Friday, March 25, 2011

The Lads and Ladies of Literature Tell You How to Look Younger

 Here's the latest submission to The Gloss:

Dear Consultitory  Characters, I have a high school reunion coming up and I am desperately trying to look younger. I thought, who better to advise me about looks than people who, due to their fictional status, never had any? So what should I do?

Dorian Gray (The Portrait of Dorian Gray): I’m a firm believer in the power of paint in maintaining youth. By which, of course, I mean make up. Lots and lots of make-up. Nothing screams youth like a wrinkle-free face- so paint on a mask and I promise you, it’ll be just like you never got older at all.

Humbert Humbert (Lolita): I think its deliciously admirable that more and more women are trying to emulate the sweet nymphyness of youth. Rompers, pigtails, short denim shorts to display your long, suntanned legs and your scraped knees. That is what I call dressing to impress.

Frankenstein (Frankenstein): A couple of hops under the knife never hurt anybody…. much

Blanche DuBois: Here’s what you do: take a lemon, squeeze half into a bowl with yogurt. Smear onto face. Take the other half of the lemon. Squeeze into a glass of straight vodka. Drink. Repeat.

Phantom (The Phantom of the Opera): Eye circles? No problem! Just slip into a (literal) eye mask and its like they were never even there.
Bridget Jones(Bridget Jones’ Diary): They say gaining a little weight fills your face out and makes you look younger again. It’s true. They say that. They do.

Jane Eyre (Jane Eyre): Just always walk around with your eyes open really wide to express your youthful naïveté and people will just assume that the old blind guy you’re with is your father and you yourself are as perky as a puppy.

 Lindo Jong (The Joy Luck Club): Green Tea. Drink, and it will make you glow. Also, shrinks under eye bags when applied topically.

Emma (Emma): A corset works wonders for a woman pursuing a nubile young figure. Or, you know, spanx.

Isabella (Measure for Measure)*: No alcohol. No sugar. No smoking or promiscuous sex. If you think you might like it at all, it will age you terribly.

It stands to reason that many people might have missed this one in deference to some of Shakespeare’s more popular plays, so let me fill you in; Isabella is a woman who is joining a convent, but is worried that the 16th century’s nuns’ rules won’t be strict enough. Aka, she is the dweebiest dweeb who ever did dweeb. In case you were wondering.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Books Celebrities Might Have Misread

CHRIS BROWN misread A CLOCKWORK ORANGE as an accurate depiction of acceptable ways to behave in society
OJ SIMPSON misread IN COLD BLOOD as a how-to manual
TAYLOR SWIFT misread the ending of ROMEO AND JULIET
CHARLIE SHEEN misread THE NEW TESTAMENT as his own biography
GLENN BECK misread FAHRENHEIT 451 as a decent proposal
BRITNEY SPEARS misread GONE WITH THE WIND as a marriage guide
JUSTIN BEIBER misread ANIMAL FARM as a cool book about pets!
WALT DISNEY misread MOST FAIRYTALES. Perhaps fortunately for the psyches of children everywhere.
KE$HA misread THE GRAPES OF WRATH as a fashion magazine
LINDSEY LOHAN misread ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND as a reasonable allegory for your average night out

Friday, March 18, 2011

What You CanTell About Characters By Their Clothing Descriptions

And rolling on with the brief interlude of a fashion theme, here's what the types of clothing a character's wearing on his or her introduction can generally suggest about their role in the story:

1) "Neat," "crisp," or "well cared for" attire: Pretty much the same assumptions you would make about anyone who is snappily dressed in real life; this person is professional, efficient, and pragmatic. If it is a man, he's probably a bit of a prat. This person is very focused on the day to day and keeping things under control. Case in point: Watson (Sherlock Holmes books)

2) Fashionable man: Also known as a dandy or a fop. This man is t.r.o.u.b.le. He'll probably have a gambling problem, or harass random girls. Or have a secret painting stashed in his attic through which he ages vicariously. Watch out. Case in Point: Dorian Grey (The Portrait of Dorian Grey)

3) Fashionable lady: Either the protagonist, the protagonist's best friend, or the villian. If the fashionableness is showy, like Miranda Priestly or Anne Boleyn, she's a villian. If its tasteful, she's probably more of a good guy. She probably has a high opinion of herself, in any case. Case in Point: Emma (Emma)

