• click for details

Breathe (2017)

Breathe is a lovely movie. If not the finest accomplishment of the art form, it was a very enjoyable, positive, uplifting story; and if that sounds sentimental, then guilty as charged, what do you want from me, I’m human. I appreciated knowing that it was a true story because I loved the background (nodding to the necessity for ADA legislation, for instance) of looking for hints of today in this version of yesterday. Disability rights matter to me. In the selfish way that our own experiences shape our concerns in the world, I have a bad knee; I had knee surgery some years ago and needed special accommodations a time or two, and my frustrations in meeting even my simple, and temporary, needs gave me a greater appreciation for the much bigger concerns of more profoundly and permanently challenged people.

This is a rather sentimental story, with a love story forming at least part of its heart. Robin and Diana meet and fall in love, and they marry around the time that he falls ill with a fever that ends in his total paralysis by polio: “you can’t even breathe for yourself.” He becomes depressed in the hospital (and who can blame him?!) but she won’t “let” him die, insists that he pursue his life anyway, and they have to break him out of the hospital against the wishes of its administration, in an era when polio patients were apparently, according to this film, basically imprisoned. What follows is a family of friends making their own way: building him a wheelchair that incorporates his breathing apparatus, dealing with the obvious calamity of the breathing apparatus failing, and gradually freeing him to travel the world. They attend a disability conference in Germany where they have to literally break the doorway out of a hotel room to fit his chair in (this is where I see promises of ADA). He lives a longer and fuller life than anyone thought possible, frees some of his co-polio-sufferers from the hospital/prison system, and dies at home with his family with him–in an assisted suicide, by the way, thereby touching on another medical-ethics hot button.

This film absolutely deals in emotions, and gets a wee bit saccharine; but it felt really good, I learned some things, and it was, well, sweet. I had a perfectly nice time watching this movie and I cried at the end and then felt better again. There are worse ways to spend an evening.

Rating: objectively, 7, but I give 8 dusty Spanish roads for emotional impact.

upcoming: San Diego’s Old Globe presents Uncle Vanya (2018)

For today, a little background information on a review that is to come.

This week, I am so lucky to spend time with my Grammy in beautiful balmy southern California. Among other things, she takes me to such very fine events as this production. And clips all the relevant papers for me to peruse.

Grammy’s paperwork

This is such a different production that I wanted to do a post ahead of seeing the play, so that you get the same preview I did.

Much is being made of this play in advance. This translation of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya by Richard Nelson, Richard Pevear, and Larissa Volokhonsky was commissioned by San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre, where I still remember seeing Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona with my Grammy and Pop when I was ten. (Lucky, lucky girl.) Pevear and Volokhonsky are today’s “pre-eminent latter-day translators of Russian translators” (from The San Diego Union-Tribune, and I certainly don’t know any better). The theatre installed an extra row of seats for the first time, so an already intimate space becomes still more so. And, stepping away from ingrained theatre traditions, according to a letter sent to my grandmother when she purchased the tickets:

Over the past eight years of his work as both playwright and director, Richard Nelson has been exploring what’s been dubbed a ‘conversational theatre.’ In it, the characters speak, behave, and interact as truthfully as possible, and the audience listens in. The actors focus with uncommon rigor on each other, and invite the audience to lean into their interactions. They don’t artificially turn to the audience, they don’t ‘cheat out’ to make sure they are always seen at every moment, they don’t push their voices to be heard. They simply converse with each other as people do in real life, as if no one were watching. And the audience listens, closely, as if overhearing a conversation at the next table in a restaurant.

Therefore, we are urged to pick up assistive listening devices, which are being provided in larger-than-ever numbers, to help us hear this quiet conversation. Director Nelson points out that Uncle Vanya is “a family play… a very complicated family play, but it’s a family play” with the smallest cast of any of Chekhov’s works.

Some years ago, I saw a play at Houston’s Alley Theatre that referenced this one, but other than that, this is my first experience with Chekhov, though his reputation of course precedes him. I’m really excited to see Chekhov performed at all, but this unusual production sounds especially interesting. It’s always such a treat–to see my Grammy, to see the Pacific Ocean (off her balconies!), and to see fine theatre in such a lovely little space as the Old Globe. I mark my gratitude here, then, and I’ll get you a review of the play in weeks to come!

more on Silverman’s Fearless Confessions

I’ve been asked by a reader to elucidate some points in my review of Fearless Confessions. I apologize for being less than clear. Y’all keep on asking your questions so I can do the communicating I want to do, improve my practice, and not frustrate my readers!

