musings, thoughts, and writings of Barbara W. Klaser


January 11, 2009

Favorite things

I’m rereading a favorite book in a new form, and watching some old TV shows I’d forgotten were so good, so it’s been a week of favorites for me and I thought I’d share.

I’m also a little desperate for something to blog about, and I must be growing jaded, because my favorites are old, and sadly far too few.

Favorite Books:

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I’m currently reading The Annotated Hobbit, an edition annotated by Douglas A. Anderson. I’m loving it, though I think most of the annotations will be something to enjoy on my second reading of this edition. It’s been so long since I read the story, that I find myself just sticking to the story and not reading footnotes (marginal notes in this case). But I did read the introduction, and immersed myself in some fascinating biographical and publishing history. Now and then my gaze veers into the margins and my curiosity is piqued.

I decided to read this story again because I’ve read that Peter Jackson is finally involved in a film adaptation of it, which I’ve looked forward to ever since the LOTR trilogy that he produced and directed. This time I want to view the film adaptation fresh from the written story, rather than from the perspective of more than a decade of fogging over of my memory as I did with the trilogy. Which means I’m reading it now and likely will read it at least once more before the film is released.

I’m also rereading this, and plan to reread LOTR, because the film trilogy has become a mini-obsession of mine and yet every time I watch the movies I keep thinking how much I want to read the books again.

Tolkien is easily my most favorite author, ever. I’d be hard pressed to name a second favorite who comes anywhere close. Maybe it was his relationship to language, as a philologist. He also had a deep, abiding love of the fairy story and ancient poems and songs. (Many of his dwarves’ names are borrowed from the Elder Edda.) I like that he was unapologetic about his errors. He didn’t try to hide them and, if it made sense he fixed them in later editions. If fixing them didn’t make sense, he lived with them without shame or excuse. He was still a teen when he began to create his own language, that of the elves that he used in his stories, incorporated so elegantly into the film version of LOTR a few years ago. Tolkien wrote circles around anyone else, and almost singlehandedly invented the modern fantasy genre. He seems to have recalled something both childlike and ancient, and filled it with something else profoundly basic to humanity, all of which make him seem himself to have been a wizard — of storytelling. Stories are his version of Gandalf’s fireworks, and even of Gandalf’s defeat of the Balrog and death. Tolkien is pretty much at the top of the mountain and well beyond compare, in my opinion. All the rest, even my other favorite authors, are still down there in base camp, wondering about the weather up there on high. Keeping in mind that when climbing the highest mountains in the world, just getting to base camp is something, nothing to sneeze at. Most of my favorite books that even come close to Tolkien’s, though, are older, the authors also long dead.

This makes me wonder if we’re ripe for a literary renaissance. And when I say literary, I mean a STORY renaissance. Preparatory to that, if Tolkien’s work isn’t now required reading in school, I think it should be. I would love to see a new generation fall in love with language and with story.

Favorite TV series:

Star Trek The Next Generation. There’s no comparison, and even viewing old dilapidated recordings of it compares favorably, in fact stunningly so, to most of what I see on TV today.

I was saddened to hear of the death last month of Majel Barrett, and I felt as if her death marked the end of an era (started by her husband, Gene Roddenberry) in science fiction and in television.

While watching old Star Trek TNG episodes, I can’t believe how often I have to reach for tissues because a story line touched me deeply, or I’m still amused by the always tasteful humor some 20 years later, or I’m struck dumb by a profound insight or bit of ageless wisdom. At the same time it’s immensely entertaining, and frequently filled with suspense. There’s nothing like it.

I have a second favorite TV series — actually two sister ones: Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis. Still, Star Trek the Next Generation is another top of the mountain favorite that is difficult to compare to anything. Who knows, Tolkien himself might even have loved it.

I like The Closer, mainly because the female lead is a character, someone I can relate to. She’s over thirty and still attractive, but it’s not in-your-face plasticized starlet attractiveness. Kyra Sedgwick is beautiful in a way that goes beyond starlet appeal, and you get the impression this is a woman who’s actually honest-to-god aging and struggling to maintain, rather than magically stopping time until the powers that be disappear her from TV as soon as she shows signs of (horrors!) appearing to be over forty. She holds her own in a man’s world without needing to act like a tough chick. She’s spunky and vulnerable, and she doesn’t have to show us the inside of the body as the bullet passes through it for cheap thrills, or make us help examine the vomit under a microscope or eat bugs (honestly, some TV cannot be viewed while enjoying dinner), or be right there for the bloodiest new surgical procedure of the century, spurting arteries and all. I need some mystique left in my mysteries, some characters I can relate to, and not to feel as if I have to learn how not to be squeamish along with the interns in my medical shows. I also wonder why there are so interminably many “realistic” detective and medical shows. Isn’t there anything else to write about, guys? Is the sitcom dead? I guess so.

I like Ghost Whisperer, though I’ve discovered it only recently, so we’ll see how that works out.

I liked Dead Zone, until they killed off Walt the sheriff. I thought he provided an important obstacle between Johnny and his former love, Sarah. Conflict in the form of strong romantic and other obstacles is critical to good series fiction, even a paranormal series that has a new problem to solve each episode. Without the core conflicts and tension to fall back on, a series falls flat because no one seems to be trying very hard, day to day. They’re just biding time until the next psychic flash, murder, ghost, mystery disease, or demon appears. A good series has several backup sources of tension. In Star Trek TNG, nearly every character has a known source of personal conflict that’s always simmering just under the surface, and the series as a whole is full of those tensions sometimes rising, and frequently interacting with others’ conflicts. Killing Walt off, in The Dead Zone, was like letting Marshall Dillon marry Miss Kitty, or letting The Fugitive catch the one-armed man. You just don’t do that, until the very last episode ever. The End.

All that said, I would be hard pressed to come up with new series or episodes from season to season and week to week as the best TV writers do.

Maybe we need a television renaissance as well as a literary one.

Barring that, we may need to let all the Marshall Dillons marry all the Miss Kittys in a big Sun Myung Moon style wedding — and then give TV one big funeral service and be done with it. Most of the shows are so lame, and the commercial breaks are so long these days, that I frequently leave the room to finish the dishes, make a snack, or check my email, and then lose interest and forget to return to see how the show ends. They say there’s nothing new under the sun, and television, as a whole, seems to be trying awfully hard to prove it.

Do you have any new/old favorites to share? What entertains you these days?

— Barbara @ rudimentary 9:34 pm PST, 01/11/09

January 14, 2006

Truth and fiction

Everyone’s blogging about James Frey, whose book I haven’t read. The Smoking Gun calls it A Million Little Lies. I found my favorite comments on the subject over at Duane Swierczynski’s Secret Dead Blog, in An Open Letter to James Frey. They’re my favorite because Duane made me laugh, and I wish I could dismiss the whole subject as laughable. But as Lee Goldberg pointed out in his post, Lies are the new Truth, we seem to live in a world that devalues truth.

Is that the way you like it? (more…)

— Barbara @ rudimentary 4:18 pm PST, 01/14/06


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