December 20, 2010

Livi's Gift Guide 2010

Amazon is having a fabulous sale on Criterion Collection movies.  The company sells lovely editions of classics and modern classics.  They never have crappy subtitles, for instance.  (I will never forgive whoever subtitled Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon.  White subtitles on black and white film?  It's nigh unreadable at points.)  Generally, they're quite expensive ($30-40), so this sell is a real steal.  Remember, today is the last day to get Amazon orders by Christmas.

I've paired each movie with a book or book series.  I've tried not to pick obvious movies and to create inventive pairings.  Even if you give nothing from this list as a gift, I hope you pick up something for yourself.  (Check out my charities tag for other worthy places to spend your money this season.)

Army of Shadows - (Criterion Collection)
1. Army of Shadows is a 1969 French thriller about the French Resistance.  While war movie buffs will enjoy this movie, fans of character-driven works will enjoy it as well.  It's less about blowing stuff up and more about the human cost of being a hero.

Birdsong: A Novel of Love and WarPair it with:  BIRDSONG by Sebastian Faulks
BIRDSONG is an generation-spanning drama centered around an ill-fated love affair and World War I.  The sex scenes aren't that sexy (to me), but most of the emotional beats are dead on.  It's little wonder that BIRDSONG is considered a classic of twentieth-century British literature.
Hunger (The Criterion Collection)

2. Hunger is the newest movie on this list.  It is artist Steve McQueen's depiction of Maze Prison, Belfast in 1981, based partially on the horrifying images he saw in newspapers while growing up.  The beginning can be a bit of a slog - it's rough content and the movie does not stop to explain the prisoners' actions or the politics.  (Plus, you have to learn to decipher the accents.)  You understand on a visceral level, but a little knowledge of Northern Irish-British relations in the eighties will aid understanding of the movie.  The standout scene is a 17-minute oner of Bobby Sands talking to a priest.  The price of the movie is worth that scene alone.  Artists don't often direct movies, but McQueen imbued Hunger with an undeniable visual power.  I found the film to be fairly partisan, which might bother some people, although there are gestures to impartiality.
(Warnings: male nudity, authentic depiction of starvation)

The Hunger Games: Book 1Pair it with: THE HUNGER GAMES (and sequels) by Suzanne Collins
Collins's trilogy gets remarkably dark for a set of children's books.  That quality helps make it accessible to a wide audience.  At the same time, it is a children's book and thus Collins pulls most of her punches.  If you're shopping for an older teen or a fellow adult, give them THE HUNGER GAMES (and sequels) for entertainment.  Pair it with Hunger to show the true lengths humans will go to to combat an intolerable regime.

Beauty and the Beast: Essential Art House3. Let's lighten up this list a little before you start to think I want you to have a downer Christmas.  I've given this version of Beauty and the Beast as a gift before; the recipient spent twelve minutes explaining to me how it changed her life.  (She was drunk at the time, so take that as you will.)  This film is for the romantic in your life.  The effects and visuals are experimental and unique enough to keep the film looking artistic instead of dated.

The God of Small Things: A NovelPair it with: THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS by Arundhati Roy
THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS won the Man Booker Prize.  You know why?  Because Roy has a knack for word play that allows the content of her story to match the from, as well as a talent for disturbing, haunting, and utterly beautiful images.  THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS is a narrative fight against the laws that control who you can love, and how much.  Knowledge of Indian history (specifically, the history of Kerala) might make the novel more accessible, but I think Roy's talent stands without context.

Wild Strawberries: Essential Art House4. If you have the money, give the Ingmar Bergman - Four Masterworks collection.  If not, Wild Strawberries is the one to give.  This 1957 film is a fantastical examination of life and death.  A lot of young people don't like it, but it's one to grow on.  (I'll admit to falling asleep the first time I saw it.  It was the middle of the night and I was suffering from jet lag.)  It's melancholy, but never bleak.  I know I said no obvious films from the collection and it doesn't get much more obvious than Ingmar Bergman, but Wild Strawberries cannot be ignored for such a lovely price.

Dangerous NeighborsPair it with: DANGEROUS NEIGHBORS by Beth Kephart
A meditation on life and death for the younger set, not that adults won't enjoy it.  Kephart's mastery of literary technique is a wonderful counterpoint for Bergman's mastery of film.  I think I said everything that needed to be said about DANGEROUS NEIGHBORS in my review.  What I didn't say is implicitly expressed in the fact I paired it with a Bergman film.

Yojimbo & Sanjuro - Two Films By Akira Kurosawa - (The Criterion Collection)5.  Okay, it can get more obvious than Ingmar Bergman.  When it comes to Akira Kurosawa it's still fine to be a little obvious. Yojimbo and its sequel Sanjuro are funny, bloody, clever, and set the standards for modern samurai films.  Show your loved ones how much fun revolutionary works of art can be.

The Thief (The Queen's Thief, Book 1)Pair it with: THE THIEF (and sequels) by Megan Whalen Turner
You want a clever story with a historical setting and equally rewarding sequels?  Go no farther than Turner's impeccable and award-winning series about thief Eugenides and his adventures.  I'd love to read them for the first time again except for the fact is so rewarding to reread them and see how she constructs the various twists.  The first book is aimed at elementary/middle-aged readers, but the series ages as it continues.

The Lady Eve - Criterion Collection6.  I finish my list with The Lady Eve, a romantic comedy featuring a variety of cons and a bravura performance from Barbara Stanwyck.  (Henry Fonda is pretty good too.)  The Lady Eve is everything I want when I see another misogynistic cliche-fest starring Katherine Heigl or Jennifer Aniston or their ilk.  All these years later and this movie is still hilarious and sexy.  And what more could you want from a romantic comedy?

White Cat (Curse Workers, Book 1)Pair it with: WHITE CAT by Holly Black
Black's latest novel is also hilarious and sexy by turns.  It also contains cons.  But it will tear your heart out instead of lifting it up. It's good to have a bit of balance in your life.  I've also heard that other people find WHITE CAT less heart-breaking.  (I'm Team Lila and Cassel, yo.)


So there's my list.  Get shopping, if you haven't already!  And be careful.  If you're like me you'll buy a $15 Brooks Brothers tie just because it's a $15 Brooks Brothers tie and not because you actually know someone who wears ties.

December 19, 2010

Reading in College

I recently received a question by e-mail:

I had a question. I don't know if you ever addressed this before on your blog but I was wondering how do you find time to read while in college? I am also a college student and I love to read YA, but I find that between having to read required reading for school and studying for classes I have absolutely no time for leisure reading at all. So, I was wondering if you could tell me how you found the time to do so and if you had any tips for balancing reading for fun and school work.

As of last Monday, I am a college graduate. I did it in three and a half years instead of four, and managed to receive a variety of honors.

Reading in college made that achievement easier.

"Balancing" is an excellent word for college life. But it doesn't fully encompass it. To me, balance implies equal parts. It's more a game of prioritizing the parts.

I believe that number one in anybody's college career should be studying. Yes, it can be boring. But it's what you're paying for/getting paid for. Treat it like a job. Attend your classes and take notes on the lecture - it will help you remember the readings. (For that matter, read your texts.) Professors are not out to get you. If you do your assignments and pay a bit of attention, you'll find that there aren't any surprises on the tests. As for essays, do a bit of prep work. Ask the professor about his or her grammar pet peeves. (Believe me, every professor will want something different from your writing. Adapt.) Finish essays with enough time to revise. If you're bad at revising, go to your campus's writing center.

Take classes that interest you. Every major has some dud classes that you have to take. (Honors Physics for Nonmajors is the devil.) Spread them out. Don't be afraid to drop a class during add/drops if you can tell that you and the professor aren't a good fit and you take something else for that requirement. Take classes that you'll honestly learn something in. If your entire course schedule bores you, change your major. Be flexible.

Sometimes it feels like you don't have time to do all of your assignments. The work will go faster if you enjoy it and don't feel like you're wasting your time. It helps to have habitual study times. Wednesday was my catch-up day. I didn't make plans on Wednesdays, just made sure I was up to date on my work. Sunday was get-ahead day. If you do all your reading for the week on Sunday, then you practically have a free week.

Note: you will always lie and say you'll do work when you visit home. No one really works when they visit home. Do your work before or get back in town in enough time to do your work.

My number two priority was socializing. It can be easy to become a hermit, absorbed by classwork. Humans are social creatures, however. But you should socialize smart. Getting drunk every weekend? Not smart. You lose a night and a morning when you could be functional. Eating with friends (at home, in the cafeteria, at a nearby restaurant) is smart. Why? Because you have to eat anyway, might as well do it with company. I highly recommend rotating between people's apartments and rotating cooking duties. You can get a variety of wonderful homecooked meals, save money by buying food in bulk, and be responsible for cooking and cleaning only part of the time.

Note: make friends with people who can cook and/or bake.

Like study days, it helps to have a social day. Mine was Thursday - dinner and a (rented) movie with my roommate, her brother, their best friend, and another friend, as well as any hangers-on that week. It helped us chill at the end of the week and made sure we had our acts together by the end of the week.

It can also help to study with other people. They don't have to be in your classes. Just spend an hour or two with friends, in a quiet place, with your books. Hold each other accountable.

Finally, I devoted time to certain individual pursuits. For me, this meant at least thirty minutes a day devoted to reading. The routine helped relax me and helped me sleep better (if I did it before bed), ensuring that I was more proactive the rest of the day.

Doing things you love makes you happy.

Do not structure your life so that you are miserable. Taking a small portion of your day, everyday, just to make yourself feel good is worth it. It isn't wasting your time. It's making sure you have the attitude you need to handle everything else going on in your life. It's combating stress. It's raising your self-esteem.

Read because you love to read.  Or sew because you love to sew.  Or dance to bad pop music because you love dancing and bad pop music.  We need love in our lives, and your hobbies won't dump you right before finals.

Note: if you have a roommate, find out if you share a hobby.  If he or she really dislikes your dancing to bad pop music, however, try to do it when he or she isn't around.  But sharing the hobby can ensure that you take part in it regularly.

I'm not saying you should spend 10 hours playing World of Warcraft. Moderation, people. I'm saying just a bit of you-time makes other-time more productive.  Quality relaxation time matters more than the quantity.

Don't dread endless days of studying. Enjoy learning.

And for heaven's sake, sleep eight hours a night.  What is this four hours of sleep nonsense I hear about?  Falling asleep during lectures, getting sick more often . . . yeah, that's the way to get ahead.


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