Oscar’s Week: Books at the Movies

Oscar-statue

On Sunday, February 28, 2016, the Academy Awards will be presented to actors, directors, videographers, music makers, costumers, special effects masters, sound engineers, make-up artists,  . . . oh, yeah, and a few writers. Two actually: one for best original screenplay and one for best adapted screenplay.

Yet where would the silver screen be without the men and women who put the words, the scenes, the feelings and atmosphere on the page to be interpreted? Let’s give some credit where credit is due.

This week, I’d like to focus some attention on books and the movies. Today’s entry: books about the movie industry.

BlondeBlonde, by Joyce Carol Oates. The interior life of a bleached blonde bombshell movie star whose career is a lot like Marilyn Monroe, though Oates always calls this a work of fiction and not a biography. It is heart-rending: the torturous thoughts and abusive treatment of this woman who finds her worth determined by the men around her, their use of her body, her face, her aura . . . and it is never enough.

“I live now for my work. I live for my work. I live only for my work. One day I will do work deserving of my talent & desire. One day. This I pledge. This I vow. I want you to love me for my work. But if you don’t love me I can’t continue my work. So please love me! – so I can continue my work. I am trapped here! I am trapped in this blond mannequin with the face. I can only breathe through that face! Those nostrils! That mouth! Help me to be perfect. If God was in us, we would be perfect. God is not in us, we know this for we are not perfect. I don’t want money & fame. I want only to be perfect. The blond mannequin Monroe is me & is not me. She is not me. She is what I was born. Yes I want you to love her. So you will love me. Oh I want to love you! Where are you? I look, I look & there is no one there.”

A Touch of Stardust, by Kate Alcott. Star-struck young woman moves from the Midwest to stardustHollywood, land of dreams, not to become a star but to become a writer! She finds work as Carole Lombard’s assistant during Lombard’s marriage to Clark Gable while Gable was filming Gone With the Wind. A behind-the-scenes, intriguing look at Hollywood in the thirties and how women like Lombard, who had power, and those without, managed to stay and make their mark in the game.

“Movies teach us how to do that,’ Carole had confided. ‘Create a set, sprinkle a touch of stardust. Who gives a shit if it’s real? Just make it good enough to believe.”

AudreyBeing Audrey Hepburn, by Mitchell Kriegman. This coming-of-age book centers on a young, Manhattanite who tries on Audrey’s Breakfast at Tiffany‘s Givenchy dress and changes her life. Not my favorite book about the movies, or about Audrey Hepburn. But it qualifies.

Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter. Now this, THIS is a book. I’ve exalted Jess Walter’s glorious BeautifulRuins_small-330-exptome before on this blog. In summary, this is a big, gooey, interlocking glory of a book with Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Italy, Hollywood, screenwriters, actors, producers and World War 2. My goodness, if you haven’t read it, buy it right now. Full review here: https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2014/08/17/simply-beautiful-beautiful-ruins-by-jess-walter/

“Weren’t movies his generation’s faith anyway- its true religion? Wasn’t the theatre our temple, the one place we enter separately but emerge from two hours later together, with the same experience, same guided emotions, same moral? A million schools taught ten million curricula, a million churches featured ten thousand sects with a billion sermons- but the same movie showed in every mall in the country. And we all saw it. That summer, the one you’ll never forget, every movie house beamed the same set of thematic and narrative images…flickering pictures stitched in our minds that replaced our own memories, archetypal stories that become our shared history, that taught us what to expect from life, that defined our values. What was that but a religion?”

Get_Shorty_(novel)
Get Shorty
, by Elmore Leonard. Want a quick, funny, off-beat take on the movies by

America’s master of funny, off-beat crime novels? Chili, a Miami loan shark, decides it’s time for him to get into the movies. From there, chaos ensues.

tycoonThe Last Tycoon, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald’s great unfinished novel about America’s obsession with movies, stars, and money. “You can take Hollywood for granted, like I did, or you can dismiss it with the contempt we reserve for what we don’t understand. It can be understood, too, but only dimly and in flashes. Not half a dozen men have ever been able to keep the whole equation of pictures in their heads.”

Crowned Heads, by Thomas Tryon. This actor-turned-writer is most famous for The Other, a best-selling horror novel from 1971 turned into a movie. But Crowned Heads is the book that haunts me. I read it in high school (warning: do not give to young readers) and the story about the movie star with a warped relationship with her plastic surgeon haunts me to this day.

1-louise-brooks-ca-late-1920s-everettChaperone, by Laura Moriarty. An unfortunately lifeless tale of the woman who
accompanied Louise Brooks to New York City as she became a star. Full review here: https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/on-the-way-to-hollywood-louise-brooks-and-the-chaperone-by-laura-moriarty/

 

Marilyn_Monroe_in_Gentlemen_Prefer_Blondes_trailer

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Falling: The Rocks by Peter Nichols

mallorca

Have you ever thought that life would all make sense when you got to the end of it and looked back? Have you identified those moments, decisions, actions in which life changed course immediately? The Rocks, Peter Nichols’ second novel, raised these questions in my mind but didn’t answer them reassuringly. It did, however, give me a very enjoyable read.

When the book opens, it is 2005 and long-divorced couple Lulu and Gerald have encountered one another for the third time in the sixty years since their disastrous honeymoon, despite being two ex-patriot Brits living on the same small Spanish Island. The chance meeting at a local market, ends on the road to Lulu’s resort hotel, the Rocks.

Mallorca coast. Photo credit Pixabay.com

Mallorca coast. Photo credit Pixabay.com

[Gerald] caught up with Lulu just outside the Rocks. He grabbed her arm again with strength field by rage, and spun her round.

“You never — he stared, with a smoker’s bulling growl, but his chest was empty of air, heaving spasmodically.

Again, Lulu shook off his grip. But she was surprised and immensely pleased to see the effort Gerald had made, how overwrought, breathless, and unwell he was. It occurred to her that with just a nudge, he might easily die of a heart attack right in front of her. “You’re pathetic, Gerald. An empty, hobbling husk of a man.” A flame of old anger rose in her. “You’re a belter! A miserable, wretched shit of a fucking —

You never developed the film! Did you!” The furious, strangled world erupted wetly out of Gerald’s chest, his body pitching forward. “I lured them away! Do you understand? I got them away ! I — ” His blue-and-gray glistening face thrust into hers, but he had no more breath.

The encounter ends, shall we say, badly and without further explanation. Over the course of the next several hundred pages, Nichols leads the reader back in time through the lives of Gerald and Lulu, Gerald’s daughter Aegina and her child Charlie, Lulu’s son Luc and his frustrated careers, and illuminates motivations, temptations, sins, and omissions in reverse. The Rocks drops the reader into 2005, 1995, 1983, 1970, 1966, 1956, 1951, until, finally, we reach the beginning in 1948, and the revelation of what happened on Gerald and Lulu’s honeymoon voyage.

It reminded me a bit of one of my favorite novels of the last few years, Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, reviewed here: https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2014/08/17/simply-beautiful-beautiful-ruins-by-jess-walter/.

Emma Straub’s 2014 novel The Vacationers, https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2014/08/29/the-vacationers-by-emma-straub/ is also set during a disintegrating family’s vacation on Mallorca, but other than setting has little in common with The Rocks. 

Gerald Rutledge, my favorite character of the book, has devoted his life to three things: repeating Odysseus’ voyage and

John William Waterhouse, 1891

John William Waterhouse, 1891

finding the actual locations of incidents in The Odyssey; raising his daughter Aegina; and working and preserving his own little bit of Mallorcan paradise with its olive groves and lemon trees. Lulu, conversely, I didn’t like at all. She devotes her entire life, seemingly, to scheming revenges, neglecting her child, and plotting sexual pairings.

Kate Christensen, reviewer for the New York Times Book Review, read Nichols’ memoir Sea Change.

As I read, I had a series of “aha!” moments; the parallels between Nichols’s own life and marriage and those of his fictional characters were deeply satisfying to uncover. Nichols, like his character Luc, grew up partially on Mallorca, the son of divorced parents. Like the novel’s secondary lovers, Luc and Aegina, Nichols and his ex-wife met as children on the island, and their own romance failed, in part, because of their inability to transcend their childhood knowledge of each other and ­become adults together. The memoir, like the ­novel, contains a precipitous nautical elopement, dope smuggling in Morocco and a young wife held hostage by pirates. People getting into trouble, both on boats and in marriages, might be said to be the common theme between the two books.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/24/books/review/the-rocks-by-peter-nichols.html

I very much enjoyed The Rocks. The themes of regret, misunderstanding, romantic love and adventure will be excellent fodder for your book club’s discussion.

MENU

On board Szabo’s yacht, a luxurious menu is served.

Two young crewmen appeared with bowls of salad. They poured wine for each of the guests. . . . the plates were handed out: cold grilled quail with a reduced fig sauce, tiny warm new potatoes, avocado halves filled with pomegranate seeds, plates of toast with pate de foie gras.

Gerald’s own menu is much simpler: “Aegina had made the tumbet she had learned from her mother: a Mallorcan dish full of aubergines, tomatoes, onion, garlic, goat cheese, and olives from Gerald’s trees.”

This recipe for Mallorcan Tumbet fromSpanish Sabores blog looks like the genuine article:  http://spanishsabores.com/2013/09/15/mallorcan-tumbet-recipe/

MUSIC

Aegina listens to her father’s favorite records while painting. Those mentioned, pastoral music of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century English composers, are: “Vaughan Williams, Elgar, Butterworth, Holst, Finzi, Alwyn, Bantock, Parry, Bridge, Delius, Moeran.”

iTunes has a $7.99 album of Elgar’s music. Elgar: Enigma Variations, Introduction & Allegro. Spotify has an English Song Series by Butterworth you could play for free.

MOVIE CASTINGthe rocks

Gerald – Benedict Cumberbatch

Lulu – Emily Blunt

Luc – Jamie Bell

Aegina – Oona Chaplin

Happy Reading & Eating!

Easy links for purchase:

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Summer Reads 2015

dog_driving_carHeaded Out for A Little Fun in the Sun?  Want to take the perfect book(s) with you?

I thought I might be able to help.  All of these are in paperback, because I find it much more difficult to haul 5-8 hardbound books.  Any of the below books would be divine at the beach or the pool, on the campground or in the air.  I often try to match my reading to my destination, hoping to add a little insider info to my trip.  Just a tip.

Happy Vacating!

In Euphoria, Lily King’s intoxicating trek into the exotic locale of Papua, New Guinea, three anthropologists (Australian, euphoriaAmerican and British) find themselves far from home.  King’s anthropologists are simulacrums of Margaret Mead, her husband Reo Fortune and her future husband, Gregory Bateson.

Originally reviewed:  https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2015/01/17/love-in-the-time-of-malaria-euphoria-by-lily-king/

f_doerr_allthelight_fAnthony Doerr’s gorgeous novel won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize.  All The Light We Cannot See encompasses WW2 within an examination of the lives and worlds of two teenagers:  Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a blind French girl, and Werner Pfenning, a German whiz-kid desperate to live the coal mine fate of his home town of Essen.   Written mostly in the present tense, with recurring flashbacks throughout both children’s lives, All The Light progresses inevitably to their meeting during the siege of St.-Malo, France, in August of 1944.

Originally reviewed:  https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2014/12/16/all-the-light-we-cannot-see-by-anthony-doerr/

the secret place

Tana French has become one of my obsessions.  She publishes a new book, I must have it in hard back and begin reading immediately.  In the Woods, her first novel, remains my favorite of her five books; however, all are excellent.  Her most recent, The Secret Place, is my second favorite.  These are page-turning, mystery novels set in Ireland with a cast of realistic, driven and haunted characters.

