Monthly Archives: May 2013

Random Friday Thoughts

I taught my final class of the school year on Wednesday, and for the past two days have just been relaxing and letting my mind wander. It hasn’t hit me on a visceral level yet that I don’t have to teach another class until late August, but my brain is already going on all sorts of tangents. Here are a few that are rattling around this afternoon:

Sometimes I have dreams that people have statistics for their lives just like athletes have sports statistics. Usually these dreams center around me having a low “life average” (akin to a baseball batting average), somewhere below .250. I’m always very worried about this in the dream until I realize that there’s no such thing as life averages. But it would be kind of interesting if there were. It would be fascinating to compare oneself to other people numerically like it is possible to compare one athlete to another. For instance, basketball-reference.com has something called “Similarity Scores” on each player’s page (scroll down to the bottom to see Patrick Ewing’s) that compares the player to other players (past and present) with similar statistics. If it were possible to do this in real life, it would be helpful because then one could see if one’s life was headed in a good direction or not based on those with similar life arcs.

I bought a regular-sized candy bar at the college bookstore this afternoon that cost $1.25. I realize that the bookstore is not the cheapest place to buy such an item, but even so, it points to how candy bar prices have exploded over the past decade or so. For all of my teens and into my twenties it was common to be able to find candy bars on sale for $0.50, and sometimes even less. Nowadays it is hard to find one for less than $0.75 even at stores that claim to have “low prices” (at least in Salt Lake City, and this was the case when I lived in Illinois, too).

Conversely, I also bought a pack of two Bic red pens for $0.99. What a deal! A pleasing quality product for under a dollar. Good office supplies are always exciting. The way things are going, though, they are an endangered species.

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Reflections on One Year of Blogging and My Book Addiction

This week was the one-year anniversary of this blog, and it feels appropriate to mark the occasion with a post about it.

First, here is a post from one of my favorite blogs, A Little Blog of Books and Other Stuff, about lessons learned from blogging. I particularly agree with numbers 3-5.

Second, this is my third and most successful attempt over the past decade at blogging (here is a link to the previous one). I am happy that I have finally had the willpower to keep posting regularly: at least once a week with only a handful of exceptions, and many weeks two or three times, especially during the summer when I’m not teaching.

Third, around half of my posts have been in the Books Acquired Recently category. I began this category because I thought it would be interesting to document how many books I actually acquire rather than making random estimates. I just went through all of these posts for the past year, and I must say that I was a little surprised at the results. I knew that I was both a book and a book-buying addict, but I did not realize just how addicted I am. Over the past twelve months I have acquired (mostly bought, but some were also gifts or exam/desk copies) 155 books! That is an average of nearly three per week! Perhaps just as impressively, I have read all but twenty-six of them (I’ll catch up this summer!).

Here is the breakdown of my 155 new friends:

76 books of fiction, including two Norton anthologies that encompass multiple genres. Fiction is both my favorite genre to read and to write about, so I am not surprised that nearly half of the books fit here. I am actually a bit surprised that it wasn’t more than half.

30 books of literary criticism/theory. I am such a nerd.

26 books of miscellaneous nonfiction–mostly memoirs, some art history, some cultural studies, some sports.

20 books of poetry. My guess would have been that this would have been the category following fiction. I am kind of sad that I acquired fifty percent more criticism/theory than poetry.

2 collections of comic books/comic strips.

1 play (Amiri Baraka’s Dutchman).

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The Office Series Finale

The Office series finale last night did a good job of ending the show. I’ve always felt that Steve Carell’s final episode should have also been the show’s final episode, but since it was not, last night’s episode did about as good of a job of ending the show as was possible. Yes, it was schmaltzy, and yes, all of the main characters’ stories (especially Pam and Jim’s) got tied up much too neatly to be plausible, but The Office was good enough and important enough for long enough (i.e., barring the past two seasons) that it could get away with an ending that was much more uplifting than the show’s overall subject matter. Unlike many previous last episode disasters (e.g., Seinfeld‘s, which was laughably horrible, and Will and Grace‘s, which was traumatic and had me screaming at the television), The Office‘s finale didn’t insist on being over-the-top, which allowed it to end things smoothly and successfully.

There were also some fantastic one-liners and inside references for long-time viewers, such as the stripper at Dwight’s bachelor party who had also worked Bob Vance’s bachelor party and had accepted the rabies research check from Michael dressed as a “nurse” in one of the series’ best episodes. I thought Carell’s cameo was handled quite well: he got in one last “that’s what she said,” and his final line about having his kids (i.e., his former workers) grow up and marry each other being “what every parent wants” was classic Michael. I was a huge fan of The Office until two seasons ago, and I feel like last night’s episode allowed me to end my relationship to the show with a sense of peace.

