Oh The Places We’ll Go

I’ve never been a particularly prolific blogger on this here little corner of the Internet. I post a couple flurries of activity, and then write something about being too busy to write, and then a couple more inspired flurries, probably about some no-name European boxing match nobody but me even watched. Basically I’ve been pretty terrible about staying on top of this.

In the last handful of weeks, while I’ve been off the radar, the sport I most focus on has been gearing up for its biggest fight in recent memory as Floyd Mayweather finally takes on Manny Pacquiao. Not just that, but boxing has been ramping up with multiple interesting matchups in the meantime: Wladimir Klitschko brought 17,000 people to Madison Square Garden last weekend, Ruslan Provodnikov and Lucas Matthysse predictably beat the shit out of each other, Julio Ceasar Chavez Jr. exposed himself as a fraud when he fought someone his own size and PBC on NBC returned with another session of ‘let’s try to make Danny Garcia a thing’.

I’ve written about way, way smaller matchups, and less relevant boxing news. Now that the sport is creating mainstream conversation–a good thing in a lot of ways, a bad thing in the sense that a lot of people who know nothing about boxing are writing a lot of ignorant garbage about boxing–I fell off the face of the map. While this is frustrating for me personally, it comes due to really exciting circumstances. I’ve taken a new job, with a major professional sports franchise, and moved cities again. Hence, I’ve had zero time to do anything but look for apartments, get settled and learn my new gig.

I hope to get the chance to write fuller, more coherent posts soon, but in the meantime, here are some random thoughts, about boxing, books, and everything else, that I’ve jotted down in the last couple of months. Random thoughts is all I’ve ever promised, after all.

  • Mayweather-Pacquiao is a bit late in happening, but I don’t care. I’m really excited to see them finally go at it. Floyd is the favorite, and deserves to be, but I think Manny has a real chance at him, which is not something you can say about most Floyd opponents. I’m expecting this one to be pretty tactical, but if Manny can touch Floyd and get some action going…oh man.
  • I’m currently reading Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. It’s great, and it’s the first book I’ve read with extended dream sequences that I can actually get through. I’m having trouble actually finishing it due to time constraints, but I’ve really enjoyed it and I’d love to read more Murakami.
  • I’m going to miss the shit out of New York City. I left for my original hometown, but a part of me is always going to be in Manhattan, eating halal street meat and kicking it to some awesome live tunes at Rockwood Music Hall.
  • I haven’t been able to watch too many of the most recent boxing matches, but I scored Garcia-Peterson 117-111 for Garcia. That seems to be way off most scores, which had it closer, but I honestly thought Peterson did nothing in the first half of the fight to win rounds. I gave Garcia the first 7 rounds and then thought he nicked the 9th and 10th. I’ll stand by this card. On the same show, I scored Quillin-Lee 114-111 for Kid Chocolate.
  • Crazy, and a little sad, to watch Chavez Jr take an ass beating to Fonfara, huh? Chavez was a fun little sideshow for awhile, but he found most of his success fighting guys a couple of weight classes below him. Fonfara was too big of a jump for him in experience and skill, not in weight.
  • Freaking Manny Pacquiao is going to fight Floyd Mayweather in like 5 days.  It’s actually happening
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A little self indulgence (which is what I should have called this blog)

The main problem, I think, with being a sometime writer and enjoying sitting down and putting words to paper is that it’s really, really fucking hard to keep the lights on, the beer poured and the music playing with writing alone. Which is why I have to work a real job, and maintain a real career, one which I admittedly really enjoy but that can down my free time like a sorority girl downs lemon drop shots.

January has been the wildest at work in a long time–I’ve spent the last four weeks in four different states and parts of the country. It’s been a fun experience, but a total drain on my energy and personal time as well as resulting in me picking up an unfortunate habit of mainlining blueberry Red Bull directly into my veins on a daily basis.

But I digress.

This blog has been fun. I get to write about whatever I want, get my thoughts out into the world and blow off some steam. I’ve written posts about books (which nobody really reads), boxing (which a few people actually read) and music (which I really need to do more of given the fact that both times I’ve written about up and coming bands–Lil Dicky and People Vs Larsen–they shared it with their followers and my traffic exploded only for me to totally squander that momentum by writing a review of The Goldfinch or something as my next post).

I mean, look at that last sentence I just wrote–I managed to use the rarely seen ‘three-different-parentheses-digressions-plus-a-dash-digression-within-the-third-parentheses! And nobody is here to tell me I can’t.

And that’s why I’m gonna keep going with this thing here, even if there are occasional patches of silence. Even if I’m the only one who ever reads this–I still wrote it, and that alone is worth the time.

Book Review: Ready Player One

These are my reviews/thoughts/musings of books that I have read recently. All books rated on a scale of 1-5. Today’s review is on Ernest Cline’s 2011 nerd epic ‘Ready Player One’.

Ready Player One, Ernest Cline’s ode to nerds, video games and 80s pop culture, is fun. It has a creative science fiction story behind it, a cool premise and at times itself feels like a video game. It’s packed with action, cheeky references, an immersive hunt/mystery and is overall genuinely enjoyable for large swaths of the story. However, there are a lot of issues here that are unable to be masked by this initial cleverness.

First, the plotline: We are 30 years in the future, and the world has devolved into a cyberpunk dystopia where reality sucks, economies are crumbling, people are living in poverty and the only thing keeping the world sane is OASIS, a virtual reality role playing game experience that everybody in the world now spends almost every waking hour inside living through virtual avatars. People so prefer this fake world to the real one they live in that we’ve reached the point where children attend school, adults have real jobs and businesses are making real money in this second reality.

Before his death, the eccentric billionaire who created the system sends an announcement to the world that he has hidden an ‘easter egg’ behind a series of three gates, hidden somewhere within OASIS behind walls of 80s pop culture reference and old-school video game challenges. The first person to clear the gates gets access to his fortune and control of the entire OASIS world. The world’s population collectively embarks on the hunt, with the most dedicated egg hunters referred to as ‘gunters’, which is a horrible word that gave me considerable stomach pain every single time it was written in the novel. It comes up A LOT.

Our protagonist, a 17 year old outcast named Wade Watts in real life with the screen name of Parzival, who has no friends or money or social status in real life. Parzival is a gunter (Jesus Christ), which means he is an obsessive studier of 80s pop culture references, which means he spend a significant amount of time ‘researching’ by watching episodes of Family Ties and mastering video games on the Atari. He soon takes a prominent role in this hunt by being the first person to crack the first gate. This sets off a race where he and his gunter friends are competing to close the final gates and find the egg against both each other and an evil corporation who is trying to get the egg for nefarious purposes and is using their considerable resources to rig the game.

We know that our characters are the good guys because they state that if they won the money they would use it to improve the world whereas the evil corporation are the bad guys because would use it to do evil corporation things. Literally, I wish Cline had just named them the Evil Corporation and been done with it. I can’t wait until the movie when scary music plays whenever they show up. Our heroes are all easily-identifiable nerdy social outcasts who cleverly banter with each other and slowly learn the meaning and true importance of friendship. There is also a love story going on between two characters that is can only be described as horrendous.

This all feels very junior high and tween-fiction to me, which is totally a good thing if you’re a teen but I outgrew a long time ago.

Are teens going to get these 80s references? It seems like the pop culture in Ready Player One comes from an older age (I was born in the late 80s and felt like I missed a lot of references).The story is clunky and immature and clearly resonates with a much younger audience, with our heroes going through teenage problems like puberty and isolation and things that stop being interesting to read about the day you lose your virginity.

Listen, Ready Player One was a good time for a big portion of it and I’m only shitting on it because it’s fun to do so, but this is going to be incredible if you belong to one of the following groups: 13-15 year old boys, teenage nerds (who won’t catch the 80s references but will relate to the protagonist outcast), older Star Wars/video game/John Hughes nerds (who will catch the 80s references), and nerds.

Writing a book catering to nerds is totally fine and this one has no qualms about what it is and proudly flies its geeky banner, as it should. But when your climactic battle scene involves the main characters turning into giant robots from 80s cartoons and comic books I’ve never heard of and a part of the climax includes our character playing Pac Man for four hours, I think it’s maybe not for me.

That said, I did have fun with it when I wasn’t rolling my eyes and bought into the world Cline created for the most part. It is a lovingly constructed book and you can tell that Cline is really passionate about Monty Python, Matthew Broderickmovies and obscure Japanese cartoons. And you know what? We can poke fun but you have to admire passion.

In all seriousness, I’m sure this would have been my favorite book as a teenager, though maybe I’m not the audience for it at this point in my life, there’s something to be said for that. Still, it’d be nice if I never heard the word ‘gunter’ ever again.

Rating: ** 1/2

Book Review: Crimes in Southern Indiana

These are my reviews/thoughts/musings of books that I have read recently. All books rated on a scale of 1-5. Today’s review is on Frank Bill’s blistering 2011 debut ‘Crimes in Southern Indiana’.

I’m just going to say this up here: if you like Quentin Tarantino movies, this book reads like a never-stopping, backwoods Quentin Tarantino story, with cringe-inducing violence, tight prose and a distinctly noir setting.

This collection of 17 mostly unconnected stories taking place in the deep southern part of Indiana never takes its foot off the gas–within a page, we’re immediately transported into a drug deal in a motel room. Over the next few hundred pages, we’re going to spend time with meth addicts blowing heads off of people, women stabbing men in the throat with a fork, and a man murdering his first cousin to end his incestual relationship with her. There are very little good people in any of these stories, and Bill’s tales deny all hope for improvement in this corner of America.

In my last review, discussing The New York Trilogy, I discussed how New York is so often the centerpiece of media and stories as the main hub of our country. Southern Indiana couldn’t be more opposite–it isn’t talked about, seen or heard of in just about any medium. I went to college in Indiana, and never found a reason to venture to the southern part of the state. It is the epitome of ‘drive by country’.

This book, while clearly over the top, presents it as a forgotten wasteland of kettle coffee, cigarettes (Bill likes to refer to these as ‘coffin nails’), and hunting dogs. True to its title, every story here features some kind of crime, most of them horrific. It’s a corner of the country the rest of us have forgotten, and it has devolved into a barren space with meth streaming through its veins, grandfathers selling granddaughters into prostitution and a heavy amount of bloodshed and gunplay. Beach reading this is not.

The stories themselves, while for the most part exciting, are not the strong suit of the book–as you start to become desensitized to the violence, the full-throttle nature of each story and the expectation of a dark ending for the central characters start to lose their effect. Each story is similar enough to start feeling some fatigue toward the middle, and the subject matter is bleak enough to make this a weary and slightly unpleasant read. What carries this book is Bill’s writing, which has a kind of sooty beauty to it, a clever kind of almost gumshoe-noir wordplay that paints this world in blood and tones of brown and grey.

I’ve seen other reviewers reference Cormac McCarthy here–other than it being set in an American Gothic setting and the high level of violence, his writing is nothing like McCarthy’s–yet Bill’s talent is undeniable. The man can write, and I’d be interested to see him channel his considerable abilities into a longer-length story. This is a strong debut, but one gets the feeling his best work is in front of him.

Listen, Crimes in Southern Indiana makes no qualms about what it is. The title is what you’re going to get here. Nobody is picking up this book and getting surprised by what’s inside the cover. However, if you have the stomach for it–if you can handle 17 short stories chock-full of mayhem, murder, drugs and other distasteful crimes committed in wife-beater tank tops–this book will pick you up as it’s already going full steam and throw you off when it’s done, leaving you slightly dazed, a little sick but no doubt impressed. 

Rating: ***

Book Review: The Count of Monte Cristo

These are my reviews/thoughts/musings of books that I have read recently. All books rated on a scale of 1-5. I crossed one off my bucket list yesterday when I finally finished Alexandre Dumas’ massive 1844 classic ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’. I’ve heard translations of this book vary widely; the version I read was the unabridged Penguin Classics with translation by Robin Buss. I try to avoid spoilers as much as possible but it was tough to do so for this book; regardless, it’s been out for over 150 years, guys. Some spoilers will follow. 

For years, Alexandre Dumas’ classic The Count of Monte Cristo has been sitting on my shelf, waiting for me to sack up and devote time to it. About a month ago, I finally decided to dive in, and I’ll just say this upfront: the book is well worth the 1200+ page journey.

The story is complex, deep and incredible, with characters that grow as you turn the page. Most will be familiar with the gist of it: Edmond Dantés, a simple sailor with a bright future and beautiful fiance, gets framed by a group of acquaintances for a political crime he did not commit, and gets thrown in jail with no trial or hope of release. Seventeen years pass, over the course of which Dantés meets a fellow prisoner who claims to know the location of a buried fortune on a small uninhabited island called Monte Cristo. After a daring escape from prison, Dantés acquires immense wealth and learns that his dear father has died of starvation, his fiance has married his rival, and all three men primarily responsible for his imprisonment have prospered and grown rich and successful.  Meanwhile, the world has forgotten about him, a mere pawn in a long con that has long been presumed dead.

Dantés is not about to take that shit lying down, so he uses his immense wealth to turn himself into a man of many faces. He is Sinbad the Sailor, a colorful bandit with a cave straight out of Arabian Nights, who smokes hashish and hangs out with smugglers. He is Abbé Busoni, a regal Italian priest and man of God. And he is the Count of Monte Cristo, a mysterious, rich and well-traveled man who never fails to impress anybody he meets and becomes the talk of the town wherever he goes.

The Count fancies himself a tool of God, a way to punish these successful people for their heinous crimes and the suffering they have caused him. He doesn’t want to merely kill them–to the Count, a quick death is not a fair trade for 17 years of hopeless, pointless suffering. He wants to reciprocate their pain, so he takes his time with his revenge, getting to know them, finding the things they love the most and systematically finding a way to ruin each man in the most horrific ways possible.

It’s interesting that this is considered by some a children’s book. In addition to being 1200 pages long, as Buss mentions in his introduction, the book features multiple bloody murders, two counts of infanticide, a lesbian, and a vivid description of a sexual drug hallucination. In a previous review of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, we mention that Gaiman wonders in that book why adults don’t read books about bandits and treasure and adventure–The Count of Monte Cristo has all of those things and more. Maybe that’s why we view it as being for a younger generation, but trust me: a children’s story this is not.

Dantés’ vengeance is a dark one. The complex ways in which he destroys these men who have done him harm cause multiple deaths, a suicide and a man to go insane with grief, to the point where Dantés himself questions whether he took it too far. This is no G-rated revenge story, and the way the Count plays chess with people by using their own faults against them is a fascinating read.

This is not a perfect book by any means, and I did have some issues with it. There were some tropes and cheesy passages where the book shows its age–for example, characters in the story have a tendency to be hiding in shadows unseen while other characters are talking about Very Important Plot Details, and others seem to have incredible memories as they recollect scenes from years ago word-for-word in flashback stories.

There are many characters in this book, many of them compelling, but not all of them are interesting. Dumas’ strength does not lie in his women characters, as they are mostly cardboard cutouts there to serve the plot and without much other substance to them. There is one plotline in particular that stands out, featuring Valentine de Villefort, the daughter of one of the Count’s enemies, and her lover Maximilian Morrel, a friend of the Count.

This plotline was so excruciatingly boring, and the characters written so stilted and cliched, that I found myself fighting the desire to skip the page every time the name ‘Valentine’ appeared on the page. It was disappointing that this relationship plays so heavily into the ending of the book. As mentioned earlier–it serves a purpose to the plot–their only reason their story is there to give the Count something good to do to counteract the misery he’s caused and end the book with something other than the Count standing there dripping with blood.

That said, the good heavily outweighs the bad. The book was originally published as a serial; and you can tell: it’s a winding story full of digressions and shorter vignettes, taking its time plodding around through the main plot as it moves along at a leisurely pace. While it feels like some could maybe be cut out, the book earns its length, and it’s hard to find many scenes that could be described as ‘boring’.

The book’s length almost works against it in the sense that less people will read it due to the intimidation factor. I also think the story is too complex to be properly adapted as a movie, but perhaps a Game of Thrones style show or miniseries could give it some new life with American audiences.

This is a great addition to your library, and a worthwhile investment of your time. If you’ve been waiting to read this one–make the jump. You’ll enjoy getting to know Edmond Dantés, and you may never see anything quite like him again.

Rating: ****