Sunday, March 22, 2015

My own Challenge #paris reads James Joyce

Since graduating from college with an English Degree, I've made it a habit of going back and reading at least one worthy Classic a year. Ulysses has long been on the list. The signs were too strong for me to resist any longer, especially when I found this lovely "jj" Ulysses hardback at the library for a pittance. It's official, I'm taking the plunge, and this picture shows how my arsenal is stocked.

I posted about it yesterday on FB and Twitter, and got the most wonderful of responses from a Paris Poet that I admire and adore. I've reposted with permission.

I had actually read and thoroughly enjoyed The Most Dangerous Book last fall. It is so interesting to think that Ulysses
is the book that broke the mold for publisher's rights regarding pornography / obscenity and The First Amendment right to free speech. My new found old hardback version has the entire court opinion printed in it.

And to think I know someone who "smuggled" his book back to America.

Slade, you are right. I do not and never will apologize for Art.

#parisreads indeed. And #paristhinks ! I love this crazy little redneck artsy town.

Contra muros, mater rubicolla.

(To borrow from John).


-- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Rest of the Story - SHORT

I let myself go yesterday and gushed from the heart about a side issue in regards to PCTs season. Here is the short version - some inside story scoup on Five Women Wearing the Same Dress.

This play has at its center a long lived theological premise, that being the Cardinal Sins.   Yes, the Bridesmaids, each and every one, represents a Cardinal Sin.  Not only that, since this is a comedy, it is quite along the Divine Comedy lines that they are each stuck in their sin.  (Thank you Dante for continuing to edify us!).  In other words, don't expect their problems to be solved as they entertain you.

Just in case you don't have them memorized, here you go:

One Bridsmaid Covets.   She covets things, men, a dead woman's husband, etc. etc.

Another is full of Wrath.  She's fun and funny, but boy can that anger just flip the switch.  Luckily, we get to find out a part of why in Act II.  

One Bridesmaid Lusts.  She is so full of lust that she holds love at bay.  The quintessential (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction!   I have hope for her by the end.

Sloth is all over one of the Bridesmaids.  So much so that she loves garbage, and I do mean loves it.

Finally, the last Bridesmaid is an out and out Glutton.  She's so gluttonous that all she can do is eat and all she can think about is throwing up.

You could say that the usher, who is a really nice guy by all accounts, is perfect, but of course we know better.

So we've accounted for 5 of the deadly sins, the venial sins to be exact (the minor sins).  The last two -- the two that are actually the mortal sins are Pride and Envy.  Those show up in the play, too, so I'll just let you stew on that and decide how yourself.

Tomorrow is your last chance!  
Thank you everyone who supported this production in so many ways, not the least of which by coming and loving it. It's been a joy to see the twinkle in your eye.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Rest of the Story -- #5pinksandatux

I knew when I signed up to direct a play over a year ago that it would take significant time, be a huge sacrifice for the family, be a  Great Experience, and keep me from being able to sink into my introverted shell and rejuvenate by reading, writing and thinking.  

The sad news is that the play is almost over.  The good news is I will soon have plenty of time to process this event in my life.  But I can't wait, I have to process some of it right now!

The play is Five Women Wearing the Same Dress,  a 1993 play by Alan Ball.  And they do!  Boy do they. 

I'll blog about the process tomorrow (or so), because its pretty fascinating, even for someone who has been very involved in theatre.  

But today, I want to share something about the play with you.  

PCT had two Pre-Show Receptions that were great fun, where I spent 5 minutes or less telling the audience something fascinating about the play to help add to their enjoyment and understanding of the play.  Since we don't have any more of those planned, I'll go ahead and share the information with you, in case you are planning to come.  (We've had great audiences, thank you Paris and beyond!).

But first, in case you are getting caught up in the seemingly innocent pink pink pink, remember what PCT has informed you, the public, in every advertisement and marketing venture.  This play has Adult Content, and is for Mature Audiences.  Parental Discretion is advised.  

The crowds are loving, loving, loving it, but even with those advisories we've had a handful of people who are still upset about the language in the play.  So while I'm telling you the rest of the story, I want to be honest with you about this, too. 

PCT, hopefully like every theatre, is dedicated to honoring the playwrite's play.  And to following copyright laws. That means we don't make material changes to the work.  That, to me, is far more reprehensible than having cussing on stage, especially for purposes other than just slapstick.  As Bridesmaid Georgeanne so clearly reminds us, we all have our standards.  One of my standards is being dedicated to sharing women's stories.  And I am so proud of PCT for sharing this story about women!  We are a fascinating, difficult, fun, irritating, silly bunch.  We women have unique experiences just because we are women.  We should talk about them.  We must continue to do plays that expose them.  

Five Women is about bridesmaids, and one groomsman, at a wedding.  As we know, weddings can be stressful events!  In the words of Tripp and Trisha, they all start out fine, then things get weird and high expectations culminate into the halucinatory.  (Been there!)

