Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I Was Always One for a Good Cry

A friend recently sent me this blog posting at Blue Rose Girls where they were discussing sob inducers they read when they were kids. The one book they discuss that I remember sobbing over was Where the Red Fern Grows. In fact, Mr. Clark, my fifth grade teacher, let the girls go and read the last chapters out in the hallway to avoid the teasing from the boys. We sat surrounding a box of tissues and worked our way through the heartbreaking ending. My favorite memory of that day? Coming back into the classroom and seeing the guys trying to hide their red eyes and runny noses. Apparently it was a book we all could have cried over together.

Honestly, Where the Red Fern was a fairly typical book for me to cry over though. Put an animal in peril and I will be sobbing about three words in. I am the girl who freaked out over killer whales eating seals (my poor father…explaining the circle of life to a distraught three year old who didn’t get that Shamu had to eat too). The streak has continued. Mom cried me through the end of Shiloh, one of the few books I can remember Mom reading to both my sister and me. My younger sister wasn’t one to sit and listen to stories.

We had a reading program in elementary school called PARP, Parents as Reading Partners, where we had to read so many hours and so many books with our parents to get our rewards. Dad had a rule that he got to choose one of the books I would read. He chose some doozies over the years (I came late to the wonders of science fiction. Have Space Suit, Will Travel was excruciating to try to read in 5th grade). But none quite got to me like Call of the Wild. I think I’ve blocked most of it out if I’m being honest but I remember the first chapter. There is a dogfight. That was it; Dad found me with tears streaming down my face fifteen minutes into the book. I don’t remember him recommended another animal book after that. Apparently he’d finally learned his lesson. (Until about 12 years later when he thought watching Eight Below was a good idea. I think I cried the last 40 minutes of that film. I had a husky growing up; I think this makes these stories even worse for me to try to read.)

Me giving Luk, my husky a bath. Heavens, look at those bangs. This is circa the mid nineties...

But I have to admit I am hard pressed to think of a book that has made me cry that doesn’t involve animals. I am apparently heartless when it comes to human characters in my books. I’ve been thinking about this since I read the aforementioned blog post. I think maybe there were tears when Matthew died in Anne of Green Gables in sixth grade. I was more interested in that series that I devoured that year than Bridge to Terabitha that I was supposed to be reading for class. I know I didn’t cry in that book; I just found that girl annoying. In fact, she was the first character I was sort of actively gunning for. A new phenomenon for me. It wasn’t until I encountered Dora Copperfield many years later that I rooted for a character to mercifully exit the narrative (and heavens did I laugh when I found out Jasper Fforde shared my view of the situation).

OK, I shed some tears in the Harry Potter series, notably the fifth and seventh books where Rowling just decides to blindside you several times. I also shed tears in The Hunger Games but made it through its two sequels without nary a tear in sight. Maybe I just don’t usually read tearjerkers? They aren’t usually my style. I will be the first to admit I enjoy “chick-lit” as much as the next hopeless romantic and there aren’t usually tears to be found in what is essentially a romantic comedy film in book form.

Or maybe I just don’t have the same sympathies when it comes to humans that I do to animals. Actually, I’m pretty sure I don’t. I wonder what that says about me? I will always send money to the ASPCA or the World Wildlife Fund over anyone else. I would rather volunteer at an animal shelter than a homeless one. Maybe I feel safer with animals? Or maybe I am more on a footing I can handle? I am not always the best people person, I’ve worked hard over the years to get over a shyness than makes me want to hunker down with a movie rather than go out to a bar (let me tell you, that was especially not fun to handle in college). But I’ve always been good with animals. Dogs, cats, rodents, and the odd exotic one I’ve been lucky enough to cross paths with. I volunteered during a demonstration at The Raptor Project a couple summers ago to feed a bald eagle. It may have been the highlight of my summer that year. Right before they let me have an awesome picture taken with an Eagle Owl. That completed my life.

Well, for whatever reason, the books that make me cry usually have an animal that I want to reach in and save from the clutches of the author. So whatever that may say about me, I leave to the reader’s discretion.

Photo: Scott Thomas, check out his blog! That is a scanned slide that had been stored in our basement for years. I did the best I could with color correction. The archivist in me cringed...

Monday, August 30, 2010

A Perfect Read for the Coming of Fall

It feels like the summer is slowly slipping away here. It’s been gray and rainy all day with that nip in the air that makes me think of October and red-gold leaves covering yards with corn husks and pumpkins appearing on front porches and lampposts. I may not have grown up in New England but Central New York can carry that feeling of spookiness that comes with fall and All Hallows Eve with the best of them (when of course it wasn’t snowing by then. Sadly, I do come from the land where kids’ Halloween costumes are designed to fit over snowsuits…).

I finished The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane this evening and enjoyed every creepy word of it. The story follows a young PhD candidate, Connie Goodwin, as she moves into her grandmother’s abandoned house for the summer and discovers a key in a Bible with one name attached to it: Deliverance Dane. The name takes her an adventure through the archives of Boston and Salem in search of a forgotten woman who died during the Salem Witch Trials and a mysterious book passed down through the women of the family, a family she just might have more of a connection with than she thought. The book alternates between 1991, Connie’s time and flashbacks to the Salem Witch Trials in 1692. The book was written by Katherine Howe, a PhD candidate herself in American and New England Studies and a descendant of two women affected by the Salem Witch Trials, one who survived and one who didn’t.

So, I kind of loved this book but it took me a few chapters to get into the story itself. What did throw me at first was the use of the Puritan dialect in the flashback chapters. I’ve never been a fan of dialect in my books; I feel like it’s the writer making it intentionally difficult for me to get the meaning of the words being spoken by the characters. Also, Howe’s use of the phonetically correct spelling common at the time wasn’t always fun to get through either. But once I got through that barrier, I found myself drawn into the hunt for the physick book. Connie is a resourceful, brilliant young woman who is starting to question everything she believes in the closer she gets to the book. I rooted for her the whole way though I will say I was often a step ahead of her. For someone who is supposed to be going for her PhD, she wasn’t always the best at reading the signs in front of her face, leading me to yell at my book repeatedly to try to help her along. Her mother, Grace, is a great, kooky character who is always going off on auras and her dissertation adviser, puzzling and yet fascinating. Some sixth sense tells the reader it’s a character that must be up to no good and yet you never can quite bring yourself to believe it.

The book also did a great job of evoking New England; I could easily picture the small villages with long memories the characters move through. It was one of the things I loved about visiting New England, the coziness and yet the famous strict "properness" of the area. I think it’s why this book fits so well with fall and the colors and feelings I associated with it, it is an autumnal book, ending on the Autumn Equinox. I hesitate to associate it with All Hallows Eve (I just love the mystery and smoke that those words evoke – so much cooler than Halloween) simply because it is attached to witches, the Trials, Salem etc. but it fits so well. It’s a spooky read, making you question the possible in that great ghost story way.

My one major beef with the book is the portrayal of archivists and librarians. Now, I realize this is an occupational hazard of mine. I am an archivist and I think of myself as a fairly approachable, knowledgeable archivist always willing to help people when they come to me. Apparently, this is not how they do it in New England. Every archivist or librarian in the book is portrayed as old and grouchy, or at least grouchy as she does add a few disinterested students to the library ranks at one point. Writers, please for the love of Pete, stop portraying archivists and librarians like this. I promise we like people. We like helping people. We want to share our collections with people. Honest.

That said, I recommend this novel for a great fall read. Curl up with a hot glass of apple cider and a thick quilt and dive into the story of a witch and her spellbook.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

It's Funny What Sticks...

The ocean has always fascinated me. Why I have no idea. I didn’t grow up near it. I have rarely visited it. I can attribute my love of the ocean to two things. One, The Living Seas at Epcot. Once they took Horizons and the Dreamfinder from me, The Living Seas became my favorite pavilion at the park. These days I tend to drift towards The Land and my new found love of the greenhouses. My thwarted green thumb tendencies are apparently kicking in. But the Living Seas has always drawn me. I could watch the manatees and dolphins for hours. My second reason? SeaQuest DSV. It was a television show that ran for three seasons from 1993 to 1996 on NBC. Apparently these were formidable years for me because I’ve often through of the show over the years. I remember episodes better from this show than ones I’ve watched in the past few years. The show inspired my first research paper in 6th grade (I argued why we needed to address ocean pollution on a national and international level. Don’t laugh; I got an A ;-). The show inspired my computer’s current name, Darwin. I named my computer after a dolphin. You have my permission to worry about me.

SeaQuest DSV is a show about the adventures of an advanced submarine at the beginning of the 21st century. What has struck me the most in re-watching this show is how they didn’t put it off in the distant future. They talk about 2011 or 2015 in passing as years not so far removed from where they are. The potential of the ocean was introduced to me through the first season on the show. So far it’s still my favorite. They were more interested in showing the science of the ocean that season. Once we got past that, the show got a little ridiculous; I’d be the first to admit. I mean, as I type I’m watching an episode in the middle of the second season about a giant plant eating everyone at a horticultural colony. I know what you’re thinking, hello Little Shop of Horrors and you’d right. I’m sad the further I get into watching the series, everything I loved about the first season seems to be in short supply. I liked the educational element of the first season, which makes me a nerd I know. And also an atypical viewer I imagine so I can see why they went for a more sensational, action-adventure format after the first season.

What has impressed me so far in my re-watching is how well the show has held up in terms of its special effects over the years. True, one of its producers was Spielberg so it had the money and support to look good at the time. When I mentioned to my dad how impressed I was, he told me it was because there hasn’t been science fiction shows on TV like this since then. And I have to admit he’s right. And the few that have been on TV haven’t lasted long. Take my beloved Firefly, canceled before its first season was even complete. It’s since been given cult status, which is how I found it. I didn’t even watch it when it was first on. How I missed it continues to puzzle me.

So why has there been a dearth of science fiction shows on mainstream TV? There have been shows that technically fit the mold. Lost would fit, so would V. But I am a kid who grew up on the many incarnations of Star Trek after all. And it would have been Dad that started me watching SeaQuest too. I miss those shows. They were full of impossible situations but the crazy situations and imaginative new worlds kept me coming back for more. I guess budgets don’t spring for that kind of series these days. I’ll write more once I finish the entire series but I wanted to write about why I was re-watching, reliving a little of my childhood, one episode at a time.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Secret of My Success

There are some days I cannot resist the $5 bin at Wal-Mart’s. It’s why I rarely let myself go back into the movie section but today I let myself wander in. And found a couple of old friends. The first is this movie from 1987. Michael J. Fox at his most charming in the ‘80s. My parents adore this movie; I remember seeing this movie fairly young. Watching it again, I’m not sure I caught some of the undertones of the film when I was younger.

The Secret of My Success (apparently this is supposed to be “Succe$s” which is lame but I wanted to make sure I shared all the facts) follows the story of Brantley Foster (Michael J. Fox) as he moves to New York City from Kansas to try to make it in corporate America. After striking out on his own, he visits his uncle Howard (Richard Jordan), head of Primrose Corporation and gets a job in the mailroom. One day, on his rounds, he impersonates an executive to make a decision and gets his foot in the door. He creates Carlton Whitfield, a high-powered executive and tries to save the company with the help of a beautiful financial wizard (Helen Slater), his best friend in the mailroom (John Pankow) and his sexy aunt Vera (Margaret Whitton). It is a screwball comedy at its heart.

But, having just come off a painful yearlong job search, Brantley’s job search at the beginning of the film struck a cord with me that it hadn’t before. The job he had lined up before he moved to New York City is eliminated following a hostile takeover, so he then goes on a series of interviews where he’s told he doesn’t have enough experience to get a job. One conversation particularly struck me. He’s in an interview and says he’d been trained in college to handle the job he’s applying for:

Potential Employer: What you've got is college experience, not the practical, hard-nosed business experience we're looking for. If you'd joined our training program out of high school, you'd be qualified for this job now.
Brantley: Then why did I go to college?
Potential Employer: Had fun, didn’t you?

That conversation is still as true today as it was in the eighties. It struck me as a conversation I never even had the chance to sit down and have that discussion with a potential employer. All I got was the polite rejection letters saying they had had lots of qualified candidates and they had chosen the best qualified for the position. Implicit in the letters was I had not been the best qualified, not even qualified enough for them to talk to me beyond an impersonal letter. I felt for Brantley in his struggle to get anyone to let him in the door.

Beyond that, it’s a fun, nutty little comedy with crazy characters and situations (including Michael J. Fox always changing clothes in an elevator for his double life) and a great “chase” scene through a Hamptons country house. As I said before, Michael J. Fox is charming as always, Helen Slater politely bland as the love interest, John Pankow as the colorful best friend. But, Margaret Whitton steals the show in my opinion as Brantley’s aunt Vera whose flamboyant ways and crazy ‘80s wardrobe never fail to make me laugh. There are the nods to the ridiculous eighties conspicuous consumption since all the characters are involved in the high powered Wall Street political lifestyle where money seems to be no object and a hostile takeover is always just around the corner. It’s a world I (thankfully) do not remember but it is entertaining to watch. A great Saturday afternoon flick that we used to be able to catch on TBS (edited) on the weekends. Might still be able to, keep an eye out for it, it’s worth a watch.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Apparently being gentle has gone out of style…

My friend, who likes to remind me I haven’t written on my blog since the last Ice Age, is no longer pulling his punches. I recently was put in charge of the blog at work and when he asked me why I didn’t write on my own blog anymore, I begged off with the excuse that I found I’m more private than I thought. That when I write, it’s not often things I want to share. His response? Wuss. I cannot let that go unanswered (though I have for about two weeks now…huh, need to work on my response times).

But the fact of the matter is I’ve never quite known what to do with a blog. It was easy when I was living in Bath or Washington DC when I could report on my comings and goings. But what does one do when you have nothing like that to report? I was baffled. But now I’ve been reading a whole myriad of blogs for the better part of two years (thank you iSchool education!) and I’ve slowly started to get an idea of what goes on with one. I don’t have to live somewhere exciting (which I certainly don’t) and while I wish I had a more centralized topic planned out, I think I might be ready to give this a shot again. If you’ll bear with a blog as bizarre as my interests are.

So, I got to thinking what I could write about on a regular basis which brought me to the question: What on earth do I do with my time?

I read. Like it’s my job. My current goal is read everything on my bookshelf that I own and have not yet read. Laugh if you want but that is a large stack of books my friends (or used to be, I’m starting this project of recording them kind of late in the game…). So I thought, I can write an entry every time I finish one. And then move on to my other reads once I finish that goal. So, topic #1 I can cover without breaking a sweat. The day I’m not reading a new book is the day you should all head for cover. The apocalypse is neigh.

Topic #2 is my obsession with Netflix. Really, it might be bordering on the embarrassing now. But whoever dreamt up Netflix, I would marry you…If I knew who you are. Because you were thinking of me right? Young 20-something woman who has moved to a new town for a job where she knows no one? And where the movie theater only shows three movies at a time? And those movies seem to inevitably be ones she does not want to see? You designed it for me didn’t you? Oh, and whoever then thought “hey, let’s let them instantly watch materials through their computers/DVD players!” needs to be promoted ASAP. In fact, they should be running the company. So there is the next thing I can talk about, movies and TV shows. I am currently re-watching SeaQuest and realizing what a profound effect it had on me as a child. Bet you can’t wait for that post…

And let’s have another topic to start out…what else do I do with myself? I go to work but that’s covered on that blog. I take fitness classes. I like to attempt to cook and bake. I imagine myself an amateur photographer every once in awhile. I could talk about those occasionally. Let’s see. I mean, the only other major thing in my life is blogged to death: Disney and everything pertaining to Disney. I am a Disney Geek. They say admitting it is the first step to recovery. When it comes to me and Disney, however, it’s more a source of pride. So yeah, you’ll hear about my love of the Mouse here as well.

So that should about cover everything. I am sure I’ll have some adventures to share of course. While I might not call an exotic locale home anymore, I often find myself exploring uncharted territory around these parts. So, let’s see if third time is the charm for my newly revamped, usually neglected blog. Here goes nothing!