I did it! I finished Wuthering Heights.

I think it's maybe only the 4th novel I've actually gotten through in the last 6 years or so.  Twilight series and other fantasy/sci-fi novels do not count.  Yes, I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to reading, even though I've been a fantasy/sci-fi junkie since I was a kid.

Anyway, having read the book now (which I somehow never read throughout my high school and college educations - also have never read Moby Dick which is kind of a travesty for an American history/literature major), I absolutely do not understand people who look at Heathcliff as a romantic hero.  It just makes no sense.  Sure he was tortured and misused as a child, but come on.  I've rarely encountered a character so vile, so selfish, so manipulative, so abusive, and so vengeful and cruel.  I imagine we, the readers, have a relationship with Heathcliff the way some women might have with an abusive husband/boyfriend, making excuses for him when there is really no excusing his deplorable behavior.
In contrast, my favorite character was Hareton Earnshaw, of course.  And his mutton chops!

Foodie Tuesday: A Modern Travesty, or--Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, the Book vs. the Movie

Given how much I love food, children's books, and movies... well, you know I HAD to say something about this.

Back when I was a kid, it went without saying that Judi and Ron Barrett's excellent Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was one of my favoritest picture books, ever.  As a kid, my imagination lit up at the thought of this magical place called Chewandswallow, where food rained down from the sky, where no one went hungry, and where everyone, regardless of color, got to eat yummy American food instead of boring Chinese food.

As an adult, I can appreciate stuff like the beautifully painstaking details of the woodcut illustrations.  I remember a few things well.  The banks of cumulus hamburger clouds.  The Jell-O sunset.  The roofless restaurant.  And of course, Grandpa's pancakes.

But, then I saw the trailer for the new movie.  As it began, I had no idea what they were getting at--it looked like another silly excuse for a Hollywood kid's movie that had been developed within an inch of its life (too many cooks in the kitchen, pardon the pun).  The trailer was halfway through before I realized it was a film adaptation of this most beloved children's classics.

First off, while they borrowed heavily from the visual concepts presented in the original book, the movie retains none of the book's rich, charming artistic style.  While the real Chewandswallow is a place peopled with colorful characters, busy and alive with warmth, the world of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, the movie, is a cold and empty place where there's only the main character and his female sidekick/love interest.  Not to mention, the book includes a ton of incredible details that I'll never get sick of discovering (Rich people frowning over limp broccoli! A newspaper called the 'Chewandswallow Digest'! Lower Intestine Street!).  Compare images from the book and the movie in the diptychs I made below, along with some extra images I love from the book.

Secondly, in the book, food raining like manna from the sky is presented as, gasp, a good thing.  As a kid I totally ate up (har har) the different scenes of regular citizens going about their day, catching chicken drumsticks on the go and filling their umbrellas with orange juice. In the movie, food is a menace from the get-go.

Thirdly, like Superman, Chewandswallow comes with inherent superpowers.  Its ability to shower food on its citizens is totally natural, delightful even.  In the movie, the food is the creation of some loser mad-scientist guy.  How lame is that?

Lastly, the storytelling in the book is wonderfully tongue-in-cheek and smart, if very straightforward.  I really doubt the movie will carry on any of that subtlety and delicacy as it whups us in the face with its fancy effects and loud graphics.

I'm definitely one to agree with this blogger that Hollywood is about to turn this masterpiece into a "shitty, nihilistic movie."

Sorry, I totally couldn't resist posting about the second official New Moon trailer...in which Jacob Black makes his moves and swishes around that beautiful long hair of his.

I know I am just setting myself up for disappointment when November comes and me and my grown-up friends get trampled in the theater by scores of rabid teenagers on their way to watch the New Moon movie. But I find myself pouncing on every little morsel we're getting in the way of previews, and savoring it in a most untoward fashion.

Anyway I really wish Jacob Black didn't have to chop his beautiful hair off halfway through the movie. It's such a shame. I am not usually into long-haired dudes but on native Americans, it works. In fact, on Jacob Black, the mane is downright dreamy. (I mean... 0:30-32, 0:39 even though it's so obviously CGI'd, and that intense look at 0:55 omg omg omg omg OMG!).

Yes I realize I'm talking as if he's a real person. Shut up. Team Jacob 4-evarrrrr.

Underrated fictional (anti)heroes

The whole thing about Twilight and Team Edward/Jacob got me thinking about how women and girls seem especially susceptible to becoming enamored of fictional characters.  I am no exception.  If you don't know what I'm talking about, think of Mr. Darcy--how many girls have shamelessly swooned over that one? (Hint: 50,000 on Facebook alone)  Or Gilbert Blythe, from Anne of Green Gables?  

