I've thoroughly enjoyed myself this winter break. I've taken the time to watch a bunch of TV shows, read a couple books, and generally relax. Here's some of what I've been up to:
Angela's Ashes and 'Tis: I knew these books would be good. They've both been around awhile, and it's taken me a long time to get around to reading them. They've gotten enough good reviews and are still talked about - I heard a lot about them this year in fact (well, 2009) because the author, Frank McCourt, passed away. But I didn't know that they would touch me on such a personal level. I read a lot, but I rarely connect with an author this way.
It could have been Frank's beautiful writing (yes, I know a lot about him now, so I feel comfortable calling him Frank - not Frankie, though). His use of language is simple, but meaningful. Not simple and choppy like Hemingway, but simple and clear in a way that makes the reader feel exposed - like everything I've ever felt was personal isn't a secret. He uses the voice he had at each stage of his life - he does not try to narrate around or explain things. He uses the voice of a 10-year-old who is confused and doesn't try to analyze why he felt how he did. He just felt that way. That's it. There's no need to explain why a 10 year old is confused and some days hates his father and other days loves his father. Everyone who reads these books has felt what he felt - maybe not on such an extreme level, but we have.
That's another reason I loved the book. Frank lived a life so foreign to the one I did. He grew up poverty-stricken in Ireland in the 1930-1940s, sharing a flea-ridden bed with 3 brothers and an outhouse with the whole neighborhood. I always knew I'd have something to eat, and my family always had our own bathroom, and I never knew what kind of luxury that was. Despite our desperately different childhoods, Frank made me feel like we had everything in common, because we are both human. When he was angry at his mom, I was angry at his mom, and I was angry at my mom. When he fondly remembers and forgives his father who abandoned his family to starve to death while he drank his life away in England, I fondly remembered good times with my father. My life wasn't nearly as desperate as his, but I have felt everything he describes.
I can't stop thinking of his life story. I'm proud of him for going out and living his dream. He didn't spend his life drinking in a pub like his father. He never gave up. I hope I can be like him.
Speaking of lives I'm glad I didn't live, but with which I can identify, I saw the movie "Precious" this weekend. It was heartbreaking. For once I wasn't annoyed with people in the theater. I didn't even notice them (alright, except the lady who walked in late and sat directly in front of me). I have a long list of movies to see before the Oscars, so I haven't seen everything that will be nominated, but if this movie or at least some of the actors in it don't win this year, I will lose all faith I have in the system. It is a truly superb story told superbly and acted extremely well. It is a must see for everyone.
I've also been watching a little TV. I caught several episodes of "Burn Notice" during a marathon. I like to give shows several episodes to hook me. I watched 4 episodes, and I'm not hooked. It's a decent premise for a show - a spy who got "burned," is out to find out who burned him, take revenge and get his old life back. Meanwhile he and some other spy-like characters do some free-lance work for people. It's occasionally clever, but I can't help but feel like the whole thing is tired. The story lines are tired, and the characters are flat. The acting is decent for what they're given to work with. Oh well, it's not like I need to add another TV show to my long list of must-see TV.
"Nurse Jackie" is a decent TV show. It's a step up from "Burn Notice," but a step below "Mad Men" (see below). But boy oh boy, do I hate Jackie. She's an awful person. She is the most self-involved person I know, and that's saying a lot because I am in law school. It's not even an exaggeration. She's having an affair. When she can't get her wedding ring off, she has it cut off so her boyfriend won't see it. Then she breaks her own finger so there's a plausible reason for having a cut-off ring. She's only using her boyfriend for his connection to really strong pain pills, to which she is addicted. And she abandons her best friend in the moment she's most needed.
Here's where I want to write something about the fact that she's a nurse and she goes out of her way to help people who don't appreciate her help, so ultimately she's not so bad. I think the writers want me to like her, but I'm really supposed to like this horrible selfish woman because she's good at her job? I'm sorry I don't think so. However, there are interesting things in the show that will get me to watch next season - the two main doctors are fun to watch and I feel terrible for Jackie's husband. So the story is somewhat compelling, even if I hate the protagonist. I will watch next season of Nurse Jackie, but only after it's over and I can watch the entire thing in one day on demand.
Showtime seems to like shows in which the protagonist is two-sided. Dexter is a monster, but he tries to use his evil nature for good, and he wants to be a better person. It works on that show - I like Dexter despite the fact that he's a serial killer. "The Tudors" is all about King Henry VIII, who as we all know is a vicious monarch responsible for beheading two of his six wives and for his cruel and brutal treatment of many people. However, King Henry VIII also built a strong, united nation during his reign and was responsible for religious reform through England. He's abhorent, but still likable. Jackie is not terrible enough or likeable enough. She's too much like the rest of us, and that makes her terrible and boring rather than terrible and interesting.
And finally - my main goal of winter break was to get through all three seasons of "Mad Men." I've done it. It was no easy task, I assure you. It's difficult to get through things quickly when you have to wait for Netflix. But I was patient and got through it. When season three was on this fall, I DVR'd the whole thing, and saved it for break where I knew I would watch the first two seasons. So that was lucky, because only the first few episodes are on demand now. Whew! So now that I've gotten through it all, here's what I think.
I understand everyone's obsession with Joan. She's a vixen, she's fun and she's intelligent. I want to see more of her. But I personally identified most with Peggy - of course. She's a career girl, and so am I. She wants to be recognized for her worth, but is shy and unsure of her worth. She's nervous, but she always comes through and she speaks out. She's a woman in a man's world, and she holds her own.
I think Don Draper is a big fat lying jerk. But make no mistake about it, Betty is no saint. She is manipulative and judgmental and self-absorbed. She can't think about things from any viewpoint other than her own. Don Draper is typical of the time period and place he's in - he's a philandering workaholic who wants a trophy family to show off to everyone. Betty shouldn't be and isn't surprised to find this out - no matter what she says or how she acts.
As for everyone else, they're all amusing, and I was sorry to see a lot of them go when they did, and some I didn't notice. Overall, the show is good. It is slow at times, but it's fun, interesting and colorful. Also, I wonder if any of those actors didn't smoke before this gig. They must be addicted now. No one does anything without smoking or taking a shot of scotch beforehand. It's kind of distracting.
This is my last week of break. A week from tomorrow I start my internship, and then classes start for me the next day. This week I'll be concentrating on reading for school. I'll also be taking down and putting away the Christmas decorations. Showtime has begun airing all episodes from previous seasons of "The Tudors," so I'll be watching those too.
Oscar nominations will be announced February 2. In the meantime, Entertainment Weekly released a list of must-see movies before the Oscars, so I'll get to work on those. I didn't have a lot of time for movies this year, so I'll have to make up for that now.