So the bridesmaids escape to Meredith's upstairs bedroom.  They are not at their best!  They are funny, they are acting out, they are letting loose in a safe place.  They are acting like adults act.

Ok, to be specific, they cuss.  Among other things, the "F" word is said around 17 times to be exact (but who is counting).  To put things in perspective, American Sniper - with crowds and crowds, used that explicative over 170 times.  

So there it is.  When we did Vagina Monologues  we had a saying -- if you can't say Vagina, you can't come.  The Board didn't want to put the name of the play on the marquee, so we refused to do the play without it.  Not all plays are for everyone.  If you can't stand the word Vagina, don't go see Vagina Monologues.  

I'm going to jump out there on a limb and say that if you can't stand the thought of cuss words on PCT stage, don't come to this play.  It's ok.   You won't be missing out on anything you want to see. Whatever you do, please, please, don't come and just see Act I.  Act I is always fun and enjoyable, hilarious even, but it is just the set up.  If you just come see Act I, you have missed the heart of the story.  You might feel that you have drunk the wine of  crassness and that is all that it will ever be to you.  That breaks my heart because it was made to be so much more.  It's like looking through a glass darkly. 

Irrefutably - there are plenty of people who want to see plays like what Vagina Monologues, Avenue Q, and Five Women Wearing the Same Dress have to offer. The Board that I proudly belong to is committed to serving the entire community.  These plays all have hearts to them, Big Picture points to them.  They are all award winning plays that the nation has embraced.  They serve a point for our community. I keep thinking that if only more mothers and fathers would see this play, maybe it would save my husband's office from doing some of the most difficult work that they do.  Such a play for women.  So amazing how the playwrite explains this situation that happens to too many women.  If you know anything about me, you know that I am dedicated to standing up for women, for helping them find their voice, for helping them find justice, for standing behind my husband's efforts for that, for helping them find peace, even if it is just through the laughter of a play that also happens to feature women that cuss.  (It's real, it happens, it wounds! Let's be honest! Could I pour my heart out to you any more?)

Now, there are also people in this community who do not want to see plays like Five Women. That is their right, we all have the right to choose. 

But it does create conflict between community theatre season ticket holders and attendees, actors, directors, and thespians.  It's an issue that we have to address. I must believe that for every problem, there is an answer.  

PCT has been searching for the answer for a long time.  

Last season, after the unbelievable but absolutely believable success of Vagina Monologues, the Board came up with the only solution that we have seen in other theatres -- the ability to pick your season.  Pick 4, pick 6, pick all.  Instead of five season shows PCT gave season ticket holders six shows.  As is typical to any season there are two family shows -- Alice, and now Damn Yankees (hurrah for baseball!!!!),  instead of one there were two musicals  (Avenue Q and Damn Yankees), a drama and a half (JB -- about Job, as in the Biblical Job set to a modern day parable from the 1950s, and the first play of White Liars / Black Comedy), and two comedies (Five Women, and White Liars/Black Comedy - had to stay for the second play for that gut buster),  Also, PCT has /is producing TWO extra plays this year in case  you don't want to see adult language / situations.  Rabbit Hole, the wonderful difficult play about a family dealing with the grief of a child (We loved it so much we took it to contest)  and Waiting for the Parade, about Women in WWII coming in April.   

PCT did that for those persons who didn't want the other two plays.  Sadly, too many of you missed Rabbit Hole.  I hope you won't miss Waiting for the Parade.  And do not worry!  Just because PCT has done several plays with adult content this year, this doesn't mean the theatre is only doing adult content shows.  Nothing could be further from the truth. Besides the two family plays, we also produce over 20 viewings of the children's production, which is definitely family oriented, and two great choir shows, one dedicated to Christmas music both religious and secular, and the other dedicated to show tunes.  

It's just that this show is one of the adult ones.   My preacher has told me he is coming to this play.  I've forewarned him about the language and I know he can deal with it.  That's just him - he's very into trying to figure out how to take the message to the masses, so this play will be a study in behavioral science for him.  I can't wait to hear what this play inspires him to preach.  But, again, that is just him.  That's why we get along, because we both are irritatingly deep thinkers.  We aren't afraid of ideas, even if they have cuss words.  But if it isn't for you, don't come!  It is ok!  

For the rest of you, who will come and love it, like yours truly, here is the rest of the story. 

A wise man once said there is nothing new under the sun.  Literature majors like me love this.  Every good book has a beginning somewhere!  The same is true of this play.  It's a good play because it has layers.

The first layer is the fun, zany, craziness of the Bridesmaids.  It's not to the level of slapstick, but its just pretty dang funny.  (Alan Ball could be accused of snooping on every female conversation of the 90s and throwing it into the kitchen sink with this being the side splitting result!).

The second layer is delivered in Act II.  And I am definitely not telling you about that, you just must come see it.  If you know anything about me, Tim Wood, Sherry Scott, Melanie Fowler and Jill Drake, you know we are advocates for women (congrats Kacy Mills and Tori Hunt, you are now officially advocates, too!).  There's a real heart to it. 

