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Top 5 Wednesday: Classics I Wish Had Modern Adaptations

Top5Wed

I must add that I see this topic as: Classics I Wish Had Modern Adaptations That Follow My Ideas–a little mash-up, a little interpretation, a little improving on the original.

Ivanhoe

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First of all, this image is from the University of Central Florida’s Quidditch Club/Team Facebook page.

This would be a Harry Potter version–with Quidditch instead of jousting.

Too Kill A Mockingbird

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Re-done with an African American Evangelical Atticus representing a framed Muslim refugee.

Tom Brown’s School Days

51+qDE-j4jL._SY346_Retold as  the story of a boy from a sink estate (housing project) attending a famous British public (private) school on a government scholarship. Since most are now co-ed, he’d fall for a Princess or Duke’s daughter or something and would be denied the captaincy of the rugby 1st XV in favor of a legacy.

Black Beauty and War Horse

This one would tell the story of a rescue horse now happily living out her days doing a Riding for the Disabled sort of program. She is permantly loved by a little boy named Simon with Down’s Syndrome and lives happily ever after. She also gets a merchandising deal worth millions. She would be in a relationship with Joey, a horse rescued from the war zone in Afghanistan and brought home to live out his days happily grazing.

Two That Have Already Been Done to My Satisfaction

Timon of Athens

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I saw this play done with Timon being on the cover of big magazines and buzzed in popular culture–sort of a Bill Gates of Howard Hughes sort of rich recluse.

Grapes of Wrath

Tortilla Curtain tells the story of undocumented immigrants (aka illegal aliens) in Southern California. Great recreation of the pathos of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.

Join in! Join the Goodreads Top 5 Wednesday group and post a video or blog post on the week’s topic. You can read all the posts at the group, too.

Review: Puddin’ by Julie Murphy

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If your idea of YA involves vampires it’s time reacquaint yourself with the genre. Julie Murphy, like John Green, appeals to a wide array of ages. This is the third of her books that I’ve read and loved.

The Story

The Shamrocks Dance Team are THE thing in Clover City, Texas. Callie is a “legacy” Shamrock poised to compete at Nationals 20 years after her mother’s team won the same contest. Millie is a fat girl. She embraces the word “fat” having given her summers to fat camp until now. Now she wants to go to Broadcast Journalism Camp. To say that these two girls live in different worlds is an understatement. Until a prank lands them together. [Trying not to write spoilers!] Then their worlds colide, change, morph, transform, cynergize, you name it!

What I Loved

Julie Murphy writes absolutely believeable characters. I almost stopped listening–it was too real and my daughter, a one-time high school cheerleader, and her friends seemed to have shown up in this novel. Thankfully, I kept listeneing. I like that parents ARE present, aren’t totally ignored and sometimes even get a listen. I also like that consequences happen, suck and are endured. Most of all I loved seeing the characters grow, discover, test or exceed boundaries, mess-up, try a new approach, a new way of living, evaluation and keep going. These are the kids who were in and out of my house till 3 years ago, right? It sure seemed like it!

Cali and the Shamrocks expose the shallowness, sex and self-centeredness of so much of teen sports culture. But Julie Murphy manages to also show how wrong people can be about that perceived shallowness–just as wrong, in fact, as the jocks could be about the nerds, dorks and fat chicks.  High school is right up there with Marine Corps Basic Training in terms of difficulty.  Murphy’s deft hand and deeply formed characters let us see just how brutal it can be, but also how sweet it can be when it all works.

Book Club Suggestion

So make a King Ranch Casserole

pop open a Dr. Pepper and get your craft groove on while you discuss the book. Bring in high school year books. Was anyone in dance team? Get their opinion. Make some cute crafts together! Pick a quote to cross stictch–even if only in your mind. Paint each other’s fingernails! Come on! Have fun! Stick around and watcha  romcom after!

Here’s the Pioneer Woman’s Recipe. Not sure how similar this is to the one Callie makes for dinner, but it sounds fun doesn’t it?

Dumplin’ and a Rom-Com Suggestion for November or Later:

The film version first book in this series, Dumplin’ will start airing on Netflix in November with Jennifer Aniston as one of the stars. Of course, the music is by Dolly Parton. Who else?

King Ranch Chicken
  • Total: 1 hr 15 min
  • Active: 15 min
  • Yield: 8 to 12 servings
  • Level: Easy

Ingredients

  • Butter, for the baking dish
  • One 10.5-ounce can cream of chicken soup
  • One 10.5-ounce can cream of mushroom soup
  • One 10-ounce can diced tomatoes with chiles, such as Rotel
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 16 corn tortillas, torn into pieces
  • 1 roasted whole chicken (rotisserie chicken works great!), cooled and torn into chunks
  • 1 large white or yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
  • 1 jalapeno, finely diced
  • 1 1/2 cups grated sharp Cheddar
  • 1 1/2 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

Make the soup/tomato mixture, which is very bizarre and might scare you off. But please: Be brave and stick with me through this challenging time. You won’t be sorry! In a large bowl, combine the soups and diced tomatoes and chiles. Add the chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper and chicken broth. Then–this is the time to be strong–stir it all together. Trust me!

Line the bottom of the baking dish with half of the torn tortillas. Layer on half the chicken. Add half the onion, bell pepper and jalapeno. Sprinkle on half the cheese and pour on half the wacky soup mixture. Then repeat the layers, beginning with the rest of the tortillas, and ending with the rest of the you-know-what.

Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes, then uncover and bake until bubbling, another 15 minutes.

Look at that! Serve it with a salad and a dang hearty appetite.

To make ahead and freeze: Fold foil over the unbaked casserole and freeze until solid. Then, lift the foil-topped casserole out of the pan, wrap the whole thing in plastic wrap and freeze until needed. When ready to bake, remove the plastic wrap, put the foiled-topped casserole back into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and thaw. Bake at 350 degrees F following the baking instructions above.

You can access this receipe on the Food Network website here.

Review: Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart

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First of all, thank you to Jessie at Dwell in Possibility for bringing this book to my attention here. You should go check out this awesome book blog.

The Story

Two sorority sisters from the University of Iowa house of Kappa Kappa Gamma (Jane Pauley’s house at Indiana University, by the way and, more recently the house at Northwestern of Meghan Markle aka Princess Harry aka Duchess of Sussex.) head to New York in the summer of ’45 hoping to find fun jobs and party with other “sisters” staying nearby. By weird luck they wind up as the first female “pages” at Tiffany–as in Breakfast at Tiffany’s-Tiffany as in living a bit Audrey before there was Audrey! [See my week of Audrey Hepburn series that starts HERE.]

My Thoughs

First the good: The basic story was great–a fun look at a summer when 21-year-old females were still very much “girls” who fell in love, went on dates, but didn’t [usually] hop into bed until marriage or at least much, much later in the game. And due to one story line [no spoilers!] I was shocked by the “after Tiffany” follow up. The end of World War II made a nice counterpoint to the girls’ work and dating lives.

Now the bad: Sadly, this book fell into the trap that often brings historical fiction to its knees. That putting the words of guidebooks and newspapers into the mouths or, in this case, letters of the characters. I love books that tell at least some of the story with letters, but this device failed on a second level as well. We’d just heard what Marjorie was doing, but then we heard it again, interspersed with tourist guide lingo and newspaper reporting, when she wrote to the folks back home in Iowa. Then there was the name dropping. Marjorie says she misses the reporting of Eric Severied–“isn’t he related to the Severieds in [our hometown]?”  None of that is very entertaining. These faults took my rating way down.

My Rating

2.75

Summer at Tiffany: A Novel by Marjorie Hart

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Top 5 Wednesday: Books For My Younger Self

Top5Wed

 

This week’s topic: Books For My Younger Self …..Books that you wish your younger self would have read to learn a life lesson, get more self confidence, open your eyes to a new perspective, etc.

 

Perks of Being a Wallflower

 

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First it would had to have been written 20 years earlier for me to have read it as a teenager. You can see how it affected me when I read it as an adult past 50 HERE.

 

Julie Murphy’s Books

I’m currently listening to , and loving (as I expected) Puddin’. I don’t want to do the math on how many years earlier these would have had to be written for me to have read them in the 70s. Lest you think a YA label means no one over 18 can read them, my 81 year old mother also loved Puddin’. I will be reviewing it next week, but you can read my reviews of Ramona Blue and Dumplin’ now if you’d like.

 

Most of the Books on This List

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The Books I Wish My Kids Would Read Except for Auntie Mame and the 2000 Year Old Man, I had to grow up to find these books. I’d probably have ignored them, too, if someone had given them to me at that age, but here’s hoping I’d have at least picked one I could stand and learn from.

Top5Wed

You can be part of Top 5 Wednesday by joining the group on Goodreads.com. There you will find the weekly topics. Write a blog post or shoot a video and post it. That’s all! Then check back with the group to read other great Top 5 lists each week.

 

Review: Race to Save the Romanovs by Helen Rappaport

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Tzar Nicholas II, for all his faults, deeply loved his wife, Alix [Alexandra] and their five children. The couple wrote sweetly passionate letters when apart and when together they lived in modest simplicity among the splendor of their various palaces and homes. Helen Rapport has written a series of books on various aspects of the Romanov story. This book, The Race to Save The Romanovs, sorts fact from fiction and even down right fantasy regarding the tragic end of the family in the cellar in Ekaterinburg in July 2018. In the 100 years since that night much has been lost, misfiled, misinterpreted or, best of all, finally made available from all angles of the story. Rapport has done an extremely commendable job of searching archives worldwide–some with tremendously bad cataloging systems, to unearth new information or information that allows for a better understanding of the circumstances.

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Britain’s King George V (grandfather of the current Queen) is usually accused of failing to save his look-alike maternal first cousin, Nicholas. (Alix was his fraternal first cousin). Rapport shows how unlikely it was that George could have affected any change in what happened to Nicky and his family. (Imagine having George and his “twin” Nicky both in England–the confusion that could have caused in a fun way!)

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King Alfonso XIII and Queen Ena

The surprise hero here was King Alfonso XIII, the husband of another first cousin of both George and Alix, Princess Ena of Battenberg–one of the Grandchildren of Queen Victoria via her ninth child, Princess Beatrice. Alfonso, whom this book claims, had never met Nicholas, still worked tirelessly to have Nicky, Alix and the children released.

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Queen Elizabeth II as a child with her paternal grandparents, King George V and Queen Mary

One interesting note. When Kenneth Rose published his biography of George V in the 1980s, Queen Elizabeth reviewed and signed off on the first inclusion of some previously denied information on the Romanov story. One thing missing here, to me, was the influence of Prince Phlip. He is known to have said on visiting Russia fort the first time, when asked if he was glad to be there, “Yes, they murdered most of my family, but yes, I’m happy to be here” [paraphrase]. For Alix was his mother’s Aunt and so, too, was Ella–the former Princess Elizabeth of Hesse, (aka Grand Duchess Serge Mikhailovich Romanov)– a woman regarded as a near Saint in the Russian Orthodox Church. Unlike Nicky and his family, Ella and a few other Romanov’s were thrown alive down a mine shaft and left to die over several days. A few grenades were dropped to speed the process but she was not killed by them. Philip’s dna was used in testing the bodies to positively identify the Romanovs.  I think this likely had a huge bearing on the Queen releasing sensitive information from the royal archives.

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Statue errected in Russia in 2017 in memory of Ella

This is a very well-told story of both the end of the Romanovs and of what tenacious, thorough, research can uncover.  My only complaint is with the reader of the audio version Damian Lynch. His voice was often a dull monotone and he seemed to hesitate at many Russian words, names or place names (or perhaps they were badly dubbed by someone else?). This detracted from the excellent work Rapport has done.

My rating

4 Stars

Just for fun, here’s another George/Nicky look-a-like, George’s grandson,  Prince Michael of Kent, who is widely revered in Russia due to his uncanny resemblence to his martyred relative. His maternal grandmother was first cousin to Nicholas II. Prince Michel’s dna has also been used in testing remains of the Romanovs.

