DNF: Castleview, Gene Wolfe; and what I thought about the new kid

The jacket copy on the Gene Wolfe books at the library assured me that Gene Wolfe’s most famous books are a series with the word Sun in them, but failed to explain to me which book was the first of that series.  Yes, I could have looked it up on the library computers, but I was only getting his books in the first place because he was right there under W, and Sexing the Cherry was not, so I couldn’t be bothered expending a lot of effort.

Again I say unto you: It is not a good strategy to get a book by an author you have heard a lot about just because you happen to be standing in that section.  I picked up Castleview because, well, because it had a castle, and figures from Arthurian legend.  I like a castle.  I like figures from Arthurian legend.  I read two-thirds of it on Easter Sunday, and seriously, you could offer me a million dollars right now and I would not be able to tell you what was going on in that book.  Characters come and go with terrifying rapidity, and I lost the thread of the plot after about two chapters.  By chapter three my only reaction was: “What?  What?  What?”

With which convenient segue I turn to the subject of Matt Smith and his Saturday debut as the Doctor.  I am happy to report that my not inconsiderable efforts to come to terms with David Tennant’s departure have worked brilliantly, and I was hardly at all resentful of Matt Smith for dashing about being the Doctor.  I didn’t even get that feeling with Matt Smith that I had when David Tennant first showed up, that he was only pretending to be the Doctor.  He was the Doctor straight away.

I liked (’ware major spoilers):

  • How they’ve made Amy such a perfect stand-in for the audience, with her years of dreaming about the Doctor, while also giving her a backstory that provides a good reason for her to go with the Doctor when he asks her to go.  Plus I just love it that she’s from a small town where everyone not only knows her but knows about “the raggedy Doctor”.
  • The Doctor treats little Amelia exactly the same way he treats grown-up Amy, Geoff, Rory – everyone really.  It’s easy to win viewers’ sympathy by being extra nice to a lonely little kid, but it wouldn’t make sense for the Doctor to be different with her than he would be with a grown-up human.  He’s over 900 years old, for heaven’s sake: All the humans he meets would be like children to him.  “Do everything I tell you, don’t ask stupid questions, and don’t wander off.”  Yup, those are the rules.
  • We still don’t know what was going on with the crack in Amelia’s wall.  Scary scary.  I like ongoing plotlines.
  • The Doctor’s about-faces on the question of back-up and whether having it or not having it meant they were safe.  I do enjoy undercutting of tense moments.
  • “This matters, this is important.  Why did you say six months?”  “Why did you say five minutes?”  Quite right too.  Poor little sausage, waiting for her magic Doctor.  Grown-ups are so disappointing.
  • “I’m the Doctor; I’m worse than everybody’s aunt.”  Love it.
  • The Doctor rings up the aliens on the phone and makes them come back.  To fuss at them for threatening Earth in the first place.  I could not possibly be happier about this.  I was so happy about this that I felt only a small amount sad to see David Tennant’s face in the Doctor Montage, and didn’t mind at all the new kid walking through his face at the end.  It didn’t feel dismissive.  And I always like it when the Doctor can stand there, all human-looking and alone, and intimidate the hell out of a massive alien threat.  You know if he had to, he could put paid to those eyeball aliens forever.  “Basically – run.”
  • “You kept the clothes?” “I just saved the world.  The whole planet, for about the millionth time, no charge.  Yeah.  Shoot me.  I kept the clothes.”  “Including the bow tie?” “Yeah, it’s cool.  Bow ties are cool.”  Can I just say again that I love the clothes?  I love the clothes.  Including the bow tie.  I have long been a secret fan of bow ties, on people who can carry them off.  The Doctor and Justice Stevens are two people who can absolutely carry them off.

I did not like:

  • (Here is where that segue comes in.) When the Doctor said “What? What? What?” in that blatantly David Tennant way.  Did not like, do not want.  That marked the only time in the whole episode that I got truly cross at the new kid.  I snarled, BACK OFF, YOU.  AND GET OUT OF HIS CLOTHES.  (Not, um, not in a dirty way.)
  • “Who da man?”  Bleargh.
  • The new TARDIS.  I am surprised at how much I miss the old TARDIS.  I do not currently like the new decoration, but I am curious to see some of its other rooms.  The only time I can remember seeing any other TARDIS rooms during Russell T. Davies’ tenure as showrunner is when David Tennant was picking out his clothes. TARDIS rooms, please.  I would like to see the library.
  • The fact that we didn’t really get to see the layout of Amy’s house before the extra room showed up.  Or did we, and I missed it?  I think it would have been creepier if we had had to make note of there being only five rooms, before the Doctor makes Amy count and realize there are six.

