Monday, March 12, 2012

Rendez-vous with French Cinema

I've given up reading. At least it feels that way, given how infrequently and reluctantly I continue inching through Parallel Stories. I'm still in the middle of the second "volume," but feel that a new post is due. So instead of talking about books, how 'bout the movies? Koch and I have been going to the movies like crazy. Like, once a week for three weeks. And not even to the big cine-plexes (or whatever) but to classy theaters like the Sunshine on Houston and the IFC Center in the Village.

So what classy films have we seen? Well, first we saw "Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie." This movie isn't for everyone (Eric gets a Prince Albert at the beginning). But I almost never stopped laughing and I am also forever indebted to Tim and Eric for introducing me to Tommy Wiseau. A ticket only costs $13 at the Sunshine. Interestingly, that's also how much money was spent on making the movie, half of which was used in procuring a slew of guest stars like Jeff Goldblum, Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, and Zack Galifianakis, among others. I especially enjoyed the scene at the restaurant "Imbreadibles," where Eric and his date enjoy dishes of pasta topped with croutons, eaten with utensils made of crackers. Brilliant.

Arguably against Koch's will, I purchased tickets on-line for two French films that were featured in this year's Rendez-vous with French Cinema, both of which were screening at the IFC Center. Koch and I have never had "date night," but we came pretty close. Two Saturday nights ago we treated ourselves to some good, if weirdly sugary, Indian food on W. 3rd before catching a 7:00 screening of "Les adieux a la reine". The show was sold out, so they made ticket holders stand outside until 6:55. Fortunately, there's a sex shop next door to the theater and Koch and I enjoyed perusing their display window while freezing our tits off. The film itself, directed by a man but with a cast made up almost exclusively of hot women, depicts the goings-on at Versailles during the first four days of the French Revolution as seen through the eyes of Marie-Antoinette's reader's cleavage, who is suicidally devoted to the queen's cleavage. A gorgeous, voluptuous, DD-sized period piece. Oh, and there's some excellent full-frontal nudity. Something for everyone, really. The director conducted a Q&A at the end, but we snuck out.

A ponderous moment

The second film we saw was much more subdued, Marcel Pagnol's "La fille du puisatier," directed by and starring one of my favorite actors, Daniel Auteuil. Although the film can barely hold a flame to his previous films "Jean de Florette" and "Manon des sources," the setting is so gorgeous and Auteuil is so charismatic that it doesn't really matter. Jean-Pierre Darroussin did the awkward and terribly interpreted Q&A at the end because, according to him, Auteuil doesn't like to fly. Not that I have anything against Darroussin. He's also a terrific actor. I just felt bad for him struggling to answer questions relating to production and directing while he himself had a relatively minor role.

(Sorry, I couldn't find a steamy picture for this one.)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Parallel Stories, Volume One: The Mute Realm

Before I get to the Hungarian novelist Peter Nadas' behemoth novel, Parallel Stories, I think it would be nice to recommend some of the books I've read this month. Mindy Kaling's Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is pretty funny. It wasn't necessarily something I would have read if it hadn't been given to me as a Christmas gift, but there are some very witty chapters, the funniest of which I'd already read in "The New Yorker". I do remember reading that article in the bus and making of a fool of myself while unsuccessfully trying to stifle my laughter. Per Petterson's Out Stealing Horses is excellent and disturbing (and short!). And Julian Barnes' short story collection Pulse is full of witty but completely unrealistic dialogue. Unless all conversations in Britain really are just like the banter you hear on BBC panel shows like "Would I Lie to You?" or "QI". What I'm trying to say is, all the men in Barnes' stories sound like David Mitchell and Stephen Frye and I have absolutely no problem with that, especially since they figure in pretty much all of my sexual fantasies, which, unsurprisingly, only involve overweight British comics of questionable or outright homosexual orientation.

So back to Nadas. Here is another classic case of one book critic not reading a book and giving it a fairly positive review, misleading me into thinking I might want to read it, which eventually leads to me buying it if the circumstances are favorable, and then going home and reading it. Even if Nadas' novel weren't 1133 pages long I'd still roast it, I think, and I'm only on page 374. But it's too late. Once a book has been started it must be finished or something terrible with definitely befall me, I just know it. So I keep on.

Problem is, I really can't take this out in public, although the subway is one of my favorite reading venues. Last time I did, a cute young blond sat next to me and, assuming she's like me, would have read over my shoulder this: "He saw only female limbs, could not imagine anything else, only gaping cunts as he filled them with his cock, there were no faces, no whimpering, nothing belonged to them anymore". At this point I sort of slumped in my seat in the hopes that my hunched back would obscure the girl's view from my reading material. And you may say, "Well, that's just one sentence relatively early on in the book. Page 74, I believe?" To which I'd say, "Yeah, well, let me tell you. There is one 40-page sex scene and every single thrust, every single drop of pre-cum is cataloged for our benefit. That chapter, in case you want to avoid it, which I recommend you do, is inexplicably called 'The Quiet Reasons of the Mind'".

"They were crying, choking, sighing, panting haltingly, whining, sniveling, wailing, sobbing, whimpering, hissing and mewling into each other's ears..." Is this what copulation is really like? With the two adults involved alternatingly acting like spoiled children and bellicose cats? Have I been doing something wrong all these years? Has Hollywood been lying to me? My favorite line so far, from a different chapter, is the disturbing analogy of comparing a man and woman's copulating genitalia to "two meat-eating flowers".

Only 758 pages to go. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Road to Damascus

There's something to be said for being unemployed. ("Unemployed" being used here both despondently and self-deprecatingly as someone who willingly gave up her acceptable job to pursue happiness on more familiar shores. "Between jobs," on the other hand, is the euphemism used by the laid-off. Also, being a substitute at an independent bookstore does not count as proper employment.) I have been reading a lot. I have been reading so much that I actually feel busy, like a liberal arts college student might. It's great. My only complaint is the lack of funds. Also the fear, anxiety, and frustration at not finding work that offers health insurance. Obviously things are much better now than they were in Texas. No regrets. At least, no point now in having regrets. There are signs of land in the distant horizon, I think.

Now that I have the time, I've been reading things like the "Paris Review" and "Granta," which made for good antidotes while I was slogging through "The Girl Who Played with Fire". Finish the chapter on Lisbeth Salander's shopping spree at Ikea? Read an interview with Allan Hollinghurst in the "Paris Review" as a kind of reward. This is how I came across a piece by Claire Messud in "Granta 118". Messud being a novelist, I assumed at first that I was reading fiction. "The Road to Damascus" is, among other things, a beautiful piece about the life and death of the narrator's father, a Frenchman who grew up, in part, in Beirut. Four pages into the piece, I read this: "[A]s a businessman, he amassed, over fifty years, a scholar's collection of books on Byzantium, the Ottoman Empire, the Armenians, the Turks, the Middle East more broadly. Upon his death he left behind hundreds of volumes, although however many of them he read I cannot say. He left, that is, substantial traces of the life unlived, of the internal life, which we all know is both hard to discern and the only one that matters." I underlined this section because I was thinking of our friend James Wood, and hoping he would maybe come across this piece and feel shamed by the succinctness and generosity of Messud's words. Then, less than a second later, I thought "Shit. Messud's father fits Wood's description of his father-in-law, except, you know, that she writes about her father respectfully and affectionately, while Wood wrote about a man who clearly (and probably rightly) made him feel like a small man in big, "New Yorker" fiction critic, shoes. So I did what James Wood does every Sunday morning, sitting in his bath robe and flannel underwear in his office with the door locked, that is, furiously Googling himself. Turns out, James Wood is married to Claire Messud. The man Wood belittles is the father Messud (at least seems to) venerate.

I finished the piece, the father passes away. My email to Wood, which I wrote months ago by now, asking him to explain to me why he wrote and published that essay, goes still unanswered.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Great Expectations

Since the last time I wrote here Koch and I left work one Friday night, got into our car with the cats, and drove 29 hours to Brooklyn.

Actually, I just made it sound like something we might have done on a whim. Not so. Lots of planning went into this trip. Planning like failing to have a job in the city lined up when we arrived. Planning like not having a place of our own and instead invading Dad's swanky apartment, which, by the way, is 100% anti-cat. Here's a concise list of acts of feline mischief achieved in the two and a half weeks we've been here : one broken saucer, one broken full-length mirror, two broken blinds, one orchid knocked over (I cleaned this up before Dad got home. He will only learn about this if he reads my blog as much as he claims to.) Several paintings knocked over, put right, and knocked over again. One vase full of water knocked over. Thousands of claw sharpenings on the couch. Millions of litter particles tracked throughout a once-sparkling apartment. Trillions of cat hairs deposited here and there, most likely by Claudius, who likes his living space to be lightly coated in his detritus.

But I digress. What I really wanted to write about is the car trip. Before we left, Koch and I asked ourselves the question we are constantly asking ourselves: "How can we better ourselves during this road trip?" 29 hours is a lot of time to sit in a sedan listening to the same Swedish pop albums over and over again. So we took ourselves to the miserly books-on-tape section of our friendly local Barnes and Noble. Koch wanted "The Odyssey." I said, "Fuck that. I've already read it, anyway." I said "A Game of Thrones". Here's why, before you jump to any conclusions: I'd made the mistake of hanging out with two geeky librarians from work whose superhero names are "Awesome Mormon Guy" and "Fan-Fic Girl Who Is Pretty Okay". Together they are currently uniting their superpowers to organize a George R.R. Martin exhibition for next year and I figured I should get on the bandwagon before it left without me. Anyway, Koch is impervious to all these ridiculous circumstances and also said "Fuck that" to my choice. So we met somewhere in the middle of Homer's epic and science fiction's newest darling and bought Charles Dickens' "Great Expectations," read by Frank Muller.

Now, driving from College Station, TX to Brooklyn, NY takes 29 hours if you're driving a black 2004 Ford Taurus hooked up to U-Haul's second smallest trailer. You can only speed so much before the transmission overheats and you're somewhere in the middle of Alabama, and the closest thing to civilization is a Klansmen gathering going on in a nearby field. Fortunately, we didn't speed and none of this happened to us. We're not completely stupid.

On the other hand, reading "Great Expectations" out loud while doing all the voices takes a measly 15.75 hours. To be honest I can't remember what we listened to the remaining fourteen hours. Mostly it was cats meowing so piteously we got worried their hearts were actually about to explode. (They didn't.) But once we put on Frank Muller reading about Pip and Estella and Miss Havisham, the cats quieted down and listened intently, usually with their eyes closed, probably in deep concentration. Whenever a CD ended and there was brief silence, they'd start howling at us to put it back on, quick! Meow Meow Meow! Then Muller would come back on and they'd shut the fuck up again.

So what I'm trying to say is my cats are smarter than I thought. Even when they leave their shit just outside the cat box, I can remind myself, at least they like Dickens. And so should you.

The cats enjoying great literature. The net (it's actually a hammock) was hung up to keep them from going into the front seat and falling asleep on the gas pedal.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


I probably still practice several vestigial customs I picked up while working at a bookstore, but the most inconvenient is the need I still have to read books from the store's own bestseller list, which was updated every week, and comprised mostly of Jonathan Lethem novels, Brooklyn-themed cookbooks, and New York City walking guides. This is the best reason I can give for my having picked up a perfumed copy of Chuck Palahniuk's 2008 novel, Snuff. Another reason being that as of January 1st, Koch and I officially became squatters and all my worldly possessions, including as-yet unread books, are in boxes. So when I finished Jean Vautrin's excellent novel Un grand pas vers le bon Dieu (think Marcel Pagnol/Clint Eastwood western/Oedipus Rex), to Half-Price Books I went.

When I bought Snuff, goddammit I already knew I hated Chuck! (His last name is too annoying to spell out all over again, so I'll stick to Chuck.) Five or six years ago I read Haunted and almost fainted during the part about the guy masturbating in the pool and then having his anus...well never mind. The short of it is, he loses all but a foot of his colon.) What I'm trying to say is, Chuck generally has no qualms compromising his writing in favor of gross-out, shock-fest pulp. To which I, and other like-minded Brooklynites, are not immune. This, for example, is a short excerpt from the description of the dust jacket of Snuff: "Cassie Wright, porn priestess, intends to cap her legendary career by breaking the world record for serial fornication." Sold!

What the dust jacket doesn't mention is that the main reason Chuck chose to write about a porn star is to showcase the many ridiculous punny titles to old school porn flicks he's thought of over the years. Here's a (relatively) short handful to give you an idea: Sex with the City, The Da Vinci Load, To Drill a Mockingbird, The Postman Always Cums Twice, Chitty Chitty Gang Bang, The Wizard of Ass, Gropes of Wrath, World Whore One, World Whore Two, World Whore Three: The Whore to End All Whores, Moby Dicked, A Midsummer Night's Ream, Much Adieu About Humping [sic], Lassie Cum, Now!, The Ass Menagerie, Catch Her in the Eye, A Separate Piece, Bang the Bum Slowly. All before page 30.

On top of the cheap laughs are gaping plot holes (why, exactly, does a woman lie to her adopted son and tell him Cassie Wright the porn star is his mother? comes to mind) and an outlandishly gory and blood-spattered account of a bikini wax. I finished this book on a plane and immediately rushed to the nearest bookstore in the Charlotte airport to get The Girl Who Played with Fire. Swedish rape will ease the pain.

What comes up when you Google image "Chuck Palahniuk Snuff".

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

J. Edgar

Unsure what to do on the first of the new year, Koch and I decided to spend a gorgeous sunny day in the movie theater. The flick: Clint Eastwood's "J. Edgar". I liked it quite a bit. It's a lot like "Brokeback Mountain" but with more make up and less heterosexual sex. Sometimes I could barely recognize Leonardo di Caprio under all that paint.