SFMOMA Magritte exhibit haul
SFMOMA Magritte exhibit haul
Title: The Methods of Breaking Bad
Author: edited by Jacob Blevins and Dafydd Wood
Publisher: McFarland Books
Publisher’s Blurb: Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad is a central work in the recent renaissance in television-making. … This collection of new essays focuses on a variety of themes.
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture
As a writer, I found Breaking Bad a ripping good story. Which, in my vernacular means asking, “What happens next?” And that was my reaction to Breaking Bad a lot. Digging into the themes and subtext has helped deepen my understanding of writing as a craft, and of Vince Gilligan’s brilliance as a story-teller. Not to mention Bryan Cranston’s portrayal of the fascinatingly unlikable Walter White.
Breaking Bad is a work that facilitates, perhaps even makes possible, a dialogue about aesthetic, philosophical, psychological, and ethical elements in our culture in a way we have yet to see in television. (p. 7)
The essays written by academics in The Methods of Breaking Bad focus on the ways in which the story is told. I found it invigorating, inspiring and, more than a little intimidating. At best, I am casual viewer, reviewer and writer. One can only go so far on one’s own.
Miguel E. H. Santos-Neves’ essay, “Our ‘word … is half someone else’s’: Walt and the Literary Echoes of Whitman” focuses on the purpose of Walt Whitman’s “Learn’d Astronomer” in Breaking Bad. In larger context, Santos-Neves makes the point that unlike the insular community of a story like The Sopranos, the literary allusions in Walter White’s world point to something less constrained, the entire world. Bonus points for making me finally read Whitman.
Not many of the characters in Breaking Bad were likeable. Most were downright loathsome, yet viewers returned episode after episode, hanging on every twist and turn. Aside from Jesse Pinkman (Walter’s sidekick), and Mike (played so well by the always excellent Jonathan Banks) who had his own sense of honor, there was no one I liked.
Giving Skyler White short shrift was quite in vogue at the time. After reading Rebecca Price Wood’s “Breaking Bad Stereotypes about Postpartum: A Case for Skyler White,” I reconsidered. Price Wood’s thesis that Skyler’s behavior was exacerbated by being pregnant for most of the series, and giving birth to beautiful Holly resonated. Surviving in Walt’s world would be harrowing for any woman. Trying to maintain sanity while pregnant and being mother to Flynn, who has cerebral palsy, would be damned near impossible. And that’s where Skyler finds herself. I still don’t like Skyler, but I do have more sympathy for her based on Price Wood’s essay.
The most fascinating essay for me was Neil Connelly’s “What Writers Can Learn From Breaking Bad: The Risks and Rewards of Deliberate Disorientation.” His comparison of Gilligan’s story telling style to that used by Toni Morrison in Beloved is what drove me to read it finally.
Above all else perhaps, the reader must trust the writer, must feel like an intentional master plan is being unveiled, must sense that her efforts are being rewarded with additional knowledge and understanding. (p. 49)
That was one of my aha! moments. As was the ensuing discussion of how disorientation is used to great effect. Gilligan’s skill forces us to trust he’s leading somewhere, and that we will understand when we get there. From the iconic opening scene of the RV roaring down the dirt road and a pair of khakis flying out the window to Walter’s death at his own hands, the viewer wonders “What is going on?” Followed at some later point by, “Oh! That’s what was going on!”
Reading Connelly’s essay helped me understand that disorientation was one of the most appealing things about Breaking Bad‘s story. Gilligan made me pay attention, and since the payoffs came frequently enough to help me understand the story at a deeper level, I came to trust the story was leading me somewhere interesting.
Overall, The Methods of Breaking Bad, led me to enjoy the show on a deeper level. As a creative person, the collection of essays gave me much to ponder about craft and style. Not a bad use of time, if you ask me.
Title: Where Wizards Stay Up Late
Author: Katie Hafner & Matthew Lyon
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Publisher’s Blurb: Twenty five years ago, it didn’t exist.
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture
DARPA had set out to link the core processing capabilities in America’s top computer science research centers … (p. 232)
The romance of the Net came not from how it was built or how it worked but from how it was used. (p. 218)
You know I’m old when I say there was a time in my life when I didn’t know what a computer really was, and I’d never heard of the internet or the World Wide Web. Really. Phones were attached to walls then too.
In 1984 I moved from Texas to Silicon Valley with my then boyfriend who had a newly minted degree in Computer Science and a job at a company which made disc duplicators.
I had no idea what I was in for. The Selectric III was the height of fashion for secretaries at the time, and I loved mine. But because I lived with a geek, the culture seeped in. We had multiple phone lines, various computers and modems, and … well, the rest is history, so to speak.
As I write this, I work at the Computer History Museum and am surrounded by the internet. It’s the best place I’ve ever worked.
Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon’s book Where Wizards Stay Up Late takes the reader through the history of the Internet. From the wild and wooly days of ARPA, whose IPTO was charged with developing a way for academic computers to link together allowing for sharing of information over AT&T’s phone line.
The birth of what became the internet was four enormous computers in Santa Barbara, Menlo Park, CA, Boston, and Salt Lake City, Utah. And what an effort it took to figure out how to do that. No one knew what they were doing, it had to be developed from scratch.
While Hafner & Lyon lay out the history, this book is not highly readable for someone who isn’t either a history nut (me) or a computer geek (partly me). It gets technical, which is fascinating if you’re someone whose been around the lingo for almost 30 years (also me). It reads a lot like a text book.
One of the oddities was the condescending manner in which things like “kludge” were explained, but more technical terms and phrases were often unexplained. It was like reading a book for adults, and then finding something directed at children randomly inserted.
I like my reading to be aimed at intelligent adults, not someone who hasn’t learned to tie their shoes yet.
The end felt rushed, as though the authors realized they were running out of time and needed to pick up the pace. As with all things computer history related, there’s a complex story to tell. In trying to simplify the story enough to tell in one short book, Hafner and Lyon shortchanged their readers.
In other words, it’s an okay book. But just okay.
Where Wizards Stay Up Late by Katie Hafner & Matthew Lyon ~ Review
Moore’s Law by David Brock (et al) ~ Review
Recommended by a co-worker, this one looked a little intimidating but I ordered it anyway. Anything to learn how to communicate better with the people I love and don’t.
When it arrived at my desk, I picked it up just to take a peek. Then, I had to remind myself I was at work and to put the book back down.
The Methods of Breaking Bad – et al ~ Review
Title: Masculinity in Breaking Bad
Author: edited by Bridget R. Cowlishaw
Publisher: McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers
Watching Breaking Bad was one of the most entertaining times in my life. Such fantastic story-telling about a wimpy high school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with cancer and needs to find a way to support his family after his death.
Walter White goes from chem teacher to badass drug kingpin in the course of the series. There are no truly likable characters in Breaking Bad, but there are sympathetic characters. Characters with which we can identify in some way because of their circumstances. Sympathizing does not mean liking, it’s the simple recognition of, “Yep, been there. Understand what you’re doing bro. My choice was different, but you be you.”
Masculinity in Breaking Bad is what happens when a bunch of liberal arts Ph. D.s, each with a particularly granular specialty, look deeply at the male characters. It can be a dense read.
This is not to say it’s not an interesting read. There are multiple ways of exploring the themes of Breaking Bad, and masculinity is an obvious one since the story is male-driven, and centers on one man who is forced to redefine himself because of his diagnosis.
Eight essays, and two round table discussions, cover the topics from Walt’s fatherhood, manhood, business acumen, and legacy to my favorite, “Men in Control: Panopticism and Performance.” Basically, Jeffrey Reid Pettis uses French Philosopher Michel Foucault‘s theory of panopticism (in Discipline and Punishment) to the use of surveillance, and reactions to surveillance, in Breaking Bad.
Panopticism is a fascinating concept in which a prison is built in such a way that everyone (including staff) can be under surveillance at any time. When there is no way to know when an individual is being watched, he begins to perform as though being watched. Here, Pettis delves into the performance art which comes out of the knowledge each character has that he may be watched.
It is a rich essay, dense and chewy. But the concept of always being watched is one of which none of us is completely unaware. How does Walt react to knowing this? What lengths does he go to show those he imagines watching that he is “the one who knocks?”
While I did find Masculinity in Breaking Bad interesting in many ways, I can only recommend this book to those truly interested in this type of close reading and, who don’t mind working for their read.