Tuesday, December 27, 2016


I'm pretty certain I won't be completing any more books in between now and the end of December, so here we are. (Though I'm really hoping to catch Moonlight before it leaves theatres possibly this Thursday!) I slacked off a lot as we go down the list in terms of meaningful comments, I'm afraid - I'll blame it on the festivities and it being the end of the year.
  1. Jane, the Fox, and Me by Fanny Britt, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
    • I'm sure I've sung more than enough praises for Arsenault, but hear me out at least once more: this graphic novel is absolutely beautifully illustrated, and the choices of the monotone and colour pages in contrast to one another to delineate the differences between what Hélène sees as the reality and the other as her fantasy world (of Jane Eyre), with the fox bridging both, was nothing short of lovely.
    • It's never revealed why exactly Hélène was ostracized by her Geneviève & co., and it really doesn't matter; I think the real beauty of the story actually lies in a lot of the vagueness that isn't addressed until towards the end: does Hélène actually weigh 216? Does she actually smell like BO? Is the fox real, or part of her imagination? Does the fox have rabies? This is further thrown into question by the illustrations, which show Hélène as being not too different at all from the rest of the class - as ostracization can be highly arbitrary - and the use of colour all throughout: the fox comes into her world in colour, acting as a bridge between the two worlds. Suzanne scaring away the fox in order to help Hélène could be a reminder that although the fantasy world may be alluring, it can also be quite dangerous, whether the danger is perceived (as is the truth of the cruel remarks) or real (if the fox was actually rabid).
    • While I doubt Jane, the Fox, and Me would actually be of much consolation to anyone being bullied, relying on a hero character as it does in the form of Géraldine, who unites all the outcasts and makes friends with Hélène after she speaks out against the bullying, it is a touching look at the world of the bullied in a way that addresses the victimization as well as views Hélène not only as a bullying victim, but also as someone with her own life that is affected in various ways by the bullying, not least of all in her perception of herself.
    • See also this Brain Pickings article about Tim Ferriss on blowing things out of proportion & suicidal depression.
  2. Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them (2016)
    • I wasn't mindblown, but I enjoyed watching it quite a bit! I love that each of the beasts also has a personality of its own, and there's the interactions between the characters too that was quite lovely. On the other hand, Macusa seemed to exist almost solely for the purpose of being shown up by Newt. Unless it was just me? I wish there was a bit more on their part so that we could actually have a bit of a struggle as to the ambiguity of situations and the right and wrong things to do in any given situation, if there is such a thing at all. You do get that with Credence - by the way, does that little wisp blowing off mean that he's still alive? - but Macusa was too much of a straw man.
    • Jacob & Queenie are adorable and should be together forever. Does that little bit at the end mean he remembers? Does he remember, or is it the start of something new that's also a rekindling? Would it ever work if he didn't remember? Arrrggghhh!!!
  3. How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at An Answer by Sarah Bakewell
    • It all seems pretty Daoist, in the sense of things are constantly undergoing change and in the way in which Montaigne wrote as uninhibitedly as he could, going with the flow of things as they were - and it served him pretty well, too! Facing problems as they arose and not putting his guard up against other people probably helped him all throughout his life. There's also the way in which Montaigne & his Essays have been interpreted and re-interpreted according to the reader, the interpretation affected by the times. Of course, we all do this to whatever we read (and experience), taking what we want from each of them and interpreting them as we will, but it seems to fit especially well with Montaigne in that his Essays were his take on whatever he was writing about for each essay, even if they took him in completely different directions from what he appears to set out to discuss. Even this book itself is another reinterpretation of Montaigne, as Bakewell sets out to present Montaigne & his Essays to us, the reader, in a certain light.
    • Bakewell is as engaging as in At The Existentialist Café, and provides background information on Montaigne's personal life and his times along with his contemporaries and the ways in which he either influenced them or they him, which goes a long way in helping the reader develop a more fleshed out understanding of Montaigne and his essays. Bakewell also covers Montaigne after his death, as his Essays are an entity unto themselves, preserving Montaigne after death but also existing independently of him, allowing him to continue changing perspectives (through others' reading of him) as he did in life.
  4. The Eagle Huntress (2016)
    • There were so many moments of me being super excited for Aisholpan throughout this entire documentary! I'm sure a lot of the more frustrating parts were cut out, though: the training parts were pretty bare bones in that they showed Aisholpan's father teaching her how to train her eaglet, but of course it would have been incredibly repetitive if they had shown the entire process; there was also the hunt, which, according to this Guardian article, actually took 22 days to complete. Throughout the entire film, Aisholpan expressed zero impatience and frustration, which I think is really the only thing stopping me from loving this film 100%, because it almost seemed a bit too smooth-sailing. Which is actually great, that she didn't run into more overt criticism apart from that one man saying to her father that she could just stay at home and relax, during the lunch break of the eagle hunting festival. (Love her reaction to it when he said that though! That slightly incredulous look on her face was priceless.)
    • Beyond being a female empowerment film, the relationship between Aisholpan and her family and friends was also very tender and loving. Her parents' open-mindedness and support were probably some of the biggest factors in her success, beyond her own personal efforts. To sum up: great film, produced many warm fuzzy feelings, and I would recommend watching it if even just for the beautiful visuals!
  5. Venomous: How Earth's Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry by Christie Wilcox
    • So I was on the verge of giving this book a 4/5 rating, but I can't help but feel as though it could have been even better than it is, so it got bumped down. It's something I can't really put a finger on, but if I had to say, I'd say that although Wilcox does a pretty marvelous job detailing what part of which venom is doing what to which part of which of our systems, there's a part of me that wants even more detailed information, covering a wider range of creatures in more detail. How different venoms are delivered by different creatures and why those differences matter (evolutionarily, personally now), more about that blue-ringed octopus! While I respect the nature of the book being a pretty slim and easy read serving as an introduction to venomous creatures, I suppose I'm looking for a slightly more adventurous introduction that actually delves into the subject. The way I see it, if I'm going to pick up this book and invest that time anyway to learning about venomous creatures, beyond a well-written and engaging style complete with anecdotes, of which Wilcox provides throughout, I want to learn more about the technical bits. That being said, it's more of this being not the perfect fit for my personality in terms of how much information I got out of this, but I would still recommend this to anyone who knows precious little about venoms - Wilcox covers the difference between poisons & venoms early on, and does a good job defining terms throughout the book - and is interested in learning more about them.
      • Not that I would actually remember all of the different components and what purposes they serve, but it would be good kind of knowing more while reading so that you could make more connections throughout.
      • Wilcox does the job pretty well for what I'm pretty sure this book was meant to do and the audience it was meant to serve, so on that account, it's definitely worth a read!
        • Ironically, this kind of writing & depth would have been what I wanted from something like Octopus, except devoted entirely to octopuses, but of course, that covers a slightly more specific area than Venomous.
    • I really love that Wilcox references Isbell's theory that she posits in The Fruit, The Tree, and The Serpent, which, unfortunately, I only made through about halfway. I will likely pick the book up again in the future, but now is not that time. But it's always nice to see books & people you've read or know about being referenced in other books or articles or whatever else you're reading.
    • There is the issue of small graphics, though. The table was fine, but the graphics were pretty tiny, and it seems like the quality of the illustrations (not so much the photos) was compromised in trying to fit them in. As such, I pretty much skipped over them.
  6. L'Avenir/Things to Come (2016)
    • Something along the lines of "I've divorced my husband, I've lost my kids, my mother is dead: I'm finally free - it's amazing", although she totally wasn't freed of everything just then! Then there's Fabien, who tells her that she's not entirely sincere in her beliefs, in that she won't change her way of living to suit those beliefs. There was a good deal of me wondering if Nathalie was going to end up with Fabien, although I knew from the beginning it wasn't going to be like that (something about French films). And although I found a lot of the things that happened quite strange - the teacher/past student relationship being nothing like what I know of teacher/past student relationships here; getting sexually harassed in a movie theater then followed on her way home & kissed while pressed against a wall, only to gently push him aside and tell him to leave her alone - I'm assuming they're more cultural differences than anything? I can't actually be sure though.
    • The lullaby Nathalie sings at the end to the baby was a good rounding up of her feelings and finally facing up to them honestly, I think. A lot of other things were kind of left in the air, e.g. why was Chloé crying? But it works with this film, for the most part. The ending, though it does bring everything to a close, was a little unsatisfactory because so incredibly open-ended, but a couple of other French films I've watched seem to also follow the pattern, so.
  7. Stray Love by Kyo Maclear
    • I usually don't read the reviews on Goodreads too much after I've finished a book, but I couldn't help but want to see what other people said about this novel, in part because although I think it's wonderfully written and engaging, and Maclear jumps between the timelines quite well, weaving it all into one coherent story, I don't love this novel. And after I read some of the comments about inaccuracies stemming from lack of research or understanding, I kind of understand why (or at least a part of why): I never got the feeling that Marcel was British. Nor Oliver. There was a part where Oliver and Joseph are chatting and Marcel notices how Oliver parodies his own Britishness, but you never really see that throughout the novel - there's nothing noticeably British about either of them, and if you weren't told, you'd never know. So now I'm left wondering why Maclear chose to set this in the background of England (even if a good chunk of the story does not take place there). My own knowledge of history is, sadly, lacking, but I'm pretty sure the issues Maclear tries to tackle with Marcel being bullied at school, along with Marcel in a predominantly white world for the first part of his life and how that affected him, would have applied elsewhere as well (North America, say, as another user commented).
    • I will vouch for the writing and the novel in general though! Maclear does a wonderful job, as I've said above, in this novel jumping between generations and exploring identity and how even the best of intentions don't necessarily generate the best of outcomes. There were so many instances where I wondered how old Marcel was in each part of the story, though, because it seemed as though whenever he jumped back to the past, he was pretty much 10 years old throughout (until he learns the truth and he becomes a surly teen, of course). I kept thinking he was growing up as he relived his past, and was constantly having to remind myself that Marcel's still a child, he hasn't grown up at all just yet, that all of this is happening within that year or two.
    • There's also the presence of Kiyomi, who is noticeably absent for long periods of time, appearing - from what I can remember, in essence - only to soothe Marcel. This is probably in large part because Marcel is narrating the story, but at the same time, I have to wonder exactly what part of his life Kiyomi herself - and not an ideal of her - might have inhabited or influenced. Without a doubt she's an important character throughout for Marcel, keeping him grounded, but there's very little in terms of development between the two detailed, so the reader sort of has to assume they are spending time together even if Marcel doesn't say it. (And if he's assuming in his turn that these are ordinary enough happenings that don't deserve narration, I have to wonder how well that meeting between the both of them is going to go, in the long run.)
    • As a whole, though, the novel does work quite well, and I'd love to give it a 3.5 out of 5, but alas. Goodreads.
  8. Still Alice (2014)
    • A heartbreaking portrayal of early-onset Alzheimer's in a linguistics professor and the way it affects her family and her place in the world. The confusion when Alice is jogging on campus, at the beginning, is portrayed beautifully, the world as though spinning around her, followed by the subsequent fogginess of everything that is out of focus, in the way that Alice - and everything around her - is to herself, in the later stages.
  9. Frozen (2013)
    • Yeah, so I never actually watched Frozen until now. I really want to say something along the lines of "I can't believe I waited that long! It's amazing!", but - and I do like it! - it didn't quite live up to the hype, I don't think... though that might also have something to do with my having let the hype build up in my head for 3 years. I think it's great that it's a Disney film about sisterly love rather than about Prince Charming coming to the rescue of Princess/Damsel in Distress, in fact subverting the very idea by introducing a nefarious Prince Charming, who charms away for his own ends rather than by dint of his personality. It's a good start though!
  10. Tampopo (1985)
    • A ramen western (as opposed to a spaghetti or macaroni western) - I had to watch it. There were funny parts, and I found myself thinking I understood precisely why it was a western, beyond the cowboy hats, at the very end when Goro drives away and leaves Tampopo behind. For the most part though, if I had to be honest, I found it rather disjointed - not sure if all westerns are like that, if that's a characteristic of westerns? - and it seemed to drag on with the alternate scenes/concurrent plot. That being said, I still had a craving for ramen by the end of the film, so... success?
  11. The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter (HAVE YOU SEEN THESE BY POTTER?)
    • Another of those childhood tales I never actually read. There's a surprisingly macabre setting here, both in the father having been put into a pie (mentioned real nonchalantly) and Peter himself running for his life, losing all that he owns in the meanwhile. Maybe his losing his shoes - adorable shoes! - and his brand new coat with its copper buttons is indicative of him shedding his old self to become a wiser rabbit? But the ending is pretty weak for that: he's no hero, lying sick in bed while his siblings eat jam and other nice things and he's left to drink chamomile tea (except chamomile tea's good stuff, so...). The end.

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