The Saturday Review: Two Portraits of Ernest Hemingway

I’ve been on a Hemingway journey for several years, enjoying The Paris WifeA Moveable Feast, The Sun Also Risesand Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris while armed with my own memories of Paris. Today’s review includes two recent reads about Ernest Hemingway and his world.

At the Hemingways: A Family Portrait

download (1)Originally published in 1962 after the suicide of her famous brother, Marcelline Hemingway Sanford shares stories of growing up with her brother and very family. With their primary residence in Oak Park, Illinois, and their summer home at Walloon Lake, Michigan, I found these local stories interesting just for their history. A newer edition was published in 1998 for the centennial of Hemingway’s birth, and includes correspondence between Ernest and his sister Marcelline. Hemingway’s experiences as a child and young man in Illinois and Michigan, as well as his time in Italy, Paris, and Spain are part of this treasure trove of Hemingway history. Marcelline Hemingway Sanford’s writing is clean and her narratives move along crisply, with wonderful characterization of the family members and friends who influenced Ernest Hemingway. Continue reading

The Sunday Review: I Want to Dance with the Man Who Danced with the Girl Who Danced with the Prince of Wales

Somehow I just can’t get enough of “the 20th century’s greatest love story,” which is apparently what Madonna called the romance of the man who was on his way to being king and his American girlfriend.

You probably already know the story about how the future king of England fell in love with the already-divorced-American who was still married to her second husband. Despite which film-maker’s version of the story you accept, it’s fact that Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David Windsor became Edward VIII with the death of his father and eleven months later abdicated his throne in order to be able to marry Wallis Simpson. His brother Bertie became George VI and was the father of Britain’s current monarch, Elizabeth II.

I was excited when Netflix finally had Madonna’s film, W/E, available for streaming. I missed it in the theater (perhaps because it was here and gone in a box-office failure flash), but really wanted to see it. Madonna chose to tell Wallis and Edward’s romance as a story-in-a-story with a modern-day heroine providing opportunity for flashbacks to a companion story about the Windsors. It was only somewhat successful, as reviewed here and here, but I loved the costume drama elements and it piqued my appetite for more about Wally and David.

When the Netflix gods found out I was interested in Wallis and David’s story, they started sending me suggested movies as companion pieces to W/E, and from there comes today’s Sunday Review post. I got hooked on watching a seven-part imagination of the lives of Wallis, David, and the people around them. Whoever wrote these scripts wasn’t quite as sure about “the 20th century’s greatest love story.”

As this article from The Guardian states,

If you want a less sugar-coated take on it all, try Edward and Mrs Simpson, the classic Thames TV series from 1978. The seven-parter offers a fascinating look at an extraordinary chapter in British history. Even if we do know how it all ended, it still makes for compelling drama. Love? Barely mentioned. Ambition, duty, jealousy, selfishness? Got them in droves.

Once I started watching the hour-long segments, I couldn’t stop, and they increased my understanding of a situation that I knew only as a person fascinated with human behavior and its historical impact.  Armed with my greater knowledge, I fully intend to watch W/E again,  and last night I watched The King’s Speech (also available on Netflix) again.

In The King’s Speech, we see Colin Firth’s take on Bertie and the struggle to become king (while having a speech impediment) in the wake of his brother’s romantic tidal wave. Firth won a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of George VI.

And then there’s Hyde Park on Hudson, the newest entry into the Bertie-on-film category. This film brings George VI and Queen Elizabeth to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Hyde Park in New York state, where the two discuss the United States’s possible support of Britain in World War II. (That’s a simplified version of the issue, but you get the point.) The story’s not really about Bertie, but is written cleverly and is reminiscent of Downton Abbey and the social clashes between American and British ways in the early 20th century. Although not well-reviewed, I fully enjoyed it and so did my viewing partners. This photo is the only one I could find that showed the main cast, because the film is a tour-de-force for Bill Murray as Roosevelt, although he was denied an Oscar nomination AGAIN.

If you are intrigued by this story, I encourage you to put these movies in your instant queue and settle down for a historical love fest. And, if you’re desperate for even more, here are IMDb’s lists of portrayals of Edward VIII and George VI in film versions. Ahhhh… Thank goodness I’m retired.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to revel in the charms of Maggie Smith and the rest of the rascals at Downton Abbey. Just in case you were wondering, it wasn’t just in English country homes where dinner jackets were considered to be inappropriate for a formal evening. You’ll find the bit about the wearing of a dinner jacket over tails to be part of the wry humor of Hyde Park on Hudson, too.

P.S. The theme song for Edward and Mrs. Simpson is a popular tune from 1927 and you will not be able to get it out of your head. I’m just warning you.


The Sunday Review

Prospect Park West: A Novel by Amy Sohn

Where I Got It: Library in audiobook

Genre: Realistic Fiction, Contemporary Satire

My Rating: 3/5 Stars

Billed as a satire about Brooklyn’s trendy Park Slope families, Prospect Park West had real promise. There’s plenty of material to skewer, but Amy Sohn didn’t quite deliver on what could have been a really good book. She had all the components, including the oh-so-successful construct of intersecting plotlines, celebrity worship, name-dropping, sexy and sexless characters, and real estate envy, with a little do-gooder food cooperative action thrown in. Listening to it in the car, I was literally turned off by the initial gratuitous sex scene, and almost took it back to the library. Since I didn’t have any other books in the car, I kept listening, and as I came to know the characters, I was intrigued about where Sohn would go with them. Unfortunately, not all of the plotlines were fully realized, and I was left feeling as though there needed to be a sequel, or a television show, which is perhaps Sohn’s intent with this novel.

Oz and James Drink to Britain by Oz Clark and James May

Where I Got It: Library DVD

Genre: BBC television series

My Rating: 4 Stars

I plucked this out of the obscure British television shows bin at the library because I was looking for something that Music Man and I could watch together — he hates pretty much everything I watch on TV. I also hoped that our friend Frazer’s winery would be a part of this series, but apparently their success at the royal wedding came a little late for the television show. I’m going to link up the Amazon description because I couldn’t say it any more clearly.

Wine expert Oz Clarke and travel enthusiast James May combine their passions in this tasty travelogue as they embark on a summer road trip around the UK in a quest to find the drink that defines modern Britain. Starting in a barley field in Yorkshire, the hapless duo meander their way through the country exploring the best and worst of British beers and sampling numerous other drinks of the land, including wine, whisky, gin, vodka, and cider. Their destinations include maltsters, small breweries and distilleries, sparkling wine makers, and hop growers, and along the way Oz and James quibble and tiff with riotous results. Lighthearted and accidentally educational, this is a fun look at the state of drinking in Britain today.

We liked this set of episodes and buzzed through them pretty quickly. As a reformed camper, the best part for me was the slapstick comedy involving the 1970s-era caravan (camping trailer) that brought back memories of flat tires on the sides of deserted roads and impossible turnarounds where my Dad had to back the camper out of some God-forsaken place. 🙂

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara

Where I Got It: Library DVD

Genre: Crime Fiction, Mystery

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Back when everyone was reading these books, I was put off by the violence and balked at reading them. Finally, I started Tattoo and couldn’t put the series down until I finished all three books. Then I took my time watching the movie; I was justifiably worried that the movie could not possibly do the book justice and that it would focus on the violence rather than the heart of this story. I was wrong. In director David Fincher’s hands, Larsson’s core plot comes to life. I’m not going to summarize the story; pretty much everyone has read the books, but I was pleased with the way Fincher focused on the mystery of Harriet Vanger’s disappearance. With the choice of Rooney Mara as Lisbeth, the tortuous and brutal path to her bruised psyche was handled beautifully — with enough nastiness to allow the movie-goer who had not read the book to get it. Daniel Craig as journalist Mikael Blomkvist was solid, as was Stellen Skarsgard as Martin Vanger. The film is appropriately dark as befits a movie that is about the degradation of women. This film is a case where, although the book is better, the editing for the film was successful in maintaining the essence of the story. When I posted on Facebook that I had been watching Tattoo, several friends said that I should also watch the Swedish version, so I watched that one too, via Netflix. I liked the ending much better — no spoilers here — and I thought that Noomi Rapace’s portrayal of Lisbeth showed the dichotomy of her hard/soft character with more depth. Now I can’t wait to watch the other two Swedish versions.

Tangled: voiced by Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, and Donna Murphy

Where I Got It: Library DVD

Genre: Animated Fairy Tale (Disney’s 50th Full-Length Feature Cartoon)

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

There is nothing not-to-like about Tangled. The classic tale of Rapunzel is twisted in a positive manner to create a Disney princess who is feisty, likable, and brave. As adult movie viewers, we love the relationships built into this movie between Rapunzel and Flynn Ryder, the cute thief who rescues Razunzel, and between Flynn and his horse Maximus. The thugs are appropriately bad with a heart of gold — the bar scene is hilarious — and the animation is stunning, although I did get a little tired of the huge Precious Moments eyes on Rapunzel. The characterization of the witch Mother Gothel may be disturbing to children because she certainly does not present an unconditional love for Rapunzel, but as adults, we can appreciate the nuances involved in developing such a complex character in animated format. Tangled is another gem from Disney that is destined to be a classic.

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My Week with Julia: Part One

I’ve always had this peculiar behavior; I like to read by theme or by sequence.

Every now and then I read through all my Cat Who books or my Dick Francis novels in chronological order. You’re probably already sick of hearing about my books about France, but too bad. I got a bunch more for my birthday. It’s my blog and I’ll write about France if I want to. 🙂

I watched Julie and Julia again the other day and decided it was time to do another theme party of books and movies.

First I decided to read Julie Powell’s follow-up memoir, Cleaving, to see if she still had the magic. I had heard that it wasn’t as good as Julie and Julia and that Powell had kind of disappeared into the literary wasteland of has-been authors. When I Googled her, the most recent hit is from 2009, and the last time she posted on her blog was in 2010. Ouch!

Julie and Eric on a good day in the kitchen.Image Credit

The complete title of the 2009 book pretty much tells its whole story: Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession. It truly is a story of obsession following the screaming success of Julie’s blog and Julie and Julia — of Julie’s tormented affair with “D”, of Eric’s philandering, and of how Julie found herself in her next new adventure, learning how to butcher meat. Published before the highly successful movie came out, Cleaving is an intimate story (maybe too intimate) of a woman trying to reinvent herself and build a future.

The book gets lots of bad reviews for its very specific telling of the inside picture of butchering and of Julie’s bad girl sex life. After getting over the structure which requires the reader to make pretty tenuous links between the cleaving of a marriage and the cleaving of an animal’s flesh and innards, I came to love Julie’s obsessions.

What we found endearing about Julie Powell in the movie Julie and Julia was that Amy Adams and Nora Ephron made Julie look kinda quirky and cute, but really, who chooses to cook her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year?  I don’t think Julia Child was right when she suspected Powell of trying to get publicity riding on Child’s name; Julie is just that obsessive, and it shows in Cleaving. And most of the time it’s just plain — all right, I’ll go there — verging on craziness.

On the other hand, Powell’s prose is just plain good. I found myself caring about how to create a crown roast and how to use a band saw correctly. If you’re a foodie, she may well hook you in as she did me. There’s a lot of visits to restaurants and food industry insider information and I just ate it up — figuratively, of course.

So do I think you should read Cleaving? Yes, if you are a foodie and loved Julie and Julia. It’s the flip side of a very interesting woman, with a little hot sauce thrown in.

And then there’s the other flip side — Nancy Verde Barr’s memoir entitled Backstage with Julia

This is a really fun book if you care about Julia Child and her impact on the cooking world. Even Barr’s use of her middle name is due to the sagacity of Julia Child; when she found out that Barr’s mother was Italian, she told Barr to use her full name to give her cooking more credence. And that’s just one little story that appears in this loving look back at a phenomenal woman.

Backstage with Julia is a set of fond memories packaged together in a book that cannot help but endear itself to you if you are a foodie. Nancy Barr served as Julia Child’s production assistant and travel companion from 1980 until Child’s death in 2004. When she got the chance to work with Child — already a culinary icon — someone told her to keep a diary. She didn’t, but apparently working with Julia Child has enough emotional impact to sear the memories in one’s brain.

What was fun about this book for me was the parallels to the Julie and Julia movie. Nora Ephron based much of her script for the Julia parts on Child’s memoir (with Alex Prud’homme), My Life in France. Although Backstage with Julia tells of Julia’s success in the United States and her media empire, there are many memories that Barr recounts via Child that are recognizable to the movie fan.

Julia’s love story with Paul Child also plays itself out here. In 1980, when Nancy Barr first began working with Julia Child, Paul Child had already begun to have the small strokes and memory issues that plagued his later years. It didn’t matter to Julia; Paul was an integral part of her success and he went everywhere with her.

The scene in Julie and Julia showing Paul and Julia in the bathtub for their annual Valentine message was real, and in Barr’s retelling of this story, the reader can feel the humor and the love shared.

Both of these books are about dreams — Powell’s with finding herself and Barr’s amazing chance to work with and become a close friend of Julia Child. They are also really interesting to read, if you are the person who will find fun in knowing more about three fascinating women — Powell, Barr, and la divine Child. I thought this quote from Powell’s book really summed up why I wanted to share these two books with you. It’s fun — you get me — and since you keep reading my blog, you must enjoy sharing with me.

You share things with the people who want you to share them. Who get it. Otherwise, where’s the fun?

You’ll have to excuse me now; I need to roast a chicken. Bon appetit!

Want more Jennie and Julia? Check out my previous posts about Julia Child here and here.

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