Dear Readers,

I now consider this blog to be my Juvenelia. Have fun perusing the archives, and find me at my new haunt, here.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hard to put a unique spin on such a classic book, so I'll just write some scattered observations. First of all, it's true that the book starts off slow. It's frustrating, because from the moment he appears Tom Joad is such an amazingly likeable hero that it's hard to stop following his story, as Steinbeck wants us to, in order to slow down and focus on the intermittent chapters that tell the broader dustbowl/migrant tale, as beautiful as the prose is. That having been said, it's so worth pushing on because the momentum builds up to a stunning end.

I read somewhere that TGOW with its two heroes is a perfect combination of two nineteenth century strains in American literature: the domestic feminine "Little Women" strain with Ma keeping the family together and showing a sort of womanly stalwart courage, and Tom being the Huck Finnish hero setting off to find freedom and fight the oppressive social order. Their alliance and love and understanding is an unexpectedly personal and moving part of this broad-sweeping book, and their ultimate separation all the more devastating.

As a huge fan of the Springsteen song "Ghost of Tom Joad" and a fan of literary history I knew all about Tom's climactic speech to his mom before he goes on the run, but when the moment finally came I didn't expect to burst into tears. But I did, because of the severing of this beautiful relationship Steinbeck had drawn.

The last thing I'll add is that this book sorta suffers from the same whitewashing syndrome as The Great Gatsby. People say things like "Those Joads, they just kept going through all those hard times" just as they use Gatsby's green light as, like, a great thing that all Americans should strive for! No, no, no. Our best literature pierces the rotten and greedy American heart. This book is about tough Americans during tough times, yes, but really it is the best-written, most humanistic, and masterful piece of anti-capitalist venom/ Commie agitprop I've ever read. It's incredibly timely, too, so if you're like me and you weren't assigned this in high school now's the moment to read it.

View all my reviews >>

[Now that I've read this, Catch-22 and Moby Dick the next books on my Great American novel list are:
Native Son, Brave New World and Slaughterhouse-Five.]

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Question of the Week: Insta-Chick Lit Novel, Clever or Cruel?

(The extremely talented) Slate legal reporter Dahlia Lithwick is writing a DIY Chick Lit novel called "Saving Face" with the help of the site's commenters. It draws on the chick-lit formula and her experience with the legal world.

When the project started, here's what Lithwick wrote:

After much thought, I decided that the best genre for me to attempt is post-Bridget Jones, oops-there's-my-underwear-on-the-outside-again chick lit—because I'm a sucker for it and also because it seems slightly more doable than vampire erotica, about which I could not hope to become an expert in a matter of weeks. (For years, the joke around my house has been that there are two stacks of books on my side of the bed: One pile is about torture, Guantanamo, and military tribunals. The other is bright pink.) I am fully aware of the raging battles between those who take pink books seriously and those who do not. This project seeks to sidestep that entire literary debate by being fun for its own sake.
The novel is kinda fun and it really captures the "pink"/mom-lit tone astoundingly well.

So what do you think, readers? A fun, interactive way to keep fiction relevant in the age of the internet? Or an affront to those of us slaving over our own fictional projects without the big name projection board that is I'd vote for the former, but as a fiction-writer dabbler and sometimes more, one can't help feeling a teeny bit stung by the seemingly blithe ease of it all.

Google Reader Roundup: Banned Books Week

Also, a belated Shanah Tovah to my tribesmen and women readers. Here's a rundown of what folks on my blogroll are saying during this time of anti-censorship action:

Mapping Banned Books in the U.S.
As that interactive map shows, book banning is a problem all over the United States. If you want to find out which books were banned recently, check out a PDF copy of Books Challenged or Banned in 2007-2008 list and Time Magazine's top ten l...
from GalleyCat -
It's Banned Books Week
...middle of Banned Books Week, an event sponsored by the American Library Assn., the American Publishers Assn. and others. This year, they've launched an interactive map that shows which books were officially banned or challenged, and where, in 2008. Southern California seems to be pretty tolerant when it comes to literature. The only challeng...
from Jacket Copy -

Happy Banned Books Week! [Book It]
You might want to check the American Library Association's list of frequently challenged books, which includes everything from To Kill A Mockingbird to Harry Potter to Beloved. [ALA]
from Jezebel -

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Trying to Decode the Sookie Stackhouse Appeal

(image credit:

This is going to count as my review of Living Dead in Dallas, Club Dead and Dead to the world--and then I'll check in later on when I finish the series.

Details I loved in these books, in shorthand so as not to give spoilers: Eric, Eric and more Eric who is funnier and less cruel than in True Blood. Alcide and Debbie Pelt, two characters I cannot wait to see next season. Sam Merlotte. The hotshot community. The development of the Pam character. Portia Bellefleur.

Now that I'm almost halfway done with these books, I've revised my opinion a little bit. After the first book left me amused, but a bit cold, I waited until the first season of True Blood was over to try the second book. Well that--and the next two--were a pleasant surprise, totally hooked me in and have since been sucking me in with an intensity which almost touches a Twilight-binge--without the self-loathing but also without the really pulpy, breathless prose. I've been powering through each one in about 3 to 4 straight hours.

What amazes me is how similar Sookie's tale is to Bella Swan's, with two huge and notable exceptions: sex and the heroine's personality. Sookie is a randy, sassy woman who likes to get bitten, with a killer instinct--where Bella is a chaste cipher, its true. But they share an outsidery perspective and a sad home life, and the excitement in both their stories comes from being constantly battered, ending up in the hospital or locked up somewhere in a Nancy Drew-like situation, and toted around like a sack of potatoes by a bunch of brawny male supernatural beings. (They both take Vampire horseback err, piggy-back rides, for instance.) They both have dueling love interests fighting over them, and their primary attraction has to do with telepathy.

Of course the tone of both series is different: Sookie's story is funny and kooky, wherein lies much of its appeal. More and more wacky supernatural creatures keep popping into the universe and unlike JK Rowling's world, this one feels like it's just being made up on the fly, but there's something rather endearing and funny about that. Twilight of course, has a wry humor but is mostly very. serious. in an adolescent way.

All of this leads me to think that the time is very, very ripe for a vampire-lit satire. I'll get on that after I read 5 more Sookie Stackhouse books.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

George W Bush did not heart Harry Potter

Check this out, via my google reader:

Think Progress » Bush Officials Objected To Awarding Medal To J.K. Rowling Because Harry Potter Books Promote Witchcraft: "

In his new book, Speechless: Tales of a White House Survivor, former Bush speechwriter Matt Latimer reveals how politicized the revered Presidential Medal of Freedom became during the Bush administration.

Latimer writes that administration officials objected to giving author J.K. Rowling the Presidential Medal of Freedom because her writing “encouraged witchcraft” (p. 201):

This was the same sort of narrow thinking that led people in the White House to actually object to giving the author J.K. Rowling a presidential medal because the Harry Potter books encouraged witchcraft.

Not exactly shocking, but appalling nonetheless, no?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Weighty Tomes Vs. Blithe Beach Reads

They're having a debate at EW's new Shelf Life blog about high-brow vs. low-brow literature, inspired by some public feuding on the subject by well-known authors such as Philip Pullman and John Grisham. It's worth reading the entire thread, mostly because it reveals the average internet commenter to possess more wisdom about the subject than their counterparts with many a published novel under their belts.

And for the record, EBCs love high-brow lit than entertains, low-brow lit that inspires, and everything above, below and in between.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Bright Star

BRIGHT star! would I were steadfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night,
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like Nature’s patient sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task 5
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No—yet still steadfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast, 10
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.

So as I tweeted, my HLP and I went to see an evening show of Bright Star last Thursday night; with us in the theater, most of the neighborhood's over-60 population and a few other young folks.

Well, the movie lives up to the hype, readers, particularly if you are a poetry fan. Its pace is reminiscent of Brokeback Mountain, slow and deliberate, with a lingering touch and gorgeous use of landscape (and in this case, interiors) as reflection and comment on the emotions running through the film. The acting was phenomenal. Ben Whishaw was a believable Keats--wiry and intense and brilliant but with a sense of humor and also a detachment from the world he writes about, a ghostlike quality that prefigures his soon-to-be fragile condition. It's important to see him as a real person, one who eats and plays and is occasionally petulant and childish despite his genius, while also seeing him as one of the Greats--and Whishaw and Campion do this perfectly.

This otherwordliness of Keats is counterbalanced by his very earthy lady love, Fanny Brawne, played by Abbie Cornish. And yes, she is as good as everyone says. Fanny is not just a typical "spunky" period-drama heroine but also an eccentric, vulnerable, curious young woman. The ruffled collars she makes for herself are both lovely and ridiculous, and so is she. From their first encounters, it's clear that she and "Mr. Keats" share something the rest of the world does not: a deeply passionate outlook on, well, everything. And her relationship with her family, subtly-drawn, is extremely touching. There are glimpses of her mother which reveal why Fanny grew up to be as boldly unique and uncaring about social convention as she was.

Bright Star treats Keats' poetry with respect and refrains from too many winking nudges to its literate viewers. Unlike Becoming Jane, set in the same period, it doesn't posit Fanny as Keats' only muse or the source of his genius or even the source of any of his good lines, which is a wise choice on Campion's part. It does suggest that "Bright Star" was "her" poem, but Fanny is surprised to hear it when Keats recites it to her. It also gently exposes how young and melodramatic its lovers are without mocking them for being that way.

"Bright Star" explores what it takes to love, and lose, a great and doomed artist--yes, we all know how it ends. Bring your hankies, but don't fail to see it--it's one of the great ones.

Little Dorrit Cleans Up At The Emmys (#littledorrit)

Weren't you all just chuffed to see the miniseries which we all used to watch in the dear departed days now long forgotten (Clenham and Doyce) win so many awards?

Charleybrown at Enchanted Serenity of Period Films has the breakdown of Emmy wins, while my tweep Deane aka Kafkatronic points out that more women-behind-the-screen came out to accept wins for "Little Dorrit' than practically all the American shows put together. Good point! She's a damn fine woman with no bigad nonsense about her.

Here's how to rent it at Netflix.

And learn more about it/ buy it at the PBS store.

And be sure to count to five-and-twenty whenever you are vexed!

PS. Does anyone out there have a recording 0r youtube link of the opening credits music which played so hauntingly everytime someone won an award last night?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Where Men Win Glory

As you guys all know, I've been fascinated by Jon Krakauer's work for a long time. I grabbed his new book about Pat Tillman the day it came out, and here I am reviewing it for Alternet:

Inside Pat Tillman's Life, and the Bush Administration's Cover-Up of His Death: "

Journalist Jon Krakauer's striking new book on the story of the events surrounding Pat Tillman's death in Afghanistan covers the emotional depths of war and government cover-up.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Jamaica Inn, at long last

You're a queer girl, Mary Yellan.

Jamaica Inn is, in these parts at least, often the second-most visible DuMaurier novel, partially because of the mass market paperback seen above and the Hitchcock film.

The story of young, spunky, head-on-her shoulders Mary Yellan who get sent to live in the titular inn with her frightened aunt and demonic uncle shares some Rebecca's obsessions: tall dark men with horrible secrets, the balance of power in marriage, the brutal and evocative Cornwall coast, the role of women in a man's world. But unlike Rebecca, which transcends genre to be something more than the sum of its parts, this book is exactly what it's advertised to be: a romantic thriller that's fun to read and leaves you with striking images, but not a profound, earth-shattering story.

When the recently-bereft young Mary arrives at Jamaica Inn, shunned by all the surrounding countryside, she finds the place deserted, firghtened by the specter of drunk, angry, uncle who has totally cowed her once-young and merry aunt Patience. After a lot of snooping, eavesdropping, and picking up on rumors, she realizes that the inn is a front for some very evil activities that only begun at smuggling. Meanwhile, Mary befriends an albino priest and flirts with Jem, the sheep-stealing younger brother of her uncle who appears to be no less rascally, but perhaps more upright at the core, than his cursed sibling.

As the sharp and brave Mary gets more and more entwined in her uncles' schemes, she risks losing her heart--and maybe even her life. DuMaurier writes with evocative, gripping prose and serves up a few big plot twists that I will avoid spoiling. However I will say that I TOTALLY called them early on, and you probably will too--but that didn't make it any less fun to read. And the ending has a twist of ambiguity to it that hearkens back to the Jane Eyre/Rebecca paradigm and actually gave me food for thought.

This is a perfect book for a rainy day, which is all it will take you to get through it. I recommend it for an afternoon when you want to be swept back to dark, drizzly moors, echoing empty inns, and a far more dangerous time for plucky young women recently orphaned.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

you must read

EBC heroine Janet Maslin's review of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol. Read it now. It will make you smile.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Beatles Confront the Chink In Shakespeare's Comic Wall

Since 9/9/09 is totally Beatles day.

H/t to swvl--here are the Beatles doing Pyramus and Thisbe from "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

One of the things that convinces me of the multifaceted genius of the Bard is how funny this play within a play is, no matter who's acting in it.

Lost in Austen

UPDATE: Friend of the EBC gettsr offers her own interpretation of "LIA," in which she delves into the postmodern implications of the miniseries. We must be psychic.

I'd heard lots about this over the fangirl network when it initially aired and despite the snark, I decided to watch the last 3 episodes, which were re-run on Ovation a few weekends ago.

For those who don't know the premise--Amanda Price, modern girl and Jane fanatic, steps into Pride and Prejudice, switching places with Eliza Bennet who enters modern London. Amanda finds the characters not quite as solid as Jane Austen prepares her for--they seem to have minds of their own. She desperately tries to keep things running as Pride and Prejudice would have her, meanwhile struggling with her own feelings about Mr. Darcy. But when zombies show up at Netherfield err, Mr. Collins gets hitched with Jane, the book goes out the window and our modern heroine, Ms. Price, is left trying to keep things from being a colossal catastrophe, to say nothing of as smooth as an Austen plot.

Well, to sum it up: the dialogue and action are so far from period-appropriate it's a joke, there are all kinds of weird Shakespearean and other random literary and philosophical allusions thrown in for no reason, and absolute havoc is wreaked on one of the most perfectly crafted, if not the most perfectly crafted, plot in literary history. Also, the characters travel in their wagons from Netherfield to Longbourn to Rosings to Pemberly and back again so quickly as to render it absurd, and the plot moves just as briskly. It's a hot mess.

But it still works, it really does. It works because the actors are heartfelt and give sweet performances, particularly the hunky (and I mean hunky) Eliot Cowan as a somewhat more earthy Darcy, Jemima Rooper as Amanda Price, and the exquisite Tom Riley as a most rascally and loveable Wickham. And it's a meditation on our fictional friends, the characters we think we know and understand, who, if given flesh and blood, might be much more slippery than we think.

Any way, it's worth a diverting, distracting, chuckle-worthy view for those who don't mind their pristine classics being trampled on in the name of fun and entertainment and a little philosophizing, too.

(Warning: spoiler-iffic video)

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Autumn's in the air

and I'm back, or I'm going to try to be, after a long late-summer hiatus. I've seen most of my EBC readers on the twitterwaves, but I've been remiss on the blog :)

To be blogged:
  • -Lost in Austen
  • -Inspector Lewis
  • -The Grapes of Wrath
  • -Jamaica Inn
  • -Mad Men

  • and other literary goings-on. What have you all been occupying yourself with at summer's end?