Monday, September 29, 2014

The Doctor Is In

I'm probably giving away my age here, but I've been a fan of Doctor Who since Tom Baker donned an extra-long scarf and took off in the iconic blue box. My brother got me into the show, and being a fan of SF, I jumped in headfirst and never looked back.

Back then, the effects were cheesy and the companions tended to be nubile young girls in skimpy costumes, but I loved it. Going anywhere in space and time was a great conceit, and the Doctor's combination of whacky and serious was a lot of fun. He would save the universe, then offer you a Jelly Baby.

I lost touch with the show somewhere in the middle of Colin Baker's run, when I moved to an area that didn't have the love for the show I did. Once in a while, an old episode would show up on the local PBS station, but nothing I hadn't seen before.

When the show got cancelled, I hardly mourned it. I had moved on to other pursuits, was addicted to other SF universes.

I watched with great interest the one-off TV movie in the 90's, hoping it would lead to a rebirth of the franchise. It had a different flavor to it, and I found the actor playing the Doctor appealing, but it went nowhere. That was disappointing.

So I was thrilled when they brought the show back in 2005 (ye gods, has it really been back that long?). A new Doctor, a new look, and an actual effects budget! A good mix of new and old adversaries, good actors, good writing. I was again addicted. The new Doctor was haunted, lonely, but still looking for a companion to travel through space and time with, saving the universe (or just a little pocket of it) every week.

Each actor who's played the Doctor in the reboot has brought their own unique flair to the character, and I've liked them all immensely. It's funny how each time the Doctor has regenerated, the cry has gone out that he was the best Doctor ever, how can he possibly be replaced? Until the next time, when the same sentiment is exclaimed.

I was excited when they announced that Peter Capaldi would be the next Doctor. I knew of him from his other work, and of course he had already appeared on both Doctor Who and Torchwood, its spinoff. I knew he was a fan of the show from his childhood. I was glad they decided to go with an older Doctor this time; while I really like Matt Smith, the last Doctor, I was ready for someone closer to my age to play the timeless hero.

A few episodes into the new season, I'm still getting to know this Doctor. I like that he's a little grumpy sometimes, though perhaps a little too often. I really like that there's not even a hint at romance with his companion, Clara; I was getting a bit tired of every companion (except Donna, who I loved for that very reason) falling in love with the Doctor. The stories so far have been imaginative, sometimes scary and sometimes silly, and fun to watch. I'm so glad that the show is popular, and that we get to see them in the US the same day they air in the UK. We used to have to wait months before seeing new shows!

As long as the Doctor keeps flying, I'll keep watching.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Book review: HOW TO BE A WOMAN by Caitlin Moran

Book review: HOW TO BE A WOMAN by Caitlin Moran

I have to be honest and say that I'd never heard of Caitlin Moran before reading this book. I am now a big fan, and I hope she keeps writing! If you were hoping for more juicy bits from Tina Fey, Moran is your gal. She describes, in hilarious detail, growing up from age thirteen on. In between the anecdotes about changes in her body and lifestyle, she gives advice on being a feminist, and why this is a good thing. There are diatribes about the fear of body hair, pornography (not what you think), fashion, weight obsession, and plenty more to keep you laughing as you nod in agreement.

Every teenage girl should read this book, and take Moran's advice. The world would be a much saner place.

There is a chapter titled "Why you should have children," immediately followed by one titled "Why you shouldn't have children." She laments the state of role models in the media, then tells a great story about going out with Lady Gaga.

She even gets into the sticky subject of abortion, and tells her story with intelligence and thoughtfulness, as well as humor.

If only more people were as level-headed as Moran (and as funny), there would be a lot less conflict (and a lot more fun) in the world. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Book review: I SUCK AT GIRLS by Justin Halpern

I SUCK AT GIRLS by Justin Halpern

You're probably aware of the Twitter feed "Sh*t My Dad Says," along with the bestselling book and the TV show starring William Shatner. Yes, The Shat. If you're not, you're in for a treat. Basically, the author writes down stuff his dad says, which is always hilarious, and tweets it. This evolved into a bestselling book and then a TV show.

In his new book, Halpern chronicles the evolution of his relationships with girls (and then women) until he meets and falls in love with the woman he wants to marry. Interspersed throughout is wisdom from his dad, including the advice to take a day off and think about everything he's learned about women and love, and from those musings comes this book.

Halpern is a funny writer and a good storyteller; his reminiscences from his early childhood through his 'teens & twenties are full of poignant, awkward, and funny bits that make you smile with recognition. They don't teach this stuff in school, and it's refreshing to see that others blunder through just as blindly. You laugh because that's all you can do; it's funny because we've all been there. If you're looking for a quick, light read that will leave you smiling, this is the book for you.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Book review: JACKIE AFTER O by Tina Cassidy

JACKIE AFTER O: One Remarkable Year When Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Defied Expectations & Rediscovered Her Dreams

by Tina Cassidy

I have to admit that before I read this book, I didn't know a whole lot about Jackie. I knew who she was, of course, and could remember a few salacious "JACKIE O!" headlines in the tabloids from the time this book is set (1975), but to me she was just a famous person in big sunglasses whose life I couldn't really imagine. The few items I'd read from her White House years made me think she was a typical 50's housewife, content to raise the kids and go shopping while her husband saved the free world from Soviet bombs (and carried on affairs with multiple women). I didn't think she was all that bright. I never really gave a thought to what her life must have been like, except to be sad for her that her husband was killed in such a public and awful manner.

What I didn't know was that she was very well educated, well-read, and interested in history to the extent that she helped save Lafayette Square in Washington D.C. while in the White House. She restored that house into a museum of American craftsmanship and art after decades of neglect. There was a lot more to her than just a fashion plate.

Cassidy gives plenty of background, and meticulously cites sources for events and dialogue. She brings together a narrative that gives a clear picture of what was going on in Jackie's life the year her second husband, Aristotle Onassis, died, and how she put her life back together in New York, going into the publishing industry. You learn how and why Jackie chose such a seemingly odd occupation for herself, and how she flourished there. In the midst of the second wave of feminism, she broke out of the mold of women who acted dumber than they were to get a man, and chose a career not for the money, but for fulfillment.

This book fills in the gap between the double widow and the professional editor and conservationist that made up the public image of one of the most famous women of the 20th century, touching on her relationships with her kids, her sister, and her step family and famous in-laws. If you are fascinated with Jackie, as so many people still are, this book is for you. I certainly have a new appreciation for and admiration of her.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Book review: THE TINY BOOK OF TINY STORIES volume 1 by Joseph Gordon-Levitt

If you enjoy storytelling and collaborative artforms, THE TINY BOOK OF TINY STORIES volume 1 is a treasure waiting to be discovered.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt (yes, the actor) is the director of hitRECord, an "open-collaborative production company," which encourages anyone to contribute "records" (creative content) that others can use in collaborative projects, some of which get produced and sold. They split profits 50/50 with contributors, and use their cut to finance more projects.

Their latest production is this book, which is a delightful collection of tiny stories (natch) paired with whimsical illustrations. The stories will make you smile, laugh, groan, and think.

The book really is tiny, too; smaller than your average paperback, yet with a hardcover: perfect for slipping in your bag and taking out to share a story and a smile. I got no further than the third story before I was sharing with co-workers passing by, and giggling throughout.

The best part is the subtitle: volume 1. That means there will be more! Perhaps you will be inspired to contribute to the next volume.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt on Twitter

hitRECord on Twitter

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Book review: HAMLET'S BLACKBERRY by William Powers

HAMLET'S BLACKBERRY: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age
by William Powers

I've been feeling overwhelmed lately by the demands of the various online communities and social networking sites to which I belong. Well, not just lately; a few months ago, I actually did a major purge of Facebook, 'unfriending' everyone to whom I didn't feel I had a real connection. It was over 200 people, which boggles the mind. Two hundred people I had 'friended' just to, what? I wasn't sure. Which is why I cut them loose. I haven't missed a single one.

But still, my digital, online life has been taking up far too much of my time, so when I saw this book offered for review by Harper Perennial, I jumped at it. And I'm really glad I did. I was recommending this book before I'd even finished it.

The first part of the book is about how connected we are, and how this is causing stress and other problems in our lives. Powers uses personal anecdotes as well as general stories to illustrate his points, using himself and his family as examples to bring home the impact of all the screens in our lives, as he puts it. Being connected is a good thing, he says, but it's taking over our existence.

In part II, he explores seven thinkers and philosophers from history, from Plato to McLuhan, and how they dealt with changing technologies in their times. Being overwhelmed by the crowd, as new technologies bring them into our homes and lives, is nothing new. What's interesting is how they managed to integrate these technologies into their daily lives without letting them take over, and how that pertains to us now. Then, as now, there was often a backlash against new tech. An example Powers uses is the recent resurgence of the popularity of Moleskine notebooks (of which I am also a fan: I love carrying around a little notebook to write snippets in as I think of them). Something that would have been high tech a few hundred years ago is now retro cool, and that's a good thing.

The last part of the book is about putting into practice ways to break away from the addiction to screens, both computers and smartphones. As an experiment, he and his family declare weekends to be Digital Sabbaths (something the Rowdy Kittens website calls Digital Sabbaticals), when the modem is unplugged and mobile phones turned off. It takes them a while to get used to it, but eventually it's something they all look forward to, and it makes them closer as a family.

This is something I'd like to put into practice myself: make at least one day per week a connection-free day, and not go online at all. I spend far too much time checking Facebook, Twitter, LiveJournal, and now Google+ multiple times per day. And I don't even have a smartphone! It would be ten times worse, I'm sure, if I did. And yet, I still want one. I find it annoying when people I'm with keep checking their phones, yet would I be like that if I had one? Probably.

I do make a conscious effort to step away from the computer when I'm at home, going out for walks or into the living room to read or write (on paper, with a pen, even!). But as soon as I get home, or finish a chapter, I'm back at the screen, checking email or what have you. It truly is an addiction. I feel like this book has given me the tools to break that addiction, or at least manage it.

What I liked best about this book is its emphasis on creating and maintaining human interactions, with depth and connection you can't get in the small, quick world of the screens. You can make deep and lasting connections with people online, but don't forget the flesh-and-blood humans in your life as well. And don't forget to stop and smell the roses.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

DEVOTION a memoir by Dani Shapiro

I don't remember what initially attracted me to this book, but when it was offered by Harper Perennial for review, it somehow intrigued me and I requested it. I had not read any of Shapiro's other books, and memoirs are not my usual fare, but the spiritual quest has always been something that I've identified with, and I guess I was curious to read about another person's personal quest.

The funny thing is, I got two or three chapters in before I remembered that this was not fiction. The short chapters, which jumped around in time and place, initially put me off until I remembered that that's how my mind works, too: jumping from place to place, as thoughts lead to other thoughts, memories lead to other memories. It's how the story of life is told; not in a linear fashion, but in snippets of pertinent information that, in the end, form a whole story.

Even though I don't have much in common with the author (she's married, with a child, privileged, and Jewish), her journey is a universal one, and her questions are ones we all ask at some point in our lives. Her quest begins with a query from her son: What do we believe? She seeks answers through her yoga practice, through exploring her Judaism, from a Buddhist teacher, and from her extended family.

I found Shapiro's exploration of her relationship with her parents interesting, as well as her disconnect from her relatives and their unquestioning faith. I identified with her connection to the rituals of her youth, and how they strengthened her connection to her family despite her lack of belief.

I also identified with her initial dismissal of people who use the smorgasbord approach to spirituality as dabblers with commitment issues, but ultimately embraced the idea as valid because, for many people, it works. What brings you inner peace is what works for you.

If you are a spiritual seeker (of any stripe), I recommend this book for its honesty and insight into the psyche of a seeker.

This new trade paperback edition includes an interview with the author from ELLE magazine, and an essay about its creation by Shapiro.

$14.99 from Harper Perennial.