Saturday, November 28, 2015

UofM vs OSU – NOVA this week (November 28, 2015)

It’s college football rivalry weekend. The only one I care about is the University of Michigan vs Ohio State University.


There are two schools of thought when it comes to trash talk: wait until after the game when you know the outcome, this is also the coward’s way, or lay it on thick before the contest. There is a risk of course, but I’ve already eaten Turkey this week; I can eat crow if I have to.

Feel free to ignore the rest of the post.

So, herein follows my trash talking.

UofM vs OSU - well actually

Recently I was enjoying some lively banter with a colleague who, although he is otherwise a swell human being, happens to be a Buckeye. I pointed out to him that if OSU wins the next 12 straight the series will be tied. He made a rather ignorant comment, that in recent history, which he defined as since the inception of the forward pass, the series is not even close.

This simply isn't true either literally, or in what he was implying.

Literally, the series IS close since the forward pass, but still in favor of Michigan, thus refuting his implication. Unwilling to let his little delusion go uncorrected I compiled a few FACTS for him. There's a bit here for deluded Notre Dame fans as well. Feel free to pass it along.

The all-time Michigan - Ohio State rivalry stands at 58-46-6 (6 ties) in favor of Michigan.
The forward pass was officially introduced in 1906. Since that date the series is 51-46-6 in favor of Michigan. The forward pass as we know it today was introduced in 1951. Since that date
the series is 25-23-2 in favor of Michigan.

Some other FACTS. (all read UofM - OSU - tie, Michigan first because...well you'll see.)
By decade: UofM won 7 decades, OSU 3, 2 ties
Pre 1900s: 1-0-0
1900s: 9-0-1
1910s: 3-1-1
1920s: 6-4-0
1930s: 5-5-0 (first decade OSU is a worthy rival)
1940s: 6-2-0
1950s: 5-5-0
1960s: 3-7-0 (first decade OSU won)
1970s: 4-5-1 (Two in a row, by the smallest possible margin, but still, they must be so proud)
1980s: 6-4-0
1990s: 7-2-0
2000s: 2-8-0* (* Jim Tressel cheating era, more later on that)
2010s: 1-3-1** (** not actually a tie, but a vacated win, that OSU was stripped of for cheating)

By Quarter Century: UofM won 3 quarter centuries, OSU 1
1901-1925: 16-3-1 (Ouch huh?)
1926-1950: 14-9-2 (that's a little better, it's almost cute how they try)
1951-1975: 8-16-1 (the one and only quarter century OSU won)
1976-2000: 17-7-1
2001-Present: 2-11-1 (OK, the've got a big lead, but again...Jim Tressel cheating era)

By Half Century: UofM won 2 half centuries, OSU 0
1st Half: 30-12-3
2nd Half: 25-23-2 (This was a really good effort. Again...almost cute)

20th Century, well you get it: UofM won the 20th Century

Bo Schembechler vs Woody Hayes, 1969-1978
5-4-1 (that was a good rivalry....too bad Woody lost his mind!)

Few more FACTS:
OSU did not score a single point for the first five meetings.
Combined score of the first 15 meetings: 369-21.
OSU is the clear leader in most Vacated Wins (PC for stripped of the win for cheating): OSU 12 vacated wins, 1 against UofM). UofM ZERO vacated wins against any team, ever.

The University of Michigan is the Winningest NCAA Football program of all time with 919 wins. Some might argue it is Notre Dame because their win percentage .732, is slightly better than UofM's .730 (which are #1 and #2)....BUT UofM has a winning record against Notre Dame is 24-17-1. We can't really help it if the rest of the NCAA lets Notre Dame beat up on em.

OSU is 3-2 vs Notre Dame by the way, and we appreciate that. OSU does not play Notre Dame nearly as often, as they try to avoid ranked teams in their non-conference games.

After initially compiling these stats, another deluded Buckeye commented that if going back to the 1900s made me feel better…OK.

Not really…but going back to FOREVER does.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Top 10 Bookish Things I am Thankful for - Top Ten Tuesday (November 24, 2015)

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish

Top 10 bookish things I am thankful for
10. Clint Eastwood did not play the role of Atticus Finch
(don't get me wrong, I love Clint, but Atticus? Just sayin)
9. No more James Joyce novels on my quest
8. Aldous Huxley's vision of the future did not come to be
7. I didn't/don't live in the house at 124 Bluestone Ct.
6. George Orwell's vision of the future did not come to be
5. No one has made a remake of Gone with the Wind
4. Anthony Burgess' vision of the future did not come to be
3. My father was not like Anse Brundsen
2. None of my children were like Holden Caulfield
And the number one bookish thing I am thankful for...
1. Cormac McCarthy did not write The Lord of the Rings

Monday, November 23, 2015

American Pastoral by Philip Roth (63 down 37 to go)

You’re craving depths that don’t exist. This guy is the embodiment of nothing. I was wrong. Never more mistaken about anyone in my life. ~ Nathan Zuckerman’s thoughts regarding Seymour “Swede” Levov 

This is the first time I’ve read American Pastoral or Philip Roth. American Pastoral is a post-modern novel, one of the more contemporary on my list, published in 1997, and winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1998. It is the story of an all American boy and the American dream.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel satisfies square O1 of 2015 Classics BINGO: Literary Prize of My Country

The story begins in 1995 with Nathan Zuckerman attending his 45 year high school reunion. Zuckerman appears in several of Roth’s novels and is an apparent alter-ego, as Zuckerman is also a published author. Zuckerman, the Swede’s brother Jerry Levov, and other classmates naturally reminisce and through them the reader learns of the legend of Seymour “Swede” Levov and his mystique. The high school and community in Newark, New Jersey, is predominantly Jewish, including The Swede who earned the nickname by his uncharacteristic blonde hair.

Seymour Levov, known as Swede to his friends and neighbors, is a three sport hero in high school, destined for greatness. He is admired by everyone and seems on a fast track to the American dream, or quiet, comfortable, American Pastoral until his only child commits the unimaginable and plunges Swede into the indigenous American berserk.

Swede is quiet and unassuming. He is a pro-prospect in baseball, but shortly after graduating in 1945, he eagerly does his duty by joining the Marine Corps. This is the Swede’s life. He does the right thing, the admirable thing, the expected thing, and continues to win everyone’s respect and admiration. The respectable life seems to be the one driving force in Seymour’s life.

After Zuckerman frames the story at the reunion, Roth switches to an omniscient narrator and flashes back to narrate the Swede’s life, also using a good deal of stream of consciousness by Swede and other characters. After his stint in the Marines, the Swede enters his father’s successful glove manufacturing business. The business thrives, Swede becomes rich, marries Miss New Jersey, buys a stone house in the country, has a daughter, and is living a perfect pastoral life.

But then a few threads in the exquisite tapestry begin to unravel. His daughter Merry develops a stutter and grows obese. A bit inconsistent with the façade, but nothing the unassailable Swede feels will not be overcome. And then, Merry becomes increasing belligerent, rebellious, and even hostile in her disgust with American involvement in Vietnam. Again, exasperating to the Swede, but likely just a phase.

And then – she does the unimaginable, something there is no dismissing, something there is no recovering from. Considering his and his wife’s parenting Swede wonders:   
How could their innocent foibles add up to this human being?

The daughter who transports him out of the longed for American pastoral and into everything that is its antithesis and its enemy, into the fury, the violence, and the desperation of the counterpastoral – into the

...indigenous American berserk.

I felt bad for the poor guy. I’m rather a straight and narrow sort myself and could sympathize when it all unraveled. He kept looking for answers, what he did wrong, what his wife did wrong – and for the most part coming up with nothing.

And – in my opinion – nothing did explain it. They weren’t perfect parents, but they did the best they knew. At some point, kids will make their own life, for good or for bad.

At the very end of the novel, the Swede and his wife host a dinner party, still trying to reclaim the pastoral.  The guests include Swede's parents and several friends. It falls on the very day Swede encounters his fugitive daughter for the first time in years. She is living in squalor, but a life of her own choosing. He tells no one at the party, puts on a respectable façade, and learns of yet more human folly in his loved ones. He wonders: 
What kind of mask is everyone wearing?
He had been cracking up in the only way he knew how, which is not really cracking up at all but sinking, all evening long being unmade by steadily sinking under the weight. A man who never goes full out and explodes, who only sinks…

This is a complex novel with numerous themes: The American Dream, the Jewish-American pathos, blended families (Jewish and Catholic in this case), anti-war activism, respectability, and the “sub-stratum of the mind”. It’s a bit depressing, but also a keen insight.

There are a few pages that would be rated R, though most of the book is PG-13.

Other excerpts:

Perhaps by definition a neighborhood is the place to which a child spontaneously gives undivided attention…

One price you pay for being taken for a god is the unabated dreaminess of your acolytes.

He had learned the worst lesson that life can teach – that it makes no sense.

References to other classic literature:  Zuckerman quotes Tolstoy and The Brothers Karamazov, and later the narrative refers to a minor character as having escaped his Dostoyevskian family.  I guess Roth likes the Russian authors.

One last excerpt that particularly amused me, and came with an odd experience of synchronicity.

At the dinner party, Swede’s father, who is outspoken and opinionated, possibly a bit senile, and who usually turns every discussion to the glove manufacturing trade, describes Jackie Kennedy:  
Thank God in 1960 Jackie Kennedy walked out there with a little glove to the wrist, and a glove to the elbow, and a pillbox hat, and all of a sudden gloves were in style again. First Lady of the glove industry. Wore a size six and a half. People in the glove industry were praying to that lady.
At the very instant I was reading this, I was on a treadmill at the gym. The treadmills have TVs, but I wasn’t watching, obviously because I was reading. But when I glanced up briefly to turn the page, who was on the TV but the exquisite Jackie Kennedy. I had the sound muted, so I don’t know what was said, but it was a news channel, and the story was definitely more about Jackie than President Kennedy, and I’m fairly certain it had something to do with her impeccable taste. She wore gloves in the news footage.

Film Rendition: 2016 with starring Ewan MacGregor is pretty good, and pretty faithful. It didn't do well at the box office though.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

This novel satisfies square O3 of 2015 Classics Bingo: Classic of Asia or Oceania (Australia to be precise). It is not part of my 100 Greatest Novels Quest.

I was fairly excited about reading this – the synopsis from Goodreads intrigued me:

Everyone at Appleyard College for Young Ladies agreed it was just right for a picnic at Hanging Rock. After lunch, a group of three of the girls climbed into the blaze of the afternoon sun, pressing on through the scrub into the shadows of Hanging Rock. Further, higher, till at last they disappeared.

They never returned.

I’m a puzzle solver professionally, so I was ready for a good mystery. Lindsay created some marvelous characters, and I was captivated early. I read through this quickly as I was thoroughly enjoying it – and then – the ending.

SPOILER ALERT – The following contains a spoiler

Though I don’t know how I could spoil it, when reading the novel doesn’t even spoil the ending. The mystery is never solved. The reader isn’t presented differing plausible solutions to choose from. There isn’t a hint of a suspect…because there isn’t a hint of a crime. There isn’t really a hint of an accident either, though that is the most likely explanation.

To be blunt, I felt cheated. I’ve read other novels that leave you wondering, but this didn’t even leave me wondering – just huh – never found em.

I did like some little snippets of thoughtful prose that Lindsay, the omniscient narrator, put in now and then amongst the dialogue or third person narrative.

Although we are necessarily concerned, in a chronicle of events, with physical action by the light of the day, history suggests that the human spirit wanders farthest in the silent hours between midnight and dawn. Those dark fruitful hours, seldom recorded, whose secret flowering breed peace and war, loves and hates, the crowning or uncrowning of heads.

Or in describing the life altering consequences of what we may deem insignificant acts:  Just as he himself by a few casual words this morning had effectively shaped the destinies of Tom and Minnie, so had Irma’s father, in a moment of generous impulse, altered the entire course of Albert’s life. It is probably just as well for our nervous equilibrium that such cataclysms of personal fortune are usually disguised as ordinary everyday occurrences, like the choice of boiled or poached eggs for breakfast.

And Lindsay creates some fabulous characters, and I could almost consider this a character driven novel, except – there is a plot, a maddeningly captivating plot, that is not brought to any kind of closure.

One other little thing that amused me. At one point the narrative mentions that Easter is approaching and later the same paragraph speaks of autumn. That threw me for a second. Then I remembered – Down Under.

So, some beautiful prose, marvelous characters but meh. I’m sure there is a better choice I could have made for an Australian classic; I’m not a fan of Picnic at Hanging Rock.