Thursday, April 19, 2012

Big Bang Theory - Season 4

I tend to watch tv shows in binges. I also don't tend to watch anything on a regular schedule. For a while, I was in grad school and my shifting class schedule made it difficult. Now I'm just too out of the habit.

I explain all this so that you know why I'm only just now getting around to finishing up the fourth season of Big Bang Theory. We caught up to the show while this season was airing, and had to wait for it to come out on DVD. Then we had to wait until we remembered. Anyway.

I admit I was pretty worried about this season in general. One thing that I hate on sitcoms is the on-again off-again couple. I used to be obsessed with Friends in high school, and halfway through the show Ross and Rachel drove me so insane I stopped watching and never looked back. I also was wary of how Amy Farrah-Fowler was going to change things.

I have to say I've been pretty happy overall. I'm still two episodes from the end of the season, so I expect certain things will happen. But the off-again version of Penny and Leonard hasn't been annoying. It's been a pretty proper source of comedy, and it's actually helped give Penny a bit more dimension and character.

I go back and forth on Amy. In the most recent episode we were watching, I commented that I wasn't sure how I felt about where her arc was going and my husband responded, "at least she has another character trait." He's not wrong, she was one note at the beginning but has slowly started to become more interesting. I'm still not entirely sure where I stand with her, I definitely enjoy her more when she's with Sheldon than with Penny.

But I have to admit that having three regular female characters has meant that the show has started to feature them a lot more. This is especially nice because despite being comedic characters with their own strange traits (like Bernadette's clumsiness) both Amy and Bernadette are intellectuals who rival the male characters.

One of my favorite things about the show which has become even more evident this season is that the characters on this show, despite their faults, are all good friends to each other. Penny is given a lot of grief by Sheldon, but she shows over and over again that she will stand up for her friends, and do whatever they need just because they need it. The guys are a little less so, but you get the sense that when it's important the pranks and the jokes go away and they rally.

A lot of people like to disparage Big Bang Theory, and I've heard it called "nerdsploitation" and that it's actually insulting to geeks. People say that it is what normal people think nerds and geeks are like.

Personally, I think those people are being as narrow minded as they're accusing the creators of being. There is much about the show that reflects people that I know and love. Yes, they're caricatures and they're amped up because they're in a sitcom. But the show has always come across to me as a loving laugh WITH a subculture, not at it's expense. Since I'm a member of that subculture, I've not really seen the levels of offense other people have.

I'm fine if you think the show isn't funny. I disagree, but that's all a matter of taste. But references are usually pretty darn accurate (they were much closer to reality with their WoW references than South Park was, that's for sure) and they represent a large number of geeky interests. They aren't just scientists, or comic book fans, or sci-fi tv addicts. Now if Sheldon would stop hating on Babylon 5 and realize it's the best show of the 90s, we'll all be good.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I Am Not A Cook

Despite several attempts to learn, I've never really managed to become much of a chef. I like baking, and I'm actually pretty good at several more advanced things when it comes to desserts. I can make a pie crust from scratch so well that I actually prefer doing it that way to buying one at the store. Store bought doesn't taste as good.

But I'm just not good at cooking. For one thing, I'm impatient. Anything that requires constant monitoring is right out. I tried making a roux for a soup once, and it was a disaster because "stir constantly" is not in my repertoire.

I also am really terrible about anything that is supposed to simmer or cook slowly. Which is part of the reason I'm no longer allowed to make pancakes. For the record, I used to be good at pancakes in middle school. My impatience must have gotten worse as I got older. But suffice it to say after a few disasters that only got worse with each run, I said I'm just not allowed. Luckily I found a recipe for mini-pancake muffins. Yay, baking!

Anyway, over the last few weeks I've had a craving for egg salad and deviled eggs. Since I lost the blade to my food processor, I can't really do deviled eggs. But egg salad? I should be able to handle that right?

It took me two days of research and reading to figure out boiling eggs properly. Sure, I could boil an egg, and it would come out OKAY. But a few pages of tips and tricks later and I no longer have that gray outside to the yolk, and they're always perfectly cooked through.

