Friday, August 29, 2008

Hypers! -Nancy Drew

I finished reading Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women who Created Her by Melanie Rehak on Tuesday night, it was excellent! The Nancy Drew books have always been a favourite with me, and when I saw this book at Pandemonium I had to have it. I started reading it right after I finished Pat of Silver Bush, and was instantly hooked. Not only is it highly entertaining and delightful to read, but it's also very informative and scholarly.

Many people don't realize that Carolyn Keene is a pen name for multiple ghost writers, and that the Nancy Drew series was the brainchild of Edward Stratemeyer, founder of the Stratemeyer Syndicate (also responsible for such classics as The Hardy Boys and The Bobbsey Twins). This book covers the two main ghostwriters; Mildred A. Wirt (Benson) and Harriet Stratemeyer Adams. Harriet was Edward's daughter and, along with her sister Edna, took over the Syndicate upon Edward's death in 1930 (unfortunately just prior to the release of the first three Nancy books). Mildred Wirt wrote 23 of the first 30 Nancy Drew books (she also contributed books to a number of the Syndicate's other series', and wrote books under her own name). Harriet wrote 24 of the last 25 books (of the original series) and also revised and rewrote numbers 1-34 for reissue.

This is another point that many people don't know; the original 34 books in the series were 25 chapters (not 20 chapters as they've been known since the 50s/60s, depending on the book). These original books are apparently more fanciful, with Nancy getting into even bigger scrapes, etc. They were also revised to take out racial epithets, and remove any reference to places or time that would date the series. Books 35 to 56 always had 20 chapters. I only own one of these "blue Nancy Drews" (so-called because all of the books published mass-market until 1961 had some variant of blue hardback, this distinguishes them from "yellow spine" which are the ones I grew up with) and it's a first edition "blue tweed" without dust jacket of #29: The Mystery at the Ski Jump. I only recently found it at a thrift shop, I probably wouldn't have bought it before reading Girl Sleuth, because I wouldn't have known it was different from the "yellow spines".

One of the best parts of Girl Sleuth, apart from all the information on Nancy's transformation, is how Rehak manages to weave in information regarding history, feminism, politics, etc. It was all thoroughly engaging. Also, all the information regarding Mildred and Harriet, and their private lives and public struggles (with each other, the media, and publishers) seemed to be well-researched and was just plain enjoyable. Rehak's writing was intelligent, her style was incredibly readable, and she just knows her stuff. This book has caused me to go digging through a couple of thrift shops and used bookstores already for blue Nancy Drews.

I've only got a couple of pages left of On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, it is fantabulous so far, I'll post about it when I'm done.

Friday, August 22, 2008

She reads things like "The History of German Feet".-Jen Selk

Ya, Jen did actually say that about me one time. I haven't ever read anything called The History of German Feet, but I get it. She was making a comment on my geek-dom, and the fact that I really do read some geeky/boring (for other people) stuff sometimes. In honour of this, this blogiddy will concentrate on those things that make Kaye a geek. I'm totally down with it.

Before I begin however, I have finished Pat of Silver Bush, but I'm not going to subject you to more love-bursts about LMM (at least for the time being), except to say that it was as wonderful as I remember and I do still envy Pat just a little bit.

Just a few things that make Kaye a geek/that Kaye loves that make her a geek, etc:

#1: As already referenced I read a lot of pretty geeky stuff; stuff like this:

-The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA by James D. Watson

-The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic by Steven Johnson

-The Lost Dinosaurs of Egypt: The Astonishing and Unlikely True Story of One of the Twentieth Century's Greatest Paleontological Discoveries by William Nothdurft

I also consider the level of obsession I have with my favourite authors (LMM anyone?) to be rather geek-worthy. It's verging on fan-girl at times. Besides LMM, this level of obsession includes Jane Austen and Evelyn Waugh. Also, one of my favourite board games is called the Chapters Boardgame. It's basically Trivial Pursuit except that it's all about books. I have never lost, and now no one will play with me. Mean!

#2: I own one of the limited edition (of 20,000) The Greatest American Hero: The Complete Series boxsets. It came with a cape, and yes, I've actually worn it.

#3: I have dressed up as Lara Croft for Halloween. I made the leg-holsters I wore out of black duct tape. I think I make a pretty good Lara Croft, I may be the Huntress this year.

#4: There is something Superman in every room of my apartment, this includes a glass Superman milk bottle in the kitchen, and multiple pairs of Superman pyjamas (there's also Toronto Maple Leafs gear in every room of my apartment, including towels in the bathroom, but that's another story).

#5: I am considering getting either the Superman symbol or the Wonder Woman symbol as my next tattoo.

#6: I have all five of the stamps from the Canadian Superheros Stamp Set framed, sitting on my bookshelf (I framed them myself.)

#7: The first two questions I ask people when I meet them is: Picard or Prof. Xavier? And Gandalf or Magneto?

#8: I'm a little obsessed with ship wrecks. I love the show Sea Hunters, and movies like Titanic, the Poseidon Adventure (also the remake Poseidon is alright), and The Perfect Storm. In the 7th grade I wrote a paper on the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald. In my final year of University a big chunk of an art history paper I wrote was devoted to the sinking of the Vrouw Maria. The Vrouw Maria is my favourite shipwreck, and I'm considering getting a tattoo of her from an etching I saw.

#9: I collect Mego trading cards. If you don't know what those are, or even what a Mego is, you have yet to meet my level of geek-dom.

#10: I think The Mac Guy (aka Justin Long), Adam Brody, Paul Rudd, Jason Mraz, and Mark Zuckerberg are some of the hottest geeks in the observable universe.

I think we're going to stop at ten, don't want to give too much away. There are more indicators of my geek-dom, but those will just have to wait for another bat-time (same bat-channel though).

Thursday, August 14, 2008

What world does a dead man belong to?-Charles Dickens

So, I finished The Ghost Map last night, it was (for the most part) pretty freakin' good! I don't really have much to say about it; it was intelligent, well-written, well-researched, and really interesting. I've read a lot of very dry science/medicine books in my day, but Steven Johnson did a very good job of making this book readable by intertwining science, sociology and history with stories of actual people. It flowed a lot like a good detective story, but he still managed to get across pertinent information, I definitely learned a lot. Unfortunately, because I didn't know much about cholera or the infrastructure of 19th century London before starting the book, it's hard for me to really say anything about the facts provided as a whole. It seems well-researched, but I wouldn't really know if Johnson left anything out. Although I'm sure there were more factors that affected both the outbreak and outcome of the epidemic I have a feeling that Johnson did present the most important and engaging points. The story of John Snow's struggle to get his waterborne theory any kind of audience was engaging, and Henry Whitehead's contribution was also given it's dues. I've never learned so much about waterborne disease in my life.

I did not, however, really care for Johnson's epilogue "Broad Street Revisited" (nice play on Brideshead Revisited though). In the epilogue, Johnson goes off on a rant/ramble about the future of urbanization, mega-cities, the Internet, environmental footprints, the bird-flu epidemic, and terrorism (I somehow can't seem to grasp how suitcase bombs and cholera go together, maybe it's just me). I really actually kind of skimmed through the epilogue because it was sort of disjointed and didn't seem fit at all with what had come before. If it wasn't for the epilogue I would have really enjoyed the book all around. It also could have used a few more images: maps, diagrams, etc (especially since it's called The Ghost Map). I give it 3.25 v. cholerae bacteria out of 4.

Now, once again, I'm reading Pat of Silver Bush. Oh ya, that's right, that means more Lucy Maud Montgomery coming at you! I mentioned earlier that I had found a first edition copy of it for $1.00 at BMV while shopping with Jen; it's been sitting on the bookshelf since and it just started calling to me last night after I finished The Ghost Map. We all know I love anything Maud, but Pat has a special place. I think I've always envied Pat more than any other character. Pat has a home that she loves more than most anything else, and a big family; I think she's the only character that's not in someway displaced or missing at least one parent (yes, Jane has both parents, but they're not together, which would have been truly harrowing at that time). She loves everything fiercely, which brings her both a lot of joy and a lot of pain, but the main thing is that she has so much to love (and is loved back). I never really dreamed of being Anne or Emily, but I definitely wanted to be Pat. Actually I don't really think I wanted to be Pat either, I just wanted all the things that Pat had. I'll write a bit more when I'm done.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Great minds have purposes, others have wishes.-Washington Irving

Kevin Sullivan has once again found a new way to make me hate him. You remember my rant a little while ago about Sullivan Entertainment's complete lack of sense when adapting Maud's books? Good. Well it now appears that Mr. Sullivan has decided to release a book-version of the New Beginning film (still no release-date yet, although the book is to be put on sale October 01, which is way too close to my birthday for comfort), written by, yes you guessed it, himself. That man is like bile personified. I have also been able to find a better synopsis of the upcoming film, which makes me very sad. *Spoiler Alert* They do in fact kill off Gilbert, and this synopsis seems to insinuate that Anne's father did not die when she was an infant (although we know from Anne of the Island that he most definitely did). Oh, Mr. Sullivan you are indeed an evil man; like the Grinch, but without any of the good qualities (ya, maybe a little harsh, but that's how I feel). I also found out that Penguin actually COMMISSIONED the Budge Wilson prequel, they have lost most of my respect because of this, baddies!

I was reading a scholarly paper last night (I'm not going to mention any names) about the changes in Maud's writings during and after the Great War (and at the onset of WWII). Ya, that's right, I sit around and read journal articles on Lucy Maud Montgomery. This one made me so mad! I could barely focus on the actual content, because almost every single date for a book's publication was wrong. There was actually multiple times where it was right, and than the next time the book was mentioned it was wrong. And this wasn't an instance where the author was using the date of their own edition, because in the bibliography the author gave the publication dates (wrong for the most part again) and then the date of the edition they were using. Did that just make any sense at all? And by wrong, I mean wildly wrong at times. Rilla of Ingleside was published in 1921, this person had it listed as 1944. Maud was already dead in 1944 (she passed away April 24th 1942), I mean come on! I can almost forgive someone for giving a publication date that is later than the actual publication date, because they might not realize an edition they are referencing is not a first edition. What I cannot forgive however is giving a date that is earlier than the actual date! Oh yes, that happened too in this article. I mean, I know I probably know more about Lucy Maud Montgomery than most people my age (I don't know how old the person was who wrote the article) so I know a lot of this stuff off the top of my head, but seriously, when you're writing an article for a journal, shouldn't you double-check these facts, especially since the publication dates were directly related to the content of the article. They're also super-easy to find. I actually went through my copy of the article and changed all the dates in red ink, because it was bothering me so much. I know, I am lame.

Carrying on... While I was in the shower last night (I do some of my best thinking there) I discovered a new goal (one of many) that I think I've actually been secretly harbouring, at least in part, for awhile now. I want to write something that gets me included as part of the bibliography for the Lucy Maud Montgomery Research Centre! I know, it seems a little crazy and it's definitely not a goal most people have, but it would make me outrageously happy. I think I'm going to start off by writing a paper for the 2010 conference in PEI, the theme is L.M. Montgomery and the Matter of Nature. They probably won't take it since I don't have any other papers published, but I figure I'll give it a shot. In actuality I have had a couple of things published on Maud, but they're of next to no importance, and only a handful of people have ever read them (one of them was my Mother). Hey, at least you can be guaranteed I got my dates right! I'm considering writing on the concept of Nature in The Blue Castle (1926), it is one of the more overlooked (unless you're a scholar from Northern Ontario), but is also one of my favourites. It's actually the only one of Maud's novels that is not set, at least in part, in PEI. It all takes place in the Muskokas.

Jen gave me a gift-card for Chapters-Indigo-giant-conglomeration-eater-of-the independent (I'm allowed to say that; I used to work for them). I really don't have a problem with them at all, except that they changed the names of the Smithbooks stores to Coles (Smithbooks was way better!), and I find Heather to be a tad annoying. I bought The Forger's Spell by Edward Dolnick, and The Lost Dinosaurs of Egypt by William Nothdurft. They both look good, I *heart* books.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

This is an occasion for genuinely tiny knickers.-Bridget Jones

I will not be talking about a book today, because I've only just started The Ghost Map, but I came across an article I really enjoyed and decided that I'd like to put in my two cents worth (okay, probably more like half a cent's worth). The article is called In Defense of Chick Flicks, written by Martha Brockenbrough.

I think that so-called "chick flicks" need to be defended (in actuality that shouldn't have to be defended at all), because there is absolutely nothing wrong with them. Brockenbrough goes into more depth than I will, putting a bit more intelligence and feminist-thought into her article than I feel I need to; mostly because she's already done it for me. In general, I find these films to be quite enjoyable. I don't watch them after any specific event, or at any specific time. There are exceptions of course. I'm going to start off by discussing only Jane Austen and Jane Austen-based adaptations (since apparently Jane Austen is considered "chick lit", although I do know one straight man who thinks Pride and Prejudice is a fantastic novel), and then maybe throw a few other favourites in at the end.

