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The Crown, Crying Wolf, Trains, Judgmental Maps - Uncle Orson Reviews Everything

Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
November 24, 2016

First appeared in print in The Rhino Times, Greensboro, NC.


The Crown, Crying Wolf, Trains, Judgmental Maps

While my lifelong anglophilia has led me to study the lives and reigns of all the monarchs of England, I must confess that I have had little interest in anybody after Edward VII abdicated in the 1920s. I did not care about Charles and Di's marital problems any more than I care about Brad's and Angelina's -- I didn't know them, I wasn't planning to invite them to any dinner parties, so their ups and downs had no effect on my life.

I think that I really lost interest when monarchs in England became constitutionally powerless.

But The King's Speech a few years ago demonstrated to me that figureheads still play an important role in a nation that respects their office. And when talk-show appearances by John Lithgow (who plays Winston Churchill) and others showed that The Crown had every chance of being a serious television production with good acting, my wife and I decided to give it a try.

I'm not sure how much of the series is available now by download from Netflix -- perhaps all of it -- but we watched two episodes and I was blown away by Peter Morgan's excellent writing, the extremely high production values, and the rich and beautiful performances by an absolutely stellar cast.

Let me warn you now, however, about the problems with the soundtrack. The English accents are not a problem -- everyone is using the King's (or Queen's) English -- but John Lithgow is not the only one who thinks that mumbling is acceptable.

Usually, on Time-Warner Cable, I would switch on closed captioning, but if that's an option on Netflix I don't know how it's done. Also, backing up to hear a few lines again is also difficult, because when you try to go backward on a streaming video, you can't see where you're going so you don't know when to stop. We usually end up rewatching far more than we meant to.

The only alternative, then, is to push the sound up louder, in hopes of making out what they're saying the first time. That worked, most of the time (and let me point out that my hearing tests just fine, thanks; I'm not deaf yet).

What makes this particular streaming series sonically disastrous is that the music soundtrack is laid down as if the sound editor thought we were all coming to an outdoor concert in a park somewhere, and everything had to be amped up like a Bruce Springsteen or Kenny Chesney performance.

During the title sequence, the music keeps getting louder and louder and louder -- but if you turn down the volume until the sound is tolerable, you can't hear a word anybody is saying once the dialogue starts.

And periodically during each episode, whenever we're getting lovely scenery shots (and they are lovely), the music punishes us for daring to watch the show by blasting out mediocre, unmemorable music at five times the volume of the dialogue.

The gunfire in the shooting scenes (not war; ducks and pheasants) sounds better than the score.

There. I've now said the only bad thing there is to say about this wonderful production.

Unlike the leading HBO series, nobody has to be naked in a BBC production like this, which comes as a relief after Game of Thrones and Westworld. Yet the production values are, if anything, higher in The Crown.

I was unfamiliar with Claire Foy, who plays Princess, then Queen, Elizabeth -- she has done a lot of performing in shows I heard of but never saw. Playing Prince Philip is Matt Smith, whom I never watched in Dr. Who because he wasn't David Tennant. My loss, because both Smith and Foy give smart, nuanced performances.

Because the script is so good, the story is both wide and deep, so many other actors get to play memorable, important characters. Vanessa Kirby is gracefully tragic as Princess Margaret, in her impossible love for Peter Townsend (Ben Miles), the personal attendant to her father, King George VI.

Harriet Walter almost steals scenes from John Lithgow, playing Churchill's wife, Clementine; and Victoria Hamilton is rock solid as Elizabeth's mother, or the "Queen Mother" as she was called most of my life. Eileen Atkins, as Elizabeth's grandmother, Queen Mary, has a much smaller part, but it's a powerful one.

The heart of the first two episodes is, without question, Jared Harris as Elizabeth's father, King George VI. This is the same character played, much younger, by Colin Firth in The King's Speech, but now seen as he's dying (unbeknownst to him) of lung cancer.

