Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Book Review: Bossypants by Tina Fey

Let's just get the gushing out of the way right off the bat.  I. LOVE. THIS. WOMAN.  Seriously, love love love love love Tina Fey.  It cannot be said enough.

The book was pretty good, too.  Okay, the book was phenomenal, everything I'd hoped when I put it on hold at the library all those weeks ago, and more.  Not only was it bursting at the seams with bite-sized doses of Fey's self-deprecating wit, there was actually some genuinely poignant advice to be found in its pages.

Of the things I learned in reading this, about Tina and about life, these are a few of the things that stood out:

1.  She made the best of a lot of crappy jobs before hitting it big, and now she gets to do her dream job, every day.  I am simultaneously envious and extremely inspired by this.

2.  She has a surprisingly healthy and, frankly, kind of awesome relationship with her parents, and especially her father, who earns a whole chapter dedicated to him.  He's old school and sounds like kind of a hard-ass at times, but rather than resent that she talks about how she's come to understand and respect it.  I know better than most that it can be hard to accept your parents for who they are, but seeing someone who's done that so well is a really nice change.

3.  She genuinely has no idea how gorgeous she is.  Seriously, there are a ton of us girls (yes, most of us nerds, but that's beside the point) who would kill to be a petite brunette firecracker who can pull off thick-framed glasses better than just about anyone who's not a 65 year old man.  Her "beauty tips" are self-deprecating and hilarious, and for me it's a confirmation that no, she doesn't take her looks too seriously, and she has no intent to do so.  As a movie star, that's a pretty darn admirable trait.

4.  She shares my love of/adoration for/worship of Amy Poehler.  Except coming from her it's not as borderline creepy, since you know, they're actually friends in real life.  But seriously, reading and hearing these two talk about how much they admire each other is such a breath of fresh air from all the Hollywood ladies constantly bickering with one another, and I LOVE it.  And it reminds me of the great friendships I've had, currently have, and hope to have as I get older and move forward in the world.

5.  She balances the mom/fun scale.  I know some women who try too hard to be Supermom, and the result is that they're tense and marginally crazy all the time.  On the flip side, I know women who try way too hard to be "cool" moms, and thus are terrible at the actual parenting side of things.  From what Tina writes about here, it's clear that she's made striking a balance a priority.  There are very few celebrity children that I foresee growing up to be well-adjusted individuals, but I'm pretty sure her daughter (and future child) will be among that minority.

6.  She really is a fantastic writer.  I've known for years that she could write amazing, hilarious things for television, but that doesn't always translate to ability to write a full-length book.  And yet, I picked this up and didn't put it down for the two hours it took me to read, because it just flew by.  The prose is as crisp and unembellished as the episodic style we usually see from her, and mixed in with the humor and interest naturally occurring in the stories she tells, it just plain works.  If this woman wanted to write anything else-- novel, comic book, toaster operation manual-- you can bet that I would be first in line to read it.

If you're still reading this post, then you are wasting valuable time you could be spending reading Bossypants.  Go do that instead.  I promise it'll be worth it.

Magic Movie Moments with Harry, Part 2: Chamber of Secrets

This is probably my least favorite of the film adaptations, just because it is long and feels long, which for any film is not a good sign.  It stays pretty faithful to the book, but of course this is also my least favorite book of the series.  However, Chamber of Secrets is not without some truly magical scenes, and I've managed to compile a handful of the gems it offers here.

Watch Out for That Tree! 
Remember that time Harry and Ron thought they could fly a car all the way to Hogwarts, even though neither of them had a driver's license?  I do.  And it was a disaster.  Also, they hit, as Ron glibly put it, "the one tree that hits back."  Way to go, boys.  You know if Hermione had been around, none of this fuckery would have happened.

