- What’s your favorite dancing scene in a movie?
John Travolta and Uma Thurman dancing to Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” just edges out Gene Kelly’s “Singin’ in the Rain.”
- What’s your favorite chase scene in a movie?
I’m not a fan of chase scenes, but maybe that one in Star Wars with the Millennium Falcon. Don’t ask me which one, ’cause I don’t know it well enough to say. You know the one where they turn sideways to pass through that narrow opening? Or does that describe them all?
- What’s your favorite courtroom scene in a movie?
Joe Pesci’s “grit-eating world” scene in My Cousin Vinny.” That movie is nothing but great courtroom scenes and beautiful Marisa Tomei (who won an Oscar).
- What’s your favorite kissing scene in a movie?
I’m also not much of a fan of kissing in movies. I mean, that should be me kissing that beautiful woman on the screen, not that loser of an actor, right? However, one I find most memorable is the smoking hot scene in To Have and Have Not.
Bogart: Whadja do that for?
Bacall: I was wondering whether I’d like it.
Bogart: What’s the decision?
Bacall: I don’t know yet.
- What’s your favorite scene in a non-musical movie where the characters spontaneously break into song?
It’s not singing, but the whistling scene in The Breakfast Club has to be near the top of the list. Second place: the “Tiny Dancer” scene in Almost Famous. Bonus: has a camera ever loved any actress as much as it loves Kate Hudson in Almost Famous?
A few people have asked where my writing gets published. No, really. I’m trying to keep this space for something else, so I’m putting weekly links to new stuff (such as it exists), plus one or two weekly flashback links, at scrivenr.net. If you want to know what I’m writing about and where it might be perused, put that in your feed aggregator. I’ll occasionally remind readers here of its existence. I haven’t put anything new there yet, because Thursday’s not a good day for it. I’ll try to do it over the weekend.
To Helvetica and Back
by Paige Shelton (2016)
There are twenty-six chapters in Paige Shelton’s To Helvetica and Back. The first twenty-four are pretty darn good; the final two are a crime against the reader and a crime against the genre.
Those first twenty-four have all the makings. Clare is a smart, independent twenty-something woman who runs her grandfather’s shop. She repairs typewriters, restores old books, operates a Gutenberg-style printing press built by her grandfather, and prints custom stationery. She is a protector and restorer of the printed word, the kind of protagonist bibliophiles can’t help liking. Add a teenaged niece who helps in the shop, a snooty cat named Baskerville, a best friend and ex-fiancé who are both cops, and a handsome geologist who makes the best lasagna, and you can cancel your plans for the weekend, because you’ve got some comfy pages to get lost in.
A guy shows up, demands that Clare sell him another customer’s typewriter (an Underwood No. 5, of course), gets angry when she refuses, and sets off a nice string of events including danger to her family, a possibly thwarted new romance, a murder right outside her door, tension with her best friend, and the literal unearthing of long-held secrets. It’s all quite competently put together until the author breaks one of the unforgivable rules of the genre. So egregious is the writer’s transgression that it makes most of the good stuff irrelevant, and erases much of the enjoyment I got from most of the book. Shelton commits a lesser offense in the story’s climax, but I almost didn’t even notice it because her first breaking of the rules is so blatant.
I’ll allow the good stuff in this novel to serve as the background for the next in the series, but it does not make up for a horrible decision in this story.
1 star of 5. I disliked its ending.
In the breakroom at the engineering firm last year, there was this laundry basket where everyone threw bottles and cans. Hawaii has a five-cent deposit on bottles and cans, a fairly recent development I had mixed feelings about when it was in the legislature. A few years ago when I was chaperoning a service project with a bunch of students, we were picking up trash on a particularly litter-strewn stretch of highway near the school where I taught, and while we found the usual assortment of potato-chip bags, discarded clothing, and used prophylactics, what we did not find were bottles and cans. The bottle tax was working, at least in the prevention of that brand of litter.
