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Kissing Jessica Stein

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I just adored this movie. I don’t know, maybe I’d notice problems on a second viewing, but it seemed perfect in every way on the first. Jennifer Westfeldt as Jessica is exactly right as a somewhat conservative young woman who’s nervously bi-curious; she sets out to scratch her itch, kicking and screaming all the way. Her family, especially her loving mama (Tovah Feldshuh, a regular guest lawyer on Law & Order who deserves more acting exposure), gives great Jewish attitude. Girlfriend Helen (Heather Juregensen) is gorgeous and thoroughly believable as a bi woman who’s as comfortable blending her sexuality as she is blending 3 lipsticks. (Westfeldt and Juregensen wrote the script as well.)

Jessica’s jumpy jitters about coming out—a phrase that’s never uttered but runs silently through every scene—and her fear of admitting she’s involved in a – gasp! – lesbian relationship is entirely believable: within minutes I was reeling back to my first serious relationship with a woman, in which I felt natural and altogether right when we were indoors alone or with other women, but was secretly and silently freaked out the minute we stepped outside. Unlike Jessica’s long period of foreplay, which lasted something like 3 months, I acted as if I was rarin’ to go, but deep inside I was as terrified as she was. That fear vanished in afterglow–but fear of coming out to old friends, co-workers, and family never went away. I wonder if that means the movie’s dated, considering that my “coming out” occurred in the mid-70’s, and in Jessica Stein we’re talking about last year. I don’t think so, though: human emotions are eternal, and besides, though attitudes have certainly changed , families and co-workers of those who step over the line, no matter how liberal they want to be, just aren’t universally sanguine about it.

Other than that tiny possibility, there’s not a false note in this film. It’s funny and occasionally poignant, without the saccharine sentimentality usually injected into the topic. Oh and by the way, it’s also sexy—very. Not as in X-Rated, more as in real life. Maybe as lesbian movies improve they’ll erase the memory of Lianna, a feeble attempt by John Sayles to normalize lesbianism that included the most distasteful portrayals of human sexuality, of any kind or gender, I have ever seen.

I don’t want to give away the ending to KJS, so I won’t say anymore about the plot. Rent it today, girlfriend, and see it with a girl. Or boy.  Afterwards play Katy Perry’s I Kissed a Girl .

Sophie’s Alleged Choice

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The meaning of the original choice Sophie was forced to make in the movie (and novel)  Sophie’s Choice is becoming more and more diluted as people inappropriately use it for wacky or trivial metaphors. I wonder if those who throw the phrase around in reference to breakfast choices, or where to go on vacation, have any idea of what it is they’re referring to. Having seen Sophie’s Choice when it came out in 1982, I still haven’t lost the mental image of that awful movie moment. To refresh my memory before writing about it, I visited YouTube and watched the scene again.

(SPOILER ALERT: This is a closing scene to a film that, until this moment, had avoided revealing the “choice” alluded to in the film’s title. I am also telling it below.)

To recap: Sophie, a young mother of two played by Meryl Streep, has been taken to a Nazi camp. She stands on a long line holding her daughter in her arms, her son standing beside her, waiting to be….killed? processed? sent to work? The people on line don’t know where they’re going, they’ve only heard whispers of rumors in the ghetto. A Nazi soldier comes walking slowly down the line, and stops in front of Sophie to admire her beauty. He asks her if she’s one of those “dirty Commies” or if she’s Jewish. The terror on her face intensifies with his every word, but finally he walks away without doing anything.

But then Sophie calls desperately after him, obviously thinking to save herself and her kids: “I’m not a Jew, I am Catholic, I believe in Christ.” Apparently she’s unaware that the Nazis also hated Catholics, and that she’s blundered. The Nazi comes back and tells her that, since she’s not a Jew, she can keep ONE of her children; she must choose which one. Of course, she can’t, and just as the Nazi is about to take both kids away from her, Sophie puts the girl down on the ground, gives her a little push, and says, “Take my daughter.” She is instantly sorry, as the Nazi walks off carrying the screaming little girl over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes.

Streep’s facial expressions here are incredible, and the whole scene is just devastating. Watching it yesterday for only the second time ever, I saw more in it than I had the first time around. For one thing, had Sophie just kept quiet, the Nazi would’ve kept on walking; it is her insistence that she deserves saving for not being Jewish that brings about that terrible “choice.” (Of course, something horrendous, maybe even worse, though worse is unimaginable, might have happened ten minutes later anyway.) On this viewing I also realized that in this moment Sophie turns insane, that it explains everything we’ve seen of her up until now.

Now, 30 years later, someone says, “It’s the Sophie’s Choice of the fashion industry.” People! Get a grip! There can be no such thing as a Sophie’s Choice of the fashion industry! On the sitcom Happily Divorced, Fran must choose who to take with her on her free trip to Mexico – her best friend or her ex-husband. She throws up her hands and cries, “This is like Sophie’s choice!” Ex-hubby replies, “Sophie chose the male.” Is anyone else offended? Actually, I’m not offended: I’m stunned.

Thinking about all this got me to pondering the perks of growing old: I’ve been around long enough to have seen Sophie’s Choice, and to know that the way people are using it is bizarre. Similar realizations occur these days about a lot of things, not just movies: as we age we get to observe behavioral patterns, historical events, societal changes, and people’s reactions to all of the above. We’ve accumulated tons of data in our memory banks (even if some of it is frequently inaccessible!) This must be what they mean by wisdom. If we pay attention, we don’t just grow older, but wiser.

I’m paying attention.

A pocketbook named The Sophie’s Choice

One Mo’ Time: Hollywood and Race


Red Tails isn’t my kind of picture (warriors; loud guns; noisy machinery), so I haven’t seen it. Years ago I didn’t go see Glory – about an all-black Civil War regiment – for the same reason; later I caught it on TV and loved it to death. Anyhow, while I can’t say anything much about Red Tails, now that I’ve heard it’s immersed in controversy, I want to jump into the fray.

Racial controversy in Hollywood is a recurrent theme, one I’ve written about several times. I still haven’t gotten over my shock and anger that Hollywood failed to notice two of my favorite movies, The Five Heartbeats and Set It Off. I saw the latter when it came out on DVD, so I don’t know what the audiences were like – but I saw The Five Heartbeats in three different theaters, each time dragging white friends along to see it with all-black audiences. Both those movies were, in my opinion, absolutely fantastic, and I’ve seen each of them several times. They were at least as good as any in their genres: one the story of a rock ‘n’ roll group, the other of a bank heist. Neither was nominated for any Academy Awards. At the very least, Queen Latifah, a mere child at the time, deserved an Oscar for her performance as a bad-ass gun-toting lesbian.

The most recent film to cause a racial dustup, prior to Red Tails, is The Help. The book as well as the film drew the ire of black women, particularly those in academia,  for a multitude of alleged sins: they protested that a white woman shouldn’t tell black women’s stories to begin with; the film trivialized the lives of black domestic workers; it overlooked sexual harassment and civil rights activism; and in the end it’s really just a white woman’s coming-of-age story.

The Help –  and its black and white ensemble cast — is being showered with awards left and right. I for one am thrilled that two female movies (i.e.,chick flicks),The Help and Bridesmaids, are knocking them dead at the award ceremonies. Meanwhile, Viola Davis, who won the SAG award for best female actor, probably did more to integrate Hollywood than anyone when she named her two greatest inspirations: Cicely Tyson and Meryl Streep.

West Side Story Day

I am declaring today a national holiday: West Side Story Day. On this date 50 years ago the film version of WSS premiered in New York City. Yesterday Rita Moreno and George Chakiris (Anita and Bernardo, the sexiest couple to ever dance together) were on Talk of the Nation, and I called in – actually got through! — to thank them for what they gave me. Of course, I didn’t have enough time to say half of what I wanted to say.

I was 16 when the movie came out, and had been reading about it in my movie magazines. It was my kind of thing: love among the savages, you might say. I had no idea of the huge presence it would become in my life when I saw it with my first real boyfriend, George Delaney, who I still dream about and who is no longer on this planet; we double-dated with my best friend Kathy and her George, to whom she’s still married. We got all dressed up and went to the opening in Westbury; the rest of the audience was decked out in diamonds and furs.

The whole thing was out of character for us, kids from the poor side of the tracks who were known as hoodlums – though compared to the Sharks and the Jets we were almost clean-cut. The Georges made fun of  the singing, especially in Tony’s death scene, while Kathy and I cried our hearts out.

Over the years I’ve seen WSS so many times I’ve lost count, but it must be, conservatively speaking, around 40. I remember people I saw it with, events surrounding it, and I know chunks of the script and the entire soundtrack by heart. I have tortured people with drunken recitations of Anita’s parting speech to the Jets after they (probably) rape her, and Maria’s oration after Tony dies.

Not many people can claim West Side Story as their very first movie, but my son can. I took Daryl to see it when he was 4; he took one look at Riff (Russ Tamblyn) dancing in the alley with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, and whispered, “I want to be in the movies.” Silly realistic Mommy said, “You are in the movies.” He pointed to the screen and said “No. Up there.” (I should’ve known then and there this kid was going to be trouble.)

Around the time of my 38th birthday VCR’s had just come out, so I bought one and held a WSS party for a few close friends. The next year I held an enormous party billed as Marcy’s First Annual 39th Birthday Party. Some people stayed the whole weekend, and naturally WSS ran several times.

Someone told me the reason I can keep seeing it is because there’s so much in it, on so many levels. To this day I still find new elements. When I saw it through Shakespeare’s eyes, a la Zeferelli’s Romeo and Juliet, all I could think was how cleverly the WSS writers had updated Shakespeare. When I saw it at the Castro Theater, I realized that most of the Jets’ actors were gay. (By the way, judging by the search Engine Terms leading people to this post, people seem to think George Chakiris is gay; as far as I know, he is not.) At the Paramount in Oakland I saw it through the eyes of  young black men, a bunch of whom tittered when the Jets first started dancing, but halfway through the Jet Song they stopped, and remained enrapt and silent for the duration. Even yesterday, when I slid it into the DVD player after my NPR call, I understood for the first time that the opening number, when the Sharks and Jets chase one another all over New York, tells the history of Puerto Rican immigration, with the Sharks increasing their numbers as the scene goes on.

West Side Story is not only a great movie, it’s one of the finest works of art produced in America. The list of those who worked on it includes Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins and Stephen Sondheim, geniuses all. Take a look in Movie Database for the rest of the credits.

When I called TOTN yesterday, I held a full page of scribbled notes – but after I rattled some of them off to the show’s telephone screener, she asked if anything in the movie “doesn’t hold up.” I told her some of the love scenes don’t, and she said I should be sure to mention that. I idiotically obeyed her, evoking an argument from Rita Moreno! Now I realize the screener was trying to inject conflict, always more interesting than pure love. What I said isn’t even true; I never liked some of those love scenes, because Richard Beymer plays Tony as a wimpy candy-ass. What miscasting! But hey, nothing’s perfect. Still, what I wish I’d told Rita is that when she dances on the roof during the America number, I come pretty close to orgasm.

Happy West Side Story Day!

And remember, I’m always available for another viewing — if you can tolerate my singing along!

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Yankee Collapse

Blecch!

I’ve never seen the Yankees play so poorly. They stranded players — bases loaded — twice. A-Rod was dramatic, as usual, in his  fuck-ups. Mariano Rivera, the only reliable pitcher, did a 1-2-3 out 9th inning, but there was nothing there to save: the score was 3-2 Detroit. I’m so mad at them — I’m not even sad, don’t feel sorry for them, I’m just pissed off at the way they threw away the pennant and the chance to play in the

World Series. Joe Girardi made his usual idiotic choices; I can’t help wondering if George Steinbrenner would fire him, were he alive. Nobody talks about firing Girardi.

Most likely it was Posada‘s last game as a Yankee, probably in baseball altogether. When asked about it, he turned away to hide his tears.

I fell in love with the Tigers‘ manager, Jim Leyland, a cool and warm guy if you know what I mean; it’s all there in his eyes. Two years older than me, he smokes and defends it. Because of him I’m rooting for the Tigers to annihilate the Texas Rangers, owned by right-wing conservative Nolan Ryan, who’s pals with  George Bush. So at least there’s a team to care about; usually once the Yanks go so do I.

I got to see Moneyball at last. Very entertaining, but I hate it that audiences now think Billy Beane is some kind of hero. He isn’t. Just take one look at where the Oakland A‘s are today, and at what BB’s been doing on the side (lecturing to financial companies) and draw your own conclusions.

Also, while it’s true that the statistical method he used to choose players, sabermetrics, worked well for awhile and was adopted by other teams to a certain degree, Beane went way too far with it. Baseball is a game with heart, and done by the numbers it wouldn’t be the same. What kind of person bases the fate of players and teams on statistics? A cold person, IMO. In fact, I read that the movie producers put the storyline of his daughter in  just to humanize the guy.

So the Yankee season’s over, and soon the rest of baseball will be also. I just wish I’d had time to write more about it this year. As they say in the game: Wait’ll next year!

Athletes as Role Models: Michael Oher

Michael Oher at Baltimore Ravens Training Camp...

Michael Oher at Baltimore Ravens Training Camp August 5, 2009 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whenever a sports scandal erupts – Barry Bonds’s perjury, Kobe Bryant’s alleged rape – and people start shouting that it’s practically a crime against children who look to athletes as role models, I get mad – or at least I used to. Why, I shout back, must a ball player be a paragon of virtue off the field? Why does he owe it to kids? It’s a helluva responsibility to lay on a guy who just wants to bat a ball, or throw it through a basket, or run umpteen yards with it. Something about this seemed very wrong to me. Besides laying a trip on athletes, it comes from an assumption that performing well in a game is something kids should aspire to, rather than looking up to, say, firefighters, great thinkers, or their own hard-working parents.


The other day, though, I heard an interview with Michael Oher, the football player on whose life The Blind Side was based, and it turned my head around so fast I got whiplash. Oher told Terry Gross on Fresh Air that at the age of seven (7!) he decided he didn’t want to live the way his parents and his friends in the projects did: he wanted out. That a seven-year-old could know this is astonishing, and Gross asked just how he’d come to that conclusion so early on. Oher’s answer consisted of two words: Michael Jordan.

The one thing that kids from almost all backgrounds can access is sports — that is, televised sports. Little Michael Oher watched basketball, saw a young man named Michael Jordan play incredibly well, and became inspired, not to play ball himself; that came later. Jordan inspired him to change the direction of his life.

Remarkably for a seven-year-old, Michael Oher saw beyond Jordan’s athleticism: he understood his character. He saw the hard work, the persistence, the grace of Jordan on the court, and somehow, on a visceral level, he grokked the essence of a good man. (Grok: to understand intuitively–from Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land.)

Oher’s mother was a crack addict, his father seldom around. Most of the kids he grew up with unthinkingly

followed the well-worn clichéd path involving drugs, gangs, and violence. As Oher says, “The odds against me were almost prohibitive”considering the statistics. These were brought home to him when he did research for his recently released book, I Beat the Odds, written with Dan Jaeger.


Writing a book after the movie is an unusual thing to do. Oher had no literary aspirations, but the movie generated so many letters from kids, he felt obliged to write his story. Just as Michael Jordan was his role model, kids today are turning to Michael Oher as their role model.

Because of Michael Oher, the idea of athletes serving as role models has begun to make more sense to me. Athletes can show kids whose lives are devoid of positive adult role models that some people live differently, that health and pride and glory are all possible, and – though Oher did not mention race – that a black man can reach heretofore unimaginable heights.

I haven’t totally changed my opinion about the way our culture elevates ball players into heroes while ignoring the heroes who teach, take care of children, or drive an ambulance. But because of Michael Oher, I get it that sports figures stand in as role models for kids who really need them. I’m beginning now to grok it.

My Personal, Quirky, and Wildly Eclectic Cultural List for 2010

 

 

 

As I recently said on my post about the Millionaire Matchmaker, I’d hoped to compile a list of all the movies, books, and other cultural items I’ve ingested during the year 2010. Lacking time and energy to complete it, I’m just going to post what I managed to finish. I’m in awe of those critics who post Best Of lists, considering they must have read and seen a lot more than the ones they choose as “Best.” Me, I just dump everything – best, worst and middling – in the same place. I can barely get it together to do that.

 

 

 

First-Run Films

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

 

The Kids Are All Right. As the first mainstream movie about lesbian parents, this of course stirred up a bit of controversy. I found it to be a fun, enjoyable movie, if marred by an implausible ending. Full review here.

Religulous: Bill Maher’s funny, intelligent rant on religions across the spectrum held my interest for the first hour, but eventually got repetitive. Still, bless Bill Maher, even if he doesn’t accept blessings. I’m almost always in agreement with his views, so naturally I think the world needs his intelligent outspokenness, and more media figures like him.

 

Hereafter:  In contrast to the above, this movie explores the spiritual dimension and what might happen after we plotz. It’s a subject I’m always drawn to, and I was expecting at least a glimpse of enlightenment from Clint Eastwood’s take on it. Unfortunately, he didn’t contribute much of anything new to the conversation. Everything in here was said by the hospice movement and people who’ve had NDE’s (near-death experiences) over two decades ago. A rarity from Clint Eastwood: disappointing.

