A few notes on the below:
- These opinions are mine and only mine.
- It is okay for us to have different opinions. No one is right or wrong, just different.
- Do not compare yourself to others.
Here’s everything I read, watched, and listened to during the month of February.
Almond by Sohn Won-Pyung
Almond follows a young boy as he navigates the world without the ability to experience emotions. Won-Pyung does a great job of capturing Yunjae’s perspective as he world. He gets himself into some sticky situations, some more plausible than others. Simple, sweet, and an overall enjoyable read.
Pew by Catherine Lacey
Evidently February was the month of character study novels and I have no complaints. Here represented the first of many. Pew tells the story of a young boy who is discovered lying on the pew of a small town church. What follows is a series of vignettes as he meets and learns about people who live in the town. No one knows where he came from or his true name. He doesn’t speak and other characters seem to use this silence as permission to fill the void with their own stories. The people in this town are fascinating. Fascinating, I think, because their flaws are worn on their sleeves as they try to be good people. It’s a town of the same prejudices, mistrust, and skepticism that we’re acquainted with in the real world. Lacey took a risk writing this one and it paid off beautifully.
Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
I first read this book in high school. I loved it then and I loved it now. It’s a beautiful coming-of-age story that tackles big themes through the point of view of a pre-teen girl. Brunt did a great job capturing the adolescent POV, carefully detailed how young people observe their world and learn at that age. The writing flows easily–I was quick to get caught up in the narrative. Each character was well-established and realistically flawed. June’s voice sounded her age, if not slightly more mature. How could you (the reader) not fall in love with Finn? C’mon.
People From My Neighborhood by Hiromi Kawakami
I first read Kawakami over a year ago with Strange Weather in Tokyo. I enjoyed that story–it’s subtle and sweet and wonderfully introspective. People From My Neighborhood, published one year before Strange Weather, has a similar tone. The book is composed of bite-sized short stories, each only two to three pages long, that zoom in on the lives of the people in a small neighborhood. You’ll do yourself a disservice by expecting a grand, revelatory story. It’s cozy and magical. It’s a book where nothing really happens, but in the best way possible. Relaxing and charming.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanigahara
I don’t know what I can say about this book that hasn’t already been said since it was published several years ago. I can say that it took me nearly two months to read because I had to keep putting it down. There is a lot to take in (perhaps the biggest understatement I’ve ever written), but it’s impossible not to fall in love with these characters. They are expertly built and their stories brilliantly executed. As everyone knows, the themes of this book are heavy and come with several trigger warnings. Yanigahara is one of the best writers, solely based on her craft, that I’ve ever read. Every time I picked up the book, I was quickly swept up in the story. Her writing is truly, truly exceptional. I had mixed feelings about it for a long time, which probably contributed to why I kept putting it down then picking it back up. When I finally arrived at the last page, I read it over and over again because I wasn’t ready to leave these characters and I’ve been thinking about them since. I couldn’t not love this book.
God bless Harold. Everyone deserves a Harold and a Willem in their life.
Just Kids by Patti Smith
How does one bounce back to reading regularly after finishing A Little Life? First, they play a lot of Animal Crossing–a game where you’re low-key joining an island cult run by Tom Nook, but wow is it satisfying to swim into the ocean, dive, and come up with a colorful sea anemone–I digress. Second, they pick up Just Kids by Patti Smith and allow themselves to be whisked away to 1960s New York City. No one can deny that Patti Smith is a skilled wordsmith. She is a keen observer of her world, providing commentary and context when needed, but largely relaying how those early years played out. She met some wild characters and talks about her experience with a blasé tone that makes it clear living in NYC at this time was like living on a different planet. Great, great read.
Banshees of Inisherin
This is the best movie I’ve seen this year–I know, I know, it’s only February, but just watch it and you’ll understand. We follow two characters living in a village on an island off the coast of Ireland. The older of the two (Brenden Gleeson) suddenly says he no longer wants to be friends. Confused and in disbelief, the younger (Colin Firth) tries endlessly to figure out what went wrong and make amends. The story takes a dark turn, but you ought to watch it to find out more. Over the course of the movie, I cried and laughed and was entirely captivated. The acting was superb and the camerawork was beautiful. I couldn’t look away, I couldn’t leave these characters. Chefs’ kiss to Kerry Condon’s performance.
