Saturday, December 30, 2006

Trappist monks in rural Georgia

I don't even think it's sad that the excitement of my Saturday night has been finding this podcast by the Trappist monks from the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, GA. I love to visit the monastery and its shop (fudge made by monks! saints medallions! coffee picked by Venezulan nuns!), and I've seriously considered participating in one of the retreats they offer. I'm a bit too much of a wuss for the retreats, at least just now, but finding that they have a podcast is twenty million times better.

As a side note, I am fairly swimming in awesome podcasts right now. Did you know that Australian public broadcasting is hella great? Today I listened to a concert of temple music from the time of Jesus. How neat is that?

The frustrating film world

How is it that I haven't deigned to see a movie for the wellbeing of my intellect and emotional balance for, like, months, and now all of a sudden there's this glut of them in theatres that I don't want to miss?

This summer I saw exactly two movies in theatres: X-Men 3 and Pirates 2. Neither of those scratched that itch for me, you know the one I mean, but I am a good girlfriend and casual geek, so I went. Before that, I don't even remember. Maybe the last movie I saw in the theatre before that was Good Night and Good Luck (George Clooney in black & white, I'm telling you).

I'm sad that I missed The Fountain, but I'll definitely rent it. I'm sad that I missed a few things out this summer (Shortbus, Little Miss Sunshine), but at the time they just didn't seem important. And I still haven't rented them.

But now, there's an absolute deluge. With The Good German under my belt, I'm dying to get in viewings of Children of Men, Volver, Pan's Labyrinth (okay, I've been excited about this one for awhile), and Perfume. And who even knows what's waiting in the wings that I haven't heard of yet.

I'd love to be able to space these things out (and my bank account would love it even more), but these movies just aren't going to spend enough weeks in the theatres. Drat.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Film: The Good German

It's like I've made a habit of taking myself to the art cinema in North Atlanta to see George Clooney in black & white. I'm not complaining--it's compelling cinema--but I do think it's funny.

What was not at all funny was this film, and I mean that in the best way possible. It's Soderbergh's take on the studio films of the 40s, but with all the things directors and writers and actors wished they could do back then but couldn't because of the Hayes Code. Cussing, sex, violence. All the good stuff.

Thanks to my current film diet, I picked up on a lot of noir and neonoir aspects to the film: George Clooney's detective-ish character getting beat up/knocked out no less than three times; the exquisite lighting; Cate Blanchett's face, especially with that dark lipstick; disillusionment with a world turned rotten; place as state of mind/plague. But what I thought was brilliant about this film was the way it took those tropes and wrenched them inside out simply based on the time and setting. Instead of giving us the traditional noir narrative about an America racked by post-war anxiety and corruption, the place which is a state of mind/plague is Berlin. After the war. Racked by anxiety and corruption. And thus, intensely bigger moral issues get tossed into the mix. America as a place was largely untouched by the war (though not untouched as a state of mind, I'll concede). Berlin was devastated. And even this stands as a noir element, background that is way more important than background: the piles of bricks, the staircase that is impassible in one direction, the shocking amount of debris, rubble, destruction, everywhere.

My only complaint was the heavy-handed Casablanca reframing at the end of the film. Yeah, it's cool that even the loud-talking crapface in the row behind me "got" it. But was it necessary?

And in an attempt to end on a more positive note, because I really did like the movie, here's a link to a KCRW podcast with Steven Soderbergh.

The Good German
dir. by Steven Soderbergh, 2006

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

What it's like in Arkansas

There are mountains. They are mostly flat on top. There are rocky bluffs, and rocky paths, and rocky streams that flow from waterfalls.

There is farmland. There are WPA projects, like dams and amphitheatres. There are little cafes that serve really good dessert. There are Mexican restaurants that also serve really good dessert.

There's a Benedictine abbey in a little town called Subiaco, and you can walk all around it, even in the cloister garden. The abbey sits up on a hill and it looks tremendous.

Most of all, though, and this is really dorky, I know, but there's this boy who's there right now, and I love him, and I want to spend the rest of my life with him. I think I might get to.

Book: The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories

by Susanna Clarke (2006).

Clarke was on my list of authors to read in the new year, but spending hours in the Atlanta airport this holiday season made me crave short stories. I wanted the sense of repeated accomplishment, of finishing quickly, of not being interrupted and losing the thread.

I haven't read Clarke's breakout debut, but these stories certainly whetted my appetite. None of them were life-changing, but all of them were pretty fun. I have the feeling I'll enjoy her novel immensely, once I get around to it.

My favorite story by far in the collection was "Antickes and Frets," mostly because I've had a lifelong love of Mary Queen of Scots. I also enjoyed "The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse," because it's always fun to read stories set in other people's worlds, and goodness knows there aren't many worlds I love more or know better than Neil Gaiman's.

I also have to mention Charles Vess's illustrations for the book, which I adore. I don't have much to say on them other than that. His work thrills me and comforts me. I know where I stand when I'm looking at a Vess drawing, but I never know what's standing just out of sight.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Book: Ruby

by Francesca Lia Block and Carmen Staton (2006).

Sadly lackluster. Reads like a watered down, less evocative and less interesting version of most of Block's other novels.

I hope Psyche in a Dress is better.

Author wish list

I've decided on a twofold goal for 2007: to read as many authors as possible whose work I've never read before, and to catch up on the books by my favorite authors I haven't had a chance to read.

So here are my wish lists for both categories:

Unread authors
Jessica Abel
Chris Adrian
Alison Bechdel
Aimee Bender
Jorge Luis Borges
Alain de Botton
Kevin Brockmeier
Susanna Clarke
Alan DeNiro
Cory Doctorow
Keith Donohue
Myla Goldberg
Theodora Goss
Daniel Handler
Alice Hoffman
Elizabeth Merrick
Haruki Murakami
Marisha Pessl
R. Barton Palmer (my old film prof)
Frank Portman
Tim Pratt
Laura Amy Schlitz
Jill Soloway
Ngũgĩ wa Thiongʾo
Jeff VanderMeer
Vendela Vida
Ned Vizzini

Unread books by favorite authors
the Bitch book
Ines of My Soul by Isabelle Allende
Pysche in a Dress by Francesca Lia Block*
Ruby by Francesca Lia Block and Carmen Staton
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Only Revolutions by Mark Z. Danielewski
The Empire of Ice Cream by Jeffrey Ford*
The Stories of Mary Gordon by Mary Gordon*
Looking for Alaska by John Green
Collected Stories by Amy Hempel
Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link
anything Charles de Lint*
Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
Ghostwritten by David Mitchell
anything Philip Pullman*
Changeling by Delia Sherman
Doing Time by Rob Thomas
Fado & Other Stories by Katherine Vaz*
Mariana by Katherine Vaz
Saudade by Katherine Vaz
Blue Noon by Scott Westerfeld
Tanglewreck by Jeanette Winterson*

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Book: Severance

by Robert Olen Butler (2006).

A strange and beautiful collection, which I read in a just a few hours. It was easy to just let these words wash over me, but stopping and reading carefully and picking out the subtle details really made me appreciate Butler's style. He is witty, touching, and sexy all in the space of a few words.

I especially enjoyed the stories of those who lost their heads in the French Revolution (Madame du Barry was unexpectedly touching); the thought that so many continue to be decapitated in connection with conflicts in the Middle East came as an uneasy revelation.

I will certainly be seeking out more of Butler's work in the future.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Book: Satellite Down

by Rob Thomas (1998).

I have to say that I absolutely love how all of Rob Thomas's writing reminds me of other Rob Thomas writing. I mean this in a good way, in an English-major-who-loves-to-track-references-and-obsessions-and-motifs way. Thomas taught high school journalism, then left Texas for LA and worked on a tv news show broadcast into classrooms across the country. I have no doubt at all that these experiences informed this book. And while I enjoyed it--and I mean a whole, whole lot--I was a little sad that the book ends on such a cynical note. Rats Saw God was much more optimistic. I understand the choice, though, and it reads very truthfully. It just didn't make me swoon with vicarious joy the way I did at the end of my previous Rob Thomas read.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Film: Chinatown.

One of those movies I fell asleep during in my high school film studies class. Don't blame me, blame the fact that it started at 8 am and I rarely went to bed before 4.

Here are the things of particular interest to me (oh I just love lists):
  • wet/dry as a stand in for dark/light in a film shot in color (though some of that dark/light is still there)
  • public municipalities conspiracy as thrilling fodder for detective drama
  • how Faye Dunaway is gorgeous, and then strangely grotesque within moments of each other (teeth, bare skin, forehead)
  • Polanski's interest in (fetish for?) rotting food--see Repulsion
  • what it means to lose exactly one shoe
  • Jack Nicholson's disarming hotness
  • John Huston, in general

    directed by Roman Polanski, 1974
  • Book: Fragile Things

    by Neil Gaiman (2006).

    A charming collection of short stories, some of which I'd read before. I very much plan on buying the paperback edition of this book, but when I saw it on the new book shelf at the library, I had to grab it. (I believe in the synchronicity of these things.)

    Neil's work is special to me in that I have been reading him since I was 15--his voice is familiar, comfortable in some way. Comforting, maybe. Additionally, his devotion to his fans, his prolificness, his explanatory introduction giving some piece of the history of each story, and his wonderful online presence make him, and his work, feel very approachable. One of my favorite things in the world is that I once sent in a question asking for further elaboration on something he'd said in his blog about the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, and he actually responded. My question had no significance whatsoever, but I asked it, so he answered.

    Some favorites from this collection:
  • "The Mapmaker"
  • "October in the Chair"
  • "Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire"
  • "Bitter Grounds"
  • "Strange Little Girls"
  • "Pages from a Journal Found in a Shoebox Left in a Greyhound Bus Somewhere Between Tulsa, Oklahoma and Louisville, Kentucky"
  • "How to Talk to Girls at Parties"
  • "The Day the Saucers Came "
  • "Monarch of the Glen"

    This last was my absolute favorite, a novella occuring two years after the close of American Gods, featuring Shadow in remote Northern Scotland and a couple of characters from the story "Keepsakes and Treasures," which appears earlier in the collection. I read American Gods so long ago that I have this strange sense of not remembering much of the book. I've held onto some very basic plot points, but can't for the life of me remember exactly how it ends. I mention this because I was surprised how familiar Shadow felt to me when I started reading "Monarch of the Glen." I knew him; I knew how he was and how he might generally react to the events of the story. At the close of the story, which is the close of the book, I had the distinct sense that I had just wrapped up a conversation with an old friend. I really like that feeling.
  • Wednesday, December 13, 2006

    Noir in The Oxford American

    Syntax of Things pointed out this great article from The Oxford American, "Dark Harvest: On the Pleasures of Teaching Noir, an Underdog Genre" by Barry Hannah. He lists the main books on his syllabus, all of which I am tempted to read.

    Oh, and did I mention I really want a subscription to The Oxford American now?

    Tuesday, December 12, 2006

    Book: An Abundance of Katherines

    by John Green (2006).

    I just finished this book about 30 seconds ago, and I swear I am this close to writing a full on fucking fangirl letter to John Green about how amazing he is and how his book hit all the highlights of my geek chic fetishy obsessions. Like, labradoodles and oral history and storytelling and fake cuss words and summer live-in sleepovers and tampon strings and the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and rural Tennessee--the town is named Gutshot, for Christ's sake--and smart boys and girls who say shit like "emo core" in all seriousness and math equations describing life experience things that you shouldn't possibly be able to quantify and footnotes, can you believe it, footnotes in a freaking book for teenagers.

    This is by far one of the best books I've ever read, and I didn't even have to cry at the end. In fact, I really spent the whole book just laughing aloud a lot, and you know that's saying something.

    Exhibit: Louvre Atlanta, Year One.

    I bought my membership to the High Museum based solely on the fact of this exhibit. Raphael, Velázquez, Poussin (who isn't here just yet)--there was no way I could miss this.

    The exhibit for Year One is broken up into two parts: Kings as Collectors and The Kings' Drawings. Both sections were fairly small--it only took about an hour and a half to view everything. Of course, the crowded museum on a Saturday had a lot to do with how quickly we looked and then moved on.

    Jenny liked the drawings best, as they clearly represent the movements of the artist's hand. I enjoyed the marble busts, but the paintings were really my favorite. Velázquez's Infanta was small but worth looking at (I'd rather see Las Meninas, personally). Raphael's Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione, the centerpiece of the exhibit, drew me in with the eyes, made me understand why this person and this painting are so well known. The portrait goes home at the end of January, and Poussin's Arcadian Shepherds will replace it. There is no end to my excitement about seeing this painting in person--I have a tattoo based on it, and consider it one of the most philosophically interesting works of art I've ever been exposed to. I'm crossing my fingers for a lecture on it.

    There were several other pieces I enjoyed contemplating, though I don't remember their names or artists now. Jenny and I forewent the audio tour, as we wanted to talk to each other about what we saw. But I'd very much like to go back by myself and listen to it.

    Monday, December 11, 2006

    Music: Alela Diane.

    I got my copy of the winter issue of Venus Zine in the mail a few days ago--terrificly free because I wrote a very small book review for the issue--and I've spent this evening flipping idly through it. Great issue, and the cd reviews at the back afforded me a wonderous new find: Alela Diane.

    Her debut album, The Pirate's Gospel, was just released by Holocene Music. You can listen to and download some tracks from her MySpace page. The title track is my fave so far. Now if only I had $15 to buy the whole album...

    A few other recent music-related discoveries: Anji Bee's Chillcast, which I am loving; Daylight's for the Birds, also out of Venus; Largehearted Boy's Best of 2006 list, complete with legally downloadable tracks; and of course, my favorite music blog-ish thing ever, for I am a nerd of incalcuable dimensions, The Music of Veronica Mars. Don't judge me.

    Film: American Graffiti.

    Okay, I'll admit that I didn't finish watching this film, but only because my tv reception turns all crappy when I tune to TCM. It's enough to make me cry, I swear. Anyway, I'll have to get this one out of the library at some point, because the tableaux composed like Edward Hopper paintings were too wonderful for me not to finish watching. Plus the soundtrack is boss.

    American Graffiti
    directed by George Lucas, 1973

    Sunday, December 10, 2006

    Book: Rats Saw God

    by Rob Thomas (1996).

    A brilliant YA novel I got from the library; the girl behind the counter immediately asked, "Do you watch Veronica Mars?" Oh yes, I do, and this book has a lot of things that get referenced later in the show, so I'm glad that I just did my marathon re-watch of the first two seasons.

    That isn't to say that this book has anything really in common with the neo-noir world of VM. At the heart of the story is a teenage boy, Steve, who's incredibly bright but just not interested in playing along. His guidance counselor cuts him a deal: he won't have to take English over in summer school, if he writes a 100 page paper/story, on any topic he chooses. Steve wants to write fiction, but finds himself instead writing the story of his sophomore and junior years of high school. It's the story of the school club he and a friend found, the Grace Order of Dadaists (GOD); it's the story of his strained relationship with his father the astronaut; it's the story of his first love, a fellow nonconformist named Wanda Varner.

    And here's where I have to catalogue all the things in the book that have made their way into VM, because my enjoyment of this book, at least in part, stems from recognizing these things, and feeling right at home in any world created by Rob Thomas. So, Wanda Varner shows up again in the VM episode "Return of the Kane," albeit sans her nickname (Dub), and with a little snitching problem. A reveal towards the end about Book Wanda's indiscretions reminded me distinctly of the plot of "Mars vs. Mars." The title of the book itself gets referenced in an episode title from season two, "Rat Saw God," only this time it's a clue in the bus crash investigation, not something the dadaists spell out with their hands in a yearbook picture. And then there is, of course, the entire snarky tone of the book, which had me cracking up in my room for the one entire evening it took me to finish the book.

    I cried a bit when it ended, too, because Rob Thomas is just that good.

    Saturday, December 09, 2006

    "I take mine noir"

  • a marathon viewing of both seasons of Veronica Mars
  • long days spent alone in my basement apartment, just trying to keep myself busy
  • The Maltese Falcon, my undying love for Bogey
  • Murder, My Sweet
  • the "Out of the Past" podcast
  • Black & White & Noir by Paula Rabinowitz, which has so far revealed to me the melancholy beauty of the photographs of Esther Bubley
  • Bubley's image of a female schizophrenic who had been treated with electroshock therapy--memories of the story my mom told me about my grandmother, who this full on happened to