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Theodora Goss
Posted on Tuesday, November 30, 2004 - 10:16 pm:   

The Faery Reel, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. Favorite story so far: Jeff Ford's "The Annals of Eelin-Ok."
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Deborah Roggie
Posted on Wednesday, December 01, 2004 - 07:00 am:   

I'm reading The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth. I'm only about 40 pages in. So far his worldbuilding seems clunky. Too much authorial narration, too little from the point of view of his characters. Things liven up when his characters are onstage.

In the interviews I've read, Roth seems unaware that other folks have written alternative histories before him. Sort of like Margaret Atwood denying that she's written science fiction.

I've got the Gene Wolfe and Susannah Clarke books waiting.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Wednesday, December 01, 2004 - 07:00 pm:   

Dora, that's a wonderful story! Glad you like it.

Btw, it was great seeing you and Kendrick and the baby a couple of weeks ago. Thanks for coming by the signing.
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Jason D. Wittman
Posted on Wednesday, December 01, 2004 - 11:05 pm:   

I recently finished Dracula, by Bram Stoker. It was interesting to note that Dracula walks in broad daylight on several occasions. I also read Book 3 of Lemony Snicket's series in one night. Very amusing, if you have a macabre sense of humor (which I do).

And a while back I read Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. After all the movies and parodies, it was odd to find that the relationship between Jekyll and Hyde is only revealed in the next-to-last chapter.

And I have just begun reading The Man Who Laughs, by Victor Hugo.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Thursday, December 02, 2004 - 06:33 pm:   

Hi Jason,
I read Dracula a few years ago for the first time, and even though it's been done to death (pardon the double entendre) the original is still very creepy. I can imagine how frightening it must have been when it was first published.

I've heard good things about Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
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Jason D. Wittman
Posted on Thursday, December 02, 2004 - 10:52 pm:   

Hi Ellen,

Jekyll & Hyde is a very quick read (as was Treasure Island, which I read a while back, and also enjoyed).

On a side note, the book I read J&H in had three other stories published under the umbrella title "The Suicide Club." They were the reason I'd bought the book, because I'd seen a movie ("The Game of Death", starring Jonathan Pryce), which was very loosely based on those stories. Well, I read them, and IMHO, they would not have made it to publication in this day and age. The more I read, the more I realize what the old masters were able to get away with.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Friday, December 03, 2004 - 08:54 am:   

Jason,
Were all the stories in the book written by Stevenson? Now I'm really curious.
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John Klima
Posted on Friday, December 03, 2004 - 10:50 am:   

Ellen:

Tartarus Press has an edition coming out in a few weeks (according to their web site).

http://homepages.pavilion.co.uk/users/tartarus/stevenson.htm

JK
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Jason D. Wittman
Posted on Friday, December 03, 2004 - 10:56 am:   

Ellen,

Yes, all the stories were by Stevenson. The total list is as follows:

Jekyll & Hyde
The Body Snatchers
Markheim
Olalla

and The Suicide Club, under which were the three titles:

Story of the Young Man with the Cream Tarts
Story of the Physician and the Saratoga Trunk
The Adventure of the Hansom Cabs

The book itself was one of those little $4.98 hardcovers that Barnes & Noble has been putting out recently, with titles from Melville, Austen, and other authors too dead to collect royalties. You should find it quite easily.

Jason

Oh, and hi Dora. Sorry if it seems we're monopolizing your thread here. :-)

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John Klima
Posted on Friday, December 03, 2004 - 10:57 am:   

And there's a Dover thrift edition:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0486414167/qid=1102100259/sr=2-1/ref=pd_k a_b_2_1/002-5917489-2752845

JK
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Friday, December 03, 2004 - 02:47 pm:   

Hi Jason! And Ellen! And John! And Deborah (early on).

No such thing as monopolizing. Talk away! Sorry for my absence, especially from a Dracula discussion. My mother and grandmother are visiting. I should be back tomorrow . . .
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Friday, December 03, 2004 - 02:49 pm:   

Ooh. I love little hardcovers. Maybe I'll check them out at B&N next time I'm near one.
Tartarus usually sends me stuff so I met be receiving theirs.
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Jason D. Wittman
Posted on Friday, December 03, 2004 - 11:04 pm:   

A Dracula discussion? Sounds like fun.

You know, Tim Powers was at a con in St. Paul a few months back. He said that a woman once said to him that Dracula was about the situation of women in the Victorian era. And he said, "No, Dracula is about a guy who lives forever by drinking blood. But don't take my word for it. Read the book."
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J. Erik Lundberg
Posted on Saturday, December 04, 2004 - 03:14 pm:   

I'm currently reading A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, the memoir by Dave Eggers. I really love Eggers' fiction, and the memoir hasn't disappointed yet. I absolutely love his writing style, his attention to rhythm, to unusual syntax.

Of course, Eggers is also the mind behind McSweeney's and The Believer.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Thursday, December 09, 2004 - 01:56 pm:   

I love "Olalla." It's one of my favorite Stevenson stories. And I love teaching it.

I also love teaching Jekyll & Hyde and Dracula. Students always think they know the stories, because they've permeated our culture, and they don't. They're especially surprised by Dracula.

Which is why I have a problem with this:

You know, Tim Powers was at a con in St. Paul a few months back. He said that a woman once said to him that Dracula was about the situation of women in the Victorian era. And he said, "No, Dracula is about a guy who lives forever by drinking blood. But don't take my word for it. Read the book."

I mean, I've read the book, and it's about a lot of things. It really is about the situation of women in the Victorian era. And it's about the Victorian idea of Englishness and imperialism. And there's a whole religious subtext that Stoker built in. I studied a lot of this stuff when I did the annotations for the Bedford Books edition of Dracula, which was edited by my dissertation advisor. Stoker isn't a great writer, but he is a clever writer. He was interested in all sorts of things, including codes and cryptograms. And he took something like ten years to write the book. (His notes are in a library in Pennsylvania, I believe. They're extensive.)

I can see what Tim Powers is reacting against: critics who tell you that a book is "about" some underlying theme while ignoring the basic plot. But I would be pretty unhappy if someone told me that a story of mine was only "about" the plot, and not any of the other things I'd tried to put in there.

Anyway, I always have fun with Dracula. (And I just have to mention since my grandmother was here, but no jokes please, that her family actually comes from Transylvania. They're from a Hungarian tribe that settled there I don't know when. I have a story coming out in Alchemy 3 in which I rewrote Transylvanian history, though I have a feeling no one will notice . . .)

Especially fun is pointing out the way Dracula influenced contemporary culture. Count Chocula. The Count on Sesame Street. Some old Ray-Ban commercials (though sunlight affecting vampires came later, I don't know when--maybe in the movies?).

I also like Stoker's short stories a lot. I have a collection from Dover that includes the main ones, called just Best Ghost and Horror Stories (published in 1997).

Anyone else read Arthur Machen's The Great God Pan? That's another Victorian gothic I like a lot.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Thursday, December 09, 2004 - 01:59 pm:   

Just reread my post. Can you tell I really like Victorian gothic? I mean, I don't know anyone else who's read the collected poems of Arthur Conan Doyle.
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Robert Burke Richardson
Posted on Thursday, December 09, 2004 - 04:12 pm:   

I'm reading a novel called "Bedlam" right now, by Greg Hollingshead. It's a bestseller in Canada, but I'm not sure if it's been released in the States. One of the really interesting things about this book is that it's written in Victorian language, and from a Victorian perspective. It's historical, based on a true story (or true stories, perhaps), but reads kind of like fantasy to me.

Pretty cool so far.
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Thursday, December 09, 2004 - 04:52 pm:   

Ooo, what's the basic gist? About the asylum? I'm very into that time period.
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Robert Burke Richardson
Posted on Thursday, December 09, 2004 - 06:22 pm:   

Melissa;

Here's the publisher's description:

Bedlam, Greg Hollingshead's new novel, tells a dramatic and compelling story of three ordinary people caught up in the turmoil of the late-18th century, their lives inexorably intertwined in a world where nothing is as it seems.

Europe, reeling from the French Revolution, is about to explode. Conspiracies, plots and paranoia sweep across the country, landing James Tilly Matthews in Bethlem Hospital, a notorious, crumbling home for the insane. Although he is delusional, convinced that a gang of villains is controlling unsuspecting minds by means of a diabolical machine called an "Air Loom," Matthews appears to be incarcerated for political reasons. Margaret, his beloved wife, spends years trying to free her often lucid husband, but she is repeatedly blocked by her chief adversary, John Haslam, Bethlem's apothecary and chief administrator. Haslam, torn between his conscience and a desire to further his career through studying his famous patient, becomes another puppet in a game governed by shifting rules and shadowy players.

Bedlam creates an indelible portrait of 18th-century London, a city teetering between darkness and light, struggling to find its way to a more just and humane future. In its darkest corners, where noblemen, pickpockets, royalists and republicans jostle one another, where corruption is all in a day's work, Matthews, Margaret and Haslam must contrive their own destinies.

Enlivened with wit and intellectual daring, Bedlam is a novel that pulses with insight and compassion, in which imagination bridges the chasm between fantasy and reality, love and hate.
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Thursday, December 09, 2004 - 06:27 pm:   

Thanks! That does sound like a good one.
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Jason D. Wittman
Posted on Thursday, December 09, 2004 - 11:47 pm:   

Dora,

I've read "The Great God Pan." I found it in _The 13 Best Horror Stories of All Time_, an anthology edited by Leslie Pockell and published by Warner Books in 2002. "The Great God Pan" was an interesting story because of the way it was told. None of the horrific elements were ever related firsthand. The reader doesn't even meet the story's villain face-to-face, even at the climax. You always sort of overhear what happens in conversations between characters in the story. And yet somehow, the story works. For me, at least.

(But would a writer get away with that in this day and age?)
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Jason D. Wittman
Posted on Friday, December 10, 2004 - 12:00 am:   

Oh, and I believe the vampires-vaporizing-in-sunlight myth began with _Nosferatu_, the 1926 silent film directed by F.W. Murnau.

Dora, I'm guessing you've read _Lair of the White Worm_. Some time ago, I bought a used copy in which someone had written inside the cover: "H.P. Lovecraft claimed that Stoker 'ruins a magnificent idea by a development almost infantile.'" Would you agree with that assessment? After reading that quote, I'm not sure I want to read the book. :-D
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Sarah Miller
Posted on Saturday, December 11, 2004 - 08:47 am:   

"I recently finished Dracula, by Bram Stoker. It was interesting to note that Dracula walks in broad daylight on several occasions. I also read Book 3 of Lemony Snicket's series in one night. Very amusing, if you have a macabre sense of humor (which I do)."

I felt the first few Lemony Snicket books were fun but repetitive, but around book 6 the plot begins to thicken. I'm looking forward to the movie adaptation, surprisingly enough.

"Oh, and I believe the vampires-vaporizing-in-sunlight myth began with _Nosferatu_, the 1926 silent film directed by F.W. Murnau. "

My handy little Vampire Almanac (very little, but very informative) says, "It was primarily the movies that began the transformation of sunlight into a deadly weapon. As early as the 1920's silent movie Nosferatu, the vampire was destroyed by exposure to the first rays of dawn's light. Currently, it's widely accepted that sunlight has the power to destroy -- or severely weaken -- a vampire. (According to folklore, however, many vampires of Eastern Europe were not the least bothered by sunlight.)"

Interestingly enough, this book also says that vampires in folklore did not usually have fangs; that began with Christopher Lee's playing Dracula in 1958.

I need to reread Dracula. I read it once, a very long time ago, and I think I got much less out of it than I should have.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Sunday, December 12, 2004 - 11:15 pm:   

Dora, I'm guessing you've read _Lair of the White Worm_. Some time ago, I bought a used copy in which someone had written inside the cover: "H.P. Lovecraft claimed that Stoker 'ruins a magnificent idea by a development almost infantile.'" Would you agree with that assessment? After reading that quote, I'm not sure I want to read the book. :-D

Yes, I agree with Lovecraft. Lair of the White Worm is genuinely awful. Stoker's excuse, and I think I'm remembering this correctly, is that the novel was written while he was dying. It's his last one, and was rushed to print. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone but a scholar. The only novel of his I would recommend (and Stoker wrote several) other than Dracula is The Jewel of Seven Stars, which isn't bad. It reads like Conan Doyle on one of his off days, which is still pretty good.

I've read "The Great God Pan." I found it in _The 13 Best Horror Stories of All Time_, an anthology edited by Leslie Pockell and published by Warner Books in 2002. "The Great God Pan" was an interesting story because of the way it was told. None of the horrific elements were ever related firsthand. The reader doesn't even meet the story's villain face-to-face, even at the climax. You always sort of overhear what happens in conversations between characters in the story. And yet somehow, the story works. For me, at least.

(But would a writer get away with that in this day and age?)


Why not? Writers have gotten away with much more, and continue to do so. I think we have much more freedom now, post-Joyce and the modernists, to experiment than did the Victorians. A writer can get away with anything that (1) an editor will buy and (2) the public will read.

Certainly, it's against the "rules" one is often taught at workshops. But none of the professional writers I know follow those rules . . .
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Sunday, December 12, 2004 - 11:25 pm:   

And by the way, I've read almost all of The Faery Reel, which is excellent. Highly recommended!

(Erik: What is A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius actually about? I remember all the publicity when it first came out, but I tend to assume that I won't like books that are so heavily publicized, so I never picked it up. Which is why it took me so long to read Harry Potter, though also I didn't initially like the first book.)
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Jason Erik Lundberg
Posted on Monday, December 13, 2004 - 12:32 pm:   

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is Dave Eggers' highly stylized, sometime metafictional and slightly fictionalized memoir. It took me a little while to get through, but I was also deep in grad school readings at the time.

His novel You Shall Know Our Velocity was much better, and his collection How We Are Hungry is out now. They were both published through McSweeney's, with the novel defiantly refusing to wear a dustjacket and sporting text on the front cover and inside endpapers, and with the collection designed like an oversized moleskine notebook complete with sewn-in cloth bookmark and elastic band.
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Eric Marin
Posted on Monday, December 13, 2004 - 05:11 pm:   

I finished Gene Wolfe's The Wizard two nights ago. All I can say is, "Wow."
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Anonymous
Posted on Monday, December 20, 2004 - 05:43 pm:   

Ursala K. Le Guin's "The Day Before The Revolution" in The Locus Award, a collection of short fantasy, sci-fi stories. Reading Romeo and Julliet for school, and memorizing the Balcony scene, Memorizing a short story by Dino Buzzati called "The End of the World". Also the Bible, Koran and our Constitution(relevant parts) for our debate topic "Is Democracy best served by strict seperation of Church and State. Plus a few poems online every night on this poetry site I belong too.
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Jason D. Wittman
Posted on Friday, December 24, 2004 - 11:26 pm:   

I recently finished "The Reptile Room", Book 2 in Lemony Snicket's "A Series of Unfortunate Events." It contains a most interesting sentence: "He taught them not to give the Green Gimlet Toad too much water, and to never, under any circumstances, let the Virginian Wolfsnake near a typewriter."
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Sarah Miller
Posted on Sunday, December 26, 2004 - 09:36 am:   

I'm about halfway through "Spirits in the Wires" by Charles de Lint, which was a Christmas present.

This morning, for my birthday, my mother gave me the Legends II anthology (which I've had to hide in my room so she doesn't steal it before I get a chance to read it.) It's Rob Silverberg's collection of novellas by bestselling authors like Neil Gaiman, Anne McCaffrey, Orson Scott Card and George R.R. Martin, to name a few.

'I recently finished "The Reptile Room", Book 2 in Lemony Snicket's "A Series of Unfortunate Events." It contains a most interesting sentence: "He taught them not to give the Green Gimlet Toad too much water, and to never, under any circumstances, let the Virginian Wolfsnake near a typewriter." '

Lemony Snicket has some very pronounced views on literature. In book 11, "The Grim Grotto," all the good guys wear pictures of Herman Melville and all the bad guys wear pictures of Edgar Guest.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Sunday, December 26, 2004 - 04:31 pm:   

I think I remember "The Day Before the Revolution" as the story Le Guin said happened to the ones who walk away from Omelas . . . All of her short stories influenced me significantly as a teenager.

On Christmas day, I read Book the First in A Series of Unfortunate Events. I have to admit that I didn't particularly like it. I'm trying to read the second book, to give the series a chance, but I'm having a tough time. The books are well written and quick reads (the first one took me an hour), so it's not that. It's just that I got to the end of the first one and felt, well, depressed. I mean, it really sounds like the Baudelaire children are always going to be in peril, and always from the same person. I'm not sure how that can sustain an entire series? I guess I'm just not that interested in the machinations of Count Olaf, and if the entire series is going to be about his attempts to get the Baudelaire fortune, I may as well stop reading now. But anyone who likes the books is welcome to tell me why I shouldn't stop!

Honestly, I'm also bothered by what I think of as the author's attempts at postmodernity: he lets us know that he's there and that he's omniscient (by telling us what the future holds, like that Dr. Montgomery will die), he emphasizes language itself and its openness to interpretation (through all those definitions, and the uses and misuses of words). He lets us know that what we're reading is fiction, a construct. All right, that's all high level intellectual stuff, and it's interesting to see in a children's book. But in his hands it's also cutesy. A review called the books "arch," and I guess that's a good word for it as well.

But I think my reaction is mostly an intensely personal one: I don't see the point of reading a book that contains no possibility of happiness, at least for entertainment. (I'll gladly read depressing literature if I get something out of it, a deeper understanding of the world or the pleasure of a fabulous style. I'll gladly read Chekhov. But I don't get those things out of Lemony Snicket.) And I hope no one tells me that I shouldn't expect so much from a children's book . . . Children's books should be just as good as books for adults.

Wow, sorry, I didn't realize this would turn into a rant!

And I don't mean to say that the books aren't well-written. Just that I'm not enjoying them.
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Jason D. Wittman
Posted on Sunday, December 26, 2004 - 07:47 pm:   

About Lemony Snicket's books: I've only read up to Book 3, but I've been told that the stories are repetitive up to Book 6 (of 11 so far), at which point the plot thickens.

As for myself, I like the reverse psychology of Snicket's for-pity's-sake-don't-read-these-books sales pitch (personally, I think God wanted Adam and Eve to bite the apple), and his spit in the face of the sappy, saccharine sugariness of most children's literature in America. And his touches of humor (like where he gives a synopsis of the movie "Zombies in the Snow" in Book 2) really tickle my funny bone.

Or maybe that's just me.
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Sarah Miller
Posted on Monday, December 27, 2004 - 07:31 am:   

"And I don't mean to say that the books aren't well-written. Just that I'm not enjoying them."

I think that to enjoy Lemony Snicket, one needs to have a fairly dark sense of humor. In my mental categorization, they've always fallen near "The Gashlycrumb Tinies" by Edward Gorey.

Children, for the most part, have a fairly dark sense of humor -- or maybe they just don't understand things fully. I go back and read some of my favorite books from a few years ago, and I wonder why I didn't have nightmares.

Jason, whoever told you that the early books are repetitive, but the plot thickens during 6, was absolutely correct. The characters also develop a lot more, and the books are better paced, later in the series.

I'm fairly non-committal about Lemony Snicket; I am planning to read all of them, but more because I started reading them several years ago and I do like to complete things. They are not, by any means, close to making my top favorite childrens' series list, or even my unfinished (still being written) top favorite childrens' series. But then again, they're up against some stiff competition.
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Alan Yee
Posted on Tuesday, December 28, 2004 - 12:29 pm:   

I'm currently reading The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice. A few months ago I read Interview with the Vampire, then a week or two ago I saw the movie with Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, and Kirsten Dunst. I also got a load of Anne McCaffrey books for Christmas, so I am pretty stocked up with books on my shelves.

This still feels rather strange, as I have always felt, but known it wasn't true, that I'm the only thirteen-year-old boy whose prime priorities are reading and writing, and whose most abundant gifts are books (usually individually asked-for or self-picked-and-paid). All alliteration phrases are involuntary intellectual insights of my inner inconsistency of picking words.
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JV
Posted on Tuesday, December 28, 2004 - 01:01 pm:   

Dora:
Glad I'm not the only one who doesn't like the Snicket books. For me, though, it's because they're like Gorey Lite--and in a way that means while they might be delightful for kids, they don't engage me as an adult. For example, the penchant for finding a way to explain big words in contextual dialogue, etc., etc.--things aimed at making the text easier for kids. Which is fine. But it makes it hard for adults to get into it.

And the movie was awful.

JeffV
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GabrielM
Posted on Tuesday, December 28, 2004 - 05:11 pm:   

>> Glad I'm not the only one who doesn't like the Snicket books.

Me neither. Read the first one expecting to fully enjoy it and was disappointed. They're not terrible or anything, but there was no traction.
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Jason D. Wittman
Posted on Thursday, December 30, 2004 - 11:22 pm:   

Still reading _The Man Who Laughs_, by Victor Hugo. Jeez, that man is long-winded. It takes him an entire chapter--four pages--to say, "A ship is sailing into a storm."
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philipfoster
Posted on Monday, January 03, 2005 - 06:09 am:   

Has anyone else read 'Waking the Moon' by Elizabeth Hand? I Started on New Years day (never a good idea when sharing your head with a hangover) and am having real trouble getting into it. I loved 'Last Summer at Mars Hill' (especially 'Snow on Sugar Mountain' and "The least Trumps' (in Conjunctions 39) is one of my very favouite stories. Maybe it is suffering by comparison. Anyone else read this book?
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Wednesday, January 05, 2005 - 10:05 pm:   

So sorry, Ophelia went through three different viruses during the holidays. At this rate, she won't leave any for her teenage years. But I have learned that pediatricians are surprisingly chipper at two in the morning.

I think that to enjoy Lemony Snicket, one needs to have a fairly dark sense of humor. In my mental categorization, they've always fallen near "The Gashlycrumb Tinies" by Edward Gorey.

I agree with Sarah about the comparison to Gorey, but also with Jeff that (to me) they're Gorey lite. Or perhaps what's missing for me is Gorey's style. There's something not-terribly-subtle about Snicket's writing, and something artifical or contrived. Whereas Gorey is genuinely a Strange Guy, and his art seems to come directly out of that strangeness: it's an authentic expression of how he thought and the sort of person he was, for all its, what's the word, elaborateness, its Edwardianness. (I feel the same way about Lovecraft, particularly when people criticize his style. All right, it's a crazy, over-the-top style, but Lovecraft wasn't exactly a calm and rational sort. Asking him to write more clearly and cleanly is like asking an outsider artist to be a good modern minimalist.)

Children, for the most part, have a fairly dark sense of humor -- or maybe they just don't understand things fully. I go back and read some of my favorite books from a few years ago, and I wonder why I didn't have nightmares.

Hmmm. I think I liked dark fantasy when I was a child. (I liked Joan Aiken a lot!) But I also had a sense of justice, and wanted good to triumph and evil to be punished, in the end. I think it was Tolkien that said, to paraphrase, children (being innocent) want justice, whereas adults (knowing so well that they're not) want mercy.

Me neither. Read the first one expecting to fully enjoy it and was disappointed. They're not terrible or anything, but there was no traction.

That's how I felt! There was nothing holding me to the story. I was sliding along on ballbearings.

And the movie was awful.

Anyone else on this? Should I see it?

This still feels rather strange, as I have always felt, but known it wasn't true, that I'm the only thirteen-year-old boy whose prime priorities are reading and writing, and whose most abundant gifts are books (usually individually asked-for or self-picked-and-paid). All alliteration phrases are involuntary intellectual insights of my inner inconsistency of picking words.

Ah, you should talk to my friend Luke, Alan. He's posted here a couple of times. Luke, are you out there? He's a bit older than you, but you're both in the same boat!

Again, apologies for the long absence. I've been sitting up nights with fevers and rashes and whatnot.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Wednesday, January 05, 2005 - 10:09 pm:   

Oh yes, Parker Pyne Investigates by Agatha Christie. My escapist writer of choice. (You can't read Serious Literature when you're dealing with whatnot. Serious this-baby-will-never-sleep-again whatnot.)
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Jason D. Wittman
Posted on Wednesday, January 05, 2005 - 11:28 pm:   

"And the movie was awful."

"Anyone else on this? Should I see it?"

I saw it about a week before Christmas. Personally, I enjoyed it (different people have different tastes). Jude Law provides the voice of Lemony Snicket, who speaks in the same narrative voice as the books. Jim Carrey is predictably over-the-top as Count Olaf (I think it's safe to say that Jim Carrey never acts, he hams), but I think over-the-top is called for in that particular role. And I thought the actors playing the children handled themselves well.

While we're on the subject: what do you people think of the books' constant mantra, "Adults Never Listen To Children"? I read a newspaper article recently that related how the movie's director had a sort of town hall meeting with a few of the books' young fans and asked them how he should go about making this movie. It went along the lines of: "Should I cut this scene out?" "No! That's one of the most important scenes in the book!" "All right. How about this one?" "No, no! That's one of my favorites!" And yet, when the movie came out, adults approached him and said "How could you show this horrible scene in a children's movie?" Which seems to reinforce Snicket's point.

In other news, I bought _Iron Council_, by China Mieville, with my B&N gift card. I am reading from James Clavell's _Shogun_ as sort of research for a story idea, and re-reading Ursula K. LeGuin's _A Wizard of Earthsea_ after watching that atrocious SciFi Channel miniseries that was supposedly based on her books. (How, I ask you, did Snidely Whiplash become King of the Kargad Lands?)

Jason
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Danielle Stobie
Posted on Monday, January 24, 2005 - 11:51 am:   

I didn't find the film of Lemony Snicket horrific either; in fact, I found it delightful. Yes Jim Carrey is hammy but never really that far off from the ghastly personality of the over-the-top Count Olaf. I found instead moments of the movie to be quite lovely: especially the moment when Billy Collins as one of the many guardians of the children plays this lovely song for them on the autoharp. I've only read the first book but found it enjoyable. I've had several adults confess to me (I work in a bookstore) that they do not like them especially when it comes to how the children cannot seem to ever quite escape their misfortunes. I find the books heartening in a way. Yes their life is miserable despite their cleverness, their affection for each other they keep ending up in horrid circumstances. And yet the children never stop looking for answers to the riddles presented to them, never stop looking out for one another despite the fact that the hope they have is very slight.

Otherwise, (meaning diverging from that awful ramble) I'm reading Isak Dinesen's Winter's Tales, Middlemarch by George Eliot and A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray. Of the the three, I'm certainly enjoying Winter's Tales the most.
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Sarah Miller
Posted on Monday, January 24, 2005 - 03:25 pm:   

I bought a book of Franz Kafka stories the other day, and I am slowly working my way through it. I'm not sure if I like his writing, but it's definitely intriguing.

I also have a bunch of articles written by John Steinbeck about writing, which my workshop teacher gave to us (along with excerpts of Tortilla Flats and East of Eden.) I didn't like The Pearl or Of Mice And Men, but when he's talking about how/what/when/why he writes I can kind of sympathize with him. A lot of the things he says about writing have been echoed by other writers who I respect immensely, and some of it I've even found to be true for myself.
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Tamar
Posted on Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - 09:22 am:   

John Steinbeck wrote a book called 'Journal of a Novel' while he was writing 'East of Eden' It gives a fascinating insight into the novel-writing process. Well, into John Steinbeck's novel-writing process.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - 07:33 pm:   

Hmmm. On Jason's and Danielle's recommendation, I'll see the movie, though I think I'll wait to rent, since actually going out to a movie is all-but-impossible nowadays. Count Olaf strikes me as over the top in the books, so it sounds like Jim Carey is getting it right?

I love Isak Dinesen's Winter's Tales! Actually, I love anything by Isak Dinesen! My favorites in Winter's Tales are "The Pearls," "The Heroine," and "Sorrow Acre." Oh, and "The Invincible Slave-Owners." I think Dinesen writes the most perfect short stories, in terms of style and form.

Hmmm. Steinbeck was sort of forced on me as a child. He's my mother's favorite writer, and he was held up to me as an example of good writing--good social realist "write what you know" writing. I can't help resenting him, wonderful as he is . . .

I had trouble getting through a book of Kafka's short stories several years ago. I'll have to read it again, I think.

And just to respond to Philip's post from a while back, I haven't read Waking the Moon, but I did like Mortal Love a lot . . .
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Liz Hand
Posted on Saturday, February 05, 2005 - 04:09 pm:   

Note to Philip: WAKING THE MOON was overwritten. Believe me, I know. I had a prose hangover when I finished writing it.

I'm reading an interesting novel called KINDERGARTEN, by Peter Rushforth; a Holocaust novel framed by Grimm's fairy tales, especially "Hansel and Gretel." It reminds me a bit of Maurice Sendak's WE ARE ALL IN THE DUMPS WITH JACK AND GUY. Anyone ever heard of the Rushforth? Also reading Patricia Highsmith's Ripley novels, and recently finished Kem Nunn's DOGS OF WINTER and TIJUANA STRAITS, both really good, esp. DOGS OF WINTER.

I haven't read the Lemony Snickett books, but I listened to several of them on tape when my kids were younger -- they were hugely entertaining on long car trips, especially the tapes done by Tim Curry.
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Jason D. Wittman
Posted on Saturday, February 05, 2005 - 04:28 pm:   

Hansel & Gretel and the Holocaust are a frightening combination when you think about it. (I mean, that part about the witch throwing the children into the oven?)

Has anyone beside me read Jane Yolen's_Briar Rose_? It combines the Holocaust and the Sleeping Beauty story.
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liz
Posted on Sunday, February 06, 2005 - 04:58 am:   

I read Briar Rose -- this book reminded me of it, a bit, though I think it predates the Yolen. The adult protagonist of KINDERGARTEN is a Holocaust survivor, a woman who's a renowned illustrator of children's books. It's very deft and quite harrowing, especially as it plays off a hostage crisis in late 20th-century Berlin, where a number of children are being held in a school. Horrific, and all too real.
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Jason D. Wittman
Posted on Sunday, February 06, 2005 - 09:26 am:   

Liz: Was the hostage crisis historical or fictional?
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jeff ford
Posted on Sunday, February 06, 2005 - 09:42 am:   

Theodora: I'm a big fan of Dinesen's Tales too. My favorites are in the book -- Last Tales. My favorite is the one about the artist -- "The Cloak" but as you say any of those books of tales is worth the trip.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Wednesday, February 23, 2005 - 11:28 am:   

Wow! Hi Liz!

It's great to hear from you.

Sorry I haven't responded to this thread. I knew it would take some thought, and I didn't have any.

I can't speak to Waking the Moon, but whenever I start reading an anthology, I always read some writers first--like Liz Hand and Jeff Ford! (That sounds like I'm trying to basely flatter, but it's true. I have a whole list of favorites . . .)

I haven't read Briar Rose. But I've been reading Jane Yolen's short story collection Sister Emily's Lightship, which includes a story called "Granny Rumple," about Jews living in a ghetto in the Ukraine--written as though the main character is a member of Yolen's family, although I don't know if that's true or not--and based on Rumplestiltskin. At the end of the book, in a note on the story, she writes:

"So I looked more carefully at the little man, Rumplestiltskin, himself. He has an unpronouncable name, lives apart from the kingdom, changes money, and is thought to want the child for some unspeakable blood rites. Thwack! The holy salmon of inspiration hit me in the face. Of course. Rumplestiltskin is a medieval German story. This is an anti-Semitic tale. Little man, odd name, lives far away from the halls of power, is a moneychanger, and the old blood-rites canard."

It's a short but powerful story, one I don't think I'm going to forget.

And I love "The Cloak"!
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Thursday, March 17, 2005 - 09:54 pm:   

Reading: new collection of H.G. Wells stories and the Nebula Showcase from 2003, which has "The Empire of Ice Cream" in it. Beautiful, beautiful writing! (I mean the Jeff Ford story specifically. I haven't read the other stories yet, and much as I like Wells, "beautiful" isn't really the right word for his writing.)
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Jason D. Wittman
Posted on Thursday, March 17, 2005 - 11:55 pm:   

Just read H.G. Wells' "The Valley of the Blind" in _The 13 Best Horror Stories of All Time_. It's a good story, but I don't think it really qualifies as horror...

And I'm also on _The Tombs of Atuan_, by Ursula K. LeGuin.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Saturday, March 19, 2005 - 09:09 am:   

Sorry, that's the Nebula Showcase 2005. Most of the stories are from 2002/2003, which is what confused me.

I haven't read "The Valley of the Blind" in a long time. I actually can't remember how it ends . . . But it's in my handy new Wells collection!

I did read an absolutely fabulous story yesterday. It's called "The Door in the Wall," from the Wells collection. I would nominate it as one of the best fantasy stories of all time. I haven't liked Well's non-scientific fantasies, generally, but this one he really got right, I think. (Warning: it's ambivalent and sad. But I happen to like ambivalent and sad.)
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Emily Kirkland
Posted on Wednesday, March 30, 2005 - 10:42 am:   

Hey, I just finished Parker Pyne Investigates by Agatha Christie and am completely befuddled by the ending. Can anyone explain to me who Mr. Parker Pyne really is?
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Emily Kirkland
Posted on Wednesday, March 30, 2005 - 10:46 am:   

Hey, I just finished Parker Pyne Investigates by Agatha Christie and am completely befuddled by the ending. Can anyone explain to me who Mr. Parker Pyne really is?
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Thursday, March 31, 2005 - 09:58 pm:   

Hi Emily!

Do you mean at the end of the last story in the collection, "The Oracle at Delphi"? I'm not sure whether you're asking who Mr. Parker Pyne is in terms of the plot (which involves assumed identities) or in another, philosophical sense.

Here's the plot answer:

Mr. Parker Pyne is on vacation, but everywhere he goes people recognize his name from the newspaper advertisement ("Are you happy? If not, consult Mr. Parker Pyne") and try to get him to solve their problems. So in this last story, he takes on an assumed name, but we don't learn that until later. Here's what we do learn: the rich Mrs. Peters has come to Delphi with her son Willard. Willard is kidnapped, and someone who calls himself Mr. Parker Pyne offers to help her. The kidnappers want her diamond necklace; the man who calls himself Mr. Parker Pyne offers to have the diamonds replaced with paste replicas, take the necklace to the kidnappers, and save both Willard and the diamonds. Meanwhile, there's an inconspicious man named Mr. Thompson hanging around, overhearing many of their plans. The morning that the man who calls himself Mr. Parker Pyne is supposed to do all this, Mr. Thompson knocks on the door of Mrs. Peters' room. He returns Willard and the diamonds to her, so she assumes that he's connected with the kidnapping. But here's the twist. The man who called himself Mr. Parker Pyne was actually one of the kidnappers, who tried to get the diamonds from Mrs. Peters by pretending to be Mr. Parker Pyne and gaining her confidence. Instead of giving her back the real diamonds, he was planning to give her the paste replicas (which she would assume were real), and take the real ones himself. So, he wasn't Mr. Parker Pyne at all. Who was? Mr. Thompson. That's the alias that the real Mr. Parker Pyne decided to travel under. But when he overheard someone else using his name, he knew that something was afoot, and foiled the kidnappers' plot.

That's one reason I like Agatha Christie: she can write plots that turn inside out. You think you're looking at them one way, and then you find out that all your assumptions are actually wrong, and you have to look at them another way after all. Sort of like a fabric that has two sides, but you can only see the pattern when you figure out which side is the right one.

Wow, I'm descending into incoherence.

The philosophical stuff in a separate post.




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Theodora Goss
Posted on Thursday, March 31, 2005 - 10:06 pm:   

I originally thought you were asking a different question, because Christie has another character named Mr. Harley Quinn who really does have another, supernatural identity. Harley Quinn = Harlequin, and he seems to be connected in some way with death.

I think Christie has three characters who are Delphic oracles, in a way: Hercules Poirot, Parker Pyne, and Harley Quinn. You don't understand what they're saying at the time, but in the end it all makes sense. (So, I think her chapter "The Oracle at Delphi," has a double meaning! Parker Pyne is the modern oracle . . .)

Sorry, there's also Miss Marple, but I think of her as slightly different somehow. She operates differently than the male characters, although she's also oracular.

I could go on about Christie and why I think she's a clever and interesting writer (not a great writer, but a great mystery writer, if that makes any sense), but I won't unless anyone else wants to talk about it. I hope someone, someday, lets me teach a class on detective fiction, because I have all sorts of theories . . .
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Jason D. Wittman
Posted on Thursday, March 31, 2005 - 11:42 pm:   

"I could go on about Christie and why I think she's a clever and interesting writer (not a great writer, but a great mystery writer, if that makes any sense), but I won't unless anyone else wants to talk about it."

Why not? This is your platform, Dora. Expound away! :-)

Myself, I've only read _Murder on the Orient Express_ (and I'd already seen the Albert Finney movie, so the effect was somewhat lessened). But I'd still like to hear your theories.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Sunday, April 17, 2005 - 11:33 pm:   

Well, just one. Theory, that is.

So, Christie's detectives all operate by categorizing people. Miss Marple says that people everywhere are very much alike, and knows things about other characters (including who committed the crime) because they remind her of villagers with whom she's already familiar. If Lord A resembes B the gardener in Saint Mary Mead, and B murdered his wife and buried her in a cabbage bed, chances are Lord A is going to be a murderer as well. Poirot talks about psychology, and says that no one acts out of character. He knows who the killer is: the person who is the right psychological type. Even Parker Pyne, who's not a detective but someone who sells happiness, categorizes happiness itself and the people who seek it. He's a statistician.

I'm not explaining this well, but: the detection in Christie's books depends on the assumption that people fall into types. Everyone is capable of committing a crime, but only certain types of people are capable of committing certain crimes. So if you have a particular type of murder, you have to look for the type of person who would commit that murder. If you look closely, I think, that's the underlying premise of almost all her books.

Two interesting things about the above. First, only the detective is capable of understanding these categories. Everyone else, including the reader, is deceived. It's not that we don't know the categories are there: the books were written at a time when people were defined by class, nationality, gender, etc. It's just that we put people into the wrong ones. In an interesting way, Christie uses this to combat her characters', and our, prejudices: the characters we expect to be criminals aren't, and the respectable members of society turn out to be the ones we shouldn't trust. And second, the detective him/herself is the ultimate deceiver, someone who manipulates categories so that other characters will misunderstand him/her. Miss Marple often tries to sound older and vaguer than she is, and Poirot tries to produce the impression of being particularly foreign. In this, he/she is like the murderer: both the detective and the murderer manipulate categories to get what they want (money, the solution to the crime). But the detective wins because he/she is better at it. This connection between the detective and murderer is recognized, obliquely, by other characters, who tell Miss Marple and Poirot that they would make excellent murderers. See, isn't she clever? (Though this parallelism between criminal and detective goes back as far as Poe's "Purloined Letter.")

So, that's one of my theories about Christie.

Sorry, that's probably boring. You shouldn't have gotten me started theorizing . . . :-)
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Sunday, April 17, 2005 - 11:36 pm:   

But I will add that PBS is running a new series of Miss Marple mysteries, starting tomorrow with The Murder at the Vicarage. I have high hopes . . .

(Though I thought the last Poirot series was wretched. Poirot is never played right. He's played as a comic character, but in the books Poirot is only comic when he is so deliberately, to fool someone into complacency. I think an actor who played Poirot properly would have to convey the fact that this dapper, balding, funny-looking man is actually dangerous . . .)
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jilli
Posted on Wednesday, April 20, 2005 - 05:47 pm:   

No, that wasn't boring at all. Quite clear and interesting, in fact.

I wish I could come up with really interesting theories for the books I read (remembers that she has Modern American Novel class tomorrow), or that someone else would.

-jill
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Jason D. Wittman
Posted on Wednesday, April 20, 2005 - 11:35 pm:   

"Though I thought the last Poirot series was wretched."

Was Poirot played by David Suchet? I thought he was one of the better ones, more convincing than Finney or Ustinov.

And *then* there was the TV remake of "Murder on the Orient Express" that came out just a few years back. Not only was Hercule Poirot played by Alfred "Dr. Octopus" Molina (whom I believe is 6' 4"), but the story was also reset in modern times, in which Poirot borrows a suspect's laptop to conduct, and no I'm not kidding, a google search!

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Theodora Goss
Posted on Sunday, April 24, 2005 - 12:46 pm:   

Jill--

What are you reading in Modern American Novel? Just out of curiousity . . . :-)

Jason--

Yes, that was the David Suchet one. He wasn't terrible (the TV remake you mention was unusually wretchedly awful). But he wasn't my idea of Poirot either.

Here's my idea of Poirot: remember Alfred Hitchcock? He looks like a harmless, kindly old man. But as soon as he starts talking, you can't see him that way any more. Aside from the creepiness of his voice (which I don't think Poirot would have), he has a sort of power: you know that for the next two hours (that you will be watching his movie), he will be in control. I imagine that Poirot, when giving his solution to the crime, would be very much the same way. People would start to get frightened. Because the intent of that final talk, when he unravels the crime, is to catch a murderer, who will ultimately be hanged. Poirot needs to be played by an actor who can look comical during the first half of the mystery, but then turn deadly serious, so that the audience catches its breath and sort of says, uh oh. I thought he was just a funny Belgian with a dyed mustache. But he's not--he's a former policeman. I could never imagine David Suchet as a policeman. But that's what Poirot was. There's something policemen have, an attitude they develop, that I think they have to develop--they know they are the representatives of the law. Poirot has to have that as well, although it has to be hidden, because he has to convince people to trust him. But in the end, it should come out.

The problem is, actors aren't powerful people in ordinary life--they spend a lot of time doing what other people tell them to do--and I think it's a difficult thing to act. Directors, on the other hand (like Hitchcock) have that unconscious power, which comes from telling people what to do and having them do it. But that's exactly what Poirot should have, if you really follow Agatha Christie's description of him.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Sunday, April 24, 2005 - 12:54 pm:   

And, a note. Just as policemen are capable of stepping over the line, you should feel that Poirot is capable of it as well, although he never would because he knows the danger--once you take the law into your own hands, you're lost. I don't know if anyone else has read the last Poirot mystery, Curtain? It does a brilliant job of giving you the character of Poirot.

One thing I find interesting about Christie is how often her mysteries are driven by technique. She goes further than anyone else in exploring the limits of the question "whodunnit?". In one mystery, everyone dunnit. In another, she actually has the narrator committing the crime, but it doesn't come out until the last chapter. She sometimes writes different versions (short story, novel) of the same mystery, in which different people commit the same crime, for different reasons. I find that fascinating. It's like watching a poet figure out how many ways one can write a sonnet.
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Jason D. Wittman
Posted on Sunday, April 24, 2005 - 11:26 pm:   

The real trick is combining the policeman's bearing you speak of with Poirot's effeminate obsession with neatness of attire. I'm sure that's a big reason why people don't take him seriously at first--in fact, they probably find him laughable.

I tried my hand at writing a Christie-like mystery once. I set it on a space station, possibly because it would be the ultimate locked-room mystery, or simply because it seemed like a good idea at the time. It was a combination of _And Then There Were None_ and _Murder on the Orient Express_ in which...but maybe I shouldn't spoil the surpise. :-)
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Tuesday, May 17, 2005 - 09:55 pm:   

The real trick is combining the policeman's bearing you speak of with Poirot's effeminate obsession with neatness of attire. I'm sure that's a big reason why people don't take him seriously at first--in fact, they probably find him laughable.

Yes, you're right, of course. But they both come from the same root, a desire for order. For me, that's what the detective story is ultimately about, and a large part of its pleasure: the detective restores the order of society. (Not true, of course, for the later noire thrillers, or detective stories that deconstruct the genre . . .)

And by the way, I think the new Miss Marple series on Mystery! is very good. The actress who plays Miss Marple is my favorite so far. She comes closest to my idea of Miss Marple . . .

(And, talking about who's HOT!!!, how about Inspector Lynley? Hotter than cheerios any day.)
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Jason D. Wittman
Posted on Tuesday, May 17, 2005 - 11:42 pm:   

What's your opinion of Brother Cadfael? Not HOT!!! perhaps (though you would be a better judge than I), but I notice he gets more kisses from the ladies than some who haven't taken vows.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Wednesday, May 18, 2005 - 04:13 am:   

Brother Cadfael is HOT!!!

(I should specify that in my posts above, I mean the literary characters rather than the actors. Who are wonderful actors, but I'm thinking that HOT!!! is a designation best used for (1) dead people--Virginia Woolf is HOT!!!--(2) literary characters--like Sherlock Holmes, the HOTTEST!!! detective of them all--and (3) breakfast cereals.
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T Andrews
Posted on Wednesday, May 18, 2005 - 01:17 pm:   

Hello Theodora Goss and All~
I rarely have an opportunity to profess my love for Brother Cadfael, so forgive my intrusion. The instant I saw his name on the thread lists, my heart began beating madly!! Ahhh...if only Edith Pargeter were still alive to give us more of him...:-)
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Wednesday, June 08, 2005 - 09:42 pm:   

So sorry for the very late response! I agree with T Andrews. Brother Cadfael is most excellent. I'm sorry to write that I've only read a couple of the novels, but I do love the Derek Jacobi interpretation. I have to find more novels, I think . . . I'm still in the mood for murder mysteries (which means life is still chaotic).

I don't remember if I mentioned, but I like the new Miss Marple very much, and more with each episode.
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Alan Yee
Posted on Wednesday, June 15, 2005 - 10:27 pm:   

I'm almost done with my current book. I will then move to my summer reading list, the first of which is Perfect Circle, acclaimed Nebula finalist. After that will be Borderlands 5, then at some point or other, Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series. All of the above books have ------ nicely ------- spaced -------pages ------ so they won't take as long to read as, let's say, Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles, which take forever because they are overly bloated with unnecessary detail. Don't get me wrong though; my older sister and I both LOVED her first two Vampire books. (I'm almost finishing her book 6 out of 10, so I'm taking a break from the series after that.) I started the series just days before school started, which brings me to a total of 7 books this school year (almost 6 Vampire Chronicles + Dune).

BTW, have I mentioned that I ordered your chapbook this spring, and read it at least 10 times already? I should add that to my "already-read" list.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Wednesday, June 22, 2005 - 11:22 am:   

Hi Alan! Ten times? That must be some sort of record (for my chapbook I mean)!

I loved the Dragonrider books when I was a teenager. And of course I seriously wanted to be a dragonrider. But then she kept writing more and more, and I could't keep up, and also I went to college and started reading Serious Literature (best read wearing a black turtleneck). I know there's a whole backstory now about the settlement of Pern, but have no idea what it is. And, my time for looooong novels being limited, I'll probably never know . . .
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Luís
Posted on Wednesday, June 22, 2005 - 03:31 pm:   

Currently reading Ian McDonald's _River of Gods_. It's a fascinating book, and I would have finished it by now if it weren't for my exams.

Next up: probably Orhan Pamuk's _The White Castle_, which comes highly recommended by friends and critics.

Best,
Luís
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Alan Yee
Posted on Wednesday, June 22, 2005 - 09:40 pm:   

Ack, too many good books on my reading list. Now my sister is pestering me to read all the SF classics. Frankenstein, the rest of the Dune series, etc. They seem to keep on coming. But I want to visit Pern sometime soon! I want to read the classics, but I want to read Pern (SOON!), which just happens to be 16 books. I can't keep up with all the new, old, and classic books I desperately want to read!

Starting Perfect Circle tomorrow.

P.S. School gets out before lunch on Friday! Almost there... (Yeah, I know, we're late in getting out...)
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Em Tersoff
Posted on Thursday, June 23, 2005 - 07:01 pm:   

I reread Madeleine L'Engle's A Ring of Endless Light not long ago--within the past couple of weeks, certainly--and now I'm reading it again. I reread favorite books, yes, but almost never this quickly.

So. Anyone have any suggestions of books, particularly fantasy books, that remind them of A Ring of Endless Light or A House Like A Lotus? Please? I need new stuff to read, and I don't feel like reading any of the new stuff I already have. -Em

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