January 18, 2009

Books, Books, Books.

"A room without books is like a body without a soul."
Cicero (106 B.C.E. - 43 B.C.E.)

Those Greeks were onto something. As I look around my apartment, I'm pleased to see that while it may be messy - it sure has a lot of soul. As an avid reader, I am always looking for book recommendations. Lately, I've been into a lot of contemporary fiction, but I will start anything put in front of me, because my most favorite books have all been read on the behest of someone else. Thus, 'Things I Love - Part Two' is a short selection of some of my most favorite books. My three choices are multi-generational stories that are rich in idea and plot; they are the types of stories that you never want to end...

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill was one of the best books I read last year. It was chosen by someone in my book club, and I admit that at first I was a little bit reluctant to buy it, because I didn't want to be branded a racist when asking for the book's location to some stranger behind a store counter! After all, who uses the word 'negro' anymore without feeling pretty uncomfortable? I didn't realize that it was actually a bestseller, and that the title was a reference to a historical list used by the British to determine which 'freed slaves' would be able to start a new life in the colony of Nova Scotia during the 19th century. This is a generational story about slavery, immigration, and identity, and reaches across 3 different continents. An Absolute Masterpiece.

Zadie Smith is one of those perfect people. First of all, she's stunningly gorgeous. Second, when she was profiled in Vogue magazine the article highlighted her creative vintage style - she's one of those people that shops in second hand stores and finds the perfect pieces - she was quick to downplay her incredible style that seems to just emanate from her in all directions. She's good friends with other 'hip' authors like Nick Hornby, she's already been nominated for the Man Booker Prize, and she gives podcast interviews to the New Yorker magazine. White Teeth was published when she was only 24, and she consequently won a 'Best First Book' Award. It's also a generational story, where all of the different stories come together in the end in this hilarious web of comedy. The characters are delightful for the most part, though there are a few plot lines that are more interesting than others.

Someone once told me I'd never be able to get through Cryptonomicon because it was too complicated... too much math theory, and at over 1000 pages - I know I'm not recommending the easiest read. However, in this case 'hard work' turned into one of the most consuming and fulfilling reads, and a love affair with Neal Stephenson's extended plot lines. The central story line focuses on the events in the Phillipines during World War Two. The characters are from diverse backgrounds, each offering different perspectives and interesting details about the codebreaking that helped the Allies win the war. This is a must read for anyone who enjoys historical fiction - their patience will most definitely be rewarded.

January 14, 2009

HBO's The Wire: TV's greatest accomplishment

In my last post, I indicated that I was going to begin a series on "things that I love".  My first choice was an obvious one - this is a television series that has consumed me the past few months.  I have obsessed over each episode, pored over the internet for more information on each character, and mourned the sad fact that now that the series is over, my beloved characters are gone.  Granted, many of my favorites were killed off during the course of the 5 seasons, but that's beside the point.  The Wire remains television's most intelligent show; it is a stinging social critique that is so relevant to the issues facing many urban areas in North America, not just Baltimore, Maryland.  And so, my praise will begin here - however, I do reserve the right to create "The Wire: Part Two" blog entry.  I just have so much to say... 

A lot of the time I watch television, I come away feeling as though I've been wasting my time.  I don't have PVR or any of that fancy business, and so I dread flicking through every commercial break, every re-run of Friends, and every reality show featuring 'has-been' celebrities that are flooding the market.  Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of the 30 Rock, I love watching hockey, and I have been known to have an obsession with Law and Order.  It's not that I hate TV - it's that I wish that there was more good quality television shows. 

And then along came HBO's The Wire.  I'm just going to throw it out there.  This the most entertaining TV series that I've ever seen - and I do declare that it's television's greatest masterpiece.  Brilliant dialogue, captivating characters, and risky plot lines come together to create a social critique that surpasses all other 'cop shows' that have come before it.  This series elicits a level of integrity, depth, and compassion that goes beyond the superficial levels what one would expect from TV, allowing us to connect with characters that we would never dream of.  There are no 'good guys' and 'bad guys' on the Wire.  There are simply people, many of whom who possess strengths, weaknesses, and fatal flaws that resonate with the viewers.  It is a raw, real depiction of street life, the underside of trade and ports, the dark corrupt nature of politics and media, and the cruel realities of the No Child Left Behind educational policy.  While you may close your eyes during some of the scenes (at least I did..), you can't deny the messages being dealt by the creators and actors of this show - they are demanding that people recognize that the messages and services being put forward by our media and institutions are inadequate. 

If you spent some time researching reviews and the perspectives of television critics regarding the Wire, the very first thing that you will notice is that there is full-hearted approval across the board.  Yes, it is violent.. yes, it is depressing - but it is a depiction of a segment of Baltimore life that is absolutely captivating.  When reading interviews from the actors, they are so quick to explain how much they loved working in Baltimore, and how proud they were to be a part of this show.  Many politicians, police officers, teachers, and locals living in Baltimore have come forward in full support, acknowledging the fact that the show is indeed an honest, realistic depiction of life.  

Part of the attraction and success of the Wire comes from the fact that it wasn't a product of Hollywood, but rather that of a Baltimore policeman and journalist who decided to use their wealth of experience and create a television show.  Series creator David Simon spend 13 years as a writer for the Baltimore Sun, and many of the characters on the show were inspired by real-life people that he and fellow writer Ed Burns encountered.  They had no intention of making some dramatic soap opera - but rather a show that demands patience from its audience, in order to build each plot line with detail and integrity, and give depth to each character that crosses the screen.  Each episode was built from the foundation of the previous, and each season expanded the plot lines from the one before - adding complexity to the problems of the drug trade, corruption and organized crime that are plaguing the city, and in the eyes of the creators, that of contemporary America.  One of the series' greatest strengths is that you cannot watch one episode in isolation from the others - however, it probably also became its fallibility, as it suffered from undeservedly low ratings throughout its time on television.  This despite the fact that it received bountiful praise for its wonderful complex characters like Omar Little (Michael Kenneth Williams), "Stringer" Bell (Idris Elba), and Michael Lee (Tristan Wilds), and its outstanding dialogue.  If Barack Obama claims that Omar Little is his favorite character on the Wire, there's got to be something to it.  

David Simon and Ed Burns co-authored the book The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood, which spawned an Emmy-award winning HBO miniseries the Corner, while Simon was also responsible for the book and inspired mini-series "Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets." Look for Simon's newest mini-series is called "Generation Kill," focusing on the U.S. invasion of Iraq, beginning in July 2008.

So that's my first editorial rant.  It's not the usual blog style, with lots of witticisms and pictures, but it'll do for now.  Now I'm off to do a little online research (stalking!) of Tristan Wilds - season four, it got to me! -  I know he's a bit young for me, but i don't think too many people will actually read this online confession....

January 12, 2009

Things That I Love

It seems that when you're stuck for something to write about, it's easiest to simply begin with what you know best - yourself.  So.. I have decided to begin a series about things that I love.  I have not yet determined what will make the list, or how long it will last.  Since I seem to be a bit spastic about things, be prepared for several random items. I also have a tendency to 'love everything'  - some have accused me of being a bit indiscriminate.  The truth is that I'm just not that picky.  I haven't read too many books that I haven't enjoyed, and I like most movies. However, in my attempts to make my blog remotely interesting, I'm going to try really hard to come up with some good things. 

Let's get started. First Topic: The Wire.  Where do I even begin...

January 11, 2009

Golden Globes 2009

All the stars were aligned for Danny Boyle and the cast of Slumdog Millionaire tonight, as they walked away with 4 Golden Globes - including Best Dramatic Picture. It was a night of tears, some for Kate Winslet who made two grown men cry while graciously accepting her two awards -one being Leonardo diCaprio -  and some for Renee Zelwegger who made a hideously terrible outfit choice.  I'm not sure what was the tackiest part of her outfit - the visible underwire protruding from the front of her dress, or the cutaway sleeves...

The Golden Globes were entertaining, a more relaxed atmosphere than the Oscars allowed the actors to crack jokes (Tina Fey and Tracy Morgan!) and at times talk candidly while accepting their awards.  The tribute to Heath Ledger was a sad moment - watching his scenes as the Joker still feels bittersweet.  Comeback award goes to Mickey Rourke for his win in the Wrestler.  He wears the looks garnered from a rugged life, but his speech was sweet, and he seemed so genuinely happy to have been the dark horse of the night.

So now the stage is set for the Oscars.  Next on my list of movies to see is Doubt, Frost/Nixon, and Waltz with Bashir.