Book 3 (of 52) – Part 2: The Investigation by Phillippe Claudel

Posted by Dan Billings on February 22, 2013 under A Literal Corner | Be the First to Comment

The Investigation by Claudel

The Investigation by Claudel

Every once in a while, you read a book because you are trying to read 52 books in a year. You look at the cover and it looks cool. The ideas seem interesting. But it does nothing for you and you end up taking weeks to finish it; you end up keeping it for ten days overdue from the library; and you end you just wishing you never picked it up in the first place. The Investigation by Phillippe Claudel is just that book. It is beautifully written and I think its theme that you shouldn’t define yourself or anyone you know by their role, job, or defining characteristic. There is more to a person than any of that. But I didn’t get it. I didn’t care. I found it annoying.

Claudel was trying to be Kafka. He tried to create a world that didn’t make any sense but was really interesting. It confused you but it painted an absurd image of the world. I am sure that there are lots of people who like this book and like how it is mind-challenging. But I found it tedious and boring. I had no connection to any character, the events, or where it was heading. It isn’t for me. I didn’t find it enchanting. I found it troublesome. I didn’t find it engaging. I found it tedious. It felt like I was being beat over the head with its absurdity and it didn’t go anywhere. I’m sure that was the point. Yeah…I didn’t get it. Either way though…

It was better than my fourth book…

Mount Prospect Trustee Race – 2013

Posted by Dan Billings on under Wading into the Potomac | Be the First to Comment

In April, Mount Prospect will hold an election for village trustee. There are six candidates on the ballot. Below are samples of articles regarding the candidates, information on their personal beliefs and other political opinions, and this will be updated along the election to better serve Mount Prospect.

<updated with new Carl Ariazza video 2/26>

Almost every candidate running for Mt. Prospect village trustee and park board commissioner have agreed to participate in the Mt. Prospect Journal’s debate/forum on Wednesday, Mar. 20 beginning at 7 p.m. at Mt. Prospect Village Hall.

Incumbents:

Trustee Steven S. Polit

    • Picture with Rick Santorum on Facebook page
    • Political organizations according to Facebook page:
      • Eagle Forum of Illinois
        • A public policy organization partnering with Eagle Forum, for God and country, leading the pro-family movement since 1972.
        • Currently, lobbying to defend marriage in Illinois
        • Associated with Phyllis Schalfy
      • Patriot Voices
        • A 501(c)(4) organization started by former Sen. Rick Santorom
    • Daily Herald – Feb 21, 2013 – “”We, as the village, need to take a leadership role there and get all the existing business and property owners on the same page,” Polit said. “I’d like to see a ‘Kensington Business Center Association’ formed to provide a single focus.”
  •  John Matuszak

John Matuszak

 

    • “What are you going to cut and how much will that save?” Matuszak asked. “When you cut those services, what will be the impact to the community?”
    • According to Matuszak, Dyslin and Arriaza continue to argue taxes are too high, but do not offer an alternative budget. “If they want my vote, they need to tell how their budget cuts will impact my life,” Matuszak emphasized.
    • Daily Herald – Feb 21, 2013 - ”The Internet has been a huge change, obviously,” he said. “Going forward, we should target businesses that can do well on the Internet. Mount Prospect is a great location for companies and retail stores, we just have to be smart and aggressive to get them.”
  • Michael Zadel

 

Michael Zadel

    • Mt. Prospect Journal
      • “I would first like to maintain a fiscally conservative approach to providing village services after identifying and prioritizing needed capital projects. Then implementing funding sources to accomplish these projects in a manner that provides minimal impact to the residents’ financial obligations<.>”
    • Daily Herald – Feb 21, 2013 - “…he’s happy the village has taken steps to annex properties on the south end of the village near O’Hare International Airport. Those could be good sites for warehouse-type developments, he said. He added that while progress in the downtown area has been slow, there are encouraging signs of life.”

Challengers:

  • John Dyslin
    • This Facebook page has many discussions between Dyslin and his opponents, specifically Polit. The main issue is regarding increases in property taxes.

John Dyslin

    •  Columnist for Examiner.com
      • “John Dyslin is a lifelong conservative and Republican. He currently is a precinct captain for the Republicans of Wheeling Township, a Liberty Leader with the Illinois Policy Institute and a volunteer for several Republican candidates in Illinois. He also is a veteran magazine editor, covering industries such as HVAC, electrical contracting and workplace safety and health.”
    • Daily Herald – Feb 21, 2013 - “…the village has to re-evaluate its business permit process to make sure it runs as quickly and smoothly as possible. He said he would make attracting businesses to the downtown area and the Kensington Business Center a priority.”

Kevin Grouwinkel

Kevin Grouwinkel

    • Mt. Prospect Journal article  - okay with three incumbents winning re-election and will ask soon-to-be mayor to fill her empty trustee spot with him. 
    • Daily Herald – Feb 21, 2013 - “…while he’s pleased with the overhaul of Randhurst, he too wishes more had happened in the downtown area. He said he would encourage more active communication with prospective businesses and existing property owners. ’There’s been some progress downtown, but it’s been slow,” he said. “Bringing new businesses in is a huge help in keeping taxes reasonable for residents. Downtown has to be a top priority going forward.’”

 

Carl Arriaza

Carl Arriaza

  • Daily Herald – Feb 21, 2013 - ”…’new eyes’ are needed in the area of downtown redevelopment. While retail chains and major restaurants have opened at Randhurst, he said the village must work harder to get smaller businesses.”

Avengers Now!

Posted by Dan Billings on February 20, 2013 under Off the New Comic Rack | Be the First to Comment

I have now read all the recent issues of Avengers and New Avengers by Jonathan Hickman, Jerome Opena, and Steve Epting. I don’t get it. I enjoyed the characters in Avengers but the villains in both are not interesting or frightening. The solutions are simplistic and a little annoying because they just end with no actual solution, even though the characters think they are over. The saddest part is I read Avengers 2 before Avengers 1 because I grabbed the wrong issue and I didn’t feel any more loss in the storyline than I did after I read the first one. Each issue (all seven) cost $3.99 so it was $28 worth of comics. I don’t know if I got my money’s worth – especially from New Avengers, which seems to be about a story that I missed a large chunk of it even though I don’t know where I missed it from. The art was never the problem. It was good. But nothing that really set it apart.

Les Miserables

Posted by Dan Billings on February 19, 2013 under Broadway Baby, The Multiplex | Read the First Comment

My mom introduced me to the music of Les Miserables when I was growing up. Mandy Patinkin sang I Dreamed a Dream. And I needed more. PBS shows a concert special. I wanted to watch it. I would walk around singing Stars for days. I would sing Who Am I? as I walked to school. So, when I heard there was going to be a movie, I was excited.

Movie poster

Movie poster

I have seen the stage production twice: once on Broadway and once in Madison. It is a beautiful story of justice and basically death. Politically. I hated Javert, but musically, he was my favorite. His story is one of pride and belief in the system. But the system is broken. A man who is tracks his entire life is not whom he believes him to be. But seeing the man on stage alone singing some of the most beautiful songs I ever heard made the musical.

On a movie screen, it is a different production. It is not the stage production and you can’t go into it thinking you are going to see a stage production. Movie musicals are different. A camera is different than a stage. It isn’t worse. It is different. Rob Marshall understood that when he made Chicago. He used the tricks of moviemaking to make the movie something special. Tom Hooper filmed Les Miserables like someone who sat only in the balcony for a stage production. He was always on top of the actors. You were there with them face-to-face, which is not what you get as a viewer of the stage production. It is always a separation.

Overall, this doesn’t help the story. I cried more than usual, but that is because everyone looked so much more sad than I am used to from the stage. But for the love story of Marius and Cossette, I got it with the movie. I understood their story so much more. Marius was annoying on the record or in the theater. But I understood why Cossette fell in love with him. I appreciated that aspect of the film. Eddie Redmayne added something to the character that I never saw before.

Redmayne as Marius

Redmayne as Marius

I read a lot of bad reviews of the movie and I will say that it is not as powerful as it is on stage. It is not shot in a way that is very welcoming. It loses a lot of its heart and its soul due to its styling. Master of the House is creepy and not very funny. It reminded me of how Tim Burton filmed the funnier parts of Sweeney Todd – something was missing. Russell Crowe is not a strong baritone and I didn’t connect to Javert as I would have loved to. I didn’t understand the premises behind his solos. It is a little sad that I didn’t see that on film.

But I have seen it. If I watch the Les Miserable concert (the one before the Nick Jonas one), I get that despair and fear and anger out of that Javert. Each staging will change how you feel about the story.

It wasn’t as good as Lincoln. I loved Silver Linings Playbook. But it was a good movie experience. And I introduced John to something that is really important to me. Worth the price of admission.

Updated: watch this fun video on Christine Pedi imagining what Les Mis would be like with different people playing roles:

Booster

Posted by Dan Billings on February 18, 2013 under Either Sadness or Euphoria | Be the First to Comment

I bought a fish- a blue Gourami- about five years ago. It started off as a few inches big and grew to probably be too small for the ten gallon tank that he called home. I named him after my dog, who was sick at the time, but added an umlaut over the u in Buster and pronounced it Booster. He died over the weekend and it is a bit sad. He was my last living animal connection to my dog. I would look at him everyday and think of Buster. He was such a big fish and I had no idea how he got like that but he was always entertaining. I have no idea how long such fish live and if five or six years, since I really don’t remember when I got him – it was when I decided to restock the fish tank after I moved home – but he seemed to live a good life.
Fish are hard though. It is a lot of water changing and cleaning. Nonetheless, I only have three small fish left in there, which is probably better for the health of the tank. But it looks lonely without this massive blue fish floating around scaring the other fish with its little tentacles. I wish I took a picture of it…

Book 2 (of 52) – Take 2: The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch

Posted by Dan Billings on February 16, 2013 under A Literal Corner | Be the First to Comment

The first books I got addicted to were murder mysteries. I began with the Boxcar children series, Encyclopedia Brown, and the Hardy Boys and made my way to Agatha Christie by fifth grade. Every once in a while, I try to grab one at the library. The cover of the most recent Potzsch book about the Hangman of Schongau looked interesting, so I decided to find the first volume in the series.

The story begins with a young man being found dead in a river with a mark on his shoulder that resembled the symbol of a witch. The town had witch trials years ago, and the hangman’s grandfather was the hangman at the time. The midwife in town was the main suspect as she was seen with witch items and with several orphans, including the boy who died.

Pötzsch paints a wonderful image of life in the dark ages, and by wonderful, I mean dire and desperate and insane. But the characters are very well formed, especially the main three: the hangman, his daughter, and the local doctor’s son. The story was alright though. It had a flow and became easy to read. Most of the twists did not turn too much. In the end, this was more about the characters and the time period than the murder of the young child.

Torture plays a large part in the entire book. The hangman has the duty to get a confession out of the midwife that he believes to be innocent. Through his training and experiences torturing people, he gives the midwife tactics and in some cases, drugs, to make the torture more bearable. Obviously, this theme has ramifications today – but the whole of this story puts town over truth, morality, and justice. All of the major characters seem to be okay with the torture. All of the major characters appear to know why the ending is justified.

A few more books follow these characters and I may pick them up. There is a lot to like about this book. And honestly, a lot more to think about at the end than most thrillers.

Fasting

Posted by Dan Billings on under Either Sadness or Euphoria | Be the First to Comment

My head hurts. My legs are sore. My stomach gurgles a few times every couple of minutes. All of this is just from fasting on this first Friday of Lent. I haven’t fasted for a few years like this, but wanted to try again because it seemed like a good way to think about a few things. Though it is harder than I remember, so far I am not upset by it. Nevertheless, I don’t know how Muslims can do this for the whole month of Ramadan. I just have to get through every Friday for forty days on two small meals (with no meat). Tuna and cheese pizzas for all!

A Swiss Melt and Corn Pudding

Posted by Dan Billings on February 15, 2013 under A Foray into Fiction | Be the First to Comment

The bell over the door dinged. A couple of older couples were at booths on opposite sides of the diner. The man who entered the door asked, “Are you still serving?” The woman near the cash register responded, “It’s only 7:30. We got lots of hours of pie service left ahead of us.” She bent down to pick up a napkin she noticed on the ground, popped back above the counter, and continued, “Table for one?” The man nodded.

“Follow me.” Mary was twenty-six and had worked at Pete’s Inn for 9 years since she finished high school. The wages weren’t great but she needed to pay for her daughter and her constant need for food, shelter, and larger clothes. And Pete was a decent enough guy when it came to emergency days off when she needed to go to the pediatrician or a school function.

“Would you like something to drink while you look at the menu? We have Pepsi products and lemonade.” The man answered, “Just water.” Mary said, “I will expect a big tip out of you by the end of the night.” She giggled and lit up the back corner of the diner where she seated the man. She handed over a menu and walked back behind the counter for the glass of water.

As she wandered around with the water to check in on the regulars, Zach glanced through the menu. It had everything you could imagine a diner having – hamburgers of different shapes and styles, skillets with potatoes, eggs, and meat products, soups and chilis. The problem was he wasn’t that hungry. He was trying to kill some time.

Mary placed the water down and asked if he knew what he wanted. He asked for her opinion and she smiled. “I know it’s Valentine’s Day and I like the flirting but my boyfriend is waiting for me at home.” “Mine is working down the street,” Zach said with a small smile on his face and a look up at his hostess. “Well, then I have nothing to worry about. What’s your name?” “Zach. And yours?” “Mary.” “I have always liked that name.” “I’ve always liked the Swiss Melt.” “Then I will give it a try.” The pen moved quickly in Mary’s hand as she wrote something that seemed much longer than the order Zach placed. She smiled again and said she would put the order right in.

Pete’s Inn turned a Swiss Melt around in ten minutes without any problem. Zach stared out the window and watched the traffic on the street. Snow fell softly every few minutes to shine light off the moon into multiple directions. He wished that he could be having a Valentine’s Day dinner with his boyfriend instead of eating alone at a dinner in an area of town he wasn’t very familiar with.

“What are you thinking about?” asked Mary, who was now seated opposite Zach.

“How pretty the snow is.” “I’m just glad it ain’t sticking. I don’t want to shovel when I get home.” “Boyfriend won’t do that?” “Can’t. Bad back. It’s me or my dad. And Dad is out of town this week.” “Then I am glad it isn’t sticking either.”

“Where does your boyfriend work? I haven’t seen you before.” “He is at a conference at the hotel down the street. He has to give a presentation on some sort of fruit fly.” “And you didn’t want to sit in on that?” Zach smiled, “I’ve heard enough about it.”

Mary tapped her fingers and said, “Where are you boys from then?” Denver.” “Never been. But welcome to here. If you need any tourist advice, ask away!” Zach laughed, “Okay. But I think I am getting enough of the feel of this town this evening. It seems like a great place.” “It has its moments.” “How long have you lived here?” Mary began to count on her fingers and said, “All my years.” Zach nodded.

Another bell rang and a plate slid through a metal hole in a wall. Mary stood up and said, “That’s yours. I added a little something to it from Pete’s best sides. Hopefully, you like it.”

Zach watched the young woman with beautiful red hair skip away. The waitress smock showed all of her physical deficiencies but she didn’t seem to mind. Zach looked down at the table and moved the silverware around and grabbed a couple of napkins. By the time Zach was done rearranging the table, his plate was being placed down with a larger burger on rye bred, a pile of coleslaw, some French Fries, and a corn pudding.

“Wow, Mary, this looks great. Thanks. You have made this a special Valentine’s Day dinner for me. Why don’t you join me?”

“Do I get something to eat then?” Mary said, already walking over to the pie cabinet to grab a slice of apple crumb. “Thanks for paying for this. I already had dinner, but this slice had been looking at me since about 4.”

The two ate in silence for the first two and a half minutes. Zach kept his eyes on his date and she smiled widely at him as she took a few bites of the pie. “How’s the burger? Good, huh? And the corn stuff. I love that. I could eat pounds of it. I usually do eat pounds of it. My daughter loves it too.”

“It is all delicious, thanks for the recommendation. So, you have a daughter? What’s her name?”

“Elizabeth Nelson Montgomery. I named her after my grandmother, her father, and well, my last name.” “Is her father your boyfriend?” “Not anymore. He went to college instead. He’s alright. Does good by Liz but we’re alright without him. My boyfriend, Frank, is a great father figure for her. He works at the elementary school. We are lucky.”

“Big plans with him when you get home?” Mary continued to smile and said, “I think I will bring him some pie and he usually has a nice vase full of daisies for me.” “That sounds like a wonderful end of the work day,” said Zach. “Speaking of which, do you get to leave soon?” “Yeah, my shift ended about the time you walked in.”

Zach turned red. “I’m sorry. You should go home to your daughter and Frank. I can finish the rest of it on my own.” Mary shook her head and said, “You looked like you could use the company. I am glad I stuck around.” “Well thanks.”

The two returned to eating their respective meals and would look up to smile between bites. The two other couples began to stand up to leave, so Mary excused herself and bussed the now empty tables. Zach watched as he finished his dinner and sipped from his water cup. Though he was still a little upset at Brent for setting up a talk on Valentine’s Day three hours from their house, Zach had one of the better meals he has had in a restaurant for some time. And it cost less than a fifth of their usual meal out on the town.

When Mary returned, she asked if he needed anything else. Zach said, “For you to go home.” He put down forty dollars and said, “Happy Valentine’s Day.” He stood up, put his coat on, and walked out the door. On the opposite side of the glass, he waved at Mary who took the money and walked back to the cash register. She rang up the bill, put the ten into the machine, and pocketed the change for herself.

Mary walked over and cleaned off the table. She could see Zach turn around to look back at the diner and she waved. He didn’t return the wave, but she assumed he couldn’t see her at that angle. After cleaning up the last table, she looks at the clock which read 8:10. She called back to Pete that it was after eight, so she was headed home. He yelled through the same metal hole that the Swiss Melt came out of that he would see her tomorrow. She responded with a few well wishes and a Happy Valentine’s Day.

She walked out the front door and headed to her car as she put on her coat. The car hiccuped but started and she headed home. She passed the hotel where she assumed the fruit fly convention was occurring, but she did not see Zach. She smiled and giggled and looked forward to telling Frank about the thirty dollar tip. Liz could use some new shoes.

The radio played a few songs before she arrived in her dad’s driveway, which did not need to be shoveled. She turned the car off, grabbed her purse, and exited the vehicle. She walked up to the front steps and opened the door. All three of her family members were waiting for her with a rose apiece. “Happy Valentine’s Day, Mommy.”

Ash Wednesday

Posted by Dan Billings on February 14, 2013 under Either Sadness or Euphoria | Be the First to Comment

When I went to church today, the priest talked about Lent and how instead of giving something up like chocolate, that we should work on self-reflection and do something to make us a better person. So, instead of giving something up, I will try to write every day for the next forty days and hopefully continue writing past that. I will edit the entry from yesterday to include pictures and start from here. See you on the other side.

Splitting the Proverbial Comic Book Baby

Posted by Dan Billings on February 13, 2013 under Off the New Comic Rack | Be the First to Comment

To drop a book or not drop a book…I wish it was a question. Instead, it is a several month dilemma of weighing factors of quality, quantity, and more. I buy comics that I have bought for sixteen straight years – no questions asked. There are books that I drop after the first issue. However, the hardest books to deal with are those that have something I really like, but also something that makes me not want to even open the cover. Prophet and Doctor Who are two examples of this current dilemma.

Prophet is a reimagining of a character created by Rob Liefeld back in the earlier days of Image comics. It is a book I want to support – independent creators trying something new; beautiful art and imagination that expand what a comic can be; and something that is deeper and more intense than a typical 20 page flip-through. I open up each issue and love looking at it.

Photo Feb 12, 9 34 49 PM

Sci-fi adventures never had such a vision

It has a unique stay that brings all the weirdness to life. The art team of rotating penciled featuring Roy, Milonogiannis, and Dalrymple have created a beautiful universe to play in. However, I have no idea what is going on and remember nothing from the previous issue, even if I read it only hours earlier.

Photo Feb 12, 9 35 39 PM

Brandon Graham is an interesting creator that I really want to like. I have bought King City and Multiple Warheads. Some of the themes are utterly fascinating. But I don’t care. It reads hollow to me. I understand why people love this book and I see all of the interesting turns Graham is taking. But it just isn’t for me. And I should not continue to spend $4 hoping that the book will finally click with me.

But unlike a novel where I can just walk away and not think twice about disregarding something that other people obviously would like, comics makes me want to support products that break the mold so that publishers continue to break the mold. The fear is that they will just release another Green Lantern series or an Avengers spinoff, so anything unique deserves my money, even if I don’t like it. Weird, huh?

Unlike Prophet, I love and get the concept of Doctor Who. I watch the television series and think these characters would translate well to comics. But I am again disappointed. However, Andy Diggle’s writing is not the problem in this recent issue. He provides the lightness to the characters as they exist on screen. He creates a nice setup with the wise cracking alien, a femme fatale, a ship captain, and various peripheral characters. It hits the twist at the end of the first issue to get wrapped up in the next issue. It has great pace and charming dialogue.

But the art is incredibly distracting. It looks incredibly rushed. But remember this is a two-issue arc. Josh Adams started with this issue and it looks completely rushed. If this was a rush job by IDW, they need to work on their editorial mandates right away. This is unacceptable work. If this is how Josh Adams wants his characters to look, then he may need to reexamine his motives.

For example, the aliens have nothing unique about them. One is a short gray blob.  The artist can do anything. Look at what any of the Prophet artists do with this freedom to create above. The characters has interesting aspects to their costumes. A lot can be read into them by a quick glance. All of the aliens here look like they have to meet the BBC budget guidelines from 1974. There are never any backgrounds. It is always just a color wash. Again, look at any of the work in Prophet. If this is written to be 1974 or low-budget, then I suppose I am not the market for this book, but it is incredibly distracting to never have nice backgrounds in panels or to have any imagination going into any of the character designs.

Additionally, below are pictures of how Rory and Amy look in the issue. This actually looks like something that the artist used a photo reference for. It has Amy’s inquisitive face and Rory looking at her with a little bit of awe and fear.

Rory and Amy Pond. Take 1

But they have different facial features as the story continues. I have no idea how tall or chubby Amy is from these drawings. Rory’s strong features get molded by clay into a blob. Amy’s arms come out at her at angles that don’t even make any sense

Now, she looks like Sabrina the Teenage Witch

Now, she looks like Sabrina the Teenage Witch

The art is incredibly rushed and incredibly lazy.  And it makes me want to ditch the story. It is distracting and bothersome. Rory looks like and old man who is waiting for someone to feed him pudding and Amy went from being tall and thin and only a couple inches short than Rory to a fireplug with a square face. She looks like she was turned into an ape woman.

Amy has become squat and square faced

Amy has become squat and square faced