Fiction: “The Empire Striketh Back” by Ian Doescher

If the theme song isn't stuck in your head, I don't know what you're even doing.

I’m writing this in the midst of playing an epic game of “Sophie’s Choice” with my TiVo and FXX over the Every Simpsons Ever marathon. Basically, my percentage has been hovering at 99% for the past 24 hours, and — hold up, is Thelma and Louise on my list of Movies Alaina’s Never Seen? Anyway, basically, I’ve been watching as many episodes as I can, both live and recorded, because all that I ever wanted is a big ol’ kick to the nostalgia feels.

YES I TAPED THE TRAMAMPOLINE – TRAMBOPOLINE EPISODE WOO HOO!

Holy shit, I never put Thelma and Louise on my list.  (Must be because the only people who ever teased me about never seeing movies were dudes.)

empire doth strike

ANYWAY, the other night Erica and I did our Tweetversation for The Empire Striketh Back, and now I’m trying to write the review while perfecting my Homer Simpson impersonation. What I’m saying is, if a lot of Simpsons references make it into this review, then I apologize for nothing.

So let’s start off with the things I really liked about this version, and then I’ll get into the fight we had.

I’m actually going to start with the afterword, because as I was reading it, I honestly thought I was being Punk’d. Back when we read Verily, a New Hope, I had three critiques: 1) I felt that Mr. Doescher over-used the Chorus; 2) he used the word sans too much to make the lines scan properly; and while 3) wasn’t really a criticism, I did mention the fact that everyone in Verily, a New Hope spoke in iambic pentameter and no one spoke in prose.

God bless Mr. Doescher, but he tackled all three. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who discussed the Chorus, and in this book, he used the Chorus very smartly, and instead made the characters let the audience know what just happened (as an example, he reminded us of how Gertrude informed Hamlet of Ophelia’s drowning).

Erica and I both agreed that his iambic pentameter flowed better in this book – not that it didn’t flow in the first book, but I didn’t see any use of sans in this volume.

And in this book, Boba Fett speaks in prose:

Shakespeare often used prose to separate the lower classes from the elite – kings spoke in iambic pentameter while porters and gravediggers spoke in prose. In writing William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, I did not want to be accused of being lazy about writing iambic pentameter, but with this book it was time to introduce some prose. Who better to speak in base prose than the basest of bounty hunters? [p. 167]

Seems legit.

So if Boba Fett speaks in prose, and everyone else speaks in iambic pentameter … how does Yoda speak?

DUDES. YODA SPEAKS IN HAIKU. AND IT IS GLORIOUS.

O, great warrior!
A great warrior you seek!
Wars not make one great.
[II.vii.78-80]

And my favorite line, in all the world:

Nay, nay! Try thou not.
But do thou or do thou not,
For there is no “try.”
[III.vii.29-31]

The other thing I absolutely loved wholeheartedly was the following line, after the Wampa runs off with Luke:

Alas, is this th’adventure I am due,
To die upon a vicious monster’s whim?
I am attackèd by this awful beast!
O fate most wretched — shall I be his feast?
[Exit, pursued by a wampa.]
[I.i.48-51]

EXIT, PURSUED BY A WAMPA. OH MY GOD. First of all, one of the most famous stage directions in Shakespearean history is “Exeunt, pursued by a bear.” To bring that into Star Wars was brilliant. But then there’s the added bonus that the original line was from The Winter’s Tale.  THE WINTER’S TALE, CARL! BECAUSE THIS SCENE TAKES PLACE ON HOTH! OH MY GOD, this line was just perfect on all levels.

My last favorite line also leads me into the fight Erica and I had on twitter. I was very very pleased that there were no extra words added to Han Solo’ classic line, “I know.” This lead to this:

I just scanned through some of Leia’s speeches, and I do not know how that impression came from either the text or the movie. In her conversations with Han, she is trying to declare that she doesn’t have feelings for him because he’s beneath her, or a scruffy nerf herder, or that she’d rather kiss a Wookiee. In her monologues, she admits that she has feelings for him, but she can’t voice her feelings aloud because they’re in the middle of fighting a war and she can’t take the time to focus on her love life because it’s not the appropriate time to do so.

Leia is not a damsel. In fact, the damsel that needed rescuing from the big monster villain on Hoth was Luke from the Wampa. In this book/episode, Leia and the entire rebel army have to escape Hoth after being attacked by the Empire. When they get to Cloud City, they get captured by Darth Vader and Han gets carbon-frozen for Boba Fett, but Leia rescues herself with the help of Lando Calrissian. But it’s not like Lando has to break her out of a prison cell or something.

(And if you want to talk about Episode IV: A New Hope, I would like to remind you that Leia was the character that took over the half-assed rescue mission and actually got them out of Vader’s starship.)

As I said on twitter, it may look like Leia’s being wishy-washy in her emotions, but that is a trope of Shakespearean romances, not Leia’s character. If you go back to the classic Benedick and Beatrice, they will have moments of fighting and banter, and then as soon as they split up, they have to have those monologues and soliloquies where they explain to the audience that their feelings are conflicted. Remember, Shakespearean actors were playing to the balcony, and facial expressions didn’t carry to the balcony, so words had to do the job.

So when it comes to The Jedi Doth Return, please, I ask you: please re-watch the original trilogy first.  I feel that many of the disagreements we’ve had over these books have stemmed from the fact that you have watched them, but a very long time ago, and the things Mr. Doescher is adding to the characters and the plot overall enhance the original, but can confuse someone who may be unfamiliar with the plot. I’m not asking you to change your opinion of Leia and Han, but I think you may find that in the original movie, the romance is used smartly and not “injected where it shouldn’t be.” Even if you feel that the romance isn’t necessary to the plot, at least you’ll see that Leia is not, nor ever will be, a damsel in distress.

Okay. In the writing of this review, I have watched at least six episodes of The Simpsons, and my percentage is down to 97%. I have some errands to run, but I’ll leave everyone with this: I really enjoyed The Empire Striketh Back, and I felt that Mr. Doescher’s interpretation of the text and application of Shakespearean tropes was excellent. I can’t wait to finish this series.

Grade for The Empire Striketh Back6 stars

 

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The Collaborators!: “The Empire Striketh Back” by Ian Doescher

If the theme song isn't stuck in your head, I don't know what you're even doing.

It’s that time of year again! Erica and I are Collaborating on our first sequel: The Empire Striketh Back, by Ian Doescher.

empire doth strike

This is the first time we have read the next book in a series — we’ve read the first book in a series before, but if y’all remember, I was very clear about not continuing that particular series.  This will be interesting for a couple of reasons: namely, does Erica look for the same things in sequels and series that I do?

For instance, I read a lot of series; mystery novels especially.  Between Kinsey Millhone, V.I. Warshawski, Gregor Demarkian … holy crap, hold up. If I ever get off my ass and start writing a mystery series, I am naming my character the most innocuous name ever.  Like, Emily Jones.  Or Sarah Thompson. Bob Miller.  Plain and simple. I never really realized before now how unique and special-snowflake those names are.

(Fun Fact!: When Ian Fleming was writing his first spy novel, he couldn’t decide on a name for his main character. He ended up picking a name from the author of a book on birdwatching, because he felt the name was the most boring name he’d ever seen. That name? James Bond.)

ANYWAY. (drink!) When I decide to continue with a series, ultimately, it comes down enjoyment and consistency. Did I enjoy the characters enough in the first book to make me want to read more about them? Because remember: the plots will change from book to book, but the characters remain constant. You may not enjoy the plot from book to book, but I find that the relationship I’ve built with the characters gives me the motivation to continue (see the J.D. Robb series – I really felt uncomfortable with parts of Witness in Death, but my enjoyment of the relationship between Eve and Roarke was enough to keep me going to read Judgment in Death).

Obviously, I enjoyed William Shakespeare’s Star Wars – it was a new interpretation of an old story, showing us different facets of some very well-known icons of pop culture.  Plus, R2-D2 speaks! In English, even! What’s not to love? So continuing with this series was a no-brainer.

Now we come to consistency – do the elements of the characters remain true enough in new circumstances that my enjoyment doesn’t diminish? My enjoyment of Eve and Roarke, Kinsey Millhone, and Holmes and Russell does not diminish as I continue through their series – their qualities remain constant, so I get to see how they react in different situations.

(Note: I include neither Patricia Cornwell nor Laurel K. Hamilton’s series in this discussion, as my ‘enjoyment’ of those series [such as it is] is based on inconsistency and disapproval of the characters. I hate-read them, basically.)

Going back to the Shakespeare Star Wars series – do I feel that there’s enough consistency? Again, duh. It also helps that I know a little of what to expect – having seen the movies, now I have additional things to look forward to. For instance: the banter between Han and Leia is one of my favorite things about The Empire Strikes Back. If there are no references or shades of the relationship between Benedick and Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing in this book, I am going to be severely disappointed.

Lando Calrissian’s betrayal (probably) has overtones of Othello (a of all, because Othello deals with betrayal, not because of the moor thing. But b of all, I say “probably” because … I’ve never read Othello. Or seen it performed. Basically, all I know about Othello is from this video and this series of gifs.)

And don’t get me started on how excited I am to learn what the hell Yoda sounds like in iambic pentameter.

So I’m greatly looking forward to reading this. Because yes, I believe that I’m going to enjoy this as much as the first book in the series, but also because I’m curious what Erica’s looking for in this next chapter, so to speak – and whether or not we both get what we’re looking for.

Fiction: “William Shakespeare’s Star Wars” by Ian Doescher

If Han Solo doesn't shoot first, there's gonna be a scene.HOLY CRAP I’M ACTUALLY FIRST

"C'mon, Yzma, put your hands in the air!"kuzcotopiayzma wins

(I have a feeling that Erica hasn’t published her review yet out of pity for me, to give me a chance to actually publish first for one damn thing.  Although it is the holidays, and she’s been ill, so I don’t think that’s the case.  But if it’s out of pity, I’ll take it.)

ANYWAY.  (Drink!)  Erica (of NYC Bookworm fame) and I finished William Shakespeare’s Star Wars by Ian Doescher and I think we both agree that it was a wild success.

If the theme song isn't stuck in your head, I don't know what you're even doing.

Now unfortunately, I wrote most of this up at work. (Shh don’t tell!)  But that means I left my book at home.  So if there were any quotes or things I wanted to reference, I’m probably going to have to skip it, or you’re going to have to take my word that it existed and I’m not making it up.  Your call.  [Now that I’m home, I might look it up.  Maybe.  I’m kind of sleepy.]

So what Mr. Doescher did was take the amazing film Star Wars: A New Hope and turn it into a play as if it were written by Shakespeare.  It follows the traditional five-act structure that Shakespeare nearly created, plus there is a prologue and an epilogue that calls back to the prologue of Romeo and Juliet and the epilogue of The Tempest or A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  The entire thing is written in iambic pentameter – and here’s where I might have a nitpick, but as a) I don’t have the book and b) I also don’t have an eidetic memory, I may have to fudge things a bit.  Go with me.

Traditionally in Shakespeare’s plays, there are going to be one or two characters that speak in prose – not verse or iambic pentameter.  Traditionally, the characters that speak in prose are comic relief, or non-essential characters, or non-‘regal’ characters.  Occasionally, these characters import wisdom or give us some special meaning on the scene that we wouldn’t otherwise get.  Some of these characters are: Trinculo and Stephano, the drunken members of Alonso’s party from The Tempest; the Porter in Macbeth; and apparently, if the mit.edu edition of Hamlet is to be believed, Hamlet for a while, therefore disproving all of the qualifications I gave above.  Fuck you, Hamlet.

