The NYTBR, 16 June 2013

Congratulations to the following writers/contributors, who made this issue of the NYTBR worth reading (Although self is still canceling her subscription):

Elaine Blair * Jeannette Walls *  Donovan Hohn * Justin Cronin *

Elaine Blair’s review of What Do Women Want?  Adventures in the Science of Female Desire, by Daniel Bergner was the title page review.  Blair’s review made self want to read Bergner’s previous book, The Other Side of Desire.  See, it is so interesting that a man is responsible for doing all this research into female desire.  Self fully expected that a woman scientist would produce the first comprehensive look at this fascinating topic.  But then, why can’t it be a man?  Men, after all, are just as affected by feminine desire as women are!  Onward.

The “By the Book” interview is a good one.  It’s with memoirist Jeannette Walls (There was one time the “By the Book” interviewee was Amanda Knox, she who was jailed in Italy for several years after being convicted of the murder of her roommate.  What on earth the NYTBR thought they were doing when they interviewed Amanda Knox about her favorite books is still a profound mystery to self)

Jeannette Walls’ favorite book “of all time” is The End of the Affair, by Graham Greene.

Recently, she was impressed by A House in the Sky, by Amanda Lindhout, a memoir about Lindhout’s time spent “kidnapped in Somalia.”  In addition, Walls recommends the following memoirs:  In the Sanctuary of Outcasts, by Neil White; The Memory Palace, by Mira Bartok; Denial, by Jessica Stern; A Long Way Gone, by Ishmael Beah; An Unquiet Mind, by Kay Redfield Jamison; Chanel Bonfire, by Wendy Lawless; The Center Cannot Hold, by Elyn Saks; After Visiting Friends, by Michael Haimey; The Kiss, by Kathryn Harrison (Self has read this one; it’s about Harrison’s affair with her father); My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Bolte Taylor; Couldn’t Keep It to Myself:  Wally Lamb and the Women of York Correctional Institution, edited by Wally Lamb.

The book that “had the greatest impact on” Walls when she was growing up was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Donovan Hohn reviewed The Riddle of the Labyrinth:  The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code, by Margalit Fox.  It is wonderful to read that the “gentleman archaeologist who led the excavation at Knossos” on the island of Crete brought along for sustenance “two dozen tins of ox tongue, 12 plum puddings and a Union Jack.”  Hohn also brings up the term “hash marks” which then leads self to wonder how far we have come, from markings on an ancient tomb in Crete to Twitter.

Finally, there is Justin Cronin, who reviews “the world’s first 9/11 werewolf book,” Red Moon, by Benjamin Percy.  Here we are in a world where “lycans” (werewolves, for you non-initiates or total ignoramuses) are confined to a reservation on a “discouraging patch of permafrost in northern Scandinavia, currently under American military occupation to safeguard its valuable training resources.”  A majority of Americans goes about their business peaceably under “mandated medication — a mind-dulling silver-infused concoction wittily named Volpexx.” Sold!  How soon can self get her hands on this book?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Reading Variety’s IN MEMORIAM, 2013

Ray Dolby, founder of Dolby Laboratories, died in San Francisco in September.  He was 80.

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, screenwriter and novelist, who collaborated with filmmakers James Ivory and Ismail Merchant on A Room With a View and Howard’s End, died in April.  She was 85.

Van Cliburn, Imelda Marcos’s frequent guest in Manila, died in February.  He was 78.

Actress Karen Black died in August.  She was in Five Easy Pieces and Nashville.  She was 74.

Actress Eileen Brennan died in July.  She was 80.

David Frost (most famous for interviewing Nixon), died in August. Age not stated.

Ray Harryhausen, who pioneered special effects for such movies as Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans, died in May.  He was 92.

Esther Williams, a statue of whom is still in Santa Fe Resort in Bacolod, and who starred in MGM “aquatic spectaculars” like Bathing Beauty and Million-Dollar Mermaid, died in June.  She was 91.

Elmore Leonard, bestselling author of Get Shorty, Jackie Brown and Out of Sight, whose most recent collaboration was on the F/X series Justified, died in August.  He was 87.

Dennis Farina, former Chicago cop who became famous for playing cops, most recently in Law & Order, died in July.  He was 69.

Jean Stapleton, whose iconic role was as Edith Bunker in All in the Family, died in May.  She was 90.

Annette Funicello, former Mouseketeer, died in April.  Self knows not why her name sticks in self’s mind.  She was 70.

Roger Ebert, film critic, died in April.  He was 70.

Peter O’Toole, one of self’s favorite actors, a true genius, died earlier this month.  He was 81.

Corey Monteith, of Glee, died in July.  He was 31.

James Gandolfini died in June.  He was 51.

Lou Reed, singer-songwriter, died in October.  He was 71.

Paul Walker died in November.  He was 40.

The Greatness of RIDDLEY WALKER

In the future post-apocalyptic world, England becomes Inland, and the USA becomes Eusa.  A person reaches the apex of his/her life at twelve years of age.  People apparently die in droves in their 30s.  Probably as a result of radiation.

Riddley Walker, the main character of Riddley Walker (duh) is a storyteller.  A 12-year-old storyteller.  He walks from place to place, his sole purpose is to keep the stories alive (Who pays him?  Don’t they have any way to compensate Riddley Walker for his time?).

The name “Riddley” is perfect:  the past is a riddle.  But it is not the task of the walker, the storyteller, to explain the riddles.  Only to make sure that the questions get passed on, in the hope that someone in a future generation will finally be able to put all the pieces together.  He is the closest to a forensic anthropologist that the post-apocalyptic society, deprived of analytical instruments, can come up with.  The fragility of human history is so very, very palpable in this book.

And everything is mis-spelled.  How horrible!  Here’s an example of what happens when grammar teachers all get killed off:

He said, “Dint he tell you how the Eusa folk stoaned Eusa out at Cambry for what he done? How they crowdit him roun the circel of Inland 1 town to a nother?  Every town they come to they tol them on the gate, “This is Eusa what done the clevver work for Bad Time.”  Then what wer lef in the towns them what wer the soar vivers of the barming they torchert Eusa then.  Torchert him and past him on to the next.  Thats when the playgs come follering hot on Eusas road and wiping out each town he lef behynt him.  9 towns in the rime and 9 towns dead but Cambry shud be in it 2ce it ben the 1st it ben the las.  Cambry where they stoaned him out of starting him on to his circel and Cambry where they brung him back to blyn and bloody not a man no more he ben cut off.

Self thought Riddley Walker was such a brave book.  Of course, it can be challenging — to say the least! — to read an entire book full of mis-spellings (Ha ha haaa!)  But the language plunged self directly into that brutal, brutish, Dark Age.  She believed in that world totally, in no small part because of the language.

Riddley Walker was originally published in 1980.  Self must have read it while she was a grad student.  She found it in the Stanford Bookstore, plowed right in.  Found it a good break from all her classes in Chinese history and literature.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Life. Is. Good!

Self has been testing the waters with her Hunger Games posts.  Apparently, it’s not too obnoxious for self to keep posting.  Let’s just say, the idea of getting a Peeta pillow is becoming less and less far-fetched!

(For what it’s worth, she’s also considering getting tickets to the Britney Spears comeback tour.  Because Miley made self appreciate Britney a lot more than she used to.)

First, an explanation for the title of this post:  WordPress now has a two-step log-in system, for greater security.  That is, every time self signs in to her blog, she has to look up a code that WordPress texts to her.  And her message alert is a voice chirping:  LIFE IS GOOD.  And now she hears it about 10x a day.

OK, now to the Hunger Games.  From the very first book of the trilogy, self’s favorite character was PEETA.  Honestly.  She didn’t want to finish reading the first book because she didn’t want to read the Peeta death scene.  She knew Katniss wouldn’t die (It’s a trilogy — duh!  Moreover, it’s a trilogy told entirely in first person, so unless Collins planned to have someone take over the narration from Katniss, self was pretty sure Katniss would survive all the way to the end).  She felt little anxiety about her fate.  On the other hand, Collins tricked self into believing that Peeta was totally expendable.  Self kept thinking he would be off-ed at any moment.  And she found she just couldn’t stand the thought!

The other thing self noticed, now that she’s re-reading the books, is how much the future shares with the past.  There’s a study in Katniss’s house in Victors’ Village, for one thing.  People still eat cookies.  They still know what a cake is.  Bread.  They need bakers.  They ride trains.  So the future (She will stay away from using dystopian, which is a word she’s heard about 50 times since Catching Fire hit theaters) is just like the past.  Or the immediate past.  Except that there are no cars.  And people ride chariots like in Roman times.  At least they do during Capitol processions.

Why do the houses of the future look just like the houses now?  Why does District 12 have only one baker?  What do people eat, aside from lamb stew, bread, cake, squirrel, goat, and cookies?  Who has money to buy cookies when everyone is starving?  What is the diet of the denizens of District 12?

So self noticed yesterday that there is a scene where Katniss, Finnick, Mags and Peeta have to run from something (self forgets what), and Katniss spurts ahead of everybody, leaving Peeta way behind.  Stranded!  Looking after her!  This is so out of character, self must say.

But, to be fair, there is another scene later on where it is Peeta who spurts ahead of Katniss.  And never looks back!

When push comes to shove, self had to conclude, it’s really every man for himself!  Heck, if self were in the arena, and The Man was slowing down (He IS four years older), who knows whether self, too, like Katniss in that one scene, would spurt ahead saying, Ta-ta, Dear One!  Of course, thank God self has never been tested in this way.  Human nature can be very ugly.

Each of these scenes lasts only a few seconds.  But they are really total contradictions to their supposed characters, right?

Anyhoo, enough with the nit-picking.  Self suddenly noticed the music.  And she thinks the music was absolutely key to the entire movie:  in the beginning it is grand and melancholy, almost dirge-like.  The orchestral part is very beautiful.

Later, on the beach scene?  The music changes and becomes romantic!  Which is how self knew what Lawrence was kinda aiming at, with Katniss and Peeta.

Finally, self noticed this little detail even from the first viewing:  after the Quarter Quell is announced, and Katniss learns that she’s headed back to the arena, she has this melt-down and runs to the woods.  Then, she suddenly thinks, Peeta!  And runs to Haymitch’s house.  And when she comes in the door, she knocks something over.  A brazier or a pot or something.  Anyhoo, whatever it is, it makes her appear clumsy.  Clumsy and distracted.  Which is perfect!  So glad that was left in the movie.

Then, Jena Malone’s voice.  Self was initially so distracted by Jena’s cheeky affect that she didn’t notice that Jena’s voice is high and even little girl-y.  Listen to the voice without looking at the screen, and it sounds almost impossibly arch.  But this is part of what makes her performance as Johanna so interesting.  The voice is girl-y, but the eyes smolder with rage.  The balance between these two polar opposites is killer.  Self absolutely loved every moment that Jena Malone was on-screen.  Every single moment.

By the time the allies prepare to instigate Beetee’s electrocution strategy, there are only two, at the most three, non-alliance members left:  Chaff, xxx and Enobaria.  What. A. Lot. Of. Trouble to go through for three people, wouldn’t you say?  Amazing that none of this hoo-ha from Beetee aroused Katniss’s or Peeta’s suspicions.  I mean, OK, so everyone else (Finnick, Johanna, Beetee) were trying to position Katniss for the escape craft.  Did they have to separate Peeta and Katniss?  Why couldn’t they both have been picked up at the same time?  Then there would have been no hijacked Peeta!  Then Katniss for sure would have ended up with Gale, instead of having her feelings manipulated by hijacked Peeta!

Some reviewers have said that the close-up of Katniss’s face at the end was chees-y.  Are they kidding?  It was so over-the-top theatrical, it was perfect!  People, we are not in the land of Christian Bale movies!  We are in Panem!  Where the whole point is to kill!  Kill!  Kill!  We are rooting for Katniss to exact malevolent revenge!  She’s like the Seven Samurai of Kurosawa, all in one person!

Finally, and this MUST be said:  What happened to all the Asian Americans?  Were they wiped out in an Apocalypse?  Leaving only African Americans and white Americans?  Because Panem IS America, right?  Currently, there are many Asian Americans, especially in California.  So rafts of them must have disappeared in the Apocalypse.  Sort of like how the Asian American, in every horror movie to date, is there to be eliminated within the first couple of minutes of a monster attack.

Perhaps self has been spoiled by reading Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker.  Hoban created a whole new language:  A man named Adum was split apart and the parts of him became Eusa.  People in that future time were stuck with this fable-like explanation for the Apocalypse because when the Apocalypse happened, science disappeared.  Labs disappeared.  All people had left were stories.  Which of course, got passed along by mouth, which was the reason for so much distortion.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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