Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Ordinary Beauty

Oh, Laura Wiess, why do you have to keep making me either cry or at least tear up from your books?

Although perhaps I wouldn't say that Ordinary Beauty was so much on the masterpiece level as How It Ends, still this book was powerful past words on pages. And I think I can also say that its heroine, Sayre, was my favorite out of all four Laura Wiess books. Hanna from How It Ends occasionally annoyed me, in fact: because of the dynamics of that story, it wasn't necessary to believe in her and care for her as much as it was for Sayre. From early on, Sayre wins you over with what almost appears as bleak optimism as she trudges through snow and pain to not continue the cycle of hurt that made up her childhood.

As the book develops, there are quick and vague explanations of Sayre's past that eventually ease into full narration of her history and the people she has known. It's a perfect connection between past and present, between what Sayre admits about her life in the beginning and what she reveals in the end.

Naturally, it's another heartbreaking book. But the emergence that occurs in it is also very encouraging and very applicable: "ordinary beauty" is about seeing the wonderfulness of a simple, full day. It's about love and appreciation and about first seeing and then basking in the ordinary beauty: that is what ends the cycles of violence, hopelessness, flatness, and pain.

Monday, July 30, 2012

July Favorites

1) Fossil Piece - This piece I bought (at the Discount Gems & Minerals place in Sedona) actually wasn't the one I had in mind: that one was long gone. However, it is of the same variety (and rather difficult to photograph, hence the extreme close-up that reveals nothing of the actual shape of the piece). It helps satisfy my reaching for anything that reminds me of Primeval, just as I once reached out for all sorts of Medieval things because they reminded me of Middle-Earth.

2) Hair Milk - I tried a bit of this a couple of years ago, but had forgotten how great it is. It's formulated with more natural type of ingredients, and just a small amount added to wet hair brings out the small amount of curl my hair has and keeps it from turning too frizzy or bulky. I sidestep most hair products, but this one is worth using.

3) Banana Republic Shorts - I happened to come across an amazing sale at Banana Republic (okay, it was actually one of their outlet stores), so I picked up two pairs of shorts (probably I could/should have gotten a third). One is dark blue with a butterfly pattern, the other black with lace-like embroidery. Very happy purchases.

4) Tyrannosaurus Necklace - You may have caught sight of this necklace already in the latest of Connor & Abby's adventures. I discovered it on ModCloth (which is a rather cool site I also recently discovered), and of course I bought it because of Primeval. It's about three inches in size and has quite the detail in it. It may be bold (it's brass, so I'm looking forward to it tarnishing and getting less shiny), but isn't a dinosaur necklace cooler than a standard owl one?

5) Burt's Bees Lip Shimmer - Though the tinted lip balms are newer than the shimmers, I had actually never tried the shimmers. They have a bit more color and a tad of shine (but not too much), and also a bit of peppermint flavor that puts in mine Tarte's lip colors. I tried out the new color, Strawberry, which gives a happy and light pink. A great staple to have.

6) Goat Milk Soap - This soap came from a booth at a craft market, but you can also buy it online (though I would recommend buying a similar soap from a local source instead). I was most intrigued by the variety, Horchata, which means that the soap smells wonderfully of cinnamon. Though it's a little on the gooey-side, I otherwise love this soap--it makes for a nice face scrub, too.

7) Laura Wiess - There are few living authors I follow closely (as in, read all their new works), but this month I have officially added Laura Wiess to the list. She's quite the capable writer.

8) Zoya Nail Lacquer - I do like green, but I don't tend to wear very bright colors, so most green nail polish shades aren't quite right for me. But then I found this earthy shade by Zoya that hits just the right level. It also brushes on smoothly, making me willing to try more from Zoya in the future (I found the brand at Ulta).

9) Tarte Cheek Stain - Someone actually gave this one to me because she didn't like it much (I think because it wasn't long-lasting enough), but I have come to like it. This is my first cheek stain, and I of course love that it's by Tarte. The form is like a giant chap stick, so you can rub or dab it straight on or apply it with your fingers. I usually dab it so as to get a very subtle amount on (otherwise you can really bring out the red, which really isn't my makeup style). Applied this way, it gives a natural look, and I haven't noticed yet that it fades quickly.

