Sunday, July 29, 2012

Adventures In Tarot

Haven't talked about Tarot in a little while, and I thought it might be nice to do so in an actually in-depth way. I just recently came into possession of two new decks: Marie White's Mary-El Tarot and Barbara Moore's Steampunk Tarot. The latter is exactly as goofy and awesome as it sounds, and I actually like it a great deal. It's very indebted to the classic RWS Tarot, making it the most straight-forward deck I've ever owned, so it's nice to do simple readings for a change. Mary-El, meanwhile, is the most breathtaking visual experience I've had yet in Tarot; the cards are gorgeous, each one originally done as an oil painting by Marie White. But it's very very difficult to read, largely because Marie White goes into intense and often flowery descriptions of the veritable clusterfuck of mythological context she put into each and every card - which is FASCINATING, but also makes for an unusually inaccessible deck. It's hard to know what the heck she's talking about sometimes, and what her cards are supposed to mean. She's basically worked out a whole new hierarchy of meanings, blending RWS with the Thoth deck and pulling from just about every spiritual system known to man. I was beginning to get a little frustrated with how hard it was to make heads or tails of her cards, so I decided there was only one way to deal with it, and that was to design my own spread.

I've designed a Tarot spread before, though I've never put anything about it online - it's huge and complex, and I only use it when I need to bring out the big guns. Today I made a much simpler spread, and I like it pretty well, and I decided to share it. I'm calling it, somewhat unimaginatively, the Spiral Spread.

Here is a numbered picture of a trial-run I did with Mary-El, so you can see the layout. Position meanings below.

The positions, which, considering this is a brand new spread, as subject to future adjustments:

1. The Querent's Chief Desire or Problem
2. Other Factors (details needed to understand the situation)
3. Hopes and Fears
4. A Lesson Learned
5. An Obstacle
6. Advice
7. Action
8. The Bridge (what to bear in mind)
9. Outcome

The thing about spreads is, anyone can make them! You just have to know what it is you want to learn from a spread, without getting too specific or crazy. Tarot works best as a nudge in the right direction or just a way to get yourself thinking outside the box, it's not a step-by-step guide to life. I make my own spreads sometimes because I get tired of the traditional layouts, but I've still drawn from position meanings I've seen in various spreads. I just combined them in a different way, which I like better. Let me take you through the positions briefly:

1. Desire/Problem - Pretty straight-forward - this card represents the main question being asked, or the issues at play. It's was the querent most wants, or is having the biggest trouble with.

2. Other Factors - A supplement to position 1, meant to offer further information about the situation, maybe something infuencing the querent or the circumstances.

3. Hopes/Fears - This is a basic traditional position which you'll find in many spreads. The querent's hopes or fears for the future with regard to the situation. Pretty simple, pretty important.

4. A Lesson Learned - This is a thing I've never yet encountered in an existing spread, but I like it. It is meant to represent either something the querent has learned or experienced in the course of their problem, or which they need to learn to get through it. Or I'm sure there's another way to look at it - it's open to interpretation.

5. An Obstacle - Another basic position, it's something keeping the querent from achieving goals or solving problems. 4 and 5 might work in conjunction just like 1 and 2 do - 4 might be the tools needed to overcome the obstacle.

6. Advice - Exactly like it sounds! One of the tricks with this kind of position, I have found, is that you don't always get a good, positive, advice-sounding card. What if you get a really negative card in this position? WELL, don't worry: I usually look at that kind of thing as a reminder to stay vigilant, and not let those negative influences overpower me.

7. Action - A lot of spreads are missing this position, which I think is a pretty important position! I don't want my spreads to be 100% passive observation. I like getting a good shove, too. The action you take, or shouldn't take, of course.

8. The Bridge - This is my favorite position of the spread. I was having trouble getting the design to look suitably like a spiral, when I experimented with turning this card on its side, and it just immediately made sense. This is a bridge connecting 7 and 9, the Action and the Outcome. It isn't always so easy as just doing a thing and then getting a result. You have to remember what you've learned, for example the information from positions 4 and 6. That's what this card is for. This spread has a lot of emphasis on learning lessons and being knowledgeable about what's going on inside your head, and I think that's the most important thing when you're asking for guidance. My hope is that the spread serves to help the reader collect his/her/zir/etc thoughts about the reigning issue, and helps give a little courage if the times are tough. A firm pat on the back or a swift kick in the rear, whichever is appropriate.

9. Outcome - The basic final card of any spread, where you'll be if you continue on the path or alter things as directed. Again: if you get a negative card in this position, I would think of it as a challenge to change that outcome.

So, now let's look at what I got. I wasn't asking a particular question, and it wasn't about me personally - because Mary-El is so heavily steeped in mythology, I decided to look for something I could use to develop the future plot of my novel, Berlin Confidential.

Marie White talks a lot about the collective unconscious with this card, and how her impressions of the Cups suit has shifted from being strictly about relationships to being more about humanity as a whole, which I think is PRETTY INTERESTING, if difficult to apply to one's personal life. You see what I mean? She is very concerned with big sweeping statements and not so much about relating each card to the reader on a personal level. But that's why I'm approaching this from a big mythy perspective. If we look at this spread as having to do with my novel, then yes, a definite Big Issue of the story is the nature of humanity and the way cultural attitudes shift and change. So: an appropriate card for position one.

For the Knight of Disks, we get a story about Siddhartha, growing up sheltered, then being horrified to learn the dirty truth of the world. In this deck more than in any other I've seen, "Disks" are incredibly earthy, concerned with the physical aspects of the world and the universe. As I see it, it can only be about Herr Inspektor, the protagonist of the novel, an ordinary man who is very sheltered in that he believes life and the world to be orderly and simple, until he is confronted by the horrors of this other world, the world of demons and monsters and murderous beasts. It's especially appropriate given the Buddhist background for this card, since Herr Inspektor is very much a middle-of-the-road character, trying to find a solution without going too hard to one extreme or the other.

It's funny - when I saw this card online before buying this deck, I wasn't sure how I felt about it. I thought it was super weird, having a big ol' baboon for the 9 of Cups. But I'm starting to love it. Marie White talks about the baboon as being an aspect of Thoth, who is apparently often represented by a baboon, so-! (someone needs to bone up on her Egyptian mythology). Without going into too much crazy mythology detail, Thoth was basically one of the gods balancing the universe, the other being his wife Ma'at (WHO, interestingly, we also see in this spread) - he seems to have been largely concerned with science, magic, arts, judgment of the dead and being an arbiter between good and evil. She also talks about being in awe of the universe, being able to accept your place within it. That sounds again very Herr Inspektory, and something he struggles with maybe more than anything. So yeah. Onward!

One of faaaaavorite cards, and one of the reasons I decided to get this deck, because LOOK AT IT. The Sun is about exaltation, total self-realization, and unfettered joy. Marie White talks about its place at the conclusion of the Fool's journey (and Herr Inspektor is, of course, our Fool), that he goes through all the experiences of the Major Arcana and comes out with fully realized potential. Difficult to determine what it means here, in this position. It's such a big, final thing for being a lesson that has been learned or needs to be learned - and of course our hero is not very Sunlike! Curious. I shall ruminate.

Here's Ma'at, Thoth's wife. Ma'at is all about the LAW and yes, justice, which is funny because that is exactly what Herr Inspektor is all about. We could see that as an obstacle in that his stubbornness about doing things the "right" way, obeying the sense of order that he knows, is not working out for him, and sort of blinding him to the reality of the situation. This actually could interact with The Sun in an interesting way, like by being so bound to his principles he is not embracing the fullness of his potential. The Sun could also reflect the impact of certain other characters on him. To say more would be to go into too much detail for people who have not been reading, though.

There is an EGREGIOUS grammatical error in the description for this one, and what's worse is it's NOT THE ONLY ONE. I have found several already, and they are all egregious, middle-school-level errors. Here she uses "you're" instead of "your." I am forced to conclude she didn't have an editor for this book, and if she did, SOMEONE DROPPED THE BALL BIG TIME. That along with the general inaccessibility of her interpretations makes it very hard for me to get into this deck, which is a real shame because it's gorgeous and I want it to be my deck forever. BUT ANYWAY.

For this card she talks about Muninn of Odin's two ravens, the one representing Memory. She goes on a big ramble that I can't make heads or tails of, stuff about realizing your potential (a lot of these are about similar huge themes and concepts, which is a problem when you're actually trying to divine distinct meanings from them!), which isn't important because MUNINN, GUYS. For the BC-initiated, Muninn, coupled with the "advice" positioning of this card, is really all you need to know.

This one is interesting. She talks a lot about different Archangels, which is a bit of a yawnfest for me, but the overarching message is one about spiritual guidance and building bridges/connections. Which is .... super weird considering this is the card that leads to the Bridge. Traditionally, Six of Swords is a travel card. Both these meanings - physical and metaphysical travel - are incredibly apt in terms of "action" for basically every character in BC.

Here we have a lamb caught between two lions. Marie White talks about judgment, the path to immortality, balance, self-sacrifice and martyrdom. This is basically perfect in every way.

Marie White is obsessed with relating Wands to sex. I've read so many of them and she just talks about lust and libido and sexual energy. To which I say, all right, but I need more, you need to be more specific, or what is to distinguish between 3 and 4 and all the other Wands? Hmm? Fortunately, I have something to add: for me, the Four of Wands has always represented freedom/escape/transformation, which isn't exactly traditional, but it's the meaning I got from Archeon and it's a meaning I've liked and kept. And I'm keeping it here.

And there you have it. If any curiosity has been aroused, Berlin Confidential is currently on hiatus, which means now would be a grand time to start getting caught up. It's long, but I'd like to think it's worth it.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Fuck The Empire & Other Thoughts About Hollywood

After having a regretful ten minute Netflix experience, I tweeted some thoughts off the cuff and after the fifth one decided to turn those thoughts into a post.

I became really interested in movies when I was thirteen, largely due to the influence of my dad, who was becoming a real movie buff around that time. As the next several years passed, he started working through a lot of old, well-regarded classics, and I grew gradually more willing to see things outside my comfort zone (which was SO NARROW at thirteen, oh my gosh) until we were watching a lot of movies all the time. I discovered new things, like how to identify a 1960s movie by the quality of the film and that Audrey Hepburn is in many ways the best. Eventually we decided to watch the very highly-regarded Hepburn machine Breakfast At Tiffany's, about which we knew very little. I distinctly recall starting it one night and then crapping out very early in the game, though I could not for the life of me remember why. I have come to assume that we became bored and just quit, which was always sort of strange to me, since we surely hadn't given it enough of a chance? That isn't like us.

So now, years later, someone recommends that I give Tiffany's another shot, and I see it's on Netlflix instant, so I started it up again full of open mind. Minutes later, I quit again, probably at the same spot, and I'll TELL YOU WHY. What I had forgotten is that an aged Mickey Rooney appears very early in the movie as "Mr. Yunioshi," Audrey's cranky upstairs neighbor, one of the most disgustingly stereotyped caricatures of a Japanese person I have ever been confronted with. Because you know, Old Hollywood was always casting white people as comedic Asian characters. And here's a thing: I've put up with that before, PLENTY of times. Peter Sellers in Murder By Death, various Monty Python sketches, the appearances in countless old movies that are small and upsetting but easy to brush aside. Sometimes it's played for laughs, and sometimes, ashamedly enough, it makes me laugh, often while peeking through my fingers like oh god, what am I watching.

There's nothing really more offensive about Mickey Rooney's performance than Peter Sellers or Graham Chapman, but somehow this time it was just NOPE. Fuck you, movie. I had a moment where I thought about just pushing it aside, that old justification, "oh it's just Old Hollywood, that's what they did, movies can still be great in spite of the social atrocities of the classic era" - but no! FUCK that noise. I don't want to sit through racist stereotypes that have no purpose other than cheap laughs, and I don't HAVE to! This may not seem very radical, but it depends on your perspective. My approach to movies has always been bound up with a lot of obligation: I appreciate good cinema and I want to make movies, so this is part of my history and art education, and I have to see as many old greats as I can fit into my life. I think a lot of people feel this way. Forgive Hollywood's transgressions because this movie is still a game-changer, a paradigm shifter. But you know what, no matter how much of a movie buff you are, how important movies are to you - there's still places where you can draw a line, and you MUST draw a line. We forgive Hollywood's bullshit all the time. Exercise your right not to forgive.

I remember being basically forced to sit through Birth of a Nation in a college film history class, and that movie had me shaking and crying by the end with how disgusting and horrible it was. Fuck the system that lets us forgive that fucker because it was the First Feature Film, because it did things with the camera that no other movie had done at that time. Fuck D.W. Griffiths. Someone else would have come up with that shit without him, and they probably wouldn't have had to glorify the KKK while doing it.

We can't pretend the various awful chapters in our history didn't happen, and that there isn't still a huge amount of hurt from it, from the insane culturally ingrained racism that led us to things like Birth of a Nation and Mickey Rooney's role in Breakfast At Tiffany's. Those things still stick in us like needles. But let's be crazy for a second: let's say we don't forgive that shit. Let's say we stop with the "it was a different time" bullshit, and if something makes you uncomfortable or angry, don't fucking watch it. I am definitely not the first person to come to this conclusion, but it's probably a point that can never be made too many times.

Breakfast At Tiffany's had its chance, twice. Moving on to something that managed to be old without being gleefully hateful.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Day 30 - Your favorite book of all time

After a great deal of deliberation that has been going on throughout this here meme, I have settled. When I was younger it was Good Omens; then, for a long, devoted time, Catch-22. I still need to reread the latter, which may account for my lessened reverence, but regardless, I just don't remember having a reading experience like this one.

The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco

And the meme begins where it started, haha. I recently realized that I shouldn't even have answered this to the first question, because I didn't read it last year! It was this year, several months ago. So the answer to that first question would have been the His Dark Materials trilogy. But it's okay, because it means now I don't have to write about this book again. You can go back and read that post.

I'll just reiterate that the experience of reading this book was kind of like no other for me, and it was sort of breathtaking and liberating as one who isn't too good at reading books. As much as House of Leaves or The Raw Shark Texts altered my perspective toward what to expect from novels, this book still goes above them in what it did for my readerly self-esteem. It was a joy, and it was satisfying, and it filled me with inspiration and ambition. I don't believe I could ask for any more from a book.

Well, that was fun! Now back to your regularly scheduled increasingly infrequent updates.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Day 29 - A book that everybody hated but you liked

There are a few good candidates for this one, since the list includes Most Everything I Had To Read In School, with some major exceptions where I also hated them. Here, though, is the most notable and surprising example:

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë

There was a trick to this one: I didn't read it in class. Because of the year I spent living in Estonia, I was not able to take the placement exams before entering high school, and didn't manage to get into the AP class until midway through the year. By that time, the class was already deep into Jane Eyre, and hating it vocally and abundantly. It seemed impractical for me to join when they were so far into it, so my teacher had me read Lord of the Flies instead, which everyone else had already done. This was a win on TWO levels, because I really loved Lord of the Flies, whereas my love may had been tempered by classwork... and, it gave me the opportunity about nine years later to finally give Jane Eyre a try.

As you may recall, I have a not-so-good relationship with Jane Austen, who is sort of on a similar playing field with Ms. Brontë, and so I didn't exactly have high hopes for this one. Ironically, the main reason I decided to finally read it was because I thought the most recent movie adaptation looked cool (AND THEN IT KIND OF WASN'T). But! to my immense surprise, I did like it. I didn't love it, but I found it engaging and enjoyable enough. The reason was twofold: first, I liked the creepy gothic horror of the whole setup, and second, I found Jane to be a stronger and more relatable character than any of Austen's brood, and while I continue to find Mr. Rochester pretty deplorable and continue to puzzle over the scores of literary women who find him somehow deeply attractive (seriously, I don't...??? did you miss the part where he is creepy and aggressive), I think Jane holds up well enough for it to be a good read.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Day 28 - Favorite title

I have several. I think there is real art to a well-crafted, meaningful title that roles pleasantly off the tongue and has just the right number of syllables. Good titles are really hard to come up with, and if they sound like poetry and make you feel feelings before you even know what the book is about (which is the basis for a lot of my favorites), well, that is an accomplishment indeed.

Here are some of my favorites, in no order, presented without explanation because more often than not there isn't one. Note that almost all of these are books I haven't read, and in many cases I don't even know what they are about. I feel like once I read a book, the title loses some of its mystery and beauty (especially if I don't like the book itself). I've italicized the ones I have read.

Good-Bye to All That, by Robert Graves
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers
100 Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Things They Carried, by Tim O'Brien
The Way Through Doors, by Jesse Ball
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce
The City & The City, by China Mieville (currently reading)
Man on the Threshold, short story by Jorge Luis Borges*
John Dies at the End, by David Wong
If on a winter's night a traveler, by Italo Calvino
Catch-22, by Joseph Heller

*if I had the time/inclination, I could list a ton of Borges titles, but I'll stick with just this one as it is my favorite (though not, interestingly, one of my favorite of his stories; I don't even remember what it's about!)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Day 27 - The most surprising plot twist or ending

The Raw Shark Texts, by Steven Hall

This book is actually nothing but crazy plot twists. It's a whole pile of THE PLOT (or rather THE CONCEPT) THICKENS, and I remember just sort of constantly being in a state of "WHAAAAAT?"

And that's all I'm gonna say! Man, this question. Even alluding to a surprising twist ending has the potential to ruin it, you know!!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Day 26 - A book that changed your opinion about something

Another hard one. I don't know that a book has ever changed my opinion about anything, not in the way I think this question means. Which is probably another sign that I don't read enough and don't look adventurously enough for books outside my comfort zone. I have a lot of catching up to do. But here's the best thing I can think of:

Twelfth Night, by William Shakespeare

This play changed my opinion about... Shakespeare! Haha. That feels like cheating. But it's true. Prior to this play, I'd only read the standard school curriculum fare, and it wasn't doing much for me. I liked Shakespeare sort of because I knew I had to, but I didn't feel a real fondness until I went to college and read this. This play is FUN and not incredibly difficult to follow for a newbie with the language, and it's got cross-dressing and an arguably gay pirate (totally gay pirate). I remember reading it in my dorm and laughing and suddenly realizing that I was laughing at these jokes written in Shakespeare English, and I was so pleased with myself. And suddenly the floodgates were open: I could appreciate just about any of his plays, and the ones I didn't like after that were just... the ones I didn't like! As opposed to didn't get.

So, thanks Twelfth Night! Someday I'll write a movie sequel to you where the apparent happy ending falls apart very quickly, because that is what would happen.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Day 25 - A character who you can relate to the most

This question is bugging me. I've been letting it sit for hours (literally! hours!) and have not come up with any answer that I like reasonably enough. Is the issue that I am taking this too seriously or that I don't relate to characters deeply enough to just be like "oh that's the one I can relate to the MOST"?? I ... don't know.

I'm going to say Holden Caulfield, because while I don't agree with anything he says and have never really felt the way he feels, I get him. And I love him.

I'll do better on tomorrow's question.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Day 24 - A book that you wish more people would've read

Another weird question in that I have no real way of knowing what books are specifically neglected, and also the phrasing carries a vague implication of "because they would have been better for it" - which, I'm sure I could think of one like that, but I'd rather just go with something that I like that I want more people to know about. And I just haven't met a whole lot of people who've even heard of this book, though I know they're out there. So:

The Raw Shark Texts, by Steven Hall

This book is so baller. One of the best things about it in my opinion are the little snippets of reviews that plaster the inside cover, on this pictured edition anyway. Read them! Read them all! They are great. If I had my copy on me I would quote them for you. Curse my being away from home, again.

But here is why they are all great: almost all of them feel compelled to compare this work to three other things. Some of them choose authors like Borges (YEAHHH), Melville, Kafka, Pynchon, Murakami... is that Douglas Adams I see there on that little picture??? It IS. Weird! I don't remember that being on and furthermore I can't even figure out what that guy is talking about? But okay. Others go after specifics works, like I think maybe Alice in Wonderland makes the list, but mostly it's not so much books as it is MOVIES. Which might be weird and dubious to other people, but to me is kind of a good sign and also what makes these little blurbs very interesting. I recall movies such as The Matrix (yes) and Memento (so much yes that I was actually extremely suspicious during the first few chapters that this whole book was just ripping off Memento but boy was I wrong)... but here's the fun part! THEY ALL MENTION JAWS.

An inordinately high number of these review excerpts talk about Jaws. Why??? Doesn't that seem kind of strange? Sure this is a book that appears to be about a shark, but is Jaws the only thing we can think of that has a shark in it?! But as it turns out, that's kind of the whole point?

You may notice that I have now spent three paragraphs talking about the review excerpts on this book and not the book itself. I promise you there is a good reason, which is this: you shouldn't really know anything about this book before going in. I bought it at the insistence of a friend, who refused to tell me anything about it, only that I would like it. Bewildered and somewhat frustrated, I studied the blurb on the back (unhelpful) and the review excerpts inside, at which point I became OVERCOME WITH CURIOSITY. Look at all those fancy authors! And so many mentions of Jaws? WHAT IS THE DEAL WITH THAT YOU GUYS

Well the answer to that mystery, which might only have been interesting to me, is buried deep within the pages of this totally fascinating wonderful book. After I finished it, I wrote the author a message on Facebook, and he actually responded and we had a little bit of a conversation. Friendly guy! I remember telling him that this was something I wish I'd written. It's very much an elegantly synthesized clusterfuck of all the neat stuff whirling around in my brain waiting to be made into a story so brilliant. Goddammit, I reserve all my best jealousy for people who are capable of doing that very thing.

Also, this book made me REALLY AFRAID of the clanking of my radiator for a little while.

Also, my girlfriend read it right after me over like a three day period or maybe less, and during that time she started announcing her theories to me as she was reading, which sounds annoying but totally wasn't because she was right constantly. That actually also sounds annoying, but it still wasn't. This book is way out there on the field of imagination, and I don't know how she is so smart and so aligned with Mr. Hall's wild ideas that she was just on the ball again and again? I wrote him again while she was reading and told him where she was in the story and gave him a list of all the things she had been saying to me. And he wrote back saying something like "Whaaaaaaat! She is awesome!" and I was like "Dude, I know."

It wasn't exactly like that, but man, that conversation is buried deep within Facebook's grim underbelly, so that is CLOSE ENOUGH.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Day 23 - A book you wanted to read for a long time but still haven't

Foucault's Pendulum, by Umberto Eco

I have wanted to read this for years, well before I even considered reading The Name of the Rose. I gave it a couple false starts and chickened out, intimidated by how insanely complex it is purported to be. This ain't your aunt's Dan Brown bullshit. I kept thinking, gotta put it off, wait until you're smarter. I knew it was probably gonna require a lot of research, and I fully intend to keep a notebook handy while reading it so I can write down whatever I want/need to look up. Now that I've read The Name of the Rose and loved it so damn much, I think the time for this one is fast approaching. I'M READY. Haha probably not. BUT WHATEVER I am excited about it.

I just want to read all the Eco. ALL OF IT.

Plus this book is about secret societies and the SEPHIROT and I am ABOUT THAT.

As for the Foucualt Pendulum itself, CHECK IT OUT IT'S REALLY COOL.


Monday, July 2, 2012

Day 22 - Favorite book you own

I.... what? What kind of question is this? How does this differ from "favorite book altogether"? Is the assumption that you wouldn't own your favorite book of all time? I mean, that is possible, but also possibly unlikely???

Whatever, sorry to keep harping on these questions, guys, it is obviously something of a fixation for me for some reason.

Okay, going with a strictly literal definition...

House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski

Hah! Here it is again, just after I slipped it somewhere it didn't quite fit. Welp. If we take this question to mean "favorite book to own," there can be no other. This is a book that deserves being looked at again and again, studied just for the fun of it, reread because there is so much going on, or just opened to a random page and shown to incredulous friends. I love owning this book. So yes, of the books I own, this one has come through for me most often. I think that's an acceptable answer to a slightly redundant question, yes?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Day 21 - Favorite book from your childhood

The Moorchild, by Eloise McGraw

Without question. My dad read me this book, and he and I both retained a lot of feelings about it. It's been a long time since I thought about it, and I really only remembered it now because I had to pack it up to move to a new city. It was one of the books I chose to put in the little ship-to-me-immediately box. It was just so lovely. It's about a changeling swapped for a human baby, who grows up human and just doesn't fit in no matter how hard she tries, and her parents love her in spite of everything, and it's this whole myth turned story about a misfit. It's so sweet and poignant and I just loved it. I want to read it again right away!!

This cover was the original cover I owned, and I adore it, I think the art is so charming and strange and perfect. But that copy was left out in the rain and got wrecked, and we had to get a new one with a different cover that was far less superior. I think it's high time to seek out the old cover and get that copy again. Because it matters to me. Haha.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Day 20 - Favorite romance book

I don't really read romance books. And I could probably come up with a book that had a significant enough amount of romance that it would count, but that's boooring. Fuck tha police.

House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski

This had to be on here sooner or later. I'm not even gonna try to explain it because it's unexplainable (furthermore I've already tried here). I'm just gonna leave you with this quote from the author.

"I had one woman come up to me in a bookstore and say, 'You know, everyone told me it was a horror book, but when I finished it, I realized that it was a love story.' And she's absolutely right. In some ways, genre is a marketing tool." (source)

Friday, June 29, 2012

Day 19 - Favorite book turned into a movie

What an ambiguous question! The way it is worded it could easily mean it wants to know your favorite book that just also happened to be turned into a movie, but doesn't care about what you thought of said movie.

I am pretty sure that's not what it means. But a clearer way to phrase it would have been "favorite movie adapted from a book", guys. Clarity!

Although I will grant you that movie adaptations are complicated territory, and it might be more about a book that was dear to you and turned into a movie, and just your general thoughts on that. But in that case the word "favorite" becomes weird. In general this is a weird question.


The actual answer to this question is Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, which I think is the most successful adapation around, but I already cheated once with comics, so I'm gonna do a legit book this time. And in fact I'm gonna go with a book AND movie that I have already mentioned.

Maurice, by E. M. Forster, adapted by Ismail Merchant & James Ivory

Merchant-Ivory, as they are called, are pretty brilliant in general with their Forster adaptations, of which they did three. This one is easily the best one, and not because I suspect it is also the best book of the three (though I admit I have not read any other Forster yet). It loses some things, of course, but enhances others, and I think it was played with a great subtle honesty that captures the real essence of the book. This is an empowering movie for gay men, which is a rare bird indeed, and it is sexy as hell, and it was made in goddamn 1987 featuring a very young and smooth-faced Hugh Grant, and an unbelievably gorgeous tinykins Rupert Graves (pictured, left). Also James Wilby (pictured, right), but most people don't know who he is on account of his not appearing in A) every romantic comedy ever B) an outrageously popular BBC miniseries.

True story: I once read a review of this movie on Amazon dot com from a woman who said that before she saw this movie, she had a low opinion of homosexuals and had no idea that their love could be meaningful/real. She claimed with fairly heartfelt words that this movie legitimately changed her perspective. If that's not success I don't know what is.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Day 18 - A book that disappointed you

Well. My answer is probably going to seem unfortunate.

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman

I'm sorry, guys, I know Neil is everyone's favorite and I love him too, but there is just no better book I can think of that truly fits this question. Being that Neil is great, I expect to love all his books, but sadly this is sometimes just not the case. I found this one to be ... well ... boring!

That's all I have to say about it, really...!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Day 17 - Favorite quote from your favorite book

Naturally this one comes when I'm on a day trip away from all my books that I could possibly use for reference. On top of that, I have a few. I think I really should have more than one anyway because I notice the last question of this meme is "favorite book ever" and wouldn't it kind of ruin the surprise if you just gave that away now? So, I have options and I don't have any of them on me. Bear with me, interwebs.

The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco

"Non in commotione, non in commotione Dominus."

I cannot give context for this quote and you simply must read the book. The translations vary. I have only just discovered that the "official" translation is quite different from the one I cobbled together from Latin translators online. And undoubtedly it is the "correct" one. I put these words in quotes because I really like my version. It means something totally different, but it made a huge impact on me and I thought it was so perfect for what was happening in the story. Given the nature of the thing, I feel as though an argument can be made for the validity of my unofficial translation, being that language is complex, words can mean many things, and subjectivity is crucial to appreciating a work. I don't know if my translation is at all grammatically viable, but I hope it is, because I like it.

Catch-22, by Joseph Heller

"Where are the Snowdens of yesteryear?"

This is something that is, I believe, repeated a few times, though I primarily recall the first time. I love that it doesn't make any sense, not for the longest time, and I love that it is somehow beautiful and haunting just the same, despite the inherent silliness of the surrounding scene. This quote stuck in me like a pin for the duration of the book. It is iconic, and not without reason.

Also iconic, also beloved, also wonderful and silly at the same time:

It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain, he fell madly in love with him.

Finally, though I could quote the entire book if I had the means, I am also fond, for simpler reasons, of this bit:

"Yes, Yossarian. That's right. Yossarian. Yossarian? Is that his name? Yossarian? What the hell kind of name is Yossarian?"

Lieutenant Scheisskopf had the facts at his finger tips. "It's Yossarian's name, sir," he explained.

The Collected Works of Jorge Luis Borges

It is probably a good thing that I don't have this volume on me, because there are so many. Here are several, presented without comment:

Siento un poco de vértigo. / No estoy acostumbrado a la eternidad.
I feel a bit of vertigo. / I am not accustomed to eternity.
-The Cipher (a poem)

I come now to the ineffable center of my tale; it is here that a writer’s hopelessness begins. Every language is an alphabet of symbols the employment of which assumes a past shared by its interlocutors. How can one transmit to others the infinite Aleph, which my timorous memory can scarcely contain? [...] And besides, the central problem—the enumeration, even partial enumeration, of infinity—is irresolvable. In that unbounded moment, I saw millions of delightful and horrible acts; none amazed me so much as the fact that all occupied the same point, without superposition and without transparency. What my eyes saw was simultaneous; what I shall write is successive, because language is successive. Something of it, though, I will capture.
-The Aleph

And yet, and yet … Denying temporal succession, denying the self, denying the astronomical universe, are apparent desperations and secret consolations. Our destiny is not frightful by being unreal; it is frightful because it is irreversible and iron-clad. Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire. The world, unfortunately, is real; I, unfortunately, am Borges.
-A New Refutation of Time (an essay)

What will my redeemer be like, I wonder? Will he be bull or man? Will he perhaps be a bull with the face of a man? Or will he be like me?
-The House of Asterion

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Day 16 - Favorite female character

Is a graphic novel cheating? If it is I don't care. Because it's this lady, without a doubt.

355, from Brian K. Vaughan's Y: The Last Man

355 is the baddest babe around. She is tough as nails and smart and sassy and she has a horrifying fucked up past and she isn't afraid of anything and she's sexy as HELL and I could give specifics but if you ain't read these comics it would be better to just read them, and if you have read them then you know what I'm talking about.

God I love her, I love her so much. She's cooler than anyone. She's my spirit guide.

And an honorable mention from a "real" book, because you can't have Will without her:

Lyra, from Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy

Lyra is also a total badass and smart and sassy and not afraid of anything, except when she is, and she's capable of such wonderful tenderness also, and oh god how does Pullman get little girls so well, I just, I can't.

Lyra will always remind me deeply of my best friend, who is also blond and small and fierce and loves cats.

A mundane tragedy for the day.

Waiting at the bus stop after a particularly difficult therapy session, on the phone with my mom about going on meds, an older gentleman seated next to me suddenly interrupts my phone conversation to say "You're okay."

He said it again and again. I looked at him and said a polite "Thank you" a few times to sort of gauge how aware of himself he was. It seemed really important to him that he talk to me so I told my mom I had to go.

He said "I just wanted to tell you, ma'am, you're okay. I know it don't always feel that way, but you're okay. You are."

I stared at him. I said "Thank you" again, too quietly. He said "Helloo?" and I sort of nodded. My bus came. I got up and he kept looking at me. I thought about offering my hand but didn't. I thought about saying something but didn't. I didn't know what to say. I didn't want to cry in front of a stranger. I didn't want to miss my stupid bus. So I turned away and got on the bus.

I wish I hadn't. I regret it so much. I regretted it the moment I sat down.

I should have missed my bus. I should have asked him how he knew.

Should have, should have, didn't.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Day 15 - Favorite male character

Holy buckets this is hard. There are so many choices.

Okay, here's a tie. These characters are hella different, so... that's fair, right?

Yossarian, from Joseph Heller's Catch-22

Yossarian is the shit. Catch-22 really should have been my "Favorite Classic Book," but I guess I wasn't sure about its "classic" status in comparison with Catcher. But whatever. I read Catch-22 when I was sixteen/seventeen, just because I FELT LIKE IT. Which was pretty empowering, for someone who didn't read a whole lot outside of class! But I loved it so so so much. I remember sitting around in school and reading it constantly. It was so great. The humor of the writing mixed with the tragedy of the story, so great. And above all, the characters all so colorful and weird and wonderful/horrible. I haven't read the book since then, but I've always meant to reread, and I always think back fondly on it. Yossarian succeeds in being so human and so ridiculous at the same time. Somehow he is the ultimate hero even though he defies everything that makes a hero. I don't know, it's been a long time and it's hard to explain. But I love him. He will forever be the imaginary absurdist rebel hottie of my heart.

Also! Not about Yossarian per se, but this book taught me many important things. Like the word "subversive"! How to make absurdist circles of dialogue! And how to do a fucking soul-shattering reveal with just the right kind of buildup that it destroys you and drastically alters your understanding of everything leading up to it.

That scene.... that scene. Guh.


Will, from Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy

These books, also, should have been on the list already. They could have been both the book(s) that makes me happy AND the book(s) that makes me sad. They could have been my favorite series. I don't know how I forgot them until now. Because I have a LOT OF FEELINGS ABOUT THEM.

I didn't expect to like Will. I first read The Golden Compass in 2002 or so, and loved every minute of it, but for some reason when I started The Subtle Knife I didn't get past the first couple chapters. I was just like, man, who is this Will guy and why should I care about him?? More Lyra please! Which is understandable I guess, but WILL IS AMAZING OKAY. I finally finally read these books properly last year, and I just about died, and I couldn't deal with how much I loved Will. I am finding it difficult to talk about characters without just talking about the books. Hmmm.

Welp, SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS if you haven't read these books SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH:

I think what sealed the deal for me was Will losing his fingers. I am realizing that I have a HUGE literary kink for physical sacrifice/body transformation in the name of like... acquiring a new ability/maturing. That's such a weird and specific literary kink, and hard to explain, and hard to think of any other examples!! I guess a prime example would be mythology's Odin, trading an eye for knowledge. Fuck yes. And how Will dealt with the trauma of that experience, and his total badassery with the knife, and the evolution of his relationship with Lyra... oh god, those books were so perfect, and I can't go on or I'll start crying again.

Anyway, yes. If you haven't read either of these books, I highly highly recommend you seek them out.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Day 14 - Favorite book of your favorite writer

Collected Fictions

Borges didn't write books, as I mentioned. He only wrote stories.

Here are some of my favorites. Boldface are the ones that are super close to my heart.

The Circular Ruins (from Ficciones)
An Examination of the Works of Herbert Quain (from Ficciones)
The Library of Babel (from Ficciones)
The Garden of Forking Paths (from Ficciones)
Funes, the Memorious (from Ficciones)
The Shape of the Sword (from Ficciones)
Death and the Compass (from Ficciones)
The Secret Miracle (from Ficciones)
The House of Asterion (from The Aleph)
The Zahir (from The Aleph)
The Writing of God (from The Aleph)
The Aleph (from The Aleph)
Dreamtigers (from The Maker)
A Dialog About a Dialog (from The Maker)
The Yellow Rose (from The Maker)
Parable of the Palace (from The Maker)
Everything and Nothing (from The Maker)
Borges and I (from The Maker)
The Other (from The Book of Sand)
There Are More Things (from The Book of Sand)
The Book of Sand (from The Book of Sand)
August 25, 1983 (from Shakespeare's Memory)
Blue Tigers (from Shakespeare's Memory)
The Rose of Paracelsus (from Shakespeare's Memory)
Shakespeare's Memory (from Shakespeare's Memory)

Get on it, everybody.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Day 13 - Your favorite writer

Jorge Luis Borges

Borges basically founded the magical realism movement. Wikipedia says that the term was used for the very first time to describe one of his earliest works. So there you go.

Borges never wrote a novel. He wrote poetry, essays, and short stories. He wrote short stories about longer stories. He wrote critical assessments of fake novels so that he could get his kicks writing about how cool the concept was without having to write the novel (because he did not believe in himself enough to sit down at write one).

Borges started losing his eyesight in his fifties, and was almost completely blind by the end of his life. He had people read to him. He wrote some magnificent words about blindness. My favorite:

"Blindness is not darkness; it is a form of solitude."

I was introduced to Borges in a math class, of all places. At Sarah Lawrence, almost no one wanted to take math, so the faculty often had to come up with clever outside-the-box classes that would appeal to artistic types. The course was called Mathematics & Jorge Luis Borges, and I had never heard of him, but it seemed really interesting to me, so I took it. We read a ton of his stories and some poems and a few essays, and we talked about his use of mathematical concepts and related it to some seriously interesting theory. That class was formative as fuck. It was like I had found what I never knew I had been looking for, and I suddenly finally knew what I wanted to do with fiction.

Borges wrote about legends and myths and history and literary theory, and he wrote a detective story and stories about books. He utilized the concept of infinity in ways that I will never stop trying to imitate. If you've never read anything by Borges, go find yourself a copy of The Aleph, and read the title piece. Then read some others. Then find some other collections.

Anthony Kerrigan is generally regarded as the best translator. I have full collected works translated by Andrew Hurley, which is passable. I can't speak to the others. Mostly, reading Borges makes me wish I could read in Spanish, because if his work is so unbelievably beautiful in this decidedly unmusical language, I can't even imagine how amazing it must be in the original form.

This has been a public service announcement.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Day 12 - A book you used to love but don't anymore

This sorta feels like all kinds of blasphemy, but here goes:

The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

Ahhh, I know, right? But it's true. I read these books around the time the movies were coming out, and was just goddamn obsessed with the whole thing for ages and ages. And now a lot of time has passed and it has been a while and I realized that I am so unattached to my beautiful Alan Lee illustrated boxed set that I am strongly considering selling them for much-needed money. That's where we're at. I dunno what happened, really... I think once the thirteen/fourteen/fifteen-year old obsession faded and I stepped back a bit, I realized I didn't have any desire to reread them, and didn't retain the deep fondness I used to feel. Maybe I just grew out of high fantasy... so full of long, rambling descriptions and deep chunks of history and white dudes. Which is funny because that is all exactly what The Name of the Rose is filled with. But somehow it's different. I still like fantasy, but not as much as I used to, and not in the same way. Lord of the Rings was great for the time in my life that I loved it, but now I need my fantasy darker, grittier, more stimulating and more diverse of cast. Ahahaha good luck with that one, right? Well, that's why I write books.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Day 11 - A book you hated

The Angel's Game, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

I read this book immediately after reading Zafón's better known work The Shadow of the Wind, which was quite good and somewhat Borgesian and made me want more. They are actually set in the same world and approximately the same timeline; this book is set several years earlier.

I had a singularly bizarre reading experience with this one. I read it almost entirely (or perhaps straight-up entirely) in one day. This is utterly unheard of for me. I just couldn't put it down. I was totally fascinated and it felt very appropriate for me at that time (it is about a struggling writer) and it was spooky and atmospheric and all that good stuff.

And then, suddenly and inobtrusively, it turned on me.

I think it started to go bad before I even realized it. Thinking back on it now, though it is largely a blur, there was some stuff happening that I was on board with at the time, before I started getting a bad feeling, which later became awful and frustrating as I realized none of it had made any sense, and that my trust in the author's willingness to tie it all together was in vain. This book scared me, and not in a way I enjoyed. It scared me in a way that kind of messed me up for a few days, and I would be really hard-pressed to explain why. It was dark, but no darker than some other stuff I've read. Something about it just really started to rub me the wrong way, until before I knew it I hated the protagonist, and the direction the story was going, and the way that every idea I had about the plot was turning out to be wrong, leaving me feeling disoriented and betrayed. All that may not be enough to ascribe so strong a word as hate, but that isn't the end.

Though I did my best to blot this book from my memory immediately after reading it, I do recall that the end of this book was a fucking nightmare. There's no way to explain without spoiling it, so, if you have any reason to believe you might read this and feel differently, skip over the next paragraph.

So as I recall, this totally batshit emotionally manipulative asshole of a protagonist (and none of that in a fun, exciting, relatable way, if you ask me) has this woman that he's just obsessed with, and when he loses her somehow he sinks into deep depression, which is all pretty interesting except she keeps coming back and like, she's in an asylum, and then she winds up DEAD SOMEHOW (???) but he still can't forget her (maybe it was me getting tired of reading about heterosexuals, but oh my god, I was so bored by this) and then after all this other weird shit goes down and the book crashes to a chaotic, upsetting halt, there's this incredibly strange epilogue type thing where... as an older, tired, regret-filled man, he comes into the care of a young girl, who he somehow knows to be his fucking beloved. So like, the book ends with him in his sixties taking care of an eleven year old version of his girlfriend. UMMMMMMM if that doesn't sound like some whacked out Twilight bullshit to you, then I can't help you. I for one was profoundly put off by this ending and it made me reevaluate everything that had happened and in general I felt like the whole thing had been a huge waste.

This book was weird. I know a lot of people have enjoyed it and I guess there are reasons to defend it. But of all the books I haven't enjoyed or have found boring or have failed to connect with, this is the only one that jumps to mind when I think of "hate." Yuck.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Day 10 - Favorite classic book

There sure are some good ones out there, but I think I gotta go with this one which I only read recently.

The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger

I somehow missed out on this book in school, which is probably a good thing because I probably would have hated it. I finally read it just last year, and man it was great. It is great for all the reasons you've heard. I don't know what else to say about it. It is what it is.

Day 09 - A book you thought you wouldn't like but ended up loving

Oh dear I forgot to do this yesterday. Welp, just gonna have to post twice today.

The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver

This book, like many of the books assigned through the school system, seemed like it was going to be a drag. But it was wonderful. I got to read it over the summer, so that may have helped some, but it was so absorbing and so heartbreaking and fascinating, and it struck several chords with me. In particular, though the circumstances were HELLA different, it reminded me a little of the year I spent living abroad in Estonia.

I remember that this was one of the first books I thought about adapting to a movie, not because I could (especially not at age 16) but because it was an interesting exercise trying to figure out how I'd do it. I remember I had a lot pretty innovative ideas, particularly for how to handle the varying POVs and also how to translate Adah's endless internal snarkmonologue into something that would work on screen. Well, not to mention everyone's internal monologues. I think I had a different technique for each one of them? All I remember is that one such technique was the thing Woody Allen does in Annie Hall, where he steps right out of the scene to editorialize at the camera. I remember seeing that around that time in my life and thinking holy shit that is awesome, and how it was one of the first times I realized you could really do some crazy creative shit in movies. For Adah I think I wanted subtitles corresponding to various facial expressions. It probably wouldn't have worked at all, but it was fun to think about.

Like many of these books, I gotta reread it sometime.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Day 08 - Most overrated book

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

*ducks tomatoes*

Sorry, Austen fans. I just do not enjoy her work and this book made me want to fall asleep in so many ways. And I'm sick of hearing about it, frankly! I recognize it's importance in the literary world, I guess, I just don't want to have to read it. Maybe if there were zombies, or something.


not even the zombies help

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Day 07 - Most underrated book

This is a tricky one! What does "underrated" mean? Underrated by whom? Because I don't really pay a huge amount of attention to what The People are saying, and I don't read book reviews... I only ever knew what my fellow students thought about books we read in class. And in class you hate almost everything you have to read.

So here's what I did. I googled "underrated books" and looked at the lists of books lacking in ratings on, which isn't really the same thing I guess, but whatever?? And I spotted one that was actually in my Day 2 post.

Maurice, by E. M. Forster

Yo, not only is this book great, it's an important cultural document. A novel about a young man coming to terms with his sexuality in a difficult time period, written from real life experience. Forster doubted it would ever be published due to its themes. But it was, eventually, and not enough people know about it.

I guess I don't have much more to say about it, except I need to read it again. Here's a promotional photo from the totally sexy Merchant-Ivory film adaptation:


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Day 06 - A book that makes you sad

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon

"Sad" is an understatement. This book did not make me sad so much as it tore me to pieces. It took me a very long time to read because there were periods where I just couldn't carry on. I had to set it aside. I remember when I got into the latter half, where shit gets messy, there was one day where I put it down and literally curled up on the floor for a while. I also remember going to see some light-hearted musical one evening after reading some tough shit and being unable to focus on the musical, because what I had read that day was still digging into my gut. This is one of the hardest books I've ever read. It was also, as you'll hear round and about, a very fine work.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Day 05 - A book that makes you happy

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

I am reading this book RIGHT NOW, but even whackier, would you believe this is my FIRST PRATCHETT EXPERIENCE? Well actually now that I've said that, I realize it's technically not, but this is definitely the first time I've set out to get into Discworld, as opposed to idly reading a book not knowing what the heck it was a part of. I'm really not very far in at all, but I already love it to bits and it fills me with smiles. Pratchett is so hilarious and clever and this book got me through a plane trip, which is saying something, as almost nothing can distract me from how much I hate being on planes.

I haven't been reading it lately, because I think my savoring method is to just... infinitely prolong the reading process? Which is silly. Fortuitously, my girlfriend just started reading it as well, so now we can climb through it together. Yay!

SPEAKING OF INFINITELY PROLONGED, it would be a crime if I got past both the series question and this question without giving an honorable mention to this baby, presented without comment:

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Day 04 - Favorite book of your favorite series

Gah! Why didn't I pick a series I'd read more recently.... also I'm fairly certain that all members of the Griffin & Sabine mythos are equally amazing, so, would I know what to say even if I was up on them? Maybe?? I am failing this book meme, ahaha.

Well, okay. I'm gonna go rogue and do my favorite book of my favorite childhood series, which I also barely remember, except the lasting fondness.

Mossflower, by Brian Jacques

You bet your sweet bippy I was into Redwall, Redwall was the best. All that mousefood. So good. I read a ton of these books and I no longer remember almost anything about them or even which ones I read or what order I read them in (probably the wrong one -- definitely the wrong one, I'm pretty sure I started with Martin the Warrior for some reason), but I do remember that Mossflower kicked ass and I loved it because come on, prison breakouts! That is about all I remember from this book! Oh and what's his name, Gonff?? YES google tells me I am right, go me. "Gonff the Mousethief." Resident comic relief and major boss.

I still wouldn't say Redwall outweighs Griffin & Sabine for me because in terms of significant reading experiences, adventure stories about rodents were pretty formative, but postmodern mixed-media epistolary mindfuck was definitely way more formative. Anyone who knows me can probably attest.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Day 03 - Your favorite series

Griffin & Sabine, by Nick Bantock

I haven't read these books in a LONG time, and I'm not even sure I read all of them, but they stuck with me and I've been waiting and waiting to obtain all of them. The full story is actually two trilogies, The Griffin & Sabine Trilogy and The Morning Star Trilogy. They're epistolary picture book/novels that contain facsimiles of postcards and actual letters folded up inside envelopes and collages, and the art is oh so very beautiful, and it's a really incredible story besides. It's a correspondence between two people who've never met but nonetheless discover that they share a sort of supernatural connection. It's really really great and oh god I want to read them all now I gotta get my hands on the other books. Dang.

If you are not familiar with these, I highly recommend getting on that right now because they are amazing as hell.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Day 02 - A book that you've read more than 3 times

Golly gosh I dunno if I have one of these! I'm so bad about reading books even twice! I'm very much a "get it done and move on" kind of reader, which is lame and I really want to change it. I love it when people talk about books they read yearly, or books they love so much that they just read them again and again, and I want to experience that. I don't have that one book that is all battered and loved from years of rereading. Which makes me sad.

Here are some books I could imagine developing such a relationship with, some of which I'm sure you'll hear about later:

Monday, June 11, 2012

Day 01 - Best book you read last year

The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco

I read a ton of books last year, but without even thinking too hard about it, I know this to be the answer. It was just so so good, and it totally rocked my entire impression of myself as a reader, and I gotta say it is probably gonna show up more than once on this list. For those who are not familiar with Mr. Eco, he's an Italian professor of semiotics (file that link under "Definitely Gonna Explore That Later") who also randomly writes totally amazing novels. So far I have only read this one, but I know, I just know, that all of them are amazing. This book blew my mind. To describe it would be almost useless because it sounds HELLA boring (at least, if you're me) -- in this secluded monastery in the 1300s there are murders and these monks are keeping secrets from each other and one of them plays detective and it is all told by his novice assistant who is a big derp. That sort of sounds interesting, but it also sounds like it could potentially be snoozeville. It's very thoughtful and meandering and takes a long time to really get going and there are huge sections that are mostly concerned with medieval Catholic teachings and history. Those all sound like things to which I am enthusiasm-challenged. And I think there are still plenty of sorts who wouldn't get into it.

But give it a shot. Make sure you get a copy that has Eco's Postscript in the back, because those notes were exactly as earth-shattering for me as the book itself. There he relates that several friends to whom he showed the manuscript suggested he take out the whole beginning, some hundred pages, and he was like hell no. The reason being, that stuff is a rite of passage. It's like climbing the mountain to the abbey. You have to get through the gentle-paced, philosophy-laden atmosphere-setup before you can really appreciate the rest of the novel. I remember reading it and being amazed while reading it that I was enjoying it so much, and it's just because I got so sucked in. That world was so real and I loved it, and I was more satisfied by this book than I have been by a book in a looong time.

Also, William of Baskerville is the Sherlock Holmes of monks and he even has a totally credulous wide-eyed narrator pal who occasionally gives him great ideas and also has a lot of lady drama, and if that doesn't sound amazing to you then turn back now.

30 Days of Books

So I'm doing a 30 Days meme! Because why not. At least I'll be posting regularly, hopefully.

Here's the master list. I'll come back to add links.

Day 01 - Best book you read last year
Day 02 - A book that you've read more than 3 times
Day 03 - Your favorite series
Day 04 - Favorite book of your favorite series
Day 05 - A book that makes you happy
Day 06 - A book that makes you sad
Day 07 - Most underrated book
Day 08 - Most overrated book
Day 09 - A book you thought you wouldn't like but ended up loving
Day 10 - Favorite classic book
Day 11 - A book you hated
Day 12 - A book you used to love but don't anymore
Day 13 - Your favorite writer
Day 14 - Favorite book of your favorite writer
Day 15 - Favorite male character
Day 16 - Favorite female character
Day 17 - Favorite quote from your favorite book
Day 18 - A book that disappointed you
Day 19 - Favorite book turned into a movie
Day 20 - Favorite romance book
Day 21 - Favorite book from your childhood
Day 22 - Favorite book you own
Day 23 - A book you wanted to read for a long time but still haven't
Day 24 - A book that you wish more people would've read
Day 25 - A character who you can relate to the most
Day 26 - A book that changed your opinion about something
Day 27 - The most surprising plot twist or ending
Day 28 - Favorite title
Day 29 - A book that everybody hated but you liked
Day 30 - Your favorite book of all time


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Dealing With Melancholia

I wasn't going to write a post about Melancholia, but after getting briefly involved in a discussion about it with Zac Little (blogger, youtube rebel & enemy of bad journalism), I suddenly realized I had a lot of things to say. Or a few things to talk about at length. Either way, this is long and this is personal. Fair warning.

For those of you not familiar, Melancholia is a film by Lars von Trier, who describes it as a psychological disaster drama, wherein a rogue planet (called Melancholia, duh) is drifting through space and is supposedly going to pass gloriously and harmlessly by the Earth, but in fact rams into us head on and destroys everyone and everything including our main characters, Kirsten Dunst, her sister Charlotte Gainsbourg, and the latter's young son. It may sound like I just spoiled the ending for you, but it turns out I did not! That information is all contained within not only trailers, but the opening eight minutes of the movie. Von Trier has said that he did not intend for any suspense related to whether the Earth will be destroyed, but rather in how the characters react to the knowledge.

Spoilers and greater details regarding the rest of the film and my complex hurricane of feelings about it after the jump.

I should start off by saying that I went into this with an intense dislike of Lars von Trier. I have a lot of reasons for this, which I'm not going to go into, because that's not the point, and ultimately it doesn't impact my ability to enjoy [THIS ONE PARTICULAR EXAMPLE OF] his work. I find that one is quite capable of deeply hating various people and begrudgingly respecting them at the same time (Quentin Tarantino, Roman Polanski, Ron Burgundy), and since those are really two different conversations, I am not going to defend or explain my feelings about Mr. von Trier right now.

Those feelings did, however, keep me from seeing Melancholia in the theaters, which is a bit of a shame, because damn if this is not a movie that should be seen as on big a screen as possible. But I watched it on Netflix, about a week ago, and I have been in recovery ever since.

Melancholia is part of a current trend toward End Of The World movies. Has anyone else noticed this? In addition to Melancholia there's been Contagiona thing with Eva Green and Ewan McGregor which looks like it is just full of emotional whiplash, and an upcoming similar thing with Steve Carell and Keira Knightley. More recently there was ALSO Another Earth, which is not about the end of the world at all, but IS about a mysterious and unexplainable cosmic event and how it psychologically impacts its main characters, which is extremely similar to Melancholia. (Though quite different in scope, focus and budget, Another Earth is also mightily worth seeing.)

This is not to say that we've never made end-of-the-world movies before, certainly we have. But I'm starting to sense a change in direction. Lately filmmakers seem to be trying to go hyperrealistic with it, or to focus less on the destruction and the action elements that are traditionally paired with such movies, and focusing more on the psychological effects, the human stories at the core. Which is good and more interesting to me! But it also annoys me for an incredibly petty reason, which I'll tell you briefly even though it is off topic: before all of this started, I had a vivid dream wherein I knew the world was coming to end through some unstoppable cosmic event, and we had known it was coming for a number of years, and this was the last day. Waking up was an intense relief that I have never quite felt before. All that dread and anguish my subconscious made me feel was very real, so I took the next natural step and started writing a story about it, to get those feelings on paper. I never finished the story, and within some months these movies started cropping up, and now what may have been a somewhat original idea looks like it's following a trend. This has been happening throughout my life and fuels me in my belief that I must get things done NOW NOW NOW or it will be too late because someone will unwittingly steal it from me, which in turn feeds into my obsessive perfectionism that makes everything very difficult for me. But more on that in another post, perhaps.

I'm not going to talk a whole lot about my interpretation of this movie or the artistry of it, because I think a lot of other people are probably talking about that better than I can, and what I want to talk about is in keeping with the general theme of this blog, which is about the depression, panic and fear that is depicted in this film, and also incited by it. As such you probably shouldn't look at this as a review. This is personal, a disjointed commentary on how this movie affected me.

The first eight minutes of the movie are cut off from the rest, and could almost be watched separately as a short art film. It depicts Dunst and Gainsbourg in a variety of surreal scenarios as the world comes to an end around them, all shot in super slow motion so it's sort of agonizing to watch, for more reasons than one. During this period you learn something about both of them: Dunst is grim-faced, unafraid, fascinated by what is happening around her. Gainsbourg is fucking terrified.

There's a particular shot which was used in the trailer and haunted me then, and haunts me now: Gainsbourg running (well, in the motion of running) across a golf course, carrying her son. It looks like she's screaming or crying (there is no sound in this sequence, just a relentless clip of Wagner music which recurs endlessly throughout). The thing that gets me about this shot is her footprints. They're pronounced, muddy -- it's hard to tell, but it looks like they're deeper than they should be. Is this supposed to be an effect of gravity caused by one planet hitting another? I don't understand enough about physics/astronomy to know, and I'm quite certain that von Trier didn't really research shit like that, because it wasn't important to the story (I get that, I do). In any case, her positioning is odd, there's almost an uncanny valley look and feel to this whole sequence, how abominably slowly everyone is moving, and let me tell you: it fucking terrifies me. Once you watch that sequence I sort of defy you not to watch the rest of the film, but I also understand if your reaction is "FUCK no" at that point. I sort of doubt you'll follow through -- well, unless the "fuck no" is a response to the high-artistry of it, and that kind of stuff just turns you off. I'm talking about the deep stomach-turning dread of this scenario, world ending, nowhere to run but running anyway. I feel like the slow motion is almost meant to give us a sense of helplessness -- they're not going anywhere, there's no time to do anything, this is happening. And maybe it's also meant to show us some calm (those are definitely the conflicting responses of Gainsbourg and Dunst, respectively). In any case, it's beautiful and grotesque, and at the end of it this giant planet hits our little one head-on and that's the END OF THAT. Then the movie starts.

That sequence is supposed to be viewed like the overture to an opera (of course the Wagner music is FROM the overture to Tristan and Isolde): setting up visual motifs and sort of introducing the characters and telling us the ending, so we know what's coming and we know the significance (or lack thereof) of all actions that follow. Then the movie starts.

The film is divided into two parts, each focusing on the two sisters: Justine (Dunst) and Claire (Gainsbourg). The first half is mostly about Justine's unbearably awkward wedding going horribly, quietly awry -- she becomes increasingly depressed and withdrawn, the ceremony goes hours and hours over schedule, tensions are high, etc, finally leading to Justine having sex with some stranger and her husband the vampire from True Blood calling it off just as soon as it's over. WELP. There's some stray focus on the night sky throughout this sequence, lots of fancy telescopes in the background of shots, lots of Dunst gazing up at the stars, and it's sort of maddening because the viewer knows what's coming and is forced to wait it out, instead watching this dreadful occasion fall apart. There's a lot to be said about this, but I'll leave that to someone else. I want to talk about the second half.

In the second half, Claire and her husband Kiefer Sutherland (I know, right) are receiving Justine at their estate, where the wedding took place -- so time has passed, but we haven't moved. Justine is now in a state of severe depression. The kind where you can't get into a taxi cab that's waiting for you because you're too scared to go anywhere. Where you don't get out of bed for literal days. Where you won't even take a bath, even that is too hard, even when your sister has undressed you and is trying to help you into it.

I have never had those three experiences, but holy fuck, I have been there. I know what that is. I know what it is to revert to this sort of childish state of being because you're too afraid, too ill-equipped to face your life. I know that fetal position, that limpness, that scream, that way of sort of drifting through the day. I expect that everyone who knows these things suffers the same pangs of shame and embarrassment at seeing this accurate depiction of emotional turmoil, and I know that Lars von Trier was drawing from personal experience. If you have ever been seriously depressed to the point of incapacity this is going to hit you. Even if you haven't been THAT seriously depressed, it'll hit. If you're already depressed on the day that you decide to watch this movie (as I was), it is going to drag you down further. Not least because of where it's headed.

Justine starts to recover bit by bit, and the focus shifts to Claire. Her husband (Jack? Joe? John? I don't remember, I just know I hated him) is an amateur astronomer and he is very excited about this exciting phenomenon of the planet Melancholia drifting by. Claire, a sane human, is not really excited and more obsessively googling to see if they're going to be all right. Which of course annoys unsympathetic control-freak husband Sutherland to no end. EVERYTHING WILL BE FINE, Claire. YOU JUST LISTEN TO ME, EVERYTHING WILL BE FINE.

Obviously, we know he's wrong. Everything is not fine.

I hate him, and I think you're supposed to hate him, for a few reasons. This everything-will-be-fine attitude extends to his having no patience for Justine's depression, which, fuck you, man, seriously, fuck you. He shows himself again and again to be nothing but a greedy rich husband who likes being in control of his wife, her sister, everything around him. And NATURALLY, because there is no other ending for a guy like that, when he learns he is wrong after all, and that his doom is coming and there is nothing he, even he, this control freak, can do -- he kills himself. He kills himself with pills CLAIRE BOUGHT, possibly to kill herself with. He doesn't say anything to her. He doesn't tell her the truth about what's happening. He just vanishes, leaving her to discover the truth on her own, and to find his fucking body in the stables. GOOD JOB, ASSHOLE. I mean, it's a perfect ending to his arc, but oh my god do I hate him. I hate him for not being there for Claire. Because oh my god, if Justine was me before, it's nothing compared to how much Claire is me. I can't deal with how much Claire is me. Literally, I'm not saying that like they say "I can't deal" on the internet... I actually, earnestly can't really deal with it. It upsets me. It upsets me how true her reaction to oncoming inescapable destruction feels. I am sure it's a reaction many people could expect of themselves in such an event, but that doesn't matter, if you've ever felt down on yourself you know it doesn't matter that others feel the same, are going through the same hardships. Not really. The viewing experience is personal, intentionally so. I watched it and didn't see Claire as a representation of a greater portion of humanity: I saw her as me. I am a coward. I would run. There is nowhere to run but I'd run. I'd want to attempt to do something meaningful or comforting with my last hours (as she tries to suggest, an idea brutally shot down by the now totally zen Justine), even if it's stupid and won't help. I'd cry and scream and refuse to accept it down to the last minute. Maybe that isn't true, maybe I'd react differently. But I don't think so.

I don't really like that about me.

On Wikipedia it says Lars von Trier came up with this idea after talking to a therapist about his depression -- evidently she told him that depressed people react calmly to great disaster because they already expect the worst. Makes sense, I guess. Justine reacts with total calm, even happy to know that the world is ending, that humanity is about to be snuffed out, because fuck humanity. Which is a pretty disturbing sentiment. Also disturbing is her seemingly clairvoyant assertion that they are alone in the universe and this marks the end of life AS WE KNOW IT. We're sort of given to believe that this is in fact true, that Justine has some sort of power that allows her to know things. I think Lars von Trier probably wants us to believe her. I don't entirely know why this was so important to him, that this marked not just the ending of humanity but of all life. Actually I guess I do know: because of the finality. The emptiness of the black screen that comes when the planet is finally destroyed. That is it. There is no hope. There is no reassurance. That's just it.

Afterward I called this movie the ultimate nihilist experience. It is almost masturbatory in its nihilism. And it made me angry that I had watched it. It made me angry that Lars von Trier had evoked all these fears and feelings in me, angry even while I recognized that he had done his job as the filmmaker, and that any movie that affects you that way is worth your attention. But still it made me angry. That's about me, not so much about the movie. About me desperately afraid that I'm going to die young, or that the world will end somehow, or that one day things will get so bad that I'll be too afraid to get out of bed. This movie showed me all the worst things about myself. Justine's drift into darkness that keeps her from enjoying her own wedding. Kiefer Sutherland wanting to be in control of his life to the degree that when he sees the inevitable hurtling toward him he pussies out and takes pills. I see both of those in me (that's why I hate him so much). Mostly there's Claire, though. Wanting it to be a bad dream, like the bad dream I did have, wherein I behaved more or less like I expected. I don't want to be that person, I don't want to be Claire. But I am. I'm Claire.

I guess that's sort of all I have to say, and it's abrupt, but that's kind of fitting in a post about this movie, isn't it?