Reading Roundup: February 2008

Emma by Jane Austen

This was our bookclub pick for this month, and even though I've read and analyzed it a few times in the past I thought it would be good to reread it. I still like it quite a lot; I think it's one of my favorite Austen novels. The only thing I don't like about is that the age difference between her and Mr. Knightly is so large that their relationship seems a little skewed. Nevertheless, I still like all of the characters and think they are well-developed. It is one of Austen's longer novels and took a long time to get into, but I found myself enjoying the story despite knowing how it was going to end.

Ghosts of Spain: Travels through Spain and Its Silent Past by Giles Tremlett

This book was pretty long and took me a while to read, but I enjoyed all of it. Well, I'll admit to being distracted by some sloppy editing (like switching referents between kilometers and miles in the same paragraph). Other than that I thought it was an excellent book. Tremlett has lived in Spain for nearly twenty years and so offers a perspective that is both outside and inside. I learned a lot more about recent Spanish history than I had known before. And, not surprisingly, I found myself longing to return to Spain.

The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World by E.L. Konisburg

Edgy recently reviewed this book, so when I saw it on the shelf at the library I decided to give it a try. Unfortunately I picked a cranky day to read it. Plus one of the main characters really irritated me; I'm not a fan of books packed full of eccentric characters with little method to their madness. But, Konisburg is a good writer and I managed to like this book despite some annoying characters and somewhat implausible coincidences. Perhaps if I read it again I might like it even more.

Here if You Need Me: A True Story by Kate Braestrup

I keep finding great memoirs by women; I think it's my new favorite sub-genre of books. This is another fascinating one. First of all, the story is interesting. The author was widowed suddenly and left a single mother of four children. She decided to go to seminary to become an ordained minister and ended up getting a job as the chaplain for the Maine State Warden Service, which oversees search and rescue missions as well as wildlife control. Not only that, but she's a good writer. The book is a collection of thoughts on the nature of God and mortality, search and rescue in the woods, parenting, and the meaning of life. It's hard to describe, but very compelling reading (if you have recently experienced a traumatic event or unexpected death you may not want to read this right away, however).

Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America by Laura Shapiro

This book was not what I expected it to be. I had my expectations of cooking and food in the 1950s, but they turned out to be wrong. This book was actually quite interesting and taught me a lot of new things about what I thought I knew. It would probably be most interesting to people interested in food and the history of "foodie" culture, but I got a lot out of it about the evolution of food and nutrition in American popular culture.

Coming Together, Coming Apart: A Memoir of Heartbreak and Promise in Israel by Daniel Gordis

I don't know much about life in modern Israel, and anything beyond the current conflict with Palestinians rarely shows up in US media. This book was an interesting look at the life of a family that has recently moved to Israel from Los Angeles and I learned a lot from it. Sometimes I didn't particularly like the author's prose style (it's a bit hyperbolic at times), but I generally thought it was well-written and illuminating.

A Company of Swans by Eva Ibbotsen

For a "fluff read" this was surprisingly good. Sure it had the stereotypical story of the ordinary, poor, humble girl who meets a fabulously wealthy and handsome man who falls madly and inexplicably in love with her. Yes the coincidences and turns of the plot were a little ludicrous. But it was fun to read and I genuinely liked both the main character and her love interest. My only real objection is to the cover; the heroine is continuously described as plain and humble, but the person on the cover is way too sexy to remotely resemble her.

The Babes in the Wood by Ruth Rendell

I managed to acquire this book somewhere for free and have had it sitting on my shelf for nearly a year now. It wasn't until I decided to read it that I realized it was part of a series of mysteries about a British detective. I'm not really a mystery fan, and I didn't particularly enjoy this one. It was well-written, but I didn't like most of the characters. For some reason I can handle world-weary police officers and dysfunctional families a lot more on television than in books.

Movies

Mostly Martha

The cover of the DVD bills this as a "romantic comedy", but it certainly doesn't follow American comedic conventions (it's German). Nevertheless, I enjoyed it, although the tone was somewhat darker than I had expected. I also spent way too much time in needless suspense because I was expecting more American-style angst and drama.

I Know I'm Not Alone

This is a documentary by Michael Franti, a musician who travels to Iraq and Palestine to play music and meet people. I was a little nervous to watch it because Franti is very left-leaning, but despite a few cringe-worthy scenes (singing anti-war songs to a room full of American troops), I thought it was quite enjoyable. He meets some fascinating people and it's fun to share the journey with him. For a little preview of the movie, watch this.

What's Eating Gilbert Grape?

I checked this out from the library to see if it was still good now that I'm not a mopey fourteen-year-old girl. I still like it a lot; it's a sweet little movie and Leonardo Di Caprio is amazing.

Plan 9 From Outer Space

After watching Ed Wood last month we decided it was time to watch this movie. It turned out to be pretty boring and we only got about halfway through it before giving up and watching the interviews that were also on the DVD. The best of the DVD was actually the trailers for some of Ed Wood's other movies, like Glen or Glenda.

Bringing Up Baby

I think I'm just not a fan of screwball comedy, because this gave me a terrible headache and left me feeling frustrated for hours. I can see how this film inspired so many future romantic comedies, but I hate romantic comedies and other things based on misunderstandings. I will admit that I laughed during a few parts, but mostly I just wanted to scream.

Juno

We made our annual pilgrimage to the movie theater and I think this was a worthy choice for such a momentous occasion. We both enjoyed it; it managed to be funny and serious at the the same time. The story is interesting, the characters are all great, and it's a good "adult" movie that manages to be fairly clean in content.

Superman 2: The Richard Donner Cut

Apparently Richard Donner directed the first Superman movie as well as most of the footage for the second before being booted from the project. Then, two or three years ago, people decided it was time to find and restore all of his footage to make his movie possible. I thought this was pretty good and felt like I enjoyed it more than I remember enjoying the other version of Superman 2. Either way I think that both of these movies are way too cheesy for my taste.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Another movie watched simply to increase my cultural literacy. Mr. Fob and I both agree that this is an excellent movie; it's pretty dialogue heavy and feels like it could be a play rather than a movie, but the characters and story are fascinating. Some aspects of it seem dated, but generally I feel like the issues it raises are still relevant today.

Comments

rantipoler said…
I really loved Juno. And you gotta watch all of Plan 9 if only to continuously mock it and laugh at things like burning paper plates that stand in for UFOs and cardboard headstones that fall over when the actors walk by. It's not for nothing it's billed as the worst movie ever made! And it's fun to see Bela Lugosi be replaced by his much taller replacement (he died during filming) who hides his identity by covering his face with his cape. Classic cult cinema!
Jenny said…
I watched Mostly Martha a couple years ago with my sister and really liked it. I can't believe the US has already made a crappy knockoff. That sure didn't take long!
Thanks for all the book ideas.

I love Bringing up baby, but then I love anything with Katherin Hepburn.

And Guess Who's Coming To Dinner was originally a play, which probably is why it felt like one.

(Can you tell I'm a fan of old movies?)
=)
Desmama said…
Watching Mostly Martha always makes me want to go out for really good dining. Too bad such dining is easily 1-1/2 hours away. I love your book list; I'm going to put some of those titles on hold at the library.
Edgy said…
I'm sorry it was a cranky day when you sat down to read. Of course, the character eccentricities were a bit over the top. And the implausibilities and coincidences were bizarre, but there's just something about Konigsburg's writing that's pretty amazing.
Courtney said…
I love Mostly Martha! I had to watch it for the international cinema class I took about three years ago, and really enjoyed it. I need to see it again. I was so sad when they made the American version because I know there is no way it is as good as the original. Silly Americans ruin everything. :)
I loved Bringing up Baby. I think it is because I really love Cary Grant. Have you seen Arsenic and Old Lace? Juno is on our rent list. It looks like I'm going to have to see Mostly Martha.

And, Ice Cream, one of my favorite "old" movies is Barefoot in the Park with Robert Redford as the cutest 20 something ever. And, though it is probably a romantic comedy, Neil Simon's almost verbatim from the play screenplay is just so clever that it is hard not to love it.

FoxyJ, you are a reader. I only made my way through TWO last month (My Antonia and Unless) and it might only be one this month. I've started Wings of a Dove and it is going to take some committment on my part to plow through.

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