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My most recent single release - "My True North" - is now available on Bandcamp. Open my profile and click on "audio clip".

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Book Backlog: 3 Points from Half-Court, Game Over

Despite the alluring titles concocted for each of the four posts in this limited run series, I did not entice any sports fans to my blog over this past month; oh well.

Still, with today's three-point shot from half-court, I did accomplish my goal, i.e., gushing about twelve books I finished over the first three months of this year, all worthy of any discerning reader's time and, I left out the duds. With my book backlog now exhausted, I can return to devoting an occasional post to a single book, at least until the next time a surfeit of literary riches comes my way. And so the game ends - at the bell - with these three:

1.) Department of Speculation (2014) - Jenny Offill: Using a series of cryptic anecdotes, this wholly contemporary novel traces the arc of a relationship from inception through its early stages, then moves to marriage and quick parenthood, all in first person. The switch to third coincides with disillusionment; the conclusion is appropriately ambiguous. Easily read in one sitting but warrants extended processing. 

2.) The Bone Clocks (2014) - David Mitchell: A kaleidoscopic roller coaster by an author who points the way toward the future of the novel. Holly Sykes - fifteen as the novel opens, in her mid 70s as it concludes - narrates part one and part six. In between, the other four other narrators are closely linked to Holly in Mitchell's masterful mash-up of Faust and Dorian Gray. This book begs to be discussed, but not in a group. Two discerning readers going head-to-head is the only way to do justice to this marvel.

3.) Enemy Women (2002) - Paulette Jiles: Unadorned, unsentimental, unshowy. A great example of a talented author who sees no need to insert herself into the story. In the final, desolate days of the Civil War, a resilient young woman tries to reclaim her family home in southeastern Missouri. The use of actual documents and correspondence opening each chapter - Union and Confederate - sets this quiet novel apart from others in the over-stuffed "historical fiction" niche. No corny dialogue, no exposition overload, no breathy romance; just a compelling tale about a little-known slice of history. 


Thursday, April 27, 2023

Is "Esque" Good Enough?

Several months ago, someone who knows me well remarked that many of the reflections here were "vintage Pat." Although I'm sure the remark was made with little or no forethought, I've since turned it over in my brain repeatedly. Such is the curse of a good memory, augmented by a big ego, combined with a lifelong habit of writing down morsels I think might later be useful.  

Initially, I decided what this person really meant to say was that my blog is "Barton-ish". Then, as time went by, I decided that expression was selling myself short. My next conclusion: Surely these musings could be called "Bartonian". That elevated adjective - placing me alongside Henry James in the literary firmament - struck me as more appropriate, for a while anyway.

Most recently I've arrived at "Bartonesque". For the time being, that sobriquet strikes me as closer to the actual intent of the original remark. However, my groveling knows no bounds. What are your suggestions for turning me into an adjective? Please save the profane ones for a blogger you don't like. 

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Words for the Ages, Line Twenty-Five

"The game is never won by standing in any one place too long" - Nick Cave

Thirteen words for the ages, if ever there were. I hope Nick Cave will forgive me for suggesting an edit - ever so slight - to his phrase from 2008's Jesus of the Moon. I would have omitted just two words - "by" and "any" - only in the interest of greater concision.  

My quibbling aside, have you ever come across a more succinct lyric that better nails the risk of inertia? I'm certain I haven't. I'm also pleased to report Cave is slightly younger than the great majority of tunesmiths that have dominated this series since its inception in 2017. So far, if not for the help of my son-in-law - who directed me to a tasty morsel by Frank Ocean - this series could be subtitled "An Old White Fart Quotes Lyrics of Old White Fart Tunesmiths". Dear readers: Please direct me to some terse, stand-alone, pithy lyrics by younger non-white songwriters. 

In the meanwhile Nick, I apologize for the editing. It's infinitely easier to edit someone else's work - no matter how elegant the original words - than it is to edit one's own. If you happen to stumble across my blog, feel free to return my "favor". I won't be offended, promise.



Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Book Backlog: Patrick Hat Trick

Third period. Though response to Book Backlog has been muted, I've been emboldened to continue by one reader who added No One Left to Come Looking for You to his list after the leadoff triple was published and a second who told me she was ready to discuss A Pale View of Hills after the field goal that closed the first half. Underwhelming but good enough to unveil today's hat trick, the penultimate installment in this limited run series. Ready?

1.) The Testament of Mary (2012) - Colm Toibin: A novella as provocative as it is compelling. Mary is an old woman facing a crisis of faith, haunted by her cowardice years ago as her son was persecuted and then crucified. And her recollection of those events is at odds with the men claiming to be her son's disciples. Colm Toibin has now ascended into my authors pantheon (#30 for those keeping track) with this winner, the fifth book of his I've read in less than thirteen years that has knocked me out.


2.) Both Flesh and Not (2012) - David Foster Wallace: A posthumous collection of essays by arguably the best mind of his generation. Wallace will challenge your intellect on nearly every page, and then quickly pivot and make you laugh uncontrollably. Although I still have not cracked his novels, his non-fiction is so staggering it doesn't matter. I'll be re-reading his work for the rest of my days. I miss him deeply. 

3.) Motherless Brooklyn (1999) - Jonathan Lethem: Skip the film version and go directly to the source. From the opening sentence, Lethem's kinetic prose, sharp dialogue, and propulsive narrative grab you and never let go. Though at its core this is a whodunit, the unique and heartbreaking voice of Lionel Essrog sets it apart from that over-crowded niche. I promise you've rarely - if ever - encountered a narrator like Lionel. Trust me. 

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Being Certain

Forty-five years ago tomorrow my world was irrevocably altered when I shared a first meal with the woman who would become my life partner that same day. 

Despite the predictable bumps all long term relationships must endure, I can honestly say I have never looked back. I told my future partner that I would marry her on that first date - dinner at a seafood restaurant in Atlantic Highlands followed by listening to some live music in Aberdeen - then took over five years to get around to it, an early misstep she has still not let me forget. But I was certain on that day forty-five years ago she was the one, and I remain equally certain today.

When have you been as certain about another person as quickly as I was on April 17, 1978?


Thursday, April 13, 2023

Three Firsts in One Day

On our final full day here in Utah, hiking at Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument delivered three firsts for me. A day like today reminds me how fortunate I am to be fit, to have a partner who loves the great outdoors, and to have the financial freedom to enjoy experiences like this. The firsts were ..

* Seeing quicksand up close and personal vs. seeing it depicted in a movie in a far-off exotic location.

* Seeing a live rattlesnake in the wild vs. in a cage. Our guide informed us that rattlers can only strike successfully if someone is within one half their length. Since this one measured about eighteen inches, as long as I remained more than twenty seven inches away, all would be well. I did NOT test this purported fact, i.e., I stood still - close enough to see the rattle moving rapidly - but a good deal farther away than twenty seven inches.  

* Hiking three-quarters of a mile through a slot canyon narrow enough that twenty extra pounds could have been a dealbreaker. 

Monday, April 10, 2023

Defying Description

Each time I think the most recent National Park I've experienced can't be topped, the next one ups the ante. Which of these treasures has most captivated you, at least, as of this moment?

Arches National Park is otherworldly. It was easy to picture a dinosaur roaming the landscape alongside us as we hiked here this a.m. The primitive beauty of each vista was surpassed by the next. Still, nothing could have prepared me for what was just ahead as we rounded the final corner. Those two tiny figures in the picture below are my wife and me standing under Delicate Arch, a place that defies description.      

Friday, April 7, 2023

Book Backlog: Stunning Field Goal at Halftime

I'm pleased to report, but not at all surprised, several of the Road Scholar folks from the group here in Utah are avid readers. And, conversations with these bookworms since Monday have persuaded me the timing is good to publish this second installment of my limited run Book Backlog series. I'm so grateful my wife and I began travelling with Road Scholar in 2015. OK, ready for the field goal at halftime? 

1.) A Pale View of Hills (1982) - Kazuo Ishiguro: A quiet, understated, and devastating novella by one of our modern-day masters. If any reader of my blog finishes it, I must have a conversation - online or off - with you, please. In my experience, books about memory and remorse rarely approach the majesty of this one.    

2.) How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'N' Roll (2009) - Elijah Wald: Provocative title, wouldn't you say? But Wald's subtitle - An Alternative History of Popular Music in the 20th Century - reveals a great deal more about what this talented author is up to in his well-researched, smartly written, and persuasive book. Although books like this are catnip to a musician like me, Wald's approach will engage any reader willing to keep an open mind.  

3.) The Lincoln Highway (2021) - Amor Towles: An old-fashioned novel, in the best possible ways. Compelling and largely straightforward narrative line, rich characters, satisfying moral symmetry. The quest at the core of this roomy book and the relationship between the two brothers is guaranteed to satisfy most readers. A page-turner, again, in all the best ways. 

I'm now 50% done with my book backlog. Thanks to the readers who commented on my opening triple on March 29. Please let me know if you finish - or have already read - any of the six books featured so far in this series.  



Tuesday, April 4, 2023

#70: The Mt. Rushmore Series

I suspect I'm not alone in being able to recall pivotal moments from my life when something happened that fundamentally altered my way of looking at the world. Today, please share with me and others your Mt. Rushmore of epiphanies. I've listed mine chronologically; order yours however you choose and avoid getting bogged down if fewer than four quickly come to mind. Instead, rewind through your life and describe up to four experiences you now know for certain made you into a different person. 

1.) Sometime in 1962: The first time I heard the drum break in He's So Fine.  Before hearing that break in the Chiffons big hit, music had played a peripheral role in my young life. It's now clear to me how that single moment was the genesis of my most sustained and enduring passion. Over sixty years have elapsed and imagining my life without music as its central force is impossible. 

2.) Fall of 1967: Listening to my freshman English professor speak of his devotion to literature. When Mr. Larsen described how he liked to stroll through the aisles in the college library caressing the covers of books, I recall two things: 1.) The look of disbelief in the faces of some of my fellow students. 2.) The voice in my own head saying "I must be missing out on something special here." As both a young boy and adolescent I'd enjoyed reading, but Mr. Larsen's rapture in that moment kicked my interest into hyper-drive, where it remains to this day. A life-changing moment, without a doubt.  

3.) Late 1971, early 1972: My sister guiding me toward feminism. Although I'm not sure exactly when my sister pointed me in the right direction, I do know for sure it was her that did so, single handedly. I also recall how she did it: She lovingly but firmly corrected my chauvinistic, outdated language and then gave me an early edition of Ms. magazine to read. I've been a different person and better man ever since. 

4.) Summer of 1993: A work colleague helping me see my narrowness about gay relationships. This epiphany is the freshest because of when it occurred. During a three-way conversation, myself and a woman colleague were commenting how gay sex mystified us as two straight people. Our colleague, the third party in the conversation and another straight man, reminded us that sex is just one component in relationships, including all of ours. He then asked both of us if it wasn't true that an emotional connection between two people is more central to any important relationship than is sex. There is no reasonable explanation why these simple thoughts had not occurred to me before my colleague gently pointed them out. But I'm glad he did. And that moment altered me.   

Saturday, April 1, 2023

Five In One Shot

When my wife and I started our mission many years ago to visit as many National Parks as possible, both of us were still working full time. Then when I left the full time work world in 2010, we put our mission into higher gear, which was made easier given my wife was self-employed. Now that she's joined me in the every-day-is-Saturday life, we're crushing it. 

Over the next two weeks we'll enjoy all five of the National Parks located in Utah. For Bryce and Zion we'll be travelling with a Road Scholars group, along with the same three New Jersey friends we recruited to join us last year when we visited Death Valley. In the second week, one of those friends will then stay onboard as we hike and explore Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef. I'm confident it will be a memorable trip. 

Now a little bad news. Wi-Fi service in the parks is sometimes spotty. Provided I don't have to chase down a signal, I'll be reflecting at my usual pace. But if the bell curve goes quiet for longer than normal, assume one of the following: 1.) The Wi-Fi let me down. 2.) I over-did it on the trail; a long nap took precedence over a reflection. 3.) Probably not lions, definitely not tigers, but bears? Oh my. Worst-case scenario? Other than an ursine encounter of the first kind, radio silence until April 16.