Thursday, 17 April 2014

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone: (Almost) Live Blog

I'm going to Harry Potter Land (totally not it's actual name) next week, and I have not seen the films. To me, this seems like a problem, and one I'm going to remedy starting tonight by watching The Philosopher's Stone- a film I have seen a couple of times, and which I pretty much ate. So this is going to be fun!

So. FIRSTLY there will be Harry Potter spoilers. So go away now if you've somehow missed out on this cultural phenomenon. Secondly! It's an almost live blog cause I just going to record all my thoughts here and post it once the film's done because the other way is effort. To be clear- this is the only way I'm going to get through the films without killing things. Hold on to me, internet.

21:18- Ah good, it's starting. *tries not to relive bitter 12 year old experience* *fails* That's still bloody good music though.

21:21- "I would trust Hagrid with my life." Awwwwww, yay!

21:22- You don't maybe want to put baby Harry in a basket? Something he won't be able to crawl away from really easily? Nope? Ok then.

21:26- Wow, Dudley's a really terrible actor. BLOODY KIDS.

21:29- Why is Uncle Vernon so anti-Harry going to Hogwarts though? Gets him away from them, and it's surely difficult to deny magic exists when there are zillions of letters zipping down your chimney!

21:33- Ughhhhh, line delivery. So so so bad. WHY CAN'T CHILDREN ACT?!

21:38- KESTER! I mean, Quirrell! We know all about HIM, of course. *knowing face*

21:41- There's no safer place than Gringotts to keep stuff except Hogwarts, huh? That could be important...

21:44- Olivander seems very much like a man who should not be left alone with children.

21:49- A lot of the soundtrack seems fairly unnecessary. Maybe because there's NO SOUNDTRACK IN THE BOOKS.

21:51- Ah, the Weasleys. BUT WAIT- shouldn't Harry have already met Malfoy in Diagon Alley? SHOULDN'T HE?

21:54- Fucking Emma Watson's face and also voice. Why are they all so posh? None of these are even actual accents anyone has.

21:56- Hogwarts does look quite cool though.

21:58- Tiny Malfoy has hella charisma. No wonder I loved him when I was teeny. Also, Neville has a real accent! Of course he does.

22:00- WHERE IS THE SORTING HAT SONG?! WHY DOES HERMIONE GET SORTED FIRST?! WHY IS THE SORTING HAT SO CHATTY?!

22:04- Holy shit, the ghosts are terrible. I would honestly rather they had left them out. Fucking awful.

22:09- I would like to take Alan Rickman's potions class. Oh yes. Mmmmmhmmm.

22:13- "Mount it. And grip it tight. You don't want to be sliding off the end." OOER I thought this was a children's film.

22:15- Good God, the flying is even worse than the ghosts. How OLD is this film now? (Really really old?)

22:19- Even their screams are unconvincing. I wonder if the director would rather have worked with lumps of clay...

22:22- "You catch this Potter, and we win." That is a blatant misunderstanding of the Quidditch rules. BLATANT.

22:24- Why does Seamus keep blowing things up? He isn't Neville!

22:27- I was about to say the bathroom bit was ok, but then Harry literally became an animated character for a minute there. WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?!

22:29- Snape and Harry need to stop eye fucking. This is just uncomfortable.

22:31- They literally just acted like they didn't know what was in a broomstick shaped parcel. WHY IS EVERYTHING SO STUPID?

22:33- There's a girl on the Slytherin Quidditch team. This is clearly bullshit. Also, fuck Quidditch.

22:36- Gosh, aren't Slytherin EVIL. Does everyone know how evil Slytherin are? So evil they even talk like villains.

22:38- Quidditch is really boring. Hey, shouldn't we have been to Hagrid's house by now? Hagrid's going to be forgotten a lot by the movies, isn't he?

22:41: It's snowing! That means it must be Christmas! Even though it never snows in the UK at Christmas but NEVER MIND.

22:44- No spells to keep you out of the Restricted section of the library then. Just a lock anyone can open. Ok then.

22:46- Alan Rickman's face, man. Alan Rickman's face.

22:49- The Mirror of Erised makes me feel wet in the eye area. Damn. (Unfortunately James Potter looks about 40 in the mirror when he was about 21 when he died. But, then again, JK is bad at maths...)

22:53- Ah good, a mere 50 minutes to go and our first mention of the Philosopher's Stone. Amazing pacing.

22:57- RON DOESNT EVEN GO ON THE RIDICULOUS FOREST DETENTION. Neville has been so crazy written out of this, when he's actually the best. Sort it out.

23:00- Harry and Draco alone together in the woods must be the stuff of fan fictions (wet) dreams

23:07- Do they even go to McGonagall to ask for help in the book? Cause... That seems unlikely.

23:08- Oh look, Neville! Oh yeah. He's a character.

23:16- Damn iPad went all funky. Never mind. WIZARD CHESS. It's pretty epic. I thought they missed out the keys, but it's possible that they miss out the potions instead. DAMMIT.

23:18- "NO, YOU CAN'T! THERE MUST BE ANOTHER WAY!" Please stop being terrible at acting, Emma. Please.

23:20- Right, so, Ron has to stay behind because, unconscious; and Hermione has to stay behind because... Ron needs a mummy? HERMIONE IS NO ONE'S MUMMY, BITCHES.

23:21- Dammit. No potions. FFS.

23:22- Oh Quirrell. You're pretty hot.

23:24- Ewwwwwwww, Voldiehead. So not pretty. I would have kept the turban on, tbh.

23:26- "There is no good or evil, only power and those too weak to seek it." I like it!

23:27- Voldiedust. Pretty weird. Also Harry has basically just killed his first man?

23:31- Ah, Dumbledore. The perfect blend of sincerity and silliness. 'Alas, earwax', indeed.

23:34- Aw, Neville's little face just hit me right in the feels. NEVILLE WON THE HOUSE CUP, NO ONE ELSE. (Ah, the days when the House Cup mattered...)

23:37- No drama, no suspense, no better than I thought it was going to be... And yet it still tugged at my emotions. Damn me and my damn feelings. Damn everything.

Devouring Books: Running Like A Girl by Alexandra Heminsley

"'It's the most natural thing in the world. We were born to run.'
'You just put on your trainers and head out the door, that's the beauty of it.'
'It's just you, the road and your thoughts.'
These are the things that people say about running. These are lies."

The lovely Charlotte sent me Running Like A Girl for my birthday, and no sooner was it in my hands than I was reading it, no sooner was I reading it than I forgot all other books existed, no sooner did I start it than it was finished. I have bastardised Shakespeare to make this very pressing point- I read this book really quickly, and it was completely awesome. There.

In my review, I've got to make it fairly clear that I'm coming at this book from one specific angle- that is, someone who has really just started running, and who kind of loves it, and who wants to read about it as much as possible and figure out how to be better at it. I don't know if this book would convince anyone to run at all (I hope it would- on the whole it makes running sound REALLY difficult, but even more worth it) so if you're going to ask me 'will it make me want to put my trainers on and run round the park like a loon?' then the honest answer is, I don't know.

As always, all I can tell you is what it did for me. Heminsley has run marathons, and I haven't yet made it to 5k, and yet there's something fairly universal about the experience of running that made me agree emphatically with basically everything in this book. There's the unexplained aches that come with using muscles that haven't had to do anything for years, the sheer terror that comes with your very first run, and allll the anxieties that run through your head when you're about to start running. What if I dehydrate? What if I throw up? What if I faint and people see me and then when I'm ok they all laugh because I'm so unfit that I faint if I try to run? WHAT THEN?

These are all anxieties that I've genuinely had, and they're pretty much the same ones as Heminsley describes. The fact that I'm not the only person to have had them, even now when I'm pretty much like 'oh, it's running day? That's cool, maybe I'll drink some water and then go,' is extremely reassuring. The fact that Heminsley has had them and has ALSO run marathons makes me rather foolishly go 'well, maybe one day I could...' and then I have to stop myself before I even think it because NO. I definitely can't run a marathon and I want you all to remind me of that if I ever even think about doing it.

Which I won't. Because I can't do that. Seriously, stop looking at me like that. I can't. 

BACK TO THE BOOK. Not only does it document Heminsley's running journey, from aborted first run to four completed marathons, it also contains a lot of practical and useful running advice that means it's a real keeper of a book. There's a chapter on injuries, on what to pack when you're running the London Marathon, one on deflecting people who say that running is a waste of time/will fuck up your knees/will ruin your tits, and another on the running gear that you'll actually need. There's even a chapter on the struggles that women have faced even being allowed to run in marathons (The women's marathon wasn't an olympic event until 1984. I mean, COME ON) that, possibly more than anything else in this book will make you so angry that you'll have even more of those terrible thoughts about running a marathon yourself. 1984 IS ONLY 30 YEARS AGO, THAT IS RIDICULOUS.

And, maybe most importantly of all, this book made me cry. Oh yes, a memoir about running made me cry. How is this possible, I hear you ask? Well. Firstly, running has become a bit of an emotional thing for me because of how I never thought I'd be able to do it and now I run three times a week and it's hard and it hurts but I do it and I didn't think I could. So there's that. And watching the London Marathon on Sunday started me off because there are all these people, all doing a thing that they didn't think they could do, only they can and it's awesome. And then I was on the bus, reading this, and it got to a part when Heminsley was doing the marathon and she didn't think she could carry on and then she sees her family and they are AMAZING and it's all just wonderful and I started crying like a baby on the bus. It was a lot, but it was kind of lovely. Emotions, man.

So. This book is pretty awesome if you already are a tiny bit in love with running, or even in love/hate with it. As I said, I'm not sure it would spur you on to run, but how can someone's amazing life achievements NOT make you feel at least a little bit inspired to go out and do something yourself? It doesn't even have to be running, but it has to be something. This book is perfect for making you want to do.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Sunday Sundries: I Am Old Now

Merry Palm Sunday, people!
Naturally I don't really know what I'm talking about when I say this, since I suspect Palm Sunday isn't that merry, only what do I know? Nothing. That's what. The date just occurred to me, is all.

So I had a birthday on Wednesday. In spite of all my trepidation and sad sad prediction that I would probably just cry all day, I actually did ok. It's not like it was my best birthday ever, but I only got teary a few times, and then cried once, which I kind of count as a success at this point. Whether or not I was happy is kind of another question, but I did as well as I could, under the circumstances. I was also reminded of how bloody awesome children are when you're sad, AND how nice they apparently are to you when it's your birthday. Or maybe my cousin's kid is just the best (he definitely is).

Basically, it was what it was. It was a day spent with my family, where I got presents and cake, and it would have been all good if you ignored the gaping, person shaped hole in proceedings. Which was the hardest thing to do.

Shall we talk presents though? Or, more specifically, present because basically, as a well done for my 25th year of being alive, I got a mini iPad!
This is obviously something I really needed because now I have the full set of Apple products- iPod touch, iPhone, MacBook Pro and now this iPad. And... I kind of don't know how to integrate it into my life. I mean... I know I can watch things on it, and I can read on it, and I can do all manner of internet things on it, but it's possible that it's maybe not that necessary. BUT I love it and that's what really matters here, I think.

So, birthday. Yay-ish. I'm sure that other things happened this week... My housemates have all been off work because they're teachers/trainee teachers and it's the school holidays now, and it's both nice to actually see people in the mornings, and REALLY ANNOYING that they get to stay at home and do whatever while I slink off to work. Stupid living with teachers... *mutters angrily*. I skipped my first run ever this week because I didn't really feel well at the start of the week, but I've been getting back on track since then. AND work is still annoying me and yeah. Still really need to do something about that.
But still. The sun has mostly been shining, and life has mostly been ok. I can probably live with that.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Devouring Books: The Giver by Lois Lowry

"I feel sorry for anyone who is in a place where he feels strange and stupid."

My understanding about The Giver is that it's an actual assigned book in a lot of American schools, so you'll excuse me if this post has your childhood education rushing back to you. I've come to it as an adult, so I'll probably have a different take on it than you did when you were, say, 12; but possibly only in that I really have two takes on it, one good, one so irritated. But we'll get to all of that, because first of all it's very important for you to know that I only read this because there's a film coming out this summer (I think) and it stars some really great people: Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges, *ahem* Alexander Skarsgard...

But anyway, here's the trailer for that...
I don't even know how I feel about it now that I've read the book, but I'll surely go and see it anyway! Important note: I'm really glad they've changed the way the giver 'gives' the information, because in the book, the twelve year old has to take his shirt off and be rubbed by the old man, so. Yeah. Awkward.

Anyway. The Giver. I have this innate fondness of dystopias that I blame on The Handmaid's Tale and 1984, so I'm always keen to read a new one, even if it has been sliiiightly overdone in YA fiction in recent times*, but The Giver was published in 1993, so... Not exactly recent times. In terms of writing and plotting and things like that, I feel like it's not that well written and the story doesn't exactly develop in the ways I wanted it to, but that's kind of what I expect from YA books, and I can definitely see how it could be a good jumping off point in classrooms for all kinds of discussions, which is really the main point of it. So let's have some of those discussions, shall we?

Firstly. I want to discuss The Giver as an anti-socialist piece of propaganda, which OH MY GOD, it definitely seems like. In The Giver, the characters live in a world where everything is the same, everyone has the same milestones and no hobbies, careers, spouses and children are assigned and everything is just very equal, and safe, and seems to be really dull (only with a core of horridness which is mostly hinted at and only rarely seen). It's basically the kind of world that people who are against socialism would assume would be the end result, in that everyone is kind of the same, all emotions and 'stirrings' (that's sexual feelings, folks) have to be suppressed so that nobody wants to hurt anybody (or do anything else with them for that matter) and everything is very efficient and clean and... boring.

I can't even tell you the number of things wrong with this as an end view of socialism, and it just makes me want to scream about how socialism is actually the best and why can't we distribute wealth more evenly and what the fuck, how would socialism mean that nobody saw colours anymore? Because of things like that, I assume that Lowry wasn't necessarily thinking 'I must take down socialism' when she wrote The Giver, but it definitely feels like she went 'but HOW would a socialist society really work?' and then went insane. 
But. If we get off that point, since it's kind of something that didn't really occur to me until after I'd finished reading and went 'HEY, I like socialism though', we can talk about some other questions that it raises. Like... In order to live in a world without crime, or lying, or poverty, or other bad things like that, would emotion and memory of the past and all forms of entertainment have to be outlawed? And, if you don't know any different, is that really such a high price to pay? In the back of the copy I read, there were discussion questions (because, YA) and one was 'is the world in The Giver a utopia or a dystopia?' And shit, I was so surprised because, yeah, I guess you could see it as a utopia even though, as someone who lives in the land of emotions, it seemed like a grey living nightmare.

How I feel about emotions is, they're kind of everything. As much as they hurt, as much as they can leave you down for days, I'd rather have the highs and lows of life than have nothing at all. I feel like that, of course, because I have them and I have also been in a state where I haven't had them, and I know for a fact which one is better. But if I'd never had them? It's an interesting thought, because shit, sometimes they hurt so much, but we'd also kind of be nothing without them. To not be sad when someone dies, to not even have families that you actually invest in and care about, to be without love? What's the point? But if you've never had them, and you live in a clean and comforting and safe world, AND you don't know what has been given up? I don't know.

What the giver really gives, anyway, is emotions rather than memories, and once they are given, they can't be taken away, can't be forgotten, and they make everything seem pointless, and dull, and much less alive than the world used to be. It's interesting that Jonas (our twelve year old hero who I haven't mentioned like 8 paragraphs in... Whoops!) keeps making justifications for why things aren't the way they used to be anymore ('well... I can see why they got rid of that, it's to keep us safe!') because being raised in a certain way is a very powerful thing. 

So, I don't think this is the greatest book in the world, and the writing and even the story leaves a lot to be desired (soooo much talking...) BUT it did make me think about a lot of things so it's worth it just for that. You've probably read it already anyway, so I don't need to give it a thumbs up or down, but you know. It's alright. I probably wouldn't read it again, but I'm glad I read it this once.

*After I finished this, I started Uglies. It's too soon to tell if it's good or not... Why am I reading so much YA when I know I don't really like it? *shrug*

Monday, 7 April 2014

Devouring Books: Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger

"'I'm sick of just liking people. I wish to God I could meet somebody I could respect...'"

I went into Franny and Zooey knowing only 3 things relating to it:
  1. I really hate The Catcher in the Rye, and sort of, by extension, Salinger.
  2. I had a weird inkling I would like it.
  3. Number three is a myth because those were the only two things I knew.
It wasn't a lot to go on, but I've had this weird fixation on reading it ever since this character in Sex and the City was all like 'Salinger used to get me high' and called her daughters Franny and Zooey someone very important and sophisticated said it was a good book to read so I thought, yes, yes I shall. It took actual YEARS to find a copy in a charity shop, but I finally did (last year...) and now, obviously, I've read it.

There are a few important things to know about Franny and Zooey before we begin. FIRSTLY, it's made up of a short story (Franny) and a novella (Zooey) although the two are connected so you could probably just call it a novella. SECONDLY, Zooey is a boy. This is RIDICULOUS to my brain so I sort of want to deny that it's true and think of him as a girl, but no, Zooey is (apparently) short for Zachary and Zooey Deschanel's mum was just crazy for spelling it like that. Franny and Zooey are both members of Salinger's Glass family, who come up in many of his short stories and novellas, which I'm presenting to you as if I know all about them when really I read up about them on Wikipedia as soon as I'd finished this book. 

So. Franny is the short story and it really leads into Zooey, as it's pretty much the story of Franny meeting up with her boyfriend, who she doesn't seem to like that much, and having what we find out in Zooey are the beginnings of some kind of breakdown. Except... from the way Franny describes things, it's a lot more complicated than just having a breakdown, and seems to have something to do with not being able to find sincerity or meaning in college, or even life. It was interesting to me that the way Franny describes what she's feeling has parallels with Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye, except that because she wasn't walking around moaning and calling everyone phonies, I actually gave a shit. 

The deal with Franny and Zooey is this: As the youngest members of their family, and with two much much older brothers by the time they were reading to learn stuff, they were educated by said brothers in a way that has made them unsuitable for the outside world. Unsuitable how? In a way in which they're always striving for something deeper and more meaningful and for some kind of inner peace, while the rest of the world seems to always be striving for, you know, money and things. Which isn't necessarily a wrong way to live*, but it's not really the way for these two, so they don't really fit into it. Nor, really, do they want to.

I'm kind of babbling here. And the reason I'm kind of babbling is that I really really REALLY liked this book and I got a LOT of high-minded and English (and Philosophy, come to think of it) degree-ish thoughts out of a relatively few pages. Small as this book is, there's quite a lot packed into it, and I haven't even said anything about the Franny short story and the ennui of being the same as everyone else and all the other good stuff in those 25 pages. Essentially what I want is to take some kind of American Lit course and then discuss it, OR everyone could just read this and we could discuss it and then I'd be totally happy.

One final note: Franny and Zooey is SO good that it's convinced me to give The Catcher in the Rye one last time. I figure that I can absolutely be that JD Salinger fan who doesn't like Catcher, but having seen more of what I think Salinger is trying to say through Caulfield, I feel like maybe I'll be able to appreciate him a tiny bit more? Or possibly just want to break his face as I have with every other reading of that book. We shall see.

*I'm lying. It's absolutely the wrong way to live, if you only want things. 

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Sunday Sundries: The Good With The Bad

Oh heeey, so this must be the first Sunday in 2 weeks, huh? Yeaaah... Last Sunday was both Mother's Day and Daylight Savings started, so I was an hour behind anyway and I had to be nice to my mum and had an emotional visit to my nan's grave, and then went and saw my nan in Ascot and yeah. Let's just say the day got away from me.

Kind of sadly, because I was going to tell you about all the awesome things I was going to do with my week off work! But instead, you know, I'll just tell you what I did. Which makes more sense. Because I actually did the stuff. I'm going to do this day by day because that'll make it so much more interesting...

Monday: I met up with my mum around lunchtime and we had lunch and did some food shopping together. It was brief, but nice. Then, in the evening, I went out to dinner with my sister and we went to see Dallas Buyers Club (FINALLY) which was pretty good, but mainly reminded me that I haven't watched a film in a reaaaaaally long time, so my attention span is shot. Probably need to work on that.

Tuesday: Pretty much just chilled out in the house, watched some TV, sent some emails and did some internetty things I've been meaning to do, but most importantly, I went for a run, which means the day wasn't wasted. Which is good!

Wednesday: I took myself up to London. Ostensibly to go to the National Gallery and look at the two versions of Van Gogh's Sunflowers they have hanging next to each other (and to unintentionally think some arty thoughts about them) but I also saw some other paintings and some Van Goghs that I didn't even know existed and it was good. I also ended up walking around Chinatown and going in alllll the oriental supermarkets, and got a few bits and pieces. And then I walked to a million other places. I can't overstate the amount of walking. There was a lot of it.

Thursday: More lunching with my mum! Plus walking around Richmond, plus I bought her cake. A jolly good time was had by all.

Friday: Pretty much another day at home, although I did go to the library to pick up The Giver which I'd reserved, and then I read it in an afternoon. So that was pretty cool. Also, a run. EXHAUSTING.

And that was basically my week! It was pretty nice and relaxing and all the things a week off work should be, even if there have been times where I've been like 'I should be doing MORE THINGS. Or maybe reading more. I DON'T KNOW.' because, you know, I have issues.

But now to the week ahead, which is really where the subtitle comes into play. This Wednesday is my birthday, which is technically a good things because, I assume, there will be presents and also cake and also I have another day off work which is obviously always the best. But. This is going to be the first birthday of my whole life that isn't going to involve my nan, and the thought of that makes me unspeakably sad. I know that this is the first one, so obviously it's going to be the hardest, and obviously it's ok to be, you know, sad and upset, but also it's my birthday and I don't really want to be sad and upset.

So, it's kind of a Catch-22- the fact that it is my birthday is going to upset me, even though I don't want to be upset on my birthday, and it sucks but that's the way it is. I've said a few times 'I don't really want to do my birthday this year...' and I get a bit of 'you know that nanny would want you to have a nice time' and so on, and I know that she would but at the same time I can't. To be honest, I'll consider it a success if the time I spend crying is less than the time I'm not, and hopefully that will be the case.

This grief thing, guys. It's really hard.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Devouring Books: Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi

I got Embroideries out of the library the same time I read Chicken With Plums in one sitting, excitedly expecting another Satrapi book I could cherish and wish I'd bought instead of getting it out of the library. That's... Not exactly what happened, and there are a few reasons for that I can pinpoint. But we'll talk about the book itself first.

Embroideries takes place over the course of one afternoon- after lunch while the men are napping, the women of the household get together over tea and talk. So, even though the whole thing would theoretically take place over a few hours, the book spans years and thousands of miles and the stories of a number of different women, giving one meaning to 'Embroideries'. There is another one, but we're not going to discuss that, in case you want to read this and totally raise your eyebrows a lot when you do.

So. Embroideries is good in the sense that I read it in about an hour (graphic novels, yo) and it held my attention for all that time and all that good stuff. Graphic novel-wise, it's interesting in the sense that it doesn't follow the conventions of having separate boxes on the page, and it's a lot more free-flow. I read a thing that said that that showed confidence and also energy or something, so let's go with that as a good explanation for it. Anyway, I liked the way it looked.

But. My main problem with this book is that it barely passes the Bechdel Test. I mean, the entire thing is women having a conversation, but pretty much all they talk about is men. Their husbands, women they knew who married this guy, vaginas and their state of use/non-use... It all gets to be a little bit tiring. I mean, I get that this is Iran, and so who you marry, and being married is all very important, being 'pure' is even more important, and being a single, independent woman is practically a crime. But... Just one story that involved politics, maybe? Or something about someone's cat or whatever? I don't know, it was just a bit... Jolted my feminist bone a little bit.

I might be overstating this a tiny bit. I don't want to make it sound like the women just sit around talking about men in a fawning, disgusting, subservient way, because it's not like that at all. There are stories about affairs (both pre- and extra-marital), about advising women how to fake virginity, about fighting against forced marriages... These are no angels, and they're not supposed to be angels, and it's refreshing to see Iranian women presented in such a way. But, at the same time, plastic surgery is talked about like it's a necessary evil, and they still basically just talk about men.

So. I don't really know where I end up on this. I enjoyed Embroideries fine while I was reading it, even if it left me a bit hollow afterwards, and it really seems like an accurate depiction of what Iranian women talk about when there are no men around. That doesn't mean I have to like it, but that's the way that is. But still, just... Maybe read Persepolis instead? Yeah, do that.