A Gaggle of Books & Films

Must read. Must watch movies. As many know, I’m in the Fifty Fifty challenge, which is why I must do both!

MOVIES: Now, as far as movies go, I’ve only seen three this month (last month I saw eight): The Descendants, which still has me wondering, why would anyone cheat on George Clooney? Inside Daisy Clover, starring a stellar cast that includes Natalie Wood, Robert Redford, Christopher Plummer, and a plucky Ruth Gordon. But this 1965 film is such a sad movie about Hollywood in its early days–when actors were under contracts and had to uphold a moral code set by the big studios–that touches upon themes of addiction, mental illness and homosexuality.

Whitney Houston as Rachel Marron in The Bodyguard.

The third film I’ve seen this month is The Bodyguard. When I learned of Whitney Houston’s passing on February 11th, I felt compelled to watch this film once more. I hadn’t seen it in years, but I remember loving this film and especially, the music. For, Whitney’s music in this film helped me through my divorce. It was inspiring to me then, and this time around, I found it all the more poignant. And though The Bodyguard has a happy ending, knowing what we know now, makes it bittersweet, as in the end, no one could save Whitney from herself. Except, maybe, if Kevin Costner, who gave an incredibly moving eulogy at her funeral on Saturday, had still been her bodyguard.  If Whitney’s music touched you in any way, please be sure to check out my Huffington Post story on how her music made a difference in my life.


In January I read three books. So far, in February, I’ve read two. The verdict is still out whether I’m going to make the 50-mark, but, thankfully, I still have about eight months to go.  Here are the two books that I’ve read so far:

The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley – This is a Flavia de Luce mystery, and it’s like reading a sophisticated Nancy Drew mystery, set in the quaint English countryside in the middle of the last century. Flavia is so nifty and knowing. She’s 12 years old and probably the smartest person in her village, cleverer than even the chief of police.

Mothers, Daughters, and Other Mysteries by Heather McPhaul – Fellow blogger and stunt woman extraordinaire, also known in some circles as Aging Gal, is a total hoot. She tells it like it is and makes the mundane seem hilarious. I discovered Heather when she was Freshly Pressed in March, 2011. Her post, about planning to one day retire to prison, where all her expenses will be covered–by taxpayers–and health care is free, still remains one of my favorites. It had me laughing so hard, I cried.

Her novel, Mothers, Daughters, and Other Mysteries, is about a young woman, Leeann Conklin who, at a crossroads in her life, decides to start her own detective agency in NYC. Leeann has issues with her mom, Ava Gerard, a diva-type who pops in for a surprise visit when she’s in town for the Daytime Emmy Awards. Of course, this all happens just when Leeann gets her first detective gig. Ava joins in the mayhem that ensues, coming up with a few crafty disguises to help solve the crime.

I like supporting my fellow bloggers when I can, and I hope you will, too, by reading Heather’s book. It’s a fun, easy read!

And speaking of books, I’m excited that, later this week, I’m going to meet best-selling author Jennifer Niven, whose book, Velva Jean Learns to Fly, will be featured at a special event hosted by Adventures By the Book. Now, I just adore Adventures By the Book events, because they’re not just your run-of-the-mill author book signings–they’re an experience! And, for this one, where the theme is all about flying, we’re going to be taking a tour of the San Diego Air & Space Museum. Now, Velva Jean Learns to Fly happens to be a sequel to Velva Jean Learns to Drive, and I’m thinking I ought to read these books in order. Wouldn’t you agree?

So, dear readers, what movies have you seen lately? What books are you reading? Inquiring minds just have to know!

Why I’m Doing It

Why am I doing it? Why did I agree to participate in a challenge that requires me to read 50 books and see 50 films in one year?  Well, I didn’t do it for the films. Seeing 50 films is what I’m pretty sure I already do every year.

No, I did it for the love of reading. Because I adore being transported and carried away by a good read.  Only, in my adulthood, I haven’t been reading nearly as much as I once did, from childhood, all the way through to my college years. Life’s demands and responsibilities have come between me and my passion for reading. And, if I’m going to be honest, I must confess that the number of TV shows I watch each week, hasn’t helped either.

So, basically, for the last 30 years, reading has been at the bottom of my To-Do list. Which, when I think of all my wonderful memories associated with reading, I have to wonder, how could this be?  What made me sacrifice my love for the written word? Was it my work? The advent of the ability to record programs? Did VHS kill reading? Or was it simply the need and desire to raise and spend time with my two kids? Probably all of the above.

My memories of reading start with my childhood in Queens. Every Saturday morning, my mother would drive me to the local library and drop me off at its door, returning a few hours later to pick me up.  It was a routine I grew to love. The children’s section was located on the lower level and I remember the circular staircase that led to it. I’d join the other kids there for story time with the librarian. After which, I’d pick out the books I wanted to borrow for the week. Some of my favorite books included, the Little Bear series by Else Holmelund Minarik and Maurice Sendak, and both the Pippi Longstocking and The Children of Noisy Village series, by Astrid Lindgren. Ah, bliss.

In sixth grade, I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith, and I remember curling up in a comfy chair, reading nonstop until I finished the book. So engrossed was I in this beautiful novel, I imagined myself to be Francie Nolan, the protagonist, and cried profusely when she lost someone very dear to her.

In seventh grade English, I was assigned to read A Lantern in Her Hand, by Bess Streeter Aldrich. I absolutely loved this story about a young woman who marries and heads west during the days of pioneer life. She had so many dreams, one by one they whittled away, because being a pioneer wife and mother got in the way. She had many children and eventually, each of them grew up and ended up fulfilling their mother’s dreams, in their own way. I remember loving this book so much, I read it aloud to my mother, who didn’t have time for books at all. Those were special moments.

