Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Woman at 1000 Degrees

A Novel by
Hallgrímur Helgason
Translated by Brian Fitzgibbon
Workingman Press 2018

I've traveled down some of Hallgrímur’s literary paths before. Most famous for Reykjavík 101,  the novel upon which the film was based and arguably the leading satirical Icelandic author, his specialty is skewering hagiographic biographies. This is a different sort of biography, partly based upon real people and events, but ultimately a work of fiction.

The woman of the title is one Herra Björnsson, born in 1929, and telling the story from 2009, living in a converted garage in downtown, lying on a bed all day with a hand grenade, a personal computer, cigarettes and memories. And what memories they are!  Europe in World War II, Argentina in the late forties and early fifties, partying with the Beatles in Hamburg, mothering (in a fashion) four children and having numerous sexual partners but few real lovers.

This is a book that closely examines the human condition, with a special emphasis on war and how it destroys the lives of women and men, even if they survive the battle. Iceland, and its relative lack of importance in the scheme of things is a recurring sub-theme, as is how the cult of personality destroys lives. Helgason’s writing is always sharp, and the translation is excellent. That said, this book might be a little too quirky for a mass audience, I got a lot out of its small details, especially the Icelandic history, but the average reader might find it fussy and odd; the protagonist doesn’t generate much sympathy; the other characters even less. It is a funny book at times, but not a happy one.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1 

Monday, January 29, 2018

Ursula’s Tips for Writers

I have been re-editing my serial fiction, an action probably spurred by the rash of uninspired mysteries I’ve been reading recently. Self-doubt in a writer can crippling but, used with a sense of perspective, can help hone one’s work, especially in a final re-write. One problem I faced when writing my novels was that I only had a rudimentary grasp of layout and punctuation. I’ve re-worked both Window Weather and The Matriarchy several times, each time getting a more readable result. All the characterization and plot twists in the world won’t overcome clunky writing and ragged presentation.

The other day The Paris Review featured an article about the passing of the great writer Ursula K. Le Guin. It also featured a list of ideas that Karen Joy Fowler got from Ursula:

1. There is no reason a book of ideas can’t also be deeply moving, gorgeously written, and inhabited by people who take rooms in your heart and never move out.
2. There is no reason a married woman with children can’t also be a committed artist. (This seems self-evident now but wasn’t immediately clear to me.)
3. Write what you want to write. Add as many dragons as you like.
4. You can regret a decision you made in an earlier book and correct it in a later work. (This is a hard one in our unforgiving times, when your previous missteps are eternal and only a google away. But there is nothing shameful in becoming a better person, a wiser person. Done right, it’s pretty heroic.)
5. The values of patriarchy are buried in the very plots of our stories. New plots are needed.
6. Other writers are not your competition. They are your sustenance. Writing is joyous, but never as joyous as reading.
7. Speak up for the books, poems, shows, music, and paintings you love even though you sound smarter and more discerning when you can’t be pleased.
8. There is no reason why your next book can’t be your best yet, no matter how old you are allowed to become.
9. But also, your next book needn’t be your best yet. You could save that for the next next book.
10. And finally—immortality has never worked out well for anyone. Avoid it at all costs.

Numbers 1, 3, 5, 6 and 7 resonated with me, especially number 3. I’m not so egocentric as to be too concerned with number 10. After reading this list, I think my “books” hold up pretty well.  I take number 8 as a personal challenge.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1 

Friday, January 26, 2018


A Thriller
By Ragnar Jónasson
Translated by Quentin Bates
Minotaur Books, 2016

This is a follow-up to Jónasson’s Snowblind, which introduced the reluctant policeman Arí Thor, who now finds himself involved involved in an investigation of an ambush-style shooting of one of his fellow officers in the remote Northern Icelandic city of Siglufjörður.  Like the earlier book, I found its noir-ish affectations to be a little creaky; it may have suffered in translation.

This is “Icelandic light” crime fiction; all the tropes are there (dark family secrets, visits with pensioners, cold and darkness) but while it was competent, I didn’t find it engrossing. Arí Thor isn’t the most compelling detective, and Tómas, his old partner who returns from Reykjavík to aid in the investigation, isn’t any livelier. There is at least one more book in this series forthcoming, Blackout, but I think I’ll probably pass on that one.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The High Spirits

As I mentioned previously, I am part of a band that will be playing at our 50th high school reunion next August. One of our sets will include some of The Big Hits of Mid-America (circa 1965-66), honoring the bands that made them.

One such band was The High Spirits, who had experienced some regional success with their cover of Bobby Bland’s Turn on Your Love Light:

The High Spirits suffered from the dilemmas of many groups of the day: popular at teen dances but too young to play in nightclubs, out of sync with changing musical styles, and a steady attrition from the military draft. One member of the group, Owen Husney, went on to an extremely successful managing and promotional career (Prince, The Rolling Stones, Richard Harris, Alice Cooper, Sonny and Cher). Cliff Siegel (now named Lauren) wearing sunglasses in the picture above, was the lead singer. My other old high school band, The Others, actually played with them once; they were doing a lot of Animals songs. We had moved on from the Animals by then, discovering fuzz-tones and proto-psychedelia. I remember Cliff watching our act very closely. The next time I saw the them play they were at the Minnesota State Fair, billed as The Psychedelic High Spirits.


Here is the original, the version we’ll be doing, no offense to The High Spirits, but I think this may just be a tiny bit better:

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1 

Monday, January 22, 2018

Bigmouth Strikes Again

One of the early blogs I followed was Gary Marshall’s personal/tech blog that Gary wrote out of Glasgow, Scotland. Gary wrote a lot of tech articles and books but after a while I stopped following him (I’m about the least tech-oriented guy on the internet.) I came across that blog again the other day, but now it is authored by Carrie Marshall. Catching up with her recent posts (now more than just tech, she’s been through some changes, obviously) and contacted her. We caught up with each other via email. It makes me happy to still see an “old school” blogger still posting. This is a link to the current site (same address): Bigmouth Strikes Again.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Snake Pit Redux

Steve Kramer 2

Back in my show-biz days, I seldom rose above the "working the toilets" circuit. One band that did elevate things was The Wallets, a keyboards-sax-bass and drums outfit, led by the visionary Steve Kramer. The Wallets weren't really a "show" band, but they certainly had their moments. One notable tune was "In The Congo", complete with jungle drums, animal cries and an extended middle that always got a big reaction. Halfway through the song, the lights would be doused. The aforementioned cries and drums would reach a pinnacle of cacophony. Then, a couple of us in the crew would start waving flashlights around. In the dark, you really didn't know what you were seeing. That is when Mr. Kramer would whip out his rubber snake, having it wrap around his neck and torso. People started screaming. Lit by our feeble flashes, it really looked alive. Cost of this stage effect: about $20. I'm sure there are still some deluded souls that would swear that the snake was real. It was close enough for a couple of hundred judgment-impaired moshers.

This is a FITK re-run from Januarary 26, 2005. More on Steve here.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Tavi’s Utopia

Image: Sean Santiago, Architectural Digest

Tavi Gevinson is the editor of Rookie, and internet magazine for teen-age girls. She starts her new year Editor’s Letter with an H. P. Lovecraft quote:
“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”
It is the opening of his famous 1928 horror story, “The Call of Cthulhu.” In 2018, it reads like a warning on an internet instruction manual. Tavi elaborates on this dual theme at considerable length, with numerous insights:
The internet feels chaotic, but it is not out of control. The internet is not one giant, democratic forum where opinions rise to the top by their own merit; it is a very deliberate structure, carefully calibrated to convince its users that visibility is the same as power.
She continues for several pages, giving the reader a fascinating look into her mind at work. Her struggles with the internet, self-acceptance and despair culminates with these proscriptions for the new year:
Whatever you need to do to create that space for yourself, do it this year. Do it now. Fight the new pace of thinking designed to keep us in Facebook fights and make Facebook more money. Resist getting so wound up by every story that you accelerate off a cliff into apathy. Lengthen the circuit between a candid thought and your anticipation of how it will be received, a circuit constantly shrinking in fear. Try your ideas out with people you are not desperate to impress, so there’s less ego clouding your discussion.
Christopher Mims, a tech columnist at the Wall Street Journal tweeted:
This is maybe the smartest essay I’ve ever read? I can’t be sure because the whole thing is one long intellectual out of body experience and I want to screen-quote every third paragraph.
Tavi is uniquely qualified to discuss the internet and its meaning. She has been at its forefront since she was a child, always keeping her wits about her, never becoming overwhelmed by the monsters inhabiting its depths, still capable of seeing the stars above her. 

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Petite Auberge

Translated as “Little Country Inn”, Petite Auberge is a common name for informal French-style small hotels around the world. For our midwinter respite this year, The Weaver and I will be staying at one of them next month. Not in France, not in England, but rather in “that city by the bay“—San Francisco. Its decor may be a little frou-frou for some tastes, but after scanning some bizarre offerings from other hotels in the district, I think I’ll go with elegant over edgy.

This will be a car-less vacation, there is plenty to see and do within walking distance, and we’ll be only a block away from the cable cars! We’ve already got a list of things to do, but any suggestions are appreciated.

