Bea Huffines #questuslibris

For my #questuslibris, I have used a mix of textual, visual and numerical methods. Using a medium we have not discussed (Excel), I created something I might characterize as a “business analytics” genre. I realize this might be a stretch – but I believe a spreadsheet tells a story. It provides insights, and often, through its findings, presents a certain point of view – much like any other narrative. This poses an interesting question – at what point do we draw the line of what is considered literature?

I have attached my #questuslibris both in .xlsx and .pdf form.

questuslibris (.xlsx)

questuslibris (.pdf)

Bea Huffines Russian Doll #questusreviewus

Netflix has been popping out original after original all year – and I keep being convinced that they simply can’t be successful again – and I keep being proven wrong. Russian Doll was no exception. When I first started it I thought, okay – a show about a woman who keeps dying and coming back to life to relive the same day – she’ll work to crack the code – it’ll be “trippy,” a sci-fi mystery. But Russian Doll was so much more than that. It truly made me feel the full range of human emotions. I laughed, and cried, I was confused, sentimental, lonely, afraid, happy – all in the course of one eight-episode season, oftentimes all in the course of a single episode alone.

The show centers around two main characters, Nadia and Alan, who are essentially complete opposites in every way. In the end, though, these two people, people who you would never expect to have anything in common, end up being quite alike, and being exactly what each other needed. This is part of what makes the show so powerful – having these polar opposites going through the same thing universalizes the experience, making the point that every human in the world has tough times, and subsequently, that every human in the world can make it through – as long as we work together.

Russian Doll is the kind of show you can’t stop watching, the “okay, just one more,” and suddenly you’re six hours in on the couch, kind of show. I binged the whole thing in two days, then found myself listening to the theme song and researching the actors’ interviews and “things you may have missed” for two days after. The star of the show, Orange is the New Black’s Natasha Lyonne, is also one of the writers, and in reading what she’s said about her image for the show (which she worked on for 7 years), I think she hit the nail on the head. To Lyonne, the show was meant to reflect on the “underlying brokenness of the human experience” that she feels is stigmatized and should be discussed more openly.

The premise of the repeating day is, of course, entertaining and captivating, but for Lyonne, it had a bigger purpose – it was an exaggerated version of what so many people feel on a daily basis. In her words: “You’re repeating the same behavior over and over again. It’s the same day over and over again, the only thing that’s changing is an impending sense of doom.” By the end of the show, though, she hopes that what she’s done with this narrative is allowed people to feel heard, and shown them that there is always a way to keep going. In her words: “What I want is for one person to feel a little less alone, and a little bit like they’re OK and it’s OK and you can keep showing up to fight another day.” For me, Lyonne absolutely achieved that mission.

Netflix described the genre of this show as “dark comedy.” I think this is absolutely true – Lyonne is able to deliver quick wit flawlessly in an incredibly dark scenario – but Russian Doll touches on so many more genres as well. It’s drama, it’s psychological thriller, it’s mystery, it’s science fiction, it’s a reflection on time, on the human experience. There’s something in there for every type of person to enjoy. Beyond that, as crazy as it sounds when discussing a show about alternate universes and repetitive resurrections, I believe every human being could relate to the characters in this show on some level, and be left better off for experiencing that connection. In the end, it delivers a unique combination of satisfaction with the story – all ends tied up – and new questions that keep you thinking – about the show itself, and about life and the world we live in. And if, somehow, still none of that piques your interest – I can promise you, at the very least, you’ll gain some pretty kick-ass one-liners from Lyonne’s character, Nadia.

Night Circus #questusreviewus – Bea Huffines

“When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of Lapsang souchong, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict.’ Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus

I walked out of the library into the complete darkness, having no idea what type of weather to expect. Rubbing my eyes, my backpack heavy on my back, the cold was biting as I passed the threshold to the outdoors. 10 hours, I counted, since I had last walked outside. I forced a bare hand out of my warm pocket to place my headphones in, pressed play on Audible, and began my trek home.

Five minutes in, The Night Circus brought me into its world and out of my own. The cold felt less biting, the heaviness of my backpack and tired eyes was lifting. In the midst of midterm season, a dark and sobering time in college, The Night Circus, with its power to make me feel like a kid again, became a beacon of light.

I wasn’t even the biggest fan of the circus as a child. I’d been to the Big Apple Circus and remember enjoying it, but wouldn’t really think twice about it after a week or two had passed. The Night Circus, though, made me feel as if I had been obsessed as a child, and as if I was remembering that feeling for the first time in years.

The Night Circus is a Hunger Games-esque story. The premise: two children are placed in a challenge to fight to the death, they fall in love, and they do everything in their power to try to figure out how to beat the game. The circus itself is just the “venue.” But, in my experience as the reader/listener, the competition felt like the venue for describing the circus, and the description of the circus was what really made this book unique. The complicated storyline Morgenstern lines out was part of what kept me captivated while I listened. It’s truly impressive the number of characters she introduces – from a high school boy in Massachusetts confused about his future to an exotic contortionist with a secret to ghost-like old magician seemingly caught between two dimensions. What kept my attention more than all of this, though, was the sensory element of her storytelling. Morgenstern’s descriptions of the smells, the images, the experiences of the circus were so life-like, they truly had the ability to make me wonder whether every circus I had seen as a child was really magical – maybe I just hadn’t been looking hard enough, had been sheltered by what I thought I knew the boundaries between possible and impossible were.

Morgenstern talks a lot about the power of story-telling, explaining that the effect of a story is different on each “listener.” Listener is the word Morgenstern uses, and in the case of The Night Circus, I think, it’s important. Listening to this book as an audiobook rather than just reading it was a crucial part of my experience. There was something mesmerizing about hearing Jim Dale’s deep voice and British accent tell me this story as I went about my daily life, walking from the library in the dark, brushing my teeth in the morning, sitting in traffic. The story was truly told to me, rather than me just reading it in one stationary place. This was a huge part of the feeling of escape it was able to give me. Headphones in, reality out.

For me, the sensory descriptions of the circus affected me more than anything else in this novel. For you, it might be the story of the competition, the romance, the character development. Regardless, my recommendation would be to experience this book as an audiobook, and to think about the power of story-telling as you listen. If you follow that advice, I don’t think you can have a bad experience with The Night Circus, and I hope it’s able to do for you what it did for me – make you wonder, and possibly even believe in magic.

#questusreviewus #nightcircus #magic

Pierre #questusreviewus – Bea Huffines

In what my English professor described as the kindest review of Melville’s Pierre she could find from the time of its release, the following passage is found:

“Thought staggers through each page like one poisoned. Language is drunken and reeling. Style in antipodical, and marches on its head. Then the moral is bad. Conceal it how you will, a revolting picture presents itself. A wretched, cowardly boy for a hero, who from some feeling of mad romance, together with a mass of inexplicable reasons which, probably, the author alone fathoms, chooses to live in poverty which his illegitimate sister, whom he passes off to the world as his wife, instead of being respectably married to a legitimate cousin. Everybody is vicious in some way or other.” (Fitz-James O’Brien, 1853).

In a modern-day Amazon review, similar distaste is found:

“This is a romance to turn you celibate. Melville’s worst.” (“Henry with an I,” Amazon, 2016).

In short, I disagree with the negativity – and I will explain why. To me, these reviews are missing the point. In fact, I’d argue that the things they dislike about Melville are the very things that make it great. Before I explain, I’ll include two caveats to my review: first, I am a sucker for a coming of age novel, and a bit of a Pierre-like over-thinker myself – so I may be biased. Second, I read this novel in a college literature course, with a professor pointing out to me the deeper meanings and important themes as I went, which may have helped.

Having said that, I think Melville accomplished exactly what he wanted to with the novel. Reading it in the right lens, I found it to be enjoyable and relatable, and with a profound larger point that these criticisms ignore.

O’Brien is not wrong when he says that the thought is staggered, the moral is bad, the hero makes inexplicable life choices. But to me, that’s the whole point. Melville, through Pierre’s thoughts, comments throughout the novel on the lack of reality in the publishing world. But in truth, reality is messy, coming of age is staggered, filled with difficult moral decisions and reeling thoughts, and the right choices aren’t always the ones that are made. In reality, everybody is vicious in one way or another – and that’s part of what Pierre, and I think everyone, experiences as they grow up. With Pierre, Melville brings that reality to life – which should be relatable, I think, to anyone who has grown up in any time period. It certainly felt relatable to me.

“Henry with an I” is not wrong either. If the point of Pierre was to be a romance, it would be bad enough to “turn you celibate” (so to speak). The romance story itself, though, is, I think, really just a framework to take the reader through Pierre’s tumultuous journey through growing up and entering the publishing world – the actual details of the romance are less relevant.

To read Pierre well then, the bottom line is to focus on the right things. Reading it with others might help, if not in an English class setting like me, in a book club or at least along with one other person – that way, it’s easier to digest and divulge what’s important. If done right, I truly believe Pierre can be wonderful. Maybe hard to get through at points, but worth it in the end for the wholly real depiction of the human existence that Melville has created.