Monday, July 30, 2007
It's been awhile since I've read a novel with such a complete, sprawling point of view. Like, talk about a clear definition of the omniscient. But it's very well organized, never jarring. And we get to get into the heads of all these different people from all over the place. Very cinematic, like cameras cutting from different scenes.
Well, I've only finished Part I, so I've not much else to say yet on the plot. The only things I thought about are - 1) How does Dolly forgive her husband so quickly? Just a little talk after 4 days and suddenly it's all peachy keen? 2) This Vronsky fellow is BAD news. There should be bulletins against people like him.
That's all for now. I'm liking it.
Friday, July 27, 2007
My little sister, on the other hand, hated reading. She hated the painstaking process of reading each letter, putting them together, spelling out the word phonetically, and making sense of it. Reading with her was torturous. She tried to guess words without properly reading the letters. She mistook g's for q's and b's for d's and vice versa. We had this little box of slim volumes designed as a step-up system for her to read. One night my mom was busy with something else, so I took her upstairs to the bedroom and tried to flow through some book about frogs. After every word, she was screaming, "I don't want to read anymore! I give up!"
Nowadays, my sister reminds me a little of me. Reading at the dinner table, reading on the car, even trying to read while walking (I used to do this too). She loves reading (although her taste in books is less open-minded than mine was at her age), and she rarely travels without a book. At an age when girls are starting to get into bad teen magazines, she still reads novels, and I think that's wonderful.
So. What finally won her over? I believe it started with a little series called Junie B. Jones. I'm not sure how she found out about it - if it was her kindergarten teacher or my mom who read it to her first, but pretty soon she was hooked. Junie B. was interesting enough that my sister wanted to get ahead and read them for herself - she wanted to have read the next book in the series before any of her friends did or her teacher could have them read in class. So we bought volume after volume. They were all over the place, spilling out of my bookshelves, tossed on the ground and on the sofa and basically anywhere where there was a flat surface. They involved Junie B. and her valentines, Junie B. taking a fruitcake from a cake walk, Junie B. and gross annoying boys. [I know this because I read them. Not to her, but um, on my own. Because they were everywhere. And sometimes I sat next to one on the couch and I was bored and with my masterful reading skills, it only took me a couple of minutes to get through each one.] My sister delighted in Junie B.'s antics. Her little tantrums, her fiascos, her plots, everything about her. This girl was like her, in a bolder form, and my sister loved her for it.
I'm telling you. These books singlehandedly gave my sister the love of reading.
Eventually, she outgrew them, and even though Junie B. eventually moved to first grade, by first grade, my sister was no longer into Junie B.
The only reason I bring all of this up today is because of all the uproar on this long-standing series (which I'm delighted to know is still going on) and the fact that it uses "improper grammar". The thing is, books use improper grammar all the time. And you can say that it's different because we're adults and these are influential kids books. But I'm really hoping that there are other forces at work here besides just these books alone teaching your kids proper English. You know, like parents speaking to them properly and school and teachers and other forms of writing and media... to place it all on the burden of some books about a little girl is, well, somewhat absurd. I mean, come on people, the stories are written in the first person of a 5 year old. If she started talking like my grandma, I don't know that they'd work quite as well.
All I can say is that I think at such a young age, sure, we want them to learn proper language. But I also think that we want them to learn to love to read. And I know at least for my little sister, it did just that.
I applaud Vulture for this hilarious blog post on this issue. I laughed out loud and choked on my water when I read this. (The reference to the obesity study seals the deal for me, but that's only because I work in the healthcare industry and we care about things like this.)
Thursday, July 26, 2007
So, going into these stories, I wasn't certain what to expect. I've read over a couple of them more than a few times. And, you know, while I enjoyed most of them reasonably, I wasn't crazy over them. I even did my own quick online research to see if maybe I was missing something in the interpretation, and perhaps that would heighten my enjoyment. And you know what, hearing perspectives of what these stories are about and how we're supposed to interpret them, sure, it makes me feel a little more intellectually stimulated, but I must say, maybe I'm just not a Salinger kind of person. I feel a little stilted in his worlds, in a way I'm not quite sure how to make of. Also, I kind of... didn't care about most of his characters and what was going to happen to them. I'm not sure why. It wasn't that they were boring, or that the situations were boring. But for some reason, the awkwardness of all the characters made them... uninteresting, if not unsympathetic. I guess this goes back to Catcher in the Rye and the fact that I was just never that into Holden because he was just too strange for me. So it's a matter of taste, I suppose.
Of all the stories, I think I liked "The Laughing Man" best. I like the fact that it's told with the voice of many years having passed, and yet it is still the recollection from a young boy's perspective. Thus, the nature of the guy and his relationship is viewed through his prism, and so doesn't take the front seat, but is more readily paralleled by something the boy does understand at the time - these stories. I felt this story was a much faster read for me than the others.
The last story, "Teddy" is a lot more heavy-handed than the rest. I was actually surprised to see the amount of philosophizing in this story, with this precocious 10 year old at the helm. In that sense, I found the story interesting, just to hear him spin his theories, but again, I'm not sure how invested I was in the character itself.
I liked the first story, only because I felt the whole "bananafish" episode was sweet in contrast with the sudden tragic ending.
I didn't like the "Uncle Wiggily" story. Could two women be anymore annoying? I mean, I suppose the banality of their lives is somewhat the point, but I seriously could barely stand them.
I can't deny that these stories have merit as works, but I guess the endpoint is, many of them just aren't my taste. From a literary standpoint, I see the importance, but I guess it's not one of those things I would read again and again and again.
Okay, Moonrat, I know you're ready to cut me down a few notches, so fire away.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Her voice is consistent through all the stories, which actually makes it difficult to distinguish one from the other. Even though the characters are all different characters, the consistent voice makes it seem like it's all one person. Maybe even incarnations of the same person (Miranda July herself, maybe?).
The stories are funny, awkward, sometimes even uncomfortable and strange, but the characters, no matter what kind of weird things they do, always seem very very human.
I read most of the stories about a month ago now, so I won't be any good at reviewing any of them, but today, I finished up "Mon Plaisir" and "How to Tell Stories to Children", both which I really really enjoyed.
"Mon Plaisir" is about a couple who have drifted apart, consumed by their own lives in a way, and they go to be extras in a film. It's during this time of being extras, that they find that everything they've lost in their relationship comes naturally to them - but only when the cameras are rolling. They act the part well, but as soon as the director shouts "cut", the magic disappears. I liked the conception of this story, for that irony of being able to only be themselves when it's just acting, for being able to catch a glimpse of what it should have been. And offset, they finally see that they've completely lost everything in each other.
"How to Tell Stories to Children" follows a relationship between a woman and the daughter of her friends. Again, this is filled with this sort of aching love, and the strange way in which they all cope with their relationships with each other.
I think what is great about these stories is that so often in these stories, people are doing things for no good reason. Inexplicable. And yet, you get that deep down, there's the root of it, this sense of longing, trying to make up for it, trying to touch some one, somehow making things fit and belong.
What it is - humans do strange things. There's often no reason behind the things we do. But it seems to me that she believes as I do, that loneliness is one of those worst things that can happen. And we try so hard to avoid it, and yet we all feel it. So much humanity in these flawed, confused people, as the world happens to them and things fall apart - it's everyday life, and yet these people are doing their best to stay afloat in this world that often times holds no logic.
Monday, July 23, 2007
Stephen L. Carter
Barnes and Noble
Union Square (17th and Broadway)
July 25, 7 PM
Also, Kim Edwards, who has a new short story collection out, and author of Memory Keeper's Daughter is reading the day after at a different Barnes:
Barnes and Noble
82nd and Broadway
July 26, 7pm
Happy book readings.
My vote was Nagini since we never actually see her gush some nasty old blood all over the place, and maybe she was just a red herring, although Neville does slice his head off, but I think he needed to be killed anyway. But am I wrong? Which is the one that doesn't belong? Help here?
I just wanted to put down the link for this hilarious NYMag Vulture post on Sam Anderson's reading of book 7. I don't agree with everything he says, though I do think most points have a grain of truth and he just cracks me up in general.
To speak to his biggest complaint, which appears to be that he thinks she's horrible at these huge plots - well, alright, there's a bit of predictability, melodrama and not much breaking out of archetypal forces of good and evil plots. But I think what's great is that (bad writing aside), she takes these archetypes and integrates them into a fully realized, three-dimensional world. And, as I've mentioned before, her world isn't black and white as easily as archetypes would have us believe.
But the article is still effing hilarious.
Anyway, Moonrat is finished with the book, which means I can finally say a few words about it!
First off, I loved it. I mean, it was everything I expected, and nothing surprised me all that much, but it was immensely satisfying for that reason. Of course there were some things I was disappointed by, but they're things that I kinda wanted not because it would make sense, but because I miss the quality in the previous books. Things like, I miss quidditch, I wish they didn't spend so much of the book just sitting out in the woods, I missed seeing the other characters as much (like Hagrid and the other kids and even the teachers at Hogwarts), and I felt this one was the least "fantastical magical" (but of course - it had to be dark). There were also a few questions here and there that I had leftover, but I guess there's only so much you can stuff into one book.
The thing that was great about this book is how it ties everything together - pulls all the little details you might have missed in the first 6 books and makes it all fit together, one great big puzzle in the making. I think that's what made it so satisfying. She's got it all there, all mapped out. It's a very complete, very real world in that everything makes sense and is three-dimensional in its conception. You get a real feeling that this world lives on its own, that things happen of their own accord, and everything, down to the smallest detail, is all part of this.
My favorite thing about this book, and now, in retrospect, knowing all the details, this entire series, is how human the characters are. How, despite the first-hand glance that the characters may just be your usual archtypes, by the end of the seventh book, we realize that everyone has flaws and another side. The moral, to me, if anything, is this very real characterization of people, and hope for redemption.
I love Dumbledore. I've said this before, and I'll say it again, that he is my favorite character. I missed him sorely in this book, seeing as he was dead. I, like the characters, was getting a little riled up by the accusations of how he wasn't all that great. Even though in my head, I kept thinking there was a perfectly good explanation for everything, it still bothered me. Just like it bothered everyone else in the book. It's a discomforting feeling that this great wizard was arrogant and self-absorbed back in the day. But at the end of you, you understand - people are foolish when they are young, make mistakes that they pay for and regret. He is not without remorse, and has spent the rest of his life making up for it. Perhaps that is why he trusts, and forgives. He of all people understands the mistakes people make when they are young (*ahem* Snape). And isn't that part of being wise? I didn't exactly love the King's Cross/in-limbo scene with Harry - I felt it wasn't executed as well as it could have been, but it got the point across, and in the end, I still think part of what makes Dumbledore the best of all of these wise wizarding types throughout all books I've read, is the fact that he's incredibly human.
The part of the book I was drawn to the most was Snape's story with Lily. I'd heard of this theory through the NYMag blog, so I wasn't too shocked when it actually happened. Nonetheless, the story really touched me. I mean, I never doubted that Dumbledore had a good reason for trusting Snape, and clearly, when he killed Dumbledore, it had to be on his orders. Nevertheless, aside from that, he's a really hateful, unpleasant man, and gives Harry a really hard time for someone he's trying to help Dumbledore save. So I really appreciated Rowling taking the time to give us his side of the story (although I do feel that the Pensieve, though a very creative creation, was sort of used as an easy way to get the real story out here). I'm a sucker for understanding the other side, and I think here, it is a really sad and touching story. Poor Snape has had a crappy childhood, and he's so socially awkward. He tries so hard to be good to Lily, the one kid who shows him an ounce of niceness, stands up for him, everything, but he just can't seem to get it right. He's incredibly protective of himself, proud, and defensive, but inside you can see he's this sad, cracked little boy. I mean, there's just something so tragic about him, so misunderstood, and yet he still tries to rise above all of it and help Dumbledore. I think of all the character studies that Rowling has drawn, his is the most empathy provoking, and clearly flags this idea of redemption, and the sort of good things that love can drive a person to do. I was very sad for him, very sad for how his life ended, and yet he died for a really good cause. In a weird twist, you can almost see this story being sort of his story too - his transition from childhood, his arrival at Hogwarts, where, like Harry, he's sort of a weird outcast at first, to his death in which he really does die having redeemed himself.
The one other point I wanted to make was, the Deathly Hallows seemed hugely irrelevant to everything. Almost a red herring for the sake of it. I think Rowling had a point going with the immortality bit and Dumbledore going after it, and beating death and deserving it, but I don't think that came together as well as it could have, and fell a little flat, to a point where I didn't think it deserved the cover title. But that could just be me.
I have a lot of other things to say about the book and series as a whole too, of course, but I've written already too much here. If anyone wants my opinion on any other points, I'd be happy to share.
Overall I felt the book was exactly what it should have been, tying everything up exactly how we all wanted it to. There was no question about Harry defeating Voldemort in the end, and I think she drives in her morality story of the power of love, friendship, loyalty, courage, sacrifice and redemption. I think, all complaints aside about her sometimes lack of great writing skills, what's important about this epic are the issues she raises. Her tale of good vs. evil is not a clear-cut black and white - there are shades of gray in her story, just like how real life truly is. We learn something about humanity through her books, in how we love and grieve and grow-up. I think what's great is that there's something in these books for every age. As a teenager, I think some of the underlying elements were lost on me, but now, older, I see the bigger picture in the books (which is why it does appeal to adults as well as children I think), the more complex issues she deals with, and the morality that can be universally understood by all ages.
By the way, not sure how I felt about the Epilogue. I mean, I was dying to know what happens to them in the future like anyone else, so I drank that part up all greedily, but in terms of craft, it just seemed weird and tacked on and unnecessary. Obviously it was put there just to make us all feel better. Hee hee. But okay, I'm cool with that.
Phew. So much rambling here. I'm sorry, I meant to be a lot less wordy and more organized in my thoughts here, but it's rainy, it's Monday... give me a break. :)
Sunday, July 22, 2007
In the meantime, Vivian picked up a copy of the book I mentioned my mom was reading, The Emperor of Ocean Park, which I haven't read myself. For interested parties, I thought you might like to know the things she had to say about this book (posted in my comments, but reposted here for ease):
So, while we're waiting for THE WORD from angelle, let's take a break and consider something other than Harry Potter for a minute. I just finished The Emperor of Ocean Park, and I liked it. It's about a hundred pages shorter than the Deathly Hallows, but I think it probably could have been even shorter without hurting anything; Carter is kind of wordy. But once you get used to the voice of the narrator, it does move right along. It's a good, complex story, with interesting characters, and the puzzle pieces are presented in a slow, satisfying way--and are put together one or two at a time, instead of being dumped on the reader all at once, in the last few pages. It's also a thoughtful book that explores the ideas of right and wrong, and doesn't necessarily give the answers--or an ending--the reader might expect. Worth the effort, I think.
So there you have it. Sounds like your atypical mystery. I like thoughtful. I may have to borrow my mom's copy myself. Thanks Vivian!
Friday, July 20, 2007
... but I do wish he had learned to apparate, and effing apparate into my apartment already. Oh well. If all goes well with UPS, I suspect he will be waiting for me by the time I get home. [Oh, a day early!] Which means, I may very well have to cancel my night plans.
Obsessive much? Yes.
 Evil, sheer evil. My book is still in transit. Why? Is he going for a joyride? Is he just venturing all around Jersey, perhaps passing by my apartment and taunting me? Ugh. Sadness.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
I think I need to get this Firefox widget, if it, in fact, really works.
According to UPS, my book is in Secaucus right now. Do you think I can just go to their storage center and get it NOW? Do I REALLY need to wait two more days!!!??!?!?!
[Okay, fine, it's more like, I've been swamped at work, and can barely find time to post. But it sounded cooler when I said I did it due to contempt for all media, right?]
But truly, there's a part of me that is impatient and wants to look at those images and start reading already. I'm okay with that. What is not cool is spoilers everywhere. The whole point of buying the book the day it comes out, in my mind, is so I can lock myself in my apartment for a day and not emerge (or touch the internet) until I'm completely done. The weekend seemed safe for this, since on weekends I don't work, and therefore, I don't get exposed to media quite as much. But during the weekdays, well, my work is intrinsically media based, and thus it's pretty hard to escape. Luckily, I hear no major news outlets have done the reprehensible thing of letting the cat out of the bag.
By the way, furthering my dorky Star Wars comparisons, Dumbledore's speeches in books 5 and 6 remind me of the whole Obi-Wan Kenobi deal of "If you kill me now, I'll be more powerful" blah blah blah thing. Right? Or did I just make that up.
Um, I swear I'm not a sci-fi/fantasy nerd, however I might pretend to be sometimes.
3 days and counting......
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
But anyway. I will stop whining.
I'm here because I decided I wanted to start a new series of posts dedicated to children's/YA books that I love(d). Harry Potter really inspired me. There's so much great children's/YA literature out there, and so many of the books really made an impact on me when I was growing up. Reading as a kid somehow is so different than reading as an adult. We give ourselves into falling into the world of books completely as a child, without the skepticism and critical eye that we do as adults. We take things as it is. No "there were too many cliches" or "that seemed unrealistic" or "how childish" or whatever. We like something because we do, and we can't really articulate why, at least not the way we can deconstruct books now. We like the plot, or we like the characters, or someone reminds us of ourselves or we just like the creativity. I can think of SO MANY books I loved as a child, in a way I love few books I come across these days now. And I think maybe that has more to do with who I was as a child than the quality of literature.
I also think that children's/YA books carry a big burden on the author. These are impressionable minds here. Not only are you having a say in whether or not this kid decides he LOVES to read or decides that maybe he never wants to pick up a book again, but you're also shaping world truths through story. A child so shielded from the real world will readily pick up cues on morals, ideals, empathy, humanity through the lens of an imaginary world. There are books from my childhood that I know have shaped how I think of the world and the people around me. So I think good literature for children is almost more important in their impact than good adult fiction.
Anyway, I have so many on my mind that I want to start with that I'm not sure where to begin. I'll highlight a book I remember from childhood (or even one I've read recently, because, owing to my 13 year old sister, I still pick up an occasional middle-year or YA book), and I might even do a re-read for these purposes. Oh, and obviously, as much as I love books like Goodnight Moon, Paddington Goes to the Circus and Love You Forever (my #1 favorite picture book), I will be focusing on, well, books with chapters and mostly a lack of pictures.
Also, if anyone has suggestions on must-reads from their childhood that I might not have gotten the opportunity to read as a kid (I only read Bridge to Terabithia my junior year of college), please feel free to share!
Anyway, some thoughts on both the book and movie.
Overall. Just overall, I appreciated book 5 a LOT more this time I read it, maybe because I'm older (ironic huh? Considering it's a children's book), and I understand more fully the lessons Dumbledore is trying to teach. As for the movie, sure it's a good movie, but I'm not sure how I felt about it. I liked it because it's HP, but if I weren't so biased, I don't know how I'd feel about it. Or, maybe, it's because I'm so married to the books that I didn't like it as much. I don't know.
Dumbledore. I miss the original Dumbledore in the first couple of movies. The new Dumbledore never struck me as what Dumbledore is all about. He doesn't give me that powerful yet gentle wizard feel. I always kinda felt like Dumbledore should be like Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings. Wonderful but terrible. That sort of thing. When I re-read book 5 this time around, the chapter towards the end where he's explaining to HP about everything, well, that just made me cry for some reason. It didn't last time, but this time, it really hit home to me, from Dumbledore's point of view, how difficult it was for him, to watch this boy he really cared for have to go through everything, so much that he wanted to distance him and protect him as much as possible. Again, it's a testament to my age that I'm starting to sympathize more with the adults in the book (oh, Rowling, you give us ALL something in these books!), but I see so clearly Dumbledore's difficult position. This is why he is my favorite character in the entire series. I believe in so much that he believes in, and he is so powerful, so GOOD of a person, and yet in the end, he is also a human, with human emotions. And that's what makes him such a great wizard. The current guy who plays him just doesn't get all of this across.
Where's the sadness? Somewhat related - I wish they had kinda toned down the cheese. I mean, yeah, this whole episode is about Harry learning that what he has that old Voldy does not is emotions and empathy and care for other people. But in the book, he doesn't figure it out so cheesily. In fact, I don't think it even sinks in completely, Dumbledore tells him and it kinda bounces off of him, he's so blinded by grief. I actually think that's a really powerful scene in the book, when Harry is all screaming and throwing things and saying that he'd rather he didn't feel anything at all, and how no one understands and how he doesn't care, and Dumbledore just sits there and says, "You do, you care so much you feel like you're going to burst, it hurts so much," all quiet-like. I like that it never fully bounces off of him, but he's demonstrating exactly what Dumbledore is telling him. And I wish the movie had shown him more grief-stricken, instead of all quiet. Because you never really get how hard it hits home that Sirius is dead. You don't get that anguish that consumes the end of book 5. That sense of having lost a parent all over again. Which is what makes it so hard for an orphan like Harry. I'm sorry, but as a psych major, that's what interests me in these stories is the character development. Understanding these characters as humans is what is so extraordinary to me about this series, the place it all has despite it being a completely fictional world.
Cho. I didn't like at first that she was the snitch (not the golden one, unless you're talking about her complexion), but okay, fine veritaserum. Um, but I don't care what anyone says, I think she's super cute. And that was SOME KISS. Man I'll be sorry to see her go.
Umbridge. Was deliciously evil. Though, where can I get me some of those kitten plates??? Hahaha. But seriously. This was a strong point of the movie. She captured the essence of Umbridge's sugary evilness, but still somehow made it completely her own. I think that's what a translation to film should be. Retaining the essence of something but making it fresh.
No Quidditch?? Somehow I feel like that's terribly wrong. I sorta miss Ron doing his funny comic relief. No comic relief from him this time, and I think the movie really missed that. The guy who plays him (what's his name again? Too lazy to look it up) is so funny in his different expressions and reactions, that it's a shame they couldn't stick him in it a bit more.
Grawp. He was much more adorable in the movie than I pictured him in the book. Which I thought was a pleasant surprise. How lovable. I wanted to give his big toe a big squishy hug.
Voldy's possession of Harry. I couldn't stop thinking Star Wars when this scene was playing (well in the book too but the movie especially, since in the book Bellatrix is the one who goads him but here, Voldy comes into his head and does it). "She killed Sirius... she deserves it.. come to the dark side, Luke..." I guess these battles of good and evil are always about how giving into hate will consume you. I'm not saying I don't agree, but one can't help but feel it to be a bit repetitive. Oh, also on similarities, doesn't Kreacher make you think of Golum?
Snape's memory. I'm okay with the fact that he didn't chance upon it in the Pensieve, but I wish that they had done something with it. In the movie, he saw the memory, got his Occlumency lessons ended, and that was it. No mention of it ever again. Which is just sort of odd, because it totally leaves this loose thread hanging. No reaction to it or anything!!!
Ginny. If she's eventually to become Harry's true love in the next one, I would think they should have shown her evidence of becoming popular and outgoing this movie already. But all she did was be the Ginny we're used to, all quiet and gazing at Harry and stuff. No! Stop mooning after him! Guys pay attention to girls who don't pay attention to them !! (or so I've been told, as I've never managed to successfully test this theory myself...)
Rowling's use of words. Dorky thing I really need to mention - I LOVE Rowling's made up words (I'm assuming they're mostly made up) and the names she gives people. What makes her so good is that she's consistent and thoughtful down to the last detail. She makes up words consistent with etimological thinking. Even the spells themselves. I really think that's pretty effing great.
All in all, I enjoyed the movie, though I couldn't help comparing and wished for more, or wished they hadn't changed certain things.
Okay. Now that I've nerded myself out, all I can say is CAN THE SEVENTH BOOK COME YET PLEASE????
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Heading to bed, but I wanted to sneak in one last post to announce that Upstreet 3 just hit stores. :) Where? Besides Amazon, a few other places (check the blog, linked below to find out where).
I read a few stories from issues 1 and 2 during my vacation, and there's some really great stuff in this literary journal, now in its 3rd year. I want to comment on a couple that I read, but I'll have to find time to do that later, along with the Salingers and Julys. But I really enjoyed some of the great fiction and creative non-fiction (especially in issue 2, I felt they were stronger)... I'm sure the poetry is good as well, but I'm not well-read enough in poetry to really say anything on it (and, I confess, I skipped the poetry). I'm a fan of the fact that it's simple and glossy and just nice to have. The selected pieces I've read have shared a sense of... I don't know exactly, maybe it's nostalgia? A nostalgic beauty, I felt, which really appeals to me. But not in overly cheesy sense. Just in a very lyrical way. Even the creative non-fiction I read gave me that sense, and I felt it fit in pretty well with the simplicity of the publication itself. But that might just be me.
This new issue includes an interview with Wally Lamb, author of She's Come Undone and of Oprah-loves-him fame. Okay, I haven't read that, but my mom has, and she loved it. I'm sure, in it's 3rd year, the publication has managed to select some even higher quality pieces, so it'd be a pretty safe bet to say this may be their best issue yet (and isn't that what's to be expected of a journal going through a growing process?). Definitely worth picking up and taking a read through.
In the meantime, I encourage everyone to:
- Visit the blog (because it's interesting to see the trials and tribulations of putting together a literary journal from the ground up)
- Visit the website
- Order it on Amazon
- And if you're a writer, submit submit submit! Imagine being published in a journal on its way up....
I like literary journals. Why? Because it gives us writers more chances to be published. Because it means that people who really love good writing are working hard to push it out there and help us have those chances. And hopefully, help raise the bar on everything, all around.
So congrats to Vivian and everyone else at Upstreet on the release of issue 3!!!
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
For the most part, when reading (and in life), I try hard to be open-minded and diplomatic about things. I'll force myself to plug through a book because I feel like I've made a commitment, and I'll try to find something good about it when I'm done, even if I didn't love it. There are, of course, exceptions. Poorly written genre novels, for instance, just enrage me. And even then, I'll skim through the text to get a general idea of the plot and what happens, just because I want to know. Four Blondes killed forever, my desire to ever read chicklit, and that is my number one biggest reading bias. But beyond that, I'll give everything fiction a chance.
I try, my hardest, not to be a literary snob. Few of my friends share my love of reading all things fiction the way I do. Few of my friends share my obsessive desire to delve into literature from an anything-goes approach: be it pointing out craft elements, symbolism, philosophy, or simple plot. Most people I know read the way the general public reads, perhaps the way reading should be - for entertainment purposes. So when a friend of mine tells me she didn't like Ishiguro's Remains of the Day so much, and I'm dying to point out the genius craft element of how he writes from his character's point of view so flawlessly, I shut my mouth. Because I'm afraid that I'll come off sounding horribly academic to the point of snobbery (and the thing is, I don't think I'm academic at all, English professors would laugh at my elementary grasp of good literature).
I really would like to be the kind of literary reader who not only loves the high-brow, but can enjoy good commercial and genre fiction too (my tolerance, of course, ends with books that are so badly written, I cannot understand how it was published in the first place, except that then I realize that it has nothing to do with writing, and everything to do with making money for publishing houses - think all the Da Vinci Code type spinoffs a few years ago). As anybody, I have my biases and things I can't help but scoff at here and there, but I give most things a chance. Because I love to read. And my love is universal, as long as there's something redeeming about it.
I think it's important to be able to learn to enjoy things for the merit that they do hold. This includes reading, and this is why today's NYTimes Paper Cuts blog excerpt of Harold Bloom's blasting of Harry Potter in 2000 irks me, just a little bit.
Maybe Rowling is cliche (and, I noticed today, she's guilty of using too many adverbs), and maybe her writing isn't the most lyrical or symbolic or poetic or mature writing. But why should it be? It was originally for children. Her writing is flawed sometimes, but I don't think it's bad to the point of distraction, and the kind of world she paints with her cliches and overuse of adverbs is magical and captivating. Despite his insistence that its not high-brow snobbery that causes his dislike, I can't help but think that it is.
"Why read, if what you read will not enrich mind or spirit or personality?" he says. What about the fact that it enriches the imagination? I think it's really great for kids to be able to read something that's so fantastical, this alternate world that they can dream about. And let's face it, even better for us boring adults who forgot how fun magic can be. I mean really. I read HP and still think it'd be super cool to play Quidditch or have friendly ghosts floating around and be in classes called Charms and Care of Magical Creatures. It's not going to win any Pulitzer, and none of my teachers will be using the book's passages as an example of lyricism, but I think there's something to the book. And beyond the creativity and fantasticalness of it. I think at the core of the book, there is an honesty. Forces of good and evil we can understand. Flawed heroes who ultimately grow up and come out on top. Mentors who are forever wise in their decisions to trust and love and believe in the redemption of good people who make mistakes.
I think Bloom is dead wrong about his quibble, and I just wonder if he used his imagination at all when reading Rowling's books.
[All I've been doing is writing about HP these days. I know. I'm sorry. It will be better once this month is over.]
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
My mom bought the book anyway, to read to my then-preschool-aged little sister (I think my sister lost interest at that young age after the first chapter). We had a paperback copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (that's right, the British Bloomsbury version) lying around our house, and being the bookworm that I was, and bereft of anything to read one day, I picked it up and finished it in one sitting. "What'd you think?" asked my mom. I shrugged. "It's okay. I don't get the hype though."
Yes. That was the beginning of my love affair with Harry Potter. Extremely lukewarm. No immediate chemistry. This is very likely due to the fact that the first book was, well, a children's book. And I was at an age where I felt I needed a more "mature" line of plot. But as book after book came out, I kept reading, and with the release of Goblet of Fire, I was hooked. That one was my favorite by far.
Well, now we're at the end, folks. And like any good Potter fan, I've been reading the articles of speculation and reviews and essays coming out. I'll grab anything vaguely Potter-esque to procrastinate time at work with. I've read this really great Stephen King article which captures my sentiment of this series ending perfectly, and I've been reading all the "theories" that NYMag's Vulture blog have been bringing to my attention on various aspects of HP, including the most recent one directing me to this (hilarious? awesome? ridiculous?) book on the "Snape Debate" (well, he's obviously not a traitor).
Yes, I am a Potter dork, and I don't deny it. [However, I do not dress up in costume for movies. Sorry.]
Having finished book 6 again and currently re-reading book 5, I must say the following things that hit me harder than the last time I read it:
1) Is it just me or does the Ministry's way of questioning people remind you of, say, McCarthyism or, like... hmmm.. the war on terror? Sure, the new minister is a lot more tight in his policies than Fudge, and the wizarding world welcomes that, because, well, a time of war calls for a wartime politician, but um... the bus driver dude? I know Rowling is British so maybe it's not the same over there, but I got more than a hint of scary-government-who-will-try-to-take-your-liberties vibe from book 6 this time around. Or maybe that's just me.
2) Dumbledore is "overly trusting" says HP at one point. And it annoys him (cuz of the whole Snape deal), and how Dumbledore keeps hoping that even though Tom Riddle shows his dark side at an early age, that maybe he'd straighten out (foolishly, apparently). Or how Dumbledore gives people second chances. And maybe he's dumb to do so. Maybe he's taken in for a ride. But isn't that part of what makes him so good? Sometimes he may be wrong, yes, as in Riddle's case. But he's not dumb to it. He sees the danger, but he opts to err on the side of hopefulness. Giving someone the benefit of the doubt. The reason this resonates with me is because, well, this is how I try to live my life in regards to my attitude towards people. And I know some people think I'm stupid for it. But I'm not blind to the possibilities and the character flaws in people. But, like Dumbledore, I'd rather hope for the better. Seeing that character trait in someone so archtypically good as he is makes me feel like maybe it's the right way to live.
Anyway. Movie in a few days (Moonrat's seeing it tonight, people!), and when the new book comes out, I'll be disappearing into my hole, not coming up for air until I'm done (ie: all of Sunday the 22nd will be spent reading as the 21st I have another commitment).
Potter and I started out as such a lukewarm love affair. But I've grown to love him, but like any relationship, I guess, we'll soon have to part ways.... *sniff*
Monday, July 9, 2007
One of the blogs I read every now and again is New York Hack, the blog of a NYC taxi driver. This blog is so well-read that the author behind the blog, Melissa Plaut, was offered a chance many specialized bloggers aspire to - writing her own book. [Incidentally, last year, she was written up on in all sorts of national newspapers everywhere, so maybe the book deal came about as a result of all of that publicity - I'm not really sure what the timeline of this was.]
If you haven't read her blog, it's a pretty fun read. Taxi cab drivers are privy to some of the most bizzare things, I've always thought. People throw caution to the wind with cab drivers, as if that clear divider were something more than the plexiglass it is. People have all sorts of conversations, do strange things, forgetting that there's a third person there. I've always thought it'd be kind of cool to write a novel with a cab driver as a protagonist only because of the kind of privileged information he/she is exposed to. Anyway, what makes Melissa's blog good to read is that she's also a really articulate writer, and so her anecdotes are always told well, and in an entertaining way. I didn't know, until later, that she was someone who once worked in a corporate environment (ad firm copywriter I think it was), and that she gave it up to be a cab driver.
I think that's what her book, Hack, is about. How she went from that to where she is now. And, of course, the anecdotes that make her blog so popular. Interesting stuff, eh?
The book comes out August 28th. And for those interested, she's giving readings at two Barnes branches in New York. Sept 11- the Greenwich branch, and Sept. 18 - the Park Slope branch. Go there and take a good look at her. Maybe one day she'll be your cab driver, and if you're not careful, you'll end up on the pages of her blog.....
My mother, though, has recently been raving about this thriller she's been reading by Stephen L. Carter, The Emperor of Ocean Park. From the looks of it (the cover and blurb on the back, plus the big bolded endorsement by John Grisham on the front bottom center), it's your typical legal thriller. Nothing that excited me all the much, either. But my mom keeps telling me that this is the first book she's read in years where there were tons of words she didn't know (my mom's knowledge of vocabulary is pretty vast), and that the guy writes all these mini-philisophical statements that she just finds so interesting to ponder over. Um, really Mom? In a legal thriller?
Well, I guess I should learn to believe my mom's opinion of all things art and literature (this is, after all, the woman who bought me 5 different versions of The Secret Garden, took me to see the ballet since I was three knowing that at some point I'd appreciate the beauty in it, and borrowed books from the public library for me with impeccable taste), as today's NYTimes Paper Cuts "Skim" of book reviews included one for Mr. Carter's new book, New England White:
Washington Post Book World
Jabari Asim admires Stephen L. Carter's second novel, "New England White." "Let's be honest," Asim writes. "No one should read a Carter novel for the
We know by now that the author is only partly concerned with whodunit; he'd rather ponder why any of us does the things we do — especially the bad things. For instance, we know it's wrong to cheat, lie, steal or wound, and yet hardly a day passes in which most of us don't commit at least one of these transgressions on some scale. Human weakness is troubling, fascinating stuff, and Carter has spent much of his career plumbing its depths.
He is, after all, an accomplished legal philosopher who has written persuasively about such cherished virtues as civility, integrity and faith. It's perversely pleasurable, then, to find that his fictional creations are reliably rude, dishonest and deliciously sinful.
So I guess someone else agrees with my mom. I forwarded this to her, and she wrote me back saying she absolutely agrees with Jabari -- but wonders if Jabari is a him or a her. [Why is that important, Mom?] She says the philosophizing is what makes this book so different and engaging. Though the mystery is fun too.
Makes me think of Orson Scott Card for some reason. Using genre to push what he really wants to talk about, which is all his philosophisizings.
So for all the crap sometimes people think of genre as (and I have been guilty of this on occasion), genre isn't always just brain candy. Though mystery thrillers are certainly part of the fun.
Thursday, July 5, 2007
In the meanwhile, I wanted to bring up something Moonrat mentioned - Harry Potter! [Excuse me while I put on my, um, Harry Potter Gryffindor costume in preparation to stand on line for the Wizarding Convention Party, madly waving a copy of my own version of Harry Potter slasher fic.]
[Okay, no, I'm not that far gone yet. And I don't read OR write Harry Potter fanfic! I'm a purist!]
Harry Potter, movie 5 comes out next week. And then the FINAL Harry Potter book comes out the weekend after (of course I've had mine preordered for months and months!).
So I am here, to tell you, faithful readers, that I may be taking a break from all of my high-brow literary pursuits (*cough*) to re-read Harry Potter 5 and 6 as a refresher, to be followed by Harry Potter 7 when it arrives in my mailbox! Because, quite honestly, everyday NYMag's Vulture posits a new theory, and I have no idea what they're talking about because I've already completely forgotten.
How about it, Moonratty? Want to delve into a re-read with me?
But. What if I could do this with BOOKS?
Thanks to DailyCandy for alerting me to BookSwim, this Netflix for books/internet based library. Unlimited books for a monthly charge? No late fees? Free shipping?
Okay, I confess. Knowing my lazy factor, I might STILL take my time sending in books. And, well, we all know how I feel about library books. There's an important tactile component to reading to me, and that means crisp pages, new matte covers, unbroken bindings. There's a reason my shelves are overflowing, and it's because I buy all my books instead of getting a library card like smart people would probably do. (That, and I like to OWN my books.)
Nevertheless, for those less picky, but just as book happy as me, now you finally have your answer. The kind your film buddies have long posessed, and now you do too.
I watched Evening today with my mom and sister. The theater was packed with - surprise surprise - senior citizens. All the actors and actresses gave some really great performances. And Meryl Streep's daughter looks like her little clone.
As for the book to film transition: While the basic premise was the same, the plot changed slightly, but I think for the better. Made it tighter, raised the tensions, and maybe even a little bit more sense. She developed Buddy's character more, and took out the questionable fiancee of Harris'. I liked that she kept the sort of blur of reality and dream there.
I do, however, have some criticisms. I felt the pacing was too slow, the transitions between present, past and fantasy too abrupt, and, aside from the backbone of the movie - the scenes that take place in the past - I felt everything else just skimmed the top. The whole thing with the daughters in the present - it was ALMOST there but not quite, never quite spent enough time or dove enough in to feel for them. The dreaminess of her dementia also felt a little bit like it was there for the sake of being there, but offered little device. I also felt it only picked up momentum towards the second half of the movie.
Well, I guess the thing is, I didn't love the book in itself. It was a decent read, and I actually really liked the plot and concept, but I wasn't a big fan of how Minot chose to execute it. The lack of quotations, stream of consciousness and constant confusion of scene flashing and merging, while demonstrating the state of mind that Ann is in, didn't resonate with me or work for me as well as it should have, and it disoriented me enough for me to lose the emotional empathy I would have liked to have for the characters. So it could be that I was expecting something more from a movie that would make everything clear. Don't get me wrong, I definitely felt a lot during the movie and I liked the movie, but I guess there could definitely have been improvements.
What I did like though, was thinking about this theme of regret. Sitting amongst so many seniors, I wondered what they took of the movie's message. If they felt similar about their lives, mistakes, regret. I felt it was so tragic that Ann and Harris missed their chance - as a girl whose life has perhaps not even finished its first act, I have strong feelings about "happily ever after", finding that (as Murakami would say) "100% perfect" one, and missed opportunities. And the expectations and hope that you end up happy. Losing your chance at your only real love seems so unbearably regretful to me. And yet it seemed that the story was making the point that "there are no mistakes", that "we do what we have to do". And I sort of believe that too. That no matter what, things turn out okay, that we have our ups and downs, but things will be all right in the end. It may not always be what we imagine it to be, or expect it to be, or planned it to be. But I think we learn to be happy with what we have, because we wouldn't know otherwise how it could turn out. But then I wonder if 50 years down the line, I'd feel the same, or if I'd look back on something, someone, and wonder about mistakes made, opportunities not seized, the one that got away. Is it true? That there are no mistakes? I wondered what all those sitting in the theater, with decades and decades under their belt, what they all felt while watching this movie, when, undoubtedly, they all reflected back on their own lives, and loves missed too.
Reminds me of one of my favorite parts of one of my favorite movies, Before Sunset. When Ethan Hawke asks Julie Delpy, why, why didn't they exchange phone numbers. And she says something to the effect of, when you're young, you believe that there will be so many people that you will connect with, that you'll have so many chances. But then you get older and you realize that's not true.
I wonder about that sometimes.
Anyway. Some truly great performances by amazing actresses and actors in this movie. Worth seeing, even if it's a little bit dragging. But you should be in that sort of mood. Otherwise, go see Live Free Die Hard (I want to see that too!).
Happy birthday, America.
Monday, July 2, 2007
While there, I wrote nothing except for two pages of something that struck me at 2 am the night before leaving (I typed it in the dark while my mom slept in the bed next to me). I read 7 of J.D. Salinger's short stories, a good number of the ones from Miranda July's collection No One Belongs Here More Than You, a bunch from issues 1 and 2 of Upstreet literary journal. No more progress on Miller made. I'll blog about some of these stories later.
Things that happened while I was gone -
- Movie version of Evening (Susan Minot) hit theaters - I haven't seen but I want to!
- Annie Dillard's new and apparently final novel (and piece of writing ever, according to her), The Maytrees hit the shelves recieving all sorts of acclaim
- Lisa See's Peony in Love came out - I was really disappointed by Snow Flower and the Secret Fan so I might just skip this one
I'm sure I'm missing other things here, but I confess I skimmed through all my normal avenues for book news because the amounts of print available for me to read was overwhelming.
More later, but I wanted to post because I know Moonrat missed me sooooooo much. Now I have to attack the 200 emails in my work inbox, then worry about the personal emails I have to catch up on, not to mention start writing and reading again to compensate for my slacker-dom. Good thing July 4th break is Wednesday. :)