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Mad Monday

It’s Monday, March 28th. Three days have passed since my last day of employment as a magistrate. This morning passed as any other morning before it. Yawn, shower, dress and go. I was downtown before the first stirrings of dawn, except this time I remained huddled outside in the chill stamping my feet and sipping hot coffee to stay warm. I waited for the line at the temp agency to form, but none ever did. The coffee dried up and my interest with it so I left for home, hoping to put some time in on my manuscript. That never happened. The unfinished book sits alone, a mere arm-length away, loitering and collecting dust on the corner of the desk. And it can stay there, at least for time being. And why is that?

Because I’ve been stricken with madness, that’s why. March Madness. And I’ve picked up a serious case of it and don’t see my condition improving until at least this coming Saturday. You see, I’m a University of Kentucky Wildcats basketball fan, which means that I’m prone to extremes when the Cats are performing well at this time of the year. (You should see the other extreme when the Cats are playing poorly. Not pretty) And they are performing well. Just ask Ohio State and North Carolina and West Virginia and Princeton before that. But that’s yesterday’s news and now it’s off to Houston, Texas for the Cats, and into the Final Four. I want to be there and I know that every day this week will find me wrestling with the impulse to road trip it to Houston and try to score tickets. Until this Saturday’s match-up of UK v UCONN comes and goes, I will probably think of little else. See. I told you. I have it bad.

Now everyone out there in the blogosphere can stop the bellyaching and groaning. I assure you that Joe Unleashed is not going to suddenly morph into a sports blog. But until my obsession with writing and literature returns, let the madness continue…

Lost in the Grip of Madness

Powering up the laptop, I had every intention of scratching out a quick book review on a novel I had just finished the day before.  Setting fingers to keyboard, all my intentions amounted to nothing more than a blank screen and blinking cursor.  Curses!  Writers block? Not exactly. It was a good book and worth mentioning, but all I could think about was this Friday,  the 25th of March.  No, I’m not referring to this Friday as being my last day employed as a magistrate. Though it is, of course.  But joining the great mass of unemployed pales in comparison to the cataclysmic event set to go off at 9:45 p.m. in Newark, New Jersey.

I’m talking March Madness, player! (I wanted to say ‘baby’ and not player, but baby belongs to the bald one, Dicky Vitale) I’m talking about the number one overall seed, the Ohio State University Buckeyes, colliding with college hoops royalty, the fourth-seeded Wildcats of Kentucky. Even the most lukewarm of hoops fans should be excited about this one. It’s a Final Four worthy match-up the world will be treated to come this Friday evening. So gather with friends and family and park yourself in front of the big screen and enjoy what I suspect will become an instant classic.  Until then, this speck of blue lost in a sea of scarlet and gray can only hope that March’s Madness will soon recede and lucidity makes a welcome return. When it does, so will the blogs.  Until then, for all you hoops fans salivating over the match-up, check out my boy at tencentbeerblog See you all Saturday.

Ten Books Every Gal Should Read

This past Saturday, I risked the ire of the literary gods with the unleashing of  ”Ten Books Every Guy Should Read“.  It was a prideful act, edging on pure hubris. Sleep was fitful and came in spurts that night, and the little sleep to be had was haunted by the echoes of thousands of excluded book titles.  I expected to wake up Sunday morning, stroll to the end of the drive for the paper and be struck down, mid-stride, by a bolt of lightning cast straight from the heavens.  In my mind’s eye I could already see Monday’s headline: “Aspiring Novelist and Blogger Receives Just Due.”  But the Sunday morning paper run was lightning-free and visions of assured ruin quickly put to rest.  But peace of mind is not so easily found.

Days later, sipping a coffee with too much cream and sugar, I found myself looming over my computer, wondering what to write.  Then it came to me. Of course.  The ledger remained unbalanced.  I can write a wrong.  (No, I will not apologize for that bad pun.)   It would involve another crack at the proverbial Gordian Knot, but having tempted fate once, what’s twice for that matter?

So here I humbly stand, a literary supplicant seeking atonement for offending one of Abigail Adams’ most often quoted directives: “Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.” Within that vein, I’ve taken the liberty to compile ”Ten Books Every Gal Should Read.”  Audacious? Check. Presumptuous? Equally so. Fraught with danger? Undoubtedly.  As the father of two daughters?  A duty-bound necessity.

I could have taken the easy way out and merely referred the ladies to the same list this author compiled a few days ago for the guys.  Indeed, by all means, please check out that list. But it cannot be left at that.  Doing so would be unoriginal and intellectually dishonest and all together boring in the end. No fun to be found in that.  But what are the criterion to be applied? Notoriety, relevance, longevity, educational component, literary excellence and entertainment value? All of those factors were considered, but I took the liberty of excluding transformative nonfiction.   Those how-to types of books are better left to another post.

Finally, after three cups of watered down coffee and a hour and a half of furious writing and rewriting, here it follows, in no particular order:

The Bible. From Genesis to Revelations, no matter its version, no other literary work has benefited more from the invention of the printing press than the Bible. 

George Orwell has a way of making top lists.  “Animal Farm ” is one of those reasons why.  Read it and you’ll never look at pork the same way again.

Threading a timeless theme, the historical romance epic “Gone With the Wind“ has more than earned its widespread acclaim. Did I fail to mention it’s one of the all time top sellers in America, second onbly to the Bible?  Take a bow, Margaret Mitchell.

Released in 1813 by British author Jane Austen, ”Pride and Prejudice” tackles class distinctions, the inherent prejudices within the prevailing social strata, and how the power of love can overcome the cheapening of the human condition based on status.

Speaking of the human condition, few authors can hold a candle to the likes of Toni Morrison.  Her passionate and insightful approach to the South’s peculiar institution and its correlative effects on those that suffered under its yoke are explored full bore in her Nobel winning novel, “Beloved“.  Controversial and impactful, “Beloved” masterfully gives voice to a people that had been historically denied theirs.

The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald explores the hollowness of the American dream. Poetic, riveting and an all-time classic, this beautifully written novel explores the human condition as only a committed scholar of humanity can. Enjoy.

Written in 1850, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” is a work of historical fiction set in 17th century New England, a bastion of Puritan religiosity.  Scorned and ostracized because of her sin, a young woman is forced to wear a badge of dishonor, the notorious scarlett letter “A”.  Despite society’s condemnation and her shunning within the community, the young woman courageously maintains her dignity, refusing to reveal the identity of the man (a minister) who brought this dishonor upon her.  Parallelling the Judeo-Christian tradition of Adam and Eve, the book heroically investigates sin and knowledge and the stern legalisms of Puritanical philosophy.

If you find the mysteries of China enticing and have an appetite for political and social upheaval, then “The Good Earth” by Pearl Buck, is the book for you.  A Pulitzer prize winning novel reknowned for its top billing in Oprah’s Book Club, this book shines with its compelling take on humanity’s struggle.  Read it and find out for yourself.

In these times of rampant cynicism it is easy to lose faith in humanity’s propensity for goodness.  That’s not a new phenomena.  In ”To Kill a Mockingbird“, the main theme is the moral nature of  humanity and whether or not we are inherently good or evil, or maybe a dose of both.  At least that’s what I gleaned from it.

Little Women” by Louisa M. Alcott is deserving of its huge popularity and long run atop many book club reading lists. If you haven’t read it already, do so. You will not be disappointed.

And there you have it with a post-compilation admission: the task of selecting the works for the gals was a far more gut wrenching experience than putting the list together for the guys. The irony being that one could switch the guys/gals designation on either list.

Ten Books Every Guy Should Read

A friend of mine emailed me the other day, musing as to whether there were ten books every guy should read. Sure, I typed back.  At the speed of G3 technology he called my bluff, informing yours truly that he looked forward to reading about it on the next blog. No sweat. Challenge accepted.  This can’t be too difficult. End of the week at the latest, I lied to myself. 

