Monday, October 12, 2009

The Hemingway Hype

Let me preface this by saying that I don't hate Hemingway.  Having just finished The Sun Also Rises, I can appreciate some of his appeal to the "lost generation."  I will also say that I find his descriptions of landscapes to be beautiful in their simplicity, as I first discovered when I read his short story "Hills Like White Elephants."

However.  The problem that I've discovered is that I simply cannot identify with any of Hemingway's characters.  Every character distinctly feels that his/her life is lacking something (which I completely understand), but they all seem to be looking outside themselve in their attempts to find whatever that "something" is.  For example, the main character of The Sun Also Rises is obviously an alcoholic who spends most of the book "tight."  The rest of the male cast is in love with Lady Brett Ashley, who moves from one man to the next in her own search for that "something."

They are unhappy, unproductive, and rootless.  I can see the appeal for the "lost generation," but it is not an appeal that holds true for me.  I'm done with the Hemingway hype, and he has now joined the list of authors who, when named as someone's favorite author, will illicit a somewhat-judgmental "hmph" from me.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Friday Featured Comic: Jane Austen

Here's yet another comic from Kate Beaton over at Hark! A Vagrant, which Beaton accompanies with the rather dry question, "Man I wonder what Jane Austen would think of some of her crazier fans, now that she has fans." Don't we all. (Cough--Pride and Prejudice and Zombies--cough.)
(For those of you who don't believe that Jane Austen did write social commentaries, I recommend you re-read Persuasion and pay especially close attention to the different roles that Anne Elliot plays, as well as the different ways in which she is treated by different classes.)

Non-Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

I don't feel entirely qualified to write a real review of Seth Grahame-Smith's book as I only read the first nine pages before I abandoned the effort out of complete boredom.  The premise behind the book has the potential to be amusing, but as it is, the book is both too long and too long-winded for what is essentially a big joke.

I ended up flipping through the book looking at the pictures and decided that I had made a good decision in choosing not to actually read the book.  If zombies in Regency England weren't ridiculous enough, the ninjas that make an appearance partway through would have capped it off.  Who has time to read garbage like this? 

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Review: Stitches, by David Small

I requested Stitches from the Denver Library as soon as I first heard about it, before it even came out, and by that time I was already sixth on the waiting list.  I wouldn't be surprised if the waiting list is even longer than that by now, because I finally got my hands on a copy of the graphic memoir and it is excellent.  Completely and totally excellent from beginning to end.

Between Small's brilliant illustrations and the well-written text, I was engrossed from the moment I picked it up until I turned the last page. It was a fast read--I read the whole thing in less than an hour--but it was powerful and moving and so good that Small has probably ruined me for all other graphic novels forever.

Read this.  Now.

Nobel Prize Goes to Yet Another European

Herta Mueller, a Romanian-born German, has walked away with the Nobel Prize in Literature... and Americans are pissed.

Frankly, I don't care one way or the other.  Politics shows up everywhere--beyond the Eurocentric focus of the prizes, Mueller is also only the 12th woman ever to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.  Obviously the awards are not based on merit alone.  Obviously. 

I don't understand why people are so surprised that Americans--or Asians, or females--have less of a chance to win a prize given by European men.  Are all those people who are so outraged really that naive--or am I just that cynical?

Grammar Snark: "The Way I 'Are'"?

Hey, folks, check out HotforWords' video parody of Timbaland's "The Way I Are."  Pretty amusing, despite the reliance on sex appeal, since I've discovered a latent passion for parody videos.

(Well, redisovered the latent passion--I freaking love Weird Al, and he doesn't insist on wearing low-cut blouses.)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Wednesday Dog Ears

This week's Dog Ears include a movie about John Keats, an essay on "self" in literature, and more:
  • Jane Campion's Bright Star, a film about the love between John Keats and Fanny Brawne, is now in theatres.  As much as I would love to see it, I will restrain myself until it comes out on DVD.
  • Nancy Rawlinson over at The Faster Times wrote a fairly right-on piece entitled "Writing Advice: How to Embrace the Suck."  I so need to keep this in mind this winter, as writing is just about the only winter sport I take part in.
  • Emily St. John Mandel's essay over at The Millions, "Working the Double Shift," about working full-time while also writing in one's free time, is both accurate and not particularly surprising, for anyone who actually does work full time and write at all.
  • Conservapedia reports the creation of the Conservative Bible Project.  Most interesting is the intention to un-do the recent "emmasculation" of the Bible, as well as removing the liberal-created "adulteress story."
  • Random House has begun publishing a new edition of Frankenstein which they credit to "Mary Shelley (with Percy Shelley)."  I'm torn as to whether this is a good idea or not--it's true that Percy influenced his wife's writing, but the fact that he is named (when he really only edited the final draft) undermines Mary's standing as a writer.
  • Yet another list of essential reading has been released, this time from Penguin Publishing under the name "10 Essential Penguin Classics."  The company is also hosting a sweepstakes drawing for all ten of the titles--if anyone cares.
  • J.C. Hallman wrote an essay entitled "The Exuberant Self" which argues that stripping the "self" from literature--as most literary critics are apt to at least try to do--is in direct conflict with what writers have always tried to do, which is illicit a response from the self in every reader.

Review: Wicked, by Gregory Maguire

As far as spin-offs go, Gregory Maguire's Wicked is better than some, but not better than most.  Wicked tells the story of the Wicked Witch of the West, giving some insight into her background and telling her point of view the way all spin-offs do.

Here's the thing--some spin-offs are amazing.  They reveal new ideas in stories and question our preconceived notions of morality.  Jesus Christ Superstar is one such spin-off--while it features Judas Iscariot as the protagonist, it doesn't lessen Christ's story by undermining it.  Jesus is shown to be a human bearing a divine burden.  Judas, while immature and extremely childish in some ways, is not evil.  He's human, also bearing a divine burden, and he stumbles beneath its weight.

Maguire tries to do much the same thing with Wicked.  Dorothy is not the "bad guy," the way she easily could have been.  He does not try to cast Elphaba (the Wicked Witch of the West) as God's gift to mankind.  But neither does he fully do justice to his story--its potential is, unfortunately, unrealized.

For one thing, while Elphaba is shown to be a bit selfish and self-centered, she is also a champion of social-political justice, with a special passion for Animals.  By the end of the novel, however, her focus throughout narrows, to the point that her final concern (getting back her sister's silver shoes) appears petty because it does not compare favorably (in terms of scope) to her previous battles. 

In addition, while Maguire questions the nature of good and evil throughout the novel, he never has any character throughout the entire novel actually have a solid opinion on the matter that is not based on religious dogma.  While Elphaba has philosophical musings, most of the book is entirely made up of unresolved questions. Perhaps that was Maguire's point, but I have enough questions of my own--it would be nice to be able to consider different possible answers.

Finally, most of Wicked is original thought--while it is purported to be based on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, in truth nothing more than character names, geographical locations, and the events of the last chapter have anything to do with the original story. It seems to me that the story of the Wicked Witch could have easily not been based on Frank L. Baum's original story and still have retained most of the important themes and events. The fact that it is based on the story therefore smacks of riding-on-tailcoats-to-glory-and-wealth.

Anyway, I don't really understand why the book was the raging success it proved to be.  If you want a good spin-off, go see Jesus Christ Superstar.

Literature Largely Missing From HuffPost's New Book Page

First of all, I'm a little bit appalled that any publication, even The Huffington Post, existed without a "books page" until October 6, 2009.  Maybe I'm even a lot appalled. 

Regardless, what is even more appalling are the featured pieces, which include recycled news from elsewhere online ("Napster for Books: The Way of the Future," "Vook: Changing the Book?," "Sarah Palin Memoir: The Power of Political Books") as well as articles written especially for the HuffPost which seem to revolve around current events that relate to books in some way ("Why the Digital Revolution is Missing the Big Picture," "How Do You Make a Writer Kvetch?" "A Filing Cabinet, Some Contracts, and Kate Duffy") but very little in the way of actual writing about actual literature.

How the hell can you have a "books page" without actually writing about, you know... books?  Gah.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: A Small Rewrite and Blackadder: Back and Forth

My friends, you should definitely check out "A Small Rewrite," which features Hugh Laurie playing a miffed Bill Shakespeare and Rowan Atkinson playing the editor who worked on Hamlet: 
Pretty funny, but not quite as funny as...

This clip from the 1999 special, Blackadder: Back and Forth, in which Blackadder (played by Rowan Atkinson) meets William Shakespeare (played by Colin Firth).

No, no, don't thank me.  I live to serve.

(Audiobook) Review: The Ghost Orchid, by Carol Goodman

The Ghost Orchid is a book that, while I had some doubts in the beginning, finished with such a crescendo that I immediately moved to another Carol Goodman audiobook (so keep an eye out for that review, as well).

The Ghost Orchid follows Ellis Brooks, a writer who arrives at Bosco, an artist's colony, to conduct research for her first novel which is set in the same locale.  A parallel storyline features Brooks' story of Corinth Blackwell, a spirit medium who arrived at Bosco one hundred years earlier.  The  mysteries surrounding Bosco's history move to front-and-center of the novel, and they are both interesting and engrossing and end in just the manner I was hoping they would.

Goodman's writing style tended to grate just slightly on my nerves throughout the 8+ hours I listened to it.  She seems to lean a little heavily on the ol' I'm-writing-in-present-tense-to-indicate-action-and-keep-you-in-the-moment, which, while it is completely appropriate for audiobooks, would probably get annoying if I were reading the book.

Everything considered, then, I would give this book a B+ and recommend it to people who enjoy historical mysteries.

Killing Time Online: Book Marketing

It has become obvious in recent months that publishers are struggling to find innovative ways to market the books they're producing (vooks, anyone?), their marketing techniques becoming more and more heavy-handed over time.  Authors must now have blogs, Twitter accounts, Facebook friends, and other virtual tentacles spread through the internet.  Here are several of the marketing techniques that have taken me by surprise recently:

Interactive Online Games

Online games are always fun, and they can definitely have a drawing power for those of us who spend a lot of time online.  For example, whoever is behind the marketing for Gail Carriger's Soulless is a genius--an oddly addictive online paper doll replete with many Victorian ensembles  and accessories is a great idea.  Plus, it's so much better than real paper dolls because it involves (a) no cutting, (b) no stupid, annoying tabs, and (c) no clean-up.  I'm almost tempted to buy Soulless, but I try not to spend money on books I won't feel the need to write in, dog ear, or otherwise deface.

Online Book Videos

I'm not entirely sure that this is a very effective way of appealing to mass book readers, but it's apparently been a trend since around 2006.  (I know, I know, I'm way behind.)  Authors ranging from superstars like Stephen King to lesser-known authors like Laurie Viera Riglers (author of The True Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict and The Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict) have videos available for viewing on online.  In fact, a quick youtube search for "book trailers" comes back with 63,600 results, leading me to believe that this is not the most effective way to lure readers into the snare of online marketing.  Blogs like Watch the Book are a little easier to navigate, but it's my firm belief that most ardent readers will not be trolling the internet in search of awesome book trailers to decide which book to buy next.  (Still, it can't hurt.  With so many starving film students, it seems to me an author could get a fairly good book trailer for peanuts.)


This one's not an "online" marketing tool (although I did come across it online), but it is clever nonetheless--authors will offer contests and prizes (of free books, naturally) to draw attention to their book signings.  For example, according to New York Daily News, graphic artist and author of Dolltopia, Abby Denson is holding "a contest for the best made-over or punked-out doll at each location."  I want to deface a Barbie and then go put it into a contest for a free graphic novel!  Unfortunately, I do not like in New York.  Bummer.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Womyn Finally Join the Hundred Acre He-Man Womon Haters Club

A new female character is set to join the cast of the Hundred Acre Wood, which has, according to The New York Times, been "mostly male" thus far.  Mostly male?  The only female I remember is Kanga, who basically serves as a walking carrying case for the far-more-memorable Roo.  The new story, featuring Lottie the Otter, is the first authorized addition to the Winnie the Pooh stories since 1928.

How sad is it that I had never before noticed that there were very few girls skipping around the Hundred Acre Wood?  As soon as I stopped to think about it, however, it really drove home all the feminist theories regarding the mysogynistic default toward males in literature and language.  I'll never (seriously) argue that we should use "womyn" instead of "women," but it is understandably a huuuge step forward that there will now be a female in Winnie the Pooh's life who isn't just the boring, "not very Clever" mother of a friend.

A Feminist Reading of Edgar Allan Poe has an interesting article entitled, "Living Poe Girl, Part I: Objects of Desire," which explores several feminist readings of the writing of Edgar Allan Poe.  Poe closely associated beautiful women with death, as shown in this excerpt from Poe's "Philosophy of Composition" about his thought processes while writing "The Raven":
"Now, never losing sight of the object supremeness, or perfection, at all points, I asked myself — 'Of all melancholy topics, what, according to the universal understanding of mankind, is the most melancholy?' Death — was the obvious reply. 'And when,' I said, 'is this most melancholy of topics most poetical?' From what I have already explained at some length, the answer, here also, is obvious — 'When it most closely allies itself to Beauty: the death, then, of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world — and equally is it beyond doubt that the lips best suited for such topic are those of a bereaved lover.'"
Having never before thought of Poe from a feminist standpoint, it makes me very curious to go back and re-read the classics... just in time for Halloween, since, feminist slant or not, Poe is still one of the creepiest writers I know of.

I Ain't Sayin' She's a Gold Digger

So The Guardian writer Tanya Gold recently wrote in "Why Women Have Sex,"
"We are, apparently, scrabbling around for what biologists call 'genetic benefits' and 'resource benefits.' Genetic benefits are the genes that produce healthy children. Resource benefits are the things that help us protect our healthy children, which is why women sometimes like men with big houses. Jane Eyre, I think, can be read as a love letter to a big house."
I'm not entirely convinced by this argument--at least not in the case of Jane Eyre, in which, according to Gold, the materialistic main character Jane actually leaves Thornfield when it becomes apparent that Mr. Rochester is already married.  At the end of the novel, when the "big house" burns down, there is far more attention paid to Rochester's injury and blindness.

This is not to say, however, that there are no books written as "a love letter to a big house."  I've always believed that Elizabeth Bennet, in Pride and Prejudice, had no real reason to overcome her prejudice towards Mr. Darcy until she saw his amazingly awesome huge house.  Suddenly, she's all a-flutter, thinking, (and I quote, for those who care to think I'm making this up),
 "'And of this place,' thought she, 'I might have been mistress! With these rooms I might now have been familiarly acquainted! Instead of viewing them as a stranger, I might have rejoiced in them as my own, and welcomed to them as visitors my uncle and aunt. -- But no,' -- recollecting herself, -- 'that could never be: my uncle and aunt would have been lost to me: I should not have been allowed to invite them.' This was a lucky recollection -- it saved her from something like regret."

Yeah, now it's "something like regret," when before it was, "I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry."  Now, I ain't sayin' she's a gold digger, but Miss Elizabeth Bennet ain't messin' with no broke... Darcy.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Not-So-Gentle (Re)Viewer: Castle

I'm sure most of you are aware of my opinion of television--and if you're not aware of it, click here.  I do, however, occasionally make exceptions to this rule if I find a show particularly entertaining.  Such seems to be the case for Castle, currently running on Monday nights on ABC.

Here's the short story, from the ABC website: "Richard 'Rick' Castle [Nathan Fillion], a rock star of the literary world, is suffering from a case of writers block after killing off the main character in his novels and is struggling to come up with a replacement. Castle had grown weary of having it all, “fame, fans and females”, when he was approached by the attractive Detective Kate Beckett [Stana Katic] of the NYPD to help catch the copy-cat killer staging murders based on scenes from his novels." 

While Castle's approach to crime-solving tends to be pretty entertaining and involve lots of play-on-words-humor, what finally captured my heart was this Tuesday's episode in which Castle and Beckett discover a body that has words written on it that used "your" instead of "you're."  Castle's response?  "Whoever killed her also murdered the English language."

Anyway, take it for what it is (an hour-long detective series on ABC) and you'll probably enjoy it, too.

Friday Featured Comic: W.B. Yeats

Check out Kate Beaton's version of "Yeats in Love" from Hark! A Vagrant. Here's a link on Yeats' love poetry, but perhaps most notable (in regards to Beaton's work) is this bit here:
"An influence which undeniably stimulated both his poetic and Irish obsession, was his famed doomed love for the fiery revolutionary Maud Gonne. Gonne, the love of Yeats life, spurned his marriage proposals five times in twenty five years.

"During this period, Yeats' unrequited love drove him both to distraction and some of the most beautiful love poetry ever created. When in 1903 after the fourth rejection she married Major John MacBride, an Irish revolutionary who was later executed by the English, Yeats' lines are unforgettable in his poem 'No Second Troy'...

"'Why should I blame her that she filled my days With misery... / Why, what could she have done, being what she is? / Was there another Troy for her to burn?'"

Poor Yeats.

From Blogs to Books

So, remember that one time when I said I would never even consider publishing my blog?  Apparently I shouldn't have dismissed the prospect so quickly:
  1. Kevin Smith is publishing his podcast/blog under the title, Shooting the S*** with Kevin Smith.
  2. Blog2Print has teamed up with Blogger to allow users to publish their blogs in either paperback or hardback form, depending on how much the user is willing to pay.
... um, no.  I still think it's a stupid idea, for the following two reasons:
  1. I wouldn't read Kevin Smith's podcast/blog-turned-into-a-book if you paid me.
  2. The whole point of a blog is that it's paperless and available on the world wide web.
The idea of publishing a blog just to make money off of the book seems like a step backwards rather than forwards.  In addition, not all blogging is "quality," as you and I well know, and who would want every single post published? Not I, said the fly. Not me, said the flea.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

BREAKING NEWS: Sarah Palin's Book Cover Image Released

... and someone forgot to leave room for the underpaid and obviously unappreciated writer's name.  Ah, well, 'tis the life of the ghostwriter.

Still, the good news is that all over the world, there are millions of underpaid and probably unappreciated writers working on spoofs and parodies of Palin's masterpiece.  And, to be perfectly honest, with a title like Going Rogue: An American Life, none of them will have to work very hard.

September Round-Up

Welcome to my newest brainstorm, the monthly round-up... in crossword puzzle form, of course.  For a full-screen version of the September Round-Up, click here.

For answers to the puzzle, highlight below:

ACROSS: 2 Sea Monsters; 3 Sarah Palin; 5 Jellicle; 6 Eeeee Eee Eeee; 7 Hot; 10 Punctuation; 11 Emoticons; 12 And Tango Makes Three; 14 James Joyce; 15 Buffy. DOWN: 1 Margaret Atwood; 4 Stephenie Meyers; 8 Stitches; 9 Indie lit; 13 Mary.

Craigslist: An Excercise in Futility

Craigslist (in case you didn't know) bites the big one. I recently decided that I wanted to go back to tutoring English (which I did through both high school and college), and as I didn't want to pay 40% for a tutoring company to list my information on-line, I finally determined that I would enter the uncharted waters of Craigslist.

Here's the listing I posted:
English Tutor (Downtown Denver)

I earned my BA in English Literature from UCLA with a GPA of 3.5, and I have 4-5 years of experience tutoring English at both the high school and the college level. I offer reading and writing assistance and have also served as an editor for college admission letters.

Cost is $20 an hour, but I can be somewhat flexible as I remember what it was like to be a poor college student.

Email me if you have any questions.
All I've gotten back is a bunch of nonsense written in horrible English (they could obviously use a tutor, but I'm not much for tutoring scam artists) telling me that _____ lives in the UK and his/her son/daughter will be in Baltimore for three months and ____ would like me to tutor his/her son/daughter four times a week and he/she will arrange for a driver to deliver the son/daughter to my apartment for tutoring. 

Finding it hard to believe that anyone would want to drive from Baltimore to Denver every other day for a $20 tutoring session.  What I can't understand is what these scam artists get from sending out these fake emails.  Is there some kind of fetish for faking responses on Craigslist?  "Scamophilia," perhaps?

(By the way, if anyone has a friend who wants either an English tutor or a proofreader, send 'em my way.  I don't believe I'll be getting anything good from Craigslist.)

Vooks: The Worst Idea in a Loooong Time

vook: a hybrid book which intersperses videos throughout electronic text that can be read — and viewed — online. (New York Times.)

So there are these videos, see, which are actually placed into books so that you can read in between videos, see, so you can better understand what the books are about.  In case you have a hard time imagining things just from written text, see., I hope everyone knows that once upon a time, there were these films, see, which had slides of text placed into the film, see, so you could better understand what the film was about.  In case you had a hard time lip reading, see. 

They were called silent films.  I sometimes wonder what the hell the marketing department at Apple is thinking.

This is Literally a Snark

This is literally one of my biggest pet peeves.  I would swear that literally 95% of people don't know how to use it correctly.  Literally, every time I see the word, I can feel my eyes twitching.  Literally.

Anyway, if that annoyed you, check out Literally, Weblog.  It traces "literally" in all of its media over-use.

Also, here's an interesting piece from Slate: "The Trouble With Literally," which traces the etymological history of the term.

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