Denby on Katniss

The New Yorker, 2 December 2013

The New Yorker, 2 December 2013

Apologies, dear blog readers.  Self knows there’s a new science fiction movie out, one that’s starring Shailene Woodley and Theo James.  She’s excited to see it, just hasn’t had a chance yet.

The Pile of Stuff is truly — enormous.

This morning, she reaches in, pulls out a New Yorker, and settles down to read the movie reviews.  Just to show you how old this issue is, the movie being reviewed is The Hunger Games:  Catching Fire.

It’s very interesting:  Denby writes that teenagers tend to view the gladiatorial fights-to-the-death literally, while their “elders” think about them metaphorically (“as a metaphor for capitalism, with its terrifying job market . . . ” or “as a satiric exaggeration of talent-show ruthlessness”)

“Distraction,” Denby writes, “is supposed to work miracles.”

(Well, it does, David.  It does.  What can self say?  Distraction is, in fact, a most excellent and potent tool.  Just ask parents of recalcitrant toddlers, beleaguered office managers, conniving politicians, crafty taxi drivers and military strategists, thieves and other people up to no good, magicians, low-lifes, jerks both run-of-the-mill and spectacular etc etc etc)

While the first Hunger Games movie was “an embarrassment,” Denby calls “the first forty-five minutes or so” of Catching Fire “impressive.”

An excerpt from the review:

For Katniss, the pleasure of victory never arrives.  At the very beginning of the movie, we see her in silhouette, crouching at the edge of a pond, a huntress poised to uncoil.  She hates being a celebrity, and she certainly has no desire to lead a revolution.  Jennifer Lawrence’s gray-green eyes and her formidable concentration dominate the camera.  She resembles a storybook Indian princess and she projects the kind of strength that Katharine Hepburn had . . .

As for the rest of the characters, Denby assigns one adjective (more or less) for each:  Peeta is “doleful” and Gale is “faithful.”  Caesar Flickerman is “unctuous and hostile.”

Woody Harrelson gets a little something extra:  As Haymitch, he is a “hard-drinking realist” who nevertheless “guides Katniss through every terror” and “is the core of intelligence in the movie . . .  his glare and his acid voice cut through the meaningless fashion show.”

And that is about all self can squeeze out for now.  Oh Pile of Stuff.

P.S. Can self share a secret with dear blog readers? She longs, longs for the filmed version of Mockingjay, knows it’s not arriving until Nov. 21 this year, and has already decided to clear her November calendar. Yup, that’s right: no travels, no workshops, no classes, even NO WRITING (if that’s even possible). Most of all:  No angst, no domestic crisis, no recriminations, no regrets over things said or unsaid, no self-doubt, no dithering, no envy of others getting NEAs or Guggenheims or MacDowell acceptances, no wringing of the hands, no mundane distractions, no remodeling projects, no Tweets, no literary contests, no reading of book reviews, no compiling of “Best of 2014″ lists, no planting, no housecleaning, no shopping whether for essentials or non-essentials (even food), no entertaining of mysterious knocks on the front door or of phone calls from solicitors, no bewailing of personal imperfections, no exaggerations, no facials, no massages, no Vinyasa Flow classes, no research in Green or Hoover libraries etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

 

Attacking the Pile of Stuff: The New Yorker of Dec. 2, 2013

From the Talk of the Town, p. 24:

In Warsaw, the other week, a Filipino diplomat sobbed while addressing the U.N. climate summit; he had family in the typhoon-ravaged country.  “We may have ratified our own doom,” he said, alluding to the slow pace of negotiations for curbing international emissions.  He announced that he was starting a hunger strike, for the duration of the summit, and was given a standing ovation.

From Ian Johnson’s “In the Air,” an account of “China’s most polluted cities”:

Handan is a city “two hundred and fifty miles southwest of Beijing” with “an urban core of 1.4 million inhabitants . . .  It abuts the Tailing mountains” which, “thanks to rich deposits of coal and iron ore,” have made the region “one of the world’s great centers of steel production . . .  One of the provinces that border the Taihang range . . .  accounts for ten per cent of the world’s output.” The locals grow vegetables under the smoke billowing from factories.  It’s one of the dirtiest environments in the world.

There’s a poem by Mary Jo Bang that self really likes:

All Through the Night

The rotational earth, the resting for seconds:

hemisphere one meets hemisphere two,
thoughts twist apart at the center seam.
Everything inside is,
Cyndi Lauper and I both fall into pure emptiness.
That’s one way to think: I think I am right now.
We have no past we won’t reach back –
The clock ticks like the nails of a foiled dog
chasing a faster rabbit across a glass expanse.

The Annals of Law essay, by Rachel Aviv, concerns the way Social Service agencies have made a deliberate choice “to err on the side of overreaction, because the alternative could be devastating.  Social workers recognize that if they recommend returning a child to a deadly home “it will be a career ender.”  Thus, they “choose a knowable tragedy, the separation of a parent and child, in order to prevent an unknowable one.”

Heartbreak, right there.  The article focuses on a mother, a Kuwaiti immigrant named Niveen, who’s been accused of child neglect.  Her three-year-old son, Adam, who was in Montessori pre-school, fell and “his tooth came loose, making it painful to chew.”  Naveen took several days off from work to feed him herself.  After missing several days, her boss says, “With you it’s always something.”  Here’s the rest of that paragraph:

Then she imagined the way her boss would look at her the next time she came, and felt suddenly ashamed.  She got up, brushed her teeth, put some snacks in a ziploc bag, gave them to Adam, and left the house.  “It was mechanical —  I wasn’t thinking anymore,” she said.  “Things were upside down, but I kept everything to myself.  I was just trying to survive.”

Her son “had been alone for ninety minutes when police officers arrived . . . ” It’s a gripping article (as almost all The New Yorker Annals of Law articles have been), one that really tries to see things from the mother’s point of view.

Stay tuned.

The New Yorker Remembers Philip Seymour Hoffman (Feb. 17 & 24, 2014 Issue)

Anthony Lane’s piece on Philip Seymour Hoffman is in the current issue (Feb. 17 & 24, 2014) of The New Yorker.  Below, a few excerpts:

Leading man, character actor, supporting player:  really, who gives a damn?  Either you hold an audience, so tight that it feels lashed to the seats, or you don’t.  That is why the distinction between Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, at the Academy Awards, grows ever more ludicrous — essential, of course, to the smooth structure of the night, but untrue, Read the rest of this entry »

Mondays: Quote of the Day (3 February 2014)

Self just can’t get over having to type year “2014.” It feels momentous because of Philip Seymour-Hoffman.

By sheer coincidence, the story self has been reading in The New Yorker of 20 January 2014, by Akhil Sharma, begins this way:

As far back as I can remember, my parents have bothered each other.  In India, we lived in two concrete rooms on the roof of a house.  The bathroom stood separate from the living quarters.  The sink was attached to one of the exterior walls.  Each night, my father would stand before the sink, the sky above him full of stars, and brush his teeth until his gums bled.  Then he would spit the blood into the sink and turn to my mother and say, “Death, Shuba, death.”

“Yes, yes, beat drums,” my mother said once.  “Tell the newspapers, too.  Make sure everyone knows this thing you have discovered.”  Like many people of her generation, those born before Independence, my mother viewed gloom as unpatriotic.

The title of the story is “A Mistake.”

Self fervently wishes that 2014 will turn out to be a good year.  She did finally do some things she’d been wanting to do for months:  she decided to visit Sole Fruit of Her Loins this coming weekend, and she signed up for yoga classes (which have been extremely fun).

