Wednesday, October 17, 2012

College Adventures: Going to a Play!

Last week, a new friend of mine and I decided to go and see the play that Miss Ezra Zee was performing in!  It was Much Ado About Nothing by Shakespeare.  Very good, from what I saw (I'll get to that part) and I'll definitely have to read it and then see the whole thing.

So my friend, whose name is Marlee, happened to have her mother's car for the weekend, which worked out nicely.  We were both very excited for the play!  It was on a Thursday, so I had only one class in the morning and she had work in the afternoon, but this still happened to work.  I thought that I told her that the play started at 7pm, but I guess that she heard me say 7:30pm, so we set off at about quarter to seven.  I didn't think anything of it, I just thought that our destination was closer to us than I initially thought.  Marlee had looked up directions on Google Maps, so I took the position of navigator on our excursion.  

Everything was fine until we needed to navigate highways.  Ordinarily, this would have been no problem with Marlee driving and me reading the directions, but the root of our highway problems was the sun.  Stupid sun... it was in the process of going down, so even the visors couldn't hide it.  We were driving straight towards the sun with nothing to keep the light at bay, so we were driving half-blind.  We knew which highway we were looking for, but spotting it was a different thing altogether.  We were looking for Highway 5 I believe.  Our conversation sounded a little bit like this:

M: We're looking for 5, right?

J: Yeah, that's right.  

M: That's it right there!

J: No, no, that's definitely 55.

M: Wait, are you absolutely sure?

J: Positive!

M: We're looking for a 5...

Yeah, turns out that that particular highway in question was the one we were supposed to take.  My bad... so we were going in the wrong direction, but we didn't figure that out for a few more minutes.  We were forced to take an exit because of a crazy driver, but that crazy driver must have been the hands of Fate, because we were back in familiar territory again.  We were heading in the direction of my permanent address and Marlee's as well.  So we were back on track.

After our driving adventures, we finally made it to the play!  We parked the car and walked up to the building so that we could go in-- we were only about thirty minutes late, which in the scheme of things wasn't so bad considering our many gaffs.  Here was our next problem: The door was locked.  We had both been to plays before, and usually the doors are kept unlocked so that people who were coming could slip in to the back.  Even in an intimate setting.  They would just stand up until intermission and then go find an available seat.  But the entire school was locked in this case.  There was a cleaning lady by the door, so Marlee and I waved our hands wildly trying to get her attention.  When we finally did get her attention, she told us that it was against the rules for her to let us in.  Luckily, she was super nice and went to find someone who could.

Some people who were in the play, but not at the present moment, came to the door and said that they still couldn't let us in.  They explained that the play was already a quarter of the way through and there really wasn't much of a point in staying.  Plus, they didn't have the lock box to give us tickets.  I told them that I didn't care if I had missed a quarter of the play already and that we were still willing to pay to get in because I had promised Ezra that I'd come.  I might have tried to come the next night to see the whole thing, but the night in question was the last night Much Ado was being performed.  They told us that we could still come and see the show, but we'd have to get in after intermission.  Which meant we couldn't come in the building.  They didn't want us wandering around...

So we were stuck outside of the school for the next hour.

The part of town we were in seemed like such a secluded area.  There was one straight of road, so we walked up and down the street looking for something to do.  The coffee shops were closed, so that option was out.  We found a baby store and an antique shop.  The antique shop, Marlee and I decided that we needed to come back to some other time (it was also closed).  The baby store had an interesting window with giraffes and this display included a peculiar map.  Almost all of the countries in the world were off in one way or another.  the most striking part of the map for me were the countries France and Europe.  You read that right.  Europe was a country all on its own and France took up the normal space of France all the way down to Italy and over to the Atlantic coast.  That was rather disappointing... I feel sorry for the child of the family who buys that otherwise beautiful painting.

Around 8:30, we headed back to the school, but the doors were still locked.  Determined to get into the play, we waited.  Another lady joined us who had also come late.  Marlee and I discussed the Mayan calendar and superheroes-- this is how friendships are made, seriously-- up until the point where a friend of the other lady waiting with us came out and opened the door for us.  I think the other lady was more bitter about not getting into the play right away than we were.  I mean, we were disappointed that we couldn't just sneak in, make a fool of ourselves a little bit, and enjoy at least three quarters of the show, but at least we could make the most of our situation.

The lady sitting close to us contacted her friend inside, so when intermission came along, the doors were opened and we were able to slip inside, get our tickets, and... well, awkwardly wait for a spot until we figured out that some people who were present during the first half just left.  I was sad that I had missed sixteen of Ezra's nineteen lines, but I was happy that I could at least see the second half.

It was a very off-the-wall performance, complete with squeaky cupcakes and trench coats, but the play itself was quite comical and made for a lovely evening.

Now I just have to go and read the play myself so I know what I missed!

Stay tuned for more college adventures.

Thanks for Reading!


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Review of 'Dubliners' by James Joyce

"Perhaps the greatest short story collection in the English language, James Joyce's 'Dubliners' is both a vivid and unflinching portrait of 'dear, dirty Dublin' at the turn of the twentieth century and a moral history of a nation and a people whose 'golden age' has passed.  His richly drawn characters-- at once intensely Irish and utterly universal-- may forever haunt the reader.  In mesmerizing writing that evokes rich imagery, Joyce delves into the heart of the city of his birth, capturing the cadences of Dubliners' speech in remarkably realistic portrayals of their inner lives.  This magnificent collection of fifteen stories reveals Joyce at his most accessible and perhaps his most profound."

This book has led to many an interesting discussion in my Irish and Scottish Literature class.  I really don't care for the short story format, but after reading through Dubliners (and especially after discussing it), I think I can say I'm a James Joyce fan.

This is going to be a mildly difficult review because I can't really touch on any of the characters... we'll see how well I can do!

First of all, Joyce's writing style is very interesting.  He switches between points of view effortlessly through most of the stories, shedding light on different aspects of the various stories and making the reader question what they just read (as in, think critically about his writing, not stop and wonder what the heck this guy is talking about).

Something that is really very interesting is how Joyce focuses on those people who are generally ignored.  A young boy who looks up to a dead priest; a woman who falls in love, but not really; three sisters who will never marry... the downtrodden, the underdogs are what make up these stories.  My theory is that by not having very popular characters like Katniss Everdeen or Harry Potter, we will feel empathy for these characters on a different level.  The characters are a focal point in each story, but they are closer to the average reader's level as far as social status, if not lower down.  You want these characters to succeed, but someone, nothing seems to work out for any of them.

This book is a celebration of Irish culture.  For me, it's very interesting because I haven't been exposed to the Irish culture even in a minor way... except maybe St. Patrick's day, but I'm not sure if that is an event that really counts... but any way, it's nice to get a feel of what Irish culture is like.  I had no idea how important the Catholic faith was for a lot of Ireland.  I didn't realize that (at least in the early nineteen-hundreds) poverty was a huge problem.  Maybe I figured that before, but this book brings this to light and makes it click.

What was really frustrating about each of the stories were the endings.  The stories go along quite nicely: it's set up (usually because the story starts somewhere in the middle; like a dream), the characters are introduced to us, bad things continue to happen, those bad things get worse (usually), but then the story ends.  Often we're left hanging on a bad or disappointing note.  There's very little resolution to any of the stories.  But since it bothers me so much that the stories are unresolved, it must be a good sign that the stories are pretty good.

Overall, 'Dubliners' is a good read if you are looking to enjoy a collection of short stories or are looking to indulge in Irish culture.  I look forward to reading more James Joyce in the future.

I give 'Dubliners':
Thanks for Reading!


Monday, October 8, 2012

A Review of 'Frankenstein' by Mary Shelley

"Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein when she was only eighteen.  At once a Gothic thriller, a passionate romance, and a cautionary tale about the dangers of science, Frankenstein tells the story of committed science student Victor Frankenstein.  Obsessed with discovering the cause of generation and life and bestowing animation upon lifeless matter, Frankenstein assembles a human being from stolen body parts but: upon bringing it to life, he recoils in horror at the creature's hideousness.  Tormented by isolation and loneliness, the once-innocent creature turns evil and unleashes a campaign of murderous revenge against his creator, Frankenstein.

Frankenstein, an instant bestseller and an important ancestor of both the horror and science fiction genres, not only tells a terrifying story, but also raises profound, disturbing questions about the very nature of life and the place of humankind within the cosmos: What does it mean to be human?  What responsibilities do we have to each other?  How far can we go in tampering with Nature?  In our age, filled with news of organ donation, genetic engineering, and bio-terrorism, these questions are more relevant than ever."

I had the honor of reading and discussing this over the internet with Ezra!  I'm glad that I did too, because I would have been hopelessly confused for much of the book.  It helps to read this a few times to completely understand and gain meaning.

Dr. Frankenstein is really annoying.  He puts together a body made of human parts, reanimates it, and then runs away from his Creation because he thinks that he (the creation) is absolutely ugly and not worthy of being alive.  What's really disturbing is how long and how far he is willing to run from his problems, refusing to handle them.  The number of lives this "problem" costs is staggering-- far too many.  And those characters who died were relatively good ones too... Justine, Elizabeth, Frankenstein's brother, Henry... it's so sad.  And even after the many deaths of people he loves, Frankenstein refuses to stop running and avoiding the issue at hand.  Grr...

I loved how Frankenstein's creation developed as a character.  He was by far the most impressive, and not just because he is essentially the focal point of the story.  No.  Mary Shelley takes the time to explain (however indirectly) how this creation came to be, from living an aloof lifestyle in the shed of a rather unfortunate family.  There, he learns language and works up the confidence to assert what he wants.  In this respect, the story is very relate-able.  Who hasn't experienced that crippling moment where you know you want something but you don't feel that you're good enough to accomplish it?  He's looking for acceptance.  Who hasn't wanted or gone out searching for that?

