Thursday, April 30, 2009
a demon in my view
There really isn't much that scares me, although I will freely admit that this wasn't always the case. I had as many childhood fears as anyone else, and for every single thing I've ever been frightened of as a child, I can point to something very specific I saw on television as the cause.

Clowns? It. Water-based nature? Thanks so much, Jaws. Spiders? Arachnophobia, of course. (Did anyone go to bed after watching that movie without feeling creepies crawling all over them?) Serial killers under my bed? Screw you, Camp Sleepaway! (I still can't bear to dangle my hands or feet over the side of my bed.) Being slowly poisoned by my evil grandmother while she holds me and my three creepily blonde siblings captive in the attic of her massive mansion? Flowers in the Attic. (Beware the powdered sugar donuts, kids!) Joan Crawford? Mommie-freaking-Dearest.

Aside from the dangling my feet over the bed thing, adulthood has pretty much erased these childhood fears, but I guess it's a bit humbling to remember that I wasn't always so brave. I suppose that's why I love these awesome (albeit creepy) photographs taken from Joshua Hoffine's After Dark, My Sweet series. Firstly, they're visually rich yet minimally photoshopped. Secondly, they remind me of all the stuff I once believed to be true: spiders are freaky, attics are creepy, monsters live under my bed and under the stairs, and television is the devil....

(Via State of the Art)

Labels: ,

Wednesday, April 29, 2009
weekly book review: american wife, by curtis sittenfeld
Seeing how I've never been a huge fan of either Laura Bush or books with women wearing big, fluffy white bridal gowns on the cover, I probably would have never gotten around to reading American Wife had I not had my socks knocked off my Curtis Sittenfeld's previous novel, PREP. However, since PREP was so awesome and Sittenfeld such a talented writer gifted with both Didion-esque prose and a knack for brilliant characterization, I was hot to read American Wife despite all the reasons I might have otherwise passed it by. And as was expected, Ms. Sittenfeld did not disappoint.

American Wife takes the skeleton of Laura Bush's life and personality and, around it, builds the fictional story of Alice Blackwell, a polite, bookish woman from a liberal, middle class background who marries a charismatic man from a powerful Republican family. From what I've learned, the stories of Alice Blackwell and Laura Bush are as dissimilar as they are similar, but it was, of course, the similarities I found most intriguing.

Like Ms. Bush, Alice Blackwell is a Democrat, an educator, and a voracious reader who, perhaps inexplicably, falls for a staunch Republican who, though funny and lovable, has a reputation for being a bit of a screw up. Like Ms. Bush, the primary tragedy of Alice's life occurs in high school when she accidentally kills one of her classmates in a automobile accident. Laura Bush's rumored abortion makes the book, as does George W.'s alcoholism, subsequent religious reawakening, and tumultuous presidency. But rather than being a true autobiography (which has been done before), Sittenfeld takes these truths and imagines the story behind them. Thanks to Alice, readers can understand how a woman can love a person she generally disapproves of, what it's like to be one of the most famous people on earth, and what literate Laura finds so appealing about George.

I have no idea what Sittenfeld's politics are, but she treats all of her characters with the utmost respect while refusing to shy away from some of the most embarrassing details of the former first family's history. And yet, this isn't really the story of a First Lady as much as it's the story of a very complex woman whose perfectly average life takes a very unusual turn. With the exception of the ending (Which sort of sucked, to be frank. It was rushed and Alice became a massive whiner), American Wife is an absorbing read. It's an ambitious, unusual page turner, regardless of your politics.

American Wife
Curtis Sittenfeld
2008, 558 pages (Paperback)

Labels: , ,

Saturday, April 25, 2009
r.i.p., bea
Well, this just sucks. It's just been reported that Bea Arthur, who had been battling cancer, has passed away at age 86, peacefully and in her sleep. Although I named nearly all of my fantasy sports teams after her, my love for Bea was unironic and I'm truly bummed out to hear that she's gone. Of all the Golden Girls Dorothy was the one I most saw myself turning into someday (well, either her or Sophia), and she taught me at a very young age that growing old isn't really all that bad. She was a funny, awesome, hip lady, and will most definitely be missed.

Labels: ,

Thursday, April 23, 2009
nothing like the sun
In honor of the 445th birthday of my favorite homoerotic poet, here's my favorite sonnet about loving an average looking lady with stinky breath. Happy b-day, Bard.

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009
random posts of pretty
Hi, doves. Allow me to be honest with you. For the past few weeks I have been positively SLAMMED at work, hence the blog has suffered. (Of course, so have my eating habits, sleep, commitment to physical fitness and ability to read for pleasure, but you don't really care about those things, I fear.) I'm beginning to see the light at the tunnel but a true reprieve is still a few days away, so trust that while I may remain a bit distant for the time being that it is merely temporary.

In the meantime, here's the prettiest thing I've heard all week (and no, it ain't Susan Boyle). I'd never heard of Other Lives prior to this video, but I'm glad they're on my radar now because, lo, they are lovely. Enjoy.

(Via Don't Forget to Dance)

Labels: ,

Monday, April 20, 2009
2009 pulitzers announced

For those who may have missed it, the 2009 Pulitzer winners were announced today. Elizabeth Strout won the Fiction award for Olive Kitteridge, which I found sort of surprising (although, seeing as I haven't even read it, I'm not really sure I deserve to have any reaction at all). Awesomely/embarrassingly, The Detroit Free Press staff won the Local Reporting Award for "uncovering a pattern of lies by Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick that included denial of sexual relationship with his female chief of staff, prompting an investigation of perjury that eventually led to jail terms for the two official." (Le sigh...) Patrick Farrell of The Miami Herald won in Best News Photography for these truly wrenching photos of hurricane-ravaged Haiti (one of the loveliest and least devastating of which is pictured above), and Damon Winter of The New York Times won in Feature Photography for these images captured on Obama's campaign trail, two of which I've posted below.

And P.S. - How freaking cool does our President look it that picture? I mean, seriously - that's some Jack Bauer face, huh? Dude looks like he can fell an encroaching wave of terrorist zombie vampires with one. icy. glare.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, April 15, 2009
random posts of pretty tacky
I'm a big fan of subversive humor, so these images, taken from Tacky Weddings, tickled me in all the right spots. (And though that sentence looks awfully dirty in print, that's really not how it sounded in my head. Or maybe it did. I can't remember. Whatever. Stop judging me.)


Labels: ,

hot tea-bagging action
It's segments like this one that have me convinced that Rachel Maddow and I could - were we ever to meet - be BFFs. The fact that we both have roughly the same sense of humor as most twelve-year-old boys is just one of our many commonalities...

Labels: ,

Tuesday, April 14, 2009
we all fall down
So, I was filling out a psychological evaluation on one of my students the other day (one of the myriad things that makes my job ever so glamorous), and I must say that the little sucker gave me considerable pause.

Sprinkled between obvious statements like: "subject appears depressed," "displays acts of anger and aggression," and "has been observed talking to herself" were the following:

Uses foul language
Has eye problems
Is nervous
Has problems with mathematics
Is creative
Is a poor speller
Has poor handwriting
Falls down frequently

Now, the whole of my psychological education can be summed up in one undergraduate Intro to Psychology course, so I'm clearly not the expert here, but on the basis of this survey alone, I think it's fairly safe to reach the following two conclusions:

The student in question appears to be fairly well adjusted.

I, on the other hand, am quite clearly insane.

(Not that we haven't all had our suspicions, I'm sure. Wheee!!!)


Saturday, April 11, 2009
inside all of us is...
What with all the hoopla being make over Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are, I guess it's not too terribly surprising that he'd try his hand at adapting another classic children's book to film. How very Hollywood to keep cashing in on the same idea, though!

(Via Crooked Timber)

Labels: ,

Friday, April 10, 2009
weekly book review: delicate edible birds, by lauren groff
As you may or may not recall, I had fairly mixed emotions about Lauren Groff's first novel, The Monsters of Templeton. In a nutshell, I could tell that she was capable of writing some beautiful stuff, but several elements of the book grated on my nerves and very nearly ruined the experience for me. So, although Groff wasn't really an author I felt too terribly excited about, I'm a sucker for short stories, birds, and impossibly pretty book covers, so I thought I'd give her another chance to wow me. And you know what? This time, I think she did.

The nine stories in this collection are set in wildly different times and locations, but are linked together by motifs of love, sex, violence, crime and, yes - birds. The dichotomy of men and women features heavily, and the female protagonists - many of whom are victimized by the men in their lives - are also strong, accomplished women. In fact, it's the characters Groff creates that makes this such a strong collection. It's a common criticism that short stories are too narrow a space to truly develop a character, but Groff's women are so well formed she makes it look easy, and the stories she builds around them are engrossing, moving, and written with an elegant hand.

In "Lucky Chow Fun" an idyllic small town is rocked with the discovery that its lone Chinese restaurant is actually a front for a brothel operating with young, enslaved Chinese girls. "L.DeBard and Aliette" is the ill-fated love story of Aliette, a girl recovering from polio, and L. DeBard, a former Olympic swimmer turned personal trainer, who fall in love against the background of a devastating flu epidemic raging through the early 20th Century. "Blythe" is a haunting story of two friends, art, and madness, and in the title story, five reporters traveling through France during WWII unwittingly seek shelter in a Nazi home. And although these four stood out as my favorites among the nine, each of the stories delivered.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this book is more than just a pretty face and that Groff really is a truly talented writer. I may have traded my copy of The Monsters of Templeton away, but Delicate Edible Birds is a keeper. (And not just because it looks gorgeous on my bedside table.)

Lauren Groff
2009, 306 pages

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, April 09, 2009
there will be snacks
Last night I saw Andrew Bird perform at the Michigan Theater, and thus I got to cross another thing off of my "things I must see before I die" list. I had heard that he was amazing live and so had prepared myself to be impressed, but I ended up being BLOWN AWAY by his live show. I took Mom and Dad with me, and Dad remarked that it was one of the more interesting shows he had been to (a complement) and that Bird was "Dylanesque" in the way that he reworked and rebuilt some of his standard songs - performing something that sounded like, at best, a close cousin to the original album track. (And since, unlike me, dad has actually seen Dylan in his heyday, I will trust that the comparison is apt.)

But besides the way he rearranged his own songs (which, to me, sounded pretty good to begin with, but transcendent after they were rebuilt), his performance technique of making live recordings of violin runs or snatches of whistling which he would then play on a loop while layering vocals and guitars and glockenspiel runs and different violin runs and more whistling on top of if all was what made the experience so exciting. Watching Bird perform live is like watching a painter make art from a blank canvas - one can't help but feel as if you're watching a truly gifted artist at work.

Anyway, although his performance of "Tables and Chairs" is uncharacteristically simple and straightforward, and thus not really the best song to illustrate anything I've just said, it was one of the highlights of the evening for me. It's an older song but has always been one of my favorites, and the way he sings so earnestly about Heaven - describing it as a place with pony rides and dancing bears and a wide assortment of snacks - never fails to make me break out into a big, goofy grin. I like it. I hope you like it too.


Wednesday, April 08, 2009
random posts of pretty
From Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates
(Which I just finished for my book club, and which I thought was a beautifully written, flawless novel, even if I read most of it wanting to punch Frank Wheeler squarely in the jaw.)
I still had this idea that there was a whole world of marvelous golden people somewhere, as far ahead of me as the seniors at Rye when I was in sixth grade; people who knew everything instinctively, who made their lives work out the way they wanted without even trying, who never had to make the best of a best job because it never occurred to them to do anything less than perfectly the first time. Sort of heroic super-people, all of them beautiful and witty and calm and kind, and I always imagined that when I did find them I'd suddenly know that I belonged among them, that I was one of them, that I’d been meant to be one of them all along, and everything in the meantime had been a mistake; and they'd know it too. I'd be like the ugly duckling among the swans.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, April 07, 2009
feeling crafty
I'm on Spring Break this week, and since Nate and I will be taking a pretty awesome, hence pretty pricey trip this summer, I'm spending this week home bound. But understand that's not to say that I'm not having a perfectly wild time. In between doing body shots off of my dog's tummy and accidentally becoming the lone contestant in a wet t-shirt contest while scrubbing out the shower, I've been cutting loose with some crafts. I know. I'm SO INTENSE!

But seriously, I've been itching to do some redecorating, and so I set my sights on doing something with my ugly white plastic switchplates. Etsy has some really cute ones, but I hate buying things when I know I can make them myself, and so that's exactly what I did. A little glue, some pretty paper, a few sprays of high gloss finishing spray, and - voila! - funky new switchplate covers.

They're totally easy, very cheap, and perfectly fabulous. Just like me. (SPRING BREAK, BABY!!!)


Thursday, April 02, 2009
weekly book review: american pastoral, by philip roth
"I was a biography in perpetual motion, memory in the marrow of my bones."

Narrated by Nathan Zuckerman, Philip Roth's oft used alter-ego, American Pastoral is the story of Seymour "The Swede" Levov - a man who, on the surface, seems to be a glimmering example of The American Dream. Levov is handsome, athletically gifted, married to a former Miss New Jersey, and lives in a big stone house in the suburbs of Newark, comfortably removed from the crime, decay and racial turmoil consuming his blighted hometown. But when Levov's teenager daughter decides to protest the Vietnam War by setting off a bomb that kills an innocent bystander and sends her into hiding, there so goes "The Swede's" charmed life.

Something nagged at me while I read American Pastoral, a brilliant, Pulitzer Prize-winning story of how the idyllic American Dream turned in the the "American berserk" thanks to the political and social turmoil of the 1960s. It's been a few years, but I recalled feeling something similar while reading Roth's Human Stain - like I knew I was reading something pretty profound, something beautifully written by an incredibly skilled artist. So, why wasn't I enjoying it more?

Then I read Brian Prisco's recent Pajiba review of Roth's The Plot Against America, and it really helped crystallize my thoughts on Roth in general. Please allow me to borrow from Prisco's line of thinking for a moment:

I do not like steak. There are people who revere steak above most other things, people who would pay through the nose for a nice filet mignon or a piece of kobe beef. I am not one of those people. I will eat steak if that's what you make me for dinner, however I won't enjoy it nearly as much as I probably should, and would probably have preferred to have been served something else. For me, Philip Roth is like filet mignon: he's a satisfying, high-end, beautiful meal...for someone else.

When it comes down to it, I suppose I'm a little embarrassed that I didn't like American Pastoral very much. It's a highly lauded work by a highly revered author, so to say that I just didn't like it makes me feel like a bit of a dolt - like the uncultured, backwater hick who shows up to the opera in jeans and then falls asleep during the first act. (Yee haw, ya'll!)

And so though I may not have liked it, American Pastoral is a excellent novel by a gifted writer, so perhaps you should just take my thoughts with a generous grain of salt. After all, this is all coming from the lady who'd rather eat mac and cheese than filet mignon.

Philip Roth
432 pages, 1998

Labels: , , ,

winner of the most awesomely bad opening sentence from all the sixty-four freshmen rough drafts i've read this week:
"In this book there's some crazy stuff going down. Some crazy, crazy stuff."



Wednesday, April 01, 2009
various strategies i've been considering for dealing with the pervy kid who keeps whistling at me every time i walk past him in the computer lab:
1. Continue to feign deafness.

2. Seek out his name and then call his mother to tell her what a disrespectful little dirty birdie she raised in the hopes that it shames him into stopping.

3. Sit him down for a little convo about misogyny, sexual harassment, objectification of women and how it's generally just nicer to be respectful of your fellow humans.

4. Start whistling back in the hopes that he takes it in the ironic, sardonic manner that I intend it (rather than as some sort of creepy invitation).

5. Sit him down for a little convo about boring clichés and how whistling at random women as they pass by is exactly that.

6. Call him a fucktard and be done with it.

Decisions are tough, doves. Lots of thinking to do.