Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hardcover Books

My husband and I disagree about the way one should read hardcover books.

I maintain that one should remove the dust jacket and then read the book. This keeps the dust jacket looking nice and therefore the book will look nice and brand-new on our bookshelves. He thinks that the dust jacket should stay on thereby keeping the actual book in excellent condition. I don't see why it should matter so much what a book looks like when it's HIDDEN BY THE DUST JACKET. Make no mistake: I hope the book underneath still looks like new too. Still, I'd much rather see a pristine-looking dust jacket covering a slightly dirty book than a crumpled and torn dust jacket hiding a perfect book.

So we each read hardcover books the way we think it should be done. This is not usually much of a problem as our reading selections rarely overlap --- like Scotty in "Star Trek" my husband reads mostly "technical manuals" relating to his work as a CPA. I am the one who reads lots of books. But when he reads one of my books WITH the dust jacket on...ugh.

Full disclosure about me: I like my books to look brand-new for as long as they can. The books I read several times, generally the paperbacks, eventually get the look of a well-loved book and I don't mind that. I know many people even prefer their books to look used because it shows how much the books are loved.

I have belonged to an online used book club for a couple of years and I have received books in almost all conditions from "perfect" to "disgusting" and have learned that one person's "great condition" is another person's "that's not even coming into the house" (mainly the ones reeking --- to me --- of cigarette smoke). I am fine with reading these used books and then sending them on to the next reader.So I have to say that I am getting better about reading "well-loved" books.

But if it's a book I want to keep on my shelves, well then it better look brand new!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Bye Bye Lost

So "Lost" is over and I am in mourning. There are very few shows where I have actually felt bereft at their ends.
  • "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" - I came late to this series starting in the 3rd season but I came to love it above all the other Treks (though I love them all, make no mistake). More serialized than other Treks, the show was amazing. The storyline was epic. The characters, who were not necessarily full-time heroes of the usual Star Trek mode, were well-drawn and portrayed by actors who made even alien species seem real. And the relationships between characters were strong and real: O'Brien and Bashir, Jadzia and Worf, Kira and Kai Winn, Kira and Dukat, Sisko and son Jake (one of the most loving parent-child relationships ever), Kira and Odo, Jake and Nog, Weyoun and anybody, Quark and Rom, and most especially Quark and Odo. The finale was satisfying and heartbreaking all at once.
  • "Knots Landing" - This was my all-time favorite nighttime soap opera. At the time, it had a storyline that was more realistic than its sister show "Dallas" or the other nighttime behemoth "Dynasty." But who are we kidding? It had crazy, outlandish plots just like all the others. What set it apart were the relationships. Interestingly, I don't have much memory of the actual finale, but I do remember feeling sad and depressed when it ended. It had been on for 14 seasons, at that time for my entire adult life. The specifics don't matter so much because it was my relationship to the show that mattered.
  • "Lost" - No, the finale did not answer all the questions it raised but I feel it answered what mattered: the relationships between the characters. As every character is awakened in the Sideways reality, they regain the relationships they've formed and lost (no pun intended) on the way to that reality. Tears abound with each reconnection and we can believe that the characters have found each other and have found peace. I loved the finale. A little confused, but satisfied. I think the producers were correct to make the conclusion about the people, not the mythology.
The best part of these programs, for me, is the relationships of the characters, not the mythology or mysteries left unsolved or unanswered.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Current TV Schedule

I don't watch nearly as much television as I used to but there are still several programs I follow. Here's the specifics:
  • Lost - So sad that it's ending Sunday.
  • CSI - Only the original recipe. Miami and New York were on too late so we never got started watching them.
  • Survivor - I've missed a few early seasons here and there (WHY are school performances/activities always scheduled for Thursday nights?!). This is my one reality program and I used to feel kind of guilty about watching it at all. But that's ridiculous. If I want to watch Survivor, I'm going to watch Survivor! So there!
  • House - My favorite drama after Lost and poised to become #1. Hugh Laurie, who portrays Dr. House, is also a brilliant British comedian. I am looking forward to watching his Jeeves & Wooster series this summer. Blackadder is also hysterically funny. The House message boards are full of people complaining about this show ("It's not as good anymore.") but I disagree.
  • Dancing with the Stars - I guess this is a reality show too but with professional dancers and (some quasi-) celebrities. I generally have someone to root for and then you come to know the celebs better and I find that I'm rooting for several at the same time. Except for when I'm only rooting for Donny Osmond and Kristi Yamaguchi during their seasons
  • The Simpsons - Still pretty funny after 20 years. This show started around the time that my husband and I began dating and we used to get together and watch this show. Our son loves it too.
  • Modern Family - This is a newer show, only one season old, and it had critics falling all over themselves telling us how great it is. And it is. We love this one and every episode has some great lines worth quoting after. Sample: After the husband asks where his good underwear is, his wife replies, "The question is, why isn't ALL your underwear good?"
  • Cougar Town - This new show, starring Courteney Cox, has transcended its earlier episodes where the newly divorced main character focused on dating younger men. After a few episodes it morphed into a great ensemble comedy. None of it has any touch of reality - these characters are all pretty well off and they spend much time sitting around drinking. I guess it appeals because this is how we think we'd like to live? But it's funny too and that's what keeps us coming back every week.
  • 30 Rock - Another great ensemble comedy centered around a TV show. A little silly sometimes but almost always laugh out loud funny, especially when it makes fun of NBC.
  • Community - Another new show, one season old. We love this one and it also has many lines worth quoting after the episode is over. It takes place at a community college. We got our son to watch and he loves it too, though he prefers watching it on the Internet than with us on the TV set. Kids.
  • The Colbert Report - I started watching this several years ago. Colbert plays a fake conservative pundit. Very funny.
  • As the World Turns - The only daytime soap I have ever truly loved, it's canceled as of this coming September. I started watching again this year. I have always gone in phases in watching it, a year on, a couple of years off. But now that it's ending I am watching until the bitter end.
And then there are a few that have been canceled this year:
  • The New Adventures of Old Christine - With Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Wanda Sykes and a great supporting cast, this was a really cite comedy. A little too far to the silly side lately but still worthwhile. Oh well.
  • Better Off Ted - We LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this show, a comedy about a huge corporation (much funnier than it sounds). Too bad ABC didn't. Portia de Rossi was so funny as a corporate supervisor and the guys who played scientists Lem and Phil were screamingly funny.
  • Flash Forward - We liked this show but didn't love it. We have about 5 episodes on the DVR waiting for us. Obviously not a must-see for others either as it ends after only one season.
  • Heroes - I really liked this show, about people with superpowers, but people kept criticizing the show. I think the producers kept listening to the complainers and then kept changed the show, always trying to be all things to all people. But it did give us Zachary Quinto, now probably better known as the new Mr. Spock in the recent Star Trek movie.
  • Scrubs - This had been canceled last year but they brought it back with a retooled premise: med school instead of hospital based. It took a while to grow on us and we really loved it by the end. Too late. It's gone.
And shows that start during the summer!
  • Mad Men - I LOVE this show and am looking forward to the next season starting in July.
  • Wipeout - A pretty goofy game show where people need to go over various obstacle courses. Lots of lowbrow falls into the mud/water/etc.. The kind of show a DVR is invented for: record whenever it's on and then we can speed through to the good parts. TOTAL junk food TV but it makes me laugh so what the heck.
The method I try to follow when watching TV is "don't add new shows!" It never seems to take. This year alone we added 2-1/2 hours of programming. With cancellations we still ended up with a net gain of 1-1/2 hours of new shows. Ah well, TV is swell.

Monday, May 17, 2010

I Will Survive! (But not on "Survivor")

In honor of last night's Season 20 finale of the reality show "Survivor" (I think Parvati got robbed!) here are the reasons I will never be a contestant on the show...
  • I am afraid of bugs.
  • I don't know how to swim.
    • Yes, some seasons don't have swimming-related challenges but most do.
    • Yes, I could learn to swim, but peeps, it just ain't gonna happen.
  • Without my glasses I wouldn't be able to see a thing.
  • I hate getting dirty and staying dirty.
  • I wouldn't be able to sleep well, leading to constant headaches
    • I do not sleep well in my own cushy, comfortable bed with 6 fluffy pillows and down comforter so no way would I be able to manage sleeping in a shelter with a bunch of other strangers
  • Lack of food would mean lack of energy.
  • Going to the bathroom would not be easy: no privacy, no tp, no toilet!
  • Too much sweating. I hate hot weather (weird, since I grew up in tropical weather).
    • Unless there would be Survivor: Antarctica
  • I would either be a shy wallflower or open my mouth and talk people to death.  Neither would be a great strategy.
  • I have a very round face (even when I'm thin, by the way) & I would not be photogenic enough for TV.
    • Think "Fat Monica" on "Friends" where the camera "adds 10 pounds" and the question is, "How many cameras are actually on you?" That would be me. 
  • I do not want to eat gross stuff in a challenge.
  • I get motion sickness too easily (mostly headaches and nausea).
  • I would be terrible in physical challenges.  Too chubby and out of shape sadly.
  • I am too old for Survivor standards.
    • Yes, there are a few competitors older than me but just last night Jeff Probst said the average age of Survivor winners is 32.  Um, that ship sailed many years ago (about 16, to be precise).
I don't watch any other reality shows and perhaps there is one out there that would be a good fit for me.  Am I missing any reasons?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Book Obsession Never Ends

