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2014 Reading Challenge Check-in

Whoa, it’s been a while since I’ve posted any books for 2014. My apologies. I am now a creature to the 405 traffic situation to/from work.

In other news, I’ve started taking a writer’s workshop. I simply want to learn how to write- creatively or not- better.  Hopefully I can translate my new fangled writing skills into more blog posts, but for now here are some book recommendations.

I LOVE getting book recommendations, which is part of the reason I joined a book club years ago. I crave new books and new authors to explore. I will often recommend books to others, but they are usually the ones that were so incredibly life-changing. It almost hurts me to loan out a favorite. I almost usually never get it back. However, I can’t prevent myself from sharing the love!

Below is what I’ve read so far out of the 45 books I’ve earmarked to read in 2014. I am at a solid 39/45 so I’m on track to maybe even beat my proposed record! I’m recording what I’ve read but also whether I am recommending it or not. In lieu of book reviews for the blog, I’ve been done some shortie reviews on Goodreads and that has sustained me for now.

Here are my categories:

  • YES: This book changed my life in some way and hopefully it will change yours. Or I just really enjoyed it.
  • VACATION READ: We all need books that can sustain us for long periods when we are sitting on a beach or in front of a fire in a log cabin. These are not necessarily the best books I’ve ever read, but will hold your attention for more than a few hours, while still allowing you to relax. (I may even put YES and VR together, mean yes it’s great AND good for vacation).
  • NO: I just didn’t like it or it wasn’t worth my time. Doesn’t mean someone else might not love it, but I would never hand this book to another and say “You gotta read this!”

 

 NO
VACATION READ
YES, VR
NO
YES
NO
YES
YES, VR
NO
YES, VR
YES
VACATION READ
NO
YES
YES
YES
YES, VR
YES
YES
YES
YES, VR
YES, VR
YES
NO
YES, VR
YES (hesitantly)
YES, VR
NO
VACATION READ
NO
NO!!
NO
YES (hesitantly)
YES
NO
YES
YES
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A few weekly highlights on books

What you may have missed lately in the reading world!

  • Here is a fantastic read if you happen to be following the Hachette and Amazon debacle. I see a novel down the road…In any case, you can read Amazon’s manifesto, er, I mean, plea to readers on Readers United to subtly attack Hachette, even though Amazon is also clearly picking a fight.
  • Libraries STILL Rule! What do libraries have over e-books? Selection. The print vs. e-book war is not far from over, but this article still gives me hope that the two formats can live side-by-side.
  • A thought to ponder on historical fiction… I’m currently reading “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon and loving it, I might add. But I’ve encountered one sticking point that gets in my craw in nearly every historical fiction novel I read: The bathroom problem. For Elizabeth Gilbert, her irk is lusty 19th century broads whose only merit is their appearance, and for me it’s the bathroom problem, especially in time travel novels. If you are accustomed to fancy modern day indoor plumbing and take it for granted that you can poop in peace and wipe with handy tissue, I think you would notice when that is taken away. So many books that place their main characters in dangerous, unfamiliar settings fail to mention this issue. I’m not saying you have to get graphic and go into drastic detail of a woman who suddenly encounters the necessity of peeing in the open as her only option, but it should be mentioned. At the very least, the author is presenting his/her character with a conflict and seeing what happens. It’s a realistic aspect to add to a character study, and I’m always frustrated when the detail is plainly ignored! Ok, I’ll step down from soapbox now.
  • And lastly, the Central Library here in Los Angeles is hosting an event combining some of my favorite things: Books, theatre, old films, and French! If you are from the area and care to explore this Thursday 8/21, check out the Aloud! Series featuring a rare screening of Great Actresses of the Past with live music accompaniment.

 

Agree to disagree… on books.

As much as I love to talk about books on my blog and with other book lovers, I must admit that I am loathe to be asked “What book are you reading?” by a stranger on the elevator or while waiting in line. I know it’s idle chit-chat, or someone just passing the time, or another fellow book lover in disguise wanting to connect, but when I’m caught off guard like that I get nervous. I’m mostly nervous about the book I’m holding and what that person will think the title says about me. I understand that I shouldn’t care, but I just do. What if they’ve read it and they proceed to tell me how much they hated it and have a slightly disdainful look in their eye at my choice? It’s happened before. And I’m caught in the middle of a dilemma: yes, this person has a right to his or her opinion and so do I. But what if it’s a book I really love and I suddenly have to defend my choice?

I absolutely believe that there should be differing opinions among book lovers about the same book. The most successful of my book club meetings were the ones where things got very divided and very heated (champagne was flung and voices were raised at one event). Still, I’m curious and perplexed as to the reason why when I completely fall in love with a book and a fellow book clubber- one who even has similar taste in books- has the opposite reaction, or vice versa.

For example, I thought “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn was one of the best spins on the modern mystery genre I have read in long time. A friend in book club hated its guts! I found “One Thousand White Women” by Jim Fergus to be a total waste of my time and then I read today that another Goodreads friend just gave it 5 stars. After reading “The Red Tent” by Anita Diamant a few years back, I proclaimed it to be one of the most important and poignant reads for women. I still have yet to meet anyone else who has read it to claim that he or she found it as thrilling or profound as I did.

Is it just me? Or is it them? When you are so divided- love it or hate it- on a book, where does the criteria fall? Now, I understand that I’ve started to judge books more harshly than I ever have before. Part of it is that I’m looking at literature in a new way, since I joined a book club and have taken to read a variety of genres, and another part of me just got tired of reading crap. However, I will go ahead and rate a book 4 or 5 stars on Goodreads if it simply filled me joy, even though it might not be anyone’s idea of a literary tour de force.

But why do I still get that shaky feeling in my stomach, as if I’ve already failed, when I encounter someone who either loved or hated a book that I, contrariwise, felt so strongly about. When I saw that “One Thousand White Women” was given 5 stars, I instantly thought to myself, “How did I miss the boat? What is she seeing that I’m not?”. I find it fascinating that two people can have such completely different experiences reading the same story, yet it’s also disappointing. We can both share our joy or disgust over it, but we will never sit on absolute common ground.

I don’t like to judge others on his or her reading tastes because books we love or read often cut close to our souls. I wish there was a perfect response to the “What are you reading?” questions. Next time I spot someone on his or her way to lunch, clutching a book that I may have read or want to read, perhaps the best method is: “I see you are reading XXX. I, too, have read it. May I approach?” Or maybe I’m reading (ha!) too much into things, as usual. After all, there are worse things to fight over. I’d much rather have a spirited conversation over books than politics any day!

Do people buy books as gifts anymore?

I read recently that book buying as gifts is down in the UK. Made me wonder, though, when was the last time I received a book as a gift?

I come from a long line of book lovers. My step-mom once told me to STOP buying books and book gift cards for my dad for Christmas and his birthday because she could now use the stacks of hardcovers in the “to read” pile as a second coffee table if need be. I loved getting books for presents, especially from those select few family members who really knew what I liked. To this day me, my grandmother and aunt have an ongoing book sharing circle that’s spanned about 20 years. Through this sort of “book re-gifting” program we’ve set up I’ve discovered now-beloved authors, such as Kate Atkinson and Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Book sharing and books as presents has sometimes been the best way for me to discover new writers.

The other day I bought my grandmother a book for her 89th birthday. I found it off of a Huffington Post article about bestselling books from the 1920s  and I chose the selection “The Keeper of Bees” from her birth year, 1925. I ordered it through Amazon and had it sent directly to her. There wasn’t a place to add a note if I wasn’t specifically marking it as a gift, so I knew the book would arrive without much fanfare; just innocently wrapped in its cardboard sheath. We take a big leap of faith when we send a book, especially one unread by the sender, to someone else. I want my grandmother to love her new gift because I put some thought into picking it out, but books are so subjective to the reader.

Whenever I received a book as a gift, I knew it came from a special place. Either the giver had read it before and wanted to share that joy with me, or it was given as an opportunity to learn something new. My new book present was never to be treated lightly and was expected to be treasured (even if I didn’t end up liking it). Are we losing this longtime tradition of book giving? You can give a Kindle as a gift, but can’t necessary give the person “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt or A Game of Thrones series.

If books are a form of love and we aren’t giving books as gifts anymore, where does that love go?

Please share here if you still give books as gifts and if so, what was the last book you gave to someone or received?

The Block: A lovely little lesson from Anne Lamott

So as you might have gathered, I took an unintentional hiatus from my blog in June. I’ve still been reading and loving literature and all things creative, but I myself haven’t been feeling too creative lately. My writing’s gone downhill. Some books became a chore. I’m not finding the rhythm to my creative life and I’ve been wondering why.

And then I read an amazing book on writing and life called “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott. This book very well might have gotten me out of my own slump and self-pity party of one, which has pretty much kept me creatively deadlocked for the past few months.

We writers all experience some sort of writers block in our lives. But what I love about Anne Lamott’s book – a funny, poignant, and incredibly insightful and generous read- is that she accurately points me to the root of the problem. I’m not blocked in my writing, but rather my creative well is currently empty. There’s no gas in the tank, so to speak, and no amount of writing is going to get me to the place I need to go if there’s no spark. And it makes perfect sense. How do you fill up your creative gas tank? By living, Anne says, by experiencing life, by getting outside and taking a walk. Without your iPod, I would suppose. The only way we can ignite our creative flame is by living in the moment and paying attention to what’s around us. Be affected by what’s around us.

Ah, I think. So what have I been doing in the last month or so? I go to work, I exercise, I spend time with my husband, I go to acting class, I sleep, I read… but most of this is just routine. I’m not letting myself out nor am I letting anyone in. Honestly, the most present I’ve felt in the last month was during a 5K race in Culver City because I walked the entire thing without listening to music or talking to anyone. I simply took in the scene and let myself observe and be observed. I saw mom and pop shops I’ve never seen before; a gun store with the largest neon sign advertising guns that I’ve ever seen. I watched a little girl with the funniest walk stomp her way through all three miles. I felt charged, believe it or not, because I felt a part of something. And my creative gas meter went up a notch.

Life and experiencing life is our wellspring, and if you aren’t living there is no way in hell you can write with any sort of believability or emotional truth. I get this. Lamott also recommends writing your childhood as a means of escaping from the dreaded block. Focus on your past, get it out on paper, and pay no attention to the content- no one intends to read it. Just get the fuel moving. Go outside and garden for a while, pet your cat, take a hike- get in touch with a part of yourself you haven’t seen in a while. These are all good ways to get out of a rut.

So this is what I’ve started doing to get past my block. I hope to be back to blogging at least 4 times a month very soon. Just gotta get my creative juices flowing again! And if anyone else has tips on pushing through writers block, share here!

Book Review: “Stories I Only Tell My Friends” by Rob Lowe

 

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Surprisingly delightful! I have to admit though, I did have low(e!) expectations going in. I saw an interview with Rob Lowe on Oprah Prime a few weeks ago, and he was promoting his latest book- and sequel to this autobiography- “Love Life”. As my dear friend Stacie would say, a lot of my problems stem from watching too much Oprah. I immediately ordered a copy of his first memoir from Amazon Prime and felt only slightly sheepish about it.

But “Stories I Only Tell My Friends” is luckily not the cheesy, poorly written and arrogant dish-fest I first suspected it might be. Rob Lowe is very insightful, heartfelt, and candid in this book. I’m a sucker for all things 1980s nostalgia, so of course I couldn’t wait to read about his adventures with the Brat Pack. I was only slightly disappointed- this isn’t as “telling” and no-holds barred as the jacket copy would have you believe, but I found his story as an up-and-coming actor suddenly swallowed up in the murk of fame and excess fascinating and inspiring nonetheless. 

And while much of what he discloses in the book is revealing in nature, if not particularly juicy, it’s more interesting to note what he doesn’t reveal. A few years back, my friend went on a huge biography binge and promptly loaned me some of the more dishy/trashy books in his canon, including Tori Spelling, Jodie Foster, and Melissa Gilbert. In Gilbert’s memoir, she recounts in excruciating detail a tumultuous affair with Rob Lowe, her first big love, that ended in bitter heartbreak. Lowe is described as being a complete cad (which, by the way, I’m sure he would agree with at that point in his life). While Melissa Gilbert devoted more than a few chapters to Lowe in her book, Lowe gives her barely a 3 sentence mention. It’s either a hilariously subtle “F-You” to Gilbert in retaliation to her comments, or he really thought she perfectly summed up their relationship so much that it didn’t merit a re-telling in his book. I would have gladly given Rob Lowe’s book 5 stars if he just put “My relationship with Melissa Gilbert in the 80s: Please see Melissa Gilbert’s memoir. ‘Nuff said.”