The third layer is the language issue. There is an argument going on with the creatives as to whether the cuss words are there for a reason, or if this is a true rendering of what Bridesmaids are like (except in the Bible Belt, of course).  I tend to think its both.  But, knowing the play backwards and forwards and sideways, I believe the F word is there for a reason.  I think we are assaulted with the F word.  Come to the WHOLE play, and see if you agree with me.  There isn't a correct answer, you get to decide.

Finally, the fourth layer is the absolute coolest.  Last night at the last preshow reception, one of the attendees had seen the play more than once and was going again.  But she hadn't heard about this, and when I started telling it, she burst out laughing.  It makes so much sense!  So here it is:  

This play has at its center a long lived theological premise, that being the Cardinal Sins.   Yes, the Bridesmaids, each and every one, represents a Cardinal Sin.  Not only that, since this is a comedy, it is quite along the Divine Comedy lines that they are each stuck in their sin.  (Thank you Dante for continuing to edify us!).  In other words, don't expect their problems to be solved as they entertain you.

Just in case you don't have them memorized, here you go:

One Bridsmaid Covets.  Covets Covets Covets.  Things, men, a dead woman's husband, etc. etc.

Another is full of Wrath.  She's fun and funny, but boy can that anger just flip the switch.  Luckily, we get to find out why in Act II.  

One Bridesmaid Lusts.  She is so full of lust that she holds love at bay.  The quintessential (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction!  We have hope for her by the end is all I'm saying.

Sloth is all over one of the Bridesmaids.  So much so that she lovessss garbage, and I do mean loves it.

Finally, the last Bridesmaid is an out and out Glutton.  She's so gluttonous that all she can think about is throwing up.

Now that is only 5 of the deadly sins, the venial sins to be exact (the minor sins).  The last two -- the two that are actually the mortal sins are Pride and Envy.  Those show up in the play, too, so I'll just let you stew on that and decide how yourself.

So there it is.  Now that you are edified, and now that you ought to know for certain if this is your cup of tea or not, I look SO forward to seeing you for the WHOLE play tonight, Saturday or Sunday!  

Saturday, January 24, 2015

And the Winner Is . . . .

It's been a great week!  Full of work -- I don't talk about it often, but I love my job.  I love the people and the puzzles, and helping people dream big.  Of course, when not at work, I love to dream big myself, mostly in ways related to my degree -- that being An English Degree, and also related to my upbringing in a very musical family, who exposed me to theatre early, when my sister played Amaryllis in The Music Man.  

So, this week, I got to go with two lovely friends to Dallas Theater Center's production of The Book Club.  It was so wonderful!  Great appeal to modern audience of readers and -dare I say it - nonreaders of all levels, it explored what we read and why, and who gets to talk about that with us (or drink and eat with us, if they haven't read the book, and do they belong or not??).  I'd read almost all the books discussed and I think had every single one of the conversations -- except the twist of the unhidden camera for a documentary that caught some rather funny things.  Humans are so surprising.  I loved it!!

Of course, I read. I enjoyed my family.  I worked more.  I watched one TV show (yes, Downton Abbey).  One night, I worked with the actresses who have been cast in 5 Women Wearing the Same Dress, and that was so wonderful.  They really took me places.  
On another very wonderful night this week,  I went  with my girlfriends for a girl's night out treat of seeing these charming puppets at Paris Community Theatre's side splitting production of Avenue Q.  (If you aren't easily offended and love to laugh at our humanness, don't miss this!!)

I worked more, enjoyed my husband and father, son and daughter.  It's been a busy and wonderful week.  I even got to write during the holiday.

And now today, I get to participate in National Readathon Day. Hubby asked me last night -- so what are you doing tomorrow?  HAHA!  I'm reading!  I'm reading! 

I decided not to fundraise because I've so vocally fundraised for PCT's building fund
-- (We have raised aprox. $68,000.00 of $70,000.00 dollars to date!!!!  Thank you Paris!!).  So I donated through Books on a Nightstand -- a blog and much more about books and bookish thoughts.  Then, I raised awareness in Paris by starting the fun #parisreads hashtag -- all names and books of thosewho participated were put in a vase that was full this morning.

Just in time for me to draw the lucky winner of this great book -- "Station Eleven" by Emily St. John Mandel.  Even better, the book is signed.

 Congrats Jeannie Plummer -- enjoy your book!  (Hey, if you ever get rid of it, I get first dibs).  Thank you to all who participated, we'll do it again soon.  I'll put a list here of the books you were  reading, in case you need a suggestion for what to read.  Here they are:

The Husband's Secret
The Invention of Wings (multiple times)
To Kill a Mockingbird
Big Little Lies (multiple)
Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity
One Word That Will Change Your Life
The Rosie Effect
Fifty Shades of Grey
Talking from 9 to 5
Astronaut Wives' Club
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Well Played Life
Seige and Storm
The Tuesday Morning Club
E. Aster Bunymund and the Warrior Eggs at the Earth's Core
Killing Patton
Brown Girl Dreaming
My Farm Animals
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Above the East China Sea
Invisible Thread
X vs. Y
To Rise Again at a Decent Hour

Pretty Decent List, I'd say!  Can't wait to do it again, I'll announce the next prize soon.  Remember, you can put it on any social media that I'm on -- Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Google+ or even respond here (you have to be a Google+ member for security purposes). - I'm not sure if it works on Goodreads, but I'd be willing to try and figure that one out, such as by me starting a #ParisReads listmania that we can all access.   And because this is a small enough place, and many of you tell me, if you tell me I'll put yours down for you.  But I've decided that if you put it down yourself it will be worth two entries.  Better yet, if you share a picture of your book (any picture will do if you are listening or using an ebook) with the #parisreads hashtag,  that will be worth three entries.

