Death do us Part (CBR book 2)

Crazy how the removal of "until" changes the entire meaning of that little vow. It turns a sweet sentiment into a vengeful, angry act.

Death do us Part is a collection of 19 short stories on "love, lust and murder" - some sweet, some vengeful. The best stories in the book deal with honest, believable emotion and the worst are lazy, unimaginative cliches. Two stories, including Wifey, a version of The Tell-Tale Heart with a dog (by R.L. Stine of Scholastic Goosebumps fame), involved unpredictably insane dudes that I don't want to talk about lest they show up in my dreams with their freakish serial killer creepiness.

Most of the stories, however, revolve around typical fiction folk. All the great wars are covered as you would expect them to be:
  • The young slave girl during the Civil War who has a showdown with her Master, an abusive, idiotic hick.
  • The devoted World War I home-front wife who is lost without her husband (spoiler...he dies, but she gets a kitten, so it's all better. Seriously. It's a bad story and now you don't have to read it).
  • The old vet of the Greatest Generation avenging his wife's death by a drunk driver.
Continuing on with the chiches, is an Italian immigrant in NY/NJ - it doesn't matter - who has his wife's lover killed by the mob. Inventive, no? Another story, told in IM transcripts, covers cyber love. And Heat Lightening is the story of a poor young farmer on droughted land with a slowly-dying wife. He takes a class a community college and has an affair with his teacher, falling in love over Vonnegut. Uh...vomit.

There are a few good, unique stories, starting with the first one Queeny by Ridley Pearson. In eight pages the story zips through 875 days in the life of a man whose wife is missing and presumed murdered. The husband narrates the story of the search, trial and eventual conclusion with honest emotion and carefully chosen words. No space is wasted and the story is a treat.

The Masseuse is an engaging story by Tim Wohlforth about an unusual arrangement between a man and his masseuse. Safe Enough by Lee Child is an inoffensive tale of a blue collar city guy and his Whole Foods-loving suburban chick. Their relationship starts with intrigue and contentment but quickly sours when they can't overcome their differences. She finds him to be boring: "He didn't know anything. And his family was a pack of wild animals." He can no longer tolerate her snobbish nature: "So smug, so superior. She didn't like baseball. And she said that even if she did she wouldn't root for the Yankees. They just bought everything. Like she didn't?" Murder and mayhem commence.

A Few Small Repairs by Jeff Abbott is my favorite story in the book. Frank is a former drug addict whose father has lung cancer. As they work to repair their relationship in a hospital with "the reek of the old man dying," Daddy asks Frank for a radical favor. The compelling 16 page story revolves around Frank's decision related to Daddy's request. Frank is a well-considered character which quite a bit of self-awareness, which makes this man vs. himself tale a good read.

Outside of these three stories, however, there is a lot of fluff. It is interesting to see how 19 different writers take the same assignment and end up with entirely different products, but, as with most things, the result is lots of crap with just a few gems.


Um: Why you sound like an idiot (CBR: #1)

You speak between 7,500 and 22,500 words per day and 1800 of them involve a verbal blunder. You have a slip of the tongue every 7 minutes. You "um" a lot. You make some sort of error on average once every 10 words. It's going to get worse as you get older.

This is likely why you spend all your time trolling around the internet, rather than engaged in those old fashioned talking conversations with people in the same room.

Take heart, fair introvert! Um: Slips, Stumbles and Verbal Blunders and What They Mean exists to let you know that no one is immune speech errors. Not even American Presidents...but more on that later.

Speech errors fall into two main categories: a slip of the tongue - saying the wrong word or wrong sound (like "black bloxes") - or a speech disfluency such as the pause filler (uh, um, er). These errors likely happen when your brain shifts from planning what you're going to say, to executing the actual talking or shifting back again. It has been happening forever and it will continue to happen forever.

The author, Michael Erard, wants readers to know that errors should not always be considered disruptions to communication. Often, they are essential to communication. An "uh" lets your engrossed listeners know you've got more to say, but you need a second to pull it together. It may take you a moment to grab a word that is on the Tip of your Tongue (TOT - that is an Official Acronym), but that is because you know 30,000 of them, which is pretty damn awesome. And where would Freud be without the slips?

There are fun little facts throughout the book, such as the idea that hand gesturing reduces speech errors, that "uh" is one of the easiest sounds to make in English (and likely why we use it as a pause filler), that you make more speech errors when you are nervous or lying, and that when a cop pulls you over and asks you about the weather, he is probably measuring the number of errors you make when speaking about easy things so when he hauls you downtown to start the tough interrogation, he can tell when you're hiding something. So, it may be to your advantage to stutter a lot right off the bat.

Erard states early in the book he became interested in the subject of blunders because of the media coverage of President Bush II and the image of the President's...mental capacity as a result. While some info is interesting (Bush wasn't noted as a verbal blunderer until after Dan Quayle left the race in September, 1999), Erard's defense of Bush gets downright preachy at times and I'm left wondering if I just read a 300 page scolding. Did he write the whole book in an effort to make over-educated elitist Liberals feel bad for calling Bush a dummy?

Take this passage, which is related to the idea that people judge speech errors in two categories: the speaker "knows better" and just flubbed, or "doesn't know better" and their mistake was a result of being an idiot. The author believes Bush's blunders were/are considered "doesn't know better" in order to further the idea that he isn't very bright.
On one hand, criticizing how smart or competent or moral a person is because he or she doesn't speak like you do (or as you expect them to) smears a larger set of people than you'd think, including nonnative speakers of English, stutterers, people with diseases that impact their motor control, and the elderly. Liberals shouldn't talk about speaking this way - it contradicts how they work to include everybody and make sure that everyone has equal opportunity.
That's a nice shout out at the end, but really? We should be easy on Bush because there are people in this country who have Parkinson's or don't speak English as a first language? That makes absolutely no sense. At all.

For all the fun little facts and...deep philosophical questions about Bush's mental capacity, there is also a lot of boring, wasted space throughout the book. In some sections it seems the author includes excess information (like, every "Spoonerism" ever uttered) just to prove he did his homework. It takes a lot more work than it should to find the interesting stuff and I'm not convinced the book follows any logical order.

I suppose if you are looking for an excuse not to attend a social event and talk like an idiot, there are worse things to read. But, in defiance of the author's ranting, I'll recommend Slate's The Complete Bushisms instead.


Wednesday CBRII status report

  • Half-way through Um.
  • Just started a training-wheels version of Othello, but am far enough along to see that Iago is a dick.