The other day a co-worker innocently asked me, “So, how’s that movie-watching project coming along?”
Er, yes. That.
The good news is that I’ve really appreciated the exposure to film as an art form, and I can enjoy cinema in a whole new way; I’m even going to the movies more often, which makes my film-loving friends and family happy. The bad news is, watching all those movies is starting to feel more like a homework assignment, or something I’m doing because it’s “good for me,” like eating more brussels sprouts. And when something in my personal life stops being fun, I quit doing it. I feel guilty about it, sure, but…I quit.
Luckily, my first love, books, has been right here waiting for me to come back. Books knew this whole movie thing was just a phase, and welcomed me with open arms. Books are very forgiving that way, and do not judge. More importantly, books take hold of my heart and my imagination in a way film simply can’t touch.
I’m sure I will, eventually, get around to watching more of the 1,001 movies, probably at a slower pace; for now, however, I have a huge, sumptuous pile of things to read. Here are a few of the titles making me supremely happy these days.
The Year of the Gadfly, Jennifer Miller. A mesmerizing novel that asks, “Do we ever really leave high school?” Iris, a troubled teen trying to make a fresh start, finds herself ensnared in her private prep school’s long, checkered history. Unfortunately, most of the adults who work at Mariana Prep are having the same problem. Iris’s story alternates with that of Lily, a former classmate of the current crop of Mariana “grownups,” and through her eyes we see how the scars you pick up in high school can sting, itch and burn instead of fade. Iris’s dogged determination to succeed–to say nothing of her hero-worship for Edward R. Murrow–render her scrappy and sympathetic. A definite to-read for anyone still haunted by their own high school traumas (and isn’t that just about everyone?).
Hand Me Down, Melanie Thorne. Being a teen is hard enough, but when you can’t depend on the adults in your life for stability, any shot a normal life can fly right out the window. Liz and Jamie are two sisters with few options. Live with mom, who’s dating a paroled sex offender? Live with dad, who will probably drive you to school while drunk? Live with the extremely religious aunt who’s constantly preaching at you, or the aunt whose husband doesn’t want you around? Thorne’s debut novel is a gritty catalog of misery, demonstrating how, when the adults can’t get it together, the kids’ struggle gets harder. It’s painful to read at times, but Liz is a fighter, for herself and for Jamie, and her sincere desire for something better will keep you reading along with her while she struggles to get it.
Feed, Mira Grant. Betting odds are still firmly against an actual zombie apocalypse, but that doesn’t keep Grant’s novel from being a delicious-exciting read. Here’s the deal: the zombie apocalypse has happened (it’s complicated), and America has become a country of virus-checks and paranoia. It’s also become a country where bloggers are trusted more frequently than mainstream media, so when a presidential candidate hires a team of teen bloggers to cover his campaign, it’s really just a sign of the new normal. Or is it something more? Grant–a pen name for noted fantasist Seanan McGuire–has produced a world of fear, government conspiracy, paranoia, and good-old-fashioned zombie slashing, one that’s even scarier by dint of the fact that so much of her matieral is drawn from social attitudes and practices that are already de rigeur. A fun, scare-you-silly summer pick that you’ll flip through quickly, either from joy or terror. First in the Newsflesh (hee) trilogy.
And The Heart Says Whatever, Emily Gould. A non-fic pic that reads like a novel, Whatever is Gould’s story of her late teens and early twenties, which she spent as a struggling writer in New York. The former Gawker blogger dropped out of college in Ohio to take writing classes in NYC, worked at a lot of crappy jobs, and slept with a lot of different people, many of whom she didn’t really care for all that much. So far, so normal, except that Gould has the writing chops to infuse her story with something more than typical twentysomething angst. There’s a haunted quality to the fairly mundane stories she tells, a sense that all of her searching has hollowed her out somehow, made her less spoiled, less shallow. And yet, to reach that state of wisdom, she apparently had to behave in some incredibly spoiled, shallow ways, something those of us who survived our twenties occasionally forget. Reading Gould is like revisiting that stumble-fumbling time of your life when you didn’t know who you were or what you wanted, reliving the panic and frustration without actually having to feel those feelings up close again. If you’re still there, or if you’ve started muttering imprecations under your breath about “these kids today who don’t understand anything,” Whatever will serve as an empathy injection.
Judging from these titles, I seem to be preoccupied with teenage heroines struggling to survive; interesting. I should go back to the movie list and see if there are any films that revolve around this theme. That way I could have my bookish cake, and consume some more movies too.
Onward and upward!