Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

Archive for the ‘Books’

Jonathan from Buffy has made a J.D. Salinger biopic called Rebel in the Rye starring Nicholas Hoult

July 24, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies No Comments →

And I don’t know how to process that sentence.

If you want to read a novel about Dunkirk…

July 24, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, History 1 Comment →

(One-fifth of a novel, to be exact.)

Dunkirk is a big, impressive, very accomplished film about an event little known outside of Britain. I leave you to read the critics spraining their fingers to praise it, many of them using the K-comparison, which almost certainly guarantees a backlash.

I did not know about the Dunkirk evacuations until I read Ian McEwan’s Atonement, in which Robbie Turner, who is imprisoned on the false testimony of the child protagonist, is let out of jail when he volunteers for the army. The middle chapters of the novel follow Robbie and other stragglers as they try to make it out of the town and to the sea, where they hope to board the ships that will take them home. It’s an elegant portrait of chaos and fear.

Let’s read Jane Austen’s Emma and talk about it. (Updated)

July 16, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Books 9 Comments →

Jane Austen is all over the news this month as we mark the 200th anniversary of her death and ponder, once again, how an 18th century single lady writing novels about women looking for good husbands became one of the most-read, most-loved writers of all time. The more she is dismissed (marriage novels, early chick-lit, feh), the greater she is revealed to be.

Here, data analysis tries to explain why Jane Austen’s work endures. Here, writers weigh in on which is the greatest Jane Austen novel.

My favorite Austen is Persuasion, in which a woman with an irritating family (a staple in her novels) encounters the man she had been in love with years earlier. Yes, it’s a second chance novel. The first Austen I ever read was Pride and Prejudice, which I hurled across the room the first two times I attempted it, and loved when I finished it. And I’ve seen a lot of film and TV adaptations, including Love and Friendship, Whit Stillman’s funny, caustic version of an early novella (It may be argued that all Stillman’s movies are Austeniana); and Clueless, Amy Heckerling’s take on Emma, which injected Paul Rudd into our bloodstreams. However, I’ve never read Emma, so I will do that this week.

Why are there no dragons or wights in this book, Drogon complains.

Join me! Here’s Emma online. We’ll discuss the novel in Comments.

* * * * *

I’ve been reading Emma in coffee shops, where I feel compelled to sit up straight, chin up, lest I be judged for my posture. Jane Austen described Emma Woodhouse as a character only she, the author, would like; I concur that she is not a character one takes to instantly. The book begins with this description.

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

Note the word “seemed”. Handsome (as in “striking”), clever, and rich as she is, she is also manipulative, quick to judge, given to interfering in other people’s lives, and a terrible snob. She is, for all her advantages, Clueless (I am impressed at how faithful that adaptation is to the spirit of the novel). We want her to fall on her face…and she does. Her designs are thwarted, she gets her comeuppance, and earns our respect.

While reading the novel, I could not help but feel how small Emma’s world is, how constrained. She is the queen of the village, but it’s a place where nothing much ever happens, so if a single man so much as crosses the street to say hello to a single woman, it’s news. No wonder Emma has to scheme and throw people together; left in her comfortable house with her kind but doddering hypochondriac father, where the high point of her day is a visit from the neighbors, she would be bored to death.

* * * * *

Critics describe Emma as Jane Austen’s experimental novel—for one thing, her protagonist Emma Woodhouse is not your traditional heroine. She is not downtrodden or disadvantaged, and while she lived at a time when women had few opportunities outside of marriage and child-raising, she could pretty much do as she wanted. Emma was antagonist material, a kontrabida who became the bida.

After the first burst of enthusiasm, I found my reading pace slowing to a crawl in the middle sections, then picking up in the last quarter. I had to get used to the slower, more contemplative rhythm of Austen’s prose. As long as I’ve adjusted to the slowness, I will proceed to two other Austen novels I have not read: Northanger Abbey, and Mansfield Park.

Some books are meant to be read slowly, some are to be devoured in one sitting.

July 12, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Books No Comments →

What started as pragmatic laziness—leaving big books at home and traveling with slimmer ones—has led me to a different way of reading. The active ritual of reading one book extremely slowly, patiently, in the same place, over an unreasonably long time, has changed the way I see. It’s a measured meting out of a book, like nibbling one piece of chocolate each night in the same chair over a year. It’s a refusal to hurry up or to turn reading into a life hack; it’s the anti-summer reading, the anti-binge read. It’s site-specific, intensely slow reading, for no other reason than to bask in what’s good.

Read The Case for Taking Forever to Finish Reading Books.

The other night I was bored, a condition I’ve learned to appreciate since I climbed out of the anxiety pit. I started organizing my files, and among the stories I saved from the Paris Review and other sites I found several by Ottessa Moshfegh, the author of Eileen. For months I’ve been looking for a copy of her story collection, Homesick for Another World—turns out I have most of the pieces (but will still buy the book when I find it). I started reading a story called The Weirdos, and before I knew it I’d finished eight stories.

They’re short, intense, and the opening paragraphs just seize you like face-sucking xenomorphs.

On our first date, he bought me a taco, talked at length about the ancients’ theories of light, how it streams at angles to align events in space and time, that it is the source of all information, determines every outcome, how we can reflect it to summon aliens using mirrored bowls of water.

If you require fictional characters to be nice and “relatable”, don’t even look at Homesick. I found most of the people repellent but fascinating, and in the 10 to 15 minutes it took to read each story, I imagined I was those people. It’s amazing, being in someone else’s skin, especially someone you would have nothing to do with in real life. That’s one of the reasons I read fiction.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is a delightful teen movie with superpowers, not that anyone needed an opinion.

July 06, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies 10 Comments →

Can you remember the time before superhero movies ate the cineplex, when viewers could actually choose from a wide range of categories and genres, and humans-with-incredible-abilities was just one of the options? My favorite movie year is 1999, when these were just some of the movies at the cinema: Magnolia by Paul Thomas Anderson, Being John Malkovich by Spike Jonze, Rushmore by Wes Anderson, The Matrix by the Wachowskis, Three Kings by David O. Russell, The Talented Mr. Ripley by Anthony Minghella, Eyes Wide Shut by Stanley Kubrick, Summer of Sam by Spike Lee (mixed reviews, I loved it), South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, Notting Hill, Bowfinger (laughed my head off), Fight Club by David Fincher, and GalaxyQuest. See the range?

Now consider that this year, the movies I’ve enjoyed most are Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2, Wonder Woman, and Spider-Man: Homecoming, and I’m looking forward to Thor: Ragnarok.

I enjoy superhero movies, but I wish I had options. I’d probably watch them all anyway.

That said, I enjoyed Spider-Man: Homecoming very much. It’s giving me a Back to the Future vibe, and in my world that is a high compliment.

Spider-Man: Homecoming’s main strength is its youthful energy. Tom Holland is perfectly cast as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. We believe he is a geeky 15-year-old reveling in his newly-acquired abilities and his insanely upgraded suit courtesy of Tony Stark while dealing with the adolescent stuff: his torpe crush on the lovely Liz (Laura Harrier), being mocked by his rich asshole classmate (Tony Revolori of Grand Budapest Hotel as Flash**, whom I imagine Tony Stark was like in his teens), trying to be taken seriously by the adults (Tony Stark and Happy Hogan are not real adults) and keeping his crime-fighting activities from Aunt May (Marisa Tomei)*, who is presumably grieving for her husband. (This time we don’t see Uncle Ben die or hear the power-responsibility equation.) Holland, a classically-trained dancer, has the added advantage of being able to express himself through movement. His physical grace contrasts nicely with his social awkwardness.

Peter’s best friend probably has a harder time than he does, being non-white (Jacob Batalon is Fil-American; with Dave Bautista that makes two Fil-Ams in Marvel movies) and non-skinny. There’s also Michelle (Zendaya), a sarcastic, antisocial classmate who will presumably become the love interest in the sequel. I like how Peter is surrounded by Americans of African and Asian descent, and it’s perfectly normal. Because it IS perfectly normal.

Mindful that there have been two reboots of this Marvel property in the last 15 years, the filmmakers spare us a repeat of the radioactive spider bite. The movie begins a few months after Spider-Man’s impressive introduction in Captain America: Civil War.

In Homecoming, director Jon Watts and a legion of screenwriters try to address two common criticisms of Marvel movies: the generic-sounding music, and the generic villain. The former is fixed by Michael Giacchino’s soaring soundtrack. With songs from the 80s! Holy crap, it’s The Ramones. Later I thought I was hearing things, but it was A Flock of Seagulls.

The villain is still a problem. Michael Keaton can do anything, but he needs a character. We hear of The Vulture’s resentment, which echoes the resentments of most other villains. In the Marvel universe, apparently, there are villains because there are heroes. A good villain divides our loyalties, gets our sympathy despite their fiendish plots. Here The Vulture kills an associate by mistake, and doesn’t exhibit a shred of remorse. Arms-dealing is justified by the need to pay the mortgage. (Then again, people vote for flimsier reasons.) Bad guy and good guy do have a chilling encounter out of costume, and for a few minutes we’re in Hitchcock territory. Then it’s back to thrashing each other.

Not surprisingly, the movie is sprightlier and more engaging when the kids are onscreen and when Peter is testing his suit (It has a voice, like Ms Jarvis, and I mean Jennifer Connelly) than in the final fight between Spidey and The Vulture. Martin Starr from Silicon Valley, still hilariously deadpan, is the coach of the academic decathlon team. Bokeem Woodbine, so memorable in the second season of Fargo, is a henchman who may reappear. Hannibal Buress and Donald Glover show up; here’s hoping they have more to do next time. (Apparently Glover’s character is a reference to the current comic book Spidey.) There are two credit sequences and a running joke about Captain America.

Watch it!!!! (4 exclamation points)

* Does anyone remember that romcom Only You with Tomei and Downey?
** I caught the branzino allusion, which means I have seen too many comic book adaptations.
*** I’ll probably see the movie a few more times during its run, so this post will be tweaked.

This book kept me from running amok while I was stranded for 3 hours in that massive traffic jam last Friday.

July 05, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Books 2 Comments →

Theft by Finding*, David Sedaris’s diaries from 1977 – 2002, is the funniest book I’ve read in years. Every other page I had to stop and cackle to myself, and then take a picture of a page that made me laugh and send it to a friend. That’s how I survived being stuck in BGC for three hours on Friday the 30th, when the conditions for the perfect traffic jam—Friday, payday, and rain—combined to open a hellmouth where time moved at 1/20th its usual speed.**

Sedaris started keeping a diary in 1977 when he had no direction and no prospects, was dirt poor, took drugs, had sex with strangers, and lived in horrific crime-ridden neighborhoods where non-whites were routinely abused and beaten, women were routinely abused and beaten, and gays were routinely abused and beaten. (Sedaris got extra abuse because he was mistaken for a Jew.) And yet the book is hilarious! The author doesn’t try to be funny, he just recounts his daily humiliations in a deadpan tone that heightens their absurdity. He doesn’t complain about his lot. He doesn’t judge the scum of the earth (I did, by typing this sentence). He is kind to everyone: the mean, scary, ugly, filthy and stupid. We’re all just trapped in this hell, trying to make it out alive.

In the later entries you can see the genesis of his famous essays. However, I am especially fond of the accounts from the bleak years, when he didn’t know that his writing would take him anywhere, and he was just writing because he had nothing else. If you think your life is going absolutely nowhere and you feel like a great big loser, this book will give you perspective.

* Apparently there’s a law in England that says if you pick up something valuable and you don’t report it, you’ve committed theft by finding. It’s the opposite of “Finders, keepers”.
** There were no Grab or Uber cars available, and I could’ve walked home except that there was no sidewalk.