Monday 28 January 2013

Devouring Books: Touchy Subjects by Emma Donoghue

"I suppose I'd read too many books to be normal."

Remember that time when I got really into Emma Donoghue, and read all the things by her I could find (3 books, as it happened) and then kind of neglected her a little bit for like a year? (You probably don't. But that happened). Well, the wonderful Bex bought me Touchy Subjects for Christmas because she is the beacon of loveliness, and I swear I didn't mean to read it straight away, but... Well, there was the mini-readathon and everything, and this book is short stories, and well... I just kept on reading!

I was the tiniest bit apprehensive that this was short stories, actually, only because I'm used to Donoghue's novels, and what if *whispers* she's not as good at writing short stories and I have to say something mean about her?!
I have so many gifs that would have been appropriate 
for WILKIE readalongs now. It breaks my heart.

OBViously I didn't need to worry at all, because it turns out that Donoghue can write whatever the hell she wants, whenever the hell she wants, and it is always always excellent. I find it so difficult to pin down exactly what I like about her writing, because it kind of seems like there's nothing remarkable about it, but it's just SO clear, and seems to flow so well that she always always gets me and there's nothing I can do to stop the effect she has on me. It's crazy-good, but I don't know whether that means she just writes in a way that I essentially find perfect, or if she actually is as good as I think she is.

Maybe it's a bit of both.

And now we come to the awkward part where I don't know how to write about short stories.
I mean... I don't know man, they're all pretty good. As the title of the book suggests, the stories are divided up into sections, each of which is a 'touchy subject'- babies, desire, death... and each of the stories contains its own touchy subject. This makes each story incredibly different (and I really do mean incredibly different- Donoghue isn't just one to stick with what she knows, either that or she knows A LOT) but also means that there's a thread running through them that makes them all make sense together. Which isn't something that can always be said about short story collections, STEPHEN KING I'M LOOKING AT YOU.
Anyway! The point is that each story is really really very good (I think there was maybe one I didn't like that much, but it wasn't bad) and they are all so different from each other that even now I can clearly pick them apart in my brain and think about them separately, which is really rare for me and short stories- they tend to merge into one, apart from the few really good ones, so I think I'm going to have to say that all of them were the really good ones!

If, say, I was going to pick a favourite from each section (and this is under duress, I should add) I guess I'd go with:
  • Expecting- A woman has an awkward encounter with a stranger where he assumes that she must be pregnant and so she pretends to be, only there's a lot more to it than that, and it made me think about what obligations we have to strangers, and how strange it is that we feel that we do.
  • The Cost of Things- A story about a relationship and a cat, and how the cost of things isn't necessarily the same as how much you value them.
  • WritOr- This was maybe my favourite story in the collection, about a writer who has to advise members on the public on their own writing, starting off being enthusiastic and kind, and being torn down by how difficult he finds pretending to like bad writing is. He's a lot less of an ass than that makes him sound, and I felt for him, but also for his deluded students.
  • Team Men- A coming of sexual-age tale about two boys on a football team who fall in, well, lust with each other. It's all very hush hush and non-talked about feelingsy and maaaan did I need to watch Brokeback Mountain after reading it.
  • Baggage- There was just so so so much unsaid, and undiscovered in this story that I loved it, cause I enjoy when my mind runs wild with speculations, even after the story has ended- especially after that. It's pretty great
So those were my favourites, but as I said, they were all great. Really really great. So clearly drawn that, even if it was never mentioned, you could pretty much guess where they were set, and, just as short stories should, they really showed a snapshot of a part of lives that you can really imagine continuing beyond the confines of the story, having pasts and futures and involving characters that practically live and breathe.

I mean, I really really like Emma Donoghue, has that been clear enough? 
Ok, cool! That's all, then.

Sunday 27 January 2013

Sunday Sundries: January is the worst time for resolving things ever

This Sunday Sundries is totally late AND it's going to be totally short, so my humble apologies if this is the high point of your week and you've been waiting all day for it. Which applies to NO ONE so I'm sure it's all ok.

So! The reason it is late is kiind of twofold, in that FIRSTLY I always always go round my nan's house on a Sunday for lunch but this week she got a better offer (literally- her brother took her out for lunch! Which is sweet. But still, messed me up!) and so all day I've kind of believed it was Saturday, and SECONDLY if there were any points at which I did remember it was Sunday, they were soon swept away by going for a walk (I slipped over and fell on my bum in some mud. It was not good.) and then by tidying allllll afternoon. Which was actually really productive and I feel good and cleansed now, so that is the main thing.

But why, I hear you cry, even bother writing a post at all? It's basically time for bed now (note: it's 7.30pm) so why not just leave it for the week? And my answer, my dears, is that I just can't leave you hanging on the winner of the giveaway that I definitely didn't forget about and literally only 5 minutes ago chose the winner of thanks to Said winner? It's Melissa from Avid Reader's Musings!
So yeah, well done Melissa, and please reply to my email soon so I can send the book out in another million years. I mean... Straight away!

Anyway, let's talk about my week a tiny weeny bit. Because I went out to places that weren't work THREE times this week! It was ridiculous. But I went to this awesome indie cinema with my sister where they serve booze and you can drink it in the screen and they have sofas and it was basically the best. So that was Thursday, and then on Friday night (I went out on Friday night! Like a normal!) I went to this pub because it was my ollldest friend's (in time knowingness, not, like, age) birthday so that was nice apart from the rain we stood in waiting for the taxi, and then Saturday night (I KNOW!) I went to the pub with my cousin.

So everything was awesome and I'm sure this week I'll be in bed at about 8 every night watching The Wire (she says without any regret).
Annnnd to conclude, shall I just talk about the title of this post, which I obviously wrote on a day where I was trying to be prepared, at which I have clearly ultimately failed? Have you forgotten the question I asked in that massive sentence? Me too. No, but really, ok, so I know this has obviously been said before, and is the main reason that New Years Resolutions fail, I guess, but January is clearly the dreariest month (Christmas is over and then you wake up and realise that it's still winter and you should be hibernating) and it's really hard to motivate yourself to do anything, let alone do LOADS of things that you don't really enjoy but that you feel like you should be doing.

And if, say, your resolution was to walk to work and then it snows and the snow and ice don't go away for practically a whole week, and even when they do it's raining all the time? I mean, that's just not fair, world. Having said that, resolving not to buy books for 100 days is sort of easy when you've just had Christmas and also more than 200 unread books. So you just have to pick your battles, people!

In conclusion, New Years Resolutions that involve diet or exercise must be way easier to keep if you live in the Southern hemisphere and it's actually the summer. The rest of us should probably resolve things at the end of June, rather than December. The end.

Friday 25 January 2013

"He gave an almighty belch and several slugs dribbled out of his mouth onto his lap."

Ugh, you guys. I forgot that I kind of hate The Chamber of Secrets. Not the actual chamber, obviously (oooh, what is it, I am intrigued except, oh wait, yeah, no, I have read this before) but the book is just FILLED with things that seem dead set on irritating me.

Stuff like Dobby. I know, I'm an awful human being and everyone loves Dobby and blah blah blah blah blah. I mean, I know that he's only trying to 'protect' Mr Harry Potter, sir, but the three things he's done so far could ALL have ended up getting Harry killed.
Which is the very thing he's trying to prevent. But he doesn't get this because he's a FUCKING IDIOT.

And then also there's Moaning Myrtle who might just be the MOST annoying character in all the books. In all the books EVER, maybe. And I know that's kind of the point, but STILL I am so not up for dealing with depressed teenage girls, not even the dead ones.
So, I'm faiiirly irritated at the moment, (don't even get me started on Colin Creevy, who can STAY petrified, for all I care) but only to the extent that a Harry Potter book can annoy me- which isn't very much. I mean, there's still magic! And learning new things about magic! Floo powder! And Howlers! And the fact that Slytherin is clearly the house with the MOST prejudices
Because DUH. But did we all notice that a) There are no girls on the Quidditch team, and b) Obviously the whole mudblood thing. We did? Jolly good, just making sure we're all keeping up!

Now we have to talk about Lockhart. Who, bless him, is clearly so much of a star in his own head that he doesn't realise (or doesn't want to realise) how irritating and unhelpful he is to EVERYONE around him, especially Harry who he's obviously taken a special interest in! I mean, he's absolutely terrible and everything, but I just can't add him to my list of things that annoy me about this book because he reminds me SO much of another character that I love to hate...
I mean seriously, Zapp Brannigan and Gilderoy Lockhart would never be able to have a conversation because they're both incapable of talking about anything but themselves, but the things they have in common! Mainly that, no matter what the evidence might suggest, neither of them will believe that they're anything less than 100% perfect. And you know what? That makes them HILARIOUS.

Anyway. The other thought I have about this section of HPness is about Malfoy and Harry. Because, I have to tell you, there were about 30 seconds in this book where I felt sorry for Malfoy, and then he did something else gross, and I was just like 'UGH, you are irredeemable.' But anyway. The thing is, it seems to me that Malfoy's dad doesn't really like Malfoy that much, but everything Malfoy says and does is pretty much just handed down to him from his dad. So I felt kind of sorry for him because there's no way for him to make his own mind up about anything, he's just always gone with whatever he's told.

And then I thought, well, Harry's family don't like him very much (although they didn't show their lack of affection with expensive presents, obviously) but instead of just getting them to like him by agreeing with everything they say, he's gone against all the things they believe (mainly that Harry is the crappest person ever) and has become a really good person. Which Malfoy is/could be perfectly capable of, but kind of doesn't want to be? Which is why he sucks.

But, I feel like this conflict of wanting to be like his father, but also not, comes up again (hint: it definitely does) so we shall revisit.

In conclusion:
"What Harry found most unusual about life at Ron's, however, wasn't the talking mirror or the clanking ghoul, it was the fact that everyone there seemed to like him."
I know, right?

OH WAIT! That wasn't the end. I mean, I realise I could just go back and add this bit in somewhere, but WHERE'S THE FUN IN THAT?! So, I just have to add that, Ron's parents are talked about because they're awesome and have squabbles and can do magic and are basically excellent, and Harry's guardians are talked about for their awfulness and non-acceptance of magic, but what about Hermione's parents? The muggles who quietly accept that there is magic and love their daughter no matter what? I think that they are pretty awesome, and that should be recognised. So I have recognised it. There. 

Wednesday 23 January 2013

Devouring Books: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

"Having experienced both, I'm not sure which is worse: intense feeling, or the absence of it."

You may or may not remember that I started reading The Blind Assassin for a readalong waaaaaay back at the beginning of December, but hey look! I finally finished it! In my complete defence, I didn't forget about the readalong at all, but it was really poorly structured (by admission of the person who structured it, I might add) and the second week involved reading something stupid like 300 pages all at once and I was just not up for that shit. So, The Blind Assassin fell by the wayside and I finally got back into it sometime in January. And now it's now.

I wouldn't recommend doing this, by the way. Sometimes it works ok, like when you're really not into a book (AHEM Crime and Punishment) and you need to leave it for a while so you can get back to it and start liking it again, but when you're basically in love with the book? Leaving it and then coming back seems, firstly, foolish, but it's just like you have to make an effort to get back into it and a book you love should never really feel like an effort. 

So now you know how to read things properly. I'm glad.