10) Alpaca Wool Hat - I was certain I had already mentioned this hat, but apparently not. I found it at another cool site called Local Harvest (click on Shop, then Farm Crafts to get to the Clothing section). Usually I've been getting the vintage hats, but I thought I could make an exception for a friendly alpaca wool hat--it's supporting happy alpacas, right? Oh, and I've been trying to practice one of Hatter's hat tricks from Alice, but it's very difficult.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Hilly + Hannah = Hillywood?

Two days ago, sisters Hilly and Hannah Hindi of the Internet parody duo The Hillywood Show, of which I am very much a fan, released a new kind of video. Under the artist name "Hilly + Hannah," they released a music video to an original song, "Saturday Night," that is also available on iTunes; you can view the video by clicking here.

They revealed plans for this song months ago, and even then I wasn't sure what to think about it. Parodies and original songs? But they're certainly not the first YouTubers to release music on iTunes, and it's usually a good thing to try out new things--even if they don't turn out perfect, you can learn about what worked and what you did/didn't like about them. So while the song didn't turn out to be my favorite (I suspected it wouldn't be: Hilly and Hannah like hip hop--I don't really), I can respect and maybe even admire the experimentation and branching out.

But my disinterest in this new venture goes deeper than that, into the lyrics of the song and the form of the music video. You see, my love of The Hillywood Show (back when "Twilight Parody" was their only parody apart from the original episodes) grew, in many ways, from watching the behind the scenes videos and seeing how much fun Hilly and Hannah had putting the material together and how positive they seemed as people. That matters for my YouTube subscriptions: I like positive inspiration, if you will, even in my entertainment.

But this music video, while sleekly put together and all, just looks like a music video to me. It doesn't remind me of The Hillywood Show; I know that it isn't exactly a Hillywood production, but still . . . where is the connection to the minds behind the show and the video/song? And then there are the lyrics: they sound like standard hip hop lyrics to me, about dancing and dating/flirting. Is a "just dance" message it? I don't think I have anything against plain entertainment, but something of the wholesomeness, if you will, of Hillywood felt missing from this music video.

So while it was interesting to see something different, it's still going to be the parodies/behind the scenes that I look forward most to seeing.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Primeval: Shadow of the Jaguar

Moving right along in my backwards trek through the Primeval extra-adventure novels, I come to Shadow of the Jaguar, the predecessor of the three I have already read, The Lost Island, Extinction Event, and Fire and Water, and the last one left (for all that it is the first one chronologically and published). As I had failed to mention last time, Shadow of the Jaguar takes place between episodes 2.3 and 2.4, and The Lost Island follows immediately after this book.

And I can certainly say I enjoyed this one more than The Lost Island, which I would label the weakest of the four. While Shadow of the Jaguar, like the rest, has some random tidbits, it also has some explorations of character, particularly concerning the Cutter/Claudia Brown-->Jenny Lewis thing. While Cutter remains fairly close-mouthed about the issue (as he generally is about most topics) in the show, this book explores some of the things he may have been thinking--this is the type of extrapolation I had hoped to get from these books.

The plot comes to a pleasing, slightly unexpected climax at the end and is a good segue into the mythological connections that come up in Season 3. While Cutter and Jenny, along with one or two new characters, take most of the attention, there are also a few moments with Connor and Abby (oh, and Stephen--but I mostly lost interest in his character after the end of Season 1). With Lester, too--you have to love that he gets the last words in the book (and what wonderful Lester-esque words they are).

So not too bad. Definitely worth reading for the Primeval addict. But now I am left sad that all my four candy books are finished.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Secret of Moonacre

Netflix seems to think I love sci-fi, children's movies, and period dramas with a strong female lead. I would certainly never put my tastes into so simple terms, but maybe Netflix has learned a thing or two about what I like: I usually end up enjoying the things Netflix thinks I will like.

Although Netflix nudged that I would quite like The Secret of Moonacre, I added it to my Instant Queue rather carelessly: it didn't look particularly noteworthy or much beyond a "children's/family movie." And perhaps its plot wasn't entirely things I hadn't seen before. But there are three things that can tip the scale on a movie like this to a favorable position: good actors, good sets, and good costumes.

These three things can wrap you up, keep you in the story, and allow you to follow along with it as if it is entirely new. The Secret of Moonacre has a touch of The Secret Garden, Miss Potter, and something slightly of Bridge to Terebithia (this being also because the two share the same director). Maybe even almost something Lemony Snicket (it could be the costumes). It's a bit of fantasy, a bit of whimsy, a bit of storytelling.

It's simple, but still layered. It's fantasy, but logical and grounded (I mean this in a good way . . . ). It's perhaps a "children's/family movie," but it's nicely put together, and that makes all the difference. It's a movie to sit back and smile out upon the imagination with, quietly and contentedly.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Hobbit Production Diary 8 Reaction

If you haven't seen it yet, you can view Peter Jackson's new production video here. And, yes, it has spoilers.

There were three main things that caught my attention in this video: Radagast, Andy Serkis, and Beorn's Hall.

I remember hearing something or other about how Radagast would be in the movie, but probably tried to store away the info outside of memory (wanting to not know everything about the movie beforehand). But the brief moments in the vlog showed an actor approaching his character in as tactile a way as does Ian McKellen and a home that is as decorated a set as Bag End. Looking forward to seeing more.

And it looks like Andy Serkis has been having a good time as the second unit director; if any of the actors had this role, it seems only fitting that he be the one. I loved the shirts some of the crew were wearing, emblazoned with the words "Andy's Flying Serkis."

I literally gasped when they showed Beorn's Hall, of which I hadn't previously seen anything (I can't say for sure if anyone else had--I've been staying away from most of the production/character photos). Maybe it's just because I've spent so much time on Beowulf in a few of my classes, but it was amazing to see this Hall. What is a relatively simple space became awesome--and that bodes well for the scenes with Beorn.

My curiosity grows.

Monday, July 23, 2012

How It Ends

Some books are like miniature drills, starting by putting little scratches in your skin and then moving on to inflict deep sores that throb and ooze tears hidden tears. It's a flowing process, a painful one, and one you will literally have to emerge from when you close that last page.

Before How It Ends, Laura Wiess brought us Leftovers and Such a Pretty Girl. (Her latest book, Ordinary Beauty, also came out last year, but I'm not sure I'll get to it before the summer is over.) In all three of these, there is uniqueness, starkness, and such emotion. How It Ends is the longest at around 350 pages and covers such ground that you won't want to speed through it too quickly.

It starts fairly simply, switching between the perspectives of teenage Hanna and her aging neighbor Helen. There are some parallels and contrasts between them, some touching moments, some harsher moments. But somewhere around the halfway point, something changes.

Layers come in, endless depths strive into view, and any and all emotions plunge into your mind through the written words. Because nothing is glossed over (sensitive readers be aware), a complete life picture can be created. You can choose many focuses through which to look at this book: feminism, youth and aging, death, sickness, romantic love, familial love, friendship, generation gaps, connections between generations, nature, medicine, school, parenthood, hidden histories, human rights, animal rights. It's fairly dense, but also so easy to read.

The language in this book is perfect. The characters' voices are their voices. Some parts read almost like a journal, some more like one person speaking to another, and each style is appropriate and fitting for each section's content. This book is stunning.

Laura Wiess is an artist.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Dream On

You know what I would love? I would love it if a Primeval movie finally became green lit and Hannah Spearritt and Andrew-Lee Potts were in it and if The Hillywood Show parodied the movie. I would be overwhelmed by excitement if such things came into being (which they won't, which is why I must "dream on").

Of course, a Primeval movie is a possibility. If Primeval: New World (the Canadian spin-off) does well and they get a good script and director, it's probably very possible. But it probably wouldn't feature the original British cast--unless fans all rally together and show how much we love the original cast, maybe? While The Hillywood Show has worked with one or two TV shows (The Vampire Diaries and 21 Jump Street), it is unlikely that they would do another one that does not have at least a medium amount of popularity in the US. So the original series is pretty much out--New World isn't a possibility, either, until it at least gets picked up by a US network (seriously, shouldn't that have happened by now?). But I think if a movie did happen, it might turn out well enough that it would have a good theatre presence even with people previously unfamiliar with either the original or spin-off show. But even then, I don't know if Hillywood would choose it: the CG creature element poses an obvious problem.

But if such a parody happened, here is what it would be fun to see. Hillary I would love to see playing Helen, Jess, and/or Connor. Hannah would be great both as Abby and Emily. Drew Lorentz could come in to play Lester or Matt or Becker. (And they could paint Bartok [their mouse-like chihuahua who was in both the Harry Potter and Hunger Games parodies] green to play Rex...just kidding.) Actually, it's the first two castings I like most: Hilly as Helen and Hannah as Abby. For Helen, Hilly could continue with some of Katherine's "half evil" character from "The Vampire Diaries Parody." And Hannah could take Abby's kickboxing and turn it into a dance number, especially if they focused on Episode 2.4 (the infamous mer-creature episode). If they did that episode, Aria Love Jackson (who was Bonnie in "The Vampire Diaries Parody") could come back to play Caroline. And now that I'm on the subject of that parody, Nick Strong (who played Damon) could probably pass for Connor.

Sigh. I'm ridiculous.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Nick Willing is a smart guy. I have come to that conclusion.

First I watched Tin Man, enjoyed it more than I expected. Then came Alice, which I liked and may or may not have ended up buying, as well. Now we have Neverland.

The three of these were made-for-TV miniseries, based, respectively and loosely, on The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan. A recipe for disaster, right? Well, not really, not if the acting passes the test and the minds behind it all know what they're doing. And Nick Willing knows what he's doing. If you listen to the commentary on Alice, you can hear him talk about all the tiny details and all the ways he incorporated inspiration from the original story while still taking things in a different direction but somehow still doing something very similar. It's a delicate balance, and one you will have no chance of achieving if you don't understand exactly how the original story works.

Spoilers below.

Brave: Lacking Bravery

I expect most people who wanted to see it have watched Brave now, but if you haven't and do not want to hear spoilers, stop reading.

Most of the reviews I glanced at before watching said that it was a good movie, but not a great one--that it would have been a very good effort from another studio, but wasn't as much as they had expected from Pixar. But unlike, it seems, most people, I never developed that awe of Pixar. Toy Story is good, of course, and I can't say Up wasn't, too. But Pixar as an entity hasn't amazed me with perfection.

And that's exactly what I thought of Brave. The first portion of the movie was more or less "usual." I thought it was finally getting better when Merida met with the witch for the first time . . . but most of what followed that scene didn't reach very high levels. And I never felt that Merida went through much of a transformation in the movie: she just makes a mistake, has a tiff with her mother, and then decides to do better. It's all very little.

Okay, it's nice to see Brave taking the unwanted marriage plot and giving it a new turn, turning it into a mother/daughter relationship story. But it could have been better. The whole bear thing, for instance, could have been more symbolic. You have the mother bear idea and the bear as a figure of power and a sort of kingliness (both Beowulf and King Arthur's names possibly contain the word "bear" in them). But instead two characters just randomly turned into bears: why? Because the witch has a one-potion-solves-all fix that turns everyone into bears, no matter what specific wish they ask her for? Who is this witch, anyway? How did Mordu meet her? What is her connection to the will-o'-the-wisps?

While I'm at it, was it really necessary for Merida to sew the tapestry back together to break the spell? I thought that she was going to sew it back together right away, find that it didn't break the spell, then realize (in a Wizard of Oz sort of way) that the power was within her, she just had to heal the bond with her mother, not the physical tapestry. (Oh, and why didn't she sew the tapestry at the castle--why did she wait until she got to her mother in the forest? If you're short on time before the sun rises, why would you waste time riding across the woods? Unless the reason is that she was trying to simultaneously protect her mother from all the warriors--but she should have known, anyway, that the only way to save her was to change her back.)

And why was Merida's archery emphasized so much in the beginning only to fade away?

I suppose the movie is supposed to show the truth behind mythologies, how they were formed and how we can use them. But it felt very shallow to me. It felt more like a TV movie than one to see in theatres or give too much attention. It needed more depth, and I think a fairly small amount of tweaking could have given it that. Without that, though, it's fading fast from my memory.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Earth 2 & Anti-Sci-Fi

When I was in middle school, we had a prompt on a standardized test to write a science fiction story. I chose the "anti-science fiction" route: when "I" arrived at a new planet in the story, I had to set about pioneer-style tasks as part of the colonization effort. So it was technically sci-fi because it took place away from earth, but the content was a little different. Similar is Stephenie Meyer's The Host, which is categorized as sci-fi because it involves life from other planets, but also includes a great deal of people living in caves in the middle of the desert, where they perform such wonderful actions as growing food.

The mid-90's TV show Earth 2 also follows this type of progression. The premise is that a group of colonists are traveling to a new planet (now that Earth isn't much of a livable environment anymore); there are complications with the landing, though, and they must now travel across the planet to their intended destination over a series of months. It's definitely sci-fi terrain, but the episodes show some of the things Star Trek, etc. don't spend much time on. There are colonists in Star Trek, but the show only visits them in passing, whereas Earth 2 is about their daily trials. There is a bit of mystery, a smattering of cultural and psychological questions, and a nice combination of futuristic technology and pioneering methods (I love VR by the way: it might actually be better than the Holodeck.)

Some of the episodes are good; overall, it is a show worth watching, and one that I don't think has aged terribly in nearly two decades. (It's more than obvious it wasn't made today, but it isn't very "dated.") Some episodes are of less interest than others, but it isn't as if even the giant Star Trek can say otherwise.

It wasn't until a third/halfway through the show that I started to connect with the characters, first Julia and then Morgan (which meant that I also started to like Bess and Alonzo, naturally). Ironically, I had little interest in Devon, who is the most like the main character--Episode 17 "The Boy Who Would Be Terrian King" helped show me why I hadn't quite taken to her character. But what's nice about this show is that the focus is spread throughout the group: each character has a moment, and they all have some kind of importance to what's going on.

Admittedly, some aspects of the "living planet" premise start to drag or feel too far-fetched--this premise is interesting the first time or two you come across it (it's also in Avatar), but can quickly feel forced. So you can't over-think the show. And I don't find myself expecting to watch it again any time soon: I enjoyed it and would have liked a second season, but I never reached the addiction level on this one.

One last note: if you start watching this show on Netflix, you will want to know that the last two episodes are out of order (though that was apparently the order they aired in). What is listed as the third to last episode is actually the finale (can't you tell by the cliffhanger it ends on?). For more info on this, read this Wikipedia page.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Adventures of Connor & Abby: Part 6

There have been a good amount of dinosaur-related items around me lately, which has been confusing Abby and Connor.

First, I had to assure them that this triceratops was, in truth, only a cookie. It took a moment for them to believe me.

Then they caught sight of what seemed a miniature Tyrannosaurus; Connor tried to shield Abby from its sharp teeth.

But once again, it was only my new necklace. Once I had informed them of this, the two started in on an examination of it. Abby was concerned that real dinosaurs had been harmed in the making of it, and Connor wanted to make sure it wouldn't "come back to life."

Friday, July 13, 2012

On the Coming of the Rain

I tend to say that, essentially, I don't like rain or clouds--I'm Arizonan, after all: I have to embrace the sun. But storms, storms are another matter.

They come with irony, in the heat of the summer. One day will be ten above a hundred; the next will pour down the water balloons of the sky.

The rain may be brief, and it may be light, or it may be ridiculously heavy--sometimes there will even be bucket-sized drops of rain for all of one minute. It's quite hilarious; it's temperamental and charactered.

And then there is the thunder, of course. Big booms in the distance or loud banging from right beneath your toes. Lightning, either in flashes or bolts. I have seen, much to my delight, practically the entire southern sky decked out with veins of lightning, handfuls of bolts skirting around the horizon. I have my affection for the sun, but thunderstorms are awesome.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Primeval: The Lost Island

Since I had already, unintentionally, read the last two books of Primeval spin-offs (Fire and Water and Extinction Event) in reverse order, I decided that it would make sense to continue this order and read book two, The Lost Island, next rather than book one. The advantage to reading the set in the wrong order is that I have discovered that order doesn't particularly matter--provided, of course, you have watched at least Seasons One through Three first. There are minor allusions to what went on in previous books, but nothing that will spoil your reading experience.

The Lost Island, at about 220 pages, is shorter than the other two books I read, and its plot is also the least complicated. In fact, it seems a very skimpy plot--it seems like it is building up, but it never really becomes much. It's a lot of walking, rain, cold, shooting creatures, getting eaten by creatures. Then at page 221, it just ends; it doesn't even feel like the team completed a mission--it's more like they just decided it was over.

A note on the violence issue, which I touched on when I talked about Fire and Water. In Extinction Event, most of the gorier stuff happened to the creatures, which meant there was some detachment to it. But many people are injured and mutilated in The Lost Island; it does seem generally heavier than the show's violence, but none of it bothered me.

What did bother me was that there was some language in this one. There were probably a few words here and there in the other two books, but this time they were scattered on much thicker. Admittedly, many of the characters were soldiers and the plot did involve a lot of hiking in the cold and rain, as I mentioned, so I suppose a little language just comes with the setting. But it just didn't feel Primeval-y to me (neither did Cutter being slightly borderline tipsy around the beginning of the book).

All of this said, I think it's obvious this was the book I enjoyed least so far. While it had a couple of character moments I enjoyed, a few thrills, and the occasional plot interest, most of it didn't feel up to par--I would have liked to see it taken a little further.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Sisters in Sanity: Gayle Forman

Since I enjoyed Gayle Forman's If I Stay and its sequel Where She Went so much, it was time I read one of her earlier works, as well. Sisters in Sanity is from 2007, and while I wouldn't say it is as wonderful a book as those, still it shows the development of things I enjoyed in their pages.

The basic plot is about a girl who has lost her mother and whose dad/stepmother send her to a boarding school for troubled teens that turns out to have the opposite of helpful counseling/fair living conditions; she makes friends with a couple of other girls at the school, and they help each other out and keep their spirits up by knowing that they all care. While some of the school's conditions made me indignant at the staff, somehow it became an enjoyable novel to read. There is a lightness of spirit and also a strength of character in it. It isn't so much about uncovering a harsh school (the school featured is fictional, though the author's note does point out, along with this fact, that there are schools out there not giving the proper conditions to actually help people), but about gaps and overcoming them.

There are the obvious generational gaps, the gaps between categories (similar to cliques), gaps between people in the know and people who are ignorant, gaps between those who have found healing and those who are on the way and those still in denial. This book is about overcoming whatever it is that comes to trouble you by relying on yourself, but also by confiding in love and companionship.

It's a short read--I read it over two days. Honestly, I didn't want to spend more time on it, though it is a nice piece of work. Recommended for fans of Gayle Forman's other works and readers who enjoy a good teen story.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Primeval: Extinction Event

Two months ago, I posted my thoughts on Fire and Water, which I had purchased without realizing that it was in fact the fourth separate-adventure Primeval book. You can read that post by clicking here.

I have backed up now to what I thought was the first book, Extinction Event by Dan Abnett. But, no, I messed up the order again--this is the third (out of four). That's embarrassing. Anyway, certain things I said for Fire and Water also apply here; mainly, that my interest is first in Primeval and only second on the book itself. But somehow I think I enjoyed Extinction Event more (though it's difficult to say after two months from when I read the other), likely for two reasons.

The first reason is that this book I think relied more on suspense and a sometimes eerie setting, whereas the other was from the start a little more of a fast-paced, in your face type of thing (not saying that's necessarily bad--it's just different). The plot of this book was very interesting; I loved where they took the idea of anomalies. And Baba Yaga is utterly brilliant (just read the book and you'll find out what I'm talking about)--I wish I knew who first came up with that comparison (it might have been the author, or it might have been someone else). This character is so spooky and often times so subtle--wonderful.

The second reason is that it more often features the characters I like more. While Connor and Abby (you do know by now that they're my favorites, right?) were in Fire and Water, but the sections they were in often focused more on Sarah. If the book had a main character, it was Danny. But Extinction Event (since it takes place right between Seasons 1 and 2) features Cutter and also has a bit of Helen and Jenny. And I would say there is more of Connor and Abby in this one--at least of them taking part in the action.

I think I may have just come across the reason I enjoyed this book more: it echoes the earlier tone of Primeval the show more than Fire and Water does. It's more about observing nature, dealing with the anomalies and learning about them, simultaneously being fascinated by and trying to escape unharmed from creatures, a few jokes, character relations. It's light and fun, while still having the entertainment of a measure of ultimate danger.

Now the question is, do I read a different book first or do I move on to read Shadow of the Jaguar and The Lost Island, which are sitting on my shelf waiting for me (figuratively: I don't really have a bookshelf anymore, as I've mentioned)?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Celebrating the Americans

With the Fourth of July being tomorrow, here is a list of a fewAmerican authors/works I have found notable. Some are expected, while others are a bit lesser known. As usual, the list is in no particular order.

1) The Great Gatsby - I would just say F. Scott Fitzgerald, but I haven't yet read any of his other books--I know I'll have to make the time to eventually since this book at least is amazing. The first time I read it, I didn't even care what it was about: the language is just stunning, while still remaining simple. Then you can move into themes, of hope, of loss, etc., and also of the American Dream (though, of course, there is no single interpretation of this book, which is one of the things that makes it so wonderful).

2) Little House on the Prairie - This series of books I find very valuable: they are almost like folk tales of pioneers. Some things in them are based purely on fact, some are adjusted, and some may simply be based on stories heard during that time. However the case is, these books set up a story both loving and somewhat sad of what these prairie days were like.

3) Edgar Allan Poe - Though not the most uplifting of artists, Poe was talented enough that British anthologies often try to steal him as one of their own. But, no, even a couple centuries ago Americans had talent, too.

4) Gone with the Wind - I know, I haven't yet finished the book (and of course I'm waiting until I do to watch the movie), but it's finely written and centers on one of the great American tragedies, the Civil War. It's considered by many a must-read for a reason.

5) The Wizard of Oz - I suppose I'm actually referring more to the movie than the book here. Going back to the idea of mythologies, this story has become something of an American mythology. There are so many references made to it, even by people who haven't seen the movie ten times. Its story and characters have entered the collective consciousness, and that is no small accomplishment.

6) Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison - This is a very depressing book, but also a very good one that I think ought to be read more--it's completely a classic, in my view. It handles problems of identity, of fitting into a culture, of being accepted and not being accepted, of making one's way in the world. Specifically, its character is a black man struggling with his life and career around mid-20th century; but it is as much relevant to any human being who has lived or tried to live.

7) Hmmm, I can't quite think of a seventh, though I'll probably think of ten more in half hour's time. I suppose I could always list the Declaration of Independence, couldn't I?

Monday, July 2, 2012

On the Meaning of Art

Often I say that I have the same taste in books, music, and movies, probably with art included, too. I feel like I am always responding to the same types of things, whether in the form of a Flyleaf song or a Charlotte Bronte novel. Things may appear very different, but they may have different coloring when viewed by my eyes.

And so this brings me to the origins of art and also to its purpose. I have come very much to dislike Oscar Wilde's statement in the Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray that "all art is meaningless" and its only value is in its beauty and aestheticism or some such thing. I disagree: art has meaning to the creator because its creation is a process (one that often comes with healing or other such products), and art also illuminates anything from an individual's experience to a society's particular (or not so particular) traits. All societies have art, in one form or another. And even tasks like planting seeds and building a basic chair have art to them.

So when it comes to art like the first four forms I mentioned (the usual books, music, movies, and paintings/sculptures/etc.), how do I like art to arise? Should it come free of itself? Should it come with intention and plans? Should it have a specific purpose or message? Should it be a question?

I think it can be any of these things, or any combination of them. Some art is very purposeful, like a documentary probably is. The director sets out with the intention to enlighten the world about a particular subject, but probably also learns some new things himself along the way (and some would argue that the thing the director learned is what made his documentary art). Or you could reference Tolkien, who set out in The Lord of the Rings to create a British mythology; but even he, he who liked to be in absolute control, built off of things like languages that had been forming in his mind for years.

That's why I think "expression" is the perfect way to describe art. An author may not know what his story means while he is writing it, but it's flowing out of his mind so that he must let it take physical form, just as human beings have always found a way to communicate no matter in what language. Somethings expression is to a certain aim and sometimes it isn't; most often, I think it is both.