Book Club: Flora & Ulysses

Flora & Ulysses - WikipediaThe best children’s books enchant adults without losing the ability to delight children. Kate DiCamillo is a wonderful writer. Without exception I love every one of DiCamillo’s books that I’ve read. Most people cite Because of Winn-Dixie or The Tale of Despereaux as their favorites, and while they’re great, my preferences lie elsewhere. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulene is underrated and fantastic. Flora & Ulysses is less underrated–it won a Newbery Medal–but no less beloved by me. It’s especially special to me because I attended one of DiCamillo’s readings when she was promoting it. DiCamillo was as charming in person as her books suggest, and she’s one of the biggest authors whose autograph I have. I got to run a book club on Flora & Ulysses a few years ago, and it was so much fun because it is an apparently easy read that has beautiful themes underneath. Flora & Ulysses is creative in its use of media, it’s full of lovable characters and adorable illustrations, and it is genuinely funny and heartfelt.

Please enjoy these discussion questions, and be aware that they do include spoilers.

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If I Were a Rich Man… I’d See Lots of Musicals (Musical Monday)

Happy Monday! It’s time to talk about musicals. It’s always time to talk about musicals, but at this point you know what I mean, so here we go! Five more shows I love!

Rent

Cuba to stage Rent, first Broadway musical in 50 years - BBC News

How I’ve Experienced it: I’ve seen both the movie version and the 2008 version filmed live on Broadway.

It’s about a group of starving artists during the peak of the AIDS crisis.

Why is it so good? It’s a love song to living life by your own compass, and—like everything else that will appear in this series of musicals I love—it has great songs. I’m particularly drawn to stories about different kinds of people making their ways in life even when other people/society tells them that they should be doing it differently, so RENT really appeals to me. Plus, it’s got a kind of rock sound that’s still musical theatre-y enough that I like it but also different from a lot of what I listen to.

La Vie Boheme GIF by Rent the Musical - Find & Share on GIPHY

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): I mean, I love the movie, which I know gets a lot of grief. Personally, I don’t get it. It’s great. It has the original Broadway cast–which includes Anthony Rapp, Adam Pascal, and Idina Menzel among other talented people–and swaps out the weak links in the cast. The Live on Broadway version is good. I watched it after I’d seen the movie many times. Some things about it are a lot better: movies always have to cut lots out, and the full show has a lot more in the way of character development particularly for Mark and Benny. However, while I loved most of the cast–Reneé Elise Goldsberry and Justin Johnston as Mimi and Angel, respectively, particularly impressed me–I much prefer the OG/movie Mark and Roger. Since Mark and Roger are the main characters, that’s not a minor consideration. Whichever way you to, you get Tracie Thoms, though, which is a plus. Supposedly RENT! Live isn’t very good, but I haven’t seen it so I wouldn’t know.  Also, I’ve heard there’s a filmed version from the Hollywood bowl that has Aaron Tveit.

My favorite songs: “What You Own;” “Take Me or Leave Me;” and “Seasons of Love”


Fiddler on the Roof - Broadway San DiegoFiddler on the Roof

How I’ve experienced it: In addition to seeing it live once, I’ve seen the 1971 movie. To be totally honest, the movie didn’t really grab me when I first saw it, but seeing it onstage was spectacular.

It’s about: A Jewish man tries to uphold tradition despite a changing world and the atypical romantic choices of his many daughters.

Why is it so good? Fiddler has some absolutely amazing dancing in it. “The Bottle Dance” has some of the coolest choreography I’ve ever seen. And the songs are good blah, blah, blah. Bits of this show are little too, ahem, traditional for my taste (I get tired of the everyone-gets-married thing more quickly than your average person), but the overall sweep and splendor more than makes up for it.

Fiddler On The Roof GIF by Tony Awards - Find & Share on GIPHY

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): Watch the movie.

My favorite songs: “Matchmaker, Matchmaker;” “If I Were a Rich Man;” and “Sunrise, Sunset”


West Side Story (Musical) Plot & Characters | StageAgentWest Side Story

How I’ve experienced it: I love the 1961 movie.

It’s about: It’s a retelling of Romeo and Juliet, but instead of warring families there are two rival gangs.

Why is it so good? West Side Story takes on of my least favorite Shakespeare plays and makes it really fun. “America” is one of the best musical theatre songs ever, and the aggressive gang snapping is possibly my favorite thing ever.

