Murder she knit

IMG_9541I mentioned in my last post that I’ve been knitting. Part of my PhD Recovery Plan has been to spend hours watching Castle and Sherlock and knitting. In the last week I have knit one legwarmer and have started on its twin. (I have one episode of Castle left! How can I knit without a murder/detective mystery show? I guess Fringe or back issues of Doctor Who will have to suffice. Oh! I forgot about Silent Witness. More forensics, yay.)

Last night, my housemate, her boyfriend, and I watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It turns out that it is (very) loosely based on the short story of the same name by James Thurber. “Oh!” I said, and stood up, pulled a book of the shelf, and proceeded to find the short story. It was short enough to read aloud. Living with me, it seems, provides for literary entertainment.

Also, isn’t the knitting needle case my mom made for me lovely? I really like it. I’d like it even more if I had more needles to put in it…

The Great Gatsby

Opening line: ‘In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.’

This is not a book review, but this is a blog post about The Great Gatsby, both the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Baz Luhrman’s recent film adaptation. I reread the novel earlier this year, read about it in detail in Reading Lolita in Tehran, and saw the film last Friday for my birthday.

Seeing the trailer was like getting an invitation to one of Gatsby’s parties: pure excitement. It will be grand. It will be breathtaking. It’s Gatsby. I told F. I wanted to dress up to go to the cinema; F. obliged and wore a suit, and I did up my hair 20s’ style. Although the frame story was new, it made sense with Nick’s character and the story; and the movie left out a line I thought was really symbolic (though I could have missed it). The soundtrack threw me off at first, but it really helps show today’s audiences just how hip Gatsby’s parties were. Overall, I think the film was really well done, an excellent adaptation.

But I left the cinema feeling like I had watched a train wreck. F. felt similar. Having never read the book, never had to study it in school, he asked me, “What’s so great about Gatsby?”

I told him that that’s the first question high school teachers always ask about the book. As I was answering — a mixture of the classic response that The Great Gatsby is a critique of the American Dream, that Gatsby is the hero because of his striving, a rags to riches story, that it’s tragic because the green light he reaches for cannot live up to reality — I was reminded of The Atlantic’s article, The Sublime Cluelessness of Throwing Lavish Great Gatsby Parties. Seward claims that people who throw Gatsby-themed parties miss the point of the novel. They also miss the irony of throwing such a party: the novel condemns such decadence, after all. But what draws us to Gatsby? Why do we dress up in 20s clothing and reach back to that riotous jazz age?

The answer I think is two-fold, and is how we the readers are like Gatsby’s guests. Firstly, people like to feel special. We like to rub shoulders with people we think are important, as if some of that importance rubs off onto us and makes us special and important, too. Why do you think so many people went to Gatsby’s parties? Hundreds of people went, everybody went, including the mayor and senators, movie stars and models, bankers and bootleggers. And yet most of the people there were normal people out for a good time, drawn by the promise of booze, music, and seeing or even talking to or dancing with celebrities. Even more appealing is Gatsby’s mystique itself: no one knows him, few have met him. The aura of mystery around the host makes us feel even more special. Like Gatsby’s guests, we yearn for this association with greatness. This may be one reason we throw Gatsby-themed parties, when we’re so excited about the glitz and glamour of a film about the great American novel.

And we are like Gatsby’s guests in another way. How many Americans really know about The Great Gatsby? Yes, it is included in most, if not all, schools’ English curriculum. I myself have had to read it twice for school: first when I was 17 years’ old, and again when I was 19. The first time I read it I really didn’t like it. I didn’t get it or appreciate it. The second time around was better, probably because it was in the context of Western Civ. But it was reading it this year and watching the film on my 28th birthday that I really got it. Nick Carraway is 29 and 30 during the course of the novel; Gatsby is 32. As teenagers, we just don’t think of 30-year-olds and older as going to parties, dancing, getting drunk, falling in love. 30 is old. Not only that, but jazz and the foxtrot, those are “old-timey” things. How can you expect a teenager to really “get” the world of The Great Gatsby? And so this makes us, the readers and consumers of the novel, even more like Gatsby’s guests. We all know about him, but none of us really know him. The real story gets lost in essay questions about green lights and allegory, but I doubt few teenagers really resonate with the story of a thirty-year old who, in his words, still has a life ahead of him to become a great man, and who throws these lavish parties in order to attract the attention of the woman he loves. As a result, we are complicit in spreading rumours about Gatsby, throwing and attending The Great Gatsby parties with the same excitement guests poured into Gatsby’s mansion.

What’s so great about Gatsby? Why do we love it, even if we don’t understand it? Because his mystique makes his parties more fun to go to; like his guests, we want to feel special and included in a secret. Brooks Brothers and Tiffany & Co. can use The Great Gatsby-themed adverts because not only do we yearn for the glamour of the jazz age, but also because they’re tapping into the fact that most of us are ignorant of Gatsby’s true character, as his guests are, even as they party in his home.

For further reading:

Going to the cinema

I interrupt our regularly scheduled ‘Favourite Things’ post to provide an alternate glimpse into Being an Ex-pat.

Yesterday I was positively bouncing with excitement to finally see The Hunger Games. Ros had gamely offered to go with me, despite not having read the book, since everyone else we knew had already gone. I wore boots and my hair in a braid to channel Katniss and wished that I had a ‘District 12’ t-shirt. I smuggled in a bag of M&M’s, purchased a small sprite and salty popcorn, and joined Ros in a mostly-empty theatre with the best seats: as close to middle-middle as we could. Meanwhile, Ros was only beginning to be bemused. I was clearly displayingAmerican movie-going behaviour.

For one thing, she was surprised at my perfectly normal snack choices of popcorn & M&M’s. This is indicative of a larger cultural difference: most British people I know won’t mix sweet and savoury things together. They think it’s incredibly weird. Every Thanksgiving, this topic comes up, and the British people present express their bafflement that we Americans would mix something as savoury as turkey with something as sweet as sweet potato casserole. It is one of the reasons, I suspect, that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a truly foreign concept to my British friends. They know Americans eat them, but won’t themselves. And so it is with classic movie snacks: M&M’s and salty (but alas, not buttery) popcorn.

Secondly: I sat through the credits. When the lights came up, everyone stood as one and within minutes the theatre was empty. Ros stood as well, but I was sitting in the aisle seat. We sat through the credits, I casually commenting on this name and that, waiting to see where it was filmed (‘North Carolina! Good, I’m glad.’) and who had done the music. Once one of the cinema staff came in and pointedly looked at us, but I ignored him. So what if we were the only ones in the theatre? I wanted to see the credits. When we finally left the lights were out in the foyer and he was already locking up. Staying for the credits certainly isn’t a British thing to do.

There were other little differences: the types of adverts and previews before the film started. I visit the cinema so infrequently that I forget about them. The largest screen at our cinema is the size of one of the small screens at any of the Regal Cinemas in San Antonio. The small screen here is little bigger than watching something on a projector. There are only three screens. Granted, I live in a small town. The one time I went to the ‘proper’ cinema in Dundee, that felt more like a ‘real’ movie theatre: it even had escalators!

What did I think of the film? I really enjoyed it. I might have enjoyed it more had I not already read the books — I mean this only in the sense that because I already knew what was going to happen that this element of suspense was lacking. But I loved Katniss and Rue and Haymitch and Cinna and President Snow was creepy and the tracker jackers totally made my poor allergic-to-wasps housemate freak out (sorry Ros!) and it was filmed in North Carolina where it ought to have been, so I am glad. I noticed only one thing missing and that was the bread that District 11 sent to Katniss, which I loved in the book, but it also would have been rather difficult to explain. The sets, the costuming, the cinematic quality of it (it’s all about one huge TV show after all) was well done. This fan is happy.

Now, where can I get a mockingjay pin?

In Noctem

This morning I was listening to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince on Spotify (it’s like iTunes but online; you can’t keep any of the music but you can listen online for free. No, it does not work in the U.S.). While it seems I’m one of the only people to like this soundtrack by Nicholas Hooper, I think we can all agree that “In Noctem” is simply stunning. I’ve been listening to it on repeat while I track down the lyrics from a spattering of online forums. This is the best I can get:

Continue reading

That Time

A year ago today Kelly and I were driving down Route 66, listening to Regina Spektor. We stopped at the Red Barn and a watermelon patch, ignoring a sign warning ‘BRIDGE OUT’ because there wasn’t any bridge to begin with, and were laughing too hard about the shaking of the corn to stop at the Blue Whale. Has it really only been a year?

Yesterday, in one fell swoop, my mother increased my library here by 16%. I shall be occupied for quite some time. They’re good books too. Thank you. It’s been raining nonstop since the afternoon and I have much enjoyed putting my new rain boots to good use. I can walk in the rain and through puddles and my feet stay dry and warm. It’s amazing. How did I manage to live in Scotland for ten months without rain boots? I guess I just had wet feet.

The cinema in Dundee is a real cinema. Meaning it has more than three screens. There was even an escalator and previews before the movie began. It is, however, apparently a UK thing to leave the lights on, ever so dimly, during the film. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was definitely worth waking up at 6:30 am to go see. We are going to see it again on Sunday. I am still incredulous that Brittn saw the film two hours before I did even though she is in the Pacific NW.

A certain boy wizard

Dear Blog,

I regret to inform you that there are NO cinemas in Scotland giving a midnight showing Harry Potter and the Half-Blood PrinceNone. The earliest I can see it is 10:00 AM tomorrow and that’s even going to another town. Now, I have done the maths and have realized that every American fortunate enough to go to a midnight showing of HP6 will see the movie before any of us in Scotland get to. Yes. Even those of you on the west coast. (Midnight in California is 8:00 AM here. Seriously.)

So it is my request that if you do see it at midnight, please keep your Scottish brethren in mind if you are going to post about it immediately upon returning home. Please do not write me about it until after 6:00 AM Central Standard Time. I know, I’ve read the book several times, but it’s actually been a while since I’ve been in the Harry Potter universe and I don’t want anything to be spoiled. Thanks!

All best,

The Author


Well, if you haven’t guessed, I finished my essay, turned it in, and am now free as a bird (until I begin the dissertation in earnest, that is). The weather the past few days has been in my favour: windy, wet, and cold. I have been enjoying a few days of well-earned relaxation. Other than watching The Mummy and episodes of Firefly and The Big Bang Theory, I have done the following:

Thursday night Felicity and I watched The Hunt for Gollum as a last hurrah before she left to visit the States for a month. I didn’t come to it with very high expectations—it being made by fans for fans on a low budget—and it was pretty good. It wasn’t bad, but, because we already know that Aragorn catches Gollum, the film was lacking in suspense. However, I would recommend it if you have 40 minutes to spare and want a dose of Middle Earth without committing three hours to watching one of the official films.

NeverwhereIt had been three weeks since I read a book cover-to-cover, the last being The Princess and the Hound. Today I finished rereading Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. It is a story about doors, London Above and London Below, and the people who fall through the cracks from world into the other. There are Black Friars, an earl and his court, a bridge made of night, and an angel at Islington. To say Neil Gaiman is a brilliant storyteller is to understate the obvious. The marquis de Carabas is by far my favourite character, ‘because he is made of awesome,’ and he is.

Today, he thought, I’ve survived walking the plank, the kiss of death, and a lecture on inflicting pain. Right now, I’m on my way through a labyrinth with […] I am so far out of my depth that… Metaphors failed him, then. He had gone beyond the world of metaphor and simile into the place of things that are, and it was changing him.

I recommend Neverwhere to everyone, but especially to those who have been to London at least once. Read Neverwhere before you go back. The Underground will never be the same. Oh, and please mind the gap.

Last night I saw Star Trek. All I can say is: Dude, Star Trek. Wow. I loved it. Spock, both young and old, stole the show. And Karl Urban as Bones McCoy, well, he was Bones, manic and panicked as ever. I’m not going to say much else to avoid the risk of spoilers, but, this is Star Trek rebooted. In a good way. My inner nerd is very pleased indeed—especially at the somewhat real possibility that there will be a sequel(s). Go see it.

Now… what to read next?

A bit of Silliness

astonishing-the-godsLast night I read Ben Okri’s Astonishing the Gods while I was stood up waiting to Skype with Kelly. He won the Booker prize with The Famished Road, which I have not read, but Astonishing the Gods was delightfully… different. The unnamed narrator sets off from his home after he discovers that he, and all his people, are invisible, in order to discover the secret of visibility. After seven years he arrives at an enchanted island, of which all of its inhabitants are in fact invisible. His exploration of the city is a journey that tests and stretches one’s understanding of creativity and nothingness, a philosophy expounded by color and impossibilities. It is a utopia not unlike Sir Thomas More’s, except incredibly different, beyond the bounds of imagination, more of an ambiguous utopia than Le Guin’s ever was. Because I read it all in one great gulp, I’m sure some of its meaning has been lost to me: even with my imagination, I can only invert my sense of color and walk on air for so long. But with each chapter consisting of only one or two pages, it was easy to race ahead instead of pausing long enough to consider the ponderous paradoxes.

‘And sometimes—very rarely—but sometimes nonetheless, our highest creative arts, our highest playfulness, our self-overcoming, our purest art, our ascending songs, by some mysterious grace transcend so many boundaries and enter so many realms that we occasionally astonish even the gods.’

Today, in my continued denial break, Felicity and I browsed through the DVDs in the library and found several that were Region 1 or Region 0 (meaning that we can play them on our American computers). We watched Knights of the Round Table, which claimed to be based on Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, and King Arthur, which didn’t. As amusing as it was, Knights of the Round Table was about as based on Malory’s Le Morte as any Arthurian movie is, and I much prefer the latter to the former, even if King Arthur has very little basis in medieval legend. I also found yet another film soundtrack that I would like…

Between movies, I ran over to the chip shop to get fish & chips for dinner. It was amazing to go out without a coat at 7 PM and still have it be bright outside. The chip shop was busy, and a local woman struck up a conversation with me while we waited for our food. Once I established that I was a postgrad, we complained about the undergraduates and holiday makers and exchanged April Fool’s stories. She told me one that the BBC did (she forgot to mention it was in 1957!) about the bumper Spaghetti tree harvest in Switzerland.

March went out like a lamb, and I wish you all a ridiculous April 1st. Have some oranges.

The Hunt for Gollum

For true fans of Middle Earth, who have read the appendices, this movie is going to be a real treat. A bunch of indie filmmakers have adapted Aragorn’s hunt for Gollum and are making it into a 40-minute film. It will be released May 3rd as a free download (!). It’s not-for-profit, made by fans for fans, and it looks AWESOME. I can’t wait!

Oh, and there’s another one about the Dunedain called Born of Hope. The trailer is here.

Use the Force

I don’t have any profound thoughts because I’ve spent the last two days watching all seven Star Wars movies—we even watched the cartoon Clone Wars. It wasn’t half bad, worth seeing once. Note of interest: it’s quite illuminating to watch them in chronological order. We’ve been wanting to have a Star Wars marathon for months, so it was about time we went ahead and did it. You’d think Star Wars would be one of the fandoms I grew up in, but somehow it wasn’t. Some of the Episodes I had only seen once (!) and I know I want to watch them again. It’s one of those fictional realities that I want to pay attention to the things on the periphery, the things that give authenticity to the world, and ‘study’ in a sense to see how it has left a legacy in the sci-fi genre.

Wow, I really am a nerd.

Tomorrow it’s back to work. I realised this morning that I only have a week and a half left before school starts again, so hopefully I’ll start feeling motivated. (And after two days of doing nothing, feeling better.) Maybe if I meditate upon the Force…