So I’m mostly okay with it now, although it might need some tweaking. The recyclers aren’t getting enough on the price of aluminum to pay for the manpower it takes to collect the material, so many of the collection points have either shut down or reduced their hours, and we really need to make the returns for deposit as convenient as possible. Most people aren’t getting more than a few bucks for their returns, so there gets to be a point where the effort’s not worth the refund.
The laundry basket filled up really quickly, especially once I was in the office (I was adding three bottles a day). It was stacked much higher than its height, bottles precariously balanced, pyramid-like, above the rim and against the wall. When I asked if the basket was anyone’s responsibility, I learned that sometimes one of the guys would bring his kids in, let them do the dirty work, drive them to the recycling center, and then let his kids split the take. But it clearly wasn’t happening frequently enough. I suggested we offer the cans and bottles to the night clean-up crew, but the Filipino and Micronesian immigrant women who vacuumed the carpets and took out the trash must have been well-paid, because they declined.
I had made it a practice to get outside and go for walks around the block. Sunshine, fresh air, solitude, and a chance to get the blood flowing through my body and brain. It was an important part of my daily experience. One day, when the basket had accomodated its last possible resident, I bagged everything and went for a stroll. Downtown Honolulu has always been a magnet for Oahu’s homeless population, and even a casual observer will tell you that we’ve got a real problem these past few years. In an effort to reclaim some of the neighborhood parks, the city has enacted ordinances making it really, really difficult for homeless people to find somewhere to stay. I admit I’m a bleeding heart for these people, perhaps because I have always felt like I am just a paycheck away from the same situation, or maybe because I have spent so much time in the downtown area, ever since I was twelve and rode the bus from Waipahu to Nuuanu to go to school.
There’s this tiny park right in the heart of the arts district. I know a lot of people who cross the street to avoid walking through it. I took the bag of bottles and cans there, unsure of whom I might approach or what I might say.
In the previous weeks, I had gotten familiar with its residents, and while I wasn’t quite ready to converse with the urine-soaked woman whose enormous hair was effectively one gigantic dreadlock, there was a guy, an older middle-aged man who slept in the doorway of the tattoo parlor every night and cleared the area every morning before taking his spot in the park. He somehow managed always to be in clean clothes (something I’ve since learned is not exactly true), and he only had a few belongings, but among them was always a stack of paperbacks. I wondered if he was only recently homeless.
He was in his usual spot, across the sidewalk from his doorway. I walked right up to him and said, “Hi. I’ve got these bottles I don’t need. Can I give them to you?”
He smiled and said, “Yes, of course. Thank you.”
I got a little nervous when I saw others in the park looking over at us, and I felt kind of bad for singling him out to the exclusion of others. There were others sitting nearby, people he’d been in conversation with as I’d approached. And because I’m an idiot, and because I hadn’t rehearsed this situation (as I had rehearsed “Hi. I’ve got these bottles I don’t need. Can I give them to you?”), before I’d thought about what I was saying, I heard myself in a friendly voice adding, “Share with your friends if you can.”
“We always share here,” he replied. “Thank you so much.”
My breath came in uneven stutters as I turned and went back to the office. By the time I got back to my desk, I was in tears. I had just handed a homeless man three bucks and asked him to share it. What the heck was I thinking? Could a human being be more insensitive to another in the midst of a gesture of kindness? I had to conclude that my motivations must not be compassion, but something else.
I hate how in moments like that, moments that surprise you, you reveal to yourself what’s really going on inside. Although I wasn’t (and am still not) sure exactly what my careless words said about my intentions, I know with certainty that they betrayed something impure.
I’ve since let myself off the hook just a little. I understand now that the man’s gratitude was only partially for the three bucks. There’s something there about being spoken to like a human being, about being acknowledged and conversed with. What I said about sharing? That wasn’t meant (completely) literally, and it hadn’t been taken as the insult I’m sure it was. It had been smalltalk, conversation, connection, even if only for a moment. That’s what “thank you” was for; it wasn’t merely for the three bucks.
