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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Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Sex and the City (show)

Sex and the City was one of the more exciting shows of my high school years. I would wait for it on Saturday evenings (I wasn’t all that popular, in case you were misinformed) and feel somewhat naughty for watching it. But the show is going on twenty now and watching it today feels different.

er-sexandthecityshowSex and the City (the show)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
One of the most iconic TV shows before people talked of any golden eras in TV, tells the story of Carrie Bradshaw, her three best girl friends and their quest for love and sex that lasted six seasons (and two terrible movies that barely count).

How I found it:
I watched two or three seasons on TV, though not quite regularly, and then I systematically re-watched everything a couple of years ago. This time now was my more or less third watch.

Summary judgment:
This time didn’t impress me as much as the previous ones. In fact, parts of it left me bored.

Best things about it:
Twenty years ago, in its own way, the show was fairly revolutionary in its portrayal of a certain kind of relationships: both their psychological and physiological aspect. At least back then, it felt honest and surprisingly open.
The writing is often very smart and funny, with clever juxtapositions of different storylines and surprising conclusions to them.

Worst things about it:
I would say seasons one and six because I enjoyed them the least. But from a more general point of view, if you don’t buy this show for what it is, you will be irritated by so many things: its outdated approach to homosexuality, the vacuity of the characters and their ridiculous economic conditions, their occasional cruelty and forced problems. Bergman this ain’t.

Other pluses:
✤ Some of the clothes and, to a lesser extent, some interiors are lovely to look at for the sheer aesthetic pleasure.
✤ The many things Miranda says.
✤ The characters (arguably except for Carrie) all develop and grow, which is one justification for six seasons of a show like this.

Other minuses:
✤ I once read somewhere that the show owed its success to Parker’s likability but I mostly find her childish and irritating, particularly in the moments when she’s trying for endearing. I don’t expect you to remember but there’s a scene in which she talks about Aidan’s “nook”, which perfectly embodies everything I dislike about her.
✤ In the first season or two the show is still looking for its style, with the mockumentary street interviews and too many random characters. It grows better when it gains the courage to drop these crutches.

How it enriched my life:
Now it hasn’t particularly. But the first time I watched it I was in high school and I learned stuff from the show (often very theoretical stuff but isn’t most knowledge, particularly in high school?). The second time I really admired the writing and got quite interested in all the long-term stories.

Fun fact:
Not a single one of Carrie’s relationships was halfway functional. But I always liked Charlotte and Harry. Theirs was a fun story.

Follow-up:
I did watch the movie. We’ll talk about it. I might get back to the show some time but I need to forget most of the stories because this time it bothered me how much I remembered what was going to happen.

Recommended for:
Single ladies. Fans of the early 2000s culture. People in love with New York or, I guess, Sarah Jessica Parker.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Let’s whine about the movie

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Lady Audley’s Secret

I still read books. But ever since I’ve had a kid I read less. Instead, I have found at least two ways to listen to books. One is while I exercise (and then it’s mostly bad fantasy). The other is while I work. It doesn’t make for a particularly in-depth read but it does bring up the number of books I read. But since my focus when I listen to books is not as strong as when I read them, I choose things I don’t particularly care to know in every detail. Like

er-ladyaudleyssecretLady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing | and here’s the LibriVox free audiobook I listened to

What it is:
A sensational novel written in 1862, and basically a worse Wilkie Collins. It tells a story of Lady Audley, who comes from nowhere, marries rich and, no duh, has a secret (it’s – spoilers, barely – bigamy; and a son; and possibly madness). The story is mostly told from a point of view of Robert Audley, a perfect (and perfectly useless) gentleman with unexpressed homosexual tendencies and includes a surprising amount of violence.

How I found it:
I searched through LibriVox for something that you can listen to during work.

Summary judgment:
It’s not good, strictly speaking, but it’s fun enough.

Best things about it:
It reads easily and keeps you mildly interested. The characters remain memorable through their quirks.

Worst things about it:
This novel has such a weird structure where the reader is constantly promised secrets and revelations but every answer is obvious pretty much from the beginning. The coincidences are quite ludicrous and sometimes you wonder why the book takes so long to unveil a secret which barely deserves the name.
No, wait! I didn’t guess George was still alive but only because in a better book he wouldn’t have been, I declare.

Other pluses:
Robert is actually, almost, it feels, accidentally, a fascinating character: in turns seductive and infuriating. He incorporates the perfect nonchalance of a gentleman (that only a danger to his beloved friend can sometimes shake). His musings on women are, on the other hand, terrible.

Other minuses:
✤ It’s not so obvious from a modern point of view because social mobility, homosexuality and undomesticated women aren’t very scary to most people any more, but this book based its attraction on stirring Victorian readers’ anxieties. I don’t approve of fear-mongering.
✤ I wish lady Audley was a more complex character. I know a modern critic may easily reinterpret her as a victim of women’s disenfranchisement but, frankly, the book doesn’t care about that. She’s barely more than a ghoul to scare people with.

How it enriched my life:
It kept me good company during many hours of work.

Fun fact:
If you don’t know LibriVox, give it a try. It’s like Project Gutenberg for audiobooks where enthusiasts devote their time to record public domain books for anyone to enjoy. It’s free, it’s uneven, I love it.

Follow-up:
Whatever I find when I’ve got the kind of work that makes it possible to listen to books. But not Braddon, probably.

Recommended for:
Fans of Victorian trash literature, villainous women and gloriously lazy gentlemen.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Pretty in Pink

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Sounds of Music

Songbook: Drinkin’

First, out with it: I am a tentative country fan. That is, when I listen to a country playlist, I will probably dislike most of it. But every now and then a song comes along and it’s so country and I love it so much. Like this little gem by Holly Williams, who’s apparently Hank Williams’ granddaughter: it was love at first hearing.

“Drinkin’” by Holly Williams

Album: The Highway

Year: 2014

Category: Recent acquisitions

Why it rocks:
It sways rather than rocks (but it does pick up later on) in a ditty about an unhappy, abusive marriage. But despite the bitter ending, the melody and the delivery leave you with the feeling that this woman will rise strong again. And it’s this quality that differs this song from most maudlin wasted-life tearjerkers.

Favorite bit of lyrics:
“Hey, why are you cheatin’ on a woman like this / I raise your babies and I kiss your lips / So why are you cheatin’ on a woman like this.” This is a woman who knows her value despite everything.

Favorite moment:
When after the last verse the music picks up once again and the song doesn’t end on a desperate note.

Best for: The necessary moment of sadness before you get to rise again.

Listen here.

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: I Am Charlotte Simmons

er-iamcharlottesimmonsI Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe

Category: Books

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
Tom Wolfe takes on an American model of toxic masculinity as it shows itself in Ivy League colleges. Through the story of Charlotte Simmons, a prodigy from a small mountain town with a scholarship to Dupont, a fictional college, Wolfe examines the superficiality of college culture and its lack of moral grounding. He also makes a few jabs at college sports through a story of Jojo, a basketball star, and at fraternities through sociopathic Hoyt.

How I found it:
I probably liked the blurb because college stories are second best to high school stories in my world.

Summary judgment:
It didn’t bore me but didn’t particularly enrich my life either.

Best things about it:
It reads really well. I stayed curious as to what was going to happen and all the dramatic turns made me read greedily.
Also, with the quasi-scientific introduction and the first two chapters you think you know where the story is going and at first it feels like waiting for a train-wreck which really shouldn’t need so many pages. But that train-wreck never exactly happens and Wolfe manages to draw something more from the premise.

Worst things about it:
It’s true I am reading this book at a specific moment when toxic masculinity is very much a part of everyday’s discourse and that makes me focus entirely on this aspect of the novel. But with this laser-sharp focus I also notice that while Wolfe tells us that the vision of masculinity that his characters cherish doesn’t work, he doesn’t really give us any alternative or positive role models.
That ties in with the fact that you can’t root for any of the characters. In fact, the sociopathic frat boy, Hoyt, at least doesn’t vie for the reader’s sympathy at all and you feel good disliking him, while Charlotte and Adam, who should be more nuanced, seem maybe even more repelling in their superficiality and egotism.

Other pluses:
✤ Jojo is the only character I actually sort of liked but his progress remains somewhat mechanical and his storyline marginal to the main narrative.
✤ The campus seems like a real (albeit gloomy) place.
✤ Millenial Mutants works as a term.
✤ I learned a few new words from this book because it insists on choosing very sophisticated vocabulary.

Other minuses:
✤ However, the big words are used in all situations, without much differentiation and while they work fine in Charlotte’s or Adam’s stories, in other cases they sometimes sound false.
✤ I am so done with anti-heroes. I wish Charlotte had one good quality. One. (Other than the virginal status written apparently on her forehead so that everyone immediately saw it and fell in love.)
✤ I find it hard to believe that no students in top colleges show interest in anything other than clothes and sex. Call me an idealist.

How it enriched my life:
It introduced me to a new author and gave me a vision of college very different from either the one I know or the one I read about in other campus novels.

Fun fact:
One of the words I didn’t know was “cenacle.

Follow-up:
I’m sort of interested in Wolfe’s biggest novel, The Bonfire of Vanities, but with reservations because 1980s novels often put me off.

Recommended for:
People who want to tell themselves that it’s good they didn’t get into the Ivy League. Anyone who hates students and wants arguments why. People who want to read a soapy drama with a veneer of a serious book.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: The Good Place

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Mockingbird

I’ve been away for a few days but now that I’m back to my schedule:

er-mockingbirdMockingbird by Chelsea Cain

Category: Comics

Find it on: Amazon – Vol 1 | Vol 2

What it is:
A Marvel comic, all 8 issues long, about Bobbie Morse, Mockingbird, who takes on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s corrupt medical system and zombies and ghost pirates… Nope, I’m not up to summarizing this one, just read it for yourselves.

How I found it:
Through a comic podcast I listen to. I sometimes read things they plan to talk about.

Summary judgment:
It’s an original work of art, quite fast and enjoyable to consume. It’s also funny.

Best things about it:
Humor and the visual clues that you may look for or not in the background of the main story. It’s quite entertaining and ever since I liked the first three seasons of Family Guy I’m a sucker for a cutaway joke – and this comic has so many! The rescue tally might be one of my favorites.

Worst things about it:
I guess the overall arc once we got to explanations was a bit too unreal and, if you will, Marvel-like for my taste. I wouldn’t mind something a little bit down-to-earth (and coherent) – but maybe I just didn’t pay enough attention, distracted by all the details and shirtless Hunter.

Other pluses:
Mockingbird is a cool enough character: I like her competence and her devil-may-care attitude. I’m also a fan of Hunter since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (back when I watched it, that is). It reads really fast and you have to admire the puzzle box structure (even though I don’t think it’s as complex as the comic makes it out to be).

Other minuses:
I know it’s standard but I don’t like when art changes during a comic’s run so guest art was not my thing.

How it enriched my life:
I spent a pleasant evening and morning reading the whole run and was reminded that Marvel comics don’t have to be so standard and predictable as they sometimes appear to be.

“Fun” fact:
It’s not fun at all but apparently the author was harassed and threatened online by crappy readers who didn’t like the feminist overtones of the comic. Ugh, shouldn’t nerds be more open-minded, having been probably bullied or at least misunderstood themselves? (Not how it works, I know.)

Follow-up:
The comic was cancelled after 8 issues so I don’t expect to really follow up on it but I might be interested in other work by Ms. Cain.

Recommended for:
Open-minded fans of Marvel (or superheroes) who like twists in their superhero fare. People who like visual riddles. Feminists, maybe, or just people who like to see extremely competent female heroes.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Typo Berlin 2017

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Bookworming

Herstory: The Red Tent

er-theredtentAnita Diamant’s novel The Red Tent poses a rare difficulty for me because there is so little about it I didn’t like that it makes reviewing it hard. After all, you can only gush so much. What you can do much longer is sit up into the night to finish the novel, even if you read partly through tears. Yes, mushy old me even teared up towards the end though, make no mistake, I’m pretty much a robot, you can ask anyone (or at least that one guy).

This is a story of a minor biblical character Dinah, Jacob’s daughter. If you didn’t know she was Jacob’s daughter, welcome to the club of Bible non-scholars. If you don’t know who Jacob is, that’s a little more shameful but easy to rectify: he’s the one following Isaac, with a plethora of sons who include Joseph, the guy with the Technicolor coat. Dinah was his only daughter whose role in the original story is secondary but does lead to treacherous slaughter: another thing I didn’t quite remember from that story because they kind of gloss over most bloody parts during Sunday mass.

Diamant takes up the bits of what we know about Dinah and weaves them into a powerful story of femininity and relationships. She invents not only the missing elements from Dinah’s biography before and after the slaughter but also a whole female-centered mythology. What I found most impressive is how the characters but also the reality of living in a nomadic shepherd tribe in the desert come to life in the novel. It might be inaccurate (don’t know, don’t care) but becomes completely believable.

Unlike 97,4% of the Bible, this version is the story of women. Men remain marginal characters who are at best weak, at worst bestial (with a few not-that-developed exceptions). It’s women who pass on traditions and oral history (herstory, I suppose but it just sounds bad) and give each other support, particularly in childbirth. Womanhood is embodied most fully in four wives of Jacob: the well-known ones, Leah and Rachel, and the often forgotten Zilpah and Bilhah. Each represents some qualities associated with femininity: strength and beauty, spirituality and compassion. But each also represents one phase of the moon, together standing for the wholeness of woman spirit that Dinah will struggle to achieve once they’re gone.

However, this is also the story of change. The world of women, with their worship of fertility goddess derived from ancient Sumerian and Egyptian cultures is more and more threatened and subjugated by the world of men. Jacob’s God demands that all other gods be forgotten. Worse still, younger generations of women don’t want to perpetuate old traditions or celebrate the wonder of femininity, becoming accomplices to the loss of power and balance between the two sexes. (And, as I suppose the theory goes, leading to the world in which women became little more than cattle, sometimes a little less.) Now, as I said there’s very little I could criticize about this book but if I insisted, I found the goddess worship a teensy bit force-fed sometimes. But that might be because I’m allergic to newageism, particularly in literature, having read a few terrible things of this inclination. Except for that, I loved the novel, both its emotional and (fake?)historical aspect and recommend it without reservations.

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