What I have been doing with my fancy university library card

Scaring myself, mostly. This library has a lot of books inside of it, but it also has the scariest damn stacks I ever saw. They have these dark, narrow aisles, and the doors in the stairwells between levels swing open and shut with loud, prolonged, ominous squeaks. I always have the exact call numbers of the books I want before I go, because sitting down at one of the catalogue computers, with my back to the darkened stacks, does not inspire feelings of comfort and safety. The main aisles are lit, but you have to press a button to turn on the lights in the individual rows of books, and these lights are set to go off automatically after a certain amount of time. What that means is that when I am walking down the main aisles, the lights are going off around me. It is scary as hell. I swear I can hear David Tennant’s voice going “Stay out of the shadows.” (Every shadow? No. But any shadow.)

(If you think that’s the geekiest thing I’m going to say in this post, you just could not be more wrong.)

I have realized it is no good to research fairy tales right now. The books of Warner, Zipes, and Tatar, as well as the Mirror, Mirror on the Wall that y’all recommended to me, are at my public library at home. I paid a fortune for my damn library card to this terrifying university library, and I’m going to use it to read books I couldn’t get at home. I shall be researching South Indian temple dancers, devadasis, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. I read From Sacred Servant to Profane Prostitute on Saturday. This book, which was way too in love with its alliterative title, is an overview of the legal status of devadasis in this time period, mainly in Bombay and Madras. I am not as interested in their changing legal status (although that is interesting) as I am in their social status, but never mind, I learned lots of useful things. (I wrote down the names of a bunch of other books to track down after this.)

My most favorite thing that I learned from this book: When national and local laws removed the economic incentive for families to dedicate their daughters to deities, and finally outlawed the dedications altogether, a bunch of the devadasis went away and become stars of the stage and screen.

I also checked out a bunch of books about television. I read a book of articles about The West Wing and gained immense satisfaction from reading about its political bents, relation to truth, and implications of audience demographics. Then I read a book full of articles about Angel, which was better to the exact degree that I love Angel better than The West Wing (which is a degree that is quite considerable). It would be difficult to convey to you using only my words how much I enjoyed reading these articles about Angel. There was this one that talked about the musical themes used for the different characters, and the way the show uses them to convey the way the characters are changing – this is the kind of thing that fascinates me but I don’t tend to notice it when I’m watching a film or TV show. Another article explored the problematic racial dynamics in the show which, y’all, can get quite cringe-inducing (oh, God, that episode where Cordelia’s determined to save Gunn from himself makes me want to shrivel up and die).

Tale of woe: J. August Richards, the actor who plays Gunn on Angel, was a huge Star Wars fan when he was a kid, and he totally loved Han Solo. But whenever he and his friends would play Star Wars, they made him be Lando Calrissian because he was black.

I sometimes joke with my family that my calling in life is finding articles about things. I am constantly going on the internet to find informative and authoritative articles about whatever I am currently interested in sounding knowledgeable about. I am constantly reporting information that I have learned from reading random articles from MetaFilter, Arts and Letters Daily, The Browser, Salon, and Slate. I do not know that finding articles is actually my calling, but I certainly do enjoy it. When they are articles about topics that enthrall me, such as wonderful books or wonderful films or wonderful TV shows, I enjoy it even more. For an English major who passionately hated every history of criticism class I took at university, I am mad for actual criticism.

I have several other books full of scholarly articles about other beloved TV shows: Doctor Who, Buffy, Firefly, and The Wire. If the library had had books about other TV shows I love, you know I’d have checked them out too. I will be reading them in due course because I have adjudged this to be a worthwhile use of the money I have spent on this library card and the terror I experience every time I set foot in the library stacks. I may or may not have plans to curl up on my sofa tonight with cheesy fries and Investigating Firefly and Serenity.

(Don’t judge. Memory understands me. I think. (You do, don’t you, Memory?))

