Confessions of a Librarian Who Doesn’t Read Much…

20160723_120747

…at least not of the fiction variety.

I used to love to read. I still do, but now I tend to read a lot of online articles and non-fiction. When I want a fix of fictional stories, I tend to watch films or television instead. This is not because I merely think fiction is for entertainment – in fact, it is not really a conscious decision at all. Simply put, when I look over how much I read fiction versus how much I watch it, the amount of time that I spend watching it is definitely higher.

By contrast, the last few books that I have read have all been non-fiction accounts or discussions of science or current events. This is not to say that I enjoy reading long academic tomes – I like my non-fiction to be relatable. It is supposed to be fun and interesting.

I inevitably ask myself why. Why do I not enjoy reading fiction that much? It isn’t as though I don’t like reading about fiction and storytelling. It isn’t as though I don’t enjoy learning about stories. It isn’t that I don’t like stories themselves, or that I have no imagination and can’t visualise the world of a novel.

And that’s the short of it: I do not read many novels. I often read the same novels multiple times – and I enjoy them very much. They are like good friends. There is not always a rhyme or reason to why a certain novel grabs my attention: some are science fiction, some are fantasy, some are historical, some are mysteries, and some are stories that I have loved for many years. Some are aimed at older children or teens, while others are adult novels. Some are stories that I studied in school and thus got to know rather intimately.

So why do new novels rarely persuade me to read them? Why do I write stories and poems that seem to have no specific audience?

It is somewhat embarrassing, but I write what I like to read.

I am an odd duck when it comes to being marketed to. I can still enjoy a young adult novel, but I enjoy it from the adult perspective – so it has to be written that way. I can sympathize with a lot of female-centric contemporary stories aimed at adults, but I don’t really identify with them. I have no children, I do not have a very complicated romantic life, and I don’t enjoy shopping as self-medication. I don’t have a lot of BFFs or a large family that drives me insane. In short, many of the things that protagonists seem to be trying escape from are things that I would enjoy escaping to. So the protagonists come across as unsympathetic and not really worth my reading a whole novel about them. Listening to someone complain about their spouse, children, frenemy, or household problems is too realistic.

I also like mysteries, but I am quite comfortable watching these in hour-long installments on television rather than reading them – just a personal preference.

Thus it isn’t that I don’t read, or that I don’t love books – I love books more than I love actually reading them. But when it comes to fiction, I am very particular about the story. When I actually sit down to read something cover-to-cover, I want to enjoy it.

And in the meantime, I write stories that I hope others enjoy, but I know that I already do.

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Whimsical…and Yet Real

LA LA Land (2016)

la-la-land-2016

I went into this film with an open mind – I used to love old movie musicals, but I was concerned with the fact that it seemed to be a traditional romance. I really was not sure how “old-fashioned” it would be. A lot has changed in society since the 1940s, which seemed to be the era that the film was evoking. How would the story be both nostalgic and relevant?

Having seen LA LA Land, I can now see why it is getting such good reviews. The film manages to get the right mix of nostalgia and modern relevancy, which was no easy feat.

At its core, the film is a whimsical tribute to Los Angeles. I had the feeling that were I more familiar with the city, I could make a drinking game out of all of the familiar landmarks featured in it. However, the locations work their way into the story seamlessly. It is a timeless tale of fighting for one’s dreams, and what better city than Los Angeles to reflect that?

It also reflects the reality of trying to make it in Hollywood. Mia, our leading lady and an aspiring actress (played by Emma Stone), spends a lot of time going to auditions where she is literally just another pretty face. She has to share an apartment with three other young women and despite being large enough to accommodate a dance number, it reminded me a lot of the apartments that I either lived in or visited in my early twenties. In short, Mia is relatable, even in her more glamourous moments.

The leading man, jazz pianist Sebastian (played by Ryan Gosling), is the classic starving artist. He has big dreams, but is too caught up in his ideas of what is real and traditional to move forward. Sebastian is held back by his nostalgia, while Mia is held back by her insecurities.

Needless to say, the two of them bring out the best in one another and push each other to get ahead, while simultaneously falling in love. That is the “old-fashioned” part of the film. There are singing and dance numbers to go along with their story – although the film relies more heavily on dance numbers as it progresses. I think that has something to do with believability. Dance numbers are inherently symbolic (I would rather watch a dance than a sex scene) and they are also grounded in reality, especially when characters are at a party or bar. On the other hand, breaking out into song is unusual, especially when it done by more than one person. This was forgivable in the past when movie musicals were more like films of stage-shows, but it is less acceptable now. The filmmakers manage to walk a tightrope in giving us just enough singing and allowing the bulk of the story to be done in dance – or just normal dialogue.

