Wednesday, February 27, 2008

On Chesil Beach (Spoilers)

This is by Ian McEwan. Before I read it, I heard a few spoilers, but only enough to make me more interested in reading it. Most were about Florence's relationship with her father and were generally feeling of expecting to learn that there was something there that was causing her to feel the way she did about sex, but that nothing ever came out in the book, and that was kind of a let down.

Let me backtrack. The book is about a young newlywed couple (Florence and Edward) in the 1960s, on their honeymoon. Both are virgins, for different reasons. They've been dating for a few years, and he has essentially been "waiting" for her, believing her to be the sweet, innocent, chaste young girl. She, meanwhile, is completely repulsed by the whole idea of sex and everything that comes with it, and always has been. She is very driven and focused in terms of her career and future in her string quartet, where she is lead violin. She never corrected his misconception of her beliefs or feelings, knowing it was wrong to lead him on all this time, but accepting that one day she would have to sleep with him, no matter what her feelings were, because that was what wives did. There is excruciating detail about their wedding night, through dinner and their brief encounter before it all goes very wrong, alternating with some history of each of their upbringings and family backgrounds. Overall it was a good book, and I love McEwan's writing style. I haven't read Atonement, but I definitely will now that I've read this.

Now, as for the thing about her father, and the expectation that the reader would find out that there was some sort of history of abuse there. I feel like that possibility was definitely there. Just because McEwan never reveals it, there are some hints around it. Edward points out that her father seems a bit too happy to marry her off, and is extremely accepting of Edward, perhaps overly so. The father is doting and loving toward his other daughter, Florence's younger sister, but hardly so much as looks Florence in the eye. Florence recalls a memory of sailing across the English Channel with her father when she was younger, and laying still in her bed on the boat, listening to the sound of her father undressing, and feeling as though she was ashamed, perhaps because of her lack of sailing ability . . . I don't know, I can see why everyone said that they expected something to come out later about some abusive past with her father, but I feel like that as there, just not expressly said.

And speaking of behavior and upbringing - there is something to be said about Edward's situation as well. The two of them are so very in love with one another, almost blinded by their love for one another, but his selfishness (?) seems ultimately to overwhelm and ruin the whole relationship. The questions mark is there because I'm not sure whether that's the right word - greed, maybe? Pride. His pride is ultimately what sinks their ship, so to speak. Their relationship is not ruined in the room, but later, on the beach. And it is in large part his pride that follows throughout his life, preventing him from ever looking her up or checking on her career, despite the intense, acknowledged love he continues to feel for her throughout his whole life. And I think that does go back to his upbringing and the problems that the family had with his mother, and again, his pride. It seemed as though she felt the same way about him at the end too, as she looked at the one seat in the theatre when her quartet played in the theatre. Her explanation for never trying to contact him was clear and reasonable, after what he said on the beach, he made himself pretty clear.

Either way - my criticism of this book was that the ending was so very focused on him, and barely mentioned her. It worked, don't get me wrong - the ending definitely made sense and worked, but I would have liked to know more about her life after the night on the beach. But over all, highly recommended.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Vantage Point (spoilers)

We went to see this last night. It came out on Friday, and we had free passes. We have mixed feelings about it. It tells the story about an assassination attempt, but from a few different points of view. So with each telling of the same story, you learn a little more. The deal is, the US president is in Spain, along with leaders of a whole mess of other countries, for a summit on preventing terrorism worldwide. As soon as the president takes the podium, he is shot twice, and then all hell breaks loose with bombings and everything. The points of view we see are: 1) TV news producer Sigourney Weaver, watching every camera angle and bossing around her reporter and cameramen, as she watches the events unfold while maintaining come composure over her live broadcast; 2) Dennis Quaid as a secret service agent back on his first mission after taking a bullet for the president six months earlier; 3) Forest Whitaker as an American tourist with a video camera, which mysteriously still works after he pulls it out of the rubble after the bombs explode; 4) A Spanish police officer, who seems to have been unwittingly roped into playing a role in the whole attack; 5) the US President, who has worked so hard at this summit, only to be replaced by a double for the event in the face of intelligence indicating that an assassination attempt and terror threat will occur; 6) the mastermind behind the attack, who may or may not be connected to a cell in Morocco, and who flawlessly executes the whole attack remotely from his iPhone; 7) A would be assassin who has also been seemingly unwittingly roped in by the kidnapping of his brother, who will be returned to him in exchange for his use of his special forces skills to kill as many members of the president's entourage as necessary to assist in the kidnapping of the president; 8) Matthew Fox, as the other central secret service agent, who also plays an important role in the attacks, as we realize that all of the inside information that the attackers had came from him.

