Saturday, January 5, 2013

Revisting the 1920s - So Not My Scene. . .But I Dig Gatsby

I figured since Baz Luhrman's spectacle of The Great Gatsby was coming out soon, well soonish, I 'd take this opportunity to re-read the novel.  The first and only time I read it was my junior year of high school.  I remember my teacher discussing the green chimera of lights,  Doctor T.J. Eckleburg's bespectacled and judgy-mcjudgy eyes, and Daisy's feigned ditsy-ness.  At 16 none of this made any sense to me.

Images via CBCbooks; ScreenRant

I remember standing at the counter in my home, out in the middle of what can only be described as "the Central Valley of ashes," scrupulously reading over a handout that defined theme, motif, and symbols.  Nope, still nothing because in my mind I saw alien abductions with regard to this green beacon, a dorky old dude with round-shaped glasses, and a dumb blond (turns out she's a brunette) cheerleader married to the brutish football quarterback.  And yet some how I passed the class and went on to nab a Master's degree in English many moons later.  I'm as flabbergasted as you are.

Image via: Tumblr
How I see Dr. T.J. Eckleburg
  
In this revisit to West and East Egg, I remembered all those academic tidbits and when I came across them I found myself not conjuring up images of aliens or Letterman jackets (although the Doc was still a dorky old dude with outdated glasses); and nor did I stop to think about theme, motif, or symbols - I just embraced the story and Nick's astute narration and analysis.

According to the back cover of the book it's an "exemplary novel of the Jazz Age," but I didn't get that then or now.  I probably certainly need to study up on what constitutes the Jazz Age because I couldn't re-create it in my head whilst reading the novel. Or I suppose my idea of the Jazz Age is loads different than what's presented in The Great Gatsby and that's not a slight against the novel, rather an embarrassing admission of my own lack of knowledge. 



Really it was never a period I garnered much interest in.  The Victorian era or the 1930s are much more my caliber, which might say lil' something about me...ha!

So, all that stuff I learned in school aside or perhaps all that stuff I learned in school included, I came to appreciate the bittersweet nostalgia in Gatsby's unfortunate plight for the girl that got away; I felt sorry for and annoyed at Daisy, but her self-awareness and the societal constraints that bound her allowed me to understand the complexity of her character; and Nick's choice to move back to his small town roots after uncovering the rot and disgusting immorality of the upper class made me like him a great deal more than I did the first time I read the novel.

Nick Carraway.  I like him.  He's endearing and curious.  His excursion through the East was so telling and heartbreaking.  He's a fascinating narrator who goes out into the world with fresh eyes and a reserved judgement only to find a world so distasteful he leaves it for good without remorse.  Oh yes, I like him.  He's so familiar.  An inexperienced youth going out there to exuberantly soak up all he can, but ends up partying and partying pretty hard.  He is at first transfixed by all the glitz and excess, but soon realizes this lifestyle is too much air and no substance.  Less is more.  And so he packs up to head back to a more morally adept state.  But even then, he knows the world has changed.   Funny, I didn't notice him before; especially since he's the one sharing.

Image via: NYPL

I don't remember discussing the American Dream in regards to this novel (which I'm sure we did, but I must have tuned it out), but I get it now because even today there are constant re-boots of the American Dream that inevitably never turns out the way we envisioned it to.  But that's the thing about dreams; they're ephemeral, hallucinatory, and often times out of reach.  I believe this novel is a solid reminder of that and not to be a "Debbie-downer" about it, but that sometimes happiness, love, and beauty isn't some grand spectacle across the bay, but rather sitting comfortably right next to you.  It's no wonder this work has endured for so long - I mean, gosh, what college graduate couldn't relate?!  
                   

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thxgivin' Periodical Flippin'

Because of my insane procrastination and because I feel like no one else is reading these reviews anyway, I'm gonna post the reviews I write for my library's website on my own website - or blog.  Tomato, Towmawto.  And since the cornucopias are bursting with autumnal edibles, here's a Thanksgiving review.  In case you're wondering what type of library I work in, please see my About Me section (fingers crossed I've updated it).

Food & Wine is a scrumptious periodical brimming with creatively clever culinary concoctions and symbiotic wine pairings.  The November 2012 edition is no less inspiring as its predecessors.  Its Thanksgiving emphasis highlights 3 turkeys, 20 gastronomically delightful side dishes, and 9 mouth-watering desserts.   The word “YUM” comes to mind whilst flipping through this magazine.

And if the Thanksgiving spread wasn’t enough (FILM STUDENTS this one’s for you!) there’s also a charming interview with visionary filmmaker David Lynch (pg. 8).  Find out some fun/funny facts about him, like what draws him to diners, why he forbids cooking in his household, and what his feelings are on granulated sugar; kooky stuff, but so Lynchian.

Image via: The Moderne Press


There’s also a great section on “Trendspotting” (pg. 33).  Here’s a big hint: FINGER FOODS!  The section on “America’s Best Little Food Towns” gives readers a look at 5 hidden hamlets that offer unique eateries (pg. 52).  One of my favorite articles breaks down the tricky business of wine pairing (pg. 136).  Finally, check out the section that features 10 recipes from a group of incredibly talented up-and-coming cooks (pg. 177).

Whether you’re a culinary student or simply enjoy looking at succulent photos of food (and let's face it who doesn't?!), this magazine is definitely for you!  From its festive columns to its exquisite images this is not a library item to miss.  Come flip through the pages of the current issue of Food & Wine and feel free to check out any of the back issues for take-home inspiration!

I feel I should also note that although the cover of this magazine and several articles highlight the consumption of animals, I do not partake in the consumption of animals.  That being said, I can appreciate awesome photography and well-written articles.  Plus, I'm a HUGE David Lynch fan.  And now I'm off to sink my teef into a nice hunk of tofurky! 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Bitchin' & Guffawin'

So, I wanted my next post (i.e., THIS post) to be of lighter fare.

See, I was finding it hard to write about something that didn't deal with death.  The deaths of prolific figures, common people, pets, and even a glorious local tree seemed to haunt me.  I find as I get older (which wouldn't ya know, my elders warned me this would happen) death affects me more and more; emotionally as well as existentially.

But I don't want this blog to be lugubrious.  Death, loss, and sadness are a part of life and at times definitely worth writing about; however, the same emotional lamenting can go from inspirational to rather insipid to the point of extreme irascibility or absurd comedy pretty quickly. 

As of late, I'm finding it harder and harder to keep a straight face when it comes to angry, bitter posts that hardly invoke sympathy, but most certainly sounds like whining or as the current phrase states, "first-world problems."  And if you're over the age of 18 (ok, maybe 25) it's just so pathetic and yes, comical.  Here are some of the range of posts I've been seeing: the "feel sorry for me" post, the "people suck, so feel sorry for me" post, the "school is so hard, feel sorry for me" post, and the "here's my bad depressing poetry, feel sorry for me" post.  Really I could go on, but you get the point.  Basically all these posts boil down to "Me, me, me, me, me, me, me!"  Vomit cocktail, anyone?  Whatever happened to that age-old custom of wallowing alone?

Image via AgencyLogic

Ah, yes.  Well, you all agree with me though, right?

But I digress.  Enough bitching.  I wanna talk about what's making me guffaw day in and day out these days . . . South Park.

That's right, folks, I've hunkered into my inner high school student and nostalgically picked up this infectious, scatalogical, and satirical gem once again.  I've always liked this show since watching it in my high school days, but let's face it I didn't get the humor like I get the humor now.  I suppose I should give myself some credit and say in those days I got slightly more than just the toilet humor, but I gotta be honest it was definitely slight.  With a little experience and maturity, I can now appreciate this witty and, heck let's just admit it, endearing show.

Image via MTV Geek

I'm completely smitten with those kids.  Arguably, each one of them can easily represent a person in our lives.  Dennis Lim adroitly describes them as "Stan (relatively well-adjusted ringleader), Kyle (Jewish, slightly neurotic), Cartman (fat, easily provoked, shockingly profane), and Kenny (permanently hooded, completely incomprehensible, prone to grisly accidents)" (Lim 3).  Lim's character breakdown is right on.  Again, these are very familiar types.  I mean, who can't relate to at least one of these kids?  We all have a Cartman in our life; whether it's an overbearing sibling or that work friend you endure just to pass the time.  I think I relate the most to Kyle Broflovski (minus the Jewish part and the hair - oh, and the gender bit.  Also, I think he's way smarter than me - but I strive to be as smart as him).  Here are just a few of my favorite images of that slightly neurotic Jew:

Image via deviantART

I'm all about equal-opportunity comedy because let's face it, people take themselves WAY too seriously (see aforementioned bitching above), so it's nice to watch a show dedicated to knocking such austerity down with a good ol' fashioned fart.  That's not to say this show is simply lowbrow and crude.  I'd argue it's rather complex in its comic conventions (re: "Best Friends Forever;" season 9 ep 4) and even heartwarming at times (re: "Ike's Wee Wee;" season 2 ep 3).  And what's more, it's a show you can go back to over and over again for laughs, nostalgia, wit, and affection. 

Image via collective rambling

Ah, lightness achieved.





References

Lim, Dennis. "Television: Lowbrow and Proud." The Independent, 29 March 1998. Web. 15 Sept. 2012.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

That's Right, Dudes Can Read This Too

Nota bene: please check out the Purpose section of this blog for a little background regarding this post.

Truth be told, I’m not one for memoirs. I don’t trust them. The ability these memoirists have to remember EVERYTHING amazes me—amazes me to the point of disbelief. It’s weird because I trust novels—that’s right, fiction—more than memoirs. Also, I find novels so much more captivating. I’m not interested in hearing about a real person’s breakfast habits, awkward college years, or delightfully/disastrously dysfunctional families. I mean, how can I really believe in his/her striking transformation, philosophical epiphanies, or sparkly transcendence when I don’t even know this person?! I’m just not buying it.

Of course I’ve probably only read something like 4 memoirs, so that’s probably not the best assumption of ALL memoirs in existence. But after I read Tina Fey’s BossyPants (which I found mediocre at best—I know, here come the stones), I counted myself out. It just wasn’t my genre of literature. So I dove, head first, into fantasy fiction. Oh yeah, high brow stuff.

But then there was a shift in my attitude towards memoirs or at least one memoir in particular. See, an awful no good fall to my knees shake my fist at the frackin’ sky event happened.

My dear friend’s baby was stillborn.

Now, anyone who knows me knows how I feel about kids or at least think they do because let’s face it viewpoints change the older one gets. Basically, kids just scare the crap outta me; specifically babies. But as my friends kept producing them the more I wanted to hear their birthing stories. The more I wanted to hear about the progression in their newly formed lives. The more I wanted to meet their little sweet extensions. It’s as if I was facing my fear. Plus, I like the idea of being their mom’s unhip friend that comes around and talks nonsensically; all the while creating a slight niche in this little person’s life.

So when I got the phone call from my friend’s sister with the news of that devastating event, I fumbled as one does when comprehension fails, when non-belief cripples, and when not knowing what to do but wanting to do EVERYTHING causes one to climb walls. Because I truly was looking forward to meeting this little guy. Because I missed him. Because I loved his name. Because I wanted to give him things. Because his parents are such awesome folks. Because the rest of his family is a force to be reckoned with. And I grieved for him, his family, his parents, and hardest of all, I grieved for his mom. {I’m so sorry this happened to you. I’m so, so, so clawingly, achingly sorry. I wanted nothing but the absolute BEST for you. And I, lump in my throat, miss him so much. Not as much as you, I know, but believe me it’s up there.}

In an effort to understand, I went to the web and read countless forum posts. As sad and heart wrenching as these women’s experiences are their words are also a great source of inspiration, compassion, and support. I was actually quite shocked at how many women are out there grappling with the same unfortunate loss as my friend. This isn’t some Victorian era only happenstance. No, it unfortunately happens a lot. And most of the time for no reason at all. These forums and my friend’s experience brought on a whole new sense of awareness for me. So when she began posting quotes from a memoir she keeps with her always, I didn’t even think about its genre. I simply went to the Sacramento Public Library’s online catalog, found it was available at my branch of choice, drove after work, checked it out, and read it straight through in a few short hours.

I could tell that the copy of Elizabeth McCracken’s An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination had never been checked out before because it opened in a way only new books opened: a bit hesitant in allowing me to open its pages and soften its spine, but making itself all that more enticing to devour. And devour I did. Twice. My own copy is in the mail, but until then I’ll put a little more wear on the Library’s copy.

That’s right, a memoir has taken hold of me so completely I will forever sing its praises. McCracken’s story is a sad beautiful mixture of heart swelling moments. Moments that I can lose myself in, laugh at, and hiccuppingly cry over. I believe her. She doesn’t sugarcoat: “This is the happiest story in the world with the saddest ending.” I (and this may sound weird to say) can relate to her. Her declarative spinsterhood, her explanatory stack of cards, and what she does after the baby clothes arrived from England. I know I didn’t go through the same ordeal as she did, but I would certainly react in very similar ways as she did in several of her moments. I imagine my friend did—does. Her language is so telling and bittersweet: “You move on from it, but the death will never disappear from view. . . The frivolous parts of your personality, stubborner than you’d imagined, will grow up through the cracks of your soul.” Her foray into what seems like an impassable wilderness (to use a phrase from my current fantasy read Wildwood) endeared me to my friend even more than I already was. {I’m gonna take a cue from Lib and send you many heart kisses. And know that I pretty much send them to you daily maybe even hourly if you wanna get technical.}

I’m so happy her story found its way to my good friend. She deserves this amazingly well written piece of memoir literature (her favorite kind btw). And really I think everyone should read this magnificent book; regardless of whether you know my friend or not because this is a book for anyone who is pregnant, who knows someone who is pregnant, has friends/relatives with kids, is a boyfriend, is a husband (that’s right, dudes can read this too), and people who have no taste for memoirs.

I just feel like something this beautifully written about a rather uncommonly common and dauntingly tragic circumstance should be shared. It’s transformative in the way that novels are to me. Maybe it helps that she’s a novelist? In any case, please read it. At least 7 Sac Library branches have it on the shelf and if none of them are near you – interlibrary loan it! (Which you can do, sitting on your butt at home, via their website as well as apply for a library card. BAM! – libraries are totes AWESOMESAUCE.)



[I know what you’re thinking (assuming you get this far): for a gal who doesn’t like memoirs/memoirists she’s sure spouting off as if she wants to be one/write one. But let me clear: no, I do not. I’m not even a writer (which maybe you could tell, parentheticals and all), so please don’t think this as my entrance into the literary world. I was simply motivated to share my reaction, to explain myself, and pass on the aforementioned title. This piece of writing (yeah I just cringed even writing that) is for me and you (even if you’re not tagged) and most definitively for her.]

McCracken, Elizabeth. An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination.  New York : Back Bay Books, 2010. Print