Sunday, July 24, 2011

The blogpost that wasn't (or, a review of Branaugh's Twelfth Night)

Today's post was going to be a review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2. However, I have been sick all weekend--I think I ate some funny crab cake--and not up to the effort. I have literally been closeted in my room all of Saturday, only emerging for the evening meal. I get extremely sour when sick (in terms of temperment, not smell), and my darkened room was transformed into the Bear Cave of Bitchiness. Far more pleasant for everyone if I didn't come out...

Whilst in the Bear Cave, when not curled into a ball of migraine misery, I was watching Twelfth Night and editing The Book. I made a feeble attempt at writing more of The Book, but gave up when my neurons started screaming after half a page. 

Branaugh's Twelfth Night is pretty good, I guess, but it's really weirdly shot for a movie. The set is very stage-like, not really movie-like at all--it looks like a set, whereas most movies try to disguise the fact that their set is a set. If that makes sense. There was an eyebrow-raising moment where the maid was sweeping up the fake snow and I was like, ok, we're sweeping fake snow? Wtf? I think that may have been a concious decision, though, because they also do some other things that are very stage-like. For example, Viola and other characters take lines and monologues out to the audience. Non-theatre-major translation: they talk directly to the camera.

This is pretty typical for theatre and especially for Shakespeare, but not at all for a movie. Movies like to keep that proscenium-stage feel of distance, because they try to create a reality separate from the viewers' reality. Usually when Shakespeare is adapted for film, monologues and asides that might have been said to a theater audience are done in voiceover. For example, Branaugh does the "more than kin and less than kind" aside as a voiceover in his version of Hamlet. For something like Twelfth Night that breaks the fourth wall (references the fact that it's a play) with lines like "If this were played upon a stage right now, I would condemn it as an improbable fiction!" it seems silly to try to pretend that it isn't a play. You get a little shock when Viola turns to the camera and seems to look you in the eye, but that's part of the experience.

Anyway, the acting is mostly wonderful. Viola, Olivia, and Orsino are the best, in my opinion. Watching the movie has been fun because I first saw the play put on by a college group--and the college production was, dare I say it, better than this movie version. Except for perhaps the Fool Feste; I love that Branaugh's Fool has depth as well as silliness. Yeah, I've got no place to critique anything Branaugh does, but who'd care about my opinion anyway?

Blah. This is a blah day and a blah blogpost (say that five times fast). As a random side note, there are a lot of really famous actors in HP who were also in Shakespearean roles. Kenneth Branaugh (Gilderoy Lockhart) played Hamlet in the film version he directed; Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange) played a seriously disturbing Ophelia in Mel Gibson's Hamlet; David Tennant (Barty Crouch Jr.) also played Hamlet in another film version. So apparently you have to have been in some form of Hamlet to be cast in Harry Potter. Daniel Radcliffe already did a Broadway play...maybe they'll come out with a new Hamlet movie starring him! Actually, I'd like to see Tom Felton play Hamlet. He's a better actor and he's already got the tormented aura thing going on...Hermione and Ron can be Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. OMG THEY SHOULD MAKE A HAMLET WITH ALL HARRY POTTER ACTORS.

Next blogpost: cast Hamlet using actors from Harry Potter. *retreats into Bear Cave of Bitchiness*

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Oh, the torment bred in the race...

The kids I babysit are adorable and very nice. Occasionally difficult, but aren't all kids? If kids are a little difficult sometimes, that just means they're smart. Would you really want some robot of a kid who obeys your every command?

...Well, maybe some parents would. Case in point: my dad is washing dishes while I dry them. He is dissatisfied with the speed at which I am drying the dishes (though I'm not getting in his way). He says: "You know, if you had a drill sergeant breathing down your neck, you might consider going a little faster." Me: "Well, luckily I don't have a drill sergeant breathing down my neck, then. The dishes aren't going anywhere fast."

I firmly believe that you can't run a family like you run the military. Which brings me to the topic for today's post: "be yourself." Someone I follow on twitter tweeted a link to their blogpost "Be yourself? What do you think that really means?" I tweeted a cynical reply that was something to the effect of: "being yourself" = get good grades, go to college, land a lucrative job, and have two kids in a nice, heterosexual marriage. If you think I'm being cynical, I'm speaking purely from experience here. My mom, joker that she is, told her church friend, "I used to tell her [me], get good grades, go to college, get a paying job, get married and have kids. Now that she's going to a women's college, I tell her, get good grades, go to college, get a paying job, get married to a MAN, and have kids."

Now, I'm not a lesbian, but can you see where I would find this annoying?

So what does "be yourself" really mean? I mean, who else would you be being? I think a lot of people--kids and adults--don't know who they are. The teens and twenties are part of that exploration of self. Cliques and groups in high school, often based on style and interests, are part of that teen need to define oneself. It's my opinion that self isn't necessarily fixed; if it was, people would be irredeemable. People recreate--or destroy--themselves all the time. Significant life events change who you are. Why do adults, well past those exploratory teen years, go through mid-life crises? They don't know who they are; or rather, they are changing into a new person and missing the old one.

All these thoughts kind of converged in my brain this past Sunday, where I listened to a sermon about the prodigal son. The lesson deals with a common source of contention between parents and children--money--but in the end, the son returns to the father and the father takes him back. Now that's all very well, but what if the story had been about the prodigal daughter who comes home pregnant? Or a son who comes out to his parents? The point of the story is that parents should accept their kids no matter what, and no matter who they are. Unfortunately, "be yourself," as the tweeter replied to me, more often than not means "be a source of pride to me."

And while I'm not saying you should hurt your parents, neither should you live to please them.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

In Defense of Slytherin ;)



Ravenclaws are smart, love to learn, and value knowledge above all. Hufflepuffs are loyal, hardworking, honest, and accepting. Gryffindors are brave -- sometimes reckless -- and value courage. And now for the House everyone seems to hate (though admittedly, there are good reasons for its reputation):

http://www.hp-lexicon.org/images/icons/shield_sly.jpg.pagespeed.ce.uL0aHDdme8.jpg

Ambitious, cunning, resourceful, with "a certain disregard for rules" -- these qualities describe members of Slytherin House. And as Hagrid (incorrectly) said in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, "there's not a witch or wizard went bad that wasn't in Slytherin." Founded by Salazar Slytherin, it has included Tom Riddle/Voldemort (Dark Lord), Bellatrix Lestrange (Death Eater), and Lucius Malfoy (rich, arrogant ass).

However, it has also included Phineas Nigellus (Hogwarts Headmaster, if a rather unpleasant person), Horace Slughorn (the quintessential college professor), Draco Malfoy (sympathetic if foolish and master of the Elder Wand), Narcissa Malfoy (the only reason Harry didn't die in the forest), Severus Snape (Death Eater turned good guy), and Regulus Black -- another Death Eater turned traitor, and a very unusual Slytherin indeed. It's a unique pureblood who's kind to house-elves, turns against Voldemort, and sacrifices himself at the age of seventeen to destroy a Horcrux, rather than letting Kreacher die. I mean, come on. Regulus is more of a hero than Sirius ever was.

Anyway, being in Gryffindor doesn't automatically make you a good guy, as Peter Pettigrew demonstrated. How the hell he got into Gryffindor in the first place beats me. Even Dumbledore, a Gryffindor, was tempted by the Dark Arts before his sister died...as a direct effect of his plans to take over the world. Percy Weasley is a Gryffindor, when his ambitions would seem to fit better with Slytherin.

Godric Gryffindor himself also stole the Sword of Gryffindor from the goblins. He was BFFs with Salazar Slytherin before their disagreement about letting Muggle-borns into Hogwarts. It's safe to assume that while Godric didn't agree with discrimination against humans, he had no qualms about treating other races badly. And really, can you blame the original Slytherin for not trusting Muggles and Muggle-borns? This was in a time when Muggles were actively persecuting and burning witches and wizards. The students they accepted into the school could have gone back to their families and been killed by them. They could have told their parents where Hogwarts was and potentially led angry Muggle mobs to the gate. If he wasn't at least a little wary, he'd be foolish.

All in all, the seventh HP book goes out of its way to blur the lines. It seems that when Slytherins are bad, they're really bad. But when they're good, they're very good. Look at Regulus and Snape. After all, as Dumbledore says in Chamber of Secrets, "It is our choices that make us who we are, not our abilities."

So if I had the choice, I would be in Slytherin just to spite everyone who hates it. ;) And being ambitious is not a bad thing. Add that to the cool, kind of goth common room and my favorite color green, and yeah, I would choose Slytherin. This is all hypothetical, of course, since I'm a Muggle. And would probably be eaten by the Basilisk, so...yeah. That part of Slytherin definitely sucks. 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Teen Writers Summer Blogfest--Ask the Teens

I'm really sorry to have missed the first page critique. Vacation, you know. We just got back home at 11 last night, so bear with me.

Today the other participants and I will be answering questions submitted by readers about YA lit, what teens prefer, how teens read, etc. I am grateful for a chance to answer these kinds of questions. Often, when I read the blogs of agents and editors, they'll make broad, assumptive, and/or high-and-mighty statements about young adults and young adult literature--to which my indignant reaction is, "That's not true!" Or at least, not as true as they seem to believe.

So, we have four questions from Jess, which I will endeavor to answer. :)

1.) Middle grade novels are defined as books for the 8-12 age range. Do teens still read middle grade fiction as they get older (for example, Harry Potter is an example of middle grade that's read by teens and adults) or are they naturally attracted to books with older themes and characters? Is it uncool to still read middle grade as you enter your teens?

"Middle grade novels are defined as books for the 8-12 age range." The first thing I'd like to say is that these "rules," like the Pirate Code, are more like guidelines anyway. ;) I was reading MG younger than 8; so were most of my friends. I know most 13-year-olds still read MG, as do many 14-year-olds and some 15-year-olds. This might be to finish the end of a series they liked in middle school, or because of personal preference. The Percy Jackson books are MG, yet my high school library still stocked them and most of my friends read and liked them, even if I didn't. The Graveyard Book is an example of a novel on the mature end of the MG spectrum that I read just last year, and I'm 18.

As for Harry Potter, the first few books may have been MG, but the rest definitely aren't. One of the reasons I think the series was and is so successful is because it matured as its readership did--and I'm not just talking about the characters getting older; I mean the plot complexity, writing style, and themes as well. To the question of whether it's "cool" or not to read MG fiction as you age, the best answer I can give is that it just depends on the reader's maturity, interests, and personality.

2. This is arguable, but it's been said that the teen years see a decrease in boy readership. Can you mention some books that you know male teenagers seem to be attracted to? Obviously, this depends on the reader, but are there books/themes that male teens connect to more than others?

Eh, again, it depends on the people. I think guys read as much as ever, but it's less cool to be seen reading. Anyway, the boy who doesn't read for fun in high school was the same boy who thought reading was uncool in middle school and who struggled in reading in elementary school. Personality again, and the inadequacies of the school system. Also, reading is seen as inactive--and boys are, for some reason, perceived as and expected to be more active than girls. Obviously this is a prejudiced view. In my own experience, I knew just as many girls as boys who didn't read for fun in high school, and just as many boys as girls who did.

I would also like to point out that perhaps the reason people think guys don't read YA is because the YA market kind of excludes them. Sexy men, female pov, and swooning vampires don't exactly attract straight guys. Hence, reading = either for girls or gays. No wonder it's not cool for guys to admit they like reading. Harsh, but that's the perception encouraged by the market.

Books I've heard my guy friends talk about:
- Eragon and the rest of the Inheritance Cycle
- Pendragon series (<3)
- Harry Potter
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (that's why I picked it up myself)
- Eon
- Ender's Game
- Alex Rider books

3.) So many books and book series are being turned into films for the teen audience. Are you satisfied with the movie versions that you've seen recently? Can you comment on a few, both good and bad?

Movies are never the same as books, and I usually don't mind the adaptations. However, Eragon the movie was terrible compared to the book, one of the worst adaptations I've ever seen. I liked all the characters, but they kinda threw the plot out the window. 

4.) I would like to know how you go about choosing a book to read. Is it the cover? The title? Word of mouth?

Usually, if someone I know has good/similar taste, I'll check out a book they recommend. Word gets around about what books are good or popular, and often I'll read them either to know what the fuss is about or if the premise sounds interesting. However, the title has a big influence on whether I read the book. If someone asks me what I'm reading, I don't want to be embarrassed by answering with a cliche or otherwise embarrassing title. Childish, perhaps, but important. Also, if the title is uninspired, I have no reason to believe the rest of the book will be any different. It has to impress me, intrigue me, and draw me in. A great example of a title, though not YA, is The Other Boleyn Girl. You're like, "Boleyn girl as in Anne Boleyn? But not her, so what other Boleyn girl? Did she have a sister? No way, I had no idea..." *reads back cover* "Yikes, incest...Hmm, I might have to read this just to find out!"

As for cover art, I find it usually tells nothing important about the book except whether or not there is likely to be sex.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Spending the 4th in Mississippi

This year, I'm spending July 4th with my grandparents in Mississippi. Here, you can get REAL (read: dangerous) fireworks, unlike the pissy little sparklers they limit you to in Maryland.

The fireworks were actually an anticlimax this year, but who cares--I've been in a nearly constant state of geekout since Saturday. I WENT TO FAULKNER'S HOUSE!!! (the one in Oxford, near University of Mississippi--or as the locals call it, Ole Miss). No better way to celebrate the 4th of July than to visit the home of a legendary American novelist...unless you follow up that visit with lunch at the Ajax Diner, home of the most orgasmically tasty mac-an-cheese on the face of the planet. NO SERIOUSLY. IT IS AMAZING. I had a sausage po-boy sandwich and stole my mom's mac-an-cheese. They also had amazing salads, classics like chicken and dumplings and catfish, AND an extensive vegetarian menu.

And just when you're thinking you can't POSSIBLY top that...there's Square Books. It's a sad fact that e-books and Amazon are slowly destroying the indie (independent) bookstores. It's getting ever more difficult to find quality indie bookstores, and even harder to find said bookstores of a good size. But fear not, state of Mississippi (and the rest of America), because Square Books is all that and more. It's well-organized, personalized and personable, and it has a coffee shop with reading tables on the second story. And if you have kids, there's a Square Books Jr. across the street.

