I’m removing my nose from the grindstone for a few seconds to participate in the newest Weekly Photo Challenge. It’s all about signs. My interpretation of the Challenge was spotted on the way up to Pike’s Peak in Colorado Springs. Sadly, this is probably the closest I’ll ever get to Big Foot.
[ questionable quality photo of fireworks ]
I did it! I completed The 50/50 Reading Challenge! Woo Hoo!!! I actually read 50 books and watched 50 movies in 2012. Never mind that I crammed the last three books in after Christmas or that I finished watching my last movie at 11:30 pm on New Year’s Eve. It was all carefully planned out so that I could finish The Challenge in a frenzy of activity and drama. OK, there was no plan, but it does seem to be how I roll these days and it was an exciting finish.
There’s no doubt it was harder than I thought it would be. I’ve discovered I don’t like reading on a schedule. It’s too structured and pushy. Frankly, I felt rushed with no time for contemplation. I was also surprised at how much I really struggled to find the chunks of time needed for movie watching, especially toward the end of the year.
Despite the difficulties, (it is called The 50/50 Reading Challenge for a reason) this little endeavor was fun and meaningful. I became much more purposeful in my reading choices. I read some excellent books, branched out into genres I wouldn’t normally choose, and discovered some new favorite authors. I was motivated enough to read through the Bible as one of my books – something I have tried to do several times before without success. I developed a taste for old movies and found myself seeking them out as the year progressed. And now I get to bask in the glow of satisfaction that always comes from accomplishing a hard-won goal. It feels good, really good.
I’m not going to review the six books and seven movies I consumed in December that finally got me to my goal. That would be as cumbersome to write as it would be to read. Instead, I’ll just list and rate everything and you’ll just have to take my word for it (or not – whatever).
- The Andromeda Strain by Micheal Crichton (3.75/5 stars)
- The World According to Mr. Rogers: Important Things to Remember by Fred Rogers (4/5 stars)
- Gathering Blue (book 2 in The Giver series) by Lois Lowry (4.25/5 stars)
- Messenger (book 3 in The Giver series) by Lois Lowry (4.25/5 stars)
- Son (book 4 in The Giver series) by Lois Lowry (4.25/5 stars)
- The Bible (5/5 stars)
- Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) starring Judy Garland and Margaret O’Brien (4.25/5 stars)
- Life of Pi (2012) starring Suraj Sharma and Irrfan Khan (4/5 stars)
- The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, and Richard Armitage (4.5/5 stars)
- Miracle on 34th Street (1947) starring Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn, and Natalie Wood (4.5/5 stars)
- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) starring Dorothy McGuire, Joan Blondell, and James Dunn (4/5 stars)
- Scrooged (1988) starring Bill Murray, Karen Allen, John Forsythe, and Bobcat Goldthwait (3.75/5 stars)
- Wreck-It Ralph (2012) starring by John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, and Jane Lynch (3.75/5 stars)
The folks who got The 50/50 Reading Challenge ball rolling last year are at it again. If you are interested in attempting your own challenge for 2013, check out their new website here. I’ll warn you, it ain’t easy. But it is definitely worth it. And if you decide to give it a try, I wish you the very best of luck.
As for me, I think I’m going to take a pass this year. Because there are a finite numbers of hours in the day (The 50/50 Reading Challenge reminded me of this deep truth, too), I’m choosing to spend my time on other pleasures and travel in the culture consumption slow lane. The time has come to take the stress out of my favorite forms of relaxation 🙂
Now, will someone please toss me a party hat and a noise maker. I’ve got some serious celebrating to do! Scratch that. Just hand me a good book. I’d rather read than party any day.
