by Catriona Mills

Magical Mystery Bookshelf Tour Stage Five: Still In The Spare Room

Posted 5772 days ago in by Catriona

Honestly, it’s going to be a while before I’m finished with the spare room: there are still three (maybe three and a half, depending on how you count them) bookshelves to go, all much bigger than these two, and all stacked to within an inch of their lives.

On the plus side, this is the room in which I’m bound to find some interesting material: the situation is so dire in here, that I avoid pulling books off these shelves if I can, and tend to default to the more accessible ones in the living room and the hallway.

Really, maybe things are getting a little silly.

A case in point:

Oh, not the top shelf. Despite the fact that it includes a figurine of Deanna Troi in her embarrassingly unprofessional lavender number (Nick’s, I’m sure I don’t need to add) and a baseball cap with a propeller on the top (also Nick’s), this shelf is reasonably sedate. You can see the names of the books and everything!

I have a weak spot for Norton Critical editions, even though so many of these are rather old versions, which means their critical apparatuses—often written in the 1960s—are rather out of date in terms of current critical approaches.

But they’re so pretty! And their notes to the text are actually in footnotes rather than, as in Penguin and Oxford classics, endnotes, which means I can read the books without having to keep my finger in the back to hold my place.

On the other hand, that red book just behind Deanna is The Scarlet Letter, which I bought exclusively because I can’t resist a reasonably priced Norton Critical Edition, have never read, and may never read.

To balance that, though, eight books to its left, next to Moll Flanders (which I also haven’t read but may in fact own two copies of) is Frankenstein (the 1818 edition), which I’ve read multiple times. So it all works out even in the end.

(On the other hand, that book next to Frankenstein isn’t a Norton Critical Edition at all, now I look at it: it’s Andrew Lang’s Yellow Fairy Book, in a Dover reprint. That shouldn’t be there!)

That copy of Basil by Wilkie Collins—on the top of the horizontal books there—was one of my great finds of the last Lifeline Bookfest: it’s a Dover imprint. I do love Dover: they publish the most fascinating things, and they’re extremely readable editions. And under it is my little pile of Broadview Critical Editions. Broadview editions are fantastic: beautiful text and paper, gorgeous covers, clever and up-to-date critical essays. But they’re not cheap, and I only have the half-a-dozen. (Plus, one of those half-a-dozen books is yet another copy of Frankenstein, which is rather disturbing.)

I started this section with a point, didn’t I? Well, it’s more than could be expected for me to remember that for a fifteen-minute stretch at the end of the first teaching week of the semester.

But my point was that the second shelf here really illustrates the problem with this shelf: the situation’s becoming increasingly absurd.

It only gets worse on the next two shelves:

Honestly, what’s the point of even putting books on shelves when you can’t get to them anyway? And the books at the front aren’t even the ones that I read most often—case in point: Thomas Carlyle’s The French Revolution on the far left, there—they’re just the ones that I’ve bought most recently. Or, in the case of Trilby, the ones that I’ve most recently moved off the bedhead where they’ve been languishing for many months.

(Actually, you know what’s really embarrassing? I’ve only just now come to the realisation that the only copy of Dangerous Liaisons that I own is a movie tie-in edition. Fair enough, it was a good movie. But when you own—and, miracle of miracles, have actually read—eighteenth-century French epistolary fiction, it’s best to own it in an edition that doesn’t have Glenn Close and John Malkovich on the cover. Really, I should read that again, though: that’s a brilliant book. I like the way De Laclos plays with the notion that correspondence is superficially transparent but actually opaque, explicitly intended for a single reader but actually easily transmissible. But that’s not important right now.)

(I seem to be thinking in asides tonight: another point that’s just occurred to me is that I really should pull Salem Chapel off this shelf, now I’ve reminded myself that it’s here, and read it. I’ve only just bought it, but I’ve been keen to read it for a while.)

(Note to self: blogs don’t really work when they’re stream of consciousness.)

But when you pull the front row of books off the shelf, a miracle occurs:

Really, there’s nothing prettier than a row of Penguin paperbacks, is there?

(Although I mainly note, looking at this, that I don’t own enough purple Penguins (I think that one is Saint Augustine’s Confessions) and certainly not enough green Penguins (those two are Arthur Waley’s translation of Monkey, which I definitely need to re-read, and One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, which should be on everyone’s bookshelf. I don’t actually buy my books on the basis of their colour—well, not often—but it seems as though an absence of purple and green Penguins speaks to a corresponding absence in my knowledge of literatures other than those published in English and—if I’m to be entirely truthful—in England: as my point about The Scarlet Letter above probably showed, I’m woefully behind in my reading of classic American novels.)