The enormity of the task sinking in, I leaned back in the chair and sighed, helpless to resist the creeping doubts and nag of second-guessing.  Should a mere mortal dare to undertake such a Herculean task?  Is it even possible to fish ten books from the tempestuous sea of worthy literature?  What are the parameters? I soothed my misgivings with the knowledge that no two literati would produce identical lists if faced with similar burdens. Questions persisted.

Should the list be exclusively for guys, or should it be all inclusive, targeting everyone’s tastes?  My friend’s email specified books for ”guys”. Everyone’s tastes in books and literature will have to be the subject of another post, though I suspect the two lists will have a significant overlap.  And should the list consider tastes, subjective as they are, or concentrate on what books guys “should” read, so as to leave the reader with a base of knowledge that begats further research and application?  Should the search be confined by genre, period in which it was written, its century of publication? The boxes are countless. Can you dig the conundrum? Again, just ten books? It’s the equivalent of the ancient Gordian Knot, except that I dare not emulate Alexander and take a sword to it. 

Thinning the herd is harder than it looks and shunning one title for another became a guilt-ridden ritual.  Many books that enjoyed top billing upon bestseller lists didn’t make the cut. I’m sure that somewhere, peering over thin, wire-rimmed glasses, a cadre of literary afficianados will be crinkling their noses and sniffing indignantly at what did sneak in.  Believe me. I know. The entire process had an aura of sacrilege to it, as well as a touch of hubris.   

In an attempt to further refine the list’s focus, potential works were evaluated by my own established criterion, in no particular order; notoriety (how well known is the work), societal impact (did paradigms tremble upon its release?) longevity, relevance, literary excellence, educational import (did I learn anything), and entertainment value.  Some books weighed more heavily on one factor than another, but in the balance, a guy that takes the time to read the following list of books should be well prepared to deal with any criticisms stemming from their selection. Enjoy.  

#1 I struggled with placing the Bible on the list. Leaving it off the list completely would be disingenuous based on the above listed factors. Including it, particularly in the top slot, risks the very real complaint that it does not qualify based on its religiosity. (It’s a catch-22, subject of number 9 on the list)  Believe it, or not, revere or reject, there’s no denying the books of the Bible have shaped the world in ways no other collection of written works has to date.  Enough said.

#2 No other writer has been more influential in shaping American literature than, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Though Emerson did not present his works as books, rather he published a widely scattered collection of essays, his place on the list is worthy of inclusion because of his work’s impact on generations of writers and thinkers. Emerson’s “Nature“, “Self-Reliance”, and “Friendship” are perfect demonstrations of thought itself. A guy learns that the conscious and subconscious act of thinking comprises a large majority of our lives.  So what are you waiting for? Get on with it.

#3 Penned over 700 years ago, Dante Alighieri’s “The Divine Comedy” is one of the world’s great works of literature. In this allegorical poem, Dante explores the afterlife and the soul’s final accounting, sharing his visions of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven, and finding a glimpse of God in the process. May everyone be so fortunate. Read it or risk the scorn of your peers.

#4 Born Samuel Clemens, but better known as Mark Twain, this American humorist authored the masterpiece, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” among other, equally notorious examples of literary excellence. Read his works, gentlemen. His status as literary icon is well-deserved.

#5 There is a reason “The Grapes of Wrath“ remains comfortably perched atop the reading list of most high school and college literature classes: It’s good stuff. John Steinback’s epic tale of the Joads and their adversity filled journey in pursuit of the elusive American dream is as poignant today as it was 72 years ago.

#6 Every guy should read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby“, another early 20th century classic whose timeless theme finds relevance in every guy’s life. 

#7 “The Prince” by Niccolo Machiavelli is a cynically pragmatic approach to statemanship, power, and the trappings inherent in both.  It’s that kind of book for guys that like to be in the mix and play for keeps.  For all those guys who don’t play like that, get a copy anyway.  At least then you’ll be able to make sense of things when the guy you thought was your buddy stepped all over you on the way to getting the promotion you both desperately wanted.

#8  Most guys I know would take a dog over a cat, hands down. I don’t know what it is about our furry, four-legged canine friends, but an undeniable bond exists. Maybe that’s why I’m so fond of “The Call of the Wild.”  Or maybe it has nothing to do with the fact that the main character in Jack London’s masterpiece is a dog named Buck, and has everything to with the scraps, setbacks and triumphs of life’s journey. Suck it up and toughen up. Work harder. Don’t ever give up and the scales of justice will balance out.

#9  How many of you guys have heard someone say, “Now,that’s a catch-22.”? Now, how many of you know where the term “catch-22″ originates? Joseph Heller’s novel is more than a metaphorical tale of danged if you do, and danged if you don’t.  It’s theme touches on the devaluation of the individual in the face of pressing bureacratic priorities while revealing the madness war invokes in the combatants. At least that’s what I came away with. Anyhow, check this one out. At least next time you throw out the term, you’ll have an inkling as to its genesis and some understanding of its context.

#10 War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.  Sounds oxymoronic, doesn’t it?  But every guy should know his place in the social construct and to that end, I present “1984“.  Reading Orwell’s masterpiece, even the most loyal of party men should end up heeding the corrosive effects of thoughtless group think and sloganism. As a cautionary tale of what happens when individuals cede or have control of their lives wrested from them by a paternalistic, totalitarian regime, “1984″,  is a book every guy should read.

There you have it, guys. Read away, but with this last bit of irony. Only a few of the titles I have included in the list are actually titles of what I would consider to be personal favorites. My top ten books of all time will have to wait. Until that time, get started. The above list should keep you busy til then.

Musings

 ”It is the rare fortune these days that one may think what one likes and say what one thinks.”  Tacitus

In the spirit of the timeless quote above, I’d like to give a shout out to a couple of fellow upstart bloggers, their ventures into the blogosphere launching close in time to that of Joe Unleashed. I applaude them both. In honor of this momentous linking, I shall not post today, instead I will read their posts, perhaps comment, and then turn to working on tidying up my novel.  

And now please join me in welcoming Caff and his love of cheap beer and sports over at tencentbeerblog.com  Take a bow, Caff. I salute your steadfast optimism and belief in the three Cleveland sports franchises. It must be the cheap beer.

I would introduce you to Charlita, but I suspect she may be lost within the maze of clothes that is her closet. Last time I checked, she was here, engaging the fool and tyrant at www.wardrobeinterrupted.blogspot.com

Til next time, read, think and write. Your muse will thank you for it.

What if?

“What if?”  We’ve all played that game.  It’s a dinner party standby. It can be fun to wonder how things would have been different, if that, this, or whatever had happened.  The scenarios are endless.  What if on September 11, 2001, instead of hi-jacking jetliners and murdering thousands of innocent people, those responsible for the atrocities missed their flights in a series of seemingly innocuous, yet world changing events, i.e.,  they overslept, or maybe an over-caffeinated traffic cop towed their vehicles for double parking and they couldn’t make it to the airport. What if one of them had a change of heart and dimed the others out? Or, heaven forbid, they were caught before hand and jailed for life? Would the world we live in be different? Absolutely. But it did not happen. To surmise otherwise, is the tantalizing game historians call ‘the counterfactual.’

Now, imagine if a group of eminent historians were paired with some of today’s finest novelists and presented with a list of paradigm setting historical events, their task to rewrite history.  What emerged from their minds and into print was a series of plausible and provocative essays sure to chill and scintillate with what could have been.  And they do not shy from the controversial, pondering the crucial events of history and their corresponding impact on today’s world.

What if Pontius Pilate had pardoned Jesus Christ?  What if William the Conqueror never conquered England? What if the South had won the Civil War?  Imagine if Pope Pius XII had spoken out against the Holocaust. What if on D-Day, the unspeakable happened and the Allies were defeated, and Hitler survives?  What if Germany wins the first world war?  Imagine if the Mongols had succeeded in conquering Europe.

Alluring and frightening, these and many other intriguing scenarios that altered the course of history are explored in Robert Cowley’s collected edition of “What if?”.  Though ‘counterfactual’ , the essays served reminder that history may seem to bend at the whims of  events or people, but that ultimately fate is inexorable.

http://www.amazon.com/Collected-Eminent-Historians-Imagine-Might/dp/0399152385/ref=pd_sim_sbs_b_2

Raiders from the North

You can put away the pliers, waterboard and cat-o-nine tails from wherever you grabbed them. There’s no need to drag out the rack or iron maiden to get this blogger to come clean. I freely confess to loving history. I’m hopelessly drawn to the doings of the past, convinced that the yet spotless future may be shaped by history’s lessons. I’m also susceptible to good storytelling, which in turn, fuels a passion for historical fiction. Who doesn’t enjoy learning while being entertained in the process? It’s a delicious cycle and I’m helpless to fight the affliction. Thus sentenced, I usually keep my eyes peeled, scanning titles for any new releases gracing the genre.

When the book initially presented itself for review through an email query, I seized at the title, “Raiders from the North”. Thinking some scholarly author with a creative bent tackled the storied lore of the Vikings with a newly penned historical novel, I eagerly typed a reply, urging the book onward. With visions in mind of Vikings spilling out of their dragon bowed longboats to pillage and plunder helpless European monastaries and isolated villages, I settled in to await the book’s arrival.

Arriving home from work two days later, I discovered a package propped against the front door. Looking forward to a relaxed evening reading of Viking exploits, I ripped the manila envelope open, freeing the book from its bubblewrapped confines. Scanning the cover art, I admired the ornate etch and design of a golden battle axe slanting across the cover. Then my eyes gravitated to the subtitle, “Empire of the Moghul”. Groaning, I retreated inside.

Possessing a keen grasp of the obvious, it finally dawned on me that this novel had absolutely nothing to do with the fearsome, heathen norsemen of legend. In fact, my assumption of the novel’s subject matter on the basis of the title missed by a few centuries and a continent. Fortunately, this once, a misplaced assumption paid off.

Admittedly, I did not know much about the Moghuls and the empire they carved out of the Indian subcontinent. Having studied enough history to earn a minor in it during undergraduate studies, I was familiar with the usual information, i.e., Babur, dates of conquest and basic geopolitical sphere of influence, etc. “Raiders from the North: Empire of the Moghul”, filled in the gaps.

Good historical fiction not only emulates the heroes of yore, but breathes life into them, giving the reader a living character. Rutherford succeeds, doing just that in this first novel of a planned trilogy chronicling the rise of the Moghuls.

Meet Babur, heir to a poor, isolated kingdom situated north of the Hindu Kush mountains. Losing his father and the kingdom at the age of 12, Babur finds himself on the run, forced to hide and gather his strength as he learns and masters the brutal art of tribal politics replete with ancient blood rivalries and bitter enmities. Infused with a determination reminiscent of his forefathers Genghis Khan and Timur the Lame, Babur reclaims his father’s throne and forges across the Hindu Kush, taming the fierce Afgan warriors of the mountains and taking the throne of Kabul for himself, before turning his sights on Kashmir and Hindustan. Certain that his destiny is to rival that of Genghis and Timur, Babur thirsts for the many purported riches beyond the Indus River, pressing his quest for empire south into the hinterland of India.

In sum, Alex Rutherford’s fascinating re-creation of the wickedly cunning and ruthlessly ambitious Babur made me all but forget about the Vikings. Now, I’m about to fire up my Nook and see if the sequel is available for download.

New Horizons

“New Horizons”.  Sounds cliche, does it not? However, if the shoe fits, then wear it.  And that brings me to why I even bothered to power up my laptop this morning; a strong sense that it would be a serious mistake to ignore a journey that has tugged and seduced the edges of my mind for years with its potentialities.

“The most important thing to remember is this: To be ready at any moment to give up what you are for what you might become.”  I didn’t coin that phrase. I’m not that clever. W.E.B. Dubois deserves the kudos for that nugget of wisdom. And yet it speaks to the creative thoughts and musings buried in all hearts, and to the visions that grow out of a heartfelt desire to act on a dream. But life interrupts and most dreams are left to wither on the vine, and shrivel and drift away, the untaken path little more than flotsam on life’s great river of what-ifs.

Since 1996, I have been working in the criminal justice system in one capacity or another. Cop, legal intern during lawschool, defense attorney, and at present, magistrate.  On March 25, I no longer will be a magistrate. Once again, I will be unemployed, but still an attorney. And that little tidbit is why you readers were subjected to the whole “New Horizons” cliche, admittedly anti-climactic for the reader, but singularly exhilerating for the author.

It’s not as if the prospect of unemployment is exhilerating in and of itself.  Being an unemployed attorney and writer/blogger is probably not at the top of everyone’s idea of success. There is nothing sexy about reaching in your pocket and emerging with lint and a couple of tic tacs.  Conceptually, it’s a hard sell and print will not be wasted in a vain attempt to otherwise convince.  The reality is that on March 26, the sun will rise in the east and set in the west and the immediate geography and landmarks upon which my eyes rest will be the same as the day before. 

But that suits this blogger just fine. I’ll take President Theodore Roosevelt’s advice and do what I can, with what I have, where I am. The journey will be full of detours and alot can happen along the way that is unexpected. Taking on cases and churning out novels takes a lot of work, but that too is part of the journey and should provide plenty of fodder for future blogs.

Looking back on my decision to resign, I realize that dreaming and thinking of writing was the easy part, but to put thoughts into action was one of the most difficult. There is no turning back and now this aspiring novelist must put hands to keyboard and create the very vision which impelled the taking of W.E.B. Dubois’ sage advice in the first place. Wish me luck, and if you’re inclined to do so, say a prayer for this author as lance is lowered and the chasing of the illusive literary windmill begins. It should prove interesting.

The Day After

Staring at the keyboard, I realize the jitters are gone.  Not even pushups and two cups of this morning’s leftover joe can change that. Not after yesterday’s savaging of the keyboard with “First Time Jitters”.  I’m sure more than one techie was chuckling at my clumsy usage of html.  

And yet, the blog emerges stronger today, focused and fortified with the guidance of one of the blogworld’s magi.  Sadly, despite the magi’s most valiant efforts,  I must confess that the mysteries of the blogosphere apps remain beyond this writer’s grasp. In short, my blognorance persists. Some things are just meant to remain a secret.   

But what happens when that little buzz of curiousity refuses to take flight?Where does man look for answers? The Bible? The Torah? Did the prophets of old speak of blogging and its hidden links, buttons and plugins? But then it hit me.  The answer had always been in front of my face. I surfed through the option menu on the television.

Scrolling through one documentary after another, it all became clear. Patience, I reminded myself.  It would not be long before the History Channel runs an in-depth segment on blogosphere apps. It wouldn’t stop there, of course. Not with Dan Brown of  Da Vinci Code  fame snooping and sniffing around for new material. Surely the famed author would be powerless to resist the allure of such a rich topic. I can already envision the title, “Blog Apps: The Masons and their Links to Hyperlinks and Tags” by Dan Brown.  I”m sure that in the sequel it would be revealed that Thomas Jefferson, and not Al Gore, invented the internet.  I pray that day never comes. I fear the delicate American psyche ill-prepared to handle such a revelation.

Which brings me to the hour’s topic: why blog?

Why not? I blog therefore I am. Essence before existence. Ok. I’ll stop there. That’s the point. A blog can be about anything.  Don’t believe me, just review the first four paragraphs of this blog.

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