4) Messy man: Probably some one either you or the protagonist will fall in love with. He's probably intellectual. Probably complicated. Probably romantic. Case in Point: Sydney Carton (A Tale of Two Cities)

5) Anything "nondescript": CRAZY MOTHER ^%*&#*(!!!!! This person is either an assassin or a serial killer or undercover royalty. Maybe he or she is a witch or a god. The point is, anyone you're "not supposed to notice," you absolutely, absolutely ARE. Case in Point: Dr. H. H. Holmes (The Devil in the White City)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bottom Five Trends from Your Literary Friends

Dracula: (Dracula) Scarves. A woman’s neck is so incredibly… appealing. Why would you ever want to cover that up?
Hester Prynne: (The Scarlett Letter) Initial necklaces. Hester is NOT a fan of identifying yourself via a single letter worn over your clothing. No need to label.
Viola: (Twelfth Night) Menswear. Dressing up as a man can have consequences. Deeply confusing consequences. Avoid it at all costs- unless you want to end up with a guy that won’t look twice at you and a girl that REFUSES to take the damn hint.
Yossarian: (Catch-22) Military Jackets. You do realize that the army’s a real thing , right? And there are a lot of deeply embedded, often hilarious problems with it. Seeing a bunch of teenagers dressed up like colonels fiddling around at the mall is just weird.
Holden Caulfield: (The Catcher in the Rye) Writing F#%$ You across your fingernails. That’s messed up. Kids can see that. WHAT IS THE WORLD COMING TO?

Top Five Trends from your Literary Friends

And on that note...
Holly Golightly: (Breakfast at Tiffany’s)  The little black dress. Timeless. Classic. Perfect for accessorizing with some Ray Bans or, more importantly, jewelry. Bracelets, necklaces, earrings, brooches… and one amazing store carries it all- Zales. Hahaha, jk- go grab a croissant or something at Tiff.’s
Humbert Humbert: (Lolita) Rompers. There’s something so enchantingly alluring about a woman who embraces her childish side.
Daisy Buchanan:  (The Great Gatsby)minidresses. Drop waists, sequins, beading. The glamour of the twenties is back, and though Daisy might be a bit more demure herself, her world is filled with all those glamoured up creatures called flappers, and she is all about the class. Specifically the upper-class.
Anne Shirley: (Anne of Green Gables) Structured jackets. Why, they’re almost like a modern-day puffed sleeves! And Anne Shirley Fucking. Loves. Puffed. Sleeves.
Cruella de Vil: (The Hundred and One Dalmations)* Fur coats. Real fur. None of this faux crap. The more exotic, the better.

Fashion Advice from Fake People

The Gloss recently asked me to do a piece offering fashion advice from some literary celebrities. I live to serve:

The world of fashion is can be troubling; are tea-length skirts ultra-fashionable, or do they just exist to make your calves look fat? Does a romper say “fun and free-spirited” or “I like to take 20 minutes to go to the bathroom?” Sometimes, the rules of fashion seem self-contradictory, and sometimes, it seems like people are just making things up. In that spirit, who better than a fictional character to answer these fanciful questions? Here, we turn to some of the leading ladies of the literary tradition for their takes on the stylish debacles we face every day.
Dear Literary Ladies, I’m going to have lunch with my ex this weekend and I need to wear something impressive- something guaranteed to win him back. Help! What should I do?
Lady Augusta Bracknell: (The Importance of Being Earnest)
There is nothing so vulgar in the world as the new fashion called “jeggings.” It is an abysmal state of affairs when a garment can be dishonest as well unattractive. A thorough abomination. Therefore, my dear, you simply have no choice but to wear them on your date. It is a well acknowledged fact that there is nothing so attractive to a man as a display of utter tastelessness. How else can you account for the popularity of that Kim Kardashio? Any half-way respectable man will always endeavor to earn the respect of his peers through the garishness of his wife’s clothes. Debase yourself you must, if you want to win him back, and what better way to do it then with deceitful elastic legwear? Then it is only natural to later use his credit card to reward yourself with a scandalously elegant hat.
Scarlett O’Hara: (Gone With the Wind) Take it from someone who’s had three husbands and all sorts of beaux: You don’t need to be beautiful to attract a man. I never claimed I was. In fact, it’s the God’s honest truth that I’m not. But you know what I do have? A dress that “set off to perfection the seventeen-inch waist, the smallest in three counties, and the tightly fitting basque showed breasts well matured for sixteen years.” So there you go. Cinch cinch cinch. If you want that man to fall in love, you find a dress that makes your waist look small and your breasts “well developed.” I’m inclined to favor a whalebone corset, but it seems that fashion today has adopted a ridiculous bias toward clothes that actually allow a woman to inhale. So I suppose a tight little leather belt around your dress will have to do. That and one of those “miracle bras.”
Miranda Priestly: (The Devil Wears Prada) Wear something with class. Like a scarf by Hermes. Silk. Not one of those knobbly woolen abominations. You’ll look like a cheap turkey with a thyroid problem. Wear that thing I saw that one time, at that show. If you want a man to love you, you have to dress like you deserve to be loved. And for God’s sakes don’t wear flats.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