Jared Harris's performance as the king is the key to understanding the modern British monarchy. He is a stickler about abiding by the constitution, which makes him head of state without any right to interfere in the actual government of the nation. He is informed of everything, and can ask any questions he wants, but cannot even attempt to influence decisions -- an almost unbearable situation, full of duties without powers.

But the real mastery of this actor -- and of Peter Morgan's script -- comes from the way he shows George VI to be a loving father, a compassionate leader, and a loyal friend. Because of him, it is easy to come to love all his family and those officials closest to him. He treats them with respect and affection -- but without ever crossing the social lines that confine modern English royalty.

Thus, when he dies (I'm giving away nothing here, because if he had never died, Queen Elizabeth II would still be Princess of Wales), we are as deeply moved as if we had lost a friend, and we completely believe both the outpouring of public grief at his death and the equal outpouring of love and goodwill by his subjects while he was still alive.

In fact, if there's one thing these scripts do, it's to show that there was a brief time -- the 1950s, my childhood -- when Englishpeople were unashamed to love their king, and to love the great Winston Churchill, even though his abilities were fading with old age when he became Prime Minister for the second time.

One of the major plots of the first two episodes is the way members of the cabinet -- who have far more influence and authority in the English system than the American cabinet does -- pressure Churchill's protégé, Anthony Eden, to find a way to get Winston Churchill to resign as Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader. In the English system, the head of government can be changed by decision of the party, because he is Prime Minister only because his party holds a commanding position in the House of Commons; if he resigns (or dies), his party still holds all those seats, so his successor as party leader must be invited by the monarch to form a government.

However, maneuvering to oust a party leader and Prime Minister is unseemly at best, especially when the maneuverer owes his career largely to the Prime Minister he's pushing out of the way. Such was Anthony Eden's awkward position, and while nobody raises their voice or has an American-style shouting confrontation with him, we are made to feel most keenly the disapproval of both King George VI and Winston Churchill himself.

The crowning moment of this plotline is when Churchill delivers his eulogy to George VI after his death. It is a gloriously perfect speech -- which shows us once again why Churchill was probably the last great speaker in English-speaking history. (Nobody comes close. Not Reagan. Not Obama. Not anybody. And, like Lincoln, he wrote all his own speeches, mostly because there was no better speechwriter alive.)

The cabinet listens to Churchill's speech in another room, on the radio, and at the end, it is clear that everyone who was touting Eden to replace Churchill was wrong. They could make up for his inattention to and neglectfulness of the details of government, but nobody could replace his ability to say to the people the words of their own hearts.

By the way, Anthony Eden is played by Jeremy Northam, who played the visiting singer in Gosford Park -- the two roles very different, but the standard of performance equally high.

There are other great moments -- and many times I couldn't help but wonder how much was based upon real anecdotes and stories from that era. When Princess Elizabeth is on safari in Kenya, as part of her Commonwealth tour, we see how inept Philip is at first, in meeting leaders from other cultures.

He tries to speak to them jocularly, as one Brit might speak to someone from the same school -- which is doomed to be misunderstood -- and there's a truly awful moment when he says to an extravagantly dressed African who is among those greeting the royals upon their arrival, "I like your hat." Whereupon Elizabeth tells him, "That's not a hat. It's a crown." It's obvious that Philip has offered an insult to someone who is, in terms of rank if not political power, his superior.

Yet Philip's awkwardness is redeemed when a rogue elephant comes between their party and the treehouse where they are staying while on safari. Some are ready to shoot the elephant, but Philip intervenes, drawing the elephant's anger and attention to himself, while someone else leads Princess Elizabeth to safety. It's a moment of genuine courage, showing that he had taken to heart King George's private admonition to Philip that his only job, now that he was married to Elizabeth, was to protect her and care for her.

