Personalness

Carrie-ing On

My schedule is crazy stuffed this week so even though I have more reviews, they are not quite finished and instead I will share a PS for this post: an illustrated celebration of Carrie’s fashion sense in Sex and the City. The whole re-watch happened actually so that I could finish this poster for the 20th anniversary of the show and it took so much more time than I expected but I had a lot of fun (that’s what passes for fun around this household, folks). You can read and see more on our design blog.

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Nights at the Circus

Sorry for the skipped week but I’m pregnant and busy and sometimes something has to give. But let’s discuss this rather good book I read last month:

er-nightsatthecircusNights at the Circus by Angela Carter

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
Fevvers is a wonderful aerialiste: a woman with wings who charms the circus goers of the entire Europe, now starting her international tour. She tells her story to a sceptical journalist, Walser, who despite his better judgment falls into the thrall of her storytelling and her personality. The historical setting – the turn of the last century – allows Carter to shed light on the more bizarre areas of the Victorian society, while, most of all, proclaiming her love for narrative.

How I found it:
I read about it in How to Read Novels Like a Professor (such a dumb title but a good book) and it sounded interesting (incidentally, that’s also how I found The Poisonwood Bible a while ago).

Summary judgment:
It’s a breath of fresh (linguistic) air to read a more literary book – I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Best things about it:
Like its heroine, it’s a vivacious story that seduces its reader, inviting them to ask the novel’s question: “Is it fact or is it fiction” and eventually to reject it as irrelevant. It confirms Carter’s love for the performative, the marginal. It paints an original, convincing but not too constrained picture of the end of the nineteenth century.

Worst things about it:
Personally I was less interested in the clowns, maybe because (like all reasonable people) I’m not a fan of the profession. However, the role that Carter ascribes them, is interesting and fits with the rest of the narrative.

Other pluses:
✤ Almost goes without saying but Carter is wonderful with language, building another tier to the narrative just with her choice of words. The first scene in Fevvers’ changing room should convince anyone.
✤ I’m always in for another story on storytelling, as long as the story itself remains interesting.
✤ The Siberian, shamanistic part proves Carter’s mettle with how it is both a part of the whole novel and remains separate.

Other minuses:
You know, I’m good. If you buy the concept of the book, you just enjoy the ride.

How it enriched my life:
It enchanted me with its language and setting and made me think about marginal areas of the Victorian world. Also, reading a truly good novel is a different experience to reading a merely interesting novel and I don’t do it nearly often enough these days.

Follow-up:
I think I’ve already read all of Carter that I had a particular interest in but I might return to this one.

Recommended for:
Fans of good historical novels with a strong postmodern tinge. Fans of old-school circus. Lovers of storytelling.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: The latest Avengers

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Guilty Pleasures

Some books I read entirely for pleasure – and yes, some I read for guilty pleasure (I went there). This here is a rather appropriate title, except it doesn’t really make me feel all that guilty.

er-guiltypleasuresGuilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
It’s the first novel in Hamilton’s most popular series: on Anita Blake, the vampire hunter (and, I figure, lover?). Anita (who for some unnecessary reason is also a necromancer) gets involved in an investigation of vampire murders even though she has been responsible for a few vampire deaths herself (hence the hunter part). Even though most vampires are repulsive, some she finds much more intriguing.

How I found it:
Honestly, Hamilton’s other series, about Meredith, the fairy princess, is one of my most consistent guilty pleasures (see fun fact for more details; and sure, you may judge me). Even though some of those books veer into overly erotic descriptions I – like true perverts also say, I’m sure – read them for the plot. I knew about Hamilton’s more popular series but didn’t find time for it before.

Summary judgment:
Well, it’s not a great book, but a sufficiently competent pleasurable read.

Best things about it:
It reads fast and really got me interested in the plot. I think it changes later but for now the erotic aspect doesn’t exist, instead leaving a lot of time for action-adventure and I got curious as to who the murderer was and also to the intricacies of Anita’s life. It does a good job of building a memorable heroine with her strength offset by past trauma.

Worst things about it:
If you read for ambitious reasons (do you, though?), steer clear. Other than that, I guess some details needed a bit more clarification to get more vivid but that might happen in later volumes.

Other pluses:
✤ I found Edward a pretty fascinating side character who didn’t become completely defined even by the end of the book.
✤ While it doesn’t add much to the vampire mythos, I appreciate how it also doesn’t add silly things to it (talking about sparkling, of course).
✤ Jean Claude, while a stock character so far, has potential for an interesting love interest.
✤ I enjoyed how the main villain was only a part of the danger Anita had to fight against.
✤ While the “urban” part of urban fantasy remains merely a sketch, I think the books might develop vampiric St. Louis into something interesting (they probably don’t, if the other series taught me anything).

Other minuses:
✤ We spend too much time on unimportant and unfascinating side characters, like the gullible friend (name forgotten) or the greedy boss.
✤ I could do without the party scenes. They felt like a setup for things that never happened.

How it enriched my life:
It made me exercise more willingly because I was curious what was going to happen.

Fun fact:
So I have an old model of Kindle with a text-to-speech function. And while I guess I understand their fiscal reasons for removing this feature, it remains my absolute favorite. About a half of the books I read, I don’t so much read as listen to while doing my morning exercises. Of course, this doesn’t work with more serious, subtle books which need focus and appreciation but allows me to read so much urban fantasy.

Follow-up:
I’m sure to hear the next volumes while working out.

Recommended for:
Fans of girly urban fantasy with a decent amount of action and potential for romance.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
(You remember I judge enjoyment not quality, right?)

Next time: Nights at the Circus, speaking of more serious books

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Rotten Tomatoes

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: Song of the Sea

Some things are made of pure beauty.

er-songoftheseaSong of the Sea

Category: Movies

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A traditionally animated tale of Irish folklore come to life. Ben’s mother dies, giving birth to his sister, Saoirse, who can’t speak even at the age of six. But magical things are happening around the girl: as if all the tales Ben’s mother used to tell him weren’t just tales.

How I found it:
I saw The Secret of Kells by the same creators and while I didn’t entirely love it, I admired it. So the trailer of Song of the Sea made me excited to watch it (and it usually takes me four years or so to watch a movie I’m excited about, apparently).

Summary judgment:
It’s a delightful work of art.

Best things about it:
Many things work great in this little jewel but my personal preference is for the art. You can just stare at those lovely painted backgrounds and the details of animation and forget about the story altogether.
It wouldn’t be a wise move, though, because the story enchants – even more, I think, on the human, personal level than on the purely mythical one. I loved the way Ben has to embrace Saoirse and get over his initial hurt.
The mythical part is solid, too.

Worst things about it:
I suppose I would’ve gained even more from the movie if I knew more about Irish folklore but that’s on me.

Other pluses:
✤ I liked the contrast between the more mythical countryside and seaside and the city with its different look.
✤ As often, I appreciate the lack of any actual villains. The antagonists work according to their own sense of justice and manage to change. The hero struggles against his own limitations instead.
✤ It bears repeating: the gorgeousness of the texture of the whole movie. How poetic it is and how much it proves that on the purely visual level traditional animation will always have an advantage over 3D. Feel free to disagree but know that you’ll be wrong.

Other minuses:
Maybe I wished a little bit for the mother to stay with them. I’m just sappy like that. It’s probably a right decision from the narrative point of view that she didn’t.

How it enriched my life:
I learned to pronounce Saoirse (came in useful around Lady Bird). I gathered bits and pieces of Irish folklore. I admired the visuals so much you can hardly admire anything more.

Fun fact:
The first few scenes of the movie is the first animation our son ever watched (we keep him away from screens because we want to bring up a wild child) and he loved Saoirse swimming with seals.
Also, it’s super hard to keep a two-year-old away from screens when all you do all day is stare at them. Our son has already learned typing in Notepad (sort of).

Follow-up:
I’m interested in anything else the creators come up with.

Recommended for:
People who can appreciate beauty and tenderness in any form.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: Guilty Pleasures (it’s a title)

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Green Solutions

Going Green: Bottle Caps

er-gg-bottle_capsToday’s habit is, I think, quite specific to where you live because, as far as I know, many places recycle platic bottle caps together with the rest of the bottle. But here plastic recycling is not as advanced as one would want. However, bottle caps are collected separately for charity actions whose profits are used to buy wheelchairs for children or for other causes.

Story:
We have stopped throwing bottle caps (and other caps) away and instead collect them in a special container we keep in the kitchen. We used to have a plastic bag for it but it looked bad and the container doesn’t draw any attention at all. Once it’s full we take the caps to a collection place (I know of three nearby: in the store, in the kindergarten and in the medical center, each collecting the caps for a different cause). And that’s it.

Why do it:
Since they are collecting the caps and even giving someone money for it, at least it’s pretty certain they do get recycled and don’t end up in the dump. Also, if at no cost and no effort at all we can help someone, then there’s really no reason not to do it.

Cost:
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obviously it costs nothing.

Difficulty:
★ ☆ ☆ ☆
This may be the simplest thing we do.

Challenges:
✤ Well, you have to take the caps and bring them to a collection point. That barely counts.
✤ If we empty a bottle away from the house we need to remember to take the cap with us instead of throwing it away but as they weigh nothing it’s really not a problem.

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Sounds of Music

Songbook: A Woman, A Woman, A Century of Sleep

I come back to Emmy the Great often and while her voice is normally nothing like the voices I like, she does incredible things with it. Also, most of her songs are miniature stories and I love me a song that tells a story.

“A Woman, A Woman, A Century of Sleep” by Emmy the Great

Album: Virtue

Year: 2011

Category: Recent-years favorite

Why it rocks:
It turns the problematic story of Sleeping Beauty into a meditation on a woman’s domestic life. The melody keeps changing, reflecting the changing mood of the woman, sometimes contemplative, sometimes frantic. I like how it plays with the plant imagery and other elements to build a truly gothic atmosphere. The pulsating drums create the urgency of the song. And there are small inside jokes, like when the husband is quoted, the music quiets and for a moment a rattlesnake sound appears.

Favorite bit of lyrics:
It has a lot of small gems which add to the sense of mudane gothic, like “I will stay and watch the days go past / And I’ll see how the plants advance / And they turn on what they know” or “But I swept until I couldn’t sweep / And this house is still alive”.

Favorite moment:
There are a few but I like when the “Come back, come back…” introduces the hypnotic part of the rhythm.

Best for: House cleaning. Seriously though, for contemplating traditional gender roles in marriage.

Listen here.

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Metarambling

Mildly Enthusiastic Reviews of Things: Anniversary

It’s been a year of writing my Mildly Enthusiastic Reviews and I must say they have really revived my interest in blogging, which I had thought dead. Maybe I just like filling in questionnaires but this form allows me to look anew both at blogging in general and at writing about things I come across. And, most of all, it works as a kind of diary of the mostly fun things I enjoy in my spare time.

Speaking of things I enjoy, if you didn’t know before how much of a friendless nerd I am, here’s something that should make the picture clear: I love making infographics. I could blame it on my work but no, I loved drawing fun graphs before I ever thought of being a designer. I think it’s either a rare or a secret hobby: I’ve basically only know of me with my yearly book summaries and that other guy from high school who did graphs of how much money he spent but, guys, that’s just weird, right?

So, here’s a short, hand-drawn (why not) summary of the last year of reviewing.

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So far I’ve written 82 reviews even though I originally planned to only post once a week. But the list of unpublished reviews was growing too fast. Now, however, I’m back to the once-a-week schedule (mostly because of my not-quite-fully-myself condition).

er-merot-infographics3I’m not as huge a movie buff as this would suggest (quite the opposite) but movies just take the shortest to get to know in full. Also, just to make things clear, I don’t review everything I read. Just saying.

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I tend to write about things I like, mostly because not being a student and not getting money for any of this I am not forced to finish stuff that bothers me.

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I truly expected “vampire” to make it to the list and “Victorian” to end up higher but sometimes those things surprise you. That’s why infographics are so much fun.

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