Saturday, August 01, 2009

Active dislike


Have you ever noticed how many annoying, meaningless buzz words have active as a component: Proactive. Interactive. I regularly excise from news stories references to someone's being actively involved in a dispute, and if a reporter ever explains to me how active involvement in a fight differs from the passive kind, I shall be happy to restore his or her pleonasm.

I recently read some well-deserved scorn for proactive. Terry Pratchett pokes gentler but equally well-deserved fun at interactive in Thud!:
"`I'm sorry, sir. (The painting is) probably long gone out of the city.'

"`But hwhy?' said the curator. `They could have studied it in the museum! hWe're very interactive these days!'

"`
Interactive?' said Vimes. `What do you mean?'

"`hWell, people can ... look at the pictures as much as they hwant,' said Sir Reynold. He sounded a little annoyed. People shouldn't ask that kind of question."
Right on, Brother Pratchett!

Now, what's your favorite redundancy, circumlocution, periphrasis, pleonasm or just plain useless use of words?
=============
News flash:
"You want tellers to be proactive, but you want them to do it safely," said FBI Special Agent Fred Gutt.
From a news story about a bank teller who chased and caught a robber and was fired for his trouble. "It's something I almost look forward to. It's a thrill and I'm an adrenaline-junkie person. It's the pursuit," he said.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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96 Comments:

Blogger Linkmeister said...

Holy cats, man.

Pleonasm, defined.

"At this point in time."

Er, you mean, like, "now?"

August 01, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yep.

Oddly enough, one of my favorite people in Philadelphia has as his only discernible character flaw his having been heard to say "At this point in time" in public.

August 01, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

How about one of my favorites--"Due to the fact that...." or "because"


Some irritating and meaningless clutter that I would list are "empowered" and "reinvented."

August 02, 2009  
Blogger Dorte H said...

That is an easy one: authentic!

These years everything is supposed to be authentic. At the wedding of our Prince Frederik to Mary a few years ago a brilliant young reporter breathed that it all looked so authentic.
Well, all I can say is I can´t imagine good old Queen Margrethe participating in a scam.

August 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't think I've ever seen "due to" and "the fact that" in the same sentence, at least not at my newspaper. But I have cut "the fact that" out of many stories, and my paper's pronouncement that "due to" and "because" are synonymous is a documented example of its retreat from literacy.

"Empowered" is still around because of its feel-good political dimension. I haven't seen "reinvented" for a while, though. I don't especially miss it.

August 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dorte, I wonder what the reporter expected the wedding to look like. I've occasionally also wondered when authenticity became a critical criterion -- and on what critics based their judgment when they found a given book, movie or play authentic.

August 02, 2009  
Blogger Sucharita Sarkar said...

Here in India, it is 'like', not as in 'I like it simple,' but as in, 'like, you know, like' (what? I feel like shouting).
And I hate it when people ask me to 'chill' (although I don't mind 'taking it easy' or 'calming down').

And in Terry Pratchet style, our college Principal calls every guest he invites over, '(W)HONOURABLE' Sir/Madam.

Better than calling them 'Dude', I guess.

August 02, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I think you're being a wee bit hard on your fellow humans. Its tough coming up with things to say on TV or the radio without resorting to uh or uhm or space filling redundancies. Its also a colloquial part of direct speech that if you wish to be, er, "authentic" you need to report in a newspaper. Mencken did a number on an English writer who lambasted Americans for their use of "I guess". It could often lead to silliness "Is your wife dead then?" "She is, I guess." but Mencken pointed out that in the vernacular it means something more like, "I'm sorry to say". And then he went on to rip out the guys kidneys.

I'm remember years ago people were worried that we were all going to end up talking like Valley Girls but that fad passed quickly and all the huffing and puffing counted for very little.

In fact, I wish some redundancies should stage a come back. "Sir" for example. "You, sir, are a scoundrel" sounds so much cooler than "You are a scoundrel" dont you think?

I'm with you on management speak though. I may have to kill the next person who says proactive or informs me that "there's no I in team".

August 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Sucharita, I take it that "Any Major Dude Will Tell You" is not one of your favorite Steely Dan songs.

Could your principal not effect a compromise between generations and address people -- hwhen appropriate, of course -- as "Honorable Dude"?

August 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'd feel a bit more sympathy for radio and TV folks if they were not shoved down my throat all the time. I've discussed here my theory that the 24-hour news cycle may be responsible for a rise in idiotic pronouncements from pundits. Be forced to talk even when you have nothing to say, and the odds have got to rise that you'll say something stupid. And lot of television news people are dolts or rather, have speech patterns different from my own.


"I guess" reminds of what I take (based on examples from fiction) to be a speech pattern of some working-class English: the tendency to affirm statements with rheorical questions even when one has not been questioned, as in "I ripped out his kidneys, didn't I?"

August 02, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

In Belfast there's the "so I did" or "so I am".

I shot him in the kneecaps, so I did.

I'm going to punch his lights out, so I am.

I've read on Wikipedia that this is something to do with translating Irish speech patterns into English. In the bad old days this Hiberno Irish locution was a comic staple among English "comedians" but now we can take a more nuanced view that what's happening here is an attempt to replicate Gaelic grammar in Anglo Saxon. It's fascinating stuff. At least to me.

August 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Did you ever hear "So aren't I" in Massachusetts?

I haven't yet read that article, but I am very interested in reproduction of one language's speech patterns by speakers of another. One need look no farther than Orthodox Celts’ version of “Rocky Road to Dublin” for illuminating examples.

August 02, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Its very interesting. And so easy to get wrong for an outsider which is why those parody Irishmen the English used to do were so irritating.

But then even Homer nods. I'm loathe to criticise Raymond Chandler for anything, but I've never quite been convinced by the African American dialogue at the beginning of Farewell My Lovely.

August 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I once read that certain African languages use progressive verb forms much more than English does. I immediately thought of such forms in African American speech as "I've been knowing ... " I thought of the song "I've Been Loving You Too Long" and of McDonald's current slogan, "I'm lovin' it," which, in Philadelphia, is especially prominent in ads on the subway, whose ridership is heavily African American.

August 03, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

"Transparency" is one that seems to be much in vogue right now, in business-speak. I suppose it is an ideal only, as it is quite a rare quality in a business setting. Clarity and/or at least not lying to people would be better and slightly more realistic aims.

What bugs me most, though, is that mimicry comes so easily to most of us, it becomes all but impossible sometimes not to use the very words or phrases you despise. I mean, that you actively, or even proactively despise.

August 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

These buzzwords often seem intended to impart moral virtue where it not would otherwise be supposed to exist. But beware. Why would anyone promise something unless there was good reason to suspect its absence? Why, at my-- but the better part of valor is lack of transparency.

If all Americans were to begin speaking plainly tomorrow -- say, in some alternate universe in a science fiction or fantasy novel -- politicians would struggle through, but publishers of business books would go out of business instantly.

August 03, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

The African American dialogue at the beginning of _Farewell, My Lovely_ sounds more like a version of the way uneducated people would talk.

It comes across better if read aloud.

August 05, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Maybe Chandler's ear was too precise for the page in this instance. Your comment reminds me of the advice that authors avoid dialogue that is mere accurate transcription of speech.

August 05, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

"the advice that authors avoid dialogue that is mere accurate transcription of speech."

I had never heard that before.

Why?

August 05, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Because real speech is full of um's and you know's and meaningless polite phrases that may have social utility but would be boring as hell to read on the page.

August 05, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The corollary is that good dialogue ought to be a convincing distillation rather than an accurate reproduction of speech.

August 05, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

"Because real speech is full of um's and you know's and meaningless polite phrases that may have social utility but would be boring as hell to read on the page."

Makes sense. When listening to others, I guess we tune these out, unless they become intrusive.

I remember working my way through the syllable-by-syllable transcriptions of the Nixon tapes and wondering why those were included.

August 05, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

"The corollary is that good dialogue ought to be a convincing distillation rather than an accurate reproduction of speech."

Chuckle...

Do you mean the way we think we speak, or wish we did (if we've heard a taped version of what we really said) ?

August 05, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I think that's just it: We tune out what is inessential. I wonder if psychologists with a literary bent have studied this matter.

August 05, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Good dialogue, the kind praised as authentic and realistic, is a convincing distillation -- the way we think or wish we spoke. One can sometimes tell when author is trying to be authentic by inserting hems and haws and throat-clearings. In fact, such dialogue is annoying at best, excruciating at worst.

August 05, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

"I think that's just it: We tune out what is inessential. I wonder if psychologists with a literary bent have studied this matter."

I don't know about the literary bent, but I do know that psychologists tell us that we actually hear only about 30% of what is said to us. That's the rationale behind the cliche for speakers:

1. Tell them what you are about to say.

2. Tell them.

3. Tell them what you've just said.

In other words, do it three times--the magic number that means you are serious about this.

August 05, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I have read also that our brain mentally completes sentences and other utterances based on what we know and expect. Among other things, I suspect this is why comprehending a foreign language can be exhausting. We don't have the expectation we have with languages we know well, so we have to work that much harder to hear everything.

August 05, 2009  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Re Chandler's African American dialogue/vernacular in "Farewell, My Lovely." I agree with Fred, it "comes across better if read aloud," making it what Peter calls "too precise for the page." In any event, this is an element of Chandler's early novel writing that was a convention in the pulp magazines in which his short stories appeared. He hadn't shaken off all those 1930s conventions in his 1940 novel (partially drawn from three of those late-1930s short stories).

August 05, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Chandler was none too kind toward gays in his fiction, yet he acknowledged that homosexuality was a puzzle to him. He wrote somewhere, maybe in a letter, that he hoped someone would write something that reflected a true understanding of "the homosexualist." I find that recognition of his own lack of understanding attractive even if some of the attituides in his books were less so.

I wonder if Chandler was ever similarly introspective toward his own attitudes about African Americans.

August 05, 2009  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I've read Chandler's letter that you refer to which touches on his thoughts on homosexuality. But I don't recall him ever writing about his attitudes towards African Americans (and a quick glance at the Chandler entry in the index in "Selected Letters" contains no references). But of course literary critics have their perceived notions of Chandler's attitude towards race. There is a brief overview of these in Toby Widdicombe's "A Reader's Guide to Raymond Chandler," pp. 33-34.

August 05, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's another thing to look for.

I might feel differently if I were black, of course, but I can't help feeling that Chandler, or at least some of the movies based on his books, mixed a bit of sympathy in with the scorn, condescension and other ugly attitudes.

Off-topic a bit, one of the things that impressed me about "L.A. Confidential" is that James Ellroy brougt to the surface attitudes toward blacks and Mexicans that had been submerged in much mid-century crime fiction. He said things that would have been unthinkable in fiction written at the time his story was set, but he still captures the feel of the period's fiction (or maybe of fiction from a few years earlier). That's an impressive feat, I think.

August 05, 2009  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

You're absolutely right. That sympathy is noted in the Reader's Guide section.

I've often wondered what writers like Hammett and Chandler might be writing if they were around today. Would their work be more along the lines of Ellroy's "L.A. Confidential"? I think of Hammett's publisher asking him to scale back the number of murders when preparing "Red Harvest" (serialized in "Black Mask") for book publication, or Hammett pushing to retain the brief reference to Spade and Brigid O'Shaughnessy having slept together (which his publisher said might be OK for a "real" novel but not for a mystery). Chandler has a character repeatedly say "Go fuck yourself" in "The Big Sleep." Of course, "fuck" is omitted in the text and replaced with a straight line. They were pushing the envelope (don't you hate that expression?) then so I have to presume they would now. Of course, the other side of the coin is the adaptation of early- and mid-20th century authors like Hammett and Chandler for 21st century audiences. Or, why I am dreading "Sin City" creator Frank Miller's film adaptation of Chandler's novella "Trouble Is My Business."

August 05, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

My fellow guest on the radio today talked a bit about some of Chandler's attitudes in this regard toward the end of the show. Give a listen.

August 05, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's an intruguing question about what Hammett and Chandler would have been doing today. A few years ago, they'd have been writing for "The Wire."

August 05, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

Probably--but most of those Wire writers also have books to their credit.

August 05, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

For once I'd made a statement without irony or sarcasm. David Simon hired some of today's best crime novelists for "The Wire." I'm sure he'd have done the same of two of them had happened to be named Dashiell and Raymond.

August 06, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

Dash and Ray, more like.



v word=bessie. Now that's a name you don't hear so often anymore.

August 06, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Makes me want to go listen to some old blues records, or at least to The Band singing "Bessie Smith."

August 06, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

Frank Miller doing Chandler's "Trouble is my Business"? That sounds interesting as I had just read the story a short time ago.

It has one of the best opening paragraphs and thumbnail description of a character that I've ever read:

"Anna Halsey was about two hundred and forty pounds of middle-aged putty faced woman in a black tailor-made suit. Her eyes were shiny black shoe buttons, her cheeks were as soft as suet and about the same color. She was sitting behind a black glass desk that looked like Napoleon's tomb and she was smoking a cigarette in a black holder that was not quite as long as a rolled umbrella. She said: 'I need a man.'

I watched her shake ash from the cigarette to the shiny top of the desk where flakes of it curled and crawled in the draft from an open window."

Any idea of when the film might come out and what its title might be?

August 06, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'll let Elisabeth field the question about the film.

I have long loved that opening description for a number of reasons. It's vivid. It's unexpected. One half-thinks Anna Halsey is a bad guy, but she's not. Perhaps best is that she's not a central character in the story, which is an amusingly off-balance way to begin.

August 06, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

Peter,

"Vivid"--Definitely yes. I could see her sitting in front of me as I read the description. The cigarette holder and the desk of black glass add details that illuminate her personality.

And, I too expected her to play a much larger role in the story. Secondary characters in a short story usually get a brief description, if anything at all.

August 06, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's a fascinating way to begin a book, and I'll keep my eyes open for similar openings. Opening with a minor character is a wonderful way to capture the reader's attention.

August 06, 2009  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Fred, I don't know what the latest is on "Trouble Is My Business", film title same as novella title (I'm too cheap to subscribe to IMDBPro). I remember it was announced in 2007 but Miller apparently has been working on other projects, including more "Sin City" films.

As for Hammett and Chandler working for today's film and/or TV... I imagine they would (producers would want them and they in turn would want the money) but it makes me a bit sad to think so as both were very unhappy in Hollywood and both drank much more heavily during their time spent there.

The Chandler quote about the cigarette holder as rolled umbrella reminded me he used "baseball bat" in another short story so I went looking for it. It's in "Red Wind," 1938 -- one of my favorite Chandler short stories, and one with one of his most famous opening paragraphs. But here is the bit about the dame with the cigarette holder:

I wasn't the man she had been expecting. I could see it in her glittering kohl-rimmed eyes. Then I couldn't see anything in them. She just stood and looked at me, a long, lean, hungry brunette, with rouged cheekbones, thick black hair parted in the middle, a mouth made for three-decker sandwiches, coral-and-gold pajamas, sandals-and gilded toenails. Under her ear lobes a couple of miniature temple bells gonged lightly in the breeze. She made a slow disdainful motion with a cigarette in a holder as long as a baseball bat.
"We-el, what ees it, little man? You want sometheeng? You are lost from the bee-ootiful party across the street, hem?"
"Ha-ha," I said. "Quite a party, isn't it? No, I just brought your car home. Lost it, didn't you?"
Across the street somebody had delirium tremens in the front yard and a mixed quartet tore what was left of the night into small strips and did what they could to make the strips miserable. While this was going on the exotic brunette didn't move more than one eyelash.
She wasn't beautiful, she wasn't even pretty, but she looked as if things would happen where she was.

August 06, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't know Frank Miller's work well. One of the idees fixees I got about comics during my many years away from them is that too many comics writers and artists equated seriousness with dark shadows. So I'd hope that anyone adapting Chandler or Hammett would realize that those guys were something more than atmosphere, full-bleed color and moody streets. That part is relatively easy to do.

That paragraph is not as strong beginning to end as the one from "Trouble is My Business." But I certainly like parts of it: "a mouth made for three-decker sandwiches," "Under her ear lobes a couple of miniature temple bells gonged lightly in the breeze," "she looked as if things would happen where she was," and, of course, the bit about the baseball bat.

August 06, 2009  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter, per your comment above, I did listen to Hersh Sawhney's mention of Chandler and how he was disappointed that Chandler did not change his attitudes towards race and ethnicity in his later fiction. Well, without really wanting to play the role of a Chandler apologist, I don't think this is quite true. Many of the slangy epithets are greatly reduced, even gone, by the later books. One of the problems of Chandler's status as a "literary" crime fiction writer is that he is held to a higher moral standard than other writers in the genre. I think this paragraph from a discussion about "raciness" (questions as to whether it was a strategy to get published in book form, encouraged by editors for artistic reasons, part of an artistic movement that advocated frankness and naturalism) in an entry at gadetection.pbworks.com/ sums up the problem:

"One problem with the Great Artist treatment Chandler often gets today is that these questions do not get asked. Chandler is considered as a Literary writer, and everything he ever wrote is considered to be a personal artistic expression for him, pure and simple. If 'The Big Sleep' (1939) is incredibly sordid compared with most other American novels, whether literary or mysterious, it must simply be because Chandler wanted it that way."

Chandler's own letters are full of observations on how he wanted to take on the conventions of the crime fiction genre and incorporate them into something new and different, maybe even make literature out of it.

I've read an awful lot of Chandler's contemporaries and his derogatory epithets pale in comparison to those of, say, Cleve F. Adams whose p.i. Rex McBride series is full of ugly epithets for all races and ethnicities, esp. Jews and blacks, as well as women. Well, not many people are even reading Adams these days, let alone writing about his bigotry and racial prejudices.

Chandler's blessing and curse is that he is still widely read today and, I believe unfairly, receives excessive criticism for the sins of his chosen genre, the hard-boiled novel.

August 06, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And Hirsh Sawhney expresses admiration for Chandler elsewhere in the discussion, saluting him for grappling with important social questions. I'd agree that if we pay extra attention to Chandler, we owe it to him to study his letters and his familiarize ourselves with his contemporaries in order to come to grips with his attitudes.

August 06, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

Elizabeth,

I have the same problem with imdb.com. What irritates me even more is that some information that used to be free now requires the paid subscription. I just checked and there's nothing new about _Trouble_ that's free, except that it's listed as in production.


I also noticed the intro paragraph to "Red Wind," but it's in the same collection as "Trouble" and was the last story in the collection, so it didn't strike me as strongly as the intro to "Trouble."

August 07, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I, too, seem to recall that IMDb offers much less free information than it used to. That's capitalism.

"Trouble ..."'s opening paragraph may be the best opening paragraph by an author who wrote a number of superb ones.

August 07, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

Yes, that's capitalism--didn't work though. I just search around elsewhere if necessary.

First paragraph from Chandler's "Spanish Blood."

"Big John Masters was large, fat, oily. He had sleek blue jowls and very thick fingers on which the knuckles were dimples. His brown hair was combed straight back from his forehead and he wore a wine-colored suit with patch pockets, a wine-colored tie, a tan silk shirt. There was a lot of red and gold band around the thick brown cigar between his lips."

Was watching a British mystery series last night, _Midsomer Murders_, and one of the characters said something like "He had his way with the women, didn't he." The inflection suggested a statement, not a question.

August 07, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Big John Masters sounds like Anna Halsey's brother. Or maybe they're even the dark and the light sides of the same person.

And don't forget this, from the opening paragraph of The Big Sleep:

"I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved, and sober, and I didn't care who knew it."

"Had his way ..." sounds like a marvelously manufactured double entendre, at least out of countext.

August 07, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

"had his way" In the context, it was not a double entendre. Or, at least, I didn't see it as a double entendre, but a fairly straightforward observation.

If you haven't seen the series, _Midsomer Murders_, I would recommend taking a look at them. They are based on the series written by Caroline Graham.

Inspector Barnaby, who is a mild-mannered thoroughly normal, middle-class happily married man, with a wife and daughter with whom he has a great relationship, faces all sorts of weird, bizarre murders (usually 3-4 per show), all taking place within this beautiful English rural countryside with some of the greatest houses and loveliest cottages ever to grace a series. Moreover, the county is inhabited by some of the oddest, quirkiest people around--the murderers are frequently even stranger. I often wonder why they remain there with all this carnage taking place. I think the show has ended, after some 50+ episodes. I think it ended because there's nobody left alive in the area.

It's a great fun series--a great bloody spoof on similar mysteries.

August 07, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Fred, I knew the series by name only, but that is a tantalizing description. Are episodes available on DVD?

August 07, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

Peter,

Yes, the series is now available on DVD. Netflix has many if not all of them, but I'm getting mine from the local library.

Graham wrote only 7 novels in the Midsomer series, all of which I think have been dramatized on the show; the other 40+ episodes are "based on characters....."

Good writing, etc. As I mentioned earlier, one didn't have to interpret the double entendre--it was obvious what he meant.

I don't think they could have done this show 30 or 40 years ago, or at least it would have been chopped up for the US audience.

August 07, 2009  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Fred, I am a native born Southern Californian (all mid-20th century jokes aside about all native Californians being from Iowa) so maybe I'm prejudiced in liking the first paragraph in "Red Wind" so much -- "There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch." Yep, that's a Santa Ana exactly. They begin as the sun goes down and then the crime rate goes up.

The continued and vivid references to the wind and its effects throughout the story -- "The hot wind boomed against the shut windows. Windows have to be shut when a Santa Ana blows, heat or no heat" -- are a perfect example of how Chandler could use weather, which becomes a character much as place does, to create and sustain tension. Just think of the rain that falls through most of "The Big Sleep." Chandler's arrival in L.A. as an adult no doubt made him especially aware and sensitive to our peculiar SoCal weather.

And thanks for the reminder of RC's "Spanish Blood" (one of several Hispanic characters in Chandler's fiction whom he depicts with sensitivity and sympathy). I re-read this one on RC's b-day, 7/23. One of my favorite passages: [in order to provide a pretext for his arrest, a dead deer has been planted in cop Sam Delaguerra's car] "Delaguerra lowered his eyes very slowly, looked into the back of his car, bending over to see past the canvas. The body of a young deer lay there on some junk, beside a rifle. The soft eyes of the dead animal, unglazed by death, seemed to look at him with a gentle reproach. There was dried blood on the doe's slender neck."

August 07, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Fred: Thanks. I'll take a look.

I like the idea of a show that is literate enought to assume its viewers will know the expression "a way with," as in "a way with words" and to play off the similarity with the euphemistic "to have his way with her."

August 07, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, I like the suggestion that Chandler's arrival in L.A. as an adult may have sharpened his sensitivity. Perhaps natives would have been so accustomed to the weather as not to notice it. How old was he when he arrived in California?

August 07, 2009  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter, Chandler was 24 when he arrived in California: "I arrived in California with a beautiful wardrobe, a public school accent, no practical gifts for earning a living, and a contempt for the natives which, I am sorry to say, has in some measure persisted to this day [1950]...I taught myself bookkeeping and from there on my rise was as rapid as the growth of a sequoia." I like how he chose a quintessential California tree for the ironic description of his not-so-skyrocketing career.

August 07, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I quite like that passage. His rueful acknowledgment of his contempt for the natives reminds me a bit of our earlier discussion about his attitudes toward African American, Mexicans and homosexuals.

August 07, 2009  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Precisely. Chandler didn't like anybody very much! The impression I often get of him as a crotchety old grump is both endearing and exasperating by turns. But the friction generated by his love-hate relationship with SoCal and its inhabitants is essential to his writing.

August 07, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'll keep that in mind. Weariness and contempt for Southern California in crime fiction is itself a tired trope. It would be refreshing to reinvigorate it by exploring its origins.

August 07, 2009  
Blogger marco said...

Fred doesn't mention that Inspector Barnaby is played by John Nettles, most famous for that other cult crime series, Bergerac.
My mom likes L'Ispettore Barnaby (Midsomer Murders) for its wonderful setting and its clever reinterpretation of the British Country House mystery, but I just LOVED Bergerac in the early nineties.

August 08, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I haven't read that many English countryhouse or village mysteries, but I have enjoyed affectionate nods to them by Wodehouse, Colin Watson and Peter Lovesey. A reinterpretation sounds like great fun.

August 08, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

I'll have to plead ignorance rather than poor memory this time: I've never heard of Bergerac. However, I am impressed enough by Nettles to see if Netflix has it.

I have to admit to a strong partiality towards British mystery series. In fact, it was Mystery Theatre on PBS that got me hooked. Discovering the likes of PD James and Colin Dexter and Agatha Christie's Miss Marple and Lord Peter and Campion is what got me interested in mysteries in the first place.

August 08, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

Bergerac was really good--and not a country house mystery series at all, in case anyone was getting that impression.

Marco, have a great holiday, in case we don't hear from you for a bit.

August 08, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

It appears that I'm going to have to forgo the pleasure of watching Bergerac for the foreseeable future. Neither Netflix nor the public library has it.

Oh well, some day...It's on my list, so I'll be checking on it irregularly.

Thanks for the reference, though.

August 08, 2009  
Blogger marco said...

Thanks Seana. I had planned to leave today, but some last minute incoveniences made me postpone my departure to tomorrow (Sunday) morning.

Fred

Glad to be of service ;)
And since I've seen your review of The Night Land, I also recommend to you, if you haven't read it already, David Lindsay's A Voyage to Arcturus. You can download it for free on Project Gutenberg, Manybooks, Feedbooks and other sites in various formats.

Ciao a tutti!

August 08, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

Marco,

Thanks for the Lindsay reference. I know why you recommended it because Lindsay's _A Voyage to Arcturus_ is a favorite of mine. I've read it several times. My pb version is deteriorating, so I'm thinking of finding a hb copy.

I found another work by Lindsay, though I haven't had a chance to read it yet. The title is _The Haunted Woman_. Are you familiar with it?

August 08, 2009  
Anonymous marco said...

It is much more grounded and "mundane" in tone and setting than Arcturus, but maintains the plot point of the intrusion of a fantastic element which highlights -or maybe distorts - psychological and philosophical motifs.
It is closer to the feel of classic Victorian novels, its imagery is much more understated, and it's probably no masterpiece, but interesting nevertheless.

August 08, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

All right, Seana, for Fred's benefit and mine, what should we know about Bergerac?

My v-word is something we may all have experienced when trying to communicate electronically: emangl

August 08, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, and buon viaggio to anyone off on holiday.

August 08, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Marco, you said Harold Bloom praised A Voyage to Arcturus, didn't you? That caught my eye. If Harold Bloom praises a work that can be considered genre literature, it must have some something to recommend it. He has not been kind to Stephen King in the past, to cite the one example I know of.

August 08, 2009  
Blogger marco said...

what should we know about Bergerac?

It is set in Jersey. No country houses there.

Oh, and buon viaggio to anyone off on holiday.

Thanks. I will, in fact, pass the next few days in a country house - a former vicarage - in the heart of Tuscany.
Seems the perfect location for a golden age British mystery set in Italy, but let's hope not.


Harold Bloom

He considered A Voyage to Arcturus one of the most significant novels of the Twentieth Century.
His lone attempt at fiction, The Flight to Lucifer , was, as you can guess even by the title, an homage/indirect sequel of A Voyage to Arcturus .
It is closer to the fantasy of C.S. Lewis, which he inspired, or maybe today Philip Pullman, than to science fiction. Or it could be considered a philosophical fantasy in the tradition of works like Utopia, Gulliver's Travels or, perhaps a closer match, Blake's poems.

Well, this is really my last post for a while.

Ciao!

August 08, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It is set in Jersey. No country houses there.

It took me a moment to figure out that you probably meant the Channel Islands. In my part of the world, "Jersey" is shorthand for "New Jersey."

I will, in fact, pass the next few days in a country house - a former vicarage - in the heart of Tuscany. Seems the perfect location for a golden age British mystery set in Italy, but let's hope not.

If it is, I hope you're the gumshoe rather than the killer or the victim.

Ciao!

August 08, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

"It is much more grounded and "mundane" in tone and setting than Arcturus, but maintains the plot point of the intrusion of a fantastic element which highlights -or maybe distorts - psychological and philosophical motifs."

That's the impression I got from reading some descriptions of the story--much closer to a 19th century ghost or supernatural tale.

August 08, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Wikipedia says that: "Lindsay attempted to write a more `commercial' novel with his next work The Haunted Woman ... "

August 08, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

I also belong to an SF/F book discussion group. There are several stories I won't recommend to the group, based on experience with other works that might be considered difficult (preferred jargon term--"problematic").

One of them is Lindsay's _A Voyage to Arcturus_, another is Russell Hoban's _Riddley Walker_, and one more would be "The Worm Ouroboros Group" of novels.

August 08, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

What do you think the group would find difficult about A Voyage to Arcturus?

August 08, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

I think they would have problems with the language--rather formal and far more descriptive than they like.

Second, the story verges, at times, on being allegorical and very hard to follow because his encounters with various beings on Arcturus are not straightforward.

As someone (sorry about this) already pointed out, there is some similarity to CS Lewis' _Out of the Silent Planet_, an account of a trip to Mars, on which Ransom encounters some very strange beings.

August 08, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Formal. Descriptive. Sounds Victorian, all right, which means it might make today's readers impatient.

Everyone seems to point out similarities with C.S. Lewis.

August 08, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

Marco has really answered this, but the Jersey setting makes this a neither flesh nor fowl kind of place. And Bergerac himself is a very attractive character, though of course not without his flaws.

August 08, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've read one book set on the Channel Islands, on Guernsey: The Book of Ebenezer LePage. I recall vaguely that it had a neither-here-nor-there feel to it.

