guilty pleasures

Ross: Rachel claims this is her favorite movie.
Chandler: Dangerous Liaisons.
Ross: Correct. Her actual favorite movie is?
Joey: Weekend at Bernie’s.
(Friends, The One With the Embryos)

On my college application, I said my favorite song was the Commendatore scene from Mozart’s opera, Don Giovanni. I do like it — it’s a compelling piece of music — but if I was being honest, in 1989, my actual favorite song was probably Lisa Lisa & the Cult Jam’s “Head to Toe”.

Even sadder, “Head to Toe” came out in 1987. By 1989, my favorite song was probably something by Paula Abdul.

Sure, we all wish we had consistently high-brow tastes. And sometimes we do! I really do like Mozart, and my favorite book really is Anna Karenina. At the same time, when I want to wooby with a blanket and the cats, I’m usually reaching for something with a lower IQ requirement. So I share with you, with no small amount of shame, my guilty pleasures.


Selena (1997): The true story of Selena Quintanilla-Perez, a Texas-born Tejano singer who rose from cult status to performing at the Astrodome, as well as having chart topping albums on the Latin music charts. This one stars Jennifer Lopez and Edward James Olmos (if Olmos is in it it can’t be all bad!) and I could watch it FOREVER. I’m nearly physically incapable of changing the channel if it’s on, despite, yes, owning a copy as well. BIDI BIDI BOM BOM.

The Twilight Series, but especially Eclipse. Look, these movies are crap. There’s no two ways about it. I own them all, though. There’s no good explanation. The plots are trite, the dialogue is mediocre at best. I’m frequently rooting for the bad vampires. Mostly the wolves. The soundtracks are surprisingly good (Iron & Wine, for crying out loud!) and there are some neat visuals. I find Kristen Stewart oddly mesmerizing. And Taylor Lautner’s abs are distracting. As Edward says:

Edward himself is singularly unappealing to me (what happened to that handsome young lad in Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire?). And they’re both young enough to be my kids, so there’s that. (Well, Pattinson only if I started REALLY young.)

The Devil’s Advocate (1997). This one is my husband’s fault. It’s his guilty pleasure movie, one he has a supernatural ability to find airing on TBS at any given time. Al Pacino gives the worst performance of his career (did he lose a bet?) and Keanu Reeves makes you wish he was playing a robot in a plot full of holes you can drive a semi through, while Charlize Theron changes her hairstyle and hopes you forget she was even in this piece of dreck.

Just about any dance movie, ever. Favorites include Center Stage, Strictly Ballroom, Dirty Dancing, Footloose, All the Step Up movies (all five!), Shall We Dance, White Nights, Mad Hot Ballroom, Coyote Ugly, Billy Elliot, Singin’ in the Rain, and Save the Last Dance. If there’s dancing anywhere in it, I’ll watch it. Repeatedly. Starting with when it premieres in the theater. Me and a lot of teenagers, usually. I’m there.


You know, I don’t feel guilty about these. They’re great books. It’s just the sheer number of times I’ve read them that borders on embarrassing.

Tigana, by Guy Gavriel Kay: I once started this book at a favorite scene somewhere near the midway point, finished, went back to the beginning, and read the entire book through again, to the end.

Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books. The ones she actually wrote, not the ones her son has written since she died. (No offense, Todd.) I think what lies beneath this obsession is a deeply-rooted desire to able to communicate telepathically with my cats, along with the knowledge that we would be bonded for life. On the other hand, sometimes I think their thoughts might not be particularly flattering, especially on the days they haven’t had any Fancy Feast.

The Little House on the Prairie series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I still have the same yellow paperback set I had as a child. By the Banks of Plum Creek! By the Shores of Silver Lake! Nellie Olsen. Almanzo. Nearly freezing and starving to death in The Long Winter. Pa and his fiddle. Good times!

Having said that, there are a few books that only keep from embarrassing me out of an admiration for the written word in all forms. Judith Krantz’ Princess Daisy. Flowers in the Attic. Jean Auel’s books, especially the latter ones like The Plains of Passion — I mean, Passage. Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches saga. Janet Dailey’s Calder books. And oh, The Da Vinci Code. I hang my head in literary shame.


The Spice Girls, Wannabe. They sold, like, a zillion copies of that CD, but no one ever, ever admits to having owned it.

Britney Spears, Womanizer. I’ve got an excuse for this one. It was my favorite routine on the Wii “Just Dance” exercise program. I mean, with lyrics like “Womanizer, woman-womanizer, You’re a womanizer, Oh, womanizer, oh, You’re a womanizer, baby”, what’s not to like, right? But it does make a good workout song.

Carly Rae Jepson, Call Me Maybe. Every now and then a song is so annoying you end up liking it, which doesn’t make sense but it’s still true. I still feel like this song got published on a dare, but if so, it paid off.

The Backstreet Boys, As Long As You Love Me. Okay, I’ve got no defense for BSB. It’s not like they can consider themselves pseudo-cool like NSYNC for bringing us Justin Timberlake, Lance Bass, and Joey Fatone (hey, he was good in My Big Fat Greek Wedding!). I can’t name a single other song of theirs, but I like this one. It’s nice!

Lastly, and this I say with no shame whatsoever, Sonny & Cher’s I Got You, Babe. You know, this song had a bad rap for a long time, but I don’t know why. It was sung by two kids who were nuts about each other, and stayed good friends for the rest of their lives, even after their marriage ended. I had this song played at my wedding and it’s one of my favorite memories of the whole night. So I’ll leave you with a very early performance, from 1965:

mischief managed

all7I recently finished a highly enjoyable reread of the Harry Potter series. At the end, though, just as always, I can’t help but feel a little down. Not because of the sad bits, especially in the last book — though those would be a worthy reason. Really, just because… it’s over.

I came to Harry Potter just before the fourth book came out. All the signs at Barnes & Noble, counting down the days to the book’s release… I felt like there must be something to this. I read the first three books and loved them. Then, on the midnight release night for Goblet Of Fire, I was on my way home, late, and remembered the book was coming out in a few minutes. I walked into the store expecting, I don’t know, a few dozen people. Instead the line filled the store. Two hours later I had my copy, and never looked back.

For later book releases, I knew what to expect. Believe me, by the time the final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was released, I was a pro. I spent the day at Barnes & Noble, and was one of the first hundred to receive our books after that midnight countdown…

The thing I remember most, though, was leaving the store a few minutes later, book held high proudly in hand. About a thousand people were in the parking lot (overflow — the store was full to capacity) and they cheered as we came out.

scholasticThat’s the thing about Harry Potter that still gives me chills of happiness, after all these years. Once upon a time, kids waited in line all day for a book. They wore costumes, they debated theories on sites like The Leaky Cauldron and Mugglenet… for a book. They formed tribute bands like Harry & the Potters and released CDs. They made videos, fanart, and wrote fanfiction. They’re still doing those things, years after it’s all over. That night in 2007, people stood outside at midnight and cheered — just to be able to read something. Isn’t that the best thing you’ve ever heard?

After the books were done, it was disappointing knowing there wouldn’t be any more stories of Harry and friends — but we had the movies, at least. An extra one, even, when they split Deathly Hallows in two. So that was something for awhile, but eventually all good things do really come to an end.

I know some people feel Harry Potter doesn’t do anything for them — they read the first book and weren’t hooked. I don’t know exactly what to say about that, other than: for what it’s worth, one of the magical things about the Harry Potter series is that the books age along with Harry. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is written about an eleven-year old, and it’s written for eleven year-olds. That didn’t stop a lot of adults from enjoying it, of course, but the themes, emotions and Harry’s perception of the world around him are childlike. With each passing book, though, Harry grows more perceptive. He experiences more things, he has more complex emotions. He grows up, and the books grow up with him. So if that first book seemed too childish, that might be an explanation.

allendsTruthfully, though, to each their own. I loved every moment of the series, from the first page to the last, from the first on-screen image to the final credits, and can’t fathom missing any of it. I loved the characters, good and bad; I loved Harry’s decisions, right and wrong; his mistakes, his failures, his courage. I loved his friends, more than anything else, really, and I loved living in his world for awhile. For me, just as for so many other people, Harry Potter was a wonderful experience, one I’m always sorry to see end. The beauty of it all, though, is — I can go right back to page one, any time I want, and start all over again.

Review: This is Where I Leave You

This-Is-Where-I-Leave-YouSometimes I see a preview for a new movie and there’s that little tagline, “based on the novel”, that catches my attention. If it looks at all good, I’ll get my hands on the book as soon as I can, because we all know the book is always better than the movie, and I want to read it unsullied. That’s what I did with “This is Where I Leave You” by Jonathan Tropper, and while I’m glad I did, I might have wished I hadn’t just this once. I wonder now if I wouldn’t have liked better seeing the movie first, seeing what parts of the story the script writer and the director choose to distill from the whole, as they always do, without knowing the rest — and then finding the book, and filling in those spaces, learning more about the rich, frustrating, complicated and messy ins and outs of the Foxmans, kind of the way I would have if I’d just met them that week, then heard all the stories the books spells out later. If anything could have brought them more alive than Tropper already has, that might have done it.

But it’s a great book. I liked it a lot, and read it quickly — I was never bored and wanted to find out what would happen next. The characters, particularly the Foxman siblings, all leaped off the page — Judd, who just walked in on his wife sleeping with his boss; Paul, the eldest and most self-righteous brother; Wendy, the older sister with three kids; Phillip, the younger brother who’s a little different than everyone else, on the surface, but not really underneath; their mother, the psychologist who wrote the book on child rearing and looks like a million bucks; and, most of all, their father, who just died, and the reason why they’re all together again, sitting shiva for seven days. When I tell you that there’s a fistfight before the first day is out, you can imagine what the other six are like.

If I had any criticism to make, and it isn’t a real one, it would be that there’s just so *much* going on in this little book, it’s hard to keep up. The siblings each have their own complex story, the parents, the parents’ friends, the wives and the husbands and the girlfriends and the neighbor’s kid, everyone has a complicated backstory, and that’s realistic and it makes it all so much more interesting to read, but whew, by the end you’re feeling like you moved in with the Foxmans for the past week, and in a way, at the end of shiva, you’re just as eager to get the hell away from them as they are from each other. On the last page, I was happy to know this is where I would leave Judd Foxman and his screwed up life. It was nice dipping in to watch it for awhile, but being able to walk away from his mess (the way we can’t walk away from our own lives, and our own messes) was the best part.

Upcoming Books to Film : a list from Books-A-Million Online

Books-A-Million, Inc., released today a list of books that are currently showing or being adapted for the big screen.

Recently, the pages of such books as ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ by John Green and ‘Divergent’ by Veronica Roth all have made the leap from the page to the screen.

“Reading the book before seeing the movie makes the movie more enjoyable,” said Margaret Terwey, Senior Fiction Buyer at Books-A-Million, Inc. “Characters and storylines are often much more developed in the book, which helps make a movie more meaningful. Plus, it’s fun to see if the characters and places in the book are depicted in the movie as you pictured them in your head,” she stated.

I often like reading the book before the movie, but I’m just as interested in seeing the movie and then reading the book — either way, if it’s a good story, I always want more. On the flip side, though, I’m often disappointed by how beloved books are translated to film, so it’s a bit of a crapshoot.

Here’s the list: Books to Film & TV : BAM! Books-A-Million Online. Some of the ones I’m personally interested in are “The Giver” (I’m afraid of how this one is going to translate), “Gone Girl” (has potential to be better than the book, really) and “This Is Where I Leave You”.

Libraries a bigger source of DVDs than Netflix

From the LA Times:

According to a survey by the Online Computer Library Center, more people get DVDs from libraries than from Netflix, and more than Blockbuster and Redbox combined…. These days, borrowing movies from the library is a smart way to save money.

Well, that’s true enough. But the LA Times is a little behind the times if they’re just noticing this trend now. My librarian friends in public libraries, and especially the library clerks I know, working in the trenches, will tell you that DVDs have been their biggest business for years. The demand for DVDs in libraries skyrocketed and it keeps every library staff on the run, trying to keep up.

On the one hand, it’s almost not worth commentary. Libraries have long collected more than just books — audiobooks, VHS tapes, readalong books for kids, LPs, cassettes, CDs. So now it’s DVDs, and they’re more popular than the others put together, but it’s still just format.

On the other hand, there’s piracy. I’m sorry, but when a library patron comes in, rents a dozen DVDs, and then returns them the next day and promptly takes out a dozen more — we all know they’re not watching them, back to back, for the ensuing 24 hours straight. They’re copying them, plain and simple. Possibly just for their own personal use, which is still illegal, but less unethical than the other possibility, which is that they’re selling copies of these movies somewhere. No way to say for sure which it is, of course.

Regardless, the next time you’re in the library, try to give the ladies and gentlemen behind the audiovisual/DVD counter (or just your librarian or library clerk, if you’re at a smaller place) a sympathetic smile. They didn’t plan to take over from Blockbuster, and they probably aren’t entirely jazzed about having to do so, but they’re just trying to give the public what they want and need. Which is all libraries ever try to do, no matter how unappreciated they might sometimes be.

Oh, to see a great big man entirely made of snow

It’s late for snow this year — we’ve usually gotten a nice pile of it by now. Pretty soon I’ll be tired of it, I know. But today’s the day, with just a couple of inches on the ground and the sun shining and the sky blue. Now’s when snow is nice. I mean, Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney agree with me:

So does The Guardian (UK), which has a winter quiz of sorts up — “Creative whiting: snow in books“.

As the season’s first flurries of frozen ice crystals provide God’s way of telling you to stay indoors with a good book, it’s an excellent time to plough through our quiz on literary snow.

Fourteen questions, with quotes about or literary references to snow, with questions like, “9. Which novelist is often blamed for our idealisation of a snowy Christmas?” (That’s an easy one, compared to the rest.)

Give it a try!

I only got half of them right — without cheating or looking anything up, in my defense.

Book review: The Remains of the Day

Review of: The Remains of the Day
by Kazuo Ishiguro
Vintage (1990), Edition: Mti Rep, Paperback, 256 pages
(This review contains some spoilers for the book.)

It’s always a shame when they take a book you love and turn it into a terrible movie. But I’ve just now learned that it’s also a little disappointing when you see a wonderful movie and then read the book, only to find that you got more out of the film than you did from reading the book after.

To explain: I adore the Anthony Hopkins/Emma Thompson movie of this book. I think it’s wonderfully directed, the acting is of course superb, and overall it conveys such an intense feeling of loss through inaction, juxtaposed with loss through action, it’s beautiful. So of course I looked forward to the book immensely, and it *is* wonderful, in its way. But I don’t think I savored it as much, even if I hadn’t seen the film already. I already knew where Stevens was going, not just physically but emotionally, or rather not going, becayse his innermost thoughts are conveyed to us from the very first page and were transparent to me. In his pride I could see regret, and in his confidence I saw loneliness. And I think that is what we are meant to take away from Stevens, when we leave him on the pier at the end of the book. Of course knowing that end, from seeing the film, spoiled me — but hearing his voice throughout, I think, tipped me off as well. I didn’t see Stevens the same way.

One theme I picked up more strongly from book, however, was that of choices, inaction vs. action, and the simple fact that no choice is correct while the other is wrong. Lord Darlington tries to take action because he believes he is doing the right thing, but those actions bring about the loss of his dignity and respect. Miss Kenton chooses to act to avoid rejection and loneliness; she does avoid those things, but her path ends up having its own sorrows and hardships. But at the same time our Mr. Stevens takes the other road and does not act, and ends full of regret.

This is the first book of Ishiguro’s that I have read and I enjoyed his writing style hugely. I do not mean to imply that this book is not worth reading, only that I definitely experienced it in the wrong order. Written or shown, there is great nuance, and great subtlety in the way Ishiguro tells a tale; Mr. Stevens and his story could have been created by no other author.

Fly Me to the Moon

I may not have mentioned this before, but I’m a space nut. I was the kid who wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up, and when as a young and now full-fledged adult I showed little aptitude for science and no physical prowess to speak of, my ambitions did not change even though my expectations were realistic. Given the chance, I would fly to the moon, or anywhere else in space, tomorrow. I’ve been known to drop everything to watch a shuttle launch on NASA TV. If I could go back in time and live in any particular era, it would be during heydey of the Mercury and Apollo programs. I can only imagine what it must have been like to live through those exciting years.

So as a thwarted space junkie, instead I love all things space-related — space books, space movies, what have you. My favorites are The Right Stuff and Apollo 13 — both the movie and the book by Jim Lovell are excellent (and how often can you say that?). And I also highly recommend the wonderfully dramatized From the Earth to the Moon, if you haven’t seen it yet.

Here’s one that would be the highlight of any would-be space-explorer’s collection, I’m sure:

It’s a $1,500  case, “made from a single piece of aluminium,” that holds the Lunar Rock edition of Norman Mailer’s “MoonFire: The Epic Journey of Apollo 11.”  There are only twelve copies of the edition for sale. Oh, and it also includes an actual lunar rock, sort of thrown in as a bonus prize.

Cataloging at home, for fun

A lot of librarians hate cataloging. I love it. That’s why I’m such a nerd, I’ve even cataloged my entire personal book collection over at LibraryThing. It’s a terrific site, btw, even if you’re not up to such bibliographic devotion. You can find excellent reviews, take part in discussions, find recommendations. And why not catalog your books? Once you do, you can really look at them in an in-depth way. Cataloging is about access. The more you arrange and describe something, or a collection of somethings, the more access you have to it. The more use you can get out of it. And, as an added bonus on LibraryThing, it makes finding other bibliophiles of like minds easy.

But you can “catalog” a lot more than just your books. I like having everything labeled and set up just so. My computer files and folders are very structured. I’ve been using for years, and my obsession with defining my tagging system there was epic. (Don’t ask me about Flickr, I beg you — do you want to see a grown woman cry? I’ve got thousands of photos on there and the fact that I haven’t found the time to tag them the way they should be eats at me.)

The reason I fell in love with iTunes from day one is that it’s terrific for organizing your music files. For every file I import, I can make sure it’s got all the right metadata, I can add lyrics and missing details, I can get the right artwork. And when it’s all done, I can find anything in my collection. I can rearrange it and look at it and access it however I want. It’s enough to make my little geeky classification-nutty heart pound. iTunes will import album artwork for you, so that’s easy enough. I use a little shareware program called iArt to hunt down lyrics; it doesn’t always work as well as I wish it would but it was good for getting the bulk of them at the get-go. Beware of lyrics sites, by the way, the ones you find if you just type in “don’t stop believin lyrics” into Google. A lot of those sites have adware and crap that can latch onto your computer. I usually rely on instead. And lately, I’ve been importing video into iTunes more — there are usually a few free episodes offered every month, and I’ve bought some on Amazon, and so on. So I’m putting those in my iTunes library as well. Usually I’ve got the artwork for those, but if not, Get Video Artwork is a great site (with a boring, if descriptive name) for that.

It’s nerdy in a lot of ways to be this obsessed with organization and cataloging, but otoh, as more and more of our music and movies and books are now digital, I suspect finding ways to organize and access these materials is going to become increasingly important to everyone — not just us geeks.

Are we cooking more, or do we just like to think so? Julia Child at the top of the bestseller list

I’m leaving in a few short minutes to go see Julie & Julia. I don’t expect a quick stopover at Barnes & Noble afterward; my diet can’t handle all that butter, that’s for sure. But apparently a lot of movie-goers can’t resist the urge to own their own copy of Julia Child’s famous book on French cooking. What I wonder is, how many of them are actually doing the cooking? I suspect it’s more like what the NYT’s Michael Pollan noticed a few weeks ago — and it’s a great article so don’t miss it — we’re all watching Top Chef but still eating take-out.

From The New York Times:

After 48 Years, Julia Child Has a Big Best Seller, Butter and All
Almost 48 years after it was first published, Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child is finally topping the best-seller list.