Call Me 37 Today

October 8, 2008 at 10:43 am | Posted in LIfe, Reading | 36 Comments
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Well, the day has finally arrived and I can no longer say that I am 36.  Well, I was born at around 9:50pm, so I could wait to say I’m 37 until tonight, but that’s being a little ridiculous (although if you agree with the whole date and time thing,  you’ll make me exceedingly happy right up until 9:49pm).

Seriously, 36 was a wonderful year.  I feel that I’ve come into my own in my career and as a book blogger.  I have read 70 books since my last birthday and have reviewed 64. It would be hard for me to pick out a favorite from during that time, but the books that have stood out in my 37th year are The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff, Gardens of Water by Alan Drew, The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner, The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George, The Witch’s Trinity by Erika Mailman, Trauma by Patrick McGrath, Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan, Aberrations by Penelope Przekop, The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson, and Sweetsmoke by David Fuller.

The best blogging experience I had personally revolved around Love is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield.  I bought this book for my husband, but read it first.  Little did either of us know that this would have a personal connection for my husband.  He was friends with Rob’s wife Renee.  We had a great time going through his pictures from that era and we posted one of Renee.  It always irritates me when there is no pictures in memoirs because I want to know what the people look like.  In this case, Danny was able to supply that for me.  It was also really neat to listen to the tape of his band singing The Beverly Hillbillies theme song to the tune of R.E.M.’s Talk about the Passion.  That whole experience was wonderful.

Best of all, I’ve met some of the most wonderful people last year.  From authors, to publicists, to my fellow book bloggers, to my readers.  I won’t name any because I don’t want to leave anyone out.  My life is richer because of you all.

I hope that everyone has a beautiful, beautiful day!

#83 ~ Admit One

July 6, 2008 at 10:27 pm | Posted in Books, Family, LIfe, Memoir, Reading | 8 Comments
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Cover to Admit One

Admit One: A Journey into Film by Emmett James

When I was offered the opportunity to read this memoir, I was extremely excited. I’ve always loved movies and this love is something my husband and I share in common. Danny studied to work in film during college, where he worked very hard to create and direct his senior project. I believe that if my husband were to ever write a memoir it would be a combination of Admit One and Love is a Mix Tape (hopefully without the widower connection). Knowing that my husband and James shared a similar passion made this book a must read for me.

Admit One details the childhood and early acting career of Emmett James as framed by the films that have impacted his life. A different movie provides the backdrop of each of the 22 stories making up this book. From The Jungle Book to It’s a Wonderful Life, James shares his memories and what he learned about life in both Croydon, South London and Los Angeles, CA. If you are a film lover, you will appreciate that James writes about the way this medium can interweave with our lives and shape our perspective on what it means to live.

Reading this memoir brought back a lot of wonderful memories for me. I believe that almost everyone has tried to dig to China or Australia (or vice versa) during childhood. It was the first thing Emmett James did after seeing Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. At first his dig started out as an archaeological excursion in search of some Indy-worthy treasures. After coming up empty, he changed his motivation entirely and that made this chapter came alive for me. There is something about watching dramatic representations of other people that can drive both the young and old take on the characteristics of heroes or even glamorous villains if only in our imaginations. That is the true beauty and worth of film.

Unlike for the James family, a trip to the movie theater was an infrequent yet beloved treat in our household. It was a reward for a semester’s good grades, or more often an excuse for my father to see an adventure film. Being of a similar age to the author, my childhood was likewise shaped by E.T., the original Star Wars trilogy, The Karate Kid, The Wizard of Oz, and Ghostbusters. Although our backgrounds are extremely different, we could most certainly communicate clearly and concisely using the language of movies. Reliving my life through each of these films, among others, was the best part of reading this book.

Whereas film has brought a great deal of joy to the author’s life and ultimately brought him to Hollywood’s door, this memoir isn’t entirely happy. James’ relationship to his family is distant and even a little cold. In the same section where he is dreaming of uncovering precious artifacts, James reminisces about the last time his family went to a movie together. He wishes he could recapture that experience once again, but the rest of his story is about moving further and further away – first emotionally, and then physically. When he writes that “movies have always meant everything to [him],” I believe that they have become his family in a way that his flesh and blood family never did. I can’t help but feel saddened by that.

In addition to weaving film throughout his stories, I enjoyed this peek at what life was like for a young boy growing up in a working to middle class neighborhood in South London. Once James left England and became acclimated to Hollywood, I felt that the book started to lose its direction. While he did learn about himself and what he wanted out of life working on the set of Lap Dancing, I’m not it was deserving of an entire chapter. It could have been tightened up and combined with Honeymoon in Vegas. I was also surprised by what he chose to write about when discussing Titanic, I eagerly anticipated reading about being directed by James Cameron or acting opposite Kathy Bates. Instead, he describes both the poverty of Mexico and an odd and somewhat alarming experience with a cab driver. As a result, those chapters lack the cohesion I felt throughout the rest of the memoir.