One author about whom I've written here lives on the Isle of Man, though he is English. He tells me there is a Manx radio service though. And since Manx cats have no tails, perhaps he could write a book of tal-- Oh, never mind.

August 08, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

Well, there is a runaway bestseller right now, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Guernsey will probably never be the same.

I think it's interesting to think about how these island settlements chip away at Britain's monolithic image of itself. Islands challenge the mainland's assumptions. Which is usually salutary.

August 08, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The two books are apparently discussed together. I saw a reference to the new book when I did a search to verify the title of the old one. I didn't know it was a new book until your comment, though.

I recently read someone's amusing list of things he hates about books. One of them is books with long, whimsically improbable titles. I'm afraid this one would fit the bill.

I once wanted to call my softball team Uncle Chaim's New and Improved Fabulous Hassidic Marching Band and Chowder Society, but I never thought of writing a novel with that title.

August 08, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

Well, some people hate titles that are too long and some people hate books titles that are too short. You can't please everyone.

I have one friend who really liked this book and another that found it only so-so. I have a feeling I would be somewhere in between.

v word=pangst. Which is brilliant.

August 08, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Pangst is one of the best, a combination of existential dread, headache, fever, nasal congestion and body aches. May cause drowsiness. Do not take while operating heavy machinery.

My v-word sounds like a village in the Netherlands or, more likely, a made-up village in one of Hakan Nesser's books: makeramm

August 09, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

Elizabeth,

The crime rate goes up? I wonder if the suicide rate goes up also.

Another who uses weather very effectively is the Canadian writer Giles Blunt. One of his mysteries, the second I think, took place during an rare warm spell in February, which produced a very thick fog that lasted for several days.

Unlike many writers who would have mentioned it in the first chapter and then forgot it, Blunt, like Chandler, reminded the reader of it as characters had to grope their way through the fog throughout the novel and showed how it affected the police and others as they went about their daily lives.

His third novel took place in Spring when the black flies appeared. Those flies didn't disappear after the first chapter. In one scene the officers investigating a crime scene had to wear outfits that resembled beekeepers' outfits, completely covered from head to foot with screen masks.

August 09, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've read Giles Blunt's Black Fly Season and The Delicate Storm. Maybe it takes a Canadian to think about weather.

Or a Norwegian. Jo Nesbø makes effective and unexpected use of weather in The Devil's Star, setting it during a sweltering summer in Oslo, not what one expects from a story set in Norway.

August 10, 2009  
Blogger seana said...

Fred and Peter,

I think I need to read Giles Blunt.

August 10, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

I've read all four of Blunt's police procedurals and am awaiting the fifth. He also has several unrelated works, but I haven't read any of them yet. One of these days...

v-word: wolot--an exclamation, expressing being surprised?

August 10, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, here’s what I’ve written about Giles Blunt. Some aspects of his work hit close to home for this Montrealer.

August 10, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

Yes, I agree. I would recommend Blunt very highly. It's probably best to read the four novels in sequence, although not really necessary.

The first novel is _Forty Words for Sorrow_. It takes place during a cold spell, one that's cold even for them.


1. Forty Words for Sorrow
2. The Delicate Storm
3. The Black Fly Season
4. By the Time You Read This

August 10, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I read numbers 2 and 3 in that order. Fred, I won't tempt you into giving away any spoilers, but events in those novels indicate a possible storyline that might make it desirable to read the books in order.

Is Forty Words for Sorrow a play on that belief that Inuit (Eskimos) have forty words for snow?

August 10, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

"Is Forty Words for Sorrow a play on that belief that Inuit (Eskimos) have forty words for snow?"

It's been some time since I read the novel, so I can't remember anything specific in the novel relating to the title. However, the novel does deal with grief/sorrow, and I wondered even before I read the novel whether this was a play on that belief (which I read somewhere is not really true).

While the novels can be read in any order, I think it would be best if they were read chronologically. [g]

v-word: roisons, a dialect here?

August 10, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I had also read somewhere that the belief is not really true, which is why I specified that it was a belief.

Roisons: Cockney for "reasons"?

August 10, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

or raisins?



v-word: emount--electronic mountain?

August 10, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Or, in writing if not orally, the Irish name Róisín (pronounced ro-SHEEN, I am told.)

Yeah, emount gives that unequalled virtual mountain experience.

August 10, 2009  

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