osprey_archer: (books)
[personal profile] osprey_archer
Ta-Nehisi Coates' We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy is a depressing book, not because Coates is a pessimist - although Coates is in fact deeply pessimistic - but because, confirmed pessimist though he is, he still wasn't pessimistic enough to believe that Trump could actually win the presidency.

Also, the book is a collection of essays from the Obama era, and just reading them drives home what a different world when live in now. Remember when you didn't have to brace yourself for every single news cycle? When you could be cautiously optimistic that change might be change for the better, rather than bitterly aware that any change will almost certainly be for the worse and the best we can possibly hope for is that nothing changes at all? When the president didn't communicate mainly in the form of embarrassing tweets?

Yeah, I try to block that time out of my mind too. The contrast to today is too painful.

If you can withstand the pain, however, this is a good and thought-provoking book. One thing that has stuck with me (during the month that I have procrastinated in writing this review because of the aforementioned misery factor) is Coates' repeatedly reference to a strand in black conservative thought that looks back nostalgically on segregation, not because segregation per se was so wonderful but because (according to this strand of thought; Coates has doubts that this nostalgia is founded in reality) it's seen as a time of strong community bonds, when outside hostility forced the community to really work together and look out for itself etc. etc.

It reminds me of a bit in Sebastian Junger's book Tribe, when he mentions some recent graffiti in, IIRC, Kosovo: "Things were better when they were really bad." As in, things were better in the old days when we were trapped in a terrible war, because at least then the enemy was outside, and we were all working together within. (I have no idea how well this reflects the objective reality of wartime Kosovo, mind; human memory is malleable.)

It's just striking to me that humans find connection and togetherness so important that these things will, at least in memory, become the most important aspect of a horrible situation. Nothing bonds people like enduring adversity together.

Calamity Jane

Sep. 23rd, 2017 06:42 am
osprey_archer: (Default)
[personal profile] osprey_archer
Last night Julie & I watched Calamity Jane, because we both saw the same tumblr post about how it’s super femslashy. This post is 100% accurate. Of course, it’s still a 1950s musical and so it ends with a double wedding where our gals marry men, but before then, there are definitely some moments (like this, which is not the original tumblr post I saw, but that just goes to show how many super femslashy moments there are in this movie).

There’s also the scene where Calamity Jane stalks into the music hall to warn Katie to get out of town, and Katie responds by grabbing a gun and telling Calam she’ll shoot a glass out of her hand, at which point Calam hesitates, because she knows Katie doesn’t a damn thing about a gun, and Katie taunts her - “Unless you’re scared” - so Calam hoists the glass up, her face set, prepared to meet her death, and Katie shoots…

Actually this scene may be somewhat idiosyncratically appealing, possibly not the best way to sell the movie to potential femslash fans who are not necessarily into “and then they almost killed each other!” Which is apparently my benchmark for an eminently shippable couple in all gender combinations.

Admittedly, Calam is technically warning Katie out of town because Katie Stole Her Man, which probably lowers the femslashiness of it all. But there aren’t many scenes where women shoot at each other because of Friendship Betrayed, I can’t afford to be too picky.

Also, it’s super racist. I probably shouldn't have been surprised, because it's a fifties western & also the real Calamity Jane was a professional Indian fighter, but... I was still surprised.

Show Me Love

Sep. 22nd, 2017 06:40 am
osprey_archer: (cheers)
[personal profile] osprey_archer
Show Me Love is a 1998 Swedish movie about a 15-year-old high school outcast and her crush on one of the most popular girls in school. It sounds totally cliche when I say it like that, but it was so well done (and in 1998, too!) - particularly Agnes the outcast, who was not the sweet sad blameless wish-fulfillment victim type you often see in these things, but hurt and angry in a way that feels very real in that it sometimes leads her to do deeply horrible things.

There’s one scene in particular - Agnes’s mother insists that Agnes have a birthday party. Only one girl shows up, Viktoria, who is also on the bottom of the high school social hierarchy - in her case because she uses a wheelchair. Agnes, in a fit of rage and despair at this party that has done nothing but dramatize what a miserable unloved outcast she is, refuses to accept Viktoria’s present. “We just pretend to be friends because there’s no one else to be with. You know what the most boring thing I’ve ever done is? When you took me to that wheelchair basketball game in Karlstad,” Agnes snarls.

At which point Viktoria turns her wheelchair right around and becomes Agnes’s sworn enemy, fanning the rumors that Agnes is a lesbian - which is 100% understandable, but nonetheless horrible. In fact all the teenage characters are sometimes horrible to each other in a way that would be totally repulsive in an older person, but it so clearly grows out of the fact that they are young and self-absorbed as young people are, and don't quite understand that other people are people yet.

It makes them feel real and sad rather than just straight up awful. And they aren’t just awful: they show sweetness and ludicrous youthful daring, too, like the scene where Agnes and her crush Elin almost run away to Stockholm together on a whim. (They are a little drunk - well, in Elin’s case, a lot drunk - and have not thought this through.) They felt very raw and real.

I was honestly stunned to learn the director was a man - not just because it has none of that male-gazy ickiness I tend to associate with male-directed movies about lesbians - but just because the movie is so clear-eyed and compassionate about teenage girls, even when they’re awful, even when Elin is giving her boyfriend merry hell as she tries to figure her sexuality out.

I’m not 100% convinced Agnes & Elin will last, but I do believe that they’ll have a fantastic, fascinating, sometimes brutal time dating, and that’s all I need from a movie about young teenagers. They don’t necessarily need to have found the loves of their lives; a love for right now is just fine.

Mistress America

Sep. 21st, 2017 07:04 am
osprey_archer: (Default)
[personal profile] osprey_archer
I was SUPER excited to see Mistress America, because it stars Greta Gerwig, who is also the star of my beloved Frances Ha - and I figured that once I’d shown Julie one Gerwig movie, it would be a piece of cake to win her over to another, am I right?

I should have started with Frances Ha. Mistress America is not a bad movie, but it’s also not a particularly successful one. It’s a character drama where the characters are a little too stylized to seem quite real, but not stylized enough for that stylization to create its own pocket reality where you just go along with it.

In short, it’s stylized enough to feel awkward. It’s too awkward even for Gerwig, who makes awkwardness into an art form in Frances Ha. At times her character Brooke, a 30-year-old aspiring New Yorker on the cusp of failure, seems almost like a parody of Frances - or at least a parody of something. “I know I'm funny. I know everything about myself. That's why I can't do therapy,” Brooke explains, encapsulating her own lack of self-awareness just a little too neatly

On the other hand, there are also times when Gerwig hits the emotional beats just right. “You can’t really know what it is to want things until you’re at least thirty,” Brooke lectures her soon-to-be stepsister Tracy, a lonely college freshman. “And then with each passing year, it gets bigger… because the want is more, and the possibility is less.”

Still relentlessly self-absorbed, but it also hits on something painful and true about Brooke’s desperation. She doesn’t so much lack self-awareness as push it away, because looking her life squarely in the face would mean admitting that she’s drowning.

Gerwig looms over the movie, but I would be remiss if I didn’t give props to her co-star Lola Kirke, who plays Tracy - young and vulnerable, yet also a would-be puppetmaster, sharply observant but at the same time incredibly emotionally clueless. The night after she first meets Brooke, Tracy writes a character study that is a poisonously vicious homage.

And it really is both those things at once. She admires Brooke tremendously - she’s so exuberant and outgoing and fun! Tracy’s own platonic manic pixie dream girl, plucking her out of her lonely inhibited life! - but also recognizes that Brooke’s basically a failure, not a viable model to follow. There’s an attraction and a repulsion and of course when Brooke reads it - of course she gets her hands on it; no one in movies can ever hide anything properly - all she sees is that viciousness.

There’s a good movie in here. Tracy and Brooke’s friendship is fascinating, both before and after it crashes and burns. Unfortunately it’s just a little too clever for its own good, and obscures its merits.

