Monday, January 31, 2011
What: We all love Sarah Vowell, right? Well, I'm just reminding you that she exists. And, in my humble opinion, Take the Cannoli is her best --- and most personal --- book. Essay topics include: the Godfather movies (hence the title), driving lessons with Ira Glass, her relationship with her gun-nut father, and a trial run as a goth.
Comparable to: Many of the pieces first appeared on This American Life. So, yes, that.
Representative quote: "Nothing scares me more than driving. I can't even ride a bike without mangling my digits and hitting parked cars. I've always been terrified that I'd get behind the wheel and it would turn into one of those death scenes in a Shangri-Las song with bystanders screaming, 'Lookoutlookoutlookoutlookout!'"
You might not like it if: Um, everyone loves Sarah Vowell, right?
How to get it: Easy to get online or at a library, but it would be a really satisfying find at a used bookstore.
Sunday, January 30, 2011
What: Charlie Mortdecai is an art dealer without conscience who finds himself in some, er, . . . challenging situations. [Sidebar: Why is the amoral art dealer such a popular character? I'm facing one of my bookcases now, and I can spot three or four examples of this without moving my head. Hmm, something to contemplate on your Monday.] Anyway, please enjoy Kyril Bonfiglioli's book, which is full of immoral, very sarcastically funny, international hijinks.
Comparable to: Like someone let Dylan Moran loose in a P.G. Wodehouse novel. But with more torture scenes. Oh, do you like the show Archer? You will like this.
Representative quote: "'Idle, intelligent, devious; a survivor,' read the summary of my character on my last school report, and I have not changed."
You might not like it if: Charlie Mortdecai's posh, insider-y references bug you.
How to get it: Hit-or-miss whether your bookstore will have it. Libraries and online sources probably will. Also, look for the sequels: Something Nasty in the Woodshed and After You with the Pistol. Or, you can get all three in one volume (The Mortdecai Trilogy). Someone else also finished a fourth Mortdecai book (The Great Mortdecai Moustache Mystery) after Bonfiglioli died.
Saturday, January 29, 2011
What: If, when you hear the name George Bernard Shaw, you think of Pygmalion or Man and Superman, you might not realize that Shaw is very, very funny. Misalliance is a joyful, ironic, fast farce. It has the requisite "house in the English countryside" setting and, as the title hints, plenty of couplings and uncouplings as the younger generation of a family breaks through the older generation's Victorian mindset. Plus, we get the incomparable Lina Szczepanowska*, who does her part to shake things up.
Comparable to: If you like Oscar Wilde, you will probably like this. Fewer aphorisms, but more character development.
Representative quote: "Papa, buy the brute for me."
You might not like it if: You don't really like reading plays.
How to get it: In print, it's probably going to show up in a volume with other Shaw plays, in which case I recommend getting the Misalliance/Heartbreak House combo. Or, you can download it to your Kindle. Also, I have yet to see a really great production of this play that I adore, so someone please make that happen. Thank you.
Connection to previous Wreckage: George Bernard Shaw makes an appearance in Rec. #12: The Tournament. An excerpt: "It's hard to know which was more impressive, Shaw's play or the remarks he made about his intentions before he started."
*Fun fact: When I was in high school, I used one of Lina's monologues as an audition piece because I was on a Shaw kick at the time and I liked the character so much. It is possible that I am quite an odd duck.
Friday, January 28, 2011
What: Robin Tunney is a woman wrongly accused of vehicular homicide who is under house arrest with an electronic ankle monitor. Tim Blake Nelson is the officer in charge of checking the monitor. Also appearing: Jason Priestly and Liz Phair. Mix these ingredients together, and you might expect to get a kitschy, wacky, winking comedy. That is definitely not what this is. Mainly, it's eccentric and sweet. And a liiiiiittle bit violent and kinky. But, really, mostly eccentric and sweet. And nothing like the DVD cover art.
Comparable to: Definite tonal similarities to Lars and the Real Girl. Except that Cherish turns into a thriller for the last twenty minutes.
You might not like it if: The tone doesn't work for you, and you would like the movie to pick just one genre, please. Also, you are sick of eccentric and sweet.
How to get it: Might be best to Netflix it. That way you won't be distracted by the very misleading cover art.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
What: The full title is Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century. That sums it up pretty well! Psychologist Lauren Slater examines ten famous and/or controversial experiments, including B.F. Skinner's work on behaviorism. Slater might remind you of the college professor for that class you took that wasn't in your major, but you enjoyed it so much you thought about changing your major (but didn't).
Comparable to: Oliver Sacks or Janet Malcolm.
Representative quote: "So this, perhaps, is the story. There's a man called Skinner, which is an ugly name by any account, a name with a knife in it, an image of a skinned fish flopping on a dock, its heart barely visible in its mantle of muscle, ka-boom."
You might not like it if: You wish the author were more clinical and dispassionate because science is serious.
How to get it: Readily available. Remember, though: Even though it is creative nonfiction, it is still nonfiction. You will not find it in the fiction section.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
What: A Spot of Bother is Mark Haddon's follow-up novel to the hugely successful The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Haddon broadens his scope to examine the inner workings of an entire family. We meet: George, having a very polite mental breakdown; Jean, who is quite enjoying her affair, thank you; Katie, who is getting remarried; Ray, the fiance whom nobody likes; and Jamie, who neglects to invite his boyfriend to the wedding. The result is quietly and consistently hilarious.
Representative quote: "The secret of contentment, George felt, lay in ignoring many things completely."
Bonus representative quote: "How did Ray do it? One moment he was dominating a room the way a lorry would. Next minute he was down a hole and asking you for help. Why couldn't he suffer in a way they could all enjoy from a safe distance?"
You might not like it if: These people are quiet and British, and that annoys you.
How to get it: Pretty easy to find, and --- bonus! --- most editions have excellent cover art. Also, the French made a film (Une Petite Zone de Turbulences) based on the book, so you can give that a try.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
What: The Hitchcock film that Hitch never made. Wait Until Dark is an honest-to-goodness thriller starring Audrey Hepburn as a blind woman who is terrorized by drug-running thugs, including Alan Arkin at his badass best (before he became everyone's spunky grandpa). A real treat in the film is the flip of how darkness is used to ratchet up the suspense. Here, darkness is an asset to the protagonist, not a liability. Oh, and see Ms. Hepburn holding that match? That's a threat.
Comparable to: The film is based on a play by Frederick Knott, who also wrote Dial M for Murder. The two stories definitely have similarities, but Wait Until Dark is creepier.
Representative quote: "I have your knife, Mr. Roat." (In context, that line gives me chills.)
You might not like it if: The late-'60s vibe grates on you and you wonder where Susy's iPhone is.
How to get it: No matter how you watch it, this is the key: For the last 15 minutes of the film, turn off all the lights. Theaters were instructed to do that when the movie first came out, and it is still very good advice.
Monday, January 24, 2011
What: Nora Jane stories have popped up in Ellen Gilchrist's short fiction collections for almost thirty years. Here, the stories are finally collected and ordered chronologically, in the order Nora Jane lives them. Let me tell you a few things about Nora Jane Whittington. She is a self-taught anarchist. She is caught on the Golden Gate Bridge during an earthquake. She has twin daughters. It is not entirely clear who the biological father of her daughters is. Her mother is a drunk. Her grandmother is an opera singer. She robs a bar disguised as a nun.
Comparable to: Gilchrist shares Alice Munro's knack for using regionally-specific short fiction to dig into daily life. She's more fanciful than Munro, though.
Representative quote: "It was only fate, the I Ching assured him. A fateful flaw that would cause disaster and ruin but not of his own doing and therefore nothing to worry about."
You might not like it if: You find you cannot stand the central character. Personally, I adore Nora Jane but have trouble with Rhoda Manning, another Gilchrist character with her own set of stories.
How to get it: Even if you can't find this particular book, you can track down Nora Jane stories in other Gilchrist collections, such as Victory Over Japan, Light Can Be Both Wave and Particle, and The Courts of Love.
Sunday, January 23, 2011
What: P.G. Wodehouse is best known for his stories about Reginald Jeeves and Bertie Wooster*, but the prolific author wrote many non-Jeeves-and-Wooster books as well --- more than 60 of them, in fact. For my money, the Earl of Ickenham (lead character in Cocktail Time) is one of Wodehouse's most delightful creations. A gray-haired Puck, his self-proclaimed mission in life is "spreading sweetness and light." Needless to say, he more often spreads mayhem and misunderstandings.
