Monday 29 July 2013

Devouring Films: The East

Before I talk about The East, it's pretty important that I talk about Brit Marling's hoodie in The East:
I LOVE IT and it is now my mission in life to get an inexpensive black hoodie, sew some lace onto it and wear it with the hood up all winter. Hey, we've all got to have dreams. And it'll look FAB with my other mission to join an eco-terrorist group and stick it to the corporations and stuff.* YEAH!

Now. The real deal about The East. OBVIOUSLY I really only wanted to see it because Alexander Skarsgard is in it (I know, I know, YAWN) but but but (and this is important) I wouldn't just like it for that reason. Like, I might watch it more than once for that reason because, you know, YUM, but in the end, I'm not going to say I like a film if I don't, no matter who's in it. It's because of this I could be SO scathing about The Astronaut's Wife (and I am crazy about Johnny Depp) and part of the reason I didn't even bother writing a review for the Straw Dogs remake that Skarsgard was also in (the other reason is laziness. But I really didn't like it.)

And you know what? I liked The East. I really did. It was one of those times where, leaving the cinema on a Skarsgard high, I wasn't entirely sure how I felt about the movie aside from that part where Skarsgard was in the bath and... Other parts, but a few days later when I found myself thinking about some of the issues actually explored in the film, it suddenly clicked and Ah! I did like the film for its storyline and things aside from stellar casting decisions! Which is honestly a relief to know.

So, the story. The East starts and ends with Brit Marling's character, Sarah, and it's really all about her journey- an ex-CIA (FBI? I forget) operative, now working for an actual private company as an undercover agent whose job is to infiltrate The East- a left wing group that targets evil corporations to try and repay them with some measure of the things they've done to others. Even though Sarah completely disagrees with some of their methods, she comes to sympathise with their aims and to question everything she once thought was true about the world and about her life.

And that's just the core of the film, and surrounding that is The East itself. Kiiiind of led by the charismatic (read: beautiful) Benji (Skarsgard) and all gathered around the same goals and a commitment to a certain (read: communal, hippy-esque) way of life, they're kind of a beautiful group. There are people of almost every ostracised group in society represented, and as you learn more about certain characters, their motives for wanting to be a part of such a group become increasingly clear- and sometimes in heartbreaking ways.

For what it's worth, I kind of loved them all- even though I definitely have some issues with their methods, I have incredible empathy and love for basically all of them, and you know what, let's just say it, I totally get where they're coming from. The people behind corporations are almost NEVER held responsible for their actions, purely because they have 'The Corporation' to hide behind, and it's kind of disturbing to realise the things they can get away with. (I don't know how much, or if any of the stories told in The East are true, but I know enough about such things to know that they very easily could be). The East are really just trying to balance the scales here, and can I blame them for it? Not really.

Slight feminist moment- This film didn't even need to try to pass The Bechdel Test because there were plenty of women in the group, the lead character is a woman and, imagine this, she's a woman who has more on her mind than finding a man to marry her! GASP! (Whether or not this is because she's already engaged is neither here nor there). It's actually refreshing to realise you've just watched a film where, for example, Sarah and Izzy (Ellen Page) haven't had a conversation about who likes Benji more, and where as a group they talk about things that actually matter as opposed to who's sleeping with who (my own thoughts: everyone is either sleeping with, or want to sleep with, Benji. But I would say that). I attribute most of this to Brit Marling being one of the writers, and I love her for it and now I kind of want to watch everything she's done? Yeah, that.

On reflection, then, I liked The East for more things than Skarsgardian abs, and that's about the highest praise I can give a movie. It's the first movie for a long time I can remember even thinking about for longer than about 5 minutes, and it's way smarter than it needs to be, but not so smart that it becomes inaccessible. And if you don't like gender equality in your cults then I don't know what to do with you.

*Shit, people like monitor the internet, right? I'm totally kidding, scary Government types! I'd never break laws and stuff! Unless someone really pissed me off, that is...

Sunday 28 July 2013


Finalement: The Next Day
I definitely missed out on the last hour of reading because maaaan I needed sleep, but I did get started on Seven Little Australians and so far I am CHARMED by it. But fun was had, and I think I really needed some uninterrupted (other than by munching on things) reading time so YAY EVERYTHING!

And THANK YOU TIKA for hosting, you were awesome as always!

Pages Read: 150 PLUS 28% of Tiny Beautiful Things, so what, maybe another... 75? Ish. I don't know things.
Snacks: I have checked and I only had 4 mini-muffins, which I think shows an incredible amount of restraint. The mini oreos and mini m&ms? Not so much.
Books read from: 3
Books Finished: 2! I'm pretty pleased, I've been reading TBT for MONTHS, it seems.
Enjoyment level: about 50 million unicorns.

Halfway Through-ish: 8.51pm
Heyyyyyy, I've read some stuff! I finished Bag of Bones and got to the edge of crying, and then read some of Tiny Beautiful Things and got even closer to crying. I WILL NOT CRY, DAMMIT (I probably will. But I'm going to read Seven Little Australians soon, it looks really cheery!)

This is a really good time to have a halfway point for me, because it is time for Les Revenants (The Returned) which is like the only TV programme I watch with my mum and it's awesome and creepy AND counts for the readathon because it's in french so hellooooo subtitles! So I won't be around for an hour, basically, except maybe on twitter in the ad breaks. But then I will be back and everything will be good again!

ALSO pretty much all I wanted from the mini-readathon was to finish Bag of Bones, and since I've done that I feel pretty chuffed with myself *struts around a little* Also, I'm high on mini-muffins. Mmmmm...

Pages Read: 134 PLUS 9% of my Kindle book (do I know how to look at page numbers? ... Not really. I don't FULLY understand my Kindle yet...)
Snacks: 3 or 4 mini muffins and allll the mini m&ms. Which was not enough mini m&ms at all.
Actual food: Leftover pizza and hummus and cucumber. It was nice!
Naps: Not quite, but I did nearly fall asleep towards the end of Bag of Bones. Sugar makes me sleepy, ok?

Starting Point: 5.13pm
Ok, I'm totally a tiny bit late BUT I was visiting my grandad in the hospital so I know I'm forgiven (he's not too bad, he just has pneumonia IN THE SUMMER like a crazy medical anomaly person, so yeah. But it's cool.) ANYWAY, the important thing is that I am READY TO READ NOW and I might have already eaten some mini-m&ms (quick story- I used to have them in my christmas stocking when I was little and so every mouthful is like Christmas morning- it's AWESOME!)

Quick addition to the snack pile- I bought some mini-muffins and am using a tiiiiny mug to drink water out of (that I'm filling with a 2 litre bottle. Unnecessary effort? Maybe, but it's all for you guys.) LOOK HOW CUTE IT IS!
So it's really no hardship. BUT ANYWAY. Time to finish Bag of Bones, I'd say. See ya in a bit!

