Posted by: Gregg | February 5, 2010

Welcome to the Library




Welcome to the Library

Originally uploaded by Gregg Winsor

My place of work.

I’m testing the ability to blog photos from Flickr through the 23thingskansas.org site. Working well so far, thanks to the awesomeness of Heather Braum, Royce Kitts, and others.

Posted by: Gregg | January 27, 2010

Beat the Reaper – Josh Bazell

Sometimes a book comes along that’s exactly the right type of book you need at the exactly the right time. Maybe under different circumstances it might be too long, too violent, or too whatever, but in that specific moment? It can be perfection itself.

I was having a monumentally awful week last week. I was bitter, sour, rotten, and miserable. The reasons why will have to wait for a blog post at some point in the future, but yeah – last week sucked. Then I came across Josh Bazell’s book, Beat the Reaper. And my week got a little bit better, because it was exactly the sort of book I needed. What I needed went something along the lines of this: nothing too deep or literary – a genre book for sure. A noir with some thriller elements, maybe, with some dark humor thrown in to keep things from getting too serious. I’d want a cynical protagonist, but I’d also need to like him, so a smart one with a heart of gold but who’s emotionally damaged so we’d get some healing along the way. There’d be some guns, a doomed love story, a shot at redemption, drugs, and hitmen. Because just the presence of hitmen will make any book better. Jane Eyre would have been better with hitmen.

Bazell’s debut novwel is about a young mafia hitman (see? we’re good already) who enters the Witness Protection Program and is now a intern at a dingy Manhattan hospital, on the run from his previous life. But people who know the former Pietro “Bearclaw” Brwna eventually catch up with the now Dr. Peter Brown, and he’s quickly required to save a mafia member from terminal cancer or face death himself. Bazell is wickedly funny, interspersing the plot with fascinating medical tidbits and sly, cynical takes of hospital politics from an insider’s point of view. Part of the reason it feels so realistic is that Bazell is a doctor himself, which makes the far-fetched plot ever so slightly more reasonable. This is also a book that practically screams for a sequel, and I’m sure more will be forthcoming.

If you’ve ever read Charlie Huston, you’ll immediately recognize a kindred spirit. (What, you haven’t read any Huston? Get on over to you local library and pick up The Shotgun Rule or his Joe Pitt vampire series.)

Posted by: Gregg | January 20, 2010

23 Things Kansas. (Or, Welcome Back, Bookpusher.)

The library folks I’ve decided to throw my career lot in with are a neat bunch – we’re a curious, quirky lot, but some of us can be a bit uncomfortable with this whole internet thing. So they’ve gotten together and created a website and a program entitled 23 Things Kansas where we can learn about new technologies and get to know each other. When I first heard about it, I thought – great idea…. for other people. But for me? I’ve been up on the whole web 2.0 world since it began and have been blogging on various platforms since forever, so why spend the time?

And then I thought about how much I’ve actually posted recently, which isn’t much. So, yeah, I’m on board. I’ll be posting on a more regular schedule, and I’ll also be posting 23 Things-related stuff from time to time.

For anyone who’s new to the blog, I’ll introduce myself – my name is Gregg Winsor, currently with the Johnson County Library, a public library system right outside of Kansas City. I graduated with my Master’s this year from Emporia State and am currently looking for a full-time gig. I’m a Reader’s Advisory freak and love books – I’ll pretty much read anything, but my passion will run to crime thrillers and noirs –  my favorite authors are Raymond Chandler, Michael Connelly, Charlie Huston, Megan Abbott, George Pelecanos, and Robert Crais, among many, many others. I enjoy blogging but tend to get lazy – as an example, I’ve been focusing most of my online time recently on Facebook, where posts are shorter and reaction from readers are much more immediate, but 23 Things Kansas signals a rededication to the longer-form blogs and book reviews that I love to do.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Posted by: Gregg | September 23, 2009

Black Ships – Jo Graham

I usually like to do some sort of research before I pick up a book to read. I check reviews from sources I trust and look at recommendations from friends and blogs I like. Like many people, I’m busy and don’t have time for crappy books, so I like to maximize my chances when I can. That said, I had heard no advance word about Black Ships by Jo Graham. All I had to go by was the cover, which jumped out at me one day while shelving. The face of a pale woman, eyes and lips rimmed in black, pupils dark and wide, over some ancient Greek-looking ships, with the entire cover laced with some sort of cracked effect like you would see on an old Renaissance painting.

