Thursday, January 29, 2009

Two great tastes that taste great together...

Jane Austen + Zombies = Added to my Amazon wishlist.

Another one I've been meaning to post...

Try to get through this article without laughing.

People Who Deserve It

Have you all heard about this blog yet? I've been meaning to link to it for weeks. It's actually pretty funny--and I've found myself agree with a lot of their choices... this guy, who has appeared many times in my class. Idiot.

...or this guy, who has scared the heck out of me since I was a little kid.

...or this lady, whose momma certainly didn't raise her right.

...or this guy, who makes me want to reenact that scene in Fried Green Tomatoes where Kathy Bates slams into that car on purpose...

Anyway, click away and enjoy. Any entries you really liked?

Consider yourself warned...


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

My Year of Meats

I actually finished My Year of Meats, by Ruth L. Ozeki, before Christmas, but it’s taken me this long to write an entry about it. One of my ENGL 204 students lent me her copy of the book (which I had never heard of before) after we read “No Name Woman” and some other Asian-American texts.

My Year of Meats is a strange book (if the title doesn’t already give it away), but I enjoyed it. It’s a kind of hybrid book—a funny, entertaining, cross-cultural novel that’s also an expose on the advertising and meat industries. The plot is pretty simple (at first): Jane Takagi-Little, whose mother is Japanese and father is white, is a film-maker who lands a job making a TV show called My American Wife!, a show sponsored by the American meat industry that will be broadcast in Japan so that more Japanese wives will buy American meat. Here’s how the company pitches the show:

“Meat is the Message. Each weekly half-hour episode of My American Wife! must culminate in the celebration of a featured meat, climaxing in its glorious consumption. It’s the meat (not the Mrs.) who’s the star of our show! Of course, the “Wife of the Week” is important too. She must be attractive, appetizing, and all-American. She is Meat Made Manifest: ample, robust, yet never tough or hard to digest. Through her, Japanese housewives will feel the hearty sense of warmth, of comfort, of hearth and home—the traditional family values symbolized by red meat in rural America” (8).

This hilarious passage sets up most of the themes the novel will touch on: how America is defined, both here and overseas, what it means to be the “all-American” family, and the great distance between our ideals and reality.

Jane, the narrator (well, technically, she only narrates half the book—see below), is an interesting character, one who is transformed by what she sees as she travels the country looking for different Wives of the Week. (Imagine this: one episode focuses on an interracial, lesbian, vegetarian couple and their two kids. How do you think that went over with the executives at the meat company?)

Jane’s take on racial identity is also key: “Back in the olden days,” she explains, “my dad’s ancestors got stuck behind the Alps and my mom’s on the east side of the Urals. Now, oddly, I straddle this blessed, ever-shrinking world” (15). That’s a very positive take on our shrinking world.

The other key character in the book—and my favorite character—is Akiko Ueno, an unhappy Japanese housewife who dutifully watches Jane’s programs and cooks the weekly recipes for her husband. As I read through the sections that Jane narrated, I found myself speeding through them a bit, eager to get back to the sections narrated by a third person narrator, the sections about Akiko. I won’t say too much more about Akiko or the plot, in case any one wants to read it.

But I will say that this book also introduced me to a historical/literary figure I hadn’t heard of before: Sei Shonagon, who wrote The Pillow Book around 1000 A.D. (Basically a collection of musings, lists, and observations, a pillow book sounds a lot like a blog or a journal.) The Pillow Book appears in excerpts throughout My Year of Meats. Here’s one example: the heading is “Pleasing Things” and below it is written, “Someone has torn up a letter and thrown it away. Picking up the pieces, one finds that many of them can be fitted together” (5). Here’s another: “Shameful things: A thief has crept into a house and is now hiding in some well-chosen nook where he can secretly observe what is going on. Someone else comes into the dark room and, taking an object that lies there, slips it into his sleeve. It must be amusing for the thief to see a person who shares his own nature” (31). I am stopping myself here, as I could go on quoting, but needless to say, I’ve put The Pillow Book on my Amazon wish-list. Think about how useful it could be for teaching writing: you give students a topic “Hateful Things,” for instance, and have them write their own descriptive sketches to include. Or do the opposite—take the descriptions and then give them labels.

Anyway, My Year of Meats is a good book—not one of my favorites, but I enjoyed it and you might, too.

More Angel Love...

My good friend over at Wandering the Academy has re-posted her take on Angel and its wisdom. She says it all so much better than I could.


Tonight at 9:00. The highlight of my January. Seriously.*

*And yes, I know that is sad...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Whedonesque Links

I'm posting a couple of Joss Whedon-themed links I've got in my bookmark list.

First, "Joss Whedon's Top Ten Writing Tips." These are great--good advice for any writer. That Joss is so good at giving this kind of advice shouldn't surprise any of his fans. Dude can write.

Second, "The Armchair Critic's 25 Best (and Five Worst) Angel Episodes." This list is a blast to read and made me want to watch all my DVDs again.

Armchair Critic's list also got me thinking about what I would put on my own list of best episodes...I don't have the time to do as detailed and thoughtful list as this guy does, but I did come up with my eighteen favorite.

Here are my three favorites, in order:

1) "Not Fade Away" (5.22): Best finale ever--sadly for a show that had so many more stories to tell. Wesley's death (comforted by Illyria), Lindsey killed by Lorne?!?, and so much more. And what a great last line: "Well, personally, I kind of want to slay the dragon. Let's go to work!" That's just good advice for life--we fight on, in the face of unbelievable odds, we go to work in this world because it's the right only thing we can do. Love it.

2) "Hero" (1.09): This one still gets me every time, although admittedly it's only the last few minutes that are superb. When Doyle takes Angel's place and becomes the hero, you want to stand up and cheer even as you dissolve into tears. Glenn Quinn's untimely death makes the episode and it's closing line, "Am I done?" even more wrenching. Here's the whole exchange from that scene, as he films a commerical with Cordelia (courtesy of the Buffyverse Dialogue Database):

DOYLE: If you need help. Then look no further. Angel Investigations is the best! Our rats are low.


DOYLE: (RE: cue cards) It says 'rats'. Our rates are low, but our standards are high. When the chips are down, and you're at the end of your rope you need someone that you can count on. And that's what you'll find here. Someone who will go all the way, who'll protect you no matter what. So don't lose hope. Come on over to our offices and you'll see that there's still heroes in this world. Is that it? Am I done?

Brilliant stuff--and here, so early on, one of the major themes of Angel is beautifully illustrated. (One more disclaimer: I named my cat after Doyle and that cat was one of the sweetest creatures I've ever known. I lost him too soon as a result of veterinary negligence and it still hurts to this day to think about it, which might explain a bit more why I love this episode so much.)

3) "I Will Remember You" (1.08): Boy, did I sob like a baby the first time I saw this one. And the second time...and well, just about every time. What to say about it? We see Buffy and Angel happy--blissful, but it doesn't last. And as she tearfully swears to him that she will never forget, the day resets and she forgets. The Oracles ask Angel if he can carry the burden being the only one to remember what he had and has given up and we know he can. Like the female Oracle, we realize "This one is willing to sacrifice every drop of human happiness and love he's ever known for another. He is *not* a lower being."

The rest are simply in chronological order--if I start commenting extensively, I'll be typing for hours:

"Rm w/a Vu" (1.05)

"Five by Five" (1.18)

"To Shanshu in LA" (1.22)

"Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?" (2.2)

"Darla" (2.7)

"Reunion" (2.10)

"Epiphany" (2.16)

"Lullaby" (3.9)

"Waiting in the Wings" (3.13)

"Sleep Tight" (3.16)

"Spin the Bottle" (4.6)

"Orpheus" (4.15)

"Hell-Bound" (5.4)

"Smile Time" (5.14)

"A Hole in the World" (5.15)

Fellow Angel fans, what do you think of these lists? Which episodes would be on your list? You can find a handy list of episodes here.

Books...expensive books!

I've made a few purchases from so I am on their mailing list. Sometimes they send links to pretty cool articles, like this one about the most expensive books they sold in 2008 (check out that T.S. Eliot book!) and this one about books with unusual (and beautiful!) bindings.

Slumdog Millionaire

If you know me well, you know I can be a sentimental, romantic-type. Undoubtedly, that explains why I enjoyed Slumdog Millionaire so much. Plus, it is a movie full of Dickensian spirit, I think, and that certainly appeals to me, someone who loves David Copperfield and Great Expectations. Slumdog had been on my list of movies to see ever since I heard the early and enthusiastic reviews.

Visually, the movie is different and exciting. The director captures fascinating images of the children, the buildings, and the landscape. Even the scene where a young child is covered in...let's just call it arresting. I was grossed out and elated at the same time. Part of that emotion comes from the excellent young actor who plays Jamal as a boy, Ayush Mahesh Khedekar. He's adorable as anything, too.

The movie is unasbashedly romantic (which isn't for everyone, I know) but also quite disturbing in its realistic depictions of life in the slums for so many Indians. There is one scene that is especially horrifying, as a child suffers a cruel act of mutilation. Moreover, the trajectory of Salim, the hero's brother, is quite depressing.

As I've already indicated, though, the movie doesn't leave us in the depths of despair. Some might call this unrealistic or find the ending a bit too neat, but it worked for me. When Latika (the gorgeous Freida Pinto) asks Jamal (the amazing Dev Patel) what they will live on if she runs away with him and he answers, "Love," darn it if I didn't buy it all--hook, line, and sinker. Finally, the movie ends with a dance number and (perhaps because I am the world's worst dancer) that made me love it even more.

I'm not a movie critic by any means, but I really enjoyed this one. Give it a try.

Happy 200th Birthday!

Happy Birthday, Edgar Allan Poe. (Yes, I am one day late. Sorry--the snow we had here yesterday threw me off schedule.) In honor of the occasion, we're discussing "The Cask of Amontillado" in ENGL 102. Actually, that's just a coincidence, albeit a very cool one.

Anyway, here's an article from the Wall Street Journal that you might find interesting.

A great day for America... matter who you voted for.

This is one of my favorite pictures of our President-elect. I know it's a bit of an anvil over the head as far as symbols go, but let's face it: it works. This guy works hard, gets results, and keeps his cool. And through it all, he just seems so genuine and authentic.

He's got my support because he's my President..or he will be in a few hours. I wish him nothing but success.

(By the way, the picture comes from a very cool collection you can find here.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Funny stuff. My students have made several of these mistakes...heck, I am sure I have, too. Via The Daily Dish.

Movie recommendations from my students...

Today was only the second meeting of my MWF classes, so obviously, I am still in that desperate situation of trying to learn their names--and trying to get them to learn each others names. One of the ways I do this is by asking students interesting (I hope) questions as I take attendance: questions like "What is the best thing you read recently?" (this one works much better in a class of English majors than in a gen. ed. class, where you'll hear lots of "I don't like to read...") or "What song has to be on your ipod?" Today, I opted for "What is either A) the best or B) the worst movie you've seen recently?" I thought this would be easier than asking "What's your favorite movie?" a question students agonize over answering (which is kind of adorable).

Anyway, along with some expected recommendations on my must-see list (Gran Torino, Slumdog Millionaire), some of the folks in my ENGL 312 shared some pretty "out there." I immediately looked these three gems up online and might just have to pop one of them into the DVD player the next time I am hanging out with my siblings.

Here they are. You owe it to yourself to at least check out the trailers. (And yes, there's a common theme of zombies...)

1) Black Sheep. Hilariously, one student mentioned this as a movie he actually saw accidentally, having meant to rent this movie. Other students had seen it on purpose, though, and loved it--in the way that you "love something because it is so bad."

2. Poultrygeist. (Actually, if you are squeamish, you might skip the trailer on this one--it's pretty crazy!)

3. Fido. This one looks downright AWESOME.

Monday, January 12, 2009

One day down, lots more to go...

So the first day of the Spring 2009 Semester went rather well. I taught two classes today: ENGL 204 and ENGL 312. ENGL 312 is a brand-new course for our department (part of our redesigned major), so that adds even more excitement. Of course, all I've really done in these classes so far is take attendance, go over the syllabus, and make a bunch of corny jokes. Tomorrow I teach two sections of ENGL 102. Students can expect more of the same from me on day one of those classes.

And here's something that's hard to wrap my mind around: my course requests for next semester are due on January 16. Yup, that's this Friday.

Salem Red Sox?

Have any of my fellow Roanoke alums seen what has become of our beloved Avalanche? Now they are the Salem Red Sox. Eww. For the record, I don't hate the Red Sox the way a lot Yankee fans do, but they certainly aren't a team I like a lot.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Why you wake up exhausted...

This cat must be related to Bing and Wes.

Via Andrew Sullivan.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

More Dr. Horrible!

Having just received my DVD in the mail, I am thrilled with this news from Joss.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

New Year's Eve

New Year's Eve with Liz and Liz (Vogel and Wilkie) was a lot of fun, but sadly, we didn't take many pictures at all. Here are the only two, from early in the night, at my favorite restaurant in Shepherdstown.


Wilkie and Heidi.

Winter sunset...

30 December 2008

Bing and Wesley's Christmas Gift...

One of the Christmas presents I got from this year was actually a gift for Bing and Wes: this water fountain. I've been wanting to get them one of these for a while now for a couple of reasons. First, Bing is pretty obsessed with running/dripping water and water in general, and I thought he'd get a kick out of this. Second, several years ago, I lost two male cats in less than 2 years from urinary blockages. Since then, I worry a lot about Bing or Wes having similar problems. These kinds of water bowls, though, encourage lots of drinking and filter the water, all of which is supposed to be good for urinary tract health. I was just a bit concerned, though, that the boys refuse to use the darn thing. I was even a bit worried that Wes would be afraid of it.

No worries, though! They love it and are drinking like camels. I took some pictures for my dad to show my mom and figured I'd post them here. If you have pets, I'd recommend this product. (It isn't completely silent, though--if there's no other noise, you can hear a gentle hum from the pump. Again, it's not a big deal, but it suprises me that that the company makes such a big deal about it being silent when it isn't.)

Bing's first reaction to the plugged-in water fountain? A scholarly approach: stare and study. It's worth noting that before it was plugged in and before it had any water in it, he was also fascinated by it and even flung his toy mouse into it. They also both drank from it before it was plugged in. (You sort of fill it in stages the first time, but it's hard to explain the concept of stages to cats.)

Wesley's first drink came directly from the ramp portion of the fountain (where water flows down). This tends to be their favorite part since they can kind of play with the water as it runs. Notice Bing continues to study the unit.

Wesley drinking from the bowl. He likes it! He really likes it! (For the record, it did scare him once, which was kind of adorable. He had just finished taking a big drink and the unit made a kind of "glug-glug" noise as water moved from the reservoir part to the main section.)

Finally, with all his studying done and his little brother out of the way, Bing takes his turn. He likes it, too!

Monday, January 5, 2009

The elephant's friend...

If you are an animal lover, you so need to watch this video from yesterday's Sunday Morning.

The Photographic Dictionary...

Have fun exploring this site. Should I add a time-sucker warning? Probably... (Via Andrew Sullivan.)

By the way, this is a dead-on description of how I felt on Saturday.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Sherwood Bonner

This Saturday morning, I find myself up in my office on campus working on my article on Sherwood Bonner. I've got about 12 days to get it done, and should be just fine, provided I don't waste lots of time doing things like blogging. But going over some notes, I ran across this wonderful quotation from Bonner's 1875 journal, and remembered that I meant to post it long ago:

“‘Regret more than ever that women are denied the privilege of voting. Am becoming more interested in politics. Am called a Radical, but who cares?’” (qtd. in Gowdy xviii).

This couple of lines say so much about Bonner and the bold way she lived her life. I just love the "who cares?" she gives us. She was such a determined woman and so determined to do things her way. It's worth pointing out that Bonner writes these lines as a postbellum Southern woman living in Boston, having more or less run away from a ne'er-do-well husband. She goes to Boston to try to make it as a writer--she wanted a life, a name, an identity of her own. And she wanted a way to support her young daughter, who she had to leave behind in Mississippi. Just imagine the scorn she risked (and indeed, did suffer from many people) by doing these things--leaving a husband, "abandoning" a child, daring to write about both the North and the South in unconventional ways. I could go on, but I need to get back to work...

Source: Gowdy, Anne Razey. Introduction. A Sherwood Bonner Sampler, 1869-1884: What a Bright, Educated, Witty, Lively, Snappy Young Woman Can Say on a Variety of Topics. Ed. Anne Razey Gowdy. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 2000. xiii-lxvii.