Thursday, March 31, 2011

Internet Lovelies

I saw my first jar of Nutella in the bread aisle one night at maybe 2:15 AM. It looked like something Ikea would sell. Its starkly ordinary placement next to the peanut butter implied that I had either bypassed it my entire life, or I had spent enough time in the store that I had somehow “unlocked” a secret level of creamy sandwich spreads that would release themselves to me through this portal I had discovered. I didn’t know how I was going to use it, but I knew I had to buy it. In the car I ate my usual two vanilla-chocolate iced doughnuts, then tried the Nutella, sort of hoping I wouldn’t like how it tasted, but going back for several more finger-fulls before I parked in my driveway. I put the jar on the kitchen table, dipped a few Oreos in it, and went to my living room to watch TV. My thoughts seemed to be dominated by what the Nutella would taste like sandwiched between 2 Wheat Thins. I pictured myself “trimming” the .8” Nutella overflow perimeter with my tongue, then licking some tiny squares of salt off the top of the crackers before putting the entire sandwich in my mouth. I brought the Wheat Thins to the couch and ate all the Nutella in maybe 40 minutes.
Megan Boyle, Link

On Cary Fukunaga's Jane Eyre adaptation, which I won't be able to see until April, because it doesn't play in Roanoke until April, because apparently a movie about a CGI Easter bunny that shits jelly beans is far more important:
Like the original, his Jane Eyre is a love story, as fiercely intelligent as it is passionate. He uncovers what the ­bodice rippers miss: that these lovers are equals and, as such, equally deeply felt aspects of their creator.
Karen Durbin, Link

My first impression, upon seeing so many new books in one place, is to dive into them headfirst, like Scrooge McDuck into his vault of gold bullions.
Mark Medley, Link

If I had a Scrooge McDuck-esque vault, I would want it filled with vintage paperback copies of sci-fi novels from the 60s and 70s. And...well, probably Nutella.

OOH. And college-ruled notebook paper.

I always feel like I am on the outside looking in. I want to be on the inside of something, anything. I worry I always feel this way. I feel so awkward all the time. The constant conversation in my head is deafening. I don’t know how to be around people. I don’t know how to be alone. I don’t know how to balance confidence with humility. I don’t know how to be proud of things I’ve done without making the wrong impression. It’s all bravado. Don’t you see that? I do not know how to answer the question, “When are you coming home?” I don’t know how to ask the question, “How long will you wait?” or maybe I am afraid to hear the answer. I wish there was a timetable for when it really gets better. If there was an endpoint, it would be easier to reach for. I don’t know how to say, “I need you.” I miss you.
Roxane Gay, Link

there are two poles in the debate over the "use" or "value" of litera­ture. One pole is utilitarian or instrumental: the idea that literature is good for you because it produces beneficial societal effects: better citi­zens, for example, or more ethically attuned reasoners. The other pole might be characterized as ecstatic, affective, or mystical: the idea that literature is a pleasurable jolt to the system, a source of powerful feeling that—rather like Judge Potter Stewart's famous pronouncement about pornography—is unmistakable even if undefinable. (For Stewart's "I know it when I see it," we could substitute "I know it when I read it / hear it.") Emily Dickinson's "If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry" is perhaps the best-known expression of this view. It's worth quoting the longer passage from which this sentence is excerpted, since it makes the point even more vividly:

If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?
Excerpt from The Use And Abuse of Literature by Marjorie Garber, Link

There are 3 types of boys in this world: (1) boys who sack up and dance with girls, (2) boys who awkwardly stand by the punch, tending to their gelled hair, and (3) boys who stand behind the punch, halfway inside the janitor’s closet. I’ll let you guess who I was, and inextricably, still am. I never went to a dance again. On prom night, years later, I nursed a bag of Cheetos “upstairs” watching MTV Headbangers Ball, a little too defeated to air-drum and mouth “fuck this world” with my orange powdered mouth, as that silent phrase held my brain with the thin dark fingers of blood vessels pulsing from a nearby heart.
Jimmy Chen, Link

But because we grew up surrounded by big dramatic story arcs in books and movies, we think our lives are supposed to be filled with huge ups and downs! So people pretend there is drama where there is none.
Quote and graph by Kurt Vonnegut, Link

Thursday, March 24, 2011

High Fidelity, 17/100

HA! A book that has been turned into a popular movie which I HAVEN'T SEEN! Thank god I don't have to go through the whole "well it was just like the film, like reading a screenplay, blah blah blah" spiel. (Don't worry though, I'm planning on seeing it. So just calm down, Cusack fans).

The only other Nick Hornby novel I'd read previous to this was Juliet, Naked way back in 2009. Although dealing with a remarkably similar subject matter (music obsession, rocky relationships), High Fidelity is the stronger novel.

In a nutshell, the novel is about a pop music-obsessed record shop owner, Rob, who has become disappointed with where his life has taken him, and his inability to maintain successful relationships. He delves into his record collection and examines his past relationships (his "Top 5 Most Painful Breakups") for answers.

One of the funniest parts of the book are all the "Top 5" and "Top 10" lists the Rob and his co-workers are obsessed with. Top 5 Songs to Play on a Monday Morning. Top 5 Songs About Death. They even come up with a "questionnaire for prospective partners" underlining their favorite music/film/TV/books to prevent "leaping into bed with someone who might, at a later date, turn out to have every Julio Iglesias record ever made."

But in the end Rob realizes that it's not what you like, but what you're like.

Still though, I think it would be impossible for me to have a relationship with someone who likes Buckcherry. That's a deal breaker right there.

If I had a Top 5 Funniest Novels list, High Fidelity would be on it, no doubt. It was beyond hilarious. Check it out if you want a good laugh, a fair amount of music geekery, and a just a dash of introspection.

Here are some snippets:

People worry about kids playing with guns, and teenagers watching violent videos, we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands--literally thousands--of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss.

You see those pictures of people in Pompeii and you think, how weird: one quick game of dice after your tea and you're frozen, and that's how people remember you for the next thousand years. ... I'm stuck in this pose, this shop-managing pose, forever, because of a few short weeks in 1979 when I went a bit potty for a while. I feel as though I made a face and the wind changed, and now I have to go through life grimacing in this horrible way.

You can see this everywhere you go: young, middle-class people whose lives are beginning to disappoint them making too much noise in restaurants and clubs and wine bars. "Look at me! I'm not as boring as you think I am! I know how to have fun!" Tragic. I'm glad I learned to stay home and sulk.

It's only just beginning to occur to me that it's important to have something going on somewhere, at work or at home, otherwise you're just clinging on. If I lived in Bosnia, then not having a girlfriend wouldn't seem like the most important thing in the world, but here in Crouch End it does. You need as much ballast as possible to stop you from floating away; you need people around you, things going on, otherwise life is like some film where the money ran out, and there are no sets, or locations, or supporting actors, and it's just one bloke on his own staring into the camera with nothing to do and nobody to speak to, and who'd believe in this character then? I've got to get more stuff, more clutter, more detail here, because at the moment I'm in danger of falling off the edge.

...I never really enjoyed the naked part of sex, just the dinner, coffee and get-away-that's-my-favorite-Hitchcock-film-too part of sex.

It seems to me that if you place music (and books, probably, and films and plays, and anything else that makes you feel) at the center of your being, then you can't afford to sort out your love life, stop to think of it as the finished product. You've got to pick at it, keep it alive and in turmoil, you've got to pick at it and unravel it until it all comes apart and you're compelled to start all over again. Maybe we all live life at too high a pitch, those of us who absorb emotional things all day, and as a consequence we can never feel merely content, we have to be unhappy, or ecstatically, head-overheels happy, and those states are difficult to achieve within a stable, solid relationship.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

No Country for Old Men, 16/100

Finished Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men. The only other McCarthy book I've read is The Road, which is worthwhile if you're as much into post-apocalyptic fiction as I am.

I think No Country was ruined for me by seeing the film adaptation by the Coen bros first. The film followed the book page to page. It was like reading the screenplay.

But there is something to be said for McCarthy's ability to build dread and suspense through minimalist writing. There are no flowery descriptions to be found--of scenery, character appearance, or the thoughts of the characters. It's all action and dialogue, written minimally and with precision. Almost too minimal. It was often difficult to tell which character was saying what, with the lack of he saids and she saids.

If the entire novel was written this way I probably would've gone batty. Thankfully, it was broken up by Sheriff Bell's reflective monologues, providing some sanity.

I think that when the lies are all told and forgot the truth will be there yet. It don't move about from place to place and it don't change from time to time. You can't corrupt it anymore than you can salt salt. You can't corrupt it because that's what it is. It's the thing you're talkin about. I've heard it compared to the rock--maybe in the bible--and I wouldn't disagree with that. But it'll be here even when the rock is gone.

Then there are the insane, but thoughtful, ramblings of the killer, Chigurh.

Every moment in your life is a turning and every one a choosing. Somewhere you made a choice. All followed to this. The accounting is scrupulous. The shape is drawn. No line can be erased. ... When I came into your life your life was over. It had a beginning, a middle, and an end. This is the end. You can say that things could have turned out differently. That they could have been some other way. But what does that mean? They are not some other way. They are this way.

The first Zen hit man! If I was being whacked by this guy I would probably succumb to Stockholm Syndrome. Despite how creepy Javier Bardem's haircut was.

By the end of the book, it was getting a little too old-man-yelling-at-a-cloud for me. Because somehow having green hair or lacking manners doesn't compare to killing people for money. I kept picturing Clint Eastwood yelling "Get off my lawn!" and shaking his fist at the neighborhood kids. And I've never understood people who idealize America in the 1950s. I cringe at the sight of 1950s themed diners.

Then again, maybe it's just a nostalgic thing, and in 20 years I'll be frequenting a 1990s themed internet cafe. The PCs will run Windows 96 and AOL. The servers will wear flannel, chunky shoes, slap bracelets and scrunchies. The PA system will blast The Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana all day.

Actually, forget about in 20 years, let's do this thing now.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Take the Cannoli, 15/100

Be prepared for a Sarah Vowell-athon.

Sarah's newest book, Unfamiliar Fishes, comes out on Tuesday. To celebrate, I'm reading the two books of hers I haven't yet read: Take the Cannoli: Stories From the New World, and Radio On: A Listener's Diary.

I love Sarah Vowell's writing. As if that weren't apparent. It's probably a bit beyond nerdy that the biggest thing I'm looking forward to next week is her appearance on The Daily Show Monday night. Stewart and Vowell! Two of my favorite people! If Colbert interviews Bruce Willis afterward I'll probably pee myself.

Take the Cannoli is a series of personal essays revolving around her adventures being a historical tourist and her experiences growing up as a music nerd in a small town. But do you know how awesome it would be to be a historical tourist? A travel writer? Finally someone out there who appreciates those big white highway markers as much as I do. Oh, so this is where Poe spent his freshman year in college? I can see him playing ultimate frisbee out on the quad now!

Here are some snippets: practically everyone else in the Western world who came of age since Gutenberg, I lost my innocence the old-time-religion way, by reading the nursery rhyme of fornication that is the Old Testament and the fairy tale of bloodbath that is the New.

While I'm hardly the most optimistic American, I did not share the Y2K group's wholly cynical picture of current events. Heaven, such as it is, is right here on earth. Behold: my revelation: I stand at the door in the morning, an lo, there is a newspaper, in sight like unto an emerald. And holy, holy, holy is the coffee, which was, and is, and is to come. And hark, I hear the voice of an angel rough about the radio, saying, "Since my baby left me I found a new place to dwell." And lo, after this I beheld a great multitude, which no man could number, of shoes. And after these things I will hasten unto a taxicab and to a theater, where a ticket will be given unto me, and lo, it will be a matinee, and a film that doeth great wonders. And when it is finished, the heavens will open, and out will cometh a rain fragrant as myrrh, and yea, I have an umbrella. post-Watergate, post-Vietnam America, odds are that the more you shoot for Frank Capra, the more likely you are to end up with David Lynch.

Phone rang. It was Dave, a writer friend. We talked for over an hour mainly about punctuation. He has big plans for the ellipsis. He's mad for ellipses. I tell him, yeah, I have a similar affection for the parenthesis (but I always take most of my parentheses out, so as not to call undue attention to the glaring fact that I cannot think in complete sentences, that I think only in short fragments or long, run-on thought relays that the literati call stream of consciousness but I like to think of as disdain for the finality of the period).

I'm a sucker for the em dash -- probably because I have no idea what the grammar rules are concerning it. I can use it freely without English major guilt!

The neighbor woman, who was out watering her yard, saw the shopping bags and asked what we'd bought. Amy showed off her new candy-colored sweater and her hoop earrings and hot pink pants. The woman congratulated Amy. She then turned to me, pointing at the rectangular bulge protruding from the small brown bag in my hand. I reluctantly pulled out my single purchase--a hardback of the The Grapes of Wrath. My mother looked at the neighbor, rolled her eyes in my direction , and stage-whispered, "We're going through a book phase." ... The book phase would bloom and grow into a whole series of seasonal affiliations including our communist phase, our beatnik phase, our vegetarian phase, and the three-year period known as Please Don't Talk to Me.

There comes a time halfway through any halfway decent liberal arts major's college career when she no longer has any idea what she believes. She flies violently through air polluted by conflicting ideas and theories, never stopping at one system of thought long enough to feel at home. All those books, all that talk, and, oh, the self-reflection. Am I an existentialist? A Taoist? A transcendentalist? A modernist, a postmodernist? A relativist-positivist-historicist-dadaist-deconstructionist?

I'm an aggressively-passive skeptic-romanticist.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Hunger Games Trilogy, 12-14/100

More novels should have manga covers.

I'm a little scared of books with huge followings. It's probably why it took me so long to read Harry Potter. But I wanted something I could get addicted to and barrel through quickly. Enter The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins.

The first novel in the series, The Hunger Games, is a real gem. Not based on an original idea by any means, but the plot was carried out successfully. The story is set in the dystopian future of North America, where the citizens of 12 districts are enslaved by a hedonistic, totalitarian city called the Capitol. To assert their control over the districts and warn against rebellion, the Capitol selects 2 children from each district to be thrown into an arena where they are pitted against each other in a fight to the death. The last one standing is the winner. And the entire bloodbath is televised for the entertainment of the Capitol.

It's not that new of a concept. The first thing that came to mind while reading was the Japanese film Battle Royale. The film, and the novel it was based on, is about an alternate universe totalitarian Japan, where a class of high school students are selected every year to compete to the death on an island arena. The entire thing is televised to showcase the power of the totalitarian regime and suppress rebellion. Sound familiar? And the similarities do not end there. Just google Battle Royale and Hunger Games, but be prepared for spoilers. But check out the film. It's really worthwhile.

I also thought of that time Kirk fought with Spock, but I digress.

Really my only complaint with the first novel is that since it was written in first person, in the POV of the heroine, it was fairly obvious that she would win the games. Really don't think I'm spoiling anything there. Read the back cover and the first sentence and you know what will happen.

The follow up books in the series, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, however, seemed unnecessary. Because as would be expected, a rebellion IS started, and it plays out over the rest of the trilogy. But it was kind of like watching The Matrix, then slogging through the two horrible sequel movies. Seeing the initial spark of rebellion -- something insular and focused -- is so much more effective (and interesting for some reason) than being suddenly thrown out into the rebellion actually happening.

The latter novels also become completely dominated by a distracting romantic side-plot; an angsty teenage love triangle that made me think I had stumbled into something starring Robert Pattinson. (The film adaptation for The Hunger Games is in production, so be on the lookout for "Team Peeta" and "Team Gale" t-shirts.)

But my biggest complaint is that the series just doesn't live up to its potential for discussing the allegorical themes it presents. Communism vs. fascism vs. democracy, killing for self-preservation, the moral dilemma behind nuclear weaponry and targeting civilians during warfare, the whole panem et circenses theme behind the Capitol...all these things are suggested, but not really discussed in full.

In a really worthwhile piece in The New Yorker, Laura Miller points out that most adult dystopian novels end in tragedy, as a way of showcasing that there's no hope; that the only solution is to change things NOW, rather than be optimistic for change in the future. However, dystopian literature written for a YA audience tends to be less pessimistic and didactic:

Dystopian fiction may be the only genre written for children that's routinely less didactic than its adult counterpart. It's not about persuading the reader to stop something terrible from happening -- it's about what's happening, right this minute, in the stormy psyche of the adolescent reader.

Maybe that's why I had such a hard time connecting with the last two novels. I lack an adolescent brain (one could argue) or a "stormy psyche."

Regardless, it's a decent YA series with a strong female lead (despite the whole cliche love triangle thing). It's dystopian, so it has something to say (said, but not necessarily discussed). And it's absolutely addictive. I don't remember anything like this being around when I was a teenage reader. I had to deal with Anne of Green Gables. Don't get me wrong, I loved Anne. But Anne of the Post-Apocalyptic Wasteland would've been SO much more fun. I'm glad YA writing/reading has become so viral as of late. Finally middle and high school libraries are getting a workout.


Looks like Jennifer Lawrence has been cast to play Katniss in the upcoming film adaptation. Which is hilarious, since that's exactly who I pictured the entire time while reading the books. Despite the fact that the character is described as having dark hair and an olive complexion. Anyone who has doubts should watch Winter's Bone. SHE'S PERFECT.

Now let's see if Jeff "The Dude" Bridges signs on as Haymitch.


Or possibly Gadhafi as President Snow, who recently said this: "I have all the Libyan people with me and I'm prepared to die. And they are prepared to die for me. Men, women and even children."

Why is always the insane people who get to rule the world?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Things I've Been Doing Lately That Don't Include Reading Books

Reading comics. Like Ghost World.

Refreshing my blogger feed, over and over.

Adding things to my Amazon wishlist that I will never buy.

I will never read that new 657-page anthology of Middle Eastern literature. But it looks good on my wishlist.

Looking up news about the new Mortal Kombat game.

Reading a lot of poetry, it seems like.

Buying cheese I can't afford at Fresh Market.

Anticipating when the actual farmer's market will sell fresh produce in the spring.

Drinking green tea and convincing myself I like it.

Reading from my cookbook collection and marking the pages of recipes I will never prepare.

Scribbling down ideas for a webcomic I want to write. Then remembering I can't draw. Or write. Or probably "web", either.

Wondering what the last sentence I just wrote means.

Trying to find that pencil I just had. Goddamnit, it was right here a second ago. How do pencils disappear like that.

Watching Teen Jeopardy and mocking the contestants who get the answers wrong. I mean, the questions.

Playing a lot of Sims 2, as if it were still 2004.

Playing a lot of Nintendo, as if it were still 1984.

Oh, the pencil was behind my ear.

Scavenging for redeemable items in my apartment building's trash room.

Listening to the soundtrack to Moon a lot, curled up underneath the down comforter I got out of my apartment building's trash room.*

Writing this blog post about nothing instead of reading Middlemarch.

Just trying to keep myself sane until all of this is over.

* It's clean.