Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Where the Heck Have I Been?

Mad Men has started its strange new late-60s season while The Good Wife concluded its fourth with great Florrick flourish.

The Red Sox season thus far, hasn't, surprisingly, been cringe-worthy.

The Boston Marathon was bombed and a violent manhunt was waged through the streets of the Boston metro area.

Two of my favorite humorists -- David Sedaris (saw him speak recently in Boston) and Dave Barry -- have come out with new books.

Alas, I haven't been able to break open the pages of the new books, muse about Mad Men as I'm wont to do or catch the bulk of the Sox games, never mind blog in this space. Why not?

Three reasons:

1. I've been prepping for the release of my novel, Mortified: A Novel About Oversharing, this month, May 12 to be exact. (Here's the book web site. This is the Amazon listing. The local paper also ran a good piece about the book here. *Fingers crossed to thwart any bad reviews.*)

2. I've been teaching writing and journalism full-time, as well as advising the university's student newspaper. (Here's the web site for the online/social media course I'm teaching.)

3. I've been actively researching my next book, a work of non-fiction where I chronicle the year in the life of a middle school jazz band.

BUT ... the university's classes are almost over for the semester and the grades will be filed soon, so I plan to resume my pop culture, politics and media musings ASAP. I've got a fierce Mad Men post I've been mulling over after another head-scratching installment Sunday night.

More to come! Promise!

In the meantime, I appeared on the Manic Mommies podcast where I not only discussed my novel and the wild media coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings, but what's hot in TV right now.

Image credit: Michael Yarish/AMC.

Monday, February 25, 2013

No, I Don't Want to Talk About MacFarlane

I'd rather discuss:

1) Ben Affleck's beautifully awkward speech after Argo was named best picture.

2) Jennifer Lawrence's down-to-earthness after snagging the Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook.

3) And this awesome 9-year-old.

Images via Mashable and Jezebel. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Downton Abbey + One Direction = Pop Culture Nirvana

Here's some salve to apply to the wounds left behind from the odiously cruel Downton Abbey season finale on Sunday. (I mean, seriously now ...)

A mash-up involving the stiff upper lips of the Brits at Downton Abbey (plus Tom Branson) and the One Direction tune, "You Don't Know You're Beautiful."


Still unhappy? Go visit this site where the creator of the post felt the same way I did about the Downton finale. You'll be happy you did.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Mark It Down: 'Mad Men's' Season 6 Starts April 7

Breaking news for my Mad Men peeps: On April 7 it shall begin.

It'll be a two-hour extravaganza on AMC.

Season 6 of Mad Men in all its dark and twisty glamour.

Don Draper, Roger Sterling, Peggy Olson, Megan Draper, Betty Francis, Joan Harris (or did she drop Harris for Holloway?), Pete Campbell et al. return and delve even more deeply into the 1960s. (Take a long look at Petey-boy's groovy sideburns.)



Image credit: AMC via Huffington Post.

'The Feminine Mystique' at 50: Have You Read It?

The New York Times' Gail Collins has a great piece out today which puts Betty Friedan's landmark 1963 book The Feminine Mystique into not only the context of the era, but in ours as well.

"When The Feminine Mystique emerged in 1963, it created a reaction so intense that Friedan could later write another book about the things women said to her about the first one (It Changed My Life)," Collins wrote. "If there's a list of the most important books of the 20th century, The Feminine Mystique is on it. It also made one conservative magazine's exclusive roundup of the '10 most harmful books of the 19th and 20th centuries,' which if not flattering is at least a testimony to the wallop it packed ... [I]f you want to understand what has happened to American women over the last half-century, their extraordinary journey from Doris Day to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and beyond, you have to start with this book."

In fact, Collins has her own analysis of the famous book that's due out next month.

I'm embarrassed to say that, while I've read excerpts of the book and have read a great deal about its impact, I've never read the book itself. I think, in honor of this momentous anniversary, it's time I remedy that.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

'Mortified: A Novel About Oversharing' Now Has a Cover

My publisher, Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing, has just listed my forthcoming novel, Mortified: A Novel About Oversharing -- yep, you read that right, MY forthcoming novel -- on its web site with its provocative cover.