To bring my point back to Shakespeare’s Star Wars, the only characters who might speak in prose are Greedo, Jabba the Hutt, Chewbacca, and R2-D2.  And the reason I say ‘might’ is because Mr. Doescher actually transcribes the language that they speak, rather than making them speak in English.  So when Han is conversing with Greedo, you can understand what Han’s saying, but Greedo’s all, “Na koona t’chuta, Solo” – and again, here’s where I’d quote the thing, but the book’s on my desk back at home, so dear Star Wars nerds: please don’t be offended if I’m not quoting Greedo correctly.  It could be prose, or it could be iambic pentameter.  I’m not sure, I don’t speak … whatever the fuck it is that Greedo is.

Now, R2-D2 is another case all together, because Mr. Doescher gave R2-D2 the ability to speak English in aside or soliloquy.  But if he’s around C-3PO or humans, he speaks in “beep, boop, squeak, whistles.”  I loved this addition, and for a couple of different reasons.

Firstly, I remember watching the original Star Wars trilogy last year, and loving R2-D2.  Did I make jokes about how he should stay in the TIE-Fighter, a la Chuck staying in the car in Chuck?  Yes.  Did I make jokes about how he’s impetuous and does things without thinking, under the guise of helping, but he sometimes makes things worse?  Of course I did.  But at the end of the day, R2 is a very important character.  Without him – or without his personality, I guess I should say? – Leia would still –

Hold up.  Dear Microsoft Word: why is Chewbacca a correctly-spelled word in your spell-check database, but Leia isn’t?  That literally does not compute.  What the fuck, guys?

Uh, anyway.  (Drink!)  Leia would still have found a droid on which to record her message to Obi-Wan Kenobi (those are okay too!?  Microsoft Word is a sexist piece of shit!)

Okay, seriously, I just did this:

sexist ms word

WHAT THE FUCK, MICROSOFT WORD??  Did George Lucas and his mommy issues pay you nerds off or something?

OKAY, AS I WAS SAYING.  Leia would still have found another droid on which to record her message to Obi-Wan.  Given that mission, R2 would still have separated himself from C-3PO upon crash-landing on Tattooine, but would C-3PO have been as determined to keep himself and that other droid together, leading Owen to purchase both of them?  When they get to the Death Star (or the Imperial Cruiser, whatever it is they rescue Leia from), who was the one to scramble the circuits in the trash compactor, letting the heroes not die a stinky, squishy death?  Who repaired Luke’s TIE-fighter en route to the Death Star?  R2-D2 is a very important character.

Why am I touting R2 so much?  Well, here’s where I’d point to a tweet from the Tweetversation Erica and I held on Saturday night, but my phone is even stupider than Microsoft Word’s spell-check and won’t let me see tweets I made on my computer?  Whatever, Smoron (the name for my phone), I’ll just wait until I get home and have the power of the Interwebs:

I spent a while trying to formulate a counterpoint to this statement, but Twitter and I don’t always get along because I tend to ramble, and all I wanted to say was, “But — he is important,” but I’m well aware that sometimes my gentle fact-pointing can come across as bitchy, and that is not my intent.  But then Erica mentioned later in our Tweetversation that she hadn’t watched the movie in almost two decades, and everything clicked and there was no longer a need to argue: one’s impression of a droid changes when you watch it when you’re ten as opposed to 29 (the year I first saw all of Star Wars all the way through in one sitting).  Anyway.  I guess what this was all leading towards was that I was prepared to defend R2’s honor to the death, but it’s been a while since you’ve seen it – I guarantee that when you watch the movies again, you’ll see that R2 is a vastly important character, and Mr. Doescher uses the dialogue to show that not only is R2 aware of his own importance, but the audience as well.

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars is full of little winks to the Star Wars audience.  I tweeted to Erica that I groaned when I saw the scene where Han is discussing his debt to Jabba the Hutt, because that meant that it wasn’t Star Wars: A New Hope I was reading, but Star Wars: George Lucas’s Shitty New Hope.  But Han’s first line of dialogue in the scene is:

“Now, marry, ’tis an unexpected scene.

Meaning that not only did Han the character not expect to see Jabba in the hangar, but we as die-hard Star Wars fans shouldn’t expect to see Jabba in the hangar, because Lucas threw it in after Mel Brooks stole Lucas’s idea of re-titling his movies Star Wars: The Redux: The Search for More Money.  I won’t tell you how Mr. Doescher tackles the “Who Shot First” debate, but I will say that while I wasn’t one hundred percent satisfied, at least Greedo didn’t shoot first.

Something that Shakespeare did, Mr. Doescher does, and movies don’t really do anymore, is use soliloquies and asides to further characterization and motivation.  In theatre, you have to “play to the balcony,” meaning all your movements and vocalizations must be amplified so everyone throughout the room can hear and understand you.  In film, you don’t have to be so big – some of the best-acted scenes are minimalist in nature: a softening of the eyes, a curl to the lip; even a quick back-and-forth motion with your thumb under your nose can summon an army.

Shakespeare didn’t have the luxury of being able to be minimalist.  That’s why there are so many speeches, and monologues, and huge blocks of text.  A modern-day Hamlet would enter carrying his quandary in his eyebrows, and with a look we would be able to infer that he’s troubled with a decision.  But the balcony at the Globe couldn’t see that; so he soliloquizes.  Here, we actually hear from Luke his desire for adventure — him staring at the double sunset is no longer silent save for John Williams’s amazing score, now we hear him debate with himself whether he should search for adventure or stay and tend to the crops.  We learn that Han truly has a heart of gold because we hear him tell us.  Even Darth Vader soliloquizes some of his regrets in turning to the Dark Side.

