The Final Chicken Update

Tom, you won’t be able to see this, because it’s a gif and you can never view those. It’s a short video of a man holding at bay three velociraptors … which is exactly what it now looks like when I feed my chickens.

I now wonder whether a chicken owner was behind the animatronic dinos in the Jurassic Park franchise.

Here’s What I’ve Been Consuming Lately

Three book and two movie reviews:

Battle for the American Mind

by Pete Hegseth with David Goodwin, 2022

I don’t usually go for books with an American flag on the cover. Fairly or unfairly, I expect them to have been written in six weeks with a shallow diagnosis of the problem (and the solution usually being “free-market economics”). But this one is different. The author began to win my trust when he said that a few of his earlier books were, in fact, just like that. Also, the intro is by David Goodwin, who has been in Christian classical education for years.

It’s pretty depressing to read how what Hegseth calls the Western Christian Paideia (WCP) was ripped out of American schools a few years before my parents were born (and how, in fact, the public school system was set up primarily to do this). It was replaced by a shallow new religion, a blend of Hegelianism with some nationalism thrown in to make it palatable to my grandparents’ generation. The goal of this new paideia was to populate a brave new, progressive, technocratic world with obedient and easily manipulated citizens, not with educated, critically-thinking grown adults. So, that kid on the cover looking at the American flag in a pose that looks suspiciously like worship? That’s not what the author is promoting. It’s what he’s criticizing.

First-Time Investor

by Larry Chambers and Dale Rogers, 2004 (3rd ed.)

Investors don’t get much more first-time than yours truly.

The big insight from this book – if I can summarize what I’ve read so far – is that it’s not possible to “pick stocks.” Stocks go up and down in a truly random way. (Which is gratifying to hear, since that’s certainly how it looks from the outside!) So, say the authors, the way to make money long-term on the stock market is to pick the right balance of kinds of stocks. And the kind that do the best, on average, are the companies that appear the least promising.

There. You got that for free.

The Plot

by Jean Hanff Korelitz, 2021

Here’s my Goodreads review:

Hoo boy. Hokay. So.

This book is about a struggling author who “steals” a story that someone once told him, years later, after he finds out the person is deceased. Said story is so sensational that it catapults the author to success: the book becomes a phenomenon. The rise and fall of this author is the outer onion layer of this book.

The inner onion layer is the sensational story itself. It’s about a girl who, at fifteen, becomes pregnant by a random guy, an older married man to whom she intentionally loses her virginity, essentially as a big middle finger to her parents. Her parents force her, not only to carry the baby to term (horror of horrors!), but to raise it in their home. When the baby, which turns out to be a precocious girl, is sixteen and ready to go off to college, the mother kills her. This is the Big Twist that shocks readers and is responsible for the book’s success.

I have three thoughts. One, obviously this book is really well written and makes a compelling read. I finished it in four days, despite my busy life. Hence the four stars.

Two. Every single main character is this book is a sociopath. I include not only the mother, but the daughter (as far as we can tell), the struggling-to-famous author, and a couple of side characters as well. The mother is a smart sociopath with the courage of her convictions, and the author is a dumber, more cowardly sociopath. There isn’t a character we get to know well who is manifestly decent.

Three. Despite being a book about a mother who kills her teenaged daughter, this book somehow manages to be pro-abortion. The fictional pregnant teen is resentful that her parents won’t take her to go get an abortion. They don’t love her or the baby, she opines, they are making her raise it to punish her. Abortion is presented as a solution, as if it would have prevented this very tragedy rather than just anticipating it by sixteen years. The parents also, though “Christian,” forbid their daughter to adopt the baby out, again to punish her. This is the classic straw-man scenario used by abortion promoters, but I don’t think it’s actually very common, let alone widespread. The impression I get is that grandparents often end up raising their daughters’ out-of-wedlock children. Furthermore, Korelitz clearly has no love for pro-life counseling clinics, which are actually places that will give girls in crisis pregnancies assistance in adoption and will give them plenty of other kinds of support when those are lacking at home. These places, when mentioned in the book, are always called abortion “counselors,” with scare quotes, as if the fact they will encourage you not to have your baby killed makes them somehow less professional.

This abortion problem, plus certain things in the tone of the book, gave me the distinct impression that Korelitz is trying to make this kind of sociopathy relatable. For example, one character asserts that it’s sexist of the reading public to find it more shocking when a mother kills her child than when a father does the same. Truly, women’s lib has reached its zenith when women aren’t expected to have any motherly tenderness for their own children, but rather to be just as violent and sociopathic as men are “allowed” to be. And then we can all be good worshippers of Moloch. Yay? It is for this reason that I can’t give the book five stars. No matter how well plotted or rendered, my enjoyment of a story as a story is marred when I find its background assumptions this repellant.

Diary of a Mad Black Woman

I know this is not a new movie, but I’d never seen it before. All I can say is, Tyler Perry really “gets” women. (Far more than Jean Hanff Korelitz does, now that I think of it.)

I did expect Madea to bring more action/solutions and not just comic relief, but interestingly, in this movie the solutions come from … God. I’m fine with that. Now before you go thinking that the frequent references to God mean this movie has an unrealistically rosy outlook on human nature … it’s also a revenge fantasy. Also, it’s got the usual Tyler Perry crude jokes, including Perry playing, not just cousin Brian and Madea, but also Madea’s pervy octogenarian brother.

The Last Stand

This film is very violent, very shooty-shooty-bang-bang. If you can tolerate that, it’s a great movie. It starts out looking like a crime/thriller flick. I didn’t realize until about 3/4 of the way through that it’s actually an updated Western. There is a noontime shootout on Main Street and everything, except instead of just the sheriff on one side and the outlaw on the other, there’s about a dozen people on each side.

There’s also a bonnet-wearing Texas granny who pulls a shotgun out of her knitting basket, which as you can imagine, I loved.

Writer Envy Quote of the Week

“Evan Parker,” the guy said without preamble. “But I’m thinking about reversing it, professionally.”

Jake frowned. “You mean, as a pen name?”

“For privacy, yeah. Parker Evan.”

It was all he could do not to laugh, the lives of the vast majority of authors being far more private than they likely wished. Maybe Stephen King or John Grisham got approached in the supermarket by a quavering person extending pen and paper, but for most writers, even reliably published and actually self-supporting writers, the privacy was thunderous.

The Plot, by Jean Hanff Korelitz, p. 23

Me & Nora Ephron

So, I finally read Nora Ephron’s iconic (?) I Feel Bad About My Neck. I bought it because it was on sale at the library table for $1 and, when I started browsing through, it did not fail to charm me.

IFBAMN came out, according to the cover flap, in 2006. At that time, I had been married for about five minutes and had no interest in crepey necks. Now, the topic is of mild interest because I am older and wiser. (So old! So wise!) It’s fitting that I picked up this book during the week before my birthday. Perhaps we can call this my I-am-within-sight-of-turning-50 post.

Ephron and I do not have a lot in common. Unlike me, she …

  • is at least ten years older than my parents
  • wrote the screenplays for Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail (basically she wrote the screenplay for Meg Ryan’s career, it appears), Hanging Up, and Bewitched, among others
  • has been married three times
  • lives in New York City, and if this book is to be believed, pays money for things like manicures, pedicures, Botox, a semiweekly wash and blowdry, and hair color every six weeks

All of this puts our worlds pretty far apart.

(However, I would be remiss if I did not point out that Nora Ephron and I also have quite a few things in common:

  • both writers
  • both have been through labor
  • both kind of goofy
  • and somewhat cheap
  • and somewhat disorganized — me somewhat, her very, again if this book is to be believed)

Anyway, all that to say, even with our experiences being so far apart, I find this book of collected essays enjoyable and funny. I can only imagine how hilarious it must be to Ephron’s fellow New Yorkers.

And no, it is not all about necks. That is only the first essay. I am really glad, because there is no way anyone could sustain an entire book about their neck. The second essay, for example, is about how every time Ephron tries to get a new purse, the interior of it instantly becomes a disorganized Bermuda Triangle of Tictacs and Kleenexes and things, and it was this essay that really won my heart and convinced me that this New Yorker and I are kindred spirits.

This Is Why I Read — And Write

I’ve just surfaced from spending several days in a state of rapture — with a book. I loved this book. I was transported into its world. I composed a dozen imaginary letters to the author, letters I’ll never write, much less send. I wrote letters of praise. I wrote letters relating entirely inappropriate personal information about my own experiences with the author’s subject matter. I even wrote a letter of recrimination when one of the characters died and I was grief-stricken. But mostly I wrote letters of gratitude …

Litte Sara Crewe in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic A Little Princess was my alter ego. Oh, how I wanted to be an orphan! I read The Nun’s Story, and oh, how I wanted to be a nun! I wanted to be shipwrecked on a desert island and stranded in Krakatoa! … Cut to a few years later. I’m reading The Godfather by Mario Puso, a divine book that sweeps me off into a wave of romantic delirium. I want to be a mafioso! No, that’s not quite right. Okay then, I want to be a mafioso’s wife!

Each minute I spend away from the book pretending to be interested in everyday life is a misery. How could I have waited so long to read this book? When can I get back to it? Halfway through, I return to New York to work, to finish a movie, and I sit in the mix studio unable to focus on anything but whether my favorite character in the book will survive. Every so often I look up from the book and see a roomful of people waiting for me to make a decision … and I can’t believe they don’t understand that what I’m doing is Much More Important.

Nora Ephron, excerpts from the essay On Rapture, in I Feel Bad About My Neck, pp. 117 – 121