Monday, January 2, 2017

Not quite resolutions...

I'm one of those people who tend to see January 1 as just another day—usually just one day closer to the end of the holidays and a dreaded return to the workaday world. I've never been able to see it as some kind of magical chance at a new beginning, as a few of my acquaintances seem to. For me, I think it's always today that matters, whether today is January 1 or June 12 or October 27. Any of those days are opportunities to take charge of our lives, to organize our desk, clean out the closets, polish up the résumé, get to the gym, or (more likely, in my case) just barely manage to do one of those things.

Which is why I don't do any kind of New Year resolutions—at least not any that are different from the things I'm constantly resolving I should do the rest of the year. On the other hand (you should know by now that I usually have several hands, rhetorically if not—alas—in physical reality), I do find that the end of a nice relaxing vacation can be quite an inspiration in itself and can leave me feeling a bit more resolved about goals and tidying up (including blog tidying). So, this post is a weird hash of what we did on holiday and what I'm looking forward to doing in the coming months. But without any real resolutions of the traditional kind—though come to think of it, cleaning out the closet wouldn't be a bad idea...

I really haven't done anything blog-related since the middle of December, except that I finally got round yesterday to responding to the lovely comments on my last post. In fact, I was hardly online at all—only checking email enough to ensure that comments got posted and any crises were dealt with (none arose, happily)—and let me tell you, being offline for a week or so now and then is a truly liberating thing.

Adding to my ability to stay offline was the fact that that our apartment was the site of a mini-mass extinction of electronic equipment reminiscent of the culling of beloved celebrities over the holidays (so heartbreaking about Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, and gut-wrenching to have heard about George Michael—whom I saw in concert on the Faith tour years and years ago—in the middle of Christmas dinner). Apparently it was all too much for my cell phone, which also died some time between December 23 and December 30—I was off the grid to such an extent that I hadn't looked at it between those days, so perhaps it died of holiday loneliness. I would say good riddance, maintaining a healthy loathing for cell phones as I do, except realistically I shall probably have to replace it before long, even if it's mainly used for calling Andy on my way home to see if I should pick up something for dinner.

At almost the same time, my Kindle had a sort of nervous collapse (grief at the loss of George Michael?), suddenly rebooting itself dozens of times in succession until the battery went dead. Recalling all the personal data undoubtedly stored on it, I managed to get it restored to factory defaults (i.e. deleted everything that wasn't on it when I bought it) when it briefly returned to its senses, and it has been limping along sporadically ever since—albeit less usefully without any of my information on it—while I await the arrival, any day now, of a brand new one. Note that while I loath my cell phone, my Kindle is more or less a constant companion. But at least it scheduled its nervous collapse for the holidays, when I needed it less than at other times.

In between coping with this strange devastation of devices, however, we had a marvelously restful, enjoyable eleven days off from work. We had a lovely Christmas dinner with friends, and did absolutely no travelling (the UK in October was a dream trip, but rather exhausting, and we spent Thanksgiving with Andy's family in San Diego, so it was bliss to be at home for a nice long stretch).

We worked on a jigsaw puzzle of one of our possible next travel destinations, Spain, a tradition of ours at the holidays, when it tends to be rainy and chilly in San Francisco (though, alas, no snow, ever). We saw one movie, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them—enjoyable but not on par with the Harry Potter films, I thought? But we spent a lot of the time in between wrestling with the puzzle watching British television on Netflix and Acorn TV. We finished off (years behind everyone else) the last of Poirot, which I thought was impeccable and Andy loved as well—though it did have some of the unevenness that is inevitable from the varying quality of the novels. Who knew, though, that Five Little Pigs, one of the dullest of the novels, would adapt so well for television?! We've now started watching the Marple series. Not quite so good, I think. The main problem for me is casting, which was so perfect in the case of David Suchet. Geraldine McEwan seems like she should be perfect too, but somehow it doesn't work quite so well. I wonder why? And sadly, I already know from a horrified encounter with the series when it first aired that I won't be able to stomach Julia McKenzie at all. As Colonel Hastings would say, "Good heavens!" What on earth were they thinking?

And while I'm catching you up on our TV watching, we also got Acorn TV again, and so were able to watch all nine episodes of the Agatha Raisin series, which Del, a kind reader of this blog, had alerted me to. Andy and I both loved it, and are yearning for more episodes, but it seems as though the one series may be all? I read that ratings were not all that could be hoped and a second series was unlikely. Drat. It was funny, though, that we sat and watched all nine episodes, and kept thinking and commenting how familiar the village of "Carsely" was. But it wasn't until we finished watching that we looked it up and found that we had, in fact, been there on our trip in October. To prove it, here's a pic of Andy in front of Agatha's house.

Andy paying a visit to Agatha Raisin

And, since we have Acorn TV again, we can also now finally watch the last season of Doc Martin, which Netflix didn't have. That has become one of Andy's favorites, and it gives us another idyllic locale to fantasize about, though in this case we did not make it to Cornwall on our trip, so I have no pics of us in "Port Wenn" to share with you.

Obviously, with all this flollopping around watching telly and working jigsaw puzzles and watching my electronic devices die (we did make it to the gym several times, by the way, so it wasn't all lying and sitting around), I didn't spend any time at all on the blog or my research—with one bit of an exception.

A while back, a couple of different commenters on the Not-Quite-So-Overwhelming List—my shorter list of some of the particularly well-known middlebrow women from my Overwhelming List (which I realize I haven't updated or revised in any way in ages)—suggested the possibility of a list of the best books by these authors for new readers to start with. And the suggestions seem to have triggered my inate love of lists to such a point that I kept glancing at my bookcases, or at blog posts from other bloggers, and thinking, "Well, obviously, that would have to be on the list."

The idea that I'm working with a bit—and I might as well bounce it off of you all here—is a list of books (I'm thinking 100, but we'll see), limited to a single title by each author (so, obviously, 100 authors). It will not be a "100 best" list, which I find absurd, since reading is so subjective and different readers enjoy different things. I don't want to get into trying to judge which books or authors are better than others, and I want to be as objective as possible in including books and authors that I don't love myself but I know that others love. So I wondered if I could put together a kind of syllabus, you might call it. A class syllabus—at least if it's a good class—should always be a sort of gateway that leads you into lots more good reading and knowledge on your own. It should just give you starting points, logical places to begin, from whence you can see where your own readerly instincts take you.

So, I have been poking around a bit at that, and suggestions as to approach are certainly welcome. It's a work in progress, but will hopefully be ready for posting in a month or two.

And while writing about upcoming things, I can tell you I've also been working on a new, expanded version of the Overwhelming List, which will come to replace the one that's currently posted. I've long known there was a desperate need for me to go back over the whole list. In some cases, I have lots more information in my database than is included in the list, and I hate to have research go to waste. When I first created the list and it was growing by such leaps and bounds (it still is growing, but a bit more slowly), I was rigidly limiting myself to a few lines about each author. Now I want to throw away that limit (though obviously some restraint will still be necessary about an author like Agatha Christie, for example, about whom volumes could be written). I want to include all the information I have about authors who are less well-know, about whom information elsewhere on the internet is very sparse, and I want to include at least the main salient points about even better-known authors.

I've already been working on this project, too, though it's a slow process. I've reached the C's after a couple of months of work. Yikes! So, I think I'll begin posting it as I complete each section, rather than waiting until it's all complete. I have to figure out the logistics, and make some more tweaks, but I hope to get the first couple of pieces of that list up in the next couple of months as well.

Lists and research are, as you all know, what I love doing most. But I do also have some new reviews for you, and I really need to go back and catch up a bit on what I've been reading in the past couple of months. I hate it when I read something interesting and then don't get round to writing about it until I've forgotten half of what I wanted to say. Alas. But I'll be working on that as well.

And finally, I already announced the new Furrowed Middlebrow titles are coming from Dean Street Press in early March, and I'll have the covers of those ready for posting in the next couple of weeks (Rupert at Dean Street has outdone himself, in my opinion). After that, as I mentioned, we're targeting a September release for our third batch of titles, and I'm excited to say that I've already sent Rupert my proposed titles for that batch. These include one that might be me setting my sights a bit high, but we'll see what happens! Do keep your fingers crossed for amenable heirs and estates, and hopefully we'll have some exciting revelations about those down the road.

It's rather melancholy that our lovely vacation is nearly over. I'm certainly feeling rested and rejuvenated, though I am by no means looking forward to getting back to my day job. But, needs must! (Note to self: time to play the lottery a bit here and there...)

Hope you all had wonderful holidays!

21 comments:

  1. You might try the Miss Marple series in which Joan Hickson took the title role. That's my favorite version, since Joan Hickson looked like my idea of Miss Marple. It's an earlier series, and probably lower budget than the other two you mentioned above.

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    1. Indeed. I'll happily watch Joan Hickson again and again. I found Geraldine McEwan impossible, and the plot of at least one of them so far removed from the book that apparently all they kept was the title.

      And as for their calling the series "Marple", all I can say is, "That's MISS Marple to you."

      Surprisingly, the Margaret Rutherford movies are quite well done and thoroughly enjoyable. She's not our Miss M, so if you forget who she's supposed to be, it's all good.

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    2. You're right, mumfypat, I think we should look into the Hickson series. She does look much more like my idea of the character.

      For some reason, Susan, I have not been so bothered by McEwan as by Julia Mackenzie, who I'm afraid I loathed. I did see one of the Rutherford movies and quite enjoyed it.

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  2. Love a good list........keep them coming!

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  3. mumfypat, you've said what I was going to say! Joan Hickson is THE Miss Marple, being entirely brilliant in the part. Of course I might be biased as she's the splitting imagine of my own granny! The others mentioned are enough to set anyone's teeth on edge and are to be avoided ...

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    1. How lovely that your granny was Miss Marple,Tanya! :-)

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  4. Sounds like a good time was had - always jolly to have a jigsaw on the go over Christmas. I did a lot of reading, and one of my books of the year came in that time period, which quite often happens.

    I'm with you on the resolutions - I decided to get rid of an annoying habit in November and have managed to eliminate it - but hope you have a good and fruitful 2017.

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    1. Thanks, Liz. Yes, no time like the present to make improvements, regardless of the time of year. Good for you in breaking a habit -- I have some I should be working on!

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  5. Oh, dear, and here I am still working on a list of resolutions.
    Well, it hardly ever works past the first few days, but I enjoy the compilation of the list.
    Even though, alas, many of the same items appear yearly (be rich, be thin, be nicer)
    Happy New Year to all - at least I can resolve to read new titles, and be sure of keeping THAT one!
    Tom

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    1. We always claim that the gym is noticeably more crowded in January and February, before everyone peters out on their fitness resolutions. Perhaps just our imagination. We, on the other hand, go all year round but just not NEARLY often enough...

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  6. Happy New Year Scott & good luck with all those plans. The 100 list sounds like a great idea.

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  7. I hope your Kindle died in time for you to order the replacement at the holiday reduced prices. There were some good bargains on Kindle hardware between Thanksgiving and sometime after Christmas. I agree with several others about the new TV Miss Marple's. Occasional bits are OK, but the change of time frame and having Miss Marple's past include an affair with a married man stretches the character past Agatha Christie's intention too much for my comfort level. Have you tried the Miss Fisher mysteries? 1920's Australia. Also rather changed from the books (historical fiction mysteries by author Kerry Greenwood), but fun. I like both the TV series and the books on the whole, although the "plot arc", that extends over an entire season of the TV show is the weakest aspect.

    It will be interesting to see your "100 list". My vote starts with Miss Buncle's Book/D. E. Stevenson. Not my favorite book by this author, but a fun and very early book, and one that is readily available with eBook and audiobook and Persephone and Sourcebooks versions. A good place to start someone.

    How fun to realize that you have visited the filming location of the Agatha Raisin series. My experience in that sort of thing is to realize that I was just a mile or so from a neat/interesting place and missed it and didn't learn about it till it was too late.

    Happy 2017 to Scott and Andy and all blog readers.

    Jerri

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    1. We loved the Miss Fisher mysteries too, Jerri. Happy New Year to you too!

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  8. I have been thinking about your comments about the Fantastic Beasts movie, compared to the Harry Potter films. I viewed the Harry Potter films as a reader (and fan) of the books. Therefore, I tended to view the films as "illustrations" to the books and my knowledge of the books added depth to the movies. The new Fantastic Beasts movie was written as a screen play. After seeing the movie I did read the published screen play which helped explain some things that my slow eyesight hadn't caught. But, without a full novel the movie did seem a bit "light". However, I loved the beasts and the obvious affection Newt had for his friends, including eventually the human friends he made during the course of the movie. And I understand that this movie set in 1926 will be followed by a series of films continuing till 1945 and bringing about the capture of Grindlewald (spelling??), and we may see more meaning in some parts once the entire series has been released. I am looking forward to the 2018 installment to be set in 1928 Paris.

    Jerri

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    1. The future movies do sound good, and you're right that this film had to work from scratch in a way that the Harry Potter films really didn't. I'll certainly keep an open mind about the series.

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  9. Happy New Year to you and Andy, Scott.

    Sounds like a good idea, selecting perhaps a representative book by each of 100 writers.

    As Jerri said, of course DES. I'm thinking more along the lines of The Blue Sapphire or Amberwell as deeply definitive DES books. I love MBB too, but feel it's not fully representative of so many of her wonderful books.

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    1. Hmmm, I just downloaded Amberwell when it was on sale and haven't read it yet, so I'm very pleased it's one of the best. Food for thought for my list!

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  10. Hi Scott, stumbled on your blog whilst searching for info on Phyllis Paul. You've inspired me to track down an Elaine Howis via Abebooks. I love a trip into book obscurity and discovering the forgotten and overlooked. Keep up the good work. Cheers! Craig, Leeds,Yorkshire, UK

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    1. Thanks, Craig! Glad you found the blog and are enjoying it.

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