Thursday, May 19, 2011

Lunchtime Adventure - Belz Museum of Asian and Judaic Art

As a resident of Midtown Memphis who works Downtown, I have discovered many out of the way places, restaurants and attractions that others have ignored or simply knew nothing about. Yesterday, I decided to visit the Belz Museum of Asian and Judaic Art during my lunch break. I had no idea what to expect, only that I was in for an hour of art. How wrong I was. If you live in Memphis or are visiting our fair city, you need to do yourself a favour and visit this museum. For $6 a person, you can view highly detailed pieces of carved jade, ivory and cloisonné made with human hands without the use of power tools. Most of the Asian art came from the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) and it is a fair representation of the culture during that time. The Jewish section was highly educational for me and the pieces reflected the history of the Jews. Several of the artists that I found to be quite striking were Boris Shapiro (Flying Fiddler), Mark Tochilikin, Reuven Rubin (Musicians of Safed) and Ofra Friedland (Holocaust Memorial). There were other pieces reflecting passages and stories from the Torah and I found myself trying to remember the stories behind them. All in all, it was a well-spent lunch hour although I could have easily spent another two hours in the museum.

Happy Exploring!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Book Review - The Masterpiece by Emile Zola

Emile Zola’s powerful novel The Masterpiece is one that strikes me to my very core; as a published author and editor, I strive to deliver the best manuscripts to my publishers and will accept any form of criticism necessary to ensure sellable work. Yet I refuse to allow my creative gift and the underlying passion to consume me. How many times have there been stories of people who gave up everything for the sake of their art? Claude, the main character of The Masterpiece, does exactly that. His obsession in painting the perfect female leads him down a path of blind fury, disdain for his wife Christine and total blindness towards his sickly son Jacques. His love for women, naïve and somewhat twisted, reflects the fact that he is in love with the “perfect” woman, one that is impossible to paint and even more impossible to conceive. When he first meets Christine on the steps leading to his studio, she is a pale and sickly being who he later discovers is a budding beauty not yet sullied by the ways of the world. He becomes obsessed with her form and figure while ultimately treating her as only bits and pieces of a body. Yet, even she does not compare to his ideal woman, for she eventually changes as she matures and bears their child while living in poverty created by her ever absent husband.

Claude, like his fellow Bohemian friends, is driven by his obsession to be creative. It will kill them in the end but it is a death worth having. They will die doing what they truly love and yet hate at the same time. For as his closest friend Sandoz tells him, his life is nothing more than endlessly perfecting his art of writing all the while realizing that it will never be perfect. And yet, it is his life. Because of his creativity later turned employment, he has money and his family is provided for. Who could ask for anything more? While some of Claude’s friends turn their creativity into a living staple with all passion squeezed out of it, he continues down his maddening path of perfecting his woman in his never perfect painting of Paris. She must be perfect, no matter the cost. And, what is that cost? For some even now, it is alcohol. For others it is drugs. Still others give up their life as the ultimate sacrifice of what they believe in. But, is it worth it? Is the price truly worth the “gift” of being creative and showing to the world what lies within the not so normal brain?

Art for art’s sake; that’s how the saying goes. And yet, it is more than that. Art for Life’s sake. Art for Sanity’s sake. Art for Not Dying’s sake. For Claude, it was for Woman’s sake, a woman that will never be his and will never appreciate him as an artist, lover and husband. She will only be his Muse, taunting him from behind the curtains, revealing only a little bit of pure white flesh or a pink nipple to lure him and keep him guessing till a very bitter end. She will love him from afar, always barely out of his reach for that is what she does. The Muse is here to play, taunt, tease and keep the creative beings burning with passion of their gift and they will always love her for it. I know I do.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Book Review - Chrome Yellow by Aldous Huxley

When I first read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, I was amazed at the sheer force of the novel and power behind the writing. My view of modern society forever changed after reading that book; I could place that novel in my own time and still find it harrowing. So it was that I went into reading Huxley’s first novel, Chrome Yellow, with the assumption that I would be blown away once more. According to the back of the book, it was banned for its frank and immodest portrayal of morality with regards to sex and interactions between men and women. What I found instead was a satirical novel about a group of British people staying at Chrome, the manor in question, and how the main character, Denis, struggles with his passions for Anne while struggling with his passion for being a poet. Although I read a 1922 novel with 2011 eyes, I did not find it to be quite a literary great, nor did I find it to be that “shocking”. The story flowed with interest, the British satire dripped on every page and the conversations between the men and women of the group were written well. However, I found something lacking in the novel, something that Huxley tried to do and missed for whatever reason. Either that, or I placed too much expectation on the book and felt disappointed when it did not deliver the same range of emotions as Brave New World did. No matter the disappointment, I enjoyed the book overall and look forward to reading more of Huxley’s work.

Book Review - Tinderbox Lawn by Carol Guess

Carol Guess’ book Tinderbox Lawn is quite a collection of prose poems; each one is a small sample of Life in all stages and viewpoints. The poems are very much “in your face” and raw, leaving nothing to the imagination or room for any possible doubt. Sex without passion or love is prevalent throughout the book as well and at times it was painful to read even by my standards. While I am glad I read the book and know that Guess is a talented writer, I still found myself cringing after reading some of the pieces. I did not get too upset once I finished the slender and powerful book. If you enjoy reading blatantly honest poetry and short stories, Tinderbox Lawn is for you.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

DVD Review - Any Human Heart


I just finished watching the PBS Masterpiece Theater miniseries Any Human Heart, starring Jim Broadbent, Matthew Macfayden and Sam Clafin as well as a host of other talented actors and actresses. The miniseries, as first brought to life through the novel by William Boyd, follows the life of fictitious author Logan Montstuart from a young man, middle age and finally senior citizen. It is through his eyes that we see the dawn of the 20th century and his role through it all. He loses his virginity to a young village girl while a student at Oxford, writes two novels that draw somewhat acclaim, marries into the wealthy class and later realizes his mistake, falls in love with “the one”, a young woman named Freya and other adventures, mishaps and mistakes that will carry him to old age. As he progresses through Life, he meets and works with author and British Intelligence agent Ian Fleming, befriends Ernest Hemingway during the Spanish Civil War and makes an enemy out of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Through his life, Montstuart claims that Life is nothing more than luck, both good and bad. However, as his friends and enemies die all around him due to old age, suicide or illness, he preserves on while always feeling a bit out of sorts with the rest of the world. Towards the end of his life, he realizes that he was quite lucky, for no matter how bad his current situation was, he always held onto the love he had for Freya who was killed in World War II while he was a prisoner of war overseas.

I first watched this miniseries on PBS earlier this year and was intrigued by the author’s life, especially when he met Hemingway (one of my literary idols). When I finally watched the entire series, I realized that I could only watch it once. Montstuart’s life was hard, painful to watch at times and sometimes downright awful, and yet he continued on because he had no other choice. I felt myself grow old with him and it was quite tiring. With that said, I still tremendously enjoyed the miniseries and felt that the actors did a superb job. Any human heart is capable of love, no matter how long it takes. Montstuart’s love for Freya lasted as long as his heart did; in fact, it was the one thing that got him through his various miseries and pains. In the end, it was Freya’s spirit that helped him die.

If you want to purchase this DVD, please go to PBS' website for details.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Book Review - The Tales of Beedle the Bard by JK Rowling

Okay, I will admit it: I love Harry Potter.

I own all seven books in hardback and went to the midnight release parties for books 5,6 and 7. I actually stayed up until 2 in the morning reading the final book, went to bed for five hours, then woke up and finished it in five hours. That being said, I finally broke down and read The Tales of Beedle the Bard, the fairy tale book mentioned in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. In the book are several stories of witches and wizards engaged in the trials and tribulations of magical life. Although a quick read, it was still a welcomed return to a world that I loved for years. One story that I truly enjoyed was The Warlock’s Hairy Heart, a tale of what happens when one’s heart is never used and the dastardly consequences that come with such an act. This was a book that JK Rowling had to write, for it not only had famous stories passed down from generation to generation of magical families, but it also had Dumbledore’s thoughts after each story, shedding more light behind the original novels. A great read for all ages, Muggle or Magical!

Book Review - Monday or Tuesday: Eight Stories by Virginia Woolf

When I first read Virginia Woolf years ago, I was thrown off by her stream of consciousness writing, which is ironic for me because most of my stories are written in that vein. And so, I placed her to the back of my reading list with promises to return to her some day. Today, however, was that day, for I read Monday or Tuesday: Eight Stories. The stories cover a wide variety of topics, all written in the stream of consciousness she was known for, and yet I loved it. The two stories that stood out to me were An Unwritten Novel and The String Quartet, even though all of the stories were truly amazing. An Unwritten Novel is Woolf at her finest; strange thing is that, while I loved the story, I had no idea what it is about. The String Quartet is told from two points of view: the two gentlemen as part of the audience watching the quartet, and the highly descriptive music coming from the quartet. Reading the short yet powerful book was enough for me to rekindle my love for Woolf’s work, even if I don’t understand it.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Book Review- The Night in Question by Tobias Wolff

Tobias Wolff’s The Night In Question is a collection of short stories, each capturing a distinct moment of Time on this planet. From a man who bites a dog in order to save his daughter to the last seconds of a man before he dies, Wolff takes these random moments and freezes them forever to preserve their unique charm. I was first introduced to Wolff through his book Old School and have loved him ever since. He writes with clarity and depth through concise sentences that will remind a reader of Ernest Hemingway and yet so much more. The stories of average people with average lives are worth a damn; through Wolff, there is no other option.

