Friday, May 31, 2013

In Which I Talk About Optimism

Confession: I am a pessimist. I have been my whole life--or more accurately, for as long as I can remember. As far back as my memory goes, I have been convinced that the proverbial glass is half empty. In fact, I have a pretty distinct memory of telling a professor that not only was that glass half empty, but it was evaporating at such a rate that I'd forever be thirsty. I have very little faith in humanity and very little faith in myself. When something bad happens, automatically it is compared to every other bad thing that has happened to me, added to it, to the point where all the negativity is compounded into one giant "bad thing." 

This weeks vlogbrothers video talks about how optimism is not insane. In it, Hank tries to stress that it's easy to look at the current state of affairs that is our world and seem doom, gloom, and an impending apocalypse. But he warns that all the bad we see is being used for good: that working together for the betterment is what prevents the apocalypse from happening. It's an inspirational video, to be sure, but I wonder if Hank is over simplifying.

I would assert that most humans are pessimistic, and if they tell you otherwise, they are in denial. This isn't because the world is in that bad of shape, but rather because human beings have an individualistic outlook on life. We're selfish creatures, and it's all about "me me me." Those few who are saintly in their devotion to others are the exception that proves the rule. Maybe the outlook on the world isn't as negative as we might imagine but that doesn't mean our own individual perspectives change.

I am currently job hunting. In the middle of March, I made the decision to not pursue my PhD in religion because of financial reasons. Too much in debt already to put myself further into the hole with the job market the way it is. It was not a happy time in my life. Correction: it is still not a happy time in my life. I job search every day and thus far I've put out 50 job applications. I've heard back from four, all bad news. I have a good education, I'm a decent writer, I have ideas, I love to research and learn and yet I find it very difficult to get a job because I have very little in the way of marketable skills (or so I think, people keep telling me otherwise). I'd like to think that I am talented enough to not have to just take a job because someone wants me. This is the problem with having your resume out on the internet job boards like Monster and CareerBuilder: people emails you just because you're there as opposed to actually having a job that lines up with your interests/skills. I know nothing about banking or insurance or sales, yet I get a few emails a week with offers of "hey let's talk!" from positions such as these. I look into them, but ultimately delete them because companies aren't looking at me as a unique individual who fits their business model but as a one of many cogs in the machine who may or may not match any set of criteria, but is an able body.

Is that what my life is supposed to be?

I guess I'm really struggling with this. I want to believe--optimistically--that I am worth more. That I don't have to settle for just any old job. That I allowed (yes, allowed) to try for something that I would--gasp--enjoy. I am trying to--as Hank points out--not see the negativity that I had to drop all my dreams and go in another direction but rather focus on the positive. A task for which I am ill suited.

I had a very honest conversation with myself a few weeks ago and decided that if I can't become a PhD professor, the only thing I could do that would be some what comparable is to write. Like I said in my introduction, I like words. I like ideas and I like puzzling out meaning and I like language and I like stories. I don't care if this means copywriting for a few years or editing or whatever. I do not want to stop writing and talking and discussing ideas--whatever they may be.

I don't know if this is the proper approach to take because I've never been an adult before--not really. I tell myself that I do not have experience, but I do have a Masters (or at least I will in a few months) and surely my resume is good enough to interest someone. But how long do I wait before I take up one of those offers in banking--sell my soul and any optimism left in me?

I have no answers. Maybe no one does. So while I appreciate Hank's video about the sanity of optimism, he forgets that our individual outlooks are always skewed toward pessimism.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

In Which I Review More Books

Confession: I read a lot of young adult fiction. I don't believe there is a time in which you're supposed to stop reading young adult literature; so long as the quality is there who is to say you're too old for such works. I find the characters in YA much more relatable  (I am only 26 after all. I was a young adult in the not too distant past) and that the authors of YA are able to express the conflicts of becoming an adult more accurately than jaded "adult" literature authors. The only caveat is that most of the young adult fiction I read is either supernatural or dystopian in nature, but that genre is merely a vehicle for discussing the realities of growing up. 

The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare
I was first drawn to this series after seeing a movie trailer for the upcoming City of Bones film, based on the first book. In many ways, it follows normative supernatural young adult fiction tropes: young girl meets mysterious (overly gorgeous) boy who is not what he appears; love triangle; vampires, werewolves, fairies, warlocks; mustache-twirling, black hat wearing-type bad guy. The series follows Clarissa (Clary) Fray as she encounters and then becomes a Shadowhunter. Now here's where my interest was first peaked: Shadowhunter's are the Nephilim of the Hebrew Bible (and external legends/texts). Part human, part angel, Shadowhunters protect mundanes (us) from the Downworlders (the supernatural typical baddies) who break the Accords and kill humans. The overarching plot of the first three books finds Clary, her obvious love interest (and potential brother) Jace, her best friend Simon (and third side of the triangle), and fellow Shadowhunter's Isabel and Alec fighting to preserve the Shadowhunter way of life while the devious Valentine plots to end the Accords and subsequently destroy all the Downworlders. Along the way there are revelations and battles and demons and lots of teenage coming of age angst before the second half of the series (books 4-6) changes direction ever so slightly. Besides the interesting religious aspect, what makes this series well worth the read is the way Clare wrote her hero, Jace. While Jace is typical leading man material (beautiful, talented, and special) he is far from polite or courteous or respectful. Most the books best bits of dialogue come from Jace making inappropriate comments which are sarcastic and caustic at the same time. Jace recognizes that he is incredibly special and plays that up but at the same time he is a very troubled soul, rushing into battle faster than his comrades. Jace has what would amount to a death wish based very heavily on how he grew up, who raised him, and the guilt he feels over his feelings for Clary (which is very hard to read until the third book). Overall, Clare is a very good writer and she keeps my interest for the entire series.
Grade (overall): A-

The Matched Trilogy by Ally Condie
 Imagine a future society where you could not pick your future spouse but instead the society in which you lived matched you with a stranger. Such is the world in which Cassia lives, where the Society dictates her every move: who she marries, her career, what music she can listen to, what movies she can watch, what activities she can participate in, and the type of poetry she can read. It has all been dictated by the Society. Like Tris in the Divergent series, Cassia spends the first bit of the first novel oblivious to the fact that her world is inherently flawed. Cassia, in the opening chapters, attends her Matched banquet where she is matched with, surprisingly, her best friend Xander. It is only later that Cassia questions this choice when a brief "error" is made whilst she is viewing Xander's electronic profile: the Society matches her with a different boy, Ky. This is the start of Cassia's journey into figuring out free-will, love, and poetry. Unable to resist exploring the idea of loving Ky, Cassia is soon awakened to the evils of her society. This mostly comes through getting to know Ky (who has a rather tragic story) but also through poetry, which Cassia is drawn to because of its beauty and its forbiddeness. Cassia's love of poetry is reflected in Condie's novels, her words are lush and have a certain kind of movement to them. The first book is undoubtedly the strongest and does a great job of setting up the world and the central conflict. Sadly, the second and third book do not reach their full potential. The third book in particular felt as though I was reading a different series; while it was a good book, the idea of resistance--a heavy theme in the first two books--is relegated to a secondary position when the resistance itself happens in a few pages and it is the aftermath that is given more weight. For people who like stories to be wrapped up in nice tidy packages, they will find the ending of book three frustrating: the future of the world is left up in the air and the love story is the only aspect of the three stories that is fully completed.
Grade (overall): B-

The Diviners by Libba Bray
The 1920s are probably one of the most talked about (in print and media) eras in American history. There is something about the 1920s that screams: freedom, sex, drugs, alcohol, loose women, loose morals. Probably because that how the 1920s were for those who had the means. Evie is a young flapper; she loves parties, drinking, fashion, and generally having a good time. She has been sent from her dull town in Ohio to the Big Apple to live with her uncle. Evie is not a normal girl, however. She has the ability to see people's memories when she is holding one of their possessions, a secret Evie keeps to herself (except for drunken party tricks, of course). New York City isn't all fun and games, though.  A dark force has been brought back after years asleep and is performing ritualistic killings on New York men and women. Evie's uncle, an occult specialist, assists the policemen investigating the deaths, and with Evie's help they discover a supposedly dead religion that wishes to bring about the end of the world by fulfilling these murders. The book is character heavy at times; Evie is not the only one with special powers and we meet several others who do not play an integral part in the murder investigation but clearly set up future sequels. This book is both creepy and fun; Evie is a swell character and she makes the reader wish that they too lived in the 1920s. The author nails the feelings of the 1920s with dancers, drinks, and debauchery. The mystery itself (and the killer) are very frightening and the book itself reads very quickly.
Grade: A-

Monday, May 27, 2013

In Which I Review Mad Men (6x9)

Confession: I don't think I like Don Draper anymore. When we were introduced to him way back in 2007 his raw sexuality coupled with his mysterious past made him the guy every woman wanted to unravel and heal. Now, nine episodes into season six, as those mysterious layers are further pulled back, I'm not sure I'm happy with what we've discovered. An abused, emotionally stunted young boy turns into an abusive, emotionally stunted dead man (literally and figuratively). And in May 26th's episode, I find myself wondering if Don is capable of change (and if Weiner is capable of writing believable character development). 

 When I first began watching Mad Men, the aspect of Don Draper (Jon Hamm) I liked most were all the metaphorical implications of being a man twice dead. His childhood persona of Dick Whitman was killed in Korea in many ways both by Dick himself (lying to the Army) and by Don Draper, the one Dick becomes. This is further compounded by the fact that Don Draper is also a dead man, the real Don having been killed in Korea, his identity assumed by Dick. There is no Dick Whitman and there is no Don Draper and yet there is a man wandering the streets of Manhattan, seducing women, puzzling his coworkers, and coming up with brilliant copy pitches--pitches that are of course built around the idea of selling a lie, a product, an idea of happiness. My favorite line from Mad Men is still, "Love is something guys like me invented to sell nylons." Who better to sell fake ideas of happiness than a man who lives a totally fake life? 

One of my favorite myths from ancient Greece is that of Bacchus (Dionysis) who is twice-born, once from his mother and once from the leg of Zeus. Don Draper is Bacchus in reverse. As we near the end of Man Men's sixth season, and probably the penultimate season for the show as a whole, I wonder if Don will get out of the show alive. How does a man twice dead, who is so emotionally traumatized that he can't equate sex with love (at all) and is in constant need of a mother figure--but one that he can also dominate sexually--survive into the 1970s? If last week's The Crash is any indication, the answer is drugs.

What will make Don Draper happy? That seems to be the question that every season tries to answer and yet we never actually get an answer. Don's American Dream is so opaque and clouded at this point, I don't even think he knows what he wants. A few weeks ago, I re-read The Great Gatsby in anticipation for the new Baz Lurhman movie (which I still haven't seen. Stupid small town with NO movie theater). As I was reading I got distinct Don Draper vibes from the titular Gatsby. Gatsby wants it all: the money, the life, and the girl. The Great American Dream can be summed up by those three things. And yet, even when Gatsby has those three things, he wants more. It's not enough for Daisy to admit that she loves Gatsby, she must also declare that she never loved her husband Tom. In season one of Mad Men, Don appears to have nailed the 1960s equivalent of the American Dream. He has his ideal job in the city, he comes home to a perfectly put together blonde wife and two children and he's got enough money to live a (somewhat) debaucherous lifestyle. And yet, it's not enough. Don may love Betty but his connection to her isn't enough and he has to find that motherly support in the arms of *insert list of woman Don has slept with here* all of whom share common traits: motherhood(the exception of course being Season Four's Faye who was perfect for Don except that she didn't know how to be a mother. Thus, she was very quickly put aside for Meghan after Don witnesses Meghan calming down a sad Bobby over spilled milk. Subtle). If Gatsby is standing out on his dock forever reaching for that enchanted green light, then Don is forever reaching out for a mother/wife/lover figure who can raise the little boy, nurture the adult, and sate the man. No wonder he's never been able to keep a woman.

Which, in a very roundabout way, leads me to this episode The Better Half in which Don screws over all the women in his life (metaphorically and literally) and we are left with the question: who is everyone's better half?

 First there is Peggy: poor, long suffering, confused Peggy. The beginning of this season had Peggy finally taking charge, out from the shadow of Don Draper and heading up her own creative team but now, once again back in the offices of SCDP(CGC--seriously, name this company already!), she's caught in between her two halves: her mentor who got her started, Don, and her new mentor with whom she is also crazy about, Ted. Don expects Peggy to be on his side in the margarine debate while Ted appears to only be interested in ideas in general. Peggy waffles between the two and later, alone, Don calls her out on it.
"He never makes me feel like this," says Peggy
"He doesn't know you," Don replies coldly.

Don and Peggy have always been linked, they both share great secrets (Don, his past and Peggy, her pregnancy). They need each other as evidenced by the season four episode The Suitcase (still the best Mad Men episode to date). Peggy knows how to reel Don back in when he's too close to the cliff and Don knows how to push Peggy to be better. But like all the women Don has in his life, he expects Peggy to be codependent on him, turning to another is unacceptable. Last week, seeing Peggy give Ted a moment of comfort sent Don into a flashback tailspin. This week, it's Peggy being unable to side completely with Don. And, in feeling inferior to Ted creatively and emotionally, Don turns and makes Peggy feel inferior to everything.
Peggy's better half isn't Don, alike though they are. But it isn't Abe either. I've never particularly liked her boyfriend; he talks a good game of social liberal change but also seems content to live off Peggy. I may have given a little cheer when Peggy stabbed him with her makeshift spear (note to Mad Men writers: Peggy should always carry a spear. It's amazing). Peggy's better half is maybe Ted. They challenge each other, they're in the same game of advertising, and perhaps most of all, he is possibly a better version of Don. He's just as driven and creative as Don, but is he honorable? Unlike cold cynical Don, I do think Ted is more interested in the ideas than just *his* idea. He can hear Peggy when all Don wants to hear is himself. The ending between Ted and Peggy threw me for a loop. As soon as Abe broke up with her, I expected Ted and Peggy to be an item. And apparently so did she. And yet, he shuts the door in her face. Is Ted more in love with the idea of the secret love between mentor and protege or is he actually in love with Peggy? But poor Peggy is left out of both offices, out of both men's lives, neither here nor there.

Speaking of not being heard (or for that matter seen), we come to Megan, who is now tasked with playing two roles on her soap opera, who are supposed to be incredibly different but she's struggling to act those difference(I won't lie: I half expected these two characters to be named Niki and Viki but then I had to remind myself that Megan isn't actually on One Life To Live). One of these persona's is a maid, the other a sexy (apparently French) blonde. It could just be me, but the more time passes, the more Megan slowly (de)evolves into Betty Draper. The blonde wig, suddenly cooking dinner, the loneliness in her marriage: all callbacks of Betty Draper of seasons past. At one point Megan tells her drunken (and apparently lesbian) friend that she doesn't want to become a cliche (speaking of her TV character but we know that's only a vehicle for what's happening in Megan's real life) but in my eyes Megan is becoming such a cliche. The actress with the husband at home who is only encouraged when she's not doing so well because once her career takes off, Don is out the door. At the end of the episode, Megan tells Don that she's missed him for a long time now. Unlike some critics and fans of the show, I really liked season 5 of Mad Men. Not necessarily because of Megan, but rather because it was refreshing to see Don evolve into a...person. They were happy together, it was a nice change from seasons past. But now, the shininess of the new toy known as Meghan has worn off and she's become yet another background character in the revolving play of Don Draper's life. Don may have missed her at the end, but only because he was confronted with a happy Betty and Henry scene. Meghan's better half? In her eyes, it's probably Don because they did start off strong but she hasn't learned, as Betty has, that she "can only hold your attention for so long." Megan became too familiar and too independent. Whoops!

Speaking of Betty: she is both seen and heard in this episode. Everyone wants her: random guy at party, her husband Henry, gas station attendant, her ex-husband Don. Betty is back in fighting form and relishing it. Betty's better half may actually be herself. She's always viewed herself as a pretty princess who needs a strong man to take care of her, and now that she is back to her original Betty-ness, she can have any of those men she wants. Normally, I find Betty Draper a distasteful bore who is also the worst mother in the history of mothers, but apart from her overt need to sleep with everyone, she was quite charming this episode. She knows who Don is now and manages to use it against him. Betty knows he won't resist the open door, the invite into her bedroom. But she also knows that in the morning, she is holding all the cards: he's alone and she is not. Quite the reversal of roles: she has become Don.

Which brings us back to Don and his better half. Does he have one? Is Don capable of having a better half? Don is such a confusing array of people (Dick, the real Don, husband, father, abused, abuser, ad man, and whatever else is inside his head) that he simply cannot find/make room for anyone else. Try as he may to find just what he's looking for, he'll always be Don from season one who had it all and still wanted more, which is the running theme of this episode: everything as it was.

Miscellaneous notes from The Better Half
 --Duck Philips makes a surprising return! And not to crap on Roger's chair!
--Peter Campbell as the man no one can see or hear, except Bob who keeps popping into scenes and who I am having a hard time warming up to. 
--The little sing-a-long in the restaurant was adorable.
--I'm going to reiterate my need for Peggy to be carrying a spear at all times.
--Roger and his grandson were very cute but I wish Joan would let Roger back into her life. They belong together.
--Mosquito's don't bother Betty. Of course not. She has ice in her veins instead of blood. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

In Which I Review Some Books

Confession: Back in December, before what was potentially my last Christmas break, I realized I missed reading. I was so caught up in academia and all the work that goes into being a full time Master's student, I had neglected fun reading, which was doubly sad as it has always been a hobby of mine. As an undergraduate, my friends and I used to drive to the local "dirt mall" (so named because of how tiny it was) and I would spend a good half hour in the bookstore, arms full of books I didn't have the money to buy but bought anyway. My friend Jenny used to think it was funny to add to my pile and then convince me that I should spend more money. Fantasy, sci-fi, historical fiction, fantastical historical fiction, romance, classic: you name it, I read it. So, upon realizing that my Christmas break was going to be full of still more research and thesis writing, I made a pact with myself that it would also include some novels. Five months later and I've read 30+ books. 

American Gods by Neil Gaiman.
Without a doubt, one of the best books I have ever read, there is a reason why Neil Gaiman is one of the heavyweights of fantasy. I was familiar with Gaiman in general, though sadly I had not read anything of his until this book; he is credited with writing what is probably the best episode of Doctor Who of all time (The Doctor's Wife). This book is complex and thoughtful with a large mythology but enough magic that suspends my need to have all my questions answered. Shadow, the main character, has just been released from prison after a few years and is trying to make his way in the world once more. Along the way he meets the mysterious Mr. Wednesday who wishes to hire Shadow as a bodyguard, more or less. Wednesday, a prolific con man, takes Shadow across country, introducing him to his incredibly colorful friends. Eventually the crux of the novel is revealed to Shadow, though the audience has already caught on. Mr. Wednesday and his friends are gods from the old world, transplanted to America by immigrants and travelers because--quite simply--they believed in them. People carry their gods wherever they go and thus gods from Viking mythology (Mr. Wednesday is a specific iteration of Odin), Egyptian myth (Mr. Ibis and Mr. Jaquel), Slavic myth (Czernobog), African folklore (Mr. Nancy), and even Native American traditions are scattered across the American landscape. But the old gods, as they call themselves, have a problem: they are dying in the face of the new gods of technology and media. America, we are told, is a bad place for gods. What ensues is a cosmic con and battle in which Shadow is part hero, part sacrifice. As a student of religion, the take on how the gods still survive in a land such as America was fascinating. How are mythologies and the figures of those myths transformed in new places? Can myths of the old world that so informed a people and a culture of long ago survive in land fueled by "new" and "innovative?"
Overall grade: A+ (Just read it!)

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
If you look at any list of the top YA fiction for 2012, you'll find this book. Chances are if you look at several lists for the best books of 2012, this book is on there. For a time, you couldn't turn the corner in a bookstore without running into TFiOS. I have to admit, I was already predisposed to like anything John Green wrote, even though I was rather late in the game with reading this book. When he's not writing compelling young adult fiction, John Green is one half of the YouTube channel, the Vlogbrothers with his brother Hank, who have been trying to decrease world suck since 2007. I've been a member of their community (the Nerdfighters) for sometime. Communicating with mainly teenagers and young adults a few times a week, it's no surprise that Green knows how to write a book that is both funny and heartbreaking and altogether real. TFiOS tells the story of two cancer patients, Hazel and Gus, who meet in a support group. Sounds depressing, I know, but this not a cancer book. A cancer book would have our two young heroes struggle through their disease, coming to accept it and learn the value of living life to the fullest before quietly making peace with their inevitable death. No so with Hazel and Gus who are sarcastic and quick witted and who hate everything about their cancer. Life is not a platitude and knowing pain does not increase your feelings of joy. Hazel recognizes that someday, after she dies, she'll be forgotten, just as everyone else will. Oblivion is there, accept it. But along the way, these two souls find one other and even though they know that their deaths will affect the other in horrible ways, the choice to love one another was a simple one. You will laugh and you will cry and this book will stay with you.
Overall Grade: A

Divergent by Veronica Roth

In the wake of wildly successful and popular Hunger Games, it seems that post-apocalyptic dystopia novels are everywhere, and mostly found in the Young Adult section of the bookstore. The Divergent series follows in that wake. Dystopian literature is a personal favorite, Brave New World being one of the high school books that I actively remember and one that stayed with me. However, I remember hesitating before finally picking up this book: how could it be better than the Hunger Games (which is simply phenomenal, even though I don't agree with the ending)? However, Roth takes a different approach than Collins with her heroine; where Katniss knows that her society is tragically flawed and wrong, Beatrice Prior (Tris) spends the first half of the novel in passive acceptance of the society in which she lives. Somewhere in the not too distant future in Chicago, humanity has divided itself into factions based on virtues: candor, erudite, amity, dauntless, and abnegation. At the age of sixteen, a young adult chooses to either stay in the faction of their birth or leave for the one they feel fits them. Factions rarely interact with one another, so choosing to leave the faction of your birth possibly means never seeing your family again. Tris, born to Abnegation, is torn when the test taken at school reveals that she could potentially belong to several factions. This "affliction" is known as Divergence and is feared and prosecuted. Tris is told to keep it to herself for fear that she'll be harmed. What follows is a coming of age story as Tris struggles to accept her differences, her new faction, but also as she uncovers a plot that seeks to rip the society apart. Naturally there is a romance, though thankfully we are spared the typical love triangle that so often accompanies young adult literature these days. The concept itself is interesting though I found myself often wondering how someone could possibly be just ONE of those virtues and I have a sneaking suspicion that might be Roth's point, what drives her novel. Trying to separate out those virtues is next to impossible not only because of how hard they are to define but also because, for example, being brave can also mean being selfless or honest or smart. It's amazing more characters aren't Divergent. This is the first of three books, the third due out this year. The second book picks up where the first leaves off and then turns everything upside down so that the wait for the final book is close to excruciating. The middle section where Tris is learning how to be a member of her new faction drags on a bit and the secret plan she uncovers is a bit confusing, but it is well worth the read.
Overall Grade: B+

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
An unbelievably strange book that combines myth, fantasy, time travel, pocket universes, and vernacular photography, this is a very interesting debut from Riggs. After the death of his grandfather, Jacob Portman is convinced that something terrible happened to the old man. His grandfather's stories of monsters and special children on a magical island seem the ravings of a senile mind until Jacob begins investigating. On a small isolated part of Wales, Jacob discovers a place pocketed away from time, where children who are "peculiar" live in a time bubble during World War Two. Some children can float, some can control fire, some have bees covering their face, and one child is even invisible. There are creepy monsters and an entertaining plot, but what really makes this book worth the read are the black and white photos sprinkled throughout. At first, I thought I would find them annoying but it's amazing how well they work with the narrative, fitting into the story at just the right moments. It was obvious that Riggs spent countless hours hunting down these photos to use, pouring through garage sales and personal collections. The photos are strange (like the cover photo of a girl floating) and are obviously "faked" but that is washed away in the explanation of who the children in the photos are. A very delightful read, I look forward to the sequel.
Overall Grade: B+

The Beautiful Creatures Collection by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

 Vampires, werewolves, succubi, inccubi, magic, witches, prophecy, and Southern manners surround this series of four supernatural novels. Typical gender roles are reversed in this series; instead of the guy being the supernatural creature with whom the young girl falls madly and inconsolably in love, Ethan Wate is a normal guy living in the deep south, in a tiny town where nothing exciting ever happens and all he can do is hope to escape. That is until Lena Duchannes comes to the town of Gatlin. Lena, it turns out, is a Caster (witch) and a super powerful one at that. On her 16th birthday she will be claimed (against her will) for either the Light or the Darkness. If she goes Dark, chances are she will not remember her love for Ethan. On top of the world's worst birthday present, Lena's mother is out to make sure her daughter goes Dark. The series is supernatural mythology run amok. Every conceivable supernatural trope you can think of is present and at times not well put together. It felt, occasionally, like the authors simply inserted crucial new information at just the right moment for our heroes, but information which had never been even so much as hinted at in earlier pages. The first book--Beautiful Creatures-- is interesting and gets the series off to a good start. However the middle two--Chaos and Darkness--suffer heavily from "middle book syndrome," especially the former which I had to force myself to "just get through." The final book brings back some of the things I liked about the first book. Supernatural books are in high demand right now and there are stronger series out there, but setting the series in the deep south and then making the ideals and customs of that local like another character in the book does make this series stand out. Lazy summer day or beach read at best.
Overall Grade (as a whole): C

This is just a small sampling of some of the books I've read. I think I'll try to review most of them sporadically as I continue blogging. In the meantime, just go out and buy American Gods already! 

In Which I Review Star Trek Into Darkness

Confession: When I was eight, my dad introduced me to Star Trek. It was our bi-monthly weekend together and he asked if I wanted to watch his favorite TV show with him. I wasn't sure what to expect but ten minutes into The Devil in the Dark I was hooked. It was weird and kooky and strangely compelling. As an eight year old I doubt I was able to grasp the deeper meanings and philosophical discourse Roddenberry was trying make, but the monster and storyline were cool--which is really all an eight year old needs. We spent the rest of the weekend held up in the basement, several large pizzas at our disposal, watching the original series. That was my first introduction into the world of science fiction. 

Unless you've been living under a rock the past few months, there was no escaping the news that a new Star Trek movie was hitting theaters early summer 2013. This newest installment in the now 45+ year old franchise is entitled Star Trek Into Darkness staring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Benedict Cumberbatch. In the months leading up to its release, the big question remained: who was the villain? Given that this movie follows the 2009 Abrams movie Star Trek, in which we meet the main cast--the original crew of the Enterprise with shiny new toys-- many of the fans expected the sequel to follow the original iterations of the franchise, meaning that the villain for this movie would be Khan Noonien Singh--a genetically enhanced ubermensch who attempted to kill Kirk and his friends and steal the Enterprise.

I can't be the only one who didn't want Cumberbatch to play Khan. It's not that Cumberbatch wouldn't do a standup job; his talents as an actor are many--from creepy pedophile in Atonement to the high functioning sociopath detective Sherlock Holmes in the BBC's brilliant modern adaption Sherlock--Cumberbatch steals every scene he's in. His deep tenor voice, piercing stare, and ability to deliver lines in a cold, calculated manner made him the ideal candidate to play Khan. But when the 2009 movie came out and Orci and Kurtzman's excellent script set down a new timeline, one full of new possibility to again go where no man had gone before, I fully expected they would live up that potential. Instead of rehashing old stories that, let's face it, are never going to compare to the original simply because the originals came first and are thus indelibly imprinted on the hearts of fans, they had a whole new world to play with. This movie strikes a blow to all that creativity.

For the first third of the movie it looked like all the rumors that Cumberbatch was playing Khan were unjustified. His character, John Harrison, was simply a rogue Starfleet officer who blew up buildings and stole things but also saved dying little girls. Fleshing out this original character would have been far more interesting than the (predictable) revelation that John Harrison was a pseudonym and this cold and calculating individual who could remain standing after Kirk's attempt to beat him to a pulp... was Khan.

The second two thirds of the movie attempted to put Space Seed and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan into a blender and produce a smooth mixture of the two. It didn't work. None of the ideas present in the original TV episode or movie were developed fully. The TV episode is about the dangers of genetic enhancement, about trying to become god-men and how human beings need their flaws rather than to become Supermen. The movie demonstrates the importance of sacrifice (more on that below), ideas of power and technology, creation and destruction, and the simple yet powerful notion that simply being cleverer, thinking outside the box and in more than one dimension are enough to conquer foes. In the end of the original movie, Kirk defeats Khan by, yes firing at his stolen spaceship, but more importantly, by out thinking him. In the 2013 version, Spock defeats Khan by beating him senseless, breaking his arms, while Uhura repeatedly fires a phaser at him.

When did science fiction become all about explosions, gun fights, space fights, and violence? To be sure, in Space Opera, a good fight scene has always been a part of the genre. But did they always last for 10 minutes? Where are the quiet moments of philosophical reflection? One of the best parts of the classic Star Trek are the moments between Kirk, Spock and Bones in which they discuss what is morally right versus what is legally right and how best to serve multiple masters. Spock's logic and Bones's compassion--while at times antithetical--serve as guide posts for Kirk in his quest to be the best captain possible. These new Stark Trek films (the first one I loved) focus more on the relationship between Spock and Kirk and leave Bones as the awkward third wheel, who's only job is to provide snarky comments. His character has been so reduced, I struggled to see the original Bones. And while the writers can claim "new timeline, new character traits" they are clearly not following their own sage advice as this movie was simply a remake of a previous character. Cherry picking pieces of canon and not other is a bad move to make.

In an attempt to make a not-so-thinly veiled reference to the original Khan movie, one of the climaxes of the movie finds Spock and Kirk on opposite sides of a glass door, radiation contaminating one side. If this sounds familiar, it's because it is. It is one of the most poignant, heart wrenching, shocking scenes in Star Trek--the full scene can be viewed here. By this point in Wrath of Khan, the relationship between Spock and Kirk is 15 years strong and an important element in popular culture. As a young girl, seeing Wrath of Khan for the first time, I was floored. I did not understand how they could kill Spock. Watching that beloved character die was traumatic. Not so in this new iteration. Instead of Spock dying, the movie writers switched our principle's, letting Kirk do the dying. It failed on multiple levels. While Pine and Quinto do William Shatner and Leonerd Nemoy credit, they've only been playing these iconic characters for 4 hours on screen--2 of which were spent loathing each other. The relationship between these two is not strong enough yet to warrant such a death scene. But perhaps the most irritating thing about this scene is not the bastardization of the classic, but how Kirk is revived (you didn't think they'd really kill him did you)? In the original, Spock's rebirth is carefully thought out--science and technology going hand in hand to give life where there was lifelessness. This new movie uses one of the worst plot devices known to modern man: the Deus Ex Machina.

In Ancient Greece and Rome, the Deus Ex Machina was perfectly acceptable. Lowering a god down to solve all the problems of the common man played into the overall outlook of life. However, I am deeply disappointed in how Kirk's death was resolved: magic blood provided by Khan himself (taken forcefully of course). It's poor writing. Does this mean death is forever cured? That Starfleet can now bring back anyone from the dead? Did they use it to revive all the souls killed when the ship crashed into San Fransisco? This is the problem with the Dues Ex Machina; it raises more questions than it solves.

The magic blood and death scene were my two biggest complaints overall. But controversy surrounding one scene should also be brought up. At one point Carol Marcus, played by Alicia Eve, is changing into new gear, preparing to go outside the space craft. As she is changing, she repeatedly tells Captain Kirk not to look--an order he fails to obey, ogling Carol, scantly clad in her black underwear. In the original series, Kirk is a bit of a ladies man. It's annoying, but it's 60s science fiction. Things have progressed since then--you may have heard of something called the feminist movement? What I found disquieting about the scene in question is not Carol in her underwear, it's Kirk's looking at her when she has told him not to. In that moment when he turns around and stares at her, Kirk has removed Carol's own agency to have control over her body and who gets to look at her. He has reduced her to an object that he gets to find pleasure in--whether she wishes it or not. It's a dangerous precedent, especially in a culture where rape and objectification have yet to--quite simply--go away.

Other complaints about Star Trek Into Darkness (briefly)
--The Nibiru expedition at the beginning of the movie would have been a better plot for this movie. THAT scene felt like a classic episode of Star Trek in which our crew finds new civilizations and explores them (it's almost as if that's the entire point of Star Trek in the first place....*sarcasm*)
--The Enterprise underwater. Because it's okay to ignore science in science-fiction now, apparently.
--Klingon's for no apparent reason, other than say "Hey! Look! We gave you Klingons!" (in battle helmets!)
--Time jumps. Did Starfleet do anything about the plot Admiral Marcus concocted that would bring about war with the Klingons? We'll never know because the film suddenly jumps a year.
--"Where no ONE has gone before" *sigh* Writers, I'm sorry but until you get Next Gen it's "where no MAN" has gone before. Ok? Leave the saying alone.

Things I liked about Star Trek Into Darkness (briefly)
--It is funny. While Bones may be tragically underused, he does get some of the best lines.
--As simply a movie, it's decent. It's fast paced with great acting and fantastic visuals.
--Simon Pegg as Scotty. In the 2009 film he was given very little to do. This time around they used Pegg brilliantly. 
--Cumberbatch, Cumberbatch, Cumberbatch, Cumberbatch. Even though I wish they had made him an original villain, Benedict Cumberbatch shines in this film.

Overall Grade: C (see it because it is Star Trek after all but then go home and watch Space Seed and Wrath of Khan on Netflix)

In Which We Meet the Principle Player

Coffee in hand, I sit at the well worn desk staring at my as yet to typed screen and ponder...blogging. How does one do? 

This is an experiment.

I've been toying with the idea of starting a blog for sometime now. It's entirely possible this experiment is doomed to fail or--perhaps more horrifically--that what I perceive to be pithy, sarcastic, well thought out axioms and experiences will fall flat before the eyes of any (potential) readers.

Why am I starting a blog?

I like words. I like putting words on (digital) paper, twisting them, turning them, sticking them next to other words and seeing if they spark yet more words. I blame four years as a humanities undergraduate and two years as a humanities graduate student. All we do is words.

Other possible reasons for starting said blog:
--Updating friends and family on current situations in life.
--To keep my writing fresh and nuanced. Practice makes perfect, in other words.
--To stave off boredom that comes from trying to figure out your life at the age of 26 when life suddenly threw you one too many curve balls.
--To have a place to write about ideas, TV, movies, books, my bunny. (Yes you read that last one correctly).

Is there a structure to blogging?

A professor of mine--who, incidentally, made my class keep a blog as part of our course work--would tell me that there is a structure and a method and that, most likely, I am currently failing at that.  At any rate, maybe I should take a few steps back and do the biographical shtick.

Name: Jacquelyn
Occupation: Somewhere between student and wannabe professional
Sign: Taurus (I'm stubborn. Also Year of the Rabbit which I suppose means I'm lucky)
Age: 26
Location: the great Midwest of America (AKA: one of those states politicians only care about every four years right around November)
Education: Bachelors in History and Religion; Masters in Comparative Religion (which seemed like a good idea at the time).
Useless Skills: Can read Latin and Greek! (which is not at all helpful)
Claim to Fame: Bunny Owner. Listener of loud punk rock music. Sci-fi and fantasy nerd. Spender of way too much time on the Internet. Whovian. Oncer.

What will I blog about?
Job searching

How does one sign off from a blog?

TTFN? Peace out? Until next time? DFTBA (Don't Forget To Be Awesome)? Goodbye?

I'll work on that.