Wednesday Reading Meme

Sep. 20th, 2017 09:07 am
osprey_archer: (books)
[personal profile] osprey_archer
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Elizabeth Wein’s The Pearl Thief, which features exuberant spoilers )

What I’m Reading Now

At last I started The Ordinary Acrobat and I’m quite enjoying it! I had not realized that a memoir about attending a circus school was a thing that I wanted in my life, but it totally is and it’s just as fascinating as it sounds. And also it has made me want to learn how to juggle.

I found myself pining for the bucolic world of Miss Read, so I went ahead and borrowed the last two Miss Reads in my mother’s collection: Thrush Green and Winter in Thrush Green. Will I be forced to turn to the library to supplement my Miss Read needs? Perhaps! Although probably I should give James Herriot a try first - I think he’s got a similar thing going on in his tales of life as a country vet, in the quirkily amusing yet tranquil English countryside.

What I Plan to Read Next

Now that I’ve almost finished reading down my pile of books-I-own-but-haven’t-read, I’ve decided that it’s time to make some serious progress on my to-read list. Perhaps Emily Arsenault’s The Leaf Reader? I quite enjoyed her earlier novelThe Broken Teaglass, and it sent me on a fruitful search for more mystery novels about unraveling literary puzzles. Or maybe some more Jon Krakauer…

I’ve already borrowed Sara Pennypacker’s Summer of the Gypsy Moths from the library, though, so probably I will read that first.

Brooklyn

Sep. 19th, 2017 10:00 pm
osprey_archer: (shoes)
[personal profile] osprey_archer
"So this is how General Hux started his multi-incarnation descent into evil," Julie commented, as we watched Brooklyn, which features the actor who plays Hux in the decidedly un-Hux-like role of Jim Farrell, the leading lady's other man who gets his heart broken because otherwise the film would descend into bigamy. Bigamy is not charming, and Brooklyn is all about charm.

And also clothes. The costumes are gorgeous and if that is a thing you are into, it's well worth watching them for the beautiful fifties fashions alone.

Young Eilis, unable to find work in Ireland, immigrates to New York. At first she struggles to adjust, but with the help of the priest who sponsored her immigration - and a lucky meeting with an Italian-American boy, Tony - she begins to settle in. But just when she and Tony are beginning to get serious, a family tragedy drags her back to Ireland. She pauses only long enough to marry Tony in City Hall before she goes.

Well, okay, people do jump into hasty decisions in times of stress, and also Eilis wears a simply smashing orange suit for the wedding, so I suppose we can allow. But this rather drains the tension out of the latter half of the movie. Even if Eilis wants to stay in Ireland - and there are certainly many arguments in its favor! - she can't without committing bigamy, and in the end that forces her back.

And it really does force her back: someone in her hometown learns about her marriage, and attempts to blackmail Eilis, which makes Eilis leave on the next boat. There's no "it's nice to be back home in Ireland with my best friend, who has introduced me to Jim Farrel who is kind and attentive and stands to inherit a swell house, and also I've been offered a job I'd like in the field I've been studying... but I really love Tony, so I'm going home to Brooklyn." No. She leaves because she's checkmated.

And I'm not sure she really does love Tony, anyway. I think she loves the fact that she's not lonely when she's with him, that he's helped her feel at home in Brooklyn - but the first time he says "I love you," she completely freezes, and even later on she can't say it naturally, she has to work up to it through "I like you" first.

Now possibly this is just emotional repression but... eh. She falls in with Jim Farrell so quickly once she's back in Ireland. And she doesn't even read Tony's letters. He's spending so much money on airmail, Eilis! Why did you marry him if you were just going to stick his letters in a drawer?

On the other hand Tony is super in love with her and generally pretty nice, so hopefully once she's back in Brooklyn she'll settle down and they'll have a happy life together despite their rocky beginning. (And meanwhile, Jim Farrell will begin his descent toward space Nazism.)

Caldecott Monday: Smoky Night

Sep. 18th, 2017 08:51 pm
osprey_archer: (books)
[personal profile] osprey_archer
The Caldecott award winners - indeed, picture books in general - often seem to float in a gentle timeless world untouched by history, or at least only brushed by the brighter and more beautiful parts of it. It's a peaceful place, picture book land, a pleasant respite.

This is not true of the 1995 Caldecott winner, Smoky Night, which was inspired by the Los Angeles riots in 1992 (although the riot within the book has no specific location). The two year turnaround time (Caldecott winners are selected from the books published the year before the award is given) makes the riots a red hot topical reference in picture book terms.

It's, well, it's a very 90s take on race relations. If only we all get to know each other, maybe we can all get along! Well, maybe. This seems a little too pat to me - it all ties up too neatly with a bow at the end.

On the other hand, it may be asking too much to expect a picture book to explain systemic racism to five-year-olds.

The illustrations are acrylic, thick black outlines filled in with heavy dark colors, and mixed media collages for the backgrounds. It isn't a style I particularly like: there's something upsetting about the teal & purple palette David Diaz used for the faces, although I understand that he probably didn't want to commit to races for all the characters. But the collages are definitely striking (there's one with broken glass; another with crumbled dry cleaner clothes, still in the bags), and quite unlike anything I've seen in other picture books.

Mary Poppins

Sep. 17th, 2017 05:23 pm
osprey_archer: (cheers)
[personal profile] osprey_archer
A busy weekend! I've had work & work & more work, but on Friday evening I went to the Artcraft to see Mary Poppins on the big screen - arriving just in the nick of time, still dressed in my Starbucks clothes (all in black), only for Julie to drag me backstage and pop a newsboy cap on my head and propel me on stage with a group of her cosplaying friends to play chimney sweeps.

So that was fun. I looked quite fetching in the newsboy cap if I do say so myself; I may need to buy one.

And Mary Poppins was delightful, of course! Naturally I've seen it before - my favorite bit as a child was the part where they jump into the chalk paintings - but it's been quite a long time so it was great to see it again. And on the big screen! Jumping into a chalk painting is even more delightful on the big screen!

I also enjoyed how willing the movie is to meander off on digressions: it stops dead for the penguin dance, or Mary Poppins riding her carousel horse in the ascot, or the laughing disease that makes people float. Well, I suppose that is plot relevant, but the length of the sequence is not strictly necessary - but it is fun, and the fact that the movie includes things just because they're fun gives the movie room to breathe. I feel that movies rarely allow themselves to digress the same way anymore - although Moana did have that coconut pirate sequence, which strictly speaking was totally superfluous except for being super nifty.

***

In preparation for Mary Poppins, we watched Saving Mr. Banks, which is about the making of Mary Poppins. It stars Emma Thompson as P. L. Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins books, who through financial necessity has at last been forced to accept Walt Disney's entreaties to make a movie based on her books. She insists on supervising the script writing and is breath-takingly, fascinatingly cranky.

(One of the songwriters limps, and eventually Travers demands, "What is wrong with his leg?"

"He got shot," says his fellow songwriter.

Travers, without missing a beat: "Hardly surprising.")

I enjoyed Saving Mr. Banks, but it made me really, really want to read a good nonfiction book about the making of Mary Poppins. I suspect that Saving Mr. Banks had to tone it down to make it believable, and I want all the bizarre and ridiculous deets.

Book Review: White Gold

Sep. 15th, 2017 08:09 am
osprey_archer: (books)
[personal profile] osprey_archer
I requested Susan Falls’ White Gold: Stories of Breast Milk Sharing from Netgalley because the topic fascinated me: informal breast milk sharing networks in the United States. That part of the book is interesting, and there’s also some information about breast milk traditions in other parts of the world that I found interesting too (did you know that in some Arab countries, unrelated children who are breastfed by the same woman become milk siblings?), but unfortunately I didn’t enjoy the book as a whole.

There are two reasons for this. The first is simply that the book is not written in a style that appeals to me. I have a low tolerance for jargon and for intensive theorizing, and this book is all about jargon, and often uses the topic of breast milk sharing networks as a springboard to theorize about, say, the nature of agency. There is a place where Falls stops dead to consider whether she ought to consider whether breast milk itself has agency, before mercifully concluding that this question is beyond remit of her book.

I’m sure there are people who find this sort of thing fascinating, although personally I always feel that this sort of thing shows either a dangerously loose grasp of the theory of agency, or possibly that agency itself has become so loosely defined that it’s no longer a useful concept.

The other problem - which I think is an actual problem with the book, rather than a problem with me as a reader for this book - is that Falls is so deeply embedded in a particular perspective on social justice that she never notices her actual prejudices. She is stunned to discover that many breast milk donors in the American South are conservative white Christians - she mentions multiple times how much this surprised her - but it never seems to occur to her that she ought to interrogate her own surprise, or for that matter to investigate why breast milk donation would be an appealing prospect for many conservative white Christian women.

Surely these questions are at least as important and interesting as the possible agency of breast milk.

Book Review: Bayou Magic

Sep. 14th, 2017 09:12 am
osprey_archer: (books)
[personal profile] osprey_archer
”I’ve got another one. Another saying. ‘Planting seeds grows happiness.’”

C’est vrai.” Grandmere starts rocking again, her lips upturned.

I think but don’t say:
Sometimes bad happens.

Sayings come from observing the world. As true as the sun rises and sets, bad
is. That’s what I’ve learned.

Oil and salt destroy land. A bird’s wing gets broken. A turtle gets eaten by a gator.

Mami Wata couldn’t stop Membe being captured as a slave.


This quote does not entirely capture Jewell Parker Rhodes’ Bayou Magic - the book is more hopeful than this excerpt really expresses - but it does capture the rhythm and the cadence of the book, the darkness that hangs just beyond the light of the fireflies Maddy’s grandmother teaches her to summon. There is light and beauty and magic in this book, but these things can only hope to hold back the badness, to make it bearable, not to defeat it.

I was curious how Rhodes would combine a “girl meets magic” storyline with African-American history without either getting losing the wish-fulfillment aspects that make this sort of story fun, or else getting too wish-fulfillment-y which would require straight-up ignoring the ugly parts of history. In fact, she finds an excellent balance between the two - with room to spare for beautiful passages about the bayou and the mermaids, which both seem to get more magical through their association with each other.

This is the third book in a series (I’m not sure how tightly connected the series is; they might just be connected by the premise, “African-American heroines in Louisiana + magic”), and now I want to go back and read the first two.

Wednesday Reading Meme

Sep. 13th, 2017 09:06 am
osprey_archer: (books)
[personal profile] osprey_archer
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I finished Edna Ferber’s Great Son, which remained disappointing right up until the end. The misogyny remains strong to the last page, and she doesn’t even do anything interesting with her Japanese characters. There are some vague feints in an anti-racist direction: the one openly racist character is Vaughn’s prudish wife, who we are supposed to despise, and in response to one of her complaints about “Those Japs are all alike,” Vaughn mutters, “Nobody’s all alike.”

But the son of the Japanese family attempts to steal Vaughn’s grandson’s plane on the morning of Pearl Harbor, presumably with the intent of… flying to Hawaii to join in? Suicide bombing Boeing? WHO KNOWS. In any case he fails, and soon after the family is “whisked away to a secret place,” at which point Vaughn’s wife trumpets “didn’t I always say I always felt there was something I never did trust?” - and that’s the end of it.

I also finished Nancy Bond’s A String in the Harp, which I enjoyed in a mild way, although I was disappointed that neither of Peter’s sisters ever get to see any visions from Peter’s magical harp key. Well, I guess they sort of do, because the visions start spilling over into the real world - most notably in the form of a wolf who slides out of time into modern-day Wales and has to be hunted down - and I did really like that aspect of the key’s magic, actually, that blurring of times. But still. The girls’ role is to believe or disbelieve and neither of them gets to see.

What I’m Reading Now

Julia L. Sauer’s Fog Magic, which I might have read before. I remember reading - something - about a girl who found magical adventure by walking into a fog bank - and this might be that story; and yet it doesn’t seem quite the same, the details don’t really match what I remember, and it doesn’t feel familiar to me as I read.

Does anyone else know of another book about a girl walking into the fog and finding something magical? Or is my memory just playing tricks on me?

What I Plan to Read Next

I’ve almost finished the Unread Book Club! There are only three left: Duncan Wall’s The Ordinary Acrobat: A Journey into the Wondrous World of the Circus, Past and Present, Elyne Mitchell’s The Silver Brumby, and Dorothy Sayers’ Busman’s Honeymoon. Victory is within my grasp!

Although it has occurred to me that I have a whole nother box of hundred-year-old books that I inherited from my grandmother that I still haven’t touched. Maybe those will be my project for next year.

Book Review: The Long Hangover

Sep. 12th, 2017 08:54 am
osprey_archer: (books)
[personal profile] osprey_archer
I liked Shaun Walker’s The Long Hangover: Putin’s New Russia and the Ghosts of the Past, but in a mild sort of way: I finished it over a week ago and it’s already fading out of my mind.

Two things that stuck with me. First, there’s a part where Walker is talking about Chechnya, and comments in amazement on the number of Chechens who serve in the Russian armed forced - even though Stalin deported the entire Chechen nation during World War II, even though Russia has leveled Grozny twice since the end of the Soviet Union.

When you put it that way it does sound surprising. But then, Native Americans serve in the US military in high numbers (I just learned this in Onigamiising), despite having a similarly harrowing history with that institution - and it struck me that perhaps these things seems baffling only if you look at them from a certain angle, if you assume that joining the military is a reflection of burning patriotism or at least some enthusiasm for a country, when really sometimes it’s just a job, an opportunity, maybe the only opportunity for someone living in a marginalized community.

No one thinks you have to have a burning love of McDonalds to start flipping burgers, after all.

The other thing that struck me is the total failure of empathy in the West vis-a-vis the collapse of the Soviet Union. My impression is that the American assumption was that everyone in the USSR would react about the same way as, say, Poland, where the Soviets were viewed as an invading power and their withdrawal caused celebration.

But outside of eastern Europe (which only came into the Soviet sphere post-World War II in any case), most people didn’t see it that way: they saw their own government and way of life collapsing, national purpose and identity crushed, with nothing to replace it but a kleptocratic oligarchy, and meanwhile the West looked on in bafflement and said “You’ve got democracy now! Why aren’t you rejoicing?”
osprey_archer: (books)
[personal profile] osprey_archer
Allen Say's Grandfather's Journey, which won the Caldecott Medal in 1994, was probably not written expressively for the purpose of repudiating the 1941 winner, Robert Lawson's They Were Strong and Good - but as they are both Caldecott medalists, it does sort of work that way.

They are the same kind of book, both windows onto American history through the medium of the author's own family history - but these windows offer very different views. In They Were Strong and Good diversity needs to be quelled, tamed, by white supremacy, whereas in Grandfather's Journey it's something to be greeted, even welcomed. In his journey, Say's grandfather "shook hands with black men and white men, with yellow men and red men."

And of course Say's grandfather was himself a Japanese man who immigrated to America, which is in itself a celebration of diversity - to present this is a quintessentially American story, the immigrant who comes to this nation and goes on a cross-country trip and marvels at the marvelous weathered rock formations, the amber waves of grain, the towering mountains and mighty factories and gorgeous trains.

Edna Ferber actually has a similar passage in Great Son, where a German Jewish refugee marvels at the natural beauty and industrial strength of America. Say is drawing on a tradition: the immigrant who becomes an American by falling in love with the country.

(And, because Say's family returned to Japan before World War II, the Japanese internment camps never come up. Say grows up hearing stories about beautiful California, and the family is about to visit, but then "a war began. Bombs fell from the sky and scattered our lives like leaves in a storm." So it is not until the postwar years that he goes to California, and "came to love the land my grandfather had loved.")

The text is poetic, as I think the above excerpts illustrate - gentle, thoughtful - and the illustrations share in that gentleness and tranquility. Many of them are composed like studio portraits, the subject looking straight at the camera/viewer, which sounds like it ought to be boring or static but instead is just - peaceful.

Profile

konstantya: (Default)
konstantya

June 2017

S M T W T F S
    123
4567 8910
11121314151617
18192021222324
252627282930 

Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Sep. 25th, 2017 04:10 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios