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012: lists: a few favorite things from 2013


It is the time of year when everyone does their retrospective of things that were popular, significant, or important within the calendar year.

I don't do that. :) I'm happy to tell you what is on my mind right now, however! At the moment, a few things that other people created are on my mind. In particular:

Books

Bossypants, by Tina Fey (2011)(hachettebookgroup.com), is the most delightful book I read in 2013. It is about Ms. Fey's life in comedy-show business-television, and also about how being female prevents some otherwise reasonable people from treating you normally. I am glad I read it. It was a perfect mix of humor and observations on life.

Lean In (leanin.org) by Sheryl Sandberg (2013) is a book I read all sorts of commentary about before I was given a copy of the book as part of my registration for the Professional Business Women of California conference in San Francisco, where Sheryl spoke - and riveted the crowd. You have probably read about it also, but I can oversimplify it and say it is about how business women are expected to follow rigid cultural stereotypes in the office, and are criticized for behaviors that are only acceptable in men. The book asks people (and especially women) to be more self aware and to facilitate a more advanced office culture. The book is much more than that, and I was pleased by it, and completely impressed with Ms. Sandberg as a speaker.

The Architecture of Happiness (alaindebotton.com) by Alain de Botton (2006) (the author of my long-time favorite, How Proust Can Change Your Life) is about… how the places we are in influence our thinking; European building conformity, and the idea of what buildings should look and feel like through the lens of what is "normal;" about disappointment with banal contemporary Japanese architecture when the historic work hinted at such amazing potential; about the ideals we attempt to embody in spaces… It is a thoughtful work about places and our intentions.

I liked that enough that I rushed out to the library to read his book, The Art of Travel (2002ish), which is largely like the old saying, 'No matter where you go, there you are.' Your experience of a place depends far more on you than on the place, which has rarely been said so directly, and which will never appear in print in your tourist brochures. The most delightful part of this book for me related to a man who gave drawing lessons to the working-class public in England; his goal was not that they would all be famous artists, but that they would look at the world with the depth of attention required to draw it, and so would generally experience the world more deeply than those who can/t even be bothered to look at their surroundings, or are awaiting a grand spectacle to effortlessly unfold before them to impress them. The story of this teacher's efforts gave me joy, as I live in a world where no one will look up from their phones.

Film

Cutie and the Boxer (2013)(link is to official page on FB, sadly) is a documentary look at the lives and shared relationship of Ushio and Noriko Shinohara, a married artist couple that has been struggling in love and the art world for 40 years. I get the impression that it started out as a story about Ushio alone, but the story was not complete without Noriko. Their story covers each going to NYC to make it big, the motivation of the older man to pursue an impressionable younger woman with financially generous parents, domestic exploitation, gender roles (especially the idea that a woman should give up her dreams to keep house and raise children for a man who demands this, but, because she has done this, he will never consider her an equal in the area of interest that brought them together), artistic competition, and the general struggle of artists to get by in an art world that enjoys king-making (keeping some artists hungry while making stars of others). It is a story of going to New York to make it big, and becoming famous... but not necessarily successful. The idea that the struggle doesn't always end. It is not a romantic story, and it's funny how delicately the summarizers address this without saying that in reality, relationships are complex and often harsh.

Museum Hours (museumhoursfilm.com) (2012/2013) is a fictional tale of two strangers, a museum guard and a just-getting-by Canadian woman called to Europe to attend to a hospitalized relative, and their unstructured time together in Vienna. The film dedicates most of its time to views of the Historical Art Museum of Vienna (where the guard works), examining the minute details of the paintings, and observing the visitors. Outside of the museum, Vienna is snowy, gray, industrial, and visually cold outside of the cafes and restaurants where the new friends spend their time chatting. The filmmaking is very realistic and contemporary (focusing on views from train windows, junk at flea markets, people waiting for buses), and gives the impression of a young person with espresso letting their eyes rest on the grittiest elements of the world around them without a particular agenda. I have mixed feelings about this style, since I was acutely aware of it, though I believe it suited the situation of the Canadian well - that feeling of being out of place and in a difficult situation, without the optimism that would come from visiting a famous city voluntarily. I recommend this if you like old museums.


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images and original text Copyright © 2014 A. E. Graves

(posted February 2, 2014)

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