Friday, December 31, 2010

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: BAD WRITING Trailer

Here's the listings of screenings of Bad Writing, which looks awesome.   Unfortunately for me, the closest it's coming to Houston is Austin (although who's surprised about that, really?).

The Preponderance of Plot Devices

plot de*vice: (noun) an object or character in a story whose sole purpose is to advance the plot of the story, or alternatively to overcome some difficulty in the plot.  (Wikipedia)

Here's the thing: I have no problem with well-done plot devices in film.  When Indiana Jones' dad got shot in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, forcing Indy into the death trap in search of the Holy Grail, I didn't and still don't bat an eyelash.  Even if it were weak (which some might argue the plethora of Nazis was), it would still only be one weak plot device in an otherwise kickass movie.

Not so with Knight and Day, which I made the mistake of watching recently.  This movie stunk-with-a-capital-S, due, surprisingly enough, not to Diaz's horrible acting but instead to the lousy writing and absolute dependence on recurring lame plot devices.  (SPOILER WARNING, although I doubt anything could spoil a movie that is already the worst movie I've seen since Gothic.)  

THE THIRD WORST PLOT DEVICE I'VE EVER SEEN: Is Roy Miller (Tom Cruise) a bad guy or isn't he?  Follow along with June Havens (Cameron Diaz) as she tries to find out!  (Well, all right, I can't complain about this too much since it played a part in my beloved Princess Bride, but if you're going to go this route, the rest of the movie should be as yummy as Cary Elwes' bare chest in the Pit of Despair.)

THE SECOND WORST PLOT DEVICE I'VE EVER SEEN: In the second half of the movie, June suddenly develops some kind of skill at hand-to-hand fighting (which she's never even hinted at before) in order that she can roll around with Roy in what were undoubtedly meant to be sexual tension-laden scenes but instead induced only near-fatal eye rollings.

THE WORST PLOT DEVICE I'VE EVER SEEN:  Finally, what was unforgivable even to this "please let me suspend disbelief" junkie, throughout the film, Roy Miller drugs June Havens in an effort to (a) move the plot to another continent in a short period of time, and (b) to show brief flickers of dangerous situations without the high cost of special effects.  It came off as lame and cliche, not wry and ironic.

I guess my point is, if you're a Hollywood screenwriter, go easy on the plot devices.  And if you're not a Hollywood screenwriter, don't ever watch Knight and Day.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Not-So-"Literary" But Still Totally Awesome: Sir Ian McKellen on Acting

Review: What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures, by Malcolm Gladwell

When I first picked up Malcolm Gladwell's What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures, I wasn't entirely aware that it was a collection of some of his pieces written for The New Yorker--all I knew was that I had enjoyed Outliers and the woman who worked at the Barnes and Noble said that What the Dog Saw was very popular... note, she didn't say that it was good, she said it was purchased a lot, presumably by people who hadn't yet read it.

That isn't to say that it wasn't good, but as it was a collection of stand-alone pieces over the course of several years, it was a little less organized from a big-picture point of view than I would have liked.  While several of the pieces stood out as particulary interesting (most notably, from my point of view, "Late Bloomers: Why Do We Equate Genius with Precocity?" and "Something Borrowed: Should a Charge of Plagiarism Ruin Your Life?"), there was little in the way of an overarching theme that encompassed every piece in the book, and the So what? factor was lacking.  In addition, I think that the essays in the final section of the book would have served better as an introduction to some of the ideas discussed in the essays in the first section, so that a different order may have been a little more coherent to a reader who was not yet exposed to some of the issues he was discussing.

On the other hand, What the Dog Saw would make excellent airport reading, as each piece stands alone, and the book can be picked up and put down fairly easily with little commitment.  Therefore, depending on what you're hoping to get from your book reading experience, What the Dog Saw will either prove to be perfect or slightly lacking. 

500 Posts!

While 500 posts sounds like a lot of work (and actually is, if you figure at least five minutes a post), what I find interesting about all of this are the top Not-So-Gentle posts of all time:
  1. Friday Featured Comic: The Bronte Sisters: viewed 860 times.

    Say, what?  My top post is a comic by Kate Beaton?  Talk about demeaning.

  2. A Feminist Reading of Cormac McArthy's The Road: viewed 537 times.

    Well, that's a little bit better, especially since this was a post I struggled to write and actually sweated bullets of intellect over.

  3. Review: The Magus, by John Fowles: viewed 348 times.

    I think this goes to show that there isn't really enough out there about The Magus... because I really didn't say anything earth shattering about it.

  4. Killing Time Online: Hot Guys Reading: viewed 161 times.

    Um... yeah.

  5. Dr. Seuss Goes to War: viewed 150 times.

    And... I contributed nothing to this.  Nothing.
I guess these 2057 page views act as a lesson for all of us about page views: mainly, that you can't guarantee that something that is well-written will get you as many page views as putting "dude watching" or "hot guys" in the subject line. Sigh.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: The Illustrated Communist Manifesto

Hey, you commie bastards, check out the comic book trailer for the Illustrated Communist Manifesto.  It is appropriately dramatic and proletariat, comrades.

