Today, I am thankful for:

Fleecy mittens and hair dryers.

Just like that, winter is upon us, in all it's slushy, fat-flaked glory. Walking to the bus depot this morning in my many layers and insensible shoes, I noticed all sorts of gorgeous, nature-y things--a bird flitting about the wet branches of a maple tree; clouds, snow-heavy and blue, growing darker and lower by the second; obscenities traced in the snow by some well-meaning punk.

At work, we had two cancellations due to the snow, which, in town, was nothing more than a few pretty inches that melted off just past noon. In the county, I'm sure it was much more dramatic, and I miss that about living in the county: getting the snow first, and having a solid reason to cancel things. As it was, everybody on the bus had nice puddles around their feet, and rosy cheeks and noses, and everyone said chipper things like, "Cold out there, isn't it?", or grumpy things like, "Cold out there, isn't it?"

I notice: snow is a whole heck of a lot more fun when you don't have to drive anywhere.

I don't have to drive anywhere.


Book Review: OF MICE & MEN, by John Steinbeck

I will tell it like this: you're watching a movie in black and white, and the movie is interesting and nice, nothing special, but every now and then will be a little flash of color--a ruby ring lit up, brilliant and red; a porchlight, flickering, suddenly gold--and the flashes are so quick that they are not fun, but jarring. As the movie goes on, they happen more and more often, an eerie sort of foreshadowing--and when the climax comes, it is all alight in these vivid, almost disturbing colors. The movie ends like that: in violent color.

I did not see what the big deal about John Steinbeck was, not until the last three pages of OF MICE AND MEN. I see it now.



Cue trumpets and theme music!

...something like the theme to Mission Impossible.


Book Review: POSSESSION, by A.S. Byatt

Somebody asked me once if I'd read this book, and when I said no, they said it seemed like something I would read. I cannot for the life of me remember who said this. If it was you, please put my mind at ease and tell me.

I'm a complete sucker for recommendations, at any rate, so at the recommendation of this Mystery Person, I bought POSSESSION and I read it. And I enjoyed it, very much.

It's no wonder that Byatt won a Booker Prize for POSSESSION: part suspense, part romance (not that kind of romance), and two or three parts literature, Byatt's novel follows young Roland Michel, a scholar on the fictional late nineteenth century poet, Randolph Henry Ash, as he accidentally discovers two as yet unseen letters of Ash's in a library book. The letters set Michel on the trail of the unknown woman to whom Ash was writing and, with the help of another scholar, Maud Bailey, he uncovers a story that blah blah blah.

I'm sorry. My summary is so terribly insufficient.

When written up like that, POSSESSION sounds like nothing more than a stock thriller plot, with a little history and poetry mixed in. Forgive me. It is so much more.

Byatt's writing is incredible--whether you like them or not, her sentences are impressive, long and lovely, the words and images she chooses wildly beautiful--and her sense of structure is magnificent. This is the sort of book that begs to be examined in college literature classes--I couldn't help but notice certain themes running through the story (the word "possession", in every possible sense, being one of them), and the way Byatt wove in bits of poetry by her fictional poets, or entire journals written by various characters, and yet kept the voices of each character, whether writing or speaking, perfectly clear, added many, many more layers to a story that was already rich and glowing.

I liked it. I really did. For you Victorian literature buffs, this is a great mix of contemporary and classic literature, complete with epic poems and scenes set in Victorian England. Postively lovely.



Movie Review: Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire

(If you haven't seen the movie, back away slowly; if you haven't read the book, run!)

Oh, I could kiss all the fine folks involved in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, I really could, and here's why:

They got the graveyard scene just right.

Perfect. Exactly (exactly) how I pictured the whole thing--and Voldemort, well. I was hyperventilating by the time they finally showed his face, I was that excited, and he was perfect. Exactly how I'd imagined him.


Whatever else they cut (lots, and lots) they did not cut the ferret scene. Hallelujah.

I truly admire the brave souls who undertook this most monstrous of tasks, because the question is not only How do you make a movie of a book the size of a small child? but also How do you squeeze in all those bloody subplots without making an eight hour movie, and What can you take out without damaging the story beyond repair?

Whew. I couldn't do it.

