It's about ten o'clock, and we're just back from dinner. About twenty of us went to the Cottage Inn, which is the local place for deep dish Sicilian pizza (along with many, many other things). It was great, although they don't seem to understand the notion of a "personal pizza". The smallest hand-tossed pizza was 12", and the deep dish pizza comes in two sizes: half-tray and full-tray. I ordered a half-tray pizza, and it was approximately three times as much as I needed. I figure some of the rest of it is breakfast for tomorrow, which will make a nice change from Frosted Flakes. (They serve breakfast here, but it doesn't amount to much.)
I will say three things in favor of this hotel, though. When I asked for another pillow, they had it to my room in five minutes; when I woke up with a headache (which was not the pillow's fault, so far as I can tell) and went to the front desk to ask where I could get some Tylenol, they gave me some; and all of the staff have invariably been both cheerful and friendly. This makes up for some of the maintenance problems, like the lamp that doesn't work and the clock radio whose volume control is stuck on Way Too Loud. According to Clif Flynt, the previous owners ran the place into the ground, and the new owners are trying to bring it back.
It's still a genuinely weird place, though. Apparently it used to be a rather non-descript L-shaped motel with outside doors on the first and second floors--the kind of place where you park just outside your room. They've since enclosed it; the space on the inner angle of the L is now the atrium, and the outdoor pool is now the indoor pool. On top of that, they replaced the front wall of each room with a plate glass window, just the thing for transmitting sound into the room. And since there is no sheer curtain, only a black-out curtain, most people leave the curtains drawn all the time anyway.
As for the conference, it's going nicely. I went to two tutorials today, one on Starkits (which I use to deliver my Notebook application) and one on a nifty database called Metakit, both given excellently well by Steve Landers, a Tcler who hails from Perth, Australia. I already knew a little about both topics, and the tutorials filled in the gaps nicely.
Tomorrow the technical sessions begin, and on Friday morning I present my paper.
Good news--they finally got the network squared away so that it's working satisfactorily. It's slow, but no slower than my dial-up at home. So things are looking up.
I had another pleasant evening with Ian last night, though we didn't stay out nearly as late. He admonished me for referring to him as a gentleman and a scholar, and I humbly apologize. He's really a cheap gunsel with a line of patter so gaudy it ought to be on sale at K-Mart who somehow manages to do a good imitation a gentleman and a scholar. Don't tell anybody.
I'm here in Ann Arbor at the 10th Tcl/Tk Conference, held at the Best Western Executive Plaza on Jackson Road, which is, by coincidence, just across the street from the nicest hotel in town. Or so Ian Hamet tells me. Ian and I had a fine time yesterday evening; not only did he buy me a nice Italian dinner, he gave me an inscribed copy of Nevil Shute's book "Pied Piper" for my birthday. (Inscribed by Ian, that is, not by Nevil Shute.) There was much discussion of books and movies on into the night. He's a gentleman and a scholar, and I hope to buy him a drink this evening.
I'm sitting in the atrium of the hotel as I write. We've cobbled together a rather hit-or-miss wireless network; when the conference organizers lined up this hotel, there were plans to install high-speed internet through out. The hotel's top management subsequently decided that no such thing was necessary, and so we're making do with a net connection that's too bizarre for words. Consequently, blogging and (especially) e-mail might be much lighter than I'd hoped over this week.
They've come up with a different bizarre network solution which I'll try tomorrow; with luck it will work better.
Today was the first day of the Tcl/Tk conference, and as usual consisted of "tutorials", that is, half-day classes on topics of interest. I attended two: "Enough Expect to be Dangerous", and "Advanced Tcl". The former, taught by Ken Jones, was quite good. Expect is a tool that you can use to automate terminal dialogues, and it's much more interesting than it sounds. For example, I'll be able to use it to download data to my website automatically--very, very cool.
The second tutorial was taught by Clif Flynt, the conference organizer, and was also good, except that it wasn't as advanced as I had hoped. Or I'm more advanced than I'd realized, which I'm beginning to think might actually be the case. At least, Clif was very pleased when he managed to come up with a small fact I wasn't already aware of: variables initialized in a namespace at file scope are in fact standard global variables rather than namespace variables unless previously declared using the variable command. I had not known that. As my friend Pat Olguin says, I can go from Zero to Geek in five seconds.
After the second tutorial, a large group of us walked down the road to a shopping center, where we found sustenance at a Tex-Mex place called Rio Bravo. It's a chain here in Michigan, and one I'd never heard of before. As we approached, though, I saw the slogan "Fresh Mex" painted on the wall by the door, and a certain suspicion arose in my mind. Yup--it's just Chevy's with a different name--and somewhat less heat. I ended up sitting with Michael Cleverly and Steve Landers, two folks I'd met at the last conference, and a good time was had by all.
Tomorrow there are two more tutorials, one on MetaKit database programming and one on the Starkit application packaging solution, which are also more interesting than they sound. I'm particularly looking forward to the Metakit class; the principle Tcl interface to MetaKit these days is called "oomk" for "object-oriented MetaKit"--and it's written using my own Snit object framework. I'm agog--these guys have taken Snit places I'd never imagined.
Anyway, that's enough for tonight.
...begins with a blog post announcing that it's about to happen.
Tomorrow morning, bright and early, I'm getting on a plane to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I'll be attending the 10th Tcl/Tk Conference with a large quantity of similarly minded Tcl nerds. I expect to be online regularly throughout the conference, as there will be a wireless net set up in the conference center (way cool), so don't look for any major interruption of service.
There may well not be any posts tomorrow, however, as I'll be travelling most of the day, and in the evening I'll be meeting a certain Banana Oil salesman for festivities as yet to be determined.
Oh, and the big news, just for you folks who've read this far...tomorrow is my 40th birthday. Yes, as of tomorrow I will officially be out of warranty.
I dug these two out of the "take to the used bookstore" box after discovering that, yes indeedy, I do enjoy her mysteries. That was before I trotted myself down to the Large Chain Bookstore, unfortunately placed just down the road from where I work, to buy 6 more. I'm sure they are all at the library but, gosh, we are going on vacation in a couple weeks and if I got them now and didnít read them right away there are those nasty, nasty fines and we donít want that, now do we? Much cheaper just to buy the books right up front.
Died in the Wool takes place first of these two. Detective Alleyn is in New Zealand during the war searching for spies or "fifth columnists" as they are called in the book. He is called in by the nephew of a deceased woman MP there to investigate her death. Seems she was smothered and then packed into a bale of raw wool at her wool ranch in the backwaters. They didnít find her til weeks later when someone noticed a wonky smell in the wool warehouse and makes the mistake of cutting open the bale to look for the dead rat they think is in it. It was the bale hook going in and coming out with goo on it that did me in. Eeuuw!
Now the house is in the possession of her nephew, her husband has since died of heart disease and the people who live there all agree to tell their side of the story. Oh, and the nephew and another nephew, both injured in the war, are working on a top secret magnetic fuse for missiles to use against the Germans. The secretary has stayed on as a gardener. Her ward is still there. The butler, who seems to be the top candidate since he was recommended before the war by a Japanese gentlemen, is still there. And it again wool shearing time so all the itinerant workmen are back on the ranch. Detective Alleyn must listen to all their stories, find the motive and figure it all out. And one of them is likely a spy.
A Clutch of Constables takes place while Alleyn is off in the States investigating an international art forgery ring. His wife, Troy, whimsically decides to take a riverboat cruise of a twisty turny river in England after a big show of her paintings. She hopes to do it anonymously. The passenger list is the usual assortment of odd eccentrics including a lepidopterist, a preacher from Australia, an American brother and sister with loads of camera equipment and an annoying nosey woman who had discovered journaling and writes down everything. Troy discovers that the passenger whose place she has filled was found murdered in his flat in London, there is some weird stuff happening on board and then, the annoying journal writer disappears. Fortunately, Detective Alleyn returns just in time to figure out the whole mess and save his wife.
Both of these were light and entertaining. What I like about Marsh's mysteries is that she gives all the clues plus a few extras to trip you up. They are wonderfully complicated without being difficult to read. I didnít figure out whodunnit in either of them until the end. And Detective Alleyn is growing on meósort of the tall silent type.
I just received an interesting piece of e-mail imploring me to join in a nationwide boycott of Border's Books and Music stores. The offense? It seems that a singer named Julia Rose was performing at a Border's store in Fredericksburg, Virginia last night. Between songs, Rose, who is a body builder, made a joke about President Bush, accusing him of having "chicken legs". According to the e-mail, which included a clipping from a local paper, that was the extent of her political commentary.
Apparently some of the Border's patrons in the audience were offended, and complained to the store's manager, who responded by banning Rose from any additional performances in the Fredericksburg store (several more were scheduled). Note that the ban applies to that store only; she can still perform at the several other Border's stores in the vicinity.
My correspondant wishes me to call Borders' corporate number, and also the manager of the Border's in Fredericksburg, and tell them that I will be boycotting the Border's chain until this ban is lifted. She assures me that all the Democrats in that part of the state (I assume that's what she meant; she called them "DEMs") were joining in.
And I have to ask...what's she smoking?
Q: Why does Border's have musicians come and perform?
A: To attract customers.
Q: Why did the manager in question ban Julia Rose from future performances?
A: Because Julia Rose offended some of her customers.
If you think it was a bad decision, correspondent mine, then by all means contact the manager and ask her to reconsider. She's in the business of pleasing her customers, and if it's clear that most of her customers think the ban is inappropriate she'll likely change her mind. If you're polite, that is. But boycott the entire chain because a not particularly outrageous decision by one manager? That's just plain silly.
If this is representative of the DEMs these days, then they badly need to acquire a sense of proportion.
I've just posted Chapters 20 and 21 of my novel Through Darkest Zymurgia! For those who were wondering, we're now halfway through.
It's immodest of me to say this, but...
I wrote all this four or five years ago, and I haven't really looked at it since. While I remember the overall story perfectly well, I've forgotten lots of the details, and I've certainly forgotten almost all of the actual prose. So as I re-read it, which I'm doing as I post the new chapters, two chapters every week, it's almost as though I'm reading someone else's work.
And I have to say, it's surprising how much I'm enjoying it. It's really pretty good!
When Katherine Hepburn died recently, I browsed the library stacks for the movie "A Lion In Winter." I hadn't seen it in years and the kids and husband had never seen it so it seemed a good choice for our traditional Sunday night movie and popcorn. Of course, all the way thru the movie they are asking me questions about who's who and why is she shut up in the castle etc etc. While I have a sketchy, at best, grasp of the history of the period, the whole thing piqued my curiosity to know more. Clearly if Hepburn's role was any indication, Eleanor was an interesting woman. And I just happened to have this book on my shelf from last Christmas so I got it out and started in.
Eleanor was indeed a very interesting woman, though Hepburn's role is romanticized and modernized to make her more palatable to the public. Henry II was too. What struck me most is how little is really known about her. Weir makes very clear what is known fact and what is supposition in her biography and where sources give no information about Eleanor, she fills in the gaps with what is known about Henry II. And Weir kindly includes a map contemporary to the times making some of the geography much clearer. France then was a small state surrounding Paris, powerful yes, but geographically miniscule compared to what Henry II and Eleanor ruled over jointly. And we must remember that no one was speaking English in England except the peasants. French and more specifically, a dialect of Provencal, was the language of court and the aristocracy.
The biography itself is easily read and understood. She gives the reader a general understanding of what life was like for a young woman of good birth, how girls were raised, what choices they had and didnít have and what levels of education they were given. She reminds us continually the role the Church plays in the ruling of nations and of the importance of alliances by marriage. And then she goes on to show how Eleanor breaks just about every rule there is. She is taught to read, though not to write since writing is the occupation of scribes. She marries Louis, King of France and takes up the Cross with him on a Crusade, scandalizing everyone. While there, she has a scandalous affair with her uncle and eventually annuls her marriage after her return on the grounds of consanguinity. She turns around and marries the King of England without consulting her former husband who is her guardian or the Church.. She gives him sons who eventually become Richard The Lion Hearted, and King John. Henry, unfortunately, is a bit of a bounder and they have a falling out. She sides with her sons against Henry in what is essentially a failed hostile takeover and he shuts her up in a castle for years. And that's the first two thirds of the book. Eventually, she enters a convent as a guest and dies at the age of 82.
She was an amazing woman. We have no representation of what she looked like aside form her effigy on her tomb and some dubious statuary and paintings. The only surviving artifact from her life is a crystal vase she gave Henry as a gift. Most of the castles she lived in are in ruins. And yet, she still inspires biographies, movies and novels. I was utterly enchanted by her.
This is the first book in a new series, "The Corean Chronicles". It's about a young man with extraordinary powers he slow learns to use. Once he does, he finds himself in a position to destroy a serious evil; moreover, no one else is likely to be able to do it. In the meantime he grows up and becomes quite remarkably talented at the trade which is thrust upon him.
Oh, and he falls in love too.
Put that way, this sounds rather like The Magic of Recluce, doesn't it? The magical underpinnings and history of our hero's world are entirely different (which is refreshing), as is our hero's trade; instead of being a woodworker, he's a sheep herder (which is trickier than it sounds) and an amazingly lethal soldier.
In fact, the bulk of this book is really just military fiction. If you like reading about advances and retreats and strategy and tactics at the level of a cavalry trooper, it's not bad. But it's a long slow book, and things really only pick up toward the end.
I dunno. The book's well-crafted, certainly; it was long and slow, but it wasn't--quite--tedious. But it's maybe a chest of drawers where I was looking for something more like a grand piano.
I'll most likely read the next book in the series.
I've been reading this to David at bedtime over the last month or so, and we finally finished. David's familiar with the story, having seen the movie any number of times, though there were still a few surprises.
There's no point in my reviewing this book in the usual way, as pretty much everyone has already formed an opinion about it. I do have a couple of comments.
The first is, the book reads aloud tolerably well. It's not outstanding as a read-aloud--the prose doesn't flow trippingly and effortlessly from the tongue--but it flows pretty well, nevertheless, with only the occasional clunky bit. I've read books that are much, much harder to read aloud. (Some of them, ironically, are intended for kids who are learning to read. There's something wrong with that.)
But there's something I noticed this time around. (This is a spoiler, for anyone who doesn't know how it ends. Uh huh.)
Dumbledore has hidden the Sorceror's Stone using the Mirror of Erised in such a way that only someone who wants the Stone but does not want to use can get it. Thus, Quirrel/Voldemort sees himself using the stone, but cannot get it. Harry, on the other hand, has no problem.
So...that means that the Stone would have been perfectly safe if Harry had simply left well enough alone and gone to bed instead of braving Fluffy and the other horrors in an attempt to save it from Voldemort's hands. Dumbledore was already on his way back to Hogwarts at the time Harry faced down Quirrel; if Harry hadn't been there, Dumbledore likely would have caught Quirrel in the act and would have dealt with Voldemort, perhaps permanently.
In fact, Harry's presence made it more likely, rather than less, that Voldemort would succeed.
I'll grant you that getting past all of the obstacles took great courage and skill. Not everyone at Hogwarts could have done it. But just how was it anything but colossally stupid?
I also love reading View from the Foothills, Will and Jane Duquette's blog, which day after day demonstrates that sunny spirits and brains don't have to be strangers.
Which is quite frankly one of the nicest compliments I've ever received.
I'd like to return the favor by commending 2 Blowhards to you, if you're not familiar with them already. (Hah! As though that's likely.) Michael and Friedrich have wide and varied interests, and even though I don't share all of them I always find something interesting every day or so that I wouldn't have seen otherwise.
They simply have the most friendly, least snobbish, most encompassing culture blog I've yet run across. And the amazing thing is, that extends to their comments section as well. Despite the name, there's an amazing humility to the Blowhards--they really want to know what we think.
It's not home, but it's a wonderful place to visit.
The Los Angeles Times Calendar section had an article today about the current exhibits at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). The most interesting, apparently, was this little guy:
"Charlie"'s a remote-controlled little boy robot on a tricycle, and he rolls around the museum's galleries and sneaks up behind people. The Times describes him as "spreading sweet joy". He was commissioned by MOCA.
Now, I'll be the first to admit that this is amusing, but it's also a little creepy. I begin to have a suspicion that neither the folks who run MOCA nor the people the who visit MOCA are used to having real little kids underfoot--and have no idea how much real sweet joy a real kid can be.
This is yet another Wodehouse whose acquaintance I'd not yet had the pleasure of making. It is, of course, a complete hoot. It's a variation of the Wodehouse staple "imposter at the country house" theme, but in this book he takes it higher, wider, and more plentiful than I believe I've ever seen him do before. Almost everybody in the book is somebody else; at one point, I think there are three or four distinct but overlapping sets of people, all of whom know about three or four distinct sets of imposters. I'm not sure I counted that quite right, mind you; it's all rather dizzying.
Anyway, you should read it.
This is the third of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, and if it seemed just a tad lighter weight than its predecessors, and perhaps just a smidgen more calculating, well, it was still a pleasant evening's read. I'll buy the fourth book when it comes out in paperback.
I just got a little postcard in the mail, congratulating me on...well, judge for yourself:
Congratulations! Our records show that 2004 is the important 10th Anniversary of William H. Duquette. Don't miss this valuable opportunity to benefit from your 10th Anniversary this coming year.
On the other side, it says,
The 4 most powerful words you can say about William H. Duquette are "Ten Years of Experience."
May I be the first to congratulate you on the upcoming 10th Anniversary of William H. Duquette in 2004. It's an accomplishment you should be very proud of--but it's more than that. Your company's 10 years of experience is exactly what people look for when they're deciding whether to do business with you or not. That's why it's important for you to announce your success with the elegance and style of embossed foil Anniversary Seals like the sample shown below.
That's right, they want to sell me some stickers for the 10th Anniversary of ME!
Just for the record, this website has been around for just five-and-a-half years, since the last few days of 1996.
As for me personally, let's just say that in a few days these fine folks will be off by a factor of four.
This is a novel of things going from bad to very, very much worse. It's a novel of politics, and battles and intrigue, of honor and dishonor, of heroes and of truly nasty people. It's an epic fantasy, and it makes David Farland's The Runelords look like a cheap comic book.
To tell the truth, I don't entirely like this book; reading it is rather like watching a car crash in slow motion. I knew that before I started, though, as this was my third time through it. Why did I read it again, if I dislike it so much? Because it's the first book in a series, and I want to see how the story ends. Because the writing is clear, the plotting is detailed, complex, and flawless, the conception is vast but not sketchy, and the characters are well-drawn and fascinating. I dislike it not because the writing is bad, for it is not, nor because I dislike that characters, for I do not, nor because it is a bad story, because it is not, but simply because awful things happen to characters I like, and it's clear that things are going to continue to get worse before they get better.
I should add that the pain isn't gratuitous. Some authors (notably Katherine Kurtz in her later books) seem to take a sadistic pleasure in denying their characters happy endings. Horrible things happen simply because they can. Nothing ever goes right; everything always goes wrong, in the worst possible way. Here, all the troubles--the divisions, the intrigues, the betrayals, the deaths--make sense and follow logically from the backstory. It's a bad situation; I didn't feel like Martin was making them worse than he had too.
The political set up is complex. Three hundred years before the tale begins, the land in which it takes place was divided into seven kingdoms. Then came Aegon Tragaryen and his men from across the sea. Aegon was called the "dragonknight", and with good reason; he brought with him three large, ferocious, and fire-breathing dragons. There was some kind of unique bond between the Tragaryen line and the dragons, for the dragons would do Aegon's bidding. After a fair amount of fighting, Aegon was crowned King over all of the seven kingdoms.
Aegon's line ruled for almost three-hundred years. The dragons and their young were held in honor, but at last, some hundred years before the story begins, the last dragon died. The Tragaryen line wasn't doing well either, for all of this time the kings had been marrying their sisters to keep the royal blood pure. The last Tragaryen king, Aerys II, was a bloodthirsty madman, and half the realm rose against him.
The rebels were led by Robert Baratheon, and his foster-brother Eddard Stark, heir to Winterfell. In past times, before the coming of the Tragaryens, Winterfell had been the seat of the Kings of the North, and Eddard was the heir of that line. The rebels were victorious, Aerys II was killed, and Robert Baratheon took the throne. Robert had been engaged to Eddard Stark's sister Lyanna, but Lyanna had been raped by the son of King Aerys; this was casus belli. Lyanna died of her wounds. The King must needs marry, and he married Cersei Lannister, daughter of Lord Tywin Lannister of Casterly Rock. Like Eddard Stark, Tywin was the heir of one of the original seven kingdoms. The Lannisters had played it cool during the civil war, coming to the support of Robert Baratheon only when it was clear that he was going to win; indeed, there were signs that Tywin's son Jaime Lannister would have taken the throne for himself if things had gone just a little differently. Instead, Robert settled in to reign in King's Landing in the south, and Eddard Stark returned to Winterfell in the north.
Fifteen years have passed, and the realm is (though none realize it) deeply troubled. Robert is an impatient man, and a bad king. He prefers tournaments and boar hunts to ruling, and the Lannisters have taken advantage of this to take over as many of the royal offices as they can.
So the situation stands when Robert comes north to ask Eddard to be his Hand, that is, his chancellor, the one who speaks with the king's voice. Eddard agrees only because the previous Hand, his foster-father Jon Lord of Arryn, was likely murdered by the Lannisters. He goes to find out what happened, and to bring the murderer to justice.
That's the short version of the back story. It's the characters who keep me reading:
First, there's Eddard Stark himself. He's an honorable man, a skillful commander, a wise ruler, but he is lord of a rural domain far from the intrigues of the capitol. He is insufficiently sneaky for the task that is thrust upon him.
Eddard's oldest son Robb is but fifteen years of age, and much like his father. He must rule over Winterfell in his father's absence, and rise up to the challenges that will seek him out.
Eddard's older daughter Sansa is a perfect lady, a romantic, and a fool. Fools learn from experience, and she gets plenty. Will she learn from it?
Eddard's younger daughter Arya is a tomboy, and well acquainted with all of the folk of her father's castle, high and low. She's tough, courageous, and no fool, and it's a darned good thing.
Eddard's son Bran is injured in a fall, and loses the use of his legs. My suspicion is that he'll turn out to be the bravest of all the Starks.
Eddard also has a bastard son named Jon Snow, who is about the same age as Robb. Jon was raised with the others, but cannot inherit. No one knows who his mother is; Eddard stifles all rumors with anger and finality. As the realm begins to crumble, Jon is sent north to join the Brothers of the Night's Watch at the Wall of ice that separates the lands of men from the frozen north. And it becomes clear long before the end of the book that battles over the throne are mere squabbles, and that the real conflict will be here at the Wall. Here, and only here, is there any hint so far of supernatural evil.
Tyrion Lannister is the second son of Tywin of Casterly Rock. Further, he's a foul-mouthed, cynical, sarcastic dwarf. He's also become my favorite character in the whole book. He's not a nice guy (he's a Lannister, after all) but his choices are limited. Unlike his father, he is capable of kindness, if of a piercing, sarcastic variety. He's smart, and capable of taking care of hiimself. He's good at making the best of a bad lot. My suspicion is that he's going to be the next Lord of Casterly Rock, and that the Starks are going to have to make peace with him if anyone is going to survive in the long run.
And then there are the two jokers in the deck. Stannis Baratheon is King Robert's younger brother. Throughout this book he is notable in his absence; he hovers, never present, but looming dimly just over the horizon. And there is Daenerys Tragaryen, daughter of Mad King Aerys, who barely escaped death at the hands of Robert and his men and has been living a wandering, threadbare life with her brother Viserys in a land over the seas from her father's realm. Will the dragons fly again?
This should say something about the book--it's taken me pages just to give the smallest idea of what it's about. There are, at present, two sequels, one of which I've read previously, and one of which I haven't; I'll be getting to this over the next few weeks.
But not immediately.
If I were going to give this review a title it would be "Eating Crow and Liking It!" I have previously given a Ngaio Marsh mystery a pretty tepid review and was gently chided by Will. Since I have been reading Will's reviews for a couple years and comparing notes on the books we both have read, I have found him normally spot on when it comes to matching my taste. There's been a few glitches. I'm not too keen on the Aubrey/Maturin series and some of the sci-fi I donít find terribly compelling but mysteries he's pretty good at hitting right on the note. Now do I just quietly agree to disagree or do I go back and give Marsh another shot, perhaps finding a prolific writer I enjoy and then having to fess up? I'm not particularly proud. I can fess up.
I liked this one!
From what I can tell, Death of a Peer follows Marsh's general technique of creating a cast of eccentric characters, tossing a murder in their midst and then bringing in Inspector Alleyn to figure who did what and when. There is always a reference or two or three to New Zealand and this one also had references to Mac Beth as well. It's almost as if she's writing prose plays using a cast and one or two sets where most of the action takes place.
This novel concerns the Lamphreys, a family of gaily kooky aristocrats who are constantly short of money and never bothered by it. They have invited a young friend from New Zealand to spend a few weeks with them in their London flat. Business has gone bad for the father of the family, the money is running out and he asks his brother, the heir to the family wealth and a distinctly unlovable man, for a loan to tide them over. The brother comes and after a heated argument, leaves, only to be found in the lift with a meat skewer thru his eyeball. His wife is hysterical and also dabbling at witchcraft, the servants are fiercly loyal to their master and mistress and no one saw or heard anything. Inspector Alleyn must sort out who did what when, who saw what when and how many others besides the father of the family had motive to kill the icky old man.
What's interesting is that she gives you the whole scenario. You see all the action played out and then you get to watch Alleyn and his sidekick, Fox, replay it finding the important clues along the way ruling out suspects, finding multiple folks with motives and ultimately making the correct decision on who did it.
So, crow pie for me tonight after a first course of hasty pudding. MmmmÖ..tastes good, too.
Just found a wonderful article on the misuse of English in academia. Excerpt:
In recent years leftist academics have been enraptured by Empire, a 500-page anti-globalization book by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, published in 2000. Empire collects all possible criticisms of free trade and wraps them in prose like this: "In the logic of colonialist representations, the construction of a separate colonized other and the segregation of identity and alterity turns out paradoxically to be at once absolute and extremely intimate."
To commit a sentence like that is to subtract from the sum of human knowledge.
If you've ever visited IMDB.com, you know that it's the site to visit to find information about movies, and especially about their availability in various media.
Over the past year, volunteers have begun the creation of the Internet Book List, which is an attempt to do the same for books of all kinds.
I've not have the opportunity to spend much time there yet, so I don't know how good it is. However, I do know that it's still young--the database has just reached 10,000 books, but there's a lot more to go.
For example, the delightful Sarah Caudwell is listed, but only because she's included in several anthologies in the database. None of her novels are listed yet.
They are looking for help; if you've been wanting to give back to the 'net, this would be a fine way to do it.
Just this evening I watched Miyazaki's Kiki's Delivery Service for the second time. The first time I watched it with the Japanese soundtrack and English subtitles, as Ian Hamet had recommended; so this time I watched it in English.
It feels like an entirely different movie, and frankly I didn't enjoy it nearly as much. This is due mostly to the voice actors for Kiki herself, and for her black cat, Jiji. I can't quite put my finger on what's wrong with Kiki's voice; I guess sometimes it seemed like she was reading, rather than acting.
Jiji, on the other hand, I detested. In Japanese, Jiji is the voice of caution. He's a bit of a scaredy cat, but he clearly wants what's best for Kiki. In the English version, he has a big brash voice that's completely at odds with his scaredy-cat appearance, and he sounds like he's being contrary just for the hell of it. And he's bored with it, in the bargain.
The visuals, however, remain delightful, and the other characters were not voiced so badly.
I did note one major difference in the dialogue--actually, there may have been quite a few, but there was only one I noticed for sure. Kiki and a friend of hers, an artist, are hitchhiking to the artist's cabin. As a truck goes by in a cloud of dust, the driver hollers out "Ursula!" And the artist says, "Come on, I know this guy."
In Japanese (or, at least, in the subtitles), those two lines do not exist.
On Terry Teachout's new blog I see that Warner Brothers will be releasing two great big collections of Looney Tunes on DVD this October.
I haven't words to describe how thoroughly, amazingly, totally cool this is.
I've written a piece of software called "Snit's Not Incr Tcl"; it's an object-framework for the Tcl programming language (you can find out more about it at the Snit Home Page if you're interested).
I mention it because just today, Snit was added to
Tcllib, the Tcl standard library. This is exciting, and ranks as a very good thing.
For the first time in years I finally have a backup solution that I really like.
Some history is in order here: I remember (barely) when backing up your computer meant making another copy of the paper type with your BASIC program on it. That was nasty. It was followed by the floppy disk era, when backup meant copying your data floppy every so often (your system floppy was already a copy). Later, I knew the joy of buying a new program and spending an hour copying all of the program disks as a backup.
All that changed when we got our first hard disk. At 10 MB, it was so much bigger than any floppy disk that backups were nearly impossible. For a while I backed up my hard drive using a program called Fastback that copied the data on to floppies more quickly and safely than the DOS backup program. Later I got a tape drive--that was a joke. It was slow as molasses, and the only way be verify that it had worked was to copy it back on to the hard drive. No thank you.
Eventually I gave up on backing up the whole hard drive; I just started copying whatever I was working on onto a floppy from time to time. As my projects got bigger, I moved up to a Zip drive and used 100MB Zip disks. Then I got into digital photography--it was time for a CD burner. I've been through two of those, now, neither of which worked reliably; the third one, which came pre-installed in my PowerBook, seems to be OK.
But all of these solutions have been stopgaps. They preserve my data--but if my hard disk goes south it could be weeks before I'm back up again, depending on how soon I get a replacement machine, and how long it takes to re-install everything.
But now, finally, I have a backup solution that really works. I went out and got an external LaCie firewire hard drive. It's plug and play with Mac OS X: I plug it in, and there's another drive. It's an 80 gigabyte drive; it cost less than a third as much as an 80 megabyte drive once cost me.
Now here's the cool part. It's big enough to hold everything on my laptop's harddrive. I just use a program called Carbon Copy Cloner to copy the contents of my laptop's disk to the external drive.
And here's the really cool part: I can boot the laptop from either drive. (Thank you, Apple!) So if my laptop's drive fails, I can boot from the external drive and go on working. When I get the main drive replaced, I just have Carbon Copy Cloner copy everything back over.
I have to tell you the saga of the video game here this last week.
My son Will has been mowing yards and babysitting this summer and
finally saved up enough to buy "Enter The Matrix." He's been playing
"Age of Empires" and "Jedi Outcast" all summer and it's his money that he
worked for, right. We have a Pentium III processor and 128 megs of RAM
and I wrote it down for him so he could compare with the system specs
on the box. He came out of the store happy as a lark. We go home, install
it and it doesn't go. So I go on about three tech support sites to see
what the problem is. We have Direct X 9, we have an Intel video card
that I downloaded an update for, I reinstalled the game and no go.
So I call my geek friend the next day and he tells me these games all
come with patches that I can find on the game's tech support site. So I
go home from work and download the patch and now it just goes back to
the desktop. I reboot and reinstall the game (which comes with 3
installation discs) and it still goes back to the desktop.
So I talk to another geek friend of mine who spends whole weekends
playing video games--which is why he's 34 and isn't married--and he
asks what kind of video card we have. "Oh that's just what comes with the
machine, it won't run the newer games. Go buy a video card." So I go
out to Best Buy and talk to a little short geeky kid who looks like
he's 15 and doesn't need to shave and he assures me that the $79.99
video card will work but that I likely need 256 megs of RAM--that's
like another $50.
By this time that game is going to run or I am going
to hurt the computer so I buy it and go home. I get the RAM in--that's
easy. But there is no AGP slot in my computer so I think, well maybe
they hid it under the fan. 15 minutes later, nope. And I can't find all
the screws to put the fan back in. So I put the video card back in the
package to take back, muttering about 15 year old geeks, and boot the
computer. It crashes half way thru the boot. By this time I am
sweating because now I not only have a game that won't go, I have a
machine that won't boot.
So I take the kids to Subway, muttering all the way. They are
strangely silent. I realize while I am eating my sub that the only
thing that's different is the new RAM so I take the box apart again
and take it out. The machine boots fine. Toss the RAM back in the bag
and put it by the door.
I go to Best Buy the next night after work and go right to tech
support. This guy is at least pushing 30. He tells me I need a 100
mhz DIMM RAM chip for $20 more, and the PCI video card is also $20
more. And he assures me it will run the game. By now it's get the game
going or commit seppuku to preserve my honor so I take the stuff,
after coughing up another 40 dollars after muttering about how much
money I had before I had kids and why the hell did I ever let him buy
that stupid game anyway.....
Took the stuff home, snapped it in, runs like a charm. Yee Haa!!!
Willie, however, decides he's staying at a friend's house overnite and when
he calls me I nearly scream into the phone "LISTEN, BUSTER..You WILL come
home, you WILL play this game, you WILL enjoy it. Do I make myself clear,
BOY????" He rides his bike the five miles home in a rain storm.
I find a "Best Mommy in the Whole Wide World" Award that he's created in
Publisher on the kitchen table the next night when I get home from work.
How's things by you?
I'm the #1
Duquette on Google!
Granted, the listed page is the old version of this weblog, but that's still pretty cool.
This is by way of being a sort-of kind-of biography of P.G. Wodehouse, relying mostly on Wodehouse' letters and (woefully few) writings about himself, as well as his attitudes as expressed in his novels and short stories. Quoting Wodehouse as much as it does, it is indeed a funny and easily-read book. As a biography, it's only so-so, especially as (as the book itself points out) you can't necessarily trust what Wodehouse says about himself.
I did learn a few interesting things, though. For most of Wodehouse' childhood, his mother and father were living in the Far East, while he himself was shuttled from, significantly, Aunt to Aunt. He had almost no contact with his mother from the time he was about two years old until he was in his teens. (They were not close.)
And then, after he left school he spent two years working at the London branch of the Hong Kong and Shanghae Bank. (The book spells it "Shanghai", but this is an error.) (Yes, I know, the City of Shanghai is usually spelled "Shanghai". In the name of the bank, it's "Shanghae".) He claims never to have understood what he was supposed to be doing there, and was finally sacked for writing the beginnings of a story in a brand new ledger. This was Defacing A Ledger, and was very bad.
After that, he became a full-time writer, and eventually moved permanently to the United States, where with Guy Bolton and Jerome Kern he helped to invent the modern musical comedy. Before Wodehouse, the songs in musical comedy frequently had little to do with the story being told, but were selected for their perceived chance to become a hit. After Wodehouse, it was expected that the songs served the story. His efforts as a lyricist are virtually forgotten these days, but among many other songs he wrote the lyrics for "Bill" from Showboat. He also wrote a number of plays, which so far as I can tell are entirely forgotten.
Wodehouse spent a total of eighteen months working in Hollywood as a writer. His first stint consisted of two consecutive six month contracts for Warner Brothers. He got paid a ridiculous amount--$2000 a week in 1929 dollars--for doing virtually nothing. The studio hired well-known writers, but didn't ask them to write anything. Weird. He spent another six months in Hollywood some few years later, with similar results.
And while all this was going on, he was writing, constantly. For which I'm heartily grateful.
So I got a new iPod, see? And I'm ripping CDs onto my computer to download to the iPod. And when I rip the CDs, iTunes goes and queries CDDB for the track titles and similar information. One of things CDDB tracks is the so-called "genre".
A digression: when did "genre" stop referring to the form of the work (short story, novel) and start referring to the content (mystery, science fiction, romance)?
Now, Jane and I have a considerable amount of Irish, Scottish, and English traditional music on CD. And somehow, when I put a Planxty CD or a Silly Wizard CD into the slot, CDDB comes back and tells me that it's "World" music.
There ain't no such thing as "world" music, people. It's simply a term that record stores use so that you can see from across the room where to find the music that's sorted under its country of origin because they don't know where else to put it. Beyond that, it's not a useful designation.
Even if you can't stand her writing, I would still recommend reading Bell's biography of Virginia Woolf. She's such an eccentric, such an interesting character that her story is fascinating.
First, there's the whole madness issue. She committed suicide in 1941 after years of periodic psychotic episodes. And the treatment then was so primitive, almost nonexistent, that it almost seemed to make her problems worse. She probably had some form of bipolar disorder and Bell gives some time to tracing the mental health issues of her forbear back a few generations. I've often wondered if she were alive now, with all the therapeutic drugs available, would she have been able to write as imaginatively as she did?. Or would the drugs have stabilized her mind and destroyed her creative spark?.
Then, there is the whole Bohemian, Bloomsbury, lesbian thing. After reading the book, I can't think of anyone I know who led a more staid, happily married lifestyle than she did. She was married for years to Leonard Woolf and, yes, had passionate friendships with lesbians but Bell, who happens to be her nephew and actually knew her, is highly skeptical that any physical reaction was reciprocated by Virginia. She did have flamboyant, creative friends. Lytton Strachey, Desmond McCarthy and Roger Fry were just a small part of the circle she was involved in. She knew Henry James and H.G. Wells. And later in life, she befriended Katherine Mansfield and Elizabeth Bowen. Her sister, Vanessa Bell, was a leader in Post Modernist painting in Britain and famous in her own right. But Virginia's major wild fling seems to be that she shared a house as a cooperative with unmarried men prior to marriage.
What mostly comes thru is a highly gifted woman plagued with shyness and insecurity and threatened by permanent madness who writes because she's passionate about language and words and thoughts. She isn't highly educated; in fact, Bell points out that neither she nor her sister were allowed to attend school and were educated, badly, at home by their impatient and overbearing father. She loved London and England. The war with its bombings and threats of invasion lead indirectly to her final slow slide into another episode of madness which she forestalls by putting rocks into her pocket and walking into the river Ouse.
I've just posted Chapters 16 and 17 of my novel Through Darkest Zymurgia! Enjoy!
I just ran across a page entitled Things my girlfriend and I have argued about. Excerpt:
There is only one specific type of occasion when Margret feels I should 'go and speak to' one of the children, and that's when they have done something forehead-slappingly idiotic. The implication she is making is that Idiocy is my area. That only I can speak to the children when they've done something comprehensively crackbrained because, unlike her, I can speak The Language Of Fools. 'Maybe you can get through to him,' she's saying, 'Because you know how the asinine mind works.'
Mirabilis has uncovered a site dedicated to a peculiar early instrument called the Serpent. Best of all, the site has instructions for how to build your own serpent sound-alike for about $30 and a weekend.
I think I first read this book when I was 12 or 13. I know I wasn't in high school yet because I had to borrow my father's library card and check it out. The library where I grew up had a rule that children were not allowed to take out "adult" books and Dad got a card just to get around that rule. It was the same summer I read Jane Eyre, Rebecca by DuMaurier and Oliver Twist. Oh, and The Robe by Thomas Costain. The plots of all those novels stuck in my head until adulthood but, strangely, I could remember nothing about this one except that it fascinated me and I devoured almost in one sitting.
The story revolves around a huge yellow diamond, the Moonstone, that was looted sometime in the past from a Hindu shrine during a British campaign. The Brahmin protectors of the shrine vow to recover it and thru time have watched over the owners of the stone waiting for their chance to steal it back.
That is all background. The stone has now been left as an inheritance to a young woman, Rachel Verinder, for her 18th birthday by her weird old uncle and the suggestion is that it is more of a curse than a gift. It's brought to her country manor home by Franklin Blake, the young man that she is falling in love with. "Hindoo" jugglers are in the neighborhood, coincidentally, and perform for her party. That very night the stone is stolen from her bedchamber, and Rachel rejects the attentions of Franklin Blake and leaves in an emotional tizzy for London, refusing to allow the police to question her or search her possessions. No one can figure out how the stone is stolen since no one was in her room. The Hindoo jugglers are taken into custody but no stone is found. Hmmmm.....Oh, yes, the young housemaid, who also happens to be in love with Franklin Blake, acts suspiciously and then commits suicide by throwing herself into quicksand.
As a plot goes, it's ok. There were several times I found myself wishing that Collins would move it along just a little faster than he does. And from a modern perspective he's slightly racist when describing the Indians. But the way he tells the story is the juiciest part. He fragments the Narrator into several people by setting the book up as a memoir of the mystery told by those involved. The first narrator is Betteredge, the house head servant whose voice is the perfect rendition of what you might expect a butler to use. He uses a distant cousin, Miss Clack, to tell part of the story. She's an ardent lover of religious tracts and her single minded desire to convert the damned is so humorously portrayed I snickered almost against my will thru the whole thing. Sergeant Cuff is wonderful as the objective observer policeman and he comes closest to figuring out the crime. He's abrupt and to the point and reminded me a bit of Columbo in a 19th century portrayal.
The end and solution, which I won't tell because it IS a mystery, is a little outrageous. He could have done something more creative with it. But it does introduce the character of Ezra Jennings, the solitary doctor addicted to laudanum for some unspecified disease who finally figures it all out and cracks the mystery.
I like 19c novels. I can usually overlook their flaws just because I enjoy the writing so much. This one was no different. But it also could hold its own with a modern British detective mystery.
OK, so I'm reading George R. R. Martin's epic The Game of Thrones. I'm in the early chapters, in which Lord Eddard Stark has just left his seat of Winterfell in the far north to journey south with his King. Eddard's oldest son has just uncovered some dreadful information which he must share with his father, and proposes to ride south. His mother says, "There must always be a Stark in Winterfell."
Immediately I heard an old, crabbed voice crying, "There will always be Starkadders at Cold Comfort Farm!"
Now maybe it's a coincidence, but I doubt it.
Man, but Amazon.com is dangerous. I've bought books there, occasionally, but I hadn't previously looked at compact discs there. We used to go to the record store regularly, but that stopped when we started having kids, and we've more or less stopped buying music except on rare occasions. But I'd recently noticed that an album we used to have (and really liked) had gone missing; and another disc got damaged. Since I'd already been out once today, and since I wasn't even sure they were still in print, I decided to check Amazon.
The one that had gone missing was Parcel of Rogues, by Steeleye Span, a British folk-rock band. Amazon had it. They also had six or seven Steeleye Span albums I'd never even heard of--in addition to the eight or nine we already have. Plus a bucket of albums by Maddy Prior, one of Steeleye Span's singers, none of which we'd been aware of. Maddy Prior has the most gorgeous voice; I think she's Jane's favorite vocalist.
This is going to be expensive.
Years ago, I read a delightful little fantasy novel called The Face in the Frost. It was quirky, whimsical, and scary all at once, and it worked. It was by a man named John Bellairs. I never saw anything else by him until eventually I discovered that he'd taken to writing young adult novels. Hmm, I thought, and passed on.
One of our local bookstores has a table of books for people who have finished reading about Harry Potter. I was glancing at it the other day, and found a volume called The Best of John Bellairs, which contained three juvenile novels, all of them tales of gothic horror: The House with a Clock in its Walls, The Figure in the Shadows, and The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring. The three novels form a series; whether there are other books that follow the third one, I don't know.
Having recently been told by numerous literary snobs that liking Harry Potter is childish and a sign of cultural infantilism, and remembering Bellairs' name fondly, I was caught by a fit of rebelliousness and bought it.
Orphaned Lewis Barnavelt goes to live with his eccentric Uncle Jonathon, who happens to be a mildly-skilled wizard of the white variety. His Uncle's next door neighbor and best friend, Mrs. Zimmerman, is a skilled witch. Lewis likes them both very much, and together with his friend Rose Rita they deal with mysterious noises, long dead wizards, plots to bring about the end of the world, angry witches, schoolyard bullies, and how to cope with always being picked last for baseball.
Bellairs has a flair for baroque description and gothic horror, but The House with the Clock in its Walls was his first book for young readers, and it shows. He talks down to the reader (something J.K. Rowling never does), and the dialogue frequently made me cringe. Ironically, though, this first book was also the best and most interesting of the three. He's resolved many of his technical difficulties in the other two books, but they aren't as much fun. I'd consider re-reading the first one day, but most likely not the other two.
The illustrations, though, were fascinating. Each of the three tales were illustrated, and by three different artists. The first book, the best of the three, and the most horrific, is illustrated by Edward Gorey. What more could you want? The second book is illustrated by Mercer Mayer. Now, I have great respect for Mayer; but he always draws the same little mop-haired round-faced kid, and his work has a warmth and joy that is simply out of place in what's supposed to be a scary story. And then for the third book they brought in somebody I've never heard of named Richard Egielski. His drawings are suitably dark, but they are also lumpy and ugly, and none of the characters look like quite the same people from one picture to the next. It's funny how the quality of the artwork parallels the quality of the tale.
Bottom line...I really like The Face in the Frost.
Like The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, which I reviewed some time back, The Wee Free Men is a Discworld novel slanted towards younger readers. It concerns a very young, very determined dairy maid in oversized boots who's the only one up to handling a bad case of the Elves. Experienced Discworlders will know what that means, and what kind of person it takes to handle it (and indeed, Granny Weatherwax has brief cameo).
Terry Pratchett knows what it means to write for young readers. The Wee Free Men is toned down a bit from his regular Discworld books, but it isn't dumbed down, and it doesn't talk down. I enjoyed it thoroughly. And in fact, it might be a remarkably good place for you to start, if you've not encountered the Discworld before.
Hmmm. Reflections in d minor has been unavailable for several days now. I wonder what's going on.
Update: Lynn Sislo's been having trouble with her hosting service; she'll be back up as soon as she can.
I am feeling sort of sad today after hearing the recent news the Robert McCloskey died over the weekend. I read and reread Homer Price as a child so many times I practically wore out the library copy. And then they got a copy of Centerburg Tales and I read and reread that one.
When my son was born one of the first books I bought him was Blueberries for Sal. He was probably a year old. We would ponder the pictures and shiver with anticipation when the Sal wanders off with the mother bear. We would scream "Kerplink, Kerplank, Kerplunk" when Sal dropped her three berries into the tin bucket and pretend we were eating her berries when we had blueberry yogurt for lunch.
When he got a little older one of his favorite pretend games was called "Buck's Harbor." We would build a small store out of blocks and legos, use his plastic boat on a towel as the ocean to drive over to get supplies and then have a pretend ice cream cone with Sal and Jane.
Of course, every spring when the ducks flew over we'd yell at the sky "Make way for Ducklings!!"
My son remembers very little of this, of course. He was so young when I spent my days with him and his little sister. The big yellow bus came and took him away one day and somehow all that time disappeared. But I remember the little boy who would snuggle next to me and listen intently and peer at the pictures when I read him Robert McCloskey books. I miss him, too. Both of them are gone now. I still have the books, tho.
This is the second book in the "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series", and it feels very much like a continuation of the first book. As before, the book concerns several investigations, some consecutive, some simultaneous, and as before Mma Ramotswe goes beyond investigating to meddling (for the client's own good, of course). Her secretary, Mma Makutsi, is promoted to Assistant Detective and given a case of her own; this prompts several discussions of the moral issues involved in detective work.
But the real focus is on Mma Ramotswe's fiance, Mr. J.L.B. Maketoni, proprietor of Tlakweng Road Speedy Motors--a man who is hard-working, dignified, kind-hearted, generous to a fault, and not always particularly observant. His kind nature leads him into several predicaments during the book, including one particular case where he doesn't know how to tell Mma Ramotswe what he's done but every hour he delays will make the revelation more painful. I must award laurels to Smith here--some authors would have stretched out the pain for most of the book, requiring Mr. J.L.B. Maketoni to do progressively more idiotic things to keep Mma Ramotswe in the dark. (I hate this.) (Except in P.G. Wodehouse, but that's farce, so it's OK.) Instead, it's resolved fairly quickly.
The Mitfordesque tone continues--indeed, strengthens. That said, I don't know whether Mitford fans will like these books. Being detective novels, they must occasionally deal with the sordid...and Mma Ramotswe, for all her goodness, frequently makes moral decisions that would raise even Fr. Tim's eyebrows. Mitford fans--if the Christian content is the primary thing that draws you to Jan Karon's books, be aware that though the tone is similar, these aren't those.
Anyway, I liked this one too.
I've just posted Chapters 14 and 15 of my novel Through Darkest Zymurgia!.
For those who came in late: Zymurgia! is a ripping yarn, a fantasy adventure novel taking place in a world not so different from ours. It's the tale of a scientific expedition to a remote and fabulous land, and those who have read it assure me that yes, it really is funny.
I'm publishing it here on the web in installments; a new installment is posted every Saturday.
As long-time readers know, Overlook Press (Everyman's Library, in Great Britain) is publishing a complete uniform hardcover edition of Wodehouse, which is a great and glorious thing. Every so often four new books come out, and I get them, and I read them with delight.
I've been a Wodehouse fan for years, and naturally I've read many of them before. But once in a while they come up with something I've never seen. Usually it's a novel that doesn't involve any of his regular characters. And then I know I'm in for a treat.
Summer Moonshine is no exception. It takes place at stately Walsingford Hall, where cash-strapped Baronet Sir Buckstone Abbott has been reduced to taking in boarders--excuse me, "paying guests"--and has therefore devoted his life to two things: avoiding his guests, and attempting to sell the Hall.
Ironically, the same event that consumed the Abbott fortune also prevents him from selling the Hall. It seems that the old family home burned down in Victorian times, and was rebuilt at great expense by Sir Buckstone's progenitor, who exercised all of his ingenuity and eccentricity. The resulting pile is perhaps one of the ugliest homes in England, and to date only one person has expressed interest. The wealthy, many-times-married American woman, the Princess von und zu Dwornitzchek. The princess' step-son Tubby is one of the paying guests at the Hall, where he has conceived a passion for Prudence Whittaker, Sir Buckstone's secretary. Meanwhile, Sir Buckstone's daughter Jane is engaged to gold-digger Adrian Peake (can you have a male gold-digger?) who is also engaged to the princess. And then the princess' estranged step-son, Tubby's older brother Joe the playwright meets and falls for Jane. Stir in Lady Buckstone's brother Sam from America, and things get predictably silly.
You get the idea. It's one of those books where I kept having to stop and read passages to Jane.
Deb English reviewed this some while back, and I was sufficiently intrigued that I bought when I came across it in a bookstore in Pacific Grove.
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency is located in a small storefront at the foot of Kgale Hill in Gabarone, the capitol of Botswana. It is owned by Mma Ramotswe; she has precisely one employee, her secretary Mma Makutsi, who got a grade of 97 out of 100 at secretarial school but had trouble getting a job because she's not slim and pretty.
This is not a typical murder mystery; it's more the story of Mma Ramotswe's first cases, and how she came to be a detective to begin with. Along the way we learn quite a bit about her childhood, and also about her father's life in the mines in South Africa. It's got a dreamy, detached feeling about it, as if to emphasize the distance between the reader and Botswana. And for some odd reason, it keeps reminding me of Jan Karon's Mitford books.
Anyway, I liked it; it was charming, and I've already picked up the next couple of books in the series.
This is a book I picked up on a whim while at Tower Books in Sacramento. The title caught my eye, as did the cover picture, of a little mop-haired girl roaring like a lion; the words "National Bestseller" (Oh, really? I'd never seen it before.) and "Reading Group Guide" did not.
It's the author's memoir of her own childhood in Africa--first in Rhodesia, and later in Malawi and Zambia. Her parents were farmers; tobacco, mostly, but also cattle. They were members of the white upper class in Rhodesia, before it became Zimbabwe; later they were simply members of the white minority wherever they lived.
It was a hard life, both before and after Zimbabwe came to be; I don't suppose the life of a farmer is easy in any country, and it was worsened by circumstances; Fuller's mother gave birth to five children, of whom only two lived to adulthood. The second child, a boy, died of meningitis at an early age; the fourth, a girl, drowned in a duckpond when she was two years old (and that was a hard section to read, let me tell you); the fifth was stillborn.
It was a hard life, and as the Fullers had little money and were white besides, they could only farm the worst land. They stayed, despite the death of their children, despite tedium, despite alcoholism, because they loved Africa. Alexandra has married an American and moved to the United States, but her parents are there still.
This is a poignant book, and is filled with all kinds of fascinating details about life in Africa; Fuller neither preaches nor moralizes, trusting that her story will speak for itself, which it does. I didn't enjoy it that much, however, for I didn't like her family all that much, and it's not a happy story. Also, it was marred by a self-consciously literary tone (at one point, the African morning clutters into the room, which is jarring, though perhaps), and by a too-narrow focus on the author's own life. More background on the recent history of Africa and the countries in which she lived would have been helpful, even if it was information she didn't have growing up.
Still, I'm not sorry I read it; it forms an interesting contrast to several other books I'll be reviewing in the next couple of days.
Recently a knitting friend of mine died after a mercifully short bout of cancer, naming me in her will to inherit her spinning wheels and anything of her books and yarn stash that I wanted. What a gruesome task. I'd known her for years from our monthly knitting group meetings, workshops and conferences we attended together. I still can't believe she's gone.
However, she left me this stuff to enjoy, read and use, not to pine over or treasure as a relic so after a week or two of avoiding the pile in my fiber room, I dug in. This was one of the few books she had that I hadn't managed to collect myself and I gobbled it right up in a couple sittings.
It's not a pattern book exactly though it has some patterns in it. It's essentially a compilation of oral histories about the knitting tradition in the fishing communities of the eastern coast of Britain. Sweaters called "ganseys" were knit by the women of the communities for their menfolk in the fishing industry and to sell on commission for a pittance to dealers as a means of getting some income to stretch out the little money they had to live on. The sweaters were traditionally made of a 5 ply fine wool in dark, navy blue with knit/purl patterning on them, usually only from the chest up since the stomach area was covered by heavy overalls worn to keep the seawater out. They were often knit with three quarter length sleeves to prevent the saltwater and wool from irritating and infecting the wrists. And each knitter had a distinctive pattern she knit or each community had its own set of patterns that defined it.
There are several books on this subject that talk of much the same thing in Cornwall. What makes Pearson's book so special is that he went into the archives of the historical societies of the small towns and got photos of the fishermen, the women on the quay knitting and the children knitting on the sleeves or plain bottoms to help with the family income. There are old photos of women gutting and packing herring after the boats have come in and the same women sitting on the empty barrels waiting for the catch, knitting. Pearson sought out the old people in the towns and villages to see if they had specimens left from those knitters and then copiously copied the patterns and took pictures of them. And he points out that these women were not engaged in some charming folk activity but were pushing starvation back from the hearth. The kids in the pictures often have a pinched, hungry look about them.
It's an interesting book filled with marvelous pictures and inspiring stories.