Anyone can take advantage of this list - which I have already found helpful as I have recently been in a real dreadful lull.  Just search with #parisreads, and you might find something you enjoy.

Also, yes, I did include those of you who are connected in some way, have lived here or are a part of the bookish social media presence spurring on the knowledge that yes, even without a book store, even in the middle of one of the famed No Man's Land, even by the edge of one of the borders of Texas, even two hours away from anywhere, Paris does indeed Read.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Great Torture 2014 -- *Spoiler Alert* The Paying Guests

The Paying GuestsThe Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

[BTW already a number of people have entries in #parisreads, and are going to participate in National Readathon Day.  Yay!!  Click Here to Learn More]

Via Audio  -  This may be worthy of my 2014 Best Book I Hated, because that is how I felt 75% of the way through, but in the end I didn't hate it, I was just tortured by it. So I guess it gets the Great 2014 Pure Chinese Torture Award.
It's very well written, and just about gave me a heart attack.  It typically doesn't take me but about 3 or 4 days to read a book like this,  but this one,  about a quarter in,  I didn't want to read but couldn't stop. I almost quit reading about 30 times I'm sure, but in the end I kept having to return.  Curiosity Killed the Cat indeed!  I know it would have been less torture to read by book than by audio, because the narrator did a far superior job of telling the story that I every could have in my mind.  

I can't tell you anymore without spoilers so stop here if you don't want anything revealed.


I picked this up because it made it through several rounds of Goodreads Best Book awards, which is always a great indication for a common reading fanatic. It was in the general lit category, otherwise I wouldn't have read it.   In a way, I feel betrayed by that and place the blame on the publisher label.  Yes it is well written,  so deserving of the lit title, but isn't it also a thriller? Close to an erotic thriller?  Shouldn't the general public have been fairly warned?  I thought I was getting a Downton Abbeyish, Atonement, Brideshead Revisited type book. Instead, I got a torrid love affair -not quite 50 Shades but still- and Crime and Punishment.

The set up is easy: Frances and her mother have fallen on hard times after the War, so they take on lodgers they call "Paying Guests" in order to soften the blow of their slide from the middle class.  The lodgers, both of them, are clearly going to shake up Frances' life by some love interest or other.  You know it could go any old way.

Here is the spoiler - Frances and Lilian fall into each other's arms with a passion that rivals the pain of Helen and Paris, and I say that because it ends up being devastating to all who surround them - and as with those two, you never know if they are truly in love, or just in blinding, selfish lust.  There are several references to Anna Karrinina, and -this being a literary book- you know that no word is wasted so you keep that in the back of your mind the entire length of the book.

An earthquake of an event happens and that is where the book becomes Crime and Punishment.  I won't tell you what happens, that is enough of a spoiler.   It is an incredible rendition of a C&P twist - with its mental gymnastics and mind boggling questions and doubts.  It was devastating and exhausting to me,  I just hate that torment. I'm probably more sensitive to it than most. I know it is because of the life I have.  I choose to not watch it on TV, I'm not numbed to it, I can never be.  So it was torment.  But such well written torment!  So if you can stand all that, it's a real page turner.  And if you haven't read C&P, this will be an excellent mod primer for you.

What is the moral of the story?   Know what you are getting, because if you get vested in this you need to just prepare everyone in your life that you are reading this book that you are going to have to talk about and put down and pick up, ad nauseum, until you either finish it or get therapy over it.

View all my reviews

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Putting Jan 24 on the Calendar - #parisreads

The January Paris Life is out, it just keeps getting better and better!  I loved so much of it, (including the closet confidential and the beard grooming tips).   

Here is my book column from December's Paris Life, which sparked a conversation with many of you that January's column answered.  (Go buy your copy or internet access to see that and find out about #parisreads , style, and how to groom that beard).  

I'm wondering if any of you gave or got books for Christmas, and what you are reading?  In the January column, I asked you to let me know what you are reading, with the hashtag #parisreads.  You can do that here (you  have to be on googleplus to be able to comment, to protect us from spam), or on twitter @sydsavvy, or on my Facebook page.  Anything works!  

To thank you for your answers, I'm going to give away a SIGNED copy of this book I love.   

(This is painful, I want to keep it, but I specifically bought it at BookPeople in Austin just for you, so I'm going to stick to my resolve.)  

You can comment through January 24.

Why that day?  

Because that is National Readathon Day, and I am participating!  It is a day when I vow to take time to read from noon to four. 

Permission to READ!!  From noon to four! Yay!

I've already made my donation to the National Book Foundation, but I would like to make a donation to a local book or reading oriented cause or organization.  Does anyone want to sponsor me to read? Anyone want to suggest who I (or we) should donate our funds to?   

Anyone want to join me?  Will you please take #taketimetoread ? And till then, let me know what #parisreads .  I know you do because you tell me you do.  Let's show the world we do.  Give me lots of people to draw from for the very fun, award winning Station Eleven.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Don't Miss This Book! Don't Miss These Immigrants! These Americans!

My rating: 5 of 5 stars -- Via audio.

It's that time of year that book readers start grabbing friends and strangers by the shoulders and saying -- Read this Book! Don't Miss This Book!! We start worrying that the really good books, the important books, are going to get washed away by the tide of terrible or even just standard books.  

This is the Don't Miss This!!  book for me. 
I wasn't expecting much from this book, especially not a trip down memory lane.  I love that it helped remind me of stories from my past, stories I'll soon share. It helped me remember why I have such a heart for immigrants.  It humanized the current politics and taught me things I didn't know. It was interesting to me that the setting was not Texas.  I kept being surprised that Delaware was the location but I think that was a good thing as it gives a fresh look.

It was hard for me to read, because I kept waiting for the axe to drop, but in the end I couldn't put it down.  The sweetest story to me was that of Alma and Arturo, the couple that moves in order to help their daughter get better from a brain injury.  Theirs is just an unadulterated pure love for each other and for their daughter.  There are other stories mixed in,  and I actually liked this, it gave me a break from the story that I knew was going to be difficult every step of the way.  The name of the book comes from one of those stories and by the time it is delivered, you know how true it is.

Confession -- After reading this, I sat there and cried.  It's the first time I've actually wept at the end of a book in a long, long time.  I love my country but we are so screwed up.  Don't worry, I think it was just a self reaction -- remember, when you read you bring your whole self into it.  You probably won't have that reaction.   But maybe you'll carry it in your heart.  I hope you'll carry it in your heart.  I hope you'll think about caring about these people, about immigrants.  

One favorite quote, from Arturo: "I'll tell them what I love about this country."

Here are a few more: 
“We're the unknown Americans, the ones no one even wants to know, because they've been told they're supposed to be scared of us and because maybe if they did take the time to get to know us, they might realize that we're not that bad, maybe even that we're a lot like them. And who would they hate then?”
― Cristina HenriquezThe Book of Unknown Americans

“I felt the way I often felt in this country - simultaneously conspicuous and invisible, like an oddity whom everyone noticed but chose to ignore”
― Cristina HenriquezThe Book of Unknown Americans

Hilary Mantel can Write Anything!

The Assassination of Margaret ThatcherThe Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I hate short stories.  I'm just a long story person.  I want to be given a chance to care about every aspect of the story.  I want something to think about.  I want a chance to laugh, cry, be curious, be surprised, and be swept away. I want something profound.

But I loved this offering of short stories.  I found all of those things I want in it. How does she do it?  I was completely swept up in these stories in all of the above ways.  I want to study them and figured out their myriad meanings. I want to study Mantel's writing techniques.  I want a bit of her brilliant zanyness.

View all my reviews

Tourette's, Strenth Training, and a Librarian

The World's Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette's, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family    Love, love, loved this book.  "The World's Strongest Librarian" -- and here is a new quote, and video about it.  I loved it because it told me about several somethings I didn't know much about (Tourette Syndrome, the Mormon faith, and super strength training), while it talked discussed life and books.  Can't get much better!

“I'll never know everything about anything, but I'll know something about almost everything and that's how I like to live.” 

Confessions of a Book Snob -- November -- On Atticus and Ducks

People always ask me what I’m reading. I usually enjoy answering, but recently I had to stammer. It was just too surreal to admit to Atticus Miller I was in the midst of being enthralled by “The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee” by Marja Mills. But he quickly confessed that “To Kill a Mockingbird” was one of his mother’s favorite books, and that he’d heard the podcast of Mills’ interview with Lee.

So off we went, talking Mockingbird and other favorite books the way most people dissect favorite TV shows.
Harper Lee’s novel still has that effect on most of us. Add that to the fact she never wrote another book, except to help Truman Capote redefine the true crime genre, and eventually withdrew from the press and the public, and you have a deep mystery that many hope is answered by Marja Mills’ recent release.
The book falls short of that, but I’m still glad I read it.
I learned a great deal about Lee and her family I didn’t know before, and for that reason alone the book was worthwhile, even though Mills’ writing was not compelling.

Perhaps my expectations were too high. But when reading a book about Harper Lee, one feels entitled to deep thoughts. Here, I just felt guilty for wondering why Mills spent so much time on ducks or “and then we” or “Nell laughed that laugh” or “Alice had that look on her face that meant” and so on. The minute humdrum did not fit the bill.

Don’t get me wrong. There are interesting stories in the book. Some of my favorites are about the friendship between Lee and Gregory Peck, stories on Lee’s father (the inspiration for Atticus Finch), stories on Truman Capote — even if I’m not sure that I believe all of them, and just a real sense of what kind of women Lee and her elder lawyer sister were. Also the 
“One Book One City” program has my mind spinning with possibilities for Paris.

Still, I can’t help but wonder, if the Lee sisters truly encouraged this book, why did it take Mills so long to write it? Why wait to publish it until they were unable to respond? Does Mills protest too much that her own health problems slowed her down? Also, wasn’t it a bit too convenient the way the neighborhood move developed? On the other hand, if the book was not written by permission, wouldn’t it be more of an expose than a mundane memoir?

Perhaps that is the key, after all. The woman who cared so much about wild ducks was observant enough to have penned the quintessential story of the South, with all of our manners, crimes, injustices, villains and small town heroes. She did so at the moment it mattered, so that it caught the attention of our nation and still holds it. Perhaps we would do better to slow down and do the same.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The More Things Change . . . you know the rest

The Miniaturist

*Spoiler Alert*   Review Dated Sept. 13 2014, Just now having time to post!

Interesting book, especially for the fact that the more things change, the more they stay the same. 

Who is the Miniaturist? Why did Petronella stay and help this family? How do we ever learn compassion as a human race? Have we really gotten anywhere? [Based on the bullying that I've personally encountered this fall along the same lines as one of the conflicts in this book, it sure doesn't seem like it.] Why was this book written? Why did I read it at this particular moment? Can I make any sense of it? What is this book telling me? 

In order to tell you about the book, I guess I have to give a spoiler, though I'm not sure why this was hidden as it wasn't a surprise once the book got going. 

Set in Amsterdam in 1686, this historical fiction novel, according to the author: "focuses on two women’s very different journeys to find a slice of freedom in a repressive, judgmental society. There’s a trial, a hidden love, a miniaturist who predicts the fate of her customers, a parakeet called Peebo and a plan to escape to the sea."

*Spolier Alert*

The kicker is that young Nella's husband is homosexual, which at that time and place was a crime worthy of the death penalty. Nella's home and country are full of contradictions. I think that is quite true of life. What I'm not sure of is how Nella was so worthy to navigate them with such grace, when everyone else around her was much more naturally humanly flawed. Also, unanswered is really who or how is the Miniaturist? Why name the book after her? 

I just happen to like books that don't answer the questions for me. I also love the chase of the human contradiction. So even though for the life of me I can't figure this book out, I'm glad I read it, at this particular time. I'm glad the book showed me that, yes, we have made some progress.

What you don't know about Ulysses. Even if you know nothing!

Have you read Ulysses?  Touted as the best book of the 20th Century?  I have to confess that I haven't either.  But I'm getting closer to doing it.  [Insert Virgian Wolfian Sigh.]  
The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce's Ulysses
In place of reading it, I read this book that I'm afraid many people missed this year.  It was very interesting, as it is mostly a study on the evolution of American publishing rights and the First Amendment vs. pornographic vs. literature standards and the way the Ulysses trials changed so much of that. But I truly had no idea. None! That the Roaring Twenties really were so roaring, or that Joyce had so many protectors. This was eye opening in many ways.  Now I look at every book with new eyes, and wonder whether it went through a ponography trial.  Or not.

Anyway, it was a fast read, I couldn't put it down.

Confessions of a Book Snob -- October

Although I have been too busy to post, I have still be reading, as well as reviewing books on Goodreads and with the Paris News.  In case you missed it, here is the Book Review in Paris Life for October.  Clearly, I was still thinking about dancing!  Click the link to read with the pictures and online at The Paris News.

Confessions of a DANCING Book Snob

It probably surprises no one that while competing in this year’s Dancing With the Stars (raising money for Lamar County Crime Stoppers), I read books on ballroom / performance dancing.
Low and behold, I was surprised by how much I liked them.
My husband calls me a book snob, probably for good reason. I’ve always turned my nose up at books that are by celebrities but are actually written by “ghost writers.” Why? It is just something about the publishing industry that drives me crazy. Don’t put your name on a book if you didn’t actually write it.

But the truth is, these books wouldn’t get written without ghost writers and they do serve a purpose, as my experience shows.

I read a newly published book by dancer elite Derek Hough titled: “Taking the Lead: Lessons from a Life in Motion.” I liked it so much, I also read Cheryl Burke’s “Dancing Lessons: How I found Passion and Potential on the Dance Floor and in Life.”

Honestly, participating in this dance contest, where the attendants actually vote on you based on 60 seconds of your best, humble efforts, was one of the most nerve wracking things I’ve ever done. My friends and acquaintances were surprised at this, because they know I love being in front of a crowd. But performing for purely artistic reasons and performing for votes, even if it is all for a good cause, are very different things. Also, I didn’t know how to “perform” ballroom dance and really wanted performance to be a part of my dances. Basically, I needed some help facing my fears.

The books were formatted differently.

Burke chose a particular dance for each chapter, and fit it into her life, as well as telling stories from her DWTS experiences, weaving all of that into inspiration.

Hough’s book followed the more traditional memoir life chapters, but made sure to wrap each chapter up with a “leading lesson” and a reflection. He also tied in the lessons with some of his mirror ball winning partners’ dance struggles (which strangely mirrored mine), and then gave inside information and tips on ballroom dances. The chapters were short, to the point, and easy to digest. Hough isn’t going to win any literary awards for his ghost written book, but I’ll always remember it.

What did I learn?

Anyone can dance. Everyone has something to overcome. The only disability you have is in your head. Figure out your passion and everything else will fall into place. “Fear is a great motivator... Go ahead and be scared. Get out of your comfort zone. Align yourself with your fear and use it to propel you to progress. Look your demons in the eye and kick ‘em to the curve... Life is a dance but it’s much more than mastering your steps. It’s pushing your boundaries, shattering your limits and exploding in a breathtaking burst of light.”

I learned that I need to not be such a book snob about celebrity ghost written books.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

On Dancing . . . more of the story

I'll be honest with you, I'd rather be dancing than blogging.  But the event is over, I'm looking at my treadmill with freshly jaded eyes, so many of you have said how you've been inspired to dance, and I've got some awesome pictures and a story to share, so here is more of the story for you.  Here is one of my favorites:

Viennese Waltz to James Brown's It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World 

Last time I left you with us meeting our dancers.  (Click that link) After that it was a fast and furious whirlwind.  

First we chose music, before we'd even met each other.   Here is a screenshot of how long it took us:

It was so easy for us that I took it as a good sign. We actually nailed down the James Brown song ( It's a Man's World) first, and then decided on Sway and El Tango de Roxanne within the first 5 minutes of our first lesson.  That went pretty much like this:

"Hello, Sydney!"

[Hug, as is done in performance arts world]

"Hello Rangel, is that right? The Tango is on my bucket list.  Can we do that dance?"

"Pronounce it any way you want and Yes, we can do the Tango."

"Oh!  Well, I think you should tell people how you want your name pronounced.  It's your name and it drives me crazy that Americans don't try, but WOW Really?  Don't you need to see if I can do it first?"

"No.  Let's do it.  We can do it. Let's go for it."

"Wow! Ok.  Well, I want to dance the Tango to El Tango de Roxanne."

"I've actually done the Tango in a contest to that before."


"It is not a good song for the Tango, it does not have a musical beat to keep time to at first."

"Can't we just splice it up as we need it?  I really want it to be to that."

"We'll do it."


FYI,  Rangel likes things to be his way.  And I like things to be his way -- he's the pro, his way is the best way.  So the way he made El Tango de Roxanne his way was to get a good recording with the actual voice over from the movie, so that we had the voice as beats to move off of.  LOVED IT.  And by your reaction, you did, too!  Every time we actually performed it (all three or four times, ha!) there comes a point or three in the dance that you can feel the audience / viewers gasp.  Very cool.  

Anyway, the first conversation continued:

 "Are we learning the Tango today? "

"No, today we are learning the Viennese Waltz so turn your head, don't look at me."

Not so easy to do, but that's another issue.

And five double dance sessions into it:

"So, are we learning the Tango today?"

"No, next time.  Because, while you learn fast, you don't remember anything I've told you and I have to keep helping you remember that it goes one, two, three cha cha, not one two, cha cha cha."

-- For the record, I blame the evil mom on Hairspray, because in my mind she chants:  "One two, cha cha cha."  Also for the record, Rangel isn't really into excuses, so I didn't bother to explain on that one.  

That's also the dance that I actually said:  "So help me remember -- does the turn happen on one or three?" 

"Neither, it happens on two!"

Did I tell you that I eventually began saying:  "I've died and gone to Tango heaven and Cha Cha hell!"  I would get nervous and sluff into cha cha when it wasn't time and hear that I was off with the music and go into a tail spin.  So I eventually learned every "pop" step with the music it actually happened on.  That way, if I got off, I knew exactly when  to pop back in.  Came in handy, because on a big turn I dropped the cha cha, but easily found my way back in for the fun attitude flashing my ring move.  Besides the BIG mistake [Note to self, if the really slippery floor makes you off balance after the big turn, don't do the kick!!  You'll end up making your worst fear come true and your partner will look at you with really sad eyes after his head has been kicked!!  And despite both of your best efforts, it will not make it into the really cool newly invented dance moves book!!], that's the only mistake I made on the Cha Cha from Hell.  Not to say that I did it technically correct, that's a whole different ball game.

Anyway,  I really loved the music choices everyone made for the event -- so much fun!  The crowd really got into it, so the music did what it was supposed to do.

