Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Review: Crossed

Crossed by Ally Condie

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Well. That wasn't good.

The biggest problem with Crossed is that it's extremely dull. The greatest strength of the first book, Matched, was the Society the characters lived in. This book takes the characters out of Society and puts them in a canyon, where they wander back and forth to no clear purpose.

If the characters were particularly vibrant or intriguing, this might still work. But as it turns out, when separated from the interesting concepts of their world, the characters are dull and generic. Also, half of the chapters are from the perspective of the female lead, and half from that of the male lead, but the voice they're written in is identical. I could only tell who was narrating from the headers and context clues. Say what you will about Stephenie Meyer (and heaven knows I have), but the chapters written from Jacob's perspective sound like a different person. (Oh, and either I had stopped paying attention, or the little interpersonal dramas made no sense. "You know that story you told about your mother and also it happened in a book or something? Well, I have deduced it was really about YOU!" Seriously, does anybody know what that was about?)

I liked the first one, and I still intend to read the third one when it comes out. The optimistic interpretation of how bad this one was is that Condie only had enough material for two books, but decided she needed to stretch the gap between points A and B because her publisher wanted a trilogy. The pessimistic interpretation is that once she ran out of plot to crib from The Giver, she was out of ideas. I'm hoping it's the first option, but we'll find out.

View all my reviews
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Friday, July 29, 2011

Another Webcomic Recommendation

I know I read more webcomics than many people, but seriously, this one's very good: Basic Instructions. It's monochromatically hilarious!

I'll only put one sample here, since it turned out small (click on it to embiggen, or see the original page here):

And here are some links to my favorites:

How to Tell Someone that They are Wrong

How to Play Video Games "Together"

How to Get Amazing Kicks from Something "Normal" People Will Never Understand (it's about the show The Prisoner)

How to Calm a Frightened Child

How to Create a Weapon that is Devastating and Unstoppable

and, from just a few days ago, How to Live Your Dreams.
Click here to read more . . .

Sunday, July 17, 2011

My Favorite Lines from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Voldemort: "How do you live with yourself?"
Lucious Malfoy: "FAAAABulously!"

Neville: "I have snake murder in my heart!"

Snape: "Take [my tears]! Take them!"
Ron: "The Room of Requirement doesn't show up on the map. That's what you said last year, remember?"
Hermione: "That's right, I forgot! Thanks for finally putting right our gender roles, so now we can make out!"

McGonagall: "Longbottom, you and Mr. Finnigan go blow it up!"
Neville: "Blow what up, Professor?"
McGonagall: "The Alfonso Cuaron Memorial Bridge, of course!"

Every character, ever: "You have your mother's eyes!"Little girl who played young Lily: [has brown eyes]

David Yates, to the special effects guys: "I like this scene, but can something be floating in it? Always more floating!"

Little Albus: "But Dad, what if the Sorting Hat puts me in Slytherin?"
Harry: "Son, with that haircut, I'd be worrying about Hufflepuff."

Little Albus: "Why are they all staring?"
Ron: "Don't let it worry you. It's me. I'm extremely famous."
OH NO WAIT they didn't include the best line from the epilogue

and of course,
Voldemort: "And I would have gotten away with it too, if not for you meddling kids!" [dissolves into confetti]
Click here to read more . . .

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Today in Vanity License Plates


I think we all know exactly how this went down.

JT: Hey, yeah, so, can I get a vanity license plate that says "JT"? Because I'm JT.

Low-level bureaucrat: JT is taken.

JT: Um, ok, how about "IM JT"?

LLB: Taken.

JT, deep in thought: How can I let people know, with my car, that I'm JT? Hmmm . . . . Hey, I've got it!

58 MPG

The car with this one parks at the bank near my library. I don't know what kind it is, but I guess I'm supposed to be consumed with jealousy every time I see it.
Click here to read more . . .

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

May Classics: Task Completed

I did it! I went the whole month of May only reading classic works of literature! Except for when I brought the Axe Cop book home from the library, but comics don't count, right?

As Craig pointed out, my initial list of classics was waaaay too ambitious for one month of reading, so I'm planning to hold more Classics Months in the future. Not this month, though. For one thing, I already told all my cheesy YA lit holds to come back to the library for me. For another thing, one of my co-workers pointed out that it's better to read classics in the wintertime. That's clearly just true.

Here's what I accomplished:

1. Ivanhoe

Here's my Goodreads review. In a nutshell, Ivanhoe is not really good, but I can see how it set up a lot of the knights/chivalry/Richard the Lionhearted/Robin Hood cliches we all love so much. So it has that going for it.

After I read Ivanhoe, I checked out the 1952 movie version and boy howdy! If I thought the book had some dumb parts, it has nothing on the film. Neal and I had a grand old MST3K time with that one. Short version: plastic swords and helmets, everyone except Elizabeth Taylor is ugly and can't act (and Elizabeth Taylor's acting was no great shakes either), and the comic relief characters dies a painful death that no one ever remarks upon. Oh, and it got nominated for Best Picture that year, so I hope you're ashamed of yourself, cinema industry of 1952.

2. Slaughterhouse-Five

I would link you to my Goodreads review for this one, but I was only in the mood to write "It would have been better without the aliens." Which is true.

It's an odd little book; one that's better before the story gets started. It starts with what I assume is an only barely fictionalized account of Vonnegut trying to, but having a hard time getting around to, writing a book about his experience in Dresden during WWII. Once it gets to its protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, it's not nearly as interesting. Here's my problem with the book: Billy Pilgrim is a worthless, pathetic nothing even before he goes to war. His experience in Dresden doesn't break him. He's pretty much exactly the same until he goes crazy, long after the war, because he's in a plane crash and sustains a serious head injury. I don't care about Billy Pilgrim when he's being useless in Germany; I don't care about Billy Pilgrim when he's experiencing middle-aged ennui; I don't care about Billy Pilgrim when he thinks he's been abducted by aliens and living in their zoo. I would care about what happened in Dresden, but that only gets a cameo.

3. Great Expectations

My Goodreads review for this one is pretty long. This was the biggest surprise of Classics Month: I liked Great Expectations! It was sort of difficult going for the first two-thirds (although it was much funnier than I expected), but then the last third was really great and made the first parts worth it. I really enjoyed it.

4. The Catcher in the Rye

Like I mention in the Goodreads review, this is the only one of the books I read in May that I don't understand why it's a classic. Holden Caulfield is much, much more worthless than Billy Pilgrim. A co-worker/Goodreads friend told me she was sad to see I hated the book. I asked her if the point was to hate Holden, and she said it was, so I will admit that at least it's successful. I will give it this, too: it's a very believable internal portrait of an anti-social, spoiled, stuck-up teenage boy. But that doesn't make it any less irritating to have to spend so much time in his head. Especially when there's no plot to move things along.

This is a serious question for you: why do we, as a society, care about this book?

5. Heart of Darkness

I'm not going to lie to you:

I picked Heart of Darkness because I didn't finish Catcher in the Rye until the 29th. No regrets!

Again: Goodreads review link. Basically, I can tell this is good (unlike with some extremely popular J. D. Salinger books I could name), but I don't think I could fully get it without more outside study. It hints instead of explaining. I wish I had read it in some level of school so I could have wrung more of the meaning out of it.

That was the great thing about the Axe Cop book. All the commentary!
Click here to read more . . .

Monday, May 9, 2011

Et tu, Turge?

Welp, looks like Maryland has hired away Mark Turgeon from Texas A&M. My reaction? I, um . . . I don't care.

I should care, and in some ways I do. It's problematic, but unsurprising, that A&M is a stepping-stone job. And I don't like that part of the reason Turgeon is leaving, probably, is that Aggie fans do not fill Reed on a regular basis. That's stupid. There's no excuse for poor attendance when the team has been consistently good. And, of course, I worry about who Bill Byrne will get as a replacement, especially since it's a little late in the off-season to be finding somebody.


Mark Turgeon seems like a real nice guy, and he's a good coach, but he's not a great coach. This year's Aggie team, in particular, was just awful to watch. I'm glad they made the tournament, but watching them play was like getting teeth pulled.

Now, this is partly coming from me just not following Aggie basketball as closely as I used to. I'm sure I would have liked Turgeon's teams better if I'd known them better. Certainly, A&M could do worse than Turgeon. Certainly. But I feel that he continued Billy Gillispie's success instead of truly building on it. So I think, and I very much hope, that A&M can find somebody who can do at least a little more than that. We'll just have to see.
Click here to read more . . .

Sunday, May 1, 2011

May Classics

OK, new project!

Last night, it occurred to me: some month, I should only read classic works of literature. (I feel like I have a lot of those to catch up on; due to my lackluster high school English classes [I'm sorry, Mrs. Seuser, it was the textbooks, not you] I've missed out on reading many of the books "everybody" "should" read. I mean, I usually know enough about them to answer a related Trivial Pursuit question, but that's not the same.) And I realized, hey! Tomorrow is the start of a new month! Let's do this thing.

