Saturday, January 28, 2012

Just had to share

Go on, click the image, look at all the movie posters that some clever soul who is not me made.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Confession: I'm still not entirely sure I get the title

Three magazines are not enough to occupy someone sleepless over the Atlantic, and I actually ended up finishing this book during the flight. Before I talk about the book itself, just look at the cover design.

This is part of the New York Review of Books series (collection), and they always have such pretty design. I particularly love the colors: the dark jungle green combined with the toothpaste green. Plus that sassy little naked girl! That's fun for a public place.

I was drawn to this book because it's about an American girl having a grand time in Paris. Look, I've never had a thing for Paris (something that Andie from The Devil Wears Prada and I have in common besides our alma mater) - and I have really never been attracted to being a starving artist or a starving anything. So I had some trepidation going in that the book might be tedious on that count. Nevertheless, I wanted to read about someone having fun in spite of my demonstrated hatred of fun.

It is indeed about a young college grad who has moved to the left bank and desperately wants "to live". This might be terribly cliche but it's the mid-1950s, so it feels fairly fresh. Sally Jay (what an awful American name, huh?) is kind of an adorable mess, and somehow manages not to be annoying even as she's trying to live life to the fullest in an almost mechanical way. By which I mean, she does this or that because she thinks it would be "really living," not because she has any particular goal in mind.

It's funny and cute and engaging and then it takes the most perfect dark turn that I don't even want to tell you about. I didn't see it coming and then once it arrived it just all fell together. Nevertheless, there's a light, happy ending without too much heartbreak, and really it's just fantastic.

I really enjoyed this book, and what's more, the very short introduction and author's note before and after were actually enjoyable and illuminating! How often does that happen?

I don't know how much it helped me get energized about my own trip; I don't plan to be an impoverished actress or to pick up any married lovers. As a matter of fact I'd be very happy NOT to follow in any of Sally Jay's footsteps. I know, I'm so boring. But it's a fun read and I strongly recommend it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tray tables up

Hello from London! So far I have been stressing out over the whole "needing a place to live" thing, wandering around Kensington being jealous of millionaires with private gardens, and completely failing at avoiding jet lag. My standard procedure is: (1) sleep at least an hour on the plane; (2) do not fall asleep at all until 8pm on the first day; (3) go to bed at a reasonably normal time on the second day. Basically the point is to follow the local rhythms as soon as you arrive. This time I (1) did not sleep on the plane; (2) fell asleep as soon as I was let into my hotel room at 2pm; (3) stayed up until 4:30am on the second night. So it's been going great.

This all translates into more posts for you, though, because I have been reading a lot in my extreme stressed-out/jet-lag-ness. First up: the magazines.

I have written before about my need for magazines on a flight. This time, I had three, all with a cover price of $4.99 (jeez, magazines have gotten expensive, huh?). Here is the very scientific rundown I composed for you during the flight.

Why? My mom got me a subscription for this as part of a Groupon deal. I get the logic: a magazine about Chicago, I then lived in Chicago, it's not rocket science. However this magazine is really not for me. It is for people who care about "movers and shakers" and which obscenely expensive restaurants are most trendy. Anyway, I threw the latest issue into my bag on the way out the door because hey, it's a long flight.
Top cover stories? "494 Top Doctors"; "Gangs and Politicians: Relationships you need to know about"
Best part? I liked the profile of a local auctioneer who claims to be "really into taxidermied animals" right now. Also, the page about non-alcoholic cocktails was kind of interesting.
One-word summary: Blerg.
Can you expand on that? This magazine has no relevance to my "lifestyle", and not just because I don't live in Chicago anymore.

National Geographic Traveler
Why? I'm a traveler! I picked this one out because I hadn't read it before and it sounded like it might give me some inspiration for pleasure traveling. I hoped for some good travel tips and entertaining stories.
Top cover stories? "Return to Venice: Unlocking the mysteries of the world's greatest masquerade"; "Island of Zen: Exploring Japan's Shikoku"
Best part? I liked the little two-page spread about Portugal. And the pictures were predictably pretty.
One word summary: Disappointing.
Can you expand on that? I guess there are travelers and there are travelers. I like to go places and see things; it seems like a totally natural way to spend time and money to me. But I don't consider it a part of my identity, per se; and, it turns out, I don't particularly care to read about other people's vacations. Plus, that Venice article? It was about a middle-aged woman who goes every year to dress up as Charlie Chaplin. Man, talk about things I don't get at all.

Cooking Light
Why? I bought this on my way to Orlando in the fall and ended up keeping it and trying some of the recipes. I just really liked the design, the number of ideas, and the general approach to food.
Top cover stories? "25 Healthy Chicken Dinners"; "Best Light Chocolate Recipe Ever"
Best part? The chicken feature is really good; I've got dog-ears on the Pomegranate Glazed Chicken and a Chicken and Chorizo Stew. Mark Bittman has a recipe for "Farotto" (risotto with farro instead of rice, geddit?) with butternut squash and hazelnuts that sounds great. And of course all the chocolate recipes...
One word summary: Yum!
Can you expand on that? Once again, this title prove itself a winner, and I am resolved to only buy makeup/fashion magazines or food magazines for the plane from now on.

I should have two, possibly even three, books to post about soon, what hey.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The King has returned!

It occurred to me last night, as I was up waaaay too late reading, that the last time I read The Lord of the Rings all the way through I was 16 -- which is to say it was ten years ago. Good golly, how is that possible.

But as I am writing now it is more like ten hours since I last read The Lord of the Rings all the way through -- hooray hooray! And not a minute too soon; I was running out of bookmark (I was using a magazine subscription card and tearing bits off it to mark passages to comment on for the blog).

There's really nothing coherent I can say about the story as a whole that would be worthwhile. It's so good, you guys, just breathtaking. So I'll just move on to the random observations.

1. True or false, Peter Jackson cut more fantastic characters out of Return of the King than the other two books. Beregond and Bergil! Ghân-buri-Ghân! Ioreth! But above all, Prince Imrahil. Imrahil, we are told, has a castle, Dol Amroth, in Belfalas. "He was of high blood, and his folk also, tall men and proud with sea-grey eyes." As I mentioned before, I was 16 the last time I read this and I remember thinking something like, "ooo, there are princes in Gondor too? Dreamy!"

Still and all, Imrahil is pretty great. Here he is arriving at Minas Tirith:
And last and proudest, Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth, kinsman of the Lord, with gilded banners bearing his token of the Ship and the Silver Swan, and a company of knights in full harness riding grey horses; and behind them seven hundreds of men at arms, tall as lords, grey-eyed, dark-haired, singing as they came.
Imrahil is the one who notices that Éowyn is still alive (thanks, dude!) and is, in general, a great addition to the cast.

2. Could Faramir be any dreamer?
'Then must I leave my own people, man of Gondor?' she said. 'And would you have your proud folk say of you: "There goes a lord who tamed a wild shieldmaiden of the North! Was there no woman of the race of Númenor to choose?"'
     'I would,' said Faramir. And he took her in his arms and kissed her under the sunlit sky, and he cared not that they stood high upon the walls in the sight of many.

3. I think it's hilarious how girly my first two points are. But I am unapologetic! I love all these manly men and their manly deeds, so sue me!

4. It occurred to me, this time around, that Denethor and Éowyn are parallel cases. Denethor wants to be the great man of Minas Tirith, calling the shots and defending the west, and handing his power over to his favorite son Boromir. When all of this goes to ruin, Denethor refuses to go along and declares that if he can't have it his way he will choose to die and bring his other son with him (rather than let Faramir participate in the new order). On the other hand, Éowyn dreams of escaping the stagnancy of Wormtongue-dominated Rohan, and when she sees Aragorn, decides that she wants to be a high-and-mighty queen, elsewhere, with him. When he doesn't return her love, she refuses to remain at Edoras and rather chooses to go with the army and be killed. But Éowyn, of course, eventually lets go and embraces what's being offered to her (Faramir, yum yum).

5. How great are the Rohirrim?!
...there came from far away another note. Horns, horns, horns. In dark Mindolluin's sides they dimly echoed. Great horns of the North wildly blowing. Rohan had come at last.
I got up and danced a little right there, true story. I know Tolkien was really into trees, but I get the feeling he must have loved horses, too. The horse bits always jump out at me, not just because I was a horse-crazy little girl (I was) but because they remind me of my grampa, who died around the time I first got into LOTR. Grampa loved horses and always owned one. He would watch the rodeo on Sunday nights and westerns any other night of the week, and I'm pretty sure he only watched for the horses. "Look what a good horse that is!" "They really trained that horse well to put up with that!" Generally, the best way to get him to watch a movie was the prospect of some kind of good horse scenes, and he would have thoroughly approved of The Two Towers if he had lived to see it. Anyway, whenever Tolkien describes the intelligence of Shadowfax, or how the Rohirrim bury Snowmane, I feel all warm and fuzzy.

6. Speaking of which, the poetry of Rohan -- those alliterative Olde English-y verses -- are the only poems in the book I actually enjoy reading.
Faithful servant yet master's bane,
Lightfoot's foal, swift Snowmane.
7. Here's Gandalf:
'Other evils there are that may come; for Sauron is himself but a servant or emissary. Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.'
It struck me that this, I think, partly explains why Tolkien maybe thought the Scouring of the Shire was so necessary to the story. On the one hand, just to show how the evil had spread and so on; but also, I suppose, to show something of evil in action and being cooperated with.

8. I'm getting tired of this post, so you must be too. So I will end on the following:
'Hullo, Sam!' said Rosie. 'Where've you been? They said you were dead; but I've been expecting you since the Spring. You haven't hurried, have you?'
     'Perhaps not,' said Sam abashed. 'But I'm hurrying now. We're setting about the ruffians, and I've got to get back to Mr. Frodo. But I thought I'd have a look and see how Mrs Cotton was keeping, and you, Rosie.'
     'We're keeping nicely, thank you,' said Mrs Cotton. 'Or should be, if it weren't for these thieving ruffians.'
     'Well, be off with you!' said Rosie. 'If you've been looking after Mr Frodo all this while, what d'you want to leave him for, as soon as things look dangerous?'
 Oh that sassy Rosie Cotton.

Onward to other, shorter books! I'm so glad I had the chance to re-read this. I rarely read things twice, but this was definitely worth it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Oh Faramir... you're all the lore-master I'll ever need

Blogger tells me there are people clicking through onto my blog from Alice's Norwegian Wood readalong, which makes sense since I said I would, y'know, read along. But as you have probably all noticed by now, I totally punked out on that in the interest of finishing The Lord of the Rings before I leave the country (this Sunday, holy hell).

I finished The Two Towers! It actually went a bit quicker than I anticipated (always good). In this section Sam and Frodo (and Gollum) enter Mordor via Ithilien and Cirith Ungol, and we the readers really get to observe Sam and Frodo's characters and relationship up close for the first time. Tolkien being a child of his times, Sam and Frodo are very much the Servant and the Master, although Sam breaks out a little more as a truly good servant while Frodo is pretty offhanded in his role as master. This latter judgment struck me in the incident with the elven rope, which they have just used to rappel down a cliff:
To the complete surprise of both the hobbits [the rope] came loose [when Sam tugs on it]. Sam fell over, and the long grey coils slithered silently down on top of him. Frodo laughed. 'Who tied the rope?' he said 'A good thing it held as long as it did! To think that I trusted all my weight to your knot!'
     Sam did not laugh. 'I may not be much good at climbing, Mr. Frodo,' he said in injured tones, 'but I do know something about rope and about knots. It's in the family, as you might say. Why, my grand-dad, and my uncle Andy after him, him that was the Gaffer's eldest brother, he had a rope-walk over by Tighfield many a year. And I put as fast a hitch over the stump as any one could have done, in the Shire or out of it.'
     'Then the rope must have broken--frayed on the rock-edge, I expect,' said Frodo.
     'I bet it didn't!' said Sam in an even more injured voice. He stooped and examined the ends. 'Nor it hasn't neither. Not a strand!'
     'Then I'm afraid it must have been the knot,' said Frodo.
     Sam shook his head and did not answer. He was passing the rope through his fingers thoughtfully. 'Have it your own way, Mr. Frodo,' he said at last, 'but I think the rope came off itself--when I called.' He coiled it up and stowed it lovingly in his pack.
     'It certainly came,' said Frodo, 'and that's the chief thing. But now we've got to think of our next move...'
Dude, Frodo. Way to be a dismissive jerk. I guess I could say something here about Sam being a kind of middle class fantasy, the working class servant whose only concern is for the wellbeing and happiness of his master, but I'll leave that to the 70s college students from that video I posted last week.

