Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Devouring Books AND Films: Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

The subtitle for this post should probably be 'Because Laura's too lazy to write separate book and film reviews' but but but I think that a direct comparison of the two is a good thing because they are sort of the same, and yet the story is told from different angles in both, and I feel differently about each of them according to the viewpoints, and how am I meant to show that in two separate posts? Exactly.

Into the Wild, in both cases, is essentially the true story of Christopher McCandless, who, after graduating from college, decided to go off around America, with basically no money, living as much as he could off the land and kind of getting back to nature and away from modern life. It's a kind of Romantic vision, that I wholeheartedly approve of, right up until the moment that he dies from a sort of food poisoning that I can't really be bothered to explain (this really isn't me giving anything away, because it's pretty much stated at the beginning of the book, as well as in the blurb on the back. Plus it's a thing that happened, and it's why this is a story at all).

So that's the story, and what the film and the book do are tell it in wildly different ways, both of which are valid, and both of which I had different reactions to. I watched the film first, as part of my 'On the Road' module at University (which was basically my favourite module in the history of EVER, because, you know, American authors and American landscapes and Americanness!) Anywho, I thought it was a beautiful film, I actually didn't know what was going to happen so I was a little bit bereft at the ending, and above all, I was completely sympathetic to McCandless's ideals and need to break free and just generally be adventuresome.

But then, I read the book, and everything I thought about him kind of changed. Because, the thing is, as much as I admire someone who wants to go off on there own, discover what the world and what life is really all about, McCandless was a pretty selfish dude. Not for the whole wanting to live like a tramp thing because, still, I'm down with that, but for just leaving and not telling his parents or even his sister, who he seems to have loved a lot, not even where he was going, but that he was. I mean, the kid wrote letters to people he met on his travels, so it clearly wasn't an impulse not to keep in touch with anyone, so a few lines to let his parents know he was still alive? Wouldn't have killed him. And this is made so much clearer in the book because Krakauer actually talks to Chris's parents, and gives them a voice, and it's so clear that they're heartbroken, and it makes me really sad that their son would disregard their feelings like that.

This is so much more of a grey area in the film, and you have much less sympathy for the parents, because the way they're shown is as having a really volatile relationship, trying to get the children involved in their arguments, and just generally kind of being monsters. I'm not sure how true this is, because it's not really something Krakauer focuses on- his book is a lot more journalistic in style, and looks more at the facts surrounding Chris's journey, and the reactions of others after his death than what his parents' relationship was like- but with the film, you definitely get more of a sense that Chris couldn't possibly have gone back to live with his parents, even if that meant leaving his sister (who you definitely do feel sorry for in the film because she gets to narrate parts, and her hurt is really palpable). This definitely, however, doesn't really ruin either the book or the film, it just meant that I got a wildly different viewpoint on the same situation by reading the book, which to me is a good thing!

That's not the only way the two are different though. The book, as I've said, is far more journalistic in style, and Krakauer doesn't say anything that he can't back up with evidence from other people. He also, because of the lack of information he has about McCandless and a lot of his time in the wild (especially the last part of his trip into remote[ish] parts of Alaska) includes stories of other men who, like McCandless, have gone into the wild trying to find something more, and wound up getting themselves killed too- Kraukauer even has his own story like this, which goes a long way to explaining why he has such an interest in this story. I didn't hate these additional parts of the book, but at the same time I kind of didn't need them either- there were points where I was thinking 'ok, that's great, but can we get back to what Chris was doing now?' but then again, I do respect the not daring to presume what Chris was thinking or feeling at any point, other than a few, very mild speculations.

The film has no such hesistation in presuming what Chris was feeling at basically every point in his journey. Emile Hirsch, who plays Chris, is such a beautiful actor (also, he's kind of beautiful) and he manages to express every joy, every fear, every trauma, even every moral dilemma, very subtly on his face. I have absolutely no problem with the film assuming it knew what Chris was thinking or feeling, because it's a film, and how else are they going to tell the story? They can't exactly just flash up facts about what happened onscreen and expect people to want to watch that! Also, because it's a film, there's all kinds of scenery that can be included, and oh boy does America have the best natural scenery for filmmaking? I think yes. Or, at least, it has all the different kinds of scenery that one might ever need. In a way, because the film is so beautiful, and a lot more poetic than the book, it's actually a lot more like a novel than the book is (which doesn't actually pretend to be a novel because it's non-fiction... hmm, not sure where I'm going with this...) But anyway, it's still beautiful, even if it downplays the selfishness.

If, say, someone gave you the opportunity to either read the book or watch the film, but if you did both then the world would implode (unlikely, I realise) then I would advise the film, mainly because of that thing where it's more like a novel than the book is, but also because it cuts out all those things that are unnecessary, and leaves you staring right at the heart of the story. It's likely to break your heart more, but at the same time, it's a fair trade for the beautiful film that you get to see. If you insist on doing both, then I'd say still watch the film first, because I feel like, having read the book, all my future viewings are going to be focused on how selfish McCandless was, rather than on the stark and brilliant beauty of the film.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Help, Chapters 29-34

I have finally finished The Help, and thank gawd for that! I mean, I think it's really easy to mock something when you spend a whole month on it and have a lot of time to think about it, but it's also easy to mock The Help because, you know, not. Good. Writing. So I'm glad it's over, but I'm also sad that the group read is over because what will I do with my Tuesdays? What will I MOCK?! What character can I hate now?!?!?! (Oh right, that's still you Skeeter.)

Sadly though, this last section of the book was kind of an anti-climax in the mockery stakes, because I can barely think of anything to say about it at all, good or bad. Skeeter's mother didn't die, which was sort of odd because normally doctors know things and when they say someone's going to die, they die. Although seeing Skeeter's ailing mother did make Hilly act like a human being for all of about 5 seconds, so that's something I suppose (Hilly's compassion, of course, only being extended to white people). But the whole section, I could really just feel the book wrapping itself up, dutifully setting into place the mechanisms to finish everything off with a nice neat bow, or what Stockett considers to be a nice neat ending.

Because, I have issues. Of course. I mean, it's obvious that Skeeter was going to move to New York and be a writer, because Stockett had her driving around all miserable and wanting to leave, and when people want to do stuff, they automatically get to do it, no questions asked. If they're white, of course. And then she has Minny leave Leroy, to which we're all meant to go, 'Yay! She is woman, hear her roar!' which I did, a little bit, but I also felt like, well, how great is her life going to be now? She's pregnant (maybe with twins), living with her sister, and yeah she's got a job for life (And HOW GREAT was that whole thing with Celia and Johnny, and MINNY CRYING! Just so good. There was a severe lack of Celia in this section) but what the hell is she going to do? I didn't want her to stay with Leroy, of course, but I would just have liked her story to be wrapped up a little more, since now, I feel like she's still got a long hard road ahead of her, and that's just not fair.

And Aibileen. I mean, how can I be happy that she has to leave Mae Mobley because Hilly's a ginormous bitch, and Elizabeth can't stand up for herself (well, she doesn't even know what 'herself' wants)? I like the whole optimistic like 'well, Hilly has to live with being a bitch, and Elizabeth has to live with not even seeing her own actions clearly, and wow, I can change my life!' thing, but I think that expecting a 4 year old to remember the lessons that she's taught her is expecting far too much. I mean, I can barely remember being 14, let alone 4, and if someone had taught me about civil rights then, I don't think it would have filtered into my subconscious. But maybe I'm just being harsh.

So, Skeeter remembered that she was a rich white woman in the South and could basically do anything she wanted, just like I told her. And Stockett showed extreme originality in sending a 24 year old white Mississippi native off to New York when she, a Mississippi native, moved to New York at 24. Amazing. Because, if she is basically Skeeter, then why isn't Skeeter better? You probably shouldn't answer that.

Oh yeah, and didn't we all love the 'well I'm clearly not like this, am I? Should we CHANGE OUR WAYS?!' nature of Skeeter's book? I mean obviously something Skeeter wrote would be as absolutely earth shattering, because she's all kinds of wonderful and has never annoyed anyone in her life. I mean, Help (where on earth did Stockett get a title like that from?!) is clearly the answer to everyone's problems, and from it everyone's lives will improve, apart from the fired maids (whose dilemmas are sort of ignored once the book makes some kind of progress, and some maids don't get fired) and, of course Minny's (although I guess it will, you know, eventually. But definitely not right away!). Oh yeah, and, it really pissed me off how Skeeter was all 'I can't go to New York, I have to stay and help everyone deal with the consequences of the book!' and I was like, you have literally been NO HELP at all on that regard ever, so just shut up and go away. And don't you dare show up in any sequels!

I would happily read a sequel where Minny and Celia team up together to fight crime. That shit would be awesome.

Note: I've only just noticed this, but does the recommendation on the front of the book make it sound like it's about a lesbian affair between a maid and her boss? Because that would have been a MUCH better book...

