Sunday, April 20, 2014

This Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore: On Breaking Up With Morrissey’s Autobiography

At first blush, you would think we’d be the perfect pair.  Me: a bookish Smiths and Morrissey fan, with a mirthless disposition and a jones for buying books on import.  Autobiography by Morrissey: a book by Morrissey about Morrissey.  Really, we should have eloped to Switzerland and have had miserable book babies by now (that makes absolutely no sense, I know, but you know what I mean); but alas, alack, anon, it wasn’t meant to be.

This.  Book.  Is.  Terrible.  TERRIBLE!

Try as I might, I couldn’t get more than a dozen pages in the book before I developed a serious migraine, a migraine of the “Oh, crap!—I forgot to take my meds this morning!” variety.  For starters, it appears as though Moz has an aversion to complete sentences and a morbid infatuation with circuitous Germanic-style ones.  What.  The.  Fuck.  

I am willing to forgiven quirky grammar if I am reading James Joyce or Emily Dickinson.  You know what, I will even allow Kafka and Mann their insane run on sentences.  But I cannot, nay, I will not, stand the indignity of watching one of my idols prattle on like he’s writing a LiveJournal entry in 2003 and not a long-awaited autobiography.  In fact, I would have rather the book to have never been written or be written in Laotian than be readily available . . . but with an irritating style that rejects the sacrosanct conventions of written English. 

This is like finding out that the person you have been dating in an unashamed Beliber.  I may need to make an emergency appointment with my therapist. *sob*

In the interim, I have picked up a copy of Tony Fletchers A Light That Never Goes Out, a more objective and readable version of The Smith’s story and I’ve added it to my TBR.  And Autobiography?  Well, I’ll be using that as a d├ęcor item for the foreseeable future.

And to think it all started out so well.
Friday, April 18, 2014

10 Books Every Incoming English Major Should Read Before College, Part V

For the past week the Lexicon Devil has been devoted to all of the soon-to-be English majors. I’ve amassed a list of ten books you should strike off your TBR before classes begin in the fall.  

Our last two recommendations are texts you will not be able to outrun.  In fact, if you’ve gotten this far in your education, you have probably read one, if not both, of these novels.  Even if you have read them, they are worth a re-read before you enter the hallowed halls of academia.  

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Forget what you have learned from Boris Karloff movies, Mary Shelley’s gothic novel is nothing like the lumbering green monster from 1930s cinema.  Frankenstein (the name of the dude who made the monster, not the monster himself . . . he’s just called “the monster”) is about the dangers of scientific inquiry that is left unchecked.  Humanity, Shelley argues, should not play God; some of the universe’s mysteries are best left unexplained and unharnessed.

In many ways, Frankenstein is a version of the Faustian bargain, wherein a curious individual makes an unholy deal for forbidden knowledge . . . only to have their life quickly fall apart.  While the Faust legend had been around for hundreds of years, Goethe’s retelling of the story had been published about a decade before Frankenstein; so, the story was poppin’ in the early nineteenth century.  As an English major, you really should have a “deal with the devil” story under your belt and this is not only the easiest to read, but the more frequently alluded.  

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Last but certainly not least, Jane Eyre. Jane Eyre is probably as close to the perfect novel as you are ever going to get; it has romance, mystery, action, adventure, and redemption.  Quite honestly, Jane Eyre is the Target of classic novels, it has everything in one place.  

The novel is a grower and you’ll probably find yourself struggling to get into the novel for much for the first third of the book, but once the action picks up, Jane Eyre rivals the best (of the worst) soap opera or Bravo reality show.  More importantly, however, Jane Eyre has become the yardstick by which novels written before and after it are judged.  My recommendation: don’t check out a copy from the library, by your own copy and make copious marginal notes-- you’ll need them.

This concludes “10 Books Every Incoming English Major Should Read Before College.”  If you have any additions you would like to add to the list, feel free to list them in the comments.

Happy reading!
Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Review Struggle: NARS Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturize

It was bound to happen at some point; I have notoriously sensitive skin. 

I break out into hives is someone looks at me sideways.  My skin turns an angry, blotchy red whenever there is the suggestion of sunlight on the horizon.  Why, oh why, did I ever think I could experiment with so many cosmetics without it ending in tragedy?

For well over a year, I have been reading glowing reviews of the NARS Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturizer (Get it?  Glowing?  Radiant?) and I finally buckled down and bought myself a tube two weeks ago.  In theory, the product was a good match for me: light, satiny finish, covered my blemishes without concealer, and the shade “Finland” was a good color match for my finicky skin.

Soon after my first application I knew something was wrong.  Within minutes of wear, the product went patchy and I began to see what I believed to be my high redness start to show through my base.  Since I have long loved the brand’s Sheer Glow foundation (I wear Deauville in that product, for reference) for a while, I chalked this patchiness up to a bad skin day.  On my first round with the Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturizer I only managed to wear the product for about three hours before I washed my face. 

Unwilling to give a $45 product the boot after one use I tried it again on two consecutive workdays.  Yet again, I noticed the patchiness and high redness rising through the base within minutes of application.  When you have oily skin like I do, however, you are more willing to chalk a funky look up to your skin’s failings rather than the product’s.  Masochist that I am, I gave the product one last trial on a Wednesday and It.  All.  Went.  Terribly.  Wrong. 

I gave the tinted moisturizer one last trial last Wednesday. If the damn thing continued to look funky, I promised myself, I would return it to Sephora the next day. Needless to say, it didn't take long for the shit to hit the fan. Almost immediately my skin felt itchy and sore.  I tried to persevere though my face felt like it was being consumed by fire ants.  Beauty is meant to be pain, right?

Finally, 2/3 of the way through my work day, I couldn’t stand the itching and the pain any longer.  I looked in my compact mirror and saw that my face was BRIGHT PINK— like horrific, Nicki Minik wig pink.  In a blind panic, I some fragrance free lotion one of my students had on her to remove my face makeup and some bottled water to scrub off whatever traces remained. 

Needless to say, as soon as work ended, I hightailed it to Sephora and returned the thing.  I then had to use my store credit to buy some items to help sort out my painfully enflamed skin.  One week and $65 later my face is almost back to normal. 

What is nagging me, however, isn’t the reaction per se, but what caused the reaction.  I’ve never had a problem with NARS products, even their Sheer Glow Foundation, so I was puzzled as to why I had an anaphylactic meltdown this time.  Though I cannot be certain, I believe the “mineral rich sea water” that is added into the product to refresh the skin may be the culprit.  I’m allergic to sea food so maybe I am allergic to the sea.  Who knows?  In any event, I’ll be sticking to MAC Studio Fix foundation powder and the Laura Mercier Oil-Free tinted moisturizer for the foreseeable future.

What beauty products have given you allergic reactions?  What do you do to treat allergic reactions on your face? 
Wednesday, April 16, 2014

10 Books Every Incoming English Major Should Read Before College, Part IV

For the past week the Lexicon Devil has been devoted to all of the soon-to-be English majors. I’ve amassed a list of ten books you should strike off your TBR before classes begin in the fall.  

Our next two recommendations are, for lack of a better term, about madness. However, if you are going to read a couple of books about people who’ve gone nucking futs, these are the ones for you.

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
If I had to pick a desert island book, Kurt Vonnegut’s magnum opus, Slaughterhouse-Five would be the one.  Slaughterhouse-Five is the mind-bending story of Billy Pilgrim, an upstate New York eye doctor who becomes inexplicably “unstuck in time.”  Without a moment’s notice Billy can travel to different parts of his life, shifting between the evening of his daughter’s wedding, to his time as a POW in Dresden, to the day his wife died.  Billy’s time travels are made all the more peculiar by the appearance of a race of highly evolved aliens who keep the unperturbed Pilgrim and Montana Wildhack, a “blue movie” actress in a habitat on their planet for study.

As mind-bending as the novel is-- time travel and alien abduction and all-- at its core, Billy Pilgrim’s take is a story about trauma, or as Vonnegut terms it, the impossibility of “making sense of a massacre.”

When it comes down to brass tacks, the reason you should read Slaughterhouse-Five is simple: the book is the gentlest introduction to postmodernity you could possibly receive.  Once you start your undergraduate work, it will already be assumed that you have familiar with postmodernity and have at least one (or more!) postmodern text under your belt.  I am not going to lie, Slaughterhouse-Five is difficult to follow at times, but Vonnegut rewards the tenacious . . . and their are illustrations.  ILLUSTRATIONS YOU GUYS! 

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
In Annie Hall, a movie you will probably see at least once if you minor in Film or have an overly earnest boyfriend, Woody Allen’s character, Alvy Singer, tartly observes, “Sylvia Plath, whose tragic suicide was misinterpreted as romantic by the schoolgirl mentality.”  As glib as that comment may be (and it certainly is glib) it does have a ring of truth: Plath has been hijacked by generations of well meaning fans who wish to turn the poet and novelist into a victim or a spirit animal for the depressed.  

Neither is true, actually.  

Sylvia Plath was a woman who has serious mental health issues and didn’t have the intrinsic or extrinsic resources to handle her life when it started crumbling before her eyes.  To be frank, were Plath not a gifted writer and an attractive white lady, her story would be relatively unremarkable.  That being said, if you can contain your urge to mythologise, you really should read The Bell Jar, Plath’s only novel.  In contrast to many books about young adult madness (including The Catcher in the Rye, sorry to burst your bubble), The Bell Jar has stood up well over time.  

Plainly put, The Bell Jar is about Esther Greenwood, a Seven Sisters undergraduate, who gets a summer internship at a woman’s magazine, experiences some personal and professional disappointments, and tries to commit suicide.  The novel documents Esther’s downward spiral as her slow recovery.  Many events in the novel mirror Plath’s life; however, I would caution readers to refrain from reading the novel as an autobiographical text and instead view the plot in relation to the evolution of women’s gender roles.

Come back Friday for installments 9 and 10 in the series!
Monday, April 14, 2014

10 Books Every Incoming English Major Should Read Before College, Part III

This week on the Lexicon Devil is devoted to all of the soon-to-be English majors. I’ve amassed a list of ten books you should strike off your TBR before classes begin in the fall.  

The third installment of this series was meant to go up last Wednesday and the remaining two posts the day after, however, the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.  On Wednesday I developed an allergic reaction to a new foundation and spent the better part of five days trying to regain control over my wayward complexion.  Now that my face is back to normal(-ish), “10 Books Every Incoming English Major Should Read Before College” were resume.  

Today’s recommendations are staples of the twelfth grade classroom and for good reason.  Both texts explore the dark recesses of the human psyche and raise serious questions about the nature of leadership.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Macbeth was first produced more than four hundred years ago but the play remains as timely today as it was during the Jacobean Era.  At first blush, the play seems to be little more than a story about ambition and revenge with the occasional blood bath thrown in for good measure, but at it’s core Macbeth is a cautionary tale for despotes of all stripes.  

Here’s the sitch:

England’s Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603 without leaving a direct heir to the throne.  King James VI of Scotland, a distant relative of Elizabeth’s (his great grandmother was Elizabeth’s paternal aunt), was subsequently crowned King James I of England.  James’s coronation in 1603 was a relatively sedate affair, but the King’s first years in power were anything but peaceful.  In his first three years as King, James survived three assassination plots (Bly Plot, Main Plot, and Gunpowder Plot), some of which were hatched by members of the political jet set.  Many people also questioned James’s loyalty to England because, duh, he was Scottish and because both his mother and his wife were rumored to be Catholics, a major no no in Protestant England.  Pearls were clutched.  Side eye was given.

By 1610, a year before Macbeth was produced, negotiations between James and Parliament to pay off the court’s growing debts (James was a spendthrift, you see) deteriorated. In a huff, the King dismissed Parliament at the end of the year, hopeful a new election would bring in a crop politicians more amenable to the court.  It didn’t work.  James spent the remainder of his reign either butthurt about parliament or ruling without them.  He died gouty and toothless at the ripe old age of fifty-eight.

Taking all of this into account, we can view Macbeth as a thinly veiled warning to James against the corrupting influences (remember his Catholic wife) and self-centered governance.  When you’re a shady monarch, Shakespeare warns, you beget shadiness.  

Sound political advice, it seems, transcends time, albeit in iambic pentameter.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

If you’re going to read one book about colonialism in the nineteenth century, read this one: it’s short, not-so sweet, and frequently alluded to in popular culture.  In many ways, Conrad sets the state for post-colonial literature in Heart of Darkness by raising questions of what constitutes civilized and barbarous behavior.  Spoiler: white people be crazy.

A bulk of the novel takes place at a remote ivory trading station in the Congo.  Acting on a rumor, Marlow, the novel’s protagonist, seeks out Kurtz, a station manager whose is meant to be in ill health and on the verge of losing the outpost to the hostile natives.  When Marlow arrives at the station he quickly realizes he hasn’t received the best information about Kurtz.  Hilarity doesn’t insure.  

Pro Tip: if you are interested in a cinematic adaptation of the book watch Apocalypse Now, it places the story within the context of the Vietnam War but somehow manages to be a more faithful adaptation of the book than others.

Come back Wednesday for installments 7 and 8 in the series!
Tuesday, April 8, 2014

10 Books Every Incoming English Major Should Read Before College, Part II

This week on the Lexicon Devil is devoted to all of the soon-to-be English majors. I’ve amassed a list of ten books you should strike off your TBR before classes begin in the fall.  

Today’s suggestions are two of the twentieth century’s greatest works of subversive fiction: Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Truth be told, I didn’t read Fahrenheit 451 until I was in college and even then I read it independently.  While I had heard the book mentioned in popular culture, I didn’t read the novel until my mother gave me a copy after my freshman year of college.  At the time, I was deeply troubled by PATRIOT Act (I’m still troubled by it, to be honest) and the Bush Administration’s deeply flawed domestic and foreign policies. In true librarian mama fashion, she gave me a copy of Bradbury’s anti-censorship classic; though the novel didn’t prevent Bush’s reelection in 2004, it did help assuage some of my feelings of inert frustration.

Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopian novel set in an anti-intellectual future where firemen confiscate and burn contraband books.  451 degrees fahrenheit is the degree at which paper burns.  The novel’s protagonist, Montag, is a fireman himself who until a fateful meeting had never questioned the banality of his life, or the engrossing television-like entertainments that engrosses much of society and keeps it anesthetized and childlike.  However, he is soon drawn into an illicit world of readers that calls into question all he has ever known about the world.

What makes this book particularly brilliant (in addition to being about loving and preserving literature) isn’t just the inherent anti-censorship message, it’s the book’s assertion that even losing battles are worth fighting.  

When you’re a young adult, much of the idealism that carries  you through your undergraduate years will disappear as the realities of work-a-day life sink in.  Yet, even the understanding that your passion for *whatever cause* has an expiration date doesn’t mean that your youthful ardency is meaningless.  The battles you fight when you are young may not be battles you win, but these skirmishes are still important, if only to yourself.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

The Metamorphosis was one of the first adult books I ever read that made me cry.  On its most literal level, the story is about a traveling salesman named Gregor Samsa works to support his infirmed parents and younger sister.  One morning, Gregor wakes up to find that he has been transformed into a gigantic dung beetle.  Over the course of the novella, Gregor struggles to communicate with his family and they struggle to deal with their insect son.  Spoiler: it ends badly.

As a young adult The Metamorphosis acts as a sort of unintentional metaphor for growing up.  Many of us, particularly those of us from disadvantaged or single parent families, have complex feelings of guilt of going away to college because we feel an outstanding obligation to our relatives; we feel an inherent responsibility to take care of everyone in our families before we take care of ourselves.  Gregor Samsa stands as proof of the need to put yourself first once in a while.  

Come back tomorrow for installments 5 and 6 in the series!