Even though Goblet whipped by, in all its two-and-a-half hour glory (not only because I was so engrossed in the film, but because the whole thing is contrived of quick, quick, little scenes--so many things squeezed in!), and even though it relied rather heavily on the assumption that the viewer has, of course, read the book, I was astonished at how much they did fit in. Really, I can't complain.


Because what is a review, if it just gushes on and on about how friggin' cool the movie is?

So here is my complaint:

Barty Crouch. Both of them. In attempting to shorten that particular subplot, I feel a whole lot was lost--for example, reading the book I was tremendously conflicted about Barty Crouch, Sr. What kind of man sends his son, screaming and protesting his innocence, to prison, really? And then helps his son escape, only to keep him imprisoned by a house elf for ten years or so?

I couldn't decide, but I sure didn't like the guy.

In the movie, sure, Mr. Crouch is pretty intense toward the beginning, but mostly he's no more worth considering than Fudge--not terribly likeable, a little shifty-eyed, but overall, I wasn't able to form much of an opinion about him at all.

Now, really, I can handle the absence of Winky the Elf; I can handle not getting even a glimpse of the LeStranges (Bellatrix, in particular, I'd been hoping to see), and I suppose I can bear the loss of the Percy Weasley subplot--but I'm not sure I can cope with such a complete alteration of Barty Crouch's character that he comes out looking like a victim. What was that about him admitting to Harry that he'd lost his family? I'm pretty sure everybody else was muttering about the scandal behind his back, in the book, but there he was, all soggy-eyed, confessing to Harry that losing one's family changes one forever.

And then he just dies.

And his death is only mentioned once, right after it happens, and nobody seems terribly concerned about how he died, or why, or, particularly, who killed him.

I suppose that little gaps in logic like that (or perhaps gaps in my attention span--there might've been more to it that I missed, I admit, and I apologize in advance if I'm wrong) are permissable in a huge, brilliant movie like this, and, though I caught a couple others, only one more is worth mentioning:

Barty Jr. went to Azkaban. As far as we (the viewers) know, there's no mention in the movie of him escaping/faking his death/and so on; also, as far as we know, Sirius Black is the only one to have escaped Azkaban, ever. But when Barty Jr. is apprehended, Dumbledore turns to a teacher and says, "Call Azkaban, I think they'll find they're missing a prisoner."


Does he mean that the dementors hadn't noticed Barty's absence, or that he'd escaped, but there'd been absolutely no brouhaha about it at all?

If I missed something, please, correct me.

In summary, though, The Goblet of Fire rocked--the maze, even without the blast-ended skrewts and the Sphinx, was way cooler than I could have imagined, and Fred and George were in the film a bunch (a sure way to make me happy), and the kids' acting has improved so much, and the dragons, and the mermaids, and oh! Mad-Eye Moody...

They did my favorite book in the series (so far) such spectacular justice, I was up all night rehashing it, and I'm afraid I drove my husband quite crazy--but ah, well. He ought to know what he's in for: Narnia's up next. They make two of my favorite books into movies and then release them within weeks of each other. I can't stand it; I might explode.


Draco Malfoy is a total hottie

I'm leaving (mere minutes from now) to go see The Goblet of Fire.

Positively, I'm giddy.


Book Review: WEETZIE BAT, by Francesca Lia Block

When I was in high school, I was absolutely in love with Francesca Lia Block and her Weetzie Bat books (there are five; I am reviewing only the first, WEETZIE BAT), but upon my reintroduction with Weetzie, I approached them very differently. Something in Block's relentless optimism through the first half of the skinny book put me off initially--everything is lovey-dovey cotton candy clouds in LA, it seems like--and I was close to the end of the book before I came back around and began to see the appeal of WEETZIE: Block's writing, though jam-packed with images and details, is incredibly direct, and this directness pares difficult themes like AIDS and abuse and grief and, that reigning queen of young adult fiction, "being different," down and shows them simply as they are, not in a different light, nor in a revelatory way. They're difficult issues, really, and I think she does them justice. WEETZIE is a brave little book, when it comes down to it. I like that. And the whole thing's so darn pretty.



