Monday, July 25, 2016

Book Review: The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke (translated by Jamie Bulloch)

Release date: February 1, 2013 (first published in 1990)
Author links: Goodreads 
Publisher: Peirene Press
Pages: 105
Purchase links: Amazon - Book Depository

Description (from Goodreads):

The modern German classic that has shaped an entire generation.

A mother and her two teenage children sit at the dinner table. In the middle stands a large pot of cooked mussels. Why has the father not returned home? As the evening wears on, we glimpse the issues that are tearing this family apart.
"I wrote this book in August 1989, just before the fall of the Berlin Wall. I wanted to understand how revolutions start. It seemed logical to use the figure of a tyrannical father and turn the story into a German family saga." 

After reading Aki Ollikainen's White Hunger, I got interested about Peirene Press and its titles and went to the library to browse the shelves to see if they had any other titles available. I came across The Mussel Feast and picked it up without any prior knowledge about it. I usually tend to obsessively check Goodreads ratings for all books I plan to read, but with this one, I just opened the page and started reading (of which I am happy about because I think one of my Goodreads friends had rated this 1/5 and seeing bad reviews from people I follow always find of make me hesitant about picking up certain books).

The Mussel Feast focuses on a German family - mother, a daughter and a son - who are preparing mussels for dinner to celebrate the promotion the father of the family as inevitably received as a result of his business trip. The book is narrated by the unnamed teenage daughter in a very interesting manner. She is clearly reflecting on something that happened in the past, but rather than doing that reflection for example via a journal, the way she narrates the story makes it seem like you are listening to her delivering a spontaneous monologue or a speech of sorts. She repeats same things again and again, which mimics the style of speech that has not been written down in advance. I must admit getting used to this style of narration took me a couple of pages, but after I realized how the author has structured the story and started to wonder the reasons for why she has done so, I immensely started to enjoy this novel.

At first, the family chats about harmless things like about how much the father hates grains of sand on his mussels or how good the mother's chips are, but after the food is cooked and the father is a no-show, the story starts digging deeper and deeper into the dysfunctionality of the family and the terrorizing and bullying nature of the father. In some ways, there is a divide created between the family before the mussels were cooked, a family living in fear of the father's temper, and a family post-mussel cooking, a family that is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. 

As the novel processes, the clearer image you get of the father. While at first he seems opinionated and a little old-fashioned, later on he appears like a bully, like a selfish dick who thinks the right way to do things is his way to do things. Through the eyes of this unnamed female narrator we not only get a certain image of the father, but also of the mother, who has very much adapted her life into something that would please her husband. Within only a bit over 100 pages, the reader is introduced to a problematic family and situations that will definitely make one think about familiar relationships, about marriage, about "normalcy", and so on. 

I was very impressed by this book and the ways it made me think. Also, my positive reading experience of both this one and White Hunger have really made me curious about Peirene Press and the other books it has published.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Play Review: The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams

Release year: 1945
Author links: Goodreads
Publisher: the pictured edition is published by New Directions in 1999
Pages: 104
Purchase links: Amazon - Book Depository

Description (from Goodreads):

The Glass Menagerie[1] is a four-character memory play by Tennessee Williams. Williams worked on various drafts of the play prior to writing a version of it as a screenplay for MGM, to whom Williams was contracted. Initial ideas stemmed from one of his short stories, and the screenplay originally went under the name of 'The Gentleman Caller' (Williams envisioned Ethel Barrymore and Judy Garland for the roles that eventually became Amanda and Laura Wingfield although Louis B. Mayer insisted on casting Greer Garson as Laura).

The play premiered in Chicago in 1944. It was championed by Chicago critics Ashton Stevens and Claudia Cassidy whose enthusiasm helped build audiences so the producers could move the play to Broadway where it won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award in 1945. Laurette Taylor originated the role of the all-too-loving mother, Amanda Wingfield. In the 2004 documentary Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There, Broadway veterans nearly unanimously rank Taylor's performance as the most memorable of their entire lives. The Glass Menagerie was Williams's first successful play; he went on to become one of America's most highly regarded playwrights.

The play was reworked from one of Williams's short stories "Portrait of a Girl in Glass" (1943; published 1948).[2] The story is also written from the point of view of narrator Tom Wingfield, and many of his soliloquies from The Glass Menagerie seem lifted straight from this original. Certain elements have clearly been omitted from the play, including the reasoning for Laura's fascination with Jim's freckles (linked to a book that she loved and often reread, Freckles by Gene Stratton-Porter). Generally the story contains the same plot as the play, with certain sections given more emphasis, and character details edited (for example, in the story, Jim nicknames Tom "Slim", instead of "Shakespeare"[2]).

