The sound of everything


A 15-second look at Chittenango Falls

I began reading The Sound of Language by Amulya Malladi on Thursday.

It's a semi-autobiographical novel about an Afghan woman whose husband is killed by the Taliban. She moves to Denmark, where she must learn a new language – a language that, to her, sounds like bees buzzing.

That I began reading it on Thursday is significant. It was Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur is the Jewish day of atonement, a day when we connect with God to apologize for our sins over the past year. It is tradition to fast (food and liquid) from sundown to sundown. My take: food deprivation is an altered state that brings you closer to God.

Chittenango FallsIf you've never done such a fast, here is a brief timeline of some physical consequences of a 24-hour fast (I can only speak from my experiences; some of you might have others you'd like to share in comments).

• Dehydration headaches
• General fatigue
• General difficulty focusing
• A sharp hunger pang about 16 hours in, that subsides quickly
• Euphoria
• A return of all senses to normal

Take that last one with a grain of salt because, while it feels like you're running on normal, you are dehydrated and without nutrients, which means your body doesn't work quite the way you expect it to.

It's really the euphoria part that makes Yom Kippur my favorite holiday.

Everything sounds really loud – a bird flushed from the bushes sounds like a motorcycle. A fly buzzing around your table sounds like you have your head in a beehive.

Everything seems bigger and brighter. Visual depth doesn't matter. The autumn colors are vivid, and in very sharp contrast to the sky, be it blue or gray.

After services, I went to Chittenango Falls for the first time. I took five rolls of film; the four rolls of color are brilliant, and it will be a while before the black and whites come back.

I spent about five hours out there. It was a beautiful day, and the colors were at peak, so there were a lot of people viewing the falls.

I also went out on the Chips trail, which is an easy 0.85-mile hike, and didn't see another human for three hours.

It was amazing, from the miles of colors, to the sound of leaves underfoot, to the power of the water. I'm also looking forward to getting back out there sometime in winter, to see the ice buildup at the bottom.

Book reviews: Torpedo Juice and The Big Bamboo by Tim Dorsey

After a desperate cry for fiction recommendations on Twitter a few weeks ago, Mitch came through with shout for Tim Dorsey.

So, I headed over to the local library and grabbed Torpedo Juice and The Big Bamboo.

They were both lots of fun.

First off, let me warn you away from these books if farcical, derivative work bothers you. Because seriously, you're going to recognize:

• Buddy films
• Jack Kerouac
• Hunter Thompson
• Jimmy Buffett
• Coen Brothers
American Psycho

And that's off the top of my head at 6:15 on a Friday morning.

Dorsey was a reporter for 12 years, then started writing novels about Florida.

This is going to be more of a character review than a pair of book reviews, because it's the main characters, Serge and Coleman, who make the stories.

Coleman is an obese drug-abusing alcoholic. He's a classic bumbler who somehow makes it through life as a sidekick without messing things up too much.

Serge is a teetotaling serial killer and scam artist who only kills and scams people who really need it – like nursing home developers who close down, rebuild, then reopen, kicking all their Medicare patients out.

Serge is the mastermind, an obsessive sociopath you really want to hand a glass of Scotch and tell to chill the heck out (although he does camp out and meditate when necessary, and always enjoys a sunrise).

Coleman really just isn't sure what's going on, but he can follow instructions at least 40 percent of the time, and the reader is always left guessing which 40 percent it will be.

Anyway, these books are fun. Go read them. There will be some available at the DeWitt Community Library sometime after lunch.

Book review: The Seventh Well by Fred Wander

My sister is the history freak in the family. Specifically, she reads a lot about the Holocaust, and for whatever reason, I've been doing some of the same. I spent the winter with The Lost, Daniel Mendelsohn's journey to discover what happened to the one part of his family no one knew much about because they had disappeared during the Holocaust.

The Seventh Well is Michael Hofmann's 2008 translation of Fred Wander's Das gute Leben, a (probably not very) fictionalized account of Wander's own survival of the Holocaust.

Wander's title translates to "The good life;" but good as in rich, full, what (beer commercials aside) we might call "the high life."

Wander brings to life characters he met on his journey through 20 camps and several escapes: A studied and confident 16-year-old; a great storyteller; partisans; and last, a 10-year-old child who has taken on the role of father to his younger brothers.

The book ends in the delirious happiness of near-liberation and typhoid fever dreams.

Wander doesn't leave out the horrors, but he does bring out one thing we haven't seen in a lot of books and films about the Holocaust: life. In much the way that the film Life is Beautiful focuses on a man who, despite all that's happening in the camps, keeps his child alive with games and fun, Wander shows the individuality and the humanity of victims, not just in fleeting moments of despair, but in, as his own title suggests, the rich fullness of their lives.

What are you afraid of?

I'm reading Barry Glassner's The Culture of Fear.

The book, which came out in 1999, has received lots of love from everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Michael Moore.

The book's subtitle is "Why American's are afraid of the wrong things."

To tell the truth, I'm more skimming it, which is not really my style when it comes to non-fiction. I tend to absorb.

I'll have a more comprehensive review when I finish it, but it occurred to me yesterday that I had walked nearly two miles downtown and then back home again with my face in this tome, alone, through Syracuse's North Side on the way and through a deserted Franklin Square on the way home. This route is not uncommon for me.

Perhaps the media nerd in me is what makes me part of the target audience; I clearly am not one of those members of the population who's worried that if I walk by lofts I'm more and more likely to get hit by a major appliance falling out of a window. Because, you know, instances of this are rising at 50% a year. Of course, that doesn't say anything about the numbers – it's not like it's up to 75 million after happening 50 million times the year before. We're talking up from two to three.

OK, so it's not a statistic that's in the book, but it is one of the points.

I'm not going to hit you with a lot of communication theory right here (I probably will in the review), but let's just say that despite what you might believe, you are susceptible to mass media, and if someone says it in a tone you trust, you might take it for truth without analyzing it. (This goes for me, too, not just you.)

As you go through your week this week, I want you to think about some of these things:

» Do you routinely avoid neighborhoods when walking or driving?
» Do you avoid certain sidewalk situations?
» Where do you park your car when you go to the mall or the grocery store?
» What do you eat? Or, more importantly, what do you not eat?
» What destinations make you nervous? Why? Does that stop you from going?
» Overall, why do you do the things you do? Why don't you do the things you avoid?

Book review: You Don’t Love Me Yet by Jonathan Lethem

This is my first go at the work of Jonathan Lethem, and I'm glad I gave it a shot (thanks OCPL).

Lethem is primarily an essayist, and as such, he has a nice, smooth way with words.

Lucinda is a 20-something who plays bass in an L.A.-based band. She recently quit her job as a barrista and is now working for her capital-A Artist ex-boyfriend, answering phones on a complaint line. She falls in lust with a complainer, who winds up joining the band, fronted by another ex of hers.

There are some interesting characters, and some very L.A. situations.

It's a quick, fluffy read. Definitely enjoyable, definitely summer, and I almost feel like I need to read some non-fiction to make up for my indulgence, but we'll see what the library has around lunch time on Monday.

[Ignore the following link, it's for something entirely unrelated to you.]
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