Sunday, May 31, 2015

Weekend Reads

On Introversion

The science behind why introverts struggle to speak by Jean Granneman at Introvert Dear
A co-worker appears out of the blue and asks me a question. Her eyes and tone of voice say she wants an answer now. Her request is easy, but my mind is momentarily paralyzed. 
I start sentences then stop them. I hesitate. I say words that are close to what I mean, but not exactly. I backtrack. 
My co-worker — an extrovert who always seems to express herself effortlessly — looks at me like, come on, spit it out. I think, if only my brain would cooperate.
On Faith

How I Lost the Church and Found Community by Elizabeth Ruth at Christianity for the Rest of Us
I know some of you will one day find that courage and find acceptance, love, grace, and community in a traditional church community. For me, I’ve begun to find that in a non-traditional community – one that is patchworked together, mismatched, and scattered across the country. . . . And you know what? It’s hard. It’s much harder than simply going to church on Sunday for two hours. It’s messy and it’s complicated. It’s work. It’s intentional. It’s maintaining relationships and saying and hearing hard things. It’s responding to emails after working a 9-hour shift. It’s being the first one to say “I was wrong”.
On Illness

A powerful reddit thread reveals what it’s like to have a disability by Ana Swanson at the Washington Post
I broke my back last year and people were not very nice when I would ask them for help or decline being able to help them physical chores. To them I was just a lazy 23 year old. To me I was trapped in my [expletive] body, asking my mother to carry my bag to the car because it was too heavy and couldn't physically lift it. It was a bad time all around.
On Art/Entertainment

How Well Do You Remember the Intro to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer?" by Cristina at Buzzfeed

This is a fantastic quiz. I did not do as well as I'd hoped.

Helen Cho, Age of Ultron, and Representation by Nicole Soojung Callahan at The Toast
[I]t’s hard not to at least notice when you consume so many shows and movies and franchises over the years — when you love so many things about them and want to love them more — and you rarely if ever see anyone like you in those spaces, in those worlds. My older daughter is seven now, moving beyond the steady diet of PBS kids’ fare we kept her on for so many years, and a few weeks ago she asked me why there were no Asians in most of the movies and shows we’ve watched together: “Is it because there aren’t many Asian people who live here?” (Her school is 40% Asian, and she still asked me this.)
The Last Five Years: Picking Sides and Missing the Point by Joseph Belanger at Black Sheep Reviews
As much as one can argue that Cathy comes across as maybe weak or broken from hanging all of her happiness on the success of this marriage, one can also argue that, while Jamie seems to have the easier ride with his success as a novelist and his eventual philandering, that many of his decisions are motivated from fear. I believe that when Brown shares lyrics like, “And since I have to be in love with someone / Since I need to be in love with someone / Maybe I could be in love with someone like you.” from “Nobody Needs to Know”, it becomes clear that for all his success, he is still just a boy inside, frightened to be alone.
Good Kill Makes a Point About Drone Warfare You Never Considered by Annalee Newitz at Gizmodo
At one point, Egan says that the one constant in life is war. “There is always a war,” he says, taking one of about nine thousand swigs of gin he downs in the movie. We realize, as we watch Egan’s life fall apart, that drones don’t take soldiers out of war. In fact, they bring war right to their homes. Egan can never escape Afghanistan, nor the horror of killing innocent people (because inevitably innocents are caught in the blasts). Because the theater of war is in a cargo container just up the freeway from his house.
Why Are You Writing a Rape Scene? by Robert Jackson Bennett
Rape gets trivialized in the real world. It’s frequently hushed up or waved off. The victims are forgotten. So think long and hard about why you’re including it in your book. To use such a monstrous act as window dressing is to trivialize it further.
On Miscellaneous Topics

Motherhood Is Not Inherently Deserving of Praise by Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism
We need to stop acting as though mothers are worthy of praise just because they’re mothers. There’s often this perception that people who choose not to have children are selfish while mothers are selfless, but this isn’t just simplistic, it’s wrong. There are plenty of people who have children for selfish reasons, using their children for their own self-gratification. Motherhood is not inherently selfless.
Of All the Posts I've Ever Written, This Is One of My Favorites by Gretchen Rubin
I realized – how often I make this error. I was acting as though my friend were the main character of this story! That she was the one who really mattered. And I saw that I make this mistake all the time. I’m the most main character of course, and then the people close to me, and so on…with some people just appearing as extras or in walk-on roles. 
But that’s not true. Everyone is a main character. And everyone is a minor character.

Signs That Agatha Christie About to Murder You by Beulah Maud Devaney at The Toast
At dinner you decide to tell a lighthearted story about a gruesome murder. The murderer escaped but had an unusual physical defect by which you would be able to identify them anywhere. You refuse to disclose any more details but glance meaningfully around the table before heading up to bed. 
You noticed something odd at dinner but can’t work out what it was. You informed the table of this and then wandered off to the summer house for a nap.
Weekend Watches

Girl Desperate to be Nicki Minaj After Wisdom Teeth Removal. Wisdom teeth videos are everywhere, but this is one of my favorites. She has such bizarrely specific hopes and dreams.

THE MOST LITERAL AUDITION EVER and THE MOST LITERAL AUDITION EVER - PART 2 are both extremely silly but made me laugh a lot.

Inception Retold by Mom. Inception isn't an easy film to get... and she certainly seems to have missed some things. This is the same guy who did The Matrix Retold by Mom a few years ago, which is still on his channel and is also very funny.

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Quest for Forgiveness: Become a Christian OR ELSE THIS HAPPENS

Last time, Brianna held a press conference to tell everybody about the crime she committed as a kid, the crowd turns on her, and Ethan shows up to save the day. That's basically the end of the story but for some reason we still have 43 pages left, and I don't know what... oh. Wait. Crap. I remember what else happens in this book. It's gross.

So, to get away from the press, Brianna and co. retreat to Brianna's private island in the Caribbean. Yup, four years into her career, she's already wealthy enough to buy an entire island. And thought it would be an important thing to do so. But for some reason Sonya's still running all Brianna's errands by herself with no help at all.

Oh, wait, they then get into the story of how Brianna bought the island. Apparently a Mexican drug lord sold it to her because he had gotten arrested and was in jail in Arizona (maybe he knows Ethan) and didn't want the government to seize it. And also he was a fan of Brianna's music, because everyone in the world is.
Ethan smiled at the story. He looked proudly at his successful daughter. “God protected you all along, didn’t He?”
"I'm so glad God protected you from... not having a private island by getting a Mexican drug lord to sell you his."

Seriously, that sentence doesn't make any sense at all after that story.

Brianna then reveals for the first time in the book that she likes to write music on her private island. And then... weeks pass. Brianna and Ethan bond. Then they realize 1) they need to visit Brianna's mother's grave again because her time in Iraq went so well before, and 2) they need to "confront" Susan about... something. What did Susan do to them? Susan was a crappy wife and a crappy mom, but it is entirely Brianna and Ethan's fault that Ethan went to jail. Why not just let the woman be?

Because this book has to show off its heavy-handed morals about what happens to you when you're not a Christian, that's why!

That was the entire twentieth chapter, so let's continue.

They find Susan, but can't find Ethan's other living child, Alana (in case you don't remember, one of Ethan's sons died in a gang fight and the other died of alcohol poisoning because everything got really abruptly bad once he went to jail).

They go visit Susan, who's living with her parents. For some reason, their yard looks terrible now, because when you make bad life decisions, your yard just starts to look awful, like some kind of reverse Dorian Gray situation. That or they're too busy being Bad People to take care of their lawn.

Susan's parents open the door and recognizes Brianna as Janna from the past.
There was no denying it, the black hair and bright blue eyes gave evidence of who she was.
Because nobody has ever dyed their hair black or worn bright blue contacts to change their appearance. Nor has anyone else ever had that combination of features. I mean, they should be figuring out it's her, but more because she showed up at their door and less because she happens to have the same hair color and eye color as the girl they knew like six years ago.
Ethan spoke curtly. “We would like to talk with Susan.”  
“So would we,” the man replied sadly.
Now, uh, I assumed this meant Susan wasn't there or that she was dead, but apparently it just means that she is "a shell of a human being." Her parents spent their whole life savings on "Susan and her problems" and her bad life choices, which can only have started six years ago because Susan was doing just fine before then. She was married (if not well), had kids (if not well), and had an extremely successful job where she got to be a model and a marketing expert. But apparently in the last six years, everything went ridiculously wrong and her parents spent all their money on her and now they are... too poor to mow their lawn, I guess.
“Please, just get her. We want to get this over with, so we can get on with our lives.” Ethan’s voice grew impatient.
Yeah, this sounds like a GREAT idea. Here's a novel concept: How about you find closure without hunting down and "confronting" your ex-wife? That's what most people have to do.

They go see Susan, and she is a mess -- feeble, malnourished, losing her hair, her teeth are decaying, and her mind is broken. Then we hear her story: She had an affair with someone at her cosmetics company and they got fired but started their own cosmetic company, only for him to cheat on her two years later, take their money, and run, so Susan's parents had to cover all that money.

So all the stuff that happened to her really has happened in just four years. (Maybe five, I'm losing track of how much time has passed.) In that time, she became an anorexic, bulimic alcoholic, got married two more times, was beaten by both those husbands and almost died in the hospital, and then moved in with her parents. Now she's just completely broken and mostly incoherent.

They ask about Alana.
“Your children were too far gone when we realized they were headed down the wrong path. After your divorce, they never went back to church. They just seemed to drift on their own.”

This entire section is all about "If you don't go to church and be a Christian, you will never be able to make a good choice again and your life will fall apart completely because that's just what happens."

Guys, I have friends who are not Christians. I have friends who have left Christianity. I have friends who are still part of Christianity but don't go to church. *cough*sometimesthat'sme*cough* Do I think that they're only seconds away from becoming gang members and alcoholics? Uh, no. Not even a little bit. That's insulting and stupid and doesn't seem even remotely realistic.

Of course, I do want to take a second here to point out that Brianna wasn't a Christian for quite a lot of her musical career, and she catapulted to super stardom, but the book knew the whole time that she was gonna get saved. The book says at one point that she hit "rock bottom," but... has she seen what happened to the rest of her family? If being tremendously wealthy and famous and talented without any substance abuse problems, with a loving support system is "rock bottom," then what in the world do you call Susan's life?

This is just going to get worse and more awful and more explicit about the stuff it's only hinting at now, so I'm going to call it a day and take a break before I have to plunge back in next week. Whee.

36 pages to go.

Monday, May 25, 2015

These Are a Few of My Favorite Games

For today's blog we're looking at page, where one of my readers suggested this for a blog topic:

A list and introduction of all your favorite games to play! You can include board games, card games, video games, improv games, speaking games, mind games... anything you can think of!

This was asked before I wrote my blog about the tabletop games we own, which pretty much covers the board games I like, so let me fill it in with some of these other categories!

Card Deck Trick Magic Macro 10-19-09 1 from Flickr via Wylio
© 2009 Steven Depolo, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio
Favorite Card Game: Mao

You've gotta get the right group to play this one, but when you have, oh, gosh, it's fantastic. I can't really give you an introduction though, because the entire premise is that you learn the rules as you go. Nobody's supposed to explain them to you, you just pick them up as you go along. Most of the base rules aren't too difficult and people who play card games can pick them up pretty fast, but after every round, whoever has won gets to come up with a new rule of their own and penalize people for not following it.

This means it can be tricky to play Mao with people who already know it, because there are quite a few variations, and since you're not allowed to discuss the rules, you can end up with two groups playing two separate rule sets. This can get confusing and frustrating. Plus there are a lot of people who just hate playing this game because you have to figure it out as you go. So, like I said, you have to have the right group... but once you do, the fact that it's so different every time makes it awesome to replay over and over again.

Favorite Video Game: The Sims (any version)

I am a huge Sims fan, and have been ever since the first one. My favorite incarnations are probably 2 (yay Ultimate Collection!) and 4, but they all have their perks. Whether I'm making copies of me and my friends or making a superpowered one who is determined to get to level 10 in as many skills as possible before they die, I have so much fun playing around with them and seeing the crazy things they do.

Favorite Video Game For Smashing Things: Left 4 Dead/Left 4 Dead 2

Video Game Journalist from Flickr via Wylio
© 2010 Shane K, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio
I don't play a lot of "real" video games, but I've discovered that when I do, I don't like puzzles, story, or wandering. I just like to smash things. I don't even like shooting that much, so any game that lets me go melee on a crapton of zombies is AWESOME in my book. This was one of the first video games I ever played with Jacob (maybe the first), and I don't think any of the other ones I've tried have had such a good balance of fighting and resting. Last time we played, the first melee weapon I found was the katana, and while I don't consider myself a violent person in general... I have to admit, it is awfully satisfying to swing this thing around in a circle and watch zombies' heads and limbs go flying off.

Favorite Dumb Car Game: Music Prediction Game

I grew up without a lot of gadgets to play with or activities to go to, so my siblings and I entertained ourselves a lot. While most of the dumb games we played wouldn't be interesting at all to anyone else, this one I've successfully played with other people. There's no winning or point to it or anything, it's just more fun than doing nothing on a car trip.

The basic idea is that you set some music running (it can be the radio, though it's more fun if you have an MP3 player with an eclectic selection) and, before every song starts, one person makes a prediction about how the next song is going to reflect someone else's life. For example: "This next song is about the dream job you get in your future." Then, when "Dancing Queen" by ABBA plays, there is laughter and discussion and deep secrets revealed. Or, well, maybe not that. But it's a silly, fun way to spark conversation, and it can be done infinitely as long as there's conversation.

Favorite Improv Game: Just a Minute

Let me start off by saying I really hate improv games. I'm bad at them, and most people are bad at them, and watching people do bad improv is uncomfortable, and being a person doing bag improv is excruciating. But my favorite improv game that I first heard professionals doing and then transported to less professional settings is Just a Minute.

Just a Minute from Flickr via Wylio
© 2010 Steve Bowbrick, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio
This is a BBC radio panel game that has been running for umpteen years, and it's one of the few shows I like to listen to regularly on the radio. The premise is that in a group, one person is assigned a topic, for example, "Santa Claus." They then have to talk about that subject for 60 seconds without hestiation (no long pauses or "um"s and "uh"s), deviation (you have to stick to the subject without rambling about other random things), or repetition (you cannot repeat words you've already used, except for small ones like "the" and "and"). This last one is the trickiest, as once you get going you can't always remember what you've said. If someone else hears you breaking a rule, they can challenge you and take over that topic for whatever's left of your 60 seconds. Whoever's talking at the end wins that round. So if someone talks for 57 seconds and slips up at the very end, you can grab that topic for an easy point since you only have to fill 3 seconds of time.

The game's not only super fun to listen to, it's also a lot of fun to play, and I've used it in teaching settings before, since it challenges people to think on their feet but I've found it can be a little less intimidating for those who hate improvisation.

This is by no means a comprehensive list... but these are a few favorites that haven't gotten to be mentioned elsewhere! What are your favorite games in these categories?

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Quest for Forgiveness: Misunderstanding the Legal System... Again

Last time, we were plodding through Brianna recapping the past 242 pages for us at a press conference, but with 50% more preaching! Whoo!

Brianna talks some more about her personal relationship with God (at which point we get this odd aside: "Many reporters had microphones," which, yes, makes sense if they're recording her speaking in any way).

She talks about how she sent Sonya on a quest, though she's already talked about the results of that quest, so this seems redundant. She sees a teenager "in the front row with the reporters," because I guess teenagers just wander into press conferences sometimes and scoot their way to the front, and she's filled with guilt and gives this speech:
“Although I tried to be a good role model, I had dark secrets from my past. I have not been the example I should have been because I have not been totally honest.”
Which seriously bugs me, because I don't think a celebrity has a responsibility to dredge up the secrets of their past and share and comment on them with their public. That's just not the public's business, frankly. If it came to light, then, sure, she should comment on it but nobody except for sleazy gossip sites (certainly not the news media at large, who seem to be weirdly interested in Brianna's life) will pressure her to start listing all the wrong things she's done in the past. Her decision to not share all her bad decisions with the entire world doesn't make her a bad role model or a bad example -- it just makes her a normal person who would like some privacy, thank you very much.

Now, I get that she wants to atone. I get that. But that's her choice. It's not because if she dealt with it quietly she'd be a bad role model. I have a horrible feeling that value for privacy was something that disappeared once she became a Christian, because once you're a Christian, apparently you need to confess all your sins to everyone.

Then Lawyer Carol apologizes:
“I did everything in my power to destroy Ethan Anderson. I went out of my way to convict him and send him to jail. When his case came up for review, I did everything in my power to have him sent to state prison. My actions were appalling, and I deeply regret them. I owe Mr. Anderson an apology. I also apologize to you, the public. I am sorry.”
She is apologizing for the wrong thing. She did exactly what she should have done, especially considering she was convinced Ethan was guilty. She fought to send him to jail because she thought he had abused a child. This is going back to what made me crazy in the courtroom chapter, where apparently just the act of wanting a child abuser to go to jail is seen as "malicious," when, really, there was no compelling evidence to the contrary. She made a mistake, yes, but that wasn't her fault. It was Brianna's and Ethan's.

Her apology should be one of not digging deeply enough, or the sorrow she feels at mistakenly sentencing an innocent man to jail. But it shouldn't be "I'm sorry I tried to convict a child abuser." Trying to convict child abusers is a good thing. She made the best, most moral decision she could have based on the information she had. Not that she should be defending that choice either -- saying "I was just doing my job" is obviously the wrong move here -- but she really should be focusing the apology on what she actually did wrong.

They explain that Brianna's not going to be prosecuted, but that Ethan could sue her (even though, as we have established, that is not actually a possibility). The crowd seems to be very annoyed that Brianna won't be punished for this, so maybe they'll sue her.

Then the crowd gets super hostile and starts asking questions like, "Do you think he could ever forgive you?" and freaking out when Brianna is too busy crying in Conrad's arms to answer, when Ethan shows up and is all, "I believe I can answer that."

Dun dun dun!

Ethan comes up and says horrible things like this:
“I don’t blame all of what happened on my daughter. Society and the justice system let me down. The assistant prosecuting attorney did all she could to put me away, not because I was guilty, but because I was a man. The system was stacked against me from the beginning.”
Hooooooooooly cow.

First of all, Ethan, are you forgetting the fact that you completely shot yourself in the foot with this too by refusing to comment? He let all the evidence pile up against him and never once offered any kind of rebuttal, and then complains that the system was stacked against him? He refused to use the system! That's like someone complaining that a fast food place wouldn't serve him a drink because he wouldn't use the soda fountain.

Secondly, how the heck does he know that Lawyer Carol was against him because he was a man and not because he was guilty? He (and, I think, Rothdiener) apparently has no idea how incredibly guilty he looked. Man or woman, all the evidence was a giant neon arrow pointing right at his head, and he's out here being all, "It's because I'm a maaaaaaaaaaaan."

(Lawyer Carol nods along with this, but, honestly, how did he know this? The only theory I have right now is that he's psychic and assumes everyone else is psychic too and that's why he knows Lawyer Carol was malicious, because she read his mind and knew he was guilty but tried to convict him anyway!)

Ethan then gives a sermon about forgiving because God forgives, and they all leave the press conference happy, even Lawyer Carol, who says this bit of nonsense:
“I made a case against you with no real evidence. You’re right... I was biased because you’re a man. Let me assure you, it will never happen again. I have learned a good lesson. In the future, all evidence will be weighed and evaluated fairly.”

What does she think counts as real evidence in this kind of case, if not testimony from the witness and expert opinions that concur with that testimony? What was she expecting?

And, worse... she's been practicing law for like 10-12 more years now. Does this mean that right up until this moment, she has been perpetually weighing and evaluating evidence unfairly and she'll only stop doing it "in the future"? And nobody's been like, "Hey, stop doing that"?

*headdesk times a trillion*

And then Ethan and Brianna go to the beach. There's a happy ending for this insane chapter.

87% of the way through, 45 pages to go. I honestly can't remember what happens in these last 45 pages. She's done about everything I remember. I guess the romance can get wrapped up. We'll just have to see!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Weird Literary World of Pride and Prejudice Fan Fiction

Last week, I was browsing through a bunch of Kindle sale items, when I started seeing a strange pattern. Way more often than I expected, I'd see a book with "Darcy" or "Pemberley" or "Bennett" in the title. Yes, it looks like this month the Kindle sale was (maybe unintentionally) highlighting some of the best offerings of the Pride and Prejudice fan fiction world.

I found, in this sale collection alone, six different books that were overtly P&P fan fiction or adaptations. And those are only the ones I could identify by their title. So I figured I'd look at them one by one and see if any of them look like they'd be worth reading.

1. Letters From Pemberley: The First Year by Jane Dawkins

Synopsis: In this continuation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, one of the best-loved novels in the English language, Elizabeth Bennet finds herself in a very different league of wealth and privilege, now as Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy and mistress of Pemberley. Writing to her sister, Jane, she confides her uncertainty and anxieties, and describes the everyday of her new life. Her first year at Pemberley is sometimes bewildering, but Lizzy's spirited sense of humor and satirical eye never desert her. Incorporating Jane Austen's own words and characters from her other works, the book is a literary patchwork quilt piecing together the story of Lizzy's first eventful year as Mrs. Darcy.

Reader reaction: So far, 4/5 stars with 115 customer reviews. The most recent 5-star review says, "With Pride and prejudice I felt stuck at the end. This was good and filled the void." The most recent 1-star review says, "Ugh. Gag me with a spoon."

Looking inside: Elizabeth writes a letter to Jane about how Darcy is letting her decorate however she wants, probably because his friends think he married down and he thinks she'll be able to "hold her own in the face of any resentment" if she feels comfy. She's grateful for that but doesn't talk about it with him "it is yet too delicate a subject to embark upon." And then she talks about how much everyone loves Darcy.

Will I read it? Nope. Just because the author's name sounds vaguely like "Jane Austen" if you say it fast and slur it does not mean this will make any sense, and I'm also pretty sure from the first few pages that it is a lot of sitting around not communicating and just guessing what the other person thinks and feels, which, to be fair, is probably what Lizzie and Darcy would do, but that doesn't mean I want to read about it. Besides, I'm more vehemently opposed to sequels than prequels, pre-ending spinoffs, or modern-day reboots. Endings mean nothing if you then go on to have an entire story about what happened after them.

2. Plight of the Darcy Brothers: A tale of the Darcys & the Bingleys (The Pride & Prejudice Continues Book 2) by Marsha Altman

Synopsis: In this lively second installment, the Darcys and Bingleys are plunged into married life and its many accompanying challenges presented by family and friends.
With Jane and Elizabeth away, Darcy and Bingley take on the daunting task of managing their two-year- old children. Mary Bennet returns from the Continent pregnant by an Italian student promised to the church; Darcy and Elizabeth travel to find the father, and discover previously unknown—and shocking—Darcy relations. By the time Darcy
discovers that there's more than one sibling of questionable birth in the family, the ever-dastardly Wickham arrives on the scene to try to seize the Darcy fortune once and for all.

Reader reaction: 4/5 stars with 33 customer reviews. The most recent 5-star review says, "Is it completely true to regency era...I'm sure it's not...but it's close and it's a lovely fun story." The most recent 1-star review says, "It is a book like this that makes me bristle at extensions of classics to begin with."

Looking inside: The book starts with Darcy being super depressed for vague reasons and Georgiana trying to comfort him. We then learn that Elizabeth had one child and miscarried a lot, but I don't think that's what Darcy is melancholy about, as he goes in and thinks glumly at his son, "You have no idea, the burden on your shoulders someday." Then Georgiana tells him that their mother had trouble having children too, and then everybody walks around being sad for awhile, and THIS IS SO BORING.

Will I read it? This is not nearly the crazy exciting soap opera drama promised to me in the synopsis. This is a full chapter of Darcy moping. NOPE.

3. A Weekend With Mr. Darcy by Victoria Connelly

Synopsis: Surrounded by appalling exes and fawning students, the only thing keeping professor Katherine Roberts sane is Jane Austen and her personal secret love for racy Regency romance novels. She thinks the Jane Austen Addicts conference in the English countryside is the perfect opportunity to escape her chaotic life and finally relax...
But then she encounters a devilishly handsome man at the conference who seems determined to sweep her off her feet. Is he more fiction than fact? Or could he be the hero she didn't know she was looking for?

Reader reaction: 4/5 stars out of 70 reviews. I'm beginning to think star ratings may not be a reliable indication of a book's quality. The most recent 5-star review says, "Very enjoyable book" and then gives 10 sentences of synopsis. That's it. The most recent 1-star review says, "This 'author' writes men that act like women."

Looking inside: Katherine Roberts is an Oxford university lecturer, maybe something to do with literature, and spends most of the first few pages being ashamed that she likes to read trashy romances. A male student drops in and Super Flirts with her. Her ex shows up to yell at her about how she doesn't live in reality anymore, and the fact that she's going to some sort of Jane Austen Con is proof of that. Katherine mumbles about how she doesn't trust men who don't read. And she walks away feeling smug, and that's chapter one.

Will I read it? Well, to its credit, this looks like it's not ACTUALLY Pride and Prejudice fan fiction, it just happens to be about somebody who loves Jane Austen, and it is amusingly ridiculous in its first chapter. I could totally see me reading this to laugh at it if I got it for free... but, no, I wouldn't pay money for it.

4. Mr. Darcy's Diary by Amanda Grange

Synopsis: The only place Darcy could share his innermost feelings was in the private pages of his diary...
Torn between his sense of duty to his family name and his growing passion for Elizabeth Bennet, all he can do is struggle not to fall in love.
Mr. Darcy's Diary presents the story of the unlikely courtship of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy from Darcy's point of view. This graceful imagining and sequel to Pride and Prejudice explains Darcy's moodiness and the difficulties of his reluctant relationship as he struggles to avoid falling in love with Miss Bennet. Though seemingly stiff and stubborn at times, Darcy's words prove him also to be quite devoted and endearing - qualities that eventually win over Miss Bennet's heart. This continuation of a classic romantic novel is charming and elegant, much like Darcy himself.

Reader reaction: You guessed it, 4/5 stars, this time with 193 customer reviews, so it's the most-reviewed of them all so far. The most recent 5-star review says (in its entirety), "SO good. A super easy read as well." The most recent 1-star review says, "I didn't like this book at all. The way it was written was not like I love. Glad it's over."

Looking inside: Well, it jumps RIGHT in with, "Have I done the right thing in establishing Georgiana in London, I wonder? This summer is proving to be very hot, and when I visited her this morning, I found her lacking her usual energy. I think I will send her to the coast for a holiday." That is our entire first entry, and after that abrupt opening, it just gets boring, so I give up.

Will I read it? Nooooope. Fanfic that is basically the exact same story told in diary form from the other main character -- not even a side character who could have, you know, subplots going on -- sounds like the most boring thing in the world to me. It's one thing when multiple perspectives are interwoven into a story, it's completely different when it's like, "Oh, you like that story? How about THE EXACT SAME STORY but with a less likable protagonist?"

5. Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell

Synopsis: When the smoke has cleared from the battlefields and the civil war has finally ended, fervent Union supporter Beth Bennet reluctantly moves with her family from their home in Meryton, Ohio, to the windswept plains of Rosings, Texas. Handsome, haughty Will Darcy, a Confederate officer back from the war, owns half the land around Rosings, and his even haughtier cousin, Cate Burroughs, owns the other half.
In a town as small as Rosings, Beth and Will inevitably cross paths. But as Will becomes enchanted with the fiery Yankee, Beth won't allow herself to warm to the man who represents the one thing she hates most: the army that killed her only brother.
But when carpetbagger George Whitehead arrives in Rosings, all that Beth thought to be true is turned on its head, and the only man who can save her home is the one she swore she'd never trust...

Reader reaction: 4/5 stars out of 49 customer reviews. The most recent 5-star review says, "You could tell Mr. Caldwell knew what he was talking about and just 'knew his stuff.'" The most recent 1-star review says, "For Mr. Darcy & Miss Elizabeth to continually speak as though they knew nothing of the good King's English is an atrocity."

Looking inside: A good chunk of the "looking inside" section is a map of Pemberley Ranch and then an extensive list of characters. But then we get into the action, during a battle, where Darcy is wounded and meets Bingley, who is an army doctor. We then flash to the Bennet house, where we learned that the oldest Bennet, the only boy, has been killed in the war, which is a kind of interesting take on it, and Elizabeth vows revenge on the rebels.

Will I read it?: Actually, I'm kind of intrigued by this one. I'd much rather read a creative retelling of a story than a continuation, and this is an interesting setting for it. The opening pages read well, too. This one is still on sale for $1.99 as I write this, and I just might have to check it out.

6. Fitzwilliam Darcy, Rock Star by Heather Lynn Rigaud

Synopsis: Fast music, powerful beats, and wild reputations-on and off stage-have made virtuoso guitarist Fitzwilliam Darcy's band into rock's newest bad boys. But they've lost their latest opening act, and their red-hot summer tour is on the fast track to disaster. Now Darcy and bandmates Charles Bingley and Richard Fitzwilliam are about to meet their match...
Enter Elizabeth Bennet, fiercely independent star of girl-band Long Borne Suffering. Elizabeth, her sister Jane, and friend Charlotte Lucas have talent to spare and jump at the opening band slot. Elizabeth is sure she's seen the worst the music industry has to offer. But as the days and nights heat up, it becomes clear that everyone is in for a summer to remember.

Reader reaction: 4/5 stars, with 78 customer reviews. So basically if you write Pride and Prejudice fan fiction and it doesn't get 4/5 stars, you must've done something wrong. The most recent 5-star review says... well, I'm going to have to share most of this one: "This is a good book. It's about 2 bands. It was good from the begin to the end. It a long , good book. Didn't want to put the book down. Too, bad Lizzy and Will didn't have the babies at the end. But it was a good good ending," The most recent 1-star review says, "It started out with promise, but suddenly it seemed that it was a draft that was printed."

Looking inside: The prologue is a transcript of a documentary about Darcy and Bingley's band which includes the fantastic prompt "Photo of Darcy, looking broody." It is, however, THE LONGEST PROLOGUE IN THE WORLD and I skimmed it. And then it switches to everybody at a concert. The other two people in Darcy's band fall in love with the other two people in Elizabeth's band, and then DarcyBand invites LizzieBand to go on tour with them, much to Darcy and Elizabeth's annoyance.

Will I read it? Nope. As entertaining as the premise is, the writing is pretty sloppy, and the characters are pretty annoying, so this is not great.

Which one of these (if any) would you read? What's your favorite retelling of a Jane Austen story -- Pride and Prejudice or otherwise?

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Top 100: The Sixth Sense

I watched The Sixth Sense long after I heard about the notorious twist ending, but, to be honest, it doesn't really matter. This is my third time watching this movie, and every time I think that the twist is more of a beautiful completion of a theme than some sort of Big Reveal. The most well-known premise of the movie isn't even revealed until almost halfway through, so if there was going to be a Big Reveal, it'd be that one.

So let me go ahead and tell you what this movie is about, and there will be spoilers throughout the review. If you haven't seen it, you can also go watch it on Netflix Instant, or just keep on reading -- after all, I knew both the important reveals in this movie before I watched it, and I've certainly known them every time since, and it hasn't lowered my enjoyment one bit.

The Sixth Sense was M. Night Shyamalan's first big hit and, in my opinion, his very best movie. (Others cite Unbreakable, but I think Sixth Sense blows that out of the water.) Watching this, it was easy to see why everyone thought back in 1999 that he would be one of the big, well-received, critically-acclaimed directors instead of... what happened.

The movie revolves around a very young boy, Cole (Haley Joel Osment), and his psychiatrist, Malcolm (Bruce Willis). Malcolm has for the most part abandoned his work in child psychology after a former patient breaks into his house, shoots Malcom, and kills himself. Several months later, when Malcolm meets Cole, the young boy's withdrawn and fearful nature reminds him of that former patient, and he takes on the case, hoping he can in a sense make amends for the boy he failed to help all those years earlier. It turns out Cole has the ability to see ghosts, and Malcolm helps him figure out how to reach out and help them. In the end, Malcolm discovers that he himself is also a ghost -- he died that night when his former patient attacked him -- and just as Cole needed him, he needed Cole to be able to forgive his past mistakes and move on.

Let's start off with the live-blogging.

  • That opening scene with the former patient is really excellent - scary and heartwrenching.
  • I can never remember whether it's established or even very strongly hinted at that Vincent could see dead people too...
  • If there was ever a kid who looked like he was carrying the weight of the world, it's Hadley Joel Osment. Perfect in this.
  • This is...a discordant soundtrack. Not sure what I think of it yet.
  • Oh, man, and this interaction with Cole and his mom, where he's so scared of how she'll react. So good.
  • "They don't have meetings about rainbows."
  • Scenes with Malcolm and his wife are so obvious in hindsight but are artfully written to hide the twist.
  • Cole's response to Malcolm's empowering speech: "You said the S word." Perfect tone.
  • I really like the very solemn "I didn't know you were funny."
  • I forgot how long it is until the movie's premise is actually revealed.
  • Toni Collette is so great.
  • This reveal is terrifying. Haley Joel Osment is SO GOOD in this. 
  • Malcolm's compassion is absolutely needed for this movie. You feel that he really wants to help & desperately hope he can. 
  • Cole's mom is great too. It can't be easy to have Cole as your kid, but she has such love & patience with him.
  • Oh, man. "If you're not very mad, can I sleep in your bed?"  That exchange breaks me.
  • Hearing Cole and Malcolm talk over visuals of Malcolm's wife was a wonderful gimmick.
  • Oh, yeah, they do set it up that Vincent and Cole had the same thing going on.
  • There really is SUCH compassion and empathy in this movie.
  • The pacing of that whole funeral scene is off. Much slower than it should be.
  • Immediately after Cole starts to deal with his fears, we see things changing for him. Just that one step grew his confidence.
  • Cole and Malcolm's goodbye has an extra level of meaningfulness knowing the twist.
  • I bawled through both Cole and Malcolm's endings. Gosh.

This movie is not really about ghosts and how scary they are. We really see very few ghosts -- in fact, we don't even know they exist until halfway through the movie. What we do see is Cole's fear, his solemn expression and wide, frightened eyes, and we hear his terrified whispers as he tries to explain what he sees. But the ghosts are only half of what scares him. He fears how the ghosts will shape his life: that his mother will reject him, that people will call him a freak, that they will stare at him, that Malcolm will hurt him somehow if he knows the truth.

The movie is about fear and about moving past fear not through aggression or barreling on through, but through helping others. Malcolm must work through his fear of failure and the fear that he's lost his wife by being willing to reach out once more before he can move on. Cole must be willing to listen to the ghosts and their anger and help resolve it before he can be free from fear.

All through the movie, this theme of compassion vs. fear comes up. Cole interacts almost solely with his mother (Toni Collette) and Malcolm, two people who are almost unwaveringly compassionate toward him, even when they don't understand what's going on. In a brief moment, Collette snaps when Cole denies doing some of the things the ghosts are doing, but later that night, fear pushes Cole out of his bed to ask if he can sleep in her bed if she's not angry, and she welcomes him back with open arms. Malcolm looks at Cole and cares sincerely about the young boy, not just for the sake of redeeming himself, but because he loves helping people and he loves reaching out to them and making their lives better.

The mechanics of the plot serve as a (beautiful) backdrop for this deeper story -- that loving others and helping others can help us begin to heal ourselves. The whole movie is dripping with compassion and empathy and the desire to listen. I suspect that's the reason I love this movie so much. As someone who frequently struggles with fear and believes firmly in the transforming power of compassion, this is a movie that speaks to me on a couple levels.

Not to mention it's just a freaking great story.

Let me rerank and see where it lands. It began at #22, and I can't imagine it'll fall far, if at all.

vs. Red Eye (2005) - Two thrillers up again each other! But Red Eye doesn't stand a chance.

vs. Argo (2012) - I hope it goes up only against thrillers. Nope, The Sixth Sense easily beats out Argo, although I did think Argo was pretty good.

vs. Heathers (1989) - As much as I love Heathers, it's not as profound or moving as The Sixth Sense. Though if this was a movie version of the musical Heathers, this might be a different story...

vs. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) - Last Crusade is listed unusually high on my list (probably in my top 100, so I'm sure I'll deal with it eventually) and definitely doesn't deserve to beat The Sixth Sense.

vs. The Remains of the Day (1993) - Another one I look forward to rewatching, but for now, The Sixth Sense wins.

vs. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) - Man. This is a tough one. I think I'm going for Sixth Sense, because even though I enjoy Holy Grail, there are sections of it I just don't care about, and it certainly doesn't get to me emotionally the way Sixth Sense does.

vs. Company: A Musical Comedy (2007) - I'm pretty sure I have to give the nod to Company here. It's just such a beautifully coherent look at relationships and fear of commitment. Plus, Sondheim music.

vs. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) - This is another tough call. Raiders is definitely better than Last Crusade, and I think me from 10 years ago would have certainly chosen Raiders... but I think The Sixth Sense is more enduring.

vs. Charlie Bartlett (2007) - Oh, man. I haven't seen Charlie Bartlett in awhile, but I still associate it with such a sense of fun and relatability. I'm not sure if it'll hold up, though, so... I think Sixth Sense gets the nod for now.

vs. Back to the Future (1985) - These are insanely difficult matches right now, since these are all my favorites... I think Back to the Future will win this round, since it's so delightful from beginning to end -- there's no "downtime" where I kind of tune out.

vs. West Side Story (1961) - I love the music for WSS so much, but the last time I watched it I remember being a tiny bit underwhelmed. Based on that and that alone, I'm voting for Sixth Sense this round. Don't worry, West Side Story, you can come back to win later!

And... The Sixth Sense moved from #22 to #21. Looks like I had it just about where it belonged!

Let's look ahead to the next movie I'll be watching. And the answer is... #93: Schindler's List. Meep. That's a little heavier than most of my choices thus far. It's also the first one in this challenge so far that I've only seen one time, so I'm not at all certain that it's earned that #93 slot. I'll be blogging about that on June 1, so if you want to watch or rewatch it along with me and offer your own comments -- go for it!

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Quest for Forgiveness: The Most Boring Chapter in the World... Part 1

Last time, Brianna tried to turn herself in and the lawyer who was now a Christian was like, "Well, WE'RE not going to prosecute you," and so she decided to call a press conference.

Everyone's excited about the press conference. It's not right before a concert or anything, so there's no obvious reason she'd be having one.
Gossip was running rampant among the media, many expecting a wedding announcement, or perhaps the release of a new CD or movie deal.
ANOTHER new CD? We haven't even found out yet whether her last one outsold Thriller as everyone was predicting!

Some people predict it's drugs, but then when Lawyer Carol is there, everybody is confused because apparently if Brianna got in trouble with drugs and had possibly broken the law there'd be no reason to have a lawyer there at her press conference.
“I used other names to hide my identity, but it has been in recent months that I discovered my real name is Mandy Dawn Anderson.”
It has JUST clicked for me that she's taken on the last name Anderson not because of when Ethan adopted her but because he's her real dad. Even though I have no idea if legally that would've been her last name, given the weird circumstances of her birth.

She tells her story and this is basically pages and pages of her just regurgitating the entire book right back to us with frequent pauses to say things like "A fresh batch of tears stung her eyes" and "Silence reigned over the anxious crowd." IT IS SO FREAKING BORING, so let me try and pull out some highlights -- anything to get me through this chapter.

Well, for one thing, she makes a brief mention of accusing Ethan of abuse, but then zooms right past it, which is weird because I thought this whole thing was about her making amends for that, but instead she spends a lot more time talking about when she ran away and lived on the streets.

She talks about finding her real parents, confronting her mother's murderers, finding out Ethan was her real dad, and her family trying to hunt her down.
Brianna hesitated for a second, and then pulled back her hair exposing her birthmark. “Only my closest friends knew about this birthmark. No one has ever captured it on film. So... here is your chance. Take pictures if you want. No more secrets!” Some reporters gasped, obviously stunned by the entertainer’s disclosure. Six years, tens of thousands of photos, and it was never detected. Cameras were snapping everywhere. The media would not miss the opportunity to share photos of the mark on the mega star’s forehead, or shoot close-up photos to add interest to the shocking story. What an account it would be!
Guys... THIS is not the most interesting part of the story. No one's going to lead with the headline "Mega Pop Star Has Surprise Birthmark." If they are, they're missing the way better "Mega Pop Star Beats Up Powerful Iraqi Leader" and "Mega Pop Star Lied to Send Her Father to Jail" or ANYTHING ELSE in this story.

Brianna then goes back to talking about putting Ethan in jail after a reporter is like, "Can we go back to that?" Her answer is along the lines of, "Hadonno why I did it. Everybody else had parents." (?)

I know this is the tiniest blog in the world, and I'm sorry, but I've been slogging through like six pages of this with almost nothing to show for it because this chapter is just the most boring of all time. So I think I'm gonna have to give it a break for now.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Cool People I Know: April Birthdays

It's time to pay tribute to those awesome people I know who were born in April! Although for some reason I typed "November" there at first, and that makes no sense at all.

Amber. Amber and I met at Huntington, and I can honestly say she's one of the sweetest girls I've ever known. Our first meeting, however, was a crazy thing -- we were both transfers from other schools so we met up during orientation and started talking. I shared a little bit about my time at NLDC, and she suddenly got this funny look in her eyes and said, "This may be a weird question, but were you homeschooled?" I said yes. Turns out she was asking because her mom and my mom were part of the same online homeschooling message board and knew each other. While I was off at NLDC, my mom was occasionally writing about my adventures, and Amber's mom was reading them. This unexpected connection of "What? Our moms know each other? And you've been hearing about my life?" meant we had an instant bond, and we stayed friends throughout college, taking theater classes together and being in shows. We graduated the same year, and even though we don't get to see each other often, we still keep in touch and she even made it out for my wedding.

Bethany. OK, if I had to give an award to really the sweetest girl I know, it'd almost certainly be my sister Bethany. She and I haven't always been friends -- I was a major jerk to her when I was in high school and took all my frustrations in life out on her -- but we've gotten a lot closer as the years have gone by, and she was one of my bridesmaids at my wedding. She is easily one of the most caring, giving people I know. She never wants anyone to be left out or feel sad. Her sacrificial, people-pleasing nature has always been a bit of the antithesis to my self-preservation-style mode of socializing, and I don't tell her this enough, but I have definitely learned a lot about little ways to make people feel loved from watching the way she interacts with the people around her. I can't wait to see how she continues to grow and change and become even more awesome.

Ticia. I met Ticia through my awesome RinkWorks community, which she has been a part of for even longer than I have. When was still around (*sniff* I miss it) she was also one of the regular DJs in my room, playing an awesome mix of songs. Chances are, if she played a song, I'd like it a lot. Though I don't often sit down and have heart-to-heart discussions with her, she is very easy to chat with -- friendly and gracious and full of stories about her awesome kids. Sadly, no picture of her, as we've only ever met once in person.

Savannah. While Savannah and I met years and years ago through my church youth group, we've definitely gone down different spiritual roads since then. One of the things I really appreciate about Savannah, though, is that even though we hold different takes on faith and God and the Bible and such, I feel like we can communicate reasonably and respectfully and kindly about that. We don't talk a lot, but when we do, it often centers around deeper issues -- she responds to a blog of mine or I respond to a link she's posted. Our conversations are reasonable and respectful, and that's not something I can get from everyone... even people who always agree with me!

Jennie. Ah, Jennie. One of my favorite people I've never actually met in person. She's another RinkWorks regular, and she is one of the kindest, most generous friends I've ever had. If I'm having a bad day, I know I can talk to her about it and she will do everything she can to make me feel loved and try to help me solve my problem... or just listen to me vent, if that's what I need. She's also someone I can have respectful, reasonable discussions with, no matter what the subject is. She's a Mormon, so our religious beliefs differ somewhat, and she's much more politically conservative than I am. But even when we disagree on a political candidate or a law that's about to be passed, I know without a doubt that at the center of her whole being is love for the people around her, and she gives me the same benefit of the doubt. (Even when I probably don't deserve it.) I am truly beyond blessed that she's my friend.

Kayla. Kayla and I worked together in my church youth group drama team for years, first as peers, when I was a senior and she was a freshman, and then in a leader-student capacity for the next couple years as I became one of the team's co-directors. She had a natural flair for acting, both in comedic and dramatic roles, and it was a delight giving her challenging roles and seeing her able to pull them off. Off the stage, she was sweet, focused, and friendly. She was one of those people I wish I had worked harder to befriend in high school, because even though we were never super close, I always enjoyed the time I spent with her.

Alisha. Alisha and I also worked together on the youth group drama team, although the team didn't really lock into place until some time after her family had moved away, so for awhile it was just her and me pulling together random skits and trying to talk people into being in them. What I want to talk about, however, is after she went off to college and got married and we'd mostly lost touch, except for Facebook... and then she started blogging.

Her blogs often centered around her experience as a mom and wife, something I didn't necessarily relate to, but what I love was how honest she was about when life was hard, especially dealing with a child who had some health issues. Her writing was open and intimate and freely admitted the times when she was just tired and exhausted and frustrated, but at the same time it wasn't a series of pity parties -- she stayed hopeful that even though things were difficult now, God was still there and things would get better. I loved reading her blogs and, even though I didn't respond to them nearly as much as I should have, I appreciated her being willing to share these things with the people around her. They meant a lot to me, even if I couldn't identify with the particular circumstances in her life. She's another person I wish I had more intentionally befriended in high school.

Miles. I'm pretty sure everyone who went to Huntington at the same time I did knew Miles. He's one of those ever-gregarious super-extroverts who has 2700 friends on Facebook but knows and genuinely likes them all. He was the very first person I met at HU, in fact, and even though we never became close friends, he'd always greet me by name when he saw me and ask me how I was doing. He moved out to Los Angeles after graduating from HU, was an extra in shows like How I Met Your Mother and Arrested Development, created this video which went viral on YouTube, and is currently doing a one-man version of Breaking Bad in a comedy festival in Melbourne. I'm delighted to see him doing well and getting gigs. The guy deserves it.

PJ. PJ is not his actual name -- it stands for "Pastor Jason," and he was my youth pastor growing up. He's actually just moved on from that youth pastor position in the church, so this is probably an appropriate time to write about him. I didn't get to know him as well as I got to know some of the female youth leaders, but one of the things I always appreciated about him was that he never just preached and went home. He encouraged us as teenagers to step up into ministry, to take charge of our youth group, to be leaders among our peers, and he worked to give us any of the resources or encouragement we needed. That attitude has stuck with me years later. I'm glad to have been part of the youth group during the time he was there, and I wish him the very best as he moves into new areas of ministry.

Kate, aka Mom. I am more than a little bit in awe of my mother. She is confident, easygoing, patient, loving, and wise, all things I aspire to. One of the things I love most about her now as an adult is how much she was willing to be a part of my life as much or as little as I needed. When I needed space, when I needed to run off to travel the country in a van with four college-age kids and came home twice all year, or when I decided to go to college five hours away and then move 13 hours away, she let me take the lead on contacting her and never pried into my life, always giving me the space to initiate the relationship on my own terms. As a result, I never felt pressured or smothered by her the way so many of my peers felt about their parents. Of course, on the flip side, she was always there to help me out however she could from where she was, any time I needed it. Sometimes that was praying with me, sometimes that was reminding me that I was going to be all right, and sometimes that was calling the customer service people I needed to talk to because a phone conversation was just the last thing I wanted to do. I hope I can be as awesome as my mom someday.

Ginny. A picture from the one time I got to meet Ginny in person, six or so years ago now! I met her first on RinkWorks, but then we kept in touch through Facebook the last few years. Ginny and I are also definitely in different places in our life and have very different beliefs on a lot of things, but I love reading her Facebook statuses and her blogs. She may not even know this, but she's challenged me to think about a lot of things that hadn't really crossed my path before. She writes firmly but gently about her experiences and her thoughts, and I'm glad we're still on each other's radar.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Scattered Thoughts on Art, Nerd Culture, and The Big Bang Theory

Yesterday, as I was at the gym, an episode of The Big Bang Theory was on. I typically don't watch it because it makes me a li'l angry, but I happened to catch this exchange -- which reminded me exactly why it made me a li'l angry:
Penny: You're such a crybaby.
Leonard: I'm not a crybaby.
Penny: Toy Story 3?
Leonard: The toys were holding hands inside a furnace!
The more I thought about that exchange -- and specifically why it was a joke -- the more intriguing it became to me, and the more I remembered why I find BBT so frustrating as something of a nerd myself.

The joke here is that Penny (and the audience, judging by the laugh track) think that it's ridiculous of Leonard to form an emotional attachment to a fictional character. Ridiculous and laughable and possibly a little childish. Even if the laughs come out of "Oh, haha, I did that too," they're still laughing because it's ridiculous.

I have a couple mostly-unrelated thoughts on this.

1. Isn't that what art is supposed to do? Isn't one of the purposes of art, whether it's "high art" like theater and paintings or "low art" like TV and graphic novels, to make a connection with its viewers? Certainly not all art requires that, but it's hard to look at something like opera and claim that it's not supposed to be emotional.

Great movies, like so much great art, can be at their most powerful when they make us feel things. They can make us sad, happy, angry, afraid. They can make us connect with something we hadn't connected with before -- a character, an idea, a way of life -- and change how we think and feel about them.

This is not necessarily because of the weakness of the viewer, but often because of the strength of the art. Toy Story 3 is actually a terrible example for Penny to choose for mocking Leonard, because that movie put a lot of art into its process, slowly building its characters over three movies and then filming one of the most beautiful, non-Disney-like possible death sequences of all time. The music, the visuals, the culmination of these characters' lives all meld together into a really artful scene that made a whole lot of people tear up in theaters.

Toy Story 3 is a success. Leonard is a successful "art receiver." Leonard got what Toy Story 3 was trying to do. Are there cases where maybe you could make fun of someone for "getting" a piece of art because the art wasn't very good? Well, I hope so, because I do that with BBT itself all the time. :-) But Penny wasn't arguing that Leonard is weak because TS3 is not good. She is arguing that he is weak for mourning a fictional character at all.

2. Nerd culture seems especially attuned to creating and connecting with new worlds. So many hobbies deemed "nerdy" can be seen as a way to be a part of a created world other than the one you live in. This includes comic books, science fiction, and fantasy novels, all the way over to far more immersive options like video games, live-action RPGs, and LARPing.

I bonded very strongly with characters in musicals and movies as a teen, partly because I felt profoundly misunderstood by the people around me. As much as I tried to forge connections in real life, it was Eponine Thenardier who I truly connected with, as she longed for the boy she could never have. It was Woody Allen's neurotic protagonists, who said out loud so many of the things I was thinking. It was Elphaba, whose efforts to blend in with the crowd were awkward and uncomfortable. To others, it is Batman or Luke Skywalker or Turanga Leela. You have very little control over the people you will meet and interact with in real life, so if no true friends or mentors or role models happen to come your way, there's always the world of fiction.

To BBT's Penny, this is pathetic, that I would connect so deeply with a fictional character that I would mourn their death (over and over) or that I would rather spend time with them than with a social group. But if I didn't have those fictional characters to reassure me that other people feel like this too, I would have had a much harder adolescence.

Fictional characters still do this for me. They can serve as an example of an ideal when I have trouble finding that ideal in real life, like Leslie Knope's optimism. They can make me feel like I'm not the only one in the universe who feels and thinks the way I do, like Daria Morgendorfer's deadpan snark. They remind me that I can change to be better than I am, like Willow Rosenberg's journey from quiet fear to quiet confidence.

Why do nerds gravitate so much toward stories in their entertainment? I don't know. Maybe we like the creativity or we like the escape. More mainstream hobbies like sports, crafting, cooking, or working on cars certainly tend to focus more strongly on practical outcomes than creating and inhabiting new worlds.

When Penny reacts with scorn to the guys' love of Star Wars (in the same episode I saw), she seems to view their love for the movies as less worthy than any of the hobbies she pursues. Perhaps they're not tangible enough, or the whole idea of "it's not real!" makes her think it cannot be substantial. Well... she's wrong. Fiction in any form can evoke very real responses from people, who in the process do not become weak or pathetic or "less" than anyone else.

And that is why The Big Bang Theory bothers me so much. These men are chided over and over again for loving their fictional worlds, as if only children should be so fond of stories.

I don't really have a conclusion to any of these thoughts. They were just rattling around in my head and I wanted to share them with you.

What do you think? Is nerd culture as story-centric as I think it is? And if so, why?

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Weekend Reads

Hey, turns out when you don't wait that many weeks in between these, there are fewer blogs to post! Here are the ones I found this week:

On Faith

Specifically, which situation best fits what Jesus was doing in his temple action? Was Jesus killing enemies of a foreign nation in a war to protect his country or protecting his family from a violent intruder? 
Or was Jesus using violence toward property in a protest to call his nation to collective repentance for its systemic oppression? 
On Art

Just a lot of good performances here. Watch them!

But while Stark's and Star-Lord's promiscuous behavior is overlooked — even celebrated — and used as a way to demonstrate character growth, Black Widow's perceived romances with Hawkeye and Captain America (and even Tony Stark, if you count him eagerly ogling her upon her first Iron Man appearance) are used to slam her character. To be a "slut" these days, by Renner's reasoning, all you need is a close relationship with men; and when the team itself is composed entirely of Black Widow plus burly dudes, that definition becomes a trap. Black Widow is punished for her friendships and their intimacy, real or perceived. Meanwhile, Star-Lord and Stark enjoy casual sex openly, and nobody bats an eye.
How to Cast Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg at The Toast
Interesting things happen to people with bad bone structure, you know, and there’s something particularly ridiculous about watching Babe after Babe deliver the “poor, obscure, plain, and little” monologue to some smooth-faced Male Babe in a billowing cravat. 
Also, watching Michael H. Roosevelt Fassbender ask “Do you find me handsome?” and getting “no” for an answer was one of the most ridiculous cheats Hollywood ever attempted to perpetrate on my person, and if I ever meet him I will knock him down for making me sit through that scene. 
On Blogging

Is Blogging a Type of Lying? by Brittany at Palms and Palmettos
But part of me wonders if blogging is cheating. 
Is someone really a friend if they don’t know that awkward part of you? Even though blogging lets me, a naturally introverted and private person, discuss things on a very public forum- it’s still just my statement. I choose when and how and if to present something. That is, in fact, the number one thing I like about blogging- the choice and thought involved. I can have control over how I am seen. 
I have no idea how people view me in the real world. But from what I know…it’s usually not at all what I am trying to project. I feel misunderstood a large majority of the time.
On Illness

I think Empathy Cards are the most important things I’ve designed so far, and they’re some of my personal favorites. It’s not often that you look at a greeting card and think, “The world needs this,” but in this case, I really believe that’s true.
Some Controversial Stuff

Stop Praying for Peace in Baltimore by Ben Irwin
You want “peace” in Baltimore—by which you mean you don’t want to see any more cop cars burning on TV—but you don’t want to do anything to fix a system where people have no other way to make themselves heard? 
Then what you want isn’t peace. What you want is for your privilege to remain untouched.
Invisible Women: Why Marvel's Gamora & Black Widow Were Missing From the Merchandise, and What We Can Do About It by Annie N. Mouse at The Mary Sue
I’d entered the comics industry because I was a comics fan. It hurt to see so plainly that to Disney, people like me didn’t matter. My demographic was already giving them money anyway, with Disney Princess purchases. Even now, there’s no incentive to make more Marvel merch for women, because we already buy Brave and Frozen products.

oh darling i’d love to sit and join youbut as you know i have aterriblesitting conditionas do all the women in my familyso instead i have to stand and also leave
Ranking the Metaphors in Song of Solomon by Tyler Huckabee
What I picture happening here is this guy thought he’d really nailed it by comparing her to a pomegranate (forgetting that he’d already used that line, which we’ll get to in a moment) and then, when her eyes drooped a bit because he’s clearly running low on metaphors, he just decides to compare her to “all choicest fruits,” which doesn’t really cut it either because that’s just lazy. 
So then he says she’s like henna with nard, and now she’s just looking bored, so he tries nard and saffron, which doesn’t work either. His final hail mary is to just start naming every scent he’s ever heard of. “Calamus? Cinnamon? Frankincense? Myrrh? Aloes? ALL SPICES?”
Weekend Watches

Ryan Gosling Won't Eat His Cereal (2013-2014 Vine Compilation) - The creator of this meme recently passed away, so I made sure to go watch and save the compilation of the vines. They're ridiculous but so very silly and fun.

Fun In Balloon Land - Cinema Snob - Cinema Snob reviews this extremely bizarre movie about... parades and balloons, I guess. There's apparently a RiffTrax download available too, and I am almost certainly going to have to do that.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Quest for Forgiveness: Musicians Who Hate Music and Lawyers Who Don't Know the Law

Last time, we found out Ethan was Brianna's real father! Which made him a huge idiot. He's still really mad at Brianna for lying.

Brianna decides she needs to go to Mesa, where she and Ethan are from. She asks for some alone time and her bodyguards let her go for a walk.
Conrad didn’t like it, but he understood. He gave her an Arizona Diamondback cap and sunglasses to wear on her way out the door.
That is the foolproof method for hiding inconceivable beauty.

A couple people ask if she's Brianna, but she gives her birth first name + Ethan's last name instead ("Mandy Dawn Anderson"). She apparently wanders around the city for several hours fielding these questions, and finally lands opposite the courthouse. She calls Sonya and decides she's going to turn herself in for falsely accusing Ethan.

Sonya is uncertain, but Brianna is ready -- ready with a Christian platitude, that is!
“I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I’m sure who holds tomorrow.”
And now that we've all crossed that off our Cute Christian Phrases bingo cards, Sonya asks Brianna to wait until she gets there. Brianna agrees, and plays one of her songs in her head to calm herself:
You were there all along, 
Waiting to pick me up... 
You came shining, 
Just as I knew you would.
"You came shining"? That's a terrible line.

I'm sudden bugged by how Brianna-centric Brianna's music is. Not in the Taylor Swift sense where she can only write songs about herself, but in the sense that she literally doesn't care about any music that's not her own. She claims to be so in love with music, but she doesn't actually listen to music (of any kind that we know of) because apparently only hers is actually good enough. When she listens to music, it's her own. Even on the few occasions when other songs might be playing, such as in a church service, she only ever hears her own music.

Do those people even exist? Even musicians with massive egos must be fans of other people's music. If they weren't, if they really only listened to their own songs, we would laugh at and mock them like I am for Brianna right now. I'm not even sure how you would get to be this tremendously talented, passionate musician without ever giving a crap what other musicians are making. "Nah, I'm pretty sure no one else's music is as good as mine."

Conrad suddenly shows up, and Brianna realizes he was following her the whole time. Then Sonya shows up and they all go into the courtroom together, where she introduces herself again as Mandy Dawn Anderson, until people recognize her as Brianna Bays.
“My name is Mandy Dawn Anderson. Brianna Bays is really someone else... someone I once knew. As a child, I was Janna Anderson.” Her piercing eyes showed the gravity of the situation.
"Next week, I'll be known as Lucretia Dorgalorp. Who knows who I'll be next month. And by the way, note how piercing my eyes are? GRAVITY-LEVEL PIERCING. That's how you know I mean business."

Brianna meets with the Evil Woman Prosecutor, who remembers her and comments on putting "that pervert" away.
Brianna’s heart sank when she heard the negative accusation about her father.
"Oh, no, not you too! Did EVERYONE believe the super convincing lies that I told? I thought you'd have just realized the truth by now!"

Brianna confesses and explains it's because she's a Christian. Prosecutor Carol says she's a Christian now, too, and, ya know, I thought she might be because she still had a job and was healthy and didn't lose everything by virtue of Not Being a Christian like some of the other characters in this book.

Sonya asks that the charges be dropped because 1) Brianna was a kid, 2) people claimed things Brianna didn't say (even though they really didn't), and 3) statute of limitations even when "the law is vague," because I guess perjury isn't a well-known enough crime for that to be legislated or anything.

Prosecutor Carol agrees that she has no idea how the statute of limitation works:
“There is what we call a statute of limitations. That means a person cannot be tried for something that happened more than seven years ago. It’s been over ten years. I’m not really certain if that would apply in this case, but as the prosecuting attorney, I am the one who submits the court cases.”
I feel like she should be aware of this. She's been practicing for over a decade. It's not like nobody's ever lied and put someone in jail before. The only thing that makes this unique is that they're finding out about it later, and because Brianna turned herself in rather than because she got caught.

At least Arizona's statute of limitation laws are clear. Nearly all felonies are seven years, so kudos to our author for getting one detail right, even though his desire to present Brianna as a Mary Sue who has Such Unique Legal Problems makes the super experienced lawyer sound awfully stupid. She probably wouldn't be this stupid if she'd only become a Christian earlier.

Prosecutor Carol says they're not going to pursue legal action because there'd be an internal investigation and it'd reflect badly on their department. (Way to pursue justice and Christian ethics.) But she points out that Ethan could still sue her.

Now, hold up. There's a statute of limitations on civil suits, too, and Ethan is definitely way beyond that. False imprisonment and slander (the best two options he has here) both have a statute of limitations of one year for a civil suit. Absolutely nothing stretches 11 or 12 years back. He knew she was lying way back 11 years ago, and he's been out of prison and aware of her public identity for at least four years, so I'd say he way lost his chance to do it. Even if she turns herself in now, I'm pretty sure he can't legally pursue it. (I could be wrong on this, so anyone who knows more about this than I do can feel free to correct me.)

But Prosecutor Carol knows zilch about any of this, so Brianna's just like, "Oh, hmm, OK, maybe Ethan will sue me then."

Brianna decides she needs to call a press conference, possibly to confess. But we'll end it there on that cliffhanger because I cannot read this anymore.

84% of the way through the book. 53 pages to go. We're chugging along!