Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century Quest: #78

Title: Kim
Author: Rudyard Kipling
Judgin' the Book By Its Cover: It's interesting how many editions of this book have elephants on the cover, considering their absence from the story. I wonder what Edward Said would have to say about that.

Thoughts: Kim, simply put, is the story of a young orphan in India and his journey to manhood. He is the son of an Irish soldier, and upon the death of his parents, is raised by a native woman and receives his education from the streets of Lahore and the people who populate the city. Like Augie March, Kim is frequently "adopted" by adults who are fascinated by him and want to mold his young life. Throughout the course of the book, he is embroiled in espionage for the Queen's secret service by a British captain and a Muslim horse trader, he is pulled from the streets and given an elite English education by a Catholic priest, and he becomes a "chela", or disciple, to a Tibetan lama. As his involvement with the "Great Game", or espionage project, deepens, he is torn between carrying out his mission and accompanying his beloved lama on his search for a river which will cleanse him of sins and elevate him to true enlightenment. These two things converge on a trek to northern India, a trip that makes Kim a man and helps him to choose his true allegiance.

The book isn't the most gripping of tales, and the prose is rather tedious-- there's an attempt made to translate the vernacular speech into English, which for some reason leaves the dialogue stilted and chock-full of "thees" and "thous". Moreover, the character of Kim isn't very easy to relate to or believe-- in some ways he's sort of a stand-in for the intersection of Indian and British culture, which makes him seem a bit precocious. Of course, as with anything written during the height of British colonialism, there are some problematic areas in the text-- many generalizations are made about "Orientals" and "Asiatics" in the book, and white men are possibly given a privileged status (although it's difficult to ascertain Kipling's true feelings about race and imperialism). But what Kipling really accomplishes in Kim is to paint a picture of the incredible diversity of India-- the many languages, peoples, religions, and colorful characters that coexist and cohere to form the country. It's very interesting to read about the characters' interactions with each other-- they're all so different and have differing motivations and mores, but yet they somehow manage to work and live together. So that's pretty cool.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century Quest: #79

Title: A Room with a View
Author: E. M. Forster
Judgin' the Book By Its Cover: I think you know how I feel about mustaches... I'm titling this portraiting "Pensive 'Stache".

Thoughts: A Room with a View is the story of Lucy Honeychurch, a young girl who takes a fateful trip to Florence under the supervision of her spinster cousin, Charlotte. While in Florence, Lucy meets the Emersons, a father and son who revel in bucking societal conventions and preach the gospel of nonconformity to her. Predictably, an "unexpected" romance blossoms, and, although Lucy cannot bring herself to admit it, she finds herself head over heels in love and rethinking her entire worldview.

This frothy story was an incredibly quick read-- I blasted through the majority of it on a round trip bus ride to Baltimore and back. Don't get me wrong-- there are some complex metaphors at work here, and some interesting ideas are presented, but it was still a pretty light read. I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would-- it could only be described as "witty" and was occasionally even laugh-out-loud funny. However, the romance was thoroughly unbelievable and the prose was somewhat tainted, in my opinion, by the sexism of Forster's perspective-- he frequently referred to women as "illogical" and even inferred that they are incapable of complex thinking. Icky!! But, it was likable enough, especially given the length (or lack thereof).

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century Quest: #80

Title: Brideshead Revisited
Author: Evelyn Waugh
Judgin' the Book By Its Cover: Love this cover! It's hilarious.

Thoughts: Brideshead Revisited is the story of Charles Ryder, a young English student, and his acquaintance and eventual friendship with an eccentric, aristocratic family. Charles befriends the hard-drinking and flamboyant younger brother, Sebastian, at Oxford, and is quickly sucked into the dizzying world of the enigmatic Flytes. However, Charles ultimately remains an outsider because he cannot comprehend the force that simultaneously binds together and drives apart the family-- their Catholic faith.

I thought this was a really unique book. The characters are intriguing and the story, despite a lull towards the middle, is engaging. I especially likes the way that the Flytes were portrayed, warts and all-- they seemed incredibly real, despite their eccentricities. I also loved that the commonality held by all the disparate members of the family was their Catholicism. The ending is absolutely moving-- the kindling of the spark of faith in the patriarch's bosom (yeah, I just used "bosom" in a sentence) reignites the wholw family and even the virulently agnostic Charles can't help but be affected.

