About ten years ago, I started watching comedies about dysfunctional families. That’s still my favorite type of movie. I watched About a Boy over and over again because I loved the soundtrack and it had my mom’s favorite song in it and it made me laugh about things I had only been able to cry about before. I saw High Fidelity a few years later and loved it, too.
Both movies were based on novels written by Nick Hornby. I read both of them. I can’t remember if I read About a Boy the same summer I watched the movie or if I read it around the same time I saw and read High Fidelity. I must have read them together, because they each had scenes that didn’t make it to the movies that made me despise the screenwriters and directors, and I don’t know if I would have noticed if I’d read them years apart.
About a Boy follows the novel really well, as far as dialogue goes, except it’s brought up to (then) current times. In the book, Marcus befriends a girl named Ellie who loves Nirvana and blows off his mom’s preferences for Kurt Cobain. In the movie, it’s Mystikal and he meets Ellie when he bumps into her. In the novel, there’s a really touching scene about Ellie’s wretched behavior the day of Kurt Cobain’s suicide. She drunkenly smashes a record store window and the police are called. The woman who owns the shop comes down to see who caused the damage, distraught and furious over the suicide and her shop window. It’s the first time the girl ever sees an adult she admires, and she only met her because she committed this act of vandalism. She is, of course, immediately remorseful and the two sit in a cafe and smoke cigarettes while they wait for Marcus’ mother to come get him.
A similar moment of introspection happens in High Fidelity. Rob, the record store owner, gets a call to see a collection in a wealthy part of town. He walks in to find first pressings of nearly every major early rock n roll release in pristine condition. The woman selling it wants $10 for the whole collection. She had found out her husband had been cheating on her and was selling his collection for a pittance before leaving. Rob can’t bring himself to buy the records even though he desperately wants them (and though the woman taunts him, saying that if he doesn’t buy them, she will call the next shop in the phone book and they surely will) because he can’t get over how he would feel if he was the poor bastard coming home to find his record collection gone.
I think the novel About a Boy is more successful than the movie and the movie High Fidelity is more successful than the novel. Both movies would have been better if they had included the scenes from the novels. About a Boy would have been better if they had gotten anyone besides Hugh Grant, but I digress.
I had my first federal holiday day off yesterday. It felt great.
While Facebook blew up with patriotic posts, I thought about the first time I read Slaughter-House Five and how much time was spent on the travesty of taking the solemn ceremony out of Armistice Day. I don’t think I knew anyone who served during WWI. My grandfathers and their generation served in WWII if they were old enough and the Korean conflict if they weren’t. My father almost served in Vietnam, but took a special forces deferment instead. He is a vet, but he missed action by six months. I’m grateful for that.
I don’t have the same connection to earlier 20th century wars as most of my favorite authors did. I attended an interesting lecture about the problem of distinguishing between commemoration and celebration of wars a year or so ago. Maybe it would be absurd to attach such a solemn ceremony to the War to End War at this point when it is so clear that it didn’t end any wars at all. Memorial Day becoming a party day, where people wear flags and have parades and barbecues to start summer and congratulate themselves on honoring vets, is more of a disgrace than anyone is really willing to think about.
We spend a lot of time together reading. I try to pick out books that are interesting to adults since I know I will end up reading them over and over. We got one at the library by Norman Rockwell called Willie Was Different.
Willie was different because he was an odd-looking wood thrush in a family of upstanding, normal wood thrushes. His father was strict and gave daily lectures on the importance of the wood thrush’s song, which inspired Handel, Weber, and Gounod. Willie knows that he is a genius and sets off to find himself. He finds a human who plays Weber and sings along and sings his own songs. His genius is discovered and set free! He is given a special room in the National Ornithological Society’s aviary in Washington DC and humans with the right spirit can still feel the presence of his genius if they know where to look.
My three year old didn’t understand what was so funny, but I couldn’t get over how funny it was that the Saturday Evening Post met German Enlightenment in a children’s book.
I don’t like cooking meat, so I eat a lot of vegetarian meals. I usually limit myself to whatever is in season. Winter tomatoes are disgusting. I look forward to July every year when my vegetable plants really start producing and markets smell wonderful. Even grocery stores smell better in the summer. My three year old doesn’t really like to eat meat, either. I’m not sure what his hang up is or if it will be a lifelong preference. He eats almost every fruit, vegetable, or legume put in front of him. He even likes salad.
I need to find the right balance. I do need some meat; my energy level is already starting to drop. I loathe cooking meat, but I’ve dabbled in eating a vegetarian diet long enough to recognize and correct the problem.
I had an interview last week. The man told me he had a very serious question for me and asked me, “Habla espanol?” I reflexively answered, “Nein.”
I speak about two sentences and half a dozen words of Spanish, so I understood his question perfectly well. It’s this silly brain that scrambled it up.
I finished two books this week.
The first was The Tin Drum by Günter Grass, which was given to me as a graduation present and I was glad to finally be done with. I was mostly entertained and glad I read the book (but then again, I’m almost always glad to read anything…), but was annoyed with nearly all of the characters the entire time I spent reading it. I suppose that’s the point. I didn’t realize I felt that way until I was two-thirds of the way through it and the nurse at the mental institution wrote a chapter of Oskar’s memoirs. That chapter is impartial and linear. I spent the first two chapters of the book wondering if Oskar was schizophrenic, as he has the habit of changing from first to third person within a sentence. After that, I decided it was merely an annoying trait. I think the second judgment is the correct one. The back of the book says the novel is about the insanity of modern man and modern warfare, and I can’t say I disagree with that. The book is nearly 600 pages long; the war is something that happens around Oskar and influences everyone, but not something he is directly committed to. The first non-violent novelty doesn’t happen for about 500 pages, and even then, it is something that happens around Oskar rather than to him. He plays jazz music while people cut open onions to make them cry because they’ve become so hardened by the war that they’ve forgotten how. I suppose I was annoyed by 500+ pages of banality. I’m suspicious; I tend to end up thinking about books and movies that annoy me at first and end up liking them very well.
The second one I finished was Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut. I liked that one immediately and very well, but I expected that. Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors. I was surprised that the plot was straightforward without jumping in time or place or adding a synopsis of a Kilgore Trout novel.
Today marks the tenth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. I was on a charter bus with 39 other students from my high school, en route to New Orleans to help clean up damage from Hurricane Andrew. One of the chaperones, the school nurse, bought a newspaper. The headline took up the first half of front page. The rest of the bus cheered around me as I slumped in my seat and cried. I was almost 16.