Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: September 2014 Blog List

Greetings to all!  I hope you'll join us for the next installment of the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, an online gathering of bloggers who love books.  The next meeting is set for Friday, September 26th.  If you're interested, please sign on to the link list at the end of this post.

The idea is simple: on the last Friday of each month, post about the best book you've finished over the past month while visiting other bloggers doing the same.  In this way, we'll all have the opportunity to share our thoughts with other enthusiastic readers.  Please join us:


Friday, August 29, 2014

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: August 2014

Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the tomes they enjoyed most over the previous month.  Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.  If you wish to add your own review to the conversation, please sign on to the link list at the end of my post.

Title: The Headless Cupid
Author: Zilpha Keatley Snyder
via Wikipedia
I believe I was in the third grade the first time The Headless Cupid was read to me.  The book was my introduction to the world of dark magic, expanding my vocabulary with words like occult, familiar and seance.  While I've always remembered the story fondly, I'd forgotten most of the details so it was high time for a re-read.

Snyder's award-winning book is about many things, but mostly it's about the joining of two families and the inherent obstacles people face in that situation, especially when adolescent children are involved.  David is the oldest of the four Stanley children, largely responsible for his younger siblings since the death of their mother.  Dad has just married Molly and with her comes Amanda, a daughter just a year older than David.  As if having a new older sister weren't odd enough in itself, Amanda believes she's a witch and is eager to initiate the Stanley kids.

The new family's new home, The Westerley House, is quite a character itself.  It's old, rundown and quite probably haunted.  Amanda and David learn of nineteenth century reports of a poltergeist and - wouldn't you know it? - mysterious things start happening around the house soon afterward.  Central to the story - and its title - is the staircase with its beautiful, hand-carved bannisters supported at the ends by cupids.  One of the cherubs, of course, is missing its noggin.

The real treat of The Headless Cupid is Blair, David's younger brother, four years old.  Blair is a quieter, more aloof version of A Wrinkle in Time's Charles Wallace.  Like CW, Blair is far better in tune with the mysterious forces of the universe than even David fully appreciates until the very end.

Not all children's books hold up for adult readers but The Headless Cupid is just as much fun as I remembered it.  Life experience, especially an appreciation for the challenges of raising a family, adds a great deal to the reading.  The story is sweet, spooky and occasionally very funny, indeed.

Please join us and share your own review of your best read from the past month.  This month's link list is below.  I'll keep it open until the end of the day.  I'll post September's tomorrow.  Meetings are the last Friday of each month.  Next gathering is September 26th.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Star Trek: Bread and Circuses

Episode: "Bread and Circuses"
Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 2, Episode 25
Original Air Date: March 15, 1968
via Pop Classics
In "Bread and Circuses," the Enterprise crew follows the path of yet another missing Federation ship: the SS Beagle, captained by R.M. Merik, a friend of Kirk's from the academy, of course.  We get a little trip to ancient Rome this time as the Captain, Spock and McCoy are captured, then thrown into the gladiator pits.  We've been down this costume drama road before...

And yet, this episode offers a little something extra.  The Rome on planet 892-IV has some important 20th century updates, namely television.  The gladiators fight not in an arena but on a sound stage with all applause and other audience reactions piped in.  The episode's title refers to a poem by the Roman satirist Juvenal in which he asserts that the public is easily placated by food and entertainment.  Star Trek always struggled with low ratings during its initial run and many fans see this story as Gene Roddenberry venting his frustrations with the industry.  A telling line from the Master of Games to a reluctant gladiator: "You bring this network's ratings down, Flavius, and we'll do a special on you!"

*****
via Memory Alpha
William Smithers (Captain Merik) was born July 10, 1927 in Richmond, Virginia.  After a successful Broadway career, he moved to Hollywood in 1965.  He has nearly 400 credits for television alone, most notably a five-season run on Dallas as Jeremy Wendell.  His two biggest film roles were in Attack and Papillon.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Now in Theaters: Boyhood

Title: Boyhood
Director: Richard Linklater
My Overall Rating: 5 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
Boyhood is an extremely ambitious film.  Richard Linklater filmed the same cast intermittently over a twelve-year period, following a family as the kids grow up, primarily Mason Evans, Jr. (performed by Ellar Coltrane).  Mason is six years old at the tale's beginning and it ends with his first day at college.  Mom (Patricia Arquette) and Dad (Ethan Hawke) have split and Mason and his older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, the director's daughter) live with their mother.  The family lives through remarriages (good for Dad, disastrous for Mom), moves, school bullies, new careers and teenage romance.


It's the sort of movie that stays with you. My Wife and I went to see it on Saturday afternoon and I've been thinking about it ever since.  Unfortunately, it also means I've had Coldplay's "Yellow" going through my head but even that hasn't ruined the film for me.  It's excellent and there are so many reasons why.  The actors are all wonderful, especially Arquette.  The children are entirely believable.  The time passage is never marked - "Four Years Later" and such.  Suddenly the kids are older and the story moves on.  There are so many paths the movie could have followed more deeply: alcoholic stepfathers, teen drug use, etc.  But that's not really the point.  Mason's life, his boyhood, is made up of smatterings of all those things.  Not all is bad, either.  Dad gets his life together.  Both kids find good friends.  Both go to college.  The story encapsulates a 360-degree view of childhood, neither sugar-coated nor the opposite.

I hope this movie will be remembered come Oscar time.  Filming the story over such a long period surely involved risk but it's no mere gimmick.  There's not a whiff of pretense.  Arquette, in particular, definitely deserves a nomination.

State of the Blog 2014

The Squid is hungry.  While the bountiful waters of the past year have brought ample nourishment, he is never sated.  The Armchair Squid continues his quest for fulfillment, trolling familiar waters but also exploring new terrain.  Dear readers, I hope you will join in the feast to come.  It is Year 6 in the life of The Squid.


Blogging Projects
The Cephalopod Coffeehouse, my monthly bloggers' book club, has become the central feature of The Armchair Squid.  My friend Mock and I have also recently launched Mock Squid Soup, a monthly film society.  
I hope both will continue to grow over the coming year.  I find these and similar projects to be the best way to harness the creative energy of the thriving community that is the blogosphere.  I am always open to new ideas for working with other bloggers.


Good Reading
Good Food Display - NCI Visuals Online.jpg
"Good Food Display - NCI Visuals Online" by Unknown - This image was released by the National Cancer Institute, an agency part of the National Institutes of Health, with the ID 2397 (image) (next).
This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information.
English | Fran├žais | +/−. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Thanks to our Family Book Swap this past summer, foodie books have attained prominence at The Armchair Squid.  As such, food and drink are likely to become important topics in the coming year.  More on that below in the Family Adventures section.  In addition to food books, I will continue my reviews of sports books, comic books, children's books and Asian literature.
My Wednesday posts about Star Trek original series episodes have been great fun.  At this writing, I have two more episodes to go in order to finish Season 2.  I will continue this Wednesday series through the show's third and final season - I must in order to earn the merit badge.  At that point, I expect it'll be time for a break, an opportunity to explore other frontiers, closer to home.


Family Adventures
Travel, film and food shall continue to dominate these Sunday evening posts.  As noted in the Good Reading section, food is likely to take a more prominent role.  Apart from eating, the best way to learn more about food is through cooking.  My Wife, as I have written before, is a genius in the kitchen and my own minimal culinary skills are rarely required.  However, I've long been encouraged to take up a cooking hobby and I think I've finally found one that holds long-term inspiration for me.  More on that to come, particularly once I get through Trek.  


Music

No changes planned for this topic.  Music in film has been a most gratifying subject over the past year and I fully intend to continue with it as my own Family Movie Night theme.  Music is likely to turn up in other posts, too.
via The Wonderful Wiki of Oz
I am eternally humbled by those of you who grace me with your time in reading my posts and sharing your thoughts when the spirit moves you.  Your friendship and encouragement are The Squid's lifeblood.  I look forward to our journey to come in Year 6.

If you're interested in previous State of the Blog posts, please visit the links below:

2012
2011
2010

Squiddies 2014

The Armchair Squid turns five years old today.  It's time to hand out some hardware.  And the Squiddy goes to...

Biggest Surprise: Stan Wawrinka Wins the Australian Open
via Wikipedia
In my Squiddies post a year ago, I wrote that Switzerland's Stanislas Wawrinka was not likely to threaten for major tennis title.  Well, he showed me!  In January, he broke the Big Four's stranglehold on the Slams by winning the Australian Open.  It was the first time since the 2009 US Open that any man outside of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal won a major.


Biggest Disappointment: Basement Flood
via Amazon
One Wednesday morning in April, we woke up to three inches of water in our basement.  We lost a lot of stuff, mostly books.  Most disappointing for me, my treasured Dungeons & Dragons books from the '80s were thoroughly soaked.


Best Match: Wimbledon Men's Final

Roger Federer is not the irresistible force he was 5-10 years ago but he's still substantially better than nearly everyone else on tour.  He gave Novak Djokovic just about all he could handle for five sets in the Wimbledon final before the Serb finally broke through.  It was a brilliant match with both players providing sparkling moments of genius.  With the win, Djokovic also regained the World #1 ranking.


Best Story: Wawrinka

With his Aussie Open title, Wawrinka cracked the top 5 for the first time in his career and, far more shocking, became the top ranked Swiss player.  There's no shame, of course, in being second best to Federer but finally passing the grandmaster must have felt awfully good.  Wawrinka won their next head-to-head match, too, besting Fed in the final of the Monte Carlo Masters in April.  Alas, at Wimbledon, order was restored.  Federer's quarterfinal victory over Wawrinka was visibly demoralizing for the younger man.  Roger is Swiss #1 once again.


Best Read, First-Time Category: Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford

via Amazon
My Wife had the brilliant idea of a Family Book Swap for the summer, each of the three of us giving books to the other two.  Heat was the first one she gave to me and my favorite book for the year.  As the subtitle explains, Buford's culinary odyssey takes him from New York City to the Italian countryside.  He genuinely wants to learn to cook but also clearly enjoys the outrageous characters he meets along the way, as do I.  It's a book that makes me want to learn more: always a good thing.


Best Read, Re-Read Category: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle
via Wikipedia
Admittedly, Wrinkle was my only re-read this year but I was delighted to revisit this childhood classic.  L'Engle's tale of inter-dimensional travel and self-actualization speaks to me differently as an adult.  I still prefer the third book of the series, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, but Wrinkle's good fun.


Best Comics Find: Buddha by Osamu Tezuka
via Amazon
Tezuka is manga's most revered creator.  His series on the life of Buddha ran in Japan from 1972-83 and was translated to English in 2006.  Buddha's path is filled with characters both historical and fictional.  I am by no means an expert on the faith but I think the series is at least good fuel for anyone eager to learn more.  The artwork, especially the landscapes, is frequently breathtaking.


Athlete of the Year: Rafael Nadal
via Barnes & Noble
The computer rankings say that Djokovic has had a better year but Rafa's two Slam titles over the past twelve months trumps Novak's one.  Plus, I read Rafa's autobiography this year.  The long-term outlook for Nadal is frequently worrisome and concern is definitely warranted at the moment.  He hasn't played a match since Wimbledon and has withdrawn from the US Open with a wrist injury.  He would have been defending champion in New York so his ranking points will take a serious hit.  Some day, he'll decide that the wear and tear on his body just isn't worth it anymore and he'll retire to Mallorca to wallow in his millions.  He doesn't have much left to prove but the Rio Olympics will be played on clay.  I can't imagine that isn't a powerful incentive for him to tough it out for a couple more years.


Post with Most Unexpected Consequences: Star Trek: The Alternative Factor

Janet MacLachlan.jpg
"Janet MacLachlan" by [1]. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

I think it's fair to say that "The Alternative Factor" is one of the weaker stories from the Star Trek original series run.  However, the episode is notable for what didn't happen.   The original script included what would have been network television's first interracial romance, sealed with a kiss.  But southern affiliates balked so the idea was shelved for a couple of years.  This discovery inspired my blogger pal Maurice Mitchell to do further research.  His much better post on the subject can be found here.


Best Family Adventure: Montreal

This was a tough choice.  Looking back, we've had several satisfying adventures this year.  Our Colorado trip last month was a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with extended family.  That would be Purple Penguin's top choice for sure.  Our weekend in Montpelier for the Green Mountain Film Festival was also a great success.  Even the Family Book Swap was worthy of consideration here.

In late February, we spent a few days in Montreal.  The city's only a couple hours away from us and we go several times a year but always just for the day.  This was our first overnight in town as a family.  We hit a few tourist attractions but mostly, it was an opportunity to observe Montrealers going about their daily lives: going to work, walking their kids to school, etc.  Not wanting to be stressed out by driving, we left the car at the hotel for the duration and got around via subway.  Public transit is excellent, a great way to see Montreal.  It was bitterly cold but that gave us an honest view of life in the Canadian winter.  I'm very happy about the role Montreal has come to play in our family. Getting to know the city on more intimate terms was lovely.


Best Unexpected Benefit of Blogging: The Adventure of Guest Posting
via Goodreads
In July, I had the honor of writing my first guest post, a piece about bullying on Janie Junebug's blog, WOMEN: WE SHALL OVERCOME.  It was also a second opportunity to share my thoughts on another of my favorite books from the past year, Wonder by R.J. Palacio.  Engaging with another blogger's audience was highly enlightening and a great way to make new friends.


Squiddy Posts from Previous Years:

2013
2012
2011
2010

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Star Trek: The Ultimate Computer

Episode: "The Ultimate Computer"
Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 2, Episode 24
Original Air Date: March 8, 1968
via Memory Alpha
"The Ultimate Computer" addresses one of the most important and enduring themes in science fiction: the fear of machines and their capacity to supersede humans.  Captain Kirk is ordered to hand temporary control of his ship over to the latest supercomputer: the M-5.  M-5's creator, the genius Dr. Richard Daystrom, comes aboard the Enterprise for the duration of the testing exercises.  The machine's efficiency is undeniable but once it starts making value judgments on its own, catastrophe ensues.

This episode doesn't seem to be on anyone's favorite list but I really enjoyed it.  The fear of machines is always a poignant topic and "The Ultimate Computer" speculates quite effectively about the application of technology without compassion.  Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics arose out of similar concerns 26 years earlier.  There's also a nice moment of foreshadowing for fans of the broader franchise.  Spock comments to Bones that nothing in current computer technology can replace a ship's medical officer.  Apparently, that shortcoming is sorted out in time for the Emergency Medical Hologram to be one of the central characters in the Star Trek: Voyager series.

*****
via Wikipedia
William Marshall (Daystrom) was born August 19, 1924 in Gary, Indiana.  He attended NYU as an art student but theatrical pursuit soon took precedent.  Marshall's Broadway resume is impressive, including several productions of Othello, performing the title role to great acclaim.

Marshall also got loads of screen work.  His most famous film role is as the title character in Blacula and its sequel.  With his training, amazing speaking voice and impressive physical bearing, Marshall would undoubtedly have been a more prominent figure in a later era with more opportunities for African-American actors.  He died in 2003 from complications due to Alzheimer's and diabetes.