December 29, 2010

End of the Year Reads

When I recently tallied the total number of books I read in 2010, I was somewhat dismayed to discover that I read fewer books this year than I read last year (and last year wasn't exactly a record breaking year). How the heck did that happen? I seemed to have simply lost steam at one point. I also spent the better part of October getting spooked by a number of ghostly short stories, which I didn't factor into my total because I felt like it would be cheating (the stories came from disparate books). As a result, the number of books I consumed per month slowly tapered, at least in comparison to 2009. But it's really the quality of books that matters, not quantity, right? If reading fewer books means I can include gargantuan stories with 500+ pages, re-read certain favorites or delve into multiple short stories, then I suppose I'm ok with my number. Which is officially 21 books read in 2010. And so, here is how I concluded my reading this year:

The Group by Mary McCarthy. This story is about a group of seven Vassar graduates from the 1930's whose lives intertwine and diverge over the years following their graduation. It’s interesting to note what has changed between now and the time when the book was written (early 1960's) and what hasn't (surprisingly, not a lot has). Some of the book's themes are as relevant today as they were back then: the living life as a single girl in the city, the importance of female friendships, the need for autonomy, finding Mr. Right, martial hardships, talking with frankness about sex and birth control, etc. Each chapter sort of acts as a stand-alone story, though the subplots and characters overlap. I later learned that the book was first written as separate stories that were eventually made into the cohesive book we see today. The Group is at once a snapshot of the way things were, and a mirror reflecting the same problems and dreams and aspirations found today as yesterday.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling. Considering that the Deathly Hallows Part I movie came out this autumn, I had no other choice but to re-read the last two books in the Harry Potter series in preparation (what diehard Harry Potter fan wouldn't?). Even on my third reading, the books continue to delight and entertain. I still laughed and cried and shrieked with fear in the same exact places as before. Harry's story just gets in there and leaves you spellbound for days on end. Blame (or praise is more like it) Ms. Rowling. The woman's a literary genius, I tell you.

The Empowered Patient by Elizabeth Cohen. Written by a CNN medical correspondent, this book offers crucial information on how to get the best medical care in the United States. Medical errors are more common than we think and in order to combat a misdiagnosis, we need to stay alert by asking the right questions, choosing the right doctors, and trusting our instincts when it comes to making decisions about our health. A must-read for every American.

Entre Nous: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl by Debra Ollivier. Sometimes you need something a little fun and frothy to take the edge off of a serious read. And this book did just that. The author is an American woman married to a Frenchman, so the perspective is that of an outsider, but one who has been invited inside, so to speak. And while a lot of what the book espouses I either already knew or already knew better than to believe (generalizations and stereotypes abound), it still offers constructive ideas about how to live well, with grace and flair to boot.

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. Three years had elapsed before I was finally able to complete this Mother of all Gothic novels. Why did it take me so long? The teeny tiny font and 600+ page count might have had something to with it. Also, the author's propensity for garrulous (albeit beautifully poetic) descriptions of atmosphere and mood and the heroine's melancholy tears that seemed to flow every other page (I suppose the book wouldn't be Gothic without any of the above) most certainly played a part in my sluggish dawdle to the book's conclusion. There were some genuinely chilling scenes in the book that also justified its Gothic reputation. It's been said that the author never travelled to the foreign climes of which she wrote, which makes her expressive, detailed prose all the more mind boggling. Never underestimate one's power of imagination! Especially when one is Anne Radcliffe. She has inspired legions of authors, most notably Jane Austen, who parodied Radcliffe in her very own Northanger Abbey.

As the final days of 2010 draw to a close, I just want to take this opportunity to wish all of you a very joyous new year. Thank you for reading and saying hi. You know who you are. Here's to a joyous and triumphant 2011! xx

December 23, 2010

Black Swan

It's been a few days since I saw Black Swan, and yet my brain is still reeling from it. It's intense, it's creepy, and it has more than a few jump-out-of-your-chair moments. It's the sort of film that weighs on the psyche for days afterward and warrants rumination and discussion. The dark psychology behind the story is absolutely compelling and is played out through the use of haunting visual images (i.e. mirrors abound in the film and are the cause of some pretty chilling moments).

All of this is just my long-winded way of introducing these graphic, 60's-inspired posters inspired by the film. Created by a British design studio, these advertisements capture the duality inherent in the main character, Nina (played by Natalie Portman...as if you didn't already know that) and in the role she portrays on stage in the ballet production of Swan Lake. The role calls for a dancer to simultaneously assume the grace, fragility, and physical perfection of the white swan, as well as the power and sinister seduction of the black swan. You can see where the struggle lies here, in trying desperately to conform to two very different ideals at once. Life soon imitates art, and it's no wonder Nina loses her grip on reality. I think the designers behind these posters did a beautiful job conveying all of this. The first image where the swan and dancer become one has a sinister quality to it that I find perfectly suited to the movie (and just might be my favorite in the series).

I can't help but think about our (i.e. my, society's) notion of ballerinas and the ballet world in general. Ballet is about attaining perfection, an ideal of beauty and refinement and poetry in motion. And yet, we don't really think about the not-so-pretty aspects of it: the physical injuries and deprivation, the intense physical and mental discipline and rigor, as well as the cutthroat competition among dancers. All of which makes it the ideal backdrop against which to play out this doubling and fracturing of the self that goes on in the film.

If you haven't already seen it, I highly recommend you do so; I know it's not the cheeriest of movies to watch over the holidays, but I promise you won't regret it! And after you've done so, tell me what you thought about it in the comments section.

{Images from The Guardian, via Fashionista}

December 20, 2010

Total Lunar Eclipse

Have you heard about tonight's total lunar eclipse? According to National Geographic, "A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon, Earth, and the sun all line up, with Earth in the middle. During the eclipse, Earth's shadow is cast onto the full moon, dimming—but not completely obscuring—its surface." Apparently, this is the first time since 1638 that a total lunar eclipse of a full moon coincides with the winter solstice (as a result, the moon will feature quite prominently in the night sky in the northern hemisphere, from 9:55pm to 2:01 am PST).

Too bad the probability of my seeing anything of interest will be next to nil considering California has been afflicted with opaque, heavy grey clouds and seemingly endless bouts of rain over the past few days which show no signs of abating soon. It's comforting to know that I can always live vicariously through NASA, which will be hosting a live video feed of the lunar eclipse on their website. The giant astronomy nerd inside me sighs with relief.

{Image via here}

December 16, 2010

Happy Birthday, Jane Austen

Today marks the 235th anniversary of Jane Austen's birth, and to celebrate, Google UK has featured this nifty doodle on their homepage. How cool is that? The scene above looks an awful lot like this one. Happy 235th Birthday, Jane Austen! You don't look a day over 234, my dear.

December 15, 2010

Grammatically Correct

My inner grammar snob is positively giddy over this mug, particularly because it sheds light on what is probably the #1 grammar pet peeve of mine of all time: it's "between you and me", people, not "between you and I"! And yes, I do feel better now that I've gotten that off my chest. :-)

They also have plates, in case you're interested.

P.S. This is probably my #2 grammar pet peeve.

{Images via here}

December 11, 2010

O Christmas tree

And suddenly, Christmas is upon us. No sooner had I returned from my blissful Thanksgiving sojourn than I felt firmly in the thick of yet another Christmas season (that Father Time moves pretty darn fast for an old guy). I tend to feel a bit ambivalent about this time of year (I say 'yes' to the holiday spirit and sense of generosity and good cheer; I say 'boo' to all the commercialism and pressure to buy, buy, buy). Just call me Charlie Brown. Fittingly, I've adopted this diminutive and very Charlie Brown-esque potted fir tree as my Christmas tree this year. And in spite of my black thumb credentials in the past (for which T relishes teasing me), I intend to nourish and shower this little fir with all the tender loving care I can possibly muster. And keep my fingers crossed that he won't meet his demise under my guardianship.

