Saturday, July 30, 2011

Too Much Happiness, by Alice Munro--8/10

I think I've mentioned before that I'm not hugely into short stories, but sometimes you read something and you know that it's really meant to be a short story. The pieces in Too Much Happiness are like that; some of them could easily be turned into novels, but then they might lose some of their poignancy. Part of what makes them wonderful is how simple they are, how lovely it is to get just a glimpse of an important moment in a  character's life. I had two favorites--one called "Child's Play," and the last one, the title story, "Too Much Happiness"--but I loved the whole book.


"She hated to hear the word 'escape' used about fiction. She might have argued, not just playfully, that it was real life that was the escape." 

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Egypt Game, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder--8/10

I think I've meant to read this book for pretty much my entire life, but I never got around to it until now. When I was younger I confused it with The Westing Game, which I also never read until a year or two ago; now that I've finally read them both, I have to shake my head at the silliness of how long it takes me to get around to some things. I would have loved both of those books as a kid, and I love them a lot now.


The Egypt Game is about a group of unlikely friends--because what other kind is there in a good story?--who are brought together through an "imagining game" that ends up having a much greater effect on reality than they expected. April is a sixth grader who has just been sent to live with her grandmother while her singer/actress mother goes on tour; she meets Melanie, who lives in the same apartment building and shares April's interest in ancient Egypt. Their imaginations and creative skills are so fun, and I loved the idea of kids being so fascinated with actual history. A very lovely book.

Wishful Thinking

All I was able to think about for the last couple months was traveling. I was going to go to Washington, D.C. in September for the National Book Festival; we're going to Utah in October for Anna's wedding; I'm hopeful (but less certain) that we'll still get to go to Austin later in October for the Texas Book Festival (as pretty much a consolation prize for not being able to make the national one). 


Most of all, Mike and I were planning a trip. A big one. It kept changing, as we kept having to adapt our budget. (I have at least four versions, detailed down to the hotels we'd be staying in.) Now the whole thing is off the table, unless something big happens very soon and our income increases by approximately $1000 a month. 


So I've given up on that for this year. (When I say "have given up," I mean "am slowly, slowly getting myself to accept the fact that it won't happen.")


Now, for the last few days, all I've been able to think about is missing extended family and wanting to go to Arizona. "Where We're Going to End Up" is a theme that never leaves the backs of our minds, so any time somewhere is mentioned we start considering it for living-there possibilities. I've known for a long time that I never want to live in Arizona again--the heat is pure evil and the politics would probably cause my premature death by stroke, plus scorpions--but sometimes I just miss family so much. I still have this ridiculously strong desire to spend time with my cousins, aunts, and uncles and get to know them, and since I've been around them for a total of maybe three months since 1994, it hasn't really happened. Facebook has been a blessed angel in this regard, but even it can only do so much. 


The moral of which is that I actually said to Mike, earlier today, "Well, maybe we should just move to Arizona for a year or two!" Yeah. We're at that point.


On the one hand: Since I am always wishing I were somewhere other than I am, I feel like I need to learn to be happy with what I have. 


On the other hand: I can't help thinking that it's not unreasonable to want the things I want, that I should be able to have them, that I shouldn't settle for never getting to do the things I've always dreamed of doing. 


So which hand is it? WHO EVEN KNOWS. 


In the meantime, nothing. Being poor sucketh.


The end.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Loooove.

I scanned and posted some old pictures last night. It was so much fun to look through them, and it's been even more fun to see everyone's comments on them. Tonight my dad came home from work and said "You've started a real virtual reunion, haven't you?" And that pretty much made my night. That's exactly what I was hoping for. I miss my extended family a lot, and since I haven't lived near my dad's side in sixteen years, I find myself reminiscing about the first ten years of my life a lot. I really, really don't ever want to live in Arizona again, but if I ever considered it, they would be why. As kids we spent a lot of time with my mom's side of the family, too, and I haven't seen them in a long time either, so it's been a lot of fun to see all our old pictures. I love my family.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

5 Most Disappointing Harry Potter Movie Characters

You may have wondered about the absence of some notable characters from my top 20 list. I will explain here. 


5--Ginny Weasley


I am not so much disappointed in Ginny as I am just not in love with her like so many people are--and actually this is true for the books too, although she's better there because her character gets more filled out. In the movies, she basically does nothing but like Harry. (Her legendarily awesome curses are barely even mentioned!) I've never felt like she and Harry have much chemistry, anyway; even in the books, their relationship seems more like a plot convenience. (After all, Harry was in love with Cho until about five seconds ago.) Ginny is the catalyst for the happy ending, the thing that officially binds Harry and Ron together and makes sure the threesome will never be broken up. I read something that described her as "more a concept than a person," and I can't say I disagree.

4--Fleur Delacour


This is going to sound really shallow, but I just don't think Clemence Poesy is the right kind of pretty to play this character. Fleur Delacour is part veela--she's supposed to be abnormally beautiful, and this actress is very regularly pretty. She's also supposed to be an incredible snob, and Movie Fleur is actually quite nice. I think they could have done better with someone like Blake Lively or Megan Fox; not that I can really see either of them being in a Harry Potter movie, but you see where I'm going. Ashley Greene, Virginie Ledoyen, Minka Kelly? Though I hate to say it, Dakota Fanning? What I'm saying is, there were options.


3--James Potter 


I'll be honest, I don't really have a good reason for not liking the way they did James. I do think he looks better in the earlier movies than he does in 7.2, though, partially because he appears to be wearing a very ugly sweater vest in the latter and partially because he doesn't have that floppy hair earlier on. Also, the flashback scenes make him look like such a jerk, and the movies never really show anything nice about him, so you kind of wonder what would make Lily like him. That's sad.


2--Remus Lupin 


I have never been able to come around to David Thewlis here, and this is going to sound completely shallow again, but... I think I just always pictured Lupin being slightly more attractive. I don't know if that's it; I just know that I don't get the same feeling from Movie Lupin as I do from Book Lupin. Remus is supposed to be the kind, comforting one, a little self-deprecating, wise for his age. Kind of like Liam Neeson, if he were younger, Michael J. Fox if he were less adorable, Matt Damon if he were less pretty, Sidney Poitier if he were scruffier, Clark Kent if he were a werewolf instead of a superhero (and also real)... I'll stop talking now.


1--Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) 


Sigh. Biggest disappointment of the Harry Potter movies, by far. It was such a shame when Richard Harris died; I really think he was the perfect Dumbledore, and it would've been interesting to see what David Yates and the others would have done with him. But I don't dislike Michael Gambon's Dumbledore just because it isn't Richard Harris. I think he could've done the role just fine, and I don't know why he didn't. 


Remember in Goblet of Fire, when everyone starts talking and Dumbledore bellows "Silence!" at the top of his lungs? Remember when he mows Harry down and practically chokes him after his name came out of the goblet? Remember in Order of the Phoenix, when he tells Umbridge that she can't make Professor Trelawney leave, then turns and snaps at all the students about how they should be doing homework? This is not Dumbledore's personality. Michael Gambon plays him as a grouchy old man, and Dumbledore is not grouchy. It is very, very sad.

Monday, July 18, 2011

20 Greatest Harry Potter Characters

So I was looking at Empire's list of the 25 greatest characters from the Harry Potter series, and I decided I need to make my own list. I found myself disagreeing with their choices pretty often--not just because some were in the wrong place, but also because most of their memorable quotes were silly. Supposedly this list was based on the votes of their readers, so maybe it's just me; if you agree with their list over mine, I won't be too offended.

However, I am also going to need to create two lists, one for the movies and one for the books. Because there are some characters who are very favorite in the books, but in the movies probably wouldn't even make the list. Since I just watched all the movies this week, I'm going to make my movie list now. 


Criteria: 
 --Not favorite characters, but ones who were done the best in the movies.                                            
 --Characters who have a big impact.


Side note--I tried filling 25 spots and couldn't really, so mine is a top 20 list. Counting up from the bottom:


20--Dobby and Kreacher


I like the way the house elves were done, although Dobby's character gets short-changed in the movies. Kreacher possibly isn't quite creepy or hostile enough, but that's okay. And I wish they hadn't skipped all of Dobby's fantastic fashion choices after he is freed, because those are half the fun.


19--Argus Filch
"Students out of bed! Students in the corridors!"


You just have to love Filch. And by "love," I obviously mean "be creeped out by, and sort of hate, but maybe also feel a tiny bit sorry for."


18--Narcissa Malfoy


Narcissa doesn't get much face time in the movies or the books, but I love her character. Death Eater she might be, but she is also a mother who will risk anything for her [slimy rotten but in the end possibly halfway decent] son, and I  respect that. In at least one way, she's not so different from Lily Potter or Molly Weasley--in fact, you could almost think it might be a case of just having gotten in with the wrong crowd, one that's not too easy to leave when you change your mind.


17--Arabella Figg 
"Good lord, boy, they told me you were intelligent."



I wish she'd had a bigger role, because I think the movie Mrs. Figg is just so lovable. I even like her better than the book Mrs. Figg, just love how they did her.


16--Mad-Eye Moody
"You need to know what you're up against! You need to be prepared! You need to find another place to put your chewing gum besides the underside of your desk, Mr. Finnigan!"


My only complaint about Moody is that I don't remember him saying "Constant vigilance" in the movies, and I don't know why they left that out.


15--Lucius Malfoy
14--Draco Malfoy


I think Lucius and Draco were done pretty much perfectly, even if Jason Isaacs's hair is a little bit Legolas-esque. Both did a good job going from unbelievably snooty evil creep to damaged and broken, and at times they even look enough alike to really be father and son. 


13--Neville Longbottom



I think everyone agrees that, from the beginning to the end, Matt Lewis was a good choice for Neville. (Also, it may interest you to learn that there appears to be an extensive world of Neville fanfiction out there. Who knew?)



12--Luna Lovegood


I love Luna so much, in both the books and the movies. I wouldn't have suspected it from just seeing Evanna Lynch as she normally looks, but she is a fantastic Luna, and this is one of my favorite scenes in all of the last movie:



11--George and Fred Weasley


Ah, Fred and George. Where to begin? I don't think anyone's favorite character list doesn't include the Weasley twins. As far as their movie versions go, it's always made me very happy that they are played by actual twins, and not just one guy doubled up. (I think it allows me to secretly believe that the Weasley twins are real, and James and Oliver are just pseudonyms.) Unfortunately all their best quotes are in the books, not the movies--they, too, are seriously short-changed, which is understandable but still depressing.


10--Sirius Black


Gary Oldman is an excellent Sirius Black, although I actually think he looks a little better as a disheveled Azkaban escapee than he does later on, all suited up and groomed. I think it's mostly the hair; it just looks weird all pretty and combed. My primary complaint about this character is that in the fourth movie, Harry writes him a letter and addresses it to Sirius Black. Later Sirius writes back and says to use a different owl because the Ministry might notice. Really?


9--Hagrid
"Mad and hairy? You wouldn't be talkin' about me, now, would you?"
 


I don't think they could have found a better person to play Hagrid than Robbie Coltrane, and they did a fairly good job of keeping all his quirks and side-stories in, too. Very well done.


8--Lord Voldemort/Tom Riddle


Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemort is one of the crowning achievements of the Harry Potter movies. The only reason I have him down so far on the list is that after a while, seeing him played by an actual human started taking the edge off his scariness. Nothing can compare to the imagination, I guess, but even besides that, I think somehow he just became too... regular. If you watch the graveyard scene in Goblet of Fire and compare that to the later movies, you can see a difference.


All the actors who played him at various younger ages were excellent, too; you could really almost think they were the same guy getting older, with the exception of the Chamber of Secrets Tom Riddle, who's a little more of a stretch.


7--Rita Skeeter



It was so unfortunate that they had to cut most of Rita Skeeter out of the movie, because this character is just genius. The way Hermione figures out what's going on is brilliant, too, so it's a shame that part didn't make it in. But the dress, the glasses, the hair, Miranda Richardson--it's all just fantastic.


6--Gilderoy Lockhart



This guy is amazing. Chamber of Secrets is not the most exciting of the movies, but the fact that Gilderoy Lockhart is in it--played by Kenneth Branagh, who is five kinds of awesome--makes it so much fun to watch.


