Sunday, May 24, 2009

A few favorite places

My absolute favorite place in anything I've ever read is the Murry's kitchen in A Wrinkle in Time. There is something so warm and inviting about that kitchen. From the very first time we go there, with Meg, to have hot cocoa with Charles Wallace and her mother. The way the family gathers there, the way they--and we--all know that Mrs. Murry always has dinner cooking on a bunsen burner in her lab next door, the way that adventure also begins there. For we first meet Mrs. Whatsit in that kitchen, too. It's a comforting oasis in the middle of a dark and stormy night.

There are a lot of other places I love in literature, too. Thinking about all of them, I've realized that they generally have two things in common. Either they are the places where the characters gather with their friends and loved ones, or they are the places where they go to be free and entirely themselves. As a kid, I definitely had a soft spot for any story in which the character had a place of his or her own--a place no one else knew about and was completely his or hers. It seemed so . . . luxurious, and even a little illicit.

My list of favorite places:
* The Murry's kitchen, from Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time
* Mary's secret garden, from, well, Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden
* Mandy's cottage, from Julie Andrews Edwards's Mandy
* Miss Honey's cottage, from Roald Dahl's Matilda
* the room with the wardrobe and Mr. Tumnus's house, from C. S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
* the Garland's house in Bloomsbury, from Philip Pullman's The Ruby in the Smoke and The Shadow in the North (which made the end of the latter heartbreaking for so many reasons!)
* Gryffindor common room, from J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books
* the Dancing Dove, from Tamora Pierce's Alanna books
* Terabitha, from Katherine Paterson's A Bridge to Terabithia
the truck in Lynne Rae Perkins's Criss Cross
* Beauty's room, from Robin McKinley's Beauty

What are yours?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Quotable Sunday

"I loved stories indiscriminately, because each revealed the world in a way I had never considered before. . . . After each I would emerge a changed person."
--Michelle Slatalla

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Sweeping Music Is Really Hard to Resist

Last weekend, during some bonding time, my sister and I got to discussing some of the movie trailers airing on tv at the moment. Now, I realize that the whole point of trailers--and I guess marketing in general--is to manipulate the audience into wanting to see the movie. But there are a couple that so blatantly do it that I can feel myself being manipulated into considering a movie that I know I don't want to see.

Like, say, The Soloist. I know that I do not want to see this movie. I cannot watch Jamie Foxx (I'm not sure what it is, exactly, but I just don't like him). The story looks predictable and saccharine. I know, I know, it's a true story, and I'm sure the true story is remarkable & uplifting, but the movie looks like its entire point is to play on the heartstrings rather than have any substance. But.

I do love Robert Downey, Jr. And there's something about the song that they play during the trailer that every time makes me think, "Oh, well, maybe I should go see that." And the one line they keep showing about having passion. But I'm staying strong.

The other one is the trailer for the dvd release of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I did see this in the theater. And while it's a nice love story, that's all it is, and I was disappointed and wish I could have those three hours and $12 back. I certainly do not need to spend another 3 hours watching it again. But that trailer! The sweeping music! The beautiful shots of cinematic love! Argh!

I know that there are lots of people who like, if not love, both of these movies. But I'm just not one of them, and so feeling like the trailers are trying to get not only those who will like the movie, but also those who won't but can be falsely convinced they might feels icky to me.

On the other hand, one trailer that I think may be pretty brilliant is the one for the new Star Trek movie. I have never, ever in my life wanted to see a Star Trek movie. I have never watched the tv show. I know who Kirk and Spock and Picard and Scottie are because, frankly, who doesn't, but that's about all I really know. Yet, every time I see that trailer, I think "Wow, what movie is that? It looks pretty incredible." And every time I'm surprised that it's Star Trek. What makes this one different than the other two for me is that it doesn't seem to be misrepresenting itself just to get viewers. It seems to be distilled into what it really is, but appealing to people like me, who wouldn't normally pay any attention at all to a new Star Trek movie, as well as to its actual fanbase. I also always like "beginnings" stories, so that's a part of the appeal for me. Maybe if I see it I'll end up having an entirely different take, but right now...I kinda want to go spend my $12.

I mean, come on, check this out.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Where TV & Books Collide

This bookish girl likes to watch TV. I admit it freely. I like stories, so I’m more likely to turn on the TV (or podcasts like This American Life and RadioLab) for “company” while I’m cleaning or cooking or whatever. But I can’t take reality shows (except for Project Runway, of course), and I just don’t connect with sitcoms, usually. Hour-long comedy/dramas are usually what get me. Lately, I’ve been thinking about what it is that makes a show one that I can’t miss, or one that I want to own on dvd, because I think some of the reasons may be the same things that make a book one that I love and want in my library.

I own every season of West Wing (except season 5, which is dead to me). I think it’s probably my all-time favorite show. I also own all three seasons of Veronica Mars and of Arrested Development. And multiple seasons of Gilmore Girls and Grey’s Anatomy.

All ensemble shows. Each has a focal character, but much of the strength lies in the support system surrounding those characters. One of my favorite episodes of West Wing is in season one, when Josh is offered the card that means in the event of attack, he can go to the bunker. But none of the other staffers get it, besides the Chief of Staff. At the end, after a conversation with the President and Leo about the strength and remarkableness of the women of the staff, Josh gives back the card, saying, “I want to be a comfort to my friends in tragedy, and I want to be able to celebrate with them in triumph, and for all the times in between, I just want to be able to look them in the eye. . . . I want to be with my friends, my family, and these women.” The most touching moments in all of these shows are when the characters rally to support and be there for each other, and some of the funniest come from them knowing each other so well. Which is the case, certainly, in Arrested Development. The show got funnier and funnier as the series went on because we know all of the characters so well, and can pick up even on the subtlest joke.

Snappy writing. I have a hard time watching tv or movies that aren’t well written. Maybe it’s part of why I can’t watch reality tv--there’s no pleasure in language. But all of the shows I’ve mentioned here are so smart. They’re full of relevant cultural references of all kinds--not just current events or just pop culture or just music or film or what-have-you, but blend of all of those. The dialogue moves swiftly and doesn’t explain itself. The writing expects the viewer to keep up. And the characters say the honest things everyone thinks, and say them eloquently. A little bit of snark is always nice, too, when it’s balanced with sincerity and silliness.

Inherent drama. Each of these shows has a setting and situation that lends itself to the dramatic. The West Wing . . . well, is set in the West Wing. Grey’s Anatomy is set in a teaching hospital. Veronica Mars--high school, with a girl who’s both a social outcast and a p.i. investigating her best friend’s murder. Gilmore Girls--private high school with a single parent household and overbearing grandparents. Arrested Development--an eccentric family that’s “lost everything” as the intro says.

All except Arrested Development are hour-long shows. And I've never been a huge short story reader, I think for the same reason I don't usually get hooked by half-hour shows. When I love characters, I want to spend time with them. Half an hour, or twenty-odd pages, just never seems like enough time.

And now that I’ve thought about how well-done all of these shows were and how much I like them, I’m sad that only one is still on the air. Why do all my favorite shows go away? And what will be the next that catches me up the way these have? It’s been a few years since I’ve had a new favorite. Although . . . Mad Men is pretty amazing.