Promo copy for the book:

Maggie Kelly started her personal blog for one reason: to prevent her head from exploding with frustration. She is, frankly, tired of at-home motherhood and weary of her husband Michael’s frequent absences due to his workaholic ways. She feels like a hostage to marriage and maternity. So when a friend suggests that she create an anonymous blog where she can complain to her heart’s content and not have to hold anything back, “Maggie Has Had It” was born.

After her controversial, raw and profane blog posts draw thousands of online readers, Maggie’s blogging identity is inadvertently revealed. Michael is horrified to learn that his wife has written, in great detail, about his shortcomings as a husband and, mortifyingly, between the sheets. To make matters worse, it is his mother, Dorothy, who tells him about his online humiliation.

While many people have been embarrassed by unkind remarks that have been made about them from time to time, few have had those unflattering quips go viral in the way Michael’s humiliation does. Mortification in 21st century fashion: via Google. In the age of blogs and omnipresent social media, where is the line between laudable, cathartic honesty and oversharing?

It'll be published this May. *fist pump*

Image credit: Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Of 'Downton' and 'The Hour' Brits, Brody, Caitlin Moran & Abe Lincoln

Cheerio and good day! I trust you all had a Happy Christmas and a bloody good time of it on New Year's . . . aw, forget it . . . there's no way I can maintain a cartoonishly dodgy British accent for the length of this sentence, never mind this entire post. Why the feeble attempt? I've come down with a terrible case of Brit fever over the past few weeks.

From a comedic literary romp through modern femininity, to a 1920s English manor, a 1950s British TV newsroom and the outstanding work of U.K. native Damian Lewis playing a U.S. war hero-turned terrorist-turned double agent in Homeland and another Londoner portraying one of the most storied U.S. presidents, I've been positively awash in English pop culture, when I'm not listening to Adele tunes that is.

Here's a little taste of the U.K. pop culture nuggets that have been whetting my whistle as of late:

The Hour

After watching and reviewing the first season of the BBC's The Hour last year, I'm now engrossed by season two which is about to wrap up its second season on BBC America. (You could watch season one and season two DVDs -- the second one is available for sale on Jan. 8 -- or catch both seasons via Amazon Instant Video.)

Set in the 1950s in a BBC television newsroom, The Hour's like a more down-to-earth, hybrid of Mad Men and a humble cousin of HBO's The Newsroom (meaning no one's a walking, talking, eloquently elitist, pompous, inhuman speech-making machine). The Hour's chief protagonists include the program's doggedly tenacious producer Bel Rowley (Romola Garai), the brilliant yet brittle reporter/on air talent Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw) and the ruins of the internally smoldering anchorman Hector Madden (Dominic West) who's haunted by his war time experiences.

During its sophomore season, the gang has been bustling around trying to expose an organized crime ring which blackmails famous and influential Brits who can't keep it in their pants. Color me besotted with this cool period period sans an anti-hero like Don Draper (though I'd wager that Don would take quite the shining to Ms Rowley before dumping her as he did with other smart, professionally driven women like Rachel Menken and Faye Miller).

Downton Abbey

First, a beef, which shall be written in all caps so feel free to interpret it as me yelling in a coarse manner as I knit my brow and attempt to fashion a menacing look:


. . . there, now I feel a tad better as I float along on the bubbles of anticipation having just re-watched the season two finale of the Masterpiece Theater melodrama Downton Abbey and anxiously await the start of the new season this weekend. When last the American viewers left off, it was 1920 and Downton's star-crossed lovers were in a warm embrace amid the snowflakes as poor Mr. Bates sat in a jail cell having been found guilty of murder. (In fact, I think his name should officially be changed to "poor Mr. Bates." Indeed.)

As we approach the season premiere on PBS this Sunday, we Downton fans are girding ourselves to watch as a brash American blasts through the Downton doors in the person of Shirley MacLaine, playing Cora's (Elizabeth McGovern) rich, uncouth mother. I cannot wait to not only watch the proper Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) run up against American sensibilities in the guise of his mum-in-law and witness the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) bristle at American audacity.

While I'm hoping we see more of the rebellious, pregnant Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) and her socialist Irish hubby, the love story between Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) is the beating heart of the series and I am interested in how their relationship will progress after such a protracted, tremulous separation.

