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6.29.2009

SHAMEFUL BOOKFEST ENTRY #5: Octavian Nothing



I did it. I finally finished my Shameful Bookfest.

After determining there was no way I could possibly finish M.T. Anderson's The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party (greatest. title. ever.) by the end of my May deadline, the partially-read novel . . . well, languished on my nightstand.

After all, there were adventure-romances about people with multicolored eyes and a special talent for butt-kicking that required my immediate attention:


LOVED.


Not to mention a serious and uncontrollable desire to reread Meg Cabot's entire Princess Diaries series. (I love those books so much, you guys, it makes me want to carve Mia + Michael = 4EVA into trees.)

And I had to join the Sarah Dessen Challenge.

So surely you can understand why a large and imposing novel about the horrors of slavery got a little buried for awhile. Right? Right. Which brings me to my first confession:

I almost returned this book to the library without finishing it, like, a dozen times.

Because here's the thing about
Octavian — it's difficult.

Though The Book Thief was more difficult for me emotionally, Octavian is just plain HARD. And there is a tiny (embarrassing) part of me that does not like hard things. This part is much happier when it's sipping sparkling blueberry juice, painting its fingernails glittery red, and re-reading The Princess Bride for the dozenth time.

[Side note: If you love the film The Princess Bride and have yet to read the novel, you MUST. I joke about it, because it's a fun and easy read, but it's also completely and utterly brilliant and filled with commentary that is VERY, VERY FUNNY, especially if you just-so-happened to be an English major.]

So, naturally, this part of me wasn't thrilled to pick back up something that it knew was written in a challenging style (pseudo-18th century, classically educated, and smacking of Reason). This part really wanted to shove Octavian in the library drop-box and get back to the love stories.

But this part also knew that the whole point of my Shameful Bookfest was to read novels that were shaming me professionally. Books that I believed were important to be familiar with as a young adult novelist. And I knew if I returned Octavian, my guilt at NOT having read it would only grow.

And I also knew that the longer it sat on my nightstand, the more likely I'd have to re-read those first forty pages. Plus, it was overdue.

These, therefore, were my motivating factors: Guilt, Dread, and Thrift.

I have never claimed to be a role model.

Now, a quick catchup for those of you unfamiliar with the plot. It's set during the start of the American Revolution, and it's about a black teenager (Octavian) who has been raised in the house of a group of scientists and philosophers who call themselves The Novanglian College of Lucidity. These are men who believe in reasoning so strongly that they no longer see actual reason. And they have kept Octavian in their house as an experiment to prove that people of African decent are lesser than people of European decent.

Yes. We're talking about a Serious and Depressing Subject Matter. Which brings me to my second confession:

Until the last hour of reading, I had no plans whatsoever to read Volume Two.

I clearly saw that this was Well-Written, Respectable, and Important, but I also thought enough was enough.

Until.

Until I reached the climax, and discovered I was wrong. This book is about slavery in any time period. Like, right now. It's about human rights, freedom, and the true meaning of the word "liberty" (particularly as it relates to our often misguided representations of history).

This book is flat-out monumental.


And I'm definitely reading Volume Two.


Though I still find it hard to say, "Yes yes yes. You MUST all read this novel," because, yeah, it's not fun. And, for me at least, I still believe the primary function of a novel is entertainment. (I DO believe novels should teach us things, but I believe that this capacity is best served in a way that's not, well, boring. Or preachy. Not that this book is either, but it's not exactly a rollicking good time.)

But, having said that . . . yeah. It is worth the effort.

And you should read it.

6.24.2009

Five Things I Love: June Edition

Rinko Kikuchi


Recently I went with some dear friends to see The Brothers Bloom, a story about con artists trying to pull off that one last job. Plot-wise, I'd say it was three stars — good ideas, but the execution had a few holes. Acting-wise, a solid five stars, which was to be expected with a cast including Adrien Brody, Rachel Weisz, Mark Ruffalo, Robbie Coltrane, AND the lovely Rinko Kikuchi (best known to Americans as the deaf-mute teenager in Babel), who nearly stole the show out from everyone.

But stylistically? Is it okay with you guys if I break the unspoken rule?

Because this was definitely worthy of SIX shiny, shiny stars.

This film was gorgeous. The lighting, camera angles, locations — Prague! Greece! St. Petersburg! And the most beautiful element of all? Yeah, I'll say it.

The clothes.

My friends and I could not get over the wardrobe. Heck, I'm still not over it, two weeks later. It kinda makes me want to make out with the costume designer, Beatrix Aruna P√°sztor (who, according to IMDB, also did the sumptuous costumes for Vanity Fair).

Let's take a moment to appreciate her good work, shall we?


Hello, pleahz do not breathe on new suit. Iz vurry expensive.


You like coats? Dey are worf more than your first born childrens.


Oh hi. I have most beautiful gloves and glasses and hat. I like your flip-flops. Snert.


You did not receive invitation to P. Diddy's annual white party? Fer shame.


Ha! Ha! Ha! We are so well dressed! Everyone else looks like beans beside us. Ugly leetle beans.


You enjoy my hat? Only exceptionally wealthy could possi-blee pull off, so sorry.


It's all very Sartorialist, no? Happy sigh. The pretties, the pretties.

Quickie list of other things I'm loving right now:


(2) Gummy Sour Candy


Because sometimes it's not about want, it's about need.


(3) Radiohead's Com Lag (2Plus2isFive) — a surprise gift from Best Husband Ever, Jarrod. How did I not know this existed? Where was my memo?!


Droooool. GENIUS.


(4) Sarah Dessen, fellow North Carolinian and author of brilliant summer reads. Yes, there are cute boys in her novels. And also intelligent writing and real characters. And cute boys.


Never read her? Try one of these first!


(5) The Tudors — I enjoyed watching the first season last winter, and now I'm indulging in season two. LOVE. THIS. SHOW. The screenwriters have stayed close to the historical record (this is one of my favorite periods to study), and the acting is superb.


Plus, fancy costumes. And steamy-steamy illicit love.


I'm looking forward to season three, when Henry will get more disgusting and Cromwell will get more desperate and more people will lose their heads for dumb reasons.

What are you loving right now?

6.16.2009

HCB (Hot Cartoon Boys)



So I was just thinking about Trent Lane from Daria.

Do you remember him?

Of course you do. Because he was TOTALLY HOT.

I know I'm not the only girl who grooved on that deep sleepy voice and those armband tattoos. I've always found it a wee unfair that the world is filled with billions of smoking hot cartoon chicks, but seriously lacking in hot cartoon boys. Most of them are so beefy. And superhero-y.

Which is fun and great and all, but not exactly boyfriend material, you know?

And I know it's weird to be talking about hot cartoon characters, but whatever. Like that's ever stopped me before! I mean, my first crush EVER on ANYONE was a cartoon character:


Stephanie's First Love


What can I say, Robin Hood was . . . a fox! (Cough. Snort.) And I so wanted to be Maid Marian. I wanted to dance with him surrounded by fireflies in Sherwood Forest, and I wanted to kiss him and marry him and live happily ever after.

And I wanted to borrow his cool pointy green shoes. And his hat.

To this day, I still have a peculiar obsession with Robin Hood. I'll watch any adaption, and I have a shelf filled with scholarly texts. I wonder what that says about me?

Anyway.

As far as other animal cartoon crushes go, once upon a time I also had it bad for Wordsworth from Heathcliff and the Catillac Cats. Remember him? He had roller skates and headphones and talked in rhyme? (No? Just me?)


To be frank, not nearly as hot as I remember.


I also had a thing for Shaggy from Scooby Doo.


Him? (Arrested Development voice.)


Shaggy is the third guy here wearing green. Significant?

Probably, because I also loved Peter Pan.


This Peter was slightly less gender-bending than most.


As an adult, I think the only cartoon(ish) character who made me sit up straight was Victor in Corpse Bride. Surprisingly, he isn't skinny nor is he dressed in green. And I like him anyway! It was this scene that did it for me:





A piano-playing, stop-motion Johnny Depp? Of course I love!

But still. Trent.


Trent.


He was unusual, wasn't he? I tried to find a cool video of him, for anyone not of the Daria generation, but there weren't many to choose from. (Darn those copyrights.) This one made me laugh though:





So let's open the comments to silliness. What cartoon characters make YOU swoon? (If there are any guys still reading this — and if there are, bless you, I love you — feel free to speak up about which cartoon ladies you dig! I, for one, think that esurance girl is a babe.)

6.14.2009

Part Two: THE LEAKYCON

Despite being a month dated, this post feels appropriate as my husband — as Gred & Forge — is currently in the final week of his summer tour. If you love to read, love to rock, and live near one of the following cities:


6/15 — Dayton, Ohio
6/16 — Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
6/17 — New York City
6/19 — Norwood, Massachusetts (plus Harry and the Potters — 500th show!, The Whomping Willows, & Pottercast)


you should check it out! (All dates are with The Remus Lupins. More information here.) And for anyone who doesn't know what WIZARD ROCK is, you might want to read this post before continuing. Otherwise, this will just sound weird.

Weird-er.

And slightly confusing.

So Part One concerned Boston itself, but the real reason we were in town was for LeakyCon, a gigantic Harry Potter conference organized by The Leaky Cauldron, the most popular HP news website. Three days of programing, each capped off by a HUGE wrock show. Shows that my husband had been invited to play.


Why did the wizards cross the road?


To get to the FRIGGIN' CASTLE!


Can you believe?? The only way the setting could have been more perfect was if it took place in JK's actual Scottish castle. And if you think the outside was amazing, check out the inside:

[The following pictures were grabbed from Flickr & Facebook. I snatched so many that I lost track of who took what. So if you've wandered here and found YOURS, please leave a comment, so I can give you credit! And thank you for letting me borrow your pics. Mine were terrible.]


THE GREAT HALL! Complete with house banners!


Ooo, pretty lights!


Major props to the Leaky staff. The atmosphere was perfect for a wizard party. For the first few hours, we all just walked around with our jaws hanging open. What I loved so much about the entire weekend was how inspiring it was to be immersed in this highly unusual community of people who are genuinely enthused about not only a fantastic work of literature (all of this for a series of BOOKS!), but also about making the world better and being just plain kind to one another.

HP fans are the nicest, warmest, friendliest people I know. There's no way I could count the number of hugs, smiles, and well-wishes I exchanged. And in this culture where kindness as a virtue is far too often overlooked, it was a welcome reminder that GOOD PEOPLE are out there.

LOTS of good people.

I'd seen all (but one) of these bands several times before, but every single musician took their performance to — and it sounds way cheesy, but it's true! — a new level. I mean, previous levels of awesomeness were SHATTERED. And hundreds of people sang and danced and HAD FUN, without that uncomfortable pressure to fit in or look cool that normally comes with listening to live music.

Amazing.

The first night in the castle was Evil Night. Swish and Flick, Justin Finch-Fletchley (not evil, but awesome!), The Parselmouths, and Draco and the Malfoys.


Swish and Flick with the sweetest mic ev-ah.


Draco and the Malfoys went bluegrass for the night!


The next day, I attended two of the convention's keynote events, a Nerdfighters party with John and Hank Green, and a discussion about writing and editing with John Green and Cheryl Klein. Their talk was definitely a highlight for me. These are SMART PEOPLE, you guys. Two of my favorite ideas, paraphrased from their talk:

— "Because I wrote it that way" is never a good enough reason to keep something [in the editing process].

— We have a responsibility to tell true stories. We can't lie about the brokenness of the world, but we also have to show hope, and that people have a responsibility to fight that brokenness. (John)


SMART PEOPLE. (One of the pics I took. See how blurry?)


Silly me forgot to get a picture with John, but it was very very exciting to meet him again because:

(A) I'm a gigantoid, gushing fan . . . though hopefully at least semi-under control in person.

and

(B) Now we share the same editor! WOO HOO! (I still have no idea how I swung that. Mystery of the Universe.)

Also, I'd just like to add that you know those kind, friendly, genuine, fun people I was just talking about? John is totally one of them.

I was also fortunate enough to meet another favorite author, Maureen Johnson. Maureen was a huuuuge part of why my agent, Kate Schafer Testerman, was/is my dream agent. But I was dumb here too — another forgotten photo opportunity! I only talked to Maureen for a quick moment, but she was also very nice.

And wearing killer boots.

Friday night, and it was back to the castle for more music. It was ROCK NIGHT. Tonks and the Aurors, Gred and Forge (yaaaaaaaaaay!), The Whomping Willows, and Harry and the Potters.


Squeeee! His big finale! My husband ROCKED.


I've never been so proud of Jarrod. He was incredible. It was so surreal, so thrilling to hear the crowd singing along to words HE wrote.

I grinned from ear-to-ear the entire show.

Here's the video of the final song, with his wrocker pals onstage with him. He's singing "Brotherly Love," a very naughty song! I wish you could see how big the crowd was, but the person who filmed this was pretty close to the front. There were TONS of people there. (I wish the sound quality of the video was a little better/fuller too, but whattaya gonna do?)





And I heart this picture of Jarrod and Justin (of JFF), because you can tell they're having a BLAST:




The last band that night was the one-and-only Harry and the Potters. Paul and Joe DeGeorge have been playing wizard rock since 2002! Not only are they completely talented and adorable (and SUPER nice and SUPER intelligent), but they know how to bring the epic.

Imagine hundreds of fans screaming "Harry Potter" to the tune of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" while a unicorn, a chicken, a giant squid, a wizard, Santa Claus, and an assortment of other creatures thrash up and down.

Shaky video proof:





I'd like to see the Twi-hards rock like that!


I did take this one of the Potters, from my post at the merch table.


Paul played a BROOM GUITAR, you guys!


That would be Jarrod dressed as the Giant Squid. And yes. We all know what the costume really looks like! HA!


The final rock show was Saturday afternoon at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel (where Jarrod and I were roomies with the lovely Nina and Adam). Riddle™, The Mudbloods, The Moaning Myrtles, and The Remus Lupins played. Jarrod was BUSY — he had full sets with The Mudbloods and the Myrtles, plus a song with the Lupins.


Jarrod the drummer, in demand. And wearing three different hats.


Don't you love the Lupins' drum head? Fight Evil, Read Books!


In true rock-n-roll style, Alex Carpenter of The Remus Lupins ended the festivities by setting his guitar on fire and smashing it into smithereens.


Note to the cool kids: Geeks party just as hard.


Alex and the last of his beloved LOVE guitar.


Okay. I declare that more-than-enough. Hope all of you had a wonderful weekend, reading good books and traveling happily.

Bon voyage!

6.04.2009

Part One: THE BOSTON

I tried to make this one post, but it was epically long, even by my standards. So I'll post Part Two: THE LEAKYCON next! The whole trip is already a blur (and you don't want to hear me blah-blah-blah all day anyway), so consider this a highlight reel.


OMG! Gnomes! And spoons!


This was the window display of MY NEW FAVORITE-EST STORE, Black Ink. Amazingly cool (and affordable) thingies, with an emphasis on Japanese and French imports. Including . . . the previously mentioned panda-shaped cups! Which I'd planned on taking a picture of, though I'd forgotten one crucial thing.

I'M LAZY.

Thankfully, there's one on their website. Wheeeee!




Aren't they cute? And OF COURSE I got the frog cup, too. And little saucers to match.

The store was in Beacon Hill, which was as beautiful as everyone says:


I am so sure these homes are in my price range.



Even the flowers looked wealthy.


But this was the REAL reason I liked the neighborhood:


Eek! WHERE CAN I BUY???


Then there was the costumed Freedom Trail tour:


See the teeny one next to the big one? That's Paul Revere's original gravestone. Amazing what a single poem can do for your popularity.


I'm pretty sure it's illegal not to do this on your first trip to Boston. Luckily for me, I'm a history geek, and this is my favorite era! So I was totally down for the tour. And when our guide announced he was a history teacher and not an actor (unlike most of the guides), I was like, WOO HOOOOO!!! A HISTORY TEACHER!

I hope I've just alleviated any concerns about my status as a nerd.

Anyway, I was genuinely excited to explore buildings like this:


Well, hello, beautiful old thing!


And THIS made me extremely giddy, though I am not at liberty to say why:


A few of you can probably guess! For the rest of you, I'm sorry to be secretive. I realize it's, like, totally rude.


Then there was THE FOOD. Whenever I travel, the first thing I research is THE FOOD. So we dined on lobster rolls and multiple bowls of clam chowder — of course some of it was from Legal Sea Foods! — and I also made two separate trips to Chinatown for bubble tea.

(Why can't I find bubble tea here in Asheville? You're supposed to be hip, hometown.)

I was also told ricotta cannolis at Modern Pastry were a must:


YUM.


Since we were already there, we also picked up this peanut butter cup. Jarrod's body is made up of 50% chocolate/50% peanut butter, and he needed refueling.


For reals.


Because my husband had several band practices (for LeakyCon), I also spent a lot of time walking around on my own. So I pretty much did what I do anyway.

Bought books.

The most incredible were the two Commonwealth shops. Er, yes. I went to BOTH locations. Here's the description from their website:


"You will find a diverse selection of books, with particular emphasis on the arts, architecture, history, literature, philosophy, and religion. We also have a large selection of antique prints and maps. We strive to maintain an interesting and affordable collection of hard-to-find books and prints for both the scholar and the collector."


I actually had to divide my antiquarian treasures between our suitcases, because the total weight of the books was too heavy for me to carry home by myself!

(Sorry, Jarrod.)

I also spent many hours writing and reading on the lawns of the Boston Common, which was across the street from our hotel:




It really is one of the prettiest parks in the country. Gorgeous trees and swan boats and flowers everywhere. I felt like Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens!

And, um, speaking of little boys . . .


WHAT IS THE DEAL WITH THIS STATUE???


Also, is it kind of weird that the only evidence I have of myself in Boston is with the Robert McCloskey ducks? I am so kidlit.


I'm relieved to be posing with the ducks and not the naked boys.


I think I just spotted Johnny Depp.


The only other place we had time for was the Museum of Fine Arts. Thank you, Free Wednesday Nights! I basically go to art museums for one reason — to look at European portraiture.

I'm not sure why. I just like it.

And though the paintings here were lovely, it wasn't my favorite collection. But I was oddly taken by this silver chandelier:


Though it'd totally be a pain to polish.


And — AND! — the museum had a FANTASTIC selection of books inside their store.

MORE BOOKS! YIPPEE!!!

Seriously, whoever buys their collection has impeccable taste. It was a combination of stuff that I already knew was quality (and not just art books, I'm talking fiction, graphic novels, poetry, history, etc.) and stuff that I'd never seen before. I picked up two teeny ones, completely irresistible to me:




A book JUST about OK Computer! And I've often said I could write an entire book about why I'm so passionate about the movie Trainspotting, but it turns out someone already wrote it for me!

And then . . . there was this:


I KNOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Which I totally $6.95 loved, but did not $12.95 love (actual retail value).

Except now I'm kind of wishing I'd bought it anyway.

But enough of this slide show. Stay tuned for: PEOPLE DRESSED LIKE WIZARDS!
 


2009 Stephanie Perkins. All rights reserved.