See all the FITK San Francisco posts here.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 7 

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Missing Photos Redux

Adapted from a 1-23-07 FITK post with additional material

Archiving the family photographs, unless one is exceptionally diligent, always is a bit of an imprecise endeavor. Albums are big and heavy, hard to organize, and, because they are somewhat expensive, have a tendency to “self-edit” those pictures that hadn’t “made the grade.” Shoe boxes, while inclusive and simple to use, also tend to “bury” a wanted photo- “Let me think, was it '97 or '98? It's here somewhere... ” Digital storage is the newest option, certainly more compact, but as the number of image files grows, it too becomes unwieldy. Its fate in long-term storage may be susceptible to other pitfalls as well.

But none of these issues address the situation of deliberately destroying photos that may have been deemed “unseemly” in the context of family history. In the late 1950s my parents would attend a “neighborhood” party. A group of couples converged for an evening of socialization and cocktails with no children present. A camera was present, however and, evidently after several drinks, pictures were taken of various couples in amusing situations. These couples were not married. To each other, that is.

These pictures were processed and remained in the bottom of my family’s photo shoe box for many years. I would look at them from time to time, wondering just what our parents had been thinking. And then, they were gone. There isn’t any chance of our children finding a similar cache of us; we barely know our neighbors. Perhaps it is better that those pictures have gone missing. What were no doubt innocent party games in the “fabulous fifties” have grown in the imagination to something more exotic and daring...

UPDATE: I recently discovered these pictures when scanning a hitherto unknown photo album that my sister had. Here are a couple of those “missing photos”:

By Professor Batty

Comments: 3 

Monday, January 08, 2018

The Next President?

Gretchen Carlson: Maybe not the next president but, mark my works, she’ll be president someday. This is not an endorsement, only an observation. The Judy Woodruf interview on the PBS Newshour (Jan. 5) showed Ms. Carlson to be absolutely in control of her image and message. She is the anti-Trump: intelligent, well spoken, self-made and female. Her conservative credentials coupled with her recent championing of women’s rights in the workplace gives her a considerable head start over any politician. Her appointment as head of the Miss America pageant is the perfect stepping-stone to national prominence. She has already been mentioned in regards to the Connecticut Senate race in 2018. In addition, her 20 million dollar settlement with Fox news gives her the economic independence needed for the difficult ordeal of running for the highest  public office.  Her mastery of verbal communication skills easily masks some questionable conclusions- read the transcript at the link above and then watch the video.

She also grew up my hometown: Anoka, Minnesota, AKA Lake Woebegon, “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”

So she’s got that going for her, too.

I did manage to catch this glimpse of her on the street in 1989:

UPDATE: This will be her opponent.

UPDATE: Well, maybe not…

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Friday, January 05, 2018

Little Latin Lupe Lu

Talkin’ ‘bout my baby…

The Righteous Brothers song “Little Latin Lupe Lu” was a staple among local bands in the Twin Cities in the mid sixties. One such group, The Chancellors, released a cover version in late 1964. It was a regional hit and also received limited airplay in other markets. I’ve been researching the song for an upcoming reunion gig of my old high school band, The Hungry Freaks. The Chancellor’s anemic version came up on YouTube; it was about as lame as I had remembered. I had seen the band live on a couple of occasions, once at a Catholic high school dance that I attended with my old childhood friend, Kevin. In an unrelated action, the County Library had been digitizing old yearbooks from that era so I looked up the school that held the dance to see if I could find a picture of the Chancellors in action.

My search was rewarded:

The Chancellors at De La Salle High School, Friday, September 3rd, 1965

An even more serendipitous discovery was finding the face of a fifteen-year-old Batty, mesmerized by the awfulness of the band:

The song itself has an interesting history of its own—a story of cross-cultural relations that seemed so natural then—in a time before insane politicians tried to make everybody hate each other.  Bill Medley, the song’s composer, relates the story in this video:

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Women Who Smoke

My generation had the highest percentage of women who smoked. A dubious distinction, to be sure, but it is easy to see how it happened. Decades of exposure of cigarettes in movies and television (as well as carefully orchestrated ad campaigns), fueled the idea of smoking as glamorous and "chic." The sexual revolution brought about by the pill and the sheer numbers of baby-boomers entering adulthood pushed the number of women who smoked even higher.

Unless you were a smoker yourself, if you were dating a girl or woman who smoked, you would have to overcome the scent of burned tobacco and the taste of “kissing an ashtray” that intimacy provided. Healthy women generally smell pretty good, but it is a subtle aroma, easily masked by the scent of nicotine and the by-products of combustion. Some women use this habit as a personal smoke-screen to discourage attention. Smoking was also touted as a way to keep slim, although any health benefits of this addiction were far outweighed by its other, deleterious, effects. Despite all the physical negatives, the image of a woman smoking in the darkness retains a definite visual appeal:

Melvyn Douglas and Greta Garbo in "As you Desire Me"

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Monday, January 01, 2018

Pulp Flippist

Original images from Comic Book Plus.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 5 

                                                                                     All original Flippism is the Key content copyright Stephen Charles Cowdery, 2004-2024