Monthly Archives: March 2021

Reading Notes, 3/29/21

Finished Reading

Two on a Tower by Thomas Hardy


In general, high school English classes treated me pretty well. I wasn’t made to read Moby-Dick before I could appreciate it, was exposed to the requisite amounts of Steinbeck and Orwell, and lucked out to have not only Arthur Conan Doyle, but Bram Stoker and Ray Bradbury on the syllabus. The only author I took a dim view of was Thomas Hardy. We read The Mayor of Casterbridge. From the outset, I couldn’t understand why no one stepped in to say, “Hey, auctioning off your wife and daughter isn’t something you can do… Hey, buying a woman and her kid at auction just isn’t something you can do…” Who are people that act this way? What the heck, Thomas Hardy?

After thirty years, I figured I’d give Hardy another try. Two on a Tower seemed like something I would enjoy: a woman in a fairly abusive marriage falls in love with a young astronomer. “Romance and science is a combination I can get behind!” I thought.


I get that this story is a critique of class boundaries, but there are ways to comment on that without the main female character being maddeningly inconstant. On top of that, when Swithin returns to her, she is now an old hag of *gasp* thirty-four years-old. Thank goodness, he’s the type to feel morally obligated to keep his promise to now marry her. Worry not, Swithin, this story also contains my least favorite trope: “Happily ever after? Nope, abrupt death.”

Who are people who act this way? Seriously, Thomas Hardy, what the heck?

Deal Me In

K♣️ – “Sometimes They Arrive Late” by Rebecca Parfitt
Quick shout out to this story, published in The New Gothic Review. Chloe and her husband travel to the Philippines, where her family is originally from, to reconnect with each other, but Chloe also finds she’s reconnecting with old spirits as well.

Spring Into Horror

While I’ll still be working on my Dune-a-thon, I otherwise intend to read horror for #SpringHorror. I don’t exactly have a list worked out but here are some possibilities:

  • Into Bones like Oil by Kaaron Warren
  • The Ceremonies by T.E.D. Klein (from off my own shelves)
  • The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux (for Classics Club)
  • The Ghost Studies by Brandon Massullo (nonfiction)

Cinema Saturday, 3/27/21 ~ On what makes a “good” movie

Photo by Markus Spiske on

Programming Note

Starting this coming Thursday (April 1st), I’ll be participating in Blogging from A to Z. My theme, in honor of Halfway to Halloween, is horror movies. Therefore, in April, every day aside from Sundays, I ‘ll be blogging about a horror movie. On Sundays, I intend to post some reading notes and whatnot.


Last week, I finished up The Film Experience via MIT’s Open Courseware. I really like movies; I like talking and thinking about movies and needed more framework for those thoughts. This was primarily a history course, especially looking at the studio system that developed in the US, with some diversions into what was happening concurrently in world cinema.

The class didn’t cover what makes a “good” film, but it got me thinking about my personal criteria for what makes a film successful. In literature, I’ve kind of narrowed it down (broadly) to world, characters, and plot. Pretty much a book has to be strong in two of these categories for me to have enjoyed it.

“World” is maybe the hardest in literature and should be the easiest in film. But for me, “world” in film is setting, set design, costume design, music, cinematography… Pretty much everything that the characters are interacting with and the filmmakers are providing to create the feel of the movie. It should be cohesive. A fantastical example is Blade Runner (1982)—the world building is excellent and even the slightly antiquated technology works within this setting. A non-fantastical example is Drive (2011). The setting early 2000s Los Angeles, but the score, cinematography, color grading, etc. make this a different place than the “real” world.

In literature, I don’t exactly favor morally good characters, but I do require characters that I want to spend time with (because that’s what I’m doing), even if it’s just to watch them carry out nefarious plots. In movies, I don’t have to spend as much time with the characters, but I do have to know who the character is and how they are going to act. A filmmaker/screenwriter has a more limited time frame to establish this. My favorite example here would be Strange Days (1995). Wardrobe and dialogue, especially, establish who Lenny Nero and Lornette Mason are. Establishing a character doesn’t mean that the character can’t change, but the change shouldn’t be entirely unexpected.

Lastly, plot. Something should be happening. As an audience member, maybe I know what’s going on. Maybe I don’t. Maybe the plot gets resolved. Maybe it doesn’t. I’m not against a little ambiguity. I’m not even against a certain level of nonsense; sometimes you just have to accept the premise of the plot. But the things that happen should be consistent for the world and consistent for the characters. I love the movie Zodiac (2007), but it’s a plot conundrum: a duo of police and a duo of journalists investigate the Zodiac murders; bureaucracy is their major hurdle. Nothing is resolved for certain by the end of the movie. For me, that investigation is enough (especially since the other two facets of Zodiac are very strong).

Anyway, these are my musings on movies. I’m still in the conceptual testing/challenging phase. (I’m not sure I ever move out of that phase.) Which means, in the coming weeks as I watch a bunch of movies, I’m going to think about what works and doesn’t and how those things relate to my opinions.

You can find me on Letterboxd.

Reading Notes, 3/22/21

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

Finished Reading

Nothing! Yeah, I’m a slow reader.

I did read “The Sword of Parmagon” by Harlan Ellison from The Essential Ellison. It’s an extremely early work—written when the author was 15-ish. It’s fine; decent writing of basic fantasy/adventure tropes.

I still need to read this month’s Willa Cather story.

Deal Me In

A❤️ – “The Moonstone Mass” by Harriet Prescott Spofford
I always think I’m going like Northwest Passage stories more than I do. Maybe it’s because, while I like frontier adventures, I just *know* that the Northwest Passage isn’t going to work out. This story is not the best. The language is creaky, even for 1868.

Currently Reading

Since I’m still reading the same two books, Children of Dune by Frank Herbert and Two on a Tower by Thomas Hardy, I figured I’d go with some covers from translations. I suppose I could concentrate on one book at a time, but that’s not how I roll.

Tales of an Unwieldy Library, pt. 3

Getting Distracted Along the Way

Photo by Guilherme Rossi on

Cataloging the books in the backroom/office has been a slower process than dealing with the rest of the apartment and the books I have in “storage” for the following reasons:

  1. Shelves: I don’t have many shelves and the ones I do have are often double stacked. Unshelving and reshelving books is a pain.
  2. Dust: I open the windows often and Arizona is a very dusty place. Books in boxes in the closet were not surprisingly not dusty.
  3. Desk Space: I lugged the closet books to the kitchen, which is right next to my big, beautiful frontroom desk, where I have my laptop set up. In the backroom/office, I have a very nice dual monitor desktop, but very little space for shifting books about. I end up with stacks on the floor, which is less convenient.
  4. Harlan Ellison: I was going along, adding books to Library Thing. I had worked through the paperbacks in the shoe boxes, my collection of Richard Laymon books, my collection of magic history and magic-related fiction. No problems. But then I reached my Harlan Ellison collection. And I realized, I had no idea what of Ellison’s I have and haven’t read. I have collections and anthologies and omnibus editions. I’ve read a few volumes straight through, but which? And are those stories collected elsewhere too? Maybe I should just read all of the books I have. Maybe I should try reading all of Ellison’s works (that I own) in roughly chronological order. Which would be a hassle to determine if I didn’t have the internet. Several spreadsheets later, I still haven’t gotten past my meager stack of Harlan Ellison books, but I have a new reading project.

Fine, it’s not entirely Ellison’s fault. I love my books. I love making lists. I had until now avoided getting too distracted by deciding what I wanted to read next. (Spoiler alert: It’s never the book I’m currently reading.) In this case, I couldn’t resist the detour.

Books cataloged: 632
Books unread, ± Harlan Ellison: 333

Reading Notes, 3/15/21

Finished Reading

I finished nothing in the past week, but I will be DNF-ing Ultimate Glory: Frisbee, Obsession, and My Wild Youth by David Gessner. There are some tidbits of ultimate frisbee history, but it’s so repetitive.

It did get me thinking about my relationship with the game. In a way, I feel kind of fortunate that I am from a background that didn’t value sports and that I really have no shot at being an elite player. For me, I’ve never bothered being embarrassed to play a “ridiculous” sport like ultimate; all sports were considered ridiculous.* And while I seek ways to improve my play, I have no pressure to “make nationals.”** Heck, fall rec league will be my 20th anniversary league and I’ve still haven’t won a league championship. Not saying that losing doesn’t hurt, but stakes are low for me. So why do I play? To some degree, it’s the incongruity of my playing at all. Surprisingly, I have decent hands for catching. I can throw, somewhat. There is satisfaction in running down a disc or making a nice throw. Why does anyone chose to play any sport?

* I no longer feel this way. Sports offer a way to keep the body and mind working, as well as teach a lot about how to work as a team and take a loss (or a win).
** I actually did participate in the first women’s grand masters nationals competition. Our team got an auto-bid, but still, it was pretty cool.

Deal Me In

2♠️ – A WILD card!
I chose to read “We are Not Phoenixes” by John Wiswell, a story just published over at Fireside Fiction. This is a flash story and, dang, it takes talent world-build in less than 1000 words. And to add speculative fiction elements to stage magic. That was a surprise treat for me since I knew nothing about the story going in.

Currently Reading

I’ll be working on Children of Dune by Frank Herbert and Two in a Tower by Thomas Hardy. Might start In Cold Blood as my next nonfiction read.

Cinema Saturday, 3/13/21

There is some strong language in this trailer. Viewer’s discretion advised.


Year: 2020
Runtime: 1h 52m
Rated: R

Director: Viggo Mortensen

Writer: Viggo Mortensen

Stars: Viggo Mortensen, Lance Henriksen, Sverrir Gudnason

“It’s called a piercing, and, no, it doesn’t bother me.”

“Is it a dumbass fashion thing or a dyke thing?”

“Can’t it be both?”

Initial: Viggo Mortensen and Lance Henriksen. There was no way I wasn’t going to watch this movie.

Production Notes: Not only did Mortensen write, direct, act in, and produce Falling, he also composed the score.

What Did I Think:
First, it’s a beautiful movie. In interviews, Mortensen has talked about how, since getting money for the production took so long, he took to filming things, moments and places, when he could and when he saw something that he felt fit the film. All those little things end up giving this film a handcrafted and deliberate feel without feeling overly staged (like, for instance, in Oz Perkins’ films). The editing (by Ronald Sanders) is vital too. As the audience we’re experiencing many things from the point of view of a man suffering from dementia. We slip in and out of memories with Willis, and, while this is sometimes disconcerting, it doesn’t feel forced. We’re never being fed the past narrative, we’re simply experiencing it along with the characters.

Second, Willis could easily be a angry, bigoted old man that the audience never has any sympathy for. A lot of credit has to go to Mortensen’s writing and Henriksen’s acting for giving the character, if not ambiguity, nuance. It really is a very good performance in a very well-made film.

Sound of Metal

Year: 2019
Runtime: 2h
Rated: R

Director: Darius Marder

Writers: Darius Marder, Abraham Marder, Derek Cianfrance

Stars: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci

“Serenity is no longer wishing you had a different past.”

Initial: The Sound of Metal has been on quite a few “best of” list for the last year or so.

What Did I Think: (possible spoilers)
From a great looking movie to one with immersive sound design. As Ruben goes deaf so do we as the audience: the sound design takes on a muted, hollow, claustrophobic feel. It’s frustrating because, as a hearing person, I was straining to hear and understand other characters. It’s slightly anxiety-inducing. Likewise when Ruben has his cochlear implants turned on we hear the world through the tinny, screechy way someone with implants would experience the world. And sometimes, the film is just silent.

The Sound of Metal is a character piece and in that it is very effective.

A to Z Challenge Theme Reveal

#AtoZChallenge 2021 Theme Reveal

Horror Movies A to Z

Ever since last April, I’ve been looking forward to celebrating Halfway to Halloween. I had randomly decided to do an unofficial horror movie A to Z challenge last year and late in the month realized that April is actually halfway to October.

This year, I’m officially joining the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge and will post another horror movie A to Z along with a few other Halfway to Halloween festivities. I plan to stick to movies that are new to me, but I might include an old favorite or two if I’m feeling burnt out.

I have started my list of “maybes” over at Letterboxd. If you have any horror movie recommendations, I’d love to hear them!