November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving Break

I hope you've all had a tranquil Thanksgiving weekend! T and I are still celebrating the holiday and spending lots of quality time with family and friends whom we don't get to see as much as we'd like. There's been a surplus of extraordinarily good food and conversation (with ever-flowing wine, of course) over the past week, and thankfully, the fun will continue for us for the next few days. Huzzah! I'll check back in later this week, when reality settles in. But right now, the fireplace and my current book of choice are beckoning....

November 18, 2010

Tulip Surprise

The other morning I woke up to find a bright bouquet of lipstick-red tulips lying on the breakfast table, courtesy of the boyfriend. They and Harry Potter made my week, no contest.

November 15, 2010

HP 7

Are you as breathless with anticipation for Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part I as I am? I've been watching the press storm that has taken place over the last week and eagerly awaiting the movie's release on Friday (I. Cannot. WAIT). Watching the tv and red carpet interviews makes me realize A. how grown up everyone has become and B. how smitten I am with Emma Watson and her enchanting new Mia Farrow-esque pixie 'do. It really makes me want to chop my own hair off. I can just imagine how liberating it would feel (though knowing me, I'd probably regret doing so almost immediately afterward). I've developed somewhat of a girl crush on Emma in the last year or so, and this brave new cut makes me love her even more. I can't help it. The girl is adorableness personified.

{Images via here and here}

November 9, 2010

A New Jane Eyre

They've done it again. Yet another film version of the gothic classic (and one of my personal favorites) Jane Eyre is in the works. We're told that Director Cary Fukunaga's adaptation will focus more on the gothic elements to the story; just exactly how he plans to achieve that (and how his version will differ from the many adaptations before him) remains to be seen when the film is released in March 2011. I am a major fan of the 2006 BBC/Masterpiece Theatre version with Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens (talk about hotness--the chemistry between them is palpable) and in my eyes, no other can knock it off its pedestal. Still, I can't deny that this new movie poster with the lovely Mia Wasikowska has definitely peaked my interest. I find it at once haunting and heartbreakingly beautiful.

Countless film and television adaptations of this classic 19th century novel, as well as a multitude of literary re-tellings, prequels, and spinoffs (one of the most famous of which is my beloved Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, which in turn was made into a film by Alfred Hitchock--I heart both) have been made, and there has even been a graphic novel. Clearly, the story has resonated with generations of people, all itching to re-imagine this gothic tale of love and passion, of identity and survival, in their own unique way. I say, bring it on, Focus Features.

{Image via here}

November 4, 2010

Tiger Lilies

These tiger lilies have totally made my week. Gazing at their bright, happy little faces every day is a balm for the soul. Love the little bursts of autumn orange.

November 2, 2010

Bookish tees

T-shirts emblazoned with my favorite books? I'll take one of each, please. As far as kick ass literary heroines go, you could do no better than Elizabeth Bennet and Nancy Drew.


Out of Print, the Brooklyn-based company behind these clever t-shirts, has the following mission statement: "Each shirt is treated to feel soft and worn like a well-read book." Don't you just love that? What's more, Out of Print donates one book for every t-shirt sold. I'm putting in my order right now! For more great bookish tees, go here.

P.S. Did you vote today?

{Images via here and here}

October 28, 2010

My kind of Halloween

Halloween is just around the corner! Time to mail these enchanting cards....

....tote this little number around town...

...cozy up with a blanket, a nightlight, and a scary tale or two....

...And watch this gem of a Halloween classic.

And if you've picked up on my grandma predilections, then well spotted! :-) What are some of your favorite Halloween traditions?


{Images via here, here, and here}

October 25, 2010

Cookin'

Tonight I made this gorgeous thing. And it wasn't half bad either (which is a direct reference to my amateurish cooking skills and not the quality of the dish).

