Sunday, September 30, 2012

Bossypants: As long as we can play possum together

My thoughts on Bossypants: Celebrities! They're just like us! Basically.

The book has some giggles and a few Alec Baldwin anecdotes (although not nearly enough), and I HIGHLY enjoyed the chapter on magazine photo shoots. Mainly, I appreciated learning all the ways this smart, beautiful, successful woman is frequently an insecure train wreck.
"(My ability to turn good news into anxiety is rivaled only by my ability to turn anxiety into chin acne.)" (p. 170)
"'Blorft' is an adjective I just made up that means 'Completely overwhelmed but proceeding as if everything is fine and reacting to stress with the torpor of a possum.' I have been blorft every day for the past seven years." (p. 173)

Possums: Generally lacking in torpor

I myself spent a lot of time in the middle-school bathroom adjusting the bobby pins in my Princess Leia buns and wiping that one mean boy's saliva off my violin case, and I was constantly looking forward to the time when I would be a grown-up lady with the confidence born of kicking ass at life. But I'm turning 27 next month, and I still haven't transformed into a lady, grown-up or otherwise. And it's becoming more and more clear with every passing year that I will never transcend the human condition (i.e., being painfully awkward as a general rule). But if Tina EFFING Fey still doubts herself, then maybe I can be content with my self-doubt? And possibly even do something awesome with my life? Yeah. That.

SOURCE: Fey, Tina. (2011). Bossypants. New York: Little, Brown.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Life of Pi: A boy and a tiger pleasantly surprise me

The author's note that opens this book sets the story up as a true account. And . . . I MAY have briefly fallen for this ruse, as evidenced in my notes, where the first thing I wrote was, "True story?"

Now that I've gotten THAT embarrassment out of the way, we can proceed with the business at hand. The story (THE FICTIONAL STORY, LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES) is SO much more than I expected it to be.

As I'm sure you've gathered by now (from the movie trailer or the book cover or the title of this blog post), there is a boy and there is also a tiger. If you're anything like me, you just pictured the following:

If you pictured Calvin & Hobbes instead, I approve.

As it turns out, THIS is not what happens when people and Bengal tigers get together. (Another childhood dream shattered. NOW who will comfort me while I weep in my harem pants?) But what DOES happen on the boat is pretty engaging and . . . dare I say? Realistic?

Boy/tiger interactions aren't ALL you have to look forward to. There's also a wealth of non-tiger-related zoological information (Pi's father owns a zoo, and Pi double majors in zoology and religious studies . . . as you do). My personal favorite zoo talk was the lesson on sloths.
"If you come upon a sleeping three-toed sloth in the wild, two or three nudges should suffice to awaken it; it will then look sleepily in every direction but yours. Why it should look about is uncertain since the sloth sees everything in a Magoo-like blur." (p. 4)

And then if the animal stuff isn't enough, you can have a side of deeeeeep religious exploration. But not in an annoying way . . . unless you refuse to entertain the possibility that at least SOME questions of religion can't be answered definitively (in which case, you're annoying me go away).

After a discussion with his atheist teacher about how science and medicine are the only gods mankind needs:
"The tone was rightloving and bravebut the details seemed bleak. I said nothing. It wasn't for fear of angering Mr. Kumar. I was more afraid that in a few words thrown out he might destroy something that I loved. What if his words had the effect of polio on me? What a terrible disease that must be if it could kill God in a man. . . .
He became my favourite teacher. . . . I felt a kinship with him. It was my first clue that atheists are my brothers and sisters of a different faith, and every word they speak speaks of faith. Like me, they go as far as the legs of reason will carry themand then they leap." (p. 28)
Oh, and at one point, Pi declares to his mother that he wants to be baptized and would also like his very own prayer rug. She doesn't know what to tell him (pursuit of multiple religions not being widely encouraged in India), so she gives him Robinson Crusoe. ROBINSON CRUSOE. A few of you will find this as hilarious as I did . . . and the rest of you are still looking at the sloth GIF. Carry on.

