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Never fear fellow fiftyfifty-ers! (That is so much alliteration.) We're back with another podcast about mid-summer panic. And we talk about a few books we've read lately, plus what we think about watching movies alone. With three months to go, everyone needs to rally and finish strong! [16:59 min]

Books mentioned:
  • Fifty Shades of Grey, E. L. James
  • Trinity, Leon Uris (and the unfortunate cover)
  • Public Crime, Bill James
  • Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein
  • But Enough About Me, Jancee Dunn

Movies mentioned:
  • The Intouchables (2011)
  • Dark Knight Rises (2012)
  • The Descendents (2011)
"One notable difference with going with others - spouse, lover, friends, or family - is that with company there is always some DISCUSSION. First there is the pre-movie discussion followed by the post-movie discussion. Everyone is fully armed with sharply pointed opinions, judgments, theories, beliefs, criticisms, praise, hype, comparisons, which often lead to HEATED discussions and even arguments. She is totally miscast! There’s no payoff! The plot’s all over the place! By the end of the evening whatever small pleasure you may have derived from the film has been undone."
-The Pleasures of Going Alone: What Solo Moviegoing Teaches Us-

Courtesy of Bibliotechnicienne | | Originally posted 8.18.2012

Part sci-fi, part fantasy, part computery, Alif the Unseen takes place in an unnamed Middle Eastern country. The main character is Alif (his online name, not his given name) a young man who lives his life online, providing digital protection to rebels, dissidents and hackers alike. He’s not picky about his clients.

Scorned by the woman he loves, he reacts…poorly. In no way can this be viewed as an overreaction (read: he overreacts big time) he creates a computer program that will detect his former lady loves presence online and when it does, it will erase all traces of him, making him invisible and uncontactable. I know that’s not a word, but wait, there’s more craziness ahead.

Said computer program causes a few…problems in the real world. This is an understatement. An ancient book is thrown into the mix, and suddenly Alif finds himself on the run from the State with his neighbour Dina in tow, seeking the protection of a jinn and the spiritual world. For some reason in North America, we stick a D in front of djinn. This is mentioned in the story, but not explained.

At this point, think Aladdin without Robin Williams. Also nix the singing.

I started reading this as a foil for Emma. I found the first bit a bit slow, but I really got into it about halfway through. I also couldn’t decide right away whether it was YA or not. Which isn’t a criticism, it just had that feel. I think it was when the book got into *ahem* adult situations that I decided that it’s not.

There’s a romantic subplot, but it’s different from your typical one. There are a lot of longing glances and coveting of ankle glimpses [which seems to contradict the above paragraph, but they're both right] I guess it’s not that much different than Emma after all.

Some books I find hard to recap with the right balance of telling enough to get someone interested, but not telling too much, and divulging the whole book. This is one of them. I already feel like I’ve said too much. But trust me, there’s a whole pile of stuff I haven’t touched on.

It’s a bit of a departure from my typical reads, but it’s a good one. I say "Read Me!"

Book 30 for fiftyfiftyme.

  • I Feel Bad About My Neck, Nora Ephron
  • Edda, Conor Kostick
  • Code Name Verity, Lizzie Wein
  • I Remember Nothing, Nora Ephron
  • How to Be a Woman, Caitlin Moran
  • The Amazing Spider-Man, Marc Webb
  • Jarhead, Sam Mendes
  • Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan
  • The Intouchables, Olivier Nakache & Eric Toledano
  • Step Up Revolution, Scott Speer
[ | Pinterest | Google Doc]

I feel like my months are falling into mini-themes. May was dystopian, June was middle grade, and now July, heavy on friendship and feminism. For example, Caitlin Moran is being touted as the next Nora Ephron but that's really unncessary. Moran doesn't need to be the next anything. Her How to Be a Woman is hilarious and thought provoking without having to attach it to anybody who came before her. What's important is that both Ephron and Moran write essays that I could read over and over.

Next month I'm gonna go back and read Ephron's older essays and then turn my attention to whatever the male equivalent of this sort of writing is. Confessional, smart, and funny. (What is the male equivalent of these books?) Or I'll just stay in this lane and go either lighter with Sloane Crosley or heavier with Joan Didion. It's about time I went Didion right?

  • On the Intersection of Race & Feminism: A Conversation With Neesha Meminger and Ibi Zoboi

As for Code Name Verity, let me just say "wow." One of the best books I've read this year and I don't even want to tell you anything about it because it's much better going in without knowing much. Nominally it's young adult but it's not like any YA I've read. I don't know who was the lone dissenter giving this a three star review on Amazon but they were dead wrong. Code Name Verity is so great, and even if it doesn't sound like it's up your alley, you should read it. Man, I wish I could forget it so I could read it all over again.

And a quick head nod for Conor Kostick's Edda. A science fiction / fantasy YA that actually has some depth and interesting world building. Most of the YA stuff I read in this genre has only a light glossing of sci-fi, but Kostick's series actually has ideas and depth behind all the action and plot. That would make sense since he was "a designer for the world's first live action role-playing game." Plus he is a former European champion at Diplomacy, a board game I love and long to play often. Respect. I headed into Edda expecting some generic-ness and emerged wanting to check out Saga and Epic.

For the Dark Knight fanboys in the audience. Here's the deal: Dark Knight Rises wasn't that good. I'll come right out and say I'm not a huge fan of the franchise in general -- Batman's growly voice kills me -- but I can concede that it's done great things for the comic book movie. But this one especially was so hokey and littered with so many plot holes and inconceivables that afterwards I had to nitpick at each one.

Having said that, I did go back and watch it again. Upon rewatch, the first hour or so of the movie is spectacular. Christopher Nolan pushes the tempo, sets up the current day situation, and introduces Bane in a great way. However, when Bane becomes the star of the movie, putting Gotham under siege -- and Bruce Wayne gets tossed into the pit -- the movie lost me. Also, where was the fighting? Nowhere! Dark Knight Rises wasn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, and I loved Anne Hathaway, but I think it was a clear letdown.

Also, while we're here, I wish Fox would just stop making Spider-Man movies so the rights could revert back to Marvel. Not that Amazing Spider-Man was bad, not with Emma Stone in it, but it's totally unnecessary. Let Spider-Man join The Avengers please! And while they're at it, let Wolverine scurry back to Marvel too.

One movie I will recommend from this past month: The Intouchables. Originally the trailer put me off because it seemed like too much of a sappy feel good story. But upon a trusted friend's recommendation, Lilly and I went to go see it.

And we loved it!

The movie had so much wonderful energy, an opening featuring "September," and an utterly charming Omar Sy. The Intouchables played like a light version of The Sea Inside or The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Actually those movies had quite a lot of humor in them too, but more subtle.) It was nominated for all sorts of awards in its native France and it's definitely a perfect Sunday matinee.

There is some debate about The Intouchables' broad racial characterizations and its use of the black man as cultural liberator trope. The criticism is impossible to dismiss because the movie certainly plays into those stereotypes. While philosophically I agree 100% with those criticisms, I still think The Intouchables was delightful and worth a watch.

Also, Driss in real life is Abdel Sellou, an Arab from Algeria, conveniently blackwashed for the movie. Is that, like, a first?

[Crossposted from]

Courtesy of Amodini | Friday Nirvana | Originally posted 6.25.2012

Lately I’ve been reading books which I would normally have not read - you think the book is of a particular genre but it turns out to be quite something else. I’m glad though for having been able to read these different genres - they are great books and I’m the richer for having read them. There was Exogene by T.C. McCarthy which seemed like a sci-fi adventure set in a genetically-modified future, but which read like a war-novel instead. And then there is Age of Miracles which I requested via NetGalley because of its astounding sci-fi premise. As it turns out, sci-fi is but a backdrop for this wonderful coming-of-age novel.

As I write this, in today’s world, we face a number of environmental challenges. The earth’s climactic patterns are changing, some say due to man’s ill-treatment of the earth. Global warming is on the rise, human waste is piling up, polluting the land and choking natural water systems. Imagine that in addition to all these slow changes there is one sudden, totally unanticipated change - a shift in the earth’s rotation causing our days to no longer be sunlit and our nights to no longer be starry. This is the world this novel is set in.

Julia, the heroine of this novel, is an 11 year old middle-schooler negotiating her schooldays with the help of best friend Hanna. It is during this time that the rotation of the earth changes leading to an influx of minutes into a regular day. The days get larger, initially by a few minutes each day, but the cumulative effect causes the traditional day length of 24 hours to increase by hours, by days and then by weeks.

"At the beginning, people stood on street corners and shouted about the end of the world. Counselors came to talk to us at school. I remember watching Mr. Valencia next door fill up his garage with stacks of canned food and bottles water, as if preparing, it now seems to me, for a disaster much more minor."
Initially befuddled, governments and government agencies - schools, offices, hospitals etc. decide to stick to “clock-time”, i.e.; a 24 hour time cycle even though the sun could now set in the middle of the “night” and “dawn” could be dark. Some people, the “real-timers”, decide to go by the sun, but are gradually shunned, leading them to migrate to communes. The sun’s changing rhythms have an effect on most earthly things - the earth’s protective atmosphere burns up, global warming increases, animals change migratory patterns and die mysteriously; there is societal unrest and unforeseen sicknesses. Most people worried, start anticipating the worst; they stockpile supplies, rebuild shelters to guard against the end of civilization, and migrate to be close to families and religious houses. Julia’s own hyper-paranoid mother stocks up, “a rising tide of condensed milk and canned peas” in their cupboards. In between all this, Julia must negotiate her way through fragile friendships, loneliness, death, nascent love and exhilaration.

This book is Thompson’s debut, but reads like it was written by a seasoned writer. Even though I presume that coming of age novels with their personal, mini-scale conflicts are not my cup of tea, I was engrossed. The writing flows; I stopped every couple of paragraphs, rereading her meticulous prose, wishing to commit it to memory. This is that kind of book.

With the great attention to detail, the characters in the book come to life. The events in Julia’s life, as told from her point of view, are so beautifully narrated that I’m there with Julia every step of the way. Julia is finding her way through a very curious time in earth’s history, but even as the world seemingly collapses into chaos it is her story that holds interest.
"It was that time of life: talents were rising to the surface, weaknesses were beginning to show through, we were finding out what kind of people we would be. Some would turn out beautiful, some funny, some shy. Some would be smart, others smarter. The chubby ones would likely always be chubby. The beloved, I sensed, would be beloved for life. And I worried that loneliness might work that way, too. Maybe loneliness was imprinted in my genes, lying dormant for years but now coming into full bloom."
Julia herself, is a very sympathetic character, an introvert who just wishes to meld into the background and remain there in peace; you like her very easily. Julia’s story is the story of her family - her parents and grandfather, her friends - Hanna and Seth Moreno, the boy she secretly adores, her neighbors with their peculiar idiosyncrasies, and her schoolmates with their careless callousness. This is the story of her struggle to stay grounded amid the upheaval they bring, in an uncertain world.

This is a gorgeous book and my pick for 2012, smack dab in June. Highly recommended.
Title : The Age of Miracles
Author : Karen Thompson Walker
Genre : Dystopian/Sci-fi
Publisher : Random House
Pages : 289
Source : Netgalley/Publisher ARC
Rating : 4.5/5

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