The Blind Assassin is kind of an epic book, but at the same time it's a kind of really close character examination. It covers the entire life of Iris, our main character and gracious narrator, and all the things that were spiralling around her at various points in her life, but since it's all told from her viewpoint, it's basically an examination of her thoughts and actions about things that happened, and things that she would have done differently.

That's one of my favourite things about the book, actually. The fact that Iris is telling all of this with the benefit of hindsight means that she can look at all her past actions critically and think about what she could have done differently, or sometimes she just accepts that there's nothing she could have done because of the lack of choice there was for women when she was 18 or so. What all of this really means, though, is that The Blind Assassin has one of my very favourite things in literature, which is characters ruminating on what it's like to grow old. Iris can regret and be sad about the past all she likes, but really she'd give anything to be that young again, even if it means living through it all again. Which, obviously, is exactly what I want from my old lady characters in books.
"The old wish the young well, but they wish them ill also: they would like to eat them up and absorb their vitality, and remain immortal themselves. Without the protection of surliness and levity, all children would be crushed by the past- the past of others, loaded onto their shoulders."
 I guess I should talk about The Blind Assassin now. And by The Blind Assassin, I mean the book within this book that at times seems like it's just a device to get things into the story that aren't really directly relevant to it (I mean, women who are literally unable to speak? It's like Feminism 101 up in here!) but I PROMISE you that if you go on reading it all will become clear, and make you want to read the entire book from the beginning again because all of a sudden everything is cast in a new light. I realise this is annoyingly vague, but basically, I was vaguely annoyed by The Blind Assassin because it broke up the flow of Iris's narrative which I was really into, but now I'm wondering if it's not the most interesting part of the novel.

So basically. Margaret Atwood is the master of writing things, and of writing things from a woman's perspective, and I'm kind of genetically predisposed to like the things she writes, I think. BUT this is absolutely the best thing I've read by her since The Handmaid's Tale, and The Handmaid's Tale is basically one of my absolute favourite books. So this is really good, is what I'm saying, and I'm willing to bet it's even better when you don't take a month's break in the middle of it. So go and read it now, please? Thank you!

Monday 21 January 2013

Devouring Films: Midnight Cowboy

For some reason, I wasn't expecting Midnight Cowboy to be very good. I honestly don't know where I got that idea from, but it's one that stuck, and eventually I think I mainly just watched it for Dustin Hoffman, my way of thinking being, if it involves Dustin Hoffman, it's literally impossible for it to be bad. That turned out to be true, but not just because of Hoffman, but just for the entire film really- there was so much that I liked about it that it would almost be easier to just shove a copy of it in your hands and go 'just watch it, because I liked ALL THE PARTS'. But I'll try and review it because it's what I do!

So Midnight Cowboy follows Joe Buck (Jon Voight), a naive cowboy (but not an actual cowboy) from Texas who wants to move to New York City because he hears that the rich ladies will pay a LOT to be... seen to by a nice young cowboy such as himself. At this point I was like 'so this is going to be a... SEX movie?' and was slightly apprehensive, but things don't turn out how either I, or Joe, expects them to. After failing a few times to get paid for sex, he runs into Ratso Rizzo (Hoffman), a conman who at first cons, but then befriends him, and gets him into living quarters that are fairly dismal, but better than the streets. From that time on, they're a couple of inseparable broke dudes, and that's basically what the film's about. NOT the gigolo thing, so much.

So I love the unlikely friendship thing, and I LOVE Dustin Hoffman (always), I didn't think I liked Jon Voight, but actually he was pretty cute, and Joe is such an adorable (albeit flawed) character that it's difficult not to like him. The most important thing about this movie though, I think, is the part it has to play in the cultural cultureness of the WORLD. That made a lot of sense, huh? What I mean is, you know when you watch a cartoon or a TV programme, and you know they're referencing something but you don't know what? And then you watch it again say a year later when you've seen other things, and suddenly a whole new world is opened up to you? Midnight Cowboy is totally one of those things that people reference, A LOT.

For example: You know that episode of Futurama where Zapp Brannigan gets fired (Zapp Brannigan is my FAVOURITE character in anything, in a total love-to-hate-him kind of way. He annoys me SO much, in a way that I think is just BRILLIANT. Just so you know) and eventually he and Kif get hired by Planet Express, but FIRST he dresses up like a cowboy and (sort of accidentally) pimps out Kif?
Totally a Midnight Cowboy reference (well, not even reference, really, just out and out parody) and now the world seems a tiny bit clearer to me! And if you've never seen Futurama (SHAME on you!) then that's ok because you know when people in things nearly get run over and go 'I'm WALKIN' here!'? That's from Midnight Cowboy too.
The other thing about Midnight Cowboy is that, even though I was watching it for the first time, I felt like I'd seen it all before. Part of which is that it's a big part of the whole cultural thing (I know there's a word for this and YET I absolutely can't think of it) but it makes Midnight Cowboy sometimes feel like it's sort of cliched, but actually, you have to remember that it came before that stuff was cliche. It is the originator of the cliches, if you will. (I probably wouldn't have recognised this as a feeling I had if it hadn't been for Alley's post about this in The Maltese Falcon. Have to be honest here.)

For example (again), it feels like the 'coming to New York and being broke as hell' storyline has been done, but this has to have been one of the first; and there is a scene in Midnight Cowboy of a totally weird and LSD inspired party that I swear is almost identical to a scene of a weird party that Peggy goes to in Mad Men, so much so that I actually thought 'Hey! They stole this!' but nope- Midnight Cowboy was the original, and actually when they made this, these kinds of parties were still happening, and that feels like a really exciting prospect, kind of documenting the times rather than looking back on them kind of critically.

Side note: Shame on you, Mad Men, for stealing a scene right out of Midnight Cowboy! Tsk.

But apart from being a big part of culture, Midnight Cowboy is genuinely a good film in it's own right. Obviously it's impossible for me to watch it as the people who saw it in the sixties did, but that's ok- the way it's become a part of other things only made me like it more, not less, and then on top of that, it turned out to be gritty and interesting and, eventually, really moving too. Obviously you need to see it, to make certain other things make sense, but I think you should want to see it to. Because it's really kind of great.

Sunday 20 January 2013

Sunday Sundries: Les Mis is basically the best thing in the world ever and also some other things probably also happened this week

I know, I know. Save your Les Mis feelings for an actual review, Laura! People don't just want to read you going on about Les Mis, and then read a review, and then watch videos of you singing I Dreamed A Dream really really really badly. (The last of these will almost definitely not happen. But it could, is what I'm saying). But the thing is, I don't know that I actually can write a proper review because OH MY GOSH THE FEELINGS, and even though the film did have flaws that I'm aware of and can totally appreciate, I'm much more in a state of 'EVERYTHING ABOUT LES MIS IS WONDERFUL AND EVERYTHING ELSE IS IRRELEVANT!'

I think it goes without saying that this was the first time I saw it, right? I hadn't even heard I Dreamed A Dream before Wednesday, so... It was kind of a big deal, is what I'm saying.

And so since Wednesday, I've been basically listening to all the Les Mis recordings and to Anne Hathaway's version of I Dreamed A Dream over and over and over and over and it's actually been affecting my life in that I kind of can't do anything else, apart from also think about the storyline of Les Mis and how, if you view the story from Cosette's PoV it's actually a fairytale. I wake up every day with my brain singing songs from Les Mis, and it's wonderful and a liiittle bit irritating, but mostly wonderful because I haven't been obsessed with something in this way, with this intensity, for a looooong time, and I kind of didn't know I still could be. So it's alllll good.

Other things apart from Les Mis did happen this week (probably...) Um... I did some baking! Today is my cousin's birthday so I baked her a cake yesterday (it's pretty awesome. I haven't taken pictures of it yet, cause LAZY. But maybe later) and obviously I made cookies for my blog birthday so there was some lovely time spent in the kitchen this week. And last night I went to see The Woman in Black (NOT The Woman in White, as I kept calling it like an idiot. But COME ON people, The Woman in White! Obviouslyyyy!) which was as creepy as I was always promised it would be, and made me jump quiiiite a lot.

Of course, in the middle of it my brain started singing songs from Les Mis, which did tend to ruin the effect a tiny tiny bit. But still, I was preeeeetty scared!

Hmm, what else? Well, I have finished three books this week which is ridiculous, and I haven't written a WORD about any of them. I'm having a non-non-fiction reading thing at the moment which is kind of strange, and I've been reading David Mitchell's memoir for about a month without much progress... I guess I'm just in more of a fiction mood at the moment, which my love for Ready Player One seems to have solidified. I might start reading Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (obviously) because, you know, I might as well read the original if I'm not going to be able to stop thinking about the musical, but I'd say I'm at a bit of a reading crossroads right now.

Are you still awake? I'm not sure I am, that was really boring. I just zoned out listening to Red and Black in my head. I actually have a serious problem here, people!

In summary: Les Mis, Les Mis, kitchen things, Les Mis. *bows, awaits applause*.

Friday 18 January 2013

Happy Birthday, Little Blog!

It's my blog birthday! And, as is traditional, I baked for the occasion and I know that, even if my blog doesn't necessarily appreciate it because it doesn't have tastebuds, my family and I will because mmmmm, coookies...*

Anyway. Enough of this talk about food! Although, I would like to share all my cookies with you and I'm not even good at sharing cookies, so that's how much I love you all. It's a lot.

It's weird to think how much a blog birthday actually means to me, and it's even weirder to think how much it brings things into perspective for me, even more so than Christmas, or my actual birthday. Maybe because there are no presents, none of the business of birthdays, that I can look back and see clearly how much things have actually changed. Last year I was in a completely different place to the year before, and this year it's different again, and if I really think about it, it's only getting better.

This past year, I started sharing more about my actual life with you all, much more for my own benefit than for yours, so that I would actually talk about things that were happening rather than just storing them up to freak out about them later. I don't think even I know how much that helped me, but I do know that your comments of love and support were amazing and helpful and so wonderful at all times, you don't even know.

I'm crying now while I'm writing this, so I guess that I know, at least.

And really, I say this all the time but I really didn't have any expectations about blogging before I started and I never ever expected to make friends through it, but the fact of the matter is, I think I'm basically more popular on the internet than I've ever been anywhere else in my life, and by popular I don't mean page views, or comments, but actual friendships, conducted via blogs and twitter and email and watching Clueless transatlantically and OMG through readalongs. Seriously, discovering WILKIE with the best bunch of people has been the best, and we're already having SO much fun reading Harry Potter, and, yeah, it's just amazing.

I've just finished reading Ready Player One (I love it so much. You'll see...) and there's this one quote that made me think 'yep. That's me and my internet friends alright.' It comes after the main character meets an internet friend for the first time:
"As we continued to talk, going through the motions of getting to know each other, I realised we already did know each other, as well as any two people could. We'd known each other for years, in the most intimate way possible. We'd connected on a purely mental level." 
And we do this all the time, every day, and it's the reason I keep coming back, far beyond just talking about books which, let's face it, is also a really really fun part. So thank you all, and let's keep having fun and being friends because you make the internet the best and um, did I mention that I love you? Did I say it in cookies?
So now you know.

AND. I was going to be all like
But dammit, I like to give away books and if you can't do that on your (blog) birthday then when can you? (the correct answer to this is, 'whenever.' But hush.) So, I'm going to give away a Penguin English Library book to someone I love, which could be any one of you reading this, I reckon. So just leave me a comment and tell me which one you want and we'll see what happens. (I can't be bothered to drag this out, so you have until... Sunday? At midnight? Yeah, that feels good.)

And thank you again for making the internet awesome. You're the best.

*I genuinely took about 50 photos of these damn cookies and this was the best one. Which is a shame because LOOK AT THE ICING MESS. But never mind. Cooooookies...

"It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that."

The first thing I need to say about this part of the book is that we start at Halloween and then end in like June? Nice pacing there, Rowling. Really nice.
I'd just completely forgotten how quickly things moved once the gang actually get to Hogwarts, which is fine, but it kind of makes the Philosopher's Stone kind of devoid of all the background things that make the whole Harry Potter experience so exciting and juicy and rich and so, yeah. It's notable.

NOW let's talk about fun things! Can I just tell you, straight up, that basically my favourite thing in any book is when they have Christmas. I like to find out about their presents, I like to know what they've eaten, I just enjoy the whole experience. It's probably the main reason I like Little Women so much, and in Harry Potter it is ON STEROIDS. "It had been Harry's best Christmas day ever" and OMG mine too. It literally makes me go like this:
And then there's the mirror of Erised, and UGH JK, why are you trying to make me cry when it's Christmas? Why? I have to say, at every other reading of Harry Potter, I haven't actually cried until the sixth book (YOU KNOW WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT) but this time? I nearly cried at the mirror, and at this:
"It was the unicorn all right, and it was dead. Harry had never seen anything so beautiful and sad."
Because DEAD UNICORNS? I think not. (Also, I am twelve).
But, for the first time ever, JK got me in the very first book.
"Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing that Voldemort doesn't understand, it is love. He didn't realise that love as powerful as your mother's for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign... to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever. It is in your very skin."
It's going to be a rough few months, is what I'm saying. And by rough I mean AWESOME but with some cries. *sniiiiiiiff*

Let's see, what else? Time for some more bullet points? Yes.

  • I am SO happy that Hermione is their friend now. And also that she's awesome. Like, the bit where she tells Harry he's a great wizard, and he's all like 'naaah, you're SO smart!' and she's like PAH these are not the most important things? It's wondrous. 
  • I love Neville. I don't remember loving Neville this much! But I do. He stands up to Malfoy and to Harry and Ron and Hermoine and he basically never wins but he always TRIES and it's the best. LOVE him.

  • Dumbledore is SO wise. I mean, DUH, obviously, but like this: "You know, the Stone was really not such a wonderful thing. As much money and life as you could want! The two things that human beings would choose above all- the trouble is, humans do have a knack of choosing precisely those things which are worst for them." That we do, Dumbledore, that we do.
  • On another Dumbledore note, can we please guess what Dumbledore saw in the Mirror of Erised? (Do we find out later and I've just forgotten? Perhaps.) I'm choosing to believe that its him and Grindelwald living harmoniously together in a little cottage somewhere. Cause awwwww.
Aaaaand I'm kind of done. There is clearly a lot more to say (have I even mentioned the Trolls? Or how interesting I find Quirrell and his Struggle? I have not.) but I have to tell you, I saw Les Mis (for the first time) on Wednesday (I'm writing this Thursday night) and it has genuinely made thinking about other things really difficult. So, I'm off to listen to I Dreamed A Dream for the thousandth time and to seek (seek? Like Harry is the seeker? Yes? Yes.) out the Chamber of Secrets. Which, at the very least, is a book we can all agree on the name of. So that's a bonus already.

Wednesday 16 January 2013

Devouring Films: Shame

I watched Shame a couple of weeks ago, and honestly, I didn't think I was going to write anything about it because there wasn't that much I wanted to say. But, as with so many things, I've found myself thinking about it without meaning to, and that usually means that I have things to say. So let's see what comes out!

My own personal shame connected with Shame is that I only wanted to watch it because of Michael Fassbender's penis. I realise that this is a really bad reason to watch a film, but if you haven't seen the gif then I don't know what to say to you (if you have then you probably want to shake my hand and tell me 'well done!' for watching this. And, you know, thanks for that). But anyway, I pays my money for Netflix and when they have films on there that have gained a lot of praise and ALSO contain male full-frontal nudity... Well, I'm not sure how to resist that.

If you don't know what Shame is about, then the premise is essentially that Brandon (Fassbender) is a successful 30-something dude who works... doing something that's never really made clear, and whilst his whole life looks pretty good from the outside, he's actually a sex addict who, it becomes clear, really can't emotionally connect to anyone. In some top-notch character naming, Carey Mulligan plays his sister, Sissy (I see what they did there) who comes along and messes up his perfect-seeming (from the outside, remember) world and provides a lot of the story of the film. Without her, it would basically just be Fassbender wanking to internet porn, hiring prostitutes, and going to the mens toilets an awful lot at work.

And if you thought it wouldn't annoy me that both of the lead actors are English and yet played Americans then you would be WRONG, because why not just make them English? All kinds of people migrate to New York City, you know?

Anyway. So the film is absolutely gorgeous looking, and a lot of what it wants to do is achieved through this- it makes a lot of what Brandon does or looks at sexually look and feel sort of dirty and grim, AND very much like a drug addiction rather than something cool and desirable, and makes Sissy seem both very attractive and very vulnerable (both of which are true). Almost everything is revealed through the way the film looks, but there are some things that remain unrevealed even after the film ends, and I think that is what has kept me thinking about it even when I thought I wouldn't. The film ends without answers, without solutions, without a lot of hope, and you're left wondering what on earth happened for everyone to end up in such a sorry state in the first place. And I kind of love that.

Shame, then, is kind of bleak and kind of hopeless, and yet in the end you DO hope. You hope that Brandon can break free of his addiction, that Sissy can learn to stand on her own two feet; that above all things will be better and the people will be less damaged. There's nothing they can do about their pasts, but their futures are there for the writing (quite literally, since this is a film and all) and even though there's very little to suggest in the film that they will be better, still you want them to be. Or, at least I did. Basically, I apparently care about and believe in these characters enough that I want them to be ok, beyond the edges of the film; and that's really all I ask for from any kind of narrative.

Therefore, I guess, I liked Shame.

Monday 14 January 2013

Mini-Readathon Mini Reviews

I've never done mini-reviews before (for books, anyway), so I'm pretty excited about this you guys! Mainly because, having just taken stock, I've got EIGHT draft posts going on and, you know, on this I can be brief, but also mini-reviews! Let's keep the mini-party going!
I only actually finished two books during the mini-readathon, and one of them I really don't have anything to say about (NOT in a bad way! You'll see) so essentially this is going to be a mini-review of The Little Prince with a teeny mention of Tim Burton. AKA The Greatest Blog Post In The History Of The World Ever. You know it!

The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery
"It is such a secret place, the land of tears."

One of my favourite tumblrs in all the wide world is The Word Made Flesh, a place where people can show off their literary tattoos and make me feel all jealous and also cowardly. Which, I've just realised, makes it sound like a BAD tumblr, but actually, it's clearly awesome. Anyway, the point is that on said tumblr, I have seen many many many tattoos inspired by The Little Prince, (they're third only to people getting the infinite quote from The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and 'I am, I am, I am' from The Bell Jar) I think ostensibly because, you know, it has pictures, but also, as I've discovered, it's kind of wonderful.

The Little Prince is kind of a children's book, but I think it's more important for adults to read it. It's an attempt to grasp at the things that are really important in life, to try and recapture the way you see the world as a child and to not just become the same as everyone else, pretending to like the same boring things that they do. And aside from all that, it's also a really good story- a sad one, but one that lingers after you've finished, making you kind of sad and kind of happy all over again. 

I know for a fact that I'll be reading this again, a lot, hopefully throughout my life so that if I ever start thinking too much like a grown up, I'll have this to pull me back up to seeing the world in a, not exactly innocent, but a much kinder and I think sensible way. You should probably do the same so that we can stay friends.
"Grown ups love figures. When you tell them that you have made a new friend, they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you, 'What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?' Instead, they demand: 'How old is he? How many brothers has he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?' Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him."
The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy by Tim Burton
And THIS I don't really have much to say about. But I liked it! It's just kind of really silly and funny, and made me laugh out loud quite a few times, and I definitely think you should all read it if you have a sense of humour that matches mine and Tim Burton's.

Here's one thing I can talk about with it though. On the back, as with, you know, basically all books, there are blurbs from various reviews, all of which say some variation of 'Tim Burton has tapped into his childhood as an outsider to write this book and that's why it's good and important' etc etc. And the thing is... Yeah, basically all of his characters are odd in some way, and they don't fit in to 'normal society' and Oyster Boy, in fact, was born to two human parents who (SPOILER) end up eating him, which is like the ultimate rejection by your parents, I think; BUT it's a lot more funny than sad, and I think going on about the outcast thing is a bit too much of an easy explanation for the twisted things that have come out of Burton's mind and onto the page.

Incidentally, I've just thought of a link between the two of these books in their acting against the way society says and feeling outcast because of it and BAM look at the coherence of my post now! Yeah! You weren't expecting THAT, were you?!

Sunday 13 January 2013

Sunday Sundries: Let's have a talk about body image, shall we?

Roald Dahl

I know what you're thinking. Like, yeah yeah, yawn yawn, another person just dying to talk about diets and exercise and making this your 'best year ever!' by trying to make your body into something that certain people (which people? I don't know) deem acceptable, no matter how much it hurts, dammit. I mean, that's the way it is all the time, but at this time of year, everything seems to be amped up a notch. Psychotic amounts of 'YOU NEED TO BE SKINNY AND IF YOU AREN'T YOU'RE NOT GOOD ENOUGH'. Screaming. From everywhere.

And I know. If you don't want to hear it, then don't. Just ignore it. Don't let it seep into your mind and remember your own criteria for whether or not you're good enough. If you don't like it, just don't read it. It's my philosophy for things on the internet (rather than seeking out things you hate JUST to rant-comment on them- but that's a topic for another day) and it would be my philosophy for this. It normally is, but this year, for some reason, it's got me thinking about things, and those things won't leave my head. So you get to read all about them. (You're welcome!)

I have never been a skinny person. Not ever. In fact, you might say that my body is the opposite of skinny. You might eeeven go so far as to call me fat, probably not to my face, but you'd be thinking it. There was a time when this would have bothered me, but I've read a whoooole lot of things about body acceptance even in the last year, and frankly I've decided that my body is really only my business, it's not property that can be owned, and, and frankly this is the most liberating thing I've ever read, 'It's much harder to hate yourself than to be fat.' (I can't actually find this quote ANYWHERE on the internet. But if I made it up then that's amazing. But I really didn't.)

So there might have been a time where I'd never have been able to tweet about how hungry I was, or how much I want to eat cake, for the fear that there'd be someone reading and thinking 'yeah, I'll bet she eats cake all the time, the fat bitch'. Because people are awful, you know. But you know what? I'm going to eat cake if I want to, and I'm going to eat vegetables if I feel like it, and dammit I'm going to talk about it all I want. But I wouldn't have been able to not so long ago. So now I'm all about the body acceptance and really, I kind of just don't think about it anymore. As long as it's doing everything that I need it to do, then I more or less have no qualms with my body.
Bring it.

But. I work with someone who is genuinely, the thinnest person in the office, and she's constantly calling herself fat. It has always perplexed me when people do this, and I'm sure they've done it to you too. But maybe not so much as they've done it to me. Allow me to elaborate. I'm not saying that when people say to me 'ohmygosh I'm soooo fat' that they don't genuinely believe they look fat. It breaks my heart that they think that they're fat because they don't have Keira Knightley's body. This whole 'thin is hot' thing is really a very very new societal requirement, and sometimes I feel like it's been put in place to keep women SO worried about their bodies that they're too busy doing that to just take over the damn world already (but that's ALSO a topic for another day).

So anyway, there's that. But the other part of this whole rigmarole is that, in me experience, people who tell me, specifically me that 'OMG I'm sooo fat' typically want something in return. There's a reason they're saying this to me specifically, and I've never been able to play my part in this little performance, because I like myself too  much. My role is, when they say 'I'm sooooo fat', I'm supposed to respond, 'No you're not, look at ME!'  wherein they do, and then feel better about themselves. But really, I'm a lot more like
or, at a stretch, 'No you're NOT, don't be silly!'

Because, frankly, I'm not willing to tear myself down to make other people feel better. Not even when I was a lot more insecure, and certainly not now. I just won't do that shit.

Let me be clear. I'm not saying that there's anything at all wrong with being thin. I'm not saying that being overweight isn't unhealthy (sometimes...) or that I am at all times happy with my body. I'm not saying that it's wrong to want to lose weight, if it's something YOU want to do and it doesn't fully control your life. If you genuinely believe that it's your life's mission to have THE perfect body, then go on out there and get it and I wish you well. But babe... What are you going to do with that body when you've got it? Just, like, keep maintaining it and depriving yourself of all the good things in life, ignoring the fact that this perfect body is one day, like all things, going to be dust, and never really living properly, freely, at all?

I say, fuck that. Fuck thinking that what you look like, or the amount of space you take up in the world is the most important thing about you. I think that basically everything about us is more important than the way we look, and frankly, we don't have enough time to pretend that it does. I don't even have enough time to be writing about this, and I'm not saying that it's been a busy week at work, I'm saying that it's a very very short life, and there is no time to waste worrying about whether our butt could be an inch smaller (oh wait, are we supposed to have big butts now? I forget) or our boobs a cup size bigger. WE DO NOT HAVE TIME FOR THIS SHIT.

I'm being dramatic. How surprising. But here's what I want. Can't we just get dressed in the morning in whatever size clothes fit us, and then get on with our lives and frolic and have fun and read and walk and eat and laugh and cry and dance and enjoy life without constantly having to think about what we look like? And can we all just not judge each other based on what we look like too? And can we please stop caring about what some magazine that constantly undermines women (ie basically all magazines) says we should look like? I think we'd all be happier if we did.

So... That's just some stuff I've been thinking about this week. You?

Friday 11 January 2013

"His birthdays were never exactly fun- last year the Dursleys had given him a coat-hanger and a pair of Uncle Vernon's old socks."

Ahhhh, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. I can still remember the first time I read this, under slight duress, and going, 'Gawd, the first chapters are really boring, aren't they? Who are all these people and why are they doing things that I don't understand?'
Obviously, as soon as Hagrid turns up and we more or less get to leave the Dursleys behind, everything becomes amazing, but before then... I was not impressed. The thing is, reading it again now, it's like... The first few chapters are AMAZING, because I know everything (and I mean everything) and it's lovely going back and going 'I know you! And I know what's about to happen to YOU' and, it's a really nice feeling.

Now, I read waaay ahead of where we're supposed to have done for this week (I blame the mini-readathon! And also, you know, it's Harry Potter) but I'm going to try and keep what I know to myself *secret spy face*. But basically, here are some feelings I have:

  • The Dursleys are so ridiculously terrible. I feel like I should be complaining about how caricaturish they are, but I can't because their terribleness is what gets us on Harry's side form the very beginning because we can both appreciate how horrible they are whilst also laughing at them together. 
  • I kind of forgot that there was a time when Harry, Ron and Hermione weren't friends, and I am NOT A FAN OF THIS. Having said this, Hermoine is kind of really bossy and irritating to start with, so I get why they don't want to be her friend, but STILL I can't deal with this time. Not at all.
  • I LOVES THE MAGIC! Like how we bond with Harry over his horrible family, we also get to go along on his journey into the magic side of the world, and HOW COOL IS THAT?! There is no telling me that there isn't a Diagon Alley hidden somewhere in London, and one day I will find it, I swear. But the pictures that move and 'non-existent' train platforms and wizard money... If there's one thing that the Philosopher's Stone does, it's building the magical world, and it does it SO well.
  • I also love how Ron is all interested in the muggle world. Cause that's how it would be if you were a raised wizard and so everything was just old hat to you!
  • Speaking of old hats, the Sorting Hat... I love the concept, but I CAN'T DO SONGS IN BOOKS. So now you know. I blame Lord of the Rings, frankly.
  • Malfoy is a weenie. This is something we'll come back to.
OBViously I have about 15 million more things to say, but I'm trying not to shoot my wad over the first 9 chapters of the series (because that would be messy [SORRY]) but basically, what I'm trying to say is, I'm SO EXCITED to be reading Harry Potter again. Next time I may have thoughts that don't even need to be bullet pointed, but for now I'm too hyper for paragraphs.

Tuesday 8 January 2013

Devouring Stephen King: Rose Madder

"It filled her eyes and her mind with the sort of clean revelatory excitement that belongs only to the works of art that deeply move us- the song that made us cry, the story that made us see the world clearly from another person's perspective, at least for awhile, the poem that made us glad to be alive, the dance that made us forget for a few minutes that someday we won't be."

The best thing about Rose Madder, I think, is the fact that now I'm done with it, I can blitz through quite a few Stephen Kings because I've read them before, and edge ever closer to finally, finally reading On Writing, (I literally only have one other new King book before it) and then onto the books that have been released since I started doing this whole thing, that DAMMIT I WANT TO READ SO BADLY. I realise this doesn't say much for Rose Madder though, and, well, we'll get to that.

So Rose Madder is a book that's part of Stephen King's whole 'women's rights' thing, which is something that I both appreciate him SO much for attempting, but which I also don't think he gets completely right, at any point. But still, total points for trying. In this tale of women's woe, Rose Daniels is a woman who has been constantly battered by her husband for 14 years, until one day, when she sees a spot of blood on her bedsheets she decides that she has to leave or he'll kill her. The fact that he'll also try to kill her if she leaves is something she considers too, but in the end the risk seems worth taking. So she escapes and it's all awesome and she starts to build a life that's all for herself in a city which King never names for no earthly reason, but which is clearly Chicago.

And I love all of this. Abused woman makes good, gets a job, meets the man of her dreams and so on and so on. But that's not all there is to it, and the rest of it... It ain't good. Firstly, the whole supernatural element is ridiculous, and not in a so-ridiculous-it's-good way, more in a
kind of way. All I'm going to say to you about that is PAINTING THAT COMES TO LIFE, and, well, this does not impress me unless it's in Mary Poppins.
So that was silly and annoying, and I would have preferred for Rose to solve her problems in a real life way instead of relying on some obscure figure IN A PAINTING to do it for her. I mean, that would have been a lot more useful book, and one that would have been a lot more uplifting instead of making me roll my eyes quite a lot and just being irritated.

And then the other thing that really got to me was that there are fairly large chunks of the book that are told from Rose's INSANE husband's perspective. And when I say insane, I really mean insane. Like, the dude is a psychopath. And interestingly enough, it wasn't that fun being inside his head. I mean, it made me actively uncomfortable, and I kind of didn't need it. And I don't think for a minute that this wasn't the effect that King was aiming for, but there were points in it where I sort of wanted to throw up because he thinks about really horrifying things, and, again, I just didn't need it.

But what I really didn't need from being inside his head were the bits where King kind of made us try to feel sorry for him. For this character who we meet when he beats his wife so hard that she has a miscarriage, for this rapist, this murderer, King tries to explain away his action by his dad abusing him when he was young. And I get that this is an actual reason for the actions of abusers, but what it isn't is an excuse, and I think it kind of sucked for King to make it seem like one, in any way. And, I'll say it again, I just didn't need to be inside his head at all! This book would have been fine without that, and it would have been way shorter too, which would have been good for it, frankly.

So. You could say that it's not one of my favourites. Would I say that I outright hated it? I wouldn't- I did love the 'woman escapes abusive husband, makes good' narrative, and if it had mostly stuck to that and I hadn't had to climb into said abusive husband's disgusting skin, I would have felt a lot better about it. So... An average to bad book? Yeah, let's go with that.

Sunday 6 January 2013

Sunday Sundries: I Have Been...

My brain is too fried from ALL. THE. READING yesterday to actually think of a way to structure sentences and things. So, instead, here's a meme thingy (I stole it from Allie, but I've seen it a few places) that I've been meaning to do for ages but never have, that also puts a structure into things automatically. Enjoy!

I Have Been:

Not very much. Just blog posts really. I've been trying to muster up all my courage to look at my NaNoWriMo again, but that hasn't happened yet... Maybe this week. Maybe.

ALL THE BOOKS. I had a mini-mini slump at the start of the... year, just because I've been pissing around and doing other things, but I think the mini-readathon yesterday has really cracked things. Which was a lot of its point. Plus, I'm reading Harry Potter now, so... Yeah, reading GALORE!

Frances alerted me to the existence of this song yesterday:
And now I kind of can't stop listening to it. It doesn't hurt that it's called Laura, obviously, but ALSO I think it's kind of an awesome song. Especially because it's about me, obviously.

I have this problem that should probably be categorised as an actual disease- Netflix paralysis. In that there's SO much choice, and so many things that I want to watch on Netflix that when you put me in front of it I just FREEZE, and then end up watching Modern Family. Which isn't a bad thing, but you know, THERE ARE MANY OTHER THINGS I WISH TO WATCH.
Also, I think I'm going to start watching The Wire this week. I think it's time.

longingly at my new sewing machine and wishing I wasn't so scared of it! But one day I'll be brave enough to try it out. One day.

How to enjoy exercise. And by exercise I mean walking to work. And by walking to work I mean EVERY DAY, and NO EXCUSES. It's going quite well, actually.

Physically- achy from all the walking! I'm really not used to it. Which is really sad. And the main reason I must continue!
Mentally- I'm not sure I've settled into the year yet. By which, I guess, I really just mean that I miss Christmas. I'm hoping that since this week is a 'back to normal' one, I'll get into the groove again. Hopefully.

Going to see Les Mis in a week and a bit! I'm excited. And then also going to the theatre that same week. It's going to be good!
Blogwise, I'm totally anticipating more Harry Potter chatter. It's going to be AMAZING (and it already is. So, more so).

I lived somewhere else and was a woman of independent financial means. But I'm not, yet, so I'm just going to suck it up and make the best of things. Which should also help make that 'feeling' thing a whole lot better.

My internet buddies and real life ones too. And Harry Potter, obviously.