Thursday, June 30, 2011

Before I Go To Sleep

"Before I Go To Sleep" by S.J. Watson chronicles the story of Christine Lucas, who as a result of a mysterious accident suffers from a rare type of amnesia which wipes her memories clean every night when she falls asleep. At the novel's onset, Christine wakes up disoriented, in a room she doesn't recognize, in bed next to a man she's never seen before. He's got a gold band on his finger. Great, she thinks, I've just had a one night stand with a married man. She sidesteps the other woman's slippers on the side of the bed, and creeps naked and barefoot into the nearby bathroom, trying to make a hasty getaway before the appearance of an angry wife. She uses the toilet, flushes, and goes to wash her hands, and that's when she realizes something is wrong. Her hands don't look like her own, not as she remembers them; the skin is wrinkled, the nails unpolished, and like the man in the bed, she's also wearing a plain gold wedding ring. Christine looks in the mirror and gasps, as if she's just received a punch in the gut, for staring back at her isn't the face of her youth; it's her, but an older version at least twenty, twenty-five years too old.
"The face I see looking back at me is not my own. the hair has no volume and is cut much shorter than I wear it; the skin on the cheeks and under the chin sags; the lips are thin; the mouth turned down. I cry out, a worldless gasp that would turn into a shriek of shock were I to let it..."
This is Christine's daily routine, and each day, much like today, Ben, her husband is there to lovingly and patiently run down the facts of her illness and share the highlights of their life together. Ben informs her how many years they've been married and answers questions about her past; he gives her a scrapbook with photos, followed by a tour of the house. And every day after Ben leaves for work, Dr. Nash, a young and determined doctor working with Christine unbeknownst to her husband, calls her, introduces himself and reminds her were to find the journal he's instructed her to write in and document each day's discoveries.

On this day, as Christine sits to read her journal, she makes a terrifying discovery; there, beneath her name, in capital letters are the words DON'T TRUST BEN. So she turns the page and reads her history, and with each journal entry she unconvers startling truths about herself and her life, each bringing her step-by-step closer to solving the puzzle that is her past, and all leading to a climactic ending filled with unexpected surprises.

This was an amazing debut novel! It's an incredible psychological drama, mystery and page-turning thriller all in one. I have no doubt that this story will be jumping straight from the page onto the big screen in the near future. Make it a night you won't soon forget, and curl up with this great book.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

One Pair at a Time

Inspired by the above photo, I’ve decided that my next charity effort will be on behalf of Soles4Souls, a Nashville-based charity that collects new and gently used shoes from footwear companies and individuals like you and I, and distributes them to people in need in over 127 countries, including the United States. Since 2005, Soles4Souls has given away over 14 million pairs of new and gently worn shoes (currently donating one pair every 7 seconds.)

You can get involved by donating shoes at any of their participating locations, hosting a shoe drive in your community, or making a monetary donation. For every $1 you donate, Soles4Souls can provide one additional pair of shoes to someone in need. $20 provides 20 pairs of shoes!

I’ve drafted the email I’ll be sending my family and friends, and will be sending it out after the upcoming holiday weekend to ensure it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. As with the diaper drive, I’ll post a photo with a quick little update letting you guys know if my efforts were fruitful. As I look at the above picture, I thank God for my many blessings, not least of which is shoes, and hope that this small act helps to express that gratitude.

So, clean out your closet, and have more than one reason to feel good about it. Your contribution could be providing someone their first ever pair of shoes; a humbling thought.

Liberty and/or/nor Safety

I found this story so troubling. Yesterday, reported that Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents at a Florida airport made a cancer-stricken and wheelchair bound 95-year old woman traveling with her daughter to be with family, remove her adult diaper to receive a security screening pat-down in order to board their flight. While I’m usually the first to say security first when it comes to air travel, I can’t believe that we’ve come to this. There has to be a point where we draw a line in the sand and say enough is enough. Is it security at any expense? For those that would say, if you don’t like it, don’t fly; I say would you be okay with these actions if it wasn’t some nameless, faceless woman in the crowd, how about if it was your frail and sick mother enduring the shame and indignity of these actions? As if life and the disease she’s fighting hadn’t already taken enough from this poor woman, these agents come along and add insult to injury. I understand that agents are just following protocol, but there has to be some wiggle room for using plain old common sense. If we’re willing to pay any price for safety, then what’s next, what other rights and liberties will we be asked to give up in the name of security?

Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying:
"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
While I don't wholeheartedly agree with that statement, because the times do call for a certain measure of compromise, I do hope that cases like this one being brought to light promote an honest dialogue and review of protocols, so that TSA agents can serve and protect our citizens while guaranteeing our most basic of rights of respect and dignity for all, as well as safeguarding the liberties thousands of U.S. soldiers over the ages have lost their life over protecting for us.

Not So Scary Now

It's amazing what some good dental work will do for you. Love the first one, with the Dave Letterman gap.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

"Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" by Ransom Riggs tells the tale of Jacob Portman, an ordinary sixteen year old whose life becomes extraordinary thanks to his grandfather, Abraham Portman. As a young child, Jacob had been in awe of his grandfather's incredible tales of being shipped away from his home for his safety; sent far from his native Poland, to a children's home on a magical island and the peculiar children with special gifts with whom he'd shared his childhood, all protected by a wise old bird from grotesque monsters with rotting skin and tentacles coming out of their mouths. Each tall tale had been brought incredibly to life in the form of old wrinkled and yellowing snapshots which Abraham had presented as proof to his grandchild. The fantastical and frightening stories had prompted both admiration and nightmares in young Jacob, until the day he grew up and stopped believing. At which time, each tale had been explained away by Jacob's father, as mere exaggerations of the truth and more horror story than fairy tale. Abraham was in fact just one of the many children shipped away from their homes for their safety prior to World War II breaking out, the Nazi's were the monsters he'd narrowly escaped, though his family--mother, father and brothers--weren't as lucky, and the only peculiarity for which the children were hunted for was their Jewishness.

Despite not believing his grandfather's stories, an unbreakable bond still existed between Abraham and the now 15 year old Jacob, so when Jacob receives a frantic call from his grandfather, he rushes to his side, only to find his beloved grandfather injured and dying, setting in motion a chain of events which will change Jacob's life forever; splitting his life into two halves: Before and After. Jacob is struggling to come to grips with his grandfather's death and to find meaning in his last cryptic words, when he receives a mysterious letter from Headmistress Alma LeFay Peregrine which sets him on a journey to a faraway island which holds the secrets of his grandfather's childhood, and potentially the path to his own life's greatest adventure.

I so enjoyed this book! An incredible fantasy filled with adventure, intrigue, love and one or two monsters to keep it a little interesting. The book wasn't at all what I expected, but it was nonetheless a wonderful surprise. One of the most intriguing and brilliant features of the book is the array of authentic vintage photographs which the author interspersed throughout the novel. The photographs which were lent from the personal archives of ten collectors, were woven into the story so seamlessly that it added a wonderful touch of credibility to this most fanciful of fairy tales. The book spends some time setting up the mythology and lore of Miss Peregrine and her wards which leads me to believe (and hope) that a sequel is in the works. I can't wait!!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Love & Admiration

"To love is to admire with the heart; to admire is to love with the mind”
--Theophile Gautier

The above two words came to mind as I wrote a character letter for my cousin, Tana. Tana’s little guy Jared, was recently diagnosed with high-functioning Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder, this after countless heart wrenching tests and misdiagnosis. After a couple recent scares where Jared wandered from home (a common custom in children with autism), she started looking into getting a specially trained autism service dog, hence the character letter.

As I sat down to write, I thought of the countless wonderful things I could say about my cousin, and realized the above two words capture my sentiments exactly. I love her because she’s my cousin, and we share so many memories together—both good and bad. I love her for the amazing woman she became, which makes me feel old, because I used to babysit the pipsqueak when I was a teen. I love her for the fact that she loved my mom, about as much as I love hers. I love her for every time she was there to lift my spirits when I was down while mom was sick.

I admire the fact that even though she works from home helping to run their family business, she still makes time to be the room mom for Jared’s class, and to help Maya, her daughter, with any number of school activities. I admire the fact that she’s always cognizant of Maya’s feeling, and takes steps to insure she never feels gypped by the demands made by her brother. I admire her strength, perseverance, and resiliency. I admire what an incredible mother she’s been to her children, because while loving Jared is easy, you only have to know him for a few minutes before he’s won your heart, parenting him is way tougher. I admire that she’s been Jared’s fiercest advocate, fighting tooth and nail for every speech therapist or special services he needed.

I know these last two wandering scares have taken their toll, and sometimes it all seems like too much, but I know at the end of the day, whether it be today, tomorrow or 15 years from now, my 'cuz will always be the rock, the fail-safe mechanism which guarantees a safe and wonderful life for her children. So 'cuz, when you read this post, I know you’re one of my few readers, add one more word to the above--proud--which is what I am to be your cousin and to be your friend.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

First Listen via NPR Music

Rave on Buddy Holly is a tribute album featuring some of the music industry's biggest names covering Buddy Holly's greatest hits, including Paul McCartney, The Black Keys, Fiona Apple, Cee Lo Green, Lou Reed and Graham Nash to name a few. The album, which features a whopping 19 tracks, will be released on June 28th, but for a limited time NPR Music has generously made the entire album available on their website for a free first listen.

The interpretations are as diverse as the artists performing them, but each serves to pay homage to the incredible singer-songwriter and rock and roll pioneer that was Buddy Holly. My favorites were "Everyday" performed by Fiona Apple and Jon Brion, "Dearest" performed by The Black Keys, and I especially loved "Raining in My Heart" performed by Graham Nash.

Visit NPR's Exclusive First Listen page to enjoy this great album. You might also want to check out the Tiny Desk Concerts page, where small intimate performances performed at the desk of All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen are recorded live. You'll find everything from traditional bluegrass, classical, and even electro-pop music.

Love Knows No Bounds

(via The Telegraph); Picture: Tina Case/Rex Features

Six-year-old Koa, a Labrador, has become surrogate mother to two baby rabbits. Koa took them under her "wing"/paw after she found them abandoned outside her owner's home.

The Voice: Final Four

Congrats to NBC on what’s turned out to be a hit in “The Voice.” From the get go, every aspect of the show has stood on its own without room for comparison to the granddaddy of singing competitions, "American Idol." Each step in the process has been unique and bold, from the blind auditions, to the battle rounds, and even the live performances; adding a much needed dose of freshness to the tired old singing competition formula. After weeks of great performances, we’re finally down to the semi-finals. Last night was the last set of performance before the final four are announced tonight, and next week's finale. So, here are my predictions for the final four.

Clockwise: Javier Colon, Vicci Martinez, Dia Frampton, Beverly McClellan

While Javier has been a standout throughout the show, Dia has been equally as good. Without seeing the final performances, I’m torn as to how America might vote, but I’ll hedge my bets and give it to Javier, with a caveat that in the end it will depend on song choice, and if anyone can pull off the upset, I think it will be Dia.

“The Voice” has a guaranteed fan in me for next year. Each one of the final eight performers was talented and unique, without being the cookie-cutter pop star which American Idol churns out most years (this year being the exception). In truth, even putting aside the age restrictions on Idol, many of the hugely talented performers that have reached the finals on “The Voice” wouldn’t have made it on Idol purely on aesthetics alone. As for the judges, I love Blake, Adam and CeeLo, but have really been turned off by Christina’s attitude on the show. My one and only gripe with the show is the fact that we’re forced to pick one performer from each team, as opposed to letting us pick any four we wanted. The overall favorites should make it through, even if it means one coach ends up having no performer from their team in the finale.

Tune in tonight to NBC at 8:00 pm to find out the final four, and also next week for the show’s finale.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Thirteen Reasons Why

This first novel by Jay Asher deals with the subject of teen suicide. As the novel opens, Clay Jensen, a young high school student arrives home to find on his porch a box containing several cassette tapes. As he plays the first tape, he hears the voice of Hannah Baker, a classmate on whom he'd had a crush prior to her suicide two weeks earlier. Shocked and confused at hearing her voice, he listens as she says that there are thirteen reasons why she killed herself, and if he's received the package, he's one of them. He's instructed to listen to her tale and once complete, forward the tapes to the person who's next after him in her tale. On a prior occassion, Clay had received a map in his school locker which Hannah references as being marked with the exact locations where many of the transgressions against her had taken place. As he listens and treks through town to each location, he learns some dark truths about Hannah, his classmates, and about himself.

I read this book based on an interview with the author in Entertainment Weekly, but was unfortunately disappointed. First of all, the main character, Hannah, isn't very sympathetic. As she begins her narration on the tapes, she comes across as whiny and spiteful, expressing a need to hurt from beyond the grave, despite the fact that throughout her narration she indicates she's forgiven the guilty culprits.

"When you're done listening to all thirteen sides--because there are thirteen sides to every story--rewind the tapes, put them back in the box, and pass them on to whoever follows your little tale. And you, lucky number thirteen, you can take the tapes straight to hell. Depending on your religion, maybe I'll see you there."

Secondly, while I can see how a young, sensitive teen would be hurt by the incidents or reasons Hannah cites in her story, none of them individually or even as a whole are earth shattering or horrible enough to logically serve as the impetus for her suicide. Being used for rides, and being listed as hottest ass in the freshman class don't quite pack the emotional punch I expected. Throughout the tape Hannah complains of the wrongs done to her, but twice when she has the chance to make a difference, and in one case stop something truly heinous and criminal from happening to someone else, she stands by and does nothing.

Even with all of the above comments, I'd recommend that people--especially parents, teachers, and teens--read it, because any book that spreads the message of suicide prevention deserves a read. The message and not necessarily the story is what makes "Thirteen Reasons Why" a compelling read.

My Summer Reading List

Summer officially arrived today, and along with it my summer reading list. I'm sure you've all been waiting with bated breath.

"Before I Go To Sleep: A Novel" by S.J. Watson. Our memories define us. What would you do if your memories disappeared every time you fell asleep? Who could you trust? This is the premise of this book which tells the story of Christine, who is left an amnesiac after a mysterious accident. After the accident, Christine loses her memory each time she falls asleep and every morning has to rely on her husband, Ben, to explain their life together. At her doctor's urging, Christine starts to write in a journal to help her jog her memory, but things become ominous when one morning she reads "don't trust Ben" written in her journal.

"The Snowman" by Joe Nesbo. This Norwegian author is being hailed as the next Stieg Larsson. This crime fiction thriller focuses on a ruthless serial killer, the Snowman, and the police detective who makes it his mission to bring him in.

"The Kid" by Sapphire. This much anticipated follow-up to "Push," tells the story of Precious' son, Abdul. To be released July 5, 2011.

"Never Knowing" by Chevy Stevens. Be careful what you wish for, should be the motto of this thriller. In spite of being relatively happy in her life, Sara Gallagher had always wondered about her birth parents and finally decides to search for her birth mother. Her search leads her to the gruesome truth that her mother was the sole survivor of a notorious serial killer, the Campsite Killer, that has killed young women every summer for decades. When the news of her discovery is leaked, Sara quickly realizes that worse than not knowing her parents, is knowing that her father, the Campsite Killer, wants to get to know the daughter he didn't know he had. To be released July 5, 2011.

"Turn of Mind" by Alice LaPlante. This author's first novel is about Dr. Jennifer White, a retired orthopedic surgeon with dementia. As the book opens, Dr. Jennifer White’s best friend, Amanda, who lived down the block, has been killed, and four fingers surgically removed from her hand. Dr. White is the prime suspect and she herself doesn’t know whether she did it.

"Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" by Ransom Riggs. As a kid, Jacob had heard tall tales from his grandfather on the peculiar children, with amazing abilities, with whom he had grown up. After his grandfather's unexpected death, Jacob receives a letter which sets him off on a journey to the remote island of his grandather's childhood. Not sure what comes next, but I'm sure it will be intriguing. I bought this book based on the cover alone. Spooky.

"Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" is first on my list. I'll post a review posthaste.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Hitchens, Faith and God

Today at lunch I read a great Vanity Fair article, a friend was kind enough to recommend, written by Christopher Hitchens . The powerfully-written and evocative piece entitled "Unspoken Truths" detailed Hitchens' despondency at losing his voice as a result of his ongoing chemotheraphy treatments for esophageal cancer, as well as speaking to the 'essential link between speech and prose.' As some of you might be aware, in addition to being a journalist, essayist and acclaimed author of titles such as "God is Not Great" or "Hitch 22: A Memoir", Hitchens is probably best known as an avowed atheist, a fact which has not changed even in the face of his grim battle against stage 4 cancer. In a recent 60 Minutes interview, Hitchens stated that while he's been very touched by the letters and emails offering prayers for his recovery, he is relying on science and medicine, and not faith or the existence of God for his survival.

Hitchens contends that religion is the source of all tyranny, and that many of the world's evils have been done in the name of religion. Hitchens has been quoted as saying about religion, "It is the wish to be a slave. It is the desire that there be an unalterable, unchallengeable, tyrannical authority, who can convict you of thought-crime while you are asleep. A celestial North Korea." I don't agree with Mr. Hitchens "tyrannical" comparison, but I respect his opinion, his talent, as well as his courage and conviction in avowing his beliefs even when they go against the popular line of thinking, and even in the face of criticism and repudiation.

A tyranny is defined as an oppressive power, and a tyrant as one who governs oppressively or brutally. I can honestly say that in my life, my faith is anything but oppressive. It is uplifting, freeing, a source of personal strength. My faith affords me the peace of knowing that I don't have to carry my burdens, my fears, my worries, my anxieties alone, I can turn to God and ask for his help and comfort, and he'll be there. And while many evils have been committed in the name of God, just as much good has been done in his name as well. In fact, much of the health care in Africa and other third world nations is made possible by faith-based organizations. How many soup kitchens, food pantries, coat and toy drives to help those less fortunate are organized by churches and synagogues throughout our own nation on a daily basis? In truth, given our innate flaws as human beings, to suffer greed, envy, hate and anger etc, whenever we rise above these sentiments to put someone elses well being above our own, it in and of itself serves as proof of a higher being inspiring us to do more, to be more.

On a closing note, let me say that while this controversial yet brilliant man might have lost his speaking voice, he has definitely not lost his writer's voice for writing isn't his profession, it's obviously his calling. I offer my sincere and heartfelt prayers for him and his family during these trying times.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Living in New York, it's been all Weiner, all the time lately. You'd think Congressman Weiner's weiner was the only important news in the world. Anyway, this whole fiasco is enough to leave a bad taste in anyone's mouth, so what better way to cleanse the palate than with a wholesome, idealistic view of what politics and politicians should be, even if it comes in the form of a fictional character, so with that thought in mind I once again visited my local library and brought home this classic.

"Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" is a 1939 Frank Capra directed film, which stars James Stewart, Jean Arthur and Claude Rains, to name a few of the talented actors that comprise the cast, in this tale of an idealistic young man fighting a corrupt system. When Senator Sam Foley dies, the Governor from the unnamed state has to appoint a new Senator. After meeting with Senator Joe Paine (Claude Rains), the senior senator from the same unnamed state, and Jim Taylor, the dirty boss behind the state's political machine, Governor Hopper is asked to name a political stooge that will perform like a trained seal and not ask questions on an upcoming dam project which Taylor wants to get passed. Taylor has been buying up land around the site of the proposed dam and holding them in dummy names, all in hopes of making a bundle off the sale of the land to the U.S. government. Senator Paine has been in Taylor's pocket for the past 20 years, yet he's dubious about having a new guy which might start asking questions about their graft scheme. After Taylor's suggested candidate is vehemently shot down by members of a local committee who instead name their own candidate, Hopper comes home torn by his decision. As he sits to dinner with his family, his young sons instead suggest he name Jeff Smith (James Stewart), the head of Boy Rangers and a local hero who was in the local papers for having helped put out a forest fire. Wrestling with his decision, Hopper decides to let a flip of a coin decide it all. When the coin lands on its edge right on a newspaper with the story of Jeff Smith, he decides to take it as a sign.

Governor Hopper names Jeff as Senator with assurances to Taylor and Paine that he's a perfect choice, a simpleton, naive and never in politics who can easily be manipulated. At a banquet in his honor, Smith speaks of his feeling of honor at sharing the title of Senator with John Paine, a man he respects and admires as much as his father. Smith informs Paine of the fact that he'd in fact known his late father, Clayton Smith, and reminds him that as idealistic young men, one an editor and publisher and the other a lawyer, later a Senator, they had been best friends.

Upon Smith's arrival in Washington, DC, he's quickly lampooned and mocked by the press. Feeling like a fraud, and an honorary stooge just decorating a chair, he turns to Paine, a man he trusts, and asks to become more involved on upcoming votes. In order to distract him from the dam project which is coming up for a vote, Paine suggests Smith instead start a bill of his own. Smith turns to his assistant, Clarissa Saunders (Jean Arthur), for help in writing a bill to start a national boy's camp to get kids out of cities and out in nature, unwittingly selecting the same parcel of land planned for the dam. This fact of course brings forth a classic David vs. Goliath battle between good and evil, and right and wrong.

I loved this movie! I'm a big fan of Jimmy Stewart, so I'm biased in a sense, but it really was a great film. Stewart conveys the character's innocence and idealism so wonderfully, perfectly demonstrated in his simple expression of awe and reverence as he stands before the Lincoln Memorial listening to a small child read The Gettysburg Address as an elderly African-American man stands listening, or his look of bewilderment and hurt at his hero's betrayal. Claude Rains also performs his role admirably, as a man who's given up his ideals for what he wants to believe is an honest compromise and the only way to play ball in a corrupt town, even though he's actually sold his soul to the devil for his own benefit not that of others. A likely excuse probably used by many real political leaders throughout time as a way to assuage their own guilty consciences.

Neither Stewart nor Rains won Oscars for their roles, though Stewart did win the 1939 New York Film Critics Circle Award (yup, we New Yorkers have notoriously good taste). One note of trivia, if you've seen "It's a Wonderful Life" you'll recognize alot of familiar faces. Actress Beulah Bondi played Stewart's mom in both films, H.B. Warner acted as the Senate Majority Leader in this movie and played the part of Mr. Gower, the pharmacist, in "It's a Wonderful Life"; and Thomas Mitchell was reporter Diz Moore in "Mr. Smith..." and ditzy Uncle Billy, who loses the building and loan deposit in "It's a Wonderful Life".

Friday, June 10, 2011

Super 8

"Super 8" was written and directed by J.J. Abrams, and produced by Stephen Spielberg. It's the summer of 1979 in Lillian, Ohio, Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) and his dad, Jack (Kyle Chandler), the town deputy, are coming to terms with a recent family tragedy which has left their relationship strained. Joe and his friends have been making a zombie movie using a Super 8 mm film camera. One night the kids sneak out at midnight to film a scene for the zombie movie, and while filming they witness a horrific train wreck. As the train had been barreling down the tracks, Joe had seen a pick up truck drive onto the tracks and directly into the train's path. As the dust settles, the friends survey the wreckage, and venture toward the metal heap which was the pickup truck, only to find that the driver is still alive and it's a face they recognize, Dr. Woodward, their biology teacher, who pulls a gun on them and warns them to not say a word about what they've seen at risk of endangering their life and that of their family. As soldier's appear out of nowhere and quickly begin to converge on them, the kids make a quick escape with a promise not to say anything to anyone about what they've seen. As unexplained events begin to take place in the small town following the accident, the deputy begins to investigate, doubtful of the story being fed to him by the Air Force, while Joe and his friends question what was on that train, where is it now, and was their teacher trying to destroy it or save it.

I really enjoyed this movie. The acting was exceptional, especially the two kid leads, Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning. The movie is action-packed, yet the wonderful acting made me care more about the characters then the explosions. A mix of Goonies, E.T., and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It's sweet, funny, action-packed, and at times thrilling, this is a summer must see.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


"Push" by Sapphire tells the story of Claireece Precious Jones, a 16-year old living in Harlem whose life to-date has been a hellish nightmare of no waking. Sexually abused by her father and mother, mistreated, unloved and illiterate, Precious has only known pain or indifference. At the novel's outset Precious has been suspended from school because she's pregnant again. This is her second child, by her father, who has been abusing her since she was a young child. Precious gave birth to her first child, a daughter which she refers to as Lil' Mongo because she's got Down Syndrome, on her apartment's kitchen floor at the age of 12. Despite the heartache, her life takes an unexpected turn for the better when she's sent to Each One Teach One an alternative school where she's placed in a pre-G.E.D. class taught by Ms. Blue Rain, the one person that finally sees her and begins to help her heal, learn, and grow.

Precious narrates her own story through entries made in a journal she has to write for Ms. Rain's class. The journal serves the dual purpose of helping her learn to read and write, as well as a cathartic outlet for the childhood memories which have been festering in her heart and mind. Since the novel is written to read as Precious' journal entries, initial entries are written phonetically or in broken English (at best), for example, she writes "bes four mi tostop breev i sm tim tik" (best for me to stop breathing I sometimes think), with the writing and spelling improving as Precious' language skills improve.