Once you know your dances and music -- even if you haven't learned them yet -- you move on to clothing. [Note on shoes - buy them a size smaller!] Just to keep it real, I'm letting you see a picture of some of the family members who were very interested to see all these strange goings on. They were constant companions on many self dance sessions.  They are pretty good  at rhythm, and never tripped me up getting out of my way:

I won't go on about clothes, I'll just say I stressed and stressed over them.  FYI Julie Mac, you can rent this dress or any other one that suits your fancy from Rhythmic Rentals!  However, you can't rent "Fabio."  His so sweet and incredible partner, Veronika probably wouldn't go for that!  Here is one of my favorite pictures of them, you should check out these champs --  CLICK HERE FOR A LINK TO THEIR FACEBOOK PAGE --  If you scroll down on it just a bit you'll see they were recently in the company of the great Shirley Ballas!  I wish them the very best! 

Veronika probably doesn't know it but her little acts of kindness to me made all the difference.  Always very sweet and encouraging, when Rangel would overwhelm me (I know you can't imagine that! -- not that he wasn't always such a great teacher and wonderful to work with, he's just so darn good its a bit overwhelming), she always made me feel good.  Thank you Veronika! Same thing with my husband -- he was 100% behind me, even on the passionate Tango dance.  He was only going to be mad at me if I didn't go for it!  Besides, he's the reason I love the Tango!  You don't emote those feelings in a dance without having experienced great love and all that comes with it over a lifetime.  That Tango dance was for him, and he absolutely loved it. 

So, you practice, and practice and practice.  And your partner starts realizing that he just might as well repeat himself 50 million times on the off chance you might remember something he said.  (I will say that I think I came away with one big picture item from each lesson.  Not that I did them on the dance floor!)

For example, while the last picture looks pretty good, I'm dropping my frame -- my elbow and upper body --  there.  Also, in the top picture, I'm supposed to be twisting with my back, not just putting my leg out.  

Now, these pictures are from our very first Tango lesson.  I hope even with the technical issues that surprises you because it just came so natural.  I've read that Tango is a street dance -- now that I've done it I can totally understand what that means.  Because, while it would take hours and hours of practice to hone those technical moves into my brain, the tango has some simple rules, and -- most importantly -- it is very much a lead dance.  In other words, body language tells you where to go.   So you meet your fella on the street and he takes you for a spin.  It either works for you, and the passion is there, or you are on the hunt for the next guy, looking over your shoulder until your guys says enough and shakes you back to him, and hopefully no street fight ensues, but no guarantees.

This looks good, too, but you'll notice that Rangel's knees are bent.  Mine clearly aren't.  That is something in the Tango you are supposed to do, bend those knees.  Also, you push against each other to maintain your balance and momentum, see how hard I'm pushing with my arm?  But my elbow isn't supposed to be locked out.  

Details, details.   

Still, I'll take it.

You'll notice from the practice photos that there are people on the dance floor, unless you happen to be lucky enough to be practicing at a time when no one else is there (at Studio 22 there are basically three dance floors -- click the link to check them out, they have so much going on!).  Being from the theatre world, I'm not used to sharing stage with anyone not in the scene.  I get so focused that I don't know other people are there, and then poof I'm about to run into them and where the heck were we in the routine?  In one video of us practicing, I actually see people scooting out of the way, and I'm totally oblivious.  Sorry guys!  

Now, I think obviously, there is never enough time.  We all wanted more dance lessons, and I particularly wanted to get my head in the game and understand how to approach couple dance performance.  So of course, I read a number of books about dance that I loved.  If you enjoyed the event or are interested, here are my suggestions:
Taking the Lead: Lessons from a Life in Motion
Brand new book by the Big 5 Mirror Ball Winner himself, Derek Hough (the reason I even know anything about Shirley Ballas).  Amazing how inspirational this is.  I confess, that I used to be a book snob about books "by" athletes, actually written by ghost writers.  Now I want more!

Dancing Lessons: How I Found Passion and Potential on the Dance Floor and in Life

And because I wanted more, and also because I just spend at least 40 (!!!) hours in the car this month driving to dance practice and back, I got this audio and listened to it.  Loved it in the same way, and in a different way, because it actually shares about some women's issues, and you know I'm all about that!  (We'll dub Cheryl an official V Girl for being brave and sharing her story!) 

Fitness Confidential 

This book is about fitness.  Best one I think I've ever listened to!  No holding back, and while I don't endorse all his views, I love his passion!  I simply must remember to tune in to his podcast. 

The Silver Linings Playbook 

I loved the dance competition aspect (and all the rest) of Silver Linings the movie, so I picked up the book as a cheap easy read.  Loved it all over again,  even though it really had nothing much about the competition! 

Astonish Me 

If not for dancing, I think I would have missed this book in a sea of blue book covers. HERE IS MY REVIEW OF IT.  I loved it!  One of my favorite fiction books I've read this year. 

Anyway, that is more of the story about my experience with Dancing with The Stars, Paris Texas style 2014, benefiting Lamar County Crime Stoppers.  Even though I wasn't perfect, and knew I wouldn't be, I feel really great about what we all did out there, and why, and I'm thankful for the whole experience.