Friday, September 17, 2010

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

On Beauty - Zadie Smith

on beauty
zadie smith
c. 2005
443 pages
completed 9/9/2010

read for: before i die challenge, 1001 books, EW new classics

*may contain spoilers*

One may as well begin with Jerome's emails to his father.

Howard, a white British art history professor, is trying to make things right with his African American wife Kiki after she catches him in an affair. Their three children, Levi who is still in high school and Jerome and Zora who are attending college, are all trying to make sense of the world around them and their place in it.

I'm finding it really difficult to give a decent synopsis of this book. There was a lot going on. Each of the five family members had their own personal story taking place. And sometimes there were other people's stories thrown into the mix just for good measure. So it could take me a long time to really describe the basic plot. Instead, I will just say, thematically I think this books centers around discovering how you identify yourself and how that identity may clash with family. For example, Levi, the youngest child, identifies very strongly as African American. To Levi, being black is equal to being urban, unintellectual, and "street." Despite being raised in the suburbs in a intellectual household, Levi uses what he describes as street language as a way to connect with his heritage. His older siblings, though African American through their mother, were both born in England and don't have this same pull to be "black" the way Levi does.

Severe differences within the family led to a very difficult family dynamic. They were each on such different ends of all kinds of spectrums: white vs. black, British vs. American, intellectual vs. plebeian, religious vs. secular, artistic vs. realistic, among others. At times it really seemed like these people didn't know each other at all. The relationship between Levi and Howard was especially awkward to witness. They had absolutely nothing to say to each other. This leads me away from describing the book into talking about what I thought of it...

While thematically it was interesting, I hated every single character. This was a family who claimed to love each other and yet I could not get passed the complete disrespect they all displayed toward each other. I couldn't get behind any of the choices any of them made especially Howard. I find it hard to like a book when I don't like any of the people.

I also had trouble with the gaps in the story. By that I mean, an episode of the story would be happening, conflict would arise, and just when it looks like we're getting to the climax of the action, the chapter would end kind of cliffhanger-like and the next chapter would start several weeks or months later already well into the aftermath. I would have liked to have seen how things actually played out. And sometimes the issues or debates just petered out instead of coming to any kind of conclusion. For example, there is a major debate throughout the college Howard teaches at regarding "discretionaries" (underprivileged people not enrolled at the school but who are found by professors to show extraordinary promise in their field and who are then allowed to take class). Howard is for discretionaries, his professional rival is not. A lot of time is spent setting up this issue, but then instead of addressing it and coming to any kind of conclusion, something happens to make Howard's rival's opinion moot and so the whole thing just blows over. Also from the tone of the book, I think I come down on the wrong side of the debate.

I was interested in the themes and the story, but it kind of fell short for me. I wish I could have cared about any of the characters.


It's Tuesday, where are you?

The Known World
Manchester County, Virginia 1841

Friday, September 10, 2010

Music Mix Friday... Bonnie Tyler "Total Eclipse of the Heart"

Been stuck in my head for days...kind of epic..

 Even more epic is the literal video version, but youtube won't let me embed that one. Sad face. :(

Monday, September 6, 2010

Movie Mondays...

Small disclaimer...part of this post may be discussing something slightly less than classy.

Okay, I tried to start talking about the movies I've been watching, but after only two weeks I kinda got out of the groove. Since then I've been watching quite a wide variety of movies, so let's start again! Just a few days ago, my sister the literature scholar, her boyfriend Albert Einstein, and I went and saw Scott Pilgrim. Surprise, surprise (not really) it was really funny. Very quippy with lots of pop culture references (which I love). The way it was stylized was hilarious, all like a big giant video game. Just about anything Jason Schwartzman is in I want to see. I've heard some complaints that it'll end up a cult film since anyone older than 25 won't get the video game jokes and that it's too hipster-ish (I did feel like I needed to be wearing black rimmed glasses and some skinny jeans in order to fully appreciate the movie), but I think that's crap. It's just fun.

