Books in January

This past week I read a book by Paul Harding, Tinkers. January has started me off with some really good literature, and while I love mindless, stress-free reading, I love the way some books sharpen my mind. Whereas some books make me forget about the world, other books bring me back to reality. The reality of fiction. Tinkers is real.

The novel is a quiet, humble little book, only 191 pages. A few quotes:

— What is it like to be full of lightning? What is it like to be split open from the inside by lightning?

— And Howard, by accident of birth, tasted the raw stuff of the cosmos.

— Of course, Sabbatis is ancient only to me. My father is ancient, too, because both were men who passed from my life when I was young. My memories of them are atmospheres.

I’ve had an account on Goodreads since 2007 but just started using it within the past 8 months. It helps me keep track of the books I read and want to read. I enjoy reading friends’ reviews and looking at ratings and marveling at people’s range of preferences. Sometimes a book moves me enough to write more than 5 words about it. Here’s what I wrote for Tinkers:

“Reading Tinkers is like a dream where I eavesdrop on a conversation between W.S. Merwin, Marilynne Robinson, and Annie Dillard. And then sometimes they’re talking directly to me in whispers and screams. By mention of those authors in association with Paul Harding’s debut, you should then know that you must read Tinkers slowly, and with great care. Inhale deeply the language and float away on nuance. Straddle both the ethereal and the conscious, so that you can let the tears roll and then acknowledge them.”

Other books I read in January:

Chronic City, Jonathan Lethem: Eccentric characters and marijuana in New York City. It may sound typical, but this Lethem’s is a fun approach.

The Right Stuff, by Tom Wolfe: The history of the United States space program! Fast read. The press, machismo, wives’ perspectives.

Naked Pictures of Famous People, Jon Stewart: My thoughts on Goodreads: “Where were the naked pictures? THAT’s why I’m giving this book a score closer to a 3 instead of a 3.5. Young Jon Stewart’s satire. A lot of it is funny and relevant, historical and hysterical. Some of it is more cringeworthy, though. Which can make it more fun.”

The Black Dahlia, James Ellroy: This felt a lot like Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. “Very noir: fast-paced, gruesome, and quite tragic. With a slight tease of hope at the end.”

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain: Reaffirming, validating. Emphasized the value of my inherent qualities as well the qualities I’ve worked hard to develop.

Blindness, José Saramago: One of the best books I have ever read. Not even kidding.

What are you reading? I want to know.

Because I Like Movies That Make Me Cry

yay this movie!

I asked Reilly when we saw this movie at the Broadway Theater in Salt Lake City, and he said it was sometime in July. I believe him because he has an unbelievable memory. Because not only did he say we saw this movie in July, he described all the circumstances of our seeing it. Something about how the Saturday before we went to a cousin’s wedding and laughed a lot at the reception but not because people were being deliberately funny. Except for one cousin who’s good at being funny and telling stories. And we ate such-and-such, and I wore an outfit with these sleeves and shoes, and we also saw the Dark Knight Rises the Friday before at a matinee and other details of which I have absolutely no recollection.

We saw the preview for Beasts of the Southern Wild before we saw Polisse and Intouchables. (By the way, those two movies are very different French films, and I highly recommend both of them.) If a preview makes me cry, I pretty much want to see the movie. I was excited for it, because I knew it would be sad and tragic and beautiful. I knew that I would believe the little girl in it. I knew that I would be holding my breath and wanting to scream at the screen. I knew that it would make me feel sticky and gross. I knew that I cheer for the strained relationships and the massively fallen characters. I mean, what else would you do if you were watching actual news footage of a hurricane’s destruction and seeing people removed and/or displaced from their homes? And seeing the apparently well-meaning government swoop in and insist on improving the lives of people who don’t want to leave their territory because they’ve only known one home, one community, one happiness?

While we watched the movie, I did all those things that I knew I would do. I’ll probably still do those things every time I watch it from now on.
May’s rating scale:

MAY!

May?

meh…

meh?

MESS.

The Review, As Promised

I finally got around to writing the review about last week’s concert with the Utah Symphony and Hilary Hahn.

The post is live over at The Glass. While you’re there, take a nice, long look at Chris McGovern’s site. He has gotten to interview some serious names in the classical/ contemporary classical/just plain awesome music circuit.

Enjoy!

Book on Tapeworm Was Here

This is what happens when I bring a camera. There doesn’t have to be as many burdensome words.

Last night, I went to an album release show of a band called Book on Tapeworm. Here they are:

The percussionist here is my husband’s brother:

Here was their real-life, life-size set last night at the Velour. As you can see, the stage quite resembles the band’s CD case:

Here’s Gavin working his magic. He came all the way back from grad school in Illinois for this show. This guy is legit:

So, if the set looks surreal, if the CD packaging is styled after their set, you can expect to hear music that’s ethereal and transcendent and not harsh and grating and makes you feel like gagging yourself.

If you’re into well-written songs, tight harmonies and angelic voices; if you like thoughtful music that truly reflects how serious and professional and skilled the musicians are; if you appreciate the shrinks, swells, and swings of emotion in music that makes you sigh with longing or nostalgia; and if you want the mystery and magic of the morning mists meandering groves and chaparrals, then you’ll love this album.

If you don’t like any of that stuff, I can accurately conclude that you’re pretty stupid.

Also, these folks are incredibly nice and insufferably cool people. None of the band members are likely to become supreme jerks when they become rich and famous.

Check them out, like them. Buy their stuff. Watch them:

Book on Tape Worm – Shadow Puppets from Jason Moffat on Vimeo.

They’re amazing.

May’s Super-duper Song Review: “Baby” by Justin Bieber

I had heard of Justin Bieber over a year ago. I’d seen pictures, listened to soundbytes. I’m not one to predict the staying power of any 21st century artist or musician, especially if his testosterone switch hasn’t flipped on yet, but am I EVER SO GLAD to be living in the era of this phenomenon, the “fever.” How can you not love him, his angelic voice, his wispy hair? His smooth dance moves? All before puberty, ladies and gentlemen. Can you imagine what kind of magic will unleash once thicker fuzz appears on his face? Until nearly two months ago in Africa, I did not know the power of this man-boy until a throng of fellow female college students started singing his songs. What a mighty blessing that was. Now, I will never forget him.

One of his timeless classics is “Baby” featuring Ludacris. It is one of the most enigmatic, soul-transforming chef-d’oeuvres that has ever been created. EVER.

Let me show this to you in a fancy, new window.

First, this song is sad. BUT LISTEN TO THE SONG! It has a fast beat and the melodic phrases go up a short scale then back down the scale. It intends to stimulate brain activity, like Mozart. Think of the beginning of  “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” as the notes ascend then descend. The remarkable thing here is that Justin is not performing as a string section of a chamber orchestra. He’s doing everything WITH HIS VOICE, with much aplomb!

You know you love me, I know you care
Just shout whenever, and I’ll be there
You want my love, you want my heart
And we will never ever ever be apart

Can you feel the confidence? I would be beside myself, completely lovestruck, if someone told me what I know and what I want. Why, yes, I DO KNOW that I love you. And it’s great that you know I care, but I wonder if you know what I care ABOUT? YES, YOU. Well, of course I want your love and your heart. I was beginning to think the era of the mindless woman submitting to the domineering man was gone, but fortunately this song is restoring that mentality to full force.

WHENEVER! WHENEVER! WHENEVER!

Um, Justin, where are you? You said you’d come.  What am I supposed to think when I call for him and he doesn’t come? How does he distinguish between what I want and what I will get? HE DOESN’T. EVERYTHING IS SO SIMPLE: IT’S THE SAME FOR HIM. Is he setting conditions for eternal togetherness? I want his love and his heart, therefore, we will stay together forever. That’s all it takes. That’s what I’ve done wrong all these years. I should have wanted a beautiful 16-year-old boy’s love to ensure my life’s happiness.

