Sherlock Holmes Film Review

I apologize for the hiatus in posts. I’ve been ill for the past two weeks. During that time I did start reading Philippa Gregory’s The Other Queen and I went to see Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes. Ritchie took the much beloved detective and created a fresh new spin on the character. As to my knowledge this movie is not based on any on the novels or short stories but the tale is very intriguing nonetheless. Robert Downey, Jr. is cast as Holmes in a role that it seems fits him like a glove. This Holmes is cunning and exasperating, witty and astute but has enough flaws to make him a rounded and interesting character. Jude Law plays the straight-laced Dr. Watson who secretly thirsts for more adventure with Holmes even though he protests to be done as his partner. Many will note that this is not the bumbling Watson of prior adaptations. Law’s Watson is smart, rational, and an equal partner in all pursuits.

Ritchie’s avant guard and sometimes gratuitous grotesqueness in his filmmaking is evident here but he crafts a wonderfully researched and complex tale that involves a secret order of men and dark magic. The stop action/reviewing of prior or probable events got a little weary the third time it was presented but the logic behind the editing was clearly able to be followed.

The casting was fabulous and the plot(forgive me I am being purposely vague for those reading this that may not have seen it) was action filled and one of the most intellectually sound action films I’ve ever seen. Astute observation is a quality that is much lost these days where people are too besotted with technology and multitasking to see what is going on around them. This Sherlock engages you, makes you think and leaves enough of a clue in front of you not to piece it all together neatly but to set you up for the next turn of the plot. The end leaves enough material inviting a sequel that is currently under consideration. THis is film that both sexes can enjoy whether you are intellectual or less inclined to literary pursuits. Sherlock Holmes has procured a place on my DVD shelf awaiting its release. A must see!

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Returning to Writing After a Hiatus

This blog has focused a lot on Literature and not as  much on Creative Writing thus far so I thought I would blog about an issue I’ve recently dealt with in my writing. During my undergraduate years I took every Creative Writing course offered, save for Screenwriting and Novel Writing. I really should have declared an emphasis in it-oh well. Writing has always been my passion but due to extenuating circumstances I had to stop shortly after I graduated. At that time I had started what my professor called “a marketable” novel in a fiction seminar during the Spring of my senior year. Then after some time passed I entered graduate school and my focus was solely academic papers. Had I not been accepted to a Master’s Program in English I would have promptly turned my focus to MFA programs. Toward the end of my graduate tenure I longed for my own fiction again. And thus the “can I still do it?’, “where would I begin” nagging inundated my mind. I was filled with a lot of anxiety thinking that maybe my brain wouldn’t think the same way or that my skills had rusted to a pile of mediocrity never to be honed again. That is silly but it truly is what I thought.

I then turned to my prior creative writing professors. One gave me a book title of exercises that I could to do retrain my creative brain into writing fiction again. I already own a copy of Rebel Yell, sitting at the bottom of my nightstand drawer still in shrink wrap-oops.

One professor answered my query of “how to restart a novel where you left off(two chapters and several chapter synopses only) with this wonderful advice:

“Sit with the characters a while, let them talk to you, see where they go…etc”

I really like this idea because even if you can’t get a page out perhaps you can get a character profile out or a scene plotted that you previously were stuck on.

I recently contacted her again about a different matter(ripe for another blog topic) and I actually have yet to put her advice in practice. This is due to the fact that I didn’t have to sit with the characters-they started screaming at me!

It never fails, in the most inopportune places, the most inappropriate times, I’ll get a name, or a vision of a house, or a synopsis of a chapter. Many times I don’t have anything to write or record with. This is especially problematic when I am at the gym-where my head is blissfully cleared and ready for creative inundation haha.

One of the things that has been invaluable to me in my return to writing is the fact that I have had a few very successful writing dates with a friend of mine. This was my first test of the creative waters. I came with ideas for children’s books and I had only wanted to write one story that day to start out slow. I ended up writing three and then plotting out four more.

My advice to those with writer’s block or who have taken a years-long hiatus as I did and had to do is this:

1. Start small!!!  If you only get a line out  you can build upon that later. One line leads to another and then there is lineage of ideas to build on.

2. Let things come to you. If you try to force the issue you will become increasingly frustrated and fruitless. One day you might be prolific on one cup of coffee at a local coffeehouse, and others you will be on your fourth cup with scarcely a line.

3. Take visual inspiration along with you in order to job your creative memory. My children’s books are based on my cat so I simply would stare at a picture of him to conjure up what I wanted to write about and how I wanted to capture him on the page.

4. Start reading magazines for inspiration and advice. A lot of my anxiety was eased just by reading accounts of how other writer’s struggled to write and what ended up working for them.

5. Read. Arundhati Roy and Michael Cox are two main reasons why I want to write again. They way they play with words, plots, and characters opened my brain up and set it on fire in ways I never thought possible. If you read good writing you will maybe find something you want to play with that was featured in what you read and that can be a great jumping off point,

6. And if all that fails-write pure utter nonsense about your day and then usually when you clear that out of your head…you can write whatever you wanted to in the first place.

I am happy to report I now have seven possible children’s picture books manuscripts all in a first draft form. I am cobbling together ideas for other projects and compiling them for future use this summer when I will return to writing on a more permanent basis.

Do any of you have advice for someone who has not written in a while and would like to?

iPhone Applications for English Majors

I’ve decided that Tuesdays here on BBCB will be devoted to posts about Literature and Technology. This week’s post will be much like my post on The Most Romantic [Male] in Literature; it will be based on a prior article I have found and want to comment on. I have owned an iPhone for over six months and it is the best tech purchase I have ever made. I really wish that I had an iPod touch or iPhone while I was in my undergraduate and graduate English programs. The flashcard programs available would have made on-the-go studying even easier and more eco-friendly. This is in addition to the organizational applications for juggling coursework deadlines and other duties. As I am always looking for new apps, paid or free , I recently decided to query ‘Best Literary iPhone Apps on google and found this link, full article text is below the link:

The 15 Best iPhone Apps for English Majors from College Times by April Lentini

Photo by: Howdy, I’m H. Michael Karshis on Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by: Howdy, I’m H. Michael Karshis on Flickr Creative Commons

Reference tools for correct grammar usage, rhyming tools and even handy quotes from classic literature are some of the things that you could have at your fingertips. Whether you are taking an English class or writing the next great American novel, here are some noteworthy English and literary apps for your iPhone or iPod touch.

#1 Grammar 1 -$0.99
Brush up on your subject nouns, adjectives, adverbs & articles. Refresh your memory on basic parts of speech. If you need to improve your grammar skills as well as your grammatical syntax, Grammar 1 is the perfect tool.

#2 The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms -$14.99
Literature students and readers will benefit from this comprehensive text that provides helpful and sometimes witty insight to almost 1,200 confusing literary terms. If you need help understanding the ancient dithyramb, the social realism of Stalin’s era or the magic realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez for example, this app will help put it in terms you understand.

#3 Wurdle -$1.99
Have some time to kill before your next class? Play this word game to pass some extra time and you may expand your word knowledge. Identify as many words as possible by connecting letters on a word letter grid in a limited amount of time.

#4 The Hundred Best English Poems $0.99
Compiled by Adam Gowans, this eBook contains the text of “The Hundred Best English Poems” published in 1904. The compilation includes what Gowans considered the best work of British poets from the 16th to 19th centuries.

#5 Perfect Rhyme $0.99
Poets and lyricists will always have the right word with this rhyming dictionary. Find words that rhyme with other words searching a database of over 130,000 entries including common acronyms, names and plural forms.

#6 VocabDaily $1.99
Everyone could benefit from a larger vocabulary. Learn new words daily and save the words that you like using the special bookmark feature. With a very intuitive interface, this app is the most popular and easiest word of the day program in the App store.

#7 Official Shakespeare Audio Insulter $0.99
“Thou puny, weather-bitten, mammet!” This $1 app is iPhone’s spin on the Shakespearean insult generators found on the internet. Touch the picture of The Bard and he will dish out his most creative words of abuse. iPod touch owners will need a pair of headphones to hear Shakespeare’s slams.

#8 Grammar Up $4.99
Grammar is extremely important for English majors -no matter what your level is. Take the quizzes in this app which contains all major grammar topics drawn from a huge question bank. With over 1,800 questions, it is the complete solution for learning or brushing up on English grammar.

#9 Pocket Quiz: Classics of World Literature $1.99
If you like trivia-type games, you can find this app in the game section. Get quizzed on everything worth knowing about world literature such as Hamlet, Faust, Baudelaire, Don Quixote or Proust. This app comes with a two player mode and offers detailed answers that include background information and interesting illustrations.

#10 Stanza $FREE
Stanza is like a library for your iPhone that stays open 24/7. Browse more than 50,000 books available to download for free, and even more for purchase. So before buying The Art of War, The Prince or other required reading for English class, it may be worth downloading the book from Stanza. Not only will it be free, but it could be more convenient to have a “pocket edition” handy when you are on the go.

#11 Wordbook English Dictionary and Thesaurus $1.99
Let’s face it; having a good dictionary is essential. And electronic dictionaries are a dime a dozen. However, for 2 bucks, this could be the best iPhone app in its category. With more than 150,000 entries, a Thesaurus, relevant web links and spoken pronunciations, this app could be your most indispensable tool as an English student.

#12 Ambiance $0.99
Have you ever been distracted by too much noise when you write? Not everyone can afford to take a writer’s retreat in a secluded cabin or beach. But put your earphones on and Ambiance can take you there with a host of ambient noises. Listen to the soothing sound of the ocean’s waves while you’re writing in a noisy cafe. Ambiance is perfect for those who want to block out unpleasant noises but do not want to listen to distracting radio or music.

#13 WordTwiddle $1.99
If you need some creative inspiration, try this three-slot customizable word generator. Choosing your own word lists (emotions, mythological characters or objects to name a few), WordTwiddle can help you create unlikely connections that help with all aspects of creative writing including blogging, marketing or storytelling.

#14 iBlueSky $9.99
Most people who are serious about mind-mapping won’t mind the price. When you make the most of this app, it can help you organize your thoughts for problem solving, breaking down tasks, risk management, SWOT analysis, brainstorming, project and event planning and of course, screen writing. You can also use it as a study aid for learning complex information which requires diagrams and maps.

#15 Collected Works $0.99
Get these classic works on the iPhone: Alice in Wonderland, Anna Karenina, Around the World in 80 Days, Crime and Punishment, Don Quixote Volume I, Don Quixote Volume II, Madame Bovary, Oliver Twist, Scarlet Letter, The Three Musketeers and War and Peace. Now you can read or reference these classics on your iPhone or iPod.

And finally, if you are tired of living in the stinky dorms or your roommate is driving you nuts, you can always download Apartmentguide’s iPhone app which lets you search for thousands of apartments sorted by location, price and amenities conveniently from your iPhone or iPod touch.

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The only application featured on this list that I currently own is Wurdle. I play it at least once a day and it is well worth the money. I chose it over Quordy which I have heard is equally fun and brain simulating. I was curious to see the reviews on the (Un) Official Shakespeare Audio Insulter app-how fun would that be? You could impress your professor during class or your colleagues at a party! Unfortunately the reviews are poor for the app that is featured in this article but there are two additional apps(iNsult: The Shakespearean Insult Generator and Shakespearean Insults) for Shakespearean insults that have better reviews. Neither app specifies if there is audio for the insults. I like the concept of the literary terms for on the go reference while studying in the library but I will not be purchasing this as I have a hard copy of a Bedford Glossary of Literary Terms that works just fine for me. I especially like the quiz applications for undergraduate survey courses-that could be very useful for broad knowledge purposes and to recall essential plot points and character references. I will definitely be picking up a grammar app  at some point after researching the ones featured on this list and whatever else is compiled in the app store in order to brush up on salient points to enhance my writing skills. However, at the moment, my most needed iPhone application is a Dictionary app so I can look up words while I am away from my laptop or Concise Oxford English Dictionary.

I think that there are some interesting suggestions on the featured  list but the versions of each type of application are virtually endless as new applications are reviewed and submitted to the app store on a daily basis. It is truly a matter of personal preference. I tend to go for the apps that have the highest reviews and integral features needed for my use, but perhaps others can be swayed by  merely comparing the screenshots provided in the app store preview. I will be doing a follow-up post with my own personal choices and why I chose them at a later date. What are your favorite applications for the iPhone/iPod Touch that would help you with a major or vested interest in English?

Who is the Most Romantic [Male] Character in Literature?

I came across the article whose link and full text appear below back in October with the full intent to blog about it once I launched a blog. This article raises deliciously loaded questions and the answers and arguments are limitless. I’ll post my own thoughts about this list at the bottom of the article text.

article link: http://shelf-life.ew.com/2009/10/19/whos-the-most-romantic-character-in-literature/

Who’s the most romantic character in literature?
by Tina Jordan
Categories: Fiction, Publishing Biz, Romance Novels
So, in a recent British Poll on the most romantic literary character of all time (men, that is; they dealt with women in an earlier poll), top honors went to Rochester, the brooding hunk at the heart of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Though I’m a huge fan of Jane Eyre — I reread my well-thumbed copy at least once a year — I’m not enamored of Rochester, who, let’s face it, wasn’t very nice to poor Jane. (For those who you who haven’t read the book, or who read it so long ago it’s a distant blur, let’s just say Rochester was alternately cold, imperious, and withholding, and he proposed to Jane — and was going through with the wedding — without disclosing that he was already married to a madwoman he kept imprisoned in the attic). But am I possibility in the minority here? British best-selling novelist Penny Vincenzi wrote in the Daily Telegraph: “From that very first meeting [age 13, when she read the book for the first time], when Rochester’s horse slipped on the ice, and he was unseated, and I was confronted by his dark, unsmiling presence, his ‘stern features, and heavy brow… his considerable breadth of chest,’ I was completely in his thrall.”
So here’s the British poll in full:

1. Edward Rochester of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre
2. Richard Sharpe of Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series.
3. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
4. Heathcliff of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights
5. Rhett Butler of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind
6. Mark Darcy, of Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary
7. Captain Corelli of Louis de Berniere’s Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
8. Henry DeTamble of Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife
9. Gabriel Oak of Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd
10. Rupert Campbell Black of Jilly Cooper’s The Rutshire Chronicles

Several thoughts here. Maybe it’s because I’m a Southern, but Rhett Butler — the dashing Charleston-born blockade runner who lusted after Scarlett O’Hara — is tops with me. (I took umbrage at Vincenzi when she said Butler lacked Rochester’s “complexity.” Excuse me — lacked complexity?) And what’s with No. 2, Richard Sharpe? Didn’t every single woman he romanced die in childbirth? (It’s been awhile since I read the books, so I could be wrong.) And who in their right mind could truly love the unutterable snob Fitzwilliam Darcy? (Oh. Wait. This is a British survey.)

I’m still mulling over my final list, but I think both Max de Winter from Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and Benedick from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing belong on it. Gilbert Blythe from the Anne of Green Gables series. George Emerson from E.M. Forster’s A Room With A View.

When I canvassed my friends, I got some surprising answers. “Definitely, it’s Garp,” said one. “I go for the tortured, suicidal, depressed Westchester types. Or maybe I just sorta get him confused with John Irving.” “Are you kidding? It’s Father Ralph de Bricassart,” said another, mentioning the swoon-worthy priest of Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds. My colleagues had a lot to say on the subject too. Marc Bernardin nominated ”Gollum. His love for the Ring, for his Precious, knows no bounds, sends him on a quest across his known world, brings him into conflict with those who would do him great harm, and finally seals his fate.” Jeff Labrecque said, “He’s not dashing, but I always had a soft spot for Sydney Carton [from Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities].” Alynda Wheat was partial to Richard Carstone from Bleak House (”a man who’ll marry you when you’ve been altered by illness — lovely”), to all the Austen men, and to William Dobbin from Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. A fellow staffer who wished to remain anonymous mentioned both Logan Bruno from The Babysitters Club books and Rob Gordon from Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity.

Who’s on your list?

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And now for Bellicose Blackcat’s Thoughts:

My first thought was utter outrage at the ommision of Persuasion’s Captain Frederick Wentworth-why on earth is he missing! That last letter to Anne was worthy of a place on this list alone. I am surprised that Mr. Rochester is at the top of the list, I prefer Heathcliff myself but I am shocked that Mr. Darcy did not take top honors. I am unfamiliar with some of the more contemporary males on this list but I see some other glaring omissions. For one- Gilbert Blythe of the Anne of Green Gables series-is there anyone more noble, more pining, more loveable and good than he? Almanzo Wilder of the Little House series who drove miles every Friday, blizzard or sunshine to pick up Laura and bring her home to her family while they were courting! Yes I know he is based on a living person but in my opinion he still counts. I am a little put off by Tina Jordan’s colleague’s suggestion of Logan Bruno from The Babysitter’s Club series-egads that would mean Todd Wilkins of Sweet Valley High would be a sure contender. Also missing from the list: I would like to add Dr. Woodcourt from Bleak House as well second the mention as Sydney Carton. I’d also like to add Edward Glapthorn/Gorst/Dupont/Tansor from A Meaning of Night/The Glass of Time by Michael Cox(more on him later) and Gilbert Markham from The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë.  I am sure there are many more worthy romantic males that I am omitting but I believe that is my personal list.

Do you agree with the list? Or my list? Who would you add?

Also if you find the prior poll Tina Jordan mentions early in her article that deals with romantic females-PLEASE leave it in a Comment, Twitter me, or Email me! I’ve  been searching for it for three months without avail!

A Little Bit Wicked: Life, Love, and Faith in Stages Book Review

The second book I read in 2009 was Kristin Chenoweth’s memoir A Little Bit Wicked: Life, Love, and Faith in Stages.  I have been a fan of Ms. Chenoweth’s for many years and was eager to see what her memoir was about. Let me note that this is the very first memoir I have ever read and I was apprehensive about picking up a celebrity memoir; however, since it was Kristin Chenoweth I was immediately appeased. In interviews around the book launch Kristin herself claims that this is not “a tell all” but more of a “how I got where I am so far”. Her memoir starts off with a bit of background into her February 2008 Oscar appearance and performance and then promptly leaps backward to her childhood. Chenoweth shies away from nothing in her memoir, her adoption and family life, her schooling, her route to New York and Broadway, her relationships, her failed career moves, and her faith. Her faith plays a big role in the memoir, she is forever saying something about Jesus(I can’t recall all the phrases she uses) but she never is preachy and I so appreciate that! She doesn’t flaunt her faith or make you feel like her christianity is better than any other religion. She is incredibly tolerant and has been ostracized for her views on homosexuality that conflict with her religion’s official view.

As this is not a tell-all it is awe-inspiring as Chenoweth recalls her chronology of work that originated in Off-Broadway and Broadway productions with forays in television (her forever mentioned failed sitcom Kristin, The West Wing and of course Pushing Daisies) and feature films. She mentions super-producer Andrew Lippa, as well as other well-known Broadway actors but not to be pretentious in name dropping-she thoroughly explains her relationship with her colleagues,whether personal and professional and makes herself more human in result. She recounts her diagnosis and her ongoing struggle with meniere’s disease which is related to vertigo in a way that makes it even more amazing how she manages to perform while under the symptoms and flare-ups of her condition. She recalls her failed romances as well as her special connection to on and off lover, the talented Mr. Aaron Sorkin, who writes a  ‘Special Guest Appearance’ section that chronicles their relationship and fondness for each other. My favorite chapter was her recounting her involvement with the Broadway debut of Wicked and her incarnation of G(a)linda. It is a regret of mine that I was unable to see her and Idina Menzel in the Broadway production but I hear a feature film based on the musical is in the works!

Overall this is a delightful and engaging read from one of the most talented singers and actresses of our time. It reads like an extended catch-up session with an old friend over coffee at a great independent coffee-house with lots of lattes flowing and great pastries being baked. Chenoweth did use a ghostwriter, Joni Rodgers who is known for her own memoir. I am not sure how much a celebrity writes a memoir or what a ghost writer’s role is in the memoir writing process but I truly believe this reads as if Kristin herself was dictating this. Some readers may argue that the tone and diction may be a tad folksy but I think that that is what makes this a more endearing read. This is a must-read for all Chenoweth and Broadway fans alike.

CES and the explosion of the E-reader

CES 2010 touched down in Las Vegas this past week. There were many new gadgets to salivate over and review but surprisingly enough, what seems to have dominated the conference is an explosion of e-readers. Check out this helpful yahoo tech article for a compendium of brand new e-readers poised to infiltrate the market within the coming year. Of course the market for e-readers already have the kindle 2, Sony e-reader(which includes three different models), and the newly minted Nook from Barnes & Noble, but several other companies have thrown themselves in the ring so to speak. Some of these companies I have never even heard of which without further research is offputting to me as to how their product may or may not make a mark on this burgeoning e-reader industry.

As the hotly rumored apple I tablet has yet to be announced it seems like Sprint has the most envious of electronic reading apparatus thus far. I fail to see why I would need a reader that is the size of a notebook sheet of paper but I concede that it would be easier to read a lot of text on. I personally do not own a reader myself and I have seen the Kindle 2 up close, but I have yet to make the switch from books to e-readers.  This begs the question-does it have to be one or the other? Can you co-exist as a reader with an e-reader and physical books? I take pride in the fact that last weekend I put together a storage cabinet and rearranged two bookshelves to accomodate the piles of books I acquired over the last year. Physical books comfort me, and for me they are like old friends. I have multiple editions of some books-including four versions of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales(and still counting) alone and I love each edition just the same. Yes it would be convenient to have my entire library in an electronic device that weighs mere ounces. But for right now I cannot bring myself to make the jump just yet.

I wonder what this explosion will do for publishing-will it cripple it or will it shift it? Will the shift be detrimental or helpful to an industry already crippled by the financial depression of the past 18 months? I was sad to read on twitter that e-books outsold physical books on amazon for this past holiday season but it would be interesting to see what long-term effects the launching of these new readers will have.

Do you have an e-reader? What kind? Why did you choose an e-reader and do you still have physical books? I have a myriad of questions for e-reader owners that I really truly would like to be informed about.

Penguin Classics redesigned by Coralie Bickford-Smith

There is something sexy about hardcovers, and the ones that Coralie Bickford-Smith designed are perhaps the sexiest hardcovers ever produced. I own a lot of classics in paperbacks but I am more than willing to collect these hardcovers. Maybe they can be equated to literary baseball cards. I’ll trade you a Cranford for a Sense & Sensibility. I first got wind of these hardcover redesigns about a year ago when they were only available in Waterstone’s in England. From there they were available in Canada and finally the United States. After querying Ms. Bickford-Smith I realize that these covers are not simply switching a picture or packaging a product to meet a wider demographic; this is literary cover design for the sake of literature. Ms. Bickford-Smith has carefully chosen symbols that allude to a character or underlying theme in each of the novels. I was desperate to see these books in the cloth, and lucky for me, I found them displayed in a local Borders Books and Music. When I told my dear friend and literary mentor about this set she wondered about the typeset-I am thoroughly embarrassed to say that due to being rushed I could not pick the books up and explore them. I did, however, get pictures of most of the set’s covers.

If you query Coralie Bickford-Smith on Google you will find many informative interviews and can even track the buzz about these classics to late 2008.

Curled Up With A Book features all of the classics she designed and has the best pictures that I could find. You can find most of the classics available for purchase on Amazon but Waterstone’s has the most extensive inventory.

Seeing as my favorite book is Wuthering Heights I will probably start my collection by purchasing that and then move on to the others.

Is it totally wrong that I salivate over these on a daily basis? What do you think?