Neither does Rob Lowe give any mention to his younger brother Chad’s rising career during the period where Lowe’s was sagging. Chad Lowe actually won an Emmy for his role in Life Goes On circa the early 90s, an award which has eluded Lowe for the bulk of his career despite starring in some of TVs greatest shows. Granted, this is Rob Lowe’s story not Chad’s, and maybe he left it out in case Chad ever needed to write his own memoir. Rob Lowe also discloses more stories in his latest follow up, “Love Life”, so perhaps he writes about it there, but I found it odd that he didn’t even give one sentence to Chad’s similar rise to stardom in this work. 

I was never a huge “Rob Lowe Fan”, though I knew who he was and happened to like cult classic St. Elmo’s Fire as a teenager. He’s probably the least likely member of the Brat Pack to carve out such a long and successful career. I had no idea he was a former alcoholic, but I did know at age 13 that by the time he did Wayne’s World he was already considered a has-been. In his book, Lowe recounts that much of his career has been spent trying to be taken seriously as an actor, a considerable task for a man as gorgeous and “pretty” as he is. Somehow Mike Myers tapped into a part of Lowe no one had ever encountered before and I find his comedic turns, especially Parks and Recreation, to be some of his best- and most charming- work.

The man name drops with abandon, but not without good cause or purpose. I had no idea until reading this book that many of our biggest actors and celebrities today started out around the same time. Lowe either went to school with or worked with the likes of Emilio Estevez, Charlie Sheen, Chris and Sean Penn, Robert Downey Jr. Holly Robinson (Peete), Tom Cruise, John Cusack, Sarah Jessica Parker, Darryl Hannah- just to name a few- and all before they had even landed their first big gigs. Was there something in the water in Malibu circa the late 70s? Do we see this same phenomenon today? If this book tells us anything it’s that Hollywood has changed ten-fold within the last 30 years, and thank goodness we have Rob Lowe’s intelligent eye to bear witness. 

Actors will love this book and find it extremely engaging. His humbling stories behind some of his earlier films, The Outsiders in particular, are pure instruction for inquisitive actors. Lowe is at his most candid recounting his distaste and dissatisfaction with the Hollywood system, and how he’s managed to overcome several setbacks throughout his career by becoming more in tune with who he is as a person. Part of this came about with his sobriety and a large part has to do with his wife, Sheryl, and becoming a family man- something he never imagined doing in his youth.

I love the below passage because it sums up my life in a way as well:


If you’d asked me when I was a young punk what would be the best thing that could come my way, I would’ve said, ‘A movie with Martin Scorsese’. But God had other plans. He gave me Sheryl.

As Rob will tell you (and learned the hard way), happiness comes in many forms and not just in the form of a fulfilled career.

This is a guy who went from teen heart-throb to addict and chronic ladies man with probably more than 50 (not kidding) sexual encounters under his belt, to serious TV/Film actor/writer and political activist who has been married to the same woman for 25 years with whom he has two children. Not a small feat, especially when you consider all of the current teen star meltdowns happening these days. He’s earned this autobiography, let me tell you. I highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in reading an inspiring, well-written, and unschmaltzy work by a bad guy who made good.

And P.S.- Tori Spelling’s first book, “sTORITelling”, was also enjoyable. Who knew?!

Book Review: “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee: A mother, her son, and a fifty year search” by Martin Sixsmith

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On paper (pun intended), the story behind Michael Hess’ rise to political power in the Republican Party has all the trappings of a smash hit. Unwed mothers! Greedy nuns! Irish orphans! Homosexuality! Seedy nightlife! AIDS! Politics! A mother and son’s long search for the truth! Sixsmith must have visualized some sort of movie in his head while he pounded out this story. In fact, the story itself nothing short of compelling. The execution of the story, however, is completely disappointing.

If you go on the Goodreads website and read nearly all of the one to three star reviews for this book, you will see a general complaint: Martin Sixsmith, for whatever reason or another, fabricated most of the dialogue in his work. Why he chose to deviate from the journalistic style from which he’s built his career and write this story as a work of non-fiction meets fictional setting is beyond me. I urge everyone to read the review by Susan Kavanaugh. Susan is featured in the story as one of Michael Hess’ (né Anthony Lee in an Irish Catholic Abby to Philomena Lee) close friends, and her review completely lambasts Sixsmith’s butchering of the life of her good friend. She confirms much of the dialogue is made up, although it doesn’t take long for the reader to gather as much, especially since the main character is deceased. As I mention in my comment on Goodreads, I don’t believe for one second that 3 year olds sit in cribs at night having existential conversations about their adoptions and what it all means. This type of dialogue was written solely for dramatic effect and it becomes very clear that the author had designs on making this a dramatic, or rather melodramatic, work.

