No one has ever accused me of being a good businessman, or having great taste in movies, so it’s no surprise that a recent inspiration to locate a sufficiently boarded up movie theater, purchase it and inaugurate an annual Watergate Film Fest fell on uninterested, and possibly appalled, ears. However, the response I received to this suggestion–that it was a good thing my work in a library limits me from doing too much damage in the so-called “real world”–may not actually have been correct. To wit, the following is a list of movies recommended for anyone out there in the real world who may want to embark on personal Watergate Film Fests in their own homes. Read More..
At least here in Lawrence, Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction this year for 6 more weeks of winter seems to have been on the money. Not a Groundhog Day goes by without fond recollections of its namesake movie, a comedy which, due to the profundity of its central problem—a man doomed to repeat the same one day of his life until he gets it right—has arguably recast the meaning of the holiday itself. Just a month past New Year’s Day and its resolutions, Groundhog Day, as symbolized by Bill Murray’s struggle to break free of banality, is a day to reflect on how difficult it can be to change. It’s another testament to the movie that, for all its lightheartedness, the title itself has become shorthand for bad habits and repetitive situations.
This fall, in a sudden windstorm, one of our trees lost a limb. As it happens, it was pretty much our favorite limb, since it was the one from which my son’s swing hung.
Luckily, just a few weeks before, he had been obsessed with a great children’s book, Our Tree Named Steve, by Alan Zweibel. Zweibel, a multiple award-winning writer for television (he was a co-creator of the character Roseanne Roseannadanna on the original Saturday Night Live staff) and print (his comic novel The Other Schulman won the Thurber Award in 2006), frames this picture book as a letter to his grown kids on the occasion of the death of a beloved tree in a storm similar to the one we had just experienced. Read More..
I guess it’s never been much of a surprise to the children in my life when they receive books from me as gifts, but over the years I’ve tried to come up with ways to avoid having my presents tossed in the “boring pile” alongside Great Aunt Flora’s annual knitted snood and the 1000 piece Norman Rockwell puzzle sent each year by that distant cousin no one has ever met. One strategy I hit upon a while back was to give books that work parallel to popular toys, and year in and year out, there is no type of toy hotter than LEGOs. So, when the LEGO lover in your life is ready for a break from engineering her latest monument, or looking for some bedtime reading related to his greatest obsession, having one of these ten LEGO-related titles handy may actually represent a larger gift: the lesson that reading a book is really just another way of playing.
Recently a friend and I were discussing holiday movies—not just Christmas movies, although they probably make up the largest category—but also movies attached in some way to any other holiday. We figured in terms of sheer numbers Halloween may be a close second to Christmas , with New Year’s and Independence Day duking it out for 3rd place. Then there are the classics tied to more obscure holidays, Groundhog Day king among these. But we struggled to come up with a really good Thanksgiving-related movie until my friend remembered that the thwarted travelers portrayed by Steve Martin and John Candy in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles were headed for Thanksgiving destinations. We also remembered Peanuts tackling Turkey Day (where would we all be without Linus to explain the true meaning of each holiday, after all?), but it wasn’t until later that evening, in a state somewhere between waking and sleeping, that I remembered the ultimate Thanksgiving movie, and one of my all-time favorites, Barry Levinson’s Avalon. Read More..
I’m pretty sure I would have stuck around long enough to become an Eagle Scout if there had been more activities like the shrunken heads we made for Halloween out of decaying apples and potatoes one year early in my scouting career. Apparently that fondness for rotten vegetables hasn’t faded, or else I was just happy to see an affirmation of my annual laziness in removing jack-o-lanterns far past their prime from our front porch, because I thoroughly enjoyed David M. Schwartz’s new book, Rotten Pumpkin , when I saw it recently on the Children’s new non-fiction shelf. In a series of striking photographs and testimonials from 15 “voices” in the process (“Hear this, all you molds and rots: I the sow bug, owe you!”) ranging from squirrel to slime mold, the book documents the gradual decline of a typical jack-o-lantern, from fresh orange pumpkin flesh to black goo. But not to worry, you who may expect to find such a tale depressing; Schwartz leaves us with a redemptive ending (spoiler alert, literally) in which a seed, missed by the pumpkin carver’s hand, finds nutrients in the heap of goo and sprouts the following spring. So it’s a great book not only for the young gross-out aficionado in your life, but the budding gardener, as well. Read More..
One of the best books I read over the summer was The Moment, a collection of very brief pieces by writers, artists, and others describing one moment in which their entire lives changed. In addition to feeling something like a Chicken Soup for the Literary Soul (Jennifer Egan, Neal Pollack, Dave Eggers, and Michael Paterniti are just a few of the 125 contributors), I love a book like this for the new authors to whom it may lead. In my case, I came across Laurie David, whose “moment” stood out for its simplicity among the many career and romance-related epiphanies recounted in the book. Although her brief bio describes her as the Academy Award-winning environmental activist who co-produced An Inconvenient Truth, she chose as her momentous occasion an ordinary dinner one evening with her two teenage daughters, in which she realized she had actually done one thing right as a parent: “to insist on a daily family dinner.” Read More..
It’s easy to picture the scene we’ve been hearing so much about over the past few weeks: A horde of shiftless young men, drunken and menacing, elaborately unkempt and reeking of smoke and grime, descends on Lawrence in the August heat. No, it’s not the Kaw Valley Kickball League playoffs. I speak, of course, of Quantrill’s Raiders. And if you’ve been taking in the solemn ceremonies, groundbreaking Twitter re-enactments, and typical tasteless Missouri pouting that has caught the eye of commentators on the national stage, then you may be in the mood to check out some cinematic treatments of the historical events commemorated this week. Read More..
At times when my 2 ½ year old son gets in a DVD rut, I “accidentally” pop something totally random into the player. More often than not, this doesn’t fly, and we’re doomed to a 34th viewing of Goofy’s Coconutty Monkey, or yet another Team Umizoomi quest. However, I recently had good luck with an old standby from my own grade school 16mm days, a 28-minute film from 1966 entitled Paddle-to-the-Sea, which was sufficiently different from anything my son had ever seen in the Day-Glo CGI wonderland of today’s children’s television that it held him spellbound almost from start to finish. Paddle-to-the-Sea, based on a Caldecott honored book of the same title by Holling Clancy Holling, tells the story of a miniature birchbark canoe and rider carved by an Indian boy living in a wilderness cabin north of Lake Superior. The boy carves the words “Please put me back in water—I am Paddle-to-the-Sea” on the bottom of the canoe, and releases it to flow down the river from his home into Lake Superior and beyond. Read More..
When I was in high school it seemed like everyone’s dad had a copy of William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich somewhere in the family bookshelves, and occasionally one of us would take a stab at reading it. In my own case, I made it all of about 100 pages in before the litany of early Nazi intrigues and unpronounceable German names had me stupefied. My own father considered the book to be a great accomplishment—both for its author, who won the National Book Award for it in 1961, and for himself, who never failed to recount with his trademark guffaw, whenever the book was mentioned in his presence, how he borrowed a paperback copy from a friend, tore it in half while reading due to its laborious length, and returned it in two pieces when he finished. Read More..