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Read, Watch, Listen #2



By Mike Tomano

© 2024 Fossil Entertainment Group / Michael Tomano

         I find myself diving into diversions this past week for reasons beyond entertainment. Last Monday, January 8, we suffered the heartbreaking loss of our beloved cat, Buttercup. My family was blessed with this adorable creature for the last sixteen years. She has been with us through three home moves, Leah’s growth from child to adult, and was a constant source of love and object of adoration.

         As she got older, we often joked about what my condition would be if and when she passed. My connection to her is very deep. I excessively loved her every moment. The last week has been plagued by an aching emptiness. I’ve had other pets and loved them all, but Buttercup was my little princess. Coming home without her rushing to the door to greet me is a reality slap each day. I haven’t been able to take my afternoon naps without her snuggled next to me. She had become such an integral part of my daily routine that every room of my house is a reminder of her absence, every activity lessened in her absence.

         In attempting to preoccupy my mind and allow respite to my shattered heart, I’ve delved into reading and writing, focusing on work, driving around to avoid being home alone, and listening to music. I’ve even joined my sports-fanatic wife in viewing several NFL and college football games, as well as a few basketball matches.

         My radio partner Rob has been very helpful in understanding my pain. He is a pet-lover and knows what I’m going through. My wife and daughter are much stronger than I am with reassurance of the lovely life we provided for our wonderful Buttercup. The strangest part is the realization that as I’ve grown more introverted in my senior years, my company preference was a cat. That might be something to concern a therapist with in the future, but for now I’m just going to allow the depression to work its way through my soul.   

Stoner by John Williams (not the composer) is a somber novel that tells the tale of William Stoner, a University of Missouri professor, who begins his life on a farm and falls in love with literature while studying agronomy. He changes his major and digs his roots into university life, hired on as a professor following his graduation.

         The writing style reflects the blurry nature of Stoner’s life. Life happens to him, belying his simple nature. He marries into disappointment. His tenure is wrought with adversity. True love escapes him. A close friend, a beacon of freedom and inspiration, abruptly disappears. Stoner becomes estranged to those who play roles in his life, and ultimately himself.

         I found it hard to picture the characters while reading the story but began forming their visage upon reflection of scenes the following day, on my way to work or during my notetaking, a credit to Williams’ layered writing style.

         Stoner is an existential study of life’s fleeting nature and the ramifications of decision making. Williams takes his time detailing certain crucial events while speeding through jumps in time, reflecting our own proclivities toward remembering significant moments while struggling to piece together stretches of our lives in memory.

William Stoner, born to people whose lives are “expended in cheerless labor, their wills broken, their intelligence numbed. He saw the future in the institution to which he had committed himself.”

And for those of us who commit to “institutions,” we trust they will accommodate our needs, desires, and dreams. Crumbling of such stability numbs the soul and erases expectations. William Stoner, a man whose life happened to him, unconfronted by his lust to overcome or will to lead. Each life has varying degrees of tragedy and, like any occurrence, our reaction to it determines the outcome of its impact. We have all been William Stoner at some point.

Does life happen to us, or do we happen to life? That was the question I was left with at the end of the story. The more I pondered it, it became less a question and more a decision.

Stoner was John Williams’ third novel, written in 1965. Williams drew inspiration from his time teaching at the University of Missouri, while earning his Ph.D. in English literature.

I became interested in seeking this book out from two of my favorite book reviewers on YouTube: Clifford Lee Sargent of Better Than Food and Chris Via of Leaf by Leaf. These two voracious readers produce excellent content for book lovers, and I highly recommend their channels.

The Six Feet Under re-binge fresh in my mind, I was hard-pressed to follow it up. I considered a Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes marathon but couldn’t schedule the time. The wife and I did the exhaustive Netflix search for something interesting and decided to give the Fool Me Once mini-series a whirl. Noticing it was based on a Harlen Coben novel, we knew what we were in for: plot-twists-a-plenty, treachery, deception, blah, blah, blah.

Overall, it’s formulaic fluff, custom-made for the Netflix mini-series line-up of cookie-cutter thrillers. The cast didn’t have much to do but react the best they could with the baffling series of events presented in the script, revolving around a widow, with a military background, seeing her murdered husband on a recent nanny-cam video, and setting out the find “the truth.” A truth that conveniently sidesteps giant plot-holes that even Ab-Fab legend Joanna Lumley couldn’t fill.

(Damn it! I wanted to stick to reviewing things I like! Oh, well, in fairness, I’m in a foul mood and needed to take it out on someone. Mr. Coben, you win.)

To be fair, it's passable fare for popcorn and cuddling. And, as it seems that every thing Coben has written has been produced by Netflix, he deserves kudos.

Been spinnin’ lots of music. Yes’s 1977 album Going for the One has been played several times this week. I loved this record when I first heard it at age 10 and give it a listen whenever I’m on a Yes-kick these hundreds of years later.

Recorded with the classic line-up of Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Chris Squire, Rick Wakeman, and Alan White, the album features everything great about the band, albeit in a more concise, digestible way than the albums Relayer and Tales from Topographic Oceans that preceded it.

The title track is exhilarating, bolstered by Anderson’s energetic vocals, Squire’s descending choir-like backup singing lines and Steve Howe’s inspired steel guitar.

The elegant “Turn of the Century” follows, a love song drawing inspiration from Pygmalion and La boheme, with chord structures written on piano by drummer Alan White. Beautiful stuff.

“Parallels” is a track left over from Squire’s sublime 1974 solo album Fish Out of Water that won the band’s approval.

Side Two opens with “Wondrous Stories,” Jon Anderson’s joyous composition he wrote during a “beautiful day” in Switzerland. The song went on to be the band’s highest charting U.K. single for five weeks, peaking at number 7. (Quite the feat for a progressive rock tune by a band out of fashion during the punk heyday.)

The album closes with “Awaken,” a fifteen-minute journey through all that is Yes. Written by Anderson and Howe, it remains one of the band’s defining moments.

Okay, so, cherish every moment with your furry family members, read a good book, watch some fun shows and listen to music that makes you happy. And, when Mother Nature eases up on us, get outside. Nature heals.






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