Summer 2014 Literature & Film Recommendations

the_master_and_margarita_by_confusedlarch-d5y4f47The Cambridge Writers’ Workshop published their Summer 2014 Literature & Film Recommendations list today!  The list has been curated by Alex Carrigan and contributors include Rita Banerjee, Alex Carrigan, Gregory Crosby, Elissa Lewis, Jessica Reidy, Ian Singleton, Kathleen Spivack, Christine Stoddard, Diana Norma Szokolyai, Megan Tilley, and Roxy van Beek.  Here are some Summer 2014 Film & Literature recommendations by Rita Banerjee.  For the full list, please visit CWW Recommends!

 

Rita’s Summer 2014 Lit Picks:

Gone_Girl_(Flynn_novel)Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

This is the novel I wish I had written.  Gillian Flynn’s writing is stylistic, clever, and full of wit and menace. Every word of Flynn’s novel from her first sentence to her last is gorgeously crafted and razor-sharp.  Gone Girl centers around the story of Amy and Nick Dunne, a supposedly happily married couple about to celebrate their 5th wedding anniversary.  Following the 2008 Stock Market crash and the ensuing Great Recession, Amy and Nick are forced to move to North Carthage, Missouri after losing their jobs in the glittery, larger-than-life publishing world of New York City.  The novel, told from alternating points of view follows the fairy tale beginning and then increasingly volatile relationship between Amy and Nick.  Flynn does a masterful job of capturing Amy and Nick’s distinctive voices, psychology, and increasingly dark secrets, and her essay on the “Cool Girl” is a magnificent, and to-die-for moment in the novel.  To add insult to injury, Amy’s parents are the perfect married partners and are in a decades-long happy romance.  They are also authors of the children book series, Amazing Amy, which presents a parallel but laudable version of Amy’s own life, that is, “Amazing Amy” never makes the wrong decision or encounters grievous hardships whereas Amy Dunne’s life seem punctuated by increasingly harsher realities.  The novel begins on the morning of Amy and Nick’s 5th wedding anniversary when everything seems normal, mundane, and annoyingly routine until Amy Dunne goes missing.  And we find Nick, who spends too much of his free time contemplating size and permeability of the Amy’s skull, as the prime suspect.

EmmaGoldmanEmma Goldman: Revolution as a Way of Life by Vivian Gornick

For anyone who has read The Situation and the Story: The Art of the Personal Narrative, you know that Vivian Gornick is a rock-star in the contemporary creative writing scene.  She is a master of the personal essay and definitely one of the most fluid, honestly intellectual, and vividly personal non-fiction writers out there.  In Emma Goldman: Revolution as a Way of Life, Gornick traces the life and times of Emma Goldman and how Goldman, a young Russian Jewish émigré who came to the US in 1885, not knowing a word of English and only enough Yiddish and German to communicate with German and Jewish intellectuals in New York City, became the little anarchist that could.  Under the tutelage of Johann Most and radicals from the Lower East Side, Goldman became a great orator, a supporter of worker rights and basic human rights for all, and most of all, a successful practitioner of civil disobedience.  Her speeches in support of anarchy, free love, and ethical labor conditions drew hundreds of thousands of supporters in New York, Chicago, and even in California before she went on to stump in Europe, the UK, and Canada.  Jailed for her anarchist sentiments, Goldman quickly learned to read, write, and orate in English while serving time.  She also successfully subverted the hierarchical order of her prison and subtly promoted communal rights.  Overall, Gornick’s biography of Goldman is witty, full of vivid imagery, and so well-crafted that the revolutionary zeitgeist of Emma Goldman’s life and times leaps off the page and completely surrounds the reader. Emma Goldman is intriguing as a character, a thinker, a revolutionary, and a refusenik.  Perhaps what makes her so enchanting and so commanding can be summed by her own motto: “If I can’t dance, I’m not coming to your revolution.”

AnnVeronicaAnn Veronica by H.G. Wells

H.G. Wells may be best known as a master of science fiction and stories which exam what seems ordinary but uncanny, but his novels of social realism and turn-of-the-century politics in England deserve much praise and definitely a favored spot on your shelf.  H.G. Wells, who received Emma Goldman during her travels to England in the early 20th century, was part of the political left.  Ann Veronica, which examines the consequences of capitalism, England’s suffragist movement of the 1900s, and emergence of the “New Woman” in British society, is undoubtedly one of Wells’s most radical, thought-provoking, feminist, and best novels.  The novel centers on the story of Ann Veronica, a young 22-year-old woman, who studies biology at a university in London and who is continuously reprimanded for her exerting her own free will at her father’s house.  Ann, thus, decides to leave the suburbs and her childhood home behind to carve out a career and independent life for herself in London.  In London, Ann faces a series of increasingly terrifying social obstacles–from trying to rent an apartment on her own as a single woman, to securing a job for herself, to continuing to individually fund her college career, to her encounters with paramours and the well-meaning but chaotic world of radical suffragists.  Ann takes each problem she faces in stride, and her choices and life story are unpredictable and incredibly refreshing.  Ann, who may have been based on Wells’s own lover, Amber Reeves, demonstrates how well Wells can create feminist, complicated, and dynamic female characters who are both emotionally realistic and intellectually captivating.  As E.M Foster notes on “[Wells’s] power of observation stronger – he photographs those he meets and agitates the photos.”  With Ann Veronica, Wells has captured the dreams and desires of a young girl in the turn-of-the-century, and has found a away to agitate her narrative into a captivating, three-dimentional hero’s quest.

the-kennedy-chronicles_coverThe Kennedy Chronicles: The Golden Age of MTV Through Rose-Colored Glasses by Kennedy

For anyone who grew up in the Golden Age of MTV when the network still used to air music videos and was a bastion for American alternative culture, new voices, and underground bands, this memoir by Kennedy, that in-your-face, pajama-d, combat-boot wearing, off-the-wall feminist VJ is a must read.  In her memoirs, Kennedy takes shows us what life was like on Alternative Nation and behind the Moon Man.  She gives us behind-the-scenes tours of MTV luminaries like Jon Stewart, Tabitha Soren, and Kurt Loder, and shares some amazing reveals about Trent Reznor and NIN, Billy Corgan, Radiohead, Björk, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam.  In recalling her escapades, Kennedy writes, “I did all of these things because that’s what you do when you’re twenty and wild and living in the moment in a special universe where your future may be uncertain…and it sure as hell is fun to relive those passionate, earnest moments when music mattered and timed stopped.”

Rita’s Summer 2014 Film Picks:

the-workhorse-and-the-bigmouthThe Workhorse and the Bigmouth (2013, dir. Yoshida Keisuke, Japan)

The Workhouse and the Bigmouth, or Bashyauma-san to Biggumausu in Japanese, is a wonderful contemporary comedy-drama about two young screenwriters trying to making it big on the mean streets of the publishing and media worlds of Japan.  The story centers on the aspirations of 34-year-old Michiyo Mabuchi and 26-year-old Yoshimi Tendo as they compete with one another and try to break into the screenwriting world of Japanese film and television.  Michiyo, who has been taking creative writing workshops and screenwriting classes for the past ten years but has yet to be published or to be successful, is our frustrated, anti-hero workhorse.  Yoshimi is the self-proclaimed screenwriting genius and Wunderkind, who finds himself facing a blank screen when he finally sits down to write his first screenplay.  Together, they exchange diatribes, work philosophies, and ideas about what makes a good story work and what can make a writer fail.  Overall, Yoshida Keisuke’s film gives us a wonderful insight into the contemporary creative writing world of the Japanese, the fierce competitiveness of the Japanese publishing and media industries, and how much courage and sheer determination it takes to become a noteworthy and successful writer.  (Recommended for writers and dreamers everywhere).

AranyerDinRatriDays and Nights in the Forest (1970, dir. Satyajit Ray, India)

Aranyer Dinrātri, or Days and Nights in the Forest, is a comedic and lovely story on what can happen on lost weekends by Satyajit Ray.  The film is based on a story by the Bengali modernist poet and historical novelist, Sunil Gangopadhyay, and focuses on the adventures and mishaps of four young male friends who decide to leave their stiff, box-wallah office jobs in Kolkata behind to spend a week-long vacation in the forests of Bihar.  The four men, who come from middle-class backgrounds, transpose their classist views onto the Santhal communities they meet in the forest.  They also meet two lovely young women who are vacationing in their summer cottage nearby, and missed connections, summer picnics, and one very memorable memory game ensue.  Ray, who is known for his socially realist films and participation in the Parallel Cinema movement of South Asia, is a masterful storyteller and lyrical cinematographer in this film.  Days and Nights in the Forest is a must-see of anyone who has wandered out in the wilderness in the middle of the night, contemplating a mid-summer night’s dream.

BroenThe Bridge (2011-, dir. Bjorn Stein and Charlotte Sieling, Denmark/Sweden)

The Bridge was recommended to me by my partner, and is a thrilling mini-series that’s perfect for summer nights.  The story begins at midnight when the lights on the bridge between Sweden and Denmark suddenly go out, stopping all traffic.  The black out is unexpected but ordinary, until the police notice a woman lying on the road, directly in the center of the bridge.  On closer inspection, it appears to be a dead body, and there’s surveillance footage indicating that a black car dropped her off on the bridge precisely at the time when the lights went out and traffic had to be halted.  It looks like an ordinary murder, and the commuters, stuck on the bridge, become more agitated as they wait to be let across to the other side.  A woman is in an ambulance trying to rush her husband from Denmark to Sweden but is stuck behind the traffic barrier lines, and as she yells towards the detectives to hurry up, the wind begins to pick up.  That’s when the detectives from Denmark and Sweden note that the dead woman’s body has been sawed in half directly across the invisible cartographic line that separates Sweden from Denmark.

the_master_and_margarita_by_confusedlarch-d5y4f47The Master and Margarita (2005, dir. Vladimir Bortko, Russia)

If you haven’t read Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel, The Master and Margarita, go out to your local library, bookstore, ebook dealer, etc., and grab a copy now!  The novel focuses on three intersecting storylines.  The first narrative involves the atheist, political dissenter, and editor Mikhail Alexandrovich and his young friend, Ivan Nikolayevich, a poet who goes under the pen-name Homeless.  The second narrative is set in the ancient Roman Empire and follows the conflict between Pontius Pilate and Jesus Christ, a young, charismatic political and religious dissenter.  The third follows the story of a writer, simply called the Master, and his muse and married lover, Margarita.  Thrown into this mix is the strange, foreign “Professor W,” his oddly attired traveling companion, and a vodka-drinking black cat that seems to be able to do magic tricks and perform menacing acts.  Set during 1920s and 1930s during Russia’s Soviet reign, this novel and mini-series blend political satire, commentary on ethics and spirituality, the writers’ role in society, and elements of the uncanny and the fantastic into a witty, comedic tale.  The mini-series stars a wonderful cast of talented actors, and is a must-see for anyone who’s a fan of modern Russian literature and theatre.

Her2013PosterHer (2013, dir. Spike Jonze, USA)

Finally, one last must-see film for the summer.  Her, directed and written by Spike Jonze, is a visually stunning and emotionally lyrically film about what happens to human beings when they literally fall in love with technology.  The lush warm hues of the film, gorgeously crafted sets, and lit panels, which mimic the shades of camera filters, draw the viewer into the protagonist’s emotionally vulnerable world.  Set in a beautifully designed, architectural near-future, Her centers on the story of Theodore Twombly, who has separated from his wife and is facing an imminent divorce, and who works full-time writing personal letters for clients who cannot write anything personal themselves.  Lonely and disenchanted, one day Theo stumbles upon an exhibit advertising an even more personal operating system–something that’s more than a computer or secretary, but promises to be an avid companion and close friend.  Intrigued, Theo buys this new OS, which after asking him a series of too-close-to-home questions, installs itself into Theo’s life as the with the voice of Scarlet Johansson as the OS named “Samantha.”  Soon Theo and “Samantha” start developing a closer bond, and Theo finds himself falling in love, not with a machine, or a piece of code meant to replicate a human being, but with a persona and human being that cannot really exist.

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