Only 10% of this book actually covers “the mother” and her “50 year search” as the subtitle proclaims. The bulk of the book is devoted to Michael Hess- his journey to America, his adoption into an American family, his youth, his rise to political stardom, his sexual escapades, and his fight with AIDS that ultimately ended with his death in 1995. The first quarter of the book is decidedly the best and most intriguing, as Sixsmith describes Philomena’s struggle in the convent to keep her child and the historical aspects of Irish adoptions through the Catholic Church during the 1950s and 60s. At first I thought I might be in for a great read- full of scandal, despair, and hope.

After such a promising start, the book quite drastically switches focus and Philomena Lee becomes a mere footnote. The story would have worked much better if Sixsmith had given equal weight to Philomena’s search for her lost child along with Michael Hess’ struggles to find his identity and Irish birth mother. The only way this could have worked is if Sixsmith wrote it as a journalist and not as a first person narrator. But somehow I suspect that either Martin Sixsmith or his publishers decided that this story wouldn’t sell without a heavy dose of sensationalism. And that is what characterizes most of Michael’s story. The amount of time the author devotes to Michael’s sexuality, relationships, forays into the darker aspects of the gay lifestyle in 1970’s Washington D.C., and his own troubled sense of self-worth overrides most of the main premise. Many of the reviewers on Goodreads point out that in the end the title of this story is misleading.

I wouldn’t say I felt misled by this book, but I have to wonder why Philomena was given such short shrift. In the last 50 pages or so that the author devotes to her story since leaving the Roscrea abby in Ireland, we learn she remarries twice and has two other children. We discover she went back to the abby to search for her lost son. We soon realize that she lived most of her life in pain and aguish, keeping her shameful secret from those who loved her. In the very beginning of the book, Sixsmith admits that he only came to know of this story through Philomena’s daughter. When I first read this, I thought “Ok, she obviously leaves the abby and goes on with her life. How does this happen? Does she get married, reunite with her family? Was it emotionally painful to have a second child?” I didn’t think my questions would ever be answered. As we moved painfully slow, year by year, through Michael’s life (1973-74 was a particularly long year- over 3 chapters), not once did the author touch on the parallel life of a mother in search of her son, or her thoughts and longings as she met her own daily struggles. I would rather Sixsmith trim all the extraneous points in Michael’s life- his early theatre career, his role in Gerrymandering laws, even the details of some of his early relationships- and share focus to Philomena’s side of the story.

I haven’t seen the movie “Philomena”, but from what I can gather from the trailer the focus is more on the mother than the son. I wonder if Dench ever read the book, or just skimmed it? In the afterword written by Judi Dench, she thanks Sixsmith for the “fairness” he gives to Michael’s story and the Catholic nuns. What a laugh. If anything, the nuns are depicted as greedy and scrupulous hags who have nary a compassionate bone in their bodies. Michael is characterized as a moody sexual deviant who treats his boyfriends like dirt, and for all his supposed charm is absolutely devoid of an interesting personality. Per Kavanaugh, Martin Sixsmith dishonored her friend’s memory with an unflattering portrayal that was contrary to any interview she, or Michael’s partner Pete, gave to him. I believe her. Sixsmith had an obvious agenda while writing this book and the result is a total mess. What could have been a fascinating read turned out to be an utter dud. Skip it.

 

What to do about bad art.

I’ve been lamenting for oh, a couple months now, about my lack of good reading material. Seriously, I haven’t posted any reviews of the books I’m reading on the blog because, to be frank, they were so lackluster and not terribly interesting that I can’t even summon the energy to devote an hour to writing about them. Ouch.

But an article from the LA Times a couple weeks about James Franco’s dismal turn in Broadway’s “Of Mice and Men”  inspired me to talk about bad art. Or rather, art that is perceived to be bad. First of all, I define an artist as any creative being, whether its an actor, writer, painter, potterer, performer, musician, etc. Secondly, as an artist myself (sometime writer, actor, and card maker enthusiast), I’m acutely aware that I myself have probably been guilty of creating some bad art in my time. Who hasn’t? But the question then becomes: is it really the artist’s fault?

