Monday, 31 January 2011


The other day, my mum came into the house all excited and told me there were snowdrops growing outside, knowing that my own excitement would far exceed hers. She was right.

It's not so much the flowers themselves, as what they represent that makes me so happy to see them again. When I was younger, my favourite book involved a girl whose birthday was also in April, and she said that she liked it when the snowdrops came out because it meant her birthday was near. This has been imprinted into my brain so well, that I think the same thing, even when it's only January. Now that I am older and wiser, it's not so much the close proximity of my birthday that makes me happy with the snowdrops, but the promise of warmer weather, and a time when all the flowers bloom again. This is enough to get anyone over the winter blues.

I can't wait for spring, and with it, the firm promise of summer.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Devouring Books: Toast by Nigel Slater

Photo via

This review should also be called 'How I thought me and Nigel Slater were the same person', but more on that later! I have become obsessed with reading this book since I watched the BBC adaptation of it over Christmas, which made me cry a lot more than I should have considering the slightly festive mood I still found myself in. Anyway, I finally found the book in a charity shop on Wednesday, had finished it by Friday, and now must gush about it to anyone who might stumble upon this!

Toast is basically the childhood memoirs of Nigel Slater, an English chef who also happens to be able to write really engagingly and well. I hate him just a little bit for this. The book is laid out in chapters titled in the most parts with types of food, as Slater links most childhood memories to the food he ate, from the terrible meals his mother provided for him, to the far more delicious meals, but far less nourishing life provided for him by his stepmother, and then onto the things he makes for himself, as he begins to forge a career in the food industry. He also doesn't shy away from talking about his sexual development, or from the things he never said to his father or stepmother, and the moment when he goes and smells his mother's clothes after she has died made me cry without having to be at all sentimental. He is a really really good writer.

So, me and Nigel Slater. Obviously, my writing is not as good as his, but I try. I also like to bake. This is not why Toast made me believe we were the same person though. We do, for a start, have the same birthday (he's just a tad older than me. Like, 30 years or so), and we share a lot of the same food dislikes too. We both abhor milk (although I never vomited any up onto a teacher, but probably would have if I'd been forced to drink it in school), eggs (although my dad never forced me to eat them, or indeed ever cooked anything), and that gross jelly stuff you get on processed meats. The connection I felt went deeper than these things though, and I just felt like I was reading tales of my own childhood at a few certain points of the book- although we grew up 30 years apart, there seem to be parts of an English childhood that have remained immutable throughout those years. This really hit me the hardest when Slater recounted a trip to the seaside with his parents. As he described it, I found myself recognising the places and things that he mentioned as Bournemouth, my own childhood holiday destination, and when he confirmed this at the end of the chapter, I just felt so connected to him, and also a little nostalgic for the carefree days of strolling along the beach and through the lovely gardens. I can't help but think many many more readers may have experienced these same longings for the past when reading parts of this book.

There are, of course, many things in Slater's past that you wouldn't want to emulate. His relationship with his father and stepmother after his father's death, while not necessarily amounting to child abuse, seems to have involved a certain amount of emotional neglect, where his feelings were neither talked or, it seems, thought about. There is such a touching moment near the end of his recollections, however, where Slater decides to go and phone his stepmother, who has been left essentially all alone after his father's death. When he finds the phone occupied, however, he loses his nerve and decides not to do it, but he had "just wanted to check that she was alright". I find it extraordinary of him that he could care at all about this woman who had never nurtured him, and often belittled and complained about him to his father; and I was incredibly moved by this gesture. The BBC apparently also found this event unbelievable, since they showed the young Slater simply packing up and walking away from his stepmother without at word at the end of Toast. It would perhaps be more majestic if this had actually happened, but that's not always how real life goes, is it?

So, Toast made me love Nigel Slater and his mother, have conflicting feelings towards his father (that he tried to do his best, but often fell short of that aim), and murderous stabby type feelings towards his stepmother, and the BBC adaptation made me feel much the same way (despite it's blatent sensationalising of quite a few details!) I absolutely loved the nostalgia it filled me with, and also the way he could relate all the important events of his childhood to food, something which I could also probably do (starting with my traumatic Pizza Hut party when I was 6). I would really recommend this book to you if you grew up in England, if only to see whether or not I had a tragically old fashioned childhood or not, but I think it has wider appeal also. I also really recommend the BBC adaptation if you can find it anywhere, since Helena Bonham Carter as the evil stepmother has to be one of the best castings ever.  It might, however, put you off walnut whips for a pretty long time...

You can read extracts from Toast here

Friday, 28 January 2011

Revisiting Films... Something's Gotta Give, or My 'Creepy' Love for Jack Nicholson

I have been told that my love for Jack Nicholson is disturbing. A little creepy, even. I can't really dispute this, but nor can I deny that there is something about the man that is absolutely irresistible to me! It's not something that I developed after watching The Shining, or One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, since I'm pretty sure Something's Gotta Give is the first film that I saw him in, so I clearly fell in love with the older man first! He's just got so damn much charisma, that it's difficult not to love him- or at least, that's my opinion on him anyway!

So what is it about him in Something's Gotta Give? It's not the constant wooing of 20 year old girls, believe me (although that is such a double standard because I would totally date him and I'm only 21, but I suppose if he actually wanted me, I'd find him lecherous. Ugh. Confusing) and it isn't his arrogance or total obsession with sex either. What is sexy about him is his self-confidence, his underlying vulnerability, and the way he finally opens himself up to the possibility that he can change, and actually be genuinely happy. It doesn't hurt that his rival for his fair lady's affections it Keanu Reeves, who lets face it is cute, but, lets face it, he is acted off the screen by Nicholson! Also, he has an amazing face- sort of cheeky and knowing and just filled with personality all the time. If I'm too enthusiastic about all of this, please let me know!

Something's Gotta Give is not a film I'm supposed to like. Not because there's anything wrong with it, but more because it's (supposedly) aimed at the 40 plus female (probably divorced) audience, who want to believe that they can still find love again. I'm sure that this demographic was, on the whole, pleased with the film, but that doesn't stop it from appealing to me too! There is, of course, the stellar casting (not only Nicholson but Diane Keaton too!), and it just has such a wonderful feeling about it. These people are in such beautiful, expensive surroundings that you know they're definitely going to be ok, even if they're not too good right at that very second. This can also of course have it's downsides- it's hard to be sympathetic towards very rich people when millions of children go to bed hungry every night, you know. But, nonetheless, you can probably watch a film without having to think about that too much, and without feeling too guilty either. After all, you're not the one living the opulent life (well, I'm not- you might be!)

So. I do like this film! I like it a lot, and I don't think that because these people are well-off that I, or anyone else, can't relate to them. Similarly, just because our protagonists are older, doesn't mean they are not relatable to either. The film encourages the idea that no matter how set in their ways people are (and Harry, Nicholson's character, is very very set in his ways), that they can change and realise what is actually good for them. It is also heartening to see Erica, Diane Keaton's character, actually experience deep passionate love for the first time in her life, her ex-husband seeming to have been a good friend rather than someone she was ever crazy about (indeed, it is Harry that finally makes her realise that she does "like sex!"). It is also pleasing to me that, in a film where Harry only sleeps with women under 30, and where Erica's husband marries a 31 year old woman, that she also gets a little taste of the younger man, in the shape of Reeves' young doctor- this is not something that is normally allowed to happen to older women in films, and I think the fact that it does has something to do with the female writer and director behind it all. God bless Nancy Meyers!

The ending of this film is such an unbelievable cliche, but somehow, for me, it really really works! For a start they have to be in Paris, because of the symmetry with Erica's play; and Erica and Harry absolutely have to end up together because they truly love each other, and it would just be foolish for them not to admit that, and to just go on living a simulation of happiness. The fact that it is snowing, and they are in Paris could feel really tired and awful, but because Jack Nicholson realises how ridiculous it is, and makes fun of himself for having been rejected by the woman he loves in Paris, of all places, makes it all the more wonderful when Erica comes back to him and admits that she loves him too. It's all just too lovely- you can already see that they are going to spend the rest of their lives together, and what happy lives they will be!

I fear I may have just gushed a little bit too much here, so I'll add a few more details I enjoy without gushing too much, and then leave you to throw up as you consider finding Jack Nicholson desirable. Harry mentions in the film that he has looked Erica up online and that there are "8000 websites that mention her!" This is such an adorably twee number that it really puts a date on the film (it was released in 2003) since a google search today shows 275,000 results for Tony Kushner, a playwright I have somehow decided is comparable to Ms Barry (although, a search for Erica Barry comes up with 267,000 results anyway, which is also extremely impressive!) I also like the fact that they actually know how to IM each other, although I suppose two such ambitious and hardworking people would probably have a pretty good knowledge of how to use such computery things (I guess I'm only impressed by this because my 52 year old mother barely knows how to turn on a computer, let alone do anything useful with it!) And I've also just found a deleted scene where Jack Nicholson sings La Vie en Rose to Diane Keaton! This is basically the best thing that has ever happened, and I have to go and die happily now at how spectacular it is!

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Devouring Films: Doubt

I have seen Doubt twice in the last month. While it is a great film, I wasn't so enamoured by it that I absolutely had to watch it twice, but I had it delivered by Lovefilm, and my first copy missed out two sections, about 3 minutes long each. You might not necessarily think that these two parts would make a difference, and I definitely felt that I had a pretty good understanding of what had gone down, and who was being punished and why, and to some extent that is true. However, when Lovefilm offered to send me an undamaged copy, I took them up on it, and I was really surprised to find that the two sections I missed actually made me think about the film in a very different way.

Doubt is essentially the story of a nun, Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) who suspects a priest (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) of molesting children, but there is always a doubt over whether or not this is the case, although not from the sister herself. In addition to this, there is also another nun (Amy Adams) who provides evidence for Sister Aloysius' suspicion, and allows her to feel the "certainty" that she says she has of the Father's guilt.

The two parts that I missed, then, gave me an entirely new viewpoint on Amy Adam's character, Sister James, and also a new perspective on the boy the Father is accused of molesting, Donald Miller. After confronting the Father in Sister Aloysius' office, the two nuns have a conversation that is really illuminating for the character of Sister James. For the rest of the film, Sister James seems extremely intimidated by Sister Aloysius, but here, and what I'm quite sad to have missed, she actually stands up to her and tries to make her see that she may just be prejudiced against the Father because she doesn't like him. She fails to convince her of this, but this is still Adams at her best in the film- irritated by the prejudice of Sister Aloysius, and actually standing up for something she thinks she is likely to be wrong about.

The second part I missed was part of a conversation between Sister Aloysius and Donald Miller's mother, Mrs Miller (a wonderful Viola Davis, who I am actually thrilled to see was nominated for an Oscar for her relatively tiny part). In this, Mrs Miller seems to alternately not care that her son could be being molested, to being a really conscientious and caring mother. The crux of what I missed is this: Mrs Miller seems to believe that any relationship between her son and the Father could essentially be consensual (not that a relationship between an adult and a child can ever be consensual), because Donald is gay. This, being his nature, as his mother puts it, is not something she thinks he should be punished for, and besides he only has 6 months before he leaves the school, and if he graduates from there, he has a better chance of a better high school, going to college, and basically an escape from the life that he has now. Her view, then, is not one that condones her child being abused, but one that wants him to get into a position in life where he will never be abused in any way, by anyone. It's hard not to sympathise with her when you know these circumstances, whereas in my first viewing, she just seemed not to care very much at all.

A full viewing, therefore, is obviously essential for all films, but it has amazed me that just two tiny parts could have such an effect on how I feel about it as a whole. There is just one other part that I would like to highlight. At the end, the Father having left the parish but also been promoted, there is a moment where Sister Aloysius starts to cry and says "I have such doubts!" In saying this, I'm not sure she is saying that she doubts that the Father really was molesting children, but more doubts about a God who would allow such things to happen. Since the film ends here, there is no discussion of whether or not she is having a spiritual crisis, but as there are allusions in the film to "moving away from God in doing his work", I feel justified in offering this as a suggestion, especially since she can't exactly have doubts about the Father now, because even if she did, he is in a better position now than he ever was. It is an incredibly thought provoking moment to include at the end of the film, and ensures that you are left thinking about the film for a long time after it ends. I know that I was.

Devouring Books: What's Eating Johnny Depp? by Nigel Goodall

Gratuitous picture of Johnny as Cry Baby. Because I can.

I bought this book anticipating that it would be as good a read as Johnny Depp: A Kind of Illusion, by Denis Meikle, which I have read many times, and even cited in an essay once. This is not what I got. Now, I don't want to be overly critical of someone who has published numerous biographies of actors, musicians, things like that, but I honestly closed the book and thought 'I could write a better biography of Johnny Depp than that.' This is not an overstatement of my talents, or my deppmania, but rather an accurate depiction of just how bad this biography was.

So what, exactly, was wrong with it? To start with it was pretty clear to me that Goodall had either never met Depp, or never had any meaningful conversation with him anyway, since anything that is quotable to Johnny is from other sources, and not always relevant anyway. This is not necessarily an obstacle when writing a biography about someone (although I'm sure it is immeasurably helpful to have the subject's co-operation, and I kind of frown on people just co-opting others' lives for their own benefit, but anyway), but the problem is that Goodall tends to write as though he has an intimate knowledge of Johnny's motivations, even those that may not be known to himself (more on this later). Meikle, conversely, sticks more to a critical analysis of Depp's films, rather than a more personal focus on the man himself, which can only be a good move if you don't have the access to your subject that you would prefer, and makes for a more honest account of what the author can possibly know.

The thing that annoyed me most about What's Eating Johnny Depp?, however, was how Goodall found a way to relate a wide variety of Depp's actions and thoughts back to his ex-girlfriend Winona Ryder. Quite apart from this, there is quite a hefty portion of the time they were together alotted to describe Ryder's actions rather than Depp's. This seems rather odd, until you look to the front of the book and see that he is also the author of Winona Ryder: The Biography (he has also written about British non-entities Fearne Cotton and Davina McCall... ahem, no comment!), so it's almost as if he just couldn't be bothered to find out what Johnny was doing at this time, and just took information out of previous 'research' to fill up some pages. Nice. The really annoying bits come after their break up though, when every turned down movie becomes attributable to Winona, and things she has said are supposed to have had an impact on Johnny's actions. I'm not positive about this, but she may have even been given a comment on Kate Moss and Johnny's break up. This all just seemed ridiculous, and above all lazy to me. There is a lot more to Johnny Depp than Winona Ryder, and constantly referring back to her was just really unnecessary. And (clearly!) irritating!

(Just so you know: I don't hate Winona Ryder! Far from it, in fact, but I just didn't need so much of her in my Johnny Depp biography, you know?)

All of this just put me off so much that I couldn't really take the rest of the book seriously. There aren't that many redeeming features to it, to be honest, except for the photo pages that you get in such books, which were... extremely pleasant to look at (Johnny Depp's face=heaven), but I don't attribute these much to Goodall, but rather to his (seemingly illiterate!) publishers. So thanks to them for that, but for the rest of the book, not so much. One other thing I would point out is the lack of any detail of things post Pirates of the Caribbean, which is about the only thing that is wrong with the book that Goodall can't take responsibility for. It does seem unfortunate that the book ends just before Johnny Depp becomes the most wanted actor in Hollywood, and enjoys a massive shift in the public perception of him (including, I might add, raising my own awareness of him, where it has remained ever since!). This is just bad timing that can't be helped, but basically everything else in the book could have been.

Goodall has just published another Johnny Depp Biography, The Secret World of Johnny Depp. Much as I would like to see how much of these more recent shifts in his career are attributable to Winona Ryder, I think I'm going to stay about as far away from it as I possibly can. And if anyone wants a new biography of Johnny Depp written, I'd be only too happy to oblige. I really couldn't do much worse.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Devouring Books: The Virgin Suicides By Jeffrey Eugenides

For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to read The Virgin Suicides before Middlesex by Eugenides, even though it was Middlesex I was really interested in (I know, what a weirdo right?! I don’t have a clue what I was thinking there!) In retrospect, it wasn’t a good idea. I didn’t really enjoy The Virgin Suicides very much, for a number of reasons. It didn’t help that I read it in essentially 2 parts with a 3 week gap in-between, because of this horrible death illness I had that made me useless for doing anything, but that’s not the entire problem I had with it.

One of the main stumbling block for me was the nature of the narration itself. I didn’t really feel like the male narrator could really have a grasp on the way these girls were feeling, and so it always felt cold and impersonal to me. I’m not necessarily saying I wanted tortured teenage girl narration, whining about feeling trapped and suppressed and so on (narration that all the Lisbon girls would be entitled to), but viewing these girls solely through the eyes of men almost leaves them without voices and makes them seem less important to the story than they actually are (they are, in fact crucial, in that without them, there is no story.) I appreciate that these are things that the narrator does recognise himself, in his awareness of the limits of how little he and the other neighbourhood boys could know of these girls, but this still doesn’t necessarily make the book feel any more relatable to, for me.

Another thing that feels off about the novel is the way it is presented, in almost a report-like way at times, including statistics about teenage suicide, and reasons for it and things like that. This is not necessarily something that is out of place within fiction, but the book seems to lapse in and out of a report style and sometimes wanders into the territory of teenage boy daydreams, when in fact it should surely have focused more on the girls and why they feel the way they do, rather than having to have men explain to us why they think they do. Again, I realise that this is the style of narration that Eugenides has chosen, for his own reasons, but it somehow left me cold rather than caring about any of the people involved. I felt moderately sad for the girls, but I don’t think as much as I should have, and although their presence haunted the narrator, I can’t say the same- in fact, I could barely remember their names (with the notable exception of Lux, the ‘promiscuous’ [read easy] sister, who is, for obvious reasons, the boys’ favourite).

I think I have looked at the novel in perhaps an overly feminist way (which, I won’t apologise for, but will recognise that it may have formed my opinions on the book), but I still think it does have the flaws I have identified. Ignoring the overtly male viewpoint, however, the novel does look at just how unknowable the motivations behind suicide can be, but this still doesn’t seem like enough to make me care, although maybe that’s not what the book aims for. Where it should have been about the girls, it is in the end about the boys who worship them without even knowing them, further assistance to the view that women are worthy of male attention solely through their physical attributes, a view that I for one am not exactly a fan of. On the front of the copy I have, there is a quote that likens it to The Catcher in the Rye, an analogy I would go along with since they both leave me feeling like they are inadequate and just lacking that certain something that would make them appeal to me more.

Revisiting Films... Rachel Getting Married

Warning: This post contains spoilers! So if you want to watch Rachel Getting Married (and you really should!) then stop right here!
So, the Oscar nominees for 2011 have been announced; and the only logical thing for me to do is review a film that was nominated (for best actress) in 2009. Yeah. The reason for this is mainly that I am so poor that I can't even afford to go to the cinema anymore, and so can't really comment on any of the nominated actors/films (except to say that I would love Christian Bale to finally win an Oscar, and I love Annette Bening an obscene amount and WHO WOULD NOT GIVE HER AN OSCAR FOR AMERICAN BEAUTY?!) Ahem. Yes. So, I am poor, and Rachel Getting Married is just so good and gives you so much to think about that you can just watch it every Oscar season and see something new in it, and interpret it in different ways. Or that's what I'm going to tell myself anyway...

There are a lot of different things to look at when you watch Rachel Getting Married, and it's almost impossible to tell how you feel about each of them, since it changes each time you watch it. After numerous viewings, I am only sure of a few things:

  • I really don't like the way their mother treats Rachel and Kym, like they don't matter anymore, and she can't bear to be around them. However, I wouldn't like to judge her for this, since I can't even imagine losing a child, but I would like to think that I could try to heal by embracing my other children more, rather than pushing them away.
  • Rachel is incredibly well-grounded considering all that she has been through, and all I want in the aftermath of this film is for her and Sidney and their little family to be happy!
  • Their father, while flawed, is one of the fathers in fiction that I would most like to have- he is unbelievably accepting, as well as being completely lovely (although I'm not sure Kym would agree)
  • I really really really like the way the film is shot, using only music that you see being played onscreen, and often, during the wedding especially, switching to home movie style filming. This all contributes to an atmosphere of realism that suffuses the film, and makes the wedding seem like one you might go to, and the family one you are in, for better or worse.

Apart from these things, I am always oscillating between the way I feel about the characters, the situations and everything else about the film. This is not a complaint, but rather a compliment to an extremely intense and well-executed film, where I'm not sure even the writer would necessarily know how she feels about her characters if pressed on the matter.

Kym is the character I struggle most with, since I feel almost proud of her sobriety and the way she is trying to progress, but at the same time there are moments (at the rehearsal dinner especially) where she seems intensely selfish and not someone you would want to be around you. There is also her drug addled past, where she caused the aforementioned death of her brother, but I consider the deep punishment that she has inflicted on herself to be enough for anyone to bear. This in fact leads to one of the most interesting issues that the film addresses: once you have done something so terrible, where can you possibly go from there? As Kym puts it, "I could be Mother Theresa and it wouldn't make a difference." This question really resonated with me- if you do something awful, there is nothing you can ever do to change it so how are you meant to act afterwards? Do you continue down the road of addiction, as Kym did, or do you turn to good deeds, even with the knowledge that nothing you can possibly do will make up for or change your past actions? I don't think there is necessarily a right answer to this question, other than you finding a way to live with yourself, by any means possible. Precisely because Kym is still alive, and trying so hard to get better, you can't help but feel a certain sense of admiration for her and hope for her continued recovery.

Kym and Rachel's relationship is a crucial part of the film, that everything else seems to be set around. There are so many elements to it that it is almost impossible to discuss in it's entirety, but I'll have a go at it here! In many ways it is typical of that of many other sisters- they can't stand each other one minute and then adore each other the next, in one instance Rachel is shouting at Kym not to get ash on her wedding dress, the next they are telling a childhood story and finishing each others sentences. This relationship is ultimately complicated by the things that have already happened, however: Rachel is resentful of the attention Kym has constantly received from their father, and recalls the loneliness she felt after their brother's death and Kym's many (we assume) stays in rehab; whereas Kym feels judged and possibly hated by Rachel, as well as believing that Rachel is beyond reproach while she is always the one in trouble. While their problems are not fully resolved through the course of the film, there are two key shifts in their relationship: one, where Kym comes back having slept in the car she crashed all night and Rachel accepts her unquestioningly, helping her bathe on the morning of her own wedding, and here we truly see what it means to be family, and to have their support no matter what. The other comes at the end, when Kym leaves and they don't need to say much, they just know that the other will be there if they need them, or just that they will always love each other, even if they don't like each other all that much. It's a relationship that feels familiar, even to those of us without drug addict sisters, and it really rings true.

Family is such a major part of this film that everything else seems to pale into insignificance in comparison. There is a wedding, for a start, which tends to denote a family coming together, and this is really the case for most of the characters in the film. There is the absent brother, the husband's family, the drug addict sister, the friends who feel like family. There is even the generation of a new family as Rachel and Sidney announce their impending addition. Being surrounded by this much family can be a wonderful thing, but at the same time it can also feel almost suffocating, and I get the sense that this is what afflicts Kym the most during the film. In her eyes, her father's constant surveillance feels like judgement, and his almost waiting for her to do something wrong, whereas her mother's barely hidden hatred of her is even more disheartening. As a result, it is hardly surprising that, at the end of the film she chooses to leave, not to go back to her life before, but (presumably) to stay with a nurse from her rehab facility. In this action, the viewer almost regrets that she doesn't end up with Kieran (perhaps the character with the capacity to understand her best), but the film is just far too realistic to let that happen- people don't just fall in love over a long weekend. This end, however, also shows us something else, perhaps more integral to the film itself. The camera stays directly on Rachel long after Kym has left, reminding us that, although it may not always have seemed like it, Rachel is the real star of this story, it was after all her wedding, and despite all of the things she has gone through, she has survived it all a lot better than everyone else. Rachel is, in a sense, our heroine, our guiding beacon of intelligence and being sensible, and it is to her we must look for the lynchpin that holds this family together.

In case I didn't get this across, I really really love this film- it makes me think a lot about a lot of stuff, and that can only be a good thing (the part of my degree that wasn't English was Philosophy, so I like thinking about stuff. A lot.) There is so much more that could be said about it that it's crazy, but I'm going to stop now so as not to bore you. But I hope that if you've seen the film, you enjoyed it as much as I continue to do!

Monday, 24 January 2011

Oh My Gawd, She/He's in Everything!

I don't know if any of you have experienced this (I'm sure you have), but there seem to be times when you see one actor popping up in everything you watch. Now, I'm not talking about those actors who you seek out for their magnificence, because you expect to see them: you can't watch Cry Baby, Chocolat, and the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy in one night, for example, and then be surprised to see Johnny Depp! (Well, not unless you're pretty slow, anyway. In which case... good for you! You saw Johnny Depp a lot!)

Anyway. The people I'm talking about are those who seem to take up the more minor roles in films, and as a result seem to be able to do a lot more of them, and haunt your entire viewing experience for a little while. When Pete Postlethwaite died a few weeks ago, my Dad described him as being one of those people you see in lots of things, but when asked what he's been in you're at a bit of a loss. The same is true of all of the following people, who are continually popping up in all the things I like to watch, often actually, with another of the people I always see. It's a little bit disturbing, but mostly I have come to love and appreciate these actors for the crucial roles that they play, which are often as important as those of Johnny Depp! Believe it or not...

1. John C Reilly
John C Reilly literally is in everything. I don't think I even know the depths of the things that he's in, considering that Never Been Kissed was on the other night and he was even in that! I have learned to love his weirdly squishy face in films including What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, The Good Girl, Chicago and The Hours, although he does seemed to be cursed with 'best friend-itis'- I'm not sure he's ever allowed to be the male lead.
I was going to put a picture of John looking all sad because he's never the lead, but I couldn't find one. So here he is being all smiley instead! Good for him!

2. Christine Baranski
I first remember seeing her in Cybill, which I watched every day for the entirety of one summer with my cousins and sister for some strange reason! After this, she seemed to go away somewhere, until she started creeping her way back in to films that I was likely to see. Cruel Intentions, Chicago, Frasier, Ugly Betty... It got so I had to learn her name so I wouldn't have to call her the 'evil mum from Cruel Intentions with the funny face' anymore...
My exposure to Baranski could be even greater if I could ever bring myself to watch Mamma Mia, but I just CAN'T DO IT, despite Meryl Streep and being told how much fun it is all the time... which is maybe part of the problem too!
Ooh... wasn't she EVIL in Cruel Intentions?!

3. Allison Janney
I technically shouldn't include her in my list because she is forever and always C J Cregg, and was the undisputed real star of The West Wing. But, she has to be here for the sheer volume of things that she's been in that I have seen, and the number of times I have been surprised by her presence, a feeling which predates my obsession with The West Wing for quite a few years. You might think I'm exaggerating, but she appears in *deep breath* 10 Things I hate about you, Drop Dead Gorgeous, American Beauty, The Hours, Hairspray, Juno, Weeds, Frasier AND her voice is in both Finding Nemo and Over the Hedge. I have watched and loved all of these, and I love this woman more than is (probably) healthy. Coincidence? I think NOT!

4. J K Simmons
Not only is he Allison Janney's husband in Juno, J K Simmons also appears in the three Spiderman films, Burn After Reading, Up in the Air, Jennifer's Body and Thank You For Smoking. On the basis of this filmography, I have to conclude that he is to Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody (both together and separately) what Johnny Depp is to Tim Burton. Their Bitch.

5. Anna Deavere Smith
I may be exaggerating slightly the frequency with which I see this woman, but, with her recurring roles in The West Wing and Nurse Jackie, plus appearances in Rachel Getting Married (subject of my next review!), and Philadelphia, I've seen her quite a lot more often than her mere 23 characters would suggest I would. She can play hilarious (Nurse Jackie) and scarily intelligent (The West Wing), as well as being able to portray more down to earth characters in the films I've seen her in. The screen's (relative) loss is the theatre's gain in her case.
Oh, Nancy. Fix all the world's problems for us, won't you?

6. Mary Steenburgen
This woman is affectionately known to me as 'the mum from Joan of Arcadia', even though I have watched said programme once, for about 10 minutes. I have, however, seen her in a LOT of other things, including Philadelphia with Anna Deavere Smith, and What's Eating Gilbert Grape? with John C Reilly. Other notable appearances come in Elf, Back to the Future III, Four Christmases (NOT a recommended movie!) and oh my goodness I can't even continue this because I just found out that there was an animated Back to the Future TV series! (She was in that too) Does everyone else know about this and I'm just really far behind? Or does nobody talk about it because it was so awful?! I need to know this!
I wish Laura had already known about that damn animated series so she could have talked about me more!

7. Jane Lynch 
I was pretty much unaware of Jane Lynch until she became the greatest thing about Glee, but since then I've been aware of her presence everywhere. She has been in a lot of amazing tv shows, including Frasier, Desperate Housewives, Friends, Weeds, My Name is Earl and Popular (which, I can't be sure, but I think I may have been it's sole viewer); as well as appearing in The 40 Year Old Virgin and Julie and Julia. The world may be trying to tell me something by her appearing everywhere, but I'm not sure what that thing is... other than that Jane Lynch is awesome!
Far more smiley than Sylvester...

8. Rosemarie Dewitt
This lovely lady hasn't been in all that many things either, but I have somehow managed to see her a lot, in Mad Men, Rachel Getting Married, Sex and the City and United States of Tara. Having seen her in US of Tara and Rachel getting married, I did sense a little of the under-appreciated sibling to her performance (mainly because she is the 'normal' and therefore less worrisome sibling in both cases), but her role in Mad Men really defies that as she proves herself way too cool for Don Draper. Speaking of US of Tara, Toni Collette very nearly made this list, but for the fact that I never recognise her- it took me an obscenely long time to connect her characters in Little Miss Sunshine, About A Boy and The Hours as being the same person! An extraordinary actress. Aaaaand, I just managed to do to Rosemarie Dewitt what casting agents do to her all the time... whoops!
I don't care that she just gushed about Toni Colette, cause I'm married to Berger, bitches.

I think what I love most about these unexpected encounters in films with familiar faces is that the phenomenon is going to be different for everybody- there are just going to be some actors you see more, because of the kinds of films that you like to watch. Who haunts you whenever you turn on the TV/ go to the cinema?

Saturday, 22 January 2011


I went for a walk yesterday (I know, crazy!) just as the sun was beginning to set. This meant I could see the sky looking like this

Sometimes it's good to get away from screens and books for a while...

Literary Locations: New York City

When I went to New York last year in 2009, there was one place I absolutely had to go. It wasn't the Statue of Liberty, it wasn't Rockefeller Centre, and it wasn't even the Empire State Building (although, don't get me wrong, I saw all of there things too!) No, my number one destination was right here:

Located on 12th and Broadway, (and if you think that was easy for a little country mouse to find in the rain then you're crazy) this place is basically my (wet) dream. I stumbled across it in a guidebook I had, immediately enticed by it's description "eighteen miles of books" and set my heart upon finding, entering, and falling in love with the place. And that's about what I did! I'm still quite sad that I don't have any pictures of the inside of it, but once I was in there all the space in my brain was taken up going "books! Books!! BOOKS!!!" and it short-circuited a little bit. Suffice to say, I bought way more books than I realistically had room to carry, and packing a few days later was not a lot of fun. I also bought this:

which excited me more than anything else in the entire world, considering my love for Maus (see yesterday's post), books, and, now, Strand Bookstore. It was completely worth the trek from 7th avenue, no matter what my sister (and travelling companion) might tell you!

The other place that I went to for nerd satisfaction was Central Park. I had been here once before, in the drizzle and damp of April with complaining parents, and all we managed to actually see was Strawberry Fields and a few squirrels. This time, then, I wanted to make sure we saw everything the park had to offer. And we did pretty well! My main preoccupation was for seeing the Bethesda fountain, a crucial part of the basis of and plot of Angels in America, my absolute favourite play and miniseries in the entire world; and besides that, well, it's just a really beautiful fountain:

See?! So, after frolicking around here for a while, gleeful in the knowledge that Meryl Streep (and probably lots of other less fabulous people) had been in the exact same place before, I reluctantly moved onto the Shakespeare portion of my Central Park visit. We had a look at the Delacorte Theatre
although we didn't see a performance there :( (this face would have been ever sadder had I gone last summer because AL PACINO!! was there doing The Merchant of Venice! Oh woe is me!) There's also a nice statue of The Tempest outside
So that was good. After looking at the queue (that seems to be mostly made up of senior citizens...) we moved onto the Shakespeare Garden, which includes all flowers ever mentioned in his plays, along with nice little plaques with the corresponding quotations on:

It was nice there. I didn't really want to leave, but there is quite a lot to do in New York, so I had to be realistic. Also, I was forced away!

I've actually just remembered another literary part of Central Park, it's only occurring to me now because I've never been very impressed with the book in question. We went on the Carousel that I can only assume is the same as the one that Holden Caulfield's sister goes on in The Catcher in the Rye, when he seems especially loopy...

It was a lot of fun, although now that I look back on the photos, it does look kind of creepy...
Maybe I'll tell you some day about why I don't like The Catcher in the Rye (or, alternatively, I'll read it again and finally see what everyone else does in it- here's hoping!)

So, those were the most literary parts of my trip. It also shames me to admit that I went on a Sex and the City bus tour (DON'T JUDGE ME!), ostensibly for the promise of a Magnolia Bakery cupcake that I was bitterly denied on my previous visit (and I had that cupcake, and a brownie. So there!), plus saw so many film locations that I almost couldn't believe they were really there. Damn, I love New York so much... Anyone want to buy me a plane ticket/accommodation/a job so I can go back there? Anybody?!

Friday, 21 January 2011

Revisiting Books... The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

I have read this graphic novel so many times, but have never had a blog with which to talk about it before. So, I have read it anew just so I can report back on it to the internet. How very kind of me! I remember describing Maus to a friend of mine as 'a comic book about the Holocaust', which she in turn found, if not offensive, then a little bit dodgy. This is so far from being the case that I had to instruct her to read it immediately, and then even start to suggest that it might be disrespectful. Because it isn't.

Maus is a comic book about the Holocaust, it's author is the son of a survivor, and it is incredibly moving and honest. One of the things I like best about it is the way that Spiegelman refuses to present his father as a perfect person because he has suffered, instead choosing to be realistic about the man that he has had experience of, who is, let's face it, an extremely flawed man. The effect of this, however, does not necessarily make us less sympathetic towards Vladek, his father, since it becomes apparent that each the foibles that Art finds annoying is a direct result of his Holocaust experience- the need to save food, the need to stay fit, his desire for Art to have a wider variety of skills. This also, however, means that Spiegelman never slips into an over-sentimentalised version of events, so that we can also see that his depictions of his father's Holocaust experience are also as horrifying as the way they are depicted.

Another important issue that Maus raises is that of how far reaching the horrors of the Holocaust actually are. After his father has died, Spiegelman depicts himself as visiting a psychiatrist, suffering from depression, and admits that there is a sense in which he feels guilty that his parents had to live through the Holocaust and he did not, a kind of second-generational survivor's guilt. There is also the sense that he also feels guilty for making money and gaining a great deal of success, essentially out of his parents' suffering. I found this complex really fascinating, and I find myself wondering if this is a common feeling among the children of Holocaust survivors- that they of course wouldn't want to live through the kind of suffering that their parents did, but that they paradoxically also feel guilty that they didn't, and as a result anything that they suffer will never be as bad so they have to, in a sense, repress it. There doesn't seem to be a lot of research into this, but it really does interest me (it's my A level in psychology coming to the surface!) so if anyone knows of any studies about this, I'd love to hear about them.

Anyway, back to the book. I always find myself crying any time another family member is taken away, imagining the slow, drawn out torture of slowly losing everyone you hold dear. How many have been lost really becomes clear when Vladek goes through the whole family- one of his brothers has survived, and one of his wife Anja's, and that's it. Everyone else is gone, and the lonely bleakness of this realisation is devastating and awful. It's just another physical reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust, and one that really hits home when you start to imagine the practicalities of how many people each survivor has lost.

In his book, Spiegelman presents people of each race as a different animal- Jews are mice, Germans are cats, Americans are dogs (do ya see what he did there?!). But beyond the basic metaphor of it all being a game of cat and mouse, Spiegelman's aim appears to have been to expose the stupidness of seeing people of different races as all being and looking the same. It is clear that this is not the case, as there are instances where Jewish mice help the Nazis to put other Jews in camps, and where Polish pigs are more willing to help Jews than other Jews are. The basic story here is a simple but striking one- that there is no way you can generalise anything about any race of people, so an abomination like the Holocaust is something that is so illogical and ridiculous that it should never be allowed to happen, for the simple reason that it doesn't make any sense, just as no racism ever makes any sense.

There is so much more to this book than just these few things I have mentioned, and I would recommend that you buy it and see for yourself what you can get out of it. It might be a lot more than you were expecting.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

The Insanity of Pulp Fiction

"This has been the single weirdest fuckin' day of my life" Butch Coolidge.

I ended up watching most of Pulp Fiction last night, and just started thinking about how insane Quentin Tarantino must actually be (in the best possible way, of course). It just seems so incomprehensible that something that starts innocently enough, with an adorable french woman forgetting Butch's watch, could end in the mental way it does, so fast that it doesn't just make your head spin but blows it right off!

It's all quite plausible to begin with (well, within the context of the film, anyway), Butch obviously has to kill John Travolta, who would have been sent to stake out his house to teach him a lesson. So far, so good. Things start to get a bit strange when Butch and Marsellus cross paths for no apparent reason (shouldn't everyone know where Marsellus Wallace gets his breakfast from, so they can successfully avoid them and not end up dead when they've stolen from him?) but their little exchange of violence here is also pretty par for the course. It's not until they stumble into a pawnshop that everything just goes completely cuckoo.

Who can honestly say that their first thought at this point of the film was that Butch and Marsellus were about to be chained to some chairs with ball gags in their mouths waiting to be anally raped? I don't think that anybody, in the history of watching this film has ever seen it coming, and nor would I want to meet the person who has! It's just so unbelievably random- you expect them to just keep on fighting, maybe move on to another place and do more of the same, but not for them to be taken round the back, accompanied by the shop owner and a police officer (!) ready for some anal rape. Seriously, what. The. Hell?!

A note on the gimp: I think the bring out the gimp music is possibly the most gimp-appropriate music ever, so there's that in his favour. I would, however, question Zed and Maynard's decision to use him as a guard for a prize fighter while they are off raping Marsellus. Let's think about this logically- he is chained to the ceiling so can't exactly move very far in any direction, plus he is wearing a mask that will muffle any warning cries he can make. Do we think that one punch from Butch (who has just punched a man to death) will render him unconscious for quite a long time? Not the sharpest tools in the toolbox, these guys...

After this, what happens does seem pretty situation appropriate, if you can ignore just how ridiculous the situation is. Butch has the moral dilemma of whether he should just leave Marsellus to his horrible fate, and live the rest of his life in fear; or go back and save him, possibly doubly risking his own life in the process, with the danger from the rapists, and that Marsellus's gratitude might not outweigh his continued anger at him. Because Butch is essentially good, he chooses the latter option, and wins his Marsellus endorsed freedom, allowing him to ride off into the sunset with his ladyfriend. The rapists end up dead and/or penisless, and Marsellus gets to retain his status since nobody ever needs to know about his humiliation and horror (although he hopefully gets some kind of therapy for it, because that was some pretty bad stuff).

Here's the thing though: should Marsellus have even let Butch go? It was, in essence, all Butch's fault that they were in that shop, when he could have run into the dry cleaners next door or something. Or, should Marsellus have even killed Fabienne for forgetting the watch in the first place, without which none of this would have had to happen and Marsellus could have just gone home with his doughnuts and coffee, and never have had to worry about being anally raped.

Personally, I just worry about who's going to unchain the gimp when he finally regains consciousness and finds his two masters dead... Maybe Marsellus will take him home as a pet for Mia to play with? Just a thought....

That's right Butch. It's mental!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Top Ten Tuesday (on a Wednesday!)

Yes, it's another top ten list, woooooo! I might not have bothered doing the top ten list for this week, had it not been so awesome, but it really is. Also, I just really love making lists!

Top Ten Most Inspirational Characters

1. C J Cregg from The West Wing. She's not from a book, but she is possibly my favourite character in anything that has ever existed. C J is the kind of woman I would love to be when I grow up, (full disclosure: I'm 21, which some people may consider grown up, but I beg to differ...) she's so unbelievably smart and good at what she does, and she isn't afraid of anything at all. When Leo chooses her as his replacement over her two equally qualified male co-workers, I dance a little bit inside, since he has clearly seen in her the same things I have, i.e. that she is the best and most crucial part of the Bartlet administration. Also, I will love Allison Janney forever if not longer!

2. Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Atticus is the absolute ultimate moral centre of my world. He truly believes all people are created equal; he supports gun control, or at least control around guns; and he teaches his children the most important things they could possibly learn: about courage, about empathy, and about equality. He's one of those characters that, once the book is finished, I am always disappointed that such an incredible person doesn't actually exist, although Harper Lee apparently based him on her father, so I can choose to believe that essentially, Atticus is real.

3. Dawn Schafer from The Babysitters Club Books by Ann M Martin. If there is one character that I can honestly say has shaped and informed my views from childhood, the honour has to go to Dawn, the BSC's rampant environmentalist. I loved everything about this girl, from the fact that she was from California, to her completely different outlook on the way one should live to all the other girls. I honestly think that my own views on the environment were nudged into being under the influence of Dawn, along with a yearning to visit California that just will not go away (probably because no one has bought me a plane ticket yet... Just sayin'!) So yes, Dawn. Thanks for making me care so damn much about the environment- lets get together and join Greenpeace and be lifelong friends!

4. Tracy Turnblad from Hairspray. She's so enthusiastic and perky, and so wonderfully comfortable in her own skin that it's difficult not to feel inspired by Tracy and her burgeoning career as a dancer. Her colour-blindness is also a wonderful attribute that just makes you love her all the more, and want her to succeed so badly. She inspires me to look at the world from a whole other angle, and I have to say that I like what I find the other way up a lot more than the way everyone else sees things.

5. Randle McMurphy from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey. It's difficult for me to say that I look up to someone who has been charged with statutory rape, but in the novel we see McMurphy in a completely different environment to the one in which that (allegedly) happened. In fact, within the mental hospital, McMurphy flourishes, into someone who is not afraid to challenge a dictatorial authority that doesn't always (in fact, hardly ever) looks out for the best interests of the patients. What happens to him is one of the biggest crimes in literature (although I won't spoil it for you because you really should read it if you haven't), but it doesn't take away from the things we learn from him: that you have to stand up for what is right even if it will cause more trouble for you, just because it's the right thing to do, and especially if the other people being damaged by it are unable to stand up for themselves. One other thing: Nurse Ratched? Worst. Nurse. Ever.

6. Eddie Dean from The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King. Oh God, she's going on about Stephen King again, stop her, quick! But really, I know that lots of people would probably find Roland a more inspirational figure from this series, but Eddie is the one character that changes most dramatically over the course of the series, and a capacity for self-improvement is, I find, one of the most admirable and inspiring traits in another person. 