Book Review: IN COLD BLOOD, by Truman Capote

When no fewer than three people stop you in the bookstore to point out what a great book it is you're considering, one can't help but have certain high (very high) expectations of said book. Two of the people who stopped me were employees; the third was a stranger with a pronounced German accent. I took them at their word, and bought IN COLD BLOOD.

I was not disappointed. I was not in the neighborhood of disappointment, nor perhaps, in the same town as disappointment. I'll say it, too: IN COLD BLOOD is a great book.

Published in 1965, IN COLD BLOOD reconstructs the brutal murder of four members of a prominent ranching family in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, and follows the investigation of the near-perfect crime to its resolution. Capote's sense of timing and the pacing of the story are flawless: he depicts an entire community as it suffers the fall-out of this vicious crime, and as its citizens begin, for the first time, to distrust one another; he portrays the killers and their victims with a skillful empathy that displays the subjects' many facets in a curiously objective light.

IN COLD BLOOD is a fascinating study of violence that is at times disturbing, at times uncomfortable, but always unflinchingly honest. Several times, Capote gave me chills--his mastery of language is incredible, so that he could set up an entire scene in a subdued, unthreatening tone, but then knock my socks off with a single image: a lawyer, touching the back of his neck in a courtroom; the lazy circling of a housefly. Of all the varied scenes and circumstances of the book, those deceptively insignificant images were the ones that stuck with me.

To sum up, Capote can use phrases like, "in a pool of his own blood" and make them scary rather than cliche--probably because he said it first, though I couldn't back that up. But I bet he did say it first.




In Which She Procrastinates Further and Feels a Bit Guilty

So, when I said I'd be putting off the blogging for a month in order to knuckle down and write a novel, I didn't realize that blogging would be an excellent excuse to ignore the novel for a bit...

And here I am. Not working on my novel.

But the novel itself, well. 50,000 words is a lot of stinkin' words, did you know that? I spent 4 hours (4 BLOODY HOURS) at the Black Drop this morning--that's breakfast and lunch--and all I've got to show for it is 2,000 more words, a radically revised plot line and a bad stomachache.

The realization that I should be writing 2,000+ words a day hit me then, as I computed "4 hours" into "2,000 words" and felt rather like bursting into tears.

This is fun, remember? Not competitive! Fun! A raging blast, as a matter of fact!

As was inevitable, my computer shut down in the middle of a particularly burly moment of inspiration (not really: by then I was looking for an excuse to pack it in, go home and take a nap--though this was not, of course, what I had in mind), and I hurried home to try and resurrect the sick little laptop and (please, God, please) what remained of my novel.

Thankfully, the novel's still in one piece--all 4500 words. But you know you're getting desperate to meet the word count when you start employing elaborate "In Which He Encounters a Stranger on a Desolate Road and Engages Him in Conversation"-style chapter titles. Eh.

Also, I've taken to changing the background on my laptop every few minutes--another tactic for avoiding work--and it's currently leopard print. All is well in the world.

Book Review: BAGOMBO SNUFF BOX, by Kurt Vonnegut

I'm just going to say it once (I LOVE KURT VONNEGUT), and then I'm going to move right on to the review: I love him. There. I feel better.

BAGOMBO is a collection of "uncollected short fiction" (yeah, it's collected now, isn't it? Why call it "uncollected"?), from the second half of Vonnegut's career as a short story author. Welcome to the Monkey House is the first volume of Vonnegut's "collected/uncollected" stories, but I haven't read that one, so I don't know it if it's any good--I'm sure it is, because it's Vonnegut.

To sum it up: he's funny! He's satirical! He makes me giggle out loud! His short stories are awesome! That is all.



Book Review: REPORT TO GRECO, by Nikos Kazantzakis

Something tells me I'm in over my head, here. What, review the "spiritual journeys" of the incredible Nikos Kazantzakis, with only my wits, my feeble understanding of the book and a four-year degree to help me? Bah. But I'll give it my best shot:

This is the closest to an autobiography that Nikos Kazantzakis gets, and it starts out beautifully, at the close of his life, with a preface by his wife Helen that begins: Nikos Kazantzakis asked his God for ten additional years in which to complete his work--to say what he had to say and "empty himself." He wanted death to come and take only a sackful of bones. Ten years were enough, or so he thought.

That should tell you something of the fierce passion that consumed Kazantzakis, a passion that is evident in his every word--in every book of his I've read (The Last Temptation of Christ, The Greek Passion and the first half of Zorba the Greek), but particularly this one, he presents characters so wracked with anguish, so driven to suffer and find God, that it's almost necessary to set the book down every few paragraphs and take a deep breath. All souls are bared, and GRECO is all the more intense because it is Kazantzakis whose spirit is offered up for the reader.

GRECO is not a strict autobiography--Kazantzakis makes no bones about that--and so it does not necessarily chronicle his experiences. Instead, GRECO follows Kazantzakis throughout his life as his understanding of God evolves, through his experiences, through the people he meets, through his work, and his particular road to God takes a fascinating course.

High points? The best chapter, in my opinion, is "Massacre", near the beginning of the book, when Kazantzakis encounters his "first" massacre as a boy--after this chapter, his father, who had until then been a gruff and inaccessible character to me, earned a whole lot of my respect, in a way that caught me completely off guard. Some of my other favorite chapters were the ones telling of Kazantzakis' pilgrimages to monasteries all over the continent, though his studies are not limited to Christianity: in his travels he encounters not only the Greek Orthodox church, but also Nietszche, atheism, Communism, Greek patriotism, Buddhism--his is an unslakable thirst, and the conclusions he comes to are awesome.

Which is to say nothing of the writing. Every sentence I read, I wanted to mull over individually, pronouncing each word outloud, they were all so lovely--but it took me long enough to read the book as it was, so I stuck to silent reading. His descriptions are gorgeous enough to rival those of Nabokov (and that's saying a lot, you know) and the scenes in Crete were my absolute favorites--lemon blossoms and lusty women, and so on.

In closing, I give you the best opening paragraph I've read in a long, very long, time:
I collect my tools: sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing, intellect. Night has fallen, the day's work is done. I return like a mole to my home, the ground. Not because I am tired and cannot work. I am not tired. But the sun has set.


49,399 words to go, and I'm home free!

If I'm quiet through the month of November, here's why--I'm busy feeling bad about not writing. Rest assured I'll be back in December with a whole arsenal of odd happenings, but in the meantime, let's just slow this page down and reflect. Talk amongst yourselves and all that.

Oh, and the Black Eyes & Neckties show at the 3B was awesome. I got beer in my hair and a bad cold and the whole shebang (really? Is it actually spelled like that?), and apparently I was one of the only three people on State St. who didn't dress up for Halloween--Sarah and Lyle, my cohorts, being the other two. Ah, well.

Book Review: CHOKE, by Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk will ruin everything for you: air travel, eating out, tourism, the zoo (especially the zoo), chocolate pudding, movies, and more. You name it, and he'll work it into a novel somehow and wreck it for you. You'll never eat a bowl of soup in a restaurant again without wondering...I, for one, will never again see the zoo quite the way I did pre-Palahniuk, and I'm not sure how I feel about that.

I know I was all ambivalent and conflicted in my review of Fight Club, and I know that I can't necessarily play at feeling conflicted again after reading CHOKE--obviously, if I've made it through three Palahniuk novels, something's got me coming back. I better just admit that I like him. He's good. Probably either disturbed (bad) or smarter than the rest of us (worse), but I'll say it: Chuck Palahiuk is good. I like his books.

And I'm saying that CHOKE is quite possibly my favorite so far. There's tricky pacing and several surprise endings (thought it was over? No! Here comes another one!) that Palahniuk pulls off grandly--the characters are quirky, but not irritatingly so. He develops them all quite nicely, but I was especially drawn to Ida Mancini and, yes, Victor Mancini himself. Ida's madness is of the brilliant, evil-genius variety and so she was utterly fascinating--the power she has over Victor goes far beyond anything Victor, as narrator, can pinpoint, but it's unmistakably there even when Victor himself can't see it. Haunting.

Which reminds me: I still haven't brought myself to track down that first story of Haunted. Perhaps someday when I'm feeling brave, I'll find it and read it and be changed--or completely grossed out, or what have you. It'll be great.