I’ve been feeling as though I should write some sort of meaningful emotional thing about graduation, as it’s less than a week away. I probably will, at some point. But I’ve been thinking about how to wrap up my time at Ithaca College and I’ve decided to turn to my favourite method of summarizing: lists. So I’ve gone back to my scrapbooks from August 2009 to now, and I’ve picked some favourite things. Later this week I’ll make a post about memorable events and school-related stuff, but for now, pop culture!
Books: If I’ve added it up correctly (which, being a journalism major, I’m not sure I did) I’ve read 274 books in the past four-ish years. That’s a lot of books. It doesn’t help that Ithaca has the greatest book sale in the world, and if I can get out of there with under $60 dollars worth of books, I consider it frugal. But here are the best I’ve read since starting college.
Honourable Mentions: The Secret History by Donna Tartt, Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, At Swim Two Boys by Jamie O’Neill, The Basque History of the World by Mark Kurlansky.
- Translations by Brian Friel (3/3/10): I read this play as part of a class called Staging History, one of my favourites I took at IC. When the IC Theatre Arts program did a performance of it last semester, I was excited to finally see it live.
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (10/8/10): I love books about writing, and I read a lot of them the summer after freshman year. This was one of my favourites.
- Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (23/11/10): My school has had some amazing speakers come to campus, everyone from Naomi Klein to Amy Goodman (okay, they’re quite similar, but still). Eugenides spoke when I was a sophomore and it made me want to read his books. I loved this one.
- The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (28/11/10): I discovered Chabon’s work toward the end of high school, and I’ve read most of his novels by now, but this is still my favourite.
- The Vintner’s Luck by Elizabeth Knox (29/12/10): I always consider a mark of a good book to be how much it makes me cry, and this one had me tearing up for hours after I finished, so I would definitely say I enjoyed it.
- Bright’s Passage by Josh Ritter (7/2/11): Josh Ritter is one of my favourite musicians, and his novel is just as lyrical and beautiful as his songs. Also I met him at a book signing last summer and he’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever encountered.
- 11/22/63 by Stephen King (9/1/12): Stephen King is one of my favourite authors but he has a tendency to have unmemorable endings. That’s definitely not true of this alternate history novel’s intense final scenes.
- Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby (29/3/12): I’ve always enjoyed soccer but it was in college that I really came to love it (some would say obsessed). Hornby and I don’t support the same football club, but everything he says about loving your team and the joy and heartbreak that brings rings completely true.
- For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (5/8/12): I somehow had never read Hemingway in high school like most people had to, so I decided to remedy that. I didn’t know much about the Spanish civil war before I studied in Spain but I learned a lot about it, and reading this book a week before I left just pulled it all together.
- A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut (9/18/12): One of my goals over the past few years was to read all of Kurt Vonnegut’s works. I recently finished all of his novels, and I have a few short story and essay collections to go but this mix of fiction and memoir is one of my favourites.
Movies: I’ve somehow seen even more films than I’ve read books, almost 350 since arriving at Ithaca. Here’re a few I loved.
Honourable Mentions: The Avengers, Shutter Island, The Artist, Whip It, The Dark Knight Rises
- Inglourious Basterds: It seems to surprise people sometimes when I say how much I love war movies and other films with a lot of crazy violence, but Tarantino is one of my favourite filmmakers and this one ranks just behind Reservoir Dogs for me. Also, once my friend and I saw him on the streets of NYC and recognised his weird hairline.
- The Boat that Rocked: This movie combines everything I love: sixties music, dysfunctional friendships, and the director and half the cast of Love Actually. I’ve seen it countless times and it never fails to make me happy.
- The Damned United: My roommate and I saw this by accident. Relying on good old public transportation, we missed the bus up to Cornell to see a movie there, so we picked one pretty much at random at Cinemapolis. It was a good decision.
- Inception: The film that spent the summer blowing everyone’s minds. I still hear people arguing about what the final scene means, but even if I’ve decided it’s not as complicated as I originally thought, it’s still an awesome action movie.
- Easy A: My roommate and I see a lot of movies together (three out of four on this list, plus countless others), but this one has a special place in our hearts because, for better or worse, we think our friendship is a lot like Olive and Rhiannon’s.
Television: I have a bad habit of watching television when I’m procrastinating. Now I don’t know when I’m supposed to watch television because I turned in my last essay and have nothing to procrastinate on. Weird.
Honourable Mentions: Skins, Mad Men, Sherlock, Luther, Six Feet Under
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel: I had seen bits of Buffy and Angel before, but it was early on in college that I decided to watch the whole series through. It was awesome, and I’m looking forward to seeing David Boreanaz as the commencement speaker this year.
- Arrested Development: I think if you didn’t come into college obsessed with AD you’ll be obsessed by the time you leave. I’ve heard as many comments about the new season as I have anything else that’s going to happen after graduation.
- Leverage: I don’t really know how or why I started watching this show, but I love that sort of misfit found family, and this show does that so well. I still haven’t watched the series finale so I can pretend it isn’t over.
- Friday Night Lights: Football is my least favourite sport and most high school-set shows are ridiculous, but this one has so much heart and also it has TAMI TAYLOR, queen of the world.
- Shameless (US): I’ve never seen the original UK version of Shameless, but I’m very content with this one. William H. Macy plays the most hatable character ever, but I love everyone else on the show.
- Game of Thrones: I mean, obviously. If you’re not watching it, you probably know nothing, Jon Snow.
- The Wire: This had been on my to-watch list for years, but when I signed up to take a “Politics of The Wire” course last fall I decided I didn’t want that to be my first experience with it, so I watched the series over the summer and was blown away.
- Elementary: This one caused some controversy since it’s the third Sherlock Holmes adaptation in the past five years and the second set in present day, and also because Watson is, GASP, a woman. But I think it’s by far the best of the recent adaptations, and Holmes and Watson’s dynamic is absolutely perfect.
- Breaking Bad: Another one that everyone in college is obsessed with, and another that we’re all counting down the days until the new, final season. I hope Walt gets what he deserves, and that someone wraps Jesse Pinkman in a blanket and feeds him soup.
- Friends: A few months ago I wrote that I was starting Friends for the first time and everyone couldn’t believe I’d never seen it before. Well, I finished the series a few weeks ago and while it might not have been quite as good as everyone had hyped it up to be, I still loved it.
I don’t know much about the Liga Mx. I follow the English Premier League and the Spanish Liga, and I’ve even started watching a bit of Bundesliga recently (although I’ve yet to find a broadcast with English commentary so the only words I can pick up are things like “Dortmund” and “das fitness coach”), so I hardly have time to watch yet another league anyway, although I sometimes catch a match on Univisión while I’m at the gym. I know a few key words and names in Mexican football, Hérculez Gómez and Chivas and Chicarito and the Azteca, but comparatively, I’m in the dark. Before reading Robert Andrew Powell’s gripping book, This Love is Not for Cowards: Salvation and Soccer in Ciudad Juárez, I had certainly never heard of Los Indios de Ciudad Juárez.
After reading Charles Bowden’s Murder City in a journalism class last semester, if I’d had to guess I would’ve said that Juárez wouldn’t have time to play football in between all the murders. This would probably be a commonly-held thought but, as Powell’s book shows, there is more to Juárez than just violence and death, even if these elements are intrinsically linked to everything in the everyday life of a Juarense. The violence and death is ever-present, of course—there’s no ignoring the thousands of bodies that turn up in Juárez each year, some in front of Powell’s own house, he recounts chillingly—but the book paints a fuller picture of life in “murder city” than most people would guess.
April 6, 2013
Roger Ebert died this week. And I’m glad to see that in the countless articles and blog posts eulogizing him, he is never referred to “only” as a film critic. As someone whose dream job used to be entertainment critic, I’ve sometimes felt like my ambitions were less serious than my peers who dreamed of parachuting into a war zone armed only with a notebook and a tape recorder, even of dedicating their lives to small-town papers to report on their city council meetings.
But entertainment journalism, although it has the potential to be “soft” when reporting on the comings and goings of D-list celebrities, has its place. As the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, Ebert demonstrated not only the value of film itself in reflecting or subverting the values of society, but also in discussing and critiquing film and the way it reflects or subverts those values.
In the thousands of reviews he wrote over four and a half decades at the Chicago Sun-Times and other media outlets, he was never afraid to digress into a commentary on social and political issues. Ebert was criticized over the summer for speaking out in favour of gun control in the wake of the movie theatre shooting in Aurora, Colorado, and many of his opponents said that he should stick to talking about movies. But as Ebert so often proved, there are so many times when you can’t talk about movies without talking about life.
This isn’t to say, however, that for a movie to be good, or valid, or worth discussing, it must relate to life or have a deeper meaning. Sometimes film can just be fun. That’s another thing I always enjoyed about Ebert’s reviews; he compared films to other films like them rather than with complete objectivity. A well-done romcom may not be as “objectively” good as Citizen Kane, but Ebert wouldn’t mark it down simply for the error of not being Citizen Kane. This is something that I’m sure most critics do, because otherwise the majority of films would probably be given two stars or fewer, but Ebert was so unapologetic about it—sometimes films are important and sometimes they’re not, and that’s okay.
At the same time, he could get outraged about a bad movie. Some of his reviews read as though they are accusing the film of personally insulting its audience for making us watch such an awful film. As much as he did not look down on films for not aspiring to brilliance, he also didn’t give a pass to those which only reached for the lowest bars.
Roger Ebert was witty. Countless lists have been written before and since his death ranking some of his best zingers. But he was was also thoughtful, intelligent, and kind. Unless you are a journalist, or very interested in journalism, most people don’t remember many journalists by name, even if you like their writing. But everyone knows Ebert’s name. He was like a friend, the kind of friend you asked before you went to a movie, to see what he thought of it, and afterward maybe you’d nod in agreement or maybe you’d argue, even only in your own head.
Whenever a writer who means as much as Ebert did dies, there are dozens or perhaps hundreds of tributes to him, and in the grand scheme of things mine is hardly meaningful. But he was meaningful to me. He showed that loving pop culture and wanting to critique and discuss it is not shallow, doesn’t have to be. Movies are a less-appreciated art in that they are not considered as sophisticated as books or paintings despite decades of evidence to the contrary, but Ebert showed that everything is worth talking about, and that discussion can critique who we are along with what we watch.
Now I recommend you read Ebert’s final blog post, which ends with this beautiful line:
So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I’ll see you at the movies. – Roger Ebert, 1942-2013
March 3, 2013
Today was a good day at the gym, television-wise. There are four TVs in the fitness center of my apartment complex and generally when I arrive to exercise, unless it’s just as the gym is opening (annoyingly late on weekends—some people want to work out before noon, Ithaca College), I end up watching whatever’s already on. That tends to mean the Food Network or endless episodes of Say Yes to the Dress (there’s usually only girls at the gym, which probably explains this). Today was a good day because I was the only one in the room for a while and so I got put a football game on one screen and a hockey game on another*, but that’s not the point of this post.
*I’m in the market for a hockey team. I’ve just started watching the sport and I was watching the game today because one of my friends is a big Blackhawks fan and another is a die-hard Red Wings supporter. I still haven’t determined my allegiance yet but I figure I have to give the Flyers a chance, at least, even if it’ll destroy my “hates all Philadelphia sports except Union because their fans made that John Terry sign that one time” cred.
Point is, the other day some fellow college student had chosen MTV’s Catfish TV show as their workout soundtrack. Since it was on, and I was there, I watched half of two episodes (the second half of one and the first half of the other). Now, I remember hearing about the Catfish documentary when it first became famous, but I have never seen it and this was my first experience with the tv show, and the first episode I watched surprised me. In it, a girl who had been friends with a boy for ten years went to meet him in person for the first time. It turned out that the only reason he hadn’t wanted to meet was that he was embarrassed about his weight. They ended the episode as friends; it was very sweet.
February 17, 2013
Yesterday the honours program at my school took a day trip to Ottawa to visit the winter festival. Here are a few of my photos!
Also, shameless self-promotion, I have a tumblr of my photography at thebestpossibletime.
February 9, 2013
I think most of us have those pop culture juggernauts that we just… missed, somehow. You know, the one that, when you admit to being in the dark, makes people say, “What? You really haven’t read/seen/heard THAT?”
I generally consider myself well-versed in the most prominent pop culture of my lifetime: I’ve seen Pulp Fiction, watched The Real World, listened to ‘NSync, read Harry Potter, and seen most of it recapped on VH1′s I Love the _____ series. For me, the missing piece is a little show about a couple of friends in NYC.
Obviously I’ve seen Friends. Everyone’s seen Friends. It’s only on television all the time. But for me, “seeing” Friends means catching a couple minutes of a scene here or there; I’ve only seen a few episodes from start to finish. Judging by the reaction I got when I admitted this yesterday, this is uncommon.
The funny thing about these cultural landmarks is that even if you’ve never personally experienced them, you probably know a lot about them. Someone who’s never read Harry Potter can probably still name the Hogwarts houses and tell us You-Know-Who’s real identity. I know that the Friends crew consists of Ross and Rachel and Monica and Chandler and Phoebe and Joey and that Jennifer Aniston’s hairstyle was the most significant ‘do of the ’90s except for maybe when Felicity cut her hair. I know the theme song and the smelly cat song and that the titles are all along the lines of “The one where…” It’s not that I’m totally ignorant of Friends; I’ve just never seen it from start to finish like apparently everyone else I know.
But apparently, this is unacceptable. And so, without further ado, I bring you, 19 years too late (which, honestly, how was I expected to watch a show that began when I was three?), a review of the pilot episode of Friends, which I believe I am watching for the first time (unless it turns out to be one of the few I’ve actually seen):
Friends 1×01: The One Where Monica Gets a New Roommate
January 26, 2013
Well, I’ve had an eventful couple of weeks. In backwards chronological order, I’ve
- started my final semester at Ithaca College. I’m taking five classes, two of which are required for my major/minor, and all of which I will hopefully manage to handle despite the fact that I can already feel senioritis setting in.
- been accepted to grad school. Next year I’ll be studying for an MA in Literature and Publishing at the National University of Ireland, Galway. I was looking at a number of different routes for my post-graduate plans, but this was my secret number one, so when I was accepted I knew it was where I wanted to be.
- spent a week in New Orleans, working with local nonprofit Lowernine.org along with fourteen other Ithaca College seniors, our advisor, and several others. And that’s what I want to write about now.
A lot of people don’t realise the extent to which Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath are still affecting New Orleans. I didn’t, having never visited the city before. And after a week there, I certainly can’t say that I fully understand the impact of the storm and what followed, but even more than becoming aware of it, I now realise how unaware I was before. There’s this sort of dichotomy when it comes to short-term volunteer work or visiting the site of a disaster—you can’t fully understand a situation just by being there a week, and you can’t make the trip all about you by saying “yes I feel so enlightened/inspired/whatever now,” but at the same time, but at the same time awareness and knowledge is really important. There’s a fine line between helping out and disaster tourism, and that’s a line that we worked hard not to cross. I liked working with Lowernine because they had strong connections to residents—one of their coordinators was born in raised in the Ninth Ward—and it never felt like they were doing what they thought should be done, but instead they were looking for guidance from residents and homeowners as to what was needed.
I’ll talk more about this later, I’m sure, because I’m still trying to process my thoughts and feelings about this, and it’s a complicated matter, but as it’s been a week since we’ve returned from the trip, I did want to write a bit about what we did while we were there. Mainly my contributions involved painting and moving debris—it amazed me that there were so many houses with just massive piles of wood and plaster and insulation, so many houses with so much work to be done. In theory, I knew this, but seeing it in person was still a shock. Each day, we worked from 8am to 5pm, clearing debris, scraping paint, cleaning siding, painting doors, whatever each individual homeowner needed. I felt more comfortable with painting and so I found myself leaning out over railings to paint trim on rooftops, or using a huge roller to paint white walls whiter (very difficult in a house without electricity to see where you had already painted), while others worked with tools to build porches or fix roofs.
Of course, we did have the chance to explore the culture of New Orleans, because while we were focused on more than just the city’s tourist attraction, it has an incredibly vibrant history and culture that adds another facet to the visit. Whether it was eating po’boys at Mother’s, eating beignets at Café du Monde, or eating slices of king’s cake that one of our supervisors surprised us with one night… well, the trip involved a lot of eating. Which apparently is the best thing, so that was fine with us. It was also a good chance for some peer bonding—the fifteen of us had known each other since (before) freshman year, but we rarely find ourselves in the same place for more than an hour or two at meetings, so a whole week (in very close quarters—twenty or so people lived in one house with three bedrooms and two bathrooms) was an interesting experience.
As I said, this may not be my last post about New Orleans, as it’s given me a lot to think about, but I feel very honoured to have been able to spend some time there, especially with a group of such amazing people.
January 3, 2013
I like reading.
Okay, it’s a massive understatement to say I like reading. In 2012 I read 102 books, after amending my goal of 50 books twice to 75 and then 100. I lost a lot of sleep to reading, and I don’t regret it at all (plus it was a good way to pass the time on all the flights and train rides I took in the first half of the year).
I also really enjoy reading about reading. Some of my favourite non-fiction books are about books or about the act of writing, such as
- On Writing by Stephen King
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
- Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
and today I spent my morning reading The Polysyllabic Spree by one of my favourite authors of fiction and non-fiction, Nick Hornby. It’s one of those books I couldn’t put down–literally, as I nearly smacked into the kitchen counter while trying to read and take a pita out of the toaster at the same time about half an hour ago. It’s not about writing, exactly, rather about reading—the book is a collection of essays Hornby wrote over the course of a year detailing the books he bought and the ones he actually got around to reading—but it falls along those same lines and probably captures better than anything else I’ve read the way reading feels.
Maybe this is an overstatement; I usually try not to review books immediately after reading them, because sometimes my enthusiasm fades or I think back and wonder “how the fuck did I miss that massive plot hole?” (less of a problem in a collection of essays, admittedly), but this is less of a review and more of an… agreement, anyway.
I am a somewhat obsessive collector of books. I have hundreds scattered around my room, boxed up in my parents’ bedroom or in the attic, on the desk in my apartment at school, packed away in trunks… and that doesn’t stop me from buying more at every opportunity, going to the library at least once a week, and reading ebooks on my Kinde. One of my favourite parts of the year is when the Friends of the TCPL book sale opens its doors, and if I can leave the warehouse less than $60 poorer, it’s a rare and notable feat. Have I read most of these books? No, but I’ll get to them someday, and that won’t stop me from buying more. So I definitely related to Hornby’s lists of all the books he bought in a month and the comparison to the books he read in that same time period.
More than that, there were a couple specific ideas he wrote about with regard to reading and to a reader’s ability to connect (or inability to connect) to a book that I really loved. In his assessment of one novel Hornby writes that he was thrown out of the story when a character said that “Arsenal won Liverpool 3-0.” As an avid football (specifically Arsenal) fan, Hornby—who wrote the football-fan-memoir-bible Fever Pitch—said, “I am positive that no one has ever said ‘Arsenal won Liverpool 3-0′ in the entire history of either Arsenal Football Club or the English Language. ‘Beat,’ ‘thrashed,’ ‘did’ or ‘done,’ ‘trounced,’ ‘thumped,’ ‘shat all over,’ ‘walloped,’ etc., yes; ‘won,’ emphatically, no.” You know, it’s things like this that really matter to writers and to readers; I’m sure most people wouldn’t be bothered by this off-hand comment, but to someone who really loves the subject of said off-hand comment, whether it be football or something else, that could make or break the reader’s interest in the story. One reason I love Hornby’s most famous novel, High Fidelity, is that there are so many references in it to music that I love, and he obviously knows his shit. Research is important, but you can only fake it so much.
There’s another essay in which Hornby talks about Prayers for Rain by Dennis Lehane, who happens to be another of my favourite authors. Hornby criticises a moment where the protagonist refers to the worst night of his life, which presumably happened in an earlier book in the series. “Hang on a moment. The worst night of your life was three years ago? So what am I reading now? The fourth-worst night of your life?” Hornby asks. While I really like the Kenzie-Gennaro series and I don’t have a problem with recurring protagonists in general, he’s got a point. If every novel has a climax, then some climaxes must, inevitably, be less climactic than others, so how do you make a reader care about the lesser climaxes? And how many times can I use the word “climax” in this paragraph without my blog getting trolled by porn-bots?
Then, finally, there was this line in an essay about how so many autobiographies Hornby has read have revealed that the authors of novels have a lot in common with their characters: “Some people—critics, mostly—would argue that this diminishes the achievement somehow, but it’s the writing that’s hard, not the invention.” This is an idea that’s been said in a million times in a million ways, but it still always connects. I think up dozens of stories in a day. Most of us do, probably. The question is how many of them get written down and edited and edited and edited until they’re something that someone else might want to read? That’s something I need to get better at, but whether it’s 1667 words a day or 750 or more or less, the writing is the hard part, but it needs to be done.
I think most people who write also love reading, and most people who write about reading are rather good writers and therefore enjoyable for another lover of reading to read. With the exception of me, of course, because that was a terribly-crafted sentence. My point is, I love books, all books, but especially the ones that make me really excited—excited enough to write a thousand words about how much I love reading, for example. I highly recommend The Polysyllabic Spree; I highly recommend writing; I highly recommend connecting with people who love the things you love, even if it’s just through reading their work. And I highly recommend getting your hands on more books than you know what to do with. You’ll get around to them someday.
December 31, 2012
December 29, 2012
Some years I see a ton of films. I think the record was in 2010, when I watched 31 films in theatres, but being in Spain for the first couple months of this year meant that my numbers were a lot lower. When there was only one theatre in Sevilla that showed original language films, and it mostly played almost-entirely-silent filmThe Artist while I was there, I didn’t have much motivation to go to the movies (not to mention I was in Spain; I had better things to do than watch The Vow dubbed into Spanish). So although I did see a few films in theatres this year, and several more excellent movies for the first time, I’m not going to make a list of my favourite films of 2012. Instead, here are 10 films I’m looking forward to in 2013.
Note: I’m not including 2012 films that I’m still hoping to see in theatres, like Les Mis and Django Unchained. Only films to be released in 2013.
Honourable mentions: Gangster Squad, Oz the Great and Powerful, Iron Man 3, The Great Gatsby (trainwreck syndrome), Pacific Rim, Anchorman 2
I don’t think anyone even knew this film was happening until suddenly it had a release date, but hopefully this follow-up to Before Sunrise and Before Sunset is the one in which Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke’s characters end up together for real.
This buddy-cop comedy starring Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock looks like it could be awful, but it’s a buddy-cop comedy starring two women and they don’t seem to be fighting over a man, so I’m definitely going to check it out.
Star Trek Into Darkness
Probably the most anticipated film on my list, even if I’m getting a little tired of Bennington Cucumberpatch being in absolutely everything these days. It comes out two days before graduation, and I’ll be first in line for the midnight showing.