Monday, September 30, 2013

Books Like Whoa: Rereading Tolkien

Oh, Mr. Tolkien. How I love you. How I've missed you.

This summer, I took a class on J.R.R. Tolkien, which involved rereading most of the Tolkien oeuvre. I know, my life is so hard. It was one of the more joyful assignments I have had and conversation about the books has rippled out from the classroom into many other corners of my life. 


And since this was one of the most significant reading experiences of my year, I thought I'd take some time to reflect on how I found these old friends this time around.


***



What surprised me most about The Hobbit this time around was the amount of sympathy I had for Bilbo at the beginning. 12 year old Frankie thought he was being a wet blanket about the whole adventuring thing. 26 year old Frankie was totally with him on the rude, unexpected house guest front. Seriously, a bunch of people you've never met show up and start eating your food and throwing your shit around?



No. Not cool. Frankly, I salute Bilbo for keeping it together as well as he does. 

I loved seeing how Tolkien uses Bilbo's genealogy throughout the book to explain why Bilbo makes certain choices, framing his decisions as the conflict between his adventuresome, Tookish side and his homebody, Baggins side. What a genius way to externalize an internal conflict - and a totally approachable way to illustrate inner ambivalence to children. 

This is also a genuinely funny book. Throughout Tolkien's Middle-earth cycle, I was struck by Tolkien's very dry sense of humor. He does a particularly nice job of funneling his commentary through Bilbo's inner thoughts and I especially enjoyed the sheer annoyance that Bilbo feels over the standoff between Thorin and the men of Dale/Elf king. 

This was probably my favorite reread, since I didn't remember very much about the book from the first time around. It was a delight to rediscover its pleasures.  



I know that this corner of Tolkien's work doesn't appeal to everyone. Not everyone enjoys reading made up history and mythology, but I find this fictional version of non-fiction delectable. My only real revelation on this reread was that since I'm much more familiar with Tolkien lore than I used to be, I didn't have to check the family trees as often. I still loved The Silmarillion and I love that I will probably make new connections every time I read it.




Whew. Y'all. I forgot how amazing this book really is. I had tried to read it when I was about 12, after The Hobbit, and struck out. Once the movies came out and helped me get into the plot (and assured me that they weren't going to be hanging out with Tom Bombadil for 1000 pages), I breezed through LOTR, primarily to find out what was going to happen. Consequently, the impact of the prose was pretty fuzzy in my memory and I didn't pay much attention to the thematic content. This time I did, and y'all...




It's breathtaking. Tolkien's prose is truly beautiful - the details he lavishes in painting the landscapes are gorgeous and his linguistic interests shine through in the perfection of his word choice. His themes are consistently woven throughout the narrative: never too heavy-handed, but omnipresent to give weight to even the smallest scene or interaction. 

And even though I knew exactly what was going to happen, I found myself crying on multiple occasions (OMG, Theoden? All the goodbyes at the end? The Grey Havens?). In the library. With people awkwardly walking away from me.




Whatevs. LOTR was an amazing reread, one that I would love to revisit every couple of years for as long as I'm reading.  



There are a lot of great things contained in this collection of smaller Tolkien writings, but the stand out for me was Leaf by Niggle. I'm not sure that I had ever read this short story before, but seriously, it is one of the best allegories I have ever encountered. Considering how much Tolkien is known for disdaining allegory, he hits one out of the park with this story. LBN should be required reading for anyone interested in thinking about how a short story can deliver a wallop of a punch to a reader. Truly, it is an example of a perfect short story.



***

The bottom line? I wasn't sure if Tolkien's work would stand up to intense scrutiny and rereading. But my fears were unfounded: his oeuvre deepens and opens out with rereading. If you've only been through these books once, I'd highly recommend revisiting them, especially The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. They really do hold up.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Friends Friday: Episodes 2.3 and 2.4 (Recaps)

Episode 2.3: "The One Where Heckles Dies"

First things first: we learn in this episode that Joey dated a man... or a woman with an enormous Adam's apple. It's hard to say.


Anyhoo...

As much as I like this episode, I mourn the fact that they killed off Mr. Heckles so early in the series. I mean, we endured Ugly Naked Guy jokes for five full seasons, long after the laughs were gone. Could we not have kept their bitter, slightly crazy neighbor around for another year?