The novel was dark and heartbreaking, yet it finds some redemption in the fact that though it deals with disturbing subjects, such as incest, rape, abuse, etc., at the core its a story about the saving power of love and caring, its about finding that one person in each of our lives that can help us look outside ourselves and grow. For Precious, her salvation comes in the form of her teacher and her son, Abdul, and in the end the girl who saw herself as ugly and worthless, says "Look his nose is so shiny, his eyes shiny. He my shiny brown boy. In his beauty I see my own." The novel has a quote from the Talmud in its opening page which reflects this truth, it reads "Every blade of grass has its Angel that bends over it and whispers, "Grow, grow."" A novel not for the faint of heart, but definitely worth reading.

"The Kid" by Sapphire, the story of Precious' son, Abdul Jones, is due to be released next month (July 5, 2011).

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Key Largo

I hit my public library last night in hopes of finding a book or movie to chase away the Monday duldrums, and booyah, I hit the jackpot with a classic from Bogey and Bacall, 1948's John Huston directed "Key Largo" also starring Edward G. Robinson.

In "Key Largo" Bogart stars as Frank McCloud, a disillusioned ex-Major who served in Italy during World War II, who has come to the Largo Hotel in Key Largo, FL to pay his respects to the father, James Temple (played by Lionel Barrymore), of his deceased army buddy. Mr. Temple runs the hotel along side his daughter-in-law Nora (Lauren Bacall).

Upon his arrival at the hotel, Frank is confronted by a number of sketchy individuals of dubious character, loitering in the hotel lobby and bar who state the hotel is closed. After reassuring them that he's just passing through and actually there to visit James Temple, he's directed to the boathouse where he meets the wheelchair bound elder Temple, and the strikingly beautiful Nora. Mr. Temple is still coming to grips with the loss of his son and desperate for any information McCloud can share about his son's final days on the battle field. Frank shares a story which paints his friend as a war hero, though later Nora confronts Frank with the information that in fact the last letter she had received from her husband set the scene the complete opposite, and the one on the hill and in the line of fire had in fact been Frank.

After being invited to stay overnight, the Temple's and Frank begin preparations for a violent hurricane which is about to hit the Keys. As the storm's furor grows, the other hotel guests are revealed to be the infamous gangster Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) and his goons. Rocco has been a fugitive exiled in Cuba, but he's crossed to the Keys by boat to make a drop to a like-minded business associate. Also at the hotel is Rocco's boozy mistress, Gaye Dawn (Claire Trevor), an ex-singer who never made it good. After an unexpected run in with local law enforcement, events begin to spiral out of control for Rocco, and Frank is placed in the situation of once again being the hero.

While I'd seen Bogart before in the classic "African Queen", "Key Largo" was my first Bogey and Bacall movie, and I loved it. Bogart and Bacall each gave wonderful performances and shared a palpable chemistry on screen, not surprising given that they had been married to each other for three years when the film was shot. "Key Largo" was the fourth and final film pairing for the two actors. Despite not having acted in another movie together, Bogart and Bacall remained married until 1957 when Bogey died of esophageal cancer. While Bogart and Bacall might have taken top billing for "Key Largo", in my opinion the two standout stars of the movie were Lionel Barrymore and Claire Trevor. I had never heard of Ms. Trevor prior to this performance, but she played the part of heartbroken lush brilliantly. It's no wonder she went on to win the Oscar for Supporting Actress for this role.

A great movie from when movies were movies. No CGI, no chase scenes, no sex scenes, just great acting from great actors.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Beauty Love Left Behind

I found this photo posted on, and the words brought tears to my eyes. It's originally from this site:

If you can't read the words, it says:

"A mark for every breath you took, every blink, every sleepy yawn. One for every time you sucked your thumb, waved hello, closed your eyes and slept in the most perfect darkness. One for every time you had the hiccups. One for every dream you dreamed within me.

It isn't very pretty anymore. Some may even think it ugly. That's OK. It was your home. It's where I first grew to love you, where I lay my hand as I dreamed about who you were and who you would be. It held you until my arms could, and for that, I will always find something beautiful in it."

Sunday, June 5, 2011

What If It Was You?

Your baby starts to cry. His little face turns red, tears in his eyes, as his little lungs give voice to his discomfort. He's not hungry, he's not tired, he has a dirty diaper. Your heart sinks as you try to do your best for your child, so you comfort him and resignedly clean out and reuse the soiled diaper. Crazy? Yes, but a sad reality for many. In fact, a study conducted by HUGGIES® which surveyed over 2,000 parents found that 1 in 20 American moms that are struggling with diaper need have cleaned out and reused wet or soiled disposable diapers. The study also found that 1 in 3 American moms have been faced with the dilemma of choosing between diapers and other basic necessities like food. Most moms want the world for their children. Can you imagine if you couldn’t even provide the most basic of needs for your child?

In response to these troubling findings, HUGGIES® started Every Little Bottom which looks to address diaper need in the U.S. by collecting donated diapers and getting them to babies in need by working side-by-side with community partners which serve as diaper banks, but they need our help. What can we do? Visit HUGGIES® Get Involved page to enter your zip code and search for diaper banks to donate to in your area, you can search for local diaper drive events, or you can host your own diaper drive, which is what I plan to do. In addition to getting the word out for this worthy cause on this humble blog, I'm also going to organize a small diaper drive in my office. HUGGIES® has made getting started extra easy, by providing on their site most of the files I might need, including drive posters, drop signs, drive flyers, etc.

As with most things, together we can make a greater difference, and hopefully help more moms and babies. I plan to reach out to my family, friends and co-workers this week, and hopefully report back soon on a hugely successful diaper drive. I hope you will do the same.

*Update: I ended up reaching out to just friends for the diaper drive, in order to avoid the red-tape involved in an office-wide drive at work. Obviously, this small drive won't solve the problems for all, but just like a small pebble tossed in a pond, the ripples from this small contribution can still make a significant difference in one person's life.

The Red Garden

"The Red Garden" by Alice Hoffman is a compilation of short stories which capture the history of the residents of Blackwell, Massachusetts covering a span of nearly 300 years. Each story is inexorably linked to the previous through the familial ties of the town's residents who are descendants of the courageous young British woman, Hallie Brady, that founded Bearsville in 1750 (changed to Blackwell in 1786).

Each story is magical, each a little fairy tale in its own right. From Eight Nights of Love which tells the tale of Johnny Appleseed's visit to Blackwell, and how he plants the Tree of Life in the center of town. A tree that blooms even during a snow storm, and which goes on to feed a starving town during a famine. To The Fisherman's Wife requiring the biggest stretch to your imagination, centering around a young beautiful woman rumored by the town gossip to be a mermaid. Each tale of family, love or loyalty, tug on your hearstrings, for me none more so than The Principles of Devotion, a beautiful tale of the love and devotion, even after death, between a dog and his owner. This brief passage is an example of the haunting beauty found in this particularly touching tale:

"They say that dogs may dream, and when Topsy was old, his feet would move in his sleep. With his eyes closed he would often make a noise that sounded quite human, as if greeting someone in his dreams. At first it seemed that he believed Sara would return, but as the years went by I understood that his loyalty asked for no reward, and that love comes in unexpected forms. His wish was small, as hers had been -- merely to be beside her."
I plowed through the "The Red Garden" and found each story to be beautiful and moving. My two favorites were The Principles of Devotion, as mentioned above, and The Truth About My Mother. My one complaint would be the abrupt end to the story, and the seemingly missing chapter which could've put a proverbial bow on the novel as a larger whole.

Striking Resemblance

Scorcese immediately came to mind the instant I spotted the photo of this kitty. If ever two beings belonged together, it's these two. It would be mind-bending to see them walking down a NYC sidewalk together.

SYTYCD Early Favorite

These past couple of weeks I've been enjoying the audition rounds of this season's "So You Think You Can Dance." As usual the auditions had their fair share of slightly delusional contestants risking bodily injury, while willing to make fools of themselves for the ego trip of appearing on national TV, but excitingly there was also a nice batch of ones to watch as we head into the Vegas round. I spotted one of my very favorites, Melanie Moore, in this season's first episode. Watch for yourself below.

Tune in this Wednesday at 8:00 pm on FOX to see how Melanie fares in Vegas, as well as all the other talented dancers to make it through.