November was a so-so movie watching month for me. I didn’t love any of the films I watched, but I didn’t hate them either. The original plan was to go on real dates with Mr. Whimsey to see new releases like Skyfall, Anna Karinina, and Lincoln. Unfortunately, the ever-present time squeeze that stifles the leisure activities in my life forbade such wanton fantasies as a date night. Instead I ended the month with a hodge-podge of acceptable vintage stuff that didn’t quite get me to my quota for the 50/50 reading Challenge. This just means that I’ll be trying to cram seven new movies into December when what I really want to be doing is sipping cocoa and re-watching holiday favorites like White Christmas, A Muppet Christmas Carol, and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
Holiday Affair (1949) starring Robert Mitchum, Janet Leigh, Wendell Corey. Janet Leigh plays a young war widow and mother who decides to marry a man she likes but doesn’t love for security and a stable environment for her son. Then she meets Robert Mitchum’s character and her plans becomes far less appealing. The very attractive Mr. Mitchum and the little boy who played Janet Leigh’s son were the best parts of the movie for me. For a classic holiday film, this was satisfactory but I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to watch it again. (3.5/5 stars)
Christmas in Connecticut (1945) starring Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan, Sydney Greenstreet. Barbara Stanwyck’s character makes her living sharing about life on her Connecticut farm with her husband and baby as she writes about the delicious food cooks for them. In reality, Ms. Stanwyck is a young, single, sophisticated city dweller who doesn’t know the first thing about cooking. The deceit is harmless until her clueless publisher decides he wants to spend the Christmas holiday with her on her farm. Joining him will be a war hero whose girlfriend wants him to discover the delights of domesticity. To save her job, she decides to marry a friend she likes but doesn’t love (recognize a theme here?) who just happens to own a farm in Connecticut. She never gets around to marrying the friend, ends up falling in love with the young soldier and many uncomfortable and funny situations develop. My favorite part of the whole movie? The sleigh ride, of course – what a romantic way to spend a December evening! (3.5/5 stars)
The Andromeda Strain (1971) starring Arthur Hill, David Wayne, James Olson, and Kate Reid. An extra-terrestrial micro-organism hitches a ride back to earth on a satellite and almost completely wipes out a small town in Arizona. Scientists race against time to discover the alien life form and protect the human race from annihilation. I struggle with older sci-fi movies because everything seems just a little hokey. It’s not the movie’s fault; it’s the curse of the inevitable progress of technology. But still, I struggled. Buddy picked this movie because he’d just finished reading the book. We all thought it was OK. I’m reading the book now and am finding it to be much more intense (in a good way) than the movie. (3/5 stars)
Office Space (1999) starring Ron Livingston, Jennifer Anniston, and David Herman. I don’t watch comedies very often. I’m always expecting them to be funnier then they really are and then I’m disappointed. Because this particular movie has reached cult status, I figured I would give it a try. Office Space pokes fun at the ridiculous culture and practices of corporate America. Some of the characterizations were just terrific and some of the scenes were hilarious. I think what makes it appealing to so many people is that we’ve all experienced some of the absurdities the movie highlights. Very little mental energy is required for viewing and some good belly laughs are involved. Not bad for a comedy. (3.5/5 stars)
I am nervous about fitting the last seven movies into December. It is already the middle of the month, I have so many other things to do, and I haven’t watched one flick that could count toward the 50/50 Reading Challenge. Yikes! I think I see a couple of movie marathons looming in my immediate future. Bring on the popcorn, Coca Cola, and wrapping paper. I guess it’s time for some intense multi-tasking this Yuletide season if I have any hope whatsoever of getting everything done.
After whining about the pressure of the 50/50 Reading Challenge in October, November turned out to be a great reading month for me. Not only did I read my quota of books to stay on track for the Challenge, I thoroughly enjoyed the stories I chose. Thoroughly. The selections are varied in style and theme but each one is a satisfying piece of writing. I heartily recommend every single book on this list.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. The San Francisco Examiner had this to say about Ms. Lee and her story:
“Miss Lee wonderfully builds the tranquil atmosphere of her Southern town, and as adroitly causes it to erupt a shocking lava of emotions.”
The difficult events that produce this “lava of emotions” unfold through the perception of a young girl named Scout. She offers us an intimate glimpse at the racial injustices and social stratification of early 20th century small town life in the America South. This is a well-written book laced with mystery and drama that left me feeling emotionally raw on more than one occasion. I now understand why it is considered an American classic. Why did it take me so long to read it? (4.5/5 stars)
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. Oh, my. Memoirs of a Geisha is everything that I love in a story: believable historical fiction, artful writing, a strong but imperfect female protagonist, and a detailed look into a lifestyle that is far removed from my own. In 1929, nine-year-old Sayuri is sold to the owner of a geisha house in Gion, Tokyo and her experiences become the absorbing plot of this book. Arthur Golden creates a rich and complicated world that, as a woman, I found fascinating and, at times, repulsive. Sayuri’s life is beautifully told and I was sad when the story ended. My sister-in-law has been recommending this book to me for a very long time. I’m glad I finally listened to her. (4.5/5 stars)
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. Again, oh my. I loved this story as much as Memoirs of a Geisha, but for entirely different reasons. The Thirteenth Tale is full of dark family secrets, mysteries, intriguing characters, a haunting or two, and a healthy dose of good old-fashioned madness. Just what the doctor ordered to briefly escape an over-scheduled and stressful modern life. I’m not even going to try to explain the plot or characters because the risk of giving something away is simply too great. I don’t want to ruin the pleasure for anyone who might be interested in this atmospheric treat. My mom has been trying to get me to read this book for a very long time. All I can say is it’s obvious that she knows me very well. (4.5/4 star)
The Giver by Lois Lowry. Please let me state for the record that I am not a big fan of dystopian literature. I either find it depressing (Brave New World) or infuriating (The Handmaid’s Tale) so I’ve pretty much ignored the avalanche of dystopian books that have appeared in the bookstores recently. However, The Giver is on many “must read” lists and is also a 1994 Newberry Award winner so I felt it would be worth a try. And, as a children’s novel, how bad could it really be, anyway? As it turns out, not bad at all. The utopia in The Giver is based on the ideas of painless existence and sameness. Unfortunately, in seeking a life without pain and variety, morality, creativity, and real feelings (good and bad) are extinguished. The protagonist, a twelve-year-old boy named Jonas, begins to realize what has truly been lost to create a safe, pain-free society when he becomes the sole Receiver of all memories. Although the ending was not satisfying, this was a quick, easy read which gave me much to ponder. (4/5 stars)
The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland – For a Little While by Catherynne M. Valente. Earlier this year I read The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. You can find the review here. I would consider The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland to be the prequel to that book. Ms. Valente does a fine job of explaining how the characters came to be a part of that story. I love the way she writes. I’m happy just reading the words she weaves together; they wouldn’t even have to tell a story and I’d probably still love every minute of it. At barely 70 pages, this book is a quick but gratifying snack of a tale. (4/5 stars)
I’m now almost halfway through the last month of this 50/50 Reading Challenge and I haven’t completed even one of the last six books I need to read. Am I panicking? A little. Time is precious this time of year and I am really feeling the lack of it. Pumpkins are rotting on my front porch, the Christmas tree has been standing in the living room undecorated for three days, and I haven’t shopped for a single gift. This December, though, the closer I get to Christmas, the more relaxed things will become. How weird is that? I am actually anticipating a few days of rest before the holiday arrives. And, as a back-up plan, I have two 5+ hour flights over the holidays to catch up on the reading I don’t finish before Christmas. I might have to engage in some marathon reading sessions over the next three weeks but I intend on finishing this challenge as a winner.
Because I struggled so much with reading in October, it may come as a bit of a surprise that adding five more movies to my 50/50 list was a piece of cake. I think I know why this happens. October was a mentally challenging month for me with regard to work and just generally stressful in every other area of my existence. When my life gets like this (which is happening far too frequently lately), I seek ways to completely escape.
As much as I love books as a means of escape, they take mental energy and focus. My brain has to create the world I’m reading about. Movies, on the other hand, create the world for me without any effort on my part. I just absorb what is going on and usually find it very relaxing – unless I’m watching something suspenseful like The Woman in Black. October was definitely a movie kind of month. I needed a lot of veggin’ out time to recover from the real world.
Dark Shadows (2012) starring Johnny Depp, Michelle Peiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green, and Johnny Lee Miller. Johnny Depp, who plays Barnabas Collins, is turned into a vampire by a scorned love interest/witch and is then buried for almost 200 years. After being accidentally dug up by some excavators, he returns to his home to find his mansion in disrepair and his family almost destitute. The rest of the movie follows his attempt to turn things around and chronicles his ongoing battles with the same sexy witch.
I didn’t care for this movie at all. The plot line was fuzzy with so many secondary (and tertiary) storylines popping in and out that my head was spinning. As a parent, I felt it was too sexually suggestive for my kids. And frankly, I really wanted it to be funnier. I won’t be watching this one again – I barely finished it the first time. (2/5 stars)
Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) starring Charlize Theron, Kristen Stewart, and Chris Hemsworth. I was pleasantly surprised by this creative retelling of the Snow White fairy tale. Charlize Theron was simply perfect as the beautiful and terrible evil queen. Chris Hemsworth was exactly what you would expect him to be: the tough-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside, easy-on-the-eyes huntsman who helps Snow White escape the queen’s power. I admit Kristen Stewart would not be my first choice for the leading role, simply because she doesn’t look at all like the Snow White of my imagination. Also, her character makes some abrupt personality changes toward the end of the movie that I struggled to reconcile with my ideal. Finally, the movie was too long. Despite these small grievances, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. (3.75/5 stars)
Mad Love (1935) starring Peter Lorre, Francis Drake, and Ted Healy. About once a month, Mr. Whimsey travels overnight for his job. It was just this kind of night, while I was feeling especially bored and lonely, that I stumbled upon Mad Love while channel surfing. IMDb describes the movie like this:
“An insane surgeon’s obsession with an actress leads him to replace her wounded pianist’s hands with the hands of a knife murderer which still have the urge to throw knives.”
The movie was short (only 68 minutes) but adequately disturbing. Francis Drake is simply lovely to look at and Peter Lorre effortlessly plays the creepy, mad doctor. Don’t expect anything deep, profound, or truly scary with this film. It’s just pure entertainment from the Depression Era highlighting one man’s passionate and sinister obsession. (3/5 stars)
Moonrise Kingdom (2012) starring Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton. In this wonderfully quirky movie, two 12-year-old friends run away twice to escape their miserable lives in a town somewhere in New England. I cannot say enough good things about this movie. It is superbly casted and acted. It is nuanced and layered with meaning. It is nostalgic without being sickening. It is visually satisfying. It examines love, loneliness, and relationships of all kinds without making judgements. I found it to be sweet, refreshing, and rewarding – a fabulous way to spend 94 minutes. I’ll be watching this film again! (4.5/5 stars)
The Woman in Black (2012) starring Daniel Radcliffe and Ciarán Hinds. Occasionally I enjoy a good ghost story (e.i., The Others and The Sixth Sense). With its opulently atmospheric and neglected mansion in the middle of a misty marsh, its evil ghost, and its lonely main character solidly played by Daniel Radcliffe, The Woman in Black certainly fits this category. The main ghost is appropriately wicked and appears throughout the movie, terrorizing the village as well as Daniel while he stays at the mansion.
This is no blood and guts horror flick. It is just great psychological suspense (or torture as I prefer to call it) and is very scary. I watched this movie with my daughter (Lovey) who is sixteen and my son (Buddy) who is thirteen. Lovey screamed so much my husband felt the need to come downstairs to check on us. I was a sweaty mess by the time the movie ended. Buddy slept with his light on for two nights afterward because he was sure the Woman in Black was standing in the corner of his room and the mud boy was going to ooze up through his carpet. I’m happy to report we’ve all recovered and can laugh about our ridiculous behavior but we all agree it was a darn scary flick. (4.5/5 stars)
Including the month of October, I’ve watched 39 films in 2012. That means I only have 11 more movies to go until the end of the year. I have a feeling many of those films will be new releases. There are so many good ones coming out in the next two months. Have you seen any good movies lately? I’d love to hear about them.