Part of this pop culture scholarship rampage is down to sadness that all my long-anticipated things have happened. Enchanted Glass came out, and The White Road came out. I read ARCs of Curse of the Werewolf Girl and Monsters of Men, and now Doctor Who is finished and over. It’s sad, dude, I’m sad about it, sad in my heart. Of course there is always The Guild, whose fourth season starts in a few weeks, and then a while after that there will be fall TV, which is fun to look forward to. So you can see how a girl would require some scholarly consideration of Wesley’s comedic timing.

Y’all, am I alone in this? Is my pleasure in close readings and feminist interrogations of my best-beloved books and shows indicative of serious mental disturbance? Tell me the truth. I can take it. Also, have you ever been in a scary library? Do you feel (as I slightly do) that the scariness is instilling you with a healthy respect and awe for knowledge?

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?


Go watch “The Waters of Mars” and then come back here so we can have spoiler-filled comments about all how bleak and scary and crazy it all was, and how excited we all are that John Simm is coming back again.  (I am very very excited.  I would even go so far as to say very very very excited.  I love me some John Simm.)

You may think that you have seen David Tennant put on some crazy eyes previously, but in fact you have never seen David Tennant do crazy eyes until you have seen “The Waters of Mars”.  I recommend you get on that as soon as possible.  Russell Davies does his best work when he’s not afraid to get dark with it (see also Midnight).  Although the premise of humans exploring space nobly, causing the Doctor to want to hug them and bury them in a cairn of compliments has been done before on this show, it’s never been done this well.  The monsters are scary and the Doctor is – well, he’s the Doctor, as he gets when there’s nobody around to stop him.

On my scaryometer, I would rate this probably on a level with “Silence in the Library“, which is to say, a bit less scary than “The Empty Child“, less scary than “Midnight” by a comfortable margin, and nearly half as scary as “Blink“, Scariest Single Episode of TV Ever™.

David Tennant, presently my favorite actor of all the actors, is starring in an NBC pilot about a lawyer with anxiety problems.  As anxiety problems of various kinds hold synchronized swimming competitions in my family’s gene pool, I am pleased about this whole idea.  IF they can write a therapist that’s any good, which is something I’ve noticed films and TV shows struggle to do.  Is it because all screenwriters have crappy therapists themselves?  Is it because they need the therapists to be idiots in order to allow the characters to carry on being dysfunctional?  Is it because the media hates social workers?  I DO NOT KNOW, but I yearn for David Tennant to come make his crazy eyes on American network television.

Plus, this.  My mum introduced us to Shakespeare with the films of Twelfth Night and Much Ado About Nothing; and that seems to have worked, because I love Shakespeare like I love my family, and I have renewed my long-abandoned Shakespeare reading project.  Previously I have disliked Hamlet A LOT, but I feel like, come December of this year, all that could change.

In case any of you lot don’t know this already

Doctor Who is absolutely brilliant.  I don’t know why I never watched it before.  What a weirdo I was until relatively recently, spending all my time not watching Doctor Who.  So if you have never seen Doctor Who before, you should just go ahead and find it, and watch it.  I’m in love with it.  There are dozens and dozens of episodes to watch, so you can probably just start anywhere.  I’m watching The Mind Robber right now, and it is charming.  As I type this, the absurdly adorable Zoe and Jamie (they are traveling around with the Second Doctor) are being trapped inside a giant book.  They are.  It’s true.

And you know why else I like Doctor Who?  Because I have been watching the recent series, with Christopher Eccleston and now David Tennant, and this is a show that knows itself.  I really like that.  The Doctor said his name was Dr. James McCrimmon in an episode in the second series, which is adorable Jamie’s name from the late sixties.  Sarah Jane shows up and makes reference to a bunch of things that happened in her time with the Doctor.  It is nice and self-referential, and it pleases me.  I hate it in TV shows when they forget all about things that happened a few seasons ago.  That’s damn annoying.  The Tenth Doctor still remembers things that happened forty years ago.

This is also the reason I won’t be posting loads of reviews.  I am watching Doctor Who like a fiend, and getting a lot of cross-stitching done.  I read before I go to bed, to ward off the no-reading headaches I would otherwise get, but mainly I am with the watching of wonderful, wonderful, wonderful Doctor Who.  And you should too.