Monthly Archives: March 2014

An Interlude on TV Shows

Like many other book bloggers, my love of story is not confined to the written page. I thought I’d share some thoughts about TV shows I’ve watched in the past few months.

Shows I’ve enjoyed:

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012 – )

Dot (Ashleigh Cummings) and Miss Fisher (Essie Davis)

Dot (Ashleigh Cummings) and Miss Fisher (Essie Davis)

Saw this in my Netflix Recommendations, but was compelled to watch based on the praise of NPR’s Linda Holmes. It’s an Australian series set in 1920’s Melbourne, and has the costume appeal of Downton Abbey, while featuring a saucy feminist “lady-detective” Miss Phryne Fisher (played by Essie Davis). And book connection! The show is based on a book series written by Kerry Greenwood.

I’ve only seen Series One, which is available on Netflix Instant, and I can’t wait until Series Two. It’s refreshing to watch a show which features a single woman over 40 (not sure Phryne’s age actually, but that’s the actress’ age). And while there is a will-they-won’t-they vibe between Miss Fisher and Detective Jack Robinson (Nathan Page), it doesn’t overly dominate the screentime. As a viewer, I especially delighted in Phryne’s friendship with her Catholic maid, Dot (played by the adorable Ashleigh Cummings). At times, the fact that Phryne is always on the right side of social issues threatens to make her a little too much the rough saint, but even she is sometimes brought up short by others. In one episode, for example, when Phryne observes to a female suspect that she did not seem to be distressed at the death of her bookshop patron, the woman responds, “Because I didn’t break down in tears and bare my soul? How could you begin to know how I’m feeling?”

Anyway, I highly recommend the show if any of the above is pinging your sensibilities!

Terriers (2010)


Terriers belongs to that club of shows the internet calls “Brilliant but Canceled”.  Many have opined that the title contributed to the demise, because it’s not about dogs, though there is a dog, but that dog is not a terrier (it’s a bulldog). Even for viewers who looked beyond the title, the premise may not have sounded very original at first glance: it’s “about” two (unlicensed) private investigators Hank (Donal Logue) and Britt (Micheal Raymond-James) who look into cases in Ocean Beach, California. The special sauce of Terriers is in its nuanced characterization and the fact that the plot is driven by characters rather than the other way around. Logue and Raymond-James are wonderful, as are actresses Kimberly Quinn and Laura Allen as Hank’s ex-wife and Britt’s girlfriend, respectively. And lest you think that the plot is perfunctory, I was genuinely surprised by some of the plot turns, both in the cases of the week and in the overarching season-long plot. I also appreciated that this is a show that doesn’t overlook consequences – Hank’s overreach in one episode will turn up to bite him near the end of the show. Anyway, superb show. I saw a Television Without Pity article that recommended it to Veronica Mars fans, and I can totally see that parallel. I saw Terriers on Netflix Instant (all my TV-watching is internet-based), and even with that availability, I’m annoyed it doesn’t have a DVD release.

The Good Wife (2009 – )

Unlike the previous two shows, this one is better known. Like Terriers, its title may hurt it some, but hey it’s at least still on the air. I’ve only seen the first two seasons, but Alicia Florrick is already one of my favorite TV characters.

Parks and Recreation (2009 – )

Possibly the only show that I keep up with as it airs (or, more accurately, when its episodes turn up in Hulu).

Call the Midwife (2012 – )

Though at times a little heavy-handed in its depiction of post-WWII social issues, I really do enjoy the humor and warmth of this show. Miranda Hart is spectacular in this.

Edited to add: Downton Abbey! I love/hate this show. It has so many wonderful quiet moments (like Branson’s friendships with his sisters-in-law), and then some storyline with Bates (the Mr. not the Mrs. – love Joanne Froggatt) will drag it down. This fourth season brought me back in love with Mary as a character, and kept me hoping in vain that something good would last for Edith.

Shows that were okay:

Bob’s Burgers – I watched the first two seasons, when I was searching for a half-hour show to watch on Netflix Instant. This show was an enjoyable way to pass the time, but I don’t have a strong feeling of attachment to it.

Lost Girl – I think I watched four or five episodes of this Sci-Fi show. I liked the character of Kenzi (the main character’s human friend), but overall I thought the writing fell flat.

New Girl – I flew right through this one at first, but as with Bob’s Burgers, there’s no strong bond there. Too much drama with Schmidt’s love interests, I think.

Show I used to love:

Doctor Who – I started watching this show in the Christopher Eccleston season, and he is still my favorite Doctor. I liked Rose and Martha, and sometimes I liked David Tennant, but sometimes I thought he was too shouty. I loathed all episodes with The Master (though I’m a fan of John Simm in other roles). I couldn’t get past the silliness of David Tennant’s finale episodes. I recently tried to revive my declining interest in Doctor Who by watching the first two Matt Smith episodes, and . . . I’m just not into it anymore. My friend has urged me to watch a few more Matt Smith episodes, which I may do, but with little optimism.

Current state of affairs:

I’m trying to decide which show to dive into next. I wish I was interested in House of Cards or The Walking Dead, because people are discussing them all around me, but I’m not. I’m thinking about rewatching my first season DVD of Friday Night Lights, and just blitzing right through to the end of the series (I watched that show when it was airing, up until the middle of the second season). There’s also the season of Freaks and Geeks – saw the pilot episode and thought it was decent. I tried two episodes of Arrow, but blah, so boring. Anyway, I’m open for show recommendations, particularly if they are on Netflix Instant.

For context, shows I’ve already seen all the way through and enjoyed: Arrested Development, Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, Orange is the New Black, Slings and Arrows, Veronica Mars. I’ve also seen most of Sherlock, Community and The Office.


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Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer


1997. Doubleday. Mass Market Paperback. 378 pages.

In a nutshell:

In May 1996, Jon Krakauer and other climbers reached the summit of Everest. As they descended, they were hit by a storm. Krakauer was a client of Adventure Consultants Guided Expedition; two guides and two climbers of this expedition died. The head guide of another expedition also died. Into Thin Air describes the events of the expedition, mostly from Krakauer’s perspective, with added witness provided by interviews with the other surviving climbers. The book also provides the historical context behind Everest expeditions, and grapples with the controversies surrounding the commercialization of these expeditions.


Into Thin Air has been on my to-read list for a very long time, as well as Krakauer’s Into the Wild and Under the Banner of Heaven. I read it a couple of weeks ago, to pass the time while flying to Chicago and back. It was a fast read.

I am no stranger to harrowing nonfiction reads. Into Thin Air is not the emotional gut-punch of say Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun or Philip Gourevitch’s We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families. Those books featured the horrors of what people can inflict on other people. But Into Thin Air is still haunting, in the way that the altitude and the blind fury of a storm isolates the climbers and circumvents their ability to help themselves and help each other. The altitude dulled their minds just when they needed to be the most focused, causing climbers to become dangerously confused and others slow to recognize a climber in trouble. The storm kept climbers in shelter from being able to search for the climbers who were lost just outside the camp. I was particularly haunted by the story of Beck Weathers, who was left for dead by the others, but managed to survive anyway.

Into Thin Air first existed as an article published in Outside magazine (which I was unable to find online). The article upset some people close to the story; it turned out that Krakauer was wrong about the circumstances about one of the guide’s death. The book corrected the earlier account, but was still controversial. In both article and book, Krakauer attempted to describe some of the mistakes that led to the deaths of the climbers. When I read Into Thin Air, I thought Krakauer came across as even-handed, as he pointed out the pitfalls of commercialization without demonizing the guides and clients who participated in the enterprise. He also pointed out his own mistakes during the expedition.

However, a relative of one of the deceased climbers wrote an excoriating letter to the magazine in response to the original article. The book includes her letter. While I want to give latitude to a grieving relative, she goes too far in her implication that Krakauer was a coward for taking shelter in his tent during the storm. I’m sorry, but if you’re not a guide and you’ve just hiked the highest mountain in the world, it seems a prudent action to then return to camp and go to sleep. That is not an act of cowardice. I’ve seen this criticism repeated in reviews on goodreads too, and it seems to boil out of another controversial aspect of Into Thin Air: Krakauer’s criticism of Anatoli Boukreev.

Boukreev was one of the guides for a different expedition, Mountain Madness (head guide was Scott Fischer, one of the fatalities of the disaster). Boukreev reached the summit of Everest and returned to Camp Four before several of the Mountain Madness clients made it back. Several of them ran into trouble (along with clients of Adventure Consultants) and got lost in the storm. Boukreev later rescued them. Krakauer intimates that Boukreev failed to do his job as a guide by returning to Camp Four faster than the clients of his expedition. In response, Boukreev co-wrote a book called The Climb where he presents his side of the story, and how his decisions helped him rescue the clients in trouble. Boukreev later died in an avalanche on Annapurna in 1997.

I haven’t read The Climb and in any case it would be ludicrous for me to try and assert my own judgment on what happened. But I bristle at the tone of some of the reviews I’ve seen of the Climb where reviewers disdainfully judge Krakauer for being a journalist and thus his word cannot stand against Boukreev who was a real mountaineer.

And several reviewers seem to misguidedly correlate Boukreev’s credibility to the fact that he saved the lives of several people and Krakauer did not (again the implication of cowardice). Displaying great courage does not mean one has the monopoly on the truth. In this light, I was appreciative of more even-keeled reviews like those of an Eric_W who said: “I have no way to judge the authenticity of either story, but common sense would seem to dictate that both could be right since they are both very personal stories told by the participants, all of whom were under an enormous amount of stress and whose perspective will naturally have been shaped by their very limited personal view of events.”

People continue to die on Mount Everest every year, and the ethics of such endeavors continue to be complicated. I don’t feel outraged about the loss of life, since all who climb Mount Everest choose to be there and know the risks. I may be sad for their deaths, but not outraged. There’s nothing necessary about climbing Mount Everest. I also think it’s a shame that the mountain is getting trashed as a byproduct of human ambition. (Krakauer mentions the trash in the book as well.)

I’m glad I finally read one of Krakauer’s books, and will continue with my plans to someday read the other two books I mentioned at the start of the review.

Excerpts from others’ reviews:

At Home with Books – “It takes a while for the pace of the book to pick up, since he is very thorough in giving background information about all of the climbers who have important roles in the dramatic climb.  Reader’s will learn not only about the climber’s abilities and training, but also about their family life – allowing the reader to see them not only as climbers, but also as real people with friends and family who will mourn their loss.”

utter randomonium – “I’m not usually interested in sad stories, but the personality of Krakauer’s writing kept me going. The details are shared with such frankness and intimacy that I felt like I was there. Would I recommend this book? Sure, as long as you understand what you’re getting yourself into: there’s no redemption, no happy ending.”

Wendi’s Book Corner – “On occasion I found the book a little hard to follow, as some descriptions and accounts of people or places didn’t flow along with the story as well as I would have liked. That said, once I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down.”


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The Albany Movement 1962: Much struggle, little justice

Parting the Waters

I know that continually posting on one book doesn’t add much interesting variety to my blog, but I don’t regret it. In reading this book, I feel like I better understand my own country. I’ve also been dwelling a lot on the nature of social change. Before I read this book, I had a simplistic view of the Civil Rights Era: it was a time of inspirational heroes overcoming terrible and often violent opposition, heroes advancing the cause of freedom and equality. And all of that is still true.

But I failed to fully appreciate that, especially in the early years, victory did not seem sure. Civil rights activists not only had to overcome violent opposition, but also more prosaic obstacles like disagreements among civil rights groups and personalities; distortions by the media; lack of resources. Segregationists were not always mob-like and thuggish; they could also be sly and clever and use the court system to hobble civil rights leaders (see perjury and other charges against Martin Luther King Jr., also New York Times v. Sullivan). And sometimes, as in the case of the Albany Movement, a whole community can mobilize against segregation and have their efforts be labeled a failure.

The Albany Movement started in November 1961, when a group of young people, aided by Charles Sherrod of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) decided to protest segregation. Soon the movement spread throughout the community and by December, Martin Luther King, Jr. was also involved. Hundreds of people were arrested for marching in protest, and most chose jail time instead of paying the fine. Martin Luther King, Jr. was also arrested and went to jail. But due to a variety of factors, the unity of the Albany Movement fractured and people became less willing to protest. From the local government to the presidential administration, the powers-that-be just wanted the movement to go away. Local and state officials used a variety of tactics to accomplish this goal, and the federal government was reluctant to intervene.

Perhaps the most absurd event, for me, was when segregationist U.S. District Court judge J. Robert Elliott “ruled that Negro protest marches denied Albany’s white people equal protection by draining police manpower and other public resources out of white neighborhoods” (p. 609). It was a clever move. If the civil rights activists defied this federal ruling, it would give ammunition for those states that were actively resisting the federal school desegregation orders. In the end, several hundred protesters did defy Elliott’s injunction, but Martin Luther King, Jr. painfully decided not to defy the order. The injunction was later lifted as it obviously had little legal ground to stand on.

Perhaps the most horrifying event that occurred in opposition to these protests was the beating of Marion King (no relation to MLK), a well-respected member of Albany’s black community. Marion King was standing outside of the jail in Camilla to catch a glimpse of Albany protesters that she knew. Around her, other visitors were singing. When the deputies ordered the crowd back from the fence, Marion King did not move as fast as the others. The sheriff struck her so hard that her three-year-old daughter fell from her arms to the pavement. Marion King was also knocked to the ground and kicked. She was five and a half months pregnant at the time and some weeks later she miscarried. You can see the interview with her here:;query=id:ugabma_wsbn_44817

The attack on Marion King did galvanize Albany activists further, but others in the community were not so committed to nonviolence and threw rocks and bottles at Albany police. Authorities of course used this to their advantage, and the chief of police remarked “Did you see them nonviolent rocks?” Major media coverage failed to note Marion King’s beating, leaving the wider public ignorant as to the cause of this near-riot.

In the end, the movement lost momentum, and segregation still reigned in Albany. King and others were criticized roundly for this “failure”, including from people associated with the NAACP. I found the following passage quite thought-provoking:

More burdensome to King than the multiplicity of his critics was their detachment. Since he viewed Albany as part of a universal moral issue, with only one clear and just resolution that ought to be as compelling to the white reporter in Iowa as to himself, it nettled him to see people of all opinions stand aside to analyze the results as though segregation might be vindicated, or nonviolence falsified, by his performance in Albany. King felt victimized at the hands of bystanders. He did not believe that the continued enforcement of segregation in Albany lessened the justice of his claims any more than a second-place finish by Jesse Owens would have ennobled Hitler’s ideas. [p. 631]

This passage, and really the whole book, has me thinking about the difficulties we still face when trying to call for change. We are still too easily distracted by score-keeping; too caught up in analyzing the personalities involved. During the Occupy Wall Street movement, it was easier for many to be dismissive of the protesters and their methods than to truly grapple with the problem of wealth inequality. I myself am conflicted about how OWS turned out, but I don’t think that makes that central concern any less valid. The struggle toward marriage equality gets mired by weird distracting episodes involving fast-food chains, but I don’t think that makes the cause less just. I think the move to make birth control more accessible is a worthy public health goal, but apparently many in society could only evaluate the merits of this goal based on one woman, Sandra Fluke, instead of the many women of all social strata who would benefit.

I know I’m wearing my political and moral beliefs on my sleeve here, something I usually steer away from in the online arena, but this book has a way of activating the passionate side I usually reserve only for in-person discussions with friends and family. My main point is this: I want to be better at seeing past the vicissitudes of the news-cycle, past the endless polarized discussions that go nowhere. I don’t want hurried reporters, calcified debaters, and news-bites from politicians to have the last word on what happened, what is happening, and what will happen. All of them are going to keep on generating noise, and I want to keep on seeking what is true and just. That requires patience and perseverance, to sift through information, to listen to people, to get beyond my own selfishness and laziness.

Now I have no idea if my description of the Albany Movement and my own ruminations seem connected – it’s possible that you’re not sure how I got from one to the other. I’ve been living and stewing around with this book for such a long time, that it may be one of those things where “it all made sense in my head.” Well, thanks for reading anyway. I hope to report before long that I’ve finished this book. And if it turns out that I miss reading it, there’s always the second two books of the trilogy!


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