Thursday, January 29, 2009


Roberto Bolaño
I have yet to complete 2666, yet it still ranks as my number one reading experience for 2008. It is mysterious and frustrating. It is complex and dense. It is full of literary allusions and insider jokes, some of which I get and some of which I don't. It confounds me and compels me. It is vast and sprawling. I am not sure that it always works. It reminds me of other large and ambitious novels like Melville's Moby Dick or Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. I think I am in love.

A Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Years, 1917-1932
John Richardson
This volume chronicles the continued ascension of Picasso as an artist of European and international renown. He is brash. He is arrogant. The ambition that drives his drawing, painting, and sculpting is also the vigor that drives his sexual escapades. He is conflicted and secretive. He is simultaneously overtly public and highly private. Richardson has produced what is the best Picasso biography I have read.

The Zero
Jess Walter
What happens to individuals and communities in the wake of national catastrophe? What happens if it is so overwhelming that you cannot remember large pieces of your life? What happens when your life continues to unravel even as you try to capitalize on your new found fame and glory? I also read Walter's Every Knee Shall Bow: The Truth & Tragedy of Ruby Ridge and the Randy Weaver Family. Walter has a knack for elaborating detail and seeking truth within the picture he examines. I also went to a reading where he was to read from The Zero but instead talked about the craft of writing. It was a great story about being both an author and a member of an audience.

Steve Erickson
Another surreal peer into the looking glass from Steve Erickson is always cause for celebration. I felt that Zeroville was one of his most grounded books without sacrificing any of Erickson's favorite themes—loneliness, relationship, apocalypse—or his edge.

Raw Materials
William Kupinse
This volume of poems by Tacoma's poet laureate is wonderful. Kupinse has a great command of language. He also uses that vocabulary without pretension. The words flow like music. I have read his words on the page, I have heard them read on recordings, and I have heard them read live by Kupinse himself. They sing in whatever way they are presented.

Deb Olin Unferth
I like this book the more and more I think about it. It was a strange experience. A man follows his wife who is following another man, unbeknownst to all who are being followed. The two men went to college together. The first man is pursuing the second man to kill him, even though nothing happened between the wife and the second man, other than the silent pursuit over a lengthy period of time. Everything is falling apart. There are threads of other stories that are weaving themselves in the main narrative. Everyone is on a "vacation" it seems...

Like You'd Understand Anyway
Jim Shepard
These short stories inhabit the barren landscapes of our environs—urban, suburban, rural, wild—as well as those of our souls. In some sense, each one of these tales is a story of figurative or literal survival. They also pose questions of ambition and drive, of the willingness of some to survive against all odds and the collapse of others at the smallest amount of stress.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Sherman Alexie
It is too bad that this book is categorized as young adult fiction. That means that a lot of adults will miss a marvelous semi-autobiographical coming-of-age novel. It won well-deserved awards, which will still not recommend it to many readers that need this book. Trust me and read it.

Riding Toward Everywhere
William T. Vollmann
This collection of meditations and observations of train-hopping, experienced first-hand, is a little less cohesive and somewhat messier than some of Vollmann's other nonfiction. That still means that it is leagues above most of what sits on bookstore shelves. Vollmann has a wonderful gift for helping the reader experience the lives of The Other, especially those on the margins of society. I wish I was able to be as open and adventurous as Vollmann, but I am not and probably never will be. Instead, I will live vicariously through his work.

The Farther Shore
Matthew Eck
I find it difficult to imagine what it is like to be in a warzone—as either soldier or citizen. Eck manages to convey the chaos and violence of war, having experienced it as a soldier in both Haiti and Somalia. This fictional account of U.S. infantry caught behind enemy lines is harrowing and riveting. I found myself racing through the words and the images of the unnamed African country of the plot right along the main character.


Why is it that most blogs, newspapers, and magazines try to get their "best of" lists for a particular year in print prior to the end of that year? They haven't allowed themselves time to reflect on what they've experienced. They haven't allowed themselves time to collect their thoughts.

That is why you are getting the Best Reads of 2008 from Troy's Work Table in early 2009. I wanted to ensure that these truly are my favorite books for an entire year.




Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Pipeline Porter, a Porter by Kona Brewing Company,
paired with Cahill's Porter Cheese

Pipeline Porter pours a dark brown that is almost black. The head is frothy, tan, and one finger thick. The thin aura is ruby red.

The aroma is first and foremost coffee. I also get a few whiffs of cream and chocolate.

The flavor is primarily strong coffee. In fact, if you like coffee then I have found your new breakfast beer. You can have it with your Vanilla Milkshake Pop-Tarts. Occasionally, I sense cream and chocolate in the flavor, similar to the nose, but I may be imagining them. There is also an undergirding of smokiness that I am not imagining; it appears on the finish and gives this porter its final punch to the palate.

I have seen a few complaints on RateBeer and BeerAdvocate that Pipeline is watery. I don't think that it is, especially if one can actually pretend that this a cold cup of coffee.

This is a good porter. If you are a fan of coffee, which I am not, then this will be extremely enjoyable.


Even though I don't drink coffee, and don't particularly care for it, I do like to chew on chocolate covered espresso beans. I can't explain the disconnect. I'm human. I'm allowed to embrace paradox on occasion.


Cahill's Porter Cheese is a "vintage Irish Cheddar with Porter." The sharpness and richness of cheddar is very noticeable. The porter is slightly more subtle, but present nonetheless. There is also a saltiness that lingers in the background.

It is slightly stinky like I would expect, but not strong or overpowering. I would describe its aroma as sweaty and earthy.

It's most striking feature is its appearance. It is wrapped in dark brown wax. The cheese itself is small chunks of yellowed ivory and tan that are woven together with dark brown threads.

I don't know what else to note about it other than I rather enjoyed it. I am fairly new to exploring beer and cheese pairings. That means that I have some homework to do and a new vocabulary to learn.


All of the above was enjoyed with the wife's goulash, which was spectacular. She noted on her recipe card from one of the previous times she made it that "Troy said, 'It's about time you made something good.'" I'm sure I said it in jest, but I assume I am in trouble anyway.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


It's an art house film! It's a wild West duo! No, it's my meal last night at The Ram.


Big Red IPA, an India Pale Ale by the Ram Restaurant & Brewery, Puyallup South Hill

The eighteen-ounce shaker glass arrived filled with a hazy orange/yellow-orange ale with a thin white head. This thin head left behind copious bands of lacing behind as the glass was drained.

The primary aroma was of citrus, mostly orange. There were no secondary aromas that I could detect.

Big Red tasted of citrus—mostly grapefruit, with a hint of orange for good measure. It was bitter, but not too bitter. In fact, it was less bitter than I expected for an IPA. Background flavors included wheat, a light earthiness, and an ever so faint of cardboard box.

The flavors were clean and crisp and were followed by an average finish. Big Red wasn't spectacular in any particular way, but it was good and solid. I would order it again.


My Bourbon Black Jack hamburger was good. A sourdough-style hamburger bun held in the goodies, which included the medium grilled patty that was rolled in cracked black pepper, whiskey mustard, a generous slice of pepperjack cheese, lettuce, tomato, and onion.

Upon visual inspection, it appears to be way too much cracked black pepper. But it isn't. Even though the burger is smothered in it, it pulls forth an extra added spiciness from the meat. It was the right amount of pepper.

I was also worried that the whiskey and mustard wouldn't work well together, but, surprise, they did. The smooth and mellow flavors of the whiskey complemented the tanginess of the mustard.

And not only did the disparate flavors of the burger work well together, but they also worked very well with Big Red.


I had Homemade Ram Chips as a side. They were the standout piece of the meal. They arrived warm, crisp, and lightly salted. They were the closest thing to a sublime potato chip experience that I have ever had.


All in all: a good meal. Recommended.

Friday, January 23, 2009


Details from Tacoma, a sketch of Tacoma as seen from the window of the Weyerhaueser Family Gallery at Tacoma Art Museum, by The Child. Clockwise from upper left: (1) the flag on top of the Tacoma Dome; (2) the 705 bridge; (3) the Chihuly (blue) sculptures atop the Bridge of Glass; and (4) the (509) overpass.

"But wait! We don't run on fossil fuel and nor do our cells. Our economy does."
—David Macaulay, The body as a machine, circa 2008. From working sketches for The Way We Work.

The wife, the child, and I visited the David Macaulay exhibit, The Way He Works, at the Tacoma Art Museum this afternoon. The exhibit obviously inspired the imagination of the the child. The child took advantage of the provided sketching pencils and pads of vellum to draw in the style of David Macaulay that was presented throughout the exhibit.

The exhibit fascinated Troy's Work Table due to the sketches that showed a steady and patient hand, a vibrant imagination, and a willingness to examine, vision, and revision the world. An attention to detail grounded in scientific, empirical observation was tempered by emotion, humor, play, and questions (as evident in the above quote). In other words, this great mind didn't need to have all of the answers.

Another piece that fascinated TWT was the willingness to expose the process of the creative act—both in individual sketches and finished pages of a book. This was a topic that had been highlighted and lauded the night before in a meeting of Les sardines, a writing group of which TWT is a member. It was nice to see this process and exploration so concretely displayed, especially with the prior evening's conversation still fresh in my mind.

We will have to return to further explore the depths of this exhibit.

Monday, January 19, 2009


"Let freedom ring. And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring—when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children—black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics—will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
—Martin Luther King, Jr.

