Wednesday, March 31, 2010

(More) of Jason Mulgrew's Life In Pictures

Blogger, St. Joe's Prep alum, friend of the blog, and all-around cool guy Jason Mulgrew recently published a memoir, Everything Is Wrong With Me: A Memoir of an American Childhood Gone, Well, Wrong. Its been blurbed by all of the cool kids; when Stevey Hely and John Hodgman recommend something, its probably pretty funny.

Anyway, his new blog post, (More) Life in Pictures, is the single funniest thing I have seen on the internet in a long time. It is the long-awaited sequel to his original My Life in Pictures, which has inspired a legion of imitators, most notably our friend Jen Adams' hilarious Aperture For Destruction, Parts One and Two.

We highly recommend all of these links, but only if you don't mind laughing until your sides hurt and/or you start to cry. One friend of mine just saw (More) Life In Pictures and is now afraid that he is going to ruin his friend's wedding by thinking of the post in the middle of the ceremony and laughing out loud. They're those sort of posts.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Winter's Tale - End of Book 3

Helpin continued to set the table in the second half of Book Three, bringing characters from early in the novel back to encounter the late 20th-century New Yorkers in a bizarre set of meetings. I don't know whether to think that Helprin's technique is sophisticated, or a little too fantastical for my taste - at times he explains away loose ends a little too abruptly for me, though the ride is always fun. There's a term for this (its escaping me right now) but this felt to me like the pre-second intermission song in a major musical, like "Tonight" or "One Day More," where all of the characters from the first few acts come together to sing with each other, but also in opposition to each other, and the final act's conflicts all get spelled out at once. I've given up trying to predict how the plot is going to turn next; I'm just enjoying the ride.

Friday, March 26, 2010

'Perfect' Timing

My favorite feature at the AV Club is Q & A, where a reader throws out a question and the entire AV Club staff takes turns answering it. This week's Q & A discusses pop culture that makes us feel old. The timing is either unfortunate or fortuitous, because I turn 30 tomorrow, and, well, let's just say this topic has been on my mind quite a bit lately, though nothing has made me feel quite as old as a bunch of my favorite writers talking about what makes them feel old.

The first time pop culture really made me feel old was about five years ago, when I realized that one of my law school classmates had watched an entirely different generation of children's cartoons growing up. I grew up on The Muppet Show, the Charlie Brown holiday specials, G.I. Joe and He-Man, and girls my age grew up with My Little Pony and Jem and the Holograms. My classmate, who was only three years younger than me, grew up after the networks had stopped airing the Muppets and Charlie Brown, and had grown up with Duck Tales, Chip and Dale - Rescue Rangers, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Not only that, she actually didn't recognize my friends' bitchin' Jem and the Holograms costumes at a Halloween party. I was amazed that somebody old enough to be in law school was too young to know Jem and the Holograms. That was five years ago, and things have not improved in the meantime.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Winter's Tale - Beginning of Book 3 through An Early Summer Dinner at Petipas

This week was when the various diverse strands of the first two books begin to come together. I'm sure that Helprin has a few more twists in store, but the overwhelming sense is that, now, 400+ pages into the novel, Helprin has finally manuvered the characters into place (across the country and, in a few instances, through decades in time) so that he can write his climactic couple of acts.

Since the beginning of the book, the fog of New York harbor has been attributed magical, time-travel qualities. Peter Lake and, eventually, the entire ship from Book 2 emerge from the fog, in the New York City of 1995 and, at that point, we begin to see how the five or six different threads of the novel's first 400 pages are beginning to weave themselves together. The entire sequence at St. Vincent's Hospital - a hospital whose sick wards I know intimately - charmed me immensely, and the stuff at The Sun/The Ghost was entertaining, even if it didn't seem to advance the plot or the characters quite as much as the rest of the chapters. But its not like Helprin to burn 30 pages without planting a few seeds that will sprout later on in the novel, which begs the question: what from those chapters is going to become important later on? Does anybody have a guess?

The XX is Teh Awesome

I can't help it - everything this band releases gets stuck in my head. Their new cover of "You've Got the Love" has done the same.

Thanks to Nicole for the link.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

"Normal" Is A Relative Term

The host, "Merton" goes on chat roulette and improvises songs on the piano about the strange birds he sees on there, including a choade who looks like Fred Durst and a couple of girls who do not know the difference between "you're" and "your." Its either "brilliant" and "stupid," but since I don't have anything better to do, I'm going to go with "brilliant."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The National Preview High Violet at The Bell House

I know I just posted a live version of this song a couple of days ago, but "Terrible Love" is so catchy that I couldn't resist posting this awesome live version, recorded last week at beloved Park Slope night clubt The Bell House. (For those of you familiar with Brooklyn, its owned by the same people that own Union Hall and Floyd).

Matt Berninger: "Thank you. Thanks very much. Thanks, guys. We'll back in . . . uh, we live here."

Monday, March 15, 2010

Winter's Tale - The End of Book Two

What are your thoughts on "A New Life" and "Hell Gate?" They struck me as transitional chapters in some ways - more beautiful women are introduced, more people fall in love at first sight (or, in one notable case, before first sight) I'm very much enjoying this novel so far, but, after reading these two chapters, I am beginning to believe that it needs a 'straight man' - somebody who the audience can identify with and serve as a frame of reference for the more whimsical and magical characters. When everybody leads a charmed life (and I apply that word to the destitute characters as well, if that's not too contradictory), nobody's life seems all that charmed; by the rules of Winter's Tale's universe, they are all normal. Having a few more normal characters would make the Peter Lakes, Christiana Friebourgs and Virginia Gamelys a little more special.

I loved the scene with Hardesty and Marko Chestnut. I can barely get cabs to stop for my, but ocean liners break for Hardesty Marratta. He must be a special guy.

Some questions:

Characters have now entered the city through three "gates" - some more literally than others. What do you make of the three gates so far, and what do you expect out of the fourth?

Most of the neighborhoods in Helprin's New York City exist in real life, but their size and relationship to one another are skewed - sort of like New Jersey landmarks in the songs of Bruce Springsteen. What do you make of Helprin's New York City, and what is your favorite part of it?

Moving forward, what do you think Virgina Gamely's role in the novel will be?

The Most Important Games of the Decade - 4

August 2004

Q: “What football game should I get, bro?”
A: “Madden”

For over 20 years, that conversation has been the same. For the next 20 years, it will probably remain the same. Sure, there was the first Madden year in the PlayStation 1 era where Madden '96 pulled back (decided too late to do 3D polygons instead of sprites and couldn't ship on time) and let NFL Gameday get a foothold, but Madden returned with a vengeance, running all over the playing field like Bo Jackson in the first good football videogame.

Yet in the early 2000s, Visual Concepts (the team that fumbled Madden '96) was making a pretty damn good football game on their own, the 2K series. Launching on the Dreamcast when EA snubbed the console, it was a huge graphical leap forward to the modern gaming era. I remember being in a Toys R’Us watching several people in line get confused over the game they were missing watching a 2K demo.

So when 2K5 rolled around, the Dreamcast was out of the picture, and Visual Concepts was beginning to get better critical praise than Madden on same system releases. And, in a bold move, were only charging $20, $30 cheaper than Madden and out a few weeks earlier. Could this game be the one to sway gamers and end Madden’s decade long dynasty? Nope, it was the game that made both the NFL and EA concerned enough (NFL worried about brand being cheapened, EA worried about a solid competitor) to forge and exclusive deal where EA alone got the videogame rights to the NFL franchise, cementing its juggernaut role in the sports market. This caused 2K to respond and get almost-exclusive rights for Major League Baseball games, for whatever that was worth…

Madden continues to be a top selling game each year, and helped solidify EA’s dominance in the sports game market, and help slam the door in the face of future competitors down the road. It would be an expensive proposition to create a football game engine to compete with Madden knowing you won’t have the NFL license available. Whenever the contract runs out in the future, EA will always have an advantage on actually being ready with a game engine to make an NFL game, creating a partnership now as linked as McDonald's and Coca-Cola.

Common Sense Dancing's NCAA Tournament Bracket

We're doing it over at - its free to enter, and you get a year's worth of bragging rights. Its free to join, and the brackets have to be entered by Thursday at noon.

If you have not already received an e-mail from me, but would like to play, e-mail me at and I will send you the URL and password.

Lauren, of Lost In Texas, won it all in 2008, the last time we had this contest. Lauren, the pressure's on you to repeat again this year!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

She & Him - "In the Sun"

Since we're on the subject of all of those great bands who are releasing new albums in the next couple of months, you should be sure to check out She & Him: Volume 2, when it comes out. Here's the first single, "In the Sun":

Thanks for the words, Ellen.

ADDED: We would like to thank Zooey Deschanel for showing us her O-face in the screen shot. You know what I'm talkin' about.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Reason #23082734 Why I Love NPR

This is shaping up to be a fantastic year in music. The National, Arcade Fire, The New Pornographers, The Strokes, The White Stripes, The Drive-By Truckers, The Hold Steady, She & Him, The Black Keys, LCD Soundsystem, Rilo Kiley and Jenny Lewis have all announced that they are releasing new albums this year. That is more or less a complete list of our favorite bands, so, needless to say, we're pretty excited.

Unfortunately, most of these albums aren't being released until May at the earliest. To hold us over until that time, NPR is streaming The White Stripes' live album, Under the Northern Lights, in its entirety. Yet another reason why NPR is awesome.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The National - "Terrible Love"

Last night, The National played "Terrible Love," the first single off of their upcoming album High Violet, live on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, thus ratcheting up expectations even more. Its been three years since their last studio album, but between their steady stream of singles, B-sides, contributions to charity fundraising albums, and almost non-stop touring, The National may very well be the best working band in America right now.

The Most Important Games of the Decade - 3

Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox)
November 2001

In the late 1990s, the “battle for the living room” was heating up. This internet thing was catching on in a big way, and everyone wanted a piece of the action. With the tech bubble rising, stalwart corporations found themselves out-market-capped by start-up internet-based businesses that did...well, it wasn’t always entirely sure, but everyone knew it was important and it was The Future.

As it happened, Microsoft did know something about the internet, and saw Sony’s PlayStation as a threat to the future of digital content and connecting consumers to the internet. So in a heavyweight fight of huge corporations mobilizing their resources, decided to enter Sony's domain and make a videogame system, a move that would cost them billions in the short-term in order to prevent getting locked out of the future.

Along the way, Microsoft picked up Mac developers Bungie Studios and their upcoming first person shooter game, Halo. The move gave Microsoft a launch title that was its only chance of competing against the PS2 blizzard of awesome games and Nintendo Gamecube’s launch with all of their mascot characters in Super Smash Bros. Melee. As it happens, Halo rocked everyone’s face off, and was the absolute #1 main reason the Xbox found a foothold. No Halo, no Xbox.

Halo’s dual analog controls solved the First-Person-Shooters-can-only-be-effectively-played-on-PC problem (Goldeneye was pretty funky control wise, you may have forgotten from nostalgia), it introduced the now genre-common regenerating health (shields), and established the holy trinity of guns/grenades/melee for balanced deathmatch gameplay.

Microsoft had entered the arena, and remained standing against the might of the PlayStation and Nintendo brands, eventually beating the GameCube in the US by focusing on the older gaming market. And by snapping up Halo and Bungie, almost as a casual side-effect dealt a blow that further doomed Apple to gaming obscurity for another decade. But stay tuned...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Some Bullshit

Funny? Too obvious of a target? Can it be both?

Breaking News: Some Bullshit Happening Somewhere

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Winter's Tale - "In the Drifts"

By far the most whimsical section of the novel so far, "In the Drifts" provides more of what The Lake of the Cooheries gave us - beautiful imagery, fantastical coincidences, natural disasters, and descriptions of New York City that make it sound intimidating to outsiders, but which are written in a way that only a native who loves the city could write them.

The story about how Havestry gets to New York City is the sort of 'magical realist' story that generates so many comparisons to Salman Rushdie and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Havestry's father leaves his fortune to one son, and a gold heirloom plate to the other, but he doesn't specify which son gets which gift. Instead, he leaves that decision up to Havestry. His decision to take the heirloom instead of the fortune is a surprise to the characters in the novel, but not to the readers, because if Havestry had accepted the money and retired comfortably, well, there would be no reason for him to be in the novel. His picaresque trip from San Francisco to upstate New York wasn't quite as amusing to me as Helprin probably intended it to be, but what happens after he gets to the Lake of Cooheries was fantastic - I won't ruin it for those of you who haven't finished the chapter yet. The scenes in New York City at the end of the chapter were written in the sort of nostalgic fashion in which the pre-World War I chapters were written, so I had to keep reminding myself that they were set in the mid-1990s, which, when the novel was written, was thirteen years in the future. The section about the vaudeville theater was interesting to me - the way in which the quality of the performers keeps declining as television got increasingly popular, and the Christina Hendricks-like owner of the boarding house who is so sexually overwhelming that all ten of the men she's been married to have died in the sack with her. Little details like that seem so bizarre at first, but, to the novel's fans, they are what elevates the book from "just another well-written literary novel" to a classic.

Some questions form this week's chapter:

What do you think of Havestry? Is he going to become as important of a character as Peter Lake? What other characters introduced in this chapter are going to stick around?

Justice is a major theme of the novel so far, but, though many of the characters search for it and claim to be motivated by it, but what do you make of the fact that there haven't been any scenes in which justice has been meted out?

Don't you wish some of those grand old buildings that Helprin describes still existed in New York City? Is it possible that they do exist, and we just never have an opportunity to go into them? Cipriani on 42nd street strikes me as the sort of elegant pre-war that it seems like every character in the novel lives and works in.

The Most Important Games of the Decade - 2

November 2001

Could one game kill a system? The precedents are there for games that can make a system (Super Mario Bros, Halo, Wii Sports), but Metal Gear Solid 2 might very well have been what killed the Dreamcast.

The first Metal Gear Solid was an important entry in gaming history, an instant classic that raised the bar in production values and storytelling in gaming. It was a crowning achievement at the end of the PlayStation 1 era.

The next generation was beginning with the Dreamcast, Sega’s latest effort after Sony pummeled the hell out of the Sega Saturn and Sega’s market share. The Dreamcast was looking towards the future, having a built in modem and internet capability right out of the box. You may recall in the late 1990s that the Internet was a Fairly Big Thing.

But Sony was determined to own the future with their looming threat of the PlayStation 2, the world conqueror. It would play DVDs (another Big Thing in the year 2000). It would play games your brain couldn’t believe. It would be transcendent. Newsweek quoted the Playstation founder, Ken Kutaragi, with this horseshit whopper of a shenanigan about the mystical power of the PlayStation 2: “You can communicate to a new cybercity. Did you see the movie The Matrix? Same interface. Same concept. Starting from next year, you can jack into The Matrix!”

But mainstream magazines--who at the time were still clueless about videogames and wondering if Columbine happened because Harris and Klebold played Doom rather than, you know, Harris being a good old-fashioned psychopath since the 9,999,999 other Doom players didn’t go on a school shooting rampage—were not the only ones to get snookered by the Sony hype machine. The gaming press, perhaps following their customers’ wishes, was giving ridiculous, masturbatory coverage to MGS2. In an era before large scale broadband internet penetration, one magazine, PSM, went almost second by second through a 15 minute MGS2 trailer with their hypothesis on what each frame could mean other comments along the general lines of “Oh, snap!” upon big reveals.

The game itself? Ended up being quite good. Critics loved the advancements in stealth action gameplay, fierce enemy AI (one of the major benefits of new generations of systems that’s harder to show than graphics, but makes your games more realistic vs. shooting that guard in an old game while his buddy watches, bored), and overall attention to detail. The story was a dividing point, confusing and at times wincingly comical in its melodrama and ridiculous and unclear plot twists. MGS’s creator, Hideo Kojima, talented though he is, has been in desperate need of an editor to clean up his sprawl and attempts at humor for years.

But the game itself was overshadowed by its own hype. The early glimpses of the game several E3s (yearly video game expo) was a reason of utmost importance to convince consumers that it was worth avoiding the investment in the Dreamcast to await the golden tomorrow of the PlayStation 2. In creating the hesitation in consumer’s minds, the Dreamcast was never able to capitalize on its one year head start, and with MGS2 and the promise of other games of its caliber the PS2 was able to defeat Sega so badly that the Dreamcast ended up being the once mighty Sega's final hardware system.

Winter's Tale

Our discussion of 'In the Drifts' is postponed until tonight. Sorry for the delay.

What is the most impressive NHL statistic?

The awesome USA-Canada games in the Olympics were two of the best hockey games I've ever seen, and it inspired me to go to Hockey and click around a little bit. Statistics in hockey aren't quite as meaningful as, for instance, baseball stats, because there are so many variables - you can't meaningfully compare the number of goals two different players have scored, because the statistics don't differentiate between even strength and power play goals, or those scored into an empty net, or off of a sweet assist, or off of bad rebounds the goalie should never have surrendered.

So, hockey fans: what's the most impressive statistic? Gretzky's record 215 point season? Some other Gretzky record, like his 92 goals from 1984-85 or 163 assists from 85-86? Bobby Orr's plus/minus record of +124, set in the 1970-71 season, may be the only record that is just as likely to never be broken. In 78 games, Bobby Orr's Boston Bruins outscored their opponents by 124 goals at even strength. Larry Robinson, the great Montreal Canadiens defensemen, and Bobby Orr's defensive partner on hockey's all-time team, was +120 in 1976-77, but that came in the middle of Montreal's Scotty Bowman/Ken Dryden/Maurice Richard dynasty; one of the greatest runs that any hockey team has ever had.

My guess is that neither Orr's record nor any of Gretzky's records will be broken any time soon, but for some reason I see somebody scoring 93 goals before I see somebody going +124 in the modern NHL, or getting more than 163 assists. Nobody's Joe Thornton, the best playmaker since Mario Lemieux, has never had more than 96. Nobody has better than +60 since Vladimir Konstantinov in 1995-96.

What do you think - which record is most impressive, and which one of them is the most likely to be broken first?

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Most Important Games of the Decade - 1

So I had promised this to Wade at the turn of the new year/decade, but I'm a deadbeat. Excited Common Sense Dancing Readers, we're going to take a fascinating journey down memory lane and take a look at The Most Important Games of the Decade!

This list will cover the games that I feel have had the biggest effect on the industry and the way we play over the last ten years. And so...


Grand Theft Auto III (PS2)
October 2001

Although the GTA series had been around in the 1990s as a top down game, this transformational 3D, 3rd person-shooter/driving iteration seemed to come out of nowhere in the fall of 2001, a vision of the series finally realized by the hardware leap to the PlayStation 2 generation. GTA3, simply put, was a phenomenon. Its open world “sandbox”, do-anything gameplay was a break-through in game design, allowing players multiple ways to complete certain missions.

The game seemed to reward your inner most dark desires as the silent criminal anti-hero. The oft-cited example of picking up a hooker and then running her over and getting your money back was great for gaining nationwide shock-publicity, not unlike what Mortal Kombat did years earlier. There was something thrilling about realizing you could run over or mug pedestrians, or steal a police car for the first time.

In what became a trademark of the series, Liberty City itself was a main character, living with quirky radio DJs and pedestrians with multiple lines of dialogue. Little touches like fire trucks and ambulances showing up to pertinent emergency scenes made the world feel alive. And then, of course, you could steal said emergency vehicles and go on a ironic rampage or a good guy vigilante mission.

How many hours did you spend putzing around the world rather than playing the game’s actual missions? Not only was the game fun as hell, the story was well written and voice acted with memorable characters. It had crime noir elements, yet also a keen sense of humor with social satire sneaking into every radio station.

GTA3 combined with Metal Gear Solid 2 and Final Fantasy X to deliver the most powerful holiday lineup seen for a console at that time, and helped the PS2 leapfrog over the fledgling Xbox and Gamecube and never look back, completely dominating the entire generation. Additionally, it marked an important shift to western-designed games for console from the Japan-dominated 1990s.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Google Ad Featuring The National

Apparently, this advertisement is three months old, but I just saw it for the first time today. The only way I could like it anymore is if they somehow found a way to incorporate Jennifer Connelly.

Killing Yourself To Live

Chuck Klosterman is both an gifted conversationalist and an enormously talented writer. His third book, Killing Yourself To Live: 85% Of A True Story was spawned out of a Spin Magazine feature in which he visited the sites of famous rock and roll deaths - everything from the hotel where Sid killed Nancy to the crossroads near Macon, Georgia where two members of the Allman Brothers band lost their lives in unrelated motorcycle accidents to the night club in Providence, Rhode Island that caught on fire during a Great White show, killing more than 100 people in 2003. Along the way, Klosterman puts several thousand miles on his rented Ford Taurus, shares his thoughts on the 600 CDs he brought with him, and ponders his complicated romantic history, particularly relationships with three women named Quincy, Lenore, and Diane, all of whom he loved at one time or another, and whose lives keep intertwining with his, sometimes against his better judgment.

Klosterman is good company. Many of the book's best individual passages are lengthy digressions about the sort of stuff one talking about on long road trips - his first job at a Fargo, North Dakota newspaper, the disappointment he felt at visiting the basketball Hall of Fame, the difference between "pot people" and "cocaine people," the distinction between musicians who we think are cool because their music is good, and musicians we think are good mainly because they're cool, his music collection (he bought all 26 KISS releases on tape, bought them again on dics, and bought them again when they were remastered in 1999), and the like. Mainly, he considers his relationships with Quincy, Lenore, and Diane. Sometimes, these passages get a little twee. Other times, they lead funny, unexpected punchlines, such as when he writes: "Two weeks later, Lenore removed her turtleneck while we were making out in the front seat of her Chrysler LeBaron. Nothing in my life has ever been the same. It was like touching the obelisk and realizing I could use tapir bones as a weapon." It is a credit to Klosterman's writing that such remarks don't break the serious emotional tone of the rest of his writing.

By comparison, several of the rock and roll death sites - the ostensible purpose of the book - are discussed in a cursory fashion. Some - the site of the Great White fire, and Kurt Cobain's home in Seattle - get a lot more space than others, but the book never seems all that interested in what happened at the sites; rather, it uses them as jumping-off points to discuss why that musician was important, or how a certain type of music relates to Klosterman's own life.

Killing Yourself to Live isn't as much a book as it is a collection of short essays, and shoe-horning them into a book's structure makes for a lot of awkward transitions. The book's theme, which seems to be 'found' as much as it was intended, is how fickle legacies can be - some musicians, and some romantic relationships, resonate years after others, which seemed more important at the time, have faded away. Its perceptive, and I would have liked to see Klosterman flush it out a little bit more. It would be interesting to see him make that same journey ten years later, to see what still endures

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

This Too Shall Pass

OK Go's new single is entitled "This Too Shall Pass," which is what I say to myself when, for instance, I have to walk home in the rain at 12:30 AM after riding the subway for forty minutes and waiting for a transfer at Atlantic-Pacific for thirty-five minutes before the public address system saw fit to announce that R trains had stopped running unexpectedly.

Anyway, the video is every bit as awesome as we expected it to be, like the breakfast scene from Pee Wee's Big Adventure but modernized and funkier. We can all get behind that, right? Its good to see that the performance artists behind "Here It Goes Again" haven't lost their touch.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Winter's Tale - Four Gates to the City/The Lake of the Cooheries

This week's reading was only forty pages long, so this post will be short and sweet. There are some longer readings coming up in the next few weeks.

I love the precious descriptions of the snowy upstate New York towns, and the way they tend to populate themselves with loveable little eccentrics. (Let the record reflect that this is one literary cliche of which I will never tire.) Virginia Gamely, raised in a super-literate household in the middle of the sticks, voyages to New York City on one of the coldest days of the winter. She has to skate down a river just to get to a steamboat, and, once she arrives, she finds out that the boat is trapped on an iceberg. Her weight, and that of her son, are just enough to crack the ice and free the ship, which then makes its way to New York City post haste. Once they arrive, Virginia and her son have their "rubes' first day in New York" moments, and, by chance, ends up running into Jessica Penn, daughter of Issac Penn and the younger sister of the late Beverly Penn, who starred in the first book of the novel. She introduces them to a group of high-society newspaper publishers, and her vocabulary and insight lead to an on-the-spot job offer, writing about the city from an outsider's perspective. If only landing a full-time writing gig in the city was still that easy!

The writing in this chapter was really beautiful - probably the prettiest yet in the novel. Things are so lovingly described, with such fine attention to detail, that I forgive Helprin his occasional scene of telling us what the characters are thinking, instead of showing us. I could tell that a lot of foreshadowing was going on, and that the seeds of some larger themes were planted, but its still too early to tell which of them will become important; to tell what details are meant as symbolism instead of, for instance, mere quirk.

As for the characters, I'm already missing Peter Lake and Beverly Penn, but the characters of Book Two are endearing enough in their own right to hold me over. I get the feeling there is a major character who is about to be introduced . . . but that's mere speculation at this point.

Do any of you think you know where the novel is going to go? Have you picked up on any new themes in Book 2? If so, please share!