Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

My Year End Wrap Up 2012

Another year has slipped away, and here I sit, reflecting back on what entertained me in 2012.  I always start my wrap up by going back to the beginning of the year, to see how my interests have changed.  I began the year dividing my time between British stuff and vintage television shows…and that’s exactly where I find myself now.  Only the faces have changed!

Best Books:  Might as well get the embarrassment out of the way first.  Normally I read a couple of books a week, but I went 8 months out of the last 12 without finishing a single book!  Oh, the shame.  I could blame my eyes, since I need new glasses, but the real truth is that I spend too much time online.  Making videos has also sucked up my reading time, but that’s for another category.  Of the small selection of books read this year, I really enjoyed Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt, Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth, and Confessions of a Prairie Bitch by Alison Arngrim.  (More about Arngrim’s book in an upcoming post.)  The biggest disappointment was Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James.

Best Television:  My television is usually always tuned to either Me-TV or CBS, except on Sunday night, when I watch Masterpiece on PBS.  I still enjoy The Big Bang Theory, but I do think it’s losing something from having too many separate storylines, with the characters spending less time gathered in the same living room.  More characters means less screen time for favorites Sheldon and Raj.  I discovered Leverage in reruns just as the show got cancelled, but at least I have five seasons to explore further.  Since September, I’ve been enjoying reruns of Emergency! on Me-TV.  Another season of Sherlock brought more delight, as well as more Inspector Lewis.  Thanks to a friend, I’m now back to enjoying EastEnders, the British serial drama, and already my life wouldn’t be complete without weekly visits to Albert Square.   This year’s favorite program was Call the Midwife, featuring new favorite Miranda Hart as the wonderful Chummy.  I can’t wait for more of this series!

Best Twitter:   I’m very picky about twitter.  Too much shameless self-promotion?  Unfollow.   Too many retweets?  Unfollow.   Too many conversations that should be private?  Unfollow.  No sense of humor?  I shouldn’t have been following in the first place!  I enjoy humor, whimsy,  and folks who don’t take themselves too seriously.   The most consistently entertaining tweets this year have come from Josh Groban.  I’ve also enjoyed following Russell Tovey.  I can count on a friend to share the best of Demetri Martin and The Onion, so I guess they count, too!

Best Theatre:  Oops.  Didn’t see any.  Never mind.

Best Movies:   I had good luck with the movies I saw in the cinema this year.  Mind you, I still haven’t seen three of the four films I was most looking forward to in 2012, so they will have to wait until 2013!  The Avengers was terrific, and I also enjoyed Life of PiThe Dark Knight Rises wasn’t a favorite, but Tom Conti and Joseph Gordon-Levitt made it worthwhile for me.   I saw my first 3D movie, John Carter, but I’m not a fan of the technology.  It was a great year for silents: Napoleon was stunning, and I also saw three films at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, with The Canadian (1926) making the deepest impression.   Shah Rukh Khan’s Jab Tak Hai Jaan had an entertaining beginning and middle, but I was disappointed by the third act.  The best new film I saw in 2012 was Argo.

Best DVDs:  I spent six months of this year with Wagon Train at the top of my Netflix queue.  They never sent me any on the discs, and my queue always said “short wait.”  I could have bought the DVDs for the money I spent on my Netflix plan, especially since I wasn’t watching the discs they sent me instead.  I cancelled my account.   This means I can’t go look at my history for this year to review, but this an easy category.  The best DVDs of my year have been the classic television western Laramie, particularly seasons one and two.  When I’m not watching the episodes again and again, I’m making tribute videos and posting them on YouTube.  I now have more YouTube followers than blog followers!   Which leads me to a new category…

Best Time-Sucker-Upper:  Call it a hobby, a passion, an obsession, a skill or an art.  But this year I started making videos, and now I can’t stop.  I’d been making slideshows using still images at animoto.com, and this summer I tried using their template program for short video clips.  It was okay, but I didn’t like their wide border which wasted space, so it forced me to try Windows Movie Maker.  I had no idea it would be so much fun!  My Laramie tribute videos aren’t very interesting to people who aren’t fans of the series, but I’m proud of my channel and grateful for all my followers.

Best Music:  Mostly I’ve listened to older stuff this year.  When Davy Jones died, I started listening to lots of the Monkees.  I love Gaelic Storm’s album How Are We Getting Home? (2004), discovered in a stack of my own CDs that I never got around to hearing.  I’m definitely going to listen to more of this group in 2013.  I’ve also been enjoying lots of Kate Rusby.  One of my favorite new old songs is “Can’t Turn My Heart Away” by Art Garfunkel.  I’m still enjoying The Book of Mormon Broadway soundtrack, but I learned the hard way not to listen to it in public.  Even with earphones, you look like a nutter snickering at the lyrics.

Best Music Video:  My choices are never conventional, but that’s what you get for taking musical advice from me!   Here’s my favorite:

Never mind that it was uploaded in 2008.  It’s still the most adorable video I’ve seen on YouTube this year!  If you don’t know it, this is India’s national anthem.

Best New-To-Me Software:   Handbrake for ripping DVDs, and Google Talk for saving me a fortune on phone bills.  I chat now with friends around the world, without the complications of installing Skype, and no webcam to show everyone how hideous I look through a fisheye lens.

Entertainer of the Year:  Honorable Mention this year goes to Miranda Hart.  I discovered her in Call the Midwife, and now I’m enjoying her comedy on YouTube and her BBC series Miranda.  The winner is an easy choice.  In April, I purchased season one of Laramie on DVD, and by the end of May, I was a member of Robert Fuller’s official fan group.  While my favorite role is Jess Harper in Laramie, I’ve been enjoying Wagon Train, Emergency!, and all of Fuller’s other television shows and movies.   I’ve spent hours chatting with other fans, making tribute videos and collages, and searching ebay for vintage photos.  For so much entertainment in so many different ways, Robert Fuller is my Entertainer of the Year.  Thank you, Mr. Fuller!

Jess Harper whip blog crp

Robert Fuller in Laramie

Dreams & Portents

Nance Crawford edited a dream dictionary originally published in 1885, and it’s now available at Amazon and Smashwords.  It’s a fun book to browse through, from a time before dreams had Freudian associations, when a snake was still a snake.  The reason I’m sharing the book here?  I helped to design the cover.   Check it out!

Be sure to check out Nance Crawford’s website, and consider registering as a member.  You’ll get access to her members-only blog posts, like “John Wayne Slept in My Room.”

Sweet Dreams!

Getting Literary

Some projects I’ve been involved with have blossomed over the summer.  Some have required little effort on my part, while others have kept me busy.  I’ve posted more video creations on my YouTube channel, and they continue to center around the television western Laramie.  I did an interview with a young graduate student and fellow blogger about my uncle, Dennis Severs, and it was published on August 15th in a UK literary magazine called Peninsula.  The online copy can be read and downloaded on their site in a pdf format.  My interview is on page 72.  I don’t know yet if this is a limited offer, so download it soon, just in case.  The other pieces in the magazine are worth reading, too!

A book cover designer in Canada used one of my photographs of County Mayo, Ireland, for a historical novel.  I haven’t read the book, but I do think my photo looks great!  The book is available through Libros Libertad.

I have another book cover to reveal, but it will have to wait just a little while longer.  In the meantime, I need to get back to reading again.  I realized this week that I haven’t finished a book in months.  Too much time in photoshop and learning video editing has replaced my reading habit.  My book club has selected State of Wonder by Ann Patchett for our September selection, so I’m eager to dive in.

The summer went so fast, and it never got warm here in San Francisco.  I wonder what September will bring…

Wil Wheaton’s Book Event, 2005

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Like many, I first saw Wil Wheaton in Stand By Me (1986), then watched him mature on Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-94).   He dropped off my radar for many years after that.  I gradually became aware that Wheaton was writing and blogging.  When I started working at Borders Books, I spent a lot of time browsing the entertainment section.  I knew of Wheaton’s Dancing Barefoot and Just a Geek.   One day, Wheaton visited the store as a regular customer.  Whenever we had a famous person came into the store, the news spread quickly.  From a distance, I watched him talking animatedly to a co-worker.   He looked friendly and approachable, but I didn’t go over to meet him.  Later, I started reading his blog and leaving the occasional comment.  I also read his books and enjoyed them.  When he posted on his blog that he was appearing at the January 2005 MacWorld convention here in San Francisco, I left a comment encouraging him to visit my Borders again.  He messaged me about doing a book reading.  When I asked the area event coordinator, she told me I would have to organize it myself.  I’d been assisting with lots of events, so I felt ready to take it on.