BeautifulRuins_small-330-exp

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter.  On the rugged, Mediterranean coast of Italy, a land of five towns clings stunningly to the edge of the cliffs;  accessible only by boat, offering fresh seafood pulled daily from the Ligurian sea by men whose families have done the same for centuries and a hiding place from the modern world, the Cinque Terre seems just the place for Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor to have sought refuge during the filming of Cleopatra in Rome.  In Jess Walter’s sumptuous novel Beautiful Ruins, they do just this.  And the tale of the IT couple’s visit to Porto Vergogna, a lonely innkeeper, a starlet, star-crossed lovers, a wannabe screenwriter (whose big concept is “Donner!,” a movie about the Donner party,) a nauseating Hollywood producer and fifty years of frustrated confusion make the novel one of my top five reads.

Originally reviewed:  https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2014/08/17/simply-beautiful-beautiful-ruins-by-jess-walter/

VacationersA New York family brings a large set of first world problems to Mallorca, where even more challenges await:  a Spanish tutor both mom and daughter have the hots for, a retired Spanish tennis stud and lots of gorgeous food and descriptions and you have The Vacationers by Emma Straub.  https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2014/08/29/the-vacationers-by-emma-straub/

Other books that would make great traveling companions:  The 19th Wife, by David Ebershoff (Utah); Boy, Snow, Bird (Maine); Where’d You Go Bernadette, by Maria Semple (Seattle); The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion; The Perfume Collector, by Kathleen Tessaro (Paris), Dominance, by Will Lavender.

I’d love to hear what you’re reading!

Seaside Resort in the South of France 1927 by Paul Klee 1879-1940

Simply Beautiful: Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter

cinque_terre_italia_post_cards-rf9e368b5aed34f96846685dfbd9d1a20_vgbaq_8byvr_512

     On the rugged, Mediterranean coast of Italy, a land of five towns clings stunningly to the edge of the cliffs;  accessible only by boat, offering fresh seafood pulled daily from the Ligurian sea by men whose families have done the same for centuries and a hiding place from the modern world, the Cinque Terre seems just the place for Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor to have sought refuge during the filming of Cleopatra in Rome.  In Jess Walter’s sumptuous novel Beautiful Ruins, they do just this.  And the tale of the IT couple’s visit to Porto Vergogna, a lonely innkeeper, a starlet, star-crossed lovers, a wannabe screenwriter (whose big concept is “Donner!,” a movie about the Donner party,) a nauseating Hollywood producer and fifty years of frustrated confusion make the novel one of my top five reads.

Elizabeth-Taylor-Cleopatra-film-poster

    According to Jess Walter’s website (jesswalter.com), Beautiful Ruins has been recognized by just about everyone as one of the novels of the year 2012:

*Esquire’s Best book of 2012
*NPR-Fresh Air best Novel of 2012
*Audible and Salon best audio book of 2012
*New York Times Notable Book of the Year
*Washington Post Notable Book of the Year
*In UK, Guardian, Times and Sunday Times Best Books of the Year
*Best books of the year: Entertainment Weekly, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, San Francisco Chronicle, Miami Herald, Seattle Times, The Oregonian, St. Louis Today, Kansas City Star, Goodreads, Hudsons, Barnes and Noble, Amazon

Read the NYT review here:  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/08/books/review/beautiful-ruins-a-novel-by-jess-walter.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

   From the first sentence, the reader is immersed in the world of the book.

     The dying actress arrived in his village the only way one could come directly — in a boat that motored into the cover, lurched past the rock jetty, and bumped against the end of the pit.  She wavered a moment in the boat’s stern, then extended a slender hand to grip the mahogany railing; with the other, she pressed a wide-brimmed hat against her head.  All around her, shards of sunlight broke on the flickering waves.

     Twenty meters away, Pasquale Tursi watched the arrival of the woman as if in a dream.  Or rather, he would think later, a dream’s opposite:  a burst of clarity after a lifetime of sleep.

     How Pasquale Tursi (proprietor of the ingeniously-named “Hotel Adequate View”) winds up in the office of Hollywood producer Michael Deane some fifty years later must be left to the reader’s own enjoyment.  I won’t spoil a second of it.  I just want to feature one more passage from the book, which I read and re-read and it still makes me snort with laughter.

     The first impression one gets of Michael Deane is of a man constructed of wax, or perhaps prematurely embalmed.  After all these years, it may be impossible to trace the sequence of facials, spa treatments, mud baths, cosmetic procedures, lifts and staples, collagen implants, outpatient touch-ups, tannings, Botox injections, cyst and growth removals, and stem-cell injections, that have caused a seventy-two-year-old man to have the face of a nine-year-old Filipino girl.BeautifulRuins_small-330-exp

     Suffice it to say that, upon meeting Michael for the first time, many people stare open-mouthed, unable to look away from his glistening, vaguely lifeline face.  Sometimes they cock their head to get a better angle, and Michael mistakes their morbid fascination for attraction, or respect or surprise that someone his age could look this good, and it is this basic misunderstanding that causes him to be even more aggressive in fighting the aging process.

     The novel is now available in paperback and I urge you to read it.  Right now.  Read it yourself.  Add it to your book club’s reading list (for next month), recommend it to everyone you know.  It’s just that good.

MENU

My book club read this book in December and in order to tie the holidays and the book together, I presented the Italian Christmas Feast of the Seven Fishes.  You may want to go a bit simpler, but this is what I did, all accompanied by some beautiful Italian wines, of course.

1.  Bruschetta with anchovies (lots of these recipes on foodnetwork.com)

2.  Fried calamari (I ordered this)

3.  Artichoke and shrimp dip

4.  Potatoes topped with caviar and sour creme

5.  Cioppino

6.  Linguine with white clam sauce (I use the recipe on the can of clams!)

7.  Smoked salmon on toast points with cream cheese, capers, diced onions

Artichoke & Shrimp Dip:  1 cup of mayonnaise, 1 cup of parmesan cheese, 1 can of artichoke hearts and 1 cup of baby shrimp.  Put all in mixing bowl, mix until well blended.  Place dip in appropriate size baking dish and bake at 350 for 20 minutes or so, until hot and bubbly.

Potatoes:  Boil small potatoes until tender.  Scoop out top, leaving skin on.  Top with sour cream and a spoonful of caviar.

Cioppino:  Heat 1/3 cup olive oil in a large stockpot.  Add 2 chopped medium potatoes, 2 carrots, peeled and chopped, 1 onion chopped and 2 garlic cloves, chopped.  Season with salt and cook on medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until vegetables are tender.  Then turn the heat to high, add 3/4 cup dry dry Italian Pinot Grigio and deglaze pan, leaving brown bits in.  Cook until most of liquid evaporates.  Add 1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes, 1 cup water and 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes.  Reduce the heat to a simmer.  Cook and cover until the vegetables are tender.  After about 20 minutes, add 1 1/2 pounds of skinless white fish such as halibut, cod or char, cut into 3/4 inch chunks.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until cooked through.  Season the stew with salt to taste then drizzle with olive oil and serve.  (Adapted from Giada at Home cookbook by Giada de Laurentiis)

MUSIC

There’s a Cleopatra soundtrack from the 1963 movie with Taylor and Burton available on iTunes that would be really fun.  https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/cleopatra-original-motion/id62874833

If you are doing the book with the Seven Fishes at Christmas, you could also do a Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra Christmas album.

MOVIE

A movie is in the works and casting has actually begun.  http://variety.com/2013/film/news/imogen-poots-todd-field-beautiful-ruins-1200821017/  Imogene Poots will play Dee, the American ingenue.  But apparently the rest of the cast hasn’t been announced, or at least I couldn’t find it.

May I suggest:

Claire Silver:  Emily Blunt

Shane Wheeler:  Garrett Hedlund

Pasquale:  I hereby volunteer to go to Italy and conduct the casting search.

Michael Deane:  OH MY this is too fun.  Who to cast in this role?  You know, Tom Cruise did such a great job with this type of character in Tropic Thunder, it would be fun to see him in this type of role.  You absolutely couldn’t cast someone in their seventies — I don’t think.  Michael Douglas?  Bruce Willis?  I would have to go though with Danny DeVito I think.

   In conclusion, oh dear friends, DO READ this book.  You will adore it.

Cheers!