The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor

Book #36: The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor

FINALLY!

Okay, let me explain that.

I started reading Flannery O’Connor’s Complete Stories in March for my Southern lit class. We were only assigned seven of the stories for the class, but I’ve enjoyed O’Connor’s writing since high school and felt motivated to read all 31 stories in the collection.

Obviously, my many other academic reading assignments and leisure reading slowed down my progress in this just a bit. I had hoped early on to read one story per day, but that wasn’t always very realistic. I’ve tried that again more recently, but I realized that reading these stories before bed made me sleepy, so I was trying to read one every morning.

None of my scheduling worked out very successfully, but I still made progress little by little.  I had no real intention of finishing the book today (I still had nearly 200 pages left as of yesterday), but we’ve been blessed with some pretty amazing weather today and my mom and I ended up on the back porch for a few hours, giving me ample time to complete the final stretch.

O’Connor is a master of the short story, but I will say that reading all her stories makes it apparent that they aren’t all great. This does make it obvious which ones are particularly well done, though, so here are a few of my favorites.

“A Good Man is Hard to Find” — This was the first O’Connor story I ever read, and one of her two most popular (the other being “Good Country People”). This story has a few of O’Connor’s staples: a multi-generational family, her characteristically black humor, and a shockingly dark ending. It’s one of O’Connor’s most anthologized works for a good reason.

“Good Country People” — In my academic career, I’ve been assigned this short story four times, but it remains entertaining and jarring. With character names like Joy Hulga and Manly Pointer, how could you really be disappointed?

“The Lame Shall Enter First” — This is a long story, but one that I thought moved the quickest as a reader. It tells the story of a father, Sheppard, who takes in a delinquent, intent on saving to boy from himself. There are many lessons to be learned from the characters here.

“Revelation” — A fairly obnoxious woman gets a book thrown at her in a doctor’s office and proceeds to have a mental breakdown. Fun times are had by all.

“Parker’s Back” — A man obsessed with tattoos marries an Evangelical woman who doesn’t really care about him and attempts to please her. Things get squirrelly.

With this book (finally) in my rear view, I’m ready to kick my reading of The Grapes of Wrath into high gear. I’ve already crossed the 100-page mark, but my edition of the book is just over 600, so there’s plenty to be read. Thank God for summer.

Angels in America

Books #34 and 35: Angels in America, by Tony Kushner

Just minutes ago, I finished reading Part Two of Tony Kushner’s epic drama, Angels in America. I’m not quite sure how to feel about it, mostly because I don’t know if I even understood all of it.

Angels in America is pretty safely known as one of the must-reads in gay and lesbian literature, with good reason. Kushner takes on AIDS-riddled New York in a mythic way. The play follows the lives of several interrelated characters, two of whom are diagnosed with the disease, while the others suffer its fallout.

At this point, I think the biggest struggle I’m having is due to the fact that I’ve just read the play, not seen it. You can’t deny that plays are written to be watched, so that’s what I need to do. I’ve added the HBO miniseries adaptation of the play to my “to watch” list, and I imagine I’ll move on that soon so I can see how the visual production works

Though my thoughts overall are a bit muddled, I can say a few things with certainty. This play is absolutely essential reading for lovers of drama, or really anyone looking to understand more about the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s. I was discussing this with my mom the other day, but I still don’t really know how to articulate it: reading about or seeing representations of AIDS always hits me harder than other illness, and I’m not sure why. I think it’s something to do with the helplessness and despair, and the politically and socially charged nature of the disease. It taps an emotion in me that I don’t quite understand. Needless to say, I’ll be thinking on this one for some time.

June Entertainment: Binge-watching at its finest

It finally feels like summer is in full swing, and what a wonderful feeling it is.

Though my first year of grad school ended over a month ago (how is that even possible?), it took until last week for me to really feel like summer had set in. Between travels to New York and Texas and finishing up my job, I wasn’t able to decompress from the semester for a while, so I’m very glad to feel the freedom sinking in.

For me, this independence means finding as much time as I possibly can for entertainment purposes. What’s the point of having a degree in Pop Culture Studies if not to shirk all responsibilities to watch a movie, right?

Of course, I’ve still got academia to contend with this summer: I’m trying to spend a little time every day working on my Master’s thesis project, and at some point I’m going to sit down and try to really figure out the PhD programs I’m most interested in. That is a pretty ridiculous thought, but it’s reality.

In my leisure time, though, I’m still making room for plenty of pop culture goodness. Here’s an update on my reading and viewing ventures of late.

Books — Sometime in the last week or two I realized I’d only finished one book since the end of my semester, which put me into a bit of an irrational panic. Since then, I’ve done my best to kick into high gear and get some reading done, especially since I know I’ll be returning to some school-related reading soon enough. I’ve now worked through four more works: Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient ExpressJesse Andrews’s Me and Earl and the Dying GirlJudy Blume’s In the Unlikely Event, and Tony Kushner’s Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches (click the links for my reviews of these works). I’m moving onto Part Two of Angels in America today (look for my review of both parts soon), and I’m making myself read at least one Flannery O’Connor short story per day so I can finish her collected works that I started reading in March. Once I’ve finished Angels in America, I’m moving on to my primary reading goal for the summer: John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.

TV — The drought of good summer TV is both a curse and a blessing; the fact that there’s so little to watch in real time means there’s a greater opportunity for bingeing on the shows I’ve been waiting to watch for some time. Last week I finished watching the 2008 HBO miniseries John Adamswhich was beautifully acted and produced. During our (very) long car ride to and from Austin, TX, I got started on my loftiest TV goal for 2015: FrasierI’m not sure I can expect to finish all 263 episodes before the end of the year, but I’ve just started season 3, so I think I’m at least making good progress.

Yesterday, my mom and I finished season 1 of Netflix’s Bloodline, a dark and twisty drama about an insanely dysfunctional family in the Florida Keys. The cast is an all-star ensemble, but the acting from Kyle Chandler and Ben Mendelsohn is particularly superb. Here’s hoping these two are recognized when the Emmy nominations are announced next month.

Since finishing Bloodline, which we started one weekend while I was still in school, we’re finally ready to make progress on two shows that have been patiently waiting on our DVR for some time now. First up is season two of Broadchurch, which we started last night. I have high hopes for another good season. After Broadchurch, we have the PBS miniseries Wolf Hall to enjoy, which I also imagine will be a nominated show come Emmy time.

As far as current TV goes, I loved (or maybe hated, based on all those deaths) season 5 of Game of Thrones just as much as the rest of the world, and I think season 4 of Veep was the show’s best yet. I’m looking forward to the premiere of season two of True Detective this weekend, but I was very underwhelmed by the first season, so I’m trying to keep my expectations low (but this cast is making me very happy, so it’s kind of hard). The only other current shows I’m watching are Hannibal and Wayward Pines, which I’m intrigued by. I got bored with Wayward Pines after a few episodes, but last week’s revelation reinvigorated my interest. As for Hannibal, it’s still as strange as ever, but totally worth watching.

Movies — Much like my reading for the summer, I found myself feeling behind on my movie-watching earlier this week, but I’m quickly remedying that fact. Mom and I saw Spy on Monday, and I’m hoping we’ll go see Inside Out soon. The only Best Picture nominee I didn’t see in time for the Oscars this year was American Sniper, mostly because the political controversy around it made me decide to abstain. We finally watched it Wednesday night and were completely underwhelmed and surprised it garnered such acclaim. I love Bradley Cooper and think he’s terrifically talented, but there’s no way he deserved another Oscar nomination over David Oyelowo’s performance in Selma. So that was a pretty big disappointment.

My fun movie news, though, is that my mom and I have established a little movie series of our own that we’re very excited about (maybe we’re easily enthused, but oh well). We still have a collection of VHS tapes, many of which are well known movies that I’ve never seen. Yesterday, we picked out 20 that we need to watch and made a bowl with numbered slips of paper, so our goal is to draw one out every day and watch the according movie. After reminding ourselves how a VCR works, we started last night with Robert Redford’s 1992 film, A River Runs Through It, a movie I’m happy to have now seen and crossed off our list.

Now I’m off to make more progress in my quest to read and watch all the things. Happy weekend!

In the Unlikely Event

Book #33: In the Unlikely Event, by Judy Blume

When I found out that Judy Blume had a new book being published at the beginning of June, it felt like a small gift. A new book from one of my favorite writers, just in time for summer reading? How perfect.

After 397 pages, I’m happy to report that I’m still feeling just as happy about this book. I (rather unexpectedly) sped through this book in just a few days, a fact that speaks for the joy of reading it. After my cat woke me up extra early this morning, I read the final chapter as rain fell against my window. A happy start to the morning, I’d say.

Stylistically, In the Unlikely Event follows popular trends in lots of contemporary literature (I’m thinking Stephen King’s works and J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy) of painting a portrait of a large ensemble of characters, switching focus among them many times per chapter. Once I got used to the characters, though, this wasn’t much to be concerned with.

