Sunday Sum-Up: April 30, 2023

Last year in the spring, my car started making a, shall we say, interesting noise when the weather started warming up. I took it to the repair shop and they said, “We don’t see anything wrong”, so I kept driving it in spite of the weird noise. ‘The car is getting old,’ I thought. ‘It’s making weird noises. That’s a thing that can happen’. It started making another weird sound a week and a half ago, so I ended up taking it to the dealer, who took a look at it and said, ‘It’s not the power steering pump like we initially thought it was. It turns out that your steering is going out. The car could last another year, it could last two weeks. It’ll be $4300 to fix it’.

Needless to say, I wasn’t about to spend $4300 on a nearly twenty-year-old car, so I took an extra day off of work this week and bought a used car. It’s a much better car that is far quieter, has better tires, a newer stereo (it has a Bluetooth connection, so I’ll be able to stay up to date on my podcasts better), a headliner that isn’t coming down, and doors that don’t leak when it’s pouring rain. So that’s great.

What’s not great is having a monthly car payment again. That part of it sucks. But I have a plan to pay it off early.

It still sucks.

But I finally remembered to buy myself some orange juice, which I had been craving all week (and kept forgetting to get).

So this week, I got a car, a monthly car payment, and orange juice. Exciting times.

Obligatory Mina Photo:

This past week, Mina has developed an inexplicable liking for the couch. I have no idea why. She doesn’t spend very much time on or around the couch normally (except for those times when she’s staring longingly under the couch and wishing I didn’t have all the boxes under it precisely so she can’t get under it), but this week she’s been all about the couch. She’ll sit and nap on the back or one of the arms, or sit next to it, or spend a few hours curled up in her carrier, which lives right next to the couch. She has been a couch potato all week. I have to wonder if this is a temporary thing, or if she is incorporating the couch into her ‘places to hang out’ pattern, which before consisted of her blankets in the studio, her chair and the bed, and the closet.

More details to come. I’m sure you’ll all be looking forward to finding out what sort of napping patterns Mina will develop in the future. . .

What I Finished Reading Last Week:

  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Unknown, translated from the Middle English by Simon Armitage, audiobook narrated by Bill Wallis
  • The Owl and the Nightingale by Unknown, translated from the Middle English by Simon Armitage, audiobook narrated by Simon Armitage
  • The Love Poems of John Donne by John Donne, audiobook narrated by Edward Herrmann

Clearly, I’m on a medieval literature kick at the moment, because I’ve been reading pretty much nothing but books from and about the medieval and Tudor eras, and I’m having fun with it all. Because I’m a nerd. I don’t know what made me want to reread Sir Gawain and the Green Knight for the sixth time or so, but here we are. It’s up in the air as to whether I prefer Tolkien’s translation or Simon Armitage’s, so I suppose I’ll have to reread Tolkien’s version and see if I favor one, or if I decide they both have their merits and are both good. But it’s always interesting to revisit this poem after learning new information about the era it comes from, as it changes my view of what’s going on in the story, Gawain’s place in it, and how sensual or violent or funny things in it seem to be. Sure, it’s always the same story of a young knight who ends up challenging a magical green knight to a game of beheadings, but the more you learn about the history, the more it changes your perspective of it. I really should rewatch the A24 film that’s loosely based on the story, as I saw it in the theater but haven’t watched it again since. It’s so weirdly hypnotic and lacks the levity of the medieval poem, and I loved it for those reasons and others. Perhaps this is the week I’ll watch it again.

The Owl and the Nightingale is a medieval poem I happened to come across when I searched Hoopla for other works by Simon Armitage, who has translated a lot of works from Middle English. It’s a relatively short piece about an owl and a nightingale who spend a day lobbing insults at each other while trying to determine who is the godlier, more helpful bird. There were some bits I missed out on in the latter half of the poem, so I will probably relisten to at least the second half of it so I have a better recollection. This is quite an entertaining little poem if you don’t mind anthropomorphic animals yelling insults at each other while trying to show off how virtuous they are. I don’t mind such things, and the only part that put me off at all was the rhyming couplets. There are many reasons I’m not a fan of the Norman Invasion (William the Bastard’s brutality and genocidal nature among them), but one of the little reasons is that I much prefer the Anglo-Saxon preference for alliterative verse to the Norman preference for rhyming couplets. I know that rhymes have been the go-to thing for poetry since, you know, the Norman invasion and all, but I am not a fan. Give me all the alliterative verse (I’ll be getting all the alliterative verse when I start listening to Armitage’s translation of Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur later this week). But as far as Middle English poetry goes, The Owl and the Nightingale was fun.

I was looking for another book of poetry as an easy way to hit fifty books read this year, so I downloaded The Love Poems of John Donne via the Libby app. And I have to ask: is anyone else who uses an Android phone been having significant issues with Libby recently? Whether it refuses to download the items I’ve checked out, or just won’t open the ones that are downloaded, I’ve been having so many problems accessing the books I’ve checked out. But I did finally manage to get the book to work, sat down with a crochet project, and listened to the whole book on Saturday evening. The poems are interspersed with brief entries about Donne’s life, which provides context for the poems- for example, when the biography mentions how Donne married his wife Anne against their families’ wishes, the poetry gets quite passionate and sensual. I’m once again reminded that I prefer Tudor-era English poetry to Victorian-era English poetry, which feels so strange given my goth and gothic preferences. But as Walt Whitman once said, “I contain multitudes”, so I am well within my rights to like things that seem contradictory to my stated preferences. I think my favorite poem of the lot was ‘The Flea’, if only because we read it in my Senior AP English class in high school, and our teacher pointed out that ‘s’ and ‘f’ looked very similar on Tudor-era printing presses, which provided a new and cheeky context to the line, “…It sucked me first, and now sucks thee…”

