Thursday, May 28, 2009

No Regrets

I've just finished watching the entire series. I don't know what to say - the words I know can seem so mundane, sometimes - I'd need more vocabulary to describe it. Life-changing doesn't even begin to cover it. I love these people. I am grateful I saw it, I am grateful for what it brought me and for the way it pierced my heart. For the way it will always be a part of me. Grateful I got a glimpse of their lives without seeing them die. To me, they're immortal. This is one of those times in life when something is exactly the way it should be and I feel almost sad knowing nothing will probably be as perfect ever again. One of those times when something, someone, makes you feel alive.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Books, books, books

Some of my newest purchases have already reached me:

The first thing I did when I received my copy of Stella Gibbons' Nightingale Wood was check who the illustrator for the cover was. It's Sarah Gibb, and you can find her beautiful website here.

Which means my To Be Read Pile looks like this:

From top to bottom:
1. March - Geraldine Brooks
2. The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets - Eva Rice
3. Assassin's Apprentice - Robin Hobb
4. February House - Sheryl Tippins
5. Debs at War - Anne de Courcy
6. 84, Charing Cross Road - Helene Hanff
7. Love's Labour's Lost - William Shakespeare
8. Nightingale Wood - Stella Gibbons
9. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay - Michael Chabon

There are some more books on their way, including As You Like It, with this beautiful cover:

And I finally gave in and ordered Melissa Anelli's book- Harry, a History. I've been the hugest Potter fan for eleven years now and I felt that reading this book would mean that it is really over, which is why I had never ordered it before. But I'm slowly coming to terms with being a 24/7 Potter fan no matter what I have to face (including realisation of the end) so there you go. Huge step for me. I feel like rereading the whole series first, which I'll probably do this summer.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

All You Need to Start an Asylum is an Empty Room and the Right Kind of People


I'm having a really good time these days. Let's start with cinema. Some absolute gems are to be found in the most classic of screwball comedies, and I'll tell you why.
My Man Godfrey (1936) stars the wonderful William Powell who requested to be teamed with Carole Lombard. The line I used for the title of this post sums it up quite accurately, actually. Everybody in this movie is utterly nutty. Powell plays Godfrey, a buttler hired by a rich family who would fill a whole asylum all by itself. I don't even know where to start. Every line, every shot is ridiculously hilarious and the contrast between Godfrey's sanity and the family's antics is priceless. Surprisingly enough, it is also quite a good commentary on the Great Depression: Godfrey is picked up on the street and is more sane than the rich family he meets. It seems that My Man Godfrey is simply a collage of the best screwball scenes ever. I absolutely loved it.

I talked about how much I adored The Awful Truth (1937) starring Cary Grant and the wonderfully versatile Irene Dunne. Recently, I've been wanting to check out more of Cary Grant's comedies and I started with His Girl Friday (1940), starring Grant and Rosalind Russell, who's absolutely perfect for the part. Now that's the textbook definiton of snappy dialog. I have never in my life heard people talk this fast. Now I know where Amy Sherman-Palladino, who created my favourite show Gilmore Girls, got her idea! If you think Lauren Graham speaks fast, fasten your seatbelts for His Girl Friday! In a way, it's the perfect counterpart to The Awful Truth, which uses a lot of physical comedy. His Girl Friday is the essence of verbal comedy. The plot is pretty simple, but the dialog and the great scenes make it all worth it: Grant plays Walter Burns who tries to win back his ex-wife, Hildy (played by Russell). They are both journalists. I think this movie is marvellous for numerous reasons: the fact that no matter how many times you see it, you still pick up some jokes you probably didn't understand before, the fact that it has a welcome dose of feminism (Hildy is the best journalist the paper has and is perfectly at her ease working with men). There's something incredibly entertaining in watching verbal wars and witty comebacks mastered by excellent actors. It's so close to theatre, in a way. Truth spoken out loud can be just plain rude and His Girl Friday is full of that, it's a delight from beginning to end. Watching My Man Godfrey and His Girl Friday - I'm sure that's what heaven looks like. Some lines to lure you in:

Walter Burns: Sorta wish you hadn't done that, Hildy.
Hildy Johnson: Done what?
Walter Burns: Divorced me. Makes a fella lose all faith in himself. Gives him a... almost gives him a feeling he wasn't wanted.
Hildy Johnson: Oh, now look, junior... that's what divorces are FOR!

And some more:

Hildy Johnson: I wouldn't cover the burning of Rome for you if they were just lighting it up!

I want to say a few words about The Monk, written by Matthew Lewis and published in 1796. It's such a transgressive book. Ambrosio, a monk, is seduced by a beautiful woman named Matilda who plots his downfall. Little by little, Ambrosio is more and more attracted to Antonia, a beautiful virgin he meets. It's a horror novel: Ambrosio rapes Antonia on the ashes of a convent, then kills her because he feels too guilty. He is then caught by the Inquisition, sells his soul to the devil (through Matilda) to be saved but the devil has more suffering planned for him: he tells Ambrosio Antonia was his sister and Matilda was sent by the devil to lure Ambrosio into a world of decadence.
Does it get any more subversive than that? It's a fascinating book on many levels, so rich and interesting. I don't think anyone could be bored reading this. Ambrosio's torments and dilemna fill the most part of the book and some passages are really racy. It's a book of sexual and religious inversion, really. Funny how religion and sex are very much linked in this novel. But I think it goes further than a plain opposition between virtue and sin. It makes some interesting points about women (after the rape, Antonia's thoughts are never described, she's an object and the point of view focuses on Ambrosio, that shocked me, which I guess was the point), about conventions and obsession. Thumping good read that reminded me of Sade, in a way (have only read excerpts). Lewis was only 19 when he wrote the novel.

If I live, your truth, your reputation, your reward of a life past in sufferings, all that you value, is irretrievably lost. I shall no longer be able to combat my passions, shall seize every opportunity to excite your desires, and labour to effect your dishonour and my own. No, no, Ambrosio, I must not live; I am convinced with every moment that I have but one alternative; I feel with every heart-throb, that I must enjoy you or die.

Sidney Bechet is the best. I'm in love with quite a few American composers, but I think Bechet ultimately wins my heart. He does things absolutely nobody I've heard does. He's so playful. Listening to his music, you really get a feel of what New Orleans must have been like. His delivery is so energetic, each of his songs makes me want to dance and dance some more. Reminds me of these lyrics to a song by Martha & the Vandellas:

Are you ready for a brand new beat?
Summer's here and the time is right
For dancin' in the streets
They're dancin' in Chicago
Down in New Orleans
Up in New York City

All we need is music, sweet music
There'll be music everywhere
There'll be swingin', swayin' and records playin'
And dancin' in the streets

Have fun listening to Bechet's music, 'cause summer's here and the time is right!


Monday, May 18, 2009

Latest Purchases!

Today's post is brought to you by Oscar Wilde:

The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.


Nightingale Wood - Stella Gibbons

Isn't the cover simply gorgeous? Cold Comfort Farm is a very underrated book written by a comic genius and I cannot wait to receive Nightingale Wood as it has just been reprinted by the lovely Virago Press. Along with Cold Comfort Farm, it's the only book by Gibbons still in print. I don't understand how such a great author can remain out-of-print. Have a look at the summary:
Life is not quite a fairytale for poor Viola. Left penniless, the young widow is forced to live with her late husband's family in a joyless old house. There's Mr Wither, a tyrannical old miser, Mrs Wither, who thinks Viola is just a common shop girl, and two unlovely sisters-in-law, one of whom is in love with the chauffeur. Only the prospect of the charity ball can raise Viola's spirits - especially as Victor Spring, the local prince charming, will be there. But Victor's intentions towards our Cinderella are, in short, not quite honourable ...

84 Charing Cross Road - Helene Hanff

A shame I still haven't read this book. I can't wait to put my hands on it. Epistolary exchange between a book-lover and a bookseller.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay - Michael Chabon

I'm slowly becoming more and more interested in comic books. I think the movie adaptation of Watchmen may have had more of an impact on me than I realised at the time (still waiting for some money to buy the comic book). The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is not a comic book. It's a novel that won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2001. But it's very inspired by comic books. I have great expectations so I hope it won't disappoint. I think this part of an Amazon review is quite beautiful. In any case, it's the part that made me want to purchase it immediately:
Suffice to say, Michael Chabon writes novels like the Escapist busts locks. Previous books such as The Mysteries of Pittsburgh and Wonder Boys have prose of equal shimmer and wit, and yet here he seems to have finally found a canvas big enough for his gifts. The whole enterprise seems animated by love: for his alternately deluded, damaged and painfully sincere characters; for the quirks and curious innocence of tough-talking wartime New York; and, above all, for comics themselves, "the inspirations and lucubrations of five hundred ageing boys dreaming as hard as they could". Far from negating such pleasures, the Holocaust's presence in the novel only makes them more pressing. Art, if not capable of actually fighting evil, can at least offer a gesture of defiance and hope--a way out of a world gone completely mad.

Decline and Fall, Vile Bodies & Put Out More Flags - Evelyn Waugh
I didn't understand Brideshead Revisited. Looking back, it resembles Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty but while I can understand Nick's attraction to a world of privilege and leisure (which is only one of the reasons why this book is so important to me, frankly it's a masterpiece and I don't know what else to say to make you read it!), I couldn't understand Charles' attraction to Catholicism or religion in general. At all. Which made the book boring and pointless. I'm willing to give Waugh another chance and because I'm a great believer in the power of laughter, I think I may appreciate these satires more than what he tried to do in Brideshead.

Much Ado About Nothing & Love's Labour's Lost - William Shakespeare

I adore Shakespeare. No matter what he wrote, you can be sure it's still relevant today. I enjoy his comedies and tragedies very much but I'll also get to his histories eventually (I liked Richard III). I try to buy and read at least three plays per year. I only buy them in the Arden edition to have a neat collection that's as complete as they come, and since the third edition is currently being published, I've decided I only want to buy my plays in this third edition. I'll have to wait for some since some are only available in the second edition, which I find a bit dated in terms of literary commentary. So here are Much Ado About Nothing (I saw the movie adaptation starring the wonderful Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh) and Love's Labour's Lost. I'm waiting for As You Like It to be in stock again to buy it.

Oscar Wilde and P.G. Wodehouse will be next.


Can I get a high-five? This was only a matter of time. I'm so happy I finally gave in! I'll talk to you soon about another movie starring William Powell (sadly, without Myrna) that I saw recently. It made me realise just how fabulous this actor is. I adore these two to pieces and talked about their movies extensively on this journal.

The Forbidden Hollywood boxsets will be next.


The Andrews Sisters may just be my favourite band! No complete collection has been released but by comparing the different tracks present in the different compilations, I managed to make a list of 4 records to buy with no overlapping. The first two I already own: The Golden Age of the Andrews Sisters (in fact, a boxset of 4 CDs) and Now is the Time, both released by the ever-so-lovely label Jasmine. The other two are Melody Time with the Andrews Sisters and Music Lessons with the Andrews Sisters which I plan on buying shortly. I hesitated a long while before clicking to buy this record because I have so many CDs to buy. But I like to buy methodically so I'll just complete my collection of Andrews Sisters tunes before starting another collection.

Billie Holiday is next.

I turned 21 a few days ago, so I don't feel too guilty about these purchases. I think nobody can feel guilty for long while listening to the Beach Boys, anyway. "The Beach Boys attitude" to me means lots of ice cream and vanilla milkshakes, funny sunglasses and a good read. Enjoy these Sounds of Summer!


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Beware of Swoons, Dear Laura: Run Mad as Often as You Chuse; But Do Not Faint


This journal is about fun. It's about things that make me happy. Hard to blog when next to nothing makes you happy. I'm catching up on life, though, and trying to find happiness in the little things. It all comes down to the little things. And then small becomes big, and because I'm so passionate about my loves, it doesn't take much to put a smile on my face. A funny and engrossing book, a touching show, essential music. So here they are.

Before I forget, Claire has given In Training for a Heroine two awards. Thank you so much, Claire!

"The blogger who receives this award believes in the Tao of the zombie chicken - excellence, grace and persistence in all situations, even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. These amazing bloggers regularly produce content so remarkable that their readers would brave a raving pack of zombie chickens just to be able to read their inspiring words. As a recipient of this world-renowned award, you now have the task of passing it on to at least 5 other worthy bloggers. Do not risk the wrath of the zombie chickens by choosing unwisely or not choosing at all…”

I think I'm going to risk their wrath because I can't think of 5 blogs to give it to. Very original award, though!

The Mysteries of Udolpho was surprisingly engrossing. Having spent nine months analysing every single instance of humour in Northanger Abbey and Persuasion (for my masters dissertation), I thought the book was only a big cliché, something silly you read on the bus. Radcliffe wrote a powerful book which, in many ways, denounces the very genre to which it belongs. Emily St. Aubert, the heroine of the book, faints and has adventures in a castle. There's a villain, there's a proper suitor and a happy ending. Yet, even in the wildest moments, some sentences are food for thought:
She blamed herself for suffering her romantic imagination to carry her so far beyond the bounds of probability, and determined to endeavour to check its rapid flights, lest they should sometimes extend into madness.
Sounds awfully like something Austen would have written. The abundant depictions one can find in Udolpho are overly sentimental and picturesque, and the ending is a joke, very didactic and anticlimatic. Still, I found the book to be much more serious (Radcliffe's description of certain characters' personality is intriguing) and exciting than I thought it would be. I couldn't wait to know what sort of adventure would come next. I think I will read The Monk by Matthew Lewis very soon, it was published in 1796, two years after Udolpho and 32 years after the publication of the first Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole.

I've been watching several TV shows that are new to me. I have already talked about it here, but I've discovered Buffy, the Vampire Slayer this year. I've watched the first four seasons - the first one I struggled to finish but the next three are very impressive. I'm surprised to find the show has such a scope. It really deals with tons of things at the same time and the main character is a true heroine, I adore her. I've also been watching the spin-off, Angel. I didn't expect it to be so good, mainly because I thought it was going to be redundant. I couldn't have been further from the truth! The show is very different from Buffy - it's way darker and tackles even more issues. Again, the characters are extremely well-written- Angel, whose journey to redemption is quite fascinating to watch, and Cordelia who has evolved so much since Buffy. I'm very happy to be finally watching these shows after having avoided them all those years. I can now understand why Joss Whedon is so admired for his work. It's truly original.
I don't want to talk about Deadwood just yet, for some reason - I think it deserves its own post. The first season is magnificent. It goes places I never thought a TV show would explore and it's got you rooting for characters who are completely mad and live in what can be called an asylum. Great dialogs, too, some of the best.
I'm also addicted to Queer as Folk. I've only watched 8 episodes so far but I need my daily episode (at least) or my day isn't complete. What a fantastic show! Can't believe I'm such a latecomer to everything! The characters are so endearing, funny, touching. I want to step in and live with them. You all probably know the premise: the show focuses on a group of gay friends living in the 21st century (how heterocentric - has anyone ever described Friends as a show depicting the life of a group of heterosexual friends?). At first, I thought the direction was amateur, it felt like a soap. Once again, I was completely wrong. I read it was "basically porn" and have to differ: it's honest and has some of the best explicit sex scenes on TV but it's not porn in that you don't actually see anything. It's just very erotic. People seriously overestimate the network if they think Showtime would actually broadcast gay porn in primetime. Some of the best characters ever created, and it hurts to know they must have real-life counterparts, it hurts because I want to know these people - the characters are so real. One of them is an incredible role model - Debbie is the president of her local PFLAG chapter (her son Michael is gay), I have never seen such a wonderful character portrayed on TV. All she wants is everybody's happiness, she's incredibly welcoming and loving. I adore her with all my heart and you should watch the show for her alone. And for Brian Kinney, one of the sexiest characters ever, and Brian/Justin, who break my heart everyday. And Brian/Michael who are just painful to watch together. And for the direction. And for the sex. And for the love. And for the music. And for the smiles (did I mention how funny this show is?). And for the tears. I ♥ Queer as Folk.

Some music to finish! Music is life. How about some swing with Louis Jordan? If his playful (and saucy, see the following lyrics!) music doesn't make you want to dance and smile, I don't know what will. Have a glorious and fun week!

Every honey bee fills with jealousy
When they see you out with me
I don't blame them
Goodness knows
Honeysuckle rose

When you're passin' by,
Flowers droop and sigh
I know the reason why
You're much sweeter
Goodness knows
Honeysuckle rose

Well, don't buy sugar
You just have to touch my cup
You're my sugar
And it's oh so sweet when you stir it up

When I'm takin' sips
From your tasty lips
Seems the honey fairly drips
You're confection
Goodness knows
Honeysuckle rose

Well, don't buy sugar
You just have to touch my cup
You're my sugar
And it's oh so sweet when you stir it up

When I'm takin' sips
From your tasty lips
Seems the honey fairly drips
You're confection
Goodness knows
Honeysuckle rose