Culture Consumption: March and April 2017

My, my. I have gotten rather behind, haven’t I.

Books

“A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.”

I delighted in A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, the audio book of which is read by the author herself, who does a wonderful reading. The novel is told from two points of view — Ruth, a writer on a remote island who finds a mysterious packet in a Hello Kitty lunchbox, containing a journal and letters and other items, and Nao, living in Tokyo, whose story is told through the journal itself.

There are so many layers to my love of this novel. The characters and their stories captivated me. Nao, who has faced such levels of bullying at school and sorrow at home, relates her decision to end her life in a straightforward manner. To her it is the only logical solution to what she’s been through (and she’s been through a lot). In her journal, she presents her life with a sense of self-depreciating humor. After all she’s been through, and despite her resolution, there is an underlying strength to her. It’s an interesting balance between depression, sorrow, and enjoyment of small moments.

Ruth is also fascinating to me. Her life is marked by less overt drama, and her story relates more of the small moments, the routines of her life that both provide her with contentment and feel like traps. As she explore’s Nao’s story through the journal and tries to seek a way to help this girl who lives across the sea, she finds certain threads of her own life loosening, creating their own minor havocs.

This novel is also so meta. One could start with the writer character, Ruth, who shares her name with the author of the book, which suggests the potential of the autobiographical slipping in even if none of it actually is such. Even the title A Tale for the Time Being has double meaning — as in both, a tale for a person who lives in time, and also a tale for right now. I don’t want to get too much into the ways this is a meta narrative, since a lot of it comes at the end, but I will say that it had me thinking about the creation of art and degree to which the reader participates in the creation.

I think this is one of those books I’m going to have to reread many times.


I also really loved Binti and Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor. These fantastic novellas tell the story of Binti is a brilliant mathematician, able to calculate complete equations in her mind. The first book relates her journey to Oomza University on the other side of the galaxy. She is the first of the Himba people to be accepted to the University, and goes despite her family’s disapproval. Her journey is not easy and carries her into the heart of an old, brutal conflict. The second book takes place one year after the events of the first, with Binti returning home, changed by her experiences and her education. This series offers a quick paced, inventive space opera with fantastic world building. It’s amazing to me how Okorafor can pack so many layers of culture and characters into such slim books.

I also rather enjoyed The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman, a fun middle grade novel about a boy who escapes his abusive uncle only to be tricked into becoming the apprentice of an evil wizard, and Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enrique, an unsettling collection of short story collection that I wrote about in more detail over here.

Books Finished This Month:
1. Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez
2. The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman
3. A Tale for the Time Being (audio book) by Ruth Ozeki
4. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
5. Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor

Total Books for the Year: 10

Still in Progress: Yvain: The Knight of the Lion, a graphic novel by M. T. Anderson

Movies

March was a big movie watching month, because I participated in the March Around the World Challenge with the aim watching 30 movies from 30 different countries during the month. I made it about halfway through the challenge with a total of 15 movies watched. It’s always a fascinating challenge (I’ve done it the past several years), as it expands my movie watching to films that I might not have seen otherwise.

My favorite movie of the past two months — and a favorite for the year so far — was Clouds of Sils Maria (2014), a beautiful, strange, subtle story with powerful performances from both Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart. A longer post on my love for this movie is over here.

Clouds_of_Sils_Maria1

Another Under the Shadow (Iran, 2016)
A woman and her child living through bombings in 1980s Tehran begin to believe they may be facing a supernatural threat as well. Although not scary (for me at least), this is intense. The tension comes first from the very real world fear of being bombed, a constant stress built into daily life. Fantastic acting and camera work then add the possibility of there being some other threat, as well. Plenty of layering here, politically and a emotionally that could be parsed out. I really loved this.

2016 - Under the Shadow

I also liked the colorful and gorey The Beyond (…E tu vivrai nel terrore! L’aldilà, 1981), which is about a woman who inherits an old decrepit hotel which turns out to have deadly secrets — a movie that wins for its eye popping and face melting effects, strange twisty ending, and surreal ending.

Orlando (1992) is also amazing, the story told in poetic, fragments of periods in Orlando’s life as they achieve immortality and switch genders along their lifetime. Also, Tilda Swinton. Also, I really, really need to read Virginia Woolf’s book now.

Other great movies (from a multitude of genres) include: The Meddler (2015), a heartfull comedy about a woman who invests herself in her daughter and other people’s lives after her husband’s death; The Handmaiden (Ah-ga-ssi, 2016), which is based on one of my favorite books Fingersmith, a twisty tale of con artists, deception, and love; Eat Drink Man Woman (Yin shi nan nu, 1994), a delightful comedy about the love of food and family with some genuinely surprising moments; Fire (India, 1996), a beautiful movie about two married women in India who push back against the traditions that constrain them, claiming space for themselves, while falling in love; and World on a Wire (Welt am Draht, 1973), a long film at 3.5 hours about a cybernetics engineer working on a program that creates a simulation replicating Earth.

New-to-me Movies Watched in March:
1. Blow (2001)
2. What We Become / Sorgenfri (Denmark, 2016)
3. Sand Dollars / Dólares de arena (Dominican Republic, 2014)
4. Grabbers (Ireland, 2012)
5. The Silent House / La casa muda (Uruguay, 2010)
6. Orlando (United Kingdom, 1992)
7. Under the Shadow (Iran, 2016)
8. The Handmaiden / Ah-ga-ssi (South Korea, 2016)
9. Eat Drink Man Woman / Yin shi nan nu (Taiwan, 1994)
10. World on a Wire / Welt am Draht (Germany, 1973)
11. The Beyond / …E tu vivrai nel terrore! L’aldilà (Italy, 1981)
12. An Angel at My Table (New Zealand, 1990)
13. Madeinusa (Peru, 2006)
14. The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears /L’étrange couleur des larmes de ton corps (Belgium, 2013)
15. Fire (India, 1996)
16. The Countess (France, 2009)

New-to-me Movies Watched in April:
1. Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)
2. The Meddler (2015)
3. Sea Fog / Haemoo (2014)
4. Organ (1996)
5. Finding Dory (2016)
6. Inuyasha the Movie: Affections Touching Across Time (2001)
7. Inuyasha the Movie 2: The Castle Beyond the Looking Glass (2002)
8. Inuyasha the Movie 4: Fire on the Mystic Island (2004)

Television

I was introduced to The Shannara Chronicles by my mom, who apparently has a crush on the baby-faced lead. The plot of this story is stereotypically fantasy, involving a kingdom of elves faced with the threat of evil in the form of demons, because their sacred tree is dying. Three young people from different backgrounds must go on a quest, facing trolls and other dangers along the way. What makes this mildly interesting to me is that this kingdom exists in an apocalyptic world after the fall of human civilization, with visuals of collapsed buildings and technology as a backdrop. I’m not really clear how this worldbuilding functions — it doesn’t quite make sense, but it drew me in nonetheless.

The plot of this is so silly at times, the character’s motivations equally so — and on top of that, it’s just so MTV, because it’s cast with primarily beautiful young people who flirt with each other. Even the princess’ uncle seems far too young and beautiful to be her uncle. But it doesn’t really matter, because despite it’s flaws, this was filled with enough light, fantastical fun for me to make it through the season and even mildly look forward to season two coming out this summer.

the-shannara-chronicles

In high school, I used to watch InuYasha, an anime about a girl who falls through time to feudal era Japan, where she discovers she is the reincarnation of a priestess who once guarded the sacred jewel. She frees the powerful half-demon InuYasha, who wants the jewel for his own ends. When the sacred jewel shatters and scatters across the land, the two join forces to track down the pieces before they cause strife.

I watched whenever it popped up on Cartoon Network, often getting the episodes and story out of sequence — which didn’t matter after a while because the story never really seemed to get anywhere. The team of characters was always fighting demons, always hunting the sacred jewel, always caught in their redundant love dramas.

I wouldn’t have thought this would have been a show I would return, too. But when I was stressed out over this past couple of months and was looking for some comfort watching, this fit the bill nicely. Now I’ve watched about three or so seasons (it’s hard to tell because of the way I get the disks from the library), and I’ve also watched several of the movies (which are more like extended episodes. Enjoyed candy floss. I’m probably going to keep watching to the end of the series — or at least as much as I can have access to from the library, although I’m starting to loose interest again.

InuYasha

I made it through season four of Game of Thrones and am so grateful that Tyrion was able to not only escape, but also give his father what he deserved.


That’s it for me! What are you reading? Watching? Loving right now?


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