I have concerns relating to:

  • This being a rather by-the-numbers Doctor Who episode.  As first outings for new kids go, this episode is shades of “Smith and Jones”, “The Girl in the Fireplace”, “The Christmas Invasion”, “42” – oh, well, you know.  I’m not fussed about it as long as the others aren’t the same way.
  • Steven Moffat’s apparent penchant for swooshy romance.  I don’t want River Song back (for four episodes), I’m not convinced there was any reason Ten had to fall in love with Madame de Pompadour, and overall I would prefer it if Amy and the Doctor were just very, very, very good friends.  The nice thing (for me) about Donna and Ten, and Rose and Ten even, was that they were really good friends having a fantastic time together and enjoying each other’s company.  Martha kind of brought me down, moping around all the time.
  • In a related note, the executive producer Piers Winger said this about Amy: “The whole kissogram thing played into Steven’s desire for the companion to be feisty and outspoken and a bit of a number. Amy is probably the wildest companion that the Doctor has travelled with, but she isn’t promiscuous. She is really a two-man woman and that will become clear over the course of the episodes.  Sci-fi has a long and happy history of sexy female characters and long may that continue.”  Oh, really, she’s not promiscuous?  THAT IS SUCH A WEIGHT OFF MY MIND.  Dear Piers Winger, We are at least temporarily not friends anymore.  Kisses, Jenny.


Overall I was solidly in favor, and now I wish it were Saturday again.  I only started watching Doctor Who after the fourth series had ended, so I’ve waited for the specials but never for a proper season.  It is strange and wonderful that there will be new episodes every Saturdays for the next lots of Saturdays.

Did you like it?  If you haven’t watched Doctor Who before, may I suggest you start?  This episode isn’t a bad one to be your first: plot a bit thin but the characters get nicely introduced and the Doctor is classically Doctory, and if you’ve never seen the TARDIS before you might like it even though I do not.

Shriek. Squee. Fangirl delight.

I know!  I’m so fickle!  But:

This does seem to be the pattern with me and the new kid.  My heart is hardened against him like the Pharaoh against Moses, and I watch the clips with glowery eyes and my arms crossed, and I think angry thoughts about the new kid and his myriad inadequacies.  And then, in the midst of all this, he goes and does something really Doctory and causes me to love him (briefly).  But I think this clip from “Vampires of Venice” has put paid to all my negative expectations.  Well, that, and the fact that Matt Smith came up with the tweed and the bow tie himself, and he prepared for the role by writing stories about the Doctor, and Patrick Troughton is his favorite Doctor from the classic series.  How could that fail to win me?

Besides, unfailing sign: I have started feeling defensive of him.  I read something negative about Matt Smith on the internets the other day and I was all, Step off the Doctor, internets!  Show some respect!  Have you no sense of history?

Which is hardly fair for me to say, given that a year and a half ago, I said I didn’t care that much that David Tennant was leaving, and I was only interested in this news because it meant Paterson Joseph might be the new Doctor.  Oh, Past Jenny.  (Then I went on a week-long Doctor Who and cross-stitching spree, at the end of which I remembered that David Tennant was leaving and nearly burst into tears.)

Can it please be Saturday?

Gig, eds. John Bowe, Marisa Bowe, and Sabin Streeter

The Bible just got bumped off my five desert island books list.  Sorry, Bible!  It’s just that you have all that stuff about begatting and oysters, and none of my other desert island books take long breaks from being awesome to talk about stoning your disobedient sons!  And you know I can’t do without Shakespeare, and The Color Purple and Angels in America are JUST SO EPIC, and Greensleeves is my favorite book of all time.  You understand, don’t you?  And we can still be friends?  I mean when you think about it, way more people would take you to a desert island than would take Gig, so you are still coming out ahead and no point you being greedy about it.  xoxo love from Jenny & please tell the Lord I am totally still a fan of His work.

I saw Gig when I was lolling around the Sociology section of Bongs & Noodles, and I inspected it closely and bought it a few days later.  It is so cool!  It is the result of interviews with people in all sorts of different jobs – palm readers and bus drivers and book scouts and just dozens of things.  The interviewees have about two to five pages where they describe the job, how they got into it, what a typical day looks like, a story or two, and where they want to go from here.

MY GOD this book is just relentlessly fascinating.  I especially like it when people in jobs I would never consider doing, or didn’t know existed, talk about what inspires them.  There’s a corporate identity consultant who goes on at some length about Apple’s logo, and how it’s such a legendary logo because of all the things it implies about the company.  I don’t know – it’s just that I would never have thought of doing that job, so I would never have had to think about the Apple logo at all, if it weren’t for that book.  Or, possibly a more interesting example, from a produce stand owner:

I started off cooking peanuts back in 1956.  I was fourteen.  Sold ’em for ten cents a bag.  And see, I’ve always cut my peanuts with lemon.  That’s what makes mine different.  Most people just boil ’em in salt.  Well, I’ve always cut them with lemon.  I got that idea from the Good Master – the Good Master up there.  I dreamed it one night.  And I just woke up one morning knowing I was gonna start putting lemons in.

Though just when I think this guy’s a dear, this happens:

I’ll have pumpkins in October and Christmas trees for Christmas.  And all year round I’ll be selling pillows, bandannas, quilts, the Aunt Jemima dolls – which I’m probably gonna get a kick from the [African-Americans but that isn’t the word used here] about that, but that don’t mean a damn thing with me.  Ain’t nothing they can do about it, you know?


Or, this is nicer, the flower lady – she seems so sincere!

I always want flowers.  I still spend my money on flowers.  Even when I’m around them all day, I still want them at home. And I don’t care that they die.  I think that the ephemeral quality of flowers is really seductive.  I think there’s something really wonderful about the fact that they really only last for a certain amount of time.  Within that time, they can be more beautiful than something that might last forever.

Some of these people have terrible stories to tell – bad things that happened to them, bad things that happened to their clients and coworkers.  Bad things they’ve done.  Look at this corporate headhunter lady:

But still, there’s lots of ways to get names.  I’ve gone into bars in Silicon Valley after Happy Hour and stolen the bowl where everyone drops their business card for a sandwich drawing every week.  I wear a trench coat or something and just walk out with seventy-five leads…You just need to be ingenious – hang out in the lobby of a company, and tell the receptionist you’re waiting for your friend to meet you, and then when the receptionist turns away, steal the directory from her desk.  Whatever it takes.

…And although it is deceptive, it’s lying sometimes, it’s not immoral, I don’t think.  Because I’m helping people.

Sure, lady.  Whatever helps you sleep at night.

I felt like the Doctor when I was reading this book –  you know how one minute David Tennant’s all “The human race!  Indomitable!”, and then the next second he’s all “Run and hide because the monsters are coming: the HUMAN RACE” and bringing down governments and things.  I mean you read this book and you can really see both points.  (Was that a superfluous Doctor Who reference?  Perhaps.  But I ❤ David Tennant and couldn’t help myself.)

Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger


Well, fittingly enough, I read this on the first official day of the RIP IV Challenge.  I got an ARC from the lovely and obliging people at the Regal Literary Agency (thanks, y’all!  I was so, so pleased to have it!) on Monday, and read it all in one go yesterday evening.

In Her Fearful Symmetry, due for proper release at the end of this month, Elspeth Noblin dies and leaves her London flat to her twin nieces, daughters of her own estranged twin Edie.  They can have it on their twenty-first birthday, and must live in it for one year before they can sell it; their parents are not to be allowed in the flat.  Julia and Valentina very sensibly accept this offer (I am mildly hoping that my mother has a rich estranged London twin like this who can conveniently die soon and let me do this exact thing), and take up residence in the flat, which is just outside Highgate Cemetery.  The flat downstairs contains Elspeth’s lover, Robert, who is missing her terribly; the upstairs flat contains Martin, whose crippling OCD has caused his wife to leave; and the twins’ flat contains Elspeth’s possessions.  And her ghost.

For a ghost story, this one isn’t very spooky.  That isn’t a criticism!  It’s just that the aim of a ghost story tends to be to give you spine prickles, but that doesn’t seem to be the goal here.  Remember how Audrey Niffenegger wrote about time travel in a clinical, matter-of-fact sort of way?  Time travel was part of the characters’ lives, and they try to figure out the rules and deal with it as best they can in their everyday lives.  Some people deal with it perfectly sensibly, and other people do not manage quite so well.  The ghosty aspects of Her Fearful Symmetry are handled in a similar fashion – this isn’t what I expected, but I liked it.

