Sunday, 13 April 2014

Sunday Sundries: I Am Old Now

Merry Palm Sunday, people!
Naturally I don't really know what I'm talking about when I say this, since I suspect Palm Sunday isn't that merry, only what do I know? Nothing. That's what. The date just occurred to me, is all.

So I had a birthday on Wednesday. In spite of all my trepidation and sad sad prediction that I would probably just cry all day, I actually did ok. It's not like it was my best birthday ever, but I only got teary a few times, and then cried once, which I kind of count as a success at this point. Whether or not I was happy is kind of another question, but I did as well as I could, under the circumstances. I was also reminded of how bloody awesome children are when you're sad, AND how nice they apparently are to you when it's your birthday. Or maybe my cousin's kid is just the best (he definitely is).

Basically, it was what it was. It was a day spent with my family, where I got presents and cake, and it would have been all good if you ignored the gaping, person shaped hole in proceedings. Which was the hardest thing to do.

Shall we talk presents though? Or, more specifically, present because basically, as a well done for my 25th year of being alive, I got a mini iPad!
This is obviously something I really needed because now I have the full set of Apple products- iPod touch, iPhone, MacBook Pro and now this iPad. And... I kind of don't know how to integrate it into my life. I mean... I know I can watch things on it, and I can read on it, and I can do all manner of internet things on it, but it's possible that it's maybe not that necessary. BUT I love it and that's what really matters here, I think.

So, birthday. Yay-ish. I'm sure that other things happened this week... My housemates have all been off work because they're teachers/trainee teachers and it's the school holidays now, and it's both nice to actually see people in the mornings, and REALLY ANNOYING that they get to stay at home and do whatever while I slink off to work. Stupid living with teachers... *mutters angrily*. I skipped my first run ever this week because I didn't really feel well at the start of the week, but I've been getting back on track since then. AND work is still annoying me and yeah. Still really need to do something about that.
But still. The sun has mostly been shining, and life has mostly been ok. I can probably live with that.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Devouring Books: The Giver by Lois Lowry

"I feel sorry for anyone who is in a place where he feels strange and stupid."

My understanding about The Giver is that it's an actual assigned book in a lot of American schools, so you'll excuse me if this post has your childhood education rushing back to you. I've come to it as an adult, so I'll probably have a different take on it than you did when you were, say, 12; but possibly only in that I really have two takes on it, one good, one so irritated. But we'll get to all of that, because first of all it's very important for you to know that I only read this because there's a film coming out this summer (I think) and it stars some really great people: Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges, *ahem* Alexander Skarsgard...

But anyway, here's the trailer for that...
I don't even know how I feel about it now that I've read the book, but I'll surely go and see it anyway! Important note: I'm really glad they've changed the way the giver 'gives' the information, because in the book, the twelve year old has to take his shirt off and be rubbed by the old man, so. Yeah. Awkward.

Anyway. The Giver. I have this innate fondness of dystopias that I blame on The Handmaid's Tale and 1984, so I'm always keen to read a new one, even if it has been sliiiightly overdone in YA fiction in recent times*, but The Giver was published in 1993, so... Not exactly recent times. In terms of writing and plotting and things like that, I feel like it's not that well written and the story doesn't exactly develop in the ways I wanted it to, but that's kind of what I expect from YA books, and I can definitely see how it could be a good jumping off point in classrooms for all kinds of discussions, which is really the main point of it. So let's have some of those discussions, shall we?

Firstly. I want to discuss The Giver as an anti-socialist piece of propaganda, which OH MY GOD, it definitely seems like. In The Giver, the characters live in a world where everything is the same, everyone has the same milestones and no hobbies, careers, spouses and children are assigned and everything is just very equal, and safe, and seems to be really dull (only with a core of horridness which is mostly hinted at and only rarely seen). It's basically the kind of world that people who are against socialism would assume would be the end result, in that everyone is kind of the same, all emotions and 'stirrings' (that's sexual feelings, folks) have to be suppressed so that nobody wants to hurt anybody (or do anything else with them for that matter) and everything is very efficient and clean and... boring.

