The Ode Less Travelled by Stephen Fry

Book – Have you ever tried to write poetry? It’s not as easy as it looks – even free blank verse, in most hands, sounds silly, while a good poet can shake you to your core. Nevertheless, I keep trying to write poetry, hoping that someday I’ll accidentally manage something that’s actually good. I picked up The Ode Less Travelled to see if there’s anything useful I’ve been missing, and wow, have I been missing a lot.

Stephen Fry isn’t a poet – he’s an actor, comedian, and occasional novelist – but he writes poetry for fun, and thinks other people should try it, too. In aid of this, he explains poetical metre (everything’s spelled in British English in this book, although Fry also gives the Americanisms), rhyme, form, and criticism, along with giving extremely useful and interesting exercises for you to try. (They’re presented in workbook format, but please bow to the publisher’s wishes and buy a copy for yourself if you wish to write your verse in the book.) As he says, you probably won’t become an award-winning poet just by reading this book, but you will be able to amuse yourself with a creative hobby, much like sketching with words. And if all you’re interested in is understanding poetry a little better, this would also be a useful read, as it’s much more entertaining than any “Introduction to Poetry” I’ve ever read before.

Imperium (2016)

Movie – Nate Foster is an FBI agent. He pays attention to the little things. This trait is something agent Angela Zamparo is looking for in a good agent. Zamparo has her interests in white hate groups. She understands Nate’s specialty is Islamic terror, but challenges Nate to look closer to home when it comes to terror suspects and upcoming events.

Nate keeps to himself, retains a lot of what he reads, but is not well respected. The other agents pick on him because his is younger. Angela is looking for in a partner with these types of attributes, however. Nate goes undercover to infiltrate a white power hate group at Angela’s request. Angela needs Nate to look for the individuals who could have access to Cesium 137, a chemical they could use to create a dirty bomb. Nate changes his name and moves to Maine to meet with an informant already in the mix. Angela instructs Nate to get close to the group leader, Vince, and meet others in the movement, Dallas Wolf. Wolf is a well-known radio host in the movement. Nate eventually catches the eye of Gerry Conway, an engineer with a family man. Gerry also catches Nate’s, and Nate begins to wonder how someone so put together like Gerry could be part of this world.

The movie takes several turns before we really find out who is who in these groups. This is not a very violent movie compared to others. There is one scene where two groups of protesters clash but not much thereafter. Most of the movie shows interactions between the major players of the different groups; as to demonstrate how they may have one common goal, but are still very different.  This is no Harry Potter; and it is refreshing seeing Daniel Radcliffe in other roles that are nothing like the childhood wizard.

Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

Book–Becky Bloomwood is a reluctant financial journalist with a dirty secret:  she can’t stop spending money. Despite harassment from creditors, Becky cannot resist the siren song of shiny new things, particularly clothes, to the point where she invents a dying aunt to justify borrowing money to buy a new scarf. She tries spending less money (and fails), tries making more money (and fails), and even tries marrying rich. The fun of this novel comes from watching Becky squirm; she has a knack for getting herself into sticky, embarrassing situations reminiscent of Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones and is a delightfully flawed character who with a distinctive and strong narrative voice. As long as you don’t take it too seriously, Confessions of a Shopaholic is chick lit at its light, airy, and compulsively readable best.

If you like this book because of the fashion focus, you’ll also love The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger (and its sequel), the Haley Randolph series by Dorothy Howell (start with Handbags and Homicide), and the rest of the Shopaholic series. If you’d have liked this one better if only Becky weren’t so darn shallow, try some of Rainbow Rowell’s books, like Attachments, or A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan.

 

 

Switching Places with Fido: Stories About Swapping Bodies with the Dog

Books Imagine waking up to find that your hands have become paws in the night.  You jump off the bed (on four legs!), look in the mirror and see a furry, wet-nosed face staring back at you.  But then, you turn around and see yourself, your human self, looking just as confused as you.  Somehow, you and your dog have swapped bodies!  Dog Days by Elsa Watson and The Dog in the Freezer by Harry Mazer (available through Interlibrary Loan) explore the bizarreness of  finding yourself stuck in the body of your furry best friend, making for some fun, quirky reads.

