Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Book: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Author: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Like/Don't Like: Loved

Let's just get this out of the way: this is a ridiculous title for a book. It's just way too precious and it made me think of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood or the Jane Austen Bookclub and does the world really need any more books about women who get together to talk about their man troubles and the enduring spirit of womanhood. No. It doesn't. And that title is the only reason why it took me ages to get around to reading it. Despite it being highly recommended by several trusted friends.

So I am happy to report that it is nothing like those books. It is a lovely little story. It is written entirely in letters (which I thought would drive me nuts but didn't) primarily between a writer in London, Juliet, and a group of people in Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands, who formed a literary society during the German Occupation of World War II. They write about their love of books and the troubles they've had during the war and the whole thing is utterly wonderful. It's funny and clever and was much deeper than the title would suggest. It will make you 1.) want to study up on Guernsey and 2.) want to find a pen pal.

Friday, January 15, 2010


Book: Run
Author: Ann Patchett
Like/Don't Like: Really liked

Blast. I've gone too long. I finished this book a week ago and now all I can remember is that I liked it a lot. It was centered around a rich Irish Catholic family in Boston consisting of a father and his three sons, two of whom are adopted and black. And there's a car accident that changes their lives. And that is about it. I am clearly pathetic.

Oh, wait! I can remember that it was beautifully written. I mean, seriously. Ann Patchett has a gift for writing from different perspectives. You feel like you're sitting in a room with a bunch of interesting people and they're all telling their version of a story all at once but one voice will carry over the others, then it will subside and another will rise up, then another, then another until the whole story comes out.

Is that enough to make you want to read it?

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Movie: Adam
Like/Don't Like: It was very sweet.

So Aspergers Syndrome is so common now that there's a movie about a guy who has it. I'm still waiting for a movie about Restless Leg Syndrome.

Adam is a 29 year old guy with Aspergers whose father has just died, leaving him alone in the world. He has a job and an apartment and his father's best friend, but other then that he's on his own. A school teacher, Beth, moves into the apartment upstairs and starts up a relationship with him. It's sweet and awkward and has the looming question of whether or not this could actually work out. She helps him become more independent and he teachers her to be more compassionate and also more specific in the things she wants. It's a lovely little film.

Young at Heart

Documentary: Young at Heart
Like/Don't Like: Pensioners singing Sonic Youth - Love

You MUST see this documentary. Must. Here's why:

1.) There is nothing more wonderful/beautiful/hilarious then a group of old people doing something fun. This documents a singing group called Young at Heart that is made up of elderly folk singing non-standards. You would expect them to sing In the Good Old Summertime or Stardust or something, but they've moved on from those. They sing Golden Years by David Bowie, and I Wanna Be Sedated by the Ramones. Their version of Fix You by Coldplay will have you in tears.

2.) It makes you want to LIVE. It seems like the biggest challenge of the choir is keeping its members alive - the choir director asked who has ever had last rites said for them and more then a few hands shot up - and yet all of these people participate because they love to it. They've hit on the secret of life and if makes you want to join in.

3.) My black grandma is in it. Katie saw it first so when I was watching it she said, "There's a black woman who looks exactly like Grandma Knecht in this" and she was right. I picked her out just from the profile. And then she smiled and she had the gap in her teeth and it was uncanny. Had she been wearing a muumuu and watching the People's Court I would not have been able to tell the difference.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Angus, Thongs and Full-frontal Snogging. The movie!

Movie: Angus, Thongs and Full-frontal Snogging.
Like/Don't Like: Double Cool with Knobs.

By now you must know my love for the Georgia Nicholson books, those embarrassingly hilarious novels by Louise Rennison about a teenage British girl that make you snort-laugh in public. I have lent them out to so many people I'm thinking about getting a second set just to have around for emergencies.

So awhile ago I got an urgent text from a friend whom I introduced them to saying: "They're making Georgia into a movie!!!!!!!!!" It was released in England but not here. And then it was released on DVD in England but not here, which is an important distinction because while you can buy ye olde English DVDs online, if you don't have ye olde English DVD player you can't watch it. Fortunately I have a friend who has a magical DVD player that can plays DVDs from all around the world and she bought the movie and we had a fab viewing party about a year ago, wherein we wore boy entrancers and ate cheesy whats-its and jammie dodgers and midget gems. None of this will make sense to you unless you have read the books, so READ THE BOOKS!

I didn't write about it then because it wasn't widely released. But it is now - Katie just got it through Netflix - so I can tell you it is pretty funny and you should watch it. If only to justify wearing fake eyelashes with your ace gang. It lacks a bit of the charm that the books have but it has enough of it to make you want to re-read the entire series and laugh like a loon on loon pills. All the awkward moments are there, including Georgia showing up to a party dressed as a stuffed olive. Classic.

Leap Year

Movie: Leap Year
Like/Don't Like: Um...

You know the premise to the movie: Amy Adams wants to propose to her boyfriend and flies to Ireland to do it because in Ireland a woman can propose to man on leap day. I neither liked nor disliked this movie so I'm just going to give you the facts:

1.) Amy Adams has magical hair. On several occasions her character gets doused by rain and mud and her hair still comes out looking like a Pantene ad.
2.) I couldn't completely buy into her character because she didn't bring a single pair of sensible shoes on her trip to Ireland. It's difficult to like a girl who travels across the Irish countryside in 4 inch heels.
3.) Matthew Goode is adorable.
4.) Matthew Goode should always have facial hair.
5.) My obsession with facial hair is reaching epic heights.
6.) I want to go to Ireland.
7.) For a romantic comedy it wasn't very funny.
8.) It had a romantic ending and I'm a sucker for that. Almost as big of a sucker as I am for facial hair.

I was going to give you a rant about how much it annoys me when romantic comedies ask you to believe that two people who have spent the whole movie annoying each other can magically fall in love without actually showing you any reason why they should be, but I realize that that is the nature of the genre and I should stop being a grump.

I'm giving this an "um..." because while I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to anyone I can see myself wasting a few hours on a Saturday afternoon watching in when it inevitably turns up on Lifetime. It could be my new "Lakehouse".

The Class

Movie: The Class
Like/Don't Like: Loved

I'm going to give you a heads up on this one because I was slightly confused until I finished the movie and watched the special features. It looks like a documentary about a middle school French class in a rough Paris neighborhood. It is not. It's a fictitious movie about a middle school French class in a rough Paris neighborhood. But it's not a traditional movie either. It doesn't use professional actors and most of it is improvised. Which gives it an eerily real vibe.

Francois Begaudeau wrote a novel about his time teaching at a middle school and then made it into a movie using real students who had gone through an improve class. There was a script but a big chunk of the action was made up by the kids. Which was fascinating because you really see that teenagers are exactly the same no matter where in the world they are. When I worked for a school district I had to go to a few middle school and high school classes and the only difference between those classes and the class in the movie was the language. But even that wasn't much of a difference because teenagers speak the same way too. There are the mumblers who are trying to make excuses for not doing their work, and the girls who can't control their volume when they're excited, and the shy smart kids who speak clearly and directly when spoken too.

You also get to see teachers who face problems like cultural and generational differences, and social and moral issues such as how much should a teacher interfere in a student's home life and where is the line between loving educator and strict disciplinarian. It makes you realize that teaching young minds is a universally tricky business.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Documentary: Helvetica
Like/Don't Like: Like. But I like this sort of stuff.

Who knew there was so much to say about a font. And not just any font. The most straight forward font there is - Helvetica.

And who knew that they could make such a fascinating documentary about this font. Or, excuse me, typeface (I don't want to offend the typeface designers who - I'm not kidding - are PASSIONATE about it.) It basically draws a line from its creation in Switzerland in the 50s when Modernism was all the rage, to a backlash against it in the 70s and 80s when we were all down with the Establishment, to today with the hipsters going crazy for it. Case in point - American Apparel uses it. One typeface designer - a product of the 70s graphic design theory actually blames Helvetica for both the Vietnam war and the current war in Iraq.

You would either love it or be totally confused as to why it was even made. And I bet you know what side you're on. But I'll end with brief exchange I had with a friend a few days after seeing it.

Teresa: I love that at the end of the Harry Potter books there is a page telling you about the typeface.

Me: I have a movie I think you'll love.