A Quiet Finish

From Goodreads

So, last weekend, I very quietly finished my summer reading challenge through the library with a book which uses film to explain and discuss philosophy. It was interesting and a much better way to tackle some of those writers than either of the two philosophy classes I’ve taken over my lifetime. The thing with philosophy is I always feel it should be interesting than it turns out to be. It should be sitting around discussing what life is, and there is some of that, but then they have to bring logic proofs and ridiculously long sentences which seem to always contradict themselves somewhere along the way. You’d think with all that, there would be answers in there somewhere but those often seem to be missing too. Using film though I think is a great way to go about it and I recommend Christopher Falzon’s book if you’re at all interested in diving into philosophy basics. He was quite good about using movies that I had at least heard of, if not seen, for the most part. That was another fear when I started it, that he would cite all these gloriously wonderful films that maybe a handful of film majors could say they had seen.  Quite frankly, when the man used Total Recall as an example, I knew we would get along just fine.

I had finished the film part of the challenge several weeks before when I was finally in the mood for subtitles. Heartbreaker was a refreshingly clever and funny romantic comedy out of France and I recommend for anyone who has a soft spot for ridiculous rom-coms to check it out. If nothing else, I learned that Vanessa Paradis is something other than Johnny Depp’s long-time partner. And there is an awesome scene when they recreate the final dance from Dirty Dancing…you’d just have to see it to understand how that fits at all with the plot.

So, reading and film challenges are done! Now, I should get back to my other reading challenge for the year, all those pesky books on my reading list that I should have read by now but haven’t (the classics) but I think I’ll take some time and clear out a few books I picked up on a trip to Denver. In April. Eventually, I get back around to everything!

Reading and Watching a Time Machine

So, by now, you may have gathered I am a bit of a Doctor Who fan. He clearly has the coolest time machine, hands down. Nothing can top the TARDIS. Still, the original is kind of cool. For my summer reading challenge, I chose to kill two birds with one stone and read The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, a book that was also on my year-long reading list of books I should have read by now. I also, just to cover all my bases, watched the 2002 movie version of Wells’ novel last night starring Guy Pearce. Let’s just say, the Doc still reigns supreme as the premier Time Traveller in my book.

From Goodreads

Not to say I didn’t enjoy this other time traveler. We’ll start with the book. It was the first book I had read by Wells and I liked his style. Although he included considerably more science jargon in his work than his counterpart, Jules Verne, I was still able to easily follow the logic of his story. I liked the set up of the book, or novella as it is more rightly classified. It’s divided into three main parts. The first section is a dinner party with the Time Traveler (no other name given) and several of his friends where they debate time travel and then the Time Traveler successfully tests a small scale model of his time machine. This section is heavy on the science, with not a lot of plot but it sets the stage for the second, longest section which is when the Time Traveler goes to the year 800,000 AD and successfully comes back and tells his tale to his dinner companions. This sort of retrospective story technique seems to be popular with both Wells and Verne. In a sense, it makes me more comfortable as a reader; if he’s telling the story, he obviously survives the peril of the story. That said, it clearly kills the suspense aspect of the plot. The third, quite short, section is simply the narrator saying that the Time Traveler has been missing, along with his great machine, for the past three years and speculates on whether he will ever return.

The main gist of the story is brilliant; remember, Wells was long before Doc Brown strapped a flux capacitor to a DeLorean and even long before the Doctor started traveling the universe in a Police Box. I love reading the root stories of our great mythologies. The Time Traveler is likable enough if a little bland and he certainly travels to a fantastical place far, far, far into our future. At this point apparently, humans have split into two races. The Eloi, simple childlike creatures, live above ground and the menacing Morlocks inhabit caves miles beneath the surface and only come out at night. The Eloi are likened to sheep for good reason; the Morlocks are meat eaters and the only creatures around to eat apparently are the Eloi. So, the element of cannibalism is a major plot point even if Wells never comes right out and states it as such. Pretty gruesome (and the movie takes it a bit further than I needed to see). Also, the Eloi, childlike to the extreme, makes the Time Traveler’s relationship with Weena somewhat problematic. I don’t think Wells means for the story to have the undertones I was picking up on that relationship but then again, maybe he did. Either way, it was a bit much at times in my opinion. That said, the adventure of the story holds up. The Time Traveler’s war with the Morlocks to get his time machine back is fun to follow and well paced. The novella is definitely plot driven; the characters are rather under developed but again, I’ve noticed this about the early science fiction novels. They are so focused on getting the story out and explaining all the ways it was plausible that the characters sort of fell by the wayside of the bigger agenda of the author.

From Moviegoods

Now, we move on to the 2002 film. Setting aside the rather cheesy special effects (I was shocked to see the film was made in 2002 when I looked – the budget must have been rather low key), I liked this movie. It in no way resembles the novella it is based on other then there is a time traveler who goes to the year 800,000 where humans have divided into hunters and hunted. However, this didn’t bug me and I’ll tell you why. If they’d filmed a straight version of Wells’ story, most of the time you’d be bored. There are pages of explanation; pages when the Time Traveler is just wandering around aimlessly trying to decide how to act next. The sort of style doesn’t make for the most riveting film. However, and feel free to cry foul on me, how they characterized the Time Traveler, or Alex Hartdegen as he’s now called, seemed a bit much to me.

In the novella, the Time Traveler builds his machine because he can; he is a scientist and he wants to explore new frontiers and break boundaries. This fits the time, the spirit, of the age Wells was writing in and trying to embody through his story. The pursuit of scientific discovery itself was a big enough motivator for his character. In 2002, we had to give Alex Hartdegen some melodramatic loss to make him so obsessed in going back in time to fix a mistake that he builds the time machine. People, in one word, lame. I was not a fan of this new plot point. Other ones they added were necessary I think to make the other characters flesh out enough so you cared about them. The Eloi become a fully developed people with their own culture and society (in the book, they just sort of lazed around all day). The Morlocks have a supreme leader who, kind of Borg-like, controls the rest of the pack via mind control. Rule number 1 in action film, we must have a single bad guy controlling all the minions. I also liked the inclusion of the hologram librarian who follows Alex through time; it was a clever way to get information to the audience without going overboard with monologues from the other characters. Also, we need to give props to the Props department – the Time Machine was awesome and, according to IMDB, the biggest and most expensive prop built for a film at that time. I see where the budget went now.

It was interesting to be able to compare the two works, novella from 1895 and film from 2002. I think in many ways, they are reflections of their time; of the expectations of an ever-changing audience and both are worth checking out if you’re in between seasons of Doctor Who.

An Infinite Playlist I wish I’d had

From Goodreads

So, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist is true high school fantasy. They are cooler than one could ever hope to be and yet you can’t hate them for it. You’re too busy hoping, if you ever met one or both, they’d think you were cool enough to be friends with.

What I liked about this book was how different it was from the movie. It had to be different of course. The book is told mostly as Nick and Norah’s inner thoughts and how they feel their way through the date to end all first dates. These characters are more raw than we like on our movie screen and make lots of mistakes along the way. Also, because of the two dialogues, supporting characters are less important than the main characters which works for a book but may bore in a movie. However, the book is wonderful – vibrant, funny, and heart-wrenching. These are two people you are rooting for from the moment you read the first page.

I also love the character of New York City in this book. She is showcased in all her raw, gritty beauty that few can appreciate. I find I do prefer reading about it more than experiencing it in all honesty but I’ve seen this character in my fleeting visits to the City. Nick and Norah almost make me want to get to know her better at her core, away from the tourist areas I’ve usually frequented to find these corners they roam through or even to better appreciate the midtown areas that they themselves wonder why they are drawn to them. Old NYC comes off quite good in Cohn and Levithan’s tale.

I also dare anyone to read this and not come away with a greater appreciation for music. Nick and Norah are both characters that feel music deeply and are able to express their feelings about music in clear, interesting ways. It is a book with a soundtrack always playing in the back of your mind. Norah calls them “music soulmates” at one point in the book, a line which made it into the film, and I think it fits. Nick and Norah use music to catalog their lives, to relate to the world around them, on a level I’d never seen before. It comes across more in the book than the film but even in the film, you understand that what initially brings these two people together is that somehow, in some way, they are both listening to the same song in their head, they just haven’t realized it yet.

I would recommend both book and movie as two different stories with two different main characters who happen to share similar traits and problems. Both will not fail to entertain and at the very least, they come with their own killer soundtracks.

Butterflies and Baseball

From Goodreads

I’ve never been much of a baseball fan. I didn’t grow up watching it so I don’t really get how the scoring works or what the big excitement is about the game. But, it is the American past time, and lord knows I love a good baseball movie so when I needed a book for the sports category for the library’s reading challenge, a friend recommended this one. I had been trying to avoid baseball ones but it seems to be the go-to sport for fiction. It makes an awesome movie so why not a book? I decided to give Mick Cochrane’s The Girl Who Threw Butterflies a try. And I am very glad I did, this is one of the best books I have read in awhile.

Molly Williams is an eighth grader who just recently lost her father in a tragic accident. Her best friend Celia keeps her sane as her mother grows more and more distant from her. Molly’s father taught her how to throw a knuckleball, or a butterfly ball, and their sport was baseball. In dealing with her grief, one night, Molly decides this school year, instead of going out for the girls’ softball team, she’d try out for the boys’ baseball team. In the course of the tryouts, Molly deals more openly with how her father’s death affected her and her mother to herself and she starts to deal with her loss and realize the family she has left, as unconventional as it is, is special in its own right. The book also takes place over a very short time frame, from Molly’s decision the night before tryouts, through tryouts and then into the first game of the year, I think perhaps a few weeks pass so we don’t see Molly “better,” but we see how she might move forward once the reader leaves her behind.

I really love Molly; she is a smart kid and maybe a bit more self-aware than is realistic to think for an eighth grader but I was willing to let that slide. She is also is dealing with the loss of who seemed to be her primary parent. Molly, in exploring her relationship with her mother, realizes she doesn’t really know her. It was her father she played catch with, talked with, respected. Watching Molly comes to terms with her mother was fascinating in the small time we get to watch them. She realizes she’s never quite been the daughter her mother would like but she also knows her mother loves her just as she is. Molly is also smart enough to have friends around her who tell it like it is. Celia, her best friend, was hilarious at times with her wacky family and straightforward way of seeing things. When Molly is gearing up to look at the roster for the team, to see if she made the cut, Celia tries to be encouraging but then very bluntly drops the facade. Look Molly, she said, let’s not kid ourselves. You’ll be heartbroken if you don’t make it so go look and see and they’ll we’ll react. I love friends like that (even if you want to strangle them a lot of the time too). Molly’s developing relationship with her catcher Lonnie is also sweet and fun to watch. As a knuckler, Molly’s pitches are difficult to catch so Lonnie works to be her “personal catcher.”

The book also makes Molly very level-headed which I always appreciate. I loathe a character who is constantly bursting into tears at the drop of a hat. Molly has lost her dad, her best friend, but she’s very stoic when she thinks about it. She realizes the tears won’t help so she spends her time intellectualizing it. That fact makes it that much more powerful when Molly does let herself cry, just once, when Lonnie simply states, not as a question, that Molly misses her father. Like I said, maybe not how a normal eight grade girl would handle things but I admired Molly’s strength and courage.

Her admiration of baseball is also impressive. She presents the game as her father presented it to her, a game that the players are both playing against themselves and against the other team. It almost made me think I should try to like baseball a little – Molly showed me a side of the game I’d never realized before. As a pitcher, Molly is often playing the game against herself, against her endurance, her own smarts against the ball, not so much the person holding the bat or base. I also liked that Cochrane didn’t make this about a girl playing baseball. That element is there and gets dealt with in what I think is a fairly realistic way, but it’s not the reason Molly is playing baseball. She’s playing because she genuinely loves the game, because it’s a way to remember her father and a way to let him go. The fact that she is a girl is more peripheral to all of those elements.

So, a book that almost convinced me I should appreciate baseball more and a main character I seriously wanted to hug. Not bad at all.

Little Blog on the Prairie

From Goodreads

I needed a western for my summer reading challenge at the library. It is a not a genre I know anything about. Especially in books. Movies I might have a better shot at it but books? Not really my genre. So I spoke to my resident book guru and she reminded me of a book she’d recommended to me awhile back, Cathleen Davitt Bell’s Little Blog on the Prairie. It is a young adult book about technologically wired 14 year old Genevieve whose mother drags the family to Camp Frontier for their summer vacation. Camp Frontier is permanently stuck in 1890 – the cell phones, jeans and iPods are confiscated on arrival, each family is assigned a plot of land and works the farm for the summer. You can imagine Gen’s enthusiasm. But, the girl has a plan, she sneaks her cell phone into the camp and sends texts to her best friends about what she’s doing, what the fellow campers are like and how much she is learning to loathe the camp owners’ daughter. Texts her friend turns around and uses to create a blog…that goes viral. Just when Gen is thinking there might be more to this frontier life than she first realized, the 21st century invades and Gen has to figure out how to salvage what was becoming the best vacation ever.

So, I kind of adored Gen, As the FYA girls say, she earned my BFF charm full stop. She is funny and smart and so not like who I was at all at 14 (the girl is a soccer player extraordinaire – so not me). But I was a girl who depended on my electronics and still do. I love being connected constantly, not to mention my music, photos, television shows, they are all digital, all on my computer. I love to read as much as the next girl but my computer, well, he’s kind of my best friend (I know, sad really but there it is). As a 14 year old, I was less wired I’ll admit but if my mother had tried to pull this on me? I would not have been a happy camper. Luckily, my mother loathes camping with everything in her so my summer vacations as a kid were to Toronto, Montreal, Cedar Point in Ohio. Camping was something Mom put her foot down about when I was around 9 or 10. But Camp Frontier? No, just no. Not my thing. I love learning about history, reading about it, watching historical films etc. but I have absolutely no desire to live in it. I might have been born in the wrong country (Canada or Great Britain, any time you wish to adopt me, I’m your girl), but the wrong century? No, I’m right where I belong here. And this book didn’t change my mind in the least. Gen and her family may have found it fun and works for them but I will stick to my Disney cruises thank you very much.

However, I now know what goes into churning butter, doing laundry without a washer and dryer and how one goes about trying to bake with lard. I got a milking lesson, discovered that sometimes you can mistake a rooster for a hen and that window coverings to keep out the bugs is something we hadn’t gotten around to yet in 1890. So, Bell did a great job of balancing the story of Gen and her family against the historical activities they found themselves doing. Perhaps not a strict Western but a western for the 21st century. Just the kind I like.

Honeymoon with My Brother

From Goodreads

I read a lot of books, fiction and non, that are from a female perspective. I need to branch out more and when I needed a memoir for the summer reading challenge, I knew I wanted to read this book. One, it had been on my list for awhile and two, male protagonist! It only took me about 20 pages to realize why I avoid the male perspective of things. I just don’t have much in common with it. Especially not Franz Wisner. Don’t get me wrong, I am sure he’s a great guy and my respect for him grew by leaps and bounds as he and his brother kept their “honeymoon” going for two years. But let’s face it. This ultra-liberal East Coast girl was never going to see quite eye to eye with a former Republican lobbyist from California.  But that is OK, stepping beyond one’s comfort zone is a good thing and I ultimately came to enjoy the adventures of the two brothers as they made their way around the world. I think my jealously grew by leaps and bounds as well.

Because, seriously, can I have their lives? OK, sure, one of them had to be left at the alter before they started this journey of a lifetime, a two year trek through Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, South America and Africa. But still. Sign me up as soon as I can find a way to financially swing it. And as soon as I have the guts to hop on planes without a plan and see what happens next. The planner in me is having a slight panic attack just thinking about it. I admire people who can do it. Of course, as much fun as their journey sounds, I kept thinking in the back of my mind, is this a journey I could do? They seem to hitch rides with people they just met a lot, haggle down prices constantly, seemingly handled a two day bus ride in the middle of nowhere Africa without a complaint. I think I would have started to complain around the third time their bus had to stop. Because a bird flew into and shattered the bus’s windshield. I’m not sure I am quite that adventurous.

Though maybe I am. One thing I learned reading this book is you never know what you can handle until you’re staring it in the face and you learn constantly, the more you travel and meet people. If nothing else, this book showed great growth in its leading men, both of whom seemed like jackasses in the beginning, if you pardon the language. It was only as we approached the end that I realized I’d come to like them and wanted to know what ridiculous situation they’d get themselves into next. I’ve never traveled beyond the safe borders of Western Europe – the most “excitement” of those trips was being chased by a drunken German in the Red District of Amsterdam that we’d accidentally taken a wrong turn into late our first night in town. I can’t imagine how I’d react in Africa amongst the poorest, and some of the most optimistic according to Wisner, people in the world. But is is interesting to think about, to wonder, and to do some internet searches to find out who I’d have to sell my soul to in order to afford a ticket to really find out.  So, if you’re in the mood for a fun world jaunt and can make it past the emotional upheaval of the failed wedding before all the fun traveling starts, I would recommend Honeymoon with My Brother. If for nothing else, you have to read the story Wisner ends with because I am telling you now, it’s worth it for the laughs that story brings alone.