Every so often the English Reading Room hosts a book sale to clean up the shelves of the Humanities building and raise money.  Last November, they did just that.  I’ve only noticed the sale twice while at UCLA, and I have no idea how regularly they hold the sale, so be on the watch.  If you’re on the ENGugrad mailing list, you’ll hear about it, or you can scan the calendar of events on the English Department website.  This past year I found six books for a total of $5, and although you can’t necessarily go to the ERR sale with a title in mind, there is a wide, if somewhat strange, selection of books…

(Read on for delicious terror, naughty baronets and crinolines.)

Read the rest of this entry »

It’s the universal truth, but seems to be especially apparent here in Los Angeles.  The city is bountiful in it’s farmer’s markets, organic, vegetarian, and vegan options, and even districts of non-western culture, familiarizing Los Angelenos with popular dishes they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to sample.  But as of late, Los Angeles has proven to be ahead of it’s game in food trends, popularizing the epitome of healthy, social, and on-the-go Los Angeles cuisine by catering to the city that relishes in it.

Food trucks have been popping up recently as one of the most favored food trends within Los Angeles, and have distanced themselves from their dismissive nickname of “roach coaches” and have raised the bar by introducing a wide array of dishes distinctive enough to satisfy the exquisite Los Angelenos palette.  For the past couple of years, food trucks have peaked in popularity, making continuous appearances at concert venues, busy street corners, and anywhere that would draw a crowd.  Now they have an event just to themselves, which takes place every Tuesday night from 5:30-9:30 on the corner of Main St. and Ocean Park in Santa Monica and is appropriately deemed “The SM Food Truck Lot.”  The low key event consists of flavors to fit every taste bud, and recent contenders include the Lobstatruck, Ludo Truck, Lake Street Creamery, Kabob N Roll, Meso Hungry, and Global Soul among others.  Residents eager to take advantage of the hoarding of the food trucks in a single locale are offered free parking at the museum lot as well as free bicycle valet.

Farmer’s markets aren’t a new venture in Los Angeles, but combined with the refined taste of Yamashiro, one of Los Angeles’ classic and most aesthetically stunning Asian restaurants, and under the stars, rather than the hot rays, Yamashiro’s night market is the exotic fusion of Los Angeles night life and a foodie’s ideal night out.  Based on the design of a traditional Japanese temple and occupying a breathtaking view of the city atop a hill, the lush gardens and $2 million constructed landscape is the perfect scenery and backdrop for which one can enjoy live music, fresh and local produce, baked goods, honey, cheeses, and wines among other commodities offered.  The Yamashiro night market makes it’s highly anticipated comeback April 7th and will be ongoing every Thursday night.

In line with the presumably quintessential healthy and wholesome Los Angeles appetite, Jamie Oliver, more famously known as “The Naked Chef” has invaded Westwood with revolutionary aspirations to deliver to the citizens of Los Angeles a newfound change in eating habits, while revealing his methods and philosophy behind approaches to cooking and eating in a healthy and appetizing manner.  Initially proposing the idea of going into an actual school cafeteria within the Los Angeles area and revamping the lunch meals as he did in Huntington, West Virginia in season one of his documentary type show “Food Revolution,” his initial tactic has been hampered by the LAUSD, who aren’t accepting of his manifesto.  Extending his method of eating and cooking to all of Los Angeles is no easy task, and while the benefits of reaching out to such a culturally and economically diverse community would create a substantial amount of revolutionary success, the means by which Oliver will be taking to spread his message will be portable and take place by way of mobile kitchens in the form of food trucks.  His restaurant and directing kitchen of sorts in Westwood is the foundational stage through which Oliver will spread his message and share his approaches, catering to classes of 20-25 people at a time, in which signups for are free by emailing jamieskitchenla@live.com.

You’re an English major, right?  And you’ve grown weary of people asking you, “Well, what are you going to do after you graduate?  Are you applying to law school?”

Of course, as you vehemently defend your decision, listing the invaluable skills with which an education in English provides you, explaining that few other majors actually force you to learn how to write properly, to read properly, the jerk at the party who asked the question has already moved on to someone with a catchier answer – the guy going to medical school.

Insulted, you brood over this exchange for the rest of the night.  You go home and you realize that unless you do something about this hole that the jerk at the party pointed out, you’ll fall apart.  It’s bad enough, you tell yourself, that all these Samuel Johnson essays I’ve been reading have really taken the wind out of my sails, that long poems with bleak titles such as, “Guilt and Sorrow,” have been depressing the bejesus out of me, I don’t need the harsh reality of career uncertainty looming over my head to top it all off.  I don’t deserve this, you think.

So at 2:30 AM, you finally decide, “Screw it – I’m going to grad school to get a Ph.D. in English.  I’ll be a professor and teach these bastards a lesson, once and for all.”  You’re committed to something now, a respectable cause.  You’re the Batman of English literature academia – you have to do this, you don’t have a choice, you tell yourself.

Okay, now you’re committed but are you ready?  Have you thought about what field of literature you’d like to study?  Have you started talking to your professors about letters of recommendation?  Have you signed up to take the GRE General Test?  Have you written a 15-20 page essay on a subject relating to the field of literature in which you’d like to specialize?  Have you researched and decided which schools have the right program for you?  Yes?  Oh.  Well, you’re in pretty good shape, in that case.

But, wait a minute – you’re not going anywhere because you still haven’t signed up to take…the GRE Subject Test in English Literature.  That’s right, you still have to jump through one more hoop of humiliation before you can prove your point (or fulfill a meaningful devotion to English literature – whatever).  Don’t worry, you’ll be able to do this, but here’s what you’ll need to know:

 

•  The test is comprised of about 230 questions “on poetry, drama, biography, the essay, the short story, the novel, criticism, literary theory and the history of the [English] language” – all in multiple choice format (www.ets.org)

•   The test consists of four sections – “literary analysis” (40-55%), “identification” (15-20%), “cultural and historical contexts” (20-25%) and – everyone’s favorite – “history and theory of literary criticism” (10-15%) (www.ets.org).

•   This test, unlike the General Test, is only offered three times a year – on October, November and April – so, please, for the love of God, do not procrastinate.  If you’re too worked up to sign up yourself, get a friend to do it for you.

•   It costs around $150 to sign up for this test.

•   It’s true; this test is not a make or break component of your application to grad schools, and you’ll probably be okay even if you don’t achieve a terrific score, but if you’re determined to become a competitive applicant, you should strive to do as well as you can on it.

So what’s the big deal?  I mean, in a way, you’ve been preparing for this exam during your entire college career, right?  Well, yes, you have been but you’re not done preparing.  When you receive the “Practice Book,” after signing up for this exam, you’ll flip through it and experience the first of several anxiety attacks and most likely run to the bathroom.  If it’s of any consolation, at least you’ll be regular during this phase of your life.  But no worries – you’ve given yourself at least three months to prepare for the test and enough time to retake it if you’re not satisfied with your initial score.

Rather than rambling on and on about the steps you should take to prepare for this exam – a seemingly endless endeavor – I’ve opted to include links to two invaluable websites:

•   http://www.ets.org/gre/subject/about/content/literature_english – This is where you’ll need to sign up for the exam and where you’ll find information on how the exam is structured, how long it takes, how it is scored, etc.  You can also view a list of FAQ’s, addressing various aspects of the exam.

•   http://lasr.cs.ucla.edu/alison/hapaxlegomena/ – I realize you might be skeptical of this source (considering it’s an anonymous publication) but it seems to be right on the money.  This is a site created by a current grad student who has taken the exam several times and has figured out what it takes to get a high score.  The site contains a lengthy list of extremely useful resources, a well-written list of tips and suggestions and even a collection of already-made flash cards!

If you find this overwhelming, please, don’t freak out.  Chances are that in just a few months, you will have completely eradicated this experience from your memory.  If you’re not yet ready to embrace the suggestions offered in these websites, you can start by flipping through some of your old Norton Anthologies, or any other English literature anthologies, for that matter.  You don’t need to reread Richardson’s, Clarissa, in its entirety but you need to do something – anything – to begin to prepare for this exam so that you won’t find yourself asking, “What the hell is ‘Lacanian self-doubt’ and why is it on this exam?” on the day of the test.

 

This month Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center welcomes contemporary Brazilian dance company Grupo Corpo. Known for continuing to challenge perceptions and transcend the traditional definitions of ballet and modern dance, Grupo Corpo (literally translated to “Body Group”) incorporates a wide range of elements, from aesthetic minimalism to fast pop and urban sounds. The group was founded in 1975 and has continued to win acclaim by critics throughout the world.

The Music Center debut includes the inventive and athletically challenging new piece Ímã, which is sure to inspire audiences with what many critics describe as its “effervescent energy”. And in keeping with its historical and ethnic roots, the group will pay tribute to Brazil’s traditional rhythms, brought to life through Parabelo’s multitextured soundscape, which is as breathtaking as the movements onstage.

For dance lovers, music lovers, or art lovers, Grupo Corpo’s performances will surely amaze. Be sure to experience them.

The show will take place Friday-Sunday, January 28th-January 30th at the Music Center, located at 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Tel: 213.972.7211. Ticket Prices: $25, $35, $60, $85, $105.

Since my previous post closed on a reference, a Sylvia-Plath-laying-her-head-inside-an-oven reference, to be exact, I thought I might pick up where that thought left off—consider these:

Fourscore and…,” “You had me at…,” “Life is like a box of…,” “Silly Rabbit, Trix are for…”

(please tell me you can complete these because) either my memory is slipping or I’m making the point that there are few things sweeter than two people meeting at the street lamp of a familiar reference.  (Yes, few things.)

Adam Kirsch, senior editor of the New Republic, recently published an article which briefly discusses “Literary Allusion in the Age of Google.” In the article, Kirsch remarks on the remarkable intimacy created “when two people—a captor and a prisoner, or a couple of friends or (most often) a writer and a reader—can share an allusion.” He ultimately concludes that in our present day, the rise of such entities as Google actually work to close any distance an allusion (regardless of how obscure or familiar) might present between writer and reader. (Just think, you no longer have to master Latin or Greek to trace the genealogy of some poem’s allusion to its late father, or mother.)

But Kirsch also raises valid concerns. Exactly how safe is the writer who makes a classical allusion anymore, and if so, how far into history’s backseat is the writer allowed to reach? Does he risk a reader’s lack of understanding or connection to said poem? And furthermore, has the technological age in which we live limited the scope of our allusions? Narrowed our frames of reference? Billy Collins, in his poem “The Trouble with Poetry” ruminates on when “the day finally arrives / when we have compared everything in the world / to everything else in the world, // and there is nothing left to do / but quietly close our notebooks / and sit with our hands folded on our desks.” Do you ever wonder, in an age overrun with iPhone apps, Droids, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, what have we left to talk about?

(Here’s where the ecstatic infomercial host frantically flails his arms in front of the television camera, “But there’s still hope!”) To answer my own question: people. Us.

Despite technological advancements, and despite the manner in which language continues being truncated and compressed (“OMG, How r u?” —actual message, I’m sad to say), poets are constantly discovering innovative methods of exploring our most classic themes of love and loss, of investigating the human condition by placing the best words in the best order (even in the most modern of situations). Yes, new verbs like “friend,” “tweet” and “google” are being introduced into not only the English lexicon, but into Contemporary American Poems themselves. And yes, social networking has redefined the manner in which some choose to construct a poem. And sure, we’re further challenging the limits to which we can compress language through the entrance of such literary journals like Cell Poems, through which you can even have issues beamed directly to your cell phone. (Talk about convenience, right?)  But aren’t we still talking about the same thing?  Aren’t we still speaking the same language?

I’d like to believe so.  As much as we may have seemed to changed, I’d like to believe we ultimately haven’t, that we’re still concerned about the same dilemmas, encountering similar experiences. In one of my favorite episodes of Seinfeld, during a business transaction (to make a long story short) between Kramer and Earl Hafler over Cuban immigrants, a discrepancy arises as to whether the two men are referring to the cigars or individuals. The bit closes as Hafler asks, “We’re talking about people, right?” I think so. I think we still are.

Honestly, there’s something about the art of photography that beckons to my soul. I can’t get enough of good, solid, journalistic-type photos. You know, the kind that make you see the ordinary in an extraordinary way. It’s almost as if they freeze the most mundane moments in time, allowing the viewer to form their own value judgment.

This same sentiment can be applied to Vanessa Atlan’s conception of photography – as a believer in its power to bring back memory and to capture time. “Photography can become a bizarre medium, a new form of hallucination: false on the level of perception, true on the level of time.” It is indeed hallucinations, “memories of other lives, imagined or lived” (to quote Atlan) that the artist captures with the camera. She creates a kaleidoscope of images, as complex and fascinating as life itself. The photographer manages to transcend any limitable difference between life and art, dreams and reality.

Imagine my excitement when I heard that she was opening her first gallery exhibit in the United States, right in Los Angeles. Officially beginning January 20th, “Wonderland Stereo”, focuses on the different mediums and presents unreleased material. Photographs, projections, and drawings are gathered in a both hypnotic and poetical environment.

So, I encourage all of you readers to come out and view her beautiful pieces. It’s bound to be a wonderful exhibit, with something for everybody.

Check out her work here, at her website. Unfortunately, her work isn’t able to be “copied and posted” onto the blog due to copyright protection. So you’re just going to have to take my word for it and visit her website. You won’t be disappointed.

Showing at the “Here is Elsewhere” Gallery.
B 231 Space, Pacific Design Center
8687 Melrose Ave # G102- Blue Building, Second Floor,
West Hollywood, CA 90069

Runs from January 20 – March 1, 2011.

(Text modified from the official gallery website.)

My buddy Max is Canadian, therefore he likes maple syrup and hockey. A secret fact about him, though, is that he also likes James Bond. And so it goes that during this past week when school demands were less than zero, a good amount of time was spent charging through 007: Nightfire for the GameCube. And as the computer-rendered Pierce Brosnan drove machine-gun mounted Aston Martins, powered his way into outer space, and managed to end every mission by hooking-up with a computer-rendered Bond girl, a thought came to mind…what happened to the spy novel?

While James Bond is better known from the movies, his first appearances were through Ian Flemming’s 1950s novels. There were by no means any groundbreaking literary achievements in these books, but they were entertaining. President John F. Kennedy named From Russia With Love as one of his favorite books, and if it’s good enough for him, then it’s good enough for me (Imagine if presidents had enough free time to contribute blurbs for the back flap of books).

Even other popular spies today originated from the minds of authors, such as Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne (but even those novels came from the 70s). The closest thing going on in the literary sphere right now might have to be Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp (but his stories are more political thrillers) or Tom Clancy’s latest Rainbow Six installment Dead or Alive (but that book is a thousand page tome and the title reminds me too much of Bon Jovi, which should never be associated with spies).

If there were ever a genre that needs a revival, the prototypical suave spy with the memorable two or three syllable name would be it. C’mon now, writer who’s perusing college literary blogs and is now reading this cry for help…jumpstart the spy novel. And besides, all of the other genre markets are pretty filled up…we’ve already done the vampire to hell and back, along with pirates…gimme guns and espionage!

It’s a new year.  While everyone else is working on maintaining their New Year’s Resolutions (and a great number have already fallen off the bandwagon), publishing companies are struggling to make sure they project themselves into the future.  As the publishing industry struggles and sales fall, the major companies are innovating new ways of selling books, and getting people to read them.

What are the industry’s predictions for this coming new year?

1. Rise of the e-book. E-book sales grew in 2010 as more and more indie authors started publishing their books electronically, and they will only continue to do so in the coming year. According to the publishing blog Galley Cat , e-books will account for 20% of book revenues. That seems like quite a hefty amount for what is still a relatively new phenomenon, but the increasing accessibility of e-books makes them all the more appealing. E-books are cheaper, are available through popular retailers such as Amazon, and can be read anywhere. Read the rest of this entry »

I don’t know what it is about New Years resolutions, but I’ve always thought they were a bit like Juicy Fruit gum. The second you get a taste you want more, but the appeal is short-lived. You quickly lose the flavor and need something new to fill its place.

The first few weeks of January humorously act like clockwork every year. It’s like everyone has been in a cave for the past twelve months and suddenly emerge as if it’s the end of hibernation. People flock to the gyms, the streets are filled with runners and bikers, and even the grocery store produce department seems a little under-stocked.

It’s clear the beginning of the year signifies a fresh start–a clean slate. It marks an instant “re-do” of anything that has happened in the past twelve months. The number one has the remarkable ability to force mass quantities of people to simultaneously sit down and re-evaluate their lives. Fairly powerful number, if you ask me.

As we enter into this early January short-lived craze and begin to ponder the existential question of what–after all these years–we really want to do with our lives, we can go in either one of two directions. We can either tell ourselves we actually want to lose 30 pounds in three weeks on a lemon water and carrot diet (I mean really, who comes up with these things???), or we can think about what we really do want to do…what (I know, this is shocking) really makes us happy.

Now this word “happy” is a funny one. We often confuse what we think will make us happy and what actually does make us happy. As I was home over break I finished reading “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert (yes, the one that was made into a movie with Julia Roberts). Guys, I know what you’re thinking…that’s a chick book. Well, okay. It might appeal more to a girl, yes. But I think the book offers some important insights that I think would appeal to everyone–guy, girl, young, or old.

In her book, Gilbert compiles three ideas  of what she thinks can fulfill someone with happiness: eating, praying, and loving. Now I’ve never been a religious person myself, so I was a bit wary of the middle part. But Gilbert presents her points in a way that is neither overbearing or invasive. Instead, the book reads much like a conversation, as simple observations that take on a “take it or leave it” attitude.

Gilbert very much cuts to the heart of this New Years dilemma we face every year–what we think makes us happy versus what actually does. Seems simple enough, but it’s funny how often we can trick ourselves into thinking otherwise.

So for all you guys and girls out there with the NYRD (New Years Resolution dilemma), I recommend a simple task: pick up “Eat, Pray, Love” and read it. Whether it takes you two days or all twelve months, I think you’ll get something out of it.

As for me, I think I’ll go fill up my happy cup with a glass a wine and a good book. Maybe throw some dark chocolate into the mix too…just for good measure.

I never was a movie buff, nor even a real fan of cinema. I was content to just watch whatever was in theaters at the time, so I typically ingested rom-coms and the occasional action/adventure film, the usual stuff you watch with friends on a Friday night after a slow week of school. Then nearly overnight during summer vacation, I became curious about what movies from other countries were like, whether they differed much from our own. I launched myself on a couch potato adventure: to watch as many foreign films as possible. By pursuing this fascination in the films of other countries, I found that cinema was a fun and interesting way of learning about other cultures, and in this way I gained a greater appreciation for cinema itself as an art form.

My quest gained new vigor when I took a class on French cinema, and I found myself enthralled by French culture through these films. Since then, I have become addicted to French films. They open up a new world to the imagination, allowing people like myself who have never travelled to France to experience life there. This applies to the films of any nation, for every nation produces its own filmmakers with their own distinct views on their culture. So what better way to immerse yourself in a foreign place than to watch the films produced by the people there? Just because America is a major producer of movies does not mean it is the only one. It’s really a shame that theaters rarely show foreign films. But of course, it’s not necessarily their fault, because they only show films they feel will be financial successes. Knowing the tastes of their audiences, they usually opt for not screening foreign films.

So I’ve decided that it is my duty as a “citizen of the world” to break out of the habit of only watching the latest blockbusters in order to discover the films of other cultures. I have chosen to start with French cinema, and I hope to expand from there. For those who do not already do so, try watching foreign films, new and old. I guarantee you’ll be entertained, and I’m just as sure that you’ll learn something new too.

There are many places to access foreign films. One way is by supporting local arthouse movie theaters. Turner Classic Movies sometimes shows classic foreign films, and other channels like Sundance and IFC occasionally show old and new ones. Also, many foreign films are available on the internet. You can find classic films on Youtube or on sites like openculture.com. Netflix has a decent selection available, though many have to be ordered by DVD. High-grossing or critically acclaimed foreign films often sneak into theaters over here, especially around Los Angeles, so just keep your eyes on the lookout.

For those interested in French films, Laemmle’s Royal Theatre in Santa Monica is currently showing The Illusionist, an animated film directed by Sylvain Chomet and with a screenplay written by the French comic filmmaker Jacques Tati. It is a story about a struggling illusionist who travels to a Scottish town where he meets a young girl who believes he is really capable of producing magic.

Give foreign films a try. Watch something that looks bizarre, something that you might not understand, something you might learn from. Why not? A movie will typically take up no more than two hours of your life, and you might just discover  a world you never knew existed.