Okay, I've blogged about my favorite books and also included one review of a book I did not like.  Have you been wondering what other books I didn't like or feel are bad literature?  Sure you have!
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding - I never had to read this book in high school because I was a fast reader and by the time the class got to Lord of the Flies I was already reading Great Expectations instead.  I picked it up later during high school because I figured it must be good.  Um, no.  I didn't even get past the first few chapters. I think this might fall under the category "Better Appreciated When Older" but I still haven't made the effort to tackle it again.  My son read it in his high school class so teachers are still foisting it onto students' laps.  It has been too long since my high school years to remember the specifics of why I disliked this book so much that I never even finished it.
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger - Same situation as above but I did manage to finish this book.  I know a LOT of people adore this book and it really has deep meaning for them.  I was bored and had no connection to Holden Caulfield.  Another candidate for "Better Appreciated When Older"??
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald - Also boring to me.  But again, I read it in high school and I think teenagers have no real life experience to appreciate this type of book. It never made me want to read anything else by FSF.
  • The Bridges of Madison County by somebody I'm too lazy to look up - Ugh.  Why take two sentences to describe a situation when you can use twenty?  On the TV show Frasier, this book's style was parodied when Frasier reads a book similar to Bridges.  I think he is reading aloud or there is voice-over narration as he reads.  The author is writing a farewell and it goes on and on, then Frasier turns several pages and the goodbye is still going on.  If I knew how to find that clip and imbed it I would because it was a perfect tweak at this book.  Which was also too boring to finish.  I never saw the Meryl Streep/Clint Eastwood film but it must be better than the book.
  • Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley - The biggest thing I remember about this book was that it came out the day after I got married.  And Scarlett calls her child "Cat."  And I watched the TV miniseries too.  Not good, either one.
  • She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb - An Oprah Book Club selection I happened to read before she picked it.  It had the most unappealing main character.  Just ugh.
  • A Map of the World by Jane Hamilton - I think this book was most disappointing in that it wasn't the story I expected.  I thought it would somehow relate to a MAP OF THE WORLD from the main character's childhood and it was instead a story of a child's accidental drowning and its aftermath, not a good book to read when your own child is about the age of the child who drowns.
  • The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by someone - Very popular a couple of years ago but I was so bored by it and only read halfway through. It's supposed to be a version of Shakespeare's "Hamlet."  Seriously, read or reread "Hamlet" instead.
  • The Celestine Prophecy by who cares - This book, purportedly a novel, was terrible, filled with such perfect coincidences as some guy tracks down the meaning of life.  Or something.  It seemed that every person he meets just happens to hold the key to the next stage in his journey.  I am not a new agey kind of person so maybe that's my problem with this one.  He should have written it as a non-fiction journey and then it never would have crossed my mind to read it.  Only got to the 4th or 5th chapter.
  • Most celebrity autobiographies - I have read quite a few, pop culture junkie that I am.  There are some great ones out there (Carol Burnett's, for an example) but most are awful.  Even so, these can be some of the tastiest of the junk food books.  Just doesn't make them good literature.
  • Trashy novels - I am not talking about Harlequins (only ever read 2 of those and they were practically identical; thus endeth the romantic novel phase of my life) but rather those like:
    • Valley of the Dolls
    • Peyton Place
    • The trash fest of the 1980's - We had so many junk food books to gorge on!
      • Queenie - the thinly-veiled Merle Oberon story
      • Jackie Collins and Hollywood Wives
      • Lace - featuring the all-time best line of trash dialogue, "Which one of you bitches is my mother?"  And played by our heroine Phoebe Cates in the miniseries, a girl we knew and loved, along with Jayne Modean, from Seventeen magazine
      • Danielle Steel - I only ever read one of hers (The Ring) and it was entertaining but not enough to read any others I guess
      • Sidney Sheldon - he gave us trashy novels AND I Dream Of Jeannie!
        • Master of the Game was my especial favorite
      • Judith Krantz
        • Dear, dear Scruples with it's heroine going from fat to chic in a few pages time and sex scenes that had a bunch of 17-year-olds grouping around the book saying, "ooh, how gross!"
          • And its sequel Scruples 2 which gave Lady Chardonnay & me the chance to use the phrase "waternixie green" from time to time
        • And of course, Princess Daisy.  It took place early on at UC Santa Cruz, OUR school!
        • I'll Take Manhattan with its great TV miniseries with Valerie Bertinelli, Barry Bostwick, Jane Kaczmarek, Tim Daly, Julianne Moore, Perry King
    • I don't hate any of these books but I don't necessarily think they are great literature.  And I actually adore many of them.  They are so darn entertaining. 
Okay, my peeps, enough for now.  What are your bad books?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Series of Books

