Monday, February 28, 2011
What: Late one night, a poet stumbles upon the dead body of an old woman in a toyshop (as you do). When he returns the next morning with the police, the toyshop has vanished and in its place is a grocery store. (NB: Contrary to all expectation, this is not down to drink.) Mix in Oxford don/amateur detective Gervase Fen, a mysterious will, villains on bicycles, and some Edward Lear limericks, and you have a veritable romp through Oxford. This classic crime novel is much beloved, and with good reason. The first time I read it, I think I actually heard my brain say, "Wheee!"
Comparable to: Edmund Crispin's Gervase Fen resembles Margery Allingham's Albert Campion more than he does Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, Roderick Alleyn, or Lord Peter Wimsey.
Representative quote: "I repeat --- I am getting old and stale. I act with calculation. I take heed for the morrow. This morning I caught myself paying a bill as soon as it came in. This must all be stopped. In another age I should have devoured the living hearts of children to bring back my lost youth. As it is . . . I shall go to Oxford."
You might not like it if: You are just not a fan of the genre.
How to get it: Oh, mes amis, it is very sad --- The Moving Toyshop is currently out of print. This is library and used book territory.
Connections to previous Wreckage: Another author from the Golden Age of detective fiction is Ngaio Marsh. Her Death and the Dancing Footman was Rec. #37.
Sunday, February 27, 2011
What: Vincent D'Onofrio is Sam, a guy who claims to have traveled from the future. (This seems to be about right, correct?) He reveals this to girlfriend Ruby (Marisa Tomei), who has a history of bad relationship choices, and she struggles to determine whether Sam is delusional or actually telling the truth. Delightfully, the movie also features delightful Holland Taylor and delightful Tovah Feldshuh.
Comparable to: It's actually very Next Stop Wonderland-ish . . . largely because both films are from writer-director Brad Anderson.
Representative quote: "You're gay! You're a Jew for Jesus? It's that tattoo. It's a cult. You're in a cult. You're a Branch Davidian? You're a survivalist?"
You might not like it if: You really, really haven't liked Vincent D'Onofrio since his L&O twitches. Would it help if I told you he's more likable here than he's been since he was Thor in Adventures in Babysitting?
How to get it: Well, Amazon seems very determined to let everyone know that it's available for instant viewing/renting. Also available to watch instantly on Netflix. Basically, you could easily watch it today. Instantly!
Saturday, February 26, 2011
What: The unnamed heroine of Patricia Marx's novel is working on her graduate thesis in Cambridge when she falls for narcissist Eugene Obello. The affair doesn't end well for the narrator. Later, working as a TV writer in New York City, she again encounters the now-married Eugene. Again, things don't go so well. Her obsession with the boring, miserable, selfish Eugene is inexplicable to her friends, the reader, and often herself. Marx, a former writer for Saturday Night Live and the first woman elected to the Harvard Lampoon, has written a very funny tragedy/very tragic comedy.
Comparable to: Same type of sense of humor as David Rakoff, Sloane Crosley, David Sedaris, etc. But this is a novel, not a collection of essays or stories.
Representative quote: "The entire first year, gosh, I was happy. I was a foreigner! I'd never been to Europe and now here I was, in a country where everyone sounded like Winston Churchill or Mary Poppins; where all the women had flawless skin and all the men looked as if they'd been wandering around in the Underground since World War II, never having seen the light of day or another change of clothes."
Explanation of further would-be representative quotes: So, I'm not going to include an example of this here, because it wouldn't make sense out of context, but my favorite part of the book is that the narrator periodically polls her friends for their opinions about her life.
You might not like it if: The inexplicable nature of the Eugene obsession is a persistent bother that doesn't go away.
How to get it: Frankly, the paperback is super-cheap on Amazon right now. If you're interested.
Friday, February 25, 2011
What: Elizabeth Gaskell is one of the great underappreciated British authors of the mid-nineteenth century. She was a contemporary of Charles Dickens, and he was an admirer of her work. In Mary Barton, her first novel, Gaskell surrounds her story with the poverty and class struggles of the Industrial Revolution, ideas that would permeate her best writing. The title character, the daughter of a factory worker, unwittingly finds herself in the center of these struggles when she is pursued by a mill-owner's son.
Comparable to: A cross between George Eliot and Charles Dickens. Eliot's humor often comes at you sideways, and so does Gaskell's. And as Dickens often did, Gaskell sets her main character on a quest, with Mary Barton spending part of the book spearheading a pivotal investigation.
Representative quote: "He had no doubt of the effect of his own personal charms in the long run; for he knew he was handsome, and believed himself fascinating."
You might not like it if: You can't handle all the death. I mean, one of the leading causes of death in England in the 1800s was being a character in an Elizabeth Gaskell novel. (Seriously, lots and lots of the characters die. You should know that.)
How to get it: It's in the public domain, so yay! for that.
So, it's pretty common for sympathetic characters in books to be readers.
Movie characters often go to the movies, and there are many examples of them being obsessed with film.
It's not as easy, though, for me to recall instances of TV characters watching TV shows. What about you? Examples to share?
Movie characters often go to the movies, and there are many examples of them being obsessed with film.
It's not as easy, though, for me to recall instances of TV characters watching TV shows. What about you? Examples to share?
Thursday, February 24, 2011
What: In 1971's A New Leaf*, Walter Matthau is Henry Graham, a supremely selfish man who's run through his family's entire fortune and finds himself completely broke. Of course, the obvious solution is to marry an heiress and then get rid of her. Unfortunately for Henry, the heiress he finds is Henrietta Lowell, a dedicated botanist whose complete lack of life skills eclipses even Henry's own. Henrietta is played by the genius Elaine May, who also wrote and directed.
Representative quote: "Excuse me, you're not by any chance related to the Boston Hitlers?"
Bonus representative quote: "The only difference between us is I am a man and you are a woman, and we don't have to let that interfere if we are reasonably careful."
Bonus bonus representative quote: "Who do I know who's pregnant and a good sport?"
You might not like it if: You don't like your comedies quite so dark.
How to get it: I wish you luck! It's not on DVD. (This is one reason I can't get rid of my VCR just yet.) If you do manage to will it into existence, please send me a copy. Thanks.
*If you google "A New Leaf," one of your top results will probably be a Chicago florist. I have friends getting married there this summer. Dear Friends: You want one of your most charming guests (ahem) to come dressed as Henrietta Lowell, right?
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
What: There are a couple of unexpected things you should know about author Deborah Crombie. First, she's from Texas, but she sets her books in England and writes about it like a native. (Believe me, if her writing struck a false note I would be truly, truly annoyed, but so far it hasn't.) Second, while she does write mysteries, her books aren't really about that. Well, I mean, they are about that --- she's been nominated for almost every major mystery award. With Dreaming of the Bones, however, Crombie's Kincaid/James novels start to be more about how you slowly build your own family in life with people you meet along the way. This story begins when Superintendent Duncan Kincaid of Scotland Yard receives a phone call from his ex-wife, whom he hasn't seen in more than ten years. Things get complicated from there.
Comparable to: Elizabeth George, in the plot/character balance.
You might not like it if: You get overwhelmed when too many characters are introduced early on.
How to get it: Readily available, but this is the key: Take careful note of the title. Crombie's novels have vague titles that are often only connected to the contents by the finest of threads. Also, it's helpful to read the series in order (book 14 is due out later this year), but you won't be lost if you jump in with this one (it's book 5).
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
What: Did you know that British actor Hugh Laurie, generally beloved for Blackadder and Jeeves & Wooster and House, wrote a spy spoof? He did! In The Gun Seller, ex-soldier Thomas Lang refuses an assassination job offer and quickly becomes embroiled in an elaborate plot with terrorists, arms dealers, diplomats, and CIA agents. It's pretty much exactly what you'd expect of a spy spoof written by Hugh Laurie, in the best way possible.
Comparable to: In the interview-with-the-author section that's available in some editions, Laurie cites P.G. Wodehouse and Kyril Bonfiglioli as major influences. You can tell.
Representative quote: "Rayner, I estimated, was ten years older than me. Which is fine. Nothing wrong with that. I have good, warm, non-arm-breaking relationships with plenty of people who are ten years older than me. People who are ten years older than me are, by and large, admirable. But Rayner was also three inches taller than me, four stones heavier, and at least eight however-you-measure-violence units more violent."
You might not like it if: Everyone is fond of Hugh Laurie, right? Except my mom, I guess. She doesn't care for his version of an American accent.
How to get it: Try your library, or look online for the paperback or Kindle edition.
Connections to previous Wreckage: You might recognize the name Kyril Bonfiglioli from Rec. #31: Don't Point That Thing at Me. Also, let's not forget that The Gun Seller was written by the guy on the right:
(I love this picture and previously used it for Rec. #24: Cocktail Time.)
Monday, February 21, 2011
What: The Oscars are less than one week away, so you might be hearing even more than usual about award frontrunners like The King's Speech, The Social Network, . . . Black Swan. If you saw Black Swan and now can't get enough ballet, or if (more likely) you didn't see Black Swan because it looks terrifying and kind of ooky but you want to feel like you experienced some of it, you should read Adrienne Sharp's collection of stories about professional ballet dancers. Sharp mixes stories centered on wholly fictional creations with stories highlighting real ballet legends like Foteyn, Nureyev, and Farrell. The writing is gritty and honest and beautiful.
Comparable to: Like Natalie Portman in Black Swan, these dancers experience pain, sacrifice, and obsession. Unlike Portman, they don't get really, really stabby.
Representative quote: "I've got a heating pad on my knee, an ice pack on my ankle, and I'm smoking a cigarette, which I shouldn't be doing, but Ridley's making me nervous. He's dancing tonight, not me, but that's not what's on his mind. He wants to talk."
You might not like it if: You didn't think you'd ever care about ballet, but then you saw Black Swan, and now you know you'll never care about ballet.
How to get it: I cannot fathom why the publisher did not take this opportunity to reprint and promote the heck out of this book. Other than the fact that the book is available for your Kindle, a new edition hasn't come out since 2002. Still, libraries!
Connection to previous Wreckage: I suggested another Oscar-bait supplement with Rec. #10: Territory.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
What: Momoko, the main character of Kamikaze Girls, is depressed about relocating to a rural town after her father's work selling designer knock-offs gets him in trouble with corporations and with the mob. Her solace is her obsession with Rococo-era France and dressing in the "Lolita" style. As this is an expensive interest, she decides get much-needed cash by selling some of her father's fakes. In the process, she meets Ichigo, a member of a female motorcycle gang, and the pair form an unlikely friendship. This Japanese film has a simple plot, but it is frenetically paced and has delightful touches of absurdity. Like these guys:
Comparable to: It has an Amelie-esque visual whimsicality. Kamikaze Girls has more spitting and falling down, though, plus a multi-gang biker fight.
Representative quote: "Humans are cowards in the face of happiness."
You might not like it if: You get dizzy easily and/or you hate reading subtitles.
How to get it: I would not want to promise that your library has it, but you can rent or buy it online.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
What: Written in the collective "we," Personal Days tells the story of office workers watching in helpless horror as their company goes through rolling layoffs. In the process, the reader gets an accurate, detailed, sadly humorous picture of day-to-day office life in the big city. It this sounds familiar, that's probably because this is pretty much the exact same book as Joshua Ferris's Then We Came to the End. The major difference is that Ed Park made his version eerier, with a twist of suspense at the end. (And that Then We Came to the End got a ton of press and sold a lot more copies.) But, really, the same book. I liked them both, so I'm not complaining.
Representative quote: "We dress like we don't make much money, which is true for at least half of us. The trick is figuring out which half."
You might not like it if: You hated Then We Came to the End.
How to get it: Bookstores, libraries, online. The same goes for the Joshua Ferris version.
We're now 50 posts/days into 2011. Here's a refresher of the Wreckage thus far:
- The Good Thief
- Wonderfalls, season one
- Case Histories
- The Salmon of Doubt
- Rope: "Good and evil, right and wrong were invented for the ordinary, average man, the inferior man, because he needs them."
- Happy Trails to You
- Hyperbole and a Half
- Last Night at the Lobster
- No Ordinary Matter: "Veronica began to put her clothes back on. She sensed impending doom and wanted to be dressed for it."
- In the Bleak Midwinter/A Midwinter's Tale
- The Tournament
- Loitering with Intent
- Shameless, series one
- Saturday Night
- The Undertaker's Gone Bananas: "The kids just kept staring at each other as though in silent agreement that the world was for the most part unjust and often very noisy."
- The Palm Beach Story
- The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip: "And both Ronsen girls stood very still, and looked sort of pretty, if you like the kind of girl who, to look sort of pretty, has to stand very still."
- Monologue of a Dog
- The Reaper
- Going to Meet the Man
- Cocktail Time
- Nora Jane: A Life in Stories
- Wait Until Dark: "I have your knife, Mr. Roat."
- A Spot of Bother
- Opening Skinner's Box
- Misalliance: "Papa, buy the brute for me."
- Don't Point That Thing at Me
- Take the Cannoli
- The Up series
- Cold Comfort Farm: "True, in Cheltenham and in Bloomsbury gentlemen did not say in so many words that they ate women in self-defense, but there was no doubt that that was what they meant."
- Northern Exposure, season one
- Boy Gets Girl
- Death and the Dancing Footman
- What's Up, Doc?
- Paris to the Moon
- Summer Half
- Ella Minnow Pea
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: "Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so."
- The Gift
- Guys and Dolls
- Harold and Maude
- The Bowl Is Already Broken
- I Married a Dead Man
- Feeling Sorry for Celia: "They do this thing whenever I'm talking to them where they blink their mascara'd lashes very quickly, as if they did to take lots of little breaks from looking at me."
- The Fall
- The Best of It
Friday, February 18, 2011
What: As the subtitle states, this is a collection of new and selected poems by Kay Ryan, the former poet laureate of the United States (yes, this is a thing that still exists). Ryan has been widely praised for the beauty and accessibility of her poems, and the people who said this are not wrong. Her writing is incredibly focused, even for short-form poetry. If you flip through one of her books, you'll see a series of very narrow columns of text. The tone of the poems is conversational, and deep in a way that doesn't make you feel dumb.
Comparable to: Marianne Moore.
Representative quote: "If it please God, / let less happen." (from "Blandeur")
You might not like it if: You continue in your campaign for no poetry, no way, no how.
How to get it: Ryan's a former poet laureate, so if you can find a poetry section, you have a good shot at finding this.
Connection to previous Wreckage: My first installment of "Poetry! It is a thing people still write!" was Rec. #19: Monologue of a Dog.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
What: In The Fall, Lee Pace is a stunt man recovering from a career-killing injury in 1920s Los Angeles. In the hospital, he spends his time doing two things: telling an epic revenge story to a young girl who's lost everything, and planning for his suicide. (The Fall also features personal fave Justine Waddell. Lee Pace is apparently very comfortable working with British brunettes.) The film is absolutely visually stunning, but without the strong plot, dialogue, and acting, it would just have been a series of gorgeous pictures. With them, it's a powerful, moving piece of cinema. With gorgeous pictures.
Comparable to: What was the last dizzying, lush, surreal adventure story you saw? It's like that.
Representative quote: "You always stop at the same part, when it's very beautiful. Interesting."
You might not like it if: You are tortured by the idea that you will probably never get to see this on the big screen. (Unless you did. If you did, don't tell me.)
How to get it: It's available to watch instantly on Netflix and available to buy on demand from Amazon. But, really, watch it on the biggest screen you can.
Connection to previous Wreckage: We love Lee Pace for several things. One of them is that he played Jaye's brother on Wonderfalls (Rec. #2).
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
What: In Feeling Sorry for Celia, we read letters and notes both to and from Elizabeth Clarry, a high school student going through a transitional period. Her best friend since childhood (Celia) is becoming someone she doesn't recognize, and her absent father suddenly wants to reconnect with her. This was the first book I read by Jaclyn Moriarty, and I now read everything she publishes, no matter what. Her characters are relatable, her sight is clear, and her style is snappy. Also, she is hilarious.
Comparable to: Louise Rennison's Georgia Nicholson novels are similarly confessional, but where Rennison is more outrageously funny, Moriarty finds surprising depth in wry humor.
Representative quote: "They do this thing whenever I'm talking to them where they blink their mascara'd lashes very quickly as if they need to take lots of little breaks from looking at me."
You might not like it if: You have taken a vow never to touch anything that could be labeled young adult literature because you are a Grown Up and only read Grown Up books . . . unless the books have werewolves, vampires, or boy wizards.
How to get it: Moriarty is Australian, and her novels often have different titles in different countries (AUS/UK title vs. US title). Enjoy Feeling Sorry for Celia, because it is the only book by this author that has the same title in all English-speaking countries.
Connection to previous Wreckage: Ella Minnow Pea (Rec. #41) is also an epistolary novel with a smart young woman at the center.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
What: In Cornell Woolrich's noir thriller, two pregnant women meet on a train. One is poor, abandoned, and desperate. The other is traveling with her husband to meet his wealthy family for the first time. When the happy married couple dies in a train crash, desperate Helen sees her chance. She builds a happy life for herself with the unsuspecting "in-laws" --- until her blackmailing ex-lover shows up. Noir ensues! (Bizarrely, someone in the mid-'90s read this book and thought, "This is perfect for a romantic comedy with Ricki Lake, Brendan Fraser, and Shirley MacLaine!" I have no explanation for this.)
Comparable to: Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain, other noir authors. Also, several of Woolrich's novels have been adapted into films that you might have seen, including The Bride Wore Black and a little picture called Rear Window.
Representative quote: "The door was closed. It had a look of pitiless finality about it, as though it would always be closed like this from now on. As though nothing in the world could ever make it open again."
You might not like it if: You think you'd actually prefer the romantic comedy version of this story.
How to get it: The book is out of print, but you can get it from a library, a used bookstore, etc. Also! An actual noir adaptation, starring Barbara Stanwyck, is available to watch instantly on Netflix (under the title No Man of Her Own).
Connection to previous Wreckage: Like Cornell Woolrich, Frederick Knott had his work adapted into a popular Hitchcock film starring Grace Kelly (Dial M for Murder). One of Knott's other plays is Wait Until Dark, which is Rec. #26.
Monday, February 14, 2011
What: The Bowl Is Already Broken is mostly set in the fictional Museum of Asian Art in Washington, D.C., and it mostly centers on Promise Whittaker, the museum's acting director. The meaning of the title is twofold: First, it's taken from a proverb about the meaninglessness of possessions. Second, it's how the novel opens. One of the curators has just dropped an irreplaceable porcelain bowl, once owned by Thomas Jefferson, down the museum's grand staircase. Another curator is embezzling funds, the previous director is on an archaeological dig in the Taklamakan Desert, and the museum is under constant threat of closure. It all makes for a thoroughly satisfying story.
Comparable to: Zuravleff's style is similar to that of Mark Haddon, but Promise Whittaker reminds me of Antonia (Tony) Fremont from Margaret Atwood's The Robber Bride.
Representative quote: "Really, he did not seem suited for retirement, for he was always waking up thinking himself dead."
You might not like it if: Some people don't want to know what happens in the kitchen of a restaurant, others don't want to know what happens backstage at a theater, and you don't want to know what happens behind the scenes at a museum.
How to get it: Probably at your library, maybe at your bookstore --- just remember you'll have to go all the way to the end of the "Z"s.
Connection to previous Wreckage: I compared the writing style to that of Mark Haddon. Haddon's A Spot of Bother was Rec. #27.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
What: Harold Chasen is a privileged young man obsessed with death. He stages fake suicides, drives a hearse, and attends strangers' funerals. At one of these funerals, he meets Maude, who is equally driven by a love for life. She dances and sings, rescues trees, steals cars, and tries something new every day. Harold quickly falls in love with the free spirit. Harold's mother, priest, and psychiatrist object to the relationship, though, mainly because Maude is 79 years old. The story of Harold and Maude is brought to near-perfection by well-integrated music from the inestimable Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam). This is a great way to spend Valentine's Day.
Comparable to: A major influence on many writers/directors. In my opinion, Wes Anderson has spent most of his career trying to recapture the quirky, happy/morbid vibe of this film.
Representative quote: "You know, at one time I used to break into pet shops to liberate the canaries. But I decided that was an idea way before its time. Zoos are full, prisons are overflowing . . . oh my, how the world still dearly loves a cage."
You might not like it if: You have a very low threshold for quirk.
How to get it: It's possibly more expensive to buy than you would expect, but it's worth it.
Saturday, February 12, 2011
What: The stories in Guys and Dolls are so much more than the musical that took the collection's name. If you are familiar with the show, then the stylistic dialogue of Damon Runyon's number-runners, chorus girls, gamblers, and hustlers will seem familiar, but you might be surprised at some of the situations they get themselves into.
Comparable to: Think of Runyon as P.G. Wodehouse for 1930s New York mobsters.
Representative quote: "If a guy keeps yessing a doll long enough, she is bound to figure him a bright guy, and worth looking into." (from "The Delegates at Large")
You might not like if it: You don't develop a liking for Runyon's distinctive vernacular.
How to get it: There are several different collections of Runyon's stories, including Guys and Dolls and Other Writings, The Damon Runyon Omnibus, Damon Runyon: Favorites, A Treasury of Damon Runyon, and Runyon on Broadway. You're bound to run into one of them. Consider this recommendation applicable to all of them.
Friday, February 11, 2011
What: The Gift is a Southern Gothic thriller with a noteworthy cast, including Cate Blanchett, Giovanni Ribisi, Greg Kinnear, Hilary Swank, Keanu Reeves, Katie Holmes, Gary Cole, and J.K. Simmons. Director Sam Raimi keeps the whole thing humming with a constant buzz of low-level suspense mixed with dread. Plus, Cate Blanchett basically gives a master class in acting.
Comparable to: Some understated supernatural elements in combination with the suspense might remind you of The Sixth Sense.
Representative quote: "I don't know. I guess I just don't believe there are any great mysteries in life. I kind of figure what you see is what you get."
You might not like it if: You're looking for a thriller with a truly innovative plot.
How to get it: A great last-minute pick for movie-at-home night. It should be readily available to rent/borrow, or you could buy it super-cheap.
Thursday, February 10, 2011
What: I'm sure many of you can see why this had to be Rec. #42. (If you can, you really don't need me to say anything else. If you can't, read on. Well, read on either way.) Over a span of thirty years, the adventures of Arthur Dent, Trillian, Ford Prefect, Zaphod Beeblebrox, and Marvin have been, among other things, a radio play, a five-book "trilogy," a television series, a computer game, a movie, a comic book series, and a few stage shows. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is the first book, wherein Arthur Dent leaves Earth for the first time and learns the meaning of life.
Comparable to: The series appeals to several different types of nerdom: Anglophile/British intellectual nerdom (all Arthur Dent really wants is a proper cup of tea, one "action" sequence involves torture via bad poetry); science fiction nerdom (space, robots, aliens); retro-chic nerdom (it started as a radio play!); pop culture trivia nerdom (many, many inside jokes); and computer nerdom (Douglas Adams was an early adopter of Macs, the "Guide" of the title is basically an iPad).
Representative quote: "Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so."
You might not like it if: You avoid most forms of nerdom, as a general rule.
How to get it: The book is available in so many ways ("ultimate" edition, 25th anniversary edition, deluxe edition, etc.) that it's amazing someone hasn't dropped off a special edition at your door while you've been reading this. Actually, maybe they have. You'd better check.
Connection to previous Wreckage: The Salmon of Doubt, a posthumous collection of work by Douglas Adams, was Rec. #4.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
What: In the subtitle, Mark Dunn's book describes itself as "A Progressively Lipogrammatic Epistolary Fable." This is entirely accurate, but perhaps a bit dense for an explanation. It's actually quite simple: More than a hundred years earlier, a man came up with a phrase that uses each of the letters of the alphabet: "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." His hometown (a small fictional island) erects a statue in his honor, with the sentence on it. One day, the letter "Z" falls off the statue, the Council decides it's a Sign, and suddenly no one is allowed to use the letter "Z" anymore. Then the "Q" drops . . . then the "J" (you see where this is going). Oh, and the whole story is told through letters.
Comparable to: Kinda Kurt Vonnegut-ish. Also similar to the "fable for adults" tone of The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip.
Representative quote (from the first half of the book): "I must own that we were quite ataken by the Council's initial reaction to the incident, most of us regarding it as mere happenstance. The Council, on the other hand, sought with leapdash urgency to grasp sign and signal from the loss, and having offered themselves several possible explanations, retired with all dispatch to closed-door chambers for purposes of solemn debate and disposition."
Representative quote (from the second half of the book): "Pharewell. Pharewell. Tho we were not phrents 4 long, I will so miss ewe. Ewe are strong. It is goot that ewe are lepht."
You might not like it if: You don't believe the charm of the execution can outmaneuver the preciousness of the premise.
How to get it: Easy to get! The newer editions have a different subtitle, though: "A Novel in Letters."
Connection to previous Wreckage: The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip was Rec. #18.
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
What: For three decades (1930s, '40s, and '50s), Angela Thirkell wrote one novel every year. In the fictional county of Barsetshire, the characters under Thirkell's purview grow up, grow older, fall in love, get political, stay provincial, mostly survive one war, and try to recover from the resulting peace. All the stories are told with a gently satiric tone that is affectionate even as it mocks the more absurd instances of snobbish gentility. Summer Half is the first Thirkell book I read, and I happened to stumble right smack into the middle of a golden period for the characters. It's summer; teachers, students, and headmasters (and their relations) are enjoying the holiday; and the second world war is not yet on the horizon.
Comparable to: Same vein as Austen, Dickens, Gaskell, and Thackeray. But one hundred years later.
Representative quote: "To his unhappy situation he saw no outlet which honor could allow, and hoped vaguely that on his Russian visit he might somehow turn into someone else, or even get sent to Siberia by mistake."
You might not like it if: It's too quiet. You want the war!
How to get it: Thirkell's books tend to go in and out of print. It looks like Summer Half is out of print now, but try your library.
Monday, February 7, 2011
What: In 1995, Adam Gopnik, a writer for the New Yorker, received a plum assignment: Move to Paris for five years and write about it. For me, at least, Gopnik actually earned that privilege, because he sent back some damn fine writing on everyday life, including strikes, cafes, fax machines, haute couture, Alice Waters, and a baseball bedtime story. This isn't just an American in Paris; this is an American becoming Parisian.
Comparable to: A New Yorker in Paris.
Representative quote: "[It was] symbolic of a common human hope that the world could be something other than it is --- younger and more musical and less exhausting and better lit."
You might not like it if: The privilege of it all really gets in your way.
How to get it: Now! I always associate this book with this time of year, mainly because of the memorable "Winter Circus" section. Also, Pro Tip for you: Go ahead and buy a few copies right away. I've owned several different copies of the book because I keep loaning it to people ("You really should read this.") and people keep . . . not always giving it back.
Sunday, February 6, 2011
What: A perpetual student, a musicologist, a government agent, and an aging debutante happen to have identical plaid suitcases and are all staying at the same San Francisco hotel. The farce that ensues leads to many things, including mistaken identity, an electrical fire, a shootout with the mob, and an elaborate car chase sequence involving a Chinese dragon. My favorite scene takes place under a table in a convention hall. Bonus: Early crazy Randy Quaid appearance.
Comparable to: It's a good, old-fashioned screwball comedy, and a very effective one.
Howard: Good morning.
Mr. Kaltenborn: No, I don't think so. I'm Mr. Kaltenborn, the manager of what's left of the hotel.
Howard: I'm sorry about this whole mess here. Usually this doesn't happen.
Mr. Kaltenborn: Dr. Bannister, I have a message for you from the staff of the hotel.
Howard: What is it?
Mr. Kaltenborn: Goodbye.
Howard: That's the entire message?
Mr. Kaltenborn: We would appreciate it if you would check out.
Mr. Kaltenborn: Yesterday.
Howard: That soon?
You might not like it if: Sorry. You are legally and morally obligated to like a movie whose opening credits include the words "introducing Madeline Kahn."
How to get it: Buy it, borrow it, or rent it. Then consider buying a plaid suitcase.
Saturday, February 5, 2011
What: Death and the Dancing Footman is not the first mystery novel written by Ngaio Marsh. It's not my favorite novel written by Ngaio Marsh. It's not even one of my top three. It is, however, very good evidence of one of Marsh's strengths as a writer: She has the ability to steep the reader fully in one set of characters and then seamlessly shift to the detective's point of view when he comes on the scene halfway through. I adore Marsh's detective, Roderick Alleyn, so it's worth noting that his appearance always comes as a pleasant surprise in a story I was already absorbed in. Marsh's characters are believable, recognizable, and unique. Some of them just happen to be murderers.
Comparable to: Ngaio Marsh is often compared to Josephine Tey, Dorothy Sayers, and Agatha Christie, her contemporaries during the Golden Age of detective fiction.
Representative quote: "Mandrake, nursing his brandy-glass, presently felt his head clear miraculously. He would speak to these people in rhythmic, perfectly chosen phrases, and what he said would be of enormous importance. He heard his own voice telling them that Nicholas, in the event of a crisis, would treat them to a display of pyrotechnics, and that two women would applaud him and one man deride. 'But the third woman,' said Mandrake solemnly, 'must remain a shadowed figure. I shall write a play about her. Dear me, I am afraid I must be a little drunk.' He looked anxiously round, only to discover that nobody had been listening to him, and he suddenly realized that he had made his marvelous speech in a whisper. This discovery sobered him. He decided to take no more of Jonathan's brandy."
You might not like it if: You are truly bothered by the fact that no one dies in the first hundred pages.
How to get it: OK, so it's not out of print, but frankly the newer cover art (not pictured above) does not give you a good feel for the book inside. Much better to seek out the older editions with awesome, noir-ish cover illustrations.
Friday, February 4, 2011
What: Sounds cute, right? It's not. In this unsettling play by Rebecca Gilman, a magazine reporter finds herself menaced when she rejects a man after a blind date. It's a stark, realistic, modern look at how the blurred idea of romantic pursuit can camouflage all manner of threats. If you've ever watched a movie and thought, "That gesture's not romantic, it's creepy and stalkerish," you'll want to read Boy Gets Girl.
Comparable to: Well, the opening is pretty similar to several contemporary romantic comedies. (The main character is a single, successful magazine reporter who lives in New York City. She goes on a blind date.) After that, though, the similarity ends.
You might not like it if: You've never thought, "That gesture's not romantic, it's creepy and stalkerish" during a movie.
How to get it: Available online and at libraries, but I think this is prime used-book territory. Boy Gets Girl is only 128 pages long, and books with its dimensions tend to hold up well. It's also a good size for a book on the go because it fits well in a bag or briefcase, and it's not too heavy. Um, weight-wise, anyway.
Thursday, February 3, 2011
What: Remember when TV dramedy was in its heyday, Alaska meant quirky misfits, and John Corbett was
Representative quote: "It's the same with white people. They cleared the forest, they dug up the land, and they gave us the flu. But they also brought power tools and penicillin and Ben and Jerry's ice cream."
Also, lots and lots and lots of stuff that Chris Stevens says. Dude talks a ton.
You might not like it if: As someone who's lived exclusively in places with very cold winters, I yell, "Zip your coat up!" at the TV a lot. If you watched this with me, that would probably annoy you.
How to get it: You'll most likely find it in a set with season 2. Enjoy!
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
What: I am currently snowbound, basically trapped in my apartment post-snowpocalypse. You know what would be worse? Being trapped on a farm with a religious maniac, an oversexed farm hand, a maudlin would-be sprite, and a ghoulish obsessive. Also someone named Urk. Such is the situation of Flora Poste for much of Stella Gibbon's comic novel. Somehow, though, our very modern heroine manages to tidy it all up with firm, calm, undeterred practicality.
Comparable to: It's a little like Mary Poppins walked into a D.H. Lawrence or Thomas Hardy novel and started telling everyone to pull themselves together, for goodness' sake.
Representative quote: "True, in Cheltenham and in Bloomsbury gentlemen did not say in so many words that they ate women in self-defense, but there was no doubt that that was what they meant."
You might not like it if: The whole thing just sounds kind of annoying to you.
How to get it: Penguin has all kinds of editions out there, including one for your Kindle. Oh, yes, there's a movie, too. It is not at all disappointing! You could even watch it first, so you can picture Kate Beckinsale, Joanna Lumley, Ian McKellen, Eileen Atkins, Stephen Fry, Rufus Sewell, and the rest in the appropriate roles.
Connection to previous Wreckage: In Rec. #31: Don't Point That Thing at Me, I mentioned a sequel titled Something Nasty in the Woodshed. That phrase comes from, and is repeated often in, Cold Comfort Farm.
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
What: You know what's really quite scary? Driving in an actual blizzard. I did that today. You know what else is scary, in a very different way? Looking at a seven-year-old boy and thinking, "Ah, yes. You will grow up to be a Bond villain." I did not do that today, but I did it the first time I saw Seven Up, the initial entry in the Up documentary series. In the mid-'60s, the filmmakers interviewed fourteen British children from different socioeconomic backgrounds, and director Michael Apted* films follow-up interviews every seven years. The results are sometimes heartbreaking, occasionally scary, and consistently fascinating. You'll form very strong opinions about these people you've never met. (See if you can spot who I pegged as the Bond villain.)
Representative quote: "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man." (This should tip you off that there's more emphasis on the ten boys than the four girls.)
You might not like it if: You get completely lost in the accents. No closed captioning, either, so it's sink or swim here.
How to get it: Quickly! Catch up before 56 Up comes out (due in 2012). So far, we've had Seven Up, Seven Plus 7, 21 Up, 28 Up, 35 Up, 42 Up, and 49 Up.
*Michael Apted was a researcher on the original film and has directed all subsequent films in the series.