Wordplay: The Official Companion Book (St. Martin’s Press, 2006)
There are a few productive things that can be done when you’re stuck inside your house. One of them is to learn new information by watching credible documentaries. Another is to develop new skills. This book combines both of these possibilities, centering around one item: the crossword puzzle.
Wordplay was a 2006 documentary that focused on the world of crosswords, replete with interviews with notable creators and some of the Earth’s best solvers. The book provides background material on all of the key interviewees.
It also reprints all of the crosswords solved during the competition that functions as the core of the movie, as well as the puzzles mentioned by the stars as their all-time favorites.
Most worthwhile, though, is one more thing that the book brings to the table. Reprinting a couple of dozen crosswords, even with clues and large type, hardly fills out a book. To that end, the editors provide an extensive and helpful tutorial on the process by which crosswords are made.
So: an engaging but light-hearted documentary, and a new skill to develop… and, as an additional bonus, dozens of the best crossword puzzles of the last thirty years for a person to work (or attempt to work.) Not bad for a book that typically retails used, with puzzles unworked, for $10 or less.
Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay (2004, Doubleday)
This book, the first in a series which inspired a hit cable show, has a few flaws which I found somewhat grating. First, and easily the most egregious, is the author’s use of intentionally mangled semi-poetic prose to convey his emotional drive to kill.
It works, but it’s been overused to the point that any such effort smacks of parody. Like the internal monologue voiced by a narrator at the beginning of an old film noir, the technique sets a signpost down for the reader and declares, “this is the style of book you’re reading.” Not only does Lindsay use the technique, he opens the novel with it. That’s a concerning sign.
Thankfully, while the book does tread some too-familiar ground with psychotic urges and a focus on family ties, the author does so in a way that keeps the story moving and he has more behind the book than merely an interesting protagonist.
Still, the main character is the draw. Dexter is a blood spatter specialist, a forensic expert who works with the police to capture criminals. His adoptive sister is an ambitious, devoted policewoman and his adoptive father was a heroic, caring cop.
Dexter is also a mass murderer. Lacking the ability to feel any emotion beyond the periodic drive to kill, he is guided by the strict moral code ingrained in him by his departed father. He does kill, in meticulous and torturous fashion (thankfully, mostly off-camera), but his targets are exclusively serial criminals of the worst sort, almost always other mass murderers.
Lindsay’s antihero is naturally reminiscent of Bradley Denton’s Blackburn for those who’d read that 1993 novel (and for those who haven’t, but enjoy Dexter, Blackburn will be a pleasant, somewhat humorous discovery).
This first book parallels the first season of the Showtime series, with just enough significant variations to remain surprising for those who followed the show. Later books deviate greatly from the television series, although many of the same characters appear. For fans of the show, this book and Lindsay’s subsequent works are a chance to revisit familiar faces with new stories, which may be exactly the sort of comfort desired while one is isolated at home.