Thursday 31 May 2012

Devouring Films: Norwegian Wood

Oh, Norwegian Wood. As I'm pretty sure I've made clear, I loved that book. Like, I still think about it all the time even though I read it in January, and well, I LOVE MURAKAMI FOREVS OK? So I thought, I'll give the film a go, because hey, I sure love subtitles, and, well, it's Norwegian Wood in movie form! How bad could it be?

As it turns out, kind of bad. Not terrible or the worst thing EVER, but I definitely had a lot of issues with it that could have been avoided by it being more... accurate and, just, better. I'll start with the good, shall I? The whole Naoko-Toru story is the main plot of the movie (not a good thing in itself, cause fucking hell, dreary!) so those bits are the most fleshed out, and truest to the book; and the retreat place where Naoko goes is really beautiful and relaxing, so that was nice. Also, they started the movie basically with Kizuki's suicide, making it clear that everything else emanates from this in shockwaves, which I don't think was fully appreciated by everyone who took part in Alice's readalong...

But. SO MANY problems I have. So many, in fact, that I think I'm just going to have to make a whole big list of them because, well, that's just easier. So, from the top:

  • NOT ENOUGH MIDORI- Seriously. The Midori-Toru thing takes such a backseat to the 'A' plot of Toru and Naoko, which I guess it kind of does in the book but to a lesser extent. Like, when Midori takes him to see her dad in the film, it's like a two minute thing that reveals a lot less about what Toru is willing to do for Midori than the scene does in the book. I mean, OBViously I wanted to see more Midori, but also doing that made the end seem kind of... stupid, and not very well reasoned.
  • REIKO'S STORY IS CUT OUT- Like, entirely. Reiko literally just seems to be there to sing Norwegian Wood and then *SPOILER* have sex with Toru at the end. Which does still happen! Again for basically no reason! WHAT?! *END SPOILER* It's really irritating because I love Reiko, and so that put me in a huff, basically.
  • NAGASAWA ISN'T CUT OUT- It's not that I dislike the Nagasawa bit of the story, but if I was going to choose something to cut out, it would be those bits instead of the bits with Midori. I could have had this film as a straight up love triangle with a slight focus on Reiko, but instead it's like Toru-Naoko, but oh look, he also goes out with this douche and has sex with other girls, what does that mean? 
  • IT'S REALLY SLOW- Like, super slow. And obviously Norwegian Wood isn't an entirely action packed book or anything, but it seems that very little from the book is actually left in the film, but the film still goes on for over 2 hours. Looking back on it now, I'm kind of like 'so... what actually did they leave in, and why did it go on for so long?' Just... I think more could have been fitted in.
  • NAOKO SCREECHES. A LOT.- Yeah, this is a thing. Because like, I guess she cries a lot in Norwegian Wood, but it seems like most of her despair is inside her, and that's difficult to show on film so she weeps and wails and screeches a fair bit. Which is... ok, and better than not showing her sadness at all, but it's also kind of annoying. I know, I'm a monster.
  • THE PRODUCERS ARE CLEARLY MORONS- No, really. They've paid what I can only assume is ALL THE MONEY to get the rights to the Beatles song because, well, you sort of need it when the book is named after it; and instead of using it at all in the film (well, the Beatles version, anyway) they save it for the end credits. The fuck?
  • IT'S LIKE A HOLLOWED OUT VERSION OF THE BOOK- Which I guess is also true of a lot of film versions of books, but it makes me really sad with Norwegian Wood because the book made me feel lots of things, whereas the movie made me feel basically nothing. It kind of takes the struggles of Toru's not really being able to live properly because his best friend is gone, and turns them into a basic love story between a depressed girl and a slightly odd boy. Which is ok, but it's not exactly Norwegian Wood, which is GREAT.
So. I kind of believe that if you hadn't read the book first, you could watch Norwegian Wood and think 'yeah, that was pretty good!' Unfortunately, since I worship at the altar of the great Murakami, all I could really see were the things that were missing rather than what was there. Not a great skill to have when you're watching a film, I'll admit, but I couldn't help it! I just... I freaking love that book, and I think there are a lot of things about Murakami books that just might not translate to the screen, which isn't really anyone's fault, it's just the way it is. Lesson learned- Don't see any more films based on Murakami books.

Wednesday 30 May 2012

Devouring Books: Restoration by Rose Tremain

"It is a fact about Merivel- and about many in this age- that they do not always wish to know the truth about a thing. And when the truth is at last revealed to them, they cannot entirely dismantle all fiction from it."

I'm about to make a seriously nerdy confession, so if you still harboured any illusions about me being cool in some way, then you'd best look away now (I know you didn't, so I won't worry). But, here it is: When I was doing my A level in English Lit, for the final paper we got a section of a text to analyse and look over a week before the exam, and then wrote an essay or something about it in the actual exam. The year I did my A levels, the extract was the first 4 or 5 pages of Restoration, and so I bought Restoration. After the exam, so it wasn't to help me at all, it was just to see how it turned out after I'd read the damn extract about 50 times.

And then I left it for like 5 years. I'm honestly an unbelievable idiot. But, as it has been 4 times already this year, the TBR challenge has been my saviour, and finally, finally Restoration's time has come. Came. Has been and gone. Whatever. I'd kind of managed to forcibly forget that it's a piece of historical fiction, but that's definitely a good thing because I probably would have continued to put it off if I hadn't. As it was, I was actually pleasantly surprised by liking Restoration, historical fiction and all! Wonders never cease...

I think a really really big part of my actually liking Restoration was the fact that it was set (obviously) in Restoration-y times, aka Charles II's reign, aka a time of excess and immodesty and other awesome things like that. I'm not going to lie, there were many times during the novel that I was thinking about The Libertine, because, well, Johnny Depp being naughty and debauched? When is there not a good time to think about that? So, inevitably that helped give me happy feelings towards this book, but it's a time that generally interests me because, until really recently, I'd kind of thought that the way the Victorians were (all buttoned up and boring and AWFUL) was the way of all history in Britain, at least from 1066, but NO! There were definitely times of debauchment and general sex-with-anything, and for some reason that pleases me (even though this sexual freedom was mainly for men, and oh those poor wives left at home while their husbands frolicked at court! Oh!)

Anyway. The first part of Restoration is basically in this spirit of sexual freedom and good times, as Merivel, our first-person protagonist (yeah, it's historical fiction and has a first person narrator, and I still liked it! Suck on that, me!) is Charles II's personal bitch, and agrees to marry (one of) Charles's lovers so that another of his lovers doesn't get jealous. So far, so 1660s, and, of course, although Merivel isn't allowed to have carnal relations with his own wife, he gets his in numerous other places. It's all fairly typical of the age, BUT it's balanced slightly by Merivel's friend Pearce, who turns up every so often voicing his disapproval of the age in general and Merivel specifically, and I think it's Pearce who spurs the novel on to be something more than a mere tale of debauchery and excess.

Because Part 2 is where it all happens. And by all happens, I either mean 'all the fun stuff stops', or 'Merivel learns how to be a proper human being, at least according to Quaker/Victorian principles'. Obviously I can't tell you how it all goes down (well, I could, but don't be lazy, read the damn book!) but it's probably clear that Pearce has something to do with it, and it should also be clear that, after the first section, I was kind of over the book. Temperance? Moderation? No sex?! I should have been bored, but actually, I'm a fan of people looking at the tragic emptiness of their lives and wanting to do something about it. Call it an American Beauty complex (although, trying to have sex with a friend of your daughter's? Probably not the way to go).

So. I dislike historical fiction, first person narration and I don't even like Merivel that much, and yet, Restoration, I still like you. Call it an anomaly or whatever you like (I'd call it something else because I can't even say anomaly, so, yeah) but it's still a really good read and, interestingly, I definitely cared about what happened to this character that I didn't even like. I can't explain it, and yet it is true. And there you have it.

Tuesday 29 May 2012

Top Ten Tuesday

I should probably prefix this week's top ten Tuesday (of course hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) by admitting that I have really read very few books published in the last ten years. There are loads of reasons for this, probably no good ones, but it's mainly just that there are so many books that seem pretty awesome that I must read, that more recent books are left by the wayside because, well, how do I know they're any good? Have they stood the test of time (even of just a few years)? I guess that makes me a bit of a reading follower rather than a trendsetter, which is a bit alarming! So, as a peace offering, I here give you a highly uninformed list of books that I think could, or even should, stand the test of time.

Top Ten Books Written in the last 10 years that I hope people are still reading in 30 years

1. The Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling- Ok, so the series started slightly more than 10 years ago but the last book was published in 2007, and so this counts. I really just think these books have it in them to be children's classics FOREVER, cause, let's face it, they're amazing.

2. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides- I just really liked this book, and I think it's kind of non-time specific enough to keep being relevant. Or, maybe, I just really like it so I want everyone to read it forever!

3. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami- I have no idea if anyone will want to read this in 30 years, but I'm pretty sure that I'll still want to, and that I'll still be recommending it then. Have I mentioned that I love Murakami enough times yet?

4. How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran- I don't want to think of a time where people don't know who Caitlin Moran is, and therefore I want everyone to read this book forever and ever. The end.

5. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen- I think this book is so intrinsically about family and relationships and general life difficulties that are kind of universal and timeless, and so this should still apply in 30 years. And if not then, well, I'll still like it.

6. Room by Emma Donoghue- I bloody love Emma Donoghue, and this book is really exceptional (that's what I call a book when I read it in a day, I guess). But seriously- I don't think time can do anything to make a lot of the events in this book any less shocking, and it seems like it really could face the test of time.

7. The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King- Also a bit of a cheat since the series began in like 1982, but I think it ended in 2003, so... I win. And also, shhh. I really think that these books deserve to be remembered as some of King's best work, and not be forgotten in favour of some of his more famous stuff.

8. The History of Love by Nicole Krauss- I really loved this book a lot, and it's loveliness deserves not to be lost in the sands of time (lost to the sands of time? Clearly I need to learn more sayings). So, yeah. Let's remember this one and recommend it lots, yeah?

9. Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer- I'd actually rather live in a world where no one has to read Eating Animals in 30 years because raising animals for meat has become so humane that no one can even believe the way things used to be done, but I don't think that's going to happen. So, I'd like people to still be curious and horrified about where their food comes from, basically.

10. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson- And all the Bill Bryson books ever. But especially this, because it literally blew my mind, and I think that, of the ones I've read so far, this is the one which will maybe be best for the future people because it's basically a history of science, and you don't really need to know too much about right now to enjoy it, and have your mind BLOWN.

So! I really do hope people are reading all of these in 30 years because I love them and they rock. I'm pretty impressed that I managed to come up with 10, actually, and I've basically only read these in the last 2 years. Progress! I'm really interested in seeing other people's lists today, because I feel like, the books which you want to still be read in 30 years, are books that you really really love. Or is that just me?

Monday 28 May 2012

Devouring Stephen King: The Tommyknockers

Ugh. This book. I basically don't want to spend any more time thinking about it since I've already wasted precious hours of my life reading it, so this will be brief. Unless I start ranting and then am unable to stop, in which case, well, that'll just be fun to write and I know you'll love reading it. Oh yes.

So. As far as I know, The Tommyknockers was written in a 'difficult' period in King's life, where he was basically doing ALL THE DRUGS and generally being all high all the time. This alone is NOT a good excuse for why this book is so poor, because according to the back of the book, he wrote it over a 5 year period (1982-1987) a lot of which, I have to assume, was him putting it away in a drawer somewhere because it really wasn't working. The point is, anyway, that in a similar time period (I'm pretty sure it's something like 1981-4/5) he wrote It, which, as we're all aware, is the best book in the whole entire world (or, like, my favourite Stephen King so far. Or something.) The Tommyknockers is not It. It's not even The Talisman. It's much much worse than that.

Now. There's bad, and then there's Stephen King being bad, and those two things are very different. Because even when Stephen King's bad, he's still Stephen King, and what that means is that The Tommyknockers is a very well written bad book. And not well written as in 'observe my beautiful language that you just want to quote all the time' but as in 'wow, this is difficult to put down, I like your style Steve!' There were points where I was going 'I don't caaaaare, when is something going to happen?' but I was still like 'one more chapter. Just one more.' because I hadn't read a Stephen King since Misery waaay back in March, and, well, that's clearly too long between books!

But it's still pretty bad. And a lot of it's badness is down to things that I can't quite pin down, even, (I think a bit of it has to do with it being more sci-fi than horror-y, but that's not my main problem) but here are a few things that I can:

1. The characters- I really don't care about the characters. And that's not my fault, it's King's. Because it starts off with this nice lady Bobbi who finds a flying saucer buried in the Earth and decides to dig it out, and for a bit I like her. And then the focus shifts and we're with Bobbi's friend Gard, a suicidal alcoholic, and then I get behind him for a bit. And then it goes into the townsfolk and the 'scary' things that are happening to them, but we never knew them when they were normal, so why should we care about them now? Even in the last part when we go back to Jim and Bobbi, the focus shifts between them and characters we've never met before. Why? And also, what?

2. Nothing happens- I'm not kidding. The entire book is just Bobbi and Gard digging this flying saucer out of the earth, whilst the townspeople experience lots of 'changes' in their bodies and get all telepathic and stuff, and you might think that this is all leading up to something scary and fulfilling and which would make reading nearly 1000 pages worth it, but hey, you'd be wrong about that!

3. Ridiculousness- I mean, really the whole thing was just ridiculous in the end, but I'd like to pinpoint that 1) Around the time Bobbi first discovers the spaceship, ALL the women in Haven (that's where it's set... wow, I couldn't even be bothered to mention that!) get their periods at the same time for like a month. FOR NO REASON! Literally- it's not something that's ever brought up again like 'oh, we have to bleed out so that the alien lifeforms can possess us entirely' or whatever, it just seems to be an excuse for Stephen King to talk about periods. Or something.
And, 2) There's a killer coke machine. I swear, at that point I was nearly DONE with the whole book. I was like 'I'm sorry, this has just become too ridiculous' and I mean, seriously, what the fuck was he doing? I mean, drugs, I know, but doesn't the dude have editors?! Someone to take him to one side and just say 'Stevie, really? A killer coke machine? Come on man, you're better than this.' But apparently no one wanted to take on that task!

And the list goes on. One interesting thing about The Tommyknockers (maybe the only interesting thing) is that King didn't even realise until it was finished that it was basically a giant metaphor for addiction, in that like, the residents of Haven need to stay there (the air of the town is their 'fix') just to survive, and like Bobbi works so hard on digging out the spaceship that she loses all track of everything and forgets to eat and all she can think about is when she can get out there to dig out the spaceship again. And, of course, Gard's an alcoholic so... there's that, even though King seems to have mainly forgotten this by the third part of the book and sort of trails off on that issue. LIKE ALL THE ISSUES. But anyway, it's interesting that he wrote something that contained metaphors for addiction, whilst he was himself addicted, and it's also interesting that he didn't even notice it until later. I mean, how high did the dude get?!

So. The Tommyknockers. It's pretty bad. Like... If you've read all the Stephen King but this and want more, then you can read this and you'll be like 'ahhh... familiar writing, I feel all at home.' My fear, though, is that someone would read this and think 'I am NEVER reading another Stephen King because that was shit' because, well, he's so good! So, basically, read this at your peril. And if you really want to read it then it's here, for some reason (is this legal? I question the legality of this). But actually, read this instead, because... LOL. And also, I kind of believe it...

Friday 25 May 2012

Devouring Books: The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat by Oliver Sacks

Before I even start, I have to have a moan about the cover. Because, here's the thing- the cover suggests that the aforementioned 'man' sees a hat and thinks that it's his wife, and that's really not the case. The man in the title study mistakes his wife for a hat, in that, he's in a consultation with Sacks and gets up to leave, looks for his hat and tries to pick up and put on his wife instead. I mean, I understand that's harder to draw, but come on! Lazy cover artist.

ANYWAY! In spite of the horrifying cover error, I liked this book. I don't know if 'enjoyed' is the right word for it because it was exactly laugh/thrill a minute, but it was definitely interesting, and it was written in a style that wasn't at all dumbed down, but at the same time was immensely readable. By this I mean, I didn't understand all the sciency and medical words and terms (and neither did Sacks pause to explain them all to the layman, which actually, I respect) and yet I wanted to keep on reading and find out what happened to these patients, and what exactly was going on with their brains. In a way, it's not at all fair- Sacks is clearly super intelligent since he's a neurologist, but also, the dude can write! Not fair at all.

What he also is though, and believe me this was a real relief, is incredibly respectful and even kind towards the subjects of his case studies. Because I think it's easy to look at the title and think 'well! This is clearly going to be mocking people with neurological problems', but it doesn't do that at all. Sacks isn't adverse to seeing the humour in some of the situations created by these patients (like, for example, thinking one's own wife is a hat! What?!) but he remains respectful to them, and curious more than anything about the causes of their disorders (most of which are explained by brain injuries and abnormalities) and about how the world must seem to them. He admits, often, that the rest of us pretty much can't understand or conceive of how these people experience the world, but he at least tries to put himself in their shoes and have a bit of empathy with them.