Overall, this book is infuriating and devastating at the same time.  If you like science fiction, horror, and classics, this is a book that is definitely worth trying.

I give 'Frankenstein':
Thanks for Reading!


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Review of 'A Drowned Maiden's Hair' by Laura Amy Schlitz

"On the morning of the best day of her life, Maud Flynn was locked in the outhouse, singing, 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic.'

That is the day that Maud-- 'plain, clever, and bad' girl of the Barbary Asylum for Female Orphans-- is adopted into a real family, surprising even Maud herself.  The elderly Hawthorne sisters, led by the charismatic Hyacinth, think that Maud Flynn is absolutely perfect, and Maud follows them eagerly into a brand-new life, expecting to be pampered and cherished beyond her wildest dreams.

Once she settles in with Hyacinth, Judith, and Victoria to live out an orphan's fantasy, however, Maud learns that 'perfection' has more to do with the secret role she can play in the high-stakes and eerie 'family business' than with her potential as a beloved family member.  Not one to give up easily, Maud persists in playing her role in the hopes of someday being rewarded with genuine affection.  But the burden of keeping secrets and perpetuating lies grows heavy even for Maud, and she must ultimately decide just how much she is willing to endure for the sake of being loved."

I haven't read middle grade books in such a long time, but it's time to switch gears for a little bit.  I first read this years ago, but I remembered liking it, so I decided to read it again-- this time, for review purposes!

In general, the story is pretty intriguing.  I love the fact that seances are included in this story.  I've never attended one, so it's interesting to toy with the thought of what one would be like.  The stakes are set even higher because of Maud's role in this story.  She manipulates the spiritual and assists the Hawthorne sisters in the deception of their customers.

There's a moral dilemma that I keep thinking about because of this book.  Is it better for someone to have closure or to receive the truth?  The answer is probably the very reason why people go to see psychics or have seances.  I would love to know your thoughts.

Maud was a great character.  The connections she made with other people, even someone who was harder to communicate with like Muffet (Anna).  I thought it was really awesome how maternal Muffet was for Maud, especially since the Hawthorne sisters weren't as interested in being Guardians as they were in paying off their various debts and being spiritualists.  That was very sad to know that they adopted for selfish reasons.  Just as a child should never be born into this world with a task (for example, curing unhappiness in depressed mothers), an adopted child should never have to be brought into a family that expect so much from her and are willing to give very little in return.

What I really like about this book is that even though the situation is a bit foreign to the modern reader, it is still very much read-able.  The story takes place in the Victorian era (I'm pretty sure), but Maud is such a good narrator, that everything seems so strange, yet so familiar.  When the Hawthorne's and Maud are in Cape Calypso, Maud goes to the boardwalk at night where there is a small amusement park.  Her descriptions appeal to all of the senses making you feel like you're actually there.

One thing that I really didn't like was Hyacinth.  She was for sure a two-faced character, there's no denying that, but the thing that bothers me (aside from her infuriating responses and utterly selfish character) is that there really didn't seem to be a transition between sweet old woman and psycho-spiritualist-lady.  Even reading this a second time, I was left rather confused when she suddenly turns on Maud, essentially for being affectionate.  I guess I would prefer more of an obvious transition.

Another thing that I didn't like was how uninvolved Judith and Victoria were despite knowing perfectly well what they were doing with the seances and how prepared they were to take care of Maud.  Why didn't they do anything?  They were horrible advocates for Maud.  Even if they believed that they couldn't take care of Maud, they should have rallied for better care or they should have at least stood up for Maud more often.

One last thing that I didn't care for was the ending.  Judith and Victoria did pretty much the only decent thing for Maud and return her to the orphanage, admitting that they failed her and not the other way around.  I appreciate this kind of dip in the plot.  Everything is supposed to be getting better at this point, but it doesn't until the very end.  When Mrs. Lambert turns up saying that she wants to adopt Maud, everything begins to feel very forced.  Ultimately, there is closure to Maud's story, but it just seems like a very anti-climactic ending.  It just seems so logical and yet outlandish.  Logical in the sense that Mrs. Lambert has been following Maud around Cape Calypso and she's really the only remaining character we've been introduced to.  It's outlandish in the sense that Maud has hurt Mrs. Lambert very deeply.  Why on earth would Mrs. Lambert ever feel like adopting Maud was the solution?  There was closure to the ending, but it really feels like the book should have ended in a better way.  It was just a little bit too cheesy for me.

Overall, 'A Drowned Maiden's Hair' is a fairly well-written book for younger readers, but there are a handful of drawbacks when reading this book.

I give 'A Drowned Maiden's Hair':
Thanks for Reading!


P.S. I'm working on writing more reviews, even if they're for movies, and I'm also working on writing up my college adventures, so at least you'll see some kind of content from me each week.  Have a lovely first week of October!