Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Wednesday Dog Ears

This week's "Dog Ears" follow famous literary drunks as well as a 106-year-old woman who reminisces about Kafka (who she describes as "a slightly strange man"):
  • Here's a collection of "Famous Literary Drunks and Addicts" from Life... as though any of us are surprised that writers tend to have problems like alcoholism.  (Although I'll admit that I was surprised Louisa May Alcott was on the list.)
  • If you order a lot of books from Amazon, TechCrunch has found out that an "Amazon Promotion Tempts Book Lovers With Free Kindles".... sort of.  Apparently I don't qualify, though, because I don't see anything about money back guarantees.
  • "Merchandising, merchandising. Where the real money from the movie is made. Twilight the T-shirt. Twilight the lunchbox. Twilight the coloring book. Twilight the graphic novel! Kids love it."
  • Over at the Spectator, Susan Hill writes, "No, amatuers are not 'Just as Good as...'" to protest being asked to publish something alongside mere amatuers.
  • Jacob Lambert, of The Millions, has written "The Road: A Comedic Translation." 
  • Ofer Aderet has written "'I Look at the Good'" at Haaretz, about Alice Herz-Sommer, the last living person who knew Franz Kafka personally.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Not-So-Gentle (Re)Viewer: Blackadder 3 (1987)

Samuel Johnson: "I hope, sir, that you are not using the world's first dictionary to look up rude words!"
Edmund Blackadder: "I wouldn't be so hopeful.  That's what all the others will be used for."

Rowan Atkinson continues his hysterical performance as the newest in the Blackadder line, now relegated to the role of butler for Prince George (Hugh Laurie).  The writing of this season is superb, and several of the episodes are amongst my favorite of the entire show.

Though Blackadder 3 is far from historically accurate, it has enough cultural references as to make it ever-entertaining.  In addition to Dr. Johnson*, many other "literary" figures make appearances through out the season: Byron, Coleridge, and Shelley (of whom Blackadder says, "There's nothing intellectual about wandering around Italy in a big shirt trying to get laid."); the Scarlet Pimpernel ("The biggest show-off in Europe,"); and even actors who shudder at the name of "the Scottish play."

Check it out.

Not-So-Gentle (Re)Viewer: Sherlock Holmes (2009)

I finally got a chance to see Sherlock Holmes this weekend, though I've been wanting to see it since it came out last month.  Directed by Guy Ritchie, the movie follows Sherlock Holmes (portrayed brilliantly by Robert Downey Jr.) and Doctor Watson (Jude Law) as they track a murderous cult / criminal ring.

Speaking as someone who would not describe herself as a "fan" of Sherlock Holmes, but who has read enough of Doyle's stories to be familiar with the characters of both Holmes and Watson, the screenplay was incredibly true to the stories.  Law put just the right amount of exasperation into his portrayal of Watson, while Downey played the idiosyncratic genius that is Holmes to the hilt.  (While Holmes' drug use was alluded to briefly, it was not emphasized, which I'm sure has some purists up in arms.)  Other than one brief foray into religion, nothing stood out to me as being out of character for either man.

The female parts of the movie were far less thrilling.  I found Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) to be rather two-dimensional, and Watson's fiance felt like a plot device thrown into the mix only to prove that Watson and Holmes are burly heterosexuals.  (Speaking of the "gay Holmes" rumors, I will say only this: there's a difference between homosocial and homosexual.)

Unless you're a huge fan of the books and will hate any film adaptation, I would recommend this movie just because it was so fun to watch.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Happy Burns Day!

First, I'll admit that I didn't know there was such a thing as Burns Day until quite recently.  However, lo and behold, January 25th is Scotland's day to celebrate its beloved poet, Robert Burns.  So eat, drink, and read lots and lots of Scottish poetry!

Incidentally, the traditional Burns Supper includes Burns' poetry, whiskey (obviously), and haggis.  For those of you who are, like me, in the US, rest assured that you may actually get to eat haggis some day as the "US [is] to lift 21-year ban on haggis." 

With that, I'll leave you with "Ode to a Haggis":

Romantics Online

And I'm not talking about a dating service.

