Category: Books and Reading Page 4 of 16

My 2008 Recap

As per usual, I haven’t seen enough 2008 releases to be justified making a Best of 2008 list, so here is my much more egocentric list of my favorite movies that I saw during 2008, no matter when they were released. And I threw in books, music, and games, with the same caveat. The links go to my reviews, reactions, or other previous writings about them. The non-linked ones I, uh, didn’t write about. Because I am lazy. So I’ll throw in a line about them, but I may still write about the more in the future. Or not. Because I am lazy.

Oh, and also, don’t even think these are lists of bests. They’re lists of favorites, 100% subjective. And highly subject to change.



Cleo from 5 to 7

Cleo from 5 to 7 (imdb) – A New Wave film from a female director (Agnes Varda). It’s an excellent combination.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Wall-E (imdb) – edit: I managed to forget this one upon publishing this post. BAD JANDY. A breathtakingly beautiful, heartwarming but not maudlin, and prescient sci-fi animated film. Virtually perfect in every way.
Divided We Fall
Easy Rider

The Fall

The Fall (imdb) – A dazzlingly imaginative film set partly in war-torn Spain and partly in the story a dying soldier tells a young girl. Not as cohesive as Pan’s Labyrinth, but very much in the same vein.
Kicking and Screaming
All That Jazz
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Speed Racer (imdb) – One of the most criminally underrated films of the year. A visionary expression of sensory overload and invention. Plus, shiny!
I Walked With a Zombie
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Planet Terror


I'm Not There

I’m Not There
Rachel Getting Married (imdb) – Fantastic acting and script. Just misses being in the “Loved” section because I could strangle Jonathan Demme for misusing the shakicam.
The Savages
Werckmeister Harmonies (imdb) – Director Bela Tarr is known for using reaaaallllly long takes, and he does. But the slow pacing soon becomes mesmerizing and stunningly beautiful.
Iron Man
The Dark Knight (imdb) – I’m sorry, but I have to say I think The Dark Knight is a little overrated. Ledger is fantastic, and the Joker is the best villain the movies have seen in a long time. But I pretty much can’t remember ANY of the scenes without him.
All the President’s Men

Burn After Reading

Burn After Reading (imdb) – The black humor Coens return in force (and farce) here. It’s nothing like No Country, but it’s an over-the-top great time.
The Innocents (imdb) – This should’ve been in my Month of Horror post; don’t know how I forgot it. Very well-done quiet (maybe) evil kid horror film based on The Turn of the Screw.
Let the Right One In
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (imdb) – Perhaps a movie about hipsters running around New York City in search of an elusive band is just made for me. Granted, it’s slight, but it’s really enjoyable.
Australia (imdb) – There are admittedly a lot of tonal problems with Australia, but I enjoyed watching every second of it.
Tell No One (imdb) – A man’s wife is murdered…or is she? When he starts seeing her and hearing from her years later, it quickly becomes clear there’s much more going on in this twisty French thriller.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Transsiberian (imdb) – A couple travels from China via the Transsiberian Railway, but gets pulled into trouble by a couple of young drifters. A solid thriller with a good twist or two.
Shaft (1971) (imdb) – I saw Samuel L. Jackson’s remake a few years ago. As cool as Sam Jackson is, he WISHES he were as cool as Richard Roundtree, the original iconoclastic black private eye facing off with Harlem and Italian gangsters and the NYPD.
Night of the Living Dead


Saawariya (imdb) – This fairy-tale Bollywood film is extremely stylized and imaginative – one of the more interesting Indian films I’ve seen so far. They’re always visually sumptuous, but this one takes it to a whole new level.
The Flower of My Secret (imdb) – Pedro Almodovar film similar to All About My Mother in tone. Not as good, but still very worthwhile.
Synecdoche, New York (imdb) – I can’t do this one justice in a few sentences. I’m still working out in my head what I think about it. The best quote I’ve seen about it, though, is from Roger Ebert: “a film that should never be seen unless you’ve already seen it at least once.”
Les bonnes femmes
Village of the Damned (imdb) – Evil alien children take over a rural English town. It’s way better than it sounds, a classic old-school British horror flick.
My Blueberry Nights (imdb) – Wong Kar-Wai’s first English-language film is a visually beautiful odyssey following a girl as she tries to find out what she wants. I’m excited to see his other films now, which I’ve heard are better.
Some Came Running (imdb) – Frank Sinatra gets to prove his acting chops again as a cynical soldier returning to his small-town home. Shirley MacLaine is a revelation, and Dean Martin gets probably his best role, as well.
Lars and the Real Girl

Ace in the Hole

Ace in the Hole (imdb) – Reporter Kirk Douglas will do anything to get a good story, even keeping a trapped miner trapped as long as he can to increase the media frenzy. It’s Billy Wilder, so you know it’s going to be solid, and it is.
Two-Lane Blacktop
The Body Snatcher
Wristcutters: A Love Story
Isle of the Dead
Do You Like Hitchcock (imdb) – This Dario Argento film has a film student getting involved with a murder that bears a close resemblance to Strangers on a Train; the overall film also had plenty of Rear Window and I like to think a little Vertigo in there.
Be Kind, Rewind
Shadows (imdb) – John Cassavetes’ first film, and often hailed as the beginning of American independent film. Touches on show business, youth, and sibling rivalry, but the tough look at 1960s racial issues is the most interesting aspect.
In Bruges (imdb) – I expected a comic action film, and it is that sometimes, but it’s also got a huge dose of thoughtful philosophy in there, as two hitmen go to Bruges (read: Purgatory) to wait out a botched job.


Hannah Takes the Stairs
Lacombe, Lucien (imdb) – A young German boy falls into working with the Nazis during WWII, but finds his loyalties divided when he befriends a Jewish family – and falls in love with the family’s daughter. It’s a big tough at first to relate to the implacable boy, but there’s more here than meets the eye.
The Seventh Victim (imdb) – Val Lewton, occultism, missing sisters, overall creepiness – what more do you want?

Made in USA

Made in USA
The Blue Angel
Lola Montes (imdb) – Max Ophuls’ only widescreen, color feature about the rise and fall of a the title character in the courts of Europe is sumptuous, but a little distancing. Perhaps purposefully.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Mickey One
Michael Clayton
The Cool World (imdb) – Another early independent film, this is the story of a young Harlem boy who thinks everything in his life would be better if he just had a gun, and thus some power and authority. Hard to see due to rights issues, so if you get the chance, jump on it.
I Am Legend
Bottle Rocket
Ghost Ship



Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James – First thing I’ve read by James, and I was highly impressed. His mastery of depicting the interior life is a great foreshadowing of Modernism.
Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons – Proof that graphic novels can be just as complex and well-written as traditional novels.
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway – The basis for my current revaluation of Hemingway, who I used to not like. But this one is great.
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins – A Victorian mystery, and with my general dislike of Victorian lit, I was shocked at how much I liked it. It’s perfectly written, and so much more than *just* a mystery.
Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers – Similarly here, as this is technically a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery, but the mystery is almost secondary to Sayers’ exploration of life at an Oxford women’s college, with side notes on feminism, class, and academia.


Good Night Mr. Holmes by Carol Nelson Douglas – Douglas rewrites Sherlock Holmes from a woman’s point of view, making Irene Adler, the only person to outwit Holmes (in A Scandal in Bohemia), the heroine.
Alias Grace Margaret Atwood – Grace is a convicted murderess, shuttled between prison and mental institution; she tells her story to a sympathetic doctor who hopes to absolve her. But the truth of the matter is elusive, even to the reader.
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Ichebe – A leader in an African tribe struggles with pride and the conflict between tribal customs and the incoming Christian missionaries. Achebe is known for being among the first to bring a truly African voice into English-language literature, and his minimalist style suits the story perfectly.
Spook Country by William Gibson


With music it’s more “these are what I’ve been listening to the most in 2008.” Although I think I did acquire all of these albums in 2008, even though several of them are from earlier. All 2006-2008, though, I think. I linked Music Monday or concert coverage posts where I had them; otherwise tacked on a MySpace link so you can hear them yourself.


Jenny LewisAcid Tongue
The SubmarinesHoneysuckle Weeks
BabyshamblesShotters Nation (MySpace)
Mates of StateRearrange Us
Los Campesinos!We Are Beautiful, We are Doomed / Hold On Now, Youngster
MetricLive It Out (MySpace)
Army NavyArmy Navy
Silversun PickupsCarnavas
The Apples in StereoNew Magnetic Wonder (MySpace)
Arcade FireNeon Bible (MySpace)


Fleet FoxesFleet Foxes (MySpace)
We are ScientistsBrain Thrust Mastery (MySpace)
She & HimVolume One (MySpace)
I’m From BarcelonaWho Killed Harry Houdini / Let Me Introduce My Friends (MySpace)
The RosebudsLife Like
Vampire WeekendVampire Weekend
The FratellisHere We Stand



Mass Effect
Bioshock – One of the most amazing stories and art direction in any game ever.
Bully – Like GTA, but at a boarding school. :) Not particularly innovative, but a blast to play.
Portal – The only problem with Portal is it’s too short! Fantastic puzzle game with a fun story to boot.
Fallout 3 – I’ve only played a few hours of this, but I can already tell it’s headed to the “loved” category. Looks fantastic and plays like Oblivion (aka, my fave game of all time).
Rock Band 2 – Not much different than Rock Band, but don’t fix what ain’t broken, and the improvements made are good. I just keeping coming back for more.


Fable 2 – Does a nice job of improving on the first Fable, which was already good. The difficulty’s not perfect, though – I found I got through the whole main quest with very little leveling.
Guitar Hero: World Tour – The first Guitar Hero game that remotely gives Rock Band any competition, to my mind. I actually think the gameplay is a bit better, but the overall experience was less enjoyable.
Assassin’s Creed – Climbing up every building in town and running over rooftops never got old. The gameplay here is spectacular, but it’s not one I’d ever play again. Looking forward to seeing what the sequels do with the story, though.
Mirror’s Edge – Again, groundbreaking gameplay, once you get the hang of it. But I’m about halfway through and I’m already bored with the story and missions. Still, paves the way for potentially stupendous games in the future.
Lost Odyssey

The Season So Far…

Now that most shows have had a few weeks to get going, let’s see how the must-watch lists are playing out. Spoilers for all aired episodes are likely.


These are the shows that a) get watched almost immediately, b) I anticipate every week, c) I whole-heartedly love every episode whether it deserves it or not.

I am pretty much loving Chuck more than anything else right now. It’s one of the few shows I MUST WATCH the night it airs. I’m enjoying the slow progress in Chuck and Sarah’s relationship; sure, they’re stalling it with the whole “agent-asset no-dating” policy, but it’s working for me. They’re also making good use of Morgan this season – last year he got incredibly annoying for me, but this year they’ve got him on enough to bring the extra funny but not enough to be overkill. (I think giving him a girlfriend was the key.) And can we just talk about Casey? I’ve been an Adam Baldwin fan since Firefly, but he’s nearly as awesome here. Everything is awesome. Although, the Sarah vs. Nicole Richie fight in the last episode? Cool on one level, but in the locker room? With the showers on? Obviously written by men. ;)

How I Met Your Mother
The last episode made me really happy. Not that I have anything against Stella; I like her a lot. But any time I can grab any hope of Robin and Ted getting back together, even temporarily, raises my spirits. They’re my ‘ship, y’all. You can’t compete with that. Ooh, and Alyson Hannigan is apparently expecting a child with hubby Alexis Denisof – wonder if they’ll write that into the show?

Grey’s Anatomy
I know, I know. Grey’s was on probation at the beginning of the season. And would I say it’s really gotten a ton better? Some, maybe, but not a ton. But when I started watching the first episode this year, I went a little melty inside. Because they’re my people. And they are acting more in character than they have for a couple of years, so I’ll give them that. And Callie isn’t messing with George any more. (I was never a fan of that relationship, let’s just be frank. I don’t much care about her or Erica, so they can go do whatever and I can just largely ignore them. Keep them both away from my core group.) I can’t explain the comfort I feel just having Meredith, George, Izzie and Cristina on my screen, because it isn’t rational. That, more than any other reason, is why the show’s in the “obsessing” category.

30 Rock
In case you didn’t catch it, the premiere’s up on hulu now. Yay! It’s hard to say much about the season only one episode in, but Megan Mulally as a guest star is a great start. And the writing remains typically high quality, and Fey and Baldwin continue to play off each other perfectly (and if you didn’t see the cold open on SNL last week with Sarah Palin, and Fey and Baldwin, you should look that up on hulu too). Oh, I’ve missed you, 30 Rock! Please don’t stay away so long again.

Pushing Daisies
I’m still a little worried about how they’re going to continue the coy Ned-Chuck relationship, but when the show started up this season, I just fell in love with it all over again. The clown episode was pretty weak, but the others have all been interesting and well-balanced between monster-of-the-week and relationshippy stuff. So I’m glad I don’t write for it, but I’m more than willing to go along for the ride and go “aw” every ten minutes.


These are the shows that I consistently enjoy watching, often love, but for whatever reason aren’t grabbing me as much as the shows in the above category. Roughly in “most enjoying” to “least enjoying” order, but I’ve moved them around so many times I can’t guarantee that.

Ugly Betty
Betty‘s coming along nicely this year, I think. I like moving her down to the city (though her totally hot, guitar-playing next-door neighbor needs to make another appearance, stat), I like the arc with Daniel’s son (though I guess that’s over now), it’s good to see Gio back, and I even liked the stint at the other magazine. Not that I would’ve wanted Daniel and Betty to stay there, but it was a nice contrast to Mode. Bummer that I guess Alexis is out for a while (I suppose this is how they’re dealing with Rebecca Romijn-Stamos’s pregnancy). Suggestion – do more with Mark and Amanda!

The Office
I miss Pam. :( I mean, I know she’s around, but the lack of Jim-Pam interaction is getting me a little down. On the other hand, Michael + Holly? FULL OF WIN. Every time I see Holly, it’s hard for me to believe that it’s the same Amy Ryan that played the neglectful low-class mother in Gone Baby Gone. Maybe I should reevaluate my meh impression of her performance in the film. Anyway. I’m a little bored with the Dwight-Angela-Andy triangle, so I wish they’d finish that arc out somehow. And bring Pam back.

The Mentalist
I wasn’t even fully planning to watch this show, but I did, and it’s one of my favorite new ones of the season. It’s a procedural, and the main character has powers of observation and mental deduction that border on psychic power. But aren’t. Anyway, he’s also a really likeable character, and his partner is played by the girl who played Veronica on Prison Break (who I really liked before I stopped watching it). So it’s kinda like Psych, but less goofy, and doesn’t make me want to hit the main character half the time.

Honestly, I expected Crusoe to crash and burn (a primetime network series set in the 18th century?), but I just watched the 2-hour pilot and was really impressed. It’s like Swiss Family Robinson meets Pirates of the Caribbean, and I enjoyed pretty much every second – especially those seconds that had Friday in them, because Friday is awesome. If they can keep the interest level as high in future episodes as it was in the pilot, and figure out how to get people to watch a period piece, even a swashbuckling one, on Friday nights, I’m in for a while.

I need help, people. I’ve been railing against reality TV, led by Survivor, for years. And I decided I’d never actually watched Survivor and I should, just to say I had. And now I can’t stop. Reality TV is like a contagious disease, and now I’m infected with Survivor, The Amazing Race, American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, Project Runway, Top Chef, Hell’s Kitchen, Last Comic Standing, etc. HELP ME. Or don’t. Just let me go.

The Sarah Connor Chronicles
I’m actually a few weeks behind on this, because it’s up against Chuck and How I Met Your Mother (see above) and I haven’t been keeping up online as quickly as I should. But every episode I do watch I really enjoy. I think it’s found a good stride, I’m fascinated by the things going on with Cameron, and I like John’s newly found rebellious streak. Thankfully it did get picked up for the rest of the season; now if I can just sit myself down long enough to catch up.

Oh, House. It’s getting in a bit of a rut – it feels like they’re starting plot points that just sort of peter out or get unsatisfying resolutions. I’m not sure exactly what to do to really fix it, but the good news is that it’s not all the way broken, because it somehow remains enjoyable. I want them to make something good of the Thirteen storyline, but they need to give her more depth as a character. I’m kind of done with the House-Wilson feud, but I think maybe they are, too. Anyway, it’s not appointment TV anymore, but it’s still good next-day DVR viewing.

The Amazing Race
See above re: Survivor. Although I actually feel less bad about liking The Amazing Race because, hello, traveling around the world. I’d like to be ON The Amazing Race. It’s lower on the list this year, though, because honestly, the people racing this year are pretty boring. I like the mom and son team (they’re nice and know that being nice to other people tends to result in good karma for them) and the brother and sister team (um, because they’re pretty? And a strong team). I want the divorcees gone now, because they annoy me. Frat boys ditto. But really, the biggest drama these people can come up with is “OMG, she pushed my sports bra off the ledge!” Where’s Rob and Amber when you need them?

The Unit
I’ve never watched The Unit before; only started because my pastor keeps mentioning it (it’s filmed near where he lives). So I’m still jumping into learning about the characters and what all they’re doing. Honestly, right now, the sections dealing with the unit wives interests me more than the shenanigans the unit itself gets into. However, I do find all the characters interesting, and I expect once I’ve spent more time with them I’ll be a lot more into the show, which is pretty solid.

Dirty Sexy Money
I’m not sure where they’re going with this season (and I miss Juliet like whoa; she needs to come back stat), but then you pretty much watch Dirty Sexy Money just to go along for the ride. Narrative arc? What? :) It’s kind of like I don’t feel a driving need to start watching each episode (I do because my DVR fills up otherwise), but once I start, I always enjoy watching, just to see what crazy things will happen. And I really like pretty much all of the characters. I tell you what though, if Nick doesn’t start treating Lisa better, I’m going to smack him. Plus, I don’t know how much longer they can drag out the Lisa-vs-the-Darlings tension (which has been going on since the beginning of S1) before it gets REALLY OLD.

Desperate Housewives
Jumping ahead by five years actually seems to be working out. I’m enjoying Lynette’s dealing with her now-teenage twins, Bree’s new business, and Susan’s new boyfriend (yeah, I liked Mike a lot, but new guy is pretty hot, too). Not loving Gaby’s storyline, but neither is she, so maybe that works out. The big season mystery could turn out pretty interesting too – certainly Edie’s new husband is an intriguing character. It’s not first off the DVR anymore, but I’m still into it.

I’m not disliking this season, but I’m not hugely in love with it, either. It’s not even the lack of Zack that’s got me down. It’s nothing, really, except that I’m probably watching too many shows and the procedurals, as much as I enjoy them, are taking the worst of it. Plus it’s been on hiatus for the past few weeks (baseball? I don’t know) and so it’s not fresh in my head as I write this.


These are the shows I’m continuing to watch, but I’m not heavily invested in. I probably won’t cut any of them, but they’re weekend filler.

Numb3rs is usually weekend filler, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I like Numb3rs a lot, but if I missed an episode, I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to acquire it before the next week.

NCIS is another one, like Numb3rs, that is good weekend show. My enjoyment of the episodes largely depends on how much Abby there is (and Ziva, and their interactions with Tony and McGee). Looks like next week’s is going to be an Abby-in-danger episode, which pretty much guarantees I’ll be watching it sooner than usual.

Criminal Minds
I just started watching this after people told me I couldn’t claim to like procedurals and not watch Criminal Minds. And yes, it is good. I’d like to see some of the earlier seasons sometime. But having just started, I’m not invested in the characters enough yet, and two or three of the plots so far this year seem rather derivative of other things I’ve seen. (I can’t remember which other show did a polygamous cult episode a while back, but there was one, and the latest episode seemed pretty much like Vacancy or [insert other backwoods hotel torture-porn horror film here].)

Family Guy
As I said in my TV preview post, Family Guy is highly enjoyable filler. I don’t have to watch every episode and there’s no overall arc to get into, which is why it’s down here so low. Doesn’t mean I don’t LOL a lot while I watch it. (I’m also watching The Simpsons and King of the Hill this year, because hey, why not, but I’d pretty much say the same exact thing about them as I did about Family Guy, so I didn’t separate them out.)

Without a Trace
I watched the first season of Without a Trace on DVD and LOVED IT. Then the rest of the seasons took forever to come out on DVD, and I decided this year I’d just start where it was and see if I could catch up. It’s a good show, but I’m seriously thinking of dropping it and picking up with the DVDs again. I haven’t gotten the thread of the characters back yet. Plus I gotta say, looking at all these procedurals down here is mostly just making me want to finish watching The Shield (I’ve seen about half of the first season, but need to get back into it).

I’m “this close” to dropping Fringe. It’s trying to be X-Files, but not quite making it. The backstory isn’t clear (probably purposefully, but it’s unclear in such a way as to be offputting rather than intriguing), the characters aren’t that likable (except for Walter, and crazy old man likable can only go so far), and it just doesn’t hang together that well. But I somehow keep hoping it will get better. And I like seeing Joshua Jackson, because he is pretty.


This was hard. It is so hard for me to give up on a show, especially after two years of persevering with it. See Grey’s Anatomy as an example. But I gave Heroes plenty of time to stop sucking and it didn’t come through. Instead, it brought in even more characters for me to not care about and added even further plot complications for me to not untangle. And really, when you have two characters who can do ANYTHING? (And I hear now one character who can stop anyone from doing anything…) You have multiple deus ex machinas running around, which just makes the whole thing pointless.

Private Practice
I never really started watching Private Practice this year, so it doesn’t really count as “quitting.” Its time-slot is overcrowded, and I don’t care enough about it to seek it out online. Bye, Addison. Come back and guest on Grey’s when you get the chance.

Knight Rider
Honestly, I didn’t hate the pilot of this, as I think most other people did (at least, people who write blogs about TV shows seem to universally hate it), and if it weren’t up against Pushing Daisies and Bones, I might’ve kept watching it. But obviously I didn’t like it enough, because even though I initially meant to, I never went and watched it online. Oh well.

Kath and Kim
I made it through fifteen minutes of the pilot. Pretty much up to the point where Molly Shannon’s boyfriend showed up and annoyed the heck out of me within ten seconds. Before that, I thought there might be some potential in Shannon and Blair, but not enough for me to put up with the show as a whole.

Objective and Subjective Aesthetics

There are a couple of month-old posts over on Gene Edward Veith’s blog that I’ve been thinking about for, well, a month. Not constantly, of course. And I haven’t commented on them, and probably won’t, because of the amount of time that’s passed, but still. I’m thinking about them.  It started when he posted briefly about aesthetics and American Idol, noting that Carly Smithson and David Cook were the two best performers, but that he liked Brooke White and Michael Johns the best. His point was that "liking" something or someone is not the same as it being "good." I’d agree with that to a certain extent, but I’m a little bothered by the way he just laid it out there without giving any reason why Carly and David are "good" but Brooke and Michael are only worthy of "like."  Everyone who reads me knows that I like Brooke a lot more than Carly, and I might be willing to go farther.

If you judge Brooke and Carly on vocal range, Carly wins, I’ll admit. If you judge them on vocal tone quality, I’m not sure. If you judge on sincerity, Brooke wins. If you judge on being an artist rather than just a singer, Brooke wins. I sense a singer-songwriter in Brooke that I don’t in Carly. Now, you can say that American Idol is a singing contest and not a singer-songwriter contest, and that’s fine. You might be right (though the judges’ praise of David C’s arranging skills tell a bit of a different story). Given that, you could probably say that within the context of American Idol, Carly was a more fitting contestant. However, my criteria for a good artist involve sincerity, artistry, and originality, and I see more potential for those things in Brooke than in Carly. Hence, I feel justified in saying that Brooke is better.

See what’s happened there? I changed the criteria for judgement. Within one set of criteria, the ones involving purely vocal ability, Carly is objectively better. But within the other set, which involves the way the vocal ability is applied, Brooke is objectively better. Okay, perhaps you can disagree with me about that (I have even more trouble removing subjectivity from musical taste than from taste in other art forms), which means that even that might be a subjective valuation, but my point is that you can make objective judgements, but they still depend on shifting criteria.  Who decides what the criteria are, and is that decision an objective one?

The second Veith post takes off from a comment made on the American Idol post about having to work harder for some great aesthetic pleasures – i.e., something you didn’t "like" at first can become a much deeper pleasure if you work at, which you do because you know it’s "good." I would agree with that, as well, but I still have reservations about the whole thing. The example used was Milton, and I’ll be honest with you, I can’t stand Milton. We were supposed to read parts of Paradise Lost in a World Lit class, and I slogged through as best I could, but I hated every second of it. Last fall, I had the choice between a seminar on Milton and one in Rhetoric and Composition. And I chose the class about teaching composition to freshman, a job I will never have, so that I wouldn’t have to take Milton. So I’m biased on that example. And, of course, since I just admitted that I haven’t read Paradise Lost completely, I can’t in good faith use it in this argument, so I’ll have to take a slightly different tack.

If there are truly objective aesthetic criteria, then theoretically they should be true for all times and places, yes? Yet when you look at literary history, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Values shift over time and from place to place…the French have never embraced Shakespeare, for example, the way English-speakers do, and it’s not merely a translation issue, because Germans valued him before even the English did. Neoclassicals appreciated Homer, but felt that he was too rough and vulgar, especially in comparison with later, more polished writers from the height of Greek civilization; when the Romantics came on the scene, they valued Homer BECAUSE he was rough and had greater vitality than later Greek writers. So which is the right objective criteria? Smoothness or roughness? Polish or raw vitality? The sublime or the beautiful?

The Victorian novel saw itself as, at least in part, a purveyor of moral lessons. Nothing should be depicted that might offend or lead astray. The late 19th-century realist novelists thought their mission was to show life as it was, whether or not it was pretty or moral (some, like Henry James, were sure that it was more moral to be honest about the dark sides of life). By the time High Modernism rolled around, the moralizing narrators of Dickens and Eliot had nearly disappeared to make way for detached, non-committal ones. So is the novel’s job to promote morality? Is it to depict life? Is it to be moral though depicting life? Is it to hold off judgement and allow the reader to do the interpreting?

I gravitate toward 20th century literature, enjoy some from the 19th century, and try to stay as far away from the 18th as possible, so you can probably guess which criteria I tend to pick when I’m deciding what to call good. Narrators/authors who let the reader decide what to think = good. Ones who tell the reader what to think = bad. Books that focus on consciousness and the inner life = good. Ones that focus on detailed physical descriptions and events = bad (or at least, less good – some authors do this to great effect). Art that is raw and vital and creates forms that fit the moment = good. Art that is perfectly polished according to specific pre-determined forms = bad. (And just to bring in Milton again, evocative simplicity = good, pretentious complexity = bad; I’m not a huge poetry fan in general, but I would much prefer to read Langston Hughes or Sylvia Plath or, like, haiku than Milton or most any other pre-Romantic poet, and even the Romantics frustrate me at times. Get over yourself, Wordsworth, for serious. Less is more.)

I can objectively say that given those criteria, the Romantics are better than the Neoclassicals and the Modernists are better than the Victorians. However, those criteria are NOT objective, and are based on, yes, what I like better, but not just me. Large groups of people have championed these criteria. But equally large groups of people have championed the opposite criteria, as well. So my question is – on purely aesthetic matters, how can the criteria by which something is judged be chosen in a completely objective manner, and who has the authority to choose that criteria? Maybe what I think is that you can judge things objectively, but you have to agree on the terms first. Kind of like for logical arguments to work, you have to accept the premises (or prove them, which is usually going to depend on other premises that have to be accepted or proven, and so on). And now I should actually go write my Victorian Novel paper, which is, ironically, about aestheticism.

February 2008 Watching/Reading/Gaming Recap

Click through for reactions to Them!, The War of the Worlds, Superbad, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, The Assassination of Jesse James, Sunshine, Vanity Fair, Bleak House, Call of Duty 4, and more.

January 2008 Reading/Watching Recap

The good part about being home from school for the first half of January? LOTS of time to watch LOTS of movies. The bad part about going back to school for the second half of January? No time to write about all those movies from the first half. This is why I keep telling myself to write about the films as I see them, but that never ends up happening. Ah well.

After the jump, reactions to Atonement, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, There Will Be Blood, Weekend, Hairspray, All the President’s Men, All That Jazz, Easy Rider, Go, Papillon, Sherrybaby, The Crying Game, and several others.

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