Category Archives: Popular Culture

Olympic Eventing

Trying to watch the Olympics Equestrian Eventing of the past three days, I’ve performed dog coming down stairsin my own Eventing competition.  It includes the Stair Dash, Pet Hurdles and Speed Remote Handling.

It’s due to television reception, or lack of.  We now have satellite tv and I’m sure when the bugs get worked out, it will be fine.  But that hasn’t happened in time for Olympics watching.  A new box is on a truck on its way here from somewhere.  I don’t watch sports much; World Cup, Triple Crown races, show jumping, equestrian games and the Olympics.  But those events alone are reason to have a big screen high definition tv.

We have one in the living room, with its fancy box for transmitting the signal to the tv.  Upstairs is a smaller tv with a “standard” box.  The tv in upstairs denupstairs one has worked fine, but the living room one?  Sometimes it’s fine but it often cuts out or there’s no signal at all when you turn it on.  We were told weather affects satellite reception so at first thought there must be a storm somewhere.  No problem, see how it goes, there’s other things to do anyway.  But when it didn’t work more often than it did, I called the company.  “It’s the box,” the lady said after taking me through diagnostic unplugging and resetting, “we’ll send out another one – 3 to 5 days.”

But last Friday was the opening ceremony for the Olympics.  No life in the big screen box at all.  So I watched upstairs.  It was impressive but I knew how much more so it would be if I could only watch it downstairs on high def big tv.  Dogs’ dinner was late because the commercial breaks weren’t long enough to run downstairs and feed them.  Midway through Paul McCartney’s Hey Jude, a cat fight downstairs couldn’t be ignored, so I missed the end of the show.

It was during the Eventing that I perfected my own eventing.  Running up and down the stairs, leaping over animals, simultaneous coordination of remote and tv buttons.  I kept Olympic medal presentation on big screenfiddling with the big screen box, unplugging cords I hadn’t unplugged before.  Yesterday, it worked.  I watched swimming and it was glorious. I left the tv on and went out, came back and there was still a picture.  Settled in to watch the show jumping part of Eventing.  Even without high definition on OLN, it was fabulous.  You could see every detail of the horse and the jumps.  I could easily do other things during commercials. Maybe this box is fine, it must have been that last cable I reconnected.

tv with no signal messageZara Phillips and High Kingdom started their ride in the individual competition – and the signal went out.  Even surpassing the gold medal standard in simultaneous performance of my personal eventing elements, I didn’t get the upstairs tv on in time to see the end of their ride.

Dressage starts tomorrow.  The new box had better be here.

A Local CBC Solution

Stick with what you do well and others can’t do – that’s my suggestion for CBC Radio.  CBC Museum in Toronto broadcast centreAn example, from this past week’s Sunday Edition, the story of The Investigator, a 1954 CBC Radio play about the McCarthy Communist “witchhunts”.  Two important points:  one, the power of drama as social and political commentary and two, the power of a broadcast being heard across an entire nation at exactly the same time.  CBC Radio can do that, your hometown radio station cannot.

So if programming must be scaled back due to less money, cut what others do and keep what fulfills CBC’s mandate as a national broadcaster.  If I had to do a quick and drastic cut, it would be local programming:  the morning, noon and ‘drive-home’ time slots.  I’d keep national and international news, documentaries and drama.

Local information is valuable if you live in the locality.  In southern Ontario, “local” programming comes from Toronto.  It doesn’t matter even a tiny bit to me what traffic in Toronto is like.  And while it can CBC sold mock newspaper headlinebe entertaining hearing what Toronto City Council is doing, I can live without it.  If it’s deemed necessary to keep regional programming, cut each time slot to one hour and have production staff and hosts work part-time or split shifts.

A Facebook friend’s comment on CBC Radio was that he’d listen more if it had local news relevant to him, in London Ont.  Doing just that was the reason for the much ballyhooed local news break on the half hour inserted by CBC into its programming a few years ago.  All that has done for me too often is interrupt the thread of interviews and documentaries for a weather “update” six or ten hours old.  Being in touch with regional communities is a good idea, but that way of doing it hasn’t worked.  I don’t know how much that 90 second break costs, but it’s not worth it.