My title might be... overstating things a bit, since I basically have to wait for everyone to wake up before we can start, and start time is in, oooh, 6 hours? But nonetheless, I am getting things ready both online and in reality so that I can just read my little heart out when the time finally comes for me to do so (or, like, go on twitter a lot and stuff. I'm not fussy.)

Aw, a mini-stack for a mini-readathon! As has become tradition I will now justify why they are mini:

  • Bag of Bones by Stephen King- A lot of the story revolves around various children (AND I only have about 100 pages to go and I wanna reeeeead it).
  • Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner- Seven LITTLE Australians, see? 
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green- Teenagers. They're like small people.
AND THEN I had this sudden burst of inspiration last night, and I ALSO might read some of:
TINY Beautiful Things! Smart, am I right? (Also I only have 28% of it left to read and YAY for finishing books.)

And, most importantly, I have a few mini snacks:
Mini-Oreos and Mini-M&Ms because apparently I'm fully American today! But seriously- I bought the mini m&ms before I was even sure the mini-readathon was happening again, and have saved them ALL THIS TIME (I don't actually know how long that is. But preeeeetty long.) So anyway, BASICALLY I'm very excited to eat them. These are all I have at the moment, BUT Rayna has been talking about mini-muffins on twitter and DAMMIT NOW I WANT SOME so that might have to happen. 

But basically: I'm excited and ready for it to be 6 hours in the future now!
p.s. It hasn't started yet so you can totally still sign up to mini-read with us! 8 hours of pure reading goodness, how can you resist?! Sign up at Tika's blog.

Friday 26 July 2013

Devouring Books: Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M: Audrey Hepburn and Breakfast at Tiffany's by Sam Wasson

"There were human beings, and there was Audrey Hepburn."

I can't remember where I first read about Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M., but I know my main thoughts about it were essentially 'I like Breakfast at Tiffany's, I'll put it on my Amazon wishlist!' And there it might have languished forever had not the LOVELY Bex bought it for me for a reason I can't even remember- It definitely wasn't my birthday, and it wasn't Christmas either, but other than that I honestly don't know. But the point is that I'm really really glad she did because it's kind of become my favourite book about films ever? Yeah, that.

So. As is probably clear from the title, this is a book about Breakfast at Tiffany's- it follows Audrey Hepburn, Truman Capote, and other key figures involved with Breakfast at Tiffany's from their early careers, through making the film and beyond. Whilst I wouldn't necessarily say that you should read it if you don't care about Breakfast at Tiffany's, I did find it incredibly accessible and so very interesting, mainly because it did go beyond the borders of the movie and into the wider lives of the people behind it and the state of Hollywood at the time it was made. 

Because that state? Not so good. And by 'not so good', I mean that in 50s Hollywood, there were INCREDIBLY strict guidelines about what was and wasn't allowed in films, and what wasn't allowed was pre- or extra-marital sex or even a hint of such a thing, and a lot of other fun things besides (although smoking, of course, was practically encouraged, so there's that). All of this was still fully in force when Breakfast at Tiffany's was made, and it explains SO MUCH about the film- why, even though Holly is a prostitute, they can't ever say she's a prostitute, and why the end has to be the way it is- I don't want to ruin anything, but let's just say, marriage as opposed to sex.

I learnt so much trivia about the film from this book (George Peppard was a nightmare to work with, Audrey Hepburn nearly didn't take the part, nobody wanted the screenwriter, nobody wanted the director, nobody wanted Henry Mancini) but what was really best about it was that Wasson presented it all in a way so it didn't feel like trivia, but like you were actually along for the crazy ride with all the people involved. What this does mean is that he ascribes emotions and thoughts to actual people that they might not actually have had, and normally I hate that- BUT here it was so well done that I couldn't really argue with it, and the majority of these things were at least based in fact, and presented in such a way that it was impossible to roll my eyes at it. In fact, I did whatever the opposite of rolling my eyes at it would be... Just... Reading it with static eyes? 
Anyway... I'm sure that the story of most movies is the story of opportunities almost missed and actors almost not cast and songs almost not written (MOON RIVER) but very few of those movies turn out to be an almost watershed moment in cinematic history and that's why this book doesn't feel superfluous. I feel like its effect is so great that, even if people haven't seen it, they've heard of it, and if they haven't heard of it (come on, don't be shy) they've seen photos like this:
And believe they know everything about it. Fun story about this photo- Tiffany's allowed scenes from the movie to be shot inside Tiffany's (for the first time ever, no less) as long as they could borrow Audrey Hepburn for their own publicity and that's basically where this comes from- it has barely anything to do with the film. SEE HOW INTERESTING THIS BOOK IS?

Basically, you're not really going to want to read this unless you've seen Breakfast at Tiffany's or, I guess, are a Truman Capote fan and want to know all about his part in all of this, but really, you should definitely watch the film and then read this. There's nothing quite like knowing just how different it could have been as a movie (Marilyn Monroe instead of Audrey Hepburn?! WHAT?) and how much of a struggle it was to get it as perfect as it kind of is, and you know what? This book is kind of perfect too. Read it, read it, read it, read it. Because I don't have anymore words to describe its excellence, but it really is so good.

Wednesday 24 July 2013

Devouring Books: What Maisie Knew by Henry James

"What was clear to any spectator was that the only link binding her to either parent was this lamentable fact of her being a ready vessel for bitterness, a deep little porcelain cup in which biting acids could be mixed. They had wanted her not for any good they could do her, but for the harm they could, with her unconscious aid, do each other."

Before I tell you all about What Maisie Knew, I have to tell you What Laura Knew- namely that a movie version is coming out in August (a mere month away!) starring the rather dashing Alexander Skarsgard (and there are probably some other people in it too, I don't know) that I've known I wanted to see for about a year. So, when Penguin did one of their 50% off sale things at Christmastime last year, I snapped up a copy of What Maisie Knew and intended to read it straight away.

Six months later, I finally picked it up, and now I have read it! *Pauses for applause* And a whole month before the movie comes out, too. I'm calling that a win! I've read some Henry James before (The Europeans, The Turn of the Screw) and I liked them fine, but both of those are shorter than What Maisie Knew, so I didn't really know what to expect. Actually, that's not true- I thought I did know what to expect, but what I got was something else entirely and it maybe wasn't as... Good as I thought it was going to be.

Ok, here's what I'm really dancing around- I don't really like James's writing style. His sentences are never ending and sometimes seem to have  overused the Thesaurus function in Word (just like 'Baby Kangaroo' Tribbiani*) even if Word didn't exist until about 100 years after Maisie was written. I could feel myself rushing through sentences and paragraphs because there were just. So many. Unecessary words. I don't like to rush through books in such a way so DAMMIT JAMES, no. And I don't know if this is just a personal 'Laura can't read big words' thing, or if this is a legitimate criticism of James's work, but if it's how I feel then it IS legitimate so there.

