Sunday, January 5, 2014

My Pop Culture Christmas Vacation

Yes, I'm a geek girl, an inside kid, a pop culture vulture. I like TV and I'm not ashamed. Christmas vacation offers mucho free time to indulge in collecting new obsessions.

What did I watch, read, or listen to?

What I Watched:

Vikings, History Channel, available on Amazon Prime Streaming
This show is about Vikings. Not Minnesota Vikings, not metaphorical Vikings who kill it in the board room, but actual Vikings. I'm sure it's not as historically accurate as being on the History Channel would suggest, but it has one thing going for it that Downton Abbey doesn't: a truly alien psychology (and axes. Downton doesn't have axes). Most historical fiction has characters with modern psychology living in a historical world - it makes them easier for us to understand. But on Vikings the characters have a truly different psychology, guided by living in a world that they believe is directed by multiple gods. Gustaf Skarsgard has gotten a lot of (deserved) attention for his deeply weird performance as the boatbuilder Floki, but Travis Fimmel, who plays the lead Ragnar Lodbrok, deserves just as many accolades. He plays the rare lead character whose motives you truly can't discern, bringing surprises throughout the viewing. Add in a kick-ass heroine in Katheryn Winnick's shield-maiden Lagertha, some great Viking-Christian humor, and some truly punk rock hairstyles, and you've got a television experience like nothing else on TV.

Plus, I just love this teaser for season 2:

Hemlock Grove, Netflix
Hemlock Grove has vampires, werewolves, a creepy science institute, a creepy Catholic order, a girl impregnated by an angel, gypsies, a phosphorescent giant ... and a lot of vomiting, guts spilling out, and some naked boobs and butts. So, you probably don't want to watch this one with your grandma over the next holiday that comes around. Hemlock Grove is so stuffed with kitschy Gothic tropes that it shouldn't work -- and it probably wouldn't before the era of binge watching. However, Netflix understands how people watch on their platform, and Hemlock Grove goes down easy ... well, as easy as a show can where a gypsy channels a spirit by eating a giant grub that's been feasting on blood. Anchored by a murder mystery and a surprisingly sweet love story, Hemlock Grove is like what the CW would be it didn't have a standards and practices department. And that's a compliment. (Bonus points for great turns by Dougray Scott and (a super-campy and gorgeous) Famke Janssen, two actors that I would watch do almost anything.)

What I Read: 

Cinder and Scarlet, by Marissa Meyer
At work, we have a book club that only reads young adult books. Because we're mature like that. One of the books we read was Cinder, a re-telling of Cinderella tales that's set in a future city called New Beijing. In it, Cinder is a cyborg and is trying to save her world from an evil queen of the moon. (Yep.) Scarlet takes off where Cinder ended, weaving in a re-telling of the Red Riding Hood legends. While dystopian fantasy is all the rage these days, most of the hot authors skate over some of the sci-fi influences, so I enjoyed that Meyer seems to jump right into the sci-fi waters, with spaceships, genetic engineering, and half-robot girls. It still has the romance and "chosen one" elements that young girls like, but this series feels fresher than most of what's in the genre.

Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell
This is truly one of the best books I've read in awhile. Set in 1986 (with lots of Smiths and Alan Moore references for geeks like me), it tells the unlikely love story of two young people who meet on the school bus. Eleanor has recently moved back in with her mother and stepfather after being thrown out of the house a year earlier. Park is trying to deal with his identity as a half-Korean comic book nerd in a family where his dad is an all-American tough guy. They meet when Eleanor reads Watchmen over Park's shoulder on the bus (italics used to emphasize that's like the nerd Olympic gold medal for love stories). There are so many relatable incidents and moments in this book; it's sweet without being sappy; and Park's family is truly one of YA lit's best pictures of loving and flawed parents. This is one reason that grown-ups shouldn't pooh pooh Young Adult books.

What I Listened To:

This video is gorgeous, as is Chvrches' full album, The Bones of What You Believe.

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