Thursday, December 31, 2009

Poem for December: Now Winter Nights Enlarge.

Now Winter Nights Enlarge
Thomas Campion

Now winter nights enlarge
The number of their hours;
And clouds their storms discharge
Upon the airy towers.
Let now the chimneys blaze
And cups o’erflow with wine,
Let well-turned words amaze
With harmony divine.
Now yellow waxen lights
Shall wait on honey love
While youthful revels, masques, and courtly sights
Sleep’s leaden spells remove.

This time doth well dispense
With lovers’ long discourse;
Much speech hath some defense,
Though beauty no remorse.
All do not all things well;
Some measures comely tread,
Some knotted riddles tell,
Some poems smoothly read.
The summer hath his joys,
And winter his delights;
Though love and all his pleasures are but toys,
They shorten tedious nights.

After the glum "I hate winter" poem of November, I chose this poem because it captures what I like about winter. The lines "Let now, the chimney's blaze/and cups o'erflow with wine" is delightful.

Like November's poem, the old-fashioned language made this a bit tricky to memorize, but it wasn't very difficult.

Thank you, John Hughes.

His name hasn't come up in the "Goodbye Dead Famous People" lists of 2009--at least not the one's I've seen. Checking IMDB, it's not hard to see why. Looking over the list of movies Hughes wrote from 1991 onward, tells us that an entire generation has grown up only knowing him as the writer of (sigh with me, Gen-Xers) Dennis the Menace, Beethoven's 4th, Baby's Day Out and Home Alone 3. But let's roll back a screen or two. Scrolling over the movies Hughes wrote in the 1980's is a treasure trove of lifetime movie highlights.

Mr. Mom. (1983) I wasn't even ten, yet my entire family watched and enjoyed this movie. Among other things, this movie opened my eyes to the idea that one shouldn't assume that the husband is going to get a new job before the wife does, and an iron makes an excellent instrument for warming up cold grilled cheese sandwiches.

Vacation. (1983) My family didn't watch this movie until 1988, after we spent a month driving across the country and back in a station wagon, but oh we did laugh. Classic scenes, classic lines, classic story.
Sixteen Candles. (1984) A preview of what it would be like to be a teenager, though I knew even then my teenage years would be a lot more of Joan Cusack, and a lot less of Molly Ringwald.

The Breakfast Club. (1985) Lori Tollinger's mother came downstairs at just the wrong moment, leaving me with an awkward memory of the most dramatic scene. This movie also fed my bad boy fixation and I worried for years that my hair would unknowingly be as dandruffy as Ali Sheedy's. Now, thanks to psoriasis, it is, though my adult self handles that better than my teenage self ever would have.

Pretty in Pink. (1986) Girls who can sew do get the guy. Also Annie Potts as the coolest small business owner ever.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off. (1986) Forshadowed my teenage years: upon viewing with my mother and brother I grew annoyed that my mother kept saying, "Principals aren't really like that," "Parents aren't really like that," "That isn't even possible." Being an adult and not a pre-adolecent like me she missed the point. This is the perfect movie about what we all wish adolescence was like. Also includes one of the most beautifully filmed visits to an art museum ever. And Charlie Sheen as a bad boy. Which it turns out he really is. Hughes could have stopped here, with this movie, he really could have. But he continues.
Some Kind of Wonderful. (1987) This movie will forever remind me of Lori Tollinger. Captures the delecate negotiation between parents and children. What happens when their dreams are different? Also a reminder that getting the girl isn't the point, sometimes.

Uncle Buck. (1989) Aside from starring the funniest fat man ever, John Candy, it also includes the best illustration of why a toothpick is not the best prop when trying to make a good impression on a girl. I saw this the first week of school my ninth grade year, on a school night and it will always represent that freedom of adolescence, even if I can't really recall much of the plot.

Home Alone. (1990) I saw it. You saw it. Heck, everyone saw it. The irony of John Hughes in my life was that by the time I had actually caught up to the age of his characters in his best movies, he started writing movies for children the age I was when I started watching his movies about teenagers. But Kevin McCallister's fight against burglars will forever be remembered by millions of Americans.

