This is my kind of comedy. Fair warning: I don’t like a lot of comedies that other, more socially adept people enjoy. When I’m asked to name some of my favorite funny films I might say, Amélie, Being John Malkovitch, or The Cabin in the Woods. Most wouldn’t name any of those as a laugh riot comedy, but hey, to each her own. Sleepwalk with Me takes some of the dark, uncomfortable parts of life and makes them something to laugh at. The star and writer Mike Birbiglia might be likened to a less suicidal-sounding Louis C.K., a man who knows how to make sad humor sound honest, which is why it works. The main character’s narration is at once deeply personal and relatable. It’s also based on true events (and not like how The Exorcism of Emily Rose was based on “true events,” but actually based on personal essays by the writer, which have been featured on NPR’s This American Life).
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In Book Talk, I recap what I’ve read lately and what I’d recommend to whom. I’m always looking for new books, so I’d love suggestions for what I should read next!
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
I’m not gonna lie. I’m one of those people who saw the trailer for the upcoming film and thought “Oh no! I’ve gotta read the book before the movie comes out!” But then of course I refused to buy the movie book cover. It’s a book I’d always intented to read but had never gotten around to, and I’m glad I finally did. This book reminded me of The Catcher in the Rye, but with a more innocent narrator. It had some parts that made me feel more alive, and it had other parts that made me deeply sad. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a while. It’s not just for angsty teenagers.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Robot & Frank is set in the near future, when robots can cook your meals, clean your house, and create a garden in your backyard. Frank suffers from memory loss in his older years and receives a robot as a gift to help him with daily tasks.
While I waited for this film to start, I sat in an artsy theater, surrounded by people who were obviously many years my senior, and I wondered if I’d made the right decision in seeing this film. Apparently I’m ageist, but I wondered if I’d be able to relate to the main character enough to enjoy the experience. It turns out I related to him terrifyingly too well.
As someone who fears the loss of tangible media, as well as the thought of robots someday being much smarter than me, I had no problem seeing Frank’s point of view. But as Frank’s mind deteriorates, the robot becomes a sounding board, reflection, and retainer of Frank’s thoughts, fears, and talents. Initially, I was turned off by the film’s tagline: “Friendship doesn’t have an off switch.” But by the end of the film, I had an emotional connection to the robot, too, since it represented an “out” for a crumbling mind, not the actuality of a sentient friend.
Today my dad handed me an article he had torn out of Newsweek in September and said, “This made me think of you, so I saved it.” As I read the title, I groaned. The article was written by a professor of history at Harvard (and yes, I deign to disagree with a Harvard professor), entitled “Texting Makes U Stupid.”
From the title alone, I had the article outlined in my head, point by point, before I read the rest of his words. Bring in stats about how much teenagers tweet. Make snide quips about the inanity of the text message (because nothing important or beautiful or poetic or smart could possibly fit into the format of a text message). Queue stats, mourning the loss of literacy in the United States. Boldly state at the end of the article that we should read more! Of course the author states this to an audience currently reading Newsweek, patting themselves on the back for dodging the scourge of the text message, understanding the value of reading, and being from a generation who understands the elusive “good ol’ days.”
It’s disconcerting that a professor from Harvard would write an article falling into post hoc fallacies and blaming something as complex as our illiteracy epidemic on the invention of the text message. When the novel itself first came to be (yes, it’s a fairly new invention that didn’t emerge until the Victorian period), people thought the same thing. A novel was thought to be a waste of time, an unintelligent hobby. And later, with the widespread popularity of television, people worried that the novel would die. And yet we have a professor of history crying that the sky is falling when teens are texting.
I do not think that falling literacy rates are great. What I do think is great: teens write more now every day than they ever have in the past. Kids write emails, text messages, tweets, and facebook statuses. Are they always spelled correctly? No, but it means that several times a day, they’re thinking about writing. They’re stringing words and sentences together and thinking about how to express ideas. They’re thinking about concision, clarity, and audience. They’re thinking about communication and its value. I don’t think any of these things are bad, and I don’t think that’s what’s to blame for a falling interest in reading. I think it’s an easy answer and a scapegoat.
It’s silly, unfair, and archaic to define reading a novel as the only kind of reading that merits worth. Teens and college students now have information, news, and updates at their fingertips, which adds up to quite a bit of reading. Is all of it good? No, but neither are all novels. Yes, teach our kids to be smart. Teach our kids to appreciate art and words and nuances of meaning. But don’t sit around telling kids that texting is bad or leading them to a disinterest of the world around them, because that just validates the phrase they’ll spout back at you, which is “you just don’t get it.”
P.S. I teach Writing and Rhetoric to college freshmen. I’m very much concerned about the reading and writing habits of our youth. I just don’t agree with the leaps of cause and effect in this article.
Hollywood Video is slowly dropping off the face of the earth. When I stepped in to rent my weekly dose of TV shows and movies, I was shocked to see that their entire inventory was for sale. Of course, this elicited mixed emotions—I bought some awesome DVDs at killer prices (The Hangover, Away We Go, The Invention of Lying, Zombieland, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and Roger & Me*), but my beloved video rental store was going out of business (and some of the movies I bought, though cheap, were the crappy rental versions that never include supplementary material).
Not only is my neighborhood branch closing, but also the branch a couple towns over and several other branches all over the state and the rest of the country. This leaves me with only one other local video rental store: Blockbuster. When I was younger, I had fuzzy feelings toward Blockbuster for their cutesy sing-songy liners like, “Blockbuster Video! Wow, what a difference!” and “Please be kind, rewind.” But with age and wisdom, I’ve come to abhor it. The dreaded place doesn’t even carry Tales from the Darkside or Let the Right One In. Not to mention, they only recently added Dollhouse Season 1 to their repertoire (their selection is abysmal). What’s more, Blockbuster also censors some of their DVDs without any sort of warning that they’ve been edited for content.
But enough of the Blockbuster bashing. One of the movies I had wanted to pick up from Hollywood Video was Up in the Air, but I was told they weren’t getting it in, as they stopped bringing in new inventory. Dazed and confused, I wandered to a tawdry Red Box down the street, and using it made me feel cheap and dirty. When Up in the Air popped out of the cold machine, it didn’t even have a proper case. I couldn’t look at the cover design or critique the summary on the back or make fun of the quotes from critics. The naked DVD just stared out from a sad, sterile clear case. That’s when I started to panic. I’d been so concerned with bookstores dying out that I’d neglected to worry about video stores dying out, and I like both these stores for the same reason: tangibility.
I’m going to miss my regular chums at Hollywood. I’ll miss the geek shop talk with one clerk, who stares out behind his black horn-rimmed glasses that match mine. And I’ll miss bashing chick flicks with that other clerk, who was surprisingly cool, despite her Bridget Jones t-shirt. I’ll even miss the sociopathic blonde kid who consistently ruined various plot points for countless movies that I rented. More than anything, I’ll miss walking down the black-tiled rows past the unbeatable horror collection, a really respectable TV collection, and a great documentary section. I’ll miss meandering around the store several times and getting lost in the details and memories before making my final selection. I’ll miss the feeling of being in a place and knowing that I’m surrounded by people who love movies as much as I do.
*Note: I also bought 500 Days of Summer, but I’m still coming to terms with my embarrassment and whether I should openly admit this.