Saturday, June 22, 2013

What now?

Today is Meryl Streep's 64th birthday. HAPPY BIRTHDAY MERYL STREEP!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

I Feel Bad About My Neck, Nora Ephron (2006)


"What's more, having never been in style, it can never go out of style"
"But mostly I go everywhere with my MetroCard bag. And wherever I go, people say to me, 'I love that bag. Where did you get that bag?' And I tell them that I bought it at the Transit Museum in Grand Central station, and that all proceeds from it go toward making the New York City subway system even better than it is already."

If there's anyone out there reading this, I must apologize for neglecting my blog for the past couple months. Life got busy and in all honesty, I got very lazy. However, Christmas has come and I've received a slew of great Meryl Streep related books. So I hope to be reading and reviewing much more than I have been and on the subject of Christmas, I will be politically correct and wish you a great holiday season and also happy 2013!
As for the book I am about to review, I know that this book is not related to Meryl Streep, but I became interested in Ephron after seeing Julie and Julia. Streep and Ephron have also worked together three times. 
Anyway, I really enjoyed this book and it was a quick read. I finished the book in a matter of hours and I was engaged until the end. This book is a collection of short essay pieces on topics related to being a female. As always, Ephron is witty and intelligent, but most importantly, Ephron is honest. I think that it is safe to say that Ephron, for the most part, has no filter. In most situations, we say that it's bad not to have a filter, but for Ephron, it really works in this book and everything else that I've read of hers. I don't actually have much to say about this book besides the fact that it's absolutely wonderful.  Granted I'm quite biased on this subject because I'm a huge Ephron fan, but I really did enjoy this book. I must say that I enjoyed her 2010 collection of essays better, but this one really speaks to the perils and perks of being a female. It's honest and perfect and I'm sorry for not shedding any light on this book because so many other people have reviewed it already. But I strongly recommend this book for basically any female between the ages of 14-120. And for the male population, I still recommend Nora Ephron because she'll tell you what other people won't.
*So there's my review, I'm sorry it's not very cohesive or original, but I'm out of practice at this and hopefully, the next book I review will have a better accompanying post. The Orchid Thief, by Susan Orlean is up next. 
**Also, I know that Nora Ephron unfortunately passed away over the summer and that I've written this post in a funny present tense but that's because Ephron is still alive for me. Ephron lives on in her work and we should keep her spirit alive as best we can. RIP Nora.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sophie's Choice, William Styron (1979)


Film: Universal Pictures, directed by Alan J. Pakula
Sophie's Choice by William Styron is a fictional, but historically based work that describes the unique relationship that ensues after aspiring Southern writer Stingo meets the beautiful Sophie, a Polish Catholic Holocaust survivor and her all-consuming Jewish lover Nathan after settling into Yetta Zimmerman's pink-painted rooming house in Brooklyn. At first, Stingo feels like a fish out of water in his far from home environment, but he finds comfort and inspiration in the company of his two new captivating friends. But as the trio grows tighter, secrets unfold and the painful truth in each of their lives is finally revealed.  Sophie's Choice, as previously stated, is fictional, but all the events that take place are highly plausible, especially because it deals with Sophie's memories of her time at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

In all honesty, I've had this book for over a month and I'm just finishing it up now. I was very reluctant to actually get into this novel from the start, not because I was wary of Styron's writing style, but because I had an idea of what it would contain and obviously, of the subject matter. I understood that the novel would be utterly infused with tragedy as well as truth because the Holocaust did in fact occur. Despite how easy it is to look the other way, the Holocaust is an event that needs to be examined from all sides, and Sophie's Choice is a powerful examination of the profound impact that the Holocaust had on those who survived. Sophie's Choice also speaks to how lies can only carry one so far in life and in the world. Eventually, the truth must be revealed because there really is nothing but the truth.

There is one section of this novel that particularly illuminates the deep emotional impact that the Holocaust had on its victims. As Sophie remembers her time in Europe, she notes that she was one of the "lucky ones" or those who were "more privileged" because they had more "desirable" qualities. Initially, Sophie works as a secretary and a translator to Frau H√∂ss. She lives and works as a prisoner in his lodgings, instead of in the main camp (where she is later sent). While working as a secretary, she is nearly raped by the female housekeeper Wilhemine. After the horrible episode, she is naturally shocked and appalled at what has just taken place. But even in all her shock and horror, she must also figure out how this attack will impact her fragile chances of survival. Instead of worrying about herself in terms of she feels, she must worry if others will judge her and blame her for being assaulted. "Was she better off now, after the episode with Wilhemine, or was she in greater peril?" (265).

Typically, after being physically violated, I assume, one does not even consider that it would be to their benefit, but Sophie's world revolves around on the perceptions of others. Her life depends on the whim of another because of course, if her actions align with those more powerful, she can live another stressful day, but if those in control do not approve, she is in real danger. In other words, Sophie is a victim of the assault and a victim of those who dictate her future. She is a victim in a victim's world.

Throughout the novel, more of Sophie's story is revealed as she replaces her lies with pieces of the truth until the audience finally learns her entire history before and after the Holocaust. Readers learn that her family was not perfect and that her father was anti-Semitic. The audience also learns that Sophie is not a hero. She has her imperfections, her flaws and her shortcomings. She does not step out or fight bravely, despite the fact that she had lived with members of the Resistance.

 She is an ordinary woman and yet her complex story is something that needs to be read, just as the Holocaust is something that desperately needs to be remembered for the horror that it was. In this world, so many times, one says "Never again", but when history repeats itself, one must continue their education. One must read and experience these intimate and personal stories. Sophie's story, although fictional, is very real because it is an account of the impact of others' choices on her life. Yes, granted, Sophie made her "Choice", which is noted in the title, but others also made a choice. In the case of the Holocaust, a very poor choice was made, and now one must remember the choices that were made that resulted in the Holocaust and it's prolonging. One can look at statistics and be appalled, but one should also see the emotions that followed the deaths that build up in number when something as horrific as the Holocaust occurs.

Anyway, to wrap this up: I can't say that I loved reading Sophie's Choice, because I really didn't love reading it. It wasn't a joyous, fun experience (obviously), but it was really well-written and it covered important subject matter. Sophie's Choice was also very fascinating because Sophie, the title character, suffered through the Holocaust despite the fact that she wasn't Jewish. Sophie's Choice gave readers a different perspective because I think that so often one focuses on the anti-Semitic aspect of the Holocaust. It is also important to look at the Holocaust from all sides because so many people were impacted and gravely harmed. William Styron's Sophie's Choice is tragic, powerful and touching. It speaks to life and the world as it was and as it still is today. Raging passions and violence still exist, and memories still have the power to haunt for all eternity. One still cries at the death of a loved one. The world is still imperfect. But one still has the power to make change. By reading Sophie's Choice, one truly realizes the impact of a single choice, the time in the world that is left, the tragedy that ensues following immense hatred and the power of compassion.

So as William Styron himself has put it: "A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted. You live many lives while reading." Highly recommended.

*As for the film version of Sophie's Choice, I will create another post on the comparisons because there is too much to say for right now.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Kramer vs. Kramer, Avery Corman (1977)

Film: Columbia Pictures, directed by Robert Benton (1979)

Kramer vs. Kramer describes what no couple imagines at the beginning of marriage: divorce. It also describes the very painful happenings that occur post-divorce, especially when a child is involved. In the case of this novel, the situation is still entirely different from the standard. Kramer vs. Kramer  centers on Ted Kramer and his young son Billy after his wife Joanna abruptly leaves the two and moves to California. After Joanna leaves, Ted must find a balance between his social life, his bank account, his high-pressure career and all the while, learning to raise his son by himself. In the beginning, Ted struggles and can't imagine life without Joanna to care for Billy, but over time he learns to appreciate and embrace his new role as a caring and dedicated father. But just as everything seems to be going right, Joanna returns to New York City in search of custody of her 5 year old son causing a passionate custody battle to ensue, which leaves audiences to wonder what the final decision will be and whether it will be the right one. In Kramer vs. Kramer, love really knows no bounds between father and child.

Overall, I enjoyed reading Kramer vs. Kramer. At times, the novel seemed to stretch on forever and it seemed almost too long and detailed. However,  each of the characters and the situations that they were put in seemed timeless and relevant 35 years since it's first publication. This novel's relevancy is probably what is most enjoyable about reading Kramer vs. Kramer. Any of the events which occur in this novel could occur today with only a few slight changes. Marriage, love, loss and divorce still occur and somewhere in between it all, there are still child custody battles and what not.

Kramer vs. Kramer also speaks to what love really is and how love has no need to be conventional, standard or so called "normal." Ted learns to love his son, despite the fact that his role (during the late 70's) would have been to spend some occasional time while his wife was out of the house. Ted also learns to love and embrace the changes and struggles that come about, especially when he decides to fight for the custody for his son. He creates a list of Pros and Cons about why keeping Billy would be worth it, and his list of Cons is much longer than his Pros, but he still chooses to try to keep Billy with him. As for other kinds of love in Kramer vs. Kramer, it is evident that Ted still loves Joanna in some way, which makes reading the novel all the more painful and important because one realizes that love lingers even after divorce.

Kramer vs. Kramer is surprisingly insightful, touching and even humorous. As a reader, one feels connected to the characters because they are surely a reflection of the people who surround us in some way or another. This novel is at times tedious and slow, but the overall effect of the novel is quite nice because it speaks to real life and real problems that many people are surely facing. It isn't over dramatic, but rather it is even over realistic because it deals with relationships and illustrates how all things must change eventually. I would recommend this novel, despite its flaws.

In comparison to the film adaption, the novel was rather different. First of all, the timing is different. The novel goes into more depth (obviously) and it describes Ted and Joanna's relationship before and after Billy is born. It describes their first meeting and the birth of their son. It also explores Joanna's feeling and thoughts as she raises Billy in the early years. In other words, the novel gives the audience a more comprehensive look at the marriage and it's subsequent break-down following the first few years of Billy's life. In addition, in the film, Joanna comes back seeking custody of Billy, about 15 months later after she leaves. In the novel, Joanna returns a few years later. In the film, Meryl Streep portrays Joanna, while Dustin Hoffman plays her ex-husband Ted. (On a side note, Joanna has black hair in the novel, and blonde hair in the film.) The novel also had a much slower pace in comparison to the movie. For example, in the movie Ted loses one job and then gets another. In the film, Ted loses two jobs until he finds a third in time for the custody battle.

 This seems like a ridiculous thing to say, but how much time you want to invest in Kramer vs. Kramer should dictate whether you want to read the book or simply watch the movie (if you are at all interested). Of course, you could always read the book and watch the movie, but I digress...The film is much different from the book in terms of timing and how the relationship is shown. The book gives a more in depth look at everything sometimes to the point of one's boredom. On the other hand, the film is much quicker, but in the end, one might want something more. The film also ends slightly differently than the novel. (I prefer the film's ending). I recommend both the film and the book, but I suggest reading the book first.

*Meryl Streep, Dustin Hoffman and director Robert Benton each received an Oscar for this film.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Hope Springs, screenwriter Vanessa Taylor (2012)

Okay, so I know what your thinking, since you are one of my many faithful, dedicated readers. I'm sure you're thinking "Oh gosh, [fill in my name], I can't believe that you are once again, straying away from the purpose of this blog!" Which, as you know, (being that you are so dedicated), is to write reviews of books that have been turned into Meryl Streep movies. But being the intense Meryl Streep fan that I am, I have just gone to see this new movie and I felt compelled to write down my thoughts on the matter.
But have no fear! I am currently working on two new relevant books to review. I have already finished reading Sophie's Choice and I'm nearly finished with Kramer vs. Kramer. So you, (you are out there, right? Somewhere?) can expect to be reading two new reviews that actually pertain to my original goal. So after that extremely long tangine, here we go!

I actually enjoyed Hope Springs, which seeing as I am a Streeper, you can imagine that I would enjoy a Meryl Streep movie. But in all honesty, I thought the movie itself was pretty good. In fact, I may go see it a second time. It wasn't a perfect, seamless, flawless movie for sure, but I found it quite enjoyable.
Naturally, the movie also had some awkward moments, but I suppose they are impossible to avoid especially when the entire movie centers around a older couple having marital and sexual problems. In case you are unaware of what you can expect from this movie, it's basically about an older couple that attends a week of intense couples therapy in Maine. Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones star as Kay and Arnold Soames, while Steve Carell portrays their therapist.

Overall the movie had a good overall message and it was most definitely a departure from what Hollywood normally presents to its audiences. And because it was a departure from "normality", so to speak, it could have been a total failure, because as I'm sure many people know, nothing is perfect. When you are leaving anything, in this case, the realm of what is accepted in main stream culture, things can go wrong.
 But luckily, the movie was charming and cute and it spoke to some important issues that I'm sure many people must deal with in relationships. Speaking of the issues that it raised, not many main stream movies these days involve older couples as the center focus. Although last night, at the movie theater, I was outnumbered by older people, I think the Hope Springs has universal appeal because it deals with relationships and the boredom that one surely encounters as time passes. Despite the fact that I'm sure teenagers aren't lining up to see this movie, it speaks to what we all will encounter sooner or later: love, loss and forgetfulness.

Specifically, the acting in the movie was pretty good, although probably not Oscar-worthy. It was nice to see Steve Carell in a movie, although the only other work that I've seen him in is The Office, so it was strange to see him being so serious. And of course, Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones were cute and they had good chemistry and all that. I didn't particularly care for the music in the movie, but I can bear with strange musical interludes as long of the rest of the movie is okay.

All in all, Hope Springs  was very cute with great acting and a well-executed theme. It did have it have its flaws and there were some areas that could have been added to or refined. But I recommend seeing the movie, except for the fact that movie tickets are so expensive! ($10, granted I forgot my student ID once again...)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Cooking Adventures with Nora Ephron

I've just finished reading Heartburn (see previous post) by Nora Ephron and I really loved it. The novel included a bunch of fun recipes scattered within the story so my sister and I decided to cook/bake our way through as many of the recipes in her book as possible this week. I don't want to make this blog too random and it is still dedicated to reviewing books gone Meryl Streep movies. However this was really fun and yummy, so here are some of the things we made!

Day 1: Cheesecake 
This picture is also in my Heartburn post, but I've put it here again anyways. This was our first recipe. It wasn't perfect because we ran out of regular sugar and we had to top the 1 cup off with some brown sugar. We also didn't make our own crust because we had a pre-made crust already. This crust was chocolate. We added the sour creme late also because we ran out and had to go get some more before we could add it in for the last 10 minute baking.
Chilling out in the fridge with sour cream on top. It didn't turn out exactly as expected because we waited longer than we should have to add the sour creme part. It tasted alright though: extra tangy!
*It tasted a lot better on the second day because the new layer of sour cream & sugar had a better consistency.

Day 2: Toasted Almonds

So this took all of 10 minutes to complete, but I had actually never done this because normally I a.) dislike nuts, except when they are in peanut butter and b.) have seen my family toast in the microwave. But today, my sister and I wanted to do something easy and quick so we just did these and counted it as a recipe for the day. We didn't exactly follow the instructions because we didn't have blanced (white) almonds. We used the regular brown kind so it was a little harder to see the burned parts. Anyway, so basically you just have to melt butter in a pan and cook the almonds until you can smell them or in the case of blanced almonds, see the burned parts. My conclusion on Ephron's toasted almonds compared to making them in the microwave is this: More butter, more better. 

Day 3: Key Lime Pie
Making Key Lime Pie was amazing because we didn't have to use the oven or the stove. After mixing everything together, you just have to let the pie freeze. Overall the pie was really simple & quick to make and very much worth it because it tastes so good! I recommend making Key Lime Pie any day, but it is especially perfect for the summer!