Let's put the actual writing aside for juuuust a minute, because there were things about the book that I actually did like. I liked how modern the story felt- parents getting divorced and using their child as ammunition feels like something that maybe didn't happen so much in 1897, but I'm willing to bet it happens a lot more now OR, at least, there are more opportunities for it to happen now. I also liked (and this is kind of the selling point of the whole selling point of the book) how the story is told through Maisie's eyes, which doesn't mean we get a childlike rendition of events, but more that 'What Maisie Knew' is ALL we know. It's clear that many, many things are happening when she's not there, but it's pretty much up to the reader to decide on the exact nature of said things, which means you keep thinking beyond the lines of the narrative. Which I like. Obviously. 

And then, there's Sir Claude. Can we just pause for a moment and appreciate this description of him:
"She felt the moment she looked at him that he was by far the most radiant person with whom she had yet been concerned."
Oh, RADIANT, you say?
 Ok, bad example. But YES Sir Claude's modern equivalent is Skarsgard and it seems sooort of like perfect casting. But anyway- I don't love Sir Claude because of his radiance OR the fact that I pictured him as tall, blonde and hot as fuck, but because, of all the adults in Maisie's life, he seems to be the one who is best for her, and who does the most for her. And this doesn't mean that he denies all his own urges for Maisie's sake (because he doesn't) but just that he loves her the best/at all, and that's really what she needs. And, as her stepfather, he's not even obligated to do anything for her, really, and yet he still manages to give her more positive attention than her mother and father combined.

We shan't talk about the part where he sort of takes her to France without her parents' permission because I'm sure that was way less classified as kidnapping 100+ years ago. And besides, I don't think her parents cared where she was...

Ahem. But anyway, Maisie and Sir Claude really seem like two good eggs (well- it remains to be seen even by the end of the book whether or not Maisie has been ruined by her parents' shenanigans, and I'm inclined to think she might have been...) in a sea of selfish and/or hateful characters. Even the nannies Maisie has with her respective parents are locked in a ridiculous feud that seems to only increase the damage to Maisie, and is just another reason that Sir Claude seems to be the best for her. Plus, there's his damn radiance, and everything...

Aside: On how excited I am for the movie- I'm really excited. And NO, not just for Skarsgard, you perverts. Nope, when I was reading, I was excited because I could see exactly how this could be adapted for a modern situation, mostly because it's already a modern situation, and kind of fits today's time better than its own. And I know that I potentially love a lot of the changes the film has made- like how Maisie's parents are both people with Big Careers, which is why they hardly ever see her, and how Sir Claude (who, we assume, marries Maisie's mother for her money) is a bartender who her mother pays to look after her and HEY see how that works? Also, he's still radiant. So there's that.
So. There's no ignoring the fact that I don't like James's style *nervously eyes The Portrait of a Lady and The Bostonians and why do I have so many books by Henry James, again?* BUT in this case I'm willing to overlook that because I do really like the story that I had to speed read to get through. If a different writer had been involved, I might have LOVED it, but they weren't so I'll take what I can get. Maybe most importantly, it's gotten me all excited for the movie, which was my main reason for reading it in the first place and I can't really ask for anything more than that, can I?

*Don't even TELL me that you don't come here to read Henry James being compared with Friends because I KNOW YOU DO

Sunday 21 July 2013


Happy Sunday greetings girls and... well, it's mostly girls who come here, I guess. But greetings to ALL anyway! I am full of the joys of all the seasons at the moment because, yes, it's true, I got an iPhone this week (an iPhone 5, no less!) and now everything in the world is better.

I feel sort of gross being SO excited by a product which is 1) crazy expensive (or... free with the right contract, WINK) 2) rife with issues surrounding its manufacture (but then, what products AREN'T rife with issues? Not many, I'd say) and 3) that EVERYONE (in grossly rich countries, like, ooh, the UK) already has. 

But, the thing is, this grossness is completely counteracted by the facts that 1) I have wanted one for SO LONG. Longer than I've maybe waited for any one item of awesomeness. I've been trying to work out just how long that is, and I think essentially I've wanted one since they came out but I've never been able to afford it. NEVER. Delayed gratification= the best. 2) It is SO. GOOD. I am DYING about how good the camera is, especially since all I've had recently is an iPod touch camera (it's a... three years old iPod touch and the camera is not good) and I may or may not have wandered around on Wednesday night comparing the two cameras. There is no comparison.
I mean, just look at this flower, omfg.

Let's just say I heartily recommend it as a phone and leave it there because how long can one person talk about one electronic device? (A long time. The answer is a loooooong time.)

OTHER THINGS ARE ALSO IMPORTANT. Ummmm... It has carried on being really hot this week, and my workplace has continued not to buy any fans or install any air conditioning. So, after a Wednesday where I worked all day and nearly expired, I took matters into my own hands and took in a fan from home. YEAH I know how to fight the system (I did suggest a strike, but no one seemed keen... Losers.) The one benefit of the good weather was spending the majority of my mornings reading Gone With The Wind, which I FINALLY FINISHED (oh yeahhhhhh) and that was verrrry nice.

Also I did things outdoors with friends both last weekend and this weekend and look at me doing stuff! Must be the weather... Speaking of which (again) there were a few mornings this past week where I woke up reaaaaally early for no reason (other than, I think, pollen) and THOSE are the mornings where I wrote some blog posts long hand, so if the next few don't make any sense, then that'll be why... 

This week! Stuff. I'm working two full days and going to pick up my new glasses AND sunglasses which will hopefully prevent any more walking-into-lamppost issues that may or may not have happened the other week. It's pretty important that people who can't see don't wear non-prescription sunglasses. THAT'S the kind of advice that saves lives, people. Basically what I'm saying here is that I don't have anything spectacular planned for this week, but I hope that you do and that it's awesome.

Thursday 18 July 2013

Devouring Books: Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Everyone who's awesome in Blogland (Ok, I can basically think of three people, but that's plenty, right?) has been enthusing about Where'd You Go, Bernadette, and when I went to the library to get True Grit I saw it in the award winning books section (Or something... Some non-shelfy part, anyway) and, well, I just don't know how to resist the advice of the awesome people of Blogland OR a cover that awesome. I don't. (The fact that I got two books out of the library and read both in a week when I have 200+ unread books at home is the reason I'm no longer going to the library, but that's another story.)

Despite the enthusings of said awesome bloggers, I somehow managed to miss the part where Bernadette is an epistolatory novel, told mainly in the form of notes, emails, letters and transcripts, and I doubt if I've mentioned this because I read books like this so rarely, but I LOVE IT WHEN BOOKS DO THAT! Seriously, I love watching a story unfold through tiny pieces of information from all different perspectives until you finally get a clear picture of everything that's happened. It's awesome.

So that, combined with the fact that the author wrote for Arrested Development (!!!) really made me very excited about the book from the start, and then it went and got all interesting, too. What I find the most interesting about it, is, since it's called Where'd You Go, Bernadette, you'd almost expect her to disappear early on in the book and for it to be about the search for her. Instead, and I think this was is better, she doesn't disappear until about 3/4 of the way through the book, and the thing you have to piece together (which is what her daughter, Bee, is trying to do with the whole book) is the why she went rather than the where she went. And I think this way, you care a lot more about finding Bernadette and where she did, in fact, go.

And I did totally care about Bernadette- she's an extremely flawed character and she does a lot of things I don't really approve of (and is SO. MEAN. about Canadians!) but in the end, it's difficult not to like her. She's funny in a sort of bitter, misanthropic way (so, the best way) and it becomes clear that a lot of the things other characters (MEAN characters) don't like about her, and things I wasn't necessarily thrilled with, stem from past traumas which have been truly damaging. I really feel for her, is what I'm saying, but my liking her isn't just based on sympathy, it's based on her actual awesomeness as a character.

Her daughter, Bee, is a lot easier to straightforwardly love, though, right up to the point where Bernadette goes missing when she becomes somewhat of a nightmare (albeit, kind of understandably). She also engages in some heroics near the end that redeem her basically completely in my eyes, which is why I can fairly easily say I love her. And then, there are all the other characters- flawed and horrible and then lovely and complicated and just extremely real in their complexity. Many of them are able to justify their actions to themselves, even if WE (who are essentially on Bernadette's side at all times) don't really approve of them, and isn't that just what people do? I know it's what I do at times. Actually, the majority of this book isn't so much 'Where'd You Go, Bernadette' as 'Bitchy and Snobby Housewives of Seattle are Snobby and Bitchy', and this is excellent because I love hating characters almost as much as I love character redemption, and this book has both of those in bucketloads.

A final thought- what is it with authors including The Beatles in their books at the moment? Admittedly, I only have Eleanor and Park as my other example, but still it's like these authors are daring me not to like their book. It's like, 'oh, you're not entirely sure how you feel about Bernadette? Well, she knows all the words to Abbey Road so BAM.' And it totally, totally works- The Beatles are kind of a weak spot for me (as I can only assume they are for Rowell and Semple, too) so keep including lovely words about them, authors, and I will keep reading.

So obviously I can tell you're just dying to read Where'd You Go, Bernadette now, because THE BEATLES! SHE KNOWS THEY EXIST AND SHE MENTIONS THEM! but really and truly it's so very entertaining and funny and has a wicked awesome structure, WHILST at the same time it doesn't make your brain feel like it's turning to mush. Mostly it's just purely entertaining, but it's also very well written- every character has a distinctive voice and your view of pretty much all of them shifts the more you read. Basically it's awesome, and hey, you try resisting that cover. It's practically impossible.

Note: Can anyone think of any more modern books written in this format that won't make my brain feel mushy? I can think of some classics that are basically in letter form, but I'm thinking more with the emails and snippets of information and things. I need more of this in my life!

Tuesday 16 July 2013

Devouring Books AND Films: (The) Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

"I am practising being kind over being right."

I read The Silver Linings Playbook a really really long time ago now (OK, I finished it the day after my birthday, so... 3 months ago. But that's ages!) and even though I read it in two days which normally means I REALLY like something, in reality it was the first book I read on my Kindle and basically I was just overly excited about that. About the book? Not so much.

So, time went on and I still hadn't said anything about The Silver Linings Playbook, so I thought, 'why not wait to watch the movie and discuss them together?' Which was an excellent brain idea (nice work, brain) and meant that I didn't have to think about it for a while because I was on a payment holiday from Lovefilm. So, I got the movie and watched it, and now it's more than a month later and I still have nothing to say. So obviously this is going to be SO FUN to read. You're welcome!
OK, my initial thought has to be that I liked the movie better than the book. This isn't just because Jennifer Lawrence was there (I mean, it doesn't hurt. But I liked her character in the book plenty, too) but more because it takes the end point of the book (the 'big reveal' about Patrick's condition) and plops it basically at the beginning, so that with the film you actually get to see Patrick's recovery with a full awareness of his condition, whereas in the book, he's more just wandering around acting simple and confused and sort of like there's nothing wrong. There are merits to both methods, I suppose, but the movie was less annoying and Pat was less... simple-seeming, and that was definitely a bonus.

All of which meant, of course, that the movie was able to be a lot more rom-com-esque than the book, which isn't necessarily the worst thing in the world, and meant that the central storyline wasn't completely based around American Football (GOD that was off putting in the book. I mean, I seriously barely knew what anyone was talking about for half of it.) and was a lot more focused on Tiffany and Patrick and the evolution of their relationship. So that was fun.

Possibly the best change the film made, though, was changing the character of Patrick's dad (Pat Snr, if you will). In the book he's withholding, fiercely and almost life-cripplingly (his family's lives, not his own) superstitious, completely unsupportive of his mentally ill son and his wife who is trying to care for their mentally ill son, and just generally cold and ungiving. In the movie? He's Robert freaking De Niro. But also, he tries, which is the the main distinguishing feature between the two characters, and which makes movie-dad my favourite. I mean, I could cry at how good he is at trying to be a good dad, mostly because of how terrible book-dad is. And it's not even that book-dad isn't a true representation, it's just that movie-dad is so much more pleasant to be around. And he's Robert De Niro, so yeah.

Now, much as I do genuinely prefer the movie and enjoy it more than the book and so on, I managed to screw it up for myself somewhat by being a moron. So here's the thing: I was watching the movie, and even as I was doing so, my idiot brain was going 'well, this is wrong', 'why have they done that now?' and even, FFS, 'Why doesn't it revolve around American Football more?' And I don't even know why! I genuinely approve of basically all the changes the movie made (I even approve of Bradley Cooper! And I almost never approve of Bradley Cooper!) and still my brain was telling me it was wrong. I can only put it down to a lifetime of disapproving of the changes movies make to books, so I'm now hardwired to complain about it in my brain. Like an idiot.
So. The idiocy of my brain aside, I like the movie. The book was fine, but nothing special, and the movie was better- although, if I'm honest, neither of them really lived up to my expectations. Still, all things considered, I would totally watch the film again but I probably wouldn't re-read the book, and that is basically all you need to know about which form I think one should experience Silver Linings Playbook in.

Sunday 14 July 2013

Sunday Sundries: Who even knows..?

I feel like I had SUCH an interesting and awesome topic for my Sunday Sundries post this week (something... Feminism? Or... about body image or something? I GENUINELY DON'T KNOW) but I've forgotten what it was because it has been SO HOT here. And I don't like to complain about it because I'm fully aware that I complained when it was all cold and cloudy all June, but the deal is: It's very hot. And I can't actually function with my brain and stuff, so there.

And that's how the week was! Lots of heat and my brain not functioning and really stupidly deciding to walk to work (I KNOW) and then yesterday I spent a glorious day in the garden reading Gone With The Wind (it was just as I always dreamed it would be!), with a break only to watch a load of 8-11 year olds do A Midsummer Night's Dream (if this doesn't make sense to you, my sister's a teacher. And was like a director or whatever of the play. Also I'm an awesome person). How was it? Well, 8-11 year olds fairly universally cannot act, and they should probably not be entrusted with Shakespeare, but I'm sure their parents are really proud of them and they are proud of themselves which is really all that matters. Also I nearly died because we were in a hall with about 2 windows open, many warm bodies and not a fan in sight. Damn summer.

Aaaaaand apparently I'm crabby now! So that's fun. Anyway, let's sweep the whole week aside and talk about something that happened on the back end of last week, because the Ninja Book Swap reached its glorious culmination, and LOOK! I got stuff!
The extremely lovely and generous Bex was my secret... ninja? and she really, really outdid herself with this package. Like... I just felt like she GOT me with this parcel, you know? There's the Moomin postcard (I feel like I don't talk about Moomins enough here, but they are my favourites and everyone should know it!) the Murakami book (I definitely talk about Murakami TOO much) and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy- which I've never read, and my secret shame about it is HUGE. HUGE. Which Bex clearly knows because I maaay have mentioned it that time we met in London and it was the best day ever. So, nice listening skills Bex!

And then, BEST OF ALL, Harry Potter jewellery!
(My hand looks really weird in this picture, but ignore that, please!) So yeah, I get to wear a Dumbledore quote on me wherever I go and that is basically the best thing EVER. I don't think I even have another piece of bookish jewellery (I KNOW) but this is especially special because come on. HARRY POTTER. Also this is the thoughtfullest and shows that Bex has been paying attention over the past FOREVER (ok, 6 months) and she even added a little note to say that this is to commemorate the end of the HP Readalong and awwwww, she knows how I miss it!

So yes. The Summer Ninja Book Swap was a huge success (from my point of view, anyway!) and whispers on the internet are that it could be an annual thing, so yesssssssssss. Honestly, I'd rather do that than a Secret Santa, really.

Yeah, that was cool. Now I simply must go and stick my head in the freezer. Catch ya on the other side of the heatwave where the weather will once again be unsatisfactory to me. SIGH.

Wednesday 10 July 2013

Classics Club July Meme

I've never answered a Classics Club Meme question before because, you know, lazy, but I saw this month's question on Melissa's blog and I HAD THOUGHTS so obviously you all had to hear them. I'm nothing if not generous with my thoughts.

So. The question is: Which classic book has changed your view on life, social mores, political views or religion?

Now. I don't know if there's a book that's actually changed any of those things (hmm... maybe my view on life, I guess) but I can think of a couple that I know for a fact shaped my way of thinking about things and generally made me into a better human being than I might have been if I hadn't read them. I can't confirm that, of course, but I think that's so.

So, first of all, To Kill A Mockingbird. I genuinely can't think of a book where I agree more with basically everything it's trying to teach, and I don't know if that's because I believed in these things before I read it and they reinforced them, or if I just learnt them from the book. Either way, I don't think it really matters, because these are all lessons I associate with To Kill A Mockingbird now:

  • You can't ever understand another person's situation fully unless you are them, so judging people based on the limited things you know about them is foolish and bad and wrong.
  • True courage is having the courage of your convictions- knowing that you can't win, but doing whatever you think is right for the sake of its rightness.
  • AND (this is the really big one that I really do think To Kill A Mockingbird imprinted in me) People are absolutely individuals and should NEVER be judged on things that are incidental to who they actually are- things like race, and gender, and sexual orientation (ok, that's separate from TKAM) and should really only be judged on themselves. The main part I remember from Atticus's courtroom speech is where he says (I'm paraphrasing) 'yeah, some negroes lie, and some negroes steal, and some are not to be trusted with women- but the same is true of some white men. So judging someone as guilty because of their race is fucking ridiculous and you shouldn't stand for it.' And nowadays I refuse to join in conversations like 'oh, aren't men useless' and 'girls just do this' and so on because treating people as anything but individuals is bullshit.
There are actually about ten million more things I've learnt from To Kill A Mockingbird, but those are the three most important, I think. The other book that's had an almost unconscious impact on me, especially politically, is The Grapes of Wrath. This is something I didn't even realise until we readalonged it in October last year, and I noticed a LOT of the views Steinbeck expresses in it (or, shoves down the readers' throats, if you like, RIGHT fellow readalongers?) are views that so strongly reflect my own political feelings.

Stuff like:
  • Letting food rot while people go hungry is a disgrace, and it's shameful and it should never happen. I understand the economics behind it perfectly, but that doesn't stop it from being the wrongest of all the wrong things that have ever been wrong because FUCK economics when people are dying. Seriously.
  • And just, more generally, capitalism is SO gross and wrong and probably not the best way to live because it just benefits the people who already have all the money and the power and that is a very small proportion of the people and hey, that's not cool. I've only recently come to realise just how anti-capitalism I am, and whilst a lot of that has to do with, you know, not having any money, it ALSO seems to have its roots in The Grapes of Wrath- or maybe that's just the place where I first learnt that capitalism can totally be criticised.
Having said all that about The Grapes of Wrath, I NOW totally appreciate when people say that it's all preachy and agenda-pushing BUT I first read it when I was about 15 or 16 (I'd never even heard anyone criticise capitalism before! And, let's face it, I didn't even know what capitalism was) so the sliiightly heavy handed nature of it went straight over my head, and I was left with a view of social justice that I haven't ever lost. Well played, Steinbeck. Well played indeed.

Tuesday 9 July 2013

Devouring Books: My Life in France by Julia Child

"This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook- try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!"

I love Julie and Julia (the movie... Although come to think of it, the book too!) so so much and it was only a matter of time before I read book that formed the basis of the 'Julia' part of the movie to complete the circle of Julie and Julia excellence. I didn't really know what to expect- the Julia parts of the movie seemed to mostly concentrate on Julia Child's cooking life (which makes sense) and this book seemed way longer than that. Still, I strode onwards into the unknown, and... you know, read the book.

And my God. It was such a treat. I just... I feel like Julia Child is pretty well known in America even now (I could easily be wrong) and I had literally never heard of her before I watched Julie and Julia, so that was all I had to go off of in terms of her personality and ideas and way of speaking (or, you know, writing, in this case) and I'm sure Meryl Streep did her right, but somehow Julia seemed even... MORE in this book. More charming, more lovely, more cheerful, more optimistic and positive, just a whole lot MORE than anything I had expected of her. I mean, shit you guys, I think I kind of love her? 

So here's the deal with this book. The first half is pretty much the 'Julia Child story' as presented in the movie- Julia and Paul Child move to France, she decides to learn how to cook, sets up her own cooking classes and writes a cookbook. It's all pretty great, and Nora declined to mention that she ALSO became fluent in french (in the movie she's shown as being constantly a bit hopeless at it) AND that she maybe wasn't so desperate for a baby as the movie makes her out to be (BAD Nora). But also, it's even BETTER than it is in the movie because there are all these extra stories and anecdotes and things that just make a whole life rather than serving the agenda for a movie storyline (I mean, I get that it's necessary! I'm just trying to make it clear that the book is excellenter).

And then there's the second half of the book which has become one of my favourite things from anything ever. Here's the thing: Julia Child was 49 years old when Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published. This was really the point where her career took off (and it's what the second half of this book mainly focuses on) and where she became kind of the family breadwinner as Paul considered retirement. Her TV show, the French chef debuted when she was 51. I can't even begin to tell you how comforting this is to me, but I'll try. I feel like we live in a time when there's a pressure to do everything when you're young, and in fact where age is considered a complete disadvantage and the young are kind of put up on a pedestal (think about this: The President of the USA was 47 when he came into office. The UK Prime Minister is under 50. This never used to happen, right?)

And the thing is, I know I can't just time travel back to the late forties and early fifties (and I wouldn't really want to) but it's still so soothing to read that this woman, at the age of 36 when this book begins, still doesn't know what she wants to do with her life. It gave me some kind of... I don't know if hope is the right word, but just the idea that it's ok to not always know what you want to do, and that, if you're really lucky, you get to figure out what it is at some point and everything will be awesome. I'm not expecting to be a famous tv chef, I hasten to add, but reading about the success of someone who didn't even start being successful (at least professionally) until she was 49 really does give me, yeah, ok I'll say it, hope.

Also she gave me the dream of living in Provence in a little house with my imaginary husband (Skarsgard, natch) just down the road from Frances and her imaginary husband (Henry Cavill) where we all laugh and talk and Frances and I write books together and drink and also eat food and stare at our imaginary husbands. This led to a very fun afternoon of daydreaming and I have just realised that I sound insane SO I hasten to add that this is what Julia and Paul Child did with Simone Beck (co-author of Mastering the Art...) and her husband. And it. Sounds. So. Awesome. And is definitely an important part of my future success, even if the South of France has become totally commercialised and probably spoilt now. It's still a lovely dream.

So yeah. Apparently I've just gone on about why this book was good for me (come on, I do that all the time, and you know it!) but it really really is great- like an even better version of Julia Child than even Meryl Streep could give us (I KNOW) and time well spent in the company of a lovely lovely person. Who could ask for anything more than that from a book?

Monday 8 July 2013

Monday Mundries: A Quick Update

Why does this update have to be quick, I hear you cry? Well, technically it doesn't, but it's Monday morning and that means it's TRUE BLOOD TIME and please, I'm going to let this keep me from Skarsgard? I think not.
I'm pretty sure the most important things from my life can be summed up in bullet point form this week, so that's what we're going with right now:

  • I HAD MARSHMALLOWS FOR THE FIRST TIME IN ABOUT TWO YEARS: Seriously- I didn't know how much I missed them until I had them again, and it felt goooood. It's important to me not to read the ingredients, because WOAH so much junk instead of gelatine, but whatever, I don't care because MARSHMALLOWS! (If you're a non-meat-eater too, you can buy them here. They're genuinely really good)
  • I ALSO HAD RIBS FOR THE FIRST TIME IN YEARS: I mean, yeah they were vegan ribz, and they didn't exactly taste like meat, BUT they were excellent and I made my own barbecue sauce and basically everything about them was amazing. And they looked so pretty too!
  • PROBABLY OTHER THINGS HAPPENED THAT WEREN'T FOOD RELATED: But I can't remember them... I did get to work a morning and so spent the afternoon with my friend Justine, but a lot of that day really did involve food... (I bought dulce de leche for the first time EVER and I'm so excited to use it on things. Also I rediscovered Swedish Fish which are so yummy)
  • GENUINELY NOT ABOUT FOOD: I've realised that I need to reinstate the book buying ban because I've got a stack of books next to my bed that I don't even have room for and they're going to topple at any minute. Not. Cool. I also need to write some blog post type things because I have a backlog of about six reviews and that's just stupid. BUT it has been sunny and I have been outside for the majority of days so... that's way better than even the internet. I KNOW.
  • TENNIS: I genuinely don't really care about Andy Murray winning Wimbledon (my patriotism only applies to countries I don't live in, apparently) BUT I'm also not irritated that he did, which would have been my reaction a few years ago. I like to think this means I'm growing as a human being, but mostly I think it just means he didn't beat Nadal or Federer, because in that case I'd be PISSED.
  • SUNSHINE: It is here. I am content. All is well.
I don't even know.

Thursday 4 July 2013

The 100 Greatest American Novels

Heyyyyy guys! It's the fourth of July! Happy Birthday America, and well done for shattering the chains of British Imperialism and being your own people. Nice job! Had I been more organised, I would have posted my review of America today and written something about Canada on Monday (I missed Canada Day! Sorry Canada, I still like you plenty) but I didn't and LUCKILY Book Riot posted a list of the 100 Greatest American Novels (1893-1993) yesterday and so I had an insta-post. Cause let's face it, who doesn't love a list?! Oh, you don't?
I consider 20th Century American Literature to pretty much be my jam, not out of any conscious I-Must-Read-20th-Century-American-Writers urge, but just because those are the books that I seem to like the most, and those are the ones I tend to go for. Since this list is kiiind of done by author rather than actual books though (one of the conditions of the list is that each author only gets one entry) I'm not that convinced I've read that many of them- I've tended to go 'Steinbeck, you fucking genius' and read EVERYTHING by him (I don't think I'm far off that) rather than going further afield with ALL THE WRITERS. But, this is pretty much how I read anyway (that is, by author) and
So here goes. I'm going to bold the books I've read, italicise the ones I own (and so intend to read) and also underline ones where I've read something else by the author, just to make myself feel better when I've read not-that-many books. It sounds good, I know.

Maggie, Girl of the Streets- Stephen Crane (1893)
The Country of Pointed Firs- Sarah Orne Jewett (1896)
The Awakening- Kate Chopin (1899)
The Call of the Wild- Jack London (1903)
The Golden Bowl- Henry James (1904) (I've read The Europeans, The Turn of the Screw and What Maisie Knew, so I think I'm doing fine with James)
The House of Mirth- Edith Wharton (1905)
The Jungle- Upton Sinclair (1906)
Three Lives- Gertrude Stein (1909)
My Antonia- Willa Cather (1918)
The Magnificent Ambersons- Booth Tarkington (1918)
Winesburg, Ohio- Sherwood Anderson (1919)
Main Street- Sinclair Lewis (1920)
Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man- James Weldon Johnson (1921)
Cane- Jean Toomer (1923)
The Great Gatsby- F Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
An American Tragedy- Theodore Dresier (1925)
The Sun Also Rises- Ernest Hemingway (1926)
The Bridge of the San Luis Rey- Thornton Wilder (1927)
Home to Harlem- Claude McKay (1928)
The Sound and the Fury- William Faulkner (1929)
Look Homeward, Angel- Thomas Wolfe (1929)
The Maltese Falcon- Dashiell Hammett (1930)
Flowering Judas and Other Stories- Katherine Porter (1930)
The Good Earth- Pearl S Buck (1931)
Call it Sleep- Henry Roth (1934)
The Tropic of Cancer- Henry Miller (1934)
Appointment in Samarra- John O'Hara (1934)
The USA Trilogy- John Dos Passos (1936)
Gone With The Wind- Margaret Mitchell (1936)
Their Eyes Were Watching God- Zora Neale Hurston (1937)
Day of the Locust- Nathaniel West (1939)
The Big Sleep- Raymond Chandler (1939) (I don't own this but I REALLY want to read it)
The Grapes of Wrath- John Steinbeck (1939) (And the rest...)
Native Son- Richard Wright (1940)
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter- Carson McCullers (1940)
The Fountainhead- Ayn Rand (1943)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn- Betty Smith (1943)
All the King's Men- Robert Penn Warren (1946)
Tales of the South Pacific- James Michener (1947)
The Naked and the Dead- Norman Mailer (1948)
The Sheltering Sky- Paul Bowles (1948)
The Lottery and Other Stories- Shirley Jackson (1949)
The Catcher in the Rye- JD Salinger (1951)
Invisible Man- Ralph Ellison (1952)
Go Tell It On The Mountain- James Baldwin (1953)
The Adventures of Augie March- Saul Bellow (1953)
Fahrenheit 451- Ray Bradbury (1953)
Andersonville- MacKinley Kantor (1955)
On the Road- Jack Kerouac (1957)
Gimpel the Fool- Isaac Bashevis Singer (1957)
The Wapshot Chronicle- John Cheever (1957)
Lolita- Vladimir Nabokov (1958)
The Magic Barrel- Bernard Malamud (1958)
Goodbye, Columbus- Philip Roth (1959)
Naked Lunch- William Burroughs (1959)
The Little Disturbances of Man- Grace Paley (1959)
Browngirl, Brownstones- Paule Marshall (1959)
To Kill A Mockingbird- Harper Lee (1960)
Rabbit, Run- John Updike (1960)
The Sot-Weed Factor- John Barth (1960)
The Moviegoer- Walker Percy (1961)
Catch-22- Joseph Heller (1961)
Revolutionary Road- Richard Yates (1961)
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest- Ken Kesey (1962)
The Bell Jar- Sylvia Plath (1963)
A Sport and A Pasttime- John Salter (1967)
The Confessions of Nat Turner- William Styron (1967) (Not... Sophie's Choice?)
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?- Philip K Dick (1968)
Slaughterhouse 5- Kurt Vonnegut (1969)
House Made of Dawn- N Scott Momaday (1969)
them- Joyce Carol Oates (1969) (I haven't read them, but Joyce is my HOMEGIRL)
The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford (1969)
Play it as it Lays- Joan Didion (1970)
The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor (1971)
Mumbo Jumbo- Ishmael Reed (1972)
Angle of Repose- Wallace Stegner (1972)
Gravity's Rainbow- Thomas Pynchon (1973)
Ragtime- E.L. Doctorow (1975)
JR- William Gaddis (1976)
Roots- Alex Haley (1976)
Ceremony- Leslie Marmon Silko (1977)
The World According to Garp- John Irving (1978)
Airships- Barry Hannah (1978)
Housekeeping- Marilynne Robinson (1980)
A Confederacy of Dunces- John Kennedy Toole (1980)
The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty (1982)
The Color Purple- Alice Walker (1982)
Cathedral- Raymond Carver (1983)
Love Medicine- Louise Erdrich (1984)
Neuromancer- William Gibson (1984)
White Noise- Don Delilo (1985)
Blood Meridian- Cormac McCarthy (1985) (I've read No Country For Old Men and I own The Road)
Lonesome Dove- Larry McMuntry (1985)
City of Glass- Paul Auster (1985)
Beloved- Toni Morrison (1987)
The Joy Luck Club- Amy Tan (1989)
The Shawl- Cynthia Ozick (1989)
The Things They Carried- Tim O'Brien (1990)
How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents- Julia Alverez (1991)
Bastard Out Of Carolina- Dorothy Allison (1992)

SO! What did I do. I've read... 18, read books by 4 more of the authors listed, and I own another 9 of the books. That is... Pretty fucking lame.
Apparently the majority of my reading of the American novels is from the 50s and 60s, and then after 1992, apparently. Because, trust me, I barely ever read things set in England! I really don't! Still. I have this list to work off now, if I really want to, or I can just carry on reading things by authors I know I like and be all happy and stuff. Gee, which shall I do?!

Really quick complaint- No Stephen King? REALLY? I mean, I won't go into whether or not Stephen King is literature (he is. He definitely is.) but I think either The Stand or It really wouldn't be out of place on this list. And then I would have read 19 and that would be way cool. But anyway. Got to go and read some American Classics now, k bye!

Wednesday 3 July 2013

Devouring Books: True Grit by Charles Portis

"He drank even as he rode, which looked difficult. I cannot say it slowed him down any, but it did make him look silly. Why do people wish to be silly?"

Something weird happened the other week- Someone on the internet said a book was good and I ACTUALLY read it. I know what you're thinking- that's not even weird, most of what she reads now has been recommended by the internet, and you're right, of course. But normally I read things go 'yeah, that sounds cool' I maaaaybe buy it and if I do, it stays on my shelf forever until I read it. Every. Time.

BUT! Alley read True Grit the other week and within mere DAYS I was down at the library getting it (I also got Where'd You Go, Bernadette? at the same time, and what a TREAT that was too!) which I'm obviously going to attribute solely to Alley's review and not to the fact that I watched the film last year (Or... the year before? Who knows!) and meant to read the book and never got round to it and actually it's just the same old story all over again, isn't it? Whatever- thank you Alley for being inspiring/reminding me of stuff. Nice work.

So, True Grit is awesome. It's a Western, which I have basically no experience of other than The Sisters Brothers (which was also amazing) so I don't know if its typical of its genre or not- I'd like to think it's exceptional because otherwise I'm missing out on this whooole world of books, and also because it kind of feels exceptional- not least because it's about a girl, who also happens to be the fucking badassest of all 14 year old girls in the whole of human history. I mean, seriously- teenage girls who are reading YA should probably just read this if they want a good role model because seriously, Mattie is the toughest teen- probably one of the toughest people in all the books in the whole world. 

(I might be exaggerating, but at this point I don't even know- just accept the fact that she's awesome and we'll move on.)

SO. Mattie's deal is that her father has just been killed and she's gone down to Fort Smith to get his body and sort out his affairs AND, her real mission is to hunt down her father's killer (Tom Chaney) and avenge her father's death (she's fourteen. And a girl. And it's the nineteenth century. And she's the best. Have I mentioned that yet?) To do this, she goes to hire a US Marshal- she asks who the best one is, and then chooses the one with the most 'grit', Rooster Cogburn. Now, Cogburn is awesome (he's sort of a drunk but he's pretty tough for a one eyed fat dude) but I think we all know that the character with TRUE grit is Mattie. Just... Solving the title for you there. You're welcome.

Making the plot a little richer is Laboeuf, a Texas Ranger (so yeah, you pronounce it LaBeef and all of France just died) who's also hunting down Chaney for separate reasons and who, being less drunk-all-the-time than Rooster is less keen on taking a 14 year old girl into the wild to hunt down a known murderer, all of which is sensible in real life terms, but in book terms makes him a total blowhard. Regardless, Mattie's reaction to his douchiness makes everything worth it:
"'Earlier tonight I gave some thought to stealing a kiss from you, though you are very young, and sick and unattractive to boot, but now I am of a mind to give you five or six good licks with my belt.'
'One would be as unpleasant as the other,' I replied."
I mean, really that's the only way to react to someone who said he wanted to kiss you who also pronounces his name Labeef. What a dick.

 ANYWAY. The three of them set off on their quest, hijinks ensue and the last 50 pages are kind of the best- they're all action packed and exciting and you're not really sure what's going to happen (ahem... unless you've seen the film. But I didn't remember it completely) and it's all very tense and possibly I read these pages in one go. And also some other pages. Yeah, it's really good to read. And obviously I'm not going to tell you if they catch Chaney or WHAT even happens, but the thing is, that's not really the point of it by the end- as in so many things, it's all about the journey rather than the actual end result.

So. True Grit would be worth reading solely for Mattie's narration (it's very matter of fact and to the point as is her speaking style, and this sometimes translates as being unintentionally hilarious, but never in a laughing-at-Mattie way) because she is so excellent, but luckily it also has the story and action and excitement to back it up. It's a really quick read, and, dare I say it? Almost perfect for summer/beach reading. But it'll definitely take some of the romance out of horse riding for you, if that's a thing you were ever romantic about. It sounds very ouchy.

And I leave you with these words of wisdom:
"Nature tells us to rest after meals and people who are too busy to heed that inner voice are often dead at the age of fifty years." Naps FTW.

Monday 1 July 2013

Devouring Books: America by Jean Baudrillard

"No one is indifferent to his own life and the least event still has something moving about it. I was here in my imagination long before I actually came here."

If you want a book that makes you sing a certain Simon and Garfunkel song EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. you look at it, or pick it up, or remember that you're reading it, then this is definitely the book you should read. I can't think of anyone who wouldn't want that, so I assume you've all gone to buy it right now. It's cool, I'll wait.
We've all come, to look for Ameriiiica...

Ok, so. I was excited to read this because the genre identifying thing on the back said 'Philosophy/Travel' and I was like 
But also I REALLY LIKE both of those things, and even though I sometimes... struggle with Philosophical works (translation: I don't think I've ever finished one. And HALF OF MY DEGREE is in Philosophy. That's good learning, kids!) I was like meh, I'll be fine. Because it's a book about America, did I not make that clear? I love America, AND I love thinking! What could possibly go wrong?

Well. When I started reading it, I was overly aware of two main things- I am so not used to reading academic texts anymore, and this guy seems to dislike America a bit. Which I pretty much wanted to yawn at, because a french intellectual who doesn't think America is the bees knees? Quelle Surprise! For the first, ooh, 40 pages or so, I was kind of skimming along the surface of it and trying to find a way in whilst simultaneously trying not to punch Baudrillard in the face for being mean about America (I mean, I think he was being mean, but it was kind of hard to tell. Philosophers, you know?)

BUT THEN- I got to this bit where Baudrillard makes an argument that I kind of understood and I felt the synapses and things start firing in my head and started kind of nodding in agreement and sort of getting it, and started feeling like maybe I wasn't doomed to be an idiot forever? Which is always a good feeling. But the thing that I understood was when he started saying that the culture of America (and, really, I think, the developed world) is an anorexic culture, in that because everything is so readily available to us, we reject it and deny ourselves it and in this we are kind of, you know, stupid. And I was all like YES and RIGHT ON and WOW MY BRAIN STILL WORKS and then I read this:
"The obsessive desire for survival (and not for life) is a symptom of this state of affairs and doubtless the most worrying sign of the degradation of the species"
And I was like, well, it's a bit heavy handed, but mostly YES, isn't that how we live now? Just... trying to do everything that's good for us and healthy so we can survive that little bit longer, but when do we really live? I mean, I don't necessarily agree that it's a sign of degradation because, like, what if it's just really evolved of us to want to have as much life as we possibly can, but STILL- even this disagreement is a good thing in my brain because I am thinking about shit and that's just awesome. 

And really, that's just the first in a long list of the things Baudrillard comes up with regarding America- some of which are undoubtedly bullshit, and some of which undoubtedly are just there to serve his wider philosophical vision (I wish I could tell you what that is, but I don't know. Something something post-modernism something simulacrum something?) as in, making the situation fit his pre-existing ideas rather than getting new idea because of the situation; but there was enough here to make me think about things and feel like I was learning something and just generally nerd out and get excited and sort of wish I could do a whole unit just on this book, each week taking one idea and slowly and gently pulling it apart.

But. Instead I just have this blog post so you get to hear about the anorexic culture and stuff instead. And also these few things:
  • "Santa Barbara is a Paradise; Disneyland is a paradise; the US is a paradise. Paradise is just paradise. Mournful, monotonous, and superficial though it may be, it is paradise." - I feel like this is a really french (dare I say European? Maybe...) idea that paradise isn't necessarily all it's cracked up to be, and a realised paradise becomes less awesome the more you live there, because what else is left to do? Nothing. And so boredom ensues...
  • "Everything that has been dreamt on this side of the Atlantic [Europe] has a chance of being realised on the other. They build the real out of ideas. We transform the real into ideas, or into ideology. Here in America, only what is produced or manifested has meaning, for us in Europe only what can be thought or concealed has meaning." - On the one hand, he's basically saying, 'America doesn't appreciate thinkers!' but on the other, he says this with admiration- Americans get things done and that's why they're successful and rich and lots of other things (although as far as that success and wealth is a good thing is up for debate too)
  • And, this was written in the eighties, so the following is kiiiind of time specific, but also kind of specific to right now, too: "The very last traces of marginality excised as if by plastic surgery: new faces, new fingernails, glossy brain cells, the whole topped with a tousle of software. A generation nether fired by ambition nor fuelled by the energy of repression, but completely refocused upon themselves." I mean, right?!
So yeah. Basically I liked this book for making me think, even if there were large chunks of it I read that I didn't understand at all- I'm kind of used to that (have you read Kant? Of course you have not, because you are smart people), and what I did get out of it was enough to give me faith that my brain hasn't turned to mush because I haven't had any formal education for over three years (although I have, of course, learnt shitloads). I'm not saying it's going to be everyone's cup of tea because normal people aren't so much into the philosophical texts, but it's worth a try because understanding just a few ideas in it makes you feel all smart and good and stuff. It sure as hell doesn't make you eloquent though.