A Long-Winded Support of Long Sentences

I guess there's something to be said for very long sentences, for complex thoughts and musings in the manner of Victor Hugo or James Joyce, for a stream-of-consciousness type of communication that allows for something more than the "I just pooped" mentality of the modern Tweet, for a way of artistically sculpting the concentration of the reader rather than whipping it to attention in a series of bullet points and numbered and sub-numbered addendums that allow for nothing more than the transmittal of facts and information (much like the scrolling banner at the bottom of the screen that lists dates and numbers while the talking head of whichever corporate media channel you happen to be watching spews punditry and bias based on what the share holders want to hear--but never in sentences longer than seven or nine words, because the average American is at an eighth grade reading level, so God only knows what listening level we're all at) because, as you know or as you should know, facts and information are not at all the same thing as knowledge and understanding, and I really think that School House Rock should have been just a bit more specific when telling American youth that knowledge is power without defining either knowledge or power, so that we watch TV and get statistics from forwarded emails and feel superior and smarter for having "learned" something, when actually all we've done is memorized something from a dubious source; in fact, I bet that most statistics are made up anyway, but I can't cite a source for that, it's just a gut hunch that is probably true (and I trust my gut hunches far more than I do statistics from the news any day of the week and twice on Sundays), and although I'll admit that a long sentence generally forms a formidable block of text that is probably intimidating to someone with an eighth grade reading level, there's something so limiting and final to a period, as though there's nothing more to be added to the sentence (which, as I'm sure you know is defined as "a grammatical unit of one or more words, bearing minimal syntactic relation to the words that precede or follow it, often preceded and followed in speech by pauses, having one of a small number of characteristic intonation patterns, and typically expressing an independent statement, question, request, command, etc.," and has no maximum number of words or characters to be defined as a sentence in the first place, which is really a good thing for Thomas Hardy and Mary Shelley, although it is interesting that it is "followed in speech by pauses," which is really what periods are meant to suggest anyway--they're a pause for breath in between thoughts and musings, not an end to the first thought with the second beginning with a capital letter, with no real connection between them, although anyone who's taken English Comp knows that there has to some kind of flow between them, it's just a matter of determining how much flow (and how strong of a pause for mental breath) there should be, of how much thought should fit between the pauses, and of how much you want your reader to remember... because when faced with six hundred words in a single sentence, the only thing your reader is likely to remember is thinking, "Uh oh."

Wednesday Dog Ears

This week's Dog Ears feature a crowdsourcing project I might actually be able to get behind, as well as yet another example of a book deal gone horribly wrong:

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Killing Time Online:

A-ha!  I should have known Malcolm Gladwell would have blog.  I looooove the internet.

The Myth of Genius and Youth

As some of you may know, I find the cultural assumptions surrounding the idea of genius to be fascinating--what we think about the appearance of genius, what we assume about it, and who we think has it.  Therefore, I was predisposed to enjoy Malcolm Gladwell's "Late Bloomers: Why Do We Equate Genius with Precocity?"

Gladwell explores the difference between early-onset genius and late blooming genius, noting,  "Genius, in the popular conception, is inextricably tied up with precocity--doing something truly creative, we're inclined to think, requires the freshness and exuberance of youth."  When we think of genius, we imagine Beethoven publishing his first composition at 13, or John Keats, whose poetry was published at age 21. 

Gladwell, however, points out that this is just one type of "genius,"   referencing David Galenson's work, a University of Chicago economist, who polled literary scholars to find out which poems were, in their opinions, most important to American literary canon.  Galenson then traced how old the poets were when those poems were created.  He found no connection between the "best" poems and youth, instead defining two types of creativity: conceptual (in which a person immediately finds his or her own particular brand of genius) and experimental (in which a person experiments for years and years before finally "discovering" this genius).

What gives me (and probably anyone else who has ever aspired to create something new and fresh) both hope and a bit of consternation, however, is this: "On the road to great achievement, the late bloomer will resemble a failure: while the late bloomer is revisiting and despairing and changing course and slashing canvases to ribbons after months or years, what he or she produces will look like the kind of thing produced by the artist who will never bloom at all."  It is only by putting in years of hard work that one can discover he or she is just spinning the wheels of creativity, or whether discovery is just around the corner.

It kind of makes me wish I was still working on my various novels.  I'm never going to discover my genius without them.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Hardback Laptops

Hey, you!  Want a cool book cover for your MacBook or iPad ?  Here you go.

(Unfortunately I'm not hip enough to own a MacBook, but I'm sorely tempted to get one for my Vaio, despite the lack of a guarantee.)

Sunday, December 26, 2010


It's not often you find Chaucer-era jokes in today's culture of reality TV and plastic surgery, so even though this isn't technically literary, I'm still stealing it.

Google Analytics is a Girl's Best Friend, Part II

Just for shits and giggles, here are some of the search engine keywords which have brought viewers to Not-So-Gentle Reader over the last month, in no particular order.  I think stuff like this is so interesting...
1)  "dickens galveston disappointed steampunk"

You mean I'm not the only one who was disappointed in Dickens on the Strand this year?  What a shocker.

2) "feynman diagram of geeks and nerds"

Unfortunately for whoever performed this search, I've written about both Feynman and geeks and nerds, but never in the same post...until now.  (If that person searches again, s/he is bound to get doubly irritated now.)

3) "gentle drinking game"

If that person was really looking for a "gentle" drinking game, s/he was probably a little put-off by the not-so-gentle rules s/he found here.

4) "review the servant james hunter"

I hope to God this was James C. Hunter googling himself, because he can suck it.

5)  "prose hos"

I never did have much to say about this, but I think the urban dictionary definition is kind of funny: "The choice of the written word over the lowliest ho."

Friday, December 24, 2010

Review: The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, by Lewis Hyde

I was intrigued when I stumbled across Lewis Hyde's The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World  the other day; it sounded like just my cup of tea, and the blurbs by David Foster Wallace and Margaret Atwood on the front cover were even more alluring.

The book started off strongly, telling me what it would tell me and promising to explore the relationship between the creation of art and the world of commerce--as well as, more aptly in my case, the creation of art that is not appreciated by the world of commerce.

Unfortunately, the book never quite measured up to how awesome I thought it should be--Lewis completely drops the thesis of "art vs. commerce, eros vs. logos" and instead explores the ideas of gifts throughout world cultures, using folklore and fairy tales as his primary source of citation.  While this may be interesting in its own right, I was in no mood to read about usury in the Old Testament and eventually skipped straight to the second half of the book.

The introduction to the second half hinted at what I wanted to read about, and provided some good food-for-thought, but then jumped into an entire chapter on Walt Whitman, followed by a chapter on Ezra Pound, diving, in my opinion, too deep into these two artists' views on the subject and not spending enough time on the views of other writers and artists. 

The conclusion of the novel loops back around and ties back into the ideas that initially attracted to me, but by this point I was so fed up with Lewis' teasing that I had given up all hope for the novel.  I am incredibly disappointed.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Shameless Shilling of Product Placement in Novels (and Literary Blogs)

I may be the only person in North America and Europe who hasn't yet read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, so I wasn't previously aware of how heavily Apple product placement featured in Stieg Larsen's series--in fact, I had never heard of product placement in novels before a couple of days ago.  Seriously, what the hell is this:
"Unsurprisingly she set her sights on the best available alternative: the new Apple PowerBook G4/1.0 GHz in an aluminum case with a PowerPC 7451 processor with an AltiVec Velocity Engine, 960 MB RAM and a 60 GB hard drive. It had BlueTooth and built-in CD and DVD burners.
Best of all, it had the first 17-inch screen in the laptop world with NVIDIA graphics and a resolution of 1440 x 900 pixels, which shook the PC advocates and outranked everything else on the market.
In terms of hardware, it was the Rolls-Royce of portable computers, but what really triggered Salander’s need to have it was the simple feature that the keyboard was equipped with backlighting, so that she could see the letters even if it was pitch dark. So simple. Why had no-one thought of that before?
It was love at first sight."
Am I the only person who is completely turned off by this crap?  Yes?  Then expect more of it in the future from yours truly.  I need to make some moolah.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wednesday Dog Ears

For some reason, this week's Dog Ears are kind of depressing me.  Of course, that could be because this is the last week before I fly home for Christmas and it's draaaaaagging.

Killing Time Online: Spelling Fails

Bored?  Then check out Spelling Fails and get the opportunity to feel superior, which is one of my favorite feelings in the world.

I kid, I kid.  But seriously.  Check it out.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

'Tis the Season to Write a Shitload of Lists

Happy Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, (late) Hanukkah, and New Year! 

It's that time of year again when respected publications like The New York Times and NPR spit out lists about the best books of the year, and readers like me (and maybe even you) look over their numbers and feel inadequate because I (and maybe you) never quite got around to reading any of them.

Here's the list of problems I've decided I have with lists like these:
  • In order for me to believe them, they have to be written by someone who has read every book that came out this year, which I find difficult to believe;
  • The lists don't define what "best" means, which is frustrating for those of us who haven't read any of them and maybe haven't even heard of some of them and are trying to decide which one of them to pick up;
  • Too often the list includes fiction and nonfiction, which is like comparing apples and oranges; and
  • They annoy me.
I won't be writing any more Not-So-Gentle Reader  lists anytime soon.  I do so hate to annoy people.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Why I Don't Read Mystery Novels

"You've tricked and fooled your readers for years. You've tortured us all with surprise endings that made no sense. You've introduced characters in the last five pages that were never in the book before. You've withheld clues and information that made it impossible for us to guess who did it." 
                    --Lionel Twain, Murder by Death (1976)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Not-So-Gentle (Re)Viewer: Angela's Ashes (1999)

"When I look back on my childhood, I wonder how my brothers and I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood. The happy childhood is hardly worth telling. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood. And worse still is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood."