It is impossible, in my opinion, to recommend this series more highly than it deserves. Binge-watch it, I suggest, between turkey bastings or Thanksgiving Friday shopping trips, or while munching leftover-turkey sandwiches. You really don't want to get to the end of this year without having added this magnificently written and performed story to your memory.

*

After Obama was elected in 2008, I refrained from writing anything critical of him for a couple of years. (Except, of course, for treating his unearned Nobel Peace Prize with the scorn it deserved -- but that was criticism of left-wing Norwegian toadies.)

President-elect Obama was treated as if he had already accomplished marvelous things; he never came close to living up to the hype.

Now, if you've been reading my column during the campaign, you know how little I loved Trump or his ideas or his treatment of other candidates. He represented to me everything that was wrong with the Republican Party, just as Hillary represented everything wrong with the Democratic Party.

Still, it's absurd for people to respond to his election as if Hitler had risen from the dead with worse hair. Just like Obama, Trump deserves a chance to show us who he is as president. (And have you noticed that the orange hair has gradually turned white, like an infusion of dignity?)

Contrary to the expectations of some of Trump's stupider fans, he cannot stride into Washington, sweep away Congress, appoint an all-new Supreme Court, and do away with everything people didn't like about Obama.

Some of the things Obama did will take years or decades to undo -- like destroying American credibility with anyone who might want to cooperate with us in other countries, and apologizing for all our most important achievements.

Only the steady pursuit of rational policies can restore our credibility -- and that includes not abrogating our international agreements. One of Obama's most disastrous mistakes was treating our allies with contempt while bowing to our enemies. It did not make our enemies love us, but it did shatter our allies' trust in our steadiness.

But Trump will do us no favors if he "remedies" Obama's oath-breaking precedent by breaking a whole new set of international promises. The world should not come to believe that America's promises are good only until the next election.

When parents and teachers have deliberately terrified their children about Trump, while white-washing the equally (at least) contemptible Hillary, to the point where some children cried or had nightmares after the election, they have done a great disservice to America. It is important for citizens to know how to cope rationally with electoral defeat.

It is also important for citizens not to gloat in victory: Several former friends lost my last dregs of respect because of their childish statements to and about voters who were dismayed at Trump's victory.

Perhaps the best expression of what a reasonable attitude should be came from an essay by Scott Alexander at Slate Star Codex on 16 November. He points out that because the Left automatically calls any Republican racist and sexist for any policy, no matter how rational, those epithets have become so cheap that nobody cared much when they were applied to Trump.

In fact, Alexander actually looks at facts to point out that Trump doesn't deserve those epithets, either. At least not yet! And because they've been overused, nobody will pay attention when and if he ever does deserve them. The constant screaming hysteria of the Left -- in or out of election years -- does their own cause no good, and in the long run harms us all:

http://slatestarcodex.com/2016/11/16/you-are-still-crying-wolf/

*

I'm sure you've all noticed how late the fall colors were this year. Of course, they always seem late to me, because my first experience with fall colors was in Utah at an elevation of 3500 feet and at the latitude of Philadelphia.

I grew up in California and Arizona, where autumn meant little more than relief from the worst of the summer heat. The saguaro cactuses near Mesa, Arizona, did not drop colorful needles in the fall.

So it was only when my family moved to Orem, Utah, when I was fifteen that autumn became real. The colors were never as vivid and varied as the autumn colors here in North Carolina, but because the climate is so arid, the leaves all crunch deliciously underfoot. Our limp, damp leaves -- even in La Niña semi-drought conditions, like now -- just lie there, mostly.

But there are far more leaves than in the high deserts of the Great Basin, so what our fallen leaves lack in crunch they make up for in the swish swish swish when you walk through them.

Autumn colors start appearing on the Wasatch Mountains in Utah rather early in September, most years, and along the streets of the towns by the end of that month. Usually.

So I'm always impatient with our leaves here, because the whole of September usually passes without a single leaf turning.

