Brideshead Revisited

By Evelyn Waugh

In what is by now, I'm sure, a familiar pattern to readers of this blog, Brideshead Revisited made its way onto my reading list via the community forum here. A then-regular poster described it as "one of the greatest works of twentieth century Christian fiction," and the surrounding discussion piqued my interest. Unfortunately, though I can appreciate the craft that went into the novel, I found that its viewpoint was simply too far removed from my own for me to be able to connect with it.

The bulk of the story is presented as a memory of the narrator's. Charles Ryder, an English Army captain during WWII, finds himself and his unit unexpectedly brought to a new station that turns out to be the former home of the aristocratic (and eccentric and deeply dysfunctional) Flyte family, which he knew and befriended in his younger days. Wandering the grounds and halls of his new billet, Ryder remembers to himself (and, thus, to us) the story of his friendship with Sebastian, the younger son, his increasing involvement over the years with the family, and his eventual estrangement from them.

It's hard for me to know exactly how to interpret this book. On the one hand, it seemed a bit like a deconstruction of English upper-class society and values, since more or less all of the characters that inhabit that social stratum are depicted as shallow, self-absorbed, and boorish. The problem for me was that the contrasting figures--mainly Ryder and Sebastian's sister, Julia--are largely unsympathetic themselves, managing to be just as shallow and unpleasant as the people they sneer at. Additionally, I couldn't help but feel that the author, despite portraying it in what seemed such a negative light, nonetheless had a strong attraction to the upper-class lifestyle.

Most likely, the unpleasantness of the principal characters is meant to give more weight to the religious theme that ultimately is the central focus of the novel. But, here again, I didn't feel as though I had the right context or viewpoint to connect with that focus, especially as it's only fully realized in the closing pages with the conversion of the two main agnostic characters of the story. And even at that, given my own religious leanings, it was hard for me to feel that the payoff as a reader was worth having to endure what was basically an entire novel of awful people being awful to each other. In the end, it simply felt empty to me.

Still, I have to admit that my feelings on this book are largely informed by my own spiritual viewpoint, and I suspect that many Christian readers--especially those with an appreciation for subtlety--will come away with the same feeling of beauty and admiration for the book that the forum poster I mentioned felt. And even though I didn't connect on a religious level with Brideshead Revisited, I have to appreciate just how subtle Waugh's depiction of "the operation of Grace" (as he put it) was. So often writers seem to want to beat the reader over the head with a religious message, where in this book, I suspect that many people might miss it entirely. That may not sound like a virtue to everyone, but for me, all of the most profound experiences I've had with fiction have come from books that made me feel like I discovered something on my own.

Started: 9/13/2010 | Finished: 9/20/2010

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Meet L

L and Jason have been friends since they were both just a few weeks old--Juliette and L's mom went to the same breastfeeding support group. One of the fun parts about seeing them grow up together has been seeing the differences in their personalities. L is soft-spoken; Jason is a shouter. L likes to give Jason hugs; Jason usually tries to run away from L's hugs. And, as you can see here, L likes to pose and smile for the camera, while Jason generally doesn't want to be interrupted from his busy schedule of running in circles and climbing on top of tables.

Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 18-55mm DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Focal length 55mm, aperture f/8, shutter 1/60 sec, ISO 200. Post processing in Aperture 3: Daylight WB preset; cloned out some sensor dust and a bit of food that was in the corner of her mouth; applied curve for highlight recovery, midtone boost, and highlight recovery; lightly dodged over her eyes to bring out the color a touch.

Thoughts for improvement: I can't quite make up my mind whether this would be a little better if I had taken half a step back, so that her whole head appeared in the shot. It would be nice to get her hair in the frame, but on the other hand, I think this framing may emphasize her eyes and smile more.

Two Guitars

For a long time when I was young, my dad had this old Takamine six-string that occupied various corners of his house. The funny thing is, I don't remember ever seeing him play it. In fact, apart from a few old photos that were, I think, taken before I was born, I can't recall even seeing him hold it. No, it just sat around, sometimes in a closet, other times leaning against the wardrobe in his bedroom. Eventually, it went with my older brother when he went back to his mom's house at the end of the summer.

Oddly, it never really struck me that my dad didn't play it. That guitar was just part of the furniture at his house. It wasn't until my brother took it that I even thought about it, and then only because my brother talked about it so much. To be honest, the idea of my dad playing an instrument has always seemed kind of unbelievable to me, despite the photos and even despite the fact that one of my grandmother's favorite stories about him when I was a child was how he played the French horn in high school.

For some reason, memories of that old Takamine came bubbling up this morning as I was listening to Morning Edition on NPR--one of the music breaks was a singer-songwriter-ish piece that featured some acoustic strumming, though why that would make me think of that old guitar is a mystery. It also made me think of my own guitars. Yes, guitars. Plural.

I have three guitars. One is a crappy classical that I picked up at a dorm auction during my freshman year of college--it cost me all of $21. Another is my Danelectro 56-U2. And, finally, there's the Washburn steel-string that my dad gave me for my 30th birthday. I love every one of them but I rarely ever play. In fact, I'd barely even say I know how. At my best--maybe ten or twelve years ago--I could manage some decent rhythm guitar, but even then my best instrument was harmonica. These days I've gotten terribly rusty. I can still remember a few chords on the guitar and a few riffs on the harmonica, but it's been so long since I stretched myself that I'm essentially a beginner again with both.

It makes me wonder whether Jason will come to see those guitars in the same way that I saw my dad's Takamine. And maybe he always felt the same way I do now--meaning to play, wanting to play, but never getting around to it. Who knows? Maybe Jason will some day put these strings to better use than I have.

Oh Hi

Oh Hi

We had planned to have a big end-of-summer playdate with a bunch of Jason's friends, but it turns out that when everybody involved a.) has toddlers, and b.) are busy people, it's hard to get everyone's calendar lined up. Thus, our end-of-summer playdate ended up happening in mid-September. Anyway, it was a rousing success and everyone had a good time. Or at least was polite enough to pretend.

Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 18-55mm DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Focal length 18mm, aperture f/5.6, shutter 1/60 sec, ISO 200. Post-processing in Aperture 3: Daylight WB preset, cropped to square, curve for contrast and highlight recovery, burned background.

Thoughts for improvement: Well, the booger in his nose is a little unsightly, but I was unfortunately not skillful enough to clone it out. It would also be nice if that bush weren't right behind his head on the left.

I Am Salivating

My efforts toward lowering my cholesterol have really improved my diet from a health standpoint. I've also lost some weight, which is nice. But, man, I have been thinking about food more or less constantly for the last couple of months.

Tonight as I was making my oatmeal--I make a big batch on Sunday night which I can then put in the fridge and reheat for breakfast for the next several days--I was having visions of a burger. But not just any burger. This burger is going to be haunting my dreams.

Start with a nice hamburger patty, cooked to maybe just a hair below medium. Add a healthy portion of hot pastrami. Then three strips of bacon. Then throw on some Swiss cheese and let it melt a little. Now deli mustard, dill pickle slices, and shredded iceberg lettuce. I toyed with the idea of adding avocado, just to make it completely ridiculous, but I figured that wouldn't work well with the mustard.

Are you hungry? This is how I've been feeling every day for the past two months. Yeah, I know: first world problems.

The Heart of Rock and Roll Is Still Beating

I'm just going to come right out and say it: I freakin' love the album Sports. That's right, I'm talking about Huey Lewis and the News. I love it. I always have.

I can't honestly remember when I first heard it. The album came out in 1983, at which point I was four years old. My dad had it on vinyl, though at that point tapes still hadn't surpassed LPs as the dominant portion of the music market so having an album on vinyl wasn't unusual. I don't remember when he bought it, but my memories of that record are intimately tied to the house he lived in until I was in college, and I think he moved into that house when I was six or eight.

My dad had a rack stereo in his front living room, right in front of the big window that looked out onto the street (which nearly always had the shade down) and next to the pool table that took up nearly the entire room. My brother and I would put the record onto the turntable and then proceed to rock out for the entire 40 or so minutes of the album. The pool cues became our guitars and we would jump around the room, filled with the bar-room rhythms of the songs. My personal favorite part was the harmonica solo during "The Heart of Rock & Roll," during which I would cup my hands in front of my face and pretend to play along. Later, when I taught myself to play harmonica for real in high school, I told people that it was because of the influence of my American history teacher and my blossoming love of the blues, but truthfully the seeds were laid much earlier by Mr. Lewis and his compatriots.

I imagine that people who know me may be surprised by my affection for this album, since many of them have accused me of being a music snob. Funny enough, though, I'm pretty sure that both my dad's record and his stereo are now in the hands of my younger brother, who's an even bigger snob than I am when it comes to music. (I might even go so far as to say that he's the reason I became a music snob; much of what I now know and appreciate about contemporary music I learned from him.) And neither of us is even remotely apologetic about how much pleasure we get from the sound of that heartbeat drumline that kicks off this album.

And our love for cheesy 70s and 80s pop doesn't stop there. Some day, if you're lucky and happen to catch us together and in the right state of mind, you might be treated to a rousing rendition of The Doobie Brothers' "What a Fool Believes." But that's a whole 'nother story.

Daddy, Help!

Daddy, Help!

Headed back to the car, I noticed this kid climbing up to look over the little wall separating the boardwalk from the beach. He must have gotten stuck, though, because by the time we walked past him he was calling for his dad.

Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 55-200mm VR DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Focal length 175mm, aperture f/5.6, shutter 1/1000 sec, ISO 200. Post processing in Aperture 3: applied Daylight WB preset, a bump to vibrancy and a bit of edge sharpening, strong curve to increase tone and contrast, and dodged over the boy's face and arms.

Thoughts for improvement: There are a bunch of distracting elements right behind the boy's head, including what appears to be the top of his dad's hat. This would definitely be better without those. The sky is also kind of boring, and I've put the horizon right at the middle of the frame, which isn't terribly interesting. I should probably have cropped this lower.

For Me, the Eighties Means Joel Crager and Michael Landon

It's funny how much of my memory of television in my youth has to do with shows I never actually saw. You see, for a lot of my childhood we didn't get TV service. We didn't have cable and lived in areas where the broadcast reception was terrible at best, so our only link to the wider entertainment world was the VHS tapes my grandmother sent us every six weeks or so. Mostly these were collections of Star Trek: The Next Generation or various offerings from the Disney Sunday Movie. One particularly memorable tape included a recording of The Ewok Adventure, and to this day, the opening title sequence of the ABC Sunday Night Movie throws me into a fit of nostalgia.

Since all of these tapes were recorded from broadcasts, they of course included all the commercials. Our first couple of VCRs didn't have remote controls, which, combined with my brother's and my natural laziness, meant that we ended up watching a whole lot of those commercials. As a result, some of my strongest memories of the mid-80s are of a gritty baritone voice telling me all about what was coming up this week on Hardcastle & McCormick, Jack & the Fat Man, Highway to Heaven, The Fall Guy, and Falcon Crest, none of which I've seen even a single episode of.

These days I rarely watch commercials, since the DVR makes it so easy to skip past them. Occasionally I leave the TV on while I'm working on something else--dishes or folding laundry--and then I'll let the ads play just because I'm too lazy to drop what I'm doing every ten minutes to pick up the remote. But for the most part, I only intentionally watch commercials during the Superbowl.

It makes me wonder what sort of incidental pop cultural impressions will be left in Jason's memory when he gets older. I wonder what we'll watch together, and what he'll only know by name. Who knows? By the time he's old enough for us to want to consume the same entertainment, TV as we know it may not even be a thing anymore.

Sand Like Glass

Sand Like Glass

About midway through Sunday's trip to Mission Beach, Jason decided that he wanted to get out of the stroller and go look at the water. Can't say I blame him.

Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 55-200mm VR DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Focal length 100mm, aperture f/5.6, shutter 1/2000 sec, ISO 200. Post-processing in Aperture 3: Daylight WB and Yellow Filter BW presets. Dodged over the subjects and burned the backgrounds. Applied a medium-ish vignette.

Thoughts for improvement: I'm not totally pleased with the post-processing in this one; the burning and dodging feels kind of sloppy to me. I think I'd also like if I were able to get more of the reflection in the sand.

The Neverending Story

By Michael Ende

My copy of The Neverending Story is getting a bit worse for wear. The dust jacket has long since been lost, and the lettering and imprinted design on the rust-colored cover are barely visible. The binding has stiffened and the pages are becoming brittle. None of which is terribly surprising, considering that I've had it for twenty-four years, and have read it at least a dozen times.

Like a lot of people of my generation, my introduction to The Neverending Story came via the 1984 film, which immediately became a favorite and went on to become a staple film in my young life. My mom bought a copy of the book a couple of years later--initially it was for her, but it's been mine ever since I saw it lying on a windowsill where she'd left it. Like The Lord of the Rings, it grabbed a hold of me from the first and I've been returning to it ever since.

I love this book. I love the feeling of nostalgia I get when I read it, remembering all the nights I stayed up late as a kid to finish just one more chapter. I love that even having read it so many times, it never feels stale to me. I love that at 31 it still gives me the same rush of adventure and imagination and wonder that it did when I was 7. I love the way it invites you to tell your own stories.

What struck me the most as I was reading it this time is that I can't wait for Jason to be old enough for me to read this with him. As I turned the pages, I imagined the look on his face when he hears about Uyulala, the Southern Oracle, or Bastian's adventure with Grograman, the Many-Colored Death. I even thought about what sort of voices and accents to try with each of the characters. My only worry is that he might learn to read early enough that by the time he's mature enough for this story he'd rather read it on his own than have me read it to him. I know what I was like at 7, and in so many ways he seems to be on the same track I was when I was his age.

But we'll leave that problem for when or if it comes. For now, I'll just savor the anticipation. Because if he really is like me, then Jason is absolutely going to flip for this book.

Started: 9/9/2010 | Finished: 9/11/2010

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