Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Book Review - The Folded Clock

Some books are like pillows. You can not get a sense of their shape and substance no matter how hard  you grip them. Yet they comfort.  Books like these are usually very good books    Such is The Folded Clock, a diary of two years in the life of author Heidi Julavits. (Ignore the reviews: this is not the diary of a sick woman.)

From this book I learned  about the Wansee / final solution conference and New England heritage families and Edith Wharton’s husband and possibly poisonous  apricot kernels and giornate and the trap door in the road way of the Brooklyn Bridge. (This Heidi has had a great life so far!)

The diary is mostly chronological and shows the musings of a writer’s mind as she travels through her days. She examines our shared secret thoughts: the real cracks that exist between between even the closest of friends; imaginings of the worst case scenarios for our kids’ lives; and the guilt of keeping a gift you bought for someone else. She boldly lays out uncomfortable truths  - that women praise the beauty of unattractive women; that they date men to try on new worlds and identities; that they lose their filters as they age in order to be seen.
I highly recommend this book that appears  to have no reason to be. But is, in the most glorious of ways.
Book 2

Monday, January 21, 2019


One  - one - copy of a remarkable document survived the Holocaust: the minutes of the Wannsee Conference at which the Final Solution was delineated and pledged to. I became aware of this reading The Folded Clock - an unusual diary/memoir by the author Heidi Julavits. 

The document outlines in great detail - like board game rules  -  who will be allowed to live and die; how they will be moved; who will kill them; where they will be killed. (Like Thomas Jefferson before them, every effort is made to have their ultimate evil deeds done at their direction, but outside of their view.)  Some "mixed-bloods" can be saved by their attachment to a "German". However, even they will be killed if they look like a Jew or act like one.

It got me thinking about this mash-up of nationality with genetics and religion. In Nazi Germany, a Jew could not also be a German.  How is this? Is this what explains the blindness to Colin Kaepernick's patriotism? Or the refusal to acknowledge Dreamers as Americans in every way except on paper? 

Current events have prompted many to ask what an American looks like. But in this we have a question that has no answer because being an American is a state of mind. My being an American is not tied to the texture of my hair or my spiritual beliefs. Nor is it contained by the boundary of 50 states. Wherever I go, I will be one. Wherever I came from, I am one. Which must mean that anyone can become one - wherever they came from, whatever they look like. It simply must. 

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Book Review - My Life with Mr S

In this 2002 memoir, Frank Sinatra's valet of over a decade spills the beans. Or does he? This isn't a gossip book. It pretty much just adds color to the image we already know: talent, women, gangsters, politicians and ultimately seclusion as Sinatra's Hollywood became a thing of the past. 

This is a wonderful time capsule of Hollywood as it names names and addresses. We learn about Mia Farrow's hippie-ness and longing for children, and Marilyn Monroe's poor grooming habits and lack of interest in material things. (Which explains the pictures of her empty bedroom at her death and why she moved to that house.) The allure of Ava Gardener and Humphrey Bogart as well as the shadiness of Joe Kennedy senior is palpable when told by someone who served them drinks and pool towels.  

And Johnny Fontaine, the singer given the Vegas gig by the mob in "The Godfather" film? Yeah, that's totally the Sinatra story.  There may not have been a decapitated horse, but he dealt closely with killers so there was probably a bloody something left somewhere. 

A good read if you are a romantic for Old Hollywood. 

Film Review - Mary Poppins Returns

Mary Poppins Returns SPOILERS

I cannot recommend this. 

So sorry. 

The original was about the sour bite beneath the sweetness of life. The medicine needs sugar and laughing too much might make you sick. Losing a loved one or a house is not needed to ramp up the stakes in life. Think about it: did the Banks family have any serious practical worries? No. The original film is about perspective and attitude - even when you have the elements to make a good life. It is a very pretty picture and some scenes captured the essence. However, there was not enough variety in the score. Angela Landsbury and Meryl Streep should have switched roles. (Can someone please insist that Streep never appear in turban again?) Miranda and Blunt were underserved by the script. They could have innovated a bit more - maybe this time dance with puffins instead of penguins? 

Finally - and this in my book is unforgiveable - I don’t know how ANY writer who loved the original could base the climax and cheer of this sequel on Michael NOT having giving the tuppence to the bird lady.
I wrote this a week ago. Poppins is my favorite Disney film and I admit to being protective and picky, but I think this is a fair assessment. 

 Perhaps some things are masterpieces of their time  and do not need to be re-made. 

Lord help me when Toy Story 4 comes out. 

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Book Review - "Who is Michael Ovitz?"

“Who is Michael Ovitz?”

A fascinating and fast read. It’s all here, the growth of CAA, decline of Lew Wasserman, MGM and MCA, his departure from CAA, the Picasso Eisner had to give Robin Williams, being fired from Disney, David Letterman’s battle for the Tonight Show, the “gay mafia” and his third act as a wildly successful Silicon Valley investor. 

Ovitz is certainly an egotist but there’s no denying his hard work, vision and success. If you worked in entertainment between 1988 - 2006 no doubt you will get some juicy details on a story you were attached to and enjoy hearing Ovitz’ POV on the rest. And he names names. 

Memoirs are often criticized for not being objective. But that’s part of the fun of it and also the authorial subjectivity tells you something about the person that no one else can. 

Monday, September 10, 2018

Book Review - "Severance: A Novel" by Ling Ma

Post-apocalyptic novels work on the premise that all was fine before the bad event. The best thing about this one is that it shows that what came before the big event was itself the apocalypse. It’s popular with millennials as it suggests that rot results from our routine & meaningless walk through life. It is also right on trend with AI thinkers who question whether your daily existence is different than that of a closed loop robot/zombie. Is it?

And just when you think that is quite enough to chew on, Ma also gives you a background immigration story that pairs like a fine wine with an apocalyptic migration story. But, wait, there’s more! It’s also a coming to maturity story which works well with the theme of the acceptance of inconvenient truths - known as “adulting”. 

You will find a lot to like here. I made sure to collect this as a first/first. Let me know what you think.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Hillbilly Elegy - A Companion Reader from the View of a Black Person


J.D. Vance starts  his memoir with a confession. I will start this commentary with one. I confess that I did not want to read this book as it seemed nothing but an excuse for why poor, rural, white people voted for Donald Trump. It may yet turn out to be that.

I am struck,  however,  by what I think Vance's actual goal was: to explain the effects of poverty and its attendant social isolation without the distraction of the racial filter.

What Vance does not know though is that there is always a racial filter. Even the fact that he seeks to explain poverty in a white environment so people can "get it" has the cloud of the white filter.

Trust me. Black people of all socioeconomic levels get how "deep anger and resentment" lead their communities to despair, turning them into "hub(s) of misery". Nevertheless, Vance diligently and earnestly seeks to explain how the demons of that life, even when "left behind" continue to haunt a life.

This is evidence  that the racial filter simply cannot be dropped: what Vance doesn't seem to know is that  black people do not ever get to leave that life behind - even if they were never actually in it (me); even if they transcend it. Just ask Obama.

Still, I will  continue to read and reflect as I go, but as a black, city-centered woman, I expect I will learn much more about living in rural America than I will about climbing the jungle gym to The American Dream. But if Vance thought I would be surprised about the desperate lives of some poor white people,  he has another think coming.

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Book Review - The Folded Clock