Reading Roundup: January 2017

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

This is the first time I've read anything by Smith and I mostly liked it. For me, the strongest aspect of the book was the writing. There were many points where I paused and thought "I love this phrase", and the bits of social commentary sprinkled throughout were just as compelling as the quality of sentence construction. The plot was a little hard to follow and the central conflicts were a bit muted, making it hard to want to keep reading at times and leaving me a bit unsatisfied at the end.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

This was our book club pick for the month and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I've seen comparisons of the book to Harry Potter, but I think that's a little weird since they don't have much in common besides a young protagonist at a school for magic. The tone is completely different in this book and it has a different structure--I love the nested story conceit and Rothfuss does great things with it. Despite the fact that I loved the book, I'm not sure I'm ready to read the second one yet since the third has not been published and I don't want to torture myself.

My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor

I had to read a biography for a leadership seminar at work, and chose this one based on recommendations from multiple people. Sotomayor not only has a fascinating childhood, she is also an excellent writer.

Every Secret Thing by Susanna Kearsley

This book was better than I thought it would be. Sure there are some unbelievable coincidences in it that drive the story, but if you are willing to just go along with the ride, it's a fun read and a good mystery.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Generally I love Patchett's writing, but this was not one of my favorites. The greatest strength of the book is the character development and I was impressed by the fact that so many different characters were all distinctive and compelling. However, the way the plot moves around in time slowed down the action too much and made it too hard to invest in the story.

The Forgers by Bradford Morrow

Sometimes I keep reading a book even though I realize after a few chapters that I just don't like it. This was one of those books, and thankfully it didn't take too much time to read because otherwise I'd feel more regret. It's difficult to create an unreliable narrator that's also sympathetic, and this book totally fails. I figured out the central mystery early on, and kept hoping the protagonist would become less obnoxious, but that never happened.

Movies

La La Land

I could probably write pages and pages of stuff about this movie--there is a lot going on here, and I loved every minute of it. I can see why some people didn't like the movie, but it pushed all the right buttons for me (musical, a movie about movies, meta-critiques of the entertainment industry, California, Ryan Gosling, a sad love story, etc). I really want to watch it again so I can examine some things in more detail, and I'm curious to see if I could like it as much a second time. I also could write something very long comparing and contrasting it with Moulin Rouge!, but my thoughts aren't fully formed yet.


Singing in the Rain

This is one of those movies that I've never actually watched all the way through, and after watching La La Land and reading a lot about Debbie Reynolds, it felt like the right time. I watched it with the kids and they loved it as much as I did. It's easy to see why it's such a classic, and it is thankfully one of those classic movies that has aged well. P. Bibby has spent the last month grabbing any stick-like object she can find and tap dancing around the house. 

Other People

The reviews I read of this movie were mixed, and for the most part I agree with them. The strength of the film is in the characters, and the two main actors really make the movie. The plot is a little muddled and sometimes the tone is uneven; it's hard to make a movie that's trying to be both ironically funny and sad at the same time. Yes, life is totally absurd at times, but capturing that tone on screen is tricky. I did also enjoy the way the movie was set in a fairly 'normal' American city, in a regular house, and among people and places that feel much more realistic than many other movies I've seen (I even recognized my towels from Target in the bathroom). 

Hidden Figures

I took the kids to see this movie when we had the day off for Martin Luther King Day. P. Bibby got a little bored and restless, but she still watched most of it. The older two kids really liked it and we had some great discussions about the themes of the movie. I thought it was really well-done, especially the acting by all three of the female leads. 

Anastasia

We needed a movie about Russia, and while I know that this is probably one of the worst options out there as far as having any actual connection to Russia, it's an animation classic that my kids haven't watched in years. I've watched it a few times and still can't decide if I like it--boiling down the Russian Revolution to a grudge by a magical Rasputin (who is pretty darn creepy for a PG animated movie) always feels weird to me. However, the animation style and music are both really great so I guess it's worth a view. We read a few books and had some discussion of the actual history of Russia afterwards.

Arrival

I tried not to read too many reviews of this movie, but apparently I'd read enough to figure out the twist fairly early on (it helps to be familiar with linguistic jargon). That being said, I still loved watching the rest of the movie to see if I was right (I was) and to figure out where they were going with it. I liked that this movie had plenty of interesting action and a compelling plot, but also raised some questions that kept me thinking for quite some time after watching it.

Wadjda

Our family film for Saudi Arabia was much more relevant than the one for Russia. My kids really loved this movie and we had a lot of good discussions afterward about cultural practices in different countries and religions. One strength of the film is that the director includes several different women who respond to life in Saudi Arabia in different ways--I liked that there was not a simplistic depiction of life in the kingdom. Also, it's not entirely a feel-good, cutesy film in the American style. There are some hard things in here that don't get totally resolved in the end. If you want to introduce your kids to more foreign films about life in other countries, I'd highly recommend this movie.

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