Coffee Thoughts: World Book Day – Can Genre Fiction Change Your Life For The Better?

It’s funny how professional life as an adult can drastically affect the reading habits one develops growing up.  I was voracious reader from the time my mother taught me to read (somewhere around three years old; I could read when I went to school, which in the U.K. was at 4 years old in the seventies).  My love of books, comics, television, film and genre started in those single digit years, almost all of it thanks to my mum and her open-minded attitude towards my choices and developing taste.  You can trace the greater chunk of the pleasures I take in these arenas to then:  historicals (Henry Treece’s Viking novels, Rosemary Sutcliff’s Roman books, Roger Lancelyn Green’s retellings of British myths and legends), fantasy (Tolkien’s Father Christmas Letters and The Hobbit) and SF (Patrick Moore’s Scott Saunders series, the Target novelisations of Doctor Who, Arthur C. Clarke’s Islands in the Sky and Of Time and Stars).  Detective and crime fiction would come to define the beginning and end of my teenage years, soft-boiled first, hard-boiled last, and I would try to keep up with my faves in all these genres across the nineties, until the poverty of being a professional secondary teacher forced me to cut back to only what libraries had.

As a teacher of History and English, there was a lot to read just for the job, so what I found relaxed me were things I didn’t always have to teach, even if they were tangentially related.  SF faded slightly in favour of fantasy and crime, although some historicals continued to exercise a fascination despite the day job:  Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe sequence, Lindsey Davis’ Marcus Didius Falco series, and Patrick O’Brian’s superlative Aubrey & Maturin novels.  When I left the teaching profession for the private sector and new media, SF became a focus again, particularly Ken MacLeod and Richard K. Morgan.  Then something strange happened.  I read less and less and less, other than for work.  As with my love of music, working in DVD/film/TV just somehow dampened all that down.

61RIV3oyeAL._SL1000_At the time I thought it was just a matter of the music and books that were coming to my attention, the creative choices being made by bands, solo artists and authors I had been following for years by then.  I still feel now that English-language science fiction in particular as a genre lost its way in the first decade of this century, evinced in particular by the turning of a significant number of creative voices to the thriller genre, or some to the fantasy genre.  It was as if arriving in the long-dreamt-of, much-anticipated 21st century robbed so many of them of their extrapolative visions.  But then, I felt the same way about fantasy and horror, including their unholy mutant offspring urban/dark fantasy, while crime fiction seemed to become about nothing more than typical middle-class fears or fantasies, trailing behind what television and film could and would say (spy-fi was even worse off; like the intelligence services themselves, four years behind the curve they needed to be on to staff up adequately against the latest global threats of this century, the fiction would scrabble around for relevance for years).  Much as I enjoyed the books of, say, George Pelecanos, there is no question in my mind that being part of the collective that created HBO’s The Wire was and is the more significant achievement for myself as a consumer of fiction.  (That statement in no way affects his works, his success, or the feelings anyone reading this has about his works, of course.)

Youth makes it easy to labour under the illusion one has milked a particular genre or strand of media dry, so intent is one on absorbing as much as possible of it.  One sees this in particular with the most dyed-in-the-wool, hard-core fans of any medium, from painting to sculpture to cinema to music (popular or otherwise) to videogames.  At their best, those obsessed with a particular focus may utilise their detailed knowledge to become experts in relevant fields, disseminating that knowledge and their thinking on to others; at worst, they will bore you with masturbatory theorising and irrelevant minutiae in blogs like this one, instead of as they used to do by hijacking conversations down the pub.  However, depending on where the evolution of said medium is at the point one first encounters it, there is every possibility one is indeed witness to a key moment in that medium’s existence, be it one of prodigious quality across the output or a transformational shift that is recognisable even to those not enamoured of the medium.  Separating one’s own point of view from the actual broader ebb and flow of history is one of the many things one learns to do as one grows older; indeed, the ability to recognise that the separation between opinion and factually-supported statement actually exists and has value is part of the maturation process itself.

61JHmX9jp5L._SL1000_I now understand that whatever else was happening in those genres, whatever economic, cultural and political factors were impacting creatively in them, who I was and what I was going through is in the end the emotional matrix under which I laboured and interpreted them.  There was also something else, something in the kind of life I was living working and going out in London, which meant I just didn't make time or use energy to devote to past passions in quite the same way.  New technology made keeping up with music on the move easier, while the new portability of DVD players and then media players made TV and film easier to take in on the commute.  Bizarrely for someone raised like myself, reading faded from a passion to a skill, a sad, sad thing indeed to recall and write down here.  This has nothing to do with the writers or the genres collectively, even if there may be some truth in my perceptions of them.

I had to disentangle myself from the media and all the toxicity I had fully embraced as normal and desirable to start to recover my mental and physical health over these last two years.  In that time, insomnia has propelled me back to the bad habits of my youth, reading late into the night, unable to sleep until a book was finished no matter if that meant seeing the sky lighten outside the curtains.  (Spare a thought here for my poor partner, desperate for sleep before her next working shift, putting up with my bad habit here.  Sorry Kim!)  But at least I’m reading again, and it’s been a joy to do so, to refresh, re-examine and enjoy all over again the written word and the pictures painted by them inside my head.

61SUA2MrBXL._SL1000_Which brings me to the Matthew Scudder novels.  Lawrence Block is a giant in the crime fiction arena.  He would be just based on his prodigious output, but the quality is also consistently exceptional, and his peers recognise this, granting him awards and Grand Master status of the Crime Writers’ Association of America.  Of the five series he has maintained over the course of his career – Bernie Rhodenbarr, Keller, Evan Tanner, Chip Harrison, Matthew Scudder – it was the latter I was drawn to last year.  Having now read the entire series, it not only clearly stands out as the monumental achievement that many others have already expounded upon, and occupies an interesting place within the evolution of the genre itself, but it became something more than mere entertainment for me.  It became part of my therapy.

Scudder is, like many leads of crime fiction, a former cop, in this case a New York detective.  A hard-drinking white male of Irish origin, capable of violence but not prone to it or seeking it out like some, he is at first, when the series opens in the seventies (the books are pretty much set when they were written, except for two flashback novels), a man without direction.  He seems content to get up each day in the hotel room he rents, go down the bar he frequents, have breakfast, order coffee, and start putting bourbon in it.  As the day wears on the coffee will go and the bourbon will stay.  He wasn’t fired, drummed out some scandal, in fact quite the opposite; he was decorated for a shooting in which he killed two criminals, but a stray bullet caught a little girl through the eye, ending her life.  Scudder walks away from the job, his wife and kids, into this New York life that allows him to drink and not much else, until he starts to use his training and instincts to look into matters for others.  No license means no legal protections but no legal limits either; he calls the process doing favours for gifts, i.e. cash.  And he starts to find something in this life, something that is his beyond whatever it is he is carrying that no amount of drink seems to be able to wash away.

61JOq5GMgVL._SL1000_Block’s sense of place and dialogue means the books function as a chronicle of a changing New York over the decades as much as of a man growing and changing over that time. Unlike other crime series, Scudder evolves as a man, changing with his surroundings, friendships, and the passage of time.  Along that path he does things that are morally questionable if not downright reprehensible, without the cloak of law or an innate moral certainty of justice, but he debates and considers these actions rather than dismissing them or celebrating them, and that in itself makes him stand out from so many other morally compromised protagonists of the genre.  His actions indicate someone wrestling with himself, with his past, with his present, with the very idea of a future.  It takes a book or two for readers to realise his drinking isn’t simply a genre cliché, but a very real drowning of sorrows that takes him over, leading to those morally questionable incidents and actions.  Where this leads was as much a surprise to me as I imagine it came to those who read the books as they were published in real time:  Scudder comes to realise he is an alcoholic and, after experiencing serious blackouts, finds his way to AA and their programme.  No macho celebration here of the ability to drink until one passes out - how refreshing for the genre!

913vjjOH-ELA simplistic reading of my own feelings over the course of these novels would be:  Scudder enters a form of therapy, I’m doing therapy, bingo! Association made, perceived connection, false resonance. If that were all, however, then I would not be writing this piece.  Block’s masterful use of the genre to his own ends offered me a parallel vision of a man (seemingly completely unlike me) and his place in the world at a time when I was without one, lost, unable to see any kind of future that resembled or meant anything real to me.  How he felt about work and family had resonances for me given my own departure from my last profession.  It also made me realise to what degree I was reliant on alcohol for many, many years, something that even diabetes didn’t cure me of completely until last year.  (Or at least the medication I am on did.)  And when I wasn’t reliant on alcohol, I was on food, or all the media & fiction consumption mentioned above.  All my life I have moved from crutch to crutch, seeking refuge in consumption of one sort or another.   Block’s writing, Scudder's journey, did more than entertain me through dark insomniac nights; it offered examples of a way forward.   Scudder needed to do more than come to terms with being responsible for the death of a girl; he also had to find a way to be someone day to day in the now that encompasses who he was in all facets, and gives him those things that he gradually realises he needs.

This is not to dismiss or decry consumption of fiction, or to damn my past actions and self.  I realise now I cannot be a person who does not read; I am not someone who does not enjoy reading fiction.  It has been part of me for so long now I realise how badly I missed it when I didn't, like listening to music (this post has been written to a soundtrack of The Who, Scarlett Johannson and the Mark Lanegan Band).  At times in my life fiction has helped me cope, get by, but now is the first time I can honestly say it has helped me survive.  This has, in its own way, been one long ode to the joy and value of books and reading, but also a heartfelt thank you to Lawrence Block and Matthew Scudder; if a DJ can save your life, why not an author too?  Just maybe, I see a future now for me too.

Sunday Coffee Thoughts: Adrift on the Oceans of Cinema

It is odd what personal impulses emerge over time as predominant traits in oneself.  I used to define myself, sadly, by the many media I was obsessed with, convinced that my understanding of them gave me easy insight to other people (which, to be fair, it used to; less so now in the pick 'n' mix culture of the West today) as well as rendering me more transparent.  However, after so many decades of being a film fan, a comics fan, a reader of genre fictions, and a lover of music of all sorts from around the world and throughout time, I appear to have come unstuck from my moorings, and only now am I beginning to appreciate that maybe sailing the open waters in search of new horizons is the better place to be.

It began with the immersion back into modern television that becoming editor of Cult TV Times required.  Working in DVD and film limits massively what one watches for pleasure; I had let entire trends (Nordic Noir, HBO, the U.S. cable revolution) pass me by while focusing solely on what I had to watch for work (independent film screeners, archive film and television).  When film-goers (people who actually pay to see films, as opposed to those who see them free for professional reasons or pirate them) complain about whether those who work in the film business actually watch films or even like them, their bewildered enquiry has some merit; many of those who do, don't, however much they did. This, obviously, contributes significantly to the evident disconnect between the tastes of those funding film and what viewers would actually watch if they had the choice available to them.  Becoming the person who could justifiably carry the name of editor meant I could no longer be that kind of person; I had to go back to a love previous to film, and immerse myself in that world once again: widen my knowledge base, test my taste, examine the critical discussions ongoing and question the consensus.

5751Over the course of the last (nearly) two years of editing the site and magazine, something radical happened to my taste in films.  It was already changing; in pursuing a personal policy of watching older films I had not seen before releases of their remakes or new films heavily influenced by them, I was finding how much I preferred the older films.  Dario Argento & Daria Nicolodi's magnificent Suspiria was so much more my kind of film than Black Swan (which I still enjoyed, particularly as a distaff take on director Darren Aronofsky's great debut Pi, and a working through of his interest (obsession?) with the late Satoshi Kon & Sadayuki Murai's Hitchcock riff and pop culture dissection Perfect Blue); Henry Hathaway & John Wayne's adaptation of True Grit was, despite my dislike of Wayne, in another league from the wan, anaemic remake by the Coen Brothers (and make no mistake, despite their claim that is a stand-alone adaptation of the same novel, there are scenes which are original to the earlier adaptation and not Porthis' novel; it's a remake all right), and yet another failure in my eyes from them.  The original 3.10 To Yuma also outclassed completely the modern remake in every single way except budget & production design, the latter and the action & scenery afforded by the former were the only things that kept me watching the new version to the end.  The capper to all this was when I came to show my partner Kim Sergio Leone's The Good, The Bad and the Ugly after she had enjoyed A Fistful of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More; the blu-ray only offers the modern restored version, with re-discovered scenes cut back in and dubbed by the aged then-surviving stars alongside voice actors.  With no theatrical cut to compare to, these scenes still stood out to Kim like forced additions, while to my own perception they took the dreamlike rambling and disjointed nature of the cut many of us had fallen in love with (and lived with for decades) and weighted it down with prosaic explanations, mood-breaking moments under echoey modern dubbing that broke the spell the rest of the movie kept casting over us.  Thank goodness that superlative, immense finale remains intact; any tampering with that would have been insult added to injury.

Good_Bad_Ugly_55I was, frankly, horrified at how little I enjoyed the film that had been at number two on any list anyone asked me to put together of favourite films of all time.  For just shy of thirty years, when asked that question, the first two were easy, the other eight would be hard; they would also change every time.  There are so, so many films I have watched over the years that, although still not a patch on my friends who remain true to the faith of film and cinephilia itself, to me a Top Ten or Top Twenty or whatever is a limiting exercise that serves no real purpose.  Mood is as important to watching a film as the individual viewer's experiences, background, inclinations, or what they did five minutes before watching.  I will make lists in no particular order for people who ask, to introduce them to a cinema they are unfamiliar with, or explore or exemplify a theme or genre.  Taste, however, is a fickle quality, and is not always to be trusted to tell another person about the films listed.  (On the other hand, a taste-based list can always be trusted to tell the reader something about the list-maker.)

With the number two spot holder in its current iteration no longer able to justify holding on to that place, a further shock awaited me, and it would be this that made me realise I was adrift on open water.  Prior to seeing Interstellar it seemed time to introduce Kim to my top spot holder for nearly three decades, Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey.  It went badly; after a tiring day at work she fell asleep twenty minutes in (and has expressed a willingness since to tackle it again); I decided myself to persevere with it, as well as finally watch Danny Boyle and Alex Garland's Sunshine afterwards.  To my shock and horror I found 2001 to drag and drag, taking far too long to do anything with anything, standing far too still to appreciate how gorgeous and ambitious and ground-breaking it was busy being.  Great and powerful moments early on, so beautifully conceived and executed as to retain their function when extracted as still images, now seem like momentary gusts of wind in an otherwise becalmed sea, pushing the boat of the narrative on in moments that are few and far between.  When the story finally switched to the Jupiter mission, my first thought was "oh FINALLY, things are going to pick up", except of course, they didn't.  Only as the ship neared its destination and Kubrick starts to ratchet up the tension, often adopting HAL's eye viewpoints, does the film start to get down in the existential dirt with its subjects, instead of affecting a godlike distance.  And so it is only in the film's second half or final third that it gripped me all over again the way it used to last century on repeated viewings in multiple formats, and I enjoyed the final sequence as much as I had done since that first time.  (It has never been a mystery to me, so has become a litmus test for people I meet: do they claim to not understand this sequence or not?)

2001-a-space-odyssey-screenshot-1920x1080-9And so I found myself cast adrift, unmoored from tenets of faith I had professed for decades.  How could this have been my Number One Favourite Movie Of All Time for so long?  How had I, or my taste, changed so much with age?  What was wrong with me?  After all, this is a film that has always had its detractors as well as its fervent admirers, of which I was one - yet here I was, firmly crossing over from one camp to the other.  A simple, realisation that seems meaningless to most was to me as great a moment as the devout of an older religion than cinephilia walking away from all they had professed and believed in all their lives up until then.  Even now writing about it, I am shaking slightly, the uncertainty on which I am adrift at the edge of so dark and scary that looking back to the comfortable well-lit shore seems like the obvious thing to reach for.  Yet how can I? I cannot undo what I have felt, even though I believe firmly that every story must find its best length and pace for itself, not for me.

There is also something deeper, more troubling to my way of thinking as a science-fiction fan of a certain age, racial and cultural background.   In reaching forward to create a future world extrapolated from the decade they made it in, Kubrick and his team prove more than capable of imagining and then realising believable advancements in space-faring and communications technology, dated aesthetics aside.  However, they cannot conceive of a world in which the Cold War has ended, or women and people of colour are by and large anything but servants (there are some exceptions with regards to women, but noticeably the female scientists we meet are from the Eastern Bloc).  It is the world I grew up in, but thankfully isn't exactly (from a racial perspective) the world I live in today.  These lacks are in keeping with the limitations of the creators, but it speaks to one of the fundamentals of science fiction in general, then as now:  creators who do not take advantage of having all of space and time to play in to move beyond their own limitations are not utilising the genre to its fullest potential.  How is a writer or film-maker supposed to transcend their own limitations, one may ask?  Surely that is exactly why one writes; not only to record, or to repeat, but to impact, to transform, to reach for something greater and leave behind a mark more lasting than those one's own life will leave behind.  Maybe that is asking too much of some writers, or even of many; but given the expressed ambition of Kubrick et al to make realistic science fiction with 2001, it seems fascinating that to my eyes now they only succeeded as they imagined the story from the perspectives of an A.I. and a human undergoing an alien-led transformation.  Those sequences transcend in a way that the more prosaic opening third or so no longer do for me.

2001-a-space-odysseyWatching Sunshine afterwards cemented all that I felt.  I loved this film from the outset, wondering which camp Boyle and Garland each fell into regarding 2001.  It also demonstrated Boyle's own unabashed cinephilia, with him making use of a tremendous range of techniques to tell his story that almost all worked.  I was annoyed with myself for not having watched it sooner (six years from purchase to viewing; still not my longest record, however), and cannot wait to watch it again.  Interstellar had more in common with it then Kubrick's film.  Still, an interesting and illuminating double-bill, and life-changing as only a film double-bill can be for a cinephile.  One thing is for certain:  2001 retains its importance for me, and part of its power, but I now no longer have any firm entrants in any future Top Ten I am asked to write.  This is terrifying and yet it is also liberating, and that, in the end, is perhaps the best consequence of all.

Postscript:  Thankfully for my cinephiliac malaise I am not alone in it now, it seems.  Writer-director-producer Steven Soderbergh has recently recut the film for his blog, having lived with and loved it for four decades.  Unfortunately he has taken it down at the request of both Warner Bros. and the Kubrick Estate, but Jordan Blackwell details here some of the changes made.  I would have liked to have seen this version, as it appears to address quite specifically my own new issues with the film, other than that final troubling one; it definitely makes me look forward now to doing the Solaris double-bill I still need to do, having long ago seen Tarkovsky's but not Soderbergh's.

Your Mileage May Vary: Living as a Human Laboratory

One of the fun things about being a Type 2 diabetic with a nut allergy is the weighing up of risk when shopping for food and drink, cooking and eating.  Every decision to purchase has to be based on a number of factors:  are the sugars contained in the product listed as 10g per 100g or below? (Given there can be up to a 20% variance allowable there.)  Are the saturated fats also below a certain level? What are the overall carbs, and are they complex and/or low GI? (that's Glycaemic Index for those unfamiliar with the abbreviation.)  I then have to add in whether nuts are listed somewhere in the ingredients.  If they are, I don't buy it.  If they are not, but the mysterious phrase "flavourings" is listed, then I have to consider the risk.

When you start shopping around this matrix, then several aisles of the supermarket or store become off-limits.  One retrains one's eating habits and the satisfactions from them away from much of what constitutes a "normal" diet to folks raised around the U.K.  The majority of cereals are off limits, so other than porridge or specialist brands of flakes of various sorts, one starts to breakfast on other things.  Meat and vegetables become important in the first meal of the day.  Not all sweeteners are good for you, or even work as they are described to on one's blood sugars, so "diet" and "light" items are not an instant alternative.  (The title of this post comes from something I learnt in my initial diabetes awareness sessions that Surrey NHS ran back in 2006 when I was diagnosed: each and every diabetic reacts differently to their intake as compared with other diabetics.  In other words, what is good for one person is not always good for another; hence, Your Mileage May Vary or YMMV for short.)  Juice and fruit can be dangerous, and smoothies can be lethal, given the sheer volume of sugars delivered quickly to the system by these methods, so one has to work harder to keep up the recommended "five a day".  (When I allow myself juice I drink at least half and half with water; in some bars and pubs I've had to ask for a third juice and two-thirds water given the amount of added sugar in the brands they stock.)

Lately, however, the nut allergy side of things has become more complicated, just when it should be becoming simpler.  As companies look to keep their profits, pricing down the various elements in their supply chain, a number of companies from whom I bought products in the past have moved from having no nuts or warnings for nuts on their labels to still having no nuts listed in the ingredients, but carrying a warning about the place of manufacture used.  These latter clearly are locations where cross-contamination is possible, for whatever reason.  Until a few months ago, this was something I would have to weigh up and consider the relative risk of, as unlike friends of mine with severe allergies, my own seemed to react to direct ingestion and not mild or trace cross-contamination.  All that has now changed, and called into question the fact that I have lived by for many years now, which is that when all the research is said and done, in the end you have only your own body as a lab for testing products; after all, YMMV.

My face swelling at 0023 Friday night, then again at 0308 before we dialled 999.
My face swelling at 0023 Friday night, then again at 0308 before we dialled 999.

I have had a bad allergic reaction to something unknown - presumably nut-based - once a month now for four months, breaking a five year streak of no serious reactions.  In two of those cases my partner and I could narrow down the possible culprits, and have had to stop using products from companies that only a week or a day before I was eating without problems.  The other two involved home-cooked food I made myself from ingredients that should not in any way have contained nuts, and certainly carried no listings to that effect.  The most recent incident - this past Friday night - was bad enough that I had to use an epi-pen for the first time, which was not enough by the time I used it, and the paramedic, ambulance staff and A&E staff all did what was necessary to help me get the swelling under control (many thanks to Buckinghamshire South Central Ambulance Service and Stoke Mandeville A & E  yet again!).  In the end, it took another two days for the swelling to go down and the side-effects, diabetic and otherwise, of having been administered 100mg of hydrocortisone to go away.  I resolved to do that thing which friends with more severe dietary issues than I had been egging me on to do, and decided to bake for the first time since junior school. (That was the seventies, in case you were wondering.)  The results have proven to be so effective on both allergic and diabetic fronts that I intend to do more of the latter. (See the main image above for the flapjacks made from a Sweet Freedom recipe.)

There is just one problem with doing more baking at home.  In the past, I inquired with a number of flour manufacturers about nut-free status and possible contamination, back when I first considered baking things at home.  NOT ONE OF THEM WOULD GUARANTEE THAT THEIR FLOUR PRODUCTS WERE NUT-FREE.  Not plain, not wholemeal, not spelt, none of them, all due to manufacturing methods.  This is in keeping with the guarantee, or rather legal shield covering their asses, on the product I ate Friday night - you can read it for yourself below.

IMG_20150131_120743Note that there are no nuts used in the recipe, and none in manufacturing.  In theory, this should guarantee a nut-free product.  However, the company in question state that they cannot guarantee their ingredients to be nut-free.  This begs a number of questions:  where are they sourcing these from? Why are the source companies not offering guarantees of their own?  (See the flour issue above, perhaps.)  If any of the ingredients might be suspect, why is no specific warning listed on the label (an additional asterisk or cross next to each ingredient that might be contaminated, with the nomenclature listing that symbol for "Cannot guarantee nut-free)?

While the answer for myself is clear - despite eating the companies products in the days before the allergic reaction with no problem, I am will not now buy anything from them again - what worries me here, as always, is the bigger picture.  If ingredients themselves cannot be offered with guarantees of being free from nuts, then two thoughts occur to me:

  • Making my own food at home from scratch is no longer a method guaranteed to keep me safe from harm, unless I start making vegetable substitutes for items, e.g. cauliflower "flour" for baking alternatives;
  • Clearly the process of ensuring one or more processing/manufacturing lines in any factory/plant handling/packing ingredients remain nut-free is considered too time-consuming and expensive to do, whether in-house or out-sourced.  This might be why companies are opting to print warnings instead of actually do the more expensive work to offer a safer product for those of us who suffer from such allergies. (Peanut allergy affects 1 in 50 young infants in the U.K., and four out of five of those will continue to suffer from them as adults; tree nut allergy sufferers are on the rise as well.)  After all, profit is more important than customer safety, as all consumers well know; the mathematics of the free market have ever dictated thus.

The NHS will be retesting me to see if my allergy is the same or has changed over time at the end of March.  However, the suddenness with which this has all come on, the fact these reactions have occurred on days when I have taken antihistamines in the morning (120mg of Fexofenadine is my usual dosage), and that they are occurring with products that were previously safe for me to eat, has me convinced that the wider issue of the supply chain is where I need to look for the culprit.  The question now is:  can I make yet another set of fairly major changes to my diet without incurring additional expenses of time and money?  I'm not sure I have a choice in the matter now.

Introduction to the Blog: “Heart has nothing to do with it any more. It’s all in the caffeine.”

Det. Frank Pembleton:  "You know, every day I get out of bed and drag myself to the next cup of coffee. I take a sip and the caffeine kicks in. I can focus my eyes again. My brain starts to order the day. I'm up, I'm alive. I'm ready to rock. But the time is coming when I wake up and decide that I'm not getting out of bed. Not for coffee, or food or sex. If it comes to me, fine. If it won't, fine. No more expectations. The longer I live, the less I know. I should know more. I should know the coffee's killing me. You're suspicious of your suspicions? I'm jealous, Kay; I'm so jealous. You still have the heart to have doubts. Me? I'm going to lock up a 14-year-old kid for what could be the rest of his natural life. I got to do this. This is my job. This is the deal. This is the law. This is my day. I have no doubts or suspicions about it. Heart has nothing to do with it any more. It's all in the caffeine."

Welcome to the third incarnation of It's All In The Caffeine, a blog formerly hosted at WordPress and then Tumblr.  The title comes from the above quote from Homicide: Life on the Street aka "the best damn show on television" as spoken by Detective Frank Pembleton, played by the inestimable Andre Braugher, to Detective Kay Howard, played by the sublime (and now Academy Award® winner) Melissa Leo.  You can read my reviews of the first six seasons of the show over at what was DVD Times, but is now The Digital Fix:

Homicide: Life on the Street S1 & 2 R1 DVD set review

Homicide: Life on the Street S3 R1 DVD set review

Homicide: Life on the Street S4 R1 DVD set review

Homicide: Life on the Street S5 R1 DVD set review

Homicide: Life on the Street S6 R1 DVD set review

This blog will ramble on about the many things that I continue to find interesting:  books, comics, music, television and movies; the process of adaptation between them; genre and structure; food, drink and cooking; various matters of health and environment; and ongoing debates about race, gender and economics. More rarely it might touch on matters of politics, astronomy, and physics; we shall see.  Anyone along for the ride, I hope you enjoy it.