Friday, May 29, 2009

For a few d more

I saw "Up," you know, the new Pixar film, with John Bob today. It's a very well-made movie. Pretty much flawless. Except perhaps that it's too flawless. Maybe it could use a flaw or two. Regardless, those Pixar dudes sure know how to tell a story. Gotta love em for that. And enjoy it while it lasts. Cause you know that after the first flop Disney will be taking control and fucking everything up.

I also saw it in 3D. Not by choice. There was no choice at the local somewhat affordable theater. Pixar handled it well. The 3D was never annoying, at least not after the opening credits, and there were a few scenes where it worked very well. Those were subtle, not pointy things flying at the camera. The technology does give the director significantly more and better framing options.

The previews, however, featured upcoming 3D movies that were obviously horrible. Although Pixar did it well, my advice is to be very, very afraid for the future. Cause far and away the biggest thing that 3D enhanced was the price of the ticket. Added about $5, it did. Well, movies haven't been for the poor for awhile now. Pretty soon they won't even be for the middle class.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Education news

I hope you don't see me as one of those people who bore everyone with all the details of the lives of their kids. I only share Jane Bob's experience because it illustrates educational issues that are widely reported and discussed. And never fail to keep in mind that chuckling on-line magazine is a fictional publication. Any personal details may or may not be fanciful. Best to just assume they are.

Anyway, Jane Bob's SAT scores are in and she did okay. She took the PSAT before she started test prep. The PSAT predicts what a kid will get on the SAT. She scored 100 points higher than predicted. So in our case, the test prep was probably worth 100 points. That sounds about right. People who argue that test prep doesn't significantly favor those who take it claim it adds 10 to 30 points. Those who sell test prep claim it adds about 200.

In our case, that 100 points was the difference in being in the middle and being near the cut-off point for what it takes to get into the selective schools. That's a significant difference. A lot of people get left on the bottom side of that divide for lack of 100 points. If you care about getting your kid accepted into the selective schools, you really should consider some serious test prep. Not just a weekend. Several months, at least.

You probably aren't properly imagining how stupid I recognize this high stakes testing to be. Jane Bob spent five months going to a three hour class once a week and taking a practice test every weekend. If there were not big money involved, I wouldn't be able to think of a much worse way to spend that time. I really felt bad for her.

A lot of people don't realize this, I certainly had no idea as recently as a few years ago, but the most selective schools have far and away the best financial aid. Almost all of them are need blind. That means they accept kids based on their records with no consideration for ability to pay. If accepted, enough financial aid to get by is guaranteed. If you're not wealthy, Harvard is probably cheaper than Big State U. So for us, getting into one of those schools is not about prestige or ambition. I'm just hoping Jane Bob can come out of college without having sold her immediate future for student loans.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Room 208

A couple years ago my daughter Jane Bob was looking for something to read and asked me to recommend a book. This came as quite a shock because she'd always been hostile to any reading advice I might give. Now she was asking for it?

I looked across the book shelf and picked out "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" by Haruki Murakami. She looked at me with undisguised disgust. It's like a gazillion pages. Don't worry, I said. You'll like it. It's like totally inappropriate for a kid your age. Really? Yea, really. Only a totally irresponsible parent would recommend that book.

So she took it and I forgot about it. A couple weeks later she gave it back. Did you like it? Yea, it was good. Thanks.

I liked it when I first read it, and then I read "Kafka on the Beach" and liked that as well. But over the years I got to wondering if Wind-up Bird was really that good. It was a page turner, sure, but was it great literature?

As someone who probably took a few too many English classes in college, I tend to consider whether or not someone is a great writer and if his or her work is great literature. What is great literature? Impossible to say, precisely, but it usually involves some combination of great writing and great insight into the human condition. Is Murakami a great writer? Is Wind-up Bird a great novel? I finally got around to reading it again.

Several years had passed and I found I didn't remember many of the story details. That happens a lot, I think, with page turners. You get so engrossed in finding out what's going to happen that you kind of skim important parts leading up to the resolution. But this time I was more interested in what it was "about" than in what was going to happen.

So, you read Wind-up Bird, I said to Jane Bob. What was it about? It's about a guy whose wife leaves him and he spends the rest of the book trying to get her back.

Wow, I said dumbfounded. I never thought about it that way. So what did you think it was about? she asked. You're supposed to be some kind of Mr. Literature aren't you? I don't know, I said. That's why I asked. I guess if it were a question on a test, I'd say something like it's an examination of Japan trying to move into the modern age while still mired in its supernatural heritage and lingering angst about the war.

What did she think about all the supernatural stuff? Really made it interesting. What did she think about all the WWII historical stuff? First she'd heard of it (her U.S. History class didn't even get to WWI), but it was interesting. Was it great literature? I don't know Dad, I'm leaving now.

After reading "The Wind-up Bird Chronicle" again, I don't think it will prove to be great literature. Cause when you cut through all the supernatural and historical elements, it's simply about a guy whose wife left him and he's trying to get her back. The idea that heaven and earth play super complicated games that involve the lives of millions over some guy's missing wife is a bit too much.

But as always, I may be wrong. Murakami could well be like Miyazaki. Perhaps his references to the supernatural aspects of Japanese culture go over the heads of ignorant westerners and there is much more depth to the story than we can comprehend.

The New York Times had this to say. I don't know about any of that, but Wind-up Bird an enjoyable read and a good page turner. I guess time and more intelligent readers than I will ultimately determine its literary merit. Jane Bob, btw, has never asked me for another reading recommendation. My advice on that score: If your teen-aged daughter asks for reading advice, recommend something with significantly fewer than a gazillion pages. Maybe "Even Cowgirls get the Blues?"