I'd been looking forward to reading this book for over a year now-- I originally purchased it to read with K-Dub, but alas, I abandoned her in pursuit of the Quest and she read it all by her lonesome. While I wish I had read it with her (I could've greatly benefited from her savory wit and sharp analysis), it was well worth the wait. Highly recommended.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century Quest: #81

Title: The Adventures of Augie March
Author: Saul Bellow
Judgin' the Book By Its Cover: Dude, it has a giant gila monster on it! Two thumbs up!!

Thoughts: This story, unsurprisingly, is about the adventures of one Augie March, a boy living in the Jewish slums of Chicago in the years before the Depression. The book follows him as he attends grows up, falls in love (over and over again), and eventually serves in World War II. It was quite difficult to get into this book, as the first 100 pages or so are spent describing various character's in Augie's neighborhood. Eventually, as Augie sets off on his journeys, things get more interesting. I especially enjoyed the passages describing his trip to Mexico with an unstable girlfriend bent on training a young bald eagle to hunt giant gila monsters (again, I can't get enough of the giant gila monsters!!).

I found Bellow's prose to be a bit off-putting-- he frequently used metaphors that were difficult to follow (or even nonsensical) and tended to be verbose where I would have preferred brevity. Moreover, I generally wasn't interested in Augie's search for meaning. He relegates all the events and people in his life to supporting roles for his grand theories about life, at times sacrificing story in doing so. There were definitely parts of the novel that I enjoyed, though, so it wasn't a complete fail, but this isn't a book I would return to anytime soon.

This week the Man Friend reminded me that it's been exactly one year since I embarked on this heroic quest, which depressed me quite a bit. It's been a long, strange trip (OK, not really, but I couldn't really resist a Dead reference), and it feels like forever since I read The Magnificent Ambersons, but I'm only 20% of the way done (not even, actually)! At this rate it will take me FOUR MORE YEARS to get through this list. I'm a bit intimidated, to be honest.

Monday, August 11, 2008


Here is a fun game from kristywes-- self-portraiture via photo mosaic! To make yours, type your answer to each of the questions below into Flickr search. Using only the first page of returned images, choose your favorite and copy-&-paste each of the URL’s into the Mosaic Maker (3 columns, 4 rows).

The questions:
1. What is your first name?
2. What is your favorite food?
3. What high school did you attend?
4. What is your favorite color?
5. Who is your celebrity crush?
6. Favorite drink?
7. Dream vacation?
8. Favorite dessert?
9. What do you want to be when you grow up?
10.What do you love most in life?
11. One word to describe you.
12. Your Flickr name.

Kristywes answered her questions, but I'm going to leave mine blank (and therefore mysterious). See if you can guess how I answered!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century Quest: #82

Title: Angle of Repose
Author: Wallace Stegner
Judgin' the Book By Its Cover: This cover doesn't do much justice to the story-- does it make you want to read the book?

Thoughts: Angle of Repose tells the story of Lyman Ward, an aging historian, crippled physically by disease and emotionally by his wife's betrayal, living in California in the early '70's. To stave off loneliness and to retain what he can of his independence, he embarks on a new project and begins digging into the letters, articles, and drawings left behind by his grandmother, an accomplished artist from New England who left a life of sophistication and culture to move to the Western frontier and marry a mining engineer. As Ward contemplates his life and his grandmother's, he draws startling conclusions about the nature of marriage and what holds relationships together.

The book was very absorbing, and really examined the lives and relationships of the characters. I found it challenging and difficult to read at times, especially as I watched marriages disintegrate and characters inflict wounds on each other that would never heal. It really made me think about my own relationship and the choices that you have to make to keep your life intersecting with the lives of others.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century Quest: #83

Title: A Bend in the River
Author: V.S. Naipaul
Judgin' the Book By Its Cover: This cover actually tells a lot about the book and about Naipaul's perspective-- the photo visually represents his impression of Africans as unknowable and obscured by ever-changing masks.

Thoughts: I really liked this book. It very thoughtfully depicted post-colonial life in an unnamed African country (although it is almost certainly Zaire/Congo). The book is narrated by Salim, a young merchant whose ancestors came to the African coast from India generations earlier. Salim takes over a trading post in the interior of the continent, and as the leader of the fledgling nation rapidly consolidates power, he and his compatriots are at first unwilling and later unable to leave. The events that follow are devastating, and the prose, though sparse, is evocative. Salim's impressions of Africa as an outsider and an insider at the same time are revelatory, and his description of the continent as a force separate from and transcending above humanity is powerfully enlightening.

Here's the first sentence of the book as a little teaser: "The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it."

Definitely recommended.

NOTE: I promise to stop reviewing books 2+ weeks after I finish reading them. OK, I promise to try-- you can't fault me for trying, can you?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century Quest: #84

Title: The Death of the Heart
Author: Elizabeth Bowen
Judgin' the Book By Its Cover: This isn't the cover that I have, but it's kind of funny. I have a totally tricked-out '70's version of the girl alone in posh surroundings... gotta love the used books at Housing Works...

Thoughts: Let's see... I finished this book over two weeks ago, but I'm still not sure what I think about it. The story is about Portia (the product of a father's middle-age infidelity), who is forced to live with her half-brother and his wife after the death of her parents. It's clear that her brother and sister-in-law view her as a burden and are unsettled by the unwavering gaze she fixes on them and their lifestyle. Like The Old Wives' Tale, the novel is a very close inspection of the interactions between family members who are emotionally distant.

As Portia feels more and more the distance between herself and her guardians, she draws near to Eddie, a clearly up-to-no-good older beau. The book seems to be a tale about a doomed romance that will certainly end with Portia as a ruined woman, but instead presents a probably more realistic and definitely more interesting look at first love and growing up. That said, it wasn't very much fun to read. It seems to be mainly about the cruelty of society and familial relations, and doesn't present much hope of overcoming this cruelty. So I can't really give it rave reviews. I'm learning more and more that the psychological novel isn't my favorite genre, although I'd be happy to change my mind on the subject (any suggestions?).

Friday, May 30, 2008

Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century Quest: #85

Title: Lord Jim
Author: Joseph Conrad
Judgin' the Book By Its Cover: No photo available of this cover, folks, so instead I'll treat you to an awesome photo of the impressive Joseph Conrad. That's a 'stache and a half!!

Thoughts: This was a story about courage, cowardice, escape, and redemption, a deep, dense exploration of "the soul of man". It tells of a young, romantic sailor who, in a defining moment, makes the wrong choice and wrestles with the consequences thereafter. One noteworthy thing about this book is that the idea of forgiveness (of one's self and by others) is nearly absent-- once Jim makes his mistake, he is doomed to wander through the remote jungles of the earth to escape from its legacy. Needless to say, it was very difficult for me to relate to this worldview. Also, Conrad's writing is intensely steeped in colonialism, and his remarks about race (and even gender) are frequently off-putting (at best). It was hard to tell from his tone if he was critiquing and satirizing the idea of the white man as a supreme being or if he was stating that idea as fact. I would have really liked to discuss this book in a classroom setting-- there was a lot going on, and it was difficult to draw out all the themes alone.

Tangentially, it was interesting to read this book after recently watching Hearts of Darkness, the film documenting F. F. Coppola's trials and tribulations on the set of Apocalypse Now (an adaptation of Conrad's Heart of Darkness). If you haven't seen either movie, close this window and Netflix 'em now! Apocalypse Now is one of the best film adaptations ever, and Hearts of Darkness is a must-see for a filmmaker.

One final thought: Conrad, considered one of the foremost novelists of the 20th century, wrote these novels after learning English in his mid-twenties. English was his third language (after Polish and French)! That's amazing/depressing-- the man wrote far better in English than I ever will... and it wasn't even his SECOND language. I'm totally illiterate.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century Quest: #86

Title: Ragtime
Author: E.L. Doctorow
Judgin' the Book by Its Cover: U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

Thoughts: I loved this book. I was hooked from the first few pages, and I devoured the whole thing in just a few days. Historical figures slipped in and out of a simple story about a family living outside of NYC in the years following the turn of the 19th century, but it wasn't in any way reminiscent of hokey "historical fiction".

The book was a story about change, specifically the way that simple personal decisions gather steam and become society-wide changes. The wide variety of characters from different situations helped to paint an impressionistic picture of what life was like in those years, and I found myself looking up the real people who appeared in the novel because they were portrayed so compellingly (not a few of whom I was convinced were creations of Doctorow's imagination, due to the magnitude of their eccentricities). Very enjoyable read, especially for a New Yorker. Highly recommended!

Now, I have a 16 books to read before I get to skip a previously-read novel, which is by far the longest stretch in the quest. Wish me luck!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Read This Article!

The whip-smart Aspiring Novelist/Scrabble Champion kristywes has a provocative (no, not that kind of provocative) article prominently featured on Radiant's blog about what happens when you step out of your comfort zone and actually experience the radical diversity that us New Yorkers claim to love but usually avoid. Check it out here-- all the cool kids are reading it!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Dachshund Spring Fiesta 2008

Last Saturday, the family, my Man Friend, kristywes, and I checked out the annual dachshund spring fiesta at Washington Square Park. There were dachshunds galore!! A good time was had by all.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Giving the Old One-Legged Salute

I can't believe this photo exists. If you need a little backstory, click here. But honestly, there's not much to explain: a dog peed on Natalie Portman, and that magical moment was captured with the witchcraft of digital imagery. Ahh, technology... the gift that keeps on giving.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


So yesterday, during an enjoyable shift at the pretzel stand, the trash-lunch craving hit me like a gale-force wind, and I found myself staring dumbly at the McDonald's menu. Surprisingly, my eyes lit on something I hadn't seen before... something new... yet, at the same time, something very, very familiar.

The Southern-Style Crispy Chicken Sandwich.

I was compelled to order it.

Now, folks, does this sandwich or does it not bear a STRIKING resemblance to the Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich?? OK, let's not kid ourselves-- it's exactly the same (lightly-breaded, lightly-spiced chicken, topped with pickles and nested in a buttery, lightly-toasted bun). I felt like a traitor to my beloved Chick-fil-A eating it, but it was pretty delicious. I'll say this much-- it's not quite as delicious as the original (there was this weird thing happening where I kept forgetting I was eating a chicken sandwich due to the mushy, fish-like texture of the bird). I'm not sure exactly how McDonald's is getting away with this theft, but I can't promise I won't order it again. After all, the secret Chick-fil-A in NYC isn't exactly the most accessible place on earth (New Yorkers, ask me if you want to know the location of said restaurant... and I might tell you...). Chick-fil-A, go ahead and sue me-- oh, wait, you're probably way too busy suing McDonald's.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century Quest: #87

Title: The Old Wives' Tale
Author: Arnold Bennett
Judgin' the Book By Its Cover: Well... it reinforces the point that the book is about old broads...

Thoughts: I had quite a bit of difficulty getting into this book when I first began reading it, but warmed up to it more as I went along. The plot starts out feeling very familiar and cliched: two sisters living in the English countryside have markedly different personalities and, accordingly, live very different lives. The elder of the two, Constance, is steady, patient, and good, and she marries her father's industrious assistant and works alongside him in the family business until she has a child to spoil. The younger sister, beautiful, passionate, and proud Sophia, impetuously elopes with a (gasp!) travelling salesman and moves to (GASP!) Paris where she engages in frivolities until her husband (SERIOUSLY, I CAN'T BREATHE) leaves her. Blah blah blah, different people lead different lives...

Luckily, Bennett turns away from cliches somewhere in the middle of this 615-page book and really delves into what life is like for these two women. As their paths become more unpredictable, I became much more invested in their fates. I also thought that the observations he makes about growing older were very interesting to read as a person in my 20's.

Unfortunately, as I approached the end of the book, I started to dislike it again. Bennett seems to take the position that life is, in essence, meaningless, and regardless of how you live your life, you will gradually lose life until you die. Moreover, his observations about relationships are hardly heartwarming-- he seems to view humans as solitary creatures and all of the friendships/marriages/families he depicts are terribly flawed. He seems to view people as unable to experience happiness or to express themselves honestly in any relationship, which is a fairly depressing worldview.

In addition, this is another book to file into the category of "Wow, British People Look Down Their Noses At Everyone Else" books (previous example here). Today's special: French people! Here's a description of les parisiennes from the book: "[they had] violently red lips, powdered cheeks, cold, hard eyes, self-possessed arrogant faces, and insolent bosoms". I don't even know what that last thing means, but it doesn't sound good...

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Kickin' Tunes

Friday night the Man Friend and I passed an enjoyable evening listening to John Carpenter (no, not that John Carpenter) perform with his new band at Spike Hill in Williamsburg (not my usual stomping grounds, but fun nevertheless). You can check out and download his music here-- it's great and he is a Cool Dude.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Thoughts on No Country for Old Men

Last week I furiously subway-read No Country For Old Men, and it's lingered in my thoughts ever since I finished it. The book, narrated by an aging Texas sheriff who's tracking down a brutal killer, meditates on the drastic changes he's witnessed over the decades, in particular, the visible escalation of unspeakable violence that accompanied the rising prevalence of drug use and trafficking. There's a terrifying sense of inevitability in the book-- the murderer is so unhuman and so unstoppable that justice shouldn't even attempt to prevail.

As the San Diego Union-Tribune puts it, McCarthy's point is that modernity has "damaged beyond repair, warped beyond recognition, mutated so horrifically" the tradition of personal, familial, and communal responsibility to the point that " a new kind of man, a soulless, wrecking angel, may not only be loose among us but may be what we are destined to become". Scary!

But then Thursday morning this section from The Practice of the Presence of God really caught my eye:

Brother Lawrence wasn't surprised by the amount of sin and unhappiness in the world. Rather, he wondered why there wasn't more, considering the extremes to which the enemy is capable of going. He said he prayed about it, but because he knew God could rectify the situation in a moment if He willed it, he didn't allow himself to become greatly concerned.

That's such a fresh and unique point. So often you hear people remarking (including myself) that things are "getting so bad" ("when I was in middle school, kids didn't talk like that!"). But what the oh-so-wise Brother Lawrence tells us is right on-- we shouldn't be surprised by evil (it's not like it's new, folks)! We don't need to live in fear or dread because God is bigger than sin and evil and HE is the one in control of our destiny. It's only through His grace that we all aren't "soulless, wrecking angels". Good stuff.

Also... this lends more support for my doctoral thesis, "Texas Sucks".

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Just Look at That Stupid Hat!

The New York Times ran an alarming article last week on hipsters moving out of Brooklyn to small farms, and I've been stewing about it ever since. Apparently, the rising popularity of greenmarkets, locavore-ism, and eating organic has made operating small-scale farming enterprises not only possible, but profitable, for the first time in a long while. So now hipsters, once doomed to a life of urban desperation, are donning overalls and heading for the boonies (well, if, according to your definition, the boonies are accessible via the LIRR) to make an honest living scratching around in the dirt.

Like many transplants to New York City, I loudly praise the virtues of urban living while secretly longing for a return to the Little House on the Prairie lifestyle that I admired throughout my formative years. These subjugated desires are alleviated by visits to the Union Square farmer's market and hours poring over my Simply in Season cookbook (two activities that my Man Friend cannot understand or relate to), but deep down in my heart, I know that growing herbs in pots in my sunless kitchen just doesn't cut the mustard. There are days when I feel like I've missed my true calling in life and I should be driving a tractor somewhere. And then there are the days when I feel like what I MUST do is try my hand at home cheesemaking (when I suggested this to the Man Friend, he looked at me as though I'd suggested whipping up a batch of napalm in the kitchen. On second thought, he'd probably be all for the napalm).

So I'm a little nervous about these developments. How am I supposed to romantically idealize a rural, Thoreau-esque lifestyle if the wilderness is filling up with ironic-hair-metal-trivia-night-attending jerks?? OK, I'm not going to panic about this, but all I have to say is that if I even catch the tiniest whiff of a rumor that the East Village crowd is moving in on the goat farm scene, I can't be held responsible for my actions.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century Quest: #89

Title: Loving
Author: Henry Green
Judgin' the Book by its Cover: Ugly! I hate peacocks!

Thoughts: This is, by far, the most dialogue-driven novel I've read thus far in the Quest. Description is minimal, action is fairly non-existent, and the plot moves forward through conversations, mainly. The basic plot is this: as WWII is raging in Britain, the domestic staff at an English family's Irish country estate... talk a lot. There's a rudimentary love story, infidelity, and a subplot about missing/stolen valuables, but the story was fairly meandering and never really grabbed me. I did find myself liking Kate and Edie, the two maids, who, according to Rule #487 of Stock Characters, pass the time giggling and gossiping (do real maids ever giggle?).

I really didn't grasp a deeper meaning to the book, and I couldn't get invested in the love story due to my dislike of the Romeo, so overall I'm left feeling unimpressed. Moreover, the characters' constant disparaging remarks (referring to them as unintelligible, violent animals) aimed at the good people of Ireland are hardly seasonal considering that I'm writing this on St. Patrick's Day!

While I didn't hate this book, I wasn't the least bit interested in it, so I can't say I'd recommend it. On the plus side, at just under 200 pages, it was short and quick to read, so at least my boredom wasn't TOO prolonged.

Next up is The Old Wives' Tale (I get to skip The Call of the Wild-- been there, done that!).

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Movies + Museums= Fun!

If you're a New Yorker and you don't have anything to do this weekend, boy, have I got a plan for you! Hop on the train to Astoria and head over to the Museum of the Moving Image for a rip-roaring good time. I visited on Saturday (after meaning to for, oh, about 2 years), and it was really, really fun. I brought along my spring-breaking sister and her friend from college, along with my Man Friend and his out-of-town parents, and a good time was had by all. They have all kinds of old-timey cameras, equipment, props, and photos, as well as great interactive exhibits (example: you could lay down music tracks to accompany movie scenes), so there was something for everyone. Best of all, they have an arcade with all kinds of sweet vintage and new video games which you can play FREE OF CHARGE! I nearly had a heart attack when I saw projected on a wall my favorite game of all time, We Love Katamari (I instantly forced my sister to play it with me)! So it's a perfect place to hang out and to take movie buffs, museum lovers, gadget geeks, like-to-touch-things types, AND video game junkies.

Now here's the bad news: it's closing for renovations March 23rd, and will remain closed until late 2009 (NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)! It's kind of like finding your one true soulmate the day before they leave for a semester abroad (no, it's EXACTLY like that). So, go check it out before it's too late!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century Quest: #90

Title: Midnight's Children
Author: Salman Rushdie
Judgin' the Book by its Cover: I like this cover, although it sort of misrepresents the book-- it looks more like nonfiction than a novel.

Thoughts: OK, I'm going to be honest-- I finished this almost three weeks ago but haven't had the time (read: discipline) to review it until now. That said, I really enjoyed this book. The prose was vigorous, energetic, and fanciful, and really unlike anything else I've ever read. I thought the premise was really cool-- Saleem Sinai is born at the stroke of midnight, the very instant that India was released from British rule, and as a result, his fate is inextricably tied with that of his mother country. I also really liked the idea that Rushdie puts forth that as our memories fade, parts of who we are begin to crumble and fade away. So then when we tell our stories, frantically rushing against the collapse of memory, we begin to invent ourselves, and the invention is no less true than the truth. Interesting stuff. Definitely recommended-- it's a long and hefty book, but well worth the effort.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Animals are Better Than People v. 2

If you, like me, had your favorite team knocked out of the running for Super Bowl LXII, then the game you looked forward to yesterday was probably Puppy Bowl IV. If you weren't lucky enough to catch it yesterday (or if a crazed Patriots or Giants fan commandeered your TV), you can check out some highlights here. There were puppies galore--dachshunds, beagles, and a super-cuddly Bernese Mountain Dog (definitely one of my favorites). And, as always, there was the ultra-sexy kitty half-time show (they were much cuter, although about as hairy, as Tom Petty and/or the Heartbreakers), which never disappoints. Of course, the game was augmented by great play-by-play commentary, instant replay action, and a fair but tough referee.

Totally better than real football.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Animals are Better Than People v. 1

Reason #1: This monkey has greater skills that anyone I know.
Reason #2: This monkey dresses better than I know.
Reason #3: The dog is also cooler than anyone else I know.

Therefore, animals are better than people.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Film Snobs, Unite!

If you're the kind of person who considers a good date one that ends in an spirited argument about whether or not Otto Preminger is an auteur, then, boy, have I gotta deal for you!

Alternatively, if you're the kind of person whose idea of great movie is one in which there are more fireballs/exploding cars than lines of dialogue, BUT who would see a movie at the Angelika IF given a free ticket... I also have a deal for you!

Here's the beef: if you join FilmCatcher, a new website dedicated to indie movies, you can request a free movie ticket redeemable at the Angelika (and a few other theaters, if you're not a Gotham-dweller). All you have to do is sign up and post something on your profile (could be something as simple as a top-10 list of your favorite movies), and then you can request a ticket. You have to sign into your profile and request it, though-- they don't just automatically send it to you. I joined last week and already have my ticket in hand.

The website is pretty interesting and has some decent interviews. They also seem to be hocking a movie purchasing system that I wasn't too interested in. The only downside is that you have to stomach their exceedingly-snobby tagline: "Smart films for smart people" (stupid post-grad would-be critics). But if you can tolerate that, in no time you'll find yourself clutching a ticket (that's right, a real paper ticket) in your hand and triumphantly declaring, "Take that sucker-nerds-- I'm reaping the benefits of your snooty system while mocking it!!".

Sunday, January 20, 2008

There Will Be Blood

Watch There Will Be Blood NOW. I finally went to see it Friday night (after anxiously awaiting its opening in a fever of anticipation, and then getting my attempts to see it shut down 4 times... long story...), and it was everything I'd hoped it would be-- powerful, moving, crushing, completely devastating... amazing. Daniel Day-Lewis was incredible, the score was excellent, it was beautifully shot, and I can't stop thinking about it. Watch it NOW.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century Quest: #91

Title: Tobacco Road
Author: Erskine Caldwell
Judgin' the Book by its Cover: Hmm, I can't really answer this one according to the guidelines I've set up, since I can't find an image of the cover for the version that I read. I'll just post a different cover for the same book. This whole section is a pretty stupid idea-- what's so fun about critiquing a book's cover?

Thoughts: This was a very difficult book to read. The prose was straightforward and simple, and I finished it in only a couple of days, but as a whole, it was very unpleasant to get to know the characters and witness the decisions they made. The book outlines the decline and disintegration of the Lester family, a group of sharecroppers in rural Georgia who haven't planted cotton for seven years. They survive by stealing food, occasionally selling firewood, and starving, all of which seem like better alternatives to them than relocating and/or finding jobs.

I was totally shocked by the absolute callousness that was the modus operandi of the Lester family. Each character's disregard for the needs, feelings, and even lives of the others was total. One character is so thoroughly consumed by his passion for cars that when he hits and kills a man while driving, he doesn't give the man's death more than a brief afterthought (nor does he stop the car and try to aid him). Examples of this attitude abound in the book, as do examples of religious hypocrisy, racism, elder abuse, statutory rape, and all other kinds of fun/great things. The book ends on a somber note, suggesting that the situations that strip uneducated people of their resources and means of survival are impossible to break free from, and that the foolish mindsets of the parents are passed down to their children down through the generations.

Something that really struck me in this book was the characters' unwavering belief that God would magically solve their problems with no effort on their part-- money will fall down from the sky, and they will be able to do what they've always done. To me, it seems crystal clear what the family should do-- abandon the farm that has failed to produce for years, move a few miles away, and work in a textile mill or factory. It's not an ideal situation, but it sure beats starving to death. Instead, they obstinately cling to the land and refuse to work or to try to find creative solutions, thinking that God will pave the way for them. This challenges me to look at my own perspective and attitude-- are there situations in life where God has opened a door for me, but I've refused to walk through it, instead choosing to push against a brick wall (all the while begging Him for a solution)? I'm inspired to make sure that I'm listening and obeying God instead of just assuming that He is on my side, regardless of what decisions I make.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century Quest: #92

Title: Ironweed
Author: William Kennedy
Judgin' The Book By Its Cover: Not bad-- I can dig the retro feel of the b&w photo.

Thoughts: This was a very moving story, set in the working-class Irish neighborhoods of Albany during a two-day span (Halloween and All Saints' Day). Francis, a bum, is haunted by the ghosts of his bloody and strange past as he struggles to understand the choices that he's made and the life that he's living. A recent encounter with the son he abandoned decades earlier causes him to reevaluate his history and try to understand who he is and what has made him the person that he is, a violent man who abandoned a family that he loved dearly. I particulary love when Francis realizes that his estranged wife has been quietly extending grace to him for years, and how that knowledge motivates him to reexamine himself-- it's pretty amazing. I also liked Kennedy's use of magical realism-- it's really cool to see the characters from Francis' past reappear to guide him and help him make sense of the past, but the device isn't used in an abrasive or unnatural way. I definitely recommend this book-- it is a very warm and humanizing portrait of a man and a subculture that are difficult to understand and connect with. Good stuff!