Read, Listen, Watch

Staff Picks and Suggestions

Escape Pod

Any science fiction fans out there? If so, there’s a good chance you already know about Escape Pod. But in case you don’t, here’s all you need to know. Escape Pod is a weekly science fiction literary podcast. Every episode contains one SF short story as well as commentary by editor Steve Eley. Escape Pod stories run the gamut from life on other planets to superheroes to the dangers and wonders of technology. Most episodes are under an hour and are great to listen to on your daily commute, hanging out at home or while doing an otherwise mundane task. I just started listening to Escape Pod a few months ago but they have episodes on their website (escapepod.org) going back to the launch of the podcast in 2005. Here are some of my favorite episodes to date: The Color of a Brontosaurus – Archeologist tries to travel back in time. Immortal Sin – Man attempts to live forever to avoid paying for his sins. Results – The danger of knowing too much. Impossible Dreams – A must-listen for any movie lover. So if you’re not a fan of Escape Pod yet, I highly recommend checking it out. And if you prefer horror or fantasy fiction, try Escape Pod‘s sister podcasts Pseudo Pod and Pod Castle. And in the words of Steve Eley, Have fun.

Gossip Girl, Take 2

So I changed my tune, after my last Gossip Girl post.  I watched another episode with my roommate, and then became a little obsessed with it, catching up on the entire season’s worth of episodes.  I also found that it’s been pretty widely (and constantly) written about, even meriting coverage by the British press. In the beginning of The Portrait of a Lady, Henry James describes Isabel Archer, writing, “She had seen very little of the evil of the world, but she had seen women who lied and who tried to hurt each other.”  In the class I was taking at the time, our professor pointed to that line, and said that Isabel would be encountering far greater evil, evil that would seem incomprehensible to her then, as the novel progressed.  And while I could see his point, I also thought that “women who lied and tried to hurt each other,” was no small sin.  It’s also a type of evil most people encounter, and while the antics on Gossip Girl are more than a little melodramatic, I’ve also come to find them quite compelling.  The show’s depiction of friendship-the ways in which friends can love each other very deeply, without there being a rational reason behind it-is, I think, its strongest virtue. I also started reading (and enjoying) these very loving recaps-the writer draws parallels to Joseph Campbell, among others, and it’s made me feel better about my new fixation.   Tonight’s the finale: 8 pm on the CW, so tune in! 🙂

Middlemarch by George Eliot

My sophomore year of college I was assigned Middlemarch by George Eliot as part of my Major British Authors class. Though I didn’t do this too often, for Middlemarch, I used my dad’s method of reading the beginning, middle and end, and close-reading (he could always memorize, but my brain is not as good at that) several other sections. (The professor also decided to assign this ‘big book’ over spring break, a popular move, to give students an extra week to finish it-but it’s still hard to get into when you’re vacationing on the beach!) So 4 years later, I added it to my TBR 2008 Challenge list. And this time around, I managed to read it cover to cover. Middlemarch is the provincial English town setting, and Eliot’s sprawling novel interweaves the stories of many of its denizens. Middlemarch‘s main characters include the aristocratic Brookes (particularly the religious and idealistic Dorothea), Rev. Casaubon, his young cousin Will Laidslaw, and the bourgeois Middlemarch burghers: the Featherstones, the Garths, the Farebrothers, the Bulstrodes, the Vincys (especially young siblings Fred and Rosamond), and Dr. Tertius Lydgate. Like many stories (or soap operas) with large casts-I certainly had my favorite characters in Middlemarch whose stories I was eager to get back to (and those whom I could have happily forgone). Many of the middle class villagers seemed uninteresting or extraneous to me. The descriptions of Dorothea Brooke and Rev. Casaubon’s relationship also reminded me (frighteningly) of Isabel Archer and Gilbert Osmond in one of my favorite novels, Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady . I could see the image of “the candle and the snuffer” equally applying to Dorothea and Casaubon. I found the story lines centering on Dorothea Brooke to be the most compelling. Similar to her other novels, I found Eliot’s narrator to be too moralizing and intrusive. However, akin to Son of a Witch, I was really thrilled by the novel’s climax. The climactic scene of Middlemarch deals with a confrontation between Dorothea and Rosamond that transforms into an open and compassionate dialogue. This scene to me was so powerful because it felt like the first time in the novel where the characters were speaking honestly with each other. Writing about this depiction of the interminable force of honesty in the face of gossip, appearances and reputation reminded me of Gossip Girl, suggesting parallels between the two universes. (And there will be more to come on Gossip Girl). Other Middlemarch readers, weigh in!

Gossip Girl

Last night, for the first time, I watched the show Gossip Girl.  My roommate is a fan, and so I finally watched it with her.  Despite having a quite a few friends who are fans, I’ve held off watching, even as the hype has grown.  I remember reading about the (book) series several years ago and thinking it sounded horribleA series about debauched materialistic teenagers, without any moral characters-and it was a big hit? Yikes.  And so I internally groaned, when I read that it was being turned into a TV series.    I think that plays, TV shows, films, etc., as they include human actors, humanize certain plot lines-these events “really” happen to an actual person.  I think this is why filmed or visually represented violence can be so much more disturbing (and lasting in memory) compared to something you read about.  I thought that Gossip Girl was alright, but I don’t plan on becoming a regular viewer. My favorite character is ‘evil’ Chuck Bass, in part because of his clothes-extremely tight yellow jeans, a purple cardigan, with a teal and pink ascot; a bright red frock coat; an orange trench coat; in part because he seems so over the top, and because he’s played by a Brit! Have any of you read the books or watched the TV show?  What do you think?

Perfume: Story of A Murderer

In Emily’s vein of movies that are underrated: Perfume: Story of A Murderer, by Tom Tykwer, the director of Run Lola Run. The movie is about a throwaway-child-turned-perfumer who possesses a uniquely acute sense of smell. He becomes obsessed with smell and with the art of capturing scent. When he catches a whiff of the most ‘sublime beauty’ he can imagine and discovers it is the scent of a beautiful girl, he goes on a murder spree to create the greatest perfume the world will ever know, from – dun dun dun – essence of human! Okay, so it sounds really dumb, but it actually has some really interesting ideas. I would not call it just some murder mystery story or slasher or horror or anything like that. For one thing, Grenouille (the murderer) has no scent of his own – and this is from a man whose entire worldview is dominated by scent. Good grief, talk about existential crisis! Also, it’s just incredibly visually beautiful – fetishism is a largeish theme and the heightened color or focus on individual objects of the women (hair, lips, eyes) really mirrors that. It’s also very visceral – there are these just insane montages and sequences that function as allegories for scent (another interesting thing – scent as the main theme in cinema, a fundamentally scentless medium) that just make your stomach turn over, either with disgust or delight. That said, I’ve met few people who actually liked it and although I personally love it desperately, I can see why it can be annoying and unsettling. First of all, it is uncomfortably flip-floppy in the realm of realism. It’s shot in a way we are used to recognizing as being realistic. Then, throughout the movie, it sneakily throws in unrealistic or odd little seemingly-purely-symbolic little events and occurrences – not enough to make you shift your perception of the realism but enough to make you say ‘Wait, what..?’ Then you forget about them and the movie behaves for a while, until – BAM – the ending, which is basically out of unrealistic-creepo-metaphor-land. And before you have time to really come to terms with this betrayal of you by the movie, it’s over, and you had no closure, to time to grieve the loss of reason, no time to figure out what the heck was going on! But once you suspend that disbelief for a bit, there really is a lot there. I ended up buying the movie and the soundtrack, too.  Anyway, here’s the preview: http://youtube.com/watch?v=yAhMRHh9ZYg&feature=related