At its heart, Admit One is a love letter to film. The author rightly points out that movies can have a powerful effect on viewers. They can serve as entertainment, promote wonder and imagination, educate, help us communicate with one another, and challenge us. In addition to being a lover of film, James has the added pleasure of being a working actor in Hollywood. It is his passion for his life’s work that made this book a reality, and I was not disappointed. If you ever wanted to ride your BMX through the sky or fight storm troopers with your very own light saber, this is the book for you.

To buy this book, click here.

#68 ~ Love is a Mix Tape

May 4, 2008 at 9:59 pm | Posted in Books, College Life, Inspiration, LIfe, Memoir, My Life with Books, Reading | 11 Comments
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Cover of Love is a Mix Tape

Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time by Rob Sheffield

I found out about this book from Pop Candy, my favorite pop culture blog written by Whitney Matheson. As soon as I found out what this memoir was about, I had to buy it.. It tells the story of a man’s life and, more specifically, his love life, through his mix tapes. Rob Sheffield sounded just like my husband to me. I bought it for Danny, but I knew that I would eventually read it myself. So, when I found myself without a book I had to read, I plucked this off of the bookshelf having no idea what type of impact it would have on me.

A little background…

I “met” my husband in 1995 on Dreamscape, an Internet talker that required users to enter commands to do or say anything to anyone else. At that time I was obsessed – there is no other word for it as much as I care to deny it – with Michael Stipe. As ZenLauda, I would go on and see how fast I could get everyone to say something – anything – about Stipe. Of course, if someone said something nasty, I excommunicated that person from my persona. One time I brought Stipe up and HoneyPoison said, “Stipe is unripe.” I nearly axed HP, but then I didn’t and I don’t know why. I’d banished others for less. This started a long conversation about R.E.M. and music in general (Danny was in a band called “Ancient Astronauts” in 1989) that continues on to this day. I fell in love with him at an R.E.M. concert in Greensboro in 1995 and I moved to southwest Virginia 8 months later. The rest is history.

R.E.M. Monster era

The first thing I remember Danny giving me was a mix tape entitled 24 in honor of my 24th birthday. Most of the music on it was new to me and stuff that I still love today – Julian Cope‘s “China Doll,” Died Pretty‘s “D.C.,” and Miracle Legion‘s “You’re The One Lee” were my favorites, but the rest was great. Reading this book made me very nostalgic for that tape. Sheffield’s descriptions of the time and energy he puts into his mixes rings true to this woman made to another mixer. You know that you mean something to a man or woman like that when they make you a mix tape. In fact, one of the first things Danny thought to do after meeting our oldest daughter’s birth mother was to make her a mix tape for when we saw her after Emma was born. Knowing all of what goes into a mix, it’s one of the saddest things ever when a person being gifted with a mix tape doesn’t understand the significance.

Back to the book…

Sheffield grew up in Boston in a world of his own where all outside stimuli filtered into him through music. He loved music like nothing and no one else. From school to Catholic summer camp he tried to impress his peers with his mix tapes or, when necessary, he escaped into them. It wasn’t until he was in college that he made himself break out of his shell. And it is in grad school at the University of Virginia that he met Renee Crist, an Appalachian girl who stole his heart from the very beginning.

When you live in southwest Virginia, it’s not every day that you pick up a book and it starts talking about places you’ve been or places you live. Renee was born in Georgia, but she grew up in Pulaski and attended Hollins College (now University) where I earned my Master’s degree. She lived in Roanoke for a time before heading to Charlottesville, where she met and feel in love with Rob. As he describes when he fell in love with her, the connection to Danny grew even stronger than I ever could have expected:

I squeezed into a booth next to her and we talked about music. She told me that you can sing the “Beverly Hillbillies” theme to the tune of R.E.M.’s “Talk about the Passion.” That was it, basically; as soon as she started to sing “Talk about the Clampetts,” any thought I had of not falling in love with her went down in some serious “Towering Inferno” flames. It was over. I was over.

While in Roanoke, Renee met Danny and hung around in the same circles with him. At one point, she was roommates with Claudia, the wife of Danny’s good friend from high school. While in Roanoke, Renee heard the Ancient Astronauts play “Talk about the Clampetts,” a song Danny, the lead singer, mashed up himself. Danny is responsible for Rob and Renee getting together and, therefore, responsible for this book being written!

Click here to listen to a live performance of “Talk about the Clampetts” performed by the Ancient Astronauts in 1989:

When we figured out that this book was about Renee Crist (at midnight on a work night – I didn’t end up getting much sleep), Danny went into his closet and pulled out his shoe box of pictures. In that box he found a picture of her with Jimm (with two Ms), the same person who was seeing when she moved to Charlottesville.

Renee Crist and Jimm

After seeing the picture of her at a New Year’s Eve party, this book came alive to me in a way I’ve never experienced before. Not only was it a reminder of the time when I first fell in love with my husband, my reading of Love is a Mix Tape became a couple’s project. It set us off on a mini archaeological dig of Danny’s musical past, and I’ve always wanted to be an archaeologist.

Reading Sheffield’s memoir made me feel very happy to be alive in a world of music and mix tapes. If you love music and have ever made a mix tape – even if you ever just taped songs off of the radio, you will enjoy this book.

To buy this book, click here.

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