This decision has required commitment on my part, I just want you to know. I'm taking back to the library not one, not two, but three fairly awesome-sounding YA lit books, unread. (I've got to write a post about my newfound fascination with YA lit sometime. There's some good stuff for teens out there!) I'm also returning a couple edifying nonfiction works which, um, I'm sure would have been just as good. But now I've got those back on hold (but suspended, so they won't come back to me until June) so I can clear out my book space and head space for Classics of Literature.

The first (and, give that it is only one month and all, perhaps only) order of business is to read classics Neal and I have on our own shelves, but that I have never read. I'm most determined to read Great Expectations. I bought myself a copy of Great Expectations in maybe middle school, intending to Dickens it up, but I was never able to get through it, no matter how many times I tried. Here's the kicker: I found out, as I was writing this post right here, that I own an abridged version of Great Expectations. I didn't even make it through something two steps up from a Cliff's Notes! So in this case, I won't be reading what we have on our shelf, but rather a different copy of something we have on our shelf.

I think I'll start with Ivanhoe, another book I've tried and failed at in the past. At least my copy of that is unabridged. Other project books include:

Machiavelli's The Prince (which I should have read before I wrote my masters thesis, since it came up)

Gulliver's Travels

The Catcher in the Rye (although I'm not expecting it to be good, considering all the parodies of Salinger's writing style I've seen)

Nineteen Eighty-Four

Fahrenheit 451

The Inferno

Heart of Darkness


If I get through those, is there anything else I should target? Any "classics" that I really do need to read? (I also already had Dracula and The Jungle on my Goodreads to-read shelf, so I threw them on my classics-project shelf as well.) I want to do this thing up right!
Click here to read more . . .

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Friends: Season Ten

In general:

So here's what happened: I put off and put off watching this season. Then, when I finally got around to the first disc, I discovered that there was a lot in the episodes that made me laugh--it was much better than I remembered. Then, for no good reason, I didn't get around to watching the second disc.

I waited so long that once I finally decided to do the dang thing already, I reviewed my notes and discovered I no longer remembered what they meant. So I started from the beginning of the season again. I laughed much less.

I tell you this seemingly pointless story because I realized: my viewing experience mirrored the original experience of watching Season Ten back when it first aired. We were so happy to still be getting new episodes of Friends that, if for novelty reasons alone, we enjoyed them pretty well. But we enjoyed them less the more we saw them. (No doubt because of how much the cast was getting paid, this season is only 75% as long as all the others. That made for a lot--a lot--of reruns.) And as the season wore on, even the new episodes seemed less and less good. Because they were indeed less and less good.

It cannot be denied, there are funny lines and funny ideas in Season Ten--but not enough of them to fill up even seventeen episodes there are. So the rest of the time is taken up by:

-Stretching the good ideas as far as they will go (example: the "floating heads" gag when Monica and Chandler lock everybody out in "The One with the Late Thanksgiving" is funny, until it drags on and on and on)

-Having the characters be horrible, horrible human beings (one example from among so many: pretty much everyone in "The One with Phoebe's Wedding." Chandler and Ross both throw fits about not being in the wedding, while Monica runs the wedding by being a cruel as possible. The worst thing about this is that after firing Monica, Phoebe gets overwhelmed by the logistics and re-hires her, making the lesson that Monica was right to be horrible all along. Yay?)

-Making Joey ridiculously, cartoonishly, painfully stupid (example: in "The One Where Joey Speaks French," where Phoebe tries to teach Joey French for a role, and the culmination of the plot is that Phoebe tells the casting director that Joey is retarded. It's in French, but the word "retarded" is actually used in the subtitles. Why does calling Joey retarded make Phoebe a good friend?!?)

And I have to tell you, I couldn't even watch the Danny DeVito scenes in "The One Where the Stripper Cries." I had to fast-forward. My heart couldn't take it.

But then the series ends as it must: Monica and Chandler move out of The Apartment, having achieved babies; Phoebe has been married off; and of course Ross and Rachel end up together. (Which is why the Joey-Rachel romance had to be quickly and illogically killed off at the beginning of the season.) It wasn't creative, but it was compulsory. The loose ends had to be wrapped up, except in the event of spin-off potential.

Little things that drive me crazy:
Rachel's bangs in the second half of the season. They're always in her face. Get a barrette, girl, dang!

When Monica gets shell-ended dreadlocks in her hair and then rubs them "sexily" on Chandler. It bums me out.

