Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Magpie Murders

The best word I can use to describe, Magpie Murders, is "clever."  "Clever" popped into my head, thirty pages into it, and it remains there as an apt descriptor now that I have finished.

Yesterday, when done, I thought that while it is certainly clever I am not sure I can recommend spending 470 odd pages with it, just to be impressed with the author's impressive ability to have thought this up.  Today, I am not so sure. I find myself thinking about how he put it all together and some parts that I did not get until this morning.  There are a number of instances in the novel when a sleuth realizes that a key to solving the mystery lies in an anagram.  So, this morning I took the name of the main character, Susan Ryeland, and tried (and am trying) to sleuth out what that anagram might be.  (I will succumb after I finish writing this review and check Amazon to see if someone smarter than me got it, if indeed the name is a revealing puzzle of sorts).

In short, hats off to Anthony Horowitz-the author- for putting this together, but readers of this blog might get enough out of the following to decide not to read it.  I will not give essential parts away.

A non revealing synopsis:

A fiction editor of a publishing company sits down to read a whodunit which is the most recent one of a series.  This series about sleuth Atticus Pund has been the key breadwinner for the editor's publishing company.  So, four pages into the book, the editor (and we readers) begin Magpie Murders which is both the title of the most recent fiction featuring Atticus Pund detective, and the title of Horowitz's book.

It's classic British whodunit.  There's a funeral, all the potential suspects are introduced, someone seeks out Atticus Pund for his wisdom, Pund comes to town with his assistant, and works collaboratively with the local police.  Meanwhile 217 pages later the editor (and we readers) stop reading the detective story.  The editor has to solve a new (real life) mystery that is related to the novel's fiction.  She then becomes the sleuth for the real mystery and in several ways mirrors Pund, the fictional character, as she interviews all potential players in the real life mystery related to the fictional mystery set decades earlier.

Eventually, the fictional and real life mysteries are solved, in the way that fictional whodunits are solved. There is a scene at the end of both where the sleuths reveal who done it and how they come to know who has done it.  Life imitating art using art to demonstrate.

Sometimes I think I am very creative, but I don't think I could conceive of this intricate novel that contains another novel.  Horowitz even paginates the book separately from the Pund novel.  So you read four pages in the beginning and then start on page 1 of the Pund novel. Then 217 pages after that, you go back to page 5 of Horowitz's Magpie Murders that encompasses the fictional Magpie Murders, for 200 plus pages. Then the reader is taken back to page 218 of the fictional novel.   You can pick up this fat book and look at the last page and see it is numbered 236 which makes no sense given its heft.  But then you realize there is a 241 page novel inside.

What I liked second most (beyond just the idea) was the Pund novel. It was as good as the Agatha Christie type books I have read. Horowitz really imitates that style. And it is a good story in and of itself. (No, I did not figure out who done it).

If you like puzzles and like to read, you will probably enjoy Magpie Murders. However, I think the thing you will come away with more than anything else is an appreciation for the creativity of the author. And you will enjoy how sleuth Pund solves his case as well.  If, however, you want a straight forward short novel, with perhaps a message that will hang around in your head, I'd put this one on the back burner.




Ball Hype

Lonzo Ball may turn out to be better than I believe he will be in the NBA.

In the summer league, he had one very good game which I did not see, one very bad game which I did see, and one game where he showed some passing skills which were admirable.

The Lakers played eight games in the summer league and won the championship last night.

Of those eight games, Ball did not play in two of them because of injuries.  In a third he sat out a good deal of the second half with the same injury that kept him out of the finals.  The Lakers went 3-2 in the games he played in.

BEFORE the championship game last night--in which he did not play--the league voted him summer league MVP.

Come on.

The guy did not play in the championship game which the Lakers won.  They won another 1 1/2 games without him. They lost two games with him.

How do you name a player MVP when he does not have an impact on over 25% of the short season?

