If you are at least ten years removed from your undergraduate experience–and maybe even if you’re not (because it’s just that good)–go see the new movie, Liberal Arts. Written and directed by Josh Radnor (who, incidentally plays the male lead), this indie film is smart, funny, thoughtful, and resonant in all of the right ways.
Radnor plays Jesse Fisher, an NYC college admissions counselor in his mid-thirties who is invited back to his alma mater to attend the retirement dinner of his favorite former professor, Peter. Over the weekend, Jesse meets Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), the daughter of Peter’s friends–and herself a sophomore at the college. Fresh off a breakup, and perhaps buoyed by the rush of collegiate nostalgia, Jesse seems to connect with Zibby through walks and conversation. When Jesse returns to New York, the two begin an epistolary correspondence that allows the two to get to know each other from a distance. I won’t give away the complete storyline, but it is a film I enjoyed immensely, largely because books served almost as a central character.
As fall is the time of year for thoughts of back to school, I would recommend checking this one out. If you do, let me know what you think!
Watch the trailer here.
Two summers ago, I read Steve Martin’s An Object of Beauty and became fascinated with the contemporary art world. Not contemporary art, per se, but the whole system of art sales and auctions, arguments for provenance, and the like. That summer, I was on a roll, reading other art-related books (all of which I recommend) like Sarah Thornton’s non-fiction look at the scene, Seven Days in the Art World and Danielle Ganek’s fantastic novel, The Summer We Read Gatsby. I recommend all three books, by the way.
I had always loved art and museums, but these books really helped spark my interest in looking at art from a cultural studies perspective, rather than the more traditional way that I had been taught to interpret art as an art history student. Long story short, I ended up developing a course last spring where students read lots of art criticism (from everyone from Walter Benjamin to John Berger and Holland Cotter), visited museums (the Museum of Fine Arts, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and the Institute of Contemporary Art), watched a film (Exit Through the Gift Shop. Dir. Banksy, 2010.), and created their own multimodal projects. In short, it was a terrific experience.
Fast forward to this fall, and my obsession with the art world continues. Only I am somewhat embarrassed to say that I am hooked on a new Bravo series, Gallery Girls, which follows a group of about eight women who attempt to make it in the NYC art world. I know it is probably scripted, but I find it fascinating! Check it out here.
In the current issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, an article titled “That’s Dr. So and So to You” by Stacey Patton covers the recent public remarks (on Facebook, no less!) made by Dr. Julianne Malveaux, an economist and former president of Bennett College.
Dr. Malveaux noted receiving an email from a co-worker that addressed a male colleague as “Dr.,” but her as “Ms.” On her status update she wrote, ”I don’t mean to be picky or petty, but I do not know if it is gender, ignorance, or general disrespect. At 58, I am too old, and have paid too many dues for this.”
The rest of the article and the comments that followed the online edition talked about the appropriateness of using the title “Dr.” and pointed out that while seen by some as a mark of academic insecurity–even “gauche”–still others insist that it is a title that accurately reflects the accomplishments of its subject.
After reading the piece, I had mixed feelings. As a recent Ph.D., I am proud of my accomplishment, yet I feel it is pretentious (even silly!) to insist on being addressed as Dr.–even by my students. But, as someone on the academic job market with my terminal degree for the first time, I am careful to include the title in my email signature and the like, simply to indicate that I hold the minimum qualifications required by most postings.
Something happened today that changed my mind, however, and made me more sympathetic to Malveaux’s position. Leaving class today, I was chatting with a another instructor in my department (I am presently working as a lecturer while searching for the elusive TT position) and saw a student from another one of my class sections. She said “Hi, MRS. X” and “Oh, hi, Dr. Y.”
Now, forget the fact that this other instructor doesn’t yet hold a Ph.D. (he is working on it)–but why address me as MRS.? Is it subtle gender bias within the academy as suggested by Malveaux? Or simply a neutral happenstance?
What are your thoughts?
…was Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, by Maria Semple. This book was on my to-read list already when a friend recommended the audiobook, which she said had terrific narration. After listening to this over the course of about a week and a half (in bed with my iPhone and earbuds!), I would have to agree. The only problem was the moments where I laughed out loud in the dark, startling my husband as he was drifting off to sleep–yikes!
Bernadette Fox, wife of Elgie (a Microsoft exec) and mother to Bee (an adolescent genius), is agoraphobic and relies on the assistance of virtual assistant based in India to help her get through her day-to-day tasks. It wasn’t always this way, however, as Bernadette was once a rising star in the architecture world and the recipient of the prestigious McArthur Genius prize. After an unbelievable turn of events robs Bernadette of her self worth and self confidence, she decides to leave LA and abruptly uproots herself and Elgie to Seattle.
Fast forward nearly twenty years and Bernadette has become paranoid and even more withdrawn–and the object of scorn of other mothers in her daughter’s progressive school community. When daughter Bee requests a family trip to Antarctica (!), Bernadette slowly starts to unravel–and disappears. Through a series of emails, notes, and recollections, daughter Bee sets out to find her mother and bring her home. What unfolds is an enjoyable narrative that has elements of satire, but also moments of pure humor as well as sadness. Read an excerpt of the book here.
Listening to the book added another layer of interest for me. The reading was engaging and emotive–I highly recommend. What do you think about audiobooks? Are there certain kinds of books that better lend themselves to this kind of narration?
Academically speaking, though my primary area of literary focus is the Early Modern period, I have long had an affinity for the literature, art, and music produced during the Harlem Renaissance.
Thus, reading the news of Columbia University graduate student Jean-Christophe Cloutier’s discovery of an unpublished novel by Claude McKay in last Friday’s New York Times was really exciting. The manuscript, titled “Amiable With Big Teeth: A Novel of the Love Affair Between the Communists and the Poor Black Sheep of Harlem,” was discovered by Cloutier in a box of letters and other miscellanea while he was working as an intern in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia.
Cloutier brought the work to his adviser, Brent Hayes Edwards, and over the last few years, the two engaged in literary detective work–collecting plenty of archival material along the way–to both contextualize and authenticate the text. The two have received permission from the McKay estate to publish the manuscript along with a preface and introduction that will tell the story of its discovery nearly seven decades after its composition.
Have you seen Downton Abbey yet? If not, what are you waiting for?
Actor/writer Julian Fellowes created the period drama, which was originally broadcast in the UK on the ITV network and is broadcast in the States on PBS stations.
The first episode begins with news about the Titanic disaster, which has significant impact on the fictional Crawley family (residents of Downton Abbey) as two of its heirs lose their lives on the ship. This introduces immediate dramatic tension as the Crawley family now must act quickly to secure its future and insulate its interests from would-be heirs. One strategy is to shop for a noble husband for their eldest daughter, Mary, as her marriage to a suitable suitor would allow the estate’s ownership to transfer to her new husband. The first candidate, a snarky duke, turns out to be less interested in Mary than he is in the Earl of Grantham’s footman (Stephen), so that match goes unmade, though the Earl is not deterred…
There is also infighting amongst the staff, sibling rivalry among the Crawley sisters, and plenty of other moments of intrigue.
The new season returns to PBS stations on Sunday, January 8. If you are an Amazon Prime or Netflix member, you can stream the first season free online and catch up. Downton is also available on iTunes.
Smart writing, beautiful settings, and wonderful acting make this a program not-to-be-missed.
Trust me on this one.
Today I did something that felt absolutely sinful.
I went to an 11 am movie matinee!
My choice: Young Adult, written by Diablo Cody (of Juno fame), directed by Jason Reitman, and starring Charlize Theron.
After purchasing my small popcorn and water and politely declining the cashier’s forced attempt to upsell (“Do you want to make that small a medium for seventy-five cents?” and “Would you like Some Sour Patch Kids to go with the popcorn?”), I settled into my stadium seat.
The film’s premise is simple: Mavis Gary (played by Theron) is a thirty-something ghost author of the popular YA series Waverly Prep. Fresh off a divorce, Mavis lives in a Minneapolis luxury high rise with her Pomeranian, Dolce. Mavis is a Diet Coke-slugging, functional alcoholic who spends her days online shopping, watching reality TV, and browsing dating websites. When the film begins, her editor is looking for a draft of her latest book, but Mavis can’t seem to focus on the task at hand.
Until she receives an email from her high school ex–Buddy Slade’s–wife announcing the birth of their new daughter. Maybe it is Mavis’ vulnerability or her mean girl tendencies, but whatever the motivation, Mavis convinces herself that she and Buddy are meant to be.
Wife or no wife.
Mavis returns to her sleepy hometown of Mercury, Minnesota, prepared to swoop in and claim her prize. We get the feeling that this is how it has always worked for Mavis. (You probably know the type.)
What follows may be somewhat predictable, but the way that the story unfolds is at once funny and sad and uplifting.
You know that saying “You can never go home again”? I wonder if Diablo Cody had this in mind while writing the script.
Though a troupe of four elderly women in front of me proclaimed Young Adult “the worst movie of all time,” I respectfully disagree. I highly recommend, particularly if you came of age in the 90s.
Watch the trailer here.