Sunday, November 11, 2012

I'm a Little In Love with Sherlock

When I was in 7th grade, my history teacher loaned me her copy of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Complete Sherlock Holmes. Because I am who I am, it was no surprise to anyone to see thirteen-year-old bespectacled me hauling this 1000+ page tome around, working my way through it as I sat in class or walked to and from school or stood in the lunch line. (Every day I bought a PBJ. Every day. Except when they only had grape jelly left, then I had nachos. Health!)

So it is no surprise to me that Holmes and Watson are so hot in current story-telling outlets. (I mean hot as in a big commodity. But: see image snagged from Lyndsay Faye’s tumblr.)

Naturally, I’m fully on board with all of these screen versions of Holmes. Classic? Sure! Modern? Why not! Set him in Ancient Babylon, for all I care, but bring on the Holmes.

I’ve already gone on (and on?) about Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series - as you are all devoted readers and followers of mine, I’m sure you’re at least as far into the series as I am, right? (I finished the madcap, delightful Pirate King and have only one published volume left. This makes me sad.) Have I mentioned the use of language in these books? Mary Russell’s voice is so strong and perfect and everything a smart British-American-Jewish scholar of religion in the 1920s should be, but more so. The word choice could not be more ideal. So, in the series, Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are married. And although it’s understated and cerebral, as great loves go, it is indeed a great love. There’s just something vital there between them.

Next: I mentioned Lyndsay Faye’s novel Gods of Gotham and how I was totally brought round to absorption in her world. Her debut, Dust and Shadow, is Dr. Watson’s narration of Holmes’s involvement in the case of Jack the Ripper. Again, the language was superb. The pacing and Faye’s grasp of the characters shone throughout, and I raced through it, while not wanting it to end. Enhancing the narrative was the audio production - Dust and Shadow was read by my big audio-crush Simon Vance. (My husband assures me that his diphthongs are not the sum of the man, and that I need to stop getting carried away by them. And that’s well and good, but in this book, at one point, Holmes takes on a Welsh accent to mask his identity. Vance as Holmes as Welsh! Come ON!) 

So there it all is. The timeline of my romance. From adolescent impressed by the Great Detective’s skills to sympathetic reader of Holmes’s wife’s tales to absorbed listener of Vance-as-Holmes tackling one of the most known true-crime serial murder cases in history. Throw in a little Miller / Downey Jr. / Cumberbatch action (or a LOT…) and is it any wonder that I am more than a little in love with Sherlock Holmes?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Many Happy Returns

In the fall of 1988 I packed up my new cow-themed twin XL sheets and moved to Santa Cruz, California, ready to start classes at one of the hippiest liberal tie-dye granola universities ever. Something like 99.99% of my classmates were from California, and the matching system for roommates in the dorm went something like this: “That girl’s from out of state. So is this girl! Let’s put them together. Surely being the only ones on the hall paying out-of-state tuition will give them plenty to talk about.” It didn’t quite work, but Marie & I did find one topic that set the tone for our year of living together: our mail-in ballots for the presidential election.

For those of you who don’t remember 1988’s election, let me help you out. Reagan’s Vice-President, George H.W. Bush, former Representative from my great state of Texas, was running against Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis. And although Bush ultimately carried California (along with much of the rest of the country), the folks I was meeting at UCSC weren’t his supporters, to say the least.

And Marie? Fellow out-of-stater Marie? She was from Massachusetts.

Now, I was pretty proud of being a 7th generation Texan, and as the cow sheets might have indicated to you already, had gone off to Santa Cruz happy to use “Texas” as shorthand for “everything you need to know about Melanie.” Nowadays I try to paint a slightly more complex picture, because although Texas will always be a part of me, there are things about this state I don’t embrace. Many of those things are Bush-related.

But still, in my first ever vote cast, it was for the Bush-Quayle ticket. (Even back then I made plenty of Quayle jokes. Because come on.) (Wouldn’t it have been fun to have Quayle as a VP candidate in the days of Twitter?)

So, this is my way of saying that I apparently groove on being the odd one out, when it comes to presidential politics. Marie and I had a LOT to discuss that election season, and, well, we didn’t spend much time together once we’d met our own sets of locals to hang out with instead. I wonder what ever happened to Marie? If any of you run in to her, tell her I’m sorry for my belligerent stance, and that I’ve changed.

The most fun I’ve ever had on election night was the 1992 election, when I once again voted by mail, and no, not for either of the Texans (Bush or Perot) on the ballot. I was living in England, but Santa Cruz had changed me. I rarely ate granola, but I definitely wore tie-dye. (Yes, there are pictures. No, I won’t dig them up for you.) That one Republican presidential vote is the only one I ever cast. My British friends and I stayed up all night (silly time zones!) drinking whisky and watching the returns, and were punch-drunk when it was declared for Clinton (some of us were drunk-drunk. No names. But did you know the drinking age in the U.K. is lower than in the U.S.? True fact. Also, turning 21 when you’re an American living in England falls a little flat.)

Now I’m back in Texas, living in one of the most conservative parts of one of the most conservative cities, and I’ve had the “wrong” yard sign up for the past several elections. I love all my FOX-loving friends (even though they’re all wrong.) They’re sweet enough to tolerate me (to my face, anyway.) And there’s a fun little underground of fellow Obama-supporters. We have a secret handshake and everything. (We don’t.) (Do we? Did someone forget to tell me?)

I’ll be staying up late watching the returns again this year, and hope it’ll be fun rather than excruciating. (I hope it’ll be excruciating for all of my friends. I love you! Sorry your guy’s going to lose!) I love voting. I love the whole beautiful mess of democracy, even when I’m enraged by all the nonsense engendered by elections. I may vote for the wrong guy – if not now, then certainly in the past. There’s always someone to disagree with me. But the thing is, I vote.

You vote, too. Agree with me, or seek to counteract me, or don’t give a damn about my ‘not going to count anyway, it’s TEXAS, Melanie’ ballot, but vote. (Also, if you’re local – how about throwing your support to the library bond? You can agree with me on that, can’t you? Thanks.)

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go watch the news obsessively until this thing is called.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Goodreads Awards

The Goodreads Choice awards for 2012's best books nominees are in - have you voted?

As so often happens when books are discussed, I have opinions. And since I have this handy-dandy book blog at my disposal, I'll share them here.

In the fiction category, I voted for Adam Johnson's The Orphan Master's Son - as I said when I blogged about it in July, this is fun, a mental stretch and a solidly constructed journey. Some of the others might be magnificent, thought. I'm really looking forward to reading the new Kingsolver - she's been one of my favorite authors for decades now. I've heard such good about the Diaz, too, and the Benaron. (Turns out that, despite having read over 300 books so far this year, very few of them are Best Fiction types.) 

In Mystery & Thriller, I voted for Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. This book is my Jerry Maguire - it completes me. I can only repeat myself from my post in August: READ THIS BOOK. Now, I loved the new French book (though I still like Faithful Place best of all of hers), and am eager to dive into the new Penny (I fall deeper and deeper for Gamache with every volume), but I was disappointed with the pacing of the new McCall Smith. 

And oh, Historical Fiction. Such a glut of goodness. I loved the Mantel. The Faye was great. I'm in the midst of reading the Stedman, and have been truly transported in time and space by it. The Edugyan and the Morton are in my TBR pile, smiling at me with promise. The Livesey is another I've heard so much about, and plan to get my hands on soon. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012


I was completely drawn in by Jennifer Egan's 2001 novel Look at Me, which I listened to as read by Rachael Warren. It is, in some ways, all over the place. But it's woven into a vast strange look at looks, and what's behind them.

Charlotte is a New York model who ends up with an unrecognizable face after her car is totalled one day near her hometown of Rockford, Ill. (Or as she prefers to put it, distancingly, "near Chicago.") After months of recovery and reconstruction, she returns to the fashion world - or tries to, but without her former face, can't get work. Meanwhile, a detective is after her help to find the mysterious Z, who disappeared around the time of Charlotte's accident. Eventually Charlotte becomes embroiled in an Internet venture (this was 2001, after all) to put her life on display. Kind of an early Kardashian, but faker. Or more real, depending on who you ask. Her hook is the fact that no one can tell who she is anymore, but behind that is the deeper truth that she's not all that sure herself.

Meanwhile, back in Rockford, her former best friend's daughter, also named Charlotte, is entranced by the mysterious Michael, who showed up in town around the time of Charlotte's accident. Young Charlotte is perfectly teen-love-struck - her refrain is "if he does that, then he loves me" - and seeing Michael through her eyes is astounding when compared to seeing Michael though his own lens and that of the omniscient reader.

This was my first audiobook narrated by Warren, and while I enjoyed her tone and pacing, I wished for a little more complexity and differentiation to her voices. With the shifting POVs of Egan's novel, it would have enhanced the audio a good bit.

Big Charlotte's ambition is to see the "shadow self" of everyone she meets. Not the face they hold to the world, but the one beneath that, that shows the truth of a person. And throughout Look at Me, one thing is clear: no one is who they seem. No one is as bad as they seem, or as good as they wish. It doesn't take a disfiguring wreck to see that beauty is skin deep but depth is difficult for us all.