Author: Orson Scott Card

About Orson Scott Card

Here are my most recent posts

If You Skip Yost’s Column, No Present for You

  Well, Christmas is coming fast upon us and the kids are all snug in their beds like a mouse, and I’m sure you are shopping like crazy and running around to malls and stores like a chicken with its head cut off (though, of course, a chicken that could somehow still see to drive and one whose feet could reach the pedals to operate a motor vehicle.) Anyway, all those technicalities aside, like I said, I know a lot of you are still way behind on your shopping – and you therefore think you don’t have enough time...

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Mighty Trains, Walkable City, Alexa

So we were heading for Barnes & Noble to sign books that were stacked up waiting for my signature, when, to my surprise, we discovered that Barnes & Noble was completely dark. On a Tuesday at 5:15 p.m., that isn’t expected. But then we looked around and realized that most of Friendly Center was dark, except a few lights down at the south end. The power outage included the whole new western end of Friendly Center, too. As my wife and I thought about where to go for dinner – I mean, if you can’t sign books, then of course it’s time to eat – we had to eliminate all our favorite spots at or near Friendly Center. We decided on Osteria, at the corner of Westover Terrace and Mill. But that shopping complex, too, was dark. Thus we discovered that apparently a major trunk line in our power system runs along Wendover – or else these two nearby shopping centers both went dark by coincidence. One happy surprise: At the corner of Pembroke and Northline, where Forum VI used to be, the light was out, and Greensboro drivers were actually obeying the law and treating it like a four-way stop. This is miraculous, because we’ve never seen this at non-working stoplights in the aftermath of snowstorms and ice storms in Greensboro. Usually the people on the “bigger” street treat...

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Geography Quiz, Publishing in Movies, Flags

I love trivia games. Well, I love trivia games except for the sports questions and the celebrity questions, because I don’t follow sports and I don’t read People magazine. I don’t know any of the Bachelors and I can’t name you any of William’s children or anybody that Harry has ever dated, nor do I get weepy about Princess Di. But there are many categories of trivia that I prided myself on, and chief among these was geography. In fourth grade, I memorized the globe as we had it then. Large swathes of British-Empire pink across the fringes of Africa; French green across the Sahara; this was an old globe. As I grew older, I learned the new names of the former colonies – I could tell you what Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Botswana and Namibia used to be (Northern and Southern Rhodesia, Nyasaland, Bechuanaland and Southwest Africa) and what Gold Coast, Dahomey and Upper Volta are called today (Ghana, Benin and Burkina Faso). Then I got the Android and iOS World Geography Quiz Game from Atom Games Entertainment. The graphics were terrific, and in the early stages of the game I did very, very well. That’s because the early stages consisted of naming countries highlighted on a regional map, and their capitals. But I was humbled when I realized that I really never had sorted out which Pacific island...

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Pease, Dickens, Finding Santa

I was a pretty fussy eater as a kid. And it wasn’t by choice. For instance, I have very clear memories of sitting at the kitchen table in my family’s house in San Mateo, California, when I was 3 years old. My mother was making me one of my favorite meals, which was a mashed-up hard-boiled egg. Not a deviled egg, mind you. No mayonnaise was added. Just a little butter when the egg was still hot enough to melt it. Some salt. Done, perfect. Except that on this particular day, the egg wasn’t quite hard-boiled. Not soft-boiled, either – the egg white was all perfectly cooked and solid. But the yolk wasn’t that powdery bright yellow of a hard-boiled egg. There were dark patches that were still moist and … it was wrong. With the perfectionism of a child I found that not only was it “not to my taste,” it was completely inedible. It wasn’t a real egg. My mother already knew it, too, because she kind of apologized as she served it to me. “But it’ll taste just the same.” And it did. The trouble was, it didn’t feel the same in my mouth, and I was just coming to know that mouth-feel was probably more important to me than taste, when it came to deciding which foods would make it into my central and nether...

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Christopher Robin, Gratitude, Odor Control

A weird thing is happening to me. At age 66, with one stroke behind me and type II diabetes busily changing my life, I find myself noticing perfectly ordinary things – walking up the front walk to my house with an armful of mail and catalogs, looking at my yard as I back out of my driveway, sitting at our kitchen table playing games with friends, hearing the voice of a grandchild singing a song to her grandma on FaceTime, practicing a tricky passage during choir rehearsal under the baton of my wife, or hearing our friend Christi Baughan’s glorious soprano voice soaring with song – and I’m suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude. Not necessarily for that particular event or thing, but rather gratitude for being alive, for having a life that contains so many kind and generous people, good memories and continuing opportunities to accomplish useful things. This is a review column, and it’s the nature of the beast that I will often complain about things that don’t work right or fail to be what they claim to be. But even on my worst day, I’m glad to be alive. I’m glad that the vicissitudes of life brought me to this beautiful city, to my lovely neighborhood, to a climate that allows trees to grow gloriously tall and flowers to bloom all year, with beautiful snow and scary ice...

