Searching for Bobby Fischer (‘s DNA Sample)

I read the disturbing news today that the grave of former World Chess Champion Bobby Fischer was going to be disturbed, with an exhumation to take place so that a sample of his DNA may be obtained to determine/confirm his paternity of a young Filipino girl whose mother was formerly associated with the grandmaster. Fischer died in Iceland a couple years ago leaving an estate of a couple million dollars.

Most probably know most of the story of Bobby Fischer.  He was a brilliant, though tempermental chess prodigy from the United States who virtually single-handedly wrested the world chess championship from Soviet domination that had endured virtually since the beginning of the cold war.  His 1972 title match with Soviet champion, Boris Spassky was played in Rejkyavik, Iceland, and Fischer ‘fled’ there several years ago after being temporarily detained trying to leave Japan due to passport issues.

Fischer in 1971 at the height of his powers:

And shortly before his death

Though brilliant, Fischer’s later years seemed to be marred by paranoia and mental illness.  He famously spat on a 1992 statement from the U.S. Government while playing a rematch with Spassky in the former Yugoslavia, participated in numerous anti-semitic rants on radio programs, celebrated the 9/11 attacks in 2001.  In short, he became looney.  Or, as my granddad would have said, “His bread’s not done.”  All this was made even more unpalatable to us chessplayers (until 2005 I was fairly active on the tournament ‘circuit,’ but I have been happily retired since then) who admired the unquestionable skill and preciseness with which he played the game.  The world had never seen that before.

Reading this news reminded me of one of my favorite books when I was first learning chess.  It’s Bobby Fischer: Profile of a Prodigy by Frank Brady.  This was one of the few books that my local library branch (Brown Branch of the IMCPL on East  Washington – since destroyed and rebuilt a few blocks away) had about chess, and I remember checking it out many times.  It included many of his games that one could study, but – even more interesting to me at the time – was the story of his rise to power.  I suppose the book would prove interesting for that reason even to a non-chess playing reader.

Then, in 1993, a book was written titled Searching for Bobby Fischer, by Fred Waitzkin, the father of a child chess prodigy of that time, Josh Waitzkin.  This book was later made into a great movie starring Joe Mantegna, Joan Allen, Ben Kingsley, Lawrence Fishburne and Max Pomeranc in the title role.

I was fortunate enough to meet both Fred & Josh Waitzkin briefly during the Bermuda International tournament in February of 1997.  Unlike many chess prodigies, Josh turned into a well-adjusted “normal” adult, and has excelled in other fields (including martial arts!) in addition to chess, and has even written a well-received book of his own on “The Art of Learning.”  I’d heartily recommend both the book and the movie – even to those not familiar with the “chess world,” and, if you enjoy them, maybe then you could give Profile of a Prodigy a try.

Short Story Month III is shaping up nicely…

Each July my book club takes a month off from our normal reading pattern and reads a bunch of short stories.  Every club member picks a story and either sends a link to an online copy of the story, or just a copy of the story itself to the other members.  We have about 8 short stories to read for the month.  Some are short, some are long.  Some are, in fact, very short, but none are very long.  Usually, we have a total of around 100 pages to read – i.e. a much lighter “reading burden” than a normal month for us.

Thus far, members have selected the following stories for this year:

Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving

The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County by Mark Twain

The Education of H*Y*M*A*N  K*A*P*L*A*N by Leo Rosten

The Red Shoes by Hans Christian Andersen

The Old Woman and Her Pig by “Anonymous”

The FLowering of the Strange Orchid by H.G. Wells

The Copper Beeches by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

N by Stephen King

I think we have just one more member yet to select.  What about you?  Are you in a book club, and does your club ever read short stories?  Have you read any of the above stories?  Which do you recommend?

Thoughts on Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist

One of my favorite sayings is, “I’m not a pessimist, I’m an experienced optimist.” (ha ha)

My book club read Michael J. Fox’s book for May of this year. Everyone seemed to like it.  Dale, our ‘remote’ participant, commented a couple times that it was books like this one that made him appreciate our club the most, in that it was a book he would never have picked out and read himself, but – due to   our club’s selection procedure – he was “forced” to read it and ended up really liking it.  (Part of our club’s original ‘stated mission’ was for our members to be willing to read outside our normal genre.) Another “cool” thing about our club (that I bring up frequently at meetings) is how, now that we’ve read a fair number of books, we are now often able to relate our current selection to other books the club has read.  My reference point for this one was the book, The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch.