Inception: The premise –people can enter other people’s dreams and change them – is intriguing, so, despite knowing this would be replete with explosive special effects, which I usually can’t abide, I went to see it. I tried hard to stay alert and to follow the plot for the first half hour or so, but finally gave in to, first, annoyance, and second, boredom. Finally I fell asleep, jerked awake every now and then by an on-screen explosion. I suppose it’s unfair to ‘dis a movie I slept through, but there’s a reason I slept through it.

Going the Distance: A romantic comedy about a couple who try to keep their love alive, shuttling back and forth between their respective home bases in New York and San Francisco. 
Drew Barrymore is, as always, a joy in both appearance and performance, and this is a pretty funny movie. Still, it paled by comparison to another romantic comedy that came out months later:

Love and Other Drugs: This was THE best film I saw in 2010; apparently I’m alone in my opinion. The movie didn’t get a Golden Globe nomination, though the actors — Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhall —  did; nor is it getting much press on Best lists. On a recent radio show about the year in film, speculation was that the subplot, centered on the main character’s younger brother, destroyed the movie with its inanity. Also, the relationship story skittered all over the place, so audiences didn’t know what to make of it. Now, I’m the first to underestimate the capabilities of movie-goers, but I
can’t believe that people didn’t get this picture of a real relationship (hence the many shifts in tone). I wouldn’t be surprised if the critics’ problem with Love… stems from the many sXXXplicit scenes. Which, as well as being emotional, advance the relationship and the plot, and are aesthetically pleasing, to say the least (look at him!). Many levels to the relationship and the movie; It has a lot to say about values and the way we choose to live our lives.

Social Network: I can’t believe I forgot to include Social Network on my list (I’m adding this to the list weeks later), especially considering it looks to be the big winner of the awards season. I loved it — thought it was engaging, interesting, and well-acted. Best of the Year, though? I dunno–the pickings are slim when something like this gets so many raves. I remember when Big Important Movies got chosen as Best. OTOH, maybe Social Network is a Big Important Movie.

Little Fockers: Totally trashed by the critics, Little Fockers was nonetheless the best-selling movie of Xmas weekend, no doubt because it was just about the only comedy playing. I knew it’d be a stretch to dredge up anymore humor from these characters, and it was. One running gag centers around twins who look nothing like one another: the girl is huge and smart, while the boy is little and dumb. “Jokes” about suffering children just aren’t funny. Harvey Keitel and Laura Dern were thrown into the mix for their star power; a half-minute scene between DeNiro and Keitel was the best bit in the movie. I sure hope they don’t try for a fourth go-round.

Older Movies (Via DVD or TV), rated with the 5-star system

****Heat and Dust (second viewing)

***Michael Jackson (his swan song)

***Being Julia

***The US v. John Lennon

***Yoo Hoo Mrs. Goldberg

**The Ballad of Jack and Rose

***The Bucket List

***Angels in the Outfield (Second viewing)

 

 

 

 

Books

The Appeal : While I could never subsist on a steady diet of John Grisham, he’s good for an occasional jaunt. The Appeal was, unlike most of his books, a bit depressing, without even a hopeful ending. Because of it, though, I will never again regard an electoral campaign for a judge in the same way, and in this last election I declined to vote for any judicial candidates. In an afterword, Grisham warns, “As long as private money is allowed in judicial elections we will see competing interests fight for seats on the bench.” Actually the whole book is a warning – and a highly effective one.

Deer Hunting With Jesus by Joe Bageant: See his website. Defender of every average Joe, whether plumber or bartender, this guy writes great radical critiques of America from a working-class POV.

Not Much Fun: The Lost Poems of Dorothy Parker: Maybe they weren’t much fun for her, but for readers they definitely are. Just don’t consume too many at one time or you just might want to go out and shoot someone – or yourself.

 

Jane Bites Back by Michael Thomas Ford. This is a hilarious page-turner. Ford and his twisted mind take the reader on a roller-coaster ride that made me wonder why I’ve shunned the vampire genre up until now. Actually, JBB doesn’t fall into any genre, fangish or otherwise, but is a novel/romance/satire / mystery all rolled into one. Jane, by the way, is Ms. Austen, undead in a remote little town in upstate NY. Ford, who (full disclosure) is a friend, has a sequel in the works. Complete review here.

