Late to the Party: World War Z (The Book)

[This is the first in a continuing series, Late to the Party, talking about culture that’s not so ‘pop’ anymore, because sometimes you have things to do for years on end instead of reading the latest book or watching the latest movie.  Max Brooks’s World War Z came out in 2006 and I’m only now getting around to read it.]

On the gorgeous Friday of Memorial Day weekend, my partner and I set off to Portland.  I had heard good things about the audiobook of World War Z and, knowing little about it except that people liked it and there were zombies, we downloaded it for the 3.5 hour drive.

[Note: An unabridged audiobook came out May 14 of this year but was not available for purchase on iTunes on Memorial Day weekend.  Or I didn’t see it.  Whatever.  Either way, this article is primarily about the abridged version of the audiobook, which has been in the market since 2007.]

I do want to be clear about this up front: I like a LOT of this work, both the audiobook and the book.  (After I finished listening to the audio, I ended up borrowing a copy to compare the two.)  Brooks’ prose isn’t necessarily anything to write home about, but the level of research and commitment that he brought to this hypothetical situation is outstanding.  I think that it achieves one of the most important objectives of science fiction, which is an earnest re-examination of our lives as they are through the lens of what they might become.

But (you knew there was a ‘but’ coming!), this achievement makes Brooks’s failures stand out in greater contrast.

Spoilers: There will be some about this work and the seminal zombie masterpiece, Night of the Living Dead.

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Pick-Me-Up: Thug Kitchen and more

Thug Kitchen on tomatoes

My roommate turned me onto Thug Kitchen a few months ago, and I love this site.  The recipes are excellent and healthy and the posts usually make me laugh.  More importantly, I think TK’s mission is increasingly essential.  From the FAQ page:

PART OF WHAT WE ENJOY ABOUT TK IS HOW, HOPEFULLY, IT WILL GET READERS THINKING ABOUT WHAT KIND OF ADDITIONAL BEHAVIORS THEY ATTRIBUTE TO PEOPLE WHO TRY TO EAT HEALTHY. EVERYONE DESERVES TO FEEL A PART OF OUR COUNTRY’S PUSH TOWARD A HEALTHIER DIET, NOT JUST PEOPLE WITH DISPOSABLE INCOMES WHO SPEAK A CERTAIN WAY. WE AIM TO EDUCATE AS WELL AS ENTERTAIN, MOTHER FUCKER.

Masculinity (and heart disease) inna a box…

The cultural trope of not only cooking, but of eating healthfully, being somehow “prissy” or otherwise feminine, is still pretty strong.  Vegetarianism and veganism are particularly ridiculed and associated with all sorts of negative traits: hypersensitivity, hyperbolic condemnation of meat-eaters, yuppie-ism, smugness, adherence to fads, delicacy, squeamishness, illogic, ditziness… the list goes on.

… while women laugh alone with salad. (Courtesy of The Hairpin.)

So check out Thug Kitchen and enjoy!

BONUS: Ron Finley’s “guerrilla gardening” project in South Los Angeles also tackles preconceptions about what it means to be a gardener.  The project is really lovely on a lot of levels – increasing accessibility to healthy foods, nutritional awareness, and an emphasis on creation as an act of defiance and empowerment.  Money quote:

So what I want to do here, we gotta make this sexy. So I want us all to become ecolutionary renegades, gangstas, gangsta gardeners. We gotta flip the script on what a gangsta is. If you ain’t a gardener, you ain’t gangsta. Get gangsta with your shovel, okay? And let that be your weapon of choice.

BONUS BONUS: 

Ray tells it like it is.  (From Achewood by the inimitable Chris Onstad.  Go read the whole goddamn thing.)

Ray tells it like it is. (From Achewood by the inimitable Chris Onstad. Go read the whole goddamn thing.)

Lucinda ate this this morning and will hopefully imbibe some of this later today.

The Great Gatsby: The Long Review

Original 1925 cover art by Francis Cugat.

I had not anticipated how much time I’d end up spending on The Great Gatsby.  At this point, I have seen it in the theatres twice and just finished reading the novel for the first time since high school, and there’s a lot to unpack here.  Given the slant of this blog, I’ll try to keep focused more on the portrayal of women in the film and novel, but so much more could be said about how race, wealth, poverty, and any number of other issues are addressed.  (For the earlier and briefer “tl;dr” review, go here.)

