Monday, June 27, 2011

The Reading Promise, by Alice Ozma

The first thing that struck me about this book was the author’s name: Alice Ozma. Why did that sound so familiar? It turns out her name comes from two female protagonists in two classic pieces of children’s literature: Alice from Alice in Wonderland and Princess Ozma from L. Frank Baum’s Oz books. Right away, the author’s name alone makes this book incredibly interesting!

The Reading Promise tells the true story of a father and daughter who make a pact to read with each other for one hundred nights. After they meet their first goal, they decide to go for 1,000 nights. Eventually they decide to just keep going. They read every night—never missing a night—until the day Alice leaves for college.

This book had me laughing so hard I was in tears when Alice described her crippling and somewhat unusual fear of the ghost of JFK at the age of twelve. And it had me tearing up at the more touching moments between Alice and her father. (I don’t want to give away too much, so I’ll stop there.) But it also made me think of how lucky I was to grow up in a home where books were not only respected, but cherished. My brother and I had a mother who read to us before we went to bed at night. Books were given as gifts for birthdays and major holidays. Reading was never turned into a punishment, or forced upon us. It was always something we were taught to enjoy. (I have to take a moment right now to thank my mother for this. If it hadn’t been for her, I wouldn’t be working in the library today.)

After working with public school kids and then later in the public library, I realized that the love of books and reading is not common in all households. That’s what I think makes The Reading Promise so incredible! It challenges the reader to get back to books, and to practice the art of reading out loud. So if you love books, or need some inspiration, read The Reading Promise. You’ll finish the book with a great excitement and enthusiasm for books, and you’ll want to make a reading promise of your own.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Somewhere, Written and Directed by Sofia Coppola

On a Saturday afternoon--not long after I started college--I was sitting alone in my dorm room watching The Virgin Suicides. It was my first Sofia Coppola film experience. I didn't realize it then, but that one quiet afternoon turned me into a Sofia Coppola fan for life.

A couple of years later, I saw the trailer for Lost in Translation--Sofia, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanson? How could this possibly disappoint?? And, of course, it didn't. It exceded my expectations and then some! I went to see that movie in theaters at least three times (if not more) because I not only wanted to see it again and again for myself, but I wanted all my friends to see it as well. I knew while purchasing the DVD on the day of it's release that Ms. Coppola had earned a permanant place in my heart.

The summer Marie Antoinette came out in the theaters just happened to be the same year I had gone to France and saw the Palace of Versailles up close and personal. The movie Marie Antoinette was different from Sofia's first two films, and some of my friends were not as impressed with it. But I have always loved it! Whenever I watch it, I always think of my trip to France.

This post, however, is not about her previous films, but about her most recent release Somewhere. I was unable to see this movie in the theater which greatly disappointed me. But I recently purchased the DVD because I have enough faith in Sofia Coppola to pay full price for one of her movies without a preview.

Somewhere is about an actor in Los Angeles living a rock-staresque lifestyle; inviting poll dancers to his hotel room for private shows, racing around in his flashy sports car, and coming home to wild parties that he didn't seem to plan or anticipate. But when he unexpectedly has to look after his eleven year old daughter for an extended period of time, he begins to reexamine some of his life choices.

This film moves more slowly than her other films, but if you're patient, it's well worth the wait! It's beautiful how the story unfolds. We get a small glimpse into the everyday lives of these characters, and witness a gradual change for the better. It's a wonderful story of redemption, and those are always my favorite kind!

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Jane Austen Education

Ah, Jane Austen. Of course my first pick for summer reading would be about my favorite author of all time… Ms. Austen. After reading the first chapter of A Jane Austen Education, by William Deresiewicz, my first thought was: A man who loves Austen… be still my beating heart! As I kept reading, however, my thoughts became much more reflective because the book became increasingly challenging. I love the subtitle: How Six Novels Taught Me about Love Friendship and the Things that Really Matter. Because that is exactly what Jane Austen teaches in her novels: the things that really matter.

Each chapter of A Jane Austen Education teaches an important life lesson from what it means to be a good friend, to really listening to the people around you and allowing them to tell their stories. The author shares Austen’s belief that it is our duty in life to be kind and useful to the people around us, even when we don’t feel they deserve it. He also came around to Austen’s ideas about love. Love does not hit us suddenly or feel like falling. It comes on gradually and more closely resembles growth. I happen to agree with that notion whole heartedly.

My favorite chapter in the book was the chapter on friendship which also happened to be the chapter on Persuasion, my favorite Austen novel. (Maybe my favorite book, period.) I have always loved Anne Elliot, and looked up to her as someone who should be emulated, as much as humanly possible. She always put others before herself, even when that meant being torn away from the man she loved because her family disapproved.

But even though I love Persuasion and Anne and Captain Wentworth, the reason I loved this chapter so much was not because Deresiewicz seemed to share all my opinions about my favorite novel. It was the story he shared about his life I found most appealing. During this chapter of the book, the author was remembering a time in his life when he felt displaced. I think many people in their late twenties/early thirties are familiar with this feeling. We have finished college--the core groups of friends we spent so much time with and took for granted have dispersed to other parts of the country (or world) to start careers or families or other kinds of adventures. Deresiewicz gives an account of his own life: living alone in an apartment, a little gray cat being his only constant companion.

This seemed to parallel my own life not more than a couple of years ago, except I didn’t even have a cat to keep me company. I was in desperate need of a community. I eventually found it in a good church and also in a young couple from the library I work at. I made friends in the community in which I live. But the chapter reminded me how important it is not to take your true friends for granted because life can change in an instant.

He ended the chapter with a description of the friends he had to find after his period of solitude and loneliness: “There were about eight of us sitting around the kitchen table that night, smacking our lips over some dessert she had made. The candles were burning low, her cats were nosing their way among our legs, someone had just cracked a joke. I leaned back, I looked around, and I thought, Yes, I’ve found my family.” I knew exactly what he meant because it is exactly how I feel every time I sit in church, and it’s exactly the feeling I experience when I visit the house of the couple from the library I mentioned earlier, and it’s exactly what I felt when my good friend raced to my house in the middle of the night after learning the bad news I’d just received.

As William Deresiewicz put it, “Your friends are the family you choose.” I think I’ve chosen pretty well, and I never want to take them--or anyone else I care about--for granted.