In Elsa Watson’s Dog Days, we meet struggling café owner Jessica Sheldon, who is going through a ruff time. Elsa holds the famed title of “number one dog hater” after an unfortunate incident in which she may have screamed at two unsuspecting pups.  “Woofinstock,” the towns annual dog-themed festival, is Jessica’s chance to redeem herself, and her café.  Jessica is in way over her head after volunteering for the festival, and taking in a stray dog named Zoe was never part of the plan. Things get even worse when Zoe and Jessica magically happen to swap forms.  While Zoe is ecstatic that she finally has the power to take any food she likes, Jessica is terrified imagining what her body double will do next!

The Dog in the Freezer is a compilation of three novellas, each tail showcasing the strong bound between a boy and his dog.  (Though we don’t have a copy of this novel at our library, you can request it through Interlibrary Loan).  This was one of my favorite’s growing up.  The body-swapping story is titled “My Life As a Boy,” about a hghschooler named Gregory and his genius dog Einstein.  Gregory and Einstein just wake up one day, on the day of Gregory’s very important basketball game, to find they have switched places!  Will Einstein be able to take Gregory’s place in the big game?  With tons of humor, and a touch of suspense, this book really is the fleas knees.

 

 

 

Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane

Book – In Since We Fell, it seemed like Rachel had it all.  A great husband and an aspiring career as a television journalist.  But everything began to unravel when she went to Haiti to cover the devastation after the 2009 earthquake. Her experiences there left her scarred and haunted. As she was reporting live she emotionally and mentally fell apart. This trauma was a major blow to her career and when she returned home she lost confidence in herself and had difficulty leaving their apartment.  Her husband, not at all sympathetic to her situation, divorced her. Rachel became obsessed with finding her birth father whom she never knew.  Her mother didn’t want to reveal who he really was.  The search brought her to Brian Delacroix a private investigator, who, not surprisingly was unsuccessful in locating her father due to lack of information.

Several years later Rachel and Brian’s paths cross again and they fall in love and marry.  Brian is loving and works with Rachel to help restore her confidence and to venture out in the world.  Rachel begins noticing that things don’t add up.  She is certain that she sees Brian in the area, when he is supposed to be out of the country and acquaintances tell her conflicting facts about his past.   What else could he be hiding? It turns out plenty and now Rachel’s life could be in danger.  There are plenty of plot twists as she learns of murder and deception and she has to force herself out of her shell to fight for her life.  Dennis Lehane does it again with another superb psychological thriller.

You may enjoy other thrillers and crime fiction written by Lehane some of which have become movies.  One of my other favorites is Shutter Island.

Other Minds by Peter Godfrey-Smith

Book – Some of the most intelligent animals on the planet, other than humans, are apes, monkeys, crows and ravens, parakeets, and…octopuses. Which is just as weird as it sounds, because while apes and monkeys are closely related to us, and birds not too far different, octopuses (and other cephalopods, squids and cuttlefish) are very distant relations. Our most recent common ancestor is 750 million years old. So why are they so smart, and what can we learn about intelligence and awareness from studying them?

Peter Godfrey-Smith is a philosopher, but also a scuba diver, and his encounters with cephalopods off the coast of Australia led him to this fascinating study of minds, both human and alien. Deep discussion of what consciousness is and how it happens is interleaved with vivid descriptions of octopus behavior and relationships. As a pure philosophy book, this would be too dense and heavy to manage, but bringing in the octopuses and their evolutionary history gives it just the right balance. An enlightening read for anyone interested in the question of animal intelligence and the ways humans are similar to – and different from – very different creatures.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Book – Eleanor Oliphant is an awkward young woman who doesn’t have any friends. She works as an administrator in a design firm and spends her weekends drinking enough vodka so that she is neither drunk nor sober. Her only contact with people outside of work are shopkeepers, utility men and weekly phone conversations with her institutionalized mother. Then, Eleanor wins a set of tickets to a concert and develops a crush on one of the singers. Eleanor decides she must improve herself to win his love and changes (and hilarity) ensue. Eleanor’s observations about people’s habits and pop culture and her attitude about life are entertaining, but also also give a glimpse of what she has endured. I loved reading about Eleanor’s transformation and her eccentric new friends. If you liked The Rosie Project or Britt-Marie Was Here, you’ll enjoy this book.

Parks and Recreation (2009-2015)

TV Series Parks and Recreation is my life.  I am not ashamed to admit that.  I’ve stopped counting how many times I’ve binge-watched the series from start to finish, and I’m proud of that.

Parks and Recreation is filmed in the same mockumentary style of The Office (another phenomenal tv series). Set at the Parks and Recreation Department of Pawnee, Indiana,  we follow deputy director, Leslie Knope as she works hard to beautify her beloved town of Pawnee (aka: “The Best City in the World”). With her best friend and beautiful nurse, Ann Perkins, Leslie embarks on a new project to create a park in a sad empty lot.  The endeavor proves to be more work than anyone could have imagined, but with the support of her friends and coworkers, there’s nothing Leslie can’t do.  Amy Poehler is a vision as leading lady Leslie Knope, and the entire cast is dynamite and full of spunk.

I aspire to have the passion and determination of Leslie Knope, the innovative mind of Tom Haverford, the woodworking skills and outdoorsmanship of Ron Swanson, the bubbling positivity of Chris Traeger, the adorable nerdiness of Ben Wyatt, the dark humor of April Ludgate, and the hysterical antics of Andy Dwyer.  Basically, I aspire to become the cast of Parks and Rec, but especially my hero, Leslie Knope.

All of our favorite dramas have those moments that put us in emotional turmoil, or make us question what we did to deserve the wrath of the writers.  While I believe Parks and Rec possesses a few of these moments, I can forgive the writers, because I adore this series.

Check-out some great memoirs by this stellar cast: Yes, Please by Amy Poehler, Gumption, Good Clean Fun, and Paddle Your Own Canoe by Nick Offerman, and Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari.

 

The Glass House (2001)

DVD – Ruby and Rhett are teenage siblings whose parents tragically die in an automobile accident. Long time family friends, the Glasses, become their new guardians. The Glasses live in a huge house that comes across as more of an art museum in Malibu. Initially they have to share a bedroom, which is not right for a 16 year old girl and an 11 year old little brother. Ruby notes that something is not right with her new guardians and tries to rely on her parents executor of the estate who claims to be trustworthy. The Glasses somehow seem to pass all the “tests” of guardianship just in time for the state to do a “routine” inspection. As the movie develops, we learn that Mr. Glass is in deep financial trouble with bookies, and Mrs. Glass seems to have turned herself from medical doctor to drug junkie. How will the kids get out of this situation and what does their future hold?

I thought this movie was great on many levels. The actors were superb choices for the characters. There are a few small plot holes, but nothing you cant overlook and use your imagination. This is definitely a thriller movie, and not a “boo” kind of horror movie. I loved that it is an slightly older movie set back in 2000, so the trip down memory lane with VHS and *69 phone calls, and listening in on landline calls was funny to me. It was great to see how Ruby and Rhett maneuvered through this whole horrible situation and thinking about what other options I would have used.  I definitely recommend this one for a suspense horror movie night!

Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O’Neil

Book–From college admittance to the actuarial models that determine what you pay for health insurance, decisions of who gets what in our society are increasingly made by algorithms rather than individuals. Former Wall Street quantitative analyst Cathy O’Neil exposes that, while many algorithms claim impartiality, they in fact end up entrenching systemic inequality. For example, many employers are increasingly using applicants’ credit scores as a factor in choosing employees, with the rationale that reliability with paying debt is correlated with reliability generally. Long term unemployed and lower income people are likely to have lower credit scores due to the higher credit utilization rates that typically accompany a shortage of funds, and this practice unfairly bars them from the very employment that would lift them out of their circumstances. O’Neil has plenty of other incisive examples of opaque, badly designed algorithms wreaking havoc on people’s lives from birth to death, but her thesis is that unless an algorithm is transparent, fair, and carefully considered, it tends to reinforce the status quo and penalize marginalized groups disproportionately.

Despite having the word “math” in the title, which tends to scare people off, Weapons of Math Destruction is written in an accessible, plainspoken style that doesn’t require you to be particularly mathematically-minded to follow along. O’Neil’s writing has a gift for making complicated topics simple and will appeal to fans of Malcolm Gladwell.