{Image and recipe from Martha Stewart via LONNY}

October 22, 2010

Night at the Aero

One of the things I love most about my neighborhood is the fact that this theatre lies only a stone's throw away from my apartment. Last night the Aero held a screening of Pulp Fiction, one of my boyfriend's favorite films and one this blogger hadn't actually seen until last night (and yes, I am woefully inexperienced when it comes to viewing knowledge of some of the best films ever made; T mocks me for it all the time). To say I enjoyed it would be a vast understatement. My mind is still reeling from all the great memorable lines of dialogue, as well as the film's non-linear structure and the interesting way in which the different story lines intersect. Seeing such an iconic film for the first time on the big screen wasn't the only highlight. The good folks at Aero played a poignant tribute to the film's editor Sally Menke, who tragically died only three weeks ago. Sally had been a long-time collaborator with director Quentin Tarantino on all of his films, and his love and esteem for her was well apparent in the montage made in her honor (included were brief clips of the films Sally edited over the years, as well as a gag reel of all of the big Hollywood stars in Quentin's films shouting a warm "Hi, Sally!" as they shot their scenes). It was such a classy, unforgettable Hollywood moment and made my first viewing of this film classic all the more remarkable.

October 19, 2010

Coco at home

I couldn't help but smile when I saw this snapshot of model Coca Rocha playing dress up in her own closet. Could she possibly be any cuter? Vogue recently caught up with the model to get an inside look at her glamourous Manhattan digs (and enviable closet).

I especially love the charming mix of teapots, books, sea-colored vases, and other beautiful knickknacks against a backdrop of robin's egg blue. So pretty!

{Images via Vogue}

October 17, 2010

Sweater Weather

Today is cold, gray, and drizzly (my kind of weather) and all I really feel like doing is cozying up in a great big, warm, woolly sweater, preferably of the grandpa variety. With a mug of hot cocoa and a book of ghost stories in my lap (talk about perfect rainy day afternoon). Lo and behold, I found some snuggly sweaters that fit the bill courtesy of--who else?--J.Crew.



{Images #1, 2, 3, 4 via J.Crew}

October 12, 2010

Reading Nook

Meet the perfect reading chair.

Would I like to own this very chair, as well as the sun-drenched corner/ideal reading nook along with it? Yes, yes I would.

And I'll take the wise old owl lamp, too.

{Images via West Elm}

October 10, 2010

The Ghostly Collaborative Project

Today is 10/10/10 and I'm writing this at exactly 10:10 in the evening. Kind of creepy, right? Which is only fitting considering I'm spending this dark October night catching up on some spooky Halloween reading. A few book bloggers are teaming up to write The Ghostly Collaborative Project, where one blogger begins a ghost story and the next picks up where that person left off and so on. The story will conclude with a final chapter on Halloween. The plot thickens and twists with each blogger's version of the tale, and they're all such good fun to read through! Short and sweet, they pack a spine-tingling punch. Read them for yourself:


To be continued.....

October 7, 2010

Favorites from Spring 2011

Another Fashion Week (more like month, really) has come and gone. There was a distinct 70's vibe at a lot of the collections, and lower, more elegant hemlines were everywhere (something I personally favor and appreciate). Two runway collections particularly stand out to me: Fendi and Jason Wu. Below are some of my favorite looks from their Spring 2011 collections.

I heart the vibrant color palette at Fendi. It's very Kindergarten teacher circa 1974 (in the best way possible). There's an ease to the clothes that I find incredibly appealing, and I love how the bright lipstick acts as a sort of punctuation mark.

If I were to become a millionaire over night and had the sort of day-to-day existence where fabulous soirees and designer clothing were a reality, I would turn to Jason Wu, my sartorial guru. Glamourous, feminine, and totally luxe, his clothes would be a dream to wear. I imagine Holly Golightly would go nuts for his designs.

A girl can dream...

{Photos via Style.com}

September 30, 2010

Blog birthday part deux

Two years ago today I started this little blog. It's been a wonderfully fun and enlightening journey thus far, especially because of all of you kind folks out there. Thank you carving some time out of your busy schedules to stop by and comment in this space. Your notes mean the world to me and inspire me to be a better blogger. I love the insular world the blogging community has created, this sort of web of like-minded individuals who meet in a virtual space of creativity and wisdom and inspiration and beauty and joy. Getting to know you via your own blogs has been such a treat. And so the journey continues...

September 27, 2010

Banned Books Week 2010

This week is Banned Books Week. Started in 1982 by librarian and anti-censorship activist Judith Krug, this annual event highlights the importance of intellectual freedom and "ensures the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them." You can see a list of the top 100 banned/challenged books between 2000-2009 here (poor Harry Potter is at the top of the list). How many books on this list have you read?

Further reading: The New York Times has presented this handy guide on the ways we can celebrate and help support Banned Books Week.

{Image via Goodreads}

September 23, 2010

Happy Autumnal Equinox!

Today marks the first day of autumn. In Europe, that is. In the United States, autumn started yesterday. Confused? This link explains how the autumnal equinox can fall (pun intended, of course) on two separate dates:

The solstices and equinoxes are not actually days, but rather they are instants of time. The equinoxes are the instants when the Sun appears directly over Earth's equator....For 2010 the moment of the autumnal equinox is September 23 at 03:09 UTC (coordinated universal time). Coordinated universal time is also called Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), the standard time in the Greenwich, England time zone. Because this year's autumnal equinox falls so early in the morning in UTC, it is on the previous night in locations a few time zones west of Greenwich. In the United States, the autumnal equinox will be at 11:09 PM EDT, 10:09 PM CDT, 9:09 PM MDT, and 8:09 PM PDT on September 22. The autumnal equinox, or the first day of fall in the northern hemisphere, will be September 22, in the United States and locations further west. The September 2010 equinox will however be on September 23 in Greenwich, England, Europe, and more easterly locations.

And did you check out that beautifully brilliant moon in last night's sky? The tiny bright star next to it is actually Jupiter. Jupiter and the moon will be bosom buddies for the next month or so, but after that they won't rendezvous in the night sky until the year 2022. Start your sky gazing now.

{Image via here}

September 21, 2010

End of Summer Reading

Summer reading conjures lazy, balmy days where cozy concepts like 'work' and 'reality' are of no consequence or consideration. At least, this may be true for the lucky folks who had the pleasure of ample vacation time at their disposal. But for those of us not so fortunate, such as myself, there's always the travel that plunging into the pages of an engrossing read can afford; a book that renders one's mundane, every day surroundings practically nonexistent, and suddenly just like that, you're in a swish hotel in Poland before the outset of the second World War (for example). Here are a few such books I read this summer, books that had adventure and danger and magical suspension of disbelief, with a wee bit of terror thrown in for good measure, splashed on nearly every page:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. Have you heard of this little book? No? Then you've been living in a cave because I may very well be one of the last people on earth to have picked it up, and like most people, I wasn't disappointed. Sure, the start was a wee slow (although it provided necessary background information), but I quickly become engrossed in the tangled, sordid saga of the Vanger family. I wasn't prepared for the most graphic and uncomfortable scene I've ever come across on the page (though the payoff in the end is sort of worth the few pages of anguish), nor how troubled and fascinating I found the female lead, Lisbeth Salander. I think it's a good thing to be taken beyond one's comfort zone every once in awhile, to new, heightened planes of drama and intrigue; it builds reading character (I think). I'm looking forward to books two and three, which I hear are even better than the first.

The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott. It recently occurred to me that I was hankering for a new young adult fantasy book series to somewhat fill the gaping hole left over from the Harry Potter books (though which, naturally, wouldn't replace the latter books in my heart of hearts. EVER). The Alchemyst has all the right elements I consider characteristic of a book of this nature: adventure, improbable use of magic and magical lore, mythical beings, historical characters that actually lived and which inject a little gravitas into the story, and a good old-fashioned moral to the tale. And yet, I can't say I was spellbound or utterly captivated by this book; on the contrary, I found myself wishing for a quicker pace and lamenting that I never at any point felt any sort of real concern for the two main characters, never felt their situation was as dire as the build-up to the story would otherwise suggest. I really wanted to love this book, but if I'm completely honest, I came away feeling somewhat entertained and a little disappointed. Having said that, I have every intention of reading the second book in the series, The Magician. Second chances and all that...

The Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst. This is my first spy novel--no longer a spy novel virgin, look at me! What's so fantastic about this book is that it takes you completely out of the world from which you are familiar while also delivering pieces of factual information about a time and place that actually existed, that still feels very real to many people (particularly people like my grandmother). I can't imagine the terror of living through the years between the wars, of seeing firsthand the manic buildup to WWII. Furst makes it so easy to visualize and experience the early, turbulent days of a Europe torn apart, particularly of a country who refused to believe the danger they were all in. Furst is a master of the spy genre, and no doubt I'll be reading more of these books in future.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling. I can't extol the virtues of this book series enough, I really can't. I'll spare you the sappy soliloquy I've constructed in my head, but suffice it to say that reading these books is truly one of the most memorable reading experiences this reader has ever known. Every so often I'll pick up a book in this beloved series and re-familiarize myself with this most magical of magical worlds and the epic tale of the boy wizard who lived, who must vanquish only the most sinister magical being the world has ever known (you know, no big whoop). I hadn't read Deathly Hallows since the book published three years ago, and I was amazed at how much of the story I had forgotten; it made my re-discovering it all the more special. And the second reading failed to yield fewer tears than the first because I wept and ached as much now as I did then, that's how absorbed I was in the story. Which is surely a testament to Rowling's literary prowess, to her ability to not only craft a gripping tale, but to also present us with characters with whom we identify and care about deeply, who we want to see triumph in the end. Book seven (Deathly Hallows) will be split into two separate films (thank the LORD), the first of which arrives in theaters in November. I'm thinking of dressing up as Hedwig, Harry's beloved owl, for the opening night. I'm partly joking, of course. And yes, I am that sad.

Up next: A Mad Men-inspired read and possibly anything else I fancy....

September 17, 2010

Inspiration from the boys

I really need to start shopping in the little boys' section. This darling little cable knit sweater is from crewcuts. Who knew? And oh, how refreshing it is to see a skirt NOT cut up to you-know-where. Never mind the fact that I would undoubtedly end up resembling a librarian should I ever try this look at home. But that may just be exactly the look I am going for (take that, T!). I love the colors, textures, and how the luxe black bag ties it all together. SWOON.

{Image via
The Sartorialist}

September 14, 2010

Weekend fun in Palm Springs

Did another weekend really just fly by? It certainly seems that way to me because I've just returned from a most relaxing bachelorette weekend in Palm Springs. The bride-to-be, myself, and a gaggle of girls all stayed at the beautiful Villa Carmelita where famous Hollywood types like Natalie Wood, Kirk Douglas, and Lloyd Bridges stayed before us. The margaritas and conversations were flowing, the sun was shining, and the pool was incredibly inviting. It was just the sort of vacation we all desperately needed. And, like all good vacations, it was over much too quickly. Until we meet again, Carmelita.


{Images via Villa Carmelita}

September 9, 2010

Tea Towel Time

These quirky tea towels put the biggest smile on my face. They just might make that whole washing-and-drying-the-dishes chore that I so abhor actually worth the enterprise. I love them for their off-beat charm. Practical, aesthetically appealing, and funny? Need I say more? Only that I suddenly feel really old for ogling a pair of tea towels. Story of my life.

{Tea towels available here}