Year in Review

In 2007, I didn’t have enough time to do all that I wanted, and that includes reading, but I read the following books (links will take you to my reviews):

That’s a little more than a book a month, which I suppose isn’t too bad. My favorite book was obviously Harry Potter, but aside from that one, the ones I am still thinking about are A Thousand Acres, Ahab’s Wife, and, surprisingly, The Myth of You and Me, which I wasn’t sure would stay with me at the time I finished it.

I also made two great musical discoveries this year: Kelly Richey and Tony Steidler-Dennison’s weekly Roadhouse Podcast. I am finding as I get older that I don’t keep up with musical trends, and I barely ever listened to music on the radio this year. I bought few CD’s. My favorite new CD is by an old band — the Eagles’ Long Road Out of Eden (only available from third party sellers at Amazon because the album is a Wal-Mart exclusive — and incidentally, I thought that was odd given Don Henley’s politics).

My favorite movie this year was Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, but I also enjoyed viewing Possession. I do like movies, but despite instituting a weekly movie night here at the Huff household, I have not found that too many I’ve seen this year really stuck with me.

I did a small amount of traveling in January, when I had the opportunity to accompany the juniors on a class trip through Birmingham, Tupelo, MS., and Memphis. I absolutely loved Memphis, and I can hardly wait to go back. During the trip, a colleague and I accompanied one of the students to ER when he broke his nose. Some of the most interesting places I saw were Elvis’s birthplace and Graceland, the Rum Boogie Café, the Rock and Soul Museum, and Sun Studio. Actually, the Rock and Soul museum didn’t so much have interesting exhibits to look at, but their musical exhibits were amazing.

Happy New Year, everyone.


PossessionI rented the movie Possession from Blockbuster earlier this week and just now got a chance to watch it.  I read the novel upon which the movie is based, A. S. Byatt’s Possession, some seven years ago upon the recommendation of my husband (I loved it, and if you are a lover of literature and/or the Victorian era, you will, too).

I found the movie to be a faithful rendition of the novel, with some changes that I didn’t mind and that didn’t alter the storyline significantly.  The actresses who played Maud Bailey (Gwyneth Paltrow), Christabel LaMotte (Jennifer Ehle), and Blanche Glover (Lena Headey) were all especially well cast.  While Aaron Eckhart wasn’t how I pictured Roland Mitchell, he was good in the role.  In fact, I suppose the most major change in the story was altering Roland’s nationality from British to American.

All in all, if you haven’t seen it and want to curl up with a smart, bookish movie this weekend, go see if you can find it at your video store.

Bonus: Here’s a great reading group guide for the novel, which you should really read.

[tags]possession, a. s. byatt, dvd, film, movie, review[/tags]

Movie Night

I spoke to a very wise person on Thursday. I was upset when I called her, and feeling stressed out. She advised me to spend more time with my children and stop allowing a rather difficult person to take up so much real estate in my thoughts.

So I took her advice, and it just so happened I had a great opportunity to have fun with the kids on Friday night. Maggie’s school held its annual Movie Night, a fundraiser for technology at the school. They screened Shrek II on this great big blow-up screen. We had pizza and popcorn, and stretched out on a blanket under the stars. Dylan tried to steal a couple of glow-sticks, and Maggie watched the movie with her friend Annie and her family, but we all had a great time, and I was really glad I went.

It occurred to me that this is something we should be able to do at home, minus the outdoor trappings. I don’t think we ever made it a standing schedule, but movie night could easily be a weekly Friday event. Popcorn, a DVD or On Demand rental, or even an old favorite we already own, complete with pizza. Sounds like fun.

Birthday Books

My parents have given me a gift certificate to Barnes and Noble for the past several birthdays, and frankly they probably don’t realize how much I really, truly appreciate and enjoy it. I don’t get the chance to just buy books for myself — whatever I want — very often. I usually consider the cost, weigh how much I really want to own it after I read it, what other readers have said about it in conversation or reviews, and what I know about the author’s other work before I am willing to buy a book. Let’s face it, books are expensive. And they’re English teacher crack. I really have to either be on a specific mission or have enough money to indulge a little, or I can’t even go in a book store. That’s why it’s so nice to be able to go nuts with a book gift certificate once a year. So thanks Mom and Dad!

I recently ordered some items from Amazon with a gift certificate I earned through my referral fees as an Amazon associate. I bought the DVD The Freedom Writers and Terry Jones’ Who Murdered Chaucer: A Medieval Mystery. I ordered them on August 28. I’m still waiting for them.

Freedom Writers Who Murdered Chaucer

My order with Barnes and Noble was placed on September 11. To expedite my order, even though shipping was free, B&N decided to ship the items separately. I have already received part of my order, less than 48 hours after I made it. I find it somewhat intriguing that both my Amazon order and my B&N order were placed using gift certificates, but were treated comparatively differently. Just for the record, both items I ordered from Amazon usually ship in 24 hours, according to their descriptions. Both companies waived shipping and handling fees because I spent above a certain amount; however, the fact that the shipping and handling fee was waived didn’t seem to impact the speed of my service with B&N. Again, just making a general observation. I’m usually a very happy Amazon customer, and I can’t remember another time they have taken so long with an order.

At any rate, here is the run-down of my order with B&N:

The Intellectual DevotionalThis book has been on my wish list since Wil Wheaton mentioned it on his blog. It is a compendium of information in every field of knowledge: history, literature, art, science, mathematics, music, philosophy, and religion. The devotional is a concept long associated with spiritual books, but I think this is the first attempt at a secular devotional. The devotional starts on a Monday, but you can start on any Monday. Actually, since I received it today, I started and read up through Thursday, Week 1. I learned about the origins of the alphabet, cave paintings at Lascaux, James Joyce’s Ulysses (which will be my next DailyLit selection — I must be crazy because it’s even longer than Moby Dick and will take me about 11 months to read through Daily Lit, but I decided that I probably wouldn’t read it any other way), and cloning. Did you know that Dolly the cloned sheep had a shorter life span because she was a clone? Her telomeres, “thin strands of protein that cap the ends of chromosomes,” were too short because they were replications of her six-year-old mother’s telomeres. Scientists aren’t exactly sure what telomeres do, but they shorten over the lifespan of organisms. Dolly’s shorter telomeres were most likely a factor in her shorter life. She was put to sleep at the age of six, suffering from arthritis and cancer. Most sheep live about twice that long.

Romantic Favorites Collection I’m not sure, but I think that Love, Actually has been on my wish list for about a year and a half, since I first saw it after renting from our cable company’s On Demand service. I loved it. I love British romantic comedies, and I really don’t care what Hugh Grant did in the car with a prostitute in L.A. I’ll watch anything he’s in. Colin Firth, too, but I don’t have to worry as much about his reputation. And I have loved Julia Roberts since college — I used to try to emulate her look. Remember when she wore the jeans, white tee-shirts, and blazers in the early ’90s? Yeah, that was me in college. Anyway, this package cost about $20 at B&N, and it contains four movies. I thought it was a great deal. In case you can’t tell, it includes Notting Hill; Love, Actually; About a Boy; and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.

Merlin is an alternative point-of-view telling of the King Arthur story. It’s really beautifully shot, and I like the different twist. I am so picky about King Arthur movies and books that unless the author does something fresh, I just get aggravated by the changes they make. Don’t get me started on First Knight, for instance. So much potential, yet so terrible in execution. Not so with Merlin. I used to own a copy of this on VHS, but can no longer play VHS movies anyway, so it was time to get my replacement. I’m looking forward to watching it with Sarah. I’ll bet she likes it.

The Annotated Pride and Prejudice Finally, I ordered The Annotated Pride and Prejudice, which I’m sure I must have read about first on the Jane Austen blog (the review didn’t put me off, however). Jane Austen is one of my favorite writers, and I couldn’t resist a volume that had explanations for every small detail. You know, I’m not sure if I’ve ever owned an annotated book, and I think it will be interesting to see how it enhances my reading experience. I’ve read annotated books — Norton’s anthologies, for instance, and other college literature texts are often annotated, and the annotations really help. At any rate, I love slipping into Austen’s world, and hopefully David Shapard’s annotations will enrich the experience.

I’m enjoying Rebecca so far, and I think the R.I.P. Challenge in general will be a fun one. Tomorrow night, Sarah and I are trekking to the Alpharetta B&N to see Stephenie Meyer (who has some of the best advice for aspiring writers on her website that I’ve ever seen) and get her autograph on Sarah’s copy of Eclipse. Can’t wait!

By the way, in case you were wondering, my birthday is Monday.

[tags]books, literature, stephenie meyer, eclipse, r.i.p. challenge, jane austen, intellectual devotional, british romantic comedies, merlin[/tags]

The Da Vinci Code: The Movie

The Da Vinci CodeLast night, Steve and I rented The Da Vinci Code with our cable system’s On Demand feature. I have to say, I liked the movie better than the book. For one thing, Brown’s weak character development was not as obvious in the movie as in the book. I think, for the most part, the actors did a fairly good job with what they had to work with. Clearly, the standout was Sir Ian McKellen as Leigh Teabing. I mused aloud to my husband upon the question of why Brown would choose to take the one interesting character he wrote, the one character with whom we can sympathize, and turn him evil like that.

Steve said that had he seen the movie without reading the book, he might have perceived the movie as a bit “talky.” I don’t know if I agree, but I did feel that the movie was extremely close to the book. The only real changes I noticed were that it was not obvious Silas had broken out of jail, Sophie’s brother was omitted (as a survivor of the accident, that is), and it wasn’t explained that Rémy died of an allergic reaction to peanuts rather than a simple poison.

I’m glad I didn’t see the movie in the theater, but it was worth the $3.99 we paid to rent it. I really enjoyed seeing all the sets — the Louvre, the streets of Paris, London, and Rosslyn Chapel, although I am not sure that was really Rosslyn. It’s kind of a shame, however, when one is more attracted to the sets than the characters. I don’t think this is something that the actors could have helped. As I mentioned before, they didn’t have much to work with.

[tags]The Da Vinci Code[/tags]

2001: A Space Odyssey

Flipping channels this afternoon, we discovered that 2001: A Space Odyssey was playing on Turner Classic Movies. One of the things that occurred to me when we watched the film was how difficult it really is to determine what the future will be like. The future depicted in the movie was accurate about the following innovations, all available in 2001 (via Wikipedia):

  • Flat-screen computer monitors
  • Small, portable flat-screen televisions (we actually watched the film on a small flat-screen, although it’s not portable)
  • Television screens with wide aspect ratio
  • Glass cockpits in spacecraft
  • The proliferation of television stations
  • Telephone numbers (in the 1960’s, phone numbers had fewer digits; the film depicts 2001 phone numbers as having more digits)
  • Corporations such as IBM, Hilton, and Aeroflot still in existence (this one would be particularly tough to predict, I think)
  • Credit cards with data stripes
  • Biometric identification (I even had to use handprint ID to get in the dining hall at UGA when I was a student there)
  • The shape of the Orion III Pan Am Orbital Clipper was echoed in X-34, a prototype craft (though that may have been an intentional nod to the movie)

Other aspects of life in 2001 proved harder to predict. By 2001, we really didn’t have the following:

  • Proliferation of good-quality, high-resolution videophones
  • Commonplace space travel (do you ever wonder if the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger was responsible for that, to some degree?)
  • Moon colonies
  • Manned missions to Jupiter aren’t feasible (one could argue a mission to Mars is feasible, but not likely to happen for some time)
  • Orbiting hotels (à la The Jetsons?)
  • Routine commercial space flight
  • Technology to put humans in long-term suspended animation
  • Sentient computers that exhibit self-motivation and indepedent judgment
  • Computers with error-free performance records
  • Pam Am Airlines (in any form), the Bell System, and Howard Johnson’s (as of January, there are only three HoJo’s left) restaurants are no longer with us
  • The Soviet Union

In my opinion, however, the film is still ground-breaking. Not many filmmakers today have the nerve to do some of the things Stanley Kubrick did — the open ending, the use of quiet and sound (who can forget the segments when the only sound is Dave’s breathing).

My dad had the soundtrack to 2001 on vinyl. When I was a teenager, I put in on the stereo and listened. I remember tears streaming down my face as I listened to the Gayane Adagio from Khatchaturian. At the time, I thought it was the saddest music I had ever heard, and I believe it still is.

The scene in which Dave has to shut down HAL is one of the most moving scenes in science fiction cinema. I can’t find a video of the whole scene, but here is the end:

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

I wish it had the part when HAL tells Dave he is afraid. It’s chilling.

What do you think this movie means?

[tags]Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey, 2001, HAL 9000, YouTube[/tags]

The Lord of the Rings

TNT is running all three Lord of the Rings movies back to back today.  I know that my dad doesn’t like them, mainly because Peter Jackson chose to change or delete some of his favorite elements.  I think they are much more successful than the Ralph Bakshi cartoons at telling the story in a serious way.  I think my dad re-reads LotR every year or every other year.  He recalled that his fifth grade teacher read his class The Hobbit, which I think awakened an interest not only in Tolkien, but also in fantasy literature.  I tried to read it in the sixth grade, but I don’t think I was ready for it.  I did not actually pick up the books until my sophomore year in college, at the behest of my friend Kari (who was my roommate the next year).  I can remember finishing The Fellowship of the Ring about midnight, and just dying to begin the next book.  Finally when I couldn’t stand it any longer, I went downstairs (I lived on the fourth floor of Reed Hall, and she lived in the basement) to see if she was awake.  Thankfully, she was, and also thankfully, she was amused by my desperation for the second book.

I had never seen the final movie, Return of the King, until last night.  The battle sequences were amazing (I loved the Oliphaunts!), and it was great to see Merry and Eowyn kick some Witch-King butt.  You can still catch part of Fellowship and all of the other two movies if you tune in now.

Love Actually

I have only seen Love Actually a few times, but each time, it stays with me for days. I simply love this movie, and when I haven’t seen it for a while, I forget how much. Every time I see it, it makes me want to move to England. Now.

What does that mean, that it stays with me for days? I keep replaying my favorite parts in my head. And I don’t want to do anything except to watch it again. Here’s a trailer for you.


My favorite movie? My answer to that question vacillates between Brokeback Mountain and Amadeus. Today, it is Amadeus. Of course, YouTube has everything, including clips from this movie. If you haven’t seen it yet, may I strongly suggest that you do so? Such a phenomenal movie. F. Murray Abraham delivers an excellent performance as Antonio Salieri, and Tom Hulce as Mozart is also really good.