Tuesday 27 November 2012

Devouring Books: Small Island by Andrea Levy

I have a lot of feelings about Small Island. Some of them are happy feelings, some of them are cross feelings, and not a few of them are slightly 'meh' feelings, which, I think in the end override all the other ones. But we'll get to that in due course, and there's a lot here that I can talk about (lucky you!) in spite of my overriding feelings of meh-ness about the novel. Which we'll get to in due time.

SO. Small Island is essentially the story of four people, two couples, and the ways in which their lives intersect in the period after World War Two, and what it meant for Jamaican people coming over at that time, and also what it was like before and during the war. In other words, it's about a lot of things, and I feel like it almost can't make up its mind about what it wants to be. It flicks between the past and the present, because apparently knowing everything about these characters' pasts is more important than creating a good narrative of what's going on in the present.

Or maybe I'm just being really grumpy about it.

Like I said, there were good things about it. I sort of disliked all of the characters in various ways except for Gilbert, a Jamaican man who is awesome and tries his best all the time, and really really really doesn't deserve to be treated the way he is for large portions of the novel. His wife doesn't really like him, the English don't really like him, the Americans definitely don't like him... It's all just bad. But it's also good in that while I know a fair bit about segregation and am really ready to tut at America for that shameful part of their history, this made me aware that hey! Racism existed in England too, and in a really upsetting way, in that Jamaicans were raised to understand that England was 'the Mother Country' who would accept them in her loving arms at any time, only to find that they weren't really wanted by their mother at all. It's pretty sad.

All of that was really interesting, then, and I appreciated the history lesson and I LOVED Gilbert but... All of the other characters? I wasn't so much into them. Hortense (Gilbert's wife) was SO frustrating and irritating at almost all points (except right at the end), Queenie was fine as long as she was being described to someone else, but when it came to her own narration I was less interested than I wanted to be, and also a little bored. And then Bernard was just super-frustrating and his chapters were basically all about war and then his penis, so... Yeah. The less said about that the better. Frankly, my favourite character was probably the shell-shocked Arthur (Bernard's dad) and that was maybe only because he didn't have any of his own chapters to piss me off in. Also because he's the SWEETEST.

And all of this would be fine, and I could have gone a long way on Gilbert and Arthur as the only wholly likeable characters (there are chapters where they hang out together, and I'm just like 'SQUEEE!') and been fairly happy with the book if it hadn't been for The Event. Which obviously I can't talk about because it happens pretty near the end and is meant to be SHOCKING. Now, it wasn't for me because Frances already told me about it when she read it, BUT I'm also not entirely convinced it would have been shocking if I hadn't known about it so much as it being completely WTF?-like. I'm going to start a whole new paragraph to explain, without details.

So. The Event comes almost completely out of nowhere, mainly due to it happening in the present where nothing is properly set up, but still. It's a kind of unnecessary shocker, and it almost feels like Levy just throws it in there to see what happens, rather than actually having thought it through. If it was the main thing her novel was balanced on, then... I'm very worried about the novel. Also, an aspect of The Event is something that ties Queenie and Hortense together inextricably, and yet it is never discovered. Which is really annoying, because that could have been a big thing, and through it I could think of an entirely different and probably funner ending, but actually that kind of fizzled out, and anything could have happened with it. It was very frustrating.

I almost don't want to let that ruin the whole book for me, because it definitely had its moments (I even giggled a few times! Which was nice) but... It sort of did ruin the book for me, along with its unlikeable characters, and, you know, the various war things. I will always love Arthur and Gilbert, but other than those two saving graces, I can't say tons more to recommend this novel. But... It won two awards, it has to be good right? Right.

Sunday 25 November 2012

Sunday Sundries: Giving Thanks is Not Just For Americans

Hey, so remember this week when the internet went CRAZY with thankful people and I just sat at work ALL DAY Thursday with a sore throat and probably a temperature and NO ONE brought me pie? Well, to counteract my misery at not having had a four day weekend, here are some things I'm thankful for this week* and always:

  • Sleep: I have had some amazing sleeps this week. And one not so good one, but STILL. Amazing sleeps.
  • Having a job: Seriously, so so so thankful. Even if it is only part time AND I bitch when I have to work full days. STILL SO THANKFUL.
  • Mum not having no more treatments and stuff: Sometimes I'm sitting at work and I can't even believe how different my life is to just a few short months ago. And by different I mean better, and by better I mean 'good LORD, thank you for me not having to go to the hospital all the time.' ...Apart from this weekend.
  • Life throwing me lemons but them being lung infections rather than heart attacks: Oh yes, my nan's in hospital again because she thought she was maybe having another heart attack but actually it seems like it's just (or, 'just') a lung infection. This doesn't really pass as good news for most people, but for me and my family? Yeah, it's a good one.
  • Netflix: I re-signed up last week and now I don't know how I was ever without it. Two words: Modern. Family.
  • Crafting like a BOSS: It's basically all I did yesterday. It was amazing. I kind of haven't made anything all year, so it's been really fun! *runs away from writing this to sew some stuff*
  • Being able to bake stuff: I had the most uninspiring cupcake yesterday (it looked pretty but was kind of dry and 'meh'ish) but it at least made me pretty grateful that I can bake stuff that tastes awesome even if it doesn't always look so hot.
  • Breaking Bad: It's basically the best thing ever, and I'm thankful that it exists. 
  • Frances: She keeps me sane (ish...) via the internet, and ALSO sometimes I get to see her IN PERSON and that's just awesome. And she's awesome too.
  • Family: Mine is kind of the best ever. I hope yours is too.
  • LUSH: And I'm also thankful there's a whole big box of it in my living room right now. *sits and waits impatiently for Christmas*
  • Hats: I really like them. Plus they keep my head warm.
  • Blogging and you lot: Of course. Because y'all make it worth it, and in spite of all the places there are in the world, this remains one of my favourite places to come. So thank YOU most of all.

Aw, did you see how I got all sappy there? Every WORD of it is true. Have a lovely week kids, and keep on being thankful.

*note how I say 'this week'- this is so I don't have to tell you a boring story about shit that happened this week. Only I will. In list form. HA

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Devouring Books: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson

"Every now and then, when your life gets complicated and the weasels start closing in, the only cure is to load upon heinous chemicals and then drive like a bastard from Hollywood to Las Vegas... With the music at full volume and at least a pint of ether."

Every now and then, when you start a new job and don't really know what you're doing with your life, the only cure is to stay completely sober and then read like a bastard through Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Or, at least, that's what I did, and I'm not sure I'd recommend it as a soothing read when you're in a new situation, but it definitely kept me entertained through a few lunchbreaks, and made me giggle in public, so... It's pretty great.

I may have said before, on the evidence of reading a really little bit of The Rum Diary that I wasn't sure that Hunter S Thompson was my bag, but now that I've read this... I kind of want to retract that comment. Because his writing is not only funny, it's also interspersed with moments of righteous anger (not in an annoying way), disturbing yet hilarious drug fuelled paranoia, and, even though there's no overriding narrative, everything still ties together in a sometimes-coherant way that just seems to work. At least for me.

Frankly, this book would still be good if it was just one drug fuelled anecdote after another, and the great majority of it is that, and frankly I might have learnt more about the effect of ALL THE DRUGS from it than from any other source, ever. But what made it even better, for me, were those moments where, in the calm in the middle of the grasp of some drug or another, he gets a little serious, and takes things to another level. Like this:
"No doubt they all Got What Was Coming To Them. All those pathetically eager acid freaks who thought they could buy Peace and Understanding for three bucks a hit. But their loss and failure is ours, too. What Leary took down with him was the central illusion of a whole life-style that he helped to create... a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who never understood the essential old-mystic fallacy of the Acid Culture: the desperate assumption that somebody- or at least some force- is tending that Light at the end of the tunnel."
Where, in spite of all his cynicism and paranoia, it feels like he really cares about somethings, at least some of the time. Until the next hit kicks in, anyway.

Possibly my favourite thing in the book though, and trust me, it's really a very little thing, was the part where Thompson talks about Las Vegas and it's kind of awfulness. I feel like there's this whole 'thing' about 'Vegas' at the moment, where people think it's the absolute ultimate place to go and PARTY and frankly, the entire idea of it makes me a little bit ill. Until now, I kind of thought I was alone in this thought, (cause who doesn't like PARTYING for days on end and never seeing sunlight? Only weirdos, right?) but Thompson speaks to me from all the way back in the seventies, and makes me think that I'm ok:
"A little bit of this town goes a very long way. After five days in Vegas you feel like you've been here for five years. Some people say they like it- but then some people like Nixon, too."
I know I've been kind of brief here, but this is my way when I really really like a book. It's funny, it has its moments of depth, and it's really really difficult to put down once you start reading. Who knows why I put off reading it for so long, but let me advise you now- don't make the same mistakes that I did! (If you've been putting off reading it and all. If not then, you know, don't worry so much about it. But still read it.)

Monday 19 November 2012

Devouring Films: Confessions (Kokuhaku)

If there's anything this year has taught me, it's that Japanese books and films can be extremely dark. I've read a fair bit of Murakami, not one bit of which has brought me joy in that normal, actually happy, way, and I've also watched Battle Royale, which is so excellent (much better than The Hunger Games, if you ask me) but so very very dark. Having been a lot better equipped to handle Norwegian Wood than basically all the people I read it with (I don't necessarily mind being sad...), I thought I could handle anything depressing that Japan had to throw at me.

Obviously, I was wrong.

Confessions is basically the most depressing thing I've seen, and lest we forget, I've seen Grease 2. This is not the same as it being a bad film, but in a way, the end result is the same. It was almost impossible to actually enjoy, because there was so little light in it that you can at once admire the filmmaking technique, and yet be not at all happy with anything that's happening, storywise. So I didn't like the film, but did I appreciate it? Well, yeah, kind of.

So here's the story: A teacher announces her retirement from the classroom along with the shocking fact that the recent death of her 4 year old daughter was perpetrated by two of the students in her class, and to get her revenge, she has put HIV infected blood into these students' milk. It is FUCKED UP. This summary was really all I knew about the film before I decided to watch it (cause I'm a really fun and cool chick!), but it really only comprises the first 20 minutes or so of the film. From there, it only gets more interesting, and more depressing, utilising a range of shifting viewpoints to present a load of lives that are just completely fucked.

I've realised that I'm really being very careful to avoid spoilers, which to me usually feels like I mean that I want you to watch this and not have it ruined for you. And maybe I do. Certainly, I really enjoyed the shifting viewpoints, the way that at one point the narration was passed from one character to another in a 'tag' style, and the way in which one event could be seen from 2 or even 3 different viewpoints, and things you thought you knew just completely flip at later points in the film. It was all very clever, and from that point of view, I really liked the film.

But then. As the film taught me, there's always another viewpoint, and this is mine. Even though I might have liked the narrative style and thought that it looked good, I'm not kidding when I say there was very little light in it. The thing is, you can either decide to like all the characters, or you can decide to hate all the characters, and it's very unclear a) what the film wants you to do, and b) what you actually want to do. It's so difficult because, in seeing everyone's viewpoint, you can see what's behind their actions and sympathise with that (an option not open to the other characters) but then their actual actions are so horrible that you just want to shake everyone and just say 'Why are you doing that? Stop it, it's not nice.' It's almost like none of the characters have seen this thing I pinned on Pinterest (shocking, I know, everyone sees everything I put on Pinterest!):
when, if they took this into account more, they'd have a lot more empathy and everything would be ok. Maybe.

The real clincher for me, in terms of my enjoyment of the film, came down to this: some really awful things happen to characters who either did or didn't deserve these things to happen to them, and yet I could not cry. I wanted to cry- I didn't want any of these things to have happened, I just wanted everyone to be friends

But I still couldn't cry because... I still didn't know whose side I was on, which kind of meant I wasn't on anyone's side which, as it turns out, isn't the best way to elicit an emotional reaction from the audience.

Frankly, it would all have been less exhausting if I just hadn't watched it at all.

Basically, I'm still not really sure I'm recommending it. I mean, if emotional numbness is what you're after then this will probably leave you with that, but it has also made me think A LOT about it (evidently) so really, I'm torn. I guess the most honest thing to say about it is that it won't be a complete waste of your time, but it might just leave you feeling a little cheated.

Sunday 18 November 2012

Sunday Sundries: Blogging and NaNoWriMo

I think I might have to suspend Sunday Sundries activities for a little while, since yet again I really have nothing interesting to share, it's just 'work, NaNoWriMo, work (I basically did three full days this week which was MENTAL for me, but annoyingly made everyone go 'welcome to full time work heh heh heh)' etc, except that this week I also sobbed myself to DEATH over 50/50 (review to come... sometime) and rolled my eyes about 50,000 times at the new James Bond film, which, actually, I enjoy doing (actively hating things is fun!)

So that's about it. But then also I like doing my Sunday Sundries because it makes me think and write and think some more about something to write, and these are all very useful things, I believe. Which sort of brings me onto the thing I want to talk about this week.

See, when I started blogging, I was almost crippled by doubt about my writing ability, and wanting to share the words I wrote with THE WORLD (or, you know, the no people who read my blog those first few months, THANKS GUYS) and for the first... Good amount of time, I literally cringed every time I clicked publish. I mean, seriously, those were my BRAIN THOUGHTS, in writing, going out into the world! What would happen? Would anything happen? WHAT IF EVERYONE HATED ME AND MY BRAIN THOUGHTS?

It's weird because I've never really given much of a shit what people think of me (I know everyone says this, but I really really don't... I've never untagged photos of myself on facebook, if that means anything, which it does to me!) but somehow putting things down in writing and sending them out into the world really scared me, but still I did it anyway. And it got easier, as things do, and it got even easier when I made this whole awesome group of blogging friends who seemed to think I was funny, or interesting or something and who wouldn't, like, correct my grammar or tell me I was being an idiot unless, you know, I was being an actual idiot. Which does happen. And now I barely even think about what I'm doing, in the sense of I just type these things, and hit publish, and rather than it feeling scary, it just feels natural. Right. Warm fuzzies and all that.

And so. Writing fiction. It's totally scary. And honestly? I can't really write fiction. But the thing is, I can physically write fiction, and not cringe at every word I put down, not only because NO ONE IS GOING TO READ IT (this is really a very good thing. You don't want to read the No I Wri-ed.) but because I've become so practiced at writing my thoughts down that it doesn't feel so awkward, or forced, to be writing things that I'm just making up. I guess what I'm saying is, this is another one of those unforeseen side-effects of blogging, like the friends, and the readalongs, and oh sweet lord the conversations in the comments. The confidence to write things and be ok with it? That's a big plus for me.

So basically, in conclusion, all I have said is 'practicing at something makes you better at it/less scared to do it' and 'yay blogging!' all of which is ground breaking stuff, I realise, but please, hold your applause!

No, no, stop, I don't deserve this! Really. It's just embarrassing now.

Ahem. Happy Sunday everyone! I'll be spending mine having a pseudo-birthday for my cousin, at which there will be glittery cake (that, of course, I have made. And failed to take a picture of for you. Whoops?) How about you?

Friday 16 November 2012

Devouring Stephen King: Insomnia

"Of all the things which make up our Short-Time lives, sleep is surely the best, Ralph thought."

I didn't really realise how much I liked Insomnia until I literally couldn't stop reading it one night and turned into a big sobbing mess at around 12.30am. 
I had a really slow start with it (not that it's necessarily slow starting, but I took a long time to properly read it) which I thought meant that I wasn't so keen on it, but actually I think it just meant that it wasn't its time yet, and that I wanted to read, I don't know, Let The Right One In instead. 

Because, in the end, I really liked Insomnia. Ostensibly, it's all about one character, Ralph Roberts, who hasn't been sleeping well since his wife died, and he ruminates on aging, and abortion (best not to ask) and all sorts of things, until he starts seeing these auras and everything becomes very... strange. But also, completely compelling and interesting, especially to one of Stephen King's Constant Readers. Because, oh boy, Insomnia's like a pay-off book for sticking with King for so long, in that you could just avoid reading it because it seems kind of boring (I say this because this is maybe the oldest unread Stephen King book I had), but when you do, it's like you're privy to some secret treasures that you might have otherwise missed.