I guess it helps business that Oxford is a college town and the home of William Faulkner from 1930-62. I bought/stiff-armed my parents into buying Sanctuary (Faulkner), Collected Stories of Eudora Welty, and Xenocide (Orson Scott Card). I've started with the Welty stories, and they are fresh and delightful to read--like literary snacks for when you're not hungry enough to consume a Faulkner novel.

Today initiated a fresh geekout--I got to visit the ONLY PETRIFIED FOREST IN THE EASTERN U.S. I used to have a serious obsession/hobby with rocks of all kinds, and as I looked around the visitor center and museum, I could feel old bits of knowledge and passion rekindling. After petting the yowling cat outside, I purchased some new samples for my collection: a Thunderegg from Oregon, Tlaloc (Rain God) agate from Mexico, Bird's-Eye jasper, and Mississippi agate. And then it rained...I blame the Thunderegg and Tlaloc. They were having a rain god showdown in my sample bag, or something. Also we ate at Penn's, where I had another po-boy sandwich (fried catfish) and my mom refused to let my dad buy chicken livers.

OK, geekout over. I know I was supposed to do an interview today for TWSB--but I left it to the last minute and then tried to interview my brother. Yeah...

May the Fourth (of July. get it??) be with you. I have had waaay too much sweet tea.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

TWSB--On Reading, Romance, and my YA pet peeves

"Read, read, read. Read everything." - William Faulkner


What I just finished: 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King *shiver*

What I'm reading now: Longitude by Dava Sobel; The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie; Across the Wall by Garth Nix; Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.

On my reading list for later: The Count of Monte Cristo, Four Plays by Oscar Wilde, and Vanity Fair. What can I say, Barnes and Noble had a deal on classics--buy two get one free. Whether and when I will actually finish them is another question.

Favorite genre: I like epic fantasy, but there's surprisingly little of it in YA. Perhaps the People in Charge think teens can't handle the complexity or the length, or something. Who knows. I read an interview with Tamora Pierce, author of many YA fantasy quartets--she was asked why she'd switched to writing pairs of books instead of quartets. Her dryly humorous answer was that Harry Potter had proved kids were willing and able to reading longer books.

I'm a little insulted, but there is a stigma that teens hate reading. Is this true? If so, why? Personally, I think teens hate reading assigned books--usually classics with archaic language, complicated syntax, and (sorry, English teachers everywhere) uninteresting plotlines. And there's no incentive other than grades to read them. But while YA is a genre written for teens, that doesn't mean it has to be written down for teens. What do you think?

Least favorite genre: One thing I don't like about YA is the recent flooding of the market with vampires. And when vampires became passe, zombies--and then werewolves, angels, demons, etc. I guess I'm tired of paranormal...and especially paranormal romance. It's not that I hate paranormal YA--there are some paranormal titles I really enjoyed. 

My problem with paranormal romance is that I like the paranormal but not the romance. Actually, my least favorite genre in YA is romance in general. This is because I am, unabashedly, a cynic. Usually YA protags are high-school-aged, and for me, that means the stakes aren't high enough. So what, high school romance. It seems like the world at the time, but you're probably going to break up after graduation, go to separate colleges, and hook up with other people.

And now everyone else in this blogfest hates me. Darned idealists. :P If it makes you feel any better, my favorite novel of all time is a romance--and ironically, an assigned book for AP Lit: Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hursten.

Returning to the topic of YA romance, I am also hugely annoyed by this plot setup: Girl with problems meets dream boy, falls in love, boy shows her the light and helps her overcome her problems. Are relationships confidence-building? Yes. Should you use relationships as a crutch to overcome your insecurities? Hell fuck to the no (pardon my French). I had a boyfriend who tried to do this with me. And it's not as warm and fuzzy as it looks on paper. I'm also something of a feminist, and this setup bothers me because girl with problems needs dream boy to "show her the way." Being the realist I am, I wonder what happens when she breaks up with dream boy. Do all her insecurities return--or even get worse? Does she jump into the arms of another dream boy to fill the hole in her heart and boost her self-esteem? After watching friends do this to themselves, I can't stand to read it in YA without wanting to scream "What, what, WHAT are you doing?!?"

The other bothersome plot setup in YA romance is balanced girl meets moody boy with troubled past, falls in love, and sticks around no matter what he does to her. Think Twilight (except Twilight is really a combination of this plot and the one described above). It reminds me of a sarcastic article I read somewhere that said if Satan came to Earth, he’d have a posse of fans. “He’s the Devil!” “But I love him!” “He’s Satan!” “I can change him!”

And that's my two cents on reading. :)