Monday, December 31, 2012

A Few of My Favorite Things, 2012 Edition

Alternate title: NERD LIST 2012

It's that time of year when a million "best of" lists saturate the internet. Most of them are so specific though: best films of 2012, best comics, translated novels, reality tv shows, top celebrity sex tapes... so I've decided to go a different direction and just list some of my favorite things altogether that came out of 2012.

Criterion release of Nagisa Oshima's In the Realm of the Senses (Ai no Corrida) (1976)

The film itself didn't come out this past year, but the Criterion release has long been awaited. Still censored in much of the world (including most US DVD releases up until this year), it's one of my all time favorite films; a fact that I'm sure Freud would have a field day with. Oh well.

I was first introduced to this film when I worked in the library media stacks of my alma mater as an undergrad. There was only one film in our collection we weren't allowed to check out to students: In the Realm of the Senses. As censorship is wont to do, this piqued my curiosity immensely and I snuck it back to my dorm one night. It blew me away. It'd be difficult to sum up why I love this film so much without writing an entire essay. Let it just be said that it's beautiful, artistic, suffocating (in more ways than one), controversial and very unique. The closest film I can approximate it to is Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris (1972), though I feel this is a the stronger film. Politics play a major part in the story, though you might not catch it on your first viewing. It's subtle, and you may not even realize you've been watching a political film until you reflect back upon it later.

The reason I was excited for the Criterion release was so I could once again see it in its full, uncut version. Every region 1 DVD I was able to find up until this point had particular scenes cut out. It also has some terrific extras, including a history of the making of the film and interviews with some of the actors and filmmakers. It's an incredibly interesting look at how censorship works in the film industry, not only in 70s Japan, but even today all around the world. I highly recommend this movie, but be forewarned: it's not for the squeamish. According to Hulu you can watch it through them if you're subscribed to their Plus service. Though it's hard to tell whether it would be the full version or not.

Great new albums by Metric, Crystal Castles and more

It was a pretty great year in music, with several of my favorite groups/artists releasing new albums. Crystal Castles released III, Metric with Synthetica, Sleigh Bells came out with their sophmore album Reign of Terror, and violinist Lindsey Stirling released her first full length album.


Technically this behemoth of a video game came out in November 2011,  but I didn't get my hands on it until June of this year. And seriously, what a terrible time to become completely obsessed with an immersive, time-consuming game. I spent so much time indoors this past summer I emerged from my apartment with the complexion of a cave troll.

Skyrim is the first Elder Scrolls series game I've ever played, and won't be the last I'm sure. It has so many great things going for it: a highly-detailed and gorgeous explorable world, addicting gameplay, the ability to kill dragons by yelling at them, etc. The list could go on. But what made it so incredible and unique in my eyes is, in a year dominated by stories of sexism and misogyny in the gaming industry, here is a game that decidedly separated itself from that. It's a very universal and customizable game. You create your own character to play in this world, which you can make any race, size, gender, etc. YOU CAN EVEN BE A GIANT CAT. And the best part is all the dialogue in the game, of which there must be hundreds of hours, was recorded to include both gender pronouns. So when I kick a dragon's ass some villager's going to run up and say "Behold the Dragonborn! SHE'S amazing!" And I don't think you realize how an inclusive detail even that small can make such a difference.

A new DLC for Skyrim was just released a few weeks ago, so if you need me I'll be glued to my couch for the next month or two.

My Drunk Kitchen, season 2

Are you not familiar with Hannah Hart? You should be. Her youtube channel's been around since March 2011, but things really started picking up this year with season 2. Subscribe to her channel if you want to be fucking delighted every Thursday.

The Comic Book Girl 19

Another youtuber! Comicbookgirl19 started uploading awesome reviews of comic books and movies near the beginning of this year, and not only is she hilarious and her comic book wallpaper amazing, but the production value behind her videos is super impressive.

Film (?)

2012 actually didn't blow me away as a year in movies. Of the 34 movies made this year that I've seen, none of them struck me as "amazing." Not enough to put on this list. The Avengers? I liked it. Anna Karenina was pretty. I laughed at Pitch Perfect. And cried during Perks of Being a Wallflower. Prometheus just pissed me off. But this year lacked a Young Adult, Children of Men, Into the Wild, or Inglorious Basterds. Nothing I could grab onto and shout "this is my favorite! this is mine!"

Then again there's been a lot I've yet to see. Maybe Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook or Django Unchained could change my mind. As it stands Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom stands as my favorite film of 2012.

What I'm looking forward to in 2013:

  • Tao Lin's new novel, Taipei, releasing in June 2013.
  • New movies: Warm Bodies, Kick-Ass 2 and Catching Fire. None too sophisticated, but there you go.
  • New Sailor Moon anime in summer 2013. You've gotta be kidding me. You don't even know how excited I am for this. Good lord.

 So what were some of your favorite "things" of 2012? What are you looking forward to in 2013?

edit: more than 34 movies have been made this year. I meant I've seen 34 of the movies that have been made this year. The irony is I noticed this grammar mistake AFTER 3 glasses of champagne.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Internet Lovelies

 Happy Holidays, from my bookshelf to yours.

Perhaps menstruation is the opposite of God. We pretend it doesn’t exist.
Jimmy Chen, Link

But I also feel weary and more than a little angry that we’re still doing this. Not that same-sex marriage is still being debated necessarily. Debate is fine, we have this thing called free speech. But it’s that we still, as a country, think our love – my love – is something to be voted on. In fact, the more I think about it the more furious I become. Rights aren’t a popularity contest. Rights aren’t a campaign. Rights are rights. I shouldn’t have to convince anyone I deserve them, I should just have them. It’s that whole inalienable thing. Alas, we aren’t there yet, as a nation. We’re still tiptoeing on the edges of equality, letting the majority decide for the minority. 
Dorothy Snarker, Link

It bothers me that you take a photo, run it through a color filter and slap some typographically “literary” text on it and consider it an album cover because, right, like your fans are all sensitive art students with melted candles and a suicidy razor blade by the bathtub; and emphatic or compulsive design seems uncool and corporatey, and your life is all about casual. Casual sex; casual resume sending; casual cereal for dinner. Every time I see one of these album covers I want to have a vasectomy and not subject my child to this world and vice versa
Jimmy Chen, Link

Why do I find the old jingle
“SF [science fiction]'s no good”, they bellow ’til we’re deaf.
“But, THIS is good.” “Well, then it’s not SF.”
running through my mind? A thought which also applies to mystery and other genre stories as well. Why not simply recognize that good writing is good writing, regardless of where you find it?
Kay Shapero, commenter on the article "10 Great Authors We Should All Stop Pigeonholing", Link

"The demographics are changing," [O'Reilley] added. "It's not a traditional America anymore."

