31 December 2009

In Brief: Soseki, Didion, Vonnegut, Moore. And movies.

I resolve to be better about updates in the future, but I read so many awesome books and saw so many movies in the last 2 weeks that writing a post for each one seemed like too much work, so here's a quick recap.

I Am a Cat, by Natsume Soseki
I decided that since I had a chunk of time in which to read over break, I'd tackle a really big book. As it turned out, I flew through this in 3 days or so, because it's delightfully breezy. Especially for a book where nothing happens. It's narrated by a cat, and wonderfully funny and ironic and absurd, but also occasionally quite eloquent. A joy to read.

Slouching Towards Bethelehem, by Joan Didion
I randomly picked up A Year of Magical Thinking awhile ago and loved it, so I was looking forward to checking out more of Didion's books. This one is a collection of essays, mostly about California in the 60s, and it's well worth a read. The first third is phenomenal, the second third is good, and the third third is very good. Didion has this really interesting reflexive writing style, like she's thinking out loud as she goes, and it's really compelling, and somehow beautifully balanced by an odd flatness in her prose. Good stuff.

Armageddon in Retrospect, by Kurt Vonnegut
I was kind of afraid to read this, because I was worried that maybe I wouldn't love it - and Vonnegut - as much as I used to. Luckily, I had nothing to worry about. This is a wonderful collection of essays, drawings and stories, with a fantastic introduction written by Vonnegut's son. One thing that I particularly loved about the introduction was that it encouraged the reader to pay attention to the craft of the works, mentioning that Vonnegut spent hours perfecting his prose. And indeed, although there's a kind of seeming simplicity to his writing, if you pay attention, you realize just how finely written it is. Very enjoyable.

Self-Help, by Lorrie Moore
A short story collection that my mother lent me. Reminds me a lot of Lydia Davis' stuff, except somewhat less experimental and much less self-absorbed. There's the same acerbic wit, but the characters are much more likeable. The first story in the collection is absolutely phenomenal - the others don't quite measure up to it, but are generally quite good nonetheless.

Avatar 3D
I talked to someone who saw it NOT in 3D - don't do that. There's no point. It's really not that great a movie, but the special effects are fucking sweet. Without them, it's a fairly run-of-the-mill eco-conscious parable about the Iraq War.

Broken Embraces
Visually stunning, but otherwise unimpressive. The plot is sort of silly, a failed attempt at modern melodrama. The characters are flat and generally uninteresting. It's visually striking, but really, that's so common these days that it no longer carries a movie.

Who is Cletis Tout?
Remember how much fun Christian Slater movies used to be? This isn't quite as good, but it's approaching it.

District 9
I expected to love this movie. You'd think it'd be right up my alley. And indeed, I was quite impressed with the first 35 minutes or so, when you get the whole story of the aliens and how first contact is handled. And then the plot got all fragmented and strange, like there were 5 different stories going on at once, and the disarray really threw me off. Hollywood is supposed to tell me how to feel and who to root for, and here I was like, wait, so which story am I supposed to pay attention to? Who do I care about? What's going on? And it just kinda didn't do it for me.

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