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Friday, October 16, 2009

On the Plains of Marathon

Week Six
Goal: Run 23 miles with one 7 mile jog.

Mile Total: 23
Actual Miles Run: 14.5

Endnotes: There are two reasons I didn't reach my mile goal this week: rain and bronchiolitis. While the week started great with an 8.5 mile run and then a 3 mile run the next day, by Monday the week had just jumped the tracks with Collins getting sick and it raining for four days straight, I just didn't have the time, energy, or sleep to finish out this week strong.

On a positive note, I did a lot of writing this week. Also, Collins is now feeling much better, even if Mama and Papa aren't at this point.

Week Seven
Goal: Run 24 miles with one 9 mile jog

Weekly Top Five

Stephen King Edition!

Novels

1. It
Published in 1986

This is it, the grandaddy of them all. No book has been more influential on me as a writer or even, I suppose, as a thinking person. Stephen King's ode to children and the adults they grow into, It spends over 1000 blissful pages showing the subtle causal relationships between those things we do as children and those we do as adults. But with all Stephen King stories there's a monster, of course, and this one is a classic: a killer clown from outer space. An image that is so prevalent as to seem cliched somehow seems fresh and inventive within the context of this story of growing up and the things we have to give up in order to become adults. The story follows seven friends who, over the course of one magical summer, discover and then seek to destroy an evil presence that is hunting children. Jet forward 27 years and we see these same seven children as adults as they try to come to grips with the evil that hunted them all those summers ago and put the beast down for good. Told in bits and pieces, folding the past and present in on each other in unique ways, King finds the ways that our lives seem to repeat endlessly and finds the dark seam between the two points. This is a story that aims high and stays true to the tale at the heart of the nightmare: that growing up is a difficult thing to do, and it comes with certain casualties. This is not merely a good horror story, this is great fiction, and the novel gets better with age.


Movies

1. Misery
Directed by Rob Reiner
Starring: Kathy Bates, James Caan

There had been many movies based on Stephen King books before this one, but until Misery none had come close to matching the terror and suspense of the book note for note. On the surface Rob Reiner seemed a strange choice to helm this dark and twisted tale, but by the time Kathy Bates' Annie Wilkes is whacking at Paul Sheldon's (James Caan) feet with a sledge hammer all the while claiming it's for his own good, it becomes clear Reiner is plenty comfortable with the subject matter and is atacking it with gusto. Considering the story really involves only two characters and one of those characters is bed-ridden for 90% of it, Reiner does a great job of making the audience feel Sheldon's claustrophobia as Wilkes' insanity closes in on him. Acted to perfection by Kathy Bates, who more than earned her Best Actress Oscar that year, this is a truly suspenseful film and one of Reiner's best, and the best ever based on a Stephen King story.


5. The Stand & The Mist
4. The Dark Tower Series & The Shawshank Redemption
3. The Shining & Stand By Me
2. Misery & The Shining
1. It & Misery

Word of the Day!

remunerate [rih-myoo-nuh-rate]
-transitive verb
1. To pay an equivalent to for any service, loss, or expense; to recompense.
2. To compensate for; to make payment for.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Picks of the Week

Week Seven

Well, well, well, I finally had a good week of picks; I went 5 for 8 to bring my total up to 20 for 38, or 53%. In all reality I only blew one pick, i.e. Auburn over Arkansas, because I can’t really be faulted for picking Michigan and Georgia. This week has some interesting games, but all the focus will be on Texas and Oklahoma, and Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. These are both big games that could go a long way to deciding the potential champions of the Big 12 and ACC.


No. 8 Cincinnati at No. 21 South Florida
The two big teams in the Big East meet this week in Florida, but I think Cincinnati is on too much of a roll to drop this game, on the road or not.
Cincinnati 28 South Florida 17

No. 20 Oklahoma vs. No. 3 Texas
Ah, the Red River Shootout. All eyes will be on Texas this weekend as the two best teams in the Big 12 South face off in what should be a de facto championship game. Although Oklahoma is practically already out of the running for the National Championship game, they will be chomping at the bit to take down their archrivals. Texas, on the other hand, needs this victory to remind the pollsters that they deserve a spot at the top. Fortunately for them, even if they stay at #3 all season and ‘Bama and Florida remain undefeated, UF and ‘Bama are on a collision course that will necessarily keep one of them out of the NC game. So all Texas has to do is keep winning and they are a shoe-in. I don’t think they stumble this week.
Texas 38 Oklahoma 21

No. 11 Iowa at Wisconsin
Iowa didn’t look very good last week, but neither did Wisconsin. The only difference was Wisconsin played the best team in the Big 10 and Iowa needed a self-destructing Michigan team to stay undefeated. I think these two teams are very evenly matched and this should be a good game. I think Wisconsin will be eager to prove they are still a good team and will ride the crest of the home crowd passed the Hawkeyes.
Wisconsin 21 Iowa 17

Delaware State at Michigan
This is padding for my scorecard. Michigan is out of the Big 10 conference race but they only need two more wins for an automatic bowl berth, and that would make the whole season a win in my book. This isn’t last year’s team; Michigan will win this one big.
Michigan 42 Delaware State 14

Georgia at Vanderbilt
After an embarrassing loss last week against the Volunteers, Georgia won’t lose twice in Tennessee. Vanderbilt will be looking for some payback after a heartbreaking loss to Army last week, but they won’t find it here. Georgia by two scores.
Georgia 28 Vanderbilt 17

Arkansas at No. 1 Florida
I dunno what to think about this game. Florida as been played tough by both UT and LSU but have still found ways to win. And yet they haven’t actually played a high powered offense like Arkansas’ yet. I think Florida will win the game but I think it might be closer than might be expected.
Florida 38 Arkansas 28

No. 6 USC at No. 25 Notre Dame
Sorry Charlie, the Irish suck. USC moves to #5 in the polls after this week.
USC 35 Notre Dame 21

Texas Tech at No. 15 Nebraska
Nebraska is the team to beat in the Big 12 North and I think they are gonna keep their momentum going with a win over Texas Tech.
Nebraska 24 Texas Tech 17

No. 4 Virginia Tech at No. 19 Georgia Tech
This is the other big game of the weekend, with Georgia Tech coming off a big shootout win over Florida State last week. But VT is not Florida State and GT’s D is gonna have to play better than that to beat this stellar Virginia Tech team. I think VT keeps the steamroll rollin.
Virginia Tech 35 Georgia Tech 21

No. 22 South Carolina at No. 2 Alabama
I’m sorry Gamecocks, but you are a little overrated and you don’t stand a chance against Saban’s Tide.
Alabama 38 South Carolina 17

Weekly Top Five

Stephen King Edition!

Novels

2. Misery
Published in 1987

Stephen King has a long-held reputation of writing about writers but no story encapsulates this penchant more perfectly than Misery. The story is simple enough--the best-selling romance author, Paul Sheldon, is captured by crazed fan Annie Wilkes after a horrible car wreck--but the tension King builds with such a simple premise is spell-binding. Short and compact compared to his other 1980s fare, Misery packs a suspenseful wallop as Sheldon and Wilkes grow more and more desperate in their attempts at control, building to the emotional climax that literally pits one against the other in a no-holds-barred duel to the death. This book is King at his finest, concise, suspenseful, and brilliantly deviant*.



Movies

2. The Shining
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Jack Nicholson

Is it surprising that Stanley Kubrick and Stephen King combined to make one of the most disturbing horror films of all-time? No, not really. Considering the nightmarish vision of alcoholism and insanity King created with The Shining Kubrick seems almost a perfect fit. But what is surprising is how nightmarish those textual images appear when they are given free rein on screen. There are considerable differences between the novel and the movie**, but most King purists forgive the deviations because of the singularity of Kubrick's vision. As is often the case with the best adaptations, rather than aping the novel slavishly, Kubrick used King's text as a launching point for making a terrifying movie about insanity and the lengths to which we are all capable of indulging our darker passions. On top of everything the casting of Jack Nicholson was brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.


*I.e. the moment when Annie Wilkes cuts off one of Paul Sheldon's feet because he tried to escape. That is just messed up, Stevie.
**E.g. While Jack Nicholson's casting was brilliant, there isn't really all that much narrative tension in his character's downfall the way Nicholson played it (in the book it is a lot more subtle, less pre-determined), Jack Torrence chases his wife around the hotel with a croquet mallett instead of an axe.

Word of the Day!

teetotaler [tee-toh-tuh-lur]
-noun
One pledged to entire abstinence from all intoxicating drinks.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Weekly Top Five

Stephen King Edition!

Books

3. The Shining
Published in 1977

Published in 1977, The Shining was only Stephen King's third pubished novel* but it was such a drastic leap forward for him artistically that it quickly cemented his reputaion as the greatest horror mastermind of the late 20th century. As he'd done with his first two novels, Carrie and 'Salem's Lot, King took a well-known story convention (in this case the "haunted house" story) and completely turned it on its head to create a new cliche. The Shining also represented the first time King really focused on character, depicting in agonizing detail the slow decline of main character Jack Torrence's sanity until he is chasing his family around the Overlook Hotel with a mallett. While the well-known movie version of the story is haunting in it's own right, what makes The Shining so terrifying is the way which Torrence's insecurities are manipulated to turn him into a monster. While there are plenty of supernatural elements to the story, it is the humanity of the story which makes it resonate so thoroughly.


Movie

3. Stand By Me
Directed by Rob Reiner
Starring: River Phoenix, Keifer Sutherland

Rob Reiner, like Frank Darabont, also mined the fertile fields of Different Seasons for filmic inspiration, when he turned King's novella "The Body" into the gorgeous coming of age story Stand By Me. Now I probably watched this movie 400 times when I was in middle and high school because something about the too-adult-for-their-own-good prattle of the four lead characters really resonated with me. Also, I think there is something inherent in young guys that we like road stories, and Stand By Me is a classic road story. Centering on four friends who decide to strike out on an adventure to find a dead body supposedly decomposing in the woods outside Portland, Maine, the adventure proves ultimately to be incidental to the real story about boys growing into men, and the proverbial summer that defines that transition. Deftly directed by Rob Reiner, Stand By Me proved that Stephen King was more than simply horror and suspense, and that when he put his mind to it he was capable of delivering a truly inspiring dramatic story.



*Technically King had published four other novels under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, but The Shining was his third novel under his true name.

Word of the Day!

ludic [loo-dik]
-adjective
Of or relating to play; characterized by play; playful.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Weekly Top Five

Stephen King Edition!

Novels

4. The Dark Tower Series
Published between 1982 and 2004

Published essentially throughout Stephen King’s entire working career, the Dark Tower series has continually been a benchmark for the progress of King’s work. Begun in the late 1970’s when King thought of expanding on the Robert Browning poem “The Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” the tale is spread over seven novels* and essentially encompasses nearly all of King’s collected works**. While the details of the plot would be far too difficult to explain here, essentially the story revolves around a mythical cowboy-type figure named Roland whose world is falling apart at the seams. The only way to put it back together is to reach the elusive Dark Tower, which sits at the nexus of the multiverse and apparently holds the key to holding all worlds together. Confused yet? Well, the only reason this series isn’t #1 is because sometimes it seems like Stephen King is confused too and at multiple points during the series only just barely keeps from writing himself in a corner. Unlike the likes of J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkein King didn’t know how this was going to turn out until he realized he might die without finishing it and just hammered out the remaining three books, and the series suffers from a lack of cohesion which the aforementioned authors avoided with their respective series. All in all, though, this is a remarkable feat, and an enjoyable read throughout. I would highly recommend the series to anyone, and furthermore the graphic novel series by Marvel is amazing and fills in many of the gaps left open by King in the books. All look for a movie adaptation sometime in the next decade when J.J. Abrams finally gets around to doing it.


Movies

4. The Shawshank Redemption
Directed by Frank Darabont
Starring: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman

The movie that started Frank Darabont’s love affair with Stephen King was this doozie of a movie based on King’s novella, “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” from the collection Four Seasons***. With a stellar cast including Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, Shawshank Redemption is the perfect mix of suspense and good ole’ fashioned drama that the best Stephen King movies always seem to possess, but Darabont seems to have found a lot more pathos and longing in the story than is apparent at first reading. Essentially a buddy story, the movie follows Robbins’ Andy Dufresne, wrongly accused of murdering his wife, as he tries to discover the man who killed his wife as well as escape from the eponymous prison. Through the course of this heartfelt movie, Darabont touches on what it means to be imprisoned, not just physically but emotionally, culminating in the powerful final scene where Dufresne finally escapes the prison and feels the rain upon his face.



