Things that I could turn into long posts but won't.
I've started to (very, very, very, very) casually think about making a trip to Japan sometime next year. While looking for tourism information, I ran across an excellent official FAQ, including this gem of a question. Yes, that's the result of the American educational system, folks. I especially like the helpful map that the Japanese have hopefully included, believing in vain that it will explain the situation to people asking this question.
As threatened, I bought that nice hard drive from Tiger Direct on Sunday. I've since learned that not all online retailers are equal. I've heard plenty of good things about Tiger Direct and will certainly consider doing business with them in the future, but this experience has made me realize how spoiled I am by Newegg. The drive didn't even ship until last night, more than 4 days after I ordered it, whereas with Newegg I probably would have received it yesterday. Since this isn't a crucial component I'm not upset or anything, just thought I'd share my experience.
I picked up all sorts of goodies while home for the holidays, but one of the most immediately wonderful was a collection of short stories by George Saunders. They're really excellent. I first encountered him in a gripping New Yorker short story that I started reading casually, realized about 2/3 of the way in that (a) I was reading something wonderful and (b) I had no idea what was going on, and ended up poring over multiple times. These collections ("CivilWarLand in Bad Decline" and "Pastoralia") are really similar; some of them directly touch on the same sorts of themes as that first story (loneliness, bureaucracy, ghosts, violence), but they all share an incredibly sharp wit, an engagement with America that is simultaneously affectionate and despairing, and a brilliant thread of absurdism. It is this last part that most attracts me to Saunders. It is just so rare to get an American author who can treat important themes with surrealism and phantasmagoria; it feels like the use of these wonderful tools has been all but abandoned to genre writers. After finishing these, I'm elevating Saunders to the same class as Vonnegut and Pynchon in my hierarchy.
On a related note, I think I want to start blogging about books more. Not necessarily reviewing or anything, just doing that sort of living record stuff. I spend nearly as much time reading (including the New Yorker and online sources) as playing games, but... I guess I haven't been writing about books largely because I'm less confident in my analysis (despite my degree in English Lit, or perhaps because of it). When it comes to games, I feel like my analysis is as valid as anyone else's, something I'm less secure in for literature. Except when I'm really passionate about it, like Saunders. But in either case, I should at least be able to occasionally write "I just finished XXX, and I really (dis)liked it."
Continuing in the literary vein, I'm finally starting to read "His Dark Materials." This trilogy has been on my radar for about four years now, ever since I read on Slashdot that it was being considered for a movie adaptation by Terry Gilliam. (For reference, the only other adaptations discussed on Slashdot are "Lord of the Rings," "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," and "Ender's Game".) Gilliam is probably my favorite director, so that piqued my interest, though I didn't know much about the series. Later I learned that they were "Children's books," but well-regarded in literary circles. I just finished an interesting profile of Philip Pullman in, yes, the New Yorker, where I learned more about the series and finally decided to try it. I started the first book, "The Golden Compass", and am growing enthralled. The obvious comparison is with "Harry Potter" or "The Chronicles of Narnia", but so far I'm drawing a stronger connection to the "The Dark is Rising" series that I loved so much growing up. However, even though HDM is technically not set in this universe, I feel like it is less escapist than TDIR, and what I've read so far combined with the teasers in the New Yorker article gives me very high hopes for this. I'll try to remember to check back in once I'm done with the trilogy.
And what's up with children's literature, anyways? How come some of it is so awesome? There are some books and authors I read twenty years ago that gave me images which still resonate with me. For whatever reason, though, I don't revisit them now, and apart from HDM I haven't ventured into the Young Adult stacks for many years. It bothers me, and I'm not sure whether this is reflecting some sense of elitism I have or what. Somewhere along the line I bought into the fallacy that more difficult books are better, and make myself feel guilty when I read something simple. I hope I can unlearn that prejudice, because if HDM is any indication, I'm missing out on a lot.
Not to mention that I'll be able to read all three books in less time than it took me to read "Circe" in Ulysses.
I love my New Yorker subscription. It was a very thoughtful gift from my parents two years ago and each issue is something I treasure. I love its cultural coverage, its political insight, even the often-snarky "Talk of the Town." The one part I often have trouble with is its fiction. I don't know just what to make of it... you have stuff like George Saunders, which was so good that it would make up for 40 mediocre stories. That's hardly the only good story I've read, but so many were forgettable, and more than half the time I don't even manage to finish the story, which for me is an atrocious record. (Remember, I'm the one who has only two books that I didn't finish over my entire educational career.) I don't know if there's exactly such a thing as a "typical" New Yorker story, but if there is, it's a first-person introspective character study, which can be a fine display of the author's chops but which I personally find interminable. Of course, there's only so much one can do with a limited number of pages, but... I don't know. I just want the stories to be better more often.
I've already chronicled my history with Apple. After last week's announcement I went through a typical period where I thought, "Huh, that looks really pretty. Maybe I'll buy one. Wow, that's really expensive. And none of my games will run on it. Oh, well." Of course, one of the most exciting things about Apple moving to Intel chips is the increased probability of third-party emulators appearing that will run such applications. If a robust emulation/porting community emerges, I'll give serious thought to taking the leap and grabbing one of those sweet Powerbooks.
You know how you have that list of tasks to do? And you keep on adding stuff and taking things off, so the size remains roughly constant, but there's a few things on there which never get done, and you get tired whenever you think about it? Well, for me, that task is going through my blog and linkifying my posts. In particular I want to cross-reference posts that refer to one another so that, for example, one could click in the paragraph above and go to the post about Apple. Of course, I usually don't have many links at all in my posts, unless they're specifically about other web pages. In one way this is good, because it means that in the future I won't need to go through and clean up dead links when pages inevitably move or disappear. However, links within Blogger should be pretty constant. The big issue here is just my method of composition. 90% of the time I write my posts in Notepad or GVim instead of in Blogger. I like this because it allows me to spread the composition over multiple sessions; the longer posts generally take more than a day to finish. Of course, Blogger supports a Drafts option for posts, but it's simpler for me to just edit a plain text file, and besides this protects me against the dreaded "Close the wrong browser window and lose 30 minutes of work" curse. So it's great, but the downside is that it isn't easy for me to look up posts while editing the post. When a post is done I'll open up Blogger and copy-paste the post in. By then I'm usually impatient to just get the darn thing up and will say "Well, I'll look up the URLs later." Of course, I almost never do, and the result is the solipsistic blog on your monitor now.
Returning to an earlier offhand comment: I feel weird whenever I write something like "I went home for Christmas." Everyone here who has ever gone to college has felt the same sort of weirdness: is "home" where your family is, or is it where you live most of the year? If you asked me straight up, "Is your home here or in Winfield?" I wouldn't hesitate before saying it's here in San Jose. And yet, I regularly find myself referring to our house in Winfield as home. What I'm wondering is, when do people stop referring to their parents' place as home? I get the feeling that if I ever got married and started having kids, "home" would become "Grandma and Grandpa's". Who knows, though. I guess that, though I've always thought of "home" as a single defining location, maybe it's possible (especially in today's extraordinarily mobile world) to have multiple places that one thinks of as home. I know I feel just as comfortable in my parents' house as I do here, so maybe that's what the word means.