Friday, August 27, 2010

Weekend Post (O/T): Wanton Media Consumption

I am an avid consumer of all forms of media. I'm either reading, watching, playing, or listening to something. Here's a rundown of some of this week's highlights for the weekend off-topic post.

After reading the obituaries for Maury Chaykin, I realized that I'd only see one episode of A&E's Nero Wolfe, and that one long ago. We watch a lot of British mystery shows at Casa McD, but I was curious how the Americans would handle a classic literary mystery adaption like this. The answer is: pretty darn well. Tim Hutton is a snappy Archie Goodwin, and Chaykin is volatile and neurotic as Wolfe. The oddest part is the use of an ensemble cast in different roles each week. Aside from a few repeating characters, all the other actors play a different character in every mystery. It's a very good American take on the classic British lit-mystery format (Sherlock Holmes, Poirot, Marple, Midsomer Murders, etc).

As for Chaykin, the thing from him that I still remember best is "Mr. Potatohead! Mr. POTATOHEAD!" Can you name that movie?

Gillian Anderson as Lady Dedlock
Bleak House has been an ongoing project for the past two months. I'm always reading a few books at once, so a 1,000 page Victorian novel is going to take a little bit of time. Fortunately, Dickens wrote it to be read that way, since the story would have originally been printed as a serial. (That's why all his characters had certain phrases or characteristics that were always repeated: to help people remember who they were from month to month.) This may not be the best place to start with Dickens if you've never read him before (Great Expectations or Hard Times are probably a better first experience), but it's certainly the best writing Dickens ever did. If you've never seen the most recent adaptation (with Gillian Anderson and Charles Dance) make sure you do. I think it's still on Netflix streaming, and it's superb.

Solitaire by David Parlett. Parlett is the best writer on cards, period. Alas, I think his book on Solitaire is out of print. That's a shame, because it's not just a collection of 400 games and variants, but also a thoughtful look at the game of solitaire itself. Parlett categorizes the games, ranging from simple games of luck and patience, to logic problems that require as much thought as chess. This book desperately needs to be back in print. No one has ever written a better book on the subject.

Memorize the Faith (and Most Anything Else) by Kevin Vost. I teach religion to 8th graders, so I was looking for some interesting new techniques in this book. The author's method is based on the ancient "method of loci," which associates certain facts with different discreet locations, such as rooms and objects in a house. I'm not far into it, so I'm not sure what I think of the method. I've worked with teenagers for many years, and their retention of rote facts is very poor. While rote learning was probably over-emphasized in the past, it is drastically under-emphasized now. I'm 42-years-old, and I can still recite poetry and facts I learned at their age. (I had a classical education that emphasized that sort of thing.) I'm looking for any method I can use to help them retain hard knowledge. This may or may not be the method, but it's certainly a different approach.

Killer Cribbage by Dan Barlow. I've read half of this book, and my 9-year-old daughter still took me to the cleaners ... twice. (She said, "I don't think that book is working.) Maybe all the best secrets are in the second half? Actually, it's a very good book that offers some excellent advice, My daughter is simply a card shark. I'm so proud.

I've mostly been listening to Old Time Radio. The site has a complete collection of Gunsmoke episodes in perfect sound quality. This is some of the best entertainment you'll find, and it's free! Load up your iPod with OTR and you will not be disappointed.


accordeonaire said...

I agree. I think Tim Hutton is an American treasure and can't imagine what sort of personal issues have gone on to keep him from getting huge when "Taps" came out, as Sean Penn and Tom Cruise did. His father, Jim Hutton, who died when he was only 45 (yikes!), was a fantastic Ellery Queen in the 1975 TV series. One of the Huttons are pretty much the only men alive who could utter Ellery's line, "You don't have to worry about me, Miss __________, I'm practically sexless," and still retain their credibility as a hero. It was a more innocent time.

Thomas L. McDonald said...

I'd forgotten about Jim Hutton in Ellery Queen. I know he was in Cary Grant's last movie.

And I like the theory that Nero Wolfe is the illegitimate son of Irene Adler and Sherlock Holmes.

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