First NYTBR Post in Forever: 15 December 2013

Do not look a gift horse in the mouth.  It’s been nearly a year since this issue came into self’s hands. She has since suspended her New York Times Book Review subscription (in case dear blog readers were wondering. It was just too depressing seeing the book review in her mailbox every week, and not being able to read for months and months and months.)

It just so happens that the By the Book interview is with Michael Connelly, and he has many, many interesting book recommendations, which include the following:

  • Act of War:  Lyndon Johnson, North Korea, and the Capture of the Spy Ship Pueblo, by Jack Cheevers
  • The Public Burning, by Robert Coover
  • The Little Sister, by Raymond Chandler

This issue also has the list of Ten Best Books of 2013, and since self is well aware that time is a river, and self is disappearing quick, she has to be choosy about which of the Ten she really really wants to read, and it is these:

In Fiction

  • Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • The Flamethrowers, by Rachel Kushner
  • Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson
  • Tenth of December: Stories, by George Saunders

In Nonfiction

  • Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, by Sheri Fink
  • Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala

One of the highlights of this issue is a review (by Anthony Doerr) of Brown Dog: Novellas, by Jim Harrison.  Self doesn’t know why exactly but she’s loved Jim Harrison for a long long time. His books are violent, they are pungent, they are precise, and they are very, very funny.

And here’s a round-up of a burgeoning sub-genre, the cookbook as memoir:

  • Biting Through the Skin: An Indian Kitchen in America’s Heartland, by Nina Mukerjee Furstenau
  • Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal, by Abigail Carroll
  • Fried Walleye and Cherry Pie: Midwestern Writers and Food, by Peggy Wolff

And here’s a sub of a sub-genre, the fate of elephants in America:

  • Topsy: The Startling Story of the Crooked-Tailed Elephant, P. T. Barnum, and the American Wizard Thomas Edison, by Michael Daly
  • Behemoth:  The History of the Elephant in America, by Ronald B. Tobias

And one about elephants in Africa:

  • Silent Thunder, by Katy Payne

Finally, much thanks to Rivka Galchen and Pankaj Mishra for recommending (in the end-paper, Bookends) two books by authors self hasn’t yet read:

  • My Struggle, by Norwegian writer Ove Knausgaard
  • Zibaldone, by Giacomo Leopardi

Whew! Finally self has arrived at the end of a monster post. Stay tuned.

 

 

Books of The Economist, 22 February 2014 (Can Self Be Any More Behind in Reading

First, a novel. There is usually only one fiction review in each issue of The Economist. This one is in a box — the fact that it is means it must be special.

The Undertaking, by Audrey Magee (Atlantic Books) :

  • The best elements of this novel are intrusions of war into the domestic sphere.
  • A German soldier named Peter Ferber enlists the service of a marriage bureau and weds a girl he has never met in order to get home leave.

Next, a book about climate change:

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert (Henry Holt) :

  • As the climate warms, catastrophe looms. Yet it is oddly pleasurable to read Elizabeth Kolbert’s new book, which offers a ramble through mass extinctions, present and past.  Five such episodes in the past have 450 million years have wiped out plant and animal life on huge scales.

Finally, a biography of an American poet whose name seems to be popping up everywhere these days:

E. E. Cummings:  A Life, by Susan Cheever (Pantheon)

  • It was only in New York that he felt free. Surrounded by writers such as Marianne Moore and Edmund Wilson, and photographers such as Walker Evans, he spent over 40 years in Greenwich Village, living in the same apartment.
  • He wrote nearly 3,000 poems, two novels and four plays, as well as painting portraits.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

“Lucy”: Feminine Degradation

Something about self’s mood today — she feels extremely argumentative.  Ornery.  So, take the following with a grain of salt, dear blog readers.

Self likes Luc Besson.

She really does.

She can never forget that Besson gave us the glorious Annie Parillaud in “La Femme Nikita.”

And Scarjo is one phenomenal actress.

And beautiful, too.

But “Lucy” is just one more in that long line of sub-genres that are little more than titillating flirtations with feminine degradation.

Like what happened to Noomi Rapace in “Prometheus”?  You will like “Lucy.”

Like how the “Kill Bill” movies are one long revenge fantasy enacted by statuesque Uma Thurman?

You might like “Lucy” (though Besson and Tarantino are light years apart — that is, in terms of cinematic wit)

And what was that movie Kathryn Bigelow did with Ralph Fiennes, “Strange Days,” the one where you put on these special glasses, and while you’re raping a woman you can experience HER fear, which heightens your pleasure?  The one that had Juliette Lewis’s skateboarding Goth waif bonding with pervert played by (typecast) Tom Sizemore?

Ugh.

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!

One of the most painful scenes in “Lucy” was the one where Scarjo, having been kicked so many times in the stomach, starts crawling up the walls (literally).  That was creepy and grotesque, as if science fiction was melding with Kafka.  Might Scarjo actually turn into a bug?  At one point, she grabs her long chain (she is chained to the wall) and runs full tilt — into, presumably, a wall.  But mercifully, we are not actually treated to the glorious sight of a beautiful woman’s face slamming against stone.  Mercifully, there is a cut right here.  Next time we see Scarjo, she appears quite composed, with no external disfigurement other than a cut lip.

???##!!!

There is something self likes about “Lucy,” though.

Scarjo acquires a craggy-faced sidekick, a French investigator/cop(?) called del Rio.  Now, that guy, though not conventionally handsome, is actually quite a find.

Not to mention, he is an excellent straight man.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Catching Up: Books of The Economist, 15 March 2014

No more apologies!  Self is going to get to the every single back issue of The Economist (Her subscription is good until next year), by hook or by crook!

Here are the books she wants to read, after perusing the Books and Arts section of 15 March 2014:

The Hard Thing About Hard Things:  Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers, by Ben Horowitz:  Self chooses this book to read because part of it is a blow-by-blow of how a business failed.  The author’s advice for prospective entrepreneurs?  “If you are going to eat shit, don’t nibble.”  Mr. Horowitz took his company public, but alas his timing was poor, for the terrorist attacks on 9/11 hit just a short time later.  Mr. Horowitz goes into “wartime” mode.  Read how he does it.

The six-volume, 3,500-page autobiography by Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle (The first three have been translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett):  The Economist calls it “the most exhaustive account of a modern life ever written.” Mr. Kanusgaard turned out this magnum opus by writing 20 pages a day, “baring bits of his soul to a timetable, coping, on the one hand, with the growing fury of his family and, on the other, with the ever-present fear of failure.”  Not until almost at the end of the review is Proust even mentioned, but Proust was in the back of self’s mind from the moment she began reading it.  Like Proust, Knausgaard is obsessed “with the mechanics of memory: he claims that he does not have a good memory until he starts writing.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

 

The Daily Beast’s Best Movies (Thus Far) of 2014, with Commentary From Self

This time, no pussyfooting around (what, self wonders, is the origin of that word ‘pussyfooting’?), self will go directly to the list she stumbled across today, on The Daily Beast.

The Best Movies of 2014 (So Far):

  1. Boyhood, directed by Richard Linklater.  Wow, self has heard such great things about this movie.  Read Sheila O’Malley’s dissection/praise of it, here.
  2. Snowpiercer, directed by South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-Ho and starring, of all people, CHRIS EVANS!  Frickin’ hot Captain America!  It is science fiction, it is the year 2031, it is dystopian (Pardon self’s french:  Dystopian is fast becoming the most-overused word in the movie reviewer’s lexicon)
  3. The Grand Budapest Hotel, directed of course by Wes Anderson and featuring not one but TWO pairs of bedroom eyes (Fiennes and Brody’s) and the best birthmark ever to appear in a supporting role in a movie — wait, didn’t this movie come out last year?  Nevertheless.  Self liked it.  Onwards!
  4. The Raid 2, the first truly kick-ass action movie from Asia in a long, long time, and it’s from Indonesia.  Self missed the sequel, but the first one was pulse-poundingly great.  The first one was FIVE STARS!
  5. Ida, directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, and of course Polish. Set in 1960s Poland etc. Next!
  6. Only Lovers Left Alive, directed by Jim Jarmusch:  A vampire movie!  Directed by His Fabulousness!  And starring Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton!  Sold!
  7. Manakamana, directed by Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez:  a documentary about various enlightenment seekers who make the pilgrimage to Nepal’s Manakamana temple.  Self wants to see it.  She may end up wanting to make the pilgrimage herself.  But pilgrimages never quite come out the way self expects.  She’s got the requisite curiosity, and that in spades, but travel tends to bring out the cynic in her.
  8. The Immigrant, directed by James Gray:  Starring — oh no! — Joaquin Phoenix, an actor who has singularly failed to arouse even one iota of interest in self, not even when he played Johnny Cash and self ended up ferrying Niece G and a whole car full of Stanford freshmen to the Redwood City Bayshore Cinema to see Walk the Line.  But why oh why is he paired with the lovely Marion Cotillard, an actress whose performance in that whale movie, Rust and Bone, the one where she played a whale trainer who loses her legs in a horrific accident in a Seaworld-like theme park, turned self into a sobbing mess for exactly three months — wow, this is a tough one.  Jury’s still out on this one.
  9. Begin Again, directed by John Carney.  Self saw this just yesterday.  Of its inclusion in this list she can thus unequivocally say:  YES! YES! YES! At first it would seem a most unlikely choice for one of The Daily Beast’s Best Movies (Thus Far) of 2014, because let’s just say Keira Knightley as a twee British singer who is done wrong by a self-absorbed boyfriend played by People’s Most Beautiful Person of 2013, Maroon Five front man Adam Levine, is not exactly what one automatically thinks of as “Best Movie” material, but what the hoo, self bit down her reservations and she ended up loving Mark Ruffalo’s performance (which was only to be expected), and she loved Keira Knightley’s performance, and she loved Hailee Seinfeld’s performance, and she even loved Adam Levine’s performance, and the only so-so performance came surprisingly from an actress self normally admires, Catherine Keener.
  10. Palo Alto, directed by Gia Coppola (granddaughter of Francis Ford), and based on the short story collection by that flake (who also happens to be a surprisingly good actor) James Franco.  She is so tired of Franco’s ubiquitous talent, but yes she did indeed browse through this collection when she first saw it in Kepler’s, last year.  And — self hates you, James Franco!  Because the stories were quite good!  Aaaargh!  And self loves Mia Wasiwokska.  Ever since she saw her in Cary Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre, and The Kids Are All Right.
  11. Life Itself, a documentary by Steve James, about the late great Roger Ebert.  Of course self will see it.  Of course.
  12. Neighbors, by Nicholas Forgetting Sarah Marshall Stoller.  Self somehow missed this one when it came to the local cineplex.  But she likes the premise.  She even likes the cast (Rogen, Rose Byrne, the younger Franco, and Zac E)
  13. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, directed by Matt Felicity Reeves:  Oh yes, this was the movie self saw just the day before she saw Begin Again (Yes, self is quite a movie nut) and it was definitely great.  Any movie in which the apes outshine Jason Clarke and Keri Russell is indisputably great.  Kudos to Jason Clarke for not acting too hard.  He has a real, shambling, laid-back charm.  BTW, Keri Russell has very toned arms.  Self found the sight of them a tad distracting.  Because the actress obviously had to have put in many, many gym hours in order to get arms like those.  And self wasn’t sure this was something Russell’s movie character might have done. (Anyone have the same reaction?  Self, why must you always be such a nitpicker!)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

The New York Review of Books, May 22, 2014

Today, self got to see Paul Haggis’s new movie, “Third Person,” and it is seamless and complex and lovely and moody.  It focuses on odd couples.  The woman who most aroused self’s sympathy was the woman played by Mila Kunis.  Having said that, James Franco gives such a wicked and sly performance, as her ex-husband.  He projects such smugness, with just a glance.  His partner, a beautiful, long-legged French gazelle, is the third leg of a triangle, and she also delivers a performance that is complex and moving.  In fact, all the actors in this movie were at the top of their game (well, maybe not Liam Neeson, who gets by on looking worried, all of the time)

Now, self has been weeding her Pile of Stuff of unnecessary materials.  She has so much catch-up reading to do!

One of the back issues self picks up is The New York Review of Books of May 22, 2014.  There’s a review by Masha Gessen of a translation of one of Dovlatov’s works:  Pushkin Hills.  Gessen quotes another Russian emigré writer, Joseph Brodsky, who says of Sergei Dovlatov:

His stories rest primarily on the rhythm of the sentence; the cadence of the narrative voice.  They are written like poems: the plot is secondary, it is but a pretext for speech.  It is song rather than storytelling.

Self wonders how Dovlatov could have escaped her notice until now.

Another excellent review is by Michael Gorra, on Starting Over:  Stories by Elizabeth Spencer.  Spencer wrote The Light in the Piazza, which has such an audacious plot self is sure that Spenser, if having to pitch to a publishing house today,  would never be signed on.

Another of the reviews that stood out is Francine Prose’s review of Emma Donoghue’s latest, Frog Music.

Self is currently reading Richard Price’s Lush Life.  She hopes she can do a better job of finishing it than she did with Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story collection, Unaccustomed Earth.  Self kept obsessively going back over the first page of Unaccustomed Earth because of course the writing is lovely.  If only it wasn’t so stately and dolorous.  She got about halfway through it.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Current Fan Fiction Fave’s Everlark Ship Still Not Yet Ready to Sail, in the Meantime at the Cineplex . . .

Oh, fan fiction.  You have self on pins and needles all the time.  All the time.

The Fourth of July weekend is coming up. On the Monday following (July 7), self sails off to Squaw Valley for the Writers Conference.  She just arranged to share a ride with someone from Benicia.  Excited!

This afternoon, self casts a very cursory look over the summer movie offerings.  She still wants to see “22 Jump Street”, though The Man saw it while she was in Los Angeles and declared it not good at all.

She still wants to see “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” as she loved the first one.

She’s seen “Edge of Tomorrow.”  Oh, that was good!  Emily Blunt is packin’.  It is so great when an actress with proven dramatic chops switches gears.  Blunt’s Full Metal Bitch deserves a place on the pantheon of Female Action Stars — maybe not quite on the level of Femme Nikita or Ripley, but definitely equal to Scarjo’s Black Widow.

She still wants to see “The Fault in Our Stars.”  Son and Jennie saw it and liked it, though Jennie maintained that the book was better.

She saw “Maleficent” down in Pasadena, with Son and Jennie.  3 1/2 out of 4 stars.  Self found Jolie’s razor-sharp cheekbones a tad distracting.  So was her lightning-fast change into leather pants in the movie’s climactic confrontation.

“X-Men:  Days of Future Past” — four out of four stars!  Magnificent!  Love the Vietnamese-talking Mystique!  Love J-Law/Mystique in 70s bo-ho hippie attire!  Love unrequited angst between J-Law/Mystique and McAvoy/Xavier and also with Hoult/Beast, and the jealous macho-ness of Fassbender/Magneto!  Not to mention, Ellen Page is one darn cute actress!  She hasn’t been this cute since “Juno”!

Finally, self still wants to see “Godzilla.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

 

First Saturday in June (2014): Reading The Guardian On the Train From Cork

The Guardian really likes Tom Cruise.  Self remembers reading rave reviews for some movie he did two years ago (“Oblivion”?), and now they’ve given “Edge of Tomorrow” (a kind of “Groundhog Day”/ science fiction mash-up) a positive review. OK, mebbe self is confusing The Guardian with CinemaBlend.com?  Here, anyway, is the link to The Guardian review.

Self is back in Dublin.  The train trip from Cork was very long.

Yes, she’s just been taking lightning trips all over Ireland.

Today was a beautiful day.  Not even the smallest cloud in the sky.

She met a Read the rest of this entry »

Checking the New Movies, May 2014

This morning, self went to Cinemablend and the Roger Ebert site, looking for reviews of movies recently opened in the U.S. Because she’ll be home in a few weeks, and gardening and watching movies are possibly her two favorite activities in California. She likes watching TV, too — especially when Game of Thrones or Saturday Night Live are on. Anyhoo, back to movies.

She sees that a bunch of new horror movies have opened, and that Spidey 2 didn’t get such good reviews (Andrew Garfield, don’t sell your soul down the river. On the basis of Boy A and The Social Network, you’re capable of so much more)

By a circomlocutious route, she arrives at The Guardian’s film blog, and finds that six “key British movies” are being honored with commemmorative stamps.

The six are:

  • A Matter of Life and Death
  • Lawrence of Arabia
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • Chariots of Fire
  • Secrets and Lies
  • Bend It Like Beckham

Self really liked Alfie, with Michael Caine.  She thinks Chariots of Fire was a safe choice, though she found the movie rather dripp-y.  She also liked My Beautiful Laundrette and My Left Foot.

Bend It Like Beckham?  Really?  Enjoyable movie, but.  Really?

She’d definitely list a movie like Maurice (early Hugh Grant) ahead of Bend It Like Beckham.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Triumph!

Triumph!  Self can finally remove one piece from her humongous, ever-growing, overflowing Pile of Stuff:  The New York Review of Books Mar. 6, 2014 issue.

She read it cover to cover, backwards and forwards.  The only thing she skipped reading were the Letters to the Editor and the Classifieds.

And self was even able to compile a list of the books she is interested in reading (which she will probably get to six or seven years from now:  since the start of the year, her reading rate has sunk to the truly abysmal.  She’s still on the same Jhumpa Lahiri short story she began about 10 days ago)

Without further ado, here are the books self is adding to her reading list:

  • Gabriele d’Annunzio:  Poet, Seducer, and Preacher of War, by Lucy Hughes-Hallett (The review, by David Gilmour, makes passing mention of Alberto Moravia’s L’amore coniugale :  Conjugal Love, which self now wants to read)
  • Lina and Serge:  The Love and Wars of Lina Prokofiev, by Simon Morrison (The review, by Orlando Figes, makes passing mention of two other books self is now interested in reading:  The Gambler, by Fyodor Dostoevsky, and The Fiery Angel, by Valery Bryusov)
  • The Missionary’s Curse and Other Tales from a Chinese Village, by Henrietta Harrison (The review, by Ian Johnson, makes passing mention of Jesus in Beijing, by former Time journalist David Aiken. BTW, what a fabulous title)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

 

 

 

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