Imagine my surprise, then, when in my extensive research* into Sacks and his work, I found out that he's been criticised for exploiting his subjects, and that his books have been compared to modern day freak shows. I just... I'm alarmed that anyone would think that, because, yeah, he's discussing delicate neurological issues that make his subjects act in odd ways, but he never mocks or disrespects them because of this, and has much more empathy for them than your average person on the street would (at least that's true in this book, but I can't imagine him ever writing like that... He's really nice!). The thing is, as far as I can tell, a lot of doctors write studies like these, and then other doctors read them and use them to help with diagnoses and things like that. But since Sacks is clearly a good writer, his books appeal to a wider audience, and, I guess, that makes it look like he's making money from other people's misery/problems. Which I guess is true, but also... I don't know, doesn't he have a right to? It's not like he just studied these people, then laughed at them, and ran all the way to the bank- he treated them, and then wrote about them. I don't know, I just don't really see the problem- or, rather, I do, but I don't think it's one that's present here.

So! Neurology for the masses, what do I think? I think, yeah. It's interesting, and I feel smarter just from reading it, and also I feel sad that there are people who have to live like that, but glad that they adapt and live, just in a whole other way. This book also has the added bonus of going into psychology and philosophy at points too (did I mention that Sacks is really really clever?) because the mind's not all about the physical, and that made me feel kind of clever because I studied both of those at various points and I knew what he was talking about. However, I don't think you need to have studied neuroscience, psychology or philosophy to appreciate this book and to learn some stuff.

*Wikipedia counts as extensive research

Thursday 24 May 2012

Devouring TV: Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad isn't the first TV programme I've been addicted to (before it, there's been Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The West Wing, True Blood... basically any tv series where I can devour the box sets quickly and efficiently) but it is the most recent and feels the most consuming right now. Hence, this post. And you know what? I didn't really think I was going to like it, just based on the few synopses I'd read (drugs? Eurgh! was more or less my reaction) but then at the end of last year I read Stephen King's top twenty things of 2011.

Oh yeah. All of this was Stephen King's fault, OBVIOUSLY, because all good things emanate from Stephen King (that's an actual FACT, just so you know). So yeah, he said that Breaking Bad was even better than The Sopranos (I am a person who, while I liked The Sopranos, is able to believe that there are better things than it out there) and I was like, hmm. Stephen King, I shall believe you! And off I went on an internet video finding mission (if you're in the UK, the first two seasons are on Netflix, and honestly, it's worth signing up to it just for them- and, in fact, the third season is now on there, which would have been good to know before I went trawling for episodes. *grumble*) and I fell into a Breaking Bad hole. In fact, I fell into two- I watched everything up to around the middle of season 3 in one big gulp, then couldn't find the next episode anywhere, got pissed off and stopped watching any more internet tv apart from Netflix (where I had the great fortune of watching Twin Peaks) and then these past few weeks, I found it again and watched the rest in a giant gulp of awesome.

But why? Why do I love it so? It's difficult to say, because there are a lot of things in it that normally, I just wouldn't be down with. I mean, there are basically two female characters, only one of them a main one really, and she's mainly just the main main character's (Walt's) wife. She genuinely doesn't really get to do anything interesting, and I kind of don't even like her, and normally, I wouldn't be down with that. And also? I don't even like Walt. I hate Hank. Marie is so annoying and Skylar (Walt's wife) is a total hypocrite. But also? I love them all as much as I hate them, which I really think is the mark of really great characters- you have all these conflicting emotions about them, but in the end you just kind of love them all because they're like family (all the characters I've mentioned so far actually are family in the show, which helps, of course).

And then there's Jesse. And sometimes I hate Jesse too, but mostly I love him. And there's really no reason to- he's a junkie, he's a drug dealer, he sometimes has absolutely no morals (he tries to sell drugs to people at NA meetings, which is fairly low) but the dude has so many layers. Like, all he wants is approval from Walt or basically any adult, whilst also wanting to escape from all authority figures; and it always surprises me how much he really really loves kids- it's a fairly standard thing in the series that, just when you think Jesse is a complete dick, he'll go and be really sweet to a kid, and just like that you're kind of in love with him all over again. It also doesn't hurt that he's kind of short and skinny and just looks like the kind of person that you want to protect. That is, when he's not smoking meth or brandishing a gun. Obviously.

So Breaking Bad is all about the decisions of Walter White, a high-school chemistry teacher (but mildly secret chemistry GENIUS) who discovers he has terminal lung cancer and decides to cook meth in order to leave behind lots and lots of money to make up for all the cash he won't be earning when he's all dead and stuff. So, a large part of Breaking Bad is about his family, and hiding the things he's doing from them and how they all interact with each other. And that's all fine, and I like it enough and all, but the show really comes alive for me when Jesse and Walter are together. They are so unalike that the absolute only way they'd hang out is to cook meth together, and because of that their exchanges are brilliant, and hilarious, and absolutely the best thing about Breaking Bad. My favourite episodes are always the ones where it's basically just the two of them in one location for the whole 45 minutes, and whenever they're not speaking or working together (which happens at the start of season 3, and quite a lot in season 4) it makes me really sad. For Breaking Bad to work, they need to be together, even though their disputes are often as entertaining as their tentative friendship. It never fails to amuse me that, after everything they've been through together, Jesse still calls Walter 'Mr White', and Walter usually calls him 'Pinkman'. And they've never had a real hug. *SOB*

Obviously a lot of Breaking Bad (although maybe not as much as you'd think) is about drugs because, you know, they cook the meth and all. But I find the most interesting thing with the drugs is, again, the way that Jesse interacts with them. And by interacts, I obviously mean takes them, and by takes them, I mean that he's a drug addict. But he's a very high functioning drug addict. Like, he can have an all night and day meth party, and still turn up to work (where he does, of course, cook meth). And it's interesting because it always seems like he's in control of his drug use, until he's not, when it becomes clear that he's able to be swayed into full blown addiction (because of a hot girl) and that he shelters in drugs when things are going badly, i.e. he is an addict. I really don't know very much about addiction, but it seems to me that this is a realistic thing- that Jesse can stay away from the drugs, but that when things get rough, they're always what he turns to, as an emotional crutch.

I think Breaking Bad has a bit of a rep for being overly violent, and about drugs and drug use, and also it bothers me that no one has ever said 'yeah, you're just manufacturing meth, but think about the lives you're destroying- that makes you way worse than the people who use' but that kind of moralising doesn't really come into it. But the thing is, whenever I think about Breaking Bad, I hardly ever think about the drugs, and I basically never think about the violence- I just think about the relationships and the intricate lies and whether or not Jesse's going to be ok; and this could just be me ignoring what's there, but I think it's more that... Man, I really love the characters. Like, even when Jesse and Walt do murders (and they do do a few self-preservation murders, I have to warn you) it's like... they're really not very good at them, and you feel a lot more worried about them getting caught than you do about the murderee, which actually, now that I think about it, is pretty messed up. But the point is that you really don't think about the violence, but you more just worry about the potential consequences for the characters that you/I love.

So, to sum up: I love/hate Walt, Skylar, Marie and Hank, I LOVE Jesse, even when he's bad, and Breaking Bad is the greatest thing in the world. It's maybe not my favourite TV programme EVER, but it's definitely my favourite right now, and hey, it's also maybe my favourite ever. If you haven't seen it yet, I advise it maybe more strongly than I've ever advised anything in my life, and just, you know, enjoy the crap out of it. I know that I have, and I can't WAIT for July 15th (or I guess the 16th, for me) when the new (and last! *SOB*) season begins.

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Devouring Books: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

"But then, I suppose, when with the benefit of hindsight one begins to search one's past for such 'turning points', one is apt to start seeing them everywhere."

I've had The Remains of the Day for the longest time for no good reason. I read Never Let Me Go when I was ooh, 17, because at college the other English class got to read it and I didn't think that was fair and, well, I wanted to read it too! So, I did, and it was awesome (I need to re-read it actually, but probably not see the film because bluergh Keira Knightley) and I bought The Remains of the Day and When We Were Orphans on the back of it. And... both remained unread for 6 years! The moral of this story? I'm a moron.

So, The Remains of the Day was added to my TBR Pile Challenge list, and last week I read it. Obviously. Hence this post. And actually, it was kind of awesome in a sort of dreamy, yearning, drowsy summery read kind of way. At the very beginning I was a little bit dubious as to what on earth I was reading, but as the story went on I was delighted with it because, it makes you work for what you get out of it. And I don't mean that you have to sweat over it or anything, because it's not at all difficult to read, but there's a certain amount of reading between the lines that needs to be done with The Remains of the Day so that you can fully appreciate it.

