Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Harry Potter gulps down the Goblet of Goth

So,last week Little Sister and I ventured forth to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire where we sat thru a good number of trailers(not the Superman Returns trailer but I saw that one during the last Smallville so I'm good to go)and listened to the annoying girls in the back of us complain about the movie starting late-"I've had a rough day,I'm at the end of my string!"(it was about twelve noon so you can see why I have
my doubts about her"hard day").

The main turns of the story involve not only Harry's interest in girls but the return
of Lord Voldemort(well played by a nearly unrecognizable Ralph Finnes)in a very dark
sequence that felt just right. The movie is well done with key plot points hitting
on cue and the F/X was great as always. I did feel a bit less entralled than I have
with the films but that maybe due to the choice of director this time out.


Mike Newell's a good director but his strengths are more character based than visual
which shows in many of the one on one dialogue scenes and in the humor. I loved the
study hall bit where Snape prefects his head slapping routine(plus,the Weaselly Twins
are incredibly hilarious-who ever cast those two was bloody brillant)and the Ron-Hermione fight during the Yule Ball had a nice ring of Degrassi to it. But,even
tho,the TriWizard tasks were great and the Voldemort scenes chilling,I felt the
visuals needed more oopmh.

I do recommend the movie but I should probaly watch it again-part of my reluctance is
most likely due to building it up in my own mind. Plus,maybe I'll get to see that Superman Returns trailer onscreen(not that I need an excuse...)

Saturday, November 19, 2005

On the Shelf with Suzanne Strempek Shea

Suzanne Strempek Shea is one of those authors you discover while browsing thru your local library or well stocked bookstore on a quiet day that add some much needed liveliness. Her books are heart-felt ,humorous and bursting with life. She is a novelist and fortunately,many of her titles are widely available such as Hoopi Shoopi Donna,Lily of the Valley(my personal favorite)and,most recently,Finding Finola.

She also has two nonfiction books-one,Songs From a Lead Lined Room,deals with her bout with cancer and the other,Shelf Life,chronicles her first year of working at her local independant bookstore,Edward's Books in Springfield,Mass. Suzanne is a truly sweet person and was kind enough to let me interview her.

I gave her seven questions(number not based on the seven deadly sins,more like the seven dwarves)and here are the results of my inquiry:

1)As a writer,how has working in a bookstore changed
and/or reinforced your opinions reading books and readers?

People read. Books are important to people. Good writing is prized
like diamonds. I see that reinforced daily now that I'm behind the
counter. I always read, books always mattered, I always appreciated fine
writing, but spending the day in a bookstore shows me I'm not in the minority we
might guess is the case in our time-crunched TV-centered culture.


2)Do you think any of your bookselling experiences will wind up in one of your novels?

Oh I'm sure some will at some point. Working with the public is an
endless source of material and as writing can be a very solitary act, it's
great to have that venue in which to poke my head into the world.


3)What's your take on independent vs. chain book stores?

Chains carry my books nationally and internationally and I will be
eternally grateful for that. But I find that most of the independents are
staffed with people who really know what they're selling, go out of their way to
find what you're seeking, handsell titles you might not otherwise come
across.

Yes, you can find very knowledgeable staffers at chain stores, but
certainly not as often as you will in an independent. Would it be too grand to
say that most of those who work in independents do so more as a calling
and that many of those who work at the chains are there to have a job?


4)As mentioned in Shelf Life,your mother drove the local bookmobile when you were a kid-given the chance now,would you like to do the same?

I'm not good with big pieces of machinery, but I'd love to drive some
sort of thing that brought books to readers. There were lines of kids and
adults waiting in those days. That image is in my mind, from both being
inside the bookmobile, and waiting in that line.


5)If you went into a bookstore and found your novels shelved in the Chick Lit section,would that bother you or not?

If I go into a bookstore and my books are anywhere, I'm delighted.
It's still such a thrill to have had my stories published that it never
gets old to find my books in a store or library. Chick Lit sells big. Good for
those authors! I don'tthink my books fall into that category, as they might not fit into mystery or historical fiction, but if somebody puts them there, maybe some of
the good fortune of the neighboring books will rub off on mine!


6)What do you like best about bookselling?

I'd probably say the excitement of the boxes that arrive each day -
what's new, what are people waiting for, what can we put out there that
they'll love. There are so many wonderful books out there, whatever we can do
to spread the word, it's just an honor. Another answer would be that Flo, the owner's mother, keeps a drawer full of chocolate, so that's cool, too.

7)Did you watch the Quills Awards and what is your opinion about book awards in general?

I didn't catch the Quills Awards, but I think it's fabulous that such
wide exposure has been given to the arts. We get more than enough about
film stars and sports stars, shining some light on literary accomplishments is an overdue trend.

Hopefully,Suzanne will be the first of many interviews presented here at Living Read Girl and I thank her most sweetly for her time. Her website is linked above
so if you want to know more her and Edward's Books,please check it out!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

And the Truly Bad Writing Award goes to.....

I must share the pain here,folks-someone not only let Nicole Richie write a book but decided to
publish it for all and sundry. More than one website has gleefully linked to the except available
at the Harpercollins website(and so have I,for your viewing displeasure). I did actually see The
Truth About Diamonds in a bookstore(not mine but some fan of the Simpleton Life will no doubt
ask about/order it)but since I stayed a good safe distance from it,I didn't realize it was alleged
to be a novel.

Like I've said before,reading for fun is a valid choice but in cases like this,the only fun you could have
from this stillborn story is the joy of recommending it to your best enemy-"Yeah,it's pretty good.
I think Oprah might have her on this week"*evil snicker* I had a cousin who worked in the PR
dept at HC but left due to disgust(he said)at the stuff the publisher was putting out. Harpercollins
isn't the only one out there filling the shelves with celebrity crap but this is NOT their Best Week Ever.


Not all celeb books are bad-Jamie Lee Curtis and John Lithgow can write very well(too many
celeb authors steer towards children's picture books,especially comedians who recycle old
stand-up routines )and Bruce Campbell's novel"Make Love The Bruce Campbell Way" has gotten some good feedback. However,it's the Madonnas (what fool thought giving her a seven book deal was a great idea?)that get the big deals and the co-op do-re-mi that hog the ad space
and shelf life of books that deserve a better break. Next thing you know,Pamela Anderson will
be working in a bookstore on TV and ......oh,wait-as Emily Litella used to say"Nevermind"!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Giving Charlotte Simmons the old college try

I've been in a reading rut lately(starting and then stopping with some books,leaving off for abit
with others)so as a jumpstart,I decided to tackle My Name Is Charlotte Simmons,Tom Wolfe's
latest and much reviled novel. It's in paperback but I bought a hardcover copy at a local rummage
sale for $2(John Irving's new book,Until I Find You,was right next to it but I already had it-sweet
irony! I'm more of an Irving fan which is why I splurged on the HC). It's in good shape,too. Most
likely,someone bought it and never got around to reading the book-done that that myself. I buy
books the way other women buy shoes.

The only other Wolfe book I've read was Bonfire of the Vanities(that movie was a totally watered
down mess of cinematic crap). Bonfire was good but otherwise I'm not really into his work. Wolfe
can tell a story and carry many plot threads along with ease but there is a aloofness that creeps
into his writing(also,his insistence on wearing white suits doesn't lighten him up at all-Little Sister
took one look at the back cover photo of him and said he looked like a "Southern Fried pimp").

The reviews of MNICS were pretty harsh,making it the Gigli of literary novels for awhile. Even
Stephen King wasn't crazy about it(he wrote about it in his EW column and was more fairminded than some of the critics,in my opinion)and alot of times,King's turned me on to some
really good books like A Simple Plan. Anyway,I figured "This can't be any worse than Anne Rice
writing about how Jesus likes Joseph to tell Moses stories to all the kids"so I started with page
one.

So far,the book is OK-Charlotte does seem quite the ubernaive gal but there are remote areas of this country where Sex In The City is not available and folks can't always afford to own the newest electronic gadgets so I'm willing to suspend some disbelief here,for now. I did read the
section where Charlotte is shocked at the price of Cosmopolitan(and more freaked out by the
articles-hell,even I find those "How to Please Your Man" things putrid) and while it is silly for
a young woman to think a magazine subscription would be only four bucks,I do believe that
magazines like Cosmo would be hard to find in many small towns. I give Charlotte an even
break but I'm only about a hundred and fifty pages in at the moment. Malarkey may yet
still loom ahead.

Wolfe isn't really saying anything new here but maybe that's not his intention. I know he's had
a feud with John Irving and a couple of other writers about how the novel isn't challenging any
more(this argument pops up as frequently as the "Rock is dead" debate,which ends as soon as
the latest sensation hits the scene)but like I said about the gals with the "chick lit" quarrel,stop
the infighting,people. Don't playerhate,playerparticipate! As for Charlotte Simmons,I'll keep
up with her wacky college adventures for now and then dive into Until I Find You. Stay tuned
for the final word on Charlotte-there will be a test.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Jarhead :Frustration 101

Jarhead hit the big screen yesterday and my usual partner in crime,Little Sister,joined me at a rather well attended early showing(the trailers were so dull I actually couldn't remember them
afterwards,except for King King which had the guy behind us saying"You believe they're remaking
this shit?"). Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Anthony Swofford(on whose memoir the film is based),a
newly inducted Marine who starts out well by telling his first drill sarge that he "got lost on the
way to college" as his reason for joining up(he gets his head smashed into a blackboard for that answer).

The Gulf War is brewing as Swofford is training to be a sniper in the company of Staff Sarge Sykes
(played right on key by Jamie Foxx) and he is as eager to get some action as the rest of his fellow
soldiers who get a buzz from watching the infamous helicopter bombings in Apocalypse Now and
exchange sexual boasts and warnings about unfaithful women. Once they get to the desert,the
soldiers(first in Operation Desert Shield)are told to play the waiting game as the politicians are
still setting things up but are encouraged to be in a state of "suspious alert". The boredom sets
in and the men find little ways to blow off steam that occasionally lead to nasty consequences
such as a Christmas party in which a a fellow soldier covering Swofford's watch causes several
arms to blow up that Swofford winds up paying the price for.

Sam Mendes uses very little of his dream sequence techique here(there is one memorable
dream where Swofford pukes up sand in a bathroom sink)and saves the best visuals for many
of the desert scenes when Operation Desert Storm commences-the oil well fires,the finding of
charred cars and bomb victims,the oil spill rain that coats the men as they march across the
terrain hold a beautiful surrealistic quality that doesn't overshadow the actors-rather, it adds
to their performances.

Gyllenhaal gives a great performance(his best scene is when Swofford openly threatens to pull
a friendly fire on the guy who caused him to be demoted-totally chilling)but this is truly a good
ensemble cast,particularly Peter Sarsgaard as Swofford's buddy Troy who sums up one of the
main themes of the film,frustration in a tense scene near the end. Frustration is key to this movie-even when the action starts,the ground troops are rendered inefficent by the airstrikes
which many of us remember most about the Gulf War. It's like they're caught in Carly Simon's
"Anticipation" chorus-"they keep making me wa-ii-ttt!".

Judging by the audience I was with,Jarhead should do well,boxoffice wise. However,if you're
looking for a shoot'em,this is not the movie for you. Jarhead is an excellant mediatation on
the anticlimax and gives a regular guy's view on what it was like over there in that moment.
I see many of the reviews of this movie preferring Three Kings,which I suspect is due to
Three Kings' being more criticial of the government than Jarhead is. While I enjoyed Three
Kings,the main difference between that movie and this one is that Jarhead is based from the
point of view from someone who was actually on the ground in Iraqi at that time,dodging
bombs to get a dead replacement battery for a radio that went dead. At one point,a fellow
Marine brings up the reasons why the US is getting involved with Iraq and Troy replies
"Fuck politics-we're here now." That is reality,folks-reality trumps politics every time.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Anne Rice-a-roni

Well,the new Anne Rice book,Christ the Lord,is out and about-will it give Anne the literary respect she craves or be the book equalivent of Passion of the Christ(Anne was written up in EW and calls Mel Gibson "a genius but he's not a biblical scholar"....ok,a genius at making a snuff film a boxoffice bonanza,that I'll buy). I have read parts of this book with Little Sister-we read aloud to each other at
certain points-and I have to tell you,I'm not impressed.


Ok,some background-I was a fan of Anne's Tales of the Vampires series(up to a point) and the last good book I read by her was The Witching Hour,sort of a Gothic Gone With The Wind. When I first started working at the bookstore,one of the staff members was into Anne Rice and we shared a ARC of Violin(which was rare to have-Advance Copies of her work were as scare as hen's teeth for a time)and we both agreed it was horrible. Convoluted plot twists with heavy doses of her autobiographical angst glopped in.

Anne's been getting a rep for the wacky for some time now,her last big whoop was her war with Amazon reader reviews(which I didn't read but her response was quite over the top and then some.). The thing that bothers me about her the most is how she seems to use her personal woes as grist for the publicity mill. I do feel bad for her past and present troubles but she has constantly recycled her own emo themes and truly believes her own hype-she has Oprah Syndrome,in other words.

Anyway,my impression of the book is similar to the one I hold of Spielberg's Schindler's List: the "Please Take Me Seriously" project. Both,in technical terms,are done very well and were well researched(owning 200 bibles helps,I guess,for Anne)but to me,I can hear a voice saying"I'm not just an entertainer-I'm An Artist! Look at how Artistic I am!" Don't get me wrong,I'm all for folks trying new things but sincerity is hard to fake.

Christ the Lord:Out of Egypt is about a year in the life of Jesus,when he was seven years old and his family decided it was safe to move back home,now that Herod had other things to do besides hunt the Messiah down. Yes,chapter one does have Jesus accidentally knock off a bully and then bring him back to life.

The bully then starts beating up on him again while shouting"Son of David!" over and over again-that part,I don't buy. I can see some one getting killed and being pissed off when the guy responsible resurrects him but calling him"Son of David"? Granted,these are biblical times but surely there are better insults than that-"Son of a Jackal" for one.

The whole book seems to be about the journey home-Anne really did her homework and keeps finding not-so-subtle ways to show it off-"here is where the women make the cloth" kind of stuff. Also,there's a section where Young Jesus is lying in the grass and getting very connected by watching the ants and I'm going"What is this,Thoreau 101?" Heck,I've read Thoreau and he struck me as pretty off the beam,too.

Like I said,I've only read some,not the whole book. So,while I'm not ready to rejoin the AR bandwagon,the best I can say is if you're curious about the book but not sure about spending $25.95,check it out of the library or borrow it from a friend. That way,when Anne comes out with the next book in the series(yep,it's gonna be another series),you'll know then whether you want to give the lady your do-re-mi.