The interesting thing about Alan Parker's adaptation of Angela's Ashes is that, while it manages to stay incredibly true to Frank McCourt's autobiography, it isn't nearly as depressing. 

The film is beautiful and the actors are awesome, so let me get that out of the way right now.  What I was particularly interested in was the difference in the general tone of the movie.  When reading the book, one of the things that struck me most was an overwhelming sense of isolation--Frankie was different than the kids around him, smart and driven in a way that his schoolmates didn't seem to be,  He started work at 13, a heavy burden for a prepubescent, and he left his mother's house to move in with an uncle who had no food to spare.  Maybe I was reading too much into it, but the whole book seemed to me to be incredibly lonely.

Not so with the film.  It captures the same too-many-kids, too-little-money problems, but Frankie is anything but alone.  Throughout the film, he is generally surrounded by friends or schoolmates, as well as his younger brother Malachy.  If anything, there are too many people rather than too few, and Frankie's differences make him stand out from the crowd rather than being singled out more than anyone else. 

With this tapestry as the background, then, the myriad deaths and illnesses appear more to be obstacles to be surmounted rather than God smacking Frank around, which was how I read it in the book.  The movie somehow manages to be about survival and is ultimately uplifting.   Add that to McCourt's lyrical language (which comes across superbly on film), and this is a movie I would highly recommend.  It was so good that now I want to go back and re-read the novel, something six months ago I would have sworn I would never do.

You should watch this.

The State of Current Affairs in the State of Texas

I have one word for you: aaaaaaaah!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Thousand Words is Worth a Picture

This is what happens when it takes you a year to read a book because it's 700 pages long and you carry it with you everywhere you go. 

Note: I have never trashed a book before, and I hope to never again.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Cult of Jane Austen

This weekend, I finally got around to watching The Jane Austen Book Club, a 2007 film based on the 2004 novel of the same name.  Let me preface this by saying my expectations weren't high--from what I remembered of the trailers, the movie promised to be chicklit desperately clinging to Jane Austen's pettycoats.  I regret to report that this is exactly what it was.

I love reading Jane Austen.  I have marked up my copies of Persuasion and Sene and Sensibility, and there's something so comforting about watching Colin Firth play Mr. Darcy on a rainy afternoon.  However... I find it hard to believe that every conversation these women had over the course of six months revolved around Jane Austen's novels.  I could not suspend disbelief long enough to tolerate the idea of Persuasion saving a doomed marriage.  I shuddered when the words "What Would Jane Do?" flashed across the screen in an epiphany for one of the characters.

"What Would Jane Do?"  Really?

The Complete Works of Jane Austen is not the Bible.  While the novels do provide a certain guidance on appropriate behavior for women, they do not impart deep life lessons.  I've often argued that Austen includes more social commentary than many would give her credit for, but I have never even thought that a person should base all of his or her decisions on Emma or Mansfield Park.  Why not?  Because that's not the point or her work.

To me, reading Jane Austen is like eating organic apple sauce.  It tastes good without being too sweet, it's good for me, and I could eat it all day.  It is not, however, Holy Communion.  Why can't there be a middle ground when we talk about this stuff?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Litvlog Sing Along: To a Sky-Lark

Here's the newest of Not-So-Gentle Reader's litvlog sing alongs, this one inspired by the Shelley's Ghost video competition.  If you want to make your own video entry, the competition will be open until March.

Needless to say, I didn't write the lyrics to this one.

Review: Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell

My brother recommended this book to me, and while I was a little hesitant to pick it up (because fiction is much more my style, generally), I can't say enough good things about this book.  Seriously.  Speaking as someone who is finding herself having to read "professional" nonfiction, Gladwell is an excellent writer with the uncanny ability to tie statistics to stories to make an easy and interesting read.

In Outliers: The Story of Success, Gladwell seeks to understand why some people are successful.  Americans have long bought into the rags-to-riches story of personal success, i.e. "I worked hard and made it in the real world."  While Gladwell doesn't discount the idea of hard work = success, he does find that all too often, it is the set of circumstances behind a person that has just as much of an influence on his/her success in a given field.

For example, Bill Gates is brilliant and worked hard and is now a zillionaire.  No one would argue with that.  What some poeple might not realize, however, is that Gates had an early exposure to software development that paved the way for him to become an expert at programming when he was still a teenager, an exposure that had as much to do with his success as his work ethic and brains. 

The book is filled with examples of how circumstances dictate success--the old, "Luck is opportunity meeting preparation" adage springs often to mind.  The only (minor) complaint I have about Outliers is about the "so what" factor.  From what I understand, a log of Gladwell's other work is psychological in nature with a dash of self-help.  Outliers is much more political in nature, pointing out that where kids go to school can have everything to do with their success in life--but it stops just short of being a manifesto.  He doesn't call for reformation so much as point out that inadequacies exist, and some might say he's just giving fodder to those chip-on-the-shoulder individuals who might read it.