Still, by mid-October you expect the colors to begin. So when we signed up for the Virginia Autumn Special train excursion from Greensboro to Charlottesville on 29 October, we figured that we'd see vivid autumn colors the whole way.

Nope. Not this dry, overly warm autumn. A few trees were shyly offering a bit of color here and there, but even in Charlottesville itself, there were hardly any autumn leaves to be seen, either on the trees or on the ground.

What mattered to me was the train itself. We had a small room in a private car, owned by an individual who was riding with his train car. We were in a room with no fixed furniture; there were several comfortable chairs and a table.

Since all the cars on this special train were chosen because they were old-fashioned, there was only one electric outlet in our room -- in the tiny bathroom. But the steward came up with an extension cord, and I was able to use my computer during the trip. I was grateful for that, because I did not have time for such a pleasure trip unless I worked at least part of the way, since I was already past deadline for a book I should have finished last February.

My wife and I conversed at times, and at other times I wrote pleasant sci-fi lies while she read less-pleasant journalistic lies; both of us immersed in fiction, though I freely declare that I make mine up, while journalists are generally less candid.

In Charlottesville, as in most American towns, the railroad station is at a fairly low elevation, which, in hilly country, is where you are likeliest to find enough flat ground to lay multiple tracks for a switching yard. From the station, it was a pleasant, though mostly uphill, walk before we came to the downtown mall.

We were pleasantly surprised by the fact that Charlottesville's downtown mall actually works. I had very keen memories of an equally ambitious and nostalgic undertaking in Sacramento, California, which had obviously failed: When the storefronts are mostly pawnshops, nail parlors, notaries public, and for lease signs, you know a shopping center is not dying. It is dead.

The other sign of a dead shopping district is that its selection of stores is indistinguishable from any suburban mall. When the Gap, Old Navy, and Anthropologie take up most of the store frontage of a noted shopping district, and all the old, unique, interesting shops are gone, then there's no particular reason ever to return. This is the fate that has befallen Georgetown in DC and the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica. Almost everything that made them a pleasure to visit is gone, so why bother?

Charlottesville's lovely downtown mall is still very much alive, and on that warm Saturday in autumn, it wasn't just a trainload of tourists who crowded the shops. There were many, many locals -- families, students -- dining at the many restaurants and browsing the stores, which were not big national chains.

I must say, however, that my favorite find was The Juice Place, an organic, vegan juicery that was forgiving of my rejection of their vegetable-heavy menu; they let me assemble my own smoothie from fruits they had for other drinks. (The best thing was that they had papaya, which Jamba Juice never carries, partly, I imagine, because papaya isn't ripe enough to taste good until the outside rind looks disgustingly old and, often, moldy.)

They do not use ice in their smoothies, which made them taste just right -- all you are getting is the fruit. I enjoyed it so much that I rather regretted having filled up at a Mexican (actually, Yucatan) restaurant we encountered on the way. That was good food, but I would rather have had a second or perhaps third smoothie at The Juice Place.

In my current old, overweight body, I had pretty much spent myself getting to the Downtown Mall. That's why my wife and I took the plunge and, using the app already installed on her phone, called for an Uber car to come and pick us up.

Our driver arrived in about three minutes and we got to the train station with plenty of time to spare -- and with my hips and feet not in agony from too much unaccustomed exercise.

After years of suffering from Greensboro's utter lack of a prompt, efficient cab service (we gave up when cabs from the airport started forcing passengers to share rides with strangers), I was glad to be able to take part in the social experiment represented by Uber. Our experience was flawless and affordable, our driver a pleasant gentleman from Africa whose real vocation was as a minister.

In Greensboro, I know an Uber driver who is a wonderful wildlife artist, and another who is a literature professor from Africa (who has learned that American universities don't want African history and literature to be taught by actual Africans who know what they're talking about). My impression is that Uber provides a way for hardworking but under-employed people to make an honest living providing a much-needed service -- though Greensboro drivers often have to go to Raleigh or Charlotte to get enough passengers.

We returned to Greensboro by train, with the clickety-clack and swing and sway of the railroad. Having ridden on trains in England, Ireland, and France, I know what good train service looks like -- with well-maintained tracks so that clickety-sway is held to a minimum. There are other aspects of American train travel that have much room for improvement -- the foremost being the apparent inability of trains to provide food that rises to the standard set by airplanes, taco trucks, airports, and Manhattan pretzel carts.

The source of many problems with railroads as a serious means of long-distant travel is, alas, an insoluble one: The narrow gauge of American tracks, which are four feet, eight-and-a-half inches wide. Most of Europe is on the same standard, though a few places have somewhat wider gauges.

The reason this is a problem is that you can only make train cars so much wider than the axles. The wider the car, the more it will rock to and fro, and the less manageable it is on curves. Height is also limited by the width of the wheel sets.

This means that train cars remain too small for modern Americans. It's not just that, as a people, we're fatter (meaning that far fewer of us are constantly on the verge of starvation); we're also taller. In sleeper cars, normal-height Americans rarely have room to stretch out fully. The laughably small bathrooms do not allow enough room for grownups to do any of the things that bathrooms are meant for.

Corridors and aisles are usually too narrow for normal-size people to pass, yet are so wide they serious intrude into the space that is needed for rooms and seats to be comfortable. And there is no room for a reasonable-size kitchen, so food on a train is forced into a pattern of mediocrity that makes a long trip seem unpleasant.

Amtrak needs to realize that their competition is not airplanes but cruise ships. Trains can't compete with planes for speed, and it's pointless to try. Trains must offer pleasure, as cruise ships do. After all, trains offer windows that let you see the passing scenery instead of clouds -- even if, approaching towns, you often see each city at its worst. They give you time for conversation, for reading, for rest.

Cruise ships, of course, offer little in the way of scenery, since the ocean in one place is very similar to the ocean everywhere else. (This is not true to sailors; but to cruise ship passengers, I dare say the main difference is the degree of wind and choppiness.) So cruise ships offer amusements, room to walk about, and vast quantities of brilliant food, or so I'm told.

If trains have plenty of electric outlets -- I'd say two per seat is the minimum, including in the dining cars -- we can bring our own entertainment screens with us, especially if the trains also offered reliable wi-fi internet connections, as airplanes now do.

But the food, now. That's a problem ... and it shouldn't be. If airplanes can be restocked with edible meals (and yes, they are generally edible these days) at every airport, why can't trains?

Or -- and this may be the better alternative anyway -- train trips should be able to be arranged with overnight stops in major cities. Our excursion to Charlottesville, where we found far-better-than-the-train food, demonstrates the idea.

I would happily cross the country by train instead of airplane, if the in-the-room bathrooms were six inches larger in every direction, including the door; if the beds were long enough for a person of normal height -- like my six feet two inches -- to lie down; and if every few days, you could debark the train, go to a good hotel in a major city -- or even Little Rock or Cheyenne -- and sleep in a real bed and have a real shower and eat a real meal. If the hotels could also pack a few first-rate meals for the next day's train, I'd be content.

It could be done, so that a rail trip across America could be much closer to the experience that travelers used to have crossing the ocean on a major ocean liner, before jets were able to get from New York to London or Paris without refueling stops in Maine, Iceland, and Ireland.

Trains have one virtue that airplanes don't have: Trains don't take off and land. Even cruise ships are on water, so that with planes and ships, accidents can put passengers in unsurvivable danger. Trains can crash, just like cars -- but if you live through the initial impact, you don't have to swim for your life or wish for a parachute. There have been few train crashes with no survivors, and a mechanical breakdown in a train means you park for a while and arrive late, rather than dying when your plane plummets out of the sky.

So yes, the fundamental nature of land-bound travel offers an alternative that many of us would appreciate -- if passenger trains aspired to offer services comparable to those on a cruise ship.

