Monday, December 29, 2008

reading challenge: diversity rocks!

The Diversity Rocks! challenge has options for everyone to pick a level of reading. The purpose of the challenge is to ensure ethnic and racial diversity in our reading choices. I'm opting for level 3: challenge addict, and I pledge to read at least 12 books in 2009. I'll pick my books as I go, but I've been attempting to read more foreign fiction, and this challenge will provide even more incentive.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

reading challenges: 2009 master list

For my sanity, I've created this master list to track my progress. A link to this post will appear at the top of the "reading challenges" toolbar on the right.

100+ Books (31 of 100+ read)
2009 Pub Challenge (9 of 9 read) - finished!
Art History (0 of 6 read)
Diversity Rocks! (0 of 12 read)
Read Your Name (6 of 11 read)
Support Your Local Library (25 of 25 read) - finished!
What's In a Name (2 of 6 read)
Young Adult (9 of 12 read)

reading challenge: read your name

The Read Your Name challenge sounds like a lot of fun too. The goal is to read a book with a title beginning with each letter in your name. I'm using nomadreader as my challenge name. Here are some thoughts on books I hope to read, but this list is subject to change.

N - Natives & Exotics by Jane Alison, Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult, The Night Watch by Sarah Waters
O - Open House by Elizabeth Berg, O, Jerusalem by Laurie R. King, One of Those Malibu Nights by Elizabeth Adler
M - (The) Maytrees by Annie Dillard, Measuring the World by Daniel Kellman, (The) Midnight Diary of Zoya Blume by Laura Shaine Cunningham
A - Apples & Oranges by Marie Brenner, Affinity by Sarah Waters, (The) Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta
D - Day by A.L. Kennedy, Durable Goods by Elizabeth Berg, (A) Darker Place by Laurie R. King, Dream of Scipio by Iain Pears, (A) Day Late and a Dollar Short by Terry McMillan, Death du Jour by Kathy Reichs, Dirty Girls Social Club by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez
R - Range of Motion by Elizabeth Berg, (The) Return Journey by Maeve Binchy
E - (The) End by Salvatore Scibona, (The) Echo Maker by Richard Powers, (The) Echo by Minette Walters, (The) Education of Harriet Hatfield by May Sarton, Emma by Jane Austen

The Finished List:
N -(The) Night Tourist by Katherine Marsh
O - Offbeat Bride by Ariel Meadow Stallings
M - Much Ado About Jessie Kaplan by Paula Marantz Cohen (finished 1/3/09)
A -Annie's Adventures by Lauren Barantz-Logsted
D -Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris
R -
E -
A -
D -(The) Devlin Diary by Christi Phillips
E -
R -

reading challenge: 2009 pub challenge

The 2009 Pub Challenge sounds fun. It's simple: read nine books published in 2009. With new books coming from some of my favorite authors, it should be simple. Also, it will give me even more excuses to keep an eye out for new books.

Books I've finished so far:
1. Lethal Legacy by Linda Fairstein
2. The Lost Witness by Robert Ellis
3. Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell
4. Laura Rider's Masterpiece by Jane Hamilton
5. The Sisters Antipodes by Jane Alison
6. Life Sentences by Laura Lippman
7. 8th Confession by James Patterson
8. Lords of Corruption by Kyle Mills
9. Nobody Move by Denis Johnson

reading challenge: support your local library

The Support Your Local Library Challenge should be a breeze for me, as I get almost all of my books from the library. I'll be doing it by default, but I'll update this list as I go.

1. Keep Your Mouth Shut and Wear Beige by Kathleen Gilles Seidel (finished 1/3/09)
2. Much Ado About Jessie Kaplan by Paula Marantz Cohen (finished 1/3/09)
3. Different Like Coco by Elizabeth Matthews (finished 1/22/09)
4. First the Egg by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (finished 1/22/09)
5. Flotsam by David Wiesner (finished 1/22/09)
6. The Wednesday Wars by David Schmidt (finished 1/25/09)
7. Serefina Under the Circumstances (finished 1/26/09)
8. Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems (finished 1/26/09)
9. Knuffle Bunny Too by Mo Willems (finished 1/26/09)
10. Click, Clack, Moo (finished 1/26/09)
11. The Pout-Pout Fish (finished 1/26/09)
12. The Wall by Peter Sis (finished 1/26/09)
13. Likely to Die by Linda Fairstein (finished 1/28/09)
14. Practically Perfect by Katie Fforde
15. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
16. Cold Hit by Linda Fairstein
17. Lethal Legacy by Linda Fairstein
18. The Lost Witness by Robert Ellis
19. Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell
20. Heart Sick by Chelsea Cain
21. Sweetheart by Chelsea Cain
22. Q & A by Vikas Swarup
23. Laura Rider's Masterpiece by Jane Hamilton
24. Wedding Season by Katie Fforde
25. Offbeat Bride by Ariel Meadow Stallings

reading challenge: art history

The Art History Reading Challenge may be the one I'm most excited about. The goal is simple: read six books, fiction or non-fiction dealing with art history.

I'd like to read three fiction and three non-fiction. Here is a possible list of books I'll read:

1. Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper
2. Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland
3. The Portrait by Iain Pears

1. Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X by Deborah Davis
2. Art Lover: A Biography of Peggy Guggenheim by Anton Gill
3. The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren

reading challenge: young adult

While I'm feeling hopeful and optimistic about the new year, I'm adding a few more reading challenges. The Young Adult Challenge should be fairly easy to complete while I'm in the midst of rereading all things Harry Potter. Plus, I'll be taking young adult literature in the fall, and I'm sure the reading for that course alone will allow me to read twelve Young Adult books this year.

1. The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt
2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
3. The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron
4. The Giver by Lois Lowry
5. Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry
6. If I Stay by Gayle Forman
7. The Night Tourist by Katherine Marsh
8. Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty
9. Second Helpings by Megan McCafferty

reading challenge: what's in a name 2?

As the new year fast approaches, I've worked up many possibilities for the categories for this year's What's in a Name Challenge? Although this list may change, here are my current ideas:

1. A book with a "profession" in its title:
  • The Love Artist by Jane Alison
  • The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta
  • The Fireman's Wife by Jack Riggs
  • Priest by Ken Bruen
2. A book with a "time of day" in its title:
  • The Midnight Diary of Zoya Blume by Laura Shaine Cunningham
3. A book with a "relative" in its title:
  • The Sisters Antipodes by Jane Alison

4. A book with a "body part" in its title:
  • Keep Your Mouth Shut and Wear Beige by Kathleen Gilles Seidel (finished 1/3/09)
5. A book with a "building" in its title:
  • Open House by Elizabeth Berg
  • The House at Riverton by Kate Morton
  • The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving
6. A book with a "medical condition" in its title:
  • Death du Jour by Kathy Reichs
  • Heart Trouble by Kathy Hogan Trocheck
I only have to read one per category, and I've given myself lots of options. I'm looking forward to starting this challenge.

movie review: michael clayton

I've had Michael Clayton sitting around from Netflix for an embarrassingly long time. It's one of those movies I really wanted to see, but I was never in the mood to see. I'm so glad I finally took the plunge.

The film is deliciously dense. It's so clearly a film written to be a film; it treasures the visual medium. Dialogue is often minimal, and the viewer is forced to pay attention. The story is told in the details, and I thought I was missing things at first. It's subtle and seems subdued until the last ten minutes, when all the details and images come together seamlessly. It's a film that gets better the more you think about it; one further realizes how intentional every frame is.

I've enjoyed many of Tony Gilroy's films, but I may have to actually see The Cutting Edge now. I'm quite curious about the one film that doesn't fit with the rest of his resume.

Overall, I think it was better than No Country for Old Men, which won the Best Picture Oscar. They're certainly both great movies, but at the end of the day, Michael Clayton felt more complete. I'm incredibly partial to movies written to be movies rather than those adapted from books. They're different means of storytelling, and they're not always as compatible as producers seems to think.

George Clooney was good. Tilda Swinton was good. Tom Wilkinson was amazing. Sydney Pollock was great.

Rent it when you're in the mood for an intellectual thriller.

Rating: 3 stars (loved it)

book review: harry potter and the sorcerer's stone

I'm on a quest to re/read all of the Harry Potter books. I started reading Harry Potter the month before the fourth book came out, and I was spoiled. By the time the fifth book came out a year later, I didn't remember what was happening, and I didn't even finish it. Now that all seven are out, I'm rededicated to my efforts. I thoroughly enjoyed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, even though I still maintain the first fifty pages are unnecessarily slow and depressing. Once Harry gets to Hogwarts, the story really comes alive, and I enjoyed the story much more this time than I remember enjoying it last time. Perhaps because I had more realistic expectations going in. When I first read it, I was expecting the greatest children's book ever written. It's really good, and at times it's great, but I don't think the books themselves are brilliant. J.K. Rowling is brilliant, and the world she created is mesmerizing. She's a good storyteller, but there's a certain depth missing (at least so far, I may recant after book seven) to make me call the books brilliant. I'm eager to start rereading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Rating: 2.5 stars (really liked it)

book review: baby proof by emily giffin

Emily Giffin is one of my favorite authors, and Baby Proof is my favorite of her books. I had a sudden hankering to reread it, and once again, I read it in a single sitting. Baby Proof is the story of Claudia and Ben, the kind of blissfully happy couple I imagine everyone wants to be in. They have similar temperaments and agree on all of the important things. They both agreed they never wanted children, until Ben suddenly does. The fallout is brutal, as this disagreement is incredibly difficult to compromise on.

Baby Proof is not nearly as heartbreaking as I remember, which is a testament to Giffin's storytelling. It's hopeful and honest. It's one of my favorite books, and I need to remember to reread it once a year.

Rating: 4 stars (life-changingly good)

book review: the friday night knitting club by kate jacobs

I listened to this book on unabridged audio book. It's a passable novel, but it struck me that it was written from blueprints on "how to write a novel". Although many of the characters were likeable, the events they faced seemed formulaic and forced at times. Some storylines seemed more organic than others. There is the crux of a good story, even if it was awkward and forced at times. The events didn't surprise me, and thus I didn't attach much emotion to them. Jacobs' descriptive prose was awkward at times as well. Perhaps I was more attuned to it because I listened to it rather than read it, but she seemed to consciously avoid overusing characters names. Instead, she would write, "the tall man responded," which was not relevant to the scene. Yes, I remembered he was tall, but it didn't affect the conversation.

I'm looking forward to the movie, with Julia Roberts signed on as Georgia. It's one book I imagine will make a better movie. I wouldn't advise against reading it; I enjoyed it enough to finish it, but I certainly wasn't blown away by it. I'm even waiting my turn for the sequel at the library.

Rating: 2 stars (liked it)

book review: here's the story by maureen mccormick

I love The Brady Bunch. I grew up rushing home to catch the reruns on TBS every afternoon. I own the shag carpet covered box set of all dvds. Naturally, I was excited to read Maureen McCormick's memoir.

McCormick is not a great writer, but she does write candidly and honestly. Because I found the subject matter interesting, I was able to overlook her often awkward prose. The Brady Bunch was only the focus of part of the book, as I'm sure it was only the focus of part of her life, even though she remains Marcia Brady to most Americans. I most enjoyed her tales of Hollywood life and working with other famous people I had no idea she had interaction with. I adore learning about the interconnectedness of people, and this book provided many gems.

If you're a fan of The Brady Bunch or Hollywood memoirs, it's worth a read. Otherwise, it's not sensational enough or well-written enough to bother.

Rating: 2 stars (liked it)

book review: the lazarus project by aleksandar hemon

Sentence(s) worth remembering: "Home is where somebody notices when you are no longer there." (p. 3)

"The world is always greater than your desires; plenty is never enough." (p. 3)

"I am just like everybody else, Isador always says, because there is nobody like me in the whole world." (p. 5)

"She was beautiful; my breath was taken; we were still lonely; she said yes." (p. 32)

"Nobody can control resemblances, any more than you can control echoes." (p. 106)

The Lazarus Project was the first book I read in my quest to read all of the National Book Award nominees. I had not read Aleksandar Hemon before, but I will again. Hemon is originally from Bosnia-Herzogovenia, but has lived in Chicago more than ten years. His transforming method of writing English is mesmerizing. Although this story is intriguing, I found myself most enthralled with his writing. He uses semicolons more brilliantly and intriguingly than anyone I've ever read. There's a reason he won a genius grant from the the MacArthur Foundation.

The story occurs in two time periods. First, it's the story of Lazarus Averbuch, who went to see the chief of police in Chicago in 1908, handed him a letter, and was shot. His death, which really happened, remains a mystery, and is a subject of much speculation, particularly for anarchists and immigrants. Contemporarily, Vladimir Brik, a writer and immigrant from Sarajevo married to an American neurosurgeon and living in Chicago, becomes fascinated by the case of Lazarus Averbuch and sets off to retrace the steps of Lazarus' life. The chapters alternate between the two centuries, and the story unfolds beautifully through this combination of voices.

Hemon is a brilliant talent, and I hope his mastery and transforming power with the English language continues.

rating: 3 stars (loved it)

Friday, December 26, 2008

can i really read 100 books in 2009?

It's an ambitious goal to attempt to read one hundred books in 2009. I'm a full-time graduate student, and I work two part-time jobs. I only managed to read thirty books (and counting?) this year, but I'm setting my goals higher next year. New years inevitably call for more introspection, and reading is one of my absolute favorite things to do. Still, I perpetually find myself watching television or wasting away the hours reading blogs. I'd like to return to focusing on reading. There's now a lovely reading chair, makeshift footstool and light in my bedroom, and I plan to spend a significant amount of time in it next year. I'm a goal oriented person, and I hope setting this very public goal of reading one hundred books will help me accomplish it. My aces in the hole are that I'm taking both children's literature and young adult literature this year, and the reading lists for those classes will help push me to one hundred. If I don't make it, it's certainly not the end of the world, but if I don't try, I won't know. I may choose to read many long books for enjoyment that will deter me from this goal. As long as I'm reading more, I'm happy. Cheers to 2009.

1. Keep Your Mouth Shut and Wear Beige by Kathleen Gilles Seidel
2. Much Ado About Jessie Kaplan by Paula Marantz Cohen
3. Final Jeopardy by Linda Fairstein
4. Different Like Coco by Elizabeth Matthews
5. First the Egg by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
6. Flotsam by David Wiesner

Saturday, December 13, 2008

movie review: the jane austen book club

I won't mince words: I adored The Jane Austen Book Club. It was intelligent, warm and real. Impressively, in less than two hours, the film managed to deal with more than six storylines well. Sure, it's a little schmaltzy, but it's oddly satisfying. The film (based on Karen Joy Fowler's book of the same name) is not only an ode to Jane Austen, but to literature as a whole, especially its resonance over the years. As Jane Austen's novels are too, this movie is about life, love, loss, trust and friendship.

The cast was brilliant: Mario Bello, Kathy Baker, Emily Blunt, Amy Brenneman, Hugh Dancy, Maggie Grace, Jimmy Smits and Lynn Redgrave. It was wonderful to see Emily Blunt have so much to do, especially after seeing her do little but smoke a joint and take her clothes off in Charlie Wilson's War. Mario Bello was fantastic. Despite so many excellent female performances, Hugh Dancy stole the movie. He was charming, dapper, awkward and ultimately endearing.

In so many ways, this movie comes dangerously close to being cringe-inducing and cheesy. Wonderful acting and the back drop of both intellectual and catty banter about Jane Austen firmly anchors this story in a respectable space. I'm not claiming the film itself is brilliant, but many pieces of it are, and it's ridiculously entertaining and moving. I can't wait to see it again.

Rating: 3 stars (loved it)

movie review: be kind rewind

It's not a secret I have a soft spot for (in order): Mos Def, Michel Gondry and Jack Black. I read the middling reviews of Be Kind Rewind, and I had moderate expectations. The film is slow to start. When it does pick up, it's delightful, witty and surprisingly poignant. By embracing the ridiculous, yet brilliant plot, the film manages to plausibly straddle the line between preposterous and believable.

It's refreshing to see Jack Black do comedy and drama; it helps restrain his wackiness into something more endearing. Danny Glover and Mia Farrow were fantastic. In this all-star cast, relative newcomer Melonie Diaz gave the best performance. I plan to make a point to see more of her films soon.

This movie delivers many laughs and quite a few tears. It's definitely worth seeing. Even though it's perhaps not brilliant filmmaking, it is unique, refreshing, entertaining and touching. If I had the power to edit out the boring beginning and elongate the last hour, I would.

Rating: 3 stars (loved it)

movie review: made of honor

Although Made of Honor included a few patches of humor and charm, it was lousy. Patrick Dempsey is endearing, Michelle Monaghan, whom I had no opinion of, was lovely. The supporting cast was fantastic: Kadeem Hardison, Busy Phillips, Sydney Pollock. It's a testament to the acting prowess of the cast that the wretched script didn't seem so egregious most of the time. The story itself is trite and uninteresting. The attempts at comedy were randomly slapstick and always unoriginal; the movie was almost a caricature of itself. I appreciate comedy with my humor, but it has to balance. Inserting slapstick into a poignant moment makes the poignancy laughable and the intended humor groan-inducing.

Ratings: 1 star (eh); if you have low expectations and a bottle of wine, there are worse ways to spend a night snowed in

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

movie review: charlie wilson's war

First, let me be honest about relevant biases I hold. I am not a fan of Tom Hanks. I don't like Forrest Gump, and aside from Big, I've never really understand his massive appeal. I either really enjoy Julia Roberts (i.e. Mona Lisa Smile or Steel Magnolias) or I'm lukewarm about her performances. I think Philip Seymour Hoffman is brilliant in everything he's ever done. Finally, Aaron Sorkin is a dynamic writer.

The dialogue is fast-paced, which I usually adore (i.e. 30 Rock, the funniest show on television). When rapid dialogue coexists with Southern accents, it is sometimes difficult to understand. This movie is all dialogue. I found myself listening too hard to the individual words to always understand the depth of plot. It's certainly a history lesson, and the story is fascinating. Philip Seymour Hoffman steals every scene he's in, and he deserved the Oscar nomination for it. I happen to believe his performance was even better than Javier Bardem's winning performance in No Country for Old Men, but I realize I'm in the minority. Tom Hanks was also fantastic, and I am not one to commonly hold this belief. Julia Roberts, despite having very little to do in this incredibly male driven story, was underwhelming. She's from Georgia, and I know she can do a Southern accent well, but her accent in Charlie Wilson's War was odd and un-Texan. She had a few great lines, but they managed to be more throwaways because of her accent and lack of character development. I would have gladly added ten minutes to the film's running time to see Julia Roberts have more to do.

All things considered, it's definitely worth seeing, but when you watch it, you may want to keep the remote control nearby to pause and rewind the rapidly fired dialogue. Prepare to once again be in awe of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Also, prepare to be absolutely depressed because the story is true. It's brilliance is in its tragedy; the layers of history must be determined after the fact. I give Aaron Sorkin credit for distilling a complicated part of history into a manageable hour and forty-five minute story. I appreciate the tongue-in-cheek depictions of women at the time. The screenplay and the actresses who portray Wilson's support staff manage to allow viewers to celebrate the decadence of the day with a modern view of its sexist underpinnings. It's not a movie I'll need to see again, but it is a movie I'm glad I saw.

Rating: 2.5 stars (really liked it)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

book review: deep end of the ocean by jacquelyn mitchard

After haphazardly reading Oprah's book club selections for years, I've decided to systematically read them all, beginning with her first choice: Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard. It's the story of Beth and family, including her son, Ben, who disappears at Beth's high school reunion.

It's heartbreaking, and I must admit, I was completely captivated for the first two-thirds of the book. Perhaps it's because the story truly is heartbreaking, and I pulled away from the sadness, or perhaps the story really did run out of steam, but I was heading dangerously close to lukewarm by the end. It's a big book, and a lot happens, but it also seems the story is not fully appreciated it. Granted, Jacquelyn Mitchard is a gifted writer, and I'm sure she made a conscious choice to tell the story from only two points of view, but there is a vibrant cast of supporting characters I'm still curious about.

It's definitely worth a read, and I'm eager to read more of Mitchard's books. If you would have asked me the night I sat in one spot by the fire and read three hundred pages, I would have professed a deeply gratifying love for this novel, but today, I'm more reserved with my praise.

rating: 3 stars (loved it)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

book review: access to power by robert ellis

After absolutely loving the third book Robert Ellis wrote, City of Fire, and loving his second book, The Dead Room, I finally read his debut mystery, Access to Power. While Access to Power is an entertaining political thriller, it lacks the depth of his later works. Granted, it's ten years old, and it's about political corruption and campaigning, so perhaps it's unfair to judge the book by modern standards.

If you're a fan of politics and mysteries, it's worth a read, but you must promise to read City of Fire too. It's a brilliant mystery, and I think it's the only book nomadreaderboy, his mother, grandmother, step-father and I all agree is spectacular. It's quite a feat. Our intrepid Lena Gamble is back in February 2009 in The Lost Witness, in case you weren't paying attention.

rating: 2.5 stars out of 4 (really liked it)

book review: American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

Sentence(s) worth writing down:
"It provided him with a way to structure his behavior, and a way to explain that behavior, both past and present, to himself. Perhaps fiction has, for me, served a similar purpose--what is a narrative arc if not the imposition of order on disparate events?--and perhaps it is my avid reading that has been my faith along." -Alice, on her husband's fundamentalist Christianity

My thoughts:
I've been wanting to read Curtis Sittenfeld for quite some time, and I'm so glad I finally did. As most are aware, American Wife is a fictionalization of Laura Bush's life. It's set in Wisconsin instead of Texas, which the Midwesterner in me loves even more. Several details are imagined and more are rearranged, but the crux of many characters is immensely recognizable. I admit, I don't know much about Laura Bush. I know she's a librarian, and I knew she was a Democrat until her wedding day, but I never even gave her much thought. Now I can't seem to stop thinking about the intricacies of her life.

I won't mince words; American Wife is brilliant. Sittenfeld deserves every literary accolade thrown at her, but if she doesn't win next year's National Book Award, I will be shocked and upset. Granted, I sadly don't read each book published in a year, but this book manages to make the reader think more deeply about life, love and politics. It takes away the ease of oversimplifying anything. It's filled with the perfectly cohesive, yet unexpected, joys and tragedy of life and good fiction.

It's hard to build suspense in a book the reader knows is somewhat based on a real event or person, yet because Sittenfeld manages to give depth to even the most simple-minded individuals, the why becomes more important than the what or how. She creates a depth of emotion and character even when there may not be intellectual depth.

American Wife is a book I'll buy more than one copy of because I want to reread it yearly, and I want to always have a spare copy to loan to friends. I'm begging all of you to read this book. As an interesting side note, I started this book before our recent presidential election, but I finished it in the days after. Surprisingly, I appreciated it even more after Obama's victory.

Rating: 6 stars out of 5 (it's so good, my chart doesn't even go up this high)/ridiculously recommended

Sunday, November 16, 2008

reading challenges

I've recently discovered reading challenges online. They're not new, but I'm late to hop on the bandwagon. I'm trying to resist the temptation to join too many, as I hardly need help with reading goals. There are two I'm signing on for, however: What's In a Name? and Support Your Local Library. The rules are simple: follow the guidelines of the challenge, post reviews of the books you read along the way, and enjoy yourself. I believe some prizes are awarded along the way too.

What's In a Name deals with words in book titles. You must read a total of six books, one each with a title word that is (1)profession, (2)time of day, (3)relative, (4)body part, (5)building, (6)medical condition. I'm curious to see how little I may have to plan for this challenge.

Support Your Local Library offers three options: read 12, 25 or 50 books from the library in 2009. Given my short reading list this year, I'm opting for 25 and hoping for 50.

I've also been slowly working my way through my own perpetual, unofficial reading challenges: Pulitzer Prize fiction nominees and winners, Booker Prize nominees and winners, National Book Award fiction nominees and winners, Oprah books, EW's 100 New Classics & EW's Memoir List. I hope I don't get to the point when my reading related activities and planning take more time than reading itself.

Monday, October 27, 2008

ode to david axelrod

Where low-brow meets high-brow, hilarity ensues.

"He is the guy who has the most to do with getting Obama elected. He's a brilliant strategist, the least annoying campaign spin-meister and anyone who is ready, willing and eager to role out a 50-state strategy to see where Obama's message will work the best isn't just going to stick to the obvious erogenous zones in the sack." -Jezebel on David Axelrod

The full top ten Objects of Their Affection is worth a read too, but that one made me laugh out loud in the quiet library.

Friday, October 10, 2008

adver-nonsense: dooney & bourke

Look, I really like Hayden Panettiere. I know how to spell her name without looking it up. I've seen Ice Princesses, Racing Stripes, and Bring It On: All or Nothing. I think she's lovely, and I believe she has the acting chops to make Hollywood a lifetime ambition. Perhaps in twenty years, this Dooney & Bourke ad would be not strike me as so hilarious:

Seriously, Hayden is 19 years old. What 19 year old would carry this bag? And why, oh, why did I discover this ad in Teen Vogue? Redbook readers would love this bag. I'm on the higher end of Teen Vogue readers age, and I'm still too young for this bag. I would believe Felicity Huffman in this ad, but not my dear, sweet Hayden.

On second thought, at least Hayden looks alive with the tan bag. Although this bag is (slightly) better in this ad, the pose freaks me out:

Stick to shilling for Candie's, Hayden.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

book review: the story of edgar sawtelle by david wroblewski

sentence(s) worth remembering:
"Life was a swarm of accidents waiting in the treetops, descending upon any living thing that passed, ready to eat them alive. You swam in a river of chance and coincidence. You clung to the happiest accidents--the rest you let float by" (p. 457).

I didn't expect to love this book, even though everywhere I turned, publications were raving. It's nearly 600 pages, and it's about dogs and a mute boy.

As all great novels are not truly about the characters or the plot, so too this book is a timeless tale of life and humanity. Each time I sat down to read it, I would not be able to tear myself away. Hours would pass while I read, enraptured by Wroblewski's prose. Wroblewski reportedly spent ten years on this book, and after reading each perfect moment as they fit into one another, I'm amazed it only took ten years. I will try to patiently wait ten more for his next novel.

Additionally, he seems to be an amazing human being as well. He closes his acknowledgments with this tribute: "Above all, this book owes its existence to Kimberly McClintock, an extraordinary artist, a loving and generous partner, my most ferocious advocate, my first, last, and most exacting reader. Her encouragement and wisdom suffuse every page of this book." Admittedly, I have soft spot for couples in the arts, especially writer couples, but his words about his wife say as much about him as they do her. I'll be happy to stand in line to read anything either one of them writes.

Rating: 5 stars (life-changingly good)/highly recommended

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

american psycho: the musical (seriously)

Silly me for getting excited about Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage. Today Variety broke the news about American Psycho getting turned into a musical. Do you think it will feature original songs? Will Huey Lewis come out of pseudo-retirement to create an original score? It's been a very good day.

Guess the celebrity Cabbage Patch doll

Here is today's amusing procrastination tool. It's way too much fun, and far funnier than it should be.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

periodical perusing: seventeen, sept. 2008

In the midst of a recent road trip, I picked up the September issue of Seventeen at a gas station. It seemed the perfect reading for the car, and Miley Cyrus graced the cover. For some reason, I care what she has to say about her relationship with Nick Jonas, even though I don't understand the big fuss about the Jonas Brothers themselves. Nomadreaderboy reminded me that I'm quite a bit older than the title of the magazine as he struggled to keep a straight face while I eagerly forked over three dollars. What I didn't expect to find in Seventeen was a thoughtful, intelligent editor's letter. I don't mean to slight Seventeen or Ann Shoket herself; I rarely find the editor's letter in any publication interesting. Here's Ann Shoket's editor's letter:

Hi! So when we picked Miley to be our cover girl (for on of our biggest issues of the year!), we had no idea that she'd end up being so controversial! All I knew then was that she seemed like she had really grown up in the last year and become a totally cool girl. (I'm obsessed with The Miley and Mandy Show on YouTube!) She epitomizes the fun energy and excitement of being young! But then you know what happened when some personal pics were leaked and she had some racy photos in Vanity Fair. People were saying that after her mistake, she wasn't worthy of being a role model. Miley apologized, held her head high, and vowed to do better next time--the right thing to do. The buzz blew over, but I'm actually more worried about the lasting side effects of the whole thing. Because when people slam Miley so harshly for making an error in judgment, it's like saying that no girl can ever make a mistake. Demanding that our role models be picture-perfect all the time sets a totally unrealistic standard that no one can live up to. We have enough pressure, don't you think? In fact, royal screw ups are some of the most important learning experiences in life (as long as you learn from them--stay away from the racy pics, Miles!) So she's not perfect, but Miley says she's trying to be her best...and that's what makes her real. (And isn't that worth looking up to?) XOXO, A.

Granted, the letter has more exclamation marks than I wish, and it seems to try a little to hard to be teenager friendly at times, but I think the message is spot on. I'm in favor of lessening unrealistic expectations for all women, especially teenage girls. I even understand the irony of a teen fashion magazine trying to emphasize the message that perfection shouldn't be the standard.

On a less high brow note, I actually loved reading the entire issue. Sure, I skimmed a few of the high school specific dating advice articles, but Seventeen does attainable fashion better than any of the grown-up fashion magazines I read. Granted, I still shop in teen stores and dress like I did in high school and college, except stylishly. I shop at Forever 21 and Delia's instead of Ann Taylor Loft and New York and Company. Seventeen manages to interpret the the runway into looks that are accessible for me.

Monday, July 21, 2008

periodical perusing: interview, may 2008

I am a little behind on my magazine reading, and as most of you know, I'm rather fond of too many periodicals for my own good. I've finally finished the May 2008 issue of Interview. I was eager to read it for three reasons: Interview is one of my favorite magazines because it's consistently brilliant, Maggie Gyllenhall (who may be my current favorite actress) graces the cover, and it's the first issue after Ingrid Sischy's sudden departure (she was the editor in chief for eighteen years). It didn't disappoint.

The issue began with a fantastic angry letter. I can't quite explain my fascination with angry letters to magazines, but this letter may be the best, most delusional ever written.

  • Less Sex, Please
  • Do not ever send me another issue of your magazine. I hate it. It is so inappropriate. The pictures in the “Dream a Little Dream (of Me)” [fashion story] in your March 2008 issue are totally inappropriate. You've got a sexually inappropriate female spread out on a sofa looking at a kids, a female smoking by a kid eating, and a female spaced-out with a cocktail in her hand vacuuming next to a kid. Who's the sicko who dreamed up these weird photos? I'd love to talk to the pedophile. How dare you insult the readers. This is the worst magazine I've ever seen that is supposed to be for the general public! - Gail Stevenson, Oshkosh, WI
Sweet, Gail, why do you subscribe to a magazine you consider so vile?

I am a huge fan of Interview's music coverage. I've discovered so many lovely, non-mainstream artists through the magazine. May's issue featured the hilariously brilliant subheadline about the rock band, The Virgins: "a rock band that's easy to like and hard to google." The headline ensured the band's name would remain at the forefront of my mind.

This issue's increased amount of art coverage was fantastic. My favorite piece was the interview with photographer Yasmine Chatila. I was as captivated with her work as her words:
  • Spending time with strangers has brought me closer to humanity. When I walk in the street I no longer feel surrounded by anonymous drones. I see people with their insecurities and their vulnerabilities. It has inspired a feeling of being connected to others.”
The photography throughout the issue was especially strong, but Sebastian Kim's photographs of young women in "The New Crop" had more frame-worthy photographs than my house can handle.

I thoroughly enjoyed Jessica Berens' interview with author Sebastian Horsley. They both live in London, and I smiled widely when Jessica told him, "There's a left-wing terminally jaded intelligentsia of urban America who might like you." I quickly added his book to my "to read" list. When the interview ended with Sebastian saying "Without language--without these so-called ideas--that aren't even our own, we're just a howling emptiness," I moved his book nearer the top of my "to read" list.

There are simple changes to format in this issue as well. Although it maintains it's bulky size, the font size is now smaller. Somehow it makes me feel more literary to read interviews in this smaller font. It seems Ingrid Sischy has two replacements: Fabien Baron and Glenn O'Brien, who share the title of editorial directors. Interview prizes its emphasis on collaboration, and I think it's fitting to have two editorial directors. I clearly need to continue playing catch-up so I am ready for the September 2008 issue, which will debut the magazine's brand-new format and design.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

recap: project runway, season five is here

Even keeping notes while watching this episode, it's hard to keep track of, and get to know, sixteen designers. My early favorites quickly emerged when they were smart enough to have their design philosophy sound bite ready. Jennifer describes her designs as "Holly Golightly goes to a Salvador Dali exhibit." Kelli said, "if Vivienne Westwood and Betsey Johnson had a baby that would be me." Quirkiness and wit are always a dynamite combination. I also instantly liked Kenley for her loud, yet tasteful, designs that mix prints and plaids. It's not easy to mix prints and look chic. Early on, it seems we've got a forceful contingent of female designers this season.

Now that we've hardly gotten to know the designers, it's time for their first challenge. Austin Scarlett is back as a guest judge, which I think is genius. Who can be more fair than a prior contestant? The producers have brought back the grocery store challenge, which was the very first challenge season one. Austin won it with his corn dress that was beautiful, then it dried out overnight, and became a still beautiful, yet completely different dress. I should have seen this challenge coming. It seems every interview I've read with Heidi Klum lately she mentions the grocery store challenge as one of her favorites. I was curious if it would be easier or harder the second time around. I imagine most of these designers saw the original challenge, so many then-original ideas should be off limits.

Once the contestants start working, I develop an immediate dislike for Blayne. He is trying way too hard to become famous and adds the faux-suffix "licious" to everything. Unless he's a paid pawn of Robin Antin, which would be amusing, he needs a new word. Not to give Christian more credit, but Blayne is a "hot, tranny mess" and anti-fierce.

The work room featured the usual hi jinks as many designers had to change their ideas. With so many designers, there wasn't a lot of focus on any of them.

The Runway show (slideshow of dresses is here):
  • Emily - she described her dress as forward, yet wearable. It is interesting, and I want to like it, but it's not wearable.
  • Jerell - I'm still not sure how to describe this garment. It's intriguing, but I'm not sure if it's pretty or ugly. I have no idea where one would actually wear it, yet it's not really costumey either.
  • Leanne - her dress looked like a bad combination of Candy Land and a naughty nurse outfit from Halloween.
  • Korto - She used a yellow paper tablecloth to make a kimono-like maxi dress, and she used kale and sliced grape tomatoes as faux brooches. I found it hideous; the judges loved it.
  • Jennifer - her use of paper towels was impressive, and I sort of like the cut and style of the dress, but it's boring. I wish she would have used something to make it less white, even if it meant red lipstick marks all over the dress. It reminded me of the simple, plain muslin white dress that Southern designer did the first challenge season two.
  • Daniel - He ironed blue plastic cups to make a gorgeous dress. I was blown away by his technique, and I was pleasantly surprised to see it fit the model. The color was beautiful too.
  • Terri braided mop heads to form a hideous faux-crochet top that looked like whipped cream at first glance. She paired it with a skirt that seemed to be simply red plastic wrapped around the model in a shapeless rectangle.
  • Suede perfectly executed overkill. While his simple silhouette of a black checkered tablecloth was hardly innovative, it started off as pretty. With the blue accent on the bust line, hem and slit, it was a fresh twist. When he added the blue squares randomly all over the dress, he went way too far and the dress became irredeemable. I realize he panicked when he saw others using his same tablecloth fabric, but pretty and not so innovative is still better than ugly.
  • Stella made what I thought was garbage bag couture. It seemed to drape the model's body and have a remarkable amount of movement. Rami might have been proud someone is here to drape this season. The judges hated it.
  • Joe made a top out of tomato oven mitts that was very retro housewife fantasy costumey. The skirt of spinach, tomato and plain pasta was lovely, but it didn't work as an outfit.
  • Kenley - I'm still not sure how she used those materials to make the dress, but I think it's gorgeous, and I would never guess it was from the grocery store challenge. The judges liked it less impressive than Korto's yellow mess for some reason.
  • Jerry thought making a raincoat out of a clear, plastic shower curtain was visionary. It was boring and ugly, which is never a good combination.
  • Wesley used various forms of bright yellow plastic to make a yellow, plastic dress. At least it was shorter than Korto's and sleeveless. I hope this challenge doesn't mean yellow is in.
  • Blayne created something I can't even begin to describe. He even wrote "girlicious" on his model's thigh, which was tacky. The entire display was jaw-droppingly, almost intentionally bad. Have we found the second coming of Jesse Camp?
  • Kelli used vacuum cleaner bags to display her printmaking abilities. The skirt was gorgeous. I was less wild about the burned coffee filters as a brassiere. Still, the skirt was amazing. She also made her own hook and eyes out of spiral notebook spirals. Wow.
  • Keith made a black checked tablecloth halter mini dress Jessica Simpson might actually wear, and I intend that as a compliment. It's Oscar de la Renta light.
The judging provided some delectably quotable quips. Michael Kors referred to Jerry's "spring showers" outfit as a freaky, bridal nurse outfit and a handy wipe gone wrong. Heidi was floored when Jerry said it was meant to be worn out on the town, "a night out on the town?" "After she left the hospital!" quipped Kors. Heidi replied, "the [yellow rubber] gloves are a bit hospital plumber." Finally, Nina decided "it's what you would wear killing someone." Now we know Nina watches Dexter, but can't plug a Showtime show on Bravo.

I agree with Austin that Korto gets points for being the only designer to use "alive, fresh grocery product," but I did not find it the least bit chic. Nor do I agree with Nina that "she has good taste." It was all so yellow, with a lettuce and tomato relish on top. It brings to mind too much mustard at a hamburger condiment bar. The judges and I also disagreed on Stella. I will admit, on closer inspection, her dress wasn't as chic as I initially found it. I don't agree with them, however, that "it doesn't make me curious." She had the guts to drape thin garbage bags over breasts. Sexy in garbage bags is impressive.

As dull as Jerry's clear raincoat was, I would have kept him and sent Blayne home. From the judge's eyes, which were shielded from his "girlicious" work room antics, they at least saw innovation, even if it wasn't pretty. With Jerry, they got neither, and the person arguably with the most impressive resume was sent home first.

I think this season shows a lot of promise.

recap: so you think you can dance - the top 10 perform

The night began with the news the blogosphere has been waiting for: Jessica's mysterious injury is broken ribs! No wonder she had to drop out. How much more endearing is her positivity knowing she's been dancing with broken ribs for weeks? She also announced she will be on tour.

Lil' C was the guest judge this week. I don't recall seeing him guest judge, but he was the best guest judge I've seen this season. I'm curious to know more about his non-crumping background. He provided valuable constructive criticism rather than merely espousing his opinions as several judges have done this season.

Courtney and Joshua danced a hip-hop routine first. Courtney said she's never popped before, which I find quite hard to believe since she dances for the Knicks. I had to pop my hips as a j.v. football cheerleader. It was a Frankenstein-themed routine, and I liked it. They both exhibited beautiful showpersonship. I enjoyed the performance, if not always the dancing. Joshua especially contributed little bits of flair (i.e. mouthing the words), but it's hard to say whether it was choreographed or improvised. Dave Scott loves to choreograph details.

Chelsie was the first dancer to perform her solo. She solos better than any Latin dancer ever has on the show. She uses so much of the stage, and she doesn't look as thought she's lacking a partner. Last year Anya and Pacha struggled with their solos, and mostly performed hip action. She has really grown on me the past few weeks.

I was quite excited to see another new genre, country, this week. I like this trend of new styles, and it certainly helps distract from the lack of Shane Sparks and Wade Robson. Kherington and Mark danced a two step. Until this week, I was a little unclear who Mark and Chelsie were. I could have figured out by the process of elimination, but neither one was memorable, in a good or bad way. Mark was simply not macho enough to pull off a country number. He tried; he grabbed his belt buckle when he had a spare hand, but it was far from natural. The tricks were amazing, but the dance, the heart of the country two step, was blase at best. Kherington seems to be getting worse each week, and I've been a fan of hers.

Gev's solo was ridiculously cool. As nomadreaderboy said, "I think he messed up a few times, and I don't even care." He is absolutely amazing at what he does, and impressive in other genres as well.

Comfort and Twitch are paired together for a waltz. My first thought was the producers are making sure she earns her way back on the show. Twitch was convincing, although the judges disagreed. I thought he showed an impressive amount of grace, although next to the awkward-looking Comfort, he had a distinct advantage. Comfort is out of her league. She lacks the power and passion for this competition. She is good at what she does, but her love of hip-hop and its innovation does not transfer to a love of dance itself.

On a side note, I love that Fox is promoting Bones constantly. I think next season will be superb. Tonight's ad was hilarious. Booth says to Bones, "dating two guys at once just isn't right. That's way they invented dueling." It's hard to do comedy and grisly bodies, but Bones does.

Courtney still strikes me as too much of a cheerleader. She is a great dancer, but she's a cheerleader/dancer for me. Her spread eagle looks like she needs pom-poms. Her solo is passionate, but she plays to the audience like she would a half-time crowd.

Will and Katee are partners this week, and I love it. They are the two best dancers. Katee has had ridiculous luck with partners this season. Joshua is stellar, and Will is pretty much a lock to win the show. I'm eager to see her get another new partner next week. They started with Tyce D'Orio Broadway number. It was Broadway. It was okay; they danced it impeccably. The routine was far too stereotypically jazz hands for my taste, and I think it wasted the talents of these two dancers. I hoped for a Mia Michaels routine for them next.

Mark's solo was brilliantly choreographed. The movements fit the music, and they would not have worked with a different song. He surprised me and impressed me.

Gev and Chelsie's contemporary routine was beautiful. They danced to an Otis Redding song as soul mates. It was emotional, but I do think a beautiful song helped them. The song alone can bring tears to my eyes, so a good dance to it will seem that much better. Chelsie was amazing, and if I didn't know she was a ballroom dancer, I would have guessed her to be a contemporary dancer. Lil' C's commentary continued to be fantastic.

Courtney and Joshua danced a rumba, and it was hot. Courtney was amazing, gorgeous, and stunning. She really shines in dances that don't involved her contemporary background because she can't possibly seem cheerleader-like when she dances ballroom. As Lil' C said, "I might need my asthma pump." His advice to Joshua was, "you're a man, but you can still use your hips." I'm still impressed by his practical ballroom expertise.

Katee's solo was divine. She dances with such precision and emotion. Her body holds the perfect balance of tension between controlled movements and freedom.

Kherington and Mark had the daunting task of dancing a Tyce choreographed Broadway routine without a storyline to a song featured in Center Stage with a brilliant dance routine. Not surprisingly, they didn't live up to it. I found myself thinking of Center Stage while I watched them dance. It was okay, but it was forgettable.

Will danced his solo with his usual strength and passion. It wasn't innovative like his tribal-inspired solo last week, but he's also probably not facing elimination anytime soon now that the voting is done for individuals. It was good, but it didn't take my breath away or give me goosebumps. To be fair, I don't hold any of the other dancers to those standards, but Will is that good. He's in a different league than most of this year's contestants.

I was happy to see Comfort and Twitch get to dance hip-hop. That being said, I was underwhelmed, although my expectations were probably too high. Perhaps Comfort is not a dancer who does choreography well; she's a freestyler. Perhaps Dave Scott is not as good at choreographing as he is at dancing, or rather, he does his own choreography better than other can do it. Regardless, it was underwhelming. The best moment might have been when Mary said "buck".

Kherington's solo was great. I loved the song choice, upbeat Rihanna, for her contemporary style. I think she's growing as a dancer; she's incorporating new styles into her own.

Katee and Will gave the performance of the season with Desmond Richardson's pas de deux. It was absolutely transcendent. I got chills, and it brought tears falling down my cheeks. I cannot imagine any other couple being able to pull off that choreography. Perhaps Courtney and Joshua could have, but I doubt it would have been as good.

Joshua's solo blew me away. He gave the best male solo of the night; he out danced Will, Gev and Twitch.

Chelsie and Gev ended the night with a jive. My non-ballroom-expert eyes thought Gev rocked far more than the judges gave him credit for.

The top ten impressed me tonight. Elimination will be tough, but my money is on Comfort and Mark going home.

emmy announcement semi- live blog (and my early predictions)

8:30 a.m. I realize the Emmys are September 21, the same evening as the Indigo Girls concert I just got my tickets for.