It's hype. The father has a big mouth.  A lot of people went to the games because of the hype surrounding Lonzo Ball.  Maybe 15 years ago I went to a summer league game in Boston. It was held in a local gym.  It was fun to watch, but maybe there were 500 people in attendance.  Daddy Ball and NBA's marketing changed that this summer. So the kid is a draw.

 But when you don't play in the championship game or in over 33 % of the games your team won, and your season opener was a Johnny on the spot latrine stinker...how do you win league MVP?

As I wrote in the beginning, there were some clips from his very good game which were impressive and they made me think that my overall assessment of the player could be wrong. And in another game, I saw some passing that was extra special.  It is possible that he may be somewhere nearly as good as the experts think he will be. I am still not convinced, but maybe.

However, the decision to make him league MVP reflects the hype.  You can't give the MVP to someone who does not play, unless you yourself have consumed the Dad's batch of Kool-Aid.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Thanks for the Memories

My brother came to visit last week. We had a number of moments where we recalled things about our folks which were, at once, funny and touching.   At one point, he said something like, "Remember the house sale and dad with the furniture."

I didn't.  He said, "you were there. you don't remember?"  And I said I didn't.

I do remember the house sale. The home had been sold and we came in from Boston and New Jersey to help out as we attempted to sell various items that my parents did not want to haul to Florida.  I have a pretty good recollection of various moments during the day.  Our folks told us that anything we wanted we could have--and I still regret not taking this expandable table which did not go until closing time.  I remember the goniff who tried to bid low on some pretty hoo hah picture frames.  And the woman who showed up two hours before we were starting.

But this particular episode my brother was relaying, I did not recall. So when he told the funny story, I laughed so hard.  The two of us were giggling like school kids.

Which was great.  The problem was that the next day I remembered that he had, in fact, told me the story before. But when he told me the story the prior day, I had no recollection of it.

The last twenty five years of his life, my father's memory had failed him.  He still was sharp in terms of reasoning and things like current events and politics.  But I could tell him a story five times during a year and each time he said that I'd not told him the story previously.  In the first ten years or so, I would say to him what my brother said to me the other day.  "You were there, you don't remember?"

A college friend lives nearby and a few times a year we get together and have a drink.  She told me some news on Friday which I professed not to have heard before. She said she was pretty sure she had mentioned it.  I said I would remember.

On Saturday I went for a walk and stopped short when I had the realization that she had indeed told me this news at a prior quaffing session.

Point is I am not certain of what I had been certain about.  I still can remember things that are stunning and my relatives are appropriately shocked when I pluck a fact from the fifties or sixties or remember how to get to a place I haven't been to in forty years. I know I will wow my classmates at our fiftieth high school reunion in the fall with trivia, and will be the go-to camper for esoteric questions about camp history when Chicopee cronies rendezvous in September.

The thing about memory though is when you lose it, you don't know it.  So, unless it wafts up the next day--you could be under the illusion that what you don't remember did not occur.  I am grateful for the memories I have and am also grateful that I have been fortunate enough to have a better memory than most--but these episodes have been yet another example that there is such a thing as deterioration and mortality.

Seize the day.


Palindrome Redux

I had to go to the bank today.  I went to fill out my slip and realized that today, is another palindrome.

7-1-7-1-7.  Backwards and forwards

And then a moment ago, a week late, I realized that every single day since July 10, and up until July 19th will be a palindrome.

7-1-0-1-7 and 7-1-2-1-7 and etcetera.

So much for novelty. After the 19th we will have to wait until August of 18 when again we will be lousy with palindromes.

That was an expression my father and mother used to use. If you were lousy with something, that meant you had a lot of it. It actually stemmed from "lice"--that is if you had lice you were lousy with them.  I imagine the derivative of the adjective lousy as it is commonly used is based on the wonderful experience of having lice.

----
On Saturday morning I noticed that the basement sink was overflowing.  There is a trick I use to clean out clogs in the elbow drain but that was not working. Eventually I carted out some water because it was close to toppling over.  I measured the distance from the top of the sink to the water. It was 6 inches.  I took a shower. Measured again. it was three inches. I knew I had tsuris.

 I tried some home remedies to no avail. All day Sunday the water would have cascaded out of the sink had I not bailed out gallons of water and stopped using water in the house.  I had to go to the gym to take a shower and shave.  I called local plumbers. Most plumbers, I was surprised to find out, do not do clogs.  There are some specialty outfits which cost, hold onto your plunger, 300 bananas to unclog your pipe. One fellow was very friendly and he agreed to come out this morning.

I took him downstairs. We went to the sink. The water was gone. For two days the water was hanging around like the neighbor who comes to chat and doesn't take a hint when you are all but begging him to leave.  The clog cleaner comes by and and for 300 dollars there is nothing in the sink. He ran his gizmo through the pipe anyway and cleared the pipes of roots. I was lousy with roots.

We noticed that there was a leak under the sink.  His comment. "You'll need to call a plumber."

The guy was very nice but explained to me that you need a plumber's license to do plumbing, but just a powerful machine to clean major league clogs. So now, 300 bananas after my pipe was cleaned, I need to call a plumber.

Good news is I can take a shower.

Bad news is that I can't afford the soap.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Summers of Love




About a week ago it crossed my mind for the first time that the "Summer of Love" was at its fifty year anniversary.

The black and white above was taken at the end of the summer of love.  The color photo is a selfie taken this past Sunday, half a century later.

For the longest time I had a tee shirt that read, "A Summer in Life--1967."  I was not in California wearing a flower in my hair in July and August of '67, but it was nevertheless a wonderfully romantic summer.

In the summer of love The Grass Roots encouraged us to live for today. The Doors urged all to light our fires. Johnny Rivers sang "All summer long we were dancing in the sand. And the band kept on playing, Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

I can remember, almost vividly, a July day fifty years ago, sitting shotgun in a car with three others humming "Live For Today".  I was leaning out the passenger window, adjusting the side view mirror thinking that the future and present seemed so bright.

Did the summer of love leave a lasting imprint?

How did that "live for today" philosophy work out for us?

Did our fires remain lit?

Bliss, Remembered by Frank Deford is a novel about a summer of love.  But the summer was 1936. And, in addition to the questions above, a question that the book wants the reader to address is this: "How much would you do for love?"

In a nutshell, in the summer of 2004 an 80 something year old woman asks her son to come visit.  The father has already passed. Now his wife, the mother, is dying. She tells the son that when he visits she has "something of a surprise" she must relay.

When the son visits, the mother--still lucid and feisty despite the sad medical prognosis--tells her son about her experience in Germany in 1936 when she was on the women's Olympic swimming team.  The son knew that his mother was on the team. What he did not know was the essence of the surprise. He did not know that within days of arriving in Berlin his mother met and fell immediately in love with a young German. The German's father was a diplomat and consequently, the courtship with the German allowed her not only to meet Hitler, but to attend a gala Nazi party hosted by none other than Goebbels.

To the son, the mother's relaying of this "remembered bliss" is a bit disconcerting. Nazis aside, he has a fond recollection of his father and, apparently, this German/Horst character swept his mother off her feet before Dad had come into the picture.  The book continues with the reader learning about what happened to the lovers after the summer of 1936 and into the first years of the war.

To relay more of the plot is to spoil the story for interested readers.

Is it worth reading?  The novel is engaging even if the ending is more than a little implausible.  Not the love parts. Those are very plausible.  But the resolution, could not have happened.   Even three quarters of a century ago.

Also, the way the story is told can be a bit off putting. While the narrator is the son, most of the book is told in the first person by the mother. The son has a tape recorder and the mother speaks into it, with a few interjections from the son. About eighty other pages are from a manuscript the mother has written that describes the sequence of events. So again the manuscript is in the first person from the perspective of the mother, with the son occasionally making first person comments like, "I didn't really think mom would do that."

For the mother in this novel, the summer of love was 1936, even though that summer was a summer of hate.  Her German sweetheart does not have Nazi sentiments, but his brother-in-law, sister, and father have consumed the Kool-Aid. When the Olympian visits the German's parents she is asked repeatedly about her last name to sleuth out if she is Jewish. She is not, but she knows there is something wrong about attending a party hosted by the slimy Goebbels, yet is so taken by her lover that the shine of love trumps logic.

For her, the summer of love--1936--the Bliss, is remembered and it leaves a multigenerational imprint.   It was interesting to me how much the mother followed, naturally and beautifully, the advice of the Grass Roots and followed her heart so that her fires might be lit.

This book is not as good as Deford's, An American Summer, which I reviewed in this blog several weeks ago.  But readers will enjoy turning the pages of Bliss, Remembered and, at the end, when you say--"That could not have happened"--you might also find yourself saying, "so what."

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Ball Round 2

I watched most of Lonzo Ball's second game last night.  And endured an interview a sideline reporter had with his outrageous father during the first half.

As for Lonzo--he showed me something in this second game. I have been unequivocal in my prediction that he will not be particularly extra as a professional.  He was not super last night, but he was not as awful as he had been in his first game.

There were some bright spots.  He can pass--better than I thought. He made some very good connections with teammates last night which opened them up for shots.  This is only the summer league so the opponents are not of the caliber that he will be facing in the fall--but still some of the passes, and his passing in general made me rethink a comment I had made that he is an overrated passer. If yesterday is an indication he is better than average.

Still other parts of his game are mediocre at best. He did make some shots last night, which when juxtaposed with game one when he could not drop a bar of soap in a bathtub, was an improvement. He did not, however, shoot the lights out.  Just made a few shots.

His defense was abysmal.  It looked like the person he was defending frequently attempted and was able to drive on him whenever he got the ball. But Ball did show me that he can rebound at least with the players in the summer league.

His father was as insufferable as he has been. During the interview the dad was all over the place saying things like it was the "show" that mattered, and how Lonzo changed the culture of the Lakers, and how he was now the new Magic Johnson and soon would surpass him.  The father is a circus act and I feel for his son, who has to carry the burden of having a man who may be a decent person, but is behaving like a jackass.

In sum, in Ball's round two his passing made me see what the hoopla about the guy could be about.  Not that the outcome really matters in the summer league, but the Lakers got off to a strong start, but lost again despite the presence of the new Magic Johnson.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

First Ball game

I was flipping channels last night, just before ending the day.  I came across a Summer League game between the Lakers and the Clippers. 

It was the debut game of Lonzo Ball.  Ball was the number two pick of the draft and hyped, irresponsibly, by his father LaVar Ball, who compared his son to Michael Jordan.  On May 12th in this blog, I wrote the following:


"Let's start with this.  Please remember this.  I am promising you this.  Lonzo Ball will not be a change maker in the pros. He is very good, but so is every player in the NBA.  Lonzo Ball will not be that good. If you are an NBA executive and are looking for someone who can catapult your team into a championship contender, don't sell the farm for Lonzo Ball.  Lonzo is a kid. He is 6' 6" and 190 pounds.  Just for comparison, Jae Crowder on the Celtics is 6 6 and 235 pounds and not the Pillsbury Doughboy. Lonzo Ball is going to get bounced around like a pin ball when he drives to the basket. He has great court vision, but he is nothing extraordinary in terms of shooting or passing.  Claiming that Lonzo Ball is better than Michael Jordan is just beyond belief.  Jordan is probably collecting social security now and could defeat Ball in a one on one game ten times out of ten."



You can't extrapolate too much from only one game, and a summer league game at that.  But Lonzo Ball stunk up the gym last night.  At the risk of sounding self congratulatory Ball was everything I described on May 12th.  

And I will comment now as I did then that his father's incredibly selfish promotion of his son will do nothing to help him on the court. Off the court, the bragging may have helped get his son a fat contract. But on the court it just heaped pressure on a young man who will now be playing against great players, and I do not think will shine except sporadically.  Maybe, this one meaningless game will be atypical, and in the pros he will dominate.  I will be surprised if that is the case. I also noticed that the kid took some ill advised shots, and that the defense was egging him on take them--as if they had already doped out that his shooting was not all that special.