Once in a decade, Barbara (Shyette) Barnett (N’72) gets hooked on a television show, to the point of obsession. And while most audience members would be content to simply sit back on the couch and passively soak it in, Barnett is the type to jump online and start a personal blog about her obsession.
Her personal commentaries, and in-depth critical analyses about the show “House, M.D.” garnered a large readership which she eventually parlayed into a weekly column at blogcritics.com (where she now has co-executive editor duties). After each episode of the show, “House” viewers eagerly read her column “Welcome to the End of The Thought Process: House, M.D.” where Barnett dissects the episode, often with the assistance of “House” writers and executive producers, for a behind-the-scenes look that is full of insight and understanding into the sometimes mystifying actions of the show’s central character, Dr. Gregory House.
“I’ve been incredibly privileged to sit down with the writers and executive producers and just deconstruct the episode. After the season finale last year, I had prearranged to be on the phone with Garrett Lerner, Russel Friend and Peter Blake, writers/executive producers on the show,” she said. “As an interviewer, it’s a lot more interesting for me to ask a writer what they were thinking,” she said, alluding to glossy magazines that breathlessly detail the lives of celebrities, yet often pay little attention to the writers who have created a show’s characters.While Barnett enjoyed the writing duties for the column, and the other television essays, the idea of a book was never far from her mind.
“I always have a book in my head, ever since I was 10, I think. When I started writing the column I was always thinking it would make a really cool companion book because it’s not a straight-onthe-nose TV show, and you can’t get all of the intricate layering of the show just by reading the internet. You can go to as many internet sites as you want, but you’re not going to get that depth,” she said.Her book “Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D.” was released in fall 2010.The book’s title refers to the saying used in medical school, “When you hear hoofbeats, you think horses, not zebras.”
But it is often “zebras,” or highly unusual medical conditions or anomalies that often plague House’s patients, and what makes the show so compellingly watchable. What attracted Barnett to the show, in addition to the intelligent, multi-layered writing, was the show’s namesake. “I like the flawed, but heroic, characters from literature,” she said. “Characters who have an essential flaw, who are not necessarily good people, but almost in spite of what they would want to do, are heroic. I really love that. I found the character House as if he walked out of one of those novels.”
On the day of her book’s launch, Barnett stopped by her alma mater and reminisced about her high school years at Niles North. She fondly recalled Ruth Belser, her sophomore English teacher, who had the class write in their journals. “We turned in our journals and we could write anything we wanted,” she said. “We could write poetry, we could write short stories and we could do anything. She really turned me on, even more than I already had been, to writing, which is really what I love doing.”
Barnett also was on the committee of the very first environmental club at Niles North and on the editorial staff of the creative writing magazine. “That was a good thing,” she said. “The more creative opportunities really let me flourish those last couple of years. That was great. I loved that about North.” Barnett squeezed in a quick tour of Niles North, in between her other duties, such as her editing responsibilities at blogcritics, and the promotion of her book. Oftentimes, she comes home from her full-time job, Ritual Director at Congregation Beth Shalom, and writes for about four hours every night, which she says “makes her husband crazy.” But one gets the sense that she enjoys giving in to her obsessions, and that for her, these detours from a traditional path have made sense. Perhaps we can all take inspiration from Barnett—if we hear hoofbeats, rather than assume it is a horse, maybe we should first check to make sure it isn’t a zebra.For more, visit www.barbarabarnett.wordpress