In the middle of

A list of the books I’m in the middle of, in roughly the order in which I think it might be likely to finish them:

Uprooted, by Naomi Novik (Update: finished. Meh.)

I’m currently reading this, and will probably finish it. I read the first few pages while in San Diego last week. I didn’t bring any books with me because I thought I would just read my homework. But, at night, I wanted something lighter to read. The first few pages were engaging, but although I like the characters, the prose style isn’t the best. I do enjoy the characters and the world, however. It’s actually fairly well-thought-out. But I’m still looking for that sci-fi/fantasy book to just pull me into its world completely. This book is/was just enough to soothe a brain fried from a million conference presentations, too.

The Robber Bride, by Margaret Atwood (Update: finished, three stars.)

The beautiful writing of Her Majesty Margaret Atwood! But alas, this book is almost going too slowly for me. Although Atwood is a master of prose, and she can certainly evoke a scene. But I wish this book were more thriller and less a psychological look at three women who feel workshopped.

Foundation, by Isaac Asimov (Update: finished, where are all the women. Three stars.)

When I first started reading this, on the flight to Japan (I bought it in the airport), I thought, “Now, this is what Science Fiction should be like!” But it’s a little bit cold. The characters, as imagined, are all idiosyncratic men who always seem to be smarter than everyone else around them. When I realized this, it was the middle of the night and it made me sad. Also, although I’ve wanted a book about dense political intrigue in a made-up society, this book keeps skipping generations! It’s no fun to see the scheming if you can’t see the result! And vice versa, actually.

The Three Body Problem, by Cixin Lieu (Update 7/18/16: currently reading it and loving it!)

I’m only about 10 pages into it (I was basically reading it whenever I couldn’t find The Robber Bride), but it feels promising.

Dune, by Frank Herbert

I read this classic in High School, but I’m eager to revisit it and see if it holds up.

Speaking Truth to Power, by Anita Hill

Some books are too emotionally painful to read quickly.

Migratory Animals, by Mary Helen Specht

I would have finished this book a long time ago if I knew where it went. It’s probably under the bed.

Corruption in America, by Zephyr Teachout

I love Zephyr, but the book was a little slow. Also, the font is huge and the paper is thick and annoying to the touch. That’s right, I don’t just judge a book by its cover. I judge it by its typeface and paper-feel, too.

The Bright Continent, by Dayo Olopade

This book is great! I should move it up in the rotation. I was loving this book but then I spilled water all over it.

My Brilliant Friend, by Elana Ferrante

I kept starting and stopping with this book and forgetting my place. I was liking it a lot, but honestly if I go back to it I’ll have to start over. I always hate starting over, so that’s what’s been keeping me from it. But there’s a whole series! I should hurry up on this.

Mason & Dixon, by Thomas Pynchon

This is also under my bed somewhere, but damn, that Pynchon prose is hard.

The Lucky Girls, Nell Freudenberg

Nell Freudenberg is an amazing writer, but books of short stories are my other Achilles’ heel.

At the Mouth of the River of Bees, by Kij Johnson

A book of short stories. I should really finish it because I borrowed it from Ben.

The Islanders, Christopher Priest

Ditto, also borrowed from Ben.

Flash Boys, by Michael Lewis

[eep i kinda think michael lewis’ books are just ok and maybe actually mediocre? eep?]

What are you in the middle of? Let me know in the comments.


The Week in Podcasts: the Bouie Edition

Here’s a list of the podcasts I’ve listened to and enjoyed the most last week. Some of these have already published new episodes, since I am a slow blogger.

  1. On the Media, never change. You gotta believe that a podcast has class and style when it makes me feel close to not one but two irascible old white guys. It helps that they were making some points that I agree with: basically, that journalists everywhere should be held to a high standard, and that even if it’s a losing battle, journalists should keep fighting for the truth. That sounds idealistic, but that’s how they made me feel.
  2. ReplyAll has been getting weird and experimental lately and I love the hell out of it. This week, PJ Vogt explores a website that people who are too high can go to, talk to someone, and calm down. This leads to PJ Vogt–as well as another Gimlet producer, Phia Bennet (love her name!) to experiment with “microdosing,” which sounds like  I love that a central theme of the show seems to be not only exploring online phenomena, but also bringing it out of the internet in order to show the human heart at the center of it. The internet is weird because people are weird. All hail the internet.
  3. It’s hard to pick a favorite host on Political Gabfest, but, water gun to my head, I’d choose John Dickerson. But, although he was absent from Friday’s podcast, he was replaced with Jamelle Bouie, who is fast becoming the MVP of Slate’s podcasts. The previously mentioned Slate Academy was great. Dear Slate: You should combine “Whistlestop” and “Slate Academy” so that I have John & Jamelle hanging out together.
  4. So That Happened, a podcast made for snake people, by snake people, also had Jamelle Bouie! This is becoming one of my favorite podcasts. They had one of their UVA-enriched conversations again, since Bouie is also an alum, but it was highly appropriate as they were discussing the Mizzou controversy and contrasting it with their experiences at UVA. They also talked about Guantanamo Bay and the most recent Republican Debate.
  5. Podcast for Americaoh, how I love thee, even when the usually great Mark Leibovich is a little bit star-struck by Donald Trump. I understand that you might have had fun while in the presence of trump, but that doesn’t mean that the episode was actually funny. In fact, it was atrocious. Tsk, tsk. However, PfA is still great at substantively and entertainingly dissecting the extended silly season of the primary campaigns.