I thoroughly enjoy watching the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice while it's raining. I like all of the various versions of this film, since Pride and Prejudice is one of my all-time favourite books, but this version is the only one I own. Frankly, I like to watch this even when it's not raining; it's just one of the best (Matthew Macfadyen is Darcy), there's just no getting away from it. The book itself is a masterpiece (if you don't agree with me, I don't know if we can be friends), I actually need to buy a new copy because I'm pretty sure the next time I read mine, it's going to disintegrate in my hands. While I love the BBC-Colin Firth version, it is rather too long to watch all of the time, but the 2005 version is just about the right length to watch at any time (for obvious reasons: mini-series vs. feature length). There is something about Pride and Prejudice that makes one believe that mistakes aren't always permanent and that a first impression (the novel was actually originally titled First Impressions) can be changed. The 2005 version does a great job of relaying this. Although I'm not a big fan of Kiera Knightley in general, I do like her as Elizabeth, although she's not quite the way I pictured from the book (granted, a mite better than Elizabeth Garvie from the 1980 version, who kind of annoyed me). The movie is also shot beautifully, and was actually Joe Wright's feature length directorial debut.

From Pride and Prejudice we move to another "chick flick"/novel loosely based on it: Bridget Jones's Diary. The novel was written by Helen Fielding, and she co-wrote the screenplay. Although I'm really not a Renee Zellweger fan, I really dislike her most of the time, I don't mind her as Bridget Jones. She is also saved by the fact that she's starring with our Mr. Darcy, Colin Firth, and the ever-enjoyable Hugh Grant (who's movies I have a secret love for), although he does play a cad. This one is entertaining because Bridget is sort of the anti-heroine. There are a ton of movies where the main female character is all dorked-out and then suddenly blossoms into beauty and wins over the "popular" boy (think along the lines of She's All That), but Bridget is who she is; kind of overweight, and not very pretty with terrible fashion sense. She doesn't all of a sudden lose weight and get better clothes, but she does get a better job, toss off the jerk, and go after what she wants. That's why I like it, it's not about transforming into someone different, and it's a great one to watch while eating a pint of ice cream (it's doesn't seem so bad when the character in the movie is doing it too).

I do have to say that I really, really dislike the 1996 Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma. It's pretty bad. Jeremy Northam = awesome, Gwyneth Paltrow = blech! However, it's super-fantastic-contemporary-teen sibling, 1995's Clueless is pretty close to perfection! While it is considered a teen-flick, it is also still considered a "chick flick", but I actually don't know many guys who don't think it's pretty funny. We all remember when it came out, and how big it was. I remember having pens with the feathers on top, just like Cher. I also believe I may have started wearing knee-socks after that (with my Le Chateau plaid skirt that my uncle bought me). I think Amy Heckerling did a fantastic job at adapting Emma for a contemporary audience, without losing a lot of the soul of the book (although she did say that she was actually unintentionally plagiarizing when she started writing the screenplay, realized it, went back and read the novel again, and then adapted it intentionally). It has a lot of vibrancy, great characters/actors, and the "love stuff" isn't too over-the-top, but rather just right for a teen-style flick that can be enjoyed over and over.

Another one of my favourites would have to be 1995's Ang Lee-directed Sense and Sensibility. This one is great because it combines two of my secret film loves: Jane Austen adaptations (not so secret anymore apparently) and Hugh Grant. Although, I wouldn't have picked Edward, he's a little too reserved for me. I'm more of an Elizabeth than an Elinor anyway. I also love Alan Rickman; although more in a he's-awesome-kinda-way, than in a he's-hot-kinda-way. Also, Hugh Laurie, I mean come on, who doesn't love Hugh Laurie?! Although Emma Thompson is far too old for the part of Elinor, I think she did a fine job, even though I pictured Elinor as slightly more lively while reading the novel. Though Sense and Sensibility is not my favourite of the novels, there is something about this movie that I fell in love with. I could watch it a thousand more times and still feel the same way. Again, I think the magic of Jane Austen is that mistakes can be corrected, one isn't always doomed to live by them, and that love is often unexpected. There isn't anything other than period adaptations of Sense and Sensibility that I can think of, except one Bollywood film.

Patricia Rozema's 1999 adaptation of Mansfield Park is great because the Fanny Price (Frances O'Connor) character isn't half so annoying in the movie as in the book, but there is some stuff added into the movie that I didn't think was necessary. The 1995 version of Persuasion is a huge disappointment, Amanda Root as Anne Elliot drives me insane. I think I've only been able to watch it twice. I really enjoyed the 1986 version of Northanger Abbey, it has just the right amount of spook, satire (Austen wrote this to poke fun at Gothic novels of the day), and schmaltz (good schmaltz, not bad schmaltz). I haven't seen any of the recent adaptations that were airing on PBS, but I plan to.

Now to end, I'm going to list some of my other favourite "chick flicks". Some of the stuff that's included I know how been thoroughly enjoyed by those of the straight male persuasion (i.e. All About Eve and The Devil Wears Prada, just to name a couple), and some were made to be movies for everyone (like Titanic), but have come to be regarded as more "chick flick"-y. In chronological order, they are:

1933, 1949, 1994: Little Women
1939: The Women
1947: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir
50s/60s: Anything with Audrey Hepburn :)
1950: All About Eve
1953: How to Marry a Millionaire
1984: Sixteen Candles
1987: The Princess Bride
1989: Say Anything
1989: When Harry Met Sally
1991: Beauty and the Beast (and yes, I do mean the Disney cartoon)
1997: Titanic
1998: Dangerous Beauty
1998: Ever After
1998: You've Got Mail
1999: An Ideal Husband
1999: Notting Hill
2002: The Hours
2006: The Devil Wears Prada
2006: The Holiday

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Language is the means of getting an idea from my brain into yours without surgery.-Mark Amidon

So I haven’t posted in about a week and a half, but it’s not my fault damn-it! Otay, maybe it is a wee bit. I’ve been working a heck of a lot (this includes full-time during the week and Saturdays) and haven’t been near the internet much. Today we will discuss more Anne-ish-ness and Michael Ondaatje; these two things don’t generally go together, but in my world they do.

Before we get to my thoughts on books, I have to relate something else. Yesterday, Jen and I decided to go for brunch. I met her at her place and she had a present for me: Carry On, Jeeves by P.G Wodehouse (did you know that P.G. stands for Pelham Grenville? I love it!). Jen is awesome, hence I *heart* Jen, and I hope she knows it. After brunch we made our way to BMV and bought more books. Jen came away with quite a haul, as she also bought some CDs. The crowning moment for me was when I found a first edition copy of Maud’s Pat of Silverbush for $1.00, it is missing its dust jacket, but oh well. Also, I am currently reading The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson.

We begin with more Anne; frankly it just can’t be helped. I finished Anne of Windy Poplars last week and just finished Anne’s House of Dreams last night. Again, really all I can say is that I love Maud, and every time I read one of those books over I feel like I’m home. I didn’t have the greatest home-life (I’m not moaning about it though) and, as with most books I read, I threw myself into Maud’s books as a means of escape. Most of the characters have had something bad happen, quite a few of them are orphans (as Maud herself was), and I related to the fact that their lives weren’t all sunshine and lollipops. But the main clincher for me was that they all continued to dream, have goals, build fairytales in the clouds, and that’s what I did too. I have lost some of my idealism (okay, quite a bit of it) as I’ve grown, and I think that is why Anne’s House of Dreams resonated even more with me this time around. This book has more shadows than the previous four Anne books. Everything is forever changed after the events of this novel, but there is still a lightness, almost a rebirth. I won’t give the plot away, that would be too mean, but some points of the plot actually mirror Maud’s life. You can tell by the way she writes that there is something else behind it, other than just creativity; there is a rawness and an anguish that comes out in stilted phrasing, rather than Maud’s usual flowing style. You know she had first hand knowledge of one of life’s greatest sorrows. I’m actually starting to feel a prickling sensation behind my eyes as I write this, as I do every time I think about this book.

Okay, so, The English Patient…I still really don’t know how I feel about this book. I give Michael Ondaatje props for his writing style; it was beautiful. I also respect his research skills when it comes to desert exploration (although some of his other facts are skewed), and he includes a bibliography at the end, which I appreciated. I think that Ondaatje was trying to create a disconnect from the characters, and that the reader was meant to be an outsider viewing the narrative. I just don’t think it was overly successful. While Ondaatje’s descriptive work was well-balanced, I found the general lack of dialogue and fluidity to be overly confusing. At times, I believe, Ondaatje was purposefully trying to confuse the reader, especially with the identity of the English patient himself, because I don’t think his identity is supposed to be overly relevant to the actual plot (think along the lines of a Hitchcock MacGuffin). However, much of the novel ends up coming off as trite and pretentious as a result of Ondaatje’s unwillingness to allow the reader to come into contact with the characters. While I found the duel-storylines to be interesting in general, and actually rather enjoyed much of the desert narrative, I think I would have found the novel more compelling if I didn’t have this nagging feeling that Ondaatje wrote the novel with the idea of sounding brilliant in mind. Now, I know it’s not fair of me to say that that is what he thought while he was writing, but it really does come off that way. I just couldn’t get beyond that feeling, and the pomposity of it all annoyed the hell out of me. I haven’t seen the film version, but I think the novel’s overabundance of description would be better suited to a visual medium, so I am planning on renting it at some point. Plus, Ralph Fiennes is kinda hot, in a creepy kinda way.