Then there's poor Mr. Bates. *sigh*


*Warning, spoilers from season two finale of Homeland ahead.*

Brit Damien Lewis absolutely wowed me with his thoroughly American depiction of the troubled former POW-terrorist-Congressman-CIA asset-Carrie Mathison's lover-dude on the run. I'm still not sure where his character, Nick Brody's loyalties lie even after watching the season two finale twice after it grabbed me by the collar and made me say, "What?! . . . No way!"

Is Brody essentially a good guy who was truly broken by his brutal torture and emotional abuse while in captivity? Does he really want a fresh start now that his captor/collaborator is dead? Or is his just playing Carrie (Claire Danes) in order to save his hide or to perhaps attack on another day?

It was genius for the writers to allow Carrie and Brody to not only hook up again, but to afford her the chance to doubt his sincerity again (when she drew the gun on him) as well as to prove to her superiors that her instincts were spot-on when it came to her declaration that he'd been turned while in captivity. The show's premise was, by the end of the season two finale, wiped clean, like Brody had told Carrie he wanted his life to be . . . until his suicide video was released and his name was publicly tarnished.

Cannot even imagine what is ahead for season three. It's been a wild ride thus far. You can watch episodes on iTunes or on Amazon Instant Video.


In addition to seeing The Hobbit with our kids during the Christmas vacation (as I kept texting my husband, "How LONG is this movie?!" and was thankful I'd caffeinated up beforehand), I was fortunate enough to have recently been able to see Lincoln in the theaters as well.

Watching the excellent work of London-born Daniel Day-Lewis as he brought an American president to life, the film made politics appear to be a flesh-and-blood human endeavor, full of flawed acts and flawed people, sprinkled with compassion, righteousness and, at times, morality

Set during the small window of time when President Lincoln was attempting all manner of strong-arming congressmen -- lame duck and otherwise -- to pass a Constitutional amendment to end slavery, Day-Lewis' Lincoln was a bit full of himself, a blowhard if you will who liked to spin a yarn regardless of whether you wanted to hear it. He was also depicted as someone who was willing to use federal appointments and governmental favors as tools to achieve the larger good of liberating people from enslavement even if it meant that the Civil War went on longer.

For all the dirty underbelly of the horse-trading that goes on behind the scenes, Lincoln was humane and focused. As movie-goers observed the lengths the president had to go to force the 13th Amendment to passage so it could ultimately be ratified by the states, one could only hope that our current leaders have such noble aspirations in mind when they are forced to squabble in the mud over things like fiscal cliffs and debt ceilings.

The New York Times' David Brooks wrote an excellent column about the film, in which he said:

"The movie portrays the nobility of politics in exactly the right way. It shows that you can do more good in politics than in any other sphere. You can end slavery, open opportunity and fight poverty. But you can achieve these things only if you are willing to stain your own character in order to serve others -- if you are willing to bamboozle, trim, compromise and be slippery and hypocritical.

. . . The challenge of politics lies precisely in the marriage of high vision and low cunning. [Steven] Spielberg's Lincoln gets this point. The hero has a high moral vision, but he also has the courage to take morally hazardous action in order to make that vision a reality."

It's a must-see for anyone who longs to look at an American politician, albeit one played by a man born across the pond in a film, and feel proud.

How To Be A Woman

I devoured British newspaper columnist Caitlin Moran's best-selling, profane, butt-kicking feminist tome How To Be A Woman in a handful of days over the Christmas break. It was thought provoking, funny and fearless. Mostly, it was fearless and in-your-face. That's what I liked the most about Moran's musings as she heaped self-deprecating humor into the mix while saucily taking on issues like the asinine grooming habits of modern women, sex, sexism, porn, women in pop culture, cosmetic surgery and motherhood.

It is a breezy read that is not for the faint of heart, or those who take umbrage at profanity, say, like the Dowager Countess for example. Lady Sybil, however, would likely have gotten a big kick out of reading it.

Image credit: Amazon.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Tag! The Next Best Thing (In the Book World), UPDATED

One of my favorite Boston Globe columnists, Joanna Weiss, invited me to participate in a very cool thing called a "blog hop," where one author "tags" another and the person who's "It" fields questions about her next writing project.

Weiss -- who wrote the sharp and amusing satirical novel Milkshake, about the lunacy of the political and feminist politics surrounding breastfeeding -- is working on a new book about a culture clash involving an uber-rich Boston family and working/middle class Bostonians. You can see what she wrote about her work-in-progress Beantown book here.

Weiss has tagged yours truly to answer some questions about my work-in-progress novel. Thanks Joanna! Here goes:

What is the working title of your book?

The Mortified: A Novel About Over-Sharing.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

After years of reading personal blogs, I became increasingly surprised and intrigued by how many vivid, personal details bloggers revealed online about not just themselves, but about their friends and family members. The notion of what is or isn't considered "over-sharing" fascinated me.

What genre does you book fall under?

Contemporary fiction.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

The main character, thirtysomething Maggie Kelly, who has an anonymous and profane personal blog, could be played by someone like Elisabeth Moss (Peggy Olson on Mad Men), Ginnifer Goodwin (Once Upon a Time, Big Love) or Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under), all of whom I think could deftly balance Maggie's emotional intensity with her desperate and darkly comedic side.

For Maggie's husband Michael -- a kind, career-focused guy who doesn't understand (and doesn't want to understand) what's causing his wife's lingering melancholy -- I picture anyone from James Marsden (30 Rock, 27 Dresses, The Notebook) and Zack Gilford (Matt Saracen from Friday Night Lights), to Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception, (500) Days of Summer) playing that role.

The third main character is Michael's mother Dorothy, who I describe as a militant Emily Post in sensible shoes. I could envision actresses such as Kelly Bishop (Gilmore Girls, Bunheads) or Mary Kay Place (Big Love) stepping into Dorothy's petite Easy Spirit loafers.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

The Mortified asks readers this question: What would you do if your spouse blogged about how you are a self-centered, unsupportive jerk, who happens to be lousy in bed, and then, after the blog went viral, your mother and your colleagues read the punishingly graphic commentary?

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I'm currently in talks with an indie publisher. (*fingers crossed*)

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

A year-and-a-half.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I'd liken The Mortified to something I might read from Jennifer Weiner who, like me, is a former newspaper reporter. Weiner's novel Then Came You, for example, explores the many complex and emotional sides of surrogacy, similar to the way I think The Mortified delves into the consequences of over-sharing online. Fellow New England resident Tom Perrotta's Little Children -- which addresses the loneliness of at-home parenthood coupled with suburban hysteria -- and The Abstinence Teacher -- that tackles the clash of sex education and religious values -- used similarly no-nonsense approaches to analyzing current social issues.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My mother made this off-handed comment about my writing one day, saying, "You used to be funnier." And she was right, at least when it came to my personal blog. Once my children got wise to this thing called the Internet and the handy little tool called Google, I started cordoning off vast quantities of would-be amusing anecdotes behind bright orange traffic cones in an "off-limits" zone. The result of choosing family privacy over material that would've made for good blog posts? Some of the best, funniest tales were banned from the blog, per my children's request.

But what was happening inside the homes of people who didn't seem to do much holding back on their blogs? Were their husbands or wives unhappy with having their sex lives dissected online? Did their children feel over-exposed? Did their families even know that they were being discussed on a blog? Hence . . . The Mortified, a book about a suburban woman who, to cope with her feelings of being oppressed by matrimony and maternity, started what she thought was an anonymous, brutally honest blog where she would vent her unpleasant feelings about her life's disappointments.

What else about your book might pique the readers' interest?

People who publish very personal information about their loved ones online -- whether on blogs or on social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter -- might have a strong reaction to the question of what constitutes "over-sharing." While The Mortified chronicles incidents in various characters' pasts where they were embarrassed by something someone had said about them, the difference is that in the modern era, embarrassing accusations and remarks can now be detailed in blogs and social media. And they can go viral. Mortification via Google.

*Be sure to check out the author who I have tagged as she's working on her very own "Next Big Thing:" Suzanne Strempek Shea, the author of eight books, including five novels, such as Selling the Lite of Heaven, Hoopi Shoopi Donna and Becoming Finola. Suzanne and I both worked for the same newspaper in western Massachusetts back in the day. I can't wait to read her answers.*

UPDATE: Suzanne fielded the same questions where she filled us in on her new project, This is Paradise, a work of non-fiction that sounds positively gripping.

She also tagged writer Ann Hood, author of The Knitting Club and The Red Thread, as the next writer.

Image credits:, Jack Rowand/ABC.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Where Have I Been? Well Let Me Tell You . . .

I have missed you, my blog-reading peeps, missed writing and musing about all the latest doings in politics and pop culture.

During my blogging absence, we've seen the beginning of the stellar second season of Homeland in all of its outstandingly taut dramatic glory. The Good Wife has been continuing to kick some serious behind with a fierce Alicia Florrick. Kelsey Grammer scared the heck out of me with his lethally volcanic depiction of a win-at-any-cost Chicago mayor on the second season of Boss. And the sinister writers for NBC's Parenthood have been conspiring with the folks at Kleenex to make me cry every week, whether it was with tear-drenched scenes of a kid leaving her parents to attend college across the country, or giving cancer to a women who has a baby, an autistic middle schooler and that college kid on the other coast.

On the silver screen, I've been jonesing to see Argo, The Master and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but, alas, I have been about as successful getting to the movie theaters as I have been at blogging here in the last few weeks.

Meanwhile, all the presidential debates have passed us by including the one where a dour President Obama looked like someone had just spoiled the next episode of Homeland for him, the one with Governor Romney agreeing with nearly everything the president said on foreign policy and CNN's Candy Crowley having to argue semantics with the candidates when the candidates weren't busy giving off a weird, Fight Club vibe. During the second banana debate, Vice President Biden looked like the wise yet pompous uncle at Thanksgiving dinner telling the upstart nephew what's what. And then there were those binders full of women. Oy.

On the home front, the U.S. Senate race between Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren feels like a dismal snarl-fest. And, as much as I'm a politics nerd who DVRs debates, this is particular race has completely worn me out. No mas, por favor.

So where, pray tell, have I been, other than Tweeting up a storm on Twitter?

I've become a full-time assistant professor teaching writing and journalism at a local institution of higher learning. In short order, I needed to craft not just a syllabus for a writing course (I teach three sections of this course for roughly 60 students), but am creating a new course about online and social media. In addition to teaching/grading and researching/designing a course, I've been helping to advise the staff of the student newspaper two nights a week.

The other big thing that has left me with raccoon-like circles under my eyes (plus a six-week-long cold) is a non-fiction book project I've been researching for months. I'm in the process of conducting dozens of interviews as well as observing an educational process (more details on this later) three mornings a week. We're talking EARLY in the morning. In the 6 o'clock hour early. The give me coffee, STAT, kinda early.

Now that we're several weeks into the semester, I'm getting a handle on the teaching and the non-fiction project and am hoping to start blogging more about pop culture and politics, particularly about stuff like this:

Have you seen the new stills from the next season of Mad Men? Don and Megan vacationing in Hawaii. The sixth season can't get here fast enough . . . and neither can the resumption of my blogging!

Image credit: AMC via TVLine.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Notes from the Political Middle: The Good, Bad & Ugly of the GOP Convention

The Good

Liked the powerful speeches -- particularly the you-go-girl optics -- given by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Secretary of State Condi Rice and New Mexico Gov. Susan Martinez. Regardless of one's political stripes, you've got to admire strong women who hold or have held executive positions who delivered talks containing substantive material that wasn't confined to mom & apple pie issues.

Ann Romney, fulfilling one of the toughest jobs assigned to much put-upon political spouses, rendered a heartfelt speech reflecting her experience being the wife of the GOP candidate for decades as she cared for their five sons and battled MS.

The Massachusetts parents who credited fellow parishioner Mitt Romney with kindly and thoughtfully attending to their dying son David were authentically emotional and raw. "The true measure of a man is revealed in his actions during times of trouble, the quiet hospital room of a dying boy, with no cameras and no reporters," Ted Oparowsky told the convention-goers. "This is the time to make that assessment."

The Romney biographical video (this normally cynical news junkie is truly a sucker for these kinds of videos, regardless of political party), the sight of Mitt Romney tearing up, then choking up as he spoke about his parents and his wife delivered the message that was intended: There's a genuine heartbeat thing goin' on beneath that pressed suit.

The Bad & The (Surreal) Ugly

Good Lord Dirty Harry.




I was so enamored of your the US-can-get-up-off-the-mat-and-not-be-a-million-dollar-baby Super Bowl ad that I was intensely curious about what you were going to say on that stage in Tampa.

And then . . .

Epic. Fail.