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Orient Express, Song for Christmas

Murder on the Orient Express is based on one of Agatha Christie’s best Hercule Poirot mysteries, and when it was filmed by Sidney Lumet back in 1974, it was dazzling. Gorgeous sets, a fabulous cast – Lauren Bacall, Martin Balsam, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Richard Widmark, Michael York, and Albert Finney as the vain and brilliant Hercule Poirot. I had read the book years before, but didn’t remember the ending, so everything took me by surprise and at the final reveal, I was blown away. It was one of those movies that stayed with me for years after seeing it. When I heard that Kenneth Branagh was directing ╨ and starring in ╨ a remake of Murder on the Orient Express for release this year, I was saddened. First, because there seems so little point in remaking a perfect movie. Either you don’t change it at all, in which case, why not just let us stream or buy the original version? Or you change it, and every change makes it a little worse. They chose the second option, and who can be surprised? Because my second sadness was this: Only someone as vain as Kenneth Branagh could look at a project like Murder on the Orient Express and think, I know the perfect casting for Hercule Poirot! The greatest...

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Christmas Movies, Kindle Fire, Chinaberry

The Hallmark Channel’s annual “Countdown to Christmas” is already under way, with this year’s new movies debuting on weekend nights at 8 or 9 p.m. Now that there are two channels – the regular Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies and Mysteries – you can choose what kind of experience you want to have. The Hallmark Channel has the sentimental, magical, romantic movies where you know within the first 15 minutes who is going to end up realizing that they love each other more than anything. Hallmark Movies and Mysteries has the three-kleenex movies where genuinely bad things can and do happen, and while these also have love stories and non-tragic endings, you can shed a lot of tears along the way. Now, the fact that these movies are so predictable is not a flaw. This isn’t HBO – not that HBO’s premier offerings aren’t also predictable in their own way. With Hallmark Christmas movies, the audience tunes in precisely because they trust Hallmark to deliver, in a two-hour movie, an ending that can let the viewers trundle off to bed feeling good about the world. I’ve heard some people (who are nowhere near as smart or open-minded as they think they are) say that Hallmark movies are for lonely middle-aged women who keep cats. To which my reply would be: and why shouldn’t that audience segment have well-written, well-acted...

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Blade Runner 2049, Jelly, Onsen Towels

This is the time of year when the movie studios are bringing out their big guns – the movies they think have a chance of doing well at the Oscars. Fortunately, we’ve now passed that stupid season of October, when the studios try to enthrall us with constant horror movies. Outside of the theaters, there’s nothing horrible about October. In places that have autumn, it’s the time when we cool off from summer, when the world turns red and golden, when our thoughts turn to the season of Thanksgiving. Halloween isn’t such a big deal anymore, now that children aren’t free to roam their neighborhoods without parents. It’s just institutionalized begging, and while we try to delight our visitors with their favorite candies (Twix, every year, scientifically determined by letting them pick their own candy from our eclectic candy basket; Twix always disappears first, by a mile), we also avoid scaring them because our favorite candy-mendicants are the little ones, and there’s no pleasure in making 4-year-olds recoil in fear. Why, then, because of this downgraded diabetes-inducing “holiday” do we have to put up with movie trailers, in the theaters and on our television sets at home, that try to scare us? When I go to see a good and intelligent movie, why, during October, do I have to sit through stupid, sickening trailers that go “boo!”? I’ve actually...

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Pansies, Tech Help, Beats Earphones

We’re finally deep enough into autumn that we’re not likely to have many more days with temperatures above 80 degrees. So it’s time for the changeover from the spring-and-summer annual plants, like petunias and coleus, to our winter flowers: pansies. I’m ambivalent about pansies. I have fond memories of my grandmother Parkee taking 4-year-old me and my 1-year-old brother on walks from our home on Canyon Drive in Salt Lake City to Temple Square. During much of the year, there were lots of pansies planted by the marvelous Temple Square gardeners, and Parkee would stop at a bed of pansies and sing, “Little purple pansies dressed in yellow gold, growing in the corner of my garden, old.” She knew the whole song, but my brother and I rarely allowed her to finish, because after you’ve sung to the pansies a couple of times in the four years of your life, you’re pretty much done with that. For many years since then, I’ve thought of pansies as being small and slight (which they are) and childish (which they are not). They’re one of my wife’s favorite flowers, so she rejoices when it’s time to prepare for winter by giving the pansies a month or so to take root and start to grow profusely before the really cold weather. And I’ve come to respect the pansies for their amazing hardiness – how...

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Make It Out Alive, Victoria & Abdul, Spielberg

Those of you not yet sentient in 1980 may imagine that the year was notable for the election of Ronald Reagan, or the Iran hostage crisis, or for the US boycott of the Moscow Olympics, or the census, or Indira Gandhi becoming the fourth prime minister of India, or USC beating number-one-ranked Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, 17-16. But for many of us who were adults in 1980, the event of the year was the violent eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington State on May 18. I was living nowhere near the eruption, but as ash was carried eastward by the prevailing winds, much of it was deposited in eastern Washington, where I had (and have) many family members, and where I was born nearly three decades earlier. So I had particular interest. The scientists studying volcanos did a superb job of predicting the blast, and because of their advance warning, there was plenty of time for anybody who didn’t want to die to get away from the coming eruption. One old fellow who got a lot of media attention was a curmudgeon named Harry Truman, who refused to evacuate, even though his mountain home was quite near to the volcano. After the mountain blew, no trace of Truman or his home were ever found. But he was only the most famous of the people who were...

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Yost’s Weekend with POTUS

So, the other day, I’m lying in bed on Wednesday morning just minding my own business in my own perfectly pleasant little dream world, and then, suddenly, I’m woken very harshly by the sound of helicopters passing by right over my bedroom like I was in a war zone or something. WA-KA, WA-KA, WAKA! WA-KA, WA-KA, WA-KA! WA-KA, WA-KA, WA-KA! I mean, the whole house was shaking. At first I thought it might be part of a dream where I was heroically saving fellow soldiers and taking out an enemy machine-gun nest or something, but I wasn’t having any...

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American Made, Young Sheldon, Good Doctor

When I was a kid, the resumption of new television programs with the new “season” in September was complete recompense for the end of summer vacation. Yes, we had to go back to school, but hey, there were cool new shows. When I was young, that usually meant intriguing new westerns – I remember the debuts of The Rifleman, Sugarfoot, Bonanza, Cheyenne, Have Gun – Will Travel and Rawhide, which provided starring roles for Chuck Connors and Johnny Crawford; Will Hutchins; Lorne Greene and Michael Landon; Clint Walker; Richard Boone; and Clint Eastwood and Eric Fleming, respectively. I can still sing almost the entire Rawhide theme song from memory. I remember Micah (Paul Fix), the marshal on The Rifleman, and Wishbone (Paul Brinegar) from Rawhide, and I haven’t even mentioned the most iconic TV western of them all, Gunsmoke. Fall television season was more important than the start of school. More important, when I was young, than presidential elections, which came as an anticlimax later in the season, and then went on hiatus for four years at a time. Nowadays, you’d think the “television season” thing wouldn’t matter anymore. Cable channels like TNT, USA, AMC, HBO, Showtime and others have mini-seasons of six, nine, 10 or a dozen episodes, and they start exactly when the traditional network seasons run out. Instead of the summer being devoted to reruns of...

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Izzard, Kingsman, Brad’s Status, Assassin

If only Trump would just shut up. Theodore Roosevelt called the US presidency “a bully pulpit,” in an age when “bully” was the slang equivalent of “awesome.” The presidency is only a bully pulpit if the people don’t think you’re an idiot. In that case, the twittering presidency is like being in the stocks in the village square. The Secret Service keeps people from throwing fruit or, like, rocks. But lots of people want to, and the more you shout stupidities at them, the more their fingers itch. Ultra-right Republicans have the delusion, shared by the ultra-left, that Trump was the actual consensus choice of the Republican Party. This is not true, was never true. Most Republicans in primary after primary kept voting for candidates other than Trump. The trouble was that for a long period Trump’s most visible rival was Ted Cruz, who was only slightly less repugnant. Trump was elected constitutionally, but with a minority of the popular vote. It is delusional and self-destructive for the far-right wing of the Republican Party to demand that the leadership of the Republican Party set aside their knowledge of how to govern, and instead adopt the ludicrous, mean-spirited, bigoted agenda of the far right and ram it down the throats of the American people. There is some consensus in the Republican Party: a strong national defense, which will be hard...

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Home Again, Do Your Laundry, Yesterday

Home Again was one of two movies my wife and I chose between last Friday. The other was American Assassin. (When choosing a movie to go to, horror movies like It aren’t even in the running. Why should I pay Hollywood for scaring me, when I can just stay home and watch the news?) We had good luck with The Hitman’s Bodyguard, and American Assassin looked like it might be as good … or better. And all the promos and reviews for Home Again suggested that it was going to be about a May-December romance ╨ except the woman would be the older one. Ooooh, a twist. I found this offensive, by the way, because when we talk about May-December love stories, we usually mean an old guy. You know, December – nearing the end of the year, so metaphorically nearing the end of life. An old man. But when you flip it, and the “old” woman is an absolutely gorgeous and youthful-looking Reese Witherspoon, we’re not talking about May-December at all. Witherspoon is 41, for pete’s sake, and she has never been more beautiful. And even though Pico Alexander, who plays her initial love interest, has a photo on IMDb that makes him look 14, he was born in 1991, which makes him 26 years old. Fifteen years younger than Witherspoon. That’s not May-December. That’s June-August. No cradles are...

