A breath of drama

Scenary? It’s what goes in front of the scenary that matters.”

Sophia Loren playing the exiled Autrian princess in “A Breath of Scandal”.

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My parents are awesome

I went to this thing with André Borschberg, the pilot of the Solar Impulse project (in case you, like me, have never heard about it, it’s a 2-ton solar powered plane that flies day and night and has crossed Europe, the US and god knows where else, and they are going for the world-round trip in 2015, pretty darn awesome), and ten of us won the raffle for a tiny replica of the HB-SIA – myself included.

I never win raffles, so I was super excited. The following texts ensued:

me: I just won a tiny plane!

Mom: YAAAAAAAAAY!

Dad: How many seats? When are you taking your license test?

My parents are awesome ;]

And this plane is beautiful.

My tiny plane

My plane.

Their plane.

Their plane.

 

John Kent: You…

John Kent: You don’t appreciate her. I know she seems a little hard and sophisticated, but underneath she’s a pearl.

Huckleberry Haines: And a pearl so I’m told, is the result of a chronic irritation on an oyster.

I finally managed to watch Roberta (1935), with Fred Astaire & Ginger Roberts, and Astaire (Huckleberry Haines) has got some great lines.

Sleep

About ten minutes ago, I was lying in my cozy, warm bed, no longer asleep after 10+ hours in it, but still reluctant to get out of it and go on with my day (granted, half my day, since it’s noon already). It’s always been like this. Sleep has always been the bad guy. The numbing, warm, addictive feeling that I had to go through every night — and struggle to get rid off every day. And it’s not even because I’m tired. I’m on holiday. The high point of yesterday was deciding whether of not to wash my hair in this cold, cold wheather. (Seriously, people. I know most of you come from magic lands where it snows and everything, so what am I complaining about? 10, 13oC? Piece of cake. But do imagine: no central heat or decent insulation.)

Anyways — it’s always baffled me how other people handle it. Because surely it can’t just be me, right? I can’t be the only one to be tempted to stay in Morpheus arms forever? And dream of doing everything I want to do, becoming everything I want to become, seeing all I want to see…. and all that without having to get out of my warm cocoon or having to wash my hair!

And I’m just babbling all that because I wanted to start writing again and what is a better excuse to get out of bed than to go blog something on WordPress?

Can I get there by candlelight?

There, and back again.

I really don’t know why I was so surprised by “Stardust”. It’s Neil Gaiman. It’s got Neil Gaiman written all over it.

And I love Neil Gaiman, of course I’d love “Stardust”, even if it did take me a while to get the thing going. I love how his stories are never focused on one plot, but instead several intricate, converging ones that sort of complete one another – and then just BLOW MY MIND-, but at first I’m never seem to be hooked enough to compulsively read it. So granted, it took me a couple of weeks.

But once you’re hooked, you’re hooked.

I’d seen the movie and was stunned when I found out it was based on a book by none other than Neil Gaiman himself (who as you can see, I hold in great esteem). The movie manages to transcribe most of the quirkiness of the book, and perhaps even soften some aspects of it that kind of bugged me around the end, BUT it is nowhere near as enticing and just… linguistically seductive as the book. And it’s a pretty good movie.

But I’m assuming you know something of the plot. Actually, at this point, I think it’s almost irrelevant that you know the plot. It’s going to sound weird if I sum it up for you. It’s how it is displayed that’s interesting, as in most good novels. (But if you must know — simpleton boy promises his love-interest the fallen star they’d just seen, in return, she says she’ll give him whatever he desires. To find the star, he must cross the wall his village is named after, into a magical and fantastical world, where the star is actually a slightly glowing young woman with a short temper. There are several people looking for her, for all sorts of reasons. Stuff happens.)

I caved and dog-earned by favourite bits of it, as proof of my enthusiasm.

Firstly, I’d never heard shyness being described this way. It’s just so right.

He was painfully shy, which, as is often the manner of the painfully shy, he overcompensated for by being too loud at the wrong times.

Secondly, I don’t remember this quote, I just found it on Goodreads, but it just sums up what Neil Gaiman books are all about sooo nicely I had to add it.

A philosopher once asked, “Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them because we are human?”

Pointless, really…”Do the stars gaze back?” Now that’s a question.

Do you get it? Why it’s such a fascinating read? Why it never ceases to surprise you? Because never once had I stopped to think about trees and their former life —

“You’re a tree,” said Tristan, putting his thoughts into words.