Things start off with the girls finally fighting back at Mr. Heckles' irrational belief that they are being too loud.


It's not until later that they find out that they may or may not have killed him. And that he has left his apartment filled with junk to them. There are some good laughs played off of Rachel's love for kitschy junk and Monica's refusal to let it into the apartment. I wish that this side of Rachel had reemerged later in the series, but I think Bloomingdale's and Ralph Lauren class her up, sadly.

The real center of the show is Chandler's over-identification with Mr. Heckles' curmudgeonly ways. This may shock you, but Chandler is not very mature (*gasp! horror!*). This immaturity comes to bear most strongly in his romantic relationships. Rather than dealing with the fact that no person is perfect and therefore no woman is perfect, he finds minor reasons to reject them. As he gets a closer look at Mr. Heckles' hermit life, he starts to realize that maybe he's on the same one way road to creepy loner-ville...


Chandler wouldn't be Chandler if he achieved lasting insight, but his journey in the shoes of Mr. Heckles is both funny and touching and, really, that combination is when Friends is always at its best.

I also adore the plot between Phoebe and Ross. Ross cannot. stand. the fact that Phoebe is skeptical of evolution. Phoebe delights in torturing Ross with this fact. Hilarity ensues- I just love, love, love it, perhaps because it's like watching the two halves of my mind embodied and in conflict. I also love using this episode as an example of the flaws in strict scientism.

Chandler reveals two past sexual partners... Chandler & the Big Nostril Girl and Chandler& the Girl Who Doesn't Hate Yonni.

The Great Hook-Up Round-Up:
Monica: VIII
Phoebe: VII
Rachel: V
Joey: V
Chandler: V
Ross: I

Ross 'n' Rachel State of the Union
Ross likes Rachel: 22
Rachel like Ross: 3
They like each other but aren't together: 1
They like each other and are together: 0
Nothing's going on: 0

Best line:

"Well, maybe the overlords needed them to steer their spacecrafts." - Phoebe on opposable thumbs.

"How will you face the other scientists? How will you face yourself?!" - Phoebe after Ross caves

"Not hating Yanni is not a real reason." - Ross

"Kids won't walk, they'll run past my place. 'Run! Run from crazy snake man!' they'll shout." - Chandler on his future alone

Episode 2.4: "The One With Phoebe's Husband"

Phoebe married a gay ice dancer? Steve Vaughn is her husband?


Yes, her husband. Poor Phoebe - she fell in love with a gay ice dancer, married him, and then was forced to divorce him when he fell in love with another woman. Sweet irony. (Or not...)

Unfortunately for her, she's not even kind of the most interesting thing going on the episode named for her. No, what makes this episode a stand out are the two b-stories (also true in the previous episode). First, we find out some amazing details about the friends. Monica had sex with Fun Bobby on the balcony. Chandler has a third nipple. Joey was in a porno as the guy who walks in on people having sex. The scene of them watching that porno is pretty darn funny.

The coup de grace is Rachel trying to persuade Ross not to have sex with Julie and the lengths that she will go to talk him out of it. It ends, as Ross/Rachel conflict stories always do, with her putting her love of Ross and her desire for him to be happy above her own personal feelings. All is right in the friends universe, but Rachel's repressed feelings will live to fight another day.

Ross and his girlfriend finally get it on and Ross doubles his number of sexual partners: Ross & Julie.

The Great Hook-Up Round-Up:
Monica: VIII
Phoebe: VII
Rachel: V
Joey: V
Chandler: V
Ross: II

Ross 'n' Rachel State of the Union
Ross likes Rachel: 22
Rachel like Ross: 4
They like each other but aren't together: 1
They like each other and are together: 0
Nothing's going on: 0

Best line:

"Why yes Ross, pressing my third nipple opens the delivery entrance to the magical land of Narnia." - Chandler on his third nipple's special features

"You're so smart and funny and you throw such great Academy Awards parties!" - Phoebe on why her husband can't be straight

Monday, September 16, 2013

Books Like Whoa: The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

Musing on an excellent piece of Southern literature...




The Moviegoer
by Walker Percy

Procured from the Regent Bookstore 

Procured in May 2013

Finished in August 2013

Format: Trade paperback 

Why I gave it a try: I've been told repeatedly that, along with Flannery O'Connor, who I just adore, Walker Percy is the height of Catholic Southern fiction. And that this is his definitive work. So I was like, ehrmagerd, I gotta check this out.

Summary: Binx Bolling's life is fine. It's great, as a matter of fact, from the outside looking in. Good job, beautiful secretaries/lovers, a rich, quirky family who are active in New Orleans social life. But as he approaches his thirtieth birthday, the lingering sense of aimlessness that's always nagged at the fringes of his mind comes to bear. Along with his mentally unstable cousin, Kate, he's about to be confronted with the consequences of a life lived without purpose.

Thoughts: My reading experience of this book was greatly enhanced by the fact that I read it on the train between Vancouver and Portland. There's something wonderful about being physically in a borderland type space reading about existential angst. Being in transit by yourself feels like kind of putting your own life on hold and being able to see it at a distance - you're neither fully removed from things nor fully engaged in them. Basically, it's the perfect mood to watch someone else ruin their life through inertia. 

Binx is an engaging narrator, describing the people in his world with warmth and humor. Though he finds all of them (and even himself) rather silly, he doesn't judge them. In that respect, he's the opposite of Nick in The Great Gatsby. Though there are some truly batshit crazy people in his life, he just kind of rolls with the punches and accepts them for who they are. 


Live and let live
The moviegoing of the title comes up occasionally, with Binx slowly realizing why it is that he prefers seeing even a bad movie to living his own life. Movies come to symbolize his disengagement with his world and his reluctance to commit to his life. And that's what the heart of this book is about: when you don't believe in or really care about anything, what's the impetus to be present for the people around you or commit to your own future? Though he's well into adulthood, in many ways, The Moviegoer is a coming of age story, both for Binx and his cousin Kate. They have to find something to commit to and believe in or else they will remain permanently adrift in apathy and insanity.

Binx seems like he could almost be a dopier version of one of Dashiell Hammett's hard boiled detectives at times. However, Percy hints at the soft heart that lies beneath Binx's indifferent exterior through his relationship with a chronically ill younger brother. Their interactions, alongside his brief flashes to his war service in Korea, suggest that Binx's seeming apathy may be masking a wounded man whose desire to believe has been damaged but not totally destroyed. 




This is the kind of book that some people are just going to hate - it's not a plot heavy book, so if you don't like the tone, themes, and characters, there's not much to hang your hat on. I, however, loved the writing and the whole ball of wax. Percy also evokes the South wonderfully in his writing - I can always tell whether or not Southern literature is working if it makes me feel the humidity and see the heat rising up off of the cars and asphalt. He captures the limpid feeling of ennui that I love in both existential novels and Southern lit: for me, at least, that combination is why this book deserves to be a modern classic.

It's not a book for everyone - but it was definitely a book for me. I'm looking forward to reading more from Percy (I think the next one for me will be Love in the Ruins, as I've heard that even more of Percy's humor comes through).

Rating:

5 - It's really good; well written and pleasurable 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Friends Friday: Episodes 2.1 and 2.2 (Recaps)

Episode 2.1: "The One With Ross' New Girlfriend"

Back from the summer break and season 2 picks up right where season 1 left off. Ross, Rachel, unidentified Asian woman, a bunch of flowers - all the ingredients for an incredibly awkward encounter.

One of the great things about season 2 is that we get to see Rachel's character develop and her sass show through much more. Season 1 Rachel is kind of a ditzy princess who occasionally veers into wet blanket territory. Season 2 Rachel has a much stronger motivation and thus a much stronger personality. I'm lovin' it.

Ignoring the fact that Rachel is mildly racist towards Julie, her crazed vindictiveness is thoroughly enjoyable. She purposefully wrecks Julie's punchline. She manically yells at Chandler. And she coins one of the best catchphrases of the series.


Now the entire gang is in an awkward position (except Ross, who remains clueless). They all were so invested in Ross and Rachel getting together only to have it thwarted. Hmm, maybe the writers are trying to parallel the group's experience with the audience's? Sneaky sneaky...

Rachel and Joey have a great bonding moment where he tells her to go for it with Ross. This continues the pattern established in the previous season - Joey may be a horn dog, but he has a heart of gold and always gives great relationship advice. Rachel does decide to tell Ross (which gives him a chance to express his undying hatred for Paolo the Crap Weasel) - and as Ross tells her how great she is, she realizes how great Ross is and how much she wants him to be happy. She decides to drop the romance thing - for now. Let's see how long that lasts...



The Ross/Rachel ongoing saga dominates most of the episode (as it does in much of the first part of Season 2), but unlike many of the other shows this season, they find equally entertaining B-plots for the rest of the friends to engage in. First, we see the boys in fantabulous Caesar haircuts a la Phoebe. Monica wants to get in on the haircutting action and one celebrity mix-up later (Dudley Moore vs. Demi Moore... that's always a tricky one), Phoebe butchers Monica's hair. Good stuff.

Also, Chandler's encounter with the groping tailor makes me laugh every. single. time. Poor Joey - you should never assume it's okay for your service provider to feel you up.

Too much drama for anyone to get down to business in this episode.

The Great Hook-Up Round-Up:
Monica: VIII
Phoebe: VII
Rachel: V
Joey: V
Chandler: III
Ross: I

Ross 'n' Rachel State of the Union
Ross likes Rachel: 22
Rachel like Ross: 1
They like each other but aren't together: 1
They like each other and are together: 0
Nothing's going on: 0

Best line: 

"And then the chicken pooped on her lap!" - Rachel ruining Julie's punchline

Joey: "Ross, will you tell him that's how a tailor measures pants?"
Ross: "Yes, yes it is... in prison!"

Episode 2.2: "The One With the Breast Milk"

Ugh, this is a bummer of an episode. We're basically supposed to be invested in the fact that Rachel has the emotional maturity of a bed wetting toddler and refuses to engage with Julie. When Monica acts like a grown up and tries to befriend Julie, Rachel starts lobbing marginally pointed barbs at her:



Monica has tasted her own medicine, Rach. And it is bitter. Or not. She tries to put her big girl panties on at the end, but the results are mixed at best. Yawn.

Aside from some great breast-feeding banter and some epic fashion (loving Carol's crazy print shirt), there's not much to say here. Ross and Julie are still together. The rest of the gang doesn't have a lot of arcs in the air, so it's a bit of a snooze. Things will get back on track next week when a certain amazing neighbor meets his maker.

No new sexytimes this episode, either. Monica holds her lead into next week. 

The Great Hook-Up Round-Up:
Monica: VIII
Phoebe: VII
Rachel: V
Joey: V
Chandler: III
Ross: I

Ross 'n' Rachel State of the Union
Ross likes Rachel: 22
Rachel like Ross: 2
They like each other but aren't together: 1
They like each other and are together: 0
Nothing's going on: 0

Best line:

"Hi, Jew!" - Monica

Monday, September 9, 2013

GIFing a Crazy Two Weeks

In the last 2 weeks days, I have moved house, thrown a BBQ for 150 people, started a new job, turned in 3 papers, organized too many events, been trained for a variety of tasks, gone to a dozen parties... and probably many other things. But I've blocked that out.

And school starts today.

Basically, I feel a little bit like a crazy person. I don't really know how to write about that, so I won't. I'll GIF it.

I started out excited. Like, really excited - so many happy things in such a short time? When I got back from Portland, I was ready and rearin' to get started at the new job.



Then I realized I had a sinus infection.




And that I hadn't really packed yet for my move.


And that I was going to have to go to the Canadian equivalent of the DMV to get my SIN card to work.




Luckily, once again, Canadian bureaucratic interactions are 100x more pleasant than their American equivalent and we got in and out of there in 45 minutes. I kind of couldn't believe it...



Plus, I had the world's best crew to help me move.



Between us 6 ladies, we took care of business.



Meaning that by Saturday, I was all moved out of the old place and settled into the new. And it was good.



Until I remembered that I had a bajillion more thing to do in the week ahead.



But whatever. I looked at my to do list and was like, bring it.



I got this.



All week, my ambiverted self was divided. The extrovert in me was ecstatic to hang out with so many new people....



While the introverted side of me was freaking out a little bit.



By Thursday, I was kind of done.



I achieved a zen-like state of non-caring.



But I had to buck up. It was the big day - training, prayer, BBQ, oh my!



At the end of the day, I was too tired to feel anything but relieved that it was over.



Friday's training day was pretty low key and I started to feel like myself again.



By the end of this weekend, I was feeling good.



Until I realized that school starts on Monday.




So...  Hopefully things will calm down after this first week. But maybe I shouldn't hold my breath for that.