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  • Read. Watched / fiftyfifty.me

    January 11, 2013 | No Comments »


    Oh boy, oh boy! It's the first of a new series of posts on my blog, a chronicle of the books I've read and the movies I've watched as the year progresses. It's also a new way for me to flex some writer's muscles. I've been wanting to write more, about more varied subjects, on my blog but I wasn't so sure about the venue.
    I'm going to hide them under a jump, so you don't have to slog through too much writing if you're just here for the pretty pictures. If you want to read on, please do!

    More Baths, Less Talking by Nick Hornby
    British author Nick Hornby’s column about reading for the Believer, compiled
    into a book. Each month Hornby starts the column with the books he bought and
    the books he read, then gets into his reads with hilarious detail. A quick and
    inspiring read for anyone who wants to read more (I’ve added quite a few of his
    selections to my own list) and perfectly poignant for my fifty/fifty goal!

    The Round House by Louise Erdrich
    Winner of the National Book Award, 2012
    A more difficult read than most of Erdrich’s previous books for me but totally
    rewarding. Told by Joe, a Native American teenager living on a fictional North
    Dakota Ojibwe reservation (where Erdrich sets most of her
    novels), the Round House is a coming of age story of sorts as Joe struggles
    with finding both justice and reason for the violent rape of his mother. I
    always love how Louise Erdrich weaves the real-life struggles of Native Americans
    living on reservations with the mystical and this book is no different a we
    quickly learn that the crime was committed on the scared ground of the Round House. The Round House, created when Indians were not allowed to practice their religion is something of a
    no man’s land for the American Court system, regulated only by the tribe, so the moral question of the book is how does the criminal get prosecuted? Through the court system or by vigalantism?
    I’m used to Erdrich’s books telling a story for the perpective of multiple
    narrators, a device that I’m partial to in general in my novel-reading so that's my minor criticism.
    Otherwise it is an amazing, arresting tale.

    I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron
    If I’m going to get through fifty books in a year, there are going to have to
    be a few more "I Remember Nothings" to balance out the "Round Houses".
    This book of short essays by Nora Ephron is a great quick read: funny,
    insightful, fluffy but not drivel. My favorite essay is “Journalism, a Love
    Story”, Ephron’s memories of her early days as a journalist and the
    institutionalized sexism in her field in the '60s. At her first job, a Newsweek,
    women are never hired as journalists. Instead, their highest position is “researcher”,
    the person charged with filling in the “tk” (journalists’ shorthand for
    “to come”) in a sentence like: “There are tk light bulbs in the
    chandelier in the chamber of the House of Representatives.” Like so many of us, Ephron moved to NY with a dream that doesn't end up exactly the way she'd imagined.

    I started the year off right with two depressing stories, as far from each
    other possible: one a melodramatic musical blockbuster and the other a quiet
    Chinese documentary on the struggle of migrant workers.

    Les Miserables, directed by Tom Hooper, watched in the theater
    Not everyone knows this but I am a huge musical theater nerd. In junior high, I
    not only acted in musicals but I was a member of the Theater Club, a (very
    small) group of girls and our (very gay) Assistant Principal. We didn’t act in
    or read plays; nay, we read reviews of plays in the New York Times, scoured Al Hirschfeld
    illustrations for hidden Ninas and sometimes we actually saw some musicals.
    During this time I became obsessed with Les Mis, so much that I saw the play 6
    times, its' histrionics a good match for my adolescent angst.
    Years later, I met my now-husband Adam and found something very interesting
    beneath his all-black outfits and crust punk exterior: he knew all the words to
    Les Mis. He came to the play in a very didfferent way-raised in an evangelical
    family, Adam wasn’t allowed to listen to any secular music. Except for
    musicals. Musicals that, I might add, have just as much sex and violence as any
    heavy metal song ever could.
    Clearly, the movie had a lot to live up to. And it mostly did. Only a few
    actors really belted out their songs the way I wanted them to but then they don’t
    have to project like they would in a theater. When you go to see Les Mis on
    Broadway, you want to hear songs sung well. At the movies, you’re willing to
    make more sacrifices for the story and the emotion. Except for one thing: I'm not making any excuses for Russel Crowe.
    Oh Russel Crowe, why? You looked flummoxed the whole time, like
    you walked onto the wrong set by accident. Javert is not an easy part, he’s a
    complicated conflicted character and he should have an amazing commanding voice. He's not a throw-away part dang-it. Paul Rudd would have been a better choice.
    Anyway, I had a hard time controlling myself in the theater, finding myself
    mouthing along to all the songs when I wanted to jump up and sing so I’m sure I’ll
    buy the movie and do just that.

    Last Train Home directed by Lixin
    Fan, watched on Netflix streaming
    “Hey, I have to watch a really depressing movie for school about Chinese
    migrant workers. Want to watch it with me?” says Adam.
    Normally I would say no and retreat back to our bedroom to watch reruns of Law &
    Order on my laptop (this is my safe place), but hey, I have to watch 50 new
    movies this year so I’m game for anything.
    The last Train Home is beautiful, sad and quiet. Fan and his crew followed one
    family for three years: Changhua and Sugin Zhang work work in a factory, returning home to their farmland
    home only once a year on Chinese New Year to visit their two children. It’s
    heartbreaking to watch them try to connect to their kids: all they want is for
    their kids’ lives to be better than their own but their constant emphasis on
    doing well in school comes off as meddling and hypocritical rather than loving.
    Their older child Qin just wants some money of her own and she’s sick of her
    parents telling her what to do, so she goes to do exactly what her parents don’t
    want: she leaves to work in a factory too.
    I expected to be hit over the head with the plight of the migrant worker but
    instead, the sadness creeps into you. It’s not all human rights violations and
    abuse. Instead it’s monotony of factory work, the separation from family, the
    pain of leaving children just to make money to improve their lives that really
    got to me. The most arresting visual in the film is the crush of the crowd of
    factory workers, struggling to get on a train to get back home for the holiday.
    130 million migrant workers journey to their home villages for the New Year's
    holiday, the world’s largest human migration. It’s
    hard for the American individualist in me to understand a life lived just for a
    few short days.

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