Ron Eats Slugs for Hermione
Speaking of Hermione, Chamber of Secrets is where we get a look at how poorly some of the wizarding population treats our favorite bushy-haired know-it-all (incidentally, is there any character with so very many hyphenated descriptors, usually used all at once?).  Malfoy calls Hermione a "mudblood," which is a HUGE no-no in human conversation (Malfoy, of course, being at least part troll, or perhaps fairy).  But because Harry has no idea what's going down during this conversation, it's one Ron Weasley who steps up to the proverbial plate and tries to curse Malfoy.  And as these things tend to go for the lovable ginger, it backfires horribly.  We are then subjected to minutes of Ron regurgitating large slimy slugs, and Rupert Grint's crowning moment in this film.

Harry and Ron Go Undercover 
You know that Harry and Ron's twelve year old boy brains were just going nuts with excitement over this little scheme, cooked up by Hermione (of course).  Yes, she does all the grunt work, brewing the Polyjuice Potion and accidentally turning herself into a cat, but it's Harry and Ron who get to take on the personae of Crabbe and Goyle, Malfoy's beefy sidekicks, and make a trip to the Slytherin common room.  They fail at getting any answers out of Draco (though in true Rowling fashion there is a critical hint dropped in the conversation that none of them recognizes at the time), but it's still a pretty sweet mission.  I like to think that when Harry and Ron were training to be Aurors later, they thought back to this time in their lives and laughed uproariously at how far from stealthy they were (although let's be honest, Ron probably still is).

Meet Tom Riddle
Harry finds a creepy old-school diary.  He writes in it and the ink disappears, then a disembodied, possibly non-existent person starts writing back.  At which point does Harry stop and think, hey, maybe I should tell someone about this?  The answer is never.  Our HP does what he does best, and plunges into the mysterious and potentially dangerous situation headfirst with none of his wits about him.  He stumbles into a memory of young Tom Riddle (who will later reveal himself as the one and only Lord Voldemort), wherein Tom frames Harry's giant pal Hagrid for opening the Chamber of Secrets.  And naturally, rather than taking the testimony of an invisible and pretty evil-looking dude, Harry decides to ignore the accusation and give Hagrid the benefit of the doubt, right?  Well, not quite.

Deus Ex Machina, Courtesy of Fawkes
I would like to impress that when I first read this scene in the book, I knew there were going to be seven stories in the series, and that they would all presumably be narrated by Harry Potter.  So it is fair to say that I could rest assured that Harry wouldn't die in the closing pages of Book #2.  But then this chapter happened, and any logic embedded in my suspended disbelief went out the window.  It looked something like this in my brain that day:  ohmygodHarrygotBITTENbyaPOISONOUSSNAKEandohnoVOLDEMORTISTHERESOMEHOWandnononononoHARRYISABSOLUTELYGOINGTODIE.  This is literally the moment where it seems there is absolutely no way Harry will get out of this one alive.  But wait-- is that the flutter of wings I hear?  Yes, it is a glorious God-from-machines Fawkes the Phoenix, arriving just in time to spray his healing tears everywhere and allow HP to destroy Tom Riddle's soul (and the first horcrux, but more on that later...).  Unrealistic?  Perhaps.  Awesome?  Absolutely. 

Book Review: Life of Pi by Yann Martel

This book has just about everything you could want in a thoughtful summer read:  a charming protagonist, a harrowing journey, zoo animals, and well-articulated musings on life, death, God, and everything in between.  Life of Pi is the book I would recommend to any teenager or twenty-something who is feeling just a bit too sorry for themselves, because by the end (s)he will close the book and thank his/her lucky stars that they haven't endured the same journey as Pi, the book's narrator.

Martel illustrates the journey in a way that is swift and engaging, and in a way that successfully distracts you from the fact that you've been reading some 200 pages about animal feces and the uber-disgusting things one must eat for survival at sea.  It is easy to follow Pi's struggles with interest and compassion because he is fleshed out as such an intriguing, sympathetic character from the very beginning.