SOURCE: Martel, Yann. (2001). Life of Pi. Orlando, FL: Harcourt.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

King Rat: There will be no GIFs (well maybe just one)

For those of us who have not been prisoners of war, James Clavell does a pretty damn good job filling us in on what we've been missing. He drops us right in the middle of life at Changi, a Japanese prison camp in Singapore, where Clavell himself was a POW during World War II. Changi was home to 50,000 British, Australian, New Zealand, American, and Canadian prisoners.
"The men too were criminals. Their crime was vast. They had lost a war. And they had lived." (p. 7)
Even in this setting, life goes on . . . complete with varying religious preferences, class and rank distinctions, social politics, and the gap between the haves and the have-nots. And at the top of the haves is an American man identified only as "The King," thought to be based on a prisoner named Theodore Lewin, who reportedly saved Clavell while they were both interred in Changi.

In a world where men can survive only in units of two or three, the King is an exception. He has managed to thrive on his own in the prison camp, finding ways to trade even though it's forbidden by the Japanese guards (sometimes even trading with the guards themselves). He is well connected and well supplied with food, cigarettes, clean clothes, and toiletries. He relies on no one. And that doesn't make him overly popular.
"The whole of Changi hated the King. They hated him for his muscular body, the clear glow in his blue eyes. In this twilight world of the half alive there were no fat or well-built or round or smooth or fair-built or thick-built men. There were only faces dominated by eyes and set on bodies that were skin over sinews over bones. No difference between them but age and face and height. And in all this world, only the King ate like a man, smoked like a man, slept like a man, dreamed like a man and looked like a man." (p. 12)
Australian POWs at Changi

So when we pop into the narrative, the King has been carrying on for quite some time without any true friends in the camp, and he's content with that. He even kind of likes it.

Enter Peter Marlowe (allegedly based on Clavell himself), an English officer who speaks fluent Malay and has a rich laugh. It's those qualities that catch the King's notice and lead to a friendship between the two men. Marlowe participates in some of the King's schemes, but he adapts to the cynicism and cruelty of camp life reluctantly. And he PINES beautifully.
"He looked out at the camp, seeing the sun beat the dust and the wind pick up the dust and swirl it. The swirl reminded him of her.
He looked away towards the east, into a nervous sky. But she was part of the sky.
The wind gathered slightly and bent the heads of the coconut palms. But she was part of the wind and the palms and the clouds beyond. . . .
Once more Peter Marlowe looked up into the sky, seeking distance. Only then could he feel that he was not within a boxa box filled with men, and men's smells and men's dirt and men's noises. Without women, Peter Marlowe thought helplessly, men are only a cruel joke. And he bled in the starch of the sun." (pp. 63-64)
And that womanless existence adds another interesting dynamic to prison life. The openly gay men in the camp take on feminine rolesfor example, acting as nurses in the hospital. But what's more incredible than that is that the other men in the camp, in their desperation for female companionship, willingly view the more effeminate men as women and behave toward them as they would toward women. They participate in a sort of active delusion. The most fascinating example of this is a man named Sean, who's special task in the camp is to play the female roles in all the camp plays. He embraces this assignment so entirely that he dresses as a woman at all times and even lives separately from the rest of the men, in a room with a lock on the door. With just a little nudge, his male identity disappears entirely.

Of course, in all this, there's a linear plot and several subplots (the King never seems to run out of money-making schemes), but all that is secondary to the interpersonal dynamics, the way the men cope with a seemingly endless captivity, and the ways their pastswho they were before they were only prisoners—color their lives in a remote tropical jungle.

All better now?

Source: Clavell, James. (2009). King Rat. New York: Bantam Dell.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Hump Day Nerdgasm: Prepare to be underwhelmed

I accidentally took a hiatus from this self-imposed weekly feature that never talks about anything in particular. The whole of August was BEREFT of nerdgasming . . . but full of Wilkie Collins fangirling, thanks to Alice's Moonstone readalong. So it pretty well balanced out, I figure.

The newest news in Me Land is that I now get paid to spend time at my favorite bookstore, The Last Bookstore. Hey, remember when I talked about it that one time and that other time. . . and all those times on Twitter and Facebook? WELL I WORK THERE NOW.

Ironically, my new bookstore job has left me with less time to read, but IN THEORY I'm reading The Life of Pi, If He Hollers Let Him Go, and Frankenstein (yes, STILL . . . it just won't END).

I'm only a few pages in on . . . well, all of my current books, so I should probably pick one of them up instead of filling every spare moment with old episodes of Dr. Who. But I just got my Netflix Instant account back, and I couldn't help but go on a bit of a Who-bender. I finished Series 1 (pretty much in one day), and I'm kind of feeling the same way Rose is feeling. *eyes David Tennant suspiciously*

Never mind. I think I'll manage.