What about cost? Well, yes ... out the wazoo, of course. But so was plane travel, until deregulation and the hub system made rational scheduling economically feasible. If train service were better, even if more expensive, more and more people would choose to do it, and the economies of scale would come into play.

After all, we've seen enormously long freight trains. Passenger trains could be much longer than they are without losing much speed, if there were enough passengers. And maybe those long trains could include kitchens worth cooking in, and perhaps video and pinball arcades, and even a car where standup comedians could do a few sets a day in very narrow venues. Cruise ships have shows; why not trains?

With trains, we could take a pleasure trip that also had a real destination instead of making a loop, and if we can get work done along the way on our computers and phones, a longer transit of the country doesn't have to mean a waste of time or a loss of income.

It's all just a dream -- the existence of Amtrak is also a miracle, because in its present incarnation it exists by act of Congress and public subsidies. But I think real cross-country trains could pay for themselves. And our lovely trip to Charlottesville to see not-yet-ready autumn colors offers proof-of concept. People will pay ridiculously high prices for an enjoyable experience.

One dream of mine, however, died on that trip. When I was told that the cost of buying a private train car was upwards of a quarter of a million dollars, I realized that it's like a beach house. In order to buy one large enough to be useful, it either has to become your primary or only residence -- or you have to rent it out to strangers, with all the upkeep problems that involves. (Unless you're fabulously wealthy.)

So buying and fixing up a rail car as a home-away-from-home while traveling is just one more of those things that I will never do. But riding in somebody else's private train car, rented or chartered, is more like renting somebody else's beach house or chartering a boat -- it's expensive, but as a one-time cost, it doesn't keep draining the family coffers.

I'm not a "railroad guy." I do know the names of many railroads, even ones that aren't in Monopoly, but I really don't much care about the differences between various kinds of locomotives apart from whether they're steam, diesel, or electric.

But I do love trains -- and riding on trains, and standing about in railyards watching trains come and go. We did that several times when I was little, because in the 1950s Americans still traveled by train -- a lot. Freeways were not yet widespread, and propeller-driven airplanes flew lower, were terrifyingly bouncy and turbulent, and cost relatively more than now, so trains were, for most people on long trips, the most cost-effective and comfortable way to travel.

(Cars are now so fuel-efficient that the fuel cost of train travel is not much less than car travel, per passenger mile.)

I remember standing beside a steam locomotive -- yes, they were still in use -- and seeing the mechanism work as a train started pulling out of the station; I remember the hissing of brake lines and the screeching of metal wheels on metal rails, and the delicious excitement of making that giant step up from the platform into the car.

I still feel it, even now.

And with Uber or Lyft waiting at the end of your trip, you can travel by train and not wish you had your car with you.

*

Judgmental Maps is a wonderfully funny atlas of major American cities, but instead of marking out street and borough names, it lists truthful but insulting characterizations of various neighborhoods.

On the cover it sets the tone of the book by showing a judgmental map of the whole country.

Some of the "geographical" titles are merely humorous -- over Maine, it says, "No, still not in Canada," and all it says over the broad expanse of Montana is "Two Jews and one gay guy." Miami is labeled "More Cuba than Cuba," and off the coast of South Carolina is says, "Drunks on Jet Skis."

Eastern Idaho is labeled, "Northern Mormons" -- absolutely true -- but the Salt Lake City area is tagged, "Guns guns guns." Also true. (Are there other states besides Utah where the autumn deer hunt is a school holiday?)

It gets meaner -- and truer. The LA area says, "Broken dreams and busted boob jobs"; over southeastern Missouri the label is: "Your flight had to land here."

New York City is called, "The city that never sleeps ... with the same person twice." While Philadelphia is sweetly labeled, "Still proud of Rocky."

Inside the book, there are all kinds of city maps -- every one of them showing a city larger, or at least more famous, than Greensboro.

You have to realize that Greensboro is not famous when almost everybody you know who is not from Greensboro assumes that Greensboro is in South Carolina, because South Carolina is the only Carolina that most people outside the Carolinas have ever heard of.

(And no, they don't remember that the Woolworth's sit-in took place in Greensboro; in fact, few people in the younger generation have any idea there ever was a Woolworth's sit-in. So before you ask, you may rest assured that not one person will ever visit Greensboro for the purpose of seeing the Woolworth's where history was made. Greensboro is where a historical footnote was made. That's a shame, but it's the truth.)

Here's the weakness of this book: Each map is only funny to the degree that you really know the particular city it satirizes. Since the labels come from suggestions by people who really live in those cities, they are presumably true or at least amusing; but if you don't know the city, it's just a bunch of labels.

In fact, if you don't know the street map of the city well, you can't even tell what neighborhoods the labels refer to, because only the Interstates are clearly labeled. No streets are named, so you can easily lose track of where you are.

Now, there are a few cities that I know well enough to be amused -- and to judge whether the judgmental maps are truthful. Those cities include Salt Lake City and Provo, Utah -- and I have the college degrees to prove it -- Los Angeles and Silicon Valley in California, Washington DC, northern Virginia along Route 7, South Bend IN, and Manhattan.

But come on, Reno gets a map and Salt Lake City doesn't? Raleigh is the only North Carolina city with a map at http://judgmentalmaps.com/findyourcity ?

Not a problem, really. For one thing, these maps are designed to really get under some people's skin, so maybe it's a mercy to be left out. And for another thing, if I feel so strongly about it, why don't I create my own map and submit it?

That's right -- on the website, many or most of the city maps are created by visitors to the site, who submit them and then wait with bated breath to see if their map makes the cut. There are even instructions on how to create and submit a map.

Meanwhile, though, you can buy the book. I've already given it as a gift once, to somebody whose sense of humor I gauged, I think correctly, as "likely to be amused."

And even if you don't know a city like, say, New Orleans all that well, it's still funny to see labels like "Ugliest part of city," "Scary place," "It's safe here," "Overpriced," "Ships and stuff," "Like Challmette but cleaner," and to see "Jail," "Culture," and "Investments" in close proximity.

And at the southeast corner, the simple label, "Too far."

If these sound funny or at least amusing, buy the book and/or visit the website.

And once you and your friends are familiar with the concept of judgmental maps, a fun party activity would be to open up a map of a town like -- oh, let's say Greensboro -- and write judgmental labels on Post-its and stick them to the map.

You'll either have a great time, or come to blows. Either way: Memorable party.

*

For those whose Christmas plans include giving someone a signed copy of one or more of my books, our local Barnes & Noble in Friendly Center is once again offering a selection of books that I will sign and personalize in time for the book(s) to be sent out before Christmas.

The orders need to come in by email. Then every Monday before Christmas, I'll come by the store, sign all the books ordered the past week, and B&N will either ship them out to the address you provided, or hold them for in-store pickup.

Shipping costs a little extra, but if you're picking up your book(s) there's no charge. My signature is free.

The best way to place your order is by emailing the store at crm2795@bn.com. Tell them the titles you want, the names of the people they are to be signed to, and the address to which the books should be shipped after signing. By using email, we can be sure all the spellings are as you want them.

Include your phone number, too, because a store employee will call you for payment information -- we don't want you to put such info in an email.

The books on offer will be hardcovers and trade paperbacks of the Pathfinder series, the Mithermages series (e.g., The Lost Gate), Ender's Game, Ender's Shadow, and The Swarm, along with Enchantment and Magic Street. These are the books Barnes & Noble will have in stock in the local store.

(This offer is from our local Barnes & Noble only. The national chain and the Barnes & Noble website have nothing to do with this, and won't know what you're talking about if you try to participate through them.)

http://www.hatrack.com/osc/reviews/everything/2016-11-24.shtml


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