Black Ships is set in ancient Greece and is about Gull, a slave girl from a conquered tribe who injures her foot in an accident. Not able to work, like the others, she is given to the local temple and groomed to be a priestess. At night, she dreams of nine black ships fleeing a burning city. Those ships soon arrive on the horizon, full of people from her tribe, looking to bring together scattered remnants and find a new place to settle and grow. She abandons her life and joins the group, including prince Neas, and becomes their spiritual leader as they adventure across the Mediterranean, fighting obstacles and war-thirsty Greeks wanting to finish the job they started earlier.

Actually, Black Ships is a retelling of Vigil’s Latin epic Aeneid, about the founding of Rome by the soldier Aeneas after the fall of Troy. Instead of focusing on the young king, Jo Graham tells the story through the point of view of one of the tribe’s members, Gull, who as the group’s lone priest quickly becomes an important part of preserving the group’s culture and traditions. Instead of the swashbuckling epic that it could be, Black Ships is more concerned with survival. Graham keeps things moving, with the unwanted refugees loosely following the path of Virgil’s story as they search for a land to call their own, from Egypt to Italy, with Greeks in pursuit.

I’m a bit hesitant to place this book in a specific genre – “historical fiction” is a bit too broad. It’s certainly not an epic, as I mentioned earlier, with the action focused on survival of the tribe as a whole instead of merely killing enemies or seeking glory. It’s not a romance, but Graham places a priority on relationships (Gull loves Prince Neas, but she’s not clear if it’s a brotherly love or a romantic one. And yes, there’s a love triangle or two to deal with.) I’ve seen it classified as a fantasy but what fantastical elements there are along the lines of visions and such, so it’s not that either. I’d almost go with “historical women’s fiction” except that’s not exactly accurate, either. Screw it; read it without classification and enjoy. It’s a surprisingly good read.

Posted by: Gregg | September 11, 2009

Watch the Pilots wih Aaron, 2009 edition.

Every year for the past four years, the television critic for the Kansas City Star, Aaron Barnhart, hosts a screening of a handful of standout pilots for the fall season for me and a few hundred of his closest friends. I was there again this year, and again I give you my kneejerk thoughts. Aaron mixed up the format this year – he divided the pilots into three categories: comedy, non-fiction, and drama, and showed sbout four shows per category.

Comedy was the first up and easily the strongest category out of the whole, with several shows competing for space on my DVR list.

1.) Community. NBC. Starring Joel McHale, who you all know from E! Network’s weekly pop-culture throwdown, “The Soup”. This looked promising, if a bit pedestrian. McHale stars as a sleazebag lawyer who enrolls into a community college to earn his undergrad once it’s discovered that he never really graduated the first time around. To be honest, this show had me at McHale – he oozes snarky charisma which fits well with the premise. The jokes came early and often and as a whole, Community deserves a shot, despite the disappointing presence of Chevy Chase among the cast. (Oh, Chevy – how far you’ve fallen. What I wouldn’t give to have the guy from “Fletch” back on screen, just one more time.)

2.) Brothers. NBC. Honestly, the clip we saw from this sitcom is quite possibly the worst thing I’ve ever seen in the four years of Barnhart’s presentations. Former professional football player Michael Strahan conned someone at NBC into giving him a starring role in a show about, well, an ex-football player. That’s about as deep as this show gets. Strahan, likeable in small doses, cannot carry a scene and the actors around him all look uncomfortable to be there. (Strahan played most of his NFL career in New York, if I’m not mistaken, and probably was a hit on local television doing pre-game interviews and the like. Being likebale in the biggest media market in America can go a long way, apparently.) The jokes were obvious, tired, and inappropriate. It might only be worth tuning into to hear the intensity of the laugh track, which was high enough to violate the very laws of nature.

3.) Archer. FX. A computer-animated show about spies made by people who watch far, far too much Adult Swim. It’s mean, nasty, rude, and completely hysterical. I’ll be tuning in.

4.) Bored to Death. HBO. Rushmore’s Jason Schwartzmann smokes way too much pot and hires himself out to people as a private detective, despite having zero experience, reasoning that he’s read so many mystery novels that he’s bound to be good at it. It’s a simple and brilliant idea and it comes off wonderfully, with that laid-back, slacker quirkiness that the kids all seem to love these days. Of note is his best friend, played by Zack Galafinakis from this summer’s “The Hangover”.

5.) Modern Family. ABC. Shot in mockumentary style about three different families. This looks promising. The clip we saw was about gay partners who adopt a baby girl. Hilarity ensues. The jokes are fresh, the actors obviously talented, the situations funny. Which means it will get canceled, so jump on this one while you can.

From the Non-Fiction category:

1.) Rescue Ink Unleashed. Natural Geographic. This one had me scratching my head. Think a pet-friendly verson of “Dog the Bounty Hunter”, where a group of tough-looking guys in leather jackets, black gloves, and do-rags go to people’s houses to investigate potential pet abuse cases. That’s it. At first, I was uncertain if this was a  Reno 911! style mockumentary on bounty hunter style shows, but apparently it’s legit. Must be seen to be believed.

2.) PoV/Independent Lens: both shows on PBS that spotlight independent filmmakers. I’m sure there’s a difference between the two, but I’m not certain what that might be. In any event, we saw clips from two upcoming documentaries: one about rock legend Patti Smith that makes her look like an insane homeless person, and another about the history of sampling in hip-hop. The sampling doc looked great, with interviews with DJs and performers (Shock G!) The Patti Smith thing looked disjointed and inflated with self-importance, so unless the crew from A&E’s Hoarders show pops by to make Patti clean out her hideously messy apartment, I’ll be looking elsewhere.

3.) Brick City. Sundance Channel. A documentary about the inner political and social workings of the city of Newark, New Jersey, where the inhabitants are trying to rebuild a corrupt and decaying community from the inside out. Aaron described it as a real-life version of HBO’s The Wire and I’m inclined to agree. Worth watching out for.

Drama:

1.) Human Target. Fox. Uncertain about this one. A secret-agent-style show starring Handsome In A Bland Way guy and Gorgeous Woman Who Was on That One Sci-Fi Show. He anticipates things and does cool action stuff, and she does something else. They’re after the Thing that the Bad Guys are after. Obviously it didn’t register much with me, and I’ll be skipping it unless it gets rave reviews.

2.) V. ABC. I was really looking forward to the remake of the beloved mice-eating 1980s miniseries that scared the hell out of me as a kid, but from what I saw, it suffered from the same malady that last year’s Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles had – overwhelming seriousness. Everything’s a life-or-death situation. No one laughs or smiles. Armageddon is around every corner. All that godawful seriousness weighs down everything, sucking the oxygen out of the show. I hope I’m wrong about this, or that it works itself out

3.) NCIS: Los Angeles. CBS. Yawn. This show, and others like it, are shows for older people. Generic catch-the-bad-guy-through-superior-technology stuff. What really bothers me about the clip I saw is that shows like this one treat technology like magic: FBI computers can hack into the most secure Zurich bank accounts in a matter of seconds and people’s cell phones can be traced with pinpoint precision through government satellites before the next commercial break, followed by a predictable shootout. It’s the older generations’ fears about technology used for entertainment. Again: yawn.

4.) White Collar. USA. Aaron was big on this one, but I didn’t quite see it. Looks like your typical FBI Agent teams up with Reformed Bad Guy to track down criminals – sort of like “The Mentalist” but without the humor. Or magic tricks.

Posted by: Gregg | August 7, 2009

The Man from Shermer, Illinois.

Last night my facebook page was riddled with news of the death of director John Hughes. The mastermind behind some of the most heartfelt and touching film pop-culture moments of my youth is being honored today by about a billion blog posts and news articles. It’s a tribute in itself for Hughes, who directed his first film, Sixteen Candles, when I was twelve years old and just about to enter my prime teen angst years, and thanks to endless viewings on VHS and HBO, his films (and the quotations from them) became the backdrop of my high school experience.

Shermer, Illinois, was a bit more upscale than Raytown, Missouri, but the landscape that mattered in Hughes’ films wasn’t the upper-middle-class homes we saw in Ferris Beuller’s Day Off and Home Alone, but the landscape of school, with its factions and land mines and unwritten rules.

I decided against ranking his films, since there are things I love about all of them, but I always come back to The Breakfast Club as the strongest and most memorable of his films. Even though Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink are all sorts of brilliant, TBC was the John Hughes movie that had a sense of real anger about the world of high school. That anger was the quality that was missing from his other films that I instinctively picked up on. In his other films, the social divisions between the characters was an obstacle to be overcome, like the Montagues and the Capulets in Shakespeare – character So-and-So falls in love with someone from the Other Side of the Tracks, and must Endure Social Hardships to Achieve Their Goal of Being Together. In TBC, there was no such goal. It wasn’t about love, or romance, or achieving some goal – it was about a group of kids one Saturday morning tearing down the walls that society created around them and connect with each other. There is something very simple and yet revolutionary about that concept, and looking back at it, I’m shocked that a movie studio ever greenlit the thing. While Some Kind of Wonderful and Pretty in Pink used social division as plot points, and Ferris Beuller merrily floated above and beyond them, The Breakfast Club hated them. I think it’s part of why the movie and the images from it have come to be a shorthand for the career of John Hughes.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Hughes. We won’t forget about you.

This incident happened several months ago, but was so traumatic that I’m only just now getting around to telling you all about it.

I take care of my son, Gavin, during the day and work part-time evenings and weekends. Two times a week my wife and I will trade off parenting responsibilities – she comes home from work, I give her a kiss on the cheek, hand over the kiddo, and head off to work. We’ve done this for so long, we have our routine down to the point where Gav will start waving goodbye to me while his mom is still walking through the door.

Last winter, she was on her way home through a heavy snowstorm. My wife called and said that she was going to be late since traffic was so awful. Being the good, anticipatory husband, I decided to shovel the walkway so when she does finally come in she’s not trudging through a foot of snow and ice. Gav was playing contentedly, just doing his thing, so I decided to go for it. I put on my heavy coat, grabbed my shovel, and headed outside. I kept the outside door open so I could see Gavin in case anything went wrong. Again, he was playing with his trucks, not bothered by the storm in the slightest. I went outside and started shoveling. Almost immediately, I heard a sound. I whirled around and saw that Gavin had closed the door behind me. I frantically plunged my hands in my pockets and found that I had left the house without my keys. A ripple of sheer, absolute horror came over me.

I was stuck outside in the middle of a snowstorm. I was in sub-zero temperatures and I had no means of getting back into the house, with my wife god-knows how far away from me, stuck in traffic. And my eleven-month-old kiddo is about fifteen seconds away from realizing that I’m not there.

My son, then – as now – hates being apart from people he knows. He’s cautious by nature, every so often looking around to make sure that someone familiar is within range. Back then, he would fly in rages even when we left him at his grandmother’s house for hours. Hours. My mom would just get getting him calmed down by the time we had come back from whatever it was we were doing. This time, not even my mom was there. This was infinitely worse: he was alone.

Worse for me, too, since I had a front-row seat through a large picture window to see my son go from contentedly happy to hysterically screaming within a minute. There’s a certain exestential horror in being so amazingly helpless, wanting to reach out and comfort your son but being completely unable to do so. It makes those Saw movies look like My Little Pony. I tried my best – through the window, I made faces, played peek-a-boo, smiled and danced out in the snow, but it was no use. Gav was an absolute mess. The neighbors probably thought I was waterboarding the poor kiddo. Untold minutes spooled away as I waited for my only saving grace -my wife, who drove up a few minutes later (to me – and to Gavin – it seemed like hours.)

It took about twenty full minutes to calm him down.

Now I don’t lean outside my window too far without making sure I have a set of keys in my pocket.

