Monday, February 28, 2011

I'm Not...

feeling very entertaining today, so here's a picture of Hunter S. Thompson shooting his typewriter:
I know how you feel, man.
I am surrounded by lunatics here, people screeching every time I pull a trigger, yelling about my blood-soaked shirts, packs of queers waiting to do me in, so many creditors that I've lost count, a huge Doberman on the bed, a pistol by the desk, time passing, getting balder, no money, a great thirst for all the world's whiskey, my clothes rotting in the fog, a motorcycle with no light, a landlady who's writing a novel on butcher-paper, wild boar in the hills, vats of homemade beer in the closet, shooting cats to ease the pressure, the jabbering of Buddhists in the trees, whores in the canyons, Christ only knows if I can last it out.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


I became aware of my status as a literary nerd officially in ninth grade. Before that, I had an inkling, but was never sure. The conversation between me and a Mean Girl friend went like this:

MG: Look at all those nerds over there there, sitting in the loser lunch spot. I bet they like, read for fun.

HYUG: I read for fun.

MG and everyone else (possibly the entire school): AWKWARD SILENCE.

Even then, it wasn't so much embarrassing for me as everyone else. Though my friends never seem to know what to do but laugh uncomfortably when I get overstimulated by literary things, like that time I jumped up and down in a movie theater when I saw the preview for The Golden Compass (TALKING ARMORED BEARS, COME ON!), I own my nerdiness. I embrace it. I love book more than most people love other people. So fuck off.

So for the weekend (which for me starts today), I leave you with these wonderful, nerdy links of pure literary tomfoolery than make my nerd heart expand like a balloon and laugh hysterically by myself in my room:

If you find anything about this site remotely entertaining, check this out. An entire thread of literary jokes.
Disney Hipster meme.
You can actually buy this here.
Everything you ever needed to know about Twilight here.
Including why I think this picture is funny.
There is an entire site devoted to literary tattoos. Seriously.
Garfield without Garfield becomes an existential crisis here.
I may already own this. But don't worry, there's plenty more to choose from here.
They donate books every time you buy something.
Best friend with a tumblr is getting to me, but found here.
Continue your education here.
Have an excellent weekend, readers. I know Margaret Mitchell, Wilkie Collins, and I will. Yes, I will also be seeing people of flesh and blood. Probably.

P.S. I see the split infinitive, so shut up. But I think the English language is a magical thing that you get to fuck around with as much as you want. My poetry teacher congratulated me on making up a word the other day. I win, grammar loses.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Treadmill Incident.

I have occasionally been called a graceful person. However, this is a moniker only proscribed to me by those who do not know me very well. Because while I do have a certain fluidity to my person while walking or dancing (which I did for a long time), I am actually hopelessly awkward and clumsy. When you combine that with my lack of an immune system and general sense of being a delicate fleur, hilarious hijinks will always and do always ensue.
There were so many awkward photos to choose from,
but I think this may be the epitome of my grace.
Me on the floor of a dirty tube tunnel in London.
No one around me seems impressed or concerned.
Ninth grade was a banner year for me, whatever that expression means because if you look too closely at it, it becomes an incredibly weird way to ironic say: ninth grade didn't go so well for me. Basically, it started out pretty well, but turned into a shit show around January when I got mono. Or rather, I had already had mono for awhile and had given it to several friends through sharing drinks (and on one weird and partially accidental occasion, gum) and, yes, kissing. Oh, I know, scandalous. Calm down, because that's not the entire story.

Mono's supposed to last, oh, a month tops once you're diagnosed, and people rarely get all the symptoms. I mention this because I am phenomenally the exception to both these rules. Not only did I get mono, but I GOT MONO LIKE A FUCKING CHAMP. I slept constantly but was always tired, sore throat, pancreas blew up, etc. etc. etc. Normal sick people things times a thousand, all at once. And oh, how long did it last? In June, after missing half my classes every day through an agreement with the school instead of taking a full month off, which, come to think of it, is probably why I was sick for so long, I was still pretty sickly. If you're still having trouble with the months, I was going on six. It was explained by the fact there's several strains of the virus, and they tested me for autoimmune diseases, which I had none and just marveled over how terribly mother nature had fucked me over.
I was still dying in a minor way, but I was restless and annoyed and by the time, fattening up from never moving ever. So I accepted an invitation of a very misinformed friend who thought I was better and went to the gym. There were five of us, and we trooped over to the treadmills, determined to exercise and stuff, I guess. I was mostly happy not to be watching Dawson's Creek again.

I had never used a treadmill before and found it vaguely unsettling. Have you ever been on a treadmill? It's like it's trying to suck you into some sort of existentialistic black hole that exists behind the treadmill. I should probably also mention mono makes you depressed. But really, it was terrifying. However, after walking for a few minutes I felt pretty stupid and decided to try running. I bet you'll all be really surprised how this turned out.

I pressed the button to increase the speed. Nothing happened. Again. Nothing. AGAIN. NOTHING. Frustrated, I started punching the button over and over, furiously. And then the treadmill move.
Foreshadowing for something youtube has prepared you for.
It picked up speed so fast I was sprinting before I knew what was happening. This infernal device was going so fast, I couldn't even reach the button to make it slow down. I had never been on a treadmill before and had no idea I could JUST PUT MY FEET ON THE SIDES or PRESS THE STOP BUTTON. So I just sprinted and sprinted for several minutes, trying to get the attention of my friends around me, who were oblivious, happily absorbed in their individual television sets. I ran and I ran and I ran, and eventually...

I fainted.

I should also mention, in the spirit of full disclosure, that my fainting was not an entirely new phenomenon, even pre-mono. But those are stories for another day. The fact is, when I came to, which must have been relatively quickly, my chin was smacking against the speeding belt of the treadmill with a teeth-shattering thunk. I had gotten lodged between the closely packed rows. But as I went to stand and almost fell again, for in the time I has been unconscious all the skin had been removed from my knees and there was blood everywhere, pooling in my shoes and all over the wall-to-wall carpeting of Frog's Fitness (the name is a mystery to me too.)

So I did what any logical and sane person would do. I walked up to the front desk and asked for a band-aid.

I can't even imagine what I looked like. A sickly pale creature covered in blood from both the large patch of skin missing from chin and all of it gone from my knees. The woman at the front desk, however, was not impressed. She looked me up and down, handed me two band-aids sized for a normal cut or scrape, and pointed me to the locker room where I could clean up what looked like “just a flesh wound.”

And, I, 14-year-old delicate fleur Devon, did just that. I wasn't going to let mono or my general clumsiness mess up my first outing in months. No, no. I may not be able to control my body in most ways, but I do not let it fuck with me. So I cleaned up, jumped back on the treadmill among my still clueless friends, and ran two miles.

Moral of the story: I couldn't walk the next day. Body win.

I wish I had taken any pictures of these moments, but unfortunately all I have to offer you are these two from weeks after the aforementioned incident:
Note the knees, ignore the hat.
Better than a butt chin, I suppose.

P.S. On an old blog I kept during the time of the incident, I found a list of terrible things that happened to me that week. Here it is, verbatim, just as it was typed. It really was a banner year:

in the past 24 hours (ish) i've...

*gotten smacked in the head
*gotten attacked by "gang birds"
*gotten my hair pulled BY A BOY
*fell off a treadmill disfiguring my face and making it hard to walk
*fell out of bed in the middle of the night
*gotten my foot run over and bled by a FUCKING ROLLEYBACKPACK

all in all it's been good

I stole from here and here. Sorry.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Book is Always Better Than the Movie.

It seems to me that almost any good movie I've seen recently has been based off a novel. You know, True Grit, 127 Hours, The Social Network, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. All classics, and all based off novels. So, as blasphemous as this may seem, I'm here to debunk a myth for you, specifically, the idea that every good bibliophile has that the book is always better than the movie. It's unlikely that a subpar novel can spark the concept for a brilliant film, but I believe a brilliant novel can be the impetus to an equally brilliant film. That's right, I said it. I may not be a film buff, but I am an adaptation and retelling buff, and I'm here to tell you something: the book is usually better than the movie, but sometimes they're equally awesome. Here are my favorite five examples (which are also five more novels on my favorites list):

Atonement, Ian McEwan
Atonement (2007)
Nothing as singular or as important had happened since the day of his birth. She returned his gaze, struck by the sense of her own transformation, and overwhelmed by the beauty in a face which a lifetime's habit had taught her to ignore. She whispered his name with the deliberation of a child trying out the distinct sounds. When he replied with her name, it sounded like a new word - the syllables remained the same, the meaning was different. Finally he spoke the three simple words that no amount of bad art or bad faith can ever quite cheapen. She repeated them, with exactly the same emphasis on the second word, as if she had been the one to say them first. He had no religious belief, but it was impossible not to think of an invisible presence or witness in the room, and that these words spoken aloud were like signatures on an unseen contract.
God only knows how this got misinterpreted.
This is a film and a novel whose pacing matches exactly. They did things that always annoy me—like changing the color of a character's hair or putting them in a black dress when the novel specifically says blue and things like that (filmmakers, HOW HARD IS IT TO USE DETAILS?)—they even changed the end. But they didn't annoy me here. Atonement is a novel about how a skewed perception can wreck people's lives and the film captures that perfectly, right down to my favorite part of the film where a young girl discovers a love letter with a dirty word and each letter is punched out in the audience's face as her eye's widen and the background noise of a typewriter spells out C-U-N...well, you get the idea. Two different eyes read that letter in two different ways, but it leads to library sex so I know how I'm reading it. I promise, with all my dirty sex comments, it's really a beautiful and haunting piece of fiction and film.

Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk
Fight Club (1999)
I've met God across his long walnut desk with his diplomas hanging on the wall behind him, and God asks me, "Why?" Why did I cause so much pain? Didn't I realize that each of us is a sacred, unique snowflake of special unique specialness? Can't I see how we're all manifestations of love? I look at God behind his desk, taking notes on a pad, but God's got this all wrong. We are not special. We are not crap or trash, either. We just are. We just are, and what happens just happens. And God says, "No, that's not right." Yeah. Well. Whatever. You can't teach God anything.
I suddenly feel very, very dirty. Is it still a crude joke
if you're not kidding?
The first rule of Fight Club may be you don't talk about Fight Club, but fuck it, because both this book and this novel are amazing. Mother of God, read them in any order you want—both are told in little snap shots of chapters, of scenes that end in a plot twist you won't see coming the first time (maybe that was just me, because my God, Brad Pitt has never been more attractive than he is covered in blood in that movie, which may be revealing about me as a person in a terrible way, but eh?) And the ending of the film? Holy Jesus, that's a scene. Palahniuk actually said he liked the film's ending better. Getting a writer to say something like that is like hearing a cat talk. Unsettling and then it hits you how amazing it is. That's what both Fight Club the novel and film are—a talking cat that makes me inarticulately call on deities.

Breakfast at Tiffany's, Truman Capote
Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
Never love a wild thing...He was always lugging home wild things. A hawk with a hurt wing. One time it was a full-grown bobcat with a broken leg. But you can't give your heart to a wild thing: the more you do, the stronger they get. Until they're strong enough to run into the woods. Or fly into a tree. Then a taller tree. Then the sky. That's how you'll end up...If you let yourself love a wild thing. You'll end up looking at the sky.
I'm getting very close to this being the reality of my adult life.
Everyone knows the iconic Audrey Hepburn picture: the epitome of class, the woman every girl wants to be, but no man is attracted to (who said that first, hmmm?) However, did you know the character of Holly Golightly is actually based off Truman Capote's relationship with Marilyn Monroe? But here's the deal, this is a case where the 1960s film industry took a daring book and turned in into an awesome movie with a stereotypical ending. So maybe they changed some of the sexual orientations of the characters around to make it a bit more Hollywood-friendly, the movie is still a fantastic piece of cinema with a romantic story and a charming, elegant female lead. I love this movie, it's everything a little girl could dream to be (except maybe the oddities left over from the book: call girl, old man husband, involved with the mob, though, those were always my dreams.) If you want to love the movie, make sure to watch it first, because if you read that amazing novel full of humor and wit and evocative subjects, the film will fall flat as toned-down trash. Of course, the end result is that no matter how she's described in the book, Holly Golightly is still Audrey Hepburn to me. Whatever, I'll live up to those call girl standards one day.

Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates
Revolutionary Road (2008)
I still had this idea that there was a whole world of marvelous golden people somewhere…people who knew everything instinctively, who made their lives work out the way they wanted without even trying, who never had to make the best of a bad job because it never occurred to them to do anything less than perfectly the first time. Sort of heroic super-people, all of them beautiful and witty and calm and kind, and I always imagined that when I did find them I’d suddenly know that I belonged among them, that I was one of them, that I’d been meant to be one of them all along…
This is one of those adaptations that you just feel like you're watching the book. I'm sure there were differences, but the fact remains that the tone has been kept and that the feeling, the nuances that made the book great remain and resonant with the images. A sense of enclosure permeates both, oddly, yet not at all oddly surrounded by the sense of suburban paradise. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll mostly be terribly upset and cry, but this is both a novel and a film that manage to get at the trapped in suburbia vein without feeling stale. And oh my God, do I love the crazy guy that comes in. I'm not even going to describe it, it's just too much. Just go ahead, you can practically read along.

A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
But, brothers, this biting of their toe-nails over what is the cause of badness is what turns me into a fine laughing malchick. They don't go into the cause of goodness, so why the other shop? If lewdies are good that's because they like it, and I wouldn't ever interfere with their pleasures, and so of the other shop. And I was patronizing the other shop. More, badness is of the self, the one, the you or me on our oddy knockies, and that self is made by old Bog or God and is his great pride and radosty. But the not-self cannot have the bad, meaning they of the government and the judges and the schools cannot allow the bad because they cannot allow the self. And is not our modern history, my brothers, the story of brave malenky selves fighting these big machines? I am serious with you, brothers, over this. But what I do I do because I like to do.
Worst Got Milk? campaign. Ever.
As stunning as the novel is, you kind of start reading it thinking, “Burgess is fucking with us all, isn't he?” because the entire novel is written is this crazy-awesome-I-wish-I-had-the-balls-to-make-up-my-own-language language called Nadsat which is a mixture of English and Russian, apparently. It's transporting and a fucking pain in the ass to read the first time. And this is where the film steps in—this dystopian novel is pretty ridiculously graphic and violent, and the film takes it in stride, presenting you with the more disturbing images in a sometimes hilarious, but always upfront (or as upfront as possible) way. But the thing is, it makes everything a hell of a lot clearer and you can go back to the novel with something in mind. Something disgusting, terrible, and awesome in mind. Full of penis shaped rainbow lollipops, bowler hats, weird eye makeup Ke$ha stole, canes, phallic statues, cats, the destruction of thousands of dollars of camera equipment, naked woman in oddly futuristic garb, Mozart, and of course, a man being turned into an automaton while his eyelids are forced open. How are you not already watching this while simultaneously reading this insane novel? It is weird where weird is so good it's become normal.
Go. Read. Watch. Now.
P.S. Just realized this post title was my myspace name for awhile early on in high school. Judge me.

P.P.S. What the fuck is wrong with the text at the end of this post? I really, really can't fix it. Judge me again. Only this time, harder.
Images stolen brazenly from here, here, here, here, and here.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Subvert Those Expectations, Ladies! (Do Not Read This, It's Self-Aggrandizing Dribble. Even More So Than Usual.)

Last week I picked up my graduation gown, er robe? Whatever, there's also a scarf thing and a suspiciously marked hat. I woke up at 6:30 to stand in line for this thing, and it's wrinkled and dirty and reeks of mothballs. But as I'm about to graduate and leave these hallowed halls with the most useless degree EVER, instead of getting nostalgic, I kind of feel like that robe holds some sort of greater, symbolic meaning. HOLD ON, HERE COMES A METAPHOR.

To start, let me make something clear: I never wanted to go to college. Oh sure, I thought of it in a general way, in a, “Oh, I'll totally go to Harvard or something” way. But as time went on and I got older and it became clear to me I'd have to work harder if I wanted to go to some Ivy League school, my interest in college dwindled until senior year was upon me. So I made up some random parameters of small size, in particular states, good English department (which EVERY school has, by the way,) good dance program (whoops,) ability to study abroad for a year (score,) and lastly: really good financial aid. Like completely need blind, required to give you everything you need even if it's everything.

And that's how I ended up at my all-lady college, plain and simple. Women's colleges (or girl's schools, if you're willing to get beaten down by a passing feminist) have a fuck-ton of money and like to give it to you. My school gives you money for fucking everything if you know how to ask correctly: clothing and gas for interviews, internships, books, even food and transportation when I went abroad. Another all-lady college I almost went to promised to pay my airfare home and back to school whenever there was a break. I'm completely serious.

So I looked at my all-lady school on a visit to see family (my school is 3,000 miles away from what used to be home and has somehow, in the last three years, become my permanent home) and it was picturesque as it could possibly be and gets consistently rated in the top-whatever of whatever magazine for housing and food and here was the kicker: has NO GENERAL REQUIREMENTS. I could just read for four years, no need to fake exploration. So I went home, read Franny and Zooey, The Bell Jar, and Mona Lisa Smile, and imagined a life surrounded by women in a kind of natural solidarity where we'd have secret clubs and all be going crazy, but there would be a lot of pearls and tea and men waiting in the lobby of our houses.

No. Just, no. I probably should have done more research before I came here. Research about my college or colleges like it after 1955.

I was dropped into a liberal-feminist-a-bi-homo-sexual-social-construct-defying-patriarchy-smashing-heteronormative-is-a-word-socially-awkward-politically-correct-diverse-in-some-ways environment, and was totally taken by surprise. I grew up in a tolerant, accepting place with an understanding and liberal mother, but this was like a fucking explosion of hippie stereotypes. Basically, I came to my school expecting a pressed, silk gown, and was handed this fucking mess of dirty, stained robes with weird fingerprints on it.

What I mean is: taking Sociology and having everyone fight over gender stereotypes because everyone is from different places (states, cultures, countries) with different stereotypes while your poor, Swedish professor asks you what Thanksgiving is. Or having a boy visit you and getting asked who he “belongs to” every time he's by himself. Or saying you're sticking with the English major because you plan to marry rich and be a housewife, just to fuck with people. Or having more than one “that girl” in every class. Or watching porn with your housemates as a house tradition. Or everyone agreeing about everything that doesn't have to do with some sort of PC pissing contest, especially if it's the professor's opinion. Or sometimes thinking you might actually be “that girl,” but don't worry, as soon as the girl on the left of you talks, you'll feel better. Or there's always the weird, socially-awkward events, meaning all of them. Or how there's always one older woman in your class who quotes her life experience like an authoritative text. Or the way you have to self-correct most of your sentences in order not to offend someone, or possibly everyone in the room. Or how you will actually, at some point, get assigned a paper where you have to talk about your feelings about a poem, instead of a literary interpretation. Or how sometimes your dance classes turn into weird massage-parties where you roll around on top of each other. Or how you'll spend four years fending off lesbian jokes, even though you're straight and have a boyfriend, thanks Aunt Bunny. Or how there's a class about Vampires and about six on sex in its various incarnations, as well as concentrations in queer studies, archives, museums, and poetry. Or how this goddamn list could go on forever. Like the time...but no, I'll save that story for later.

Because I came from Southern California to here, and my longest foray anywhere else was a year abroad in London, the most multicultural city in the world (literally,) it's only starting to occur to me that I have in some weird way been blessed by these expectations being so terribly subverted. I have been shown the sometime annoyingly tolerant faction of the world, and even if it made me want to renounce feminism and pretty much my entire sex on a daily basis, I have been lucky to have been given this. In the end, it will make me a better and more understanding human being. Even in comparison to all this shit, the reality is still kind of bleak. Now it's time to subvert my expectations of the real world!