Eventually, as you see the last point of view, the whole thing comes together, and the last 1/2 hour or so is like a normal movie, without the rewinding and reshowing of the same events. The movie is fast paced and well-executed, with an original premise and a very strong cast. Dennis Quaid is excellent as the slightly jittery, newly returning secret service agent, and Forest Whitaker is endearing as the stereo-typical lonely tourist witness to history. The mixed feelings come from the level of detail and unresolved plot points that were lost in the action. While the president's advisers urge him to bomb a known terrorist camp in friendly Morocco, where they believe the orchestrators of the attack are harbored, the president refuses, and we never learn whether the attackers are actually related to that camp or not. Quaid saves the day, and the president, while all of the individuals involved in carrying out the attack are killed, leaving no way for everyone else to ever fully understand what went on, or who the attackers were working for or why. We never get anything behind the attack itself, leaving you feeling a bit unsatisfied. The car chase wherein Quaid commandeers a car to tail Fox, who's masquerading as a Spanish police officer and driving a police car, is a bit long and generally unbelievable. The camera angles used make for impossibly narrow near-misses and those ever-popular accidents where our hero (Quaid) gets nailed, but somehow the car spins exactly 360 degrees and he just continues the chase. The extreme close-ups were nauseating, and I felt motion sick when the chase finally ended.

Overall, though, I'd still recommend it if you enjoy action films. it was really good and definitely keeps your attention and keeps you guessing. Although if you've read this, I guess there's no mystery left in it for you. Just take the action and enjoy it, knowing that the reasons and background will never be explained.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

More internet babble

I have an on-line book club. Anyone who saw my old blog knows about, that seemingless limitless abyss of all things wedding planning. Well, after one gets married and "graduates" from TheKnot - it's founders, in all their wisdom, created The Nest is loaded with chat boards about all number of things, from local discussions (where you will find all of your old Knottie friends reunited again), to budgeting, to cooking, to - you guessed it - books! So that is where many of my recent book recommendations have come from. On top of general chat about books, there is a monthly discussion on one particular book, all voted on and selected democratically months in advance.

Friends think this is odd. Whenever I say something like, "no I'm waiting to read that until April, when it's the discussion for my book club," the inevitable response is, "you're in a book club?" The discussion then often goes something like this:
"Yes, well, kind of - it's on-line."
"But how do you discuss books online?"
"Well, it's a mesage board, and everyone just posts and responds to each other, it's kind of neat actually. I don't actually have to set time aside for book club discusion, I can just post whenever I have a chance, and that's what everyone else does, so it works out well. Sometimes the discusions are really good and go on for days."
"Cool, where'd you find out about it? Can anyone join?"
The comes the slightly weird stage where I have to explain "well, yes, anyone can join, but you'd have to join this whole other on-line thing . . ."
And maybe it is a bit odd, but I really like having an on-line book club. And these are people I can "talk" to all the time. It's all pretty anonymous, but it's neat that I can ask for opinions on a particular book, and potentially get 100 responses (there's never that many, but you get the point). And none of the books are required reading, so to speak. If the democratic process worked in a way such that you have no inclination whatsoever to read a particular month's book, or you just don't have time, don't read it! Chances are, your imput will not be missed. Now, clearly the point of the book club is discussion, but when there are so many people involved, one missing doesn't generally matter. This can, of course lead to the tragedy of the commons type of problem - where if everyone adopts that train of thinking, there's no discussion. This happenned in December, what with the holidays, no one cared to discuss Catcher in the Rye at any great length. A few people had some discussion, and some asked to postpoe the discussion until they could finish it, but it generally just wasn't up to par. But for the most part, the discussions are generally pretty lively and in-depth. I enjoy having an on-line book club. Perhaps more so that I would enjoy having a real life book club.

** Just as an aside, I can picture what real life book club with my friends would look like - only 1/2 of us, if that, would have actually finished the book, for one thing. And there would be alcohol involved, probably lots of it. Maybe even "book themed" drinking games (if there's a will, there's a way). If any discussions of the book ever actually took place, it would be in the form of wise-ass remarks made at one another's expense, making some minor reference to the story. In short, it would amount to yet another reason to get together and get wasted. **

I have an addiction

It's name is Seriously, it's a problem. OK, is a silly, silly game site. I mean like, Majong and matching and tetris like games. Silly waste-of-time games like that. You have to sign up with an email address to play the games, but it's all free. Actually, it isn't all free. You can become a "gold member" for whatever amount of money, and then you can play in money tournements and win money prizes and everything, but ultimately, that's just a waste. I just like to play games. But really, this post is taking me forever to write, because I'm typing in between games of Memory Matcher! All the games are set up tournament stule, and you play against other members, from all over the world. If you don't play for money, then the prizes are these little jewels, and when you have enough you unlock more things you can do on the site, like send challenges to other people, or edit your avatar, or make your avatar do things when you win or lose. It's all VERY ridiculous. I don't really care about winning the foolish jewels or about my avatar, but I can not stop playing these foolish games. My favorite games include: majong masquerade, block party, and top ace. They are the only three that I play with any frequency. Memory Matcher, which I'm currently playing, is new. But I often play with such frequency that other parts of my life suffer. I skip cleaning my house to play games. I put off cooking dinner to play games. I skip phone calls to play games. I have missed meals because I was playing games. It's out of control. I'm writing about it here, though, because I want everyone else to become as addicted as I am. Go, play games!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Pillars of the Earth

According to the author's foreward, this book was a sort of opus for Ken Follett. It was a book that took many years to get written, and then many years to get published. It was well worth every ounce of trouble that went into its making. My experience with this book has a back story.

It was fall of 1996 and I was in a bookstore in Allentown, PA on a "visiting potential colleges" trip with my dad. In typical daddy's little girl fashion, I told my dad that he should buy me a new book. Without missing a beat, he agreed, on the condition that he got to pick out the book. Always one for an adventure, I agreed, and we set out around the store. I think he knew what he was looking for, but I had no idea. He decided on Pillars, in mass market size. Now if this was not the largest hulk of a book I had ever proposed to read up to that point, I don't know what was. It was 992 pages long. And the cover was completely non-descript. Dad told me that the story followed, mainly, a mason and a priest through their lives struggle to build a beautiful cathedral, that I would learn about cathedral building and about the buildings themselves, that it was a very, very interesting and well-written book, and that he believed that it was one of the best books he had ever read. I agreed to try. And I did try. Honestly, I did. But a book that size is daunting to undertake. And when I ever opened to the first page and saw that it was set in 1123 (yes, that's the year), it was just too much for my 17 year old mind to process. Was I really expected to read a thousand page book about this foolish medieval mason and his family in the forest with no food? Really? I reached somewhere between page 50 and 100, and just gave up. I think my dad was disappointed. I put it on my shelf with all intentions of reading it. Someday. If it was one of the best books my dad had ever read, it had to have some redeeming qualities, and maybe I just wasn't seeing them right then. I pledged to try again. Someday.

Fast forward to fall of 2007. That's right, nine full years later. Shortly after getting married and having that all planning out of the way, I now read more than ever (I've got to do something with all the time I have on my hands now - it only takes so long to clean the house). I mean three to four books at a time, finishing two to three a week. Voracious, I think, is the word many people would use; "expensive" is a word that comes to my mind. I seemed to forget that libraries existed for a while there, and was buying all my books from good old Borders. I have since learned the error of my ways. But I digress. While wandering through Borders one day, I spied the relic from my past that had become The Pillars of the Earth. Only now it was published in trade size, and had a lovely cover with cathedral design sketches in the background. Plus, the larger size had decreased the page number down to only 973. I recalled my dad's description of this as one of the best books he had ever read, as well as my pledge to try again, and realized that someday had come. I restrained myself from paying something like $26 for the paperback, and figured that my old mass market copy with the plain yellow cover must still be at my parents house (this may have also been when I recalled the existence of libraries and the brilliant money-saving institutions that they are, but I'm not sure). Next time I went to my parents' house, my dad presented me with a book called World Without End. I glanced at the cover, and scanned down to the author: Ken Follett. I said "what's this about", and dad asked that now age-old question: "did you ever finish reading Pillars of the Earth? This is the sequel that came out recently." So I told him how I felt like now I was ready to read Pillars, and I had seen the trade size in the store and it looked a little more manageable, and asked if he had seen my old copy lying around their house, so I could avoid buying it. Obviously he had not. So I tore through the house looking for it, but to no avail. The bright yellow book had eluded me. For a little while I though prehaps someday had not come and I maybe was not meant to read this book after all. But finally, I resolved to read it, and asked for the pretty new edition for Christmas from my husband.

I started reading it Christmas night, and I have to admit that I still felt a bit daunted by the size. I finished by January 6th. By page 150, I no longer even noticed the size of the book, or even though that it was really all that long. I'm not kidding when I say that this is one of the best books that I have ever read. I could not put it down, and when I did get to the end, I was sad that it was over. The writing is fabulous. The character development is excellent and engaging. It takes a special author to keep a reader that engaged and interested for 973 long pages. It's set in the middle ages, which I, of all people, can understand is just not everyone's cup of tea, but you mostly stop thinking about the time period as you fall into the story. And the story - there are a fairly limited number of characters for such a long book, so you get to know each of the characters and all of their flaws and weaknesses intimately. I've heard people say that it took them about 150-200 pages to get into it, and I guess I can also understand that, but I'm telling you, once you get into it, this book is amazing. Amazing. I may even read it again.

I have yet to pick up World Without End. I can only hope that it is half as good as Pillars was. It is significantly shorter. My dad wound up loaning his copy to my uncle, and I'm trying to wait for him to get it back so I can borrow it. I may just get it from my trusty library.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Opening Remarks

Ok, here it is, the stereotypical "first post" of a new blog. I don't know where it's going to go, and I'm not sure what it's going to look like, but I hope it's a fun ride. I didn't want the usual "food blog" or "book blog," but I have a feeling this is going to be a little of both, plus some more. There will be spoilers. There will be book spoliers, there will be television spoilers, there will be movie spoilers. So be forewarned, you may read something that gives away the ending of a book or movie you haven't seen, or discusses last night's Lost or Nip/Tuck episode before you've gotten a chance to watch it. Maybe I should have named the blog "There Will Be Spoilers." Maybe I'll sub-title it that, come to think of it.

On my mind today: chicken thighs. Blech. Who enjoys these things? I tried, that's all I can say. I tried to branch out from the boneless, skinless chicken breasts that I always eat, to make something else, but no. Just no. I made apricot chicken thighs. The recipe was great, but it just didn't taste good made with dark meat. It has a weird texture that I just don't like. Plus they're so fatty. Unnecessarily so. I will make the recipe again, but from now on I'll go back to using white meat. No more will I stray from my boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

Also on my mind: Lost. Last night's episode was the most messed up one yet, in my opinion. I need to watch it again before I can really get into the details, but for real - why do they have to introduce all these new mysteries and new characters without resolving any of the earlier mysteries? I love the show, but I was so frustrated by last night's episode. I shouldn't have to watch a TV show twice just to get it.

Finally: I need to say something about the movie I'm currently being made to watch. It's called The King of Kong: A Fistfull of Quarters. It's about the competition to break the world record at Donkey Kong. That's right, a documentary. There are no words. No words. Someone used the word "chumpatized." I have never seen such nerds in my life. Never. I wish I were really drunk to be watching this, then at least it would be so very funny, but instead, I just don't know how to feel about these people. Yikes.