Confessions of a She-Fan: The Course of True Love with the New York Yankees: Jane Heller, a writer and passionate Yankee fan, served notice in an op-ed piece for the New York Sunday Times her intention to “divorce” the team. The huge angry response she got from readers spelled out book contract, so Heller went on the road to follow the team. The result is the first book about baseball (as far as I know) that talks about the game from the perspective of a woman. Full review here.

 

The Beauty of Love: A Memoir of Miracles, Hope, and Healing: Yankee catcher Jorge Posada and wife Laura tell the gut-wrenching story of their son, born with a condition called craniosynostosis. If untreated, it can cause seizures, visual impairment, misalignment of the spine, and / or developmental delays. He was operated on at nine months old, at two, and at three, altogether racking up eight complicated, 12-hour surgeries in his first six years of life. The Posadas describe, in alternating chapters, how each evolved “from victims to warriors.” Full review here.

Frank Lloyd Wright, OR, My Mid-Year Mania: It all began with The Women by T.C. Boyle; I’d read several of Boyle’s books and loved every one, so I bought this historical novel about Wright’s life, his eccentricities, and his work, told from the vantage points of the four significant women in his life. Despite the poorly chosen title, Boyle managed to pass along the intensity of his own obsession with the man. Wright was a visionary who juggled massive building projects and complicated households of lovers, children and apprentices, without a steady income and without being able to pay those who worked for him half the time. The house he built as a home base for his empire, Taliessin, burned down at least twice, rising from the ashes like the phoenix, and was rebuilt each time despite there being no money for materials or labor.

 

The beginning of Wright’s story is told by his first wife Catherine; next comes Mamah, his soul mate who was brutally murdered; then there was Miriam, an evil nutcase who manipulated him into a relationship; and finally Olgivanna, the last Wright duchess who carried on his name and work at Taliessin for many years after his death. After I finished The Women, I wanted to know  more about Wright’s architecture, and read Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, the New York Times architecture critic (I wonder why the names of books about Wright are so unimaginative). After that I did my own online research and rented several video tours of Wright’s houses. See where a novel can lead? Who needs school?

On Beauty by Zadie Smith: A page turner with a lousy ending.  I’m lately noticing that too many books, short stories, and movies, simply go kerplunk at the end. You can tell the writer had no idea how to end things. Sometimes these abrupt or, the opposite, hanging endings can ruin everything that came before. Anyhow, I liked Smith’s earlier book, White Teeth, much better than this one: it was fresh and new, with a broad view of contemporary London.

 

The Help by Kathryn Stockett: I read this at the start of 2010, and I wish I’d written about it while it was still fresh in my mind. The story of black maids in the South during the 1950’s, it’s a riveting page-turner with the ring of truth, and it’s based on truth: the author is a white woman from the South who lived it out. Here are some links to stories about the book and the writer.

California Literary Review: http://calitreview.com/2526

Interview w/ KS: http://www.bookbrowse.com/author_interviews/full/index.cfm/author_number/1663/Kathryn-Stockett

Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood. These two books, along with The Help, were the best books I read this year – they were certainly the most profound. Atwood’s vision of a future dystopia is staying with me a long time. While Oryx and Crake was written first, I read The Year of the Flood before it; I think if I had not, I wouldn’t have liked the earlier book as much as I did. Flood is much juicier, with more characters and events, and because I didn’t want to leave Atwood’s world when I finished it I immediately got the other book. I don’t think it would have worked the same way in reverse.

Just Kids by Patti Smith: A memoir of her relationship with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, this book won the 2010 National Book Award in the genre. Before she became the godmother of punk rock, before she sang one song or read one poem in public, Patti Smith fantasized becoming the wife, or the muse, of a great artist whom she could nurture and support. (I guess you can take the girl out of the frilly dress, but you can’t take away her frilly-girl fantasies.) Patti found her great artist in the person of Robert Mapplethorpe and for a few years lived out her dream on a grand scale. They lived in the Chelsea Hotel, where they did their art and, more significantly, bumped into and befriended people like Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, the Warhol Factory crowd, and a cast of thousands. In Max’s Kansas City she met Sam Sheppard, with whom she had a torrid affair, while Robert was off exploring his homosexuality. From their first meeting in a Brooklyn apartment to their last moments before Robert died of AIDS, it’s a romantic, poignant tale of eternal soul-mate friendship written in poetic prose. It’s also a vivid evocation of a remarkable time and place.

Whew! It took almost as long to write this as to read and see everything!

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