Also a really cute movie was Happy-go-Lucky. Mainly a slice of life movie (I like that phrase) about a woman named Poppy who is infectiously happy and who decides to finally get her drivers license when her bike is stolen. I think Poppy can pretty much be summed up by the scene when she discovers her bike has been stolen. Her only concern was that she didn't get to say good-bye. How cute is that? Okay, to be honest, Poppy's overly happy attitude could get a little annoying at times. She didn't seem to take anything seriously (though I think she really did, she just couldn't get that across to anyone else) and she didn't really seem to understand personal space. But in the end I couldn't help but admire her attitude. And watching her try to flamenco dance was pretty funny.

A few weeks ago, both my sisters and my mother and I went and saw Inception and let me tell you, it is pretty epic. And this movie could have gone either way for me. I am not often one to enjoy science fiction/fantasy. But this I could get behind. I have a mental list of things I don't like in movies (a list my sisters enjoy making fun of) which mostly involves science fiction/fantasy elements and this movie managed not to really use any of these things (such as space, aliens, the future, technology, Angelina Jolie, dinosaurs, robots, etc). And this movie provided me with a new imaginary boyfriend in the form of Tom Hardy (who played Eames). Eames was kind of fabulous. He totally thought he was fly, what with the linen suits and the pink shirts and the loafers with no socks and the pinky ring. I may have actually made up the pinky ring. Anyway, this love for my new imaginary boyfriend is shared by my sister the librarian and we have been watching lots of old movies of his in the past few weeks such as...

What did I learn from watching these movies and clips of others (like RocknRolla, Stuart: A Life Backwards, and Scenes of a Sexual Nature)? Dude likes to get nekkid!* I am not even kidding. And that's not something you get too often in American movies. Naked women? No problem. Just not dudes. British movies (or at least the ones this guy gravitates towards) are quite another story. So there I was, trying to watch a really weird prison movie (Bronson), and all of a sudden...JUNK ATTACK. And not just one shot and then we're done. No, dude was stark naked, greased down, and fighting prison guards, something like three different times during the movie. So let's just say, things were moving around a bit. Despite the amount of junk seen, this ended up being a pretty good (albeit extremely darkly funny and really weird) movie. Kind of A Clockwork Orange meets Chicago the musical.

To continue with the theme of the junk attack, and in an effort to completely contradict what I just said about this not happening so much in American movies, I also watched Forgetting Sarah Marshall this past week. I am a little ashamed to admit I watched this, seeing as I have a strong hatred for basically anything associated with Judd Apatow. He seems to think that all men are just man-children who have poor hygiene skills and are only interested in smoking pot and getting laid, and that all women are uptight shrews who just need one of these man-children to show them have to cut loose and let their freak flag fly. Anyway, I watched this solely because I really like the show How I Met Your Mother and Marshall from that show wrote this movie. And okay, it was kind of funny. There were a few too many man-children for me, but at least the character of Rachel wasn't a terror (even if Sarah Marshall kind of was). I attribute this to the fact that Judd Apatow only produced this and didn't write or direct it.

*naked means you have no clothes on...nekkid means you have no clothes on and you up to something.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Music Mix Friday... LeeAnn Womack "I'll Think of a Reason Later"

My ex-boyfriend is getting married tomorrow. I am feeling petulant. Also, I couldn't find a real video for this song. However, I do like Disney, so this works for me.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Cleopatra's Daughter - Michelle Moran

cleopatra's daughter
michelle moran
c. 2009
411 pages
completed 8/29/2010

read for: year of the historical challenge

*may contain spoilers*

While we waited for news to arrive, we played dice.

News quickly did arrive, news of Egyptian defeat and the suicide of Marc Antony. As Octavian and his Roman army invaded Queen Kleopatra's Alexandrian palace, she followed her husband's example and committed suicide herself, leaving her eleven year old twins, Alexander and Selene, at the mercy of Rome. While at first paraded through the streets of Rome in chains to celebrate Octavian's triumph over Antony and Kleopatra, the twins soon find themselves treated as honored royal guests, living with Octavian's sister Octavia, and becoming fast friends with the children of both Octavian and Octavia. Though day to day life seems easy, the twins know their fate is in the hands of Octavian, a man who may decide at any moment that they are a threat to his rule.

