Double Feature

Shall we DanceA couple of weeks ago I was searching the library database for the movie, Shall We Dance. There are two versions, the Japanese version from 1996 (the one I was primarily looking for) and a U.S. version from 2004 (which I was willing to settle for). The library had neither of those, but did have a completely different Shall We Dance, with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Why not, I figured? I do love a good dance, after all.

For a movie called Shall We Dance, it did not have so very much dancing in it, and in my opinion, not nearly enough! Only towards the end was there a lot of dancing. And yes, it was worth the wait. All I have to say in addition is that Fred Astaire looks much better with Ginger Rogers than without her.

For those of you wondering, the Japanese Shall We Dance got the highest Rotten Tomatoes Rating (91% approval), followed by Fred and Ginger (86% approval rating), and the U.S. version (46% approval rating, in spite of Susan Sarandon).

Strictly ballroomIn my search for Shall We Dance, I also ran across Strictly Ballroom. Not exactly the same thing, but sometimes things get tough when you rely on the library, and you settle. But I remembered liking this when I watched it years ago (it came out in 1992), and it got a 95% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

It was as good as I remembered (though I had forgotten it’s Australian). Lots of dancing (and some really excellent dancing at that). Lots of tango. But what I liked most about it was the message: A life lived in fear is a life half lived. Since I don’t want to give anything away, I will merely say it’s an absolutely lovely romantic comedy with all the good things—I laughed, clapped, and cried. Did I mention that the dancing is exceptional? A totally fun movie.SB dancing

Fall Equinox

fall colorsBelated equinox greetings. We have entered one of my favorite times of the year. The leaves are starting to turn bright oranges and reds, the hops are ready to harvest, the milkweed pods are bursting open, and it’s good sleeping with cool nights.

The autumnal equinox marks the time of the waning sun, when male and female forces are in perfect balance. It is a time of alignment. Days and nights are closely balanced (but not exactly equal!). Food is harvested and stored for the coming winter. This is a time of thanksgiving, and also to prepare for the inward time that is coming. The equinox is the point of balance between the energies of outward, physical, yang manifestation and inward, psychic, yin creativity. It’s a time to surrender to our inner nature as we move towards winter. It is a time of recycling, and also celebrating change in our lives.

But I’m not quite ready to surrender to my inner winter nature yet. Today was a beautiful Minnesota fall day, so I went biking by the river. (After being so excited at getting my bicycle fixed this spring after not riding for 10 years, I rode it around the block when I got it home, put it in the garage, and left it there until just a couple of weeks ago.) I’m regaining my confidence as a biker and have found the helmet isn’t nearly so uncomfortable as I thought it would be.

juvie robinThe last several times I’ve been to the river there’s been a dearth of birds, but this time the place was hopping. So much so, that after the bike ride, I went back with my binoculars. Mostly they were robins (including a lot of juveniles, which kind of surprised me). I haven’t seen many robins around of late, and was wondering if they had already started to migrate south. (Most of our robins migrate south for the winter, but some stay—probably about 10% of the resident summer population.) I don’t know if they are staging by the river for migration, or if this will be a group of overwintering robins. I hope it’s the latter—it’s always fun to run across a group of robins in winter.

red eyed vireo

Red-Eyed Vireo

In addition to the robins I saw some black-capped chickadees (they always make me smile), several northern flickers, a red-eyed vireo, and a ruby-crowned kinglet. And lots of gray squirrels, also preparing for the inward time of winter.

But not yet. I want to put a few more miles on my bike, visit the lock and dam another time or two, and enjoy this best, most beautiful, Minnesota season.

Pulitzer, Booker, Newbery, Edgar, Whitbread…

The reading theme for September is award-winning books, another exceptionally fun theme, even rivaling last month’s most excellent theme of time. The wonderful thing about award-winning books is that there are so very many awards: The Pulitzer, National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, Orange, Booker, Newbery, Edgar, Hugo, Whitbread, and that’s just a starter list.

Geog 3 picSo far I’ve read four poetry books: Geography III, by Elizabeth Bishop (National Book Critics Circle Award); Presentation Piece, by Marilyn Hacker (National Book Award and James Laughlin Award); Diving into the Wreck, by Adrienne Rich (National Book Award), and Duende, by Tracy K. Smith (James Laughlin Award). I loved Geography III (three stars, my highest rating)—this is a small volume that I know I will read over and over again. In close second place is Marilyn Hacker’s Presentation Piece. Both Bishop and Hacker do the forms (especially sestinas and villanelles, my favorites). I do think Bishop is a bit better (and her villanelle “One Art” is among the cream of the crop), but Hacker does a lot more in the realm of the forms, so it has been an excellent poetry month. And still to come is Hacker’s Going Back to the River, which won the Lambda Literary Award.

I’ve read one graphic novel—Black Hole, by Charles Burns (Eisner Award, Harvey Award, and Ignatz Award), which I didn’t care for at all. Given all the awards it won, I think I may be missing something, but I couldn’t even remotely force myself to go back to it, plus it’s already out of the house (you can find a used copy at Moon Palace Books).Charlotte Book

I’ve read only one novel for the theme, a childhood favorite, Charlotte’s Web (Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal). I loved it again.

In the nonfiction realm, I continue through No Ordinary Time, by Doris Kearns Goodwin (Pulitzer); my admiration for Eleanor Roosevelt continues to grow, while my views of FDR waffle. I’ve also read Somewhere Towards the End, by Diana Athill (National Book Critics Prairie SilenceCircle Award, Whitbread) and Prairie Silence, by Melanie Heffert (Minnesota Book Award). I liked both of these books, and loved each at times, but they will not be books that I keep.

The month is barely half through. I still have so many options. The Woman Warrior, by Maxine Hong Kingston; Parting the Waters, by Taylor Branch; Rez Life, by David Treuer; The Moviegoer, by Walker Percy; Tinkers, by Paul Harding; Redshirts, by John Scalzi; Ordinary Grace, by William Kent Kreuger; A Brutal Telling, by Louise Penny; The Tiger’s Wife, by Tea Obreht. But there are so many others. Who knows where I’ll go?

Suggestions are welcome!

Spellbound: A Tale of Two Movies

hitchcockFor the last several months, we’ve been slowly moving our way through the Alfred Hitchcock oeuvre (so far we’ve seen 10, a small dent). We’ve been doing this primarily through the library, and it’s slick as can be: You go online, look for the movie you want, and the library system searches all the libraries in the county and has it delivered to your library of choice. Seriously. Is this not almost like magic?

Most recently I ordered Spellbound. I was running errands with a friend, so grabbed the movie, checked it out, ran back out to the car and tossed it on the floor as we continued errands. But it was a new Hitchcock movie, which neither Hal nor I had seen and we were both looking forward to, so I kept glancing down at it on the floor. And I kept seeing children. Children do not feature heavily in most Hitchcock films. I felt a tinge of concern. I picked it up off the floor. No mention of Hitchcock. Oh, 2002. Was Hitchcock still even alive in 2002? He was old when I was little. (No. He died in 1980.) I look closer. This is about a spelling bee. Eighth graders. A documentary. Words.

Oh, bummer! (Not that I don’t love words, I do. Or documentaries, I do. It’s the expectation thing. I was so looking forward to Hitchcock, and I got a spelling bee.) I called spouse to relate the bad news. Horrible disappointment, and then he suggested I look it up on Rotten Tomatoes just in case it’s really good. I checked, and this spelling bee got stellar ratings (98% positive). Since this was the bird that we had in the hand, we decided to watch it.

They were right! It was quite good. We both enjoyed it (not surprising since we both love words)spelling bee movie 2
and it was fascinating to get a look inside the world of the national spelling bee. They follow eight kids, and they all approach it differently and have different levels of support (and interest) from their families. As to the words: I consider myself to have a fairly decent and even above-average vocabulary. But the words in this bee? I had never heard of many of them. Not all, of course, but a lot more than I would have expected. Embarrassing. Humbling. And again, fascinating.

The same day I got home with the spelling bee Spellbound, I went back online and reordered Spellbound, this time making sure I had the Hitchcock version. It arrived, like magic, a few days later. Is it possible to go wrong with Ingrid Bergman? I don’t think so. We both loved it.

Ingrid BergmanHere are the other nine we’ve seen: The 39 Steps (1935); Rebecca (1940); Notorious (1946); Stage Fright (1950); To Catch a Thief (1954); The Trouble With Harry (1956); North by Northwest (1959);  Torn Curtain (1966); Frenzy (1972).

Most I’ve gotten from the library, but I’ve been surprised at how many of the Hitchcock films the library doesn’t have. I may have to cast a wider net. But for now, I haven’t exhausted the supply. Next up: Family Plot.

August Reprise

books2August was a perfect month for reading on the front porch, so that’s exactly what I did. I read 18 books in August, mostly poetry (8) and nonfiction (6) with just a few (4) fiction books in the mix. Most of the books were short—only two of them were over 300 pages and 14 of them were less than 200 pages! One of the fiction books I read (and one of my favorites for the month) was Winnie-the-Pooh (which I wrote about last week).

Nearly all of the books were related to the August reading theme, which was “time.” What a great theme! Scads of poetry books fell under this umbrella. Here are the ones I read:

  • The Time Tree, by Húu Thinh
  • Quick, Now, Always, by Mark Irwin
  • When it Came Time, by Jeri McCormick
  • Timepiece, by Jane Flanders
  • Why I Wake Early, by Mary Oliver
  • Sleeping Late on Judgment Day, by Jane Mayall
  • The Last Usable Hour, by Deborah Landau
  • Time & Money, by William Mathews

Among the nonfiction were two standouts. In the Beginning, by Karen Armstrong is an excellent exegesis of Genesis. I have a great appreciation for Armstrong’s scholarly but very accessible writing, and In the Beginning is no exception. At the outset of the book, she says,

What we need to understand is that the Bible does not present its truths to us in this [straightforward, or factual] way. Reading it demands the same kind of meditative and intuitive attention that we give to a poem. We often have to wrestle with the text, only to learn that we are denied the certainty of a final revelation.

And a few pages later: “The first chapter of Genesis . . . was not intended to be a historical account of the beginning of life but a meditation upon the nature of being itself.” If you are even a teeny bit intrigued, I urge you to read this book. It’s short (only 195 pages, and nearly 100 of those pages are the book of Genesis, which she has included so you don’t have to scamper for a Bible every time you run across a passage of interest).

Measure of DaysThe other nonfiction standout was The Measure of My Days, by Florida Scott-Maxwell. Published in 1968 when the author was in her 80s, the book is subtitled One Woman’s Vivid, Enduring Celebration of Life and Aging. This is a multilayered book that will reward many readings. On the first page she says, “Being old I am out of step, troubled by my lack of concord, unable to like or understand much that I see. Feeling at variance with the times bust be the essence of age.

And just in case you are dreading old age as a time of boredom and drawing down:

Age puzzles me. I thought it was a quiet time. My seventies were interesting, and fairly serene, but my eighties are passionate. I grow more intense as I age. To my own surprise I burst out with hot conviction.

Here is something that surprised me, and made me wonder if it will be true for me in my latter years as well: “Sensuous pleasure seems necessary to old age as intellectual pleasure palls a little.” Here I have all these books I’m saving up for my old age. What if they no longer interest me? More short bits:

“This love and pain and energy that are so strong while I am so weak, what do I do with them?”

“It is the unexpected, the unknowable, the divine irrationality of life that saves us.”

And a sentence that makes me laugh out loud every time I read it: “Excessive talk must be based on vanity, an assumption that you are the fountainhead of interest.” Another highly recommended short (150 pages) book.

Early in August I started two long tomes, No Ordinary Time, by Doris Kearns Goodwin (> 700 pages) and Blackout, by Connie Willis (500 pages). Once I realized that No Ordinary Time won the Pulitzer, and Blackout won the Hugo and the Nebula, I decided to stretch them into September, since they also fit the new monthly theme of “prize-winning books” which I think I might enjoy every bit as much as the time theme.

sageIn the garden I’ve continued to harvest tomatoes and cucumbers (only a very few) as well as calendula, chamomile, basil, sage, and thyme. I haven’t done much with any of them yet (except the tomatoes and cucumbers which we’ve eaten). That will wait for the cooler months. But my hops are nearly ready for the first harvest and I’m excited about that.

I’ve continued writing—both the blog (6 posts in August) and the daily haiku for the 10th month (though I broke form on one so it wasn’t a haiku at all, but rigidity isn’t everything in life). And of course, the weekly postcard missives to President Obama. Most recently: Dear President Obama, Time to take the military equipment and attitude out of the
police force. Replace with respect.maple

Most of the leaves have fallen from my crabapple tree, and I’ve seen the first scarlet leaves on the
maples. Fall is just around the corner.