*The Gunslinger (1982), The Drawing of the Three (1987), The Wastelands (1991), Wizard and Glass (1997), Wolves of the Calla (2003), Song of Susannah (2004), The Dark Tower (2004).
**Other works which are included under the vast umbrella of The Dark Tower series are: Insomnia, ‘Salem’s Lot, It, The Stand, etc.
***The other three novellas were all adapted into movies as well: "The Body" (Stand By Me), "Apt Pupil" (Apt Pupil), and "The Breathing Method" (The Breathing Method).

Word of the Day!

tete-a-tete [tayt-uh-tayt; tet-uh-tet]
-adjective
1. Private; confidential; familiar.
-noun
1. A private conversation between two people.
2. A short sofa intended to accommodate two persons.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Key West: Trinkets in the Sun

Part Three
Click here for Part One
Click here for Part Two

A Brief History of the Population Boom of the 1950s and 2000s

The first big population boom in Key West was during the 1880s when Cuban immigrants, fleeing Cuba after the failed war for independence, settled at the closest location to their homeland and began establishing a thriving cigar trade on the island. At the same time many Americans from the mainland were lured to the island with rumors of vast treasures that lay just off the shore in the thousands of ships that had wrecked off the coast. These two factors contributed to a near doubling of the island’s population between 1880 and 1890 and to Key West’s being considered the largest and wealthiest city in Florida by the end of the 1880’s.

For the next 40 years the population remained more or less constant, with the overland railroad bringing a new industry for the locals to pursue: tourism. But the combination of the Great Depression and a massive hurricane, which cut off the island from the mainland, brought extraordinarily lean times for the locals and lead to a Diaspora from Key West. During the 1920s and 1930s the population declined 30% and it would stay that way for the rest of the 1930s.

But the 1940s would see Key West restored to its earlier grandeur and much more when the island was nearly doubled in size at the northeastern end through the process of landfill. What was appropriately dubbed the New Town district of Key West proved to be a huge boon for real estate during the 1940s and into the 1950s and 1960s. With far more land available for building, the population more than doubled during those decades from approximately 12,000 to 33,000 and tourism boomed as word spread of the languid climate and laissez-faire attitude of the island.

Since the 1960s the population has stabilized at around 25,000 and, despite a bleak period during the 1970s and 1980s* the relative lack of available land for new construction has driven real estate prices higher and higher, culminating in the island’s high in 2006. Though prices have been dropping slightly in the last three years, the average price for a single-family home is still hovering around $800,000.


The Final Straw, i.e. The Hemingway House

After the postmodern debacle of the Southernmost Point, the Hemingway House shouldn’t have surprised me and yet when Olivia and I pulled up and saw the line snaking out of the house’s gate and saw the $12 a piece price tag, I was utterly flabbergasted. The absurdity of paying $24 to walk through an old house (which there is certainly no lack of them on the island) and pet a few cats with a lot of extra toes, and ogle old furniture from behind a red velvet rope, and look at plants and an old pool which Hemingway got price-gouged on when he built, all because one of the greatest writers of all time lived there was just too much for me. I felt a little betrayed, as if I was five-years-old and I’d been promised a nice shiny new train set that puffed out actual smoke and then when I opened the package and took a look at my nice shiny new train set it was really just a piece of wood carved to look like a train, and the wheels didn’t even move. I stood with my mouth agape, watching the line ebb and flow like the undulations of a snake into the house’s mouth, feeling ripped off and lied to. This was supposed to be some sort of National Monument where you pay like $2 and then shuffle in and go “ooh” or “cool”, or “ look, honey, a cat with six toes” and then empty back out into the blazing Key West sun 15 or 20 minutes later with a greater appreciation for the difficulties of life in the past, not some shameless cribbing of a great literary figure’s tangential relationship for monetary gain. What did they think they were pushing in there? Were they hoping that all these wanna-be writers would come down to Key West and would like magically start channeling the genius of Hemingway by stepping foot in one of the thousands of places he lived during his life? Was I one of those wanna-be writers? I mean, what the heck happened to the Key West I’d been told about, the one where you could do whatever you wanted, the one where you could escape the rest of the world, the world you’d come here to escape? Did that Key West even ever exist?

I protested the only way I knew how, by taking a picture of the copper sign on the brick wall around the house, so that I could later tell my friends I’d gone to the Hemingway House and would have the documentary evidence to prove it, even though I hadn’t given them a single dime. It wasn’t the money really that bugged me, but the incongruity of using Ernest Hemingway, that great champion of the human spirit and ingenuity and old school grit, to peel dollars by the fistful from line-forming, camera-toting, supposedly adventure-seeking tourists who may or may not be aware of the baldness of the scam.

But mostly what really had my heart like sinking deep into my big toes is that I was beginning to question whether the Key West I’d heard about in Jimmy Buffet songs and in stories from my dad and Olivia’s dad, and read about in magazines, whether that Key West even existed anymore. And if it did, where the heck was it? Everywhere I looked I seemed to be finding a lot of t-shirts and overpriced drinks and museums and pay-to-visit beaches, which did their darnedest to sell the idea of this freewheeling, liberal shangrai-la Conch Republic, but which the very baldness of the consumerism at the heart of the trade belied their true intentions: to reveal just enough of the myth of the place to peel a few dollars out of the ole’ wallet.

With one more day left in Key West I now made it my mission to actually find the place. I didn’t want to leave the island without taking something real back with me to show I’d actually been there.


The Red Rose

During the winter of 1930-31 Tuberculosis spread like wildfire among the cigar manufacturers of Key West, wiping out entire families who often shared single bedrooms and workspaces. One of those victims was a beautiful young Cuban-American woman, Helen de Hoyos, who fell ill with the disease, as did almost her entire family, in the spring of 1931. She went to a local doctor, Count Carl von Tosel (ne Carl Tanzier) whose radiological experience made him unique among the island’s doctors.

Over the next few months, as Helen’s disease worsened, von Tosel fell desperately in love with her and tried in vain to save her life. When she died in October of 1931 von Tosel, so distraught over her death, paid for her funeral and for a lavish aboveground mausoleum in the Key West cemetery.

For the next 18 months von Tosel visited de Hoyos’ grave every night, claiming to have long conversations with her spirit. One night the spirit told him that she was in love with him and wanted to marry him, so naturally he loaded the coffin onto the back of a toy wagon and dragged the body back to his house.

For the next seven years, von Tosel kept de Hoyos’ body in the living room of his house, preserving the body as it decayed. He replaced her skin with strips of plaster of paris, her eyes with glass marbles, he took her hair and fashioned it into a wig, he propped up her collapsing abdominal cavity with wire and cloth stuffing, he dressed her in fashionable clothing. All the while talking to her, playing her the organ, and living with her body as if she was still alive.

It wasn’t until de Hoyos’ sister began to hear rumors, and suspected something unsavory had happened to her sister that the details of von Tosel’s grisly house guest were discovered. Von Tosel was arrested in October of 1940, nine years after de Hoyos’ untimely death and though he was held on one count of grave robbing the statute of limitations had run out on the crime and so he was released and never charged again.

Until his death in 1977, von Tosel never let go of his flame for de Hoyos, making a wax effigy of her body and selling postcards of her waxen face to keep her memory alive. It was widely reported that when he died his body was found clinging to the effigy of de Hoyos, although later police reports clarified that his body was actually found behind one of his organs, nearly three weeks after his death.

Today, a wax reenactment of von Tosel carefully reconstructing de Hoyos’s body can be seen in the Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum in Key West.


More than Key Lime Pies on a stick

One of the myriad reasons why I am daily thankful I married Olivia is that she doesn’t think like me at all. She is far more pragmatic, less probing, less prone to sudden bouts of despondent hyper-intellectualism and hence as I sat in abject horror watching people taking pictures of people taking pictures of an object essentially without meaning, she saw a brightly colored pier that was too busy to take the picture we’d come there to take.

“We can come back later, then,” she said.

When I sat, my hands balled in apoplectic, outraged fists outside the Hemingway House, frozen into red-faced catatonia by so many competing vectors of irritation, she said simply, “Well, the sunset cruise should be fun. At least we have that to look forward to.”

And she was right, per usual.

