Award-winning actress Kristen Chenoweth definitely deserves more recognition. She has a way of captivating an audience, and it's hard to imagine anyone else playing in the roles she's conquered over the years. As the lovelorn Olive Snook in the series Pushing Daisies, Kristen's performance earned her an Emmy! She hilariously and quite desperately tries to gain the affection of her boss at a pie shop. In addition to her acting career, Kristen is also a talented singer. Probably most well known the role of Glinda from the Wicked musical, she actually won a Tony award in 1999 for her stage performance in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Her musical theater chops were also showcased in Leonard Bernstein's farcical take on the Voltaire classic, Candide. Of course, Ms. Chenoweth's talents aren't all comedic in nature. Her stint as a fast-talking White House deputy press secretary in the sixth and seventh seasons of The West Wing was a thing of beauty. Keep up the fine work, Madam, and I'll keep watching.
When you're a kid you can entertain the thought of running away when the going gets rough - "and then they'll be sorry!" But what outlet do adults have?
Luckily for those of us past twenty a good TV series can still fill the need for escapism, without interfering with work the next day. All the better if the characters have little regard for the law and social convention.
Enter The Sons of Anarchy. Beneath the pleasant exterior of the fictional Charming, California lies a society tainted by corruption, murder and mayhem. The Sons of Anarchy or SAMCRO is a motorcycle gang with a stranglehold over the town. They have a thriving trade in gun-running and the protection racket. The police chief is in cahoots with the club, partly because of the threat of a nastier gang taking control of the town and also because the hush money is good. The morally reprehensible characters are compelling, and the series includes enough allusions to Hamlet to make you think that your liberal arts degree was really worth it.
For charming con-artists who clean up nicely, try The Riches. Wayne and Dahlia Malloy and their three children are part of a clan of Travelers. They make their living by moving from town to town pulling small-time cons. The story begins when a feud between the Malloys and another family in the clan results in the deaths of two innocent bystanders, Mr. and Mrs. Rich. Wayne Malloy, the charismatic father (deftly played by the comic Eddie Izzard hatches a plan to impersonate the Riches by moving into their brand new house in an affluent, gated community in Baton Rouge. Wayne is quickly seduced by life as a 'buffer' or non-Traveler and thrives on the adrenaline of passing as a high-powered lawyer. Dahlia (played by Minnie Driver is conflicted, believing that they will soon be caught in the lie. Watching the Malloys negotiate this alien world allows the viewer the vicarious experience of being both an insider and an outsider at the same time. A word of warning though - the series was canceled before it came to a satisfying conclusion. Still it's fun to watch the Malloy family as they struggle to reconcile their new-found wealth with loyalty to their roots.
My brother has a copy of the Rembrandt painting of The Return of the Prodigal Son outside his office. During a conversation about the painting, he mentioned that one of my favorite authors, Henri Nouwen, had written a book about that very painting.
Henri himself had been drawn to a copy of the painting. The original painting was acquired by Catherine the Great in 1766 and installed in The Hermitage, a museum that she founded in St. Petersburg, Russia. Through the courtesy of some friends, Henri was privileged to be allowed to spend many hours contemplating the painting. He relates how he studied the "light-enveloped embrace of the father, the son kneeling before him and the ... mysterious bystanders." He tells how he just looked and watched the interplay of light from the Hermitage window. "I was held spellbound by this gracious dance of nature and art."
Inspired by the painting and having faced a crisis in his own life's journey, Henri turned this experience into a wonderful book, The Return of the Prodigal Son.
Henri observes how Rembrandt painted the two hands of blessing: one is a mother's tender loving hand, the other is a father's strong, firm hand of welcome and support. From his observations and examination of his own life, Henri draws lessons for all of us.
In looking at the painting, then into our own hearts, we see that we are sometimes like the prodigal son - we've run away, too. We are sometimes racked by resentment like the elder brother. And sometimes, with grace, we become the welcoming, forgiving, eager father. I've read the book twice and have only begun to scratch the surface of meaning.
And now, I've discovered Home Tonight: Further Reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Edited by Sue Moesteller after Henri Nouwen's death, this book is based on his teaching and writing and every bit as inspiring.
Our guest blogger is Bart King, who writes humorous nonfiction for middle readers and immature adults. His greatest literary achievement is incorporating his name into the actual title of his new book: Bart’s King-Sized Book of Fun. He has over a half-million books in print, and his work has been translated into Chinese, Spanish, and Australian. Oh, and Bart prefers to be thought of as a “non-award winning author” despite some small evidence to the contrary. More about Bart at www.bartking.net.
So the Spanish word for “hedgehog” is erizo—
Oh, hello! I didn’t see you there. I was just working on a little project I have, namely learning Spanish. And maybe Urdu! After all, I can study 22 different languages through the Multnomah County Library website. If you’re not aware of this, the MCL has a subscription with a language education service called Mango. ¡Eso es fantastico! All you need is your library card; to take a look, just go to the MCL homepage, click on "Research" and then "Databases A-Z" and then "M" for Mango.
When I’m done with my Spanish homework, it’ll be time for me to run a number of subject searches in the MCL catalog. Today I’m doing research for a humorous book for kids about evil (seriously). And I want to know what learned minds in the fields of anthropology, history, psychology and literature have to say about evil. (I’d think, “It’s bad” would pretty much cover it, but I’d better double-check to be sure.)
As much as I respect the MCL’s holdings, my work won’t be done until I consult the InterLibrary Loan link to see what titles exist in THE REST OF THE WORLD. That’s right, with ILL, I can see (and check out) the holdings of libraries in other counties, states and countries!
You may have noticed that I haven’t tried your patience with a long list of the books I check out for pleasure reading. I think we can agree that people who do this sort of thing are insufferable show-offs. (That’s right Marc Acito, I’m talking about you!)
So let’s just say I check out a lot of books for personal reasons, and my motives for doing so are complex. For example, when the comics anthology Kramers Ergot 7 came out, it was priced beyond my shaky, arthritic grasp. So I checked it out from the library and found that my shaky, arthritic grasp was just strong enough to hang on to the volume while reading it. (And if you don’t find my motive particularly complex in the above example, let me assure you that being a cheapskate is a very nuanced state of affairs indeed.)
If I check out a library book that I find I really love, I buy it. For example, on my nightstand are two books I checked out from the Hollywood branch and then quickly returned to the library and went out and bought:
- Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch. This is Hornby’s memoir of growing up as a soccer fan in England during the 1980s.
- David Mitchell, Black Swan Green. This is Mitchell’s thinly veiled memoir of growing up and listening to embarrassing music in England during the 1980s. (Spandau Ballet, anyone?)
As you can see, my reading tastes are far-reaching as long as the author provides the essential elements of good literature: Style, a rewarding subtext, and a plot about growing up in England in the 1980s.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I really must wrap up my Spanish studies. (What’s the right word for a baby hedgehog? I’m guessing hedgehogito, but I’d better check that…)
The actress Patricia Neal died on August 8. She starred in one of my all-time favorite movies, A Face in the Crowd.
In any opportunity to wax on about A Face in the Crowd I tend to emphasize Neal’s co-star, Andy Griffith, who plays a lecherous, greedy, manipulative television star. Griffith’s charisma is incredible, and as we all know him so well as Sherriff Taylor it is mind-blowing to see him as Taylor’s evil twin, "Lonesome" Rhodes.
That topic exhausted, I will enthusiastically move on to the movie’s intelligent and hilarious take on television. 1957 seems awful early for such a biting and accurate indictment. Keep your eye on that rating!
But Neal’s character is the soul of the movie. She is the one who discovers and promotes "Lonesome" Rhodes, and who must destroy him. Because Rhodes is not simply crass. He is a fascist, and he plans to use his popularity to do real evil. Neal’s character is no raft borne by the tide; she is a moral creature and a true adult. And that makes A Face in the Crowd an all-too-rare treat: a movie in which a woman has world-changing power and responsibility.
When I was little, I thought jazz music was pretty awful. My step-dad, who is a huge jazz and blues fan, just couldn't get me to like it. When I went to college, I listened to a live jazz band and was hooked. Jazz encompasses so many different styles, but my favorites are the old stuff — Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Billie Holliday, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, etc.
For many years, I've listened to jazz compilations so that I get a little bit of everything. And nothing beats a compilation of instrumental classic jazz to relax with, do homeworkor even cook by. I'm not knocking the contemporary stuff at all. But it's just way different in sound and feel. When I was in college, I listened to Kenny G, Gerald Albright, David Sanborn and Hiroshima. They were really my introduction to contemporary jazz. It took me years later to really appreciate everything that jazz music has to offer.
It really does depend on your tastes. Thankfully there is something for everyone when it comes to jazz. As I mentioned before, I do enjoy jazz vocalists, and there are many to choose from such as Al Jarreau, who encompasses a really smooth sound with acrobatic vocals that will blow you away, to Billie Holiday, whose voice is so unique, that once you hear it, you won't forget it. If jazz music isn't something you think you're into, give it a try, and you may find yourself hooked. Why not try to listen to some Duke Ellington, Art Tatum, Bob Jamesor Grover Washington, Jr.? You can find a complete list of Jazz Dd's here, or just type the artist's name in the author field in the catalog to find the library's holdings.
So why do I enjoy my jazz music so much? Because for every mood, every activity, every feeling, there is a jazz piece ready to accompany it. And that's pretty cool.
I sat down to dinner recently and noticed something amiss. My otherwise-perfect and untouched plate of food sported an ear of corn with a shaggy crop circle in the middle of the cob about the size of a preschooler's mouth. I looked to Child the Younger, sitting to my right, and asked him if he knew what had happened. He smiled jubilantly, his baby teeth clotted with yellow kernels.
I have learned from parenting that there is birthed, along with the child, a never-ending list of things-- both done and undone-- for which to be sorry on both sides. This parenting thing is a project without blueprints, continually under construction, using tools that are as frequently inadequate, shoddy, missing or downright dangerous as they are right for the job. If a day on the parenting jobsite is particularly heinous, I may think of the list I have posted at my desk just to remind myself to laugh:
The Six Phases of a Project:
1. Wild Enthusiasm
4. Search for the Guilty
5. Punishment of the Innocent
6. Praise and Honors for the Non-Participants
One project I managed to complete on my recent vacation was reading Brady Udall's magnificent novel The Lonely Polygamist. This is a Big Book, in both a physical and an existential sense; it is the American family writ large. Golden Richards is a big man (known to some as "Sasquatch") with three houses, four wives and twenty-eight children. He has problems. Big problems. While his lifestyle creates and magnifies difficulties, his internal struggles could belong to anyone. He attempts to keep his contracting business and his family finances afloat with a morally questionable project: his wives think the brothel he's building in Nevada is a senior center. His wives don't understand him and his children don't really know him. The story builds upon the alternating points of view of Golden, Trish (his fourth and newest wife), and Rusty (the eleven-year-old son of his third wife.) Trish is at a crossroads in her marriage while Rusty hatches a revenge plot for the bungling of his "special" birthday. At the center for each of these characters is a smoldering sun of grief blinding them in various ways to the complicated landscape. Golden grieves a lost daughter, Trish grieves a lost son, and Rusty is a ticking time bomb of grief waiting to happen. In all of this Udall manages to find the inherent humor in each situation, much of it laugh-out-loud funny. Within the mundane Udall raises Big questions, but the one that percolates through and ultimately lifts the book far above anything else I have read recently is this:
How big is love?
This is a question echoed by the deservedly popular HBO television series Big Love which I also highly recommend. Bill Henrickson is a modern-day polygamist living in suburban Salt Lake City with his three sister-wives, their numerous children and houses, and all of the complications and frustrations of his chosen lifestyle. His ties with a fundamentalist compound bring trouble, as do his business arrangements. Can one man find a way to keep it all together when forces both internal and external threaten constantly to tear it apart? Faith and love are big, but are they big enough?
In her memoir The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance Elna Baker discusses the issues that come with Big Faith. By turns utterly hilarious and painfully embarrassing, this described "Mormon Tina Fey" tells tales of what it's like to be an abstinent and religious single young woman in a city that's pretty much...not. Along the way she loses eighty pounds and takes a series of fascinating jobs ( I was entranced by her description of life as an "adoption specialist" for ridiculously expensive baby dolls at FAO Schwarz.) The heartbreak that ensues is predictable, but Baker finds the humor in each situation and manages introspection along with stories such as showing up to a Halloween dance dressed in a failed costume that makes her look, quite accidentally, like a giant part of the female anatomy.
The holds lists may be lengthy for some of these, but believe me: the love is Big. And worth the wait
The Kitty Norville series is by Carrie Vaughn and book one is called Kitty and the Midnight Hour. This urban fantasy is the perfect summer lounge chair series. Each book is a quick read. According to the author there are 10 books planned, plus an anthology of Kitty Universe short stories.
Kitty Norville is a radio DJ. She hosts a midnight talk show for and about the supernatural world. In this world supernatural beings are real. At the beginning of the series magic is still fairly hidden from the public eye. Kitty was changed into a werewolf against her will. She finds the strength to accept her change and build her own pack. Outed to the public on television as a supernatural being, Kitty has to face both magical and mundane threats. The author has done an excellent job building the character: she's likable and capable, with reasonable flaws to make her interesting.Oh, and I did promise you a romance in there somewhere, didn't I? It's in there. Don't worry.