Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Long Fall

So I just got done reading a book by Walter Mosley called The Long Fall.
I'd heard Walter Mosley's name before, but I'd never read one of his books before, and now I feel like I've probably been missing out on some really cool stuff for a long time.
The Long Fall is a good old fashioned noir detective story that takes place in modern day New York. It's a book that's definitely character driven, told from the first person perspective of a street smart, witty, well spoken African American ex-boxer gumshoe named Leonid McGill.
McGill is the sort of character that people are either simply going to like or not like, without much room for indifference or apathy inbetween. McGill tends to speak in absolutes and aphorisms, typically with no small amount of perception and insight. At times, though I couldn't help wondering whether a real life Leonid McGill might run the risk of seeming a touch arrogant or overbearing. In any case, as a character, I found McGill to be a fun person to spend time with.
The Long Fall is clearly meant to be the first of a book in a series, and I gather that Leonid McGill has been fleshed out after first appearing in a supporting role in some of Mr. McGill's earlier work. As a result, I'm not exactly sure how many of the people in The Long Fall have previously appeared in other Mosley novels, but regardless, the sizable number of intriguing characters in the book really add color and richness to the world that McGill inhabits. Given the fact that the actual plot of The Long Fall isn't all that groundbreaking (striving to keep true to traditional noir storyline as opposed to trying to break new ground), an interest in the characters themselves becomes that much more important.
Fortunately, Mosley is adept at breathing life into characters and making you care about them. His central figures have ambiguities, nuances, and quirks that make them much more than the stereotypical noir figures that might have taken shape in lesser hands, and Mosley manages to infuse a great deal of vibrancy into the more "minor" supporting characters as they move alongside the major ones, even when giving us only small glimpses into their lives.
Anyway, I liked The Long Fall. I recommend it, especially if you're into detective books and/or noir. It's a book which feels thoroughly contemporary while holding true to the stylings of traditional noir, and it's a quality addition to the genre- a good read, with characters and stories that sucked me in and pulled me along.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter Weekend

Amy working on homework. Easter Eve.

Amy, Ciera, and Dad in church.

Mom, Ciera, Susan, and Jonathan doing it up right with the chocolate fountain.

Not too much to say about Easter except that it was nice.Pretty traditional as far as Steans family Easters go. We went to church and had Easter dinner. The Bloods, who are family friends, were in town and visiting my parents, so we got to hang out with them. The kiddos had an Easter egg hunt.

It was a nice Easter. Thanks to Mom and to Dad for making it so nice for the rest of us!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter!

Just a quick post to wish everyone a happy Easter! Hope everyone has a nice day!
A quick note just to say that my thoughts and love go out to my old friend and college housemate, Laura Hague, who is battling cancer. I'm thinking of you and your family, Laura!
Have a good Easter, guys!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

For Amy

I dedicate this song and video to my girlfriend, Amy, because I think she's the sort of wonderful woman who will appreciate the sight of a baby monkey on a pig, and even more importantly, a song about the same thing!

Thanks for putting up with me, Amy!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

R.I.P. Gerard Smith

TV on the Radio bassist Gerard Smith died today after a battle with lung cancer. To be honest, I don't know too much about the man, except that I like his bass lines and that he was a member of one of the most innovative, funky, and sometimes beautiful bands that I've had the pleasure of enjoying in recent years.
Peace to Smith, his loved ones, and the members of TVOTR.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Jennifer Egan Talks Writing

I usually try to avoid just embedding videos without much comment because I don't want my blog to feel like I'm just repoting stuff, but I recently wrote a short, sort of perfunctory review of Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad, and then today I stumbled across this video interview with Egan where she's talking to Time Magazine about her book (which has apparently won a Pulitzer Prize). It's a short interview, but she seems like an articulate, engaging person. That's always nice to see. Sometimes you get those writers who choose to write because they're not very comfortable or skilled when it comes to communicating on a face to face level. Anyway, as I said before, I recommend the book.

Or if the embedded video won't play, look here.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Ryan's Birthday Cocktail Party

So, on Saturday Ryan and Jamie had a few friends over to their place to have a few drinks and eat a few treats in honor of Ryan's birthday. Amy made some food, and I brought some veggies, and we headed over to Steans Manor for cocktails and tomfoolery.
Here's Jamie, proudly presenting various forms of cheese.
Here's Amy, getting all gangsta and demandin' respect for her (very delicious) baked fontina.
Various party revellers prepare to sing a round of some sort of song that celebrates birthdays.
Me with some cute girl that I met in the kitchen.

The birthday boyee!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

9 Types of Light

So I'm lying on the hillside at Barton Springs, enjoying beautiful springtime Austin weather and listening to the new TV on the Radio album, 9 Types of Light. Except for the fact that Amy's off doing homework, things couldn't be much nicer. I really like the new album. It's probably the most accessible album that TVOTR have put out, all in all. I have sort of mixed feelings about that, given that some of their more challenging earlier efforts have ultimately proved really rewarding, but still- all my favorite TVOTR ingredients are there. They continue to do a great job of blending electronic and acoustic elements. They continue to employ an alternating combination of haunting and frantic vocals by Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone which, along with interesting rhythms and harmonies, keep you changing your mind about whether you want to dance or lie on a beach. It's a good album. I think, commercially, it could be their biggest success to date, and it's an album that can probably help them cross over to a more mainstream audience while still preserving the integrity and originality that come with the band's unique sound. I remain a real fan.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Little More for the Burfday

In order to further celebrate Ryan's birthday, I offer this...

Happy Birthday, Ryan!!

Going to be in court this morning, but I wanted to send a quick birthday shout out to my brother, Ryan "Roundball" Steans! Many happy returns, Roundball!! Hope 36 is a good one!!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Source Code

Amy and I saw Source Code this weekend. I thought it was a pretty good movie. For those who don't know much about it, Source Code is a sort of sci-fi, time travel thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal where the protagonist travels back in time in order to try to avert a terrorist attack. Hopefully without giving too much away, [spoilers?] I found Source Code to be a pretty tight, well written movie, more in the tradition, perhaps, of old Twilight Zone or even Hitchcockian writing than more modern big, splashy epics like Avatar. The sci fi elements of Source Code weren't really groundbreaking ( a whole lot has been done with the idea of time travel in recent years), but the writers did a good job of keeping you guessing about the movie's central mystery and about the nature of the situation itself right up until the end. I'm not sure that the character of Colter Stevens demanded tremendous depth in terms of acting, but Gyllenhaal played him well. Anyway, I don't want to say too much about the movie, but I enjoyed it, and I would recommend it. As is typical in terms of time travel movies, there might potentially be one or two plot points that are logically questionable (at least one of these is debated and explicitly discussed, actually), but I felt like the movie was definitely worth watching.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Bookin' It

"Time's a goon, right? You gonna let that goon push you around?" -Bennie Salazar, A Visit from the Goon Squad

On my trip to London (well, mostly during my flights to and from) I finished up two books that I'd been reading for a while.

A Visit from the Goon Squad is a book by Jennifer Egan that was given to me by Amy's mom, Jean, for Christmas.

Goon Squad was a book that grew on me as I read it. The novel involves various events relating to a set of often tenuously connected characters over an extended period of time, so it's the sort of thing that sort of slowly unfolds for you and develops your appreciation as it moves along. The novel loosely involves music and the music business as a central feature, but music serves as much as a vehicle for broader plot progression and metaphor as anything else (there are arguments to be made in there, I think, about the parallels between the growing cynicism and amorality of the music industry over time and some similar patterns that occur within the story arcs of the books various characters as their lives progress in the book).
To be honest, I almost gave up on the novel too soon because, in the early sections, I thought that it was going to be just a rumination on dysfunction, wrecked lives, and the wicked, wicked world that brings about such things. (I don't mind some of these things in books, but, personally, I tend to shy away from the "life sucks" school of literature and film unless I really think the work has something important to say.)
But the book turned out to be much more than a meditation on semi sleazy people and life's inequities.
Goon Squad is ultimately about hardships, difficulties, tragedies, and wounds, but it's also about the rewards and satisfactions that life delivers- many of them appearing when they're not anticipated, from unpredictable places and in ways that can surprise skeptical, scarred adults who've become too cynical to hold out hope for meaningful, genuine events or real happiness. Good things can happen in life, but they tend to happen in the same sort of random, unpredictable pattern that spawn our tragedies, and part of the joy in life's victories springs from that same unpredictability that frequently makes hardship so difficult.
Anyway, I give A Visit from the Goon Squad a thumbs up. In particular, I just really enjoyed the way that Egan writes. I want to read another one of her books sometime in the near future.

So thanks, Jean! Great book!

I also finished up a science fiction book from 1974 called The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. The Forever War is a sort of science fiction account that roughly expresses some of the author's own experiences during the Vietnam War, and it holds up remarkably well for a book that's approaching its fortieth anniversary.
The novel is, in many ways, a very recognizable account of the career of an intelligent but unremarkable infantryman.
Forever War does a tremendous job, however, of using its futuristic, science fiction setting to highlight some troubling aspects of experiences that American troops have gone through as they've gone off to fight in faraway countries.
The soldiers in Forever War, traveling to distant parts of the galaxy through worm hole type phenomena known as collapsars, experience an effect known as time dilation. The soldiers experience only months going by as they move in transit, while back on Earth decades and centuries of time are passing the soldiers by. As a result, the home that the soldiers return to seems a hostile, unfamiliar place, and as the tours of duty get longer, the soldiers have a harder and harder time recognizing and relating to the strange, altered place that they're supposed to be defending. Not too hard to read something about the Vietnam experience into that, I guess.
Other metaphors, also not so subtle but nonetheless effective, include the utterly alien, inscrutable nature of the enemy that the soldiers are expected to fight, and things like the extremely powerful hypnosis techniques which are employed by the military in order to significantly heighten troop aggression (which overpowers the general sense of apathy and/or malaise which might otherwise take hold within the ranks).
The Forever War was also a really good read, although a much different one than Goon Squad.

Anyway, two good books. I would recommend each of them. I really just wanted to jot down some thoughts about them while they were fresh in my mind.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

The London Trip

The London trip was really good.
I'd been there in 2009 with Mom and Dad, so I was a little more familiar with my surroundings this time, but I think I enjoyed this trip every bit as much as the first one.

London is just a cool city. It might not rank up there as extremely exotic in terms of foreign travel destinations, but the history, tradition, culture, and overall energy level of the place just make it a really great city to visit. I've been there twice, and I could easily go back and
spend a great deal more time in London without ever coming close to running out of things to do (although, admittedly, I might run out of money first).
It was also really cool just to take a trip with Dad and Ryan. As I've said before, I really can't even remember a time when just the the three of us took a trip together. I really enjoyed hanging out with both of them, and they were both really good traveling companions. We didn't even have any good ol' Steans family arguments or debates, so we must have been enjoying ourselves...

Here's a pic of Ryan out in front of The Criterion Theater where we saw The 39 Steps. The Indian national team had just won the cricket world cup, and a group of Indian ex pats had gathered in Piccadilly Circus out in front of the theater to celebrate. It was a cool, unexpected moment. The crowd was a little rowdy, but friendly.

Goodbye Judge Bender

Well, I'm back from London. I had a really great time visiting the city with Dad and Ryan. I'll probably post about that later.
I'm posting now just to say goodbye to a judge from the courthouse that I knew and liked.
Judge Bill Bender passed away on Monday at the age of 78. I only ever knew Judge Bender as a visiting judge (he lived out in Seguin and was a judge for the 427th district until he retired), but he was very popular, and he filled in so frequently around the Travis County courthouse that I got to know him pretty well (at times I felt like he was at the Travis County Courthouse more frequently than some of the regular sitting judges).
He was a nice guy, and a no-nonsense judge who had a knack for cutting through the B.S. and quickly getting to the heart of matters that came before him on the bench.
I worked with Judge Bender both when I was a defense attorney and when I was a prosecutor, and he was always very friendly and gracious, regardless of my role in the courtroom. He had a good sense of humor (I liked the way he often greeted ridiculous situations or explanations with a wry chuckle), he enjoyed a good story, and he was just a really nice guy.
Back when Jeff was still alive, I remember sitting there and listening to Jeff and the judge swap fishing stories while they talked about bonds or took care of other courthouse business. In trial, Judge Bender was good at moving things along and and keeping trials tightly focused so they didn't get bog down unnecessarily.
I'll miss Judge Bender. He was just one of those old school judges who didn't tolerate a lot of ridiculousness, but who always treated the people in his court with respect. He was fair, but he was efficient, and a lot of judges could learn things from his example.
We'll miss you, Judge.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Almost Done With London

Well, it's almost over, and it's been a really good trip. More to follow later, but I just wanted to send a shout out. I love London, but it'll be great to be back with Amy. And Cassidy. And at home.