In all practicality, falling for a fictional character makes zero sense.  But here's where the often irrational nature of the female psyche makes all things possible--something about the way we're wired that makes it fun to eschew reality.  I wonder how real-life guys feel about this, because I rarely hear of guys going gaga over fictional women (with exceptions like Psylocke from the X-Men).

Thing is, I'm not here to talk about the conventional heroes who exercise romantic superpowers over legions of moony womenfolk.  As I had eccentric (and eclectic) taste in the opposite gender throughout my adolescence, it follows that my pick of fictional characters would be similarly offbeat/oddball.  SI share with you some of my favorite anti-heroes, from books and movies, who capture my imagination.  Sometimes they get the girl, but usually they don't.  Sometimes they die.  But they are all human, deeply flawed--some seek redemption, and some remained unabashed villains.  Yet somehow they win you over with their bravery, tragedy, humor, undiluted charisma, or all of the above. Reader Poll: who are your favorites?
  • Sydney Carton, A Tale of Two Cities: one of my earliest literary loves, for his brokenness and unexpected heroism.  "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."
  • Mr. Edward Rochester, Jane Eyre: Ornery and flawed, yes, but way more witty and sexy than dull old Mr. Darcy.  "Do you think me handsome, Jane?"
  • Jacob Black, Twilight Saga: I already explained this one in my previous post.  "Normal humans run away from monsters, Bella,  I never claimed to be normal.  Just human."
  • Jeff Rankin, Stranger With My Face: I don't expect anyone else to have read this one, but it's one of my favorites, and I loved this irascible outcast with the half-burned face as much as the heroine did.
  • Calvin O'Keefe, A Wrinkle in Time: Probably the most well-balanced and well-adjusted pick on the list, but who doesn't melt at his laid-back, sweet game?  "Well, you know what [Meg], you've got dreamboat eyes...You go right on wearing your glasses.  I don't think I want anybody else to see what gorgeous eyes you have."
  • Russell Hammond, Almost Famous: I wrote on my old blog when I watched the bootleg cut: I'm hopelessly in love with Billy-Crudup-as-Russell-Hammond.  As all romantics/idealists/delusionals should be.  This discovery made possible by Billy Crudup's impossibly expressive eyes and rockstar haircut, and some revealing footage that was cut from the theatrical version.  "Miss Penny Lane, I'll tell you what rock 'n' roll will miss, the day you truly retire.  The way you turn a hotel room into a home, the way you pick up strays wherever you go.  That cream coat in the middle of summer... That real name that you'll never reveal."
  • Harrison Bergeron, from my favorite story by Kurt Vonnegut: He's so bad-ass. "Even as I stand here - crippled, hobbled, sickened - I am a greater ruler than any man who ever lived!"
  • Nino Quincampoix, Amelie: He's lost, lonely, and a bit odd.  We're lost, lonely...and a bit odd.  Instant "affinity."
  • Shogo Kawada (川田 章吾) a.k.a. Boy #5, Battle Royale: Take bad-ass guy, the only one who ever survived the Battle Royale (presumably by killing everyone). Add selfless self-sacrifice.  Swoon.
  • Brendan Frye, Brick: Passionate high school outcast stops at nothing to unravel the mysterious murder of his true love. "Throw one at me if you want, hash-head. I've got all five senses and I slept last night, that puts me six up on the lot of you."
  • Ben Hawkins, Carnivale: Taciturn, tough and infallibly decent young healer who never asked for an extraordinary destiny.  "I dunno, I'm not really interested in all their jibber jabber."
  • Tony Stark, Iron Man: Bombastic, obnoxious, and the one superhero whose "alter ego" you prefer.  Men want to be him, and women want to f him. "Let's face it [Pepper], this is not the worst thing you've caught me doing."

And the best of the rest:
  • Spike, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer: I never got into the show, but based on what I know about it, Spike is a veritable paragon of anti-heroism (is that an oxymoron?)
  • Edward Scissorhands: Poor odd creature. Don't you just want to give him a hug? "I'm...I'm not finished."
  • Michael Corleone, The Godfather: Thou art a villian.  An intensely charismatic (and powerful) villain. 
  • The Beast, Beauty and the Beast: "I let her go...because...I love her."
  • Atreyu, The Neverending Story: He was beautiful, courageous, and he loved his horse.  Who didn't cry when Artax died?
  • Jack Merridew, Lord of the Flies: I don't know why but I always had a thing for the evil choir boy in this book. It's a little f'ed up, I know. "Sucks to your ass-mar!"
  • Justin, The Secret of NIMH: Ok he is literally a rat, but so heroic.
  • Chris Chambers, Stand By Me: played by the incomparable River Phoenix.  "Not if I see you first!"
  • Madmartigan, Willow: Hilariously irreverent.  "Oh, I'm sorry, peck! Peck! Peck, peck, peck, peck, peck, peck, peck!"
  • Akira Fukushima, Nobody Knows (Dare mo shiranai): Ok so he's like 12 years old but he had to grow up so fast in this heartbreaking tale about a mother who abandons her four children.
  • U.S. Marshal Vince Larkin, Con Air: "That would be loquacious, verbose, effusive. How about 'chatty'?"
  • Irvine Kinneas, Final Fantasy 8: Interesting fact from Wikipedia: "[In creating Irvine,] Nomura tried to strike a balance between not overshadowing Squall and not becoming too unattractive. He gave Irvine a handsome appearance, but a casual personality, hoping that this would make him less attractive than Squall."  Little did Nomura know, the casual personality actually makes Irvine more attractive, especially when grinning and carrying a large gun.

How I feel about the Twilight Saga...

It is exactly, I mean exactly, like these stupid crushes I used to have in high school where I would actually be embarrassed to admit I liked the guy because he was usually kind of oddball, dorky or just plain weird.  Ashamed but strangely drawn in.  (Nothing, by the way, like the way I feel about my favorite founder.)

It's weird to think that one can have a crush on a book series, but looking back at the progression of the past week, it developed exactly like that.  So does, I guess, my relationship with many other books/movies/tv shows that I get really into.  It starts with curiosity, then denial, turns into compulsion, and finally fullblown addictive obsession.  (Sooner or later, more or less, I recover.)  In this case, I watched the movie over the weekend out of curiosity, to see what all the fuss was about, and then I've been sleeping at 3-4am this week because I stay up reading the books.  And now all I want to do is talk about it to anyone who will listen.

I still feel pretty conflicted about it.  The writing is totally atrocious - I tell people the dialogue is like reading my old AIM chat logs from high school, and the rest of the first book is like my high school diary where I would pontificate on the various perfections of some guy I never even talked to.  I think that's where it really sticks in my side, and maybe that's the genius of it--Stephenie Meyer managed to make us see just how absurd and silly we all were at that age (or still are).

I don't like most of the characters either - I despise Bella Swan and I think Edward Cullen is tiresome in his tortured angst.  The actors from the movie are another story; I think they are all adorable, even Kristen Stewart, whom I hated in the movie, but in real life she's like this spunky, awkward-funny amalgam of Janeane Garofalo, Alexa Chung, and Avril Lavigne (only not so bratty).  And yes, the chemistry between her and RPattz is like, super hotttt!

But I read some of the first book because, I don't know, I was feeling indulgent.  Then I read the synopses of the others to get the gist of what happened.  I started New Moon, and then the character of Jacob Black hooked me and drew me straight into the vortex of Twilight hysteria.  He's the one realistic, multi-dimensional, funny, tragic, incorrigible, naughty, beautiful, humane, immature, and wonderfully charismatic character in the whole series.  Plus I've had a mild fetish for Native Americans since I was young (I know.  Totally objectifying an entire culture).  When I got impatient with the smarmy, saccharine, and boring vampire-Bella bits, I started flipping through and only reading the parts that involved Jacob the werewolf.

I wonder if I should start the fourth book.

I'm actually thinking of getting a t-shirt that says "TEAM JACOB: I run with wolves."  When did it become okay to be this dorky?  And let's not get into how dirty us women feel about the sunny, likable, and newly ripped (but not quite legal) Taylor Lautner.  Control yourselves ladies, he's only 17.

And finally, the New Moon trailer:


The art of Arthur Rackham

I'm speaking, of course, of the extraordinary British illustrator who made gorgeous plates of all our favorite fairy tales (and some lesser-known works like the Valkyrie) once upon a time.  I've been a big Arthur Rackham fan since college.  I was just thinking randomly about him because I was looking for something good to put on my computer desktop.  Someone ought to print high-quality reproduction posters of his stuff, or maybe put together a coffee table book in his honor.

@Google Talks

Something of which I could not take much advantage once I moved to a different building were the @Google Talks held almost every day on the Google campus.  This is truly one of the best perks the company offers--exposure to great thinkers, experts, and all-around amazing people you would normally have to be attending a university to maybe, perhaps, if you're lucky, get to see.

I'm not sharing this to rub it in your faces--I was sad about leaving the company if it meant I wouldn't be able to see these talks anymore.  BUT, to my delight, I discovered that most @Google Talks are posted, in their entirety, right on YouTube.  You can find the full listing of talks here.

Some of the most amazing people I saw in person were: