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.