How quickly we forget, how fast perspective is lost in just a few generations. Mr. O'Reilley, re-view Scorsese's "Gang's of New York," or better yet read the book "Five Points" by Tyler Anbinder. You might enlighten yourself as to what it was like for the Irish when they were the "change" the self-styled "traditional Americans" recoiled from.

America provided the chance for millions of 2nd generation Americans like me to be middle-class, upper-middle class, even tycoons. But I never let myself forget that my grandparents were peasant immigrants from Eastern Europe, and what they went through to get here, and what they endured to stay here.

Apparently all too many of us forget our not so long-ago introduction to the US. We can no longer see ourselves and our ancestors in the eyes of newer arrivals. But those new arrivals are indeed our own grandparents and great grandparents. 
 Roberthenryeller, commenter on the piece "Fox News Loses Its Mind Over Election Results, Link 

Then there’s magic. There are no excuses here. None at all. Either you have a magic system which is inclusive of women, or exclusive of women, and in both instances, FEMALE CHARACTERS ARE GOING TO HAVE OPINIONS ABOUT THAT. If you really want a patriarchal, masculine magical system, then as with politics, the most interesting thing you can do is throw women at that system, to see where the cracks are.
Tansy Rayner Roberts, Link

That's from an awesome article at Tor titled "Historically Authentic Sexism in Fantasy. Let’s Unpack That." It instantly made me think of Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea series. In Earthsea magic can be performed by both men and women, but the schools that teach wizardry exclude women. And since Earthsea magic requires the knowledge of words passed down through the ages by teachers, the witches never get to become more than mid-wives and healers. The first book, A Wizard of Earthsea didn't really address this fact or give the opinions of female characters. However Le Guin made up for it in the rest of the series, all the books leading up to the introduction of Tehanu, the girl who reveals the cracks in the patriarchal system.

Imagine if a Thai company made a movie about 9/11, and that movie was specifically about the experiences of a Thai family in Tower One. Don’t worry, it’s not a bummer - it’s an uplifting story of how these people escaped death and got home safely. But imagine that, in this Thai movie, every character is Thai. There are white people running around in the background, and two of them have a couple of lines, but every single character in this story about the attack on the World Trade Center is Thai.

You’d think this was pretty weird, I bet. You’d think it displayed provincial thinking, perhaps even a cinematic xenophobia. You’d probably even laugh at how petty and small-minded this film seems. You’d dismiss it.

Turn it around (and multiply the death toll of the event by almost 100) and you have The Impossible.
 Devin Faraci, Link

That's from a review of the upcoming film The Impossible, which tells the story of a white family surviving the 2004 tsunami disaster in southeast Asia. The trailer looks terrible and completely xenophobic. Why would you decide to be in this, Ewan McGregor? I am disappointed.

I am honored to have been asked to recommend books because I love books. I mean, I love buying books. I can't say I read most of the books I buy. Recently I decided to believe that buying books is as good as reading them. I feel smarter as soon as I sign the credit-card receipt at my local independent book seller. 
Judd Apatow, Link

I love his honesty. If buying books were as good as reading them I'd be a literary savant by now.

Meanwhile, Lego has developed and marketed a line of toys specifically to girls after researching for years how to get girls to play with the toy bricks. The Lego Friends line includes a cafe, a vet's office and a pet salon. The figures, McGowan notes, are bigger and are more realistic than other figures because Lego learned that girls see them as avatars of themselves.

"By unlocking that mystery — what is it that the girls are looking for out of the play? — Lego was able to get a lot of girls and hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue just in one year, whereas they couldn't get that before," McGowan says.

Ultimately, for good or bad, there really are just fundamental differences between boys and girls, he says.
NPR article, Link

What does that last sentence mean. What does it even mean. "For good or bad." I'm trying to wrap my head around it. If you really believe there are fundamental differences between young boys and young girls, then it is neither "good" nor "bad," just reality. Although the worst line in that blurb has got to be the one claiming it's a goddamn mystery what girls are looking to get out of playtime. I might be pushing it here, but I'm guessing FUN? Not tips on how to clean, cook, feed babies, or put on eyeshadow. Just fun, fucker. Adults are the ones applying gender training motives to preschoolers' playing habits.

Diddy Kong, you bastard.
And I'm not convinced that only girls want to see "avatars of themselves" in what they play with. Isn't that desire universal? Children want to be able to see themselves in the figurines, story book illustrations, movie characters, and video game avatars they experience on a daily basis. Which is why I became so angry during my recent trip to Toys R Us to pick up some xmas presents for my nieces. They both love Mario Kart, so I was overjoyed to find an entire section devoted to it. Race tracks, plushies, figurines, etc. But hold up. None of the characters on display included Princess Peach. Or any female characters at all, for that matter, even though there are SEVEN in the actual game. Instead we get the entire array of male leads and less-than leads, including Diddy Kong. Mother effing Diddy Kong.

So yeah, real big revelation there, Lego. "Girls want to see themselves in the things they play with." Fucking rocket science. WE HAVE THIS THEORY THAT MAYBE, JUST POSSIBLY, SMALL GIRLS ARE PEOPLE TOO. JURY'S STILL OUT ON THIS ONE, WE'LL GET BACK TO YOU AFTER SOME MARKET TESTING.

Have fun and be safe out there.Wear an ugly Christmas sweater if at all possible.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Warm Bodies

A novel told from the POV of a zombie suffering an existential crisis? Yes, please.

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion was such a terrific read. I started it around 4pm yesterday and finished it 3am this morning. It was worth having bags under my eyes today. On the surface a love story, like any good zombie fiction it ultimately delves much deeper into questions of existential meaning, religion and human nature. The metaphors are everywhere. Zombies are never just zombies (unless you're playing Left 4 Dead).

In the zombiescape of Warm Bodies, the undead feed on the living not for nutritional sustenance, but in order to absorb the living aura and energy from them. And if they're lucky enough to get a bite of their victims' braaaaiiinnnnss, then they experience a much savored snapshot of that person's life and memories. The dead can't remember anything from their own past lives, so they hunt on the living to experience theirs.

Everything changes when the zombie R (the only syllable of his name he can remember) meets Julie, the living girlfriend of the man whose brain he just devoured. Whoops. Now he has memories of Julie and an overwhelming urge to protect her, and a surprising friendship forms. But their relationship sparks a revolution in the zombie populace, and not everyone would like to see a change from the status quo.

My only problem with the story is we're never given any real scientific reasoning behind the cause and cure of the undead plague. We're basically told it happened because of the moral bankruptcy of humanity, implying some sort of mystical or divine influence, damning mankind with a curse. Instead of just giving us something vague and mystical like that, I think it could've been better by providing a concrete event from which we could imply humanity's failure. Example: nuclear war where the residual radiation causes everyone who dies to rise again.

