Wednesday, June 25, 2008


I honestly find it impossible to write about all the things I love about the new BBC series Cranford in a blog post of moderate length. Every detail contributes something extraordinary, including the quaintly animated opening credits to the stunningly composed scenes and beautiful photography, to a perfect British cast (Judi Dench, Michael Gambon, etc.), to the fact it’s an adaptation of an Elizabeth Gaskell novel. Likewise, it doesn’t hurt that Cranford was created by the two women (Sue Birtwistle and Susie Conklin) responsible for BBC’s excellent Pride and Prejudice and Wives and Daughters.

Now, I must fess up that I’ve not read Cranford, so I can’t say from firsthand experience how the show compares to the novel. However, I’ve read in online forums that even where they’ve added a bit to the storyline (it’s a relatively short novel, apparently), Birtwistle and Conklin stay true to Gaskell’s work. They even include several subtle jabs at Charles Dickens (a mentor of Gaskell's).

Chris and I laughed more in the first episode of this show than the entire P&P series (and I always laugh a great deal at that one). Cranford is a town full of gossiping (but not unkind) spinsters, so much of the humor features the hysterical Imelda Staunton jogging flustered and frumpily through the streets, nearly apoplectic to convey the latest news. My favorite character is the stalwart and puritanical Deborah, played by the marvelous Eileen Atkins. Here’s a sample of the first exchange that made Chris and I rock with laughter.

Deborah: I would prefer it if I did not enjoy oranges. Consuming them is a most incommodious business.
Matilda (Deborah's sister): There is not such a lot of juice, Deborah dear, when sliced with a knife.
Mary (Deborah & Mattie's young guest): At home, we make a hole in our oranges…and we suck them.
Deborah registers a silent expression of abject horror.
Matilda: That is the way I like to take them best, but Deborah says it is vulgar and altogether redolent of a ritual undertaken by little babies.... My sister does not care for the expression: suck.
Deborah cringes.
Deborah [in an authoritative tone]: We will repair to our rooms and eat our fruit in solitude.

The series is not only a comedy, and there are so many moving storylines and touching moments I can't begin to summarize them here. The many strong females are the backbone of the town, whereas the male characters are somewhat muted and incidental. However, there is one subplot I especially like about an estate agent working quietly and secretly to educate the young son (played by the adorable Alex Etel of Millions) of a degenerate squatter.

Everyone in Cranford has strong opinions. Many seem biased and regimented to a fault, yet every character has moments when she or he shows compassion to another person. The show has everything from cows in pajamas to funerals and romance, and I'm planning to buy the series to watch over and over again.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Significant Dates

2008 features a host of new releases from some of my favorite series and authors (all of which I've reviewed earlier on my blog). Here are the upcoming releases I anticipate most:

The Midnight Folk,
John Masefield (NYR Children's Collection): After being enchanted by Masefield's The Box of Delights during advent this year, I was both thrilled to hear tale of a prequel and distraught to find it out of print. Luckily for me, the industrious drones at the NYRCC are featuring it as one of their beautiful new editions. The fact that it's being released on my birthday is akin to adding vanilla ice cream to cherry pie. Release date: 9/30

Uncle Cleans Up, J.P. Martin (NYR Children's Collection): My adoration of J.P. Martin is comparable to Masefield, and again the NYRCC saves the day by providing me with a second farcical collection of stories about Uncle the benevolent millionaire elephant. Release date: 6/24

Superior Saturday, Garth Nix: This is volume six in the Keys to the Kingdom series by Nix, a captivating fantasy series aimed at preteens. It's coming out on the eve of my baby's due date. Will I have time to read it if baby is running late, or will I be too overwhelmed to read it if baby is born early? Either way I'm sure I'll manage to order it for my eventual enjoyment. Release date: 8/1

The Pirates! In An Adventure with Napoleon,
Gideon Defoe: Defoe's fourth book about a zany collective of pirates and their ludicrous adventures with historical and fictional characters promises to be just as funny as the other books. A snippet of Napoleon is available on his comical website. Release date: It is already out in the UK but not yet in the US.

To round things up, I'll mention the other series I'm eager to continue. I reviewed the first book of the Percy Jackson and Olympians series by Rick Riordan, but as I continued with volumes two through four of the series, I enjoyed it more and more. Now I'm dangling on cliff's edge as I await Riordan's next offering, and there's no word on when that release will be. Alas! But the kindly Mr. Riordan has provided a list of recommended young adult lit for greedy, impatient readers like myself on his website.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Snail with Character and Two Dull Young Men

I probably post more quotes from Wodehouse novels on my site than from any other author, but I find them endlessly amusing. In this case, the excerpt comes from the excellent Sam the Sudden, one of my new favorites. Wodehouse has a gift for metaphor, as I've mentioned before, and he also attributes hilariously introspective personality traits to animals and inanimate objects. In this case, I offer you a simile about a dog named Amy, followed by possibly the most ever written about a snail in Western literature:

"Like Niobe, she [Amy the dog] had mourned and would not be comforted. But now, to judge from her manner and a certain jauntiness in her walk, she had completely resigned herself to the life of exile."

"By nature sociable, she [Amy the dog] yearned for company, and for some minutes roamed the garden in quest of it. She found a snail under a laurel bush, but snails are reserved creatures, self-centered and occupied with their own affairs, and this one cut Amy dead, retreating into its shell with a frigid aloofness which made anything in the nature of camaraderie out of the question."

Another of Wodehouse's gifts is in conveying a character's manner of speech secondhand. In this case, the omniscient narrator describes the comments of two "rabbit-faced" young men at a dinner party.

"'I gave her a plot for a story,' said Sam.

One of the rabbit-faced young men said that he could never understand how fellows--or women, for that matter--thought up ideas for stories--or plays, for the matter of that--or, as a matter of fact, any sort of ideas, for that matter.

'This,' Sam explained, 'was something that actually happened--to a friend of mine.'

The other rabbit-faced young man said that something extremely rummy had once happened to a pal of his. He had forgotten what it was, but it had struck him at the time as distinctly rummy."

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Morning Walks

Ever since moving into our new neighborhood, Ickie and I have taken a 2+ mile loop nearly every morning--I walk it and he runs it. Here are some of the things I've enjoyed on my morning waddle.
  • yammering swans on the Presumpscot River
  • the aroma of greasy Mexican food from the Fajita Grill
  • a blood-red cardinal
  • Saccarappa Falls by the old Dana Warp Mill
  • huge blooming bushes of forsythia, rhododendron, and lilac
  • a sleek black kitten with bright jade-green eyes
  • the towering stone of St. Hyacinth's Catholic Church
  • a white-spotted chipmunk
  • dome-covered desserts on the counter of Olivia's diner
  • toddlers hassling the seagulls hassling the ducks in the park
  • aimless teens hanging out on the railroad bridge
  • a house that smells like sauerkraut
  • little league baseball games on Saturday mornings
  • neighborly pedestrians who make room on the path for the pregnant woman
  • the hot dog cart next to the playground, crowded with children
Update (06/15/08): The other morning I saw a man riding down Main Street on one of these. Sadly, he was not arrayed in period costume and handlebar mustache to match. He just looked like he was riding to work, which actually made it all the more curious.