Otherwise Pandemonium

I read this a few years ago when I first started purchasing the Pocket Penguins, but recently, I needed a bit of a jump-start while reading another book that seemed to be taking a while, and so I plucked this from the shelf for some quick subway reading.

Otherwise Pandemonium consists of two short stories written by Nick Hornby, both of which are quite amusing.

The first is, in fact, called "Otherwise Pandemonium," where a teenage boy acquires a VCR with strange properties. Rather than simply record what he requests, it is able to keep on fast-forwarding... to the point where he can watch the news up to weeks in advance. The question is, with the ability to see into the future, what happens when one sees something they would rather not?

The story is interesting in and of itself, but what really makes it (as what often makes Hornby stories and novels) is the voice of the narrator. A young kid in Berkeley, he has enough to deal with simply by virtue of being a teenager. His mom is a single parent, who he loves, but often gets on his nerves. He gets angry when she tells him that he's arranged a carpool for him to his band practice... Until, of course, he realizes that it's with Martha, a hot girl from school.
This is my favorite story of the two, mostly because I really loved the narrator. His tone was great and his perspective was realistic (such as where he stops and realizes he's telling the story badly because it's all out of order), and Nick Hornby really has a gift for creating delightful young men that might not have it all figured out, but we still find them endearing.

The second story in this little book is "Not a Star," where a mother finds out that her son is an actor in porn films. A nosey neighbor drops off a note ("Does he get this from his Dad?!? You've kept it quiet if he does!!!!") and a copy of the tape on the narrator's doorstep, claiming that her husband saw it at a buddy's house. Now, one can imagine the amazing ridiculousness of the situation. As a rather repressed mother who pretty much stopped thinking about her son's penis after his birth (and then just used it as a means of affirming "it's a boy!"), to now be presented with this tape is a lot for her to handle. Another thing that's hard to handle is seeing the tape and... well... seeing exactly why her big boy has a future in that industry.
Hornby is great at capturing the incredible awkwardness here (being British certainly helps, I imagine), and it's certainly not your usual topic for a family meeting.

Overall, a lovely little volume... as are most of the Pocket Penguins.


Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire

I know, I know... I picked this up on a whim once I heard about the new movie coming out. Not exactly the best reason for reading a biography.

The movie The Duchess is loosely based on this biography of Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire. I knew the movie wouldn't necessarily be faithful to the biography, and so, I wanted to read the bio first and have all the facts.

What I found was a delightful biography about a complex and interesting woman who was incredibly influential during her time. When you look back at women in history, one often thinks that even the truly interesting and famous women of the past seemed to have certain limitations given their social spheres. But the power this woman held unofficially is remarkable! A real politician, she knew how to sway votes and create coalitions. And beyond that, I think you'll find that the actual biography is really written quite well, with a view to keep things moving despite the great depth of information being presented.

I can almost assure you, though, that given the economic status of the country at the present time, we'll probably see a great deal less of the whole "Georgiana was constantly in amazing debt and always borrowing money from her friends" storyline. There's always such focus on the romance for these period pieces (I say this as though I dislike that! ha!), but I hope the film won't trivialize how powerful a woman Georgiana was in her time. Sure, she had great influence on fashion, but that shouldn't trivialize the influence she had over politics. In fact, it probably facilitated the latter, given that it made her popular and gave her greater access to people with power. In any case, I quite enjoyed this biography and heartily recommend it.

Oh, and Amanda Foreman published this when she was 25 years old. Wow.


Post-film update:

So, I actually didn't mind the film. It certainly wasn't the book, but just one look at the previews affirmed that one. You knew they would want to draw as many Diana comparisons as possible, if only because there are certain similarities that are too tempting. Its objective was to condense everything and pull out the juicier bits... not to accurately reflect that the affair with Grey happened when she was older or that she was constantly in debt, begging money from her husband and using her friend/his live-in-lover to help on that front.

It was a very Hollywood depiction of her life, focusing on the big parts. Love, sex, and ultimate "triumph." We knew what would be lost in the translation (though I must say, the whole rape scene was a little surprising to me, despite the clearly awkward relationship between this married couple). And when you saw that Keira Knightley was playing Georgiana, there was no way they'd be showing her enlarged eye. After the description of how she died, though, I'm glad we were spared that. It sounds all too horrifying.

But anyway, the movie was as expected... I only wish that they had emphasized her political power more than they had... something to do with her canvassing and the potentially dangerous situations that it put her in. That was what made her a really remarkable figure in my eyes, as women didn't enjoy that kind of political influence for another century!