Oh my God, in some weird, fucked up way, I'm actually going to miss this. Dirty robe and all.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Day of Birds and Martyrdom. Or Something.

Okay, so I'm one of those people who hates Valentine's Day. I know, you've stopped reading already. But I'm not saying this because I'm bitter and alone or think it was invented by candy companies (for God's sake, Chaucer writes about it in the Parliament of Foules and it obviously has something to do with Saints.) In fact, not only do I love candy and the color red, I'm not typically alone on Valentine's Day. The problem isn't so much having disappointing Valentine's Days because I'm watching romantic-comedies alone in my room, crying and eating a tub of ice cream and generally being a female stereotype, but having disappointing Valentine's Days because the boys I've dated tend to not listen.

A particularly memorable year was with a boy I stayed friends with when we broke up and could possibly be reading this. And though he'll probably remember, I'm going to call him Fabio, because that will give everyone a stunning visual. This is me in high school:
It's not a unitard.
And now just imagine I'm dating Fabio. Yeah, we were a pretty special (as in weirdly dysfunctional) couple.

Fabio had a thing for Valentine's Day and it didn't matter how many times I explained to him why I didn't want to celebrate (which I actually think is more romantic than Valentine's Day, thank you very much.) We were 15, and he probably thought I was trying to get out of giving him a present, or fake protesting. In any case, relationships are about compromise so I told him we could celebrate it alone, over the weekend, but not at school, under any circumstances. No. Fucking. Way. He agreed, I baked cookies or something, and then Fabio and I watched Monty Python sketches.

On Valentine's Day I dressed in black in silent protest and when I walked in I saw girls walking around, carrying roses (ick,) balloons (embarrassing,) candy (delicious,) and large stuffed animals (so embarrassing it strays into the pathetic and vaguely upsetting category.) But everyone was so goddamn happy I was just kind of going with the general mood of things, until I saw Fabio across the quad and what he was holding.


I was too mad to be actually mad. I immediately got amped up into vindictive mode.

I sauntered over to Fabio, or sauntered as well as a socially awkward 15-year-old girl can saunter, and smiled sweetly as I accepted my gift. But then, with giant eyes, I looked up at him with an expression than drifted from happiness to pure, unadulterated horror.

HYUG: F-f-f-f-fabio. I can't believe you would give me such a cruel present.

F: Whaaaa?

HYUG: I can't believe you would buy me...this. This bloodthirsty creature.

F: Whaaaa?

HYUG: Fabio, do you not understand? This animal has a HUMAN HEART. IT ITS MOUTH. IT KILLED SOMEONE RIGHT BEFORE YOU GAVE IT TO ME.

F: …

HYUG: I'm going to name it Serial Killer!

F: Whaaaa?

I flounced away, feeling victorious, and stowed Serial Killer in my locker. At mid-morning break, I walked up to Fabio sans-Serial Killer, and got what was coming to me.


HYUG: I put him in my locker, I'm not going to carry around a huge stuffed dog all...


Fabio tore across the quad to where my locker was and started to pound on it and talk to Serial Killer through the slots. People had cleared out around him by the time I got there. He made me open the locker, and continued to croon things like “Mommy didn't mean it Serial Killer,” as he cradled the goddamn thing in his arms.

Touché, Fabio, touché.

In the end, I hate Valentine's Day because if I care about someone and they care about me, we goddamn better be able to show each other every single day. I get it, I do, a day to celebrate love really is a wonderful thing. I just never want to be someone who needs to have a day like that to feel validated. I know a lot of people can just enjoy the hearts and candy and such without over-thinking it, but I'm never going to be one of those people so the person I'm with should be able to accept that and celebrate with me by not celebrating at all.
My sentiments exactly and literally.
Last Valentine's Day I was sick and Boyfriend brought me food. The response he got for his “Well, Happy Valentine's Day” was, “Yeah, it's good I don't celebrate this holiday,” as I fell asleep, probably drooling on him because I couldn't breathe through my nose. Sorry about that. This year? So far, he hasn't said anything. BEST VALENTINE'S PRESENT EVER.

P.S. Fabio, if you're reading this, my apologies. I know how well-intentioned Serial Killer was. Here is a belated thank you, from a less-bitchy version of me.

Amazing Valentine's Day card courtesy of this place.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Favorites: Volume I.

One of the issues my friends are constantly running into with me, is that I have a tendency to make people lists of books that I am convinced they MUST READ. I know they probably won't, but in the moment I create that list (one which starts out as five or ten and quickly spirals out of control) I am convinced I am offering to them a life-changing list of such monumental proportions that they will almost explode with gratitude and either fall madly in love with me or bake me cookies. So far, none of this has actually happened. Usually no one even reads what I recommend to them, at all, actually. But now, via the internet, I get to reach a wider audience. A wider audience of people just on the brink of falling madly in love with me or suddenly acquiring a desire to bake—go for it audience. Read away and we'll see what happens. Wink.

