Friday Book Club: Announcing Our Read For March!

SWT-Book-ClubsThe last book in our three-month series on Humor Writing is 700 Sundays, by Billy Crystal.  This a poignant autobiography about Billy Crystal’s early years with his family.  He talks about the roles music, baseball, and performing comedy had in his family, and he talks about his relationship with his father, who died young of a heart attack.  700 Sundays is based on the one man play Billy Crystal wrote and performed on Broadway.  It won a Tony in 2005 for “Special Theatrical Event”.  If you are in the Sacramento area, come visit us on 2/23/14 at Arden Dimick Library in Sacramento, CA, at 2PM for an in-person discussion of this sometimes heart-breaking and often very, very funny book!


In honor of the occasion, here’s a clip of Billy Crystal from an earlier time in his career, as the marvelous Fernando in Saturday Night Live!

This Week’s Arrow: “Time of Death”

MV5BMTYzNDYxMTkzOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODUzMjMxMDE@._V1_SX640_SY720_Holy crap, you guys, I have ALL THE FEELS.  I’ve always had a certain grudging sympathy for Laurel, who kept the ball rolling for years only to turn into the loser of the world, and now she actually made me all teary.  Also, Felicity is sad.  I repeat, Felicity is sad.  This is not OK.  Sad Felicity makes my heart hurt.  I feel like E.T. going “Oooooouch…”.

So here’s a pretty scattered look at the ups and downs of this episode.  It’s scattered because I’m still recovering.  First of all:

Dude, there is an awful lot going on in the show right now.  They may over-stuffed things a bit.  There were scenes in which so many people told so many lies of omission, implication, or just, you know, bald-faced lies so quickly to so many people that it was like a French farce of lying.  I seriously thought that at one point the Queen Mansion might just collapse into a sinkhole or possibly explode or at least be hit by lightning, because of the vast preponderance of epic bullshit going on.

Thank God nothing awkward is happening with the Lance family (she said, sarcastically)

Thank God nothing awkward is happening with the Lance family (she said, sarcastically)

Plus, there are approximately 1000 plot lines all of which are getting more and more interconnected.  They can’t possibly all happen at once, so someone is always short-changed.  Has Diggle gotten anything to do or say since he rescued his ex-wife in Russia?  Can we please, please, give this guy something to do other than be a comforting voice of sanity and a token Person of Color?  I know people have to wait their turn for screen time (Roy is apparently locked in a closet until next week) but this is getting ridiculous.  More Diggle, please.

Since there are so many, many things to talk about let’s focus on Felicity and Sara.  I liked it that Felicity is jealous – but she’s not primarily jealous because Oliver is having a semi-romantic relationship with someone else.  Oh, I’m sure she’s jealous of that, but that’s the not the source of her malaise.  She’s jealous because Super-Sara is super.  Sara is good with the science stuff.  She’s good at fighting.  She can relate to Ollie and Diggle in a way that Felicity can’t.  Felicity can’t even hate her, because Sara is also great at being nice to Felicity.  She appreciates Feleicity’s talents, she asks before she touches the equipment, she encourages her to work on building self-defense skills, and she’s just basically a decent person to Felicity despite having her own grounds for jealousy.  Although her calling Felicity “cute” is a little passive-aggressive, I don’t think she intends it condescendingly.

It makes sense that Felicity would question her role on the team right now.  Her crush is doomed (or so she thinks).  She and Ollie have lingering tension because she revealed his mom’s secret, so her role as the person who provides emotional support is shaky.  Her tech skills have been unreliable lately so the one quantifiable thing she has to offer is in doubt.  Frankly, if I were Felicity, I would have packed my bags and headed off to date Barry months ago.  But Ollie reassures her that “She’ll always be his girl”.

Felicity is firmly in the "Little Sister Zone" but she seems OK with that for now.  The painkillers really take the edge off.

Felicity is firmly in the “Little Sister Zone” but she seems OK with that for now. The painkillers really take the edge off.

What I like about this arc is that Sara and Felicity absolutely refuse to be catty to each other.  Think how often we get the “women fight over a guy” story.  Sara and Felicity have larger goals.  They need the team to work.  Plus, they are both fundamentally nice people.  What I don’t like is that everyone treats Felicity like an adorable small child.  Felicity, I’ve been in the little sister zone.  When you know that’s the most affection you’re gonna get from your beloved, it’s tempting to hang out there.  But you’re not “cute” and you’re not a “girl”.  For God’s sake, you’re a brilliant, competent adult.  Make people treat you like one.  And keep up on learning self-defense – Sara seems like a good teacher and everyone should know some basics, even when they don’t hang out with vigilantes in a high-tech basement.

OK everyone, jump on the comments.  What did you think about Ollie telling Laurel that he’s “done chasing her?”  The photo of Sin – contrived, or adorable, or both?  Can we just have a show about Sin and Thea?  Their super-power is snark!  Isn’t The Clockmaker a great villain?  Will he escape justice and wreak further havoc?    Make it happen!  Is Sara doomed since she told Sin that Sin will never have to get along without her?  Let’s see – Sara has reconciled with the family, escaped the League of Baddies, and she and Ollie are getting along so, I’m gonna go with…yes.  Sara is toast.

Wednesday Video: Pacific Rim Goes Radioactive

WednesdayVideoLook, we all knew Pacific Rim wasn’t going up for a Best Picture Oscar, but for it to be completely cut out of all the  special effects categories is a shame.  Here’s a great fan video to show you just how fun that monster vs. robot movie was!

C’mon Oscars.  You can’t tell me that flying dragon fighting a robot with a sword wasn’t pretty cool.

And for the more sentimental among us, I thought this video used the song “Mirrors” to good effect in showing a relationship between two drift compatible people (Mako Mori, played by Rinko Kikuchi, and Raleigh Becket, played by Charlie Hunnam).

Just because I love it, here’s a clip from Pacific Rim of Mako kicking Raleigh’s ass – and extra points to Raleigh who is so thrilled to have his ass kicked.  I’m just gonna have to watch the whole movie again, aren’t I?

History’s Hidden Heroes: Lynn Conway

220pxLynn_Conway_July_2006Building a career in computer engineering is a difficult thing to do once, but Lynn Conway did it twice!

Lynn Conway built her career for the first time when she was recruited by IBM in 1964.  At IBM, she helped invent dynamic instruction scheduling (DIS).  Those of you who have followed this blog for a while know that when I try to talk about computer science, my eyes start spinning around my head and I have to lie down.  But as far as I can tell, in the simplest terms, what she did was make it so that you could give multiple directions to a computer in various orders instead of being locked into a single order.  This was a crucial stage in the development of modern microprocessors.

Conway was assigned a male gender at birth and was living (unhappily) as a man when she was hired by IBM.  In 1968, Conway was fired by IBM when she disclosed her intention to fully transition to living as a woman.  Conway was also divorced by her wife and lost custody of her children.  The rest of her family disowned her.  Conway persisted in completing her transition, and began a new life as a woman.  She started over completely, with no one close to her knowing that she had lived part of her life with a male identity.

In this next phase of her career, Conway co-authored the book Introduction to VLSI Systems, which became the standard chip design textbook.  She has been an instructor as well as a designer, working with Xerox, Memorex, MIT, and the Department of Defense.  Conway’s work alongside Carver Mead was so important that it’s been called “The Mead and Conway Revolution”.

Eventually Conway realized that Mark Smotherman, a computing professor, was putting together a website full of information about the IBM project that Conway had worked on, and that this might end up “outing” her.  She came out gradually to family and friends and ultimately went public with her story.  Today Conway has reconciled with many members of her family, including her children, and she is a prominent activist for the rights of transgender people.  You can find more about her career as a computer engineer and an activist at her webpage.

Guest Post: Anne Leonard, Author of Moth and Spark

Moth and Spark.hi res coverToday we welcome author Anne Leonard, who’s book, Moth and Spark was released on February 20.  This book is a fantasy novel with a romance at its center.  I’ll be reviewing it on March 4, 2014, but meanwhile here’s a wonderful essay from Anne Leonard on how her academic life informed her fiction:

Life as a Student and a Writer

How does my academic life overlap with my writing life? What’s interesting for me about this question is that as I dig deeper into answering it, I learn stuff about myself that I didn’t know. The thing about personal history is that as you change as a person, the influence of your past changes too. I appreciate different things about events than I did when they happened.

I have four degrees. But they are all in significant ways different from each other. My B.A. was in liberal arts from St. John’s College, which is a very small school (there were about 90 people in my graduating class). The curriculum consists of reading primary texts instead of secondary texts in every class, and everyone takes the same classes, which makes it possible to have discussions with anyone on campus about a book. So I read Homer and Euclid and Kant and Newton and Chaucer and . . .

This was great for someone like me, who was interested in all sorts of things and would have had a terrible time deciding on a major in a traditional school. Some of the reading influenced me in the way that any book influences a person; it becomes part of an experience and it imparts knowledge. But it also gave me a broad frame of reference and an understanding of the history of Western ideas. More and more as I write, I go back and look through books that I read then, sometimes for story ideas but also as a reminder that ideas and cultures build upon each other and I’m not writing in a vacuum. College was not just about education; it was also about becoming a member of a community.

After my B.A., I got my MFA in fiction writing. It’s kind of obvious how a degree in writing influences a fiction writer. But more than just learning craft, I learned how to talk about writing. I think it’s where my style began to really develop into its own. There were also a lot of required literature classes, including literary criticism, so I got exposed to fiction and poetry I hadn’t read before, and to ideas about reading as a process. I also taught undergraduate composition and creative writing, which made me very aware of how I wrote and read. Thinking about how I interact with texts helps situate me in what I’m writing.

The Ph.D. in English literature continued to focus my ideas about literature, but with an emphasis on criticism and scholarship. I realized somewhere along the way that I didn’t want to teach in higher education as it exists in the US today, and I didn’t want to spend all my time writing about other people’s books when I could be writing my own. It didn’t seem at the time like getting a Ph.D. was doing much more to help me as a writer than reading books on my own would have. But in just the last few months, as I’ve been immersing myself in the online community of readers that didn’t exist at all back in the 90’s, I’ve realized that it really helped me think about how people read: what assumptions they come in with, how their personal background shapes what they take away from a book, where cultural biases exists. We talked about these things in classes, and I read plenty of articles on the subject, but it looks really different now when I see actual reaction to books “in the wild.” (And now I’m thinking I need to write an article on the subject….You can take me out of scholarship, but you can’t take scholarship out of me.)

After my Ph.D., when I needed a job and wasn’t going to do the teaching route, I landed in a paralegal position, which turned out to be work that I was really good at and mostly liked, and after a few years I was writing documents for attorneys to sign. Then it seemed silly not to make much more money by being able to sign them myself, so I went to law school. The only academic writing I did in law school was on exams and in legal writing classes. This was difficult writing; I had to learn another genre. It helped me become much more sharply aware of ambiguities and lack of clarity in my writing. This was obviously helpful when I got out into practice and was writing motions on a pretty much daily basis, but it turned out to be very useful in doing the edits to Moth and Spark as well. It’s always nagging at the back of my head in my current writing, too. Law school also served me well because for the most part, law is about the resolution of conflict, which is also what novels are about.

Occasionally I wonder about what would have happened if I had not gone on to a doctoral program after I did my MFA, or if I had just quick working for three years to write and borrowed the money for that instead of going to law school. I don’t know what either my life in general or my writing in particular would look like if I had not spent so many years in school. It’s an impossible question to answer. Separating my writing life from my experiences, including school, is like separating the front of a coin from its back.

One of the unifying aspects of my four degrees is that they have all, in varying ways, touched upon the relationship of the individual to society, the connections between self and the outside world. This isn’t something I’ve consciously articulated before. Thinking about relationship between me and the world is important to me as a writer, because it engages with questions about themes, plots, conflicts, and audience, among others. That awareness of self and world shows up in everything I write. And that matters.

Anne Leonard

Anne Leonard

Friday Book Club: The Many Lives of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

SWT-Book-ClubsThe Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a classic book with a long, strange life in many forms.  Here’s just a few of the ways you can enjoy Douglas Adams’ weird and wonderful mind:


Hitchhiker’s started life as a BBC radio broadcast in 1978.  There were six episodes.  It was not expected to be a hit, but it did so well that it was rebroadcast twice that year and then released as a record.  A second series was released in 1980.


Next came the novels.  After the third novel was released, the series was described as a “trilogy” and when the fourth novel came out it was described as a “trilogy in four parts”.  Eventually five books were published:  The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Life, The Universe, and Everything, So Long and Thanks for All The Fish, and Mostly Harmless.  Douglas Adams wanted to write a sixth one, because he thought that the fifth book, Mostly Harmless, ended the series on too dark a note.  But he died before the book was written.  Enoin Colfer wrote a final book, And Another Thing, with the endorsement of Adams’ widow.

Cover - Hitchhikers Guide


BBC ran a six part TV series based on the radio show in 1981.  A sec don series was discussed but fell through because of, among other things, disagreements about budget.  In 2003, some excerpts of the books were filmed as part of The Big Read program.


And…back to radio!

The BBC did another, updated radio show in 2005.  In case that’s not enough to delight your ears, there are also several LP versions and audiobook versions.

Hitchhiker's guide


Douglas Adams spent years trying to get a Hollywood film version of Hitchhiker’s made but he died before the 2005 movie was finally released.  It came out to mixed reviews and differs from the books a lot, playing up the love triangle aspect between Arthur, Trillian, and Zaphod.  It starts Martin Freeman, Mos Def, Sam Rockwell, and Zooey Deschanel.


For a complete list of all the spin offs and adaptations, go to your friendly Wikipedia, where you will find enough Adams to keep you busy forever!  There are comic books!  There are video games!  There are radio scripts and stage plays!  And, of course, there are lots and lots of towels for sale!