?How to Survive a Plague book
1/16 Hidden Figures
1/13 Lumberjanes Vol 4 and 5
1/8/17 One Day at a Time
1/4/17 The Feud
1/3/17 All the Way
1/1/17 The Big Short
12/27/16 The Power of Art, Simon Schama
12/25/16 The Giver film
12/17 She Came to Stay
12/11 ? The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
12/5/16 March Vol 3
12/2 Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
12/1 Paying for It, Chester Brown
Yuri!!! On Ice
11/28 Judas, Amos Oz
11/23 The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin
11/16 You Will Know Me
11/14 V for Vendetta
11/11 Another Brooklyn
11/5/16 Avid Reader
11/4/16 Carrie film
10/27 The Laramie Project
10/26 A House Full of Daughters
Girl on the Train and Amistad
? Soul at the White Heat
? The People v OJ Simpson
8/31 Stonewall documentary
8/29 Freeman’s Anthology: Family
8/20 Better than Chocolate
8/17 How to Survive a Plague, film
The Road to Wigan Pier
8/7 Raging Bull
Tipping the Velvet
7/23/16: A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Clinton is the 2007-released bio of Hillary Clinton, written by Carl Bernstein. 640 pages of biography without the added weight of the 2008 election and the events of the current news-cycle.
7/17/16: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness is Michelle Alexander’s groundbreaking book that put puts the nail in the coffin of the idea of a “post-racial” America. Per Goodreads: “In this incisive critique, former litigator-turned-legal-scholar Michelle Alexander provocatively argues that we have not ended racial caste in America: we have simply redesigned it. Alexander shows that, by targeting black men and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of color blindness.”
7/10/16: The Damned United (2009) is another Peter Morgan-written, Michael Sheen-acted, rollicking UK film about the legendary coach Brian Clough.
7/8/16: My Beautiful Launderette (1985)
6/12/16: Joe Louis: America’s Hero…Betrayed (2008) is a short film that covers Louis’s incredible boxing career, his symbolic importance to the American military effort in WWII, the relentless persecution he faced at the hands of the IRS, and his descent into drugs, paranoia, and infirmity. Louis faced every stage in his life with humility, dignity, and courage in the face of discrimination and fickle national fame, with the support of very real love and public adoration from the black community.
6/11/16: I want to learn more about musicals. So I picked up a copy of Jack Viertel’s new book, The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows are Built.
6/9/16: Facing Ali (2009) is a short but sharp documentary by Peter McCormack, featuring the commentary of ten great fighters who went toe to toe with Muhammed Ali during his spectacular career. I had been meaning to watch this film for a while now, and the recent of death of Ali spurred me to do so.
The most moving aspect of this film strangely enough does not concern Ali directly. To hear the likes of Joe Frazier and Sir Henry Cooper and Ron Lyle and Ernie Terrell speak about their working class backgrounds, about the virulent racism and clashes with the law many of them faced, and about what it meant to them to face one of boxing’s greatest champions in the ring makes watching this film an unforgettable experience.
Lyle’s words about Ali’s legacy are still ringing in my ears: “The representation he gave to the black community will never be forgotten, no matter what.
No matter how many times I watch Erin Brockovich (2000), I never get bored. Julia Roberts slayed as the single, mom of three, broke protagonist with plenty of smarts and the guts to take on a multi-billion dollar corporation guilty of poisoning the residents of the small town of Hinkley, California.
6/7/16: My Àntonia will be the first Willa Cather novel I ever read. A newly orphaned ten year old travels to live with family in beautiful Nebraska. Our young protagonist befriends a young Bohemian neighbor, Àntonia.
6/5/16: Love and Friendship (2016)
4/7/16: Rather than toting the several-hundred-page novel around, I decided to download 11/22/63 as an audiobook. Stephen King evokes a shattering time in American History in this work of historical fiction.
4/2/16: I’m preparing to review a production of Freud’s Last Session by reading Armand Nicholi Jr.’s book, The Question of God.
How to Make an American Quilt (1995)
3/27/16: Howl (2010)
2/16/16: Woman in Gold (2015)
2/9/16: Malcom X: A Life of Reinvention
1/30/16: The Octoroon
1/20/16: I can’t get enough of Mary Beard, and I was excited when her new book, SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, was recently released as an Audible recording. Beard guides her readers through the story of how an unimportant village in central Italy became the “seat of power for an empire that spanned from Span to Syria.”
1/14/16: Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and with good reason. Akhtar’s sizzling dialogue cracks open discussions of Islam in America, including thorny questions about Orientalism and deep-rooted cultural mistrust.
1/5/16: Via Dolorosa (2000) is the filmed version of David Hare’s stage performance of his play, performed in the Booth Theatre in New York City. While Hare jokes that the last time he appeared onstage was as a school boy, it is evident that he is at home performing the 90 minute monologue about his visit to Israel and Palestine. Hare’s pressing perplexity about the region’s conflict, his mouthing of questions and condemnations voiced directly by various Israelis and Palestinians he meets with, highlights historic and political tragedy and forces us to squarely face the consequences this enmity has for the region and for the rest of the world.
