Saturday, December 31, 2011

Tea review: Twining's Pomegranate Delight Black Tea

When I went to the store for tea the other day, I got a free sample bag of this tea in my box of Twining's Earl Grey tea.  Being pretty much always willing to try a new tea, I gave it a shot, and I'm so glad I did.  The info card that came with it describes it as light and fruity, which sums it up pretty well.  It reminded me of the Twining's Blackcurrant (recently repackaged as Blackcurrant Breeze), but with a lighter flavor - I sometimes found the Blackcurrant to be a bit cloying by the end of the cup, but didn't find this to be the case with the Pomegranate Delight.

In fact, I only found one thing I didn't like about Pomegranate Delight:  None of my local grocery stores carry it.  If World Market hadn't decided to close all their stores in my state, I probably could have found it there, but...  It's times I like I would love to be a big-name blogger, because then Twining's would contact me to say "Please allow us to send you a complimentary box of Pomegranate Delight, as well as a sampling of our other fine teas for you to review," which I would graciously accept.  In the meantime, I suppose I'm stuck with mail order.

Cardinal rule for artists: Don't insult me

At one of my previous addresses, the local paper had a movie critic who really should have taken up another line of work.  His reviews were all well-written, grammatically correct, and provided plenty of pertinent information about the movies, but apparently he just didn't like movies.  I can't remember him ever giving a positive review to anything.  After I had noticed this, I then observed a number of other critics in different fields who followed the same pattern.  Let me assure you, you're not going to have that problem with any reviews that I write.  I am, as my wife puts, "easily amused."  I approach any work of art, be it a book, painting, comic book, movie, TV show, magazine article, song, whatever (in the rest of this post I'll be using "book" for a generic), from a standpoint of wanting to like it, and consequently I find that I usually do.  And when I don't like something, it's generally because the artist insulted me.  How did they do that?  Well, there are several ways it can be done:
  • Don't bore me.  The world is a fascinating place (and fictional worlds should be as well).  If you can't hold my interest, I'm not going to finish your book.  But note that this is as much a function of your writing skill as it is of your choice of subject matter.  I love the middle ages, but I've encountered books on the middle ages that were drier than toast.  At the other end of the spectrum, I really have no interest in transoceanic cables, but 15 years after reading it I still have fond memories of being entranced an article on the subject by Neal Stephenson.  Why?  Because Stephenson was interested in the subject and this came through in his writing; he was able to grab my attention and hold it.
  • Make your book the right length.  "Lady Madonna" is 2 minutes and 15 seconds long.  "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" is 6 minutes and 40 seconds.  And they're both exactly the right length.  Readers can tell when an artist is trying to stretch a short story into a novel, or to cram a novel into a short story, and in either case the work suffers.  I know there are market factors at play here, but as a general rule, make your book as long as it needs to be, but no longer.
  • If you're pushing a philosophy, don't use it as a crutch.  If you want to use your book as a discussion of/advertisement for your particular religious, social, political, or other philosophy, that's fine.  But play fair.  If something bad should logically happen to your character because they followed the tenets of your philosophy, let them suffer the consequences.  If the facts appear to contradict your philosophy, feel free to try to make the case that this this only an apparent contradiction that is resolved by other factors in play that I'm not thinking of, but don't just ignore (or worse yet, falsify) the factors.  And whatever you don't, please, please, please don't use God, the Invisible Hand of Capitalism, the Gaia Hypothesis, or whatever philosophical concept you're basing your story around as a deux ex machina to pull your characters out of a box you've written them into.
  • When you're done telling your story, stop telling it.  Just imagine how many pointless sequels we could have been spared if artists would follow this one.  Of course, just exactly which sequels are pointless is a subject for endless conversation.  (My 2 cents:  All sequels to Home Alone and Highlander were pointless, but Karate Kid II was not.)
A perfect example of how to follow these rules is the scene in a James Bond movie where the villain has placed Bond in a death trap and Bond has to find a way to escape.
  • It's not boring.  Pretty much by definition.  I've never known anyone to say "Oh, Bond's in a death trap.  This is the perfect time to get more popcorn."
  • It's the right length.  It's long enough that tension builds up, but not so long that you feel they're drawing it out unnecessarily.
  • No philosophical crutches.  While we all know that Bond is capable of outsmarting the villain, we don't just accept this as a given.  We have to actually see Bond find a way out of the trap.
  • Stopped when it's done.  Once Bond escapes a death trap, that's the end of that part of the story.  The villain never recaptures Bond and puts him in the same situation, saying "maybe it will work this time."
So there you go, artists.  Four simple rules that, if followed conscientiously, will keep you from insulting your readers' intelligence and almost guarantee you a positive review from me.

Friday, December 30, 2011

You wanted the best, you got the best!

I've just learned we're in the second month of a 4-month store arc featuring one of my favorite bands in one of my favorite comics:  Archie meets KISS!  When one of Sabrina the Teenage Witch's spells goes awry, monsters invade Riverdale and the Archie gang teams up with the hottest band in the world to try to set things right.  Expect more info once I get my hot little hands on this one.

But what about second breakfast?

Pippin:  But what about breakfast?
Aragorn:  You've already had it.
Pippin:  We've had one, yes.  But what about second breakfast?
This exchange from the movie version of The Fellowship of the Ring has gotten a lot of replay in my house.  Being of a rather hobbitish disposition myself, the idea of second breakfast is very appealing to me.  And if the idea of an extra meal (or two) between breakfast and lunch doesn't appeal to you, I'm sure you have your own "second breakfasts."  Second breakfasts are the little things that make life enjoyable.  The niceties.  The lagniappe.  You won't die without them, and you won't save the world by having gained them.  But life is just more pleasant when you've got them.

So what can you expect to find here?  Well, to be honest, you can't expect to find anything.  But from time to time you'll find things here, and I hope they please and delight you.  Today's post could be something about food.  Or politics.  Or education.  Or literature.  Or art.  Or bad movies.  Tomorrow I could be off on another topic entirely.  Basically, it's whatever thoughts are occupying my mind at that particular moment in time.  If I have (what I think is) a great idea, I'll bring it here.  If I have a question that nags at me and won't go away, I'll bring it here, and hope that some of you have something helpful to say.  If I read an article that I feel compelled to respond to, I'm most likely to bring it here to comment on it, especially since so many sites require you to have an account at their site to be able to comment there - I've got better things to do with my time than to set up umpteen jillion different accounts for the (dubious) privilege of commenting on their site.

So, welcome to second breakfast.  Pull up a chair, grab a beverage of choice, and lets see if we can make the world a little more pleasant.