8:40 a.m. Damages is nominated! Dexter too! Squealing ensues, and I realize I cannot possibly type fast enough to actually live blog this event. I resort to typing snippets of notes, and now I'm reconstructing them.

I'm also distracted by Kristin Chenoweth and Neil Patrick Harris standing next to each other. I was under the impression she was freakishly short, and I always imagined him to be quite normal sized, yet she's holding her own height-wise next to him. (According to imdb she is 4'11" and He's 5'11 3/4". Seriously, she had to be standing on a box.)

The six nominees for outstanding drama series are: Boston Legal (as I said yesterday, they always have one great episode a season, which is all that matters in Emmyland, and legal dramas lend themselves to this format brilliantly), Damages (hooray! it is absolutely the best, most riveting show on television), Dexter (brilliant television, even if the writers can't write a believable female role), House (I'm seriously baffled; it doesn't belong with this crowd. My only guess is medical dramas are also historically capable of pulling one good episode together.), Lost (I'm sticking to my theory from yesterday: it's a thank you for making a wildly popular show good again), and Mad Men (it was a given). I want to have a few words with the Emmy voters who actually think House is a better show than The Wire (or The Tudors for that matter.) My heart is with Damages, but my money is on Mad Men.

Outstanding lead actress in a drama: Sally Field (sure, she cries a lot on Brothers & Sisters), Glenn Close (her performance on Damages is pure brilliance), Mariska Hargitay (she's my perennial favorite, and the writers at SVU have been quite savvy the past few seasons writing episodes that appear specifically geared to getting Hargitay and Meloni nominated for Emmys. Seriously, it's a running joke with nomadreadboy "Ooh, it's time for the "win Mariska another Emmy episode!"), Kyra Segwick (I'm a huge fan of her and The Closer, and she gave her best, most nuanced performance in season three. Still, Glenn Close should take this category), and Holly Hunter (Is a great performance more or less impressive on a bad tv show?). My heart and my money are with Glenn Close.

Outstanding lead actor in a drama: James Spader (no big surprise here, he won last year, and I'm sure he gave at least one emotionally riveting legal speech last season), Gabriel Byrne (I'm ecstatic to see him nominated for In Treatment - the format was revolutionary), Bryan Cranston (his performance is brilliant on Breaking Bad, and I'm glad to see the show get some attention, as it shares a network with the biggest critical darling, Mad Men), Michael C. Hall (the dark horse candidate, perhaps, but his layered performance of a serial killer is as mesmerizing as the show itself), and Jon Hamm (I've finally stopped referring to him as Jennifer Westfeldt's man, and his performance is riveting on Mad Men. I imagine he'll follow his Golden Globe win with an Emmy. If only he could use new found clout to get Notes from the Underbelly back on the air.) I'm hoping for Michael C. Hall to win for Dexter, but I imagine it will be Jon Hamm.

Outstanding supporting actor: William Shatner (again, I'm sure he gave at least one great, impassioned legal speech), Ted Danson (his performance on Damages was absolutely masterful), Zeljko Ivanek (two Damages nominees? Then they can't both win!), Michael Emerson, and John Slattery (who is good, but his performance isn't memorable enough for him me not to still think of him first as the creepy politician from Sex and the City). Ted Danson should win, but I imagine Slattery will.

Outstanding supporting actress: Candice Bergen (really? With her face looking like it did in Sex and the City? How can she move it enough to actually act?), Rachel Griffith (I love Rachel Griffith, and I have ever since Me Myself I, which is the most brilliant celebration of single life I've ever seen. She is good on this show, and I'm sure she had many tear-filled scenes to choose from, and tear-filled scenes win supporting actress Emmys.), Chandra Wilson (I always realized her performance was amazing, but the more I read and hear about her real-life demeanor and shyness make me realize even more how amazing she is), Sandra Oh (I love Sandra Oh, and I love her performance on Grey's), and Dianne Wiest. This category is absolutely stacked, as it usually is, because good supporting roles are easier to find for women than good leading roles. It's not a coincidence the lead actress nominees are mostly on cable shows, and the supporting actress nominees are mostly on broadcast shows. I imagine Chandra Wilson will win this year, but this category is wide open, with the exception of Candice Bergen, impassioned legal speech aside. Also, Rose Byrne was shafted, but I expect a nomination for her next year, perhaps as lead actress.

Outstanding Reality Competition Program: American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, Project Runway, The Amazing Race. The nominees in this category were no surprise, but Kristin Chenoweth endeared herself to the millions (okay, thousands) watching this telecast, when she opened the category's announcement of The Amazing Race by saying "we should do that next year," to Neil. No one besides The Amazing Race has ever won this award. American Idol is coming off of its weakest season, and I don't think it has a chance, despite being the most watched show in the country. Project Runway might win this year, however, with one of its strongest seasons yet. Ultimately, I think the ubiquitous product placement on both Runway and Top Chef will turn off voters and keep The Amazing Race's record going.

Outstanding Host for a Reality Program: Tom Bergeron (seriously?), Ryan Seacrest (were they afraid to have only two nominees in the category, or do voters want to see what date he'll bring to the telecast?), Howie Mandel (I confess, on the infrequent occasion I start watching Deal or No Deal, I have a hard time turning off the episode; the man is good at his job), Heidi Klum (hooray!), and Jeff Probst (no big shock here, he's the originator, but it was shocking to learn Kristin Chenoweth once went on a date with him). I'm most surprised Phil Keoghan of The Amazing Race was left off this list, especially considering Tom Bergeron was nominated. Do the voters think The Amazing Race has had too much Emmy love? Also, somewhere Tyra is pissed!

Outstanding Comedy series: 30 Rock (hooray! It's the funniest show on tv!), Curb Your Enthusiasm (as I said yesterday, it's the voters' love affair with Larry David), Entourage, The Office (it is the other funny show on tv), and Two and a Half Men (seriously? I actually watched an episode of this recently, and it's even less funny than I thought possible.) How in the world was Weeds left off this list? It's a fight between 30 Rock and the The Office for this one, and everyone knows I think it should go to 30 Rock.

Outstanding actor in a comedy: Alec Baldwin(I realize I overuse this phrase, but his performance on 30 Rock is brilliant. Did you see the scene he played every member of Tracy's family in therapy? That scene alone should merit a lifetime best actor in a comedy award!), Tony Shaloub (I have no opinion on Monk, as I've never seen it), Lee Pace (Kristin Chenoweth and I both squealed when his name was announced, but I'm so glad to see him get attention for his unique role), Steve Carrell (it's a given, and he deserves it), and Charlie Sheen (I'm seriously baffled.) Alec Baldwin should win, but Steve Carrell might eke it out. If Charlie Sheen wins, Denise Richards and I will be throwing things at the television.

Outstanding actress in a comedy: Tina Fey (I love Tina Fey, but I agree with her: she's a better writer than actress. She's had her kudos, and she's nominated because there is a serious lack of funny women on television.), Christina Applegate (I adore her on Samantha Who?, where she essentially plays two different roles, and she makes them both funny and believable, which is no small feat.), America Ferrera (she is the funniest part of this mediocre program, and I've already mentioned the lack of funny women, and lack of funny shows period, to be fair, on tv), Julia Louis-Dreyfuss (I repeat, there are not enough funny women on tv. I like Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, but her show is also not funny. Awkward does not equal funny.), and Mary Louise Parker (I was ready to riot if her name didn't come up with this crowd. Her role on Weeds is comedy and drama, and she pulls both of effortlessly.) My heart and my money are torn between Christina Applegate and Mary Louise Parker.