What Are the Kids Reading These Days?

I was thinking today about uber-young readers, and the sort of genres that have sprang up within that group. I'm not talking about sports stories or little romances that aren't age specific. There are certain types of books that are for some reason almost exclusively aimed at the 10-14 crowd.

Here’s why the Babysitters Club is a big hit with the middle school set; it strikes home. Ditto books about school or parents. When you regularly spend your Friday nights watching a six-year-old launch GI Joe dolls off of the couch and into his own eye, you want to feel like there is some sort of status that comes from doing this. Enter The Club. So tweens want to read these books about people "just like them", and no one else does. But books  for junior readers have clustered around a number of other genres and theme genres as well, sometimes surprisingly specific.
First of all, there’s fantasy. It isn’t a mystery why kids read fantasy- it’s awesome.; full of adventure and love and danger and silly-looking creatures. Harry Potter is obviously the quintessential magic book, but true nerds will also fondly look back upon the Redwall series, books by Tamora Pierce and the Half Magic series. The latest ones are called The Olympians by Rick Riordan. I was reading them aloud to a boy I myself was doing a little nannying for for some extra cash, and I’m not gonna lie here… I literally bought the last few books in the series after the job was over because I neeeeeded to know if they destroy the evil titans! (I told the cashier it was a present for my nephew. The one I do not have.) What is weird about fantasy though is that lately (i.e. since Tolkien) it has been almost exclusively for children. Science fiction isn’t like this. We have Brave New World, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Dune, and Ray Bradbury in general.  But not so much with fantasy. I really don’t know why.
Now here’s a really weird, specific genre that bizarrely seems to come out for kids in about fourth grade: Books chronicling the lives of Jewish people hiding in Nazi Germany (or Nazi occupied Europe). Besides  The Diary of Anne Frank there was Number the Stars and Behind the Bedroom Wall. There were many others. I read so many of these stories that I remember spending years of my childhood narrowly evaluating every cranny and crevice, nodding sagely to myself and thinking that would be a good place to hide Jews. I even had specific Jews in mind- family friends to be stowed away in the back part of the coat closet, classmates to be hustled into the attic. Kathy likes dogs I would think maybe if we kept her under the house we could sneak a dog down to keep her company. In retrospect, of course, I am appalled, but to my nine year-old brain,  safety was the priority, and the danger was angry German Nazis. For the longest time, I could NOT understand the prevalence of the genre but I’ve come to realize that as far as historical fiction goes, WWII is perfect for this age group. They can have very clear “good guys” and “bad guys” and they don’t have to examine the nuances of the war or even the ideals behind it. This is no American revolution; it is straightforward hide/ escape or be killed. And kids can definitely get that.
Another genre that seemed to come out of left field is the absolute epidemic of books about horses. Wild horses, racing horses, the relationship between wide –eyed, blond, precious American children and their horses. The high point was The Black Stallion and the low point was probably some story about a horse escaping his pen and running across the country to be there for his owner’s birthday. I , personally, hated The Red Pony, but you can’t keep a literary blog and cite Steinbeck as a low point of anything, especially a subgenre with protagonists with names like thunderbolt. Why are horse books so cultishly  followed by tweeners? Who knows! Why not dogs or rabbits or eagles? Maybe it’s the glamour of associating horses with historical royalty and knights and cowboys, but they definitely have a fanclub.
The last trend I remember defining my young literary life was an obsession with books written as diaries of historical people- usually princesses, and usually hardbound only with little satin ribbons and gilt-edged pages, so that the producers could charge some erroneous amount for about 20 poorly written pages. But we longed for them. There was a book for Cleopatra, Anastasia, Marie Antoinette… naturally leaving out all the unsavory bits (i.e. almost all accuracy). I do have to admit that I loved reading them, though, and they definitely sparked an interest in reading and in learning about (the good parts) of history. And really, what more can you ask?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Love Lessons From the Ladies of Pride and Prejudice

It's a romantic story set in a romantic time period by a romantic author. These chicks are the experts. Here's what we can learn about love from each of the leading ladies of P and P.

Elizabeth Bennet: Be awesome. If you are awesome, handsome, rich strangers will fall in love with you. You will know they are in love with you because they will insult your family and always maintain a hostile silence in your presence.

Lydia Bennet: Can't get him to commit? Why, Lydia knows exactly how to handle this; simply get yourself in to a compromising and potentially socially devastating circumstance that FORCES him to seal the deal. Also, make sure to have a wealthy family friend on standby to bribe him liberally in case he's still too much of a jerk to take the plunge.

Mary Bennet: In order to attract a man, you must possess some sort of understanding of basic social cues. This means that one piano recital at a party? Wonderful. Two? Thoroughly charming. A series that lasts the entire evening? "You have delighted us long enough." Men like a sense of mystery. You may have a magical way with a G scale, but let him discover the extent of your musical (and other) talents on his own.

Charlotte Lucas: Marriage is all about compromise. Before entering into a commitment, you have to weigh your pros and cons. For example, the cons of marrying Mr. Collins:
-Nightly recitations of the gospel- and not the exciting parts about magical water that turns into booze and Jesus taking strolls across the ocean- the boring parts. The parts with words like "duty" and "penitence"
-Forced exposure to regular weird and discomfiting compliments about things like your left eyebrow or your way of cutting your potatoes
-Complete absence of anything remotely resemblant of thought-provoking or interesting conversation EVER.
Get your own tea parlor!

Jane Bennet: Being pretty is not enough. If you do not also make your devotion garishly apparent at every turn, he will assume you don't have feelings for him and HE WILL LEAVE YOU. So make t-shirts! Call each and every one of his guy friends to be sure they know. Write it in permanent sharpie right across the windshield of his brand new car!

Mrs. Bennet: True love is finding a many who will wearily endure your bipolar episodes, dramatic fits, and public humiliations and still gamely escorts you to all the social functions of your choosing so that you can continue to engage in these actively in as obtrusive a way as possible.

Kitty Bennet: Half-assing it just doesn't work. When it comes to landing a man, you need to go big or go home. This means you either act like a Lydia-status psychopath and blackmail yourself into wedded bliss or you act like a normal, mature human being and find love in the more conventional way. But no tweensies.

Love lesson from the men of Pride and Prejudice: You will NEVER understand the women around you. So just don't try.

