Sunday, June 26, 2011

Dork Shirts

Dork shirts. Every guy has one.

I've had three in my life, unless you count the shirt I wore on the first day of kindergarten. It was royal blue with the word "BREAKIN'" emblazoned across the front in white puffy letters. I didn't have any break-dancing skills back then, but I wore it anyway with significant pride.

But that was before I knew what a dork was, so it probably doesn't count. Besides, it's one of those things that's dorky in retrospect, which also kind of disqualifies it from the running.

I purchased my first real dork shirt in 1994 in a Civil War bookstore in Nags Head, North Carolina. It was a gray XL t-shirt with the face of Union Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain centered within a circular gold frame flanked by Union and Confederate flags. At the time, I was in the middle of a serious Civil War phase, which had been inspired by both Ken Burns and the overly-long 1993 film Gettysburg. Chamberlain is a larger-than-life character in that film. Real hero material. I thought it would be cool to have a t-shirt with his face on it.

So I bought it, but never wore it in public. I kind of realized how dorky it was, and I was a little uncomfortable with wearing something with the Confederate flag on it. I didn't want anyone thinking I was, you know, racist. But I also didn't want to throw it away. So, I kept it in at the bottom of my t-shirt drawer. It's still there today.

My second dorky t-shirt had a caricature of Leo Tolstoy on it. I bought it at a Half Price Bookstore in 1997. I was a senior in high school and thought of myself as a kind of teenage champion of the working class. Bruce Springsteen music was the soundtrack of my life. I wore work boots and lots of denim everywhere I went. Tolstoy's peasant look gave off the right kind of vibe. What did it matter that I had only read 1/8th of War and Peace and nothing of Anna Karenina?

I'm not sure what happened to the Tolstoy shirt. I remember wearing it a few times to school and no one ever beat me up. Probably because they thought I was wearing a Santa Claus shirt.

Or they didn't give a crap.

Anyway, I probably threw the shirt out when I went to college. I was really into art back then, so it's possible that it got too stained with paint and India ink.

Yesterday I bought my most recent dork shirt. I was at Kohl's looking for a "cool" shirt when I came across a tan t-shirt with several Marvel Comics characters on it. It was pretty fly and on the discount rack ($4.00!). I grabbed it without hesitation. More than one cashier told me I got a great deal.

When the midnight showing of Captain America: The First Avenger rolls around, I know what I'll be wearing. Cap himself figures pretty prominently on the shirt. I'll be the envy of dorks everywhere. A real-life true believer.

Of course, I'm not sure how often I'll wear my Marvel Comics t-shirt. In reality, I'm not much of a t-shirt kind of guy anyway, especially when I wear pants. And my wife has already told me that I can't wear it with khaki shorts--apparently, tan shorts with a tan shirt looks lame--so that leaves me with a lot fewer options.

Dork shirts, I guess, are made to be bought and stuffed into drawers until dorky things like midnight movie premieres, Civil War reenactments, or comic book conventions make them socially acceptable to wear. That's fine with me. I get a kick out of buying them, not wearing them. Besides, I'm not really the kind that needs a  t-shirt to proclaim his dorkiness. I do that well enough on my own.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Kindle This, Dear Reader...

Last year I thought e-books were lame. Then my dad read Moby Dick on his phone's Kindle app. That made me think twice about them. I mean, Moby Dick is a big book. My old school copy of it is 637 pages. That's a lot of book to carry around.

Then, this past month, I read my first e-book using my PC's Kindle. The reason I went digital rather than paper was a matter of necessity. The book, Nephi Anderson's Dorian, is a rarity in Ohio. I really had not other choice.

And this is what I found out: you can do a lot with an e-reader. 

Basically, everything I hate about serious reading is made easier on the Kindle. For instance, I hate writing notes in small margins. On the Kindle, though, I have unlimited note-taking space. Big words are also a problem. When reading a low-tech book, I get annoyed whenever I have to pull the dictionary out to look up a word I don't know. On the Kindle, definitions are a click away.

I understand this goes against my predilections for all things old. But I'm never been a pure techno-phobe. I like technology when it makes my life better. I'm going to miss paper when it's gone. But I'm not going to miss the annoyance of a dictionary search. Sure, some people like looking words up in the dictionary. And I admit the dictionary makes great bathroom reading. But, really, its not a task I'll ever get sentimental about when its gone.

Ultimately, I still prefer paper books. For me, they are easier to skim. And I like the pleasure of flipping pages and reading random passages. I also like having a tangible object with the weight of 637 pages on its back. 

But e-readers are pretty cool. 

Especially when it comes to old big books, like Moby Dick, that take up a lot of space on the bookshelf. I mean, I like having my walls lined with books and bookshelves, but I don't necessarily want my books taking over my living space any more than they already have.

But I think its great that e-readers and websites like and are making nineteenth century texts more accessible to the tech-savvy masses. Already I've downloaded nearly all of the 19th century texts I need to read for my Ph.D. qualifying exams to my  PC's Kindle. All for free.

Of course, I think old school books are on the way out. In one hundred years, they'll have gone the way of the typewriter and rotary phone. 

That's not to say that neo-posthipsters won't still be printing them up as artsy novelty items in 2111.  But the folks in the e-reader industry have done a really good job reinventing the book.  

Friday, June 10, 2011

Got Grit?: A Review of the History Channel's "Gettysburg"

This Memorial Day, the History Channel broadcast a new two-hour documentary on the battle of Gettysburg. According to its official website, the film is supposed to "[strip] away the romanticized veneer of the Civil War to present the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg in a new light--a visceral, terrifying and deeply personal experience, fought by men who put everything on the line in defense of their vision of the American future."

Tell me that's not high ambition.

Since I don't don't have the History Channel, I learned about this film belatedly through Civil War Memory, a frequently cranky Civil War blog I follow. Its take on the film was decidedly negative, but I wanted to watch it all the same. I mean, I write a lot of reviews of things, but I rarely pay attention to reviews myself. Plus, I've been interested in the battle of Gettysburg since my first visit there as a kid. I've been back to it several times since then, including a week-long visit for my honeymoon, and I am always amazed at how much of it is still new to me.

(Yes, my wife--who is not a Civil War buff--actually agreed to honeymoon in Gettysburg! That's love, folks!)

I had the opportunity to watch the film last night as my family and I house-sat for my in laws. (We got to watch it on their massive big screen TV--which I have found makes even lousy movies good.) Of course, I didn't quite know what to expect from the film. I hadn't seen too many promos about it, but everything I had read on it mentioned how realistic and gritty it was supposed to be. I guess I had high expectations about it.

Also, the fact that it had Ridley and Tony Scott attached to it as executive producers didn't lower the bar any. I half expected Russell Crowe to show up and lead a charge.

Sadly, Gettysburg is a disappointment. In general, I'm not a fan of History Channel documentaries, because they tend to take the flashy, sexy approach to history. When it comes to priorities, their primary one is to entertain, not inform. I admit that this isn't necessarily a bad approach. I just like my documentaries to do both. (Or, if they're meant merely to entertain me, I want them to have goofy storylines involving ghosts or cryptids.)

One of my main problems with Gettysburg is its panel of authorities. Like most documentaries of this kind, it brings in several personalities who are supposed to provide expert insight into the battle. With the exception of James McPherson, I had never heard of any of them. Most of them, it seemed, came not from universities, but from non-academic Civil War organizations. It also featured a few authors of popular history and maybe one or two teenagers.

Everyone gestured a lot. One guy had spiky blond hair. A passionate few even seemed more enthusiastic than Dora the Explorer on speed. I'm surprised none of them jumped out of the TV screen and grabbed me by the collar.

The overall production value on the film was also lower than I expected it to be. I've been to a few Civil War reenactments in my day, and this film was definitely a step or two above the typical reenactment. But this film still had the feel of of a bunch of good ol' boys playing dress up. I guess I wanted to feel like I was watching a real battle with this film. But that didn't happen. A "visceral, terrifying and deeply personal experience" it was not.

That said, this film did like its wounds. About every two minutes there was a close-up of a bullet striking flesh. Always with a lot of blood splatter. I think the filmmakers were trying to show what it really looked like to get shot during the Civil War. By drawing attention to it time and time again, though, they ended up doing just the opposite. It was like watching the same special effect over and over again, but from different angles.

I had a few other problems with the film. With only a two-hour time frame, it had to leave a lot of the battle out. I think its overview of the second day of the battle was particularly inadequate. To do the battle justice, though, the film would have had to run at least six hours. Of course, that's the sort of thing you can do on cable television. Three two-hour episodes over the course of three nights. A History Channel Premiere Event.

But I guess the budget didn't allow for that. The cost of fake blood must have gone up.

I also didn't learn anything new from the film. Aside from the grittier-than-usual recreations of the battle, which really weren't that gritty, Gettysburg seemed no different from any other History Channel documentary. Overall, the story it presented was too basic, too bare-bones. Originality wasn't one of its virtues. Nor did it change how I thought about the battle.

Which is too bad because I was really hoping that it would.

Note: You can now watch Gettysburg online at

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Filling the Void...

I'm starting Fenimore's Ghost to fill a void left by The Low-Tech World when it became my soapbox for all things Mormon fiction.

Back in the day (i.e. up until last year), I used to write a blog that was more eclectic in nature. I'd write reviews of movies, non-Mormon books, tourist attractions, and the like. I'd also write up some witty social commentary now and again. I had fun with it.

The problem with The Low-Tech World 1.0, though, was that it didn't really attract readers. It's random sampler approach to blogging, I guess, kept it from finding a consistent audience.

Not so with The Low-Tech World 2.0. Newly focused, it has a following I'm pleased with.

Still, I miss the random sampler approach. I'm a guy with interests that go beyond Mormon fiction. I want this blog to reflect that.

That said, I want to rein in the focus a little on Fenimore's Ghost. Rather than trying to tackle everything, I want to focus the blog as much as possible on the weird ways the twenty-first century collides with the nineteenth. It's one of those things I think a lot about. I always try to keep at least one eye open for books, movies, reenactments, historical sites, and tourist attractions that take on the 1800s.

Of course, if something not related to the nineteenth century comes up, and its interesting enough to write about, I won't hesitate to post it.