A Lit Major At The Movies: Saving Mr Banks (2013)

Saving Mr BanksReal-life stories are rarely as satisfying as made-up ones. This is, of course, a well-known fact. Life has a pesky habit of rejecting the basic tenets of any successful narrative, from plot and pacing to character.

Hardly surprising, then, that Disney’s 2013 film, Saving Mr. Banks, leans heavily to the side of fiction, rejecting the realities of life in an effort to turn the real story of the author P.L. Travers’ work with the folks at Disney to produce a movie version of her beloved book, Mary Poppins, into something lucrative.

As has been pointed out, inaccuracies (or, rather, blatant fictions) are rife in Saving Mr. Banks. Because it’s Disney, and because it’s the sort of film that parents need to be able to watch with their kids, there’s very little complexity to this movie. Continue reading

On Turning Your ‘Lit-Crit’ Brain Off

SculptureHeadIf you’re a lit major like me – or, indeed, if you’ve ever studied just about any subject in the humanities and/or the sciences – you’ll probably remember a moment some years back when you realised that you had two brains.

And no, I don’t mean literally, in a kind of futuristic space-agey way (let’s face it, one brain is often hard enough to keep track of, and you probably don’t know the meaning of the phrase ‘bad hair day’ until you’ve got two craniums to deal with). But if you’ve ever been involved in an area of prolonged study that requires you to think critically, to analyse, to dig for deeper meaning, then you’ve probably found that this kind of thinking begins to leak into your everyday life.

Suddenly every image, word, and sound is hiding something under its surface. A movie, a television advertisement, a newspaper article – it’s never just that. It’s a text just waiting to be deciphered, and you begin to approach every such text with the question, ‘what is this film / advert / cloying but frustratingly catchy pop song trying to make me think?’. And, perhaps more importantly, ‘am I going to let them make me think that?’. Continue reading

A Lit Major At The Movies: Mary Poppins (1964)

MaryPoppinsDisneyA few months ago I was supposed to read P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins, and then watch the film version. Well, I did one but not the other, so I’m here today to rectify that in a new segment that I like to call A Lit Major At The Movies, because I’m really not very creative when it comes right down to it.

Dancing penguins, nonsense words, and long song-and-dance numbers; it’s just typical mid-century fare from Disney. As a child I frequently saw advertisements for Mary Poppins. I knew how to say ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ as well as the next kiddie, and knew all I could ever care to know about A Spoon Full of Sugar, thank you very much.

So it’s hardly surprising that when I finally came to watch this film, so much of it felt familiar to me. From the sparkle in Julie Andrews’ eye to the weird cartoon landscapes and animated characters – there was a part of me that felt like I had seen it all before. And while there were parts of the film that were enjoyable (the chimneysweeps’ dance on the rooftops was a particular highlight), as an adaptation the film was more or less a complete failure. Continue reading

We Should All Be Feminists (2014), by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

weshouldallbefeministsNot that I really needed convincing, but a book entitled We Should All Be Feminists seemed like a pretty perfect place to begin my goal to read more feminist literature in 2015. And given that International Women’s Day was two weeks ago, I thought I’d go ahead and write a little about this essay. At only forty-eight pages, there’s really no excuse not to read this short piece, which considers some of the reasons why feminism is still required in today’s world.

The text is an adapted version of a speech that Adichie gave a while back; perhaps for that reason it feels formal but still personal. Adichie’s style is readable and intelligent, and at no point did I find myself disagreeing with anything that she said in this essay.

Adichie begins by considering the fact that the word ‘feminist’ carries a lot of baggage, and that people are reluctant to identify with it because it has so many negative connotations. Continue reading

Back From the Dead: Rebecca (1938), by Daphne du Maurier

rebeccadumaurierThis review contains some pretty big spoilers, so please watch out, especially in the second half of the review.

While I’m on the subject of Jane Eyre and creepy husbands, I thought I’d re-read Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. Based on Brontë’s classic, Rebecca tells the tale of an unnamed, penniless heroine who marries a rich widower and goes to live on his beautiful estate in the south of England, Manderley.

So far, so good. But for anyone looking for a nice, romantic story, Rebecca is most definitely not the book for you. Because it is, first and foremost, an incredibly creepy book. And it’s not the sort of book that sends a chill up the spine; no, it’s the kind of book whose creepiness hits you about twenty minutes after you’ve put it down, and you’ve already sat down to eat cereal. Continue reading

Romance, Heroes, and a Re-Reading of Jane Eyre

janeeyrePlease note: there are spoilers in the following paragraphs! If you haven’t read Jane Eyre yet – hang on, why haven’t you read Jane Eyre yet?

Towards the end of last year a strange feeling came over me. With two weeks before my final university assignments were due, in the madness of that final rush to the finish line, in the midst of research, re-writes, and late-night drafting sessions – I felt the strangest desire to re-read Jane Eyre.

At the time, I thought it was odd. Given the amount of reading I had to do for class, it seemed bizarre to me that I would want to add yet another book to my immense reading pile; although, granted, Jane Eyre was somewhat lighter and more enjoyable than my class-related reading, namely Freud For Kiddies (published by the Department for the Elucidation of Freudian Theories of Psychosexual Development, at the University of YouveGottaBeKiddingMe Press, MA, 2011) and The Complete and Absolutely In No Way Abridged, Explicated, or Rationalised Works of Jacques Lacan (University of KillMeNow Press, forthcoming).*

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How to Pick a Classic; Or, Canons and Anti-Canons

contemporary classicsThis month The Classics Club asked us to consider which books, published since the year 2000, we think will become classics in the future.

I’m going to try and be a little bit provocative here (or maybe just plain annoying, take your pick), and say that I honestly don’t know which books will become classics fifty or one hundred years from now. And I’ll go even further and say that it’s probably pointless to try and speculate today what people in the future will value, enjoy, and celebrate. Because let’s face it – it’s impossible to tell. If you’d told our straight-laced Victorian forbears (or, well, your straight-laced Victorian forbears, if you happen to be English) that in one hundred and thirty years everybody would be reading a book about kinky sex (50 Shades of Grey), or that one of ‘the’ modernist novels is about a self-obsessed Hungarian-Jewish-Irishman who masturbates in public and thinks about food a lot (Ulysses), they probably would have quivered from their toes all the way to their big black hats.

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Top Ten Book-Related Problems

rippedpages

We all love books here, but even books are not without their problems. Delayed publication dates, e-reader mishaps, and pages ripped out of library books – I kind of feel like I’ve seen it all when it comes to book-related crimes.

This week, the folks behind The Broke and the Bookish asked us to list our top ten book-related problems, a topic that I can definitely get on board with.

So here goes….

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My Seriously Belated List of 2015 Reading Resolutions; Or, Why I Suck At Making Resolutions

BalloonHey everybody, did you know it’s February already? I certainly didn’t. Sadly, this is not because I spent the entire holiday season sitting on a beach somewhere with an incredibly attractive, shirtless young man, sipping tropical cocktails and wearing an appropriate level of sunblock.

No, once again a lethal combination of personal qualities – laziness, love of food, and a tendency to procrastination – combined with a number of other events – namely an existential crisis brought on by the realisation that I had no idea what to do with my life now that I had finished university – to create an atmosphere of relaxation punctuated by moments of blinding panic as the old year wound to a close and 2015 took over. Also, I really got into Battlestar Galactica. Continue reading