"A commonplace book is what a provident poet cannot subsist without, for this proverbial reason, that “great wits have short memories:” and whereas, on the other hand, poets, being liars by profession, ought to have good memories; to reconcile these, a book of this sort, is in the nature of a supplemental memory, or a record of what occurs remarkable in every day’s reading or conversation." - Jonathan Swift, "A Letter of Advice to a Young Poet"

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Oscar predictions

I meant to do this weeks ago, but here we are with the Oscars airing tomorrow, and here I am with my 2 cents about who should win.
I don't care as much as I used to about the Oscars, but they're still good fun and a good reason to catch up with what's been going on in movies for the past year. Plus, all those dresses!
My judgements, marked in italics, are entirely subjective. Sometimes there's a tie. I haven't seen most of the films, so I can't really judge very well. Some categories I haven't seen or read about any of the films.
So, for what it's worth, here are my choices:

Best Motion Picture of the Year

The Artist (2011): Thomas Langmann

The Descendants (2011): Jim Burke, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011): Scott Rudin

The Help (2011): Brunson Green, Chris Columbus, Michael Barnathan

Hugo (2011/II): Graham King, Martin Scorsese

Midnight in Paris (2011): Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum

Moneyball (2011): Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz, Brad Pitt

The Tree of Life (2011): Sarah Green, Bill Pohlad, Dede Gardner, Grant Hill

War Horse (2011): Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Demián Bichir for A Better Life (2011)

George Clooney for The Descendants (2011)

Jean Dujardin for The Artist (2011)

Gary Oldman for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Brad Pitt for Moneyball (2011)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Glenn Close for Albert Nobbs (2011)

Viola Davis for The Help (2011)

Rooney Mara for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady (2011)

Michelle Williams for My Week with Marilyn (2011)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Kenneth Branagh for My Week with Marilyn (2011)

Jonah Hill for Moneyball (2011)

Nick Nolte for Warrior (2011)

Christopher Plummer for Beginners (2010)

Max von Sydow for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Bérénice Bejo for The Artist (2011)

Jessica Chastain for The Help (2011)

Melissa McCarthy for Bridesmaids (2011)

Janet McTeer for Albert Nobbs (2011)

Octavia Spencer for The Help (2011)

Best Achievement in Directing

Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris (2011)

Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist (2011)

Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life (2011)

Alexander Payne for The Descendants (2011)

Martin Scorsese for Hugo (2011/II)

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

The Artist (2011): Michel Hazanavicius

Bridesmaids (2011): Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo

Margin Call (2011): J.C. Chandor

Midnight in Paris (2011): Woody Allen

A Separation (2011): Asghar Farhadi

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

The Descendants (2011): Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash

Hugo (2011/II): John Logan

The Ides of March (2011): George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon

Moneyball (2011): Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, Stan Chervin

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011): Bridget O'Connor, Peter Straughan

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

A Cat in Paris (2010): Alain Gagnol, Jean-Loup Felicioli (I haven't seen it, but the title sounds good!)

Chico & Rita (2010): Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal

Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011): Jennifer Yuh

Puss in Boots (2011): Chris Miller

Rango (2011): Gore Verbinski

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year

Bullhead (2011): Michael R. Roskam(Belgium)

Footnote (2011): Joseph Cedar(Israel)

In Darkness (2011): Agnieszka Holland(Poland)

Monsieur Lazhar (2011): Philippe Falardeau(Canada)

A Separation (2011): Asghar Farhadi(Iran)

Best Achievement in Cinematography

The Artist (2011): Guillaume Schiffman

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011): Jeff Cronenweth

Hugo (2011/II): Robert Richardson

The Tree of Life (2011): Emmanuel Lubezki

War Horse (2011): Janusz Kaminski

Best Achievement in Editing

The Artist (2011): Anne-Sophie Bion, Michel Hazanavicius

The Descendants (2011): Kevin Tent

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011): Angus Wall, Kirk Baxter

Hugo (2011/II): Thelma Schoonmaker

Moneyball (2011): Christopher Tellefsen

Best Achievement in Art Direction

The Artist (2011): Laurence Bennett, Robert Gould

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011): Stuart Craig, Stephenie McMillan

Hugo (2011/II): Dante Ferretti, Francesca Lo Schiavo

Midnight in Paris (2011): Anne Seibel, Hélène Dubreuil

War Horse (2011): Rick Carter, Lee Sandales

Best Achievement in Costume Design

Anonymous (2011/I): Lisy Christl

The Artist (2011): Mark Bridges

Hugo (2011/II): Sandy Powell

Jane Eyre (2011): Michael O'Connor

W.E. (2011): Arianne Phillips

Best Achievement in Makeup

Albert Nobbs (2011): Martial Corneville, Lynn Johnson, Matthew W. Mungle

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011): Nick Dudman, Amanda Knight, Lisa Tomblin

The Iron Lady (2011): Mark Coulier, J. Roy Helland

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

The Adventures of Tintin (2011): John Williams

The Artist (2011): Ludovic Bource

Hugo (2011/II): Howard Shore

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011): Alberto Iglesias

War Horse (2011): John Williams

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song

The Muppets (2011): Bret McKenzie("Man or Muppet")

Rio (2011): Sergio Mendes, Carlinhos Brown, Siedah Garrett("Real in Rio")

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011): David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce, Bo Persson

Hugo (2011/II): Tom Fleischman, John Midgley

Moneyball (2011): Deb Adair, Ron Bochar, David Giammarco, Ed Novick

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011): Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush, Peter J. Devlin

War Horse (2011): Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson, Tom Johnson, Stuart Wilson

Best Achievement in Sound Editing

Drive (2011): Lon Bender, Victor Ray Ennis

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011): Ren Klyce

Hugo (2011/II): Philip Stockton, Eugene Gearty

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011): Ethan Van der Ryn, Erik Aadahl

War Horse (2011): Richard Hymns, Gary Rydstrom

Best Achievement in Visual Effects

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011): Tim Burke, David Vickery, Greg Butler, John Richardson

Hugo (2011/II): Robert Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossmann, Alex Henning

Real Steel (2011): Erik Nash, John Rosengrant, Danny Gordon Taylor, Swen Gillberg

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011): Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White, Daniel Barrett

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011): Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Matthew E. Butler, John Frazier

Best Documentary, Features

Hell and Back Again (2011): Danfung Dennis, Mike Lerner

If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (2011): Marshall Curry, Sam Cullman

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011): Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky

Pina (2011): Wim Wenders, Gian-Piero Ringel

Undefeated (2011): Daniel Lindsay, T.J. Martin, Rich Middlemas

Best Documentary, Short Subjects

The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement (2011): Robin Fryday, Gail Dolgin

God Is the Bigger Elvis (2012): Rebecca Cammisa, Julie Anderson

Incident in New Baghdad (2011): James Spione

Saving Face (2012): Daniel Junge, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy

The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom (2011): Lucy Walker, Kira Carstensen

Best Short Film, Animated

Sunday (2011): Patrick Doyon

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (2011): William Joyce, Brandon Oldenburg

La Luna (2011): Enrico Casarosa

A Morning Stroll (2011): Grant Orchard, Sue Goffe

Wild Life (2011): Amanda Forbis, Wendy Tilby

Best Short Film, Live Action

Pentecost (2011): Peter McDonald

Raju (2011): Max Zähle, Stefan Gieren

The Shore (2011): Terry George, Oorlagh George

Time Freak (2011): Andrew Bowler, Gigi Causey

Tuba Atlantic (2010):

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Review: The Hunger Games, Book 1

I haven't had so much trouble keeping my hands off a book since Harry Potter. Now, I don't pretend that Collins has done anything on the same scale as Rowling. In fact, for the first time in my life, I'm actually pretty glad that they're making a movie of a book I like. Usually, it feels like such a cop-out (why not just make up your own story and film it?) or too much of a risk (what if they get it all wrong?). But my main qualm with Collins is that she fails to flesh out her fictional world enough. For example, if I hadn't already seen the movie trailer, I'm not sure how I would have imagined the dress Katniss wears to the reapings, which is simply described as a blue dress, but which look so perfectly worn down and ill-fitting in the trailer.

As I read, I had no trouble following Katniss through the spaces and the crowds of strange people she encounters, but I felt often like I was supplying some prototypical sci-fi/fantasy interiors to fill out the minimal description on the page. All of which is to say that I'm really excited for the movie, because I'm hoping it will take what Collins wrote and run with it and put in all the little odd details that are so fun to read in the futuristic, fantasy, and sci-fi genres.

As I said, though, that was really my only quibble with the book. I didn't come in expecting great writing, but the style was clean and effective throughout. Most impressively, it gripped me right from the start and hasn't let go since, even though I've finished the book and set it aside to be returned to the library. As a writer, I'm not very skilled at manipulating plot, so I hugely admire any writer who can so perfectly pace a story, giving us a rest or some reflection for a few pages and then cutting it off at exactly the right moment with a new revelation or imperative action.

Which brings me to my final thought of the day. Beyond telling a good story, I think Collins did an excellent job of including subtle social commentary through the book - in such a perfect way for a YA novel, not hitting you over the head, not spewing anger and frustration, just carefully setting out the truth the way she sees it. The way she implicates us, the readers, in the Games is just great. From the start, you think you're totally allied with a rebel, totally opposed to the Capitol and its abusive governance. But as soon as the Games begin, we're hooked, just like all the millions of people watching them on screens throughout Panem. We cannot escape the fact that we are reading an exciting and entertaining book and that we are, to some extent, thrilled by the dangers these kids are undergoing for the amusement and benefit of the people of the Capitol. Whatever you choose to see the Games stand for, or even if you choose not to apply parallels to our world, you can't quite condemn them completely, because you are still reading about them, not, I would guess, in total disgust, but more in a complex mix of horror and fascination, of sadness and thrill.

All of which make this book a little more than a well-told adventure. I loved that complexity in the moral. I loved Katniss as a heroine and am absolutely rooting for Peeta (but please don't spoil the outcome of the romance for me!). I loved the feeling of being transported away on a bullet train into another world every time I opened the book. And I'm currently trying desperately to find a copy of Book 2 that hasn't been checked out, lost, put on hold, or relegated to that most frustrating category, "Unavailable."


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Shrove Tuesday

In honor of designated pancake day, I feasted on waffles this morning - not quite the same, I know, but it's all I could find, and this busy student has no time to make her own pancakes.

For my annual shameless exploitation of Catholic tradition, I've resolved to spend at least 15 minutes every day working out, stretching, dancing, or running around - in other words, waking up my body from the stupor of reading and writing, which is my life right now. Although I'm not religious at all, I find the 40 days of Lent to be a perfect time frame for resolutions.

Speaking of which, one of my New Year's resolutions was to read more books for fun, so last night I stopped off studying early and started reading The Hunger Games. And now I know why people keep reading YA even when they're no longer of the target age. As much as I love highly sophisticated and complex and fancily-written books, there's something different about a book that's about nothing but telling a story. Something different about the thrill of flying through the pages because you can't wait to see what happens next. Good stuff. I'll probably finish today or tomorrow and let you know what I think when I do. Until then, happy pancake eating!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Old-fashioned idylls

"A young woman, pretty, lively, with a harp as elegant as herself; and both placed near a window, cut down to the ground, and opening on a little lawn, surrounded by shrubs in the rich foliage of summer, was enough to catch any man's heart." - Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

Compare to this Keats quote:

"Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know."

Either I am secretly a 18th - 19th century romantic man, or I know exactly how to snare one's heart, because I like a fine window, good victuals, and books, and enjoy playing a harp (although I'm not as vain about it as Mary Crawford, who almost disrupts the harvest season by trying to hire a cart to carry her harp from town - shocking!).

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Book survey!

Here's a fun little book survey I got from http://kayleyhyde.blogspot.com/. Perfect for a rainy day.

1. Favorite childhood book?
A Separate Peace by John Knowles, plus many others...
2. What are you reading right now?
Between books, about to start either Hunger Games or Mansfield Park.
3. What books do you have on request at the library?
Hunger Games.
4. Bad book habit?
Waiting for the perfect time to start reading...and never finding that perfect time.
5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?
Many, many books about fairy tales (for my thesis), a book of Keats's poetry, a collection of Austen's letters, a book of Carroll's poetry.
6. Do you have an e-reader?
No, goodness, no. One of my favorite things about reading is the physical sensation of a book in my hands and smell of the pages when you bury your nose in them.
7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?
I'm not sure I have a preference, but I seem to have a few going at once right now.
8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?
Yes! Now I have somewhere to share my thoughts about what I'm reading, I'm more eager to read outside of class.
9. Least favorite book you read this year (so far?)
I haven't read much this year yet, but maybe Robinson Crusoe - I read an excerpt for class and thought I'd take the opportunity to read the whole thing, but it wasn't as exciting as I thought a desert island adventure would be, so I never got back to it.
10. Favorite book you’ve read this year?
Mrs. Dalloway and The Honourable Schoolboy - I can't rank them because they are utterly different and both extremely good in their respective genres.
11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?
I'm trying to do so more often.
12. What is your reading comfort zone?
Fantasy, sci-fi, and classics. What I don't read much of is contemporary fiction.
13. Can you read on the bus?
No: nausea.
14. Favorite place to read?
Trains, bed, armchairs, cafés.
15. What is your policy on book lending?
I'm not very good at lending anything out. Besides, I annotate and dog-ear so much that it's like lending out your personal notes on a book, which is a bit odd.
16. Do you ever dog-ear books?
See above.
17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?
18. Not even with text books?
I don't read text books.
19. What is your favorite language to read in?
English, I guess, but only because I'm most comfortable in it. I love reading in French, and I hope to get good enough to truly enjoy reading in German as well. I love to read in the original whenever I can.
20. What makes you love a book?
A good plot, good setting, a careful and exiting use of language, and the feeling when an author perfectly expresses something I myself have experienced.
21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?
If I think of a specific person who will enjoy it. My tastes often diverge from my friends', so I don't recommend books willy nilly to everyone.
22. Favorite genre?
I couldn't say. I like books about everyday life, whether it's the life of a young woman living in a country house in a George Eliot novel or the life of a spy in a John le Carre novel.
23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did?)
Contemporary fiction.
24. Favorite biography?
I don't really read biographies. I guess maybe I prefer collections of letters.
25. Have you ever read a self-help book?
26. Favorite cookbook?
A little book of Irish baking my family owns.
27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?
I find any book I like inspirational for me as a writer.
28. Favorite reading snack?
Hot chocolate or a hot milk steamer.
29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.
I can't think of any. Except for the fact that I hesitated a long time before reading Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings because of hype. Thankfully I finally did read them!
30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?
Often, I suppose. At least I find their opinions interesting.
31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?
I like it because I am very bothered by the amount of crap books, movies, etc. that are produced, and because I hate false praise.
32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you choose?
Italian, Russian, Gaelic.
33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read?
Anna Karenina. I had to take a break half-way through to read Pride and Prejudice.
34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?
35. Favorite Poet?
Seamus Heaney.
36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?
Usually none, but right now, a whole bunch because of thesis.
37. How often have you returned book to the library unread?
Fairy often, I suppose.
38. Favorite fictional character?
Phineas from A Seperate Peace, Aragorn, pretty much any Jane Austen heroine....I need to think more on this one, it's a good question.
39. Favorite fictional villain?
Smeagol, Draco Malfoy. I LOVE semi-villains.
40. Books you’re most likely to bring on vacation?
Big ones.
41. The longest you’ve gone without reading.
Too long.
42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.
Invisible Man, that Phillip Pullman series, The Gathering by Anne Enright (I'm not sure that's write, but I disliked that book too much to spend time looking it up.)
43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?
Things to do, sleepiness, the internet, hunger, people, finding the perfect comfortable position to sit in, etc, etc, etc.
44. Favorite film adaptation of a novel?
Lord of the Rings and Atonement.
45. Most disappointing film adaptation?
A Series of Unfortunate Events was a bit disappointing. I'm generally very wary of film adaptations.
46. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?
Probably buying books for school.
47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?
I used to, but now I don't ever.
48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?
If it's bad.
49. Do you like to keep your books organized?
Not really.
50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?
Keep forever.
51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?
Can't think of any.
52. Name a book that made you angry.
The House of Sleep. I was mostly mad at the professor who assigned it.
53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?
Harry Potter. Lord of the Rings. Now some of my favorite books ever. Ironic.
54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?
That Phillip Pullman book. Why can't I think of its name?
55. Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading?
Spy novels.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Hello to my few but greatly loved readers!

You may have noticed a few changes around here. First, most importantly, I got tired of "A Writer Under Construction," which was the name I chose when I began this blog for an academic project - an attempt at connecting it to the work I was doing, sponsored by the writing department of my college. Now that this blog is in no way academic and that I've had a chance to figure out to some extent what kinds of things I want to post here, I decided it was time for a name change.

The new name (and url) are inspired by my learning about the tradition of commonplace books or commonplacing, which stretches way back. I'm still just learning about it, but these books are basically repositories for quotations, excerpts, and ideas gleaned from the commonplacer's readings and their everyday life - and for their own commentaries on those nuggets of interesting thought. Other definitions include things like recipes in the sphere of what one can put in a commonplace book.

This struck me as perfectly expressing what I want to do here - except with the added pleasure of sharing it with you. The connection between blogging and commonplacing has already been made, as I discovered when I found that the name commonplacebook.blogspot.com had already been taken. But when in doubt, turn to a cat (that's an old proverb I just made up...), and I wanted to keep my little illustration, so I came up with the alliterative name Commonplace Cat. Don't think too hard about it, it doesn't make perfect sense. But names are ever so difficult, and once I found one, I thought I'd stick with it.

Anyway, that's the big change. I've also added a blog roll and some other stuff in the side bar. Think of it as spring cleaning.

Thanks for sticking with me if you're still reading this. And a happy Saint Valentine's Day to you!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Spring Things

Rainy days

a pre-Valentine's sense of romance

bright nail polish,

adorable dresses,

sumptuous cakes,

long conversations

Jane Austen,

bright green pastures,


(Not a poem, just a list)