In ninth grade, I made a friend who changed my life, when she introduced me to an array of classic works. Like the Bronte sisters’ Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, Albert Camus’ The Stranger, Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, along with books by Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker, O. Henry and the like. This opened new worlds for me and I’ll be forever grateful to my friend.

When I was 15, I spent nearly a year attending school in Caracas, Venezuela. I craved books written in English. The private school I was attending had a small shelf in the library devoted to such books. One of them was Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. I had never read this book before and became completely immersed in the story.

Around this time, I saw a book review in an issue of Time magazine that caught my eye. I wrote to my oldest brother, Michael, who was back in the states, and asked him to send me a copy of the book. Well, he sent it along with another book, that I hadn’t requested. He included a note.

“If you’re determined to read the book you ordered, then please, also read this one. It’s better for you.”

The book I asked for was Love Story, a real tearjerker by Erich Segal. Tucked underneath was The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien.  I loved them both, as I did other books my brother sent me, such as The Godfather by Mario Puzo and Catch-22, by Joseph Heller.

In college, I was deep into mysteries: Mary Higgins Clark, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Ross McDonald, and so on.

When I first married, I realized I had never read The Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. There were nine in the series and, in a few weeks, I devoured them all. Such wonderful, adventurous stories!

When I think back on how so many good books have touched my life, this much I know: That it is for these glorious and meaningful memories that I do it now.

So, tell me, what are your favorite memories about reading?

Please check out my new Fifty Fifty page. And hey, it’s not too late to sign up for the Fifty Fifty challenge. If I can do it, anyone can!

The Book Shopaholic

Be warned: Do not enter my home. Not if the thought of seeing stacks and stacks of books, piled three and four feet high, terrifies you.  You see I have a penchant for buying books. Every time I see or read about a book that piques my interest in any way, I have to have it. I think I have a deep down fear that, if I don’t purchase the book, by the time I am ready to read it, it’ll be out of publication.  So, I add it to my pile, because when push comes to shove, the pile’s the thing until I find the time to read.

Which is why, this year for my birthday, I’m putting 20 hours more each week, on my wish list. Yes, I want 20 more hours per week for my birthday!  Please note, that’s in addition to the 168 hours I already get each week. I need the extra 20, and preferably not all in one day.  But attached to the weekend would be perfect. Oh, and I’m not greedy. Heck, I’d take 10.  So, what would I do with this time?

Satisfy my addiction to books. I’d read the books on my to-do list.  Here it is, but again, be warned:  My taste in books runs the gamut.

Adventures By the Book Experience:  How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway

My friend, Leah, was the first to recommend this book to me. Then my friend, Susan, who runs the remarkable Adventures By the Book, told me about her upcoming event with Margaret Dilloway, which is set to take place August 26th in San Diego’s Japanese Friendship Garden, complete with a Japanese lunch and intimate conversation with the author.  I, of course, adore the idea of an after-lunch constitutional through the historical Friendship Garden. It all sounds too divine, if you ask me. If you’re in the area, be sure to reserve your spot, by visiting the Adventures By the Book website.

As for the book? I’m already halfway through it, as I love learning about other cultures. Margaret Dilloway’s How to Be an American Housewife, which brings thoughtful insight into the Japanese way of life, is largely set in my neck of the woods, San Diego. It is about Shoko, a Japanese woman who marries an American GI and, as a result, struggles to be a proper, American housewife. It is also about Shoko and her relationship with her decidedly American daughter, Suiko.  Leah calls it “a wonderful story, especially if you like tales of mother-daughter relationships.” She also points out that People magazine gave the book four (out of four) stars! And that’s good enough for me!

Other books that have piqued my interest:

The Creepy:  Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

The rights for this book, which was released in June, have already been sold to 20th Century Fox to be made into a movie. It is a sinister, spine-chilling tale about a 16-year-old who witnesses his grandfather’s horrifying death and, in searching for the truth, finds himself in an orphanage populated by children with incredible powers, including levitation and invisibility. The book is sprinkled with photos of these children, adding to the realism.  I’m already shaking in my boots.

The New Generation of Nancy Drew’s:  The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley

Move over Nancy Drew! There’s a new girl-sleuth in town and her name is Flavia de Luce. I read the first book in this exciting series, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, and found Flavia to be quick-witted, clever and cunning, served up on a platter of genuine humor.  She’s a real kick and an empowering sort of girl.

Social History:  At Home by Bill Bryson

Bryson dissects what many of us take for granted, our homes, and sheds light on how our homes came to be how they are today, including the conveniences that seem routine today, but were once considered only for the very rich.  All in all, Bryson has developed a fascinating social history of the home.

The Dog Lovers’ Book:  Dog Sense by John Bradshaw

Now, when it comes to my relationship with my dog, Henry, I know we’re not perfect. There’s room for improvement—Henry tells me that everyday. Bradshaw’s book addresses just that, how we treat our dogs versus how we really should be treating them, showing us, as best he can, life from a dog’s perspective.

The Environment:  The Big Thirst, The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water by Charles Fishman

Our most precious resource can also be the most fascinating. Fishman pours through our strange and complex relationship to water and makes you appreciate just how precious it really is. Water, life’s elixir!

Romantic Fun:  The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman

I actually read this book several summers ago and plan to read it again. It’s so entertaining, right from the very first page, reading like a frothy romantic comedy.  Set in the early sixties, it’s about young love, the Catskills and anti-Semitism.

I have many more books on my list, but I’ll save them for another time. Now, what’s on your reading list?