Finally 46

I’m at work today, unfortunately – that was a lack of forethought. But I had ABC, CNN, and PBS up on my computer, and very little got done between about 10:30 and 12:30. Sorry, not sorry.

(Gosh darn it, I did not tune in in time to see 45 give his speech.)

And here’s the result of my morning – finally, something I think I’ll WANT to remember:

Was it just PBS that had “YMCA” playing over Trump and co getting on Air Force One (FOR THE LAST TIME)? Because … that was surreal.

I mean …

Young man, there’s no need to feel down
I said, young man, pick yourself off the ground
I said, young man, ’cause you’re in a new town
There’s no need to be unhappy

Young man, there’s a place you can go
I said, young man, when you’re short on your dough
You can stay there, and I’m sure you will find
Many ways to have a good time

It’s fun to stay at the Y.M.C.A
It’s fun to stay at the Y.M.C.A

They have everything for young men to enjoy
You can hang out with all the boys

Young man, are you listening to me?
I said, young man, what do you want to be?
I said, young man, you can make real your dreams
But you got to know this one thing

No man does it all by himself
I said, young man, put your pride on the shelf
And just go there, to the Y.M.C.A
I’m sure they can help you today

They have everything for young men to enjoy
You can hang out with all the boys

You can get yourself clean, you can have a good meal
You can do what ever you feel

Young man, I was once in your shoes
I said, I was down and out with the blues
I felt no man cared if I were alive
I felt the whole world was so tight

That’s when someone came up to me
And said, young man, take a walk up the street
It’s a place there called the Y.M.C.A
They can start you back on your way

Y.M.C.A, it’s fun to stay at the Y.M.C.A

No man, young man, does it all by himself
Young man, young man, put your pride on the shelf …

Literally the last person I would think of listening to those words is … that person.

And then they played “Tiny Dancer”. Reginald, you need to sue. (And also – wut??)

I admit I was hoping they’d trip on the way up the steps to Air Force One (which I just tried to type as AF Once), which they didn’t – but they did stop halfway up, and I wonder why. Catching his breath? (See below…)

“My Way” makes a little more sense to play for this person. If nothing else, he sure did do it his way. Sadly. Shamefully. His way.

ABC – Rep James Clyburn referred to Trump as a cancer and a malignancy on this country

Just because there’s a new administration doesn’t mean the work is done – no: it means it has a chance of GETTING done

Joe Biden is not a young man. No question. But he just climbed 48 steps up to the entrance of the Capitol building – and he does not appear to be even slightly winded. I’m impressed.

Funny – I cry pretty easily, but sometimes there are solid reasons. Four years ago today I was crying because dear God what had the world come to. I wore all black, I remember. Today I keep choking up because I want so badly to hope for the best. And I’m so relieved. And when it all settles down, dammit, I like Joe. That’s not why I voted for him – I was furious with people who didn’t vote for Hillary because they “didn’t like her”. That doesn’t matter. If T**** (That’s how one of the late night comedians spells his name, like a curse word you can’t show on tv, and I hereby adopt it for the rest of time) had done good things, it wouldn’t matter so much if he behaved like a toddler. Can you do good things and behave like a toddler? I have no idea … Toddlers occasionally have their charm, even for me, an avowed disliker of children. So maybe. But still – it’s nice to like the Commander in Chief for the first time in years.

Gene Goodman, the Capitol cop who saved the lives of members of Congress and the House by leading a rabid mob in the opposite direction, escorted the Bidens and Kamala and her husband into the building, and escorted Kamala Harris to her seat. Bless him.

One of ABC’s reporters just talked about “Republican friends of mine” … God bless her for having the ability to say that. I can’t. There are some things that have to permanently affect how you perceive a person. I mean, I listened to an interview with Sister Helen Prejean, the nun known from Dead Man Walking, talking about the suffering of that first convicted murderer she provided spiritual solace for. She talked about how torturous it is to know the moment of your death, and be escorted to it. And all I could think, the only reaction that I hold in my head, was “yes, the young girl he raped and murdered must have felt much the same, though for a shorter period of time.” And Sr. Helen spoke of that convict asking for prayer and spiritual support, and, again, all I could think was “the girl he raped and murdered didn’t have that kind of solace.” T**** didn’t kill anyone with his own hands (as far as I know) (bone spurs), but he has caused death and pain and suffering and anguish. He has indeed been a malignancy. And anyone who voted for him contributed to that. Deliberately and with forethought. It’s much the same as knowing someone’s driven drunk. It’s indicative of … something. Personality; thoughtfulness; the word isn’t coming to me right now. But it is, no matter what, indicative. (ETA, in an esprit de l’escalier moment: Character is the word I wanted.)

Oh, Barack and Michelle Obama are just class on ice. God, they’re beautiful.

Bush 43’s reaction to T*‘s inauguration? I need to look that up. I have a feeling I will be delighted. And, again, I hereby retract and apologize for most if not all of the mockery I sent his way in his day. Now I know what the worst looks like, and he was not it.

In a comment unconnected to the prior, but to his appearance onscreen – – Wow, when’s the last time I saw Dan Quayle?!

Hunter Biden enters; one of the proudest moments of the Election cycle was when someone in one of my FB groups asked for suggestions for a sign to carry at a (socially distanced and masked) rally for Biden. Right around then, Hunter Biden was being viciously attacked on a couple of fronts. It was ugly. And messages from Joe to Hunter in rehab were leaked, in which he said all the right things, and which were full of love and support and a complete lack of giving a damn about what it “looked like”. (Compare and contrast to T****’s relationships with his sons, the elder ones especially.) And I suggested “Joe Biden is a great dad” – mostly kidding. Next thing I knew, the original poster put up a picture of herself with the handmade sign saying “Joe Biden is a great dad”. I love that. I kept it.

George Stephanopolous just commented on all the masks being a sign of the times. Also a sign of the times is that I didn’t mark it. There have been plenty of times I’ve looked around me at the gas station or in one of the two times I’ve gone to the grocery store, and felt knocked out of myself by the fact that a year ago this would have been unthinkable and now it’s normal and necessary.

“Many members of Congress wearing body armor” … I have to say, Biden’s coat looked like it was hanging a little strangely, with some lines across his back. I hope he’s got Kevlar on.

No, seriously, I love Obama. Just seeing him – either of them, actually – makes me happy.

Aw, dammit, karma just got me, and Kamala had a little stumble coming down steps.

Kamala Devi Harris’s Secret Service code name is Pioneer. Doug Emhoff got to help choose what he’s going to be called: Second Gentleman. The first. Weird, I couldn’t pick Mike Pence’s wife out of a lineup.

It’s snowing, I think.

This feels like it’s the way it should be. An elder statesman about to take the office, and a young, feisty, fierce black woman being sworn in as VP. It’s comforting and safe-feeling and … good. This is good. Would I have chosen Joe Biden. Nope. Will he do a good job? I think so. We’ll be ok. In a way, I’m sort of glad he’s the oldest president to be inaugurated. We need experience and empathy and all that sort of thing right now, and Joe’s got it all in spades.

Sergeant at Arms – “acting”, because the previous one was relieved of duty after the insurrection. Two weeks ago, for the love of God. The unsung heroes of today are the staff who worked their ever-loving tails off to restore the building and make it safe and presentable.

It’s not fair that we can’t kick T****’s claims of having record numbers at his inauguration to the curb. It’s not bloody fair.

Aw, I kind of hoped Amy Klobuchar (sp) was going to quote the song (not written by Cole Porter, as I thought, but Dorothy Fields) – that we were going to pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off, and start all over again.

Reagan’s description of the Inauguration: “commonplace and miraculous”.

I so hope my mother’s watching.

With malice toward none and charity for all …

Be with us, holy mystery of love, as we dream together.

Shut up, Lady Gaga looks spectacular.

Firefighter Andrea Fall signed the Pledge of Allegiance. Beautiful.

“My whole soul is in it.”

I believe it.

I will never, ever, EVER understand how people who call themselves Christians can have supported or voted for T****. How? I have a bumper sticker on my computer at home that says “give me a break – like Jesus would ever own a gun or vote Republican”. I mean, think about it. Whatever religion you follow, if any, the historical man Jesus would not have espoused anything that T**** ever stood for.

The sun just came out as he was speaking of unity, and bathed him in light. Thanks for the added symbolism, Lord.

12:06 – ABC lost the feed. The screen went blue – for maybe two seconds, long enough for me to be really, really scared. Because, deep down, I never expected to reach this moment.

Lead not by the example of our power but by the power of our example. That’s good. Someone referred to Biden’s speech as “workmanlike” – and that’s about right. It was solid. It was appropriately uplifting without being terribly poetic. It wasn’t something that would live in history in ordinary circumstances other than being his inaugural speech – but given the way things are right now his first words are the beginning of myth and legend. Solid is good in a foundation.

I feel pretty good right now.

Hamilton reference by the poet laureate! 22 year old Amanda Gorman. “The Hill We Climb”. What a bright shining soul. I did not want to be won over by her – and I am now her fangirl. (ETA: my original phrasing here was remarkably dumb, and I regret it.)

I’m not going to relax for a long time – I have been braced all day to see a little red dot appear on someone’s chest, and I think I will be for a while. But I feel better.

P.S. @ 1:30 PM – Good heavens. Minutemen.

Well, we’re off.

(ETA: One of the reporters just talked about the National Guard out on the streets of DC (the only people out there, the reporters and the Guard), and praised them for doing their duty which can be pretty boring. Let’s all hope it stays boring, huh?)

Posted in books | Leave a comment

Part of the problem

Am I? Part of the problem, I mean? I kind of am, I guess. See, I met a Trump voter in the wild today. It didn’t go too well.

See, for almost as long as I’ve been online (which is almost as long as the internet has been around, because I’m old) (ish), I’ve been part of a group that discusses the Lord Peter Wimsey novels. The group used to live on Yahoo, but then had to migrate to Io or whatever they are, and it’s had its ups and downs. I’ve never gotten around to participating much, having not much of value to contribute to the discussions, but I’ve enjoyed dipping into the conversations about the books.

But then over the weekend apparently the discussion led to observations about how “We all tend to accept whatever is going on around us as somehow ‘normal'”, in the context of not really looking past the trains running on time in Nazi Germany. Another person – one whose comments I’ve found abrasive and off-putting – finally said something I agreed with: “And unfortunately it continues today in American society with MAGA.” And he got jumped on for making a political comment.

As I mentioned, I don’t much like this person, but there are some buttons which, when pushed, I can’t ignore, and I made my first comment in months to support him. It did not go well, and I decided that now was a good time to unsubscribe from the group. I mean, I get it. Sort of. I get wanting to have one place on the internet that’s free of political commentary of any kind. But at a certain point the politics become a big, huge, neon pink, sequin-tutued elephant pirouetting in the corner of the room, and not addressing it just seems … dumb. I didn’t like the way the situation was handled; I have had nothing to contribute in a long time; and let’s face it – this is the eleventy-first time the books have been discussed. The well isn’t dry, but the bucket is getting a little old. (That is probably my worst metaphor ever, and I’m leaving it.) (I did NOT flounce. I just left.)

A while later, I got an email from the technical owner of the group. It was a very nice email; actually, it’s sort of the sort of email you secretly hope to get when you quit something online – she said something nice about the small amount I did contribute once upon a time, and invited me back.

But then she said this.

“Just to be clear: I voted for Trump twice, once against Hilary, and once against Biden, but would have greatly preferred to be able to vote for a better candidate. I still think that Trump was far better for the country than Hilary would have been, but I recognize that many, many people disagree with me on that. As they should. However, I am not a racist, not a sexist, not a bigot, and I think long and hard about my positions. Vast swathes of my husband’s family were killed or left stateless by the evil of the German fascists and the Russian anti-semites. So, painting all “MAGA” supporters as evil is bound to rub me the wrong way.”

Now, maybe I should have opened a dialogue with this person. I’ve been lucky; I’ve been sworn at (by my cousin’s husband), and gotten blindly pro-Trump messages from a few people, but it’s been rare. I generally tend to hang out in groups which are avowedly anti-Trump, because life is short and I know nothing I say is going to change any rabid MAGA fool’s mind. So, having this person in front of me, so to speak, with the common factor of the Lord Peter books between us, maybe I should have looked for answers to the questions I’ve had for over four years: WHY? HOW? I understand not agreeing with someone’s policies. I wouldn’t have chosen Hillary Clinton as the Democratic candidate in 2016, nor Joe Biden in 2020, but once they became the only viable alternatives to Trump, my votes for them were locked in. Granted, I would have voted for Gef the Talking Mongoose if he had been the best alternative. Because Trump is not a good human being. But – okay. Let’s say I … Nope. Nope nope nope. I was going to bring up the hypothetical that I ever voted … the other way … and I can’t even write it. Because we knew what he was in November of 2016. He’d shown his colors, in HD. And when the 2020 election finally rolled around, it was even clearer. He sold off Federally reserved land to developers. He worked very hard to initiate drilling for oil in hitherto pristine wildlife preserves in Alaska. He rolled back regulations to make sure our air, water, and land is less safe. He tried to build his ridiculous wall, and largely failed. If there has been a racist, homophobic, xenophobic, misogynistic, rapacious, or otherwise inhumane move to make, he has, with clockwork predictability, made it. If he has had the choice of saying something civil and adult, he has – again, very reliably and predictably – chosen instead to be rude, crude, childish, racist, homophobic, xenophobic … whatever he could squeeze in. Every time. Every. Time. All the way up to now, when he is petulantly refusing to end his shameful term with any kind of grace, but instead is sulking, raging at the few people he still has around him, and ignoring every single tradition of the orderly transfer of power. No concession call. No congratulations. No attendance at his successor’s Inauguration – for the first time in 150 years. No note left in the Oval Office desk. (I hope he doesn’t write one, at this point.) Instead, he wants a red carpet and a full military send off (careful of those bone spurs getting on Air Force One for the last time, sir!) hours before Biden is sworn in, so he doesn’t even have to watch it. Then he’s on his way down to Florida, where he can take out his pique tearing out whatever renovations Melania has made which he doesn’t like.

So … while I had someone apparently clever enough to appreciate the Lord Peter books, whose husband’s family was decimated by fascists, who nevertheless voted for … that creature – that fascist creature – maybe I should have tried to – what’s the awful corporate phrase? Open a dialogue? I mean, if we don’t start talking to each other in some kind of intelligent fashion, if no one starts building bridges and all those other metaphors, et cetera et cetera…

Nah. It’s too soon. (See also: this article.).

I cannot be a part of any community run by someone who voted for Trump not only once, which could have been excused by ignorance, but a second time, in the midst of a pandemic he has done nothing to alleviate and after four years of his constant spewed hatred, misogyny, and xenophobia. I am frankly shocked that anyone who can profess a love for a character as intelligent and empathetic as Lord Peter Wimsey could even consider voting for a hate-filled, sociopathic piece of shit like the creature who is about to finally ooze his way out of an office he did his damnedest to destroy – literally, as of January 6.

Seriously – you voted for someone who talked about grabbing women’s pussies and mocked a disabled journalist? TWICE?

And, for the record, yes: if you support a racist, that does, in fact, make you racist. Sorry.

Oh well. I’ll try to do better next time.

Posted in books | 8 Comments

Living history

I’ve been thinking a lot of putting my hands on my keyboard, since the election, since Christmas, since – God knows – January 6, but … well, there are a lot of reasons I haven’t. Everything has moved very fast. Everything – except for the election, has been pretty awful, and obviously the election hasn’t exactly brought unalloyed joy.

It’s January 16 a little before 2:00 EST. Joe Biden is giving a speech about the science team he has put into place, a speech that I doubt all that many people are watching right now. It’s not a huge speech, it’s not about a major issue or event as such, it’s about the team he’s putting into place to handle this thing some people call “science”. And in speaking of the possibilities of what scientific exploration can bring – like 3D printing organs – he said “Imagine. Imagine.” And I started to cry, out of nowhere, because how long has it been since there’s been an inspirational speech coming from a high level politician? How long has it been since someone with the right to call himself President said anything like “Imagine” without meaning to inspire his listeners to imagine something … good?

His voice is gentle, steady, sincere. And he keeps saying these things to make me cry. “If any of your children are listening, I want them to know – you can do anything!” Has the current, outgoing president ever, ever said anything like that?

It’s not groundbreaking. It’s not writing or eloquence that will go down in history. But it’s like sweet cold water when you’re dying of thirst.

Discovery and hope. Gratitude and humor. I don’t know what to do with that anymore. Won’t it be nice to get used to this sort of thing again?

Posted in books | 2 Comments

Happy Hobbit Day!

In honor of the Bagginses birthday, and since I haven’t written anything else lately, here is an oldie but (in my mind at least) a goodie. Hope you enjoy it, and don’t forget to raise a glass to the Hobbits!

He Didn’t Mean To Adventure
– The story of The Hobbit, singable to the tune of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (try it!) (spoilers…)

Bilbo is respectable in Bag End Under Hill
Till “Gandalf tea Wednesday” and a rune scratched on the door.
Fili Kili Ori Óin, Dori Nori Bombur Glóin
Bifur, Dwalin, Bofur, Balin – are there any more?!
Yes: Thorin especially; Gandalf makes fourteen
An Unexpected Party, and a burglar with no choice.
Green Dragon, Bywater, Trolls consider slaughter:
Bert, Tom, and William – Gandalf throws his voice.

Bilbo: I didn’t mean to adventure
Minding my own business,
Then all things went amiss
I didn’t mean to adventure
Taken from my doorstep
Now with Gandalf I schlep

Heading on to Rivendell, Elrond’s House where elves yet dwell
Moon runes, Elf tunes, but it’s not long before:
Thunderstorms, giants swarm, misery is uniform
Captured by the Goblins, but Gandalf comes through once more
Goblin King, a missing Ring(!), Bilbo makes good use of Sting
A game of Riddles in the Dark, Gollum’s bite’s worse than his bark
Balin is sharp-sighted, the party’s reunited,
Bilbo appears, Dwarves cheer, Gandalf is delighted.

Bilbo: I didn’t mean to adventure
Wish that singing was my kettle
Not Elves in fine fettle
I didn’t mean to adventure
Almost served like mutton
Then lost all my buttons

From the frying pan of Goblin fray to Wargs and wolves, ya harri hey
An eye-opener and no mistake, racket keeps Eagles awake
A night spent in an eyrie, Beorn’s house is more cheery
Ponies serve up honey-cake, with dogs and rams – no chops or steak
Beorn gives good advice (maybe should’ve told ’em twice)
Black squirrels and butterflies, cobwebs and insect eyes
White hart frustrates, Bombur is a dead weight
Vanishing feasts agonize, all lose their heads (no real surprise)

Bilbo: I didn’t mean to adventure
I don’t think I’m an asset –
Are we nearly there yet?
I didn’t mean to adventure
The Road goes ever on
That’s why I’m woebegone

Bilbo’s nearly caught in webs; courage peaks as daylight ebbs
Attercop, Attercop, monster spiders nearly get the drop
Thorin caught by Woodelves, the rest made prisoners themselves –
Butler and guard drink till they drop; barrels float, Bilbo atop
Bilbo starts to cough and sneeze; Fili says No apples, please!
Desolation of the Dragon, now it’s all up to Burglar Baggins!

Bilbo: I didn’t mean to adventure
Hope I come in useful
Not look too much a fool
I didn’t mean to adventure
Once I blew smoke-rings
Now I’ve got this joke Ring

Bilbo ‘thags you very buch’, old black snail-cracking thrush
Smaug rises in fire, off to Laketown venting ire
But now the dragon’s Not At Home, I’ll just take that Arkenstone
Goblets they found there for themselves, and harps of gold where once they delved
Mithril vest, did Smaug go west? Lake Town is put to the test
Grim-voiced Bard, black arrow last, a little bird speaks as Smaug flies past
Smaug goes down in clouds of steam – Bard should be king, the Dale folk deem
Dalemen and Elf array marching northward straightaway

Bilbo: I didn’t mean to adventure
I miss my good old arm-chair
Once back I won’t leave there
I didn’t mean to adventure
Don’t care how much gold’s strewn
Can I be going home soon?

Old Roäc, son of Carc, reports Bard’s arrow hit its mark –
That’s the good news; bad remains – Thorin sends him off to Dain
Dueling ballads, Elves and Dwarves – Thorin’ll sit on gold and starve
The Clouds Burst, Bilbo’s cursed, after Dain comes the worst –
Goblins led by Azog’s son – wolves and Wargs behind them run
Disagreements disappear – so does Bilbo, thinking clear
Goblins offer no reprieve, then Thorin turns the tide at eve
And Bilbo sees a welcome sight – Eagles are coming! To join the fight

Bilbo: I didn’t mean to adventure
I’ve a helm and hard skull
Of adventure chock-full
I didn’t mean to adventure
Didn’t expect warfare
Eagles, Dwarves, Wargs, Elves, bear

Bilbo comes to once more – Thorin’s passing grieves him sore
And Fili and Kili, body and shield, defending Thorin died before
Under the Mountain Dain’s now King, Even dragons have their ending
Chest of silver, chest of gold, Yule-tide with Gandalf in Beorn’s hold
Bilbo’s Took blood grows more tired the closer he comes to the Shire
Rivendell – the first of May, and Elves’ lullabyes at break of day
Auction ended, SB’s offended, reputation gone and won’t be mended
Thus ends the tale, how beyond all ken, Bilbo journeyed There and Back Again.

Posted in books | Leave a comment

Bleaker House – Nell Stevens

You’ve heard, I’m sure, of the distinction between “street smarts” and “book smarts”, which presupposes that someone who reads a lot or is good at math or whatever has absolutely zero common sense. Aside from the fact that it all depends on what books you’re reading – and sidestepping a lengthy side discussion about why a certain brand of heartland Republicans seem to think education is bad … this book kind of exemplifies this. Nell Stevens is obviously very book smart – but the fact that she actually survived this project she describes surprises me deeply.

Now, I’ve often thought that if I could only have a substantial chunk of time to myself, with no mundane work-sleep schedule to adhere to (meaning enough money to live for a few weeks or months or whatever without working), I could absolutely finish my book. (The times I’ve been unemployed don’t count, because between the time needed for job-hunting and the substantial stress of <I>being</i> unemployed undid the benefits of having free time.) (That’s my story, anyway.) It worked for another Nell, after all – Nelle Harper Lee, that is; her friends gave her an amazing gift of time, and I think it could be said she used it well. So it’s not completely ridiculous that Nell Stevens decided that what she needed in order to write her novel was three months, completely alone, on an island in the Falklands, about as close as you can get to absolutely zero distractions.

Except it is completely ridiculous.

She plans it out meticulously. She can only bring so much baggage with her, so she organizes reading matter, clothing – and food, because this island she is going to is uninhabited for most of the year – like the time of year she will be going (winter, inexplicably) – and the only food she will have is what she brings with her. And here’s where her lack of “street smarts” becomes dismayingly obvious. “It works out that I will eat 1,085 calories per day”, she says.

Per, it’s recommended that a woman aged 19-30 take in 2000 calories if sedentary, 2000-2200 if moderately active, and 2400 if active. And Ms. Stevens is very active during her time on this island, walking what must be miles per day. I didn’t make note of how much weight she discovered she had lost when she got home after the adventure – I mean, on Survivor they tend to lose about 10% of their starting weight, and that’s only 40 days, with some of those days being much more sedentary than others – but after only a few days even she recognizes that starvation does not lead to clear thought, and when higher brain functions are impaired it’s hard to write a novel.

So it’s not surprising that at the end of the quarter she does not have a novel completed. What she ends up with is <I>Bleaker House</i>, a sort of memoir/travelogue/picaresque story of her isolation and hunger, and how she handled it. And seagulls. All this is intercut with sketches from the novel-that-never-was, which seem to be well-written and have some life to them … but I can see how it died on the vine.

In the Goodreads summary words like “clever” and “deft humour” and “whimsical” are used to describe the book. Maybe I was in a bad mood when I read it, but I didn’t think the story of an extremely unwise and ultimately unproductive trip (though it resulted in this memoir, it did <i>not</i> inspire the author to produce 2,500 words of a novel per day) which … I’m sorry, it was almost criminally stupid. Whimsical is only a good thing if it doesn’t almost kill you.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.


Posted in books | Leave a comment

Devolution – Max Brooks

I wanted to like this. I expected to like this. I pre-ordered it, after all, when Audible brought it to my attention, and listened to it soon after buying – I almost never do that.

(Beware of some spoilers later on.)

That was mainly because I thought World War Z was something extraordinary. It was also because the book description listed Nathan Fillion and Mira Furlan among the full cast of narrators, and that was an automatic buy for me. I was also looking forward to Steven Weber and Kate Mulgrew, and Kai Ryssdal and Terry Gross playing themselves – but the chance to spend more time with Mal Reynolds and Delenn? Priceless.

The third – distant third – reason was that I survived the Astonishing Legends series on the Patterson Gimlin film: six podcast episodes totalling fifteen hours and fifteen minutes. I’ve never been terribly interested in Bigfoot stories, but after that much conditioning it was almost automatic to click on a book about Bigfoot.

But I really did not like this. I disliked it enough that I returned it to Audible, which isn’t something I do often. It went beyond being a disappointment to, by the end, being something I actively hated.

It all started with, somewhat ironically, the narrator. Those names I listed above, among my reasons for wanting this? They had very little to do (though Nathan Fillion had I think the second biggest role; it was good to hear his ruggedly handsome voice, but he didn’t have a chance to show much personality). But the narrator voicing Kate, the author of the journals the whole thing hinged on, was Judy Greer, and her voice made me want to claw my ears off. It was the voice of an irritating teenaged girl, stopping just short of upspeak, a performance better suited to a quirky YA romance than the account of the gory Rainier Sasquatch Massacre. It got a little better when things started happening, but it was never a pleasant voice to listen to.

Even Terry Gross and Kai sounded more stilted than I expected. Between NPR and his podcast, I’ve listened to hundreds of hours of Kai Ryssdal (hence being on a first name basis with him), and this didn’t sound like him.

The fact that the main character herself was pretty unlikable didn’t help. Her situation should have evoked sympathy, but … sorry, no. If nothing else, she should have gotten her lazy SOB of a husband off his couch to help her bloody move. Any person, man or woman, who is physically capable of lifting anything and who lets someone else do all the work is a worthless piece of flesh, and I kind of hated her for going with that flow. She seemed afraid of him, afraid to poke the bear … but in this story he wasn’t a bear. Her trepidation around him made me expect him to have a hair-trigger temper, to explode into violence, whether verbal or physical – and that never, ever happened. He struck me as a kind of a surfer dude. Then, his turnaround was too abrupt. It made little sense. Maybe a POV from him would have been useful – don’t know. I don’t think I cared enough in the end. Her abrupt tumble back into love with him was a little hard to swallow, as well. Basically, both those characters – hell, all of the characters – were less than believable.

The plotting was the other main issue I had with the book, aside from the insurmountable narrator. I mean, the subtitle of the thing is “A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre” (and it’s by the man who wrote WWZ), so you know it’s not going to end up with Kate and company and a bunch of Bigfoots toasting marshmallows around a campfire. There will not be peaceful coexistence. The volcano eruption that sparked and exacerbated the whole thing was a kind of a surprise, but barely affected Greenloop directly, apart from an ash fall – it was purely a plot device. When the Massacre does finally come along in the story, it’s compelling and violent and horrifying and fast-paced … and at some point in the middle I remembered that this was supposed to be Kate’s later journalling about the fight. And the illusion completely popped. The language was that of a novel writer, not of someone trying to put into words something incredibly horrible that had happened to her. It was too immediate – and too coherently descriptive. If it had been presented as a transcript of an audio diary, then maybe it would have worked – but to sit down with pen and paper and actually write this? First of all, when?? This was a point against several of the entries – she’ll talk about how busy she is trying to do a hundred things, yet she takes hours out of her days to write in her journal? It would be hours – I’ve done it; I know.

Why did some of the community members try to cover up what was going on? What was the deal with the psychotic breaks of the two community leaders? What was the deal with the benevolent mama ‘squatch referenced in the guided meditation session in the beginning – was that supposed to be anthropomorphism? Or a depiction of what the creatures would actually be like if approached when not starving and desperate?

Why did Mostar insist that the preparations she and the Hollands start remain totally secret? It made no sense that here they were in a situation that was at best very bad, and at worst deadly; it made no sense that someone (Mostar?) didn’t just step up and say “OK, look. Whatever you think about the noises in the forest and animals and whatever, the deal is that the bridge is out, we’re cut off, and we’re pretty far out in the boonies. It will take time for people to get to us. It might snow soon. Right here, right now, bring out all the food you’ve got – all of it, because if the group finds out you’re holding back there will be consequences. We will pool it in the community building, and work out rationing. Pick all the apples from those trees – stop feeding the damn deer, please, and maybe shoot one of them. Go into the forest (as long as it’s safe) and look for edibles. And every single garage should have a garden going by tomorrow.” Why did the one woman keep back potatoes just to cook? Why <I>did</i> those people keep feeding deer when any moron should have been able to realize food was going to become scarce (given the chance)?

There’s a barely legible review on Audible which makes (I think) a good point: basically, that Greenloop had it coming. It’s a nice idea, bringing together a tiny community, a microcommunity, to live not just a carbon neutral lifestyle, but carbon negative. But these were, every one, people who had no clue whatsoever about living where they were. They were city folk, who couldn’t choose an edible mushroom from a piece of bark, who could never light a fire without a lighter, who expect to keep living in the wilderness as they did in San Francisco (or wherever). (Mostar being always an exception to all of this.) They none of them (including Mostar) had any real supply of non-perishable food, depending on weekly deliveries by drones and self-driven cars. But – what about mundane bad weather? What about <i>winter?</i> You can’t tell me that in the remote spot they chose for this tiny village that deliveries would be able to continue regularly. And it comes out in the course of the story that none of them – not one – has so much as a hammer. I mean, I’m the least handy person I can name, and I have a hammer. (Somewhere.) Somewhere I even have a Swiss army knife with a saw blade. And if I knew I was going to be moving out into the wilderness, with only five other homes within miles, only one access road, and beyond them only forest (and a volcano), I like to think I’d have the sense to at least have a book about survival skills. And a hammer.

AND it was pretty annoying that not a soul in the group knew even the basics of how all the smart home technology worked. Nothing. Again, these people depend on people from the outside to take care of them. I expected there to be something about the smart tech that would contribute to the massacre, but I was wrong. I kind of wish it had happened. It felt just a little like a Chekhovian gun that never went off.

And I just don’t understand the criteria for the choice of the six people or couples (plus one kid NAMED PALOMINO) –


– to inhabit this teeny tiny town. They are none of them the sort of person you’d see on Survivor, for certain; their idea of deprivation is not getting the right kind of quinoa. They are not ready for a two-day blackout, much less a volcanic eruption, much less an invasion by Bigfoots. (After many hours of Astonishing Legends, trust me: the plural is Bigfoots.)

All in all, there was almost no tension in the story. I mean, again, it’s in the title: massacre. The main issue in question is who’s going to die in what order. I mean, between that subtitle and the chapter openers and the buildup it’s pretty obvious what’s going to happen and even when. There’s just no doubt. If Brooks had pulled out some kind of twist at the end – like “no, as it turns out, the creatures weren’t going to eat anybody and that first guy was killed because he tried to hurt one of the young and no, really, they didn’t eat them they were looking for help and, poor things, Kate lied or exaggerated or was mentally ill, look here’s someone else’s journal telling what really happened, turns out they all integrated together and are now living in the wilderness in harmony”… Or something – if anything remotely like that had happened, I would have been <i>so happy</I>. But it didn’t. There was a vaguely surprising revelation at the end – but that almost felt like a cheat, not a proper conclusion to the book.

I hated very nearly everything about this.

Except for Nathan Fillion and Mira Furlan.

Posted in books | Leave a comment

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

I didn’t realize how long it had been since I read the Harry Potters. It seems I haven’t done a reread in about ten years – how odd. But first Audible made Stephen Fry’s narration of Philosopher’s Stone available free during this the Great Pandemic of 2020, and then I stumbled on a podcast which features the rest of them chapter by chapter (which can’t be legal, but I’m not questioning it.) And I enjoyed it all immensely as I worked from home. (I’ll come back to that if I ever get around to talking about The Deathly Hallows.)

I never really had a favorite book of the series; I thought I loved them all equally. Well, that’s changed – sort of. I love Philosopher’s Stone because it’s clever and vivid and the beginning of everything; I love Chamber of Secrets because it’s clever and vivid and better than I remembered (and better than the movie); I love Prisoner of Azkaban because it’s clever etc and still bright and happy for the most part (since we don’t really know much about what Azkaban’s like yet). Goblet of Fire became my favorite this year because the cleverness is ramped up, because the story is far more intricate than is immediately obvious, because I said “Oh!” several times while listening … and because it’s the end of so much. The last chapter says it: “The Beginning”.

Then again, Goblet of Fire is not my favorite, and in fact in many ways I hate it, for some obvious reasons. It’s the end of so much. It’s the beginning. The tone darkens so much that the silly goofy names for people and things start to feel like … like bows on a bullfrog, to jump ahead a book. Jarring. I’m a little glad I can’t remember exactly what it was like to devour these books when they first came out (as I did, I believe, starting three books in; I mistrusted the series’ popularity before that and resisted reading the hot new thing. Nitwit. When I did get hooked I was buy-as-early-as-possible-and-read-immediately hooked.) (I never did the costumes-at-midnight-at-Barnes-and-Noble thing; I just didn’t have anyone to do it with me, or I’m sure I would have.) (I read Deathly Hallows in one overnight binge. I was a mess when I was done, for so many reasons … but that’s another review.) To become fully invested in Harry’s growing bond with Sirius, to be shocked at Diggory’s death (the first major death of the series, if I recall correctly, or at least the first of any character in the story for more than a minute), the horror at the return of V- er, You Know Who … Even with a wonky memory, I was spared all that here: I knew all of that was coming.

Also, I had the dialogue and music from the movie in my head the whole time. I can still hear the inappropriately galumphing band music playing as Harry brings Cedric back to Hogwarts, and then stuttering to a stop.

But even being ready for everything that would happen didn’t mean I was, you know, ready. It’s such a fun book till all hell breaks loose. (Maybe that’s why it starts with what was actually the first death of a named character (and a POV character at that): Yes, Jo Rowling was telling the reader, you’re going to have fun here, but the whole time you’ll have this hideous first chapter lurking underneath.)

I wonder how much JKR had planned out when she wrote the first book. (I’m sure the answer is out there somewhere, and one day when I have time I’ll search.) There are seeds for all kinds of things, to the extent that I might go back and start over when, all too soon, I finish with Deathly Hallows. One small and simple thing I was able to see, having listened all but back to back to back, and which I love, was that the one little wizard in The Leaky Cauldron when Hagrid takes Harry in for the first time en route to Diagon Alley pops up again later and mentions the meeting. There’s a lot of that, and it’s impressive. Whatever else anyone wants to say about JKR, I don’t ever want to hear her writing denigrated.

Harry’s celebrity is handled beautifully from the beginning, and you can only imagine that JKR’s own fame colored how his impatience with notoriety and how dear hideous Rita Skeeter were portrayed. I’ve seen clickbait articles that seem to say Skeeter is Jo’s self-portrait in the book, but that seems too oddball to be true. These kids are growing up. Poor kids.

And I have to say it – Stephen Fry is irreplaceable. I love Jim Dale because he is the narrator from Pushing Daisies, and he’s an excellent narrator. But Stephen Fry is … superlative. And I resent the fact that pretty much my only option for hearing his narrations is illegal.

Posted in books | Leave a comment

Nineteen years

Hard to believe.

Posted in books | 2 Comments

Stealing the Show – John Barelli

This was a fascinating book, full of thing I love, like tales of art and of the inner workings of my favorite museum. But it felt like it should have been at leas half again as long. Several of the stories – and there were more than six, as described in the title, and they weren’t all of thefts – felt unfinished. What happened to the Banksy? (All the Banksys, really.) Why did that truck crash? Did the author ever try to locate and interview any of the culprits he talks about, to gain more information and insight – as he did when preparing his doctorate?

Another thing that bothered me – no, two – were – first, the fact that, especially toward the end, every time the author spoke in high praise of someone, I knew that one of the next paragraphs would describe their death. He really did seem to interact with a lot of people just a little time before their deaths. I can’t blame him for name-dropping – it would be absurd to not tell those stories – but the overall effect was a bit ghoulish. Or indicative that he brought bad luck.

The second thing was an overriding sense, almost a smugness, of “If I had been in charge things would have gone better.” September 11 might not have involved so much loss of life – or might have been prevented, I daresay, if Mr. Barelli had had charge of airport security. Princess Diana might not have died if he’d been in charge of her security. I’m not saying that’s not true – some of the smugness seems to have been well-earned. He seems to have been excellent at his job. I just don’t think it’s too helpful to indulge in this kind of Monday morning quarterbacking, and it’s certainly not enjoyable to listen to. Nor is it what I signed up for in a book subtitled “A History of Art and Crime in Six Thefts”.

On the whole, I was glad of the book. I love the Met; I love New York. I love a behind-the-scenes look at the former – even when I come away a little depressed that record-keeping used to be so nonexistent they could mislay a couple of Degas sculptures as easily as I misplace my keys. The narration was inflectionless, which was perfect for telling this story. I want more.

Posted in books | Leave a comment

All the Devils Are Here – Louise Penny

Wow, this place has gotten dusty. But – is it? *squints* It IS! It’s a book review! Will wonders never cease!! But I’m deep in hock to Netgalley, and I’d better start paying my way.

allAll the Devils Are Here – Louise Penny

Narrated by Robert Bathurst

I’ve gone back and forth between giving this four or five stars. On the “con” side is the fact that there was a maguffin in this book that I knew was going to be the maguffin from the first time it was mentioned. SPOILER: (I knew that little unassuming painting was going to be important immediately. That’s not me being clever or anything – that’s the point being obvious. Then when Gamache urgently needs to find something I came darn near yelling at the narrator “Look behind the picture!” Which wasn’t quite right for what he needed at that moment – but sure enough, later, there it was.) And at the climax of the story, when all the plotlines should have been converging into one exciting chapter … instead, it felt like beavers came along and built a plotline dam and held up the flow, and most of the excitement sort of trickled away. (That is a terrible metaphor. Désolé.) (That’s something that could be in either the “pro” or the “con” side of this review, depending on how you look at it – I have found myself muttering in my high school French several times over the past few days. Zut.) It was a high tension situation, with tension offscreen and even more tension onscreen (so to speak), and … it was a little boring, as Gamache tried to buy time and ask questions and the bad guys … answered them.

However. Whatever flaws there may have been in the execution of the plot, the characterization is what always wins the day in the Gamache novels. I love this family. Their troubles are my troubles while I’m reading or listening (I was listening). I love their in-jokes – they sound like my family at its best. I don’t want any of them to be hurt – and I really don’t want any of them to die. And there were moments in the finale that brought tears to my eyes. Whether they were happy or sad I won’t say, as that would be spoiler-y – but maybe they were both.

I listened to the first five books of the series through Audible, and a big part of the draw was the narrator, Ralph Cosham. I had heard that he passed away – but honestly I was a little surprised when I looked it up that that was in 2014, and this book was read by Robert Bathurst – because he was brilliant. I didn’t feel any sense of deprivation in not having the same narrator I’d been with for five novels. Which is absolutely nothing against Mr. Cosham – but absolutely praise of Mr. Bathurst.

The reason I have only listened to books 1-5 and now #16 of the series is that I found myself a bit gutted by 5, The Brutal Telling. I’ve bought myself others in the series, but just haven’t come back around to listening because of how that one went. But then I saw that a) Netgalley now has audiobooks, and b) one of the audiobooks available was a Gamache, and decided I’d take a chance on being spoiled for books six through fifteen. Happily, I don’t think that’s going to be a problem. I now know about how Gamache’s family has progressed and grown, and I know how his career is going to pan out over the intervening years – but not in any detail: only enough to make me want to know the rest. It helped that this book was set in Paris instead of Quebec. The denizens of Three Pines were mostly out of the picture, so (SPOILER!) (apart from marveling that Olivier was out of prison?!) I know nothing about how they’ve fared since book 5.

On the whole, my logic is: this book made me cry (even if only a little – I could have let myself go, if there had not been distractions inherent to listening at work), therefore it gets five stars. I’m not unhappy with that conclusion.

I was unhappy – very unhappy – with Netgalley’s new app, which is THE only way to listen to their advance audiobooks. It was dreadful. It stopped randomly every half hour or so; the breaks between the chapters were either part of that or ludicrously long (over a minute for some). My whiny email to Netgalley Help got a perky mostly form response that there’s an update coming in a while which will supposedly fix things. We shall see. In the meantime, I’m cured of the “FREE AUDIOBOOKS!!!!!!!!!11!!” bug. But thanks, Netgalley – it was good to hang out with Gamache and his family for a few hours.

Posted in books | 2 Comments