I'm going to cut straight to the point. This is both a Derry book and a Dark Tower book, and it's also something else all of its own, all at the same time. Purely for just being a Derry book, I love it- having read It more times than is good for one's mental health, I get a little thrill just imagining the geography of Derry again, having shivers whenever the Barrens, or Neibolt Street or 'the big storm of 1985' are mentioned, because I really get off on that kind of stuff! But then also, Insomnia has an actual part to play in the whole Dark Tower saga, and since I kind of can't get enough of that series, it's amazing to get some back story of a character who isn't really in it loads, but is completely vital to the story. And frankly, I'm completely down with constant mentions of towers, and levels, and roses, which is a good thing, because subtle? It ain't. And hardly ever is.

So, I enjoyed it mostly for those reasons, and I've been trying to think whether or not you could enjoy it without having much of a Stephen King knowledge centre, and I'm thinking... Yeah. Because the reason I stayed up reading it, and the reason I cried at the end had nothing to do with Roland, or the Tower, or It, but purely because I cared about the characters, I was genuinely worried about what was going to happen to them and OH MY GOD THAT ENDING. I probably haven't cried that much at a Stephen King book (or maybe any book) since The Dark Tower VII, and if you've read all those books, you'll know what I'm talking about. I hope. But anyway, the point is that these characters, who aren't specifically connected to any other books, are real, and true, and worth crying over, frankly. Which I think makes a good book any day.

Basically, Insomnia is the kind of book that feels really important to read if you're alllll over the Stephen King, and you need more Dark Tower goodies and you genuinely love it when he references his other books and creates this awesome self-contained universe. You're probably not going to be desperate to read it if that's not the case, but it's still worth a read if only for the damn characters that you can't help but care about. Allow yourself to be constantly surprised by Insomnia. I know I was.

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Devouring Books: The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling

I've been putting off writing a review for The Casual Vacancy for ages because I don't really know how to approach it. To mention Harry Potter (whoops!) or to sidestep it entirely? It seems unfair to bring it up, but then, would I (or anyone!) have massively wanted to read this if Harry Potter didn't exist? And so the questions come, and they CONFUSE MY BRAIN and that's not good.

Here's what I'm going to say. It's unlikely that anyone would have been that bothered about reading The Casual Vacancy if it hadn't been 'by the author of Harry Potter,' but I think it would have been a real shame if no one had. Because it's good. It really is. It's not the greatest thing ever written or anything and *takes a deep breath* it'snotasgoodasHarryPotter, BUT it's engaging, the characters, both the ones you love and hate, feel real, and above all, learning that JK is a MASSIVE Socialist was basically the best thing ever.

Plus, it made me cry. Which almost always means a book is good. Except for the monumentally emotionally manipulative The Book Thief. But anyway.

I think certain of the criticisms I've seen of The Casual Vacancy have been entirely valid- it does have kind of a slow start, for example, but this was somewhat evened out for me by the second half, during which I could not put the book down! And then I sort of appreciated the slower start which lets you get your head around all the characters (and there are A LOT of characters. Another criticism? Maybe, but I liked that) before you're plunged into the emotional maelstrom of the story proper, which may also be known as the most depressing story ever told. Which, obviously, I liked.

A criticism I can't really get on board with is the 'omg, there was swearing, ummmm!' one. Because, I get the 'she's just being gratuitous and trying to break away from her childrens book author image' argument, but really? The characters who mainly swear are those with a lower socioeconomic status, and teenagers, both of which are maybe the two demographics who are going to swear the most, and without any swearing, I feel like their conversations would have been inauthentic. And besides, who doesn't fucking LOVE swearing?! But all of this is really beside the point.

With the story itself, I was reminded, kind of perversely, of Twin Peaks. Bear with me for a second here. So, David Lynch, I believe, has said that the 'Who killed Laura Palmer' basis to Twin Peaks was essentially a macguffin to allow him to explore and develop relationships between characters in the small town setting. I feel like this is what Rowling has done here with Barry Fairbrother's death, and the subsequent election to his seat on the local council. Whilst there's no mystery about how his death happened (it's a fairly straightforward aneurysm) everything in the story emanates from that one event, and through it, we get a really clear idea of who each of these characters are, the alliances they hold, and, crucially, whether or not I actually like them.

And, to be fair, most of them I do, and even the ones I don't like, most of them I understand. In fact, the character I maybe related most to was one I didn't necessarily like all that much, but once it was revealed that she was essentially a woman with broken dreams and a sense of disappointment over how her life has turned out, all of her behaviour somehow became very clear to me. And I feel like this is something that doesn't happen all that often- relating to characters you don't even like- and I think Rowling has done an excellent job of teasing out every piece of information about every character, so that you know exactly who you're dealing with. It's kind of special.

So, The Casual Vacancy is not Harry Potter, and if you only wanted to hear that it was then I think your expectations for any of Rowling's future works are pretty unfair. Because this isn't Harry Potter, but, like the adventures of the boy wizard, it might just make some readers feel less alone, and more understood. While Harry Potter was a beautiful escape from reality, The Casual Vacancy is maybe a little bit too real, and hits a little too close to home, at least for this reader. But that's almost exactly what I want from a book. So, well played, JK. Well played.

Sunday 11 November 2012

Sunday Sundries- Dolly Parton is a GODDESS

I started this post on Friday night and it's now Sunday afternoon where, of course, everything is different. But I'm going to cut and copy and paste and whatnot around this so that it kind of makes sense and I don't have to write a whole new post.

But it might not make sense. Sorry.

I've come to the conclusion that I shouldn't really be reading 3 books at once, because they will all never be read, and you, my poor poor readers, will have to wait for literally WEEKS for reviews. So maybe after I've read these three that I'm reading, I'll try for one at a time. Maybe. Or I'll just read more.

Anyway, that was a really good example of ramble thinking, wasn't it?! Deepest apologies. Let's see. The main thing I have to tell you today is that I went to see 9 to 5 at the theatre last night, and it was AWESOME, and Dolly was on film in this clock and that was EXCELLENT and I was just like THIS IS THE BEST THING DOLLY, I LOVE YOU! It was actually really unexpectedly fabulous because I had no idea what was going to happen, so I was completely surprised by the story, which was right up my alley! (I'm not going to tell you what happens, because what if you want to see it?! But it was really funny in ways that I wasn't expecting, and that you don't normally see onstage). And, I don't know if you know anything at all about 9 to 5, but Dolly wrote all the songs in it, plus she was in the movie which, I believe, was not a musical (although I could be wrong) and I basically love her more now than I ever have, which I didn't think was possible!

So, it was all feminist and awesome and I laughed LOADS, and the only drawback (which is a completely unfair one, so wait for it) is that in the original Broadway cast, ALLISON FREAKING JANNEY, who, by the way, I WORSHIP AND ADORE was Violet, who is sooort of the main character, and definitely one of the three main ones. Which is not to say that the woman who played Violet wasn't good, cause she was (her accent, actually reminded me of Allison Janney, and then made me go OH MY GOD SHE WAS IN THIS) it's just... Allison Janney! ALSO, 9 to 5 was totally playing when I was in New York in 2009, AND I remember being excited about it then even though I didn't really get what it was, so... Missed opportunities people! But I'm really glad that I saw it in one incarnation or another, anyway. DOLLYYYYY!

So, basically I need to procure myself a copy of 9 to 5 the movie and watch it, and I also need to watch The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas which I own, but I can't quite bring myself to watch it without Frances!! Which is sad but true.

I bet you want to know about the rest of my week, huh? Let's see... Work, work, work, still not figuring out how to do stuff before OR after work, not writing enough for NaNoWriMo, not reading enough for my mental health, and generally performing all tasks at a substandard level. But I totally still have viral tonsillitis (which means that it still hurts and there's nothing they can do about it) so I'm just like whateverrrr, I'm fine. So it's all good in the hood. Sorta.

I don't really have anything else for you, and it's already dark here, so mlumph is sort of an onomatopoeic representation of how I'm feeling at the moment. I'll try to be more interesting next week, but until then, have some Dolly and my love *gives you love*

Friday 9 November 2012

Devouring Films: Brick

Confession: I've never seen a noir film, or read a noir book, and yet it's a style that I'm really familiar with and, actually, I'm coming to realise that I really like. But why am I so familiar with it? To be completely honest, cartoons. Off the top of my head, I can think of a specific example from Fairly Odd Parents (because I'm COOL, and don't even laugh because that was freaking AWESOME) but really it's been homaged allllll over the place, but it's only recently that I've understood what I was actually seeing. Of course, now that I recognise and can identify it, I keep pondering how awesome it would be to live in a noir film, and possibly intermittently pretending that I do. Ahem.

Brick, then, to speed things up, is a film that was recommended to me in the comments of my review of Looper (and if you feel like I've only been writing about movies involving JGL recently, then you would be absolutely correct in that feeling) by both Kayleigh and Megs, and with such esteemed recommenders, how could I resist?! As well as starring JGL, Brick has the same director (Rian Johnson) as Looper, and although the films are remarkably different (impressively so, I think) there is also a feel to them that's similar, mostly in the unimpressive looking locations, and the plot directions you really don't expect, that make you pause and go 'Well PLAYED, Mr. Johnson!'

What Brick is, essentially, is a neo-noir film (hence all the speak of noir, earlier- bet you thought I'd forgotten that, but NO! I'm totally organised) that feels incredibly noir-like to someone who's never actually seen a noir film. Which isn't that helpful, I realise, but I assume that it also feels noir-like to a veteran of these kinds of films, and hopefully they appreciated, as I did, the twist that, while it's noir-like in its storyline, it's also set in a high school, which is very much not typical (although much more in my jurisdiction). Now, even I can see how clever this twist is, in that the smart guy is the information/behind the scenes guy, the Vice Principal leans on him for information, and there are plenty of dramatic broads around to spice up proceedings; but I definitely felt like I was missing out on something by not having seen any noir films. Don't get me wrong, Brick is still thoroughly enjoyable if you've never had any noir experience, but there were probably things I missed by not being very familiar with the genre, really. But what I did get? I loved.

And what I really loved? JGL's performance. I know, yawn, right? But the thing is, even though in basically every film he's made in this millennium that I've seen he's absolutely killed his performance, quite a large part of my brain still insists on thinking of him as The Guy Who Wasn't As Hot As Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You. Which is ridiculous, and really unfair, but also means that I seem to have really low expectations for him that he smashes every time with his acting skills and, you know, his face. Brick would be no good at all if it didn't have a very very good actor to carry the lead role, and JGL is really really excellent in this. For some reason, he's believable as both the weirdo who kind of skulks around everywhere AND as someone who could break a much bigger guy's nose, which is fortunate because he has to do both of these things in the same character. It's also worth adding that he's ALSO believable as the guy girls are interested in, because, you know. That face!

So it's a noir film (have I said noir enough times yet? It feels very tiring continually writing it!) combined with a high school movie, albeit the kind of high school movie where there are no classes and you only get to see one teacher, the aforementioned Vice Principal. This being the case though, means that the story is able to get pretty dark and pretty gritty, pretty fast (there are actual dead teens in this movie! Just to warn you) which also allows for the kind of moments of dizzying clarity that I just love in anything, ever. For instance: There is this scene where JGL is beaten up, taken to a secret location where a drug lord lives, and is beaten up some more. But then, he's eventually taken upstairs where this drug lord's mother? Fixes him a bowl of cereal and a glass of orange juice. And it's just SUCH an 'oh my god' moment, because it suddenly clicks that, no matter what these guys are doing, they're still just teenagers, and they still have mothers who want to take care of them.

I just eat shit like that right up.

I've probably already said too much, so I'd really better split *looks around cagily* but I've gotta tell ya, you just have to watch Brick. Broads and fellas alike, I don't see how there's any way you can not like this film. I'm already cooking up a scheme to get it in my permanent collection (you know, ordered it off Amazon) and I've also pledged to keep watching all the JGL films. Because DAMN that guy is GOOD!

P.S. Rian Johnson, PLEASE keep making films, you beautiful talented bastard!

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Another Book List!

I don't think I'm alone in liking a good book list, and so I was excited by the Book Riot 50 post that appeared last week, revealing the top 50 novels that Book Riot readers said were their favourites. This is an especially exciting list, since I believe everyone I know on the internet reads Book Riot, I assume that they all entered their favourite novels into the list (I know I did) and it's like 'GUYS! This is OUR list!' So it's sort of special. Except for the bit where some people said that The Book Thief was their favourite novel, to which I say fuck OFF, no it isn't.

Anyway. Let's see which ones I've read, shall we?! I'll bold up all the ones I've read, and bitch about people's personal choices throughout. Sounds good?

1. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (Yessssss! I love everyone!)
2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
4. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling (this is the awesomest)
5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
6. The Lord of the Rings Series by J.R.R. Tolkien
7. Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell (I still want to marry YOU ALL!)
8. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
9. The Book Thief by Marcus Zuzak (Seriously, what is wrong with everyone?)
10. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (*gives up and dies*)
11. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
12. The Secret History by Donna Tartt (yeah, I should probably re-read this)
13. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (and this)
14. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (Seriously, you liked The Book Thief better than THIS?!)
15. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
16. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
17. The Stand by Stephen King (You will all be rewarded greatly for this)
18. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein
19. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (COME ON, 10 places below The Book Thief?!)
20. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (I own this but will never read it because it's TOO BIG)
21. Persuasion by Jane Austen
22. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
23. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
24. The Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon
25. East of Eden by John Steinbeck (COME AND ADORE STEINBECK WITH ME!)
26. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
27. The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
28. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
29. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
30. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
31. 1984 by George Orwell
32. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (I really like this, and yet cannot finish it. Odd.)
33. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (BETH!)
34. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (oh, you Americans!)
35. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (See, readalongers, it's because of lists like THIS that I made you read it!)
36. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (you're improving, list)
37. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Series by Douglas Adams
38. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (got the pervert vote, obviously)
39. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
40. Ulysses by James Joyce (come ON. No one's favourite book is Ulysses.)
41. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
42. The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (I have no arguments with this.)
43. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
44. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (Eugenideeeeeeeees! I love you.)
45. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
46. Dune by Frank Herbert
47. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (I haven't even heard of this... Bad?)
48. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
49. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (Your favourite? Really?)
50. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Now I'm feeling kiiind of bad and judgey, but you know, don't take it to heart if I've mocked your favourite book- what the hell do I know anyway?! Apart from that The Book Thief sucks. *hears an imaginary argument for it* What? No I'm not wrong, YOU are wrong!
Here endeth the judging of random strangers on the internet. I've read 32 of these books. Et toi?

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Devouring Books: The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

I know. You're all sick of election talk, you want to cast your vote (you do want to cast your vote, don't you?) and then forget about the whole sorry business for three years until the time comes when you have to pick some other dude (Or chick? Come on America, it's about time!) to run your country for the next four years. But the thing is- I really really like US politics, I really really wish that I could vote today (take a little guess at who I'd vote for) and frankly, I've had this book on my shelf for four years (oh yes, that's right) and when the hell else was I going to read it? The next time Obama runs... Oh no, that's right, he's done now, isn't he?

So yeah. Prime book reading time, I think.

There's this bit in Angels in America, where Louis and his new lover are arguing over politics. Louis is a staunch Democrat (not even a Democrat, really, but something much further to the left of that which, conveniently serves all his own interests which should tell you everything you need to know about Louis). Anyway, in the midst of this argument, they trade insults over their favourite Presidents' books, wherein Louis implies that Reagan didn't write An American Life, and his lover suggests that JFK didn't write Profiles in Courage. (I kind of regret bringing this up now, because it just took me AGES to try and find that quote. But I'm going with it!) Now, I don't know if Obama wrote this, but I'm kind of inclined to believe that he did- I've read Dreams from my Father, and the authorial voice is basically identical, and I agreed with pretty much all the things he was saying, which is usually an indicator of the presence of Obama.

But even if he didn't write it, I think we have to consider 2 things: 1) that he wouldn't let things that he didn't agree with go out under his name, and 2) whoever wrote it sure as hell can write.

I mean, seriously. Non-fiction doesn't normally catch and hold my attention the way this book did, and it's rarely as well written as this. I thought this when I was reading Dreams from my Father, and I thought it again with this- Obama could probably have gone into writing if the whole politics thing didn't work out for him! I mean, I think we all know that it did (to varying degrees of success, depending on who you speak to, but still) but it could have been an option, I think. He just... manages to make things that could have really easily been really boring sound really interesting, and maybe that's just because I agree with him on basically everything (No, really, GO AND VOTE FOR OBAMA FOR ME) but I really do think that he has a way with words, too.

The Audacity of Hope is more or less a political manifesto, a way for Obama to say, "I think these things aren't working, and this is what I'd do to change them." This means that it's difficult to read it now without considering whether he's actually carried out his dreams, his hopes; whether or not, given the position to change things, he's been successful in doing so. And you know what? I feel like... While he maybe hasn't done everything that he wanted to, and while he maybe hasn't been as successful as some people would have liked, I feel like, on the whole, he's made things better rather than worse. He's had the interests of the people, and not just the rich people, at heart through his whole presidency, and given another 4 years, who knows what he could do?

There are just two things I want to highlight from the book (because I only finished it about 2 hours ago, and I have work in an hour, but dammit, did I want to get this post written today!) that gave me pause for thought. The first is how many indicators there were that he kind of had no intentions to run for President- he talks about meeting with a senior senate member, who advises him to wait before he runs for the presidency, and he talks a lot about missing out on his daughters lives by having to be away from them so often. It seems really strange to me, then, that he decided to run for President when he did, but I guess that with politics, you kind of have to go with the momentum and take your chance because it might be your only one. And... I have sort of forgotten the other thing. But I'm sure it was AWESOME.

So. The Audacity of Hope has given me nothing but warm fuzzy feelings for the President, and it sure would be awesome if you voted for him, but I'm sure you're tired of having people who it has nothing to do with (only American politics affect the whole world, as I'm sure you know) telling you what to do. So I'm not going to order you around, and I'm also not going to tell you that it doesn't matter who you vote for, just vote; because frankly, if all the Republicans stayed at home... I wouldn't really have a problem with that. But then I'm an intolerant ass, politically speaking.

Propaganda over. Proceed with your everyday lives (and GO AND VOTE. You know, if you can.)

Sunday 4 November 2012

Sunday Sundries: Administrative Information

You guys, I have SO much admin to get through with you this week that I almost don't have time to tell you about my week! But in a teeny nutshell: work, work, work, work, Shakespeare exhibition that deserves its own paragraph and will get it below (Actually, it deserves its own POST, but I'm not going to write it so it never will get written) AND NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo, is, I guess, its own little administrative thing in a 'this is what I'm doing this month!' kind of way, and actually, you can just take this as a little sort of 'I'm maybe not going to read that much this month so I might not be here that much' thing. But don't worry, I'll still find the time to bore you on a Sunday with my LIFE and all.

So let's talk about Shakespeare, yes? There's been this exhibition at The British Museum (which I keep wittily calling The Stuff the British STOLE Museum, but no one as of yet has laughed because they're all disgusting Imperialists. So please tell me you laughed!) called Shakespeare: Staging the World, and although it was completely different to what I'd expected (specifically Shakespearey artefacts, which was kind of stupid of me since hardly any exist) it was also really really interesting. Like... It was about exploring the history of Shakespeare's time, through the backdrop of his plays, and kind of how current events influenced what he wrote about, and how his plays influenced current events. All just very very interesting and awesome, EXCEPT for the fucking 400 YEAR OLD EYE that for some reason they thought it was ok to include! I swear, I nearly threw up, because OH MY GOD THAT WAS SOMEONE'S EYE.

To say it's my one major memory of the whole exhibition would, in fact, be the complete truth. (A FUCKING EYE!)

Anyway... We need to move on from the eye thing, for it is Sunday and you probably have things to do and, well, I don't really but you know, we should move on anyway. Shall we get some admin done? I think we should. Don't worry, it won't be boring, I promise!

First up:
I've been hearing about this Random Reads thing for the last few months, and I think it's an awesome idea because 1) I hardly ever know what to read next, and can always use some help, and 2) I totally have a spreadsheet of all my books because I'm a NERD, but also because it's totally necessary since I have almost no bookshelves but various book locations, and it would be a NIGHTMARE if I didn't know where any of them were. I'd probably just end up reading To Kill A Mockingbird over and over and over again. So anyway, I did all the things I was supposed to, entered my numbers into random.org (click above to see how it works) and it gave me:

Small Island by Andrea Levy! Which I'm pretty excited about, because I remember Frances telling me all about it YEARS ago and it sounding really good, and because I've literally had it for years now. So yes, that, at least, is getting read. (Also, I'm desperately trying to finish The Audacity of Hope so I can review it on Tuesday and be all YAY OBAMA and try and get all you Americans to vote. It's going to be FUN!)

And then, also, remember when I did the RIP Challenge? Well, that's over now (Weep!) but, you know how the biggest challenge was to read 4 perilous books? Well... I sort of read more. Here's a handy little list of all the reviews for you if you want to check them out (you definitely do. Just so you know.)

Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King
We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
The Godfather by Mario Puzo
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
Nightmares and Dreamscapes by Stephen King
The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing
Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter
Interview With The Vampire by Anne Rice
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Burton on Burton
Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Which, I might add, is the vast majority of books on this pile, and I think the rest are going to be put away now for next years challenge. Unless I really need to freak myself out, in which case, I'll know where they are!

Since the 'having a book pile' thing worked extremely well for RIP, I've decided to make a new one for things to read from now until the end of the year, and in doing this, to participate for the first time in Jenn's Monthly TBR meme:
And HOPEFULLY this is going to be really useful in getting me to read my damn challenge books and win all the damn challenges, before I never do a challenge ever again because of the PRESSURE. SO anyway, here's the pile I've assembled:
I think it looks doable over 2 months, but then I haven't included the three books I'm already reading, OR anything even remotely Christmassy. So we'll see. I really really want to get that Steve Jobs biography read though, because I've had it out of the library for LITERALLY about 4 months, which isn't good. Oh hey, should I list the books in the pile? I should, huh?! From the top:
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Timbuktu by Paul Auster
Small Island by Andrea Levy
Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
I like the pile, I'm just not entirely convinced that it's going to happen. But WE SHALL SEE.

And hey, remember this?
A winner of the greatest book (The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, in case anyone has forgotten) has been chosen, and it has been decreed that it is Jenna of Lost Generation Reader! Yay! She will be getting her book at some future time when I can be bothered to schlep my ass (and all other parts) to the Post Office. But anyway, future YAY!

Phew, that really was a lot of admin, huh? They're all things that I just had to get out there, and not in like 4 separate posts, and now it's all done and I won't have to bother you with them intermittently. I think that's better, anyway! I hope you've all had wonderful weeks, and that this coming one is EVEN better. Because I loves you all.

Thursday 1 November 2012

Devouring Books: Moranthology by Caitlin Moran

"These libraries will be lost forever. And, in their place, we will have a thousand more public places where you are simply the money in your pocket rather than the hunger in your heart. Kids- poor kids- will never know the fabulous, benign quirk of walking into 'their' library and thinking 'I have read 60 per cent of the books in here, I am awesome.' Libraries that stayed open during the Blitz will be closed by budgets.
A trillion small doors closing."

It seems kind of stupid for me to review Moranthology, because I mean, come on, what am I going to say? 'Oh, actually, I've revised my opinion on Caitlin Moran and have decided that actually she can't write and this sucked'? This is clearly not going to happen, because hello?! This is CAITLIN. So you're basically going to have to put up with a gushing review. Sorry (not really).

Actually, it's been so long since I finished Moranthology that I can't really remember any details about it, and this is what happens when you prioritise RIP reads over all others in October, kiddos! Bad bad things. This obviously means that I need to read Moranthology again immediately, which, interestingly enough, I don't have a problem with! *Reads ferociously*

Anyway... I thought that when I read Moranthology, I'd have to do it all in one go because, you know, CAITLIN, but as it turned out I apparently wanted to savour it and so I ended up reading it over the course of about a week. It being a collection of her columns made this particularly easy, because I could just read a few at a time, and then go to sleep or whatever. I mean, I could have read a few at a time, but even when I was very sleepy, it was very difficult to put it down because I'm basically addicted to Caitlin's writing. Which is better than having a crack addiction, right?!

Because of this addiction AND the fact that this is a collection of columns, you'd think that I'd have read ALL of Caitlin's columns already and, this just being a recap of them, wouldn't be that exciting to me. Well, think again guys and gals! Because this would be true, if Caitlin wrote for any paper but The Times which has a paywall up on its website that I'm not willing to pay money to remove, even for Caitlin. Having said that, there is a column in this very book that has made me rethink the whole concept of paywalls (In Defence of Rupert Murdoch's Paywall) so, there's that. Anyway, the point is that, instead of everything in the book being old news, almost all of the columns included are new-to-me, with the exception of the ones I read on that heady day when the paywall was down.

So, content. I would say that there were a few too many TV columns involving shows I haven't seen (basically just Sherlock and Downton Abbey) BUT 1) there really weren't that many, and 2) it's kind of like having someone really awesome describe to you what was on telly last night, and in doing so makes you really want to watch it? So yeah, I kind of really want to watch Sherlock now, just so everyone knows. But even if I HAD been totally bored by these columns, they're engulfed by an amazing range of columns on most subjects- Caitlin's hair, conversations with her husband, her favourite holiday destination, and the slightly more serious topics of our current government's uselessness, including an absolutely beautiful column on the awesomeness of libraries. These latter ones were my favourites- not only because the shift in tone from hilarious to sincere does something really special to Caitlin's writing, but also because these are things that I really care about, and it's nice to know that someone else does too.

But mostly, Caitlin is hilarious, and takes on topics that are relevant and interesting- at least to me- and she writes about anything and everything so well. I really can't emphasise enough how excellent I think her writing is. Really. In the end, I'm glad this book exists for two main reasons: 1) It means I don't have to pay to get past The Times paywall (I was going to say I don't have to give Murdoch money, but of course this is published by a News Corp publishing house) and 2) It's original conception led to the idea of How To Be A Woman, which is clearly the greatest thing ever. And Moranthology? Is basically just as good. Only in a different way. But still awesome.