Top Ten Tuesday

Hosted by the fab The Broke and the Bookish, I'm going to adjust this week's top ten very slightly to the books that I want to read by the end of 2011 (so in, like, a month) rather than for the whole of winter. Because 1) there are many challenges to be finished before the end of the year (ok, like 3) and, after Christmas, there will be books that will clearly be overtaking others for the reading. So, without any ado at all, here are:

Top Ten Books on my TBR List for the end of 2011

1. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen- For the whole Austen in Advent thing, and also because, you know, I can't think of many things better than a cold day outside and a curling up with Jane with the heating on inside. 'Nuff said.

2. Lady Susan/ The Watsons/ Sandition by Jane Austen- Jane's lesser known/unfinished/early works I think kind of? Basically an alternative to reading another novel in December, and also a book that I've had for quite a long time and haven't read. Its ass is mine this winter.

3. A Woman of No Importance by Oscar Wilde- For the GLBT Reading challenge, for which I made my own challenge guidelines, that I still have to meet because I'm an insane person. A Woman of No Importance is a play and looks really short, and is therefore my friend.

4. A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams- Ditto.

5. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams- Could easily be for the GLBT Reading challenge, but is actually the last book I have to read for the Two Bibliomaniacs Books to Movies challenge. I can do it, go me, etc etc.

6. The Passion by Jeanette Winterson- This is undoubtedly the last book I'm going to read for the GLBT Challenge, because I've developed a kind of loathing for Winterson that is unjustified since it's based on hating one book. But still, I really did hate it... I shall read it though, just because I'm all pigheaded about finishing challenges (which is something I didn't really know about myself before this year, but there you go!)

7. Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself by Alan Alda- Not for a challenge, but I feel really sorry for this book because I got it from the library in September, and haven't read it. It's due back (again) next Monday, so that's my deadline for it, I've decided. And it will be read because, goddammit, I LOVE ALAN ALDA!

8. The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub- I'm not desperate to read this by the end of the year, actually, but it would be sort of nice to finish another Stephen King before the year's end, considering the last one I finished was during the readathon, and really, a month is too long!

9. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak- Another library book that I haven't actually had for a quarter of the year, but I'm trying to do this thing where I read library books when I get them out. Wish me luck with that...

10. Broke Heart Blues by Joyce Carol Oates- Ditto The Book Thief. But also, I love me some Oates!

So, that's a kind of ambitious number of books to read in literally a month, BUT I only 'need' to read the first 6, which is more than do-able. So, yay. It's especially more doable because, this Saturday, I'm taking part in Amanda of Dead White Guys's (that can't be right...) Belated Readathon, which is meant to be for people who missed Dewey's Readathon, but, you know, I like to read many things, all in one day (it's safe to say I'm not staying up for 24 hours this time though...) But anyway, I'm hoping to get through the 3 plays, and maybe the Austen short novel-y things, and then I'll be practically done with this list! Sort of. A bit. But anyway, I'm excited for all the reading and stuff! Go sign up if you want to read allll Saturday, and we'll all have joyous fun!

Monday, 28 November 2011

Devouring Books: Rafa by Rafael Nadal with John Carlin

I basically hate all sports, but tennis has been, for as long as I can remember, about the only one that I adore. It doesn't hurt that the players are basically all really attractive, but, more importantly, I really like to watch the beauty and elegance of the game, as well as its occasional scrappiness and the sheer endurance of the players. When I was younger, my sister and cousins used to complain about Wimbledon taking over from our usual children's TV programmes after school at my nan's, but I just used to quietly go into the kitchen and watch the tennis. This was back in the days when Tim Henman was the entire nation's great hope (oh, poor Tim...) but my love for him was engulfed entirely when I watched Rafael Nadal win his first French Open in 2005, and he played like no one I've ever seen, before or since. I was hooked.

So now, while I'll basically watch any tennis games, I'm especially invested in Nadal's, and I get extremely huffy when, for example, certain people cheer on Djokovic in this year's Wimbledon final, over my beloved Rafa. I was reasonably excited, then, when I heard that he had an (auto)biography out, and made it my business to have access to a copy as soon as possible. And then, I read about 100 pages and left it for nearly 3 months. I don't really have any logical reason for this, other than because I had more interesting things to read, because, for a sports (auto)biography of a 25 year old, this is actually a pretty great read, especially if you're interested in tennis, or Nadal, or both.

You'll notice I keep saying (auto)biography, and that's because it's almost impossible to tell just how much of this is Nadal's own writing. I mean, it's indisputably his story, and so much of the book is incredibly revealing about what it's actually like to be a professional athlete, and exactly how it feels to be playing those massive points, and those massive games. Nadal has, quite frankly, what seems like the most impressive headspace that a pro can have, in that all he tries to focus on is the next point, without getting ahead of himself, or thinking that he's won a game before he actually has. This is all expressed in an extremely eloquent but also simplistic way, so that you almost feel like you're with him in the matches he describes, a lot of which I feel might be down to the input of Carlin. This is not to say that I think Nadal is not eloquent- in fact, I think anyone who's seen him make a speech after a big game would probably consider him to be pretty well spoken, even in a language that is not his own; but I definitely think a writer has waved his magic wand over the words, as well as the form this book is in, which can only be a good thing.

Speaking of the form, I really really like the way this book is written. Granted, I think my only other experience of a sporting (auto)biography has been David Beckham's (which I think we all know wasn't written by him...) but I was truly impressed by Rafa. There are interspersing chapters, one in the first person which is basically Rafa's first hand experience, then the next in the third person where various people in Nadal's life are highlighted and spoken to, and their thoughts and opinions of him gotten, which I think is a really great thing to do because, you know, a person is not only who they are internally, but also how they are externally, which is always best seen by others. What I also liked about the format was that, for the first 6 or 7 first person chapters, each begins and ends with a part of Nadal's experience in the 2008 Wimbledon Final, a match called the greatest ever, and this allows in depth discussion of a game to occur, as well as almost making it seem like, whilst playing this match, Nadal's entire life comes into play, which in a way, it kind of does- the upbringing he has had, and the training he has undergone, mean that he has the strength to persevere and win. I just thought it was a really clever way to tie the whole narrative together, and it was one of the things I liked best about the book.

(I also appreciated the recap because I missed large chunks of the match because my family decided that was the day to go out and celebrate my Grandad's 80th birthday- which isn't something I object to on principle, but his birthday was in May and this was July, and the outing had been postponed for someone else's reasons; but apparently mine [wanting to watch the Wimbledon Final] weren't relevant. Which was annoying, and I'll just say that everyone was lucky that there were two long rain delays, because if I'd missed Nadal's first Wimbledon victory... I wouldn't have been thrilled.)

Anyway, I think the most important thing I learned from this book is that actually, Nadal is alarmingly normal. I mean, at times, almost dully normal. There are a whole lot of victories and achievements mentioned, a whole lot of training gone through, and barely any fun at all! To his credit, Nadal seems like an extremely stable and lovely guy, who loves his family A LOT, and has basically worked hard all his life to get to where he is now, whilst never letting it go to his head (something which I think is also evident in his speeches after matches- whenever my mum watches them with me, she always says 'he's so sweet!' and I have to agree- that's one modest and polite guy!) So what I guess I'm saying is, don't expect any Agassi-esque Crystal Meth episodes (man, I have to read that book...) but do expect to seriously like the guy (he even manages to get in a teeny rant about how terrible it is that tennis players get paid so much compared to Olympic athletes who work exactly as hard and are much less financially stable, and oh do I love him for it!) and to discover what really makes him tick.

Oh yeah, and this feels totally relevant right now (I recommend watching it without the sound, but you might like Shakira):

Friday, 25 November 2011

Devouring Books: Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

I had such a difficult time with Tipping the Velvet (SUCH a wrong sentence, now that I know what tipping the velvet actually is...) to begin with because 1) I don't really read historical fiction, so the whole 'written in nowadays language but set in the past' thing was a bit jarring for me, and 2) the chapters are SO long. I mean, offensively long, especially for a person whose attention span has been permanently worn away by the internet (i.e. everyone). I mean, I've written less than a paragraph of this review, and I've already checked twitter about 5 times... Not. Good. So basically, if I hadn't wanted to read it for my GLBT fiction challenge that basically has a month to go (also not good...) then I probably would have returned it to the library, defeated and grumpy.

I'm really glad I did keep on reading though, because, despite my abhorrence for the length of the chapters, they kind of ended up flying by, and I desperately wanted to find out what was going to happen to Nancy, and whether she was going to survive the huge adjustment from being an oyster girl (and, this might just be me being gross, but is that some kind of euphemism..?) in Whitstable to a star in London. And really, this is Nancy's story above all- she goes from being a West End star, to a rent boy (which is exactly what you think it is) to being a 'Tom' (apparently oldspeak for lesbian) and kind of, eventually, finding herself. It's a great coming of age story, and, as I've said, I really like Nancy, especially towards the end of the book- basically in the whole of the last section.

The first section of the book basically concerns Nancy's first throes of love, for another woman, Kitty Butler, who she follows to London and eventually (like, finally!) has a relationship with, this relationship being entirely secret, and pretty unfulfilling for poor Nancy. I kind of really hate Kitty, for the way she eventually treats Nancy, but, at the same time, I kind of get that she is essentially a slave to what is 'right and proper' in society, and that she doesn't want to be seen as defective, or wrong in some way. Still kind of hate her though. But the first section was all good and cool, and then the second section was filthy! And I don't mean that Nancy becomes a chimney sweep, if you know what I mean (wink wink, nudge nudge). Like seriously, though, Nancy dresses up as a boy, gives gentlemen a good time (wink wink, nudge nudge some more), and then gets taken in as a lady's sex slave (ok, servant. Although actually, I'm not sure if she gets paid in actual money... Hmmm.) Also, the term 'Monsieur Dildo' is used more than once, and now I will always think of dildos as being french.

In short, the entire second section of the book made me do this:
(Have you seen New Girl? I like it, it makes me laugh!)

And the third section is, in my opinion, the best of the entire book, Nancy learns how to be a grown up and the meaning of true love and it's all flowers and puppies and rainbows. And, I don't want to give anything away because I really think you should just read the book, but you have to watch out for Florence, because she is my absolute favourite character, a total socialist feminist and all round awesome person, and if she was real, I'd totally be her girlfriend. Probably. Maybe just her good friend.

Anyway, now that I've given you an outline of the story, and probably RUINED IT FOR YOU FOREVER (although there's not much I've told you that you couldn't have gotten from the blurb. Except maybe for Monsieur Dildo...) let's talk about the homophobia of book reviewers. This might be taking things a bit far, but on the copy I got from my library, there's a quote from the Independent on Sunday (Damn. That's actually quite a good paper. But the Daily Mail probably burnt this book for being naughty...) that says "Imagine Jeanette Winterson on a good day collaborating with Judith Butler to pen a Sapphic Moll Flanders." Now, I've read some Winterson, and I think some Butler as well, and neither of those are as immensely readable as Waters, and Winterson can't write anything without going off on a million tangents (much as I do like Oranges are the Only Fruit). I was kind of confused by this association, and, as it turns out, Sarah Waters kind of is too. According to Wikipedia, here's what she has to say about it: "Waters credits Winterson as an influence in lesbian writing, but states that the books [this and Oranges] are quite different and her writing is not like Winterson's at all. Waters suggests that reviewers have bracketed them together because Winterson was the only other lesbian author they could recall." Oh Sarah, you're so canny! And reviewers, seriously, Emma Donoghue? I think she's a lot more like Waters than Winterson, if you simply must compare her to a lesbian author, and even that's a stretch. For shame!

Anyway, Tipping the Velvet, it's good! Get over the long chapters and get yourself a copy, and revel in the filth of Section 2 if that's your kind of thing. Me, I'll stick to the romance and realism of Section 3, if you have no objections.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Devouring Films: Stand By Me

Stand by Me is that rarest of all things, a good Stephen King adaptation (the only others I can think of right now are The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption) and I think that the greatness of all three can only mean that it's really difficult to translate some of King's books to the screen because some of the things that are so scary on paper just don't translate into anything good onscreen (i.e. the directors' imaginations suck, or at least their ability to translate those imaginations into moving pictures does anyway). Basically, it's best just to stick with the stuff that's deeper and more meaningful then some creepy clown terrorising children and their adult counterparts (not that I've seen It, but I hear it's bad), and The Body, on which Stand by Me is based, is definitely one of those stories.

Now, I could definitely make this post purely about why I now mourn River Phoenix exponentially more, and, it's true, that will come. But first, let's do a little comparison activity, shall we? Stand by Me remains extremely faithful to the story of The Body, down to the leech on poor Gordy's balls, but there were some slight differences that I noticed, but which didn't jar at all with me. One of these is that Gordy and his recently dead brother's relationship is a lot closer than the one depicted in the book- whilst in The Body, Dennis was kind of a distant stranger to Gordy, though he loved him and all; in the film, Dennis is Gordy's protector and cheerleader, which means we have to assume that his death has had more of an impact on Gordy than in the book (where the main impact is- wow, my parents don't care about me anymore, I can do what I want!) I also felt that Teddy wasn't as much of a no hoper as in the book, and he seemed to be in on a lot more of Gordy and Chris's jokes than the Teddy in the novella. And... that's kind of it! I mean, I'm sure there are other things that changed from book to movie (and I last read The Body, ooh, 2 months ago, so I'm not the best judge of the similarities and differences) but really and truly, the feel of the movie is exactly the same as the feel of the book, which I think is an extremely difficult thing to pull off, and all credit to Rob Reiner for doing it so very well.

Now I can talk about River Phoenix, yes? Because oh MY, can that boy act. That's not even a question because the answer is self evident, especially if you watch, like, 5 minutes of this film. His character, Chris, is definitely the most complex of the four, even more so than Gordy, because he's continually caught between what he wants and what is expected of him (a lot, and nothing much at all, respectively).  Phoenix's performance stands out way above the other young actors' (although, granted, they're all pretty good, especially for their ages) because he's just so intense, so focused, so much... more than the others. I watched Johnny Depp do an interview along with Ricky Gervais, Carey Mulligan and Ed Byrne, and Frances texted me saying 'he looks like a different species to the others' which, 1) So. True., and 2) is kind of the way I feel about River Phoenix and his acting- it's like he's barely acting at all, which at the same time is the best kind of acting there is, which also reminds me of Johnny Depp. So, when he died in 1993, (he was 23, for gods sake. The world is lame) I think we all lost an actor of incredible depths, most of which will forever remain undiscovered.

(Aren't we all glad I linked River Phoenix to Johnny Depp without mentioning the whole 'Phoenix died outside Depp's club The Viper Rooms with Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Joaquin Phoenix by his side. Because really, do we need to hear that again? That used to be all I knew about River Phoenix, but now I know things that are a lot more important, like, oh my, what an amazing actor, and, also, I think I might love him. Sigh.)

Anyway, anyway, anyway. Back to the film, and I think there are two points where Phoenix is at his best. Firstly, the bit where he tells Gordy that he needs to think about himself, and, if necessary, ditch his friends, because, even though he's so angry and shouty about it, he's also sincere, and so so sweet. I was going to post a youtube video of this bit, but I can't find it- wah! So instead here's the dialogue, which really, I think, shows how much older than Chris is than his years:

Chris: I know how your dad feels about you. He doesn't give a shit about you. Denny was the one he cared about and don't try to tell me different. You're just a kid, Gordy.
Gordy: Oh, gee! Thanks, Dad.
Chris: I wish to hell I was your dad. You wouldn't be goin' around talkin' about takin' these stupid shop courses if I was. It's like God gave you something man, all these stories you can make up, and he said 'this is what I've got for ya kid, try not to lose it.' Kids lose everything unless there's someone there to look out for them. And if your parents are too fucked up to do it, maybe I should.

I mean, that's an impressive speech even in writing, but it's delivered with passion, and at no point do you think 'Hey! Chris is just a kid too', because, in the way he speaks, and the way he carries himself, and everything about his performance, he really isn't.

And then, the other totally impressive acting comes here:

I mean, don't you just want to curl up in a little ball and cry, not only because of how horrible the world is, but also because we're without River Phoenix and oh man, what he could have given the world.

Anyway. In short: I love River Phoenix, and Stand by Me is very very good. Not my favourite King adaptation (that would be The Shawshank Redemption) but not far behind. Go. Watch. Be happy.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Devouring Books: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

There's been a whole lot of hype surrounding The Night Circus (I'm guessing you probably knew that) but I wasn't really that interested in reading it because, on the whole, I'm 1) not that interested in circuses (I know, I'm a MONSTER), and 2) not that into reading books until they get all old and unloved on my bookshelves and it's at least, like, 10 years since they've been released. BUT then, when I was looking for The Marriage Plot to fondle in a bookstore, I stumbled across The Night Circus and OH, the beauty of this book! It's got a really nice cover for one, but also, the edges of the pages are lined in black and it kind of makes the pages look like they're made of black velvet and who am I to turn down such an opulent book? I, of course didn't buy it because of all the space hardbacks take up, but I did almost immediately reserve it from my library (at the princely sum of 50p) and promptly forgot to read it until I couldn't renew it because someone else (of COURSE) wanted it, so... let's just say it was the priciest library book ever.

But! Of course it was worth it. I mean, aside from the fact that the writing isn't like amazing (it's good, just not the most wonderous way with words I've ever encountered) this book is magic! I mean, it's about magic, and it's magic, which is sort of the best combination of things in a book. I have to say though, I've read more books about circuses this year (two- I read Water for Elephants in August or something) than in my entire life, and I've never really thought about circuses being a genre before- what's that all about? Have I just missed this entire load of circus based books, or is it just a coincidence that I read both these books this year? Both of which, I might add, I only encountered really through blogging, so is there some kind of connection between blogging and circuses? Stop me if I'm going too mental for you...

Anyway, in terms of the circuses themselves, there's no comparison between the circus in Water for Elephants and Le Cirque Des Reves in The Night Circus. I mean, Water for Elephants has a load of animal abuse, whereas Le Cirque Des Reves is literally fuelled by magic, and I can't think of a location I've wanted to be real more than this circus. It's so mysterious and exciting, and so vivid in my head that I can feel what it's like, and the more vivid it is, the more I feel like I can go there, and the more frustrating it is that I can't! If forced to pick a favourite tent, I'd go with the Ice Garden (literally a tent in which everything is made of ice- it sounds stunning and so wonderful) although I did also appreciate The Pool of Tears, because it sounds so releasing- like you can take your grief and put it somewhere else, and just feel better about moving on in the world. I think we all need A Pool of Tears.

I've read a few reviews of The Night Circus that basically go "well, I LOVED the circus, but I didn't really like the whole back story with the magic and the game and the love and stuff", and I get what they're saying because none of the story with the characters really measures up to the descriptions of the amazement that the circus has to hold, BUT at the same time, I think that it's a plausible (well, you know, as plausible as a story about a magic circus can be...) explanation for why the way the circus is the way it is (in short, WONDEROUS) and it's kind of nice to think of the circus, not only as an enchanted circus, but also as a love letter between two people who are apart, but still very close. In a way though, I don't think it's as well played out as it could have been, but at the same time, I wouldn't have wanted Morgenstern to spend more time developing that story and then expend less effort describing the circus, because that would make me sad! But at the same time, I think it does need the back story to make the circus seem even more rare and wonderful, because a whole book that describes a circus? That would get old, fast.

Right near the end of the book, Morgenstern does something that makes me love her a millionfold, and that is describing the magic that exists within a simple story. And I know that in doing so she's massively manipulating me and all other avid readers (and I think this is a book that appeals to avid readers who really feel the magic of books) and through her most mysterious of all characters, she says this:
"'Someone needs to tell those tales. When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of Lapsang souchong; someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There's magic in that. It's in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict. From the mundane to the profound. You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone's soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words... There are many kinds of magic, after all.'"
I love this so much, because to me, this is what books are all about- these are the stories that we search for, the ones that we carry with us always and that change us, even in the subtlest ways, so that after reading them, we're never quite the same. And it really is a kind of magic, and it's the best kind of magic because we can all share in it, and it's real.

So is The Night Circus a book you'd carry in your soul? Maybe not. But you will probably always carry Le Cirque des Reves in your heart, and always always wish that you could go to it. And every time you see a circus, you might just want to stop at it, just in case...

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The Help, Chapters 20-28

I'm desperately trying to not make this post 'reasons I hate Skeeter', but it's really really difficult for me not to dislike her, even though, you know, her mum's dying and she just kind of got broken up with twice just in this one section, and she has no friends now. But still... She bugs me! But more on that later.

Firstly, I want to point out that, whilst Stockett clearly has some affinity for the black women in this book (because, you know, Minny is AWESOME, and Aibileen in wonderful), can we just look at the black men for a minute? Or, I should say, where are the black men? Aibileen's husband ran off a really long time ago, Leroy beats Minny (HOW DARE HE?!), and the rest of the black men? Basically seem to have been lynched or beaten by the white folk. So basically, black men are either helpless victims, or useless runner-offers, or violent wife-beaters. Do I really need to tell you how, really, kind of offensive I find this? I mean, would it kill Stockett to give, say, Aibileen a nice supportive husband, or even just one of the maids a husband who is supportive enough to go along with her to talk to Skeeter? Is that too much to ask? I guess, though, all the good men are getting lynched and so can't be there with their wives. Or something. Grrrr.

Anyway, many many secrets were revealed in these chapters. Namely: What Minny did with the pie (and it was what I expected, and it was gross. But I love that Hilly's mum found it hilarious! Even if she was punished by being sent off to a nursing home...) and what happened with Stuart's fiancee (she slept with another man. Which is bad. BUT he was an integrationist and she's all into that movement now, and I find it kind of difficult to dislike her because of that. In fact, why isn't Skeeter doing that?) and what happened with Constantine (she put her child up for adoption and then refound her, and then her rebellious kid spit in Skeeter's mum's face because she refused to treat her like a human being... which seemed pretty fair to me. But Constantine is DEAD?! MEGA sadface). Secrets, secrets, secrets, and with most of them, I was on the side of the characters we don't really know, which feels about right because I hates all the white people. Seriously.

AND Stockett's been doing that thing again where she beats us over the head with what she means. Take this exchange between Hilly and Skeeter:
" 'Hilly... Just who is all that pound cake money being raised for anyway?'
She rolls her eyes. 'The Poor Starving Children of Africa?'
I wait for her to catch the irony of this, that she'll send money to colored people overseas, but not across town."
BASHES HEAD AGAINST THE TABLE. Because, obviously, what Stockett is really saying is 'Here is irony! I have written it so PAY ATTENTION TO IT!' And she does it all. the. time. Which is extra annoying because she can do things without pointing out that she's done them, and it's so much better when she does and it doesn't make me want to injure myself. Like this, between Hilly and Elizabeth:
" 'She needs to learn that she can't carry on this way. I mean, around us it's one thing, but around some other people, she's going to get in big trouble.'
'It's true. There are some racists in this town,' Miss Leefolt say.
Miss Hilly nod her head, 'Oh, they're out there.'"
See! See how much better it is! STOP EXPLAINING STUFF!

Speaking of Elizabeth, she's had her second baby, and yet I'm not sure we even know it's gender. I mean, I don't care that much because Mae Mobley needs that teeny bit of attention Elizabeth deigned to give her before and definitely won't now, but still. Stockett could have mentioned it, non?

And then there's Skeeter. And, in spite of all her hardships, and even the toilet stunt in Hilly's garden (which, let's face it, was hilarious, although, lo and behold, she put the lives of two black guys in danger without really thinking about it at all because it doesn't affect her and she's really pretty selfish) really hasn't made me like her any more. Or at least not much more. Which I think I just expressed effectively in the brackets right there. Here's the problem, as I see it. She's too fucking passive! She just sits there, while people say things that she finds abhorrent, and just lets them say them, without objection. Like, for example her mother, who tells her that "'It's time you learned, Eugenia, how things really are... They are not like regular people.'" and instead of objecting to that, telling her mother that she's a racist dick, she just sits there, is a bit sad, and generally feels in no way different towards her mother.

But then, her mother is ill, so that's maybe not a fair example. Take, then, her little engagement conversation with Stuart, who, after she tells him about her book, is sort of bewildered (you can almost hear him thinking, 'Oh GOD, not another one') and says to her "Why do you even... care about this, Skeeter?... What I mean is, things are fine around here. Why would you want to go stirring up trouble?'" And instead of really blowing up at him, telling him that he's blind and stupid if he thinks that things are fine in Jackson, Mississippi in the early sixties, and how messed up he is if he thinks it's fine to treat people as second class citizens because of the colour of his skin, and that of course he thinks things are fine because he isn't being treated like he isn't as good as anyone else. But no, she just accepts his point of view, still desperate to marry him, and lets him walk out on her. God, I hate these people.

And, (this is my last moan about Skeeter, I promise) there's that one bit where, she has no friends, and hasn't got back with Stuart yet, and she's driving around Jackson and says (to herself, smoooth Skeeter...) "'I wish I could leave here.'" And I literally screamed, in my brain, YOU CAN! I mean, for Gods sake, stop being such a victim, woman! She literally has so many options open to her, and yet she has grounded herself in a miserable situation in Mississippi for no clear reason. And if you look at her circumstances at her age, and compare them to the options Minny, or Aibileen would have had, you have to just want to slap her for being such a victim, when really, the whole entire world is open to her in a way it has never been to these women. Skeeter sucks.

One last thing (and I realise this has been so very long, I just had a lot of SHOUTY OPINIONS about this part, ok?) is that it makes me sad that this is a sentence in this book: "God, I am the town's Boo Radley, just like in To Kill A Mockingbird." Oh REALLY, Kathryn?! Is that which book Boo Radley is from? Because I wouldn't have known that, because it's not like everyone knows that, even if they haven't read To Kill A Mockingbird, and sweet Jesus, why are you so ANNOYING? The End (until next week... Ugh.)

Top Ten Tuesday

Oh you guys at The Broke and the Bookish- why must you taunt me with the reminder that I'm not going to have a Thanksgiving feast? My ancestors stayed in the motherland (one of the motherlands?) so I can't really partake in all the turkey and pumpkin pie and whatever else you have on Thanksgiving. This is clearly unfair, even though I don't really like turkey or pie, and I wanna have a nice dinner and a long weekend of work and school (I'm unemployed right now, so I obviously mean retroactively and in the future). And you know what? When you're having your lovely dinners and stuff on Thursday, I have a hospital appointment where my poor wisdom teeth will probably be poked at and made ouchie, and maybe told of their last day in my mouth. So just think about that, yeah? Stupid ancestors...

Anyway, having had that giant moan, here are some authors I'd invite to my theoretical Thanksgiving feast. Hopefully they'd all get along and laugh at my jokes, because that's really all I need in terms of approval from others...

Top Ten Authors I'd Love To Have at my Thanksgiving Feast

1. Harper Lee- Not only does she rock, but she's so elusive! Inviting her to my thanksgiving feast would be the perfect way to bring her out of hiding and this could be my only chance to ask her things and worship her in person!

2. Stephen King- Well, obviously. I mean, I'd probably be happy with a feast involving only me and Stephen King. Oh, the things we could talk about!

3. Naomi Klein- Naomi is my homegirl- and by my homegirl, I obviously mean that we had a teeny conversation on twitter that made this guy I worked with really jealous because he sort of thinks she's awesome too. But aside from that, she literally seems to have the exact same political, economic etc opinions as me, and I think we could put the world to rights together!

4. Nora Ephron- She's hilarious and I love her. I need no other reason, right?

5. John Steinbeck- Nobody said whether it was a 'dead or alive' kind of list, because if this isn't a magic thanksgiving feast, then I'm going to have a corpsey smell in my (non-existant) dining room for days. Let's just assume there is magic, so I can invite Steinbeck because I seriously love him and would have his babies. And he's awesome.

6. Margaret Atwood-  Because she's seriously awesome, not just in her writing, but in person too- I saw her on this BBC book night thing once, and she seemed really fun, but also super super smart. She's just great.

7. Jane Austen- She'd probably be freaked out by about 95% of my choices of conversation (imagine a twelve year old boy's conversations, and you won't be far off) but she'd still be really witty and funny and say really insightful things about modern times, I'm sure.

8. Jeffrey Eugenides- Because I didn't get to see him when he was doing this talk thing in London because I went to see Red Hot Chili Peppers instead (SO worth it) and in order to get my chance to see him in the flesh, I think he's got to have an invite to my feast! Also, maybe he can teach me to write really really well (which kind of goes for everyone on my list, I guess)

9. Tony Kushner- I have a feeling he'd be awesome, and I love Angels in America so so so much that I could probably keep him entertained with flattery (read: sycophantism) throughout the entire feast. I'd kind of rather invite Prior Walter, but since he's a fictional character and all, I'd settle for his creator!

10. Julie Powell- Because, of all the authors I've read so far this year, she seems like the one most like me, and the one I could most have a laugh with. Added bonus- she can cook.

And, that'll be my feast. Aren't you just dying to come? In the comments, little American lovelies, howsabout you tell me how you do Thanksgiving at your house, because as a foreigner who only really has Thanksgiving episodes of various American sitcoms to go on, I really want to know! Does everyone eat turkey? Are there presents? Do you just eat and watch tv all day? I really am dying to find out!

Monday, 21 November 2011

Devouring Books: Notes From A Big Country by Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson is one of those authors whose books I have collected almost unconsciously, until I've got about 6 of the buggers when all I've actually read by him is his Shakespeare biography (which I read because of Shakespeare, rather than Bryson). Because of this, I was kind of apprehensive to read any of his books, in case I didn't like one, and found that I'd been clinging onto the rest for no good reason at all, and then, you know, who elses name would I confusingly search for in charity shops when mindlessly buying books?! (I realise this entire paragraph makes me sound like a crazy person, so you can probably just ignore it).

Anyway, so I did read this book, and OMG how funny is Bryson?! I mean, I think he was relatively funny in his Shakespeare biography (which I really need to read again because I know it was really really good) but with this book I was literally laughing out loud, and let's face it, anyone who says that on the internet is usually lying. I think I was the literal target audience for the book, a collection of columns about how strange America and Americans are that were originally published in an English newspaper, and they really spoke to me, you know? Bryson is in the peculiar position of having grown up in America but also having lived in England for about 20 years, and so he is the perfect person to both appeal to English audiences, whilst also being able to comment on American idiosyncrasies and oddities.

Now, if you've ever been here before, you'll know that I love America in terms of its physical land, and the culture(s) and the cities and a lot of the lovely people, but there are a few pre-conceptions that English people hold about Americans that Bryson is very aware of, and knows exactly how to play on in the perfect way. By this, I mean that he is never really mean, or cruel, but kind of gently teasing about the American way of life as he sees it, and alongside this, he's also gently mocking of himself; which makes the mocking of anything else so much easier to take. He gets the most passionate and angry at things which he thinks are the most important (for example, in calling the Death Penalty idiotic, or preferring free healthcare to, say, free water in restaurants [which, by the way, we do have over here, it's just that you have to ask for it!]). It's about as perfect a set of columns as you can read if you're in my position, in that he makes English people seem overly enlightened about things, whilst also not being mean about Americans. In most cases, Bryson is the one who ends up kind of taking the position of the fool, which I think is the way we all prefer it.

Although these columns were originally published in the late 90s, I think there are still many things in there that are still relevant and still being talked about today, not least the whole free healthcare thing, or the reliance Americans have on their conveniences, one of Bryson's favourite topics. The most dated are the ones where he talks about 'modern' technology, where he complains about how difficult it is to set up a computer and things like that, and it's quite hard to relate to these chapters because, you know, you get your MacBook out of the box, turn it on and you're kind of ready to go... But, on the whole, they're still funny and who doesn't need a bit of laughter in their lives? I'm also not sure if this book is quite as relevant to Americans as it is to, say, me, but I think that, if someone had written a book outlining the idiosyncrasies of British life (as I'm sure someone has) I think it would still appeal to me, and I might even find it funnier than someone not from the UK. Americans, take note!

About the only thing I can't agree with Bryson with is when he says Americans aren't funny, mainly because he provides so much evidence himself to the contrary! Read this book and expect to laugh- you won't be at all disappointed. I wasn't, and I'm excited to read my other, ooh, 5 Bryson books that I've had for years and never read. Yay for planning ahead and knowing I would love him!

Note: Shout out to Alley, another funny American for recommending this book to me!

Friday, 18 November 2011

Devouring Books: How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran

Other than The Marriage Plot, this is the most over-hyped book of my year, mainly thanks to the lovely Frances (read her review here because it's much better than mine is going to be) and her continual telling me how awesome it is, and how much I'd love Caitlin Moran, and just generally, READ IT READ IT READ IT. She even lent me the book to read, even if I did have to gently pry it from her fingers to get it. So, because I'm not really one for hype, even when it's from a person that I love and trust, I kind of thought How To Be A Woman couldn't possibly be as good as I was told it was, and even though I was excited to read it, I didn't really think it would be the BEST. THING. EVER.

Turns out, I'm an idiot, because BEST. THING. EVER. pretty much covers how I feel about this book. I'm well aware that I'll probably say this about 50 million times in the next week about different things, but I really really mean it about this book. Caitlin Moran completely rocks. She doesn't just rock a bit and then fizzle out later, she rocks and then continues to rock continuously throughout her entire book. How To Be A Woman is part memoir, part feminist manifesto, all awesome; and if that sounds dry and appalling to you then you obviously haven't read it because I was laughing about 65% of the time when I was reading it, and the rest of the time I was contemplating and thinking deeply and still giggling a tiny bit inside my head.

The best thing about How To Be A Woman though, I think, is that Moran is fearless- she's not afraid to write about things people never discuss, and for that I utterly love her, and as well as that she writes about the 'hot feminist topics' (I'm basically thinking abortion here people) but in a sensible, never boring way, and actually discusses some things I hadn't really considered before. I also loved the consecutive chapters 'Why you should have children' and 'Why you shouldn't have children', with the former basically being, you know, 'I have children and I love them and they are really fab', but then the latter being 'women so need to catch up with men, and great as children are, they do tend to hold women back career-wise, and so there's nothing wrong with deciding not to have children and I'll even applaud you if you don't'. I thought this was wonderful- a truly balanced look at whether or not one should have children, with the ultimate conclusion not being some kind of prescriptive statement, but more a 'do whatever you want as long as it makes you happy.' In other words, perfection.

I don't agree with Caitlin Moran on everything though (and that's ok, and, you know, I don't think she expects anyone to either) and her love of Germaine Greer upsets me a bit, even though, as she says, there  are things that she doesn't agree with Germaine Greer on too, and in spite of that still holds her up as her feminist hero. Right now, Caitlin Moran is my feminist hero, and it's ok that I disagree with her on some things because I still love her anyway. (See what I did there?)

So did How To Be A Woman teach me how to be a woman? I kind of knew how to do that already, but I feel so enriched by reading this book that I feel like I can do it a lot better now! One of the main facets of the book is that, if everyone just had better manners, then we could all get along better, and there would be so many things that women wouldn't even have to think about, and I just think that's so true. I mean, sexual harassment? Bad manners. Commenting on things that are completely irrelevant to say, a work situation and that you'd never comment on with a man? Bad manners. Everyone just needs to learn themselves some manners, and we'd all be a lot better off. Moran, when there's a revolution, I'm so joining your army.

I feel like there's so much more I want to say about How To Be A Woman, but all my words are kind of inadequate. I know there are so many quotes from it that I loved but didn't write down because I read most of the book in a day's rush and I didn't want to stop because it's just that good. I do just want to give a shout out to Moran's sister Caz, who is utterly awesome and who I hope to be as cool as someday! You obviously now all need to read the book and we can discuss it and be all brilliant and feministy and, you know, take over the world. Until then though, please excuse me while I read the book again, before Frances has to snatch it back from my extremely possessive grip...

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Devouring Books: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

In a way, this year has been all about a developing relationship between me and Eugenides. All the way back in January, I read The Virgin Suicides and was exceedingly underwhelmed by it (that's a nice way of saying I hated it) and I kind of thought that was it for Eugenides and me. Over before we'd even begun. But then, something strange happened. In April, I read Middlesex, and oh how I loved it! I loved it so much that I didn't know what to do with myself after I'd read it, and everything I'd felt about The Virgin Suicides became completely irrelevant. I hardly even thought they were written by the same person, to be perfectly honest, and so I fell in love with Eugenides. Fortunately for me, I fell in love with him in a year when only his third novel ever was being released, and hence I can say, with great pleasure, that I read all his works in one year!

I was hoping (in the few minutes I remembered The Virgin Suicides was by Eugenides) for a book that was a lot more like Middlesex than The Virgin Suicides from The Marriage Plot, and what I got, refreshingly, was something entirely different again. I sense that Eugenides likes to change things up a lot, and I love that about him. In The Marriage Plot, I got something which I actually wasn't expecting- a book I liked even better than Middlesex. This was probably just down to the fact that The Marriage Plot most fits with my own experiences (I actually felt like I could relate to Madeline, Mitchell and Leonard at different times, which connected me to all three of the primary characters) and I just love love loved it. I almost loved it so much that I can't think of anything at all intelligent to say about it- I just want all to read it and love it and cherish it above all else.

But let's try to say some intelligent things, shall we? Well, I'd read part of this book without realising it, because in, I think, the summer fiction edition of The New Yorker, there was a 'short story' by Eugenides (which was totally exciting because I was all Middlesex-loving and excited for The Marriage Plot) that was actually a section from this book (if anyone's interested, it's the section where Mitchell's working at the hospital in India). So I was reading it and I thought I was going mental, because it seemed so familiar to me, and yet I couldn't have read it because this book is brand new! It was all very odd, but then I thought about where I could possibly have read it before, remembered my whole New Yorker subscription and then found the 'short story' in said issue. All I have to say about this is that 1) I'm kind of irritated at The New Yorker for not, you know, making Eugenides write a short story OR for not sort of at least saying it was adapted from his new novel; but also 2) it is a section extremely well suited to turning into a short story, with just a few mentions of Madeleine omitted. It also made me think that, actually, all the sections could definitely be read independently as well as a whole book, because there are only a few threads that run through them which relate to the stories of others, which is kind of how life is too, you know? (Watch me get all deep!)

You might have noticed that I've written like three paragraphs without telling you anything about the plot or anything much at all really, and that's mainly because, if you just hear about the plot in a simplistic way, it sounds kind of lame. Because, essentially, The Marriage Plot is about a love triangle, and oh my GOD, haven't we had enough of those? But then really, it's not about that at all- it's about three people, and two men who happen to love the same girl, and this girl only loves one of them, but actually she doesn't really know who she is or what she wants yet because she's only 22, for goodness sake! I can wholly relate, apart from the bit where two men are in love with me. I think, far more interesting than the 'love triangle' are the parts where these really young people are figuring out who they are, and learning a lot more than they expected.

I've read some criticism that Eugenides doesn't know how to write women and I don't think that's true at all (I think it was true in The Virgin Suicides, but not anymore), and, in fact, I think he writes people about as well as any author I've read. His characters don't just sit there dully on the page, they live and breathe and kind of exist as much as any characters have. Everything about them seems genuine and honest and just a realistic depiction of how people actually are. I mean, I could be wrong and I might just have found a writer who somehow seems to have gotten specifically inside my head, but I think his appeal is more universal than that, and, you know, everyone should read his books, basically!

So yeah, The Marriage Plot. I've spent my time rambling about it, now I recommend that you spend some time actually reading it because it's so wonderful and complex and the characters so alive that you'd be a fool not to.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Double Bagging

"Hi, I'm Laura R and I'm a signing-up-for-challenges addict."
"Hi Laura!"

Yeah, I have issues! But, since I started this blog in January this year, I missed all the fun and exciting signing up for challenges furore that apparently happens in November! And, let's face it, there are many great challenges out there!

This time, though, I'm being smart (ish- smart would be not signing up for lots of challenges...) and double bagging on my challenges. What the heck am I talking about? Well, I'm going to be taking part in Allie at A Literary Odyssey's Shakespeare Reading Month in January, which is great because I can get Othello from the Back to the Classics Challenge read, as well as possibly a couple of other plays and probably Shakespeare by Bill Bryson again (even though I should probably read one of my other Shakespeare books instead... oh well!) And yes, I do often sign up to things Allie is doing, but that's basically because 1) she's awesome, and 2) she keeps doing group reads of books I have and haven't read yet, and I can't think of a good reason not to! (On this note, I'm also group reading Sense and Sensibility with her in December, but I was already reading that for Austen in Advent!)

Anyway, speaking of books I haven't read yet, I'm also signing up for Adam's TBR Challenge, which I realise sounds kind of similar to the Off the Shelf Challenge I also announced my intentions about yesterday BUT I have a plan. And this plan is double bagging! So, for Adam's challenge you have to commit yourself to 12 books that you've had on your shelf for a year or more and if you don't read them you DIE. Ok, maybe not that, but you'll feel a bit ashamed of yourself and unaccomplished come New Years Eve 2012, and that'll really interfere with all the laying about I do on that day (no really, I hate New Years Eve. But anyway). SO, my plan is, take those 12 books, count them for the TBR Challenge but also 12 of my 30 books for the Off the Shelf challenge, and I've only got 18 books left to read for that challenge, which I'll probably achieve with Stephen King books alone!

So, instead of rambling anymore (that's really annoying, isn't it?) here are the twelve books (and 2 reserves) that I'm going to read for the TBR Challenge come 2012:

1. Watership Down by Richard Adams
2. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
3. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
4. Restoration by Rose Tremain
5. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
6. Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter
7. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
8. Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
9. The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates
10. Once There Was A War by John Steinbeck
11. In Love and Trouble by Alice Walker
12. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson

And in case a couple of those don't pan out (I'm looking at you, Long Walk To Freedom and Fear and Loathing...):

13. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
14. The Godfather by Mario Puzo

Doesn't that sound exciting?! You probably didn't notice, but I haven't put any Back To The Classics titles on there because for some reason I think it's a challenge that can't be combined with any other (apart from the Shakespeare reading month but that doesn't count because, you know, not a challenge!). So yeah, that's it. If I say I'm going to sign up for any more challenges, please come over here and shake me and make me stop because I'm just going to be unhappy next year if I do and it'll all end in tears!

Revisiting Films: Big; Or, Isn't There A Law Against This Kind of Thing?

I watched Big the other night, and of course everyone's seen it and thinks it's great, and the piano scene in FAO Schwarz is so classic that it's even referenced in The Simpsons, and basically it's just awesome right? And, of course, it is set in the eighties so basically every scene contains some kind of crime against clothes, but it's a lot better than most things from the eighties, and it's just a load of good clean fun, right?

No! Not right! At all! And I don't want to be all alarmist here, but I'm pretty sure that Susan (Elizabeth Perkins) should probably have been arrested for statutory rape. I know what you're going to say. Tom Hanks is a grown man, and even though he has the brain of a boy, he has the body of a man, so even if he and Susan did have sex (which they definitely did- that scene where he has that massive grin on his face and high fives people, and is generally pretty jolly? Total post-sex scene.) how could she have possibly known that he was actually thirteen years old.

I hear ya, but is that really good enough? He's clearly clearly clearly a child in a man suit- he plays with toys all the time, and his apartment is a creepy (for a grown man) childhood shrine, and he just generally ACTS LIKE A FUCKING CHILD the whole time! Even if Susan didn't know he was a child (and, realistically, how could she?) she must have figured there was something wrong with him, even if, for her, successful men are a total aphrodisiac. I guess my point is more, why involve Josh in a sexual relationship at all? Since it's such a morally grey area, surely they could have just erred on the side of caution and not made Josh and Susan have sex, and basically just had him having a good time and frolicking, and then realising he missed his mum and wanted to go home? I mean, in 13 Going On 30, (which is not exactly the same as Big but a similar enough concept) Jenna shies away from sex entirely because it embarrasses her, but also because it's the shrewd move because, grown men having sex with a mentally 13-year-old? Ew.

And I don't think I'm being a puritan about this at all, it's just that it's all a little icky. Especially when, after Josh has made his wish to be small again, and Susan drops him off and watches him revert back to kid form, she sort of looks at him kind of... lustfully. And that's just not right, am I right? I kind of want Susan to be psychologically scarred by it, to be like 'what the hell is wrong with me?! Did I (statutory) rape him?!' instead of the way she does react, which is basically '*sigh* if only you were older, we could be so happy!' I kind of want to snap her out of it, shake her, and be like 'WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?! He's a child, why are you not more freaked out by this rather than making plans for ten years time when your child lover is an actual adult?!' Yeah, it freaks me out, see!

I just had to vent about all that. But really, just put all of that aside as 'Laura's special little issue' and watch Big if you haven't already because it's really fun and silly and also a little bit sad. And then there's some statutory rape, if you like that kind of thing (which I hope you don't). Or if you simply can't watch it now (I understand, I'm not sure I can watch it again myself now!) then just watch this bit, which is simply perfection (albeit inaccurate because when I went to FAO Scwarz, there was a mass of people surrounding the giant piano *humph*- and you don't even want to know how much it costs!)

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The Help, Chapters 10-19

Ohhhh boy, the things that are to be said about these chapters. Things have gotten horrible, and digusting, and Skeeter's been told off in the most satisfying way. I still maintain my dislike of Skeeter because she still insists on associating with those people. I say, take your cotton trust fund money and move up North where the normal people are, ok? I also just want to point out that, at this point, Stockett has mentioned Gone With the Wind and To Kill A Mockingbird at least three times each, as if mentioning them will fool readers into thinking that The Help is of the same calibre as them. Which, I'm sorry, but it isn't.

That's not to say that I'm hating The Help though, because that's not true. It's still ridiculously readable (a less nice person might say that's because it's not very complex but... ok, no, I am that mean. It's not) so I'm down with it. Now, let's talk about Minny and Celia, because clearly they're meant to be friends! I love it- Minny's all pretending to hate Celia because she's white (ooh Minny, you racist!) but really she feels sorry for her and wants to protect her which is so lovely I could just hug them both and I'm gonna! Also, we got to meet Celia's husband, and he's nice- he thinks it's great that Minny cooks for him, and he LOVES Celia- now she just has to stop wanting to be friends with those awful women, and everything will be fine there! He also was one of the To Kill a Mockingbird readers, so we can assume that he's possibly for civil rights? Maybe? And he couldn't marry Hilly because she's just heinous? Well, that last bit's true anyway.

And then there was the whole miscarriage down the toilet, and oh my GOD, what was that?! I mean, really, I'm not really squeamish, but that seemed really gross and unecessary! But at least we found out that Celia wasn't a secret drunk, so yay for that. But still, traumatised.

And Skeeter's being all annoying with her predictable boyfriend and her trying to write a book, and does she care that these people might all DIE because she wants to write a book about them? No, I don't think she does. I love love love the community amongst all the maids though- like, when Skeeter's paying them to be interviewed, and they all give their money to send Yule May's (who's now in prison because Hilly's such an EVIL WHORE) boys to college, and really I could just cry at that. Especially because, when Hilly invites that awful Leefolt woman (who's having another baby, and oh my what a bad idea that is) to the country club, she doesn't even buy her lunch when it's pretty clear that she's got a lot of money. God, I hate white people SO FUCKING MUCH.

Which is kind of a bit of a problem really, because it's making me feel like all white people are intrinsically bad, because there isn't one unquestionably good white person in the book so far- except possibly Celia, except that we all know from To Kill a Mockingbird that white trash people are considered basically the same as black people in this society. But where are the white people protesting for Civil Rights? Am I just to assume that they're up in the North, living it up Yankee style? Or is Skeeter going to grow a backbone and start standing up for what she believes is right? Stay tuned for (hopefully) some answers.

Top Ten Tuesday

This weeks Top Ten Tuesday, graciously hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, has the potential to be really really embarrassing for me because some of the books on my list? I've basically had for as long as I can remember (which isn't all that long admittedly, but still. LONG.) But I will admit to mine if you'll admit to yours, and then we can have a big online book party where we read all ten of them and feel immense pride about it, yes? Good.

Top Ten Books That Have Been On My Shelf the Longest That I've Never Read

1. Bushwhacked: Life in George W Bush's America by Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose- I don't know when I bought this (hopefully not too early in the Bush era...) but the problem I now have is that it's not relevant anymore, and it hasn't been for 3 years. Nonetheless, I've hung onto it, and one day I will read it... it'll just be a history book by the time I do!

2. Watership Down by Richard Adams- I think I bought this when my friend was reading it for her A level class and said it was really good... either that or when I saw Donnie Darko, so hopefully the former because that was only 5 (oh my...) years ago. Go me!

3. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray- I've had this for so long that I can't even visualise where or when or why I got it. It may well have been a birth present for all I know. It did nearly get read this year, but then I punked out of a readalong, and back to the shelf it went! Whoops?

4. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks- I think this must be another book I bought in college, and it's quite possible that I bought it because we read an extract from it in my English Lit class. What can I say, it seemed like a good idea at the time!

5. Blackberry Wine by Joanne Harris-  I'd like to think I bought this after I read Chocolat (which is very good, by the way), but it's not beyond the realms of possibility that I bought it before reading Chocolat, because I had a feeling Chocolat would be good, and so this would be too. I am twisted and wrong.

6. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli- I know I bought this because it was either mentioned in my history or philosophy (or possibly both) class at college, and yet, for some strange reason, I haven't read it. Strange that.

7. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell- I am actually genuinely sad that I haven't read this yet, because it's supposed to be really good! So that's a definite one to go on the 'READ SOON' pile. As opposed to the 'read someday. Maybe.' pile...

8. Diary by Chuck Palahniuk- I have an actual reason for not having read this yet! It's because I love Fight Club SO much, and I can't read anything else by Palahniuk in case it's not as good (and yet how could it be?) and I get all disillusioned. So there.

9. Restoration by Rose Tremain- So, I bought this for the nerdiest reason ever- I had to do this exam where they gave us an extract to study beforehand, and the extract was from Restoration. I don't know if I bought the book because I thought I should read it to get some extra knowledge or what, but I haven't read it and the exam was 4 and a half years ago. Damn.

10. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf- I bought this because I had to, and then my seminar leader guy was all 'oh, let's not read To the Lighthouse, let's read High Fidelity instead.' Which was fair enough, and I love that book AND film, but I was pissed off because I'd bought the book! As a punishment, I missed his last two seminars, and didn't read To the Lighthouse. I win?

So yeah. I bought most of these books around college time, and that's because there were like 6 charity shops down one road that my college was also on, and what else is one to do with one's free periods other than go to the charity shops and buy books? And I kind of haven't stopped since... Damn.

Since I clearly have a problem, I've decided to take part in Bookish Ardour's Off the Shelf Challenge for next year (Shout out to Alice for alerting me to it!) and I think I'm actually going to try and read 50 books off my own shelves for the year, which is ambitious but not impossible, and quite frankly needs to be done. I'm considering enforcing a slightly lenient book buying ban (as in, I can buy Stephen King books and anything by favourite authors that's cheap- so not really a ban at all) until I've read all 50, but I might not be able to... we'll see! But yes, it's all very exciting! Bring on the 2012 challenges!

Monday, 14 November 2011

Devouring Books: The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

I can't even think of anything sensible to say about this trilogy other than READ IT READ IT READ IT because, seriously, so much excitement and action and unstoppable readingness, as well as sadness and a love triangle (everyone knows about that right) and death and destruction, and do you really need to hear any more?

Basically, yeah, I loved them. I'm kind of thinking I need to deal with each book separately, because I've been trying to write about all three together whilst also not giving anything away which is sort of impossible, so I'm going to write about them and give stuff away so STOP READING if you haven't read them yet because, seriously, you don't want to know what happens. You just don't. You won't get the full joy of these books unless you don't know what fucked up thing is about to happen, so yeah, go away and buy them and read them, and then I'll let you read this!

Before I start though, some universal things: I'm not going to pretend these books are the best written things ever, because they're not. But, they are SO readable, and really just hook you in so you can't really not read them, even if you sort of want to. Also, I'm not really going to do the whole Peeta vs Gale thing, except to say that I made my decision in the middle of Mockingjay when I realised that I was really upset that Peeta wasn't quite... himself, shall we say. AND, if Gale loved Katniss that much, surely he would have taken Peeta's place in the Hunger Games to protect her. And does he? No he does not. He is smoking hot though... (for a more complex discussion of Peeta vs Gale, I recommend Forever YA, especially this, wherein the writer very cruelly compares Peeta to Riley from Buffy. I mean, no one deserves that kind of treatment...) But anyway, I'll say very little else about it other than when it's unavoidable, because, like Katniss, I am more involved in her continuing to live than in wondering who she's going to do that possible living with. Because, shockingly, some things are more important than boys.

One last thing before I get started- I was SO conflicted upon first buying this book, because it had a ringing endorsement from Stephen King (who also, according to Wikipedia, compared The Hunger Games to his own books, The Running Man and The Long walk, which sounds a tiny bit self centred to me, but also totally accurate, especially in the case of The Running Man, which actually seems like a more difficult Hunger Games) BUT it was also recommended by Stephanie Meyer, and what does she know about a good book? (Ooh, contraversial. Especially since I haven't read Twilight. But still). On the whole though, Stephen King saying that things are good pretty much drowns out all other opinions for me, so I bought it. THANK GOODNESS! Now, onto the reviews...

The Hunger Games

So, as I think we've all guessed if we've got any kind of knowledge about what goes on in these books at all, they take place in Panem (some futuristic, dystopian and HORRIBLE North America), where, if you live in the Capitol you're fine, but if you live in one of the 12 districts you're basically living in poverty and once a year your children are subjected to the 'reaping', where one boy and one girl are chosen from each district to fight in the Hunger Games, which is a fight to the death, staged for the amusement of the Capitol and as a punishment for the Districts once having the nerve to rebel against the injustices they face. Man that was a long sentence!

In this world, in District 12, the smallest and poorest of all the districts lives Katniss Everdeen, a strong and plucky girl who you'd pretty much want to have on your side in any fight, except she probably wouldn't want to be on yours because she's not exactly a people person. It would be pretty easy to dislike her because of her growliness (something which other characters fully choose to do) but since we're inside her head it's hard to, especially because she's so honest about her own faults that it's difficult to reprimand her for them. Also, girl's awesome with a bow and arrow, which is lucky because when her sister (basically the only person she loves in the world) is 'reaped' for the Hunger Games, Katniss takes her place without hesitation and, as readers, we're all in love. The boy chosen is Peeta Mellark, who Katniss hates a bit for having saved her life once (not because she's suicidal, but because she hates having to 'owe' people), but, fortunately for her, Peeta has a huge crush on her because she's sort of awesome.

So, they go to the Capitol, are paraded around like cattle and Katniss describes her clothes a lot. To be fair, they are awesome clothes, and her personal fashion designer is completely awesome, but here's my issue- why are they so placid and accepting of all of this? Why isn't someone saying 'This is WRONG', because I know that, if picked for The Hunger Games, I wouldn't be able to just sit around and be dressed and made up and then accept my certain death (I would definitely die in The Hunger Games, I'm not even going to pretend I wouldn't). But I guess that, any open refusal or embarrassment to the Capitol would end up in my death anyway, so really there's no choice at all. And that's why they call it a dystopia, guys!

As for the Games themselves- in a way, there's not all that much tension because, since you know it's a trilogy before you start reading, you're pretty confident that Katniss, and almost definitely Peeta, are going to survive, even if you're not exactly sure how that can happen. Interestingly though, this doesn't distract from the action and drama and trauma at all, and this was, I felt, the most compelling part of the book, which makes me feel a bit sick because I'm exploiting all these fictional people as much as the Games organisers and supporters are. But at least I feel bad about it, right?

So basically, my main feelings about The Hunger Games- poor Rue! Bad Capitol! I love you more than Peeta or Gale, Katniss, even though you're kind of moody! Mind generally blown all round! And, finally, how soon can I get the next book?! (The answer to that was about 3 days later...)

Catching Fire
I'm pretty sure the rejected title for this one was 'Katniss gets fucked over and I hate everyone'. I mean, it definitely wasn't, but really?! Another Hunger Games? For those poor people who have already been put through basically torture and have to face the nightmares of what happened to them every night? President Snow has a lot to answer for, and he's a creepy fucker to boot!

Unfortunately, because I read the back of Mockingjay before I read Catching Fire, I pretty much knew that was going to happen, so it wasn't as much of a shock as it should of been. But it was still HORRIBLE. I definitely couldn't cope with the prospect of a second games, even though everyone was trying to help Katniss and Peeta, saving their lives instead of killing them and so on, but it was still so awful. And yet, could I stop reading? Of course I couldn't, because these books are really really good. Like really.

I think probably most upsetting in Catching Fire was that moment when Katniss was about to enter the arena, and Cinna was all beaten up in front of her. I mean, it was all I could do to keep from screeching 'CINNAAAAA!!! NOOOOO!' and, you know, I'm outside of the fictional universe the story exists in and hence I know it is fictional. But that doesn't make it ok, because Cinna is basically amazing. Just wah. Also, I think that the clock arena? Kind of super-impressive, albeit evil. And definitely better than the arena in the first book, if by better, you also mean more evil and twisted (but just also cleverer and interesting).

And that end was so... unexpected and exciting, and I was traumatised for Peeta and I just couldn't even process what had just happened, and oh MAN was I glad that I'd bought Mockingjay along with Catching Fire, because boy did I need to read it right away!


Mockingjay was mainly like being kicked in the guts repeatedly. There are times when you think Katniss might be ok, that the things that have been done to her haven't caused her irreparable damage, and then something else happens to set her back and you just sort of want to DIE all over again. So basically, Katniss is all sedated and wandering around reliving her Hunger Games experiences over and over again, worrying about Peeta and what might be being done to him, and resenting the fact that she's being used as a symbol for a cause she doesn't really want to be head of, and really just wanting to go home, even though, since District 12 was destroyed at the end of Catching Fire, that's impossible.

If I'm completely honest, this book made me really miserable. It's bleak, I'm not going to lie to you- it seems like nothing will ever be achieved and nothing will ever really change, and the majority of people are going to be unhappy forever. Take Peeta for example- Katniss misses him and wants him around again and just to know that he's safe, and then when he finally does get back, he's been turned into a weapon to be used against her! I was just like, Collins, what are you doing to me woman?!

It was just before this point that I realised that I really really missed Peeta, and hence decided that he was my favourite. I think this is mainly because we get to know more about him than Gale, so I sort of automatically gravitated towards him, but more than that, I think only he and Katniss could be together after the Hunger Games because it's basically the most significant thing that's ever happened to both of them, and no one else (other than, say, Haymitch) could understand what it was like. So, because of that, I think they kind of needed each other- rather than Katniss making a choice, she almost couldn't not be with Peeta, because Gale would never quite understand what she needed like Peeta does, because Peeta needs the same things.

Anyway- I did really like, in Mockingjay, the times when Katniss got to kick some ass (limited, because she's a total symbol who can't be put in any real danger) but when they got back into the capitol, things started to piss me off. Namely, really great characters being killed off (including Finnick, which I can't even... It's just not... ARGH) and this whole wild goose chase going on and then Katniss sort of kind of missing all the action (as in she doesn't storm President Snow's house all by herself and sneak up on him and assassinate him which would have been AWESOME) except that what she does see is her sister, for whom she entered the Hunger Games to begin with being blown apart and WHY COLLINS, WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?! You know? I mean, I could have coped with practically anything else, but not that. It was cruel.

Another thing I couldn't cope with was the part where the new President (I've completely forgotten all names now because I finished these books weeks ago...) suggests that they need one last Hunger Games, and I was clearly like NOOOO, as any sane human would be, and when Katniss says yes ('for Prim'- FOR PRIM? REALLY? Because I thought the point was that Prim is the opposite of everything the Hunger Games stood for...) I just about wanted to throttle her, regardless of her grief. BUT, after copious research on the subject, ie reading basically everything about The Hunger Games on Forever YA, it's been drawn to my attention that Katniss only says this as a distraction technique so she can kill the new President (Coin! That's her name!) but I was still in shock and horror at the whole thing.

And here's the thing about the ending- Gale goes away to District 2 (I think...) to be a big army guy or something, and Katniss's mother has gone off to be a medic or whatever (which is really nice of her when her [least favourite] daughter is grieving her ass off) and Katniss is kind of left alone, until Peeta shows up in the remains of District 12, where a kind of naturally sedated Katniss is living. And it's kind of like 'aww, I wanted them to get together, yay!', but it also annoys me that Katniss is all like 'oh, I didn't need someone like Gale, I needed someone gentler like Peeta', when actually, she didn't really have much of a choice in the matter, since everyone else left her. I, of course, think she should have ended up with Peeta, but Collins maybe doesn't make it extremely clear why she should, other than, he's the only one left.

There are so many more things to say, (I haven't even mentioned the Orwellian things I found!) and I'm sure even more things I missed since I really blasted through the books, but to be honest, if you've made it this far you're a total trooper and should probably get a prize. So I'm going to let you go now, and, you know, thanks for letting me rant incoherently about The Hunger Games. I'll meet you back here when the first movie comes out...