Friday, December 02, 2005

Pan and scan

Who uses it: Film editors and video technicians
What it means: The process of adapting a film image to television. The aspect ratio (width/height of an image) of films is different from television; therefore, to show a film on television, producers have to letter-box it -- which leaves the black strips at the top and bottom of the screen -- or "pan and scan," which is cropping each frame of film to show the TV viewer whatever the editor thinks is the key image.
How you can use it: When you're giving someone highlights, but not the whole picture.

I did finish two books this week, but I also started and rejected three novels that were simply dreadful. One of them was a debut legal thriller that read like "Law & Order" fanfiction; one was a shameless, second-rate Janet Evanovich ripoff; and one, the most disappointing of all, was a gift from someone whose literary taste I'd never have questioned, an embarrassingly clumsy Irish imitation of James Patterson. All I can think, in that last case, is that the author must be a friend of the person who gave it to me -- or that the author had presented this person with a copy, and it was so radioactively bad he had to hand it off to his first unsuspecting pal.

So I'll do something different this week. It's the time of year when people post their "Best of" lists, and I've already submitted a couple for different purposes -- on The Mystery Bookstore's website you'll find a list of my favorite crime novels published in 2005, and Tod Goldberg's compiling a list of best books of 2005 that will probably include a contribution from me.

But several of the best books I read this year weren't published this year, so I'm putting up my own list of Best Books I Read in 2005. Contrary to what you might expect, it's not all crime fiction; in fact, I'd say that what these books have in common is that they all defy simple genre classification.

Here are the first five, in alphabetical order; I'll post the second half of the list next Friday.

Kate Atkinson, Case Histories. Atkinson uses the structure of a private-eye novel to look at the subject that interests her most, which is the vast spectrum of family dynamics.

Edward Conlon, Blue Blood. All the things that make Eddie Conlon a great cop and a great writer boil down to two lines of this memoir: "We all have our vocations, and we all have our mysteries. Not all of us find religion over the wandering years, but sooner or later, everybody gets to meet God."

John Connolly, The Black Angel. The byzantine plot of this novel, which leads from New York to Juarez to the battlefields of France and the medieval graveyards of the Czech Republic, is a vast canvas for Charlie Parker's flight from redemption, which he can't bring himself to ask for.

Bob Dylan, Chronicles: Volume One. Someone said they weren't sure what they'd get out of this book if they didn't already know a lot about Bob Dylan's life, and that's valid. Chronicles assumes you already know a lot about Dylan's public persona, but it's part of what makes the book such a gift.

Paul Elie, The Life You Save May Be Your Own. For years during the 1990s, I traveled with a beaten-up copy of Thomas Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain. This book, which compares and contrasts Merton's work with that of Dorothy Day, Flannery O'Connor, and Walker Percy, may become my new travel companion.

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