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): The 1961 movie is a classic. I don’t think it needs remade, but it’s being remade and Mike Faist (aka Connor Murphy from Dear Evan Hansen) is going to play Riff, so I’m cautiously optimistic. There’s no way to beat Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, and Russ Tamblyn, though.

West Side Story Film GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

My favorite songs: “America;” “Tonight Quintet;” and “I Feel Pretty”


Hairspray

Cheap Hairspray Tickets | Hairspray Broadway Musical Discount ...

How I’ve experienced it: There are multiple versions of Hairspray available. I’ve seen the one from 2007 and the NBC Live production.

It’s about: An overweight girl wants to dance on TV, and along the way gets swept up in the fight for civil rights and risks her dreams to fight for equality.

Why is it so good? Hairspray mixes fun, upbeat songs with a strong social conscience. The varying styles and beat of the music is really good. There are some that make you want to jump up and dance to and others that’ll make you cry. In my opinion, the best musicals are the ones that are fun on the surface level but are more rewarding the more you engage, and Hairspray succeeds there.

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): While both versions of Hairspray I’ve seen are good, there are a few decidedly weak cast members in the live version, so I’d stick with the movie.

Run And Tell That GIF | Gfycat

My favorite songs: “I Know Where I’ve Been;” “Run and Tell That;” and “You Can’t Stop the Beat”


Cinderella $35 Tickets | Broadway in ChicagoCinderella

How I’ve experienced it: Even though there are multiple TV versions of this, I’ve only seen the 1997 one (the one with Brandy and Whitney Houston). I also saw a community theatre version years and years ago.

It’s about Cinderella. I’m assuming everyone knows the story of Cinderella.

Why is it so good? It’s just… charming. It’s the fairytale at it’s most beautiful (and least dark). I’m generally skeptical and nonromantic, so the fact that I’m swept away by a show that is entirely based on a romantic fairy tale should tell you something about how much fun it is.

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): While I’m sure that the older versions of this show are also good, you absolutely can’t beat one with both Whitney Houston and Bernadette Peters. Plus, the nontraditional casting makes my heart happy. That being said, it’s also worth listening to a Broadway soundtrack, because there are some songs omitted from the filmed versions, and my understanding is that there are actually a few plot differences..

My favorite songs: “Stepsisters’ Lament;” “Impossible;” and “A Lovely Night”


Which of these five musicals do you like best? Are there any cast recordings you think I should check out?


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A Good Neighborhood (Book Review)

A Good Neighborhood: A Novel (Hardcover) | Quail Ridge BooksFor obvious reasons, book club has not been meeting for the past few months. I run the book club for work, which reads adult books, and while I very much enjoy doing so, left to my own devices I usually read YA. I meant to read the book club selections anyway, but then I kind of… forgot. We were scheduled to read A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler a while back. April, I think, although I’m not sure, and I finally got around to reading it.

What’s it about?

When Brad Whitman—local celebrity due to his HVAC commercials—moves his white, upper-class family to Oak Knell he sets off a chain of events that culminate in a tragedy. The Whitman family moves right next door to Valerie Aston-Holt and her son Xavier. Valerie, a Black ecologist, immediately takes a dislike to Brad, because in building his luxury home, Brad bent rules and has disrupted the root system of the fantastic tree in Valerie’s yard; also, his home is the first step in neighborhood-wide gentrification. The friction between the two, already intense, escalates when Xavier and Juniper, Brad’s step-daughter, fall in love.

What’d I think?

A Good Neighborhood hooked me immediately. The story is told from the perspective of the neighborhood collectively, looking back from some unspecified future date. I love creative POVs, and this one is particularly interesting because it provides a perspective that is both impartial and biased, personal and detached. It also starts the story with a heavy dose of foreshadowing that immediately interested me, but slipped my mind before I got to the end, so I was surprised despite the forewarning.

The way that Fowler braids issues of class, race, gender, and environmentalism together is masterful. I try to seek out diverse fiction, so I’ve read lots of books that focus on one or two of those themes and nail them, but I don’t think I’ve read anything that combines them the way A Good Neighborhood does, with all these different biases baked into a person because of their privilege. Little moments—like when it doesn’t occur to Juniper that her expensive new car is beyond what most people could dream of, or when Brad assumes that Xavier is the help—demonstrate just how deeply these ingrained convictions and behaviors go; for most of the book, the reader dislikes Brad and his family not because of anything that he’s actively done maliciously, but because of his socialized blindness. For the first half of the book, Brad isn’t an irredeemable bastard. He can be charming and, at times, genuinely helpful but the reader, like Valerie, is perpetually on edge when he’s around because his power–when combined with his privileged thoughtlessness–makes him dangerous.

I was 100% on board with A Good Neighborhood, but the second half disappointed me, but making subtleties too overt and cranking the pace up until things were moving far too quickly. For most of the book, the conflicts are subtle. Valerie and Brad fight over a tree that Brad unknowingly but flippantly destroyed when he built his expensive home and swimming pool. The conflict is about the tree, but it’s also about all the issues underneath it, how Brad is rich and white and male and powerful while Valerie, who is poorer and Black and female, is essentially powerless. In my opinion, this is plenty of conflict, especially since it is so well written. Everything unwinds slowly and carefully.

And then the second half happens. It’s like someone looked at the book and said, “okay, where’s the action?” and Fowler overcompensated.

I have to talk about the end now! Sorry! Skip to the end if you don’t want to be spoiled.

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Oh, What a Beautiful Musical Monday

It’s Monday, and that means it’s time for another rundown of five musicals that I love!

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat - WikipediaJoseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

How I’ve experienced it: I saw it onstage when I was little, but the TV movie version with Donny Osmond is what I’m primarily familiar with. Along with Cats and Into the Woods, it was a major part of my introduction to musical theatre.

It’s about: It’s the story of Joseph from the Bible, except funny.

Why is it so good? It uses all sorts of different styles of music to tell a coherent story, and manages to take a Bible story—which, like all Bible stories, is heavy and somber—and turn it into a brightly colored blast. It’s anachronistic in the best possible way, and I love the way the narrator interacts with and editorializes the story as she tells it.

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): You can’t beat the movie. Maria Friedman as the narrator is great. Everyone is great, but I already mentioned Donny Osmond, and Friedman is too good to leave out.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat - Jacob and Sons ...

My favorite songs: “One More Angel in Heaven;” “Song of the King;” and “Any Dream Will Do”


School of Rock (musical) - WikipediaThe School of Rock

How I’ve experienced it: I got to see it live! Of course, the original movie with Jack Black is a lot of fun, but I love the musical even more and I really hope that it gets recorded someday because I would love to see it again.

It’s about: It has the same plot as the Jack Black movie. It’s about a loser band guy who impersonates his roommate, a substitute teacher, so that he can make rent and ends up with a group of musically talented students with whom he hopes to win a Battle of the Bands.

Why is it so good? It is absolutely hilarious. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went to this show, but it is a riot. Child actors can be kind of annoying, but I have never seen such a concentrated group of talented youngsters (they all play their own instruments!). There’s a mix of musical styles, with a few traditional Broadway numbers and some more rock ‘n roll moments. I would see this one again in a heartbeat.

Olivier Awards 2017 GIF by Official London Theatre - Find & Share ...

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): I really, really wish there was a way to experience this from home, but right now the cast recording is it. It’s a great cast recording, though!

My favorite songs: “Stick it to the Man;” “If Only You Would Listen;” and “When I Climb to the Top of Mount Rock”


Seven Brides for Seven Brothers on iTunesSeven Brides for Seven Brothers

How I’ve experienced it: The movie.

It’s about: A rugged outdoorsman marries a woman because he wants someone to keep house for him and his rowdy brothers, but takes on more than he bargained for.

Why is it so good? The premise of this one sounds a bit sexist, and that combined with the fact that it’s from 1954 makes for a potentially dubious musical. I loved this movie when I was little and watched it again recently with more than a little trepidation… and discovered that it is still great. Is the concept iffy? Yeah. But Milly is the most powerful character, and over the course of the show she teaches her new brothers-in-law how to behave; by the end, the gruff mountain men have all learned to behave like gentlemen and to treat her with the respect that she demands. But more importantly, this musical is delightfully silly. It makes me irrationally happy. I love all musicals, but something about this one makes me smile extra wide. Also–and this is a common compliment–the dancing is great.

Barn Dance 2 GIF | Gfycat

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): Watch this ridiculous old movie! You won’t regret it.

My favorite songs: “Bless Your Beautiful Hide;” “Goin’ Courtin’;” and “Sobbin’ Women”


Anastasia - Broadway San DiegoAnastasia

How I’ve experienced it: I grew up with the animated movie, and got to see the musical live about a year ago. The stage musical is significantly different than the original, but they’re both really good.

It’s about: The story is based on the (now defunct) theory that Princess Anastasia escaped the Bolshevik invasion that killed the Czar Nicholas and the rest of their family. The movie has a supernatural plotline involving an undead Rasputin and a curse, and the stage show takes a more realistic/political approach.

Why is it so good? The score is great, and it has some really fun, silly moments mixed in with a dramatic and romantic main plot. Growing up, Dimitri was one of my favorite fictional characters in any movie, and I still find him a cut above the average bland Prince Charming type.

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): The movie is essential viewing, but you should listen to the OBC recording to hear the new songs and plot changes, because the show and the movie are different enough that they can and should be enjoyed as separate entities.

GIF by Anastasia on Broadway | Anastasia musical, Anastasia ...

My favorite songs (from the stage show): “A Rumor in St. Petersburg;” “Stay, I Pray You;” and “In My Dreams”


Oklahoma!

Company | Rodgers & Hammerstein's OKLAHOMA! | Official Broadway Site

How I’ve experienced it: I’ve seen Oklahoma! performed by multiple high schools (all very well; my high schools all had bizarrely good/well-funded theatre departments) and have seen the 1955 movie and the 1999 version with Hugh Jackman. Also, I once saw a spectacular live performance that was staged outside with real horses. Unfortunately, the place that put that on has since closed, which is a complete travesty.

It’s about: When Oklahoma was a territory on the cusp of statehood, a young woman is caught in a love triangle between a cocky cowboy and a frightening farmhand with a seedy past.

Why is it so good? Oklahoma! is one of my favorite old shows. It has a good combination of goofy upbeat songs and traditional love ballads. I have a soft spot for this show because I lived in Oklahoma for a long time and that show is the best thing about the state. Also, Will’s lasso swinging is a very cool bit of choreography that you don’t see in other shows.

Hugh Jackman Broadway GIF by The Rodgers & Hammerstein ...

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): I really like the version with Hugh Jackman, primarily because it updates Laurey so that she is Curly’s sassy and sarcastic equal, not just a silly, swoony girl who warbles slow songs whenever the sillier characters take a break. Also, the original movie Ado Annie can’t sing, so replacing her with someone who can is a good trade-off.

My favorite songs: “Pore Jud is Daid;” “I Cain’t Say No;” and “Kansas City”


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I Care Too Much About Fictional Relationships (Erin + Andy)

A while back, I posted a supremely nerdy essay about my love for the relationship between Pippin and Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings because I hadn’t posted anything in a long time. I seriously didn’t expect anyone to read it, because it was very long and very nerdy. Weirdly, though, people actually do read it. Or at least they click on it. Since I’m in the middle of a very long book and it has therefore been a long time since I posted a book review, I thought now might be a good time for another essay in the same vein.

This time, I’m going to defend the best romantic couple from The Office (US).

I Care Too Much About Fictional Relationships

I’m talking about Andy and Erin. Sadly, they’re the only core couple on the show that didn’t work out. I don’t know why it didn’t, but I have a lot to say on why it should have.

Seriously. I can’t be alone in thinking that Andy/Erin was a far better couple than Jim/Pam, Michael/Holly, or Angela/Dwight.

TV and Movie News The Office: 5 Reasons Erin Should Have Stayed ...

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Musical Monday: Here We Go Again

It’s Musical Monday again! Last week I reviewed Cats 2019, but this week I’m back to blabbering about five musicals that I adore! As always, if there’s a show you love, tell me about in the comments! And let me know what you think about these ones!

Mamma Mia! - WikipediaMamma Mia!

How I’ve experienced it: I’m in love with the movie (and it’s sequel) and I got to see the show once live, performed by a community theatre. I own the original cast recording and listen to it obsessively.

It’s about: This jukebox musical—based on songs from ABBA—is about a young woman who wants her father to walk her down the aisle at her wedding. The only problem is that she doesn’t know who her father is! So she does the only natural thing: she finds her mother’s old diary and invites the three men her mother slept with the summer she was conceived.

Why is it so good? Try to listen to any song from Mamma Mia! without dancing. You can’t. Everything about this show is heightened and ridiculous and because of that it is a total blast from start to finish. This is the best jukebox musical in existence. Jukebox musicals were invented for Mamma Mia!

What's Your Favorite "Mamma Mia!" Moment?

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): The movie is a million times better than the blasphemous 54% on Rotten Tomatoes would have you believe. It is delightful, and so is the sequel.

My favorite songs: “Chiquitita;” “Our Last Summer;” and “Honey, Honey”


Falsettos : Shows | Lincoln Center TheaterFalsettos

How I’ve Experienced it: I’ve seen the professionally filmed 2016 revival cast version.

It’s about a gay man trying desperately to adjust his life to accommodate his ex-wife, son, and new lover.

Why is it so good? I’m a sucker for anything that deconstructs toxic masculinity. The character development, particularly for Marvin, is remarkable. It’s rare that a main character starts out being so despicable but ends up being so heartbreaking. Falsettos is also special because of its portrayal of a nontraditional family. A show with two (mostly) happy queer couples is very affirming, and even though it ends tragically, the lead up and genuine emotion more than make up for it. The songs are weird and weirdly catchy; I heard the cast recording well before I saw the recording, and was addicted to the songs before I ever saw anyone sing them.

falsettos petty petty

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): Watch the professionally filmed 2016 revival cast version! The musical itself is great, but what makes it even better is that it stars three of my all-time favorite Broadway performers: Andrew Rannells, Christian Borle, and Tracie Thoms.

My favorite songs: “This Had Better Come to a Stop;” “Everyone Hates His Parents;” and “You Gotta Die Sometime”


Wicked - Broadway San DiegoWicked

How I’ve experienced it: I got to see it onstage.

It’s about the origin story of The Wizard of Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West, who is not the evil villain you thought, but rather a poor girl from Munchkinland who was born green.

Why is it so good? This was one of the first shows I saw live and the first one where I didn’t know the plot beforehand, which gave it an extra shimmer. It’s a very creative retelling, and Elphaba and Glinda are a great pair. I tried to read the book it was based off after loving the show, but barely made it halfway through, which tells me that the people who adapted it are absolute geniuses. Glinda and Elphaba are a great pair, and reframing the Oz story from the “villain’s” point of view was a risky choice that paid off in a big way.

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): Supposedly there’s going to be a movie sometime in the next few years, but until then the OBC recording is great (Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel are household names for a reason; even people who aren’t huge Broadway fans know them).

Elphaba GIF by Broadway.com - Find & Share on GIPHY

My favorite songs: “Popular;” “No Good Deed;” and “Defying Gravity”


Jesus Christ Superstar

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR | The Kansas City Broadway Series

How I’ve experienced it: JCS has been filmed a ton of times. I’ve seen the 2000 movie (the one with Jerome Pradon as Judas), the 2012 Live Arena Tour version (Tim Minchin), and 2018’s Jesus Christ Superstar Live! (Brandon Victor Dixon). I know there’s also a version from 1973, but I haven’t seen it.

It’s about the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus Christ, told from the perspective of Judas Iscariot.

Why is it so good? It adds nuance and complexity to the Bible story that everyone has heard a million times. Jesus and Judas are both three-dimensional characters whose humanity is painfully tangible. A rock musical isn’t the medium you’d expect for a Bible story, but it absolutely works. Like Wicked, this is a familiar story told through an unexpected lens, and it’s all the better for it.

Superstar - 2000 Film | Jesus Christ Superstar Michael Shaeffer, Frederick B Owens, Renee Castle, Glenn Carter, Jesus Christ Superstar, Jesus Christ Superstar musical, Judas, Mary Magdalene, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice, Theatre, Theater, Musicals, Broadway, Jesus Christ Superstar West End, Jerome Pradon, Tony Vincent discover-jerome pradon GIFMy recommendation (if you can’t see it live): Every version of this musical is good, but the whole thing hinges on Judas, so to pick your version I’d recommend listening to each version of “Heaven on their Minds” and picking whose voice you prefer and going from there. I like every version I’ve seen, but all for different reasons.

My favorite songs: “Heaven on their Minds;” “This Jesus Must Die;” and “Could We Start Again Please”


Chicago

Chicago: The Musical" Gives Them The Ol' Razzle Dazzle At Proctors ...

How I’ve experienced it: Aside from listening to various cast recordings, I’ve only seen the movie.

It’s about: A woman determined to become a star murders her lover and turns a prison sentence and the ensuing media coverage into her big break.

Why is it so good? I was initially hesitant. When I first heard “All that Jazz,” I didn’t care for it. When I actually watched it, though, I was won over completely. The story, when stripped to its core, is actually dark and pessimistic, but the juxtaposition between the content and the tone is amazing. The two lead characters are despicable, but watching them dance their way through their troubles is an absolute blast. This is one of those shows where, even if you’ve never seen it, you’ll recognize most of the songs because they’re all extremely catchy and have been parodied many times. I was surprised, when I first watched the movie, how many of the songs I already knew.

chicago he had it coming gif - Google Search | Chicago movie ...

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): The movie is great.

My favorite songs: “Razzle Dazzle;” “When You’re Good to Mama;” and “Mr. Cellophane”


Are there any shows that I should be listening to? What do you think of these ones?


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Outlander (Book Review)

outlanderDespite how popular it is, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon is not a book I would have read under normal circumstances. It’s simply not my type of book, and it has become a kind of running joke in my family because of the time my sister pretended to fall asleep while watching it with our grandparents because it was so awkward and embarrassing. Apparently my dad is also a fan of the show, and he tried to get me to watch it with him and I struggled to get through the first episode. So my hopes were not high going in.

game of thrones gotHowever, people do point to Outlander as a feminist fantasy series, and lots of people have even called it a feminist answer to Game of Thrones. That is… bizarre. I haven’t watched more than the first episode of Outlander, but I have seen all of Game of Thrones and read all of A Song of Ice and Fire (at least, of what’s published so far). Yes, there’s sexism in GoT. There’s too much sexual violence, women are seen as second-class, and there are considerably more naked women than naked men. However, many of the problematic elements were added for the show. Although Westeros is violent and sexist, I’d argue that the novels themselves are respectful of women; there are multiple characters whose arcs are specifically about existing in a sexist world. Game of Thrones is full of powerful women: Cersei, Daenerys, Brienne, Sansa, and Arya are all drastically different women who are well developed characters with important storylines.

Game of Thrones isn’t perfect, but it is a thousand times better than Outlander. Outlander has just as much sexual violence as Game of Thrones but it is considerably more misogynistic because it double dips its misogyny: it has the sexism of misogynistic romance and the sexism of misogynistic fantasy.

What’s it about?

In short, Outlander is about a (married) woman who travels back in time from 1945 to 1743, where she falls in love with a Scots warrior.

Why’d I hate it so much?

If I had to explain why I hate Outlander in a single word, it would be “Jamie.” If I were given three words, I’d go with “Jamie,” “sexist,” and “homophobic.”

Trigger warnings for this review/book: rape, homophobia, ableism, misogyny, sadism, violence, torture, spouse abuse, incest, and pedophilia.

But everyone loves Jamie! What’s wrong with him?

LONG POST

Everything.

I did not expect to hate Jamie. As far as I can tell, everyone loves him. People who read the book love him. People who watch the show love him. Every character in the book loves him. He’s seemingly a universal fan favorite. He’s also a rapist, a hypocrite, a masochist, a sadist, an abuser, a misogynist, a homophobe, and a sex addict. Basically a dream man, right?

I can already hear what Outlander fans are thinking: Jamie is a product of his time, and people were trash back then. They saw their wives as property. They beat their children. They didn’t see gay people or women as equal to straight men. They didn’t know about consent. Well, guess what? I don’t care.

Outlander is a romance novel about a woman who travels back in time. Romance novels are meant to appeal to their readers. Gabaldon meant for the people who read Outlander in the 1990s to be attracted to Jamie. The show is still airing, so modern women are also supposed to like him. Claire isn’t from Jamie’s time, either. No one from Jamie’s time is going to experience him or Outlander. Jamie exists for modern women’s consumption, and he is an insult to modern women.

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Cats 2019 Review

Cats was my introduction to musical theatre, and even though I’ve since discovered and adored tons of other shows, Cats is still one of my absolute favorites. The 1998 version is absolute perfection, but I was still extremely excited when I found out that someone was turning Cats into a movie. The unadulterated excitement didn’t last long, though.

I was bewildered by the lengthening list of A-list actors because Cats is a show that calls for insane dancing chops and exuberance, not for star power. I understand stunt casting, and for certain roles—Old Deuteronomy, Grizabella, Bustopher Jones, and Gus the Theatre Cat—it’s fine. But there are other characters where that absolutely does not fly.

Two particular announcements struck me as spectacular missteps: When I saw Rebel Wilson’s name attached to the project, I knew that there was going to be at least one song that went the route of cringe humor and gross-out gags. Not choosing a dancer to play Mr. Mistoffelees was one of the most glaring signs that Cats 2019 wasn’t going to capture the stage play. Cats is all about the movement, and even though the whole cast is made up of spectacular dancers, Mr. Mistoffelees is a featured dancer.

jellicle cats come out tonight | Tumblr

And then, of course, the infamous trailer came out. To be honest, I wasn’t that bothered by the CGI. Do I like it? No. Do I hate it? Not really. Obviously it could’ve been better, but I wasn’t one of those people going around talking about how it was the stuff of nightmares. The unsung dialogue and cringe humor were the bits that bothered me.

Then the movie came out and everyone hated it. I don’t go to the movies often, so I figured that as much as I love the stage show, I’d wait to see the movie until it was cheaper to do so.

Well, I have finally seen it. It’s bad, but it’s not the worst movie I’ve ever seen, and it’s not as bad as I thought it would be from the reviews.  Most of the reviewers were fixated on the CGI, which—as I said—didn’t bother me that much, and I didn’t read a single review from the perspective of a fan of the stage show.

A lot of the most oft-repeated criticisms had nothing to do with the movie adaptation and everything to do with the show. People were confused about what a Jellicle Cat is or obsessed with the lack of plot. For the record, plot is actually not necessary. Most sitcoms don’t have one, but no one would write off Friends or Seinfeld for the lack. And then there are scores of people who—inexplicably, to my mind—simply hate musicals but went to see Cats anyway. Seriously. What were they expecting?

All this to say, here’s a critique of the Cats movie from someone who unabashedly ADORES Cats.

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Here’s a picture of me with Mungojerrie

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The Secret Life of Bees (Book Review)

secret life of beesI think most people probably have a period in their life where their reading level surpasses their emotional maturity and they end up reading books they technically can read but don’t yet understand. I had a good two or three years where I read great books that I hated, only to revisit years later and realize that me hating them was entirely on me. The most egregious example was Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, which is exceptional regardless of what metric you use, but which I simply didn’t get. I’m always skeptical of my literary opinions from that period, and over the years I’ve made a point of rereading anything I first experienced then.

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd is one I’ve been meaning to revisit for a long time. It’s one of my mom’s favorite books, and even though we generally read different genres (she reads primarily historical fiction, and I prefer fantasy or contemporary YA), we’re similar enough as people that I’m confused when I don’t love her favorites or vice versa. I’ve felt guilty for years about disliking The Secret Life of Bees, and I hoped that reading it again at age twenty-six would change my opinion for the better.

What’s it about?

In The Secret Life of Bees, Lily—a young white girl—runs away from her abusive father and heads to Tiburon, South Carolina where she finds a trio of Black, beekeeping sisters who may have known her late mother.

What’d I think?

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There are a few minor spoilers here

I still want to love The Secret Life of Bees because so many people do, but now that I’ve read it again, I’m resolved to the fact that it’s never going to be one of my favorites. It’s… fine, I guess. The atmosphere is done well, the writing is good, and I like some of the supporting characters. I also like that Sue Monk Kidd doesn’t take the easy way out regarding Lily’s mother’s death. A lot of other authors would’ve revealed that Lily’s abusive father, rather than Lily herself, was responsible for the tragedy, and I respect Kidd’s restraint for not simplifying the event to relieve Lily’s trauma.

That being said, The Secret Life of Bees is not my type of book. It utilizes a lot of tropes that work well for some people but have never particularly engaged me. August, one of the main characters, strikes me as a bit flat. She’s more a sounding board for Lily and the others than a character in her own right. She’s always just around, offering wisdom and mothering for anyone who needs it, but never has her own storyline. As a result she feels less like a character and more like an emotional level-up for Lily. A lot of the novel is centered on a kind of Catholic-adjacent religion of the characters’ own making, and I could never get in the right mindset for it. Religious fiction generally doesn’t work for me, and the thing about religious ritual is that it seems bizarre from the outside. I never connected to their belief system, so moments that should have felt solemn and sacred—like when they ritualistically rub honey on their statue of the Black Madonna—felt the slightest bit ridiculous instead.

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Perhaps my biggest issue with The Secret Life of Bees, though, is Lily’s position at the center of it. I never felt particularly connected to her. I felt sorry for her, but I didn’t care that much about her. I never understood why August and her sisters were so ready to take Lily despite her obvious lies. They were much kinder and more inviting to her than she deserved. There was no reason for Lily to lie, except to extend the narrative; she simply enjoyed being dishonest.

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