In my humble opinion, the ‘Before’ trilogy includes the best romance movies of all time. It does this even most securely in the first two films of the trilogy. Like its predecessor, Before Sunset captures our two heroes as they meet up again in Paris after ten years of not speaking. What follows is their meandering through the city streets as they discuss everything. It was just as beautiful as the first, although I do think Before Sunrise is still a little bit better. It’s a film without action, without suspense, without tension, but you’re still enthralled as these characters show their true colors while discussing their views and experiences of the world. Both characters have changed enormously when they meet again, but they fall back into a rhythm like they did many years prior.
Aforementioned, I adored Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. The trilogy’s third installment left something to be desired. More time was spent arguing, which shouldn’t be surprising when you pair two romantic, idealistic people who both feel like they’ve given more than they’ve received from their partnership, but it was exhausting to watch. There are more characters, creating conversations outside the couple, which removed much of the intimacy that made these movies special to begin with. There were moments of humor–you can tell the two connect on a profoundly deep level. Still, it lacked the same charm and closeness that was captured so well in the first two films.
This was a rewatch on Valentine’s Day. Some jokes are spot-on while others make me question if I don’t at times have the sense of humor of a 12-yo boy. Still, it was worth the rewatch.
Here was a slow, careful story of a father and daughter on vacation. It’s told from the POV of the daughter 30 years in the future as she reflects on this final vacation she took with her father. At moments, it’s an effort on her part to understand her father–a man she clearly loved, but never knew well. We witness her coming-of-age story while grappling with the idealism of her father over the course of the film. It’s beautifully shot, with thoughtful cut scenes and a perfectly paired score. Not only was I impressed with the acting and the story, I was also caught up in the technical work as well. It’s a great watch if you want a slower character study that rewards you at every turn.
As I sit down to write this, I’m still unsure exactly what I think of this movie. The final credits rolled and my only question was “what did I just watch?” It was unsettling and strange, and funny(?), with an ending that bordered on being trite. Anya Taylor-Joy was amazing as she always will be. The Menu is a satire that pokes at the wealthy individuals who dine in certain restaurants, not because they care about the food, but because of the prestige that comes with dining in those restaurants. The chef (Ralph Fiennes) has carefully selected the visitors for his prestigious island restaurant for that evening, but Margot’s (Anya Taylor-Joy) presence there is unexpected and throws off the entire plan. The story quickly goes off the rails, but it never feels out of control. The details are so well done. It’s eerie, satirical, and will have you clutching your nearest throw pillow, unable to pull your eyes off the screen.
How could you not love this movie? It’s adorable and hits home with its message. How I wish these were the types of movies Pixar was putting out when I was a kid. In true Pixar fashion, it was humorous and charming and cute while showcasing great character development. It’s a good watch if you want to feel all warm n’ fuzzy inside, but also a little sad. Sadness is the real hero.
20th Century Women
Oooo, I loved this film. Not only was the acting superb, but the cinematography was divine. At its core, it’s a boy’s coming-of-age story. Widen the scope a bit more and it becomes a study of five characters who exist in the orbit of this boy’s life. It was like every single one of the actors lived in their characters lives before executing the role–all the weight of past trauma and experiences were indiscreetly on display throughout the film. This one checked all the boxes for me.
I finished watching the first three seasons of Arrested Development this month. I started watching season four and the show’s writing was immediately terrible. The first three seasons (AKA the original show) are so good. The show rewards audiences who watch from the beginning. It has little moments in the first season that become inside jokes with the audience through the next two seasons. It’s self-referential, but you’ll only get the jokes if you’ve watched from episode one. The puns, the double-entendres, the acting–it’s all so good. Netflix should just scrap seasons four and five. No one needs them.
I feel entirely unqualified to review music, but here are a few artists I enjoyed listening to this month.