Sunday, May 31, 2009

An angry, whiny post that you should feel free to ignore.

Oh, I feel awful today. Just completely in hide-under-the-covers-and-ignore-the-world-everyone-fuck-off mode. Everything is pissing me off, I want to talk to no one at all, and just...I'm even mad at myself for being so whiny. But there you go.

And of course, today is my sister's birthday, which just means the house is even more full of people than it normally is. People who (God forbid!) want to keep talking to me and asking me to do things. The nerve! Listen, I know I sound ridiculous and awful, but today is just a stabby day. Everything is agaisnt me today. It's either hormones or the heat or the lack of sleep or all three, but jeebus, I want to stab someone today. It's days like these when I wish I lived in a little hut in the middle of nowhere and didn't have to deal with people.

Ah, well. Life in general is just one big pile of suck right now. For the most part, I've been alright with where I am at the moment. The waiting, the spending days waiting to hear anything, the nothingness. Things could be worse. But lately, it's just been eating away at me. It's been 6 months--the most time one is supposed to wait for an application approval. And another week ended without hearing a damned thing. I've been pretty good at waiting but how much fucking longer? There are honestly days when I just feel like I'm going to burst from the impatience, from the frustration of having my life on hold and not being able to plan anything in the future. It's the worst part of everything--not being able to plan for a damned thing. People all around me are making life changes, getting to universities, moving places--getting married. Heh. And really, I swear I'm alright with everything and I stick to my mantra of 'things will happen when they'll happen' but...for fuck's sake, some days that just won't stick. Some days (like today) it's too much.

Great, now I'm trying to keep myself from crying out of sheer fucking frustration. It's practically JUNE for fuck's sake! I quit my job because I didn't expect to still be here in JUNE. It's Graham's birthday next week and I was so sure--HA--six months ago that I'd be with him for his next birthday but? nope. Haha! not yet for you! You win another week of being completely fucking miserable!

Christ, listen to me. I need to stop before it gets much worse. Do you see why today isn't a good day for me to be around people? I should just get into a corner with a sheet over my head with a sign that says "I AM NOT AVAILABLE TODAY".

Just. Argh. I didn't mean for this to be a whinefest of a journal but fuck it- I need it today. And I feel slightly better now.

So I'm going to go take one hell of a long shower and wish for everyone to go away somewhere for a couple of hours. I can't deal. Not today.

And maybe later I'll post some photos of hot men. That's always good therapy.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Book #33: 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' by DH Lawrence

I've been on a bit of a classics kick lately. I have a good collection on my bookshelf, old favorites that I read every now and then when I feel like taking a break from modern literature. It always takes some effort, to be completely honest. Most of these are long, ponderous and sometimes just hard to get through. But I like that every time I pick one of them up my understanding of them gets a little bit better. I like to think of it as my English getting better. Or maybe I just have a very bad memory.

Anyway. "Lady Chatterley's Lover" has always been a favorite of mine for two reasons: DH Lawrence's commentary on modern life, and the naughty bits. And that's not just me being a dirty minded person with a secret love for a well-written sex scene (ok, just about any sex scene is fun to read, you know it's true). In this book, the two go hand in hand. It's essentially a story about two people who feel completely disconnected from the world finding each other and finally feeling connected to something. Through lots and lots of sex.

Yeah, yeah, I'm being all flippant about it, but really, if you want an in-depth analysis of Lawrence's criticism of the modern world, then you should probably join a book club or a literature class. All I want to do is enjoy a good book. And all its dirtyness.

The plot: It's post-World War I England. One of those miserable little mining towns where everything is bleak and sad. Constance Chatterley is married to Clifford Chatterly, a crippled war veteran who is the owner of a large estate near the miserable little mining town. She is miserable and lonely, the only people she knows are Clifford's intellectual buddies who are all about philosophy, talking a lot, and being generally empty of anything exciting. Eventually, Connie starts an affair with her husband's gamekeeper, a solitary man who lives in a conveniently secluded hut in the woods. They're both sick of the modern world and find that the only way to be happy is to be connected with people. Mentally and physically.

And that's basically it. It sounds pretty simple, but the truth is that Lawrence is an author who is clearly sad and angry at the state of the world around him, and he's making a case for connecting with people and just giving in to basic human emotions. He's saying the modern, industrial world is turning people ugly, mean, spiritless, and he wants that to change. Connie, though a little too passive-aggresive sometimes, is a good character who serves to illustrate a woman's sexuality and just wanting to break out of boredom and routine.

It probably won't work for everyone, though. I like that Lawrence is so passionate about everything he writes, but this makes for some very lengthy passages of people talking to each other and being all 'woe, the modern world!'. The book doesn't really pick up until about halfway through, when Connie first takes up with the gamekeeper. Then it gets good, with the plot really kicking in--coincidentally (!) just as Connie finally starts to live again. And oh, yeah, when the sex scenes start. This book was banned for decades in the UK, and I can certainly see why. It's very graphic, but it's not just your generic bodice-ripper. There's a point to everything he's writing and the sex scenes do turn very steamy sometimes. It's great.

So to me, it's a really great classic all the way through. It's thoughtful and sometimes depressing (and what true classic isn't depressing?), a great illustration of the post-war world, and I like that so much of it holds true today. Though that's kind of depressing at the same time.

And I'm left wondering what DH Lawrence would've thought of the sexual revolution of the 60s. He would've loved it, I think.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Book #32: "Sense and Sensibility" by Jane Austen

Oh, how I love Jane Austen. She's my literary comfort food--my vanilla ice cream, my peanut butter sandwich, my grilled cheese. I've read every book of hers (except for Mansfield Park because, ugh, Fanny)at least twice . The cover on my copy of Persuasion (my favorite) is so worn out you can barely read the writing on it. There's something so wonderfully satisfying about Austen's writing; the smirking sense of humor, the scathing social commentary, and of course, the always-hopeful romance with the happy ending. She's a genius and a die-hard romantic, and I imagine she'd be awesome to just sit down and have a drink with as we bitch about the world.

Sense and Sensibility is essentially about two sisters, Marianne and Elinor Dashwood and their adventures in love and society. Elinor, the eldest, is practical and level-headed. Marianne is the opposite; sentimental and impulsive. When their father dies, the girls (along with their mother and younger sister) are forced to step down from the high-society life they had and settle at a much smaller house and situation in the country. There they embark on the usual Austen adventures--love, heartbreak, outrageous coincidences and near-misses, mistaken assumptions, societal clashes, snobbishness, revealing letters, etc, etc, etc. In other words, all the things that make Austen so damn enjoyable. Her characters live in a small universe where everyone knows each other and everyone's ultimate goal is to marry or get someone else married. You would think it gets repetitive and boring, but the opposite is true, because Austen always makes it seem fresh and exciting, and it's hard not to get caught up in the small disasters and victories that happen to the characters.

Sense and Sensibility was Austen's first published novel, and as such, it doesn't feel as perfect as some of her later works. Everything is there but, I think, a little immature. Sometimes the action gets a little bogged down, and the humor isn't as hilariously wry and bitchy as it is in some of the other books. But that's nitpicking. Her characters, as usual, are either completely likable or detestable, and you find yourself rooting for (or against them) and hoping that everything turns out alright--even though you know that of course it will.

What else can I say about a book and an author that's been picked over and analyzed by just about everyone who's ever taken a survey course on English Literature? Not much, really. I know there are flaws in the book, and some people just hate Austen, but I don't really care. I love her. I love this book. If for no other reason than I'm an incurable romantic and I think I want Elinor to be my older sister. And that Colonel Brandon (and to some extent that damned Willoughby) are completely dreamy. I'll always turn into a 15 year old when I read an Austen book, and I don't mind that at all. I hope I never get so old and cynical that I can't enjoy Jane Austen.


Another reason why I love this book: it spawned my favorite movie of all time. I've seen it more times than I can count, and I have an undying love for everyone involved in it. Even Hugh Grant.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Book #31: "Black Hawk Down" by Mark Bowden

On October 3 1993, in the devasted city of Mogadishu, Somalia, a group of American armed forces (Rangers and Delta troops)carried out what was supposed to be a one-hour mission to capture a couple of high-profile militia leaders. But they were met with resistance that went far and beyond what they had expected to find, and in time one of their Black Hawk helicopters is shot down. It crashes a few blocks away from the perimeter of the mission and the ground forces (the Rangers, the delta teams and an extraction group with humvees and trucks) were sent to rescue the fallen crew. Chaos ensues.

