Wednesday, August 17, 2011

My Year With Eleanor by Noelle Hancock

I highly recommend "My Year With Eleanor" by Noelle Hancock, who is one of those rare creatures, a truly funny writer who is also, amazingly, young, so we have hope of more from her witty mind. This book, like "Tolstoy and the Purple Chair" chronicles a year in the life of a woman bent on transforming herself due to some life-altering event. In the case of "Tolstoy" it is the death of the authors sister that plunges her into a year of reading a book a day as a way of honoring something they shared a deep and abiding love of, while in "Eleanor" it is the author being laid off from her journalism job (a fact that is all too understandable in the recession, and close to home for this freelancer)that allows her to confront one of her fears each day and overcome it by any means necessary. Though Hancock wasn't as wise as the Tolstoy author (mainly because she's much younger) she makes up for any deficiencies with a razor-sharp wit and self-depricating honesty that makes her not only vulnerable, but adorable. This leads the reader to root for her in even the most absurd and compromising situations, as when she's caught almost 'in flagrante' with her boyfriend in the bride's bathroom at a wedding. I must admit I was in deep envy of her ability to afford some of her challenges, such as skydiving and flying a fighter jet in a Top- Gun-style dogfight, which I would give nearly anything to do. But apparently, online entertainment journalists get enough severance pay to actually be able to take an entire year off to write a book and have a string of thrilling adventures, something not allowed for mere print journalists. Still, I was able to get my jollies vicariously, as intrepid Noelle scales Kilimanjaro, jumps out of airplanes and does 5 minutes of stand up comedy with a slew of other journalists. Since I've done the latter without resorting to raunchy humor, as Noelle did, I admit to feeling slightly smug when recalling my triumph at an AA Biker bar in Seattle, (I kid you not), where I didn't have a huge crowd of friends to cheer me on (I did have my husband and two friends, but that was it), and I was one of only two women to actually perform that night. If you didn't get at least a few laughs, you didn't graduate from the UW stand up class. There was one guy whose humor was all dirty stuff and mostly mean stuff about women, since he was getting a divorce, and he totally bombed, didn't get one laugh, while I got a ton of laughs and applause, and won the evening, graduating at the top of my class (who knew sober bikers would get Iowan humor?). Though I have never really had a fear of public speaking, like Noelle, no one likes to bomb on stage, and everyone is nervous before a performance, at least everyone I've ever spoken to, celebrity or otherwise. This book was just the right size to not become tedious and the prose was clean enough that it was a fast read. I'd give it an A, with the caveat that those who are normally fearless and bold might find some of her whining and puking a bit tough to take, but if you bear with the author, you find yourself feeling transformed into a 'braver' person in the end, right along with her.

In other news:
Lev Grossman, author most recently of The Magician King, selected his 10
must-read fantasy novels for Flavorwire.
This list could have used some Shana Abe books, some Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, and World Fantasy Award Winner Patricia McKillip tomes. There are some books on here that are great and well worth the time, and others, not so much.

It was announced today that Sony's new e-reader that is coming out will be dedicated to exclusive content from Pottermore, which makes this stuff even more interesting:

"From flying letters to a 4,500-word discourse on wand woods,
early access to J.K. Rowling's move into the digital arena, Pottermore, reveals a richly-imagined, elaborately realized behind-the-scenes peek into the world of Harry Potter," wrote
Alison Flood in the Guardian. A photo gallery preview of Pottermore, which will
officially open to the public in October, was featured by Entertainment

The website is already a phenomenal success. Flood noted that there have
been more than 22 million webpage views, "peaking at some 50,000
requests per second on August 3, as readers rushed to become one of the
million users chosen to receive early access and a chance to shape the
website's development."

What is in store for those who venture within? "On entering the site,
users begin to travel through the world of Harry Potter and the
Philosopher's Stone, following in the footsteps of Harry and learning
new facts about his world as they open an account at the goblin bank
Gringotts, travel up and down Diagon Alley shopping for equipment for
school and choosing a wand. Unlocking new content as they progress
through the storyline, they can click on and collect items for their
'trunk,' build and evolve their profiles, adding their own drawings,
collecting books and chocolate frog cards, learning spells and brewing
potions. A Pottermore account can also be connected to a Facebook
account, with users able to make friends--and even take part in
wizarding duels once they reach a certain point on the website," Flood

Entertainment Weekly's Keith Staskiewicz noted that even in the site's
early stages of development, "there's still more than enough to make
your entire afternoon disappear like a temporus suckus spell
The real fun comes with the community elements. Once you're sorted into
a house--we got Ravenclaw because we're smart and boring--you'll be able
to interact with your fellow housemates via a number of activities.
Individuals can earn house points in the site-wide House Cup, and you
can even engage in a wizard's duel using your customized wand and the
spells you have learned. If potions are more your thing, you can buy all
the bezoars and flobberworm mucus you need at Diagon Alley and whip up a
batch or two in your cauldron, but don't overspend or else you'll find
your Gringotts vault empty. All these elements represent the kind of
useless but still desperately desired reward system that can turn
horribly, wonderfully addictive. It's hard to tell at this point exactly
how addictive when it's nobody else but us chickens in here, but
Pottermore seems especially designed to destroy work productivity the
world over."

Oh, what I wouldn't give to be in this warehouse with a suitcase!

The Guardian also reported that the 150,000-square-foot Leavesden
where the Harry Potter films were shot, is being converted to showcase
"The Making of Harry Potter " studio
tour, which "will offer a trip around the sets where the films were
shot, and provide an insider look at the film-making process."
Pre-booking for the tour will begin on October 13, with the attraction
itself opening next spring. Fans will be able to walk through the Great
Hall at Hogwarts and visit Dumbledore's office, as well as other iconic

"I once took a trip to the studios in 2008, while filming for the sixth
film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was well underway," wrote
Joe Utichi. "In the ice-cold hangars that housed the sets, even the
corridors were stuffed with the detritus of several years of large-scale
moviemaking. Familiar props from all five of the previous films were
stacked wherever there was space.

"But what struck me was the incredible level of detail that had gone
into every facet of the films' creation. Production designer Stuart
Craig and his team achieved a level of artistry I'd never seen
before--all enhanced by curiously organic touches that were a product of
years in production. In the Great Hall, torch-bearing gargoyles are
scorched by years of naked flames, while dining tables are marked by the
graffiti of the student extras."

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