A whole new world

Italo Calvino – If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler:

I’m producing too many stories at once because what I want is for you to feel, around the story, a saturation of other stories that I could tell and maybe will tell or who knows may already have told on some other occasion, a space full of stories that perhaps is simply my lifetime, where you can move in all directions, as in space, always finding stories that cannot be told until other stories are told first, and so, setting out from any moment or place you encounter always the same density of material to be told. – p.109

Right before I wrote this passage down, I flipped through the little notebook where I write down particularly resonant passages from whatever I’m reading, and the one just before this one is from Virginia Woolf: “When one so exposes [the genius and integrity of a great novel] and sees it come to life, one exclaims in rapture, ‘But this is what I have always felt and known and desired!'” That’s somewhat how I feel about the Calvino quote. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it is that draws me to certain books (or movies, even–throughout this post when I write “read,” I also mean “watch a movie” or “watch a TV show”).

A few people I know have recently stopped watching Lost because not much is happening…this was particuarly leveled at the recent Hurley-cenric episode, which the person I was speaking with thought was superfluous, because essentially nothing happened to advance the plot. I, on the other hand, really enjoyed the Hurley episode, and am more interested in Lost right now that I have been for a while. (I’ll admit that part of my love for that particular episode was the resemblence it bore to “Normal Again,” one of my favorite Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes, in which Buffy gets injected with a drug which makes her think she’s actually in a mental institution, and the whole vampire slaying thing and all her friends, her entire world in fact, are hallucinations…and the episode leaves the possibility open that the mental institution reality is actually the correct one.)

Back to the point. The Calvino passage points a little bit to why that I liked the Hurley episode despite the fact that, admittedly, the plot wasn’t furthered really at all. I’ve known for a long time that I don’t read primarily for the event…in fact, I care so little for the actual outcome of novels that I can reread mysteries because I will completely forget who committed the crime. I read more for the characters, but even that’s not completely it. Then I thought, well, maybe I read for the world that the author creates. This is much closer to the truth, and explains why I enjoy books like Jasper Fforde’s Tuesday Next series so much, despite the undistinguished characters and gaping plotholes. Yet it isn’t a sense of “place” that I want, because as C.S. Lewis points out in An Experiment in Criticism, some books that I quite enjoy, like The Three Musketeers, have almost no sense of place. We know it’s set in the court of France and a little bit in England only because the narrator tells us so, not because the physical setting invades the prose, as does Crime and Punishment‘s Petersburg or Faulkner’s South.

But Calvino has just nailed pretty much on the head what most makes me enjoy a book (or movie or TV show): the sense that the characters and the world have many more stories that they could tell. The world of Lost will always be rich because there is more to it than just the island; there’s more to find out than just what happens next in real time; there are all the back stories of each character and how they intersect (or do they intersect? Are the stories we see reliable?), there are the stories of The Others, who they are and were and what they want, the story of the island itself and the Dharma Initiative. I don’t want to rush along the main plotline, because I want to hear as many of these other stories as I can, and yet always know that there are even more that I will never hear. I want to find out what happens to the survivors, but ultimately I like the process of finding out more than actually finding out. (Back to the rereading mysteries thing: I love the detecting work and the process of solving the mystery, but the resolution is almost always a letdown.)

Lord of the Rings is perhaps the best example of a detailed world. Even without knowing that Tolkein actually did create and write dozens of other stories and histories of Middle Earth that aren’t told in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the books carry a weightiness that can only be attributed to the density of available stories that may or may not ever be told. That richness is, more than anything else, what will completely entrall me. For the exact opposite of this, try something like Dan Brown’s Digital Fortress, which I read this month and has taken its place at the pinnacle of a pantheon I like to call “Worst.Books.Ever.” More on this in my month-end recap, which I’ll post sometime this year. (March’s is almost finished, I swear!) Digital Fortress has characters which interact only with each other. There are no characters introduced AT ALL which are not integral to the plot. The main character mentions several times that she and her fiance were planning to go on a vacation on the Smoky Mountains until work got in the way, but you don’t get any sense that the Smoky Mountains exist outside of her mentioning them–you don’t even feel like she really wants to go there, because she is so focused on her job and the plot at hand that there’s no room in her character for anything else. It’s a sterile environment, with static and confined characters. There are other stories hinted at occasionally…the lawbreaking hacker life of one of the cryptographers, the youth of a bitter young Japanese programmer…but they are only brought up for their immediate relevance to the main plot, and then dropped completely. There’s no sense that anything else ever happened to these people other than what we are told in the book. Not good for me. Not good at all.

Give me depth, give me breadth, give me complexity, give me density, give me imagination, give me richness, give me possibility.

There’s a somebody I’m longing to see…

American Idol was made for me tonight. I love the classics, yes I do. And this group seems amazingly adept at them. Even Chris did a fine job with “What a Wonderful World” (one of my favorite songs)…I was concerned about his being able to find a song that fit him.

But I am having so much love for Katharine right now. She’s been my favorite mostly from the beginning (with Lisa, Paris, and Chris being close behind…Elliott has crept up to be my second favorite now), and she continues to wow me even when I’m expecting her to be awesome. I want to buy her CD now. Seriously. I’ll be driving in the car and think “I want to listen to some Katharine McPhee.”

Not much else going on. My parents and I are going down to Waco Thursday through Sunday to check out apartments, meet with professors, etc. I’m really looking forward to not working for a couple of days. Working is overrated. Okay, maybe it’s not. But still. Banks have a good many holidays, which spoil you for March and April, which don’t have ANY.

Sophie Scholl

Movie recommendation:

Sophie Scholl: The Last Days

My parents and I went to see this last Saturday, and we all came away very impressed. Sophie Scholl was a 21-year-old student in Munich in the early 1940s, and she and her brother were arrested in 1943 for distributing leaflets that detailed the failure of the Nazi army on the Russian front and the inability of Germany to win the war due to Hitler’s poor leadership. A large portion of the movie is taken up with Sophie’s interrogation by a Nazi police investigator, and even though it’s basically the two of them talking, it’s absolutely riveting. Sophie’s strength of character and steadfastness in her beliefs stymie the otherwise formidable investigator, and by the end it’s clear that although they will always be on opposite sides of the Nazi question, he has gained a grudging respect for her.

Julia Jentsch is incredible as Sophie, imbuing her with a quiet intensity that carries the movie along. The film itself is full of this quiet intensity…it hits all the necessary points, but doesn’t belabour any of them. There are no anvils here. It’s made clear that Sophie is a Christian, and she prays several times throughout the film. She knows the Nazis are perpetuating heinous acts against humanity, against the Jews in particular, and she doesn’t shy away from telling the investigator exactly what she thinks about that. But it’s also clear that her problems with Hitler are not only humanitarian, but also political…this girl is no bleeding heart, but clear-headed and able to see that Hitler is bad not only for Jews and other “undesirables”, but for Germany itself and the German people in general. This is a point of view that I don’t think has been terribly well-represented, certainly not in film.

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February Reading/Watching Recap

This year I’ve been posting short run-downs of what I’ve read and watched each month over at my LJ. Thought I’d post them here, too. Because I can. Mwahahahaha. I suppose I could just link to my LJ entry, but where would be the fun in that?

Without further ado, movies I watched and books I read in February. Oh, disclaimer: These are not reviews, they are reactions.

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Trailer Roundup

I try to keep up with watching movie trailers over at apple.com, partly because I enjoy seeing movie trailers (seriously, I cry if I get to the theatre too late to see the trailers), and partly because I like to make my movie-going decisions based on actual footage as well as word-of-mouth. Granted, the actual footage is chosen by marketing gurus whose goal in life is to make me want to see the film, but still. One you’ve seen enough of them, you can pretty much pick the good from the bad from the enjoyable from the excruciating.

So without further ado, my current list of must-sees, on-the-fences, and what-the-hell-where-they-thinkings. (These aren’t all the trailers that are up…just the ones that struck me.)

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