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You can read my reviews of two other of Helen Rappaport’s Romanov books. Click title to read my review:

Caught in the Revolution

Romanov Sisters

 

A Cross-Generational Romantic Gem–Review: A Virtuous Woman by Kaye Gibbons

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“Oh, it’s no crime to want and need somebody to love and to be loved by and to go and do what you need to do to have that, but its certainly a pity when you want it so badly you’ll let it be anybody.”

Kaye Gibbons “might could of” written the definitive story of Cross-Generational Love. Jack and Ruby are a couple for the ages! I missed this book when it was released thanks to being in the Peace Corps in Malawi and the Gulf War getting in the way of everything. I finally caught up with it and I’m so glad I did! Just as well I didn’t see that it was an Oprah Book Club selection or I might have skipped it. After all, no one dies in the first sentence, there’s no incest or anything like that. I AM grateful to Oprah for getting our country to read, I just don’t always find her picks to be anything be depressing. This one is a very good exception to that perception.

The Story

After a youthful mistake of epic proportions, Ruby finds Jack, an older man from a different socio-economic class. Ruby wants someone to take care of her. Jack wants to take care of Ruby. And they lived happily ever after–for the most part.

What I Loved

This story is so real–so believable. To me, that’s the test of good fiction. I loved the way Gibbons tells the story exactly as real-life people from the time and place would have told it in a conversation. “Might could” is a regional expression, but there’s much more to it than a simple phrase. The dialogue is full of Ruby and Jack and the other’s emotions and humanity.

Ruby, the title’s virtuous woman, understands life like few women ever have–but it’s real that she does so. She understands that Jack needs her to take care of him, too. And, she understands that she must speak carefully–she adheres to James 1:19, “...let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.”

“You can’t just throw words out. They have to land somewhere.”

This, and the quote at the top of the post, are the most beautiful things I read in this book. The beautiful feelings of this book are love, acceptenceand protection. Sweet.

A Virtuous Woman: A Novel by Kaye Gibbons

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If you enjoyed this book you likely will enjoy Kent Haruf’s Our Souls at Night, too. You can read my review here  (scroll down to the correct review).

Top 5 Wednesday: Favorite Friend Groups

Top5Wed

 

Favorite Friend Groups–here’s what the announcement says: “… let’s discuss our favorite ensemble friend groups!” Ok, then! Here are my picks:

 

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Circle of Friends may have been my introduction to Maeve Binchy–I can’t remember now. I read not long after it came out–I was about 30 so I could still feel a bond with the 20-something friends Benny and Jack and Eve and the others. I even loved the movie–rare for me.

 

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College for women was still more of a great privilidge than a rite of passage in 1933, the year these ladies graduated from Vasser. This book shocked in its day, but still holds up well. The idea of a young woman obtaining an illegal (or newly legal–I can’t remember which) birth control device to enjoy life to the fullest–well, that was immoral! The book held my attention completely even though I was over 40 when I first read it. The Group is a classic of friends’ literature.

 

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Class Reunion is one of the first “adult” (as in grown-up) novels my Mom and shared that was a new best-seller at the time. I devoured it. I loved it all. This was the first time I’d encountered gay characters who weren’t merely femininized men, but real men living (yes, and hiding) their sexuality. Alexander’s room left me fascinated more than shocked. I was blessed to have parents who answered ANYY question honestly on subjects such as this, so I felt a lot for Alexander. I still love this book! There is a sequel, After The Reunion, which was fun as well.

 

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The Brotherhood of War series by W.E.B. Griffith. Wow! This series is a blast. I happened to love military men, so when I found this series in my twenties, I hung on for dear life. I admit I lost interest after the original series–the author went on and on with new characters, Marines, police, etc. But I still LOVE Craig Lowell who reminded me of one of my college boyfriends. What can you say about a guy who is that rich and that manly and gets to do what he loves–be a soldier! The rest of the guys also great. Don’t expect much in the way of women though. The author actually changed one “gal’s” name mid-book! It’s that kind of series. I love it though.

 

All my series favorites

 

I couldn’t decide which of these groups of friends I like more. So, I’ll just put them all!

 

Ok,  ok, I’ll include them–as a Bonus

 

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I haven’t read the last few books, but I still ADORE Harry, Hermoine, Ron and all the others.  Harry Potter series.

 

You can do your own Top 5 Wednesday post or video! Just join the group on Goodreads to get the topics, then post your link to the group. It’s fun.

Review: A Terrible Country by Keith Gessen

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For the second time this year I enjoyed a novel I could have mistaken for a memoir. A Terrible Country tells of Andrei/Andrew returning to Russia to take care of his grandmother while he is looking for a job in academia as a professor of Slavic Studies. He hopes to mine his grandmother’s memories of every USSR regime and turn them into published, academic “gold.” His family left the then USSR when he was a little boy, so now he is back in the same apartment but in the new, Capitalist, Putin-ish Russia. The apartment his forgetful grandmother has called home for longer than he has been alive.

Dima, his older brother, has been a success in Russia until now. Their grandmother, like most 90-somethings, needs some looking after.  She lives in the apartment given her by Stalin [well the government in the Stalin years] and has survived two husbands, the first, Andrei’s grandfather, who died in the war. The second, an engineer, helped create Russia’s oil wealth but was not rewarded for his work because it was still the USSR.

As Andrei comes to terms with his grandmother’s frailty, his brother’s possible treachery, and experiences the new Russia he is torn–stay here or go home to the USA? A girl comes into the picture, as do hockey buddies. One of his academic rivals is in the country too. And there’s a group of modern dissidents. But then life becomes a bit too….Russian? [No spoilers!]

I was a Russian Studies major in college and have classmates who have gone to study and research in Moscow and now work in parts of our government that deal with other countries, so this book was a good fit for me. I visited Ukraine (Kiev and Crimea) in 2003 and have watched with horror what happened there. This book rang true to me. But Grandma Seva might be right–this might be “a terrible country,” as she keeps telling her grandson. Or it just might be like any other country if you are from there. If it’s your home, you understand it and are used to it.

A Terrible Country: A Novel by Keith Gessen

My Rating

3.5

Six Degrees of Separation: Where Am I Now?

 

 

 

This month’s 6 Degrees of Separation book had me almost skip the meme. I had to research who the author was for starters. Then, after learning she was a celebrity, I had to talk myself into going forward witih it anyway.

Mara Wilson–According to Amazon

“A former child actor best known for her starring roles in Matilda and Mrs. Doubtfire, Mara Wilson has always felt a little young and out of place: as the only kid on a film set full of adults, the first daughter in a house full of boys, a Valley girl in New York and a neurotic in California, and a grown-up the world still remembers as a little girl. Tackling everything from what she learned about sex on the set of Melrose Place, to discovering in adolescence that she was no longer “cute” enough for Hollywood, these essays chart her journey from accidental fame to relative (but happy) obscurity. They also illuminate universal struggles, like navigating love and loss, and figuring out who you are and where you belong. Candid, insightful, moving, and hilarious, Where Am I Now? introduces Mara Wilson as a brilliant new chronicler of the experience that is growing up female.”

Now had the book been by or about (or both!) NPR’s Mara Liasson–well, let’s just say that would have perked me up a whole lot!

 

This Month’s Chain

 

Here’s how I developed this chain. I pulled phrases from the description above–and one phrase elsewhere on the Amazon page for the book.

 

A grown-up the world still remembers as a little girl

 

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Before she was mother to CNN’s Anderson Cooper, and before she designed the jeans for a generation, Gloria Vanderbilt was the subject of a sensational custody war that made millions for the tabloids of the day. A same-sex affairs was among the most salacious and, in that day, damning, details of the case.

Gloria fascinates me because of her unusual ties to the Royal Family. After Gloria’s father, Reggie Vanderbilt, died, her mother was briefly engaged to Prince Gotfried of Hohenlohe-Langenburg. After they broke it off, Gotfried married Prince Philip’s oldest sister, Princess Margarita of Greece.  Gloria’s Mummy then went on to have an affair with Philip’s Aunt Nada (married to his Uncle George Mountbatten, the Marquess of Milford Haven). But wait, there’s more! Her mother’s twin sister was the “in between” mistress of The Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) arriving in his life at the end of his long-term relationship with Freda Dudley Ward. Thelma (Gloria’s aunt) then introudced “The Little Man,” as she discreetly called the Prince, to Wallis Simpson.  Poor Thelma, surely not so happy at last.  Little Gloria, Happy at Last is out-of-print but widely available used.

 

A little young and out of place

 

 

 

Ultimately, I chose Ruby Bridges–the first African American girl to attend an all-white school in New Orleans. Though she was not the first African American student to integrate a public school, she was one of the youngest and most memorable. Who hasn’t seen this photo and had at catch in their throat from it’s poignancy? I chose her memoir, Through My Eyes,  as the book selection.

This one was tough. My mind raced! Do I pick Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone? Harry was a little young and, though he clearly belonged he was out-of-place at first. I then thought of Princess Diana–like Harry she clearly belonged having been born to an Earl living on the Queen’s private estate, but she very out-of-place at first, too. Then I thought of poor Rosemary Kennedy when she and younger, perfect sister Kathleen “Kick” arrived in London and were presented to King George VI. I also pictured Amy Carter at age 10 or so reading a book at a White House State Dinner. Not much you could say but a little young and a little out-of-place. Probably Baron Trump feels that way some days, too.

 

[Not] “cute” enough

 

 

The summer I was 14 my grandmother took me to the U.K. Part of my coming up age was seeing A Chorus Line–then a smash hit–in London’s West End.  This verse in the  song, At The Ballet, was why–surely Marvin Hamlisch wrote it just for me, right?

Mother always said I’d be very attractive
When I grew up, when I grew up
“Different,” she said, “With a special something
And a very, very personal flair.”
And though I was eight or nine
Though I was eight or nine
Though I was eight or nine
I hated her

Now, “different” is nice, but it sure isn’t pretty
“Pretty” is what it’s about
I never met anyone who was “different”
Who couldn’t figure that out
So beautiful I’d never lived to see
But it was clear
If not to her
Well, then to me
That…

Everyone is beautiful at the ballet
Every prince has got to have his swan
Yes, everyone is beautiful at the ballet

A Chorus Line book of the musical.  See the bottom of this post for the video of the song.

Figuring out who you are and where you belong

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My first English class in college, sneakily picked for me by my mom because the whole course schedule completely overwhelmed me–and I’m so glad it did, for that class was magical. The perfect start to college. Stop Time has stayed with me. Frank’s journey to manhood was really something, but it was also beautifully told. That the author loved jazz didn’t hurt anything. Stop Time. Read it–it’s part Glass Castle, part Educated, part Catcher in the Rye. In fact, since Frank is the only man in this list, I considered using the Glass Castle or Educated instead. But Stop Time is a part of me in a way that the other two books just aren’t.

 

Growing up, I wanted to be Mara Wilson ________

 

 

 

 

I always said in high school that I wanted to be a writer like Herman Wouk and a diplomat of “Henry Kissinger’s status”.  Henry Kissinger was the only diplomat most people could name in those years. That was 40 years ago. So, I chose Madeline Albright’s memoir instead of Kissinger’s.

Sidebar: I also wanted to live in a cute apartment like Mary Tyler Moore had on TV or like author Helene Hanff probably lived in (my Mom found Helene’s books for me, too). I’d have my books on display as well as a few other things. See that cool little shelf of books? Love that.

 

Growing up female

 

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When I first begin to “grow up” [wink, wink] my Mom found this book for me. It may have been my gateway epistolary novel–a book told as a diary. This one was perfect for me at that moment. My idolized big brother was growing up and away from me and life was starting to change me from a tom boy into a young woman, a process made easier by many more books–lots from my Mom. (Which is why I’ve always been heartbroken that my daughter just won’t read).  I’m not sure if this one is still in print, but it is still worth it if you find it used. Diary of a Frantic Kid Sister.

 

You can enjoy all of this month’s Six Degrees of Separation chains at the host blog, Books Are My Favorite and Best.

 

 

At The Ballet