I looked up a few recipes for egg salad when I went to make it, because I was suddenly hit with a panic: does it have more than just egg and mayonnaise? What's the ratio I should use? You see, I like baking because it's the right mix of exact and forgiving ("accidentally" dump in too many chocolate chips? Oh well, bake it anyway!). But as soon as you put "to taste" on a recipe for actual food? I'm sunk.

I don't have a sophisticated palate (I'm not even sure how to spell it). I like plain foods and not a lot of spices. I've never developed that ability to just taste something and say "Hm, it needs some basil" or anything like that. People have tried to teach me, it doesn't stick.

So after I realized that no two egg salad recipes were going to agree on anything, you can see why it's a little crazy that I decided to just wing it. I smashed up a random number of eggs (I had boiled a whole dozen, just in case) and then added mayo and a touch of pickle juice. I don't keep mustard around, or lemon juice, and I needed something, right? It's what my mom always used in deviled eggs, I figured it would work.

You would expect, given my history, that this story would end with me having somehow created something poisonous. But it actually turned out GREAT. I had egg salad sandwiches every day for a week until I ran out. It was better tasting than the store bought stuff, and a heck of a lot cheaper.

So long story short, I'm unreasonably proud that I managed to make egg salad properly without a recipe or measuring anything. Next step - figuring out how to bake french fries instead of frying them. And buying a new blade for my food processor.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Classic Movie: Frenzy

So I somehow have not watched any even slightly new movies in the last week, though I'm going to see two new releases this weekend. Which means this week's review will be about what I did watch, Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy.

To be honest with you, I only ended up getting the film from Netflix because I had forgot to reorganize my queue and it made it randomly to the top. I had added it years ago when we first studied it in a film class during my time in grad school. It was a film that came up three or four times, so I had actually seen several of the pivotal moments already.

Frenzy is famous for a very long tracking shot mid-way through the film, which is both technologically brilliant but also was very symbolic. I'm actually not going to tell you much about the scene, because I first saw it when I knew nothing about the film or the scene and I thought it was probably better that way. But suffice it to say that even in the full context of the film, that scene works.

I have a weird sort of relationship with Hitchcock, which probably comes as a surprise to any film students or film enthusiasts reading this. He's one of those directors that it's sacrilegious to speak against and that everyone seems to think is an infallible genius.

Sometimes, I agree with that stance. I grew up watching Alfred Hitchcock Presents on late night tv and I loved it. I love Psycho as much as everybody else and I think Rear Window is probably one of my favorite films of all time. I have a soft spot for The Birds even though I think it seems like the early equivalent of a SyFy Pictures monster movie of the week. For a movie about birds that randomly attack people for no reason, it's really well done.

But there are a few of his classics that I didn't enjoy, and I was a little worried that Frenzy would be one of them. It seems like the more filmmakers and film professors rave about a Hitchcock film, the less I actually enjoy it personally. Frenzy was definitely one that had been praised repeatedly.

Which is a lot of build up for me to explain that my personal reaction to the film was basically, "Huh, that wasn't bad." It was a very well done murder "mystery"/thriller. It's a "mystery" with quote marks because you know from very early in the film who the killer is and what's going on, which actually makes it that much better. It's a story about mistaken identity where an innocent man is being framed, and it works very well on that level.

The film shines the most with the characters, especially the supporting cast. There isn't a single forgettable person in the film, from the detective and his wife to the main suspect's boss (played by a personal favorite actor, Wilfred Mott). In fact the suspect, Richard Blaney, is probably the least interesting character in the film. It's much more fun to track the coincidences that start building a mountain of circumstantial evidence against him.

The film is a bit dated, unfortunately. I don't know that the average modern American would enjoy it. But if you enjoy classic movies at all, it's absolutely worth a rent.

I will warn that it contains a rape/murder scene that some people would find troubling. It's meant to make you uncomfortable, and it's intentionally disturbing. But not because it's overly graphic or stylized like similar scenes in modern films. I think it's possibly because it's not slick and stylized, it has a sense of realism that makes it very difficult to watch.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Project Runway All-Stars

This blog really got started with Project Runway, so it's only right that I do a review of the "biggest and best" season.

Back in the day, I spun this off of a few of my other blogs (yes, I have lots of blogs, I like compartmentalizing) because I was doing weekly recaps of Project Runway episodes based on the fashion. You can see them in the tag if you want to go back, though I never managed to finish an actual full season. That's something I'm going to try to fix for next season.

There are two reasons I didn't do episode recaps of this season. One, because I've been so busy with my film and other projects that I just couldn't spare the time. Two, because it bored me to death.

I don't know what it was. There was nothing specific to point to, because it wasn't like they changed the formula. This time I actually knew everybody going in, so I didn't spend the first five episodes going "Wait, who is she again?"

A lot of the personalities were chosen well, they were over the top and known for being good on camera. Between Austin, Kenley, Michael, and Anthony it should have been one of the most fun seasons yet.

But it wasn't. The challenges weren't any better or worse than other seasons. The judges were pretty good, and I've been sick of Michael and Nina and wanting a change for a while anyway. The host did a pretty good job, though I still like Heidi's enthusiasm better. Tim Gunn was clearly a better mentor, and it's insane to try to do ProjRun without him. But it wasn't like any of those pieces of the puzzle were so out of whack. All of those things were still done well, the production company did their job.

Maybe it's because they had all done this before, so it was harder to throw them. Maybe they were more reserved and aware of how they came across on camera so the footage was harder to find things that were raw and realistic. Maybe it's because most of the "characters" have become actual characters.

Or maybe it's because throwing in people we already know and doing challenges we've (mostly) already seen (with a twist) a viewer has time to sit back and realize that the format isn't that fresh and innovative any more. What was really new and different when the show premiered so many seasons ago is not only old hat now, but reality competitions have evolved past that format now. We're on to a new style now, and Project Runway is actually not on the cutting edge anymore. One day you're in, the next day you're out.

When Top Chef did an all-stars season, it quickly became my favorite season of the entire show. Partially because I got to see more of Carla. But it still had the energy of the regular show. I think part of Project Runway's problem was taking itself too seriously. They were thinking they were haute couture when they're really off the rack. Where were the really off the wall and memorable outfits? Where was the cornhusk dress? Where was the Santino like insanity? Nobody took real risks, and everybody was so serious about how artsy they were.

Which meant they were boring. I can't even remember Rami being on the show. I know he was, I remember him being there. I think he even won a challenge, but I can't remember. I don't remember Anthony contributing really anything, which makes me really sad because he is probably one of my favorite designers from all the years of the show.

In the end, the entire thing seemed like a recitation rather than a new design.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Keep To The Schedule

Between traveling for my film and the other work I've been doing, keeping our house clean has gotten to be one of those things that falls quickly by the wayside.

Shortly after I got back from a two week trip out of the country, I looked around my house, threw my hands in the air and yelled "I've had it!" I wouldn't say the place was a sty, and even when my house is messy it's not like Hoarders messy or anything.

But it was too much, and it was causing me anxiety and it had to stop. So I spent a few hours working with a Google Calendar and worked out a cleaning schedule. I wasn't sure if it would work at first, but it's been two months now and it seems to be doing the trick.

First and foremost I have to admit that we don't really keep perfectly to the schedule. But having it helps us identify what we've let slide. If we didn't clean one night because we were out with friends, we know exactly what we skipped out on.

I spent five years saying I would just "do what needs to be done." Guess what, it didn't get done. Some people don't need a schedule to keep their house clean, they really are so well organized and put together that if the trash needs to go out they just do it right then and there and it's finished.

This schedule isn't really for those people. It's for people who say "I can't figure out how to keep my house clean, every time I turn around it's a mess again." It's for people who think, "there's just so much to do and I'm so busy all the time."

The basic idea is this: you divide your house up into five zones. My schedule is like this:

Monday: Living room/dining room.
Tuesday: Kitchen
Wednesday: Hallway and half bath
Thursday: Full bath and master bedroom
Friday: Guest bedroom/Library/Home Office

I don't give myself cleaning jobs on the weekend so that my husband and I can spend time together, and because I usually travel on weekends so that makes it less disruptive.

I set up my Google calendar so that under the description I have a list of the bare minimum that needs to be done in that room. I did make it a calendar on it's own so I can turn it off if I want to.

The main crux of the idea is this: every room has it's day, and if it's not the day for that room you DON'T WORRY ABOUT IT. Obviously if it's a gross mess (like spilled food) then you have to take care of that right away. But if it's not Monday, and I leave my library book on the coffee table, I'm not going to sweat it. It'll get taken care of soon enough. Because each room is cleaned once a week, then it's really difficult for any amount of mess to build up, which is another key to the plan.

For example, right now it's Tuesday, Kitchen day. We took care of everything on that list, and the kitchen is looking good. Because we've been working around the house, our hall closet has gotten a bit disorganized. But I'm not stressing about it today, because I know it's on the schedule for tomorrow.

Now, there's a few other things I added to the calendar to keep this system working. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday are dish days. All a dish day means is that at the end of the day, all the dirty dishes should be in the dishwasher. If it's full, it should be run. But we probably only run the dishwasher once a week.

Tuesday and Thursday are laundry days. On those days, I do all the laundry unless I put in a load and there's only a few things left over. Those wait for the next laundry day.

These are the key to making the schedule really work. Dishes and laundry are the two things that you're guaranteed to deal with every single day. You will eat food, and you will wear clothes. I know a lot of people who manage to actually put dirty dishes in the dishwasher as soon as they are done with them. I am not one of those people, I never have been. We also spent several years repeating that we would do a load of laundry whenever the basket was full. This never happened, and most of the time we would try to do three weeks worth of laundry in a single day because we had put it off so long nothing was clean.

Like I said, this schedule isn't for people who already have their act together.

By giving myself a specific day to deal with the laundry, it never piles up. Taking care of it twice a week means that I rarely do more than two loads in a single day. It became a very low stress situation. The dishes are pretty similar. Because we are dealing with it in small increments, and consistently, the dishes don't get out of hand.

I know it probably seems like I haven't actually figured out a way to keep my home clean, but just a way to keep one part of it clean at a time. But the end result has been pretty staggering. What happens when you make sure that the main things are taken care of regularly is that things don't pile up, they don't become insurmountable. When we ended up hosting a game night last weekend, it took me less than ten minutes to clean up and get to what I refer to as "in-law clean." That means that it was the same level of clean that I make things when the in-laws come and visit.

The only way to achieve that for me was consistency, and sticking to the schedule has helped me keep that up. I'm never overwhelmed by my own house anymore because I have a list. Every day I can open up my calendar item and see what needs doing (though by now I have most of it memorized). I've started adding biweekly and monthly chores to it too, so everything is slowly getting cleaner and cleaner. And I've not really increased my time commitment to cleaning, I've just spread it out. It's a matter of five minutes worth of work now saves me an hour later.

I highly recommend a schedule based on areas of the house to anybody that's having trouble keeping their house clean. I don't have kids, but I imagine it can be tweaked to work in a household with kids too, especially if you have one day a week where the kids are all in charge of cleaning their own rooms. I'd love to see somebody with kids use something like this and let me know how it works out for them. I do think that in larger households the number of dish and laundry days would either have to go up or be divided out between people (each family member gets one dish day a week maybe).

Good luck!

Thursday, April 05, 2012

The Hunger Games

I have a secret: I tried to read The Hunger games back in 2008 when the first book was all there was. And I didn't enjoy it. I boiled down to two things I generally always dislike: first person POV and a love triangle. Some stories can overcome that for me, but if your entire book is going to be in one character's head it better be the best place you can possibly be.

In The Hunger Games, from inside Katniss' head was not the best place to tell that story. It was a good place to be sometimes, but I think the film version proved to me without a shadow of a doubt that the real meat of the world of Panem was outside with the Game Makers. The movie also proved that the narrative didn't suffer at all from toning down the romance aspects. In fact, it made Katniss a stronger and better heroine by doing both things.

Obviously, as little as I enjoyed the book, I actually really enjoyed the movie. I thought it took the promise of the premise and made it stronger. The film had a better delivery of the world that we were given. We really SAW what it was like to take this to extreme levels. We were witnesses to the Game Makers gleefully sending disasters after the tributes, and when you combine the marketing and the film itself the movie did something the book never managed: it forced us to face the fact that we are all, in a way, citizens of the Capitol.

Now I do want to get one problem out of the way. You see, only twice in my life have I ever actually spoken out loud in an "outdoor" voice in a movie theater. I just don't do it, I'm a filmmaker, I respect the film in front of me no matter what. But when the film is first showing us scenes of District 12 and the camera can't stay still for ONE SINGLE SECOND to actually give us an idea of what we're looking at, I said "Oh COME ON, stop moving the camera!" I doubt anybody outside a two foot radius heard me, but still, I couldn't help myself because it was that annoying.

If the movie had continued that way throughout, I probably would have ended up walking out. Or been simply miserable and hated everything about it. It was an artistic choice made for the right reasons, but used in a terrible way at the worst possible time. How could anybody really get a sense of the poverty and horrible conditions in District 12 if they can't see anything? I don't care if you were trying to replicate Katniss' point of view, it was detrimental to the film and to the purpose of the scene. Later on when a similar technique was used during the Cornucopia scene, it was used to good effect and it was perfectly chosen. But in the opening? That's bad camera work kids, don't do that at home. Or on set. Or ever again, please. I'm begging you.

Comic from Rock, Paper, Cynic, 02-08-2010

With that out of the way, as I said, I really thought that the film version surpassed it's source material in a major way. First and foremost with the casting choice of Jennifer Lawrence. While I recognize that certain things were mishandled during the casting process, they chose very well for Katniss. The character became the embodiment of the film ideal of "show, don't tell." We weren't in her head completely like in the book, but Lawrence brought out the emotions and the turmoil perfectly. In doing so, she also allowed the audience to put some of their own feelings and reactions into the character, making her more personalized and interesting.

By making Seneca Crane a character, we were also able to really explore what everybody says the books are about: reality television. As a filmmaker, I'm fascinated by how things are made. How do they put together this broadcast? How is it done? Who is in charge? How many people does it take? Do they follow their ratings? Are they entertainment professionals or government officials? The film answered these questions, and they gave us a real look into how strange and messed up Panem really is. These people have watched The Games their entire lives, this is the world to them, they don't know the difference. And that is the most terrifying thing in the entire story. The film brought that out in a new way.

Lastly, I'll briefly touch on the toning down of the romance. All I can say is "thank goodness." Isn't it about time we had a heroine who isn't actually all that distracted by boys? As much as we've praised this story for being about a capable and kick-ass female protagonist, you can't deny that in the book she spends an inordinate amount of her time worrying about Gale and Peeta. But in the film, she's not that stereotypical. It's Peeta who is love struck and who makes bad decisions because of his emotions, which was a nice change.

I'm very grateful that the film changed that, because it made Katniss' a stronger female character, a more identifiable one, and one that would be an easier sell across various demographics. Which means better return on marketing dollars, which means more money for similar projects, which is a win for everybody.

Plus it just made me like her better, which made me enjoy the film.

Babylon 5: Rewatch

Babylon 5 is easily one of my favorite shows of all time. So I was actually a little bit worried when we started to rewatch it recently. I was introducing my best friend to the show, even though I've been friends with her longer than the show has existed, somehow she's never ended up watching it with me.

We actually started by watching In The Beginning, one of the TV movies that was made later on in the show's run. I consider it to be one of the best television movies of all time (and I have a huge weak spot for tv movies) so it's a great place to start.

Some people would disagree with watching this first, because the brilliant thing about B5 is that you get a very slow reveal of a lot of major story points. There is actually a throwaway line in the pilot movie that gives away one of the biggest plot twists of the fourth season. From the beginning, J. Michael Straczynski (the showrunner and head writer) knew what was going to happen for the most part, and that comes through so brilliantly when you rewatch the show and know what comes later.