Are we an item? Girl, quit playing
We’re just friends, what are you saying?
Say there’s another and look right in my eyes
My first love broke my heart for the first time
And I was like…

Uh, oh. Showing insecurity, are we? VERY INTERESTING PROGRESSION. I love how one can experience such a wide range emotions and experiences in this stanza. IT’S OKAY IF HE DOESN’T REALLY KNOW IF HE’S IN A RELATIONSHIP, BECAUSE NOBODY REALLY “KNOWS” THAT KIND OF THING, ANYWAY. Uncertainty, just-friendship, doubt; shock from finding out there’s another love interest; falling so hard for someone that he becomes the victim of a big-time high-school jilting. This perfectly captures the high-school adventure of crushes and heartache, but I can’t really feel sad, because the tune is so happy, at least within the half-octave range it provides.

Baby, baby, baby oooh
Like baby, baby, baby nooo
Like baby, baby, baby oooh
I thought you’d always be mine (mine)

One of my favorite things in high school was when people called me “baby.” Nothing made me feel more like an adult or more accommodating of my desire to be independent. What I also appreciate here is the anguish I feel in the “oh”s and “no”s, like he’s going through a type of denial–an important part of grieving–in the loss of his very first love that he absolutely truly thought he would love and be together with forever and ever and never mind that he’s dancing like an elf and making weird faces, because THOSE are DEFINITELY NOT reasons to break up with somebody.

Baby, baby, baby oooh
Like baby, baby, baby nooo
Like baby, baby, baby oooh
I thought you’d always be mine (mine)

Apparently, the suffering is so deep, this part of the chorus needs repeating.

Also, not a coincidence this video is shot in a bowling alley. It’s a place where lots of teenagers hang out, and it incorporates the metaphor of the strike. Which either could mean striking out or completely scoring. And whatever kind it means depends on individual situations. Way to integrate relativistic philosophy into a song. IMPRESSIVE.

I ALSO LOVE HOW MODESTLY DRESSED JUSTIN IS IN THIS VIDEO. I know he is sparing my eyes from his rippling muscles and he wants me to focus on his boy-choir voice and that army dog-tag necklace. Because he happens to know how much I respect the military and have a weakness for men in uniform, plus, since he’s engaging my mind with the composition of the song, his conscientious dress only serves to make me smarter. He’s freaking brilliant.

For you I would have done whatever
And I just can’t believe we ain’t together
And I wanna play it cool, but I’m losin’ you
I’ll buy you anything, I’ll buy you any ring
And I’m in pieces, baby fix me
And just shake me ’til you wake me from this bad dream
I’m going down, down, down, down
And I just can’t believe my first love won’t be around

May I take this moment to compliment Mr. Bieber’s lip-synching abilities. ALWAYS SO SMILEY!

What is the color of desperation? It’s called Justin Bieber. I LOVE how he encourages emotional awareness, despite his denial. He’s in pieces, and he needs the girl to put him back together. BUT she also wants him to shake him, which you would think defeats the purpose of the Humpty-Dumpty repair, but he’s having one of those falling-down dreams, which means he’s losing control, and he needs the girl to help him gain control. I LOVE how specific he gets with his promises: I can shout WHENEVER, for me he would do WHATEVER. His level of commitment completely blows my mind, especially when he expresses that he wants to buy me anything, ANY RING. I LOVE the idealism he has, and this definitely reveals my ignorance of Canadians, because it seems that they propose or betroth or declare everlasting love well before they graduate from high school. It is because of his idealism that he’s in disbelief.  BUT, he’s also really good at being able to tell what his love interest knows and wants. This song is TIGHT.

YET, this song does imply a little bit of optimism with “first” love. There will be others. And you’ll most likely be dumped by them, too. This song prepares people for reality!

And I’m like
Baby, baby, baby oooh
Like baby, baby, baby nooo
Like baby, baby, baby oooh
I thought you’d always be mine (mine)

Baby, baby, baby oooh
Like baby, baby, baby nooo
Like baby, baby, baby oooh
I thought you’d always be mine (mine)

Has anyone ever considered the effect of using the word baby for nearly half the words of the refrain? It is a serious jolt to the brain. It establishes a certain expectation in the listener, a point of focus. I now turn my head whenever someone says “baby.” This song is a great conditioning tool if you ever want stop thinking your name is whatever people normally call you.

[Ludacris:]
Luda! When I was 13, I had my first love,
There was nobody that compared to my baby
and nobody came between us or could ever come above
She had me going crazy, oh, I was star-struck,
she woke me up daily, don’t need no Starbucks.
She made my heart pound, it skipped a beat when I see her in the street and
at school on the playground but I really wanna see her on the weekend.
She knows she got me dazing cause she was so amazing
and now my heart is breaking but I just keep on saying…

What I love about rappers’ interludes is how they introduce themselves. This particular section demonstrates the power of girls over boys. And, it’s sort of dirty if you try to connect certain ideas to teenage boys, so I will probably just skip this part. But yes, teenage boys are capable of feeling the drug-like effects that girls have on them. It’s fascinating how boys are really truly the victims throughout this song. Girls should really feel empowered and in not any way degraded by this song at all.

BUT the rapper and Justin Bieber have matching dogtags. Not the least bit ludicrous.

Ooh! Dance-off! These dance circles are universal, and it’s important that all the cool and able dances show off their moves in the center, and it’s especially important that somebody in the circle knows all the words to whatever song is playing at the time. BELIEVE ME: IT DOES HAPPEN. Just ask Africa.

Baby, baby, baby oooh
Like baby, baby, baby nooo
Like baby, baby, baby oooh
I thought you’d always be mine (mine)

Baby, baby, baby oooh
Like baby, baby, baby nooo
Like baby, baby, baby oooh
I thought you’d always be mine (mine)

I’m gone (Yeah Yeah Yeah, Yeah Yeah Yeah)
 Now I’m all gone (Yeah Yeah Yeah, Yeah Yeah Yeah)
Now I’m all gone (Yeah Yeah Yeah, Yeah Yeah Yeah)
Now I’m all gone (gone, gone, gone…)
I’m gone

One of the last stages of grief is acceptance. Contrast the “no” with the “yeah”s at the very end of the song. Compare the agony of Justin Bieber in this song to that of T.S. Eliot’s in a couple of lines from the Waste Land:

No: “I will show you fear in a handful of dust” and Yeah: “these fragments I have shored against my ruins.” SO MUCH ALIKE! I’m pretty sure Justin got most of his inspiration from T.S. Eliot. That’s just one more reason to love this song with all my heart and soul.

Tragic. Awe-inspiring. All in such a happy little tune. I WANT TO FEEL SAD IN A DANCE-OFF ALL THE TIME AND GO BOWLING AND THROW STRIKES AS MANY TIMES AS POSSIBLE TO SCORE AND REEK OF DESPERATION WITH A SMILE–A FADING SMILE–UNTIL I AM GONE, GONE, GONE.

WHAT A SUPER-DUPER SONG! SMARTER NOW!
May’s rating scale:

SUPER DUPER!

More mediocrity!

Medially mediocre

Trying too hard!

DUPED.

May’s Super-duper Song Review: “Firework”by Katy Perry

If you’re just tuning in, see one of May’s Song Reviews to understand the difference in critiques.

Katy Perry is the starter sparkler. Instead of triggering a chain reaction, it’s more like a domino effect, which is so much easier to keep track of. I also LOVE how her pinup aesthetic challenges us to consider her to be more substantial in character than we would expect.

I first heard this song on Glee. The word firework in its singular form really bugged me, but the more I listened to it, the more songwriting treasures I found. Oh, yes. Just keep on reading.

Do you ever feel like a plastic bag
Drifting through the wind, wanting to start again?
Do you ever feel, feel so paper thin
Like a house of cards, one blow from caving in?

Similes are the kaleidoscope to one’s mind. See what I did there, using a metaphor to describe a simile? The plastic-bag simile alludes to the film, American Beauty, with that scene with that kid videotaping a plastic bag caught in a small whirlwind, and he says how BEAUTIFUL it is. I LOVE how Katy channels into the bag’s desires: the bag wants to start again, after drifting through the wind. Is the plastic bag fromWal-Mart or Target, because that makes a big difference. But what if the bag wanted to keep drifting? Here a philosophical discussion about free will emerges and another movie comes to mind, The Adjustment Bureau. And I cannot even TELL you how much I love Matt Damon. Any song that alludes to Matt Damon is tops in my book.

The second simile refers to one of my favorite bands in the world, Radiohead, who sang a song called “House of Cards.” But do you feel like a house of cards, so unstable, so delicate and defeated and transopaque? Look what Ms. Perry does here by juxtaposing these two images: what if the wind that carries the plastic bag blows down the house of cards? Will the bag catch the cards? Will both objects then have found purpose? Which are you, the bag or the cards? Or are you the wind? If you’re like the wind, then you’re like Baby from Dirty Dancing, and that’s one of my all-time favorite nostalgic movies. This song is batting 1.00 so far.

Do you ever feel already buried deep?
Six feet under screams but no one seems to hear a thing
Do you know that there’s still a chance for you
‘Cause there’s a spark in you?

Everyone will experience feeling overwhelmed sometime in life. This progression of rhetorical questions is leading to something bigger. From bag to cards to coffins to that single delayed peak on the heart monitor: a spark. How does Katy know about this spark? Are you watching the video? Is it because she has a spark of her very own? Make no mistake, she’s not short-circuiting, she’s letting her light shine, and there’s no way to hide it under a bushel, because the bushel would catch fire and continue inspiring people. What’s more is that the bushel would burn longer than the sparkler would. Bushels are tinderwood. That probably was an alternate lyric: “Baby, you are tinderwood …” That’s a mighty fine simile, too.

You just gotta ignite the light and let it shine
Just own the night like the 4th of July

This intro rides up the scale and builds volume, the song’s continuing to lead – with the staccatoed strings – to the grand refrain. Don’t you feel it? Are we all like Katy Perry and have self-igniting lights? Do we have our own flints to get a spark? I think my favorite Flintstones characters were Betty Rubble and Dino. They seemed to represent best the modern, stone-age family.

I like how this song stirs up debate about the concept of brightness. How can your light shine if it’s daytime and the sun is out? Also, if the sun is out, and it hasn’t rained in a while, that increases the chances of accidental fires. You’ve got to stand out among losers and not get lost among achievers who have too much in common with you. With them, it’s way too bright, and you lose your specialness.

‘Cause baby, you’re a firework
Come on, show ’em what you’re worth
Make ’em go, oh
As you shoot across the sky

I LOVE how this song emphasizes how a single, singular firework can own the night like Independence Day. It doesn’t take the whole tent just beyond the Georgia border, but one, individual sparkler. That’s another alternative lyric: “Baby you’re a sparkler …”

I LOVE the half-rhyme of work and worth. Do you sense the intent with equating one’s worth with the work she does? There’s a lot of potential energy in gunpowder, and it does take work – in the form of heat – to release that energy. The weight that energy carries as it moves across the sky turns into momentum, and we all know to use the momentum of goodness to push us through tough times.

Baby, you’re a firework
Come on, let your colors burst
Make ’em go, oh
You’re gonna leave ’em falling down

I like the image of colors bursting and making ’em go. And who are we going to leave falling down? That’s right, the bad guys, the guys of the darkness. Because they’re in the dark and can’t see and they trip over stuff.

You don’t have to feel like a waste of space
You’re original, cannot be replaced
If you only knew what the future holds
After a hurricane comes a rainbow

I LOVE how well-rounded Katy Perry is. I had no idea she studied meteorology and was familiar with weather patterns. That sort of reliability contrasts well with individual uniqueness and purpose. Just like everyone else, you don’t have to feel like your life is pointless, and you cannot be replaced, just like everyone else.

Maybe you’re reason why all the doors are closed
So you could open one that leads you to the perfect road
Like a lightning bolt, your heart will blow
And when it’s time, you’ll know

So, there was the old game show, Let’s Make A Deal, with the three doors, right? But here, the deals are all wonderful and perfect. Open one door, any door, and your life is gold.

I LOVE the lightning bolt imagery and the idea of a heart blowing. Exploding. Being the lone peak on the heart monitor, questioning the need for a heart, because if you’re a firework, then maybe you’re one of those kind that are like trick candles and never go out. You’d outlive your heart anyway. You’re too busy being an example to all those depressed and self-pitying people just like you. Everyone will be a bursty boom of light.

Cue strings!

You just gotta ignite the light and let it shine
Just own the night like the 4th of July

‘Cause baby you’re a firework
Come on, show ’em what you’re worth
Make ’em go, oh
As you shoot across the sky

Baby, you’re a firework
Come on, let your colors burst
Make ’em go, oh
You’re gonna leave ’em falling down

Boom, boom, boom
Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon
It’s always been inside of you, you, you
And now it’s time to let it through

Excellent. Actual fireworks! This is what the song is about, not the wimpy sparklers up to this point. And not the metaphored or personified fireworks that make up most of this video. Now, it’s hard to say that the song could stand strongly enough without the video.

‘Cause baby you’re a firework
Come on, show ’em what you’re worth
Make ’em go, oh
As you shoot across the sky

Ooh, marching band formations that sort of look like a firework: a circle with sparkly arms. They really thought of everything.

Baby, you’re a firework
Come on, let your colors burst
Make ’em go, oh
You’re gonna leave ’em falling down

Katy Perry’s sort of dancing like Tiffany at a mall concert. You would think that would make me like this video less, but no. This is probably the most redeeming aspect of the video.

Boom, boom, boom
Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon
Boom, boom, boom
Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon

How can this be a bad song with three booms echo-half-rhymed by three moons? And, do you know how hard it would be to find a light brighter than three whole moons? Your singular firework can do the job. Accept it, and let it burn and shine. Just like everyone else. Best club in the world to belong to.

*Serious Note: Because I can’t make fun of domestic abuse or victims of bullies or girls who hate themselves because they think they’re fat or cancer or gay intimidation or a woman who looks like Amber Tamblyn giving birth to sparklers, and because I actually like when Katy Perry’s voice gets husky, this isn’t nearly as SUPER DUPER! as “Friday” by Rebecca Black.

But I do support the single firework. The one that sets off all the others.

May’s rating scale:

SUPER DUPER!

More mediocrity!

Medially mediocre

Trying too hard!

DUPED.

May’s Movie Review: Howard’s End

May synopsis: Sometimes I’m in the mood for a slow and subtle period film. It’s all fine and understated until someone wields a sword.

May’s rating scale:

MAY!

May?

meh…

meh?

MESS.

(The following is actually a response I wrote for a class. I haven’t written a review in a while, and I thought this could serve both purposes.)

Howard’s End, a film adaptation of a novel of the same name by E. M. Forster, recounts the relationship of three families in England at the beginning of the 20th century. The Wilcoxes are wealthy and landed capitalists; the Schlegels appear to be bourgeois, and the Basts represent the lower middle class. The movie is marvelously cast, and the acting is exquisite, bringing a quiet power to the movie’s overall understatedness.

The film seems to depict the tension between these three socioeconomic statuses. Henry Wilcox, played by Anthony Hopkins, seems content to interact with the bourgeois sisters, Margaret and Helen Schlegel, who are played by Emma Thompson and Helena Bonham Carter. Henry even marries Margaret. However, his rootedness in tradition emerges when Helen Schelgel becomes pregnant by Leonard Bast, played by Samuel West. First, Helen is not married when she becomes pregnant, and according to tradition, she should be shunned. Secondly, the other responsible party is a man from a lower class than the Wilcoxes. Helen should have not have become involved with him.

In keeping with tradition of double standards in a patriarchal society, Henry Wilcox’s past emerges when he admits to Margaret that he had a mistress. He cannot be bothered with this particular skeleton when Margaret brings up this fact to show how hypocritical Henry is as she asks him to allow Helen to stay his estate, Howard’s End, for one evening. He adamantly refuses. Life has always been a certain way for him, and he refuses to see anything differently.

It isn’t until Henry’s son goes to prison for murdering Leonard Bast (seeming a true hate crime) that he undergoes a change of heart.  He decides to bequeath Howard’s End to the Schlegels, and Helen plans to raise her new son as heir.

Howard’s End illustrates the shift in mentality in early Modernist England, regarding who should own land and how the classes should interact. In certain aspects, the country at that time slowly opened itself up to new and evolving ideas of society.

***

Emma Thompson’s character wore ties. I want to do that.