Tuesday, April 28, 2009

TRH Movie - 17 Again

(Please forgive me. I am typing on my BB because our computer is down. I'll fix spelling and grammar tomorrow!)

Yes, it's formulaic. Yes, I am about 15 (okay, maybe 20) years older than the target demograpic. Yes, it stars Zac Efron. But I was totally charmed by 17 Again.

The film, which sends Mike O'Donnell back to high school after he finds himself alienated by his kids and on the verge of divorce, had me laughing out loud more than I care to admit. The story -- a little bit Back to the Future crossed with a little bit of 13 Going on 30 -- is about redemption and second chances. It's heartwarming and kind, and simple. These days I seem to crave simple, innocent stories, maybe because they're so refeshingly honest and unpretentious. Who knows.

Matthew Perry (whose hair, so like Jason Priestly's (sp), has remained unchanged since I was in high school) plays Mike the Elder; Zac Efron plays Mike aka Mark before and after the school custodian casts the magic spell that sends him back. The usual teenage problems plague Mark, which, of course, lends itself to the comedy. The sweet centre of the story remains how Mike/Mark changes to save the life that he was almost about to lose.

Zac Efron surprised me. And I'll watch Matthew Perry in everything. Leslie Mann was great as Scarlet, Mike's high school sweetheart and almost ex-wife. Annnywaay, it's been ages since I'd been to the movies to see something fun and frivolous, and I'll take the teasing for seeing 17 Again. I'm a big girl.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

#21 - The Omnivore's Dilemma (Also #s 22, 23, 24 & 25)

Somehow, I feel like starting off this post being hyper-critical of myself: I should really be blogging more. I should keep writing even though I don't feel like it. I should do a lot of things. I know that Michael Pollan isn't purely being self aware with The Omnivore's Dilemma, but the introspective elements mixed in with his philosophical discussion of 'a natural history in four meals' definitely makes you think. The book hums along like any good documentary should -- it's rich in investigative journalism, full of interesting points of view about the current state of the food industry, and never fails to try and observe a situation from every angle possible.

Broken into three sections (although subtitled 'four' meals), Industrial, Pastoral and Personal, The Omnivore's Dilemma unearths many real and even some invented debate (his whole rationale for eating meat in the third section I found a little hard to stomach) behind how food is brought to the table. The first section of the book, where Pollan discusses and takes apart the industrial food chain, straight from a fast-food meal eaten in the car to the fact that by-products of corn are in just about every processed item in a grocery store, was utterly captivating. One part Fast Food Nation, another part 100-Mile Diet (which I haven't read all of yet), the sheer force by which farms have become industrialized combined with the unknown and ever-reaching ramifications made me hunger even more for the weather to heat up so I could get seeds in the ground for vegetables.

I also found Pastoral, where Pollan visits and works on a farm that lets animals be animals by having developed a very real, yet still domesticated (is that the right word?) ecosystem that not only feeds the people who live there, but also supplies many restaurants and customers in the area with fresh meat and vegetables, compelling. Never doubting the value of farmers, especially ones practicing organic and more ethical ways of reaping value from the land, The Omnivore's Dilemma points out dramatic differences between industrial farms and smaller, independent outfits.

The third section, as I mentioned above, lagged for me -- probably because, while notable, the idea of hunting and gathering my own food (that which I have not cultivated in my backyard), honestly has me stumped. I couldn't imagine heading out into the woods with a rifle and shooting a wild pig. Yet, I can understand why Pollan felt it necessary, especially with the level of scholarship around which he answers the question: "What should we have for dinner?" Also, I really hate mushrooms. Perhaps this isn't something I should hold against the book.

All in all, I spent much of Easter weekend reading this book. I had to pause for a moment because we had our Fall 2009 sales conference (for which I read two of the best fiction titles I've read in a long, long time: Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann and The Financial Lives of Poets by Jess Walter, #s 22 & 23; and one truly fantastic YA novel called The Amanda Project, #24) and there was much reading to be done (and shared), but managed to get right back into it once we were through last Friday. There is no way that I will ever think of corn in the same way again. There is no way I'll think of tofu in the same way again. There is no way, in fact, that I'll think of dinner in the same way again, if I'm being honest. And isn't that a most powerful thing for a book to do -- take a mundane and utterly human aspect of one's life and turn it inside out.

Annnywaay. Over the past few weeks, I've been under the weather, mentally, physically, but I've managed to keep the garden going (loads of flower seedlings coming up; everything that needed to be planted before the last frost is in), and keep my head above the metaphorical water enough to still read. Writing, however, still remains a challenge.

Oh, and #25? I finished up Marjorie Harris's delightful Ecological Gardening and learned many, many good tips. Not the least of which was a) that I shouldn't be watering at night (oops!), b) that I should really figure out a way to compost and c) that companion planting (nasturtiums here I come!) is really my friend.

READING CHALLENGES: I'm adding The Omnivore's Dilemma (which is actually the only book I've completed) to The Better You Read, The Better You Get Challenge. One down, nine to go. It's going to be a long year of self-improvement, I think.

WHAT'S UP NEXT: I'm halfway through Coelho's Veronika Decides to Die (Buffy is playing the lead in the film adaptation; I'm excited to see what she does with it, although I'm finding it hard to imagine how they crafted dialogue out of the author's heady narrative).

Thursday, April 09, 2009

#20 - Truth and Beauty

Already a fan of Ann Patchett, I knew I would probably enjoy her memoir, Truth and Beauty. When my friend Emma at work told me, no, insisted that I read it, I ordered up a copy and started it on the ride home from work last Friday. Um, I finished the book at about 10 AM on Saturday. Patchett, who befriends a gregarious, infamous girl from her college, Lucy Grealy, while both attend the infamous Iowa Writer's Workshop, writes about their "epic" (as the front cover blurbs) relationship.

Lucy Grealy, whose memoir, An Autobiography of a Face, propelled her to literary stardom before she succumbed to the lasting tragedy of a childhood illness, which resulted in thirty-eight surgeries, a lifetime of pain (literal and psychological), and a terrible drug addiction. People were simply attracted to Lucy -- they all knew who she was, and she gathered up friends and acquaintances, and filled up her world with them. Even though a rare form of Ewing's sarcoma left her face permanently altered, Lucy pushed on through life, scars showing inwardly and outwardly. While tragic, the point of the book, from my perspective anyway, was to truly exhalt the idea of friendship, how in some cases it simply pulls someone into your life forever.

While both writers struggle to start their careers at the beginning of the book, Truth and Beauty also narrates their successes. For Patchett, it came upon the publication of her fourth novel, Bel Canto; for Grealy's, it arrived suddenly with her memoir (and not from her poetry, per se). The two women support each other, derive inspiration from one another, and work extremely hard for many of the same goals (fellowships, etc.).

The most affecting part of the book for me, obviously, was Lucy's struggle with illness (I haven't read her book, by the way). There was a point in the memoir when Ann Patchett described how Lucy felt toward people suffering from disease with no outward symptoms, how unfair and/or angry (and I'm paraphrasing) this made her. In a way, I could relate -- the Wegener's has scarred my face (acne from the meds), bloats my features (prednisone), lost me a hip, and caused up and down weight gain (as has, um, age and inactivity!). But in another way, I could see what she was saying as well, that to walk around with a very physical reminder of how a disease had effectively ruined your face is quite different from dealing with some pimples and a few pounds.

Yet, I can't help thinking it was a little unfair (and perhaps I'm taking it a little too personally) to judge the amount of someone's suffering simply by outward scars of their disease. The Wegener's attacks my insides, makes me exhausted, puts me in fear for my organs, has ruined my lungs, and all kinds of other internal things that can't be seen. And I live with it every day. It's amazing, at times, to think that your body has the power to kill you when every ounce of your flesh has evolved to survive. There's a psychological struggle with disease that's there regardless of whether one has scars on the inside or out -- I suppose that's where I kind of determined there was a selfish streak to Patchett's dear friend.

Annnywaaay. Truth and Beauty is well worth the read. It's a good book to buy for your best friend just to send along to say, "I love you this much." To say, "if you had lost everything I would send you kitchen appliances and JCrew t-shirts too." To say, "this book says it so much better than I ever could."