In the '80s, my great-aunt Carol used to put on tatty furs and a fake British accent and parody the Queen's annual speech at Christmas dinners.
I think of her now, as the twilight of 2007 has brought with it the inevitable list-making of critics, pundits and amateurs alike compiling their best-ofs, worst-ofs, and what-ofs, and I, being the scattershot dilettante I am, compile a list is neither a best-films or best-reads list, nor even a best-of-tv list, but rather all three, linked only, inevitably, by their tenuous connections to my vague philosophy of spinsterism, which some have interpreted as "things designed to make you stay at home" (an interpretation I choose to accept mainly because any literal claim I may have had to being an actual Spinster Aunt fell by the wayside, like so much virtue, on July 24th, 2007). I imagine now that the Queen might make such lists as these, with no regard whatsoever for genre, theme, era, author or anything else, other than what amuses her.
So here is my thematically fuzzy, media-unspecific bit of rambling, based upon absolutely no criteria at all other than each item on it provoked my unmitigated delight, as though the intellectual and artistic detritus of this world was designed solely for my whims and pleasure.
Thus do we amuse ourselves in the colonies.
* * *
The Printed Word:
This year I made a wonderful new discovery when I picked up George Simenon's Maigret Mystified by happenstance in a used bookstore. Maigret's a marvelous protagonist, and I can't wait to read more of Simenon's shockingly prolific output. I also read The Blue Hammer, the final book in Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer series. Macdonald was really underrated for years but I think there'll be a resurgence of interest in his work now, following a recent reprinting of several titles by Black Lizard Press. I'm glad, because his prose should earn him a place among the best. Another series I was delighted to sink my teeth into for the first time was Joan Hess's Maggody series, which satisfied my hillbilly leanings and my cravings for a good story. Mortal Remains in Maggody introduced me to an astonishingly rich pantheon of rubes and their embittered foil, citified home-girl Arly Hanks.
I managed to get a little touch of the classics, too. Dracula , though published over a century ago, was a thoroughly modern tale of suspense and the supernatural, featuring one hell of a kickass heroine. And I continue to enjoy the work of Ruth Rendell, whose solid one-off One Across, Two Down demonstrates her great ability to craft apparently simple narratives of disarming subtlety. I'd have to say I liked it as much as Lake of Darkness, my favorite stand-alone so far, and Murder Being Once Done, my preferred Inspector Wexford mystery to date.
The Moving Pictures:
Two films I saw recently, Docks of NY and Letter from an Unknown Woman reaffirmed my faith in the medium of cinema, one for the beauty of its lighting and compositions, the other for its camera movement. As a viewer, I tend to get too caught up in theme and story to appreciate other elements of the art form, but these films jolted me right back into the movies' sheer capacity for visual gorgeousness. The Band Wagon had a similar effect, in that it reminded me that the movies are about spectacle, dammit! And Sam Fuller's Forty Guns made me remember how much I love that singular star, Barbara Stanwyck, and so many other strong, brilliant women who hold their on on screen. Finally, the new Nancy Drew was a great example of a clever and effective adaptation, updating the source material while staying faithful to its spirit, and to the spirit of its heroine.
Pleasant surprises in the world of television:
I watched my first episode of The Women’s Murder Club with some misgiving. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I've been pleasantly surprised at the quality of the show so far. Angie Harmon is great, and the whole cast really brings it -- I've even started to like the spunky blonde D.A., who's character totally improved after episode 1. The show veers off into indulgent moments of pure soap and isn't afraid of cop-cliche melodrama, which can be a lot of fun. Yet the writing is taut and handles "womens" issues with insight and humor, and the mid-season finale was completely satisfying.
Another pleasant surprise: House is good again! After a mediocre season 3, the show is fun to watch once more. Laurie is in top form as always, and the "Survivor" element to the show (eliminating potential fellows) was silly and great. It's as if the writers decided they couldn't push the formula any further, were on the brink of cancellation and decided to go for broke. Now I just want the writer's strike to end! Here's hoping the scribes get all the money they've got coming to them.
Well, here's wishing you and yours a Happy Christmas.