The problem with a top ten book list is that it doesn't make room for series. How do you decide which Harry Potter book to include when all seven books are required for full enjoyment? Here's my list of favorite series...
  • Poldark by Winston Graham - 12 books
    • My most favorite books of all! I have read the first 7 books about once a year since I was 17 years old. A historical fiction saga of the life of Ross Poldark, it takes place in Cornwall, England from 1783 through 1820. I thought this series had only 7 books but as I was browsing the clearance racks at a Crown Bookstore in the mid-1980s I found Book 9!! Jackpot! Mr. Graham eventually completed the 12th book about a year before he died at the age of 95. The BBC/PBS miniseries from the 1970s is good but it takes great liberties with the plot.
  • Harry Potter by J.K Rowling - 7 books
    • I read the first book after my husband received it as a Father's Day gift from his mom. She heard it was similar to A Wrinkle in Time, the classic by Madeleine L'Engle, and thought he would like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. At that time it was not yet the phenomenon it soon became. I bought the next 2 books and then the universal frenzy began. As each book came out my family followed this rule: whoever was the fastest reader went first. For a long time I got to go first, then my son, then my husband. By the end it went: son, me, husband. (The movies are pretty good too.)
  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon - 7 books so far
    • A series that defies categorization: a little bit of romance, time travel, historical fiction. These are HUGE detailed works, about an English woman who steps through ancient standing stones in Scotland just after WWII and finds herself living about 200 years earlier. Her romance with Jamie, the Scots laird she meets, drives the story. By book 7 they are living in America before the Revolutionary War. There are at least 2 more books to follow.
  • A Song of Ice & Fire by George R.R. Martin - 4 books so far
    • The epic fantasy series will be an HBO series starting next year. Each season will be based on one book. The fictional world of Westeros is filled with kings, intrigue, sex, murders, sword fights, narrow escapes, captures, executions, and dragons. The last book came out in 2005 and readers are anxiously awaiting book 5.
  • The Tripods by John Christopher - 4 books
    • I first read these during my junior high years so probably my first experience of a dystopian or post-apocalyptic story (a fave genre of mine). In this case, the alien tripods have taken over control of Earth (they used TV to brainwash the people of course!) with the help of caps placed on everyone as they reach age 14. Caps make people docile and compliant. The main characters, 13 year old boys, set out to meet the human resistance cell living in the Alps. The boys infiltrate the tripod cities, and plot the end of human enslavement. 
  • Thursday Next by Jasper Fforde - 5 books so far
    • In an alternate timeline (i.e. England is still fighting the Crimean War in the 1980s when the actual war ran from 1853-1856; dodos, mammoths & Neanderthals have been genetically recreated) book characters are real and Jurisfiction agents can enter the books to solve crimes against literature. It's very hard to describe these books and make them sound sane, but they are funny, witty and perfect for someone who enjoys books as much as I do. Mr. Fforde also has a couple of other series: Nursery Crimes, where nursery rhyme characters are real and Detective Jack Sprat is on the case; and Shades of Grey, a society where people are sorted into classes depending on their ability to see colors.
  • Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares - 4 books