I had to make sure we had enough copies of Wheaton’s books in the store, although I had no idea how many fans would turn up.  I posted flyers at nearby computer stores to get the word out.  The hardest part?  Getting the event added to the Borders website and automated phone information line.  I don’t think those ever got fixed.  Of course, the most effective promotion was Wheaton’s own blog post about the event:

“Good news, everyone!

When the press release went out about MacWorld, a lot of WWdN readers asked if there would be a reading or signing for people who were unable to afford admission to the conference.

Well, it turns out that we have a mole at Borders in Union Square. She made an introduction for me, and I am super excited to announce that I’ve been invited to their store for a reading and signing when I’m in town!

It looks like the Borders website hasn’t been updated yet, but I’m scheduled for Friday January 14th at 7pm.

Oh! I just got a Really Big Idea™, that could be a whole bunch of Supercool: I have a short list of stories from Just A Geek that I choose from when I perform at bookstores. Based on comments and e-mail, I know there are a lot of WWdN readers in NorCal. How about, instead of me choosing what to read, I let you guys pick what you’d like to hear? If you’re planning to come out on the 14th, say so in the comments, and leave a brief description, or chapter number, or page number, or whatever, and the majority will rule.”

I was excited and nervous when the day arrived.  Once the chairs were in place, the book displays set up, and the posters hung around the store, I just had to wait.  Some enthusiastic fans showed up really early to get good seats, and one of them came up to me to complain.  He’d heard a skeptical employee making snide comments about Wheaton.  It was just the kind of attitude that Wheaton was writing about, coming from people who thought of him as “that guy who played Wesley Crusher.”  I let my supervisor deal with the situation and went off on my dinner break.

When I got back to the store, a co-worker told me that Wheaton had arrived and was waiting in the employee area.  I rushed down and found him alone, sitting on a desk.  I felt bad, because the people who came to do store events were often given the manager’s office and some VIP treatment.  I presented Wheaton with some gifts and introduced him around, and he signed my copy of Just a Geek.  Then we took the elevator upstairs to find a big crowd waiting.  In fact, it was standing room only.  I got to do the introduction, and somebody took a photo and posted it on the internet the next day.  I can’t believe I wore that sweater!  Oh well, nobody was there to see me.

Wheaton had the crowd right from the start.  He’s a great reader.  Somebody posted a brief video of his reading on YouTube:

After the reading, the folks waiting to get their books signed were in good spirits, and it was obvious that Wheaton was enjoying himself.  I should have ordered more copies of Dancing Barefoot, because we ran out. Wheaton was also a great salesman for his favorite poker books.  I kept myself busy taking lots of photos of everything.  The event coordinator dropped by to check things out, and it seemed to me she was basking in the glow of a successful event that wasn’t her own.  Several of my co-workers told me that it was one of our best, including the skeptic.  After it was all over and I was saying goodbye, I finally got awkward talking to Wheaton.  It’s always easier when you’re kept busy!  I was excited to see how he would describe the evening on his blog.  As far as I know, he never got around to it.  It only took me seven years to get around to it, but I’ve got an excuse.  I haven’t been blogging that long!

Later, I received a delightful email from Wheaton:

Hey Stacey,
I have this horrible habit of getting so overwhelmed by everything, I do 
nothing.

. . . like remember to thank you for sending me the amazing photos you 
took when I was up in San Francisco. Oh, I've looked at them and I've 
showed them off to my kids and my friends . . . and I've said, out loud, 
"Stacey was so cool, and look at all this great stuff she helped me get 
done . . ."

But I kept forgetting to just sit my stupid ass down here and type it 
out to you.

Thank you, so very, very much, for making it possible for me to read in 
your store. 

I owe you, big time, and I won't ever forget it.

So thank you for sending me such great photos, and thank you for all 
your support.

I hope this finds you well,
Wil

I saw Wil Wheaton again in fall 2009, at his first wOOtstock performance in San Francisco.  He remembered me, but I made a big bOO-bOO.  I went up to say hello while he was tweeting (bad twitter etiquette?) right before his performance.  I couldn’t stick around after the show, but it’s not cool to bother a performer before they go on.  Anyway, wOOtstock was great, and I’d love to go to another one.  I very much enjoy Wheaton’s guest appearances on The Big Bang Theory.  Did he influence me to start blogging?  Maybe just a bit!

Other reports of the event:      stomachpains      brainwagon

10 Things About James Garner

The Garner FilesI stumbled across James Garner’s memoir at the library, so I checked it out on a whim.  Garner is one of those actors I’ve always liked but never really focused on.  I didn’t even realize how many movies I’ve seen him in until I was looking at the filmography in the book.  If you’d asked me a few days ago what The Castaway Cowboy, Tank, Victor/Victoria, and The Great Escape have in common, I would have probably drawn a blank.  I was born after Maverick, and The Rockford Files didn’t make much sense to me as a teenager, but at least I remember his Polaroid commercials!

Garner’s book is an enjoyable read.  It’s silly to say I learned a lot about him, because I knew almost nothing about him before.  Rather than write a regular book review, I thought it would be more fun to list ten things I found especially interesting about him.

  1. James Garner was born in Oklahoma.  (What’s so interesting about that?  Well, so was I!)
  2. He can’t stand turkey or garlic.  His dislike of turkey came from being forced to eat unfrozen birds left over from WWII during the Korean War.  That would certainly turn me off for life.
  3. He sued Warner Bros. for breach of contract while doing Maverick.  His legal fees were more than he earned while under contract to the studio, but he thought it was worth it to get free.
  4. Garner married his first and only wife, Lois, 17 days after they met.  Or 24 days, if you ask his wife.  They agree on when they married, but not on when they met.
  5. He was at the March on Washington in August, 1963, where he sat in the third row for Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
  6. He witnessed the 1962 Munich Schwabinger Riots while filming The Great Escape.
  7. Garner is relaxed and charming onscreen, but he’s got a temper.  He also won’t tolerate bullies.
  8. He’s been in constant pain from arthritis and other ailments since the 1960s, and he can’t remember what it’s like to be pain-free.
  9. His favorite of all his movies is The Americanization of Emily with Julie Andrews.
  10. He thinks the worst movie he ever made is Mister Buddwing, but there are some other ones that he’d like to forget.  Actually, he can’t remember a thing about The Distinguished Gentleman with Eddie Murphy, and he can live with that.

Obviously there’s a lot more in The Garner Files.  I even found the chapters about golf and racing pretty interesting.  The organization of the book is a little scattershot, but the man himself is always entertaining.

James Garner (3rd from right) with other Warner Bros. western actors

Update:   Tomorrow, James Garner turns 84.  Happy Birthday!  And for fans of Maverick, Warner is finally releasing a complete DVD set of the first season on May 29th.

Okay For Now

Okay For Now by Gary D. SchmidtIf you can force yourself to get past the harshness of the first couple of chapters, the teen novel¹ Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt blossoms into a moving story about…well, a little of everything.  Doug Swieteck is an eighth-grader who moves to a small town in upstate New York in 1968.  He’s the youngest boy in a family of abusive males, with the oldest brother off fighting in Vietnam. Imagine hiding what you care about to keep it safe from your own family, knowing that eventually it will be found and taken away.  This pretty much sums up Doug’s family life.  A new town should mean a fresh start, but Doug is too unhappy to notice at first.  Then he discovers Audubon’s Birds of America at the local library.  The arctic tern, diving straight down into the water with a “terrified eye,” captures his imagination.  Honestly, this is one of those books that you don’t want to ruin by telling too much about the plot.  Out of context, it might sound silly, and it’s not.  There are a couple of things that are farfetched, but by that point you’ll be under the book’s spell and willing to suspend your disbelief.  I recommend Okay For Now, especially to anyone old enough to remember the Apollo 11 mission.  Just for the record, my father dragged me out of bed to witness the moon landing, even though I was only five.  He wanted my brother and me to watch and remember, conveying to us how really amazing that moment in history was.  Well, this book isn’t quite as amazing as that, but I’d still like to drag you over to it, put it in your hands, and hope that you enjoy it as much as I did.

¹Children’s book?  Middle school novel?  Who even cares?  A good book is a good book.  

Don’t Go to Pemberley

Warning:  This review may contain plot spoilers, although I’ve done my best to avoid them.

After being on a long wait list, I finally read P.D. James’ Death Comes to Pemberley this week.  I really love Pride & Prejudice, so a murder mystery using Austen’s characters seemed like a fun idea.  I’ve read most of the previous mysteries by P.D. James, and I admire her work.  I didn’t read any book reviews in advance, but I did glance at the readers’ ratings at Amazon.  They were pretty evenly divided across the range from “love it” to “hate it.”  I’m afraid I have to agree with the folks that gave it two stars out of five.  I forced myself to finish the novel because I wanted to find out whodunit, but it was a trial.

My problems with Death Comes To Pemberley are directly related to what I love about Pride & Prejudice.  I so enjoy the intelligent conversations between the characters, especially Darcy and Elizabeth.  I don’t know if people ever really spoke like that, but it’s a lost art.  P.D. James is not able to re-create anything close.  Most of the conversations in her novel are dull, describing actions instead of being real dialogue.  Here’s what Darcy has to say to Elizabeth on page 150: “Lady Catherine, as expected, has passed on the news to Mr. Collins and Charlotte and has enclosed their letter with her own.  I cannot suppose that they will give you pleasure.  I shall be in the business room with John Wooller but hope to see you at luncheon before I set out for Lambton.”   Worse, Elizabeth and Darcy are rarely together, so they have very little connection with each other.  Elizabeth is the perfect wife, going about her wifely duties and taking morning visits to the nursery, but apparently a married woman can no longer take part in anything interesting.  Because she’s so darn respectable, Elizabeth cannot attend the inquest or the murder trial.  She’s not even in the room when “all is revealed.”  Here is a book by a woman based on another woman’s book featuring some of the best female characters in literature, and all the women are relegated to the background.  Perhaps James is more comfortable writing about male characters like Darcy, Wickham, and Colonel Fitzwilliam, but I miss the ladies.

The central mystery isn’t all that engaging, and the description given on the book jacket is deceptive.  Almost every character has a solid alibi, so there are very few suspects.  No one character takes on the role of “sleuth” to solve the murder.  By the time the same characters have given the same testimony to the magistrate, the coroner, and the trial lawyers, I just wanted it to be over.  There are some contradictions in the details, which should have been caught by the editor.  On page 68, it’s said about the murder victim, “He’s not a heavy man.”  Later, on page 101, it reads “[The victim] was a heavy man.”  A general editing error appears on page 130: “It was consider that either Colonel the Viscount Hartlep or any member of the Pemberley household could have had any part in [the victim’s] death.”  Huh?

I’m going to finish by simply letting the book speak for itself.  This is one of the longer speeches in the novel, given by the Pemberley housekeeper to Elizabeth on page 70:

“I will sit with Mrs. Wickham until Dr. McFee arrives, madam.  I expect he will give her something to calm her and make her sleep.  I suggest that you and Mrs. Bingley go back to the music room to wait; you will be comfortable there and the fire has been made up.  Stoughton will stay at the door and keep watch, and he will let you and Mrs. Bingley know as soon as the chaise comes into sight.  And if Mr. Wickham and Captain Denny are discovered on the road, there will be room in the chaise for the whole party, although it will not perhaps be the most comfortable of journeys.  I expect the gentlemen will need something hot to eat when they do return, but I doubt, madam, whether Mr. Wickham and Captain Denny will wish to stay for refreshments.  Once Mr. Wickham knows that his wife is safe, he and his friend will surely want to continue their journey.  I think Pratt said that they were on their way to the King’s Arms at Lambton.”

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