A Room with a View: A Review Sunday, Apr 13 2008 

I just finished watching ITV’s new adaptation of E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View in PBS’s Masterpiece Classics. Here’s the trailer:

In the interest of full disclosure, let me start with a couple of confessions. First, E. M. Forster is one of my favorite writers. I haven’t reread his novels as recently as I have Jane Austen’s, but I’ve loved them for almost 20 years now. Second, the Merchant Ivory film adaptations of A Room with a View, Maurice, and Howards End are all among my favorite movies. I’ve loved each one ever since I saw them. In sum, I love E. M. Forster.

Given that love, I suppose I could predictably have had one of two reactions to this new adaptation — either I would dislike it for not living up to the novel or the earlier adaptation or I would love it despite any reservations about it not living up to the novel or the earlier adaptation. So, I’m a little surprised to report that I loved this version on its own terms.

ITV adaptations are (in)famous for always coming in under 90 minutes, which means that they cut the heck out of a novel in order to make this time limit. In this case, the cutting didn’t bother me as much as some of the excisions in the recent Jane Austen adaptations. Likewise, these productions tend to rewrite portions of the plot. I think these changes seem to be part of an effort to make them more appealing to modern audiences. Again, the changes in A Room with a View worked for me.

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It’s Been a Weird Week Saturday, Apr 12 2008 

It’s been a week since PJ left for his month-long fellowship in Worcester, Massachusetts. At least in part due to his absence, it’s been a weird week.

PJ left last Saturday morning. I’m a little surprised that I didn’t immediately go into some kind of mild depression. Before he left, I imagined that it would only take a couple of hours before I would be curled up on the floor in the fetal position or something like that. While I definitely miss him, this first week hasn’t been too bad. At times, I’ve even kind of enjoyed having the house to myself.

It probably helped that the first thing I did when he left was indulge my culinary whims. On Sunday, for example, I made gazpacho, which I ate over the next three dinners. I also bought the stuff to make fish or grilled cheese sandwiches to go with the soup. I think eating well for much of this week has helped my metal state.

Another thing I’ve done is watch a couple of dvds from Netflix. Early in the week, I watched was The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, an independent Filipino movie about a 12-year-old gay boy who is torn between loyalty to his family of petty criminals and his desire for a new police officer. Here’s the trailer:

I have to admit, however, that I really didn’t care for this movie. It was well reviewed by other members of Netflix, but I thought it had A LOT of problems, not the least of which was the young actor’s inability to act convincingly. But I’m glad I watched it — usually when PJ’s out of town I just end up watching my favorite movies, which I’ve seen over and over again. (In that vein, I did finish watching The Best Years of Our Lives, one of my all time favorite movies on dvd and saw part of Star Wars: Episode III on Spike.)

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Darcy’s Story: A Review Thursday, Mar 20 2008 

Darcy's StoryThis week I read Janet Aylmer’s Darcy’s Story, which was first published in 2006. Like Pamela Aidan’s trilogy, which I reviewed here, this book recounts the events of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice from Mr. Darcy’s point of view, though at much shorter length.

Darcy’s Story begins during the summer prior to Darcy’s fateful introduction to Hertfordshire and Miss Elizabeth Bennett. While on a trip to Ramsgate, Miss Georgiana Darcy is wooed by the rakish George Wickham, and Darcy must save her from his duplicity. A few weeks later, his friend Mr. Bingley invites him to see the estate he has just leased, and during this visit Darcy accompanies his friend and Bingley’s sisters to a local ball. His lack of grace and good humor during this country entertainment puts him at odds with the local beauty, Elizabeth, and leads to the twists and turns of their tumultuous relationship over the following year.

“Janet Aylmer” is a pen name for an “English Jane Austen enthusiast” who lives in Bath. This is her first foray into the burgeoning field of Austen rewrites and sequels. On the whole, I thought this book was entertaining enough. Aylmer definitely remains faithful to Austen’s original, which for me is always crucial to any book’s success in this genre. Her Darcy is consistent with Austen’s hero, and Aylmer handles her task with love and care.

But these qualities also work against Darcy’s Story. One can’t help but feel that s/he has read this all before. Aylmer brings little that’s new to this story, and I felt that she was perhaps too slavish in her devotion to Austen’s original. Large portions of the novel seem lifted from Pride and Prejudice. I couldn’t help but want a little more creativity and exploration of Darcy as a character.

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La Llorona Monday, Feb 25 2008 

Today my Lesbian and Gay Literature class started discussing Felicia Luna Lemus‘s Trace Elements of Random Tea Parties. The novel is about a Latina named Leticia, as the book’s back cover tells us, “immerses herself in the post-queer hipster scene in Los Angeles.”

Leti begins her story by telling us that it is “really about my girl Weeping Woman, Nana, and me” (3). I thought it was important to make sure my students understood the folklore surrounding the Weeping Woman, so I did a little internet research to give them.

The story of the Weeping Woman, or La Llorona, exists in several forms. In all of them, she kills her children by drowning them. Her spirit now roams the earth looking for naughty children to snatch away and make her own.

During my research, I came across the following video on Youtube. I’ve completely fallen in love with it.

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Teaching Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir Monday, Jan 21 2008 

Borrowed TimeI’m not sure I can do this. I’ve wanted to teach Paul Monette‘s Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir or Becoming a Man: Half a Life’s Story but have always been too afraid to do so. Until now. My Lesbian & Gay Lit class is starting Borrowed Time for Wednesday’s class. I’m not sure I can do it.
Borrowed Time is Monette’s chronicle of his relationship with Roger Horowitz, his partner of ten years, as Roger is first diagnosed with and then dying of AIDS. It’s one of the most important accounts of the AIDS crisis during the 1980s, a classic text of Lesbian & Gay Literature.

I’ve taught portions of Monette’s last collection of non-fiction essays, Last Watch of the Night: Essays Too Personal and Otherwise a couple of times, but this is my first time teaching Borrowed Time. In fact, I’ve never been able to finish Borrowed Time — it’s just so intensely tragic. One of the essays in Last Watch of the Night, “3275,” which is the plot number of Monette’s grave site with Roger, ends with a call to arms:

We queers on Revelation hill, tucking our skirts about us so as not to touch our Mormon neighbors, died of the greed of power, because we were expendable. If you mean to visit any of us, it had better be to make you strong to fight that power. Take you languor and easy tears somewhere else. Above all, don’t pretty us up. Tell yourself: None of this ever had to happen. And then go make it stop, with whatever breath you have left. Grief is a sword, or it is nothing. (115)

I can’t help but approach Borrowed Time with this passage in my mind. Reading it has always felt so devastating that I can’t help but cry through parts of it. It’s difficult for me to feel angry about the losses the gay community has suffered from AIDS and all too easy to feel sad and crushed by them. I’ve never known anyone personally who died of AIDS, so maybe that’s kept me from anger.

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The World of Normal Boys: A Review Tuesday, Dec 4 2007 

After the Fall Quarter was finished, I looked around my study for something fun to read. I tried reading Wuthering Heights again, but, while it’s a great book, it wasn’t what I was in the mood for. I started reading A Passage to India, the only E. M. Forster I haven’t read, but that too didn’t work. I decided I wanted something gay (or maybe I should say gayer than Forster), so I rooted about in my bookshelves and piles of random books and picked up K. M. Soehnlein‘s The World of Normal Boys, a coming out story about a kid named Robin set in 1978.

I think I bought TWoNB a couple of years ago. I had been in a gay book club and had gotten tired of having to mail in the little cards telling them not to send me each month’s selection, so I decided to order a few books all at once, complete my obligatory number of purchases, and then cancel my membership. This was one of the novels that sounded interesting. Unfortunately, when I got the books in the mail, I started reading one of the other novels, which wasn’t very good. When I couldn’t get into that one, I figured all three of the books I ordered must not be any good, so I set them on a shelf and forgot about them.

So, after I picked it off the shelf again, I didn’t have very high expectations. Much to my surprise, however, I quickly fell in love with this book. Here’s how it begins:

Maybe this is the moment when his teenage years begin. An envelope arrives in the mail addressed to him from Greenlawn High School. Inside is a computer-printed schedule of classes. Robin MacKenzie. Freshman. Fall, 1978. He has been assigned to teachers, placed in a homeroom. His social security number sits in the upper right corner, emphasizing the specter of faceless authority. Someone, some system of decision making, has organized his next nine months into fifty-minute periods, and here is his notification. This is what you will learn. This is when you will eat. This is when you go home to your family at 135 Bergen Avenue. This is how you will live your life, Robin MacKenzie.

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No Country for Old Men: A Review Monday, Dec 3 2007 

In keeping with the Texas theme of our trip, PJ and I saw the Coen Brothers’ new film, No Country for Old Men, on Thanksgiving day. It stars Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson, and Kelly Macdonald and is based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy. Here’s the trailer:

No Country for Old Men is set in Texas in 1980. The movie starts with Brolin’s character, Llewelyn Moss, accidentally stumbling across what looks like a massacre, the results of a drug deal gone wrong in the desert . Investigating the scene more closely, Llewelyn eventually finds a leather case full of money, at least a couple million dollars. When he takes the money, it sets off a violent chain of events that, despite his best efforts, he cannot control or stop.

NCfOM is a great movie, certainly one of the year’s best. Jones plays the local sheriff, Ed Tom Bell. His character grounds the film in common sense and serves as the audience’s way into the film. He also serves as the film’s narrator of sorts. This character isn’t a stretch for Jones; in fact, he’s played this kind of role several times. But he is perfect in this part and watching him is like sitting in on a master-class for actors. This film wouldn’t work if Bell came across as hokey or cocky. Jones imbues him with a fundamental sense of morality that reflects a kind of everyman’s quest to make sense of the senseless world around him.

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Teaching Tom Jones Friday, Oct 19 2007 

This week I finished teaching Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, which I had never taught before. In fact, I’d never finished reading it before, which is one of the reasons I decided to teach it this term — what better way to force myself to read it!?

Because the novel is so long, some 800 pages, we spent three weeks (fully a third of our class) on it. Now that I’ve finished it, I have to say I see why this book is reputed to be one of the great novels of English literature. It’s a hoot! Parts of his are hilariously funny, and (maybe because it is so long) it encapsulates just about every major issue that a teacher would want to bring up about mid-eighteenth-century literature and culture. I also think a good number of my students enjoyed reading it. Not all of them, of course, but the ones who clearly read all (or most of it) seemed to enjoy it and have interesting things to say about it.

Tom Jones DVDWhen I decided to teach it, I also decided to show my class a miniseries version of the novel as we read. The dvd is distributed by A&E and was originally a BBC production. This production stars Max Beesley as Tom and Samantha Morton as Sophia. They both do an excellent job in the roles. Beesley is very good at playing the manslut with the heart of gold, and Morton is great as the ever put-upon Sophia (but she’s always great in everything she does!).

One of my students commented on the production’s costumes when we finished it on Wednesday; she really liked them. I totally agreed. This miniseries gives its audience a great feel for eighteenth-century clothing, manners, houses, etc.

To finish my mini-review, everything about this production is top-notch. I also really liked James D’Arcy as Blifil, Lindsay Duncan as Lady Bellaston, and Brian Blessed as Squire Western. All of the casting was perfect, but these three actors were especially great in their roles. So, I’m glad we watched it.

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The Back Passage: A Review Thursday, Sep 27 2007 

Book Cover James Lear’s The Back Passage is the gay adult version of the movie Gosford Park, or at least that’s what kept coming to my mind as I read it. I wish Ryan Phillippe, Jeremy Northam, and James Wilby would star in a film adaptation of this novel!

The Back Passage follows Edward “Mitch” Mitchell, a 1924 Cambridge postgraduate student who agrees to visit Drekeham Hall, a Norfolk country estate, with his best friend, Harry “Boy” Morgan, who is engaged to the daughter of Sir James Eagle, the patriarch of the Drekeham household. Mitch’s motivation in accompanying Boy is far from innocent, however, since he’s been lusting after his friend since he first saw Boy carrying an upturned rowboat out of a river. Since proper young women don’t put out before marriage — and Mitch certainly does — it’s not long before Mitch find himself in a cupboard giving Boy his first blow job.

Before can finish the liaison, however, Boy’s fiancĂ©e screams, revealing that a dead body has just fallen out of a cupboard similar to the one Mitch and Boy are currently using. Having read a lot of detective fiction in his youth, Mitch intuits that something fishing is going on when one of the servants with no apparent connection to the dead man is quickly precipitously arrested for the murder. He therefore decides that it’s up to him to find the real murderer and bring him to justice.

But he murder plot is really just an excuse to follow Mitch’s erotic adventures, as he seduces just about every man connected with or investigating the murder, including Sir James’s younger, effeminate, and obviously gay brother, a local constable, a reporter, a couple of the servants, Sir James’s secretary, and, of course, Boy. His investigation even gives him the opportunity to observe a couple of the servants indulge their own same-sex desires and threatens his own life when he becomes the object of a corrupt policeman’s potentially homicidal S/M fantasies. The Back Passage is a fun, entertaining take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot.

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Teaching Fun Home to Straight Students Thursday, Aug 16 2007 

I’ve been teaching two classes during our second summer session. One is a junior-level literature course on women and literature, the other a junior-level writing course on women and writing. We’ve just finished the fourth week of the session and have one more to do. I keep swearing to anyone who will listen that this has to be my last summer of teaching. It’s exhausting, which makes me cranky, and it’s keeping me from writing (both my scholarship and my blog).

The money’s pretty good, but I’m increasingly convinced that it’s just not worth it. I have career ambitions that aren’t ever going to happen until I get a second book finished. And my second book isn’t going to write itself. Plus, I’ve been doing a little work on an article when I steal a minute or two between classes and fits of exhaustion, and I’m definitely feeling some resentment that my teaching isn’t letting me get it done (which is obviously a bad thing to feel). So, I’m not planning on teaching next summer. Instead, I’m planning to write (and maybe visit the Alps).

But in the meantime, I’m teaching two classes. The writing course has been focused on women’s autobiographical writing. We started with Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko and discussed whether we thought that it counted as an autobiography. We then read Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, which is an autobiography and connects back to the issues of slavery and race that Behn raises. Our third book was Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.

We spent one day on Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s “White Glasses,” an essay that I absolutely love. In the right context (i.e., not near the end of a summer session), it’s a joy to teach. It’s an amazing piece of writing, in my opinion. And now we’re doing Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home.

I was a little hesitant to teach Fun Home in this class. Of course one never knows for sure, but I assume that all of my students are straight. They’re also not English majors and may not even be particularly interested in reading great literature, which Fun Home is. So, I was worried about how they would respond.

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