Local is good if you are local to CBC station

When I lived in St. John’s, I enjoyed the CBC St. John’s local shows.  They were informative and entertaining about my community.  Keyword:  my community.  If I lived Mar 2012 full page ad from Friends of Canadian Broadcastingin Gander, it wasn’t relevant.   I remember when CBC Newfoundland planned to shut down regional stations and programmes across the island.  There was outrage.  Gander, Grand Falls, Corner Brook all wanted to keep their own CBC local programming.  Traffic reports weren’t going to make that much difference to the day’s decisions, but people wanted their broadcaster to reflect their lives.  Valid point.

I’d like that in St. Thomas too.  But I’ve never got it from CBC in Ontario.  In St. Thomas, London, Windsor or Owen Sound, you get Toronto.  Faced with the choice of Don Valley Parkway traffic reports and who’s singing where in Toronto or in-depth national and international news and socio-cultural analysis, I’ll pick the latter.  CBC Radio should put its resources into what other, local radio stations do not do.  If I want to hear St. Thomas news, I’ll switch to 94.1 myFM for its hourly news, then go back to CBC.

CBC is where I’ve been able to hear documentaries, political and cultural analyses, literature discussions and radio drama.  cbc funding graph 2011 from Friends of Canadian BroadcastingMake Radio Two a definable station as it used to be (i.e. not a mishmash of music genres you can hear elsewhere). Also keep RCI alive.  Make greater use of existing egional facilities and staff for national programming from areas outside the Toronto broadcast centre.  If more repeat broadcasting is necessary on Radio One, play RCI programmes like The Link.

RCI The Link

There’s a CBC Radio secret that night people in Canada know about.  Radio Canada The Link RCI logo with Marc MontgomeryInternational’s The Link, produced in Montreal, airs from 2 to 3 a.m. Monday to Friday on CBC Radio One.  It is available in podcasts, but is not replayed in any other time slot, unlike all other programmes on CBC Radio these days.

I’ve thought that it was unfortunate that the show is not better publicized, yet at the same time, I liked having this listening clockradio showing 2:05 ampleasure shared only with what I imagined to be a select few insomniacs, night people and graveyard shift workers.  You get to know some of them through their letters, voice messages and emails – from Canada, England, Sweden and elsewhere.  Yes, it’s RCI so it broadcasts on short wave and satellite.  You could call it the Voice of Canada Around the World.

As of June, that Voice will be silenced.  That includes The Link and all other RCI radio programming.  CBC’s first act after the 10% RCI building in Tantramar Marsh NB 2009funding cut in Harper’s 2012 budget was to cut RCI.  Instead of radio programmes, the skeleton that remains of RCI will create web-based programming.  That’s nice for thems in Africa and Asia and elsewhere that have internet access.  Not so good for the many who have only a transistor radio with shortwave capacity.  Oh well, they’ll still have Radio Netherlands, Radio Australia, Radio Sweden, Deutsche Welle, Voice of America, BBC World Service and every other country’s international broadcasting to listen to.  But they won’t hear from Canada.

You don’t have to be outside Canada to enjoy The Link.  But because it is produced with an overseas audience in mind, you learn a lot about parts of our country and society not covered by other Canadian media.

Until June 2011, it was 2 hours nightly.  A drop in revenue shortened it.  The new format cut one of my favourite features; ESL teachers who presented common linguistic The Link team in their studio from facebookerrors or grammatical anomalies for non-native English speakers.  Even being a native speaker, I found them fun and indeed helpful.

The sports report continued, thank heavens.  Whether it’s Ian Jones or Terry Haig in the studio, you get 5 very funny minutes packed with information on sports rarely covered by other Canadian broadcasts – like soccer, cricket, rugby and cross-country skiing.  You don’t even have to actually like cricket to like their reports on it.  They also give interesting takes on hockey and other mainstream Canadian sports and athletes.  Besides Stephen Colbert’s ‘spor repor’, The Link’s is the only sports news that I want to hear.

Tam-tam Canada RCI logo with Raymond DesmarteauAnother great segment is the Friday visits by Raymond Desmarteau, host of RCI’s French-language Tam-tam Canada.  He shares the music of a French-Canadian artist with the Anglophone audience of The Link.  In turn, The Link’s host Marc Montgomery visits Desmarteau’s programme to introduce an English-Canadian musician to Francophone listeners.

RCI logoOnly in Canada, eh?  As of June 26th, it won’t be in Canada or anywhere else.  Truly a pity.

Dick Francis: A racing life

Amazon link for Dick Francis A Racing Life
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The back cover of Dick Francis: A Racing Lifea biography by Graham Lord, calls it “warm, affectionate, yet sharp and perceptive.” I usually read the jacket information before starting a book. This time I didn’t. I’m glad because I know it didn’t skew my impressions of the book.

The only word of that description with which I would agree is “sharp.” I found the book sharp to the point of nasty and petty. The first page puts the thesis forth that Dick’s wife Mary probably wrote the novels. Throughout 373 pages of text, Lord jibes and pokes about it at every chance.

The argument is that Dick Francis did not like or do well in school and that Mary did. Dick quit school as soon as he could to become a horseman. Mary went on to university, gaining a degree in French and English. Lord illustrates with facts and speculation what he calls “the most amusing literary camouflage since Marian Evans pretended to be George Eliot.”

An apparent fact is that Dick repeatedly said that Mary should be named as co-author.  But Mary and the publishers thought the books were more marketable under the name of a champion jockey. Lord does paint a picture of the personalities of both Dick and Mary. What I take from his portrayal of Dick is of an unassuming man who was honest as a jockey and in all other aspects of his life. The impression of Mary that I gained from Lord is that, as they say, she wasn’t backward about putting herself forward.

Mary Francis – Researcher or writer?

There has never been any hiding of the fact that Mary did much of the research for the books. In Lord’s book, I learned that she turned many of the novels’ subjects into businesses or avocations for herself. She became a pilot and ran an air taxi service, she bought into a wine importing business and she took up photography to the professional level. All this was to better research Dick Francis books. With the literary aspirations that Lord says she had, I am amazed that she did not claim the credit for them if she believed herself to be the sole or major author.

Lord says that the physical afflictions suffered by characters are those suffered by Mary, not Dick. She had polio as a young woman, so does a character. She suffered from asthma, so does a character. Literary allusions are ones that would only be known to Mary with her education, not Dick with his. The portrayal of the male heroes and the female characters seem to be written more from a woman’s perspective than a man’s. It is Mary’s sensibilities, interests and afflictions that fuel the books, Lord says.

Racing and horses are central

Ok, but I would argue that those are story elements attainable through good research Dick Francis on Devon Loch 1956 Grand National and from drawing on experiences of others. At the heart of Dick Francis novels is racing and horses. You are riding in the Grand National with the book’s hero.  You know the horses as sentient beings through the eyes of jockeys or grooms.  And that is not Mary’s experience. She didn’t particularly like horses or racing. And physical afflictions? The descriptions of broken collarbones and dislocated shoulders are from Dick’s experience.

Amazon link for The Sport of Queens
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Lord is disparaging toward Dick about his respect for the Royal Family. As an example of what he sees as Dick’s fawning, he says that Dick asked the Queen Mother’s permission before entitling his autobiography The Sport of Queens. Why, Lord asks, should Dick think it necessary to ask permission to use that phrase? Perhaps because the phrase is actually The Sport of Kings? By changing it to Queens, Francis was making direct reference to his riding career. At that time there were two Queens and no King. As well, he rode for the Queen Mother. Perhaps he was just being polite.

Writing process

Graham Lord makes much of Dick saying that writing was hard for him. Hard to believe, Lord says. Maybe, but I’ve read more interviews with best-selling authors about the difficulty of writing than those saying oh, it’s a snap. There’s also cringe-making recitations of interviews with Francis by writers for literary journals where Dick could not discuss concepts of formalism or semiotics in literature. Oh, for heaven’s sakes, not being au courant with literary analyses is hardly proof that someone can’t put pen to paper and write a good story.

Before and after reading Lord’s book, I did not think that Dick wrote the books entirely on his own. Why wouldn’t Mary contribute, edit, add her own words? Especially with their long symbiotic marriage, it seems they became almost inseparable. Their son Felix also became part of the writing machine. But at the core of all Dick Francis books are horses, racing and jockeys. Neither Mary nor Felix lived in that world. Dick did.

Graham Lord better on James Herriot

Amazon link for James Herriot bio by Graham Lord
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In 1997, two years before A Racing Life, Graham Lord published James Herriot: The Life of a Country Vet – the “warm but incisive” biography its cover promised. Dick Francis: A racing life is not. At 262 pages, his Herriot biography is the length  A Racing Life would be if Lord cut out the waffle. That would be most of the first three chapters and the long descriptive word lists throughout. I began skimming very early.

Francis Family Books

If you had the sad job of picking the topic of the last novel you would write, I don’t think you could choose better than Dick Francis did. Crossfire, co-written with son Felix and published in 2010 by Michael Joseph, is the final book in his long and illustrious career as a mystery novelist. Dick Francis died in 2010 at the age of 89.

Amazon link for Crossfire by Dick Francis
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Crossfire is a great story and a family effort. You don’t need to google anything to know the experiences of three generations of the family are in it. The horses, stables, races and racing industry amongst which Dick Francis lived are there, as usual. But our hero is a wounded Captain in the Grenadier Guards, recently returned from Afghanistan.

The authors’ thanks are given to Lieut. William Francis, Army Air Corps and Grenadier Guards, for his assistance. He is the grandson of Dick and son of Felix. So the horse and racing elements of a Dick Francis are there, as is information and insights about a different topic. This time, that other topic is the Afghanistan war and the physical and psychological realities of being injured by an explosive device. You see the trauma of being back home but having to deal with the injury and the sudden loss of your career and your passion – soldiering.

Dick Francis and family

banner photo from Grenadier GuardsThe book is a tribute to Lieut. Francis and his fellow soldiers in Afghanistan and elsewhere in war. It is also a tribute to Felix for carrying on his father’s work so well. And, of course, it’s a tribute to Dick Francis, master storyteller and steeplechase jockey. In his racing and writing, he has probably taught more people about the intricacies of horseracing than anyone else. And no matter what the villains of the piece do, the love Francis has for horses and his respect for their abilities and heart is always apparent.

Dick Francis’ books were written with the help of his family. His late wife, Mary, helped with research, writing and editing. Her interests and knowledge, such as in photography, were also reflected in the plots of some of his books. Felix, their younger son, helped his father with many of the books, taking an increasingly active part in the creation of Grenadier Guards Band on Horseguards Parade, Anon. 2008the latter ones. The last three Dick Francis books are published with both Dick and Felix as co-authors.

After his father’s death, Felix has continued writing under his own name. I have not read his solo efforts yet but, based on the co-authored books, he learned well from his father. And with Crossfire, I feel I have got to know the family better. I am glad that they let me see the post-war feelings of a wounded veteran. They did it with a deft touch, put in here and there in a very good story of chicanery in the racing and investment businesses.

Tourist Board TV

Last night I watched the first episode of Arctic Air, CBC’s new series Arctic Air banner cbc website - tourism tvset in Yellowknife and surrounding lands.  Tonight Republic of Doyle, set in St. John’s, returns for its 3rd season.

Major sponsors of both shows are their respective provincial tourism departments.  I Newfoundland and Labrador plane at Arctic Air hangardon’t know if that is the reason why there’s a plane with the Newfoundland and Labrador logo at the Arctic Air hangar.  It might also be in recognition of the fact that there is a disproportionate number of Newfoundlanders employed in the North West Territories, both in government and private industry.  Either way, it was a nice touch.

Arctic Air struck me as kind of ‘North of 60 does Dallas’.  There’s the bad exploration DC-3 flying over waterguy, from away.  There’s the conflicted hero, from ‘here’ but been away.  There are the crusty, savvy locals.  There’s the nice pretty girl and the not-so-nice pretty girl.  There are locals (Dene and white) and come-from-aways, so we will always have someone who needs northern cultures and terrain explained and those who can do so.

DC-3 engine and wingAnd we have the terrain and the DC-3s – both starring ‘characters’ of the show.  As trainee pilot Dev said, these planes fought the Nazis.  And Dev himself, played by Stephen Lobo, is an absolute treat.

I want to like Arctic Air.  Early in last night’s episode, I wasn’t sure.  I’d seen these characters and dramatic conflicts before.  But, by the end, I wanted to see how Dev makes out as a pilot.  The rest of it, I can kinda predict.

Republic of Doyle banner cbcTonight, we get Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism’s offering – the Doyles back in the sleuthing business in old sinjohns.  It’s another show where you can see its television history.  It’s been compared to the Rockford Files, aptly, but as homage rather than copycat.

Weather: Tourism ideal vs. actual

They do argumentative father and son well.  And they place it in the glorious backdrop of St. John’s.  I’ve wondered how much leeway they have to build into their shooting schedule to get all those sunny days.  I can imagine cast and crew being woken up at dawn, after weeks off – “looks like a fine day, byes, let’s get at her!”

St. John's streetI lived in St. John’s a long time.  I know summer fog and drizzle.  I know early spring when you’re ready to gnaw your own leg off to get out of fog and snow and rain.  But you are trapped.  Even if you had all the money in the world, planes aren’t flying, ferries aren’t sailing:  the weather is too bad.  We don’t see that weather on Republic of Doyle.  And it is beautiful and awe-inspiring in its own right – once you stop trying to gnaw your foot off and look at it and feel it.  But I forget that weather while watching RoD.  I remember glorious days with sunshine reflecting off brightly painted old buildings, just like on the tv.

Me & Louis L’Amour

I stayed with my brother for a couple weeks once.  I never Louis L'Amour leather bound booksthought of him as a reader, I was the “bookworm” in the family. In his living room was a lovely big bookshelf that he had made, filled with books.

The largest single collection was Louis L’Amour paperback westerns. I was far too politically correct to ever have read a Louis L’Amour, but they were handy when I needed a book so I started my very first one.  When my brother got home from work several hours later, I was just finishing it. I hadn’t moved from my chair. I read all the Louis L’Amours he had, averaging one a day.

Amazon link for The Walking Drum
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My brother said what he liked about Louis L’Amour was the books were short, easy to read and told “a good story and you learn a lot.” If he wanted to know more about something he read in L’Amour, he’d go to the library or bookstore and look further. Louis L’Amour got rid of my academic and political snobbery. I continued reading his books – Westerns and adventures. They tell heroic tales of physical and emotional achievement. They include information on places and ways of doing things. They read quickly, keep you entertained and pose questions about morality and human behaviour.

Other fiction does that too, but westerns slide it in without you even realizing until you find yourself pondering the dilemma of the hero after you’ve finished the book. Reading does not have to be work. It can and sometimes should be. Understanding the existential condition of humanity should not be reduced to simple dictums. Complexity needs to be examined. But sometimes you just want a nice untaxing read. What I learned is that Louis L’Amour gives you that and those existential questions too.

Amazon for Tomson Highway Kiss of the Fur Queen
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I moved on to other tales of the west. I read Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove and rediscovered Tomson Highway’s plays. I read Thomas King’s satirical look at movie Indians. I’d read academic literature on First Nation history, now I read the cultural histories in fictional form. I watched old Western movies with a new eye, seeing how the cowboys were presented and the Indians. I watched new Westerns, seeing the shifts in perspective. The lore of our existence in popular culture for  is situated in a time and place, both in the story and its telling. Both change with time and different narrators. Taken together, you get the fabric of our North American world – history and folklore, ideals and critiques.

Amazon for Son of the Morning Star
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My exploration of popular culture cowboys and Indians, armies and warriors led me to the most amazing book on the topic that I’ve ever read. Evan S. Connell’s Son of the Morning Star weaves all those threads of perspective, ‘reality’ and ‘belief,’ between its covers. It’s the story of the Battle of Little Big Horn from everybody’s point of view. It’s not an easy read, being kind of magic realism in style, but it’s riveting. It has to be, to keep straight who’s who and who’s telling the story when. Several years after reading it, I found the movie Son of a Morning Star in the library. I could not imagine a movie of that book. I watched, expecting the worst, and was pleasantly surprised. They managed to tell the story, in all its magical complexity, very well.

Prime Time

Last month, the new prime time tv programmes were rolled out.  Many are good.  They threw my life into chaos because I actually wanted to watch them.

Person of Interest prime time tv cbsPerson of Interest, Prime Suspect and Pan Am are my new “can’t miss” tv.  I’d seen ads for Person of Interest – wasn’t sure.  Too many kinda spooky ‘person with special powers’ series in the past years.  But Person of Interest has an interesting angle on it: a post-911 Big Brother analysis of “national security.”

Prime Suspect I was doubtful of.  British series are usually done best by the British, and I didn’t like the idea of the wonderful Helen Mirren series being replicated, or mutilated, by Hollywood.  But it isn’t.  It stands on its own merits as does the star Maria Belo.

stewardesses in front of Pan Am logo ad posterThe ads for Pan Am were wonderful.  Could the show live up to them?  Yes.  I’d feared a pale imitation of Mad Men, cashing in on the 1960s milieu evoked so wonderfully by it.  (We’ve watched the first seasons of MM on Boxee.)  Or superficial “coffee, tea or me?” T&A.  But it’s a beautiful looking history and geography lesson with good stories and good acting.

I watched the premiere of The Playboy Club.  Same ‘60s women-centred setting.  Overtly T&A, fitting the subject matter.  Hmm, wait and see was my opinion.  No time – it was cancelled after three episodes!  I was sorry because I have a soft spot for Eddie Cibrian who was the male star. Eddie Cibrian in The Playboy Club NBC banner adI interviewed him when he was bad boy Matt Clark on Y&R and liked him.  I was delighted to see him in a big prime time series.

Our favourites are still on and still good.  House has had big changes and it’s still great.  The CSI, Criminal Minds and Law & Order franchises (including L&A UK), Harry’s Law and the excellent Flashpoint opening title shotCanadian Flashpoint.   And now, new shows!  It’s been quite a change in our household.  We’d become accustomed to having the tv on the least annoying programme while we worked on computers.  That was ok, except when you really wanted to watch something good and all that was on your 500 channel galaxy was America’s Got Talent and its clones.

I was ready to cancel cable – it was very expensive “white noise.”  I took these pictures Riverdance in Beijing PBS on our tvone evening last year when I’d really wanted to watch tv.  The best thing I could find was Riverdance in Beijing on PBS.  While good, it wasn’t what I wanted, so I just went to bed with a book.  $100 a month for Rogers Cable basic HD package, and my entertainment was a novel borrowed, for free, from the library.

I can’t blame Rogers for network programming.  reading book M Grimes Lamorna WinkBut I can ask why they organize their channel packaging the way they do.  You know there are shows you want to watch, but you have to pay extra for their channels.  You get, ‘free’, a lot of channels that just slow down your guide scrolling.  The Fireplace Channel.  Rogers-owned sports teams channels.  Shouldn’t they be specialty channels paid for by thems that want them?

Recently, my stepson hooked up a wire to our tv, without cable.  We got in six channels clearly.  Only CBC, our national broadcaster, was snowy.  If I knew the networks would keep the quality and type of programming they introduced this fall, I’d cancel cable and rely on what we can get over the air.  But I can’t be sure, so Rogers dodged a bullet.

The Public Library

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time in the library.  It was in an old house on Main old-Belmont-Public Library-from-Elgin-ArchivesStreet in Belmont, right near our house.  I read pretty much every book that was in there.  Then they closed it.  A bookmobile came to town instead.  It was part of the Elgin County Public Library system.  I liked it too – wasn’t as good as being able to go to the library any day you felt like it, but it was kind of exciting, knowing the bookmobile was coming the next day.

Several years later, after I’d left Belmont, they built a nice new library there.  There are professional librarians staffing it, and all the paper and online resources you need.  It’s a new public library Belmont 2002lovely library.  We can see the people going in and out from my parents’ house, and it’s well used, as a library and a community centre for meetings, special events and family get-togethers in the hall you can rent.  My mother took my dad’s stuff over every November for the Remembrance Day display.  A lot of people from the whole area came to see it.  My parents had their 50th anniversary party in the hall.

I was talking with my brother a few years ago about reading.  I’ve read my whole life, but he didn’t, to my knowledge.  But he was telling me about books he’d been reading.  I said something about going to the library and he said he just buys the books he wants, new or used.  He said he’d stopped going to the library when they closed the old Belmont library down.  He’s older than me by several years so we didn’t share a childhood.  I had no idea Elgin Co bookmobile 1963he’d ever been in the library in Belmont.

He said he’d read every book in there at least twice.  But he stopped reading when the bookmobile took over.  He didn’t want to have to be at a certain place at a certain time in order to get a book.  He was a teenager, old enough to have a life, but not old enough to drive to another town’s library.  So he got out of the habit of reading for pleasure.  When the bookmobile became our only library, I was young enough to not have anything else to do, and going to a place at a certain time was still a thrill for me.  So I kept reading, although I missed the old building with its creaky floors and dark rooms with unexpected treasures found hiding on high-up shelves.

Glanworth Public Library

Glanworth-Library-from-FacebookSo now the village of Glanworth, just west of Belmont, is losing its local library.  The London Library board says it can’t afford the expense of a separate library for so few people.  The people of Glanworth want their library, as a place of books and resources and of community.  I hope, one way or another, they can keep it.  You can have a community hall, sure, but there’s something about having it also house books and other worlds of knowledge that enriches the community as a whole and the kids and adults that comprise that community.

protest lawn sign don't close the book on GlanworthI’m glad nothing ever happened to cause me to lose my love of reading. And I’m glad my brother found his way back to reading for fun.  I hate to think there will be kids in Glanworth now in the situation we were in all those years ago.  They’ll either stop reading or have to go to much more trouble to get books than just walking down the street to their local public library.  The town’s battle cry is, “Don’t close the book on Glanworth.”  I hope you win.

Belmont Library and Bookmobile photos are from the Elgin Co. Library site and those of the Glanworth Library are from the Save the Glanworth Community Library Facebook public page.

Finding a new Dick Francis

In need of a book for bedtime reading, looking through bookshelves – and finding a Dick Francis mystery you haven’t read.  That is true happiness.

 bookshelves with catI thought sadly that I’d read all of Dick Francis’ many novels.  Then, twice in a couple months, when library books were finished and I searched my own books for something to tide me over, I found unread Dick Francis novels.

I love mystery novels.  You get both a mystery and a glimpse into another world.  With Francis, it’s many topics but always with some horse racing, whether steeplechase or flat.  He was a top steeplechase rider for many years.  Then he began writing about that world, wrapping a lot of horsey information in a good who-dun-it.

I’ve read that mystery novelists are accorded lesser status in the literary world than regular novelists.  Like romance novelists, they are considered “genre literature.”  I don’t agree with that difference in status ranking.  In mysteries, I’ve explored human emotion and reactions, both good and evil, learned about subjects I’ve never really thought about before, and it’s all working toward an end – who did the dastardly deed.

Elizabeth George, Ian Rankin, Quentin Jardine, Michael Jecks, Martha Grimes, Andrew Greeley, Janet Evanovich, P. D. James – these are writers that I have devoured.  All different in writing style, lead characters, subplots and settings.  All have protagonists whose lives progress throughout the lifespan of the novels.  With them, after randomly reading one of a series, I went back to the beginning and tried to read them sequentially.  Among Canadian mystery writers I’ve discovered at the library are Lyn Hamilton and her archeological mysteries and the Murdoch books by Maureen Jennings.

Murdoch, a police series set in Victorian Toronto, has been very successfully adapted for television.  The tv shows go beyond the books and I find them just as entertaining and insightful as the books themselves.  Can’t say the same for the television adaptation of Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley series.  I enjoy the Lynley shows, but they are not as mystery novel and cat on chairrich as the books – truncated and not accurately reflective of the books’ characters.

I’m not fussy on the “cozies” – the Miss Marple-ish amateur sleuths (although I love the real Miss Marple) but I love some village series such as M. C. Beaton’s Highlands’ Hamish MacBeth books.  I have no time for the young woman P.I. who never has any food in her house, but I make an exception for Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum.  I find tiresome protagonists who put themselves in trouble because they insist on refusing help.  I don’t like glib, wisecracking heroes or heroines although, again, I love the originals of this persona in the novels of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett and the incarnation by Robert B. Parker in his Spenser.

I like books that delve into the human, and societal, condition in their plot lines and characterizations.  All the authors I mention above do that, in very different worlds.  And, being mysteries, they add a second layer of information processing in figuring out who committed the crime and how they did it.  They may be “genre” but it’s a genre I like.

Other really good mystery novels by great jockeys.