Friday, September 30, 2011

Movie Review: JANE EYRE

Originally released: 2011
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Judi Dench
Directed by: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Based on: The classic novel of the same name by Charlotte Brontë, of course.

Since 1996, there have been four movie adaptations of Jane Eyre. FOUR. Why so many? I have noooo idea. Granted, two of those adaptations were for television (and both were better than this piece of crap), but it's not as if Jane Eyre lends itself to the screen. I love the book--it's my favorite novel ever--but when I think about it, stunning visuals don't exactly leap to mind. Obviously I'm not a director, but as a reader I can tell the biggest problem with adapting Jane Eyre to film is that it's all about what's not happening--what isn't seen, what's not being said, the fact that you can never know what someone else is thinking. It makes for great reading, but can lead to a pretty boring movie.

movie poster
One of these two people needs more sleep.

Something every Jane Eyre adaptation I've ever seen has in common is that they all start with scenes from Jane's childhood and then her going to that depressing school. WHY. WHY. WHY. WHY? Yeah, I like part of the book, too, but it doesn't really have that much to do with the main story, and Jane's a sympathetic enough character without it. Just throw Jane into Thornfield and let's get this party started, okay? But this version has a twist (exclamation mark). It combines the boring childhood scenes with the boring scenes when Jane stays with the Rivers family, together into one incomprehensible block! Making it... twice as boring! At the start of the movie! GREAT idea.

I really wanted to fast forward through that section because I felt like I was watching paint dry, but I didn't. My bad. Then we finally get to Thornfield and I'm all like, "Yay!" and "Judi Dench is Mrs. Fairfax!" and "Oh good, that Fassbender person is here, maybe this movie will at last start to get interesting." But because we've spent a good half hour reprising stuff no one cares about, that apparently means the things I do care about--i.e., the developing relationship between Jane and Rochester--needs to be slashed to pieces and my favorite scenes in the book have to be messed with. OH NO YOU DIDN'T.

"This is one of my three expressions. Get used to it."

I guess the movie still could have been saved from being horrible if it wasn't for Fassbender. I know everyone is in love with him, but I have to be honest and say I do not get the attraction of this guy at all. First of all, his face is seriously weird. It reminds me of Gumby. But he's Rochester, so it's not as if he has to be attractive or anything; that's in the book. Second, and more importantly, he cannot act to save his life!! He wasn't even trying, I swear to god. Whenever there was a romantic scene in the movie, he sounded like he was reading directions from a teleprompter. "Jane... veer left, then proceed onto the motorway. Will you marry me?" I felt like he decided the flowery language was ridiculous so he wasn't even going to attempt to say the words as if he actually meant them. WHAT A DICK. And don't even get me started on the creepazoid factor. Who does he think he is, Rat's Nest RPatt? Stop watching that woman who's, like, twenty years younger than you sleep, sleazebag! Instead of finding him attractive, I was grossed out. Even Jane knows enough not to let him loan her money.

There's also this weird BDSM thing going on in the movie. Fassbender is literally strangling Jane at one point when he's trying to get her to do what he wants, the psycho. And don't even get me started on St. John and his untoward interest in Jane's education being juxtaposed with scenes of a schoolgirl being caned. I was like, what the fridge? Jane's also super-fascinated with a picture of a nude woman writhing in the grass (Roll, roll! Roll in zee hay! Spoiler alert, Jane does this at one point) with her wrists restrained. I get that we're trying to sex it up, but Jane as a submissive is a little trite and obvious, dontcha think?

Aside from the terrible acting, the movie's "artistic interpretation" of the book is soooo graduate film school. At one point, instead of actually witnessing Jane and Rochester's relationship develop, I had to sit through one of those love montages where they frolic amid nature with flowers and a gentle breeze. Are you freaking kidding me?!? What is this, the 1960s? Look at your life, look at your choices! As for the one part of the book where things have the potential to be visually interesting--the burning of Thornfield--do you think we get to see that? No, Jane and Mrs. Fairfax literally stand on screen and tell us about it. With their words. They don't even use hand gestures! I do believe that's the very definition of "pictures of people talking."

This is honestly the worst film adaptation of Jane Eyre I've ever seen IN MY ENTIRE LIFE. It's boring as heck, the acting is pretty bad (except for Judi Dench, and you can tell even she gives up at some point), and it's clear the director had no idea how to tell this story in a cinematic way. The William Hurt and Ciaran Hinds versions were pretty boring, too, but at least they made an effort to tell the story, and Ciaran Hinds emoted nicely. Compared to the Toby Stephens version, though, this one is just a sad mess. You can slap the word artistic on a donkey's ass but that's not going to make me think it's a masterpiece. Maybe next time we should try focusing on the script instead of the lens filters? Just an idea.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Book Review: THE MYSTERY OF THE YELLOW ROOM by Gaston Leroux

yellow room cover

After a woman is mysteriously attacked in her own bedroom, with the door still locked from the inside, the police are baffled. Fortunately, Joseph Rouletabille, the most famous investigative journalist in the world, is on hand to solve the case.

The Phantom of the Opera is one of my favorite books of all times, but for some reason I never even wondered what other books Gaston Leroux might have written. Or if I did wonder, I forgot. But! When I saw a review for The Mystery of the Yellow Room and its sequel, The Perfume of the Lady in Black, at Cynical Optimism, I knew I had to give it try.

This is the first "locked room" mystery ever written. You can still find variations on this plot today--The Mentalist, for example, had an episode based on this idea. The linchpin question is, how did the murderer escape the room? In this case, the mystery is further complicated by the fact that the murderer doesn't escape once, but several times, something the police don't know and that Rouletabille has to figure out.