Unlike millions of others, my reactions to The Last Lecture were predominantly negative.  First of all I admit this book has a lot of useful “little bits of wisdom” and some that I will remember and certainly will find their way into my conversations.  And the subject matter is quite compelling and thought-provoking (wasn’t everyone else wondering, “what would I do if I knew I only had six months to live?”).  But I didn’t like this book.  It was quite depressing, and I suspect that – if I had know Randy Pausch in person – I wouldn’t like him very much, either.  I’ve met “his type” before.  I found an underlying tone of ‘martyrdom’ to his writing, and some of the stories I found a little suspect or revealing.
He seems obsessed with convincing us that, although he was dealt a hand he is certain to lose, he is ‘fine with it’ – I think it’s his way of trying to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.  “See what a great person I am, even though I’m dying?”  I didn’t find that particularly edifying as a reader.  One of my fellow book club members pointed out that, since I had never faced a situation like that, I shouldn’t be too harsh in how another person would handle it.  Fair enough, but having now both read Pausch’s book and Fox’s book, I feel even more negatively about the former.

On the other hand, Michael J. Fox’s misfortune has become more of a shared experience for him.  His establishment of a foundation to raise money for research Parkinson’s Disease is helping not only him but all the other sufferers of this affliction.  Not only that, his advocacy of easing restrictions on stem cell research benefited not just his fellow PD sufferers, but many others with conditions not directly related to PD.  Fox was humble.  Fox rejects the idea of his being a ‘hero’: “I agree that if I took on the condition and everything that comes with it just to be an advocate on behalf of others so afflicted, well then yeah, that would be historically heroic.  But in a way, I am just rolling with the punches.”

One other incident this book recalled to my mind was Rush Limbaugh’s callous mocking of Fox’s disease.  Maybe Fox can take solace in the fact that it’s “not personal” – mocking is what Limbaugh does.  I’ve listened to him often enough to realize that is a common theme, which I personally do not find very constructive.  Perhaps it is the fact that his audience is likely to be almost 100% the ‘already converted’ – i.e. he’s preaching to the choir.  They already agree with him, so why not just mock the enemy to entertain ourselves? Early in the book, my memory began to stir, thinking, “didn’t Rush Limbaugh make fun of Fox’s political commercial where he is visibly shaking from the symptoms of PD.  Limbaugh assumed Fox is exaggerating for effect and sympathy, or had purposefully avoided taking his medicine so that the effects of PD would be ’exaggerated.’  This was not the case, but the book points out that “wouldn’t it be more honest to let the viewers/voters see the symptoms of this disease in their unmitigated form?”  I’ve never been a fan of Limbaugh anyway, but I found him despicable in this instance.

I thought Randy Pausch’s character was somewhat revealed earlier in his book when he relates a story of how his boss insists he (Randy) be reachable during  his honeymoon and, even though Pausch eventually agrees, he does it such a way that he demonstrates himself to be a smart ass. His pre-recorded answering machine message: “Hi, this is Randy.  I waited until I was thirty-nine to get married, so my wife and I are going away for a month.  I hope you don’t have a problem with that, but my boss does.  Apparently, I have to be reachable.” I then gave the name of Jai’s parents and the city where they live (why not their number, jerk? Oh, that‘s right, you‘re ‘punishing’ them for insisting on reaching you- my parenthetical). “If you call directory assistance, you can get their number.  And then, if you can convince my new in-laws that your emergency merits interrupting their only daughter’s honeymoon, they have our number.”  This was the last straw for me while reading this book.  Conclusion: this guy is a jerk – a jerk with talent, but that’s no excuse.  He called this “the perfect phone message”  He’s PROUD of it.

How we deal with adversity says a lot about us. How Fox dealt with his made me admire him; how Pausch dealt with his made me shake my head.  I guess I should also ask myself – are my reactions influenced because I almost feel like I know Michael J. Fox because of his endearing portrayals of  “Alex Keaton” or “Marty McFly?”  Perhaps…

Have you read either of these books?  What were your reactions?  Am I the only one who didn’t like The Last Lecture?

Finished reading Gulliver’s Travels Part 2 (better late than never)

I’ve been thrown a little behind schedule with the ‘new arrival’ at my place  (no, not a child, an iPad!), and  I’ve been spending all my free time lately exploring and playing with it instead of reading like I’m supposed to.  I did use it to read part 2 of Gulliver’s Travels, though, via the B&N Reader app. (I had downloaded a free version of Gulliver’s Travels to my nook® reader, and anything I’ve ‘purchased’ on that I can also access through the iPad (or iPhone).  Of course, the iPad with its touch screen makes highlighting (and notetaking) a breeze compared to the nook®.  Well, enough about that stuff you probably don’t care about.  Let’s see what Lemuel Gulliver was up to in part 2…

Gulliver’s wanderlust prompts him into another voyage (I learned this week that, at the time of the publication of Gulliver’s Travels, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe was still wildly popular) and he ends up in yet another fantastical, undiscovered region of the Earth, where this time the tables are turned and he is the small, 1/12th size creature and the natives, Brobdingnagians, are the giants.  This change and juxtaposition provides more fertile ground for his satire.  He even quotes ‘the old philosophers’ saying that “Undoubtedly philosophers are in the right, when they tell us that nothing is great or little otherwise than by comparison.” (one other tidbit I learnt during this reading of Part 2 was that the microscope was a recent invention at the time and was becoming all the rage as people owned them and using them had become a hoby of many.  I guess one could argue also that the telescope was a recent (at least relatively so) invention as well, and these two ‘miraculous’ scientific advances, enabling the viewing of the very small and very far away probably added to the author’s inspiration).  More ‘gross-out passages’ were supplied by his tiny relative size, and descriptions such as describing the skin “with a mole here and there as broad as a trencher, and hairs hanging from it thicker than packthreads.” He also didn’t neglect his penchant for providing too much information on bodily functions, not to mention his ‘landing short’ when trying to leap over a pile of cow manure.  Enough already, Swift!  🙂

The adventures were, once again, entertaining and sometimes nail-biting.  His fighting and vanquishing the rats (!!) that crawled onto his bed with him,  his battle with the wasps and the annoyance of the “house flies” that wouldn’t leave him alone.  Can you imagine dealing with flies 12 times their normal size?  Not to mention the fact that he was so small allowed him to see ‘their loathsome excrement’ (again with the excrement!?) and spawn.

Gulliver was generally skilled in adapting to his unique situation, however, and often was quite diplomatic, careful to avoid making enemies (e.g. the son of his first master, and even the king’s dwarf felt his ‘mercy’ at times) where that would seem to be the ‘default’ result of some of his interactions.  At least in a couple instances though, his mercy was not evident as he “had the satisfaction to see the young rogue well beaten”, etc.

The King’s questioning him about the government of his native land provided the most transparent foil for Swift’s satire.  Many quotations from here are quite memorable, such as “My little friend Grildrig, you have made a most admirable panegyric upon your country; you have clearly proved, that ignorance, idleness, and vice, are the proper ingredients for qualifying a legistlator; that laws are best explained, interpreted, and applied, b those whose interest and abilities lie in perverting, confounding, and eluding them.” and,   commenting on reckless government spending (truly a timeless theme, I guess) “true, he was still at a loss how a kingdom could run out of its estate, like a private person.”

Again there were a couple classical references that I enjoyed.  Phaeton, the son of Helios, and Dionysius of Halicarnassus.  And once Gullvier laments, “how often then I wished for the tongue of Demosthenes or Cicero.”  I often point out to others that one of the reason I like the classics (especially the mythology) is that virtually all of learned Western Civilization in the interim between the Classical Age and today were also familiar with these same myths.  Swift clearly was, and if you ever read Shakespeare, you might as well have a copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses handy…

Looking forward to Part 3 next week.  Now to head over to the other participants posts…

Fed Ex visited my Office this morning…

…with my NEW iPAD!!!  Of course, I won’t be able to do much with it until I get home anyway, since I have to sync it with my home pc’s iTunes, etc.  And I guess I should be working here at the office anyway, rather than tinkering with my latest gadget (it is my lunch hour now, however).  I’m looking forward to exploring the e-reading capabilities of it as well.  I recently downloaded the Barnes & Noble e-reader app to my iPhone, and I like that it gives me access to those books I’ve bought via my nook reader.  I’ve heard reading on the back-lit screen is a problem for some, though – i.e. not easy on the eyes.