The most interesting thing about the book's climax and conclusion is the element of true horror and tragedy that Martel embeds in a seemingly innocuous way.  If that sentence doesn't really make sense, I'll clarify (albeit with spoilers):  the ship Pi is sailing on sinks, and he's left in a lifeboat with a cook, a sailor and his mother.  He watches the cook kill the other two, and then stabs him to death and sails on his own until he reaches Mexico.  That's not the story we're told, however, because during Pi's debrief in Mexico, he and the men he is with decide a telling with animals substituted in for humans is "the better story."  The realization that the entire tail has been a kind of childish allegory is haunting, and it is there that Martel fittingly ends the book.

Overall, there is some definite beauty in the simple prose of this novel, and I would certainly recommend it to anyone looking for a book to shake things up this summer.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Book Review: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

As I'm nowhere near an authority on African literature (in fact, I'm what some might call pretty ignorant of the genre), I'll keep my thoughts here brief.

This book is a simple one, with no-frills prose and a distinct awareness that the story itself is powerful enough to hit home with readers.  Achebe's English is beautiful, and I get the impression that this is definitely a wonderful gateway book into reading others from the African tradition (and trust me, some of them will certainly be added on to the endless list of Books I Must Read, though we'll see how soon I get to them).

The story was also one that allowed me to see anew all the struggles I'm sometimes too good at ignoring.  I like to think I'm a pretty worldly person with an understanding that at the end of the day, my life is pretty sweet (I think a lot of us intellectuals cling to this notion), but this book resurrected some of that first-world guilt in me again.  It was in a good way, though, I think, a way that puts things in perspective rather than causing me to revert back to my emo, angry-at-the-world days.  For me the high point of reading Things Fall Apart was just getting a glimpse of characters whose concerns are so drastically different from the protagonists of 95% of the other books I've been reading, and indeed most of the people I encounter in real life.

If you're looking for a sobering, eloquent read that will stay with you long after the closing pages, then this book is definitely for you.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Book Review: Saturday by Ian McEwan

This novel from the author of Atonement weaves the story of one man's day, a Saturday to be precise, and the strange series of events he encounters.  Henry Perowne is a neurosurgeon in London, and his meticulous routine is disrupted on this particular day by various invasions of the outside world and its accompanying violence.  We also meet Henry's family, and in the brief space of the prose, get an incredibly clear portrait of each member without the sense that McEwan is dwelling on unnecessary details.

Reading the second book by an author you've read before is always a challenge, because it's so tempting to compare the two works.  Naturally, Atonement was never far from my mind as I made my way through Saturday.  McEwan still has some tendencies I'm not crazy about-- for instance, his penchant for lengthy descriptions of things with which I'm not terribly concerned (see the multi-page depiction of a squatch match in the latter book, an incredibly difficult thing to sit through).

It takes a lot of skill to spend a few hundred pages detailing one 24-hour period, but McEwan does it with tremendous skill and a lot of poignant insight.  I guess I'm a bigger fan of introspection than I consciously realize, because I found myself instinctively comparing this to Jonathan Franzen's Freedom and finding that I liked Saturday better because there is so much more exploration of why the protagonist is doing what he's doing, and what it all means in the grand scheme of things.  I liked that McEwan essentially made his point and got out, delivering some beautiful articulations of the story's themes without dissolving into a lot of waxing poetic.

This is the best of the books I've read so far this summer, but there is always room for improvement!

Pottermore: My Two Cents

I have to say, I find myself pretty disappointed right now.  As we’ve all undoubtedly heard by now, JK Rowling’s “Pottermore” project is an interactive “web experience” to be launched in October that will feature new factoids and info about the books and (unsurprisingly) peddle merchandise to the young people who frequent it.

I think I would have been all right with this announcement were it not for all the excessive hype.  In a way, I suppose I should’ve known it wouldn’t be a new book or anything like that, because something as awesome as a new Rowling story wouldn’t need such an intense marketing campaign— people would be excited by the mere prospect.  On the other hand, though, it just seems like too much for the launch of a web site:  I remember back when Jo revamped her own web page, quietly and in a way that provided for a pleasant surprise for those of us who visited it. And while I understand that the moment for understated developments in the Potter world has passed, I had thought that Jo was above taking advantage of her young fans’ enthusiasm (although it must be said that I am certain that this whole bonanza was not solely her idea).