Franny and Zooey, J.D. Salinger

It's everybody, I mean. Everything everybody does is so—I don't know—not wrong, or even mean, or even stupid necessarily. But just so tiny and meaningless and—sad-making. And the worst part is, if you go bohemian or something crazy like that, you're conforming just as much only in a different way.
Not the real cover of any edition, but it should be.
If you've never read anything by J.D. Salinger, it's probably best for you not to start here. Do The Catcher in the Rye, or Nine Stories (which both belong on this list as well, but since F&Z is about a senior at Smith College I'm partial at the moment) and then take this on. I feel like you already have to get a hold on what Salinger's up to for this to be fully appreciated. It's two stories: Franny' Glass's break down and then her dealing's with her brother Zooey (Zachary Martin Glass, or “Z. Martini Glass”—Oh Salinger! You sly and handsome devil.) Everything to do with the Glass family is particularly wonderful (including the film The Royal Tenenbaums, which is rumored to be based off the fictional family,) all a dash of Eastern mysticism mixed in with a dash of the problems facing the overly-educated human condition. He's overwhelming fun to pick apart, if you're into that. I am.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky

There’s something about that tunnel that leads to downtown. It’s glorious at night. Just glorious. You start on one side of the mountain, and it’s dark, and the radio is loud. As you enter the tunnel, the wind gets sucked away, and you squint from the lights overhead. When you adjust to the lights, you can see the other side in the distance just as the sound of the radio fades because the waves just can’t reach. Then, you’re in the middle of the tunnel, and everything becomes a calm dream. As you see the opening get closer, you just can’t get there fast enough. And finally, just when you think you’ll never get there, you see the opening right in front of you. And the radio comes back even louder than you remember it. And the wind is waiting. And you fly out of the tunnel onto the bridge. And there it is. The city. A million lights and buildings and everything seems as exciting as the first time you saw it. It really is a grand entrance.
Never going to figure out why this color.
It will the only thing on my mind if I ever meet the author.
Before I say anything else, let me just say that when I googled “Chbosky” to make sure I was spelling it correctly (I wasn't) I was led to the knowledge that they're making this into a movie with Emma Watson and apparenly Oprah? This is one of those books I read in a single sitting in high school and then just sat there in a corner, quietly whimpering, because I basically felt like the top of my head had been taken off (which is what Emily Dickinson, who, incidentally, good 'ol Salinger like to make fun of in F&Z, says a good poem should do.) I really don't know if there's some sort of age limit for enjoying this, but I'm inclined to think there isn't (though if there's another book there is one for, it's probably Salinger's Catcher.) Freshman in high school Charlie narrates this coming-of-age through a series of letters to an anonymous friend, and that friend is you—enjoy his sparkling naivete, subtle wit, and sometimes profound (and sometimes hilarious) musings.

The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Detection is, or ought to be, an exact science, and should be treated in the same cold and unemotional manner. You have attempted to tinge it with romanticism, which produces much the same effect as if you worked a love-story or an elopement into the fifth proposition of Euclid.
Rawr. That's my sexy growl.
These stories have been collected a million different ways, and though I'm usually seriously against big collected works it's the only way you can be sure you've read all of them, chronologically. Which, trust me, you'll be happy about. It's not that it matters for understanding, the development is just more interesting that way. It's like House was in the beginning—the personal stuff that would make chronology important was just a fun plus, not necessary to enjoyment. On that note, House is actually loosely based on Holmes (there's some fun wordplay there)—Watson/Wilson, drug addiction, logic above all else, aversion to women, etc. This might subvert your whole deerstalker-capped, mild-mannered Englishman with a gooseneck pipe image you have of Holmes, and so will actually reading the books. Holmes is a badass who eschews rules and social mores and is subtly hilarious, addicted to cocaine, brilliant, and all while solves crimes. How are you not already reading this?

Everything is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer

If there is no love in the world, we will make a new world, and we will give it walls, and we will furnish it with soft, red interiors, from the inside out, and give it a knocker that resonates like a diamond falling to a jeweler's felt so that we should never hear it. Love me, because love doesn't exist, and I have tried everything that does.

Grandfather became very melancholy, and also, he says, blind. Father does not believe him, but purchased Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior for him nonetheless, because a Seeing Eye bitch is not only for blind people but for people who pine for the negative of loneliness. (I should not have used "purchased," because in truth Father did not purchase Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior, but only received her from the home for forgetful dogs. Because of this, she is not a real Seeing Eye bitch, and is also mentally deranged.)
I would show you the cover with Elijah Wood,
but it scares me.

Pick up whatever you see by this author. Seriously. This particular book is my favorite as it weaves three stories together—letters in this amazing and hilarious (yes, I have used hilarious in this post three times, whatca gonna do about it?) broken Russian-English, a fairy-tale-like, yet still grounded in reality story of the past, and a man's journey to research that past with the writer of the letters. Sounds complicated? Oh, it is. And it's beautiful and ridiculous and painful and mesmerizing and you have to read it for anything I say about it to make sense. Those two quotes up there really came from the same book, a book that's partially about the Holocaust but somehow manages to sound like nothing else I've ever read about the Holocaust. I know, I know! I don't know how he does it either. He's the writer I wish I could be.

Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand

Miss Taggart, do you know the hallmark of the second-rater? It's resentment of another man's achievement. Those touchy mediocrities who sit trembling lest someone's work prove greater than their own—they have no inkling of the loneliness that comes when you reach the top. The loneliness for an equal— for a mind to respect and an achievement to admire. They bare their teeth at you from out of their rat holes, thinking that you take pleasure in letting your brilliance dim them—while you'd give a year of your life to see a flicker of talent anywhere among them. They envy achievement, and their dream of greatness is a world where all men have become their acknowledged inferiors. They don't know that that dream is the infallible proof of mediocrity, because that sort of world is what the man of achievement would not be able to bear.
Don't be confused, this has nothing to do with 30 Rock.
Ayn Rand is tricky, because she showed up on the literary scene fully-sprung from the detritus of the Bolshevik Revolution and is reacting against that. She's throwing this theory called Objectivism at you over and over and over again in a way that makes you almost angry—but it's mostly because there's something about it that is going to seriously appeal to you, even though you feel kind of horrible about it. She presents objectivism as democratic, but your liberal heart is going to bleed all over it. Okay, I'll let you get to it by yourself, because God knows she's going to repeatedly pound it into you. Including an 80-page speech that took me an entire week to read (the same time period in which I read the entire Millennium series.) I'm making this sound horrible, but the fact is, it's a 1000 pages of rich prose and an interesting way to view the world, all while being based around some of my favorite characters in literature: Dagny Taggert and Hank Rearden. It's worth the struggle.

Get to reading, my, uh, readers. All types of cookies appreciated and my ring size is a 4½.

Book covers found here, and here, and here, and here, and here, as well.  

Friday, February 11, 2011

Things You Can Do With a BA in English.

If we only listened to puppets, as I used to, the answer is nothing (thanks Avenue Q.) However, I've complied this helpful list of some of the amazing things you future graduates of English Literature and Language (what a title, they probably should have just gone with “BOOKS”) can and probably will do with that diploma of yours! Let's take a look and keep all creepy, supposedly-inanimate-when-your-back-is-turned creatures out of it.
Don't take advice from adults that spend their evenings pretending their puppets
 are having sex. On stage. And never, ever, search "puppet sex" on Google images.
1. If you go to work abroad, your entire job could be explaining to other people that majoring in English has nothing to do with learning the English language, because yes, that's true that you grew up speaking English. Now ask them if they would you to teach them English as a second language. They'll probably say no at first because of this mix up, but hey, maybe not, because who wouldn't trust someone who's found it necessary to learn an entire language TWICE? Also, question: What language are you speaking to this foreign person in if the only language you know is English...twice? Whatever, at least you've gone somewhere.

2. Keep going to school, and get an MFA, a Masters, or maybe even a PhD. That way you can live inside the world of words your entire life and never, ever have to make human contact. I'm sure the college or university where you become a professor or writer-in-resident will completely understand about your crippling agoraphobia and let you teach all classes via a one-way video. I mean, as long as your achingly and stunningly brilliant and have managed to make startling breakthroughs in classic literature (because God knows that good schools won't let you study any of that contemporary crap, meaning after the turn of the previous century) before you're thirty...oh. don't think you will? No Pulitzer either? Shame.

3. I heard a story about an English major once who once went on to work in fashion, or maybe it was Wall Street. But I think it was a myth. So I wouldn't rely on a crazy pipe dream like that. Aim for something within your area of expertise, like reading comprehension. For example, cabbies have to read maps all day long, just like an English major reads books. A perfect match! Or how about dog walking? You need to be able to read and remember the names on the dogs' tags in order to get them to obey you. I also hear nursing homes like to have people come in to read to the old people. Just make sure you have a nice, loud voice for that one, and can stand the stench of death and cats.

4. The great thing about this degree is that it just sounds so damn fancy. Rent an office space with the money that nice lady in the nursing home left you, and hang the degree on the wall behind you. Buy a water cooler and some potted plants. Set out a blotter, fan some magazines on your IKEA coffee table, and just hope some one will come in and hire do...something. In any case, this will be a great place to write your rambling, thinly-veiled autobiographical, self-aggrandizing novel that you won't even be able to get a publisher to read because you won't even be able to get an agent to read it because you basically look like a homeless person by the time it's done because you're living in that office, and smell like a homeless person because you have no shower and have been eating dry, Ramen noodles for six weeks straight. Besides, it makes little to no sense, and the parts that do make sense are painfully awkward sexual moments. No one wants to read that.

5. You can now LITERALLY be that homeless guy that recites poetry on the streets. Everyone loves him.

6. Start your own business! Everyone loves an entrepreneur, just don't forget those pleather, thigh-high boots when you're recruiting business. Or the red, satin corset. No pants required! Who doesn't want a job where you never have to wear pants? I hear a lot of men have a secret fetish for women who recite the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales in Middle English while stripping. I bet you'll make a fortune at that, once the Johns hear your tongue wrapping around those hard consonants.

7. Write a highly satirical and mostly grammatically blog. FOR FREE (when I tried to type “FOR,” NeoOffice—because my computer crashes too often for me to have real programs—tries to change it to “FORMALDEHYDE,” in caps mind you, so maybe we should forgive all my little mistakes.) No one will read it. But you can tell people you're a “blogger” and I think that sounds like a real job in this economic climate.

Or maybe, just maybe, you can go back to school and get a real degree. Any other suggestions?

Image of creepy puppet-people (are they devouring the humans? have the humans disemboweled the puppets?) courtesy of some website. Thanks Google.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Why I Actually Like Tattoos, Fire, and Hornets.

Confession time: Though I pretend to be a high-brow literary theorist, I love Harry Potter. And I read all the Twilight books. More than once. (Too much, I know. But check out this and this because 99.9% of the fun of reading Twilight is mocking Twilight.) I re-read the His Dark Material series often, I love Neil Gaiman's children's books, and went through a phase where I obsessively read Mary Higgins Clark. I'll indulge in something about murder or fashion whenever it becomes kind of terrifyingly popular, because one) I just really love to read and two) I feel some sort of weird responsibility to keep up with literary phenomenon. It's like how I feel a responsibility to read classics that can sometimes be incredibly boring because they influenced other, more interesting works—everything effects everything else in the literary world, and I want to know as much as possible about all those ties.

When I was in London last year, I was a little creeped out by the fact every person who was reading a book on the tube was reading the same book: Steig Larsson's The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. It had reached the UK first and was apparently gaining momentum in the US as I was leaving (that was a roller coaster of a summer, sometimes literally, so I missed it.) It often takes me a long time to get to literary fads because I constantly have a huge stack books waiting to be read (The beauty of it? They will never, ever run out, because even if I read every book ever—a girl can dream—I would just get to start over again.) But this Christmas, excuse me, Winter break (political correctness is NOT my strong suit,) I finally got around to it and devoured all of them in about a week.

They're longer than they look here. I promise it's very impressive.
My conclusion about the Millennium Trilogy (a name I still don't understand)? They're good. They are not literary masterpieces, they are not classics, and they are not, by any means, life-changing. But they're like watching a not particularly meaningful, but incredibly entertaining movie—you're engrossed, even if the snob in you is rebelling a bit. They've got that murder-mystery-intrigue-espionage-Russian-government-hacker- thing going on, and all at once. They're set in Sweden, which means everyone's got names that are fun to say and there's funny and interesting cultural things (I still don't know what kronor to dollar is, though.) But, the real reason I'm recommending to put all affected airs aside and pick them up, is that these books aren't really about all of that, but about an evaluation of the shortcomings of a particular culture's mores and values.

I won't wreck them for you here because I would have punched a child if they has told me what “all the evil” was before I read it for myself. But I will tell you what I think these books are really about: violence against women. These books may be enjoyable, but Larsson went a step farther than Patterson or Evanovich and made them about a more pressing issue—Swedish culture's chauvinistic tendencies, even in this century. Larsson consistently brings his story to this issue, dealing with how morality's lines blur when one becomes helpless in any official sense. He's written a story of female agency in a world where that agency is mostly seen as a way to placate half the population—a world that is terrifyingly our own. Larsson brings out the feminist in each of his readers and brings to light the way women are still subjugated, in both minor and major ways. Underneath all the intrigue, Larsson has provided his reader with something much more intriguing, as disturbing as it may be.
Though in the American film version, it appears Lisbeth
Salander doesn't wear pants. So maybe it's just me.
People ask me all the time who my favorite author is, or what my favorite book is. I have a string of ready-made answers: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Franny and Zooey, Jane Austen, Atlas Shrugged, Edith Wharton, Love in the Time of Cholera, Herman Hesse, Anna Karenina, etc. etc. etc. There's just too many—I always leave a thousand out and always say something weird like “Hemingway and I are old war buddies” or “I don't think The Bell Jar is actually about suicide, so don't worry.” Because while all the things I mention are truly my favorite, my real favorite when you ask me is always going to be what I'm reading right then and there, even if I've only read the title page. It is immediate and thus wonderful, no matter what it is, because it's feeding my obsession. Unless it's Pamela.

So what I'm saying is (and no, this is not entirely what I started out saying, but I've ended up here, anyway): a true passion for literature is one that doesn't know how to discriminate. You can judge a book after it's done, you can hate or love something, and some things can even be painful to read BUT there's something inherently satisfying about reading words on a page, even when the way those words are put together SUCK. Just....suck horribly.

So turn down your nose and pick up some of Mr. Larsson's books. Because, God knows, I've read and will read, much worse.

You can see the rest of the shots from the W Magazine shoot for the new film here. Sarcasm aside, I'm pretty excited. I keep falling asleep during the Swedish ones. Not because they're bad, but because Swedish is a melodious language.