sovay: (Morell: quizzical)
[personal profile] sovay
I don't understand Facebook's algorithms. Independent of any pages shared by my friends, it keeps presenting me with this photo of violinist Gil Shaham, upcoming guest of the BSO, and I cannot tell if it thinks that I am the sort of person who listens to classical music (true) or the sort of person who thinks this particular musician is great-looking (also true) and in either case I have no money for the symphony and extant commitments on one of the days he's playing anyway, but I still want to know which data they were farming to produce this result. Seriously, it's been every time I go to check in on the news. I'm not complaining, but I am puzzled.

Gil Shaham


(I did not make it to the Brattle's screening of A Matter of Life and Death (1946), so the question of whether I find David Niven as beautiful in that movie as Andrew Moor does will have to wait for another time.)
osprey_archer: (books)
[personal profile] osprey_archer
Ta-Nehisi Coates' We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy is a depressing book, not because Coates is a pessimist - although Coates is in fact deeply pessimistic - but because, confirmed pessimist though he is, he still wasn't pessimistic enough to believe that Trump could actually win the presidency.

Also, the book is a collection of essays from the Obama era, and just reading them drives home what a different world when live in now. Remember when you didn't have to brace yourself for every single news cycle? When you could be cautiously optimistic that change might be change for the better, rather than bitterly aware that any change will almost certainly be for the worse and the best we can possibly hope for is that nothing changes at all? When the president didn't communicate mainly in the form of embarrassing tweets?

Yeah, I try to block that time out of my mind too. The contrast to today is too painful.

If you can withstand the pain, however, this is a good and thought-provoking book. One thing that has stuck with me (during the month that I have procrastinated in writing this review because of the aforementioned misery factor) is Coates' repeatedly reference to a strand in black conservative thought that looks back nostalgically on segregation, not because segregation per se was so wonderful but because (according to this strand of thought; Coates has doubts that this nostalgia is founded in reality) it's seen as a time of strong community bonds, when outside hostility forced the community to really work together and look out for itself etc. etc.

It reminds me of a bit in Sebastian Junger's book Tribe, when he mentions some recent graffiti in, IIRC, Kosovo: "Things were better when they were really bad." As in, things were better in the old days when we were trapped in a terrible war, because at least then the enemy was outside, and we were all working together within. (I have no idea how well this reflects the objective reality of wartime Kosovo, mind; human memory is malleable.)

It's just striking to me that humans find connection and togetherness so important that these things will, at least in memory, become the most important aspect of a horrible situation. Nothing bonds people like enduring adversity together.
sovay: (PJ Harvey: crow)
[personal profile] sovay
I dreamed I was in Providence last night, visiting friends who don't exist in waking life. There was no particular occasion—I hadn't seen them in months, NecronomiCon notwithstanding. I had brought one of them a ring I had found in a thrift store in Boston. It looked like heavy gold with a blurred device on the signet and chips of emerald down the band; I thought it was costume jewelry. It had been priced accordingly. The girl at the register hadn't been able to tell me where it came from. I almost tossed it to my friend as we walked through Burnside Park, telling him it had looked like his style. He didn't even put it on: he turned it over once or twice and dropped onto the nearest bench like someone had kicked his feet out from under him and burst into tears. I thought at one point he said, "How could you do this to me?" but I didn't have an answer and I wasn't sure he was asking me. When he left without looking at me, he left the ring resting on the bench behind him. I put it back in my pocket. I went back to their house. He was there helping his partner prepare dinner; no one said anything about it. I can do something with this dream, I think. [personal profile] spatch asked me months ago if I had ever written Lovecraftian noir and I couldn't think of a way to do it without being cheap or clichéd or ripping other authors off: I might have dreamed myself a way in. I just wish I could think of things that don't require research.

1. Thank you, question mark, Facebook, for pointing me toward this teeth-grinding article: Zoe Willams, "Yes, yes, yes! Welcome to the golden age of slutty cinema." I was a little wary of the opening, but then we reached the following claim—

"On the big screen, we look to the 1930s and 40s – rightly – for an object lesson in how to make a female character with depth, verve, wit and intelligence, but to expect those women to shag around would be unreasonable, anachronistic."

—and I blew a fuse. Can I chase after the author screaming with a copy of Baby Face (1933)? Or the bookstore clerk from The Big Sleep (1946)? Pre-Code cinema in general? A stubborn and sneaky percentage of Hollywood even after the ascendance of the Production Code? "It is a radical act," William writes, "which every film generation thinks they are the first to discover: to create characters who are not good people"—well, apparently every generation of film critics thinks they discovered it, too. I wrote on Facebook that I was reminded of the conversation between an ATS driver and her prospective mother-in-law in Leslie Howard's The Gentle Sex (1943), where the younger woman declares proudly that "for the first time in English history, women are fighting side by side with the men" and the older woman quietly lets fall the fact that she served as an ambulance driver on the front lines of the last war. Just because the young women of the rising generation don't know about the social advances of their mothers doesn't mean they didn't happen. Just because the author of this article lives in a retrograde era doesn't mean the onscreen representation of morally ambiguous women is some kind of millenial invention. It's so easy to think that the past was always more conservative, more blinkered, more backwards than the present. It's comforting. It's dangerous. It permits the belief that things just get better, magically, automatically, without anyone having to fight to move forward or hold ground already won. Once you recognize that the past, even briefly, got here first, it's a lot harder to feel superior for just being alive now. We can't afford it and anyway it isn't true.

2. Apropos of nothing except that I was listening to Flanders and Swann, I am very glad that I discovered them before reading Margery Allingham, otherwise I might have thought she invented "The Youth of the Heart." It's quoted in a scene in The Beckoning Lady (1955)—correctly attributed, but her books are so full of fictional artists and musicians that when I read of "Lili Ricki, the new Swedish Nightingale, singing Sydney Carter's lovely song against a lightening sky," I might have easily had the Avocado of Death problem and assumed she made them all up. As it is, I know the song from a recording of Swann performing it solo as part of At the Drop of a Hat in 1957, since he wrote the music. And I was reminded of Allingham because there's a copy of Traitor's Purse (1941) on Howard's bookshelves in Howard the Duck (1986). I assume someone in the props department was a fan.

3. The Somerville Theatre has announced its repertory schedule for October. I am sad that the double feature of James Whale's Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is the same night that [personal profile] rushthatspeaks and I already have plans to see William Wellman's Beggars of Life (1928) at the HFA, but I am looking forward mightily to the triple feature of Psycho (1960), Psycho II (1983), and Psycho III (1986), because it is the Saturday before my birthday and five and a half hours of Anthony Perkins seems like a good preemptive birthday present to me. I have never seen Robert Wise's The Haunting (1963), either, or Anna Biller's The Love Witch (2016), and I always like Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead (2004). I know Brad Anderson's Session 9 (2001) was shot at the derelict Danvers State Hospital before it was demolished for condos, a decision which I hope is literally haunting the developers to this day. Anyone with opinions about the rest of this lineup?

I am off to write letters to politicians.
choco_frosh: (Default)
[personal profile] choco_frosh
Friday evening, I skipped a Dark Crystal screening and a house concert (with some considerable regret in both cases) in favor of driving up to Maine for a production of Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters (1746).  But I'm related to the director (because of course I am), and some things are important, especially when said director 's life has been going haywire.  In any case, the show went up at the Freeport Playhouse, a gigungous space by the standards both of the town's size and those of the audiences for the high school and community theater productions (like this one) that it chiefly hosts; but this is what you get when you have L.L. Bean bankrolling you.

Servant is an odd play, in some respects. It's not just that it's rumored to have been written essentially as a vehicle to showcase the talents of the original lead (playing the eponymous main character, Truffaldino.) And it’s not just that eighteenth-century theater tends to be strange (for us) in general. The thing with Servant is that it was written squarely in the tradition of the Commedia dell’Arte, but at a time when every possible change had be rung on the latter, and thus audiences (and playwrights) wanted something new; so it’s much more scripted than the improv.-like style of its predecessors, and heavily influenced by contemporary French theater. Almost like the Commedia’s stock characters acting in a plot by Rousseau (or Shakespeare, but I’ll get back to that.) As such, there’s still a fair amount of improvisation involved; in this case, this included substituting endless L.L. Bean jokes for the endless Venice jokes.

Plot? You actually want to know about the plot? Look, you can pretty much figure that out from the title, other than that Truffaldino displays a Scooby-Doo like desire to eat constantly, and that one of his masters is, in fact, a woman pretending to be her own brother. Pantalone is old, Silvio and Clarice are airheads, the Dottore harangues everyone constantly in semi-literate Latin, Truffaldino is alternately a very clever person doing something colossally stupid and a buffoon accidentally being clever. The fourth wall gets broken repeatedly: I’m not sure whether that’s in the original, or a modern adaptation. (I’d once have assumed the latter, but that was before I found out about the existence of The Knight of the Burning Pestle.) There are endless stupid misunderstandings that could have been cleared up instantly, except that (a) the plot would then collapse, and (b) anyway, no one in this play is smart enough to do that, except for maybe our cross-dressed heroine and her beloved, and they’re under a lot of stress, what with being on the run from the law and all.*

Instead, I’m going to talk about humor.
1) The frankly sophomoric.
“Some people have asked me whether we added in the all the, you know, sex jokes,” the director remarked to me over dinner. “But aside from adding one very subtle line about oral sex [totally in keeping with the show’s tradition of improvisation], nope, it’s all in there…” I can sympathize: it always amazes me when residents of the 21st century assume that past societies had no concept of dirty jokes, but I guess most people didn’t grow up on The Canterbury Tales. Or read Catullus in college. Or ever visit Pompeii. Or sing folk songs. Look, people: lewd humor did NOT originate with the internet. And so, yes, that ENTIRE plot point was probably written primarily to set up the visual pun with the rocks.

This brings me to my second point:
2) Clowning.
As a play in the tradition of the Commedia dell’Arte, a lot of this humor here relies on successful clowning. Props flying around with wild abandon, the ability to do a pratfall successfully, that kind of thing. And the guy playing Truffaldino does it quite well, but somewhere in the second act I realized that, even as I was laughing my face off over jokes that the rest of the audience was a few beats behind me in getting, I wasn’t finding most of the clowning all that great.
And that, I then realized, was because I’m spoiled.
Not by television shows, or any of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, or any of the more obvious sources. Rather, I saw the Flying Karamozov Brothers production of The Comedy of Errors (taped on VHS, off public television) at an impressionable age, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. As I suggested earlier, The Servant of Two Masters is already not unlike a lot of Shakespeare’s comedies (farcical servants, cross-dressing, mix-ups); and the style of clowning in it is also similar to that in the aforesaid production of Comedy of Errors (and probably also in Shakespeare as originally performed, but I’m not an expert on Shakespeare’s comedies.)
And of course, the Flying Karamozov Brothers (and Avner the Eccentric) can out-clown pretty much anybody.
Usually while juggling simultaneously.

Man, I’ve got to see if we still have that VHS tape.

Anyway. The Servant of Two Masters! Not as good as Shakespeare put on as a collaboration between several of the late 20th century’s greatest comic acts: but then, what is? Well worth seeing!

* They, incidentally, are derived from the stock character of the Capitani. This (and various other aspects of the plot) inevitably got me wondering whether some underground 18th c. theater group wrote a Commedia-style play where the male leads wind up hooking up.
I also kind of want to see a re-imaging of this play that takes the fact that both of them are technically on the run from the law--a point that Goldoni brings up but then doesn’t really explore--and refocuses at least some of the plot around that. Servant Noir, I guess.

(no subject)

23 September 2017 22:50
skygiants: Clopin from Notre-Dame de Paris; text 'sans misere, sans frontiere' (comment faire un monde)
[personal profile] skygiants
Thanks to the kindness of [personal profile] aamcnamara in loaning a copy so I did not have to fight through the library line, I read The Stone Sky - third in N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy, following up on The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate - last weekend.

I don't think Essun destroyed any cities at all this book! I'm so proud!

The rest is disconnected spoilery thoughts )
sovay: (Rotwang)
[personal profile] sovay
Happy autumn! Happy Bi Visibility Day! Happy centenary of the invention of Fluff, which explains why the first thing I ate today was a peanut butter and marshmallow fluff cookie: I spent the later part of my afternoon in Union Square with [personal profile] rushthatspeaks, [personal profile] gaudior, and Fox, who may or may not have liked their first taste of marshmallow but was really into a crunchy organic juice blend one of their parents was trying to drink. (Eventually they covered themselves in it. It was green. That's the first time I've seen a baby cosplay Howl's Moving Castle.) I am delighted to learn that plasmodial slime molds can share memories. I would definitely watch Dwayne Johnson as Plato. I am faceplantingly tired, but I have cats. It has not been terrible, being awake today.
siderea: (Default)
[personal profile] siderea
Canonical link: https://siderea.dreamwidth.org/1355110.html

[We interrupt the previously scheduled rant for another rant.]

At some point, if you are so lucky, you will be old. You may already be old. Somebody you love may already be old. Old people, being people, require medical care, and are often treated – because this is basically what primary care in our society consists of – with medications.

Thing is, old bodies handle medicine differently than young ones.

Take the liver... [3,340 Words] )

This post brought to you by the 137 readers who funded my writing it – thank you all so much! You can see who they are at my Patreon page. If you're not one of them, and would be willing to chip in so I can write more things like this, please do so there.

Please leave comments on the Comment Catcher comment, instead of the main body of the post – unless you are commenting to get a copy of the post sent to you in email through the notification system, then go ahead and comment on it directly. Thanks!

Calamity Jane

23 September 2017 06:42
osprey_archer: (Default)
[personal profile] osprey_archer
Last night Julie & I watched Calamity Jane, because we both saw the same tumblr post about how it’s super femslashy. This post is 100% accurate. Of course, it’s still a 1950s musical and so it ends with a double wedding where our gals marry men, but before then, there are definitely some moments (like this, which is not the original tumblr post I saw, but that just goes to show how many super femslashy moments there are in this movie).

There’s also the scene where Calamity Jane stalks into the music hall to warn Katie to get out of town, and Katie responds by grabbing a gun and telling Calam she’ll shoot a glass out of her hand, at which point Calam hesitates, because she knows Katie doesn’t a damn thing about a gun, and Katie taunts her - “Unless you’re scared” - so Calam hoists the glass up, her face set, prepared to meet her death, and Katie shoots…

Actually this scene may be somewhat idiosyncratically appealing, possibly not the best way to sell the movie to potential femslash fans who are not necessarily into “and then they almost killed each other!” Which is apparently my benchmark for an eminently shippable couple in all gender combinations.

Admittedly, Calam is technically warning Katie out of town because Katie Stole Her Man, which probably lowers the femslashiness of it all. But there aren’t many scenes where women shoot at each other because of Friendship Betrayed, I can’t afford to be too picky.

Also, it’s super racist. I probably shouldn't have been surprised, because it's a fifties western & also the real Calamity Jane was a professional Indian fighter, but... I was still surprised.
sovay: (Viktor & Mordecai)
[personal profile] sovay
I was taking pictures of the cats.

Autolycus had opinions about the camera.



[personal profile] spatch says, "This is what I see every morning at seven-thirty!"
sovay: (Otachi: Pacific Rim)
[personal profile] sovay
In about an hour, I am going to see Howard the Duck (1986) on 70 mm at the Somerville Theatre. It's part of their second annual 70 mm & Widescreen Festival, which started this Wednesday and runs through the rest of the month; last year it offered me such superlative viewing experiences as Lord Jim (1965), Spartacus (1960), Sleeping Beauty (1959) and Tron (1982), and this year I am starting with a duck from another planet. We're meeting my parents for it. My father unironically loves Howard the Duck. He ranks it with '80's cult classics like The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984) and has always felt it deserved a sequel. I have not seen it since high school at the latest and have peculiarly fragmentary memories of the plot. The opening sequence is picture-clear: Howard on his home planet greeting a Playduck centerfold with "My little airbrushed beauty!" before being sucked through space and time into Cleveland, Ohio where he rescues a new wave chick from some lowlifes with the ancient martial art of "Quack Fu." She has a band. I want to say he ends up managing it. After that things start to break up. I remember that an eldritch thing possesses Jeffrey Jones—and that it happens for the decently Lovecraftian reason that it is never a bright idea to open a door at random into the deep reaches of space when you don't know what might be on the other side—but I don't remember the mechanism or the immediate consequences, except that I have the vague sense of a road trip. I remember that Chip Zien voices Howard, when I know him much better for his work in musical theater. IMDb tells me that this movie was also the first place I saw Lea Thompson and Tim Robbins. I'm really looking forward. Other films I am planning to catch on 70 mm include Wonder Woman (2017) and Cleopatra (1963), which should really be something on a big screen, as should an IB Technicolor VistaVision print of North by Northwest (1959). I am a little sorry to have missed The Dark Crystal (1982) earlier this evening, but it has been a long and stressful day. There's always the matinée repeat on Sunday if I really feel like it. In the meantime, there's a space duck.

[edit] Yeah, sorry, haters. Howard the Duck remains a really delightful sci-fi comedy. Lea Thompson makes a surprisingly credible new wave/punk frontwoman. Tim Robbins is so young and so gangly. Jeffrey Jones is no Emilio Lizardo, but he chews good scenery as the possessed scientist. There are practical effects. There is stop-motion. (There are too many fight scenes and things blowing up, but I feel this way about most movies with any action quotient.) And there is a road trip, with a pit stop at a nuclear power plant. The script is sweet and full of consciously comic-book dialogue and it plays its interspecies romance straight; the only joke that really pulled me up short was a tossed-off sex-change line which mercifully goes by fast. I can't imagine swapping out any of the actors, especially Zien. I had completely forgotten about Richard Kiley as the introductory narrator, B-movie style. I don't even think it's an enjoyably bad movie: I just like it. And I have seen perhaps the last remaining 70 mm print in the world. No regrets.
swan_tower: (Default)
[personal profile] swan_tower

The general theme for this month has been stages of life, and we close that out with rites of passage. Next week, because the Patreon passed one of its funding goals a while ago, will be a fifth (bonus) essay, on the more theory-side aspects of worldbuilding!

Comment over there.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

Show Me Love

22 September 2017 06:40
osprey_archer: (cheers)
[personal profile] osprey_archer
Show Me Love is a 1998 Swedish movie about a 15-year-old high school outcast and her crush on one of the most popular girls in school. It sounds totally cliche when I say it like that, but it was so well done (and in 1998, too!) - particularly Agnes the outcast, who was not the sweet sad blameless wish-fulfillment victim type you often see in these things, but hurt and angry in a way that feels very real in that it sometimes leads her to do deeply horrible things.

There’s one scene in particular - Agnes’s mother insists that Agnes have a birthday party. Only one girl shows up, Viktoria, who is also on the bottom of the high school social hierarchy - in her case because she uses a wheelchair. Agnes, in a fit of rage and despair at this party that has done nothing but dramatize what a miserable unloved outcast she is, refuses to accept Viktoria’s present. “We just pretend to be friends because there’s no one else to be with. You know what the most boring thing I’ve ever done is? When you took me to that wheelchair basketball game in Karlstad,” Agnes snarls.

At which point Viktoria turns her wheelchair right around and becomes Agnes’s sworn enemy, fanning the rumors that Agnes is a lesbian - which is 100% understandable, but nonetheless horrible. In fact all the teenage characters are sometimes horrible to each other in a way that would be totally repulsive in an older person, but it so clearly grows out of the fact that they are young and self-absorbed as young people are, and don't quite understand that other people are people yet.

It makes them feel real and sad rather than just straight up awful. And they aren’t just awful: they show sweetness and ludicrous youthful daring, too, like the scene where Agnes and her crush Elin almost run away to Stockholm together on a whim. (They are a little drunk - well, in Elin’s case, a lot drunk - and have not thought this through.) They felt very raw and real.

I was honestly stunned to learn the director was a man - not just because it has none of that male-gazy ickiness I tend to associate with male-directed movies about lesbians - but just because the movie is so clear-eyed and compassionate about teenage girls, even when they’re awful, even when Elin is giving her boyfriend merry hell as she tries to figure her sexuality out.

I’m not 100% convinced Agnes & Elin will last, but I do believe that they’ll have a fantastic, fascinating, sometimes brutal time dating, and that’s all I need from a movie about young teenagers. They don’t necessarily need to have found the loves of their lives; a love for right now is just fine.
sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
[personal profile] sovay
Even if the rest of the film were forgettable, Howard Hawks' Red River (1948) would be worth it for the climactic fight scene where Montgomery Clift and John Wayne are tragically and brutally and patriarchally beating one another's brains out and just as the audience, consisting in this case of me and [personal profile] rushthatspeaks, decides it cannot take another second of this senseless macho bullshit, Joanne Dru can't either and not only says as much, she holds both combatants at gunpoint until they cut the machismo and admit they love one another. It was a thing of beauty. ("You'd better marry that girl, Matt.") Factor in the gun-comparing scene between Clift and John Ireland and other not infrequent moments of no heterosexual explanation and the whole thing was a nice break from today's otherwise relentless grind of work, even if we weren't totally sure at the outset. It is not easy to watch a movie in the company of an active and presently tired and cranky eleven-month-old, but we managed. In other news, Fox these days is freestanding, fast-moving, can hang upside down by the knees if an adult holds them, and appears to be taking against the entire concept of pants. They like honeycake, though.

Autolycus is being heartbreakingly plaintive right now. He has a vet appointment early in the morning and it requires fasting, which is an impossible concept to explain to a cat. I let him graze all day and gave him a proper dinner at the absolute last moment, but he is attempting to convince me that, actually, in point of fact, he starved since then. We should find him some kind of special treat after the appointment, for being so brave and honest. Last night he and his sister shared in the Rosh Hashanah chicken. All cats are lunisolar.

In honor of the High Holidays, here is a post on Jewish superheroes and here is a brilliant riposte to the rather short-sighted question "How can you be Black and Jewish?"

Back to the relentless grind. At least it is almost autumn.

The Good Place: Season 2, Episode 1

21 September 2017 12:32
rachelmanija: (Default)
[personal profile] rachelmanija
Absolutely fantastic. Do not click on cut unless you've already seen it. The whole series is streaming on nbc.com.

Read more... )

Mistress America

21 September 2017 07:04
osprey_archer: (Default)
[personal profile] osprey_archer
I was SUPER excited to see Mistress America, because it stars Greta Gerwig, who is also the star of my beloved Frances Ha - and I figured that once I’d shown Julie one Gerwig movie, it would be a piece of cake to win her over to another, am I right?

I should have started with Frances Ha. Mistress America is not a bad movie, but it’s also not a particularly successful one. It’s a character drama where the characters are a little too stylized to seem quite real, but not stylized enough for that stylization to create its own pocket reality where you just go along with it.

In short, it’s stylized enough to feel awkward. It’s too awkward even for Gerwig, who makes awkwardness into an art form in Frances Ha. At times her character Brooke, a 30-year-old aspiring New Yorker on the cusp of failure, seems almost like a parody of Frances - or at least a parody of something. “I know I'm funny. I know everything about myself. That's why I can't do therapy,” Brooke explains, encapsulating her own lack of self-awareness just a little too neatly

On the other hand, there are also times when Gerwig hits the emotional beats just right. “You can’t really know what it is to want things until you’re at least thirty,” Brooke lectures her soon-to-be stepsister Tracy, a lonely college freshman. “And then with each passing year, it gets bigger… because the want is more, and the possibility is less.”

Still relentlessly self-absorbed, but it also hits on something painful and true about Brooke’s desperation. She doesn’t so much lack self-awareness as push it away, because looking her life squarely in the face would mean admitting that she’s drowning.

Gerwig looms over the movie, but I would be remiss if I didn’t give props to her co-star Lola Kirke, who plays Tracy - young and vulnerable, yet also a would-be puppetmaster, sharply observant but at the same time incredibly emotionally clueless. The night after she first meets Brooke, Tracy writes a character study that is a poisonously vicious homage.

And it really is both those things at once. She admires Brooke tremendously - she’s so exuberant and outgoing and fun! Tracy’s own platonic manic pixie dream girl, plucking her out of her lonely inhibited life! - but also recognizes that Brooke’s basically a failure, not a viable model to follow. There’s an attraction and a repulsion and of course when Brooke reads it - of course she gets her hands on it; no one in movies can ever hide anything properly - all she sees is that viciousness.

There’s a good movie in here. Tracy and Brooke’s friendship is fascinating, both before and after it crashes and burns. Unfortunately it’s just a little too clever for its own good, and obscures its merits.
sovay: (Rotwang)
[personal profile] sovay
Erev Rosh Hashanah: I misplace the keys to my parents' house and cannot help with the cooking as early in the afternoon as planned, but my brother and his family turn out to have been laid low by some opportunistic bug (the preschool year has started) and don't make it for dinner after all; my father drives their roast chicken and their challah and their honeycake out to them in the evening. We eat ours after I light orange taper candles that technically belong to Halloween because that's what's in the house. The chicken is brined and stuffed with lemon halves and fresh rosemary; the huge round challah with honey drizzled lightly over its egg-washed crust is from Mamaleh's; the honeycakes are homemade and the twice-baked potatoes were introduced by [personal profile] spatch and me. I know it is not precisely the customary use of the Shechecheyanu, but I find it useful to have a prayer thank you, God, that we've made it this far. The year starts anyway, ready or not. I'd rather recognize it as it goes by. L'shanah tovah, all.

Wednesday Reading Meme

20 September 2017 09:07
osprey_archer: (books)
[personal profile] osprey_archer
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Elizabeth Wein’s The Pearl Thief, which features exuberant spoilers )

What I’m Reading Now

At last I started The Ordinary Acrobat and I’m quite enjoying it! I had not realized that a memoir about attending a circus school was a thing that I wanted in my life, but it totally is and it’s just as fascinating as it sounds. And also it has made me want to learn how to juggle.

I found myself pining for the bucolic world of Miss Read, so I went ahead and borrowed the last two Miss Reads in my mother’s collection: Thrush Green and Winter in Thrush Green. Will I be forced to turn to the library to supplement my Miss Read needs? Perhaps! Although probably I should give James Herriot a try first - I think he’s got a similar thing going on in his tales of life as a country vet, in the quirkily amusing yet tranquil English countryside.

What I Plan to Read Next

Now that I’ve almost finished reading down my pile of books-I-own-but-haven’t-read, I’ve decided that it’s time to make some serious progress on my to-read list. Perhaps Emily Arsenault’s The Leaf Reader? I quite enjoyed her earlier novelThe Broken Teaglass, and it sent me on a fruitful search for more mystery novels about unraveling literary puzzles. Or maybe some more Jon Krakauer…

I’ve already borrowed Sara Pennypacker’s Summer of the Gypsy Moths from the library, though, so probably I will read that first.

Brooklyn

19 September 2017 22:00
osprey_archer: (shoes)
[personal profile] osprey_archer
"So this is how General Hux started his multi-incarnation descent into evil," Julie commented, as we watched Brooklyn, which features the actor who plays Hux in the decidedly un-Hux-like role of Jim Farrell, the leading lady's other man who gets his heart broken because otherwise the film would descend into bigamy. Bigamy is not charming, and Brooklyn is all about charm.

And also clothes. The costumes are gorgeous and if that is a thing you are into, it's well worth watching them for the beautiful fifties fashions alone.

Young Eilis, unable to find work in Ireland, immigrates to New York. At first she struggles to adjust, but with the help of the priest who sponsored her immigration - and a lucky meeting with an Italian-American boy, Tony - she begins to settle in. But just when she and Tony are beginning to get serious, a family tragedy drags her back to Ireland. She pauses only long enough to marry Tony in City Hall before she goes.

Well, okay, people do jump into hasty decisions in times of stress, and also Eilis wears a simply smashing orange suit for the wedding, so I suppose we can allow. But this rather drains the tension out of the latter half of the movie. Even if Eilis wants to stay in Ireland - and there are certainly many arguments in its favor! - she can't without committing bigamy, and in the end that forces her back.

And it really does force her back: someone in her hometown learns about her marriage, and attempts to blackmail Eilis, which makes Eilis leave on the next boat. There's no "it's nice to be back home in Ireland with my best friend, who has introduced me to Jim Farrel who is kind and attentive and stands to inherit a swell house, and also I've been offered a job I'd like in the field I've been studying... but I really love Tony, so I'm going home to Brooklyn." No. She leaves because she's checkmated.

And I'm not sure she really does love Tony, anyway. I think she loves the fact that she's not lonely when she's with him, that he's helped her feel at home in Brooklyn - but the first time he says "I love you," she completely freezes, and even later on she can't say it naturally, she has to work up to it through "I like you" first.

Now possibly this is just emotional repression but... eh. She falls in with Jim Farrell so quickly once she's back in Ireland. And she doesn't even read Tony's letters. He's spending so much money on airmail, Eilis! Why did you marry him if you were just going to stick his letters in a drawer?

On the other hand Tony is super in love with her and generally pretty nice, so hopefully once she's back in Brooklyn she'll settle down and they'll have a happy life together despite their rocky beginning. (And meanwhile, Jim Farrell will begin his descent toward space Nazism.)
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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

Review copy provided by Haikasoru Books.

This is one of the weirdest books I’ve read in a long time. The Bamboo, the creatures in it, are described as vampires, but they’re really more grass monsters who eat human carrion. They’re described as scary, but I’m not particularly scared by them so much as baffled by their strange, secretive, hierarchical laws. (For me, this is a feature, not a bug.) And on basically every other page, I’m left saying, “What? What?” (Again, a feature, not a bug.)

There are three sections varying widely in time, with different protagonists. Even within the sections, the timeline swings wildly, spending pages on a conversation translated lovingly to attempt to show what level of formality the Japanese conversation used (oh, a losing battle) and then going over forty years in a single line. I would say that it’s full of plot twists, but that sounds very linear, very straightforward, as though things are following one upon another with logic–it is full of plot twists the way the dream you are trying to remember from two nights ago is full of plot twists. “And then you what? Why? Okay.”

And then the grass monster reached the end of their life and exploded into flowers. What? Okay. No, different section, they ate someone who they thought was abusing a prostitute. What? Okay. If that’s not okay with you, you should probably move along, because that’s what there is here, a whole lot of angst and monsters and randomness, and some of you are saying, gosh, no thanks, and some of you are saying, sign me on up.

Please consider using our link to buy A Small Charred Face from Amazon.

Books read, early September

19 September 2017 18:45
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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

Alex Alice, Castle in the Stars Book One: The Space Race of 1869. Discussed elsewhere.

Hassan Blasim, ed., Iraq+100 Discussed elsewhere.

Chaz Brenchley, Dust-Up at the Crater School Chapter 7. Kindle. Plotty, moving forward, full of dust storms and schoolgirl antics, as one would expect for this project.

Marie Brennan, Maps to Nowhere. Discussed elsewhere.

George Eliot, Middlemarch. Kindle. And this is what happened to my early September. Middlemarch is surprising; it is delightful. It is one of the longest classics of English literature, and it is a joy to read. I kept thinking that I would want to leaven it with bits of something else, go off and take a break and read something in the middle of it. I didn’t. (I mean, I always have a book of short pieces going. But other than that.) While I was reading Middlemarch, I kept wanting to read Middlemarch, and when I was done reading it I wanted more of it. The only thing of its size that’s at all comparable in my attachment to it is John Sayles’s A Moment in the Sun, and that does not have the passionate following Middlemarch has–wherever I mentioned it I found that friends and strangers were ready to share my delight in this wandering intense chatty behemoth of a book. I’m discussing it with a friend who’s reading it with me. I’m not sure I have a lot to add for the general audience except to say, it’s funny, it’s intense, it’s gigantic emotionally as well as literally, it makes me want to read more George Eliot, it makes me want to read its giant self all over again. It is in some ways exactly what you would expect and in other ways nothing like what you’d expect. It is thoroughly itself. And oh, I love her, I love George Eliot so very much. I’m glad I read such a quotable thing when I was past the age of needing to strip-mine books for epigraphs. I can do that later. I’m glad I could just relax in and read this first time.

Masha Gessen, Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot. I enjoyed another of Gessen’s books and picked this up because the library had it, more or less on a whim. And it gave me a perspective on modern Russia that nothing else has, particularly on its criminal justice system. What the prison system is doing there, what trials are like, what sorts of things are prioritized, what and who counts, what and who does not. Enraging, illuminating. There are some things Gessen just takes for granted you will know about feminist art theory and punk, but I think it may still be interesting if you don’t? but even better if you do. Also, if you have a very strong high culture/low culture divide, read this book and have that nonsense knocked out of you. Not that I have an opinion about that.

Ben Hatke, Mighty Jack and the Goblin King. Discussed elsewhere.

Steve Inskeep, Jacksonland: President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross, and a Great American Land Grab. This is very much in the popular history category: short chapters, many things explained on a fairly straightforward level. Not a lot of delving deep into the obscure corners. However, Inskeep does a fairly good job of switching back and forth between the lens of the European settlers turned recent Americans and the lens of the cultures of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole, and especially Cherokee people in the region he was discussing. One of the things that this particularly underscored for me is how quickly the European/American settlers viewed the land as traditionally theirs in that part of the south: the beginning of the Cherokee Trail of Tears was twenty-three years before the US Civil War. Even the earliest of the resettlements was only thirty years before. So in some parts of the Deep South, there were indeed plantations that had been going for generations–but in large, large swaths of it, the land they were fighting so hard for was land they had just taken from its previous owners basically five minutes ago. References to traditional way of life in that context are basically like talking about GameBoys and other hand-held gaming devices as our traditional way of life: they are bullshit. I think the way we are taught this period of history in American schooling encourages us not to think of that. I will want to read much deeper works on Andrew Jackson’s presidency. In this case I will say: Inskeep is not trying to paint him as a great guy or not a racist…and I still think he ends up going too easy on him. But it’s a good starter work for this period, I think.

Ursula K. LeGuin, The Language of the Night. Reread. The last time I read this was before I was keeping a book log, which means also before I was selling short stories regularly. I was a lot less prone to argue with assertions about fantasy not needing to compromise then. (Oh nonsense, of course it does.) But one of the things that makes Ursula LeGuin a great writer is that she argues with her past self, too. She evolves. She evolves in the course of this collection. And I think she’d be far happier with people thinking and arguing than uncritically absorbing anyway.

Rebecca Mead, My Life in Middlemarch. So…I didn’t mean to go straight from Middlemarch to a book about it, but the other thing I had from the library, I bounced off, and…I wasn’t ready to be done. This is Mead’s memoir entangled with a bit of biography of Eliot. There are places where Mead is bafflingly obtuse (some areas of gender politics and the writing of sexuality, notably, but also the difference between a character who is fully human and a character who is generally sympathetic), but in general it is short and rattles along satisfyingly and tells me things I want to know about George Eliot without telling me too many things I actively didn’t want to know about Rebecca Mead.

A. Merc Rustad, So You Want to Be a Robot. This is a solid and heart-wrenching collection. It’s impossible to pick one true favorite because there are so many good choices. Definitely highly recommended, Merc hits it out of the park here. And they’re just getting started.

Gerald Vizenor, Bearheart: The Heirship Chronicles. This is when Vizenor was just getting started, and gosh I’m glad I didn’t get started with his early work, because…why, oh why, did so many men of the seventies–particularly men who wanted to claim they were ecologically minded without doing much about it–pick the same direction for their demonstrations of their own sexual daring? Well, Vizenor grew out of it. But it’s a one of those. The person who wrote the afterword was sure that objections to it would be because people thought Indians couldn’t be like that! and no, it’s that it’s trite, it’s exactly the kind of trite sexual objectification of women–especially Indian women–that you’d expect from “seventies dude trying to be sexually shocking.” He got better. I’m glad.

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