Then again it's a bit refreshing to read a scifi story that isn't drowning in unbelievable exposition. The characters we encounter are teenagers. They have no idea why this is happening, and they're not medical experts. So we know what they know. 

Overall a wonderful book. Here are some passages:

I don't know why we have to kill people. I don't know what chewing through a man's neck accomplishes. I steal what he has to replace what I lack. He disappears, and I stay. It's simple but senseless, arbitrary laws from some lunatic legislator in the sky. But following those laws keeps me walking, so I follow them to the letter. I eat until I stop eating, then I eat again.

"Yes. The Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the earliest known works of literature. Humanity's debut novel, you could say." Rosso flips through the brittle yellow pages. "Love, sex, blood, and tears. A journey to find eternal life. To escape death." He reaches across the table and hands the book to me. "It was written over four thousand years ago on clay tablets by people who tilled the mud and rarely lived past forty. It's survived countless wars, disasters, and plagues, and continues to fascinate to this day, because here I am, in the midst of modern ruin, reading it...The world that birthed that story is long gone, all its people are dead, but it continues to touch the present and future because someone cared enough about that world to keep it. To put it in words. To remember it."

I split the book open to the middle. The pages are riddled with ellipses, marking words and lines missing from the tablets, rotted out and lost to history. I stare at these marks and let their black dots fill my vision.

The ellipses reference is very important. The zombies' speech is riddled with ellipses, marking their effort in forming sentences at all. Their knowledge of words and communication is "rotted out and lost to history." Such a great cross reference by the author.

We were fearful in the best of times; how could we cope with the worst? So we found the tallest walls and poured ourselves behind them. We kept pouring until we were the biggest and strongest, elected the greatest generals and found the most weapons, thinking all this maximalism would somehow generate happiness. But nothing so obvious could ever work.


It's also been adapted into a movie that'll be out February 1st. It'll have Rob Cordry and John Malkovich in it, and was directed by Jonathan Levine, director of last year's wonderful 50/50. It can't go wrong.


Friday, December 7, 2012

Anna Karenina

Alternate title: Terrible, Indecisive Rich People on Trains and the Peasants Who Serve Them

Finished Anna Karenina, which was an interesting journey. I only knew Anna's basic plot line (married woman who has an affair, ending tragically) going in, so I was pretty surprised at how it actually unfolded. For one, the title character herself is probably in less that half of the novel. The other half is dedicated to Konstantin Levin, a character you could possibly call a foil of Anna's, or at least a mirror to her character and the trials she faces. Anna is an official's wife pursuing a scandalous affair, and Levin a country gentleman hoping to marry the love of his life and find existential meaning.

The structure of the novel is genius, going back and forth between Anna and Levin's plotlines, with the climaxes in each story counterbalancing a slow build in the other. At the highpoint of Anna's story, when she is blissfully happy, Levin is in a deep depression. When things start looking up for him, Anna's world falls apart.

Anna Karenina addresses nearly every theme of human life that could possibly be addressed -- love, family, faith, communism, responsibility, passion, death, marriage, land, women's rights, train safety... -- but I like what translator Rosemary Edmonds cited as its key message, that "no one may build their happiness on another's pain." That's a pretty apt statement.

But damn, if Tolstoy isn't a wordy bastard. He puts Dickens to shame. And yet if you look at any "Best Novels of All Time" list, Anna Karenina is sure to be on it. If not at the very top. I'm not so sure I agree. Overall the stories and the novel's structure are masterful. The actual style of the writing is harder to judge, seeing as how it's translated from the original Russian. My biggest complaint is that the book just didn't need to be as long as it was. It was originally published in serial format, as all gigantic Victorian-age novels were, contributing to its massive length. At some points Tolstoy has his characters go off into tangents to discuss political issues that were obviously important at the time -- topics that someone picking up a periodical in 1873 would want to read about (anyone up for reading about 19th century Russian agrarian politics and peasant reform? Anyone? Bueller?)

But beyond his topical rants he also enjoys introducing seemingly random characters and plot lines that are never finished. What about that grumpy Italian artist? What was he about? Why was there an entire section dedicated to Kitty volunteering at a hospital? And the ill married dude falling in love with her? And what about when Levin's brother takes forever to decide whether or not he wants to propose to a girl, only to back out of it, and then we never hear from either of them ever again? Sure, these moments (moments meaning 50 page chunks) may tie-in mildly to the message and themes of the book. But after 1182 pages, we kinda already got the message, guy.

I'm still glad I read it, though. Even if it's just for bragging rights.

Here are some passages:

Stepan Arkadyevitch had not chosen his political opinions or his views; these political opinions and views had come to him of themselves, just as he did not choose the shapes of his hat and coat, but simply took those that were being worn. And for him, living in a certain society--owing to the need, ordinarily developed at years of discretion, for some degree of mental activity--to have views was just as indispensable as to have a hat.

In his Petersburg world all people were divided into utterly opposed classes. One, the lower class, vulgar, stupid, and, above all, ridiculous people, who believe that one husband ought to live with one wife whom he has lawfully married; that a girl should be innocent, a woman modest, and a man manly, self-controlled, and strong; that one ought to bring up one's children, earn one's bread, and pay one's debts; and various similar absurdities. This was the class of old-fashioned and ridiculous people. But there was another class of people, the real people. To this class they all belonged, and in it the great thing was to be elegant, generous, plucky, gay, to abandon oneself without a blush to every passion, and to laugh at everything else.

Sounds like a party.

And these fragmentary musical expressions, though sometimes beautiful, were disagreeable, because they were utterly unexpected and not led up to by anything. Gaiety and grief and despair and tenderness and triumph followed one another without any connection, like the emotions of a madman.

 Otherwise known as real life. "though sometimes beautiful."

Respect was invented to cover the empty place where love should be.

Also videogames.

He said that one must live for one's own wants, that is, that one must not live for what we understand, what we are attracted by, what we desire, but must live for something incomprehensible, for God, whom no one can understand nor even define. ... And not only I, but everyone, the whole world understands nothing fully but this, and about this only they have no doubt and are always agreed.

And I looked out for miracles, complained that I did not see a miracle which would convince me. A material miracle would have persuaded me. And here is a miracle, the sole miracle possible, continually existing, surrounding me on all sides, and I never noticed it! ... Fyodor says that one mustn't live for one's belly, but must live for truth, for God, and at a hint I understand him! And I and millions of men, men who lived ages ago and men living now--peasants, the poor in spirit and the learned, who have thought and written about it, in their obscure words saying the same thing--we are all agreed about this one thing: what we must live for and what is good. I and all men have only one firm, incontestable, clear knowledge, and that knowledge cannot be explained by the reason--it is outside it, and has no causes and can have no effects.

This is Levin's realization near the end of the novel, and the answer to his existential dilemma and lack of faith. I really like his conclusion, though I don't agree with it 100%. He goes on for several pages about his realization, and my interpretation is he's saying that humanity as a whole works toward the better good, for the community and others and not for "one's own belly," even though doing so is irrational. I do believe it's one of the greatest miracles of humankind that we do this -- help others when it does not serve ourselves directly. And I believe "God" can be found inside of that urge. But it's far from being irrational. It's for the survival of our own kind, and under the knowledge that we're all connected and inseparable.

Recalling a book I read last year, Sex at Dawn, it's theorized that even in prehistoric times humans were incredibly communal. And far from self-sacrificing, the idea of community and doing good for others was profoundly self-serving. Our biological makeup requires us to work together to clothe, house and feed ourselves. In a prehistoric community if you failed to carry your share of work, stole another's food, or killed someone, you would be kicked out, left to fend for yourself. And there are scary sabretooth tigers out there. It's a bit different from Patton Oswalt's theory of "sky cake," (where he argues weak cave people created religion to keep larger cave people from pillaging them), but it does place the purposeful origin of religion in the right place. The philosophies behind various religions are for the most part decidedly rational. "Do good. Don't do bad." And maybe we can continue to share this tiny planet for a little while longer.

So how does this tie in with Anna Karenina's insistence that no one "build their happiness on another's pain?" I guess by showing readers exactly what happens when we do. Anna builds her happiness by causing pain to her husband, her husband by denying her her son, Oblonsky by cheating on his wife, Vronksy by tempting Anna, Levin (and everyone else) by using/abusing peasants and servants, etc. (like I mentioned in the alternate title joke, they're basically all terrible people). The only difference being that in this post-pre-historic society only one of the characters is cast out to the sabretooth tigers: Anna.

Yet Anna's the same character who pleas, "I merely want to live, to do no one harm but myself. I have the right to do that, haven't I?" Intentional or not, Anna's actions do cause harm to others, as do every other character's actions. So perhaps a better statement would be: "Don't build your happiness on another's pain. If you can help it. And if you live in a perfect, non-judgmental liberated society. Good luck."

Whatever the moral or point, if there even is one, Anna Karenina can't be tied up nicely with a big, red bow. It's complicated and nasty, like the human experience. And I guess that's why it's so darn popular.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

E-books vs. Print Books: Part Deux

The e-book/print book war still rages on, but here's an excellent graphic from arguing for the peaceful coexistence of e-books and print books:

 E-books Infographic

In the end they can and will coexist. Peacefully or not. I've argued  before in defense of e-books and in defense of print books. I still think the pricing and ownership issues in e-book publishing need tweaking before we've reached common ground. But I admit I've owned an e-reader for the past few months, and it's fabulous. More than anything I've found it's great to read free classics in the public domain. Try hauling around Les Miserables, "the brick," in print and you'll see what I mean. And the local public library has a great selection of freebies on Overdrive as well.

So let's call a truce and agree that as long as we access either format responsibly (and with a conscious mind of where our dollars are going), how you're reading those words doesn't really matter, as long as you're reading them.

Side note: I reread my "in defense" posts, and...what has happened to me? I used to be funny? Who knew. I turned 27 and lost all my joy. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Book Purge

I went to a book fair the other day and bought 17 books. All for myself. I'm terrible. But hey, I got them all for $52! (for any readers in Virginia, you should check out the Green Valley Bookfair. It's incredible.)

Once home, I decided to be honest with myself and purge all the titles on my shelves I know I'll never read or read again. I'll be putting these up on Bookmooch in a few days, but I thought I would give you guys first dibs on them like I did last time. Only three (Life in the Iron Mills, Poisonwood Bible, and Lovely Bones) have I read all the way through, so I can't give any suggestions. That's why I included Goodreads links. I went through a phase of buying used scifi paperbacks, so there are a ton of those, and what's pictured below is actually what the covers look like. And no, I don't know why the kids on the front of Talking To Dragons look like they've stepped out of an 1987 after school special.

So if you're interested in any of them leave a comment below claiming what you want, and then email me your mailing address at scifibrarian (at) gmail (dot) com.

on Goodreads
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Tuesday, December 4, 2012


and yet, here I am.

You guys know I'm terrible at talking about poetry. I just like reading it. And sharing it.

I was going to type out some lines from Sophia Le Fraga's collection I DON'T WANT ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE INTERNET, but didn't want to to lose any of the formatting.

So here are three poorly photographed poems instead:

Buy the collection from the publisher here, check out Sophia's blog here, and read a better review of the collection here.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

World Book Night 2013

World Book Night has picked their list of books for 2013 and is now accepting applications for givers!

If you're not familiar with the event, here's a basic rundown from their website:

Each year, 30 books are chosen by an independent panel of librarians and booksellers. The authors of the books waive their royalties and the publishers agree to pay the costs of producing the specially-printed World Book Night U.S. editions. Bookstores and libraries sign up to be community host locations for the volunteer book givers.

After the book titles are announced, members of the public apply to personally hand out 20 copies of a particular title in their community. World Book Night U.S. vets the applications, and the givers are chosen based on their ability to reach light and non-readers. The selected givers choose a local participating bookstore or library from which to pick up the 20 copies of their book, and World Book Night U.S. delivers the books to these host locations.

Givers pick up their books in the week before World Book Night.  On April 23rd, they give their books to those who don’t regularly read and/or people who don’t normally have access to printed books, for reasons of means or access. 

I participated last year and it was pretty neat. They're so good at picking out appropriate books, too. Here are the picks for 2013:

The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood
City of Thieves, David Benioff
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
My Antonia, Willa Cather
Girl With a Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier
The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros
The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
The Language of Flowers, Vanessa Diffenbaugh
The Worst Hard Time, Timothy Egan
Bossypants, Tina Fey
Looking for Alaska, John Green
Playing for Pizza, John Grisham
Mudbound, Hillary Jordan
The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster
Moneyball, Michael Lewis
The Tender Bar, J.R. Moehringer
Devil in a Blue Dress, Walter Mosley
Middle School: the Worst Years of My Life, James Patterson
Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan
Population 485, Michael Perry
Montana Sky, Nora Roberts
Look Again, Lisa Scottoline
Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Alexander McCall Smith
Glaciers, Alexis M. Smith
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Mark Twain
Salvage the Bones, Jesmyn Ward
Favorite American Poems, Paul Negri (ed.)

Visit their books page for more info on each of the titles (because I love you but no, I'm not linking each one of those individually).

And then maybe apply to be a giver? It's super easy and you'll even get a nifty button to wear. Not to mention you'll be supporting literacy.

Over the next few weeks you'll probably be hearing certain politicians and pundits whining about people wanting "stuff" and "things" (notably using such vague words to avoid using terms like "food" or "shelter"). But in my opinion it's a good thing to take care of your own. We're all on the same planet whether you like it or not, and lifelong literacy is vital and important to the human condition. So find someone who's reluctant to read, doesn't know what to read, or can't afford to buy a book to read, and put that book in their hands.

Come hand out free "stuff" with me.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Cloud Atlas

So far my favorite book I've read this year. The plot of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas is a bit hard to explain, but here's the basic gist. The novel consists of six different narratives, set in different time periods on Earth. All of the stories are interconnected in some way, and feature a reincarnating soul who is reborn as a different race or gender in each generation, but always with a comet shaped birthmark. The overall message is that humanity is connected and inseperable. Race, gender and creed are illusions, fluid and always changing, and every action you take has a direct reaction on future events and your future self.

It's a book lover's book, with each narrative segment written in the style of a particular genre to fit its time period. There's the Colonial epistolary novel, the mystery thriller, the Kingsley Amis-style British comedy, an Orwellian futuristic dystopia, and the oral tradition of campfire storytelling. But the theme is always the same: humanity rejects what they see as different. But if you embrace difference, overcome ignorance and work toward the common good, every action you take will have profound influence over the future.

My favorite narrative segment has to be the 'Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish', fitting into the aforementioned Kingsley Amis-style British comedy. Recounting the tale of an aging publisher trying to escape from a One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest-esque nursing home, it was a nice break from the seriousness of the other segments. One of the darker stories, 'Orison of Sonmi-451', was also a favorite. In a near future dystopic Korea, "corpocracy" reigns, and clones ("fabricants") are mass-produced as the workforce. Regular citizens ("purebloods") are required to spend and consume, and corporations rule over all aspects of life. It's a nightmarish and possibly inevitable future. It brought back memories of reading Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood.

I had numerous passages marked, but I'll control myself and just share a few:

I asked if Siddhartha was indeed a god.

Many called him so, the Abbess agreed, but Siddhartha does not influence fortune or weather or perform many of a divinity's traditional functions. Rather, Siddhartha is a dead man and a living ideal. The man taught about overcoming pain, and influencing one's future reincarnations. "But I pray to the idea." She indicated the meditating giant. "Early, so he knows I'm serious."

Sometimes the fluffy bunny of incredulity zooms around the bend so rapidly that the greyhound of language is left, agog, in the starting cage. A feisty stagger was needed to reach the next train befor eit left--only to find it had been canceled! But, "luckly," the train before mine was so late tha tit still hadn't departed. All the seats were taken, and I had to squeeze into a three-inch slot. I lost my balance when the train pulled away, but a human crumple zone buffered my fall. We stayed like that, half fallen. The Diagonal People....

I elbowed my way into the grubby cafe, bought a pie that tasted of shoe polish and a pot of tea with cork crumbs floating in it, and eavesdropped on a pair of Shetland pony breeders. Despondency makes one hanker after lives on never led. Why have you given your life to books, TC? Dull, dull, dull! The memoirs are bad enough, but all that ruddy fiction! Hero goes on a journey, stranger comes to town, somebody wants something, they get it or they don't, will is pitted against will. "Admire me, for I am a metaphor."

Scholars discern motions in history & formulate these motions into rules that govern the rises & falls of civilizations. My belief runs contrary,  however. To wit: history admits no rules; only outcomes.

What precipitates outcomes? Vicious acts & virtuous acts.

What precipitates acts? Belief.

Belief is both prize & battlefield, within the mind & in the mind's mirror, the world. If we believe humanity is a ladder of tribes, a colosseum of confrontation, exploitation & bestiality, such a humanity is surely brought into being, & history's Horroxes, Boerhaaves & Gooses shall prevail. You & I, the moneyed, the privileged, the fortunate, shall not fare so badly in this world, provided our luck holds. What of it if our consciences itch? Why undermind the dominance of our race, our gunships, our heritage & our legacy? Why fight the "natural" (oh, weaselly word!) order of things?

Why? Because of this:--one find day, a purely predatroy world shall consume itself. Yes, the Devil shall take the hindmost until the foremost is the hindmost. In an individual, selfishness uglifies the soul; for the human species, selfishness is extinction.

Is this the doom written within our nature?

If we believe that humanity may transcend tooth & claw, if we believe divers races & creeds can share this world as peaceably as the orphans share their candlenut tree, if we believe leaders must be just, violence muzzled, power accountable & the riches of the Earth & its Oceans shared equitably, such a world will come to pass.

Rights are susceptible to subversion, as even granite is susceptible to erosion. My fifth Declaration posits how, in a cycle as old as tribalism, ignorance of the Other engenders fear; fear engenders hatred; hatred engenders violence; violence engenders further violence until the only"rights," the only law, are whatever is willed by the most powerful.

And if you're interested in the film adaptation that was just released, maybe check out my review here at my other blog.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Internet Lovelies

photograph by Carla C. Waldron.

our bruises have become warm places.

another morning in shivers, but my happiness feels like strawberry milk or hopscotch or warm book pages.

I like the rain when it's coming down into purple, slicing up the train window with cat whiskers, all of the light against all of the speed.

fuck sadness. you are goddamn brilliant. and you're a freak. and they hold the best half-smiles.
Death of a Typewriter, Link

Until recently, this Maple Grove Farms product has been blissfully unaware of the implications of the word “Real” before “Mint Jelly.” None of its neighboring products advertise their “realness.” Google searches have verified the realness of Real Mint Jelly’s ingredients—“a little too easily,” it thinks. Information is being withheld. Most of its ingredients are water-based, but it’s not quite a liquid. How does anyone know what chemicals are? Is water real? What is real? Real Mint Jelly has watched The Matrix trilogy over 20 times and has shrunk from 14 to 10 ounces in the past week. 
Megan Boyle, The Secret Life of Objects on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Link

Tolstoy is NOT afraid to use 100 words where 10 would suffice. I notice that men are often very comfortable doing this, writing these ridiculously long books that simply do not need to be as long as they are.
Roxane Gay, Link

It's a symptom of anxiety. A series of developments – e-books, piracy, and endless discounting – means that publishers no longer know how to sell books or make money. In desperation, they've responded by pushing authors as if they were baked beans.

There's never been a time so hard as now for writers to make a living, and even best-selling authors worry about lukewarm customer reviews on Amazon. Success feels random, as much to do with good PR as anything else, and could evaporate overnight. That Brontë woman, whatever happened to her? Never wrote a sequel, did she? Pity, I gave her three stars on Amazon. 
Joan Smith, Link

Dear Rachel Maddow circa 1998,

I would have totally crushed on you from afar in our Women in Media: Visibility Equals Power class in college. I would have followed a couple steps behind you in the annual Take Back the Night march through downtown. And then I would have sat as close as I could without being creepy in the local coffee shop while you talked with other short-haired girls wearing combat boots about oppression and empowerment. In short, I would have totally stalked you. Good thing we went to separate colleges.