1/3/16: To those who cry “Anachronisms!” and “Historical falsehoods!” when watching Shakespeare in Love (1998), I say cool your jets. I could not care less how accurate this movie is in portraying life in Elizabethan England. This film enacts the comedy, romance, and implacability of religious mores and social class brought so vividly to life in the works of the real Shakespeare. Such a fun movie, with the like of Tom Wilkinson and Geoffrey Rush and Ben Affleck to whet your whistle for early modern insults, carefree violence, and general sass.
1/2/16: LGBT culture remains in the margins of Catholicized/homophobic Venezuela. So imagine my surprise when I found out that not only had world-famous actress and former-supermodel Patricia Velásquez come out of the closet as a lesbian, she has also starred in the film Liz en Septiembre (2014) The story opens with a married woman getting stranded in a coastal Venezuelan village, and staying at a tiny inn where the lodgers and proprietor are all lesbians. Unexpectedly intimate connections ensue.
1/2/16: In keeping with the rich and excellent tradition of Iranian cinema, the film Circumstance (2011) combines sensuous shots of beautiful people trapped in post-revolution political and religious shackles. Director Maryam Keshavarz dared to make a film about two young female friends who fall in love with each other, a crime unpardonable by their government and their culture. I admit I have a strong crush on Nikohl Boosheri, who plays the headstrong Atafeh Hakimi.
1/1/16: What can I say about Carol (2015)? It’s as good as everyone says it is. Full of loving/smoldering gazes, images of urban beauty rubbing shoulders with the ennui of modern life in 1950’s America, two ladies who just want to love each other. Wonderful.
12/31/15: My girlfriend studied the Lewis and Clark expedition extensively in her undergrad years at Penn. Naturally, I had to make her watch Almost Heroes (1998), to point out how she missed out on this crucial history about the other, simultaneous and less famous expedition to the Pacific.
12/30/15: Francine Prose gives clear and lucid writing advice in Reading Like A Writer. I’m drawn to books by writers/critics I admire, people who can share their love of literature with intelligent explications of key passages in a broad variety of works.
12/29/15: I’m not too interested in reading The Goldfinch, but the premise of The Secret History, Donna Tartt’s novel about a tight-knit group of classics students at a New England college, was more difficult to resist.
12/28/15: David Hare does not pull any punches in his play Via Dolorosa. He admits being an outsider to the struggle, and yet he offers a piercing eye as a witness to the most unresolvable political and cultural crisis of our time.
12/27/15: I was told to read Lady Audley’s Secret for the secret gay coupling that occurs between the lines. We shall see!
12/20/15: The City and the Pillar is vital reading to see how the young mind of Gore Vidal easily lent itself to writing fiction, as the young prodigy that he was.
12/19/15: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) is just as good as all the critics say. 10 points for having a woman and a black man be the protagonists of this iteration of the Star Wars oeuvre.
12/12/15: Richard Lawson’s review sums up my reservations about The Danish Girl (2015). Sumptuous to look at, based on a very important issue, but ultimately reducible to a series of stills of Eddie Redmayne-looking-very-pained-and-sad, over the course of two hours.
12/11/15: Macbeth (2015) captures in grey, dreary ambience, in existential dread, in nightmarish vividness, the mood and feel of the original drama. It helps to know the play, since you will not be able to understand a word any of the actors say.
12/9/15: The more people knock Jonathan Franzen on the Internet without engaging directly with his fiction (as the awesome Laura Miller does), the more intrigued I am in this renowned novelist. I do not want to make the time to read his latest novel Purity, but I will happily listen to it on Audible.
12/7/15: Originally titled The Price of Salt and published under the pseudonym Claire Morgan, Patricia Highsmith’s novel Carol has been adapted for the big screen, in a film starring Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett. Carol is the story of a whirlwind romance that is struck between a 19 year-old set designer working a temp job in the toy section of a 1950s department store, and a mysterious blonde woman in a fur coat who comes to buy a doll. Frank Rich wrote a sharp and well-informed piece about why the book and film are so relevant six decades on.
12/5/15: I went into Suffragette (2015) hoping it would be an informative as well as compelling film about the often bloody and ugly fight for women’s right to vote in Britain. I was not disappointed. This film is tough and well-acted/well-shot, and a brutal reminder that no victories are permanent: there will always be those who oppose human rights with violence and implacable indifference. And there will always be those with the courage to risk their lives for justice.
11/29/15: It was about time that I saw one of the classics of American cinema, Singing in the Rain (1952). The tunes are catchy and the dance moves look as frighteningly difficult as they look impressive.
11/28/15: My musical education begins with a screening of the boisterous film The Music Man (1962). Full of prim librarians, adorable children, and a charming flimflam man.
11/26/15: Thanksgiving began appropriately with a screen of the PBS special The Pilgrims (2015).
11/25/15: Vladimir Nabokov’s Pnin offers a view of small-town academic for an expat, a life that has not changed much in the decades since it was written. A quiet and excellent read.
11/20/15: The Martian (2015) is just as fun as everyone says it is. It also features a hefty sampling of disco music which, if Matt Damon’s character can’t appreciate it, I certainly can.
11/19/15: Mary Beard is a bubbly and vivacious writer, so I picked up the audiobook of her work, Confronting the Classics. Sadly, the discursive quality of the book made it difficult to focus on the audio.
11/17/15: Dani Shapiro’s memoir, Still Writing, provided comfort and support in moments when the writing gets tough.
11/15/15: Spotlight (2015) eschewed Sorkin-esque soundbites and flashy montages in favor of an urgent story, told diligently and seriously. The grave performances and lovely shots of Boston made this one of my favorites for the year.
11/13/15: Before Hamilton rocked the boards on Broadway, there was this goofy romp through history. 1776 (1972) is wry in its humor and catchy in its tunes, and a fun way to re-examine the American decision to separate from Great Britain.
11/6/15: Time to get my Julie Andrews fix by watching the Sound of Music (1965) for the first time in like 20 years.
11/5/15: John Guare’s House of Blue Leaves is described by Goodreads as “a scathingly funny satire on the warping hunger for fame, and the betrayal involved in creating art.”
11/4/15: Listening to the Audible recording of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ letter to his 15 year old son, Between the World and Me, is a very powerful experience. I spent three fascinating hours with Coates’ own voice reverberating in my ear. A fantastic experience.
11/3/15: Complementing my reading of the play, I decided to watch the 1985 film version of Miller’s famous play, Death of a Salesman (1985).
11/1/15: Empire of Self is Jay Parini’s authorized biography of the inimitable Gore Vidal. I’ve been waiting for months for this one to come out.10/31/15: In honor of Arthur Miller’s centennial celebration, I decided to read Death of a Salesman, the play that secured him his prominent spot in the playwriting firmament.
10/28/15: I have not been as scared watching a horror movie since I was 14 and watched The Others (2001), or since I was 12 and watched The Six Sense (1999). It Follows (2014) is soooooo creepy, it gives me the heebee-jeebees just thinking about it.
10/24/15: The Nearest Thing to Life is James Wood’s latest book, a mix of criticism and memoir. The New Yorker book critic is one of my favorite culture critics, a literature “enthusiast“, and happens to be a very nice guy, as well. I look forward to getting further glimpses into his life, and how fiction infused his inner world as well as his intellect.
10/20/15: Despite portraying theater critics as peevish, ferrety, slimy sorts, Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014) was a fine movie, smoothly and uninterruptedly shot and amusingly performed.
10/19/15: Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit hip-hop musical, Hamilton, and has rekindled my interest in the founding fathers. I want to see firsthand what fired Miranda’s imagination.
10/5/15: John Freeman is a busy editor and writer, producing a new literary journal-anthology called Freeman’s and editing a collection of essays about inequality in New York City, moving beyond his tenure as former-editor of Granta. How to Read a Novelist is his 2013 collection of 50+ abridged interviews of marvelous novelists. Huzzah.
9/25/15: Skylight, David Hare’s brilliant play, was streamed by the National Theater Live. Carrey Mulligan plays opposite Bill Nighy in this wonderful, talky drama of frustrated romantic hopes, class rifts, and finding purpose in one’s life.
Right after watching the Whitey documentary, it was time for A Year in Champagne (2014), a documentary that gives us a glimpse at how the French region’s vineyards make delicious bubbly for the world.
9/22/15: While I still haven’t had the chance to see Black Mass (2015), I did get to see Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger (2014), a film biography of the famous gangster that quickly devolves into a direct indictment of FBI corruption.
9/20/15: I first read Caryl Churchill’s play A Number in a performance studies class in grad school. New Rep Theatre will be staging a production in October, 2015. I reread the short play to be ready to delve into questions surrounding identity, individuality, and parental morality.
9/19/15: Impulse buy of the season. A Little Life has been placed on the long list for the National Book Award, and the internet is abuzz with talk about it: the Atlantic has gone so far as to call it the Great Gay Novel. I picked up the hefty tome at the Harvard Bookstore and promptly bought it.
9/5/15: My friend watched Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) in theaters close to a dozen times before she acquired the DVD and shared it with me. Lots of badassery.
8/31/15: When my mom requested Elena Ferrante’s first Neapolitan novel, My Brilliant Friend, translated into Spanish, I realized it was time to buy my own copy, and read it.
8/23/15: I love literary movies. So when I heard there was going to be a movie about the last leg of David Foster Wallace’s book tour for Infinite Jest, I had to go see the End of the Tour (2015).
8/17/15: La Famille Bélier (2014) tells the story of a girl and her love and frustration with her deaf parents and deaf brothers in a small town in rural France.
8/13/15: Listening to Undaunted Courage on Audible, I am learning all about the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1803.
8/1/15: I work at Dana-Farber, so I am reading Emperor of All Maladies to learn more about the history of oncology.
7/31/15: Read The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness for a true, riveting account of an incredibly intelligent person coming to terms with the severe symptoms of schizophrenia.
7/23/15: Double Down: Game Change 2012 is an exciting account of the presidential campaign of 2012. It was extra enjoyable to listen to it on audiobook.
7/20/15: Giovanni’s Room is James Baldwin’s novel of homosexual love, of repressed and expressed desire, of betrayal, and of grim death in Europe. Captivating, sensuous, and melancholy
7/3/15: Though Barbara Ehrenreich comes through in her writing as pompous and even unfeeling at times, her account of low-wage employment and living in Nickel and Dimed is essential reading for anyone who cares about socioeconomic inequality in America.