What I’m Currently Reading:

  • Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant by Tracy Borman

This is Tracy Borman’s biography of Thomas Cromwell, and it’s excellent as far as biographies go. I’ve always found Borman’s writing to be incredibly informative and engaging, though Diarmaid MacCulloch’s Cromwell biography is the more detailed one, think. But that one is organized more by types of events, rather than chronologically as Borman’s is. There are advantages to both structures, and I’m enjoying Borman’s take on Cromwell’s life. Like MacCulloch and Hilary Mantel, Borman reveals a man who was witty and intelligent, utterly ruthless, and knew how to play on the expectations of the nobly born members of Henry VIII’s court who saw him as lesser because of his common origins. The hardest parts of this book are the excerpts from letters that Borman includes, which are not adjusted for modern spelling. As there was no standardized spelling at the time, the words are rather randomly spelled and include far more instances of the letter ‘Y’ than is entirely necessary. I’m hoping to finish this one off this week, but it’s taking longer than I expected, as the material is a bit dense, and those letters can trip a person up.

What I’ve Been Listening To:

  • Up, original film score by Michael Giacchino

First off, Hollywood really needs to take note of Up and other Pixar movies like it. In 96 minutes, Up builds up fantastic characters with realistic backgrounds, complex and believable relationships, and a fascinating plot that provides thrills, drama, and plenty of humor, in addition to developing one of the sweetest, most heartbreaking romances (in roughly four and a half minutes!) in all of film history. If you’re not in tears by the end of Carl and Ellie’s story at the beginning of Up, then you must have a heart of stone. And if you don’t fall in love with Russell in the first few minutes he’s onscreen, then you still have a heart of stone.

So knowing my sky-high opinion of Up, I was expecting to have more of a reaction to Giacchino’s score than I did. And I’m not knocking the music at all- it’s fantastic! Especially Ellie’s theme, which shows up at key points in the film. But the score overall didn’t knock my socks off the way that, say, Dune or The Return of the King‘s music did. I have great respect for Giacchino’s composing skills- I love his scores for Star Trek (2009) and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, but Up isn’t quite in my top tier.

That said, it’s excellent music! I recommend it! And I’m glad it won over the score for Avatar. But it’s not something that I’m going to come back to later on as a ‘must listen’.

But I recommend that you listen to it if you’re a fan of film music, because it’s one of Pixar’s best scores, and Up is one of their best films.

  • House of the Dragon, season one original score by Ramin Djawadi

Even though I have zero interest in watching this spinoff of HBO’s Game of Thrones, I decided to listen to the music because I love all eight seasons of Djawadi’s music (even if I don’t like all eight seasons of the show) for Game of Thrones. The leitmotifs and themes are great, and each house’s leitmotif describes each house perfectly. House Stark’s theme is spare and mournful, while the Lannister theme is big and bombastic. The music tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the family and the region they’re from, all in a short bit of music. It also tells the story of what’s going on in the show, which is, in my opinion, exactly what a fantasy soundtrack should do.

House of the Dragon‘s score is less theme-driven, as far as I can tell. I’ve listened to it about one and a half times at this point, so I might be missing the leitmotifs, but given that the show is focused on one family- the Targaryens- there might be fewer leitmotifs in general since there are fewer families that need a description, but I miss the clear themes. Also, the ones I have been hearing are pulled from Game of Thrones (like the entire opening title song, which is taken directly from the first show with no apparent changes). And sure, you’ll have the dragons’ motif and the general Targaryen motif because there are dragons and Targaryens, but it’s just not the same. This score feels more like atmospheric background music, rather than music that acts as a clear and illustrative component of the show. I’ll probably listen to House of the Dragon‘s score another time or two to get a clear feeling for it (or I might use it for background music while writing), but I don’t think it will become a new favorite.

8 thoughts on “Sunday Sum-Up: April 30, 2023

  1. I so wish we had good public transportation in town. We have a decent bus system, but it works best if you want to go downtown. But then I would still need a way to get out of town, and there just isn’t that. So alas, I have a car payment again. But it’s nice not to have to worry about all the little things that were wrong with the old car, so that’s a load off my mind.

  2. I had no idea what to expect when my brother and I watched Up but I ended up absolutely loving it so I’m glad to hear you also enjoyed it. Such great storytelling, as well as great animation.

    And sorry to hear about the car. That’s always the point of car ownership I hate, having to decide whether its worth putting more money into something or starting over with another.

  3. Congrats on the new car and commiserations on the car payment! Can’t wait to hear about Mina’s latest napping habits! I also was thinking about rereading Gawain after seeing the movie (which I thought was a great adaptation), and I’m a huge fan of John Donne, studied his work in grad school.

  4. Thanks! Right now, Mina is running around like crazy, and seems to have zero napping plans for the evening, though I’m sure she’ll flop down somewhere. Probably in her chair, which is her absolute favorite place. Wasn’t the movie just beautifully done! I loved pretty much everything about it. I still need to rewatch it…

  5. Thanks! I’d kind of been expecting that I wouldn’t have the old car for much longer, so I’d been saving up. Still, it wasn’t a plan for the year, alas. I hope you have a great week, too!

  6. I thoroughly enjoyed Up when we went to see it in the theater as a family. I think I had more fun watching my sister’s kids’ reactions than I did watching the movie itself. It’s really hard to beat a Pixar film for great storytelling.

    Yeah, losing the old car was a bummer, but I’d kind of been expecting it for a while, so I’d been saving up. I wish the old one would have lasted a little longer, but that’s life I suppose. The new one has been great so far, though, so there is an upside! And I do like having fewer worries about all the minor problems the old car had.

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