I can't even tell you the number of things wrong with this as an end view of socialism, and it just makes me want to scream about how socialism is actually the best and why can't we distribute wealth more evenly and what the fuck, how would socialism mean that nobody saw colours anymore? Because of things like that, I assume that Lowry wasn't necessarily thinking 'I must take down socialism' when she wrote The Giver, but it definitely feels like she went 'but HOW would a socialist society really work?' and then went insane. 
But. If we get off that point, since it's kind of something that didn't really occur to me until after I'd finished reading and went 'HEY, I like socialism though', we can talk about some other questions that it raises. Like... In order to live in a world without crime, or lying, or poverty, or other bad things like that, would emotion and memory of the past and all forms of entertainment have to be outlawed? And, if you don't know any different, is that really such a high price to pay? In the back of the copy I read, there were discussion questions (because, YA) and one was 'is the world in The Giver a utopia or a dystopia?' And shit, I was so surprised because, yeah, I guess you could see it as a utopia even though, as someone who lives in the land of emotions, it seemed like a grey living nightmare.

How I feel about emotions is, they're kind of everything. As much as they hurt, as much as they can leave you down for days, I'd rather have the highs and lows of life than have nothing at all. I feel like that, of course, because I have them and I have also been in a state where I haven't had them, and I know for a fact which one is better. But if I'd never had them? It's an interesting thought, because shit, sometimes they hurt so much, but we'd also kind of be nothing without them. To not be sad when someone dies, to not even have families that you actually invest in and care about, to be without love? What's the point? But if you've never had them, and you live in a clean and comforting and safe world, AND you don't know what has been given up? I don't know.

What the giver really gives, anyway, is emotions rather than memories, and once they are given, they can't be taken away, can't be forgotten, and they make everything seem pointless, and dull, and much less alive than the world used to be. It's interesting that Jonas (our twelve year old hero who I haven't mentioned like 8 paragraphs in... Whoops!) keeps making justifications for why things aren't the way they used to be anymore ('well... I can see why they got rid of that, it's to keep us safe!') because being raised in a certain way is a very powerful thing. 

So, I don't think this is the greatest book in the world, and the writing and even the story leaves a lot to be desired (soooo much talking...) BUT it did make me think about a lot of things so it's worth it just for that. You've probably read it already anyway, so I don't need to give it a thumbs up or down, but you know. It's alright. I probably wouldn't read it again, but I'm glad I read it this once.

*After I finished this, I started Uglies. It's too soon to tell if it's good or not... Why am I reading so much YA when I know I don't really like it? *shrug*

Monday, 7 April 2014

Devouring Books: Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger

"'I'm sick of just liking people. I wish to God I could meet somebody I could respect...'"

I went into Franny and Zooey knowing only 3 things relating to it:
  1. I really hate The Catcher in the Rye, and sort of, by extension, Salinger.
  2. I had a weird inkling I would like it.
  3. Number three is a myth because those were the only two things I knew.
It wasn't a lot to go on, but I've had this weird fixation on reading it ever since this character in Sex and the City was all like 'Salinger used to get me high' and called her daughters Franny and Zooey someone very important and sophisticated said it was a good book to read so I thought, yes, yes I shall. It took actual YEARS to find a copy in a charity shop, but I finally did (last year...) and now, obviously, I've read it.

There are a few important things to know about Franny and Zooey before we begin. FIRSTLY, it's made up of a short story (Franny) and a novella (Zooey) although the two are connected so you could probably just call it a novella. SECONDLY, Zooey is a boy. This is RIDICULOUS to my brain so I sort of want to deny that it's true and think of him as a girl, but no, Zooey is (apparently) short for Zachary and Zooey Deschanel's mum was just crazy for spelling it like that. Franny and Zooey are both members of Salinger's Glass family, who come up in many of his short stories and novellas, which I'm presenting to you as if I know all about them when really I read up about them on Wikipedia as soon as I'd finished this book. 

So. Franny is the short story and it really leads into Zooey, as it's pretty much the story of Franny meeting up with her boyfriend, who she doesn't seem to like that much, and having what we find out in Zooey are the beginnings of some kind of breakdown. Except... from the way Franny describes things, it's a lot more complicated than just having a breakdown, and seems to have something to do with not being able to find sincerity or meaning in college, or even life. It was interesting to me that the way Franny describes what she's feeling has parallels with Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye, except that because she wasn't walking around moaning and calling everyone phonies, I actually gave a shit. 

The deal with Franny and Zooey is this: As the youngest members of their family, and with two much much older brothers by the time they were reading to learn stuff, they were educated by said brothers in a way that has made them unsuitable for the outside world. Unsuitable how? In a way in which they're always striving for something deeper and more meaningful and for some kind of inner peace, while the rest of the world seems to always be striving for, you know, money and things. Which isn't necessarily a wrong way to live*, but it's not really the way for these two, so they don't really fit into it. Nor, really, do they want to.

I'm kind of babbling here. And the reason I'm kind of babbling is that I really really REALLY liked this book and I got a LOT of high-minded and English (and Philosophy, come to think of it) degree-ish thoughts out of a relatively few pages. Small as this book is, there's quite a lot packed into it, and I haven't even said anything about the Franny short story and the ennui of being the same as everyone else and all the other good stuff in those 25 pages. Essentially what I want is to take some kind of American Lit course and then discuss it, OR everyone could just read this and we could discuss it and then I'd be totally happy.

One final note: Franny and Zooey is SO good that it's convinced me to give The Catcher in the Rye one last time. I figure that I can absolutely be that JD Salinger fan who doesn't like Catcher, but having seen more of what I think Salinger is trying to say through Caulfield, I feel like maybe I'll be able to appreciate him a tiny bit more? Or possibly just want to break his face as I have with every other reading of that book. We shall see.

*I'm lying. It's absolutely the wrong way to live, if you only want things. 

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Sunday Sundries: The Good With The Bad

Oh heeey, so this must be the first Sunday in 2 weeks, huh? Yeaaah... Last Sunday was both Mother's Day and Daylight Savings started, so I was an hour behind anyway and I had to be nice to my mum and had an emotional visit to my nan's grave, and then went and saw my nan in Ascot and yeah. Let's just say the day got away from me.

Kind of sadly, because I was going to tell you about all the awesome things I was going to do with my week off work! But instead, you know, I'll just tell you what I did. Which makes more sense. Because I actually did the stuff. I'm going to do this day by day because that'll make it so much more interesting...

Monday: I met up with my mum around lunchtime and we had lunch and did some food shopping together. It was brief, but nice. Then, in the evening, I went out to dinner with my sister and we went to see Dallas Buyers Club (FINALLY) which was pretty good, but mainly reminded me that I haven't watched a film in a reaaaaaally long time, so my attention span is shot. Probably need to work on that.

Tuesday: Pretty much just chilled out in the house, watched some TV, sent some emails and did some internetty things I've been meaning to do, but most importantly, I went for a run, which means the day wasn't wasted. Which is good!

Wednesday: I took myself up to London. Ostensibly to go to the National Gallery and look at the two versions of Van Gogh's Sunflowers they have hanging next to each other (and to unintentionally think some arty thoughts about them) but I also saw some other paintings and some Van Goghs that I didn't even know existed and it was good. I also ended up walking around Chinatown and going in alllll the oriental supermarkets, and got a few bits and pieces. And then I walked to a million other places. I can't overstate the amount of walking. There was a lot of it.

Thursday: More lunching with my mum! Plus walking around Richmond, plus I bought her cake. A jolly good time was had by all.

Friday: Pretty much another day at home, although I did go to the library to pick up The Giver which I'd reserved, and then I read it in an afternoon. So that was pretty cool. Also, a run. EXHAUSTING.

And that was basically my week! It was pretty nice and relaxing and all the things a week off work should be, even if there have been times where I've been like 'I should be doing MORE THINGS. Or maybe reading more. I DON'T KNOW.' because, you know, I have issues.

But now to the week ahead, which is really where the subtitle comes into play. This Wednesday is my birthday, which is technically a good things because, I assume, there will be presents and also cake and also I have another day off work which is obviously always the best. But. This is going to be the first birthday of my whole life that isn't going to involve my nan, and the thought of that makes me unspeakably sad. I know that this is the first one, so obviously it's going to be the hardest, and obviously it's ok to be, you know, sad and upset, but also it's my birthday and I don't really want to be sad and upset.

So, it's kind of a Catch-22- the fact that it is my birthday is going to upset me, even though I don't want to be upset on my birthday, and it sucks but that's the way it is. I've said a few times 'I don't really want to do my birthday this year...' and I get a bit of 'you know that nanny would want you to have a nice time' and so on, and I know that she would but at the same time I can't. To be honest, I'll consider it a success if the time I spend crying is less than the time I'm not, and hopefully that will be the case.

This grief thing, guys. It's really hard.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Devouring Books: Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi

I got Embroideries out of the library the same time I read Chicken With Plums in one sitting, excitedly expecting another Satrapi book I could cherish and wish I'd bought instead of getting it out of the library. That's... Not exactly what happened, and there are a few reasons for that I can pinpoint. But we'll talk about the book itself first.

Embroideries takes place over the course of one afternoon- after lunch while the men are napping, the women of the household get together over tea and talk. So, even though the whole thing would theoretically take place over a few hours, the book spans years and thousands of miles and the stories of a number of different women, giving one meaning to 'Embroideries'. There is another one, but we're not going to discuss that, in case you want to read this and totally raise your eyebrows a lot when you do.

So. Embroideries is good in the sense that I read it in about an hour (graphic novels, yo) and it held my attention for all that time and all that good stuff. Graphic novel-wise, it's interesting in the sense that it doesn't follow the conventions of having separate boxes on the page, and it's a lot more free-flow. I read a thing that said that that showed confidence and also energy or something, so let's go with that as a good explanation for it. Anyway, I liked the way it looked.

But. My main problem with this book is that it barely passes the Bechdel Test. I mean, the entire thing is women having a conversation, but pretty much all they talk about is men. Their husbands, women they knew who married this guy, vaginas and their state of use/non-use... It all gets to be a little bit tiring. I mean, I get that this is Iran, and so who you marry, and being married is all very important, being 'pure' is even more important, and being a single, independent woman is practically a crime. But... Just one story that involved politics, maybe? Or something about someone's cat or whatever? I don't know, it was just a bit... Jolted my feminist bone a little bit.

I might be overstating this a tiny bit. I don't want to make it sound like the women just sit around talking about men in a fawning, disgusting, subservient way, because it's not like that at all. There are stories about affairs (both pre- and extra-marital), about advising women how to fake virginity, about fighting against forced marriages... These are no angels, and they're not supposed to be angels, and it's refreshing to see Iranian women presented in such a way. But, at the same time, plastic surgery is talked about like it's a necessary evil, and they still basically just talk about men.

So. I don't really know where I end up on this. I enjoyed Embroideries fine while I was reading it, even if it left me a bit hollow afterwards, and it really seems like an accurate depiction of what Iranian women talk about when there are no men around. That doesn't mean I have to like it, but that's the way that is. But still, just... Maybe read Persepolis instead? Yeah, do that.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Devouring Films: Whip It

If you haven't seen Whip It yet, then I really don't know what to do with you. It's one of those films that I was really excited about for a really long time before it came out, and then it was released in about 5 cinemas and so I never saw it until it came out on DVD. Luckily for me, it's usually on TV about once a month or so (it used to be on Netflix, but apparently not anymore...) AND I'm usually watching TV when it's on so I watch parts of it all the time.

This happened the other week, and this time, I had a little bit of an epiphany. Whip It, in case you don't know, is the story of Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page), a kind of shy, slightly awkward girl from Texas who, once she knows about it, wants to be a roller derby girl more than anything else in the whole world. While it's mostly a film about growing up and finding peace with your mother and being a best friend and being a better person, it's really the whole roller derby thing that's the best thing. And I love it.

My revelation, though, came when I realised that, for Bliss, her extra-curricular activities have the option of taking one of two paths. The choice her mother wants to make for her is that of the beauty queen- she forces encourages her to take part in beauty pageants which really don't fulfil Bliss in any way. The choice she wants to make for herself, of course, is roller derby- a (kinda) death defying sport where women roller skate around a track, trying to overtake each other and getting kind of battered in the process. It. Looks. Awesome. You know, in case that wasn't clear.

So. My thing is this. Other than that it's Bliss's own choice to participate in roller derby, and she's really only going along with the beauty pageant thing to please her mother, it seems to me that roller derby has about a million other advantages over beauty pageants.* I'm not entirely sure what beauty pageants teach young women other than how to be passive, look nice, and compete with other girls over who is the most physically attractive, as if that's how people should be evaluated. It seems to me that roller derby teaches actual lessons- how women should work together, how action is better than passivity, how sport can actually be kind of awesome. AND they manage to do all of this and still look pretty awesome, but that's absolutely a secondary factor.

The thing about this isn't so much that I think roller derby is a better way to spend ones time than beauty pageants, but more that, in terms of this movie, I think this is literally what they're saying. It's not really an important plot point for Bliss's 'other option' to be beauty pageants, but that's what it is, and this film is practically screaming 'THERE IS ANOTHER WAY. Or, in fact, there are probably many other ways but we're going to look at roller derby because LOOK HOW AWESOME IT IS.' So you've kind of got a mini-critique of beauty pageants tied up with all of the other awesome stuff there is to see in this film. OR I've seen it too many times and thought too much about it.

In conclusion: I'd really like to be a roller derby girl. I can make this happen, correct?

*Can you even believe that I don't think beauty pageants are cool? How out of character for me!
Beauty Queen vs Roller derby champ. Discuss.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Devouring Books: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

"But why, why, why can't people just say what they mean?"

This post might not be a review so much as a load of confessions about The Rosie Project as I experienced it. I HAVE CONFESSIONS AND YOU PROBABLY WON'T LIKE ALL OF THEM.
But enough with the ominous gifs and onto The Rosie Project.

Confession 1: I sort of didn't like The Rosie Project to begin with. I had all these expectations and all this hype to deal with, since about eleventy billion of you read and loved it beyond all reasonable... reason, and hey, I trust you guys. Hopes were the HIGHEST EVER, and reality was slightly not that. It was probably all the Sheldon Cooper comparisons flying around reviews of The Rosie Project, so I got confused and thought that maybe I didn't like Professor Don Tillman, because I fucking hate The Big Bang Theory.

Confession 2: Then I cried on the bus. I didn't mean to cry on the bus, especially since I'd already decided not to like Don, but then there's the bit with Daphne. Which I'm NOT going to tell you about because it's the saddest and the sweetest and you deserve to discover it for yourself, but guys who have read it- DAPHNE, right? She made my heart hurt. And made me cry real tears of crying. And then I had a whole new perspective on Don, even if he wouldn't have had a clue why I was crying.

Confession 3: I wish I knew more about Psychology (I know SOME stuff. Like, I have an A Level in it. But I wish I knew MORE) because I really want to know what Don's deal is. It's definitely implied that he has, or has something close to Asperger Syndrome, but... I don't know. The point, though, is that Don has a really different way of looking at and interacting with the world, which is sometimes hilarious, sometimes frustrating (both to him and the reader) and sometimes creates unexpected results. We see the world through Don's eyes, which means we get a limited view of the emotions involved in the story- pretty odd for a love story, but it just means you work harder to figure out what's going on, which is always good. Go, subtext!

Confession 4: But sometimes... I kind of just wanted to see the story from Rosie's perspective. Or someone else's perspective. Someone who did bring emotion into things instead of either ignoring it or not really experiencing it. People are falling in love in this book (am I going to say who? I am not.) only it takes quite a bit of effort to get that and I'm not sure that's something I really appreciated? But this might just be because I kind of want A LOT OF EMOTION ALL THE TIME and I am not ashamed of that.

Confession 5: A lot of Don's organisational behaviour made a lot of sense to me, which reminds me that there are a few behaviours and things that I have that make me think I'm maybe higher on the autism spectrum than other people*. Just going to leave that information here.

Confession 6: I'm now wondering if the reason I love New York City is because its layout makes so much sense. It is ONE of the reasons. But probably not the main one. Also people go to New York in this book and it's absolutely the best part. And there are a lot of good parts.

Confession 7: I ended up really liking this book. So much that I read the last 100 pages or so in one go, outside in the cold without even realising it was really cold, and I finished the last FEW pages during my work break and I never read then because it's only 15 minutes long and girls gots to gossip (I can't even believe I typed that. Please let it be struck from the record). It definitely challenged me in a few ways, and there were times when I got incredibly frustrated with Don, but in the end... It's sweet. It's genuinely funny, and genuinely touching. I'm glad I read it, and I hope you do too- with slightly lower expectations than the ones I had, but still with hope in your heart and a song at your lips. Or something.

Actual Reviews
What Red Read
As The Crowe Flies And Reads
Sarah Says Read

*I just took this test and didn't score high enough for actually being autistic, but did score higher than the average, which feels about right.