Does anyone else out there have an iPad that they’ve used as an e-reader?  Impressions?  Comments?

My Current “To be Read” (TBR) pile

Here’s what’s on my agenda for the next two months or so; probably in the order I’ll finish them.  As always, I’m accepting other recommendations…

1. The House Divides (I MUST finish this “Project: Civil War” book before the end of the month or I will be behind schedule for the first time this year)

2. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest – less than 200 pages to go on this one, and I will finally be done with the “Millenium Series” – at least until the ghost writing begins

3. At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream. – My book club’s June Selection.  I have to read this before our meeting on June 24th…  Better get hoppin’

4. Gulliver’s Travels – Part I down, Parts II – IV to go

5. A Prayer for Owen Meany – Just bought this about a week ago.  Have been wanting to read it for a long time.  Now, someone in my club has also added it to our “Bookshelf” (list of eligible picks – it may or may not get picked, but I want to read it anyway)

6. 100 Years of Solitude – Have been wanting to read this ever since I read Love in the Time of Cholera a few years ago

7. The Antiquary – Book 3 of my “Sir Walter Scott Project”

8. New Moon – Book 2 of the Twilight Saga; may or may not continue there.  Haven’t decided 100% yet, but probably will continue.

What about you?  What’s on your TBR list?  Have you read any of mine?  Thumbs up/down/neutral?  Would love to hear about it…

Finished Part I of Gulliver’s Travels

Okay, this was a bit of a struggle.  Of course, I’ve always been aware of this work, but have never actually read it (seems like I’m saying that a lot recently).  It is a bit difficult for a modern reader to appreciate the satire within this book.  Not having lived early 18th Century England, I did not notice many things that ‘clearly refer to…’ a contemporary of Swift.  One thing that was ‘clear’ even to me was his description of the ‘channel’ between Lilliput and Blefuscu – (“Aha! Just like the English Channel!” I thought) but that was about all I could muster without the help of the footnotes in my copy (pictured below).

I decided fairly early on in my reading, since I realized the satire would be largely lost on a 21st century reader (at least without significant research), that I would just try to enjoy the book as an ‘adventure’ and as ‘good writing.’  On that level, I believe it succeeds for me.  The descriptions of Lilliput – and indeed the descriptions the Lilliputians used to describe him, The Great Man-Mountain (love that), require some skill and imagination.  I particularly enjoyed, for example, how his pistol was described: “we saw a pillar of iron, about the length of a man, fastened to a strong piece of timber, larger than the pillar; and upon one side of the pillar were huge pieces of iron sticking out, cut into strange figures…”

My rational side had an occasional problem with what I thought were inconsistencies of scale.  E.g. when he first awakens to find himself tied down by the Lilliputians and struggles to free himself, resulting in volleys of arrows – the arrows must be very tiny indeed to only have the effect he describes.  Yet, the scale is supposedly 12 to 1 as far as his size vs. theirs, and later he describes a sword as 3 inches (his inches) long.  An arrow wouldn’t be much shorter than that and would seem to be capable of causing more harm than they do.  But this is nitpicking, I suppose.

I enjoyed some of the classical references as well. (Classics/Ancient History Minor here, thank you very much!).  In my edition’s introduction (by Miriam Kosh Starkman), Swift’s earlier work, Tale of a Tub, is described as having “something of the quality of an Athena sprung full blown.” Quick everybody, get out your Bullfinch’s Mythology if you don’t understand that reference!  Another time, Gulliver states that the emperor “desired I would stand like a colossus with my legs as far asunder as I conveniently could” (in order to let the army march under him).  One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World was the famous “Colossus of Rhodes” – a gigantic statue that straddled the harbor of the city by that name.

I liked chapter six’s ‘utopian elements’ of Lilliput, such as “Ingratitude is among them a capital crime” and “fraud is a greater crime than theft,” etc., but Swift’s distrust of (government) institutions – particularly judges and courts – is clear even here.

