shoebox_dw: (pbs zebra reading)

So there really wasn't a whole lot going on at work today, owing to the pre-Christmas lull setting in - that peculiar retail blank spot where all the spring orders are set and all the holiday marketing is in place, and the order entry staff (that'd include yours truly) is sitting around munching leftover Hallowe'en candy and occasionally twirling around in our chairs in an effort to look relevant.

As you can imagine, this all gets old pretty fast, especially the no-name butterscotch drops. Meaning I basically spent the day on the Internet, checking for election updates on (hey, it's not irresponsible if it's a respectable Canadian site, right?) Watching the ebb and flow of comments across the political spectrum started off a train of thought on, of all things, Little Dorrit, and the peculiar nature of Charles Dickens’ genius.

Little Dorrit is one of the most ferociously angry novels in the English language: Portrait of an Author, Mad as Hell and Not Going to Take It Anymore. The formal theme is the myriad ways in which the weighty constructs of society in the mass – government, finance, class systems – work to stifle anything decent and innovative in the individual. But you don’t have to take my word for it; the reader is reminded, explicitly, roughly 95 billion times throughout. Those familiar with the author will understand that I am not exaggerating by much. 

Read more... )
shoebox_dw: (garfield well-informed)
It occurs to me - or rather it was just now shoved up through my subconscious, which is snickering madly at the idea of my setting up as a pop-cult snob - that the cult surrounding Jane Austen is in a lot of ways the hi-brow equivalent of the whole pretty pink tween experience. Granted, there's a lot more snark and a lot fewer ballads, but when you look more closely, what both come down to is the cute.
The bright and sparkly fun and excitement of femininity unleashed. Playing with love, calling yourself empowered without having to deal with the unpleasant consequences. Also, as the clincher...shiny wet semitopless Darcy.

I rather suspect the real Jane would've viewed some of her more dedicated admirers with a distinctly sardonic eye.

That feeling extends to my current reading material, Darcy's Story by Jane Aylmer. I tend to avoid the modern-day 'sequels' as a rule, just because they strike me as so wholly unnecessary, but the idea of Pride & Prejudice rewritten from the perspective of its most interesting character (sorry, Lizzy) was too delicious to resist.
As it turns out, I've really gotta work on my resisting skills. I will start by stiffening my resolve immediately I see the words 'Austen enthusiast' anywhere in the author's bio. Because of course the POV turns out to be that of the Darcy of modern myth, the Colin Firth version, constantly brooding from across the room. Oooh, whatever could he be thinking?

...the trouble being, as anyone who's honestly familiar with the book will realise instanter, that interesting does not automatically = mysterious. Mrs. Bennet-esque blithering on the dustjacket aside, Darcy really isn't that much of an enigma after all; no more his author intended him to be. She named his major motivation in the title, for cripes sake. He summarises them to the midway mark in the big proposal scene, and goes into a two-page speech on the subject at the windup just to ram the point home.

Meanwhile the moderately-alert reader is generally able to make a decent guess as to what's passing through his head at any given moment: He doesn't like Elizabeth. Then he likes her. Then he proposes to her. Then he's obviously struggling to make it up to her...etc, etc.
That's what this book is: that decent guess. There are I'm sure any number of lovely dashing stories that could be told about Darcy, even woven around deep examination of his motives, but that's no more the focus here than it is at any given moment in Zac & Vanessa's (sorry, Troy & Gabriella's) relationship.

So the original plot is reproduced down to big chunks of dialogue, with 'Darcy thought/said  _________' tacked on at the end. This is not, exactly, riotously fascinating. Save for some pleasant domestic scenes that nicely ground all the romantic speechifying at the end, even the most average Austen fan - ie. pretty much the entire target demographic - will probably find their own fantasies on the subject much more involving, not to say fulfilling.
shoebox_dw: (i need a hug)
So I'm having a sick day...actually, more of an "I feel intensely like staying indoors where it's warm, cuddling up in my PJs and indulging myself with hot toast and toffees" day. You know, the kind that tends to hit females once a month or so.