A Streetcar Named Desire is one of my favorite plays (and movies) of all time and I have been meaning to read more Tennessee Williams for years! I was able to find The Glass Menagerie from the very small collection of plays my local library has in English and instantly read it through on one sitting. I immensely enjoyed the play itself, in addition to which I found myself enjoying the process of reading plays again. I was a theatre/film major for my undergrad and I feel like the amount of plays I read during those years kind of distanced me from plays for a while (also, we had to read all these really boring post war British plays that just didn't work for me at all), but I am not back in the game and DEFINITELY up for some play recommendations if you have any.

The three main characters of The Glass Menagerie are Amanda and her two children Tom and Laura. Tom is in his early twenties and supporting his family by working in a shoe warehouse. He is not a very dedicated worker and spends most of his free time dreaming about adventures similar to those he sees in movies. While Tom desperately tries to live in a future, in a world that is not yet his, Amanda lives in the past. She reminisces her youth, her glory days in the South and the number of suitors she used to have prior to marrying her husband and the father of her children, a man who eventually left his family for another kind of life. Laura is shy and I guess one could call her "fragile" (not a huge fan of calling people "fragile" like they are objects or something). She has no confidence whatsoever, as a result of which she never really is the kind of suitor-magnet her mother apparently was (also, times have changed since Amanda was young and the whole dating game has changed as a result of that!) Laura is often slated as "different than other girls". But what other girls? Different than what Amanda was like as a girl? This question of Laura's identity and where she fits with other young women is one of the most interesting aspects of the play.

The Glass Menagerie is a memory play (term coined by Williams, the play can be presented with "unusual freedom of convention") and Tom is both a character in it as well as its narrator. In addition to Tom, Amanda and Laura, the play briefly presents Jim, a "gentleman caller". In fact, much of the play is focused on Amanda's attempts to find a suitor for Laura. While Laura does not seem very interested in the idea of finding a gentleman called and much rather spends time at home polishing her collection of little glass figurines, Amanda is determined that a young woman ought to have a suitor. (While I was reading this I had these nightmarish visions of my mother trying to find a "gentleman caller" for me, because OH THE SHOCK OF BEING 25 AND SINGLE). Things with Jim do no necessarily go as planned, and the question of whether Laura will be an old maid intensifies even more.

I feel like all of the characters featured in this play are extremely interesting and engaging to read about. The way they interact with each other and with the world around them is executed so well, and I am now dying to see this on stage or on screen. I know there are multiple film adaptations of this out there and now I would like to know which one you would recommend for me? 

I still love A Streetcar Named Desire more, but after reading The Glass Menagerie I definitely want to read more by Williams as soon as possible. 


Thursday, July 7, 2016

I Just Love Television So Much (#3) - Falling Out Of Love With 'The Mindy Project'

For its first two seasons, The Mindy Project represented everything I wanted from a show. It had a great cast, a kickass and opinionated and successful female lead, great jokes and most importantly, a storyline that made watching it feel like I was watching a very long and very good romantic comedy. As someone who loves the kind of relationships that turn from dislike/arguments to love (think Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail) I absolutely ate up the relationship between Mindy and Danny. I wrote fanfiction about the two, made photo edits, fangirled on Tumblr in the middle of the night with fans of the show and was determined that what I was watching was going to be one of those shows I would embrace for the rest of my life.

As an example of my obsession, here are some of the edits I made:

Now that I have finished with season 4, I almost wish I would have ended up watching it the moment the story of Mindy and Danny reached the conclusion to which a romantic comedy would have ended. There is a happy ending, and then it is up for the viewer to make the conclusions about what is going to happen to the relationship. I could have embraced the witty conversations and slow burning passion between the two for years to come, but now...  I continued watching the series while I had a hunch that things would not stay the way I liked them for a very long time.

Life is not perfect and relationships are not perfect. I know that. But for me, The Mindy Project was one of those escapist shows that allowed me to exist reality for about 30 minutes at the time through engagement in Mindy's somewhat glamorous world in New York. I am not really a relationship person myself and I don't believe that there necessarily has to be a great love story in everyone's life, but I love romantic comedies because they offer me an escape. Romantic comedies are often predictable, but there is also something extremely comforting in predictability at times when you just want to relax for a while and know that things are going to get a good outcome (maybe that is why I love Hallmark movies so much - you always know things are going to end well!) In our current world where escaping the reality is coming harder and harder, it is important to have something for self-care, something that hopefully gives you a little moment of peace or happiness once in a while. Obviously, The Mindy Project was not made for me to be used for my well-being, but I do feel like I lost something when I fell out of love with the show.

People have asked me why I still keep watching The Mindy Project even though I have said that I have not enjoyed the recent episodes at all. I don't really even know how to answer that question - the only thing I can say is that there is still a little hope in my pessimistic heart about the fact that the show could go back to what it was. I was hoping that would happen with the introduction of Jody, who arguably would have provided a quite similar love interest for Mindy than Danny is, but as I was looking for the romantic comedy elements, I would not have minded that too much. But Jody did not prove to be the Souther gentleman I wanted to be and as I kept watching, I started to dislike some of the characters I used to love more and more. I am mainly talking about Danny.

Ever since the beginning, Danny has been kind of conservative and very old fashioned in some ways. He is grumpy, thinks he is always right and drives Mindy crazy. He also drove me crazy many a time, but there was also something so attractive about him, especially as he started to get closer to Mindy. There is that one legendary episode in which he performs a dance for Mindy that kind of finalized everything for me - I thought he was the perfect fictional man ever created. But then, when things started to get more serious between him and Mindy, the show started to focus on sides of him that I couldn't go blindly with. During the fourth season, he changes into a completely different person and does things that are very uncharacteristic of him. The way he sees his future with Mindy - him working and Mindy at home - and the way he seems to lack any sort of respect for Mindy's ambitions just doesn't rub off well on me. And without spoiling the latter part of the fourth season for you, I want to say that he makes some decisions that just drove me off the wall. He does not make them alone, but he is the only one who knows what a shitty thing he is actually committing. After finishing with the season 4 finale I have two words to describe him: "dick" and "coward". 

Will I keep watching The Mindy Project once it continues after the season break? Most likely. The fourth season ends on a cliffhanger I have a hope will go a way that distances Mindy from Danny (of course they can never be fully distanced due to Leo, but no romantic involvement is needed) and the show introduces a new romantic interest to Mindy's life. The way the season finale ended gives hints that it could be Jody, but he in his own right so oh so problematic that I wouldn't wish a man like him for any of my friends - what he thinks is funny and sweet is just kind of stalkerish, and while I usually like the whole Southern gentleman thing, Jody's actions don't make him much of a gentleman. Mindy deserves someone who is loving and kind, not someone who is a complete douche (which is what the guys in season four pretty much all were). And before someone asks why Mindy even needs and love interest and can't a woman be happy without a man, I want to say that A WOMAN CAN DEFINITELY BE HAPPY WITHOUT A MAN - AT LEAST I HAVE NO COMPLAINTS! The Mindy Project just seems to have established itself as a kind of "dating show" that focuses on how Mindy balances her professional and social/romantic life, and it would just seem like an odd move for the show to have Mindy decide not to date for an extended period of time. On the other hand, it would be interesting to see Mindy embracing her life as a single mother without interest in dating, but I just don't see that happening. 

If you haven't watched The Mindy Project yet but think it is a show for you, I recommend you stop watching after the season 2 finale, especially if you are looking for a show that captures the essence of romantic comedies. I am so disappointed I had to write this, but I felt like I had to. This show used to mean so much to me, and how I am feeling about it right now feels like I have lost something special. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

"There Must Be Something In The Airwaves" (#1)

There Must Be Something In The Airwaves is a semi-regular feature here at ReadReadRead in which I share with you music I am currently blasting from my headphones and falling very much in love with. 

Summer is here... or at least it should be. The weather here hasn't been very summery yet, but there is still hope. Despite the weather I am feeling like it's summer and I thought it would be fun to share with you some of the songs I included on my summer playlist that I put together few weeks ago. I bicycle A LOT during the summer, so having good music blasting from my earphones is ESSENTIAL. 

John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16 by Keith Urban

I LOVE KEITH URBAN! He is probably the number one artist out there I would love to see live. His albums are always a perfect mix of catchy songs and slower pieces perfect for sleepy time playlists. I love pretty much every single song from the new album RIPCORD (even the one featuring Pitbull), but this one is definitely my favorite. Every time it starts playing, I feel like singing along and I think that is a sign of a perfect summer song.

House of Gold by Twenty One Pilots

Twenty One Pilots is a new find for me, but I am already obsessed with their albums. House of Gold instantly became my favorite, and I have been listening to it on repeat for a few days now. It is catchy, the lyrics are AMAZING and the video is also extremely interesting and I highly recommend watching it if you have time for it. 

Leave the Night On by Sam Hunt

I love EVERYTHING Sam Hunt does, but Leave the Night On is the song I have been listening to the most recently because there is just something really summery about it. It is also brilliant for bicycling around and low-key singing along while biking. Also, look at that guy.... he played college football and then became a musician which makes him like a character from a new adult novel.

Toothbrush by DNCE

I was a MASSIVE Jonas Brothers fan and Joe was always my favorite. I discovered DNCE from Twitter a few months ago and have since been obsessed with CAKE BY THE OCEAN. Now that I have heard TOOTHBRUSH I think I have found my new dnce favorite. The video is also really good and worth a watch!

What have you added to your playlists recently? Let me know - I am always in the look out for new songs to fall in love with!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday (#69) - Ten Books I Have Enjoyed That Have Under 2000 Ratings On Goodreads

Today's Top Ten Tuesday is all about books that have under 2000 ratings on Goodreads. I guess this would be titled an "underrated books" list as well, but I will go with the prompt provided by Broke and Bookish

NOTE: I have decided to include books that have been released in 2015 or earlier since a lot of 2016 releases haven't gained the ratings just because they haven't been out for long enough. This was a decision made just to bring attention to some back-list titles. 

Winter in the Blood was a random library pick for me which I read earlier this year and really found myself enjoying it. Winter in the Blood focuses on the story of a young Native American man who is trying to come to terms with his heritage. The book was first published in 1974 and its author James Welch is considered as one of the founding authors of the Native American Renaissance. 

If you like that "ordinary person falls in love with a celebrity" dynamic, you need to read Behind the Scenes (Daylight Falls #1) by Dahlia Adler. I absolutely loved this one and cannot wait to read book 2, which I actually own, but forgot to take home with me while I traveled home for the summer. 

How to Say I Love You Out Loud by Karole Cozzo was one of my first Swoon Reads titles, but it certainly hasn't been the last. It focuses on Jordyn, who is a quite complicated, not instantly likable main character. Though romance is not really the main focus of this novel (it is much more about a relationship between siblings than about romantic love), there is a chemistry-filled relationship here that adds a nice flavor of romance to the story.

Tracked by Jenny Martin is not my typical kind of read, but I really enjoyed this fast paced scifi/dystopian novel. The synopsis compared this one to Firefly and that was all I needed to pick it up! The second novel in the series has been released this year (I believe!) but I haven't picked that one up yet.

Kelsey is awesome and her debut Damsel Distressed is absolutely fantastic! I felt an incredible connection with this book and its main character Imogen, and there is a guy called Grant in it that is such so damn swoonworthy. 

How We Deal with Gravity by Ginger Scott is a new adult novel I picked up a few summers ago just because I wanted something emotional to read. While the novel includes some pretty cliche romantic scenes, I liked the main character Avery a lot!

I read  True Confessions of a Hollywood Starlet by Lola Douglas/Lara Deloza (I think Lara Deloza is the name she writes with now and she actually has a new book called WINNING coming up later this year that sounds really awesome!) is a book I read back in like 2008 by the pool while I was still living in US. It is super cliche and predictable, but also funny and romantic and a perfect summer book in general. There is also a TV movie adaptation of this starring JoJo that is just wonderful in its cliche teen movie-ness. 

The Possibilities of Sainthood by Donna Freitas focuses on a Catholic girl called Antonio who is obsessed with saints. It is funny, slightly romantic and just in general a great YA contemporary read. It has been YEARS since I read this one, but I think I need to reserve it from the library so I can reread it.

There was a time when I only read Jane Austen adaptations, and  Echoes of Love by Rosie Rushton is a pretty good YA adaptation of Austen's Persuasion. For those who know Persuasion the general storyline does not really offer anything new, but the setting here is 21st century England. Anna is the daughter of a television host and her family is in financial trouble while Felix Wentworth is a respected Afghanistan war veteran. 

In  Fallout (Lois Lane #1) by Gwenda Bond army brat Lois Lane moves to Metropolis with her family, makes new friends, and chats online with a guy using a username SmallvilleGuy (I WONDER WHO THAT IS?!?!? ;))) ). I loved Lois and I cannot wait to pick up the second book in this series.

Which books made your list this week?