strike of 1919. This is a book about gangsters running rum during Prohibition, and while it’s an OK gangster book, it’s a huge disappointment.

  3. Finished Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said. This is the first PKD novel I have ever read (though I have read many of his short stories).

    I can see why it is well-regarded, and I can also see the view of those (like Mike Schilling) that say “eh, what’s the point?”. The quality of PKD’s prose, as I was already aware, varies wildly between “decent”, and merely “bluntly, clumsily adequate” (but PKD is revered more for his ideas than his prose); there’s some stuff in the ending that really didn’t need to be there (or at least needed to be handled more smoothly/subtly).

    I saw the book more explicitly as a religious inquiry than as a critique of the police/surveillance state (“don’t come to the attention of the gods, it only means trouble”, basically).

      • All four books in the Valis trilogy are worth reading.

        • Heh… sign I saw in a book store in the 90s advertising the newly released Mostly Harmless: “The fifth book in the increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhiker’s Trilogy.”

    • I van’t explain why that book, in particular, falls flat for me, when I enjoy almost all of his other late novels.

  4. I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time last night. Interesting. The space ballets were a bit pretentious and long but the movie really knew how to use silence to make things more tense. I think too many modern movies overscore like traditional melodramas.

    For books, I am reading The End of the Jews by Adam Masbach and The Crisis in the European Mind: 1680-1715 by Paul Hazard.

  5. Y’all know who Greg Pak is? I don’t, but I just spent the last twenty minutes talking to him. Seems to have something to do with X-Men and Hulk.

  6. I liked The Amazing Spider-Man, mostly because it included non-superheroes in a positive way, as opposed to the “ordinary people are idiots/useless/irrelevant” messages of the contemporary The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers. It expanded “with great power comes great responsibility” to “with any power comes proportionate responsibility” and had heroism from a lot of non-superpowered people in addition to Spider-Man. Including Gwen, which is a wonderful contrast to the constant Damsel-in-Distress plots of the earlier Spider-Man film series.

    • They did do a good job with having the crane operators help Spiderman out, true enough, but I thought that the scene in, say, The Dark Knight where the two groups of folks on the two ferries decided to be brave was a particularly powerful scene (and Tiny Lister’s speech was downright *AMAZING*) while the scene in The Avengers where the old Jewish guy tells Loki off was pretty good too.

      As for Gwen… well, I may know things that you don’t.

      • I’m familiar with what happens to her in the comics.

        The moments you mention were good, but they weren’t things that contributed physically to stopping the villains. The thing with the cranes, Gwen getting the antidote, Gwen’s dad backing up Spider-Man in the ending fight…those were all direct material contributions. It felt very different from the usual tone of “regular people get out of the way while the supers deal with the problem”.

        • Ah, fair enough. I just saw the chalk outline when I saw he walking around. I should have given her more credit.

    • Does JGL’s character count as a regular person? Or was he super-y?

  7. Babylon 5 is unwatchable after season 4, you do know that right?

    • The fifth season was the first one I saw, and what got me into the show. Most of it isn’t on the level of most of seasons 2-4, but it’s not terrible, and has some excellent moments.

      • Season five is rudderless at the beginning, but it finds its legs mid-way through.

  8. Not sure why the hate for ASM. I wish they’d had the balls to cast Donald Glover, but they guy they got certainly plays a better Peter Parker than Toby McGuire ever did. I feel like I’m watching an actual teenager.

    Really, the movie’s biggest flaw is that we had to see the same god damned origin story for the billionth time.

    On the subject of spider man cartoons, anyone who hasn’t already seen the spectacular spider-man show should give it a try. Fun characters, great writing, and stellar animation when it comes to the action scenes.

    • I didn’t see that at all. I believed Toby McGuire’s awkwardness and his agency despite it. This new guy? He just reacted. That’s it. Toby would have been a nerd even if the jocks ignored him. Where would this one have been without Flash?

      • But that’s Peter Parker, to my reading. He’s not a nerd because he’s socially clueless and anti-social. He’s a nerd because he’s a smart kid who wears glasses. Understand, I haven’t read much of the old Stan Lee stuff, so I don’t know if this has always been true. But in the more modern Spider-Man comics I’ve seen, Peter Parker is just as much of a snarky wise-ass with the mask off as Spider-Man is with the mask on.

        When I see Toby McGuire playing Peter Parker, I see a non-nerd playing what he thinks is a nerd. When I see Andrew Garfield, I see a reflection of the smart capable engineering and comp-sci students who I play Dungeons and Dragons with. They’re both sub-species of nerd, but the latter is both more interesting to watch and more believable as a superhero.

        • Going by the oldest Stan Le stuff, you’re exactly right. Peter Parker is very social; the first time he meets JJJ’s pretty assistant, he asks her out. He’s unpopular only because he’s a “brain”.

  9. I am finishing up the second James Potter and the Curse of the Gatekeeper, which I started while waiting on another book to arrive. The other book is War and Peace, which was I inspired to read by the recent post about reading on the bus (though I do not ride the bus). It had been in my mind as a “I should read this someday” thing, but I realized I would never read it unless I decided to read it, so that is what I did.

    I have begun rewatching Avatar: The Last Airbender. I have seen most of it, but not entirely, and not in order.

    I also started watching Supernatural, because it sounds like it might be a fun show, and it is on Netflix.

    I have also been going through the Audio/Visual Edition of Cerebus: High Society. This was done as part of the Kickstarter project. Dave Sim reads the comics, and he does a surprisingly good job. He got his ex-wife, who was editor at the time, to read the (lengthy) letter pages as well, because Dave Sim does not half-ass anything.

    • Supernatural is IMO a pretty consistent B show. Surprisingly good effects, it’s fun (more than that, on occasion it’s scary and/or hilarious), and it occasionally shows flashes of great intelligence & ambition, esp. in some later season arcs (usually when Ben Edlund is writing), though sadly it never quite manages to commit to them & follow them all the way through, to take the show to the next level.

      It’s good “watch with one eye while you check e-mails” TV (and Jensen Ackles – “Dean” – turns into a surprisingly decent actor over the course of the show).

  10. Watched Avengers.
    Winning quote of the night:
    “Who let Ann Perkins be a superhero?”

    There’s probably a post about the obfuscation of competency,
    as it deals with gender issues in the movie. Men are allowed to be
    weak, women aren’t.

    Nice to see Cap’n America trying to mentor Stark…

    One rather got the impression Cap’n America got to be leader
    in the end, not because Tony couldn’t do it (and maybe do a
    better job), but because Tony would piss off everyone if he did.

    Liked the staging on Stark figuring out Loki’s plan — such a drama queen.

    • oh, and letting Stan Lee show up was nice.

      Doubt most folks got the “courting death” joke on first watch.
      (I certainly didn’t).

  11. Reading, mostly. Elizabeth Knox’s Mortal Fire which was SO GOOD. And a lot of NZ guidebooks.

    • Oh, and The Demonologist, which was less up my alley than Mortal Fire, but nonetheless so good that I gave it a pass on my usual rejection of things written in the present tense (ack, ptooey, present tense) – something a book has to be pretty darn impressive to overcome.

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