Some stories that stood out as classics and typical Wolff were The Life of the Body, Migraine, The Chain and Bullet in the Brain. The Life of the Body tells the story of what happens when one risks it all for something that may or may not be worth it. Migraine is of friendship and the unusual ties that bind it. The Chain is when “pay it forward” goes horribly wrong. Finally, Bullet in the Brain reveals that sometimes, the smallest memories are the most cherished. Tobias Wolff is clearly a master of the short story; The Night in Question is only substantial evidence of said talent. I look forward to visiting him again very soon.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Book Review - Prelude To A Change of Mind by Robert Stikmanz

I was recently a guest at BayouCon, located in Lake Charles Louisiana, and had an amazing time there. One of the things that made it so amazing was meeting author Robert Stikmanz and editor Amanda Kimmerly from Blue Moose Press. After chatting quite a bit, I decided to purchase Prelude To A Change of Mind, Robert’s first book in his offbeat fantasy series. Am I ever glad I did; I found myself thoroughly immersed in his well-written and well-told story and instantly purchased the second book the next day. This is an author that can tell a story in a quiet and yet profound manner; reading his novel felt as though a group of us sat around a campfire, listening to his quiet voice while watching his words come to life over the burning logs.

Prelude tells the story of Patricia Margaret (or Meg) Christmas, firewatcher in a western sierra, and how her life changes forever thanks to a horrible illness and the death of her father. However, she is in the hands of beings from myths and legends, creatures only heard of in fairy tale books and yet are just as real as you and I. From her recovery comes days spent learning and listening of not only the beings themselves but of herself and her ultimate role she is to play in an upcoming event that will affect all of Mankind. That is all I am going to say about the plot; you’ll just have to purchase a copy of the book to find out more. However, I would like to spend the rest of this review on the effect the book had on me.

As a child, I spent my days reading myths and legends of ancient Greece and Rome, Egypt and Ireland, and wondered if perhaps there was some truth to them at all. I wanted to believe that they were real, for I could not image a world without magick. As I grew older, I realized that magick did indeed exist, just not in the form I had originally thought. A tree changing with the seasons is magick. Watching a baby bunny hop along for the first time is magick. Spending time with loved ones and watching them smile is magick. After reading Prelude, I felt my love of magick flare up once more, for his fantasy could truly exist in this world. His characters felt as though he had known them all of his life; he wrote them into existence with quiet reverence and a maturity that ironically appeals to the wondering childe in all of us. This was a fantasy book I could believe in without any problems.

I am honoured to have met Robert and I hope, as I told him during our weekend at Bayou Con, that he will continue to write, for the magick he gives to his readers will always be welcomed and needed.

Tea Taste - Mark T. Wendell Tea Company Russian Caravan

Tea Taste: Mark T. Wendell Tea Company Russian Caravan

I had heard about the fabled and legendary Russian Caravan tea blend by way of other tea companies’ websites as well as reading my many books on tea, so of course, I had to try it. I decided to make my first taste of this tea through the Mark T. Wendell Tea Company, hailing from Acton, Massachusetts. When my box arrived, I made my first cup at work, not really knowing what to expect but still optimistic about the initial taste of it. My first cup of the blend was dark amber in colour, smooth and of velvet; I was now more than convinced that my first cup of the blend would be a good one.

Fist Sip: The blend was much lighter than British Breakfast with hints of a fruity aftertaste, of which appeared to be stronger with every sip without going overboard. This was definitely a tea that could be enjoyed either in the morning or in the afternoon for a quick pick me up. I found myself draining the cup and immediately wanting another. Although I had sugar with my tea, this blend could also be enjoyed without any form of sweetener. This blend could easily be my morning go to; usually, black teas cause my stomach to feel quite queasy in the morning but I did not find this to be the case with this blend. As stated before, it was quite smooth without any harsh overtones or any smoky aftertaste. All in all, an excellent blend from an excellent company.

Happy Cups!

Review - Traumatized by Alexander Brown

My review of Alexander Brown’s book Traumatized begins with a funny story: while I was a guest at Southern Fried Comic Con at Jackson, Mississippi last June, I had the pleasure of meeting Alex and picking up a copy of his book. Seeing as how the book was a collection of short stories, I thumbed through it and settled on a story entitled From Midnight to One. Fifteen minutes later, I was absolutely scared out of my mind and refused to read the rest of the book. For not only had Alex scared me beyond belief with such detail regarding three witches and their victims, but he had also shown just how far into the darkness he was willing to write. When I saw him at another con, I politely told him that his book scared the absolute crap out of me and that I could not read the rest of it. He, much to my surprise, found it to be quite a compliment that the Goth Librarian was terrified of his work.

Traumatized is not for the faint of heart. The stories are beyond conventional horror and yet done with an original style not be matched by many others in the genre. The stories drip with great helpings of Southern Gothic while the unrelenting gore is just behind that door, curtain or even shoebox filled with voodoo dolls. The stories begin with the set up of the plot and characters; however, one realizes quickly that is not well and will not even resemble a fragment of sanity once the stories come to their own ends. Several stories that stood out in originality were From Midnight to One (of course!), Live Through This (a tale of obsession gone horribly, horribly wrong), Two Miles (Judgment Day in Hell) and The Acquired Taste (you’ll never want sushi again). These stories are more than fair representatives of Splatterpunk; each story forces the readers to stare into a dark abyss that will not go away, no matter how many times we say our prayers at night.

If you like reading books that make the things that go BUMP in the night quiver in their boots, then Traumatized is for you. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.