dissabte, 30 d’abril de 2016

An Abundance of YA Novels

Recently I found out that I'm, stricto sensu, a millennial. For the uniniciated, it seems to be a tag given to people born between 1980 and 1995, apparently. Fifteen years seem quite a stretch to me, but that's beside the point (said point being that we refuse to pay the full adult fare and to accept that we're pushing 30).

Anyway, millennials are signaled as partly responsible for the phenomenon of so-called "young adult" (YA) literature. The target audience for these books is clearly between the ages of 16 and 25-ish, mostly female, as the novels usually deal with romance and the transition between your teenage years and adulthood, between high school and the college years. The readers identify with the protagonists and their new experiences, the lack of stability in their lives (within the relative comfort of their existences), the dilemas... 

I'd like to point an accusatory finger to John Green here as the other responsible party in this equation (although some believe the clear divisory lines between novels for younger audiences and adults started to get blurry with the Harry Potter books). If you've read my review of The Fault in Our Stars, you probably know that I'm not a huge fan of that particular novel.

Precisely because some friends of mine, all of them my age, were seriously worried that I wasn't an instant fan of the biggest love story of our generation (seriously?), I thought maybe I was the one with the problem (fucking Catholic upbringing...), so my editor friend, who knows her shit with books, told me to give John Green another try with An Abundance of Katherines.

I'll admit I liked it more than I expected, basically because I was expecting not to like it. Although I didn't quite empathize with the main character, Colin, nor really anyone else, to be honest, I kind of understand where this is coming from and why it is the way it is. It's a journey of self-discovery and growing up. It's not a masterpiece, but it might be a good read for older teenagers. At least this one wasn't trying hard to make me cry despite myself.

Then stupid Goodreads, based on my ratings, told me to try the novels of Rainbow Rowell (no, seriously: they send me a newsletter with "personalized" recommendations based on what I've read.) I was skeptical with her books too, as many booktubers and bloggers talked about Eleanor & Park like it was the best invention ever since the wheel. But my local public library has a wonderful service and leans you e-books for three weeks, so I downloaded another novel of hers, Fangirl

In a way similar to An Abundance of Katherines, Fangirl is the story of a teenager (a girl this time) who has to learn to move out of her comfort zone in order to grow up. I think I was more forgiving with Kath because she writes fanfiction of a Harry Potter-type of character (not that I, of all people, have ever written fanfiction...), but I still didn't find her all that compelling. All in all, it's a good read and former introverts like yours truly might identify with the main character. I know for a fact that 18 year-old me would have.

Finally, I gave in and read Eleanor & Park and really liked it, even if it is slightly rushed. I couldn't put it down. As the John Green quote says, it's exactly like being in love in a movie. And the best part is that the romance is perfect in its imperfect way. It's probably the most "realistic" of all these YA novels I've read so far. Check it out if you have the chance.

dilluns, 21 de març de 2016

Watching series (9)

Earlier this year, I registered on Netflix, partly because I was looking forward to watching the Sherlock special episode (alas, it's the only episode not yet available on the video-on-demand platform), and because of that I'm essentially binge-watching several series that I otherwise might not have given a chance. I'm going to divide this entry in two parts: the mafia-themed series here, and  comedies next time.

Better Call Saul (seasons 1 and 2)

This is the story of how Jimmy McGill became Saul Goodman. Told as a flashback, the plot takes us back six years before the events of Breaking Bad: Jimmy is a struggling lawyer who can barely pay his bills. Even though he tries to be honest at his job, he slowly finds himself involved in not-so-legal cases. 

At first I was skeptical about the Breaking Bad spin-off/prequel because the latter had been so good that I wasn't sure if it would stay at the same level. And I wasn't disappointed; on the contrary, I was pleasantly surprised. Despite the risk of repeating the same formula as with its predecesor, Better Call Saul works perfectly as an individual series, whether you're familiar with Breaking Bad or not (if you are, you will recognise the hidden Easter eggs, but the downside is that you kind of know what happens to the returning characers). 

If you've watched Breaking Bad, give Better Call Saul a chance. If you haven't, this is a good place to start.

Lilyhammer (seasons 1 and 2)

Frank Tagliano, a New York gangster, agrees to give inside information about a rival clan to the police and be sent to the Norwegian city of Lillehammer, where he is supposed to hide as part of a witness-protection programme. However, Frank (now dubbed Johnny) can't quite leave his gangster ways behind to adapt to the Norwegian lifestyle.

Culture shock, as a tool to create comedic situations, doesn't always work, unless it's done right. And Lilyhammer does it right, mixing cultural and language misunderstandings with "typical" situations of mafia movies and series. The humour can be exagerated at times, especially through Frank/Johnny's ways of acting like a mafia boss, but I really enjoyed it in season 1. In season 2, however, while still generally funny, it isn't quite as fresh and innovative, it feels slightly repetitive. But I'd tell you to give it a chance if you're looking for something refreshing in summer.

diumenge, 28 de febrer de 2016

Re-reading Harry Potter as an adult (part I)

In 2014, a good friend of mine got married and another good friend of mine started living on her own. Both of them inadvertently introduced me to Pinterest, a site where people post their DIY-tutorials, make-up and hairstyling tips, delicious-looking recipes... and Harry Potter.

Seriously, the boy who lived started popping up out of the blue as I was looking for ideas to make my hair look like less of a mess and my make-up less lazy (I only kind of succeeded, in case you're interested). So do BBC's Sherlock and many other fandoms if you procrastinate for too long and scroll too much down the site, but my point is that Harry Potter is somewhat inescapable.

Because of the constant exposure, a sudden urge to re-read the books and re-watch all the films grew inside of me (the later slightly reduced because the films are on TV pretty often on different channels). So in summer of 2015, on a very hot afternoon, I decided that being a grown-ass 27 year-old is not good enough an excuse not to give in to nostalgia and revisit your late childhood heroes.

1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

There once was a boy named Harry who was destined to be known by every child in the world. I love discovering Hogwarts in the first book, the whole magical world, realizing my muggle-ness, wishing I'd got my admission letter at age 11. 

Upon a second reading, I started noticing many little details that I hadn't paid attention to the first time. I tend to be more forgiving of Harry's tendency to be a Gary-Stu in this book because it targets an obviously younger audience than the last volumes in the series. This makes it the more "childish" of the seven, yet it manages to be really enjoyable for adults too. Hermione is the boss witch, btw.

2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Growing up, I found it really hard to read this book and declared it my least favorite, and it remains so for a simple reason: in my opinion, it repeats the same formula as the first book but the element of surprise is not so strong. It's not as bad as I remembered it, but it's not as great as it could have been.

3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

This one is one of my favorites. I love how everything is tied together, I love the characters (except Snape, despite knowing his backstory. Seriously, he's a complete asshole in this book), I love the mystery, I love the humour, I want more on the Marauders. 

4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Ah, the one that I forgot that I had liked because I wasn't a huge fan of the movie. But the book lets the characters grow, and the build-up is so well done, and all the details, the background information about the wizarding world, new schools, and shit starts to get serious!

Which seems like a good point to take a break. To be continued (and ended) in part II, after I finish re-reading books 5 to 7.

dilluns, 15 de febrer de 2016

[Peripècies austríaques] 21. Hola, em dic Mar i em perdo per Viena

En general tinc bon sentit de l'orientació, però de tant en tant, quan sóc a un lloc nou, la intuïció em falla. O, pitjor encara, a vegades em miro la ruta que he de seguir al Google Maps però, com que vaig de sobrada per la vida, no me'ls imprimeixo, em refio de la memòria (o, com a molt, d'anotacions del tipus "al carrer tal, girar") i, és clar, em perdo... I la meva religió em prohibeix demanar ajuda si no és un cas desesperat.

