Archive | Book Matters

‘Mockingjay Part 1’ Does Not Condescend

Not having children of my own, I hardly have my pulse on the Young Adult reading public. Yet I’d assumed most tweens would feel as I do about the Hunger Games books – that the first was by far the best and that, by Mockingjay (the third), the series had devolved into a grim distillation of Marxist theory with a light dusting of romance. (Okay, maybe I didn’t think the tweens in my life would articulate it that way.) Instead, at least two twelve-year-old girls in my life have solemnly informed me that Mockingjay is their favorite. This admittedly unscientific sample suggests I may have underestimated this demographic. Unfamiliar with radical political theory though they may be, these kids want to learn.

So perhaps I am wrong in assuming that “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” won’t find many fans. After all, the film is quite good – if also the darkest and least accommodating in the series so far. It is certainly the most meta: an indictment of media, totalitarianism, and the commodification of revolutionary heroes. This almost compensates for Lionsgate’s blatantly greedy choice to split the book into two movie installments, as does the intensely bleak note on which Part 1 concludes. No happy endings here, folks. Get Hollywood on the horn! Continue Reading →

The Secret History of Wonder Woman

Mark Twain once said, “History doesn’t repeat itself but it does rhyme.” Certainly that’s true when it comes to feminism. Women began the twentieth century fighting for the right to vote as well as for legal, affordable contraception. Although they achieved their goals, 100 years later voting is once again a problematic issue and the “right to choose” becomes more tenuous by the day.

Part of the problem is women today take their liberties for granted because they don’t realize how recently they were acquired. “Herstory” isn’t remembered well, even by many activists. And when that’s the case, we’re not just doomed to rhyme; we’re doomed to lose momentum.

In her new book, The Secret History of Wonder Women, Jill Lepore reminds us of the suffragists and feminist utopists of the early twentieth century who helped birth the most popular female superhero of all time. Although the raven-haired Amazon didn’t debut in a comic book until 1941 (just as the United States entered World War II), Lepore details how she harkens back to the first wave of feminism. Continue Reading →

Peters Never Grow Up

All weekend I’ve been reading Peter Bogdanovich’s star-fuckery, slightly appalling memoir Who the Hell’s In It. It’s a series of profiles of Hollywood actors, many of whom he knew quite well, and many about whom I’m extremely curious. Cary Grant, Jack Lemmon, Stella Adler, Marlon Brando, River Phoenix, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Sal Mineo, for starters. Bogdanovich mostly defers–sometimes fawns–over these big names but I don’t hold it against him, even if the results read only a step above the kind of PR-ese that was my bread and butter at Us Weekly. Which is to say that the book’s not pulpy, only a little juicy. You know, Cary Grant wasn’t gay; Jerry Lewis wasn’t to blame for his fall-out with Dean Martin. Occasionally details drift in that fascinate: a drunken brawl between Lemmon and his then-new wife, Felicia; Montgomery Clift slurring his way through a revival of his own work.

I suppose I’m sympathetic. There is something breathtaking about these actors who continue to take up so much space in our cultural imagination, especially in an era in which we view films on the tinest of screens. It’s a kid thing, I think. As Bodganovich himself says, “The was, in fact, an innocence on some level with all the star-players I met; almost all the actors, young or old, felt an unspoiled, selfless love for the work and the medium itself.” You could say that of Bogdanovich himself, too. He has pretty much worn every hat possible in the still-amazing world of film, and I’ve always felt happy to see his name, even when he’s made the tackiest of missteps. It’s funny that, with his owly features, he seems so ordinary. Nobody recognizes him yet he knew—and knows!–everyone. That’s my kind of Hollywood legend–the kind whose charm creeps up on you. (Charmless features coupled with bright enthusiasm always do.)

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy