Monday, March 18, 2019

The Light and the Dark

The Light and the Dark, by Mikhail Shishkin

A few years ago I read a modernist novel by Shishkin, Maidenhair, which was strange and intriguing.  I've been meaning to read his next book for quite some time and I finally did it.  By now he's probably published three more, oh dear.

This is a love story, maybe.  Alexandra (Sasha) and Vladimir (Vovka) are separated lovers who write to each other.  In long alternating letters, they reminisce about their time together, talk about their memories, and share what's happening in their lives.  Except...after a while, the reader starts to notice strange things.  Volodya is a soldier, and eventually we realize he's in China, helping to put down the Boxer Rebellion.  If you look for indications of Sasha's environment, there are few clues, but she is more modern and seems to live at the end of the century. 

And both of them seem to be writing into a void; they never reference each other's letters.  Vladimir addresses Sasha directly and longs for her, but after a little while Sasha's words are more like diary entries than letters.  Only near the end does she really address Volodya again, and by then he might be dying.

Not at all a difficult read, but certainly a strange one.  I'm not sure what to make of it.  Maybe it's supposed to make an ouroboros.  It was interesting, though.

While looking for an image to use, I found out that in Russia, a play was produced, called The Letter Book, which appears to be the Russian title.

Friday, March 15, 2019

The Riddle of the Sands

I just read it for free on Kindle
The Riddle of the Sands, by Erskine Childers

 This is another title I picked up from the Slightly Foxed podcast, which lauded it as a gripping boys' adventure and minor classic.  It was indeed pretty exciting, but it's waaaay longer than I anticipated!  I thought it would be a quick little read on my phone's Kindle app for odd moments, but it took me weeks.

Carruthers, young man about town, is invited on a yachting cruise by an old school friend, Davies, and he packs up his nattiest yachting outfit and heads for the north coast of Germany to meet Davies and relax for some duck shooting.  Except, the 'yacht' turns out to be a tiny (but tough!) little souped-up boat, and what Davies really wants is to explore the north-west coast of Germany in excruciating detail, because he's become convinced that something nefarious is going on.  Something worth killing for, that involves the German navy and concerns England.  It's clearly their patriotic duty to investigate.  So Carruthers and Davies set out to explore the sandy, difficult coast, outwit the German authorities, and figure out... the riddle of the sands.

Most of the action takes place in Friesland.

It's an exciting spy story of two amateurs against professionals, and it's also a sailing story.  In fact, there is a simply incredible amount about boats.  I'm pretty sure the entire Horatio Hornblower series does not contain this much material about boats and sailing and navigation.

The novel was published in 1903, and had an enormous impact.  From what I can gather, it was really one of the very first spy novels -- it built on Victorian adventure novels but introduced a twist with modern anxieties about invasion from other European powers and espionage, and it inspired an avalanche of spy novels.*  I've seen claims that it even inspired the founding of MI5 or of British naval bases, but that seems iffy to me.  I'd like more information on that.

You can really absorb the zeitgeist of 1903 here.  These two young men are entirely a product of their time and place, which makes it interesting.   You can see World War I coming over the horizon.  There is a surprising amount of admiration for the German Kaiser from Davies, which I didn't expect:
'Here's this huge empire, stretching half over central Europe—an empire growing like wildfire, I believe, in people, and wealth, and everything. They've licked the French, and the Austrians, and are the greatest military power in Europe. I wish I knew more about all that, but what I'm concerned with is their sea-power. It's a new thing with them, but it's going strong, and that Emperor of theirs is running it for all it's worth. He's a splendid chap, and anyone can see he's right....'

For two days we travelled slowly up the mighty waterway that is the strategic link between the two seas of Germany. Broad and straight, massively embanked, lit by electricity at night till it is lighter than many a great London street; traversed by great war vessels, rich merchantmen, and humble coasters alike, it is a symbol of the new and mighty force which, controlled by the genius of statesmen and engineers, is thrusting the empire irresistibly forward to the goal of maritime greatness.    'Isn't it splendid?' said Davies. 'He's a fine fellow, that emperor.'
  It is really strange to see this character with such admiration for a guy I think of as bombastic, uncontrolled, disastrously impulsive, and fatally Prussian-minded.  But in 1903 I suppose the average citizen didn't know all that.

It's worth reading, and pretty exciting, but be prepared for a really overwhelming amount about boats.

*John Buchan came next, John LeCarre....I suppose without Erskine Childers we might not have James Bond or Jack Ryan or Jason Bourne, at least not in the form we're used to.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Parnassus on Wheels and The Haunted Bookshop

Parnassus on Wheels and The Haunted Bookshop, by Christopher Morley

These fun books came across the donation table and I just read them in spare moments.  Several years ago, I downloaded The Haunted Bookshop, but I couldn't understand the first chapter at all, so I quit.  I had no idea that it was a sequel to Parnassus on Wheels!  Now it all makes sense....

Parnassus on Wheels is the narrative of Helen McGill, spinster, who lives with her brother on a farm.  Until a few years ago, they farmed happily together, but then Andrew wrote a book and became a successful writer about the joys of country life, and things have never been the same since.  Helen is pretty fed up and the last straw arrives on a wagon in the form of a mobile bookstore, Parnassus on Wheels; the owner wants to sell the outfit to Andrew so he can retire and write his book, about the joys of bookselling.  Helen decides that it's high time she got to go out gallivanting around the countryside and let Andrew run his own farm, so she buys Parnassus and sets out to become a traveling bookseller.  She'll just take this Roger Mifflin fellow along for a day or so while she learns the ropes, and then drop him off at the train station...

The adventures of Helen and Roger are a lot of fun.  There are bandits and storms, irate landladies,  sheriffs and even a train wreck!  I think I actually enjoyed this one better than the next, which is still quite a good read.

In The Haunted Bookshop, the Great War is over and the Mifflins have settled down in Brooklyn to run Parnassus at Home.  An energetic young advertising clerk happens by and is intrigued by the garrulous Roger, and at about the same time a friend asks them to take on his daughter as a favor, so she (fresh from finishing school) can find out what real working life is like.  But odd things are happening at the bookshop.  Why do people keep coming in and asking for Carlyle's Cromwell, and why is that tome never where it ought to be?  Young Mr. Gilbert thinks he smells a rat and he's determined to find out what's going on.

This story is still great fun, plus there are schemes and spies and adventures.  I particularly got a laugh out of this bit at the start of the book, where Mr. Mifflin and Mr. Gilbert first meet and entertain themselves by having their dinner conversation in a deliberately Johnsonian style:

 "Ah, you should taste Mrs. Mifflin's cooking!" said the bookseller. "I am only an amateur, who dabbles in the craft during her absence. She is on a visit to her cousin in Boston. She becomes, quite justifiably, weary of the tobacco of this establishment, and once or twice a year it does her good to breathe the pure serene of Beacon Hill. During her absence it is my privilege to inquire into the ritual of housekeeping. I find it very sedative after the incessant excitement and speculation of the shop."

"I should have thought," said Gilbert, "that life in a bookshop would be delightfully tranquil."

"Far from it. Living in a bookshop is like living in a warehouse of explosives. Those shelves are ranked with the most furious combustibles in the world—the brains of men. I can spend a rainy afternoon reading, and my mind works itself up to such a passion and anxiety over mortal problems as almost unmans me. It is terribly nerve-racking. Surround a man with Carlyle, Emerson, Thoreau, Chesterton, Shaw, Nietzsche, and George Ade—would you wonder at his getting excited? What would happen to a cat if she had to live in a room tapestried with catnip? She would go crazy!"

"Truly, I had never thought of that phase of bookselling," said the young man. "How is it, though, that libraries are shrines of such austere calm? If books are as provocative as you suggest, one would expect every librarian to utter the shrill screams of a hierophant, to clash ecstatic castanets in his silent alcoves!"

"Ah, my boy, you forget the card index! Librarians invented that soothing device for the febrifuge of their souls, just as I fall back upon the rites of the kitchen. Librarians would all go mad, those capable of concentrated thought, if they did not have the cool and healing card index as medicament!"
Yes, we would all go mad!  Mad, I tell you!

These two are minor classics of American humor and a must-read for any book lover.  I'm glad I found them.

Somebody went ahead and did it!

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Last Dragonslayer

The Last Dragonslayer and The Song of the Quarkbeast, by Jasper Fforde

I do love Jasper Fforde!  For Dewithon, I read the first two books in the Chronicles of Kazam trilogy.  The third is no longer at my library, and I put an ILL request in for it.  These middle-grade fantasy stories are so fun, everybody!

OK, I haven't gotten that third one yet, but I like this image
Jennifer Strange, age 16, is a foundling -- there are lots in the Kingdom of Hereford, ruled by the illustrious King Snodd IV.  She works as a manager at a company of wizards; it's her job to do the practical work of booking jobs, scheduling, and feeding the very unruly jobbing wizards, and since the worrying disappearance of the owner 8 months ago, she's been running it all on her own.  But!  The level of magic available in the world is going down.  It's getting harder and harder to do big workings, and pretty soon the wizards of Kazam might be out of work altogether.  Meanwhile, the last of the dragons is dying, and Jennifer has been named a dragonslayer despite not wanting at all to kill any dragons.  She and her faithful quarkbeast set out to see what can be done.

As with the Thursday Next books, at least half the fun is in the details and the oddball world Fforde has invented.  This is a Britain un-united, with innumerable tiny kingdoms and plenty of strange creatures.  A good deal of Wales belongs to dragons (naturally enough) and the north belongs to trolls.  Magic runs the technology, and is written in code -- RUNIX used to be standard but ARAMAIC-128 is more modern.

There were a lot of good moments, but this one in particular had to be read aloud to anyone nearby.  Jennifer and the company's messenger, a magic-carpet owner and prince of a neighboring kingdom, are on their way home:

We took the train back to the Kingdom of Hereford.  After the afternoon's action, the carpet was in no state to be used for anything -- not even a carpet.  The prince had no cash, so he swapped a minor dukedom back in his home Kingdom of Portland for two first-class tickets and we caught the first train out of Stirling station.  As a foundling I was not permitted to sit anywhere but third class, but when the conductor questioned my presence in first, the prince said that I was his personal organ donor and traveled everywhere with him, just in case.  The conductor congratulated the prince on such a novel use of a foundling and told me I was lucky to have such a kind benefactor. 

I'm seriously tempted to give my dragon-loving niece this trilogy for her next birthday.  I think it would be right up her alley, despite not being mainly about dragons.  I loved them, I can't wait till the third one shows up, and if you like humor in your fantasy, or if you enjoyed Thursday Next, you should definitely read the Chronicles of Kazam.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

The Wee Free Men

The Wee Free Men, by Terry Pratchett -- audiobook read by Stephen Briggs

It's #MarchMagics Pterry Day!  The readalong was Wee Free Men, and I thought I'd try listening to the audiobook, as my mom said it was fantastic.  I don't usually like audiobooks, so this is a departure for me.  (Usually, I lack the patience to listen to a book I know I could be reading about five times faster.  Also I tend to let my mind wander and then I get lost.)

And indeed, the audio version of this book IS fantastic!  It's beautifully read, and Briggs gives everybody a wonderful variety of accents.  I recommend!

Now, in my opinion, the Tiffany Aching series is just about Pterry's apex of writing.  It would probably be hard to get any better.  The way he managed to blend humor, myth, and Big Important Stuff is simply amazing to me.  Tiffany is a fantastic character, and the Nac Mac Feegles are sheer genius.

As a result, it's hard to find much to say about The Wee Free Men besides enthusiastic words.  So I'll keep this short and participate in the discussion that should happen at Kristen's blog today.

Looking around, I saw that the Jim Henson Company announced it would be making a Wee Free Men film, which sounds like a great idea, but that was all from 2016 and there doesn't seem to have been much news since then, so I guess I won't hold my breath.

So many different covers!  Here are just a few.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Adventures in music!

This isn't about books at all; it's about what I did Wednesday and how happy I am about it, and so I thought I'd write it down.

One of my very favorite all-time bands is a New Zealand group called the Chills.  It's fronted by Martin Phillipps, whose lifelong project it is; the other members have changed quite a bit though the current lineup has been around for a while.  I first got into them with their 1990 album Submarine Bells, which was their first international release.  In 1992, they did a US tour, and I saw that they were playing in San Francisco -- at a venue I couldn't get to.  I didn't have a car or any friends with cars who wanted to go see a band they'd never heard of (cars were very rare in my world); it was too far from any BART stations and in a really sketchy area.  I sadly concluded I'd have to wait till the next time, but I never heard of another one.  Until now!  And now I have a car!

So my husband and I hopped into the car on Wednesday and started driving.  Wow, spring sure is pretty in California (if extremely short; see this poem)!  The drive was just lovely.  I was supposed to do the driving, but I lasted all of 45 minutes before I got too sleepy, so my poor husband had to drive down and then back again afterwards.  We hung around the Mission district for a bit -- luckily, we found a really great bookstore with a cafe attached -- and had some dinner before going in.

Excited me
 We got a very nice spot at a little table at the front of the balcony, which gave us a wonderful view.  There were two opening acts; one was okay, the other stank on toast.  But it was all entirely worth it, because the actual show was fantastic and the best thing ever.  They played most of the songs that I would have picked to hear, the playing was wonderful, and pretty much I GOT TO SEE MARTIN PHILLIPPS SING and I won't pretend I didn't tear up once or twice from joy.

The drive back was brutal, and we got home at 3am, but we're still poking each other and going "We got to go see the Chills!"  I was 27 years late, but I got my chance!   And now I shall inflict photos and music videos upon you:

One of their most known early songs

The breakout hit (whenever I'm asked for a quotation I tend to produce a line from this song)

Just one of my favorites

A more recent song that I just really like

Wednesday, March 6, 2019


Stet: a Memoir, by Diana Athill

I've been listening to the Slightly Foxed podcast, which is a bit of a problem when it comes to my TBR pile and its daunting rate of growth.  One episode mentioned this memoir by Diana Athill, who was an editor in London for decades, and it sounded so fun that I had to have it.  InterLibrary Loan was my friend, and I enjoyed it very much.  It also put three more books on the TBR list, which I hope doesn't happen every time; the podcast gave me two or three titles, and if each one gives me two or three titles more, pretty soon we'll have a 'going to St. Ives' problem.

Athill starts out with her youth as one of those county families with no actual money but some land and a taste for the leisured life.  She lived with horses and dogs outside, and books inside, and then went off to London to earn her living, which coincided with the war, and eventually turned into editing.  She ended up at Andre Deutsch, and edited books for a good 40 years or so.

The first half of the book is a chronological memoir of life in publishing.  It's a great pleasure to read (although intermittent accounts of love affairs show up at boring intervals) and there is plenty of humor.  I particularly liked the description of editing one book, written by an expert and full of wonderful detail but very badly written.   After she painstakingly edited just about every sentence in the book, the author sent her a review that praised the writing and pointed out that there had been no need for all that editing fuss.

The second half consists of Athill's reflections on working closely with six of 'her' authors -- including Jean Rhys and V. S. Naipaul.  Also very interesting and, like the rest of the book, honest in her assessments of others (and herself).

The whole thing is a delightful read and, I'd say, something just about any book-lover would really enjoy a lot.  I don't mean necessarily everyone who likes to read -- I mean anyone who is interested in books, in how they are written and produced and made.  It's out of print, but libraries have it (though not many in the US) and used copies are available.

One of Athill's last thoughts is a short meditation on what she considers to be the shortcomings of publishing during her career.  She points out that English publishing was run almost entirely by people of her own 'caste' -- upper-class types with a particular outlook -- and that the resulting books tended to appeal to that caste and not to others.  She singles out Virginia Woolf and Angela Thirkell as rather embarrassing examples -- I meant to put the quotation here but then I lent the book to my mom before it has to go back.  Now, I'll agree that both of them were awful snobs, but I'm going to defend Thirkell (Woolf hardly needs me).  She is indeed an example, and I can see where from within that world, she's cringe-inducing; nearly all her 'real' people are of her own class.  But for me as a complete outsider, reading her as someone from a very foreign world, it's possible to read her for her many good points and take the others with a grain of salt.  It's much easier to enjoy her for what she is, and I'd hate to miss out on her books.

So -- if you like books about books, get hold of this one sometime.

Monday, March 4, 2019


Elidor, by Alan Garner

I chose this book for Dewithon, because I was under the impression that it had something to do with Wales...and it's set in Manchester.  So I was only a couple pages in and thought I was wrong, but Chris at Calmgrove pointed out some details, and the story features threads of both Irish and Welsh legend.

The four Watson siblings, bored and wandering around, go exploring and are suddenly shoved into a different world.  Elidor is not a lovely adventure world at all; it's a barren, post-apocalyptic wasteland, and Roland, the youngest, meets Malebron -- who promptly shoves him into a terrifying barrow to find some treasures and save his trapped siblings.  Malebron then tells them to take the treasures and hide them in their own world, and for over a year, nothing happens.  Until all of a sudden it does and the children are being hunted by men who mean to kill them to get those treasures.

Like most of Garner's work, Elidor is an unusual kind of fantasy story.  The children spend hardly any time in Elidor and much of the meaning is a bit buried.  There are clear echoes of Narnia: four siblings, and the youngest is the most faithful and the strongest, who has to learn to do what he needs to do regardless of what his older siblings are telling him.  (The oldest brother is desperate to find any way out of believing that there are four magic treasures and another world, not to mention a unicorn.)

So, what connections to Ireland and Wales?  I was glad for Chris' hint, because it's been far too long since I read my Irish mythology and I'd forgotten exactly what the treasures of Ireland are, but Garner really lays it out pretty clearly.  (And then I started reading something else and they popped up there too.)  Each treasure belongs to a city, which Garner shows as four castles, only one of which is still inhabited.  I need a chart:
Spear of Lugh    Gorias    Invincibility
Stone of Fál    Falias    Cries out for the king
Sword of Nuada    Findias    Also Invincibility
Cauldron of the Dagda    Murias    Plenty
These aren't given their proper names, or properties, and in fact once they're in our world they look like junk (luckily).

All right, so what about the Wales connection?  That's a good deal less obvious, and while I would have spotted the treasures anyway, I needed a big hint here.  Gerald of Wales told a story in his Journey Through Wales  about a priest who told a story about when he was a little boy: young Elidyr met two little men, who took him into their own land through a tunnel.  It was beautiful, though with no sun, and there was pleasure all the time.  They ate milk dishes with saffron, and hated lies, and gold was common there.  Elidyr visited often, and told his mother about the land, and she asked him to bring her a present of gold.  So he stole a golden ball and took it home, but the little men chased him and took it back, and he could never find the tunnel again.

Elidyr would be pronounced the same as Elidor, as far as I can figure, so Garner used a Welsh name connected with the otherworld for his tale.  A picture book of the story was printed in 1973 in the UK, which must have been fun. I'd like to see that.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Undine and Other Stories

Undine at the start (Rackam, obvs.)
Undine and Other Stories, by La Motte - Fouqué

Well, his whole name was Friedrich Heinrich Karl de la Motte, Baron Fouqué, but that was too difficult, so even my book only says "La Motte Fouqué" on the title page and never elaborates.  He lived from 1777 - 1843 and was a German Romantic to the core; my little Oxford World Classics book (from 1932) says we "may now recognize in Fouqué the latest and the most uncompromising of the Romanticists, the man who accepted most unflinchingly the principles of that school, and who carried them out most thoroughly."  It also calls him "somewhat stupid" and goes on to note that his output "was positively prodigious, and most of it, so far as modern readers are concerned, might very well have been left undone."  Poor Fouqué!  The introduction does allow him several stories to keep for posterity, and these four make up the majority of them.

It must be admitted that these stories are...odd.  Undine was not what I expected at all and neither was Sintram (those being the two that I had heard of at all).  They are a little on the overwrought side and I would like to propose them for a Reading Rambo Readalong.  I'm not at all saying they're bad, but you should know that indeed they are very much in the Romantic vein.

Undine at the end
Undine is, I think, the most famous story.  A knight travels through a dangerous forest, and on the other side he takes shelter at a fisherman's hut.  His foster-daughter is Undine, a lovely girl of 18 who acts very childishly; she is always playing tricks and changing moods.  The knight, Huldbrand, is stranded at the hut when the river floods, and so he and Undine fall in love and are married by a traveling priest.  Undine promptly turns into the ideal woman, and explains that she is a water-spirit and had no soul until she got married.  Her uncle, Kühleborn, is the spirit of the river and will make mischief if he can; and if Huldbrand is inconstant to Undine, he will take her back home to the water.

Huldbrand is a less than ideal husband, and once he's got Undine, he starts thinking maybe he should have married Bertalda instead.  Bertalda ends up coming to live with them as a friend, but that goes about as well as you might expect, and eventually Undine is snatched back down to her watery home.

Sintram and His Companions -- I know I've heard mention of Sintram somewhere, possibly in an E. Nesbit novel,* but I never expected what I got.  Sintram is a Norwegian knight with a dual nature; he yearns to be pure and spiritual, but also wild and vicious.  He careens between the two poles of his being, and the great temptation of his life is his infatuation with his guest Gabrielle, the wife of the perfect knight Folko.  He is constantly tempted (by the devil!) to somehow abduct Gabrielle and make her a Helen to his Paris.  It takes Sintram his entire life to conquer the darker corners of his soul.  In a postscript at the end of the story, Fouqué explains that he based it all on the Dürer engraving "Knight, Death, and the Devil."

Dürer's engraving
 Sintram does, however, contain the floweriest description of skiing I've ever read.  Here is Sintram warning Folko about the difficulties of skiing (which Folko turns out to be expert at):

‘Look, noble Sir’ — said Sintram the next morning upon Folko’s desire to go out with him — ‘our snow-shoes, which we call skier, wing our course indeed, so that it goes down hill fleet as the wind, and up hill more rapidly than any one is able to follow us, and upon the plain no horse can catch us, but it is only the experienced master whom they serve to his weal. It is as if the spirit of a cobold were confined in them, fearfully destructive to the stranger that has not learnt to use them from his childhood upwards.’

Two short little stories round out this volume.  In Aslauga's Knight, a Danish knight (from my own Fyn!) with a folklore hobby falls in love with the long-dead, legendary Aslauga and decides to serve her in knightly fashion.  At the next tournament, he is sometimes tempted by the great beauty of the princess, but every time Aslauga appears to chastise him.  Besides, the princess is obviously destined for the shy young (and bookish!) Edwald. 

The Two Captains may be the zaniest of these four pretty zany stories.  Two soldiers, a Spaniard and a German, start as friends but become deadly enemies.  After a battle with the Ottomans, they both pursue the beautiful enchantress Zelinda out to the Sahara desert (which is surprisingly thickly inhabited).  Will either of them win her?  Will their friendship survive?

The Sahara is not only full of people to meet at random.  There are animals too:
Several times night had followed day and day night when Heimbert one evening, as the dark came on, was standing quite alone in the endless desert, unable to see a single fixed object around him....Sometimes he heard some one’s footstep or the rustle of spreading cloaks go past him; then he drew himself up in haste and alarm but only saw what he had seen often enough in those days, the wild beasts of the wilderness, wandering through the desert in joyous freedom. Now they were ugly camels, then long-necked awkward giraffes, and then again a long-legged ostrich, sailing along hastily with uneasy wings.
 So, Fouqué didn't know a whole lot about the Sahara, but after all it was about 1820.  Anyway, I had so much fun reading these tales -- they are simply drenched in Romanticism, and although we've nearly forgotten them today, I think they're well worth reading for anybody interested in 19th century literature and/or Romanticism.  They became part of any Victorian's basic reading background.

*A quick bit of research reveals that both Undine and Sintram were hugely popular in English and made it into the canon of popular children's tales, with several retellings published in the late 19th century.  The Bastable children play Sintram at one point, which must be where I picked it up.

Monday, February 25, 2019

That's Not English

That's Not English: Britishism, Americanisms, and What Our English Says About Us, by Erin Moore

This was a fun, fast read that I enjoyed a lot because I will never not want to read books comparing the British to Americans and vice versa.  I cannot get enough of those.

Erin Moore is American-born, moved to England, married into a trans-Atlantic family, and is now raising a little Briton of her own, so she's had plenty of opportunity to experience culture shock (both ways) and delve into the mysteries of our respective characters.  Each chapter is dedicated to a word or expression that either means different things to each side (quite, sorry, cheers, ginger) or is practically unknown to one side (knackered, bespoke, dude).  So, some random observations from me:

Indeed, I use quite as an intensifier that means just plain really.  Apparently Britons aren't quite that enthused when they say it.

Moore says that English parents say to their children "You get what you get, and you don't get upset."  She then comments that "These sentiments are so un-American it is not even funny."  This shows that she really hasn't done her parenting in the US, because everybody I know says "You get what you get, and you don't throw a fit" several times a day.

Indeed my kid's red hair has always been considered enviable, and pretty much only that.  She considers 'ginger' to be a term of pride.

 Someday I'd like to see a real British pantomime.  I'd be completely bewildered, even though I do kind of know the basics.  One of the strangest sentences in this whole book is about American actors appearing in panto: "In recent years, both David Hasselhoff and Vanilla Ice have played Captain Hook in regional English I write this, Henry Winkler -- the Fonz himself -- is playing Hook in Liverpool." 

Moore says that if there is one Americanism that Britons never, ever pick up, it's dude.  I would LOVE to talk about dude, folks, so any British people reading this, you have to tell me what you think about dude.  I, being a California girl, cannot go an hour without saying dude.  I don't notice that I'm doing it -- it's a less noticeable word than like (which I also say, but not nearly as much).  I clearly remember being in Denmark, in 1989, and trying to help the English teacher learn how to say dude.  You have to say it in that particular way, you see. 

And here's the thing about dude: it is the single most flexible, most adaptable word in English.  You can use dude to express virtually ANY emotion, with the possible exception of deep, heartfelt love.  Deep, heartfelt sympathy, yes absolutely, but preferably not a marriage proposal, though I'm sure it's been done.

Of course, you've seen the little meme going around about how dude can address anyone and anything.  Or maybe you haven't, so I'll put it here.  It is completely true.

I can quite see that a Briton would probably find it a non-comfortable word to use.  I'd just like the discussion.