To Discuss / Known + Strange Things

 

       I have a thing for short story/essay collections. I like moving quickly from one idea to the next, but I enjoy it most when there's a cohesive theme running through each idea, linking them all together as a whole. The only thing I can liken this concept to are those particular style of movies where there's a large main cast of characters, whose stories are all somehow linked together through each other. Movies such as Love, Actually, Valentines Day, He's Just Not That Into You, etc. Those are all fairly superficial examples, in comparison to Known + Strange Things by Teju Cole. However, the notion of relating lives and observances is the same (and yes, I thoroughly enjoy these romantic comedies as much as I do essays on political, cultural, and social issues).

     Cole was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, to Nigerian parents, who shortly returned their family to Lagos after his birth. This conundrum of being born American, but raised Nigerian, sets the premise of one the first essays in the book, and understandably so. It's a very relevant topic for my generation, because so many people struggle between their cultural identities. While he was raised Nigerian, he always felt it was special to be American as well, to have that passport. Once he moved back to Kalamazoo to attend the University of Michigan though, he felt a dispossession of his original feelings towards being a dual-national. Everyone's experience of citizenship in this country varies, and as with most things in life, it's never what you expect it to be. Going from Nigeria to Michigan is one of the most drastic changes I can imagine, environmentally, but humans are still humans, and Cole's observances of the way people live showed that the actual people weren't much different, just the circumstances.

      Almost all of Cole's essays gave me a new insight into others lives that I was aware of, but couldn't exactly sympathize with. This is solely because I don't ever try to pretend that I've been through the same things as those who have had a hard, "abnormal", or marginalized life, out of respect for those that have. My life, in the scope of things, has always been relatively easy, thanks to the life my parents were able to build for me and my sisters. While I am and always will be greatly appreciative of my special life, I have never lived under the impression that this is the norm. Which is why I've always read books, especially ones like this. Fiction, nonfiction, art books, essays, anatomy books, biographies, anything that can show me or tell me something new. I've just consistently tried to understand, and probably will continue that adventure for the rest of my days.

     That being said, one of the largest understandings I gained from this collection is that of a Nigerian Americans knowledge, criticism, and love for Africa. It's been my experience that if you want to know more of the massive continent than just safaris, the Sahara, and third world countries, you have to do that kind of research on your own. I don't remember geography or world history teachers saying much about Africa outside of a small covering of ancient Egypt. Their reasoning for rarely discussing any other continents other than our own or Europe was that it "doesn't apply to you", which is probably one of the most ignorant things someone could say. Maybe 50 or 60 years ago it didn't, but in todays' day and age, when you can travel anywhere, and you live in a country made up of people from every corner of the world, it very much so applies to everyone. Understanding is essential to being stuck on a planet together.

     Through Cole's essays, I learned of African poets, mob lynchings, and a bit on Nelson Mandela. I also learned that the sympathy white people feel for the poverty stricken parts of Africa, while a nice thought, is a bit insulting. I hadn't realized before that even though the intentions behind wanting to help are admirable, the person helping gets more out of it than the people they are trying to help. Cole titles it the White Savior Industrial Complex, which is the idea that white people subconsciously use helping those in need as a "big emotional experience that validates privilege". I get that and can see that, but I don't agree with generalizing white people, just as much as I don't believe in generalizing any other race. I do believe that if you feel the need to help anyone in any way you can, then you should do it; but don't just do it because you think it will make you a better person. Donating and offering aid isn't about you, it's about those that receive that aid, and I think that was part of the message Cole was trying to get across.

       I wouldn't have come to any of these conclusions had the argument not been presented by Cole. When you live in a bubble, it's hard to remember that there are things going on in the world, the country, your back yard that you have never been aware of. Some people prefer it that way, but I like to play the optimist and hope that most do not choose to stay ignorant. I've questioned that a lot in the last year, yet I still come to the same conclusion that even if I'm wrong, there will always be change and evolution whether people want it or not. Just like the weather, humanity is uncontrollable. I see that as a good thing because I'm not afraid of other peoples opinions and ideas, and this book validates that I have no reason to be.

    

Book of the Month / Discussion

 

     Hi there! For today's discussion, we are looking at the latest installment in the Harry Potter saga. I'm a big fan of most books, regardless of the genre, and that includes "YA" or "Young Adult" series. They are still good stories, usually, even though they are intended for a slightly younger audience. The Harry Potter series is no exception, as I think most adults would agree. The general public has at least seen the movies, and we all know how much of a success they were/are. The vast consensus is that the tales are some of the best of our time, and that these stories will be considered classics for long after the stories themselves have come to an end. We had all accepted that the books were done, series complete, with even the movies being finished. That is, until last year when the world found out that there would be a Harry Potter play in London, and that yes, of course they would be printing the script as a book. I think this move was, in part, to be inclusive for the large fan base that Harry Potter claims, so that they too could have this new story to devour without having to travel to London to see the play. I also think this new book was meant to create new Harry Potter fans out of the children of the aughts, who either weren't alive yet or were too young to be around for the Harry Potter craze of my youth.

     In this way, I think the screenplay was a little forced. I think the play itself was an obvious idea, a decent way to carry on the Potter world, but the way they present the actual story to the rest of the world, in screenplay form as opposed to a classic novel structure, is what turned off old fans of the old story to this new story. These books have such a large following, that fans don't want to read it in a different format. It's a subconscious divide that most readers won't even realize, that it's the way they are reading the story, not the actual story itself, that they don't like. It's an OK storyline, and it is fun to see how Harry's children and his friends children turned out, along with the classic main characters themselves. With the storyline, some thought bringing back Voldemort, even if only in the past, was unnecessary, that they didn't need to go back to that plot point. Personally, I think it was fine to keep the story revolving around Harry and Voldemort, just like it always has, but I can see why people would want a fresh idea.

    That being said, I still liked it. It was an easy read that carried on our beloved heroes story in an easy way. It gave us an update on their lives, which I think most people wanted, and it also gave new insight that past scenarios alluded to. Rowling revisited those scenarios, like the night Harry's parents are killed, and we see a new side. As a person always interested in seemingly everything, it was exciting to learn new things about this world through this new addition. I doubt they'll ever add another new development to Harry's story, but it will be interesting to see how the spinoff Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them plays out. Hopefully, people can get their Wizarding World fix that way. Thanks for reading, and have a fun Wednesday!

Book of the Month: Discussion

 

     Good morning! Today, we are discussing September's Book of the Month: Walden! I ended up loving it, and it was refreshing to read something insightful for a change. Usually, I just love a good story, but every now and then, it's important to read books that require a deeper thought process than just reactions to an exciting plot twist. Some have called this book boring, and in a way, it is. There's really no dialogue, but once you get past the general expectation that all books require dialogue, you can accept this book as one man's point of view on the state of his life, and read it as an opinion piece on the principles of living.

     Thoreau covers topics whose relevancy is everlasting. Economy, solitude, and self-reliance are all essential to the understanding of what is necessary to truly live a minimal life. Walden was Thoreau's experiment to test his own independence from money, company, and in general, the expected "necessities" put forth by society. Can he really live away from the rest of the world, on very little money (which back then, was even littler than today's living standards), and without the luxuries that most people subconsciously deemed vital? That was the ultimate question. Whether it was actually un-civilized to lead a perfectly productive life alone in the woods was what he sought to answer.

     On economy, Thoreau points out that he built and constructed his own house in the woods, for far less than the average family pays each month to live in an already built house. He makes the argument that if we utilize what's readily available to us, it makes better economic sense in the long run to just do it yourself. Humans are capable of making their own things, but most choose to buy instead, in the end paying more for the convenience than the product itself. Obviously, this is still true today, though I've taken to making when I can and only buying when necessary. Most consumers still prefer to do what's easiest, which is their prerogative, but brings us to Thoreau's point that it's unnecessary. You can build your own house, you can make your own tomato sauce, and you can shine your own shoes. It is possible to live life with very little and get along just fine, which is a lesson I think most would agree is very useful to remember.