“I didn’t always used to be a tree,” said the voice in the rustling of the copper beech leaves. “A magician made me a tree.”

“What were you before?” asked Tristan.

“Do you think he likes me?”

“Who?”

“Pan. If you were the Lord of the Forest, you wouldn’t give a job to someone, tell them to give all possible aid and succor, unless you liked them, would you?”

“Well…” said Tristan, but before he had decided on the politic answer, the tree had already said, “A nymph. I was a wood-nymph. But I got persued by a prince, not a nice prince, the other kind, and, well, you’d think a prince, even the wrong kind, would understand about boundaries, wouldn’t you?”

“You would?”

“Exactly what I think. But he didn’t, so I did a bit of invoking while I was running, and -ba-boom!–tree. What do you think?”

“Well,” said Tristan. “I do not know what you were like as a wood-nymph, madam, but you are a magnificent tree.”

The tree made no immediate reply, but her leaves rustled prettily. “I was pretty cute as a nymph, too,” she admitted, coyly.

(pages 186-7)

It’s stuff like that which makes me looove this author. And this book by extention.

I actually can’t find the quote that I really, really loved. It describes Faerie. All my other ones are kind of spoiler-ly.

Did I convince you that this is a very, very good book?

That your brain craves something like this? To go places it’s neeever been before?

Please tell me I did. And then go read it.

What is it about magic?

I know, I know. I’ve neglected this blog for way too long. But now at least I have something to write about. I think.

Yesterday I finished reading “The Magicians’ Guild” by Trudi Canavan, which I’d got from BetterWorldBooks at Tanya‘s suggestion, and I couldn’t be more thrilled about it.

It took me a while to get the courage to start it, to tell you the truth. Though pretty much all my favourite books are set in fantasy worlds, I get quite spooked with covers such as these:

There’s something about half-photoshopped pictures in covers that freaks me out. And as I’ve mentioned, I judge a book by its cover.

But if someone who loves Neil Gaiman as much as I do loved this, it must be good, right? So I picked it up and had a bit of a struggle letting go to study for my pre-midterms. It’s GOOD. The characters are interesting, the story moves along at a quickening pace, and you just can’t wait to read more about this world, this magical society – their buildings, their classes, even their door knobs. Everything is interesting, everything is engaging.

I did take a step back more towards the end of it, though. I had the eerie sensation that this was going to be one of those annoying series with no proper ending ’till the very end at the last book – you’ve read at least one of those, right? But sure enough, it quickly patched things up and though there’s a big hook linking it to the next book (which I’ve already ordered at BWB), the plot of this book was pretty much concluded. Nicely, too.

There were bits that were a bit annoying, particularly whom she chose to trust and distrust, and I wanted to yell at her, but thankfully there’s reason soon enough. There are also bits I didn’t really think matched the character’s previous behaviour – and perhaps that was meant to illustrate personal growth? I don’t know, it still made for pretty witty, fun characters to get to know.

But that was not the thing that I wanted to write about — At the university, a friend came up to me when I was reading this book, looked at the cover and honestly uttered the question “But it’s fiction, it’s fake! How do you bear to read it?”. I was shocked. I’m used to being appalled by their not reading Hitchhikers’ Guide or Harry Potter, and understand that at the moment it is a bit tricky to squeeze in some books not related to our classes, but COME ON.

The most coherent thought I could come up with was “Because it’s FUN”. But that shouldn’t be all of it, should it? There must be a reason for it to be fun. And it’s something that has been tormenting me for days.

Is it about escaping into this other world we know nothing about and discover it bit by bit? I hear that one quite often – stories as a distraction, an escape from reality. And sure, that must be it. But there’s something else too, isn’t there? Something that captures our attention and turns us into little children again.

I think it’s magic.

By reading something someone else wrote we’re giving them the power to construct whatever characters, whatever plots and whatever worlds the author wants. They are masters of the universe for the length of those pages. It feels a bit like magic, doesn’t it? The way twists and fixes spring about. Entire cities created, complex societies described. Creativity flows and we’re drawn to it.

I’ve got this book I got at the airport, it’s called “What are you optimistic about?” and in it there are several little articles by different people saying – you’ve guessed it – what they are optimistic about. One of these is about the world population. The author (whose name I cannot for the life of me find) said he was optimistic about the extra billion people that are expected (and dreaded, for the most part). He says something like “That’s an extra billion creative minds, thinking up solutions”. I’d never heard anyone see it like that.

And I think books can support that view — aren’t they the biggest proof of all the creativity running around?

Through that, I believe reading books somehow gives us power too, in some level. We’re given one of the best presents we could get — hope. That perhaps we’re not as helpless as we’d think. Perhaps all we need is a good idea, a good magician.

What do you think? Was I too high on caffeine and lack of sleep when I thought about this?

And what on earth should I tell No-Fiction Guy?

Cum Laude got me depressed

I was trying to get my holiday reading going so I started them with “Cum Laude”, a novel set in Duke University, written by Gossip Girl’s author, Cecily von Ziegesar. Needless to say, it promised to be fun, vapid and completely detached from reality. It actually starts really good (but I already knew that from all the browsing in the bookstore this year).

I’d even settled for a review title after I finished the first chapter:

But then it quickly became very Gossip Girl-y. A bit of a let down. The characters were actually very nicely presented and the constant shift in characters perspectives (what was it called? Omniscience? Omni… conscious? Dunno) made the narrator particularly entertaining. I genuinely wanted to know more about them. And the relationship between Shipley and her mother was nicely described (Maybe von Ziegesar was practicing for Blair and her mother?).

But I just can’t get over how quickly all characters sort of… lose themselves. Which is entertaining, I guess, if you’re in that kind of mood. I wasn’t. I wanted a happy ending at last. I wanted each and every one of them to find their way home, where ever that was.

I did not want reality.

Cecily didn’t care and gave it to me anyway (though closely followed by lively descriptions of being high).

You have no idea how upset I was. I have an angrier review saved here somewhere.

I just felt so bad about the characters who kept on being lost. They deserved better.

But anyways, the story? Good girl named Shipley decides to go to Duke University and meets boys, whom she’s never really met because she’s a good girl and went to a girls’ only school; her roommate is a particularly annoying, attention-seeking girl named Eliza (she grows on you); there’s a wannabe hippie guy; a cute, redhead, shy and all the works, farm boy, Adam, and his adopted, talkative and thoroughly awesome younger sister, Tragedy; an annoying jock named Tim or Tom or something similar (who does not grow on you); all of the boys are completely inlove with Shipley because she’s blond and shy and beautiful. Shipley decided to go to Duke because her older brother, Patrick, a loner who did stupid things, attended Duke. For a month. In which he cut all but one classes. And then disappeared.

Yeah.

And after cutting his credit card, nobody knows where he is. (But he sure is quick to put Shipley’s credit card to use when he gets hold of it, for such a civilisation-sucks guy. He bugs me.)

But that’s what Shipley wants. To do something after being the perfect daughter to make up for the screw up son. First thing was to smoke in her Mercedes all the way to Duke. You go, girl.

Actually, I mock her, but I could relate to her need throughout the book. Sort of. Not the smoking one, the rebellion one.

Anyways, stuff happens. Then the book takes a serious tone. And then it quickly goes back to fun and flirty college commentary and completely kills it in the last chapter.

Also, I think it was written a looong time ago and only recently got published. I was a little confused reading it, with all the Vote for Clinton commentary and the use of TAPES. The book came out in 2010, for heaven’s sake.

Did you really have to explain?

And they mention East Anglia. University of East Anglia, UK.

Parenthetical remark ahead.

(

I recognized the name from one of the talks I went to earlier this year, themed “Talking about undergrad studies” or something. This one was given by Prof. Dr. John Elliot, from UEA, on “Lesson Study”, which is actually pretty amazing. They study how teachers teach, basically. Record them, watch them, discuss and improve them. Apparently in Japan that’s how they teach their little ones and they’ve got the highers scores in everything so people are starting to pay attention.

We watched a math lesson from Hong Kong, where she was teaching division and then discussing it with the others. I’d never realised how friggin’ complex it is to teach elementary maths.

Anyways, being the good girl I am (and a bit of an anglophile) I’d googled his university.

It is beautiful. If it was a brother university of my uni (like it is in the book), I’d go there in a heartbeat. And it’s not just because it’s in England. Take a look!

1

2
The Teaching Wall. How cool is that?

3
International student housing. Need I comment?

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So. Yeah. I need a haaappy book. Suggestions?

Currently flirting with my newly arrived “Bird by Bird” :)