Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Listicles, Part 2: Fifteen Movies

As a lazy-ass "blogger," the idea of listicles appeals to me. (You've all seen my "New Year, New Playlist" posts, right?) So when these things about ten books and fifteen movies that stuck with you started going around Facebook, I thought to myself, Now, there's a blog post I can write! In fact, that's TWO posts! Here, then, we have part two of two: fifteen movies. For part one, click here!


1) Pulp Fiction
What is storytelling, and how can we change it? Quentin Tarantino knows the answer to this and so many more of life's pressing questions. For example, "DOES HE LOOK LIKE A BITCH?" (No. No he does not.)

2) The Philadelphia Story
Endlessly quotable, this is the perfect slapstick romance, and it's also the reason why I'm in love with James Stewart.

3) Collateral
Michael Mann is what I call a quiet filmmaker. The first time I saw this, I didn't think much of it. Days later, though, it struck me how brilliant it was, and I've never forgotten.

4) Training Day
This is corruption in a tangible, non-Scarface kind of way. And Denzel is right: 

5) Domino
The way this story goes right off the rails into trippy, beautiful scenes makes me wish I had gone to film school like I originally intended.

6) Requiem for a Dream
Do not do drugs. End of story. 

7) Sleeping Beauty
The artistry of this animated film never--and I mean never--ceases to amaze me.

8) Orphée
Heartbreak knows no bounds. You don't even need the subtitles to grasp this, because Cocteau lays it all out for us in gorgeous black-and-white.

9) Mary Poppins
The movie that taught me whimsy and spectacle do, in fact, have a place in this world, and that they can peacefully coexist with excellent characters.

10) Traffic
An ensemble film done right is a glorious thing. I tip my hat to Steven Soderbergh and his stupid-good cast.

11) Mean Girls
For me, this proves the viability of YA stories, not only because it has great cross-over appeal but also because everyone knows what it's like to have encountered their own personal Regina George.

12) The Virgin Suicides
Character-driven filmmaking at its best, adapted from a gorgeous book. 

13) The Sound of Music
Absolutely epic in its scale, yet heartwarming. Christopher Plummer can call it "the sound of mucus" all he wants; I still love Captain von Trapp, and Baroness Schrader's wardrobe is everything.

14) Volver
A story that takes the notion of the willing suspension of disbelief and wrangles it in such a way that you never want to un-suspend.

15) Casino Royale
Gritty, dirty, sexy, and modern, this film also has an acute awareness of its own heritage--not unlike James Bond himself.


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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Listicles, Part 1: Ten Books That Stuck with Me

As a lazy-ass "blogger," the idea of listicles appeals to me. (You've all seen my "New Year, New Playlist" posts, right?) So when these things about ten books and fifteen movies that stuck with you started going around Facebook, I thought to myself, Now, there's a blog post I can write! In fact, that's TWO posts! Here, then, we have part one of two: ten books. Return next Wednesday for the fifteen movies!


1) Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
As if y'all didn't know this one was on the list.

2) House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski
In high school, I was--and remain--a devoted fan of POE's 2000 album Haunted. When I found out that she had written the songs in part as a collaboration with/response to her brother, Danielewski, I of course had to snatch up a copy of the corresponding book. It is dark, twisted, daring, and brilliant. It's the only book that has ever scared me so much that I couldn't sleep. And because it challenges what fiction is--and what it can/should be--it remains a title I love.

3) War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, Chris Hedges
Of all the ways to find a book. I spent a summer cramming in about two years' worth of books when I started working for the head of the Honors program at my last institution so I could familiarize myself with the things prospective students would face if they joined Honors, and this book, above all the others I consumed in those two months, challenged and changed me. While I still don't agree with warfare--something I won't delve into now because of its complexities--I do understand it better and have a great deal more respect for war makers, survivors, and reporters thanks to Hedges.

4) Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut
Speaking of war. This transcendent, outrageous, ridiculous novel discusses the consequences of warfare in a sideways kind of manner--Billy Pilgrim coming unstuck in time may seem fantastical to some, but ultimately, it's about one person disconnecting from the physical world after suffering hugely traumatic things. The firebombing of Dresden--an event that remains controversial to this day--takes center stage, and Vonnegut shakes you out of any complacency you may have harbored before delving between the covers.

5) The Return of the Native, Thomas Hardy
Is there anyone more depressing than Hardy? Maybe the Russian novelists, but having never read Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, or the others, I'm sticking with Hardy as my go-to downer. In my worst moments, I am Eustacia Vye embodied; in my best, I realize what a terrible role model she is. And at all times, I am ready to make a joke about Bonfire Night and/or the Reddleman.

6) The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner
Oh, Fa(u)lkner. You tortured me at first, but by the time that someone compared me to Candace Compson last year, I was ready to take it as a compliment. Quentin (the man, not the niece) is a hell of a character, and Jason is the best terrible fictional person I've ever encountered. Forget the settings; forget the plot. This book is worth it just to experience the voices of these people.

7) The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
Yes, I know--what young female aspiring writer DOESN'T fall for Plath at some point? But it's more than that. It's the fact that the book is endlessly quotable ("I am. I am. I am.") and vividly rendered. It's the fact that Plath and her fictional alter-ego seem to understand things that we ourselves wish we could grasp. It's the fact that we've all wanted to completely make ourselves over at some point, but we're not all brave enough to send our clothes--those external signposts--flying into the sky like Esther does. She's not a perfect role model, by any means, and that's what makes her so appealing.

8) Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman
Whitman was a perfect human being. End of story.

9) Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt
I don't think I've ever encountered another children's book so beautifully written. Babbitt's words are well-chosen in a way that makes me viscerally jealous. The story itself is something adults and children alike should experience.

10) The Bridesmaids, Cherie Bennett
About a million years after I first read this book, I realized what an effect it had on me. It's the equivalent of a trashy romance novel for teens, and I love it so much that I'd happily read it again, if only I could find my copy (which has been packed away with the majority of my books).


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Some Updates

As one might expect, some stuff happened while I was on my blogging break. During my "time off," I was actually working seasonal retail, which was either the best or worst experience of my life (more on that in a later post). Our first Christmas without my aunt and grandmother was a subdued affair, and it didn't feel quite right. Another family--one made for themselves by my friend Charlie and some of his brothers of the heart--suffered a terrible loss just before Christmas when one of them passed away. Finally, the new year arrived, as evidenced by my New Year, New Playlist post last week, but the "holiday hangover" is the worst in recent memory, at least for me. 

Yet a few items of good news did find their way through the fog, so rather than dwell on the aforementioned difficulties, here's a short list of exciting events.

1) The North Carolina Poet Laureate situation has been cleaned up. I'm so happy to report that Shelby Stephenson, who is practically an institution unto himself, is the new head honcho there. Having met Shelby and several of his contemporaries and students, I can say without a doubt that NC poetry is in good hands.

2) Speaking of Poets Laureate: my (imaginary) poet boyfriend Dr. Benjamin Myers has been named the PL for Oklahoma in 2015-2016. Many congratulations to him! Go read his work now if you care anything for current American poetry.

3) I was named a finalist in the 2014 Susan K. Collins/Mississippi Valley Chapbook Contest, run by the Midwest Writing Center, which is a pretty cool thing.

4) Oh, and I won this other contest. Nbd.

I'm glad to be able to pass these tidbits along after the endless months of terrible things that happened in 2014, and I hope that everyone out there has a better year than the one that just ended.


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

New Year, New Playlist: 2015

I had a tradition on my first blog, What We Covet, of starting each new year off with a playlist of music I intend to take with me throughout the year. As with the previous lists, the songs were culled from my current collection. Most aren't recent, but they certainly sound good to me, and that's really the goal of any playlist I ever make. They come to you in no particular order. I hope you'll check them out, if you're not already familiar with them. Enjoy!


1) "Crazy in Love," Beyoncé and Jay-Z
Everyone knows this song. It's inescapable, because Bey and Jay are, arguably, the most powerful couple in the world. Even I'm in awe of it; I included a cover version on last year's playlist. The original is the superior cut, of course, thanks in large part to the raucous horns and the beauty of a real couple sharing the mic.

2) "Long Black Road," Electric Light Orchestra
By far, my favorite part of American Hustle is Christan Bale's character Irving Rosenfeld repeatedly referring to a microwave as a "science oven." But David O. Russell's soundtrack is pretty on-point, as well, including this classic rock cruncher from ELO. Jeff Lynne's voice is perfect here, and the production--from the echoes to the bridge--sounds great, especially on the guitar solos. It's fun to blast on your radio while you drive to work.

3) "Turn the Page," Bob Seger
Speaking of classic rock. The version of this fantastic song I love most is the one recorded at Cobo Hall (linked to here). There are few things more Detroit than that, and in spite of being home for some months now, I still feel I need an injection of the Motor City spirit from time to time.

4) "Deeper and Deeper," Madonna
Raise your hand if you're shocked to find that I'm listening to Madonna. Again. And again. And again. This is a track of hers that isn't as subversive as she'd like to believe, but there's a reason why I love it: singing along, at the very top of my lungs, in the car has gotten me through many trips to/from my retail jobs because of its energy and borderline absurdity. Nothing better than the song that helps you survive, am I right?

5) "Quimney Neuquen (Remix)," José Larralde and Chanca Via Circuito
When I binge-watched all five seasons of Breaking Bad last year, I fell in love with this song. It's the kind of thing you should listen to at night, on a lonely dark road, or possibly when you're in that weird space between waking and sleeping and everything feels so very floaty and unreal. The trance it induces can help you focus or sweep you away. Listen to it right now.

6) "Boomerang," Lucy Schwartz
As disappointed as I was in the quality of the fourth season of Arrested Development (seriously, I can't even talk about how they failed to make anustart work for them), this song--appearing at the end of the last episode--stood out. Apparently Lucy Schwartz also sang the "Mr. F" line during the Little Britain episodes, but this is a much better, if less hilarious, use of her talents. Who hasn't felt this way in a relationship? Besides, the music video is totally worth the watch.

7) "Me and My Broken Heart," Rixton
Not to be all hipster about it, but I loved this song before it was cool. And by that, I mean ever since it was available for free on iTunes, which happened before it was big on the radio. For one thing, you have to respect a band that can find the sweet spot between pop and reggae. For another, you have to respect a band that can make such a catchy song on top of that alchemy. Jam out to this any chance you get.

8) "Goody Goody," Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga
You didn't think I would leave my number one lady off the list, did you? No way. Although this is primarily Bennett's song--and the obvious glee he takes in singing to his former paramour is excellent--Lady Gaga's interjections make the song. "I was confused, you know?" she says, like any excuse-making person would, and we experience pleasure right alongside Bennett.

I invite you all to make your own playlist for the coming year, and share it with me if you're feeling confessional!