Movies: Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

movie_agathaThe Superhero and I went to the movies last weekend to see the latest release of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express (with Kenneth Branagh, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe et al.), and although I knew mostly what to expect just from reading quite a few of her novels, the film still took me by surprise at the ending. (Either I have read the novel and was paying ABSOLUTELY no attention whatsoever to its conclusion, or I just dreamed of doing that.)

Regardless, the film was really good, especially as it was set in a cold and snowy remote location which I was ready for as it’s still quite hot in Texas.

To the plot. A small group of fairly wealthy passengers are traveling from Istanbul to London, each passenger having a different reason for why they bought their tickets. M. Poirot is unexpectedly called back to the office in the Smoke, but the train is sold out and only has a cabin free in second class for the world-famous detective. It looks like it will be a smooth return, except that during this trip, one of the other passengers is murdered – but by whom?

As usually happens in a tapestry film (where you have multiple characters with various story lines who gradually intermesh as the narrative progresses), the characters are all disparate and yet with one thing in common. And does yet this one thing add up to clearly show who killed the man on the train?

Lots of period clothing from the 1940s (? Not sure) and some typical Christie players (rich old grumpy lady, questionable servant, etc.), it’s murder-with-a-cup-of-tea set-up, but these don’t detract from the movie in any way, and it’s rather nice to have comfortable set characters so that your focus is kept on the murder-mystery more than anything. And it’s a good one to solve, because despite handing out clues left, right and center, I still didn’t figure out the murderer until they told me at the very end, but it was so well done, it was fine.

So, if you’re looking for a good escapist movie of murder done well and all wrapped up by the end with a lovely ribbon, you’ll enjoy this. If you’re more of a gore and horror type person, you may leave unsatisfied, but any Christie fan will be happy.

Here’s an interesting article at Bustle delving into the true crime story that was thought to inspire Murder on the Orient Express, and here’s what Rotten Tomatoes says about the film.

(Oh, and I found out this little nugget: when the book was originally published, it was titled “Murder on the Orient Express” in 1934 in the UK, but was re-titled to “Murder in the Calais Coach” for the U.S. market. I don’t know about you, but the Calais coach reference just conjures up an old dirty smelly bus coach from the 1980’s with full ashtrays and a broken toilet, but maybe that’s just me going to an away game for a hockey match during school.

Perhaps it had a different reference for the ‘Mercans back then. 🙂 )

Advertisements

Book (DK Eyewitness Series) – (1993)

As I’ve mentioned before (see here about cowboys and also a read about sports (but no blog post for that one)), I’ve become a big fan of the DK Eyewitness books over the past couple of years.

Although categorized as a kid and YA book, I’ve found that each book in this series is a super way to be introduced to a topic in a manageable manner. This is supported by the fact that each book has a fantastic graphic design approach to the subject, and actually, by the time I’ve finished reading one of these titles, I feel as though I have been wandering around a really well curated exhibition at a museum. I have always learned something new by the end, and it’s just been an overall interesting experience. So – yes. High praise for the book series.

This particular title jumped out at me when I was strolling past some library shelves, and I loved reading it just as I have loved reading the other titles. Called, very simply, “Book”, this edition covers the history of books, of writing, of language, and of any other topic that you can link with the history of the printed word, and it does so in a concise and graphically pleasing way that it was a pleasure to read and learn along the way.

Roman Tablet with Inscription

Because there were so many nuggets of knowledge in this title (just like the other titles), I ended up taking a few notes and so thought that this bullet format would do the job for this review.

  • When the Roman alphabet was first used, it originally wrote from right to left. It was only after a few years of usage that it was changed to the left to right format as we use nowadays in the various Western languages.
  • Each letter in most of the examples of Roman writing has been hand carved in stone, and each letter is designed to fit inside an invisible square or circle to help keep its uniformity and so each character stays the same size.
  • Romans used mathematical compasses (like you used in HS perhaps) to keep the circles all the same size, and sometimes, if you look closely at some Roman writing, you can spot the small hole in the center of the letter from when the stone carver use the point of the compass as a guide.
  • The majority of Roman writing is in capitals as they were easier to carve with the tools available. Each letter was drawn onto the stone surface with chalk, then gone over with paint and then the carver just followed these thick and thin lines to make the writing permanent.
  • In Arabic writing, the language was originally written without any consonants (leaving the reader to add the consonants him/herself when he/she read the writing). It was only later that vowels were added to the written language, and these were written as extra marks above or below each letter (e.g. small dots or dashes), You can see this in Hebrew and other similar languages. (I’d always been curious what these dots/dashes meant. Now I know…)
  • Early writing was written on papyrus (which was a watery reed like plant), or was written on parchment. Parchment is apparently made like this: the animal’s skin is first washed in clean water, then soaked in a solution of lime for up to ten days. Each side is then scraped to remove the hair and flesh remaining, and once that’s done, the skin gets soaked once again. It’s then stretched onto a wooden frame, and then each side is further scraped with a curved blade to remove any debris left over. One more scraping after the skin has dried removed any debris, and then you’re good to go. Thus, parchment was hard to produce, expensive to buy, and so only the wealthy would use it for their affairs. (Huh. Didn’t know that, although it makes perfect sense.)
  • With reference to fonts and similar: italics is called that because the forward slanting writing was designed to be similar to the writing that clerks in Italy would use for their documents. (Makes sense.)
  • Times Roman was given its name as it was developed for the London Times newspaper in 1932. (I imagine that Times New Roman was a more modern refinement of that.)
  • The type Gill Sans was designed by stone carver Eric Gill, and so it goes on. Fascinating (to me at least).

In the old days, as paper was very hard to get and expensive to have and to use, a lot of people didn’t have a lot of practice in writing and so it was hard for the writer in question to judge how much room to leave on the paper/papyrus/parchment for the writing that you had to do.

Thus, mistakes were made, and I adore this signature of Elizabeth I (below), as she has all these flourishes and curls around her sig but then accidentally runs out of space on the paper and has to add her “H” to the last bit above the line. (I love how it shows that even queens make mistakes. 🙂 )

Sig_Eliz1

 

Thrift Store Bounty…

thriftstorebooksAs I’m of the many who enjoy prowling through thrift shops, I had an hour to spare last weekend, so off I went to one of our local (and biggest) ones. I went with the intention of looking for things to put on Cowboy’s head. Found several objects which will help with the project, and heavens to Betsy, if I didn’t also accidentally on purpose find some books which were looking for a new home.

(Well, I had to buy them, right? Don’t want to be rude…)

So, as can be seen in the photo above, here is what made it home with me:

  • The Iceman Cometh – Eugene O’Neill (play)
  • The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins (F)
  • The Soul of an Octopus – Sy Montgomery (nature NF)
  • Full Catastrophe Living – Jon Kabat-Zinn (NF on meditation etc.)

I’ve been itching to read a play lately. We went to a local playhouse to see a version of an Agatha Christie murder-mystery, and it was surprisingly good for a local am-dram, and so I ended up with the O’Neill. I read him during my classes in graduate school, so I’m curious to see if if the experience will be similar or whether it will be radically different. I’m a very different person now, so I’m interested to find out how or if this impacts the reading of this play.

The Girl on the Train – loved the movie, so am v interested in reading the book the film was based upon.

The Soul of an Octopus – I rather like octopi and have heard only good things about the nature writing of Montgomery.

And the Jon Kabat-Zinn book is just going to be a good reminder about living a principled life through a Buddhist perspective.

So, I have some good finds there, and am glad that I can add them to the TBR pile, ever-growing as it may be. It’s good to have choices!

October 2017 Reading Review…

october

October, one of my favorite months of the year, actually ended up being pretty busy with both teaching and writing this year. That’s not a criticism by any means, but just an observation of life on campus now.

The weather is getting to be more and more autumnal, although the temperatures are still a little zany: We had almost snow yesterday morning, but it’s forecast to be close to 90 this Friday, so dressing is all in layers to cope with the wide temperature spread. (I call it ski jackets and shorts weather, as you’ll probably need the cold protection in the morning and the shorts for the hot weather in the afternoon.)

The semester is more than halfway done now – about six weeks left, I think – and I think my students have been doing very well for the most part. They’re certainly enjoyable to teach (from my perspective), so it’s still fun.

To the October reading:

The best read by far was the very strange recounting of the North Korean kidnapping of a South Korean film director and his movie star wife. It’s an insane story, but riveting at the same time. Highly recommended for certain.

The others were mostly ok. I really enjoyed the Summerscale book about a Victorian wife who is caught having an affair. The librarian book and the Atwood read were ok. (More broccoli books really, although I had high hopes for the photo-heavy book.)

The Virago O’Brien was confusing and dry as anything (despite it being billed a romantic story), but that’s one of the gambles you run with the Virago imprint. Some are really really good, and some are not. 🙂

So, November is up next. Three weeks until Thanksgiving, six weeks until Finals, and then time for a break. Yahoo!

 

 

This is What a Librarian Looks Like – Kyle Cassidy (2017)

book456

When I found this title on the New Releases shelf at our local library, I immediately picked it up as a great fit for me to peruse. It’s a smallish coffee table book with color photographic portraits of librarians from all over the country, taken when the photographer visited a couple of the ALA annual conferences, and although it seems a little lightweight in scope, this was a fun read. A book about people who love books and information – what’s not to like?

What’s not to like is that this book was full of spelling errors and typos which, considering that the topic is literacy and how to access information, was quite ironic when you think about it. (In fact, one of the misspelled words was actually “literacy”…Sigh.)

I can understand one or two errors. That can happen, but page after page of poor writing started to wear on my writer’s soul after a while. All of the mistakes could (and should) have been caught in a careful pre-printing proof, and this was a shame as I loved the book’s concept. Who wouldn’t want to learn more about librarians? 🙂 In the end, the errors ended up being rather distracting for me.

The author is primarily a professional photographer, so the actual photos were pretty good for the most part, although (and I promise I’m not being too picky here) if you are a prof photographer, there’s really very little excuse for some of the actual portraits that were included being out of focus (wrt depth of field). (Or – even more perplexing: why choose them to be in the book in the first place?)

Come on, buddy. You’re not trying to take photos of a herd of cheetahs running at top speed across the savannah in the middle of the night. These photo subjects are folks who probably agreed to have the photo taken between conference sessions in a hotel lobby with  a set of lights and a background, and most of the portrait subjects are either sitting down or standing still. It’s not rocket science, my friend. Why would you include photos that are not quite in focus in a book that revolves around your photographs? (And the depth of field issues are not for an arty creative reason. Or not that I could see.)

Additionally, the book concept was lovely, but was again weakened by the fact that underneath each photo of the various librarians was a short sentence about why libraries are important to the subject, and tbh, after the 23rd person underlining how important libraries are to the community in similar fashion, it was a little tedious.

What kept me going through the pages, though, was looking at the photos of the librarians from across the country, most of whom, both men and women, have a very creative individual fashion sense (which was just lovely). There were very few of the matching cardigan twin set type with pearls, and going by the photos, librarians seem to be a great group with a fun attitude to life.

(And, since it was a book about wonderful librarians, there was naturally a portrait of Nancy Pearl. 🙂 )

So, in the end, although I loved the book’s concept, I am pretty grateful that I used the library for this read. (Thank you, library!)

Movie: Chicken People (2016)

chickenpeople_movieEvery now and then, the Superhero and I like to catch a movie at home, and last weekend was time for me to choose the title, and full kudos to Superhero for going along with this, as he’s never sure what exactly I’m going to select and he’s going to watch.

At first, I was veering towards a rather stern documentary on North Korea (a country with which I am fascinated at the moment), but seeing his expression when I mentioned that title, I thought that a different title might sit better. Scrolling through my movie list, I stumbled upon another documentary that was described as “charming and uplifting”, so that’s the one we watched. It was actually really good.

Called “Chicken People” and directed by Nicole Lucas Haimes, IMDb describes it thus:

Chicken People is a funny and uplifting look at the world of show chickens and the people who love them. Starting at the largest national poultry competition, likened to the Westminster Dog Show for chickens, Chicken People follows three top competitors over the course of a year as they grapple with life’s challenges while vying to win the next year’s crown. Both humorous and heartfelt, Chicken People is an unforgettable celebration of the human spirit.

And it was such a good film. It’s always fascinating, I think, to learn about other people who are very serious about their hobbies (regardless of what that hobby is), and as we watched these three people try their very best to get the “perfect” chicken to show at this big event, we really became wrapped up in the whole thing.

It would have been easy for another director to turn this into a mockumentary (a la Best in Show et al.), but the documentary was done with respect to these people – no one was mocked or made fun of, and you ended up feeling just so happy that you’d been allowed to follow them on their individual journeys to end up at the hugely important event in the U.S

I would never have learned about the characters or the world of the show chicken if not for this film, and I have no idea where I found the title, but if you’re interested in seeing people who adore doing their hobbies (and are pretty serious about it), then you’ll like this. Slightly off the beaten path, but well worth seeking out.

If you’re interested in any chicken-related reads:

The Lizard Cage – Karen Connelly (2005)

book412.

It’s been a bit crazy at work this week, although, amazingly enough, we are almost halfway through the semester already. This new job keeps me busy, and busy equals happy for me. (Plus, I can’t quite believe that I actually hold this job sometimes as it’s that good!)

Apart from the being occupado at work, I’ve also been reading and writing in my spare time, and it’s finally reaching autumn temperatures around here more days than not, so what’s not to love?

There has been one tragic thing that occurred on campus last week, which was a troubled student shot and killed one of our campus police officers. Life on campus has been a little subdued for the last few days, unsurprisingly, and our thoughts are with the family of the fallen officer. It’s been a sad week.

Not to be insensitive or anything, life has been moving along despite this event, and I’ve finished up a great book called “The Lizard Cage” by Karen Connelly (2005), a novel that follows the life of a political prisoner who is being unjustly held in a horrible cell in Burma/Myanmar (depending on who you ask). It’s from the POV of the prisoner, and it details his day-by-day life in prison in solitary confinement (the cage of the title) and the people with whom he interacts.

It’s a great read, although the subject matter can be hard to take (prison rape, inhumane treatment, etc.). It’s actually written by an American woman who lived for two years on the border of Burma/Myanmar, and it’s quite amazing how she can lead the reader into the head of this political prisoner in a realistic manner. It’s clear that she has done her research with this.

Despite the harsh living conditions and inhumane treatment, the protagonist is a great example of human resilience, and there are some other patches of humanity that are allowed to shine through. Some of the other prisoners are not horrible people, there is a small boy orphan who lives at the prison as he has nowhere else to go, and there are a few others that come and go, but for the most part, it seemed to be a pretty dark place.

However, the prisoner in question (he who lives in the Lizard Cage) finds small things for which to be grateful – the lizards who climb down the walls from the outside skylight, the ant colony who travel through his space, and the one or two people who show him some small kindness in this unpleasant world.

However, Connelly has done a good job with making this a very readable book without glossing over the hardships of the characters. It’s a good balance and kudos should go to her.

I also read another book, but can’t remember what the title of that was to save my life. Unlike my typical slightly obsessive habit, I didn’t seem to write down the relevant details, but hey. Life goes on, my friends.

Then I started a NF read about Victorian times, but it was soooo badly written that I ended up not being to take it any more, so threw that one down. (It was a shame though, as the topic was perfect: the servants of Victoria? Yes please, but it was not to be.)

Now I’m enjoying a read of Kate Summerscale’s Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady. Victorian times? Check. Social history? Check. Uses some epistolary work? Check. Well written? Check, check, check. I’m enjoying it and am looking forward to reading some more of this over the weekend.

Hope life is good for you as well.

Thunder and Lightning – Laura Redniss (2016)

book414

Lauren Redniss has finally completed Thunder and Lightning: Weather Past, Present and Future (2017), another book in her own style that makes it so hard to categorize. It’s a combination of art and science, of fact and passion, of words and graphics, so that in the end, it’s tough to put under one label: Scientific manga, perhaps (except it’s much more than that).

After my read of Redniss’ earlier work (Radioactive, a slightly more straightforward and controlled graphic representation of the Curie family’s lives), I know somewhat to expect with her work, so I wasn’t too surprised to see her rendering of scientific phenomena linked with weather and climate. I just haven’t really seen atmospheric science presented in such an innovative way. And actually, the book covers more than straight atmo sci… It’s a huge ranging book, and is similar to how someone would fall down into related Wikipedia rabbit holes if they had some time to spare. The topics are related, and yet ramble widely across the hemisphere, but it’s all interesting both in content and how it’s presented.)

(Sidenote: Redniss defines Weather as state of the atmosphere. Climate: prevailing weather patterns on a larger scale. FYI.)

Chapters are titled with fairly self-explanatory headings, some of which cover huge topics leaving you, as the reader, to wonder where you’ll travel in the next chapter. “Profit”, “Pleasure” and others are presented, along with “Cold”, “Rain” and the more obvious categorization. (The “Pleasure” chapter, incidentally, was a lovely topic to read about as it included the BBC shipping forecast which I remember hazily from my youth. I am not sure what exactly the forecast is saying, but it’s sounds lovely to hear if you’ve ever searched it out.)

So, this is non-fiction ramble through both the hard science and random facts linked with weather. In fact, I was never quite certain what I was going to be reading about when I turned the next page, which was in equal amounts both exciting and frustrating.

I think most people would learn something from this book, whether you are an expert or not, and so much of the information was new to me. For example, Redniss designed a new font just for this book called Qaneq LR, Qaneq being an Inuit word for snow. (Interestingly, Redniss also addressed the legend that more northern First People groups have loads of words for the different kind of snow that they experience. True or not, you decide.)

This ended up being a good read.

Catch Up Time, Autumn Edition…

catch_upSince I seem to have a small break in the busy schedule of teaching and tech writing, I thought it might be nice to have a little catch-up and see how things are, now that we’re at the beginning of Autumn – my favorite season!

Speaking of autumn, here in West Texas, we’ve been having a great break from the close-to-100 degrees days. It’s been cool (60’s) and pretty rainy (lovely), and generally given us a rest from the never-ending summer heat and sunshine. I like the warm weather generally, but at this point in the year and after having about six months of solid mostly non-stop heat, I’m ready to pull out my cool-weather gear and enjoy some cooler temperatures. In fact, it was so awesomely cool that we even thought about having the heating on at night. (Didn’t actually end up doing so,  but still – nice treat and signals, perhaps, the beginning of the cooler days).

And – I found some leaves on the ground (as in they fell there since it’s almost Autumn, not that they got blown off in the near hurricane-winds we’ve been having with this stormy weather). Yahoo. I don’t mean to seem ungrateful for temperate weather, but summer gets a little weary at times. But – sunshine!

I’ve been making progress on the new office set-up in the front spare bedroom. Sold the bed the other day, so that’s freed up a lot of room. Next step, call the contractor to see about pulling up the carpet and redoing the wood floors. (Big job for someone apart from me!) After that, will be the new blinds for the front of the house, and then, baby steps for the remainder of the office furniture and space ideas.

One rather looming goal is that we received two big packages of pieces with which to construct the new desk. We’re a bit challenged (in terms of patience) when it comes to building furniture, so we’re psyching ourselves up for this. Hopefully, it will be pretty easy. (Fingers crossed.) Have to get the floor finished first, though.

Teaching and working are going really well and keeping me busy. Both of the courses have some good students in them, and I’m looking forward to working more closely with them as the semester progresses. My back’s been bothering me, so I’ve got two upcoming back procedures to help to sort that out. Face is still annoying, but I’m learning acceptance as it’s not going to go away, it seems. It certainly could be a lot worse, so grateful for something so manageable for the most part.

Did some culture last night, when we went to a new event called 10×9 (or similar) which is a storytelling event. Nine people have ten mins each to tell a true story from their lives, all on one particular theme. Last night’s theme was courage, and so that was fun to go to. Well attended as well, which I was happy to see. I wonder when the next one is…

And then I’ve been gloating over my new-to-me titles from the FOL book sale the other week. Now to find the time…. (Hollow laugh.)

Life is good. Hope you can say the same!

FOL Book Sale – Autumn 2017 Update: Nice Haul!

Pile of new titles from the library sale.It was the annual book sale at the local library over the weekend, and, in the spirit of giving and community support, I had to go. (Maybe it was the books… You know how it is… )

I found some good titles, and without much more ado, here are the books:

  • Some Nerve – Patty Chang Anker (NF)
  • The Kingdom by the Sea – Paul Theroux (travel UK)
  • I’m Down – Mishna Wolf (autobio) (NF)
  • The Best American Short Stories 1997 – Annie Proulx (ed.) (F)
  • The Best American Travel Writing 2001 – Paul Theroux (ed.) (NF)
  • Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories – Annie Proulx (2004) (F)
  • The Party that Lasted 100 Days: The Late Victorian Season – Hilary Evans, Mary Evans (1976) (NF)

Sign of arrow pointing to the library sale.What to choose, what to choose….

I ended up having to sort out my book shelves to make space for the new additions, and, in the process, giving back two big bags of books to the FOL to share the love. (Pats myself on the back for such a noble achievement.)

I decided that if I haven’t read the book (or even pulled it off the shelf) in the last few years, obvs I’m not that interested in reading it, so back to the FOL it goes, which, for some of them, was where I picked them up last time. The endless cycle of life. 🙂

In the meantime, I’m reading The Lizard Cage (Karen Connelly), a really good novel about a political prisoner in confinement in Burma….