Saturday, December 31, 2011

Kelli's Top Media Picks for 2011

Best Book:

Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro—Okay so this was definitely not written this year (1989 actually) but I read it this year, so I’m counting it. And, don’t think just because you’ve seen the movie you know this book. I liked the movie as I’m a fan of Emma Thompson it was well-made. But, it does not hold a light to the book. This book was the best example of unreliable narrator I have ever read. Also, what the movie fails to capture is a very hopeful, look-to-the-future life view that I found very meaningful.

Runner up: Bury your Dead by Louise Penny—not written this year either…but you know. This is one in a Canadian mystery series that are some of my favorite books ever. I’m usually not huge on mystery, but these are interesting, gritty, very character driven and beautifully written.

Best Music:

Mylo Xyloto by Coldplay—I know this is a trendy choice, but a good one. Colplay’s last few albums, especially, have been so well crafted—not merely a list of songs, but a collected work that should be listened to from beginning to end—not unlike the Beatles’ Abbey Road. Also, I appreciate the musicality and the originality—they manage to sound like Colplay, while continuing to create very originally-styled pieces.

My favorite older singles I heard and liked this year: Shine by Black Gold, a cover of This Woman’s Work sung by Greg Laswell, and Breathe in, Breathe Out by Mat Kearney

Best Movie:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II—I think someone should recognize this as something beyond a piece of pop culture. This and several other of the Potter films are, I think, good cinema on a number of levels. I think it is a good adaptation of a book, and that there were some really nice stylistic choices. I also thought that there was a lot of excellent acting, by the main ensemble, but also by those in smaller roles—including Warkwick Davis’ portrayal of the Goblin, Griphook—face makeup notwithstanding, and Helena Bonham Carter playing Hermione playing Bellatrix Lestrange.

Runners up:

Jane Eyre—this is a favorite story anyway, but I particularly liked this version (especially compared to the 2006 Masterpiece edition).

Thor—Okay, I know this is one more superhero show, but I thought they dealt with the fantasy elements of this particular story well, and I thought Kenneth Brannaugh’s directing gave it a classical, Shakespearean feel.

The Help—again, trendy but good, and very close to the book.

Best TV:

So, although I actually did enjoy some American TV this year, my favorites are all, embarrassingly, British:

Downton Abbey—very well done, and fascinating to watch.

Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch—a great modern adaptation of the character. Loved their interpretation of Moriarty.

Doc Martin—This year was series 4, I think. Probably the best thing about this show is the variety of quirky, realistic, and consistent characters.

Friday, June 24, 2011


This is an especially good time of year in our part of Indiana for fireflies. I have seen them out my bedroom window at night, hovering and flickering over the grass. We don’t have fireflies in the West where I grew up, so the first time I saw them, at least that I remember, was during the month my family spent living near Houston Texas when I was a young child. It is one of the few memories I have of that period, but I have often recalled an evening walk with my family over a bridge and through some trees and the magic of the glowing creatures floating about in the darkness.

It is the poignancy of that memory that led me to put aside my usual vigilance about early bedtimes for my boys and sanction a late evening firefly walk a few nights ago. The day had been one of those stormy Midwestern days, and we weren’t sure all day if we would be able to have our walk at all, but just around twilight there was an intermission. Jeff and I brushed the boys teeth and put them in the stroller to walk down to the forest path just south of our apartments. The sky was grey and the thunder rumbled distant warnings to walk faster.

When we reached the woods, however, we had slowed and quieted enough to see some baby rabbits in the low grass before they darted for cover. The fireflies were not so bashful. They twinkled in the dark spaces between the trees, and floated lazily about us, unconcerned at our watchful presence. My oldest son was full of awe and excited phrases, and my youngest was quietly observant; and somehow, even without the misty sheen of childhood to coat the moment for me, it was magical.

I felt a strong sense of disappointment that I had not thought to bring a jar. It would have been so easy just to reach out and catch one of the tiny blinking bugs and bring it home to keep. As it was, I could only carry away the memory, and it was a short one. We were merely in the trees for a brief interval before we began to feel raindrops and the tall trees began to sway dramatically in the breeze of the oncoming storm. We rushed home.

The time we spent in the woods was a matter of minutes, but tonight I think that the past two years, this stage in my life, has been, in many ways, equally brief. Like our firefly walk to the woods, it has had its dark clouds and cold breezes, but there have also been extraordinary moments, little flickers of light.

There is a pit in my stomach, an anticipation of the coming storm and the need to hurry on. In less than two weeks we will be starting a new walk. We will be leaving behind some extraordinary and ordinary things. There is no jar that can carry them away with us. My son has been filling his pockets with his favorite rocks from our playground for the past few weeks, almost like he could just take the playground, one rock at a time, to Chicago with him. But, there are a lot of rocks out there.

Tonight as I was taking out the trash I saw the fireflies in the bushes and the low weeds by the fence. I thought of how I could go back inside, and get something to catch one in and keep. But then, something inside me quietly whispered that fireflies do not live long in glass jars. Eventually their light would dwindle and diminish.

However, I do know from experience that they will live for a very long time in my memory.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Deep and Wide

I used to think that I wouldn’t mind being reincarnated as an academic. You know, I liked to imagine myself at Oxford, or some such place, teaching English to studious undergrads while pursuing the mysteries of the language in dusty libraries. However, the time I have spent around actual pursuers and perpetuators of higher education in these past couple of years has caused me to reconsider. It isn’t that I don’t admire these intelligent future PHDs, it is just that I think my educational abilities/interests differ.

To be clearer, I have determined that I like to learn wide, rather than deep. By the time a person is on the PHD path, she has gotten very narrow and specific in her studies. She may learn deeply about one very niche subject, but will no longer be introducing new areas of study. I think if I went back to school I would just like to get another bachelor’s degree—maybe in Spanish, Linguistics, Music, or…Basket Weaving.

The more I think about it, the more I realize I have always followed this philosophy in a way. I remember being so irritated after leaving High School that my university suggest I chose just one area of study. I even considered a liberal arts degree…but that just seemed like studying nothing rather than lots of things.

I have always just been kind of good at lots of things rather than very good at one or two. I kind of write, and play a little basketball. I do some singing and piano playing, and know some chords on the guitar. I know a little Spanish. I know a few things about politics. I can get down the black diamond ski slope…but I don’t necessarily make it look good. I’m a pretty accurate shot with a pistol. I can occasionally cook something pretty delicious. I have general knowledge of History, Art, and Classical Music. I am moderately versed in English Literature. I’ve read a bit on teaching and parenting. I know some ballet. The list goes on.

No one will ever call me an expert. I think I’m okay with this. If I were being very self-complimentary I would say I am a Renaissance (wo)Man. However, traditionally, the Renaissance Man, or Polymath, didn’t just dabble in many subjects, he was well-versed in them. I would tell you more about him…but that is all I know.

In the mean time I will content myself with the fact that I just learn wide rather than deep, and I’ll get along fine unless one of you people who really know all the facts about everything ask me to support the last claim I just made in our conversation. At that point I’ll change the subject to one of the many other things I’m interested in.