And thus ends my relationship with John Hughes. He went on to write movies that I consider really awful, though I've not seen most of them. I went on to face my high school years without movies about teenagers. But what he did write about teenagers before I came of age, I found to be true to my experiences. When I watch John Hughes movies, I'm usually reminded of the elementary school me who saw those films and tried to figure out what being a teenager would be like. He offered a portal into a world I hadn't experienced yet, and many of his observations turned out to be true to my experience.

I like to think that, had he not died this year, he would have turned some corner and begin writing movies that mattered again. But maybe not. Maybe his movies that mattered only came at a certain time in his life. That would have been okay too. They were enough.

Best movies watched in 2009

It turns out that the best movies watched in 2009 list became folded into the "Top 49 Movies Watched in the Last Five Years" post which will be coming in January. Stay tuned.

Best books experienced in 2009

In 2009 these are the awards for:

Best novel based on another novel:
Becky: The Life and Loves of Becky Thatcher
Lenore Hart

Best book that illuminated the creative process behind a sitcom of my childhood:
Sit, Ubu, Sit: How I went from Brooklyn to Hollywood with the same woman, same dog and a lot less hair
Gary David Goldburg

Best gardening book for people with not a lot of money to buy fancy stuff:
Gardening when it Counts
Steve Soloman

Best Historical Fiction Combined with Star-Crossed Love, the Boston Molasses Disaster and Pro-Labor Leanings:
The Given Day
Dennis Lehane

Best Tiny Book that Propelled the Creation of a Landscaping Focal Point:
Arches and Pergolas
Richard Key

Best Thing You Can Probably Do for Yourself
with honors in Best Title:

Full Catastrophe Living
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Best Account of My People:
Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKennon

Best re-reading of a Top-Ten Book:
Prodigal Summer
Barbara Kingsolver

Best start of a YA series:
City of Ember
Jeanne DuPru

Best How-To Book Written by My People:
The Urban Homestead: Your Guide for Self-Sufficient Living in the City
Kelly Coyne & Erik Knutzen

Best Book to Transform Your Pacific Northwest (and other regions too) Backyard:
Gaia's Garden
Toby Hemenway

Best Book Featuring a Hard-as-Nails Heroine:
These Is My Words
Nancy E. Turner

Best What-If:
Abraham Lincoln: A Novel Life
Tony Wolk

Best Collective Voices And I-Can't-Recommend-This-Enough!:
Three Girls and Their Brother
Theresa Rebeck

Best Set-In-WWII-Historical Fiction:
Skeletons at the Feast
Chris Bohjalian

Perhaps the Best Fiction Book I Read in 2009 and You Should Read It Too:
American Wife
Curtis Sittenfeld

Worst Book That Totally Dragged Down The Series:
The Prophet of Yonwood
Jeanne DuPrau

Best Meander Through Some Characters' Lives:
Eat, Drink & Be From Mississippi
Nanci Kincaid

Best Intriguing Premise Historical Fiction:
The Birth of Venus
Sarah Dunant

Best Re-Reading of a Book I Loved as a Teenager:
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Betty Smith

Best Youthful Voice of Which I Probably Won't Like in Movie Form:
Me & Orsen Wells
Robert Kaplow

Books read in December

The books this month seem to be more of "passing time" books than anything. Nothing groundbreaking here. Although, I did like Me & Orsen Wells. When is that movie coming out, anyway?

Keeping Faith: a novel
Jodi Picoult
Engrossing story with dumb title, I quite enjoyed the twists and turns. It wasn't high literature (even for my low standards) but it was a fun read.

Side note. In the author interview at the end of the novel Picoult mentions that she researches like crazy for books because she can't stand to have errors. I found two, one of which was quite glaring: the grandmother character, who is in her 50s mentions that the War of the Worlds broadcast "scared her and her husband to death." I find this to be amazing, because the novel is set in 1999. This puts the grandmother's character as being born in the early to mid 40s. So, not only would the grandmother not have been married in 1938 when the broadcast was first aired, but she also woudn't have even been alive. Also, there was a reference to a nail being put "in Jesus Christ's side." I found this to be off and three minutes of googling has indeed revealed that Jesus' side was pierced by a spear. Geez oh Pete, for an author who is a stickler for accuracy, these should have been cleaned up early on.

The Last Blue Mile
Kim Ponders
I checked this out because this story of a female Air Force Academy Cadet does not intersect with my own life experiences in any way. The book provided a nice window into Air Force culture. Based on what I read, I'm glad for the window and will not be seeking a door into Air Force Culture any time soon.

A Model Summer
Paula Porizkova
The book that convinced me there is little actual glamor in modeling. How does a sheltered fifteen year old girl spending her summer working as a model in Paris fare? The answer is not surprising. As the quote on the back of the book says, the novel "bravely offers no easy answers." Engrossing and disturbing.

Me & Orson Wells
Robert Kaplow
The "voice" in this novel is fun and fresh and the novel itself is a fun time capsule to 1930s Broadway and Orson Wells. I found out about halfway through that Zac Ephron will be playing the main character which didn't match the picture in my head at all, but I look forward to seeing Orson Wells recreated for the screen and this book also inspired our next choice for the Shakespeare Project: Julius Caesar.

Rex Pickett
I found this movie to be highly annoying--the main characters were incredibly juvenile and idiotic. Someone nicely summed up the movie as "Dumb and Dumber do Wine Country." So why read the book? Though I hated the movie, the story and characters have stuck with me, and when I came across the novel on the library shelves I figured the book might provide a little more insight.

Indeed, I liked the book much better than the movie. The book had the advantage, as books do, of letting us into the minds of at least one of the men. This humanized him for me and softened my judgment. The story is well written, clips along, has some incredible passages and uses vocabulary that had me reaching for the dictionary several times. Don't get me wrong, the men are still idiotic, but much more human. This would be a nice vacation read.

Unplugging Philco
Jim Knipfel
My initial reaction was enjoyment. This futuristic novel is set in New York City, where massive amounts of freedoms Americans enjoy today have voluntarily been given up due to "the Horribleness"--an incident that flattened Tupolo. This novel was clearly written to skewer the post-9/11 world we live in. However, as the story dragged on, the life Wally Philco lives left me sad. Near the middle of the book, things look like they would work out for him in some small way, but I realized I was about two chapters away from the end and this wasn't going to end well. I put down the book for a few days, and eventually returned to find that, indeed, the ending was not what I was looking for. Not only that, I found it to be not believable. Two days later, I'm still thinking, "But wait. If the ending is true, then how did X work?" This is not a good sign for a book.

The Sinful Life of Lucy Burns
Elizabeth Leiknes
A slim novel, this initially had me tittering as I read along. But somewhere in the middle--which I guess would be about page 80--it bogged down and I lost interest. This was a clever premise, but not the best execution. I'm interested to see if Leiknes' next novel will be a bit better.

Started but did not finish

Braided Lives
Marge Piercy
It's the 1950s and Marge Piercy's main character doesn't want a man to posses her. Hmmm. Good luck with that. Having just read her memoir, I can tell that large portions of this novel are inspired by her own life. It seemed like things were going to be grim, and so my attention waned. Also? Horrible 80's-esque cover. So bad it is almost good.

Past Caring
Robert Goddard
I never really got to caring about the character, so I couldn't move through to past caring. When I hit page fifty and I'm still wondering if I will start to be interested soon, it is time to put down the novel.

Our Lady of Greenwich Village
Dermot McEvoy
A manly novel, that takes the men in it too seriously. Pete Hamill writes better novels set in bars. This suffers from the book equivalent of the movie problem of "too many identical white guys in suits." About the fifth time I asked myself, "Who is this person and why are they on the page right now?" I decided I really didn't care and gave up.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Three sentence movie reviews--The Candidate

Man, has this been a vacation of not-so-great movies. This movie is excellent for the following: looking at Robert Redford; fun 70s fashions; wondering whatever happened to singing, scantily clad campaign workers; and Don Porter's excellent performance as Senator Crocker Jarmon. I got this for free from the library, so I guess I didn't lose much, aside from two hours of my life.

poster from:

Three sentence movie reviews--Central Station

Yet another movie I just didn't connect with. The story was interesting, the characters were fully formed and well acted, and yet, if the power had gone out in the middle of the film I would have happily moved on to another activity. I'm so ambivalent, I can't come up with a third sentence.

I finally enter Steve Duin's reading contest!

Every year Steve Duin, columnist for the Oregonian holds a reading contest to see who can read the most pages during the year. The winner always reads some number that even I, a voracious reader, think insane. Like over 100,000. This year, I sent in my entry of 21,177 pages read which was 71 books. I sent this note along with with spreadsheet.

Dear Mr. Duin,

My page total isn’t anywhere near winning, but my goal this year was to actually get my entry to you. I’ve never been able to keep track of pages read on my own—that extra step of flipping to the back and seeing what the last pages was has always eluded me. In the back of my journals, I’ve kept track of “books read” since 1987, but in 2008, I began using Goodreads. At the end of last year I discovered I could export my list of books read and they listed page numbers. This year I just had to export, sum and save in Excel and voila! I finally enter the contest.

This was not the best fiction reading year. Around March I got annoyed at all the unsatisfying novels I was reading and just started re-reading things I liked. Hence the appearance of Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer. Things picked up mid-summer and I devoured some books during my August vacation. I would say the most quietly delightful “what if” sort of novel was Abraham Lincoln: A Novel Life, by our own Tony Wolk. What if Abraham Lincoln showed up in 1950’s Illinois? My absolute favorite novel, if forced to choose, was Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife. Aside from being an engrossing story, the novel itself was a gentle reminder that the famous people I know (and judge) everything about, may in fact be media creations. Which reminds me, the other favorite novel I read the year—do your readers really actually stick to one? I can’t imagine—was Three Girls and their Brother by Theresa Rebeck. A commentary on the media culture in our country, the voices of each character are amazing. This book also wins the “don’t judge a book by its cover” award as its cover was hideous and not at all reflective of the novel.

Nonfiction-wise, it was a smashing year. I discovered permaculture theory and, thanks to the library, devoured many books on the topic. I have a tiny back yard, but I think I’m a farmer at heart, and due to the permaculture books I read, I am transforming my “land” into a more sustainable environment. The best non-fiction book I read was Urban Homestead, your guide to self-sufficient living in the city. Unlike 99% of the books I read, I finished my library copy, returned it and immediately bought my own copy. Reading the various tutorials on growing and foraging for food, making bread, cheese and preserves, all I could think was “these are my people.” What could be more fun than that?

Next year, I aim to not only enter my number of pages, but also write an essay. Until I retire (30 years hence) that seems to be my only hope for winning your contest.

Good reading,


6/25/10 Note: I just looked at the contest results (published 2/1/10) and I got 34th! Not bad. But seriously, do those 100,000 plus pages people ever go outside?

Here is the list of books people chose as their favorites. (Published 2/1/10)

Here is the annual column about the reading contest. I, sadly, am not mentioned (Published 2/1/10)

I love librarians

For years I've been describing one of my favorite kind of books as listed above. Who knew that there was one word to say all that? Well, probably a lot of people. And, more importantly, librarians, who not only printed up a handy sign, but had a whole bunch of buildungsromans set out for us to check out. Thanks librarians! And also thanks to the clerks who probably fetched all the books!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Three sentence movie reviews--Woman on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown

This was my first Pedro Almodovar film and I don't think it was the best starting place. I didn't really connect to any of the characters, though I thought their fashion sense was interesting. When the Mambo Taxi Driver is the most exciting thing in the movie, something hasn't worked.

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Three sentence movie reviews--Lars and the Real Girl

Despite good reviews, the concept of this movie weirded me out and I didn't see it. Recommendation by a movie watching friend convinced me to watch it and while doing so I realized my feelings were similar to the characters in the movie. This is a sweet, fabulous, hopeful movie about the human condition, and one innocent enough--I kid you not!--that you could watch it with your church-going grandmother.

ps. Paul Schneider! Patricia Clarkson! You MUST see this!

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Three sentence movie reviews--Die Hard.

Another film I hadn't seen since it's debut. It was remarkable how well it held up. Alan Rickman is too fabulous as the extraordinary criminal, and Bruce Willis is about the best Bruce Willis he can be.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Three sentence movie reviews--The Talented Mr. Ripley

I saw this movie in the theater when it first came out and remembered it as an "eh" movie. My second viewing left me with a different impression due to a fabulous cast, beautiful clothes and top-notch acting. I remembered the plot and how it would all end, but I was still tense the entire film.
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Monday, December 14, 2009


Remember how I wrote about the new (lack of) Trimet shelter on the new transit mall? Well, it has started raining and the above sight is not unusual. For shame, Trimet, for shame.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Three sentence movie reviews--Notting Hill.

I've seen this before, of course, and it is one of my favorite romantic comedies. Aside from the silly car driving at the end, everything is perfect about this film, especially the four seasons of long shot. I will also never forget my original viewing in the theater when the mentally challanged couple sitting next to me made out through the majority of the film.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Three sentence movie reviews--Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

One of those movies I didn't love or hate, but was happy to watch because it is so often referenced. In my mind, I confused the ending of Thelma and Lousie with the ending of this movie, so I had trouble matching what was going on on the screen vs. what I thought would happen. Also, this thought occurred: George Clooney and Brad Pitt are the Paul Newman and Robert Redford of the 2000's.

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I've not been feeling well. It's a busy time of year at school--although when is it not--and I've been feeling run down and my throat hurts. Strep is going around school. But I've googled all the symptoms and everything says that adults don't get strep. Still, I'm not feeling well. I call the doctor and the nurse orders a strep test for me. At Nurse treatment, she tells me that while adults often get sore throats and infections, it most likely is not strep. I tell her I know. I walk the culture over to the lab and wait 30 minutes. I've got a limited amount of time because I have to take my Calculus final soon. The technician calls my name, "Patricia Collins?" I approach him. "Are you Patricia Collins?" he asks as he holds shut a pink piece of paper. I affirm that I am. He opens the paper to reveal that my test came back...
"Really?" I gasp. I feel like I won the lottery. "But adults rarely get strep throat!" I tell him, repeating what two nurses and the internet have told me.

"Well, you've got it." he assures me. Still feeling like I won the lottery (I was right! It was totally worth it to miss the December fire drill to get a strep test! I will soon feel better!) I make my way to the pharmacy, get the drugs required and run to catch my train making it to class just in time for my final.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Three sentence movie reviews--The Informant!

Before watching this movie, I thought the exclamation point in the title was really a little bit much. Having seen the movie I know that the exclamation point is just right. Theoretically an incredibly boring subject (price fixing in the lysine industry) this was one of the most interesting and funny movies I've seen all year, with excellent performances by Matt Damon, Melanie Lynskey--an incredibly underrated actress--and the soundtrack, yes the soundtrack was a star in of itself!

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Friday, December 4, 2009

Picture of the day.

Art instillation at Albina Community Bank

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Picture of the Day

Full Moon in the North Park Blocks.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Picture of the Day December 2

For a time when I lived in South Boston, I took a walk every morning and took three pictures with my 35mm camera. The idea was to learn about my camera and get some exercise. I got some exercise and some great pictures. In early December I decided to take a picture and post it to the blog every day. I lasted three days. Perhaps when I get the blog caught up, I can revive that project. It may turn out to be a weekly thing, though. We shall see.

December 2, 2010: