Saturday, June 29, 2013

Beethoven Romance No. 2

So, re-hiking the tortuous path to taking the SATs was certainly NOT how I intended to (disconsolately) spend my summer; however, I am going to use this as an opportunity to become an expert at managing my time so that I can pursue my original summer plans (reading until my brain turns spongy, becoming best friends with the E-string notes on my violin and upping my French).

Black and White

Thursday, June 27, 2013

People are afraid of what they don't understand

I watched Man of Steel this morning - shed a few tears, jumped a couple of times in my seat...
Emotionally, this film inevitably delivers, even if via trite lines such as:

You're not just anyone. One day, you're going to have to make a choice. You have to decide what kind of man you want to grow up to be. Whoever that man is, good character or bad, it's going to change the world.

Yet we must remember that when remaking a franchise as legendary, monumental and meaningful to millions as Superman, such quotes, albeit hackneyed, are also CLASSIC and need to be incorporated -

You will give the people an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.

Because of this, it is easier to forgive the implausibilities that crop out throughout the film ('How are you, Clark, only minimally surprised to see your biological father materialize out of nothingness in front of you inside an insular ice cave?' 'How are you, Lois, only marginally disturbed by being inside an alien spacecraft?").

Likewise, it is also preferable to gloss over the minor flaws - such as the extensive fight scenes (maybe this is just me) and recurrent resurrections of Russel Crowe - and allow oneself to be absorbed by the film's spectacular cinematography and grandness.

Henry Cavill presents to us a different Superman - 'darker,' as critics are calling it - the same way Zack Snyder and the rest of his team (NOLAN) give us a deeper insight into Clark Kent's past and his scruples ... 

The film isn't solely a Superman-pity party; we are given opportunities to peer at the 'other side,' realize that (insert 'poor') Zod was conceived by AI and assigned to his patriotic fate, and sympathize. Let's not forget that he also has the best villain accent ever... something about his hard-edged tone is so boulder-y and stone-y (okay I'll stop).

James Franco wrote a review of Man of Steel too, although he somehow found yet another way to make the review 80% about himself (I still love him, though).

So, the film: Impactful? Definitely. A spectacle? Yes. But superbly honed? Debatable... yet infinitely forgivable for its flaws.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

I decided to address my condition by writing about it. Master the problem by making it conscious.

So I've been reading Object Lessons: the Paris Review for nearly the entire day - it's a collection of short stories and as you know, the rule of short stories is that you can never read one only once. I'm halfway through the 14th one and suffering because (as with most short stories) it makes no sense (The Palace Thief by Ethan Canin); nonetheless, this book is definitely living up to the editor's claim that it is "useful to young writers, and to others interested in literary technique." All 13.5 of the stories I've been reading so far prove their educational worth in some form.

One can read through these stories and learn much about "the art of the short story" the same way one could observe a class of students, identify the athlete, artist and writer, and learn much about people.

Joy Williams' Dimmer, the incipient story in this collection, exemplifies the wonderful way an amalgamation of poetry and prose can pan out. James Salter's Bangkok, which abandons the use of quotation marks (I love this) and instead allows the characters' conversation to melt into the pulse of the story, is dialogue-dedicated and henceforth instructive. Mary-Beth Hughes' Pelican Song and Bernard Cooper's Old Birds (the latter is the long lost cousin of Adam Haslett's Notes to my Biographer) exemplify how to seamlessly craft in prose a loving and often heartbreaking parent-child relationship. Let's not forget the killer 'gambling' metaphor in Craig Nova's Another Drunk Gambler. 

We've all heard the saying, "Watch and Learn."
Object Lessons shows that it is important, too, to "Read and Learn."

Monday, June 24, 2013

She felt the nameless fear which precedes all emotions, joyous or sorrowful, inevitably as a hum of thunder precedes the storm.


  1. "Object Lessons:" the Paris Review
  2. L' 'Étranger
  3. 100 Essential American Poems
  4. Sylvia Plath's Collected Poems (wrapping up) 
  5. Burning the Days: A Recollection 
  6. The Crossing (REREAD!)
  7. And, if I can find them: An American Childhood
  8. So Long, See You Tomorrow
  9. Wheeling Motel (poetry) 
  10. I hate to see the evening sun go down 


Outliers: The Story of Success
Being the fanatic fan of fiction that I am, I did not originally expect to love Outliers as much as I did. Several pages in, I was sucked in by the heart disease anecdote, and continued to be mind-blown throughout as Gladwell revealed the stunning correlations between the success of hockey players' and their birth dates, ethnicity and math finesse (, and culture and plane crashes.

Gladwell reveals to us, within a span of 309 pages, the truth about success - that it is never a one-man-journey or even solely a luck-dependent opportunity. There are no true 'outliers' on the graph of success that succeed 'against all odds' because each and every one of those outliers - Bill Gates or The Beatles, for example - will always have some kind of special advantage, whether it be linked to culture or ethnicity, that gives him/her one foot forward on the long and winding path to success.

I finished this book with a pile of statistics and logically accurate theories all plunked above my cranium, so am infinitely thankful for Malcom Gladwell (and my friend who got me this book for my birthday). Gladwell writes in a clean and uncomplicated prose (although I've heard that he was criticized for the latter) that renders this book nearly universally accessible and perfect for a quick, delightful and ultimately unforgettable read.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

What a crazy (appropriately so) book!

It's summer so my access to the school library has been barred - I'm working my way through my birthday-present-books (thank you, lovely friends).

Set in a mental asylum run by a indomitable nurse, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is at once dystopian and fanatical. Its protagonist, the egregious McMurphy, is determined to distort the prudently-maintained equilibrium of the ward and restore the spirit of revolution to the forlorn patients who have been subjugated under the hegemony of the unrelenting, macho nurse Ratched for too long.

The writing may seem to run away at times and the plot may seem wildly paced, yet Kesey does a swell job of squashing Nurse Ratched's inherent feminism and magnifying McMurphy's innate eccentricities.

Narrated by the furtively astute Chief Bromden, One Flew over the cuckoo's nest is ultimately and inevitably humorous, yet darkly satirical.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

La Dame Aux Camellias (belated post #2)

La Dame Aux Camellias was written by Alexandre Dumas-fils, and in the words of his father, Alexandre Dumas-pere, "I find the subject of my books in my dreams and my son finds his in reality."

This quote is fittingly stamped across the back of the book (the Oxford University Press edition), along with a short anecdote about the origins of the story. In 1844, Alexandre Dumas-fils fell helplessly in love with the courtesan Marie Duplessis, and remained infatuated with her until her death in 1947. Ridden with grief, Dumas translated his sorrows into 256 pages worth of concise yet poignant writing, substituting Marguerite Gautier for Duplessis and Armand Duval for himself in a story of fragile hope, inevitable despair and tenacious love.

"The lady has been an ideal, an inspiration, a consolation. [...] Marguerite Gautier is a necessity," writes David Coward in the introduction. The depictions of women in literature are multifaceted - on one hand we have the tyrannical Ms. Havisham who lives vicariously through her adopted daughter in Dickens' Great Expectations and on another we have the bright yet innocuously nosy Emma from Austen's Emma.
(11) camelias | Tumblr
So what distinguishes Marguerite Gautier from all the other women in literature, and why is she "a necessity?" This book explores the cruel tragedies of prostitution from an elegant and humane perspective - it rightly dispels (in clean, beautiful writing, may I add) the insensitive stereotypes that are often impulsively associated with courtesans.
Poor creatures! If it is wrong to love them, the least one can do is to pity them. You pity the blind man who has never seen the light of day, the deaf man who has never heard the harmonies of nature, the mute who has never found a voice for his soul, and yet, under the specious pretext of decency, you will not pity that blindness of heart, deafness of soul and dumbness of conscience which turn the brains of poor, desperate women and prevent them, despite themselves, from seeing goodness, hearing the Lord and speaking the pure language of love and religion.
But to be truly loved by a courtesan is a much more difficult victory to achieve. In such women, the body has consumed the soul, the senses have burnt out the heart, debauchery has buckled stout armour on to feeling. The words you say to them, they first heard long ago; the tactics you use, they have seen before; the very love they inspire in you, they have sold to others. They love because love is their trade, not because they are swept off their feet. They are better guarded by their calculations than a virgin by her mother and her convent. [...] But when God allows a courtesan to fall in love, her love, which at first looks like a pardon for her sins, proves almost invariably to be a punishment on her. [...] They have lied so often that no one believes them any more and, beset by remorse, they are eaten by their love.
So, although Duval is enthralled by Gautier, her vocation is a hindrance to their relationship yet a necessity for her subsistence; therefore, Duval can "never give a kept woman any right to say that [...he owes] her anything whatsoever" because coursetans like her are "abandoned the moment [...they are] no more use for feeding the vanity" of men.

2 lovely quotes from the novel:
I am of those who believe that the whole is in the part. The child is small, and yet he is father to the man; the brain is cramped, and yet it is the seat of thought; the eye is but a point, yet it encompasses leagues of space.
Life is no more than the repeated fulfilling of a permanent desire. The soul is merely the vestal handmaid whose task is to keep the sacred flame of love burning.

Silver Linings Playbook (belated post #1)

Silver Linings Playbook was undoubtedly the brightest and sparkiest Best-Picture-nominated movie of 2012. It possesses neither the bloody elements prevalent in Django Unchained nor the oppressive silence effused by Amour.

Instead, David O. Russell presents to us, along with a STELLAR cast (without which the film's spirit would have been attainable), the story of Pat (Bradley Cooper), who has just been released from a mental hospital and remains helplessly infatuated with his wife, and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who is still grieving over the death of her husband. Both form a heartwarming (and hilarious) love/hate/mutual-recuperation companionship that becomes increasingly lovely to witness over the course of a dance competition that Tiffany badgers Pat into doing with her (as compensation for this massive favor she does Pat [I've decided to not make this a spoiler-inclusive summary, so won't go into details]). Pat, despite his bipolar illness, is charming and lovable, and Tiffany, despite her temper and pessimism, is brilliantly funny and clever.

It is without a doubt the watch-and-be-happy movie of the year, for it gives us [SPOOOOILER] a rare and real happy ending that most Oscar-nominated films seem to neglect these days.


Cognizant of a month+'s hiatus & unworthy antecedent posts, I have returned to announce that the picture above - which is a successful amalgamation of the fellowship and Cormac McCarthy - is (hopefully) a spot-on representation of what I'll be up to THIS OCTOBER in MONGOLIA!

On a side note, I'm currently reading Outliers by Malcom Gladwell, am most unfortunately hooked on Candy Crush, but am finally able to indulge in my summer vacation.

Depending on how much I allow myself to be absorbed by the virulent power of candy crush, the belated posts I promised to write may or may not be posted...