I don’t mind that Pottermore ended up being less thrilling a project than I expected.  I don’t even mind the transparent attempt to keep the focus on Rowling and these books now that the movies are coming to an end.  But what really bothers me is the merchandising aspect.  As soon as I started reading the press release I knew there would be some way to profit off these kids, and it didn’t take long to find.  Selling the already existent merchandise is one thing; the kids who think they “need” it will purchase it regardless of its being on this site or any other.  But what rankles the most is the prospect of marketing e-books to kids who are part of a generation where the paper and binding book is dying a slow and torturous death.  To me it seems almost irresponsible:   Rowling is credited with almost single-handedly reintroducing a generation to literature and reading, and now she’s jumping on board with this.

Maybe I’m too much of a purist.  Maybe it’s ridiculous that I think writers, especially writers who are so indebted to the rich history of traditionally published literature, should do their best to preserve it, regardless of what they stand to gain financially by participating in the “new media” approach to books.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Magic Movie Moments with Harry, Part 1: Sorcerer's Stone

Anyone who is even a casual reader of this blog knows that I am a huge Harry Potter fan.  Seriously, it borders on unhealthy, this obsession I still somehow have.  And this summer marks the very last time that it's going to be (marginally) socially acceptable for me to gush over all things HP.  (This doesn't mean I won't continue to do so, it just means that it will be all the more annoying to everyone around me when I do).  Anyway, the final film comes out in just a few weeks' time, and I thought I'd take a look back at the previous seven films, the last ten years of this big-screen phenomenon, and pick out some of my favorite moments.  

Harry, Ron, and Hermione have the meet-cute of a lifetime on the train to Hogwarts.
Our Trio's First Scene Together! 
Harry and Ron bond over a mutual fascination with each other, and their love of candy (because really, who doesn't love candy?).  Hermione introduces herself with more snobbery than 99% of eleven year olds on the planet-- good thing that turned out to be a misdirect.  I loved the way each of them acted in this scene; the personalities of the three characters were well-articulated even in their first moments together.  Oh, by the way, Hermione?  That boy you're passing judgment on?  The ginger kid with the dirt on his nose?  Yeah, you're gonna marry him.

Harry's Big Game

 The quidditch scene addresses our wondering of how the hell they would convey this wacky sport on the big screen. I have to say, I'm still amused by just how brutal it was made to look here (three of Harry's teammates are down for the count by game's end, and no one seems terribly concerned), and given the limited technology of 2001, the whole thing is pretty darn impressive for its time.

Mirror Images

Our Harry takes a nighttime stroll in his newly acquired invisibility cloak, and comes across a treasure in a secret room.  This scene is probably my favorite in this book, and definitely my top 10 of the series, for the simple poignancy.  Harry is an eleven year old boy, and as such could be hoping for any number of silly things, and yet his dearest ambition is to see an image of his parents one more time.  My heartstrings had officially been tugged when I read this scene, and the wide-eyed longing with which baby-Dan Radcliffe played this scene was just perfect.  And of course, it's from this scene in both book and movie that we learn one of the most important lessons Dumbledore will teach us:  "It does not do to dwell on dreams, and forget to live."

Life-sized Chess!  Ron sacrifices himself!

This scene, apart from being so darn exciting in the book, is a huge moment of achievement for all three members of the trio.  Ron steps up to the plate in a big way, leading the team to a victory that neither Harry nor Hermione could have achieved; Hermione realizes that her brand of intelligence isn't enough in every situation (though admittedly it comes through in many of them); and Harry faces the fact that he can't be the only one to make sacrifices all the time (of course, he seems to forget and re-learn this lesson in all seven books).  And amid all the epiphanies, there's of course the really cool visual of giant chess pieces facing off in a battle to the death.

"I'm not going home, not really."

Harry finds his place at Hogwarts and we, like him, eagerly await the journey back.  I love that the film ended on this note, with John Williams' beautifully composed score swelling optimistically as the train rolls away.  It just seems to perfectly sum up the feeling in Harry's heart when he leaves this first year of magic and so many new discoveries.  There's also a bit of a bittersweet note-- Harry knows now what he's returning to, and what he's leaving behind.  Fortunately, this time it's only for a summer.

Stay tuned for part two, when I dig through the denseness that is Chamber of Secrets for its best moments.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Book Review: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

It's not that I love being a contrarian (okay, sometimes I do), but I'm going to have to go against the crowd on this one, too:  Jonathan Franzen is, admittedly, a talented writer with an admirable grip on the nuances and complications of the modern suburban family; however, this is not (for me, at least), the example of "fiction-at-its-best" that I was led to expect.  Everywhere you look reviewers are singing Franzen's praises; he's a hit and a bestseller to boot not to mention apparently very arrogant about all of his success.  And maybe this really is a case of "his old stuff was better", but for me this book and Franzen's prose simply did not live up to the hype.

I think my major problem with Freedom is that it's a hundred (if not more) pages longer than it needs to be.  Maybe his editor is just indulgent at this point, assuming the book-toting soccer moms and hipsters they're counting on to buy it will read anything with Franzen's name attached.  In any event, there is just too much background on things that ultimately don't seem terribly significant to the story, not to mention a lot of excess prose (and not even the good, "look how beautifully I can describe these things" kind of excess). 

Patty is an interesting character, I will grant that.  However, I will also say that there are definitely times in the course of the narrative where she becomes flat, becomes a caricature in many ways, and it is frustrating that despite the book being largely in her perspective or at least attempting to be, we don't always get the insight into her behavior that I for one would have liked.  Given that the protagonist falls short in this regard, it seems unlikely that there could be any hope for the remaining characters.  Indeed, Walter doesn't become interesting until the novel's final third, and even the ground he gains there is later negated by his decision to reunite with his wife despite the unhappiness of their former relationship.

Freedom paints an honest portrait of the sufferings of the 21st century middle class-- and yes, that sounds melodramatic, but there is a lot of pain in this book, and not all of it self-created.  These characters are truly pathetic in many ways, and by the novel's end very few of them have changed significantly.  This is, in my opinion, both a positive and a negative:  positive because it is definitely more true to life to have characters who simply accept that their crappy decisions have led them to a particular moment; negative because in many cases (again, at least for me), fiction is about taking what would really happen and making it better in some way, with grander insights or more hope for the future.  The dismal note on which the book concludes left me wondering what I'd just spent some 700 pages and numerous hours on.  If I wanted to see a portrait of a dysfunctional family, I'd look around at my own or those of my friends and neighbors; or else I'd read one of the many better literary presentations of such a family. 

Sorry to disappoint, but the Franzen fan train is more than free to leave the station without me.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Final Harry Potter trailer ever. That's right, ever.

This is the final trailer for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (so many sad faces).  It looks even more epic than the previous trailers, even if the music is a little too reminiscent of that other fantasy series that came out a few years back (I think there may have been a bearded wizard in that one too...).  Honestly though, I am so excited for this movie--I'm usually able to spot at least a couple of things in the previews that seem like the filmmakers might have messed up, but to this point with this film I really haven't, and that is such a happy thing for a truly devout fan of the books.

Only 29 days left until the movie!  I'm sure to have more thoughts before that time, including a look back at some of the best moments these films have given us over the past decade.

Book Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

As indicated in my post about what I'll be reading this summer, this series is one that was a last-minute addition, with the first novel forcibly thrust into my possession by my younger sister.  It took me about three days to get through, and I appreciated that-- Larsson's awareness that he isn't writing the next great novel is apparent, and the prose is clean-cut and direct.  There is a lot of hype going around about these books, and probably innumerable unsolicited opinions being published about them on the web, so I'll keep my thoughts as brief and spoiler-free as possible.

Speaking of spoiler-free, maybe I'm more of a sleuth than I originally thought, but I was able to predict large portions of this book prior to actually reading them.  The only thing I got completely wrong was the identity of the murderers, and in my opinion that was due to a mislead on Larsson's part.  It's true that I am usually predisposed to dismiss many mystery writers, because the standards for writing don't seem nearly as high, and many of them are very formulaic, but I will acknowledge that this is one of the better books I've read in this genre.  It was sophisticated and obviously well thought-out, and in many ways the perfect breezy summer read (well, despite the grisly nature of some of--okay, most of--the crime's content).

One thing I did have a problem with, however, and this is most likely because of how much people were hyping it up prior to my reading it, was the characterization of the two protagonists.  Blomkvist, the intrepid reporter, is flat and at times downright uninteresting as a person; he is kept afloat in my mind by the intriguing nature of the crime which he investigates over the course of the novel.  He was frankly kind of a lame hero, and there were times when it irked me to have to read so many pages of his thoughts and actions.  And though she was much more badass than any of the other characters, for me Lisbeth Salander was problematic as well.  I loved a lot of the things we learned about her prior to her teaming up with Blomkvist, and I think Larsson does a wonderful job making it clear why she is necessary and perhaps even the ideal person to help solve this case.  However, her [SPOILER ALERT] subsequent romance with Blomkvist, and particularly the note the book concludes on, seem much too weak for such a previously strong character.  The revelation that she thinks she's in love with Blomkvist is abrupt and fairly cliche, and it cast her too much in the mold of the typical female sidekick/love interest, which considering the compelling backstory and development of her character to that point, is a huge shame.

The mystery itself was my favorite part.  I loved trying to keep track of all the Vanger family relatives and figure out who had committed the crime in this "locked-room" whodunit; it just felt very old school in a way, like this could have been a revamping of a nineteenth century Russian story, complete with an old manor and an almost unbelievably odd cast of characters.  I was invested in the question of what had happened to Harriet (though my initial hypothesis did prove correct), and I enjoyed taking the journey with Blomkvist to uncover the past, even though I suspected how it might play out.  I could have done without the last chunk of the book (which details the aftermath once the mystery has already been solved), but overall this was a pretty good read, and definitely a great way to ease into some of the denser reading I have planned for myself this summer.

I will probably read the two subsequent novels, but I think I'll read a few other things to sort of cleanse my palate in between.  I am also very interested in taking a look at the film adaptations of this book, because I've heard nothing but rave reviews of the Swedish version, and of course I'm always intrigued to see what David Fincher (who is directing the American interpretation) has up his sleeve.

The Summer Reading Run-Down

All the proverbial dust has settled (save for the dust in my temporary bedroom, which has collected considerably in my absence), and all the graduation craziness is finally over.  That means a lot of things, but one of the better ones is this:  it's summer reading time!

I like to hold myself accountable by posting a list/telling people what I'm planning on reading.  I actually read the majority of last summer's list and reviewed a few of the books on my Tumblr, so this seems like  a tradition to continue.  Additionally, it's amusing (probably only to me) that my blogging goes through phases based on the availability of television.  I probably won't write about my usual shows (unless some kind of crazy news breaks) until they come back in September, which leaves much more time and energy for slightly more cultured things.  (I'm using the term "cultured" loosely, as it will refer primarily to me reading books and perhaps visiting parks.)

Here it is:
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (series, and at the insistence of my sister, who won't shut up about them)
Notes from Underground
The Idiot
100 Years of Solitude
His Dark Materials (series)
A Tale of Two Cities
Things Fall Apart
Dead Souls
Sons and Lovers
Remembrance of Things Past
Infinite Jest
Madame Bovary
The Last Tycoon

Naturally, this is only the first chunk of a much larger list (I am an English major, after all), so in the miraculous event that I make it through all of these in a timely fashion, I'll be updating promptly with more titles.  And of course, I am forever open to new suggestions to add to the list!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Series Finale

I've finally figured out what this whole graduating/moving/leaving all my friends behind feels like.  It feels like the series finale of a television show, a quirky comedy perhaps, but one with a lot of heart.  The ratings haven't always been great but it has a loyal viewership who keep coming back, and now it's time for everyone to say goodbye.

No, we haven't been in a Sideways afterlife the whole time.  And no, no one is going to be chasing anyone to try and catch them at the airport, no one is grappling with life-altering career shuffling or relationship revelations.  But it's still an ending, and I think it's been a pretty great one.  This has been a week of "lasts", of visiting old haunts one more time, of drinking because we only have the excuse of college for a few more days, of spending time together obsessively because we're each afraid the others will disappear before we've gotten the chance to say goodbye.

As with any finale, we've had the essential moments.  The party scene, where everyone just gets drunk and miraculously nothing too regrettable happens.  Appearances from some old friends, guest stars now who've moved on to bigger and better things.  And many, many truly touching moments, moments of honesty and farewell, moments of hugs and tears, moments in which we acknowledge to ourselves that this could be The End, with capital letters.  There have been music montages, nostalgic conversations that always begin "hey, remember that time?", and major decisions that hang in the balance.  And there have been laughs-- lots of laughs, because no real comedy worth its salt can go out on a completely somber note.

Do I wish the show's run could've gone on longer?  Absolutely.  I could have been a part of this for the rest of my life, and it would have been enough.  But change is inevitable, and I knew one day this would conclude.  I don't know what's next, and I don't know all the tiny ways this experience will show its influence in the future.  What I do know, though, and what I'll always remember, is this time, now.  I'll remember this ending, and the knowledge that whatever the final lines turn out to be, it will have ended exactly the way it was always supposed to.  And I will be grateful for every moment of this experience, of every person whose name comes to mind as the proverbial credits roll.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Thank You Notes

My time in Seattle is rapidly drawing to a close, and this has been a time of copious reflection.  I've already penned a much more wistful post for tomorrow (the big day), but I also wanted to take the time to express all of the gratitude that I find myself so full of at this moment.  Naturally, I've decided to do it in the silliest possible format, with some "thank you" notes, a la Jimmy Fallon (incidentally, if you haven't seen said segment on his show, you are missing out).  Here goes:

Thank you, hipsters.  In my time here you have made it clear to me that I may be an elitist in some respects, but I'm not anywhere near as bad as I could be.

Thank you, Seattle Public Library, for never allowing my accrued fines to stop me from checking out books.  Your check is, as they say, in the mail.

Thank you, Housing Department of Seattle University, for giving me a taste of what living in a nice, three-bedroom apartment in a safe neighborhood feels like.  As a woman about to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing, I have a sneaking suspicion it's going to be a while before I experience this kind of luxury again.

Thank you, restaurants of Seattle, for having some of the most delicious cuisine on the planet.  My waistline and wallet dislike you immensely, but my taste buds do not.

Thank you, hills of Seattle, for the inevitable wave of laziness I'll be experiencing when I walk the flat streets of Chicago once again.

Thank you, Seattle rain, for teaching me that no, I cannot pull off the "casually drenched but still sexy" look.

Thank you, professors of Seattle University, for being pretty okay, but also showing me that in many cases, a doctorate comes with a heaping side dish of pretentiousness.  Additionally, thank you for either remaining ignorant or simply looking the other way when I've tried to pass off complete bullshit as an academic assignment.

Thank you, Blogger/Tumblr/Twitter/Facebook/StumbleUpon, for successfully distracting me from so much work.  I am sure you will continue to serve me well, even when I get a "real" job.

Thank you, Student Events & Activities Council, for compelling me to choose between putting 100% of my efforts into school or into extracurriculars and socializing.  I'm pretty sure I made the right choice.

Thank you, Seattle University, for giving me an education that, despite my lack of a plan, has left me feeling very much prepared for whatever comes my way.

Thank you Seattle, Washington, for being the home I've never felt I had until I came here.

And finally, thank you, all of my friends, for being the very best partners-in-crime a girl could ask for.  Thank you for putting up with all of my nonsense and endless stream of sarcasm, and thank you for teaching me so much more than you will ever realize.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Soundtrack Series, Part Four: On the Road

Summer is just about here (even if some of us are still waiting to graduate), and for me that means travel.  At least, in a roundabout way it does.  Yes, budget permitting I would love to go somewhere new and unfamiliar, but looking at things practically my journeys will most likely take place on the streets I already know.  And that's okay for now, because I feel like there's still something to be learned, and maybe even some new part of it to experience. 

But no matter where my travels (or lack thereof) lead me, I find myself thirsting for the perfect soundtrack to provide the essential musical companionship.  These are some of the tracks that will most definitely be making it into the rotation when the first of my journeys, Seattle to Chicago, kicks off next week.

Holiday in Spain -- Counting Crows
This song is kind of heartbreaking, but in an awesome way.  It's about escaping, which for me is most definitely a big part (if not the biggest part) of traveling.  I had a friend once say that she thought Adam Duritz makes his best music when he's depressed, and as much as I'd hope he's happier now, based on this song alone I would be inclined to agree.

Chicago -- Sufjan Stevens
No, I'm not biased just because the song title is my hometown.  This song is fantastic in a way that is uniquely Sufjan, and it's such a great travel song, especially for car rides (I honestly think there's something he did on purpose with the instrumentation that forces you to picture road-tripping across the country).

Good Man  -- Josh Ritter
This isn't really a traveling song, but it's catchy in a similar way.  Josh Ritter is one of my favorite artists because I feel like he has a song for every occasion and ever mood.  I like the idea of rolling along a highway with the windows open and this song on the radio, listening to its Western-y tune and picturing Josh's adorable smile when he sings it.

In the Sun -- Joseph Arthur
I think this is a great contemplative travel song, one that I'd probably play while walking through a quiet landscape or maybe looking down at one.  There are so many beautiful elements to this song, and it's one that makes me stop and pay attention every time I hear it.  I think it'd be a perfect way to put myself wholeheartedly into the present moment.

City of Blinding Light -- U2
This song is super catchy and super upbeat.  I like most of what U2 does, but speaking from experience this is a fantastic song for driving at night (especially in the city...with lights).  It just has one of those hooks that makes you feel like the night (or day) could go on forever.

Cape Canaveral -- Conor Oberst
 This is another one that I just enjoy listening to.  It makes me want to tap my foot a little and just let it wash over me, wherever I am and whatever I'm doing.  That, and I think the part about the actual Cape Canaveral probably has something to do with it-- because what means of travel is cooler than a rocket ship?

No Sound But the Wind -- Editors
Not only is this song about McCarthy's novel The Road (and I love me some songs about books, naturally), but it's just so epic.  For me it conjures the image of a dark road at night, quiet and abandoned, rolling along and watching the lines on the pavement swim past you.

Transatlanticism -- Death Cab for Cutie
I would posit that this song is terrific background music for a lot of the more solemn occasions in life.  And for me, travel often qualifies as one of those.  This track is great for a long walk, for staring out the window of a plane or train, or even sailing.

Bittersweet Symphony -- The Verve
This song is probably on this list almost solely because of the scene in Cruel Intentions where it plays as Reese Witherspoon drives away.  Is it not the perfect "heading out on the (literal or metaphorical) road" song?  I defy you to disagree.

Sound of Silence -- Simon & Garfunkel
 Maybe it's the amount of TV and movie montages in which I've seen this song used, but for me it evokes thoughts of transition, of change and of the inevitability that things will move forward, with or without you.  This is a thought I have often when traveling, even when that traveling is just a walk around my own neighborhood.  I feel very small sometimes, in the best way, especially compared to the nature around me, and this song accompanies that feeling very well.