This summer, I stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the same steps from which Dr. King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech. It was inspiring to stand there in the footsteps of history, not only those of King, but of Lincoln.

Tomorrow, one day after the national observance of Dr. King's eightieth birthday, the forty-fourth Preside
nt of our esteemed union of states will be sworn in. I know that President Obama is aware of the history that transpired on those steps and that it will be on his mind as he stands at the opposite end of the National Mall, looking over the heads of hundreds of thousands of his citizen constituents, at those steps, staring at the ghosts of King and Lincoln, catching a glimpse of the dreams that they dreamt for our nation, and dreaming new dreams for and with a resilient and tenacious people.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


The child and I really needed to "escape" from the idea of the flood and all of its attendant trappings—packing, moving, evacuating, moving back, unpacking, viewing acres of mud and torrential water. So we headed off to the W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory to wander among Chihuly glass curated to complement the botanical displays.

This exhibit was much in the same vein as Skyponds in summer of 2008. Instead of floating above the plants, however, these glass forms substituted for them, almost as though fragile and polished flora. The artificiality of their material (for the locale) and their incorporation into its milieu forced Troy's Work Table to ask interesting questions concerning what is natural, what is the role of organic shapes and how do they function in artwork, and how much "control" do we really have over our environment (which seemed appropriate considering manipulations and attempted "control" of the Puyallup, Carbon, and White Rivers; their courses; their waters; and their flood plains)?

It was still nice to escape for a while, amongst the flowers and greenery, real and otherwise.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


Saturday 10 January 2009, 1:00 p.m.

The child and I take a break from unpacking boxes to go and survey the damage of the other sections of the Puyallup Riverfront Trail.

Phase II of the Puyallup Riverfront Trail appears to have taken a fair amount of damage from the flooding, as it has in past floods. Where once was a neatly manicured and landscaped lawn is now a thick layer of silt and mud.

The beginning of Phase III is next to an RV park. The trailers and motor homes were moved in time, but the lots they sat on are buried in mud. Maintenance workers and owners are clearing mud and digging out utility hookups.

A parking lot near the beginning of Phase III is buried beneath two feet of mud.

The end of Phase III, near Sumner, was also buried.

The trail at the end of Phase III appeared to have suffered the most damage. Hear the river toppled a concrete garbage can that was glued down, in addition to shifting and cracking the asphalt.

The Riverwalk may end at the boundary between Puyallup and Sumner, but it still endures.


Night of impending flooding. Major items have been moved upstairs or elsewhere. Items that can endure flood are left behind. Evacuate as ordered. Persons sleep elsewhere.

Following morning. A semblance of order is attempted. Light is shed on the situation. Let there be light. Let the waters be separated from the earth. Keep them that way.

Afternoon. Start returning with major items. Begin to restore order, however tenuous. Believe that it can be achieved.

Early evening. Wash sheets and comforter cover. Dry them. Add them for finishing touches and/or ornamentation. Functionality achieved.

Late evening. Add person(s). Extinguish lights. Sleep heavy due to exhaustion of previous 48 hours. Dream, if you can, although you most likely will not.

Friday, January 09, 2009


Friday 09 January 2009, 10:45 a.m.

The City of Puyallup and its citizens are busy clearing roads, bulldozing mud, laying down gravel, digging out buried utilities, moving out of damaged apartments and homes.

Removing mud and debris from the North Levee access road beneath the Puyallup River Bridge.

Loading dump trucks with gravel.

Hosing off asphalt and clearing grates and drainage pipes.


Friday 09 January 2009, 10:30 a.m.

Benches, garbage can, south bank, Puyallup River, north bank, mobile homes.

White sandbags, gray sandbags, swollen river.

Road closed, road closed, water over roadway.

Gate E.

Dining room chairs buried in mud beneath the Puyallup River Bridge.

Mud-caked lawn, damaged apartments.

Trail closed flooding, trail closed flooding.

Thursday, January 08, 2009


Thursday 08 January 2009, 2:30 p.m.

A log left behind on the Puyallup Riverfront Trail by the Puyallup River.

Benches and branches.

Mud covering the Puyallup Riverfront Trail, six inches to three feet deep.

Pumping water from behind levees and sandbags.

A lake where once there was a meadow.

Sandbags on both sides of the fence of a flooded apartment complex.

Blue skies.

Footprints in the mud.

Trail closed due to flooding. Most of Phase I of the trail will open two hours from now.

The sun shines upon disaster and devastation.


Thursday 08 January 2009, 12:00 noon

Trail erosion. The city spent a good portion of the summer shoring up the sides of the trail. If they had not, then sections of the asphalt would most likely have been washed away.

Flood humor. Swords stuck into the mud of a backyard demarcate the hourly retreat of the water.

Mud patterns.

I can almost reach the benches again via paved trail.

Fence damage along the Puyallup Riverfront Trail.