És per això que el primer cop que vaig decidir anar a peu fins al meu objectiu per estalviar-me el bitllet del tramvia, vaig acabar pagant perquè una mica més i arribo a l'altra punta de Viena. Resulta que la planificació urbanística de la capital austríaca tendeix a la circularitat (com la meva zona pèlvica, guaita!) i, sempre que pot, evita les quadrícules del tipus Pla Cerdà. I jo, que sóc una Nena Pija de l'Eixample, estic acostumada a pensar que, si un carrer fa baixada, deu anar cap al sud. Don't judge me...

A més, a Àustria tenen el bonic costum de canviar el nom als carrers a mig carrer. És una mica el que també passa al barri barceloní de Gràcia, per on també em perdo sovint (amb la diferència que, en aquest cas, busco un carrer que faci baixada fins que arribo a l'Eixample i allà ja em sé trobar). El meu punt de referència, de moment, és el metro, el mapa del qual em conec força bé. 

Però seria interessant que comencés a aprendre'm els noms dels carrers i les rutes a peu perquè em vaig fer un compte de CityBike, una mena de Bicing que té les bicicletes en bon estat. La inscripció em va costar 1€ i la primera hora de trajecte és gratis. El que jo no recordava, de quan hi havia estat fent el guiri, és que Viena té moltes pujades i baixades, així que, entre la bici i que visc en un quart sense ascensor, se m'estan posant unes cames... Si a això hi afegim els passejos involuntaris cada cop que em perdo, m'estic estalviant una pasta en gimnasos!

Ben aviat (o d'aquí a tres mesos, qui sap), més peripècies.

P.D.: Abans que ho pregunteu: sí, fa fred, especialment quan fa vent (que en sol fer molt). Però podria ser pitjor, no és el microclima salzburguès de la boira perpètua.

dijous, 21 de gener de 2016

The Danish Girl

Biopics are the typical kind of films that are presented as Oscar bait around this time of the year, and I'm not the hugest fan of them because they tend to exaggerate or manipulate what happened in real life for the sake of melodrama and tears from the audience. This is the main reason why I was skeptical towards The Danish Girl, directed by Tom Hooper, who also was behind The King's Speech, a movie I loved, but also a not so satisfying adaptation of the musical Les Misérables. But I was finally convinced by the way they transformed Eddie Redmayne into a woman, according to the trailer.

This is the story of Einar Wegener, a Danish painter, and how he became Lili Elbe, the first transsexual woman who underwent a successful(ish) chirurgical operation to change her sex. In the late 1920s. It seems that Einar posed for his wife, Gerda Wegener, as a female model once, standing in for the actual model, and that is how he discovered that he felt more than comfortable in women's clothing. In the movie, Einar's first transformations into a woman are passed off as a sort of game for the Wegeners, but the audience can see his inner struggle and that it might not be a game for him after all. Whether this is how Lili depicted it in her diaries, I don't really know (I only have Wikipedia to work with right now, sorry).

Lili Elbe, 1926

In my opinion, these scenes are not subtle enough, even though they are powerful and they get the message across. There's nothing wrong per se in the way that the close-ups seem to indicate that we are in Einar's mind, but the movie is quite subtle showing us the emotions of the rest of the characters. There is one scene, in which Gerda realizes that Einar might not be just playing for the fun of it: the actress portraying her (Alicia Vikander) changes her facial expression gradually, from laughter and joy to doubt to realization and finally a shade of fear, all within a few seconds. 

Secondly, as I mentioned above, the real story had to be modified in order to fit the movie narrative and lenght. Again, this is not bad per se but the resolution feels rushed if you read how long it took Lili to be operated, or that she and Gerda got a marriage annulation and Einar became Lili legally... something that some countries still do not allow almost a whole century later. Still, I expected a lot more melodrama taking into consideration how dramatic the story is, so extra points for that. Similarly, the scenery and the photography of the movie are great. I like how the colours turned brighter and more vivid when Lili was on screen but were darker when the focus was on Einar.

While most critics seem to disagree with me, I think it's a great movie and it raises awareness of the struggles that transgender people go through. I do hope that all the awards go to Alicia Vikander and Eddie Redmayne.

  Both pictures by Gerda Wegener

dimarts, 19 de gener de 2016

Top Ten Tuesday #13: Another Top Ten Literary Names I'd Give My Children

Because I'd clearly be the cruel kind of parent who wouldn't really give a damn that kids go to school and kids are cruel. Since last time I went with five per gender, it's the same in this entry so there are ten per gender. I hope that makes sense.


#1 Emma (from Jane Austen's Emma or Michael Ende's Jim Knopf series or Max Aub's De un tiempo a esta parte). Ok, this isn't that bad. It's actually in the top 10 most given names in many countries.

#2 Isla (from Isla and the Happily Ever After). Funny, because particually through an actual friend of mine whose name is Isla, I met my boyfriend. 

#3 Ada (from Irène Nemirovski's Les chiens et les loups or Lord Byron's daughter Ada Lovelace). Aren't you noticing a pattern here? Short, two-syllable names?

#4 Cecilia (from Ian McEwan's Atonement or Ann Patchett's Patron Saint of Liars). Maybe as a second name, but because Cecilia is the patron saint of musicians.

#5 Luna (from the Harry Potter series). Because she's awesome.


#6 Hector (from Homer's Illiad). The one decent guy in that book. 

#7 Daniel (from the Bridget Jones series or Carlos Ruiz Zafón's La sombra del viento). I seriously need to drop this two-syllable pattern.

#8 David (from Charles Dickens's David Copperfield). Even though there already is one in my family.

#9 Leo (like the English transliteration of Lev Tolstoi). This is a huge stretch and doesn't let me break the two-syllable thing, even though the Russian name is just one.

#10 Tom (short for Thomas, as in Thomas Mann or Thomas Moor). Dear God, how I've had to cheat with this one. Sorry, I was running out of ideas. But I broke the pattern! 

dilluns, 11 de gener de 2016

[Peripècies Austríaques] 20. Preguntes freqüents

A finals d'aquest mes, me'n torno a Àustria després d'un kit-kat d'una mica més d'un any a Barcelona durant el qual he fet un Erasmus a la UAB (sí, de veritat) i he treballat de traductora i revisora per a una important empresa del sector de la moda, el nom de la qual que no mencionarem.

És possible que comenci a escriure aquestes entrades en anglès d'ara en endavant per facilitar-ne la comprensió a un públic més ampli, però ja veurem. Al cap i a la fi, no deixen de ser una mena de diari personal en obert.

Avui, després d'enredar-me a discutir amb l'autor d'un blog anomenat Viena Directo, en el qual s'exposen anècdotes d'espanyols a la capital austríaca a mode de generalització sobre la cultura del país i la manera de pensar dels seus habitants (com ho entenc jo, vaja), he recordat els dies previs al viatge que em va portar a Salzburg per primer cop i les típiques preguntes que em feia tothom. Així doncs, les reprendrem i les respondré des de l'experiència.

P: Així que te'n vas a Alemanya?

R: No, a Àustria.

P: Ah, Austràlia! Però està molt lluny, això...

R: Que no! Que és Àustria! A Europa! Una mica més a l'est d'Alemanya! De Barcelona a Viena hi ha uns 1800 kilòmetres. No pateixis, és un error molt més comú del que et penses. Però faràs bé de comprar-te un mapamundi.

P: I ja parles austríac?

R: Bé, parlo alemany, però després de més de tres anys i d'una relació estable amb un salzburguès, els meus amics alemanys (d'Alemanya) asseguren que tinc un deix d'accent austríac quan parlo alemany. Però, encara que soni diferent, l'idioma oficial és l'alemany.

 P: Bé, a males amb l'anglès també et pots espavilar, que allà tothom parla anglès.

R: No ben bé. La gent jove sí que el parla força bé, però la majoria de gent que ha passat de la cinquantena no domina la llengua de Shakespeare. I fora de les ciutats grans, que la teva divinitat de preferència t'agafi confessat si no parles alemany.

P: Hi fa molt de fred, a Àustria?

R: Oh, has fet servir el pronom feble correctament! I sí, en general hi fa molt de fred. Excepte a l'estiu. A l'estiu, el sol pica. Quan en fa, esclar.

Un altre dia parlarem dels llargs hiverns austríacs.

P: Neva molt, oi? Deus anar a esquiar cada cap de setmana.

R: Neva, sí. Però no, jo no esquio. La neu, prefereixo mirar-me-la des de casa amb una tassa de te o de xocolata a les mans. Si em poso uns esquís i sobrevisc la jornada, ja és una victòria.

P: Quan neva molt, deuen aturar les classes i tal, no?

R: Segons una companya de feina, només si la neu arriba per sobre dels genolls i no es pot enretirar de les carreteres. Si no es donen aquestes condicions, passa cap a treballar. L'esmentada companya encara riu de quan li vaig explicar que ens van donar festa un dia el 2010 perquè hi havia tres centímetres de neu a Barcelona i rodalies.

La reacció de molts arribats a Àustria des del Mediterrani en saber que no poden sortir a jugar a la neu en horari laboral.

P: I tens vestit de tirolesa?

R: Si et refereixes al Dirndl, evidentment que sí! No com el de la foto que he compartit, però sí. El meu és lila amb davantal rosa i m'apreta la pitramenta d'una manera que no pot ser saludable de cap de les maneres. Els homes porten Lederhose.

I em queda fabulós.

P: Però van vestits així sempre?

R: No; igual que fan els japonesos amb el kimono, només se'l posen per a ocasions especials, com casaments o festes concretes, tot i que és normal que el personal de restaurants "tradicionals" el portin com a uniforme de feina.

P: Coneixes la pel·lícula The Sound of Music? A la foto aquesta amb el Dirndl sembles d'aquella pel·lícula!

R: Sí, i l'he vista un parell de vegades. I evidentment la pose fent el capullo per la muntanya amb Dirndl està inspirada en la primera escena. Que tinc una certa cultura cinematogràfica, home. I molt poc sentit del ridícul.

P: Els Von Trapp són una mena d'herois nacionals i Edelweiss és l'himne, oi?

R: Malgrat l'ús patriòtic que li donen a la cançó, en realitat Edelweiss és només un dels números del musical. La majoria d'austríacs que conec neguen haver vist la pel·lícula, i els que sí que l'han vist asseguren que és un rentat d'imatge molt bèstia al país després de la seva participació a la segona guerra mundial. I va servir d'esquer de turistes, també. Pel que fa als Von Trapp passa una cosa semblant i es diu que la versió cinematogràfica de la seva vida està molt manipulada.

P: Vaig estar a Viena i em van semblar molt fans de la Sissi. Són molt monàrquics, no?

R: Passa una mica com amb The Sound of Music. S'ha explotat la figura de l'emperadriu i del seu senyor (però sobretot la d'ella) com a reclam turístic. També va ser una adaptació cinematogràfica romantitzada que va ajudar a impulsar la idea que ha quedat a l'imaginari col·lectiu. No sé si hi ha molts monàrquics, però tampoc no conec ningú que es queixi de tenir una república. Dels polítics sí que se'n queixen, com tothom a tot arreu.

Curiosament, prefereixen que Maria Antonieta i Hitler quedin associats a altres països i obviar el fet que tots van néixer a Àustria. Aquesta gent són uns cracks del marketing...
P: Els austríacs són com els alemanys: freds, tancats de ment i només beuen cervesa i mengen salsitxes.


No mereixes que et respongui, en realitat. Hi ha austríacs freds i tancats de ment com hi ha catalans i espanyols freds i tancats de ment. Pel que fa la cuina austríaca, és altament calòrica en general però recomanable. Per acabar, et donaré un consell: no diguis mai a un austríac que és alemany o que no hi ha gaire diferències entre Àustria i Alemanya. A tu no et fa gràcia quan et pregunten a quina part de Mèxic està Espanya, oi que no? 

I fins aquí per avui. Reprendré les Peripècies cap allà el febrer, un cop feta la mudança. Mentrestant, sigueu bons. O no.

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