Representative quote: "Nannie Bruce, a tall, gangling light-heavyweight with a suggestion in her appearance of a private in the Grenadiers dressed up to play the title role in Charley's Aunt, was one of those doggedly faithful retainers who adhere to almost all old families like barnacles to the hulls of ships."
You might not like it if: You hate fun and good times.
How to get it: Overlook Press puts out stunning editions of P.G. Wodehouse books.
Connections to past Wreckage: I previously mentioned Overlook Press in "Rec. #10: Territory." Also, Wodehouse appears in John Clarke's The Tournament (Rec. #12).
* In my mind, by the way, Jeeves and Wooster will always and forever look like this:
Saturday, January 22, 2011
What: James Baldwin's first collection of short stories is by turns wise, wry, and heartbreaking. You might have read Baldwin's work in college as an illustration of racial and/or sexual issues in the U.S in the mid-20th century. It's alarming how little has changed and how relevant the characters' hopes and fears still are. Whether this says more good things about Baldwin's formidable skill at cutting to universal truths or bad things about our lack of progress as a society, I'll leave for you to judge.
Comparable to: Maya Angelou cites Baldwin as a major influence.
Representative quote: "There's no way not to suffer. But you try all kinds of ways to keep from drowning in it."
You might not like it if: You are already so depressed about the state of the world that one more little nudge would be enough to send you over the edge.
How to get it: Libraries! Big bookstores! Little bookstores! Used bookstores! Face it, they could all probably use our help.
Friday, January 21, 2011
What: In this 2003 movie, a floundering Broadway songwriter goes to work at a musical theater retreat for young performers, but --- and you'll just have to trust me on this --- it is not "Fame goes to summer camp." Although some of the characters are recognizable types (the wallflower, the closet case, the diva, the schemer, the one straight dude), they are all interesting to watch, and the young cast does an amazing job with both the acting and the performance numbers. Oh, and did you think Up in the Air had Anna Kendrick's breakout role? Just watch. She's so good in this, she'll scare you. (Seriously. She's quite scary.)
Comparable to: Well, this is what I wish Glee were, if that helps at all.
Representative quote: "The foundation that's laid here is not going to help you in the real world. It's going to lead to waitressing jobs and bitterness and the obsessive, pointless collecting of out-of-print original cast albums."
You might not like it if: You don't like musicals because you can't stand all that singing.
How to get it: Buy or borrow. It's also available to watch instantly on Netflix. Plus, I should mention that the movie includes a cameo from a very beloved figure in contemporary musical theater. Very beloved.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
What: In The Reaper, Peter Lovesey spins the traditional British cozy mystery novel on its head, letting a popular and charming (and murderous) parish priest run rampant in the English countryside. Even as the evidence builds against him, parishioners remain steadfast in their devotion to the Reverend Otis Joy. The result is pure, wicked fun.
Comparable to: Have you seen In Bruges? (Yes? Good! No? Oh, we'll get there later this year.) Well, the tone is kind of like that.
Representative quote: "After a wedding rehearsal in the church --- but before rigor mortis set in --- Joy returned to the rectory, his pastoral duties over for the day. He felt as shaky as anyone does with a dead bishop waiting for disposal, but he was in control. He trusted himself not to panic."
You might not like it if: The premise kind of ooks you out.
How to get it: Readily available and easy to spot --- just look for the distinctive green and white Soho Crime covers.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
What: A death at a fashion show goes from "accidental" to "murder investigation," and a student blogger who is filming behind the scenes captures some telling footage. The film is written and directed by Sally Potter and takes the form of a series of talking heads. The marvelous cast includes (deep breath): Judi Dench, Steve Buscemi, Bob Balaban, Lily Cole, Eddie Izzard, Jude Law (striking in drag), John Leguizamo, and Dianne Wiest. For me, the highlight is not just the cast, but the casting. The actors were clearly painstakingly chosen for their specific roles. This is important, because the short monologues, tightly shot, don't allow any room for shortcuts or cheats.