Intrigued? I know I am! Allow me to be slightly more... descriptive about plot and shit like that. So, the book's written through a first person narrator (NOT my favourite style of book, but I went with it) who is the butler of a big house that's seen better days, and the story follows his little holiday to the seaside, during which he reminisces about days gone by, and also about what it means to be a good butler. And, I know exactly how that sounds. It sounds kind of pretentious and crap, and like the kind of book that's perfect for the people who decide what wins the Booker Prize (which it did) but is not so much fun for the regular reader.

Only, it kind of is. Because Stevens, the butler, is such an intriguing and layered character, at times infuriating, but mostly just someone to feel kind of sorry for. I mean, he's got no discernable sense of humour, and he's an absolute stickler for service (he carried on working seconds after being told his father had died, and sent the doctor seeing to him to this rich man whose feet hurt) but all of that information's just completely surface. What he really thinks and feels and believes about things can only be guessed at, and apart from a few crucial points, is barely even hinted at in the book. It's tempting to think of Stevens just as some kind of robot-butler, devoid of emotions or thoughts of his own, but he makes it clear that, it is crucial to him to be professional at all times, except when he's alone with his thoughts. Thoughts that are, maddeningly, for the most part, out of the reach of the reader.

So this narration creates a constant intrigue for the reader which continues even after you've finished reading, because you're still thinking 'so how did he feel about the Jewish thing?' (oh yeah, there's a whole Nazi thing that went on in the past... that's all interesting because it reveals Stevens' tolerance for literally any views held by his employer) and 'but... didn't he love his father?' and all kinds of other things like that that the book hints at beautifully but never quite clears up for you. This is, of course, entirely in keeping with Stevens' character, and honestly, I wouldn't have this book any other way. It's strange how, reading between the lines can sometimes be even better than reading what's there.

Chief among the things you're unsure about Stevens is the way he feels about Miss Kenton, former housekeeper of his butlering residence and possible object of his desire. And I say possible because there is almost nothing to go on in regards to his feelings for her- he seems, at times, to have been incapable of understanding basic human emotions when talking to her, and yet his constant re-reading of her letter (essentially, we are led to believe, the main reason for his taking the trip in the present day narration) and the number of times he mentions her whilst also adding that nothing untoward happened between them just led me to believe he was desperately in love with her, whether he knew it or not. The line between his knowing it and not saying, and just not knowing is extremely blurred in the book, and you really have to choose which side of it you fall on. Or not- it's beautiful either way.

But- I don't mean to paint this as merely a romantic narrative, because it's not. It's about memory and it's reliability, about politics and ideals, about what it means to give your life entirely to service and to ignore your own urges, and what to do when you come to realise what that means about the rest of your life. It also happens to be beautifully written and have near-perfect characterisation, and, for once, seems like a perfectly deserving book for a big literary prize. Not at all pretentious and a tiny bit heartbreaking- what more could you want from a book?

Tuesday 22 May 2012

Top Ten Tuesday

Time for another Top Ten Tuesday! I really really like this weeks topic because I'm allll about the appreciation of other people's blogs. I don't even know how many times I've written about the book blogs I love, so it's nice to give a bit of blog love to some other bloggers that I follow! If I'm not reading book blogs, I'm normally reading food or kind of 'lifestyle-y' blogs, so they'll basically be the backbone of my list. Just, you know, so you know... Anyway, here goes!

Top Ten Blogs/Sites You Read That Aren't About Books

1. Dooce- The queen of mommybloggers, loved by many, hated by lots more... I'm sure you know about Dooce. I adore her, because this one summer I read her entire blog and it was AWESOME. So, she's the best and you should obviously all read her blog all the time. The end.

2. Bake and Destroy- As if that blog name wasn't enough, Bake and Destroy is clearly the awesomest and most kickass baking blog on the whole internet and actually, its author Natalie is the sweetest and has totally replied to my idiot tweets to her about two separate dreams I've had about her (nothing dodgy, promise!) So, yeah. To me, it's basically like having a celebrity tweet me back!

3. Hello Giggles- Kiiind of an irritating name, BUT Hello Giggles involves Zooey Deschanel, which makes it automatically readable, but more importantly has a massive network of women writing about basically anything and everything you can think of. It's definitely worth checking out because I think there's something on there for literally everyone.

4. Joy the Baker- I love her so much. Her blog is like the loveliest Californian lifestyle where you bake all day and write cookbooks and are just generally sweet and lovely. I got her cookbook for my birthday, and it did not disappoint.

5. A Beautiful Mess- Kind of a lifestyle/crafty/outfit/sometimes recipes blog that's so pretty and presents such a lovely lifestyle (running a clothes shop and a blog and also being a photographer= wonderful!) When I revealed to Frances that I'd never read this blog, she was shocked and alarmed that I hadn't because 'the whole internet follows Elsie Larson!' I don't know how true that is, but I think it should be, because A Beautiful Mess is simply lovely.

6. The Vagenda- This is literally the most amazing blog ever. It was essentially started to take the piss out of women's magazines (and oh BOY does that need to be done) but it's kind of evolved to talk about a whole range of female and feminist issues, whilst still taking the piss out of women's magazines, in a totally awesome patriarchy smashing way.

7. Whisk Kid- Probably one of the first food blogs I discovered, after Frances (again!) posted a picture of her amaaaazing rainbow cake, which I tried to emulate myself about two years later. Anyway, Kaitlin combines beautiful pictures of baked goods with beautifully written little stories about her life and whatnot, and it's a lovely combination.

8. Sometimes Sweet- I actually found this blog through Danielle's column on Hello Giggles, I just really liked her writing style AND the stuff she wrote about- there was one column about people's perceptions of heavily tattooed people, specifically women, and since I'm all about the tattoo love, I was sold! Her blog is really lovely- I love her Tattoo Tuesday feature, and she posts a lot of sweet pictures of her little boy which, well... tattoos and babies? Can't go wrong!

9. Miss Indie- Quite a new blog find for me, but I really really love Mandy's writing voice and she really takes the nicest pictures! Honestly the cutest, most adorable blog I follow.

10. Hyperbole and a Half- Now I know you all must know about Hyperbole and a Half already, but it occurs that this is about my favourite non-book sites, not 'obscure blogs I must recommend.' So, I have to confess something right now- when I'm reading and stuff and just generally watching things alone that are funny, I don't really laugh out loud that much. I'm totally amused, it's just that, I think laughing's more of a performative thing for me or something? Anyway- this blog? Makes me laugh with every post. I read the entire thing in a weekend because that's how good it is. If you haven't come across it already, go there RIGHT NOW!

So. That's some stuff I read online that aren't book blogs. And I think it's all a good mix- because sometimes I want to escape a world that's all about the books, but lifestyle/outfit blogs grate on my nerves after a while because they're JUST CLOTHES AND WHY ARE YOU TELLING ME YOUR LIFE IS PERFECT, and also, if I just read baking blogs, I'd feel all inadequate because the stuff I bake is delicious but not very photogenic. So... I think I have a good balance. Now tell me- what other blogs can I add to my reading list?

Monday 21 May 2012

Devouring Films: Winter's Bone

Most of the time when I review things, it's because I have something interesting to say or criticise about them (well, at least I think I do, you might disagree!), but sometimes, I write about them just so I don't feel like I've wasted my time watching or reading (although I basically just review every book I finish) them. Winter's Bone, I'm afraid to say, took up a good hour and a half of my life, and, well, I should at least be able to get a blog post out of it!

It's not that it was bad exactly. It was, shall we say, very very dreary and kind of sucked the life out of me, but in the kind of way that you know that's exactly what it was trying to do, and so you can't really feel cross about it for doing so. Part of my lack of enthusiasm with it was because LoveFilm sent it to me when I was expecting Norwegian Wood (cause that's going to be way less dreary! HA!) and because I'm trying not to waste my LoveFilm credits (too boring to go into detail) I basically had to watch it on the day I got it and send it straight back. So. Part of this was all my fault.

But. Not all of it. And I think what I got with Winter's Bone was the flip side of the indie movie coin, i.e. the indie movie where nothing much happens, and the stuff that does happen, you don't really care about. And I wanted to care! Really! I mean, Jennifer Lawrence is the star of this movie and her performance is GREAT (deserving of the Best Actress Oscar nomination she got for it) and really there's no end to how much I love her. And yet... I still didn't really care about her, and I don't know why! I will say this for Winter's Bone though- I kind of saw it as the best and most extended audition EVER for Katniss in The Hunger Games. Consider this: Ree, Lawrence's character, looks after her younger sister (and brother) because her mum's totally depressed and her dad's missing and maybe dead. So, she has to go on a quest to find out what's happened to her dad which is potentially really dangerous and could even lead to her death. PLUS she totally hunts in the woods outside her house so that the family have food to eat. Clearly she was perfect to be Katniss (and she really was, actually.)