    • A sweet tale of four friends and their magical pair of blue jeans that fits each girl no matter their size or height. Very popular with teen girls until the whole vampire thing started. The movies are cute.
  • The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice - 12 books, give or take
    • I really only love the first 3 books because they purport a "history" of how vampires came to be. And it's historical fiction with vampires in it! Ms. Rice's vampires are nothing like the current crop of teen vampires. Her books are full of sex and death. Plus, because she lived in both San Francisco and New Orleans at various times, much of her story takes place in those locales, which is great because those are the 2 big cities I know best. The Mayfair Witches series (3 books) is good too and some of the later of the 12 books overlap with those tales.
  • Earth's Children by Jean Auel - 5 books so far
    • The story of Ayla, a Cro-Magnon girl who grows up with Neanderthals, is wonderful. The flaw is that it has taken 30 years for these 5 books to be released! The 1st came out in 1980 and the last in 2003. The series still seems incomplete (there are always hints of Ayla's great destiny but nothing has happened yet to indicate that fate has been realized) but there is no word on when or whether any other books will arrive. The other flaw involves Ayla's significant other, Jondalar: These two have sex all the time and I would be perfectly happy if I never had to read, "Jondalar, ohh, Jondalar!" again. Really, characters, get a cave!
  • Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews - 5 books
    • Ms Andrews died before the series was complete but that didn't stop the publishers! There are dozens and dozens of other books attributed to Ms Andrews written by others, no doubt for the sake of the almighty dollar. Anyway, her books are all potboilers, Gothic in tone, and full of evil, mainly in the form of some forbidden love, notably in an incestuous relationship. Flowers and its sequels feature more than one taboo relationship (uncle-niece, brother-sister, etc...) but still, I read these books during my impressionable teens and I still love them.
  • Masters of Rome by Colleen McCullough - 7 books
    • From these historical novels I learned that there was Roman history before Julius Caesar even arrived on the scene! Marius and Sulla were real Roman generals and set the stage for much of what Caesar would accomplish. And Caesar is covered too!
  • Barker/Llewelyn by Will Thomas - 5 books
    • Cyrus Barker is a Scottish private enquiry agent, or a detective. Thomas Llewelyn is his Welsh assistant. The stories take place in the mid-1880s and involve mysteries in London's seamy underbelly. Barker would have been played by Sean Connery had the role existed about 30 years ago. 
  • Others:
    • Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder: Timeless and comforting.
    • Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien: But I like the movies better. Sorry, purists.
    • Foundation by Isaac Asimov: Its all men in the old science fiction novels but that doesn't mean the stories aren't classics
    • Bio of a Space Tyrant by Piers Anthony: Another sci-fi series but a little more modern
    • Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace: I've only read these once (and plan to read them again soon) but I love them because they are so dear to my best friend, Lady Chardonnay. But has she read Poldark?! Hmph. (I kid! It's hard enough to find time to read the books we want to without trying to read what everyone else thinks we should!)
    • Septimus Heap by Angie Sage: A children's fantasy series that I read this year and really enjoyed. Looking forward to the next books!
Maybe it's time to hit a new category: movies and hang my head in shame for loving "The Wedding Singer" so much, or music, where my Cassidy Boys fetish will surface??

Monday, April 12, 2010

Desert Island Books

I have often considered my list of the 10 books I'd like to have with me should I ever get stranded on a deserted island. Obviously I need to get a life. Or at least read some more books.

Anyway, I could never narrow it down to just 10.  So here's a list of some faves that I just love no matter where I get stranded:
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
    • I'm not sure why I identified so strongly with Francie Nolan, given that I was not poverty-stricken nor Brooklyn-born at the turn of the 20th century. But she read a lot and wanted to be a writer so I guess that's enough. The details of this story certainly made me think that being poor in Brooklyn was a wonderful thing.
  • The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
    • Such an epic Arthurain tale and told from the point of view of the women. I got to meet Ms Bradley at a book signing once. She seemed highly medicated and out of it, unfortunately, which I am assuming was due to her ill health as she died not many months later. I've read some of the sequels and they are also good but not nearly as compelling as this book.
  • Watership Down by Richard Adams
    • I cry at the end of this book every damn time! LOVE Fiver and Hazel, Bigwig and Kehaar. A thrilling tale full of close calls and near escapes and heart. Wonderful rabbit tale for grownups.
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
    • A highlight of a trip to Massachusetts (second only to visiting with my BFF Lady Chardonnay who lives in New England; okay, maybe third after the chocolate brunch we went to!) was seeing Orchard House where Little Women was written. As a teen I thought the book was a little wordy and I skimmed a lot of it. As a "mature" reader, I enjoy the verbosity of old-style books much more than I used to! The story is just wonderful and also makes me teary every time I read it. I still don't like Amy though because of the whole incident with Jo's book.
  • Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
    • Another "old-style" writer but after seeing the amazing 1995 miniseries I was able to understand every little thing more easily (also the secret to easier Shakespeare reading: see a visual version first, then read). I was also helped by a book called What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew which explains the minutia of life then. I now know P&P almost by heart and it is my go-to book when I need something to read before bed and I'm between books. 
  • ...And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer
    • From 1866 until the 1930s, this book covers the lives of the members of a ladies club formed in Ohio. Epic in scope and detail, I was able to appreciate this book more once I had a better American history background. The story is mainly character driven against the backdrop of the various political crises of the times. Ohio was once a powerhouse in sending men to the White House: seven presidents from Ohio were elected during the period of this novel.
  • Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy
    • Ms Binchy's books are wonderful in that you always get to know a little something about so many wonderfully drawn characters, from the heroines to the villains, from the shopkeepers to the marginalized people. This books is the tale of an Irish girl and her best friend in the 1950s. I love Benny and her struggles to fit in and adapt to college life despite her large size. She's such a strong character; the ending is absolutely right. The movie version, while lovely in its way, does NOT end the same.
  • The Stand by Stephen King
    • A superflu virus is accidentally released and most of the world's population dies. (Note: not really a spoiler as this happens right at the beginning of the story.) The survivors band together and the supreme battle between good and evil commences. Excellent. The miniseries is quite good too.
  • Sarum bu Edward Rutherfurd
    • Mr Rutherfurd's books follow a general pattern: introduce a set of characters, tell a complete story about them and then move on a few years, decades or centuries and tell a new story featuring their descendants. We get to see traits passed down through the years. Families intermarry, the mighty fall, the little people rise. This tale concerns the area located near Stonehenge and the modern English city of Salisbury. I always want the individual stories to continue! Historical fiction at its best!
  • The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
    • Another great romance and another epic tale, this one occurring in the Australian Outback. I was able to read this concurrently while watching the miniseries when I was in college. 
  • Honorable Mentions
    • Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell: Yes, it's racist but it's still a damn good story.
    • The Human Comedy by William Saroyan: The movie is amazingly faithful to the book. Such an amazing look at small town life in the 1940s.
    • It by Stephen King: The other big epic novel by Mr King, scary and engrossing with an evil clown!
    • Fatherland by Robert Harris: A thriller taking place in an alternate history where Hitler won WWII.
    • Class Reunion/After the Reunion by Rona Jaffe: Not very well written but still wonderful tale of the women of Radcliffe College, the reunion (duh) and their lives afterward.
Hmm, I did seem to come up with a plausible top ten after all. But what about books series?! How does one pick a favorite Harry Potter novel or the best Captain Underpants tale?! A list for another day...

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Pride and Dreck

I finished a book last night called The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet by Colleen McCullough.  The author is most famous for The Thorn Birds which I adore and I have also enjoyed several of her other novels over the years, mainly the historical Rome series.  But this one, a "sequel" to Pride and Prejudice, was beyond horrible.

In the last decade or so, P&P sequels, prequels, modern reimaginings, and "sideways" versions have been published.  Bridget Jones's Diary is probably the most famous of the reimaginings. It's a cottage industry and writers continue to churn them out at a fast clip. Pride, Prejudice & Zombies is one of the most recent. I have read several of them.  Most were harmless and usually written in a style imitative of Jane Austen's.

I therefore looked forward to Ms McCullough's take on the genre. Be forewarned: There be SPOILERS here...

To get us started, Darcy (referred to now as "Fitz" by all and sundry) and Elizabeth have had 20 years of a horrible marriage, brought on by his inability to tolerate her teasing ways (the thing that drew him to her in the original) and her horror of the realities of wedding night sex (described as "rape" in at least Darcy's thoughts).  Darcy is even more arrogant and prideful than ever and Elizabeth is rendered a frigid and shrewish wife.

Major characters are killed off --- the novel starts off with the death of Mrs. Bennet --- or murdered (Lydia). The facts of Jane Austen's original story are completely disregarded and turned completely around.  Darcy's father, always described as the best of men by dear Jane, is revealed as a criminal mastermind whom his son despises and fears. His affair with a prostitute produced a half-brother for Darcy who is a major character in this novel. We are not informed of the relationship until the end and during the novel we wonder if half-brother Ned loves Darcy with what McCullough refers to as Socratic love (opposite of Platonic, I guess, but I have not come across this euphemism for homosexuality before).

Ned murders on Darcy's behalf though without Darcy's knowledge or consent.  He murders drunken, widowed Lydia to rid the family of the embarrassment, after Lydia shows up and rails at Darcy with the F word AND the C word in front of his upper class guests.

Jane Bennet, who married Charles Bingley for love at the end of P&P, is worn down by more than 15 pregnancies and blithely recounts details of Charles' black mistress and his children with her while he visits his Caribbean plantations. Oh, and he's also a slaveholder!

Georgiana Darcy is described as "perfect" but we never actually get to see her in the novel to see for ourselves. Caroline Bingley is still around, even more acid and cruel than before despite "paying off every arrear of civility" to Elizabeth in P&P.

Mary becomes sensible and utterly beautiful and has men asking for her hand in marriage at the ripe old age of 38 (very unlikely in context of the times).  She is kidnapped by a deranged cult leader of children for a huge chunk of the story.  She is held in a cave located under the Derbyshire countryside.  We are told several times that, even though most characters assume she is dead, she MUST be held in a cave somewhere. Search parties search and thus is Mary saved and able to create orphanages with the gold the old cult leader squirreled away from --- you guessed it! --- Mr. Darcy's criminal father. Mary also gets married but has sex with her intended in a most wanton fashion before their wedding.

Why, you may be asking yourself, did I continue to read until the end? It was a train wreck and I had to see it out.  I am perfectly capable of stopping a book that is horrible.  I couldn't finish The Bridges of Madison County, The Celestine Prophecy, or The Lord of the Flies, crappy novels all, for example, and I am having a hard time considering picking up The Group again any time soon. But this sequel started out so vilely that I had to know the depths to which the author descended. We are talking Marianas Trench here.

I think this novel might have worked had Ms McCullough started from zero and created her own story. I love a 17th, 18th or 19th century potboiler as much as the next reader (Forever Amber or The Crimson Petal and the White come immediately to mind) but taking beloved, naive characters and making monsters of some of them, well, that's unforgivable.

I will dispose of this book as soon as possible. Don't read it. Reread Pride and Prejudice or even The Thorn Birds again. Hell, read the sequel to Gone With the Wind called Scarlett. While also terrible in its own way, it's a masterpiece compared to The Independence Of Miss Mary Bennet.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Only 8 hours left before it's over!

I have watched "Lost" from the beginning.  I told my husband that I originally thought it would be more of a "Gilligan's Island" but dramatic and without the inanity (and yet, Nikki and Paolo, we hardly knew ye, or cared to) of that classic comedy.

Little did I know.

"Guys, where ARE we?" asked Charlie at the end of the first episode and I knew where I was: watching a new television classic.

Answers about the Island mythology are coming and the fates of the characters will be decided.  I am hopeful the end (or rather "The End" as the final episode is titled) will be satisfying but it can't possibly live up to anyone's expectations.

Like most things that come to an end, we cope by resorting to the 5 stages of grief:
  • Denial - "I can't believe 'Lost' is ending!"  "I do not accept that the Island was controlled the entire time by Nikki and Paolo."
  • Anger - "That ending sucks!"  "I'm never watching ABC again!"
  • Bargaining - "If I promise to buy the DVDs, they will give me answers to ALL the questions!"  "C'mon, ABC!  Renew it for another season and I'll start watching all your other shows!"
  • Depression - "It's over; what'll I watch now?"  (Careful or this stage could circle back to Denial!)
  • Acceptance - It might take a while to reach this stage!
The process begins at 11 p.m. on May 23, 2010.

Monday, March 29, 2010

So it begins...

I have been wanting to do this for a while.  But first, a pep talk to myself:

This does not need to be "perfect."  Just write.