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Third Places in American Life

Why do you have a lawn? No, seriously. Why do you want to have this greensward that you must mow, weed (manually or chemically), water (even in our damp climate) and leave generally unused? Here’s why: English country houses. The wealthy ruling class in England before 1700 was generally dependent on their income from the land. They would collect rents from peasants who worked the land but did not own it. The landlord lived in a large fine house somewhere on his own property, with a clear separation between his household and the surrounding farmers. But the grounds of the house, while they might be well-tended by a gardener, were part of a large working agricultural enterprise. Therefore, large sweeps of land near the house were kept as meadows, with herds of sheep or goats keeping them well-cropped. As the idle rich sought more ways to amuse themselves, this close-cut grass began to be used for various functions. Croquet and tennis, when they were imported from France, were fairly easy to situate on a level stretch of lawn. Garden parties took place on tables and chairs set up (by servants) on the lawn. One of the hallmarks of a great house, as you approached it from the road, was the broad lawn on either side of the trees planted to line the long sweeping driveway. Yes, there were sheep...

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Exploding Yogurt, Two Games, Thorns

The biggest problem with trivia games – even the well-written ones, like Trivial Pursuit – is assembling a group of people to play together. Let’s face it, when playing trivia games many people are at a great disadvantage, at least in certain categories. For years, I’ve had to play Trivial Pursuit with a severe handicap: the Sports & Leisure category. Not only do I know less than nothing about sports (that is, even the things I think I know are mostly wrong), but also it seems as though half the “leisure” questions are about alcoholic beverages, and as a Mormon, I have no idea what liquids are ingredients of various mixed drinks. Otherwise, I do pretty well. So there’s been many a game where my little wheel filled up with cheeses, except for Sports & Leisure, long before anyone else was close. But then I keep dancing around, failing to answer the sports questions, until somebody else fills their wheel and goes to the middle and wins. Even if I get one sports question right, when I get into the middle my opponents only have to keep asking me sports questions and they have plenty of time to catch up and beat me. Then there’s the problem of brain-holes, where some fact you’ve known your whole life suddenly falls out. I remember one game with a group of professors...

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Hacksaw, TrapTap, Lucky Logan, Prager

My wife and I don’t go to the movies very much, for several reasons: There aren’t many movies that are aimed at people like us. You know, grownups. Even the movies thatcouldhave been enjoyable are often very badly written, and when that becomes obvious in the promos, why should we waste time and money going to see them? We can always catch them later on cable to see if they turned out better than they looked in the teasers. There are only two or three movies a year that are more enjoyable than just staying home and watching our recorded shows or playing Ticket to Ride or inviting friends over to visit or just talking. We’re busy. Sometimes, we’re traveling or are completely tied up in local activities during the entire theatrical run of a movie. This is why we didn’t see Hacksaw Ridge when it first came out. We knew the storyline, we like Andrew Garfield as an actor, and we know that Mel Gibson is not only a brilliant director but also one with the courage to show a man of faith unironically on the screen. But those are also reasons why I picked another movie the week that we could have seen Hacksaw Ridge in the theaters. Because I’m such a sucker for a good story – or even a bad one – that I over-identify with onscreen characters. I get too emotional, and if...

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Hitman’s Bodyguard, Quitters and Paprika

We just got back from a late-night showing of The Hitman’s Bodyguard. The reviews on this have been mixed. Our reviews are unanimous: Terrific adventure movie, with a double romance tossed in. Good dialogue, good writing, Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Salma Hayek, Gary Oldman, an amazing amount of obscene language (half of which you miss if you don’t speak Spanish), and more dead bodies and wrecked, shot-up and blown-up cars than your average movie. If you want to see stuff you haven’t seen before, this movie has a guided tour of Amsterdam, which is a gorgeous city when people aren’t shooting and blowing up vehicles. We loved every minute. Ignore the critics who are too cool for school. …. Watching a few moments of the Kevin Spacey film K-PAX, I happened to see Spacey, playing a man who might be insane or might be an alien, take a bite out of the end of a whole banana and start chewing. If you’ve ever tried that, you know that not only does it taste nasty, you’ve got to have sharp teeth, a strong bite and give the fruit a firm ripping motion to succeed in taking off the end. With his mouth still full (because I sincerely hope Spacey did not swallow the peel), he took a second bite. In case someone thought it was a fluke. Then, I hope, a production assistant or his personal valet...

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Nut Job 2, Conlangs, Taíno

Nut Job 2. I saw it last Saturday. Did you guess that I went because my grandchildren were still visiting us? The squirrel Surly has come a long way since he inhabited those cartoons at the beginning of Pixar features, in which the one joke was his Wile E. Coyote–style way of making desperate efforts to capture his quarry – an acorn – and failing spectacularly. We loved those cartoons. Partly because they were clever, well-produced and funny. Partly because the old tradition of having short cartoons before every feature is one that I miss. There was no profit in those cartoons in the old days. They were really there, I suspect, to allow time for latecomers to get seated before the feature started. But they made movie-going more of an event, a celebration. Even if you were there to see some dark, demented horror flick, the cartoon at the beginning put everybody in a good mood. (That’s right, even the annoying cartoons, like Woody Woodpecker. After seeing one of those, I couldn’t get that obnoxious cackle out of my head for days.) But those squirrel-and-nut cartoons, beloved as they were, had to be turned into money, and that is done by having a feature film. Never mind that the feature film had to be completely different and couldn’t possibly bring the same delight. Audience loved Surly the nut-seeking squirrel, so they had to be...

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Making Movies Despicable, Outer Banks

I wasn’t going to see Despicable Me 3 because, you know, Despicable Me 2.  But we have three grandchildren visiting with us, all under the age of 12. So now I’ve seen DespicableMe 3 and I’m happy to tell you that, compared with grinding your head into a rough concrete wall for an hour, Despicable Me 3 is better.  Which is more than could be said for Despicable Me 2 or the Minions movie.  The saving grace of all the Despicable Me movies is that Steve Carell plays Gru, and Carell classes up everything he’s in. He’s one of the few American screen actors who can do voices – accents, dialects and actual characters. This means that he is especially suited to voice work in animated movies – a branch of acting in which most American actors range from untrained to dreadful.  As a case in point, I recently tried to listen to the audio version of three books by noted performers, read by the authors: Paula Poundstone’s The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness;Kevin Hart’s I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons; and Jeffrey Tambor’s Are You Anybody?  Usually, with a book by a comedian or comic actor or, you know, any actor at all, you expect they’ll be the best or only possible reader of their material.  Why would you ever listen to an audio version of one of Woody Allen’s books, like Without Feathers, if Allen himself were not reading it? Nobody could bring off that mix of...

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Evan Hansen, Musical Groundhog

It’s an odd thing to say, but despite its role as the capital of American left-wing oppression – though Seattle, Portland and the whole state of California are vying for the title – New York City remains the cultural center of the United States.  And even though the days are long gone when Broadway shows were a steady source of enduring popular songs, we still look to Broadway to certify a show as important.  There are ridiculously few new musicals compared to past decades, and now that contemporary pop, hip-hop and rap are supplanting many older musical traditions in Broadway shows, it seems even less likely for a Broadway musical to produce any song that can reach the public consciousness.  And yet we still go to Broadway. Sometimes kicking and screaming, especially when ridiculous comic-book movies are turned into offensively stupid comic-book musicals.  Anyway, a few years back I simply stopped going.  That’s right, a dyed-in-the-wool theater major and play director like me finally realized: Broadway choruses are the best singers and dancers in the world, but with the star performers in the shows borrowed from television, Grammy broadcasts and movies, nearly without regard for whether they can actually act and sing well enough for Broadway, it’s usually better to see a local production after the Broadway hit has had its run. Cheaper, too.  Or, you know, not see it at all. ...

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Candy Bars, Dunkirk, The Big Sick

If you want good brioche, you go to France. Period. Very little that is called “brioche” here in the US is good brioche. For one thing, you mostly see it as a hamburger on a “brioche” bun. If it’s brioche, it isn’t shaped like a hamburger bun. Brioche is also way too good to put hamburger ingredients on it. Hamburger on real brioche bread is like using a matched pair of Arabian stallions to pull a little red wagon. Some foods can be internationalized. Not only is high-quality wine from France, Italy and (in the opinion of some) Germany, Spain, Greece and Portugal available all over the world, but also wines from the same kinds of grapes are produced in California, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, China, Russia, Romania, New Zealand and Brazil. Is there anywhere on Earth where you can’t get Chinese food? Delivered? Or pizza? (American pizza is way better than anything sold under that name in Italy. If you go to Italy for the pizza, forget it.) But other foods remain, like brioche, the exclusive domain of a handful of countries. Mexican food, for instance, belongs almost entirely to Texas, California, New Mexico and – no, sorry, not Mexico. What we call Mexican food isn’t what you can expect to see more than 50 miles south of the border. (In Mexico, all the food is Mexican.) May...

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Spidey, Baby Driver, Apes, Cookies

Summer movies are supposed to be huge. The studios bring out their biggest moneymakers in May and June so they’ll have a chance to sit in the theaters all summer long, raking in money. Except that many of the movies the studios counted on simply have not performed. For instance, how could you lose with the Smurfs movie (Smurfs: The Lost Village)? Oh, wait. I forgot that I loathed every moment of the Smurfs on television when my kids were young. I would have paid 50 bucks for the privilege of never seeing it. Apparently I wasn’t alone in that sentiment. On a $60 million budget, it’s barely making that back … and not making a dent in the costs of promotion, which often equal the shooting budget. Baywatch had The Rock and Zac Efron. Seriously, how could it lose? Oh, yeah, it was based on a truly lousy TV show. And there was that little problem about how the promos weren’t even slightly funny or sexy, and if you don’t have either of those, why would anybody go see it? Like Smurfs, it might make back its budget, but it’s still a medium flop. Ghost in the Shell? If it had any promotion, I never saw it. Apparently it wasn’t advertised in places that an old coot like me would ever see it. On a budget of $110 million,...

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Yost Finds Freedom In Fake News

For centuries, the news has been the news; but now, in 2017, we have a completely brand new phenomenon, the thing that’s suddenly all the rage – fake news. Unlike most people, who rail against it, I consider fake news to be a highly welcome change for the stodgy and uptight journalism industry. For too long, newspapers and other media outlets have been handcuffed by the requirement that news stories be factually accurate. And, while accuracy and factuality unquestionably have their advantages – not to mention a certain pedestrian charm – those requirements also manacle news reporters in extremely confining ways. However, with fake news, stories immediately become much more interesting, there’s zero research required and reporter creativity is allowed to reach new heights. So all that got me thinking: Why don’t we just stop fighting against fake news and embrace it. As you no doubt realize by now, fake news is all around us and it’s certainly here to stay – and trying to buck that trend is a losing battle. Also, if you can’t beat them, then you know what they say you should do. So, I am in fact joining them, and this week I decided to just bring you some of the best fake news stories we could find …   Guilford County Jail Meals Go All-organic. Greensboro – Inmates in Guilford County’s two jails,...

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Spider-Man: Homecoming, Anne Ursu

When you drive across America with no particular itinerary, mealtimes can fall at awkward moments. Like between Denver, Colorado, and Salina, Kansas. Like westbound between Laramie, Wyoming, and death. There’s plenty to see in such regions. Railroad trains that go on forever. Redrock and then whiterock cliffs, buttes, and crags that gradually melt down to swells in the prairie with an occasional outcropping of stone. Clouds that drift along in neat acrobatic-swimming ranks and files. Distant rainstorms with virga sweeping down from the base of the clouds but never reaching the ground. What isn’t always obvious is information about where to eat in a strange town. When there’s only one Yelp review and it goes on and on about how brilliant the restaurant is, so that one can only assume that the owner wrote it. And there are some places so obscure that Yelp has not yet penetrated the fog. I’ve been daring, as with a very nice-looking standalone restaurant in Kanab, Utah, which has become, in our family lore, the legendary Fly-On-Your-Plate Restaurant. (We paid, left, and ate at a Subway farther along the road.) In the end, when you’re road-weary and eager to get to your evening’s lodgings, you sometimes have to figure, McDonald’s or Subway or Arby’s or some other chain represents a minimum below which they are unlikely to fall. McDonald’s is passionate about quality...

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County Kiddie Train Leaves Northeast Park on Round Trip to California

They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch but apparently there are free kiddie train repairs. In an amazing and unexplainable turn of events in the long-running saga of the dysfunctional Little Train that Couldn’t at Northeast Park, the company that sold the defective train to Guilford County has, out of the blue, agreed to come get the train, truck it back to California, repair it and return it free of charge. That comes two months after the Guilford County Board of Commissioners voted to spend an estimated $63,000 to fix the train and tracks. The board later hired a Burlington company to do the repairs. This new development means the county could save nearly all of that money commissioners approved earlier this year in their last ditch effort to save the train. County officials had long ago given up hopes that the original supplier that sold the train to the county would fix it. Six years ago, Guilford County purchased the C.P. Huntington train from Katiland Trains to serve as a park attraction that would draw kids and their families to Northeast Park, but the train has never run properly and, aside from a short stint a year and a half ago, the ride has never been operational. The county spent nearly $370,000 to purchase the train and tracks – roughly $170,000 for the train, and...

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Schmackary’s, Fragmentary Movies

It was almost funny. Someone had told me that Schmackary’s in Manhattan made the best cookies in America. The store also did wonderful-weird things like allowing people to go online and order a bunch of cookies to be sent to the cast of any show on Broadway. (Maybe they include off-Broadway shows, too. I didn’t check.) It sounded like great fun, but I wasn’t going to send an order of cookies to anyone else before I sampled some myself. My wife and I plan to go to New York to see Dear Evan Hansen, which has been highly recommended by friends. I take personal recommendations of shows seriously, because going to Broadway and spending the money to see a lousy show is a serious waste of time and money. I have found, ever since walking out of a couple of shows so offensively stupid that I felt it was dangerous to my mental health to remain, that Broadway reviewers are not to be trusted, period. But when a good (and smart, and not stage-struck) friend tells me that Dear Evan Hansen is a terrific show, and his plot summary is encouraging, then yes, it’s worth the trip to Manhattan to see the play. But what if we had gone to see the musical Amelie because we loved the French movie by that name? I ordered the original cast album...

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Cross-Country, Hotel Scams, Duvets

As my wife’s father’s 90th birthday began to evolve into a family reunion – which would take place in Utah, where he and my mother-in-law have lived almost their entire lives, and in Orem continuously since 1963 – my wife and I began to talk about how we’d like to travel there. Flying has become so miserable over the past few years that we both felt that we could take the extra time to travel by car. I’m not sure that, with the cost of hotels and meals along the way, it saved us any money over going by air. And trains take such a doglegged, switchbacked route to get anywhere in the west that we couldn’t seriously consider that. Once we decided that I would teach a writing workshop in Utah the week before the reunion, that locked us in – we traveled with several boxes of student handouts that would not have been convenient to take with us by air. I know it’s trivial, but one of my favorite things is that I could hang up my suit through the whole trip instead of jamming it into a suitcase and then probably having to get it cleaned and pressed when we arrived, as I’ve had to do when flying. But there are other complications. It’s summer, and I have a raft of prescription medications that I need...

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Unread Books, Walter Mosley, Casablanca

When I was young, I finished every book I started, or felt guilty about it for months. It’s not as if I felt I owed the author something, and had failed to pay what was due. I didn’t think about the author at all. It was the characters I was letting down – and that included nonfiction as well as fiction. If I didn’t finish a history, I had somehow harmed the people whose story I was now choosing to ignore. I wish I could tell you that this attitude faded by the time I was an iconoclastic teenager, but I didn’t clast any icons at that age. My guilt over not-finishing a book continued until my early 50s. That was when I realized that the ever-growing pile of books by my bed was rather like an archaeological site. The lower strata were older, and everything at the bottom had been dead for a long, long time. When, once every couple of years, I became ambitious and decided to go through those books, I could still see why I had decided to buy each book, but I now began to understand that when I found a dog-ear or a bookjacket flap on, say, page 40 or even 20, it meant that I had given this book a fair chance. Then it had to compete on its own merits. When...

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Dance Shows, NanoTrax Goes Wild

When promotion began for NBC’s new dance program, World of Dance, with Jennifer Lopez as the lead judge, I was optimistic. I was seeing no promotion for So You Think You Can Dance, and I vaguely assumed that it might have been canceled. After all, if Fox could cancel American Idol when it was still a powerhouse in the ratings, why would it keep on with SYTYCD? The signs of decay were already there. Some really misguided decisions – dividing the dancers into two categories – “street” dance vs. “stage” dance – lowered the quality of both groups. I still watched the show that year, mind you – but because all the street dance numbers were pretty much the same moves over and over, and the music was always hip-hop, mostly unlistenable to people who like things like lyrics, melody and harmony, SYTYCD had become only half watchable. And then they did the awful season 13, which they called “The Next Generation.” It was children, all children. Aw. Awww. Aaaawwww. How kee-yute. I don’t want to watch children getting pushed and tormented into doing ridiculously difficult moves, any more than I would like watching children play tackle football. It isn’t cute. It’s scary and it’s tedious. Watching children dance – even the most skilled of them – is like watching dogs walk on their hind legs. The amusement comes...

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Wonder Woman, WWI, Smart Animals

I always thought the Wonder Woman TV series was terminally dumb. I hated her dumb red-white-and-blue merry-widow costume, I hated the dumb stuff she did to wield superpowers (a rope? crossing her arms? spinning around till they did a splash effect? They might as well have gotten their special effects from the people who came up with Daleks). And while everybody at the time talked about how beautiful Lynda Carter was, I thought she had a boring cliche face and no acting talent whatsoever. Now I understand that she was probably doing the best she could with really crummy scripts, and as for beauty, remember that I’m the guy who never understood all the hoopla about Scarlett Johansson or Andie MacDowell or Elizabeth Taylor or, really, anybody who was famous for being beautiful since Grace Kelly. I’m just out of the loop on all that stuff. And come on. “Wonder Woman”? Could they possibly have come up with a more generic name? It makes “Captain Underpants” seem deep. But then the trailers for the new Wonder Woman movie looked like there might be good writing and good acting and an actual story with characters we could care about, so my wife and I showed up for a late afternoon showing in the cushy reclining seats at Red Cinemas, full of hope. OK, we weren’t full of hope, but we...

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Fix, Mr. Funn, Hugo, Dude Wipes

Because I really liked the first two Amos Decker novels by David Baldacci, I pre-ordered the third one from Audible.com. The Fix had a promising premise: A rich and respected defense contractor happens upon a complete stranger at a streetcorner right next to the FBI building, pulls out a pistol, shoots her and then shoots himself. Decker happened to witness the actual crime, since he was working at the FBI building at the time, and he can’t let go of the investigation into this crime, partly because it’s implanted in his memory – he can’t forget anything – and partly because so many people seem to be anxious to get him off the investigation. The trouble with downloading the Audible.com recording was that … it didn’t work. I tried it on two different MP3 players, and I got nothing. Yet when I played the same file in iTunes on my computer, it worked fine. I was not going to sit at my computer to listen to the book. Listening to audiobooks is all about mobility for me. I listen to books while grocery shopping, driving long distances and short ones, or waiting in line. I don’t use up computer time, because then I could be playing Civilization or Ticket to Ride.  Come on, I have my priorities. So I did something radical. I bought the book again as a Kindle...

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How to Survive a Summer of Bad Movies

You know it’s time to stop channel surfing and go to bed when you find yourself checking back with HBO’s showing of Barb Wire (1996), a sci-fi action flick, in order to see if at some point the story becomes coherent or even intelligible. The answer is no. The only conceivable point of interest in this movie is to find out which of Pamela Anderson’s ventral protuberances is most fully revealed by the end of the movie. Answer: It doesn’t matter. No amount of bared-balloon-boobage can compensate for the combination of bad acting, ugliness and stupidity that seems to have been a requirement of every human being in the cast. Now go to bed, or you’ll have a serious couch-potato hangover in the morning. …. This is shaping up to be such an awful movie summer. A writer in Entertainment Weekly, after explaining why King Arthur and Alien: Covenant and Snatched are box office flops, went on to talk about why he had little hope for the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie and the comic version of Baywatch. But then he mentioned the rest of the summer’s big-budget movies and talked about how much hope he had for them. That would be Wonder Woman, a Tom Cruise Mummy movie, Cars 3, another Transformers movie, Despicable Me 3, another Spider-Man movie, another Planet of the Apes movie, an Emoji...

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King Arthur, Talking Black

King Arthur. A legend that grew out of a warrior (not a king) who rated exactly one mention of his name in the meager history of the Middle Ages in Britain. When many British refugees fled the Saxons and Danes and Irish raiders and settled in the ancient land of Armorica, there were so many of them that the land was renamed Brittany. As Brittany gradually became part of France (a process that isn’t really complete even now), the people began speaking a dialect of French alongside their Breton language. Early on in that process, though, troubadours from Brittany began traveling around wherever they were welcome, performing songs they made up or learned. Those songs began to center around the great warrior Arthur, who quickly got transformed into a king. He was surrounded by a bunch of other heroes and a few lovely ladies, most of whom had Breton names but with more and more of a French tinge to them. These Breton troubadours came into a French courtly tradition that already had a great hero, Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman emperor. But as king, he could hardly go out having adventures, so a lot of the songs centered around one of his hero knights, Roland. The Breton troubadours learned from that tradition – and tried to top it. King Arthur was centuries before Charlemagne. And he had so...

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Guardians 2, Rigor Mortis

Come on now. If you liked Guardians of the Galaxy, you’re going to go see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 no matter what I say about it. In fact, you’ve probably already seen it. If not, go. Contrary to what some idiot reviewers have said, you will enjoy it. It can’t dazzle and surprise you the way the first film did, because hey, they make sequels so that you can return to familiar and beloved characters. If Chris Pratt weren’t playing a mix tape of old pop songs, we’d be outraged, even if we might have a kind of contempt for the taste that chose the songs (credit and blame entirely claimed by writer/director James Gunn). I think my daughter said it best. All the reviewers who are criticizing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 seem to be complaining that it’s not identical to the first movie. But one of the best things about Guardians 2 is that it’s a new story. And, arguably, a better, more personal story. Here’s a fun comparison: Guardians 2 is to Guardians as The Godfather: Part II is to The Godfather. That is, while it tells a current story that takes place after the events in the first movie (using mostly the same characters), it also spends much of its time on the backstory of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), so that when...

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Thick Fantasy Novels, City of Enoch

Grades for the courses I taught this semester were due on Tuesday, May 2, at 5 p.m. My response to the copy-edit of my novel Children of the Fleet had an ironclad deadline, though, and because my livelihood is tied to my books, that had to take precedence. That meant that I couldn’t start reading my students’ final exam essays until Tuesday. That’s right, just like a college student, everything was left till the last minute. The grades for my fiction-writing and hymn-writing workshops were easy enough. I had already read everything and discussed it at some length, so it was just a matter of assigning letter grades. All done by mid-afternoon. But for my course in the fiction of Tolkien and Lewis, I had 48 final exam essays to read (each student wrote three) (because I told them to), plus eight of their final papers to grade (I had graded the others during the final exam). In case you didn’t know, that’s a lot of reading. Especially because this was an extraordinary class. If this were the last class I ever taught, I’d die happy. No I wouldn’t. Too many unrepented sins. But that’s none of your business. Still, as a teacher, I have to say that this class exceeded my expectations. And my expectations were high. As I told them on the first day of class, all...

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