Tag Archives: Aisha

Reading about TV

Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos to The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad by Brett Martin is an interesting read for anyone who wants to hear more about how some of the most critically acclaimed TV shows of the past fifteen years were made. Martin refers to the time we’re living in as the “Third Golden Age of TV” (the first being the earliest days of television and the second being the 1980s) and Difficult Men gives you access to the process of writing, selling, and producing a TV show. The title is not only about the characters in the TV shows it mentions (Tony Soprano from The Sopranos, Vic Mackey from The Shield, and Walter White from Breaking Bad to name a few), but also about the (mostly) men who brought these characters to the screen.

I learned quite a bit while reading the book. For instance,

  • The Sopranos was shopped to CBS, NBC, and ABC who all passed. I can’t imagine how that show would have even worked on those networks and HBO picking it up was the spark that led to some of the best TV shows we have today.
  • Ed O’Neill, who played Al Bundy on Married with Children was the first choice to play Deadwood’s foul-mouthed saloon owner Al Swearengen (portrayed excellently by Ian McShane). That sounded amusing to me until I remembered Katey Sagal who played Peggy Bundy on Married with Children does an amazing job on Sons of Anarchy playing the occasionally foul-mouthed wife of a outlaw biker.
  • AMC executives didn’t think Jon Hamm was sexy (WHAT?!?!) and had doubts about casting him as Don Draper in Mad Men.
  • For me, the best sections of the book discussed David Simon, creator of two of my favorite TV shows, Homicide: Life on the Streets and The Wire. Martin writes about Simon’s dismay that people viewed The Wire as entertainment and didn’t focus on the political message he was trying to get across. He said, “It’s our job to be entertaining. I understand I must make you care about my characters. That’s the fundamental engine of drama. It’s the engine. But it’s not the purpose.”
  • One of my favorite quotes from the book is by Martin who writes about fans of The Wire trying to get their friends to watch it by overcoming “the suspicion that it was homework, TV that was good for you but not at all a good time.” He then goes into a paragraph about season four of The Wire which is the one I always tell people I’m recommending the show to to “email me when you watch that. You’re going to need someone to talk to.” That season wrecked me. I’ve rewatched The Wire twice and skipped that season because I could not handle it. (It’s excellent writing and acting and you should watch it.)
  • Books led to some of these shows being made. Simon’s books Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets and The Corner were the influences of Homicide and The Wire. The books The American Way of Death by Jessica Mitford and The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade by Thomas Lynch influenced Alan Ball’s creation of Six Feet Under.

Even if you only enjoy one or two of the shows Martin writes about, this book would still be a wonderful read because it illustrates much of what it is to create and the various ways in which some of the really dark and complex TV shows that are popular now came to be.

Here are some other books about TV that you might find interesting:

Happier Days     Television's Second Golden Age     Those Guys Have All the Fun      Top of the Morning

Happier Days : Paramount Television’s Classic Sitcoms, 1974-1984 by Marley Brant

The Revolution Was Televised: The Crooks, Cops, Slingers, and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever by Alan Sepinwall

Television’s Second Golden Age: From Hill Street Blues to ER : Hill Street Blues, thirtysomething, St. Elsewhere, China Beach, Cagney & Lacey, Twin Peaks, Moonlighting, Northern Exposure, L.A. Law, Picket Fences : with brief reflections on Homicide, NYPD Blue, & Chicago Hope, and Other Quality Dramas by Robert J. Thompson

Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN by James A. Miller

Top of the Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must-See TV by Warren Littlefield

Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV by Brian Stelter

What Would Murphy Brown Do?: How the Women of Prime Time Changed Our Lives by Allison Klein



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Ten Things About “Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Love” by Sarah Butler

  1. Reading it took my breath away. The writing is simple but true.
  2. Lists start each chapter with the two main characters, Alice and Daniel, writing their own. “Ten Things I’m Frightened Of”, “Ten Things People Say to You When Your Father Dies”, and “Ten Things I’d Rather Forget” are a few of them. It’s a good writing technique and helps the reader find out a lot about a character’s interior thoughts in a small amount of words.
  3. Daniel has synesthesia so sees words and letters as colors. He describes someone’s name as “the color of sun-warmed sandstone”. The letter D is “a pale orange, like powdered sherbet”. Alice’s name is the color of “milky blue water”.
  4. Butler does a wonderful job of capturing the ache of wanting someone to love you.
  5. Daniel walks around London, collecting things like bottle tops, paper clips, a string of plastic pearls, and an empty photo frame to make found art he uses to express himself.
  6. This sounds weird, but I felt like my heart was also reading and reacting along with me.
  7. “When the whisky is finished, I screw the top back on and slam the bottle into the ground. It doesn’t break. I want something to break.” Those lines perfectly capture the frustration of feeling broken and wanting anything around you to be broken, too.
  8. Butler’s writing style put me so into the novel that when a character was distracted, I felt it, too. A character’s thoughts would interrupt lines of dialogue and leave me with their feelings of uncertainty in my head.
  9. Lines like these: “And I carried on doing what I’ve been doing for years. I have written your name more times than I can remember. Always, at the beginning, I write your name.”
  10. I didn’t want it to be over.

Ten Things I've Learnt About Love

Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Love is the debut novel of Sarah Butler. Alice is the youngest of three sisters and has never felt a true part of the family since her mother died when Alice was young. She’s off in Mongolia, escaping heartache, when she hears that her father is dying and returns in time to be there when he dies. Daniel is homeless and looking for the daughter he’s never met. We watch as these two slowly come together. As I mentioned before, Butler’s writing is simple but true and shows how the hope of love can root us when nothing else can. I really look forward to Butler’s future work.



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Maybe in This Lifetime

I use Goodreads to keep track of books I’ve read and want to read and every time I put another book in my “to read” list, I feel like I’m setting myself up for failure. I understand that I will never be able to read every book published and I’m fine with that. I just want to read every book I want to read and don’t seem to be making any headway. Even though I tell myself not to put any more books on my list until I finish a book or to review my current “to read” list to make sure I still want to read the books on the list, I never listen. The list grows and grows. Because not all books are created equal, there are some books in which I’m more interested in than others. Here are some books that scream at me when I look at my Goodreads list.


At the Mouth of the River of Bees     The Collected Stories of Grace Paley    TheInterestings

SalvagetheBones     The Savage Detectives

At the Mouth of the River of Bees: Stories by Kij Johnson

  • This is a book of science fiction short stories and while I read a lot of short stories, I haven’t read a lot of sci-fi short stories. The titles of the stories (“Schrödinger’s Cathouse”, “My Wife Reincarnated as a Solitaire”, and “The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change” are a few) make me think these stories will be ambitious and very interesting.

The Collected Stories of Grace Paley by Grace Paley

  • I initially was interested in this book because it’s a. short stories and b. for some reason, I had confused Grace Paley with Grace Coddington and wanted to see what kind of stories Coddington had written. (Don’t worry about me; I’m fine.) Once I realized they were not the same person, I did a little research into Paley and she sounds like she was an interesting woman and was multi-talented, also writing poetry.

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

  • I started this book about a group of adults who met at summer camp when they were young are still friends years later a couple of months ago, but didn’t have time to finish it. I really enjoyed what I read and have been hoping to get back to it. I also think the cover is beautiful.

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

  • Taking place in Mississippi right before, during, and just after Hurricane Katrina, Salvage the Bones follows the Batiste family as they deal with the storm along with their daily lives which are difficult enough in their poverty-stricken household.

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño

  • Out of all the books on this list, this is probably the one I’ll get to next. Two founders of a poetry movement attempt to track down a vanished poet and end up on the run. The story follows them through several continents and is narrated by the people they encounter. I’ve also heard good things about Bolaño’s 2666 so may put that on my never-ending list once I finish The Savage Detectives.


The Antidote     Bruce     Detroit

Her     Salt Sugar Fat

The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman

Bruce by Peter Ames Carlin

  • Since I’m from Indiana, I should probably have John Mellencamp’s biography on this list, but if I had to choose between reading a bio of Springsteen or reading a bio of Mellencamp, I’d probably choose Springsteen. (Sorry, John. It’s nothing personal. I used to dance in front of the TV when you came on. I remember you when you were John Cougar Mellencamp. I went to grad school near your town and never once stalked you. I sing your songs way more than I sing Springsteen songs. I respect you. I just think Bruce’s biography might be slightly more interesting.)

Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff

  • While I know a little about why the city of Detroit has declined, I’ve not yet sat down and read a book about it. LeDuff, a reporter and native of Detroit, dissects what led to Detroit’s decline with what I’ve heard is a darkly humorous eye.

Her by Christa Parravani

  • I had this checked out and returned it because I had just finished Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites by Kate Christensen and didn’t think I was in a place to read another memoir just yet. Her is about twins, the author, Christa, and her sister, Cara. Both talented artists, their lives split apart and Cara dies while Christa struggles with being alone without her twin.

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss

  • This has been recommended to me by several people. I don’t usually like to know how bad for me the food I’m eating is, but this sounds more like an investigative book and less like a health book so I’m more likely to read it and enjoy it.

Are there books you keep intending to read, but somehow they keep getting pushed down your to-read list? Or are you able to keep a tight rein on your to-read list? (If so, please tell me how.)



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Behold: Our Bêtes Noires

bête noire. Noun. Something that is particularly disliked. A person or thing that one particularly dislikes or dreads.  

Collins English Dictionary

Admit it: somewhere out there, there’s a book you tried to read and just…couldn’t. Even people who force themselves to finish every book they pick up meet their Waterloo somewhere. Thankfully, you’re not alone. One of our regular readers, Valerie, had this to say about her experience of reading Proust:

It started out as a noble effort. I was trying to be cultured and well-read: I was going to read In Search of Lost Time and I was going to read the whole thing. I was so confident that I didn’t even consider aiming just to read Swann’s Way. I ordered the entire set–seven volumes of Proust, in all his glory, 4,211 pages of beautiful, enchanting, intellect-affirming prose. Boy, was I going to feel good about myself when I was done. After all, Edmund White called In Search of Lost Time “the most respected novel of the twentieth century.” Harold Bloom agreed with him. For heaven’s sake, Michael Chabon said it was his favorite book, and he’s a cool dude.

As it turns out, Edmund, Harold, and Michael are all crazy. The main character starts off a sniveling, whiny little brat who won’t stop bugging his mother about coming to kiss him goodnight. Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s about the experience of love and memory and anxiety, but still, I wanted to kick that kid. And he really doesn’t get less annoying from there. Then there’s that thing where he goes on and on about the cookie, and again, yes, I know: this is a beautiful, iconic scene. But the fact of the matter is that it’s a little sponge cake. It isn’t even warm and gooey and full of chocolate chips, so really, who cares?

Proust may not be your bugbear, but many of us on the Eleventh Stack team have felt Valerie’s pain via one book or another. We’re guessing you have, too. In today’s post, our team members reveal the books they simply couldn’t bring themselves to finish (though some are still open to trying again).

Behold: our bêtes noires.


Aisha- It’s Not Me, It’s You

Best book ever? I will never know.

Best book ever? I will never know.

I didn’t start reading Janet Evanovich‘s Stephanie Plum novels until 2006 so I was late to the party. And it was a party. I loved them. They were amusing and a quick read. I read them rapidly until I was caught up, then waited for the new ones to come out. And then something happened: I stopped enjoying them. I still read them, but it felt like an obligation. I had read 14 of them, 15 of them, 16 of them; I had to keep going, right? When Notorious Nineteen came out, I started to read it and then realized I didn’t want or have to finish it. What was the point? It seemed to be the same story over and over. Stephanie accidentally shoots her gun. Grandma Mazur goes to the funeral home. Lula wears brightly colored spandex and eats a lot. Stephanie thinks about Morelli. Stephanie thinks about Ranger. A car blows up. And? It felt like breaking up with someone I’d been with a long time. Maybe Notorious Nineteen was the best of the series, but I’ll never know. When it’s over, it’s over. And it’s over, Janet.


There was a time, when I was younger, that I finished every book I picked up. Part of the reason was, I remembered reading To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. Up to about page 100, I thought it was one of the worst things I ever read. At page 100 it took off, and, amazingly, it is, to this day, one of my favorite novels. So, there’s the cautionary tale of giving up too soon.

I wish I could say the same thing about Salman Rushdie‘s Midnight’s Children, a book that, three quarters of the way through, I literally threw across the room with a resounding thump on the bungalow wall. Why? Well, the man’s ego was so large that he, in my estimation, had literally crowded the remaining 200 or so pages of the book, so I was done anyway.


Middlemarch, by George EliotMiddlemarch. Oh, how I hate you, Middlemarch. This weighty and terrible tome was forced upon me when I was a freshman in college. That very same year, one week into my first semester of college, I was in a rather nasty car accident. I was GRATEFUL for that car accident because it gave me an excuse to drop that particular English class and cast aside the epic preachy tediousness of this book.

Alas, I was forced back into its pages as a junior, but even then I still never managed to get more than two-thirds of the way through the damn thing. I just could not feel any sympathy for that chick (Dorothea something?) when she married the old preacher dude (cause she thought she was being all noble and shit) and then fell for his hot cousin (the only interesting person in the book). HEY LADY, YOU MADE YOUR CHOICE. YOU DIDN’T HAVE TO MARRY THE OLD DUDE. DEAL WITH IT.

P.S. I also hate Charles Dickens. Sorry, Don.


My history of unfinished books is long and sordid.  It is an occupational hazard.  A book that seems so promising when it arrives at the library is left behind, mid-page,  for a new, shiny book, and soon forgotten. A recent title that has been returned to the library, swearing that I would one day pick back up, is New Jersey NoirThis series covers all kinds of cities and places, from Pittsburgh to Kingston.  I love the idea of this noir series!  And how perfectly campy is a New Jersey collection?!?!  Sadly, I had to stop reading it after the story of a murder in Hoboken gave me nightmares.  Horror stories tend to do that to me. I promised myself one day I’ll go back and finish the other stories, but that was books and books ago…

Leigh Anne

Dear David Foster Wallace, wherever you are:

I wish you were still with us here, and still writing. From what I’ve read about you thus far, you were a genius, the kind of person who makes some people uncomfortable and gives others hope. But I hope that, wherever you are, you can forgive me for just not being smart enough to understand what you were trying to do in Infinite Jest. The joke is clearly on me, because I just don’t get it. At all. There’s a movie that cracks people up, quite literally, and tennis, and addiction, and satire, and and and. It’s just all too much. Mind you, I’ve read Finnegans Wake cover to cover, on purpose, so it’s not like I can’t handle a good mental workout. Still. Everybody’s brain has a limit.

You’ll have to forgive me. I really appreciate your genius, from a distance. But nobody likes to feel stupid. So I’m just going to acknowledge that you were smarter than I will ever be, and walk away slowly…


Like Leigh Anne, I put the tiniest of dents in Infinite Jest before wanting to hurl the book across the room. But that book is heavy (1079 pages!), so I just set it down gently and gave it the stink-eye… I’m really here to talk about World War Z, though. I get why this book works for some folks, but the things that didn’t work for me – non-linear plot told through vignettes, no true central character to provide an emotional core – were enough that I couldn’t finish it. The lack of connection and jumping around so much you feel worn out very much serve a purpose, however I almost wish Brooks had focused on just a few locations and spent longer chapters exploring how they were affected.


Great GatsbyI am so ashamed to admit that I cannot bring myself to read The Great Gatsby. I have picked it up three or four times in the past 30 years, the latest being right before the Leonardo DiCaprio movie came out. I read just a little beyond the first chapter every time. It is on quite a few lists of books that people read more than once. I already know the whole plot, and I grew up on Long Island so I know the area that the story is set. Maybe knowing too much about it is the very reason I just can’t bring myself to stick with it. My expectation is too high and I’m not enthralled at the outset. I will watch the movie anyway.



When I was in my twenties, I tried to read all the widely reviewed books that appeared on the New York Times Best Seller list. But now, twenty years later, I’m somewhat ruthless when it comes to giving books a chance. I usually aim for one chapter but I can usually tell if a book is for me just from reading a few paragraphs. The one book that comes to mind that I just could not finish is an older book that was a huge bestseller (and was also made into a movie): The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. I tried so hard to get into this book but it  didn’t work for me as the author’s voice just didn’t speak to me. And, while I understand that there are different books for different times for different people, I still have no desire to try this one again.


(who fancies herself to be the little red-haired girl, when she’s actually probably more of a Marcie!)

peanutsSchulz and Peanuts: A Biography, David Michaelis. I love biographies. I love Peanuts. This book’s cover looked like Charlie Brown’s shirt, which I also love. What I didn’t love was this book. 566 pages of biography + 6 pages of acknowledgements + 58 pages of source notes + a 22 page index = a comprehensive tome about this iconic cartoonist. But as we all know, quantity does not always equal quality.

But maybe it is a high-quality work. Anyone looking for background information on Charles Schulz, minutiae even, will find this a fabulous read, I’m sure. If you’ve ever wanted to know why Charlie Brown could never seem to get ahead in the game of life, knowing Schulz’s history will help you figure out exactly where he was coming from. But when I got to page 200 and and the Peanuts gang had not yet made an appearance, I got fed up with Schulz’s self-centered, self-deprecating (and not in the endearing way), dopey personality and gave up!

As I skim through the book now, I think that if I had made it just a little bit further–closer to page 260–I would have seen the Peanuts characters come to life and even found out who the inspirations were for each one. I did appreciate the family photographs and comic strips scattered throughout. They were a welcome break from all that text!


Damascus Countdown / Joel C. Rosenberg


Synopsis: Israel has launched a first strike on Iran, taking out all of their nuclear sites and six of their nuclear warheads. The Twelfth Imam has ordered a full-scale retaliation. CIA operative David Shirazi has infiltrated the Iranian regime and intercepted information indicating that two Iranian nuclear warheads survived and have been moved to a secure and undisclosed location. David and his team are in a race against time to find the remaining nuclear warheads before disaster strikes.

Rosenberg does a credible job with the raw material he has – it’s today, it’s the headlines and it’s ripe for a Tom Clancy like techno-thriller follow through, which is what I thought this was.  It is to a good degree, but like the TV huckster says “but wait, there’s more.”  I had no inkling that this Rosenberg writes Christian fiction, which I didn’t discover until I started reading.  Not my cup-o-tea to begin with, but this isn’t just inspirational, this is in-your-face Messianic Fiction.  Where Rosenberg lost me, to the point I stopped reading, are the overt Messianic references and placement.  As good as the rest of the story components are, the messianic references are so unsubtle and out of place / out of character, they failed to hold the story together for me; especially the wishfully thought-out Iranian Shiite converts who seamlessly can include the Gospels in their principal conversations about reactors and radiation levels.

The Decameron / Giovanni Boccaccio


Synopsis: In the early summer of 1348, as a terrible plague ravages the city, ten charming young Florentines take refuge in country villa to tell each other stories—a hundred stories of love, adventure and surprising twists of fortune. Boccaccio has little time for chastity, pokes fun at crafty, hypocritical clerics and celebrates the power of passion to overcome obstacles and social divisions.

Maybe I’m just not enamored of pre-Renaissance literature, but I couldn’t make it past the first chapter. It felt contrived and forced.  The story concept is fascinating and I thoroughly enjoyed the book’s forward.  It think my problem is I don’t feel comfortable around translations; I already know that nuances and intent get lost from the original language so I’m already leery.  As easily as I can visualize Napoleon, Alexander or Hannibal in their milieus, I have as hard a time visualizing and believing the 14th Century setting – puffy sleeves and leggings. I can’t say I read enough of this work it to criticize the writing, but Boccaccio and Nichols (the translator) didn’t make it interesting enough to keep me reading on.  


Why I failed to love Glen Cook’s Black Company novels, and why I will try to love them again:

Glen Cook’s expertly written fantasy fiction should’ve been right up my alley. He adroitly blends powerful magic and other fantastic elements with gritty military themes to tell the story of the eponymous Black Company a mercenary unit with a 500 year history of war and conquest. While others have compared Cook’s style to the spartan prose of Elmore Leonard, I find that some of his descriptions–or lack thereof–act as barriers to my understanding of the action.

While I like flawed characters as much as the next post-modern reader, I also found it hard to settle on a character to focus on and root for. Cook’s employment of an odd, first-person present tense narrative perspective also presents a challenge to someone more comfortable with third person omniscient perspective. While I don’t mind first person stories, the strange immediacy of Cook’s narrator just feels weird to me. Read this excerpt from his publisher’s website to better see what I am trying to explain here.

All of my misgivings and bad experiences aside, there remains gold in those hills. I fully plan to return to The Black Company saga for a second go-round. It took me two tries to fully love Frank Herbert’s Dune and now I re-read that every two years or so, so I will not hesitate to climb back into the saddle with the grizzled vets of Cook’s Black Company.


DickensClassic I can’t and won’t finish: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

I had to read Great Expectations by Charles Dickens for my 9th grade English class. Keep in mind, I have always been an avid reader and I usually read whatever was assigned to me. However, due to my general dislike of overdramatic behavior (even as a teenager), I hated every single character in Great Expectations from the door. I read the first two “Stages of Pip’s Expectations.” I never started the third. In fact, to this day over twenty years later, I have no idea how it ends. Never bothered to find out, don’t care; even for this post I still haven’t looked it up, still don’t care.

I thought Pip was an idealistic dipstick with unrealistic expectations. Then he got money and acted like a jerk. I was completely unsympathetic to his plight because he should have known better. Done with Pip. Then there is the cruel Estella, with her whole “I don’t have a heart” thing. Hyperbole much? Give a rest, lady. But it was Miss Havisham that really rubbed the 14-year-old me the wrong way. Is there anyone in the history of literature more self-indulgent and frankly, hysterical than that old bat? You got jilted at the alter so your entire life stopped and you never took off the wedding dress? That is too ridiculous for words and also totally unhygienic. (Seriously. Gross.) There is no man on earth worth that nonsense. Then, crazypants, you raise an orphan to exact vengeance? No. Just no. And if you see me, don’t tell me the ending. I like a little mystery in my life.

FranzenContemporary Novel I can’t and won’t finish: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

I think this was book club book, but I can’t remember because of the PTSD the first two hundred pages of this book caused me. Freedom actually made me dislike Jonathan Franzen. (I later saw him speak at the Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures Monday night lecture series and he was fantastic; engaging, funny, and not at all the intellectual snob I was expecting.) As with Great Expectations, I hated all the characters and also found them and the entire story completely unbelievable. (And I completely swallowed whole books like A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving and The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. So I can suspend my disbelief.)

Tedium abounds in Freedom. I found the dialogue artificial and even odd. I can’t imagine anyone in a relationship talking like Walt and Patty. And Patty’s autobiography, ugh. (If you want to see how an autobiography/diary can be worked into a novel well, read I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb.) As to the plot: Really, uber-liberal couple, you’d let your teenage son move in with a bunch of hardcore Republicans? Or a talented athlete snowed by a weird fan? With its shallow and unlikeable characters and tiresome plot; I believe I can live a full and happy life without finishing this novel.


For more abandoned books, and why they were put down, see The Paris Review and Barnes and Noble blogs.  We’re truly sorry if we’ve carved up one of your sacred cows, but we’re also curious about you: which books have you broken up with, flung across the room in anger, shunned, or simply just couldn’t finish?


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A Sonnet for the Spellmans

In honor of my favorite book series, Lisa Lutz‘s The Spellmans,(sorry, Dresden Files and Song of Ice and Fire), I have written a sonnet. Yes, me! The 30-mumblemumble-year-old who just learned to somewhat appreciate a few poems has now written one.

Shall I compare thee to any series?

Thou art more beloved by me than most books.

Why this is so I have many theories

And forever in me you have your hooks.

Thou art far more witty and have more heart

Than so many books before you I’ve read.

You are wacky, wonderful, you are smart.

Reaching the end of you I do so dread.

Lisa Lutz, your author, is wise, ’tis true.

Relationships and family struggles,

Love, grief, regret, hilarity make you

Enthralling for some books full of Muggles.

You are dear to me, Spellman family.

Devoted to you, I will always be.

There are six books in the series so far. The most recent, The Last Word, came out earlier this month.The books are about a family of private investigators who live in San Francisco. Izzy, the main character, is not really where she’d like to be, but has no idea where she’d like to be. Rae, her younger sister, is a little too into private investigating. David, her older brother, is a straight-laced lawyer, frequently embarrassed by his family. Since Spellman Investigations is a family business, Izzy works for her mother and father. The supporting characters like Morty, an octogenarian who’s Izzy’s lawyer and friend, and Henry Stone, a cop who both Izzy and Rae get very close to, add to the charm and honesty of the books.

I wrote about Trail of the Spellmans in our Best Books, etc. 2012 post and The Last Word will definitely be one of my favorite books of 2013. The series is usually one of the first things I think of when people ask me for a book recommendation and they’re one of the few books I read over again.

The Spellman Files  Curse of the Spellmans  Revenge of the Spellmans

The Spellmans Strike Again  Trail of the Spellmans  The Last Word

If you’ve never read the series, do so immediately if for no other reason to see what could inspire me to write a poem.



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Like Chocolate And Peanut Butter

When a TV show or movie is based on a book, there’s always the debate of which is better and why. Issues like if the actors look the way the characters are described, scenes that may be left out or added in, and other issues of fidelity to the story are discussed. But something I never really thought about until recently is how a TV show or movie can complement the book it’s based on and actually enhance a reader’s/viewer’s experience.

That has been my experience with the Song of Ice and Fire series and the TV show based on it, Game of Thrones. I had not planned on reading the series, mostly because it’s fantasy (I’ve never really been into reading fantasy) and they’re really, really long (I may have a problem with commitment). The TV show premiered in 2011, but I didn’t get around to watching it until January of this year. For reasons I’ve not yet analyzed, I love fantasy/sci-fi TV shows (Battlestar GalacticaBuffy the Vampire SlayerFireflyFringe, Quantum LeapTorchwood, the list goes on), but don’t normally read any fantasy/sci-fi books other than the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher (I checked my Goodreads account and the only fantasy/sci-fi books I have rated other than the Dresden Files books and the Song of Ice and Fire books are To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis and Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.).

I liked the show and watched two seasons pretty quickly. Even then, I still had no real desire to read the books. But I had two friends pushing them on me. “Read them!” they said. “The books are better than the TV show!” “If you’re concerned about the length, each chapter is from a different character’s perspective so you can skip ones you don’t want to read!”  “READ THEM!” I broke down and checked out A Game of Thrones at the beginning of June, started the second book, A Clash of Kings, in mid-June, and just started the third, A Storm of Swords. I obviously enjoy them.

Game of Thrones

One doesn’t have to be better than the other.

Game of Thrones

They can complement each other.

If I absolutely had to decide which I liked better, the books or the TV show, I’d probably say the books, but I would say it with reservations since I don’t think I would have read and enjoyed the books had I not watched the TV show first. I tend to be more visual. I’ll remember your face long before I remember your name. Being able to see the characters on the TV show has helped me put faces to names while I’m reading the books. Had I not seen the TV show and for some reason, decided to read the books, I probably would have frequently used the appendices Martin puts in the backs of the books to remember who is Tywin and who is Tyrion, who is Varys and who is Viserys. I also think that listening to their voices and seeing their faces has given me an emotional foundation for reading the books. I feel more invested in the characters than I might have been with just reading the books.

I am interested in how this might work for other books made into TV series. Justified is based on a character in Elmore Leonard‘s books, Riding the Rap and Pronto, and a short story, Fire in the HoleThe Vampire Diaries is based on the series of the same name by L.J. Smith. Rizzoli and Isles is based on the Tess Gerritsen series. I enjoy all those TV shows so would having the knowledge of the TV shows enhance my enjoyment of the books? I don’t know. I may give it a try.

How about you? Have you ever had a TV show or movie enhance your enjoyment of the book it’s based on? Do you usually find yourself liking one more than the other?

-Aisha, very close to starting to panic that the sixth book isn’t out yet


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Following An Artist’s Vision

Just as certain authors have distinctive voices, certain directors and creators have distinctive visions and you can tell when you’re watching one of their works. For example, Michael Mann movies have a certain look about them and once you know what to look for, you can usually tell when you’re watching one of his films. When Hannibal premiered in April, I was intrigued. I enjoyed The Silence of the Lambs and Manhunter and was interested in seeing what this take on the character would be like. The cast, Hugh DancyMads MikkelsenLaurence Fishburne, and Caroline Dhavernas, were all people whose work I enjoyed. I watched the first episode and while I liked the acting and the story, the feel and the visuals of the show were what really grabbed me. They seemed familiar for some reason. In the second episode of Hannibal, a character from another TV show, Wonderfalls, appeared so I looked into who was writing and producing the show, found out it was Bryan Fuller, and understood why I was attracted to Hannibal. Fuller has created some of my favorite TV shows and while the story line of Hannibal is much more violent than his other shows, the look and feel are similar.

Found at imdb.com

Found at imdb.com

The first time I saw a Fuller production was Wonderfalls. In it, Jaye, the youngest daughter of Darrin and Karen Tyler (her other siblings are named Sharon and Aaron), works at a Niagara Falls gift shop and one day, a wax lion talks to her. This sets off a whole series of inanimate objects with animal faces telling her to do things that will, in some way, help her or others. Caroline Dhavernas (who’s in Hannibal) and Lee Pace (who might, fingers crossed, be in the second season of Hannibal) starred. I fell in love with the show immediately. Only a few episodes aired, but the entire show is available on DVD.

Dead Like Me

Dead Like Me, the first show Fuller created, aired before Wonderfalls, but I caught it after. In Dead Like MeEllen Muth, who guest-stars on Hannibal, plays Georgia Lass, a young woman who dies after being hit by a toilet seat falling from a reorbiting space station. Georgia becomes a Grim Reaper and works with a small group of other Reapers. It aired for two seasons (there’s also a movie) and also stars Mandy Patinkin and Jasmine Guy.

Pushing Daisies

The last show Fuller created before developing Hannibal is probably the most famous of all his creations: Pushing Daisies. It stars Lee Pace (another Fuller favorite) as Ned. As a young boy, Ned discovers he has the power to bring dead things (his dog, his mother, some birds) back to life with a touch, but if he touches them again, they die forever. As an adult, he brings his childhood sweetheart, Chuck, played by Anna Friel, back to life and they fall in love, but can’t touch because if they do, she’ll die again. This show also aired for only two seasons.

Found at fanpop.com.

Cast of “Hannibal”. Found at fanpop.com.

Fuller’s shows all have a sense of the fantastic, like some warped fairy tale. Wonderfalls has talking inanimate objects; Dead Like Me has Grim Reapers as the main characters; Pushing Daisies‘ main character has the power to bring back the dead; and Hannibal is about a serial killer. They also share a sense of sadness and loneliness. In Wonderfalls, Jaye’s ability to hear inanimate objects pushes her farther away from people she’s already distanced herself from; in Dead Like Me, Georgia watches her little sister grow up without her and realizes how much she loves her family; and in Pushing Daisies, two people who are in love can never touch each other.

I don’t want to say too much about Hannibal and its characters’ story lines since it’s just finished its first season, but it too contains a level of loneliness. Visually, Pushing Daisies is the show Hannibal reminds me of which may sound a little weird. The colors in Hannibal are more muted than the colors in Pushing Daisies, but there’s still a richness to them that I haven’t noticed in other shows. I can’t say that if you enjoy Pushing Daisies or Dead Like Me or Wonderfalls, that you’ll love Hannibal; it’s a completely different beast and very graphic, but if you enjoy watching how an artist carries his vision through different works, what Fuller has done throughout his career is worth looking at and Hannibal is an interesting part of that vision.


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A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to Read More Fiction

Well, maybe not funny. More like the complete opposite of what I intended. In my last post, I panicked about not having any fiction in my apartment and I purposely checked out some fiction. But since that last post, I’ve finished two non-fiction books. (I also finished two fiction books and a graphic novel, but they were for book club and for me, there is a difference between reading for pleasure and reading so I can have intelligent things to say when I’m leading a discussion.)

ICanBarelyIn I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales from a Happy Life without Kids, Jen Kirkman writes about not wanting to have children. Ever. Complete strangers tell her that she’ll change her mind or ask her really personal questions about her ability to give birth. The book is smart and funny and by sharing her experiences, she gives good advice on what to do when you know who you are and what you want, but other people are certain they know what’s best for you. Kirkman doesn’t give herself enough credit in the title because she seems to be doing a great job taking care of herself, writing for Chelsea Handler‘s show, “Chelsea Lately”, working as a standup comedian, and writing a book.

EverythingisPerfectThe other book I finished was Everything is Perfect When You’re a Liar by Kelly Oxford, who’s best known for her Twitter feed. I was not having the best of days when I read about a trip she, her husband, and some friends took to Vegas to see David Copperfield, but after laughing through the entire chapter, nothing could bring me down. Oxford is incredibly talented at finding the humor and the heart in many situations, even her time working in a brain injury center. Of course, she has little choice in being witty and warm; she is Canadian.

AdultingI’m currently reading another non-fiction book, Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps by Kelly Williams Brown. I am firmly in the adult side of life, but if there were a quiz on how adult you are, I’d score in the “Well, Technically You’re an Adult, But You Should Really Be Trying Harder” column. I can do basic things like regularly scheduled laundry and paying my bills on time (if not early!), but if someone came over to my apartment, I could only offer them a lemon, some coconut yogurt, and frozen green beans. (Now that I’ve written that, a meal of those things doesn’t seem so bad. You’re all invited to my apartment.)

I guess it’s possible that I’m just in the mood for non-fiction these days, but need to keep some fiction around as my security blanket. I’m sure I’ll read fiction for fun any day now.



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No Fiction, I Cry

A couple of nights ago, I found myself in a very scary position: I had no fiction in my apartment to read. Yes, I had books in my own small personal library, but those were books I had already read and I don’t reread books. (So why I own them is a mystery.) I had just finished reading a book for a book discussion and wanted something just for fun. I went to my stack of library books and was dumbfounded to see absolutely no fiction. I had quite a few non-fiction titles on subjects like writing, eating healthier, creative thinking, and other self-improvement topics, but no fiction. I double-checked. Triple-checked. And then sat on the floor in disbelief at what I had done. I had no fiction.

But, I work in a library so only had to get through one night before I unleashed myself upon the shelves to see fiction what I could find! Here’s what I picked up:

Clearly     Gulp     SourceofLife     SweetTooth

Clearly, I Didn’t Think This Through: The Story of One Tall Girl’s Impulsive, Ill-conceived, and Borderline Irresponsible Life Decisions by Anna Goldfarb. Okay, so I broke my “MUST GET FICTION!” rule right out of the gate. This is not fiction, but it sounds like something I could have written so I had to grab it.

Gulp by Mary Roach. Again, not fiction, but it’s Mary Roach!

The Source of Life and Other Stories by Beth Bosworth. It’s a collection of short stories; I am me, so, of course.

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan. I’ve never read any McEwan (Gasp! But I have seen movies based on his books). I just really like the cover and the concept. I hope it lives up to my vague expectations.

Tales From Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan. This is actually for a book club, but I already started reading it and am in love with it so don’t mind one bit.

I hope I learn a lesson from this and keep a closer eye on what books I have at home. I don’t ever want to be caught without a fiction title in my apartment again.



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Being Fine About Not Being Any Good

I am only one kind of crafty and it’s the kind that gets people to make things for me, not the kind where I make things for myself. Last year, I was given a sewing machine and some patterns by a friend. That’s all I have to say about that. I don’t have the needed attention to detail and patience I think is required for knitting. My fingers are too unwieldy to do anything like origami. I had resigned myself to not being an artsy-craftsy person. Until I discovered that I am an amazing painter.

When I say “amazing”, I mean there’s no screaming and I like it. And by painting, I mean paint-by-numbers and rock painting. During Christmastime last year, I went shopping with my niece with the intent of buying her a book, but we ended up buying three paint-by-numbers kits and a rock painting kit. It took some time to finish the paint-by-numbers, but I was so happy when it was finished.

Look at my art! (It's a sorcerer.)

Look at my art!
(It’s a sorcerer.)

Then I moved onto rocks. I’ve only done two so far, but I’ve noticed that there’s something incredibly soothing about painting a rock. There’s also something incredibly soothing in accepting that I am not a master artist and will never be. The painting isn’t about creating a masterpiece (rock). It’s not about me making some beautiful thing; it’s about me making some thing. It feels so great to create something that I’m thinking about breaking out that dusty sewing machine and making something that may be so horrible I can only wear it when I’m alone.

So if you’ve been wary or unwilling to do something because you think you’re not going to be good at it, join the club. Then read a few books or dive right in with no instructions and join the other club where we knit or paint or sew and make something that may be not so great, but is all yours.

MeandMySewingMachine    Watercolor101      PrintingbyHand



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