Warning:

There are going to be spoilers in this review, as the movie sticks fairly close to the book, the book came out close to a century ago, and you should have read it in high school.  Proceed accordingly.  If you are unfamiliar with the characters and their relationships with each other, this is kind of a gorgeous character map.

As I mentioned in the short review, I learned through extensive research (yes, that is sarcastic) that Fitzgerald drew a ton of inspiration from his relationship with his wife, Zelda Fitzgerald, to the point of lifting text directly from her diary and inserting it into one of his books.  In fact, there’s stenographic record of Fitzgerald basically losing it when Zelda had the temerity to write a fictionalized account of her own mental breakdown and hospitalization, since he had been planning on using that material in future works:

 I don’t want you….to write a novel about insanity, because you know there is certain psychiatric stuff in my books, and if you publish a book before me, or even at the same time, in which the subject of psychiatry is taken up, and people see “Fitzgerald,” why, there is Scott Fitzgerald’s wife, they read that… Everything we have done is mine. If we make a trip….and you and I go around, I am the professional novelist, and I am supporting you. This is all my material. None of it is your material.

So… yeah.  Fitzgerald had a complicated relationship with the primary lady in his life and the material of both of their lives as fodder for his writing.  As such, how he deals with both the primary woman and his narrator are worth greater examination, as well as the choices Luhrman makes in bringing these characters to the screen.

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The Great Gatsby: The Short Review

So I fell into a bit of a rabbit hole with The Great Gatsby.  I hadn’t intended to do anything with the film at all besides enjoy what I was sure would be a messy and gorgeous movie with some friends and some smuggled beverages.  (Lesson learned: champagne cocktails do not travel well.)

Credit: Warner Bros

I had not read the book since it was assigned in high school, so I wandered into the film roughly familiar with the plot, not expecting a lot, and a little tipsy.

The first time I saw this film, I was overwhelmed.  I’ll get to why in a little bit, but I ended up reading the book again for the first time in 10 years and seeing the film a second time decidedly sober.  I’m posting a much more detailed review on here in the next day or two, but not everybody has time for that sort of thing, so here’s the overview.

(Mild spoilers here.  Major spoilers in the full review.)

Love him or hate him, Baz Luhrman has a style that he does incredibly well, and that style works beautifully with the look and feel of The Great Gatsby. Continue reading

How Soap Operas are Changing the World, and Why That’s Great

I will not pretend to be a fan of soap operas, but this headline got my attention immediately:

The secret to bringing down India’s birth rate: get more women to watch soap operas

It turns out that there’s a significant level of correlation between which regions of India have access to cable television and which regions are experiencing lower total fertility rates.  The study on which the article is based goes into further detail of the positive social change in its abstract:

Using a three-year, individual-level panel dataset, we find that the introduction of cable television is associated with significant decreases in the reported acceptability of domestic violence towards women and son preference, as well as increases in women’s autonomy and decreases in fertility. We also find suggestive evidence that exposure to cable increases school enrollment for younger children, perhaps through increased participation of women in household decision-making.

Apparently, similar findings were uncovered when tracking fertility rates in relation to cable-viewing in Brazil.   Continue reading

Pick-Me-Up: Fairy Tales for the Modern Woman, by Renee Lupica

This is lovely AND a little disheartening that it’s a fairy tale.

I.

Once upon a time a woman never got married, but had many fulfilling relationships, a job that kept her comfortable, an apartment that she got to decorate just for her, and hobbies that stimulated her mind.

The End.

Read the rest at The Hairpin.  Also, do yourself a favor and read ALL of the Scandals of Classic Hollywood series by Anne Helen Petersen.  Insightful, hilarious, and a fascinating lens through which to view cultural change.

Lucinda appreciates new weird fairy tales, like this one.

Literary Cocktail #1: The Gatsby

Actual discussion of the film and novel is going to come later, but right now I’m more excited to showcase our first literary cocktail.

I took the basis for this cocktail from the French 75, which was big in Prohibition America.

Credit: Warner Bros.

A basic French 75 is gin, simple syrup, and lemon juice topped off with brut champagne.  The name reportedly comes from the French 75 mm field gun, considered the first piece of modern artillery and blah blah blah wikipedia.  I decided to add a specific Gatsby twist by making my own simple syrup infused with basil and raspberries.

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