So. As I've been writing this, I've come up with 2 theories as to why Winter's Bone didn't press any of my buttons, other than the couple I've already talked about. Here they are, and be warned, they're kind of stupid...

1. It's meant to be all suspense-y: I'm not so good with things that are meant to be suspenseful anymore, on account of my having a really short attention span, because of the internet and all. I've seen both No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood (mainly just to be able to tell them apart, because for the longest time I just chose to believe they were the same film) and both of those are meant to be all suspenseful and stuff. Which, sadly, I totally didn't get and just decided they were pretty boring and that I was done with them. I fear that the same might be true of Winter's Bone, because I didn't feel held in suspense at all.

2. It's not Breaking Bad- Obviously. I refer not only to the fact that I was watching Breaking Bad A LOT when I watched Winter's Bone, and would have much rather have spent the hour and a half watching it instead, but also, well. OK. So, from what I understood of Winter's Bone, it was about people making meth in rural Missouri (which I just looked up on Wikipedia, and is totally not where I thought it was... I'm pretty sure I was thinking of Minnesota, so, whatever). And because I've come to expect the highest quality from things that are about meth production, and because Breaking Bad has become one of my favourite ever things, I guess this was... disappointing. There is literally no meth cooking in this film, I just want you to know that.

Shorthand of those reasons: there are clearly many things wrong with my brain. But still- I wasn't impressed with Winter's Bone, and while I don't feel strongly enough about it to hate it, I can't exactly recommend it either. Just... watch it if you must, for a prolonged audition for The Hunger Games (I should really stop saying that, because I'm sure that's not why Lawrence did it!) but don't expect it to blow your mind.

Sunday 20 May 2012

Sunday Sundries

NOT the cake I made... See the recipe for it here.

So, a whole week happened, huh? What exactly happened I can't remember because, let's face it, it's Sunday and I am therefore good for nothing. And this Sunday is my papa's birthday, so happy birthday to him! I have, of course, made him a cake (it's a funfetti cake and I only discovered the existence of such a glorious thing a month or so ago and OBViously I had to make one!) and that promises to be the absolute highlight of the day! False modesty never did anyone any good.

But! There was a whole week before today, and stuff happened in it. Not a lot of stuff, admittedly, but I did manage to make my mum drive me to a local-ish mecca of charity shops to look for books, and well, I obviously bought some! I got one of the few remaining Bill Bryson books that I didn't already have, and I also got two of the fattest books, which I really want to read, and yet may never because they're just too massive (The Corrections and Infinite Jest, if you're interested, which you obviously are because this is primarily a book blog!) And yeah- I finally finished all the seasons of Breaking Bad, and I watched everyone on Twitter doing the Bout of Books Readathon jealously (I'm probably going to do the next one, because it seems SO fun!) and also wrote like 3 blog posts in a day, which I've been doing more and more recently which is weird. Like... I save them up or something until I have nothing to post, and then write loads in one go. It's one way to do things, I suppose, and it works for me, so whatevs, I'm not going to think about it too much!

Also in blog world this week I've been doing some blogging admin (this is what I call the boring but necessary things) basically in the form of pinning all my reviews of things to Pinterest. Have we talked about Pinterest before? I really like it, just as a way of keeping interesting things I've found on the internet in one place, and also to look at pretty things that other people have found. I mean, sometimes I don't have the energy for it, but mostly I just find it useful. So, hey, follow me here if you're on it too and we can be Pin Friends! (note: we don't have to call it pin friends. We can call it something much cooler.) ANYWAY, so I've been pinning relevant posts on there because I feel like there are just hundreds of people calling out for book reviews of not even newly released books. I just like feel it, ok? To do this, I've basically been going through my entire blog, and if you've never done this before, may I highly recommend it? I mean, really- there are LOADS of things on here that I'd forgotten about, like videos of Daniel Day Lewis licking necks; AND I wasn't even as embarrassed of my old writing as I thought I would be. I literally used to cringe every time I hit the 'Publish Post' button, but now I'm kind of like... No, I did ok!

Back in the real world... Yesterday was fun because it was basically an extension of my birthday- my sister bought me a theatre ticket as a present and the show was yesterday and yeah, we went! I'm sure there was a more concise way to say that, but I'm pretty tired! Anyway, we did a bit of shopping and had pizza for dinner and then went to see Legally Blonde: The Musical. I should say, firstly, that I'm kind of morally opposed to turning things that are already things into musicals (it's like, get some ideas of your own, you know?) BUT Legally Blonde was actually pretty good and retained the essence of the movie whilst also being unique in a few ways that were interesting and fun. So yeah, I liked it! Definitely the highlight day of my week, I'd have to say.

And basically, that's about it. Can't really grumble about any of the week, especially considering that I didn't have to go near a hospital or a chemists or even the doctor's surgery even once! Always a plus in my world!

Friday 18 May 2012

Devouring Books: The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

Because I'm stupid, my Atwood history goes: Read The Handmaid's Tale and LOVED it. Then, waited nearly 2 years to read Oryx and Crake because I'm mental. Then, two weeks later, I read The Year of the Flood. And I didn't even think I liked Oryx and Crake that much (or, at least not as much as The Handmaid's Tale, because there are family members I don't even like that much), and yet, when promised more information on the world created in Oryx and Crake, which The Year of the Flood provides, I jumped all over it.

Weird stuff. But, I'm glad that I did because I think I ended up enjoying The Year of the Flood more than Oryx and Crake, and I think that if I'd left, say, a year between them, I would have ended up missing a lot of the connections between the two books, and The Year of the Flood wouldn't have had the same impact on me. Because, the thing is, I'm really really into the little jolts you get when you realise something's related to another story. It's one of the reasons that The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster is one of my favourite books, and when realising, in The Year of the Flood, that, for example, Glenn was Crake from the first book? It captured my attention, and made me way more interested in the things going on in The Year of the Flood.

So. The Year of the Flood. Everything in it basically happens parallel to the things that happen in Oryx and Crake, but rather than being at, essentially, Ground Zero of the whole end of the world thing, it's seen from the perspective of a vegetarian cult, who basically sprung up as a result of the crazy technological advances they saw going on in the world, preaching that it would all end in a 'waterless flood' and the wiping out of all the bad things in the dystopian world. So, basically, the kind of cult that everyone thinks is crazy until everything they've been saying comes true and goes '...fuck.' Actually, that pretty much never happens in real life, but imagine that it could and then you're in a position to be able to read The Year of the Flood!

I think there's really one fundamental reason that I prefer The Year of the Flood to Oryx and Crake, and that's basically that it has female protagonists. Pretty predictably, I guess, because while I don't dislike male protagonists in general (obviously I take books on a cast by case basis!), if I'm given a choice between hearing a story from the boys' or the girls' perspective, I'm basically always going to choose the girls. On that note, let me say that I adore Toby, who is loyal to God's Gardeners (that's the cult) because they rescued her from this abusive 'boyfriend' (as in, he said 'you're my girlfriend or you're dead' i.e. her constant rapist) and who really has this incredible toughness to her, in every aspect of her being. Our other protagonist is Ren, who I still like, only less than Toby, but who is integral to the story because she's the one whose timeline crosses over with that of Oryx and Crake. (I don't want to say how, because I don't want to ruin those exciting little jolts!)

So. Like Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood goes between the present of the post-dystopia, and the past of the dystopia that really, these characters were quite apart from. Of these, their present is pretty similar to Jimmy's in Oryx and Crake- the isolation, the worries about food supplies and attackers and things like that, but their pasts, other than where they overlap, are really quite different. I would say this about the overlapping though- I'm a little bit skeptical of the timeline of events, as in, it seems like Jimmy and Glenn meet much later in The Year of the Flood than they do in Oryx and Crake, but I can't really be bothered to properly check, AND it's possible that this was intentional- that either Ren or Jimmy are remembering things wrongly because the adjustment to this new world has addled their brains.

So, basically, The Year of the Flood- it is good! I liked that it felt like you could read it and Oryx and Crake pretty much in any order (although the ending of The Year of the Flood kind of de-cliffhangers the end of Oryx and Crake) because they run parallel to each other, which I think is an interesting way to approach a trilogy. And oh yes- this is apparently going to be a trilogy. So, basically, I'm pretty excited for the publication of the last one. Whenever that may be...

Thursday 17 May 2012

Devouring Books: Bossypants by Tina Fey

I read Bossypants in one day about a month ago, not because I wanted to or didn't have anything else to do that day (although, come to think of it, I really didn't) but because I literally couldn't stop reading. Because, guess what, guess what? Tina Fey is really funny! She's like ridiculously funny, and Bossypants could have been about 500 pages longer and I still would have tried to read it in that one day. I sort of feel like it's redundant to review it, since I'm thinking that everyone who wanted to read it has read it by now, and has obviously peed their pants with excitement about it because it's the best of all things. But just in case, I'll say some things about it.

Starting with, I bet you're wondering why it took me like a month to review it! (You're not? You really don't give a crap? Oh. Well. Shut up.) Anyway, the reason is that the whole time I was reading Bossypants I was going 'well, this is clearly amazing. But imagine it being read IN TINA FEY'S VOICE,' and, since we live in a digital age, I managed to download the Bossypants audiobook FOR NO MONEY. I should probably explain that, rather than depriving Tina of money (I feel close enough to her to call her Tina, are we all down with that?) I downloaded it with the blessing, nay the encouragement of Amazon, who are constantly sending out 'One free download with Audible' voucher-y things with everything I buy from them, and, well, I finally took them up on their offer (and promptly cancelled my Audible account. I'm a cold bitch).

So! This was my very first audiobook in adulthood and I didn't really know what to do with it- I mean, do you just listen to these things whenever, and just lay down and close your eyes and be read a story? I don't drive so that wasn't an option, and as for like going for a jog or something whilst listening to an audiobook... LOL. In a word. So, in the end, I listened to it just before bed, when I was too sleepy to resist listening to someone, but not quite sleepy enough to go to sleep. So, at a rate of about half an hour a night, not every night, I made it through my first audiobook. And it was bloody brilliant! A personal highlight was listening to the Tina Fey/Amy Poehler SNL sketch that was just in script form in the book, but was literally the performance in the audiobook; but there were a lot of other advantages to listening to Bossypants too. As in, Tina Fey is blooming hilarious (have I mentioned that yet?) and hence, her performance of her own book was also, obviously, hilarious.

And, as for the content? Amazing. Bossypants is ostensibly a memoir-esque thing, but included within it are a lot of Tina's thoughts about like feminism and what female beauty is supposed to mean and all kinds of things like that that make me go 'YEAH!' because, well feminism! And I learned some new things too- such as, did you know that Tina Fey has a scar on her face from being slashed by some horrible random when she was like 5? Because I had NEVER noticed it before, which I guess is the mark of good filming and stuff, but since I read Bossypants, I keep noticing it. Which is sort of irritating actually. And also irritating was the slight spoilering of 30 Rock (of which I've only seen the first season, but, then again, spoilers of sitcoms are not exactly like spoilers for drama series) and the complete absence of talking about Mean Girls! I mean... I guess it maybe wasn't that dramatic or amusing, but it is the very first thing that made me love Tina Fey, and I think it's mentioned, fleetingly, maybe twice in the whole book. Sadface.

BUT anyway- those minor irritations really only occurred to me after having read Bossypants, and after the audiobook, I didn't even care about them any more, because Tina Fey is just the funniest! (Duh. This is clearly my opinion of Tina Fey. Someone shut me up, yeah?) I mean, if you like Tina Fey, you're basically going to love this book, and if you don't? I don't know. This book will maybe change your mind, but it seems to me like it's very much in Tina's voice, and if you don't like that then, well, you're crazy, firstly, but also, you may not like this book. BUT how can you not like a book that celebrates women in comedy and makes men in comedy, by the way, sound really gross; whilst also talking about a father who sounds AWESOME (that's Don Fey.) and just other generally awesome things? You can't basically. So read it.

Oh yeah, and get the audiobook too. It rocks.

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Devouring TV: The Inbetweeners

I love a good sitcom, and The Inbetweeners is, I have to say, a really good sitcom. With an opening sentence like that, it's obvious that I'm going to criticise it later, but be patient and calm down, because I'm not going to criticise the programme so much as the way people react and have reacted to it. The programme itself though? Pure funniness.

The basic premise of The Inbetweeners is that Will, up until now a privately educated kid, has been forced to go to a state school for sixth form because his mum now has no money (american translation: he's about 17, mum=mom. Actually, most of this post probably isn't going to make much sense to you, but just go with it, ok?) because his dad has left her. His dad is Giles from Buffy, but we don't know that until the completely inferior movie, so just forget I said anything, ok? ANYWAY, so Will goes to this new school, and manages to make friends with three of the weirdest teenage boys maybe ever portrayed anywhere, ever. There's Simon, who is a bit of a hunk but also the oddest of the three (he can't really talk to girls and just gets in these situtations...), Jay, a sex obsessed virgin; and Neil, nice but dim. They're all utter twats, but when utter twats are hilarious, how can you help but watch them?! One of the bigger spiritual questions there, I'd have to say.

I watched most of all three series over a few days last week with my dad (note: there are few worse things to watch with your parents than The Inbetweeners. But, since they find it funny too, whatcha gonna do?) and a few things occurred to me that I hadn't really thought about before. Namely: it's ok that the main characters are twats, because it means they can do extremely embarrassing things, and instead of feeling bad for them, you just find it really really funny. And also: they always get their just desserts- if they do something especially twattish, there's always a hilarious punishment in hand, like destroying Simon's crap car, or having to hide from the angry man whose flower beds they've destroyed. And while they may rely a little bit too much on visible sick (I really really don't find projectile vomiting funny) or making poo jokes, on the whole, it's just a whole lot of fun.

I think it would be really easy to call The Inbetweeners sexist and evil, because of the myriad times girls are referred to as 'minge' or 'poontang' or 'clunge' and I'm not going to lie, it does sort of bother me. But getting up in arms about it would be ridiculous, because it entirely misses the point. Jay (who is the worst offender with the vagina talk) is the most hapless with girls, and because he is physically unable to be cool in front of girls, talking about sex and his 'sexual exploits' (all fictional) is the best he can do. It's like the thing that you read in teen magazines where girls say 'I'm the only one of my friends who hasn't had sex' and the agony aunt is like 'you don't actually know that, and also, the ones who talk about it the most are usually the least experienced' and, well, that's definitely the case in The Inbetweeners!

But here's the thing with missing the point. For every person watching The Inbetweeners and going 'shit, I hope I don't act like that and that I'm cooler than them' there's another person going 'haha, look at that clunge over there!' Failing to see that the characters are basically the least cool people in the world, they adopt their catchphrases and then actually refer to girls as 'clunge'. Unironically. Just because they saw it on the telly and they thought it was funny. This is something I like to call The South Park Effect (I just thought that up as a thing to put all in capitals, and I really don't think that's what I want to call it... but again, just go with it, ok?) Because, you see, I really like South Park and I think it's really clever and satire-y and that one episode where they killed Chef and called him a massive hypocrite was so amazing. But, for every me, there's someone watching it who just goes 'haha, they just said fuck!' Or, 'LOL, that kid shit himself!'

So, what I'm saying is, people are morons.

But! That doesn't mean the rest of us can't watch things that are funny and laugh at their funniness, while also knowing better than to adopt their lifestyle (lifestyle? Catchphrases, I guess!) for our own. The Inbetweeners remains hilarious, and gross, and embarrassing, and rarely, although importantly, far deeper than it has to be. I've done some extensive research into it and, apparently, MTV are making an American version of The Inbetweeners. About this I say: 1. An American version is really really needed, because while I find The Inbetweeners hilarious, I know that there's so much that just wouldn't translate at all. And, 2. It's really going to suck. I'm sorry, but I can already see that it'll just be really mistranslated and just terrible. But, I will give it a watch, if and when it comes to fruition. Even if I end up laughing at it for all the wrong reasons...

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Devouring Books: Night by Elie Wiesel

"The lament spread from wagon to wagon. It was contagious. And now hundreds of cries rose at once. The death rattle of an entire convoy with the end approaching. All boundaries had been crossed. Nobody had any strength left. And the night seemed endless."
If you want a book that's almost excruciating to read and yet is also probably something that's really important for basically everyone to read, then that book would be Night. I think the title gives some indication about how bleak it's going to be, but I don't think I was at all prepared for how difficult Night would be to read. It's impossible to escape the fact that these are real things, that happened to a real person; and also that far worse things happened to many other people. It's almost too much to think about.

The more Holocaust literature I read (and I have read hardly any Holocaust literature because I just can't- I once wanted to do a module on Holocaust literature at University, but I'm pretty glad I didn't now because... it's just too much.) the more I think about things. Things like, well, this is just one person's account, and there are 6 million dead people whose stories don't get to be told. What happened to them? Why did they die and this guy survive? (The main answer to that is, essentially, that Wiesel was taken to Auschwitz in 1944 and only [sorry, 'only'] had to survive for a year or so. I suspect that most of the people taken into the camps earlier than that just didn't make it). So, as well as being horrified by one person's experience, I'm further furious about all the people who don't get to tell us what they went through.

So. Night. I was basically on the verge of tears while reading the whole thing, so that should tell you how much of an enjoyable read it is. I mean, reading the thoughts of someone who has faced the possibility of death every day, and, worse, doesn't much care whether it happens to him or not is not fun. Reading about his guilt for having the forbidden thought that he might be better off if his father dies because he won't have a burden anymore, and just wanting to relieve him of that guilt because it's not his fault- placed in an impossible situation, how could he help the things he felt? But that's the thing- there's literally nothing I could say or do that would make this any better, or make any of it not have happened.

Here's a thing I was thinking of a lot while I was reading Night- from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close:
"The end of suffering doesn't justify the suffering, and so there is no end to suffering."
Night was written 10 years after the Holocaust, and yet it's clear that Wiesel's suffering is still happening- admittedly, writing the book must have been somewhat of a release for him, and yet knowing the things that are always going to be on his mind are excruciating. To me, this is almost the worst thing about the Holocaust- that the Nazis didn't just take away a few years of these people's lives- the whole rest of their lives are going to be dominated by what happened to them, and what they remember of it. I'm not saying that no one can ever get over it, or live as full a life as they can after it, but there's nothing that can make it better, or make it not have happened. The whole rest of their lives is (or I suppose was... there can't be that many Holocaust survivors still alive, surely?) defined by what was done to them, rather than what they did.

For what it's worth, Night is extremely well written- a perfect mix of anger and eloquence, never getting sentimental or self pitying, only angry and sorrowful. It's difficult to read, of course, but then also, it kind of should be- there's no sugar coating what happened in the Holocaust, and there's no reason to spare us any of the details. Not because we should feel guilty about what happened (although I kind of feel guilty about belonging to the same species as the Nazis, but there's not much I can do about that) but because we should never let it happen again, and knowing how appalling it was is the best way I can think of to do that.

So, Night. It's not a barrel of laughs, but it is an important piece of literature, and one that I'm glad I read. Don't expect an inspirational tale with a happy ending, but be inspired to be kind and good. Just... make sure you have a lot of tissues and probably something nice to read afterwards, because man, is it hardgoing.

Monday 14 May 2012

Devouring Films: Melancholia

Melancholia would be an accurate description of the state this film left me in. Not because it's all deep and meaningful and life-affirming and whatnot, but because it has such lofty ambitions and glimmers of substance that fall completely flat. Like a really really disappointing cake or something. I was led to believe something different by basically every review of it I read, and I feel really duped by them, or at least that they were duped by this film. Either way, it's all just badness.

Just to take a teeny bit of the sting out of the first paragraph right there, allow me to tell you a few things that were good about this film. Kirsten Dunst's performance as the seemingly bipolar (I mean, she's meant to be depressed, but a lot of her actions, especially early on, seem kind of manic) Justine is really excellent, and deserves all the nice things said about it. That's not to say that I didn't have some problems with the character and her actions, but in pure performance terms, it was really well done. Also... I enjoy Alexander Skarsgard being cast in anything because he's just so... there aren't even words to describe what he is. But as well as being hdjsahfeuafne, he's also a pretty good actor, and I think he does his best with what he's given. Which, unfortunately, isn't a lot.
Problem number one: if this man loved you, you'd be grateful and love your wedding (I realise depression doesn't work like this, but still... SKARSGARD)

Look. I'm not one of those people who needs every single second of a film described to me as it's happening to have any idea about what's going on. I love indie movies, and with most of them, you're pretty much on your own, figuring out relationships and things that might have gone on in the past, and it's all just very enriching so you don't feel so bad about watching a film at like 3pm on a weekday (I rarely do this, I have to add. Really!) But. With Melancholia, it's like the substance was left out entirely. It feels like there are about 10 lines of dialogue in the entire 2 hour and a few minutes running time, and much as I wanted to figure out everyone's thoughts and feelings and past experiences, there just wasn't enough to go on to make any thoughts about it really stick.

Example: Why did Justine agree to marry Michael when she doesn't even seem to like him? (for the record, I like him. I like him a lot.) Because, her saying "But really, what did you expect?" when he just randomly leaves without having an argument with her just isn't enough, and really, who doesn't argue with their new wife when she continually wanders off during her wedding? And whose parents just tear each other apart in their wedding speeches and don't just suck it up and be happy for their daughter? I think there just wasn't enough that was real in this film, emotionally or otherwise- the people in it act in ways that no real people would act, and it's all just ever so wrong. And I'm not just talking about the lack of science behind the planet that's threatening to collide with earth (because that, actually, I don't really care about. I just want my characters to be real.)

I thought, also, that the name of the planet on a potential collision course with Earth being Melancholia would make it some kind of metaphor for Justine's depression, but in fact it wasn't at all, unless it was a shitty metaphor that I missed while I was pissed off with the rich woman for freaking out over something that was beyond her control while she could have just been enjoying the last days. But, in fact, according to Wikipedia, Lars Von Trier said that Melancholia was about how people with depression are able to deal with disasters better because they expect the worst to happen anyway. To which I say, firstly, what the FUCK was the whole first half of the film about then? And also, it fails to even do this! I mean, at no point was I thinking 'oh, look at how well Justine is coping', I just thought 'that chick really doesn't care about what happens...' I mean, granted she does become slightly cool towards the end, but by that point I was just so so over it. Like, massively.

Melancholia is quite clearly split into two parts, so you'd think I wouldn't be able to moan about that, but just watch me go. But really, the thing is, the two parts literally have nothing to do with each other. All that carries over from the first part is that there's this planet thing which is briefly discovered in the first bit, and the fact that Justine is 'scared', which later turns into depression. But apart from that, nothing. Nada. It's basically like two different films, both of which are disappointing and pretentious. And not pretentious in the good way, like how people think American Beauty is pretentious (it ISN'T. Now shut up!) But pretentious in the lack of any real substance, although it does look pretty nice. Here's an example- Justine turns up at her sister's house and can barely walk and cries when Claire tries to bathe her and says her food tastes like ashes (none of which I have any beef with, indeed these were about the only scenes where I felt anything for any character). But the thing is, in about the next scene, without any explanation, or even a hint of time moving, she's up and about, not exactly cured but definitely more functioning than she was like minutes before. It's just all so... unconvincing and hollow, and just bad. Bad film.

So, friends and whatnot. I disliked Melancholia, and then I disliked it some more because I had such expectations for it. This isn't the first time and probably won't be the last time that the promise of Skarsgard has lured me into watching something, and whilst his adorableness isn't really the only thing I want to take away from a movie, on this occasion I'll grudgingly accept it. Unless you have mental health issues like that (and I have them doubly bad- I watched both The Astronaut's Wife and Pirates of the Caribbean 4 for Johnny Depp and OH the badness) I recommend you give this film a wide berth, lest you end up horribly disappointed by something which could have been so much better.

Sunday 13 May 2012

Sunday Sundries

You'll see why in a bit. Just keep reading.

I somehow managed to forget to do a Sunday Sundries post today, and now it's like 6pm (not that late, I realise, but there's Breaking Bad to be watched, and dammit I want to just lay around like it's a Sunday!) So, what I'm saying is, this is going to be relatively brief *cheers ring out across the WORLD*.

So here's a thing that happened this week- I got my first ever piece of fan email! I mean, it was a few lines just saying 'hey, I really like your blog and your reviews AND you're really funny' and I was like, firstly, I love you, but also, how nice is that?! I mean, when I find a new blog that I LOVE, I usually leave a comment just telling them that I love them, but an email is sort of above and beyond, and it was a real confidence booster. It also got me to thinking about how lots of bloggers have had people sending them negative emails really, and how equally confidence breaking that must be. I mean, why do it? Wouldn't we all rather live in a world that bolsters positivity and confidence, rather than just being nasty to each other all the time? And what kind of a person goes out of their way to actively be horrible to someone? A bad kind, that's who.

But anyway, fanmail, yay! And here's another thing I've been noticing about myself- I'm a lot less tolerant of certain types of books these days. And by that, I mean that I'm a lot quicker to give up on one then I ever have been before (as in, I haven't been) and I really don't know what's up with that. Actually, I have a couple of theories- firstly, that I've got SO many books that I can't really be wasting my time on books I don't like more or less straight away (well, ok, I don't have to like them straight away, but I can't be doing with actively disliking them) and also because of this too many books thing, I'm trying to get rid of some (basically just to get more) and so just giving a book up because I don't like it means I can go and get a new one (at some point) that I do like. Basically, what I'm saying is, I read the first bit of Cloud Atlas this morning, and I didn't like it, so it's already in the charity shop bag. And it feels GOOD.

Anyway- real life things. Let's see. I hung out with my friend on Monday cause it was a bank holiday here, and we had a joyous time- we pondered about whether the Von Trapp family were Catholic or not and also about how camp the cowardly lion is (guess which films we watched!) and it was all awesome. And then it rained alllll week and I went on two hospital appointments and was disgustingly housewife-ish on Saturday (I did the washing and baked [CHOCOLATE RAISIN BROWNIES OMG] basically... but still, housewifery on a Saturday? No.) but the lovely Monday got me through the week. Also I read some things and watched some other things and that was all good.

So! That was about it! The internet told me that it's Mother's Day in the US today, so I hope you're all being nice to your mums and have bought them appropriate gifts and things. Today is also Hanna over at Booking in Heels' blog birthday, and she's giving things away, so go over there and tell her happy blog birthday! I feel like there was another link that I really really had to share with you, but I can't think of it... But if I tweeted it, it was probably awesome, so you should really just be following me on twitter already!

Aaaand, now I'm really done. Have a lovely week everyone!

Friday 11 May 2012

Devouring Books: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

A Walk in the Woods is my FOURTH Bryson book of the year. That's basically 4 Brysons in as many months, which is an INSANE number of books by one author to read in such a short time. But the thing is, as you may have noticed by now, Bryson isn't just any author. He's fairly excellent. Like... some crotchety old uncle who complains LOADS, but when you actually listen to him he really knows what he's talking about and has some really interesting insights into stuff. And then you sort of wish he was your uncle, and that you could go walking on the Appalachian Trail with him just cause he's so awesome.

That's what this book's about, by the way. Bryson's all like 'ooh, I've just moved to New Hampshire and the AT is right by my house... I should write a book about it' because he has the thought processes of a normal person. Ahem. Deciding to walk the whole thing is a decision that he almost immediately regrets, and so what follows are descriptions of bear attacks, murders and just general bad deaths on the old AT, making one think that maybe, just maybe, this isn't necessarily going to be Bryson's most successful mission ever.

It is a lot of fun though. Made much, MUCH funnier by the inclusion of Bryson's old friend Katz (who apparently also appears in Neither Here Nor There, aka the next Bryson book I'm reading, clearly). And here's why Katz is so great: Bryson is really good at researching things and writing things in a grumpy yet charming way, but he's also fairly polite to strangers. Katz is... much less concerned with social niceties like that, and pretty much just says what's on his mind. He's not outright HORRID to anyone, but he doesn't waste his time being polite to people who he's not really interested in. This may make him not the nicest person in real life, but in terms of reading a book, he's sort of awesome. He's so awesome, in fact, that I managed to forget Bryson's typical writing style of 'here's what I was doing and now some background on the place' (which, by the way, I really like) and started thinking 'why is he telling me all this boring crap? WHERE'S KATZ AND WHAT IS HE DOING?' Seriously. Weird.

So Katz is the real star of the book, but the other one is the Appalachian Trail itself. And what a trail it is. Over 2000 miles of woodland and nature and walking a lot, all the time, whilst carrying everything you might need on your back. In other words, it's the kind of thing that sounds good on paper, but in reality seems like a fucking nightmare, which is something that Bryson comes to realise over the first part of the trail. But still... I kind of want to walk it. The whole thing. Even though I'd almost definitely die or be eaten by a bear or something. It's just another one of those things that makes America so appealing to me- I mean, the entirety of Great Britain (Lands End to John O'Groats) is 814 miles, which doesn't come anywhere close to the AT, which doesn't even stretch down the whole of the East Coast of the US or anything. I just... the scale of America is RIDICULOUS to a teeny island dweller like me, but it's also very very appealing- as is the notion that you could walk across the whole country and see so many different things... Just amazing.

It's official, guys- I heart America.

ANYWAY. This book, it is good. I shant tell you whether or not Bryson and Katz walked the whole of the AT because that would sort of ruin the thing, and besides, it doesn't really matter- it's all about the journey, and the things they learnt along the way. And also about Bryson being able to have a little complain about the growth of small towns and the super short American attention span (my love for America isn't really encouraged by anything Bryson says ever, if I'm completely honest). I have the utmost respect for this book though, for one reason alone- Bryson had the perfect opportunity to mention Dollywood when he was hiking through the Smoky Mountains, and mention it he did. That makes any book a winner in my eyes.

Thursday 10 May 2012

Devouring Books: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

I'm about to do that thing again that I really don't like doing, so look away now, me.

*Ahem* I liked this book a lot BUT I read it really really soon after Bossypants by Tina Fey (review forthcoming- I'm in the closing chapters of the audiobook and I want to review both together) and... it's not as good as Bossypants. Again this is a relatively empty thing to say about a book that's by a different author with different experiences and all, but I did read them really close together and so I was kind of comparing them by default. Having said that, I enjoyed them both plenty, but I think it's worth mentioning that I think Bossypants is better. And also that I would have left more time between them if I'd been smarter, and I think that would have made me enjoy Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me more.

I'm back- that person who thinks it's ok to compare books with other books didn't say anything too mean right? ANYWAY- I basically knew nothing about Mindy Kaling before getting this book because I haven't seen the US Office or anything, but I had read this thing about Romantic Comedy stereotypes that was really funny and is a chapter in this book. So, that, combined with constant endorsement by Hello Giggles, made me believe that this was a good book to read (but not good enough to spend money on it myself, obviously- I got someone to buy it for me for my birthday).

And good it is! It's a mixture of a memoir and kind of general musings, all in the form of short essays that are basically all really entertaining. I'm glad that it's not fully a memoir since Kaling is all of 32 years old, and also because memoirs can be boring if one has to create drama where there wasn't really any. Instead, by writing short essays, Kaling can pick out parts of her childhood and stuff that feel significant and which she can create comedy from. It works well! At no point was I like 'why is she telling me this...' and I was amused the whole way through.

But. We have to talk about the title essay. It's a good essay but it pissed me off so much that it made me kind of irritated with the title just because now I know the story behind it I'm like '... but that's stupid.' SO the essay basically goes that Kaling was in this friendship group of 4, and then decided that she liked hanging out with this other girl who was SO much more her kind of person, none of which was a problem because, you know, you make new friends and stuff. So anyway, one day she goes to the mall with this new friend on the day she normally hung out with her other friends, and described seeing them in the same place as they always were on a Friday and felt upset that they were hanging out without her.

My reaction to this? EYE ROLL OF THE CENTURY! Because Kaling decided to hang out with this other friend at the same time she normally hung out with the others and then expected them to just, I don't know, go home to their separate homes and like weep because she wasn't with them? So whereas I thought the title of the book was clever and like a really valid concern, the actual story behind it is annoying and just shows someone having unrealistic expectations of other people (not to mention an inflated sense of self) rather than actually having been left out of something. I mean, I forgive Kaling for this because she was a teenager, and let's face it, teenagers have an inflated sense of self, and to her credit she did continue hanging out with her new friend rather than running off to join her old friends, BUT this story still really bugs me and makes me really dislike the title!

But- this is basically the only essay that pissed me off! Which is a good thing, obviously. Other than that, I giggled my way through the rest of the book, learned what an Irish goodbye is, nodded at her thoughts on one night stands (that what if you invite a guy back to your house and find out then that he's a murderer? Well what if?!) and basically enjoyed many of her other observations about all kinds of things. I'm also considering watching the US Office now which, considering how much I dislike Ricky Gervais (I realise he didn't write the US version. But he gets money from that shit. Although if I watch it online he gets NOTHING. Hmmm...) is a BIG DEAL. So- go, read it, and tell me if you agree with my annoyance at that one little thing...

Alternatively, if you've only got time to read one book of hilarious essays this year, make it Tina Fey's. Sorry! But really, this is something Kaling even kind of addresses herself! Observe:
"This sounds okay, but not as good as Tina Fey's book? Why isn't this more like Tina Fey's book?I know, man. Tina's awesome... Unfortunately I can't be Tina because it's very difficult to lure her into a Freaky Friday- type situation where we could switch bodies, even though in the movies they make it look so easy. Believe me, I've tried."
See! Funny AND willing to admit that Tina Fey is awesome. Definitely worth reading.