And what’s with the obsession with his bodily functions?  This was a bit ‘disturbing’ even if humorous.  Does the sheer magnitude of Gulliver in relation to the Lilliputians make this more humorous?  I’ve heard many scholars have wondered about this aspect of Gulliver’s Travels.  I’m thinking he could have gotten away only including Gulliver’s “firefighting prowess,” as the other times this comes up aren’t vital to the story, in my opinion. 

Up until recently, the only knowledge or image I had of this book is the iconic one of Gulliver tied down by countless little strings.  I knew he had other journeys than the one to Lilliput, though, and look forward to experiencing them in the upcoming weeks.  Now I’m going to hop over to Allie’s page to see what she and others have had to say today…  Note, Allie’s mom is also ‘guest posting’ on her page and is ‘reading along’ with the rest of us.

Also participating in the read-along is Lindsey at Sparks’ Notes. (I’ll come back and edit this post later with links to any of the others that post comments)

Another participant is Caritoo over at A Whole Book World

Please give these other blogs a look, and feel free to jump in and join the fun!

Jonathan Swift

Funny, I could’ve sworn that was Isaac Newton

Well, maybe not, but close.  (maybe it’s just that they had the same hairstyle)

Well, it’s finally happened

I was reading the introduction to Gulliver’s Travels at lunch today (a paperback version) and I absent-mindedly touched the page with my forefinger to ‘drag’ it so I could see the next page, as if I’m reading on my iPhone or e-reader.  Admittedly, I’m a bit tired and sleep-deprived, but it momentarily freaked me out.  I can’t be the first person this has happened to…

Finished Reading Twilight

Well, I finished reading Twilight yesterday afternoon.  I was in the home stretch with less than a hundred pages to go at about 230pm, but the weather was so nice here yesterday that I had to take a break and go for a walk in the sun,  (I checked, but I didn’t sparkle…)  so I didn’t finish until about 530…

 My overall impression was that it was an ‘okay story,’ but I struggled a bit with it because of some obvious reasons:  It was written for a much younger audience than me, it was written in the first person from Bella’s point of view, and it was full of teen angst-y moments which I struggle to relate to at my <ahem> “advanced age.”  Nonetheless, it was a fun read.  I was struck by the fact that – outside of the love story element, and the discovery that the Cullen family were actually vampires – “nothing was really happening” in the book until maybe the last quarter of the book – after the Cullens encounter the other, wandering group of vampires.

I agree with Dale’s assessment in his comment to my earlier post that Stephanie Meyer is not a great writer, but a good storyteller.  He also pointed out that he held a similar opinion of J.K. Rowling (but that “the Twilight saga was no Harry Potter”).  And also, just last night when meeting my friends Tim & Ann Marie for dinner, their daughter Katie pointed out that Harry Potter was better because “…if the world does end in 2012, all the Harry Potter movies will have been out, but NOT all the Twilight movies.”  I like that.  I also have to admit that I read this entire book at home (as opposed to reading on my lunch hour at work or in coffee shops where I also get a lot of reading in). Why?  I was too self-conscious about carrying around “a book that was written for teenage girls.”  I pointed out to one of my nephew’s friends that “Hey, I know a lot of adults who have read the series,” but was quickly rebutted by “I know a LOT MORE fourteen year-old girls who have read it.”  Touché.

 Of course, a lot of other fiction has been written about vampires, and while reading I found myself wondering what did this book bring to the table that was ‘new’ in the genre.  I guess the whole ‘sparkle’ in sunlight thing is new (well, new to me), and I’m not sure if the conversion process for ‘making a new vampire’ was similar to other literature.  I do remember reading through several of the Anne Rice novels back when they were popular, and Salem’s Lot by Stephen King, and of course, the original Dracula by Bram Stoker.  I also realize there are a lot more books out there dealing with this subject matter, although clearly none have reached the level of popular success as this series has.  Will I read the others?  I haven’t decided yet.  I’ve got so much other stuff on my TBR list, that I hate spending time on “fluff” like this.  We’ll see…

What about you?  Are you an “adult” that has read Twilight?  What were your reasons?  Did you go on after finishing the first book of the series?