And while yesterday turned out to be a terrible day for Peyton Manning, it was good for California because it rained steadily (at last! Though we’ll need lots more to get through the drought).  Self and The Man caught the Oscar-Nominated Short Films (Animation) at the Aquarius, and afterwards had coffee around the corner at La Boulange.

Of the short animation films, self’s favorite was Feral, directed by Daniel Sousa.  The Man said it was “too dark,” but self liked that it was.  The one she found the most corny was Room on the Broom, an entry from the UK which featured some very heavy hitters doing voice work: Gillian Anderson, Sally Hawkins, and Simon Pegg.

Which brings us back to Philip Seymour-Hoffman.  Self found out while perusing the web, late last night, and it was terrible.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Reading from the Pile of “Stuff” : The New Yorker, 9 September 2013

This morning, self is reading “The Return,” an essay by David Finkel, about “the traumatized veterans of Iran and Afghanistan” :

If war is accidental, so is what happens afterward.  Two million Americans have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Most of those who have come back describe themselves as physically and mentally healthy.  They move forward.  Their war recedes.  Some are even stronger for the experience.  But studies suggest that between twenty and thirty percent of returning veterans suffer, to varying degrees, from post-traumatic stress disorder, a mental-health condition triggered by some type of terror, or a traumatic brain injury, which occurs when the brain is jolted so violently that it collides with the inside of the skull, causing psychological damage.  Every war has its after-war:  depression, anxiety, nightmares, memory problems, personality changes, suicidal thoughts.  If the studies prove correct, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have created roughly five hundred thousand mentally wounded American veterans.

The article focuses on the experiences of a war veteran named Nic.

“Nic had been taking forty-three pills a day —  for pain, for anxiety, for depression, for nightmares.”  His pregnant wife wonders:

“Were there fewer pills now?  Was he still having flashbacks?  Thrashing around in his sleep?  Sleepwalking into closets, looking for his rifle?  Could he start telling her what had happened during the war?  And could she tell him about what was happening to her?  The other night she dreamed that she had given birth , and for some reason she took the baby and put it into a pressure cooker.  Could she tell Nic that soldiers aren’t the only people who have nightmares?”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Reading THE NEW YORKER in Bacolod

Hotels have become sort of like her home.  She tends to really fall in love.  With the rooms, with the order.  With the awareness that people are always just outside.  Not shut off from each other, like they are in the States.

In this particular room, which is several floors above the street, it is never completely silent.  There is the dry hum of the airconditioner and, starting at the crack of dawn, and returning in the late afternoon, the random crowing of roosters.

There’s the noise of traffic:  horns and noisy car engines.

(The karaoke, however, is really getting out of hand.  Couldn’t there be at least one person who can carry a tune?)

In her suitcase, as she was hastily packing for this trip, she tossed a number of magazines she grabbed from her Pile of Stuff.  There were back issues of One Story (The story she just finished reading, in Issue 181, was about polar bears and ice floes and a father wondering whether he really needed to tell his daughter he was gay.  The descriptions were so exacting and beautiful) and a couple of New Yorkers.

Self spent most of today reading a story by a writer she had never read before:  Rivka Galchen.  It was in The New Yorker of 7 January 2013 and was so heartbreaking and funny and sad.

The Briefly Noted section of the same issue has some pretty wonderful sentences.  In fact, she’d really like to quote the entire review of The Richard Burton Diaries, but then, just to be fair, she’ll feel constrained to quote the other three short reviews, which are equally fine.  Here are glimpses:

From the review of The Richard Burton Diaries, edited by Chris Williams:

Although the diaries have been trimmed, they are still too long:  even the most curious may exhaust their interest in years of rugby scores, dinner menus, and notes on who drank what the night before.  Amid the ephemera, however, is a captivating story of misplaced success:  Burton was a voracious and astute reader who nurtured unfulfilled literary ambitions.  Even his greatest acting triumphs were a blow, representing “the indignity and the boredom of having to learn the writings of another man.”

From the review of My Last Empress, by Da Chen

In the last days of the Chinese Empire, Pickens, a New England blueblood, arrives in the Forbidden City to tutor the young emperor, bidden by the ghost of a lost childhood love, the “darling, darling Annabelle.”  In the lantern-lit corridors, Pickens finds not Annabelle but her seeming doppelganger, a mixed-blood girl chosen as the emperor’s child bride.  Bemoaning her confined existence in a palace filled with treacherous eunuchs and concubines, she bewitches the tutor . . .  The story of contorted and entangled love excavates the depth of corruption and bureaucratic rot in a palace that has long ago become a ghost of its former self.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Nicholson Baker on The New Yorker’s Culture Desk blog via NYTBR

Bottom of p. 4, The New York Times Book Review of Sunday, 25 August 2013:

“Quotable”

I look on the Internet, and there’s a lot of stuff, but it doesn’t seem any different to me than it felt like when I used to go to a newsstand and there was Elle magazine and professional-wrestling magazines and highbrow magazines, men’s fashion, women’s fashion, comics, just that . . .  blast of everythingness that comes at you.  Well, that’s what comes out of the computer screen now.  It’s very similar in its . . .  texture to what the newsstand, let’s say, at Harvard Square felt like back in the day.

–  Nicholson Baker, on The New Yorker’s Culture Desk blog

Back to Humongous Pile of Stuff

From the Briefly Noted section of The New Yorker of 27 May 2013 (Self doesn’t know why; this got pushed to the very top of her Pile of Stuff):

She skipped the featured book review because it was about Dan Brown’s latest.  She heard some fiddle-daddle that Manila was in there somewhere as the Gate of Hell.  Yawn.  The real Manila, as anyone who’s lived there knows, is too surreal to Read the rest of this entry »

And Since Self Seems To Be in the Mood For Discussing Movies –

Here’s something by Anthony Lane, The New Yorker movie critic, in the double issue of Aug. 12 & Aug. 19, 2013.  Self has probably missed any number of good reviews (which is how she describes reviews she agrees with, LOL) in the past few months.  The summer Read the rest of this entry »

The Life Unlived: Adam Phillips’s MISSING OUT Reviewed in The New Yorker (Feb. 25, 2013)

Self’s Pile of Stuff is such a mess!  None of her magazines are arranged in chronological order.  Anyhoo, today she is reading The New Yorker of Feb. 25, 2013, the Joan Acocella essay on Adam Phillips.

Phillips, according to Acocella, is “Britain’s foremost psychoanalytic writer.” (How come self never heard of him before?  Clearly, there are large gaps in her reading, especially of contemporary British books).  The main idea of Phillips’s Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life seems to be this:  “Instead of feeling that we should have a better life, he says, we should just live, as gratifyingly as possible, the life we have.  Otherwise, we are setting ourselves up for bitterness.  What makes us think that we could have been a contender?  Yet, in the dark of night, we do think this, and grieve that it wasn’t possible.  And what was not possible all too easily becomes the story of our lives . . . ”  In other words, “our lived lives might become a protracted mourning for, or an endless trauma about, the lives we were unable to live.”

The first chapter is “On Frustration” :  “Frustration makes people real to us,” he says, “because, in our lives, they are usually the sources of it.  Indeed, frustration makes reality itself real to us.”

Chapter Two is “On Not Getting to It” :  Phillips maintains that “Perhaps understanding is one thing we can do with each other —  something peculiarly bewitching and entrancing — but also something that can be limiting, regressive . . .  The illusion of knowing another person creates the possibility, the freedom, of not knowing them; to be free, by not knowing them, to do something else with them” — free, that is to say, to “mistreat them.”

But, Acocella writes, “the error Phillips addresses most feelingly is our wish to be understood.  This, Phillips says, can be “our most violent form of nostalgia.”  It is “a revival of our wish, as infants, to have our mother arrive the instant we cry out from pain and hunger.”

Self, you must get this book!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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