Tuesday, March 20, 2012

25/50: 2 Books and A Movie

Well for once I have more books to talk about in an entry than movies. Will wonders ever cease?

Sundays With Vlad by Paul Bibeau (3/25 Books)
Not that it really matters but I should mention that even though Paul and I have never met, we are Facebook friends and I have been friends with his cousin since high school. That being said, his book is an amazing intersection between pop cultural and historical nerdery. Patton Oswalt once said, and I am paraphrasing here, that everyone is a nerd for something, whether that is someone who is super into sports and sports statistics or maybe you are heavily into jazz, everyone is a nerd for something. Paul's book proves it as he plunges headlong into the connections, if any, between Vlad the Impaler (the historical Dracula, I guess you could day) and the Dracula of literature, and how vampires and vampire lore has spun out in a thousand different directions. Along the way he meets a rogue's gallery of historians, archivists, goths, psychic vampires, to the lady who invented Count Chocula, to the people that used to work at the Castle Dracula attraction in Wildwood, New Jersey, he spends his times with historians and collectors of old letters among stack upon stack of old books and manuscripts. The book is bookended by two trips: in the first he goes, on his honeymoon of all times, and tries to find the "real" Castle Dracula in Romania, the Vlad the Impaler one, and in the second he follows the trail of Jonathan Harker, the protaganist from Bram Stoker's Dracula as he takes the route he took through Hungary and Transylvania to the fictional Dracula's castle. It's really entertaining, like across between Sarah Vowell and Bill Bryson.

One aside: this isn't a big part of the book or anything, but Paul mentions, like I said, going on his honeymoon and trying to find Vlad The Impaler's castle in some small, out-of-the-way place in Romania. This made me think two things: how sometimes the significant other of the history nerd (or otherwise obsessed) always seems to get dragged along on some quest to see something or other. I've done it to my own wife, not out in Romania (yet) but I've done it. When I got my history degree (pause to be impressed) I wrote to my favorite teacher from high school, my history teacher, to tell him thanks for instilling that love of history in me. He wrote me back and in part of the letter described how he had just come back from vacation and had made his wife go see something or other, I want to say Roosevelt's grave but I know he's been there before. On the same note, and my single friends will roll their eyes at this, but I have to say, it is so important, and it is awesome when it happens, when you meet someone who just does not give a shit and will indulge you (and hopefully vice versa) in all the weird (and possibly annoying) stuff that you're into.

Another "It's A Small World" Aside: I actually sent Paul a note about this, but a truly weird thing happened when I was reading his book, but among the chapter talking about the people who deal in old manuscripts and letters and what not is a small half paragraph about someone I actually knew. Well, it has probably been a good twenty years since I had seen him, but judging by where he was located, and, well his name, I figured out it was the same guy. He was a guy who was a neighbor of a good friend's cabin in Truro, Mass who, oddly, we had had beach cookouts with, and he was an interesting storyteller. It was just weird to run across him so many years later even though, sadly, he has passed away probably about 13 years ago.

Oh and you can check out some of Paul's other writing at his blog

Also, I'm not sure if I got a different edition of the book, but when looking for an image to display I happened upon this other cover which is pretty cool.

The Remarkable Intruder by Peter Swanson (4/25 Books)
I'm sure, since everyone who reads this commits everything I write to memory you'll remember that I mentioned when I wrote about Game Change which was a television movie, not a theatrically released movie, I can make up my own rules. That's right! Just try and stop me. Well the same goes here for The Remarkable Intruder which is an online published novella written by friend and coworker Peter Swanson. In his introduction (incidentally that's on his own blog, which is also worth a look) He mentions how he feels that often times the novella is a better vehicle for a mystery story, given it's length, it doesn't allow for the story to get too stretched out over, say, 200 or so, pages (he puts it better but that's sort of the gist) And I have to admit, I see his point. Just from talking to him today, it's nice to have the author work down the hallway from you, he mentioned that he was going for a lightly comic mystery story. I think he achieves it here, it moves at a brisk pace, and I am not sure if he is planning on using these characters again but the two main characters, Miles and Tommy, are really great. They are two best friends whose tastes are sort of "out of time" so to speak, they drink the same drinks as Cary Grant orders in North By Northwest, and they play the sort of Sherlock and Watson archetype. Miles is the brains, and Tommy is sort of the William Powell-esque man-about-town. It's a quick read with a nice twist. I personally would love to see more from Tommy and Miles.  Like I said, check out his blog  and also his website for some more of his short stories and some more of his writing. (In fact he is working on a series of sonnets based on all of Alfred Hitchcock's movies.)

Young Adult (2011) (20/50 movies)
After Juno, which I thoroughly hated, and after fifteen minutes of Jennifer's Body, I thought I was done with Diablo Cody. (Seriously, the only good thing about watching Juno was reminding what a good song "Expectations" by Belle and Sebastian was) And I am prepared to hate her again for her remake of The Evil Dead. But there was always something about Young Adult that made me set aside my prejudice against Diablo Cody, maybe it was the fact that Patton Oswalt was in it, maybe it was the fact that the original movie poster (below) was pretty awesome. There was something about it. And then when it came out people seemed to really enjoy it. Now, having seen it I will say, that, while not a home run, it was waaaay better than I thought it would be given it's pedigree, and it is easily the best thing Diablo Cody has written, although since I hated her before maybe that's damning with faint praise coming from me, but this dark comedy shows a lot more sophistication than what she was putting out before. Charliza Theron plays the titular young adult ghost writer who writes books for a Sweet Valley High type book series, who comes back to her hometown, where she was the popular girl, to try to win back her old flame. I know judging by that description it sounds like a thousand other movies, but it does not go the way you think it is going to go, and, really, the character shows no signs of actually learning anything along the way. This is almost what Friends With Kids could have been if they didn't play it so safe. Oh, and Patton Oswalt is a revelation here has a poor dork who had an unfortunate  accident in high school and himself has never been able to move on himself after an unfortunate accident in high school. Let's just say they become unlikely, I don't friends might be too strong a word, allies? partners? Anyway, it's well worth your time, Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt are really good. Patrick Wilson has made a cottage industry for himself playing harried suburban fathers.


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