Comparable to: The piece-y, character-driven qualities of Altman films.
Representative quote: "Humans are, quite simply, the greatest destroyers of all time."
You might not like it if: You can't get past the pretensions of the premise. (It's supposedly shot on a cell phone by a blogger, themes include the democratization of art, etc.) Or if you think it's boring to watch people talk.
How to get it: The usual ways, but really, if you can, try watching it on your computer. It works best on a smaller screen.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
What: The poet Wislawa Szymborska* won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996. The collection Monologue of a Dog includes 26 poems in their English translations alongside the original Polish. Stay with me, now. Symborska comes across as a writer who did not say, "I'm going to write some poems, watch me go," but instead began with, "I have some perfectly formed nuggets of thought. How shall I best present them?" The beauty, simplicity, and clarity of the poems remain intact through the translation, which is saying something when each word matters so much.
Comparable to: The light touch in the tone of Emily Dickinson, but Szymborska is much more interested in how the mundane details of everyday (often indoor) life build to bigger things.
Representative quote: "I'm still asleep, / but meanwhile facts are taking place."
You might not like it if: No poetry, no way, no how for you. (Just give it a bit of a chance, though. It's short!)
How to get it: If a place has a poetry section, you'll probably find a Szymborska collection there. Highly recommended as a book to take with you on public transit for a couple of reasons: 1) Frequent interruptions don't faze the short poems, and 2) You'll have something to think about when you pause to look out the window.
*Once you've got the hang of it, Szymborska is very fun to say.
Monday, January 17, 2011
What: There is a village called Frip. The people there milk goats. There are these things called gappers. They make the goats freak out. This makes the people in the village freak out. Our heroine is a girl named Capable. Saying anything else would give away crucial plot points of this very brilliant little fable, so I won't.
Comparable to: Something written by George Saunders and illustrated by Lane Smith. Which it is.
Representative quote: "And both Ronsen girls stood very still, and looked sort of pretty, if you like the kind of girl who, to look sort of pretty, has to stand very still."
You might not like it if: I don't know. I think everyone loves this book.
How to get it: The usual places. I would suggest buying instead of borrowing, though. The book is gorgeous and you'll want to keep it.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
What: Just so you know, I am a huge fan of screwball comedies from the 1930s and '40s. Quick patter, drunk old men saying funny things, dogs jumping in during inopportune moments --- these are things that do not get old. In The Palm Beach Story, Claudette Colbert tries to divorce her inventor husband for his own good. But who cares, really? The movie's got Mary Astor! And Rudy Vallee in tiny glasses! We love Mary Astor! And we love Rudy Vallee in tiny glasses! Plus, there's the Ale and Quail Club, and the Wienie King, . . . and did I mention it was directed by Preston Sturges?
Comparable to: Other screwball comedies. Think Some Like It Hot, The Lady Eve, Bringing Up Baby, The Awful Truth. You get the idea.
Representative quote: "That's one of the tragedies of this life --- that the men who are most in need of a beating up are always enormous."
You might not like it if: You are emphatically not a fan of screwball comedies from the 1930s and '40s.
How to get it: Libraries, stores, online. It's also available to watch instantly on Netflix.
Saturday, January 15, 2011
What: [Contains spoiler! But it's not the point of the book! So don't worry!] Two high school misfits investigate the question posited on the cover above: "Did Mr. Hulka really kill his wife and hide her head in the television set?" In most other young adult novels, the answer would be, "No, it was just a wacky misunderstanding." Here, the answer is, gleefully, "Yup! He did!" The mystery is not really the point of the story, though. The point is that it's solved by Bobby, who imagines his life in headlines, and Lauri, who is almost paralyzed by incessant thoughts of all the ways she could be killed. Most of all, the point is that Paul Zindel writes about them as people, not just high schoolers.
Comparable to: Adam Langer, but more whimsical.
Representative quote: "The kids just kept staring at each other as though in silent agreement that the world was for the most part unjust and often very noisy."
You might not like it if: You're not in the mood for YA books right now, thank you.
How to get it: You're in luck! According to Amazon, a new edition is set for U.S. publication next week.
Friday, January 14, 2011
What: It's a testament to Susan Orlean's skill that her first major book, Saturday Night, holds up so well. Each essay is devoted to one way that people around the U.S. spend the traditional weekly night out. Through the book, we get to spend Saturday nights with people who are attending a quinceanera, babysitting, polka dancing, hosting a Park Avenue dinner party, and keeping watch in a missile silo, among other things.
Comparable to: Orlean's style has remained pretty consistent, so if you've read any of her later essays or books, such as The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup or the The Orchid Thief (inspiration for the movie Adaptation), you'll know what to expect.
Representative quote: "A short guy in a duffel coat, who looked as if he were trying to intersect with a blind date, stood a few feet away, smoothing his hair every few moments and breaking into a weak smile each time a girl veered in his direction, then, as she veered away, smoothing his hair again and frowning." (on a Saturday night in Harvard Square)
You might not like it if: The only Saturday nights you want to hear about are your own.
How to get it: Sadly, it's out of print. Go forth to the used bookstores and the libraries. (And, yes, also the Internet.)
Thursday, January 13, 2011
What: I freely admit to being a devotee of television writer Paul Abbott. Touching Evil, Reckless, Clocking Off, State of Play, Alibi --- I love all of it. Right now, though, I'm thinking a lot about Shameless, his semi-autobiographical creation. The first episode of the U.S. remake aired this past weekend, and I am fiercely protective of the original series. The depressing-sounding premise: The six Gallagher siblings fend for themselves because their mum's run off and their dad's worse than useless. In creator Abbott's hands, though, the show is clever, authentic, unsentimental, and delightfully filthy.
Comparable to: Paul Abbott has a knack for writing completely according to himself. Not only does he avoid expected tropes, he doesn't smugly react against them either.
You might not like it if: You have a low tolerance for British swearing, or underage drinking, or nine-year-old kidnappers, or complacent car thieves, or agoraphobic nymphomaniacs.
How to get it: In the U.S., this first season is available on DVD. If you want a taste, search YouTube for the original title sequence, which briefly introduces each of the Gallaghers. (If you see William H. Macy, you've got the wrong version.)
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
What: Loitering with Intent is a novel about a novel. It is very funny, very dry, and very loosely autobiographical. The story begins with Fleur Talbot working as the secretary for the Autobiographical Association while she finishes her first novel, Warrender Chase. When her employer filches the manuscript, scenes from the book start coming true. Soon, members of the association want very badly to see the book destroyed. Muriel Spark manages to make the fictitious manuscript Warrender Chase the riveting focus without actually including excerpts from it. This proves to be an excellent strategy.*
Comparable to: For some reason, I have a slight tendency to confuse Spark with A.S. Byatt. This is odd because the two authors really are not very similar. If anything, Spark's style is more like that of Byatt's sister, Margaret Drabble.
Representative quote: "The memoirs written by the members of the Autobiographical Association, although none had got beyond the first chapter, already had a number of factors in common. One of them was nostalgia, another was paranoia, a third was a transparent craving on the part of the authors to appear likable."
You might not like it if: Thrillers about people stealing manuscripts don't thrill you.
How to get it: There are several different editions floating around out there in libraries and bookstores. None of them have good covers.
*Note to writers: When one of your characters is supposed to be a very talented author, it is never a good idea to include examples of that character's writing. The reader's response is, inevitably, "Eh." (Also, it is kind of like boasting, and no one likes that.)
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
What: Illustrious figures from the 20th century participate in an epic tennis tournament. This book gives the play-by-play, both on court and off, in a long string of inside jokes. The more you know about the participants, the funnier the book is. A few of the "players": Monet, Twain, Chaplin, Earhart, Benchley, Garbo, and Arendt.
Comparable to: Even though its subtitle is "A Novel of the 20th Century," Clarke's book is really more of a novelty collection, along the lines of Schott's Miscellany or John Hodgman's The Areas of My Expertise.
Representative quote: "Nijinsky continues to look fabulous, although after the match he described himself as 'The Supreme Being' and offered to describe how he created the world. Friends say this is not a good sign."
You might not like it if: It seems too gimmicky for you.
How to get it: Buy it or borrow it. I saw a copy in a used bookstore just this past weekend.
Connection to previous Wreckage: In the book, Alfred Hitchcock makes an appearance on Day 2 and is described as "the slightly eerie Fred Hitchcock." He first appeared on this blog in "Rec. #5: Rope." I did not use the word "eerie" in my post.
Monday, January 10, 2011
What: This film is in black-and-white and its original title was In the Bleak Midwinter, but don't let that fool you. I mean, look at this picture! (Jennifer Saunders and Joan Collins, sitting next to a cardboard cutout and looking dubious.) Does that seem bleak to you? No. No, it does not. Saunders and Collins are just part of the stellar cast in this wry story of an out-of-work actor who volunteers to stage a production of Hamlet in a small village. Other notables include Richard Briers, Nicholas Farrell, Celia Imrie, Michael Maloney, Julia Sawalha, and John Sessions.
Comparable to: A less folksy Christopher Guest movie, minus the documentary frame.
"Hamlet isn't just Hamlet. Oh no, no, no. Oh, no. Hamlet is me. Hamlet is Bosnia. Hamlet is this desk. Hamlet is the air. Hamlet is my grandmother. Hamlet is everything you ever thought about sex, about geology . . ."
"In a very loose sense, of course."
You might not like it if: Black-and-white movies give you a headache.
How to get it: Could be a bit tricky. From what I can tell, you can't Netflix it, and Amazon doesn't currently have it in stock. You can buy it used, though, or you might be able to get it from your library.
Sunday, January 9, 2011
What: Buzz abounds for the Coen brothers' new adaptation of True Grit.* Why not take this opportunity to revisit another famous Western? With Territory, Emma Bull retells the story of Doc Holliday and the Earp brothers. In doing so, she also introduces a subtle thread of magic into the action. I know combining fantasy with Western/historical fiction sounds iffy, but believe me --- it works. (No horses actually emerge from trees.)
Comparable to: Mercedes Lackey's Elemental Masters series follows similar logic.
Representative quote: "Do you know why one can't take the law into one's own hands? Because the law is too big to fit in one pair of hands. So if you feel you've got a comfortable grip on whatever you're holding, you can be pretty sure it's not the law."
You might not like it if: Sorry, folks. No Jeff Bridges here. (Or John Wayne. Or Kirk Douglas or Burt Lancaster or Kurt Russell or Val Kilmer, for that matter.)
How to get it: It's downloadable, buyable, and borrowable.
*NB: Overlook Press, I love you --- I even wrote a paper on you in grad school! --- but please, please stop retweeting every mention of the original True Grit novel by Charles Portis.
Saturday, January 8, 2011
What: Author Jenny McPhee excels at combining disparate themes and topics in delightful ways. The novel No Ordinary Matter brings together soap operas, musicals, private detection, and neurology. It sounds frenetic, but somehow it's not. McPhee's tone is playful, yet grounded.
Comparable to: Some of the farce of Shakespearean comedy, a pinch of Shannon Olson's tone, with a dash of Tom Robbins-type flights of fancy.
Representative quote: "Veronica began to put her clothes back on. She sensed impending doom and wanted to be dressed for it."
You might not like it if: You have absolutely no interest in, or curiosity about, the writing of soap operas, the creation of musicals, the practice of private detection, or the theories of neurology.
How to get it: It's probably available in your library system, it's possibly in stock at your local bookstore, and it's definitely downloadable to your Kindle.
Friday, January 7, 2011
Well, I've made it through my first week of daily recommendations. Thanks for reading and commenting on my posts. And thanks to friends who mentioned The Daily Wreck on their blogs. (I'm looking at you, potatoandpiper and metropotamia!)
If I could draw, I would put a little thank-you picture right here:
But I can't. So instead I'm giving you a bonus post ("Bonus Non-Rec."). Please enjoy!
If I could draw, I would put a little thank-you picture right here:
But I can't. So instead I'm giving you a bonus post ("Bonus Non-Rec."). Please enjoy!
What: This 1945 film is based on the Agatha Christie novel of the same name (sometimes titled Ten Little Indians).
First, I should make it clear that I am in no way suggesting that you should not watch this movie. I am just suggesting that you shouldn't expect it to be good, especially if you've read the book.
In my opinion, Agatha Christie is not the best Golden Age mystery author, although currently she is the most famous. (Oh, we will get to this discussion in due time, believe me.) Her novel And Then There Were None, however, is a genuinely chilling and unsettling story. It does not have a happy ending.
Unsurprisingly, this film version of the novel struggles with tone. At times, it strikes the right note of foreboding, but the movie keeps drifting into farce as it hiccups its way to a cheerful resolution. Most of the time, I support having a bit of fun with an uneven tone (I'm a fan of Charade, after all), but here the shifts don't come across as deliberate. They just seem like placeholders.
It's as if the filmmakers wanted to make a very specific, very different type of movie, but Christie's plot kept getting in the way.
Representative quote: "Very stupid to kill the only servant in the house. Now we don't even know where to find the marmalade."
What: I don't know what's happening where you are, but in my little part of the world it's snowing. This seems to be a particularly good time of year to read Stewart O'Nan's sad, heartfelt (and short) novel Last Night at the Lobster. The story takes place during one day in late December, as employees at a Red Lobster in Connecticut work their last shifts before the restaurant closes for good. The focus is on the manager, Manny, who is determined to do a good job right up until the end, despite a snowstorm, very few customers, chefs who don't show up, and a complicated personal life that's constantly in the back of his mind.
Comparable to: Michael Cunningham channeling Studs Terkel.
Representative quote: "Two months ago Manny had forty-four people working for him, twenty of them full-time. Tonight when he locks the doors, all but five will lose their jobs, and one of those five --- unfairly, he thinks, since he was their leader --- will be himself. He's spent the last weeks polishing letters of recommendation, trying to come up with nice things to say --- not hard in some cases, nearly impossible in others."
You might not like it if: You have no idea what happens in a Red Lobster kitchen and you want to keep it that way.
How to get it: It's easy to find. There's an audiobook, too.
Thursday, January 6, 2011
What: You're probably already familiar with this brilliant blog. If you are, consider this a happy Friday reminder to check out the full archive (2009 and 2010). If Hyperbole and a Half is new to you, please click on any of the links I'm peppering throughout this post, and then enjoy artist/writer/blogger/humorist Allie Brosh's thoughts on canine intelligence, awkward situations, and The Alot. Also, my two favorite posts so far: "The Party" and "Dogs Don't Understand Basic Concepts Like Moving."
Representative quote: "For a little while, I actually feel grown-up and responsible. I strut around with my head held high, looking the other responsible people in the eye with that knowing glance that says, 'I understand. I'm responsible now too. Just look at my groceries.'" (from "This Is Why I'll Never Be an Adult")
You might not like it if: You are consumed by jealousy because Allie Brosh is so talented and funny. Actually, scratch that. I'm consumed by jealousy and I love the blog unreservedly. If you decide you don't like it, please let me know so I can feel less jealous.
How to get it: Good grief. Just click here.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
What: For a book about a woman who's been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, Julie Hecht's collection of stories is surprisingly . . . pleasant. The unnamed narrator's anxieties are the concerns of an affluent, and very earnest, life: trying to find food that won't kill you, worrying about the effects of household radiation, reconciling the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal with political beliefs. The main character, a successful photographer, also appears in Do the Windows Open? and The Unprofessionals.
Comparable to: Fiction in The New Yorker. In fact, some of Hecht's stories were originally published there.
Representative quote: "I owed my neighbor a visit. She'd left a message on my answering machine just before Christmas. It started with the words 'All right, I'll leave a message . . .' People over eighty don't like answering machines, and I don't blame them. I'm like the Unabomber in that respect --- hatred of technology. And also, as I heard him described on the news, 'a follower of Thoreau.'"
You might not like it if: You find the narrator irksome. I personally like her, but I can see how it could go either way.
How to get it: Assuming you have access to a decent-sized library, you can probably get the book there. Otherwise, buying it used might be your best bet. Also, it's worth noting that although Do the Windows Open? and The Unprofessionals came before this book, you don't really need to read them in order.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
What: In Rope, Jimmy Stewart plays an of-the-moment character who realizes too late what cool, clinical cynicism can lead to. This Alfred Hitchcock film gives everyone involved a chance to show off. The story was a stage play first, and the single-room set reflects that, allowing the actors to showcase their Craft. Meanwhile, Hitchcock demonstrates his innovation and technical skill by shooting the entire film in just 10 takes. (Fun party game! Spot the cuts!)
Representative quote: "Good and evil, right and wrong were invented for the ordinary, average man, the inferior man, because he needs them."
You might not like it if: You're in a "been there, done that" place with Hitchcock. Alternately, you might believe this can't possibly be a Hitchcock movie because you don't see any blondes.
How to get it: Rent it or buy it --- after being unavailable for decades, the film is now pretty easy to find. You also have a good-ish chance of catching it on TCM sometime. When you're done watching the movie, check out the IMDb and Wikipedia entries on it. Trivia galore for film geeks!
Monday, January 3, 2011
What: Beloved sci-fi icon Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, passed away suddenly in 2001. This is a posthumous collection of his previously unpublished work. The book includes interviews, eleven chapters of an unfinished novel, and essays ranging from hangover cures to a debate on the existence of an artificial god.
Comparable to: The zanier moments of the new Doctor Who.
Representative quote: "Every country is like a particular type of person. America is like a belligerent adolescent boy, Canada is like an intelligent thirty-five-year-old woman. Australia is like Jack Nicholson. It comes right up to you and laughs very hard in your face in a highly threatening and engaging manner."
You might not like it if: You did not think the above quote was at least mildly amusing. At the other end of the spectrum, if you are a Hitchhiker super-fan, you might be disappointed that the collection does not include a spinoff story starring Marvin, everyone's favorite morose robot.
How to get it: You might find it at your library or local bookstore, and you can definitely buy it online. You could also listen to Stephen Fry and others read the audio version.
Sunday, January 2, 2011
What: Kate Atkinson's first foray into crime fiction was a massive success and an Orange Prize nominee for best novel of 2005. An award-winning literary novelist, Atkinson proves with Case Histories that genre divisions are, frankly, kind of silly. She introduces us to private detective Jackson Brodie, whose work on three cold cases we see through alternating points of view. Brodie's investigations continue in One Good Turn, When Will There Be Good News? (my personal fave), and the yet-to-be-released-in-the-U.S. Started Early, Took My Dog.
Comparable to: There's a bit of a Deborah Crombie flavor in the characterizations, but approached through a Mark Haddon-ish tone.
Representative quote: "Rosemary, their mother, said that she wished Olivia could stay at this age forever because she was so lovable. They had never heard her use that word to describe any of them. They had not even realized that such a word existed in her vocabulary."
You might not like it if: You are a bit squeamish about stories in which kids get disappeared.
How to get it: Available at most libraries and bookstores. Plus, IMDb tells me that this year BBC1 is presenting a six-part series based on the first three Jackson Brodie novels. It was only a matter of time, really.
Saturday, January 1, 2011
What: Wonderfalls is 13 episodes of snarky quirk about Jaye Tyler, an overeducated, under-motivated store clerk who starts hearing voices after getting conked on the head. Animal figures (a smoosh-faced wax lion, a plastic flamingo, and a stuffed donkey, among others) begin giving her cryptic instructions. Somehow, writer/creator Bryan Fuller manages to make the talking animals neither cutesy nor creepy, which is an accomplishment in and of itself. Caroline Dhavernas does a bang-up job as the sulky, sarcastic Jaye, using a heavily-nuanced lip curl to great effect.
Comparable to: Other television shows by Bryan Fuller. He takes the young-slacker-put-to-the-test idea from Dead Like Me and combines it with the candy-colored coating that ratchets up exponentially in his later series, Pushing Daisies.
"Is this fun for you? Torturing a wayward nun?"
"Oh, yeah. This is a laugh-riot. There is where I would most like to be --- standing in the freezing cold being called a liar by a nun and coerced by a wax lion to commit crime. It's so much fun!"
You might not like it if: You are soooo not a fan of magic realism.
How to watch it: Buy it or Netflix it. You should probably buy it. It's only one season, after all. Plus, Fuller knew the series would be canceled, so you get closure at the end, something you can't always count on with an imperiled series (ahem, Pushing Daisies).