Ashland 2016: The Winter’s Tale

Winter’s Tale has always been one of my favorite Shakespeare plays.  I look at its peculiar structure as a challenge rather than an obstacle, and when it’s well-executed, the finale involving Hermione’s “statue” strikes me as one of the most dramatically satisfying scenes in all Shakespeare.  And of course there’s that famous stage direction….

I’ve been visiting Ashland for long enough now to have seen several very good productions.  I can say, however, that the 2016 iteration is among the very best I have seen.  The opening half is beautifully rendered visually, in silver-gray formal garb that deliberately and elegantly evokes the atmosphere of Han-dynasty China court intrigue.  The performances are clean and crisp throughout, even if Steven Michael Spencer is a trifle over-the-top as Autolycus in the second half.  And this may be the only production of Winter’s Tale I’ve ever seen in which the first-act climax* and Hermione’s statue scene match one another for sheer dramatic power.

That’s about as much as I should say about this production’s bear, at least while the show is still running — it’s a scene that really has to be seen to be properly appreciated, and it’s all the more notable for not relying on complex technical trickery.  The only real problem with the execution is that the staging — and in particular the artistic design it employs — created a visual expectation for the second half of the production (for me, at least) that’s completely abandoned by the time we come back from the intermission.

Herein lies my one notable reservation with respect to this production.  Where the first-half portrayal of King Leontes’ Sicilia is visually striking for its artistic consistency, the show fails to show the same respect to King Polixenes’ Bohemia in its second half.  Instead, we get a mishmash of Daniel Boone frontier garb with a 1960s rainbow-hippie counterculture palette — and while I suppose that’s nominally appropriate for some values of “Bohemian”, it nonetheless feels like a curiously lazy choice by comparison to the much more thoughtful visual development accorded to the Sicilian setting.

But if the Bohemian costuming feels a trifle slapdash, the uniformly strong performances — and the entire ensemble’s clear rendering of the play’s text — more than make up for it.  In particular, Eric Steinberg is outstanding as King Leontes; I’d echo the observation from one of my tour-group companions that it’s to Steinberg’s and the production’s credit that this Leontes is not the merely mad tyrant one often sees, a choice that makes his reformation at the play’s conclusion both more believable and more dramatically charged.  [It is a trifle startling to discover, on glancing into the back of the Festival playbill, that this is Steinberg’s very first turn at OSF, and that a sizeable portion of his resume consists of guest-star and recurring roles on popular TV series including Pretty Little Liars, Torchwood, and Supergirl.  It will be very interesting indeed to see whether the Festival can persuade him to return in future years, because his Shakespearean stage career is definitely worth nurturing.]


*Strictly, of course, “exit, pursued by a bear” appears at III.3.57 in my 2nd edition of The Norton Shakespeare; I’m using “first act” above with respect to the show as staged, wherein that moment is the last the audience sees prior to breaking for intermission.

Ashland 2016: Twelfth Night

Ninety-nine percent of this year’s production of Twelfth Night at OSF is sheer genius.  The set design for its nominal 1930s Hollywood transposition is clever in all the right ways, nearly all the performances are exceptional, and the comic swordfight between Sir Andrew and Viola-as-Cesario gets the single funniest execution I’ve seen in the 40+ years I’ve been attending the festival.  (Clearly we’d best not ask how many calla lilies they’ve gone through since the run started.)

And then we get to the twin-revelation scene, and the magic evaporates.

Now back in 2008, an OSF production of Comedy of Errors attempted the daring stunt of casting one (count him, one) actor in the role of both Antipholuses (Antipholi?), and likewise one (count again, one) actor in the role of both Dromios.  What’s more, they made the stunt work — a very clever bit of staging at the tail end of the play skated around the problem of producing both sets of twins onstage at once. Note to Christopher Liam Moore, director of this year’s Twelfth Night: do not try this at home. Or at least if you’re going to try it, commit to the premise and run with it.

It’s not that Sara Bruner doesn’t do a credible job of playing both Viola and Sebastian, though here she is merely very good in a cast where everyone else is outstanding.  Especially high marks go to Ted Deasy for a beautifully dry Malvolio, Danforth Comins for a hilariously high-strung Andrew Aguecheek (all the more remarkable given that Comins’ other role this year is the Prince of Denmark himself), and Gina Daniels as Olivia, here imagined as an exotically sultry but reclusive film star.

Part of the problem is technological.  In absolute terms, the screen-projection trickery that allows Bruner to appear in both roles simultaneously is ingenious, and the execution is period-appropriate for the 1930s setting.  But it’s also unfortunately primitive (or made to appear so) by comparison to modern film and television standards, and nothing in the run-up to the finale prepares the audience for what amounts to a left turn into pulp-era science fiction at exactly the wrong emotional moment.

More troubling yet, though, is what happens after the magic doubling effect is dismissed.  Bruner is left onstage as Viola/Cesario — but in the very last moment, finds herself being treated as Viola by Orsino and Sebastian by Olivia, literally pulled in opposite directions at once.  In theory, this is obviously a nod to the questions of gender identity Shakespeare himself raises in the script…but as with the special-effects trickery, there’s been no foundation laid for this interpretation of the character(s) anywhere in the preceding two hours.  One can certainly imagine, nowadays, a staging of Twelfth Night in which the “twins” are in fact two minds in one body, with the attendant gender-bending consequences — but this is not that show.

And as a result, the last few seconds in which it tries to become that show fall absolutely, utterly flat.  Which is frustrating in the extreme, because in nearly every other respect this is a home-run production.

Ashland 2016: Yeomen of the Guard

If you are a Gilbert & Sullivan purist, you may want to steer clear of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s current incarnation of Yeomen of the Guard — it is, I’m advised by the G&S purists in our tour group, a sufficiently free adaptation that they might as well have called it something else.  (Possibly Boys & Girls of the Golden West….)

If, however, you’re the sort of person who doesn’t mind a little country in your sort-of-light operetta (Yeomen being the G&S equivalent of one of Shakespeare’s weirder, edgier “comedies”, on the order of Measure for Measure) — and especially if you’re the sort of person who likes meta in their fanfiction and more than a little audience-generated improv in your live theatre  — then run, do not walk, to the OSF box office and book your ticket now.

In fact, while the libretto is definitely retuned for this production, it’s not as severely mangled as my purist fellow travelers might lead you to think.  Though the setting is a light-duty Wild West town square with props and costumes that wouldn’t be out of place on a Muppet Show set, it’s still called Tower Green, the yeomen are still called yeomen, and the intricate scansion that makes G&S what it is remains largely intact.

Indeed, the most unusual element of this staging isn’t the cartoon-Western set design at all.  It’s the fact that about twenty percent of the audience for the show is being seated right there on that cartoon-Western set…which includes an actual operational saloon bar, where (if you’re among that part of the audience) you can buy yourself a beer or a soda or what have you at any time during the 90-minute duration of the performance.

But the presence of a live cash bar onstage isn’t, in itself, what’s novel here.  What’s novel is that the audience in what’s being called “promenade” seating essentially becomes part of the cast for that performance.  Those sitting on-set will — not may, will — find themselves moving from haybale to rocking horse to billiards table and back as the action ebbs and flows.  An actor might unexpectedly swap hats with you during a musical number.  Another actor might call you out for looking entirely too much like James Taylor.  Or someone could spill their beer right into the players’ main traffic lane, thereby becoming comic relief for the ninety-odd seconds required for an usher to produce towels and clean up the spill.  [Yes, all of those things actually happened the night I saw the show.]  And all of those moments combine with the crisp, high-energy artistry of Ashland’s crackerjack repertory performers to produce something that’s not merely wonderful but wondrous.  Even for the many promenade denizens who aren’t pulled into the limelight — and, for the more traditionally seated audience — the resulting explosion of sheer interpersonal chemistry makes for a uniquely delightful theatrical experience.

The consensus among our tour group afterward is that doing the show that way must be even more than usually complicated and exhausting for the actors, though a few of us also pointed out that for at least some of them, it’s likely to have been the most fun they’ve ever been legally allowed to have onstage.

One can only hope that it’s a sufficiently successful experiment for OSF to do it again.  Because next time, I want one of those promenade seats….

It’s Aliiiive!!! (and reading)

And so, after a much-too-long hiatus, we return — with, I hope, rather more frequent updating in the weeks and months to come.  At the very least, I anticipate regular posts restoring the lyric archive from the old SFF Net site, and I also want to continue gradually importing the considerable file of reviews from my columns in Dragon and  Amazing Stories.  Also, this year’s pilgrimage to Ashland is coming up next month, and that will warrant a report or two.

Meanwhile, keep watching the virtual skies.  And the literary ones; let me give a shout-out here to one of my favorite pre-release reads this year, David D. Levine’s Arabella of Mars, due out next week.  In a publishing landscape dominated by dystopian angst, this is a book that unabashedly celebrates its science-fictional sense of wonder.  Too few SF novels these days are actually fun to read; it’s refreshing to recommend one that is.


Errantry Anthem

Errantry Anthem

words: © 2015 John C. Bunnell
music: “Don’t Slay That Potato” (Tom Paxton)

Inspired by Diane Duane’s “Young Wizards” novels (and some of the fanworks that have drawn on them). 

Oh, magic, they say, is a game for the young, that’s played for the ultimate stake.
It comes with a language unique and complete, and a vow ev’ry wizard must take;
There’s also a guidebook with useful advice; still, there is no guarantee
That wizardry’s gift will ensure you survive first contact with your Enemy….

‘Ware, now, the Fairest and Fallen, Death in its pocket again;
A Choice it proposes, its voice wine and roses,
Its offer beguiling, its countenance smiling;
But wizards well know, if down that road you go
From Death you cannot turn aside;
‘Ware, then, the Lone One’s temptation; instead in Life’s service abide!

Stories are told of three kids from New York who’ve had an astonishing run.
They’ve taken the Lone One down time after time, and still seem to think that it’s fun;
They’ve traveled the spaceways, brought planets to life, and saved us from Martian attack;
And even their friends who have died for the cause still seem to find ways to come back….


The thing about this sort of magic: it spreads, and rumors, of course soon ensue
That all sorts of people have gotten the Book and taken up wizardry too;
Black Widow and Falcon, we rather suspect, might prove decent hands at the Art,
But a certain small boy with a tiger of plush?  The thought puts a chill in our heart….


The Powers are fickle, and choose whom They will; don’t fret that they haven’t picked you.
Not all They select will survive their Ordeals, and Death takes all too many who do;
But magic’s not needed to live by the Oath, so if that commitment you’d make,
Then wizard or not, simply live by these words: “In Life’s name and for all Life’s sake….”


Weeknight Update: Fanfic @ Eleven

I sent off some correspondence tonight to a friend who’d asked for a general introduction to the world of fanfiction — and realized, in the process, that my own essay on the subject elsewhere on this site was seriously out of date in some respects.  I’ve therefore done some light but long-overdue revising to account for changes in the fanfictional landscape.  If this is a subject that interests you, feel free to have a look at the new version (and comment if there are points you think I’ve overlooked or under-explored).

Ashland 2015: Shakespeare, Sweat, and Singing

Five plays in three days — that’s the schedule for my annual visit to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, hosted by the Whitman College alumni office (which books the rooms and the tickets) and curated by our designated Whitman English professor (who picks the plays).  This latter job is a perennial challenge, as there are usually more excellent shows in the repertory than we have the time or ability to see.  Thus, for example, we didn’t get into Pericles, the late Shakespeare play running in OSF’s smallest theater, and we caught Much Ado About Nothing rather than an adaptation of Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo.

What we did see, however, was at minimum very good and at the top of the scale…well, we’ll get there in a minute or three.


Both Much Ado and Antony & Cleopatra, the two Shakespeare plays we took in, were very good productions.  This year’s staging of Much Ado is likely to remind many of the two best-known film versions: Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 movie and Joss Whedon’s 2013 release.  Its visual style and color palette is Mediterranean, like the Branagh film, but the wholly modern tone runs closer to Whedon. It’s funny where it needs to be — one of the best running gags has Rex Young’s Dogberry zipping around on a Segway, and Christiana Clark makes an especially energetic Beatrice.  It’s also provocative where it needs to be — actress Regan Linton plays a wheelchair-bound Don John with credible bitterness, lending an intriguing dimension to the darker side of the play’s storyline.

