Sunday, June 28, 2009

Watch and Read

The main reason why I think Netflix is one of the greatest inventions ever is that I end up seeing so many movies that I otherwise wouldn't if I had to go out and rent them. One such that I watched recently is Starter for Ten starring James McAvoy.

Set at a British university, it's a coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of University Challenge, a College Bowl-like quiz show. Since I never get tired of coming-of-age school stories, I tracked down the book the movie was based on, A Question of Attraction by David Nicholls. (It was also re-released in conjunction with the film under the title Starter for Ten.)

I enjoyed the movie because it had many of the cliche elements you would expect to find in this type of story- lower class boy mingling with the upper class for the first time, falling in love with the inappropriate popular girl- yet the total effect of the film was very un-cliche. The book went even further in this than the film did. The beginning follows the film almost exactly, but some plot deviations in the latter half make the book even more unexpectedly less-cliche than the movie. The entire book is hilarious. I was laughing out loud for paragraphs at a time. The author also does a very clever thing by starting each chapter with a trivia question, the answer of which creates a theme for the subsequent chapter. Both the movie and the book are worth a watch and a read.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Dorothy Parker

I've had The Portable Dorothy Parker sitting on my shelf for several years just waiting to be read. This past week, I finally got around to it.

Parker's reputation as a witty, sarcastic writer is so widely heralded that I was interested to see if her work would live up to the hype. At first, I didn't think it was going to. The Portable Dorothy Parker is made up of short stories interspersed with sections of poems, and rounded out by excerpts from some of her book and theater reviews. I'll admit that I didn't spend too much time on the poems, but the first section or two of stories left me disappointed. Her tone seemed a bit over the top in satirizing her female protagonists. As I got to the later stories, though, I began to enjoy her writing more and more. I'm not sure if this is reflective of her having grown as a writer throughout the years or me becoming more attuned to and appreciative of her writing style.

Her reviews were also quite enjoying to read. Some of the plays and books she reviewed have long since fallen into obscurity, but that doesn't even matter. Her reviews are so funny that it's of little consequence whether or not you are familiar with the subject matter at hand. It struck me that it's pretty amazing how caustic and sarcastic she was about things she doesn't like. I feel like it's very rare to see that in book reviews written today when, in the name of being PC and objective, reviewers try to keep from revealing strong personal preferences for or against specific authors. Not so, Dorothy Parker. Even from reading the sampling of review included in this volume, it's blatantly obvious which authors of her time she respected and which she disdained.

This cover is from a different, more current, edition of the book than mine. I'd be interested in flipping through this one next time I'm browsing at B&N to see the illustrations, which were done by a graphic artist.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A brief weekend recap....

The weather was perfect for an outdoor fine arts and crafts festival held a few blocks from the beach. There was a lot of interesting art and jewelry for sale and I picked up two prints for myself.

This print by StudioManhattan is a Polaroid transfer of the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings. (It's actually matted and framed...the picture doesn't show that too well.) The artist explained that he takes a shot with a Polaroid camera and, before it has a chance to develop, peels away the negative and transfers it onto watercolor paper. The color saturation and effect comes out differently every time. The subject matter was mostly New York images, some very iconic and some more subtle. It was hard to choose which one to get.

I also got this bright, fun Boston print from artists specializing in what they describe as "Nostalgic Neighborhoods". It's kind of like a Where's Waldo painting of the major sites, landmarks, and stores for a given city.

On the cooking front, I baked a mushroom and spinach quiche with a potato crust, from this cookbook, which has a lot of interesting looking recipes. The quiche turned out well. It calls for just three eggs and a modest amount of cheese, so it doesn't taste like your traditional quiche, more like some kind of savory vegetable pie.

I also had the chance to watch a DVD that I would never have seen if it wasn't for the wonderful invention that is Netflix. This time it was the British film version of Cold Comfort Farm, starring Kate Beckinsale, Eileen Atkins, and Ian McKellan. So funny...It really captures the essence of the book, which I blogged about here. I thought that part of the reason why I liked it may have been because I had read and liked the book, but my co-watchers were also laughing by the end of the movie. Great clothes, hats, and bobbed haircuts to be seen as well.

And last, but not least, as a post-script to my last post, I would strongly recommend watching Charlie Rose's interview with Dave Matthews from last week. It offers some really interesting insights into the new CD.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Latest DMB

It’s been a little over a week since the new Dave Matthews Band album Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King came out and, as a longtime devoted fan, I feel obligated to give my thoughts on the subject.

I have to say, I’m kind of loving it. The fact that this comes as a surprise to me makes me realize that I may have gotten...not blasé about DMB, but let's just say that I may have been taking them for granted in the recent past. Big Whiskey is making me realize what I love about DMB all over again. Of all of their past albums, this feels most akin to Before These Crowded Streets to me. Both have an extreme variety of musical styles that really draw attention to the DMB’s unique sound. Both have this overall dramatic mood and seem to warrant listening to them from beginning to end. It almost seems that this CD could have come out right after Before These Crowded Streets, instead of with three others in between. And although there are gems that I love from each of those three -Stand Up, Busted Stuff, and yes, even Everyday (even though some fans won’t admit that)- this is the first of DMB’s “new” albums that I feel like I can really love. Of the entire album, I have a feeling that “Why I Am” will be the song that I won’t be able to stop playing all summer long. It's a great song, has a lot of potential for live versions, and the lyrics allude to the band’s history, pay tribute to LeRoi Moore (a.k.a. GrooGrux), and slyly refer back to older songs in a way that I think hardcore DMB fans should really like.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Death and all of his friends

I just couldn't resist quoting a Coldplay song for the title of this post. Maybe a little morbid, but appropriate for The Book Thief by Markus Zusack.

Narrated by Death, the book follows a girl living in Nazi Germany during WWII. Classified as a young adult novel, this is a book that’s had a lot of buzz among adult readers. But unlike, say, Twilight or the Harry Potter series, which adults enjoy reading because they allow them to get lost in kids’ stories, The Book Thief’s classification as YA is truly surprising because it's sophisticated in its style and tone. The story contains elements that, having grown up reading Anne Frank and Night in English class at school, I’ve come to expect in novels with this particular historical and geographical setting. There are Germans hiding Jews in their homes; there are air raids and rationing. However, Zusack is able to take these elements and twist them ever so slightly so that they never quite turn out exactly how you would expect.

What I found most interesting, though, was the constant, intense use of foreshadowing throughout the novel. Time and again, the author makes blatant allusions to the fates of characters and outcomes of events prior to delving into their stories. Instead of quelling my suspense, this only peaked my interest even more. This may be the most effective use of foreshadowing in any book I’ve ever read. A good tie to one of the first sentences that the narrator Death says in the book: “Here’s a small fact: you are going to die”. If that’s not the ultimate case of foreshadowing then I don’t know what is.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Hedgehog-inspired dressing

Getting dressing this morning, I put together an outfit with a slightly French feel that must have been subliminally inspired by the book I wrote about in yesterday's post. All of the pieces are from Target except for the shoes, which I picked up at Urban Outfitters. It's hard to see from the picture, but I think the basic blue striped tee is really the key piece. It seems to make anything I wear it with a little bit Parisian.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

And the answer to my clue about the book I read that somehow relates to the adorable baby hedgehog picture I included in my last post? It's.....

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.

I was really excited to read this, my book club's latest pick. The story is narrated in turn by Renee, a concierge in a Parisian apartment building and Paloma, the young daughter of one of the wealthy families in the building. Both are extremely intelligent and cultured, but both hide this fact from the world. They're brought together by Mr. Ozu, a Japanese gentleman who moves into the building and is able to see each of them for who she really is. I initially thought that this book would be more fanciful and Amelie- esque than it is. Hedgehog is actually a bit darker and more philosophical- but it does share some of Amelie's themes of finding pleasure and beauty in everyday life, and the interior lives of the people around us that we don't always get to see. I really liked the ending (which might shock anyone who knows the ending), because it was truly surprising and unexpected. It was the kind of ending that I wouldn't have seen coming even if I went into the book knowing that there was a surprising and unexpected ending, and it nicely offsets all of the preceding story.

In a nice coincidence, the night I finished the book I got to eat gyoza, an Asian dumpling that Mr. Ozu and Renee eat in the story.

They were so good- a bit more delicate in taste than other Chinese dumplings I've had. I ordered these at Wagamama, a fun, London-import Asian noodle chain- perhaps not as elegant as the Parisian setting in the book, but still very enjoyable.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

More pretty art...and a hint.

Although my lack of recent posts may give the appearance that I haven't been reading anything lately, that's not the case. I've just been too busy to post anything, what with work stuff and travelling to my college reunion. (See pretty campus in beautiful weather below!)

I actually really like the book I just finished and will be writing about it soon. In the meantime, here's a hint:

Very sweet! Very much like the book. I wonder what it could be...

I also came across two more cute items from my favorite Etsy artist Emily Martin of theblackapple. Here's her Books Print, which I really like:

She also does a set of bookplates which, upon close inspection, I realized were drawn to look like me! Seriously, look at this closeup:

And since I'm constantly raving about stuff from theblackapple, I thought I'd also share a couple of things from two of my other favorite Etsy artists:

Cupcake Bird by Etsy artist kwilson544. I feel like he's thinking, "Yes, I have a cupcake on my head. So what?"

Wallflower by Etsy artist LilyMoon


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