Flip Through

Saturday, October 28, 2006

No friend as loyal as a book

Generally I'm not one to rave about social networking sites, but for an avowed word-nerd such as myself, Librarything is a treasure trove. It's basically Last.fm for bookworms! Godly. The site's aim is simple: allow marathon readers to catalogue their own personal bedside libraries, organize the titles by tag, and connect with other readers who share similar tastes. Once you've got a few names in your library, you can really start having fun--try clicking 'tag cloud' or 'author cloud' to see what you're topheavy on, visit the Author Gallery to peruse writerly visages, or feel important because according to the 'Fun Statistics' page, you're the only one with a copy of The Game of the Foxes in your house.

Heaven. Somehow it's just so reassurring to know that there are exactly 184 other Librarything users who own The Courtship of Princess Leia. 16 other IP addresses are fans of Lonely Planet's British Phrasebook, while the owners of the Harry Potter series are in the high 7000s. And these numbers are just for today; who knows how many more there might be tomorrow?

This site restores some of my faith in the human race as readers. Maybe libraries will not become defunct after all--because these, these are my people.

Monday, October 23, 2006

But the beauty is grim

I am captivated by ruin, particularly if there is plant overgrowth involved. If I were any kind of photographer, my film would be wasted on landscapes of forgotten gardens, rotting wooden houses overtaken by creepers, stone walls crumbling under the weight of vines and time.

Tampa, my city, has a lot of this. One reason why I like this town so much--it contains both urban and natural decay, both of which are oddly fascinating. There are the alleys overflowing with garbage and used needles and the homeless; there is the low concrete wall on Columbus, once decorative and now in decline, eaten away by air pollution and shrubs; there is the water tower, white and slim and inside bursting with bats and moths and moldering beams; there is the prodigious graffiti covering the back walls of minimarts and gas stations . And there is perhaps my favorite spot in the entire city: the lot at the rear of the art museum, yards of gardening forgotten, growing wild. There are neat rows of palm trees and clear outlines of intended flower plots and scads of climbing vines trailing down the back wall onto the sidewalk and outdoor lights which have been kicked, shards of glass half-covered in earth. There's even an amphitheatre, its steps clotted with dry leaves and trash. It's a little eerie, to walk alongside the shiny tin-foil musuem wall, modern and sleek, and then climb up to wander in the gardens that somehow, the museum personnel managed to forget. It looks like a movie setting; you wonder if maybe you're about to be mugged, or--depending on the time of day--see a ghost.

I love it. If I had to be homeless, I would ditch the hordes of homeless people who gather for their own private reasons on the fountain steps in front of the museum. I would go a couple hundred yards to the back, where you can see the water and the sun warms the concrete. Maybe the museum has remembered their landscaping project and remedied all the weeds since I was last there, but I hope not. I hope they let it be.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


I've read many bad books. The Sun Also Rises. Opal Mehta. The Rachel Papers. The Black Album. Shopaholic. The Scarlet Letter. There are legions, because nowadays anyone can get published. But nothing compares with I Am Charlotte Simmons, by Tom Wolfe. Yes, I'm aware that I'm two years and eight billion bad reviews late, but I don't care. I've only just read this tome (738 pages of nothing--almost impressive) and now it's time to carp.

I Am Charlotte Simmons strives to do one of two things: a) accurately chronicle college life or b) viciously satirize college life. However, since his descriptions and characterizations are neither outrageous enough for satire nor authentic enough for truth, Wolfe fails in both objectives. The stock characters abound--the aging-hippie professor, the drunk frat boy jocks, the politically aware yet socially down-trodden nerds, the sorority beer sluts, the bullying anti-intellectual coach, and of course, the eponymous small-town virgin. The prose is just that: prosaic, with repeat-offender use of certain adjectives and nouns ('lubricious', 'loins', and 'lissome' among them...sheer alliterative agony). The devolution of the characters and the plot is unbelievable at best. All in all, the book reads as though no editor ever made its first draft bleed.

Maybe Wolfe really did visit numerous universities in his attempt to research the idiocy and glory of college students. Maybe he really did flee the cops at parties with frat boys. But reading I Am Charlotte Simmons makes this purported research a tad hard to believe. Do normal human beings not attend Duke and Cornell and every other elite prep school the novel is based on? Are the Ivies really just costlier versions of high school? I'm not decrying Wolfe's age; I don't think he's out of touch with what the kids are doing; I simply don't think that he's ever actually met a college student.

I attend college. Admittedly it's a state school, not a smarmy private institution, but it's college nonetheless, and while there are indeed the athletes who get free rides, the slutty drunk girls who never spend a night in their own room, and the pseudo-philosophical nerds, there are far, far more students who are nice and average and decent in every sense of the terms. I have never seen or heard of a so-called 'geek' getting beaten up or verbally abused for not playing lacrosse. None of the geeks I know would take that sort of crap, even off a vaunted athletic star, and most of the athletes I know have grown up a little since graduating high school. Furthermore, Wolfe's insinuation that the youth of today have no moral compass is purely insulting. I'm not talking moral in a religious sense, but in the sense of having personal integrity: what you will and will not do. Everyone has principles--everyone--and if you don't want to drink or smoke or have sex with every basketball player you can get your hands on, then by all means DON'T DO IT. No one can force you to, and that is why I find the character of Charlotte Simmons (not to mention her roommate, and numerous love interests, and every other character in the novel) so implausible: they apparently can't think for themselves.

Call me an idealist, but I refuse to believe that of students. We are not a cliched mass of lemmings, hurtling off every social cliff because the girl with the Gucci stilettoes says it's cool. Is it so hard to fathom college students who have their act together? Wolfe writes disparagingly of Charlotte's act of 'moral suicide', yet he never allowed her to have morals in the first place, only knee-jerk reactions born of her upbringing. So what does he have to be disappointed about?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Celluloid madness

Hoom, well, I was already pretty fond of the Spartans, but now...

Now. Check it, people: Frank Miller's 300. At long last, the comic book nerds and history buffs will have something to drool over communally. And I don't want to hear about historical inaccuracy; for Pete's sake, I'm a history major. I know there weren't any war rhinoes at the Battle of Thermopylae. That doesn't change the fact that the idea of WAR RHINOES IS COMPLETELY BADASS. I'm aware that the Persians weren't misshapen monster-creatures, and I realize that there were more than three hundred allied Greek fighters at Thermopylae, but damn if I care. Gerard Butler is Leonidas, David Wenham is Dilios, Rodrigo Santoro is Xerxes, and this movie is going to own your soul.

Speaking of historically-inaccurate yet soul-owningly-cool films-to-be, Pathfinder is also on the menu for spring 2007. Talk about loose interpretation of history, but again...who cares? Karl Urban running around in a loincloth brandishing a sword, Vikings who look more like Uruk-Hai, and plenty of nice Earth Mother mysticism--what more could you need? It might be a history professor's worst nightmare, but it appears to be stylistically gorgeous and have some butt-kicking fight scenes to boot, so we'll just pretend that the Vikings did in fact wear huge horned helms into battle and enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Vanity's proving ground

November 1991. The room's not that big, and the people crowding the rows of chairs make it smaller. My mother is in the front row, catty-corner to where I sit with my sister and grandmother. She is all in white, though I don't exactly understand why, and her bare feet are planted firm on the carpet, tan lines against deep blue. One of her friends sits behind her, weaving her dark hair into a plait. I watch the hands move in the Thoroughbred brown locks until she stands and walks toward the side door which will let her down into the water. Her feet pace broad and sturdy on the floor; her hair smacks her back, a fat intricate rope against the white gown. I touch my own hair, the same color, the same bright roan but thinner, and its wisps pulled into a bun, tucked in place with pastel bobby pins. I pull at it and watch my mother disappear behind the wooden door and then reappear, down in the font opposite the missionary who holds his hands out and recites words and dips her backward into the water, too cold for November, and she rises, white and wet and smooth, her brown braid and her smile gleaming up at me. When she returns to her seat later, dry-clothed again, she tosses the still-damp plait over her shoulder and smooths my errant wisps back into their pins.

June 2001. The clippers are cool running over my scalp. I stare into the mirror, at thirteen years' worth of hair now spattering the checkered tile floor. My face is alien, too thin and too open without a protective sheath of hair around the cheekbones, the chin, and my ears, oh, my ears--why had Mom never told me how big my ears are? The back of my neck is freezing, and abruptly I hate myself for doing this. The chop. How did I talk myself into doing this? A pixie, Mom calls it, so cute. I look like a boy. The hairdresser gives me my glasses and they wink as I put them back on, flashing taunts in the mirror. I watch the shape of my jaw, the obtrusive freckles, the way my eyebrows now take up half my face. I watch my mother's mouth make smiles and loving words, exchanging coos with the hairdresser. They tell me how good it looks. My sister says it's very European, a clear compliment. My aunts remark on how grown-up it appears. My stepfather wonders, when he comes into the kitchen that night, where his long-haired daughter went. I am too young yet to mind, I am now in love with the nakedness of the back of my neck, the long bare swath of throat, the dark strands close against my skull. I am too young yet to mind.

October 2006. We lay in the dark heat of each other's bodies, not illicit but innocent still. I feel bold and shivery at the same time, my belly warm and my feet cold. Your arm is fever around my shoulders, keeping me close against your side. I bask; I blaze. And there are your fingers, trickling chill over my hair, your hand brushing the cropped locks soft and slow. There's a purr rising in my chest, and I have to resist the urge to move under your fingers, to butt my head against your palm, cat-like. I luxuriate in the steady motion of your hand, gentle and even and continuous, your fingers drawing patterns on my skull, tenderly tugging strands, the occasional pleasant prick of flesh against flesh. Your palm cups my head; fingertips tickle behind my ear and trace the length of my neck. I drowse. I am safe, safe in the solid warmth of the barrel of your ribs and your smile quick like heat lightning and the eternal flow of your fingers in my hair.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Hanging out at the Ticketmaster

I adore Weird Al Yankovic. It's true. It's been 20 years since the release of his first album, and he's STILL partying like it's 1699. And now--at last--everyone else seems to think he's cool, too. Even Best Week Ever is applauding his latest musical efforts.

But can I just point out that I had the jump on VH1? I've been listening to Weird Al since I was 10, thanks very much, and I can recite "Albuquerque" on command. Even the end bit where he just sorta mutters and yammers. Weird Al is a god among men for the simple reason that he sings about things that everyone loves and no one will admit to loving--polka, STAR WARS, the STAR WARS kid, tuna melts, Eddie Vedder, the Amish. Anyone who can recap the entire plot of The Phantom Menace, compose lyrics like 'hair the color of strained peaches', and mash Backstreet Boys songs into a foot-tapping polka deserves a spot in the Rock'N'Roll Hall of Fame. Anyone who can parody Madonna, Metallica, and The Kinks and not get assassinated is clearly headed for sainthood.

So! Weird Al's newest offering, Straight Outta Lynwood, shows him in top form, as witnessed in the video for his...single?..."White & Nerdy". An excellent take on Chamillionaire and Krayzie Bone's "Ridin'", you can't help but, well, laugh your head off. Or maybe you can. Please tell me it isn't just me--the proverbial single hand clapping. In any case, "White & Nerdy" is the "All About the Pentiums" of the new Millennium, as sharp, giggly, and bursting with pop-culture references as any of Al's previous ditties. "Don't Download This Song" is also quite nice, and "Canadian Idiot" is a love song to everyone's favorite Northern neighbors. As always, there's a polka: this time, tunes getting the jaunty treatment include "Speed of Sound" by Coldplay, "Float On" by Modest Mouse, "Slither" by Velvet Revolver, and, somewhat oddly, "The Chicken Dance". For the diabetics in the house, there's an original track entitled simply, "Pancreas". And we musn't forget "Do I Creep You Out" a mockery of and tribute to that silver-haired songbird, Taylor Hicks.

Something else worth noting--a totally fabulous (one assumes) parody of that horrifying James Blunt song "You're Beautiful" was recorded, but the Brit-pop pretty-boy's label requested that it be removed. I'm sorry; that's just pathetic. If Coolio, Jacko, and Lars Ulrich don't mind, neither should James "You're Pitiful" Blunt.

All in all, I think it's safe to say that Master Yankovic has done it again.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...