Tuesday, February 24, 2015

My Reading List: Recently Finished and Up Next

Here's what I've been burying my nose in these days, and what I am looking forward to starting. I've been on a pretty heavy fiction & graphic novel bender these days, which you might see reflected in the list that follows. As always, I'd love to hear suggestions if you have any.

Recently Finished

  • Friends Like Us, Lauren Fox
  • Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman
  • The Sandman, Neil Gaiman
  • Blankets, Craig Thompson
  • The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
Recently Started
  • Fables, Bill Willingham
  • Paddle Your Own Canoe, Nick Offerman
Up Next
  • The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters
  • Attachments, Rainbow Rowell
  • Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell
  • As You Wish, Cary Elwes
  • The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell
  • Yes Please, Amy Poehler
  • The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion
  • All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
  • The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion
  • A Hologram for the King, Dave Eggers
  • The Strange Library, Haruki Murakami
  • The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami
  • Not That Kind of Girl, Lena Dunham
  • Not My Father's Son, Alan Cumming
  • The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen
Well, uhm, there it is. I recently completed something of a fantasy kick to combat the drudgery of job applications (Gaiman), plus a novel about relationships, as I am so utterly single (Fox), and a graphic memoir, for which I do not have a snarky reason (Thompson). At present I have a novel, something Graphic, and a celebrity memoir. I hope they're good. Then I'll push on to whatever's next, ideally over tea after long work days. 

Have you read any of these? Something else need to be added to this list? Taken off? Let me know.

Review-ish: Friends Like Us

I'm not quite sure how I stumbled across this book, but am very glad I did. In moments of procrastination I like to wander the aisles of my digital library on Overdrive and look for something new to read. Sure, most of the hot titles have long wait lists, and if I had any money I'd probably lose patience and buy book after book to clog up what little space I have on my iPad. But Overdrive is free! And if you're creative and/or patient enough, there is are mountains of free content in which to lose yourself. Go, now. You know adding things to wish lists is the best way to waste time, so just poke about for what you want to read. Or, start where I did, with Pop Culture Happy Hour's reading list from last fall (I'll post my own current list shortly).

So, Friends Like Us. Does the cover imply a triangle? Well there is one. The narrator, Willa, is an illustrator in her mid-twenties who lives with her best friend, Jane, whom many mistake for her sister—twin, even. Jane begins dating an old high school friend of Willa's, and the book begins investigating notions of friendship, and how relationships shift, mutate, and end. It's a fun book, especially if you're in the mood to slip into someone else's shoes and walk around a bit.

Willa is a sympathetic narrator at times, less sympathetic at others, as we all are, and this ability to imagine the ways we rationalize selfishness, sometimes unknowingly, creates an incredibly human novel.

Another thing I found noteworthy about this book is its alternate cover, which definitely markets the book to a different audience. I wonder which version other's would pick up. Does the illustrated cover imply plucky, literary sensibilities while the other is more mass-market? Does the former push the triangular friendship with this other pushing the third-wheel issues of one's disappearance when friends start dating?

Friends Like Us is not going to give you a headache, and you should be able to get through its 250 pages pretty quick, especially as you read away these last weeks of winter.

But don't take my word for it...

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Harry Potter: The Unlikely Christmas Classic

How did this happen? Christmas only comes up for a few seconds each movie, and is pretty much entirely left from the later movies. So, from where does the drive to watch hours and hours of that whiney, mediocre magician? Is it nostalgia for the books, which took more time for the holidays? Is it the snow and wintry imagery of those Hogsmeade visits? Maybe, but, in addition to those bits, the main pull is something much more obvious: magic.

Christmas is about magic and suspension of disbelief, not religion or determining the politically correct version of "Happy Holidays" to use in polite conversation. Magic. Childlike exuberance. Unfettered joy. These are the central elements of this month, despite the fact that everyone could probably be a better Harry Potter than Harry Potter.

Put away your grumpy politics and sarcasm for a week or two and believe in some magic. Smile, laugh, and stop pretending you're more clever than the rest of the planet. Maybe some of that humility will spill over into the new year.

Merry, Merry Christmas, all. I wish you the very best.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Stop Winking at Me: On Involution and Art

I have not been able to finish the latest season of Arrested Development.

Still reading? Good. Maybe you agree with me. I want to talk a little bit about television, movies, and books that evoke an eye-roll. Writer Glen Weldon, in his role as panelist for NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, speaks on involution in art; he defines it as "turning in on itself. Going up its own butt—its own narrative butt." "Self confidence becomes self regard," he says, listing Joyce as the clearest literary example. I took an entire class on Joyce at one point, and outside Dubliners, I can't stand the man. Anything that seems too into itself makes my skin crawl.

For that Joyce course, my final paper was twelve pages on one single chapter from Ulysses: Nausicaa. And I have to say, by the end I did want to write twelve pages on every chapter in the book, but come one now, really? That's the only way for me to understand what's going on? David Foster Wallace once wrote that reading should be hard work, and I agree, for the most part... balance in life and all that (I'll let you know when I get past the second chapter of Infinite Jest).

Perhaps this has to do with the years I've spent studying creative writing. Conceit existed through my undergrad, in the way all fledgling writers think themselves kings of craft and creativity, but by graduation most of us had simmered down a bit. I had moved from fiction to nonfiction in the understanding that studying and writing the truth might allow me to one day support myself. In that shift I also came to realize how infinitely more complicated the world of nonfiction is than fiction and poetry (of course that's not necessarily true, but it's where my passion lies, so I'm right). By the time I finished grad school, I wasn't sure many writers were capable of humility. One semester, half the program took a course on "The Sublime" and it was all anyone could talk about. This was around the time I just wanted to squeal about the upcoming Avengers movie. My effervescent joy was met with many an arched eyebrow and upturned nose. In my final year I took a Rushdie class. Here's a bit of advice: Shakespeare is the only writer allowed to have his own class. If anyone tells you otherwise, be very, very sure you love the work before signing up. Rushdie, like Joyce, is very excited by how clever they can be.

No. Please, stop. You've ruined it.
So, what instances of this do we see in film and television? For one, Arrested Development, season 4, ruined just about every wonderful joke they had. Someone threw subtlety out the window along the way and everything became a reference to the previous seasons. I gave up around the point JOB was to marry Ann under the gigantic "Her?" altar. The best part of Arrested was how quiet the running gags could be, you might miss them even after multiple viewings. I also argue the shifting perspective messed with the tone, but that's neither here nor there.

This is why I am terrified of someone reviving Firefly. Leave it alone. It's perfect, and the premature cancellation evokes a longing that adds to the magic. And that magic cannot be recreated.

The 9th Doctor is not impressed
My absolute favorite show has has even fallen prey to this involution. That 50th Anniversary Doctor Who special was so far up its own ass, I wasn't sure I'd ever find my way out. There was so much self-referential fan service in that episode, the whole thing lost sight of itself. How dare they empty the emotion from David Tennant's final line, "I don't want to go." Thank God Peter Capaldi showed up to take care of things. For a show about traveling through time and space, I sure need it to be down to earth... See what I did there?

Why write about this now, you ask?

Could this show take itself more seriously?
You must know, deep down, what has driven me here. Gotham. I sat through the series premiere. No more. Though I do feel obliged to watch the second episode for this writing, there's no way I'd stand it. Now, Gotham is only at fault in its decision to follow Nolan's work to its inevitable end. Nolan is a director I find so excited by his own genius that he nearly ruined Batman. They're trying their hardest to ruin Batman, but Batman will outlast. Batman is stronger than shoddy writers and directors. At this point, I should know to stick to graphic novels and video games wherever Batman is concerned. Those mediums allow for a requisite brutality impossible in television and blockbuster cinema. Gotham is just one big easter-egg hunt as far as I can tell.

Inception is a movie that literally collapses in on itself. There is no reason for three Hobbit movies; I'm looking at you, made-up orcs, Radagast, and foreshadowing. All I wanted was a treasure hunt. I mean, imagine if Guillermo del Toro directed the thing with Ron Perlman as Beorn. It would have been more fun than farcical.

The Avengers knew what it was, and succeeded. It did, at times, try a bit hard to be that which it was, like a caricature of itself. Some of its -ness could have been reigned in by the likes of Mark Ruffalo's subdued performance as Bruce Banner, but that excess exhibited by snarky, ostentatious dialogue was corrected in subsequent Marvel films. It's still there in the banter between Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson in Winter Soldier, and everything about Guardians of the Galaxy, but refined, dialed-in.

Not too long ago, a friend asked me, "Do you think True Detective is funny, or is that just me being a sick bastard? I mean, nihilism is just so cute."
"Occasionally, yeah," I said, " it goes way over the top at times."
He said, "Gotta love excessive earnestness. More people need to read and watch Oscar Wilde."

What's on your list? If I'm in the wrong mood, even Game of Thrones becomes ridiculous, and I love that show. Where do you draw the line? When is it too much?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Lets Go on an Adventure

It's important to test the bounds of the universe's ability to conspire in the favor of those who dream. This time last year, I had graduated from the University of Montana's Master's program with a degree in writing and found adjunct work teaching composition at an East Coast community college. But my family missed Missoula, having moved east to be closer to our respective families. The only "logical" course of action at that point, was to find Missoula-East. Enter: Asheville, NC.

He's saying, "All will work out, young man."
I packed my car, reserved a week's stay at Sweet Peas Hostel, and, thanks to a too-deep belief in Dumbledore's mantra, "Help will come to those at Hogwarts to those who ask for it," or "those who deserve it," I figured starting a life and family in a new city and state would work out just fine. There is magic in the world, right? And I have an advanced degree, right? 

I found a home for my spouse and two year-old son at the end of that first week, then brought them down and furnished the place. We started making a home. Thank you Ikea. 


The Ikea-furnished home makes me nostalgic for Germany, where I lived for a time during high school in a flat largely filled with that Swedish design. Sure, the stuff is all new, and... cost efficient, but it makes me feel at home. It still feels European. I remember days and days with my mother, brother, and sister walking the showroom maze "testing" every couch while Ma and Sis measured kitchen cabinets into eternity.

I miss how German refrigerators are just slightly smaller than those in America. I miss the market sensibility of grocery shopping, and walkable world.

This is the life I dream of creating through famers' markets and intent. Almost every writer I've met has the same dream of some variation of crunchy commune, living small, composting, and recycling. Sometimes I feel cliché, but I'M unique, my idea has European flair and a creekside sauna. Yes, you will want to visit. There will be fly fishing; there will be kayaks.


First, lets pay the bills. I've always been secretly interested in Georgia Lass' job at "Happy Time Temporary Services" from Dead Like Me, so I'll be headed there Monday morning.

I'd also be more than happy to receive suggestions for blogs, webpages, news outlets, etc. that pay for freelance work. Who knows someone at NPR that can get me writing for Monkey See, the Pop Culture blog?

There will, at least, be more blogging present on this site, after a quiet summer of big moves and change, lets amp up the frequency and talk about some television.