When we first started reading it, Erica and I were joking about setting up auditions and getting a play produced.  Unlike Shakespeare’s plays, I don’t think Star Wars would translate to the stage well.  It’s too big — there are too many sets, too many set pieces, too much space to fit on a stage.  Imagine, if you will, attending the theatre for William Shakespeare’s Star Wars and once the curtain goes up, you see an empty stage.  You have a Chorus — oh that reminds me, I’ll get back to them later — that tells us where we are because we don’t have the space to set up Uncle Owen’s farm, or the cantina at Mos Eisley.  The best we can do is roll on a corner booth and a bar and have extras walking around in weird masks.  And no matter what type of budget you have, there is no way we could recreate the battle for the Death Star.  What makes Star Wars great was the spectacle of the thing — shrinking it down to fit on a stage would take some of that away, and we shouldn’t use theatre to minimize something.

A staged reading, on the other hand — that could work.

The Chorus: to help us set the scene, Mr. Doescher utilizes a Chorus.  Shakespeare used a Chorus, as did the Greeks.  I … It was one of my (few) nitpicks.  I felt that having the Chorus interject and remind us what was going on was a bit interrupty.  Now, as I said above, if one were to stage this as an actual play, one would need a timestamper, if you will (NO JOKES ABOUT GHOST HUNTERS, PLEASE).  But in reading it, he just felt out of place.  Sorry, Chorus.

Two final nitpicks and then we can put this (and myself) to bed:

1)  Multiple times, Mr. Doescher used the word sans instead of without.  It’s a perfectly appropriate word — sans is French for ‘without.’  But while it made the line scan correctly, it didn’t really sound like either Star Wars or Shakespeare.  And I felt that he used it a lot.  Not a lot-a lot, if you catch my meaning, but if the same word and usage shows up in at least each act, it stands out and detracts.

2)  I am actually going to end up blaming George Lucas for this one.  One of Shakespeare’s greatest elements is his use of wordplay.  And since Mr. Doescher was interpreting a script, I felt that this version of Shakespeare lacked that interplay of words.  There were humorous bits, but very few double entendres or playing with the language.  I missed that from this.  However, I don’t know if Lucas really allowed for a lot of wordplay in the source material, so … it’s probably a moot point, but I wanted to make it anyway.

So there.  That’s William Shakespeare’s Star Wars.  But before I grade it, here’s what I’m embarking upon over the next 26 hours:

– I finished Dracula; I finished Star Wars.  Over the course of the holiday weekend I started and finished H is for Homicide.  I’m still reading that stupid little romance novel.  If I can finish that novel and read the entirety of one more book, I’ll have read the same amount of books this year as I did in 2012.  So I picked out the shortest Dick Francis novel I have in my collection, and if I don’t end up working in the bakery tomorrow (and no one comes over for New Year’s, which is fine), I’m going to be doing a shit-ton of reading.  Wish me luck!

Grade for William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: 5 stars

The Collaborators: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars

I AM TAKING A BREAK FROM CLEANING TO POST THIS

See, I host an annual Christmas party.  (I was almost going to add “every year,” but then I remembered that that’s what “annual” meant, and that’s where my head’s at, you guys.)  The Christmas Party is for people that I used to work with.  And this year, no one has declined.  That means, in less than 48 hours, my apartment will be filled with 23 adults, one toddler, and two infants.  What the everloving fuck did I get myself into?

Because — and you may have gleaned this from my reviews — I’m not the most organized person.  I have spent the majority of the afternoon and evening cleaning my apartment.  The living room and office are done, the kitchen is 75% done (and will be complete before I go to bed, so help me God), and the bathroom — well, I’ll take care of that tomorrow.  And bake cookies.  And finish someone’s gift before he shows up right at 5 like he did last year.  And as for everyone else’s presents: for the majority of you, being invited into my abode should be present enough, and then I’m baking you cookies.  Unless you’re allergic to coconut, you’re going to get cookies and LIKE IT.  (Just kidding, I love you all.)

So I took a moment to check my Facebook and I see that my counterpart Erica (of NYC Bookworm, if you don’t already know) has already posted her pre-review of our next book, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars.  And I swear, and then I say, “I’m gonna take a break from cleaning and post this so at least ONE TIME, I can post my thing on the same day.”

If the theme song isn't stuck in your head, I don't know what you're even doing.

If Han Solo doesn't shoot first, there's gonna be a scene.
(I’m not sure why those pictures are so small … but I also know I’m not going to take a moment to fix it.)

Full confession: Erica, I haven’t read your review yet.  I saw the link and said “DAMMIT I’M GONNA DO THIS FOR ONCE.”

So here’s what I know about William Shakespeare’s Star Wars:

  • It’s the story of Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope, told in iambic pentameter.
  • It should be hilarious.

I would like to point out, however, that I know *all* about Regular Star Wars, because I have seen ALL of the Star Wars movies.  So many jokes I can get, you guys!  This is going to be epic!

In fact, here’s what I want out of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars:

  • References to the prequels and how much they suck.  In iambic pentameter.
  • Let’s face it; everything’s funnier in iambic pentameter.
  • Iambic pentameter.  I’m just gonna keep saying that.
  • If Han Solo doesn’t shoot first, then I quit.
  • I also would like a reference to Darth Vader’s enormous helmet, and possibly, his dolls.

Personally, I’m excited to read something funny.  Like, I know going in that this should be hysterical.  Don’t know if y’all are aware, but I like funny things.  Making jokes is kind of my jam.  And while I enjoyed Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister and Brave New World, they weren’t really … funny, y’know?  I’m ready for a little laughter.

Honestly, I don’t know what this collab is going to look like.  I mean, we usually talk about characterization and plot and theme, and … it’s Star Wars.  I guess I can see if there are references to Shakespearean plays — outside of the ones found in the movies, that is.  But honestly?  I’m giving you a heads-up, Erica: our Tweetversation may just be me tweeting out my favorite lines.

Okay, before I wrap this up, let me read Erica’s review.  *hold music*

OH MAN I GUESS IT IS A PLAY

I NEVER THOUGHT ABOUT IT THAT WAY

H2 CROWD WE ARE ACTING THIS OUT AT OUR NEXT NEW YEAR’S PARTY

I WANNA BE C3PO NO ARGUMENTS

As for the shortest book – I guess you’re right.  Honestly, I just want to finish a book.  Because yeah, I still have fifty pages of Dracula, and that review will be full of strong words for various reasons.

Okay, I’ve rambled plenty, and I have 25% of a kitchen to clean.  Here’s where I’d leave with a Star Wars reference, but all I can come up with is Han Solo telling the diner guys “sorry about the mess,” but it’s not like I shot Greedo out there.

So hopefully, after the party, by the end of the week, we’ll be having our 3rd Tweetversation.  Follow us at the following social media sites!  (It’ll be fun, I promise!  Now seriously, I need to be asleep in ninety minutes so I don’t completely crap out at work, I gotta go.)

Alaina – @WillBeFunOrElse
Erica – @NYCBookworm84 / nycbookworm.com

Fiction: “Bridget Jones’s Diary” by Helen Fielding

Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen FieldingDear Lord, I love this book.

I think this makes it the sixth time I’ve read it? I first read it … either in high school or freshman year of college. I want to say before college, because I definitely used an excerpt from Bridget Jones for a speech tournament at Franklin Pierce (British accent and everything! I believe I came in fourth. Hurrah!). For a while I was reading it every January, as a kind of kick-off of the year. But going back through my records (because yes, I am completely the crazy, paranoid, anal-retentive individual that keeps records of when she reads books, by month and year, and whether she’s read them before or not. IT’S ONLY A PROBLEM IF YOU THINK IT’S A PROBLEM), the last time I read it was 2007.

Why did I fall in love with Bridget Jones back then? She was funny, self-assured, thought she had a “weight problem” (come to me when your weight problem is an additional sixty pounds on you, Bridge), delightfully alcoholic and addicted to cigarettes, went through phases of trying to be a better person, and single in her thirties. Her character was someone I could connect with, even as a young adult.

I took the book back out of my bookcase this time because as I write this, there is one more week to go until I turn thirty. And apparently I’ve been all over Twitter with this, but nowhere else. Short story is: I’m not handling it. It’s not the age thing – I don’t feel thirty (not that I know what thirty feels like); when I get together with my friends I still feel young and we still want to do young things. I just thought that I’d be more … advanced in some parts of my life that I’m not. Do you know I’ve never colored my hair a wacky color? In high school, when everyone else was putting blue streaks and pink streaks in their hair (or dying their entire head a different color), I never touched the stuff. When I did highlight my hair, it was in subtle tones of red. Two days ago, Hot Topic was having a sale and I bought some colored chalk and I’ll use it, at some point, but a thirty-year-old with blue streaks just seems weird, right?

I’ve never sung karaoke. I don’t have a tattoo. I haven’t finished writing any of my stories. I’ve never been to a Hooter’s. And I’ve been single for a very long time. And let me tell you, Little Corner of the Internet For Whom I Write: I’m starting to feel lonely.

Anyway. Uh, sorry if you just read those paragraphs. Those were clearly meant for an analyst, not my book blog. Apologies.

But it’s also why I turned to Bridget Jones. I could read this from a thirty-year-old Singleton’s perspective — a perspective I’ve never had before. I always assumed I’d have found someone by now, so to be in pretty much the same position as Bridget would hopefully make me feel better.

Good news – she did. I mean, look! She experiences the same angst as me!:

Humph. Have woken up v. fed up. On top of everything, only two weeks to go until birthday, when will have to face up to the fact that another entire year has gone by, during which everyone else except me has mutated into Smug Married, having children plop, plop, plop, left right and center and making hundreds of thousands of pounds and inroads into very hub of establishment, while I career rudderless and boyfriendless through dysfunctional relationships and professional stagnation. [67-68]

If you’ve never read Bridget Jones’s Diary, it is written as a fictionalized diary. Meaning, it doesn’t sound like those blogs I used to write in college – she actually includes dialogue and elements of storytelling that a person wouldn’t necessarily employ when writing a diary. But that’s why it’s fiction. The book starts in January of a year (not necessary to the plot) and goes through December. Bridget works in publishing (I want to work in publishing!) and has a crush on her boss, Daniel Cleaver (I have never had a crush on any of my bosses! But I imagine that’s a thing). She visits her parents over Christmas (which is a thing that I also do!), and at an annual party, her mother and her mother’s friend Una try and set her up with Mark Darcy, a divorced barrister who Bridget used to play with as a child (none of those things ever happen to me, because the only childhood boy friend I had is gay! And lovely, and his boyfriend is lovely, but — I wasn’t friends with boys as a child… hm. Maybe that explains a lot.)

As the months go on, Bridget does have an affair with Daniel, but throughout she maintains her sense of self and character. At the first date, as he’s reaching for her skirt, he — well:

As he started to undo the zip he whispered, “This is just a bit of fun, OK? I don’t think we should start getting involved.” Then, caveat in place, he carried on with the zip. Had it not been for Sharon and the fuckwittage and the fact I’d just drunk the best part of a bottle of wine, I think I would have sunk powerless into his arms. As it was, I leaped to my feet, pulling up my skirt.

“That is just such crap,” I slurred. “How dare you be so fraudulently flirtatious, cowardly and dysfunctional? I am not interested in emotional fuckwittage. Good-bye.” [29]

She knows what she wants and what she doesn’t, and she waits for Daniel to commit to her before going out with him again. (It’s not her fault he cheats on her – he’s a fuckwit.)

Meanwhile, in another part of the plot that (luckily) does not echo anything going on in my real life, Bridget’s mother is going through an end-of-life crisis, in which she leaves her husband and becomes a reporter for a morning show doing a report called “Suddenly Single,” which consists of her thrusting a microphone under the nose of a single woman and asking them, “Have you had suicidal thoughts?” Bridget’s mother is a caricature, almost, but in the end of the book she gets her comeuppance and returns to her husband after taking a lover (Julio) that turns out to be a con artist.

And then there’s Mark Darcy. I should have mentioned at the top that this book is also a very loose reimagining of Pride and Prejudice, with Bridget playing the part of Elizabeth Bennet, Daniel Cleaver becoming George Wickham, and Mark Darcy obviously playing the great role of Fitzwilliam Darcy. (So now you know why I find Bridget’s mother so bloody annoying — I *detest* Mrs. Bennet.) If you’ve read P&P, you know that at the end of the novel, Darcy is going to help Bridget with a family problem, thereby winning her over completely – this after he’s steadily had her warm to him over the course of a couple of months. For instance:

“Last Christmas,” Mark went hurriedly, “I thought if my mother said the words ‘Bridget Jones’ just once more I would go to the Sunday People and accuse her of abusing me as a child with a bicycle pump. Then when I met you … and I was wearing that ridiculous diamond-patterned sweater that Una had bought for me Christmas … Bridget, all the other girls I know are so lacquered over.” [207]

And then he asks her out for dinner.  swoon

AND THEN, after he goes and gets Julio captured and Bridget’s mother is back at home with her husband, Mark whisks Bridget away from her family and craziness on Christmas to decompress, rents a suite at a local hotel and then orders room service. He’s telling her the story of how he basically Sam Spade-ed Julio out of Portugal, when:

“I simply told him that she was spending Christmas with your dad, and, I’m afraid, that they’d be sleeping in the same bed. I just had a feeling he was crazy enough, and stupid enough, to attempt to, er, undermine those plans.”

“How did you know?”

“A hunch. It kind of goes with the job.” God, he’s cool.

“But it was so kind of you, taking time off work and everything. Why did you bother doing all this?”

“Bridget,” he said. “Isn’t it rather obvious?”

Oh my God. [266]

GUH. Because no, it’s not always obvious! And maybe that’s coming from a woman who is completely oblivious. I admit: I do not recognize when someone flirts with me, mainly because it happens only all the never time. So when someone starts being nice – and nicer than normal – for instance, friends that do not usually have physical contact beyond a fistbump or high-five, all of a sudden they start giving gentlemanly shoulder slaps of “Good job!,” and also saying that they have a plan for a birthday, when normally booze is exchanged and that’s it? Is that flirting, or is it the new normal? I DON’T KNOW, I ACTUALLY CAN’T READ SIGNS.

I’m telling you, guys — my mind is one big ball of crazy. But at least I don’t keep track of how many calories I ingest on any given day?

In the end, this book is one I will continuously return to. The narrator is smart, funny — I will say, also exceptionally British. There are some jokes that I have to look up to get the reference, but luckily, they’re not the important jokes. And overall, Bridget is relate-able. She resonated with me when I was in high school, as someone to look up to. Now, I find her a comrade-in-Singleton-arms. And I look forward to the day when I can revisit her and say, “Oh, that used to be me.”

PS – the movie is good too. Doesn’t follow the book’s plot 100%, but who can resist Colin Firth playing Mark Darcy? Hmm… maybe that’s how I’ll spend the rest of this snow day…

Grade for Bridget Jones’s Diary: 6 stars

Fiction: “Practical Demonkeeping” by Christopher Moore

Fucking-A, man. As one of my heroes, Frank Vitchard, once said: this is getting ri-goddamn-diculous. I finished this book back in October. October. Like, before Halloween. And I’m just getting to write about it now? The hell, man?

And as if that weren’t bad enough, it has taken me three weeks to read one book. You know how I know it’s been three weeks? Because the book (and the four others I took out from the library) are due this week. I’m not sure which day they were due — all I know is I’m looking at some overdue fees because I’m too lazy to get out my library card and renew them online. And I’m not even sure I can renew them once they’re overdue (although I think I’ve done that in the past).

Let’s put this in perspective. In the time since I’ve finished Practical Demonkeeping and tonight, when I’m writing the review, the following things have happened: 1) LucasFilm was bought out by Disney; 2) Barack Obama was reelected President of the United States; and 3) Hostess went out of business, thereby ruining stonerdom for all time. You all want signs of the apocalypse? There’s three for you right there.

Okay, so, speaking of apocalypses. Apocalypsi? Shit. I suddenly find myself needing to know the plural of apocalypse. And now I’m pissed that I’m quoting Riley Finn, of all people. And now my thumb hurts, for no readily apparent reason. That’s karma for ya.

OKAY, ALAINA. I said, “Speaking of apocalypses,” let’s talk about Practical Demonkeeping. This was Christopher Moore’s first novel, but not the first novel by him that I read. Back in the middle of October — y’know, when I actually read this damn thing — I found myself going through a terrible bout of nostalgia. I had realized that I had six months to remain in my twenties, and there is a long list of Things I Want to Do Before Turning 30. (Which now includes “Travel to Washington, D.C. for a Weekend so I Can Touch the 1964 Aston Martin DB5 That Lives in the International Spy Museum.” Thanks, Skyfall!) So as a way to make myself feel better about not accomplishing anything on that list thus far and, also, as a way of dealing with my return of Saturn, I picked up Practical Demonkeeping because a) I keep meaning to read more of Moore, and why not restart at the beginning, and b) because my landlady’s husband was currently reading H is for Homicide.

Practical Demonkeeping introduces the town of Pine Cove, California, which I imagine to be a tiny town close to Big Sur. I say ‘imagine’ because, if y’all recall, when I was supposed to drive through that area last year, a chunk of the PCH fell into the ocean, causing my detour into Salinas. So I can’t really say that it is Big Sur; I can only guess. I was really looking forward to driving over the Bixby Canyon Bridge while listening to “Bixby Canyon Bridge.”

Wow. Apparently I am still pissed about that. Fucking gravity, man.

Pine Cove is a sleepy little town where not much ever happens. Augustus Brine runs the Bait, Tackle and Wine Shop. Mavis runs the Head of the Slug tavern. Robert and Jenny are going through a divorce, and the entire town knows about it. The same thing happens every day — and because this could be a potential Moore-sian twist, no, it is not Groundhog Day. It’s just that nothing ever happens in Pine Cove.

Until one day, a stranger named Travis arrives in town. He’s quiet, very polite, and a shark at billiards. At the same time, Augustus is visited by a Djinn, who tells him he needs to help fight against a demon.

Turns out, Travis has been traveling for ninety years with the demon Catch, who eats people. Catch is controlled by a spell created by an old Pope (or something), and is only able to remain in Travis’s control by the strength of Travis’s will to control the demon. (Does that make sense? I’ve been trying to write this review for three days, and I’m too … something to go back and rewrite that sentence.) Travis’s will begins to falter when he meets Jenny, which allows Catch to go on an overnight quest amongst the residents of Pine Cove to gather the tools to gain his freedom.

Practical Demonkeeping is a very funny book, but not as funny as Lamb. Sure, there were some laugh-out-loud moments, but I think the reason Lamb is funnier is because the subject matter from which Christopher Moore creates his novel is decidedly not funny. One doesn’t expect humor to come out of the Bible; when it does show up, what was supposedly a tiny little joke becomes exponentially funnier.

Okay. One review down; one more to go, and then I need to fucking finish this other book I’m reading. Three weeks for a 300-page book? Seriously?

Grade for Practical Demonkeeping: 3 stars

Essays: “Fraud” by David Rakoff

Written September 5, 2012

Oh my god, this is the most frustrating thing ever. Well, okay; one of the most frustrating things. This is easily in the top ten, though.

As y’all know by now, I’ve been having issues getting internet. So here I am on my day off this week, doing laundry at the semi-local Laundromat. (There’s a localer one in Freeport, but I didn’t even go inside. It didn’t look clean, and there were no tables or chairs. In fact, for lack of a better term, the whole place looked pretty … rapey, and I don’t like throwing around that word. [IT IS SO A WORD, SHUT UP BRAD, who doesn’t even read this]) So I drove down to Portland and went to my old Laundromat, because yeah, it’s a bit out of my way, but I know I’ll have a table and a chair on which to write while my laundry spins. And all the light bulbs work.

(Except that, when I get here, there are no chairs. The chairs by the tables have disappeared. And so, I’m sitting on a table cross-legged, with my netbook in my lap. And my iPod’s battery is in the red, so I’m playing Chicken with Barney the iPod to see who cracks first. All I need is a pair of Old Navy flip-flops and my ratty FPC sweatshirt and it’d be just like college up in here.)

(FPC = Franklin Pierce College. Fuck you, Franklin Pierce University. I mean, what the shit is that?)

So anyway. I’m perched, and I happen to see that there are internet connections available. And I’ve almost never been able to connect to WiFi here, but I’m desperate, so I give it a shot. And holy shit — the Yahoo! page comes up! And I can open another tab and then Google comes up! And I can vote for the Tubeys on Television Without Pity! And then —

AND THEN THE ROUTER CONKS OUT AND I’M INTERNET-LESS AGAIN.

Dear Internets: why do you hate me? All I want to do is love you, and learn with you, and watch TV on you, and interact with you. You’ve been a true companion over the past decade; why are you turning on me? ALL I WANT TO DO IS CONNECT WITH YOU AND YOU WON’T LET ME.

*sigh* And so, after half an hour (or one wash cycle) of frigging with the internet that doesn’t belong to me, it turns out it’s the router which isn’t mine so I can’t fix it, and that’s why I’m writing this, my last backlog blog, in a Word document. Because the Internet hates me. And Wednesday hates me. And my days off hate me. Basically, all of the hatred in the world somehow got together today and decided, “Hey, it’s Alaina’s ONE DAY OFF this week! Let’s see what we can do to completely fuck it up.”

Therefore, I think it’s fitting that today’s book review is of Fraud, a collection of essays by the (sadly) late David Rakoff.

I picked up Mr. Rakoff’s second collection, Don’t Get Too Comfortable, after seeing him on The Daily Show. I thought he was hysterically funny, and to be honest, there have been a couple of books I’ve picked up because Jon Stewart clearly had chosen to read the book, not just the back cover (you watch enough Daily Show, you learn to tell the difference between when Jon reads the book and when he doesn’t). And then, because this is how I operate, I went out and bought the first book — Fraud — and then promptly … didn’t read it.

In fact, I leant both books to Brad a few years ago — right after I bought both of them. He’s a Sedaris fan, and … he may have seen me reading Comfortable in the break room, or maybe I was reading my favorite parts out loud because I loved it so much, anyway, he asked to borrow them; I said ‘sure.’ Two years later I get the first one back; I don’t get Fraud back until last summer. In fact — and I told him this when I got them back — I had forgotten I had leant them to him. I wasn’t even pissed about the length of time it took to give them back, because I had his copy of Million Dollar Baby for at least two years, and for most of it, it was holding up Jeremy the Tivo at the old apartment. (He may have gotten the case back with a TiVo-sized dent in the top. He was a sport and still leant me stuff after that. This is why we are friends.)

(I also think it’s hilarious that, in the process of moving, I offered Brad first dibs on any of my books and/or DVDs I was going to get rid of. He said that he was ‘all about Blu-Ray,’ and passed on the DVDs, but did say, “I’ll take your David Rakoff books.” But I want those, Brad! You are limited to the books in the box marked “TO GET RID OF.”)

Then, a month ago, I learn that Mr. Rakoff passed away. I was really sad when I heard that, because I loved Don’t Get Too Comfortable, and was hoping he’d be around for a very long time. Put succinctly: Fuck cancer, man.

So when I unpacked my books and found Fraud, I picked it up after Loyalty in Death. And when I saw this was the first quote (I’m not sure what the term is, but it’s the quote that authors put before they start their books, and it gives the book a sense of atmosphere and theme), my heart melted and I died a little:

2012-08-19 13.51.25

OH MY GOD. Oh, my GOD. You guys. That is I kid you not, one of my favorite quotes of all time. It’s from All About Eve, one of the best movies of all time. I love that movie so much, I’m not sure I’ll be able to talk coherently about it. My favorite character (after Margo Channing, of course, who is played by the fabulous Bette Davis) is Addison De Witt, the theatre critic, played by the wonderful George Sanders (the voice of Shere Khan in Disney’s The Jungle Book, for those who may have seen that movie and not All About Eve, which is okay — I liked The Jungle Book). The quote in question is directed towards the great Margo Channing, who is in the middle of the performance of her life: the bumpy night of the other famous quote from the movie. She is lashing out at everyone due to her own crumbling self-esteem, and Addison notices it, latches on to it, points it out, and turns it into a compliment. Because yes, she is being terribly maudlin (who plays Liebestraum over and over again at a party?) and full of self-pity (because she doesn’t believe Bill when he tells her he feels nothing for Eve, who is much younger than Margo), but you know what? She is magnificent in her downward spiral. She commands the room as she commands the stage, and all eyes are on her during these moments. She is magnificent.

While others have clung to Margo’s famous ‘Curtain’ speech, about women and their careers and what they give up for success and how love and family plays into their success, I have always raised the flag of Addison as my life-model. He is a success, he is a manipulating bastard, and he calls ’em like he sees ’em. And to everyone out there: you may be maudlin and full of self-pity, but by God, you are magnificent.

Holy crap; almost thirteen hundred words and almost none of them are about the book. So anyway, when I saw that quote I died a little and knew immediately that I would love the book.

As I think I said above (I’m not scrolling up to find out), Fraud is a collection of essays. Mr. Rakoff was a contributor to This American Life on NPR, and he’d written articles for GQ and New York Times Magazine. The premise of this collection is that Mr. Rakoff goes and does things that he doesn’t normally do (like, climb a mountain in New England, visit Tokyo, and attend a comedy festival) and try to assimilate into that particular segment of culture.

In the first essay, Mr. Rakoff climbs — I shit you not — Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire. Why do I shit you not? Because Mount Monadnock is within sight of the aforementioned Franklin Pierce College that I attended! I have people who have actually climbed Mount Monadnock! (I have not, because I have always been very upfront about not being a hiker.) He meets up with this guy, Larry David, who has climbed the mountain every day. Rakoff, also not being a hiker, wears Payless hiking boots and gets winded easily. When they reach the summit, instead of feeling victorious and like he conquered something, Rakoff feels apathy: “this is it?” Sorry, David; if you had asked me first, I would have told you that Jaffrey, NH’s nothing to write home about. All it has is a Mr. Mike’s gas station.

He travels to Iceland to investigate the myth of the Hidden People. There’s this rock, see, and the city of Reykjavík wants to redo a road, and the rock will have to be moved. But local lore says that there’s a race of Hidden People (like elves) that inhabit the rock, and if the rock is moved or their home destroyed, terrible things will happen. Obviously, Rakoff finds no evidence about the Hidden People, but he does interview a woman who claims to have them living with her in her house:

“One sits there, two are walking over here, one sits there. When she plays music they come. It attracts them.”

I am suddenly overcome with a completely inappropriate urge: the barely suppressed impulse to slam my hand down on the coffee table really, really hard, right where she’s pointing. [88]

I felt that this collection was more cohesive than Don’t Get Too Comfortable — but please don’t quote me, as it’s been at least four years since I read that one. There were a couple of places that made me laugh out loud, but only because I’m a pop culture moron: he attends a cultish weekend, and is told that lunch will begin with a blast from a conch shell, and I immediately yelled out “NEWS TEAM … ASSEMBLE.” He tells a story about this Greek ice cream shop he used to work at as a teenager, and the hired a French chef named … Benoît. [BALLS — thanks, Archer.] He mentions the plight of Kitty Geneovese, and I start reciting the Boondock Saints prayer.

Oh look, I’m about to tie the whole thing together! David Rakoff was this generation’s Addison De Witt. He may not have been a theatre critic, but he critiqued our culture, from the weird cults and the survivalists to Tokyo and Icelandic Hidden People. He tried to understand why those people believed what they did and he tried to indoctrinate himself, but his cynicism wouldn’t let him. Which is fine — my cynicism keeps me from believing lots of things. He has an acerbic wit that cuts to the core but also enlightens and reveals hidden depths in his words.

So dear Brad, I’m keeping this book. And Don’t Get Too Comfortable. And I’m going to buy his other book too, and I’ll also keep that. You may borrow them again; that’s cool.

But I really like his writing, and am still very sad that he’s gone too soon. You will be missed, David Rakoff. Very much.

And with that, I am caught up with my backlog. And also, I have internets at the new apartment, so I shouldn’t have to steal from Starbucks any longer. Huzzah!

Grade for Fraud: 4 stars