Pretty much every element of "The One Where Estelle Dies." Phoebe (and everyone who doesn't stop her) thinks it's appropriate to hide Joey's agent's death from him because . . . ? Chandler keeps Janice from buying the house next door to theirs by pretending he still wants her, in (as I have complained before) a blatant re-hash of the Janice episode in Season Seven. Jane Lynch guest stars and is utterly wasted in a nothing role. Rachel decides to move to Paris even though her baby lives in New York (the plan seems to be that the baby will take a bunch of transatlantic flights). Rachel's old boss from Ralph Lauren agrees to re-hire her in response to Ross's bribes, so . . . that guy's pretty corrupt. In a classic Ross Misunderstanding, Ross offers to do a favor for Rachel's boss's son . . . but makes it sound like he's going to molest Rachel's boss's son! Ha ha! Pedophile jokes are awesome. And finally,

what is Rachel wearing here? Grandma's S&M sweater?

I'll stop with this section now, because there several more episodes I could do a similar list with. ("The One with Ross's Grant," "The One with the Home Study," "The One with the Late Thanksgiving," "The One with the Birth Mother," and "The One Where Joey Speaks French" spring to mind.) But that wouldn't be good for the mental health of any of us, I'm sure.

No, one last thing: in the very last scene, everyone is together and gives up their keys to the apartment and so forth. Monica and Chandler are happy, because now they have their babies. Ross and Rachel are happy, because they're together and . . . wait, where's Emma? To be fair, you could ask this question a couple times in pretty much every episode, but seriously, why isn't Emma there? The other babies are there! Why not Emma?! (I also think Mike should have been there, since he represents Phoebe's happy ending, but I can understand why his presence--unlike Emma's!--would have been intrusive.)

Plain old little things:
Anne Dudek plays Precious, the girlfriend Mike decides to break up with on her birthday. Years later, Anne Dudek appeared on How I Met Your Mother as Natalie, a girl Ted breaks up with on her birthday (twice). What are the odds?

Joey sold his boat (The Mr. Bowmont, as I hope he still called it) two years ago. But when exactly did the chick and the duck die?

Little things I love:

Chandler's certainty that their baby's biological father is not the one that was captain of the football team, but the one that murdered his father with a shovel. (Of course Monica's not as worried, "He's probably got a tattoo that says 'Mom' on his shovel-wielding arm!")

Crap Bag

Rachel doesn't mind when drunk Ross spills the beans that Charlie has never liked Rachel: "It's OK, girls tend not to like me." At least she's at peace with it.

Phoebe's right: Jack Bing is a great name, very worthy of a 1940s newspaperman.

At the beginning of "The One Where Chandler Gets Caught," everybody is sitting around the coffee house, talking about which they'd rather give up for life, sex or food. It's very first season, and it's cute they included a scene like that in the last season.

  • Monica, with crazy hair: "Wait a minute--Ross and Charlie, Joey and Rachel, Phoebe and Mike--we're the only people leaving with the same person we came with!" Chandler: "That's not true, I came with Monica, and I'm leaving with Weird Al!"
  • Chandler, after Joey discovers the thesaurus: "You signed it Baby Kangaroo Tribbiani."
  • Rachel: "He's cute! Thank you,!"
  • Phoebe, when Knicks fans heckle her and Mike: "ODIN WILL SMITE YOU!"
  • Monica: "Chandler, you're panicking!" Chandler: "Uh-huh! Join me, won't you?!?"
Let's talk about Gunther:
Gunther is pathetic. Gunther is passive and passive-aggressive. Gunther is awkward and a little creepy and off-putting to the people around him. Gunther is complicit in his own misery.

But how can you not love Gunther?

Gunther speaks Dutch! Gunther is steadfast! When Gunther gets invited to a party, he helps do the dishes.

Considering that James Michael Tyler appeared in more episodes by far than anyone outside the six core actors (he's got 141 to runner-up Elliot Gould's 20), it's surprising that there are no Gunther-centric episodes. The closest thing to it is "The One with the Joke" from Season 6, in which Joey starts working at Central Perk, resulting in upwards of three Gunther scenes. Even there, he's still a supporting player in the C plot.

But let it not be said that Gunther is unimportant! His effect on events may be subtle, as in "The One with a Chick and a Duck" (Season 3). The episode begins with Gunther coming outside to bring Rachel a cocoa which--because it distracts her from Monica roller-skating towards her--results in Rachel breaking a rib. Gunther can also be direct. One of my favorite Gunther moments is in "The One Where Monica and Richards are Friends" (Season 3), where Gunther is the only person willing to tell Phoebe's boyfriend that his junk is hanging out ("Hey buddy, this is a family place. Put the mouse back in the house"). And occasionally, Gunther really shakes things up. These are the the top three most pivotal Gunther moments:

#3: Gunther helps convince Joey to move back in with Chandler, "The One Where Eddie Won't Go"
After getting killed off on Days of Our Lives, Joey blithely assumes his next big success is right around the corner. He wants to keep not just his fancy apartment, but all the fancy junk he bought to decorate the apartment. Ross tries to convince him to cut back on his expenses, but he resists. Then he goes to Central Perk and shares his woes with Gunther, who asks how they killed his character. "I was buried in an avalanche," Gunther then volunteers. "I was Bryce on All My Children." This more than anything else gets the point across to Joey that the next big paycheck might be a long way off. For that reason (and to help Chandler with his insane-replacement-roommate problem), Joey ends up back where he belongs.

#2: Gunther unwittingly gets Rachel to quit her job at Central Perk, "The One Where Rachel Quits"
Gunther tells Rachel that their boss, Terry, wants Rachel to go through new waitress training again (because she's a terrible, terrible waitress). Gunther's patient but condescending explanations of where the trays go and how to tell decaf from regular coffee drive Rachel over the edge. She quits the coffee shop to take a gamble on a career in fashion, changing the entire trajectory of her character.

#1: Gunther breaks up Ross and Rachel, "The One the Morning After"
Yes, that's right! It was Gunther! Recall: after getting back together with Rachel, Ross scrambles frantically to keep her from finding out that he slept with the girl from the copy place. Chloe the copy girl has already told her co-worker, who has told his sister Jasmine, who works at the massage parlor with Phoebe. Jasmine promises not to tell Phoebe, but has already told her roommate--cut to Gunther. Ross pleads, "Please tell me you didn't say anything to Rachel about me and the girl from the copy place." Gunther, with faux concern: "Oh, I'm sorry. Was I not supposed to?" If Rachel hadn't found out, or if Ross had had enough time to tell her himself, their relationship may have been salvageable. Gunther: evil genius?

Well, no. The best summary of Gunther, when you get right down to it, is his costume in "The One with the Halloween Party": Charlie Brown.

Top two episodes:
"The One with the Cake"
or: "The One with Joey's Dramatic Reading"

"The Last One"

. . . I mean, neither of those are really that good, but they're the best of the 17.

But fear not!
This is not the note on which we are ending the series of Friends posts. There is still a wrap-up post to go, featuring (among other things; let me know if you have suggestions) all-time best and worst episodes, all-time best and worst guest stars, the seasons ranked in order, and some stuff about kissing! It's gonna be good times.
Click here to read more . . .

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Twilight: A Primer

Twilight is the first book in a series about teenagers, vampires, and teenage vampires. It is one of the most popular books of the current millennium and is written at roughly the level of a poorly-edited Sweet Valley High volume. Its author, Stephenie Meyer, seems likely to have produced it in one draft.

The book's protagonist and narrator, Bella, is a perpetually whiny teenage girl who hates herself, her parents, and her friends. Readers are expected to identify with her on every level.

Bella's love interest is the vampire Edward; he is humorless, controlling, manipulative, condescending, over-protective, materialistic, pessimistic, and snide. Readers are expected to realize that he is The Perfect Man.

Edward belongs to a "family" of vampires, two of whom pose as adults and four others that, like Edward, pretend to be teenagers. (Apparently, vampires in Twilight think it is a good use of their immortality to attend high school over and over.) Edward's father, Carlisle, is a doctor; his wife is Esme. Edward's sister Rosalie is remarkable for being very attractive even though all vampires are very attractive, while her husband-brother Emmett is remarkable for being very strong even though all vampires are very strong. Brother Jasper can influence other people's emotions, which Stephenie Meyer forgets during and after the second book in the series. He is paired off with Alice. She can see the future, with the accuracy of her visions varying by current plot convenience. Edward also has a special ability in that he can read minds, except for Bella's. This causes Edward to think Bella is unpredictable, even though she is not.

The book begins when Bella moves to Forks, Washington, a place that she hates. Forks is rainy and cloudy, and Bella hates rain and clouds. Approximately 30% of Twilight is Bella complaining about the weather. Bella moves in with her father, Charlie, whom she refers to by his first name because she does not respect him. (Bella used to live with her mother, Renee, whom she thinks is stupid.) Charlie's character traits are not saying much and watching sports. (He is also the local police chief, which does not matter to the story.)