Look, I’ve written some posts that I consider subpar. I’ve given a few performances in plays in my day that were less than inspiring. In any of these cases, I don’t think of myself as lazy or purposeful in my horrible artistry. I simply wasn’t good. And this doesn’t mean I didn’t try. Call it a case of poor training, or I just wasn’t ready at the time, but I always consider my heart in the right place.

James Franco, per LA Times theater critic Charles McNulty, gave a bad performance to last a lifetime. And it appears that McNulty is accusing Franco of not doing the work.

He’s obviously an actor of wide-ranging intelligence, but his intellectualism doesn’t serve him here. His acting — unspontaneous, utterly devoid of reflexes and lacking the gremlin smirk of his best film work — happens strictly from the neck up…

Realistic acting of the kind demanded by “Of Mice and Men” doesn’t allow for short cuts. There’s a difference between behaving and signaling behavior, and onstage, where there’s nowhere to hide, it’s glaring. When Franco is overcome with strong emotion at a climactic juncture in the play, he does what any actor more comfortable with cliché than with actual feeling does: he retches.

To play devil’s advocate here, can we honestly say that Franco didn’t do the work? Maybe he’s acting his heart out up there and it’s just not working for us. Maybe he sat with the material for weeks and weeks and struggled and toiled and felt in the depths of his soul that he fully embodied that character, but we are the ones who are simply not buying it?

When is it ok for us to judge art as “bad” or “good”?

I can recognize bad writing, for sure. I can recognize when sheer laziness is involved and someone took the leap to make a quick buck (ahem, E.L. James of “50 Shades of Grey” fame). And I can absolutely ascertain a great story with so-so writing, but the editing is just out of whack (my recent reading of “Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin falls in this category).

I judge bad art by its poor preparation. If someone merely “phones it in” on a performance or written piece, I get angry. And you can definitely tell when it’s a lackadaisical effort. I highly doubt anyone wakes up in the morning and says, “You know what? I’m going to create something shitty and half-assed today!”, but I do believe that sometimes we wake up and say, “I’m tired. I’m not into this right now. And I’m not going to do much about it”. So if the reviewer for “Of Mice and Men” fully believed that Franco put his laziest foot forward then I agree with his decision to call him out on it.

On the flip side, however, is the fact that art is so subjective to begin with. For every person appalled by Franco’s acting is one person captivated by it. No formula exists, to my knowledge, that can really predict or put a label on “good” or “bad” art. My acting teacher says at the very least all we want is to feel moved. If we felt emotionally moved by any piece of art then the artist fulfilled his/her requirement ten-fold.

Take the recent paintings by George W. Bush, for example. His art has been lambasted for being childish and insipid. I actually found them charming. Really, I did. Despite all of my dislike for the former President and everything he stands for, I found his paintings of former Presidents quite whimsical with a child-like air. He managed to make his father look like a soft-spoken and mild-mannered human being with a whiff of befuddled grandpa. Were these Bush’s own perceptions captured on canvas or were they the product of his limitations in his art skills? He does know how to paint, that’s for sure. And whether he lacks the right skills or not remains to be seen. He captured something that someone, somewhere (me) thought endearing and heartfelt. I was moved. Maybe not moved enough to a point where I would want to buy one, but I liked his art.

So if I go back to my original statement at the top of this post about my recent lack of good reading material, am I calling the books I read a case of “bad art”? Not necessarily. I just wasn’t moved. I feel no emotional connection to any of the 4 books I’ve finished in the last 2 months. I sensed the writers enthusiastic and inspired about the material, but the execution in the storytelling wasn’t there. And if ever I come across another writer who I feel is writing for the sake of a paycheck, believe me, I’m calling them bad artists here and now.

You will all be the first ones to know.

It Was The Best of Sentences…

I had to post this link from NPR about its pick of the top 10 best sentences in literature.    It Was The Best Of Sentences …    

One of my favorite opening lines comes from Jane Austen’s “Emma”:

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

You know almost everything about her in just one sentence. I absolutely adore how Jane Austen frames the inital description of Emma- “handsome, clever, and rich”- in exact order of importance. And how the sentence ends- “very little to distress or vex her”- simply implies that she will soon be vexed. Perfection and deliciousness in one tiny sentence. Love!

I often judge a book by its first sentence, but I also love certain sentences in several books that fall somewhere in the middle. Here are two that I fondly remember for one reason or another:

“Pass the damn ham” by Scout, trying to test out her pre-teen rebellion at dinner, in “To Kill a Mockingbird” still rings funny and true in my mind after all these years.

“Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” by Louis de Bernieres has many great quotes, but the one that always gets me is near the end of the story when Pelagia and Corelli, now both in old age, finally reunite as long-lost lovers and Pelagia says to Corelli, “You owe me a life”. The sentence speaks volumes of the distance and pain they endured by being torn apart by war.

Enjoy the NPR list- agree or disagree- and feel free to post in the comments any of your favorites sentences!

 

 

Goodbye, How I Met Your Mother. Its been swell.

It’s been quite a long time since I’ve post anything about TV, but I feel compelled to give a quick tribute (ok, much like Ted, not so quick) to one of my personal favorites, How I Met Your Mother, which gives its hour long swan song on Monday 3/31.

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you may remember what I wrote about the show in This Old Show: 3 long-in-the-tooth personal favorites that I may just retire from my repertoire. Below is a brief summary of what I spouted early on regarding the final season of the HIMYM:

“And here is my dilemma: after Ted meets the Mother, will anyone even WANT to tune in after that? I’m one of the few who has completely enjoyed the ride of Ted’s journey to find his soul mate. I haven’t found the series taking too long of a time to reach the endgame. Actually, I think we are at the perfect point. He sees her, they finally meet, and he just KNOWS she’s the one. I’m not exactly sure I want any more. My only real complaint of the show is that Ted’s love interests are never very interesting. This casting of the Mother has got to be strong. In some ways I almost feel sorry for the actress who plays her: talk about extreme expectations and pressure!… Can the show successfully fill 22 episodes next season with Ted falling in love with the woman-who-will become-the-mother, ending with what we all assume will be his wedding?  My fear is that the last season, which we knew was coming, will be a let down of sorts and a disappointing end to what was such a promising beginning with this series.”

First off, let me say that I couldn’t have been more wrong in my previous assumptions. Instead of creating an entire season revolving around Ted meeting and getting to know the Mother, the brilliant writers created an entire season around the events leading up to a different wedding- Robin and Barney’s, to be exact.  Now, this season was certainly divisive: some loathed the premise of 20 odd episodes taking place within a 48 hour span, while others, like myself, have had a ball. Was this the best season yet of the series? No. Am I eternally glad I tuned in for the final season? Absolutely. All my fears about who was to be cast as the Mother and how that was going to unfold proved to be completely unfounded- Cristin Milioti is delightful. The writers did a wonderful job of incorporating her into the story without it being solely about Ted Meets Mother. Even if this wasn’t the most funny or the most cohesive season, it’s ending on the perfect note and I couldn’t be more proud of everyone involved for making such a likable and enduring TV show.

Without further ado, here is my solemn and heartfelt goodbye to a show I will remember fondly and forever link to my years living in Los Angeles.

Goodbye Best Pilot of 2005:

As I mentioned in my previous post about the show, I was an extra in the pilot episode and I distinctly recall thinking this was the funniest pilot I had ever had the pleasure of working on. It was a long 4 months of pilot season of background work, and I am pretty sure I was in every single one of them. But HIMYM was by far the best. It will always have a special place in my heart, and I can look back with pride and some frustration on my first year in Los Angeles, desperately trying anything to make it as an actor.

(If anyone is wondering or is planning on watching season 1, I was in McLaren’s in the pilot episode and if you look in the background of the scenes with Barney talking to Ted at the bar, search for a girl in a black blazer with a blonde pony tail sitting with a group in a booth. C’est moi.)

Goodbye Patrice:

Just as Lily screaming “Son of a Bitch!” and her eyes going demon red is my husband’s favorite running gag on the show, Robin screaming at Patrice- the world’s most annoying perky co-worker- will forever remain mine. I think I love it so much, albeit sheepishly, because we all have that one true friend who would probably lay down his or her life for you and is, for whatever reason, someone you can’t stand at all. Robin’s irate and non-sensical frustration at Patrice drives me to giggles every single time.

“You’ve never looked more beautiful, Robin”- Patrice

“NO ONE ASKED YOU, PATRICE!!!”- Robin on her wedding day, in her dress, to Patrice who inexplicably ended up as her bridesmaid.

