My life lately

It feels like years since I’ve updated, but part of that comes from the timing of the semester. Three weeks ago today, I defended my master’s thesis project (and passed!), though it somehow feels like that was really decades ago. Apart from some final copy editing, my thesis is DONE! I’m both thrilled and a little sad to say goodbye to this project. I have a strong sense I’ll return to it in the future (dare I say dissertation?), but I’m quite content to both physically and metaphorically put it on the shelf for now.

Since preparing for my defense and rigorously studying for my oral exam are no longer activities that occupy my days and nights, my time has felt suspiciously free. As a present to myself for my defense, I ordered Voyager, the third book in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander book series, which was really the perfect treat to come home to. Reading for fun without feeling any guilt is one of the most wonderful feelings.

I’m also entering the final weeks of my first semester of teaching, though that seems ridiculous. Somehow I feel like the semester has just started, when in fact we’re three weeks from its conclusion. I will certainly be sad to see my first crop of students go (though I can’t say every moment of teaching and prepping are all that joyous).

So, to atone for being M.I.A. for a month, here’s my update of the pop culture I’m consuming these days. No one ever said being a teacher meant you couldn’t still enjoy copious amounts of television (and I think I’ve proven that).

Books — As mentioned above, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Voyager–though, at 870 pages, it isn’t what you’d call a quick read. I’m only now closing in on the halfway point in the book, but knowing that there are still several other books in the series to dive into means I’m hungry to keep going.

Before starting Voyager, I’d been reading John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, though starting a new book meant I sort of abandoned this one until finishing it last weekend. This was the third Steinbeck I’ve read (after Of Mice and Men in 2014 and The Grapes of Wrath in 2015) and very tonally different from the others–Cannery Row is a very place-oriented, descriptive novel, not a plotty one. It wasn’t my favorite, but it’s a book I see myself returning to later in life.

I’ve generally felt like I’ve been slacking on my 2016 reading list, though I’ve still read 22 books thus far this year. Depending on my pace with Voyager, I may work through another Arthur Miller play or something of that sort to speed up a bit and feel like I’m making better progress. I’ve also got Hamilton: The Revolution (also known as the Hamiltome) waiting on me at home. Though I’m regretting the decision to have it shipped there since I won’t see it until next weekend, the distance means I’m not diving straight into another book, so that’s probably a good thing.

Movies — My movie-watching pace has also slowed considerably (though I’ve currently seen 41 new-to-me movies this year, so I really shouldn’t be complaining). I’ve not seen anything very noteworthy either, though I did watch The Danish Girl last weekend. I liked it, but it makes sense to me that it wasn’t nominated for Best Picture. I’ll likely be spending a quiet weekend in, so this might be a good time to knock a few things off my Netflix and Amazon viewing lists.

Television — It would be fair to say that my movie-watching has been hindered by my TV-watching, because I’ve been doing more than my fair share. As far as current programming goes, I’ve been keeping up with Bob’s Burgers, The Last Man on Earth, Call the Midwife, Girls, Jane the Virgin, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Bates Motel, The People vs. O.J. Simpson, Broad City, and Outlander (and, because I’m kind of an old woman, even Dancing with the Stars and Survivor). Since Girls, Broad City, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend all come to an end this week, my schedule will be a bit freer (though they’ll be replaced next week by Game of Thrones and Veep, so I guess things aren’t changing that much).

As for all these shows… I think The People vs. O.J. Simpson was a really terrific season of TV all around. I smell a well-deserved Emmy in Sarah Paulson’s future (though my ideal situation would feature a tie between Paulson and Kirsten Dunst) and hopefully the same treatment for the stellar Sterling K. Brown. I think Bates Motel is the best it’s been since season 1, and I kind of love the romance between Norma and Alex. I don’t think this is Broad City‘s best season, but there have been a couple standout episodes, including last week’s wonderful Mrs. Doubtfire homage. And OUTLANDER! There’s only been one episode so far in season 2, but I’m enthralled. I’ve rewatched bits of season 1 and can’t seem to get enough of this show lately, so I’m quite happy for its return.

Apart from what’s currently airing, I’ve also done a significant amount of side watching, including lots of Game of Thrones prep. This week I watched the Starz ballet miniseries Flesh and Bone, which was only okay. Lots of pretty dancing, melodramatic storylines, and mediocre acting. And just today (because I’m kind of terrible) I watched all of season 2 of Amazon’s Catastrophe, which I find very charming. Having met these characters last summer in a quick-moving first season, I was glad to see that season 2 developed them further into funny and likeable people (not to say they weren’t that way already). I’ve also watched the pilot episode of the new Starz series The Girlfriend Experience, which I think I’ll stick to since it’s getting good reviews. I didn’t have any particularly strong reactions to the pilot, but I’ll stick it out. And tomorrow’s release of season 2 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix means my weekend will be just a little brighter (in a fairly literal way, considering Kimmy’s costuming).

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In summary, I’ve been watching a lot of TV–though I swear I do other things too. What things are you reading and watching? I’m always up for additions to my ever-growing lists!:)

 

Never Let Me Go

2016 Reading List #21: Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro

Though I definitely should’ve been spending my time more productively, I spent most of today reading the final half of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. If you can’t allow a little literary indulgence on spring break, when can you?

This book has been of interest to me for a long time, but I’ve never been able to find my own copy at a used bookstore, which is my primary resource for book-buying. My roommate brought me his copy after winter break, so I finally decided to let myself enjoy some recreational reading after feeling too committed to my thesis project to dive in earlier in the semester.

Thankfully, it was worth the wait. I saw the 2010 film adaptation and so I knew the general premise of the novel before beginning: in a reimagined late-twentieth century Britain, Kathy tells the story of her growing up with friends Ruth and Tommy. This isn’t any normal coming-of-age story, though; Kathy and her friends are clones, produced to fulfill their lives as organ donors for British citizens so terminal illness is no longer a death sentence.

Despite the sci-fi nature of a clone story, this is a very human narrative full of endearing characters. I was misty-eyed more than once throughout my reading experience, and it’s obvious why this has been such a lauded book.

This was my first time reading Ishiguro, but I’ll happily return to him soon, especially since I already have a copy of his Man Booker Prize-winning novel, The Remains of the Day. For now, I’ll probably start another reading project, though my impending thesis defense will likely slow my reading progress. A future in which I will no longer have to write research papers is sounding sweeter and sweeter…

When the only things in life that matter are Hamilton and Manic Pixie Dream Girls

Hello, world.

It’s March. What? I haven’t written anything very substantial here since my Sundance reflection, but I can’t believe more than a month has gone by since then. Apparently teaching and writing a thesis require more of my attention than blogging.

Speaking of those things… yes, my life these days is about scrambling through the last bits of writing on my thesis (defense is March 24 and I’m currently sitting on 101 pages, no biggie) and teaching English to two classes of college freshmen. Both are at times infuriating and exhilarating. I’m incredibly thankful for a semester that allows me two things to focus on that inspire me, but boy, do I yearn for a day to just watch TV without feeling guilty.

Thankfully, I’m enjoying a bit more free time this week with spring break. Since I pride myself on my reading and watching skills, here’s a quick update on the things I’ve been enjoying lately.

Books–Because I’ve been preparing for my oral exam that comes with defending my thesis, lots of my reading this year has just been rereading. I’ve also done a pretty significant number of plays lately. I love reading plays anyway, but I think this choice is more representative of my short attention span as I start to worry about the other things I should be doing rather than recreational reading.

As for things I’ve really liked, I completely loved reading the Collected Sonnets of Edna St. Vincent Millay for my oral exam. I’ve never been a poetry reader, so the fact that I enjoyed this so much feels like real character development. I also really loved reading Marsha Norman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play ‘Night, Mother and definitely bawled my way through the final 10 pages when I finished it yesterday morning. I have plans to read Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go now, which I’ve already started, but I’m having a hard time concentrating with the other things floating in my head. Hopefully I’ll make more progress soon. As of today, I’m 20 books into 2016, so I think I’m doing okay regardless.

TV–Since finishing Pushing Daisies and season two of Transparent in February, I haven’t started a new streaming show (again, too many other things to be concerned with). I’m also in a happy place with the TV that’s currently airing–I’m keeping up with Bob’s Burgers, Girls, Last Man on Earth, Jane the Virgin, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Broad City, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson. The upcoming returns of Outlander, Veep, and Game of Thrones also have me ridiculously excited, so I’m hoping time moves a little quicker in April.

Movies–Starting the year at Sundance certainly helped my film-watching this year; I’ve already seen 36 new (to me) films so far. Nothing recently has been too exceptional except for The Witch, which is just so fun and weird you can’t help but enjoy it. I also rewatched Room last week after first seeing it in January and enjoyed it even more the second time. I’ve been thinking about it often since, and I think that says a lot about its quality.

Now that I’ve written this, I’m realizing that life has been pretty quiet for me lately–except when I’m blaring the Hamilton soundtrack in my car, which is often. If all goes well, I’ll be writing again in a few weeks, having finished my thesis (!!!) and enjoying the downward slope toward graduation.

See you soon!

Biloxi Blues

2016 Reading List #18: Biloxi Blues, by Neil Simon

My 2016 reading list is off to a nice start! Once again, my readings have been greatly bolstered by reading plays, but I’m just as interested in expanding my theatrical knowledge as any other genre, so I do what I can.

After reading Brighton Beach Memoirs two years ago for a class, I was happy to find a copy of Biloxi Blues at a discount bookstore to continue reading Neil Simon’s trilogy. Biloxi Blues is mostly light and funny, though there are some real moments of seriousness as the play revolves around a group of training soldiers in the midst of World War II.

Since finishing After You, I’ve tried to keep my recreational reading to a minimum–that oral exam I have in three weeks (!) requires some serious studying, so I can’t let myself wander too far into fun reading territory. Plays and poetry (which I’ve never considered leisurely reading until recently) have helped me stay sane and entertained while not being too distracting from exam prep.

However, since it’s spring break, I’m letting myself have a little freedom and plan to read Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go this week. I saw the movie when it came out in 2010 and really liked it, so I have high hopes for the book. Stay tuned for an update soon!

Much Ado About Nothing

2016 Reading List #15: Much Ado About Nothing, by William Shakespeare

Only one reread left in my oral exam preparation! We’re only four weeks into the semester but it’s flying by. I’ve got a month and three days (!) until my thesis defense/oral exam and I’m teaching 3 days a week, which didn’t seem like very much on my plate, but that was wrong.

I’m surviving, but oh goodness, will I be happy when this whole deal is over. As I have to have a play by Shakespeare on my reading list, I chose the one I saw performed at the Globe Theatre: Much Ado About Nothing, which is my favorite of the Shakespearean comedies I’ve read.

As I tend to say when writing my book reviews of Shakespeare, I don’t know that I can add anything original about a text this old. It’s funny and ridiculous and totally enjoyable, so go read/watch it!

My last bits of oral exam prep should conclude this week before I’m just in full-on study mode: rereading The Glass Menagerie and familiarizing myself with the works of John Donne and Anne Bradstreet. My brain is not entirely pleased.

Collected Sonnet of Edna St. Vincent Millay

2016 Reading List #14: Collected Sonnets of Edna St. Vincent Millay

My name is Brenna and I’m kind of in love with Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Okay, now that my newfound love has been professed, let’s talk about how great this collection isAfter finding this book at a discount store last December, I decided to add my new gal pal to my master’s oral exam reading list, and what a great decision that was.

I randomly picked (from some of her most popular sonnets) five poems to focus on, and after reading those and doing some research on the sonnets and Millay herself, I wasn’t satisfied to put her away just yet, so I proposed to my roommate that we read the collection together.

We finished the collection in basically 24 hours over the course of three sittings. Needless to say, we couldn’t really put the book down.

I’m the first to admit that I’m kind of an idiot when it comes to poetry–I do a lot of, “oh, that’s nice” and then move promptly along–but Millay spoke to me in a new way. I actually enjoyed reading this collection immensely, which isn’t something I’ve ever really thought about poetry before, especially poets from the 20th century.

If you don’t know much about Millay herself, do yourself a favor and go learn. She’s super cool and we should all aspire to be here.

And if you still need some convincing, here are some bits that might inspire you:

  • “I drink–and live–what has destroyed some men.”
  • “I am most faithless when I am most true.”
  • “Making my way, I pause, and feel, and hark, / Till I become accustomed to the dark.”
  • “I confess / I cannot swear I love you not at all.”
  • “So she came back into his house again / And watched beside his ben until he died, / Loving him not at all.”
  • “Thinking of men, what helpless things they were”
  • “Heart in my breast / ‘Tis half a year now since you broke in two; / The world’s forgotten well, if the world knew.”
  • “I dread no more the first white in my hair, / Or even age itself, the easy shoe, / The cane, the wrinkled hands, the special chair: / Time, doing this to me, may alter too / My sorrow, into something I can bear.”
  • “And lust is there, and nights not spent alone.”
  • “Yet here was one who had no need to die / To be remembered.”
  • “We could keep this planet warm / By friction, if the sun should fail.”

Here’s a list of my favorite sonnets in the collection. These are too good to just include a line or two, so go read them!:)

  • “Time does not bring relief; you all have lied”
  • “If I should learn, in some casual way”
  • “I think I should have loved you presently”
  • “I shall forget you presently, my dear”
  • “When you, that at this moment are to me”
  • “Love is not blind. I see with single eye”
  • “Oh, oh, you will be sorry for that word!”
  • “I, being born a woman and distressed”
  • “What my lips have kissed, and where, and why”
  • “To Jesus on His Birthday”
  • “Women have loved before as I love now”
  • “When we are old and these rejoicing veins”
  • “Love is not all: it is not meat or drink”
  • “Time, that is pleased to lengthen out the day”
  • “Even in the moment of our earliest kiss”
  • “Now by the path I climbed, I journey back”
  • “Alcestis to her husband, just before, with his tearful approbation, she dies in order that he may live.”
The Importance of Being Earnest

2016 Reading List #13: The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde

Since I’m finishing my master’s degree this semester and have to defend my thesis and take an oral exam over everything I’ve learned in just over a month (!), I’m doing my best to reread as many of the texts on my reading list as possible. Thankfully, one of those rereads was The Importance of Being Earnest, which is undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable reading experiences at your disposal.

There probably isn’t anything terribly new or unique I can say about this play, so I won’t try. It’s hilarious and ridiculous and perfectly entertaining. Go read it if you haven’t.

Before I allow myself to start any other leisure reading, I’m making myself get through the last two texts I plan to revisit for my studies: The Glass Menagerie and Much Ado About Nothing, and I’m also making my way through the poetry of the likes of John Donne, Emily Dickinson, and Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Oh, the life of an English student…