Monthly Archives: April 2011

Horror Noir, Whose Body?, Clouds of Witness, Unnatural Death

Paul Meehan, Horror Noir
A poorly written but (as far as I can tell) thorough overview of the confluence of two of my favorite movie genres, horror and film noir. Because what I need is more movies to watch. (A couple of months ago I checked out the wonderful Film Noir Encyclopedia from the library and ended up with a list of over two hundred movies that I needed to see. And those are just the ones rated four-star and above.) Meehan’s real interest is obviously in the early days of the genre, so I’m not sure why the chapters covering 1960 and on are even there, but the first half of the book is fascinating, if poorly copy-edited.

Dorothy L. Sayers, Whose Body?
So I decided to go back to the beginning and read the Lord Peter Wimsey stories in order. I got the first three novels in an omnibus edition, which I adore, because then I can go straight from one to the next without stopping. And why stop? The characters are all wonderful, and in a delightful change from the mysteries I usually read, the murders themselves are genuinely mysterious. It is the characters that you really read a mystery series for, though. And I love them all, Lord Peter and Parker and Bunter and The Hon. Freddy, who reads like an escapee from a Wodehouse novel and is played by a young Ronald Reagan in my head.

Dorothy L. Sayers, Clouds of Witness
And now, Lord Peter’s family! They’re all as delightful as you’d expect, from his mother (who actually is delightful) to his siblings (who are not, really they’re entertaining in the way that British peers tend to be, all stuffy and ridiculous). …Which is mostly what I remember from this book, Peter’s brother being stuffy and ridiculous, and his sister being infinitely silly, and the fun of reading a book featuring a Communist club that was written in the 1920s. History is always more interesting from the inside out.

Dorothy L. Sayers, Unnatural Death
Yet another weird mystery, in which Lord Peter is determined to prove that a murder actually happened (and feels guilty about indirectly causing a few more along the way). The highlight of this book is Miss Climpson, a spinster hired by Lord Peter because, as he says, it’s a shame to let all that natural inquisitiveness go to waste. And it would be, Miss Climpson is amazing. And she does crack the case independently; it’s hardly her fault that none of her messages made it to Lord Peter in time.

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Of Interest: Linda Holmes on being “well-read”

I spotted this wonderful article on NPR this morning on the subject of being well-read — or rather, on the fact that there’s simply no way to do it all. There is too much in the world, too many books, too many movies, too much art for you to experience it all in your life. (In knitting and other handcrafts, this is called “stash exceeding life expectancy,” or the moment you realize you’ll never be able to knit all the yarn you own. I’ve been referring to my to-read list as stash exceeding life expectancy for some time.)

I’ve been feeling this a lot in the past few weeks with movies. I’ve recently discovered the joy of Old Hollywood, thanks largely to my roommate’s love of Humphrey Bogart. (Did you know that Humphrey Bogart is completely amazing? He is. And gorgeous, oh my.) But there’s a good chance I’ll never even see every film noir ever made, and not only because some of them are only available on TCM at two in the morning once every five years. There’s just too much. And I’ve been neglecting modern movies and TV to indulge my new vintage love; the only new movie I’ve seen in two or three months is TRON: Legacy. Haven’t seen a single one of the Oscar nominees, not even The King’s Speech, which is the one I might actually enjoy. There’s just not enough time.

And, as Holmes says, that is wonderful. There is just absolutely no excuse for being bored, not with all this out there. Thousands of movies, hundreds of TV shows, and without exaggeration, millions of books that are worth reading. It’s a wonderful world we live in, sometimes.

The Postman Always Rings Twice, Wishcraft, The Rubber Band, Plain Kate

James M. Cain, The Postman Always Rings Twice
Working my way through the classics of noir fiction. This is a tight little novel, fairly horrible in a lot of ways, but then again, it’s noir. (When I say horrible, I mean, of course, the subject matter, not the writing. The writing is…well, this book could have been twice as long, but it wouldn’t have been half as good.)

Barbara Sher, Wishcraft
Yes, I read a self-help book. It was recommended to me, and I found it legitimately online. I was rather surprised to discover I’d independently invented most of her motivational tricks, but the part of the book I liked the best was the first three chapters or so, the part where she explains you have every right to have the things you actually want, even if you’ve been so messed up about it for so long you’re not sure what those are any more.

Rex Stout, The Rubber Band
After the James Cain, I required something noirish with a slightly less icky attitude toward women. Rex Stout is always good for that; he very rarely has femmes fatales, most of the women in his books are either flat-out useless or clever and helpful. (The female lead in this one is the latter.)

Erin Bow, Plain Kate
Another YA from my trip to ALA last year (yes, I know, it’s been almost a year and I haven’t finished reading my ARCs!…) This was a wonderful fairy tale of a story – a proper fairy tale, that’s mostly about blood and death and revenge, with one of those scrupulously fair endings that doesn’t quite make anyone happy. That makes it sound rather depressing, which it’s not: it’s a very hopeful story, overall, about discovering your own strength. Also, the most realistic talking cat I have ever seen in fiction.

White Coat, Black Hat; The Little Sister; Among Others; The Nine Tailors

Carl Elliott, White Coat, Black Hat
Another medical industry expose. I appear to be addicted to them. This book is primarily focused not on any particular travesty – although he is fond of blaming Big Pharma for most of the problems with contemporary medicine – but on the overall shape of modern medicine, with all its capitalism and competition, as a problem itself. As Elliott points out, science is based on trust; scientific discoveries have to be shared in order to make new discoveries rather than wasting your time making the same discovery someone else already has. But with the profit-driven pharmaceutical and medical industries, sharing means losing your patent and your profit margin. It’s just not a good way to run a system that’s supposed to be saving people’s lives.

Raymond Chandler, The Little Sister
I like the beginning and the end of this book, but the middle leaves a bad taste in my mouth. There are a couple of scenes where Marlowe has these…confrontations with women he’s trying to help, where the overwhelming sense of the scene is “why won’t these bitches be appropriately grateful?” Appropriately is the key word there; it isn’t that he wants to sleep with them (I still think Marlowe is gay) but that they’re throwing themselves at him and he’s repulsed. It’s a nasty kind of misogyny, and I don’t like it. The end, though, is classic Chandler and extremely satisfying, particularly in the way that Marlowe clearly doesn’t quite understand what’s going on here.

Jo Walton, Among Others
The library copy I got was shelved in the general fiction rather than the science fiction section. I cannot for the life of me imagine why, because I’m not sure I see the point of reading this book unless you’re at least a little familiar with science fiction and fandom. Also, there are fairies. Not metaphorical ones, real ones, that are arbitrary and helpful and thoughtlessly cruel. Wonderful fairies. If you are at all fond of fairies, or science fiction, or Wales: Go. Read. Now.

Dorothy L. Sayers, The Nine Tailors
Well, I was on a detective novel kick, and I hadn’t read any Lord Peter yet, and anyway it was this or Poirot at the Cross Plains library. Also Mor was talking about Peter and Harriet in Among Others. No Harriet in this one, but I am now thoroughly fond of Lord Peter and shall be seeking out the rest of the series as quickly as possible. (Omnibus edition is on its way as we speak!)

30 Days of Books: Day Twenty-Six

Day 26 – OMG WTF? OR most irritating/awful/annoying book ending
Memnoch the Devil by Anne Rice. Yes, I was a vampire fangirl at one point. I over-identified with Lestat something horrible in The Vampire Lestat, with his sense of revalation about the vast meaninglessless of the universe (and about the Church). What, I was sixteen. I loved the complexity of the universe she’d created, though, one in which the laws governing the existence of vampires had more to do with the vampires’ own beliefs (such as Armand’s certainty that the only proper thing to do was to live in a crypt under Paris and bemoan his fate) than with any laws of the universe. I even loved all the backstory in Queen of the Damned and the random, hilarious body-swapping in Tale of the Body Thief.

I lost it at the end of Memnoch, though. Time travel was one thing; Lestat at the Passion of the Christ was stretching it a little, but Armand randomly immolating himself on the steps of the cathedral because Lestat came back and told some ridiculous, unbelievable story? That was the first time I ever threw a book across the room in frustration. (The second time, for those of you who are curious, was the end of Clan of the Cave Bear, in which the ridiculous Mary-Sue of a main character invents the bra, in approximately 3000 BC. The third and most recent time was when I realized that they were actually not kidding about the scenes set in England in Left Behind. Both of those books, however, I read for classes.)

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