The only thing that might come close, pretty-wise, is a row of Oxford World’s Classics in paperback:

I vastly prefer the older Oxford editions with the cream-coloured spines and the broad coloured stripes to the modern white-and-red covers. Although this row just showcases the gaps in my organising principles: why are Fanny Burney’s Cecilia and The Wanderer at the back when her Camilla is at the front? That’s just odd. And, on that note, where is my copy of Evelina, the only Burney novel I’ve ever actually finished? Honestly, the point of this was to have a better idea of what I owned and where I had stored it. (Well, that, and to give myself an excuse for talking endlessly about books. As though I needed an excuse.)

Oooh, actually De Laclos isn’t the most embarrassing book on my shelf:

That’s right: I have a television tie-in copy of Middlemarch. But I have two points to raise in my own defense, here.

Firstly, I do own another copy of Middlemarch.

Secondly, it’s got Rufus Sewell on the cover. Seriously: Rufus Sewell. It would take a stronger woman than me to get rid of that.

But, hey: at least I vacuumed the carpet this time.

Strange Conversations: Part Thirty

Posted 5773 days ago in by Catriona

The joys of iPhone applications at midnight:

ME: Honey? What on earth’s happening?
NICK: I’m composing award-winning music!
ME: Excellent. In bed?
NICK: Maybe I should stop.

So, Anyway . . .

Posted 5773 days ago in by Catriona

Way back in May, I mentioned that I wanted to blog about Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf, but I didn’t know where I’d put my copy.

So, last weekend, I was doing a last-minute scavenger hunt among the Space Marines that currently occupy the outer reaches of the living-room bookshelves, looking for characters who would serve as suitable table-top avatars for that afternoon’s game of D&D, when I suddenly noticed Beowulf hiding on the far edge of the smallest bookcase, next to The Princess Bride.

That’s frustrating in and of itself, since I was convinced that it would be either in the study or in the spare room, and tore both rooms apart looking for it. It never occurred to me that it would be in the living room—and, frankly, I still don’t don’t how it came to be on a shelf sacred to sci-fi and fantasy (and one hardback copy of Sayers’s Five Red Herrings that won’t fit anywhere else).

Still, I’ve found it now.

And this is what I wanted to talk about:

So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by
and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
We have heard of those princes’ heroic campaigns.

I love these opening lines. There’s something about that opening “so” that, more than any other translation of Beowulf I’ve ever read, evokes a sense of orality in the poem, of a speaker sitting down and thinking, “now, where were we?”

This is Heaney’s intention:

Conventional renderings of hwæt, the first word of the poem, tend towards the archaic literary, with ‘lo’, ‘hark’, ‘behold’, ‘attend’ and — more colloquially — ‘listen’ being some of the solutions offered previously. But in Hiberno-English Scullion-speak, the particle ‘so’ came naturally to the rescue, because in that idiom ‘so’ operates as an expression that obliterates all previous discourse and narrative, and at the same time functions as an exclamation calling for immediate attention.

I was going to mention that it warms the cockles of my heart to think of someone paying such attention to a two-letter word . . . and then I realised that that was foolish. These are possibly the most famous opening lines in English literature: of course you would give them your full attention.

And that colloquial, conversational “so” works far, far better in the context of Heaney’s translation than any archaic “behold” or “hark” ever could.

But the other thing that struck me about this explanation was that my mother does this.

My mother is a natural storyteller. Whenever things happen—be they amusing or disturbing or even a little dull—you can almost physically see her turning them into anecdotes in her head.

This used to drive me absolutely mad when I was younger, because she’s thoroughly ruthless in her employment of said anecdotes. All she’s worried about is whether it makes a good story: veracity has nothing to do with it. All I was concerned about as a teenager was that credit was given where credit was due: I didn’t want to be the butt of a dinner-party anecdote if the event had actually happened to my brother or my sister.

I’m more or less over that, now.

But what I have noticed recently is that my mother is not great at taking turns.

All I remember from a brief and unsatisfactory (for both parties) fling with discourse analysis many years ago was the statement that taking turns in storytelling is vital to the health of conversations and the well-being of the participants.

That doesn’t happen here.

What happens is this: my mother and I sit in the living room and chat over a glass of wine. My mother tells an amusing story. I am reminded of a funny story of my own, and tell it in turn. My mother waits patiently for me to finish, and then says “Anyway . . .”


Much as I love my mother, this drives me nuts.

Like Heaney’s “so,” my mother’s “anyway” operates as “an expression that obliterates all previous discourse and narrative, and at the same time functions as an exclamation calling for immediate attention.”

(And I did tell her this, which was the first thing that struck me when I read the translation. I rang up, and my mother asked if I wanted anything in particular. “Not really,” I said. “I just rang up to be rude to you”—and read out the piece from the introduction. She found it hilarious, but it didn’t stop her saying “anyway.”)

To be fair, I don’t suppose it really is a call for immediate attention.

But it certainly obliterates all previous discourse and narrative. Once my mother has said “anyway,” my poor funny story may well never have been told.

So, anyway . . .

Um, You Know They Died? Fairly Horribly?