Day 4: Swiss Potatoes
Today we made Swiss Potatoes, which are just like potato pancakes. We made ours a lot smaller than the size that Ephron suggested, but they were still very good. However, they were very time consuming to make and I only suggest making them if you a.) really love potato pancakes (which I do) or b.) if you have a lot of time/patience. We had to wash and peel all the potatoes and then grate them, which took a while because we wanted to make a lot of them. You can use a Cuisinart Potato Slicer, but we couldn't locate one.  Then my sister fried the potatoes pieces in a hot frying pan filled with oil, which was difficult at first because the potato pieces stuck to the pan and were difficult to flip at first. The Swiss Potatoes were absolutely delicious and greasy and salty and unhealthy and wonderful. I really loved them, despite all the time they took to make!

Day 5: Vinaigrette 
We are planning on making Ephron's special vinaigrette later today. I'm sure it'll be amazing! As for the last 2 days of this week, we're not sure what to make next, but I figured this post is long enough as it is!

*Thank you to my wonderful sister for helping me out with this because I really have no clue what I'm doing when it comes to cooking/baking/anything in the kitchen.*

**And thank you Nora Ephron. I miss you! Here's to you and here's to food...**

Monday, July 23, 2012

Heartburn, Nora Ephron (1983)

Film: Paramount Pictures, directed by Mike Nichols (1986)
"And then the dream breaks into a million tiny pieces. The dream dies. Which leaves you with a choice; you can settle for reality, or you can go off, like a fool and dream another dream."

Heartburn is Nora Ephron's semi-autobiographical creation about the breakdown of her 2nd marriage after her husband Carl Bernstein (under the fictional name Mark Feldman) cheats on her with Thelma Rice (real-life Margaret Jay), a woman with "a neck as long as an arm and a nose as long as a thumb" (4). Ephron (under the name Rachel Samstat) is a food writer seven months into her pregnancy when she discovers the affair and now she must decide what she wants.

Although, there are countless books about marriage, infidelity and heartbreak, this novel is far from standard. Off the bat, this novel is hilarious, and while divorce and affairs are not, Ephron found a way to look at her situation and laugh about it. Ephron writes deftly and truthfully about the end of her marriage while inserting subtle jokes, reflections, anecdotes/stories and recipes that help carry the story along. The recipes are especially good because they add some interest to the story and they make Ephron's character, Rachel, a food writer even more believable. (This coming week, my sister and I are going to cook our way through her book. Cheesecake today!) In addition, her reflections and stories were consistently entertaining and relevant. Throughout the book, Ephron reflects on the past and talks about how good things once were, while remaining funny and light-hearted.

Most importantly, Ephron is insightful about her life, her experiences, and the roles of men and women in terms of how to deal with the end of a marriage. And yet, through it all, she doesn't take herself too seriously and she's not afraid to let herself go, which is a quality that not all writers have. Sometimes writers isolate their readers through their over-orchestrated, elaborate, far-fetched, embellished stories. However, as usual, Ephron's writing is simple, funny and very touching and insightful.

Although, Ephron advocated not using the pronoun "I" in one's writing, I often fall into this trap and I'm going to write this entire paragraph anyway (*I'm sorry!): I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel. It was actually, really wonderful. At first, I was skeptical about reading this novel because I figured it would be boring, but as it turns out, I had a hard time putting it down. I highly recommend this novel and as the Chicago Tribune puts it: Heartburn is "proof that writing well is the best revenge."
*I miss you Nora Ephron!

**I have not actually seen this movie, and I know it was a flop when it first came out, but I've seen parts of the movie and it looks cute. I must say, however, that the novel is probably better than the film, but the movie does look nice.

***Ta da! My sister and I made this cheesecake today from the recipe out of this book. My sister did most of the work because I really have no idea what I'm doing in the kitchen. But it was really fun, and I'm sure it'll be yummy, despite the fact that we ran out of regular sugar and had to use brown sugar to top the 1 cup off. We also started making the cheesecake before we realized we had no sour creme. Hopefully, we can add some later and it'll be okay. If not, oh well! Not bad for the first cheesecake that I've ever (sort of) made...thanks Nora Ephron: We'll eat this and remember you