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David Beckham’s Retirement

David Beckham has announced that he will retire from soccer at the end of the season. He has had an excellent career, which most people forget because now he is more well-known for his off-the-pitch celebrity activities than for his footballing. In his honor, here is a link to the highlights of the 1999 Champions League final, one of the most thrilling matches ever. Both Manchester United goals come in the aftermath of Beckham corner kicks, and the first corner is set up by a lovely pass from Beckham to Gary Neville.

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Books Acquired Recently

Binnie, Imogen. Nevada. New York: Topside, 2013.

As I mentioned in a recent post, I ordered this book from the publisher (Topside Press is a fantastic new venture dedicated to publishing transgender literature) after reading a glowing review of it by Casey Plett. I am excited to read it soon, perhaps this weekend.

Gregg, Melissa, and Gregory J. Seigworth, eds. The Affect Theory Reader. Durham: Duke UP, 2010.

I bought this book because I only have a vague idea of what affect theory is about. It sounds fascinating.

This and Grafton’s book were bought on amazon.com.

Grafton, Anthony. The Footnote: A Curious History. 1997. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1999.

I am totally addicted to footnotes, and have been since I was an undergraduate. I decided to break down and buy Grafton’s history of the form after recently reading some criticism on David Foster Wallace’s use of them. I prefer footnotes to endnotes, but MLA style calls for endnotes, so that’s what I normally use. But footnotes are much more user friendly.

Lehman, Joanne. Driving in the Fog. Georgetown: Finishing Line, 2013.

I heard about this chapbook of poems from a friend who knows Lehman and pre-ordered it from the publisher several months ago (Lehman is a Mennonite, which is why the book sounded interesting to me). Then I promptly forgot about it. It was thus a nice surprise to receive it in my mailbox yesterday!

Schott, Penelope Scambly. Lillie was a goddess, Lillie was a whore. Woodstock: Mayapple, 2013.

I received a review copy of this collection of poetry from Your Impossible Voice, a new online literary journal that I’ll be writing some reviews for. It is exciting to be a part of the early days of a new publishing venture! Schott’s book is about Lilith, Adam’s first wife, and one of my favorite mythological figures (her story didn’t make it into the Bible because she insisted that she be on top during sex). I am looking forward to reading it.

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Thoughts on Bill Hader Leaving Saturday Night Live and Endings in General

Bill Hader announced this week that he is leaving Saturday Night Live at the end of this season. While I got into SNL at the tail end of the Will Ferrell/Chris Parnell/Tracy Morgan-into-the-Tina Fey/Amy Poehler/Maya Rudolph days, Hader’s generation (Andy Samberg, Kristen Wiig, Kenan Thompson, with Jason Sudeikis and Fred Armisen having been there a bit longer) was the one that I connected with the most as a fan, and now that most of it is gone, I feel a keen sense of loss that isn’t just tied to the show, but is also tied to the forthcoming transition in my own life into a tenure-track (and thus explicitly long-term) position. It is like the fun times are over and it’s time to go into a settled, middle-aged life of bourgeois despair. I haven’t watched the show regularly this season after the first few weeks because the new cast members just didn’t have enough verve to fill the gap left by Wiig’s and Samberg’s departures at the end of last season, and now that Hader is leaving my guess is that I’ll watch it even less. There’s still a lot of talent on the show, and the new cast members have certainly been getting better, but somehow it no longer feels like it’s mine. Endings are always also beginnings (and it feels like there have been a lot of these that I care about lately, most notably the retirements of Sir Alex Ferguson and Paul Scholes), and I feel like I should be excited for mine as one would think Hader is excited for his (he’ll have more time to work on his thus far promising film career), but it just makes me feel old.

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Show and Tell

There’s a new post on Paul Lukas’s Show and Tell blog that is rather fascinating. Some of the objects are rare and weird and others are commonplace, but the stories surrounding the objects are just as interesting as the objects themselves. I love the idea of show and tell for adults in part because I enjoy the history of material culture, but also because I associate show and tell with a kind of awe and joy that I think many of us lose as we get older. I am a cynical person, but I like activities that are able to get me out of that headspace sometimes.

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The Great Gatsby

I saw The Great Gatsby this evening–the first film I’ve seen on its opening night since The Return of the King, which shows how eager I was for it–and I was quite satisfied with it, 7.5/10. It is mostly true to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterful novel (much more so than many film adaptations of books), well-acted aside from Tom Buchanan’s ridiculous mustache, and visually pleasing. Carey Mulligan’s portrayal of Daisy is riveting. It is immediately clear why multiple men would fall in love with her. The same is true of Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of Gatsby, which is helped in part by some luscious suits (I was covetous of nearly all of the clothing in the film; the green cardigan that Nick wears when he has Daisy and Gatsby over for tea is to die for). The soundtrack is spot-on: muted when it needs to be and at the forefront when it is appropriate. I especially appreciate the film’s use of “Rhapsody in Blue,” a quiet homage to Woody Allen’s Manhattan. The novel’s geographical setting is more important than many readers acknowledge, and the film does not make this mistake.

The film has two major flaws, both having to do with infidelities to the novel. The first is that the first half hour of the film uses a jumpy, fast-forward style which ends up muting the few snippets of dialogue that actually occur. It has the feel of someone fast-forwarding through the dialogue in a porn film to get to the sex scenes, which is a problem because when I am watching a film I actually want to watch the film, not just segments of it. As a result of this style, the pace of the first half of the film is very uneven, whereas the novel’s pace is smooth throughout–it builds tension through its language and its characters, not via cheap tricks. This aspect of the film is just Baz Luhrmann being Baz Luhrmann, but it doesn’t work as well here as it does in, say, Moulin Rouge. He could have achieved the same decadent effect with half of the amount of frenzied bits.

The second flaw is that Gatsby tells Tom that he and Daisy know each other. The two men are thus set up as rivals for the second half of the film to build dramatic effect, whereas in the novel Tom does not realize that Gatsby is a rival for Daisy until toward the end. This choice to make the competition overt for both men in the film destroys the book’s beautiful subtle tension and has the effect of making Tom a somewhat sympathetic character, which he isn’t ever in Fitzgerald’s version (nor should he be–he’s a woman-beating racist). Neither man is good for Daisy, but Gatsby is certainly better for her than Tom, and the film muddies this distinction. I understand that cinematic narratives require different moves than verbal ones, and both of these flaws stem from that difference, but if any film could do away with the necessity of narrative sign-posting it would be The Great Gatsby because probably eighty percent of its viewers in the United States will have read the book in school (it was assigned to me in high school, college, and graduate school, and with good reason!), and thus have some familiarity with the story and don’t need as much hand-holding as the film forces upon us.

Nevertheless, the film is worth seeing. I forgot how depressing the book’s ending is, how hopeless despite all of Nick’s admiration for Gatsby’s hopefulness, and the film does a lovely job of capturing this empty feeling. I love the novel because it always moves me, and the film did, too, which is the best recommendation I can give.

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Brief Thoughts on Sir Alex Ferguson’s Retirement

I woke up this morning to the news that Sir Alex Ferguson has decided to retire from his position as Manchester United’s manager. I have been a United fan since 1991, so I have never known the club without Ferguson, and it will be odd not to have him in charge. His amazing, unequalable record of success is well-known, and I am not going to repeat it here.

But I will say that I don’t think this day is a day of tragedy for the club like some are making it out to be. Ferguson had to retire sometime, and it is better for him to do so a year too soon than a year too late. Also, the young players that United currently have in the squad (who now already have the experience of winning the league), combined with veterans such as Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney (whose tensions with Ferguson can now be a thing of the past, which will be a good thing for Rooney and the club because now he can stay at the club), and (still!) Ryan Giggs, plus the veterans in defense, ensure that United have the potential to continue their unparalleled success.

Current rumors have Everton’s David Moyes becoming the new manager, and I would be happy with this decision because he is a good coach who does not hog the spotlight and would put the club first. The other major candidate, Jose Mourinho, is an excellent coach, but also brings a circus atmosphere with him and might be too much of a distraction. I would also be happy with a lower profile hire, such as an assistant coach who knows the club well, or Giggs as player-coach, or someone who has connections to the club and coaching experience elsewhere like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

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Once Again I Bow at the Altar of Books

Regular readers of this blog know that the sizeable majority of my posts are of the “Books Acquired Recently” variety, but I really do try to keep my book-buying addiction to a minimum. Really. And then something like Casey Plett’s review of Imogen Binnie’s new novel shows up in my WordPress reader and I have to go buy the book right away. It’s really not my fault, at all.

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