Author Archives: Matthew Appleton

About Matthew Appleton

A dad and loving husband who is also an easily distracted sf&f junkie, LEGO enthusiast, Phillies fan, and writer wannabe who really has too many other responsibilities to be working on his many different on-going projects.

Postscript to Reading Gravity’s Rainbow

In the early days of our relationship, Sally asked if I had ever thrown a book. I responded that I never had, and no matter how much I may have detested a particular book after finishing it (or even while doing so,) books were too precious a commodity to be treated in such a manner. She assured me that when the day finally came, it would be an immensely satisfying thing to do.

Well, a few weeks ago I finally threw my first book. Gravity’s Rainbow provided more than enough motivation, and launching it felt as good as Sally said it would. When finally deciding to stop reading the accursed text, images of an alternate history where a V2 rocket head had fallen on Thomas Pynchon’s head before he decided to write the damn thing danced in my mind. How the never-ending hell did that novel come to be so critically well regarded? Yes, lit snobs will hurriedly shower accolades upon a particularly dense and hard-to-parse novel, but there comes a point where that kind of writing is no longer fiction. It’s literary masturbation, a style of writing for people who impressed with their own ability to slog through the grammatical equivalent of a mucus-entombed Gordian knot. Though not immune to the joys of literary fiction, I refuse to continue reading something merely because an influential subset of intellectuals label it as unimportant work of art.

The arduous slog ended at page 115 of the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition first published in 2006. Pynchon’s gratuitous use of lengthy run-on sentences, stream of consciousness, sudden shifts in narrative (with no visible clue as to it happening), and ellipses to string together otherwise unconnected thoughts so utterly derailed and demoralized that it did far more than simply inspire me to toss it out the second of my home unfinished. It actually stopped me altogether from reading for nearly a month. I had started listening to the audiobook of Neil Gaiman’s and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens during that time and continued listening after a part of my soul sustained serious damage, but that’s not the same thing as reading an actual book.

I am now attempting to get myself back on track. I happily spent a couple nights this week by reading the last 80 pages of Good Omens. Furthermore, though I feel my 115-page slog earned me the right to count Gravity’s Rainbow as one of the books I read this year, it will be replaced by Joanna Russ’s The Female Man, which is already underway, as my previously unread classic for the year. It doesn’t quite meet all the criteria that I try to apply (they were outlined in the post where I originally selected GR as this year’s classic), but after experiencing Pynchon’s monstrosity, a retreat into the warm, welcoming embrace of the science-fiction ghetto felt completely justifiable.

Hopefully, a combination of Russ’s feminist SF classic and finishing Good Omens will do wonders in terms of getting back on track with my goal of increasing my books read count from last year’s total. Despite losing a month of reading time, it’s still a very achievable goal — one now dedicated to spiting Pynchon’s literary assault on the senses.

Accountability Posting

Back at the beginning of January, one of my cousins stated on Facebook that she was going to start periodically posting about her various goals for the year. The notion was that it would help her keep herself accountable, and I thought it was a great idea. In the past, I used weekly updates as a similar means of keeping myself motivated to eat healthily and exercise regularly. However, despite my previous success with such posts, I did not follow her lead.

Over this past weekend, I decided that was a bad idea.

Two first two months of the year went as planned: I managed to spend more time reading and got off to a good start embarking upon yet another round of eating properly and exercising. March devolved into a disaster on both fronts. Although Gravity’s Rainbow became my new most-hated book I’ve ever set eyes on and understandably brought my reading pace to a halt (more on this in a future post), it wasn’t a viable excuse for my reversion to last year’s crappy eating habits and sporadic visits to the gym.

So, in an effort to get myself back on track, I am beginning my own accountability posting this week. Tonight’s post is the return of the Weekly Weigh-In, which I supposedly made a permanent feature of this blog at the beginning of last year. Rather than wasting anymore time preambling about it…

Today’s weight: 229.0
Target weight: 190.0

All future weigh-in posts will be on Mondays as well.

Tomorrow: the first reading accountability post.

Gone Fishing

This past weekend, Moosito and I made the trek up to New Jersey for a long overdue visit to see the family. Much of it was your typical family get together – though I’m sure most families don’t have a brief Saturday night discussion over whether to play Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity with each other. However, Sunday morning started off in a much more Norman Rockwell-esque manner, with all of us going to a nearby diner for Sunday breakfast.

Shortly after we settled at our table and placed our order, a balloon animal artist came over and asked if any of us were interested in having him make something. I thought this was a little bit of stretch. Moosito was the youngest one there, but at 15 he is well past his prime balloon animal loving years. Actually, he never really liked them. Thanks to his non-neurotypical settings, he harbored a serious aversion to balloons for most of his formative years. The noise from popping balloons scared the bejesus out of him.

But, I digress.

After a little bit of banter back and forth, I experienced a burst of inspiration, and launched into a quick monologue: “I’m speaking for myself here. I appreciate the offer, but I am totally over balloon animals now. I’ve had too many of them break my heart. You care for them with all your heart, but one small slip, and… BLAM! If that wasn’t bad enough, they clog the toilet when you attempt to give them a proper burial. Then it gets even more tragic and heart-breaking when the plumber has to snake out the remains. I’m sorry, but no.”

I was proud of myself for that; I managed to both gracefully decline and make the balloon artist laugh. Following a little bit more banter, he moved on to the next table, and shortly thereafter our food arrived.

I was enjoying my Spanish omelette when balloon guy returned to the table. He proceeded to tell me that I had inspired him and that he wanted to bring me the final result.

IMG_4337

I loved it. Almost immediately I thought, “It’s the inevitable conclusion to Pixar’s Nemo trilogy: Flushing Nemo.” I thanked him profusely, and my dad tipped him for his work.

Nemo safely arrived back home in Virginia with me, and he’s now sitting on a living room bookshelf. I sincerely hope it will be a while before I have to call the plumber.

The Annual Classic

A few years ago, I decided that I needed to occasionally challenge myself with my reading choices. Although there is absolutely nothing wrong with a consistently steady diet of science fiction and fantasy — especially if your reading choices mark you as a lit snob of sorts within the genre — breaking out of the comfort zone struck me as beneficial. Above and beyond that, there are a huge number of classics out there that I keep meaning to read but never get around to. Thus, the idea of purposefully picking one unread classic a year, The Annual Classic, was born.

This year, I found myself with a little bit of a dilemma. I decided that I would make Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow this year’s new-to-me yearly classic. However, this struck me as potentially a bit of cheat. Although it won a National Book Award, it also was nominated for a Nebula Award — though plenty of people don’t consider it sf. In addition, it was published in 1973, which makes it more recent that the novels I typically consider.

To help me decide whether picking this book was in the spirit of the The Annual Classic, I created a Facebook poll that laid out my dilemma and asked whether it qualified. Was it “old” enough, and was it far enough removed from the traditionally acknowledged boundaries of the genre? The final result was a resounding “yes” — which was clearly the answer I wanted.

Next year, I’ll be sure to pick something that is unquestionably outside the sf&f ghetto.

By the Book

When we talk about the tone in this country, let’s have an honest discussion about the toxicity that right-wing talking heads have been spewing for two decades. It is far in excess of anything that has come from the left.

Titles of their books (many of them bestsellers), and the year of their release:

  • Let Freedom Ring: Winning the War of Liberty Over Liberalism (Hannity, 2002)
  • The Savage Nation: Saving America from the Liberal Assault on Our Borders, Language, and Culture (Savage, 2002)
  • Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism (Coulter, 2003)
  • The Enemy Within: Saving America from the Liberal Assault on Our Churches, Schools, and Military (Savage, 2003)
  • Deliver Us from Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism (Hannity, 2004)
  • Liberalism Is a Mental Disorder (Savage, 2005)
  • The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and its Responsibility for 9/11, (D’Souza, 2011)
  • Crimes Against Liberty (D. Limbaugh, 2010)
  • To Save America (Gingrich, 201)
  • Pinheads and Patriots: Where You Stand in the Age of Obama (O’Reilly, 2010)
  • Demonic: How the Liberal Mob is Endangering America (Coulter, 2011)
  • Adios, America: The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Country Into a Third World Hellhole (Coulter, 2015)
  • Rediscovering Americanism: And the Tyranny of Progressivism (Levin, 2017)
  • The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left (D’Souza, 2018)
  • Liars, Leakers, and Liberals: The Case Against the Anti-Trump Conspiracy (Pirro, 2018)

This isn’t even a complete list — I’m sure that there are other titles that escaped my attention. Is it any wonder that conservatives in this country think that liberals hate America and are out to destroy it? If you think the left is just as bad, by all means, please refute me. Make a list of best-selling books by liberal commentators with titles just as inflammatory — titles that paint conservatives as hating America, to the point of committing treason or becoming traitors. Show me how there’s a left-wing noise machines that is spewing out venom with the same intensity and regularity as the right.

What I’ll Never Forget

(Five years ago, today, on Facebook)

It’s been 12 years. During that time, I have seen my country manufacture evidence to start a war with a country that had nothing to do with 9/11; I have seen common people who spoke up against the war denounced as traitors and un-American; I saw what happened to the Dixie Chicks for merely stating they were ashamed of our President; I have seen many of my fellow countrymen passively and unquestioning accept a slew of government surveillance programs that infringed upon our supposedly Constitutionally-protected liberties; I have seen our court system give a stamp of approval to those programs; I have seen the excessive militarization of our police force.

Think about we led our lives before those attacks and how we lead them now. Now, ask yourself if we really are any safer as a result of all this. If you accept the argument that Osama Bin Laden masterminded these attacks because he hated America, then he succeeded in ways he probably couldn’t imagine because America has changed significantly for the worse.

To rephrase something my friend Kate stated, forgive me if I don’t share images of the Two Towers bearing messages about how we’ll never forget or images of crying eagles. I haven’t forgotten. The window just outside my work desk on 9/11 had a clear line-of-sight to the Pentagon, and I saw the smoke and flames first-hand. I went home that day with the smoke plume towering over my head. When I went to work the following day, I could smell from the Metro station I used to commute to work the smoke emanating from the Pentagon a couple miles away.

Don’t you dare tell me I am being un-American for stating some simple truths, and don’t you dare tell me I shouldn’t be angry about what I’ve seen America become.

(Political trolling will be deleted with extreme prejudice.)

Nothing but Swoosh

Now that it’s been a couple weeks since Nike initially triggered a bunch of flag-waving enthusiasts, my two cents on their ad featuring Colin Kaepernick:

  1. The immediate stock price hit was to be expected. The Wall Street crowd leans conservative. I would have been stunned if it hadn’t dropped in the immediate aftermath. Nonetheless, it didn’t stop the anti-Kappers from gleefully using the stock price as an indicator that Nike’s gambit had hurt them. Clearly, they don’t understand how stock prices work and why the immediate was meaningless.
  2. While Nike was definitely “taking sides,” that was tertiary to the ad’s primary goals: getting them lots of publicity above and beyond mere advertising, and selling more shoes and clothes. I think the fact that the campaign is still a large part of the national conversation shows the former worked exactly as planned. As for the latter, fact of the matter is that we won’t know how successful that was until Nike has issued at least a couple quarterly earning reports. In other words, it’ll be months before we know whether it increased sales or hurt them.
  3. Millennials are the largest generation in American history, and now they are all adults. In addition, surveys and polls show that on average they are more liberal than Boomers or Gen Xers. They are also the group more likely to purchase the types of clothes and shoes made by Nike. Conversely, the people most likely to be annoyed at Nike for featuring Kaepernick are people who are buying less of that class of products. If you’re going to take a side, you should definitely choose the side that’s most likely to respond favorably to your advertising.
  4. Nike spends enough money on marketing research and market surveys to give Miles Drentell an erection to rival that of John Holmes. Does anyone really think that they didn’t carefully consider all the pros and cons of this ad campaign?
  5. Finally, there are plenty of far better reasons to stop buying Nike products than their decision to include Kaepernick in their ads. In fact, if you are using that as your rallying cry to boycott, then you clearly haven’t been paying attention to the wages and working conditions in their Asian factories over the past few decades. Either that, or this simply hasn’t bothered you in the past. I’ll leave it to you to decide which you think is actually worse.

Okay, that was more like a nickel than two cents. However, I also need to give Nike additional credit for getting me to finally get off my lazy ass and pound out something with more heft than my typical 100 words or less Facebook post. They’ll never know or care, but that’s okay — I’ve never purchased or worn any of their products anyway (though I certainly wouldn’t mind wearing them if they paid me to do so.)