Bad News: 41,339 fans were missing from National’ Park in DC and 37,731 missing fans from Fenway Park.
Good News: More than four million baseball fans watched Nats v Yankees Opening night game on TV, the highest number since 2011. Add to that 2.7 million fans watched the Giants v Dodgers Opening game the same night, thus making this the most ever watched Opening Day in baseball.
Good News/ Bad News: Just prior to the start of the Nats v Yankees opener, it was announced that the MLB playoffs – assuming they occur – will be expanded from 10 to 16 teams, eight in each league. The first AND second place teams in each Division will all make the playoffs, plus the two teams with the next best records in each league. (See Winners & Losers for what this new playoff schedule may mean).
Good News/Bad News: The Red Sox and Yankees are both undefeated as of this morning, July 26, and are tied for first place in the AL East. (H/T Nick Nyhart)
And what can we expect according to the ever savy MillersTime Baseball Contests submissions?
Overwhelmingly these ‘prognosticators’ believe the Dodgers and Yankees will be in the World Series, with the Dodgers slightly favored to win it all.
The Nats and the Astros are the next most likely WS contestants.
Two contestants said the playoffs and WS would not occur.
And the usual delusional Chris Eacho believes the Orioles will win it all.
For those of you with nothing better to do, here is a partial list of what the MillersTime Baseball fans believe will be the takeaways from the 2020 season:
NL designated hitter will prove to be a good idea that should be permanently adopted.
It was a really bad idea to play the season (numerous variations of this takeaway).
Play without fans sucks (numerous variations of this takeaway).
People are still hungry for baseball which will draw very high numbers to telecasts.
No need to play 162 games ((numerous variations of this takeaway).
Short season means “every game matters” (numerous variations of this takeaway).
There will be a team nobody expects who will come out hot and get on a roll.
There will be a team everybody expects to win who will fall flat out of the gate and can’t make it up.
All Division races will be closer than typical.
Regular season will be virtually meaningless. Season will forever have an asterik (numerous variations of this takeaway).
DH rules aside in NL, more offense than defense, more runs/game and bloated ERAs (numerous variations of this takeaway).
Pitching adjusts better than batting to shorter season (numerous variations of this takeaway).
One contestant said his wife will hate him a little more than before the season started.
Spouses of baseball fans will not be as aggravated as usual.
Not a responsible thing to have done.
Fewer games, more at stake, so fans will be more engaged, and playoffs will draw more interest (numerous variations of this takeaway).
Creating fake fan noise will replace live fans.
Baseball fans will be healthier due to lack of access to baseball park food.
Fans matter (numerous variations of this takeaway).
Runner on 2nd in extra innings should be tried in 162 game season but not in the playoffs.
Aaron Judge will finally stop being treated like a star because he isn’t and never was.
Astros win it all, proving that sign stealing or no sign stealing, they can flat play.
Long term reduction in number of games in the future. Early April too early to start the season.
Because of no fans, no home team advantage, no sounds of baseball, quality of play slacks, but no cheating (too easy to get caught).
Short season will be used to explain many teams’ performances.
PS – I watched the entire Sox v O’s Opening game on a big TV and thoroughly enjoyed it, in part because the Sox won easily but also just to be able to spend 3 hours and 18 minutes with no concerns other than the usual ones that every Sox fan knows has learned to accept.
Here are the revised Contest questions for the ‘Proposed’ 60-Game Season:
Assuming the 60-game plan generally works, and the 2020 ‘season’ contains at least 45 games, how will your favorite team do?
Name your team and predict their win-lose record
for the 60 games.
Will they make the playoffs?
Will they make it to the WS?
Will they win the WS?
Name the three Division winners in the AL & the NL.
Prize: Assuming fans can safely attend games in 2021, join me for a Nats’ game of your choice, or I will join you for a game of your choice anywhere you choose.
True or False Questions:
The 60 game season will not happen as it is presently scheduled, i.e., the season will be shortened by anywhere between five to 60 games.
There will be at least one hitter with at least 100 AB who will hit .400 or higher. (Submitted by Zack Haile)
There will be no starting pitcher who wins 10 games or more.
No one will hit more than 23 HRs. (Submitted by Rob Higdon)
At least one team in each league will win 42 or more games?
One or more games in each of the three Divisions will be played in front of a crowd.
Only one Division winner will make it to the WS.
At least one MLB starting pitcher will win 8 games or more without a loss and at least one MLB starting pitcher will lose 8 games or more without a win.
Over the course of the 60-game season (or even if the season is shortened), the National League will outscore the American League for the first time in the last 45 seasons. (Ron Davis)
At least one of these teams (Red Sox, Angels, Giants, White Sox) will make it to the postseason. (Chris Boutourline)
Prize: Assuming there is a season next year, bring a friend and join me for a Nats’ game in 2021, or if you’re not able to make it to DC, perhaps I can make it to where you live, and we’ll see a game together.
Assuming there is a World Series,
Name the two teams who will make it to the WS.
Which one will win?
In how many games?
Tie-breaker: Which AL or NL Division will have the most wins?
Which AL or NL Division will have the least wins?
Prize: One ticket to a WS game in 2021, assuming there is a WS.
What will be the main ‘take aways’ from having a 60 game, or shorter, season? (I will ‘crowd source’ what I think are the top five answers, so everyone can partake in deciding who wins this Contest.)
On or about July 23rd or 24th, a 60 game ‘season’ will begin.
How far it will go, what it will be like (compared to an 162 games season), whether it will shortened by the virus, or is it possible there will be fans in the stadiums before the season ends?
No one knows the answers to those and a number of other questions about MLB in 2020.
But we do know some things:
Look at the two articles below, the first outlines the main the guidelines and ‘rules’ under which the teams will compete. The second is an attempt to calculate if a 60 game season will need asterisks in the baseball history books. (Ed. Comment: Of course it will, but for those of you who like to get into the ‘weeds’ of baseball, it’s an interesting look at how 60 games can be compared to 162 games.)
Whether or not you read either of these articles, I need your suggestions for a three question MillersTime Baseball Contest for 2020.
And I need them quickly.
By Sunday, July 5.
That way I can get the Contests out to everyone in time for you to submit your award winning answers prior to the first game.
So, see what you can come up with in regard to this “season like no other.”
Send them to me at Samesty84@gmail.com., and if one of your questions is chosen, you will be ‘entitled’ to a MillersTime Baseball Contest Winner T-Shirt.* (You can also make suggestions for the prizes for this year’s Contests.)
Deadline for Potential Questions: Sunday, July 5
Contests Will Be Announced by Friday, July 10
Submission for Your ‘Winning’ Answers Due by July 23rd.
Thanks again to BS and FH for suggesting that we hear from others about what they’re watching and enjoying during these troubling times.
So here’s the first list, and as soon as 15 more of you send in your choices, I’ll post a second version of this. Send me your recent most favorite movies and/or TV Series at Samesty84@gmail.com.
Da 5 Bloods, Spike Lee (Film). Absorbing storytelling, intense performances make this worth watching. Though long, it kept our attention and offered lots to discuss with friends who also watched the film. Note: there is a significant amount of violence.
My Brilliant Friend, based on the book, Italian with sub titles (Film). A saga with lots of characters that centers around two friends who grow from childhood to adulthood in Napoli. Lots of subplots, commentaries on gender and socio-economic disparities, mid-20th century southern Italy, and twists and turns in relationships (business, romance, family feuds) kept me interested. Note: the subtitles are not always easy to read.
Schitt’s Creek (TV Series) is funny, sometimes poignant, full of social commentary and quirky characters. The story of a wealthy family that loses it all, moves to small town they purchased back in the day as a joke, and live in the motel. It comes in short doses. Perfect for binging or watching an episode or two before drifting off.
Only show I would add to Edan Orgad’s submission below is This is Us. (TV Series).
Bill & Kay Plitt:
Kay and I were “fishing” for a film tonight, having seen most of the ones on your second round (Movie Favorites – May 27, 2020) and loved all of them that stood the test of increasing the levels of depression that surround us. We were looking for “feel good.”
The Secret of Roan Inish (Film) is fed from a novel called Secret by Ron Mor Skerry. Here is the description: “Fiona (Jeni Courtney) is a young 10 year old Irish girl with an unusual family history, including a long-missing baby brother. When she goes to live with her grandparents on the west coast of Ireland, Fiona hears stories about her ancestors, tales that involve mythical creatures called selkies who can shift from seal to human form. After Fiona ends up on the small island of Roan Inish, her family’s ancestral home, she believes she may have found her little brother living by the sea.”
Fiona is really the star of the film, but each of the five main characters of the story, are unique. She carries the story with her indefatigable faith in the legend. The secret is shared by elder story tellers of this fishing village located off the coast of Ireland. The penny flute and other Irish instruments weave a legend with inspiring music and wonderfully timed photography and blends the natural world with the world of fantasy . IT is a beautiful story, gentle and sweet based on the novel.
It’s on Amazon Prime. It was filmed in 1994, and you may have seen it long ago. It really does need the big screen and good speakers that grab the gift of photography and music it shares.
Last Dance (TV Series). WOW. Watched the first episode last night. This is the Michael Jordan documentary.
For Life. (TV Series). This was inspired by the life of Issac Wright Jr. and is a fictional series about a legal and family drama. The main character is in prison and becomes a lawyer who helps other inmates while he fights his own sentence for a crime he did not commit.
Unorthodox (Film – four episodes) tells the story of an orthodox woman who flies from her arranged marriage to start a new life.
Broadchurch (TV Series). Incredible acting (especially by Olivia Colman–who I didn’t know has won numerous accolades including an Academy Award, three Golden Globes and SAG among others), cinematography, and sound are actually at the heart of this three season detective series taking place in England. Warning–the plot lines are dark but bring home the conflicts of the more disturbing aspects of real life.
Money Heist (TV Series) A crime drama from Spain about a group of thieves who rob Spain’s most secure financial institutions. The plot, though, weaves its way from politics to corruption to interpersonal relationships to create a four season TV series, with a fifth supposedly on way– that is a real “page-turner.”
TV Shows that come to mind – Fauda, Ozark, Peaky Blinders, The Witcher, Stranger Things, and Narcos (and all related series to Narcos).
Films – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,Venom, Zombie, Land Double Tap (cult following movie), The Irishman,Angel Has Fallen, Equalizer 1 and 2…
TV Shows: Ozark, Billions, Luther, and Workin’ Moms.
Both are crime dramas from UK. Dark but excellent acting.
Also enjoyed Rebellion (TV Series) and Normal People ( TV Series) – both set in Ireland.
The Money Heist (TV Series). Spanish with English subtitles and tells a most compelling story with incredible character development and absolutely thrilling and nail biting action. You will sans doute fall in love with every single character and marvel at the twists and turns in the plot. It was, interestingly, a flop in Spain but turned Europe and the U.S. on its ear as the trailer shows.
The Winslow Boy (Film) Based on a true story with a first rate cast that takes place in WWI England. It captures a period very different from our own but not so alien as to be unfamiliar. It has a great cast and, although the finale isn’t really ever in doubt, it is completely satisfying.
Self-Made: The Enduring Legacy of Madam CJ Walker (TV Series). CJ Walker was America’s first self-made woman millionaire. She was a black washerwoman, born in 1867 just after the Civil War, who became an entrepreneur, philanthropist and social activist. This four-part Neflix series is based on a book by her great-great granddaughter.
It’s an amazing story of someone who had a dream and perseverance and a belief that making money should be for profit and “to help your neighbor.” In her case, helping her neighbor meant bringing dignity and options to black women’s lives. She did this by creating a beauty product for hair that was sold door-to-door by women “sales agents” and in hundreds of salons across the country. She opened a factory and met with investors in an era when women, let alone a black woman, did not do that. She promoted a standard of beauty, she said, that was not the beauty of the “Gibson girl”, but the beauty of “women that look like me.” Her daughter opened the salon in New York City and was a figure in the Harlem Renaissance. With Octavia Spencer (The Help, Hidden Figures) as Madam CJ Walker, supported by a great cast, this is a film worth seeing and reflecting on.
With all that is going on, I started watching some things about James Baldwin. A documentary called Take This Hammer. A PBS show called ThePrice of the Ticket. A movie called I Am Not Your Negro. It all started when a video came up on my computer about a debate he had with William F. Buckley at Cambridge.
Orphan Black (TV Series). By the time Lane and I finish (five seasons with 10 episodes each) we will have streamed all 50 episode on Amazon. The title has nothing to do with the current controversy about race
Wikimedia.org says: Orphan Black is a Canadian science fiction thriller television series created by screenwriter Graeme Manson and director John Fawcett, starring Tatiana Maslany …” Google “Orphan Black” for interesting information.
Lydia Hill Slaby:
Zoey’s Incredible Playlist (TV Series). I’m going through the slow loss of my father as he loses his memory and slowly his personality. This is a lovely (and funny) example of how another woman is handling the slow loss of her own father, which is why it was recommended to me in the first place.
Madame Secretary (TV Series). The relationship that Secretary McCord (Tea Leoni — who does a wonderful job) has with her husband (Tim Daly — also great) is a magnificent example of how a modern power couple can make it all work (life, family, job, passion, etc.), which is what pulled me into this show in the first place. But given the debacle that is now our foreign policy, it’s lovely to witness how an empathetic and strong diplomat navigates the waters. Yes, Hollywood, but the personality and compassionate driving force behind the decisions are more interesting than the scripted results.
Mike & Linda Weinroth:
A Place to Call Home (TV Series). We’ve been binge watching all 56 episodes and particularly enjoyed this series.
Unorthodox (Film – four episodes). Enjoyed this too.
Chernobyl (TV series). Gripping and clear, well-acted, at times intensely personal, much easier to understand than the book.
Line of Duty (TV Series). Thrilling contemporary crime series set in England. Edge of your chair stuff. Influenced by Helen Mirren’s series, below, which set the bar.
Prime Suspect (TV series – multiple years starting in 1992). All starring Helen Mirren and set in London. Amazing how contemporary they still feel. Sets the highest bar for police investigation drama. Deeply influential on later crime video and ilm efforts. Very good on evolution of the career of the main character.
Unorthodox (Film in four episodes). Superb acting; story of a young Hasidic wife who fled NYC for Europe to escape her community; culturally revelatory.
From her mother: “Samantha (age 4+) is very into The Little Mermaid (Film – animation).
One, thing that I really like is Netflex’s Queen of the South (TV Series). I am on the 4th year of episode’s and am terribly “hooked.” About a woman in Mexico from a poor background who becomes THE drug king (queen) of Mexico and moves to the USA (New Orleans). Great acting! Great show! I am hooked!
Watched Ozark (AmazonPrime TV series)….very good! About a dad in a family who gets the family in a real mess.
Watched Sneaky Pete in another TV Series on Amazon Prime about a con man who takes another man’s identity (from jail) and uses his identity. Great show!I loved it!
Da 5 Bloods (brand new Spike Film). About guys going back to Vietnam to bring back one of there guys and to find the ‘gold’ they left behind. It is their story. It is good but hard to watch! I loved it. But others did not!
Da 5 Bloodsis Spike Lee’s newest Film. It is an anguished retelling of the Vietnam War, it’s ramifications on those who fought it, and a plea that we should not forget who really suffered. Delroy Lindo gives an unbelievable performance as a Trump loving veteran suffering from profound PTSD. The movie is a bit long, and while it has some humor, it is a very serious film.
Last Tango in Halifax(TV Series). Ah, love among the older set. With a cast led by Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid, what could go wrong? Essentially a comedy, there is a lot to chew on, because the characters are very complex. There are three seasons on Netflix (and I think it is now on PBS), and there is at least one more season. Every now and then I wish we had put on subtitles; that Northern British accent can be hard to decipher.
A long time friend suggested that we try to do with at home movies & TV shows as we’re doing with our Favorite Reads posts. He, and others have said the same, is continuing to look for satisfying films and shows while he and his wife continue to spend most of their time at home.
As you may have noticed from some of our earlier posts about movies, we’re watching more than we ever have before. In fact, our son-in-law convinced us to get a smart TV, which is much smarter than we are, and sometimes even allows us to watch something we’ve identified that we might like.
So, let’s give it a shot:
Send in an email (Samesty84@gmail.com) titles of two movies or tv series that you have particularly enjoyed since you have been largely self-isolating at home.
Write up to two sentences about your choice(s), one about what the movie/show is about and one about why it was enjoyable for you (escapism, something new, thrilling, nostalgic, great story, good acting, etc.).
As soon as I get 15 responses, I’ll post what you send. And perhaps that will encourage others to do the same.
(PS – In addition to the above, Ellen and I will continue to post our movie reviews, as soon as we get enough to make for a decent post.
I don’t want to try to summarize Joe Posnaski’s blog this morning, other than to say it’s definitely worth the few minutes it will take you to read it. Don’t get lost on the details of his solution. Just focus on how he is thinking of a whole new way to imagine a 2020 baseball season.
I wondered in a previous post if there was any interest in contributors focusing on rereads for the end of August update on Favorite Reads. There seemed to be enough interest that I’m proceeding with the idea.
If you are interested and willing to participate, here are a few guidelines (I know some of you just want to stick with new books, which is fine, and I will of course include whatever you read between now and then).
Pick one or more books you’ve read previously (as a child, as an adolescent, in your young adult years, in your middle years, in your later years, recently, etc.), reread it with a few questions in mind:
Why did you choose this particular book to reread?
How was it the second time around?
What particularly struck you in this reread?
What accounts for any differences from the first reading?
This morning’s baseball ‘news’ is that both sides remain deadlocked after MLB rejects the lastest Players Association proposal. I suspect (hope?) there will be some last minute agreement between the players and owners. Likely an 80+ game season without fans, at least initially, in three realigned divisions with an expanded playoff scenario, with many built in safety measures , re COVID-19, and with a pay scale that won’t satisfy either side but will allow the game to continue.
My two cents, without getting into the weeds of the negotiations – who’s right, who’s wrong – is that both sides need to step back, take a longer view of where the country is now, where baseball may be headed, and come together to preserve some semblance of the game for now.
As is so often the case, Joe Posnanski, one of my favorite baseball writers, hits on what is essential in his blog post yesterday: The Future of Baseball.
Joe’s wordy, but knows and loves baseball and most often seems to get things right. This article is not another lecture about baseball as a dying sport, but really a plea for understanding what is at stake.
In part, he writes:
“What you see, I believe, is a shortsightedness, a submission to the moment, a perpetual fight over the game’s riches. This last part, in particular, has played out over the last few weeks while a global pandemic rages on, and do you think most people care if it’s the owners or the players who are at fault? No. Most people just see that people can’t come together, even now, for this game that they’re all supposed to love.
“So who can blame someone for asking: If that’s how they treat this game, why in the hell should I care?
He writes about Dayton Moore, a friend with whom he disagrees about many things, but about baseball, Joe thinks Moore gets it right:
“THIS is how baseball should be thinking about everything, not just now but always: How can we celebrate baseball? How can we reach new audiences? How can we bring live, exciting baseball to more communities (and for less money)? How can we show young people how much fun the game is to play and watch and follow? How can we get into communities? How can we make a difference? How can we draw more young people?
“There aren’t easy answers. But there are no answers if you don’t take the time to ask the questions. If I was commissioner, I would put Dayton Moore in charge of the game’s future.”
Fifty of you responded this time, including our Senior Contributor who is 98 years of age, and you were divided almost equally between males and females. Nonfiction slightly outpaced fiction (49-43).
We’ll do this one more time at the end of the summer; so keep a record of your favorite reads in June, July, and August. Also, there was interest from enough of you in rereading at least one book from your past. I’ll proceed with that as a separate project/post and send a few guidelines shortly.
Mostly, however, I appreciate all of you who responded and sent in contributions, and I thank each of you for participating.
Contributors are listed alphabetically by first names.
Paladin by David Ignatius (F). Absorbing page turner spy novel. Frightening but at least not about a biological virus. Added bonus: watch interview with Ignatius here and And this replay of interview by Ignatius of Barton Gellman who has written a book about his journalistic reporting of Snowden.
The Island of Sea Women: A Novel by Lisa See (F). Another wonderful book by Lisa See about the Haenyeo, a female diving/fishing community on the Korean island of Jeju and interwoven with a long-term relationship between two friends over several decades. On this island the women earn the money while the men tend to the children. The novel covers the time period starting with the Japanese occupation of Korea during WWII through the US occupation after WWII and the division of Korea into two countries and into the period when Koreans once again rule the country and what transpires for the inhabitants of Jeju. What holds the novel together over this long period, however, are the two women, Young-Sook and Mi-ja who are life-long “friends.”
The Rationing: A Novel by Charles Wheelan (F). A HOOT of a novel and published a year ago, it is about a pandemic in the US in the mid-2020’s, how the NIH and other medical professionals worked to understand the Capellaviridae pandemic and how it was caused. (Sound familiar?) From the beginning, they knew the drug Dormigen could cure the sick patient, but it was in short supply in the US, and other countries had an excess of supply but wouldn’t send it to the US in case they needed it. The politics – both international and within the US and its parties — ring so true for what we are seeing with COVID-19. The book is a bit long, but in today’s real pandemic, a HOOT is worth it!
These Truths by Jill Lepore (NF). Still working my way through it – it’s long and for some reason my reading time seems limited – but it’s the history of our country that we need now, and she writes engagingly. I’m rapidly becoming a Jill Lepore groupie – I don’t know where she gets the time (professor of History at Harvard, New Yorker staff writer, and now even a podcast!).
Maid by Stephanie Land (NF) – at a time when we’re understanding “essential workers” in new ways, and discovering all the tears in the safety net, this account of the life and struggles of a “cleaning lady” is sobering.
I completed Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (F) this past week and enjoyed it from cover to cover, as it describe an area where we had a family farm, so I knew some of the types of folks in the region growing up on summers there.
I am reading Larry Cuban’s new book, and probably his last Chasing Success Chasing Success and Confronting Failure in American Public Schools (NF).
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (F).
The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay (F)
The Eleventh Man by Ivan Doig (F) takes you into the war experiences of football teammates, dispersed around the globe with the breakout of WWII. Ben Reinking is pulled out of pilot training and assigned to write about each of his buddies, thereby providing “hero” fodder for the war propaganda machine. The novel raises agonizing problems—Ben’s simmering resentment of the team’s bullying coach, and of the smarmy newsman Ben suspects of dreaming up this whole propaganda project; questions like what is heroism, or bravery, after all; a hot love affair with troubling issues— and Doig treats these issues adroitly without providing any easy answers.
White Lies(NF) – aired as a 7-part series on WAMU (NPR) that focused on the murder of Rev. James Reeb in Selma, 1965—caught my attention because Reeb had been an assistant minister at All Souls Unitarian Church that we belong to. Two journalists went to Selma to learn what they could, and the series shares their process, interviews, and findings—amazingly (and maybe because they were from Alabama) they got folks to say things they had kept secret for all these years. You learn not only about the racial issues in that place and time, but also much about the nature of perception and the deep-rootedness of beliefs – available as a podcast and worth hearing!
My first recommendation is Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (NF). This is a true story of his growing up in Africa. He is a wonderful comedian
Second book is Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker (NF). True story of a family where six of the 12 children were diagnosed with Schizophrenia, and is interspersed in a very readable way with research which has done on that terrible disease.
The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War by Ben Macintyre (NF) is the story of Oleg Gordievsky, the son of two KGB employees who follows his older brother, a KGB operative, into the fold. Oleg’s exposure to Western ideas and values which, ironically, he was exposed to while working for the KGB out of a foreign embassy, leads him to betray the motherland in the hope of bettering his own life and those of his countrymen. It’s an account that kept me interested throughout and informed me of Russia’s attempts at foreign manipulation, countered by Western efforts, all of which began earlier than I was aware of.
Know My Name by Chanel Miller (NF). This is her journey after being sexually abused by a Stanford Univ student. I listened on Audible as she reads the narrative. It is extremely poignant and shows how the victim (in 2016) is still viewed as guilty. Chanel does an excellent yet laborious job of sharing her struggle to find her voice, ultimately being able to get the legal system to change.
We Were The Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter (NF). The author traces her Jewish family’s horrific saga living in Poland during Hitler’s reign. She weaves the lives of the siblings together even when they had not heard from each other for several years. A moving story.
While readingOur Wild Calling: How Connecting with Animals Can Transform Our Lives – and Save Theirs by Richard Louv (NF) the subject matter of which I am quite interested in but found the book although fine on breadth, rather weak on depth
I came across Louv’s very positive comments about Jay Griffiths’ book WILD: An Elemental Journey (NF). In WILD she breaks down the planet into Wild Earth, Wild Ice, Wild Water, Wild Fire, Wild Air, and Wild Mind. Jay traveled to and reported on abused wild peoples all over the globe who she got to know through lengthy multi-week visits in highly primitive living conditions located outside of normal “civilization.” Jay, an English writer, lived with Amazon River basin shamans in their huts by beginning each day drinking ayahuasca. She also resided with Eskimos near the Canadian North Pole; Pygmies in the Calamari Desert, tribal people still using bows and arrows in Papua; Aborigines in Australia and a multitude of other peoples and places. Her impressive reporting was superbly supplemented by detail references quoted from the books in her huge bibliography. Clearly a wild woman herself, Jay’s identification with the wild people she describes is made clear by her ranting style of writing and by her photograph on the dust jacket in which looks like she might be bipolar.
I just finishedRabbit At RestbyJohn Updike (F). I like the way he writes.
I also reread Atonement by Ian McEwan (F). I like the way he writes also.
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks (F). This is historical fiction, filling in events in the story of the Sarajevo Haggadah – a real 500 year old, beautifully illustrated book that has managed to survive the Spanish Inquisition, the Nazis, and the Serb attacks on Bosnia. It is really a series of inventive short stories cleverly told and held together by their relation to the book, and the book conservator hired to stabilize the manuscript . I found it totally engaging.
Buzz Saw: The Improbable Story of How the Washington Nationals Won the World Series by Jesse Dougherty (NF). Baseball fans, and Nationals fans in particular, will much enjoy this recounting of last year’s historic postseason run by the Nationals. The author was the beat writer for the Washington Post and covered the Nationals throughout the season. The book is more than a game-by-game recap of the postseason; it has lots of very interesting back stories that give the read insight into the personalities and chemistry of the ball club.
The Guardians by John Grisham (F). This is another legal thriller by the master of the genre. It takes place in a small Florida town where a young black man is convicted of murdering a young lawyer. Guardian Ministries (which has a lot of similarities to Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative) takes on legal representation for the accused when they become convinced he was wrongfully convicted and forgotten by the system.
Mary Wollstonecraft by Eleanor Flexner (NF), a biography, not about the author of “Frankenstein”, but her mother, who was a late eighteen century feminist in England. It is overly researched and academic to make for easy reading, but her life was so unusual for the time that it is worth the effort.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (F). A highly acclaimed Czechoslovak author skillfully uses wit, philosophy, politics, passion in magnificent prose sometimes ordering on poetry to tell a complex story.
Elizabeth (Goodman) Lewis:
Blindnessby Jose Saramago (F): Did I say fiction? It sure reads like it’s real. But actually it’s an allegory of what happens in a country when all the inhabitants become blind. Written in the 1990s by this Nobel Prize winner, Blindness narrates the worst-case scenario of a pandemic.
The Library Bookby Susan Orlean (NF): With a thesis that, “in a library, (you) can live forever,” this book details the great fire of LA Public Library, its history, and its role in the city. Along the way, the author brings the characters that people the library to life and exposes the difficulty of proving the crime of arson.
Stan (husband) reads like a gourmet, and I think I read like a garbage disposer–putting it all in and then starting again.
I am almost finished Armando Correa’s The Daughter’s Tale (F) about a WWII Jewish German family and in another way, presents a choice for the mother similar to Sophie’s in Sophie’s Choice.
I am adding two more books by Jean Grainger, The Star and the Shamrock(F) and its sequel,The Emerald Horizon(F). The Grainger books are really Beach Books, rapid to read, happy ending, and characters who are pretty flat with a simple plot. All three are WWII books, with the Grainger books fun with simple take-a-way. Correa’s book is far from simple and it’s ending seems appropriate to the book.
Inge’s War. A German Woman and Story of Family, Secrets & Survival under Hitler by Svenga O’Donnell (NF). A remarkable true story — a Holocaust-era book with non-Jews as the central characters — about the author’s great-grandparents, her grandmother, and her mother and what they faced as Hitler rose to power through the post-war war period. It is mesmerizing story telling, revealing secrets hidden for many decades, brilliantly researched, and very well written. Perhaps most importantly, this book is also a reckoning by the author as she reveals the legacy of her family’s neutrality and inaction during those times.
This is All I Got by Lauren Sandler (NF) . I would not recommend this book for everyone, but for those particularly interested in how our democracy fails the people at the lower rungs of economic ladder, especially those who try to do everything right to get ahead, this work of nonfiction is for you. At theheart of this story is a 22 year old woman and her infant as they confront the system to get ahead. It’s a story of failing government services, red tape, the struggle to raise yourself up, despite the institutional pressures to keep you pinned down.
My two favorite books recently (read on Kindle) were both on your list generated last time:
The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare (F). The novel is set in Nigeria in recent years, first in a remote village where the young protagonist is sold first into marriage as a third wife, and then after an escape is sold into virtual slavery in Lagos. The story, though sad is actually heartwarming, and the language and dialogue are exquisite.
Deacon King Kong by James McBride (F). This novel set in the 1960’s tells the story of events occurring after an elderly, drunk, church Deacon, named Sportcoat, shoots one of the young drug dealers in his Brooklyn neighborhood. There is a whole host of entertaining and colorful characters who help move along the intertwining plot.
Emily Nichols Grossi:
In Pursuit of Disobedient Women: A Memoir of Love, Rebellion, and Family, Far Away by Dionne Searcey (NF). Searcey was West Africa bureau chief for the NY Times from 2015-19, and this is about that experience. While I’m not sure the book matches the title, or vice versa, I did enjoy it. It’s been hard for me to concentrate on most reading during corona life, but I love Africa, knew little about Dakar, and very much enjoyed reading about her travels, colleagues, and experiences in Senegal and further afield. Boko Haram, gender equality, gender roles in marriage, parenting while trying to maintain a career…all fascinating stuff.
Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Familyby Robert Kolker (NF). Fascinating book, for all the reasons we’ve discussed.
Paradise Alley by Kevin Baker (F).
Less by Andrew Sean (HF).
*****The Overstory: A Novel by Richard Powers(F)***** This book has been described as “an impassioned work of activism and resistance;” “a hymn to Nature’s grandeur;” and “a monumental work of environmental fiction.” It won the 2019 Pulitzer and short-listed for 2018 Man Booker. I resisted reading it, and now I can’t forget it.
The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope by Jonathan Alter(NF). Not much new information but a thoughtful perspective on leadership in a time of crisis. Writes Alter: FDR had many attributes and methods that in the hands of a different person (Alter mentions Huey Long) would have turned out quite differently. Doesn’t take much imagination to extend the analogy.
A Bolt from the Blue and Other Essays by Mary McCarthy (NF). This collection of Mary McCarthy’s insightful and witty essays, including theatre reviews, book reviews, and essays, covers such subjects as Eugene O’Neill, Salinger, and Simone de Beauvoir.
Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman (NF). This autobiographical book provides insight into how movies scripts are written and how movies are made. Very eye-opening.
The Paladin by David Ignatius (F). Hi tech computer hacking with a great spy story as the setting. Page turner for me. Read in two days. I have a lot of time.
If it Bleeds by Stephen King (F). Four short stories with King’s amazing insights into the human psyche.
Zoey & Sassafras Series by Asia Citro (F). They are a series of books featuring a young girl – Zoey – and her cat, Sassafras. Zoey and her mom have the ability to see magical creatures, they come to the house for help, and Zoey uses the scientific method to help the animals. The books are amazing, and it’s really helped Miriam (age 6) to think about things in a scientific way. She has loved the books and has incorporated them into her daily life, noticing that aphids were eating our bean plants, whereupon she informed me that we needed to get ladybugs – just like Zoey did!
The Seven & Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton (F). I read this several months ago, and I loved it. It’s a great melding of sci-fi and mystery, my two favorite genres. The book starts out as a typical English murder mystery, but quickly delves into sci-fi as they days repeat.
Reading Susan Rice’s Tough Love (NF) right now and loving it. Remarkable person. An easy read. And interesting to read what really happened during significant events in our recent history…when we had an administration that acted with intelligence and careful thought. May those days return in November.
The Overstoryby Richard Powers(F).These beautifully written stories about different people and the role that trees play in their lives are especially captivating when you learn how some of them are connected in the end.
Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable (NF). I found this biography to be totally absorbing. In addition to examining Malcolm X and the civil rights movement, the book contains many insights about the dynamics of political and social radicalism that I found relevant to thinking about a very broad range of contemporary issues.
Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective by Space Cowboys (F). I’m kind of pushing it on this one, but I think it counts. A set of extremely detailed and well-crafted choose-your-own adventure novels. (It’s technically a board game, but everything is presented in the form of books.) You explore London to solve mysteries: each one takes a few hours to solve and you can do them with family/friends or by yourself – a very good way to spend an evening during quarantine.
Highly recommend Michael Beschloss’s Presidents of War (NF), an excellent and wonderfully written study of the use and expansion of presidential power. Who knew that presidential overreach began with the otherwise undistinguished James K. Polk? And guess who was the son of Capt. George Morison, leader of US naval forces during the Gulf of Tonkin incident?
Also recommend The Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst(F) or any of his spy novels set in Europe on the eve of World War II. Furst fills his books with attractive characters in murky situations. He has a mordant sense of humor and like his mentor, Georges Simenon, can really describe a meal!
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins (F). There was a lot of hype around this book at the start of the year, and it did not disappoint. It may not have been 100% accurate in portraying the agonizing plight of the refugees coming to America, but it was compelling, well written, and a great story.
The Wedding Giftby Marlen Bodden (HF) – The Wedding Gift is an intimate portrait of slavery and the 19th Century south that will leave readers breathless.
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (F) – A little violent with domestic abuse, but it is set in Alaska and keeps your interest from the beginning.
The Man in the Red Coat by Julian Barnes (NF). This is about a famous painting by Sargent which you have probably seen. The story about the man, Dr. Pozzi, is a history of the times with famous and unforgettable characters. If you like history and culture, this is a fun read by a great author.
Levels of Life by Julian Barnes (NF). This is partly autobiographical and partly history which is how he likes to analyze subjects. His wife died very suddenly. He writes about grief in a most literary and poignant way, and if you ever need to look at grief for understanding, this is the best book I have ever read on the subject.
Kook: What Surfing Taught Me About Love, Life, and Catching the Perfect Wave by Peter Heller (NF).
Spirit Run: A 6,000-Mile Marathon Through North America’s Stolen Land by Noe Alvarez (NF).
Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded by Simon Winchester (NF)., On August 27, 1883 the volcano island of Krakatoa, Indonesia blew five cubic miles of dirt 12 miles into the air with an explosion heard 3,000 miles away, that utterly flattened or buried all the towns within 20 miles, that generated tsunami waves that circled the globe seven times and killed 30,,000 and whose dust blanket created amazing sunsets and caused the earth’s temperature to drop by two degrees thereby destroying crops everywhere. The author, a professor of geology at Oxford, details the history of this event with a lucid explanation of the forces that create plate tectonics, the way many kinds of volcanoes work, the immediate impact of the largest noise ever heard by human beings (equivalent to more than one billion atomic bombs), and the rebirth of life on this shattered lifeless island.
How the Irish Save Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role From the Fall of the Roman Empire to the Rise of Medieval Europe by Thomas Cahill (NF). As the Roman Empire began to collapse and withdrew from the British Isles and Northern Europe, this left a void in scholarship in many areas of Western Civilization. With libraries and universities closed and general education greatly reduced, there was a very strong possibility that Western intellectual thought would collapse and very little would be passed on to history. To the surprise of many, Irish Monks under the leadership of St. Patrick set out to copy and thereby save all the books they could find…and they were successful. This is that story about how significant numbers of important books were preserved and were available to fuel the Renaissance five hundred years later.
The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way by Bill Bryson. (NF). English is spoken by so many because it blends so many languages, but this history creates many mysteries about how this all merged to create the world’s most used language. Bryson has a knack for coming up with the perfect factlet to illustrate a point and keep the exposition lively and informative. As a person captivated by meandering searches through the dictionary and thesaurus, for me this was a 5/5 book all the way.
I never read the original Dracula by Bram Stoker (F) before this year, so it’s not a reread, but it is an oldie but goody which I definitely recommend. Maybe if you call it “Oldies But Goodies,” you can include all those books one meant to read but never had time for, plus the rereads.
Drive Your Plow Over The Bones of the Deadby Olga Tokarczuk (F). I picked up this small book( 270 pages) and could not put it down until I saw the mystery solved. The writers style and views about life, the privileges of gender, wealth and power will give us a great deal to discuss. This book was made into a movie titled Pokot which was directed by Agnieska Holland. It premiered at the Berlin festival where it won the top award.
My Penguin Year: Life Among the Emperors by Lindsay McCrae (NF). British photographer Lindsay McCrae spent a full year in Antarctica documenting a year in the life of an Emperor penguin colony, as well as his own surprisingly action-packed year. The book that came out of his experience is a great read, and his photographs are stunning.
I’ve been supposed to read Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain (NF) since my college mentor recommended it more than a half a century ago. Now I know why: my mentor and Merton both studied English @ Columbia U. w/ the great teacher/critic/poet Mark Van Doren. Merton’s book is engrossing enough, but not for everyone.
Rather, I recommend Van Doren’s monograph Shakespeare (NF), a conversationally written book about each play as if the characters were real people and the events just happened last month.
As I look at the books I have read this year, I realize that I found them all on your annual list which usually forms the basis for my readings. I finally got around to reading Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (NF) and A Man called Ove by Frederik Backman (F).
Am now reading American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins (F). Although I know it has been panned for being politically incorrect, and she writes in too great a detail about details so I skim that, but the story is interesting and somewhat gripping.
Long Bright Riverby Liz Moore (F). The Kensington District of Philadelphia in the early 2000s became an open-air opioid market, with rampant addiction and young women turning tricks to support their habit. Mickey, a single-mother cop, is concerned that her addicted sister Kasey disappeared and may have been killed or overdosed. The special aspect of the novel is how the opioid epidemic totally affects the lives of the entire community.
The Gone Deadby Chanelle Benz (F). Billie James left the Mississippi Delta in 1973 at age four with her mother when her black poet father died. She returned to the Delta thirty years later to claim her inheritance, including the shack she had lived in. By interacting with people who remained in the community since 1973, Billie began to understand their complex behavior, ultimately establishing that her father’s death was racial, not an accident.
The Spy and the Traitor by Ben Macintyre (NF). Fascinating read if you like cold war type double agent spy intrigue. Carefully detailed and stranger than fiction. True account of Oleg Gordiesky, double agent for M16, working through the KGB.
The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker (F). A small college town mysteriously becomes the site of an unknown pandemic (a sleeping sickness). The book was written pre covid 19. It provides an interesting fictional account of coping with a virus of unknown origin.
Nancy Cedar Wilson:
I just finished Louise Erdrich’s latest – The Night Watchman(F)— based on her grandfather’s journals concerning his battle to save the Tribal Rights of the Chippewa Indians in Minnesota, when they were under attack–led by a self-righteous Mormon Senator in the ’50’s. She develops a fascinating cast of characters, well drawn and believable. It’s great read, filled with mystical Indian lore. I highly recommend this book!
The second book I liked, tho not quite as much, was Isabel Allende’s A Long Petal of The Sea — another book of (F) based on actual historical events — the Spanish Revolution and the more recent, too brief, Chilean Revolution. The whole recording of human aspirations turned into war and dashed hopes of social change, as seen through the eyes and lives of a few memorable characters. It was a rewarding read too!
Two non-fiction books I’ve read over the past two months that I’ve enjoyed very much, though for completely different reasons.
The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larsen (NF). It covers the first year of Winston Churchill’s WW II tenure as prime minister of England, when the threat of a German invasion of England loomed large and Luftwaffe bombing raids were a nightly reality across that nation. The book details Churchill’s leadership and family life during that period (who knew he fancied pink PJ’s), with compelling storytelling that easily pulled me through its 500 pages, night after night.. It’s an example of charismatic leadership that put country first at a time of existential crisis.
Election Meltdown by top election scholar Rick Hasen (NF). It’s spare – not too much more than 100 pages. Written before the pandemic, it details the fragility of how America administers elections, predicting the likely failure points of our system if subject to stress. If horror stories keep you up at night, read it during daytime as we tick down the days to November’s vote.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (F). The movie was awful – the book was great!
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (F) – although this one is heavy (they both are) so perhaps wait till things don’t feel so grim.
Inge’s War: A German Woman and Story of Family, Secrets & Survival under Hitler by Svenga O’Donnell (NF). Ellen has written above about this engrossing book. What sets it apart from other books about this period that many of us have read is that its author is not Jewish but is German, and her discovery of her family’s story is captivating. So far, my favorite read (audible) of the year.
My contribution for this month’s book is, again, Mink River by Brian Doyle (F). I’m a couple days into a re-read and am enthralled yet again, this magic place of words, a perfect balm for these reflective days.
I’m also re-reading David McCullough’s John Adams (NF)…important, gripping history dolled out in McCullough’s gift for telling a a fine story. (Ed. note: MucCullough received a Puliter Prize for this biography.)
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (F). It’s about a young girl growing up in isolation in the marshes off the coast of North Carolina. She learns to survive by observing how the wildlife survive, and she is seen as an outcast and odd girl, although a natural beauty, so she catches the eye of several men and that’s where the plot thickens. I read this while on vacation in Costa Rica, and I could hardly put it down.
Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard by Douglas Tallamy (NF). Basic premise of the book: the combined acreage of the National Parks totals about 20 Million; our combined lawns take up 40 million acres; why not convert lawns to conservation corridors and wildlife habitats? It’s so easy to be pessimistic about climate change and our declining ecosystem, but here are some practical things we can do and Chapters 10 and 11 have lots of good details and suggestions. Right now, this is the best book, in my humble opinion (as a Master Naturalist and Tree Steward), of practical conservation that’s doable.
De Gaulle by Julian T. Jackson (NF) This biography of Charles De Gaulle is truly fantastic.
What Shamu Taught Me about Life, Love and Marriage by Amy Sutherland (NF). What contemporary techniques for training other animals tell us about dealing with dealing with adult humans. Funny, short and insightful.
The Looming Tower:Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright (NF). A masterpiece, winner of the Pulitzer Prize. A history of al-Qaeda to 9/11. Among many high points, the book recounts the uses of religion to justify mass murder, mass attacks on civilians of all faiths, and genocide. A grippingly reported narrative; indispensable.
Essays in Ethics by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (NF). Our Rabbi, who is from England, gave it (to me). and I’m reading it as if it was a piece of chocolate cake… but dieting– slowly and savoring each bite.
The Rabbi by Rabbi Telushin (NF). He came to NO Chabad and was a great speaker. Reads quickly.
Lucifer Principle by Howard Bloom (NF). It’s non-fiction and sort of but not quite social science. Fascinating.
When God Had a Wife: The Fall and Rise of the Sacred Feminine in the Judeo-Christian Tradition by Lynn Picknett & Clive Prince (NF).
God Save Texas by Lawrence Wright (NF). I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Less by Andrew Sean Greer (F). It’s a book about a 50 year old, white gay man living in my neighborhood in SF. I mean, perfect for me right? And I did enjoy it. It was only after that I recalled it won the Pulitzer Prize and that I didn’t really understand. Enjoyable book; not earth shattering enough to win such a monumental prize. Huh.
Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irb (NF). She’s kind of a “literally thing” these days, and I enjoyed her latest, best-selling collection of essays. Super raw and honest and funny. Again, not earth shattering, but I was always happy to return to the book.
I was going to wait a couple of weeks until I posted a June 2020 list of Books Most Recently Enjoyed by MillersTime readers, but since I have some free time and want to write more than three sentences (the limit for the next list posting), I want to draw your attention to Lawrence Wright’s just published The End of October.
You may recognize the author’s name as he writes for the New Yorker magazineand in 2007 won a Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction for his book The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. He’s written four other books, a script for Oliver Stone’s movie Noriega: God’s Favorite, and co-wrote a screen play, among other activities. Although The End of October was released at the end April of this year, Wright finished the writing of the book well before the current COVID-19 virus appeared in China, around the world, and in the US. It is his first novel as he has been primarily known for his nonfiction works.
It is riveting, entertaining, sobering, and filled with information about the science and history of earlier pandemics wound around the fictional story of a CDC scientist/doctor and his family and a novel pandemic (not COVID-19 but eerily similar and much more dangerous) that threatens the world.
Wright has done his research, after all he’s primarily been a nonfiction writer, and that’s what makes The End of October so rich and so frightening. Plus, Wright understands much about the world in which we live, its politics – domestic and international — its religions, the hopes and fears of all of us. He mixes the strong narrative and its characters with scientific facts. It’s written like a mystery: the pace of the book is literally heart-throbbing, and it doesn’t let up. (I listened to it, all 13+ hours) while walking on the treadmill, usually extending myself at least a couple miles beyond what I intended.)
I loved and admired the main character, built on an relatively unknown, or forgotten, British epidemiologist of the late 1800s and early 1900s. And I got caught up in the numerous plots and twists and turns of Wright’s story.
It is not a flawless novel by any means, but the reader can’t help but be amazed at how Wright has so accurately been able to foresee so much of what has been occurring over the last three to four months in this country and in the world. He has insisted he did not write The End of October as a cautionary tale but that he looked at the history of pandemics (particularly, but not only, the 1918 Spanish Flu), used what scientists and doctors told him, and added stress and his imagination to a story of an initially contained outbreak of what he termed the Congoli virus.
The result is 400 pages of reading or 13 hours and 26 minutes of listening to a story that mixes fiction and nonfiction in a book you will not forget.
Two months ago now I asked for MillersTime readers to send in a favorite read that you had since the beginning of 2020 (and a favorite listen if you listen to books on tape/audible). Thirty-seven of you responded, and the result was Favorite Reads in Time of Self-Isolation, April 2020.
Now let’s do that again.
Here’s the drill this time: From either the last two months or, if you wish, going back to Jan. 1, pick TWO favorite reads (and up to TWO favorite listens) to share with each other. These should be different ones from any you sent in previously.
Send me the title, author, and whether the book is fiction (F) or nonfiction (NF).
Write just three sentences about each favorite read or listens so others may know more than just the title.
Send me your contributions over the next week, by May 25th, so I can compile them and post them at the beginning of June. Use my email (Samesty84@gmail.com) to convey your two choices.
Please follow these few instructions as it makes my job of compiling the list easier. If you only have one book or one listen, that’s fine too.
With news yesterday and probably more details later today, it appears there maybe a baseball season consisting of 82 games starting in July. There are details remaining to work out, including the two biggest issues of finances for both the MLB owners and the players as well as safety concerns for the players and those who will participate in the shortened season.
At least at the beginning, there will be no fans present.
Baseball without fans?
It’s happening in Korea now, since their season opened about a week ago, without fans in the stadium. (It also happened once previously, for one game in Baltimore in 2015, for a game between the Orioles and the White Sox.)
And while it’s too early to really evaluate how significant the absence of spectators in the stadium is affecting the game in Korea, it’s clear that things are not the same.
Time will tell if this substitute for the real thing is safe, is satisfying, is something that helps everyone in these troubled times.
All of this, the absence of one of my life’s obsessions, baseball, and the role of sports in the lives of people everywhere, but in this instance particularly in our country is ‘explored in the two links below: one a 4:29 minute YouTube video of President Bush throwing out the opening pitch of game three in the World Series at Yankee Stadium on Oct. 30th, following 9/11 (hat/tip to Jere Smith for the update on this) and one a recent article in the NYTimes entitled The Healing Power of Baseball by Franklin Zimmerman, M.D. (hat/tip to Harry Siler for alerting me to this article).
We’ve seen an incredible mix of films in the seven plus weeks while under quarantine, not withstanding the challenges of learning how to use our new very smart TV — clearly smarter than we are. If it wasn’t for our son-in-law’s two socially distanced visits and frequent phone consultations, there were be no movie reviews.
I do not like watching movies at home. I want someone else to curate them for me; I want a movie theater that smells of popcorn (even if I am not eating any); I want other people in a theater along side me and that feeling of community when you enter or exit a theater knowing that you might see or just saw something exciting, interesting, or provocative; I want a screen 20 times larger than me so I will literally be engulfed by the story; I want movies to provoke or educate me, not just mindlessly entertain me; I don’t want to fool with making the technology work. And from what we’ve seen thus far, the made-for-TV-movies are no match for films produced by studios (even if some high profile actors have roles).
That said, we have seen a number of films that we do recommend, which we rated four or five stars. Only a few of them would have held me in a traditional movie theater, but since that is not an option, below are some we’ve enjoyed. (We have also included a guest review of one TV series from our good friend FMH that we will take to heart.)
We are going to list at the bottom a few films that we didn’t like enough or didn’t watch all the way through to help you avoid them. (I think for all of them, they were simply “too dark” for these times.) Most of these we recommend can help you happily wile away a few hours. Note: All the films came out in the last year or two (or more recently) unless noted otherwise.
Luce (2019 – Amazon Prime):
Ellen **** Richard ****
This is an imperfect but very interesting recent film. A liberal white family (played by Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) has adopted a (then) 7-year-old former Eritrean child soldier, and raises him in Arlington, Virginia. We meet Luce (played wonderfully by Kelvin Harrison Jr.) in his senior year in high school – a star debater, overall student, and favorite of everyone at his school. The plot begins to thicken when Luce is challenged about what appears to be dangerous political beliefs. His African-American History teacher (played by Olivia Spencer) confronts the parents with what she believes is a serious concern. Plot twists ensue. As the parents try to figure out just who their son really is, the film gets even more complex with new evidence added to further explore his character. The film raises a number of interesting questions pertaining to race, adoption, parenting, and living up to expectations.
(Note from Richard: If there are a half a dozen or so of you who would be interested in a Zoom discussion after seeing Luce, let me know. I think there are issues raised and enough to explore in the film that would make for a ‘virtual movie club’ discussion.)
Atlantics (2019 – Netflix):
Ellen **** Richard ***
This is what we used to call an “art film.” It is a film that critics love and the audience not so much. We appreciated its story and its art, but it’s probably not for everyone. The story is a classic: a forbidden romance, a threatened labor strike, immigration heartbreak, and a mix with mysticism (including shape-shifting characters), set in Dakar, Senegal. The setting is an exotic diversion. With a little post viewing conversation, we figured it out.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020 Amazon Prime):
Ellen ***** Richard ****
This is not a film I would recommend to everyone (remember my recommendation for Parasite?), but it’s an important one and should be more widely seen than it will be. Be prepared for an emotional 95 minutes of an extraordinarily intimate story of a 17-year-old girl who discovers an unwanted pregnancy. You will watch uncomfortably as she and her cousin travel out of their rural Pennsylvania town to New York to seek an abortion. The films rings true of the upset, confusion, and worry this teenager feels. At times I thought I was watching a documentary, deepening that feeling is the film’s painfully slow-pace.
The film was released March 13 and has been wildly heralded by the critics. The lead character, Autumn, is played by Sidney Flanigan, and her cousin, Skylar ,is played by Talia Ryder. Both are superb. The Director is Eliza Hittman. The Wall Street Journal called it “a film that has to be seen.” The New York Times said it was “a low-key knockout.”
This movie is not relief from the pandemic, so you might want to save it for later. And, as Richard wisely said about it, “If you’re looking for ‘entertainment,’ this film is not for you.”
Richard Jewell (2019 – Amazon Prime):
Ellen ***** Richard ****
Let’s start with the fact that this is a Clint Eastwood film. We like his films. We find them edgy, political, tightly directed, and engaging — and this one is not an exception. You probably remember this story: During the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta a bomb exploded in Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic, killing two, injuring 100. A security guard, Richard Jewell, appears to have been a hero that day, discovering the bomb, helping to evacuate the area. Then the FBI names him the prime suspect in the bombing and the movie begins. It’s very engaging.
Richard: “On the advice CT, I saw this before I read the book – The Suspect: An Olympic Bombing, the FBI, the Media, and Richard Jewell, the Man Caught in the Middle by Kent Alexander, Kevin Salwen (NF). I liked the book even more than the film.
Motherless Brooklyn(2019 Amazon Prime):
Ellen **** Richard ****
Our good friend DP recommended this film, and we really enjoyed it. (As DP said in an email, “I love any movies about Brooklyn, but in spite of that prejudice, I think you’ll like this one too.” We trust her movie judgment after some 45+ years of knowing each other.)
The vaguely “Noir-ish” movie is set in 1957 in New York and focuses on the “bad guy” culture. A struggling private investigator (Lionel, played by Edward Norton, who directed and produced the film) decides that he and his compatriots must solve the murder of their boss (Frank Mina, played by Bruce Willis) after a rival monstrously killed him for unknown reasons. (Mina was a nice guy and made his mark on those he hired; in fact, he had rescued some of them from orphanages and trained them as private investigators.) Alec Baldwin plays a developer — Moses Randolph — a character loosely based on Robert Moses. The film unfurls issues of development in the city, tension between the white real estate speculators and the African-American home owners. The plot is suspenseful with a number of surprises. This movie has just about everything I think makes a good movie: great acting, great production, engaging and a provocative subject. Audiences have liked it more than critics.
Honeyland(2019 – Amazon Prime):
Ellen **** Richard *****
This is an extraordinarily beautifully produced documentary about a woman – a beekeeper — who lives in a very remote location with her aging mother in Macadonia. It is directed Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska, and focuses on the life and labors of this one woman. In an extraordinary effort, the filmmakers spent three years with Hatidze; her mother, Nazife; and the late-arriving people next door. There is very little dialogue, and the film is large impressionistic and has the most amazing photography.
AO Scott of NYT wrote: “The opening minutes of Honeyland are as astonishing — as sublime and strange and full of human and natural beauty — as anything I’ve ever seen in a movie.” This was a film that we didn’t have a chance to at last Fall’s Philadelphia Film Festival, and it’s worth seeing on your TV screen.
Richard: Superb Cinematography
Sneakers (1992 – Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, You Tube):
Ellen **** Richard ****
I am not much of a fan of watching “old movies,” but I found this very entertaining. First of all, I think it was one of the early big “heist movies” (e.g., a bunch of cool guys develop an elaborate plan to steal something from a bunch of bad guys). And for this movie it’s really about those cool guys: It stars Robert Redford, Sidney Poitier, Ben Kingsley, Dan Aykroyd, and David Strathairn as members of a San Francisco-based counter security firm who find out about a device that can decode government secret messages. It’s got all the razzle-dazzle you’d expect, twists and turns, wondering who are the bad guys, who are the good guys. It’s just two hours of fun.
Richard: Good Escapist Film.
Babies(2010 – Amazon Prime, Hulu Starz):
Ellen: ***** Richard ****
I did not see this film when it first came out 10 years go and was delighted to find it online. This is a French documentary, looking at four babies born and raised (until the age of two) in different parts of the world. It is equal parts charming and adorable, allowing the viewer to examine how each of these children thrive in their own environment. For those who are at loss for lack of travel in these times, the film will take you to distant corners of the earth to meet Bayar in Mongolia; Ponjiao in Namibia; Mari in Tokyo; and Hattie in San Francisco. This film is perfect relief from the pandemic.
Richard: Five stars the first time I saw it, not quite so enthralled on this second viewing.
Self-Made: The Enduring Legacy of Madam CJ Walker (2020 – Netflix Series):
Review by FH:
Madam CJ Walker was America’s first self-made woman millionaire. She was a black washerwoman, born in 1867 just after the Civil War, who became an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and social activist. This four-part Netflix series is based on a book by her great-great granddaughter.
It’s an amazing story of someone who had a dream and perseverance and a belief that making money should be for profit and “to help your neighbor.” In her case, helping her neighbor meant bringing dignity and options to black women’s lives. She did this by creating a beauty product for hair that was sold door-to-door by women “sales agents” and in hundreds of salons across the country. She opened a factory and met with investors in an era when women, let alone a Black woman, did not do that. She promoted a standard of beauty, she said, that was not the beauty of the “Gibson girl”, but the beauty of “women that look like me.” Her daughter opened the salon in New York City and was a figure in the Harlem Renaissance.
With Octavia Spencer (The Help, Hidden Figures) as Madam CJ Walker, supported by a great cast, this is a film worth seeing and reflecting on.
PS: Skip these two:
Bad Education (2019). This was the oddest movie we’ve seen in a long time. It got a very solid review from The New York Times. It’s based on a real story of corruption in a Long Island public school system. It has two big stars – Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney, but the acting was wooden, the production was beyond boring, and it had both the look and feel of a movie made by a high school class in their backyard. Two questions arise: why would Jackman and Janney agree to be in such a movie; is this reflective of the quality of all HBO movies? Skip it.
Spenser Confidential (2020). This is a Boston-based police corruption “action comedy.” We saw no humor and way too much blood.
Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker (NF)*****
This is fascinating and heart-wrenching account of a family where six of the 12 children had some form of schizophrenia and what it was like for them and their parents. I’m not sure how author Kolker got so many of them to talk to him so openly, perhaps, in part, because they wanted the rest of us to know what this insidious and devastating disease is all about?
Additionally, and with great clarity, Kokler weaves throughout his telling of this family’s various experiences a clear account of the history of schizophrenia and what we know and don’t know about this disease,
I think this narrative has value not only for anyone who works in the field of mental health and education but also for other readers as well. My wife Ellen, who reads widely (over 100 books a year), has insisted that I do a special post on this book. While it is not one of her usual choices of books to read, she was captivated by it and says,
This book offers an unusually clear and vivid picture of schizophrenia – how it has been mis-treated and mis-diagnosed for years along with the various possible causes. But this is not an academic treatise. What is most important about what you read is understanding the impact of schizophrenia through the life of this one family. And it’s stunning.
This true account of the Galvin family of Colorado Springs, CO and their relationships is so well told and so riveting, and done with such empathy, that rather than being overwhelming and depressing, it will stay with you and inform you on many levels. It is a story told without judgement, and one for which we all should be thankful for its telling.
We owe a great deal of gratitude to Kokler for gathering and writing this narrative and even more thanks to the Galvin family for all agreeing to it being told and for their participation in its telling.
When the delivery man gently put the crate on our garage floor, I thought about giving him a hug and a kiss, but what with the COVID-19 issues, I decided simply to give him a generous tip instead.
Ellen said, “It looks like a casket,” but I could sense she was already beginning to soften. Well, maybe that’s too strong; perhaps it was her general belief that when something has been truly been decided, there’s no use carrying on about it. Plus, I had already begun my plan to get her involved in the continuing saga by appealing to her new ‘career’ as a photographer. After all, she knew I ws going to write something for MillersTime about the kayak, and I had told her I would need some of her photos to accompany the post.
I decided to let the Qayaq rest a bit after its seven and a half month journey from its home in Greenland to Iceland to the US and finally to its new home in DC. But after two hours, it ‘told’ me it was “ready to come up for air” and get out of its cramped crate.
Despite Ellen’s insistence that I needed someone with carpentry skills to help me open it, I gathered my Red Sox hammer, a bunch of screw drivers, some tools I hoped would serve as levers, etc. and went to work.
It was a snap. Mostly. I only had to use a Phillips’ head screw driver and a bit of muscle, and the top was off. I called Ellen to bring me some band aids and join me in unpacking the interior of the crate as well as take a photo on my iPhone.
Although it was light enough for me to carry myself, I asked Ellen to help me remove it and help carry it into the house. “It’s not as big as I remembered,” I heard her murmur. We put it on the floor in the entrance hall, and Ellen walked around it as I cleared off the first place I thought it might go, under the front window in our living room beginning to think maybe this won’t be such a big hurdle after all. It didn’t seem as if it will dominate the room, which had been my fear.
We both kinda liked it there and decided to give it 24 hours to see if it and we were happy with the placement. I kept walking by the door to the living room, loving what I was seeing and delighted that Ellen was liking it too.
But at night, I couldn’t see it very well, and we both thought we might try another spot, one where the bottom didn’t blend in to the base and where more light was available.
We both liked this better, as the white off set the black, and you could see entire kayak when you were in our entrance hall or at the living room door. It felt better than the first placement, and we put some of the additional pieces on it, though we left two of the harpoons and some other artifacts off.
We agreed after another 24 hours that it needed to be raised a bit and perhaps the additional parts could be on the wall above it. We wondered if it needed a dedicated light above it.
I called our friend Vincent Sagart, the wonderful designer of our kitchen, who has a terrific eye and asked if he’d stop by and help us be sure we’re displaying it in the best possible way.
Don’t mention this to Ellen, but I’m wondering if it perhaps needs a whole room to itself.