7/1/15: I was addicted to Chef’s Table for quite some time. I never understood how haute cuisine could really be an art form and a form of creative expression until watching this Netflix series, again and again. Begin with Episode 3 (they are not sequential), with the free-spirited Francis Mallmann, and you, too, will be hooked.
6/14/15: All the Light We Cannot See might be the most enjoyable best-selling novel I have read in some time. A blind French girl and a gadget-savvy German boy find themselves caught in the raging whirlpool of World War II. A fascinating story.
6/6/15: Simone de Beauvoir was frantically afraid of dying, and came face-to-face with this fear as her mother rapidly declined and died a relatively early death. Beauvoir recounts the experience in her short book, A Very Easy Death.
5/30/15: Far From the Madding Crowd (2105) was a great film adaption of Thomas Hardy’s novel. With performances from Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, and Michael Sheen, it is a period piece well worth watching.
5/7/15: Think of Paris during the twenties, and you are likely to invoke images of Hemingway boozing and threatening to box with Fitzgerald, of James Joyce squinting at a fellow carouser across a smoky bar table, of Picasso and Matisse wielding paintbrushes like swords as they set the stage for a revolution in the story of painting.
That’s nice and all, but if you’d like to add a more nuanced, underground, sensuous, vibrantly female wash to this tired, sepia-toned picture, you’d do well to read Paris Was a Woman: Portraits from the Left Bank. Andrea Weiss pushes the reader to consider Paris from the view of those for whom the city “was neither mistress nor muse, but a different kind of woman.” The book features photographs and descriptions of the lives and work of prominent lesbian and bisexual Modernists, such as Colette, Sylvia Beach, Djuna Barnes, Gertrude Stein, etc.
I read March: Book One in one sitting. This graphic novel (to be published in three parts) recounts the life of Congressman John Robert Lewis. This first installation describes what factors in Lewis’s temperament and upbringing caused him to become a part of the Civil Rights Movement, and just what kind of guts and preparation it took to fully embrace the values of non-violence and peaceful protest.
5/6/15: Et si on vivait tous ensemble? (All Together (2011)) is a wacky film that embraces the light comedy and sobering truth of old age and the myriad of challenges it brings. Two couples and a confirmed bachelor, friends for decades, decide to pool resources and live together in one house. Madness (in the form of plumbing problems, Viagra prescriptions, and the discovery of 40 year-old secrets) ensues.
4/26/15: North and South has been on my Netflix queue for quite some time. Based on the novel by Elizabeth Gaskell, this four episode miniseries covers the story of Margaret Hale, as she and her family move from pastoral, southern England to the cold, industrial north. Deft explorations of social class, economics, and gender-fueled power dynamics are some of the tricks up Gaskell’s sleeve.
4/4/15: Seems apropos that the night before Easter I gorge on cassoulet and Petite Bordeaux wine, and watch Chocolat (2000), the ultimate film about examining why we restrain or indulge ourselves. Juliet Binoche and Judie Dench are divine in it, and Johnny Depp isn’t half bad either. The visual chocolate porn is also irresistible.
Somm (2012): Today I rewatched the delectable documentary Somm. A group of fellows studying for the Master Sommelier exam lead us neophytes to oenophilic-heaven. While I wish the filmmakers could have included a few ladies in the quest, for the most part the film is fun and revelatory.
4/3/15: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is my book club’s choice for the month of April. In Pirsig’s book, a summer motorcycle trip between a father and a son becomes a “philosophical odyssey into fundamental questions on how to live.”
3/25/15: Orlando, written in 1928, could be described as a fictional, time-warping, gender-fuck of a book. A young male servant in Queen Elizabeth’s court traverses 300 years and a chromosome change to become a modern-day thirty-year-old woman. My Harcourt edition states Orlando is “a funny, exuberant romp through history that examines the true nature of sexuality.”
Karl Marx: A Nineteenth Century Life may seem like an odd choice for an impulse buy. But I read a good review of it in the New York Times Book Review last year, and I thought it would make for a good listen.
3/16/15: The Slate DoubleX Gabfest described the film Hunting Ground (2015) as “propagandistic,” and I can’t disagree. My review of this piece of activism against sexual assault on campus is forthcoming.
3/1/15: Gone Girl, on audiobook. It’s great. The voice acting is particularly varied, and made me wish the story were longer.
2/12/15: Theatre@First, a community-theater group based in Somerville, is performing the early modern meta-comedy Knight of the Burning Pestle, by Francis Beaumont. The play is a laugh riot, and I will be playing Rafe, the hapless apprentice and eponymous knight, when we open on April 23rd, 2015.
2/10/15: My first Michael Chabon book is officially Wonder Boys. I’m already enjoying this weird tale of an MFA professorial fuck-up and his neurotic student, and the shenanigans that ensue after an inebriating night at a literary conference.
2/6/15: One of the few Oscar-noms I managed to see before the Oscars was Boyhood (2014). It’s pretty good, though it didn’t rock my socks (the end felt like it petered out).
1/29/15: I was incredibly moved by the Swedish film Kiss Me (2011) (Kyss Mig). It is very sensual, beautifully shot, all Scandinavian soft pastels and washed-out blues, heartbreaking and passionate. The soundtrack is baller, too.
1/28/15: I think critics were a little harsh on Imitation Game (2014); I didn’t find the film any more reductive than any number of period pieces, and it was well-acted and well-paced. I also disagree that the filmmakers should have played up the “gayness” of his character, as one critic asserted, in order to be more well-rounded; I don’t think that would have served the narrative of Alan Turing any more than this film already does. The coverage does make me want to read Turing’s biography more than I already did, though.
01/19/2015: A testament to my tardiness in watching Oscar-nominated movies, I finally saw Dallas Buyers Club (2013) today. A great film that portrays a different perspective on the 1980’s AIDS crisis, including the troubling role the FDA played in determining who got medicated in what way and why, often playing a hand in determining who lived or died.
1/16/2015: I went to see the new Mike Leigh film Mr. Turner (2014) at the Kendall Cinema in Cambridge. An interesting, nitty-gritty look at the life of the controversial and innovative British artist J. M. W. Turner.
01/13/2015: I’ve endorsed this great book before, and I’m happy I have the chance to read it a third time for my book club. Uncertainty is a fast-paced, dramatic read about how even the brightest scientific minds can be biased and blinded by ideology and convention. What did it mean in those early days that the two most elegant and innovative theories of physics were (and still are) completely incompatible? Read it and see.
01/12/2015: Measure for Measure is an odd duck of a Shakespeare play. It is neither comedy nor tragedy. No one dies, but the “happy” ending is bizarre and disturbing. I hated reading it the first time around, in college, but when I was done I realized that it is one of the most intriguing Shakespeare plays that often gets overlooked. My review of the recent Actors’ Shakespeare Project production to be posted soon.
01/08/2015: I’m enjoying listening to Susan Sontag’s Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963, read by Jennifer Van Dyck. While it can be challenging to listen to someone reading a notebook, with its many starts and stops and annotations, I am curious to learn more about Sontag during her early years at university and beyond.
01/07/2015: Yep more cookery. Julie & Julia (2009) recounts Julia Child’s incredible marriage, her life in France and other European destinations, and her ultimate success in creating a “French cookbook for Americans who do not have cooks.” Her story dovetails with that of Julie Powell, a frustrated New Yorker who takes on the challenge of cooking her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking while blogging about her adventure (and misadventures). Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, and Stanley Tucci are so fun to watch that they have made me see this movie more times than is probably healthy.
01/06/2015: More cooking movies! My friend recommended Today’s Special (2009), and it was definitely worth some laughs. A sous chef’s life takes an unexpected turn when he is denied promotion in his Manhattan restaurant while also facing his father’s declining health, sinking finances, and relentless disapproval. I was delighted to see Harish Patel again, who played the unforgettable Mr. Goshdashtidar in Run, Fatboy, Run (2007).
01/05/2015: My Life in France has been sitting on my shelf for quite some time now, and I decided (after watching The Hundred Foot Journey (2014)) that it was time to pick it up again.
12/27/2014: The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014), scriptwise, is just as mediocre as I predicted it would be from watching the trailer. But who doesn’t love cooking movies? Also, Helen Mirren. I would watch QVC if it was Helen Mirren who was selling all those tchotchkes.
12/26/2014: Sometimes you just need some holiday schmaltz, and The Holiday (2006) has just the right dose. Normally, I just watch the whole movie by skipping over the Jude Law-Cameron Diaz plot, focusing just on Kate Winslet and Jack Black. After all, which is the more creative plot line: the story about the workaholic, attractive yet emotionally dysfunctional rich woman who goes abroad, has sex with a hot, attractive, literary widower Brit and then falls in love with him? Or the story about the heartbroken British woman who gets away from her toxic arsehole-of-an-ex-boyfriend by going to LA, befriending a retired Hollywood screenwriter, helping him celebrate his legacy, while also befriending a friendly music composer and advising him against settling for a toxic current girlfriend? Oh yeah, and only after telling the mean ex and current girlfriend to fuck off do the two of them become more than friends. I rest my case.
12/23/2014: I must admit, while I used to love the movie Love Actually (2003) unconditionally, it hasn’t aged too well for me. It is a little too treacly and idealistic for my current loveably cynical self. There are still some moments that make me laugh, though, and the soundtrack is still fantabulous.
12/22/2014: The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) is my favorite Christmas movie of all time. Full of great laughs, catchy songs, moving moments, and a very surly Michael Caine, this movie is one of the few things that actually helps me recapture the joy and excitement my younger self felt around Christmastime. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
12/21/2014: I found myself spending a good portion of my Christmas vacation explaining to my fervently Catholic Venezuelan and Jamaican relatives the premise behind Stephen Prothero’s excellent book, God is Not One. For too long, well-intentioned but misguided scholars, philosophers, and spiritual guides have insisted all religions lead to the same “mountain top.” Prothero explains why this perspective is not just incorrect, reductive, and a product of wishful-thinking, but also a dangerous perspective to adhere to in today’s rich, globalized, multicultural milieu.
12/20/2014: A Christmas Carol was the pick for my January book club. I’ve long wanted this Penguin classic edition of Dickens’ Christmas stories because it is just so darn pretty.
12/16/2014: I am a very big fan of Hazel Rowley’s book Tête-à-Tête: The Tumultuous Lives and Loves of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, so it was only a matter of time before I got to her other great couple-bio: Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage. The Audible edition is read by Tavia Gilbert. I love Rowley’s ability to look beyond conventional gender roles and traditional expectations of what a “normal” relationship looks like in order to objectively and fairly illustrate the dynamics of an unconventional one.
12/12/15: The Theory of Everything (2014) is a beautiful film. I’ll watch anything shot in the UK, and this period piece showcases a different side of the already very public figure of Stephen Hawking and his first wife, Jane, wonderfully portrayed by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones.
11/20/21014: I’ve never read any of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novels, so I can thank my book club for picking The House of the Seven Gables.
11/18/2014: I was disappointed in this documentary about Gore Vidal. Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia (2013) jumped from topic to topic a little haphazardly, and seemed to relish in showing moments where Vidal was at his most confrontational and, frankly, most asshole-lish, without necessarily reflecting on what ultimately made him argue rightly or wrongly for any given topic. The score is also distractingly bad.
11/15/2014: I keep worrying I will soon see the Daniel Craig 007 film that I find tired or stupid. Hasn’t happened yet; Skyfall (2012) just grows more on me with each viewing.
11/11/2014: Violette (2013) is a French film about the novelist Violette Leduc, an impoverished writer who finds a friend and mentor in the French feminist dynamo Simone de Beauvoir. What’s not to love? The film skips shots of Sartre and Camus to focus on these women and their incredible literary and philosophical endeavors.
11/08/2014: The 50 Year Argument (2014) is a fantastic HBO documentary celebrating the 50th anniversary of the New York Review of Books. As I type this, it is playing on my TV in the background, as it has been for weeks now.
11/07/2014: If you want to know my thoughts on Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs, check out my book review.
11/02/2014: I was worried that The Bully Pulpit would prove too dense and historically-heavy a read for my audiobook choice of the month. I’m delighted to have been proven wrong. Doris Kearns Goodwin’s excellent, concise, and clear writing about Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the golden age of journalism, is matched well with Edward Herrmann’s well-paced narration, giving me delicious doses of U.S. history on my morning and evening walks to and from work.
10/31/2014: Hocus Pocus (1993) is a fun, campy, spooky, and classic Halloween favorite film. The Sanderson sisters come back from the grave after being hanged 300 years ago. They have come to fulfill their vow to suck the lives of all the children of Salem and live forever. Three kids and an immortal black cat stand in their way. Bette Midler singing “I Put a Spell on You” is the film’s best highlight.
10/27/2014: Sanjay Patel, a Pixar animator, has written and illustrated a little gem of a book: The Little Book of Hindu Deities. A good, quick resource to brush up on your Hindu gods and their trivia. A good reference to remind you of what Ganesha is the destroyer of (obstacles), and how many faces Brahma has (four, although you can only see three at a time).
10/24/2014: Shaun of the Dead (2004) is one of the greatest zombie movies around nowadays. Just go watch it, you won’t be disappointed in it.
10/23/2014: My book club is discussing Angela Carter’s award-winning book, Nights at the Circus. I like Carter for her weird, Gothic, feminist, visceral writing; I saw a theatrical adaptation of her radio plays, synthesized into her collection of short stories, The Bloody Chamber, re-imagined as a play titled Hairy Tales, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
10/19/2014: The Others (2001) is my favorite “scary movie.” At the risk of sounding opaque, I’ll describe the plot: the movie is about a woman and her children, living isolated in their Jersey, England home post-WWII, and the supernatural events that begin to happen therein. It’s awesome. Go watch it.
10/13/2014: My parents turned me on to Stefan Zweig when I was a teenager. I read his biography of Marie Antoinette when I was 14, and wrote a graduate school paper on his novella Chess Story earlier this year. In The Impossible Exile, George Prochnik scooped my research (!), writing about Zweig as an exile and why he ultimately failed to adapt to his new situation, and ended up taking his own life. His book came out the day before my paper was due for my Exiles class. Wah-wah.
10/11/2014: I LOVE the Hitchcock film Psycho (1960), and a silly friend of mine hadn’t seen it. Since Halloween is approaching and it is a fun time for scary movies, we settled in to watch the thriller, full of suspense, great lines (“I declare!” “I don’t: that’s why I get to keep it,” it meaning money), and the best stabbing scene of all time.
10/09/2014: My life was changed when I read Reading Lolita in Tehran, and realized that Iran was much like my native Venezuela in the sense of our stolen cultural heritage, undermined by our self-destructive politics. A friend recommended I learn more about Iran by reading and watching Persepolis. Marjane Satrapi is baller (I got to see her in Boston back in 2013), and I highly recommend her books and the film.
10/09/2014: Orwell is one of my favorite writers, and I can now proudly announce I have read his searing nonfiction work Homage to Catalonia. It is interesting to read a perspective on the Spanish Civil War from a non-Spaniard. Orwell is down in the trenches, offering an unflinching gaze at the political squabbles that undermined the political revolution that could have taken place in 20th century Spain.
10/09/2014: I’ve already written about the magnificent documentary, Theatre of War (2008). Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Tony Kushner, Bertolt Brecht, Jay Cantor, Jeanine Tesori; go watch this film, and comprehend why it is my favorite documentary.
10/08/2014: I’d seen the film The Reader (2008), but I was curious about the novel it was based on. Das ist gut.
10/03/2014: Though she overuses the word “irascible,” Alice Kessler-Harris addresses many interesting aspects about the life of Lilian Hellman in A Difficult Woman. A fun audiobook to listen to.
09/25/2014: Poe’s stories need no defense by me (though here are my thoughts). I wish you can have a copy of his stories as beautifully bound as the copy I own.
09/17/2014: Cheryl Strayed’s Wild has been wildly popular, and a film adaptation is coming out soon. I was impacted by an essay I read by Strayed last year, and felt gravitationally pulled to read her autobiography about losing her mother, losing her husband, miring herself in sex and heroin, and finding redemption in hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Did you feel the same way?
9/11/2014: My Dan Brown kick continues with Angels and Demons (2009). I was shocked the first time I saw it at how much better this movie is (as a fun thriller) to the Da Vinci Code adaptation. The filmmakers were smart to cut the excess exposition, redefine the ludicrous (and pretty sleazily sexualized) portrayal of Vittoria Vetra from the book, and focus on the super fun and intense action of the plot.
9/10/14: I’m learning so much from Zinsser’s fantastic book, On Writing Well. I was way overdue in reading this classic for all wordsmiths.
9/8/2014: Reading Inferno made me want to revisit the film adaptations of Dan Brown’s silly but compelling stories. I can forgive The Da Vinci Code (2006) for its poor quality in exchange for spending time with the lovely Audrey Tautou and Sir Ian McKellen.
9/3/2014: Hard Choices is my audiobook choice of the month. Mixed feelings: on the one hand, it’s interesting to get some insight on Clinton’s experiences as Secretary of State, and to reflect on what it means for her to publish this uber-careful portrayal of herself before a possible election bid in 2016. And yet, because it is so careful, it is often a little turgid and sapped of human feeling, intensity, and authenticity. Which means it can be dull.
8/31/2014: Waking Life (2001) is a strange film I return to every-so-many months/years. Richard Linklater created a philosophical dream in which a nameless character wanders into profound discussions and inane monologues held in tango bars, cafes, private bedrooms, train stations, cars, prisons, and many, many streets. The whole film is rotoscoped. Go watch it right now.
8/30/2014: Roz Chast’s graphic memoir on the decline and death of her parents is funny, observant, and made me cry. Highly recommend it.
8/29/2014: I taught an essay based on excerpts of Ken Ilgunas’ memoir in my writing class. I intend to review this book in a separate post.
8/26/2014: Annie Lamott is a terrific writer, and she captures the agony and the ecstasy and the thoroughly unglamorous nature of the writing process in the beloved classic Bird by Bird. It was everything I hoped it would be, and a quick read to boot.
8/19/2014: I attended Dan Falk’s discussion of his book The Science of Shakespeare at the Harvard Bookstore back in May; I excused the time not spent working on my final paper for my Shakespeare grad class by pretending this was “research.”
8/18/2014: Most people told me Dan Brown’s latest book, Inferno, was a surprising let-down, and not even a good page-turner. I disagree. His last book, The Lost Symbol, is awful and should be forgotten (as I already have), but I found Inferno fun, and, curiously, in some ways more creative than his previous books. At least, he departed from his faithful formula in interesting ways I didn’t expect. I can’t wait to buy the illustrated version of this book.
8/11/2014: Rebecca Mead is brilliant, and listening to the audiobook version of My Life in Middlemarch is a delicious experience for anyone who is a bookworm, anyone who likes George Eliot, and, well, anyone, really.
8/3/2014: I forgot how much I adore The Mummy (1999). I must have watched it ten times this past week. I have (once again) fallen deeply in love with Rachel Weisz, am more admiring than ever of Brendan Fraser (having watched George of the Jungle (1997) earlier this summer), and am shocked to discover John Hannah in real life has a thick Scottish brogue.
My favorite line: “T…Tutmoses?! Ha, what are you doing here?”
7/23/2014: I was very happy to return to this Vargas Llosa novel (Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter). As with the Murakami, I began it last year and also promptly abandoned it due to time constraints. My mother is a big fan of the Peruvian author, and I would recommend you read his work even if he hadn’t won the Nobel Prize in 2010. I love translating his articles: Vargas Llosa is a keen literary and political thinker, a brilliant mind.
7/18/2014: I began to read Murakami’s book last year, but had to drop it amidst grad school responsibilities. Upon returning to it, I found it a fast read, pretty fun, and less narratively lazy than some of Murakami’s other work. I have mixed feelings about this author’s body of work; while he can be fantastically inventive and moving, his constant recycling of character traits, themes, and plot devices makes me want to scream and often makes me feel ripped off as a reader. I also consider the notion that he deserves a Nobel Prize in Literature as patently ridiculous.
7/10/2014: It was a long wait on Netflix to get my hands on the Peter Sellars’ Le Nozze di Figaro, a performance staged in modern day New York City (circa 1990), specifically in the Trump Tower. Boasting the musical chops of Sanford Sylvan, Jeanne Ommerle, Jayne West, and Susan Larson, this production is splendid, a real treat for any opera-lover.
7/2/2014: My current audiobook is a rollicking kiss-and-tell tale of Washington politics (read: lots of ass-kissing and self-interested schmoozing, with a pinch of policy changes thrown in). I was inspired to get Leibovich’s book after reading a review in the New York Times Sunday Book review, and I am quite pleased with the result.
6/28/2014: Harborfest, the week of the fourth of July celebrated with free events and patriotic jollity on Boston’s Freedom Trail, fast approacheth, and in preparation I decided to read more about the events that sparked the American Revolution.
6/24/2014: I was ultimately disappointed by the biopic Iris (2001). Despite having the acting chops of Judi Dench, Kate Winslet, Jim Broadbent, and Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham from Downton Abbey), the film did not delve at all into what made Iris Murdoch a striking novelist and popular philosopher. Instead, it asked you to take the word of the constantly awe-struck, stammering puppy of her husband, John Bayley. Much like the poorly conceived Iron Lady (2011), the framing of “once great female mind sinking under the weight of geriatric mental illness,” rather than being compelling, was mushy and difficult to watch. I wanted to see the woman of letters, not a woman so purely viewed through the lens of an adoring husband.
6/22/2014: After hearing an interview of the journalist Claudia Roth Pierpont about her new book Roth Unbound, I decided to take her suggestion and begin reading Roth with this slim volume. Am very excited.
6/21/2014: I watched the John Adams (2008) miniseries with my family the summer after it aired. I remembered choice moments from it (mostly several scenes of graphic violence and some fantastic individual performances). But I decided to rewatch the series now, after five years of experience working as a history guide at one of the sites on Boston’s Freedom Trail.
6/19/2014: Fulfilling my completist needs, I wanted to watch The Wolverine (2013) before watching the new X-Men movie. This Japan-based action flick was super fun: movie-physics were running rampant, and few of the explanations at the end of the film for how mutant genetic powers and, you know, biology can be so finagled with made any sense, but who cares? Unlike X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), this film was pure fun without being weighed down by flimsy attempts to connect it with the canon. It was also more fun to watch in the comfort of my room, without hearing the groans of other less open-minded die-hard X-Men fans.
6/18/2014: Today I started this new book: I am currently (sort of) switching careers (again), and I was curious as to what pitfalls I should avoid as I mull over investigating internships as well as full-time work in my new fields of interest.
6/17/2014: I know what you are thinking: Fabiana, you dumbass, that show came out two years ago, was very poorly received by critics, and has Sorkin fans cringing and/or rising to the writer’s defense.
But I was so damn curious about a comment I heard on the Slate Culture Gabfest “Vamp Edition”. Slate deputy editor Julia Turner, who “kind of loved” the pilot: “I think you have to not think about it as a show about the news that has anything interesting to say about the news. You just have to pretend they are all working at a bakery or something, and he invented a better cupcake…and that’s the triumph of the night. And just ignore all commentary on news gathering.”
After watching that painful pilot, I’m inclined to agree: Aaron Sorkin, whose writing I first encountered in The Social Network, is amazing at writing dialogue that makes you wish your world was also going at 60 miles per hour, and that you could be as witty and fast-talking, and that your every single movement and action had some momentous consequence. It was pretty fun. Not sure if I’ll watch another episode, though.
6/16/2014 (evening): Well, this one was a bit out of left field for me. While I wouldn’t exactly recommend you go see The Fault in Our Stars (2014), based on the bestselling YA book by John Green, it did provide some useful research for a post I am writing (stay-tuned).
06/15/2014: Got to experience some good ol’ fashioned monster mayhem while watching the new Godzilla (2014) movie. Not half bad, though I could have used less Ken Watanabe-gawking and more Godzilla-induced-destruction of San Francisco.
06/15/2014: The new HBO film-version of Larry Kramer’s play The Normal Heart was moving and fiercely painful and beautiful to watch. I highly recommend it.
06/11/2014: Just finished this fantastic book on audio. Ripley explores the high school education systems of Finland, South Korea, and Poland, and extrapolates new insights from comparing and contrasting their methodologies and educational philosophies with those of the United States’ schooling systems. Spoiler alert: we have A LOT of improving to do.
06/08/2014: Total impulse buy. Currey’s book offers a fascinating perspective on the lives of 161 artists and creative types, living and deceased. You will either be totally demoralized or rather heartened by the day-to-day accounts of these talented figures.
5/30/2014: The History Channel has aired a three-part miniseries, The World Wars (available here). Though very over-the-top in it’s presentation and scale, the series does cover an impressive amount of ground in detailing the events leading up to WWI, and ending with the U.S. victory over Japan on August 14, 1945.
One of the events portrayed in the series, described in a way that did rankle me in its reductive framing, was the Russian Revolution of 1917. For anyone interested in learning more, I would highly recommend Richard Pipes’ great book, A Concise History of the Russian Revolution: