30 September 2013


Authors as a Reading Challenge

It is a very exciting time to be a reader, don't you think? I'd say that it's because of the ease with which my contemporaries and I can acquire copies of virtually any book we'd like to read. But for many others, the real draw is how accessible authors are these days. And that leads to questions about author-blogger relations. I don't think you'd find too many bloggers who'd care for some advice from 1860 . . .

When thrown into the society of literary people, do not question them about their works. To speak in terms of admiration of any work to the author is in bad taste; but you may give pleasure, if, by a quotation from their writings, or a happy reference to them, you prove that you have read and appreciated them.

-- The Gentlemen's Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness
by Cecil B. Hartley

I wonder what the authors would say to this. Would they feel relieved . . . or stifled? Maybe a bit of both: relieved in offline company but stifled on the Internet? A lot of authors have to reach out to readers these days, whether because their contracts demand it or because it's the only way to get the word out on their self-published books. I do get why it's necessary, but sometimes I find it intrusive . . . or even hucksterish.

A few years ago, I won a self-published book in an author-sponsored giveaway and decided to feature it in one of my posts. After I did, the author showed up (without my having extended any sort of invitation) to thank me for helping her to promote her book. It was very courteous of her, and I could tell that she really appreciated my positive feedback on her writing, but I was quite put out. I had reviewed the book for my blog, not for her sales--and I didn't like the subtext in her comment that I had become a fly in her marketing web.

28 September 2013


Sliders: Your Idea of Paradise

From time to time, Sliders takes a break from "high concept" scenarios and presents something entirely on the personal level. It's to get you asking not what kind of world you'd like to live in, but what single detail of your own life you'd like to change.

By the way, there is now a special Sliders section in the newly named Movies and TV page, to make it easier for you to find my posts on every episode. Because I'm only as helpful and organised as I am presumptuous. (You're welcome!)

24 September 2013


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 66

Every time I end a readalong, I think, "There's no way I'm going to top that!" And I'm always right. ;-) That is, all the readalongs have been great, but for very different reasons.

Yet when the time to change direction comes, I always worry that I am wasting the gains of the previous venture. Or as brand managers might put it, confusing my target market. While I generally prefer looking for a new great adventure than continuing to chase a high which might have belonged to a particular time or experience, I'm also a big fan of continuity. But is there a balance between the enduring appeal of Thomas Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd and my personal desire to keep October and November horrifying?

I gave that question a lot more thought than you can imagine, and can now say, with confidence, that I think there is!

23 September 2013


Sliders: A Woman's World

Did you know that there has been at least one production of The Tempest in which Prospero was played as a woman's role? It wasn't just because a serious actress really wanted to play the lead. Since, as far as I know, Alonso wasn't also reimagined as female, his overthrowing of his older sister was also grist for an ideological mill.

While I love learning about the new ways in which William Shakespeare's plays have been interpreted by different directors, I can't say I'm a fan of this particular twist. Of course, I'd have to watch a production before making a definite statement on it--but generally speaking, I bet against gender-flipped characters. I just don't think the two sexes are interchangeable.

This episode of Sliders seems to disagree with me.

21 September 2013


Life as a Reading Challenge, Chapter 13

Last week, my company sponsored a seminar that everyone was required to attend. The featured presenter was a local entrepreneur, popular motivational speaker and host of a finance programme--and he was pretty good! Everyone seemed to enjoy his presentation, though it was probably better suited to his fellow business wizards than to corporate English trainers. There was one thing he said, however, which also struck me as relevant to what I do on this blog.

He quoted a newspaper columnist who has interviewed the country's richest tycoons as saying that one difference between a successful entrepreneur and a "regular" person is that the former will read primarily for information, while the latter will read primarily for entertainment.

It made me remember what I still think is the funniest moment in the unfortunate comedy Dodgeball.

19 September 2013


Sliders: Dead End?

What would you do if there were only two days left until the end of the world? A variation of that question got tossed around a bit at work last December, with answers ranging from the religious to the wild and crazy. But it wasn't until I watched the Sliders episode with a similar premise did I realise that everyone at work took for granted that the end of the world couldn't be prevented.

That is, no one's answer was, "I would try to stop it . . ."

17 September 2013


Reading Diary: BSC #11: Kristy and the Snobs by Ann M. Martin

"You guys, those kids are terrors . . . They are spoiled rotten. They're demanding, they're rude, and they're snobby. We're watching TV, right? And at the commercial, Amanda says to me, 'Get me a Coke.' Just like that. 'Get me a Coke.' No please or anything. And so I say, 'What do you say?' . . . And she gives me this look and says, 'I say, "Get me a Coke."' Can you believe her nerve? Then Max says, 'Get me one, too.' So I do, but Amanda says, 'Where's the ice?' and I get ice and then Max doesn't want it. And then later they order me to put the empty glasses in the dishwasher and to answer the phone. Which I would have done anyway. But you don't expect an eight-year-old and a six-year-old to order you around."

"Why did you let them?" asked Stacey . . . "[There] are ways to get around those kids. Believe me . . ."

If you were a baby-sitter, would the income level of your clients be a factor in whether or not you take a job? When I think about what a holy terror I was as a child, when my family lived in a two-storey 750-square-metre house that I thought was small because we didn't have our own swimming pool and had to park most of the cars outside the garage, I really wouldn't blame anyone from drawing a class line in the sand.

Kristy Thomas's real problem is that the rich kids aren't just the Baby-Sitters Club's newest clients, easily palmed off to more amenable members, but also her new neighbours.

14 September 2013


Sliders: Quarantine Zone

The morality of public health makes fascinating Science Fiction. The earliest example I can think of is Samuel Butler's novel Erewhon: its hero discovers a "lost" civilisation in which people are sent to prison for falling ill and those who commit crimes receive some sort of therapeutic treatment. The former group can't help but get worse in prison--seen as further sign of their guilt and unfitness to take part in society--while the latter are often successfully rehabilitated. The satire must have been mind-blowing to the Victorians, but it's an everyday matter to us. At least the health part of it is. Ours is the age of the "lifestyle disease," after all. The implication is that if we can control our lifestyles, then we can control our health. There is no excuse for being sick . . . except, perhaps, lack of virtue. And who wants people who lack virtue contaminating the neighbourhood?

At least the people in the next alternative world on Sliders have an excuse for calling the police whenever they suspect a sick person is in the building--but that's a great plot twist that comes near the end, so I'm not going to say what it is!

13 September 2013


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 65

SURPRISE! *Jumps out from behind the sidebar and tosses confetti* There's more! =D

If the "Two or Three" Book Club actually met in a real world setting, we'd all have killed each other by now we'd all be having a movie night to celebrate right now. If only because of one last point I want to make about Far from the Madding Crowd. (Actually, it was one of the first points, but there was more to say about it than I originally realised.)

As I've mentioned, I saw one of the movie adaptations many years ago, and it coloured my approach to the novel when I finally started reading it. You could say that it coloured that approach blonde.

"Some rash acts of my past life have taught me
that a watched woman must have very much circumspection
to retain only a very little credit . . ."

Now I know why the light-haired Julie Christie was cast as black-haired Bathsheba in what is still the best-known version of Thomas Hardy's novel. It's the same reason English Essex Girls and American Valley Girls are usually pictured as blondes. That is, director John Schlesinger recognised that Bathsheba Everdene was not just any girl, but a certain and very specific type of girl. And we who are surrounded by visual media in a way Hardy never was have seen her repeatedly and can recognise her instantly. Let me give you a bunch of examples . . .

10 September 2013


Sliders: The British States of America

How long can any political set up last? Having just strained credulity in the previous episode by making one summer's anti-war movement last for several decades, Sliders now presents a world in which the thirteen original American colonies lost the Revolutionary War and became part of the British Commonwealth. 

In fact, in this world all the other countries which once had traditional monarchies still have them: even the French and Russian revolutions failed! That's actually fascinating. But on Sliders, monarchy is less about ideas and ideals than about stereotypes of (British) royalty. 

08 September 2013


R@pio, R@pere, R@pui, R@ptum

Don't you hate it when you're just going about your day, minding your own business, maybe conjugating Latin verbs cum amicis, and then someone you barely even know tells you that you are promoting something called "r@pe culture"? . . . Yeah, me, too.

Now, "r@pe culture" is a misleading term, if not an outright misnomer, which means it will be a struggle not to put quotation marks around it from this point on. I'm compromising by writing it in code, so that it doesn't show up on search engines and draw strangers who are just spoiling for a fight. If the people who already read this blog want to fight, however, that's all right. =) 

Without ever once having asked for a definition (which means that you are welcome to correct me at any time), I figured out that r@pe culture is anything that seems to play down the gravity of r@pe, be it in the media or in a conversation. It can range from asking, "But why was she wearing something like that?" after hearing the particulars of an assault, to telling a joke in which r@pe is milked for humour rather than presented as the horrible crime--even sin--that it is. Note that one can "perpetuate r@pe culture" without ever directly causing a r@pe.

Apparently, it's not enough to be against r@pe and to support bringing r@pists to justice, as I do and as I'm sure everyone reading this does. We must also police our language so that anything that is not 100% explicitly anti-r@pe is censored and condemned. How this works may be illustrated in the reaction to a certain Penny Arc@de Web comic strip . . .

06 September 2013


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 64

WE ARE DONE! =D That is, I am done. Everyone else was finished weeks ago . . . if not years ago. =P

Thanks to Bat, LTG, Sheila, and even Amy on Twitter for reading Far from the Madding Crowd with me! I just wish I had been as good at hosting as you've been at commenting. At last, we come to the best part . . . 

He accompanied her up the hill, explaining to her the details of his forthcoming tenure of the other farm. They spoke very little of their mutual feeling; pretty phrases and warm expressions being probably unnecessary between such tried friends. Theirs was that substantial affection which arises (if any arises at all) when the two who are thrown together begin first by knowing the rougher sides of each other's character, and not the best till further on, the romance growing up in the interstices of a mass of hard prosaic reality. This good-fellowship--camaraderie--usually occurring through similarity of pursuits, is unfortunately seldom superadded to love between the sexes, because men and women associate, not in their labours, but in their pleasures merely. Where, however, happy circumstance permits its development, the compounded feeling proves itself to be the only love which is strong as death—that love which many waters cannot quench, nor the floods drown, beside which the passion usually called by the name is evanescent as steam.

But not so fast! Before we can fully enjoy the fruits of this happy ending, let's trace the last steps of the path Thomas Hardy takes to get us there. Although many modern romantic comedies play upon a similar formula by making lovers loathe each other at first meeting, they get the proportions all wrong.

03 September 2013


Sliders: Hippie Heaven

Since I'm watching the Sliders episodes in the order they were meant to be seen, not the order in which they were aired, the next world I'm featuring is one in which the 1967 "Summer of Love" stretched into an extended holiday, still going strong almost thirty years later.

No, it's not very realistic; and believe me, I could poke plausibility holes into it all day. But it's a cute tribute to the San Francisco setting (which would be extra sweet if you didn't know the episode was filmed in Vancouver--LOL!), and I like that the show is not set in some generic Every Town. I hope there will be a future episode referencing the 1906 earthquake!

The best part of this episode is the fun it has with the idea of doubles.

01 September 2013


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 63

First of all, please accept my apologies for the lateness of this post. Last week started out well but rapidly devolved into something which kept me in bed and unable to keep much down for three days. The good news is that when I finally crawled out and rejoined civilisation, I was svelte. =P

But what is more relevant to this readalong is that I finally know why some Far from the Madding Crowd covers prominently feature the seashore . . .

At three in the afternoon [Troy] found himself at the foot of a slope more than a mile in length, which ran to the ridge of a range of hills lying parallel with the shore, and forming a monotonous barrier between the basin of cultivated country inland and the wilder scenery of the coast. Up the hill stretched a road nearly straight and perfectly white, the two sides approaching each other in a gradual taper till they met the sky at the top about two miles off. Throughout the length of this narrow and irksome inclined plane not a sign of life was visible on this garish afternoon. Troy toiled up the road with a languor and depression greater than any he had experienced for many a day and year before. The air was warm and muggy, and the top seemed to recede as he approached.

At last he reached the summit, and a wide and novel prospect burst upon him with an effect almost like that of the Pacific upon Balboa's gaze . . .

I can't help comparing Troy's stark isolation here to Gabriel's solitude at the very beginning. While the latter is not "a person standing alone on a hill during a clear midnight" in the sense that he isn't contemplating the cosmic view which Thomas Hardy goes on to describe, he seems to understand nonetheless that he is merely making "stately progress through the stars"--and this is likely why his great loss, when it comes, does not beat him down so badly. But Troy gazes not at the stars during midnight vigil, but at the horizon during nones; and this makes a difference.