5--Minerva McGonagall



I really like what the Empire list said about Professor McGonagall: "Second only to Dumbledore in providing a sense of security and refuge at Hogwarts." This is why we love her--she's fair and she's strict and she's tough, and she is good at what she does.


4--Dolores Umbridge
 


I don't need to tell you how well Umbridge is done; the boiling rage you feel whenever you watch Order of the Phoenix is quite enough, I'm sure. The way I see it, any villain who can make me that angry is doing a really good job of being a villain. And I think it might be possible that there has never been a villain I've hated more.


3--Bellatrix Lestrange
 

Interesting tidbit I learned from the Empire list: Helen McCrory, the woman who played Narcissa, was actually originally cast as Bellatrix. When she got pregnant, they decided she would be Narcissa, and cast Helena Bonham-Carter instead. All I can say is, I can't imagine why HBC wasn't the very first person they went to, because she is perfect. I love her.


2--Albus Dumbledore (Richard Harris only)
"Alas! Earwax."


I have a real issue with Movie Dumbledore. I think that Richard Harris was basically perfect, and I was really sad when he died. I also really like Michael Gambon--but I do not like him as Dumbledore. Not. At. All. He is basically a crabby old man who isn't even particularly nice to people, much less the incredibly kind, wise, sweetly eccentric man he's supposed to be. Maybe this was some kind of thing where they were trying to soften the blow of switching actors by having him not even try to fill Richard Harris's shoes, I don't know. But I don't like it, and in six movies it hasn't grown on me.


1--Severus Snape



Professor Snape is probably the most complicated character in all of the HP world. Alan Rickman is one of my favorite actors in the regular world. I think this is a good combination. There are times throughout the series when I think he's just a tad cheesy, but I think everyone has those times. And not to spoil anything for people who haven't seen HP 7.2 yet, but he does some incredible acting in the final movie that only solidifies his place at the top of my list. 


So that's it. You may be wondering why I left Ron, Harry, and Hermione off the list. The partial answer is that I kind of see them as a given; but also, they're too hard to fit into a list like this. They feel like they should automatically take spaces one through three, but do I really think that their acting was better than Snape and Bellatrix? So I've left them off, with the understanding that I think they were cast so well that I just think of them as actually being their characters. 


And in closing, two thoughts on Empire's list: 
1. I'm pretty sure the only reason Molly Weasley made it is the "not my daughter" moment. She's a lovely character (moreso in the books), but nothing that special until you throw in a girl fight and a mother figure pushed so far to her limit that she swears in front of her children, and then voila! Everyone loves it.
2. I agree with what they said about Tonks. Great character in the books; lame in the movies, and I don't see why she'd be on the list.


So. The end! What do you think? (I spent a really long time on this, so you'd all better share! I shake my fist at you if you don't.)

Friday, July 15, 2011

70 Million Something or Other




I don't really know--I just think this is a cool video. (When I say cool, don't think that means entirely un-creepy. But yes. Cool.) They recreated a lot of famous paintings, and if you want to know what all the paintings are, here is the list

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Exciting Revelations!

Guys--read this post really quick, and then come back here. Are you back? You really do have to read it if you're going to read mine.


Okay: I am so excited to hear that other people are like this! I have always thought that it was just my terrible memory that made it so I couldn't remember anything about the books I read. (You may have noticed this if you've ever asked me about a book and all I could say was, "Well, I don't remember much about the plot, but I remember that I thought it was amazing when I finished it!"--and I know at least a few of you have.)


The bit about the rereads is true, too, and actually this is part of why I've started writing reviews about books... So I could help myself remember them better. This has always been hugely embarrassing to me, and I am so relieved right now. 

You wouldn't think it would still hurt, but it does.

While I was in college, I felt like I had a million friends. It was a pretty amazing time for me, because I'd never had that feeling before. And I don't just mean good acquaintances, the people I saw in the apartment building and on campus and we smiled and said hi and maybe talked for a few minutes or had lunch together, but we weren't really friends


No, I'm talking about really good friends--people I got close to. The kind where we had hours-long conversations regularly, knew all about each other's lives, families, classes, love interests, issues with exes, issues with roommates, issues with parents, money situations, musical tastes, favorite TV shows, homework and study habits. The kind where we'd go on a trip together, or (if they lived in Utah) go to their family's houses, or accidentally call their family in the middle of the night during the summer because you forgot about the time difference (and still not everyone had a cell phone back then). I had a lot of these friends.


But since leaving college, I've had to wonder how many of them really were my friends, and how many were just... I don't know, I guess the kind of people who don't have to be really close with someone to share a lot of personal information with them. Cause like I said, I had a lot of these friends--but I don't anymore, and I don't just mean that we don't keep in touch. I mean that it feels like they don't like me anymore, and that of course makes me question how much they did in the first place. In some cases I think it could just be me, but in some I know I'm not imagining it, and it's just weird how much it still hurts when I see mentions of some of those people. Some of them have unfriended me on Facebook, so I don't see them much except when they comment on mutual friends' things. Some of them haven't unfriended me, for some reason, so they pop up every now and then and I can't help it, I look through the old pictures where Facebook says we were both tagged, and I just get this little knot in my chest that doesn't feel very happy, so then I blog about it. 


I probably shouldn't be surprised, actually, that this is still so painful for me; I already know that I'm the kind of person who holds onto unresolved emotional issues for a reallllly long time. I once went on a date with a friend--a first date, just after we'd met--and he tried to put his arm around me and caught my hair under his arm so I shrugged to get it out, but he thought I was telling him not to put his arm around me and I'm retarded so I didn't correct him, so he didn't put it back and even though it was like six years ago and we went on to become good friends so I'm pretty sure he didn't hate me for it, I still feel horrible about it. 


Yes, I know it's funny. It doesn't feel much like it right now, though--it just feels sad.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Something Weird

Kind of awesome. But yes, weird. Also makes me think of Better Off Dead. Also Lainie Kazan is really struggling with that accent. 



(If the video is chopped off by the sidebar, watch it on YouTube.)

Baking

We all know I suck at baking. And also that I wish I had more money to buy kitchen things. So I am entering a giveaway here for a baking stone--it looks like a cookie sheet, only prettier, and supposedly you can use it for pretty much everything (another feature I like in my kitchen appliances). So I am really excited to try it. Fingers crossed!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Host, by Stephenie Meyer--6/10

I spent about half an hour writing a review of this book on Goodreads. It's pretty freakin' long and is completely full of spoilers, so instead of posting it here I think I'm going to give you the link and send you there if you want to read it. If you're just looking for the recommendation, here it is: I liked it, with a lot of complaints as a caveat.


Basically, the moral of the story is this: If you don't hate Twilight, you'll like The Host. If you've never read Twilight and can forget (or aren't bothered by) everything you read in my review, you also might like it. And if you're obsessed with Twilight but haven't gotten around to this one yet, then you should probably do so. Immediately.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Top Ten Rebels in Literature

  • Vianne Rocher--Chocolat, Joanne Harris
  • Cinna--The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
  • Dumbledore and the Hogwarts professors--Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling
  • the members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society--The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
  • Mary Poppins--the Mary Poppins books, P.L. Travers
  • Atticus Finch--To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  • Sirius Black--the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling
  • Marcus, Van, and Jolu--Little Brother, Cory Doctorow
  • Frankie Landau-Banks--The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, E. Lockhart

This Life is in Your Hands, by Melissa Coleman--5/10

So I wrote my own review about this book on Goodreads, and you can read it here, but as I was reading through other readers' reviews I found one that actually sums up my feelings much better than I did. I'm going to include it here,  because it gives a much better description of what the book is like.


2.5 stars [of 5]. Better than okay, but not quite ... well, just not quite. Firstly, I would hesitate to even call this a memoir. It affected the fiction of being from Melissa's POV throughout, but that was a very awkward fit for most of the book. Writing about how her mom's pupils contracted the first time she saw her dad? Recounting the Nearing's reactions to finding out that her mom was pregnant [with her]? And even later, when she actually existed in the timeline, it really didn't ring true. Was 4 year old Melissa really meditating on the fact that tree roots spread below her in a near-mirror image to the branches above her while she lay in the woods? Was her first reaction to a snail shell really the miracle that the curve of the spiral was exactly like a fiddlehead fern? I mean, these are clearly the musings of a later Melissa Coleman, and normally that'd be fine, but the way that the book was framed kept pulling me out to shake my head at the central conceit: that this is an actual memoir. Coming, you know, from her memory. 

So what was it? Kind of a joint biography of her parents, using source materials like her mom's journals and interviews with people that stayed on the farms in those years, and also her memories. Only the last 15 pages or so seem to authentically come from her own recollections and pertain to her own experiences as she experienced them, as opposed to her "experiences" in the sense that, yes, she was there on that same farm at the same time as these happenings. And as a joint biography it was interesting, if a little self-important. Her parents were on the leading edge of the back-to-the-land movement (though you could be forgiven for thinking her father had invented organic farming singlehandedly, based on the first half of the book), and their struggles and successes are compelling. She overcontextualizes in a way that could feel condescending (any time her parents did something hippieish, she not only describes it, but then reminds the reader that this was in the same year that [X] happened, and their hippieish action was both BRAVE and COUNTERCULTURE and very much OUTSIDE OF THE MAINSTREAM. We know. You're writing about the 70s, not the Middle Ages. You can assume some familiarity), and the pages upon pages of describing springtime plants coming back to life felt in need of editing by the third year in a row. Also, wow with the name dropping in the last quarter of the book -- especially since these are still just names of people that are only recognizable to a very small circle. "So and so was at the same conference ... you might know him from his successful heirloom seed catalogue?" Holy Hipster Memoir, Batman. 

Obviously the big moment in the book is when her little sister dies. Which is horrible and heartbreaking. And as much as I spent the first 2/3ds of the book thinking that she should've reimagined it as a powerful short story or as source material for a novel, I did think she handled this part of the book well: it was better paced, felt more honest, and felt like a story that needed telling rather than just a tale that I might as well keep reading. 

I guess my takeaway is that if you're very interested in homesteading, off-the-gridding, self-sufficiency, or 60s/70s counterculture movements, this book might be worth your time. For me, and I do have a greater than passing interest in most of those things, it was just so-so. I don't regret having read it, but I can't think of anyone I'd recommend it to either. 
 
--Vicki Murphy, Goodreads

Friday, July 1, 2011

I Think Eeyore Works at Target

Weird day at Target today. I waited in line behind one woman for about fifteen minutes, during which time the cashier kept insisting loudly that he was going as fast as he could, even though no one was asking. (I was doing a crossword on my phone, so maybe that's why he kept looking at me, but really? Does someone being on their phone mean they're impatient about waiting in line?) (And in case you're wondering, I didn't move to a different line--which definitely would have been faster--because I'd already unloaded my entire cart onto the belt. It wasn't that much and I still could've moved it, but I wasn't in a hurry.)


Got to the register and asked how he was doing. He sighed and said, "Well, to be honest, I'm pretty much hopeless. I mean, I'm sure you don't want a Target card, right? And I'm sure you don't want [something else I can't remember]. So now I'm probably gonna get fired. What do you think of that?" I said, "Well, it could be better." He stopped ringing things up and said, "Ma'am, I just said I'm probably going to get fired." I replied, kind of awkwardly because I wasn't really sure what he wanted from me, "Well, that's what I meant--that's not very good." 


So... am I right in thinking that this was a pretty ridiculous exchange? In the first place, I hate when people call me "ma'am," so he was not winning any points from the beginning. In the second place, he already wasn't winning any points from the beginning, because from the moment I got into his line, he was sighing and protesting and getting in small arguments with the husband of the woman in front of me (because the cashier, feeling pressured by their toddler's impatient yelling, had addressed the kid and told him he was going as fast as he could, and the husband said something like "Are you talking to my kid?"). 


Anyway. The guy was obviously having a horrible day, and the man in front of me was obviously not very sympathetic, and I did feel bad for the cashier. But by the time I left the register myself, I have to admit I was rolling my eyes, and more than a little bit glad to be free of him.