How sad.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Notes on Pop Culture: Olympics, Good Reads, 'To Rome with Love' & 'The Newsroom'

Olympic Opening Ceremonies: With the exception of the Queen-James Bond thing, I generally disliked not only the London Olympics' Opening Ceremonies, but the way NBC not only riddled the broadcast with ads (seriously, way too many, way too often), had horrifically stupid scripts and replaced footage of the ceremony with a pre-taped Ryan Seacrest interview with Michael Phelps. I was so annoyed that I went to bed way before they were even halfway through the alphabet announcing the arrival of the nations' athletes.

Despite my initial griping, other than Ryan Lochte flashing that god awful diamond grill after he won his first gold of the London games, I've been pretty much into the Olympic competitions, specifically keeping tabs on the U.S. women's soccer team (love Rapinoe, Wambach), the U.S. gymnastics teams (too bad for the guys in team competition), the U.S. basketball teams and the swimming competitions.

And how fabulous was it to see the U.S. women's gymnastics team shine? While watching Massachusetts home gal Aly Raisman deliver a fabulously powerful floor routine that put the exclamation point on the team's performance, I had to keep reminding myself how very young these gymnasts really are and how much pressure they're all under to perform so well.

Totally Worth Reading: The New York Times Book Review's "How to Write" essay by Colson Whitehead.

As a writer myself, I loved the "rules" Whitehead offered up, particularly the second one: "Don't go searching for a subject, let your subject find you. You can't rush inspiration. How do you think [Truman] Capote came to 'In Cold Blood?' It was just an ordinary day when he picked up the paper to read his horoscope, and there it was -- fate." (Truman saw the article about the brutal murder of a Kansas family and that set into motion a years-long odyssey that would become the classic book In Cold Blood.)
To Rome with Love: Caught Woody Allen's latest, To Rome with Love with a pal of mine. Weird, weird very uneven flick. Sure, we laughed out loud a couple of times, pondered Allen's none too subtle anti-reality TV/anti-celebrity message, but Midnight in Paris it was, sadly, not. That was disappointing.

However my appetite was whet for another film that I saw previewed before To Rome: The Words starring Bradley Cooper, slated to be released in September. A writer passes off someone else's manuscript as his own and suffers the consequences. Certainly not lacking in a ripped-from-the-headlines feel to it . . .

The Newsroom: Maybe it's misplaced longing for HBO's old show In Treatment, but I really enjoyed the latest episode of The Newsroom (reviewed it here) featuring Will McAvoy going to a therapist to work through his Mount Everest of personal issues.

Going out and buying an engagement ring and pretending that he's kept it locked in his desk for four years as he nurtured but pointedly did not try to heal his broken heart? Going after and humiliating a Santorum aide on the air as if the guy didn't know how to stand up for himself and was unaware of the senator's position on gays and lesbians, thinking that he, Will was, in the end, being this man's hero? Yeah, I'd say Will could do with tons more treatment, which I think would make for some emotionally in depth scenes.

What have you been watching and reading this week?

Image credit: Joon Mo Kang/New York Times.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Notes on Pop Culture: Periodical Beach Reading, The Newsroom & Political Animals

I spent the past week on a Cape Cod family vacation where I swam, biked (rode a bike for the first time in many, many years), enjoyed sunsets, fresh seafood and got thoroughly and embarrassingly crushed on a farm-themed mini-golf course. (My 10-year-old handily kicked my behind.)

But when we weren't scanning the seas for seals, the favorite snack of sharks  -- we were a few miles away from that Cape beach where a shark chased a kayaker -- I was gorging on the heaps of reading material I brought along (an academic book and Lord of the Rings, both for a research project I'm working on, along with a bunch of periodicals). Here's what kept me entertained:
New Yorker: For a Boston area resident, I was rather sickeningly Gotham-centric this past week. I got substantial sunscreen and sand all over the July 9/16 issue of The New Yorker and enjoyed the long review of Douglas Brinkley's new Walter Cronkite biography by Louis Menand which included a fascinating debate over whether a Cronkite comment, coupled with the anchor's pessimistic view about American success in Vietnam, prompted LBJ not to run for a second term.
An article that sparked a beach-side conversation was by James Surowiecki about businesses that aren't hiring new employees because, the article asserts, employers are being too picky despite ample options:
"When companies complain that they can't find people with the right 'skills,' they often just mean that they can't find people with the right experience . . . Thanks in part to the sheer number of applications, screening of applicants is automated, with computers evaluating resumes according to pre-set criteria. Fail to meet one of those standards, and your application gets tossed, even if a good H.R. director might have spotted your potential."
How depressing.
Speaking of depressing . . . I was also riveted by "The Hunger Diaries," excerpts from American writer Mavis Gallant's journals written in 1952 when Gallant was literally starving for her art while living in Spain.
New York Magazine: The July 9 cover story, "Does Money Make You Mean?" ignited another lively debate with its provocative accompanying art. Citing various work by researchers who are delving into whether money causes people to be less humane and whether people who seek money share those same traits or whether the entire "less humane" question is bogus baloney, writer Lisa Miller worded her central query this way: "How does living in an environment defined by individual achievement -- measured by money, privilege and status -- alter a person's mental machinery to the point where he beings to see the people around him only as aids or obstacles to his own ambitions?"
New York Times: In between the pages of the Old Gray Lady, I greatly related to a Sunday Styles section meditation, "Friends of a Certain Age," about the challenge of making and keeping friends as we get older:
"In your 30s and 40s, plenty of new people enter your life, through work, children's play dates and, of course, Facebook. But actual close friends -- the kind you make in college, the kind you call in a crisis -- those are in shorter supply.
As people approach midlife, the days of youthful exploration, when life felt like one big blind date, are fading. Schedules compress, priorities change and people often become pickier in what they want in their friends."
In the same section, I found a scary story by Lee Siegel who accidentally sent Linked In friend invitations to all 974 contacts in his address book including deceased people, "lawyers, landscapers, accountants, literary agents, babysitters, window-installers, art dealers, ex-girlfriends, the ex-boyfriend of an ex-girlfriend . . . obstetricians, dentists, ophthalmologists, gastroenterologists, urologists, psychologists, pediatricians, billing offices for all of the preceding . . . my ex-wife [and] two litigious former landlords."

The Newsroom: As for TV, I saw the latest two episodes of Aaron Sorkin's new HBO drama The Newsroom which, I've decided, has officially hooked me with its cutting dissection of contemporary cable TV news. Yes, it can be preachy, annoyingly preachy and smugly sanctimonious as well. The second episode irritated me with its relentless focus on two of the female staffers falling to pieces over their love lives. But by the fourth episode -- "I'll Try to Fix You," which I reviewed here -- that got me.

Political Animals: I also caught the first installment of USA's mini-series (the network is calling it a "limited series event") Political Animals where Sigourney Weaver plays Elaine Barrish, otherwise known as Hillary Clinton had Clinton dumped Bill right after she lost her 2008 presidential bid. It also features a tough reporter, who wrote nasty pieces about Barrish's ex, shadowing Secretary of State Barrish around for a week for a story. The show felt crisp, the relationship between the reporter and Barrish is promising and the political manipulations entertaining (better than the boring, real life presidential race we've got goin' on right now). Looking forward to seeing more of this "limited" event.

Image credits: Amazon and New York Magazine.

Monday, July 9, 2012

And Now We Pause for This Brief Blogging Break . . .

I'll be taking a blogging break. But don't despair . . . I'll be back in this space next week -- Tuesday, July 17 -- to tackle pop culture & politics goodness.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Nora Ephron's Films Were Inspirational Love Letters

She was a reporter, essayist, author, blogger, director, producer and Oscar nominated screenwriter. Plus she was sharply funny.

But to me, Nora Ephron -- who died this week from complications related to leukemia -- meant four things: Humor, optimism, insight and magic. To make my case, I present you with my four favorite Ephron films, all of which I have watched countless times and will no doubt watch many times more because they are poignant, entertaining, smart and hopeful.

When Harry Met Sally

This classic New York-based film featured Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) as a chipper, glass-half-full reporter. Her foil was Harry Burns (Billy Crystal), a delightful curmudgeon (who reminds me of several people I know in real life) who made no bones about his gloomy outlook and propensity for reading the last page of a book so that if he dies before he gets to the conclusion, he'll already knows the ending. I adored how this unlikely pair got on the telephone with one another, late at night while in their separate homes and watched TV together, specifically Casablanca. (Entertainment Weekly ran a great piece on what When Harry Met Sally was "really" about.)

Favorite scene: The conversations Sally and Harry had during their car ride from Chicago to New York City were brilliant.

Sleepless in Seattle

This showcased Tom Hanks at his romantic comedy best as the forlorn, down-to-earth, painfully vulnerable widower Sam Baldwin who had an 8-year-old son Jonah who missed his mother desperately. Ryan played Annie Reed, a true romantic in the form of a newspaper reporter (another one!) who was willing to take big risks for something crazy that she knew, in her gut, felt right . . . like flying from Baltimore to Seattle just to say, "Hello" to a man she'd heard on the radio.

Favorite scene: After Jonah called a national radio talk show therapist saying that his "Christmas wish" was for his dad to find a "new wife," a reluctant Sam wound up waxing poetic about the ethereal beauty in how his wife made everything beautiful, even peeling apples. (A video of the beginning of the conversation can be found here.)

You've Got Mail

Ryan played Kathleen Kelly who ran a cherished little children's bookstore with tremendous heart and a passion for literature, something she learned from her dear, departed mother who started the store and raised Kathleen amidst the bookshelves. Hanks played Joe Fox, the smarmy businessman whose family was in the chain bookstore business, who also happened to have a private, tender underbelly.

Favorite scene: The moment that always tugs at my heart featured Kathleen decorating the Christmas tree in her store window, achingly missing her mother as she watched former customers of hers walk by the window toting Fox Books bags. The reference to Joni Mitchell's "River" kills me because I can hear the melancholy tune playing in my head when Kathleen mentions it. I couldn't download the scene here, but you can watch it on YouTube.

Julie and Julia

Ephron's final film inspired me on several levels. We watched as Meryl Streep's version of Julia Child launched a new career while in her late 30s in spite of the doubters who attempted to diminish and discourage her. We saw Amy Adams play a frustrated "cubicle dweller" embark on a quest to reclaim her raise d'etre by following Julia's culinary advice, along with all the recipes in Julia's most famous cookbook. The icing on the cake in this film was the moving depiction of the enduring love between Julia and her husband Paul (played by Stanley Tucci), as he cheered her on in the face of repeated defeats.

Favorite scene: After many discouraging rejections (I can totally relate), Julia finally received a letter from a publisher who willing to publish her book. Sweet success after her years of hard work. Although video of that particular scene wasn't available online, the Valentine's Day dinner hosted by Julia and Paul (see above) was a sweet example of the couple's affection.

What's your favorite Ephron film (or book or essay)?

Notes on Politics: CNN Boots the Supreme Court Health Care Ruling


In a complicated, highly anticipated ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, declared that the massive federal health care law, spearheaded by President Obama and the then-Democratic-led House, is constitutional. It stays. (The nearly 200-page opinion can be found here.)

As I awaited news of the ruling, made myself comfy in front of the TV as I opened my Twitter account, I tuned to CNN, figuring they'd offer up a no nonsense account of the Supreme Court ruling about which on-air reporters were positively giddy given the colossally intense interest of the viewers at home.

Then, in its attempt to be the first with the news, CNN botched its reporting. It got the story exactly wrong. They reported that the Court ruled that the individual mandate requiring people to buy health insurance or face penalties had been ruled unconstitutional. I Tweeted what CNN had said and cited the network as the source, thank goodness.

Within minutes, the Associated Press issued this Tweet: "BREAKING: Supreme Court upholds Obama law's requirement that most Americans have health insurance."

What the what?

This was then Tweeted by the Supreme Court blog, "SCOTUS Blog:" "The individual mandate survives as a tax." Reuters concurred. Conclusion: CNN screwed up. Cue the piling on top of CNN's epic fail as Twitter skewered them, placing the mistake in the same the league as "Dewey Defeats Truman:"

"Looks like CNN got it wrong, which would mean they got this and Bush v. Gore wrong." -- Dan Abrams

"'Al Gore Wins!' -- CNN" -- Tweeted writer Danny Zuker

"I am not turning off CNN until they TELL ME GORE WON FLORIDA!!!" -- Damon Lindelof (one of the guys behind Lost)

"Be right, not first." -- @JournalistsLike

"Women reject '50 Shades of Grey' in droves . . . #OtherCNNHeadlines #SCOTUS" -- @TVMcGee

"CNN staffer emails me: 'Its [sic] shameful'" -- @BuzzFeedBen

Way to strike a severe blow to CNN's reputation as a trusted source of news when something big is happening. I only wished NBC's Brian Williams had been broadcasting live. . .

Image credit: C.W. Anderson via Poynter.