How to Trick People into Thinking You're Cultured Part 2: How to Read Poetry

You can look at a poem and note the elements- the metaphors, the alliteration, the beautiful similes- nodding your head wisely as you point out the tell-tale "like" or "as"... yet your teacher wants YET MORE out of you, or your colleagues (during one of those poetry analyses you regularly engage in between board meetings) are not suitably impressed. Where do you go from there? Here are some rules I've compiled to springboard you into a deeper level of evaluating poetry, so that your boss will be so impressed with your insights about "Lady Lazarus" that he will DEFINITELY promote you to that head of sales position you've been coveting. Totally.
1.       Speaker ≠ Poet. NEVER assume that the speaker of the poem is also the poet. I don’t care if they live in the same city, have the same job and both have a strange affinity for waffles with cranberry sauce- DO NOT DO IT. Your lit teacher will hand you your butt on a platter. Honestly, is “Childe Harold” Lord Byron? Almost definitely. Yes. But it’s a rule in the literary world that we never make assumptions about this, no matter how valid they might seem. If the poet acknowledges that he or she is speaking as him/herself, then you can go with it. Otherwise, just play it safe and always say “the speaker says…” Even if in your head you’re thinking “and by ‘speaker’, I mean Longfellow.”
2.       When reading Romantic poetry, anything that is remotely shaped as a snake, stick, pole, or sword is to be considered “phallic imagery.” But, you say, maybe the towers in Kubla Khan are just that- towers. It makes sense in context… he’s describing a palace… Nope. Nope nope nope. It’s a penis. Always.
3.       You can’t just say that the poet’s tone “seems angrier” at the end of the poem than at the beginning, but there are 3 main ways that poets do this: 1) diction- suddenly the words he or she is using are more evocative of anger. It could be as straightforward as “rage” or it could just be word choices like “snarled” instead of “said” or “stalked outside” instead of “took a stroll.” 2) Changes in imagery- if the poem started out describing fields of fuzzy lambs and ends up describing raging forest fires burning churches, guess what? Your speaker has gotten pissed. 3) Change in beat/ rhythm/ punctuation. This is more subtle, but a poet can take the tone from mild to murderous by switching from “Oh sir, do please, to take your leave” to “Get. Out.”  See how I did that there?
4.       Anything that stands out is important. Absolutely always. It doesn’t matter how, but if one line or word or even letter is distinct from the rest of the poem, it’s a big deal. If the poem’s going along talking about apples, and then all the sudden BAM- there’s a seemingly unrelated line about Paris Hilton, take note. This is important. If there’s a normally stanza-ed poem that has one single line separated into its own little stanza, it’s important. If the whole poem is in third person, and then, just for one second, it’s in first, guess what? IT’S IMPORTANT. It doesn’t even matter if you have no idea why. Just remark about the fact that it stands out, and that therefore, It. Must. Be. Important.
5.       Here’s a fun little thing poets like to do: relate the form of the poem to the content in order to make a point. Sometimes, they match them up. For example, a love poem might be flowy and beautiful and sweet, just like love itself. But sometimes, they’ll use a form that is patently NOT appropriate for the subject of their poem, and this is usually to make a point. Sometimes a poet will write a lyrical, flowery descriptive poem… about a jockstrap. Maybe he is trying to express the latent beauty in the day to day. Maybe he is making fun of love poetry. Maybe he is just a crazy little psychopath. Point is, there’s a point.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Top Five Literary Rock Stars

Once upon a time, being a writer and being cool were not mutually exclusive. And I don't mean cool in a awesome, charismatic,intelligent way, I mean cool in a wild, hard-partying, self destructive way.These guys were about as far away from the nerds who read them as anyone could possibly get; they were all about sex, drugs, and the similes. Here's the top five writers who, if the were alive today, would trash their book tour hotel rooms and have scandalous, sordid affairs with their librarian groupies.

1. Lord Byron. No contest, Byron is the lead guitarist/ singer of the metaphoric rock band. It was considered an achievement for women to sleep with him- I'm not making this up. Byron was rampantl popular and feverishly admired. He had hundreds of trysts and sex partners, both men and women. At the time, there wasn't such a thing as a movie star; politicians were old and ugly, and the only famous singers were in the opera. Byron was Pitt, Kennedy, and Elvis all rolled into one. Hot. Stuff.

2. The Beat poets. Ooooh you crazy kids, you.... You crazy little kids with your drug kicks and jam sessions and your drugged-up jam sessions. Just read Ginsberg and try not to feel like you're tripping yourself. These guys were all about breaking poetic expectations, and they had the nonconformist lifestyle to back it up. Everyone wants to be Jack Kerouac.

3. F. Scott Fitzgerald. The wild parties and glitzy twenties glamour that we read about in The Great Gatsby aren't much of a stretch from Fitzgerald's actual life. He and his wife, Zelda, were straight up celebrities. They consorted with flappers and dandies, they drank champagne and they smoked cigarettes. They were written about in all the magazines and the society pages. The were the quintessential "it" couple.

4. The Crosbys. Caresse and Harry Crosby might not be the most widely read poets, but they were definitely the most scandalous. Famous as publishers of Joyce, Eliot, Hemingway and many others,their scandals include, but are not limited to: An open marriage, taking opiates, inventing the modern bra (Caresse), orgies of seven or more, exotic vacations, dabbling in eastern and ancient religions, a possible suicide pact between Harry and one of his lovers, and Caresse's subsequent marriage to a man 16 years younger than her. Whew.

5. Sapho. The very first famous lesbian. She was a brilliant writer of ancient Greece and was alllll abut the free love.