As far as the mystery goes, this book is excellent. I don't think I've ever encountered a more successful red herring in my life (perhaps Leroux invented red herrings, as well?). At first the story seems relatively straight-forward (aside from the problem of the room, of course), but it keeps twisting and twisting until the end when Rouletabille reveals the killer, which is the biggest twist of all--but also left me thinking, "OH DUH." As a reader, one definitely has all the information to solve the case, but Leroux is so skillful at distracting one with delicious Victorian drama that one doesn't realize it what the pertinent clues were until later.

I also loved the detective, Rouletabille. He's only eighteen, so he has wild mood swings, is very enthusiastic about everything, and is freakishly smart. His origin story is just bizarre, with him discovering an important piece of evidence when he was eight which led to a job at a newspaper. Apparently there's a whole series of books starring Rouletabille, one of which is the first espionage novel ever written.

That being said, my enjoyment of this book was tempered by the fact that I listened to it in an audiobook format from Librivox. Since the narrators for Librivox are all volunteers, it can be pretty hit-or-miss, and this novel had seven or eight different narrators, some of whom were pretty good and some who could use a little work. Hence I'm still really confused about some things, like who is telling the story? It's not Rouletabille, it's some other journalist, but I'm not sure who. Are we supposed to assume it's Leroux? Also, who is the Lady In Black? Still don't know, and a little freaked out by the fact that Rouletabille kept going on and on about her perfume, as I was reading Perfume: The Story of a Murderer at the same time. Also, for the first quarter of this book I thought the woman in the yellow room, Mlle. Stangerson, was dead; so you can imagine how confused I was when she started giving her statement to the police (?!). That's when I knew this audiobook wasn't working out very well. I'd like to reread the novel in actual text format before I move on to the next Rouletabille book, which I definitely plan to do.

If you enjoy Phantom of the Opera or turn-of-the-century mysteries, I definitely recommend you give The Mystery of the Yellow Room a try. Rouletabille may not be as awesome as Eric (who is?), but he's nevertheless a pretty great character, definitely right up there with other classic detectives like Sherlock Holmes and Poirot. And this novel has the same great mix of fun and suspense as Phantom.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Book Review: PERFUME, THE STORY OF A MURDERER by Patrick Süskind

perfume cover

Once upon a time in France, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born into a harsh world. Forget about love and human kindness; everyone is out for themselves. Especially when it comes to Grenouille, because he has no soul--or so people believe, because he has no scent. He doesn't smell bad, like the fish market he's born in, or good, like a baby generally does--he doesn't smell of anything. Ergo, he freaks people out. As far as they're concerned, he shouldn't even exist. One of his nursemaids calls him a vampire, and this is more accurate than she knows, because once Grenouille realizes he can distill people's scents, he decides to steal them for himself. And by people I of course mean beautiful young virgins.

This novel wasn't exactly pleasant to read, but it had its moments. The first fifty pages or so are pretty boring, because Grenouille's just an innocent little serial killer and doesn't do much except sniff around woodpiles and whatnot. There's also a slow part in the middle where J-BG lives in a cave for seven years and entertains himself remembering all the smells he's smelled (yeah, I skimmed through that part). Other than that, though, the book's actually pretty interesting, especially when Grenouille is learning how to become a perfumer; and the very end, which nearly punches you in the face with its existentialism, really makes the entire novel worth it.

One thing that did surprise me was the subtext. I definitely don't think every work of fiction emerging from Germany in the last 60 years has something to do with WWII, but in the instance of this specific book, there's a case to be made. Like Adolph Hitler, Grenouille is seemingly unkillable, surviving abandonment by his mother, anthrax, some sort of black plague episode, and hypothermia, just to name a few. He's completely asexual and not a sensuous person at all--as in, he doesn't care about food or beauty or being comfortable; he only cares about scent. When he does kill, it's not because it brings him a personal sense of satisfaction, it's just a means to an end--gaining these girls' scent so that people will love him and do whatever he wants them to. The killings aren't acts of passion or even hate, but are efficient, almost mechanized, so that Grenouille can get what he really wants: control and power. "If he wanted, he could be feted in Paris... or could walk out to Versailles and have the king kiss his feet; write the pope a perfumed letter and be revealed as the new Messiah...."

Despite seeing with their own eyes the evidence of Grenouille's murders, and hearing him confess, the people of Grasse cannot resist the pull of Grenouille's perfume:

The ten thousand men and women, children and patriarchs assembled there... grew weak as young maidens who have succumbed to the charms of a lover. They were overcome by a powerful sense of goodwill, of tenderness, of crazy, childish infatuation, yes, God help them, of love for this little homicidal man.... These people were now pure liquid, their spirits and minds were melted; nothing was left but an amorphous fluid, and all they could feel was their hearts floating and sloshing about within them, and they laid those hearts, each man, each woman, in the hands of the little man... for better or worse. They loved him.
After this massive incident of Group Think, which results in Grenouille's escape, the town of Grasse tries its best to mind-bleach the entire episode. They convict an innocent man of the killings, the records pertaining to "G" are lost, and no one speaks of it again. Life forcibly moves on. One might say Grasse has lost its innocence, but it would be more correct to say that the people of Grasse lost their perception of their own superiority. Grenouille's perfume of beauty, love, and purity reached these people and they all reacted with their basest lusts and greediness, behaving like "human beasts." Because of the enchantment of having their desires satiated, they let a murderer go free--not only that, but worshiped him. It's not just the knowledge that they're no better than Grenouille, but how thin their veil of morality and humanity is that keeps the citizenry from looking each other in the eye.

This is the type of novel where everyone is to blame. Even the people who "save the world" from Grenouille (at his own design) do so in the most disgusting and inhumane method imaginable, then congratulate themselves afterward. The narrator believes Grenouille is a terrible person, yes, but he's a terrible person because the world, totally selfish and greedy, made him that way. Aside from his superpowers--unkillable, super-smell, etc.--there really isn't much difference between Grenouille and any of the other characters in this novel. Does Grenouille really have no soul? Of course not; he desires the same thing we all do, love. It's when he realizes no one will ever love him--or vice versa--that he gives up.

If this story is a metaphor for what happened to Germany in WWII, then it's only in a more abstract sense. But I don't think it's as cynical as it first appears; if anything, Süskind is making an argument for tolerance and kindness and the Enlightenment values of freedom, equality, brotherhood, etc. (except for when it comes to women; if I thought the movie was misogynistic, the book is a lot worse). So while this may not be my favorite book ever, I do think it was worth reading. There are Ideas and there is History, and it reads amazingly fast in the non-boring parts (which is most of the novel). On more than a few levels this book is deeply disturbing, but then what else would one expect from a novel about a serial killer?

Musical notes: "I Think Ur a Contra," by Vampire Weekend

Friday, September 23, 2011

Preparing for the October 2011 24-Hour Readathon!

dewey readathon button

Today is the first day of fall, and that means the fall edition of Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon is almost upon us (October 22nd). Excitement!

I have horrible luck when it comes to readathons; I've never finished a whole book during one, just books that were already half-way read. It doesn't even have anything to do with working; I just get too distracted by things like visiting blogs and doing challenges. My TBR pile for the Dewey's Readathon hasn't changed once since I first participated, that's how bad it is.

SO ANYWAY. I was going to just do cheerleading this time, because looking at my constantly not-changing stack of readathon books is quite frankly not good for morale, but then I woke up with the conviction that I really had to read during the readathon. I just had to. This time, though, I'm not even going to TRY to finish a book. I'm picking a long-ass novel and just sticking with that for the entire day. It's gonna be Pillars of the Earth all up in here. Okay, maybe not Pillars of the Earth, but definitely a chunkster will be read, or at the very least started.

I'm also going to try to wake up and start reading w/everyone else this year. It probably won't happen, but I'm going to make the effort-ish.

Have you signed up for the Readathon yet? You should!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Book Review: GAMES AND PLAYERS by Manna Francis

Proposed alternate title: Val Toreth and the Challenge of the Really Real

games and players cover

In this Administration novel, both Warrick and Toreth deal with how whacked their perception of reality is... then again, what perception of reality?

Throughout Games and Players, Toreth is criticized as being a psychotic because he doesn't consider people as "real." It all starts with Carnak, a socioanalyst sent to compile a report on I&I, who just happens to know Warrick from back in the day. He finds Toreth interesting because he knows Toreth does consider at least two people as "real"--Warrick and Sara--which to his mind makes Toreth an unusual parainvestigator. But after witnessing Toreth interrogate a prisoner, Carnak decides Toreth is a terrible person and that he's going to fuck with his mind.

There's a certain irony here of course, because Carnak doesn't consider anyone as real, and is therefore arguably more psychotic than Toreth is. But whatever the reality of the two men's psychology, the nature of Toreth's job allows Carnak to feel morally superior to him; and I think that's true of everyone in this novel, including Sara. Even Warrick feels that way to a certain extent, at least until he realizes he's behaving like a child.

Toreth may not view everyone as a Real Person, but then who the hell does? Do you think of people on the news as being "real," or homeless people, or the person who hands you your coffee at Starbucks? Looking beyond one's own reality is part of learning how to be human and growing up, and even then the whole world can't be "real." In actuality, many people have less of a grasp on reality than Toreth does, and simply use other people to play out what goes on in their own heads--like Toreth's old teacher, Gee, for example. At least Toreth's able to distinguish between reality and fantasy, which Warrick doesn't and doesn't want to.

Like Quid Pro Quo, this novel is organized into shorter stories and novellas that I read for free on Manna Francis' website, and all of them deal with reality and perception to some extent. I have to admit that while I've been enjoying these stories before now, I just considered them fun and gratuitous light reads. But at some point while reading this novel, I suddenly started thinking this was the greatest series ever! Why? I'm not sure. But Francis has a great grasp of her characters and the more I read about them, the more I want to read about them (except for Dilly, she's annoying). Plus, I don't think it's just fluff; I think Francis does have something to say beyond writing a m/m romance. Subtext, yo.

I definitely recommend these books! They're totally glom-worthy.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


First released: 2006
Starring: Ben Whishaw, Sam Douglas, Dustin Hoffman, Alan Rickman
Directed by: Tom Tykwer
Based on: The novel of the same name by Patrick Süskind

The fleeting nature of beauty and perfection are the main themes in this is a visually memorable, well-written, and well-acted film. In the end I found it deeply disturbing--mainly because I ended up admiring the main character, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, even as I recognized what he was doing as not only wrong, but pointless.

perfume poster

The movie is about a man named Grenouille (which, as we all know from NCIS, means "frog"), an 18th-century Frenchman who has such a precise and amazing sense of smell that he experiences the world almost entirely by scent. Combine this with extreme social awkwardness and a propensity for anyone who knows him to die suddenly and violently, and let's just say the guy's kind of an odd duck.

Grenouille's ride to Crazytown begins when he catches the most beautiful scent he's ever smelled: a young woman. Thereafter, he becomes obsessed with capturing and preserving people's (young women's, technically) scents forever. To that end, he becomes a journeyman perfumer and seeks to create the perfect scent.

The performances in the film are really good--especially Ben Whishaw, who plays Grenouille. He brings just the right mix of attraction and repulsion to Grenouille's character; I imagine he would also play an excellent Ted Bundy. Alan Rickman is freaking awesome, as always, and even Dustin Hoffman is pretty good. The female actresses mainly stand around looking pretty and hunted.

pretty victim
"But I'm too pretty to live..."

Grenouille's struggle to capture something as fleeting as scent finds many metaphors throughout the movie. The film plays like one of those historical monographs where the life an ordinary person is recreated through the interpretation of historical documents--an interesting point in itself as history can be seen as attempting to do the same thing Grenouille does, capture the essence of a person and preserve it forever. The entire point of Grenouille's life is that he disappears into the ether, leaving behind only fleeting and vague emotions in the people he encountered, if that. Yet his story is written down so it will never be forgotten? This was the most difficult part of the film to reconcile for me.

Visually, I love this movie. It doesn't saturate you with beauty all the time; instead, most of the movie is very dark and monochromatic, so that when the important scenes come up--full of gorgeous, bright, saturated color--you remember them like they've been burned into your retinas.

The movie also reminded me of an episode of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations I watched last week. Bourdain went to Tokyo, where he asked every chef he encountered, "Is perfection possible?" Like scent, food is a fleeting, temporary experience. All the chefs Bourdain talked to said, no, perfection isn't possible to achieve, although they all strive for it. Grenouille too strives for perfection in his art; but unlike the chefs on No Reservations, he doesn't think it's impossible. When Grenouille first apprentices himself to the parfumier Giuseppe Baldini, Baldini tells him a story about a perfume found in Egypt that was so amazing, for a minute after it was unearthed, everyone in the world thought they were in paradise. This legend (which Grenouille doesn't think is a legend) combines with his obsession to preserve a young woman's beauty and innocence forever, leading him to create a scent that can command the love and admiration of anyone with functioning olfactory glands. Yet this amazing formula comes with a steep price: the destruction of the very thing he's trying to capture, the lives of the young women. Ergo, the film seems to be arguing, perfection leads to death. Perhaps this why the chefs on No Reservations believe they will never, ever be able to achieve perfection, no matter how hard they strive for it; because they know perfection would destroy the reason why they strive for it in the first place: the fleeting moment of connection with another human being.

At least, that's the conclusion Grenouille comes to, too late to save the lives of the beautiful young women of Grasse. In despair, he destroys the perfume he created forever.  Despite the fact that Grenouille gets what's coming to him and then some, it does seem a shame that so much beauty would disappear so quickly and never be experienced again.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


hurrell style cover

When George Hurrell came to California in the 1920's as an aspiring artist, his dream was to paint. Little did he know that his hobby of photography would quickly propel him into a career of photographing the world' most famous movie stars for Hollywood studios. From 1928 to 1978, Hurrell photographed for MGM, Paramount, Samuel Goldwyn, Twentieth Century-Fox, Warner Bros., and many other studios, capturing the likenesses of every actor from Ramon Navarro to Keith Carradine.

johnny weissmuller Johnny Weissmuller, photograph by George Hurrell, 1932

This is an odd book; it wasn't quite what I was expecting. It's more of memoir than a history, but it's organized by actor, chronologically, so there isn't really a narrative. I wouldn't say there's much of a focus, either; Stine gives us some background on the stars--especially the less familiar ones--and Hurrell tells stories about how he took the photographs, which may involve his technique or personal anecdotes about the stars themselves. I wouldn't say it's boring, because Hurrell's stories are really interesting; and although he is clearly recounting these incidents to Stine through a long series of interviews, you can tell he's quite the character.

tallulah bankhead Tallulah Bankhead, photograph by George Hurrell, 1936

To evoke different types of reactions in the actors, Hurrell would play music, dance around the studio while clicking away on his camera, or shout random phrases for no reason. Some of the stars he got to know really well and others he only met once, but his perceptive descriptions of their personalities is definitely of interest to anyone intrigued by movie history; and his descriptions of technique, such as how he framed the shots and developed some of the prints, is most certainly relevant for anyone who's serious about practicing, or likes to read about, photography.

anna may wong Anna May Wong, photograph by George Hurrell, 1938

That being said, the book as a whole just feels blah and is kind of tedious to read. For one, the organization of it into star-by-star essays makes reading it seem very repetitive. Here's this one actor Hurrell photographed, and here's this other actor, and here's this other famous actor. O-kaaay. For another, there is zero analysis in this entire book. I've read wikipedia entries with more insight than these essays. And it's a shame, because Hurrell's work wasn't just promotional pablum; some of the photographs in the book are freaking amazing. You can tell he's more interested in the abstract shapes of the shadows than making a portrait per se, and that's true to some extent of nearly all the really good photographs in this book. Unfortunately, the great stuff is watered down by a lot of Hurrell's more average work.

veronica lake Veronica Lake, photograph by George Hurrell, 1941

There's a lot to say about these photographs: how they played with the stars' image, issues of sexuality and exoticism, vanity; and the influence of Pictorialism, Japonisme, and abstraction in Hurrell's work. But you won't find any of that discussion here. I understand Stine is a film historian and not an art historian (I'm sure there's a HUGE difference), but even a half-assed attempt at addressing these topics would be better than nothing.

This book is a great resource if you're looking for basic information about Hurrell or classic Hollywood movie stars, but for something more in-depth I personally would search elsewhere.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Graphic Novel Review: LOST AT SEA, by Bryan Lee O'Malley

lost at sea cover

Raleigh is on a road trip back to Canada from California with a car full of people she barely knows who attend the same high school. To them she's just "the quiet girl" or a weirdo--depending on your viewpoint. What they don't know is that Raleigh believes she's lost her soul.

It's in a cat. And the cats are following her.

This is the first graphic novel by Bryan Lee O'Malley, of Scott Pilgrim fame. It's not as hip as Scott Pilgrim and, being only one volume, the story has a much narrower scope. But here's what I love about this book: I know these people. Seriously, Raleigh? I honest-to-god know someone who is exactly like her, even down to the hair. O'Malley's characters are so familiar, but not in a oh-I-recognize-that-trope sort of way; in a oh!-these-are-totally-people-I-know-IRL way. Which is good, because the plots tend to be bizarro.

excerpt from Lost at Sea

I also loved the story and the way it was told, which was very non-linear but perfect for the subject. It's a quieter story than Scott Pilgrim, with a gentler humor, but there are still some scenes that made me laugh, and I have to confess I got teary-eyed at the end. There were some loose ends left hanging, but overall the book was very touching without feeling manipulative or sappy in the slightest.*

As for the art, I love it. LOVE. Even more than Scott Pilgrim, the art in this book was totally delicious and contributed to the story so, so much. If my heart had a shelf I would this book on it.

If you like graphic novels or manga at all, you have to give Bryan Lee O'Malley a try. He is awesome and I'm officially fangrling him now.

*Note: I loaned this to my brother and he said he hated it because Raleigh was whiny. I guess you can't win them all!

Friday, September 16, 2011

BBAW: Blagging

friday love
Gratuitous LOLcat pic.

On this, the final--and therefore saddest--day of BBAW, we're asked to share three blogging tips and three cutting edge things we want to adapt to our blahgs. So here's we go:


  • One--Blog for Yourself First. Look, I love comments and free crap as much as the next person, but if I blogged for those things, this blog would have shut down a long time ago.
  • Two--Bring Your A Game. Everyone loves seeing people doing something new and different and creative, so be that person! Let me know if you figure out a way to do this on a consistent basis.
  • Three--Be Chill. Honestly, I'm drawing a blank on a third piece of advice, but chilling out sounds good to me.


  • I'd like to do more videos and art original to this blog.
  • I want my own URL shortener. I want one SO BAD!
  • I'd like to have more author interviews.

There you have it! What are some of your tips?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

BBAW: Community Part Deux

expert LOLcat

Today for Book Bloggers Appreciation Week, we are asked to write about how we find a place in the community. This can be tough, especially if your blog doesn't focus on one genre (like mine). There isn't really a group out there for self-professed eclectic book blogs, yanno? If there was, it would be called Cannot Make Up My Mind, or Rage of the Bibliophiles Who Are Very Easily Bored, and I definitely would have found that by now.

That being said, I definitely do feel like I'm part of the community of book bloggers, and it's due mainly to one thing: Twitter. I remember telling someone once that everything happens on Twitter, and it's totally true, especially if you're a blogger. It's not just general news things like finding out Osama Bin Laden was dead, or that there was an earthquake on the East Coast; people organize challenges and events in real time on Twitter that you only eventually see manifested on da blags. Just hearing about some cool event everyone's already signed up for? You probably weren't on Twitter when it was being put together (this has happened to me). Not to mention things like Armchair BEA, Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon, and Bloggiesta, all of which have twitter hashtags.

Twitter is great because you can hop on when you're feeling sociable and ignore it when you're not. And it's much easier to have an open discussion with people on twitter than on something like FaceBook. You can chat using IMs or the like, but that will be only with a select group--there's no chance of someone dropping in on your conversation and you making a new buddy (twubby?) like there is on twitter.

Within the very open world of twitter there are of course smaller, more nuclear groups. Example: book bloggers. Then there are various "events" where you find like-minded people you want to follow. For example, Jane from Dear Author (@jane_l) used to do #romfail on twitter every Friday where she'd make fun of romance novels. That was highly entertaining. And for about the last six months, I've watched Hitchcock movies with other bloggers under the #hitchfest hashtag every week. There are some weeks when #hitchfest (and the corresponding #alcoholfest) is the only thing I look forward to all week. It's really fun and has introduced me to a bunch of bloggers I didn't know much about before now.*

It started out with me writing a paper on Hitchcock and tweeting that I had a stack o'his movies to watch. A first it included @lithousewife, @biblioeva, @picky_girl, @unfnshdprsn, and @justaddbooks; and over time has involved @ChrisBookarama, @JoLynnF, @braincandybr, @Col_Reads, @elabkwrm, @buckeyegirl31, @lifeand100books and her hubby @ttotheodd, @pussreboots, @webereading, and @evangelineh (I'm sure I missed someone in there, so just let me know if I did). It's nice to know I have my crew on twitter to discuss olde timey movies with, or books or the stupidity of reality TV shows.

So if there's one takaway from this it's: get onto twitter. And if there's another takeaway point, it's that community doesn't just happen; you get out what you put into it. Things like #hitchfest (or BBAW, or anything of the other book blogging events you run across), happen because people--more than one--are willing to put time and energy into it and make it a priority. So if you're struggling to feel like part of a community, get involved in something! Put the effort into it to make it important to you. And it will be.

*Actually, #hitchfest is on hiatus right now. Timeliness, I'm all over it!

Monday, September 12, 2011

BBAW: Interview with Ariel from The Librarian's Bookshelf!

Ariel from The Librarian's Bookshelf

heidenkind: You're in school to eventually become a librarian. Do you think blogging and social media will play an important role in libraries in the future?
Ariel: I think it really depends on the library. I think book bloggers play a huge role in supporting smaller libraries, but I don't think larger ones really notice us or care.
heidenkind: Which do you prefer, eBooks or paper books?
Ariel: While I do own a Nook and read eBooks, I prefer paperbacks.
heidenkind: What's your least-favorite read of the year so far?
Ariel: I would have to say Glimmerglass honestly. I liked most of the books I've read so far, but with all the hype Glimmerglass got, I was disappointed by it.
heidenkind: Tell us about a favorite piece of book paraphernalia that you own or dream of owning--can be a t-shirt, bookshelf, lock of your favorite author's hair, anything!
Ariel: This isn't really one item, but I want my own library! Someday in my house I will have one room completely full of books and bookshelves and reading nooks.
heidenkind: How far outside your comfort zone have you read based on the recommendation of a book blogger?
Ariel: I've read a lot more paranormal than I would have without the recommendations from book bloggers. Before I usually just stayed with very specific fantasy or Christian fiction.

Check out Ariel's blog and my interview with her over at The Librarian's Bookshelf!

The Librarian's Bookshelf

BBAW: Blogging Buddies

bbaw button

When I think of the book blogging community, the first people I think of are my blogging buddies. I have a lot of friends in the blogging community, those whom I admire, whose blogs I love to read, who always have great book recommendations, and whom I love to chat with on twitter--too many to list in a single post. But blogging buddies are special (so very special :). I know whenever I need a sounding board for post ideas, critical feedback, or (more often than not) someone to listen when the RW or even blogging starts getting to me, I can turn to them. I first heard about the concept of a blogging buddy during Bloggiesta, soon after I started this blog, and I've had the same blogging buddies since. They deserve a shout-out and cyber hugs, and RL chocolate and flowers as well, because they really do support me and help to make this blog what it is today (the good parts, anyway--the bad parts are all on me).

A Buckeye Girl Reads

Colette from A Buckeye Girl Reads

Colette and I started our blogs around the same time, but we "knew" one another before from our personal blogs on Xanga.  I remember I was super-intimidated by her at first because her posts were so smart. Colette's very considerate and she's someone I know I can turn to for support or feedback, or just to bitch about something, and she's always helping me in my never-ending quest to find another job.

Becky from One Literature Nut

I'm not sure how exactly I started following Becky's blog, but it was right around the time I started book blogging. She reads everything and I love how her posts are a mix of literary analysis and pure enjoyment. Becky is the one who got me into Austen adaptations--how did that happen? She's pretty tricksy. Anyway, Becky's been more than patient with me over the past year listening to me whine talk about school, and has helped me edit some of my posts (including a few I submitted to BBAW for judging this year).

Although we've never met IRL, I think of both these women as friends and would like to take a moment to say thank you and hearts to them for being there for me this past year. ♥♥♥

Don't have a blogging buddy? Ask someone! It's worth it and it's part of what makes book blogging so great.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

BBAW: Giveaway!

bbaw button

Book Blogger Appreciation Week starts September 12th, and to celebrate I thought I'd do a giveaway for something fun I'm always happy to get more of: bookmarks!

The bookmarks for this giveaway are a random assortment purchased from ibdibd's etsy store, which specializes in vintage French and Italian designs. To get a general idea of what the bookmarks will look like, feel free to visit the storefront (keep in mind that I'm not taking requests for specific bookmarks, however).

You don't have to be a follower of my blog to enter the contest, but I do ask that you be a BBAW participant! Simply fill out the form below or click here to enter.

Thank you to everyone in the book blogging community and the readers of my blog for a great year of reading and discussing all things bookish!

Book Review: CHAIN REACTION by Simone Elkeles

chain reaction cover

In the third excuse to rewrite Perfect Chemistry Perfect Chemistry novel, Elkeles introduces us (or rather, reintroduces us) to another character I don't remember from the original book, Luis. Luis is the baby of the family and wants to be an astronomical engineer--or something like that--but also likes to take risks! I know this because he was climbing a boulder without a safety harness and got bitten by a not-a-rattle-snake. Oh that risky risk-taker! Despite his proclivity to act like every other teenage boy I've ever known, Luis still manages to get all A's in school and be a star on the soccer and swim team, and a bunch of other stuff that guarantees he's going to go to a great university on scholarships and achieve his lofty dreams. But then his mom decides to move back to their house in the ghetto of Fairfield, Illinois, which is gang territory, and--spoiler alert!--Luis gets involved with his old buddies, who also happen to be gang members! And he becomes embroiled in the gang! Oh, Luis why???? Where did it all go wrong?!? Meanwhile, Luis is falling in love with a girl named Nikki, who also likes to take risks. I know that because she had sex with her bf without a condom, and then got pregnant.

I really like Simone Elkeles--even when I don't love her novels, I usually at least enjoy her writing style. Unfortunately, I don't think her writing style is very evident in this book, and if we're being honest I kind of hated it.

It all started with the prologue. Have I mentioned I hate prologues? YES. That link is proof that I have. Having a prologue in a book is one thing--it certainly doesn't create a good first impression, but usually I just skip it and go along my merry reading way--but having a prologue and not even having the common courtesy to label it as such?! THE RAGE, IT BURNS.

Aside from the prologue, though, this felt like a giant phone-in sesh. The characters are pretty dull: Luis is way too Everyman to have any personality; and I'm not sure what his girlfriend Nikki is supposed to be, but I'm guessing it wasn't the pathetic bitch she came off as. Not to mention the characters' motivations--and I use that word loosely--were ridiculously transparent. Take this paragraph from the prologue:
I vow to forget about Marco and forget about our baby who never had a chance. Luis Fuentes reminded me that I'm still vulnerable. If I'm emotionally unavailable, then I don't have to worry about ever getting hurt. When this nightmare is over... Nikki Cruz will no longer be vulnerable.
Gee, thanks for spelling that out for us! I might not have caught onto the emotional subtleties of your neurosis without it. Or how about this soliloquy from a secondary character. You see, Luis...
That day I promised myself I'd find a way out... and when I did, I became a cop so I could stop other kids from making the same mistakes me and my friends did.
Aw, hello after school special! My point is, there was a lot of telling in this book and not a lot of showing. I get the sense Elkeles wanted to tell a particular type of story here, but she couldn't really do it with the characters she decided to write about, so a lot of the emotional stuff in the book feels really manufactured, including the "romance" between Luis and Nikki.

There's always a certain amount of silliness in these novels, but it doesn't bother me because I usually love the characters and the hero and heroine have great chemistry. Here I actively disliked one of the characters, didn't really care about the other one, and there was no believable attraction between them, which made for a pretty boring book. And don't even get me started on the ridiculous ending.

Obviously I was pretty disappointed in this novel, but at least the series is finally over and we can all move on with our lives.

Musical notes: "Fuck You" by Cee-Lo Green

Friday, September 9, 2011

Book Review: THE DA VINCI CODE (Special Illustrated Edition) by Dan Brown

da vinci code cover

Recently, I had a strange urge to re-read The Da Vinci Code--strange, because while I did enjoy reading it the first time (around 2005-ish), I wasn't in love over it. This isn't the typical sort of novel I enjoy, and at 597 pages it was a near-miracle I even finished it, so I never saw myself rereading it. However, after reading a review of Rise of the Planet of the Apes (I can't find the link, sorry), I found myself re-intrigued with The Da Vinci Code.

The point of the review of Rise was that successful sci-fi movies resonate with contemporary social and political subtext (I'll let you guess as to the reviewer's opinion on how successful Rise was at doing that). That got me thinking about The Da Vinci Code because it obviously resonated when it was released, but with what? Whatever it was certainly didn't translate to the movie.

At its heart, TDVC is a quest, filled with a lot of traveling, symbols, and treasures like the Holy Grail. There are a lot of knight references in the book--not just the Knights Templar and Holy Grail, which are pretty obvious, but more subtle references like the statue of the knight in shining armor in Saunière's office, and Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu going to a "knight," Leigh Teabing, for help.

Also as in many questing stories, the final goal isn't an object, even though the protagonist may not realize this. As Langdon reflects early in the book,
Rome [from Angels & Demons] had unlocked in him a longing he never imagined he could feel. His lifelong affinity for bachelorhood and the simple freedoms it allowed had been shaken somehow... replaced by an unexpected emptiness that seemed to have grown over the past year.
There's a lot to read into that sentence (no lifelong bachelor jokes, please--too easy). Is Langdon questioning his existential nihilism, looking for God, or love? Or all three? Either way, I think this gives the novel more of a romantic streak than your average thriller.

I don't believe the reason behind TVDC's massive appeal was a romantic quest, though. Aside from Langdon and Sophie's odyssey, the main message of the book is about the threats of extremism. The only part of the novel that was truly alarming was the idea that an organization like Opus Dei could not only exist in the modern Western world, but thrive. In a post-9/11 US, the notion of a very conservative monotheistic organization that wanted to severely suppress women's rights and was semi-secretly headquartered in New York City was not only more credible than it would have been previously, but more portentous. Just think of all the fuss that was stirred up a few months back over the building of a new Islamic community center. Because of 9/11, people were more wary of "hidden threats" and the knowledge that extremism was gaining a foothold in the US.

I'm not saying the plot of TDVC is anti-Islam, although it could probably be read that way--the novel does tend to treat anything east of Provence as suspect--but rather that it's anti-fundamentalist, arguing against simply accepting someone else's definition of what events mean or who is and isn't dangerous. In many ways, Langdon himself could be described as a monist: many paths can lead to the same answer. Unfortunately, anyone who's tried to avoid hearing about politics lately knows that message, if noted at all, clearly didn't stick.

book interior
Example from the interior of the book.

As for the writing, Dan Brown has gotten a lot slack for it (especially on The Colbert Report), and I have to admit the book was more cheesy than I remember it being. But on the plus side, the obscure product placements were kept under control, so that's good. The only thing Brown does that really drives me crazy is insert the characters' thoughts randomly in italics for no reason. It makes me go, Huh? Why do I need to know lovely little Silas is thinking that? It should be self-evident. And now Brown's got me doing it!! Aiee! 

TDVC has also been criticized for historical inaccuracy, which quite honestly makes me laugh. One, it's a novel. Look up the definition, please, then get back to me on why this is news. Two, historical accuracy or lack thereof not withstanding, Brown researched the ever-loving crapload out of this topic, and pulled it all together in a way that was really interesting and creative, so I think he deserves kudos for that.

As for the Illustrated Special Edition... uhg. The illustrations have an inconsistent, home PhotoShopped feel to them; and some of the things they chose to illustrate were just odd. The Olympic Rings, for instance--considering that most five-year-olds know what the Olympic Rings are, I don't think it's necessary to include a picture of them in this book. And even if it was necessary, they could have found a damn better example than the .gif-quality image that just about anyone could pull off the internet.

Overall I'm happy I decided to reread this book. It's definitely better than the movie (sorry, Tom Hanks, you just don't make a believable academic), and as a modern-day quest/thriller novel, I think it's pretty decent.

Musical Notes: I don't know why, but I had "Give Me Some Love" by James Blunt and "Your Song" from Moulin Rouge stuck in my head the entire time I was reading this.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

THE MAGICIAN KING by Lev Grossman: Drinking Game!!

audiobook cover    

Take a drink:
  • Whenever the characters drink (natch)
  • Every time Quentin says or thinks, "I'm a king in Fillory!" (Is that like being big in Europe?)
  • ...of butterbeer for every Harry Potter reference
  • ...of G&T for every Narnia reference
  • ...of grog for every Lord of the Rings reference
  • ...of a Red Bull Jaegerbomb for every gamer/computer geek reference
  • Whenever it's mentioned Julia is wearing black.
  • It seems like these characters have a lot of 'issues.'
  • Every time Quentin goes through a door, metaphysical or otherwise.
  • Whenever you fantasize about re-naming your cat Pouncy Silverkitten.
Start chugging:
  • When the book focuses on Julia's past (you'll need it).
  • When Quentin starts talking about being a hero (ditto).
  • If you sense an extended metaphor coming on.
  • Whenever your realize the words on the page are actually an anagram of YOU'RE GOING TO DIE AND LIFE HAS NO MEANING, repeated over and over. (Retroactively drink when you realize that really the entire book has been like that.)
Take a shot for:
  • Every key Quentin loses.
  • Every talking animal who serves as a convenient plot device.
  • Every obscure secondary character that reappears out of nowhere.
  • When you come across a line you want to turn into a t-shirt.

rip button I read this book as part of RIP Challenge VI, hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings. Click on the link to learn mores.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Book Review: QUID PRO QUO by Manna Francis

quid pro quo cover

Quid pro quo, def. (From the Latin meaning "what for what") indicates a more-or-less equal exchange or substitution of goods or services.

Toreth and Warrick, having bonded over certain secrets related to the Sim-Tech case in Mind Fuck, are continuing their not-a-relationship. But even though it's "just fucking," their lives are slowly entangling and they start exchanging more than just bodily fluids. Addresses, gifts, friends, bouts of jealousy--for two people who have no interest in being in a relationship with one another, they certainly do a pretty good imitation of it.

Unlike the first book in this series, this novel is more or less all about Toreth and Warrick's relationship. Which in one respect is totally fine with me, since I thought the plot to Mind Fuck was boring anyway. But on the other hand, I kind of missed reading a book with a plot (I know, I know), not to mention seeing Toreth at work and catching up on all the office gossip and politics at I&I. That element's still there, just not very much.

To be honest, I also felt like Toreth was occasionally emasculated by removing him from the context of I&I, especially in the "Family" chapter; but then Warrick has moments when he's emasculated as well. He's definitely the Betty Draper in this relationship, but more because the concept of monogamy is as foreign to Toreth as it is to Don Draper. There's a give-and-take between Warrick and Toreth that makes their relationship one of equals (I suppose that's where the title came from). Although the book is very clear that socially and economically, Warrick is a class (or two or three) above Toreth, you've got the whole BDSM thing going on, where Toreth is definitely the dominant, so it's weirdly balanced.

I read Quid Pro Quo on Manna Francis' website, where it's organized into short stories. Mind Fuck had a vaguely yaoi/manga feel to it, but because QPQ is so episodic, it definitely feels like a prose version of a manga. Which I love! The stories are loosely connected, most especially by theme, but take place with unknown gaps of time between them and can stand on their own. My favorite was "Pancakes," partly because I love pancakes (haha--but seriously, I do love pancakes), and partly because that seemed like the major turning point in the book where both characters realize they're together because of more than just sex. It was really well-done and a great piece of writing.

Like MF, Quid Pro Quo has some faults, but overall it's well-written and entertaining. Definitely addicting and worth checking out if you read and enjoyed the first book in the series!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Audiobooks are the Nom

audiobookPhoto by PlayfulLibrarian

Blogging has definitely influenced my reading, but the biggest change that comes directly from blogging is my new obsession: audiobooks.

I've never had much to do with audiobooks. Colorado doesn't have an audiobook culture like, say, Utah (I'd never seen more audiobooks in my life than when I was in Utah) and my parents never listen to them. But at the same time, when I read, I "hear" the words in my head. Also, odd confession: I've always wished there was a button on the remote that worked like the mute button, but took away the picture instead of the sound so that I could just listen to the TV instead of watching it. So in way listening to audiobooks should be second-nature to me.

Nevertheless, I resisted audiobooks because I thought it would be too hard to concentrate on them. I did listen to Harry Potter on audio, but only after I'd already read them--that way if I got distracted, I wouldn't be lost. But then I finished Harry Potter and I really wanted to listen to another audiobook on a car trip, which was when I tried out Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr. Amazing audiobook! It was so good I kept listening even after the trip was finished.

Because of that experience, I've listened to several more audiobooks (most by Melissa Marr), and they've definitely grown on me. I find myself to be more interactive with audiobooks--laughing or reacting more emotionally than I would if I was just reading. In a way, the performance aspect of audiobooks make them more fun for me, too.

Plus, you can listen to audiobooks while doing other things! I can't listen to them while I'm writing, because I can only concentrate on one set of words at a time, but definitely while cleaning or tweeting or doing something pointless like editing a video on the computer. I still sometimes get a bit lost, but it doesn't bother me that much. I think audiobooks are easier to pick up and require a bit less concentration, perhaps because the narrator does some of the work for you by filling in the tone of the writing and the emotions of the characters. Even if you don't know exactly what's going on, you can pick up on the context fairly easily.

Not to mention the fact that I really think books are supposed to be read aloud. Writing, at its essence, is just a recording of what was or should or will be said aloud, kind of like musical notes.

Anyway, that's my new thing. Do you have any audiobooks you'd recommend?


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