Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose: my life lately

I’ve now completed three weeks of grad school, and I’m happy to report that it hasn’t (yet) kicked my butt. This fact, however, by no means signifies that it’s been an easy three weeks. In fact, probably the strangest event in my life has occurred in this time span, so I figured it was about time I did another life update.

Back to that strange event: on Monday afternoon, I walked back to my apartment from work to learn (through a series of interactions) that my neighbor had been dead in his apartment for a week. Let me repeat: He was dead. In his apartment. For a week. You have to know that I live in an old house that’s been separated into five apartments. There’s one apartment between mine and the dead guy’s. Not exactly the most reassuring information. Yesterday, they ruled his death a homicide. Let’s just say I’m really hoping it wasn’t a random home invasion type of situation.

Besides that, it’s also been an emotional week; my uncle had a stroke a week ago, and what started out seeming like something minor has turned into a much more serious medical situation. I’m currently at home taking care of our pets as my mom spends a few days trying to deal with this situation in South Dakota. Any prayers, good wishes, and generally positive feelings are greatly appreciated.

On top of all of that, I’ve been adjusting to school and work. I’m four weeks into my new graduate assistantship. It has its ups and downs, but I’m thankful for the work experience and the pay. (Sometimes I have to remind myself of this fact.)

In spite of life’s complications of late, I’ve tried to maintain my pop culture-centered lifestyle as much as possible. Here are my currently reading and watching projects.

TV – I (ever-so-reluctantly) finished the final season of “Friday Night Lights” about an hour ago. I really never expected to love it as much as I did, even though it has been recommended to me many times by friends and magazines alike. I need a bit of a mourning period before moving on to my next TV project, so I’ve decided to try to get my movie count up to 110 before I start a new show. I think it’s likely that I’ll start with “The Young Doctor’s Notebook” since it’s a quick project, and then I’ll most likely move on to “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” 

As for current TV shows, I’m still really enjoying “Outlander.” I read about one-fourth of the book, but the show is such a faithful adaptation, I decided it’d be easier to save myself some time and trust the TV version. I’m also still keeping up with “Masters of Sex,” though I’ll be a week or two behind since I only watch it with my mom. I’m thankful not to have many TV commitments to keep up with at the moment, but I’m anxiously awaiting the return of real TV in the coming weeks.

Books – Like I said, school is keeping me from doing too much extra-curricular watching and reading, so my reading has been focused exclusively on school projects. My first assignment for my Shakespeare class was As You Like Ita lovely introduction to the world of Shakespeare. I’m also doing plenty of reading for my Responses to Poe class, which currently entails reading Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. I’m not sure how I feel about it right now, but I’m planning to finish it tomorrow, so there’s likely to be an update soon.

Movies – It’s been a while since I’ve gone to see a movie in theaters, but I’m hoping that will change soon since we’re entering the golden period for good movies. As for my Netflix watching, I’ve completed an odd mix of movies. I watched 12 Angry Men recently, which is, of course, a classic. I’ve also been watching some fairly terrible things (particularly the 2009 movie Dare) mostly because I became kind of obsessed with the “Friday Night Lights” characters Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) and Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch), and I’m willing to watch dumb things if they feature these actors. (It’s a crime that Netflix has NOTHING else with Taylor Kitsch, by the way.)

I did get to rewatch God Help the Girl last weekend, which made me ever-so happy. God Help the Girl was another of my Sundance favorites, so it was a welcome opportunity. If you’ve got the chance to see it, DO IT. It will bring lots of joy into your heart.

Well, now I go back to the real life world, featuring a boatload of homework in my attempts to both stay on top of things while potentially getting ahead at the same time. Here’s hoping.

As You Like It

Book #66: As You Like It, by William Shakespeare

My first real reading project of grad school is complete! I’ve also been reading lots of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories and other academic works, but As You Like It was my first real project for my Shakespeare class. This grad school thing is starting to feel real.

As far as Shakespeare’s plays go, I think As You Like It is a good place to start. The last time I read any Shakespeare was almost five years ago, when I read King Lear for my AP English class my senior year of high school. It’s definitely fair to say that I’ve needed a bit of a transition to get back into reading such dense works. 

As You Like It is, in my opinion, a fairly easy read in comparison with other Shakespeare works, so I’m happy to have read it now to ease myself back into the Shakespeare experience. It’s also a fun, light story with an easy-to-follow plot, and features the very recognizable “All the world’s a stage” speech. 

I have a feeling that, now two weeks into my semester, I’m reaching a point when I’ll be much busier with my school work. I thankfully have a week or two before my next Shakespeare work is due, but in the mean time, I’m reading Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym and beginning Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. I think it’s safe to say that the remainder of 2014 will be full of rigorous reading for me.

Dead to the World

Book #65: Dead to the World, by Charlaine Harris

Dead to the World was essentially my last fun reading rendezvous before starting grad school (though, to be fair, I didn’t finish it until yesterday, a week into my semester). I didn’t enjoy the overarching plot of this novel as much as the two preceding books in the series, but it was still short and fun enough to keep me interested.

In fact, I felt the same way about the “True Blood” plot that covered this same story line. I guess something about the were-panthers seems a little ridiculous and unnecessary to me. However, this was also the book when Eric has lost his memory, which is one of my favorite plots on the show, probably because I think Alexander Skarsgard is really funny playing confused Eric. 

Now that school is officially back in session, I’m probably not going to make much headway in my personal reading projects, but I’ve started Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander on this long holiday weekend in the hopes that I’ll be able to make some progress in it before dealing with my assigned readings. I’ve really enjoyed the Starz TV adaptation of Gabaldon’s series so far, so I’m hopeful that I like the books as well. 

Now, I’m off to start my first real reading assignment of the semester: Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis. Wish me luck! 

The Laramie Project

Book #64: The Laramie Project, by Moises Kaufman

Last Saturday, I was lucky enough to buy 9 different books and plays at our Half Price Books Outlet’s $1 sale. One of my purchases was The Laramie Project, a play I’ve been interested in reading for a while. After finishing The Final Solution this morning, I decided to sit down and read The Laramie Project, and the play took me no time to complete.

After three reading projects I’ve been less-than-thrilled by this month, I was very happy to sit down with this thought-provoking and emotionally-moving “moment play” that chronicles the murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998. Since I was in first grade at the time of Shepard’s murder, I don’t remember much about the crime, except that Shepard was gay and brutally murdered. 

The Laramie Project tells Shepard’s story through a series of two hundred interviews  and journal entries over a two-year period with the people of Laramie and those who became related to the case. Though the play is a very quick read, it packs a serious punch and it certain to leave readers with lots to think about.

Shepard’s murder was a terrible,gruesome crime, but reading about what happened to him has really helped me see how far I think we’ve come in accepting the gay community. Obviously it’s still a major fight in the US, but I do think Shepard’s story is one that has sparked the movement of increasing tolerance and acceptance of minorities. I strongly recommend this play to anyone interested in learning more about Shepard’s story. 

The Final Solution

Book #63: The Final Solution, by Michael Chabon

I was pretty excited to read The Final Solution because I did a bit of research on it for a project I did in the spring on Sherlock Holmes. I knew that Chabon had written a new take on a Holmes story, placing the famous character in the midst of World War II.

Unfortunately, I was entirely unimpressed by this short novel.

First of all, I found it fairly annoying that Chabon was never forthright about identifying his character as Sherlock Holmes; instead, he’s only referred to as “the old man” who just happens to exhibit many of Holmes’s iconic characteristics. Aside from that, I found the general “mystery” to be forgettable and boring. There really wasn’t anything about this book that made it fun to read. I was hoping for a fun, quick mystery novel, but all I got was a lame attempt at recreating a classic Holmes story. Fortunately, I have BBC’s “Sherlock” to fill that void in my life.

The Little Foxes

Book #62: The Little Foxes, by Lillian Hellman

After reading Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour earlier this year, I bought The Little Foxes at used book store. Since then, I’ve seen The Little Foxes mentioned fairly often on lists of the best American plays, but I must say, I didn’t really see why it’s so highly acclaimed. 

The story centers around the Hubbard family in the South in 1900, and pays special attention to Regina, the female heir of the Hubbard family. Regina is determined to gain wealth and power in her competition with her brothers, but only ends up alienating herself from her family. 

Personally, I found The Children’s Hour a much more revolutionary and interesting play, and I was disappointed by The Little Foxes. Even though I didn’t like it, I’m happy to have read another of the many books on my shelf and moved onto another reading project.

The Gold Bug Variations

Book #61: The Gold Bug Variations, by Richard Powers

Let me preface this by saying that I’m a firm believer in the fact that there are far too many good things to read and watch for you to spend time reading or watching something you don’t like. When I find myself in that type of situation, after a bit of internal argument, I give up, and am usually happy to move on to better things.

Unfortunately, The Gold Bug Variations is required reading for my Studies in American Literature class this fall, so I didn’t have the option to quit reading, even though I really, really, really wanted to. Not only was I forced to suffer through a novel I really disliked, it was 640-page novel. Not so easy to breeze through, unfortunately.

The book, which won several “book of the year” awards in 1991, covers two basic, interweaving storylines, one in the mid-1980s, and one in the 1950s. The 1980s are narrated by Jan, a librarian who finds herself involved with a young man, Frank, who wants to know more about his coworker, middle-aged Stuart Ressler. When the book flashes back to the 1950s, the story centers on Ressler as a scientist working on learning more about the nature of DNA. 

Though the framework is simple, the content of the book is anything but. In many ways, The Gold Bug Variations reminded me of The Marriage Plot, which I read and reviewed earlier this summer. The similarities between these novels aren’t really to their benefit, in my opinion. Like The Marriage PlotThe Gold Bug Variations goes on for pages and pages about scientific complexities that mean nothing to me. Unfortunately, Powers also takes on the topic of music and Bach’s Goldberg Variations as well as a good chunk of art history. When I’m reading a novel, I’m not really looking for histories of various academic subjects. Unfortunately, that’s a very large portion of what makes up Powers’s novel. I was often bored beyond belief, skimming until I could find something worth reading again.

There were also several rather minute details about The Gold Bug Variations that irked me as well, including: Powers’s repetitive use of certain vocabulary, paragraphs that served no real purpose in furthering the story, the idea that religion and science are completely opposed, and the unnecessary and bizarrely dirty sex scenes. (For the record, I’m rarely bothered by sex scenes — I do watch “True Blood” and “Game of Thrones,” after all — but the handful found in this book took strange turns into graphic and rather disturbing imagery that I found gratuitous. 

I’m sick of talking about this book, though I could certainly go on longer about how much I disliked it. My plan had been to start Moby-Dick now, but I’ve decided to reward myself with a few fun reads in my last free week before starting grad school. I’m more than ready to erase the bad feelings The Gold Bug Variations left me with.