I loved the theme of identity, creating yourself as an individual, that runs all through the book.  The central characters are so vivid (apart from Robert – what is Robert all about?  I couldn’t figure him out), and they all struggle to decide who they are apart from the significant people in their lives.  It was completely opposite to The Time Traveler’s Wife, how Henry and Clare create themselves as a couple, but equally intriguing.  I particularly liked the friendship that develops between Julia and Martin, who are both going through the same thing – trying to be healthy and sane as their main life person is tugged away from them.  Martin’s OCD was not quite on, as is often the case when book characters have OCD, but apart from that, Martin was generally a wonderful character.  Maybe my favorite character.

Except, maybe, for the graveyard.  Highgate Cemetery is a character in this novel: the people buried in it and the secrets that it keeps (and Robert knows) are all very much a part of the story.  I love the scenes set in the cemetery, and I wish we could have had a bit more of the cemetery people – maybe that would have helped explain who Robert was.  Highgate feels like a co-conspirator in the – let’s say, in the slightly sketchier events of the novel, and like a haven for the nicer moments.

Her Fearful Symmetry is much more me than The Time Traveler’s Wife – I mean with the ghosts and the graveyard and the sisters – and I thought I might like it better.  Right now I am not sure.  It is a quieter book than Time Traveler’s Wife.   I mean that it doesn’t have that same wrenching emotional pull, and it is more understated about all the things that happen.  They are so different it’s hard to compare.  Which is great!  On with more books by Audrey Niffenegger that will all be individual and different and wonderful!

Hey, and this book mentioned David Tennant!  The twins one time watch that episode of Doctor Who, “The Girl in the Fireplace” (he does have long fingers), with the horse, and the Doctor gets smashed and Rose says, “Oh look at what the cat dragged in – the Oncoming Storm”, and I love that line and I love that episode!  David Tennant, hooray!

I have some very spoilery things to say, but I won’t say them until after the book has been released.  I don’t want to spoil anyone’s fun.  I advise you to trot out and buy this book promptly upon its release, because I enjoyed it a lot and will definitely be rereading it and, I expect, enjoying it more and more with successive rereadings.  I love a ghost story.  I loved this one.

Other reviews: Carl’s non-spoiler review & spoiler review, At Home with Books, Sophisticated Dorkiness, Books on the Brain, the book lady’s blog, Devourer of Books, 5 Minutes for Books, The Literate Housewife, S. Krishna’s Books, Yule Time Reading, let me know if you’ve reviewed this and I will add a link!

Takin’ Over the Asylum

So when I was a wee lass, struggling with greater than/less than and detesting long division that ended with remainders (this is why I don’t like math! – because lots of things end up with solutions that are very untidy and not whole numbers AT ALL), the BBC was creating a miniseries about a DJ at a mental hospital radio station and the patients there, called Takin’ Over the Asylum.  And although I was too wee to care at the time, they were being surprisingly careful not to be an asshole, and getting their actors to perform four major mental illnesses (bipolar, schizophrenia, depression, and OCD) with care and sensitivity, if not always total accuracy.

And yes, okay, the reason I wanted to watch this in the first place is that it contains a young David Tennant, large of nose and floppy of hair, playing a manic(poor typecast thing but he does do it brilliantly)-depressive kid who also wants to be a DJ.  However, when I read a bit more about it, I discovered I wanted to see it for its own sake anyway.  The extras in the series were people who had previously been patients in mental hospitals, so they could make sure they weren’t getting mental hospitals wrong!  How good’s that?  Oh, and also, it’s set in Glasgow, rendering everyone TOTALLY INCOMPREHENSIBLE.

No, I’m exaggerating.  They are only a little bit incomprehensible.  I listen slightly slower than they talk, which is fine when they’re only saying one or two sentences; it’s just when they go on and on (David Tennant goes on and on) that I sometimes get lost around the middle.  There’s also the other problem of David Tennant being so damn cute (seriously, look at how adorable he was) that every time he comes on screen my sister and I have to shriek loudly because he’s just so young.  And that tends to make us miss his lines.

Takin’ Over the Asylum is sad.  I was pleased they didn’t try to make everything bright and cheery at the end, because mental illness is really sad and difficult.  I got to be really fond of the five central characters, and I wanted them all to triumph over the odds and get what they wanted.  Things got better and worse, better and worse, which is just the way it goes.

The keen-eyed amongst you may have spotted that this is not a book review.  Only when I was reading Donna Franceschild’s recollections of making this series, she says that the director sometimes worried that the hospital orderly was being too vicious, and the extras all said, no, he’s got it exactly right.  And that made me sad, and also reminded me of how interested I am in the history of mental health care and how little I know about it.

Et voila, I checked out Edward Shorter’s A History of Psychiatry.  When I used to work at one of the college bookshops in town, this was one of the books I wrote down to read.  And then one day this girl came in to sell her copy back, and I asked if it was fascinating, as I suspected it must be, and she said, “No.  It’s actually really boring.  I thought it was going to be my favorite textbook but it was really boring.”

And it wasn’t so much that it was boring, as that it didn’t give a good idea of the sweep of change in psychiatry.  It’s more a history of people in psychiatry, which is dull, episodic, and difficult to follow.  I got about a fifth of the way through and couldn’t manage to continue.  However, I did examine his bibliography to find out some other books about the history of psychiatry, so I hope I will have more to say on this subject in the future.

You know what I love, Internet?

Internet, I will tell you what I love.  I love stories set in Britain right before, during, between, and right after the World Wars.  I LOVE THEM.  Cf. The Little Stranger, The Shooting Party, The House at Riverton, Baltimore, Those Who Hunt the Night, Love Lessons, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, The Night Watch, etc.  If you say “Britain” and “World War” in your synopsis of a book, I tend to bump it way up on my reading list.  If you also say “aristocracy” and “disintegrating way of life”, I tend to put a hold on it at the library right that very second.  I just have this addiction.

It translates to film also.  My younger sister and I have discovered about ourselves that we have a crush on that haircut that people used to have, back in this day.  You know, like James McAvoy has in Atonement.  When somebody has a haircut like that, we both get all giggly and crushy, even when the somebody is a jerk like that submarine kid in that episode of Angel where he comes back for revenge and dangles Fred and Wesley and everyone by ropes in the main foyer.  And when they make films set in Britain around the Wars, people tend to have this haircut.  All slightly wavy and side-parted.

Apparently, Stephen Poliakoff knows this about me, and he cares.  Because Stephen Poliakoff is doing a film called 1939, in which, “on the eve of World War II, the formidable Keyes family tries to uphold their traditional way of life”.  I didn’t make that up.  Now unfortunately it stars Romola “Please forgive me for Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights” Garai – no, honey, I do not forgive you.  It contains Christopher Lee and Julie Christie and Jeremy Northam, three Legendary Actors in whom I am not deeply interested.

And then, then, then, Internet, it contains Bill Nighy, whom I absolutely adore, in everything, and it contains Charlie Cox, Tristan from Stardust.

And Internet darling, it contains David Tennant too.

David Tennant.  AND Charlie Cox.  AND Bill Nighy.  AND they are all in a film about an influential family just before World War II.  I feel like Stephen Poliakoff needs to come visit me so that I can give him a hug and make him gingerbread.

Mother Come Home, Paul Hornschemeier

I was just saying the other day that I never find good graphic novels to read by myself.  So today I was at the library and I decided I was damn well going to learn how to be independent and find a good graphic novel all on my own.  Yeah, and review it here, so other people would know about it too.  Mother Come Home is a graphic novel about a seven-year-old boy called Thomas Tennant who loses his mother, and how he and his father deal (or don’t deal) with the loss.

I said in my review of The Savage that I think it’s brilliant all the things that books with pictures can do.  They can do all kinds of things that books without pictures can’t do, and I am sad that I was so ignorant of this fact five years ago. I do not unconditionally love Mother Come Home, but there were bits that were lovely.  Thomas and his father are both bearing up as best they can, Thomas taking care of the places that his mother used to love, and his father struggling to keep track of everything.  Eventually Thomas unintentionally reveals to his caring aunt and uncle that his father has been missing work – I tried to find pictures of these pages and failed, but this is a lovely and imaginative bit of the book.  When his father is committed to a mental hospital, Thomas retreats into his imagination, planning and planning how he will free his father.

I liked this right up until the end.  Want to know why?  Yeah, I will tell you why.  It’s because at the end, after some very sweet and tender moments between the father and the son, the father (he’s called David Tennant and I can tell you he DOES NOT DESERVE TO BE) gets the son to push him off a cliff.  I do not like this because it is selfish and bad parenting, and I also do not like it because it’s melodramatic, and the rest of the book wasn’t.  Disappointing ultimately, particularly because it means I still haven’t found a really good graphic novel all my own.  I almost, almost, almost did.  But not quite.