Friday, October 19, 2012

Eulogy on the Flapper (and Philosopher)

I've decided to end this blog to dedicate more time to my other blog, le blog d'amz. I was trying to keep my interests in writing and books separate from my interests in classic films, music, and other stuff. But that's just silly and I ended up severely neglecting this blog. So, from now on, le blog d'amz will contain EVERYTHING that I'm passionate about, including writing and books.

Be sure to follow le blog d'amz on bloglovin'!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I've Edited My Opinion...

...on Twilight.

As you may know, I enjoyed the Twilight Saga. I defended it from people who think it's only for teenagers and lonely middle-aged women. I found it laughable that people could say it was poorly written when it is so engrossing and most readers can't put the books down. However, now I am rethinking how I feel about Twilight. Now, I think that Twilight is like Barbie.

Bear with me here. You hear a lot of complaints that Barbie dolls give young girls unrealistic expectations of how they should look. I grew up playing with Barbies and continued to do so well into college. (Okay, so maybe I didn't play with Barbies in college, but I did make several "Barbie movies" for projects, including The Little Mermaid for Feminist Philosophy.) And I never, ever once in my life thought "Wow, I should have an eighteen inch waist!" I enjoyed Barbie for what she was—a dress up doll.

Twilight can also give young girls some wrong ideas. For example: if you have really low self esteem, it's very important to get a boyfriend—preferably a really hot one who's "too good" for you; if your boyfriend dumps you, go into a catatonic state for several months; you must change who you are to be with said hot boyfriend, even if he doesn't want you to; it's totally acceptable to get married at eighteen; it's cool to have babies at eighteen as well.

I had never thought about the messages these books may be giving to young girls before I saw Breaking Dawn - Part 1 this weekend. After the movie, I saw two teenage girls carrying baby dolls around. I was horrified. Now, perhaps they were just doing this to be funny. But there was also the possibility that they wanted to emulate Bella. It's cute when teenagers dress up like witches and wizards for Harry Potter movies. It's scary as hell when teenagers dress up like mommy Bella.

I have always found Bella's insecurity and her placement of Edward on a pedestal really annoying, but now I find it dangerous. I really hope that teenagers who are already insecure are not idolizing Bella and/or waiting for their Edward. Granted, Bella does become a stronger character toward the end of the series, but she still has to turn into a vampire to become her ultimate strong (and "perfect") self. I feel that these messages are all wrong!

However, it is important to keep in mind that this is a work of fiction, it's not a how-to. I enjoyed the Twilight books as entertainment and didn't look to them as the way life should be. I never wanted a guy like Edward (although Robert Pattinson is mouthwateringly hot) or Jacob. I never thought that having a boyfriend would fix everything. I don't want to be like Bella (or Barbie). I want to be like me.

For a very humorous (and male) perspective on Twilight, please see The Oatmeal.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Ahhh, now I remember...

...why I hated Water for Elephants. As I mentioned previously, when I read the book a few years back, I didn't like it. It's not that I'm some elitist who enjoys disliking a book so loved by readers. I mean, c'mon, I'm a card-carrying Twi-hard and a Harry Potter fanatic. I have no problem loving books that millions of others do too. However, this book was primarily set in the 1930s, a time period that I am fairly well versed in, and it irritated me for some reason. I had thought it was because Sara Gruen "hit you over the head" with the 1930s, the Great Depression, and Prohibition. And she did. But also, now that I've re-read the first four chapters (I couldn't read any more—it's going straight to the Goodwill), I realized that the most annoying thing about this book is that it seems like the author just inserted a lot of little tidbits of information she learned while researching the 30s and circuses for no real reason whatsoever. For example*:

  • "Then he drives me to the hospital in his own car, a two-year-old Phaeton that must have cost the earth. So many things people would have done differently had they known what would happen that fateful October." (p. 22)—to me, this is just a gratuitous stock market crash of 1929 reference and also a chance for the author to drop in the name of a 1920s car she learned about in her research. Neither add to the story one bit.
  • "Hell, I even remember the ones who had to drop out after the Crash: Henry Winchester, whose father stepped off the ledge of the Board of Trade Building in Chicago. Alistair Barnes, whose father shot himself in the head. Reginald Monty, who tried unsuccessfully to live in a car when his family could no longer pay for his room and board. Bucky Hayes, whose unemployed father simply wandered off." (p. 29) —this excerpt is from a paragraph where the narrator, Jacob, is talking about how he should recognize his fellow students during his final exam, but he's too shaken up by his parents' deaths to do so. However, it looks like the author read a Wikipedia entry on the behavior of people after the stock market crash and decided to use some of it in a totally unrelated part of the story. It's totally unnecessary and distracted me from how Jacob was feeling at the moment—she should have just concentrated on getting across the point that he was disoriented to the point of not being able to take his exam.
  • After Camel asks a fellow circus laborer, Will, for a cigarette: "The man straightens up and pats his shirt pockets. He digs into one and retrieves a bent cigarette. 'It's Bull Durham,' he says, leaning forward and holding it out. 'Sorry.' 'Roll-your-own suits me fine,' says Camel." (p. 41)—I feel like this part would have been better served if she had just had Camel bum a cigarette from Will without all the useless name dropping of Bull Durham and the explanation that it was tobacco that needed to be rolled in paper. I wonder if the author Googled "1930s cigarettes" and found Bull Durham tobacco and decided to just needlessly insert that information somewhere. Again, it adds nothing to the story other than awkward dialogue that made me cringe.
  • "'Damn Prohibition,' Camel finally says. 'This stuff used to taste just fine till the government decided it shouldn't. Still gets the job done, but tastes like hell.'" (p. 63-64)—Seriously? Is there anyone who doesn't know what Prohibition is? We all learned about it in US History, we don't need another history lesson on it. And, in 1931, when this book is set, Prohibition had been going on for 11 years. I doubt anyone would say anything remotely like this in 1931. Maybe complaining about the flavor of illegal alcohol or wishing Prohibition was over, but geez, this is like a really short explanation of Prohibition as if the people reading this book needed one.
  • "'Not now, boy.  Not now,' booms Al, goose-stepping past like the Brownshirts you see in the grainy news trailers at the movies." (p. 67)—I really think that this sentence could have been served better without the reference to Nazi Sturmabteilung. I mean, do you really think Al was literally goose stepping? Why would he do that? I can picture Al striding purposefully or even marching past Camel and Jacob, without paying attention to them, but not goose stepping. And also, the graininess of news footage in the 30s was the norm and I don't think it was something people in the 30s would really comment on. It is, of course, very grainy to us with our HD movies, but I don't think a person in the 30s would have taken note of it. Of course, we could assume that this is old Jacob talking and he's so used to crystal clear TV and movies, that the graininess of old news footage stands out to him. But still, I think this is a useless reference and one the author only threw in to show off.
  • "'Marlena said Silver Star was off,' says August. 'Wanted me to get the advance man to arrange for a vet. Didn't seem to understand that the advance man was gone out in advance, hence the name.'" (p. 75)—now here is an example of the author throwing in random circus information for no reason. I feel like she found out what an advance man was and decided to insert that information into the story, but didn't know where, so she stuck it here. But don't you think that Marlena, who has been on the circus for however long at this point, would know exactly what an advance man is? Why would she ask August to get the advance man to get a vet for Silver Star when she knew perfectly well he was not there? It just seems fishy to me. The point of this whole statement is that one of the horses is not well and they could use Jacob's veternarian expertise. There is absolutely no need for the definition of advance man.

And that's where I stopped. I couldn't read any more. Sara Gruen's annoying habit of just dropping information into the story where it isn't needed really bothered me and I didn't want to subject myself to it (again). However, as I've said before, the actual story is a good one—one that made an enjoyable movie. I just think that my 1930s knowledge combined with my natural-born-editor's eyes caught all of these annoying information drops more readily than your average reader. Which is why so many people love the book and why I hated it.

All that said, I do feel bad totally ragging on an author's hard work. She actually put effort into researching this time period and circuses instead of just making shit up. However, I think she should have put more effort into making the story flow seamlessly instead of sticking in random bits of trivia here and there. I picture her with little 3x5 notecards with different facts and terms from the 1930s and circuses and just deciding randomly to put one here, another one there, one more over there, etc., into the main story she had created. Whatever her real process for writing it, it just wasn't for me. I usually enjoy the books I read a LOT more than I enjoyed this one (see my Shelfari, linked to on the right) and I usually give them good reviews (mostly 4-5 stars). So I think I'm entitled to intensely dislike a few!

*page numbers are from the movie tie-in paperback edition

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Tea Bag Wisdom

No, not that. Although I guess I should say "tea tag" not "tea bag". But "tea bag" is funnier. And yes, I am that mature.

Anyway, we have Good Earth Teas at work (seriously, free tea = awesome!) and they all have quotes on the tea tags. I save the occasional tag that has a quote that stirs something in me. I thought I'd share the quotes on the tags I've saved so far:
  • Ignorance of certain subjects is a great part of wisdom. - Hugo De Groot
  • Unless you believe, you will not understand. - Saint Augustine
  • A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song. - Chinese Proverb
  • The palest ink is better than the best memory - Wise Saying from the Orient
  • The whole life of man is but a point of time; let us enjoy it. - Plutarch
  • Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you. - Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes. - Frank Lloyd Wright
  • Sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. - The White Queen in Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
  • Every artist was first an amateur. - Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • He that can have patience can have what he will. - Benjamin Franklin
  • I make the most of all that comes and the least of all that goes. - Sara Teasdale

Some echo my sentiments (for example, Hugo De Groot and Frank Lloyd Wright) and others are reminders of how I want to live my life (like Benjamin Franklin, Plutarch, and Sara Teasdale) and still others just make me smile (like Lewis Carroll). It's kind of nice to enjoy a (free) cup of tea in the morning and be greeted with an inspiring quote as well. :)

Sunday, May 08, 2011

French Grammar

If you couldn't tell already, I'm a big fan of anything French. And, you could probably already tell that I love books from the 1920s and 1930s. So imagine my delight when yesterday, I found the following at M & M Antiques & Collectibles in Monroe, WA:

It says "COPYRIGHT, 1901" on the back of the title page, but in the preface, there's a bit about "this edition" and it's dated 1903, so I'm guessing this book was printed in 1903—but then again, I know nothing about old books, so I could be very wrong. In any case, what makes it so exciting to me is that it was owned by a girl named Violet Weeks in 1920:

And to make it even more adorable, Violet wrote her classes (English, French, and Civics) and a French/English phrase (compter jusqu'a - count to) on one of the pages:

This amazing find I got for the incredible price of $2. I'm not even kidding. Joining my 1930 Ex-Wife, 1918 Khaki Girls of the Motor Corps books (the first two in the series), and 1920 The Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, this book has become one of my most prized book possessions. The antique store also had a 1920s works of Shakespeare that I really wanted, but as I already have an existing works of Shakespeare, I didn't see the point in buying it when I'm trying to be a bit more frugal. Although I'm hoping it'll still be there if I ever go back—it was only like $10! If you ever happen to be in Monroe, you should definitely check them out—they had SO much cool stuff (not just books) and at really reasonable prices. 119 W Main St, Monroe, WA 98272

Friday, April 29, 2011

Les livres pour les francophiles

I've been on a bit of a French jag with my books lately. I think I might have to take a break from reading France-centric books for a bit and give other countries a chance to hold my imagination. Here are some of the wonderful books I've read recently dealing with things and people that are French:

Entre Nous: A Woman's Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl by Debra Ollivier
I read this book a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. I liked how Ollivier boiled down her observations of all things French into nice little lists (so very appropriate for an American audience!). I got quite a good number of movie, book, and beauty product recommendations.

French Women Don't Sleep Alone by Jamie Cat Callan
This was a very cute book. It's definitely put me in the mind to accept more social engagements and to put more effort into my appearance (even if it's just a trip to Trader Joe's). Also, a walking "date" sounds so much more appealing than a one-on-one dinner and a movie date, so I'll definitely be suggesting that in the future. And, of course, keeping the mystery alive, even when you're married is always a great suggestion.

All You Need to be Impossibly French by Helena Frith Powell
Another very cute book that attempts the feat of boiling down millions of French women into the things that make them French and therefore different from British and American women. I liked how the author said she'd take the things she liked about the French and apply them to her own life, but also keep what she likes about being British. I agree—the French have many desirable attributes: a healthy diet, a mysterious air (due to NOT spilling every single little detail about themselves to everyone they meet), a polished appearance, ability to drink in moderation, matching underwear etc. But they also have idiosyncrasies that I would not like in my own life, such as the prevalence of cheating (obviously this happens just as much in the States too, but the French seem more understanding about it) and the lack of girlfriends. So I think I will do like the author did and incorporate the things I admire about the French into my life but also keep my insistence upon monogamy and my best friends.

French Women Don't Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano
Surprisingly, I had not read this book until this year—crazy, I know. I already loved the author because my former French teacher's name was also Mireille and because she's the former president and CEO of Veuve Clicquot, my favorite champagne. This book did NOT disappoint. It's all common sense, really, but the way Mireille tells it, it makes even more sense. These are not things Americans are taught to do—eat bread and cheese and yogurt—so perhaps it's not common sense to most people, but I found her advice to ring true. I have definitely made some steps in the right direction with what I eat after reading this book. But to be honest, I only lasted 3/4 of a day on that Magic Leek Soup weekend. I am absolute rubbish at fasting—even fasting that includes eating leeks and drinking leek soup. However, I'd never had leeks before, so to discover that I actually like them quite a bit was a nice surprise!

The French Women Don't Get Fat Cookbook by Mireille Guiliano
I'm not exactly what you'd call a cook. In fact, I don't really cook at all. In fact, I honestly think the first time I've ever cooked pasta was just the other night. When you hear about people who can't even boil water, picture me. I'm not even kidding. So, while I have only tried two of the recipes in this book so far (Magical Breakfast Cream—seriously SO yummy and something else involving peas that I didn't really care for), I do plan on trying more and actually learning how to cook. But seriously, that Magical Breakfast Cream is delicious. I have had it every morning for breakfast for the past three or four weeks and cannot get enough of it!

What French Women Know About Love, Sex, and Other Matters of the Heart and Mind by Debra Ollivier
Another great book by Debra Ollivier. It brings to light so many wonderful aspects of the way French women think, act, and live. After reading it, I'm more inclined to embrace my imperfections and just enjoy life as it happens. That is far sexier and more enjoyable than trying to control every little aspect of your life like many American women do!

I also have plenty of French books on my "plan to read" list, such as:

Reading all of these books about French women has definitely made an impact on me. I see things in the French that I would like to exhibit myself. Namely, taking very good care of myself (eating well, walking a lot, drinking lots of water, taking excellent care of my skin, hair, and nails, making an effort with my appearance at all times, etc.), not really caring what others think of me (which you might think is mutually exclusive with wanting to look good all the time, but it’s not!) and not needing everyone to like me, allowing some mystery about myself (I am really bad about sharing too much!), wearing matching scanties, drinking only in moderation, and not trying to achieve perfection. I like how the French don’t need everything spelled out in a relationship, but I would still like to know for sure that the relationship I’m in is monogamous and will stay so—I’m not into “open” relationships. That said, a little more mystery is a good thing—your significant other doesn’t need to know every little secret about you.

And there are some French things that I think I already exhibit. For example, in What French Women Know, Debra Olliver quotes VĂ©ronique Vienne “[joie de vivre is] a form of bliss triggered by the world at large, not by an internal reality. Unlike happiness, which can be described as an inner state of contentment, joie de vivre is not self-involved. You derive this kind of joy from acknowledging greatness outside yourself—in things, in nature, in others.” I never noticed this about myself until recently, but after taking the VIA Survey of Character Strengths, it showed that my #1 strength is “appreciation of beauty and excellence”. I thought this was a sort of weird strength to have as my #1. I mean, what can you do with an appreciation of beauty and excellence? Does that translate into a job? And then I remembered that our jobs do not need to be our lives and I can enjoy the beauty and excellence around me any old time and who cares if I get paid for it? It makes me happy. Anyway, as soon as I read Vienne’s definition of joie de vivre, I got all excited—I have joie de vivre!

Of course, there are other so-called French attributes mentioned in more than one of these books that I am not overly fond of. Everything You Need to be Impossibly French had a whole section on how French women don’t hang out with other women like Americans and British women do—they just don’t do “girlfriends”. While I admire the French way of co-ed socializing (I really could stand to do more of that myself), I love my girlfriends and I can’t imagine life without the occasional girls’ night out. It was also mentioned that one of the reasons they don’t do “girlfriends” is because they’re all worried their female friends are going to steal their husbands/boyfriends. This seems silly to me. I trust my girlfriends implicitly. I would just not be friends with a woman I didn’t trust. And if my significant other could be “stolen”, then he isn’t worth my time. Also, the whole French inability to stand in lines. I experienced this first-hand in Paris—especially in Disneyland Paris. I’m definitely not calling French people rude because I met the nicest, most accommodating French people when I was there. But, at the train station and at Disneyland Paris, I encountered the most annoying lack of respect for lines I’ve ever experienced. I’m a firm believer in first come, first served and I dislike it when people cut in line because they think they’re more entitled. My sister even hip checked a girl into a trash can in line for Space Mountain because she tried to get in front of us. I think it’s only polite to wait in line and I will continue to think so, even if that makes me terribly American. I have no problem with that.

I find much to admire in French women (see, there goes that appreciation of beauty and excellence!) and plan to incorporate those admirable qualities in my own life. But I also have developed a better appreciation for myself and can proudly claim some of my very American traits, such as love for my girlfriends and patiently waiting in line.

Monday, April 25, 2011


So I just bought a copy of Water for Elephants online—even though I already read the book a couple of years ago and HATED it. I thought the storyline itself was great and it was obvious that Sara Gruen knew her stuff (i.e. did extensive research). However, I thought the way she set you in the 1930s was too obvious. I felt like I was being hit over the head with it. And that's what rubbed me the wrong way and made me hate it.

As a huge fan of the 1930s—the movies, the books, the music, the culture, the outlaws (I'm obsessed with Bonnie and Clyde and John Dillinger)—I probably know a lot more about this time period than your average reader. And so, I totally understand that Sara Gruen's writing style is probably not irritating to the millions of people who loved this book. But to this 30s fan, it rankled me big time.

However, as I said before, I think the story itself was great and the characters were wonderful. Also, being a fan of all three leads in the movie version, I went and saw the movie on Friday night. I figured the movie version would be better because they could visually show you the 1930s without overdoing it. And I was right—I enjoyed the movie much more than the book (even though the line about "He hates Ringling Brothers even more than he hates this depression" made me cringe and I'm pretty sure the flag on the big top had 50 stars on it, but I could be wrong).

One of my favorite things to do after watching any movie is to go to IMDb and read all of the goofs and trivia about it. When I did this for Water for Elephants, I found out that Sara Gruen wrote the novel for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and I couldn't help but be impressed. I've never given NaNoWriMo a true try before (because it has to be a new novel, not one you've been working on and I'm still working on one and don't want to start a new one yet), but I can figure out for myself that it's no easy thing to do. Of course, she obviously didn't write the entire 350 page novel in 30 days, but she wrote at least 50,000 words of it.*

I've been wanting to re-read the book so I could give specific examples of why I didn't like Gruen's writing style. Every time I explain to people why I didn't like it, I think I sound like a know-it-all who thinks she's pretty awesome because she knows a lot about the 1930s. And, well, I am and I do. Having forgotten much of the book since I read it in 2008 or 2009, I can't honestly remember the specific passages that drove me crazy. So I figure if I re-read it, I can make note of them and better defend my opinion. But also, now with my new-found respect for Sara Gruen, I might actually enjoy it this time.

We'll see. . . .

*Edit: when I received the book in the mail, it had a little interview with Sara Gruen in it and she never mentioned NaNoWriMo,which is  kind of lame. I'd brag about that shit!!