These are the lines in question as they appeared:

I was really excited by Silverman’s concepts of highlighting, with different color highlighters, different plot elements or characters in a memoirist’s story to serve different plots. Or her idea of erasing the parts that don’t serve whichever story is being told: where a fiction writer builds plot, a nonfictionist sculpts one by erasure. These metaphors worked really well for me, and are perhaps the best expressions I have read of concepts I’ve been trying to articulate and wrap myself around.

And the question read,

Who is doing the highlighting – an aspiring writer reading an established author? For understanding the craft in that writer’s style? And is ‘erasing the parts’ advice for that aspiring writer to edit a draft down to the desired essence?

Okay, I’ll try again. The highlighting is metaphoric, not literal, although the metaphor gets a little involved when we talk about the different color highlighters. The idea is this: let’s say I’ve been a competitive cyclist; been married and divorced; and worked in several male-dominated industries, with associated challenges. Let’s say I also studied library science in graduate school. If I’m writing a memoir about my divorce, I don’t necessarily need to weigh down or confuse the reader with all the other stuff. If we imagine my life story as one big, exhaustive text (that no one wants to read), and I’m crafting a memoir from it, I’m going to highlight the stuff that meets the needs of the book I have in mind to write. I’m going to highlight all the parts about marriage and divorce, obviously. And maybe some parts of riding bikes or working around men will also get highlighted, because they are relevant to the narrative about my divorce. But I don’t necessarily need the library science. When I get around to writing a memoir about my experience as a woman in the world, I’ll use the male-dominated industries stuff, and some of the bike racing (from when I raced against men), and maybe some of the library science (a female-dominated profession, with different issues) and some of the divorce. If we imagine my full and exhaustive life story as one big text, I’m using different color highlighters to go through and select the content that belongs in different memoirs. That’s the metaphor at play.

The erasure concept is related. If my life is a big, exhaustive text, and I’m writing an artful memoir of it, I’m not going to include every pair of shoes I ever wore, every friend I made and lost from pre-K on, every meal I can remember eating, every time anyone hurt my feelings. We all know that kind of exhaustive life story is… exhausting. Nobody wants to read that, although many a late-night drunk has offered it to many a bartender. As Silverman wrote it, the fiction writer gets to build a story out of her imagination. But a memoirist has to craft one by erasure, by taking out all the unnecessary details and bullshit of a life, until she is left with a beautifully crafted story.

How’d I do?

2017: A Year in Review

Note: I’m out of pocket during my residency period at school. I love your comments! But it may take me several days or a week or more to respond.

This is a traditional annual post; you can see my past few years in review here: 2016; 2015; 2014; 2013; 2012; 2011.

For the very *best* books I’ve read this year, see last Friday’s post, best of 2017.

This year was markedly different than any that have come before, because I’ve been a full-time graduate student in creative writing, and my program is fairly reading-heavy. Unsurprisingly, my reading habits have changed a fair amount.

The biggest change: I’m down by nearly half in terms of the number of books I read, at only 70 this year. (There were a handful of individual essays in addition to what I added to the big list of “books read,” but that list also includes a few individual essays.) Of those 70 books:

  • 76% were nonfiction (54% last year), plus a handful of poetry, for less than 20% fiction.
  • an even 50% were written by female authors (40% last year); 40% were by men (51% last year), with the remainder being collections by multiple authors, or variously unidentifiable.*
  • I normally analyze the novels I read by genre, but this is such a small sample size that I’ll just say there was a general smattering of historical fiction, misc. or contemporary fiction, fantasy, drama, and one lonely thriller–a far cry from previous years where thriller/mysteries have been a major component of my fiction reading.
  • I read NO audibooks this year (last year, only 5 books out of 121, but in previous years a significant number).
  • nearly 70% of my reading was assigned for school this year, which I think explains everything else I see here.
  • corollary: the same 70%, almost precisely, I purchased. Another 25% I was sent for review, and those few left over were either sent to me in .pdf form (for school), or already owned. This is a big change, again, from last year, when 80% of the books I read, I read for paid reviews.
  • again, the big one: I read 70 books this year, compared to 121 last year.

I am unsurprised that there are big changes, but I certainly hadn’t realizes how relatively few books I’d read this year. And to think it nearly made my brain explode all the same! I guess that’s just an indicator of how much brainpower (stress, angst, energy, time) went into writing–something not obvious to you, my faithful readers here, I’m afraid. I am ready to share very little of what I write for school with audiences outside that small trusted circle (my faculty advisor, a few classmates). It’s a tender time, and I appreciate your patience.

I’m glad that I’m doing better at reading male and female authors* in more-or-less equal numbers, and I’m glad to be reading a lot of nonfiction, although I confess at this point–overwhelmingly skewed in the nonfictional direction–I do miss the ease and joy of fiction. I also find novels so much easier to review (partly because of all that brainpower already working for school), and I’m going to try to keep that in mind when requesting books for review from the Shelf.

In 2018, I’m afraid we should all expect more of the same trends… I’m entering the third semester of my MFA program, which is the critical essay semester, which means critical writing about my reading, ad nauseum… we’ll see if I can pull it all off! It’s head-above-water time these days. In fact, it occurs to me as I write this that I may have to consider a further slackening of the pace here at pagesofjulia. I’m in the final year of school. How would you all feel about seeing me even less?

And what did 2017 hold for you, and what do you see looming ahead? I’m always glad to hear from you, even if I have little time to respond.

As 2017 closes, I wish us all calm, relaxed, pleasurable, entertaining, enlightening, and inspiring reading lives (maybe not all at once!) and I’m glad to have you here. Love.

*I need to work on this label for the sake of non-gender-conforming or non-gender-binary values, which I support, but I guess I’m still mulling over how to represent this while maintaining the point, which I think is to recognize that I’m not reading only dudes, or that I’m trying not to.

best of 2017: year’s end

Note: I’m out of pocket during my residency period at school. I love your comments! But it may take me several days or a week or more to respond.

My year-in-review post will be up next week, as usual. But first, also as usual, I want to share the list of my favorite things I read this year.

Not as usual: none were audiobooks, because I read no audiobooks this year. Few of these are new releases (they are marked with an asterisk*).

I gave a single rating of 10, late in the game, to an essay I’ve read over and over, and it keeps getting better every time. I still have not written about this essay. I still think you should go into it blind.

  • “The Fourth State of Matter,” Jo Ann Beard – nonfiction

I’ve refrained from going back and changing any ratings that I gave at the time; but I have split the books that I rated 9 into two groups, as I judge them now. This list is overwhelmingly nonfiction, since that is most of what I’ve been reading this year.

So. The top three which received ratings of 9, are:

The rest of my 9-ratings, all wonderful reads:

I gave plenty of 8s–too many, perhaps–and I’ve gone through and compiled you a slightly shorter list of my favorites from those books.

I hope this lengthy list gives you some good ideas for your own reading! What are some of the best books you’ve read this year?

Come back next week to see a further breakdown of my reading habits in 2017, what’s changed and what’s a surprise. Happy holidays and happy reading, friends.

movie: The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia (2009)

Note: I’m out of pocket during my residency period, beginning today with travel. I love your comments! But it may take me several days or a week or more to respond.

Sorry to follow last week’s negative review with another.

I’ve heard about The Wild and Wonderful Whites for years now, and I know a lot of people who appreciate it. When I started school in West Virginia, folks from other places mention this movie as a way to know the place. As I was watching all those other Appalachia/Southern movies for school, a friend borrowed it for me, as an optional add-on to my education, I guess.

I think it’s a shame that this movie represents the state. This documentary of the apparently legendary White family records their lifestyle: petty crime and violence, drug and alcohol abuse, no great contribution to society–excepting of course the cultural value of the tap dancing. I don’t know. The film itself presents (we assume) reality, with little or no editorializing. But the response to the film feels to me like glorifying or celebrating a lifestyle that includes a certain amount of tragedy. I’m not a prude; I appreciate partying, and I don’t judge making babies out of wedlock, or anything like that. But the matriarch crying at the drug use at her birthday party, and the pillhead whose baby is taken from her in the maternity ward, are sad stories. Why are we laughing and joking about this? Also, West Virginia doesn’t deserve this as its theme song.

Rating: 4 Xan-bars for filmography, I guess.

movie: Sherman’s March (1986)

Sherman’s March is the third movie assigned for that one seminar (see also The True Meaning of Pictures and Deliverance).

I don’t know. Perhaps it will be illuminated for me in seminar; but this movie didn’t hold much value for me. Ross gets a grant to make a documentary about the lasting impact of General Sherman’s march across the South during the Civil War. He sets out with camera in hand to visit his family and meet women, traveling the Carolinas and Georgia. His love life is suffering, and everyone he meets is either a potential partner or a matchmaker. He lolls about, bemoaning his single fate and feeling sorry for himself. He occasionally opines about General Sherman or visits a monument. Look for lines like, “Why aren’t you in love with me?” and “It doesn’t matter if you don’t know her, Ross.” (Two and a half hours of this.)

Woe is Ross. The end.

Rating: 3 hours of my day lost.
%d bloggers like this: