Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Country Life

A Country Year: Living the Questions by Sue Hubbell

This is not something I would normally pick up, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. My across-the-street neighbor lent this to me, saying it was about a middle aged woman living in the country, and the book jacket also mentioned something about her living in the country after her divorce. I thought perhaps the piece would be similar to The Year of Magical Thinking and explore Hubbell's readjustment to life without a partner but while there is a short chapter where she discusses her husband, it isn't at all. Instead, it is about the enjoyment she gets from living in the country.

As an outsider who has been living in the country for twelve years, she realizes her perspective is different than that of her neighbors who have always lived in the area. Breaking her book down by seasons, Hubbell simply reflects on the different things, such as plants and animals, that affect her life during the different seasons. She is cognizant of her influence on the area and how she is a part of a larger picture. Her chapters, usually rather short, tend to focus on one particular anecdotal story or animal at a time, and she actually teaches quite a bit about nature. She is incredibly awed and respectful of the other life forms she shares the Ozarks with, and she can even appreciate cockroaches, snakes and other less cuddly animals.

The book offers various snapshots of nature, and for someone who is not outdoorsy at all, it definitely gave me a new perspective. Still don't know if I actually want to get close to nature, though.

Monday, May 26, 2008

I Think The Joke's On Us

While I was driving around town, I heard a song come onto the radio a while back. Given the beat and the lyrics, I honestly thought it was from a movie - namely, a comedy about pop stars or something, and the fake hit song that landed the group/artist on the charts (I picture Ben Stiller in a Zoolander type role). It sounded just a bit stupider than most pop songs, so I figured it wasn't actually real.

Well, I heard it again today, this time with the DJ introducing it, and it's a real song. "Shake It" by Metro Station, or Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus's big brother's band. Seriously, can anyone blame me for thinking lyrics like "don't leave me at the front door" are part of a joke?

Per Request

Before I left Iraq, one person told me all he wanted was a picture of an Arby's Beef and Cheddar, so as requested, here's the picture. I know it's all personal taste, but that thing does not look appetizing at all and no one in the house wants to eat it.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Angel and Buffy Would Totally Kick Their Asses!

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

As I mentioned before, a friend of mine enjoyed this book a lot, and lent me her copy. I realize it's a very popular series, but it seems completely overrated. Granted this is young adult fiction, so I may be too critical of some things, but I thoroughly enjoyed His Dark Materials trilogy, and in comparison, this was just nowhere nearly as well written or developed. It definitely veered to close to the romance spectrum of things for me.

I read the whole thing, though. Honestly, the first hundred pages or so aren't that bad. That's when there is still a little bit of a mystery, and the character Bella seemed to have a little bit more going on than just her crush on Edward. The middle of the book was incredibly mushy, and then the last hundred pages or so got a little more interesting again (although, it wasn't really enough of a climax). The main reason I kept reading through was because I was kind of curious to see the mythology and the whole "how I became a vampire stuff" - there wasn't much to the mythology, and for the most part, the stories were kind of boring (actually, the whole idea of origin stories was one of the reasons that I preferred The Vampire Lestat to Interview with the Vampire, and why the fourth book in The Dark Tower series is my favorite). Their backgrounds were basically covered in one or two paragraphs a piece.

Obviously, I disliked how mushy it was. I can't count the number of times that Bella described Edward as "dazzling," or herself as "dazzled." She's 17, and has "finally found true love" - please, I am not arguing that you are in love (although it seemed to happen rather quickly) but "finally"? You're 17, you haven't been waiting that long. The 100+ year old vampire on the other hand, okay, he could get away with saying that. And she faints when he kisses her - come on!

In the beginning, it seemed like there might be something to Bella - she was insulted when other students assumed she did well on a lab because she was partnered with Edward when in fact she knew the answers herself. For an English paper, she told others she was exploring misogyny in Shakespeare. And then she starts hanging out with Edward and becomes a simpering idiot.

One of Bella's character traits is that she is a huge klutz. Edward tells her it is now his job to protect her because her klutziness places her in mortal danger - she's managed 17 years without him; I don't think it's necessary for him to suddenly become her protector (I realize where the sentiment might be sweet, but the wording and attitude just make him sound incredibly condescending and patronizing). At one point, she walks down a dark alley and some men are starting to follow her. Edward drives by, takes her to dinner, and then makes some comment how by this time, anyone else would already be in shock. How fragile does he think she is? Shock from feeling threatened? It was just a lot of little things like that. He eavesdropped on her conversations, and for the most part, she made only a little comment, but didn't get too upset or angry at him. He told one of her classmates that had a crush on her that everyone should consider Bella unavailable evenings because she'd be with him. His attitude is just too controlling and take charge but I guess that kind of stuff tends to get confused or taken as romance in movies and books (for example, before they started dating, he used to watch her sleep - completely creepy, but Bella feels flattered by his stalker-like behavior).

I heard the next two novels in the series are better but even though I feel a little bit of curiosity where it is going (something about werewolves), I don't care enough to read the books. The plot outlines on Wikipedia are more than enough to satisfy that curiosity (and also, apparently, all I need to get annoyed all over again).

Friday, May 23, 2008

Ooh, pretty

This is what I've been doing with my leave:

I haven't had too much time to read, but I've been shopping at Barnes. Twice. And people have given/lent me books. That's how Twilight ended up in there. Obviously, I've read young adult fiction before (His Dark Materials Trilogy) but I wasn't interested in this series about vampires. Despite the fact that I love Buffy, and I was into the whole Anne Rice thing in high school (her books started getting pretty bad, though). Actually, the more proper wording might be because rather than despite. I'd actually never heard of the series before I got back, and I just happened to read an article about it in Times or Newsweek (I was the eye doctor, didn't have many choices) before my friend gave it to me. The author apparently is leaving sex out of the equation, which I don't think high schoolers should necessarily be having sex, but then again, I don't think it should be seen as the end of the world, either. It just seems like there could really be a healthier approach to the whole thing than we seem to have in this society.
I guess it's mainly just that people discussing abstinence always scares me because then I start thinking of abstinence only sex-ed, which means people have no clue about birth control, and those wacky little purity balls.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Words Unspoken

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

I've fallen quite behind on my book blogging, and this particular novel is still in my room in Iraq, so I won't be able to reference it so this one will be rather short.

The premise behind this novel/novella was very simple. It is about the wedding night of a young couple in the early '60s, both of whom are virgins. The whole story takes place in that one evening, though McEwan, of course, explains their backgrounds as the novel progresses. Both of the characters were very well drawn, and McEwan treated both sympathetically. Edward and Florence have very different attitudes towards sex and the evening, but truly love each other. Unfortunately, they are unable to explain their feelings to each other, and the reader has to watch as their relationship falls to pieces, all because of their inability to address some topics because they are shy/ polite and don't want to hurt each other.

I've also read Atonement, which I enjoyed and I was very impressed with how faithful the movie adaptation was. Unlike Atonement, On Chesil Beach had no clear villain; it was all about miscommunication and misunderstandings. To an extent, Atonement was as well, because the thirteen year old Briony wasn't a villain per se, but a misguided, though very insistent, girl (another thing I liked a lot about the film was the musical theme that accompanied her character - it sounded like a typewriter angrily and precisely typing away).

Anyway, I'd definitely recommend either McEwan novel. On Chesil Beach doesn't have a very complicated plot and both novels might be seen as slow and boring depending on taste but I like his exploration of relationships and human interactions.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Meme of 5

Via Peter's Cross Station.

What were you doing five years ago?
Let's see, May 2003: I was finishing up my freshmen year of college and taking my first summer course (Women in Film and Television). Part of that involved moving out of the dorm and back in with the parents. I was also using that summer to get some distance from an incredibly confusing and dysfunctional relationship although we quickly fell into our same routine once the summer was over. I wasn't working. Yeah, really not much going on five years ago.

What are five things on your to-do list for today (not in any particular order)?
1. Personal Training session
2. Movies (Forgetting Sarah Marshall)
3. Dinner with parents and their friends
4. Update blog
5. Meet old high school/college friend for coffee
(I'm on vacation!)

What are five snacks you enjoy?
1. Cheese (feta, muenster, whatever happens to be in the fridge)
2. kettle chips (although, I tend to eat them with sandwiches and thus as a meal rather than as a snack)
3. ice cream (soft serve)
4. popcorn
5. Salzstangen (it's German pretzel sticks but better)

What five things would you do if you were a billionaire?
1. Have a huge personal library in my house (as well as a nice music and DVD collection).
2. Have a private movie theater in my home (how hard would it be to get copies of films at the same time as the theaters?)
3. Own an apartment in London, New York City and other places in addition to a nice house somewhere (with the movie theater), and, of course, travel all over
4. Donate to charities
5. Make sure my parents had a spot in the nicest retirement home available (just kidding). But yeah, buy them a house and all that stuff.

What are five of your bad habits?
1. Impatient/ Easily Annoyed
2. I procrastinate a lot
3. I hate to clean, cook etc. and my room/apartment tends to clutter up.
4. Very unhealthy eating habits (snacking, indulging too much)
5. I can be judgmental, and it can be hard to change my mind.

What are five places where you have lived?
1. Kentucky
2. Illinois
3. Germany
4. Washington State
5. Iraq (? - Does a fifteen month deployment count as living somewhere?)

What are five jobs you've had?
1. County Market cashier and book keeper
2. Inside Scoop sales clerk (mall candy store)
3. Cadre member at Warrior Forge
4. Platoon Leader
5. Well, I guess I dabbled at babysitting once or twice. Didn't go so well.

Okay, so I can't actually tag anyone but if anyone wants to play, just post a link in the comments. Random thought - if this is a meme of 5, why are there more than five questions?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Temporary Escape

I've been back home for R&R for just about a week now. It took me about four days and several flights to get from my FOB to home, but I made it and devoured three books in the process (I'll write posts on them eventually). First stop, other than a shower, was the mall for new clothes - I've actually gone up a dress size while in Iraq which is rather depressing considering how much I dislike the food. Oh well. It's very nice to not be in uniform so I'm really not too focused upon my size right now. Instead, I'm looking in the mirror thinking, "wow, real clothes!"

Second stop was Barnes and Noble - so great to actually be able to peruse shelves and touch books before selecting them (I love Amazon, and all those book websites but if you don't know what you want, a physical location is definitely better).

I've been keeping it rather low key so far - my friends are kind of spread out all over the place, and with college being out, there isn't too much going on campus-wise, either. I went out last night and got drunk for the first time. It was fun, but I'm not sure how much more drinking I'll be doing while here - since I only have 18 days, I don't really want to waste too much of it being hung over. Also, I'm trying to work out and stay/get in shape, as always (especially with all the restaurants I want to go to), so alcohol doesn't exactly help that in any way. I've missed Dairy Queen M&M blizzards more than drinking (of course, there were always days when a drink would have been nice).

I also got my hair done and colored. I'd already colored it once while in Iraq (I was bored with having the same hair style for 6 months straight but didn't want to cut it) but by the time I got home, it had mostly faded out from bright red to auburn. Oddly enough, I'd never dyed my hair before I got to Iraq. My dad's side of the family has a tendency to go gray early so I figured I'd have to do it soon enough anyway, and might as well enjoy my natural color as long as I could.

I've wanted red hair since I was thirteen and first saw My So-Called Life

My mom's towels after I washed my hair - OOPS!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Sex, Vengeance and Politics

A Man of the People by Chinua Achebe

Written shortly before a military coup in 1960's Nigeria, Achebe uses this novel to explore corruption in the government. The protagonist, Odili, has long been disillusioned with his country's government, but upon meeting a former teacher and current Minister of Culture, Nanga, Odili temporarily falls under his spell. After Nanga wrongs him, Odili once again is enraged with the current system, and becomes involved in a political group to do something about his frustration. As he runs against Nanga for his position, he once again witnesses how corrupt the government and the people in power are: they attempt to buy him off (this actually leads him to feel slightly disillusioned with his friend who took a bribe but still intended to keep running), and use other dirty tactics, even when it is clear that there is no way that Odili could possibly win.

Overall, the novel was an interesting look at corruption and the government. The Minister of Culture knows nothing about the arts and literature being produced in his own country. He uses his position to get whatever he wants. He may help some people out in the process but the amount of money he makes and his accumulation of possessions are obscene.

While women were in the novel, for the most part, they seemed to just represent sexual conquests, and had very little depth or development. Everyone is cheating on everyone. One of Odili's main motivations for becoming politically involved is Elsie, a girl he met at a party and slept with long ago, and has since stayed in touch with. He mentions briefly that she is engaged but this does not prevent him from engaging in a sexual relationship with her. While staying with Nanga, he invites her over, and Nanga ends up sleeping with her. As a result, Odili wants revenge against Nanga. While Odili is upset about Elsie sleeping with another man, he ignores the fact that he slept with another woman only a few nights previously, and really, he is the other man when it comes right down to it. Other prominent women characters include Nanga's wife and Edna*, a young woman the minister plans to marry. Nanga's wife is not excited about the prospect of a second wife but has little choice in the matter. As part of his revenge scheme, Odili also wants to seduce Edna. While Things Fall Apart was very male-centric, there were a few sympathetic woman characters. It is easy to be sympathetic towards Nanga's wife and Edna's situation but they are not nearly as fleshed out or developed in this novel. Of course, the narrative voices are different, so Odili's attitude towards women definitely needs some work. He has a genuine attraction for Edna but at first he warps his feelings with his desire to hurt Nanga.

I preferred Things Fall Apart, partially because I was rather uncomfortable and unhappy with the portrayal of women, especially in the beginning. It also was hard for me on occasion to understand the pidgen as it was called, or the slang/ lower class pronunciations of English. Language served as a marker, and indicated social circles, as people will change their accent based on who they are speaking to, and who is around. Apparently Man at Ease is actually a sequel to Things Fall Apart, so I might check that out next.

* I don't have the book near me, and it's been more than a week since I've read it so I might have the name wrong (Emma?)

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Happy Birthday!

Happy 50th Birthday, Dad!

Guess what I'm not getting you: