New Books…

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The FoL summer book sale was held the other day, and although I tried to not go, I did end up spending some time there. (Well, to not go would have been so rude, don’t you think?)

And so this is what I ended up with in my shopping bag, all ready for a future summer’s day. Uncertain which summer it will be, but I’m ready!  🙂

Top to bottom:

  • Snow Angels – Stewart O’Nan (usually good fiction writer)
  • The Last Picture Show – Larry McMurtry (fiction set in Texas. I first read this in my first semester at American university and hadn’t been in Texas long enough to get the references. I think now that I’ve been here a while, I will appreciate it more.)
  • The Best American Short Stories (1999) – edited by Amy Tan (F) (current slight craze on short stories)
  • Tinkerbelle – Robert Manry (NF travel – guy has never sailed before, but buys a boat and sails across the Atlantic with many adventures…)
  • Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison (F and African-American classic which I haven’t read but with the new focus on reading more POC will do so soon)
  • Bailey’s Cafe – Gloria Naylor (F) (see above about the focus on reading more POC authors)
  • Advertising in America – (NF) big coffee book with some lovely color plates of old advertising from across the USA

And going against my usual grain of not-reading-things-I’ve-just-bought, I’ve just finished a good read of the Naylor fiction. Loved it so expect more to come about that.

So hmm…. What’s next?

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General Catch-Up…

catch_upIt’s been a busy few days which has included several new lesson plans, two batches of grading, and the normal day-to-day stuff, which helps to explain the silence in this space.

Actually, it also included one of the houses on our street exploding (!) just before we went to bed and so that took a few days before life resumed its normalcy for us. Quite a week. (And honestly – one of the houses five houses away from us literally exploded. You don’t forget that in a hurry.)

However, despite this, I have been reading and writing (although more slowly than usual) and that’s what I thought we’d catch up with today.

I happened to come across Angela Thomas’ debut YA novel called ‘The Hate U Give” whose plot revolves around a young African-American teenager who is in the same car as her (also AfAm) friend when they get stopped for a perceived infraction by a white police officer and the young man gets shot and killed. The novel moves forward in time as the young woman and her community try to deal with this situation with its murky causes.

Although a heavy (and timely) topic, this novel moves along at a fast pace as it deals with the issue of police-related shooting, morality, race, and modern life in a city, and it’s probably going to make one of my Top Ten Fiction Reads this year. For once, the hype is worth it and I recommend that you pick this up at some point soon and then you can judge for yourself. Thomas does a great job of covering the multiple perspectives in such an incident without resorting to usual state of black-and-white thinking, and whether you agree with how the characters act or not, it’s probably going to leave you thinking once you’re turned that last page.

file3I also learned the acronym behind Tupac’s phrase, Thug Life which (according to the author) means The Hate U Give Little Infants F**ks Everyone (or maybe Everything?), meaning that it’s important to look after every person in your community whoever they may be. True that.

Moving on and to give myself a change in pace, I picked up a psychological mystery story, “The Girl Next Door” by Ruth Rendell, which was good fun to read (although oh-so-confusing at first due to playing with time and a lot of characters). I sorted it out in the end and I haven’t read just a mystery for ages, so this was rather fun and read like a hot knife through butter. Now I’m reading through one of America’s Best… series, this one a collection of science and nature from 2011 and edited by the wonderful Mary Roach. Just right for a Monkey Mind…

And then, thinking about a non-complicated plot and also filling in a slot in the Century of Books project that I have going on, I’m also reading the children’s classic, “Swallows and Amazons” by Arthur Ransome (1930). I haven’t read any of this series before, and although I’m not a sailor and have next-to-no-familiarity with sailing terms, I’m enjoying this quick read of two families of children enjoying their island adventures up in the Lake District of England. (Lots of ginger beer et al.)

With the semester fully underway, there have also been loads of events at the university including an entertaining talk by visiting Ruth Reichl, NYT best-selling non-fiction author and restaurant critic, which was really enjoyable. Plus, it’s play season on campus and we went to watch the one-act plays that students both write and perform. Good stuff.

So, it’s been a busy few weeks, but now we’re in the home stretch of the university term, and then I’m looking forward to some time off from work. What to do, where to go… Those are the questions…

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Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 198

Things on Cowboy's Head No. 101 - Teddy Bear.

Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 101 – Teddy Bear.

Background Note: Cowboy is one of our cats who showed up out of the blue one snowy January day nine years ago. Since then, she has made us her Forever Home (which works with us). She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot (Olympic-level) and she eats a lot.

All of these points are helpful with this project that I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

Well, well, well. The Ghost of Blogging returns.

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(Above) – The main plaza at Santa Fe, NM, ready for Christmas.

With this being my first semester of teaching, I had absolutely no idea about how to plan time for the past few months, and so it’s been a 4-month learning process for me. But I’ve just wrapped up the final grades, and I’m winding up a few things at work before taking a Christmas break. I am very looking forward to the time off, let me tell you.

So – what’s been going on apart from teaching? I’ve been working on my home office, and Superhero and I have been valiantly completing a large new desk for this new space. The desk arrived flat-packed through the post, and oh. My. God. I had no idea that this desk was going to have so many pieces, bolts, and all the other things required to put a piece of furniture together, so we’re working on it a few hours a day. (The Superhero and I are somewhat challenged in DIY skills and patience, which makes it an interesting proposition.) Luckily, the desk has arrived with some pretty good instructions, all the pieces are labelled appropriately so far, and things seem to be lining up nicely, so it’s on schedule for completion in the next week or two.

(I’ll get a photo of the completed desk up when it’s done. Until then, it’s just a pile of deconstructed white wooden pieces on the floor waiting to be called into action…)

Quick trip to Santa Fe with some friends provided a lovely break, and an opportunity to visit a great local bookshop, Collected Works… (See image above.)

My ankle surgery was done last Wednesday, and so, as it’s no weight-bearing and my right foot, there’s no driving for me, but Superhero is being a super hero and chauffeur-ing me around when it’s unavoidable. I’m lucky to have such an understanding partner, or otherwise I would be under the equivalent of house arrest. :-}

I do have one of those scooter-things (called a knee-scooter) which helps me zip around, and once I got over the sheer awkwardness of having to lug this thing around, I am becoming more proficient at driving it and a routine is developing. Good Lord. I have another month or so of this, so we’ll see if we’re still married at the end of this medical situation. :-]

We’ve just finished watching the HBO show, The Deuce, with Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Franco that details the early history of p*rn movies in 1970’s New York, and I enjoyed it once I had learned to decipher the really heavy NYC accents. Holy schnikeys. That’s a tough dialect for me to catch – even more so than the accents in Peaky Blinders (if you’ve seen that show). Don’t be put off by the word “p*rn”. Obviously, it’s not a children’s or family show, but more about the small group of characters (and there are some naked people), and along the lines (and the same writer as) The Wire.

Next up – a complete change of pace: Season Two of The Crown!

Reading has been happening but more at a glacial pace than anything. I’m halfway through one of Judith Flanders’ always interesting books, this one called The Making of a Home: The 500-Year Story of How our Houses Became our Home (2015). Flanders is a historian who studies social history, especially in England, and recounts the rise of how people lived in buildings that went on to become “homes”. Fascinating, I must say, but then I am a social history nerd.

For fiction, I’m sort of reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, a mystery about a missing wife and the whodunit behind it. It’s good, but I’ve not been completely sucked into it just yet. I’m finding the characters to be unlikable at the moment, but we’ll see how it progresses. If it doesn’t suck me in soon, it’s a DNF.

The end-of-the-semester-busy also meant that a couple of books have slipped by without a formal review on the blog, one of which was a biography about Prince Charles by Sally Bedell Smith (called Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life [2017]), and which was amazingly interesting to me (well written, fairly balanced, an interesting life, and dry humor). Definitely a more well-rounded picture of the Prince than I’ve learned before (and, of course, Lady Diana who sounds as though she had a mental illness – but again, who is to know these things?). Not me, but it was entertaining all the same.

And now I’m catching up on the blog writing in a coffee shop as I was desperate to get out of the house. I had no idea that coffee shops could be soooooo noisy, but it’s a happy noise of people coming into town for the holidays and catching up with friends.

Oh, and I mentioned that our wonderful cool cat, Futz, died the other day. He had such a wide fan club of people who walked by our house and who chatted with him every day that I ended up drafting a short letter to the neighborhood to explain his unexpected disappearance… (Too much? Not for our Futz!)

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Thanksgiving Review…

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Well, phew. That’s been a busy few weeks.

Sorry about the complete blog silence, but work keeps me more than busy sometimes. Plus, I have been stuck in the literary wasteland of not being able to choose a good next title to read. I know that there are literally thousands and thousands of books available to read, but I was just very stuck in not being able to find a book that I wanted to read (and then keep reading). (Ahh. The vagaries of life.)

So, not wanting to bore the pants off you, here’s a quick recap of what’s been going on for me lately:

  • One of the coolest cats ever died on Thanksgiving Day which was rather sad. His name was Futz (above photo), and he was the kindest and most friendly cat that we’ve ever had. He usually greeted everyone who passed our home, taking on the mantle of unofficial Mayor of the Block, and so he had a lot of fans. We’re going to miss this little guy.
  • Grading, grading, grading…
  • Nothing very exciting, except that we volunteered to help with the holiday lunch at the local homeless shelter. A good experience, and if you’re ever wondering whether to do that sort of thing or not in your own community, highly recommended that you go.
  • Reading. (Well, I’ve already mentioned how that went in general.)
  • Movies: had some luck with this category: watched the 1959 suspense/thriller called North by Northwest (with Carey Grant, James Mason, and Eve Marie Saint)*, and we loved it. Recommend this even if you’re not that big into older movies. Entertaining, and the fashion!! Never a hair out of place even when being chased by the bad guys. 🙂
  • Got a final date for my ankle surgery (middle of December) so before then, I have to get loads of working out and errands completed, as I’ll be hobbled for about 4-5 weeks. Lots of reading and movie time, right? 🙂 Plus, Super Hero has agreed to ferry me about until the cast comes off.
  • Finished up my piece of a local community project with a non-profit agency that provides stockings stuffed with toys et al. for local kids who may not otherwise have a very good Christmas. (Total fun for me to do, and I hope that the kids like what my choices are…)
  • Volunteered at the local food bank (again, total fun for me). I’m not some perfect angel, by any means, but do believe that, if one is not happy with the state of the world or one’s country, one should do something to try to improve it for you and the others who live in your community. [Rant is now over.]
  • Caught up with some friends.
  • Had quite a few really good naps. 🙂
  • Did actually read two books. More to come on those.
  • Read some of the more intriguing Christmas catalogues which have been pouring into our mail box lately…

So, Thanksgiving was rather a random selection of things, but we enjoyed it tremendously. Just a few more weeks until the end of the semester, and then three weeks off for Christmas. Not a bad life, I must say. I’m very lucky.

  • Just found out that this old 1959 movie has been remade with George Clooney, Charlize Theron, and Alan Rickman. Wonder how good that one is….

 

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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. 🙂 )