For the most part, I enjoyed this book. Michelle Moran's Egyptian historical fiction has been really popular in the past few years, but this is the first one I read, so I cannot comment on how it compares. I can say that after reading this one I am looking forward to reading the others. Most of this book is set in Rome, anyway, so I'll be interested to see more Egyptian culture in the others.

It's funny, my sister the librarian and I were just talking last night about a specific problem that we have found in a lot of historical fiction that deals with real people. I also think I mentioned this in a review post earlier this year. Too often, I have found, the only historical figures that people seem to want to write about are tragic historical figures. So while the story is interesting, it's still kind of a downer. I, for one, refuse to believe that their are no people in the world who are both interesting and happy. They don't have to be happy all the time, I can be down with personal struggles and heartache, but every once in a while it would be great for a happy ending. Cleopatra's Daughter ends somewhat happily. There is love. And there is freedom. But there is also death and exile. So this come close to what I'm looking for, I guess, but it's not quite there.

I felt that Moran did a really good job of depicting, not just the events that were specific to the story of Alexander and Selene, but also events that really explained the political struggles that were going on in Rome at the time. Specifically, the two trials Selene witnessed, which were not sugar coated, and Moran's invention of the Red Eagle. Both trials horrified me. Octavian surely had his work cut out for him in keeping the peace in Rome.

There were a few things that irritated me throughout the book. Within the actual text of the novel, Kleopatra (both mother and daughter) is spelled with a K. Yet the title is spelled with a C. I don't know if one is more historically accurate, but I think it should have been consistent. I like consistency. Because there was no consistency between the book and the book title I was forced to be inconsistent in my post. Which makes me sad. There was also a lot of expository writing in the first few chapters. Like, a lot of Marcellus explaining Rome to Alexander and Selene when they first arrived. I can kind of look past that as Alexander and Selene were new to Rome and didn't know anything and at least there was a Q&A session between characters instead of just one big long descriptive paragraph/chapter, but at times it made me think of chapter two of every Babysitter's Club book where each character and the creation of the club is described in detail. I wish there had been a bit more discovering of Roman culture through the story and less through Marcellus' monologue.

A good read. Some parts were horrifying, but it was nicely balanced with universal adolescent concerns (first love, struggles with parents, etc).


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

By the end of September...

The beginning of August looked like it was really going to be a productive month of reading. And then I started Oscar and Lucinda and the month kind of unraveled from there. Will September be any different????

To be Read by the End of September
On Beauty - Zadie Smith
The Known World - Edward P Jones
Possession - AS Byatt
No Name - Wilkie Collins
The Well and the Mine - Gin Phillips
Beloved - Toni Morrison

To be read...

Chatterton Square - EH Young
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet - David Mitchell
The King's Mistress - Emma Campion
Before the Fact - Francis Iles
Still Missing - Chevy Stevens
April and Oliver - Tess Callahan
Things Go Flying - Shari Lapena
Amandine - Marlena de Blasi
Never Wave Goodbye - Dave Magee
The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise - Julia Stuart
The Good Daughters - Joyce Maynard
The Typist - Michael Knight
Day for Night - Frederick Reikan
Stranger Here Below - Joyce Hinnefield
Fauna - Alissa York
Curtains - Tom Jokinen
Skippy Dies - Paul Murray
Juliet - Anne Fortier
Rich Boy - Sharon Pomerantz
Shinju - Laura Joh Rowland
Henrietta's War - Joyce Dennys
In the Shadow of the Cyprus - Thomas Steinbeck
Fragile - Lisa Unger
The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove - Susan Gregg Gilmore
The Rembrant Affair - Daniel Silva
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox - Maggie O'Farrell
The Raven and the Wolf - Christopher Spellman
The Countess and the King - Susan Holloway Scott
The Circus in Winter - Cathy Day
Poison - Sarah Poole
The Blind Contessa's New Machine - Carey Wallace
Coventry - Helen Humphries
The Devil of Nanking - Mo Hayden
Woman: An Intimate Geography - Natalie Angier
The Irrisistable Henry House - Lisa Grunwald

35 new books.