Shakespeare

2016 Reading List #2: The Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare

For about 45 seconds, The Merchant of Venice would have been on my 2015 reading list.

My roommate loved the play when he read it last year and, after I bought my own copy, we thought it’d be fun to read it aloud together.

After exchanging three pieces of dialogue, we gave up. Turns out, reading Shakespeare, where there are lots of characters and footnotes to pay attention to, is not so easily done by a duo.

But, since one of my goals in 2016 is to read 2 Shakespeare plays, I decided to make that the first thing I can cross off my list, starting with The Merchant of Venice. I’d had a very pleasant time reading this to myself. This isn’t really as funny as some of the other comedies and certainly doesn’t fit with the tragedies, but it’s an entertaining reading experience none-the-less (as long as we can ignore/forgive the Jewish prejudice).

Between some kick-ass ladies and an few fun plot points, The Merchant of Venice was another enjoyable checkmark on my ever-growing list of reading projects.

Now, to complete my goal, I’m going to start Twelfth Night, and then I’ll have the rest of 2016 to find more Shakespeare to enjoy.

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Favorite Movies of 2015

And for my final “best of” list this year, here are my favorite films that I saw in 2015. While 6 of these are films that were released in the last year, some of the others are much older, but also things I’d never seen before.

And, because I watched 130 new (to me) films in 2015, I’ve also included several films as honorable mentions at the bottom. So here are my recent favorites. What are yours?

Brooklyn (2015)

BrooklynThere were three films I’d been itching to see since reading lots of good things after the 2015 Sundance Film Festival: Brooklyn, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, and Me and Earl and the Dying GirlBrooklyn is the one I saw most recently, but it’s quickly become one of my very favorite of the year, probably even close to first place. I’m a sucker for a British period piece in the winter, so the beautiful 1950s of Ireland and New York present in this film were a lovely little gift. Saoirse Ronan is a perfect leading lady trying to adjust to an entirely new life in a different country and finds herself in a perfectly complicated love triangle. This is a movie I can’t wait to own so I can watch it again and again.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)

Diary of a Teenage GirlThe Diary of a Teenage Girl is an interesting case because it ended up on my “best of 2015” lists for both the book and the film adaptation. The film is what brought me to the book, largely because Bel Powley is such a compelling leading lady. She perfectly captures Minnie’s 15-year-old voice and her self-obsessed tendencies. Kristen Wiig, Alexander Skarsgard, and Christopher Meloni round out the cast with great (and troubling) performances. This is an honest and endearing representation of teenage girlhood.

Ex Machina (2015)

Ex MachinaIt seems funny that my relationship with Ex Machina only began in May of this year because I feel like it’s become a part of me. Ex Machina plays a big role in my master’s thesis project, so I’ve done lots of research and writing about it in recent months. To me, this movie is the most compelling of the year–a sci-fi thriller with a twisty plot and some of the most complex gender roles I’ve seen recently. Alicia Vikander gives a breakout performance as Ava, a robot created by Nathan (Oscar Isaac), who may or may not have human feelings. This is one that will leave you thinking long after the movie ends.

Far From the Madding Crowd (2015)

Far From the Madding CrowdLike I said about Brooklyn, a good period piece in December is like candy for me, so Far From the Madding Crowd was an especially sweet treat. Carey Mulligan is perfect in the leading role and she’s got a line of suitors that make you hope she’ll find love eventually (until she picks the wrong person first and it’s annoying). Though the story takes place in the 1870s, the gender roles are surprisingly progressive, asking audiences to consider why a woman needs a husband to be happy (answer: she doesn’t, unless she finds the right man). This is another I could watch again and again.

Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

Kramer vs. KramerKramer vs. Kramer was a film my mom and I watched during our unofficial summer film series to clean out our VHS collection. This is a truly devastating film about the fallout of divorce. And with lead actors like Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep, you can’t really go wrong. Kramer vs. Kramer is the oldest film on my “best of” list this year (excluding the honorable mentions), but it’s message and characters are still poignant more than thirty years after it’s release.

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Pulp FictionPulp Fiction was one of the movies I was always embarrassed to say I hadn’t seen, but my roommate was in the same situation until we decided to go for it this past spring. It certainly isn’t a short movie (but when Quentin Tarantino directs, you can expect that), but the narrative is split into several smaller sections and follows a large ensemble of characters that keep things moving. We were both pleased with how much fun watching Pulp Fiction was. I’ve been in so many film classes with guys who worship Tarantino that I’ve become a bit jaded toward his work, but this is one that lives up to the reputation.

National Theatre Live’s Hamlet (2015)

HamletOkay, so this one’s a bit of a stretch as far as films are concerned, but I couldn’t leave it off the list. I LOVE that the National Theatre makes some of its productions available to audiences worldwide, especially with a production like this one, which was apparently the fastest-selling event in London theater history (I still can’t wrap my mind around how crazy that is). Benedict Cumberbatch and Ciaran Hinds give (obviously) stellar performances as the biggest names in the production, but the entire ensemble is equally wonderful. This incarnation of Shakespeare’s play doesn’t really fit into any specific time period as all the characters are costumed very differently, but it’s all believable and interesting to take in. What I would’ve given to have been a live member of that audience…

Schindler’s List (1993)

Schindler's ListLike Pulp Fiction, it was a bit embarrassing to be a pop culture-loving person who’d never seen Schindler’s List, but I finally remedied that problem last week. The film lives up to its praise–it’s crushing, tragic, beautiful, and horrible all at once. Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes give stellar performances (though it does make me wonder a bit more what it might be like to see Ralph Fiennes play a good guy. Just once!). There are lots of important Holocaust narratives in the world of pop culture, but it’s undeniable that Schindler’s List belongs in the canon of essential viewing to understand the terror of this period in history.

The Theory of Everything (2014)

The Theory of EverythingThe Theory of Everything was the kind of movie that I bawled my way through, nearly from start to finish. Eddie Redmayne completely deserved his Oscar for his performance as Stephen Hawking. This is yet another British period piece that’s made it onto my list, but this one packs an emotional punch the others don’t really have (though I also, inexplicably, cried an inordinate amount during Brooklyn). The relationship between Stephen and his first wife, Jane, in this film is tender, compelling, and ultimately bittersweet, but it’s fascinating to see how two people could persevere through such difficult circumstances and still remain close.

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

We Need to Talk About KevinAnd now, a very different kind of movie. We Need to Talk About Kevin is a horror story that begs the question, “why the hell would you want to have kids?” This is pretty much a worst case scenario, but it’s still really freaking scary to think about. I’d long-been interested in watching this movie, but was a little concerned by the first 20 or so minutes of it; there’s very little dialogue and what feels like unnecessarily long takes of grating sounds and imagery, but this all works to set the film’s uncomfortable mood. We Need to Talk About Kevin makes clear allusions to Rosemary’s Baby–it’s like an modernized story of how that baby would grow up to be a terrible human being. Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller both give great performances is this deliciously unsettling film that will leave you feeling all kinds of disturbed.

And, as promised, here are my honorable mentions:

Cinderella, Election, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, In Bruges, The Imitation Game, It’s a Wonderful Life, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Monkey Kingdom, Mud, Nightcrawler, No Good Deed, Selma, The Shawshank Redemption, Trainwreck, Wetlands

What were your favorite movies you saw this year? Feel free to comment below!

 

 

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!

Book #78: Hamlet, by William Shakespeare

Unfortunately, my Shakespeare class this semester hasn’t been everything I’d hoped it could be. In fact, I hardly feel like I’ve learned anything from being in the class, but I’m at least happy I’ve been pushed into reading some of Shakespeare’s best-known works. For me, this was a first-time encounter with Hamlet, and I definitely see what all the fuss is about. The soliloquies abound in this play, and many of the most quotable Shakespearean passages are found within these pages. My interest now would be to see a film or stage adaptation of the play, because I always think the visual aspects make Shakespeare more understandable.

On a more personal level, I’m so glad to finally be caught up with my reading! For this class, we’ve only got King Lear left to read, and since I’ve read it before, I think it should go fairly well. I’m hitting the point in the semester where I really don’t want to do anything, but I’m actually channeling that feeling productively by forcing myself to get ahead on as many assignments as possible so I can have more free time on the weekends and upcoming Thanksgiving break (not to mention my birthday is next week, and no one should have to do homework on their birthday).

For now, I’ve still got two long days of school and work ahead of me before I can enjoy the weekend, so back to work.

Book #77: Antony and Cleopatra, by William Shakespeare

I’m finally getting caught up on my reading! As I mentioned in a previous post, my professor removed Antony and Cleopatra from our assigned reading list, but since I was almost finished with Act III by that time, I didn’t want to quit reading without finishing it.

I finally picked the play back up last night and finished it just a few minutes ago, and I’m happy I stuck to my plan. Like Julius Caesar, I think I had a way easier time understanding this play because I watched HBO’s “Rome” earlier this year. The show didn’t cover everything that happens in this play since the series was cut short, but the highlights were all there, which made my reading experience much easier.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of Antony and Cleopatra is the fact that there are really no introspective scenes to offer a glance into the minds of the characters, unlike the majority of Shakespeare’s dramas. Because of this objective perspective, I didn’t feel a major connection to any of the characters, but Cleopatra is quite entertaining. Anyone who covers herself in snakes to commit suicide is pretty badass in my book.

Now I’m off to finish Hamlet, which (unfortunately) I’ve barely gotten into, so it’s going to take some serious work to get caught up. Thank God this semester is winding down.

November.

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Though November is pretty much my favorite month of the year, it’s also an undoubtedly busy time. I’m eleven weeks into the semester, which means that things are generally winding down, but also that finals and exams and presentations and papers are all happening. This is really the first time I’ve been behind in any classes, which is a pretty good accomplishment (and probably a reason why I shouldn’t be sitting here writing this instead of reading Hamlet). Sometimes you just need a break.

 

TV  — Thankfully, I’ve still managed to keep up with my pop culture fun to a certain extent. On Monday, I finished my viewing of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” because Netflix was kind enough to add the ninth season just a few days after I finished season 8. I thoroughly enjoyed myself watching thisshow, and I’m very excited FX is already showing a preview for next season.

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As for my other TV viewing habits, I’m just trying to keep up with the influx of fall shows. I’ve only added two new shows to my schedule this season: ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder” and The CW’s “Jane the Virgin.” “How to Get Away with Murder” provides the same melodramatic fun that I love about “Scandal,” and “Jane the Virgin” is adorable and funny and totally worth watching. I’m also keeping up with returning shows like “American Horror Story: Freak Show,” “Scandal,” “Bob’s Burgers,” “Reign,” and “America’s Next Top Model.” I’m waiting until Thanksgiving/Christmas break to binge the new season of “Homeland” with my mom. We’ve seen the first two episodes, but decided it would be easier to wait than to try to catch up little by little, so don’t spoil things, please!

Movies — As of yesterday, I’ve completed my goal of watching 125 new movies in 2014! I haven’t seen many in theaters recently, apart from Gone Girlwhich you really all should have seen by now because it’s wonderful. I’m definitely looking forward to the onslaught of awards season movies that are starting to roll out now; I’m specifically excited for Birdman, Nightcrawler, The Imitation Game, Foxcatcher, Wild, Into the Woods, and seeing Whiplash again. As for the movies I have seen recently, some favorites have included Obvious Child, In A World…, and Scream 1, 2, and 3. Netflix doesn’t have Scream 4 right now, which is fairly frustrating. I also had the distinct pleasure of watching the notoriously bad Showgirls recently which was certainly an experience.

Books — Most of my reading has been focused on completing my reading assignments for class, which is pretty understandable considering I’m in an English Master’s program. My biggest projects there have been Hamlet (which I’m behind on) and Antony and Cleopatra (which our professor removed from the reading list, but since I’m already three acts in, I want to finish it). I’m also working away at reading lots of Edgar Allan Poe short stories since I have a class specifically dedicated to Poe. For my final class, most of my reading has been from a very helpful book called Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide that goes in-depth on various critical theories used to analyze literature. It’s great for lit nerds, not so great for the casual reader.

For my own funIMG_0667.JPG reading, I’ve only done three noteworthy reading projects of late, but all of them are worth mentioning. Early in October I bought and read Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl, which I enjoyed (if you’re interested, I’m on Dunham’s side in this “sexual abuse” situation, but I also don’t want to start a debate). Though it wasn’t my favorite read ever, there were many laugh-out-loud moments and I thought it was a very true representation of what Dunham has always claimed to be. I also read Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot in October in my quest to read all the important drama literature. The play is frustrating and sad, like lots of those written in the absurd style. Currently, I’m reading Amy Poehler’s Yes Pleasewhich is of course entertaining and funny. I expect to finish it this weekend, so look out for a post with my review.IMG_0683.JPG

And to cap it all off, Taylor Swift’s newest album, 1989, was released last week, meaning that I won’t really be listening to any other music until at least January. My favorite songs at the moment are “Blank Space,” “Style,” and “I Wish You Would.” But I basically adore the entire album because Taylor is a goddess and I’ve worshiped her for six years.

Now, back to the real world. It’s the weekend and after spending the afternoon at our homecoming football game, I know I should be thinking about completing the homework that’s been accumulating on my to do list. Right now, though, the idea of curling up in a blanket on the couch watching movies for the rest of the night sounds so, so much better. A girl can dream, I guess.

 

 

 

 

 

Book #75: Julius Caesar, by William Shakespeare

The first time I read Julius Caesar was during my sophomore year of high school, and I didn’t like it. However, after having watched HBO’s “Rome” earlier this year, my background knowledge of the whole Julius Caesar situation is much better, and I enjoyed the play much more the second time around. I’m hoping this enthusiasm extends into the next reading assignment for my Shakespeare class, Antony and Cleopatra.