Thursday, July 3, 2008

Reading: Both harmful and helpful to the braincells!

It’s strange, but when it comes to movies and television and music, I don’t feel a need to balance my lowbrow impulses with higher culture. I don’t feel obligated to follow up Cobra Starship with Stravinsky, a Z-grade slasher flick with something bearing subtitles, an America’s Next Top Model marathon with an episode of Meet the Press. Don’t get me wrong, I do consume hoity-toity media – just tonight I watched the indyarty flick The Air I Breathe, which was dreadfully uneven, with a blah first half and riveting second – but only because I want to, not because I feel like I ought to. But when it comes to reading, I have this overwhelming need to balance lowbrow with highbrow, step for step.

Last week, I was dawdling in a bus station, looking for magazines to read. I grabbed a copy of Vogue because sometimes it’s fun to see what the fashion trends are, and their articles, while not as good as Marie Claire’s, are not as bad as Cosmo’s. But then I felt obliged to buy a second magazine that would require at least five of my brain cells to wake up and do something for once. So I went with The Atlantic, which is slightly less pretentious than The New Yorker but slightly more pretentious than, well, anything else. Besides, I wanted to know whether or not Google is making us stupid. (Answer – no, but it’s changing the way we think and shortening our attention spans, which means at least half of you reading this blog will check out after this paragraph, and the first half checked out somewhere around the word “indyarty”.) I was surprised, actually, that The Atlantic had a few rather thought-provoking articles in it - one, on why street signs make us bad drivers, and another on neuromarketing. And while Vogue was probably the more enjoyable read, I’ve already discarded and forgotten the issue, while I’m still turning over in my mind some of the Atlantic stuff.

I apply the same one-for-one approach to books, as well. My penance for reading the three newest installments of Kate Brian’s trashyfab Private series and an entertaining but forgettable frothy chicklit How to Sleep with a Movie Star was to try and read some of those really obvious books that I somehow managed to get through high school and college without reading. So I just finished Lord of the Flies and The Great Gatsby, and now I’m on A Clockwork Orange. And no, I don’t know how I made it past 10th grade not having been assigned Lord or Gatsby, either. My school was kind of lame when it came to English, actually. Very few assigned novels, and no kid is gonna voluntarily read The Great Gatsby when there are books by R.L. Stein, Christopher Pike, and the like to be read. At any rate, I was underwhelmed by Lord, but I loved Gatsby. Guess it’s a classic for a reason, huh? There’s some revelatory information there. Bet you’re glad you fought your Google-afflicted attention span to read down this far.

As for A Clockwork Orange, I’m loving it so far, but then, I’m a sucker for a good dystopian yarn, and I love the movie. It’s surprisingly easy to parse the “nadsat talk” even without a glossary. You can fall into the rhythm and pick enough out from context, somewhat like Shakespeare gone ultraviolent. And the advantage the book has over the movie is that the brutal actions are obscured by the language, which actually works to ramp up the horror. (Funny story – first time I watched the movie was on my laptop on a train ride up to Boston. At the time, I didn’t know it’s not the kind of movie one should watch in public. Needless to say, at the height of a graphic gang rape scene, as I scrambled to shut it off before anyone saw, a nun was walking up the aisle and got quite an eyeful. In my life, nuns always seem to conveniently appear when I am in the middle of doing something that is open for horrible misinterpretation.)

Alas, I am saddened to learn, via mind-decimating Google, that the fabulous ACO-inspired Korova Milk Bar down in the East Village has shut down. Guess there wasn’t much call in EVil for tasty molokos and disturbing décor. Or at least molokos.

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