Goodbye to a realistic show about 30-somethings:

I’ve said it before and I will say it again: the writing duo Carter Bays and Craig Thomas captured something incredibly unique and relevant in their writing of a group of friends in their 30s. In your 30s you are a little more settled into a career, you probably have a steady income, and you are mostly likely getting married and starting a family. Yet, as I’ve discovered since hitting my 30s, you  never quite feel like an adult, even though you are going through the motions of adult-like things. What the show magically and successfully managed to capture was that delicate balance as one move into adulthood with all its wonderful trappings, while still trying to maintain one’s youth. Relationships with friends change as they start having kids. Parents and close family members die. You realize you hate the career you chose for yourself in college. Friends fall in love, get married, and move on, while your life seems to remain the same. This all happens after the big 3-0, and I’m glad it was represented well on the small screen.

Goodbye Neil Patrick Harris:

By all accounts, Barney never should have been a likable character never mind lovable. On paper he was a womanizing, scheming, lying and manipulative douche bag and the only person capable of bringing any heart or substance to him was Neil Patrick Harris. Bravo sir, you deserve some serious props. I’m sad that no one on this delightful show ever got the award recognition he or she deserved. If I could have an Emmy go to anyone, I would nominate Harris. He kept Barney funny and charming year after year, while still maintaining an underlying vulnerability and childlike naiveté that crept to the surface during his relationship with Robin. It would have been extremely easy for the writers to keep Barney as the comic relief without any believable depth, but they chose not to and Harris obviously did his homework on why a character would actively choose to act in the most outlandish and selfish ways. This show marked a sort of comeback for Neil Patrick Harris, and I sincerely hope this is not the last we’ve seen of him.

Goodbye to the HIMYM writers and best uses of running gags:

I will share a little secret while I was on the set of the pilot. The character of Rajiv was probably just meant to be a one episode walk-on until Carter Bays and Craig Thomas gave him the line “Signal”, which he said in such a funny way that had the entire writing staff and audience of background workers completely in stitches. It was such a fluke, a one-time thing to make the scene just a bit more funny than it already was and it worked. I would like to think that the character of Rajiv was born in that moment. And I think this describes the writing on the show as a whole: the two writer/creators were always listening and knew how to best leverage the comedy.

From Kyle MacLachlan’s The Captain to the Slap Bet to the Ducky Tie to the Playbook to Robin’s Canadian-ness to Barney’s mad cap reenactments to the fact that we only saw one body part of the Mother each season, these writers mastered creating some of the best and most imaginative running gags ever. Even the premise of the entire show is one long gag: Ted can’t ever tell just a story; he must recount an entire epic. I will miss the risks this show took each season. You could argue that the running gags were merely filler, but I think they were part of the grand plan of the entire series all along, and I for one thought them genius.

Goodbye Robin Sparkles (and honorable mention, Alan Thicke):

Oh wow, the episode modeled after VHI’s Behind the Music about Robin’s Canadian pop-star alter ego Robin Sparkles was one of the funniest of the entire show’s run. Every famous Canadian got his or her due. And who knew Alan Thicke could be so hysterical?! Every episode featuring Sparkles and Thicke were so crazy, so OUT THERE, I fell into an utter laughing fit. I love it when shows go delightfully weird- not jumping the shark weird- just a little left of center. It keeps the writing on its toes, but also I think the actors secretly love it. This is probably what has kept the show so fresh for most of its run, too.

Goodbye to the one episode in a sit-com that made me cry:

There were several heartwarming episodes on this show, but the one that got me was the episode which found Lily on the roof confessing to Ted that she’s not always as happy as she thought she’d be as a mother. It was so raw and incredibly truthful, and Alyson Hannigan absolutely nailed the moment. It sticks in my mind so vividly because the show can go from sheer comedy to drama in a blink of an eye, and it’s believable. These actors are so committed to being in the moment and understanding where their characters are coming from. I felt Hannigan touched on something real during that scene, and it was beautiful to watch her go through the emotion while Ted, who couldn’t exactly empathize with her, stood by her nonetheless as she poured her heart out. Ted listening to The Mother play the ukulele and sing La Vie en Rose from one hotel room balcony away is another really touching scene. I’ll miss those moments most of all as this series draws to a close.

 

I have no idea what to expect on Monday’s finale, but I’m sure I will shed a few tears. I know it’s only a show, but in my heart of hearts, I feel like I will be saying goodbye to a small part of my life tomorrow, happily and with bittersweet affection.

 

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