Showing posts from February, 2007

New York Doll (2005)

Occasionally I find a film that is absolutely riveting and delightful, and New York Doll is one of them. It’s the story of Arthur “Killer” Kane, bass player for a glam-rock band in the early 1970s called The New York Dolls. Directed by an LDS friend and told by Arthur and various friends, the film recounts Arthur’s glory days in the band, the subsequent years of drug and alcohol addiction and near poverty, his conversion to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his dream of playing with the band again. His dream is realized when he and the two other surviving members are invited by Morrissey to reunite for the London Meltdown Festival in 2004. While the New York Dolls weren’t commercially successful back in their heyday, they were apparently enormously influential, and there are some big names interviewed in the movie, such as Morrissey, Bob Geldof, Chrissie Hynde and Iggy Pop. Also interviewed are delightful old ladies who work with Arthur at the Family History Li

Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia by Carmen Bin Ladin

Carmen Bin Ladin was married to one of Osama Bin Laden’s half-brothers, Yeslam. (The difference in spelling is intentional; Carmen explains it in the book.) She lived among the Bin Laden women in Saudi Arabia for nine years. This is the story of her courtship with Yeslam and married life in Saudi Arabia, which is a strange mixture of money, luxury, and excessive restrictions on women and individuality. Before I read this, I didn’t know how extreme Saudi Arabia is, even compared to other Islamic countries: women are not only required to be fully veiled, they are almost completely secluded and confined to their homes. At one point, Carmen talks her husband into allowing her to go to a store herself, instead of having servants bring suitcases full of stuff home for her perusal. She shows up at the store, fully veiled, of course, and the store has been closed and completely emptied of employees, owner, etc. They are standing outside with their backs turned so as not to see her as she ent

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

I love well-written cookbooks and books about food and travel. This novel combines recipes with a story of romance, family betrayal and forbidden love in turn-of-the-century Mexico. It uses magical realism that reminds me of Gabriel García Marquéz and Isabel Allende. I just barely learned that term, which is why I’m linking to its Wikipedia article. I’m glad it has a name. (You’d never know that I was a Comparative Literature major!) I know I read this several years ago, but apparently it was forgettable at that time, since I could only vaguely remember one scene from it. This time I really enjoyed it, though. It also reminded of Candide , in the slightly humorous, matter-of-fact way tragedy is described. We’ll be discussing it at the other book club I go to, and I’m looking forward to it.

Maximum Ride: The Angle Experiment by James Patterson

This young adult novel has a dumb name, an even worse cover, and it’s by James Patterson, who wrote Suzanne’s Letters to Nicholas , which I read a few years ago and hated . You’d think I’d steer clear of his stuff, and I normally would, but my oldest son wanted to read it, and while I couldn’t possibly read everything he reads, I thought this looked like something I ought to check out. It was surprisingly enjoyable. Not a great or important book, but entertaining. It’s kind of an X-Men story, about kids who’ve been genetically engineered to have wings. I know, it sounds stupid! But like I said, I enjoyed it. It's a little violent, and since there's a barely-begun romance in this one, I'll have to read the sequels, too, before my son does. But I kind of want to! I'm still surprised.

Paradise by Larry McMurtry

I read Paradise by Larry McMurtry while trying to recover from bronchitis a week ago. The recovery has been slow going. The book was a short meandering travelogue of Larry's trip to Tahiti and the Marquesa Islands. He begins by recounting his parents' marriage falling apart some years ago, comparing (and contrasting -- one word: water! ) the isolation of Texas to that of islands he's visiting, observing his fellow travelers on the ship, considering the effect of the extreme isolation of the Marquesas, and commenting on famous people's visits to the area, especially the painter Gauguin. Several of the reviewers featured on didn't like the book at all because of its disorganization and slow pace, but I enjoyed it, and liked the eclectic content. It is a short book, and that helps -- many hundreds of pages of this style would become tedious. But this was nice. I haven't read anything else by McMurtry, but Erin's read Lonesome Dove and a few o

The Story of the Weeping Camel

The Story of the Weeping Camel is a documentary-style film about a nomadic family in Mongolia. One of their camels has a very difficult delivery of her baby camel, which is a rare white camel. But the mother rejects the baby, which would die if not fed by hand. The two young boys go on a long journey alone to the nearest town, to find a musician to help the mother camel accept her baby. The desert is harsh but beautiful, the family life is simple, and the family has a not surprising confrontation with modernity. It was an enjoyable film. Our whole family watched it together.

My Date with Drew (2004)

This was delightful. A financially strapped, aspiring filmmaker in L.A. uses the winnings from a game show ($1100) and a video camera purchased from Circuit City on a friend's credit card (with the intention of taking it back in thirty days to take advantage of Circuit City’s return policy) and tries to get a date with Drew Barrymore. A couple of his friends help him document his attempts. It’s funny and kind of amazing and inspiring. I loved it!

Isabella: From Auschwitz to Freedom by Isabella Leitner

This is a beautifully written account of the author’s experiences in Auschwitz and other German concentration camps towards the end of World War II. Her mother and youngest sister were killed when they arrived (at a time when the Nazis were burning 24,000 people a day at Auschwitz), but she and two sisters and a brother managed to survive. Surprisingly, it’s hopeful and not depressing. My only beef with her is that she portrays Germans as inhuman or a different species, which seems a dangerous attitude—if we imagine that the Nazis killed the Jews because they’re somehow fundamentally different from the rest of humanity, instead of asking what choices they made to get to that point, then we’ve learned nothing. There have been many, many groups of people who have tortured and murdered other groups, for whatever reason. Most notably, her saviors, the Russians, killed hundreds of thousands more people than the Nazis did. Certainly they had more time for the killing, but there are severa

The Hours (2002)

I’ve been avoiding this movie for a long time now, because of course it was going to be sad, and therefore depressing, I suspected. I finally rented it, and then I still waited to watch it until the last night before I had to take it back. Turns out, I found it thought-provoking and sort of inspiring, although it does deal with some pretty serious issues, a couple of suicides the most weighty. Since watching it, I have been thinking about how we misjudge others’ situations, problems, moods, etc. It’s so easy to look at the people around us and assume that they’re handling their lives much better than we’re handling ours. There were a couple of times in this film where one character says to another, “You’re so lucky,” but because we’ve seen more of that character’s life, we know how untrue that is. It reminds me of something Henry Eyring, one of the Apostles in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said recently: When I was a young man, I served as counselor to a wise dis

The River Midnight by Lilian Nattel

This is a very good book, especially for a first novel. The narrative technique is interesting: the same nine-month period is covered from different perspectives. Each character gets the full nine months before the next character reveals more information about the same time period, so there’s repetition, but the voices are different enough that it never gets boring. It’s probably one of the best historical fiction books I’ve read. It also has a great-looking bibliography at the end (I haven’t had time to read any of the books listed, but they all look interesting), with titles about Jews in Poland and Russia, the general history of Poland, Gypsies, and the labor movement in the United States and Poland, among other things. There are some wonderful, strong female characters, a little of the supernatural, and everybody changes for the better, which makes it a hopeful book. I really liked it.