Guest Post from Bill: A Psychiatric Diagnosis of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”

My stepdad Bill regularly sends me mail.  He might single-handedly be keeping the Postal Service afloat.  This review of the most recent Harry Potter movie came just before Christmas, and I found it so entertaining that I thought y’all might enjoy it, too. Relevant notes: Bill hasn’t actually read any of the books; he’s just seen the movies.  And he’s a physician.  Kathy is my mom.

Have you seen the latest Harry Pottsy movie?  Come to think…it may not be the latest.  It’s the most recent to us, Kathy having spent electrons and the Postal “Service” conveying it from Netflix.  Anywho, I’m not sure of the actual title, but perhaps it should be something like “Harry Potter and the Cauldron of Raging Hormones.”  The usual admixture of schizoid, manic, paranoid, and personality-disordered folks frolic through the oppressive walls and grounds of Hogwarts Reformity for Disturbed English Children.  However, this movie deletes the usual delightful beginning of past efforts, wherein some apparition or deformed creature shows up to summon Harry, and the fat uncle gets terrorized in the process.  A disappointment.  Continue reading

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Christmas Books!

For Christmas when I was 7 or 8, I received all six American Girls books featuring Samantha, the Victorian-era girl with a poor friend who worked in a factory and who lived with her grandmother in a grand house.  Samantha ate petit-fours and created decoupage gifts.  I loved these books and read them over and over, along with my eventual complete set of Molly, the World War II girl whose father was a military physician overseas and who once made the mistake of trying a home permanent.

I frustrated my aunts at Christmastime, when they would ask me what I wanted, and I always just wanted a gift certificate to Borders or Barnes and Noble.  One of my aunts wanted me to get my ears pierced just so that she could get me something else!  But I love new books, and I’m sure you do, too.

Along with a smorgasbord of board games (a cribbage board carved from sustainable Massachusetts wood, a Mensa-approved match of wits, Life!, a backgammon/chess/checkers board from the MoMA), I received a handful of books, which you are sure to see popping up on your computer screen in the near future.  Here’s what you (and I) have to look forward to:

  • Superfreakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner (I might have the spellings of their first names reversed)
  • Emma by Jane Austen
  • The Nasty Bits by Anthony Bourdain

With few exceptions, if you received Christmas presents from me, you also got books.  Here are some that landed under other people’s trees: Continue reading

Article of the Day: Obscure Google Logos

Here’s a great little slideshow of random Google logos from the homepage.  I usually search Google in the upper right corner of my Firefox page, so I often miss out on the clever interpretations of the search engine’s name.  Now we all have a chance to catch up!

An homage to Walter Gropius

The Piano Teacher, by Janice Y.K. Lee

Head’s up: I am going to throw down some spoilers.  So if you haven’t read this book and intend to, maybe skip until you read it.

We’re shifting from post-colonial narratives to colonial era narratives, from Zadie Smith’s multicultural London to Janice Y.K. Lee’s Hong Kong in the 1940s and ’50s.  I sat in my pink Snuggie this afternoon and immersed myself in Lee’s debut novel, The Piano Teacher, which was very much a voyage into a darkly sophisticated past.  It’s concerned with English Will Truesdale, who arrived in Hong Kong just before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, an act which precipitated the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong, then a British colony.  Will falls in with the lovely, vivacious Eurasian Trudy Liang (product of Portuguese and Shanghainese parents) in 1941; she haunts him still in the early 1950s, when he is romancing Claire Pendleton, a married Englishwoman out of her depth in Hong Kong.  Given the book’s title, Claire is ostensibly the protagonist, as she teaches piano lessons to the daughter of a couple with whom Trudy and Will are connected; however, the more interesting storyline concerns Trudy and Will and how they each react to the Japanese occupation.

The book reminded me of the movie “The White Countess,” which concerns an outcast Russian countess and a blind American in Shanghai, but in the pre-war era.  I suppose it’s the international mix of characters, the focus on expatriates who seem bewildered by Chinese customs and impose their own practices on the setting.  The colonial mentality of ownership permeates both works, and in The Piano Teacher there are no prominent Chinese characters who have not been steeped in either American or British education systems and culture.

The book also raises the interesting question of what kind of person one truly is, under duress.  Continue reading

Guest Post from Flora: Post-Colonial Fiction Smackdown

Today I offer up a point-counterpoint Guest Post from my friend Flora, who tackles two novels: Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and Anya Ulinich’s Petropolis.   Flora and I went to grad school together, so beware the references to post-colonial narratives and such.  These are awesome books, and I hope you enjoy Flora’s take on them.

I read too much Babysitter’s Club as a child. Despite token acknowledgment of ‘difference’ (Stacey’s diabetes! Mary Anne’s shyness!)  the series was a pretty unsuitable template for a second generation American kid whose best friend lived 45 minutes away, who’d never babysat in her life (since when were 11 year old’s appropriate caregivers anyway?), who couldn’t even name all her aunts and uncles, much less tell you which continent they lived on. Split the hairs on difference: most of my high school friends were either first or second generation themselves, and spoke at least two languages fluently. This was Washington, DC, after all. But I was stubborn and confused: ripe fodder for angsty writing, except I didn’t think to give whatever my heritage was a book of its own.

This was long before I’d heard of Bhabha and Appadurai and post-colonial narratives, and when Zadie Smith’s White Teeth came out my reading list docket was full of 1960’s R&B histories. I finally got to it a few weeks ago, and I have to admit the first two-thirds were spent just a little jealous that I didn’t think to write something similar when I was 24. By the last third I caved in to overwhelming admiration of literary talent, aided by a pleasant but not captivating detour into Anya Ulinich’s Petropolis. The two books both detail late 20th century identity politics, although Petropolis is a picaresque novel which follows the misbegotten adventures of the quarter-African, nominally Jewish Sasha Goldberg of Asbestos 2, former USSR, and in White Teeth the stories and characters of immigrant London come twirling together, 200 years in the making, converging on a evening’s celebration of the allegorically denominated “FutureMouse”.  In short: ok, maybe they have different scopes, but Petropolis made a great sprint of a plane read, whereas I submerged myself in White Teeth‘s London for weeks. Continue reading

The Twilight Pros and Cons List

So, I finished the rest of the first in what is branded as “The Twilight Saga.”  It got better than it was when I posted about it yesterday (thank goodness, right?).  But it still wasn’t awesome and I don’t want to find me my own vampire to obsess about.  I think the easiest way to parse my feelings about the book is in a Pro/Con Smackdown.  Thusly, the Pros:

  • There is some legitimate suspense that picks up in the last third of the book, so it got more interesting.
  • Apparently Stephenie Meyer loosely based this book off of Pride and Prejudice, and I love P&P.
  • The vampires have interesting back stories — they are “vegetarians” in their culture for hunting animals, rather than people.  One of them thirsts for grizzly bear.  Awesome.

That’s about all I can think of right now.  I am marginally curious about what comes next, because according to the ads for the second movie, there are werewolves, which could spice things up.  I liked the werewolf plot lines in Harry Potter.  Cons: Continue reading

To Read or Not to Read “Twilight”: Update

Despite the overwhelming majority of 4-2 in my poll about whether I should read Twilight, I have decided to overrule the naysayers, mostly because I don’t believe in judging a book based on other people’s judgments or the media or whatever preconceptions I might have.  Sometimes the preconceptions turn out to be prescient, as with The Lost Symbol.  But I’ve never appreciated how people condemned books like the Harry Potter series as anti-Christian or whatever, all without cracking the cover.

So I’m about fifty pages into the first Twilight book, helpfully donated by an anonymous friend.  This way I won’t pour more money into the coffers of the Mormon Church, as my mother so adroitly pointed out.  Thus far, I’m not inspired.  The writing suffers from a lack of something — verve, maybe.  It’s written in the first-person narrator voice, and I am going to make an absurd complaint:  there’s too much narration!  It’s relentless, just narration and observation of feelings, and I fully realize that these naturally belong in a first-person narrated book.  And yet…

We don’t know that the vampire dude (Edward) is a vampire yet, just that he is beautiful and has a musical voice.  We know that the protagonist, Bella (you dare not call her Isabella — too princessy?), is insufferably aloof and has the obnoxious habit of calling her dad by his first name and, in one confusing instance, by his title (Chief Swan).  As my TV idol, Liz Lemon, would say, “What the what?”

I’ll keep you apprised if it gets better.  So far, I’m not sold.  Maybe I need to hold out for the vampire bits, although in general I have eschewed vampires and werewolves and all that stuff.  For the record, I hated Frankenstein in high school, not so much because of the monster as for the contrivance of the triple-boxed narrative.  God, I am snooty.