Reading Roundup: March 2008

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder by Richard Luov

I already wrote down some of my thoughts about this book in this post. I thought it was an interesting read, but I had some trouble getting through it. He uses a lot of quotes and his writing seemed disjointed at times. I liked some of his points about children and nature, but the argument wasn't quite convincing.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver

I find it interesting to read the negative reviews of books on Amazon; it often seems that people come to books with certain expectations, and when the book turns out to be not what they thought, they end up bitter and angry. This is not a how-to book on local food or on farming; it's a memoir. Also, although it's not really clear until you read the whole thing, this was not the author's first attempt at farming. The family's year of local food comes after many years of learning about gardening and farming. Many people thought it was too rosy and upbeat, but I enjoyed that aspect of it. She is obviously very enthusiastic about her subject, and I liked it. In fact, the upbeat nature of the book actually made me feel less enthusiastic about trying the experiment for myself because I don't think I could pull it off half as well as Barbara Kingsolver does.

After the Wreck, I Picked Myself Up, Spread My Wings, and Flew Away by Joyce Carol Oates

The plot of this book is standard YA stuff: girl is involved in a serious accident that kills her mother, ends up bitter and angry, falls into wrong crowd and self-destructive behavior, finally opens up to a trusted friend and starts to heal. I thought the writing made it beautiful and the characters were well-drawn and not stereotypical at all. As much as I felt repelled by the protagonist, I also felt strong sympathy for her as well.

The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson

After I was pleasantly surprised by A Company of Swans last month I thought I'd give another book by Ibbotson a try. I didn't like this one as much, although the writing was just as good and the characters interesting. I also was surprised more than once by the complicated plot. The problem was that I never really liked either of the main characters; I could see them together, but I had a hard time rooting for them when I really wished they'd stop acting so weird. I guess I just wasn't in the mood for romance when I was reading this.

This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff
I think my enjoyment of this book was lessened by over-hyped expectations. I've been hearing about it for years and I enjoyed Wolff's memoir of his time in Vietnam, but this one really didn't do much for me. The writing was great, but I had a hard time empathizing with him and wasn't sure how I was supposed to feel about his life as a hoodlum teen.

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

This was the last Austen novel that I had yet to read, and I really think it is one of my favorites. Of course, I think I can read each one and declare it a favorite. But I really do like this one because it is so complex. The characterizations of all the characters and their various problems as well as the contrasts between types of families portrayed in the novel add a depth to it that makes it about so much more than just love and marriage. I also feel like I really identify with Fanny Price for a lot of reasons, plus I think Edmond is one the noblest of Austen heroes. I've seen two adaptations of this book, and now that I've read it I don't particularly like either one. This one gets Fanny completely wrong, and while I enjoyed this one, the interjection of certain elements to "sex it up" really leave a bad taste in my mouth. The book is great on its own, even if the story isn't quite as flashy as it could be.


The Last King of Scotland

The title character is actually Idi Amin, the outlandish dictator of Uganda who liked to confer titles upon himself. This film was mainly notable for Forrest Whitaker's portrayal of Amin, and he did a great job. I also like the trend lately of filming movies about Africa on location and using African music in the soundtrack. James McAvoy also played his role well, although I found myself struggling with trying to find sympathy for a character that isn't very sympathetic. Also, there are some very violent, disturbing scenes in this movie. I'm just glad I watched it while making cookies so that I was somewhat distracted.

The Queen

Another movie most notable for an Oscar-winning performance by the lead. I liked this movie quite a lot more than I expected; I'm also excited to add another film to my dissertation, since this one does fascinating things with mixing fact and fiction.

The Best Years of Our Lives

Mr. Fob and I were both pleasantly surprised by this movie. I thought it might be kind of long and a little boring, but instead the nearly three hours went by quickly and I wanted it to keep going. Also, the story really doesn't feel dated and the acting is all phenomenal. It was interesting because it managed to both portray a time that is in the distant past now while at the same time touching on issues that are still current today. Definitely worth watching.


I enjoyed watching this movie quite a lot, and wish they had included more pie. That being said, it still wasn't that great of a movie. The actors were great, but the characterization was hard to read for a few of the characters. I wasn't sure at times if it was trying to be more realistic or more fantastic and it made it difficult to understand some elements of the plot. Make sure you have a good dessert planned for watching this because otherwise you'll find yourself going out to Marie Callendar's late at night. 

It's a Wonderful Life

I guess I am now a true American since I have finally seen this movie. I was prepared not to like it since it has become so hyped and so cliched over the years. Surprisingly I found it was a well-made movie and that there is a good reason why people still watch it. It was also a lot more mature and subtle than I had expected, and I found myself genuinely touched by the ending. Maybe we'll have to make this a Christmas tradition when the kids get older.

Justice League: The New Frontier
This was obviously Mr. Fob's choice, not mine. That being said, I really liked it. It imagines what the world would have been like if there were superheroes alive during the 1950 years of McCarthyism and the Cold War. Very interesting. Kind of a combination of The Right Stuff and Superman.

The Refugee All Stars

Stylistically this is just your average documentary about a band. On the other hand, the story is fascinating and the people involved are friendly, warm, and fun to watch. That sounds kind of weird describing a group of survivors from a brutal civil war, but their attitude about life is still mostly upbeat. There are some moments when people describe horrific things that happened to them (and some really gruesome footage), but I was impressed by how they were able to channel their pain into music. The songs include lyrics like "when two elephants fight, the grass gets trampled". The music is great and I would recommend watching this for the insight into how other people in the world live today.


My only complaint about this movie is that it is just too short. I wanted it to keep going so I could find out more about the characters and their lives, and listen to the music some more. It's a great movie with a nice story and beautiful music. I think there was some swearing, but their accents are so thick that I couldn't really understand it.


two forks said…
i have the once sound track and listen to it repeatedly! the movie is next in my netflix queue!!
PowersThatBe said…
I am so glad you liked Mansfield Park. I'm reading it again right now. I think I mentioned on your blog that Fanny just reminds me of you so much. Not in every way, but in her best points, she reminds me of you.

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