dilluns, 31 de desembre de 2012

New Year's Resolutions for 2013

As every year, let's see how my New Year's resolutions for 2012 went, using our usual system:

blue = "99% or 100% accomplished"
green = "well, kind of"
  red = "mission: impossible"
purple = "didn't even try".
  1. Write more: finish the stories I make up, write more entries for my blog, continue my travelling diary. Ha. Enough said. (I did continue my travelling diary, though, and recently started updating the blog, but I'll leave it in red because it doesn't deserve a pass.)

  2. Sleep 8 hours at night on working days. Or at least 7, instead of 6. Ok, I'm kind of cheating with this one because I normally start working at around 10 AM (my first class is at 10:55 AM) so even if I go to bed past midnight I can sleep until 8 AM and it's still 7 hours. In my old job I kind of managed to get enough sleep. Except, of course, on certain nights when I'd wake up at 2 in the morning and freak out and rush to the shower because I thought I would miss the train. And then realize what time it actually was. Stupid HAK.

  3. Stop procrastinating when there's a doctoral thesis in the making. Uhm... See 1, although it could have been a lot worse.

  4. Go to Japan. No money. Maybe in the not necessarily distant future, but surely not soon.

  5. Stay true to myself. And it helped. Maybe that's why 2012 was quite a good year.

  6. What did we say, in 2010, about the Daniel Cleavers of the world? Yeah, what was it? Just kidding. It's better now, but the wound is not fully closed. Some day, I swear (and this is one of my resolutions for 2013) they won't make me cry despite the fact that I've accepted it's pointless and useless and that we've all moved on. And I got my own Mr. Darcy.

So, all in all, 2012 was quite a good year. My job as Fremdsprachenassistentin was a very positive aspect of this year, my first published translation is also doing well, my new job is not bad despite the rough beginnings (but then again, what beginning is a piece of cake?) and Mr. Darcy is there every day and has been by my side whenever I needed him, so danke schön, mein Schatz. On a not so happy note is the fact that finding a reasonable flat in Salzburg is not easy and partly contributed to the rough beginnings I was talking about, and that some beloved people left us recently. And the financial crisis seems to be comfortable among us, meaning Austria seems a much better place to stay in until further notice.

But life goes on and we're leaving an old year behind to greet the most supersticious of them all: 2013 is around the corner and I have a feeling it's going to be good. My resolutions?

1. Take dancing lessons. No idea what kind of dancing, but my body is asking for it like a drug.
2. Fisish reading all pending books before buying new ones.
3. Save up money to travel outside of Europe or at least to be more at least a whole week on holiday.
4. Learn a new language!

That's it. No big resolutions because I'm quite satisfied with my life right now. All that's left to say is...

с новым годом 

dissabte, 29 de desembre de 2012

Books I've read in 2012 (1)

Before we finish 2012, I would like to finally review the books I've read this year. I'm going to start with the books in English and in the next entry, those read in Catalan and Spanish. The books are, as usual, sorted out alphabetically and not taking into consideration when I read them.

Anna and the French Kiss. Stephanie Perkins.

The story is about... Anna is a 17 year-old girl from Atlanta whose father, a famous author of romantic novels, sends her to a boarding school in Paris, France, to spend her senior year. Anna is anything but happy about this, as leaving Atlanta also means leaving her best friend and her love interest behind for a whole year. Also, she doesn't speak a single word of French. But when she gets there and meets dream-boy Étienne St. Clair, Anna starts thinking that maybe Paris is not as bad as she thought.

My thoughts about it... Oh, Anna. I'm not sure whether to like you or hate you. Sometimes I really wanted to slap you with my Paris tourist guide for being unable to think about, you know, getting one, before flying there. Sometimes my 15 year-old me came back and really emphatized with you. Sometimes I found you an obnoxious, pretentious bitch. Sometimes I found your being so profoundly American charming. Sometimes I hated your puns (especially as the deadline was approaching and I couldn't find a suitable translation for your Jingle Bells version about Batman and Robin). Overall, I enjoyed the ride (both as a reader and as a translator) but I'm not sure if I want to take you with me next time I fly to Paris. Maybe if I were a teenager again. (Don't get me started on St. Clair. Seriously, teenage girls, what's wrong with your concept of an "ideal man"? -asked she who has often proved an awful taste at men-).

For whom the bell tolls. Ernest Hemingway.

The story is about... Robert Jordan, an American fighting for the Republican army in the Spanish Civil War, is sent on a mission with a group of guerrilla fighters that could change the course of the war. And there he meets the young María.

My thoughts about it... Ernest Hemingway, where have you been all my life? (Apparently, in my father's library). I took this book from the school library because I needed something for my almost one hour-long bus-and-train ride, and I'd always wanted to read Hemingway, especially after we translated a fragment of this specific work in class. His sometimes failed attempts at Spanish aside, Hemingway describes beautifully not only the landscape but also the people and human relationships. The story felt a bit too dense in specific parts where he talks about war strategies and arms, but I thought and think it is one of those novels you have to read before you die and it has some of the best quotes I've read in a while. As a side note, funny how Hemingway thinks "boredom" is a word that only makes full sense in Spanish.

The Pretty Little Liars series. Sara Shepard.
(Pretty Little Liars, Flawless, Perfect, Unbelievable, Wicked, Killer, Heartless, Wanted)

The story is about... Aria, Hanna, Emily and Spencer have one thing in common: they are Alison DiLaurentis's best friend. Alison is the queen bee of the Rosewood High School, the meanest of mean girls. So when she goes missing in the summer before 7th grade, the clique dissolves. Three years later, the girls get reunited again when Alison's corpse is found and they start getting thretening anonymous messages from somebody called A and who seems to know all their secrets... Secrets that only Alison knew about.

My thoughts about it... I started watching the Pretty Little Liars show from ABC when I started to lose interest in Gossip Girl (around season 4) and I discovered it was also based on a series of books for teenagers/young adults. I found a box with the first four books on sale in the Book Depository and said "why not?". Sincerely, I like the books a lot more, they feel more real (within its universe, of course, but you can recognize behaviours from your own high school time in the characters).

I have to make a difference between the first four books (1 to 4) and the last four (5 to 8, although apparently four more have been released in the US). The first book is very introductory but it leaves you wanting more, so you almost literaly devour the next three volumes (I couldn't go to sleep until I'd finished the last third of Perfect) because the author manages to keep the mistery alive. The second set of four books is also interesting but you can tell that the author "had to" write them because they were really popular. The ending was satisfactory, though, the only reason why I feel no need to read books 9 to 12. A nice change after reading some bad or "meh" YA novels, and a fresh writing style. Just out of curiosity I'd like to see how they translated the slang into Spanish and German.

State of Wonder. Ann Patchett.

The story is about... After learning of her co-worker and friend Anders's death, Dr. Marina Singh is sent to Brazil to look for Dr. Annick Swenson in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. Dr. Swenson is doing research on a drug that could be a revolution in the field of reproduction, as it could turn any woman of any age fertile. Anders had been sent there to check on Dr. Swenson's progress, and now Marina takes his place. But what she will find is not what she expected.

My thoughts about it... My last experience with Ann Patchett, The Magician's Assistant, was not bad but not as satisfactory as Bel Canto (the first novel that I read by her) or Patron Saint of Liars (my favorite to date), so I was not so sure that I wanted to read this one, but I'm glad I did because Patchett's writing is as brilliant as usual. And not only the plot kept me interested from the very first pages but I was actually pleased with the ending (a rare thing with Patchett's works)! I'll admit some parts make the pace of the narration slow down too much for my taste (the first third could be considered a bit too dense and turn off readers) but as the story progresses things start to make sense and the ending is perfect, exactly what I thought it should be.

dijous, 27 de desembre de 2012

Gossip Girl

It's that time of the year when I decide it's a good idea to reveal one of my guilty pleasures: Gossip Girl, the CW series about "the scandalous lives of Manhattan's elite". The show just aired its last episode on December 17th 2012 in its sixth season.

The show is about the young and rich and famous kids of New York City's Upper East Side, who behave like adults, drink like adults, party like adults, and live their lives surrounded by luxury and scandal. The key figure of this show is the blonde Serena van der Woodsen, who is just back from boarding school after disappearing misteriously one year ago without telling anyone, not even her best friend Blair Waldorf. The rest of the cast is completed with "Mr. Perfect" Nate Archibald, the sexually and alcoholically precocious Chuck Bass, Brooklyn's "Lonely Boy" Dan Humphrey and his wannabe-socialite sister Jenny. Sex, drugs, alcohol, fashion, scandal... And all of it told to the world by the anonymous blogger Gossip Girl.

Every once in a while I need to disconnect from the real world and get my dose of frivolity and gossip. And Gossip Girl is nothing but that: a soap-opery drama about teens who are way too concerned with fashion and scheeming in order to get what they want, no matter what it takes or who it takes down. 

The truth is, it's not a great series. It's a great entertainment for summer (when I started watching the series because I read a lot about it online and wanted to give it a try) and the first three seasons keep you interested. That said, from season 4 onwards the plot becomes boring and repetitive and the only thing that makes you want to watch further is the romance between Blair and Chuck, but even that gets tiresome after a whole season.

Overall, it's a series that I can recommend only to those who can be invested in teenage drama or don't mind that these kids spend important amounts of money as though it were the most normal thing in the world and never ever use the same outfit more than once. However, stay away from Gossip Girl if you're for Anonymous or the Occupy Wall Street or 15-M movements and can't take the romantization of the lives of the rich and the famous.

dimecres, 5 de desembre de 2012

The Hunger Games: the book vs. the movie

Quoting myself: "I'm not a huge fan of young adult literature nor of best-sellers". That's why I run away from books such as Twilight, The Pillars of the Earth and 50 Shades of Grey, even though, I've read them (except for 50 Shades, but of course I have a virtual copy of it and I will eventually read it someday, when I'm feeling very masochist -pun not intended-).

What scared me the most, of The Hunger Games trilogy, was the thought that it would be more badly-written crap for teenagers who can't tell the difference between sweet guys and abusive boyfriends. But, alas, I read a lot of positive reviews, including those of people whose literary criteria I trust, and they made a movie of the book and the images were very impressive (girls like shiny things, they say), so I purchased a copy of book 1.

And, what can I say? I liked it. I like the idea, I like most of the characters, I like the development of the story and the fact that 1)not only is romance not the main theme of the book, but it is left on a very background level, and 2)it's not as easy to predict as I expected (which had already happened to me with Matched). And I finished book 1 and before I could rush to buy book 2 (Catching fire), I got it as a birthday present. And I still have to get book 3 (Mockingjay), not because I found Catching fire worse (I actually liked most of it more than The Hunger Games), but because then I left Austria and posponed the purchase until further notice.

What I did do in summer, however, was watch the movie based on the book. Another surprise. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's do this the orthodox way.

The story takes us to a distopian future, to the country of Panem, which comprises most of what used to be the United States of America (and maybe also Canada? I'm not sure), and is now divided in 12 districts, where the working classes live, and the Capitol. But 74 years previous to the beginning of the story, there was a huge war that changed everything: one of the districts of Panem, District 13, raised in a revolt against the Capitol, causing its own destruction for even daring to fight the authority. Because of that, and as a reminder of the Capitol's absolute power, the Hunger Games take place once a year. One boy and one girl of each district, aged between 12 and 18, are chosen in a lottery to take part of the Hunger Games, a fierce competition where the kids have to kill each other until only one stays alive.

This is the story of Katniss Everdeen, 16, and her participation in the Hunger Games as the female tribute for District 12, taking the place of her 12 year-old sister Prim, who has been chosen against all odds. Katniss will do anything to survive as a sort of rebellion against the Capitol and its cruel ways.

The novel is narrated in 1st person and, something that seems to be a tendency in all recent young adult novels, in the present tense. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of 1st person narrations because it seems to me like the picture is incomplete. The use of the present tense, at first, kind of bothered me, but you get used to it pretty quickly (I still prefer past tenses for narrative, though). This helps us get in Katniss's mind and also makes it more action-movie-like. Actually, the narrating style is a lot like in a movie, everything happens at a fast pace. Too fast, for my taste.

My biggest problem with the novel is that I needed a bigger picture. I wanted more background history of Panem and the characters, more interaction between them, especially taking into account that they must kill each other. I kept expecting for Katniss to have to face the conflict of having to kill one of her competitors with her own hands in order to survive, but that never really happens. She kills, yes, but they are "noble" killings, revenge killings almost. And that's fine, I guess, for a novel for teenagers, but still... Maybe I've read too much A Song of Ice and Fire.

The movie, on the other hand, gave me exactly what I expected from the novel: perspective, distance. You see, the Hunger Games are a reality show for everybody in the Capitol to watch, the same way that we watch any other shitty reality show or talent contest on TV. The fact that we could get in and out of the arena in the movie was a big something for me, and the "news report" of the games, a clever way to insert explainations about elements that only exist in the world of Panem. Also, being able to see the fight scenes and all the hugeness of the Capitol and its people as opposed to the poor districts where the tributes come from is nice and I must say it was very similar as to what I had imagined. Except for the cornucopia. I expected something more majestic, not... that.

As for the characters, I'm glad that Katniss is not your typical Bella Swan, but a strong, independent girl who is not afraid to fight for what she cares about. She has some flaws, yes, and I found her way too cold a person: while I can understand her motivation, her "lack" of apparent feelings until more or less the last third of the book made it hard for me to relate to her or feel actual empathy.

And let me say this: I don't like Peeta. I don't like him as the potential love interest (I do like the love story that they play for the audience, but I don't like the fact that Katniss actually develops feelings for him). He's too flawless and, I'm sorry but there is no chemistry between him and Katniss. I'm all in for her to end up with Gale (or with no-one! That would be the perfect twist!), even though something tells me it's going to be a Bella-Edward-Jacob kind of thing. And while I'm not a fan of love triangles, I think this one is quite well developed. At least there's no love-at-first-sight-oh-my-god-I-want-that-guy-and-to-have-his-babies kind of love story. In books one and two, at least... 

Next time I talk about The Hunger Games, I will be reviewing Catching Fire and, hopefully, Mockingjay. May the odds ever be in your favor. Oh, and I'm Team Cinna, in case you wanted to know. Gotta love the guy and his balls.

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