From then, it turned into a bloody, relentless, 12-hour battle for survival as the troops attempt to leave the city.

Mark Bowden was the first person to attempt to write a complete account of what was then one of the bloodiest battles for American troops since the Vietnam War. He not only interviewed as many soldiers who were present at the battle as he could, but he also recorded the testimony of Somalis who survived the conflict. In addition to the interviews, Bowden had access to videos taken from the air as well as maps and radio recordings of the battle. With all this material, Bowden was able to recreate the battle in incredible detail, as a testament to the brave soldiers who fought and gave their lives to protect one another.

This is a harrowing book. Bowden places the reader right in the middle of what was an exhausting, shockingly violent battle that devolved into absolute chaos. While presenting the action from the point of view of the largely confused, terrified soldiers, he also does an admirable job of letting the reader know exactly what is going on: where troops are located, what the commanders were seeing, what was happening on the other side. It gets very confusing at times, but with the help of detailed maps and by simple reminders of who the players are Bowden keeps the story from being chaotic.

It's an incredible story. The battle was a furious one, fought over a few blocks for a handful of hours. The soldiers are constantly shocked at the ferocity of their attackers, but Bowden is careful to not make either side the victim or the enemy--the soldiers need to save themselves and their friends, the Somalians are trying to destroy the people they see as their aggressors. Somalia was (and still is) sunk into a bloody civil war that no one quite understood, and American forces were sent to help with peacekeeping efforts. They quickly found themselves doing a lot more than that--for better or for worse.

But Bowden, as he makes it clear in his conclusion, isn't aiming for a critique or an espousal of US Foreign Policy, or who is to blame for the battle. He doesn't take sides. What he wanted in writing the book was to make a record of the fierce courage of the soldiers who fought in the battle, to not let it be forgotten as so many people had after it had happened. I had no idea that this had taken place until I saw the movie a few years ago. It's easy to forget, in the midst of CNN reports of battles and wars, that there are real people fighting them, and that's what Bowden does so remarkably. The soldiers whose stories he tells were terrified, mostly young men who nevertheless went full-on into the battle to help their comrades. It wasn't about who was right or wrong, or who was to blame for what happened, but just about standing up and helping their companions.

I don't presume to know anything about this subject, and this book was definitely a learning experience. It's brutal, violent and honest, as real an account as we can get of what it's like being in a battle from the point of view of the people who fought in it. It's an amazing book, it's impact made stronger by the simple fact that it all really happened.


Extra bit:

The movie is also pretty good. Probably the most brutal war movie I've ever seen, and it left me feeling completely exhausted. I really felt like I had been holding my breath through the whole thing. It does a great job of showing the battle and by focusing on only a few characters (amusingly enough, most of the American soldiers are played by non-Americans...go figure) it helps keep things from being too chaotic. I also felt it lost something by taking out the parts of the book told by Somalians, but I can see why it was done. It's a good movie, but very loud and violent, so definitely not for everyone.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Book #30: 'The Amber Spyglass' by Phillip Pullman

So it ends. Pullman's monumental trilogy comes to a breathless, exhausting, and sometimes underwhelming conclusion with The Amber Spyglass. I'm still a little bit shaken, to be honest.

The first book, The Golden Compass, set up players and locations. Lyra Belacqua sets out to rescue her friend Roger from the evil plans of the Oblation Board--aka The Church. At the end, Lyra discovers that hers is just one of many worlds, and the next book starts up with Lyra entering one of them. In The Subtle Knife, Lyra meets Will Parry, a young boy from our world who wants to find his missing father. With the help of the titular object, they travel through different worlds trying to fulfill the missions they have set for themselves. The Amber Spyglass deals, in essence, with the conclusion to the children's quests. On top of that, the children have to escape capture by one of two opposing forces that are trying to find them, as it is prophesied that the children have vital roles to play in deciding the fate of the worlds. And so, the forces of "good", led by Lord Asriel (Lyra's father and his armies) and their enemies (the Church, and over them the forces of God, or "The Authority") engage in an epic battle for control of the universe while they try to find the children.

Lyra and Will, of course, have their own plans. Lyra, finally growing up and maturing (Pullman skillfully changes Lyra's way of speaking) still needs to fulfill her promise to Roger, and Will still needs to speak to his father. With these simple goals in mind, and while doing everything they can to resolve them, Lyra and Will find themselves in the middle of the great battle, fighting in it without quite knowing they're doing it. All they know is that they must keep their promises and do the right thing.

It's hard (and very unfair) to condense the plot so much, but anything else would take away the surprise and awe that come with that Pullman does in this book. The final book is massive, packed with exciting plot twists and fantastic battles, escapes, near-misses, everything you could ask for in an epic. And then some.

There are some weaknesses, though. I found this to be the most uneven of the three books, and sometimes things get a little too confusing to be completely enjoyable. It takes some work to untangle everything that's happening and being said. And Pullman has been working on so many plots and characters that it's perhaps inevitable that some of them come to rather lackluster conclusions. I felt that some of the big themes that he had been expanding on weren't satisfactorily concluded, and I was left feeling a little bit shortchanged with regards to some of the big mysteries. The introduction of the mulefa, for example, seems completely unnecessary, and I found myself bored to distraction by the scenes dealing with them. There are a few other speed bumps like this, and it's sometimes just irritating to have an exciting battle scene interrupted by a long, misplaced stretch of non-action.

To top it all off, Pullman goes all out with his criticism of religion in this book. It didn't really bother me at all (and I'm not pro or anti religion), but it can get a little heavy-handed at times, with Pullman pushing his point again and again.I found it interesting, but it might turn some people off the trilogy entirely. But as I said in my other reviews, Pullman isn't just screaming anti-religion nonsense; everything he writes fits into the story and has a purpose beyond scandalizing people. He's criticizing dogmatism and fanatics, not just poking at the religious with no larger point in sight.

But these are minor complaints, really. The book is a fitting end to the trilogy, making the whole thing the best fantasy series I've read since Lord of the Rings. Don't dismiss it because it's labeled a 'children's book', as it's the furthest thing from a simple kiddie book imaginable- I actually think adults would enjoy the subtlety of Pullman's prose and themes more than younger readers would. It has everything you could possibly want out of a series, and it's the kind of thing that is appealing to just about every audience (except the freakishly religious, I guess). If you loved Lord of the Rings, if you loved Harry Potter (which really is kiddie literature), this is the perfect combination of both. It's a sophisticated, intelligent series and just ridiculously fun to read. I am in awe at what Pullman has done, and I know I'll definitely be reading this again sometime soon.


That's the review, but I still have some questions I want to discuss with people who have read the book. I'll be posting a set of questions in a couple of days, I think. Stay tuned.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Sunday Hot Post: X-Men Edition

There's been a lot of Wolverine: X-Men Origins talk lately. The marketing has been insane, and it starts the big Summer Movie Season.

Ever since it premiered on Friday, however, most of the talk has revolved over how much the movie sucks.

Of course it sucks. Did anyone, from the moment the idea of a spin-off after the weakest of the X-Men movie was floated around, think that it would not suck? Come on. You knew, and I knew, and everyone knew that it was going to be a brainless, fun blockbuster with lots of explosions and good-looking people.

And I want to see this. It makes no sense. It's doubtless a horrible movie, and giving it money will only encourage Hollywood to keep making atrocities and ruining our childhood memories. I shouldn't watch it. You shouldn't watch it. No one should watch it.

I'll still watch it. And if none of my excuses are valid (mindless fun, good time, crap blowing up everywhere ), then I'll just point out the most basic reason why I want to watch this.

The beefcake. Pure and simple. Sometimes one just wants to see some hot men taking off their shirts, getting sweaty and bloody amidst an orgy of CGI explosions and superpowers.

And I refuse to feel guilty about it. So, here they are. The X-Men. If you're wondering why it made so much money, this could be an explanation.

1. Hugh Jackman (Wolverine)

Here's the thing about me and Hugh Jackman. I suffer from what I call the Viggo/Aragorn Syndrome. The idea is this: When he is clean and neatly shaven, I don't find the actor attractive. At all. I am completely indifferent. There is something there, but no sparks.

And then they show up in a movie all sweaty and hairy and ACTION HERO and it's BAM. There goes my indifference. He's a completely new man. And oh boy, he is hot. Examples of this are Viggo Mortensen (nothing. But as Aragorn? YOW.) and this man. Hugh Jackman.

Eeeh. He's...alright I guess.

Oh. Oh my. Yes. Yes, please.



Sorry I was gone for a while. OK moving on.

2. Liev Schrieber (Sabertooth)

Though not really known for his hotness (outside the fighouse, of course), this guy is a ridiculously good looking specimen. And a fantastic actor to boot. He's serious, intense, and he's made some pretty good movies. And oh man, he's hot.

Alright. It's a hot-off.

I make vests look hot.

He's shirtless. And feeding a baby. It's ridiculous. You're welcome.

3. Taylor Kitsch (Gambit)

I don't really know that much about him. Other than he's shirtless a lot. Hmm...maybe I don't really need to know anything else.

Dang. He sure is purdy. That smile makes rainbows happen.

All-American Hot Dude.

mmm. brooding.

4. Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool)

I'll say this right at the start: I'm not a big RR fan. He strikes me as something of a douchy frat boy. And I'm not really into frat-boy types.

But damn if the guy isn't built like a greek deity. And he makes it almost impossible not to like him. I hate him a little for not letting me hate him completely. Damn him and his shirtlessness.

I can't believe I watched this movie. But can you blame me?


Dammit. Stop looking at me like that. DAMMIT. Stop being so cute. ARGH.

5. Dominic Monaghan

I remember when I first heard of this guy. It was way back before Fellowship of the Ring came out, and every woman around was going insane over the cast. I guiltily admit that I fixated on Dominic Monaghan more than was strictly necessary. But really, he was Merry, my favorite character, and he was just freakin' adorable. And then he went on Lost and I hated him a little but he's still adorable. I hear he doesn't do much in X-Men, but any excuse is good when doing these things.

Confession: I kind of have a thing for big ears. A big thing.




I rest my case.

And as a parting blow, here's a completely gratuitious photo of Hugh Jackman. Shirtless. In a towel. Sweaty. With a golf club.

You are welcome.

I hope this drove away some of the end-of-the-week blues.

Have a great week!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Book #29: 'The Subtle Knife' by Phillip Pullman

The Subtle Knife picks up right where The Golden Compass left off. Lyra Belacqua has followed her father, Lord Asriel, to a different world through a doorway he opened at the end of the last book. Determined to find out more about the nature of Dust (the mysterious particles the Church is trying to destroy every knowledge of), Lyra unwittingly finds herself in the middle of hugely pivotal events that could determine the fate of mankind. She meets Will Parry, a boy who, like her, has found his way into a world different from his own a quest to find his father. Led by the alethiometer (the truth-telling device that only she can read), Lyra decides to help Will, as their two quests seem to be related.

That's just the bare-bones description of the plot. There is so much more going on that it's almost impossible to summarize coherently without giving too much away. Pullman is working with five or six interweaving stories, all part of an overarching plot whose scope is nothing short of astounding. It's a mystery that gets slowly unraveled in a perfectly paced and completely engrossing manner; it never feels forced or plodding. Pullman knows exactly what he is doing, allowing the characters and the reader to discover things at the same time so that each new twist is emotional and powerful. The moment when he reveals the truth about Lyra and Lord Asriel, when we discover what Pullman is trying to do, is just mind-blowing. Unless you come to the book with some prior knowledge, nothing can really prepare you for what's revealed in this book and what this true genius of an author has done. I don't want to reveal anything, but I'll just say that if you were shocked by The Golden Compass, it's nothing to what you'll find in the rest of this series. Nothing. No wonder Pullman is so controversial.

The Subtle Knife works perfectly as a middle-of-the-series episode. It resolves or extends the stories of the characters from the first book and sets up what should be a spectacular ending. We're introduced to only a handful of new characters, and these are just as well developed as the ones we're familiar with (who, in turn are further fleshed out). Will, who at first comes off as arrogant and unlikable (to be honest I hated him a little in the first few chapters), is the perfect companion for Lyra. Their relationship is treated with a respect you don't often see when authors deal with children. Pullman clearly has a lot of faith and love for these characters, and in turn so does the reader.

Having already read a good deal of the third book, I can tell you that so far the series remains as strong as ever. It becomes darker with the second book, as more complex themes are worked in, so very young readers might miss out on some things. But Pullman gives his audience a lot of credit, never dumbing things down but trusting in their intelligence. It's an amazing work, a series unlike anything you've read before--fantasy, adventure, religion, love, friendship, war. It has everything. And it just keeps getting better and better.