I’m bringing joy to the picnic

I get the symbolism, the tradition of making new years resolutions, but what I don’t get is why people keep making them since they don’t work.

I’ve observed that the nature of the most common new years resolutions is often to do something that we “should” be doing already anyway: lose weight, stop smoking, exercise more, eat better.  The “should” is in quotes because my immediate response to “shoulds” and “have tos” is “who says?!”  The “should” is a value statement that came from somewhere- friends, family, the media, society, etc. -and a person has to believe in a “should” in order for it to have any meaning.  Very arbitrary indeed.

My assumption is that people who make new years resolutions must be resolving to do something that they don’t want to do…otherwise, wouldn’t they have just done it already?  If quitting smoking was something that you really, truly wanted to do, then why would you wait to begin doing it until the first of the year?

I am rejecting this guilt-based form of resolutions!  I support joy-based resolutions!  I am resolving to do things that I like to do, things that bring me JOY!  One thing I started doing already (because why wait?!) and that is to blog.  Check.  The other is to take my picture everyday for at least the year of 2012.  So far so good.  Another is to continue to read. 

In my attempt to pass on the joy I experienced through reading this year, below is my year in book reviews for 2011.  They are listed in the order I read them, and an asterisk (*) means I had read the book before.  Enjoy!


1. *Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut

I had read this in high school and remembered liking it.  I think I am a Bokononist at heart. I just love the close-to-home absurdity of it all! 

2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson
3. The Girl who Played with Fire – Stieg Larsson
4. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest – Stieg Larsson

I just tore through these books, and I think they really highlight the year for me, especially since I followed these with the three Swedish and first American movie versions.

5. Enlightened Sexism – Susan Douglas

Awesome non-fiction about how sexism as backlash is more covert in the media now more than ever.  I like books that teach me how to be a more critical consumer of media.

6. Gone – Michael Grant

The Michael Grant Gone series (more below) are young adult books, and even though they start to go a crazy, far-out TV show Lost route, they are still fun, easy, and imaginative reads.  I look forward to the few more in the series he has yet to write.  Basic premise is that in one moment everyone in this town over the age of 15 just disappears…

7. Bossypants – Tina Fey

Tina, I love you, I love you, I love you!  This autobiographical hilarity she calls a book is well worth it.

8. *A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle

I read this one as a child and reading it again made me feel like I was 10 again.  Love the power of books.

9. Hunger – Michael Grant
10. Lies – Michael Grant
11. Plague – Michael Grant

These titles really indicate how the plot thickens…

12. *Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – JK Rowling

I think this was at least my third read.  I had to read it before the last movie came out so that I could properly tear the movie apart for inconsistencies.  The end of all things Harry Potter was and still is traumatic for me…

13. *Tales of Beedle the Bard – JK Rowling

To ease the pain of the Harry saga coming to an end, I read this for the second time.  For this reading, I actually read one story out loud each night to the boyman before we went to sleep.  He hadn’t heard them before, and there was something magical about sharing the stories out loud to someone else.

14. The Golden Compass – Philip Pullman

So this book seemed right up my alley.  I was still mourning the loss of Harry, and I figured this whimsical fantasy with a female protagonist would help ease the pain…but it was soooo slow and parts were boring and I struggled to get through it.  I struggled so badly that I gave up hope trying to finish the series.  Maybe someday I’ll try it again.  And maybe I learned the hard way that nothing can ever take the Harry Potter PTSD away.

15. Into Thin Air – Jon Krakauer

This non-fiction first account of a disastrous trip to the top of Everest was the most captivating and anxiety-provoking book of the year for me.  I could not put this down, and I even had dreams about being in mortal peril in the freezing snow and not having enough oxygen.  I recommend this adventure of a book!

16. Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen

I remember that at this point in the year, I said that I would choose media devoid of abuse and trauma, so I chose what I thought was a charming, old-timey circus fling.  Sigh.  I still enjoyed it, even though there was some domestic violence and animal abuse thrown in there. 

17. A Stolen Life – Jaycee Dugard

At this point I think my curiosity got the better of me and I threw out my rule about choosing books free of abuse.  This book gets me enraged and hopeful at the same time.  Enraged that someone could do horrible things to someone else for SO LONG before getting caught, and hopeful because Jaycee and her girls are so resilient and kind and determined and not broken in any way.

18. The Help – Kathryn Stockett

Phenomenal book, beautifully written.  This book makes me want to visit the south.

19. The Whistleblower – Kathryn Bolkovac and Cari Lynn

Here is another example where I couldn’t help myself.  This is a true story where Kathryn, a cop, was hired to help prevent and police sex trafficking in Bosnia, only her superiors were sabotaging her work and were consumers of the sex trade themselves.  I love a story where women kick ass and not only take names, but take them to court!

20. Dress your Family in Corduroy and Denim – David Sedaris

I had heard good things about Sedaris, and so I borrowed this book from a friend.  Full of autobiographical stories of David’s family and life growing up.  He has this dry humor I find amusing, although I expected the stories to be more laugh out loud funny.

21. Holidays on Ice – David Sedaris

More stories, less autobiographical.  I found that these stories were either hit or miss for me.  One was absolutely hilarious, and the other was so over the top that it missed its mark.

~Here’s to many more happy, fun, exciting reads for 2012!~

Kicking Ass and Taking Names (in more ways than one)

Since the boyman has been hunkered down in his hole working on his thesis, the two of us haven’t been to many (any) movies recently. So now that he’s all good and gradumacated (pause for applause), we’re going hog wild!!

Basically, we struck a deal. I love women kicking ass and taking names, and Brian loves history and war where men are kicking ass and taking names. This means we went to go see Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and War Horse.

SPOILER ALERT! I reference a few details of these movies, but I don’t spoil any endings. Hopefully you’ve either already seen these movies cuz you’re superfly, or you don’t care about them being minorly spoiled because, hey, it’s better than getting your toes gnawed off by a rabid clown.

TRIGGER ALERT as I reference events of sexual violence.

Both of these movies are about wild, spirited creatures who are being controlled by others more privileged than they are. Both of these movies involve intense violence, perseverance, devotion, and justice. It’s very possible that this is where the similarities end, although if I was in a pinch I could probably drag this on for a few more paragraphs.

Have you ever wanted to watch a movie so moving, so beautifully stunning, so captivating, but still have that constant reminder that you’re in a movie theater surrounded by cranky old people??! Then see War Horse!

I don’t understand why older folks feel it’s ok to talk through movies while at the theater. Do they even realize they are doing it? Do they realize it and not give a fuck? It was all I could do not to turn around and ironically ask them if their parents had ever taught them any manners.

Not only did these cranky-pants folks comment throughout the movie, the things they said were in no way contributing to the richness of the entertainment (although, now that I think about it, unless you’re at Rocky Horror, commenting at the screen will in no way improve the experience). The asinine comments can be placed neatly into 3 categories. Some examples:

1. My personal life and hopes and dreams should be heard by everyone

“My arm hurts…it’s been hurting me all day.”
If you keep talking, more than just your arm will hurt, sister.

“This movie has been everything I had hoped for.”
That’s nice, lady. I had hoped for a movie free of bitching and moaning, but I guess we can’t both have what we want now can we?

2. Captain Obvious to the rescue!

“Whoa, there’s the horse!”

“Ooh, he’ll be competition!”

“Oh look, they’re in love!”

Let’s see if I understand. Either you don’t quite get what’s going on and you’re attempting to confirm your current comprehension level by indirectly asking for input from your fellow moviegoers, or you very much do understand and you are selflessly translating the difficult content so that those around you can catch up. Either that or you have no filter and can’t keep your trap shut. Not sure, though.

3. Maybe if I yell loud enough, Spielberg will hear me

“No, don’t kill him!”

“He’s not dead, he just needs medicine!”

Ok, so that last one was from Lord of the Rings, but still, I admire your sentiment and I actually agree with you that the horse still had more life left in him, but hows about we give the cute horse our moral support in controlled, mature silence?

[Edit: contrary to popular belief, these last two statements do not give away the ending of the movie.  It’s the kind of movie where you’re left guessing til the end.]

Bottom line is that if people want to talk during a movie, then STAY THE FUCK HOME and wait for Netflix.

So I guess that was my review for War Horse. I recommend it, especially if you like horses or war. And the story is an Odyssey story, in that it follows the horse through the war and through various owners, places, and predicaments. My only caution is if you have this rare disease where you’ll die from overactive tear ducts, then don’t see it. And also, if you’re like me and you can’t stand to see animals in pain, then there will be one heart-wrenching scene where you’ll have to look away while your body is heaving with sobs. Needless to say, I felt very cleansed and vulnerable in the aftermath. My therapist would be proud.

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Now for Dragon Tattoo.

I read the books, saw the Swedish movies, and now I am licking my chops for the American versions.  I am a huge stickler for staying true to books in the movie versions, and any significant deviation from the original plot warrants a strongly worded letter in my book.

I thought Noomi Rapace’s Swedish performance as Lisbeth in the original movies was pretty well done, and I was skeptical that any second attempt could improve on the character, especially when left in the hands of Americans.  David Fincher  and Rooney Mara did not disappoint!  In fact, I thought that Lisbeth was indeed made much more three-dimensional, we could see a few more layers to her, and there was even some time devoted to giving a peek into her traumatic past, tidbits of the story yet to unfold.  Yes, Lisbeth sometimes chooses violence, but she does so only when she’s provoked and only when she sees no other option.  When we see Lisbeth mugged on the subway, she first hesitates and then runs after the guy and fights only to get her bag back and then runs away.  After her escape, we see her heave a sigh of relief and not one of satisfaction.

In my personal opinion, Lisbeth suffers from severe PTSD (post traumatic stress). The books describe her ability to cut herself off from all emotion and often stare back blankly when she chooses not to answer a question (that choice is yet another way she is able to fight back against her imposed narrative of being victimized and having power taken away from her).  I feel that this vital piece of Lisbeth’s behavior hasn’t been expressed fully enough in either movie version.  The American version did a slightly better job in that Lisbeth avoids eye contact and physical proximity, but the Swedish movies had Lisbeth responding with too many quips, too normal, too wordy, too talkative.  I wish some director out there would have the balls to put that gut-wrenching silence up on screen.  Let her eyes and that defiant silence do the talking.

I very much preferred Daniel Craig as Blomkvist to the actor in the Swedish version for the same reason as Mara – Craig was more human, more 3D.  In this version, Blomkvist was warmer, sweeter and less stoic than in the Swedish version.  He was also a bit more passive and humble.  His reaction when Lisbeth first comes on to him in her no-nonsense fashion was endearing, with his wide-eyed, stammering, chivalrous concern.  And plus, Daniel Craig is an awesome piece of ass to look at.  Thank you, casting director!

Another concern going into this movie was how Americans might portray the rape and sex scenes.  On one hand, I appreciate Europeans being able to portray sex and sexual violence with more transparency, rawness, and in graphic detail.  The books were certainly in graphic detail, and so there’s that part of me that wants the movie versions told as closely to the book as possible.  The American scenes were not as graphic as the Swedish ones, and maybe it was because I have already seen the Swedish scenes that I didn’t feel like anything was lacking from the American scenes.  The fear and pain and anger were all still there.

In closing, an ode to Lisbeth.  I fucking love Lisbeth Salander. She is a tortured soul who doesn’t play the victim.  She uses violence only when she doesn’t see any other options, but when she does use violence it’s with awesome warpaint that would scare the shit out of Hitler, let alone pathetic rapist pigs.  She’s not a maneater or oppositional-defiant in a negative clinical sense.  She’s not empowered by the violence she inflicts, she merely wants to level the playing field that has been tipped against her favor even before she was born.  People like me relish watching her take her power back from her abusers in any creative way she can think of, like tattooing their heinous acts on their chests.  She does the things that I sometimes wish I could do and she says the things I sometimes wish I could say.  She doesn’t abide by gender norms or sexual norms, she does what she wants, when she wants, and basically just asks people to leave her the hell alone.  My inner angsty-feminist teenager squeals with pleasure when Lisbeth comes on the screen.