But there's a trick about B5: the first season is not really good indicator of how good the show is going to get. A lot of people give up without finishing it, not realizing what they are missing. But if you start with In The Beginning, you're giving them a taste of just how moving and powerful this show really is, and who these characters are. So I think the trade off is worth it.

The first season was generally as bad and as good as I remembered. There's a lot of debate amongst fans as to which is worse, the first or fifth season. But when you rewatch the first season, you see these great glimpses of what will come later. Having this foundation makes the rest of the show better. But there is some real scenery chewing when it comes to acting, and some really boring episodes.

The thing is though, as much as the show hasn't really aged with some of the writing and the themes that it presents, the acting is very much a part of it's time. It is some late 90's acting with just about every guest star that comes their way. Oh, sure, I love them all the same. But you can't really say that they are being even slightly subtle.
The place where Babylon 5 excels is in the writing, especially the third and fourth seasons which are written entirely by JMS. It's actually very scary to watch this show and see political ideals that we're hearing our primary candidates espousing right now. The formation of Nightwatch and Clark's government recall the Patriot Act. Only the Patriot Act was signed into law years after the show was off the air. It is a stark and telling reminder of how history repeats itself, even into the future.

The show is also chocked with memorable characters, a fabulous sense of humor, and some of the best alien designs that television sci-fi has ever seen. While the bulk of their aliens are still bipedal, this isn't Stargate where they're all more or less human (SG-1 is one of my favorite shows, so yes, I know the in universe explanation). About half of the special effects still look good, while some of them are laughably bad at this point. Which is a pity.
The only problem with rewatching Babylon 5 is that eventually you finish those amazing third and fourth seasons and you get to Season 5. Like I said, people debate which is the worst season of the show and I am firmly in the Season 5 camp on this. We didn't even bother to buy it until I could get it used for under $12 and with a gift card. And you can tell how much the show runs out of steam because we've stopped watching it regularly.

During third and fourth season, we would watch 2-3 episodes a couple times a week. Once we watched a few episodes every night for a few weeks. But as soon as we started season 5, we started waiting weeks in between watching a single episode at a time. It's just not compelling, the new characters aren't as interesting. There are decisions made about other characters that actually make you reflect on earlier episodes and like them LESS. Season 5 actually lessons what came before it, and that's a huge shame.
It pains me that my favorite show ends on such a bad note, and I was very tempted to just pretend that season 5 didn't exist. But I couldn't skip over some of the major story points that happen, and the actual series finale is probably the best series finale I've ever seen. So we plod ahead.

In general though, I think anyone who like sci-fi should absolutely have seen Babylon 5. Start with In The Beginning, you can skip The Gathering if you want (it's good for completionists, but it's not a great place to start). But make sure you just keep going through the first season. Ignore the over the top guest stars and focus on the main players. Fall in love with Ivanova, Garibaldi, and Dr. Franklin. Pay attention to G'kar and Londo, Vir and Lennier and Na'toth. Just focus on getting to know them. Then, about halfway through second season, you'll realize you've been pulled in. When you get to third, then you'll really start to get it. But if you get bored during season 5, well, I wouldn't get upset with you for skipping it but if you love Londo and G'Kar you really owe it to that storyline to finish it.

But no matter what, make sure you end with Sleeping In The Light. Even if you skip Season 5, watch the end of the show.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

A place to work

I've been making a lot of changes in general, but one of the biggest things I've been doing over the last few months is making the business side of what I do more formal, organized, and stable.

This all really started with the fact that I'm working on a very long-term, very expensive film project. Which complicated my taxes, and my entire financial situation. But it got me started down a lot of really good roads in general, which includes finally setting up my home office.

Or at least, getting started on it. It's probably not QUITE there yet.

I've been meaning to set up an office/work space since we bought our place five years ago. Since the master bedroom is actually our guest room and "library," the large walk in closet is really ideal for it.

Unfortunately in the five years since we moved here, that closet became the natural dumping ground for "stuff that has no other home." I would occasionally pull things out of there to go through them or find a new place, but then we would have somebody come and visit and I'd have to push it all back in so nobody would see the cluttered mess.

Finally, last month, I reached a breaking point with it. I realized I would never actually get everything sorted if I was going that slowly with it. So my best friend came over and we hauled everything out of it. Every piece of paper, every random box and stack of books. It all went into the middle of the guest room floor, which also wasn't ideal but at least let me gauge what I had.

It was amazing how quickly everything fell into place from there. Once I declared that the office could only house objects that had to do with my film and writing work, it was easy to see what needed to find a place and what didn't. Once that option was off the table, I got more creative with where other things could be stored and quite frankly, I just got rid of a bunch of it. Five years in a closet? Obviously I don't need it.

A lot of what guides me on this quest to get rid of the clutter is many years of reading Unclutterer. There are very few blogs I've found so helpful when it comes to just getting you to understand your own relationship to your stuff. There's also enough humor and a kind-hearted nature to the site that makes it easier to take the hard lessons they're sometimes teaching.
The room isn't quite where I want it, but now I'm starting to have a much better plan of where I do want it.

A lot of the pieces were already there - my desk is a vintage kitchen table that I bought years ago. I had already hung up a bulletin board years ago. My writing and film books were already organized, just on a different shelf so it was easy to bring them in.

But now I'm filling in those gaps. Like a lot of people, I'm using Pinterest to organize what I might want to purchase and use. I've been visiting a few sites that sell my favorite styles of office supplies for ideas, like See Jane Work and ThinkGeek. I can pin the different items I like on each site, and then see what I've found and what I like.

Of course the biggest thing is going to be what we're doing this weekend: covering the entire back wall in white board paint. It will turn the entire surface into a big dry-erase board, letting me scribble whatever strikes my fancy in any configuration I like. With it being the back wall, it also won't take up any space. Which is nice since the space is already pretty limited. That's the goal for this weekend, and then I'll only need a couple of small touches to make it a fully functional office. After that, it's just making everything work better than it does, or more stylish.

Anybody have any suggestions for me on sites I just have to check out? Stores that sell really awesome and cute supplies?

Monday, April 02, 2012

Bound by Donna Jo Napoli

Bound has been sitting on my bookshelf for years, and even though I could tell it would be a quick read and I found the cover very enticing, I just never picked it up until a few weeks ago

The story is a retelling of Cinderella, based in China. When I was very young, the story of "Chinese Cinderella" whose fairy godmother was a fish was my favorite version of the fairy tale. I also very much love new versions of fairy tales, especially when those versions completely dispense with all but the most necessary trappings of the original.

Bound does not disappoint on either level. It is a very short book, and I got through it completely in one sitting. I was completely immersed in Napoli's world from the beginning, and while I can't speak for it's historical accuracy, I did appreciate that it seemed thoroughly researched.

The main character, Xing Xing, is a girl who has been allowed much more freedom than other women of her culture. Her feet have not been bound, she has been taught to read and write calligraphy. But her sister, Wei Ping, is suffering through the foot binding tradition. As with traditional versions, Xing Xing's step mother (who is Wei Ping's mother) is a cruel woman, but the brilliance of Napoli's writing is that the stepmother is not purely evil. She is very complex for a character of this type in a young adult book.

The story is well written and quickly paced, and I very much enjoyed it. The only thing that I can say to it is that it is a book very firmly rooted in it's age group. I read young adult fiction often, it is probably one of my favorite genres in general. I find that most things labeled YA are done so only because they have a young protagonist, and that they still engage my mind at the same level as a book written for adults.

I don't mean it as an insult to say that Bound isn't that way, I think that probably works in it's favor for the age group it's intended for. I would encourage middle-school English teachers to pick it up and consider it for their classes. I think it is a very good book for teaching students some really great lessons, about history, culture, art, and storytelling. But for an adult reader, it can be a bit simplistic and it is a very light read.

Overall, I think if you have an interest in new ideas on old fairy tales, it's a must read just for it's storyline. But you only need to plan an afternoon to read it.