Maisy Update

We’ve had Maisy for a little over a month now, and it’s been a pretty mixed experience for us. Shortly after we got Maisy, M got a job outside the home after years without one, and in retrospect, we should probably have waited and made one major life change at a time.

On the whole, Maisy is a good dog. She’s sweet and playful, and it’s mostly worth the bruises and scratches and bite marks I persistently sport now. Her paws may have scratched up our nice wood floors, but at least she’s only destroyed small parts of a few pieces of furniture, a bunch of toys, and most recently her nice soft bed.

She’s actually coming along a bit in her training. I started an obedience class with her this week. We had already been working on her learning her name and “sit,” and now we’re working on a couple of other commands. She’s starting to grok “down,” but I’m less optimistic about her understanding a few of the other commands any time soon.

In spite of the havoc she has wrought in our routines and on our home, I’m enjoying her. I feel like I spend more time giving her attention now than I do my kids, and I’m eager for that to taper off as she continues to become integrated into our lives (and us into hers), but she’s enriched my life a bit, if perhaps not yet as much as she has complicated it.

Twin Peaks

I guess I lived a pretty sheltered life as a kid. I wasn’t really allowed to watch MTV (though sometimes I did), and there were many shows that my mother would say were garbage that I wasn’t allowed to watch. I spent my after-school afternoons with the casts of Happy Days, The Brady Bunch, M*A*S*H, and Gilligan’s Island. MacGuyver was kosher, and of course Columbo and Matlock were staples. It’s not that I wasn’t allowed to watch a great lot of television — I spent most Saturday mornings of my childhood in front of the television from 6 or 7 in the morning until lunchtime — but the television I could watch without getting into trouble or having to sneak around was pretty vanilla. Twin Peaks was not on the list of approved shows.

I sort of like David Lynch’s movies. I’m a fan of weird, up to a point, and his movies bump right up against and sometimes go just a hair past that point, so his movies tend to appeal to me. Some time back, I decided to give Twin Peaks a try, and I don’t think I made it all the way through the first episode; if I did, I didn’t make it very far into the second. It seemed so very overwrought, so melodramatic, so 90s.

Having gotten wind in the past year or so that the show was coming back with Lynch still at the helm, I thought I’d try the show again. Laura Palmer’s screaming mother in that first episode very nearly turned me off again. The distraught principal did too. But then there was Kyle MacLachlan’s delightul character and the beginnings of a few hints of the sort of weirdness I find appealing. I was lukewarm through the first half of the first season, and at some point I told my wife that I’d like it more if it were about 40% more weird.

Then it crescendoed into super duper weirdness over the next 15 or so episodes, to the point that during an 8 – 10 minute part of the final episode that I watched while very very tired that was visually arresting and really pretty interesting, I wound up wishing Lynch would sort of get on with it. As the episodes kept coming, I commented to my wife a time or two that I could hardly believe that they had played the show on prime time television and found an audience for it, so far from my notion of the mainstream taste it seemed. Still, it was neat, and I liked a lot of the weirdness.

My main problem with the show was that watching it 25 years after its creation, I had difficulty understanding whether the things that seemed overwrought and bad about it were in fact overwrought and bad or whether that’s just what television was like in 1990. Or, if they were overwrought and bad and sometimes sentimental and saccharine, were they that way in earnest (for the period) or was Lynch doing something meta with the conventions of television?At the distance of 25 years, I’m really just not at all sure.

As is pretty normal for me, I expended just about as much energy thinking about my thinking about watching the show as I expended watching the show, which is generally pretty satisfying to me but was perhaps less so than usual in this case because I partially suspect that some of the badness was just period badness and not cleverness.

At any rate, I now have Twin Peaks under my belt, and if the redux does materialize, I’ll likely watch it with interest.

The Hoff

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I took my daughter to the library this afternoon and idly wandered the shelves (our branch is small) while she made her selections. I couldn’t help noticing this little batch of books. Observe the gentleman pictured on the spine of the middle book of the Moon books (which I believe is titled Kings of the North). That’s a portrait of David Hasselhoff, right? Is there anything the man can’t do?

Books, 2015

I read a lot of books in 2015 and tracked them pretty reliably via Goodreads. Whereas last year I claimed to have read 24 books (probably I missed updating Goodreads for a few), this year I logged 74 for a total of about 25,500 pages. I suppose I cheated a little bit, since a whole bunch of those were books I read aloud to the kids, though they weren’t tiny little Golden Books or anything (average page count per book came out to around 345 on the whole), so maybe it wasn’t cheating after all.

Highlights included the Series of Unfortunate Events series (started in late August and finished at the tail end of December) and the Prydain Chronicles series, which were both fun and represented a lot of evening and weekend reading with the kids, which is one of my favorite things to do.

I reread a few books. I had been nervous about rereading Infinite Jest after several years, but it held up for me. I also reread The Recognitions and didn’t love it. I reread some Vonnegut that we had sitting around and had mixed feelings. I accidentally reread some Roth that I had forgotten I had read years ago, and though I didn’t much like the novella I reread, I did wind up enjoying some of the stories that were packaged in the same volume with it.

Part of what boosted my reading stats this year was an effort to participate in the Tournament of Books. I forget how many of the selections I wound up reading, but I believe it was around a dozen, and a few of them pretty lengthy. The ToB introduced me to a rare five-star read in All the Light We Cannot See. I tend to reserve five-star ratings for books that change the way I think about the world or that had some other profound effect on my life. AtLWCS probably didn’t quite do either of these things, but it really was top-notch writing, so I gave it a 5.

I awarded another 5-star rating to Half of a Yellow Sun, which remains the best book I’ve read all year. It taught me things about the world, made me really feel for its characters, made me laugh, and was generally just beautifully written. I’ve recommended it to many people this year.

Although I had heard of Jonathan Lethem, I had never read him before, and late in the year I picked up several of his books and liked them all a lot. I’ll read more of his work for sure. So far, he’s been a consistent 4-star rating for me (meaning that I liked the books a whole lot, even if they didn’t change my life).

I read more genre fiction this year than I’m accustomed to, picking up several sci-fi things (if you include Vonnegut, who sort of straddles literary fiction and sci-fi). Not listed below or accounted for in my stats are a number of the Poirot stories by Agatha Christie and probably a few Sherlock stories as well. I also read a lot more nonfiction than usual, mostly books about teamwork and leadership that I read as I transitioned into a leadership role at work.

Although I’ve striven in general to read a fair number of books by people who are not white men, it’s clear from looking over the list below that I’ve done a pretty poor job. I suppose it makes sense that fiction by white dudes would resonate with me since I am a white dude, but I’d like to continue to read things that offer perspectives from behind a gaze different from my own. My favorite book of the year is after all by a Nigerian woman, so it’s clearly to my benefit to read things by people who are not white dudes.

The table below shows my recorded books for the year, sorted by rating and then by whatever Goodreads chooses as a secondary sorting field. The unrated books at the bottom I think I just forgot to rate (though in the case of the Dara book, I felt like I needed to read it again some time before deciding how I felt about it).

Title Author Stars Kids For Work Nonfiction Reread Not a White Dude
All the Light We Cannot See Doerr, Anthony 5 N N N N N
Half of a Yellow Sun Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi 5 N N N N Y
Infinite Jest Wallace, David Foster 5 N N N Y N
The Fortress of Solitude Lethem, Jonathan 4 N N N N N
The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #1) Snicket, Lemony 4 Y N N N N
The End (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #13) Snicket, Lemony 4 Y N N N N
When Teams Work Best Lafasto, Frank 4 N Y Y N N
The Painter Heller, Peter 4 N N N N N
Mason and Dixon Pynchon, Thomas 4 N N N N N
Annihilation (Southern Reach, #1) VanderMeer, Jeff 4 N N N N N
The Reptile Room (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #2) Snicket, Lemony 4 Y N N N N
Dept. of Speculation Offill, Jenny 4 N N N N Y
The News from Spain: Seven Variations on a Love Story Wickersham, Joan 4 N N N N Y
The Sense of an Ending Barnes, Julian 4 N N N N N
A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall Chancellor, Will 4 N N N N N
Chronic City Lethem, Jonathan 4 N N N N N
Gun, With Occasional Music Lethem, Jonathan 4 N N N N N
The House of the Spirits Allende, Isabel 4 N N N N Y
Paper Towns Green, John 4 N N N N N
Wittgenstein Jr Iyer, Lars 4 N N N N N
Men in Space McCarthy, Tom 4 N N N N N
Motherless Brooklyn Lethem, Jonathan 4 N N N N N
Sartoris Faulkner, William 4 N N N N N
Slaughterhouse-Five Vonnegut, Kurt 4 N N N Y N
Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? Eggers, Dave 4 N N N N N
Cat’s Cradle Vonnegut, Kurt 4 N N N Y N
Americanah Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi 3 N N N N Y
The Recognitions Gaddis, William 3 N N N Y N
The High King (The Chronicles of Prydain #5) Alexander, Lloyd 3 Y N N N N
The Miserable Mill (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #4) Snicket, Lemony 3 Y N N N N
The Wide Window (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #3) Snicket, Lemony 3 Y N N N N
The Ersatz Elevator (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #6) Snicket, Lemony 3 Y N N N N
The Dragon Lantern (The League of Seven, #2) Gratz, Alan 3 Y N N N N
Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead Bock, Laszlo 3 N Y Y N N
The Grim Grotto (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #11) Snicket, Lemony 3 Y N N N N
The Sound and the Fury Faulkner, William 3 Y N N N N
A Brief History of Seven Killings James, Marlon 3 N N N N Y
The Austere Academy (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #5) Snicket, Lemony 3 Y N N N N
The Prince and the Pauper Twain, Mark 3 Y N N Y N
The Slippery Slope (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #10) Snicket, Lemony 3 Y N N N N
The Hostile Hospital (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #8) Snicket, Lemony 3 Y N N N N
Goodbye, Columbus and Five Short Stories Roth, Philip 3 N N N N N
The Castle of Llyr (The Chronicles of Prydain #3) Alexander, Lloyd 3 Y N N N N
The Book of Three (The Chronicles of Prydain #1) Alexander, Lloyd 3 Y N N N N
The Fermata Baker, Nicholson 3 N N N N N
The Black Cauldron (The Chronicles of Prydain #2) Alexander, Lloyd 3 Y N N N N
The Mysterious Benedict Society (The Mysterious Benedict Society, #1) Stewart, Trenton Lee 3 Y N N N N
The Vile Village (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #7) Snicket, Lemony 3 Y N N N N
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly Bauby, Jean-Dominique 3 N N Y N N
The Word Exchange Graedon, Alena 3 N N N N Y
Silence Once Begun Ball, Jesse 3 N N N N N
Divisadero Ondaatje, Michael 3 N N N N Y
The Carnivorous Carnival (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #9) Snicket, Lemony 3 Y N N N N
The Penultimate Peril (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #12) Snicket, Lemony 3 Y N N N N
All the Birds, Singing Wyld, Evie 3 N N N N Y
Middle C Gass, William H. 3 N N N N N
Between the World and Me Coates, Ta-Nehisi 3 N N Y N Y
Looking for Alaska Green, John 2 N N N N N
The Sirens of Titan Vonnegut, Kurt 2 N N N Y N
1Q84 (1Q84, #1-3) Murakami, Haruki 2 N N N N Y
Ready Player One Cline, Ernest 2 N N N N N
Acceptance (Southern Reach, #3) VanderMeer, Jeff 2 N N N N N
Reamde Stephenson, Neal 2 N N N N N
Foundation (Foundation, #1) Asimov, Isaac 2 N N N N N
Deception Roth, Philip 2 N N N N N
Adam Schrag, Ariel 2 N N N N Y
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (Extraordinary Voyages, #6) Verne, Jules 2 Y N N N N
Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High Patterson, Kerry 2 N Y Y N N
The Bone Clocks Mitchell, David 2 N N N N N
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Fairyland, #1) Valente, Catherynne M. 2 N N N N Y
Generosity: An Enhancement Powers, Richard 1 N N N N N
Authority (Southern Reach, #2) VanderMeer, Jeff 1 N N N N N
Taran Wanderer (The Chronicles of Prydain #4) Alexander, Lloyd N N N N N
The Lost Scrapbook Dara, Evan N N N N N
Foreign Bodies Ozick, Cynthia N N N N Y

Maisy

For months now my daughter has been asking me for a dog. Our pup of many years died a couple of years ago, and though I was sad to lose him, I’ve also been pleased not to have to wake up in the middle of the night to let him out, not to have to find a place for him to stay when we’re out of town, not to have to listen to his shrill barking at times when it’s annoying. We’ve also since made a bunch of improvements to the house, including new carpet, and I haven’t wanted a dog to come along and destroy those improvements. And finally, it hurts to lose a dog, and you do eventually wind up losing the dog. I’ve maintained that I was perfectly happy just visiting with the dogs of friends and family. It’s been a pretty good few years for me dog-wise.

But my daughter is persistent. A couple of months ago, she started occasionally emailing me pictures and videos of cute dogs. She has of course continued to talk about wanting a dog. Any time we’ve visited with a dog, her happiness has been hard to look past. All of these things seem to have led to my deciding that maybe a dog isn’t such a bad thing after all. They’re soft and snuggly and friendly, and they make kids happy. They make my wife feel less vulnerable when I’m traveling. There’s a lot to be said for owning a dog.

I spent a few weeks mulling it over sort of passively, by which I suppose I mean that I learned that my daughter should go into marketing because her tricks influenced me to convince myself that I might like to have a dog not merely as a concession to the rest of the family (who all wanted one) but also because I might find it pleasant myself.

So the other morning, I told my wife I thought we should consider getting a dog for Christmas (there’s more to the story, but that’s the end result), and we found a sweet looking dog on a local shelter’s web site and drove to visit with her. A few hours later, after some time waiting, some time getting her bathed, and some expensive time at the pet store, we brought home the very nice dog pictured below. She’s a yellow lab (maybe some kind of a mix?) about 9 months old and about 43 pounds.

We had some initial contention about what to name her. My wife and I both sort of wanted Jolene, mostly for the comic effect of calling her to come in from the back yard. My daughter wanted to name her Dumbledore. One of the kids wanted to name her Chewbacca (though we’re not really super big Star Wars fans and haven’t seen the new movie yet, so I’m not really sure where that came from). One of the kids mentioned that a friend’s dog was named Daisy, and it made me think of Maisy, which I think is cute and which shortens to something that sounds like maize, which is a yellowish color for our yellowish pup. Our family has a weird, complicated name, so I proposed that something weird and complicated might be appropriate, and we agreed in the end on Maisy Jolene Hyzenthlay Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore Learn-Houston.

gun, with occasional music

Although you’d think based on this post’s title and a spate of mass shootings in America this year (more than one per day, if I’m to believe what I see on the interwebs) that this’d be a political post, you’d turn out to be wrong. The title is the title of a novel by Jonathan Lethem, an author whose name I had heard for years but whose work I had never read until this year, when in July I picked up his Chronic City and enjoyed it a lot.

A few weeks ago, I found cheap copies of his gun, with occasional music and Motherless Brooklyn, and I read gun over the last few days.

It is ostensibly a sort of noir style detective novel, and the epigraph pays homage to Raymond Chandler, whom I’ve not read but who I gather wrote similar stuff. I don’t usually go for genre fiction because the appeal seems to me to be more in the familiarity of the framework and the trappings of the specific genre than in the creation of a distinct voice or other formal innovation that I’m likely to find interesting. I’m not passing judgment on genre fiction here, to be clear; there’s a lot to be said for finding a formula that you enjoy and sticking with it (I buy shirts and pants of the types I like basically in bulk because I find them comfortable). But the books I tend to enjoy most are the ones that do something a little different in terms of voice or structure or rule-breaking, and genre fiction by definition tends to follow established patterns and thus to avoid innovation of the sort that I find appealing. I feel like once I’ve read one or two noir stories, I understand the pattern, and reading a lot more of them in which the names and circumstances change slightly but the flavor is largely the same doesn’t interest me.

So when I first started in on gun, I wasn’t too excited by it. It felt like I was reading pretty standard noir fiction, and once I had the stereotypical noir narrator’s voice in my head, I felt like I’d maybe had my fill. But then there was mention of something called Forgettol, a particular sort of a generic snortable drug colloquially called “make.” This was sort of interesting. And then I came across this:

I rode up in the elevator with an evolved sow. She was wearing a bonnet and a flowered dress, but she still smelled like a barnyard. She smiled at me and I managed to smile back, then she got off on the fourth floor.

Well that’s an attention-getter! This was not to be standard noir fare after all. We encounter other evolved animals in the book, along with some “babyheads,” who are human children exposed to the same evolution technology used to turn animals into sort of human hybrids, with the result that they’re (the babyheads) mentally mature but stuck in the bodies of toddlers and seem understandably cranky and prone to drink. We learn that we’re in a dystopic future in which the state provides free make to keep people’s faculties sufficiently dulled and in which the police officers (called inquisitors) deduct karma points from your id card when you run afoul of them. We do of course also see the usual trappings of pulp detective fiction, complete with one-liners, hard drinking, the roughing up of various and sundry people, and pretty much everything you’d expect besides the lonely saxophone background music (if there’s an audio book, I’ll bet you get the saxophone too).

So the book turns out to be a neat mix of noir and something resembling dystopic sci-fi, with pretty fun results. I enjoyed the book a lot (also, it’s short, so the enjoyment to page count ratio was very high), and I enjoyed just as much how it helped me think a bit about what I find appealing (or not) about what I do like reading (and what I don’t).

Table Tennis

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Last year for Father’s Day or my birthday, the kids got me a little portable table tennis set. You just clamp the net posts to an available flat surface and — boom — you’re ready to play table tennis. We don’t use our formal dining room very much for dining. In fact, the table is often covered with things that get dumped on it rather than put away in their proper places. We needed the seating for Thanksgiving, so we had to clear the table off, which meant that the time was ripe for playing some table tennis. The table’s a bit smaller than a regulation table, but it’s still fun to hit with the kids.

The kit came with two paddles and a little sack made of netting to store the three balls in, and my son and I both delight in asking one another to go grab the ball sack so we can play some table tennis. (Yet another instance of why I should win Father of the Year.)

My daughter, who hasn’t typically been the most physical or coordinated of children, is actually pretty good at getting a little volley going, and I really enjoy hitting with her. My son tends to play on the table top itself a bit less consistently than she does, and we wind up banking off of walls and the floor or just smacking the ball hard at each other, which is also fun, if differently so.

Scratch

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This weekend my son came home after having been outside for a little bit. He had clearly been crying, and he was holding his glasses in his hand. Reportedly, he had gone up the hill (where he’s not really supposed to go without asking) to fetch a friend, and the friend’s dog had gotten out the door, leaped on him, and absconded with his glasses. I maybe 70% believe that that’s precisely what happened. The glasses look more like he tried to use them as a skateboard.

He’s had these new glasses for just a month or two, and the left lens is irreparably scratched, with gouges deep enough that the whole “the dog ate my glasses” story seems a little fishy to me. He had been crying not because he was hurt but because he was afraid he’d be in trouble, which even if I find the specifics of his story a little suspect, he wasn’t, and I feel bad that that’s what he was worried about. I tend to think I’m pretty easygoing as a parent, but really I’m probably sort of a hard-ass, if one with a mostly very gentle and (I think/hope) understanding temperament. I reassured him that though the damage was unfortunate, he wasn’t in trouble over it, and mostly I was just glad he wasn’t hurt, and new glasses could be acquired.

I resisted the brief urge to tell him that I guessed we knew what Santa would be bringing him for Christmas this year.

Farm

My sister-in-law has slowly been building up a bit of a menagerie. A couple of years ago, she had a bunch of dogs, a couple of cats, and a few chickens, but more recently, she’s added goats, a lot more chickens, and a couple of brand new wild pigs. We took the kids over today to take a look. Although it’s not really a working farm, the place has begun to resemble something of a farmyard, and the kids really enjoyed feeding the goats and holding the smaller animals.