Israel and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Have you seen The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon Prime?  If not, that’s a shame because it’s awesome.  It was created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, who did Gilmore Girls, which I watched in high school with my mom.  In my opinion, Amy was ahead of her time.  Gilmore Girls was fast-paced, clever, emotional, and chock full of cultural references.  It had its issues with characters and story development especially at the end, but it was one of the best shows on TV at the time.

And now we’re in the Golden Age of television and enter Amy’s newest creation, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.  It’s like Gilmore Girls on steroids and I love it.  It’s so fast, you blink, and you’ll miss a joke.  But why would you want to blink?  I could go on and on about what I love about this show but there’s one aspect I’d like to focus on.

Midge is a typical 1950’s housewife.  She loves cooking brisket, shopping for fancy clothes, and living on the Upper West Side with her successful husband and two kids.  Then her husband leaves her, and she embarks on, of all things, a career as a stand-up comedienne.  And then the show becomes about how Midge was a repressed woman and a comment about how women were treated in the 50’s and Midge changes her entire personality because she’s a new woman!  A liberated woman!  A career woman!  Right?  Wrong.  Midge is the same person she’s always been.  She still loves her clothes and going to the expensive all summer resort in the Catskills and living the posh upper-class Jewish life she has always enjoyed.  She’s just added a career.  A career she’s perpetually late for and travels with a ridiculous amount of luggage for.

And this I believe is revolutionary in TV.  Here we have a heroine who is comfortable in her own skin, despite living in the 50’s and being a housewife.  Her circumstances changed.  She didn’t.  And that brings me to my recent trip to Israel.

I won’t bore you with a run-down of all the things we saw.  But I will say this.  Everyone expects you to come back from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land changed.  And how did this experience change you, they want to know.   I think we should look at it another way.  Midge added stand-up to her life, and she was able to become more of who already she is.  Not a different person.  I think going to Israel has opened up some things for me.  I feel like I’m becoming more of the person I already am.  I’m not changing but becoming.  And that is very exciting.

God made each of us the way we are.  Maybe we should be less concerned about changing and more concerned about how to become more.

The Pursuit of History: The Monarchy

I’m on a mission.  I’m attempting to learn about all the English kings and queens from the Battle of Hastings to Elizabeth II.  Why?  No idea.  It’s just something I’ve become interested in.  Probably because of all the shows they’ve been creating about different historical figures.  There’s The Crown, The Tudors, Victoria, The White Princess, The Spanish Princess, and my personal favorite, The Hollow Crown.

PBS’s The Hollow Crown is approximately fourteen hours of Shakespeare history plays spanning the Middle Ages from the deposition of Richard II to the death of Richard III at Bosworth Field.  (A lot of Henrys in between, by the way.)  I guess that’s what got me interested in knowing what the story was, all the kings and the players in between.

That led me to Dan Jones last year.  I started with The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England.  It’s a great overview of the Middle Ages up to the Wars of the Roses.  Dan Jones is fantastic at making history palatable for the lay reader.  So many non-fiction books are dry, but he definitely has a gift.  This volume gives insight into the time and condition in England and explains some of the things I had only glanced over before like the Crusades and the legend of Richard the Lionheart and the stories of Robin Hood.  (He wasn’t real, sad to say.)  And the stories of the people involved were fascinating.  If you can keep them all straight.  Between the Richards and the Henrys and the Catherines and the Marys I wasn’t always sure who was plotting against who, but it was a great read.  It definitely got the lineage of the monarchy straighter in my head than it’s ever been.  The sequel, The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors, was just as good.

 I understand not everyone wants to read 1000 pages of Medieval history, but I did.  And I thought I would share because there might be some other person out there who wants to make the British monarchy their new obsession.  Now all I need is for Dan Jones to get out of the Middle Ages and write a history of the Stewart dynasty and the Georges who ruled in the 18th and 19th centuries because that’s where my gap is right now.

Anyway, whatever literary pursuit you take on next, happy reading, y’all!

Reading Roundup: General Fiction

I am sooooo behind on my book reviews.  I know you’ve all been clamoring for one.  Not really, but I’m going to say that because it makes it sound like I have real readers.  So, without further ado (or needless self-deprecation), here it is.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

This one has been hovering around my Want To Read shelf for a while.  I kept putting it on and taking it off and putting it back on again.  Finally, this summer it stuck.  I love stories told in unique ways and this one is really clever in that it tells its story through a dossier of emails, letters and news stories.  Bernadette Fox is a reclusive genius architect who runs away when her daughter wants her to go to Antarctica on a family trip.  Her daughter is desperate to find her and she’s the only one who doesn’t think her mom’s crazy.  I thought it was amusing and a light read.  I recommend it for squeezing in between those Scandinavian thrillers.  You know the ones.

The Golden Hour and The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams

I’m endlessly impressed by Ms. Williams’s productivity.  Her new one-off historical novel The Golden Hour came out this summer and the follow-up to The Wicked City will be released in December.  I’m lucky if I get a blog post written every two months.  But anyway, The Golden Hour, set in the Bahamas during WWII, was a bit of a disappointment.  We’re following a gossip journalist in the inner circle of the former king of England and his wife Wallace Simpson.  What I didn’t get was that our POV character has the inside scoop, but she doesn’t share it with the reader.  I always felt like I was missing something, and I didn’t like that.  In preparation for the next installment of the 1920’s series, I picked up The Wicked City.  It’s got an interesting main character and I look forward to seeing more of her, but the current day storyline seemed extraneous.  Just because it’s historical fiction doesn’t mean we always have to have two timelines.  Just saying.  It wasn’t the best Beatriz by any means, but I have a soft spot for the 20’s so I’m going to continue the series.  Bottom line, I wouldn’t recommend The Golden Hour because it just couldn’t keep my attention.  I thought The Wicked City ran a little long, but it’s got potential for the series.  If you love Art Deco like me, pick it up.

The Garden of Small Beginnings and The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

I picked up Abbi Waxman this summer and I’m so glad I did.  She’s hilarious, y’all.  In The Garden of Small Beginnings we meet Lillian, a widow with two little girls.  She’s an illustrator who’s sent to a gardening class to get up-close and personal with her subject.  Not everyone could make a story about moving on from the loss of a spouse funny, but Ms. Waxman does it brilliantly.  She has a wry wit that really speaks to me.  And that wit was on full display in The Bookish Life of Nina Hill.  I loved this book.  Nina is a bookworm who doesn’t like people and has no problem not having any family.  So when the father she never knew dies and leaves her with a ton of relatives and a mysterious inheritance, she’s thrilled!  Just kidding.  I recommend both these books with relish.  You can read Nina Hill without having read Garden but the characters overlap and I thoroughly enjoyed that.

Until next time.  Happy reading!

All Hail…Pardon?

What follows is a rant about the finale of Game of Thrones.  You’ve been warned.

Ok, really.  Jon saves literally everyone from the Night King, and he gets exiled to the wilderness and Tyrion, who straight up told him to murder Dany, gets to be Hand?  To Bran.  Bran?  BRAN?!  We’ve been fighting for eight seasons over who’s daddy was who and who has the better claim on the throne just to throw it out in two seconds and oh, we’ll just have a group of people decide what’s “good.”  Wait, wait, wait, you just freaking killed Dany because you thought one person deciding what was good was such a bad idea, Tyrion.  Seriously?

And if Grey Worm ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.  Varys had a point that Jon was a hero and that the people would love him and accept him as king.  Especially since he saved the WORLD.  But who’s counting, right?  They laughed at the people getting to choose their own ruler, but they sure let the Unsullied have a big vote.  They wanted a benevolent ruler and they had one in Jon, the proven heir to the throne.  But nooo…  Let’s get rid of the one guy who would have been able to mostly unite the Seven Kingdoms in favor of a guy who prefers to hang out in his mystical world and leave the matters of state to his dubious advisors.  (Bronn holding the purse strings.  I’m sure that’ll go really well.)

And let’s just let Tyrion run everything, shall we?  For someone who wasn’t supposed to want the power for himself, he sure seems like a manipulator at the end.  I like Tyrion, but it’s super unfair that he gets Jon to do his dirty work and then walks right into power.  Call me crazy, but that just seems to undermine Tyrion’s mostly good-guy status, that we’ve been following for all eight seasons.  Guess the joke’s on us.  Hope he knows what’s “good.”

And let’s just let Sansa walk all over everybody.  How come nobody raised his hand and said, “Wait, why does Sansa get to have a free kingdom?  Oh, is it because her brother was just made king?”  You just said you didn’t want power to have to do with who your family is.  Sigh.

And don’t get me started on Dany.  You spent seven seasons setting her up as “the breaker of chains” and then turn her into a raving lunatic in the space of two episodes.  And then remind us of all the good she’s done for people while advocating for her swift demise.

BTW, I thought winter had come.  Why wasn’t it snowing in King’s Landing?  Winter doesn’t look so bad to me.

Does the Lord of Light even exist?  What was all that with the tree children and all the stuff Bran was into?  And what about the god with no face that Arya learned all her mystical crap from?  There’s no more Night King so why do we even need a Night’s Watch?  So we can get rid of inconvenient political prisoners like Jon apparently.  I totally don’t blame Jon for riding off with the Wildlings at the end.  Thanks for nothing, Westeros.

Well, when the Six Kingdoms turns around and decides they do want to hold elections, (because obviously none of them can make up their minds) I’ll be campaigning for Jon Snow.  Cause Bran?  Yeah, #notmyking.

Love and Hate in the Time of Audiobooks

Back in the fall I got a new car, the result of an accident involving the Jaws of Life, a night in the hospital, and a hematoma that just won’t quit.  On the brighter side, my shiny, purple RAV4 has brought me into the 21st century with Bluetooth capabilities and a nice sound system.  Eventually, I realized that these could be used to listen to audiobooks on my commute thanks to Libby, the amazing library app.

I was pretty stoked until I remembered that I don’t actually like listening to audiobooks because my mind wanders, and I miss things.  But I gave it a shot anyway.  I started with Julie Shumacher’s Dear Committee Members, a novel told through a series of letters.  I thought the format lent itself to audio because it’s told in only one voice.  I was reminded of the other reason I don’t listen to audiobooks when I tried French Exit by Patrick deWitt.  The narrator worked for the voice of our protagonist, an aging New York aristocrat, but when she read as the male characters, it was not a pleasing auditory experience.  Also, I wasn’t into the story, so I abandoned it.

I thought I would give up on the experiment until Aha! Of course!  Non-fiction!  This will solve the problem of multiple voices since it’s merely recounting the true experiences of others.  It won’t, however, solve the problem of my attention span, but we can’t have it all.  So, I settled on Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker.  It was pleasing to the ear but not the best true-crime I’ve read/listened to/absorbed/whatever.  That brings up another issue.  What do you say when you’ve finished an audiobook?  I listened to Insert Book Title?  Does that count as “read” even if you didn’t actually eyeball the book?  Do I need a separate list on Goodreads?

Sigh.  I suppose that’s a personal choice, how you classify your audio/reading experience.  I definitely prefer the reading of a book to the listening of one but when you’re trapped in a car (regardless of how nice) for an hour a day, we beggars can’t be choosers.

Happy reading/listening/whatever, y’all!

Book or Movie?

As I was facing a Saturday night alone with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, I turned to the interwebs for something to entertain me.  It turns out that they recently adapted the Nick Hornby novel Juliet, Naked.  Last April when I went to Taiwan I bought that novel to read on the excruciatingly long flight.  (No, really, it was thirteen hours.)  I was drawn to the off-beat plot of a woman in a dead-end relationship who starts up an accidental correspondence with her boyfriend’s musical idol.  But I found it to be pretty boring.  The writing was bland and it dragged, not really giving me anything to connect to.  I got through maybe a third before moving on to something else.  That’s why you always put multiple books on your Kindle before flying to the other side of the world, am I right?

So, why would I want to watch the movie you ask.  The book is always better than the movie, right?  They even have t-shirts that say “The book was better,” so everyone knows it.  Well, call me crazy but I’m squarely in the camp of Not Necessarily.

Books and movies are different mediums.  Some stories work really well in book form and lose something in translation.  I’m sure you can find many a rant online about why your favorite book didn’t fare well in Hollywood.  And a lot of times that’s true.

I heard great things about that movie The Notebook.  Everybody loved it and it was just the most romantic and beautiful love story.  As any good reader I said, “I’ll read the book first.”  So I did and it was…terrible.  Oh, M. Goodness, so overblown and melodramatic.  I was expecting more from Nicolas Sparks, having seen the film version of Nights in Rodanthe, which was pretty good if you’re into that kind of thing.  So what was I missing?  I came to the realization that some authors and their stories are just better suited to film.  I think Nicolas Sparks is one of them.

So that brings me back to Juliet, Naked.  I watched it and really enjoyed it.  Everything that was flat on the page was bright on screen.  The connections between the characters were genuine and not overdone.  I particularly connected with Annie.  She felt real and believable.  It’s not your typical rom-com and if you find yourself with a Saturday night in, I recommend it.  I also recommend High Fidelity, another Nick Hornby novel that was adapted in 2000.  I’ve never read the book so you’ll have to make your own judgement there.

I have seen some really bad adaptations (I’m looking at you, It) but I’ve also seen some good ones.  I may be standing alone, but I’ll stand up for those films that are truly better than the book.  Always is a strong word, but life has taught me that there are always exceptions that prove the rule.

Less Talkie, More Dancie

You know what?  I wish someone would remake Dirty Dancing and explain every plot point in excruciating detail and add a whole bunch of unnecessary info about Mr. and Mrs. Houseman.  Oh, wait.

Yeah, so, if you watched the ABC remake, you know what I’m talking about.  And if you didn’t, don’t.

Oh, M. goodness.  For reals, y’all, I couldn’t believe the amount of talking that went on in that movie.  It was so boring and I think we saw way more of Mrs. Houseman than we did of Johnny.  Colt Prattes was beyond uncharismatic as Johnny and Abigail Breslin as Baby looked like she was 12.  There was ZERO chemistry between them.

Baby is well-read and a feminist and she gets her sister to read and…ZZZ.  Mrs. Houseman is a neglected housewife and they’re getting a divorce and…ZZZ.  Lisa is really awesome and doesn’t resent her sister and wants to have a relationship with the rapey waiter AND the black guy and…ZZZ.  And wait, wait, wait. Baby and Johnny DON’T end up together?!  She has to go see him on Broadway and reminisce about their summer of love?  Sigh.

And to top it all off, there was a serious lack of choreography.  I mean, not only do you have Johnny and Baby singing at the end, they don’t dance at all!  The only decent dance number was in the staff house toward the beginning and that was the rest of the cast.  The “stars” could not dance.  At all.

The best thing was Baby sitting in the corner reading The Bell Jar, because she’s, you know, sad and stuff.  Ha!

This was a complete disaster of a remake.  If you haven’t seen the original Dirty Dancing, I suggest you watch it immediately.  I promise it’s amazing.  Insert a “time of your life” joke here.