As we stepped wobbly-footed onto the large, bright white Fury catamaran, the hot-shower steaminess of the day already beginning to give way to a more languid evening balm, I could feel a little of my indignation slipping from my shoulders. It was sort of impossible to feel so much like I had been robbed of something essential with a drink** in my hand and the whispered hush-hush of waves parting sensually for the ship’s hull.

Even for an over-analyzing curmudgeon like myself there is something so simple and brilliant about a booze cruise: just get a boat and a few tens of complete strangers from around the world, mix with unlimited amounts of alcohol, and the cool ocean breeze and voila! you’ve practically got a ready-made good time.

And yet even with the ready-made-good-time factor, and despite Olivia’s hearty recommendation, I still wasn’t totally sold on the cruise, especially after the day’s earlier debacles. I couldn’t help but have this nagging feeling that this cruise was also going to be another Key West myth-peddling rip-off, but somewhere I think around my third or maybe it was my 13th sangria, as I was faced, like sock-full-of-quarters-whacked-in-the-kisser faced, with easily the most amazing sunset I’ve ever seen in my life I began to suspect that maybe somehow I might have stumbled on a little bit of the mythic Key West I’d heard so much about. This wasn’t like sunsets up north where the sun just sort of seems to give up for the day and slips away unnoticed over the horizon, diminished and friendless. No, this was like a cosmic tug-of-war between the earth and the night and the day, with the sun as the rope, sitting in the middle with all it’s multi-colored arms spread in liquid lines across the sky. It was like the sun was being forced off the cliff of the horizon by the night but was like scrabbling for purchase and fighting for dear life to stay in the sky. I mean there were colors in this sunset that I don’t think actually exist in real life: purples, and reds, and pinks, and oranges, the types of colors that might have paint names like “Nuclear Holocaust Orange” or “Eggplant Armageddon” if they were to be bucketed and sold at Home Depot. I mean there were greens in this frickin sunset. Greens!?

I pulled out my camera, knowing even as I lined up the sunset through the viewer that there was no picture I could take that could ever come close to approximating what it was I was seeing and feeling at that moment. As I watched frozen, watching instead of taking a picture, the sun scream and fight its way over the horizon, trailing its rainbow cape behind it, a tall ship drifted like a schmaltzy postcard across the sun’s face, a silhouetted knife cutting its throat. The thinnest streamer of a thought tickled at the back of my mind: here I was, miles off the coast of the island, and yet still connected to it. This was certainly part of the experience of Key West, being miles away from anything and drunk and free and taught as a sail, in the wind, hair blown, drink refilled, the sun and the clouds and the water’s horizon acting out a play on a stage too large to exist anywhere but down here.

The sun was gone, the sky growing rapidly black, but the night only heightened my sense that I’d found at least a bread crumb trail to the old Key West I so desperately sought. Maybe I’d been looking in the wrong places? Maybe the heartbeat didn’t lie in frozen Key Lime Pies on a stick, or museums, or bars, or even in anything in particular at all, but in the unique combination of climate and location, and spectacular astrological phenomena that was native to this tiny place at the very end of the US. Maybe the freedom and rugged individualism that Key West was so famous for didn’t come from the people or the places, but from the very island itself, from the very idea of living with your back to the physical edge. In short, maybe it wasn’t the people that created Key West but Key West that created the people that inhabited it. And if that was the case then no amount of Duval St. tchotchke could erase what this place stood for. I simply had to look a little harder.



*Strangely enough this is exactly the period in which Jimmy Buffet first visited the island. The decline of the 1970s and 1980s, after the boom of the decades before, made Key West a very unique place. The fishing, drug and rum-running, tourism, and myth-making industries were still intact even as the paint cracked and the windows broke and the harsh glare of wind and rain and sun made the whole island feel dilapidated and worn out. Yet like an old drunk who seems to wear his wrinkles and grizzled beard like a crown, Key West was made even more alluring by the decay, which only added to its essential myth as the end of the known world.

**e.g. a lot of drinks.


Weekly Top Five

Stephen King Edition!

No author has been more influential on my genesis as a writer than Stephen King. He’s the reason I started writing, the reason I’ve kept writing; his imprint on my technique and style is indelible. So, in honor of one of the most successful commercial authors of all time this week’s Weekly Top Five is dedicated to the Master of Horror, Stephen King. Each day this week I will countdown the top five best Stephen King novels as well as the best movies based off his stories. It’s a two-for-one deal, for my old Uncle Stevie.


Novels

5. The Stand
Published in 1978
Re-released as Full Edition in 1990

I’m sure this pick will surprise a lot of people, since most would probably put this massive tome at #1, but I always felt The Stand dragged a bit in the middle, and incorporated too many characters to properly identify with*. Even with those vague criticisms The Stand is still a classic. The first of Stephen King’s novels to deal overtly with Science Fiction-y themes, the book begins when nothing less than 99.9% of the world’s population are knocked off by an International Pandemic called Captain Trips, i.e. a particularly healthy strain of the Flu. Those who are left begin having strange dreams of either an elderly black lady named Mother Abigail or a blue-jeaned drifter named Randall Flagg, and they are led to either congregate in Iowa or Las Vegas respectively. What follows is an epic tale of good v. evil, with a healthy dose of secular religiosity thrown in for good measure, and at well over 1000 pages this doorstop of a book has plenty to say on the topics of both. Turned into an ill-conceived miniseries in 1994**, the novel has recently been dramatized as a graphic novel series by Marvel, following the enormous success of the Dark Tower Series graphic novels.


Movies

5. The Mist
Directed by Frank Darabont

After success with two of Stephen King’s other stories, The Green Mile and Shawshank Redemption, Frank Darabont decided to take on a SK horror story, the novella The Mist. The premise is simple: a group of people gets stuck in a mini-mart when an unnatural mist makes escape impossible. But what follows is a classic rumination on courage, patriotism, consumerism, and religion, all themes that were in the original story, but which took Darabont’s deft hand to truly tease out of the text. Again Darabont struck gold, earning good box office numbers, and in the process releasing one the most successful horror films based on a SK text in years.




*I realize this is a strange criticism coming from someone who has been singing like a canary the praises of Infinite Jest.
**What SK miniseries hasn’t sucked?

Word of the Day!

Today's Word of the Day is actually a short grammar lesson. As I've said before I am not doing these grammar lessons to rub it in anyone's face* but rather to help everyone learn, thus I usually will post grammar lessons on things that I screw up all the time**.

So, today's lesson is on when to underline, italicize, or put works of art in quotation marks when discussing them.

The most basic way of establishing what you should use is whether or not the work of art can stand on it's own, or whether it is a part of a whole. In this way, novels, journals, newspapers, films are all considered singular works and are thus italicized. While short stories, episodes of television series, songs are all put in quotation marks.

Here are some examples:

Correct: The best song on Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon is "Money".
Incorrect: Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" has a lot of good songs on it.

Correct: The article "Ten Ways to Dispose of a Body" in last Sunday's London Times was very informative.
Note: The city is never italicized when referring to a newspaper or journal unless the city is part of the title. In the case of the London Times, London is not part of the title but rather a way of distinguishing it from other newspapers with the same name.

Correct: My favorite episode of Gilmore Girls is "Supposedly Intelligent Women Saying Supposedly Witty Things".

Here's a more comprehensive list of what is italicized:

Journals and Magazines: the New York Times, the London Times, The Chattahoochee Review.
Plays: Waiting for Godot, Long Day's Journey Into Night
Long Musical Pieces: Puccini's Madama Butterfly, Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite (but "Waltz of the Flowers"), Schubert's Winterreise (but "Ave Maria"). For musical pieces named by type, number and key — Mozart's Divertimento in D major, Barber's Cello Sonata Op. 6 — we use neither italics nor quotation marks.
Films: The Lord of the Rings, Big Fish, The Dark Knight
Television and Radio Programs: Gilmore Girls, Fresh Air, Family Guy
Artworks: the Venus de Milo, Whistler's The Artist's Mother
Famous Speeches: Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, Washington's Second Inaugural Address (when that is the actual title of the speech)
Long Poems (that are extensive enough to appear in a book by themselves): Longfellow's Evangeline, Milton's Paradise Lost, Whitman's Leaves of Grass
Pamphlets: New Developments in AIDS Research


*I am most certainly not a militant grammarian.
**In hopes that I will eventually stop screwing them up, of course.