Friday, December 31, 2010

Forgotten Music: December 2010 - The Summary

Just because I didn’t have a chance to write my own Forgotten Music essay doesn’t mean that others found the time to write one. I want to thank Todd Mason for not only writing and posting his own essay, but also for collecting the links of others who found the time to post yesterday. I’ll get my act together by next month.

Bill Crider - Recitation records
Jerry House - Cisco Houston
Randy Johnson - Joe Satriani - Surfing with the Alien
George Kelley - Come and Get It: The Best of Apple Records
Evan Lewis - Jerry Landis (AKA Paul Simon) - "The Lone Teen Ranger"
Todd Mason - “Sunday Night/Night Music” (NBC-TC); Dave Brubeck on CBS Radio
Charlie Ricci - John Bosell - Festival of the Heart
Patti Abbott - Hoagy Carmichael - "Am I Blue?"

Until the next Forgotten Music on 27 January 2011

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" (Annotated) - A Review

Yesterday, as I have done the past few December 27ths, I re-read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's only Christmastime Sherlock Holmes story, "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle." Only this time it was a little different.

For Christmas, I was given the first two volumes of the new annotated Sherlock Holmes, edited by Leslie S. Klinger. These volumes, hardbound and in a slipcase, are gorgeous. Any self-respecting Holmes fan simply must own a copy of this set.

What I expected was the typical definitions of random pieces of Victorian tidbits that modern readers wouldn't know, starting with the original publication date of January 1892. Moreover, a note describes how Dickens and the Victorians "invented"Christmas as we know it now, while another gives light as to how gems are measured, or how long The Times had been in existence. That kind of detail, along with the illustrations by Sidney Paget or contemporary photos of 1890s London, is a boon to the reader.

What surprised me was the scholarship devoted to figuring out if Holmes's deductions were correct or not. I know all about the gentle fiction that supposes Holmes and Watson were real people. I don't have a problem with that. That's kind of fun, really. It's the need to, I assume, outwit Holmes, or, at least, point out where he erred. I wonder where that need arises? I guess that's the true treasure of this new, annotated anthology: we get, all in one place, a century's worth of criticism.

Part of me wonders if all this nitpicking isn't just a veiled attempt to point out the flaws in Doyle's writing. "Blue Carbuncle" is one of the stories that has an addendum, a separate essay related to the events in the story. This story earns "A Winter's Crop," a complete discussion of whether or not a goose has a crop. Interesting scholarship, to be sure, and worthy of discourse. But, seriously, does the fact about the existence of a goose's crop add or subtract to the reading of the tale? Or whether or not Holmes inferences about the hat hold water? No.

I glanced at the dates of the stories in front and behind "Blue Carbuncle" and noticed that they are a month apart. Thus, Doyle is writing these stories, one per month, from July 1891 to June 1892. He still has a day job as well as a wife and one kid. He didn't have the internet to double-check to see if a goose has a crop. I suspect he wrote these tales in a flash and edited afterwards, if at all. Also, the reading public in the 1890s probably were not the avid geeks many of us are today.

All this is to say that while it is a fun exercise to go back and see if Holmes's reasoning is sound and to point out where it isn't, one should enjoy the story as it is. Give Doyle some slack. He's only a writer. It's not like he was as good as writer as Watson...

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Houston Texans Haiku: Week 16 at Denver Broncos

Don't have it in me
To attempt a haiku now
How long 'til next year?

Game was such a snooze
That I almost forgot to
Write these few poems.

Late in the contest
I just knew we'd lose somehow.
Did not disappoint.

It's almost funny
How talented we are at
Not earning more wins.

Houston Texans - 23
Denver Broncos - 24

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Noir at Do Some Damage

Over at my group blog, Do Some Damage, we're running a series of Christmas noir stories. The stories are posted just about everyday--with some days having two--until Sunday, 2 January 2011.

So, if you need a little extra spice during the holiday season, head on over and take a read.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Charles Dickens/Writing Style Question

(Lest anyone think I've abandoned all mystery-related posting in favor of bad Haiku for a bad NFL team, today's post is presented.)

I started Charles Dickens' "The Cricket on the Hearth" today. I've never read it and am looking forward to reading it in these days leading up to Christmas.

What struck me was the style of prose. Not the lofty, lengthy sentences Dickens was prone to write. I'm talking about the insertion of Dickens himself into the story. Or, rather, A Narrator. Exhibit A is the first paragraph:
The kettle began it! Don't tell me what Mrs. Peerybingle said. I know better. Mrs. Peery- bingle may leave it on record to the end of time that she couldn't say which of them began it; but, I say the kettle did. I ought to know, I hope! The kettle began it, full five minutes by the little waxy- faced Dutch clock in the corner, before the Cricket uttered a chirp.
The Narrator knows the story and is telling the story. He has authorial asides but also knows the inner thoughts of the main characters.

Is there a term for this type of writing? My first thought was that it was third person omniscient, but, usually, the Omnipotent Author doesn't insert himself into the story. C. S. Lewis does this, too. Is this an English thing?

Any thoughts?

(NOTE: My writing at this blog has been pretty sparse in recent months. I plan on re-upping on my blog commitment starting in January. Thanks for reading.)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Houston Texans Haiku: Week 15 at Tennessee Titans

Was asked "Why haiku?"
I'm asking myself the same
After today's game.

Five and nine. Oh boy.
Week One seems so far away.
Was it this season?

No playoffs. Draft rank
Not as "good" as the Panthers.
It's purgatory.

Is the mere presence
Of professional football
In Houston enough?

Got outta church at
Ten past twelve. Already down
Seven. It figures.

So apathetic
That I don't even care t'was
The Titans beat us.

Time to do what all
Texans fans do every year:
Watch another team.

Houston Texans - 17
Tennessee Titans - 31

Monday, December 13, 2010

Houston Texans Haiku: Week 14 vs. Baltimore Ravens

Looked great for one half.
To come so close, yet so far.
Like a hard groin kick.

Season now over.
Tell me what we're playing for?
Really. Please tell me.

Coach K does enough
To keep things interesting.
Is that just enough?

Can't complain too much.
Damn fine second half. Thrilling.
We win if "heads" called.

Two long scoring drives
Why can't we do that more? Why?!
Snatched defeat again.

Baltimore Ravens - 34
Houston Texans - 28 (OT)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Houston Texans Haiku: Week 13* at Philadelphia Eagles

Still not good enough.
Not ready for prime time games.
Will we ever be?

Q3 like Week One.
Power football. It looked grand.
Engine just wore out.

Arian Foster.
Why is he not on the field
On every dang play?

December football.
The Texans fall. Then play well
When no one's looking.

I long for the time
When it's the Texans who are
Supposed to win games.

Coach K getting mad.
At least he has some passion.
Just not quite enough.

Division is ripe
For the picking. Texans show
Up without basket.

Houston Texans - 24
Philadelphia Eagles - 34

*No, I didn't miss Week 12. I just forgot to account for Houston's bye week.

Nice to *see* the game since the NFL Network used to be a premium channel.

Sigh. No more local football until 13 December, the Monday nighter with Baltimore. Lovely.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Book Review Club: Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason

(This is the December 2010 edition of Barrie Summy's Book Review Club. For the complete list, click on the icon at the end of this review.)

I can’t even remember why or how I came to read Jar City a few years ago. I know it was during the winter. I sometimes tend towards seasonal reading and, well, what better setting for a winter novel than a story set in Iceland. After watching the PBS series “Wallander” with Kenneth Branagh, I had the hankering for another foreign novel and my thoughts returned to Iceland.

Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason is the second major book to hit English-speaking bookstores. The protagonist of Indridason’s series is Detective Inspector Erlendur, a morose, divorced man with two estranged children and a small team of detectives who try their best to keep his spirits up. As someone who might never step foot on Icelandic soil, Indridason’s book are rich in local flavor. Not so much large descriptions of the landscape, the customs, or the food, mind you, but there’s a palpable sense of place in these stories. It’s what invigorates the reading of the tale even if the main character sometimes can’t figure out where to sleep.

The book itself isn’t gruesome, but the first sentence might give you the creeps:
He knew at once it was a human bone, when he took it from the baby who was sitting on the floor chewing it.
Ick. The baby’s brother leads his mother to the place where he found the “funny rock” and discovers a buried skeleton. Erlendur’s team is called in and, upon a quick inspection, decides to defer to an archeological team. The archeologists begin their digging, which goes on agonizingly slow. The pace frustrates Erlendur, but allows the author to weave a separate, parallel story.

In this second story, an unnamed mother of a crippled daughter, marries a man. With him, she has two boys. What she didn’t know when she agreed to be his wife was that he is a wife beater. In unflinchingly harsh descriptions, Indridason shows the reader this family’s life, how the mother and children cringe at the husband’s seemingly random acts of violence and how her will is gradually ground to dust.

The mother is not the only one dealing with familial issues. Erlendur’s daughter, a habitual drug user in her twenties, is pregnant. He has had few good times since his divorce twenty years ago and to describe his relationship with her as troubled is putting it lightly. She calls Erlendur out of the blue asking for help. In the main subplot, Erlendur searches for a finds his daughter, Eva, lying in a coma on the street.

Not too far into the book do you, the reader, realize two things. One, the time period of the mother’s story is in the past. Two, the skeleton that Erlendur is investigating somehow is related to the mother’s family. You just don’t know who. Or why. Gradually, Erlendur and his team uncover some truths of the past--and he has to come to terms with his own failed family as he sits by his daughter’s bedside in the hospital--but they can’t quite get every detail in order. The mother’s story line moves forward, too, and it gets to a point where you start guessing about the identity of the skeleton. I know I did, and I am not afraid to admit that I was wrong about a detail or two. That’s the fun of reading a book like this.

The prose, translated by the late Bernard Scudder, moves along briskly, Indridason’s lean style as bleak as Erlendur’s outlook on life. The characterizations are rich, even if only an outline of a person is given. More than a few times I found the technical writer side of me wanting to edit the grammar. It isn’t bad or wrong, it just that I had to re-read a passage or two to make sure which noun referred to which pronoun. Nothing major.

Silence of the Grave won the 2005 British Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger award for best novel. The cover lists the story as a “thriller” and, frankly, I was expecting the usual type thriller, a la James Bond or Dan Brown. This isn’t that type of thriller. In fact, I think the book is mislabeled. There’s little thrilling about this story, except a certain passage towards the end. Guess we all have different definitions of the same word.

I enjoyed Silence of the Grave and I’ve already moved on to the third English-translated book, Voices. Jar City was made into a pretty decent movie. I’d like to see more of Indridason’s novels made into movies. They are perfect for the PBS Masterpiece Mystery show. If you like those types of programs, you’ll like this book.

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