     On solitude, Thoreau proves that life alone is doable, but don't expect to not hear voices as your mind adjusts to not hearing any real ones for awhile. It's hard to be alone sometimes, but it's essential to being well adjusted. How can you live a sociable and authentic life, without first flourishing solely on your own? You can't interact genuinely with others until you've been alone with your own thoughts. You must know yourself before you can really know anyone else, and Thoreau succeeds in that aspect. Solitude gave him that, and it also made him go a little insane for a bit. When you don't have anyone to interact with, your mind interacts with itself, which I would venture to say is normal in that situation. It's your brains way of working it's own problems out, and all you have to do is listen to find understanding. Being alone made Thoreau appreciate company in a way that he wouldn't have otherwise.

     On self-reliance, Thoreau learned it's possible to be independent from all of the things society says we should be dependent on: money, each other, the government, etc. It's extreme, but it's true. You can hunt and farm your own food, you can build a house without assistance, as stated above, you can resource and protect your life without help from officials. Minimal existence can be lived, but it's important to remember that you don't have to isolate yourself to achieve some of these aspects of an essentialist lifestyle. Thoreau lives it but ultimately leaves it, having learned what he needed to from that life. Adopting key principles from Mr. Thoreau will do the trick, and in my opinion, that's the point of this book. He's not saying, you have to do all of these things that I did to get there, but he is saying that you can learn from his experience. Live your life with these things in mind, and you'll find happiness in your independence from self-doubt and the pressure that society puts on the public.

    I'm curious to know your own thoughts on Walden, so leave me some comments below or email me to discuss further! Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

On Wes Anderson, Pt. 7

 

     Sadly, this will be the last installment of the Wes Anderson series. I finished the book! The last interview was on Anderson's second to most recent film, Moonrise Kingdom. He has since made The Grand Budapest Hotel, but that was after the publication of this book. Don't worry, the same author created a similar book, focusing only on TGBH, and I've definitely got my eye on it, and not just because it's pink. Another book for another time.

     On completion of the interview involving Moonrise Kingdom, I immediately watched the film, it being the only Wes Anderson film available on Netflix. It's one of my top three favorites of the Anderson saga, and it's the only one I've seen in theaters. The film centers around two adolescents that are essentially the epitome of adolescent. One, a young and tough boy from the foster system. The other, your not so typical pretty girl with behavioral issues. They aren't copies of each other, but their own personal problems and general attitude towards life mesh well. They're both a little crazy, but I'd say they're still realistic. Anderson was intentional with his casting choice, as usual. He picked unknowns and their greenness brings something vulnerable to their characters, more so than it would with established young actors. Teen actors can be a little over-confident if they are quasi-famous, because they're teenagers. It's what they do. Wes talks about the kids with admiration though, and that admiration shows in the direction of the film. The camera loves them and their story.

     The story itself is complex in every way, just as with most of Anderson's other films. The character ties, plot, and set all revolve around each other. In a way, Anderson's movies act as solar systems. There's a method to the madness, and each factor has it's own orbit. The intertwining relationships and personalities between the adults and children are in typical Anderson fashion, but I'll never tire of it. All of the characters are still strange enough to be exciting. Their own personal plots come together, and center around one issue: the runaway teens. The island is their playground, and they use it's isolation and relatively primitive way of life to make a go at running away to be together. They don't succeed at the running away part, but like most youth, they get what they want.

     I thoroughly enjoyed reading these interviews and revisiting all of Wes's films. I hope to find something similar to continue this kind of series with. I love movies and books, so I'm sure something will turn up eventually. Until then, thanks for reading and have an excellent Wednesday!

Book of the Month: Discussion

 

       I received this book as a gift last year, and I've re-read it many times since. I chose it as the book of the month because I found it so helpful and wanted to share. As a parent, and one who loves all things design and decor, it can be really hard to figure out what to compromise from your own style to fit the needs and limitations of living with a child or children in general. They are messy, get into everything they aren't supposed to, throw all of those things, and proceed to break them as well, but I wouldn't have it any other way. That's just what kids do, and until they are of a certain age, there's not really anything a parent can do, other than have the smallest amount of things possible within the reach of their little one. Thanks to this book, I've found easy solutions to styling and situating a room around Bailey. Luckily, Bailey is getting old enough to be reasoned with when it comes to what she can and can't touch or play with, so we've been able to slowly integrate things to her level. She still breaks the occasional ceramic bowl, but for the most part she is pretty good at leaving things alone if you tell her to. If you talk to my parents, you will learn this is the opposite of me. I still can't really leave things alone, and I've always been an explorer. Hopefully it holds up that Bailey hasn't received this gene from me. I want her to explore, but I'd rather have her be a good listener first, and learn to explore the things she's allowed to second. Back to the book though, not only is it's content insightful, but the images are gorgeous and equally inspiring. Let's just say this book is the blueprint for a well-designed family home.

On Wes Anderson, Pt. 6

 

      Fantastic Mr. Fox is a truly beautiful movie. That's the biggest point I want to make in this discussion. The artistry that went into Wes Anderson's first animated film is mind-boggling. It's "claymation" in a nearly perfect form. The best thing about claymation is that every character, set, and minute detail is all handmade. It's one of the last art forms that isn't digital, and in a world of CGI, that is as refreshing as it gets. I've always found irony in the way people, myself included, appreciate the classic techniques of those various art forms. Patrons nowadays think it's so amazing when things are done well not on a computer, and in reality that's the way art was originally intended. Not that digital and graphic art can't be beautiful, or considered art, it's just not the OG way, so to speak.

     This is the reason Anderson chose claymation for his form of animation. Like all of Wes' films, this movie had to feel intentional and detailed, and claymation was the best way to achieve that. Every last component, down to the real animal fur used for the animals, is authentic. The things most directors would find mundane or unnecessary to pay attention to, Anderson enhances. All of those elements add up and round out Anderson's vision, just as they do in his other films. They typically aren't things anyone would even notice, but they contribute something none the less.

    "Mr. Fox" is considered one of Anderson's most mainstream movies, specifically because it's animated and could be considered a children's movie, although adults are capable of enjoying it as well. Another factor of it's popularity is that it's based on the novel by Roald Dahl, the beloved weirdo. Lastly, Anderson chose some big names for his characters voices, including George Clooney and Meryl Streep. Both were excellent choices, in my opinion, considering their unique and pleasing speaking voices. Wes keeps the film true to his own style though, by adding in his personal details discussed above, which are always my personal favorite parts of his movies. It's the little things, no? That being said, those details are what make his movies beautiful, and Fantastic Mr. Fox is no exception. Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend!

On Wes Anderson, Pt. 3

 

     Hi guys! We are finally to my favorite Wes Anderson film, The Royal Tenenbaums. For me, this was the first true Wes Anderson - style movie. It was the initial film that really showed off the grandeur and possibilities that Wes could create. In a way, it was the first time he gave the viewers a glimpse of his potential. For being 15 years old, the movie is stylistically on point for what styles are popular now. Every detail is some how on trend for my generation, and I'm slowly starting to realize that it's because of the movie itself. It was the influence that was so large it's carried on for most of my life.

     I think that, as with most of Wes's films, the devil is in the details. They are what makes each movie special and unique. As I said, in my opinion, this is the first film that he really flexes that muscle, in a way. In the interview by Matt Zoller Seitz, it becomes apparent that Wes truly created every little thing in the movie, from the Zebra wallpaper in Margot's bedroom to every fake book by Eli Cash, just for the concept he wanted each scene to depict. As with anything that stands out stylistically, it takes a lot of work just to make things people won't even focus on but eventually add up to create the look you want. It's the excess in Wes's movies that make them so visually appealing, from The Royal Tenenebaums on.

      The casting for this movie was also excessive, in that there were so many high profile actors. Granted, the Wilson brothers were just starting to reach their now well known level of fame, and Gwyneth Paltrow was on her way to her starlet level status in the film industry. However, it's not the young actors that give the film the weight it needs, it's the classic stars that are Angelica Huston, Bill Murray, Gene Hackman, and Danny Glover, that really give the movie the vibe it needs. Wes refers to the challenges that come with this many celebrities working on one film, the biggest being scheduling. It doesn't show though, in the film. It never feels dismembered by different people being able to film at different times. It all works and flows as it should, as any good movie does.

     I could go on forever about this movie, but I'll stop here before we have the longest blog post ever on our hands. I hope everyone has a great week, and maybe works a little movie watching into their schedules!

On Wes Anderson, Pt. 2

 

     Hi guys! What a beautiful day to discuss Rushmore (it's 60 degrees in February)! Rushmore was Wes Andersons second film, and his first including legend and favorite Bill Murray. According to the interview, Murray did the film for practically nothing, just because he believed in it. This speaks volumes to Murray's already well known character. This is also the first of Wes's films where he builds a part of the set, which are one of the best things about Wes's films, in my opinion. However, most of the movie is filmed in one of two preexisting high schools. Anderson has a connection to both, he attended one and his father attended the second school they shot at. Rushmore was also the first time Anderson cast Jason Schwartzman, and like Murray, it is not the last time either. Schwartzman is the lead in this film though, and he seems to fit the part perfectly. That's how the casting always appears in Wes's movies, he really nails down the ideal people to play his characters. 

     I've always thought this is the most realistic out of Anderson's films, to date. Of course, anything can happen (except for a dressed and talking family of foxes, to my dismay). Even a beautifully pink hotel that is involved in a murder mystery is plausible in some parts of the world. Rushmore though, is the most relatable. We all know at least one over-achiever. Although, maybe not one quite so involved in school clubs as Max. I don't think my high school even offered that many clubs. It's something we can easily imagine and is very believable. I'm not sure Wes really thought it mattered that Max was relatable though, I think he cared more about getting the idea through that those achievements didn't amount to anything, considering Max is still a failure. In the end though, Max finally triumphs with his play, and delivers the message that people should really only do what they're passionate about. 

     We should also address that this is the second film that Wes and Owen Wilson wrote together. I had never noticed before that Wilson had actually written these movies with Wes. I just thought he was a favorite to cast. Now that I know though, I think you can notice a difference in the ones written with and without Wilson. The later ones written without Owen, Moonrise Kingdom/Fantastic Mr. Fox/Grand Budapest Hotel to name a few, show off Anderson's personal style more. Of course, at that point, Wes had refined his vision even more, but I think those are just better. They're more visual, and as a visual learner and overall person, I can't think of anything more exciting. I can't wait to keep getting more into these interviews for each movie! Stay tuned next month for a recap on The Royal Tenebaums! 

 

Book of the Month - Discussion

 
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     Hi readers! I'm going to start off by saying that it took awhile for me to get into this book. I wasn't really hooked until about 100 pages in, but considering that The Luminaries is 830 pages, I guess I didn't waste too much time. Once I was into it though, it flew by. I feel like it's mostly due to the constant movement of stories in between characters. This also makes sense because of the astrological symbolism that each character carries. Each of their personalities couldn't have been represented so beautifully if not for the movement. 

     The characters, zodiacs and planets alike, give the story it's mystery. At first I was trying to guess who was what, but then I realized that the charts before each section are meant to be analyzed. They show the zodiacs by the characters name, and then their symbol. That's when I started to notice, throughout each chapter, they were all the epitome of each zodiac. It was brilliant. How Eleanor Catton dreamt a plot that connects 12+ characters to one murdered man is mind boggling.

     It starts to make more sense when you realize patterns between the zodiac characters and the planet characters. Everything that the zodiacs go through are all caused by the planets actions. Light bulb moment: that's how it is in the real universe too! If you've ever read a horoscope, you know that your emotions and actions are effected by what planets are intersecting with your zodiac. Reading a fantastical take on a realistic phenomenon was riveting. 

     This book really was everything you could want in a novel. It is mystical, romantic, and even enlightening. It forces you to think about what it means to be fortunate, and how easy it is to let your wealth, plenty or scarce, take over your life. That is the one thing each character has in common, they are either chasing money, stealing it, or burying it. I think the message in all of this, is that you are in control of your own life, and you can't let the "planets" lead you astray. Even without symbolic meaning, it's still an awesome story. If you haven't read it yet, go now! It's worth every nugget.