Two thirds of the film go by in an entirely predictable fashion – I was even envisioning scene changes and act breaks. But then I began to worry. Would the story proceed as I was expecting it to, from my experience with 1940s and 1950s musicals? I hoped not.

In the past, one of the characters in the couple would have been expected to give up or alter their dreams. Usually, this involved settling down and raising a family. Either the man would give up his roving ways or the woman would give up her career aspirations. They would give up risk-taking for a steady paycheque and babies. This would be presented as the desirable happy ending. This film includes a nice nod to this toward the end, but it takes its characters into a different place. It is the 2010s, after all.

There is a saying that of having something done fast, cheaply, or well, you can only pick two of them. I would adapt that for this story to say that either Sebastian or Mia can fulfill their dreams separately (or at the expense of the other’s dreams), or they can stay together and compromise both – and achieving neither. I was pleasantly surprised and delighted by the choice that the filmmakers made! It was a happy ending, just not the happy ending that the audience expected.

What struck me most about this story was its treatment of nostalgia. There is a tendency for people to want to keep something just as it is or was – or how they thought it was or ought to have been. Nostalgia is not bad, nor is it entirely whimsical. However, it must be carefully balanced with change. Sebastian holds on to the past in his music, but as a friend tells him, if there is no one listening, the music is going to die. It must be embraced by the young, even if that means evolving. There is a difference between changing to survive and “selling out”. It is difficult to figure out this difference, but it is necessary to do so. Otherwise, the tradition that we hold so sacred and dear will die with us.

I really enjoyed how this film was crafted. It was whimsical and colourful, but it was grounded in reality. It was about shattering preconceived notions and embracing one’s dreams. Romance is wonderful and sometimes is what gives us the kick in the pants to realise what we want in life, but it is not the happy ending that we are looking for.

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Blizzard Born

copyright 2016

It was a long night of waiting,
Winter winds howling through the woods,
Snow drifting up the door,
And to just below the window’s ledge.

They could not get outside,
Except through that window,
And when he had tried, he had fallen,
Sinking deep into the snow.

It was only a short walk downriver
To his mother and father’s house,
But with the storm and snow,
They were alone in their little house.

This was not how men behaved,
He needed his mother,
His wife needed her, or her aunt,
He needed to stay away.

But he could not leave her.

“Oh my God, what’s happened to you?”
His wife screamed, seeing him covered in snow,
“I fell out the window.”
“You’re soaked!” Well, so was she.

“Snow’s too deep to walk in,”
Tears welled up in his eyes,
“I can’t get help for you.”
“Then we’ll just have to wait.”

His wife was strangely calm,
It masked her terror well,
“Get yourself out of those clothes!
Warm yourself by the fire!”

“What good will that do you?”
“I won’t be having you freeze.”
Meanwhile, she paced the floor,
Grabbing the bedpost when she needed.

He must have dozed off by the fireplace,
For he woke up to cold and darkness,
Only burning embers remaining,
He searched for her.

“Where are you?”

She gave him a muffled answer,
And he hurried to her side,
She weakly fell into his arms,
“You’re going to have to help me.”

He was glad it was too dark,
Alarm and dread covered his face,
His wife wasn’t a cow or a horse,
And it was his child she was bearing.

He was sure that he had said nothing,
But she added “Pretend I’m a mare,
If that helps – does it?”
“Not really, but I’ll do my best.”

“Headfirst, not hooves.”
“By God, I hope our child has no hooves!”
“Feet!” She cried in pain.
“Head, not feet.”

“You are thinking of horses too?”
“Well, I have to think of something.”
The storm still went on, the snow higher,
Sparkling in the window in the moonlight.

Their son was born fighting,
Screaming at the cold air,
But safe in his father’s arms,
And then carefully given to his mother.

It took three days to dig out of the snow.

“Someday, little one, you will help your father,”
His mother kissed his tiny head,
“This will be your home,
And you will be a good strong man like him.”

snowstorm

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Let the Snow Fall

dscf9385copyright 2016

The wind howled and shook the flimsy tent walls
As the cold of winter gripped at her,
No matter how many blankets and coats,
No matter how tightly she wrapped them,
Warmth was a faint and long-ago dream.

Tents were never made for winter,
Especially not for families,
Children cried, sick ones moaned,
And every morning another did not awaken,
Cold and frozen forever.

It seemed their winter had begun long before,
Months had stretched back in an empty blur,
Christmas but a half-forgotten memory,
Cold snow the constant companion and jailer,
And yet it was but a scarce six weeks past.

There had been much revelry and joy
Amid their city of tents,
No snow nor cold could keep them from singing,
Ale and meat had appeared,
Music and dancing had followed.

But then the feast had passed and the New Year set in,
Bringing only more misery and death,
Pain of hunger, pain of cold, pain of loss,
A spring that seemed much too far away,
And no one knew what would happen when it came.

But still she drifted off to sleep,
Dreaming of the songs of joy,
The hymns of praise, the warmth of the ale,
And her husband’s strong arms
As he twirled her in the dance.

It was not yet their turn to leave behind the cold.

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Who You Are in the Dark

murdochseason10titleMURDOCH MYSTERIES
Season 10, Episodes 9 & 10 (Excitable Chap)(Once Upon a Murdoch Christmas)

10-9It may seem odd of me to combine these two episodes together. Excitable Chap is an ordinary episode and is set chronologically at the end of the summer of 1904, while the Christmas special is technically Episode 19 and set (chronologically) last in the season at the end of the year. Because of this, there is no real connection between them – except theme.

Excitable Chap finds Inspector Brackenreid home from St. Louis after having successfully coached the Canadian soccer/football team to a gold medal at the Olympics. (The latter part being true – we did win soccer gold at the 1904 Olympics.) He also got time to view the World’s Fair and comes back feeling a bit like he is missing out on things.

So the Inspector has a midlife crisis as the case of the week unfolds. A mysterious figure who usually amorously accosts women and perhaps commits petty theft (known as “The Lurker”) suddenly appears to have scaled up to murder. As it soon turns out, the Lurker is a familiar face and said familiar character also helps try to solve the crime, since the Lurker only appears when that character is under the influence of a certain serum. The episode is a nod to Jekyll & Hyde and is both frightening and comedic in a steampunk fashion. The murderer turns out to be someone else entirely – again, not surprising for fans of the show (or of murder mysteries in general), but an interesting puzzle nonetheless.

At the end of the episode, Brackenreid decides to take a whimsical trip to Panama – ostensibly to search out a criminal, but also to get a chance to see more of the world. His wife is less than amused, of course, but she does let him go. Despite their different personalities, the Brackenreids love each other and have a strong marriage. His wife doesn’t want to be the one who held her husband back – better that he want to come home to her, as he clearly does at the beginning of the episode.

And as he clearly has done by December, since in Once Upon a Murdoch Christmas, he is back and in a rather jolly mood. Clearly, his trips abroad have loosened him a up a little and made him appreciate home and his family.

This year’s Christmas special is distinctly set in 1904, as a scene with businessmen reference rebuilding after the Great Toronto Fire that year. Like last year’s Christmas episode, it has some elements of Victorian Christmas and parallels to something out of a Charles Dickens novel, but it also has modern twists that more resemble something out of the 30s or 40s. In order words, it is the Edwardian era, exactly as it should be. There are orphans, obscenely wealthy businessmen, and old-fashioned carols, and then there are department stores and superheroes. Nothing extremely anachronistic either.

I could go on about the actual plot of the episode, wherein a thief robs wealthy businessmen of their luxury goods while dressed as a character from Constable Crabtree’s latest comic book, complete with gadgets that aid the thief to jump, reach, and climb away. The main story is just that – the police trying to catch the thief so that they don’t lose their jobs, since the wealthy businessmen are ready to go to the mayor over these incidents. The story is interesting and relatively lighthearted because there are no murders.

Most of the other sideplots are equally funny: Brackenreid puts Constable Jackson in charge of making a stationhouse choir, which necessitates getting Miss James’s help; and Detective Murdoch has planned a Christmas surprise for his wife that involves giving her little gift-clues in the days leading up to the holiday. The gifts are as puzzling to the viewers as they are to Dr. Ogden, which makes for a fun game.

The one serious sideplot involves Dr. Ogden being targeted by two orphans who think that she can heal their older brother. They think she is the Snow Queen. It is a very sweet story and draws on Dr. Ogden’s natural desire to help others. One can tell that she is flattered as much as despairing for the children and she enjoys playing along for them. Needless to say, it is medicine, not magic, that their brother needs, but it reminds us (and the characters) that medicine is a form of magic in the sense that requires training, precise ingredients, and respect. For the viewers, we are reminded how fortunate we are to live in the twenty-first century.

What I did find especially important about the story is the message that it is important to share one’s wealth, whether it is one’s monetary wealth, wealth of talent, or wealth of knowledge. The corrupt businessmen have forgotten that, but it does not mean that they deserve to be robbed. They can afford to buy their wives expensive fur coats and provide 50 wool coats for those in need. Buying a luxury good is not wrong in of itself, as Crabtree points out – he spent a lot of money as a treat to himself (he bought a new pen, of all things), but while he can still afford the basic necessities, that was likely his big purchase of the year. Should he have been robbed, he would have been devastated. Yes, he could have donated the $15 for the pen to good use, but he did make a donation as well, albeit a smaller one. The point being, where is the line between “that person can afford to lose it” and “that person is just treating themself or someone they care about”? At the end of the day, theft is wrong, even for the right reasons and when the victims are of reprehensible character.

The heavenly imagery at the end is of reconciliation – something much easier when the crime is theft of luxury goods from greedy businessmen and not murder. All is well and resolved, including the riddle of Dr. Ogden’s mystery gift. It reminds us that we are all one society and we have all parts to play, and that forgiveness and respect are necessary.

10-10

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Intermission!

season6titleONCE UPON A TIME
Season 6, Episodes 9 & 10 (The Changelings)(Wish You Were Here)

6-9Well, talk about losing the parent lottery! After five years, we finally meet Rumplestiltskin’s mother. Since we still don’t know what happened between her and Malcolm (later Peter Pan), I am actually feeling tentatively sorry for Rumplestiltskin’s father. Despite being a sociopathic coward who didn’t want the responsibility of being a parent, he did at least try to look after his son. I hope the writers reveal this backstory in the second act. Either way, Rumplestiltskin was abandoned twice and both of his parents were selfish enough to pursue evil magic. It is surprising how well he turned out, everything considered.

There are two ways to end an act – everything on a happy note and seeming to go well (just waiting for something bad to happen in the next scene), or everything on a note of anxiety. This year, Once Upon A Time chose the latter. Everything seems hopeless and we as the viewers are wondering how they are going to put the pieces back together.

The Changelings is primarily devoted to Rumplestiltskin and Belle; the latter trying her hardest to protect her son from the former. The Evil Queen also breaks her ties with Rumplestiltskin, since she couldn’t bring herself to kill Zelena, and she ends up further driving a wedge between him and Belle. While I am no fan of Rumplestiltskin, I was quite satisfied to watch him vow revenge on the Queen. Seriously, do not mess with the Dark One on matters of family!

Belle gives up her son to protect him, despite not wanting to do so, and Emma has to relive giving up Henry (although this is only implied) as she stays with Belle in hospital. In both cases, they had to surrender control of their babies to ostensibly give them a better chance in life. They were both estranged from their children’s fathers, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t love the children. They were just in no place to raise them.

Unfortunately, all of Belle’s good intentions go awry in Wish You Were Here, when her son is kidnapped and taken to another realm entirely. One the one hand, at least he was kidnapped by his grandmother; on the other hand, his grandmother is darker than the Dark One. So Rumplestiltskin and Belle, while not reconciled, are now willing to work together to save him.

In the rest of the story, the end of the episode leaves the following situation: Regina and Emma trapped in an alternate dimension, where Regina may have a second chance with Robin Hood but also has a price on her head and a vengeful Alternate-Henry out to kill her; Snow and Charming still only able to be awake one at a time; Hook and Henry left to try to deal with the new threat to Storybrooke (assisted by whichever of the Charmings is awake); Zelena trusting no one; the Evil Queen turned into a cobra; and Jasmine and Aladdin (who has turned himself into a genie) disappeared to find and save their kingdom. Yay, curtain time!

The alternate dimension, created as response to the Evil Queen’s wish that Emma’s desire not to be a Saviour be granted, is quite fascinating. In it, Snow and Charming defeated the Evil Queen, who never cast the Dark Curse, and Emma was raised as a typical princess in the Enchanted Forest. Somehow, she still met Baelfire (who died honourably in battle) and had Henry, who is a young prince on the verge of knighthood. This Alternate-Henry has no connection to Regina and no qualms about attempting to kill her when she inadvertently kills the Alternate-Charmings.

What this does show is that Emma is not really Emma without being a Saviour. Regina discovers her nearly a completely different person – demure, meek, pampered, and living vicariously through her parents and her son. She does not actually seem to be happy, either. So much of our personalities and identities are shaped by our upbringing and life experiences. Emma needs to be finding and helping people. She needs to be doing something.

And now, she needs to do it in a pink fluffy dress!

6-10

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Loving the Comedy

murdochseason10titleMURDOCH MYSTERIES
Season 10, Episodes 7 & 8 (Painted Ladies)(Weekend at Murdoch’s)

10-7Refreshing for a police procedural, Murdoch Mysteries is currently on a comedy streak. It isn’t that they are making light of death (although some gallows humour naturally sneaks in), but that the show simply accepts the premise that they need to have at least one dead person per week in order to exist, so they play around with how to keep that interesting.

Painted Ladies is in of itself a dramatic episode, but it still fits the old-style comedy criteria with a happy ending and an overall light tone. Despite there being a serial killer around, our lead characters keep their wits about them and there is never any sense of panic. (This is likely due to the very specific nature of the murders – none of the police initially fit the profile of the victims.) Dr. Ogden determines that the killer used a poisoned lipstick, leading to several hilarious scenes where Murdoch and Ogden visit ladies’ shops. Murdoch is entirely out of his element and is rather surprised to find out that his wife does go giggly over jewellery and even wears makeup upon occasion. In 1904, makeup was still primarily worn by actresses, dancers, and ladies of the night. Lipstick (or “lip rouge”, as it was then called) was a seductive thing to wear. The straight-laced Murdoch is downright jumpy in these scenes – likely not wanting to mix his personal life with his murder investigation. Either way, it makes for a good mood. The actors have great comic timing.

The other main plot of this episode is Crabtree coming to terms with the possibility that his girlfriend, Nina, is involved in the crimes. Nina is a burlesque dancer with plenty of admirers, but she clearly loves Crabtree differently. Even today, such a relationship would have trust issues on Crabtree’s part. How serious is Nina about him? Well, by the end of the story, she throws out the calling cards and flirtation cards that she has received. The episode is written in such a way that the viewers are not sure which way the relationship will go. Either they would break it off, or they would confront the fact that Nina makes her living entertaining men. The viewers are left with a sweet reunion scene, but still uncertainty over whether or not things will work out. I do feel bad for them both and feel that the writers are not done with the drama of their relationship.

The actual murder plot does bear mention – it turns out to be revenge-motivated due to the bullying the murderer received as a child and teenager. It is revenge served very cold in this case. Does the murderer really get any satisfaction from it? It does appear so. Furthermore, the murderer is still feeling misunderstood and righteous once they are caught. They have so absorbed the victim mentality that they do not even care about being hanged. This is a serious consequence of repeated bullying and persecution. Even if the victim does not end up flipping out and killing their tormentors, they absorb this “us vs. them” mentality. The murderer in this case felt entirely justified.

By contrast, Weekend at Murdoch’s is an entirely comedic episode – so much so that they are able to bend the rules of police conduct in order to tell their story. It is a tribute to Weekend at Bernie’s, which I admit to having not seen, but heard much about. In order to solve their case, they need to maintain the fiction that their star witness is still alive. This involves having to parade his corpse through down with a chair that turns him into a puppet, hosting a lecture on his behalf, and spreading false news to reporters. Does it work? Well, that depends…

I do wonder what is going on with Crabtree and the reporter – they have some interesting chemistry going on. She seems to be flirting with him as much as she is interviewing him. Are the writers trying to cause more conflict in Crabtree’s life? Or is the reporter just flirtatious by nature and using it as an advantage in getting her information? Time will tell.

Also, Higgins should, in all normal situations, be suspended or even dismissed from the constabulary for his bungling of the case. Toronto is not a small town in the middle of nowhere, in which case I could understand not disciplining him because there would be so few police officers on hand. I suppose he was disciplined offscreen. Higgins is such a likeable character (even if he is annoying) that it would have hurt the comedy to see him get raked over the coals by his superiors. In the end, the case was solved. It just came unfortunately at the cost of an innocent man’s life.

But it certainly got some good laughs! We can all hope to be so useful after death.

10-8

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