Bella whines before her first day of school how none of the other kids will like her. On her first day of school, all the other kids love her for reasons that are never explained. Bella whines about this, and treats everyone who tries to talk to her with scorn. The one exception to the rule that everyone loves Bella is Edward Cullen, who looks at her like he hates her and then does not come back to school for a week. Bella is sad and whines about this, because she misses the one person in the entire school who was rude to her. When Edward returns, he is inexplicably nice to her, which she whines about.

One day, Bella is almost killed by a van, but Edward demonstrates inhuman speed and strength to save her life. Since she was nearly killed by a van, she is put into a neck brace and taken to the hospital. Her primary concerns at this time are, in order of her priorities: 1) her embarrassment about being seen in a neck brace 2) her jealousy that Edward is not put in a neck brace 3) her annoyance that the boy who was driving the van keeps apologizing to her and 4) trying to figure out how Edward has inhuman speed and strength. Edward refuses to tell her how he has inhuman speed and strength.

After two chapters of nothing happening, Bella takes a trip to the beach with the friends she does not like. There she meets Jacob Black, a boy about her own age who is actually pleasant. The existence of Jacob proves that Stephenie Meyer can in fact write a character who is likable, but raises the question of why she so rarely exercises that ability. After Jacob hints that he knows something about the Cullen family, Bella strategically manipulates him to get him to tell her what it is. Jacob then tells of her of his tribe's legends about as-yet-unnamed, blood-drinking, supernatural creatures, which the Cullens are the said to be. Later, Bella uses "her favorite search engine" to Google vampires.

Bella takes a trip with girls she does not like but calls her friends anyway to a nearby town to shop. Bella eventually goes somewhere on her own and, because she is a girl, and therefore has no sense of direction, she gets lost. She is set upon by some rapists or something, but just in the nick of time, Edward saves her. It turns out that he knew where she was because he had been stalking her. Bella is fine with that. By the end of the evening, Bella and Edward have discussed how Edward is a mind-reading vampire who instinctively wants to kill Bella and drain her blood. Bella is fine with that. Also, Edward and Bella are now in love for some reason.

Now that they are in true love, Edward takes Bella to a beautiful meadow, where Bella tells us again, some more, about how beautiful Edward is. They talk and talk about their love and stare at each other. This is also when we find out that when Twilight vampires are exposed to sunlight, it does not hurt them. They merely sparkle as if covered with diamonds. True story.

Edward rips up some trees and runs around to demonstrate how dangerous he is. He tells Bella how much he loves the way she smells and how he is downright addicted to her stank. He tells her she's an idiot for wanting to be with him. ("You're an idiot" is a real quote. Page 274.) Bella describes how Edward sparkles and how kissing him is like kissing a cold, hard statue. This is all meant to be sexy.

It turns out that Edward has been breaking into Bella's bedroom for months in order to watch her sleep. Bella is only upset about this because she thinks she may have said something embarrassing while sleeping. Once she finds out, Bella lets Edward stay over every single night. This is not hard to hide from Charlie because Edward and Bella are much cleverer than him.

Bella meets Edward's family. Because they are better than normal people, the Cullens are very rich. Edward's parents are stoked to meet Bella, because no one can be happy until and unless they are paired off with a person of the opposite sex. After we learn about how Carlisle became a vampire and that Edward has many CDs, it is time for Vampire Baseball.

Vampire Baseball can only be played during thunderstorms because the sound of a super-strong vampire hitting a ball with a bat is so loud. Vampires pitch and hit the ball so hard that Bella can't even see it, but even though the ball travels so far after being hit, there aren't many home runs because vampire outfielders are so fast. Vampire Baseball is so stupid.

After Vampire Baseball, on page 372, the plot finally shows up. Some evil vampires show up, and one of them decides he wants to kill Bella for some reason. It is decided that Bella should leave town, but first she needs to "pretend" to be incredibly cruel to Charlie so she doesn't have to tell him the real reason she's leaving. She then goes with Alice and Jasper to Phoenix.

Twilight somehow becomes more boring at this point, with pages and pages describing Bella hanging out in a hotel room being bored and sad. (She is not sad because someone is trying to kill her, but because Edward isn't there.) The evil vampire lures Bella away from her protectors by telling her he has her mother and must come alone to a ballet studio. Once Bella gets there, the evil vampire reveals that he does not have her mother. He also reveals his entire backstory, thought process, and evil plan in an endless monologue. A climactic fight finally occurs when Edward et al. track them to the ballet studio, but we the readers do not get to see it because Bella has been knocked unconscious.

Bella wakes up in a hospital. Her family has been told that she's injured not because of Vampire Violence, but because--wait for it!--she fell down the stairs. Imaginative! (People believe this because Bella is very clumsy. I know I haven't mentioned that yet but don't worry; if you read the book Stephenie Meyer will remind you of it on every other page.)

In the end, Bella goes back to Forks, and Edward tricks her into going to prom. As she does with parties, presents, all forms of attention, and joy, Bella hates prom. Bella tells Edward she wants to become a vampire, and as Edward does with all of Bella's hope and initiates, he says no. After almost 500 pages, the book mercifully ends.

The bad news is that there are three more to go.

For more information on Twilight, please consult these sources:
Reasoning with Vampires: Dana is grammatically editing the Twilight books with grim determination, just like someone should have before allowing them to be published.

Mark Reads: Mark provides a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the heartbreaking insanity that is the Twilight saga. I irrevocably and unconditionally love Mark.

LDS Sparkledammerung!: This is a very hilarious Twilight summary/explanation of Twilight's semi-hidden Mormon propaganda. Helpful Bjork-as-Alice jpegs!

Cleolinda's Thoughts On Twilight: Cleolinda is of the "Twilight is stupid but I still loved it!" school of thought which I respect if disagree with.

The Cracked Guide to Twilight: A good primer for all four books.

Finally, there's Alex Reads Twilight. Have you ever wanted to hear a cheeky English boy tell you all about Twilight as he reads it? Of course you have.
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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Harry Potter Thoughts: Order of the Phoenix

I maintain that Goblet of Fire is my favorite of the Harry Potter books, but Order of the Phoenix is also way up there. Yes, it's angsty, but it's also very, very funny. It's our introduction to Luna Lovegood, so how could it not be?

I love Luna.

1) Speaking of Luna, I think the choice of Evanna Lynch is probably the second-best casting decision in the entire Harry Potter film series. The casting overall is very good--how lucky were they that Daniel Radcliffe turned out to be so talented?--so that's high praise. I say it's second because Robbie Coltrane is so perfect as Hagrid. I have my own mental version of most of the characters when I read the books, but book Hagrid and movie Hagrid are identical to me.

2) I love how Harry's escape from Privet Drive in this book is mirrored in the final book. The key to it is how everybody mocks Moody this time for being overcautious and acting like somebody might die, whereas in the last book, well, you know.

3) It must be said--all of Dumbledore's decisions vis a vis prefects are stupid. Except for making Hermione one. Why would he make power-mad weasel Draco Malfoy a prefect? Why would he do that? Why would he make Ron a prefect? Ron shows us over and over again that he's not willing to stand up to his house's biggest troublemakers, his brothers, and why would Dumbledore expect him to? I have a higher opinion of Ron's testicular fortitude than most, but I still think making him a prefect was dumb. Most of all, why would Dumbledore wish he could have made Harry a prefect? And would Harry expect to become one? He breaks rules all the time! And not just to fight Dumbledore or whatever--he breaks rules to chill out in Hogsmeade or hang out at Hagrid's hut all the time. There's no higher purpose there; it's just for fun. Seriously, why didn't Dumbledore chose Dean? Dean was clearly the way to go there.

I can't argue with the choice of Hermione, though. I guess that was an OK decision.

4) I don't particularly care for Ginny (J.K. quite often fell into the trap of "telling" instead of "showing" us why Ginny's supposed to be great), but I give her this: she's good to Neville.

5) Everyone but Harry and Ron are right: Hagrid is an awful teacher. Just execrable. Why did Dumbledore hire him for that?

I like Professor Grubbly-Plank. Also, she and Professor Sprout would probably make a pretty cute couple. I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'.

6) The part where Harry has a conversation with Ron and Hermione about just having kissed Cho is pretty much my favorite scene in the entire series. Again: this book is funny. ("Just because you've got the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn't mean we all have," has, at multiple times in the past, caused me to laugh and laugh and laugh.)

7) OK, fellow Potter Hindsight Detectives, take-a look-a this passage from page 470 (just after Harry tells Dumbledore that he's had a vision of a giant snake attacking Mr. Weasley): "Dumbledore now swooped down upon one of the fragile silver instruments whose function Harry had never known, carried it over to his desk, sat down facing [Harry and Professor McGonagall] again, and tapped it gently with the tip of his wand.
"The instrument tinkled into life at once with rhythmic clinking noises. Tiny puffs of pale green smoke issued from the minuscule silver tube at the top. Dumbledore watched the smoke closely, his brow furrowed, and after a few seconds, the tiny puffs became a steady stream of smoke that thickened and coiled in the air. . . . A serpent's head grew out of the end of it, opening its mouth wide. . . .
" 'Naturally, naturally,' murmured Dumbledore apparently to himself, still observing the stream of smoke without the slightest sign of surprise. 'But in essence divided?'
"Harry could make neither head nor tail of this question. The smoke serpent, however, split itself instantly into two snakes, both coiling and undulating in the dark air. With a look of grim satisfaction Dumbledore gave the instrument another gentle tap with his wand: The clinking noise slowed and died, and the smoke serpents grew faint, became a formless haze, and vanished."

So . . . what was that thing? Do we ever find out? Does it tell use anything we didn't already know by this point in the narrative (that Harry's seeing into Voldemort's mind, duh)? What's "in essence divided?" Is that a Horcrux hint? Why does Dumbledore need a snake-vision-confirmation machine?

8) When Mrs. Weasley comes home from the hospital after Mr. Weasley passes the crisis point, she says that Bill is with his father now, having taken "the morning off work." The morning? Your dad gets 85% killed by an enormous evil mind-meld horcrux snake and you don't use up a whole sick day?! C'mon, Bill!

9) I like the hints J. K. drops (which you might miss the first time around) that Kreacher has left Sirius's house for a while. That's how you foreshadow without just giving away the plot in advance, Stephenie Meyer.

10) Hermione skips skiing with her parents over Christmas to hang out with Harry and the Weasleys at Grimauld Place. This continues the books' minor theme that Hermione really, really could not care less about her parents.

11) One of my favorite illustrations of the wizard/Muggle divide is when Mr. Weasley hesitantly tells his wife that he's been experimenting with Muggle remedies for his snake bite wounds: "Well . . . well, I don't know whether you know what--what stitches are?"
"It sounds as though you've been trying to sew your skin back together," said Mrs. Weasley with a snort of mirthless laughter, "but even you, Arthur, wouldn't be that stupid--"
And then Harry hightails it out of there in anticipation of a major Mrs. Weasley conniption.

12) Does Dumbledore ever do anything more awesome than when escapes his office out from the Minister of Magic's nose? ("Well--it's just that you seem to be laboring under the delusion that I am going to--what is the phrase? 'Come quietly.' I am afraid I am not going to come quietly at all, Cornelius.") I submit that he does not.

13) Harry's dad, as we learn from Snape's worst memory, was a horrible human being as a teenager. Is that what Harry would have been like if his parents had lived, and he'd been a regular, rich, talented kid instead of a poor grubby orphan? . . . Maybe his mom's influence would have prevented it.

14) This book also contains Hagrid's most awesome moment: when, Hulk-like, he beats down a half-dozen Aurors. Go Hagrid.

15) Unfortunately, this book also contains the stupid Hagrid development, Grawp. The worst thing about Grawp is not that Hagrid is stupid for trying to keep his giant brother in the woods like some particularly horrible pet, but (as Neal as pointed out to me) that Grawp has no bearing on any plot developments in the future. What was the point of Grawp, J. K.? What was the point?

16) When Dumbledore finally spills the beans about the prophecy that foretold that Harry would have to kill Voldemort or vice versa, Harry asks what power he could have that could enable him to beat Voldemort. As we know, the answer is love. (No, really.) The weird part is that Dumbledore introduces this answer by saying "There is a room n the Department of Mysteries . . . that is kept locked at all times. It contains a force that is at once more wonderful and more terrible than death, than human intelligence, than forces of nature. It is also, perhaps, the most mysterious of the many subjects for study that reside there."

Really? I mean, I believe love is powerful and all, but . . . there's a room? Of love? The Love Room? I assume they don't call it that, as it would probably give people the wrong impression, but still.

17) Finally, here are some more quotes that I think are funny:

"How do you remember stuff like that?" asked Ron, looking at her in admiration.
"I listen, Ron," said Hermione with a touch of asperity.

[Re: Ernie Macmillan, the pompous Hufflepuff kid (a minor character I enjoy more upon each re-reading)] He looked around impressively, as though waiting for people to cry, "Surely not!"

"Dangerous?" said Hagrid, looking genially bemused. "Don' be silly, I wouldn' give hey anythin' dangerous! I mean, all righ', they can look after themselves--"

[Hermione thanks the boys for her Christmas presents:] "Thanks for the book, Harry!" she said happily. "I've been wanting that New Theory of Numerology for ages! And that perfume is really unusual, Ron."
"No problem," said Ron.
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