Of course, this section is also where we get to meet Faramir, "the grave young man whose words seemed so wise and fair" to Frodo. As Boromir's brainy little brother, he manages to basically guess the entire story up to this point, which is handy.
This Mithrandir was, I now guess, more than a lore-master: a great mover of the deeds that are done in our time.... He got leave of Denethor, how I do not know, to look at the secrets of our treasury, and I learned a little of him, when he would teach (and that was seldom).
Clearly Boromir the Hot Airbag was the jock of this family, while Faramir, probably wearing thick nerd glasses, spent all his time in the library.

This joke has definitely never been made before, so I made a picture to illustrate it.
We in the house of Denethor know much ancient lore by long tradition, and there are moreover in our treasuries many things preserved: books and tablets writ on withered parchments, yea, and on stone, and on leaves of silver and of gold, in divers characters. Some none can now read; and for the rest, few ever unlock them. I can read a little, for I have had teaching.
Mmm, yeah, I bet you've had some teaching. Why don't we meet up in the library later, and you can read a little in my rarely unlocked treasury.  *ahem*

Finally, although I realize that this post is basically all quoting, all the time, I just have to share this paragraph in which Tolkien turns the awesome up to 11:
There agelong she had dwelt, an evil thing in spider-form, even such as once of old had lived in the Land of the Elves in the West that is now under the Sea, such as Beren fought in the Mountains of Terror in Doriath, and so came to Lúthien upon the green sward amid the hemlocks in the moonlight long ago. How Shelob came there, flying from ruin, no tale tells, for out of the Dark Years few tales have come. But still she was there, who was there before Sauron, and before the first stone of Barad-dûr; and she served none but herself, drinking the blood of Elves and Men, bloated and grown fat with endless brooding on her feasts, weaving webs of shadow; for all living things were her good, and her vomit darkness. Far and wide her lesser broods, bastards of the miserable mates, her own offspring, that she slew, spread from glen to glen, from the Ephel Dúath to the eastern hills, to Dol Guldur and the fastnesses of Mirkwood. But none could rival her, Shelob the Great, last child of Ungoliant to trouble the unhappy world.
Hot damn! I love this first of all because it just sounds awesome; can we have a recording of Ian McKellen reading this please? The rhythm of the names and sentences - perfection. I can't think of a better example of texture in writing, not only in terms of register but also (once again) time.

My next post: a wrap-up?!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Whining, procrastinating: the usual.

So! I have got to the end of Book Three! Hooray! That's exactly halfway, well done me. However, this means I am now on the edge of Book Four, which is a Frodo-and-Sam book...  hence I am typing on Blogger instead of reading, even though I only have a week (!) (!!!!) to finish this.

Does it make me a terrible person if I don't particularly like the Frodo-and-Sam part of the story? It's so dark and gross and long, and a little Gollum goes a long way. Reading Gollum's dialogue is like, I dunno, reading a Yorkshire peasant's dialogue in a Victorian novel -- jeez o pete, if this is the price we pay, do we really need to hear from this character so often? Incidentally, I feel the same way about Andy Serkis' performance in the movies. Oh sure he's a genius blah blah innovation blah, but still: a little goes a long way. Plus, I get a little tired of the modern obsession with making bad guys sympathetic. Don't get me wrong, it's not like I only tolerate eeeevil characters with black hats and capes and twirlable mustaches; and I would point out that Tolkien makes Gollum, like most of his characters, complex and ambiguous; but I hate when movies (especially) feel the need to provoke some kind of emotional "awww" moment in addition to just understanding who this person is and what they've done.

Anyway, I don't think not liking the Frodo-and-Sam part makes me terrible but it might make me shallow. Whatever dudes! I stand by my impatient desire to get back to the kings and battles and ancient civilizations and hilarious hobbit dialogue!

Too many words, have a random picture of the Bayeux Tapestry.
Maybe this time around I will appreciate the hard slog into Mordor better. Maaaybe. But look at the awesomeness you get in the other part of the story:
'They are shepherds of the trees,' answered Gandalf. 'Is it so long since you listened to tales by the fireside? There are children in your land who, out of the twisted threads of story, could pick the answer to your question. You have seen Ents, O King, Ents out of Fangorn Forest, which in your tongue you call the Entwood. Did you think that the name was given only in idle fancy? Nay, Théoden, it is otherwise: to them you are but the passing tale; all the years from Eorl the Young to Théoden the Old are of little count to them; and all the deeds of your house but a small matter.'
The king was silent. 'Ents!' he said at length. 'Out of the shadows of legend I begin to understand the marvel of the trees, I think. I have lived to see strange days. Long have we tended our beasts and our fields, built our houses, wrought our tools, or ridden away to help in the wars of Minas Tirith. And that we called the life of Men, the way of the world. We cared little for what lay beyond the borders of our land. Songs we have that tell of these things, but we are forgetting them, teaching them only to children, as a careless custom. And now the songs have come down among us out of strange places, and walk visible under the Sun.'

Oh! I shall miss you, Théoden King, until we meet again in Book Five. Which had better be soon!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The mathom that keeps on giving

Today is JRR Tolkien's birthday! Here's a charming little 1968 BBC program about Tolkien for your viewing pleasure:

(That's a pretty free-form kind of show, isn't it? Oh the '60s.)

This is a good day for me to update you on my ongoing re-reading of The Lord of the Rings, especially since I've been thinking fondly about the ways in which Tolkien's own profession is noticeable in the text. I first started thinking about this when the hobbits reach Bree. The guests at the Prancing Pony are shocked to meet Shire hobbits so far from home and ask them what they're doing. Frodo, thinking fast, declares that he's researching a book about the hobbits who live outside the Shire, and suddenly all the patrons are eager to tell their own stories and anecdotes that they think are relevant. Ha! First of all, "I'm doing research" is a very academic sort of excuse, and secondly, I'm sure anyone who's ever been engaged in research has had the experience of people jumping in to give their own opinions and experiences with your subject. Bilbo is a quintessential researcher when they find him at Rivendell, too: pestering Frodo to contribute to his book and only concerned with the quest insofar as he might get material for a few more chapters!

This passage made me smile as well:
Terrified Pippin lay still, though the pain at his wrists and ankles was growing, and the stones beneath him were boring into his back. To take his mind off himself he listened intently to all that he could hear. There were many voices round about, and though orc-speech sounded at all times full of hate and anger, it seemed plain that something like a quarrel had begun, and was getting hotter. To Pippin's surprise he found that much of the talk was intelligible; many of the Orcs were using ordinary language. Apparently the members of two or three quite different tribes were present, and they could not understand one another's orc-speech. There was an angry debate concerning what they were to do now: which way they were to take and what should be done with the prisoners.
Obviously there's a lot that can be said about the fictional languages and the role of linguistics in Tolkien's fictional cultures, but this little vignette jumped out at me. Of course Pippin uses the unfamiliar languages as a way to distract himself from fear and pain... and look how Tolkien anticipates and solves the problem of Pippin being able to overhear a conversation among the orcs. So sweet.

I have just finished the Battle of Helms Deep, so I am just a hair over halfway done. I think... I think... I'm going to finish this by the 15th. Bold words, I know.