7. Jo March from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Beth used to be my favourite sister, and I do still adore her, but much as Beth does, I look up to Jo as my example of how I should live. She is courageous, self-sacrificing, creative and extremely strong, and if when I am 30 I am anything like her as a 15 year old, then I'll be doing something right. 

8. Kat Stratford from 10 Things I Hate About You. I can't even tell you how much I used to idolise Kat when I was younger, and to some extent I still do! She is so certain in herself and her beliefs, and so unconcerned with other people's opinions of her that it's difficult not to be impressed by such a self-assured woman. Extra points also go to her for being incredibly smart, and for standing up to her sexual harasser in the most painful way possible ("'I hear his testicle retrieval operation went quite well by the way'"!)

9. Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Yes, I know. Boring. And to be honest, in modern terms I wouldn't exactly hold her up as an example, but in the context of the novel, she is unconcerned with what is expected of her (turning down two offers of marriage when, *gasp* she is already 20 years old) that it's difficult not to consider her the archetype of the woman I would like to be if I lived in the early nineteenth century.

10. Belize from Angels in America by Tony Kushner. There aren't too many examples of a good way to live your life in Angels in America, but Belize always seems like the most reasonable and level headed character in the play, with the added bonus of caring for Prior (who I unashamedly adore) in the way that Louis cannot. He is an incredibly good role model to have, especially considering his ability to accept the realism of the world, again as opposed to Louis. 

So, there's my list. Have you ever been inspired by a fictional character?

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Top Ten Tuesday

One of my favourite things online is the top ten lists that The broke and the bookish produce every Tuesday... I'd be lying if I said it wasn't one of the reasons I wanted to have my own blog, so I could take part in all the fun of listing! Anyway, since I'm so behind the times in this, clearly, I'm going to start with one from a few months ago (oh yes, that far behind) because it was one of my favourites, and one I actually did, albeit with paper and a pen, and only for myself. So, without any further ado,

The Top Ten Books That Made Me Cry

1. The Green Mile- Stephen King. I can't remember ever crying at a book before I read this, so Stephen King has a lot to answer for. There's just so much injustice, so much suffering and so much horror (but not the kind of horror that you'd usually expect from King) that all you can eventually do is start sobbing in frustration at what you know is going to happen, but are powerless to stop. I'm pretty sure that for the last hundred pages or so I had wet cheeks, and I think my copy is still soggy from my tears. I already thought that capital punishment was a bad idea, but I am even more convinced now, considering who it is used to kill in The Green Mile. I think I knew the ending before I read the book too, which made it even worse since I knew this really really bad thing was going to happen and there was no way it wouldn't not happen, as much as I wished it wouldn't. Clearly I'm still traumatised by it today! The movie is also heartbreaking, and I can't listen to 'Cheek to Cheek' now without crying a little bit...

2. Flowers For Algernon- Daniel Keyes. This is probably not a book that a lot of people would cry at, but it just touched something inside me and left a (sad) impression on me for weeks after I read it. It is essentially the story of a man with learning difficulties, who is given the opportunity to be like other people (I hesitate to say 'normal' people), but ends up surpassing them in intelligence and alienating everyone, which is only slightly worse than his realising that when he wasn't clever, everyone just laughed at him, rather than being his friends, as he believed them to be. It's ostensibly a science fiction novel, but my attachment to Charlie is such that his inability to emotionally connect with the woman he loves, combined with his eventual heartbreaking reversal had me weeping by the end of the novel.

3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows- J K Rowling. I think my attachment to Harry Potter had reached such heady levels by the time the seventh book came out, that the suggestion that it was possible for him to die tipped me over the edge and set me off crying. Also not helpful: reading the entire book in about 7 hours without coming up for air or a little bit of perspective so that I forgot that the whole thing wasn't real. Yeah. Ahem. But still, his parents and Sirius and everyone turning up in the woods like that? Beautiful, wonderful, tearful stuff!

4. The Dark Tower- Stephen King. Stephen King has this apparently huge power to make me cry, but this book really broke my heart. Like Harry Potter, it's the last in a whole series of books (that, if you haven't read yet, you really really should. Even if you don't like horror. Even if you don't like books!) which just makes it worse when certain things happen that I won't tell you about because the books will all be ruined, but suffice to say that after all of the emotional energy you have put into reading the fuckers, the last one will hurt like nothing else has before. Personal embarrassing anecdote: I read one of the most traumatic episodes of this book in the bath, and I couldn't bear to stop until it was over so I was just laying there in the ever cooling water snivelling away until I was done. I was so glad I was alone in the house...

5. The Handmaid's Tale- Margaret Atwood. I will never stop recommending this novel to other people, even though it emotionally drained me from all the feminist rage and despair for the women in the book. I think I cried so much during this because of a complete lack of perspective, in that I had to keep pulling myself out of the story to remind myself that this is not how women are actually treated, and nor is it a situation we would allow (by we, I mean women, because I have no doubt that there are certain groups for whom the scenarios in the novel would be ideal!) This emotional reaction did somewhat cloud my thinking whilst reading the novel, however, so it was quite a draining and traumatic experience! I just wanted to go into their world and rescue all of the women stuck in the pleasureless, gynophobic world that the book presents to us.

6. Maus I and II- Art Spiegelman. I count graphic novels as actual books, and I think quite rightly judging by how absolutely spectacular this one is. I haven't read all that much Holocaust literature because I think my heart would shatter into a million tiny pieces if I read it all the time, but if this is anything to go by, it must all be spectacular and depressing and make you question any underlying prejudices you may hold (except for ones against Nazis) all at the same time. Also, it must make you cry. This is essentially the author's father's Holocaust experience, and at every stage of the horrors that they go through, I simply have to blink and I am crying. Powerful stuff.

7. Of Mice and Men- John Steinbeck. There is no upside to this novel. Reflecting a world that is horrible and terrible and without redemption, Steinbeck makes his two heroes, Lennie and Carl, lurch from unliveable situation to unliveable situation. They are never allowed happiness, and the end is so crushingly terrible that I can barely think about it without tearing up a little bit. This is one of those stories that feels so real that you think about the characters afterwards- how they have gotten on, and if they are able to live with themselves afterwards. On the plus side, it is of course spectacularly written, because how else would you fall in love with the characters and care so much about their fates? This can, of course, be said for all the novels on this list!

8. Animal Farm- George Orwell. This is a novel that mostly just makes me pissed off at totalitarianism, but there is just one incident, involving the horsey representation of the common man that really gets me going. I would hate to spoil this for anyone who hasn't read it, so I won't say anymore, but it is a truly emotional moment in a novel filled with rage at oppression.

9. It- Stephen King. In case you haven't guessed yet, I'm a huge fan of Stephen King. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to be or not considering my degree in English (well, half my degree), but I don't really care about that- to me, every emotion that can be felt, Stephen King has made me feel, and any list I make will, most likely, include something by him on it. 'It' is debilitatingly terrifying, and I credit it with giving me fears of *deep breath* clowns, drains, sinks, tramps, photos that could potentially move, sewers, Maine, and giant evil spiders. More than that, however, in its more than 1000 pages, it has moments that make it absolutely necessary for you to cry. Ben's loneliness, Bill's sorrow, Richie's underlying vulnerability; all of these things are enough to make anyone start weeping with misery at any given moment, having just wanted to scream because you're so scared of the damn clown! What King does best, I think, is really embrace every emotion in his writing, knowing when you need to be scared, but also knowing the best point for some sorrow and heartbreak, because these things can actually be scarier than all the monsters in the world.

10. Angels in America- Tony Kushner. This is a play, but because of my freaky student-of-literature mentality, I sometimes read plays instead of watching them, that's just how cool I am. Usually, plays need to be performed for their full impact to be felt, and indeed the HBO miniseries of the play is one of the greatest things I've ever seen (and also makes me sob whenever I watch it). However, even without the performance aspect, Angels in America is one of the best things I've ever read, and I'm a girl who likes pretty flowery prose a lot. It's a really difficult play to describe, especially for me because I just love it so damn much, but it's essentially about a whole group of people who are in crisis in their lives, either because they are running away from who they are, from things they can't cope with; or because they are trapped within debilitating illnesses that allow them no escape. Add into the mix some actual angels, and the whole thing sounds ridiculous, but it's actually one of the most amazing things I've ever read, and it is also intensely sad, and eventually uplifting, which then makes me cry even more. Just trust me, it's well worth reading, or, if you find reading plays too weird, you should watch it immediately if not sooner!

Things That are Wrong With Brothers and Sisters Season 5

I love Brothers and Sisters. Religiously watching every week, I truly care about the Walkers and all their rich people problems and dramas (which are occasionally similar to poor people's problems and dramas. It all started to go wrong when they killed off Rob Lowe, or more accurately when they let him lay in a vegetative state for an imaginary year, and then pulled the plug on him in the very first episode of the series, so proving there was no discernible reason for not killing him in the ultra dramatic car crash at the end of Season 4. This is far from the only thing wrong with the programme this series, though, and here's some things I think they've done very very wrong:

1. Taking away Holly and Rebecca
Holly and Rebecca Harper provided nice antidotes to all the Walker madness in previous seasons, giving the audience some perspective on their mad way of communicating, and actually challenging them in a way they never do themselves in the giant family group. Holly was also a formidable match for Nora, and I knew as soon as they gave her amnesia that things were not going to be good. As for Rebecca, I've never liked her that much because she always seemed much too boring for Justin (who I adore), but all has been forgiven now that his new girlfriend is equally, if not more, tedious to watch than Rebecca ever was. Come back guys!

2. Someone is always missing
And not just Robert, or Holly, or Rebecca. It seems like the writers have just given up trying to include everyone in every episode, and just keep shipping characters off to goodness knows where. This week it was Kitty, off in Washington for a later storyline that will hopefully stick instead of just fading into nothingness like so many already have in season 5, and the other week Sarah was somewhere unexplained. And is it just me, or was Justin missing for about 3 episodes?! I realise that not every sibling has been in every episode ever, but this seems to be happening a lot more recently and it's very off-putting- there's not even the obligatory 'I'm not going to be in this episode very much, but I'm still calling' phone call that there used to be. Has everyone signed contracts to say they want to work less, or are the writers just literally forgetting half of their cast?

3. The Dinners
Dinner parties have always been the very backbone of Brothers and Sisters, the place to air grievances and to glower at each other over the table, and generally create a massive amount of entertainment to the viewing public. Now, I could be wrong about this, but I'm pretty sure the whole family haven't had a dinner this whole series, partly because of the aforementioned absences, but even when they have had opportunities to all be together, someone is always busy, which is to the detriment of the programme itself. This week, for example, Kevin missed out on Tommy's homecoming dinner because his potential adopted daughter was round his- could they not have done that on another night, perhaps? Just a thought...

4. The loss of Ojai
Ojai Foods has been the centre of many many good storylines in Brothers and Sisters history, and its failure and closure was actually one of the best of these. It's not the loss of Ojai, then, that has been such a problem, but more the fact that there has been nothing to replace it- there is less to hold them together than there ever was before. They are possibly trying to make Sarah's 'new media empire' fill this void, especially since it looks like Tommy is coming back now to help run it, but it hasn't really been working so far. The biggest problem I have with the whole thing is that Sarah only seems to visit and work from the radio station that Nora also works at (very sporadically), and how likely is that?! It's possible that Tommy will make this all better, we'll have to wait and see, but I'm struggling to think of any situation Balthazar Getty has ever made better.

5. The rotating door for lovers
I guess I've been so used to stable, series long relationships from this programme (Scotty and Kevin, Justin and Rebecca, Kitty and Robert, even Sarah and Joe lasted for a whole season) that I'm disappointed by the fact that the 'mourning' Kitty has already had and disposed of two boyfriends this season, while Nora and Justin have lost one each. I think my main qualm with this though, rather than wanting them to be in super-serious relationships, is that in each instance I could tell from the very beginning that they weren't going to develop into anything further, which made them really fruitless and frustrating to watch, especially compared to the richness and depth that their previous relationships provided. Bring back Robert!

6. Nothing is really happening
Sarah's business is a dud, Nora never seems to go to work anymore, Justin wasn't doing anything and then suddenly he was a paramedic, Kitty was working at a college but we barely saw her work, and Saul just works for an AIDS charity now. Or possibly he doesn't. And all of these things have changed since the beginning of the series, when they were all in new places and situations anyway... Let's just say, it all feels a little bit rushed. I think this is also partially to do with the lack of proper relationships, which have tended to be the things that progress most over the season; but nothing is allowed the time to progress anymore, and so nothing ever really seems to move forward, or really happen. The only story that has really gone anywhere, it seems, is the Scotty-Kevin adoption one, which happens to be my favourite one of the moment, and why is that, I hear you cry? Because it's been built up really well, for a sustained amount of time, and hasn't been a spur of the moment decision. If only the rest of the programme was like this, I wouldn't be having all these problems!

7. Dave Annable is being criminally underused
Justin is probably my favourite Walker, not just because he's so so cute (which, let's face it, he is), but because he has grown most as a character, in a believable way, from a completely messed up drug addict  to a really mature doctor-in-training, with a wife and a massive amount of courage (he wanted to go back to war because he just cared so damn much!) So, this season, the best thing to do with him is to obviously forget his entire existence until you have some screen time to fill and then make him a sudden paramedic, but still don't let him have any communication with the other Walkers for, I swear, about 5 episodes, making him seem much more boring than he really is in the process. They did actually start doing this towards the end of season 4, and it really annoyed me then- there was a point where Rebecca suggested that he might be dyslexic, and that's why he was having trouble at med school, and then it was never mentioned again, and nor were his school troubles, and he then wasn't in it for about 2 episodes (this feels like a pattern...) This worries me, since Rob Lowe apparently left the show because he wasn't being used properly (just like ooh, everyone this season) and I worry that Dave might do the same. Which would not be cool AT ALL.

Here's the thing. I don't want this just to seem like a massive moan (which, I realise, it is), because I understand that I can just not watch Brothers and Sisters anymore, and then I won't have to think about it. But the thing is, there have been moments this series where it has felt like the good old days where things like this could still happen, but those moments have been few and far between all the messy storylines, and character forgetting, and all the stuff that keeps annoying me! But, I still think it can be saved, and therefore, I care enough to point out all the things that are wrong with it, and there are things that are right with it- the Kevin and Scotty saga, Sarah and Luc's engagement, Luke's mother was amazing, and the new scandal that seems to be emerging does intrigue me. So, I have reasons to stick with it and to have faith in Brothers and Sisters improving, at the very least to stop me complaining about it on the internet!