Of Mice and Men

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! 🙂

 

Year in Review: Top 10 Books of 2014

Lists are very important to me, so I always get really excited at the end of the year when I can revisit all the reading and TV bingeing I’ve done. That being said, here are my 10 favorite reads of 2014. Considering I hit 90 books and plays for the year just a few days ago, this wasn’t so easy to narrow down.

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre was the perfect way to begin my 2014 reading. Not only did I truly love this book, I also find it personally satisfying that such an important novel was the first thing I read in the new year. It makes me feel like a real English student. It’s a lovely, beautifully written book that I highly recommend, particularly to young women.

Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Eugene O’Neill

Few plays in American drama are as deeply personal as Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, a play based completely on O’Neill’s own family. O’Neill was basically the great savior of American drama in the early-20th century, so he should be at the top of your reading list, and so should this moving, deeply personal play.

Tea and Sympathy, Robert Anderson

I really wish I could explain why I loved this play so much, but I don’t really know why I do. I read Tea and Sympathy for a class, and though I’d never heard of it before, I absolutely loved it (though again, I don’t really have a reason why). It’s a sweet (and slightly scandalous) story of life in a boys boarding school that deals primarily with sexuality and isolation. If nothing else, the fact that it was written in the 1950s and deals with such risqué subject matter should be enough reason to intrigue you.

Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck

I might be a bit partial toward Of Mice and Men since I saw it on Broadway in May, but I also really, really love the novella. It’s the kind of story that sticks with you, and I think it was a perfect introduction into Steinbeck’s writing. I’m looking forward to expanding my Steinbeck knowledge in 2015.

The Laramie Project, Moisés Kaufman

The Laramie Project is another story that sticks with you. It’s told in a documentarian style about the murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming. I really hope people are still aware of the story, especially because it’s an important reminder of how far we’ve come in terms of social justice in just the past decades.

Much Ado About Nothing, William Shakespeare

Though my overall experience in my Shakespeare course this fall was far from fulfilling, I’m certainly happy to have been exposed to some of Shakespeare’s best works (this is my glass-half-full approach toward this unfortunate class). I saw Much Ado About Nothing at the Globe Theatre in 2011, so I was very excited to read it for myself. The story is sweet and funny, and definitely one of my favorites as far as Shakespearean comedies are concerned.

Not That Kind of Girl, Lena Dunham

Despite all the ridiculous (in my opinion) controversy that’s surrounded Dunham’s book since it was released a few months ago, it was still one of my favorite reads this year. As far as I’m concerned, Dunham’s memoir is exactly what I expected it to be, and more than anything, it makes me sad to know that she’s suffered with such anxiety in the past (but I’m also really happy she’s in a better place now).

Yes Please, Amy Poehler

It’s rare for me to read any nonfiction outside of required reading, but 2014’s surge of celebrity memoirs that I was interested in changed that fact. Amy Poehler is one of my favorite people on television, so it was of course important that I read her book. She’s just as charming and funny as you’d expect, so read it if you like her like I do.

Atonement, Ian McEwan

I’ve been generally slow on the Atonement uptake; I only watched the movie in the summer of 2013, so it seemed appropriate that I read the novel this year. I usually find British things very calming, so it was helpful to read Atonement during a busy point in my semester (but spoiler alert: this isn’t exactly a happy story).

Attachments, Rainbow Rowell

Attachments was the last book I read (though I hope to finish at least one more before the end of 2014), so I’m happy I loved it enough to put it on this list. Attachments was the third Rainbow Rowell book I read in 2014, and it’s the perfect kind of light, sweet, romantic story for ending the year on a high note.

Ending 2014 having read over 90 books is something I never expected, but I’m always happy to expand my literary knowledge. Here’s hoping 2015 is equally successful!

How to Enjoy Pop Culture in the Summertime: An Autobiography

Since I seem to be a perpetual student, the summers in my life have always carried the promise of relaxation and calm, the perfect antidote to the hectic school year. This summer is especially empty for two primary reasons: 1. most of my close friends are either moving to start their professional careers or internships, and 2. I, on the other hand, have just graduated from college and have plans to begin grad school and and a grad assistantship in the fall. Since my commitments don’t require anything of my until late-August, I’m basically just coasting through life right now. Having lots of free time is both a blessing and a burden, so I thought I might fill some of it up talking about my recent and/or current pop culture endeavors to say what’s been keeping me busy.

TV — Last summer I completed an embarrassing number of TV viewing projects, and since I was taking an online class and writing my honors thesis, I was plenty busy on my own. Since I’m a free agent this summer, I’m expecting even more from myself. I’m currently about 10 episodes into the fifth season of Gossip Girl, a project I started during my final week of classes. It certainly isn’t the greatest show ever, but it provides me entertainment. My mom and I also sped through the entirety of The Comeback last week, partially to prepare for the show’s return this fall after having been canceled in 2005. Since then, we started working on The Sopranos, but we’ve only watched the pilot, so no major progress there. And I’ve already decided that once I’m finished with Gossip Girl (of which I have fewer than thirty episodes left to watch), I’m going to continue my progress on Seinfeld and Cheers (in that order) so I can hopefully knock at least one of them out before I head back to school this fall.

Movies — Summer blockbusters aside, I love having the free time to attempt to clean out my list of movies on Netflix and HBOGO. Thanks to On Demand, the process of watching HBO is becoming much easier. Just yesterday I watched The East and The Purge, both of which I’d been interested it for a while. As far as my theater-going experiences, I’ve seen The Fault in Our Stars (twice), 22 Jump Street, and Jersey Boys. Since my goal for 2014 is to watch 125 new movies, I’m still 9 movies ahead of schedule, and I hope to continue to build my head start throughout the summer.

Books — Summer reading is something I look forward to year-round, and in the four weeks since I graduated, I’ve already completed eight books and I’m making good progress on the ninth. Some of my favorites so far have been The Maze Runner, Of Mice and Men, andFangirl. I just ordered my copy of The Silkworm, and I’m really looking forward to reading that soon. Right now I’m working on The Marriage Plotwhich I find fairly exhausting, but I’m trying to power through. Next on my reading agenda is Gone Girlwhich I read in 2012, but I want to refresh my memory before the film adaptation comes out this fall.

So, back to all this “work” I’ve been doing. On tonight’s agenda: enjoy some time to myself, hopefully crossing another movie off the list, and finishing another chapter of The Marriage Plot. Summer, you’re too good to me.

Book #53: Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck

Of Mice and Men

I’m fairly embarrassed of myself that I took nearly a month to read this novella, but the fact that I saw it on Broadway during that time meant that I didn’t feel any real burden about finishing the book. I can say, though, that the conclusion of the book left me the same way as the conclusion of the play did: in tears, wishing for a happier ending that can’t really exist.

If you don’t know the story, then I won’t spoil it for you. The book follows George and Lennie, two men who work on ranches across California. Lennie is somewhat mentally disabled and often accidentally gets himself into trouble, but is fortunate enough to have George as a protector who keeps Lennie out of harm’s way.

The stage adaptation is probably 95% identical to Steinbeck’s original work; having seen it so recently made it very easy for me to hear all the dialogue in the actors’ voices. As I mentioned in my post about my trip to New York, Chris O’Dowd gave a stunning performance as Lennie, and I pictured his face as the character throughout my reading experience. This was my first venture into John Steinbeck, and one that I think was very successful. If I stick to my plan, I’ll be reading The Grapes of Wrath before the end of the summer.

NYC 2014: The Magic Continues

If you’ve read many of my personal blogs or follow me at all on social media, you probably you I like celebrities. A lot. It’s kind of an issue. But (as of about two weeks ago) I have a degree in Pop Culture Studies, so who can really blame me for this fascination? It’s really just an academic pursuit. Or that’s what I tell myself, anyway. Last week, my mom and I ventured on another whirlwind trip to New York City, a jaunt we planned as a celebration of my college graduation, as well as an excuse for us to shamelessly stalk the stars. We booked our trip about a month ago and purchased tickets to see two plays: Of Mice and Men, the stage adaptation of John Steinbeck’s classic novel, and The Cripple of Inishmaan, a revival of Martin McDonagh’s 1996 dark comedy. Our first day got off to a rather unexpected start: when boarding our very small Delta plane leaving Nashville, I did a bit of a double-take upon realizing that, sitting in the front row of first class, was Kesha. I have a knack for celebrity-spotting, I just didn’t expect to exert my talent before landing in NYC. By an odd twist of fate, my mom and I happened to be seated in the very last row on the plane, and our seats were literally the furthest possible from Kesha. Figures. She did come back to the bathroom near the end of the flight and brushed against my arm, so I guess I’m practically famous. Now, onto the real stuff. After a death-defying cab ride to our hotel (Hotel Mela in Times Square, which I would totally recommend), we decided to wander around a bit and get our bearings before attending a show that night. On our walk we passed John Tartaglia, an original leading cast member from Avenue Q, so that was fun. But the real magic happened later.

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Tuesday night, we headed to the Longacre Theatre to see Of Mice and Men, a play that has stuck with me since that night. I find it a bit astounding to know that this show only received two Tony nominations — Best Actor in a Play and Best Lighting Design — because I thought it was a truly spectacular show. Chris O’Dowd gave a haunting and beautiful performance as Lennie Small, a mentally-challenged gentle giant. James Franco also gave a great performance as stalwart George Miller, Lennie’s companion who attempts to keep him out of trouble. I’m in the (very slow, for some reason) process of reading Steinbeck’s book, and the chapters I’ve read were basically recreated word-for-word on stage. The show also featured great supporting performances by Leighton Meester (Gossip Girl) in the play’s only female role, and Jim Parrick (True Blood, James Franco’s As I Lay Dying) as Slim, one of the other men working on the ranch with George and Lennie. Without spoiling anything, the play’s final scene is packs the necessary power and sorrow, and will almost certainly leave audiences thinking. Though I realize I’m biased, I would really love to see O’Dowd walk away with a Tony award next week.

Now, onto happier things. I was very pleased to see that, despite the tragic contents of the play, the actors all seemed happy and content during the curtain call, and James Franco, in true James Franco fashion, was very excited to be selling a signed handkerchief he used during the show for charity. We left the theatre to join the crowds outside the stage door, which were much calmer than I’d anticipated. We heard more than one person saying Chevy Chase had also been in the audience, but I never got visual confirmation. Chris O’Dowd came out first, all smiles and niceties. He was totally gracious about signing autographs and taking pictures with fans before casually walking away to the Subway or wherever with his backpack. I loved it.

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There was more mayhem when James Franco exited. An assistant or someone came by and said that everyone should turn around and take selfies with James when he came by, because he’s James Franco and obviously he would want everyone to take selfies. He was also so nice about signing for people — he even grabbed by program out of my hand and signed it before I could ask — but he seemed to be in a bit of an off mood because there were paparazzi. He continually said, “if that guy keeps taking pictures, I’m leaving, and it will be his fault that I didn’t sign stuff for everyone.” Leighton Meester snuck out the front door and into an SUV as Franco came out the stage door, but she rolled the window down and smiled and waved at everyone as she rode away. All in all, it was a pretty fantastic night.

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The following day, I really had only one thing on my mind: I would be seeing Daniel Radcliffe again. In my world, this is really big, you guys. We decided to walk around a bit and sort of unexpectedly stumbled into the line for rush tickets at The Cripple of Inishmaan, so I decided to pay to get better seats for the performance. We then walked to 30 Rock and met with a high school friend of my mom’s for lunch before returning to the Cort Theatre for our matinee performance.

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Again, in a moment of sheer luck, we were standing outside the theatre for all of two minutes when a black SUV pulled up, a body guard got out of the passenger seat, opened the door to the backseat, and Daniel Radcliffe got out (at which moment I slapped my mom’s arms and uttered a few profanities. Whoops.). Daniel rushed in the stage door, but not before kindly smiling and waving at those of us standing around, mostly super old people who probably had no idea who he was. Perfect.

The show itself was absolutely wonderful. I was a bit disheartened to see that it was a rather empty audience; apparently Daniel isn’t enough to draw huge audiences, but I promise, you’ll love it if you see it! The play is a very dark comedy set on the island of Inishmaan off the coast of Ireland in the 1930s. Daniel plays the titular character, Cripple Billy, a young man who becomes determined to make it as a Hollywood actor when he learns that a film crew in working in a nearby town. Daniel Radcliffe was again looked over for a Tony nomination, but the show itself is the most nominated play overall. Sarah Greene is very deservedly nominated for Best Featured Actress in a Play, and I’d love to see her win. The ensemble is made up of a fantastic team of British actors (I believe Daniel is the only Englishman of the bunch), and I totally recommend people to this show before it closes in July.

After the performance, we exited to join the stage door crowds. A few of the lesser-known cast members exited quickly, though Sarah Greene and Conor MacNeill did take time to sign autographs and take pictures. I got an autograph from Sarah Greene, who couldn’t have been and nicer or more adorable. Here are a few shots I managed to get of them from my somewhat smooshed location amongst the crowds.

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As you’d probably expect, the real insanity ensued when Daniel came out to sign. Unlike when I met him three years ago, this time he made his way through the crowd at a very leisurely pace, stopping to take pictures with anyone who asked. He was totally great the last time I met him, but I think it’s safe to say I appreciated this too. Though I didn’t get my moment with him (yet), I did get a few photos of him as he made his way around.

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We left the stage door crowd to meet up with a friend for dinner, but returned to the Cort Theatre fairly promptly so we could stake out prime spots for evening performance stage door situation. Though we were rather frustrated with the stage door man’s rather inadequate abilities and I was fairly certain I was going to have a throw-down fight with the old woman in front of me, all was well. The first signature I got belonged to Pádriac Delaney, who seemed genuinely surprised and appreciative when I told him I enjoyed watching him on The Tudors. We also got an autographs from Conor MacNeill and Sarah Greene for my mom’s Playbill, and Sarah Greene took a selfie of the three of us because she’s adorable and lovely and was happy to do such things. Here’s the photo for reference:

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Perhaps the most entertaining moment of the evening came when the show’s three older female cast members — June Watson, Ingrid Craigie, and Gillian Hanna — exited. They all gave stellar performances in the show, and I’m currently working on figuring out how to adopt any or all of them as my grandmothers. The funny part: when June Watson signed my Playbill, she signed directly on top of Pádriac Delaney’s signature, and she did this not just on my Playbill, but on every person’s around me. Not really sure what that was about, but I enjoy it. Old people are great.

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And finally, we come to the true joy of the trip. Daniel Radcliffe again exited to stage door and graciously made his way around the crowds, chatting, signing, and taking pictures. When he was near us, the woman in front of me left, and I said, “Dan, could we take a picture?” Looking into his giant blue eyes is a very odd experience, and one that I’ve been fortunate enough to have three separate times. He responded, “Of course! Would you like to pass me your cell phone?” because he’s Daniel Radcliffe and he’s genuinely the nicest and most polite person in the world.

On a side note: let me tell you how completely and strangely cathartic and surreal it is to hand Daniel Radcliffe your iPhone that is protected by a phone case with a Deathly Hallows on it after having spent over a year writing an honors thesis project about the Harry Potter series. There were far too many feelings wrapped up into that one tiny exchange for to even really understand myself, let alone verbalize to anyone who might care to read this or ask me about it.

 Okay, back to real time. I handed Dan my phone (because I totally called him Dan because we’re besties FOREVER AND ALWAYS NOW), which was already on selfie mode, though he didn’t realize this and did some unnecessary switching around. This was totally fine though because it gave us some extra time to get settled and it also gave my phone more time to process the magic of being held by such a wonderful human. Then he asked who we needed to get in the photo, so I made sure he knew it was both my mom and me, and he took not one, but three pictures of us, because again, he’s wonderful and perfect and all that.

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Before taking the pictures, my mom said to him, “You’re so nice! You’re so good!” to which he seemed so humbly and sweetly said, “oh, thank you!” In case you can’t tell, I think he’s perfect. For a second I tried to get him to sign my Playbill since he hadn’t yet, but I’d made a promise to those around me that I’d leave once we’d had our moment, and I felt like keeping my word was more important, so I forced my way through the crowd to meet my mom.

And then I burst into tears for a second.

I’ve never, ever cried after meeting a celebrity, including the first time I met Daniel. But like I said before, it was a cathartic release to have this experience after just finishing my undergraduate career and a Harry Potter thesis on top of that. Meeting the person who brought Harry Potter to life after dedicating myself to that project for so long was the perfect way to finally let it go.

We took in a few final glances of him as we walked away, and then were lucky enough to be right next to his car as it drove him home. We waved and such, and though I have no idea if he was paying us any attention, I’m glad we could express another tiny piece of gratitude.

So, another wonderful, perfect trip came to a close the next day, which was fairly uneventful (though I did meet someone whose family is from my hometown and graduated from WKU, so that was weird). All I can hope is that I might be able to experience this all again in the near future.

I couldn’t be more thankful to live such a magical life.