Sunday, December 29, 2013

Saving Mr. Banks

I haven't yet seen the film Saving Mr. Banks, but I've heard it's greatly inaccurate.  Here's a documentary about Travers, author of Mary Poppins.  Perhaps this can shed some light on who Travers was, and how different the truth might have been.

And another

And the trailer for the film

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Reading Widely

I mentioned this blog to the woman who inspired it the other day, and she gave me a piece of advice.  "Read widely," she told me, "that's the important thing."

I will attempt to do this to the best of my abilities.  I've noticed I have a tendency to chose fantasy novels, humor, and the weirdest things in reach.  I will likely temper this with more Fitzgerald than Dickens, more Austen than Twain, and more Poe than Hemingway.  This is a matter of taste.  But I will certainly give the Dickens, Twains, and Hemingways of the world a second chance.

In the more immediate future, I have an excellent selection of books at my disposal.  I have "A Feast of Crows," which I have long been meaning to read.  I have the complete works of Terry Pratchett minus a few of the more recent ones.  I also have the complete works of HP Lovecraft, which I have always wanted to read but never had available.  I will try to temper my fantasy and science fiction selections with some classics and some modern non fiction.

And here we come to my weak spot.  True confession:  I have difficulty soldiering through modern (not historical, fantasy, or science fiction) novels.  Especially romance novels.  There's absolutely nothing wrong with liking romance novels.  There's nothing wrong with reading books like "The Lovely Bones," either.  They just aren't to my taste.  I suppose I'll have to confront this eventually.  Maybe I'll force myself through a Nicholas Sparks book.  But I hope I'll find one I like, and not just read books from this category I cannot abide for the sake of reading more widely.

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Study in Lavender: Queering Sherlock Holmes

I like to judge a book by its cover.  This might be partly because all my life, people have been insisting I shouldn't, and partly because I am not Sherlock Holmes.  I cannot determine which books are "good" by smell, taste, or weight.  The only hope I have for judging books without having already read them* is by examining their exterior or asking someone else's opinion.

Based on the evidence at hand, I suspected A Study in Lavender:  Queering Sherlock Holmes was a "good book."  I reasoned it would have to be at the very least a relevant book.  Sherlock Holmes is an immortal literary character who overshadows all other famous detectives, real and fictional alike.  In recent times, there has been considerable debate about Sherlock's identity.

The BBC series Sherlock has struggled with this debate intensely.  To understand the problem, you need a working understanding of a phenomenon called queer-baiting.  The gist of it is that a depiction of a character implies LGBTQAI identification without actually intending to explicitly show or express the character's identity.  This practice is intended to attract the LGBTQAI audience without offending homophobic or transphobic sensibilities.  Basically, the practice exploits minorities for cash.  In the early days of the series, many people believed Sherlock identified as gay on the show.  That's certainly one easily accessible reading of the material.  The words in context certainly give viewers the impression that he could be.  But then Steven Moffat, showrunner of Sherlock, confirmed Sherlock is not gay, and that he had no intention of making this clear.  And the series continues to exploit that community to this day.  You can read more opinions about queer-baiting in fandom here and here.

This is an important problem because progress made today in media will affect what tomorrow's media looks like.  Groundbreaking moments like this impact what can happen later.  Queer-baiting makes no progress, it only gives the illusion of representation.  I wish we had more Gene Roddenbery types and fewer Steven Moffats.  I think pop culture needs more writers willing to "boldly go" rather than people who would prefer to capitalize on the status qua, and it certainly wouldn't hurt if actors took a stand as well.  Without an acts of sabotage by William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols' continued performance as Uhura, an iconic television moment would never have taken place.

But back to the reason I chose this book.  I hoped it would comment on BBC Sherlock.  Though it is an anthology of short stories rather than an academic piece, there was a preface that gave some information about the history of Sherlock Holmes and the queer community.

It is hard to fault a book centered on characters as old as Sherlock Holmes and Watson for being somewhat outdated, certainly considering the time that has passed since its publication.  The book states that BBC Sherlock "more or less flat out says Holmes is gay" which is unfortunately somewhat inaccurate.  BBC Sherlock is notorious for leaving this impression in the first series and then turning away from it in the first episode of the second one.

The rest of the background given is intriguing and gives good context for a working understanding of the series and its characters.

Here is an opinion I've reached having read this book:  A good mystery should be solvable with the clues the author has given you.  In my consumption of this book, I realized my enjoyment was greatly hinged on whether I could solve the case as Sherlock did.  There were stories in this anthology that were beautifully written with flawlessly constructed mystery plots, and then there were also a couple that I did not enjoy so much.