New Discoveries that I might be checking out:

  1. Surprisingly Awesome
    Basically, this seems like Gimlet’s Planet Money–investigative dives into some seemingly boring topics that may or may not turn out to be surprisingly awesome.
  2. Into the Weeds
    This requires getting over my weird feelings of dislike for Vox and Matt Yglesias, even though I just figured out that the comment he had made that pissed me off so much–something about how people below the poverty line aren’t the ones working–was actually said by Jordan Weissman. *sigh* So basically, I’ll give it a shot, since “into the weeds with policy” is my new middle name.


Slate’s new podcast series reminds me of why I love studying history

As part of Slate’s strategy to take over the internet (and world) via their new podcast platform, Slate’s started a series of lecture podcasts under a new umbrella, “Slate Academy.”

Each episode of the “History of American Slavery” series follows an enslaved person and uses their stories–often written by the individuals themselves–as a jumping off point to talk about the era and the state of slavery at the time.

I’ve learned so much that I didn’t know, but one of the most interesting areas that they’ve explored are the ways in which American conceptions of slavery have evolved. Contrary to what I had thought (and what is taught, and what I think is widely believed), slavery wasn’t always thought of as the ‘natural state of man’–in fact, it was viewed by many as more of a “necessary evil” in the 18th century, and was later viewed by some as the natural, state for an ‘inferior’ species.

Slate Academy Website (you might need a Slate+ membership; a free excerpt is available here).

Reading list

-The Grist puts out a list of their Seattle-centric posts
-Propublica interviews Eric Lipton about his Pulitzer-winning “Courting Favor” series. 

-An excellent summary of Iggy Azalea’s recent woes, which also summarizes why everyone hates her so much. I had no idea why she was so hated, but sadly learned that it was justified: homophobia, racism, cultural misappropriation. Only Rachel Dolezal is worse, according to The Daily Show’s Jessica Williams: “Rachel Dolezal is worse. Iggy acts black to make money, but Iggy’s not fooling anybody. Rachel Dolezal just single-white-female’d all black women! We don’t need oppression cosplay, we need allies.”

-Another day, another Kickstarter that didn’t fulfill its promises: Stereogum profiles VNYL, the “Netflix for Vinyl” that never was.

The Most Efficient Way to Save a Life at The Atlantic, recommended by a dear friend.



Eagerly Awaiting

The Magicians on Syfy

If you grew up with Harry Potter, or The Golden Compass, or The Chronicles of Narnia, or even if you’re just a fan of a well-told tale, you have to read Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy.

Syfy’s website says it’s not due ’till 2016, but there’s a “First Look” Trailer.

First look at Syfy’s ‘The Magicians’

It actually looks super cheesy and over-the-top–It looks like a dressed-up version of a supernatural teen show on the CW, really. The cinematography looks fairly beautiful, though, so maybe that will  be worthwhile? The main character looks a bit affected, but that’s the way  that the character is written, so maybe it’ll turn out alright. If not, I’ll always have the books, and I can just hope for a remake in 20 years.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell on BBC

Somehow this has already been airing and I hadn’t noticed.  Maybe it’s the ocean. Sometimes I feel like there’s still a delay in getting British Imports.

Susanna Clarke’s book of the same name is about an alternate-universe England, one in which magic is real and was once abundant. Years after the Golden Age of Magic, the eponymous Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell are the only practical magicians in an era when all other magicians are theoretical. Before Mr. Strange arrived on the scene, Mr. Norrell

One of the best aspects of the book is that its villain, a fairy king who is powerful, capricious, but ultimately not malicious–which doesn’t mean that he’s ultimately good. Rather, he’s not evil. I’m very interested to see how the show works with this dynamic. More than anything, though, I hope it’s as funny as its source material–sometimes the inherent wit of a series gets lost in translation from page to screen. It was somewhat true of Harry Potter, but I really hope that this series stays true to that.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Area X/ The Southern Reach Trilogy

This is probably a lot further away, but there are whispers that Area X will be getting its own film adaptation (likely a trilogy, like the books). I’m especially excited for this because I was intrigued and excited by the world that Jeff Vandermeer created in his Southern Reach Trilogy, but very disappointed with how the narrative eventually turned out. It was more glimpses, less development. I’m especially excited because it seems like Alex Garland, fresh off of success from Ex Machina, is writing the script.

True Detective on HBO

Even if I hadn’t seen the trailers that preceded episodes of Game of Thrones, or been intrigued by seeing Colin Firth, Rachel McAdams, and that other intense-looking hot guy (I’d look him up, but what if IMDB gives me casting spoilers?) looking intense together, I’d be psyched for True Detective based on the previous season.

loved the first season of True Detective. It was moody, lush, and dour–but also allowed itself to be funny, satirical, and interesting. Plus, I love so-called “off-type” casting–it’s usually not just a case of a character being “off-type” for an actor, but probably also a sign that the new material is new.

Allow me here a small ode to the stars of the first season: What took popular critic-dom (not to mention casting agents) so long to realize the greatness of McConaughey & Harrelson? Did they never see McConaughey in any movie opposite Kate Hudson? Did they never root for Harrelson’s character in Will & Grace to marry Grace? And Reign of Fire was pretty good, right?

Anyway, to my delight, the new season seems to have the same interesting casting; post-Mean Girls, Rachel McAdams has been kicking around in rom coms for far too long (although The Wedding Crashers is pretty great).

I still wish this was happening, though:


Amy Schumer and Bill Heder in a script written by Schumer herself! ‘Nuff said.


Here’s hoping that this stuff will be as delightful as it promises. What are you looking forward to, semi-imaginary readers?


Crackpot Game of Thrones Theories

Melisandre has dark plans for Shireen.
Melisandre is constantly talking about the power in King’s blood. I think that Stannis sees Melisandre’s desire for his blood to be a confirmation that he is indeed the rightful king–but I think that Melisandre’s definition of King’s blood is much more general. First of all, the gender of the person whose veins run with king’s blood doesn’t matter. Second of all, the god that Melisandre worships isn’t very picky about whose king’s blood it is–I think the God recognizes many kings.

Theon/Reek will confess to Sansa that he didn’t kill Bran and Rickon.
I’ve been late in posting this (or anything else), so I’m afraid that this is right, but not in the way that I anticipated. But here goes anyway: for a long time, Sansa’s motivation has been to survive. Recently, by her own wits and by some advice and mentorship (ick) by Littlefinger, she’s learned that she might just survive, that she’s not stupid, and that she has some agency.

I was unhappy that it looked like she was going to marry Ramsey (or that the Boltons were going to continue to be a focus of the show at all, Roose Bolton is more boring to me than Stannis Baratheon. “I raped your mother under her husband, whom I murdered.” Yawn, really), but I wasn’t worried. I thought some bad things might come to her, that she’d be sad and horrified, but I never imagined this week’s plot line.

The worst part, as pointed out by Joanna Robinson in Salon, among others, is that Sansa’s rape seems to have very little to do with either Ramsey or Sansa. It doesn’t advance their characters one bit, but we do see Theon’s crying face. Yep, I think these two are going to become friendlier. But this isn’t interesting to me, and it’s a completely sucky way to write another rape storyline. Ugh, I’m really losing hope in these writers.

The Sparrows threaten to–or actually go ahead with–castrating Ser Loras (on Cersei’s orders).
What’s the worst thing that Cersei can do to Margaery? Hurt her dear brother. What’s the worst thing that Cersei can do to the Tyrells? Kill or threaten their heir.

At least, that’s what I thought before this Sunday’s episode. It looks like Cersei is at least slightly more forward-thinking than she has seemed for the past couple of seasons. I’m still worried that Loras might be castrated, but at this point it seems like Margaery might just get imprisoned.

Danny forgives Jorah just as he’s about to succumb to death by grayscale.
“I…will….always….love…you…..” *dies*

An Epic Battle at Winterfell
Back at the beginning, we have Bolton’s army (does he have an army?), Baratheon’s sellswords, some of the newly-kneeling wildlings, Baelish’s forces from the Vale, and the Tyrells for good measure.

Danny marries her nephew, Jon Snow.
It’ll be a marriage of Ice and Fire.

Movie Review: Bird People (2014)

If you’ve been wondering what Josh Charles has been up to since his exit from The Good Wife, I’ve got an answer for you: he’s acted in at least one indie movie, the 2014 winner of the Cannes Un Certain Regard category.

Although Bird People is far from a great, or even a good movie, its thoughtful cinematography and a couple of beautiful scenes might allow me to recommend it–especially since it’s easy to watch on Netflix. The script, directed by Pascale Ferran, who co-wrote the screenplay with Guillaume Bréaud, is a strange hybrid of the existential malaise of  Lost in Translation and the self-serious business stress of Margin Call.

Although some summaries of the film describe it as being about the aftermath of the ‘meeting’ of the two characters, the protagonists don’t actually meet for most of the film. Each of their storylines is almost a film unto itself, to the benefit of one and the detriment of the other. Audrey Camuzet is a college student who commutes to a hotel on the outskirts of Paris where she works part-time. Gary Newman (played by the sexiness-dripping above-mentioned Josh Charles) is in Paris on Important Business, which is apparently also Stressful and Fraught. I’m facetiously capitalizing these because it’s a point that the movie seems at great pains to make: this is an important guy, but man is it hard to be a white guy with responsibilities.

For me, the biggest problem in this film is this character, Gary Newman. His is the story of a man getting sick of the life he’s leading and deciding to abandon his responsibilities.  This might be interesting if he went on to do something, but he doesn’t: from the moment that the voice-over announces his “decision,” Gary Newman goes on to have a series of painful conversations with his business partners, and eventually his wife, about how to tie up loose ends now that he’s decided that he’s leaving it all behind.

There are hints, here and there, about the kinds of conflict that could have led Gary Newman to “quit” the entirety of his old life in order to “stay in Paris” (or, sometimes, “stay in Europe,” which might indicate the fantasy element of this desire: not a specific country, just “Europe”). But to me, they’re not enough. Although his last name suggests that he’s trying to be a new man, Gary looks to me like an old man in an old story about leaving your responsibilities behind. I can believe that his wife, Elizabeth, is probably hard to live with, but I have serious problems with a film that is trying to portray life with two young children as tiresome–without at least mentioning whether they’re part of his malaise or not. I’m not saying that having children shouldn’t be portrayed as painful–there are great examples with Bill Murray’s (him, again! he was one lead in Lost in Translation) character’s bully twins in Rushmore, or the little kid from The Good Son. But I can’t forgive the oversight of failing to even mention the children except for making them a joint entity with his wife. Neither Gary nor his wife seem all that concerned with the kids’ reaction to daddy’s absence, either; they’re far more wrapped up in their own palpable distaste for each other.

It’s not just that I’m offended by the idea of a male character who just wants to “quit” his life and family. It’s that, in terms of narrative motivation, Ferran and Bréaud don’t bother to expand Newman’s feeling for his family with anything more than a tense, harsh skype-session with his admittedly bitchy-seeming wife.This isn’t about the film hurting my sensibilities by not even mentioning his children–although I am, slightly–it’s about leaving a gaping question in the middle of the narrative and filling it with angry, possibly back-stabbing businessmen.

Audrey’s storyline has much of the nuance and whimsy that is absent from Gary’s. There’s more to like in Audrey’s storyline, and not just because it’s more relatable: an especially beautiful scene toward the end brings the title to life much more literally than I expected. To be less coy: she turns into a bird. But even before her storyline takes flight, her storyline is more taut, more grounded. From the opening scene when we first meet Audrey, there’s more of the small, beautiful parts of life that actually make this movie enjoyable: we’re allowed to see and hear the thoughts of a few bus riders; there’s a guy listening to hip hop, a guy listening to classical music while blissfully staring at a woman’s cleavage, and Audrey, who’s calculating how much of her week she’s spending on the commute to work.

Her plot line has less contrivance than Gary’s, too: she’s just a girl, in college, trying to work and live and be. She’s got a boss who oscillates between needy and bossy, and a friend at work who invites her to parties. But the real centerpiece of the film is the scene where she turns into a bird and eavesdrops and interacts with hotel guests, and learns how to fly.

Overall, Bird People fails to come together as a cohesive movie. The whimsy and wonder of Audrey’s storyline is not mirrored in Gary’s, and, ironically, Gary’s storyline is less grounded in anything that feels real either. I’d say, watch the movie, but skip Gary Newman and go straight through to Audrey. It’ll be a shorter film, but a better one.

This American Life: Deep Cut Playlist

I’m going to do something I’ve been resisting for awhile: I’m going to listen to a few of the earlier episodes of This American Life. Back when I worked in the library at the University of Chicago, I listened to about 6 episodes of This American Life a day. (It’s probably more, but I did try mix it up throughout the day with On the Media, WTF with Marc Maron, and Radiolab.)

I tried to listen to some of the very earliest episodes, but found that they were too strange–uncannily similar, but not close enough to the TAL that I knew and loved to actually listen to. The music is different, the sound mixing is off, the narration sometimes even more monotone. It’s still good, though. It’s just not as dressed up, it hasn’t quite gotten the hang of its makeup routine (much like me, actually). But,  because I miss Serial so damn much, I’m going to try to go back and listen to some earlier episodes. Here’s my playlist:

#163: Can you Fight City Hall if You Are City Hall?

#168: The Fix is In

#272: Big Tent

#179: Cicero

Tags I want to Revisit:

Criminal Justice
Legal System

Imaginary readers, do you have a favorite (early) This American Life episode? What are your favorites overall?