books & writing

Lisa reads Of Things Gone Astray by Janina Matthewson

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“On a seemingly normal morning in London, a group of people wake to find something important to them missing, something dear but peculiar: the front of their house, their piano keys, their sense of direction, their place of work.”

Can you imagine? You get up, shower, dress, have some coffee and head to the office. When you get there, the building is gone. Not demolished, not boarded up with a For Sale sign, just vanished, as if it was never there. What would you do? I would assume that I had gone insane. Who would you ask? You couldn’t very well start stopping people and saying, “Are you from the neighborhood? Didn’t there used to be a building there?” Would you call your colleagues? Sure, but – and I would be worried about this – what if they don’t answer? What if the phone number that has always worked for the office goes to some other company? Possibly even worse: what if they DO answer? What if they say they are in the building that isn’t there? What if they don’t know who you are?

Janina Matthewson doesn’t answer all of these questions in Of Things Gone Astrayshe’s more concerned with the impact it has on Robert and his family when his business – his job and office and colleagues – are all suddenly gone. The characters in this book have all lost something very important to them, and it impacts them in unexpected ways.

The story is told round-robin style, with short chapters, many less than a page long. Each chapter is from the point of view of a single character, and they tell the story in a roundabout way.

Each character has lost something, but not in the usual way we think of it. One character has lost her sense of direction; one morning, she starts to walk to the corner store and she ends up wandering for hours, hopelessly lost in the neighborhood where she has lived all her life. Mrs. Featherby has lost the front of her house. She wakes up one morning and the entire front wall is gone, with her home exposed to the street and the open air.

Over the chapters, we come to understand what these things mean to the characters. Mrs. Featherby is a very private person, very proper and dignified, and being observed from the street, having people stop and look at her house and even speak to her – it’s horrifying. Delia begins to realize that she hasn’t just lost her sense of direction on the streets, she’s lost it in her life. She’s lost her drive and her life has become kind of aimless. She meets Anthony, a widower who is losing touch with his son, Jake. They now don’t even see each other when they are in the same house – literally, it is as if they are invisible to each other. It’s an extreme sort of estrangement, as they both deal with their grief over the loss of Jake’s mother.

The stories are interesting in a tangled way. They overlap, with characters meeting each other. Some resolve themselves, but others don’t wrap up neatly. Some of them are heartbreaking (the flight attendant stopped to ask me about the book because I was crying on the flight). A rather amazing first novel.

My copy of Of Things Gone Astray was an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

of things gone astray

 

art & entertainmentBob Sullivan's top ten everything

Top ten signs you’re at a bad fireworks display

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10. The fireworks are generated by a kid shuffling his feet on shag carpeting

9. At the end, the fireworks form a colorful image of a bespectacled Rick Perry

8. It’s just that guy from the Police Academy movies making fireworks noises with his mouth

7. The guy in charge of the fireworks has five fingers, total

6. Someone just clicks on his TV, then puts on a highlights reel from past fireworks displays

5. At the entrance to the venue, several personal injury attorneys have set up information booths

4. Instead of rousing patriotic music, all they play is Adele and Enya

3. The entire show is a pair of twins running around holding sparklers

2. Instead of actual fireworks, the emcee tells the audience to close their eyes and rub them with their palms

1. You notice the men lighting the fireworks display are wearing ISIS T-shirts

 

Bob Sullivan’s Top Ten Everything appears every Monday.

bad sports, good sports

Bad sports, good sports: Diddy attacks UCLA strength coach

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Ah, college football. The bastion of amateurism and sport played for the love of the game. When I think of it, I think of beautiful fall afternoons, green grass, cheerleaders, wide goal posts, and, of course, erstwhile rappers/music moguls assaulting conditioning coaches. Maybe that’s just in Los Angeles. [Read more →]

books & writing

Lisa reads <A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

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This was an odd one. I knew it would be odd as I sat trying to sort out the cover of the novel, a photo of a hallway turned sideways; it’s a great way to set the tone for the rest of the book. A Head Full of Ghostsby Paul Tremblay is the story of the Barrett family – Mom, Dad, and two daughters, Marjorie and Meredith. They were the subject of an early reality TV show, one that ended tragically; now, years later, Meredith is finally telling her story to an author for a memoir. Interspersed with her conversations with her ghostwriter are excerpts from a blog that recounts the TV episodes in great detail.

The Barretts were sadly typical. John Barrett lost his job at a local factory. Sarah Barrett was trying to keep the family afloat on bank teller salary. The girls appear oblivious, until fourteen year old Marjorie begins showing signs of schizophrenia. The doctors they consult are unable to help. Her sister, Merry, is terrified – Marjorie has stopped being her constant friend, her story-teller, her idol, and become someone entirely new and very frightening.

I told her to get out, to leave my room, to go away.

Skeleton-white hands came out from under the blanket and wrapped around her neck. They pulled the blanket down over her face, skin tight, and the blanket formed a shroud with dark valleys for eyes and mouth, her nose flattened against the unyielding cloth. Her mouth moved and choking growls came out. Those hands squeezed so the blanket pulled tighter and she shook her head, thrashed it around violently, and she gasped and pleaded with someone to stop or maybe she said she was trying to stop. Her hands were still closed around her own neck, and I’m sure it was some sort of optical illusion or a trick or kink of memory because her neck couldn’t have gotten as thin as I remember it getting…

Scary stuff for an eight year old. Is Marjorie going crazy? Or is it something more disturbing?

Eventually, John Barrett turns to his priest for help and advice. He is the only member of the family that is religious (his wife is openly scornful) and he and the priest decide that this might very well be a case of demonic possession. And somehow, the decision is made to turn the family’s struggles and Marjorie’s exorcism into a reality TV show, although Merry was too young to know the details. The show will certainly help the family’s financial problems. Sarah is clearly uncertain about turning the whole thing into a spectacle, but John convinces her. I can’t imagine that it was what any mother would have wanted for her family.

More sad for me than Marjorie’s illness was Merry’s friendship with Ken, one of the show’s writers. She seems so desperate for attention, so lost in the drama of her sister’s illness and the way her family is crumbling around her. The idea that she has latched on to this man who is part of a team of people who are profiting from her family’s horrible situation was just heartbreaking.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the ending – a nice way to finish a mystery. You know it’s going to be bad, everything is leading up to a terrible conclusion, but you’re not sure what kind of bad it will be. Will Marjorie turn out to be faking it all, exposed on national TV, leaving the family the laughingstock of their small town? Is that worse than finding out she’s possessed by demons or that their house is haunted? Or is something else stirring in that house? Could one of these girls be an evil genius? Marjorie seems lucid much of the time, and seems to be plotting something with Meredith, but is that the demon talking?  Right up to the end, even after you know how Marjorie’s story ended, there are hints that maybe, just maybe, there is more to the story. I love that – I want a book to keep me guessing, to let me sort out alternative endings on my own.

My copy of A Head Full of Ghosts was an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

ghosts

 

Bob Sullivan's top ten everythingends & odd

Top ten favorite bumper stickers I’ve actually seen (philosophical)

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10. Where Are We Going, And Why Are We In This Handbasket?

9. I Dream Of A World Where Chickens Can Cross The Road Without Having Their Motives Questioned

8. Inside Every Old Person Is A Young Person Wondering What The Hell Happened

7. Quantum Mechanics: The Dreams Stuff Is Made Of

6. What If The Hokey Pokey Really IS What It’s All About?

5. My Karma Ran Over Your Dogma

4. Don’t Believe Everything You Think

3. Love Is Our Soul Purpose

2. The Best Things In Life Aren’t Things

1. Give Me Immortality Or Give Me Death
 

Bob Sullivan’s Top Ten Everything appears every Monday.

educationvirtual children by Scott Warnock

NJ moving to remove superintendent salary cap restrictions

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Last month, the New Jersey State Senate moved to eliminate a state-imposed cap on superintendent salaries, according to the NJ School Board Association (NJSBA). Reversing legislation from a few years ago, this effort will be good for NJ children.

[Read more →]

bad sports, good sports

Bad sports, good sports: Someone pays $3000 for a signed urinal

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As a sports fan, I understand the idolatry that goes on with professional athletes. The few occasions I had to meet or even just be near one of these guys was very exciting for me as a kid. I remember standing down by the field with a pen and paper waiting for my favorite Phillies to come by and scribble their names. My baseball glove has Jim Eisenreich’s autograph on it to this day. I have to say, though, that the culture around collecting and selling autographs is a very odd one to me. This week, a man sold a urinal signed by Barry Sanders on eBay for $3000. Yes, you read that correctly.

[Read more →]

The Emperor decrees

The Emperor decrees an end to positive comments about “selfies”

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I have been declared Emperor of the World. Let us not waste time explaining why or how; let’s all simply accept the fact that we are better off, as a result; hence, my next decree:

Emperor’s Decree No. R-34-Z: We are not a vain Emperor. We are simply superior to all others.  This superiority is a Blessing from Above – a Blessing under which (to put it frankly) you, dear reader, do not fall. And while your benevolent Emperor will benevolently allow you to continue to post [to use the vernacular] “selfies,” He must place a ban against reactions to those selfies which might fuel the fire of conceit in the hearts of the mediocre masses. Therefore, We needs must ban a particular reaction to posted selfies. Ye may no longer respond with “Beautiful!” Instead, try to be more critical; perhaps point out a pimple or make a comment about evidence of a double chin that the subject is clearly trying to hide by looking unnaturally upward in the picture. Do not hesitate to say things like: “Why the hell are you doing that weird thing with your mouth?” or “Yeah – the way the light is hitting you definitely makes you look less fat. Good call!” or “FYI, humans, in Nature, never really stand like that” or “You know, you could really injure yourself working so hard to achieve cleavage.” Sometimes it’s best to be dry and straight forward, perhaps with a comment like, “That’s the picture you picked? That’s all you got?” While some may see this as judgmental and bordering on cruel, We see it as necessary. Too much self-esteem among the common rabble can lead to no good.

The Punishment: Those who comment encouragingly on posted selfies will have their portraits painted [naked, pre-tan, fully-frontal and in full sunlight, on the beach] by the Imperial Master of Photorealism. This portrait will then be inextricably electronically linked to the offender’s social media accounts for the rest of his or her miserable Earth-span.

Now, go forth and obey.

The Emperor will grace the world with a new decree each Tuesday morning.

Bob Sullivan's top ten everythingpolitics & government

Top ten favorite bumper stickers I’ve actually seen (political)

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10. How Many Armed Psychopaths Does It Take To Change A Gun Law?

9. I Don’t Mind You Being Rich – I DO Mind You Buying The Government

8. Politics Is The Entertainment Division Of The Military-Industrial Complex

7. We Are Creating Enemies Faster Than We Can Kill Them

6. War Is Terrorism With A Bigger Budget

5. Do You Hear Crazy Voices? – Turn Off Fox News

4. Corporate Media: The Rich Telling The Middle Class To Blame The Poor

3. You Keep Your Bill O’Reilly – I’ll Keep My Bill O’Rights

2. I’ll Believe Corporations Are People When Texas Executes One

1. I Went To The Tea Party, But All I Got Was Kool-Aid
 

Bob Sullivan’s Top Ten Everything appears every Monday.

bad sports, good sports

Bad sports, good sports: Tony Romo’s event gets screwed by the NFL

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We stand for justice here at BSGS. I show my biases regularly, but I usually root for fairness. At least, I like to think I do. So when an athlete that I really dislike is getting the short end of the stick, I am happy to stand up for that individual. OK, maybe “happy” isn’t the right word, but at least “okay with it.” This week, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, one of my least favorite people in all of sports, got the shaft from the National Football League. There is little doubt that the league is being very hypocritical here. [Read more →]

educationThe Emperor decrees

The Emperor decrees that graduation clichés will cease

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I have been declared Emperor of the World. Let us not waste time explaining why or how; let’s all simply accept the fact that we are better off, as a result; hence, my next decree:

Emperor’s Decree No. 2015: The Emperor’s Imperial Sociologists have determined that societies around the world are stuck in the anthropological and evolutionary mud. The human race is simply not making much progress. Sure, we have all sorts of things figured out, like, whether or not Bruce Jenner is a hero for becoming Caitlyn Jenner. Sure, we have become digital crusaders against “shaming” anyone who has any particular habit or characteristic, regardless of effect or defect, but…we’re just not really moving forward. The cause of this has been determined: clichés on graduation cards, in graduation speeches and at graduation parties.

For decades upon decades, graduates have been told the exact same things: “Follow your dreams/passions;” “Do a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life;” “Get out there and change the world…” These things may be true and their utterers and writers might be fine and successful people, but if we are going to get anywhere, we need to stop anaesthetizing our graduates with pickled aphorisms, howsoever well-intentioned or wise.  (I am the Emperor. I can mix any metaphors I want.) We need to shake things up, as it were.  (I can also use clichés, if I want.) This hackneyed prattling is so much corn in the intellectual digestive system: straight through and down and out into the old toilet pipes.  And it will stop with the class of 2016. The solution is simple: card writers, relatives, and commencement speakers will, henceforth, speak not of what to do, but of what to consider. This should, in ten years’ time, send the world forward in the evolutionary process by a full century.

The Punishment: Violators of this newest commandment will be forced to eat nothing but corn for an entire week.

Now, go forth and obey.

The Emperor will grace the world with a new decree each Tuesday morning.

Bob Sullivan's top ten everythingends & odd

Top ten favorite bumper stickers I’ve actually seen (nonpolitical)

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10. Watch Out For The Idiot Behind Me

9. If This Car Were A Horse I’d Have Shot It

8. WARNING: In Case Of Rapture This Vehicle Will Be Unmanned

7. Stop Making Stupid People Famous!

6. WITCHES PARKING – All Others Will Be Toad

5. I’d Rather Be Teleporting

4. Honk If You’ve Never Seen A Gun Fired From A Vehicle

3. Despite The High Cost Of Living, It Remains Popular

2. If Everything Is Going Your Way, You’re Probably In The Wrong Lane

1. Hang Up And Drive!
 

Bob Sullivan’s Top Ten Everything appears every Monday.

sportsvirtual children by Scott Warnock

Paean to The Inferno

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Last weekend, my eighth-grade son’s soccer team, The Inferno, played their last game together.* Eh, maybe it’s really not that momentous in the grand scheme of the great world, but this is their sixth year playing travel soccer, and it’s been one heck of an enjoyable ride. [Read more →]

books & writing

Added to my bookshelf … “The Purple Heart Detective Agency”

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Chapter 1 of “The Purple Heart Detective Agency” opens with many of the trademarks of a classic Dashiell Hammett whodunit … it’s a sun-drenched day on the streets of L.A. and hard-boiled detective Clayton Grace is sitting across the desk from a beautiful dame who is offering him what appears to be a simple and straightforward ‘missing person’ case.

Fans of detective fiction will know, of course, that there’s bound to be much more to the case … you know there will be a colorful and entertaining array of supporting characters popping-up in the chapters that follow … and there will be speculation that the dame may be offering Grace more than a retainer at some point.
[Read more →]

bad sports, good sports

Bad sports, good sports: FIFA comes apart at the seams

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Last Wednesday, the corrupt house of cards known as FIFA came tumbling down. FIFA, or Fédération Internationale de Football Association, is the governing body of international soccer, which includes the enormous event called the World Cup. Every four years, this tournament is held somewhere in the world, and the teams that have made it through the myriad qualifying rounds compete for the championship in a city that has been selected to host. Now I am not a big soccer fan, and don’t follow the sport anywhere nearly as closely as many people out there, but even I had often heard rumors of corruption and bribery involving the FIFA officials. Last week, fourteen people were indicted as part of an investigation into mass wrongdoing within the organization. [Read more →]

art & entertainmentBob Sullivan's top ten everything

Top ten signs you’re not going to win a Tony this Sunday

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10. Trying to cash in on jukebox musicals like Mamma Mia and Rock of Ages, your new musical is called Milli Vanilli

9. The title of your massive epic two-part play isn’t Wolf Hall, but Monty Hall

8. No elementary school play has ever won the top prize before

7. The marquee reads “Adam Sandler is Willie Loman”

6. All the dialogue was translated into Lithuanian, because it lost something in the original

5. The name of your musical is not Something Rotten, though that was the majority of your reviews

4. When the premiere ended, the audience shouted “Author! Author!” while boiling tar and stirring in feathers

3. Your production is called You’re A Good Man, Charlie Sheen

2. Your idea for an ‘all mime’ production of My Dinner with Andre never really worked

1. You unwisely named your production Theater Closed for Renovations
 

Bob Sullivan’s Top Ten Everything appears every Monday.

bad sports, good sports

Bad sports, good sports: Ruben Amaro Jr. rips Phillies fans

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Oh, Ruben Amaro Jr. Really? Are you genuinely this clueless? I find it hard to believe that a man in his position can be so completely tone deaf. The embattled general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies stuck his foot firmly in his pie hole the other day and then spent Tuesday trying to put out the fire. [Read more →]

virtual children by Scott Warnock

Twelve hours and two minutes in one day is a lot of TV watching for any generation

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Adults lament it all the time and I have lamented it here: Kids watch too much TV and generally look at screens too much. Researchers have quantified their screen-viewing in all kinds of worrisome ways: Too much screen time may even inhibit their ability to read emotions. It’s bad, people. But what is perhaps really bad is that the behavior, as with most behaviors of the youth, is so unself-aware, so mindless. Does it have to be that way? [Read more →]

Bob Sullivan's top ten everythingends & odd

Top ten things you don’t want to hear at today’s Memorial Day barbecue

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10. “These GMO burgers actually glow in the dark!”

9. “Those chicken breasts won’t burn; I coated them in Vaseline.”

8. “What’s Cousin Sid processing those Memorial Day poppies into?”

7. “Before you try the coleslaw, would you mind signing this waiver?”

6. “Why would someone route a Memorial Day Parade right through the middle of our barbeque?”

5. “Who invited Chris Christie? – and where’d all the steaks go?”

4. “On this Memorial Day, let us remember those people Memorial Day was designed to memorialize….It can’t be veterans; that’s Veterans Day!”

3. “That’s not mayonnaise; you’re standing under a tree.”

2. “Uncle Harvey, I think the tradition is to lower your flag to half-mast, not your pants to half-assed.”

1. “Why does everything on the grill have a long thin tail?”
 

Bob Sullivan’s Top Ten Everything appears every Monday.

bad sports, good sports

Bad sports, good sports is out of town

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A brief personal trip followed by a work trip has had me away for a while and I am unfortunately short on time to get a column together. We’ll return next week with something brilliant, I’m sure. In the meantime, here are a few stories to check out.

1) Pitcher Time Lincecum falls down.

2) Carlos Gomez gets hit in the head with a pitch.

3) Tiger Woods helps a stutterer.

4) Corey Kluber strikes out 18 and 12 in back-to-back games.

5) Rory McIlroy shoots a 61 at Quail Hollow.

6) Kentucky Derby winner American Pharaoh wins the Preakness.