I had one clear, pure, crystalline thought that occured to me while I was standing out in the snow: I’m the worst father ever.

Posted by: Gregg | July 11, 2009

Same planet, different worlds.

This probably won’t register as a big deal to many of you, but I had one of those “when worlds collide” moments this afternoon. I called up an old friend of mine who I recently reconnected with after about half a dozen years or so. We were making plans to get together tomorrow evening for dinner/drinks/hangout time with a third friend.

“Give me a call when we know what the plan is,” I said.

“Sure,” he said. “I’ll text you.”

“Um, actually, I don’t text.”

“What do you mean you don’t text?” This was said in a serious tone of voice with a faint undercurrent of you-must-be-crazy to it, the same tone of voice one would say “what do you mean you wear your underwear on the outside of your pants.”

“I just don’t. My phone doesn’t.”

“What do you mean your phone doesn’t?” Still that mixture of serious and incredulous, as if I stated I don’t use nouns.

“I mean I don’t pay for texting – my plan doesn’t have that service.”

“Huh. Okay, then, I’ll call you.”

It was really no big deal here, except that texting is obviously a huge part of his life. He likely texts his friends, his family, his coworkers, even his pizza delivery service, all of them available through texting, and it’s just something that’s probably as second nature as breathing. I have a small circle of friends and family, all of whom I’m quite happy getting in touch with through phone or email, and haven’t the need for it. That will change eventually, and when it does, I’ll likely be calling on my friend to help get me up to speed with it.

Until then, I’ll be using the horse and buggy with the other Luddites.

Posted by: Gregg | July 7, 2009

31/31 Update!

31 posts for 31 days is going swimmingly, except for days like today where the kiddo had a brutal night of sleep, my wife had to work late, and I would love to talk to you about a bunch of things, but honestly I feel just like plopping down on the couch and knocking out a few races of Mariokart on the Wii before bed.

I would like to add a quick addendum to the restaurant review from yesterday – I talked up Adam’s Rib, but there’s place I like on Overland Park almost as much that’s right off 83rd and Metcalf, next to Mr. Gyros. Tienda Casa Paloma is a tiny Mexican joint in a nondescript strip mall that is easy to overlook, but the food more than makes up for it. Laid-back, inviting atmosphere with an open dining area (I hate feeling like I’m crammed cheek-to-jowl like a tin of sardines like in other Mexican restaurants, and yes, Salty Iguana, I’m looking at you.) Reasonable prices, too, plus they offer huevos rancheros all day, which is wonderful if you’re a breakfast-all-day kind of person like myself.

I offer it my full recommendation with a caveat – I haven’t gone to it recently, and rumor has it that the quality has fallen off a bit, but it’s certainly worth your while to stop in and check it out.

Posted by: Gregg | July 5, 2009

…and bring your appetites.

I don’t normally use this space to pimp out local eating establishments – there are other blogs around if you’re interested in local restaurant reviews – but for those who live and work in the Overland Park area, if you’re looking for some good local barbeque, you owe it to yourself to check out Adam’s Rib.

It’s only been open for a few months or so and occupies the space of one of those nondescript local bars that would periodically go out of business every other month. I live nearby and drive by it several times a week, so when the new sign went up I thought nothing much of it, until I saw a review of it over at KC Confidential and then ran into their booth at the local farmer’s market.

Again, I’m not much of a food critic, but I have lived in KC all my life, and I’ve sampled most of the ‘que joints the city has to offer, which gives me a leg or two on most average folks out there. I’ve got to say – Adam’s Rib is one of the best I’ve ever had. Equal to Jack Stack, at a more reasonable price, and a smaller, friendlier atmosphere. (Kiddo friendly, too, as Gavin cheerfully played with a toy that came with the kid’s meal that itself was big enough for an average-sized adult.)

The sauce is spicy with just the right amount of sweetness. The meat is tender and never dry. The beans are to die for. The slaw is merely pretty good, but the finisher is the sweet cornbread, which is so good I would cheerfully run over my own grandmother for seconds. Seriously. Try the Triple Stack or the Pacific Island Ribs and your life will not be the same again.

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