Managing entertainment with a full-time job

Hello, long lost blogging world. Apologies for my absence (not that I assume anyone noticed).

Life has been odd lately, mostly because I’m a person who goes to work every day and teaches people and isn’t a student anymore. These are new things and they’re nice things, but they’re also still a little strange.

One thing that definitely hasn’t changed in my life, though, is my constant pursuit to watch and read as much as I possibly can in a day. So, to catch you up on my latest reading and viewing ventures, here’s a quick recap of my life lately.

Books — A few weeks ago, I reached my 2016 goal of reading 52 books, so now, I’m free to enjoy my reading just a bit more. I still have three other reading goals to accomplish: read Arthur Miller’s collected plays, read something by Jane Austen, and read something by Charles Dickens. Thankfully, I’m 5 plays away (out of 18) from checking Miller off the list, and I’m about 1/3 of the way through Sense and Sensibility. Progress! Otherwise, my roommate and I have been enjoying more read-aloud projects (we’ve done a 700+ page collection of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poetry and Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto so far), and I’ve read both Amy Schumer’s and Jessi Klein’s comedy memoirs in recent weeks.

Movies — I’ve been in a bit of a movie slump lately, mostly because my attentions have been taken up by watching all kinds of TV. Recent viewing experiences have included The Light Between Oceans and Fruitvale Station, both of which were tear-inducing in very different ways. I’m also planning to watch Straight Outta Compton today. Otherwise, I’m doing my best to keep up with all the film festival coverage and anxiously awaiting the release of La La Land and Manchester by the Sea.

TV — This is the area where I’ve been shining my brightest lately. After finishing Felicity a week or two ago, I’ve wandered through lots of viewing. I finally finished rewatching Game of Thrones, including the most recent season, I rewatched most of Rome with my mom, I sped through Netflix’s The Get Down and Amazon’s One Mississippi, and my roommate and I have just started Stranger Things. My current solo TV project is Sex and the City, which I’m slightly embarrassed to say I started watching last Tuesday, and I’m already halfway through season 4. Turns out not having homework means I have a slight struggle making myself turn the TV off.

And in exciting TV news, the Emmy awards are tonight! Here’s hoping for lots of Game of Thrones victories and unexpected wins.

What are you watching and reading these days? I’m always open to suggestions.🙂

bel-canto

2016 Reading List #56: Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett

I’ve been a terrible blogger of late, but sometimes that’s what happens when you’re a grown up with full-time employment. My lack of posting has no reflection on my consumption of pop culture, though—I’ve been reading and watching things like a pro.

And speaking of reading… Bel Canto was the second shared reading project my roommate and I have embarked upon since the school year started. We decided to read it together over the summer, and it turned out to be a lovely shared experience.

Bel Canto takes place in an unnamed South American country, where a diverse group of people have gathered for a swanky birthday celebration at the home of the vice president, only to have the party overtaken by terrorists in search of the country’s president. Despite the set-up, Bel Canto is a book with minimal violence, and the story is much more about overcoming differences than fighting with enemies.

I had a few issues with bits of the content and characterization, but the story is largely a compassionate one that pulls you in and breaks your heart by the end. I’d definitely recommend it for a quiet/sweet/sad reading experience.

And just a quick, fun tidbit: apparently my roommate and I are influential tastemakers (though we’d always assumed this anyway) because two days after we began reading, the film adaptation of Bel Canto was announced, and it’s set to star Julianne Moore, Ken Watanabe, and Demián Bichir. With a cast that good, here’s hoping for a satisfying movie.

Bayou Folk

2016 Reading List #51: Bayou Folk, by Kate Chopin

Because Kate Chopin is just one of the coolest ladies in literature, I jumped right into Bayou Folk, one of her two published short stories collections, just after I finished At Fault a few weeks ago. Though I read two other books and started a third in the time I was reading Bayou Folk, that doesn’t reflect on my feelings about the work. Once again, Chopin is a joy to read.

Overall, I didn’t enjoy Bayou Folk quite as much as I have Chopin’s novels, but that’s probably true of most short story collections. I really loved some, others were fine. I was interested to realize though, that Chopin operates in a way that mirrors what Faulkner is famous for—carrying characters and locations through several different works to create an interconnected network for her writing. It’s fun to jump into a world of familiar names and places and see where the new story takes you.

And since finishing Bayou Folk, I only have one book left to complete my 2016 goal! Look for a post on completing my reading goal soon.

 

Sidney Chambers and the Perils of Night

2016 Reading List #50: Sidney Chambers and the Perils of Night, by James Runcie

Sidney Chambers and the Perils of Night was probably one of the most disappointing reading projects I’ve yet had in 2016.

After falling in love with Grantchester, the TV adaptation of the book series, earlier this summer, I was excited to read the books that inspired the show. Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death, the first book in the series, was a fun read that closely aligned with the series. After season 1, though, it’s clear the TV show took its own approach, borrowing only sparingly from the books, and I’m sad to say I’m much happier with the direction of the adaptation than the original.

I found many of Runcie’s stories to be underwhelming and sometimes boring. Runcie has a tendency to go into unnecessary detail about insignificant plot points (I don’t care at all about the rules of cricket, but there was an 8-page section devoted to this topic), so I often lost interest and tuned out from time to time. There’s also a pretty gigantic change in the love story from page to screen, and I much prefer what the TV series is doing with this storyline.

Though I already have a copy of the third book in the series, I’m not sure if I’ll ever get to it. I’m sad to have spent money (and time) on a series I’m likely to give up, but I’ll find more intriguing ways to spend my time reading.

At Fault

2016 Reading List #48: At Fault, by Kate Chopin

I think it’s time we all just take a moment to recognize the joy that is reading Kate Chopin’s works.

I think I’m a little late to the game with Chopin, especially as far as English students are concerned, but I love her. True, deep love.

In high school, I only encountered her short story “The Story of an Hour,” partially because I opted to read something else over The Awakening. I only read The Awakening a few years ago, but I think I had a much better appreciation for the novel with a bit more maturity than the other people who hated it when we were juniors in high school. High school students aren’t really prepared to like novels in which things don’t end happily, but my 21-year-old self could handle it.

In college (and grad school), I revisited “The Story of an Hour” more than once and became acquainted with “The Storm,” which is perhaps the steamiest way you can spend 10 minutes of reading.

I received the Chopin’s complete novels and stories for Christmas and hadn’t gone too deep into it until a few days ago when I was inspired to jump in with At Fault, the first of Chopin’s two novels, originally published in 1890.

To say Kate Chopin is a badass is probably one of the most objective assessments of her character. She was crazy smart, kept a sassy journal, survived the deaths of siblings, parents, and her husband, had six kids in eight years, dealt with the massive debt left to her after her husband’s untimely death, had hushed affairs with men while maintaining a living to provide for her family, and wrote some really great early feminist literature.

At Fault, Chopin’s first published work, wasn’t even written until after she had her kids and lost her husband, and since she died at the age of 54, that’s pretty impressive. When the novel was rejected, she paid for its publication herself.

Did I mention that I love her?

I think one of the craziest things about Chopin’s writing is how very approachable it is—both in terms of content and style—more than a century after original publication. Her stories are often romantic in nature and she’s incredibly bold in the way she addresses female sexuality. I can’t believe there hasn’t been greater effort to adapt her works into TV or film because her writing feels very contemporary.

The only aspect of this novel that really ages it is some of the language used to describe the black servants. Chopin spent plenty of her adult life on a plantation in Louisiana, so it’s not exactly surprising that the treatment of black characters wouldn’t be great, but her clear feminist stance might make you hope she’d write something a bit more tolerant. The best thing to note about her black characters is that they seem much more significant and involved than in many other pieces of Civil War-era writing, but there’s still something to be desired here.

Now that I’ve finished At Fault, I’ve decided to continue through this collection to Bayou Folk, a collection of Chopin’s short stories. I’ll likely be pairing a novel with this reading since balancing short stories and a novel is fairly easy and gets me reading more. Funny how easy self motivation comes when it’s about reading…

Green Hills of Africa

2016 Reading list #47: Green Hills of Africa, by Ernest Hemingway

I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump lately, though I’m getting plenty of reading done. I’ve just been caught at an odd time when, every time I finish a book, I stare blankly at my shelf, unsure what to read next.

Green Hills of Africa wasn’t really on my original reading list for the year, though reading something by Ernest Hemingway was. I’d planned on working through Hemingway’s complete collection of short stories, but, after the first 200 pages, I watched the book sit unopened, so I’ve reshelved for a later time (though I have read somewhere in the realm of 30 of his stories, so I know I’ll happily return to it when the time is right).

Green Hills of Africa was one of the shorter selections on my shelf that also meant I would be accomplishing one of my 2016 goals of reading a work for a few select authors. After falling in love with Hemingway and Faulkner in a lit class four years (!) ago, I’ve tried my best to read something new by each of them every year.

This wasn’t my favorite of Hemingway’s works, but that’s mostly because I don’t care about hunting. This is all about hunting. It’s not a bad book at all, it’s just a book that doesn’t quite align with my personal interests.

Hemingway even says in a very short forward to the book that this is his attempt at seeing if a book without plot or romance can still be true and interesting to readers, and I think he accomplishes that. Near the book’s conclusion, he has a few beautiful pages about the majesty of the earth and how people corrupt its beauty. His appreciation for nature is at a serious high in this book.

He also refers to a hunting guide who’s overly expressive and annoying as “Theater Business” and speaks of himself as having the “evening braggies” after whiskey makes him overconfident, both of which are tidbits I enjoy tremendously.

If you can forgive Hemingway’s casual racism and whiteness here and there (he was writing in the 1930s, after all), Green Hills of Africa is a pretty pleasant read. Maybe not my favorite, but it’s hard to go too wrong with Papa.

Cursed Child

2016 Reading Lis #46: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Perhaps the quickest version of this post is to say that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child left me feeling… conflicted.

But I can’t really just leave it there.

In anticipation of Cursed Child, my feelings waffled between trying to limit my expectations and really, really wanting to like it. And I did like it. But I didn’t love it. At all.

Here’s my biggest problem: in the scope of all things Harry Potter, nothing can match the magic of the original series. Though I preordered my copy of the play months ago from Amazon, I paid a visit to the local Barnes & Noble midnight release party because I so enjoyed them years ago. None of this experience could be the same. The anticipation I felt was more anxiety than excitement this time around. I didn’t want to read something that would mess with a perfect series.

And Cursed Child doesn’t really mess with the original series, at least in my opinion. Because I see the original seven books as sacred, I refuse to allow something new (that wasn’t even really written by J.K. Rowling) to affect that world. Cursed Child is fine—likable, funny, sweet, somber—but it’s a mere shadow of the original works.

There are many reasons for this, I think, apart from Rowling’s limited input. First, jumping from a set of long and detailed novels to a two-part play is a big leap. The play is comprised of lots and lots of minuscule scenes, and by the end it felt like a Shondaland TV show to me—every scene break had a dramatic cliffhanger that kept the pace moving ever-forward. There’s no time to live in the show’s moments, especially when the expanse of the play crosses decades of time.

Though I might feel different seeing the stage production rather than just reading it, I also felt like the magic was heavy-handed. I’m curious to know how so many of these effects are done (the play contains Polyjuicing, dementors, Time Turning, underwater stunts, Transfiguration, etc.), but it reads like someone trying to cram in as many oohs-and-ahhs as possible before the curtain falls. At its core, Cursed Child is meant to be about the difficulties Harry faces with his son, so I’d have preferred a much simpler play to tell an intimate story.

In fact, the way this difficult relationship is pushed forward is through an odd and complicated overarching plot that I found really unnecessary. For one, when we came to know Voldemort as a villain over the course of seven novels, trying to introduce and conquer a new villain in one play seems doomed to fail. And without giving anything away, I personally predicted the villain and their connection to the characters from early on. The “big reveal” isn’t exactly on par with, say, the revelations of “The Prince’s Tale.”

And speaking of the Half-Blood Prince… I may have been most disappointed by the Snape and Dumbledore cameos (done in alternate reality and via portrait, so no one is resurrected or something equally strange). Though these are two characters I love dearly, they both had beautiful final scenes in the original series, and neither of them felt at all authentic to me in the play. Their individual dialogue was clearly an imitation of the real thing, and I wish they’d remained in the past where their stories belong.

Finally, on that same note, it’s very touchy to revisit such beloved characters and try to make them what readers know them to be already. Harry felt most true in the first scenes of the play, which are just lifted from the Deathly Hallows epilogue, but otherwise, he’s a big drag and kind of bad father. Ron is a caricature of himself—sure, Ron’s always been the most light-hearted of the trio, but he’s also got substance—and Hermione is a leader without having the characteristic bossiness that makes her so endearing.

Okay, I want to stop complaining to talk a bit about the good. The Albus/Scorpius dynamic is very sweet, and I’m glad no one tried to turn it into a second-generation version of Harry, Ron, and Hermione. I was very happy to see several young people—people who would’ve been too young to be original Harry Potter readers—quickly walking to the shelves when I went to a bookstore yesterday. I’m glad to know a young generation might be getting excited about the theatre and seeing that very real magic happening live.

In the end, though, I’m much more excited about the prospect of the Fantastic Beasts film adaptations for two reasons. First, J.K. Rowling really wrote the screenplay and I’d trust her with anything, and second, though we’re staying in the Wizarding World, we’ll be meeting an entirely new crop of characters and can’t be disappointed by recreations of people we already know and love.

In 2011, when the final film in the series was released, J.K. Rowling said Hogwarts will always be there to welcome us home. She’s right. But for now, I think I’ll stick to those perfect books she gave us nearly a decade ago.