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..
If you’re like me, these days you’re crawling with ticks. Every time I spy one plying his trade on a body part, I’m overcome by a tender nostalgia for youthful days when I’d never heard of Lyme disease, and the novelty of being in a parasitical relationship was yet to wear off. Simply put, ticks just didn’t seem like such a big deal back then. Read More..
Before I ever became a parent, I often wondered at the way parents I knew complained about their own kids, and their lives as parents. I usually took these comments at face value, and frankly, they were pretty good birth control. I also remember pledging not to complain if I ever had children myself. However, now that I have kids, I complain about it all the time. In fact, I might have broken my pledge just a few minutes after my first was born. And I can guarantee this: All my complaints are true, and there’s a lot more where those came from. Read More..
That’s what it felt like to me, at least, when I tried listening to a free downloadable audiobook version of A Tale of Two Cities obtained from LibriVox, a crowdsourcing website recently recommended to me by a friend. For those who are not already familiar with it, LibriVox strives to make all books in the public domain available, free of charge, in audiobook format—a sort of read-aloud analog to Project Gutenberg. To accomplish this, thousands of volunteers around the globe record themselves reading and upload their work onto the site for anyone to use. A truly amazing resource. Read More..
Growing up, I had what I thought the dubious honor of a dad who never flipped past anything World War II-related on television without stopping to watch it. Tales of D-Day were of special interest–how well I remember the June marathons of anniversary years 1984, 1994 and 2004, when he seemed unable to resist any old movie depiction, eyewitness interview, or even the most obscure wreath-laying captured on tape by C-Span. My whines of “can’t we turn it back to A.L.F.?” were rebuffed with all the force of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall, often with that classic parental refrain, guaranteed to kill whatever interest in the subject one may actually have: “Stick around . . . you might learn something.” Read More..