Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Go home, Button-Bright, you're drunk

The Road to Oz (Oz, #5)The Road to Oz by L. Frank Baum
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been reading my way through the Oz books lately in order to fill in some gaps of children's literature I'd missed as a kid. I wasn't too happy with the previous story because it felt like Baum didn't really feel any of it and just wrote  Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz because he was pressured by a publisher as well as ravenous fans who wrote him imploring for more Oz. I found myself more than a little peeved that he allowed children to dictate what he put in his book. Sure, he pleased his fans, I suppose, but that never makes for good storytelling. There was no conflict and was just a series of bizarre encounters. There's also no question of whether or not Dorothy will return home anymore (spoiler alert: she does). Our girl Dorothy  is getting rather used to her visits to fairylands and seems all rather chill about it all.

So, again, with this book, we have a series of bizarre encounters and no real conflict, danger, or desire. We've stopped worrying whether or not Dorothy will get back to Kansas, and so has she. There is no dramatic arc going on. Everything is all hunky dory, except for a run in with the Scoodlers (who remind me of the Fireys from "Labyrinth") who want to make Dorothy and her pals into soup. Other than that, it's just Dorothy and a bunch of weirdos on their way to see Ozma for her birthday (which is August 21st - mark your calendars, folks!) In this adventure, it's Dorothy's three new companions that need to find their homes: The Shaggy Man to a new home, Polychrome back to the rainbow, and Button-Bright back to wherever the hell he came from.

The story opens with Dorothy's encounter with the Shaggy Man, which is totes creepy. He and Dorothy meet when he passes by her home in Kansas and asks her for directions. She attempts to oblige him, but it isn't going so well. Dorothy decides the best way to get him there is to take him herself. She excuses herself to run inside to grab her bonnet -- something I was hoping was just a ruse to yell for Aunt Em and Uncle Henry to call the cops. But, no, I guess Stranger Danger wasn't an issue in early 1900s Kansas. For some reason.

And away they go. As soon as the Shaggy Man (who doesn't have a name, that we know of, and just answers the "Shaggy Man") has gotten Dorothy far enough away from home to realize she's lost, he reveals he has a super special magic token called a "love magnet" that makes people love him no matter what and in any circumstance.


Well, hang in there, folks, it turns out it's not meant to be creepy at all and it's actually good that he has this object because it ends up helping the out of a few tight spots. And, really, I do appreciate what Baum was trying to do here and show that this guy is really a sweet, good man beneath his shaggy appearance and just wants to be seen for more than that without changing who he is. But, lordy, that is not the way this reads today.

Soon afterwards she meets the idiot Button-Bright who I just can't even. No.

So I only adored about one-third of Dorothy's new companions.

  Polychrome - the Rainbow's Daughter

"A little girl, radiant and beautiful, shapely as a fairy and exquisitely dressed, was dancing gracefully in the middle of a lonely road, whirling slowly this way and that, her dainty feet twinkling in sprightly fashion. She was clad in flowing, fluffy robes of soft material that reminded Dorothy of woven cobwebs, only it was colored in soft tintings of violet, rose, topaz, olive, azure, and white, mingled together most harmoniously in stripes which melted one into the other with soft blendings. Her hair was spun like gold and floated around her in a cloud, no strand being fastened or confined by either pin or ornament or ribbon."
(page 60)

I am a sucker for colors and rainbows and fairies, so, of course, I am a sucker for Polychrome's adorable spirit - even though the poor girl doesn't get anything to do (except dance to keep warm) (and be adorable all the time).

Some other observations:

-I couldn't help but think that the chapter headings resembled the female reproductive system.

  Chapter Heading or Female Reproductive System?

-"Everything about Ozma attracted one, and she inspired love and the sweetest affection rather than awe or ordinary admiration. Dorothy threw her arms around her little friend and hugged and kissed her rapturously."
(page 204)

  Ozma and Dorothy snogging

Whoa. Should I be shipping Dozma?

"You have some queer friends, Dorothy." [Polychrome] said.

"The queerness doesn't matter, so long as they're friends," was the answer."

(page 184)

"It isn't what we are, but what folks think we are, that counts in this world."
-The Hungry Tiger,  page 185

I love that dude.

And this passage:

"There were many people on these walks - men, women, and children - all dressed in handsome garments of silk or satin or velvet, with beautiful jewels. Better even than this: all seemed happy and contented, for their faces were smiling and free from care, and music and laughter might be heard on every side.

'Don't they work at all?' asked the shaggy man.

'To be sure they work,' replied the Tin Woodsman; 'this fair city could not be built or cared for without labor, nor could the fruit and vegetables and other food be provided for the inhabitants to eat. But no one works for more than half his time, and the people of Oz enjoy their labors as much as they do their play.'

(page 191)

The Emerald City is a shining beacon of socialism, huh?

And I'm going to end this mess with this image of His Royal Foxiness.

  His Royal Foxiness

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Friday, May 24, 2013

In Search of True Painting: A Day at the Museum

A few weeks ago, during the last week of classes, I was rushing to get five essays done in a week. While writing the fourth, I tweeted the following:

Well, some people seemed to like that tweet. So I thought, why let a perfectly good essay that references Labyrinth, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Gilmore Girls go to waste? So I'm posting it here. Sorry if it's better in your imagination.

The assignment was for my Western Civilization II class to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art and write a five-paged paper about the experience. My professor told me not to stress about it (me, specifically! As if he knows me or something) because all he was going to was put a checkmark on it. So I figured if there were no penalties for being a smart-ass, I might as well go ahead and write what I want.

I don't plan on making a habit of posting my school writing here, so don't worry. One-time deal. Maybe. Who knows.

"Interested in art? This is full of nice things."

On an afternoon in early March, I arrived with my companion, Lauren, to spend the day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Supplied with a small memo pad and mechanical pencil (pens are prohibited in the museum), I felt ready to explore and chronicle every corner I encountered. I had not visited the Met since a field trip for my high school studio art class more than ten years ago, and I don’t remember much about it. Lauren, who had visited the museum on numerous occasions as an art student, also let several years lapse since her last visit. The opportunity to complete an extra credit assignment based on a trip to the museum provided the inspiration we needed to reacquaint ourselves with this fantastic place that we really ought to visit more often.

“I’m definitely going to use the word ‘labyrinthine’ in my essay when describing this place,” I remarked to Lauren at one point as we navigated a series of rooms that seemed endlessly confusing as the climactic scene at the end of the 1986 movie Labyrinth which featured moving stairs and entryways (inspired by the work of M.C. Escher -- whose prints the Met does not feature.) How easy to lose oneself in this overwhelming museum, because in addition to the sense of feeling physically lost, even with the aid of a map, but I also felt a sense of overpowering emotion as we went through each room and encountered piece of art. Suddenly, the five hours until closing time did not seem like enough to fully appreciate this place.

Once someone got a crush on me because he saw me buy an Escher calendar. True story.

After giving some attention to the Greek and the Oceanic art, we stumbled into the Henri Matisse exhibit, In Search of True Painting--An Exploration of Matisse’s Painting Process. Though we had not known about this special exhibit before arriving, I felt I had to give Matisse my undivided attention, as this collection was only being featured for a limited time. Matisse is one of those handful of painters I remember learning about in elementary school art classes (along with the artists that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were named after). Matisse is also one of those painters that I never really cared for. According to season three episode of the WB show Gilmore Girls, “only a charlatan wouldn’t [love Matisse].” Apparently, I am a charlatan. But I also learned from that same episode that fauvism was the artistic movement that Matisse championed and referred to as the “Wild Beast.” 

Gilmore girls eating pizza, like those heroes in a half-shell.

Spending time in the Matisse exhibit gave me the opportunity to work through my reasons of disliking this style of art. I find his lines and colors too bold and garish to ever desire a Matisse print hanging over my bed. I did, however, learn about his approach to art from this exhibit, which gave me a new appreciation of him. Matisse painted the same subject more than once, using different angles and even different mediums each time. His paintings Young Sailor I and Young Sailor II feature the same model, but were created completely differently. The figure is seated in the same position, but Matisse used varied colors to create a different feel for each. Looking at these two paintings side by side, it did not seem as if Matisse was dissatisfied with his first attempt, only that the initial painting inspired the exploration of the second and that second painting would not have been created without the building block of the first. Matisse has many examples of this featured in the exhibit, such as The Gulf of Saint-Tropez and Luxe, calme, et volupté which both feature the same scene of sun bathers on the shore of the French Riveria. The first boasts deeper, richer colors which makes the painting very bold. The second contains more subtle colors that make it seem more like a peaceful day at the shore.

They wouldn't let us take photos of the Matisse exhibit. Thankfully.
A quotation from a 1936 interview with Matisse was plastered on one wall: “Why should I paint the outside of an apple, however exactly? What possible interest could there be in copying an object which nature provides in unlimited quantities?” I appreciated this sentiment, which gave me a deeper understanding of Matisse’s body of work. An artist’s job is not to make exact reproductions of something -- instead it is to evoke feelings, to showcase something that is not readily apparent in the physical realm. I feel that the function of an artist is to explore the psyche and to draw this out in such a way to give someone a way to make a connection. An artist cannot succeed in making that connection with every person, because Matisse and I just do not connect in such a way. 

I could live there.
After exiting the Matisse exhibit, we hooked a left and an oil painting by Yves Tanguy caught my eye, so we moved onward to explore surrealism. About two-thirds of the canvas of Tanguy’s From Green to White is entirely sky, with white lines mimicking cloud-like objects swooping across it, and a bizarre futuristic city resides at the horizon line. I found this painting striking because as the eye moves downward from a familiar sky to encounter unfamiliar buildings, it represents the randomness and surprise of surrealist paintings. I adore surrealism for its illogical expression. Unfortunately, this room only featured one piece by famous surrealist, Salvador DalĂ­, a mixed media of oil and collage called The Accommodations of Desire. Now that is a bizarre and angsty little painting that I wouldn’t mind hanging over my bed. I love how the elements of a surrealist piece, along with an evocative title, can take my mind in all sorts of wacky directions every time I look at it. 

Staple this to my headboard immediately!

We looked at some paintings by Pablo Picasso and George Braque featured side by side. Still Life with a Bottle of Rum (by Picasso) and Still Life with Banderillas (by Braque) seemed strikingly similar. Almost too similar. A placard next to the panting by Braque explained, “Braque’s work is virtually indistinguishable from Picasso’s paintings of the same time.” Another placard explained they painted a lot together, but did not explain why their work looks similar. Lauren and I wondered why Picasso’s work was more famous and Braque’s name was relatively unknown to the general populace. Nothing in any of the placards gave any insight.

I mean, anybody could do that.

Though I can stare at surrealism possibly forever, we headed upstairs to check out contemporary art. “It’s about time for some Pollock and Rothko,” Lauren said. I couldn’t disagree more. Contemporary art doesn’t stir me, and I see that I have almost nothing in my memo pad about what we saw there. As we stood in front of a collection of thirteen panels of solid color, a piece by Ellsworth Kelly called Spectrum V, I asked Lauren if she could explain the piece to me. “It’s an expression in color theory,” she ventured. “What is it expressing?” I asked. She didn’t have an answer. And when it comes to discussing contemporary art, neither do I.


Time ticked by and I mentioned that I really needed to find something relevant to something relevant to my class. Though everything we looked at did fit into the time period that the class covers, I was still determined to find paintings that from the Enlightenment or Romanticism movements. We encountered so much of and I jotted title after title of each painting in my memo book. Satisfied after seeing William Bouguereau’s whimsical Nymphs and Satyr and Pierre August Cot’s tender Springtime in a gallery that featured Impressionist art, we decided to be on our way.

I'm getting pretty hungry at this point.

When we made it to the huge gift shop, I looked through a wall of postcards and I found one card of a painting I lamented not getting the chance to see. Lauren consulted her iPhone for the gallery number as I checked the time to see there only a few minutes remained before the exhibit rooms closed. We zipped through the labyrinthine rooms and kept encountering blocks, thinking we’d have to turn back and start over. Doorways suddenly appeared where we didn’t think a door had been before. Flying through the museum at top speed felt like we were in some epic movie, with a soaring movie score sweeping in the background and rising to a flourish we reached the triumphant moment. 

I couldn't find a good place to mention this cute tiger painting. I thought here might be good.

And there the painting hung before us -- Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze. I caught my breath only to lose it once again once I saw this painting. I had no idea the piece was so enormous, at 15 by 21 feet (which would be a great size for a backyard swimming pool), it was the largest painting we had seen that day. The room was empty when we arrived and we got to sit and admire it for a while. Or at least we had the few minutes until the museum staff kicked us out. 

I remember learning about this painting in my Revolutionary War class last year in which my professor had remarked on the historical inaccuracies of the painting. The event took place at night, yet the painting makes it look as though a new day has dawned. A man holds up the American flag, though this flag hadn’t existed at the time. These and other intentional inaccuracies meant that the painter could capture an essence of reality -- a certain type of honesty that can only be expressed in art. Eighty years after this event, Leutze painted a symbol of the American Revolution that expressed a deeper meaning. If he had painted it accurately, this painting wouldn’t have given me such chills. This painter had done would Matisse would later do, which was not going for exactitude. Leutze went for the emotion by depicting an important event during the revolution of a country

As I stared at it, excitement bubbled up in me. “He’s headed towards New Jersey!” I exclaimed to Lauren. And when the museum staff shooed us away, we turned and did the same.

And that's pretty much how it happened.

Dude, that is so meta.

Are You My Mother?Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My English professor this past semester told us that the most important thing you can say about something you've read is what that text has to say about writing. Finding the metafictional aspect of a piece of writing is the way inside it. During class discussions and on quizzes, he urged us to pull apart pieces of a text that commented on itself as a text. The concept puzzled me in the beginning, but then I started to become a little good at it and the habit lingers into pleasure reading. I got an overdose of it with this book, as this story even refers to itself as a "metabook."

This book claims to be "about" Bechdel's mother, but there are actually more biographical details about her in her previous book, a memoir about Bechdel's father, FUN HOME. And it's from FUN HOME that ARE YOU MY MOTHER? takes all of it cues. This book couldn't have been written without the previous one, because much of it is about the process of writing the other. It's a behind the scenes look at the writing process, intertwined with the emotional toll it took on both the creator and her mother.

It all makes for a very odd little book. And I'm bananas for it. I've never read anything quite like it. Yet as I read it, I felt that it wasn't as urgent or as needed as FUN HOME - perhaps that's just the influence of this book taking over, informing how I perceive the previous.

But I loved this book (as well as FUN HOME) for its brutal honesty - or rather, the rawness that operated like honesty. Either way, it was painful and beautiful (two of my main requisites for pleasure reading) and through reading it I even realized things about myself.

There's a part when Bechdel's mother criticizes poetry in a magazine for being "so annoying" because "they're too personal." Bechdel defends the concept of writing personal details by asking, "Can't you be more universal by being specific?" I'd point to that exchange between mother and daughter discussing another piece of writing as the most meta aspect of this book of daughter writing about mother. Bechdel provides the minutiae of her conversations with her mother to make a deeper connection with her writing, which also happens to be the very thing her mother hates most about writing. It's a bizarre little symbiosis. And one that happens to work rather well.

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Why I haven't been blogging

Hello, blog. Remember me? Well, I haven't forgotten you, even though my absence of more than a year   seems to prove otherwise.

I came here today to post something entirely different. I noticed I left the above photo in my drafts. The date on the post is June 18, 2012. I guess I must have gone to a library book sale. I guess I had intentions to post it. So here's the photo. I haven't read any of those books in that photo. I don't even know where they are right now.

This blog started as my little scrapbook of photos of the books I'd acquire at the library book sales I obsessively attended. Though as a result of not being able to read as quickly as I can scoop used books into a Disney tote bag, looking through this blog got really depressing. So many books, so little time, etc.

There were a couple reasons I left this blog hanging last year, and it started with struggling with a long illness in the spring that kept me unmotivated to complete anything other than schoolwork. I got better, but struggling with some minor injuries in the summer, combined with weeks of time off from work and school, led to ennui. At one point last summer I wrote on a post-it a list of reasons "why I haven't been blogging."

I don't have that post-it anymore. But I know I wrote some self-deprecating things on it about no one wanting to read what I had to write anyway. I love reading blogs, but I continually feel dwarfed and amazed by some of my favorites. I concluded that to read and support blogs must be better than maintaining my own. I also have tons of admiration for those who can stick to a regular blogging schedule. I can't even stick to a regular feeding schedule.

Last year, I made a ferocious return to personal journaling and letter-writing and poured my energy into tactile art and writing. Getting on the internet to post something became a bit of a slog when I could just tweet a shortened version of what I was thinking or quickly snap a picture of what I was working on.

In short, I am very lazy.

Though I have a passion for books, I never wanted to be a blogger that writes book reviews (though I do write reviews on Goodreads when I have the time.) This blog was conceived as collage of my book collection. But now as I have more control over my book spending (read: I'm broke), and my collection thins out more as I don't see as much need to own so many damn books, I am left wondering what the hell I should do with this little mermaidpants-flavored space on the internet.

So. As much as I'd love to prevent them from happening, I've had thoughts. Thoughts I'm embarrassed to have, but thoughts that seem to want to go somewhere. Here. So this post about non-blogging, I guess, has just been subterfuge. A long-winded way to say, sorry, but I think I might blog again.

Monday, April 2, 2012

March Reads

One of my #FridayReads blog posts got eaten by my phone, and it discouraged me so much that I haven't been back to fix it. But here's what I've been reading in March. 

I Wish I Knew That: U.S. Presidents is one of three history-related books I bought for myself in celebration of President's Day. Yes, that was in February, not March. Whoops. You got me.

I'm finally digging in to The Twilight Zone: The Original Stories anthology. But, as I am wont to do, I am not reading the stories in order. (This makes some of my sequentialist friends cringe.) In this photo I was reading the story "To Serve Man" by Damon Knight.

My favorite comic book writer, Brian K. Vaughan, is finally back with a new ongoing monthly series, Saga, and I was there on release day to pick up the first issue. I have been sort of away from the comics world for a few years, but this series is enough to pull me back in. 

I only finished two books during the month of March. One was The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour (I didn't take a photo while I had it loan from the library) and the other was A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle. I decided to reread A Wrinkle in Time because I realized I couldn't remember what it was about enough to explain the plot to someone. Now that I've finished it, I'm doubting whether or not I ever read it as a kid.

Goodreads tells me that I've only read seven books so far this year -- and that I'm 18 books behind my goal of reading 100 books. Thanks, Goodreads. I have not reviewed or even rated anything I've read so far in 2012. I am not pleased with myself. I'm just experiencing a temporary burnout.