In a “big picture” sense, this book centers around characters living in Elizabeth, New Jersey in 1951-1952, when three airplanes crash over the course of 58 days (though the characters are imagined, the plane crashes really happened as described, while Blume lived in the area).

At age fifteen, Miri Ammerman is the center of this story. Miri faces the same struggles of Blume’s best heroines: young love, friendship woes, and parents who sometimes don’t understand.

Though I obviously wasn’t a teen in the 1950s, there’s a sense of familiarity and comfort in reading this book. Blume has always written timeless tales of youth, and I’m so glad this story took her back to these roots.

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ATX Television Festival: A Time of Highs and Lows

Sometime last Monday night my mom and I pulled into the driveway after what ended up being a pretty insane whirlwind of an experience. 2,200 miles, 6 states, 9 TV panels/screenings, 2 historic home tours, 46 celebrity encounters, 2 sketchy hotels, 5 days. Yeah, I think whirlwind is the right word.

We left home early on Wednesday, June 3 with the short-term goal of reaching Graceland in Memphis for a quick tour. Despite the shocking absence of a single billboard advertising Elvis’s home, we made it to the estate and enjoyed our weird little tour. Here are a couple of my favorite features of the incredibly lavish home.

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After Graceland, our only intention was to make it to somewhere around Dallas. The drive from home to Austin, TX is 15 hours, so we figured stopping in Dallas (a mere 3 hours north of Austin) would be an appropriate end to our day. This was a fine goal, but we unintentionally ended up in a shady hotel that reeked of smoke. Note to self: if a hotel is the only one available at a given exit, keep driving.

THURSDAY

After departing Thursday morning, we drove the final three hours to Austin, stopping only for a quick breakfast and trip to IKEA. We headed into downtown Austin to register for the festival. Here’s a rundown of the highlights of what happened that afternoon and evening:

  • First celebrity encounters: seeing Todd Lowe, Keiko Agena, and John Cabrera (all of Gilmore Girls) and having a quick conversation
  • Ran into Sabrina Carpenter and Rowan Blanchard (stars of Girl Meets World) for the first of about a million times
  • Talked to Derek Phillips and Stacey Oristano (Friday Night Lights) and took a photo, bonding over our mutual love of our pets and the gross Texas heat
  • Saw and talked quickly to Liz Torres (Gilmore Girls) — she looks awesome, by the way
  • Attended the premiere screening of Complications, a new USA show
  • Had a moment with the show’s stars, Jessica Szohr and Beth Riesgraf, on our way into the theater and they were really cute
  • Other celebrity sightings for the day: Wilmer Valderrama (That 70s Show, From Dusk Til Dawn), Louanne Stephens (Friday Night Lights), Nick Wechsler (Revenge), Adrianne Palicki (Friday Night Lights), Sutton Foster (Broadway star, on TV in Bunheads and Younger), Wilson Cruz (My So-Called Life), Sarah Ramos and Miles Heizer (Parenthood)

Here are some photos of the people and places mentioned:

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FRIDAY

Friday began bright and early with our first real panel of the festival: “A Conversation with Marta Kauffman,” plus a screening of her new Netflix show, Grace and Frankie. In case you aren’t aware, Marta Kauffman is part of the creative team responsible for Friends, which is my favorite TV show ever (and probably yours, too). It was a pretty big deal for me to sit in a room with her.

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Here are some other highlights from Friday:

  • Running from one Marta Kauffman panel (pictured above) to another — she spoke with the creators of Justified and Queer as Folk in a panel on final episodes
  • Accidentally becoming part of a mob formed around Ben Savage (Boy Meets World), who is tiny, friendly, and left-handed — we also saw the girls of Girl Meets World again and snapped a few pics

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  • Running into Marta Kauffman and saying something kind of dumb to her but I STILL TALKED TO MARTA KAUFFMAN, PEOPLE
  • Sitting front row at the panel called “Drunk History‘s History,” featuring the show’s creator, Derek Waters, and two of the narrators from the upcoming third season, Duncan Trussell and Dan Harmon (the creator of Community)

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  • Meeting Nick Wechsler, star of Revenge, after the Drunk History panel

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  • Stumbling upon Judy Greer (Married) doing an interview outside the women’s restroom
  • Walking behind a man and commenting on his terrible hair before realizing said man was Denis Leary (to be fair, he was there to promote his new show Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll which I think is the reason for the hair)
  • Running into Louanne Stephens (Friday Night Lights) in the hotel lobby and getting a photo, taken by her daughter, as well as signed and personalized postcards she’d had made at Kinko’s

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  • Attending the wonderful Friday Night Lights tailgate and being smart enough to sit in the shade directly in front of the special reserved section for the show’s attending stars
  • Seeing Amy Sherman Palladino (creator of Gilmore Girls) just before a surprise performance from Hep Alien, the fictional band from Gilmore Girls
  • Other celebrity sightings for the day: James L. Brooks (creator of all important television), Danny Strong (actor on Gilmore Girls, writer of Game Change, Mockingjay, Empire), Jackson Douglas (Gilmore Girls), Adrianne Palicki, Derek Phillips, Stacey Oristano, Angela Rawna, Libby Villari, Katherine Willis, Stephen Walters (all of Friday Night Lights)

Here are some photos from the tailgate:

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SATURDAY

Saturday started with a low: not getting into the “Coffee with Amy Sherman Palladino” panel, because the line had started at 5:00 AM and the panel was in the smallest venue at the festival. Not perfect planning. On the upside, our minutes spent wasting time were quickly filled by the appearance of Scott Patterson (Gilmore Girls). He pulled us in for this “mother-daughter picture” (his words), so that was pretty cool.

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Other moments from Saturday worth remembering:

  • Finding Kelly Bishop (Gilmore Girls) outside and taking an accidentally dramatic black-and-white photo with her

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  • Attending one of my favorite panels of the weekend: “Empire: The Creatives” featuring the brilliant Danny Strong and the beautiful Wendy Calhoun

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  • Sitting front row for the presentation of the ATX Award for Excellence in Television to James L. Brooks, the man responsible for The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Simpsons, and Taxi, among many others. This was MAJOR.

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Now things turn in a bit of an upsetting direction, and I’m going to do my best to condense this story. Our main reason for attending the festival was the Gilmore Girls Reunion panel, held at 7:00 PM Saturday night. This was going to be the highlight of our weekend, though we were plenty excited for many of the other panels and events, too. The line for the GG reunion was supposed to start at 5:00 PM, and the festival’s Head of Security promised us that anyone attempting to get in line ahead of this time would be sent to the back of the line. She also told us that staying in the hotel lobby until 5:00 was a good idea, and we’d be fine to still get into the reunion.

This turned out to be a big lie. We anxiously waited until 5:00 to go to the line, at which time we found that the line had already wrapped around two street corners (though it wasn’t yet 5:01). The big mob at the front of the line wasn’t sent to the back as promised; instead, we at the end had to continually move back further so space could be created at the front of the line. Counters came by more than once, and still told us we should be fine to get into the event. We waited in line for two-and-a-half hours in the 90-plus degree heat, and sometime around 7:30, just as we approached the theater’s front doors, we were told that the reunion had already begun and all seats were occupied.

So, we didn’t get in.

There were tears and lots and lots of frustrated fans. We heard from several people inside that there were, in fact, empty seats. It was generally a giant bummer. I’m doing my best in retrospect to keep it from clouding my overall experience. If we’d known earlier that we wouldn’t get in, we would’ve at least gone around the building to watch the red carpet, but we were stuck in line. We ended the night trying to hang around any entrances/exits we thought the GG cast might use, and ended up only seeing the very tall Jared Padalecki from a far distance. Not the best end to an otherwise good day.

Other celebrity sightings for the day: Yanic Truesdale, Jackson Douglas, and Milo Ventimiglia (all of Gilmore Girls).

SUNDAY

As far as the festival was concerned, we really only had one thing on the agenda for Sunday: attending the Dawson’s Creek script reading of the show’s pilot episode, featuring special guests. This was actually the best thing we did at the festival on a purely entertaining level. We ended up waiting in line for 2 hours for the event, but it was worth the wait, and we also saw Matt Czuchry (Gilmore Girls, The Good Wife) walk by, so that was fun.

The primary four cast members were all gender swapped, which obviously provided for some pretty blatant fun, and the level of drama found in basically any Dawson’s Creek script provides the perfect backdrop for a live script reading. Kevin Williamson, the show’s creator, also served as a narrator of sorts for the reading. I truly hope this is an event the ATX Television Festival can do every year, because I loved being part of it.

Here’s a list of the cast for the script reading:

  • Dawson Leery, played by Mae Whitman (Parenthood)
  • Joey Potter, played by Patrick J. Adams (Suits)
  • Pacey Witter, played by Abigail Spencer (Rectify)
  • Jen Lindley, played by Kerr Smith (original Dawson’s Creek cast member!)
  • Grams, played by Louanne Stephens (Friday Night Lights)
  • Mr. Leery, played by Derek Phillips (Friday Night Lights)
  • Mrs. Leery, played by Stacey Oristano (Friday Night Lights, Bunheads)
  • Tamara Jacobs, played by Arielle Kebbel (Gilmore Girls, The Vampire Diaries)
  • Bessie/Nellie, played by Kristian Bruun (Orphan Black)
  • Bodie/Mr. Gold, played by Nick Wechsler (Revenge)

Here are some photos from the script reading:

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You might also note that the last picture features Mae Whitman with a framed photo of Tim Riggins. This was a prop from the Riggins house on the Friday Night Lights set that Stacey Oristano brought as a special present for Mae. I’m kind of super jealous that she owns it.

After the script reading, we went back to the hotel quickly, where we found Liza Weil (Gilmore Girls, How to Get Away with Murder) and got a picture. We bonded over being lefties.

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Finally, I popped into a brunch sponsored by MTV’s Teen Wolf, where there was a photo booth set up for people to take photos with cast members Shelley Hennig, Tyler Posey, and Holland Roden. Tyler Posey told me I could sit on him or get on his shoulders for the photo, but I opted for something more normal.

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After this, we watched a few actors hop into a car headed for the airport before heading out of Austin ourselves. We took a different route on the drive home to spend some time in Louisiana, where neither of us had been before. After many hours driving in terrible traffic and construction, we got a hotel in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Monday morning we made our way out early, stopping for a bit in Oxford, MS so I could revisit the home of William Faulkner because I love him. About seven hours later, we made it home.

Our few days on the road were exhausting, exhilarating, and occasionally upsetting, but I’m happy for the experience. ATX Television Festival is young and still has many kinks to work out, but I hope I’ll be able to return in the future. Until then, you can find me in front of my own TV, soaking in as much of it as I can.

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Book #32: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, by Jesse Andrews

Friday was a pretty great reading day for me. I woke up to read the last chapter of Murder on the Orient Express and then immediately dove into Jesse Andrews’s Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. I’ve been anxious to see the film adaptation of Andrews’s novel since it won both the Grand Jury and Audience awards at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, so I was happy to find that the movie was based on a book. I bought it on a whim a couple of weeks ago, and since the movie is already in limited release, I figured I’d go ahead and read it.

I didn’t set out to finish the book in a few hours, but that’s exactly what happened. In my first sitting, I read 85 pages without really blinking, which quickly became 150 pages, and ended with the full book at just under 300 pages. Whoops.

The book cover features a quotation from a review that says it begs comparison to John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, which I’d say is pretty obvious from the title. However, they really aren’t very similar books, and I’d have to say I prefer Green’s to this one.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is told from the perspective of Greg Gaines, a new high school senior who does his best to live life without being noticed. Greg’s mother insists that he befriend Rachel, a girl he kind of knew when they were younger, who has just been diagnosed with leukemia.

It’s a charming and funny story, but I got a little sick of Greg’s insanely self deprecating tone (though part of that might be because I read the book so quickly). The characters are endearing and likeable, but, in my opinion, this book doesn’t pack near the emotional punch of John Green’s works. I’m a sucker for young adult lit, though, so reading Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was an afternoon well-spent in my preparation for seeing the movie.

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Book #31: Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie

I’d been feeling a bit behind last week as I realized I’d only finished reading one book since my semester ended, but I’ve kicked things into high gear and I’m back on track.

Friday morning I finished Agatha Christie’s classic murder mystery Murder on the Orient Express. This was only my second time reading a work by Christie, and I was anxious to delve into something fun and quick. I didn’t quite speed through it as I expected (our drive to and from Austin, TX was spent largely listening to Serial and watching episodes of “Frasier” and “Friday Night Lights,” so I didn’t do much reading along the way).

After getting home, I made it a mission to read again, so I worked my way through Murder on the Orient Express as quickly as I could. One thing colored my experience a bit: in my first year of grad school, I did a lot of research and a bit paper on the Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin, one of the first fictional detectives who provided the foundation for Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Christie’s Hercule Poirot. This research made it a bit more difficult for me to dive into the story and enjoy it because I found myself comparing Christie’s character to those of her predecessors. Not really fair to her, but I can’t really help it.

Despite this little obstacle, the book is fun and dramatic, just as you’d hope a mystery would be. Christie is a safe bet if you’re looking for a quick and entertaining summer read.