Some favorites contained within the anthology:
The Kidnapping of Alice Braddon by Katie Raynes
The Case of the Wounded Heart by Rajan Khanna
The Bride and the Bachelors By Vincent Kovar

I should also mention that many people enjoy an asexual reading of Sherlock Holmes, which is not represented in this particular work.

*Judging a book after you've read it is only marginally useful as you cannot then decide it was a waste of time and demand your time back, huffing about rip off authors.  The best I can do at that point is to warn others or promote the book to those who might enjoy it.  I think it's generally more useful on the individual level to judge the book beforehand.

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Bad Habit of Mine

Generally it takes me a few days to finish a book, and I want to develop good blogging habits as well as good reading habits.  It isn't quite New Year's Eve yet, but I'd like to make a resolution today.  I want to make sure I write something every day.  As I continue to work on my novel, I want to know that I'm making progress and gaining experience.  Part of that is this blog, which should keep my skills honed even when I'm experiencing writer's block.  I want to establish a pattern of writing every day.  I want to establish a pattern of reading every day as well.

Establishing a pattern of reading and writing every day is a major commitment that will require planning and developing techniques of self encouragement.  I don't want reading to become cumbersome or dull in my attempt.  This project is about pleasure reading, so I'm going to keep it fun.

I've noticed I have a tendency to read several books at the same time.  That sounds silly, but what I mean by this is sometimes I read a considerable amount of one book, and then I'm not in the mood to read it anymore.  So I read a little of something else and then I come back to the first book when I'm ready.  It isn't that I've decided the book is boring or uninteresting, merely that I'm in the mood to read something else.  For example, let's say I'm reading something very serious, but then the next time I sit down to read, I feel like I'm in the mood for something funny and lighthearted.  I go ahead and pick something else.  I know I'll come back to that first novel eventually.  If I'm reading for fun, I want the experience to be fun.

Maybe that's a bad habit, maybe I should keep plodding through the same book even when I'm not interested in it.  But I find that when I come back to a book after a day or two, sometimes the book seems fresher, brighter, and more interesting.  A book I might have given up on in the middle a few days before suddenly becomes a page turner.

So, maybe it's a bad habit to stop and start, but I do find it helps me commit to reading every day when I can select a different book.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Goblin Market: A story of beguiling goods

I've always been fond of poetry, although perhaps not to the extent my grandmother was.  I certainly enjoy a few well turned words on occasion, and I absolutely revel in fantasy.  I love reading about humanoid* creatures that have extraordinary powers and ill motives.  So, it should come as no surprise that one of my first selections for this blog is a book of poetry with the word "goblin" in the title.

I was not remotely disappointed.  Goblin Market and Other Poems is a very enjoyable collection of the works of Christina Rosetti.  I came into this reading experience mostly cold.  I did not know anything of Rosetti or her poetry.  She is a very fine writer, her words are gorgeous.  "Goblin Market" is as a luscious feast of imagery.  Her descriptions of the goblins were very different from any I've come across before in that they were "little men" and were depicted as greatly varied.

As far back as I can remember, I've always had a concept for "goblin."  My understanding of what the word means has been influenced by the Labyrinth The Lord of the Rings, King's Quest VII and Magic: the Gathering.  It's interesting to note the difference between those franchises, but I find it even more fascinating to learn of her depiction more than a hundred years ago.  Goblins with animal features who sell fruit for silver coins or a lock of blonde hair seem whimsical and mischievous more than beastly.  They are creatures to beware nonetheless.  They certainly drive a very hard bargain.

The story unfolds line by line, and though I am no English teacher, I can tell that it is heavily laden in symbolic meaning as a coming of age story for two young sisters.  I'm still not certain I really understand all of the meaning behind it.  I'm pretty dense when it comes to deciphering symbolism, and I will not spoil my limited understanding of the text by Googling for answers.  I'm sure I wouldn't like what I find.**

And my enjoyment of the book did not end with "Goblin Market."  There are many other wonderful, well worded poems contained within, most of which are short stories in disguise much like the first.  Each one is different from the last, and each adds an interesting takeaway.

As to the format in which I read this book, I have to say, I was not terribly pleased.  Although the book was very easy to obtain and it was free (I read an Epub file from one of the sources I posted  in Radical Paths to Reading), I recommend a physical copy of this book or a digital one purchased from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.  The reason for this is the poetry was frequently interrupted to inform me that it was "Digitized by VjOOIC" which was very disruptive.  However, if you can tolerate that, it is available through said source.

I wish I'd read this one much sooner.  Going back to my first post, the theory that I do not read enough good books, I'm already beginning to see that there are plenty of "good books" yet to be read.  Still not Mark Twain, but I'll get to that later.

 *"Humanoid" is among my least favorite words.  It's a lovely concept, but goodness, that word is ugly.  Any word with the syllable "noid" in it is doomed to failure.  I wish "humanesque" was a word.  Maybe I should go with "nonhuman sentient creatures" but then it doesn't really get across other similarities beyond sentience.  And it's a cumbersome phrase.  I suppose I could have gone with "fae" and it would have covered most of the ones common in fantasy, but it would have completely neglected space aliens and mermaids.  And we can't have that, now can we?

**It seems as if there is an unwritten law in great literature and nursery rhymes that there should be dark symbolism hidden in nice cheery pleasant stories.  Frankly, the world is nasty enough without it in my opinion.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Radical Paths To Reading

As I begin my reading adventure, it occurs to me that I'm setting out with a different set of tools than those I might have used in the past.  The digital age has provided so much selection for reading material, it's almost unreal.  Public domain classics are very readily available online.  What I find more compelling than merely pulling up a book in my browser is having my very own magic book to read anywhere in the house.

And that's just what I have.  I purchased a second hand Nook from my local used book store at a very reasonable price over the summer.  I must say, I do not regret that purchase.  I've very much enjoyed having practically any book I want at my fingertips anywhere I want to read it.  It's particularly useful on vacation or during a long bus ride.  Once I connected my Nook to a Barnes and Noble account, I could buy books and they could be sent directly to my Nook nearly instantly.  Not to mention Barnes and Noble offers a large number of free books.  I downloaded a selection of these and will be reviewing them as I go.

I would be deeply negligent if I failed to mention my public library system at this stage, because using my library card, I believe I can obtain many ebooks on my nook.  I haven't tried it yet, but I've heard great things.

I'm less familiar with Amazon's Kindle, but I'm sure it's similarly convenient.

One of my favorite things to do with my Nook so far has been (go ahead and laugh, I can't hear you) reading fan fiction.  Many fan fiction websites have Epub files of each work that can be easily downloaded and copied onto the nook.  There's even a program called FanFictionDownloader that will download files for you from a URL.  These Epub files work just like any other ebook, and they're legitimately rad.

But at least for now, the focus of this blog is published books.  I found a website that offers links to Epub files for public domain books called Open Culture.  Many of their links may go to files available through Project Gutenberg, which has a great collection of books.

I may also use audio books on occasion, because those totally count.  Shhh, I can't hear your protestations over my denial.

I have many great items on my reading list thanks to these great tools and my good old fashioned book case.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


Recently, someone I know has been implying I don't read enough good books.  The reason she most frequently cites is because I haven't read enough Mark Twain.  I find Mark Twain's subject matter and style uninteresting at best and annoying at worst.  I blame this on a difference in taste.  I don't believe I can do better than Mark Twain did.  Quite the contrary, I'm certain there's a reason his works are considered classics.  I believe Mr. Twain is most known for his tone.  He has a sort of snark laden mischief in his wordplay that would be difficult to replicate.  And his stories are enduring, with memorable characters.  I'm sure many of you would agree with her, that I should read Mark Twain because he is a great writer who has written "good books."

That said, I have certain preconceived notions, as one of my past instructors would put it.  Those preconceived notions concern my vision of Mr. Twain, which is that he was a smarmy, self satisfied person.  I find little of interest in coming of age stories of boys having unlikely adventures in the recent American past.  He lived contemporary to many other authors who wrote in a tone I would more greatly enjoy and on topics that I would find more relevant.  I do not argue that Mr. Twain is a great author, merely that he is not the sort of author whose work I enjoy.

What more greatly intrigues me is the statement that I do not spend enough time reading "good books."  I suppose the purpose of this blog is not so much to prove to her or to myself that I read enough of them, but instead to find out what "good books" are for me.

This blog is not about reviewing books I've read in the past that I enjoyed.  It's about starting over, a tabula rasa of reading.  From this point on, I'm approaching reading afresh.  I'm going to reread my old favorites with new eyes, and I'm going to give Mr. Twain a chance.  I'm going to scratch some titles off my to-do list, but I'm also going to pick out some dark horses.  And then I'm going to set them before you with my honest impression of what I've seen.

Along the way, I hope to learn what a "good book" is, and use that knowledge to improve my own writing.