31 August 2013


Reading Diary: BSC#10: Logan Likes Mary Anne! by Ann M. Martin

"You know, that wasn't easy. I'm beginning to wonder if . . . we're in over our heads . . . What happens if we start getting a lot of jobs we can't handle? What do we tell our clients?"

. . . "Well, we can't un-advertise, so we better just figure out what to do. We're too busy. How are we going to handle the problem?"

"I've done a lot of baby-sitting," spoke up an unfamiliar male voice.

The five members of the Baby-sitters Club swiveled their heads toward the opposite end of the long table.

"In Louisville," the voice continued. "I've had plenty of experience."

I froze . . . The voice belonged to Logan Bruno, the wonderful, amazing Cam Geary look-alike.

It is the last day of Unabashedly Romantic August, albeit the first day I've called it that, and therefore the last proper opportunity to review the Baby-Sitters Club book in which middle school sweethearts Mary Anne Spier and Logan Bruno meet for the first time.

Incidentally, this is also the first time I've noticed how little description the boy characters get in these books. It made sense in previous installments, where everyone from the baby-sitting charges to the sitters' own parents are more or less two-dimensional, and only the members of the Baby-Sitters Club really get to shine as individuals. But Ann M. Martin is already setting Logan up to be significant--not just to the series, but also to the club--so it really does sell him short to say only that he has a Southern accent and looks like an equally fictional teen heartthrob.

26 August 2013


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 62

If you've read this far, you've probably already finished! Something really exciting happened a few chapters ago, and it seems that everyone who joined the Far from the Madding Crowd readalong has leaped ahead to the end because of it. I can't blame you, my friends! But I hope you understand that I have to be the tortoise in this race. =P

He did not now love her enough to allow himself to be carried too far by her ways. Yet it was necessary to be civil. "You wrong me by such a suspicious manner," he said. "Such strait-waistcoating as you treat me to is not becoming in you at so early a date."

"I think that I have a right to grumble a little if I pay," she said, with features between a smile and a pout.

"Exactly; and, the former being done, suppose we proceed to the latter. Bathsheba, fun is all very well, but don't go too far, or you may have cause to regret something."

She reddened. "I do that already," she said, quickly . . . "[My] romance has come to an end."

"All romances end at marriage."

It seems that one theme of this novel is endings, whether it is the end of a way of life or the end of a romance. But we also get some literal deaths in the plot--and I no longer mean just the sheep.

25 August 2013


Sliders: The Soviet States

"Think of a roulette wheel, with an infinite number of slots . . ." Then think of an infinite number of you: one for each slot. Wouldn't it be nice to find a version of yourself in every world you visit?

In the second hour of the two-part Pilot episode, it is Quinn's double who finds him. And it is the double who provides the gambling metaphor: for though he is a more experienced slider, even he can't control which slot he will end up in. (There is a famous quotation from Albert Einstein which could stand as a contradiction to this--and it's included, but not made much of, in a future episode. We'll discuss it then, okay?)

23 August 2013


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 61

A few meetings ago, I mentioned that I had seen one of the movie adaptations of Far from the Madding Crowd many years ago. If I had any doubt that the memory of it had faded enough to make it safe to read the book at last, that was dispelled yesterday, when I was absolutely gobsmacked at what happened next with Sergeant Troy.

"A rambling, gloomy house this," said Troy, smiling . . .

"But it is a nice old house," responded Gabriel.

"Yes--I suppose so; but I feel like new wine in an old bottle here. My notion is that sash-windows should be put throughout, and these old wainscoted walls brightened up a bit; or the oak cleared quite away, and the walls papered."

"It would be a pity, I think."

"Well, no. A philosopher once said in my hearing that the old builders, who worked when art was a living thing, had no respect for the work of builders who went before them, but pulled down and altered as they thought fit; and why shouldn't we? 'Creation and preservation don't do well together,' says he, 'and a million of antiquarians can't invent a style.' My mind exactly. I am for making this place more modern, that we may be cheerful whilst we can."

