Stay Tuned For These Recently Read Rabbitboy Books:

Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages by Phyllis Rose

Quite A Year For Plums by Bailey White

Send Yourself Roses by Kathleen Turner & Gloria Feldt

Beautiful Children by Charles Bock

My First Five Husbands…And The Ones Who Got Away by Rue McClanahan

greengablesI’ll always remember watching Anne of Green Gables on PBS (I think it was PBS) with my family and some of the vivid images: the dead mouse in the plum pudding, the Avonlea fashion, Rachel Lynde’s face when Anne insults her, the broken slate.

When I found out the miniseries was based on books, I quickly checked them out of the library and lost myself in the romantic, dreamlike prose of L.M. Montgomery. (How I loved the “of” construction—it sounds so dramatic: Anne OF Avonlea; Anne OF the Island, and my favorite, Anne OF Windy Poplars. Windy Poplars!!)

It’s funny—I just read a piece by Margaret Atwood talking about how the original novel, Anne of Green Gables, has just turned 100. Reading it again, the book seems so fresh and full of life that it’s unbelievable that Anne, Marilla, Matthew, Gilbert Blythe have all been around for that long.

The characters, the writing, everything just hums with energy somehow—I can understand why there’s such a huge Asian fanbase for Anne—her charm transcends time and race and place.

You fall in love with Anne Shirley and all her misadventures, and stay there—to Ms. Montgomery’s enormous credit—as she changes and grows. I’ve always admired the beautiful nature writing in these books that make a forest or garden on Prince Edward Island seem magical, but I appreciate now the equally masterful little touches that make Matthew so sweet and good-hearted, Rachel Lynde so tart-tongued but fiercely loyal, Josie Pye such an almost-lovable bitch and Gilbert Blythe so dreamy slash fucking hot.

It’s the character of Marilla Cuthbert, the thin, angular, crisp, no-nonsense spinster who takes Anne in and experiences maternal love (in a non-gushy way since she constantly keeps a prim and tight lid on her emotions) that stands out to me now.

The beauty of the love between adopted mother and child is the real romance in a book full of romance (The Lake Of Shining Waters, The Snow Queen, The Haunted Wood), and I find it even more touching as I’ve gotten older than I did as a kid.

Marilla, convinced she is plain and unlovable but stern enough not to care—at least not outwardly—finds new life through the brilliant, fairy-like Anne, and her wry comments that deflate Anne’s more flowery protestations are gems of dry wit.

This is a beautiful, beautiful book, throbbing with life, and I look forward to returning to it again and again. I wonder how the upcoming prequel Before Green Gables will be. Once I get it from the library, I’ll turn a Rachel Lynde-ian eye to its pages…

john adamsI was walking across a parking lot of a strip mall at night (when I am all old-makeup-Winona Ryder-in-Edward Scissorhands, these scenes be my main memory of overly paved and overly franchised Southern California) talking to a guy I was about to have dinner with. We saw one of the ubiquitous John Adams posters featuring one of my biggest celebrity crushes, Paul Giamatti, when my pal laughed.

“Gee, they must be running out of people to make miniseries about,” he said.

Of course, I turned all schoolmarm-ish, rattling off a list of Mr. Adams’s formidable accomplishments vaguely recalled from elementary school, but the more I thought about it, I got what he was saying.

When we think of the Founding Fathers (which we do so much more than the fascinating Founding Mothers.  I am planning on reading more about Martha Washington), we think of the bigger celebrities—the George Washingtons, the Thomas Jeffersons, the Benjamin Franklins. If it weren’t for the fact that his similarly-named son, John Quincy Adams became President (a fact easily remembered and noted in elementary school), I do think we’d have let Mr. Adams fade into that James K. Polk-y twilight of “well, they were Presidents, but eh.”

After reading the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of John Adams though by David McCullough, I happily acknowledge my ignorance and tip my hat (a backwards baseball cap, natch) to John and Abigail Adams, two of the most fascinating individuals I’ve ever read about.

Upright to a fault, a very New England-y mix of pride and humility, John isn’t thoroughly likable throughout all his many amazing accomplishments and feats. Even a great number of his peers found him impeccably moral and upstanding but too single-minded, too proud and not enough of a politician.

In the end, after a long and impressive service to the creation of the United States (arguably the greatest of any of the Founding Parents), he served as President for one term before being narrowly defeated for reelection.

Like life, the book loses much of its sparkle and energy towards the end of Adams’s life, but such is the way with almost all biographies, and there are enough fascinating details of life at the time in America and Europe alike (plus charming touches, like Abigail’s acquisition of a songbird in a cage in France and sad ones, like melancholy-tinged cameos by Marie Antoinette) to delight even the least interested reader of history.

Of course, Abigail comes across as the more fascinating figure—and you want to beat John about the head and shoulders for his jokey, dismissive response to her famous “remember the ladies” letter—and the book picks up momentum whenever the two of them are together physically.
Great book, but now I need to see Paul Giamatti in all his sexy, wild-animal glory in a powdered wig.

Woof.

blackpostcardsBlack Postcards is written in an admirably clear-eyed, straightforward style. Wareham talks about many difficult situations without bitterness–the jealousy and hurt feelings among the members of his first band, Galaxie 500; his affair and divorce; the complex relationship between musicians and their fans–and that’s what makes this book remarkable.

Not only is it an honest account of just how difficult it is to be a mid-list musician in a business (and world) that lionizes a select superstar few, but it’s also a fascinating coming-of-age story of a  handsome, New Zealand-born, Harvard-educated singer/songwriter of self-admitted limited talents who nonetheless carves out a most impressive career, following and life.

Throughout, he sprinkles observations and opinions about various other acts: everyone from the Spin Doctors (horrible, horrible) to Nirvana (their success helped ruin the music business); Courtney Love (spellbinding as a live performer) to Natalie Merchant (he hates her music but would willingly boink her).

I wish that he’d indulge his writerly side a little more–there are ample opportunities for him to take a beautiful scene and run with it, but he maintains a reserve and restraint that you have to admire, one that he was famed for in his poetic but obtuse “Dr. Seuss on heroin” song lyrics.

It’s pretty amazing that despite being showered with critical acclaim, Wareham’s bands (first Galaxie 500, then Luna, then Dean & Britta) have never really broken through the mainstream, yet he’s recorded 16 albums. Sixteen!! (Plus, I really love the names of his songs, which I think is the best part of songwriting.)

Reading this book made me curious to find out more about Wareham and his projects, and sorry that I missed out on them the first time around. It’s a true pleasure to read about such an interesting life, so intelligently (and humorously) told. I couldn’t stop reading this book and I’m thrilled I got the chance.

gyspy rose leeDisclaimer: I’ve never seen the movie or play version of Gypsy.

I couldn’t put the book down, however, and spent a day trying to tear through it before I had to go out. Like the best showbiz stories, it was funny, dishy and glossed over the more complicated, unpleasant aspects of real life in favor of telling a better story.

The streamlined tale of how Gypsy Rose Lee went from backup vaudevillian to her more talented to sister to became a world-famous “ecdysiast” thanks to the iron will of her stage mother, the book is full of laugh out loud moments and scenes I had to read twice just to appreciate the droll throwaway lines Lee tosses in.

My two favorite scenes are:

1. When “Rose Louise And Her Hollywood Blondes” (the cut-rate act booked in a burlesque house after the death of vaudeville) work their first night at a burlesque house. The description of the bizarre musical numbers (an undersea song with mermaids and a sexy octopus; topless angels in a heavenly choir; sexy she-devils) and the sweet but trashy Tessie, The Tassel Twirler.

2. The bizarre schemes of F.E. Gorham, an unflappable con artist who briefly hooks up with the family and shows off her tricks (bringing your own cockroach to get a free dinner; walking face-first into a splintery board at a construction site, etc.) before trying to rob them.

It’s the indomitable spirit of the ultimate stage mother, “Madam Rose,” that carries through, and the last part of the book, about Gypsy after she’s achieved stardom and is living/working mostly on her own, doesn’t have quite the same sparkle and punch as the previous. But such is the case with autobiography (no matter how true or otherwise).

There’s a charm to Gypsy Rose Lee, however, that enabled her to become more than just a stripper: with a sense of humor and great intelligence, she took something sleazy and made it fun and palatable to everyone. What a life she lived, and it’s hard not to tear up a little at the end as she ends an era in her career, always mindful of her past.

I closed my eyes and along with the familiar noise of the train, Mother seemed to be telling me again how lucky I was. “What a wonderful life you’ve had—the music, lights, applause—everything in the world a girl could ask for…”

Living alone doesn’t always seem like “living,” does it? So often when we’re in that situation, we feel as if we’re waiting for life to begin once we meet somebody.

Obviously, that’s not the case, and one of the reasons I found Live Alone And Like It by Marjorie Hillis (besides the fact that her name is Marjorie. I love that name!) so charming was that it presents a different way of looking at something many people find negative.

Written in 1936 (!!) but completely applicable to today (well, not so much the one or two “colored maid” mentions), this wise, wry and warm book offers suggestions for “bachelor ladies” to make the most of their single status. Some of these are incredibly simple and some are creative, but best of all, it’s all very no-nonsense and cheerful, as evidenced by this line: “There may still be those in Alabama who look upon an unmarried state as an affliction, but in New York it is at most a very minor ailment.”

Some of Hillis’s suggestions are to pamper yourself, to plan ahead so you don’t wind up with long hours of lonely free time (unless that’s what you want) and to pull yourself (and your living space) together as nicely as possible.

Here she is on clothes: “But do have some really smart street costumes—surprisingly, they can cost as little as dowdy ones, and practically no one’s morale can overcome an outfit that’s all wrong. Do have some evening clothes with swish, and—very specially—do have at least one nice seductive tea-gown to wear when you’re alone (or when you’re not, if you feel like it).”

It’s enough to make me wish that I owned a tea-gown (seductive or otherwise). She also gives some awesome recipes for cocktails that I’d love to break out at my next party and offers some great advice for fun activities you probably haven’t thought of on your own.

Her sense of humor totally makes this book, too. Check out what she says about having a circle of acquaintances: “As we have already suggested, one of the great secrets of living alone successfully is not to live alone too constantly. A reasonably large circle of friends and enemies whom you can see when you want to, and will often see when you don’t want to, is an important asset.”

Having a circle that includes enemies is underrated, and I can think of a couple people who fit this description in my life.

Seriously, though, I found great comfort from reading this breezy and charmingly illustrated book—the quality of your life really is up to you, regardless of your situation or circumstance. That’s something I don’t always remember.

One of the great advantages of your way of living is that you can be alone when you want to. Lots of people never discover what a pleasure this can be. Perhaps it was because of its possibilities that the misused expression “enjoy yourself,” came into being.

The more you enjoy yourself, the more of a person you are.

I cried several times during Stop-Loss. I usually hate war movies, but something about this one really moved me. I’ve talked to a couple of friends who hated it—one even walked out—but it really got to me.

We’re introduced to a group of friends/soldiers, including:

  • Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) – the leader and All-American guy
  • Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum) – goofy, sniper-caliber second-in-command who’s a little too impulsive
  • Tommy Burgess (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) – the guys’ underdog-y friend
  • Rico Rodriguez (Victor Rasuk) – a cocky, handsome big talker

Things go wrong during a really tense and horrific mission and several members of King’s squad are killed or injured, but luckily, they’re all being sent home soon. For Brandon and Steve, this is the end of their tours of duty, and they talk about what they’ll do back in “the real world.”

We see them readjusting to being home, including Steve’s strained relationship with fiancé Michele (Abbie Cornish, an outstanding performance) and the way they all seem to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Tommy gets drunker and drunker, picks a fight and gets thrown out by his wife (Mamie Gummer, Meryl Streep’s daughter. She doesn’t get to do much acting other than an okay crying scene and has a strange face.); Steve strips down to his underwear, hits Michele and digs a foxhole in her front yard.

Brandon’s able to hold them together, though, and they all go back to base where our two main heroes expect to get out. It all goes to hell when Brandon discovers he’s been stop-lossed, i.e. involuntarily forced to extend his tour of duty, which could be up to 11 more years.

He resists and escapes custody and has to decide if he’ll submit to what he considers an unfair policy or if he’ll live the rest of his life as a fugitive. His father wants him to return; his mother (the awesome Linda Emond) offers to drive him over the border herself. The rest of the film details his attempts, aided by Michele, to get someone to help him fight this.

Along the way, they stop at the house of one of the soldiers killed in the combat we witnessed at the beginning of the film and they learn, from the angry brother of the dead soldier, about a lawsuit some soldiers are bringing against the Army. Laurie Metcalf plays the grieving mother but I didn’t recognize her for a full five minutes after she first came onscreen—that’s how much she disappears into this role: no goofiness, no Jackie-ism.

As Brandon and Michele move towards Washington D.C. then New York, they encounter thieves, fellow fugitives and even sympathetic friends while Brandon deals with his own PTSD.

They stop at a veterans’ hospital where Rico, horribly injured in the opening combat, has been brought from overseas, courtesy of Brandon’s request. He’s missing his legs and an arm; his eyes have been damaged so that they’re silvery and unseeing. Still, he retains his spirit as he flirts with Michele and has a man-to-man talk with Brandon about the unfairness of the stop-loss policy. Rasuk handles his scenes amazingly, never lapsing into self-pity, but still managing to show that his cocky, jokey character is concealing enormous depths of pain.

Still, he says, if he were able, he would go back over to rejoin his brothers in arms—and if he were to be killed, at least his family would get green cards. That tension—the fact that these young men know they’re in harm’s way and could die at any time, but still love the feeling of brotherhood and purpose the Army gives them—gives the film its most powerful angle.

It’s definitely not an anti-war or anti-military movie—it’s very pro-soldier, as clichéd as that might sound. Kimberly Peirce knows that these soldiers all have different reasons for signing up and staying (Steve gives up his chance to marry Michele to have a career in the Army because he has more of a future there, for example), and it doesn’t judge them.

Everything ends on a powerful, ambivalent note, where Brandon faces the ultimate decision: give up his life and all his family and friends in exchange for freedom in Canada or Mexico, or return to his duty and possibly die under fire, or end up more emotionally, psychologically (and physically) damaged than he already is.

I won’t spoil the ending, but there’s a moment at the end where Brandon’s mother, faced with his decision, puts on a brave face, only to have it crumble at the last second as she turns away, devastated. A little moment like that, showing the emotional fallout suffered by the families of the soldiers, sticks with you long after the film’s over—these are real men and women with real lives facing the unthinkable.

The movie’s considerable power for me stemmed from its focus on the characters themselves. Most impressive of all was Abbie Cornish as Michele, the small-town girl who reaches the end of her patience for being a military “wife.” She regrets lacking the necessary strength to share her husband and life with the Army, but she faces her altered destiny with a clear-eyed bravery and courage that I found the most inspiring of all. Slow to speak, deep-voiced and unshakeable, Michele was the character I most admired of them all—a quintessential American who, although she never enlists herself, finds her life, friends, town and prospects shaped by the presence and the need for—good and bad—the armed services.

I read a comment online that claimed this movie glamorizes desertion. It doesn’t. It puts a human face on a handful of soldiers caught in a horrible situation.

Boys Don’t Cry was one of the most powerful movies I have ever seen. This one doesn’t have quite the same strength, but it’s in the same vein and I highly recommend this movie.

Visit the movie’s website and its website that shares soldiers’ (and their families’) real stories.