When Joy and Duty clash…

So I’m on a course of kidlit lately, and have just finished Kate Douglas Wiggin’s celebrated Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. Also New Chronicles of Rebecca, which tells additional stories within the timeframe of the original.

There I am, reading along, enjoying the new insights that emerge when you reread a childhood favourite… when it hits me: this all sounds familiar. Very familiar. To wit:

Eleven-year-old Rebecca Randall, not beautiful save big, expressive eyes, is placed aboard a stagecoach for the long drive to her new home — a small  village on the Atlantic seaboard — during which she charms the kindly but rather slow-witted elderly driver with her nonstop, lively, original chatter, featuring hilariously inappropriate references to the adult melodrama she’s fed her starved young imagination on up to now.

She is being sent to stay with her maiden aunts, in place of her capable older sister, who was to help with the housework. One aunt is grimly practical, to the extent of dressing Rebecca very plainly; the other is softer-hearted and sympathetic, and insists that the girl have at least one pretty dress.

Upon arrival at their distinctive homestead, Rebecca quickly acquires an unimaginative but devoted best friend in the little girl across the way. Rebecca’s sensitivity to romance and drama, along with a natural gift for leadership, make her the hit of her stolid community — albeit not without getting into a lot of whimsically funny ‘scrapes’ along the way. 

In one notable incident, she has to endure unjust punishment from her mildly incompetent teacher, who forces Rebecca to stand at the front of the schoolroom with a boy she detests but who nevertheless has a mad crush on her. There’s also a notably malicious young miss whom Rebecca clashes with frequently.

Eventually, Rebecca is sent away to high school, where she widens her horizons and begins to look forward to a brilliant career. Unfortunately, a series of family crises — including the failure of the investments that had been providing her aunts with a comfortable income, and later the death of one aunt — apparently stifle that career before it can begin, and as the book closes, she has put her own dreams on hold to look after her family…

…Why, no, she doesn’t have red hair. Whatever makes you think that?

My copy of the Annotated Anne of Green Gables makes polite noises about L.M. Montgomery being ‘inspired’ by Wiggin (whom Lucy Maud had evidently read and enjoyed) but c’mon now. This isn’t ‘sharing many similarities’, this is the same damn book with some actions and attributes switched around.
Further musings under the cut…


How do you dance in the dark?

 It’s half-way through Earth Hour. During past EHs I have eschewed modern tech altogether and sat around staring at candles, but now I have a battery-powered laptop, and it is comforting. The solitary celebration of darkness makes it awkwardly clear that light is about people, movement, civilization. Dark is about — among other un-nerving things — wondering what the hell that noise is coming from the bathroom. You’re pretty sure it’s the cat, but where would they get a thing that sounded like that? Or do you want to know?


When the lights are on, I’ve been reading Eric Idle’s Greedy Bastard Diary, about his recent North American tour. Funnily enough I have never ventured further into Monty Python than the basics — The Holy Grail, the silly walks, the parrot sketch — but have enjoyed many of their solo projects immensely, particularly Idle’s and Michael Palin’s. 

At any rate Idle turns out to be, in the fully British sense of the word, a lovely man. His musings on road life, the comedy universe, and everything are witty, naughty, charming, poignant without being sentimental — and let us not forget roaringly funny. The best way I can describe it is Truman Capote sans need to write classic true-crime novels. Er, and the flaming, of course. 

All this and Blackadder DVDs, too…

 One of the great pleasures of my new on-demand lifestyle — besides easy access to the Purdy’s Chocolates in the mall — is that the main library branch is also nearby. Of course, they waited until I showed up to start renovating the grounds, but still not much of a detour (I can hear the foreman now: "Keep the path clear, boys, her fines alone’ll be keeping us in shrubbery for the next decade!")

So I got in, and got my card, and commenced to prowl the stacks like I hadn’t in ages. I don’t know how most people approach library browsing, but I have a definite System, evolved over decades of dedicated bookwormery:

Magical mystery tour of my brain commences below…

“It is a capital mistake to theorise without data…”

Finally saw Sherlock Holmes this weekend, as a farewell gift from a friend. And enjoyed it immensely, warts and all.

I have never quite understood the purists who insist on Holmesian externals as the be-all and end-all, that Victorian London be picturesque, cozy and uncomplicated largely because Holmes stands like a bulwark against evil: all-knowing, all-wise, calm and collected.

Well, no. The canonical Holmes is one of the most spectacularly unstable characters in all literature, a bundle of manic energies who depends on cocaine to keep up with them — that is, when he’s not digging through the lowest of London’s grime, propelled by the most grotesque crimes he can ferret out. He’s arrogant, impatient, selfish, sloppy, the despair of his poor landlady and rude to his closest friends.

In short, how exactly do you complain when he’s being played by Robert Downey Jr.? (Even the normally hyper-perceptive Roger Ebert falls into this trap — objecting because he sees Holmes as always ‘immaculate’. Uh-huh. I think Ebert has seen one too many Basil Rathbone movies.)

Yes, Ritchie’s film falls down more than a bit as an action-adventure. The ‘fierce reason against the baroque dark arts’ schtick is the laziest possible way to plot a Holmes movie, as evidenced by the fact it’s almost a direct ripoff — right down to the elaborately intrusive CGI — of Barry Levinson’s Young Sherlock Holmes, which… well, produced by Spielberg and written by Chris Columbus. In 1985. This is not the kind of source material you’d expect Mr. RocknRolla to be cribbing.

On the other hand, you’d also not expect him to have quite such an affinity for the internal Holmes. The heart of this movie is Downey’s incredibly charismatic performance. Where Jeremy Brett’s interpretation made a fetish of holding himself together in order to fend off vulnerability, Downey’s revels in eccentricity as a law unto itself; intellectual brilliance barely held in check by the needs of the body, let alone of civilised interaction. He hangs onto Watson not because he needs a foil but because he needs a link to reality, practicality — and he knows he’s not liable to find another such tolerant sidekick anytime soon.

Jude Law’s Watson, meanwhile, earns my undying appreciation by reacting to all this the way any sane, normal man would, which is to say exasperated by his very admiration. He does not make the mistake either of disdaining or of devoting himself to what he does not understand. Again, inexplicably bewildered critics: the canonical Watson is a handsome, athletic, intelligent, reasonably perceptive man, who gets involved with Holmes’ adventures to begin with because he’s bored out of his mind with civilian life. Bingo.

To my mind, it’s the most intimate portrait we’re ever liable to get of either man. This is a movie that assumes you’re watching it because you appreciate Holmes, not some phantom vision of Anglophile nostalgia. To that end, it refuses to insist on itself, which is a big part of what I think the critics are missing. There are no ‘OK, Watson, let’s pause to demonstrate my brilliance by using you as the dopey audience stand-in’ moments here; neither is there the need, beloved of more recent revisionists, to break Holmes down completely into his component neuroses.

The movie simply beats in tune with Holmes’ mind: fitful, fretful, never quite what it seems but always completely confident in itself. Which is, after all, what propelled Doyle’ otherwise silly pulp-magazine stories to legend in the first place.

Yes, some of the obligatory references are awkward, notably Rachel McAdams as a not-too-convincingly capable Irene Adler; then again some, like the re-instatement of the ‘bull pup’ (not to say the ‘patriotic V.R. done in bullet-pocks on the sitting-room wall’) are clever and lovingly subtle — signs we’re in the sure hands of an Irregular in good standing. Here’s hoping the inevitable sequel can build further off that affinity — The Sign of the Four is right out, obviously, but I bet this team could put together a rip-roaring Hound of the Baskervilles…

LOLpost masquerading as actual content.

OK, so have reached the point in Teh Move where am almost functioning smoothly enough to resume normal existence. Just as soon as I remember what that was. Oh, and find my songbook for tomorrow night’s meeting.

But mostly functioning, yeah. Got (not-song)books tidied away on shelves, always a good sign. Made a big pot of chicken pesto fusili tonight… lunch for the next couple days. It’s amazing, how the single-girl-on-a-budget skills just naturally kick in six years later.

So while I riffle through the last few boxes trying to figure out what to do with the mini Rubik’s cube, I present a LOL that… well, apologies, half of f-list, but this is something that has bugged me right from the first book:

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

Because nobody actually asked for it: Baby-Sitters Club snark, part 1




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So here I am, waiting anxiously to see if Kevin makes it through to be Top Chef  (nobody spoil me!), and meawhile staring at a copy of The Baby-Sitters-Club #56: Keep Out, Claudia!, which I have contracted to recap.

In case you hadn’t noticed, my life is weird.

At any rate, welcome to the Very Special Episode in which the babysitters learn about Racism. Although… they don’t actually learn much about it, and now that I think about it they don’t do much about it either. And frankly the title sounds more like the kids won’t let Claudia join their Kewl New Klub, or something.


Under here, there be details. Oh yes, there are details…

In which I find fresh snark bait in the most unexpected places.

So life hasn’t been all shopping drama and NYTimes. Actually, I’ve spent most of this weekend half-asleep from some random sinus infection, which is even less exciting than it sounds, trust me.

I do not remember where in the morass I found the community, but I have been reading it ever since.

The BSC, for those of you who weren’t young and stupid in the late 80’s-early 90’s, is the Baby-Sitters Club book series. It may be a bit tricky to believe, but at the time the multi-zillion-volume saga of four/six/whatever middle-school BFFs and their babysitting adventures in a Connecticut suburb were as big as Hannah Montana. Movie, ‘Mysteries’ spinoff, special charm bracelet included with the 100th book, everything. Except maybe no sparkly theme lipgloss, although I could be wrong. But definitely no Billy Ray Cyrus.

No, the BSC’s special charm came from its deadly-sincere attempt at realism. These girls were just like you! Well, assuming you lived in upper-middle-class suburbia. And were prone to thinking of Gone With the Wind as a hot date movie, and using words like ‘dibbly!’ and ‘distant!’ to express excitement. And, oh yes, were unquestioning slaves of a pint-sized control freak who was obviously going to grow up to be the gym teacher in a bad British boarding-school comic. Lord, but I did hate Kristy Thomas.

Or more accurately, I hated that I was supposed to love love love her. Plus her ‘imaginative’ little stepsister Karen, who’s surpassed as a Child I’d Like to Clock With a Clue-By-Four only by DW of the Arthur series. The mental CBF was also often brandished at Claudia, who was fun! and funky! in that Very Special 80’s way (think Blossom), thus I was supposed to hold regular pity-parties for her because the world insisted she occasionally face personal responsibility. Because ‘individuality’ is so cute it just excuses itself, yo!

Uh-huh. Over in actual reality, this series could not have been more obviously written as wish-fulfilment for a middle-aged New Jersey woman if it had depicted the BSC leading all the neighborhood kids in a performance of the Fiddler on the Roof songbook…

…oh, wait.

At any rate, good to know I’m not alone – either in disdain for the series itself or ragging on childhood favourites. As it happens, I maintain a little bookshelf of said favourites, and although most of the series have disappeared by now (you can only go so far in life passing Sweet Valley High off as hilariously ironic) I’ve kept one Baby-Sitters book around, just for the nostalgia value…

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