Saturday, October 6, 2018

Rave on, James Frey

Katerina by [Frey, James]
I was hoping that Katerina would mark a return to form for James Frey, whose books had, in my estimation, gone steadily downhill since A Million Little Pieces. I started reading and I thought it was, wasn't, was, wasn't, was.

As I turned the pages, the narrator's bad-boy bravado quickly wore thin. Likewise his distain for ordinary workaday life and his burn-it-down posturing. Through it all, his insecurity and self-loathing came shining through. He couldn't hide it and didn't try.

Even as he worshiped excess, intensity, and passion, he yearned for peace. His grandiose ambitions belied his longing for domestic bliss.

Of course Katerina, a novel named for a woman, is at its core a love story. Both Frey and his narrator (who he pointedly intertwines) are romantics. But then so am I, and it's the love story that makes the book, despite its many glaring faults, worth reading.

I both loved and hated it.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Out of Print

This happened awhile ago, but I didn't want to say anything ...

My books are now out of print.

That is, no longer available from my publisher.

It looks like Amazon still has one or two copies of each, but Luminis Books is no more.

Sad to say, the publisher of "Meaningful Books that Entertain" has closed up shop. It was, I think, a bold and noble venture, and I will always be grateful to Luminis for making my writing available to readers across the country and beyond.

I'm trying to be zen about it, recognizing the impermanence of all we do, but I still find it disheartening at times.

On the other hand, I had been thinking, even before I got the news, that I may be done writing fiction. Or nearly so. Or not.

Monday, July 30, 2018

The we in Tumbleweed

To the girl born with a suitcase in her hand
Entwine your pulled-up roots with mine
We'll turn ourselves into a tumbleweed
And ride the wind wherever it take us

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

My (One) Time as a Foreign Correspondent

Found this dispatch among some old papers in my office at home ... published in my college newspaper back in January of 1976.

Middle East contrast: faith breads violence 


BY AL RISKE

JERUSALEM - Everyone was silent when Dr. Gordon Frazee’s “New Testament Land Seminar” drove to Portland Airport, Jan. 7. We were like reservoirs waiting to receive the flow. Besides, it was 5 a.m. and no one is talkative at that hour.

Our bird’s-eye view of the continental United States is mostly undercast. Clouds or snow, all we is white. The Minnesota farmland looks like a white quilt; cities look more like maps than the real thing—those black-and-white things on gas station walls.


We fly out of New York without seeing anything outside of Kennedy Airport. Six hours later, the sun poking its Kilroy nose over the Atlantic horizon means we’re nearing London. I’d like to come back when I can see more than the airport lounge.


The first I see of the Promised Land is a stand of cypress trees on the plains of Israel’s only airport, Ben Gurion. From there, our tour group boards a bus for the hour and a half drive to Jerusalem. The driver is introduced as “Moses.” Dan Rasmussen pipes up, “Okay, Moses, let’s see you part traffic.” And so it begins.


Night blankets the city and we bed down at the Eyal Hotel without much idea where we are, having been shuffled from airport to airport to bus. In the morning I walk into Zion Square with the feeling I could hop in a VW and drive to McMinnville. The weather is Southern California.


Alex, the tour guide, leads his disciples through the Old City. Everything looks older than it is, made of desert-colored stone. Rebuilding is underway around every corner of the narrow streets. Alex says the new is being blended with the old. What can be restored, will be. New buildings combine modern touches with the basic style of the past. (“There is some religious symbolism in there somewhere,” says one of the students.)


Jerusalem looks war torn. All kinds of buildings, from banks to hospitals, are bullet-riddled, fallen bricks clutter the street, here and there green-clad men carry machine guns. At various gates, our bags are checked. Put it all together and the visitor can see why the Jewish idea of heaven is “Shalom” or peace.


At the end of the day, tour members have a hard time listing all the places visited. Some stand out. At the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, we see the traditional site of Christ’s burial. Dan Rasmussen says it can’t be the real site—not enough headroom. “Imagine Jesus rising from the dead,” he says, “and bumping his head.”


Alex is careful to point out that no one can be sure of exact locations, only approximate ones. Even then, some are based on misinformation. “But religiously it makes little difference,” says the young Jew with the English accent. “It’s a symbol.”


In a land rich with religious history and symbolism, the seminar students can hardly assimilate all the information. Even so, some time is left for “personal exploration and discovery,” as the itinerary puts it. The time is spent wisely … shopping at the Arab markets. Or not so wisely, depending on your skill at bartering.


Packing souvenirs in her backpack, Debbie Watson pulls out a beautiful, patterned brown scarf. 


“Where did you get that?” asks Dave Massey, thinking of getting one as a gift.


“Nordstrom’s in Portland,” she laughs.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

All Systems Go

Update from today’s followup with my cardiologist: All systems go. Coffee in the morning? OK. Beer or wine with dinner? OK. Yoga tonight? Yes. In short, life is returning to normal.

Monday, June 4, 2018

What a Weekend

I woke up at 5 a.m. Friday with what felt to me like maybe heartburn. Never had that, though. Pain got bad enough that I nearly threw up. 

Went to ER around 7. EKG ... chest X-ray ... blood work ... everything looked normal. But by then the pain was coming in waves. I could feel it coming on, intensifying, then vanishing. All in the absence of any doctor or nurse in the room at the time. 

 Finally a nurse and then a doctor saw what I was going through. But they still could not be sure: was it cardio or gastro? 

My body didn’t respond to morphine or nitro. It should have. But everyone is different. Lucky for me someone decided to try a drug usually prescribed for anxiety. No more pain. 

Subsequent blood tests began to show more and more of an enzyme associated with heart attacks. So they admitted me to the hospital for overnight observation. 

Imaging test the next day showed several severe blockages, and the doctor was ready with stents—four in all—which he immediately inserted, going up through my wrist to my heart. 

Took a long time, though, and I was getting claustrophobic toward the end. 

So glad it’s over now. Back home, feeling very good. Very blessed. 

Could use a beer, though that may not go well with all my new medications.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Ubiquitous

Great cappuccino at Caffe Nero, the Italian Coffee Co., which, it turns out, has locations all over London  like Starbucks in the States.  Served in real cups, with saucers, by the way.

Then a long stroll along Piccadilly with the wind nipping at our noses. Love all the old brick buildings. It's still early so nothing much is open. But there's lots of traffic  both cars and people.

The highlight of our walk is the garden outside St. James's Church (where there is another Caffe Nero).