Saturday, September 29, 2007

The spoils of victory

From the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library Annual Big Book Sale:

The Annotated Alice, by Lewis Carroll (intro and notes by Martin Gardner)
Amsterdam, by Ian McEwan
Good in Bed, by Jennifer Weiner
Winner of the National Book Award, by Jincy Willett
The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Buck in the Snow and Other Poems, by Edna St. Vincent Millay
A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, by David Foster Wallace
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, by Michael Chabon
The Best of Adair Lara (for my mother)
Love, Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli (for a friend)

Being a book vulture is hard work, you guys. So much standing! So much scanning of tables and tables and boxes and boxes of books! Everything was organized by genre but not by author, which was doable for everything but fiction--thousands of volumes, completely at random. There was also a surprising lack of pre-1970s 20th-century fiction, which is my favorite book-sale genre; we seemed to skip from around Anna Karenina straight to the Oprah period. It was surprising. I guess that's the stuff people give away, though: classics and pop lit they're never going to read again (SO many copies of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason!). I also didn't see a single copy of David Copperfield, which isn't 20th-century, obviously, but I was looking for it just the same.

I'm pretty pleased with my takings, though, especially the Edna St. Vincent Millay--it's a perfect, clean little hardback from 1928, clearly old but not cheesy. I love it. I was in the poetry section looking for that bright pink book of Pablo Neruda's love poems--you know the one I mean? I've been eyeing it for years but I'm always a little embarrassed to buy it, being...a bright pink book of Pablo Neruda's love poems--and there it was. I also ditched quite a few books I was on the fence about, but I feel pretty confident about what actually made it into the final collection.

Books aside (!), today was essentially the perfect day in San Francisco. I get that California doesn't have seasons like other places have seasons, but I wish everybody could experience October in the Bay Area just once, just to see how fantastically beautiful it is--we don't really have the changing leaves, but there's a quality to the light and the air that is clear and warm and golden and just about perfect. After the sale, my friends and I went next door to Greens for lunch, and the Golden Gate Bridge was right there, and the water was all green and Alcatraz looked like it was within spitting distance (not that anybody spits at Greens; it's genteel like that). You couldn't make up San Francisco in the fall. Or the "fall." Whatever you want to call it.

Now I'm going to go make some shelf space for the new collection. Welcome, books!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

What I'm Watching, v. 2.0

September in California isn't much like fall anywhere else, but I can feel the change of seasons in my bones. Maybe it's all the apples at the farmer's market. I wore pants and long sleeves to crew practice last night. Or maybe it's just because of that age-old ritual, the pre-fall Tivo clean-out. I'm in the process of making space on my 40-hour machine(!) for the barrage to come--can I really bear to delete the Gilmore Girls finale, even though I haven't re-watched it?--and thinking about my schedule for the season. I lost a couple of shows last year, leaving me with a reasonably empty plate, but I also picked up some newer shows over the summer. And then there's an entire Christian boo-fay of new stuff. I'm spoiled for choice.

I re-read last year's pre-season TV post, and it seems that things are far less settled now than last season--I'm trying out more shows, but I know less about them and I'm less assured of what's going to be good. There's a lot more herd influence going on this year, and I'll probably end up giving up on a lot of them (or seeing a few cancellations). Either way, this is what I'm looking at:

Already Watching:

Bones
Tuesday, 8 p.m., FOX
Premiere: September 25
Premise: A socially awkward forensic anthropologist and her hottie FBI partner solve murders using the victims' skeletons. Grossness, hilarity, and meaningful glances ensue.
Why do I always feel the need to explain my relationship with this show? Here's the truth: the writing on Bones is not the best. It's not the worst, either, but it's sometimes awkward and obvious and just kind of...lacking in finesse. But you know what? I really, really like it anyway. I should stop apologizing for it. It's a pretty show about pretty people solving crimes, and it cracks me up. Basically, it's a triumph of casting, chemistry, and cinematography over a mediocre script, and I am more than okay with that. And anyway, now that we're starting season 3: Did Angela and Hodgins run away and get married? Did Zach ("ZaaaachAddy!") go to Iraq and get shot? Will Booth and Brennan realize their love and be 2getha 4eva? And will poor Cam EVER get her own storyline? So much intrigue!

30 Rock
Thursday, 8:30 p.m., NBC
Premiere: October 4
Premise: Tina Fey plays herself, only single. (A behind-the-scenes look at the life of a female head writer on a sketch comedy show.)
Maybe if I say this really fast, it won't feel so mean: 30Rockisgreatbutdidn'tdeservetheBestComedySeriesEmmy;TheOfficeisabettershowandshouldhavewon. There. That said, I really do love 30 Rock, and I stand by it as the best true sitcom out there. I also intend to continue watching it in forever in my quest to be Tina Fey when I grow up. So: Watch it. It's silly and well-written and I look forward to it every week. (Also re-watches well, especially while knitting.)

The Office
Thursday, 9:00, NBC
Premiere: September 27
Premise: The everyday trials of working in an office full of...regular people. Steve Carell is in charge. 'Nuff said.
I have a hard time explaining why this show is so great, but that's only because it DEFIES WORDS. Every time I think it's gone all touchy-feely happy-happy on us, I happen upon some scene that leaves me stranded on the couch in fetal position, peering through my fingers (I recently watched the beginning of "Women's Appreciation." It was a near-death experience). The Office feels, to me, like a higher form of TV--it's characterization and dialogue and joy and heartbreak and hilarity and non-reality reality in a way that other shows can't even fathom. It's one of those shows that I believe has changed the face of TV and will continue to do so. It's just that good. WATCH IT. It will make you laugh. And cry. And have hope for humanity, or at least for comedy writers, even though they're sometimes terrible people.

Friday Night Lights
Friday, 9:00, NBC
Premiere: October 5
Premise: A small town in Texas is obsessed with its championship high school football team. DRA-MA.
NBC is so sure new viewers will fall in love with this show that they're offering a money-back guarantee on the first-season DVDs. It's a pretty cracked-out business model, but for FNL, it's not a bad idea--I have yet to meet a single viewer who doesn't love it in an ridiculous way. The thing to remember here is that this is not a show about football. This is a show about people who interact because of football, but it's about life in a small town, about friends and families and boyfriends and girlfriends and husbands and wives, and then occasionally there's a game. But football is never the point, here. The people are the point, which is the hallmark of good TV from where I'm standing.

New and worth a shot:

Chuck
Monday, 8:00, NBC
Premiere: September 24
Premise: Action-comedy in which a regular guy accidentally gains access to sooper-sekrit government documents. I think I read that he somehow downloaded them to his brain? I don't know.
Could...be fun? I've heard good things from people who've watched the premiere on NBC.com. So basically I'm going with the herd, here.

Reaper
Tuesday, 9:00, CW
Premiere: September 25
Premise: A young man learns that his parents sold his soul to the devil, and now he has to be the devil's personal assistant.
Like Dead Like Me, only on network TV. I'd be skeptical except that it's a Kevin Smith creation, and Tim Goodman loved it. And I do what Tim Goodman tells me to.

Pushing Daisies
Wednesday, 8:00, ABC
Premiere: October 3
Premise: A guy can touch dead things and bring them back to life...once. If he touches them again, they die permanently.
Another death show? This one sounds hokey, but it's probably the most critically-acclaimed new show out there. It's by the guy who did Wonderfalls, which everyone (and by "everyone" I mean "TV geeks," but there are kind of a lot of us) loved and which lasted approximately 3.6 seconds on TV. We'll see if this one sticks; I hope so. I like quirky TV.

Maybe if they sweet-talk me:

Aliens in America
Monday, 8:30, NBC
Premiere: October 1
Premise: A family takes in a Pakistani exchange student so their nerdy son will have at least one friend.
A half-hour show on the CW doesn't make me want to jump up and down, but 1) it's getting some good press--Tim Goodman liked it, anyway--and 2) Scott Patterson (Luke from Gilmore Girls) is in it. So it gets a chance, at least. I think.

Bionic Woman
Wednesday, 9:00, NBC
Premiere: September 26
Premise: ...The Bionic Woman
I just don't know about this.

Dirty Sexy Money
Wednesday, 10:00, ABC
Premiere: September 26
Premise: Peter Krause is a good-guy lawyer trying to deal with the bad-guy family of clients he's inherited from his father.
The title and the ABC-at-nightness turn me off of this one, but producer Greg Berlanti's involvement and my Sports Night/Casey McCall crush on Peter Krause require me to at least check it out.

Before anybody starts worrying about my mental and physical health, please know that I'm not actually planning to watch all of these shows. This is the pre-tryouts roster; some of them are sure to wash out before we've even finished warm-ups. (And now, see? I'm watching too much Friday Night Lights.)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Booklessness

I'm out of things to read.

Usually, I get to the last fifty pages of one book and I'm already eyeing something else, but somehow I was genuinely surprised to finish The Portable Dorothy Parker even as I was counting down the pages. Now I'm feeling kind of disoriented--I think there were books I was planning to read after Dorothy, but I don't really remember what they were. East of Eden, maybe? Anyway, they all sound wrong.

Now I'm carrying around a bunch of books about books, because if I can't find something appropriate, I can always read about other people's reading. In the past two days I've been dipping in and out of 84 Charing Cross Road, The Polysyllabic Spree (Nick Hornby's collection of his book reviews/essays on reading for The Believer), and Book Lust, Nancy Pearl's eminent book of book recommendations. It's nice, light reading, but I have to say that it kind of emphasizes that I'm uncommitted at the moment. I find this unnerving.

Christine's going to bring me her copy of Jasper Fforde's Lost in a Good Book, even though I didn't love The Eyre Affair. It actually sounds pretty appropriate right now, though--it's quick, it's fiction, and it's about the books I was meaning to read before I forgot how to read (Miss Havisham! I love Miss Havisham!). After that, I have the vague idea that maybe I should read David Copperfield. So maybe that's it. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Just don't know what to do with mysel-el-elf

I was on the couch after work today, reading Dorothy Parker's letter to playwright John Patrick, when I turned the page and found...the index.

I finished The Portable Dorothy Parker.

I never intended to read this book all in one go; it's so big ("portable," ha!) and so long and so short-fiction-y that I thought it would be a dip-in-and-out kind of read. But then I found myself taken in by the short stories--a rare thing for me--and zipping through the verse sections, and here I am six weeks later, done already. And it does feel like an "already"; I know I've been reading the same book for a long time, but it still felt like a bit of a surprise to actually finish. I was enjoying the leisurely read. It was like she was telling me all about herself.

In fact, what surprised me most and touched me most about TPDP is the sense of her as a character--as a woman--that develops in her work. I first read Parker in ninth-grade English, when we read some of her sarcastic poetry. Her verses ("I cannot say poems," she says later on) establish her as a great wit, and they're good for sucking people in: they're short and sharp and accessible. But I was surprised to find Dorothy Parker the person in all of it: she's boy-crazy and disturbed by her own lack of will power; she's smart but sees the liability in being a "girl who wear(s) glasses." Men distress her, but so do women. (The men in her stories are cads, but I was surprised and pleased to find that the women aren't any better; they're flighty and uncertain, and they let the men act the way they do.) Sometimes she's heartbreaking (and heartbroken); sometimes she's hilarious; often she's both at the same time. It all comes together into a surprisingly unified portrait of a woman who's a little bit disgusted, not only by the people around her, but by her own tendencies.

The last third of the book is a collection of DP's work for Vogue, Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker, along with a few other magazines. My feeling about this section can best be summed up by her review/rant on Dashiell Hammett: "It is true that he is so hard-boiled you could roll him on the White House lawn," she says. "And it is also true that he is a good, hell-bent, cold-hearted writer, with a clear eye for the ways of hard women and a fine ear for the ways of hard men, and his books are exciting and powerful and--if I may filch the word from the booksy ones--pulsing. It is difficult to conclude and outburst like this. All I can say is that anybody who doesn't read him misses much of modern America. And hot that sounds! Dashiell Hammett is as American as a sawed-off shotgun. He is as immediate as a special extra. Brutal he is, but his brutality, for what he must write, is clean and necessary, and there is in his work none of the smirking and swaggering savageries of a Hecht or a Bodenheim. He does his readers the infinite courtesy of allowing them to supply descriptions and analyses for themselves. He sets down only what his characters say, and what they do. It is not, I suppose, any too safe a recipe for those who cannot create characters; but Dashiell Hammett can and does and has and, I hope, will."

Isn't that fantastic? She is passionate and specific and she's so well-spoken that it kind of makes me want to never write a review again (she says, as she types away at her review. So meta!) The reviews in the last section are reviews of people who are still famous, without the filter of history. She's writing about her contemporaries and her friends, and it's fantastic. They're lighter than the fiction, but still with a very specific voice. They make me want to use "I" in (non-blog) reviews, just because she does. She shares a little more of herself consciously in her non-fiction writing. And she is, of course, charming and clever on a constant basis. In all, a pleasure.

I feel like I got so much more out of TPDP than I expected; she feels a bit like an old friend now, and I suspect I'll have to come visit her every now and then. She's not particularly joyful, but I'd consider her a joy.

Now. What next?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Progress, or Knitters *Heart* the Internets

So, there's this website, Ravelry. It's a community/social site for knitters: there are friends and groups, finished-object galleries, patterns-to-knit lists, a yarn-stash database capability, and I don't even know what else. You can search other people's work by pattern (see all finished photos of a particular pattern), by yarn (see all finished photos of items knit from a particular yarn), or, I don't know, alphabetical by needle size. Legend has it that Ravelry will knit on your projects while you sleep, so you get through them faster. (It doesn't make mistakes.) It is, by all accounts, a big rollicking yarn-y party and possibly the Best Thing Ever. There is much raving over Ravelry in the knitting world.

The site is still in beta, so the creators set up a waiting list for invitations before it goes live to the general public. I signed up a few weeks ago and I've been using the handy-dandy "check your place in line!" feature to see where I am.

Last week? 18,000-some people ahead of me, plus the 11,000 who've already received their invitations.

Today? 17,070 people are ahead of me. 3,065 people signed up after me.

Apparently, the revolution will have yarn and needles.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Curses! Foiled again!

Oh no! It's the 12th. And I forgot.

Never mind, though; I can fill you in on the details as they will probably transpire:

7:00 Wake up (that's a picture, right there)
7:52 Leave for work
8:04 Arrive at work
*Edit, edit, edit*
1:00 Lunchtime! Plus a few minutes with The Portable Dorothy Parker, for sanity
*Edit, edit, edit*
4:40 Booorn freeeeee, as free as the wiiiind blowwwwwwws....
*Snack, Cinema Hype, Daily Show*
6:00 Chris picks me up for crew practice
*Row, row, row*
8:15 Home again! Shower, dinner, couch. Script. Bones.
11:30 Bed. Whew!

(Why does 12 of 12 so often fall on the most boring days? Perhaps that's half the point. People's regular, mundane lives.)

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Status report

Well, that's a relief.

I sat down last night with the film outline, just to get a feel for it, and ended up with a couple of pages of dialogue. I don't think I'll ever get over that sensation: sitting down with nothing and having the scenes just show up like that. It's so bizarre. I can't say whether it's any good or not--that's a decision for another time--but it's not a blank screen, and that what counts.

So: Liz 1, Emptybrain 0. Woot!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Danger, Will Robinson!



Meet Manuel. Manuel (pronounced "Mon-WELL," with the proper accent and a little wiggle of the hips) is my new sewing machine, a birthday present from my mom so I won't have to spend the entire day at her house every time I want a new set of (adorable) pillowcases. I think we are going to be fast friends, Manuel and I. We spent some time on Monday getting acquainted, and I already ended up with a little drawstring bag for my sunglasses. It matches my pillowcases. Just like I always wanted! A pillowcase-and-sunglass-case set!

I can already see the (delicious) pitfalls of being able to sew whatever and whenever I want. My mom had suggested recently that I try moving beyond square things (novel!), and in a fit of "I have a new sewing machine hooray hooray" enthusiasm, I stopped by Stone Mountain and Daughter yesterday after work. I had a plan, see: when I moved cubicles at work, I ended up with one of my filing cabinets over in the corner with its top surface exposed. It's ugly. It's black and brown and kind of unfinished on the edges. I wanted to sew an oversized placemat for the top and maybe put some flowers on it. Cheerful, right? I went in to buy a 16 x 23-inch piece of fabric for my filing-cabinet cover/Hagrid-sized placemat. That's it.

I came out with two patterns, three quarter-yards of fabric, a yard of interfacing, two zippers, and a spool of brown thread. I've been owned by the fabric store, you guys! There are entirely too many pretty things there with entirely too much potential. I didn't even buy the materials for the skirt; I figure I can master the little purses and then move on to clothes. Also, everyone loves a girl in an A-line skirt! A few for summer, a few for winter, a few just for fun? So, you know, it's practical. DUH.

And you know what the best part is? I forgot to get fabric for the filing cabinet. Maybe I can make it an A-line skirt and some purse-lets instead.

For Your Consideration

Have I mentioned the news about the movie? No? Well, here it is:

I'm co-writing a short film.

My friend Tim recently offered me the chance to co-write a short for his film school application, and see how we work together. He had some ideas for a romantic comedy, he said, but he wanted help turning his brainstorm into a script. I got the outline this morning, and I haven't looked at it yet. But it's there, sitting in my in-box, waiting.

This entire situation is, of course, absolutely thrilling and absolutely terrifying. It's a great opportunity, a chance to write something that will actually get made. Honestly, I can't wait. It also means that somebody else is depending on my writing, which is basically nightmare material. (Perhaps, if I want to write professionally, I ought to get over that?) I just have to keep telling myself that my instincts will kick in, even if the thought of writing an original script sends them running for the exits, along with my storytelling skills and my sense of humor. It's all there, and I know that. I just need to sit down and be very quiet for awhile, and see what comes up.

If you need me, I'll be on the couch, staring at my laptop.