Ms. Snarker circa 1998 and 2012 
Dorothy Snarker, Link 

I have a crush on 1970s Bill and Hillary.

An under-read respected journal in which you were published:

Your great 6,000 word story that was finally published in print (pgs. 22-29, Issue No 17, Vol. IV) by a respected journal which nobody read. Well, god damn it, these people are going to sit through this. Where there is lack of readership, there is also being stuck in a plastic folding-chair in a literary city somewhere between 7:00 and 9:00 p.m., that genius fuck-up-dinner-plans mound of time. Short of the fire alarm going off, these 15-17 people will come to understand exactly that horrible yet retrospectively sacred thing that happened in your childhood, through the haze of lightheadedness and needing to pee.
Jimmy Chen, You Are What You Read From, Link 

Do you recall education? I remember the swift way our interests became jobs that carved us into weird working shapes, not machines, totally human, just degraded to the point of blind roles and and dark alliances and revenge projects. It was my hope to understand how to support myself and others with ideas and sweat. But the system I endure has nothing to do with labour.
Erik Stinson, Link 

Happy Friday, I guess? 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

some short things

Here are some passages I liked from poems/short stories I've read recently.

From the collection Life is Precious and God and The Bible :

 "Every terrorist has a demand", Kelley Irmen

realize this: you are trapped anywhere you go and routine induces
anxiety but there is routine always
realize this: you will go somewhere new and the stimulus will give you a
few months of relief
realize this: relief has shown it has teeth because once relief recedes --
you are left where you began
I have no beginning because I just relay stories and prose never has a
true beginning
I have no center because I only relay events and situations (r)evolve --
they are not circles

From "1992", Elizabeth Taddonio

A week after my Monday night ballet classes started up, my CEO told me he was concerned that I was leaving so quickly at the end of the work day to get to my ballet and yoga classes. 8:30 to 5 gave off the wrong perception of my priorities. I cried and muttered about never wanting those things to be taken away from me. I told him the thought of having those classes taken away from me broke my heart. Then I promptly went into the bathroom and splashed my face with cold water. There were no paper towels and I put my face under the hand drier and thought, "This is a bigger moment than I want to admit."

From Jim Behrle's chapbook Succubus Blues :

From "Fugue State Bird"

But how does one coolly remove
The fascinating woman in the
Polka dot top from her long-
Time douchebag beau and still nail
The landing? I like girls
With boyfriends, nuns / I
Like dead girls like Zelda
Fitzgerald / I'm a big fan
Of the crazy and the really
Crazy / so why are relation-
Ships so hard to master?

From the June 2012 issue of Everyday Genius :

From "Pastoral Seasonale", Bryan Beck

Fall again, and all morning
was much too bright to even believe
in such a thing as sadism.

From "Dishonest", Stephanie Barber

Bill didn't snap, he just raised his eyebrows as if to say "well, that is something that you said." Not "something" like "well, that is really something," but "something" like "some thing." Like "you said something," all flat and evident and Icelandic.

From "Hopscotch", Lesley Yalen

Seventy-six across was Dixie Drink. Five letters were needed, fourth letter E. Makela thought not of Dixie nor of Drink. She thought of no words at all, only letters, swirling, hurtling, filling every empty space. She watched them combine and recombine, lay down in squares and peel off. The alphabet narrowed, hollowed, released, was math. To recollect but not remember, to associate but not feel: this was the crossword's light. A light to let go in. To let go of small k's that leapt in king and kite; to let go of people who, when approached, were not themselves. Now, she saw only letters, stripped of sound and use, micro sculptures made of circles, planes, and hooks. They floated around her and she slowly dismissed all but five, and then she laid those five down in their only order, a single line in a network of intersections, in a pattern with no other message than itself. In this way, Makela jot julep, and felt kissed.

From "Some General Instructions", Sampson Starkweather

taking a saltshaker into a tomato patch is never a bad idea,
do not underestimate the gravitas of sandwiches,
one should make a sandwich with great care and love and imagination
sure, you could say that of all things, but it's not true, you don't need much imagination
to take out the trash or love to do the dishes, sandwich-making is on a higher plain
similar to the holiness of jumping, science and experience cannot explain why, for no
apparent reason, humans will jump, however it appears to happen less as one grows
older, my advice is to make it a habit to jump every now and then, imagine what people
will think seeing an adult just jump, imagine the surprise and joy you can enact inside
people merely by a random jump, poetry does this, poetry is constantly jumping, which
is one reason those of us who love it, love it, and probably not one of the reasons
that those who don't love it, don't love it, people who don't love poetry jump less
than people who love poetry, and that's a fact

Thursday, September 6, 2012

New Blog

Welp, I think it's ready. My new film adaptation blog is at It's another blogspot blog, so if you're interested in the subject of lit-to-film (or comics-to-film, stage-to-film, etc) feel free to follow.

I was going to do a tumblr, but quickly realized it's just not set up for the kind of thing I want to do. It's set up for Ryan Gosling gifs and instagrammed pictures of farmers market vegetable stands. And that's fine. But I'll stick with something that's not neck-vein-burstingly frustrating.

But anyway.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Internet Lovelies

 On 'what's wrong with Prometheus':
This is why doing allegory well is hard: Your story actually has to work at a second level without shattering the viewer’s suspension of disbelief on the first level. Throughout the movie, you get the sense that the authors have decided that if it works symbolically, it doesn’t need to make sense narratively.
Julian Sanchez, Link

There was a lot wrong with Prometheus. Unfortunately I've been collecting these quotes since June and my anti-Prometheus steam has run out. But basically, what Julian said. Symbolism is well and good, but if the narrative doesn't make sense then what are you even doing. (See also Monks Flying Spaceships, A Canticle for Leibowitz).

We are devolving into a nation of people who wear their lack of concern for fellow human beings as a badge of honor. Too many people are looking for ways to justify their disdain for others, and too many news organizations are fanning the flames of such discourse.
Commenter Helane Carswell, Link

There will always be non-readers, bad readers, lazy readers – there always were. Reading is a majority skill but a minority art. Yet nothing can replace the exact, complicated, subtle communion between absent author and entranced, present reader.
Julian Barnes, Link

From "Existentially-Fraught Takes On Classic Picture Books To Teach Your Kids The Meaningless Of Life Before The Internet Does":

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, You Are F-cked

Set in a dystopian future in which animals can access the internet, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, You Are F-cked tells the tale of Brown Bear, whose exorbitant internet usage gives way to his development of extremely niche tastes in music, film, literature, and food. Relating to other bears becomes increasingly difficult and tiring. He makes ‘internet bear friends’ who are moderately interested in the same kinds of media to compensate for the IRL friends he has alienated.
Brown Bear slowly gains more and more internet friendships with bears all over the globe until he stops speaking with IRL bears completely, adopts ‘freeganism,’ and relocates to a remote, sealed-off, wifi-accessible cave in Vermont, where he can comment on blogs, refresh his Facebook feed, and discover new music on Spotify uninterrupted. He slowly loses track of the days, weeks, and months, and then he dies, leaving behind his earthly possesions: several parody Twitter accounts portraying various other woodland animals and a Blogspot.
Karim Kazemi, Link

Hahhahhaahaha...oh I'm sad now.

From Italo Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveler:

In the shop window you have promptly identified the cover with the title you were looking for. Following this visual trail, you have forced your way through the shop past the thick barricade of Books You Haven’t Read, which were frowning at you from the tables and shelves, trying to cow you. But you know you must never allow yourself to be awed, that among them there extend for acres and acres the Books You Needn’t Read, the Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading, Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong To The Category Of Books Read Before Being Written. And thus you pass the outer girdle of ramparts, but then you are attacked by the infantry of the Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered. With a rapid maneuver you bypass them and move into the phalanxes of the Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First, the Books Too Expensive Now And You’ll Wait Till They’re Remaindered, the Books ditto When They Come Out In Paperback, Books You Can Borrow From Somebody, Books That Everybody’s Read So It’s As If You Had Read Them, Too. Eluding these assaults, you come up beneath the towers of the fortress, where other troops are holding out:
the Books You’ve Been Planning To Read For Ages,
the Books You’ve Been Hunting For Years Without Success,
the Books Dealing With Something You’re Working On At The Moment,
the Books You Want To Own So They’ll Be Handy Just In Case,
the Books You Could Put Aside Maybe To Read This Summer,
the Books You Need To Go With Other Books On Your Shelves,
the Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified.
(and so on.)
via Flavorwire, Link

I’m not going to have others deciding what I want to read. I mean that would be almost anti-literature. I couldn’t read something just to say I’ve read it. That would be like picking your college major because your parents want you to be like a landscape architect or something. I mean only about 20% or something of people even have a college degree. The entire point is to select your occupation, to attempt to create your destiny, and you’re just going to toss it away? You’re just going to abdicate free will? Fuck that. I’m not reading a damn thing for others. That would be death.
Sean Lovelace, Link

My mother doesn’t understand that there’s a Linksys WRT54G Router inside her home, grimly installed by my father at 5:00 a.m. one morning while she was still getting her beauty sleep in. She touches her iPad with tiny soft fingers, hitting “forward” in her email on all-things-annoying to this contributor and her only son. Now and then she gets kicked off the wi-fi network — however endearing the password named after her by my father, whose displays of love are limited in such I.T. manners — and, when I happen to be around one weekend, tells me to fix the internet. I explain to her that it’s either the router or Comcast, and that I can only help with the former. That the internet cannot be fixed, due to teens. “The internet,” she repeats.
Jimmy Chen, Link

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Wettest County in the World

The Wettest County in the World, aka The Drastic Measures Southwest Virginians Will Take To Avoid Paying Taxes.

Matt Bondurant's novel, if you can't tell from the title, is all about moonshine and bootlegging during the Prohibition era in America. It follows two sets of narratives, that of the Bondurant brothers--the author's real life grandfather and granduncles--and Sherwood Anderson, the author researching the Great Franklin County Moonshine Conspiracy of 1935. The author used stories passed down through his family as well as newspaper articles and other research to piece together a story.

At several points Bondurant stresses the difficulty of getting people in rural communities to speak about bootlegging, through the trials of the novelist Anderson in the story, and in the epilogue describing his own experiences writing the novel. I identify completely. I grew up and still live in southwest Virginia, currently about 15 minutes away from where most of the events in the novel take place. I didn't discover my grandfather was a blockade runner during the Depression until after he passed away. It had never been discussed before, especially not by him. It was only told to me as an explanation for why my father has never touched alcohol in his life. Anything beyond that is taboo territory. But I can guess at the details.

The prose in the novel is very lyrical and beautiful, and really surprised me. I suppose I was expecting something more blunt and objective, à la Cormac McCarthy. The characters may be silent, rough mountain people, but Bondurant exposes their souls in a way that's really moving. The men in the story are three dimensional, so different from the stereotypes saturating most depictions of the region during that era. The narrative structure was not as impressive, being broken up into two different (but intersecting) story lines, and bouncing around to different points in time. Anderson's narrative, while interesting, takes away from tension of the Bondurant's story, and reveals several key plot points way too early. If you want to know whether the Bondurant boys live or get their revenge, all you have to do is read the first few chapters. Instead the major source of tension is set up as the outcome of the Moonshine Conspiracy trial, which I honestly couldn't care less about.

I mentioned earlier that the "men in the story" are three dimensional. I say that because unfortunately the women are not. I was willing to overlook it, being a book focused on the pursuits of three brothers, but a few passages are forcing my hand.

Take this one, from the mind of the author Sherwood Anderson:

Individuality will pass into the smoky realm of history. The day will come, Anderson knew, when we will all become soldiers in the army of the corporate age. When he was a boy there were no autos, planes, radios, chain stores, or great bloated trusts pushing their interests around the world. Men lived free lives then... He was only trying to say that when the world is mechanized something goes out of men, something elemental is lost. The female world, on the other hand, was ascendant: the world of possessions, the material world. The female is at home among these things. Men suffered for a lack of drive, starving for the tactile world.
Oh these poor manly men, losing their elemental spirit of manness. "Men lived free lives then." Please just bludgeon me to death with a Hemingway novel and let me rise into heaven (with all my diamonds and shoes apparently).

[small spoiler alert]
I understand what he's trying to say, but he managed to use all the wrong words in saying it. There are only a handful of female characters in the novel, one being Lucy, the wife of one of the brothers. She seems to exemplify the above statement, nagging her poor old husband for silly things like 'food' and 'shelter' for herself and infant child. Come on lady, get a job! What do you think this is, Depression era America? Another is Maggie, who is independent, has a job, and uses her earnings to dress nice. So of course she's raped. The only character-building tool writers can seem to come up with these days.
[end spoiler alert]

There was one female character I was extremely interested in, the real life Willie Carter Sharpe, one of the most notorious blockade runners of the era. She's the entire reason the author Sherwood Anderson is in Franklin County, and he obsesses over her profusely. There are rumors galore about her person: she has diamonds set in her teeth, she can drive faster than anyone around, drink more than the boys, etc. So what happens when Anderson finally sees her?

The experience was a disappointing one for most, including Anderson, who saw his hopes of a great mountain heroine die with her appearance on the witness stand... To Anderson she was jowly like a bulldog and crass of language and aspect. The overall impression was more like that of a gorilla in a dress.
That's it. The end. She's never mentioned again and the novel ends. My god if she isn't gorgeous and doesn't literally have diamonds set in her teeth like some hillbilly Flavor Flav, then who cares amirite?

What I'm trying to say is a I want to read a novel all about Willie Carter Sharpe. Diamond teeth or no. 

Enough with the bad. On to the good. Here are two passages I liked:

The last of the rain, in early April, gave way to the long waste of drought, blazing blue skies, cloudless, sparkling with dust. The early shoots withered in a matter of weeks, the bony cattle following the thin licks up the creek beds, planting their muzzles deep in any soft patch of mud. Fish crowded in the deep eddies and boys waded in to grab mud cats and carp with their hands. Headlights sweeping over a field at night found them alive with glowing eyes as packs of deer came down from the mountains desperate for water, parched and defiant. The old superstitions raised their hoary heads and traveling through stands of woods in Franklin County that summer you would occasionally find a snake hanging from a tree, nailed by the head, an ancient appeal to the wood gods to bring the rains back. Fields of yellow, stunted tobacco with untopped blooms covered the county. Red clay surged to the surface through the scattered weeds, the powder rising into the air on no wind at all, like transpiration, the dry sucking up the dry, and so a fine silt of clay was worn in every crease, in the eyes of dogs, in the skillets of fatback and pintos. A matter of minutes after you swept the floor clean you could draw in it with your finger. Men stood with their hands in their pockets, heads low, scuffing their boots, dreaming of sudden, angry cloudbursts. They knew when the tobacco died the shooting would begin.

It amazed Forrest that so many men seemed to wake up in the morning needing some kind of beating or another, men saying and doing fantastic things for the sake of getting another man to smash his face. Perhaps it was the aftermath, the burning humiliation of it they sought, when the aching morning came and they rolled over in the dirt and felt their mouth for teeth or lightly touched the split ear, the face in the rearview mirror swollen and crusted with blood. Forrest figured if these men wanted it he might as well give it to them.

Liked because it sounds exactly like something my dad would say.

If you're interested, in late August the film adaptation of the novel will be released, titled Lawless. I hope you are interested, because I read the novel for a reason. I've been planning for some time to start another blog, somewhere where I could combine my love of film and literature. So that's what I'll be doing, hopefully by the end of August when I see Lawless and Cosmopolis. I'll be reviewing movies that are adaptations of literature. And probably some other things too, like comics and maybe even video games (you guys know how good films based on video games are, right?).

 So that's why I've been a little slow in updating this blog. If you weren't aware there are also adaptations of Anna Karenina and Les Miz forthcoming, so yeah, I've been snailing my way through both of those bricks. Along with Barthes' Image Music Text, for some ideas on how I can write my reviews. Barthes as applied Resident Evil: Retribution. It could work.

So in the future look for news of a new blog, or admission of my failure and laziness.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Year of the Flood

It's 2012, so it seems reasonable there should be a little bit of apocalypse going on. My sympathies to everyone affected by the storms in the mid-Atlantic who've had to go without power recently. I was lucky and didn't lose mine. But I have been hiding in the bathroom with my cat a lot recently.

So between the crazy heat, the storms, being 6 months away from a pre-Christmas apocalypse, and seeing Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (which was really good and may have made me openly sob in public), reading The Year of the Flood felt right in stride.

The Year of the Flood is Margaret Atwood's follow up to her 2003 dystopian novel Oryx and Crake, which I read about two years ago. The structure of both novels is very similar and they occupy the same timeframe. At the beginning we're introduced to the world after a mysterious epidemic has eradicated the majority of human life. Through flashbacks we find out what exactly happened. It's a tricky structure to pull off, since the reader already knows the end result, and the tension could easily have been lost. However Atwood lets just the right amount of information remain mysterious to make it a page turner.

In Atwood's dystopian vision, the future world is owned and controlled by corporations, predictably corrupt and money-seeking. Humans live either in gigantic walled communities owned by the corporations, "compounds," or outside in the ghetto-esque "pleeblands." Pharmaceuticals and biotechnology are the biggest focus of the corporations (Resident Evil, anyone?), and through experiments in genetic mutation some truly horrifying monsters have been created. Not in the name of warfare as you might think, but in the goal of feeding and sustaining an ever-growing human population. In Oryx and Crake we're introduced to 'pigoons,' pigs bred to grow extra organs so they can be harvested and transplanted into humans. Or even more terrifying, 'ChickieNobs', chickens bred without heads which grow harvestable chicken parts. Imagine a featherless raw chicken growing a ridge of nuggets down its back.

In Oryx and Crake we follow the story of one of the compounders and his experiences before and after the apocalyptic event. In The Year of the Flood we journey to the other side of the fence, following two women and their experiences in the pleeblands, as well as a few anti-corporate movements. One of these is called 'God's Gardeners,' a group dedicated to living in harmony with nature. It's a slightly satirical take on cults and religious groups such as the Amish -- if the Amish were vegan. After reading about ChickieNobs, veganism is looking ever more appealing.

One of my few criticisms of the novel is Atwood's insistence on making all the characters, and all the stories, reference each other incessantly. There were far too many coincidences for it to remain believable. I can believe in lab-created hybrid animal species (lion + lamb = 'liobam'), but not that one of the main characters is going to keep running into her ex-boyfriend every other page -- especially not after the world has ended. Oh hey there's probably only a dozen people left in the world and guess what, one just happens to be your ex! Ack! (I just gave someone in Hollywood an idea, didn't I).

The Year of the Flood ending seemed pretty unfinished, which tells me she'll most likely be writing a third follow-up (just checked, and yup). I'm not sure if I'll read it. There's nothing very fascinating or redeemable about this future world. It's mostly just repulsive and sad. I'm sure in the third book the characters will work to build a new world, and there will be corruption, and people will make the same mistakes again. New genetic hybrids will be introduced that have stupid names I'll have to remember. I think Atwood took some inspiration from Dr. Seuss when she came up with 'rakunk' (raccoon + skunk, obviously).

Not many quotables, but here are two passages I liked:

As with all knowledge, once you knew it, you couldn't imagine how it was that you hadn't known it before. Like stage magic, knowledge before you knew it took place before your very eyes, but you were looking elsewhere.

Glenn used to say the reason you can't really imagine yourself being dead was that as soon as you say, "I'll be dead," you've said the word I, and so you're still alive inside the sentence. And that's how people got the idea of the immortality of the soul -- it was a consequence of grammar. And so was God, because as soon as there's a past tense, there has to be a past before the past, and you keep going back in time until you get to I don't know, and that's what God is. It's what you don't know--the dark, the hidden, the underside of the visible, and all because we have grammar

That...actually makes a lot of sense. In a roundabout way. What came first -- worship of the unknown, or language?