Sunday, June 1, 2014

you need to read this: special topics in calamity physics AND night film

Sunday, June 1, 2014

There is no doubt that you have seen many mentions of Lainey Gossip here, the gossip blog penned by Elaine Lui.  I affectionately refer to Lui as "my Lainey" in casual conversation, and it's my first web stop every day.  I check the site multiple times a day and thoroughly enjoy every minute of my perusing.  Now, before you inevitably cast judgment on the idea of "celebrity gossip", which does bear a certain negative connotation, I must tell you that Lainey Lui is no Perez Hilton.  She is nothing akin to a reporter for Us Weekly or even People.  She is a legitimate entertainment reporter for a Canadian news show, and began her career in nonprofit fundraising, working for the Covenant House.  Celebrity gossip for Lainey was at first a hobby, but her wit and savvy have purveyed it into a real job.  She writes both scathing commentary and witty, intelligent analyses of the behavior of television and film stars as well as their work.  She loathes the Kardashians (who are never mentioned on the blog), eschews reality television, and has two great weaknesses: Gwyneth Paltrow and Prince Harry.

In addition to being equal parts insightful and entertaining when it comes to celebs, Lainey is also a big reader.  She loves everything related to Harry Potter (all books, the author herself, all stars of the films, particularly the big three) and was early on the Hunger Games bandwagon, but her taste is certainly more nuanced and interesting than simply YA or fantasy fiction.  There is a tab on the main blog devoted to articles about her book recommendations and news of film adaptations, which I  never gave much attention until Lainey happened to mention Divergent in one of her daily posts. Granted, Divergent falls squarely in the Young Adult category, but it was reading Lainey's original thoughts on it that sent me to her other book recommendations, and I have been more than pleased with everything I have found.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics is Marisha Pessl's first book.  Though I read it after finishing STCP, I can say with confidence that it was unquestionably influenced by Donna Tartt's The Secret History.  I might have enjoyed it more, however.  Both are stories of a group of young students who play at being highly intellectual but are rather a mess when it comes right down to it.  Each novel focuses on a scandal involving one of the more enigmatic characters, the background and unfolding of which make up the story.

I have discovered that no matter how much I might have to say about a book or film, I have a hard time actually writing deep and meaningful thoughts or analyses about them.  I blame the huge block of brain space that is taken over by my precious toddler :)  Thus, I've included a few gems from the text itself, just to give you a glimpse of Pessl's talents.

--I was aware too how strange adults were, how their lives were vaster than they wanted anyone to realize, that they actually stretched on and on like deserts, dry and desolate, with an unpredictable, shifting sea of dunes.
--Dad said it was imperative to avoid people's fervent confidences and confessions. "Tell the person you must leave the room," he instructed, "that you ate something, that you're ill, that your father has scarlet fever, that you feel the end of the world is imminent and you must rush to the grocery store to stock up on bottled water and gas masks. Or simply fake a seizure. Anything, sweet, anything at all to rid yourself of that intimacy they plan to lay on you like a slab of cement."

Night Film is quite a bit different from Special Topics. For one, it's darker, scarier, and an entirely new kind of novel than I've read in some time.  It is centered around the disappearance of a young woman that happens to be the daughter of a reclusive, world-renowned director of horror films.  I can't even begin to provide a plot summary that would sufficiently explain the book, but I will tell you that the thrills aren't cheap and that the story, which is massive and chock-full of eccentric and fascinating characters, is meticulously crafted and organized.

description of Nora Halliday, sidekick to Scott McGrath, Night Film's protagonist:

On one side of her were two giant Duane Reade shopping bags, on the other a brown paper Whole Foods bag and a large grey leather purse, unzipped and sagging open like a gutted reef shark, inside of which you could see all it had ingested that morning: Vogue, a green sweater still attached to knitting needles, a sneaker, a pair of white Apple earphones wrapped around not an iPod but a Discman.  It might as well have been a gramophone.

She didn't notice us walking toward her because her eyes were closed and she was whispering to herself-apparently trying to memorize the block of highlighted text from the play in her hands.  On the table in front of her was a plate of half-finished French toast floating like a houseboat on the Mississippi in a pool of syrup.  

Neither of these books are prize-winning material or examples of fine literature, but both are thoroughly enjoyable, riveting, well-written, and worthy of your time.  Lainey's taste in books is as excellent as in gossip.   

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