I am writing this down so I don’t forget what it felt like (what it still feels like when I think about it) that day at my desk, unable to keep it together as I stared into the chasm of my sinful heart. I have always been one to embrace my darker side, to push at the bruises just to be sure they still hurt, but a wide-open gaze into the blackness is daunting, discouraging, and humiliating. It’s paralyzing to think that a lifetime of trying to do some kind of good has only been a Band-Aid on an enormous, infected wound.
It can be discouraging to the point of inaction, but this is something I’ve prepared for. This is the reason for majoring in literature, for taking a blue highlighter to John 20:28 and wishing I could literaly tattoo it on my heart. If for no other reason, I decided that day at my desk, I had to do this again. Inaction was not going to be my choice, and if another bag of Diet Mountain Dew bottles did nothing truly meaningful for the plight of one homeless Chinatown denizen, it would at least force me again to look into black chasm whose existence I had only said words about.
This story continues.
Books Can Be Deceiving
by Jenn McKinlay (2011)
A cozy mystery series starring a librarian? Yes please.
Lindsey is the new director of the Briar Creek (Connecticut) Public Library, and although there have been a few bumps (a grouchy employee nicknamed The Lemon, and healing from a broken engagement among them), the transition has mostly been great. She’s begun a Crafternoon knitting/book-discussion group, the children’s librarian is her best friend Beth from library school, the board of directors has been completely supportive of her changes, and there’s this handsome boat captain who makes incredible hot cocoa.
When one of the coastal town’s residents is murdered, Beth is the prime suspect. The chief of police is so sure Beth is the culprit that he doesn’t explore other possibilities, so it’s on Lindsey, who knows her friend is innocent, to find the murderer. Her search takes her to wind-swept islands, a retirement home, and an art school, and as she gathers information about the victim, she puts herself and her best friend in danger. Grave danger? Is there any other kind?
The editing is sometimes sloppy (a trend I’m noticing in this genre, particularly in titles from this publisher) and the dialog is often less than gracefully expository. There is only one restaurant in town, for example, and Lindsey hasn’t been there in at least a month, despite the proprietor being a friend (and a member of the Crafternoon group). When she and Beth sit down to dine there, Lindsey tells Beth she’s ordering the lobster roll and then describes it for her, even though Beth has been a resident for much longer. If there’s only one restaurant in town, if the food is so good, and if both characters are friends of the owner, why would Lindsey have to describe anything on the menu for Beth? It’s a silly incongruence, and it’s not the only one.
The story, while well told, is something of a disappointment. It’s a nicely imagined story, but it suffers from bad decisions about the victim and culprit.
It’s not until more than halfway through that the novel really gets moving, beginning with a charming, funny, and endearing encounter at the retirement home. Lindsey’s interactions with a resident, the contrast between her thoughts and conversation, and an intriguing revelation combine to have an at-last-here-we-go effect. It’s a nice, pleasant narrative up to this chapter, and then a headlong rush to the finish line. Pretty fun reading. I really hope Lindsey is sincere in wishing to visit the home again.
It’s worth a read for its second half, and for likable characters and a really good setting. Although Jenn McKinlay’s prose could use some streamlining, she comes up with some pretty nice, lyrical stuff, sentences worth lingering on and reading aloud. Strengths outweigh flaws, so I’m recommending this for fans of (and newcomers to) the genre.
Three of five stars (I like it!).
It’s been a rough couple of months.
Not woe-is-me rough, just what-the-heck-am-I-doing rough, you know? It took some time, but I’ve (mostly!) learned how to sit at my desk at home for stretches of three and four hours, focusing (mostly!) on work. I need a good long break in between those stretches, during which I’ll nap, read, do some chores, and go out for a walk. The loose routine is working for me. I’m pleased (mostly!) with that.
The work has been inconsistent. I’ve been struggling with one particular task for weeks, and then I had a breakthrough last week, but then I feel like I lost it. I just stare at the words for what seems like hours.
That wouldn’t be too bad if I wasn’t also late with it. Since I’m feeling a little stressed about it, I can’t really do other stuff in my life, because everything feels like stealing time from getting work done. So, personal writing has taken a backseat. It’s hard to focus on film reviews or journaling or noveling when that energy and creative space could be applied to the stuff I’ve been paid for but am stalling on. I think I’m going to be okay, but man. It’s been something of an ordeal.
Resolution update: my streak of weeks walking at least 75K steps (about 37.5 miles) remains intact. A couple of weeks ago I just made 75K, and that was my lowest stepcount all year. Most weeks I’m between 80 and 85K. There are days when I feel healthier, actually feel like I might have dropped a pound or two. But then there are others when it doesn’t feel like it’s made any difference at all.
Except the difference in quality fresh air time, which has been great. Just to get outdoors and get moving is good for my spirit. Mostly I listen to podcasts, but sometimes I’ll listen to music or just enjoy the sounds of my environs. I mostly sleep really well now, too. Nothing to take lightly.
I haven’t been tidying up with quite the regularity I intended, but I’m still getting my hands and knees dirty a few times a week. The house is still a disaster, but if you know where to look, you can see glimpses of normalcy. Now I just have to expand those glimpses, spread them like a bad cold. I did finally finish the task on that bag R left me. Turns out the half-consumed brandy (which she used for cooking; she was a wine girl)(and yes, I know brandy is a fortified wine; you know what I mean) is one of those cheap brands you see behind the counter at mom-and-pops stores on the corner. Not pleasant to sip, but useful in some cooking applications.
So, it’s Camp NaNoWriMo this month, and I wasn’t going to do it, but after some discussion with my writing partner, I decided to put the current work-in-progress on hold while I finish reading this plot-fixing book, and direct my noveling energies toward a new project. It hasn’t turned out quite as whimsical, silly, or fun as I envisioned (I’m about 2,000 words in), so I’m tempted to blow the whole thing up and start again, despite that going against the spirit of NaNo.
I actually sent my writing partner some sample sentences via text message when I first had the idea, and the stuff I tapped out that night is much better than the stuff I’m looking at right now. Maybe I should just start from there.
The Megadeth concert was cancelled three days before the scheduled first show. I really needed the refund on the ticket, so I wasn’t heartbroken, but of course it was a disappointment. I feel terrible for the people from other islands who booked flights and hotels to see their favorite band. They get refunds on the tickets (minus those fricking service fees, which I didn’t pay because I picked mine up at the venue), but they can’t back out of hotel or airline reservations. I sincerely hope the guys in the band are okay, and that this was just (as they claimed) a scheduling conflict, but I also understand the wave of F-YOU DAVE messages on the band’s FB page. I totally get it.
You know that Kindle Paperwhite I sorta put on the shelf once I got the iPad? It’s back in action. That thing fits in the front pocket of my shorts, which means I can carry my reading during my long walks. If I stop for a rest somewhere, I can sip water from my (off-brand but still pretty good) water flask and spend some quality book time. It really is a great little device, and I’m glad I’ve got it as an option.
Currently reading a book I read in college, Good Enough to Dream by Roger Kahn. Kahn is the author of one of the canonical baseball books, The Boys of Summer, one of those books that romanticizes the game with lyrical prose of the sort no sports writers employ anymore. I still haven’t read that one, but this one is as good as I remember. I always meant to give it another look (it’s been in my top ten baseball books list for ages), so I purchased the ebook on impulse two Christmases ago, and am finally getting to it now.
Writing this was good for me. As good for my mind as my nightly walks. Must make it more of a priority.
When the Washington Nationals arrive at their hotel in St. Louis for a weekend series against the Cardinals, their luggage is waiting for them in their rooms. In a few hours, they’ll step back onto the chartered buses and into the visitors’ clubhouse at the stadium, where their personal equipment and freshly laundered uniforms will be waiting for them, each player’s belongings in his assigned locker. In order to allow the players to focus on their jobs as baseball players, the team ensures that they don’t have to worry about the logistics of luggage, transportation, dining, or entertainment, and it is Rob MacDonald’s job to make it happen. MacDonald is the Nationals’ Vice President of Clubhouse Operations and Team Travel, and he is one of 1,100 employees, not counting the players themselves, who endure The Grind of the 162-game baseball season.
The 2014 Washington Nationals finished the season with the National League’s best record, but lost their first playoff series to the San Francisco Giants. It had been a long season, but even the most avid fan had only the faintest idea of how truly long it was. In The Grind, Washington Post reporter Barry Svrluga chronicles the season, beginning with spring training in February, and passing through Opening Day in March, the dog days of late summer, the playoffs in October, and the winter off-season, concluding with the the first moments of the next cycle, the team’s preparations for spring training in 2015.
Svrluga devotes a chapter each to nine different perspectives of the season: Ryan Zimmerman, beginning his tenth season in the Majors, is featured in a chapter called “The Veteran.” Tyler Moore, a promising but no-longer-young power hitter is the focus of “The Twenty-Sixth Man” (baseball rosters are limited to twenty-five players). Chelsey Desmond, wife of shortstop Ian Desmond, is profiled with her young children in “The Wife.” And Rob MacDonald’s chapter is called “The Glue.” A chapter each on a starting pitcher, a reliever, a scout, the general manager, and the off-season, when players go home but the team’s management is working as hard as ever, bring the total of fascinating stories to nine, because of course. Because nine is baseball’s perfect number, the number of completion.
“If the major league life brings a grinding rhythm that wears on the hearts and minds and bodies of even star players,” writes Svrluga, “at least it comes with charter flights and checks with all those zeroes. In the minors, the everydayness is the same. The payoff is not.” Fans are accustomed to one very specific view of what goes on during the baseball season, but here are nine, each with a different approach to its rhythms and flows, each compelling, sympathetic, glorious, and heartbreaking. They are all terrific, but especially memorable are the chapters on Moore and MacDonald, two behind-the-scenes glimpses not well-known by the baseball fan.
No sport lends itself to great storytelling quite the way baseball does, and Svrluga nails the story of the season from beginning to end, giving us nine stories that contribute to the saga. I’ve read more baseball books than most people, and this was immediately a favorite before I got through the first chapter. It is an excellent and worthy addition to the top shelf of any fan’s library.
I first read E. B. White‘s Charlotte’s Web three times through in semi-rapid succession when I was in third or fourth grade, after I’d seen the animated movie with its stupid dancing geese and wonderful Paul-Lynde-voiced Templeton. This means that the novel’s images and voices were colored insistently by my first from-TV experience with them, and while it was okay at first, as I got older and realized how bad the cartoon adaptation is, my memory of the novel was lowered enough that, while I never stopped loving it, I was in no hurry to read it again.
Then, in 2006, Julia Roberts starred as the voice of Charlotte in a live-action adaption of the novel, with Beau Bridges wonderfully playing Dr. Dorian, Steve Buscemi as Templteton’s voice, Dakota Fanning as Fern, and a crazy-good group of actors (among them Oprah Winfrey, Thomas Haden Church, Robert Redford, Kathy Bates, and John Cleese) filling the rest of the roles. This new interpretation is no Casablanca, but it’s good enough to shove the memory of the original film out of my mind, and read the novel with (mostly) fresh brain space, so that each incarnation is its own thing: old movie, new movie, novel.
And bless them all for saving the novel, because it is wistful and sad, as we all remember, but it is also lyrical, profound, lonely, sometimes overwrought, and beautiful, and it is never — not for one moment in any sentence — condescending to children. If it is condescending at all, it is to grownups who worry too much about the runaway imaginations of their children, and who seldom take time to hear the crickets’ song, or to witness how other creatures respond to it.
An ancient belief about children’s literature held that it should be an instructive, good-for-you thing that shapes morals and builds character, but White understands who really needs the instruction, and he reminds the grownup who may read this aloud to an audience of little ones that “The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last forever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year—the days when summer is changing into fall—the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change.”
If you never read Charlotte’s Web when you were a child, it’s too late for you to experience it the way it was meant, but read it now and experience it another way, and make sure you’ve got a tissue or two.
Misty Williams owns a tea café in an artsy coastal town, many of whose residents make their living on sales of their paintings and sculptures. There is only one gallery in town, and it’s owned by a grouchy, demanding woman named Hilary Short, the sort of woman who makes Misty remake her tea three times before she’s satisfied with its temperature. She’s already the least popular person in town; now that she’s increasing the gallery’s percentage on art sales, there are many who wouldn’t mind seeing her die, as some of Misty’s regulars do when she drops dead after a taste of her order. Misty takes it upon herself to figure out where the poison that kills Hilary came from.
The Art and Craft of Murder is a seven-chapter, forty-eight page, direct-to-ebook cozy mystery by someone who calls herself Cozy Cat Parker. Her author page at the publisher’s website doesn’t say anything meaningful or interesting, and the full title of the novella as it’s listed in ebook stores reeks of obnoxious search engine optimization. I don’t want to insinuate that self-published ebooks are usually amateurish, but so rinky-dinky does this operation appear that the summary of this title on Amazon calls the murder victim “Hilary Small.” I was certain this short work would be sloppily edited, with mediocre writing at best and no discernible characters. I was kind of wrong. The editing is sloppy, and the writer frequently uses four words where one will do, as with this sentence:
Because as much as there are those of us who’s blood begins to boil at the very thought of Hilary Short, she also has her fan club too.
There are at least three things wrong with this sentence (“who’s,” “also…too,” and wordiness that sounds like the writing of a high-schooler), but even through this, Parker (whoever he or she is) has a decent voice with a fair sense of the flow of language, and her main character is surprisingly likeable. There’s no room in forty-eight pages for much development of secondary characters, or any of the colorful details that make cozy mysteries especially enjoyable, so things stick tightly to the mystery itself, but there’s a time and a place for a quick mystery you can knock off in one lazy evening, and that’s what I did, and there are worse ways to spend Saturday night. This title is free on Amazon, so I certainly got my money’s worth, and I can see myself spending the ninety-nine cents to three dollars listed for the others in this series, given the right weekend weather.
A Clue for the Puzzle Lady
by Parnell Hall (2000)
The murdered body of an unknown girl is found in a cemetery in the middle of the night. She holds a slip of paper on which is written what appears to be a crossword puzzle clue, so police chief Dale Harper brings it to Cora Felton, a newcomer to Bakerhaven (Connecticut) who publishes a national newspaper column called The Puzzle Lady. Cora is a fall-down drunk with a nose for a mystery, and soon Dale, Cora, and the Puzzle Lady’s niece Sherry Carter are in pursuit of a killer who seems to be toying with them, who doesn’t stop at just one victim. An aggressive newspaper reporter with something to prove, pushy TV camera crews, a teenaged girl with a theory of her own, a violent ex-boyfriend, and a community not so far impressed with the police chief’s work race toward either uncovering the murderer or getting away with it.
In pleasantly short chapters with shifting third-person points of view, Parnell Hall creates an engaging, difficult-to-put-down story with well-defined characters in a story that’s easy to follow but difficult to predict. I’ve been on a bit of a cozy mystery bender lately, and while the genre tends toward a certain sameness (which I am not a complaining about), here is one that stands out stylistically, taking a noticeably different path to its end. While certain linguistic tics take some getting used to (there are a couple of sentence structures that drove me crazy until midway through), A Clue for the Puzzle Lady is the first novel in the genre that had me wishing I could dive immediately into the rest of the series. Although an appreciation for crossword puzzles isn’t necessary for thorough enjoyment, puzzle devotees will find an extra layer of involvement, a kind of challenge within the whodunit challenge that’s extra-engaging. And a lot fun. Highly recommended for mystery lovers.
4 of 5 stars (I really liked it).