Outstanding supporting actor in a comedy: Jeremy Piven (sure), Kevin Dillon (nice), Neil Patrick Harris (the only funny thing on his program, and I imagine, the reason anyone watches it), Rainn Wilson (sure) and Jon Cryer (I'm still unclear how he's a supporting actor, but the show still sucks). Neil Patrick Harris should, and I imagine, will win.

Outstanding supporting actress in a comedy: Kristin Chenoweth (I adore her performance on Pushing Daisies, and if the episode submitted was the one she revealed her past as a competitive jockey, she should win), Jean Smart (she always makes me laugh on Samantha Who?. She makes me laugh so hard I usually have to hit the pause button to collect myself.), Amy Poehler (for SNL, and I imagine, specifically, her humorous and enjoyable portrayal of Hillary Clinton), Holland Taylor (I love Holland Taylor, but even she is not funny on a show as dreadful as Two and a Half Men. Please note I did find her funny on Saved by the Bell: The College Years.), and Vanessa Williams (I know her performance is supposed to be over the top, but her performance is exactly why I don't really like the show: everyone except America Ferrera and Eric Mabius take their characters way too seriously). Jean Smart will probably win this one, but I'd be happy if either she or Kristin Chenoweth do.

To round up the less notable categories:
  • In the Outstanding art direction for a variety or nonfiction program, Hell's Kitchen is nominated alongside the usual award shows.
  • The outstanding children's program nominations do not include Jack's Big Music Show, which is clearly silly and a travesty.
  • So You Think You Can Dance got three nominations for choreography: Mandy Moore's "Table" routine, which was one my favorite routines last season, Wade Robson's "Hummingbird and Flower" and Shane Sparks' "Transformers". May I mention again how much I miss Wade and Shane this season? Perhaps the reason we think there aren't as many good dancers is due, at least in part, to the lower level of choreography without these two around. I'm surprised to see Mia Michaels not nominated for her "Heaven" routine, but I'm pleased to see Julianne Hough get nominated for something. She's the lone visionary choreographer on Dancing with the Stars (although Edyta rarely gets a capable celebrity to work with).
  • The outstanding costume for a series category is ridiculously stacked this year: Mad Men, Ugly Betty, The Tudors, Pushing Daisies and Desperate Housewives (which shouldn't have a chance against the other four.)
  • Clearly I'm not the only one who adores 30 Rock, as it nabs four of the five nominations for guest actor in a comedy: Rip Torn, Will Arnett, Steve Buscemi & Tim Conway (plus Shelley Berman on Curb Your Enthusiasm). It might be #102 in ratings, but it's still the destination for guest stars. 30 Rock also nabbed three of the six nominations for guest actress in a comedy: Carrie Fisher, Edie Falco and Elaine Stritch. Also, it's the only comedy with more than one nomination in the writing category.
  • Cynthia Nixon should win the Emmy for guest actress in a drama for SVU.
  • Phyllicia Rashad should win for A Raisin in the Sun.
  • I sincerely hope Sarah Silverman wins an Emmy for "I'm F***ing Matt Damon", even it's a little bittersweet since she and Jimmy Kimmel broke up.
  • I'm excited to see Tina Fey (for SNL) nominated alongside Jon Stewart (for the Oscars) and Stephen Colbert for individual performance in a variety or music program.
  • The nominations for best clips are hilariously amazing: the Oscars tribute package, Idol's David Cook goes home package, "I'm f***ing Matt Damon," "I'm f***ing Ben Affleck," and something from Dancing with the Stars.
  • HBO has all five nominations for outstanding supporting actor in a miniseries or movie: three for John Adams and two for Recount.
  • George Carlin is nominated for his variety special, and he has a chance of winning.
  • Despite 30 Rock's two nominations for best comedy writing, Pushing Daisies should win for "Pie-lette". I like the series less as it went on, but the pilot was amazing. It would have been a great miniseries.

Kristin and Neil were lovely presenters. They actually made the nominations interesting to watch. Sadly, they might end up stealing the show from the Emmys themselves. Here's hoping the actual ceremony can live up to its nominations and nominations presenters this year.

Now we're left with three months to speculate on who will win. My first experiment in live blogging lasted for two hours. I'm simply not concise.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

emmy wishes and predictions

It's the eve of Emmy announcements. This year we've already been treated to the top ten lists, which makes predicting the actual nominees that much easier. Here are my predictions for the best series categories, including my cynicism when I imagine I will disagree with Emmy voters.

I wish for Best drama:
Mad Men (it's hip)
Dexter (amazing)
The Wire (it's due)
Damages (it's best show on tv, but I'm still hesitant because the Emmy process involves a single episode, and one cannot appreciate the sheer brilliance of the final three episodes without the first ten)
The Tudors

I predict for Best drama:
Mad Men (it's hip)
House (I'm cynical)
Boston Legal (it always manages one good episode to submit)
Lost (as a reward for getting good again)
The Tudors

I wish for Best comedy:
30 Rock (funniest show on tv)
Weeds (one of the five best shows on tv)
The Office
Pushing Daisies (I'm still unclear why this show is a comedy, but it's original and entertaining)
Flight of the Conchords (I'm not actually a fan, but it's original)

I predict for Best comedy:
30 Rock
The Office (it's what other people think is the funniest show on tv)
Two and a Half Men (I'm cynical)
Weeds (I'm hopeful)
Curb Your Enthusiasm (Emmy voters' Larry David lovefest)

dame helen mirren

My esteem for Helen Mirren is not exactly a secret. Still, I always find myself being met with questioning stares when it arises in conversation. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one enamored with so many of Helen Mirren's amazing talents and qualities.

It's nice to add another mutual appreciation the Fug girls and I share: good and bad fashion, young adult novels and television shows, and Helen Mirren.

book review: practical magic by alice hoffman

A few weeks ago, Entertainment Weekly published their 1000th issue, which features numerous 100 new classics lists. I, of course, have set out to read their 100 New Classic Books. (Yes, I'm still working through their memoir list too). First, or rather #100, on the list is America (The Book). While I adore this Daily Show tome, it's not the kind of book one either sits down to read or carries around on the bus all day. Instead, I'm reading one chapter a night before bed. I moved on to #99, Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman.

I've read a few Alice Hoffman books, most notably her brilliant Skylight Confessions. I vaguely remember seeing the movie adaptation of Practical Magic with Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock years ago. The vagueness of my memory makes me inclined to believe it wasn't terribly notable. The book is magical, pun intended. Hoffman plays with magic as a realistic story element better than any non-Latin writer I've read. The story of the Owens family is intriguing and unique. As I read it, I was instantly transported. I wished I had the time to sit beside a fire on an autumn evening with this book and a few glasses of red wine. It's a lovely story because of the characters. I didn't write down any sentences to recall for later; it's not an immensely quotable book. Instead it's intelligence lies in the heart of the story and the characters.

My one regret is not devoting larger chunks of time to reading Practical Magic. The book is not broken down into chapters, and it offers few breaks in the story. I think I lost a little bit of the magic each time I put it down. Still, it's a Hoffman classic, and it's definitely worth reading.

After finishing another beautifully written Hoffman novel, each quite different and unique, I've added her to my illustrious "Read Every Word" list. I've waited this long to add her only because of the size of her canon. Adding a first-time novelist to the list is an action filled with hopeful anticipation of a good follow-up. Adding Hoffman's extensive library is almost daunting, but I'm most curious to continue to see the vastness of her imagination. Her novels may share some themes, but each story (as far as I've read) is its own unique being.

Rating: 2 stars (liked it)