Sunday, 14 October 2012

25 Before 23 - Books & Films

books standing on a mantlepiece
The rather small and non-fiction-biased selection of books I had with me in Bristol
I have, probably because I've been mostly unoccupied for almost a month, managed to reach and pass the targets of reading 3 books and watching 3 films that I set for myself at the start of August. I'm rather reassured that, despite only having read one or two books in the past three years, I haven't lost my ability to read (and read fast).
Here's a little summary of what I've read & watched.

I'm a pretty fast reader, when given the time, and I managed to finish all the books in around a day each, apart from Fear & Loathing.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I enjoyed this book, the style is easy to read and the narrator pretty agreeably bland - enough character and impact to be more than a shell, little enough to provide a platform for the real story without interrupting. I found the ending to be sad (without caring too much for the characters) and the outlook of the book is pretty bleak, but it was certainly an interesting read. I've already read Bernice Bobs Her Hair (and other short stories) and I intend to read more and see the Gatsby film when it comes out.

The Restaurant At The End Of The UniverseLife, The Universe And Everything, So Long And Thanks For All The Fish & Mostly Harmless  all by Douglas Adams
Having known and liked The Hitchhikers' Guide To The Galaxy for a long time I thought it'd make sense to read the rest of the "trilogy". For some reason my family had the 2nd and 4th books but not the 3rd or 5th but they were duely acquired. I read these pretty avidly and found I was anxious to get to the next book at the end of each, although after a while I did begin to feel that there was actually scope for the"trilogy" to continue indefinitely with the universe's probability axis being a rather cheaty plot device. Accordingly I felt that the ending of Mostly Harmless was a bit unsatisfying. I wanted to learn more about the newly introduced characters and concepts, bring back the significant lost one (trying to avoid spoilers) and generally have more story!

The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger
I read this because it's a classic. I wasn't particularly taken by it, maybe I didn't quite believe in Holden Caulfield - I certainly didn't understand him - but I'm fairly sure he's not really meant to be understood. The story didn't grip me and I wasn't really bothered about what might happen to him next. My Mum said that when it came out it stood out because of the style it was written in - the first person narrative and the thoughts and feelings. I can see how it differs from older books but having grown up with books in similar forms it doesn't have the same impact as it must have when newly published.

 Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
I don't have much patience with wild crazy drug-fuelled antics and unfortunately there's not much else going on in this book. My main thoughts were along the lines of "What are you doing? Just stop it". Not liking the book probably contributed to me taking a reading hiatus in the middle of it, a good week or two went by with me feeling no inclination to continue. However I don't like leaving books unfinished or reading more than one at once so I finished it.
Earlier this year the boy and I saw the film of The Rum Diary, also written by Hunter S. Thompson, and I enjoyed it. Perhaps it was because the pointless debauchery wasn't so obvious, but I still didn't muster much respect for the main character. I'd probably watch more films based on his books but I don't think I'd bother reading them.

Dry (a memoir) by Augusten Burroughs
This was a recommendation from my sister and I read it quickly. I was slightly appalled by the terrible life he had growing up but the book didn't dwell on it so it was nowhere near as harrowing as it could have been. I don't know if Running With Scissors is harrowing but I might be inclined to read it and see if his style makes things seem less horrendous like in Dry.
His account of rehab, attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and counselling was fascinating. Having been to counselling myself (not for any addiction) I could imagine the experience and relate to the idea of exploring and working on mental health. I found the whole thing easy to read and definitely worth it, recommended.

I don't often feel like watching a film, partly because it feels like a commitment to wasting a big chunk of time and probably partly because I just don't like being scared or disturbed. Trying to hide from things like that is probably not the best idea so I've been trying to just suck it up and watch things. I still won't willingly go to horror films though, not unless they're very good and I have the boy's shoulder to hide in.

The Big Lebowski
I was left non-plussed by this. I didn't particularly feel for "The Dude" (another case of "What are you doing?"). There was a lot of weirdness but it didn't quite connect up into something that I found particularly entertaining - I could take it or leave it.

Role Models
Easy to watch & entertaining. Enough complexity to give a decent run-around before the inevitable schmaltz.

This Is Spinal Tap
Definitely amusing and far too believable. I was already familiar with the idea and the "turn it up to eleven" joke, plus I was watching it at home on TV with my family around so it wasn't ay kind of affecting cinematic experience.

The boy's flatmate came with a good DVD collection and we've watched a few now. I was in a strange sort of mood when we decided to stop playing Carcassonne and watch a film instead. I was vaguely aware of the film and of Mods and Rockers (my friend and hopeful future flatmate (HFF) is keen on Mods and owns a parka) so it was good to actually watch it. I hadn't realised it was made by The Who until the opening credits, and from then on I was rather conscious of the music. Some of it seemed a bit clumsy - I'm not sure the songs need to narrate the story you're watching. The story was good, and not as predictable as I feared.

On Monday my sister and I decided to take advantage of our ridiculously cheap local (small chain) cinema to see Looper. For £8.10 we got two tickets and a large slush puppy (for her) - you wouldn't get one of us into our other (large chain) local cinema for that. Buoyed by that spectacular bargain we went into the film cheerily and, despite a fair amount of violence, I came out happy & entertained.
We had a few laughs at slightly hammed up bits and Joseph Gordon-Levitt turning into Bruce Willis but nothing like when I saw The Mechanic with my other sister and giggled all the way through.
It's a clever film, definitely a cut above the rest of its genre - what sex scenes there were weren't gratuitous or degrading to the women, they fitted. Definitely recommended.

Here follow some thoughts about reading/work/leisure I typed up the other day. It's rather a stream of consciousness but I'll leave it as it is.

For the last three plus years I've barely had any time when I don't have academic work to do. Resits looming at the end of the last three summers' holidays have meant that even the long break between academic years has not been free of work-related feelings of guilt. Frankly, that sucks.
I know I could (and should) neatly parcel up my time into work and leisure and give myself license to relax and enjoy myself but it never quite works out that way. Evenings intended for working turn into accidental marathon blog-reading sessions or are so broken up by Facebook checking, dinner making, and simple idling that what should be an hours' solid work is uncompleted after three and I am left feeling tired and stupid.
I'm sure that my lack of motivation stems partly from my lack of interest in what I've been studying, and I can tell myself that it's too late and I just need to get through it over and over but I find it very hard to stick with it. My perfectionist streak wants me to do it well, and I get so overwhelmed by the enormity of the task that I can't even start. "just getting stuck in" isn't really something that happens to me, I feel like I have to be absolutely on top of a thing before I can even start. This mostly just leads to the task still being there unstarted hours, days and weeks later, and then a desperate rush before the deadline as a sense of urgency kicks in, followed by the feeling that I could have done it all so much better if only I had started earlier and realised it wasn't as difficult as I thought.
I also feel stupid in comparison to other students on my course who seem to know far more than me, and crucially be far more confident and interested and able to pursue answers to problems rather than simply feeling stumped and inferior. I know I should ask for help but the thought of it repels me most of the time, I feel like I'm just being stupid and I should be able to get round this problem easily, or that I haven't tried hard enough to solve it myself and have no right to bother anyone else.
I haven't found any answer to this predicament yet, I'm still not finished with university and I can only hope that I get through my project ok and can find something I actually want to do afterwards. If nothing else university has shown me my problems and forced me to try and address them, rather than over-supporting me, allowing me to get through with good grades, and not preparing me for real work and the need to self-motivate, like school did.


  1. I was totally underwhelmed by Catcher in the Rye, too - I understand why it must have been significant at the time, but the same idea has been done better since, I think. I loved Running With Scissors, though - from what I can remember, it was still appalling but I found myself laughing at topics I really didn't think I should!

    (I have no useful university advice - I scraped through with lots of last minute essay writing and the bare minimum of revision; my advice is "don't do that.")

  2. :) I might have to borrow my sister's copy of that too.
    You're employed, housed & seem to have a nice life. That's inspiration to me. Everything *will* be ok and I needn't have crises.

  3. Yep, the only thing I would do differently about university is a bit more volunteering, but life's worked out pretty well regardless. You'll get through it. :)


Yay :)