Still, it's an excellent read, even for those of you who, like me, generally prefer fiction.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Short Short Review: Middlemarch, by George Eliot

Did I mention that I finally finished Middlemarch?  Probably not, because I was waiting until I had something valuable to say about it, but it's been two months and I still have nothing to add other than thank God that's over.  I've written before about how long it was taking me to read it, and that was over a year ago. 

Awesome book, but it really could have been trimmed significantly.  Hence the fireworks:

Litvlog Sing Alongs: historyteachers on youtube

A-ha!  I have at last found another example of litvlog singalongs online.  Check out the youtube channel for historyteachers, which has 48 different music videos exploring different parts of history, which they describe as being "Music videos we made to make teaching history more fun."  (Obviously not all of them are literary, but enough of them are to be well worth checking out even if you're not a history buff.)

What makes them noteworthy, though, is that (a) the videos are incredibly well made; and (b) the videos are all pretty different from each other.

I freaking love this kind of stuff. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Ye Olde Wednesday Dog Ears

For old times' sake (and by "old times," I mean like six months ago,) here are Ye Olde Dog Ears:

  • The New York Times reports that researchers at George Mason University are "Analyzing [Victorian] Literature by Words and Numbers."  What I found most interesting about the article (apart from some of the findings, of course) was that the two researchers in question are historians of science--it's yet another example of science leading to history leading to literature leading to computer programming leading to awesome!
  • I know the Romantics =/= Victorian, but there's a really cool virtual exhibition of Shelley's Ghost: Reshaping the Image of a Literary Family, an exhibition at the Bodleian Library (collaborating with the New York Public Library).  So jealous I can't go to the real exhibit, because I would be able to die happy on the spot, but the site does an excellent job tracing the relationships of Godwin, Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley, and Percy Shelley.
  • Finally, here's part one of one of my favorite Victorian Christmas specials ever, Blackadder's Christmas Carol, in which the nicest man in all of England receives ghostly visitations that convince him that it's ultimately better to be naughty:

Monday, December 6, 2010

Dickens on the Strand: The Most Disappointing Victorian-Themed Festival I've Ever Been To

... all right, so it's the only Victorian-themed festival I've ever been to, but this weekend's Dickens on the Strand in Galveston was so much less than I thought it would be in so many ways.

I've never been that much a Dickens fan, anyway, having always considered myself a Hardy Girl.  (Pun intended, Hardy har har.  Oh, and that one was intended too.)  When I heard that there would be a two-day festival in Galveston, though, I was intrigued despite myself and talked a friend into going with me.

The "festival," if it can be called that, was basically a bunch of vendors from the Renaissance Faire (and I mean straight from the Renaissance Faire, down to the dragon necklaces) interspersed between vendors from the carnival (and I mean straight from the carnival, down to the funnel cakes).  While there were some people in costume, about a third of them were in costumes from an entirely different era in history--the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, for the most part. 

The Confederate army (including tents and horses) was there recruiting for God knows what battle reenactment,(correct time period, wrong continent).  There were cowboys and pirates that made the Steampunk section look positively historically accurate, to the point that I had to wonder how many people at the Dickens fair actually knew anything about the man of the hour. 

The only redeeming factor of the day was when we wandered into an antique store and I found a used book on Byron and Shelley's time in Pisa... and, yes, I know that Charles Dickens was only about seven years old in 1819 so even that wasn't particularly Victorian.  However, I comfort myself with the fact that, had he been there, C.L. Cline (author of Byron, Shelley, and Their Pisan Circle) would probably have been complaining about the historical inaccuracies right along side of me... because I'm sure I annoyed my hapless friend, who probably regretted his decision to come in the first place.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Killing Time Online: Alikewise

Has anyone else heard about the literary dating website, I am soooooooo tempted to join this site, if only to get some cool penpals.  And yes, I know that having a shared interest in anything (including books) is no guarantee of compatability, but hot damn it can't hurt.

(Although even a quick perusal of the site does turn up some douchetastic quotations, but hey, win some, lose some.)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Technical Writing in Corporate America

As I'm approaching the six-month mark of my foray into technical writing, I thought I'd share with you the wisdom I've gathered thus far.  (See image to the left--that might look like a cubicle wall, but it's actually a growing wall of wisdom and all-around smart-ness.)

To be honest, I didn't know quite what to expect when the proverbial "they" offered me the position.  Would I be writing user manuals?  Would I be designing little stickers that said "Press Here"?  I wasn't sure one way or the other, but I did know that I was (a) underemployed at the time, and (b) interested in a position with the word "writer" in it somewhere.  So I packed up my books and my cat and moved 1200 miles to Houston, TX, the center of the American energy industry.

Yet More Proof That All Parents Are Screwing Up Their Children One Book At A Time

I don't really have much to say about the declining popularity of children's picture books other than this: my mom used to buy me clothes that were three sizes too big so that I could wear them for a while.  When I buy books for kids, I generally go at least one level up so that they'll be able to grow into them.  I don't really want to pay good money for a Dick and Jane book that the kid's going to outgrow in a week, anyway.  In addition, I was reading chapter books by the time I was in first grade, so I don't really see a problem with it.

On the other hand, picture books can be freaking awesome.

Either way, parents will be accused of ruining their childrens' lives, so it's kind of a lose/lose.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wednesday Dog Ears

This week's Dog Ear's feature a psych-out from The Paris Review as well as an explanation for the mumbo jumbo blurbs on the back of books:
  • Hey, kid, want to have your poetry published by The Paris Review?  Well, today's your lucky day!  Oh, wait, no, it's not.
  • And for all you Kafka fans: "Box with Kafka manuscript to be opened to the public."  (By the way, the "manuscripts" are not unfinished novels, they're letters and and other equally non-novelly things. I think I must be one of the few people who isn't all that interested in reading things by famous people that were never intended for publication... oh, except for the poetry of Emily Dickinson, of course... oh, and Joyce's letters to his wife, obviously.  Anything to get me through the long cold Houston nights.  (I kid, I kid, but seriously: knowing more about an author's inner thoughts doesn't discount or increase the impact of his work.  I shall now step down from my virtual soapbox.)
  • Check out Robert McCrum's "Blubs Fail Me" from The Guardian to see what those blurbs on the back of the book really mean.  (And, yes, I know I'm about four years late to this one, but it's still worth reading.)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Short Review: The Road (2009)

I originally had no intention of watching this movie, because after reading the book I was pretty sure watching a film version would be a lot like emotional self-flagellation.  I was therefore a bit surprised at myself when I did decide to watch it.

The film, directed by John Hilcoat, is everything an apocalyptic film should be in a cinematic sense--dark and barren landscapes emphasize the struggles of the characters.  Viggo Mortensen does a superb job of portraying a man whose sole concern is the well-being of his child in the face of a dying planet.  Kodi Smit-McPhee plays the man's son and is absolutely fantastic, especially considering he is an Australian performing with an American accent throughout the whole film.  In fact, the entire production is incredibly true to the novel in most respects, although the mother (Charlize Theron) plays a much more prominent role than she does in the book.

There are cannibals and calamites and Coca Cola.  I would highly recomend this film. 

Go Galt or Shut Up

Did anyone else see the article on Wired, "Man Scrawls World's Biggest Message With GPS 'Pen'"?  Nick Newcomen, the gentleman who created the GPS message, said, "The main reason I did it is because I am an Ayn Rand fan. [...] In my opinion if more people would read her books and take her ideas seriously, the country and world would be a better place — freer, more prosperous and we would have a more optimistic view of the future.”  Umm, okay, but if you're driving on publically-funded highways to scrawl your Objectivist message, isn't your point lost just a little bit?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Friday Featured Comic: xkcd

So sad, and so true.

Posts from Last Night

... or, Why I Keep Coming Back to Facebook Even Though it is Generally Filled with Mindless Drivel and Status Updates that Include Geographical Location like "At Pottery Barn."  Thanks for the pick-me-up, Homero!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Not-So-Gentle (Re)Viewer: Jane Campion's Bright Star (2009)

I have been wanting to see Jane Campion's Bright Star since I first heard it would be released, although I hesitated to pay movie theatre prices to go to it. Bright Star tells the story of John Keats' final months, and his relationship with Fanny Brawne, and manages to remain fairly historically accurate.

Now, for those of you who don't know, Keats is among my favorite of the Romantic poets, in part because of his tragic end, and I've read (some of) the letters between Brawne and Keats, and even reading a fairly dry biography of Fanny is enough to make me sigh out loud.  That being said, this movie was just painful to watch.  Part of this is due to the fact that Fanny is portrayed as incredibly silly and, perhaps, not as serious about Keats as he is about her, yet every single scene of the movie is imbued with the uber-sober indie film feel.  Every. Single. Scene.  Despite the fact that the movie is from her point of view and not Keats'.  How can a character be frivolous and shallow, while at the same time encouraging fraught moments of silence and sweeping cinematography?

I was also unconvinced by the on-screen relatinship between the actors playing Keats (Ben Wishaw) and Fanny (Abbie Cornish), and the dialogue was incredibly boring.  Incredibly.  I cannot in good conscience recommend this film.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Casual Conversations: Writing in Books on Planes

Flying from Houston to Denver for some meetings earlier this week, I made a single-serving friend based purely on the fact that he was reading a book.  Well, it was a bit more than that, actually--the first thing I noticed was not that this gentleman was reading a book so much as he was writing in a book, something I very rarely see in the world outside academia.  (In fact, I stopped writing in the books I read about six months ago, after I ran through the ink of two entire pens reading three-quarters of Middlemarch.  Damn that George Eliot.) 

As if that weren't enough, the gentleman (who was probably in his fifties or early sixties) was reading a book by David Foster Wallace, something I very rarely see in the world outside the literati online.  Reading David Foster Wallace and taking part in the rarely-used art of marginalia?  Awesome.

... actually, that's about as interesting as this story is going to get, I'm afraid, although the gentleman did tell me his daughter studied under Wallace before his suicide.  I guess this shows just how easily entertained I am.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Booze and Books: A Literary Drinking Game

I meant to write about this before, but pretending to be a grown up got in the way.  Now that that's over (thank goodness), I can post and snigger about Jezebel's piece, "Drink 'Til He's Witty: The Reader's Drinking Game."  (I will point out that I made up my own literary drinking game many moons ago, but I can't actually recommend anyone read that book.)

Anyway, this has inspired me to make up a few more of my own:
Ayn Rand: Drink anytime there's rough sex.
Cormac McCarthy: Drink anytime the characters would probably be better off dead.
Frank McCourt: Drink anytime anyone coughs up blood or has a baby.
Jack Kerouac: Drink anytime anyone drinks.
J.K. Rowling: Drink anytime Harry says no one understands how he feels.
Plato: Drink anytime Socrates makes a bunch of people see that he's right and they're wrong, he's a genius and they're all idiots. 
Stephenie Meyer: Drink anytime you see the words "beautiful" or "angry."
Thomas Hardy: Drink anytime one sentence makes up an entire paragraph.
(Interested in buying the shot glasses in the picture above? Here you go.)

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: Jane Austen's Fight Club (2010)

This. Is. AWESOME.

(I will say that the non-period costumes kind of bothered me, but that's my only complaint.  Anyway, watch it.)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Review: The Unnamed, by Joshua Ferris

I've been looking forward to reading Joshua Ferris' latest novel since I first got it at a book signing in February.  I loved Ferris' first novel, Then We Came to the End, and I'm not too proud to admit to a having developed a bit of an intellectual crush on him, due in part to the fact that I'm generally surrounded by television-obsessed engineers.  It was for this reason that I waited so long to finally pick The Unnamed back up--I wanted to be in a frame of mind that would allow me to both enjoy and think about what I was sure would be another great read.  Don't get me wrong--it's not not a decent read, but my anticipation was such that once I finished the novel, I had a general reaction of, "Huh." 

Friday, July 23, 2010

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: Sassy Gay Friend: Eve (2010)

Need a pick-me-up?  Here's the latest "Sassy Gay Friend," this time featuring Adam and Eve just before the Fall from Paradise.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Casual Conversations: In Which Lindsay-with-an-A Looks Like an Idiot

Having shared the story of my cool boss making a bunch of interns sit through a Shakespeare speech, I feel it only right to share the conversation I had with one of them directly afterwards.  I also feel it only right to point out that it's very rare that I get to actually use any of the knowledge I picked up from my years in literature courses.
Intern: "What kind of speech is that, anyway?"
Me [eager to share some of the knowledge for which I paid thousands of dollars, and preening just a little bit]: "Early Modern English."
Intern [before I get the chance to tell him the difference between Old, Middle, and Modern English]: "No, I mean.... what kind of speech is that?  I know there's a name for one of those come-on-guys-we-can-do-it speeches, but I don't remember what it is."
Me [seriously deflated]: "Oh.  Uh... motivational monologue?"
Intern: "Huh."
There was an uncomfortable silence at the entire table for about three seconds until I burst out laughing, which gave everyone else the permission to laugh out loud, as well (since they were all laughing in their heads, anyway).  I think it's safe to say that my reputation as a nerd is both well-deserved and now reinforced at work. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: Henry V (1989)

It's very rare that I see any references to Shakespeare in "real life," so when I do I get a warm fuzzy feeling all over.  To give a little background, the company for which I work has a very robust intern program, which I volunteered to help support in my own department.  My boss was giving a presentation to all 60+ interns about one of the company's core values, which just happened to be "People and Passion," something he belives in very strongly (which is incredibly lucky for me). 

Anyway, to help prove his point about people and passion to a bunch of science-and-math students, he decided to enlist the help of the Bard and show them a clip from Kenneth Branagh's Henry V.  He asked me beforehand if he thought they would be open to it, and while I might not have been the best subject for an unbiased poll, I said yes.

To be honest, I had never seen or read Henry V before, so it was interesting to see where "we few, we happy few, we band of brothers," first came from.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Wednesday Dog Ears

This week's Dog Ears feature what seems like the most boring video game ever made as well as another venture in crowdfunding:
  • So when I said I thought the idea of video games based on books was cool, I didn't mean books like The Great Gatsby: "The Great Gatsby, Now a Video Game."  SPOILER ALERT: Unless I get to be the driver of the car that mows down Daisy at the end, I really don't think I'd want to play.  (via Book Ninja)
  • Find out "Which Dystopian Future is Right for You" by taking Flavorwire's quiz. I scored mostly E's, which means Cormac McCarthy's The Road is right for me. It's just me and my shopping cart.  (via The Millions)
  • Gary Shteyngart of The New York Times writes about the impact that our "techno-fugue" state has on our ability to connect to the world around us in meaninful ways in "Only Disconnect."  (He's not wrong.  I have to mute my BlackBerry and hide it in order to get anything done that requires more than two minutes' attention.)
  • If you want to read more about connectedness (is that a word?), check out Laurie Winer's review of Hamlet's BlackBerry.  Did anyone else not know that PAPER : SOCRATES :: SMARTPHONES : SCHTEYNGART?  I might actually have to check this one out...
  • Find out which literary giant you kind of but don't really write like at "I Write Like."  My results came back with Kurt Vonnegut, whom I've really been meaning to read but haven't quite gotten around to yet. (via The A.V. Club)
  • Kathleen Alcott's piece, "From Shrinking Solid to Expanding Gas: The Writing Life" at The Rumpus is absolutely beautiful.  Read it.
  • Crowdfunding is rearing its head again, this time in France and by an organization rather than a starving artist: "'Crowdfunding' for French Books."

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Litvlog Sing Along: Frank, You're a Long Way From Ireland (Angela's Ashes)

Having recently finished Angela's Ashes, by Frank McCourt, I couldn't come up with anything to say except, "Wow."  The story, for those of you who haven't read it, is one of uninterrupted pain and affliction.  However, I wasn't sure of the best format to display my "wow" until I saw "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" (I know, I'm incredibly behind the curve on that one), and decided to make a musical litvlog (literary video web log).

Having said that, please understand that this video is a joke.  (For some reason, I'm having visions of rabid Frank McCourt fans pouring an ungodly rain of fury over my head in the form of angry comments.)  The man was his generation's Joyce (if that's a compliment), he was a beautiful and lyrical writer, and he managed to show the humor in some incredibly unpleasant situations.  That said, this video is just highlighting those unpleasant situations.

(Also, I know McCourt is "a long way from Ireland" because he passed away a year ago today.  Work with me here.)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Reading in Real Life

So for the past two months or so, I've been struggling to read--with my new writing-intensive career, I'm finding it difficult to go home and stare at a page covered in words of more-than-three-syllables in my free time.  Same goes for blogging (obviously, with the distinct lack of posts here since May).   I've always been of the "average Americans don't read enough, by which I mean they don't read as much as me" party, but it seems average Americans are rapidly catching up.

I guess I should be more specific--I've been reading (fluffy books, for the most part), but I haven't been able to force myself to think about them.  Enter this article from Scientific American, which I think holds true for thinking, as well as talking: "Skip the Small Talk: Meaningful Conversations Linked to Happier People."  Thinking about books (and, by extension, "life, the universe, and everything") has generally been a hobby of mine, something that I haven't been practicing in recent weeks.  

I guess my point is, despite being fulfilled at work (which I never really thought would happen) I'm now brain-dead after work and am possibly becoming dumber. 

Friday, June 18, 2010

Friday Featurd Comic: xkcd

I'm an on-again, off-again fan of xkcd (it's funny, but the artwork is beyond pathetic).  Still, this one made me laugh out loud, and I was at work in a cubicle at the time, so you know it has to be good.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Wednesday Dog Ears

This week's Dog Ears range include Jack Black's rendition of Jonathan Swift as well as an argument as to why there is no Jewish Narnia:
  • Am I the only one who didn't know that Jack Black is doing a film version of Gulliver's TravelsAnd am I also the only one who's at least a little bit excited?  (Jack Black is one of my guilty pleasures.  So sue me.)   
  • I'm guessing everyone's already seen this (because I've become such a cultural pariah lately that if I've heard of something on MTV, then your grandma's already heard of it, quoted it, tweeted it, and blogged about it).  Still, the NY Times title, "Harry Potter Trailer Out-Twilights Twilight," cracks me up.
  • Aaargh, matey, "Piracy May Not Affect Revenue, Says New Report."  What I find curious is that the report is actually about music revenue and not books, but even more curious is the fact that I don't know anyone who pirates books.  There are these great places called libraries that make effort like that completely superfluous. 
  • And in more evidence that sales will flourish despite online availability, "The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner, Stephenie Meyer's new Twilight book, tops charts after one day," despite being available for free online.  There's no telling what people are willing to spend money on, obviously.
  • Michael Weingrad of The Jewish Review of Books explains "Why There Is No Jewish Narnia" in a really interesting article that you should read.  Seriously.  I love this kind of stuff.  One of the more adroit selections:
"To put it crudely, if Christianity is a fantasy religion, then Judaism is a science fiction religion. If the former is individualistic, magical, and salvationist, the latter is collective, technical, and this-worldly. Judaism’s divine drama is connected with a specific people in a specific place within a specific history. Its halakhic core is not, I think, convincingly represented in fantasy allegory. In its rabbinic elaboration, even the messianic idea is shorn of its mythic and apocalyptic potential. Whereas fantasy grows naturally out of Christian soil, Judaism’s more adamant separation from myth and magic render classic elements of the fantasy genre undeveloped or suspect in the Jewish imaginative tradition. "
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