Black History Month Reading Day 6

I’ve finished Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly. What an excellent book! Both deeper and broader than the movie, the book covers a longer period of time, a larger swath of people (including African American men) and, occasionally, areas outside Langley and the state of Virginia. The book, Hidden Figures, is about many more hidden figures than the three highlighted in the movie.

I loved the book. I loved the movie. As is usually true, the book holds a lot more than the movie. There’s a lot of history, and many more stories in the book than could ever make it into one movie. It would have to be a documentary. Or several documentaries.

But here’s something. Almost always I will say I loved the book more than the movie (there are a few exceptions, and I’ll think of one soon—maybe The Hours). But in this case, I didn’t love the book more than the movie, but nor did I love the movie more than the book. I loved them differently, in a way that I’m not sure has ever happened to me before.

The movie was a good bit of history, but its primary impact on me was emotional. I was just there with these women. Certainly I learned a lot in the movie, but when I walked out of the movie, I was all yes!—Give women a chance and a place at the table and we can do just about anything. And these black women who broke so many barriers in the face of so much discrimination—it makes me pause in awe.

The book layered a lot more history on that good feeling, which was also a good feeling.

And then somewhere in there I took a break and watched Bagdad Café again. Does anyone out there know/remember this movie? One of my all-time faves (I think it would have to be in my top 10). I loved this movie for the music first, most specifically “Calling You” by Jevetta Steele—a mesmerizing and haunting song. I am not sure I can listen to this song without being moved to tears (is there any other song that falls into that category? Oh, yes, “What a Wonderful World,” by Louis Armstrong).

It might not work if you haven’t seen the movie (the emotional wallop of the song, I mean), not sure—I’ve mostly only heard it watching the movie (at least a dozen times now).

But this quirky movie is worth watching if it has escaped your radar. It’s one of those movies I seem to enjoy just a bit more each time, and I never tire of C.C.H. Pounder.

And I have recently learned that this song that I have loved for decades is sung by a local musician. Yes, right here in the Twin Cities. Jevetta Steele, part of the Steele family. (Thank you dear spouse for bringing this to my attention; I have a tendency to miss things close to home.)

Back to books. In the land of poetry, I’m On the Bus with Rosa Parks, by Rita Dove. About two-thirds through, I am thoroughly enjoying it. I especially liked the second section, “Freedom: Bird’s-Eye View,” which contains several gems. One of the best known may be “Maple Valley Branch Library, 1967,” and that certainly is a most excellent poem. I thought to include that one because I love it. But I decided on this one because it’s shorter and perhaps a little less well known.

The First Book

Open it.

Go ahead, it won’t bite.
Well . . . maybe a little.

More a nip, like. A tingle.
It’s pleasurable, really.

You see, it keeps on opening.
You may fall in.

Sure, it’s hard to get started;
remember learning to use

knife and fork? Dig in:
You’ll never reach bottom.

It’s not like it’s the end of the world—
just the world as you think

you know it.

–Rita Dove

We’re still in serious winter here in Minnesota, so I’m going back to hibernating with my books. Stay warm (to those of you in the winter climes) and happy reading to all!

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Black History Month Reading: Day 1

No, I’m not going to do a daily report (I don’t read—or write—fast enough to make a daily report interesting) but I hope to provide several updates throughout the month.

A few days ago I started Phoebe Robinson’s You Can’t Touch My Hair and Other Things I Still Have to Explain. I’m about a quarter of the way through and loving it. At least three times I’ve almost gotten up from the table to email Ms. Robinson and tell her how much I am loving her book, but coffee and inertia win out. There’s a good chance I’ll still write her. From my chair, the first two chapters of the book alone were worth the price. Already I respect black women more (yes, this is how much I don’t know). The power of hair.

To leaven the pot a little bit, tonight I read the preface of Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly (on which the movie—which I loved—was based) and I got teary-eyed just with the preface. This is some fine history of the key role that black women played in the NASA space program. (If you haven’t seen the movie—oh my. I will only say I loved it. I’m sure not everyone should love it just because I loved it, but really, in this case, maybe yes. Excellent story, excellent acting. And you can get it from the library.)

I was a little surprised/disappointed that I didn’t have any African American poetry on my to-read shelf (I found several on my poetry-to-keep-forever shelf, but I find I want to go beyond what I have already read). I requested several books from the library in late January, as soon as I discovered my in-house dearth. The next day, five were already in transit. Yes! I checked online this morning, and still none had arrived. But this afternoon I took a chance and stopped by the library. You never know when the books might arrive. I headed right to the reserve books, and boo, none had arrived. So I hunted up poetry (buried in nonfiction, which surprised me, and all mixed up with essays and children’s books—I need to ask my librarian friend about this; it feels like Dewey Decimal run amok). That was fruitless, but the 10 minutes I stood trying to make sense of the shelves made a difference. I stopped by the reserve shelves on my way out, and yes! There they were, 3 (of 10) that I requested: On the Bus with Rosa Parks, by Rita Dove; and Morning Haiku and Under a Soprano Sky, both by Sonia Sanchez.

And while logic would have it that I start with Sonia Sanchez so that I could then read Dove and not get all samey-samey, I purely could not stop myself from starting with the Rita Dove book. I have read only the first bit, but I am happy with my choice. I love Rita Dove (2 books on the keep-forever shelf) and this is a most excellent start to the month.

I’m not new to black literature, but this immersion experience is new. I know I will learn a lot. I wonder if it will change me. It well might. This is the power of books.

I’ll keep you in the loop.

November Reprise

November was mostly about cleaning and cooking and squirrels.  I had hoped to get the entire main floor of our house cleaned, but only got to the living room, dining room, and a bit of the bathroom. Oh well. The important thing is I’m making progress and I will continue (albeit not much in December which has its own agenda).

rosieIn between bouts of cleaning I read 11 books (4 each fiction and nonfiction, and 3 poetry). The standout fiction book was The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion: A socially challenged genetics professor develops a 30+ page questionnaire to help him find the perfect mate. This was a fun, witty book which made me laugh aloud several times. I didn’t want to put it down and finished it in two days. The standout nonfiction was The Art of Communicating, by Thich Nhat Hanh, a short book full of wisdom that I vowed to reread every year the moment I finished it.

I really ramped up the cooking in November. This surprised me because of the cleaning project. But it also pleased me because I feared I had lost my cooking genes, but apparently they were just dormant over the summer months. I made steel-cut oats, wild rice, and orzo, all for the first time. I also made my first chicken adobo (excellent) and brown rice and peas (horrible and bland). I made three more batches of applesauce (including a microwave recipe that was not one whit easier than doing it on the stovetop—and nor did it make the house smell as good!).

And now that we’re in root vegetable season (parsnips!) I’ve made aparsnips couple of batches of roasted vegetables (seasoned with pepper and rosemary). Last time we went to the co-op, I got a few turnips. I expect they will be a nice addition to the mix. And since winter is here (we had an extremely cold November), I made some red lentil soup (which was merely okay).

We were invited to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving. I was responsible for the corn pudding and the mashed potatoes. It was a fine meal, and I got to take home the turkey carcass (along with a lot of leftover turkey). So I made turkey stock and also a wild rice-turkey casserole which was kind of bland (but the cranberries I added were a fun occasional splash of tart).

In the herbal realm I was somewhat influenced by the cleaning project (sweet birch dust cloths, homemade air freshener), but also made some winter wellness tea (rosehips, elderberries, and star anise), cinnamon massage oil, a foot scrub, and I put up a couple of oils (thyme, chamomile, and elderberries; and ginger, chamomile, and clove) which should be ready to decant in a couple of weeks.

I’ve continued the haiku project (one haiku a day, which I send to a friend in Montana as a sort of record of the year), and the Obama weekly postcard project (I’ve now sent 24 postcards to the White House). I drafted another villanelle.

We trapped eight squirrels (they were in our walls) and there has been a blessed lack of scritching and scrabbling for the last two weeks. We got the lawn raked and the garden put to bed in the nick of time—snow fell the next day. Since I’m not a winter biker, I’ve adopted a winter regimen of yoga, weight lifting, and stretching. I do this with my neighbor, which is the only reason I do it at all. Otherwise I would just curl up in a chair and read all winter.

HepburnOn a final note, we abandoned the Hitchcock project. It all started when I lost the list (highlighting the ones we had seen). A sign. I thought of how many Hitchcock movies I had returned to the library unseen. And then I noted that we had never returned a Katharine Hepburn movie unseen. So now instead of the Hitchcock project, we have the Hepburn project. Next up: The Lion in Winter.

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

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.