My Fair Lazy, Culturing Up, and Six Months Of Lovely Accidents

So, a lot of people are writing, “it’s halfway through the year, here’s a check in posts.” I wasn’t planning one, but last night I has a realization that made me very happy.

A few years ago my favorite non fiction writer Jen Lancaster, wrote a book called, My Fair Lazy that was about a year long project to expand her horizons and get a bit more cultured. The project included exploring fine dining, attending theatrical performances and reading “important” books.

Y’all, between The Epics Project and The Best Theatrical Year of My Life, this sort of happened to me by accident, I realized as Aless and I picked up our champagne at the second intermission of ABT’s production of Don Quixote. (Partially, realizing that this wasn’t a terribly unusual outing for us anymore. We’ve come a long way since those $5 margaritas on 34th Street!)

Here are the cultural milestones I’ve had this year:

  • Read: War And Peace, Ulysses, Middlemarch, Don Quixote, Dune, David Copperfield, The Alchemist and Lincoln In The Bardo. As well as several other books that are probably not as culturally important but I have enjoyed quite a bit. That I’m reading a lot again is good. It means I can read things that are important and literary and the crap that I’d been consuming for the past few years. And I’ve got six more of the biggies (and a few smallies I’ve been putting off) before I’m through that project.
  • Watched: I’m still not good at watching things that are good for me. I’ll hit an occasional indie film or documentary, but for the most part, what I’m watching is still junk food. Often very well crafted junk food, like those sundaes from Serendipity or whatever, but still, empty calories
  • Attended: BEST THEATRICAL YEAR OF MY LIFE! It’s amazing how no longer participating in theater has made seeing theater feel essential to me. The Children, Children Of A Lesser God, Once On This Island, My Fair Lady, Angels In America, La Boheme and Don Quixote. I’ve still got a revisit to Hamilton and Springsteen On Broadway coming up and likely a few more.
  • Food: Most of my food exploration has come from cooking rather than eating out and my skills are still basic but improving. I can make Chicken Korma, which is exciting (Though I’m still tweaking my spice mix. It comes out a little too sweet for me every time…)

So that’s my culture year so far. It’s been good.

Advertisements

36 Books In 2018 #24: The Trials Of Apollo: The Burning Maze By Rick Riordan

A funny thing happens when I read a Rick Riordan book. I fall under a kind of spell. From the moment I first started The Lightening Theif nearly eight years ago to yesterday when I finished The Burning Maze, I find myself lost Riordan’s world of monsters, magic and gods.

Sure I have books I prefer to others. (The Last Olympian is good, The Lost Hero, ehhh) But I’m always happy to hang out at Camp Halfblood.

The Trials Of Apollo has proved to be my favorite series so far. I like be Apollo as a narrator and twenty or so books in everything is so rich and full of backstory, just the tantalizing sentence of Apollo and Grover enter the labyrinth to fight Caligula and Medea (with assists from Piper and Jason) is enough to burst my little fangirl heart.

The Burning Maze has great action, moments of hilarity and devastating losses and mired as it all is in history is kind of wonderful. I have my complaints.

My girl Rachel Dare was nowhere to be found which really? I get that Percy is currently helping on the Norse side of things, but his absence is always a negative, and too much of the narrative hinges on Jason who’s my least favorite of Riordan’s mains.

But it’s a worthy entry into this series that I’ve loved for so long!

Up next is China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan. HOORAY! More Crazy Rich Asians!

36 Books in 2017 #21: Tropical Attire Encouraged And Other Phrases That Scare Me By Alison Rosen

I first discovered Alison Rosen on Pete Holmes’s interesting but now too much for me podcast, You Made It Weird, and I quickly realized, OH THANK GOD, there’s another woman in her late 30’s who’s worldview mostly matches up with mine. I’m totally going to enter a point in my life where my voice fits me. (I’ve suspected this since I was like 12.)

Anyway, that was like five years ago, and I started listening to Alison’s podcast Alison Rosen Is Your New Best Friend twice a week since. (Actually, from my intitial jump into podcasts, I think that Alison, Chris Hardwick and Cracked are the only ones still in my feed…) So when she said she was publishing a book, I was thrilled. 

The book is a collection of columns that Alison wrote that were chosen and put together by her husband Daniel. (D-Quantz on the snappy…) It was cool to read them, as they’re from before I really got into the podcast, so it covered a lot of stuff I hadn’t heard her talk about. (Alison tends to repeat herself, it’s another thing we have in common…)

Anyway, I laughed out loud a bunch, was happy to hear about Alison wishing she could be cooler than she is, (RELATE SO MUCH!) why she doesn’t like taking baths, and her worry about becoming one of “those people.” (Long passed that threshold, what with the fact that I’m freaking out as I write this because I can’t find my Captain America themed dress to wear to see Infinity War…and this is posting while I’m on my 8th Disney World trip in 3 years…) (The dress was at my mom’s) (I know you were worried)

Anyway, the book is actually a good primer on Alison’s voice if you’d want to pop into her podcast, if you don’t like this quick easy book, you’re not going to like the show.

I love both. Good for me!

Up next is Children of Dune because guys, I’m jonesing for a new obsession, and lately, Dune seems to be the only thing sparking.

 

OK…OK…What’s Next?

 I would not be the person I am without the authors who made me what I am–the special ones, the wise ones, sometimes just the ones who got there first.

It’s not irrelevant, those moments of connection, those places where fiction saves your life. It’s the most important thing there is.  – Neil Gaiman

I love this quote by Neil Gaiman (on my Mount Rushmore of influences by the way, that man…) And I was thinking about it a lot as I drove to work yesterday morning, because I’d spent the evening listening to one of the special ones, the wise ones, and most importantly, the guy that got there first.

I came to the realization some time ago when someone asked me who my favorite writer was and I didn’t have to time to think about it, or maybe I’d been drinking, or was tired, and without even taking a breath I said simply, “Oh, Aaron Sorkin.”

The response when I say that is anywhere from a “YES!” to a “The West Wing Guy?” to an agreived sigh and a “he really can’t write women.” (How this became the narrative for the guy who created Dana Whittaker and CJ Cregg is beyond me…Harriet Hayes was sort of a trainwreck, but he women of The Newsroom were pretty kick ass, as Sorkin characters go.)

Anyway, the whole evening was sort of magical. Crystan managed to get us amazing seats at Town Hall for The West Wing Weekly Live, with special guest Aaron Sorkin. It was technically the season 4 finale, but they kind of just jumped around (that finale is the last episode that Sorkin wrote) Emily Procter, who played Ainsley Hayes also came and chatted, and overall it was just, kind of lovely.

Mostly, though, I was in awe of this man.

This man who’s work has inspired me since I was twelve. This man who has given so many words to the world.

You’ll notice that this week’s The Marina Chronicles post is a group of people sitting at a table trying to figure out their next step…that’s not a coincidence. I love that kind of writing.

Anyway, it was really fun, and I need to find out, well, what’s next.

30 Books in 2018 #6: Origin by Dan Brown

About two years ago, I was on a second date with a perfectly nice man. We’d met at a singles event (always fun and never awkward…) had had a nice coffee and were now having dinner. He was also a writer, though his thing was political thrillers, one of which he’d self published already. (I was going to wait until like the fifth date to read his book…) He mentioned that Dan Brown was his favorite writer, which struck me as an odd thing for a writer to say because like, Dan Brown is fine, but he’s basically the vanilla yogurt of writers, not really anyone’s “favorite,” certainly not someone interested in writing their own stuff.

When I said that I’d read most of his stuff and it didn’t click with me because once I figured out the formula, I’d ceased to find his thrillers, you know, thrilling, he stared at me like, well, like a character in a Dan Brown novel who’d just learned that some deeply held conviction of theirs was ACTUALLY NOT THAT AT ALL!

There wasn’t a third date. He never called me again. I’ve decided it’s because of that anecdote. (Because that comment made me come off as jerky and elitist, and I made him feel stupid.)

I tell this story for a specific reason when talking about Brown’s books:

I’m hesitant to judge anyone’s choice in “junk food entertainment.” Just because I prefer romance novels about spies during the Napoleonic wars to Professor Robert Langdon’s improbable adventures with secret religious societies throughout Europe, doesn’t mean I think I’m better than the people that do. That would be like saying, the because I’d rather eat Oreos I’m a better person than those that go for Doritos. They’re both kind of garbage, but sometimes, you want garbage.

Origin is definitely a straightforward Dan Brown story, and while the BIG REVELATION won’t really shock anyone even remotely familiar with the philosophies of New Atheism or Futurism (I am passing familiar with both, in that I’ve read at least one article by Christopher Hitchins and seen Bill Maher’s Religulous and I’ve been to Disney World a bunch of times and watched Star Trek)

This time Harvard Symbologist Robert Langdon (SO DUMB) is running around Spain with the Prince of Spain’s beautiful fiancee who is also a modern art curator, Ambra Vidal (sure, whatever) and a sentient AI named Winston (BEST IDEA THAT BROWN HAS EVER HAD!) trying to outrun an assassin who shot and killed a mutual friend, noted futurist and New Atheist Edmond Kirsch, who was on the verge of ANNOUNCING A SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY THAT WILL DESTROY OUR UNDERSTANDING OF HUMAN LIFE AS WE KNOW IT. (It really, really doesn’t.) (Much as it’s really really not that controversial to point out that Jesus may have had a family, and thus have living descendants) (Or whatever it is that happened in Angels And Demons.) 

I’m getting down on this book but I enjoyed reading it, it certainly has it’s share of ridiculousness, and there’s a pretty heavy handed anti neo-fascist message, which while appreciated in a piece of popular fiction like Origin, is maybe out of Brown’s depth thematically. The mystery is actually pretty fun, Langdon is at his charming, bafflingly well informed best, and THIS BOOK HAS A SENTIENT CELL PHONE NAMED AFTER WINSTON CHURCHILL IN IT, so you know, that’s pretty cool.

The dialog is often groan worthy, and while I get that Dan Brown’s general audience is older, I really think the page long description of what Uber is could have been cut. (I actually laughed out loud at that point) I genuinely liked the post climax action where Langdon explains his own religious beliefs, noting the difference between patterns and codes. (Patterns can occur randomly, codes require intent, life requires a code, thus must have some sort of intelligence behind it’s creation.) (Langdon is clearly a fan of St. Thomas Aquinas.)

I was wondering if Origin would make me want to go back and check out the Langdon books I skipped (Inferno and The Lost Symbol.) It didn’t, but it also didn’t feel like a complete waste of time! Hooray!

Renegades, World Building, And Other Thoughts

renegades

This summer, when I read The Lunar Chronicles, I eventually fell head over heals with the complicated and fun sci fi fairytale world that Marissa Meyer created. (Also, when I learned she got her start with Sailor Moon fan fiction, a lot of her decisions suddenly made a lot more sense to me.) And, I give an immense amount of credit to both  The Lunar Chronicles and The Dark Tower and their games of genre mashup, which helped give me the confidence to finally dive in and work past my fear of making The Marina Chronicle what I wanted it to be and to share it with people. (HEY! READ THE MARINA CHRONICLE! Also check out my facebook, where there is now an album of likenesses I created of many of the characters!) (The genres I’m mashing up are old school WB style teen dramas and epic fantasy.) (It’s easier than you’d think.) (If you live in my head.)

But, when I finished Cinder I thought, “I liked this, and I think the world is cool, but it took a while for me to get into it.”

And here’s the thing, the exact same thing happened while I was reading Renegades: Book 1, the first book in Meyer’s new series about super heroes and villains.

I love the conceit. A world where people with powers come to prominence, live for years in a world of villain sponsored chaos and then a group of super heroes defeat the villains and establish something akin to an autocratic rule. In the middle you’ve got a generation of teens who remember the terror of their childhood, but aren’t sure about the new system either.

At it’s center is Nova, a girl raised by supervillains, who infiltrates The Renegades, and find her loyalties torn when she falls in love with the son of two of the most influential Renegades.

This book has everything I love. Seriously, super heroes, girl lead, teens with powers, star crossed romance, murky motivation, philosophical discussions about the nature of human beings and societal constructs.

But it took me forever to get into it. Like, I would read a chapter, think, “huh,” put it down and then not pick it back up again for a week.

Finally,  because I’m starting a new reading project for 2018 in January, I decided I was going to finish it last night.

And once I got to about the halfway point, I was hooked. I was invested in Nova and Adrian’s love story. I was invested in the murky decisions the Renegades were making. I was invested in the Anarchists (the villain gang that raised Nova) and their goals. I was invested in Nova and her torn loyalties.

But, here’s the thing, this story that has all these elements that I love should not take nearly one hundred pages to hook me, and as it’s now the second time this has happened with me and Meyer, I think it must be some disconnect between me and her way of kicking off stories.

But I like her stories, so I guess I’m going to keep reading. And in the end Renegades was very worth it.

Anyway, about that 2018 reading project? Like The Vonnegut project, (cut off early, and unfinished, because my depression was sort of kicking my ass, and I needed to lighten up my media intake for a bit) (this is also why I haven’t watched The Punisher yet and I’ve been rewatching Psych!) (Psych is awesome!) (And really good for depression watching.) (It’s so perky and life affirming!) it’s about making sure that I stretch my brain a little bit. I’m going to read an epic novel every months of 2018. I’m starting in January with War And Peace. (What, Natasha, Pierre And The Great Comet of 1812 has nothing to do with the decision…what a ridiculous thought.) I’ll also be tackling Dune, Middlemarch, David Copperfield, Infinite Jest & probably Ulysses.

That’ll push me up to June, and I’m sure others will come to me in that time, but I’m SUPER open to suggestions. I’m trying not to reread any epics I’ve already read. Though I’m overdue to try Les Mis again, and I’m curious what my new slightly woker self would think of Gone With The Wind and no visit to Middle Earth is wasted, it’s time to expand my view a little bit. ESPECIALLY looking for epic novels not written by white dudes. Or white people in general, as my those first six are REALLY white. (I’ve also already read The Color Purple.)

I know.: RIP Carrie Fisher

A lot of people died in 2016. A lot of them were really famous and inspiring, but two of them were my great aunt and grandmother, so that’s keeping the celebrity deaths in perspective. (Seriously, the angel of death seemed really cruel this year.)

But I guess we couldn’t be left very well alone in the last 4 days of the years, because now Carrie Fisher is among them.

Back in the early, early days of starting this blog, I wrote about Princess Leia, and the blurry lines between second and third wave feminism as I saw it then. (I’ve grown a lot in the past five years.) Leia has meant a lot to me as a writer, a fan, a critic and a woman. Carrie Fisher’s writing means more. (I’ve got kind of a thing about acerbic troubled ladies from that generation. I’m also deeply into Norah Ephron, who is also gone. Well, SHIT.) I’ve spent a lot of time in the past decade trying to decide what kind of writer I wanted to be, and it was in finding memoir that it all finally clicked, and Wishful Drinking was a huge part of that.

I didn’t read the book but I watched the one woman show and was blown away by it’s bizarre mix of depressing self disclosure and hilarious self deprication. It was one large step towards the realization that “This is what I want to do.” I still had far to go, and I wound up a good deal less confessional, but my life is also a whole lot less interesting than hers was.

Her fearlessness in the face of aging and mental illness and addiction was remarkable and her wit and strength was incredible.

I’m writing this while watching When Harry Met Sally, because I want to remember that this woman, this indomitable woman was so much more than the one character who defined her. But I do want to talk about Princess Leia Organa, General Organa, the icon the light in every nerd girls life. Yes, we’ve dealt with fridging and Gamergate and being Smurfettes and damsels, but we had Leia. We had this beacon of strength and fire and fight and compassion and joy and love. Leia the Hutt slayer, Leia the princess, Leia the senator, Leia the general.

Every time I write a female character I make sure that she lives up to Leia. Not in the same ways, but she has to have at least as much agency, plot impact and personality. Otherwise, what’s the point?

2016 wasn’t the worst year of my life, but it wasn’t great. I fought through a baseline of depression, a job that I hated and the loss of two of the women who’d inspired me my whole life, right in my own small world. And now the world at large has lost yet another shining light that had meant so much to so many of us.

Yesterday I wrote the following: May the Force Be With You. We Know.

“I know” symbolizes “I love you” second only to “As You Wish” in my book. So that’s what I’m going with to say goodbye to Carrie Fisher, We Know. We love you. Thank you for all of it.

Rest in Peace, drowned in moonlight, strangled by her own bra.