Posted 5774 days ago in by Catriona

So, Nick and I ended up eating dinner a little late, so we just turned The Simpsons on for the duration. I haven’t voluntarily watched The Simpsons in years, and this tends to make me not to want to watch it again.

This, it seems, was a Valentine’s Day special, with three, vaguely linked stories. This is something of a guess, since we came in halfway through the second story, a re-visioning of Lady and the Tramp with Homer and Marge as dogs.

But it was the last story that bothered me: Bart, compelled to choose a romantic story, selected Sid and Nancy.

I’ll say that again: Sid Vicious and Nancy Spurgeon.

In his version, heroin was replaced with illicit “chocolate”—so at one point, Sid (Nelson) and Nancy (Lisa) were cutting lines of chocolate milk.

By this point, Nick and I were staring open-mouthed at the television, while our neglected spoons slowly dripped soup into our laps.

But it was the end that made me write this entry.

Nancy, having made Sid quit The Sex Pistols, leads him to a career in a duo, where they dress in the archetypally “preppy” outfits of 1950s’ America. But this doesn’t work for the punk club they’re playing in, and they’re kicked out into the alley.

Never mind, says Nancy: why don’t we got back to the bedsit and get smashed (on chocolate)?

Sure, says Sid: after all, he loves her. And she loves him.

And they kiss in the alleyway, while Homer rains “confetti”—in the form of shredded rubbish from a wastepaper bin—down on them.

“Oh, sod off,” says Homer: “It’s Valentine’s Day.”


They died?

And it was fairly horrible?

In fact, it’s highly likely that he stabbed her to death, but doesn’t remember it because he was so heavily under the influence?

And then he died as well, after a heroin overdose?

I don’t know: I’d hate to think I was entirely humourless, but this? This seems just a little . . . off.

But then I have been rather cranky today.

I Knew There Was a Reason I Liked Charles Stross's Work

Posted 5774 days ago in by Catriona

Matthew Smith over on Smithology brought this link from Charles Stross’s blog to my attention by posting it on Pownce earlier today.

I’d not come across Alison Bechdel’s checklist for movies before, but it runs like this:

1. Does it have at least two women in it,

2. Who [at some point] talk to each other,

3. About something besides a man.

As Stross points out, if you extend that final point to “something besides a man, or marriage, or babies,” you’ve got a much shorter list of movies.

It’s been over ten years since Gail Simone compiled her list of Women in Refrigerators. The first time I came across that list, I thought to myself, “That’s right! Why is it that Batman can heal a broken back in less than an issue, but Barbara Gordon is still in a wheelchair?” And neither a Frank Milleresque “He’s the goddamn Batman!” or a friend’s argument that Barbara is just more interesting as Oracle than as Batgirl convinces me.

And here we are, ten years later, in the middle of a conservative backlash against feminism. Not just a backlash specifically against that fifty percent of the population that has two X chromosomes, by the way—a backlash against a concept of gender equality that benefits one-hundred percent of the population.

And Stross is correct in pointing out this trend towards men-centred women is even more obvious in television.

Take Dexter, for example. Much as I enjoy that show, and I do, the three major female characters are a high-ranking policewoman who not only inappropriately sexually harasses her male staff and openly dismisses the female ones, but also isn’t that good at her job, although she’s very good at the politics; another policewoman who, while ambitious and driven, is fixated on the idea of a successful relationship; and a woman horribly traumatised by an abusive marriage.

Not the sort of show you’d go to for role models.

You know, not all shows have to have strong female role models in them. Let’s face it: not all shows have strong male role models in them.

But I’m as worried as the next feminist (regardless of their gender) by what seems to be an increasingly conservative bent in story-telling—as my more or less constant diatribes against Lynx deodorant commercials shows.

Where’s the Sarah Conner for this generation? Sure, we have The Sarah Conner Chronicles, but I don’t remember that including a one-armed shotgun rack at any point. And, anyway, that wasn’t my Sarah Conner: my Sarah Conner wasn’t actually an exclusively maternal figure. She taught her son what he needed to survive in the post-apocalyptic future, but she herself was as fierce a fighter as he would ever have been—and she didn’t sublimate that to a concept of maternity predicated on complete self-abnegation. If she had, her son wouldn’t have been in foster care.

I loved Sarah Conner—she was more important to me than Ellen Ripley—and I miss her.

And her absence—and the absence of her descendants, women like Aeryn Sun—worries me.

There are texts out there that don’t trivialise women. I’ve always had a soft spot for Simon R. Green’s Hawk and Fisher series. They’re a little shlocky, perhaps, and more than a little bloodthirsty, but I’ll like any fantasy hero who says of his wife, while pursuing a villain, “Are you going to open the door, or am I going to have to get Fisher to kick it down?” when you know she could and would kick it down.

And Charles Stross is, I feel, doing himself a disservice when he suspects that not all his books would pass Bechdel’s test. I haven’t read the Laundry stories or Singularity Sky, which he thinks are fails, but the Merchant Princes saga certainly passes.

I knew I was going to like Miriam when, having found herself accidentally catapulted (on a swivelling desk chair, no less) into a fantasy world, she returns voluntarily with a video camera, camping gear, and a handgun.

Sarah Conner would have done no less.

And Then There Was This Random Ewok . . .

Posted 5774 days ago in by Catriona

I often tell my students (although perhaps I shouldn’t) that the Indiana Jones series made me want to be an academic. (Of course, this was long before critics started saying that the series had nuked the fridge.) Then academia turned out to involve very little in the way of fighting Nazis, which was a slight disappointment.

This introduction, complete with jokes I’ve already told before, is only leading up to the fact that I’m really enjoying Lego Indiana Jones.

(Of course, I’m loving the game less now than when I started the post two hours ago and then decided I really should finish the day’s work before blogging. In the interim, I’ve picked up the game again—after finishing my work, naturally—only to have it crash during a particularly difficult section of the fight scene in Cairo markets, and now I’m going to have to play the whole damn episode over again. But my point remains valid.)

I came across the Lego gaming phenomenon with Lego Star Wars, which was hands down the most fun I’ve ever had with a video game, excluding only some amusingly vicious rounds of Mario Party.

We started with the original trilogy (how I hate having to call them the “original trilogy”) for the Game Cube, but we did get some way through the prequels/sequels (depending on whether you’re using a chronology from inside the movies or outside them) for the X-Box. (And, yes, we do have far too many obsolete gaming systems, including a Playstation One—thankfully, not an original Playstation, but the later re-visioning—and, buried somewhere in the depths of the entertainment unit—a Nintendo 64.)

I’m fairly certain we finished the Game Cube version—at least on Story Mode, in which you’re constrained by the narrative. In Free Play, which you can’t access until you’ve finished Story Mode, you can swap between characters (even if they weren’t in that particular scene/movie) and therefore access more areas: some areas might be droid-only, or only Dark Force accessible, or require a jetpack.

We didn’t finish the X-Box version, and it wasn’t the damn pod race (almost as frustrating and boring as in the movie) that threw us, but a later flying sequence, where we kept exploding. Neither Nick nor I are natural flyers, apparently. We’re also rubbish jumpers, which is something of a problem.

But Lego Indiana Jones I’ve been keeping my eye on. I want it for the Wii, so we can play two player modes: Nick, I suspect, is less keen on this, since I’m a shocking loser (I sulk: although I tried very hard not to sulk when my stupid dwarf was the first to die in the D&D campaign on the weekend) and a shocking winner (I gloat), and tend to get cranky when playing video games, as well (the spatial construction throws me: I want to see further than I can, and get annoyed when my vision is restricted and I therefore fall into a big pit of slime or get electrocuted).

But that’s beside the point. Basically, I’m playing the game at the moment on my DS, greatest of all the handheld gaming systems.

It has the same basic concept as Lego Star Wars in that you play through an episode in Story Mode, constrained to play as the characters who appear in that part of the movie, and then you can unlock Free Play, and roam around a number of different, otherwise inaccessible areas.

So far, I’ve only made it through Raiders of the Lost Ark in Story Mode, and I’m running back through it now in Free Play.

And it’s fun, especially now the burden of actually liberating the Ark of the Covenant has been lifted from my shoulders.

What I’ve always loved about these games is the slightly irreverent and anarchic approach to the source materials. The cut scenes with the little Lego versions of the characters are hilarious—although my favourite is, and always will be, the one on Tatooine where Luke hits a stormtrooper with his speeder and Obiwan gives him an immensely disappointed look.

But I also like the odd capabilities that the characters have.

Fair enough: scholars are needed to open certain doors. I suspect that some of the ones I can’t get through require the Maharajah, but I haven’t played Temple of Doom yet, so he’s not a playable character. And Indy himself can use his whip to draw down bridges or to climb up the side of buildings.

But Marian Ravenswood is a “bottle-throwing character,” which not only makes her a useful ranged fighter, but also enables her to blow stuff up by tossing liquor bottles into flaming barrels.

She’s also a “monkey-carrying character” or at least she is after you pass the Cairo scenes. This, by some strange stretch of the imagination, means that if Marian steps on a red platform, she can transform into a monkey and access out-of-the-way areas.

Now that’s just cool.

Marcus Brody, on the other hand, can slide down wires using his umbrella. (He’s also quite handy at fighting off Nazis, an activity for which he also uses his umbrella.)

What I need to do now is access one of the smaller characters so that I can get through tiny doorways. But that means either the Maharajah or Short Round, and I’m having too much fun with Raiders to move onto Temple just yet.

Oh, and there was an Ewok. I don’t know why: he was in a hidden area that I could only access once I had Professor Belloq as a playable character.

I think I also met Santa Claus at one point. He was another hidden area, in a small hut outside Marian’s tavern in Tibet, dressed all in red and surrounded by elaborately wrapped parcels.

I accidentally hit him with a candy cane.

I hope I don’t end up on his “naughty” list.

Strange Conversations: Part Twenty-Nine

Posted 5776 days ago in by Catriona

Nick and I are both in the living room, but this happened over Facebook chat nonetheless:

NICK: Hello!
ME: Hello, honey! If you reply to this, I will come over to the sofa and kick you.

Really, from different rooms? Fine.

From a sofa just over on the other side of the room? Just silly.

Live-blogging Doctor Who: The Sontaran Stratagem

Posted 5776 days ago in by Catriona

Aha! This time I have prepared myself in advance, and am sitting here a good ten minutes before the episode actually starts, watching extended sports coverage on ABC News.

Seriously, when did it come about that the sports bulletin started at quarter past the hour? There must be more actual news in the world than can be included in a fifteen-minute bulletin.

Eh, c’est la vie: that’s Australia’s sports madness for you, I suppose.

See, now they’re claiming the All Blacks are rubbish because they’ve just lost two games in a week. Two games versus South Africa and Australia, I might add: two equally strong sporting countries. Oh, well: I’ve never cared for Union, so I’m not that fussed.

What does this have to do with Doctor Who? Absolutely nothing!

Why am I writing about it instead of saving my energy? No idea!

Aha! (Again.) The news has finished—though it lasted long enough for me to add another post, blogging addict that I am—and we’re heading towards Doctor Who and the Sontarans.

Watching an ad. for Foreign Correspondent has reminded me—well, Nick reminded me—that Tiananmen Square occurred in 1989. Damn! When did I get old?

And here we are! An attractive female journalist being thrown out of Rattigan Academy by a group of cultists in red tracksuits.

NICK: Newspaper journalists in the Doctor Who universe are remarkably stupid. And UNIT is supposed to be a secret organisation.

He’s tough to please, that one.

But, really, if she’s investigating deaths associated with ATMOS Systems (wait for that joke!), why the hell does she have ATMOS activated in her car? Daft girl.

She still doesn’t deserve to drive straight into the canal. That’s my fourth least-favourite death.

Ah, Donna driving the TARDIS! I love the relationship between her and the Doctor.

(Hang on, “her and the Doctor”? Yes, “her” is the objective pronoun as well as the possessive, isn’t it? Oh, never mind.)

Woo hoo! Who’s ringing? Can only be . . . Martha!

Yay, Martha! I love you, Martha!

Ooh, Nick tells me that the director of this episode also directed Jekyll. I really enjoyed Jekyll.

DONNA: She’s engaged, you prawn.

I love that line! And I love the way Donna is completely free of any kind of jealousy or discomfort around the other companions. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again—it’s my favourite part of her character.

UNIT! Ah, UNIT! You were such a huge part of my childhood. But where’s Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart? And Yates? (The prat.) And Benson? I love you, Benson!

Nick tells me the uniforms are all wrong. And that they’re wearing their berets in such a way as to cause their sergeant majors to give them at least a thousand push-ups each.

Homeworld Security? That’s a frightening term.

The bit where Donna demands—and gets—a salute makes me laugh and laugh and laugh.

Martha checked the biopsies? Aren’t biopsies pre-mortem? I think she means autopsies.

I admit, ATMOS sounds too good to be true. Fits into every car? Reduces CO2 emissions to zero? Twenty quids’ worth of shopping vouchers if you introduce a friend? Sign me up! Ah, but then I’d meet my fourth least-favourite death, wouldn’t I? A dilemma!

NICK: Ah! It’s Sergeant Cannon Fodder and Corporal Dead Meat.

On the other hand, these two are tossers. I don’t think they deserve their (spoiler!) fate, but they are tossers.

Okay, giant, creepy, alien vat. I have some advice for you, UNIT chappies: do not attempt to open it. Seriously. Even Corporal Dead Meat agrees with me, Sergeant Cannon Fodder.

Their gauntlets are kind of cool, though, with the padded back pieces.

Ah, green goo. No . . . Ah! Thing leaping out of the goo! Ew, and the creepy pieces of flesh over the mouth. Oh, that’s just wrong.

Nick thinks these two are inconsistently written, veering between scientific curiosity and angling for promotion.

SONTARAN: Words are the weapons of womenfolk!
ME: Yeah, well . . . . pffft!
NICK: I’m not sure that Sontarans even have womenfolk. They are clones, after all.

So it was just random misogyny. That makes it worse.

Woo hoo! Mike, from The Young Ones. As a Sontaran. I have lived my entire life waiting for this moment. Sort of.

The Doctor can be a hypocrite. He’s not always insisted that people carrying guns stand ten feet away from him at all times.

Ah! The first time that Donna uses her actual skills to help people. She’s right: the fact that the factory workers have no sick days—that is weird.

Oh, I don’t trust a child genius. They’re all . . . creepy. On television, anyway.

The Doctor wants to go to a hothouse for geniuses? Because he gets lonely? You arrogant man. Though I do love you.

Martha has had a worse run than most companions—though that doesn’t justify the cliche she’s just brought out about the Doctor being like fire. That’s a little weak.

And here are Cannon Fodder and Dead Meat, back but under Sontaran control.

Jenkins: he’s a pretty boy. And he seems sweet. I hope he doesn’t die at any point.

I love this exchange between the Doctor and Donna, when she’s explaining that she’s going home and he’s talking about all the planets they could have travelled to—none of which we ever see them going to. And she just lets him keep nattering—ah, I do love you, Donna. He is a great, big, outer-space dumbo.

Nick tells me there’s some anxiety about Polish migrant workers in the U. K., but he’s not sure whether this is critique or just playing up to it. I’ve not come across that anxiety.

(No, no! Martha, don’t go with Dead Meat and Cannon Fodder, you fool!)

I remember there was a lot of anxiety about Polish refugees during World War Two, but that was for an entirely different reason.

It’s only episode four— we really don’t need these Donna flashbacks. I don’t think they work, per se. We know what she’s gone through—but the way she breaks down when she sees her grandfather breaks my heart.

He’s so wonderful, the grandfather. But I never knew my biological grandfathers, and the man I called Granddad (my lovely neighbour) from the age of four died late last year, so maybe I’m biased. (Last time I saw Granddad, before he died, he said, “Well, you got fat, didn’t you?” I love you too, Granddad.)

The fact that Donna confesses to her grandfather but not to her mother—that’s a nice piece of character development.

Ah, so Jenkins is called Ross. I still hope he doesn’t die.

Ah, here’s the child genius. I missed a lot of this last time, because I geeked out and had to leave the room to grab my computer. Embarrassing? Not at all.

RATTIGAN: If only that [moving to another planet] was possible.
DOCTOR: If only that were possible. Conditional clause.

First response: Hee!
Second response: Actually, that’s not a function of a conditional clause, is it? It’s using the plural because it’s the subjunctive mood, isn’t it?
Third response: Oh, just watch the programme.

SONTARAN: We have an intruder!
DOCTOR: How did he get in? Intruder window?
ME: Hee!

Also, back five minutes, I agree with the Doctor—we don’t call Ross a grunt. We love Ross. He’s pretty.

DOCTOR: Now, Ross, don’t be rude: you look like a pink weasel to him.

Tennant is lovely in this episode, completely manic.

Is it part of the standard Sontaran mythos (wait, those two clones don’t look anything alike, which kind of undercuts Rattigan’s question about how they tell each other apart) that the valve on the back of their heads is there to force them to face their enemies in battle? I don’t remember that.

Back to poor old Martha, who’s now facing a Sontaran whose nickname is “The Blood-Bringer.” That’s sort of creepy, but not as creepy as the thing in the ooze.

Nick points out that the Sontaran ship is a lovely piece of CGI—and he’s right. But Nick’s a CGI junkie, and I’m not.

Ooh, Martha clone. And Freema Agyeman in goo, which I’m sure pleased those fanboys with a certain kink.

Hang on, ATMOS in the jeep. Doctor and lovely Ross, you might want to jump out of there at some point. Ooh, the Doctor’s clever. He’s just like James T. Kirk—who talked how many computers to death while he was captain of the Enterprise? Six or seven?

NICK: ATMOS must have a Kirk circuit.

We really are soul mates!

I think the point where the Doctor turns up on Donna’s doorstep and says, “You won’t believe the day I’ve had” is adorable—they do rely on each other, in a way that isn’t creepily co-dependent.

No! Don’t talk to Martha! She’s a creepy clone, now!

The fact that they called Donna “The Little General” when she was younger—I wonder if that’s why I like her? My family always used to say that I was destined to end up the dictator of a small, South American country.

(They do love me. I think.)

And now the Doctor’s set off ATMOS. That was a daft thing to do.

Don’t get in the car, Donna’s grandfather! That’s a stupid thing to do!

I actually find this endpoint rather frightening—we live on a main road, and the fumes are bad enough without ATMOS.

(On another note, I was devastated when Martha turned up only to be taken out of play halfway through the episode. That’s not what I anticipated.)

Ha! Sontaran haka! Lovely.

NICK: You’re a strange boy, Luke.

And that’s the episode. The first two-parter of the season—and appropriately followed by an advertisement for “The Cars That Ate China.”

Next week: Nuclear attack against a spaceship lingering just outside our atmosphere? Really? Is that a good idea?

Oh, well: we’ll see.

Strange Conversations: Part Twenty-Eight

Posted 5776 days ago in by Catriona

Second-generation lapsed-Catholic guilt speaking:

ME: Sometimes I worry that I’m frivolling with the blog. Maybe I spend too much time on it, which I could spend doing more productive things.
NICK: You’re using it as a very valuable writing tool. It’s all grist for the mill. (Pause) Ha! Grist for The Mills.

There’s nothing like a bad pun to pull you out of downward-spiralling existential angst.


Posted 5777 days ago in by Catriona

I have triumphantly located my copy of Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf, which I have been futilely seeking since, apparently, May this year.

It was on one of the living-room bookcases, on a shelf devoted exclusively to sci-fi/fantasy, next to my copy of The Princess Bride.

But of course.

No, Seriously, I Have to Stop Surfing the Internet

Posted 5778 days ago in by Catriona

Because otherwise I really am going to bankrupt myself.

This time I’ve come across the small, independent publisher Valancourt Books.

They operate out of Kansas City (oh, bless you, Internet. I love you, and don’t pay any attention to the title of this post; I will not abandon you) and they specialise in late-eighteenth and early nineteenth century novels, especially Gothic works.

I haven’t steeled myself to actually buy anything yet, but I have made a list.

Seriously, who could resist these titles?

There’s The Fate of Fenella (1892). The title alone would be enough to make me buy this book but, in addition to that, each chapter was written (without seeing the other chapters) by a different author, including Arthur Conan Doyle, Frances Eleanor Trollope, ‘Tasma,’ and George Manville Fenn.

Or maybe Miss Cayley’s Adventures (1899) by Grant Allen, which is one of the earliest female-detective novels (although the earliest examples appeared in the 1860s, and the first professional female detective, Loveday Brooke, appeared in 1894).

Or The Datchett Diamonds (1898) by Richard Marsh, another early detective novel, and one republished with a stunning cover based on an early edition.

Or The Necromancer (1851-1852) by George William Macarthur Reynolds. Seriously, this book has a beautiful woman with a deadly secret, a ruined castle whose walls conceal terrible secrets, a mysterious chamber emblazoned—literally, in “letters of fire”—with the names of ill-fated women, and, best of all, a cover illustration of a skeleton who appears to be playing the violin.

Or The Magic Ring (1825) by Baron de lat Motte Forque: an influence on Tolkien, this one draws on Germanic folktales, Icelandic sagas, Arthurian romance, and Gothic horror. As for the plot, I think I should let the website speak for itself on that one:

It is the twelfth century, the era of Richard the Lion-heart and the Third Crusade. Along the Danube, the tranquil world shared by the young squire Otto and his cousin Bertha is changed forever when they witness a knightly contest for possession of a magic ring. Soon both are drawn into a quest that transforms them and endangers all they love. The resulting adventures lead each to different paths of enchantment and peril, from the mysteries of Moorish Spain to the birthplace of Norse mythology. While navigating an ever-changing sea of allies and foes, both natural and magical, the two seek love, honor, survival, and a ring that possesses more power than either can possibly understand.

Whichever other books I have to forgo, I’m definitely buying that one.

This is the Most Exciting Book Ever

Posted 5778 days ago in by Catriona


Not convinced? All right: I admit that the front cover alone isn’t the most exciting thing you’ll have seen on the Internet today.

But look!

This little octavo is volumes three and four of Fiction for Family Reading, the obscure and short-lived mid-Victorian journal edited by Eliza Winstanley.

Now I bet you’re excited.

I found this in Barcelona—thanks to the magic of the Internet, obviously, although I will now add “shopping for rare Victorian books in Spain” to my list of things to do—a month or so ago, and inveigled Nick into allowing me to put it on his credit card. And it arrived this afternoon, accompanied by a courier with whom I had a brief but interesting conversation of the futility of having a doorbell when said doorbell doesn’t actually work. I really must put a sign up.

These volumes include all installments of Winstanley’s longest work for the journal: “My Own Diggings,” a series of discrete stories about Australia during the convict era, linked by a single narrator who plays a more or less active role in the various events.

So obscure is this journal that when I was working on it myself, I had to work from a set of microfilms (very generously purchased by the library) made from the British Library’s copy, because I could not locate a single copy in an accessible library anywhere in Australia and the run hadn’t been previously microfilmed.

The only drawback to this glorious little book is that this neither of these volumes includes the rewriting of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Travelling Companion” that was curiously accompanied by an illustration of a half-naked woman.

Humiliation, Round Two: The Nominations

Posted 5779 days ago in by Catriona

Here’s the playlist for round two of Humiliation:

I have never read The Catcher in the Rye.
Georgia has never read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
Sam has never read James and the Giant Peach.
Nick has never read Dracula.
Leigh has never read To Kill a Mockingbird.
Tim has never read The Da Vinci Code.
Wendy has never read The Hobbit.
John has never read King Lear.
Matt has never read Great Expectations.

Tell me in the comment thread below which of these you have read (there’s no need to go the trouble of telling me if you haven’t read some of them) by 6 p.m. tomorrow night, and I’ll post the results shortly afterwards.

There are some frighteningly strong contenders, here—and I thought my entry was looking so good when I thought of it!

I Don't Ever Seem To Have Original Ideas

Posted 5779 days ago in by Catriona

I mentioned back during the second stage of my Magical Mystery Bookshelf Tour that I thought L. M. Montgomery was most interesting when she was exploring the darker side of late-Victorian provincial life.

I shouldn’t have anticipated that I would be the only one who thought that, but I hadn’t thought it would take such an odd turn.

You see, I was surfing through Wikipedia this afternoon—almost as dangerous an activity as surfing around on, and with a greater chance of unexpectedly coming across some examples of necrophotography—when I discovered that Emily of New Moon—one of my favourite Montgomery books, still—was made into a television series in the late 1990s.

(Honestly, I owe some my happiest television-watching hours to Canadian television. Unfortunately, Nick never enjoyed Degrassi Junior High, so I haven’t been able to rewatch that recently, but we both loved The Nero Wolfe Mysteries.)

So I would have been intrigued by this, anyway—getting, as I am, to an age where I find inaccurate adaptations of my favourite stories amusing rather than depressing, assuming that they don’t include random Nazis.

But then I stumbled across a review on the website of the L. M. Montgomery Reading Group’s website and, oddly enough, the stated inaccuracies only intrigued me more in this case.

I’ll quote:

[T]he series writers [. . .] added a number of elements and subplots that offered a record of 1890s Prince Edward Island that is radically different in tone and in topic from Montgomery’s. Emily’s “flash” and encounters with the supernatural are heightened in the television series, so much so that Ellen Vanstone refers to the production as “The X-Files meets Anne of Green Gables” (C1). As well, characters such as Aunt Laura (McCarthy), Aunt Thom (Janet Wright), and Margaux Lavoie (Jacqueline MacKenzie) [sic] all contribute to the series’ unflinching rejection of the Victorian idolization of courtship and its creation of situations that entrap women legally, sexually, and emotionally.

Now that does sound interesting.

As I mentioned at the beginning, Montgomery was well aware of the strictures on women in small communities in the late nineteenth century, so I can’t be sure how far away from the tone of her novels this has stepped. (The supernatural elements were certainly present in the original; Emily used what was called “second sight” to solve mysteries and prevent disasters in all three novels.)

But I’m certainly keen to find out, which is a shame, really, since the series aired ten years ago and was cancelled because of poor ratings.

But I see, thanks to that it’s coming out on DVD later this year.

So now all I need to do is convince Nick that he really does want to watch a Canadian children’s television programme set in the 1890s.

Unforeseen Consequences of the Fact that Our Fence is a Car Magnet

Posted 5779 days ago in by Catriona

So I had to run out this morning to buy some groceries; with semester two starting up, my father-in-law is back to doing his evening classes and coming around to dinner once a week. (I’m planning on making homemade baked beans, but that’s not important right now.)

But, of course, it’s pouring here this morning.

In fact, as I’m sure reluctant Rain God Rob McKenna would tell you, so far we’ve moved through rain types 33 (“light pricking drizzle which made the roads slippery”) to everything between types 47 to 51 (“vertical light drizzle through to sharply slanting light to moderate drizzle freshening”), with occasional bursts of type 11 (“breezy droplets”).

And it made me aware of how awkward things have become in the wake of the four cars that have driven through our fence.

First, I had to dash past an over-enthusiastic (and extremely damp) type of Chinese jasmine, across a muddy lawn in trousers that were slightly too long, down a slippery set of brick stairs, and into the garage.

Only the garage door doesn’t open very readily since my car was pushed through it in collision number two (which buckled the frame). My mother can’t open it at all. So it’s actually a few minutes of swearing and tugging frantically at a slippery metal handle before the door opens.

(My greatest source of envy right now? The friend whose garage door opens remotely. But, I admit, she tells me the fuse blows occasionally and then she has to climb in through a window. Every silver lining has a cloud, I suppose.)

Then it’s up the driveway (steeply sloping, to boot) to open the gates.

Only the gates don’t open that readily, either.

The right-hand gate was smashed off in collision number two, and the left-hand gate badly damaged. But the latter wasn’t really broken until collision number three a month later; we hadn’t had the damage repaired, yet, so the car just sailed through the open space and took out the next section of fence.

So when the gate was replaced, they added heavy-duty steel frames.

But then collision number four buckled the hinges of the right-hand gate.

So opening them is now a major production, especially in the rain: they have to be pushed out towards the footpath before they’ll open at all, and then dragged back inwards. And they won’t stay open, so we have loops of twine that have to be located and attached to the latches to stop the gates swinging back and dinging the car.

All in the rain.

Then it’s reversing the car out, leaving it in park, and dashing back down to close the garage door. But it doesn’t close any more readily than it opens, so it’s a few minutes of shoving the left-hand corner with your foot to force the door closed.

Really, it all seems like more trouble than it’s worth.

And that’s before the actual process of reversing out blindly onto a dual-carriageway near a corner that people take so quickly that they keep driving through my fence.



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