Friday, January 10, 2014

What's Making Me Happy: January 10, 2014

My daughter turned 16 years old this week. As happens with birthdays, it was a chance to look over her life so far, admiring baby pictures, remembering accomplishments and milestones, and watching her grow up through photo albums. She is an amazing, brilliant, beautiful young woman and I couldn't be prouder to be her mom. So that's the first thing making me happy: my daughter.

Second, I'm happy to have found a book and a movie that are small scale. Anymore, it seems like a story has to be epic-sized: a family in the midst of The Great War, teenagers battling fatal cancer, civilization at the edge of nanopocalypse, or the zombie apocalypse, or the Khan-apocalypse. I like giant epic explody stories as much as the next person, but frankly ... I'm a little burned out. So it was very nice to find two quiet little stories in which most of the action is inside the human heart.

One is a book:


The other is a movie:


They can both be classified as Young Adult, or coming-of-age, or bildungsroman (if you want to be fancy), but they are certainly not just for teenagers. My husband is actually the one who alerted me to Daniel Handler's little gem of a novel, which I'd bought as a Kindle daily deal and promptly forgot about. He wanted something quick to listen to on the way home and the Kindle book had Audible narration attached to it. Although his normal fare is Wittgenstein, Richard Rhodes, or Shelby Foote, he very much enjoyed this short novel. My son listened to the book next, and then my daughter and I both read it. It is just what the title indicates: a post-breakup analysis. It's told from the point of view of the teenage girl doing the breaking up ("I am dumping this box on the porch, Ed, but it is you, Ed, who is getting dumped."), a narrative trick which is always a feat for a grown man to pull off. Not since Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone has a guy so artfully captured a girl's POV. It's also hilarious, which will come as no surprise to those who enjoyed Handler's work as Lemony Snicket.




Similarly hilarious and heartfelt is The Kings of Summer. I found it as we were flipping through Amazon's movies for streaming, and remembered that Suze had pre-recommended it. (Suze, you will have to help me out here: I can't remember if you saw the trailer and knew it was a winner, or if you read a good review of it, or what; but I do remember you were keen on it for some reason.) It's about two boys who get totally sick of their lame parents and run away to live free and wild in the forest. (The third boy is an oddball who tags along, mostly for comic relief.) It is not meant to be realistic: a trio of skinny boys are not going to be able to build a functional home in a few days, one located in a clearing walking distance from civilization yet somehow totally unfindable by worried adults. But once you suspend your disbelief, you'll thoroughly enjoy this modern-day Tom Sawyer fantasy.

I'll probably talk more about these two stories in my next Writing Sisterhood post, after our January break, but for now I'll just leave it at this: some critics of these stories are giving them low ratings for "low stakes." But we forget that stories don't always have to be propelled forward by OMG-we're-gonna-die scenarios. It takes a good storyteller to craft momentum out of everyday stakes, and these two stories do exactly that.

14 comments:

  1. Great piece. It bugs me when films get low reviews because they're not blockbusters, or when they are low budget and therefore not hyped all over the place.
    A lot of the over hyped stuff falls well short of expectations these days. And there's nothing wrong with a film that is just nice!
    On those terms I would also recommend Moonrise Kingdom, if Di hasn't already done so

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Hells! I very much want to see Moonrise Kingdom but can't find it for streaming yet. Boo. (Amazon has it, but you can only buy it, not rent it.) We keep checking, though ...

      I have also heard "Mud" is very good.

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  2. Excellent recommendations. Until Hollywood can film a story about explosions coming of age and falling in love, I think the genre is secure.

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    1. "And the boy explosion knew the girl explosion was the one for him. It was love at first kaPOW. The sound of little chain reactions came along a few months later."

      *snif* So touching.

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  3. Happy Birthday to wonderful daughter!!

    I know someones else whose birthday is coming up this month ... I have this vision of your lovely smiling face with a diadem in your hair at Sadie's. :) :)

    I had seen the preview for KoS last May and really wanted to watch it. Irony is that it was screened all over the place up here in the PNW but I got here a mite late for that. Still haven't seen it but am soo glad to know it lived up to promise for you guys. Am actually planning to watch 'her' tonight with a friend here. Might post a review about it.

    Happy 'happy' Friday!

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    1. Thank you! I loved that Sadie's day, I so wish we could do that again. I mean, we WILL do that again, but I wish it was as simple to accomplish.

      I want to see "Her" too. I really think the 16-year-old needs to see it, what with the A.I. angle and all. Can't wait to hear what you think.

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    2. I loathed the movie, 'her.' I would not recommend it for a 16-year-old. Am debating whether or not I will post a review.

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    3. Good to know! She ended up watching Catching Fire again. Will go look for your review.

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  4. I shall have to add both of these to my list of things to read and watch.

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  5. Both of your recommendations sound terrific. Sometimes, there's nothing better than simply wrapping yourself up in a cozy story that doesn't scare the bejeezus out of you or make you think too much. Just pure old-fashioned entertainment.

    It's verrrrry cool how you have access to your Goodreads reviews in your sidebar. I've written quite a few reviews, but I'm not savvy enough to do all that linking stuff. You smartie.

    Happy weekend!

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    1. The book in particular was a nice find that way, because it combines "good old-fashioned entertainment" with good writing. Adding the Goodreads widget was a little fiddly but I just followed the recipe here: http://www.bloggertipspro.com/2012/02/how-to-add-goodreads-widget-to-blogger.html and it worked like a charm! Except I'm not quite techy enough to adjust column width so it is taking up more space than I'd like. And I'm also not techy enough to show new reviews ... those ones are a few years old.

      You have a good weekend too, Susan!

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  6. Given that I loved Kings of Summer, I have faith in your book recommendation, too, and will look for it today.

    Nice blog you have here; I'm happy to have discovered you through Geo. You're a great combination of bookworm and social observer, always a good mix.

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    1. Wow, thanks! I'm glad you stopped by, The Geezers. :) Geo is a wonderful connector-of-people. I am now enjoying your site, too.

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