Watching the (Flawed) Detectives

Some viewers like their television detectives to be close to infallible: Perhaps a dashing Sherlock Holmes, in all his variants, or a fastidious Hercule Poiroit who can stride into a room and suss out the killer by using only a few cigarette butts and a train timetable. I’ll admit that there is a definite fascination in watching a well-oiled intellect spring into action and I’ve enjoyed series with a super sleuth at the center, but in the end I find these characters a bit off-putting. Maybe I’m intimidated by their ability to figure things out so much better than me (admittedly not a major accomplishment). Ultimately, though, I think it is their ‘small details are everything’ attitude to fictional crime detection that tends to irk me. This approach suggests a world that is well-ordered and rational. Evidence points to the contrary I’m afraid.

Instead, I tend to prefer a television detective who views the world with a more jaundiced eye. In the world they inhabit, solutions are hard to find and justice can be elusive. Also a world-weary attitude and a tortured past are a plus. Luckily, there are plenty of shows with characters that share these attributes. Here are a few television series I’ve come across that just might be of interest if you also have a weakness for flawed detectives.

Broadchurch
broadchurchDetective Inspector Alec Hardy (played by David Tennant) has plenty of issues. Reassigned to the small town of Broadchurch, after a high-profile botched investigation for which he was blamed, he not only takes the job promised to Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller (played by Olivia Colman) but is also dealing with an illness that he has to keep hidden in order to maintain his position. Things go from bad to worse when a boy’s corpse is found on the beach and he has to find the killer in this tight-knit, and closed mouthed, community. This entire series revolves around the one investigation, which allows for a lot of complex character development of not just the inspector but all of those involved.

Vera
veraSet in the gorgeous, yet a tad desolate, North East of England this series centers around DCI Vera Stanhope (played by Brenda Blethyn). While Vera is in comfortable middle age, you would be making a grave mistake to consider her the motherly type. With a fondness for living alone, alcohol, and self-destructive behavior, she could most kindly be called a curmudgeon. She is a master at using others’ false perceptions of her age and status when it comes to interrogations however. Another nice twist in this series is having her second in command be a youthful family man, Joe Ashworth (played by David Leon), who tries to offer up some opposing viewpoints. Good luck with that.

Wallander
wallanderThere are several television adaptations that feature this famous Swedish detective, but in the BBC production Kenneth Branagh plays the role in a subdued and humane way. Each episode would not be out of place in an Ingmar Bergman film, with the silences and landscape shots adding to the sense of existential ennui. While Wallander does try to rise above it all, most of the time it feels like an exercise in seeing how much emotional damage a character can take and still remain standing. If you are up for it, it is great stuff. The relationship he has with his father, played by David Warner, a painter who is slowly succumbing to dementia is particularly strong.

Justified
JustifiedDue to some rather unorthodox ideas concerning the proper use of lethal force, U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens (played by Timothy Olyphant) finds himself transferred from Miami to rural Eastern Kentucky where he was raised. While Raylan at first resembles a classic American lawman, his character and those around him become more complex with the show evolving into a character study of the people in hardscrabble Harlan County, with story arcs lasting a season or more. Raylan himself has plenty of skeletons in his closet including his relationships with his estranged father, his  former ‘friend’ Boyd Crowder, and his ex-wife among many others. The writing is a standout as well with rapid fire banter and a fun sense of false civility.

So if you don’t mind your fictional crimes investigated by detectives that are a bit dysfunctional, definitely check out a series or two. Just don’t expect the perpetrator to be Professor Plum in the library with the candlestick.

Adventures in Time and Space – Part 1

I’ve been a Doctor Who fan since 1985, back when budgets were low and one had to stay up until 1am (or later) on Saturday night to get a weekly Doctor Who fix. The character of the Doctor appealed to me, generally using his wits rather than weapons to defeat his foes.

general Dr Who picWhat or who is Doctor Who? It’s a British science fiction TV serial that first aired on November 23, 1963. The ‘Who’ in the title refers to the mystery surrounding the main character, known only as The Doctor, his real name never being revealed.

The Doctor is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. His people mastered the mystery of time travel but chose to observe rather than interfere in the lives of other people and planets. The Doctor, however, as he put it in the 1969 story The War Games, ‘got bored’. So he left his planet in a stolen time machine called a TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space), became a self-imposed exile, and travelled time and space fighting injustice in the Universe.

The Doctor has the ability to regenerate, to die and be reborn, and with each regeneration his appearance changes. This allows different actors to play the role. So, every three years or so, one actor leaves the show and another takes over, which accounts for the program’s longevity. Thus far 11 actors have starred as The Doctor in the British Broadcasting Corporation’s long-running show, and a 12th recently made his first appearance in the 2013 Christmas episode.

Doctor_Who_1996_posterThe ‘classic’ show ran continuously from 1963 to 1989, a Saturday tea time staple until the early 1980s when the BBC began experimenting with time slots. Seven actors played the role during this period. Later, a US/UK coproduced Doctor Who, featuring an eighth actor in the role, was attempted in 1996. It was a big hit in the UK but not in the USA and so remained a standalone film rather than a series.

In 2005, the program was revived by the BBC, with Russell T. Davies acting as executive producer and head writer. Davies created the TV series Queer as Folk  for Britain’s Channel 4 network, which was later reworked for the American cable network Showtime. Steven Moffat, who co-created the hit series Sherlock, a contemporary reimagining of the Sherlock Holmes story, is the current executive producer/head writer for Doctor Who. The revived Doctor Who has currently run for 7 seasons and is one of the top rated dramas on British television, as well as the highest rated show on the US cable channel BBC America. Amazingly, November 23, 2013 was the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of Doctor Who!

EPL holdings include:

Individual story arcs from the ‘classic’ series

Classic
 Specials

Specials

Seasons of the revived series

Revived

Audiobooks

Audio1

Fiction

Fiction

Graphic Novels

Graphic

So whether you’re new to Doctor Who or a seasoned veteran, a veritable gold mine of treasures awaits you. And stay tuned for the next installment of Adventures in Time and Space, which focuses on books about The Doctor.

House

houseIf you want to meet a real jerk watch House. I’ve gone through 5 seasons in a little under a month- don’t judge me! I do so have a life. It just involves watching a lot of TV. And let me tell you, House is never dull.

Gregory House and his team work out of the Plainsboro-Princeton teaching college. To say he’s a genius would be like saying Beethoven was kinda good on the piano. He’s a genius without a filter and even though he has an unusual way of finding out what’s wrong with people, he can say things that would drop a Hell’s Angel in his tracks. He’ll insult your mother even if she’s been dead for ten years. He’ll tell you your kid is ugly and that’s why no one wants to be friends with him. He’ll tell a married couple that one of them has an STD and leave them screaming at each other in the doctor’s office, each of them professing fidelity.

House says these things because they’re basically true and when he’s said them, he usually finds out the mystery illness. And holy biggoly are those illnesses mysterious. I’m talking about diseases so rare that it hasn’t been heard about since the 1600s or it’s a disease that might affect 1 in 6 billion people. It’s up to House’s team of doctors to figure out what’s going on with the sick person and with each other.

Oh yeah. I forgot to mention that House is a pill popping doc. As a distraction he likes to shake his prescription bottle around to listen to the rattle of the pills. I thought he got shot and that’s why he walks around with a cane and is addicted to pain killers. It takes a couple of seasons to find out the reason behind House’s illness and that his injury makes him a better doctor. But I counted once how many times he took Vicodin in an episode. I counted 6.

Wilson is an oncologist and House’s best friend. He enables House’s behavior and is often an unwitting companion in House’s revenge plans.

Dr. Cameron is a right fighter. She’s incapable of lying and is also a pawn in House’s plans. And she’s kind of in love with him. I think I kinda love him too. Except he’d yell at me, probably something with the ring of truth, and then I’d hide in a supply closet and cry. Like I do in real life.

Dr. Foreman was a troubled kid who landed in juvie when he stole a car. He made a life for himself by going to med school and becoming part of House’s team. He starts off aloof and then thaws a bit and then does something 2 seasons later that will have you throwing magazines at the TV.

Doctor Chase is Australian and pretty. I mean really pretty. Kind of FML pretty. He’ll do anything to get ahead. He fascinates me because manipulation is a skill. Not a nice one but still. I can wiggle my ears. Does that mean anything?

I became disgustingly attached to everyone on House. I would go to work and wonder how they were doing. I called my mom once because a character had died and I needed to talk about it. And now I’m in mourning because I’m finished with it. I’m still in mourning for Dexter as well.

If you don’t mind seeing someone throw up blood or get a flesh-eating infection or discovering that the bubonic plague still claims a handful of people each year, watch House. Okay, I’ll warn you. Somebody throws up at least 8 times during an episode. And it’s always unexpected. A patient will be lying in bed, joking around with the nurse and then BAM! Projectile vomiting. This is a show that sticks with you. Don’t be afraid to start diagnosing your friends and family after watching a couple of episodes. Just remember to always stand back two feet in case there’s some liquid shooting your way.

Spot-Lit for July 2014

Spot-Lit

Here’s our list of fiction to look for in July. Click the titles below and then the Full Display button to read summaries or reviews or to place titles on hold.

General Fiction / Literary Fiction  

Last Stories    Toledo    One Plus One    Tigerman    Care and Management of Lies

Last Stories and Other Stories  by William T. Vollman
How To Tell Toledo from the Night Sky  by Lydia Netzer
One Plus One  by Jojo Moyes
Tigerman  by Nick Harkaway
The Care and Management of Lies  by Jacqueline Winspear

Archival Revivals / New Translations

Echo's Bones    Conversations    Mr Gwyn    Professor    Agostino

Echo’s Bones  by Samuel Beckett
The Conversations  by César Aira
Mr. Gwyn  by Alessandro Baricco
The Professor and the Siren  by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
Agostino  by Alberto Moravia

First Novels

Last Night    Sleepwalker's    Dry Bones in the Valley    Man Called Ove    Girls from Corona Del Mar

Last Night at the Blue Angel  by Rebecca Rotert
The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing  by Mira Jacob
Dry Bones in the Valley  by Tom Bouman
A Man Called Ove  by Frederik Backman
The Girls from Corona del Mar  by Rufi Thorpe

Crime Fiction /Suspense

Peter Pan Must Die    Everyone Lies    That Night    Dead Will Tell    Night Searchers

Peter Pan Must Die  by John Verdon
Everyone Lies  by A.D. Garrett
That Night  by Chevy Stevens
The Dead Will Tell  by Linda Castillo
The Night Searchers  by Marcia Muller

SF / Fantasy / Horror

Queen of the Tearling    Half a King    Full Fathom Five    All Those Vanished Engines    House of Small Shadows

The Queen of the Tearling  by Erika Johansen
Half a King  by Joe Abercrombie
Full Fathom Five  by Max Gladstone
All Those Vanished Engines  by Paul Park
The House of Small Shadows  by Adam Nevill

To see all on-order fiction, click here.

A Blogger’s Life for Me

I’ve made it to the middle! We’re halfway through the year and I’m also halfway through my reading resolutions. Let’s review what I’ve gotten myself into:

  1. Read something a library patron recommends
  2. Read this year’s Everett Reads! book 
  3. Read something difficult, either due to subject matter or writing style
  4. Read an award-winning book
  5. Read something that is super-popular
  6. Read a book that was the basis for a TV series or movie
  7. Read a classic work of literature
  8. Read an annotated classic work of literature
  9. Read something that will help me plan for the future (see below)
  10. Read something that will help me reconcile the past
  11. Read a graphic novel 
  12. Read an entire series that is new to me

The future: a scary, unknown, slightly intimidating place where I will definitely have more wrinkles but I will hopefully have more time to focus on hobbies. I enjoy writing for this blog, and I love that you take time out of your busy schedule to read it. We have some very talented writers on staff here, and we’re all lucky that blogging is just another part of that mysterious “other duties as assigned” line in our job descriptions. We try to make posts fresh and relevant to your interests with the goal of promoting the library through its programs, services, and materials.

That’s all a nice way of saying I like writing here, but I’d love to do more and on my own terms. I’ve been toying with the idea of starting my own blog, and maybe start laying the groundwork for either a steady hobby or, if all goes brilliantly, a second career.

BlogIncBlog Inc.: Blogging for Passion, Profit, and to Create Community by Joy Cho is the book that lit my creative fire. Joy, who has been a professional blogger since 2005, is a trusted voice in the blogosphere. Her book condenses down her best tips and tricks for developing your own writing voice and taking it online. I found guidelines for setting up both a content strategy and a marketing plan, both main ingredients in a successful blogger’s toolkit. Mixed in with these nuggets of wisdom are interviews with other professional bloggers. I find it fascinating how some people got their “big break” and what other things these bloggers do when they’re not online. Some run small businesses; others are full-time parents. But everyone shares a passion for blogging, one that I would love to channel into my very own blog.

But I didn’t stop there. I checked out a ton of books on blogging from the library, and found an excellent balance between how to plan good content and a ton of technical help (think layout and coding cool features). Books like ProBlogger: Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure Income by Darren Rowse and Chris Garrett, Building a WordPress Blog People Want to Read by Scott McNulty, and Blogging for Bliss: Crafting Your Own Online Journal by Tara Frey build on the foundation Blog Inc. gave me. For those who don’t like to start any new venture without a Dummies reference, check out Blogging All-In-One for Dummies. I found information on everything from planning content, selecting a host, and using social media to share my posts.

After digesting all this information, including how to make money from blogging (can we say dream job?), I looked into other ways I could monetize my life. Everyone else is selling out, so why shouldn’t I? That’s where How to Make Your Cat an Internet Celebrity by Patricia Carlin comes into play. I figure with three cats, all of whom are completely insane, there’s got to be an entertainment gold mine in there somewhere. This book is obviously a parody of, well, I guess the entire Internet. But I won’t let that slow me down. There are tons of sure-fire ways to turn your feline friend into the next Grumpy Cat. If nothing else I could always fall back on these ideas if my blog gets a little low on fresh content.

Gypsy

TonksTheDude

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Based on my recent reading and pinning activities, I’m on the verge of taking the blogging plunge. Maybe if I get started now and get a dedicated following, get myself used to a structure and schedule, and figure out how to maybe get paid for my hard work, I’ll have in place a second career. But I’m not totally delusional: I’m still buying lottery tickets.

Them’s Good Readin’

Habits certainly change over the years and I’ve gone from a person who finishes each and every book regardless of quality to a person who reads the first few pages of many books in search of something irresistible. What is the indefinable quality I seek that makes some books impossible to put down?

One can find copious writings on the aspects of books that define a reader’s preferences: writing style, characters, setting and so on. I’ve never felt that my taste fits easily into any one category. However, I am aware that I grow attached to characters. Perhaps sadly, they become like friends (not to be confused with the taxidermied animals in my safe room who are my best friends). In fact, at times I get depressed when a good book ends because I want to know what happens next to these people.

Apparently I am not alone in this trait. Whilst perusing Amazon one might notice that the number of series currently being written (as opposed to stand-alone novels) is HUGE. A series gives a reader the opportunity to find out what does happen next. (On a more cynical note, series are a great way for authors to make money!)

Current readsCurrently I’m reading three books: Vertigo 42 by Martha Grimes, The Black-Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black and Born of Illusion by Teri J. Brown. All three titles are quite enjoyable, but only one is hard to put down, Vertigo 42. Is it a coincidence that this book is the 23rd Richard Jury mystery that I’ve read and that I’m in some kind of a relationship with Grimes’ cast of characters? While the plot is not the strongest of the series it’s still good, the writing is superb and most importantly, I want to know what happens next to the characters I’ve befriended over a period of two decades!

This sort of book does not come along very often for me. More common is the book that I enjoy but have no problem setting aside, The Black-Eyed Blonde being an excellent example. Although the star of the story, Philip Marlowe, appears in many books and other media, I’m not overly familiar with nor heavily invested in him. What I enjoy in this book is the pulp detective writing style, the time period and locale, the dirty underbelly of society in which Marlowe operates, a bit of hopelessness but also small victories. For whatever reason, I seem to enjoy this style in smaller doses and thus move back and forth happily between books while reading pulp.

Finally, Born of Illusion is one of the few books in recent times that I’ve given up on and later returned to. It’s a YA historical novel set in 1920s New York City featuring séances, spiritualism, (perhaps) real magic and Harry Houdini. Ever since reading Carter Beats the Devil I’ve been fascinated by early 20th century magic, the work and technology put into illusions, and this book taps into that fascination. I’m not sure why I gave up on it; probably I was simply more interested in some other titles at the time. But now that I’m back into it I’m thoroughly enjoying this novel.

So what’s the point here? I notice that my reading goes through cycles of too many exciting books to get through followed by nothing interesting enough to keep my attention. It would be nice to know myself well enough to figure out what book I need to escape the reading doldrums. This summer I’m going to delve deeper into some mystery series I’ve perused in the past and see how well this tactic holds my interest.

Perhaps today’s blog is more of a musing or rumination, providing no answers to the questions that fascinate my singular brain, but at the very least I’ve left you with three excellent book recommendations. Go. Read. Pay attention to why you find one book compelling and another not so much. Perhaps you’ll learn a little something about the peculiar substance that is you.

Heartwood 4:4 – The Birds by Tarjei Vesaas

The Birds with citationThe Birds is the story of Mattis, a man with learning disabilities in his late 30s, and his sister Hege who takes care of him. They live near the shore of a lake somewhere in rural Norway. Hege knits sweaters almost constantly to bring in the little money that supports the two of them. Due to his general ineptitude, Mattis is unable to secure much in the way of work  – he’s even worn out his welcome as a day laborer, though his neighbors could always use the help at harvest time.

Mattis is afraid of thunderstorms, is spellbound by the habitual flight-path of a woodcock, and sees omens in the two dead aspen that everyone refers to as Hege and Mattis. The story is told from Mattis’s point of view and we quickly discover his enthusiasms and desires as well as his worries and fears. We also come to understand with great intimacy the complex personality that lies beneath his “simple,” slow, and clumsy behavior. Every detail is significant in Mattis’s life and the natural world is especially filled with meanings, both awe-inspiring and frightening.

In one of my favorite scenes, a couple of bikini-clad girls rescue Mattis and his sinking rowboat from an island in the lake. He manages to take charge of the situation, rowing the girls in their boat and towing his empty boat behind as the girls indulge his vanity and chat with him along the way. This success helps convince him that he should offer a ferry service to take people across the lake. But everything changes for Mattis when he brings a lumberjack across who then takes lodging at the house with him and his sister.

I don’t know if I would have ever heard about this tremendous book if I hadn’t been reading My Struggle, the remarkable, multi-volume autobiographical novel by Karl Ove Knausgaard that’s been getting all kinds of coverage in the literary world in recent months. There is quite a bit in Knausgaard about art and music and literature, and somewhere in Book Two he complains about Norwegian fiction of the past fifty years, contentiously claiming The Birds (from 1957) is one of that country’s last successful novels. I love to follow leads like this, what Alan Jacobs calls reading upstream –  that is, finding out who has influenced the writers you admire and then reading the books they have read or enjoyed. Since reading so often shapes a writer, it’s frequently worth taking the bait when an author you like starts dropping names. It definitely worked for me in this case. So, who influenced Tarjei Vesaas? I don’t know yet, but after reading The Birds I’m beginning to think I should find out.

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