Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls

The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls
by Julie Schumacher
Delacorte Books for Young Readers (May 8, 2012)
240 pages
ISBN: 0385737734
Ages 12 and up 

Their mothers meet in a yoga class and start a mother-daughter book club, throwing together four teens who, were there anyone else still in town, would never dream of spending summer evenings together.  Julie Schumacher's The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls brings together Adrienne, a bookworm; CeeCee, one of the high school's royalty; Jill, whose main concern is her SAT scores; and Wallis, a brilliant outcast.  All four spend their summer hanging out at the pool and reading books for their upcoming AP English class and working on the class's required literary essay.

A friend of mine reviewed this book on Goodreads, and, though she gave it only two stars, I wanted to read it to find out what books the book club had chosen.  (Nothing I like better than a good book list.)  The unsinkable girls read the following:
  1. The Awakening by Kate Chopin,
  2. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros,
  3. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman,
  4. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin, and
  5. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.
Actually, I did kind of enjoy the book.  Schumacher uses literary devices to structure the book.  Each chapter begins with Adrienne's definition of a literary device, and then the chapter explores that device in terms of their story.  Chapter One's device is setting, and we find the girls in their setting:  the city pool.  The girls do more than read, getting up to some typical teenage behavior:  rebellious running around, drinking, and cliquish exclusion, with some atypical tragedy thrown in.

To buy from Amazon, click on titles below:
The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls
The Awakening
The House on Mango Street
The Yellow Wallpaper
The Left Hand of Darkness
Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Steele Smashing

Remington Steele (1982-1987)
Created by Robert Butler and Michael Gleason
Starring Pierce Brosnan and Stephanie Zimbalist
Featuring Doris Roberts

There's not much to recommend the eighties, that decade of rampant greed, big ugly hair, and garish fashion.  But there were a couple of bright spots for me:  my daughter's birth in 1981 and in 1982 the premiere of Remington Steele.  A vehicle for Stephanie Zimbalist, Remington Steele instead made a star of Pierce Brosnan.  Rumor has it there was much jealousy over the "bags and bags" of fan mail that Brosnan received.  How could anyone care about something as trivial as mail when she's lucky enough to work with Remington Steele, er, Pierce Brosnan?  Those piercing blue eyes and black hair.  That tall thin physique that clothes hung so well on.  That English accent with shades of Ireland.  Pierce Brosnan plays a rakish international jewel thief/art thief/pickpocket--just when you thought he couldn't be any hotter--who steps into the shoes of the imaginary Remington Steele and goes straight.

You see Laura Holt (Zimbalist) is a woman detective in a man's world.  Nobody takes her seriously, so she invents a male superior.  Now she's got clients lined out the door.  They all want to meet the mysterious Remington Steele, but, she tells them, "Mr. Steele works best in an advisory capacity."  In Episode One, The Remington Steele Detective Agency is hired to transport some rare gems, and the client insists on meeting Mr. Steele.  Pierce Brosnan's character, a charming career thief whose real name is not revealed, is posing as South African Special Agent Ben Pearson.  Evading some thugs leads to his assuming the Remington Steele identity.

When Laura does some detective work in "Pearson's" hotel room to learn his true identity, she discovers five passports, all with five different aliases, aliases which, she realizes, are all characters from Humphrey Bogart movies. Our charming con man cum Remington Steele is obsessed with classic cinema and turns to old movies repeatedly throughout the series to help solve their cases.  In the second episode he employs The Thin Man dinner scene to expose the killer of his good friend Wallace, a reformed criminal who was running a mission at the time of his death.  Says Remington of Wallace, "He was a nice man--and a hell of a burglar."

Remington Steele was the first detective show to blend romance, comedy, and mystery, often drawing from screwball comedies and film noir of the thirties and forties.  It was the first television program to employ the "will they or won't they" romantic device that has become so common in both television drama and comedy.  Think Niles and Daphne in Frasier.  Maddie and Davis in Moonlighting, the Remington Steele rip off.  In Season Two, Remington Steele acquires Mildred Krebbs (Doris Roberts aka Marie Barone of Everybody Loves Raymond) a middle-aged IRS employee who comes to work as a secretary/junior detective.  Mildred stands in for the every woman in the audience.  She's excited to find herself in the P.I. world.  Although she's over 50 and too old for Remington Steele, she's as captivated by him as anyone and fondly and reverently calls him "Boss."  Laura she treats as a mere coworker.

These days Stephanie Zimbalist works mostly in live theater.  Pierce Brosnan, who for a time was James Bond, still acts in films, though now he usually plays somebody's mean dad.  Still I go to all his movies, and I remember when he was Remington Steele.  For me--and Marge Simpson and probably countless women of a certain age--Brosnan will always be Remington Steele.   I remember how young he once was.  And I am reminded of how young I once was.

Click on links below to buy from Amazon:

Remington Steele: Season One
Remington Steele - Season Two
Remington Steele: Season Three
Remington Steele: Seasons Four & Five
Remington Steele - Seasons 1-5

Monday, June 4, 2012

Survey Says! Goodbye Richard Dawson (1932-2012) and Kathryn Joosten (1939-2012)

The world knows him as the kissing host of Family Feud in the seventies and eighties who coined the phrase "survey says!"  But to me Richard Dawson, who died at the age of 79 of esophageal cancer on Saturday, June 2, will always be Hogan's Heroes' conman/pickpocket Corporal Peter Newkirk, a role Dawson played from 1965 to 1971.  With Dawson's passing there are only two surviving Hogan's Heroes cast members:  Cynthia Lynn (Helga) and Robert Clary (LeBeau).

Character actress Kathryn Joosten, best known for her roles in Desperate Housewives and The West Wing, died Friday, June 1 of lung cancer.  She was 72.  I remember her as the heavy-smoking cafeteria lady on 3rd Rock from the Sun.  The recent series finale of Desperate Housewives centers around Joosten's character dying of lung cancer to the tune of Johnny Mathis's "Wonderful, Wonderful."  An inspiration to everyone of a certain age, Joosten took up acting at the advanced age of 42 when she began acting classes at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago.  She was 56 when she made the leap to Hollywood and went on to win two Emmys.  She proved you're never too old to do what you love.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Hippie Time Traveler

by Gordon Korman
Hyperion Book CH; Reprint edition (August 26, 2008)
224 pages
ISBN:   1423105168
Grades 5-9

Capricorn "Cap" Anderson has spent his whole life--all thirteen years of it--on Garland Farm, a communal farm started by his grandmother Rain in the sixties.  Once home to 14 families, its only remaining residents are Cap and Rain.  When Rain falls out of a plum tree and breaks her hip, Cap must move in with Mrs. Donnelly, a guidance counselor and former resident of Garland Farm, and her crabby teenage daughter.  Says Mrs. Donnelly on meeting Cap, "I looked at Capricorn Anderson and...I saw--not a case, but a time traveler, about to step into a world that had forgotten the sixties except for J.F.K. and the Beatles."

Having been home schooled and knowing nothing of the outside world--he's never watched t.v., never eaten pizza, never played a video game--Cap is totally unprepared for Claverage Middle School, or C Average as the students call it, which he must attend while Rain is recovering from her broken hip.  Cap is an obvious target for the school bullies.  He has never cut his hair, wears hemp clothes and tie-dyed shirts, plays Beatles music on his guitar, is a vegetarian, and practices T'ai chi on the lawn.  No wonder the popular kids decide to elect Cap president of the student body, a dubious honor, as tradition dictates that the biggest nerd in school is always nominated--and always wins.

Cap doesn't see how he can be president, since he doesn't know any one's name.  As he astutely points out, "Life certainly gets complicated when you know more than one person."  Schooled is a thought-provoking read.  Rigid conformity is certainly not a good idea, but is it wise to live completely off the grid with no contact with the modern consumerist society?  Is it fair to raise a child to completely reject society in favor of a more isolated self-reliant lifestyle?  But are there not many useful lessons to be learned in that self-reliant way of living that our modern world has forgotten?  Is there a way to blend the ideals of the sixties with the realities of the new millennium?  Though I found the ending rather pat and could envision a more satisfying one, the book is pure fun and laugh-out loud funny.  Everyone will fall for Capricorn Anderson, one of the most charming hippies the 21st century has ever known.

To buy from Amazon, click Schooled.