What was I just saying about "upcycling"? I really had no idea I was foreshadowing anything. =P

We can hope that Troy will leave the great barn alone, but we already know he won't.

21 August 2013


Sliders: Graceland

A friend who really enjoyed the SF TV series Sliders back in the 90s got me to start watching it with her. We're done with Season 1 and will probably start Season 2 together this weekend.

The show is about four people who can travel through wormholes into alternate universes, but can't control where they will end up or how long they will stay there. They also can't get home. Think: Homer's Odyssey plus theoretical physics, minus Penelope, times a visual medium, and divided by a set number of episodes per season. (Yes, this is what epic poetry has been reduced to. Because the medium is totally the message.)

I'm telling you all this because I've decided to do a post on each parallel world, starting now. So how about it? Ready to slide? =)

18 August 2013


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 60

Far from the Madding Crowd seems to be Hardy's "sheep novel," as Tess of the d'Urbervilles is his "cow novel." It would be downright adorable--in a dignified way, of course--if each of his novels featured a different aspect of English farming. This would suggest that the rural traditions came first and the stories came second: that is, that the farms are not merely for framing, but for fleshing.

Which brings us to our second Locus Focus worthy setting. (Remind me to do a theme challenge on barns in the future, okay?)

They sheared in the great barn, called for the nonce the Shearing barn, which on ground-plan resembled a church with transepts. It not only emulated the form of the neighbouring church of the parish, but vied with it in antiquity . . .

One could say about this barn, what could hardly be said of either the church or the castle, akin to it in age and style, that the purpose which had dictated its original erection was the same with that to which it was still applied. Unlike and superior to those two typical remnants of medievalism, the old barn embodied practices which had suffered no mutilation at the hands of time. Here at least the spirit of the ancient builders was at one with the spirit of the modern beholder . . . The fact that four centuries had neither proved it to be founded on a mistake, inspired any hatred of its purpose, nor given rise to any reaction that had battered it down, invested this simple grey effort of old minds with a repose, if not a grandeur, which a too curious reflection was apt to disturb in its ecclesiastic and military compeers. For once mediaevalism and modernism had a common standpoint . . .

I also like the chapter in which everyone gathers for the customary shearing supper. They provide their own music--both workers and employers taking a turn--and give the meal an air of a ceremonial dinner. But as the setting sun casts them half in shadow and half in evening light, there is a sense it is setting not just on a regular day's work but on a whole way of life. 

The disconnect between tradition and modern life can be like death--and as long ago as the 1870s, Hardy was already in mourning. He also betrays an intense longing for what he considers forever lost, although he may no longer believe in the ancient faith nor put his trust in country's princes. I wonder what he would have said at what we have since put up in place of shearing barns.

16 August 2013


Young Detectives: D is for Dowd

It turns out that "R" really does stand for Restoration: writing that open letter to Ellen Raskin last month was the kick in the seat which the Young Detectives reading project has long needed. I think I may actually be able to get through the rest of the alphabet now--and yes, I'm confident enough to say that and not think that I'm jinxing myself with "famous last words." =)

Incidentally, do you know how long it has been since I last did any work on this post? My hair is still permed in the accompanying photo: that's how long. (Not that you can really appreciate it: the lighting isn't that great.)

14 August 2013


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 59

An interesting side-effect of reading Far from the Madding Crowd with people is that the name Bathsheba no longer seems weird. Yesterday, when I was trying to explain the story to someone at work and stopped referring to our heroine as "the girl" when I realised it would be simpler to call her "Bathsheba," he smirked as if I had said something slightly naughty. And there died my short-lived fancy of naming a daughter Bathsheba someday.

But even if everyone in the world read Far from the Madding Crowd, it would still not be a good name to give a girl. Everyone would expect her to be beautiful and to be the downfall of some man . . . 

Was she really beautiful? He could not assure himself that his opinion was true even now. He furtively said to a neighbour, "Is Miss Everdene considered handsome?"

"O yes; she was a good deal noticed the first time she came, if you remember. A very handsome girl indeed."

A man is never more credulous than in receiving favourable opinions on the beauty of a woman he is half, or quite, in love with; a mere child's word on the point has the weight of an R.A.'s. Boldwood was satisfied now.

And this charming woman had in effect said to him, "Marry me." Why should she have done that strange thing? Boldwood's blindness to the difference between approving of what circumstances suggest, and originating what they do not suggest, was well matched by Bathsheba's insensibility to the possibly great issues of little beginnings.

Boldwood's blindness indeed! Every time his character is mentioned, we are given incidents or examples which suggest that something is wrong with his sight. Now we see him needing assistance from a neighbour with clearer vision--clarity defined as "what everyone else sees"--before he can get anywhere. Just as if he really were blind.

11 August 2013


Twelve Things about Bait

12. Personally, I had no trouble buying the premise of a tsunami hitting a coastal city in Queensland, flooding an underground supermarket, trapping everyone inside, and throwing some sharks in for good measure. (Yes, plural: sharks.) We're not talking of "Sharksploitation," which is just gratuitous, but of "Worst Case Scenario Handbook," which is creative.

I later learned that the story was inspired by real-life floods in Brisbane, during which sharks would swim in the streets (Because: Australia); so it's not even that farfetched!

11. If you're looking for a Shark Slasher, in which stereotypical characters get taken out one by one by sinister selachians, I've already got you covered. That would be Shark Night 3D, and it has its own Twelve Things. (You're welcome!)

Bait is more of a Survival Movie in which strangers must learn to work as a team, and with the few resources available to them, that as many as possible may escape. Which is not to say that minor characters aren't "thrown to the sharks" in gaudy, gory ways. I mean, of course they are. But the point isn't to whittle the group down to a single special-snowflake survivor. Final Girl is fun, but Final Species is class.

10. I almost wrote "Final Civilisation" back there, except that sharks don't have a civilisation. And even if a second deluge came (which it won't, cf. Genesis 9:11) and sharks wiped out every human being on the planet, those winners wouldn't even be capable of an oral history of their own epic. But there's something every civilisation has in common, and the ragtag bunch in Bait, though thrown together for less than a day, have it, too.

09 August 2013


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 58

You know what would be a shoo-in for Locus Focus? Warren's Malthouse. It seems fitting that a place where working men can rest, socialise, and drink should have an air of timelessness about it. The practice seems like a natural sacrament, only half a day younger than the curse to earn one's bread by the sweat of one's brow. And in Far from the Madding Crowd, it is an essential ritual in rural community life.

"Come, shepherd, and drink. 'Tis gape and swaller with us--a drap of sommit, but not of much account," said the maltster, removing from the fire his eyes, which were vermilion-red and bleared by gazing into it for so many years. "Take up the God-forgive-me, Jacob . . ."

Jacob stooped to the God-forgive-me, which was a two-handled tall mug standing in the ashes, cracked and charred with heat: it was rather furred with extraneous matter about the outside, especially in the crevices of the handles, the innermost curves of which may not have seen daylight for several years by reason of this encrustation thereon--formed of ashes accidentally wetted with cider and baked hard; but to the mind of any sensible drinker the cup was no worse for that, being incontestably clean on the inside and about the rim. It may be observed that such a class of mug is called a God-forgive-me in Weatherbury and its vicinity for uncertain reasons; probably because its size makes any given toper feel ashamed of himself when he sees its bottom in drinking it empty.

For priest, a maltster so old that he isn't certain of his own age; for chalice, a "God-forgive-me" which has seen the fires of many such nights. And that sense of timelessness which seems to promise that the malthouse would always be there for the weary working men who need it the most. But is Thomas Hardy already writing, as he would in the more tragic Tess of the d'Urbervilles, about a lost past?

05 August 2013


Twelve Things about Honey, I Shrunk the Kids

12. Don't you love it when a childhood favourite ages really well? I lost my heart to Honey, I Shrunk the Kids when I first watched it back in the 80s, and so I'm pleased to report that after over two decades, it stands up proudly.

11. Well, okay, during your first adult look at the giant backyard, the grass will look awfully fake--or at least not as real as it looked when you saw it as a child. But in the building of those sets there must have been a sincere attempt to evoke the sense of wonder, for when that is real, everything else follows. Give it another few seconds and you'll believe in the backyard again. 

10. Maybe I should have said: "Give it another twenty minutes." For Honey, I Shrunk the Kids starts out slooooow . . . It's making me suspect that the real reason they chose a title which gives away the entire premise (unlike the two considered during filming: The Big Backyard and Grounded) was that they knew the first few scenes alone weren't going to hook anyone. And so the title had to play barker outside the tent--which I'm sure it was cool enough not to mind doing!

9. Yet the build-up isn't totally pointless. It establishes that we're dealing with two stories here, one within the other. The backyard adventure is--appropriately enough--the smaller one, framed within a bigger story of relationships between parents and children, and between neighbours who think they have nothing in common. And I think the adult parts were written with as much sensitivity and wit as the kid parts.

8. As for the science . . . which is already making me wonder if I should have used quotation marks around it . . .

03 August 2013


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 57

After one year of gallivanting around the bibliosphere, the "Two or Three" Book Club returns to its roots. When I first came up with this idea, I wanted all book club picks to be classic novels, partly because there's excellent reason to trust texts which have endured for over a century and partly because copies of works in the public domain are easy, and often free, to acquire. (Are you happy now, Bat?) Just don't make the mistake I did and buy a Wilco Books print--which I did because the Signet Classics option seemed too expensive. I'm learning the hard way that we can't put a price on perfect proofreading. 

But enough about that. Let's get started on Thomas Hardy and what it means to be Far from the Madding Crowd . . .

To a person standing alone on a hill during a clear midnight such as this, the roll of the world eastward is almost a palpable movement. The sensation may be caused by the panoramic glide of the stars past earthly objects, which is perceptible in a few minutes of silence, or by the better outlook upon space that a hill affords, or by the wind, or by the solitude; but whatever be its origin, the impression of riding along is vivid and abiding. The poetry of motion is a phrase much in use, and to enjoy the epic form of that gratification it is necessary to stand on a hill at the small hour of the night, and, having first expanded with a sense of difference from the mass of civilised mankind, who are dreamwrapt and disregardful of all such proceedings at this time, long and quietly watch your stately progress through the stars. After such a nocturnal reconnoitre it is hard to gt back to earth, and to believe that the consciousness of such majestic speeding is derived from a tiny human frame.

For all the introverted praise I've ever heaped on solitude, it seems I haven't fully understood it. Apparently, not all solitudes are created equal. Your bedroom may be a great place to recharge your batteries, as the modern expression goes; but a hilltop, in the country, at midnight, is a great place to be initiated into the mysteries of a mythology that has endured for millennia. This is not isolation; it is communion.

But this special form of it is not something readily available to most of us reading Far from the Madding Crowd today--and perhaps it was already becoming a rare commodity when Hardy was writing. If he had hoped to bottle a bit of it with words, he succeeded; and now those who cannot retreat to hilltops can at least retreat into a centuries-old classic. Nice . . .

01 August 2013


Trainer Tales, Volume 1

Does anyone remember "Tutor Tales"? I can't write them any longer, for obvious reasons, but that doesn't mean I have no interesting things to say about the job I lucked into last year. In fact, I will never run out of interesting things to say because other people say interesting things to me--namely, my trainees.

A few nights ago, I had an appointment with a trainee from Spain. I had given her the assignment of reading a news article about England's royal baby merchandise and the conversation objective to compare the British royal family to the Spanish royal family, and boy, did she have a lot to say!

Well, everyone I know has had a lot to say, and I should actually start with my mother . . .