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Reading and Watching in 2017

In my Sundance reflection I posted over the weekend, I promised to catch up on my recent pop culture ventures since I’ve neglected my duties of late (full-time jobs really just hinder this whole recreational blogging thing).

So, in an effort to stay true to my word, here’s a quick glimpse at all the popular stuff I’m consuming these days. Spoiler alert: I’ve become kind of savage with things I don’t like, so you’re in for a treat.


Books

At the moment, I’m on my sixteenth book of 2017, but I doubt I’ll be finishing it any time soon. I’ve returned to the Outlander series with the fourth installment, Drums of Autumn. I’m at the 200-page mark in an 880-page saga, so who really knows when I’ll finish or what shenanigans I’m in for along the way. Thankfully, Diana Gabaldon doesn’t let me down and keeps things entertaining and unexpected, unlike many books I’ve started and stopped recently.

I’ve given up on two books so far in 2017, which generally provokes a sense of relief, while also being a big ol’ bummer. I don’t like to dislike books, especially when I spend 100 pages of effort on something I end up tossing aside. My rejected novels were Nick Hornby’s Juliet, Naked, which I bought on a whim at a used book store, and Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. I didn’t have harsh feelings about The Poisonwood Bible—the same cannot be said of the former—but I just didn’t feel it going anywhere. To be fair, I started the novel and read a good chunk on my way to Sundance and didn’t really pick it up again until returning, so I was struggling to readjust. But at over 500 pages, I wasn’t feeling compelled enough to trudge through, so I put it aside. This is one I could see myself returning to in future, just not any time too soon.

Other quick reading notes: I’ve already crossed off 3 of the authors I planned to read in 2017, have made progress on 2 others, and have completed 2 other reading goals for the year. I read Rupi Kaur’s poetry collection milk and honey in about 12 seconds over the weekend and enjoyed it. I read a collection of Emily Dickinson’s works and consumed something like 700 poems in a week. I also recently read the Russian novella The Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk after seeing the film adaptation at Sundance. The novella is fun, but the film is far better.

I’ve basically been reading Drums of Autumn exclusively, but fairly soon I’ll double up with something else, likely Romeo and Juliet in my goal of reading four of Shakespeare’s plays this year. I don’t want to pair Drums of Autumn with another novel, so I’ll keep the balance with other plays or short story/essay collections for a while.


Movies

I’ve seen a fairly ridiculous number of movies in 2017—forty-three, to be precise, which is just two short of the number of days in the year thus far. To be fair, I did start the year at a film festival, but I’m also just in the kind of mood that basically involves at least one movie a day.

You can read my Sundance post to hear about what I liked there, but there have been plenty of other fun things I’ve seen on my own time. Arrival was the most recent Best Picture nominee I saw (I still haven’t seen Hidden Figures or Hacksaw Ridge) and I loved it way more than expected. Other things I’ve really liked include Sing Street (2016), Grey Gardens (2009), Y Tu Mamá También (2001), Temple Grandin (2010), The Handmaiden (2016)and Fifty Shades Darker (2017). Yes, the last one is kind of embarrassing, and yes, the last two have something very specific in common, but I’m fine with that.

Here’s hoping I reach 50 films—which is 1/2 of my goal for the year—by the end of the month (but honestly, it will probably happen by the end of this week).


Television

TV has been unexpectedly complicated for me in 2017. TV tends to be my breeziest medium, but I’m having a very difficult time finding something that clicks for me this year. To be fair, I’ve still completed 7 series this year, but each of those has been under 20 episodes, so I haven’t had to really commit.

My biggest surprise was my lack of interest in The Americans, a show I started expecting I would love it and planned to catch up before the new season comes later this spring. I watched the entirety of season 1 and the premiere of season 2, and just kept finding myself underwhelmed. This is the show every critic says is totally underrated and deserves nominations it rarely receives, but nothing about it really hooked me. I kept watching in the hopes that would change, but I finally decided to stop. It was a decision accompanied by a surprising amount of turmoil, but I really haven’t thought about the show at all since, so I think I made the right decision.

I’m finally committed to a new project with Flight of the Conchords, though this show is only 22 episodes overall, so again, it’s fairly temporary. It’s silly and strange and I like it. Same goes for Moone Boy, which I watched very quickly a few weeks ago.

There is a handful of shows currently airing/soon to return that I’m keeping up with, including: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Mindy Project, Girls, Legion, and Bates Motel. It’s nice to have a few things to rely on, especially when I’m not particularly inclined elsewhere.

And speaking of my lack of interest, my roommate and I have developed an exciting and cut-throat habit of “canceling” movies and books and TV shows (aka we deem things “canceled” when we stop liking them, and they cease to exist). So The Americans? Canceled. Together we tried to start back on Penny Dreadful, having both watched the first season when it aired, but that only lasted 14 minutes before cancelation. I also canceled The Leftovers after watching 19 minutes and feeling like I never needed to return. I have a lot of random things on my TV list for the year, and I expect some of them to be canceled as well. At least I’m giving them all a shot.

Of the things I have actually watched, I would most highly recommend A Series of Unfortunate Events because it is just delightful, and I also had fun watching Chewing Gum, Looking, and Glitch in January. And seriously, Moone Boy is super sweet and charming if you’re looking for that type.


Now I’m off to go finish a movie I started this afternoon and enjoy some quality reading time. Next time I write, I fully expect to have canceled a few more things.

I can’t wait.

2016 Reading List #33: Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death, by James Runcie

Last week I spent some Amazon and Barnes and Noble gift cards I’d been holding on to for a while, and I’d say my reading habit has been happily indulged because of it.

Though I’m still working through Thomas Hardy’s classic Tess of the D’Urbervilles, I’m not rushing through it, and having a handful of new reading project arrive on the doorstep was too exciting a prospect to wait for.

Of these new treasures, I started with (and unintentionally sped through) Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death, the first book in the Grantchester mysteries series upon which the television series is based. My mom and I recently watched and loved the first two seasons of the TV adaptation, so I thought I’d give the books a try as well.

Luckily, the book series packs the same enjoyable punch as the TV series. This novel explores six different (but interwoven) mysteries through the eyes of Canon Sidney Chambers, an Anglican priest with a knack for crime-solving. Generally, the TV adaptation follows the book accurately, though some of the mysteries are reimagined and the supporting characters are made more dynamic on screen.

The Shadow of Death offers everything you can hope for from a British crime novel: jealousy, intrigue, a love triangle, jazz clubs, and a sweet puppy named Dickens. It was an incredibly quick read, and one that left me excited to continue through the series.

If you’re interested, give the TV series a try! It’s available on Amazon Prime (and James Norton is sure to keep your interest) and the perfect solution to a rainy summer day.

2016 Reading List #24:Voyager, by Diana Gabaldon

As of this evening, I’ve had a Master’s degree for two weeks now. Life has been weird (look for a follow-up post soon about other things that are happening in my life). The best of the upsides of this freedom? The time I can spend reading without any feelings of guilt. Ahhhh.

First on my reading to do list was finishing Voyager, the third installment in the Outlander series, after starting it in late March. Diana Gabaldon knows how to write a lengthy book, so though I had been making steady progress, I still had more than 300 pages to go when I took this on my quick jaunt to Orlando after graduation.

Thankfully, lengthy time spent on airplanes and in airports provides the perfect opportunity for some reading catch up, and I was happy to make a significant dent in my reading during my travels. That dent was big enough that I really couldn’t put the book down after I returned home.

Voyager covers lots of time and space in the Outlander world–we begin in 1968 where Dragonfly in Amber begins and ends, but eventually travel back through time to Scotland, followed by a journey to the West Indies, and ending in America. We’re also introduced to several new characters and revisit some surprising and familiar faces.

Though the beginning of the novel feels a million miles away since I started 2 months ago, one of my favorite aspects of Voyager was the development of Brianna, Claire and Jamie’s daughter. I was very thrown by the 20 year time jump in Dragonfly in Amber, but the more time I spent reading Voyager, the more satisfied I became with Gabaldon’s decision to mix up her narrative.

Finishing Voyager definitely left me itching to continue with the series, but I’m putting myself on hold so I can make more progress with other things I’ve been neglecting. Thankfully, the TV adaptation is only halfway through a great second season, so my Scottish-loving heart is still satiated.

2016 Reading List #7: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling

So, this post could be one of two things:

  1. I could just say, “hey, I’ve written/said far too many things about my love for Harry Potter in my life, so what’s the point of trying to add anything new?” Or…
  2. I am far to passionate about my HP feelings to keep them quiet, so either quit reading or enjoy a bit of indulgence.

Yeah, I choose option #2.

I received the recently-released illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for my birthday in November and immediately had to sit down to read a chapter or two (because it’s impossible not to). But, for nostalgia’s sake, my mom and I decided it’d be fun to read the book aloud together, like we did when I received my first copy of Sorcerer’s Stone for my eighth birthday in 1999.

Because we took this approach and didn’t have any urgent need to get through the book, we took our time reading it.

The more often I revisit this story, the more emotional it makes me; reading about Harry’s visits to the Mirror of Erised and Neville winning the final house points for Gryffindor cause me to have semi-ridiculous reactions. You’d think I might be numb to it by now, but that is clearly untrue.

The fact that this reading was from this brand new edition of the book was a particularly gratifying treat. Jim Kay’s illustrations are beautiful–it’s so fun to take a moment when turning to a new page to examine his intricate work and see a new perspective on the story.

Though I didn’t expect to have so many rereads this early in 2016 (this, Attachments, and Death of a Salesman are all on my completed or current rereads that have made it to this year’s reading list), but this was one I couldn’t resist. In fact, I can already feel myself just itching to crack Chamber of Secrets open. 2016 might mark my next of countless ventures back to Hogwarts. We shall see…

TV Shows I Watched in 2015

I’m a bit of a champion at television-watching, so my TV list is usually rather impressive, especially at the end of the year. I don’t really set numeric goals of how many shows I hope to watch, but here’s my general list of things I wanted to watch in 2015.

Some members of my original list have been pushed to 2016, and I have two on-going projects that I’ll be finishing early in 2016 (those are the shows listed in bold). Here’s a look at what I watched this year.

  1. The Affair (1 season, 10 episodes)
  2. Angels in America (miniseries, 6 episodes)
  3. Bloodline (1 season, 13 episodes)
  4. Broadchurch, season 2 (1 season, 8 episodes)
  5. The Casual Vacancy (miniseries, 3 episodes)
  6. Catastrophe (1 season, 6 episodes)
  7. Empire (1 season, 12 episodes)
  8. The Fall, season 2 (1 season, 6 episodes)
  9. Frasier (11 seasons, 264 episodes)
  10. Game of Thrones (watched season 1 – season 5, episode 5)
  11. Inside Amy Schumer (2 seasons, 20 episodes)
  12. The Jinx (miniseries, 6 episodes)
  13. Jessica Jones (1 season, 13 episodes)
  14. John Adams (miniseries, 7 episodes)
  15. Lost (6 seasons, 120 episodes)
  16. Luther (3 seasons, 14 episodes)
  17. My So-Called Life (1 season, 19 episodes)
  18. The Office (U.K.) (2 seasons, 14 episodes)
  19. The O.C. (watched season 1 – season 3, episode 14)
  20. Olive Kitteridge (miniseries, 4 episodes)
  21. Outlander (1 season, 16 episodes)
  22. Rectify (3 seasons, 22 episodes) 
  23. Teen Wolf (4 seasons, 60 episodes)
  24. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (1 season, 13 episodes)
  25. Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp (1 season, 8 episodes)
  26. Wolf Hall (miniseries, 6 episodes)

After all this, I watched a grand total of 26 series and miniseries in 2015 and 764 episodes this year (though this doesn’t count any of the shows I watched live, so these numbers are a bit low).

Here’s to much more great TV in 2016!

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! 

Book #50: Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

Book #50: Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

It’s safe to say that today has been a wildly unproductive day for me, but this fact couldn’t really make me any happier. Last night I started reading Fangirl, and ended up finishing the entire 433-page novel today. Whoops.

This was my second foray into Rowell’s writing, after having read Eleanor & Park earlier this year. I found Fangirl to share the charm of Eleanor and Park‘s quirky and endearing characters, and the novel proved to be a very satisfying way to spend my lazy Tuesday.

The book centers on Cather (which I think is an awesome name), a girl starting her freshman year at the University of Nebraska. Since a large majority of my family is from Nebraska, I consider myself an honorary citizen of the state, and was very happy to read about the familiar sites and sounds of Lincoln. Cath has an identical twin sister, Wren, who also attended the university, but their relationship is becoming strained as they find themselves on different paths in college. The novel is populated by a same group of entertaining characters that is certain to keep readers intrigued.

One of the most unique aspects of this book is one that inspired the title; Cath is heavily involved in the online Simon Snow fandom and a slash fan fiction writer. Simon Snow the protagonist of a fictional book series within this novel that is clearly inspired by the Harry Potter series, and Cath dedicates herself to her fan fiction writing and online readers. Though I myself have only read a very small bit of fan fiction, I did a research project on fandom and attended session on this topic at the national conference for the Pop Culture Association this year, so it’s a subject I’m rather familiar with. I thought Rowell’s inclusion of this in the novel was very entertaining and realistic, as well as the perfect addition to her characteristic geeky-cool characters.

Side note: Cath’s fan fic writing is sped along by the fact that she’s trying to beat the publication of the final novel in the Simon Snow series, an event that occurs near the book’s conclusion. As I mentioned, the Snow series is clearly inspired by Harry Potter, so when the characters in Fangirl attend a midnight book release for the series’ final installment and Cath and Wren get teary upon purchasing their books, I was right there with them. The combination of being on summer vacation and having just met Daniel Radcliffe probably didn’t help much, but I shed a tear or two reading this part, feeling very nostalgic for the days when I attended midnight book releases. Sigh.

Anyway, my overall recommendation for this book is a high one, especially if you like young adult literature as much as I do. Now onto a speed reading of The Fault in Our Stars before the movie comes out Friday. Excuse me while I turn into an emotional wreck.