Seriously, I probably should feel guilty about this but I don't in the slightest. I haven't had a really good self-indulgence in ages. Besides which it'll give me a chance to do some more sorting out re: my next writing project - yes, we're back to wangsting about that again, although I've managed to keep it mostly off-blog this time. I just seriously do feel like I'm ready for the next level of literary challenge...and you know where we go from there, right? (No, not more pointless Bob & Ray trivia. Think that particular biographical urge is out of the system for now...although I can't say it'll never strike again.)

In the meanwhile, and in keeping with the general theme of all things cozy and comforting, let's get on with the next installment in the review series: Kidlit.

Read more... )
shoebox_dw: (pbs zebra reading)

So I gave in to an impulse this month and purchased the New! Improved! Bob & Ray Book (c. 1986) as part of my audiobook subscription. And ooh, not gonna do that again. I mean there's not much chance I will do it again, that'd be silly, but just in case I should ever be tempted, no.

Let us just say - as attentive readers are now sighing and waiting for me to say once again - that their performance style depended on a sort of knowing, ad-libbed energy that's entirely missing from a straight reading of collected scripts by two elderly men. Especially given that one of them was mere months away from forced retirement due to lingering illness. You can hear Ray becoming more exhausted (medicated?) as the recording goes on... I think I'm supposed to be cheering for the game old trouper, and I would be, except it's all so bloody sad.


So because I now need cheering up, and because I was pretty impressed with the game old trouper for all that (a sixtysomething man using 'computer software' in the correct context, in 1986, might be the definition of codger cool) let's move on to the next installment in our review series: Humour.

Laffs await under the cut... )
shoebox_dw: (pbs zebra reading)
Question: Why are people who are manifestly dressed to get attention generally so upset when they get it? Specifically, people I pass on the street, wearing leopard-patterned hair or wildly mismatched clothes or tees with snarky sayings or whatever other non-conformist behaviour is the order of the day.

I'm not talking creepy stalkerish behaviour, here. (I should point out that my own dress and grooming makes that abundantly clear.) Just a friendly, open, interested second glance: thanx for giving me something new and different to look at, I appreciate the effort. And for this - aside from the odd and welcome impudent grin - I get confused looks at best and ferocious scowls at worst.

It's enough to make a person throw up her hands and bemoan the decline of Western Civilization...except that doesn't quite feel right, either.


Anyway. So posting those capsule book reviews the other day turned out to be a lot more fun than I'd anticipated; it's been awhile since I wallowed in any new and unique parts of my psyche around here, and it was a curiously refreshing experience. Besides, I'd like to think I have fairly good taste in the general way as well.

As it happens, I've got lots of grist for this particular mill: my very first experiment in online communication - aka inflicting my random opinions on a helpless public - happened on the Chapters/Indigo website. At the time I was working on the special orders/info desks at Toronto's landmark World's Biggest Bookstore, part of the same chain. I would literally browse through the latest releases in the morning, then run upstairs to the Net cafe to write a review at lunch (and sometimes just, ah, slightly into the afternoon shift as well - sorry, Randy and Mike, wherever you are!) In that respect at least, it was a wonderful life.

So...below is the first in a reposted series of short reader reviews I wrote circa least, the decently clever ones.
I've done some close editing/proofing and removed the star ratings, and then organised them by genre as best I could. This week, I thought we'd kick off with a topic that hasn't been covered around here in awhile: History/Biography.

Literary goodies under the cut... )
shoebox_dw: (pbs zebra reading)
Title: Lord Edgeware Dies
No Thinking Please, We're American: Thirteen at Dinner
Publication Date: 1933
Milestones: None to speak of.
Trickiness level: Medium-high

This is Lord Edgeware. And in a very few moments, he will die.
Poirot (David Suchet), A&E TV promo

Right, so conformity or tidiness or something compelled me to start off with the first Poirot novel, but no way I'm going to keep that up for the duration. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd may be one of the most brilliant mystery novels ever, but it's almost exclusively for reasons that it would not at all be cricket to discuss open forum. Besides that, we get into stuff like the justly-obscure Murder on the Links, and there are French maidens with heaving bosoms and Hastings falling in love (that these two concepts aren't simoultaneous should give you some idea of the level of unintentional camp we're dealing with here), and

So, on to the fun stuff. I adore Lord Edgeware Dies, I really do. It's urbane and fast-paced and just generally packed full of all the deliciously over-the-top possibilities of a Roaring-Twenties-themed mystery story, wherein both author and reader can crib directly from Entertainment Weekly - or I suppose it would've been The Tatler back then - without guilt.

Read more... )
shoebox_dw: (peanuts afraid)
[returns from checking Statcounter re: latest entry, looking slightly dazed]

So I guess I really am pretty much alone in this Bob & Ray obsession, huh? People insist on having exciting and interesting lives instead of hanging off my every post, eh?

Well, OK then. I will deal with this in a manner not unreminiscent of the greats of literature; all will become grist for my creative mill...Hey, it's either this or the youngest Shoesis' ongoing love life, a serial in umpty-squillion parts, tickets on sale now at a vaudeville stage near you. The rest of the family keeps urging me to write it up, claiming that it's my ticket to becoming the next Danielle Steel; unfortunately, I'm not yet convinced that even Steel fans would buy into it.

I could also put together a nice little comic setpiece about how Shoemom and I gave up cable this past spring because we were effectively only paying for a few channels...only for the growing realisation to dawn that those channels had a deep-rooted, integral part in our lives. For instance, it's pretty tough to be home sick and not have TreehouseTV for company. (Seriously...I'm not alone in this, right? When you're feeling exhausted and miserable, the soft cheery hum of preschool cartoonage is perfectly pitched to distract and amuse. Right? C'mon, guys? Bueller?)

There was also the thing where Shoemom got all misty-eyed reminiscing about 'sitting down to a cup of coffee and the Weather Network in the morning' but, anyway, long story short. We've decided to allow ourselves to be lured back by deep discounts, also the sheer ridiculous good nature of the twentysomethings who man the services desk at our local Rogers Communications.
These are the same people who charmed us into switching Net providers in their favour not long ago, and they remain just as smart and - the clincher - realistic about their products. This is such a sure ticket to my heart, the demonstration of concern for my needs as opposed to their bottom line, that I am really, really glad more customer service types haven't twigged to the concept. Shoe Central doesn't have that much space available.

...So the point of all this - no, really, go back and check - actually has its roots in the last post but one, in which I mentioned one of my favourite books...come to think of it, I'd been pondering the concept some while before that, back when I was ranting about fandom as a symptom of overexposure.

Read more... )
shoebox_dw: (mythbusters problem) should be pretty obvious by now...I like Mythbusters, the Discovery Channel show. A lot.

As should also be even more obvious, the show has inspired one of the most thorough fandoms in the history of teh interwebz. When the official site gives a link to the Wiki, it's pretty much game over.

Never let it be said, however, that we here @ Shoe Central are daunted by intellectual ubiquity...well, we are, generally, but not in this case. Because we have come up with a bold new angle from which we are reasonably certain the show has never been approached before: We don't care about the science stuff.

Really. This holds true for many aspects of our lives (got any jokes about intelligent design? Keep 'em to yourself). We like to be told about the science stuff, mind; it falls under the general heading of How the World Really Works, aka Huh, Never Would've Thought of That, and this fascinates us in perpetuity regardless of subject. It is in fact a major reason why we are likewise fascinated with history, also why it took us so long to realise that watching Dirty Jobs involved way too many excrement-based professions for comfort.

Read more... )
shoebox_dw: (kermit muppet show)
So I ran the semi-something Google checkup on Kalan Porter this afternoon - why yes, it is kinda boring waiting around for the new processes to kick in gear after the office reorg, however could you tell?

At any rate, there's still no news of fresh music-making; kinda disappointing. Especially in light of the award SOCAN handed him...well, today, actually. Looky that, for a brief (and somehow vaguely disturbing) moment I'm current with the Porterverse once again. In this nostalgic mood, I rejoice to discover that an award is 'really nice because it kind of keeps you going'; way to chat up the leading lights of your industry, there, boyo. What were you planning on doing if this honour didn't pan out, pre-law? Lawn & garden maintenance?

Yeah. Because I was idly fiddling with my iPod just after this discovery - why, yes, the new commute does double as an hourlong Great Industrial Wastelands of Southern Ontario Tour 2008, why do you ask? - anyway, as it turns out Wake Up Living, the CD from whence this honour springs, is still on there, and I was in a heard-everything-else sort of mood, so gave it a relisten. You know, interesting to see what's emerged from the mists of obscuring adoration and all that.

OK, bad idea. Most of it is patently dreadful, of course, in exactly the manner suggested by the quotes in the article - a beautiful voice repeatedly banging up against banal cliches. I am thinking now that they didn't provide the lyrics on the CD liner because they were hoping to cadge a few more months' sales off discreet fudging on lines like 'Before I let this sinking ship go down/And I watch you swim away'.
Mind, with our boy here it doesn't even have to be all that discreet. In fact, it's to his real credit that the thing contains lyrics at all, beyond "Hi there, potential CD purchaser! I'm Kalan, and you really kind of keep me going. Unless you happen to be male of course...I mean, not that there's anything wrong with that idea, it's just that..."

Yeah. I did say 'most'. There is Hurray. There is Try, the still-passable Beatles pastiche, and there is the fragile elegance of Out of My Head, which is based off real emotion and thus always to be respected. Also, over in a different part of reality, there is the amusing Run Run Run, in which our Earnest Young Musician takes a random unexpected holiday from trying so damn hard. Just mucks around in his own earnest young psyche for awhile: 'Do you ever stop to think about lines that run, run, run?/And fall past each other on the edge...'

The thing is, that song is in its way most intelligent thing on the CD - even more so than Hurray - because here the wit is somehow incorporated right into the standard Lite-FM drivel, transmuting the whole into...well, assuming you've listened to one too many Bob & Ray routines and do a nice line in wishful thinking to boot, it sounds an awful lot like subtle satire.

There's still promise there, somewhere. I said once that I'd love to see Kalan follow in the manner of Franz Ferdinand, and got some awfully funny looks - but to me this is where the boy's real talent has always lain, in riding that same razor-fine line between loving homage and sly parody (the snappy-suit thing is a nice bonus).  Awareness without anger...or even much awareness, I suspect. How exactly do you convince somebody to be snarky for their own good?

shoebox_dw: (pbs zebra reading)
Title: The Mysterious Affair At Styles
Duh, We're Americans: No alternate title. Which is kind of surprising; you'd think an edition of The Mysterious Thing That Happened In an English Country House Called Styles, Which is a Habit the English Have, of Naming Their Country Houses would be kicking around somewhere. (No, I'm not a fan of the common publishing practice of retitling overseas imports. If you don't want to think about the title, what business have you reading the book anyway?)
Publication Date: 1920
Yes. In a rare moment of actually being necessary to the plot.
Milestones: First novel Christie ever published; first appearance of Poirot
Trickiness level: Medium

Interesting thing, this concept of 'stock' characters. When you think about it in terms of human nature, how largely static it is to begin with, a certain whiff of off-the-shelf is bound to creep into even the most dedicatedly naturalistic novelist's output. The more I think about the literary process, the more I wonder if real originality may not involve inventing new modes of behaviour so much as finding clever things to do with the existing ones.
Agatha Christie, a novelist if not strictly speaking a purveyor of literature, was clever like that. She knew very well she was using types; and she played their very familiarity for all she was worth, using reader assumptions for and against them with the calm subtlety of real intelligence.

Read more... )
shoebox_dw: (little mermaid)
Photo follies a deux (probably trois or even quatre, by now): I've just got done updating my Photobucket gallery with all my pretty rose pics. It's basically a photographic record of the daydream I walk around in roughly from mid-June to mid July, and I think it turned out rather well all things considered. A lot of the photos were taken on the grounds of the Niagara School of Horticulture (whose lush walking gardens generally I highly recommend) and the butterfly set all come from the Conservatory in those same grounds.


And now, back to our feature presentation...

"When I find myself in a position like this, I ask myself, what would General Motors do? And then I do the opposite!"
--Johnny Case (Cary Grant), Holiday

Individuality - the real thing, the ability to define yourself against the mass of men, rather than with them - is a notoriously flimsy, quixotic concept; like all supremely valuable things, difficult to realise and even harder to hang on to.

This is likely why
Hollywood, aka the place where subtlety goes to die, generally feels the need to swath it round in sunflowers and Doc Martens and private journals and Johnny Depp performances. It's especially noticeable in romantic comedies, which delight in pitting the 'free-spirited' heroine (somehow, it's always the heroine) against the stuffy totalitarian Establishment and watching the sparks fly. Theoretically. The number of heroines in this genre that give audiences cause to wonder if the Establishment might not have a point illustrates another difficulty with the premise.

But even in Hollywood there must be the shining exception; and thus we come round to my beloved Holiday, the least-known of the Katharine Hepburn-Cary Grant-George Cukor collaborations and paradoxically one of - if not the - finest. And I say this as a devoted fan also of The Philadelphia Story and Bringing Up Baby. 

Read more... )
shoebox_dw: (little mermaid)
The Agatha Christie post(s) are still coming. In the meanwhile, though, the current For Better or For Worse storyline - with its shameless insistence that 'always hoping' a married man will eventually hook up with your daughter is OK, because Fate said so - is making me so mad I want to spit. Which is in turn severely hindering my ability to work out the fine points of how to discuss Christie novels without giving away endings wholesale.

So I thought I'd take a break for now and discuss something else of vital importance to the nation: my favourite movies.

My attitude toward the cinema - such a lovely, expressive term, isn't it? - anyway, the relationship is a curious one, at least for your average online blogger. I have no qualifications in re: the discussion of film as an art form, nor a cultural influence. I don't even watch that many, is what I'm saying here. These days I go into the cinematic experience mostly for whatever good time I can't get in books - the big, the beautiful, the lavish visual spectacle...sometimes just the indescribably cool. Hence, my real, sincere appreciation of Transformers: The Movie.

That said, I have a rather more complicated and intimate rapport with certain classic films from the bygone age of - well, elegance, is the first word that comes to mind. Movies made when the pervasive pop-culture assumption was still that audiences wanted to have their intelligence flattered and their literacy rewarded. In the best of American cinema from roughly 1930 through 1950, there is a fluid rhythm to the dialogue that demands responsive thought, an attention to the details that compels not only attention but respect. At least, they get that respect from me.

Thusly we come to the three particular celluloid bits of my heart: Billy Wilder's noir classic Double Indemnity, the unsung Cary Grant-Katherine Hepburn collaboration Holiday, and Gene Kelly's masterpiece, Singin' in the Rain.


To begin with, Double Indemnity. I've noticed, in the course of what serious movie-watching I have done, that there exists a curious sort of perfection in the film mileu that results from being able to manipulate reality so closely. The characters are so perfectly cast, the story so engrossing, the dialogue so sharp and pointed that the movie chimes exactly with the viewer's conception of what should be happening, regardless of how outlandish any of the above actually is.

Read more... )
shoebox_dw: (pbs zebra reading)
The current audiobook is Jane and the Stillroom Maid, one of the series by Stephanie Barron and read by Kate Reading, and it comes highly recommended indeed.

I'm not ordinarily a huge fan of novelists that use real historical figures. Even if the author is skilled enough - which is very skilled indeed - to incorporate fact into fiction without coming off as annoyingly arch, their affection inevitably starts to come off as blatant hero-worship, what I believe is known these days as a Canon Sue. (As happens to Bruce Alexander's Sir John Fielding series after awhile, although the first three or four, before Jeremy becomes fairly convinced that his boss is God or the closest earthly equivalent, are still very readable.)

Barron's Jane Austen pastiches, though, have managed to hold off the pitfalls admirably thus far - given her subject, even extraordinarily. Credit is due to any author who can sketch out a star-crossed romance between Austen and an aristocratic secret agent without giving the reader cause to believe the lady herself would laugh it out of court.

Read more... )
shoebox_dw: (ratatouille remy caught)
I've never been particularly into the Shrek franchise. This is kind of unusual for me in re: clever, hip media; I enjoy a good bandwagon jump as much as the next Net nerd, and have the 25 MST3K videos to prove it. Plus, Eddie Murphy, who as Mushu in Mulan is directly responsible for #2 on my all-time Sidekicks So Good I Bought the Movie list (after Robin Williams in Aladdin) and my sister, who loves the ogre movies, is forever telling me it's the exact same character, like, really, she swears.

Somehow, though, I've been immune to Murphy's equine charms, and everything else about the animation breakthrough of the millennium. Have always felt vaguely perturbed about that...until last night, when we foregathered around the Ratatouille DVD. Ten - no, five - hell, thirty freaking seconds into that movie, and I was not only vindicated in full but sailing along in full revelatory mode.

Read more... )


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