For those of you who love the Romantics as much as I do, The Guardian is having a Romantic poetry series this week featuring:
a selection of the poets' finest works, [...] excerpts from their personal correspondence and a foreword from a modern-day admirer, with Christopher Hitchens championing Percy Bysshe Shelley, Margaret Drabble on William Wordsworth and Don Paterson writing in praise of Robert Burns.  [In addition,] you can listen to readings of the featured poet's poems, join our daily discussions of their seminal works with the books blog's poet-in-residence, Carol Rumens, and download this week's books podcast, in which literary editor Claire Armitstead talks to Andrew Motion and the series editor, Nicholas Wroe, about the Romantics' legacy.
It's only Monday, and there's already all kinds of really cool stuff posted.  Check it out.  You'll be so glad you did.

And may I say, this just made my day--or, more accurately, my week.  I freaking love the internet.

Review: Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris

"We asked him what it was about. 'Work,' he replied. A small, angry book about work. Now there was a guaranteed best seller. There was a fun read on the beach. We suggested alternative topics on subjects that mattered to us. 'But those don't interest me,' he said. 'The fact that we spend most of our lives at work, that interests me.'"

While Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris, has been heavily marketed as "Very funny" (USA Today), "Hilarious in a Catch-22 way," (Stephen King), and a "successful comedy" (Jim Shephard),  it should be noted that the novel is much more than Office Space in prose form.

Then We Came to the End follows a group of coworkers employed by a failing ad agency in 2000,  post-dot-com-bubble-burst and pre-September-11th.  Written from a third-person collective point of view, Ferris emphasizes the group mentality in the corporate world, the sense of belonging to a larger, more important group.  While the story is ostensibly about "work," however, it soon becomes clear that it is in fact more about the relationships that form between people in the workplace, about the effect that work has on the individual.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Weekend Bookend

Because there have been so many interesting tidbits in the news, I bring you "Weekend Bookend."  Don't get used to it.  This week, we discovered that Bloomsbury is having a hell of a PR week, and The New York Times is apparantly strapped for cash:
  • Is Bloomsbury run by a bunch of racists, or do they just not tell the cover artists what the book is actually about?
  • For those of you who find it difficult to tell others how you really feel, there's now SarcMark.
  • Dave Itzkoff of The New York Times explores the copywrite issues surrounding the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in "For the Heirs to Sherlock Holmes, A Tangled Web."  Stories like this make me (almost) glad I'm only related to poor people.
  • Here's a recording of Christopher Walken reciting "The Raven," by Edgar Allan Poe. A weird guy reading a weird guy's writing.
  • Check out this collection of photographs of things that belonged to William S. Burroughs.
  • In a move sure to annoy the masses, The New York Times will begin charging for frequent access to online articles beginning in 2011.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Literary Genius that is The Onion

Has anyone else been paying attention to the growing number of literary references in The Onion?  Yesterday it was, "Friendship Between Caterpillar, Horse Exploited For Cheap Children's Book," the day before yesterday it was, "Privileged Little Artiste Writing Something Oh-So-Precious Into His Moleskine Notebook," and today it's "Watching Faces Of Students As They Finish 'The Lottery' Highlight Of English Teacher's Year":
CHICAGO—Ninth-grade Collins High School English teacher Melissa Hamlin told coworkers Monday that the one moment she looks forward to all year, watching her students reach the end of Shirley Jackson's short story The Lottery, is rapidly approaching. "Oh, my God, the looks on their faces when they realize the villagers are actually going to stone Mrs. Hutchinson to death right then and there!" said Hamlin, who added that she never allows students to read the story as a take-home assignment. "I'm almost too excited to sleep. Oh, it's so great! They're never gonna see it coming!" According to Hamlin, the rest of the academic year is a slow but predictably horrifying downward spiral of disillusionment and unending scholastic disappointments.
This would be the highlight of my year, as well, if I had to teach ninth grade English.

Edgar Allan Poe and the Case of Missing Toaster


While the history of Edgar Allan Poe's resting place has a long and convoluted history, for the past sixty years there has been one constant: the Poe Toaster.  Every year since 1949, a mysterious stranger has arrived at Poe's grave on his birthday to deposit three white roses and a bottle of cognac.  No one has ever known the man's identity, but he's been pretty much left to his own devices due to the kitschiness of the situation.

This year, however, the Poe Toaster didn't show up, and people are wondering both where he went and who he actually was.  According to boingboing, one name that has been suggested was a "Baltimore poet and known prankster who died in his 60s last week."  This seems unlikely, however, since the Poe Toaster has been showing up for 60 years, so unless the poet was a tall five-year-old, no one would have mistaken him for a man in 1949.

Personally, I think it was a situation was not unlike the job of Dread Pirate Roberts from The Princess Bride.

Christopher Marlowe was the Shiznit

Here's the thing: although William Shakespeare was one of the greatest English writers of all time, I personally think that Christopher Marlowe was the shiznit.  Here's why:
  • Marlowe served as a source of inspiration for the Bard: for example, Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice shortly after Marlowe wrote The Jew of Malta (both of which, for those of you who don't know, feature horrible stereotypes of Jews that get what's coming to them.  Horribly offensive now, but what can you do?).
  • Doctor Faustus is an incredible play.  It shows Faustus' interior thoughts as well as the impact that sin can have on the soul.  In addition, for being so good, it was written far earlier in Marlowe's career than most of the "greats" that Shakespeare wrote.
  • Marlowe's life (at least, what we know about it) is significantly more interesting to read about than Shakespeare's: Marlowe had a quick temper that got him jailed on more than one occasion; he was deported from the Netherlands for counterfeiting coins; he was most likely gay; and he may have been a spy.
  • Marlowe died by getting stabbed in the eye in a barfight.   (Tell me that's not more interesting than leaving one's wife one's second best bed!)
  • Even more incredible, however, is the fact that many people actually believe that Marlowe's death was faked, since his friend Thomas Kyd (another amazing Elizabethan playwright) was tortured by the Queen's Privy Council into "implicating Marlowe as a heretic and an atheist."  Some of these same people (not including myself) also believe that Marlowe went on to write the plays we now attribute to Shakespeare.

Regardless of how much is legend and how much is truth, Christopher Marlowe was freaking awesome.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Have a Seat and Stay Awhile

Check out this book bench, an advertisement the city of Istanbul is using the promote reading.  Benches have been placed around the city, featuring 18 famous Turkish poets.  An update on the "ALA Read Posters"?



Review: The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz

I generally try to put as little negative energy into the universe as possible, but you wouldn't know it to look at the shitstorm that has taken place around here during the last couple days.  (My only defense, and it's feeble, is that this week has been half-described quite accurately in the first sentence of A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens:  "It was the [...] worst of times, it was the [...] age of foolishness, it was the [...] epoch of incredulity, it was the [...] season of Darkness, it was the [...] winter of despair, we had [...] nothing before us.")

Therefore, in an attempt to even out the karmic balance, I have decided to write a review of The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel RuizPublished in 1997, the book aims to "reveal the source of self-limiting beliefs that rob us of joy and create needless suffering," mostly by changing how we think about ourselves and the world around us.

The Four Agreements are as follows:

Be Impeccable With Your Word

Speak with integrity.  Say only what you mean.  Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others.  Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

Don't Take Anything Personally

Nothing others do is because of you.  What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream.  When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.

Don't Make Assumptions

Find the courage to ask the questions and to express what you really want.  Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama.  With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

Always Do Your Best

Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick.  Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.
While some would probably classify the book as New Age nonsense, I think we can definitely learn a lot just from trying to follow Ruiz's advice.  The book is easy to read and, while I have some minor quibbles with the theories presented, the positive aspects far outweigh the negative aspects.

I would heartily recommend everyone read this book at least once.  For those of you who want a more passive approach, here's a pretty good video of the Four Agreements, set to the music Loreena McKennit.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Come for the Donkey Show, Stay for the Dante References

Yann Martel (author of Life of Pi) is releasing his newest novel in April of this year, Beatrice and Virgil.  And, yes, that is a monkey mounting a donkey on the front cover.

What interests me, however, is the title of the book.  For those of you who don't know, Beatrice and Virgil seems to be a direct reference to the works of Dante Alighieri, poet and writer of 14th Century Italy.  Virgil is, of course, Dante's divinely-assigned guide through hell in part one of La Divina Commedia, Inferno.  Beatrice Portinari was Dante's inspiration for La Vita Nuova, an explanation of Medieval courtly love which explored the emotional interiors of a courtier in love.

Anyway, my point is this: I'm very curious to see how Dante plays into Beatrice and Virgil, especially since Martel has previously stated that The Divine Comedy is "the single most impressive book" he's ever read.  That said, however, I have certain reservations about reading the book, since I was distinctly underwhelmed by Life of Pi, to the point that I didn't even finish it.

I believe I shall put my name on the Denver Public Library's waiting list.

Wednesday Dog Ears

This week's "Dog Ears" include an account of Flannery O'Connor as half of an Odd Couple, as well as seven pages on Neil Gaiman:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

So You Think You Can Write Romance?


Rosetta Stone, a "leading provider of technology-based language learning solutions," whatever the hell that means, has announced a contest "seeking entries from language-loving fans to use their imaginations to tell the next chapter of the Farm Boy and Italian supermodel's love story."  Here's the 411 from the Rosetta Stone website:
Entering the contest is easy but winning is partly up to you. Make your story the fan favorite by urging family, friends and even strangers to vote for your story online as soon as you post it! All submissions will be voted on by the general public. Visit http://www.rosettastone.com/farmboy to submit your video, photos or written story. The contest will run January 8th – January 29th and all submissions must be received by 5:00 p.m. EST on January 29th.
Of course, Ian Frazier of The New Yorker already came up with one version that's definitely worth checking out: "Mi Chiamo Stan."  I'm not sure I'm up to the challenge when he sets the bar so high.

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: This is Where We Live (2008)

Check out this video, a television promo made for 25th Estate.  Absolutely amazing work.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Denver Events: Audrey Niffenegger (1/19)

Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveller's Wife, will be at the LoDo Tattered Cover tomorrow at 7:30 pm to read from and sign copies of her newest book, Her Fearful Symmetry.  Be there or be square.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Twitter Update: Small Thoughts from Small Minds

After nearly a month on the social networking site, I've decided that Twitter is a big old fat waste of time.  In fact, I would even go so far as to say it embodies all of the worst characteristics of modern American society: it encourages quanitity of thoughts rather than quality of thoughts; it highlights inherent narcissism; and it's annoying.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Wednesday Dog Ears

This week's Dog Ears feature a new Shakespeare play as well as advice to read something you'll hate:

Contact High

In an essay for The New York Times entitled, "The Perils of 'Contact Me,'" Ben Yagoda argues that writers have become more and more accessible to the public, providing different categories of letters which writers generally receive.  Yagoda does not mention his own feelings of whether or not the new ease of contacting writers is good or bad, but he does provide food for thought.

Ironically enough, one of Yagoda's examples of readers wanting to contact writers: "Some years earlier, Holden Caulfield memorably observed, 'What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.'"  The fact that J.D. Salinger has proven to be not only uncontactable but out of the public's view entirely has only added a degree of fascination to the mystery of his life.  Maybe this shows that the "all-access" approach, though convenient for the public, can ultimately prove to be detrimental to writers in the long run.

Of course, that won't stop me from writing to the authors I read and enjoy, because "What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it."

Denver Events: Writers Respond to Readers (1/30)

Call The Tattered Cover in LoDo to reserve tickets for Writers Respond to Readers on January 30th.  Here's the info on the event from The Tattered Cover website:
The Tattered Cover is delighted to welcome four esteemed authors for our annual Writers Respond to Readers event. This full day event brings writers and readers, and book club members, together in an intimate setting to talk about books and writing.
Barbara Delinsky’s novels are character-driven studies of marriage, parenthood, sibling rivalry, and friendship. Her most recent books include Family Tree, The Secret Between Us, and While My Sister Sleeps. Ethiopian born Maaza Mengiste is a Pushcart Prize nominee and the author of the critically acclaimed novel Beneath the Lion’s Gaze. Jayne Anne Phillips’ recent novel Lark & Termite was nominated for a 2009 National Book Award for Fiction. Barb Johnson’s first book, a collection of interlinked stories called More of This World or Maybe Another, was called a “pitch perfect,” “utterly original,” and a “truly exciting debut” by Robert Olen Butler. This event includes morning refreshments to begin the day and a wine and cheese reception to round off the afternoon.

Tickets are $50.00 per person and will go on sale Monday, January 4, beginning at 9:00 am. Tickets can be purchased by calling  303-322-1965 ext. 2739 with a credit card.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

How Not to Write A Romance Novel: Fast Women, by Jennifer Crusie

Please see below for a list of things in books I have recently learned I hate, thanks to Fast Women, by Jennifer Crusie:
  • Women who settle for jobs for which they are over-qualified, under-paid, and under-appreciated.  I do not want to read a book about an intrepid secretary who ultimately finds job satisfaction in filing even though she is smart and capable of so much more.  This is too often reality and has no place in the fantasy world of romance novels.
  • Characters who quote movies excessively.
  • Conflict between love interests which shows up in the form of yelling fights in which the woman ultimately backs down because she knows she can always get the man to change his mind later.
  • When men change their minds only because they've been nagged into it, and the nagging woman feels triumphant that she won.
  • Women who get makeovers that suddenly reveal their beauty ("Why, Miss Jones, you're beautiful!") and only then become attractive to men.  So much more appealing in a romance novel is a woman who everyone (except for her one-true-love/soul mate/what have you) thinks is plain.
  • Women who make stupid decisions without their motivations being fully explained.
  • When one-night stands with coworkers result in absolutely no awkwardness at work the next morning.
If you're writing a novel and are considering using any of the above, don't.  You'll thank me in the long run.

In addition, don't read (or listen to) Fast Women.  Though I would say I like Jennifer Crusie, this is not the best example of her stuff.

Mind Thy P(ronoun)s and Qs

Though you might not believe me, informal second personal pronouns have come up in conversation several times recently.  (Actually, if you know me, you're probably not surprised by this.)  Normally this is because the person with whom I'm speaking either doesn't know what these forms of speech mean or, if s/he does know what they mean, doesn't know the correct usage for them.

The history of these terms is interesting, if only in comparison to what most people think of them.  Ask Joe the Plumber about thou, and he would probably say it is an archaic, formal version of you.  In reality, however, thou was originally the only singular second pronoun, while ye was plural.  Over time, thou became informal singular while you was formal singular and plural. 

(This is why, in the Bible, God speaks to us using thou--we are subordinate to Him and He therefore speaks informally to us.  It's very similar to tu (thou) and su (you) in Spanish.  Speaking of Spanish, I once tutored an ESL student who read Romeo and Juliet, wrote an entire paper on Juliet's definition of love, and then asked me, "What does 'thou' mean, anyway?"  Ouch.)* 

Rather than telling you what wikipedia has to say about these informal second personal pronouns, however, allow me to show you the situations when you will use thou, thee, and thy using excerpts of the No. 1 Billboard hit of 2009, "Thou Belongest With Me," by Taylor Swift:
Thou art on the phone with thy girlfriend, she's upset
She's going off about something that thou saidest
She doesnt get thy humour like I do
I'm in the room, it's a typical Tuesday night
I'm listening to the kind of music she doesn't like
And she'll never know thy story like I do

But she wears short skirts, I wear t-shirts
She's cheer captain and I'm on the bleachers
Dreaming 'bout the day when thou wilt wake up and find
That what thou art lookin' for has been here the whole time

If thou could'st see that I'm the one who understands thee
Been here all along so why canst thou see?
Thou belongest with me
Thou belongest with me.
 
Oh I remember thee driving to my house in the middle of the night
I'm the one who makes thee laugh when thou knowest thou art about to cry
I know thy favorite songs and thou tellest me thy dreams
I think I know where thou belongest. I think I know it's with me.

Canst thou see that I'm the one who understands thee?
Been here all along so why canst thou see?
Thou belongest with me.
* I'm not going to cite a source other than my memory.  I took a "History of the English Language" Course at UCLA which ended up being a linguistics course for English majors that was one of the hardest classes ever.  Luckily for me, however, it helped immensely with the Medieval Literature and Chaucer classes I later took.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Defining Definitions: Cliché


Note: I'm not entirely sure that this has a "so what" factor.  You have been warned.
Cliché: a saying, expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect rendering it a stereotype, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel. (Wikipedia.)
Studying literature in college, it was drummed into my head that clichés were BAD BAD BAD.  In fact, it was often pointed out that phrases that were original when, say, Shakespeare wrote them have now deteriorated in value to the point of complete banality which were to be avoided at all costs, especially since brevity is the soul of wit.  I've recently come to the conclusion, however, that some examples of clichés (in this case as plot devices and story lines) are acceptable while others will continue to make moving into a cave and becoming a hermit sound appealing. 

An example of the latter would be The Proposal (2009), directed by Anne Fletcher and starring Saundra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds.  Here's the thing--romantic comedies tend to be cliche by their very existence, and while we can definitely argue about what this says about American cinematography, let's just accept that there are some romantic comedies which manage to be cliché and entertaining.  The Proposal, for those of you who haven't seen it, was not one such film as it seemed to be a grab bag of clichéd lines clumsily stitched together and delivered with an utter lack of conviction.

Another film which could (and has--and should, no matter what anyone says) be called cliché is James Cameron's Avatar, in theatres now.  The storyline is strikingly familiar for anyone who has ever seen Ferngully, Pocohontas, or Dances with Wolves.  Luckly for Cameron, however, the general quality of the rest of the film iss superb enough to make viewing the film in 3-D an Experience-with-a-capital-E rather than an eye-rollingly bad attempt at one more white-man-saves-the-day-and-preserves-a-dying-culture movie.

Therefore, I'm not coming down on either side of the yea-or-nay cliché fence.  I've liked movies and books and songs that contained clichés, as long as those clichés flowed seamlessly with the better qualities of the movies and books and songs.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

(Audiobook) Review: Bet Me, by Jennifer Crusie

I used my new MP3 player to listen to Jennifer Crusie's Bet Me during my flight back from California.  (By the way, audiobooks are a great alternative to airport reading for those of you who, like me, suffer from motion sickness.)  I had heard quite a bit about Jennifer Crusie from various sources, so I was looking forward to listening to a novel from the extremely popular romance novelist.

Bet Me's most interesting feature has to be the main character, Minerva Dobbs, who differs from traditional romance heroines in two ways: (a) she is overweight, and (b) she has no interest in having children, so the final chapter includes no overwrought pregnancy announcements the way so many novels seem to do.  Other than that, the story is pretty straightforward and if you like romance novels, you'll probably like this one.

(Interesting enough, at the end of the recording, it is mentioned that Crusie got a movie option for this book, and I'll bet anyone ten bucks that Crusie's agent (or whoever it is who arranges for book deals) described it like this: "It's like Bridget Jones's Diary meets How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days!  I'm thinking Anne Hathaway gains fifty pounds to play Minerva Dobbs, and we cast James Franco as her Hotty McHot lover. Instant blockbuster!")

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Wednesday Dog Ears

This week's "Dog Ears" include a series of letters about using octupi for slave labor as well as a close examination of the limits of The New Yorker's fiction:

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Not-So-Gentle (Re)Viewer: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

Having read Hunter S. Thompson's novel of the same name, I decided to sit down to watch the film version.  Directed by Terry Gilliam, the movie is incredibly true to the book and feels like what I'd imagine an acid trip to feel like--just like it should.  Johnny Depp (as Raoul Duke) and Benicio del Toro (as Dr. Gonzo) do creditable jobs of playing drug-addled characters about whom one could potentially care, and the many cameo appearances (Cameron Diaz, Christina Ricci, Thompson himself) keep the viewer wondering who will show up next.

However, to be perfectly blunt, Thompson's "Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream" was a much better book than movie.  Too often, Gilliam has to rely on narrator voice-overs to communicate what Duke's actions actually mean.  In addition, while the book's pacing is about right, the movie feels simultaneously rushed and extremely looooong, to the point that the viewer is done watching it long before it is actually over.

I would give this movie a C+.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Abridged, by Hunter S. Thompson and Lindsay-with-an-A

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, by Hunter S. Thompson, is the kind of book that I hated when I first put it down but which grew on my as time passed.  The reason for this is simple: upon first reading the book, I was nearly overwhelmed by the drug use and hallucinations which make up most of the book, which was written in by Thompson in an attempt at gonzo journalism.

As time passed, however (in this case about four days), I started to remember the passages of the book which actually said something--those passages which explained why the narrator seems to be hell-bent to destroy himself with drugs.*  Below, I've accumulated those passages into one short piece.  If this were the entirety of the book, I believe I would love it.  As it is only the abridged version of the book, I have a cautious respect for Thompson's work but would be hard-pressed to say it is the one book I would want to take with me on a trip to a deserted island.

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