Antony & Cleopatra also walks the line between modern and historical staging; the soldiers wear modern uniforms and carry tommy guns, but the Roman leaders often appear in classic white draping and Cleopatra’s exotic and varied wardrobe makes several nods toward Egyptian iconography.  This production, to my mind, is more Antony’s than Cleopatra’s — Derrick Lee Weeden’s performance is simply stronger and more focused than Miriam Laube’s, though it’s hard to tell how much of this reflects the actors’ choices and how much should be ascribed to Bill Rauch’s directorial vision.  I also found Jeffrey King’s Enobarbus a much stronger presence than that of Cleopatra’s handmaidens — though this too isn’t wholly the performers’ fault, as Charmian and Iras are saddled with uniquely and disastrously awful costumes throughout the show.

Flaws notwithstanding, the overall execution for both of these plays is very good, but neither quite leaps over the bar into “exceptional”.  Much Ado is arguably more consistent overall, but Antony & Cleopatra is less frequently produced, and well worth seeing on that basis.


Sweat is…interesting.  It’s a world-premiere production, co-commissioned by OSF from playwright Lynn Nottage, and concerns a handful of industrial plant workers in Reading, PA as they deal with upper management’s efforts to break the union.  There are two mothers, each with a son, one with an ex-husband, plus the bartender and busboy at the tavern where they hang out after work.  A framing narrative is set in 2008, but most of the action takes place eight years earlier, shortly after the ratification of the NAFTA trade agreement.

As the summary suggests, the script’s politics are in no way subtle.  Nottage’s story, though, is less about the politics than it is about the people living with the fallout thereof.  We see mostly well-intentioned people make choices that force them into unplanned opposition to one another, and must watch as the inevitable tension leads to unforeseen consequences.  One conflict arises when one of the women is promoted into a low-level management job both have fought for…and is then forced to help implement an anti-union lockout against her friends.  Meanwhile, the bar’s Hispanic busboy takes a strikebreaker’s job — the pay being far better than he can hope for otherwise — thereby angering both locked-out sons.  The repertory casting has intriguing resonances here; Carlo Albán plays both the busboy and Much Ado‘s Claudio, and Jack Willis doubles as bartender Stan and Much Ado‘s Governor Leonato.  But there are no weak performances, and it’s clear that none of these characters really want to be at odds.  They simply can’t back away from the confrontations their choices have forced on them.  Sweat is a show that absolutely requires first-rate acting to succeed — but OSF has the talent pool to pull it off, and the results are compelling if not comfortable.


And now we get to the musicals — that’s right, musicals plural.

Guys & Dolls is easily described.  This is an old-school Broadway classic, and the production is exactly that: old-school Broadway.  The set is mostly simple with the occasional jet-propelled flourish, the choreography is brisk and eager, the acting is crisp and confident, and the songs are executed with energy and vigor.  It’s easily a six-stars-out-of-five production, firing on all cylinders from overture to finale, and even though I am normally stingy with my standing ovations, I was on my feet in three seconds flat at the end of the show.

Head Over Heels is something else again.

Start with Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia, a work known mostly to die-hard grad students of English literature.  Next, consider the entire musical output of the Go-Gos.  Now if someone told you these two canons had been fused into a brand new rock musical, wouldn’t your first reaction be “What the heck have you been smoking?”  But in fact, Jeff Whitty (father of the Tony-winning musical Avenue Q) has done exactly that — which may go some way toward explaining why the fusion works as amazingly well as it does.

I won’t even try to explain the plot.  Suffice to note that it occupies a space bordering both Shakespeare’s more convoluted comedies (with more than a nod toward the late romances) and the two Marx Brothers stage adaptations OSF has produced in recent years.  Your tour guide and master of ceremonies is John Tufts as Philanax, who’s both a classic Fool (think Twelfth Night and King Lear) and a supercharged version of the Leading Player from Pippin, garbed in raucous patchwork and whiteface.  Under his nominal oversight, Head Over Heels doesn’t just break the metaphorical fourth wall, it tunnels gleefully through it and out into the audience.  I was studying my playbill five minutes before curtain when I became aware of an animated conversation going on in the row behind me — and when I glanced up, I discovered that (a) there was an eight-foot pool of lush purple skirt taking up most of the aisle behind me, and (b) the skirt’s wearer (Queen Gynecia, aka Miriam Laube) was talking avidly with the lady in the aisle seat just above mine.  Another half dozen or more cast members were scattered elsewhere along the aisles, similarly occupied.

It gets wilder from there.  At curtain time, Tufts strolled out to center stage, introduced himself (both in character and out), and brought on his castmates for similar double-identitied introductions — king, queen, princesses, shepherd boy, valet, lady-in-waiting.  We meet the Oracle of Delphi (eventually rechristened Linda), who knows all because she has a copy of the script.  There’s romance, cross-dressing, battles with Fierce Wild Animals, onstage adultery (but not exactly), more romance, coming out of the chamberpot closet, swordplay, an Oracular deus ex machina, some more romance, same-sex marriage, gender-bending, and a whole heck of a lot of singing and dancing.  [A side note for the genre fans in the gallery: it is both disconcerting and delightful that Bonnie Milligan as Princess Pamela is, both visually and vocally, something of a ringer for Seanan McGuire.]

My one and only quibble with all this outrageously entertaining nonsense is one that arises all too often in musicals (and especially rock musicals): at times, the orchestra’s enthusiasm occasionally overrides the vocals so that it’s difficult to make out song lyrics.  But this was at worst an intermittent problem; as a whole, Head Over Heels is awe-inspiring in the most literal sense of the phrase.  It’s on a completely different wavelength from Guys & Dolls, but no less brilliant for all that, and it deserves all the success it can possibly garner.

OryCon 2014: Where I’ll Be

OryCon begins tomorrow (where did the time go?), and I have an unusually busy schedule for the weekend.  (Three panels as moderator?  What was I thinking?  What were they thinking?  Don’t answer that….)  Here’s where you’ll find me:

Friday, 4 pm • Oregon • Funny Filk
*Andrew Ross, John C. Bunnell, Cecilia Eng, John R. Gray III, Frank Hayes

Sharing the songs that tickle your funny bone.

Saturday, 11 am • Idaho • Hold Onto Your Reader
*Shawna Reppert, John C. Bunnell, Diana Francis, Frog Jones

The wrong word choices can throw your reader right out of the story. Learn how to maintain suspension of disbelief.

Saturday, 1 pm • Hamilton • Back Story: Too Much, Too Little, Just Right
*John C. Bunnell, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Matthew Hughes, G. David Nordley, Erica L. Satifka

What to use, what to lose. Writing the details without having to explain every last one.

Saturday, 4 pm • Roosevelt • Improv Writing
*John C. Bunnell, Susan R. Matthews, Todd McCaffrey

Everyone starts the first couple lines of a story and then passes the pad clockwise. We`ll continue each other`s stories for about a page and then read them out loud to each other. Not specifically for writers, any and everyone welcome.

Saturday, 5:30 pm • Grant • Reading
John C. Bunnell

Sunday, 12 noon • Madison • Synopses, Summaries, Book Descriptions and Other Horrors
*John C. Bunnell, Jason Gurley, Matthew Hughes, Bill Johnson, MeiLin Miranda

Few things exasperate writers more than condensing their masterworks into a single page synopsis–or worse, a 150 word book description!  What to include, what to exclude, and strategies to keep it fresh and reveal your voice without sounding unprofessional.

Sunday, 1 pm • Idaho • Structurally Speaking
* Dale Ivan Smith, John C. Bunnell, Matthew Hughes, Bill Johnson, Mary Rosenblum

Stories have rhythm. Is there One True Pattern, or can we mess with it? Are we really bound to the Hero’s Journey, or are there other models?

Ashland 2014: 3 Bards, a President and a Tesseract

Back from our annual pilgrimage to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival — as usual, well-stuffed with (mostly) very good theater.

First up this year was Richard III, a solid traditional production on the Elizabethan outdoor stage, with the bonus that Richard was/is played by fellow Whitman College graduate Dan Donohue. Dan graciously appeared after the performance at our tour group’s discussion meeting to talk about the show.  I very much liked Dan’s Richard — played with a dry, self-assured charm and no prosthetics (the appearance of a withered, useless left arm was entirely physical trickery).  Others in the group correctly pointed out the strength of the female roles in this production — amusingly, it turns out that Richard III, at least in this staging, easily passes the Bechdel test.

Next we had The Tempest, staged in the Bowmer theater on a spare but ingenious set (we learned later that some of the players referred to it as “the Dorito chip”).  Everyone was very impressed with Miranda and Ferdinand, as well as with the rude comics and Caliban and with some of the clever special effects and props employed by Ariel. The major disagreement was over Prospero, played by Festival veteran Denis Arndt. I was greatly underwhelmed by what I saw as a weak imitation of Dumbledore or Gandalf, too much the kindly grandparent with no real gravitas, out of step with the rest of the production; our group’s faculty guide thought Arndt did a good job of making Prospero accessible.  (Judging purely by the audience murmurs I heard on the way out of the theater, the “underwhelmed” crowd was in the majority.)

The group’s third show was The Comedy of Errors in the Thomas theater (the newest, smallest performance space), which I am told may have been the strongest Shakespeare play of the weekend.  I skipped out on this, however, in favor of the Festival’s brand new adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. Excellent Shakespeare notwithstanding, I’m very glad I did. On one hand, I have a number of reservations about the structure and design of the script; OTOH, the execution was mostly very good indeed, with a number of excellent performances (including Tempest‘s Miranda as Meg Murry and Dan Donohue as her father).  I will likely have more to say about this eventually, but it is a fascinating if flawed adaptation, and worth the viewing.

Sunday brought The Great Society and Two Gentlemen of Verona.  The former is the direct sequel to the Tony-winning All the Way, chronicling President Lyndon Johnson’s second term in office, his struggles with Vietnam War policy, and his clashes with Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.  It’s a powerful show with many superb performances, and moves briskly through its 3+ hour running time; whatever one’s personal politics may be, this is a compelling drama and a thoughtful look at the history of that time.

By contrast, Two Gentlemen is mild-mannered and understated, perhaps this season’s most conservative Shakespeare…except that it’s presented by an all-female cast (well, almost all female; I believe that Picasso, the gorgeous and very patient St. Pyrenees dog playing Crab, may be a male).  Interestingly, the production makes no changes whatever to Shakespeare’s language; it’s simply that many of the women are playing male roles just as young men in Elizabethan times would have played the female roles — and the staging pretty much ignores this, just as an Elizabethan cast would have ignored the reverse anomaly originally.  This got mixed reactions from our group; many viewers wanted more overt nods to one or another feminist sensibility.  My feeling is that that’s a no-win scenario, and that the director’s choice to play the script as straight as possible is the best possible way to show how timeless Shakespeare’s stories really are — even in what’s regarded as one of his weakest plays.  I liked the production a great deal and thought it made a good conclusion to the weekend.

Why Bad Books Are Good For You

Counter-intuitive thought for the day: reading a bad book can be good for you.

Yes, really.  Let me explain:

From a craft standpoint, sometimes one way to figure out how good prose works can be to look at clunky prose. Looking at someone’s clunky Cinderella retelling side by side with someone else’s lyrical one may — if you take apart corresponding passages word by word — offer insights into why word choice matters and what makes certain dialogue or narration come alive rather than lying (and sounding) flat on the page.

Alternately, if you run into a page or two of text that annoys you sufficiently, it may be useful as a writing exercise to take that specific passage and recast it into stronger, more effective prose — and then look at the two versions to see where one goes right and the other wrong.  (That said, I do not advise using this approach as a means of creating a story you intend to market as your own.  Entirely apart from the potential legal issues, dealing with that much bad prose is likely to drive you insane long before you finish.)

But that’s only one dimension of the premise. Sometimes a book can be severely flawed but highly provocative in terms of the issues or ideas it develops.  There are works that one may not consider “good” in and of themselves, but which are important for the place they hold in the literary or genre canon. There are books that one might classify purely as “popcorn” — to be read for sheer escape or entertainment value, irrespective of any quality stamp.  I’ve recommended titles in all these categories for the SF book discussion group I co-moderate, and I’m happy to defend any of those choices.  This coming Tuesday we’re looking at David Weber’s first Honor Harrington novel, On Basilisk Station — which I’m sure some of our members will decry as a bad book. They may (or may not) be right…but I think it’s worthwhile for the group to read and discuss it regardless.

Personally, though, one reason I read — and even occasionally seek out — bad books is that it helps me maintain perspective.  If I only read stories I like, or stories that I expect to be “good”, I’m limiting my sample and narrowing my range.  I need a sampling of the negative outliers as counterpoint, so that I can better recognize and better appreciate the really good stuff on the upper end of the spectrum.

So feel free to read a bad book this week. And let me know what it was; I might just check it out myself.