24 August 2012

A Rant on Popular Literature

I spend a lot of time on Amazon.com, browsing with the same longing as I would in a Barnes & Noble back home, adding items to my ever-growing Wish List of Future Dreams (they just call it a Wish List...I like to consider its deeper significance).  Amazon does its best to recommend things for you to read/buy, and of course they have off to the side their "Top Sellers."  Well, for several weeks now that Top Seller list has been dominated by first one, then two, now three Fifty Shades books.
If you don't know what those are: Fifty Shades of Grey, which somehow started as Twilight fanfiction (I haven't delved into how that happened, don't really want to know), is an erotic novel.  If you want to know the plot, Google it.  It became wildly popular when it came out several months ago, mostly among women, which earned it the description "mommy porn."  It was followed by two sequels, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed.
I think this goes without saying but I just want to let you know that I have not read (and will not read) any of them.  But having seen them on the Amazon Top Sellers list for so long, and being really disgusted at that, I thought I'd check out the New York Times Bestseller list, since that's supposed to be the most legit measure of book popularity.  Well, guess who's in the top three spots on "Combined Print and e-Fiction" (in case you didn't guess, it's the Fifty Shades books). Spots 4 and 5 are occupied by Gone Girl and Bared to You.  The premise of Bared to You is probably pretty easy to guess, and Gone Girl is a mystery, of which one Amazon reviewer wrote "it makes Catcher in the Rye seem wholesome."
All of these novels were written by women.  They're all apparently wildly popular (I'm guessing among women) - in fact, they're the most popular books in America.  And they're all...erm...salacious?  Graphic?  Adult?  X-rated?
Is now an appropriate time for me to despair at the current intellectual state of literate adults and the publishing industry?  I realize that ribald literature has always been popular (hello Canterbury Tales), but I always had this (apparently vain) hope that the written word somehow represented an aspiration to conscientious self-awareness and intellectual betterment.   I have foolishly believed that my beloved medium of literature remained largely separate from the same forces that rule movies and TV, as if the deliberate concentration necessary for reading somehow vaccinated it from becoming junk food entertainment.  Yet it appears that the law of supply and demand works here, too; what people want to buy, they get.
I want to believe that literature can be reclaimed; hundreds of beautiful, intelligent, thoughtful books are published every year, but who wants to spend time with thoughtful intelligence when you can spend it with porn?
The final thing I'd like to do in this post is congratulate the female authors who've written these bestsellers.  Good job, ladies.  Way to win one for the women.  For hundreds of years, men have dominated the authorship of books, but now thanks to you female authors everywhere can be respected for their creativity and intelligence.
/End Rant.

20 August 2012

Wisdom from Ernest

Some of my favorite Hemingway-isms on writing (beware of language).

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

“Write drunk; edit sober.” 

“The first draft of anything is shit.” 

“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.” 

Source: Goodreads

17 August 2012

The Selfishness of "Brave" (spoilers)

This poster makes me think she's
about to defend family and kingdom.
Spoiler, she doesn't.
I saw Disney/Pixar's latest princess movie earlier this week - which I had much anticipated - and it's stuck in my craw ever since.

If you haven't seen it and you don't want it spoiled, you should stop reading.

I was trying to reconcile why exactly I was so disappointed in it - thinking, surely it's not just because it's not the typical princess love story - when I finally hit on it: Brave is primarily concerned with the rewards of selfishness.

I admit I'm essentializing the story a bit, and it's probably not what Disney intended, but I believe it's the message that shines through.  To understand how, let's recap the movie.

Princess Merida is firey and independent.  When she learns (somehow this is a surprise to her) that it's her role in the kingdom to marry a clan chief's son, she throws a hissy fit, has a fight with her mom, and runs away.  She then purchases a spell that will change her mother so that she herself doesn't have to get married, which of course backfires (as all ill-purchased spells do) and turns her mother into a bear.  The rest of the movie is a mad dash to break the spell, during which Merida and her mom heal their relationship, her mom tells her she's allowed to get married when she chooses to whom she chooses (which is what Merida wanted all along), and the spell is broken at the last minute.  Hooray!

So here's what I got out of it: if you are persistent enough in pursuing your own selfishness - putting yourself above others and risking the safety of others for the attainment of your personal goal - then it will pay off and you'll get what you want in the end, even if you regret a bit the means you took to the end.

What a great moral.  Now let's reflect on some prior Disney animated movies to understand why Brave is such a disturbing divergence from some of the more beloved classics.  Here there be more spoilers (if you live under a rock), so proceed with caution.

Look at Mulan - she's so cool
In Mulan, which is arguably the most comparable to Brave because they both have kick-ass heroines, Mulan risks her life to take her father's place in the Chinese army, risks her life to fire the cannon that buries the Huns and saves her fellow soldiers, risks her life to return to the Imperial City and save not only the Emperor but all of China from the Hun sneak attack.

In Tangled, Rapunzel is willing to sacrifice her freedom and be her Evil Witchy Fake Mom's prisoner in order to save Eugene's life, because she loves him.  Eugene in turn cuts off her magical hair before she can heal him so that the Evil Witchy Fake Mom will have no reason to keep Rapunzel as her prisoner.

In Beauty and the Beast, Belle takes her father's place as the Beast's prisoner, the Beast fights off wolves to save Belle even though she hates him, and then Belle returns to the castle in hopes of saving the Beast from the enemies (the town and Gaston) that she really can't hope to defeat on her own.

The Little Mermaid is a bit more of a selfish story, with Ariel willing to do anything to be human and be around Eric, but when she thinks Eric has fallen in love with someone else, she's willing to let him go and let him be happy - until she finds out that he's actually under a spell, and then she risks her own life and her pact with Ursula to save him.

Then there's the Pixar greats, like the Toy Story movies and Finding Nemo and The Incredibles and Monsters, Inc, and Up, all of which have strong messages of risk and sacrifice for those you love.  I'm still not sure about the merits of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Cinderella,  but I could continue on the theme of learning to put others before yourself in movies like Aladdin, The Lion King, and The Emperor's New Groove, among others.

In light of the standard set up by many (not all, but a gracious plenty) earlier Disney and Pixar animated movies, I think Brave falls short.  I think it could have been so much more, even keeping the focus on the mother-daughter relationship.  I believe the great merit of animated movies - movies that children and adults alike can love - is a story that rings true with an appeal to a higher standard of character.  I never felt like Merida was being particularly brave - I felt like she was being thoughtless and self-absorbed, for pretty much the entire movie.  I realize Disney is trying to make up for the stereotype of Princesses rescued by the Handsome Prince, but Merida is not the kind of character role model I'd want for my children, or really for anybody.

03 August 2012

Thoughts and a dark photo

This week I bought tickets to Norway, Iceland, and finally, home.  I now have a concrete end to a year that, 12 months ago, seemed like an age.

Time is strange, it stretches out before us and crowds up behind us.  It is the long space of self-reckoning and the unnoticeable swiftness of an exhaled breath.  An explanation always sought, never understood.

The above picture is the view from my garden last night.  The moon has always been comforting to me, I'm not sure why; maybe it's its constancy, quietly shining without burning; a guileless silver.  Maybe it's the face - I always thought the face in the moon seemed sad, but that she smiled knowingly through the sadness.

Before I lose myself in personification and a fairy tale...there's mixed feelings, of course.  About leaving.  And there's not a much better explanation that I can give on that front.

But tonight, take a good long look at the moon, and see if she looks back into you.