You Can't Get That Here

October 28th, 2009

I am temperamentally inclined to support independent bookstores. I like small business and small business owners and I dislike large corporations. I like creating a rapport, real or imagined, with the person I am buying things from. I root for the underdog. In theory, I should strongly prefer the small, independent bookseller.

However, in practice, I find that I simply like Borders and Barnes & Noble better than most of the independent bookstores I go to. There are two clear reasons for this: first, the staff are nicer, and second, Borders and Barnes & Noble actually have the books I want to buy. And I'm not talking about the latest Dan Brown waste-of-pulp nor some out-of-print rarity, I'm talking about major publisher recent releases in history or mystery or science fiction.

The only bookstore that's really within lunchtime walking distance of my office these days is City Lights. The last two times I have gone there, the guy working the counter was barely willing to make eye contact and gave me the distinct impression that whatever he was working on was far more important than assisting such a person as myself. And both times, the bookstore failed to have any of the books I wanted.

I could almost understand them not having either What Hath God Wrought: the transformation of America 1815-1848 or The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution 1762-1789 (both in the Oxford History of the United States series, the former a winner of the Pulitzer Prize). They have a fairly sizable history section but a good third of it is about Cesar Chavez. Of course, my local Borders had both - and as far as chain bookstores go, my local Borders is a dud.

But City Lights didn't even have All Souls' Rising by Madison Smartt Bell, and City Lights is essentially dedicated to stocking all possible versions of The Winter of My Despondancy, particularly The Winter of my Ethnic/Gay/Foreign/Female/Alternative Despondancy. That they did not have All Souls' Rising was startling verging on conspiratorial.

Nor did they have The Very Silly Mayor, by SF's formerly very-own Tom Tomorrow of Alterna-comic This Modern World fame, despite Internet reports that they did have it. The surly man at the counter glanced at the computer and mumbled something about the computer listing one copy, it would be around the wall on the left, and the books were not in any order. I have encountered the "one copy" phenomenon before, and as expected despite a methodical investigation of all shelves "around the wall on the left", the book did not exist.

So I ordered both of them on Amazon.

Nor is it just City Lights. When I lived in Santa Cruz I really wanted to be a fan of Bookshop Santa Cruz. But they also never carried what I wanted to read; nor did they ever seem particularly happy to have me shop there. When Borders moved in - despite legally dodgy tactics on the part of Bookshop Santa Cruz, including repeated vandalism, and that's another reason I don't like them - it was, frankly, awesome. They stocked the books I came in looking to buy, the staff were cheerful and happy to serve you, and, well, it was just a nicer place to be.

I do lament the passing of Stacey's here in downtown SF - they were ridiculously convenient for me, and although they also never seemed to have what I wanted to buy, at least the staff were pleasant. And Bay Books, which has a Concord location, has very nice people, but of course is a used bookstore and so makes no pretense of having the new releases one might want.

Which is okay - although I usually enter a bookstore seeking a particular book or books, I can change my outlook and enter the bookstore simply looking for something interesting. This appears to be the mandatory outlook when patronizing independents. But what really frosts me are staff who can't be bothered to even fake pleasure that you are willing to give them money.

What is it with independent booksellers that leads them to be run by pretentious douchebags? Or does it take that sort of douchebaggery to survive these days? I note that Stacey's is gone while City Lights lives on.

Random Thoughts LCIX

October 14th, 2009

1) I may be the only person in the world who still types out "http://" before entering a URL in a web browser.

2) In any building with multiple elevator banks, only one of the elevators should stop at the second (or "first", if you're a European) floor, and only two should stop at the third. I fail to see why everyone in a crowded elevator should be forced to wait for some asshole who is too lazy to walk up one flight of stairs to get off a single story above where they started. Fuck you, you lazy fucks. We're going to be stopping on the fourth, fifth, *and* seventh floors before we get to my floor and I don't see why your lazy ass should be allowed to delay everyone else.

Obviously, there are people who suffer impaired mobility, and thus one of the elevators should feature the ability to stop at every floor. But just one God Damn It.

Alternately, anyone without a wheelchair or a walking stick who gets off the elevator at the second floor should be attacked by wasps. Just train them to viciously attack anyone over a certain height leaving the elevator at a speed greater than "very slow". I'd chip in to pay for that.

Reviews: District 9, Ponyo, Outlander, Zombieland

October 7th, 2009

District 9 - 7.5/10

I enjoyed District 9, and I feel a little guilty giving it only a seven and a half because I suspect that my impression is colored by the very high expectations I had going in. It was a little gorier than I would have liked, and a fair amount of the plot/premise was far-fetched. Not the aliens showing up in the first place - sure, why not? - but the ultimate resolution of the story was highly questionable, as was the rather blase ghettoization of the aliens. Space aliens are simply far too interesting to have them plunked into a shantytown and largely forgotten. Moreover, the base level of evil in the human characters in the movie - I am thinking particularly in terms of the corporate "medical" staff - was unrealistic without further explanation.

That said, the look of the film was fantastic and exceptionally believable, without resorting to nausea-cam as is so popular these days. The story was interesting and held my attention, and I really enjoyed the alien weapons.

Ponyo - 7/10

We took the 3.5 year old to see Ponyo. He enjoyed it, although ultimately the theater experience was too much and he took to wandering up and down the stairs. (Fortunately, we were literally alone in the theater.) We also enjoyed it. I'm a Miyazaki aficionado, which meant both that I enjoyed the film but ultimately recognized it as a trifle, an enjoyable diversion not on the level of Nausicaa or Howl's Moving Castle.

One of the many reasons I enjoy anime is that, occasionally, something is represented in a way that Western animation simply has not done and yet is a perfect representation; in Ponyo that thing was an overhead view of Sosuke swimming, where the splashes from his kicking were disconnected explosions of water, no feet in sight. It's nothing I would have ever pictured before and yet, seeing it, it was totally right. It looked just the way that it ought.

Outlander - 4/10

After seeing this film (on DVD), my wife and I were both dumber.

I'm okay with mixing Vikings and Space Aliens. Could be the basis for a fine movie. I like Jim Caviezel. There were some fun things in this film, such as a race atop a ring of uplifted shields during a viking mead bash.

But good God, was it ever dumb. And it got worse, and worse... the protagonists climb down a well after the monster to discover a cavern lit by molten lava. In Norway. Down a well. Whale oil explodes like C-4. A spacefaring civilization find a nice planet and prepares it for colonization by carpet bombing the whole god-damned thing. And the kicker, the final capstone of idiocy: the protagonist stands by his homing device as, above him, the landing lights of a spaceship come to rescue him draw closer. He agonizes a moment (lower and lower come the lights) and then he destroys the homing device! He will stay!

And the rescue ship flies away.

The fuck was that? "Well, the beacon cut off, let's bail." "Isn't that him down there, standing next to it?" "I said let's go!"


Zombieland - 8/10

I really enjoyed Zombieland, and more tellingly, my wife also enjoyed it. It was gory, which in my book is not a plus but then one would expect it in a zombie movie, but it was also funny, uproariously so in parts. She spent the first quarter of the film with her hands in front of her eyes, and the last third laughing continuously.

Zombieland doesn't aim to be more than a zombie-riffic dark comedy, and it succeeds admirably. Lots of zombies, lots of wit, interesting characters and a solid story. What more can one ask?

Pulled Away

October 2nd, 2009

Writing is hard. And the hardest part, by far, is getting started. Not writing a beginning - that's easy - but simply sitting down at any point and writing when you could be doing something else, something easier, something requiring less commitment.

I appear to be getting back into it after a long dry spell. (I say "appear" because my hand is only one of several on the tiller of my fate, many of them invisible. Hopefully I will return to regular exercise soon, too.) One thing I will observe about writing, the observation that spurred this post: when it's good, it's totally captivating.

In almost three years I have only missed my BART stop twice - and in both cases, it was because I was writing. Most days on BART (particularly in recent months) I am reading, sometimes quite good books, but I've never actually missed my stop because of one. Good books have resulted in my being startled at how quickly time has passed - but the physical sensation of stopping at a station has always been sufficient to engage enough awareness to get me off the train.

This morning I looked up and the station the train was arriving at was the one after mine. Hadn't even been aware that we'd stopped earlier.

Things I do while driving

October 1st, 2009

For no reason, other than to be obstinate and perverse, I like to deliberately mistranslate personalized license plates. (I don't like giving the bastards the satisfaction of reading their plates correctly! Even if they will never know!)

This morning, for example, I saw the license plate NZTYHBT. Which, of course, reads "New Zealand Thanks You, Hobbit." Obviously, it's a somewhat oblique nod to Peter Jackson, and an indication of LotR fandom.