Saturday, August 4, 2012

Stuff Like That There II

I thought I’d review a few things I have been consuming lately, just to let you all know I am still alive. Which I am. Hooray!

The Newsroom - created by Aaron Sorkin

Oh, I wanted to like this, I really did. I’ve been a Sorkin apologist for a long time and at his best he’s not quite like anyone else. Sadly, this show is far from his best. Everything you’ve read about the two dimensional female characters is fair, the writing is clunky and laboured, and a good cast just doesn’t haven’t enough to go on.

It’s more than just criticism of characters or writing, this show doesn’t work on an ideological level, and that’s usually where Sorkin eats (to use an expression he loves). I am deeply sceptical of the romanticisation of the media, and this is coming from a girl whose favourite book at 13 was ‘All The President’s Men’. The West Wing worked because there was a sincerity and warmth that underpinned good characterisation and solid writing. The Newsroom is just posturing; it lectures and educates at every turn without entertaining much at all. Sorkin himself once wrote that if an artist stumbles on truth they’re getting lucky, that an artist’s job is to capture the audience’s attention for however long they’ve asked for it. It’s a lesson he’s forgotten.

The show is set only twelve to eighteen months in the past and the stories coming through the newsroom are real. Unfortunately the ACN broadcast works as a retrospective way of Sorkin re-writing history, it’s a revisionism that becomes wearing. The team never miss a story, they always get the truth telling part right, and it just doesn’t work that way in real life.

There are some good moments, glimpses of brilliance. But not enough. Not nearly enough.

American Gods – Neil Gaiman

Shadow is in prison and about to get out when the news arrives that his wife is dead. On his way home he receives an intriguing job offer and everything changes.

There’s not a lot to say about this book except I really enjoyed it. It’s well written and wry and funny, although sometimes a trifle too clever for its own good and a little longer than it has to be. I love that the central narrative is of a man trying to find his way while chaos reigns around him, it’s a fitting story for the fantasy genre and the book is by turns witty and frightening.

This was the first novel by Gaiman I have read and I look forward to reading more of his stuff.

The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion

I confess this isn’t the first time I’ve read this. At the risk of sounding like a hipster, I read this when it first came out and felt it spoke to me personally. It has since gained cult status and become a one woman play performed all over the place, including at the Sydney Theatre Company a few years ago.

I find the best memoirs are focused on a particular experience or time in a person’s life, a realisation I came to after one of my best friends published a memoir of her recovery from anorexia and depression in 2009. (She hates the title too, don’t worry.) The Year of Magical Thinking is one such book, an account of writer Joan Didion’s mourning process after the very sudden death of her husband and the equally sudden and very serious illness of her daughter. Didion is a stately writer, composed and measured, and this stands her in good stead with the subject at hand. It is a sure and controlled personal account of grief.

I do find some faults with this book, as much as I like it. Unsurprisingly, given she is a non fiction writer, Didion uses a great deal of secondary material to help her come to terms with her own loss and to create the narrative for her reader. Sometimes this is to the detriment of her work, although this may just be a question of taste – I think you need to rely on your own voice and not just use others’ to make your point (thus sayeth the history student). It is true that by doing so she is trying to show that she doesn’t have the words herself, but it’s a technique that is overused in the book as a whole. Sometimes it works perfectly, especially in the first and last sections of the book. For my money, Didion speaks best when it is just her reflecting on what is happening and musing on what grief means.

A purchase well worth making, although I am not sure I would want to read this immediately after the death of a loved one.


(Mine are yellow too.)

Things have been hectic and difficult in Moz-land, and certainly inside my head, so this morning I did one of my favourite things to do when things are hard. I wandered down to the Sydney flower markets (about a half hour walk away) with $10 in my pocket and bought some tulips.

My mentor’s mother died back in May and we, as a seminar, bought him some flowers. Tulips just happened to be part of the arrangement and apparently they’re his favourites, so we did well. He told me, when I popped into his office for a meeting and to admire the flowers, that the Italian word for them is tulipano – so pretty. It’s a pity they don’t last very long.

I don’t know why they make us happy, but they do.

What have you all been up to?