Catching up with the New Yorker recently, I not only laughed out loud at Rivka Glachen’s profile of children’s author and illustrator Mo Willems –Funny Failures – but also connected to this children’s author’s wry outlook. I needed to find his books.
A quick search showed ninety-eight of his titles in my local library system, so I returned to the article to note those highlighted in the five page article. Two have won Caldecott Honors – Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus (2004) and Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale (2005). Another I added, just to meet the elephant and the pig in We Are in a Book.
Knuffle Bunny may remind you of the last time you lost something in the laundry; the pigeon is hilarious – what’s the first thing any child wants to do when told not to? As for the elephant and the pig, I dare you not to say “BANANA” when you read their book.
Although Willems’ books are identified as Easy Readers, in the same vein as Eric Carle or P.D. Eastman, his animals are funny in their anxiety and resilient in their failures – a lesson for adults as well as children. Give yourself a laugh; find Mo Willems.
Sophie Kinsella’s books always make me smile and no matter what the heroine endures, I know I am guaranteed a happy ending with the tall handsome – most of the time rich – hero. Her latest book – My (not so) Perfect Life – met my expectations -a frothy romance with a hint of wisdom.
Katie, a country English girl leaves the farm for a career in the big city, but London life is not as easy or glamorous as she envisioned. She lives in a small apartment with a web designer roommate who stores boxes of whey in the living room for a side business. Although she has a degree in design, her job at a marketing firm is confined to low level data input. After she gets fired, she returns to the farm to help her father and step- mother start a glamping business with glamorous yurts and homemade scones.
When her former Cruella-like boss arrives to vacation with her “perfect” family, Katie takes her revenge in a hilarious series of bespoke activities. Of course, the handsome hero arrives later and the action turns into an office politics nightmare.
Katie saves the day, reforms her boss, and, of course, gets the guy. Despite the antics and ridiculous plot twists, the book has a message – no one’s life is as good it may seem. An enjoyable and fast read, My (not so) Perfect Life will have you laughing and reaffirming life as an unending tale of possibilities – Bridget Jones style.
Whenever I watch old movies, I cannot resist looking up the background of the players, wondering what their lives were really like. Edward Sorel’s Mary Astor’s Purple Diary was satisfyingly short and funny – with pictures – and Woody Allen’s review in the New York Times piqued my interest. Maybe he’ll turn the book into a movie?
Edward Sorel’s Mary Astor’s Purple Diary focuses on a long forgotten scandal involving the movie star well known to old movie fans for playing the deceiving foil to Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon and the wise mother in Meet Me in Saint Louis and Little Women. At a time when movie moguls used the casting couch for plum roles but concealed their movie stars’ indiscretions to gain approval from the “legion of decency,” Mary Astor’s love life was front page news when her diary was discovered. Her descriptions of her many lovers became fodder for a real-life courtroom drama that could have been right out of the movies.
Sorel is well known for his political caricatures and his “unauthorized portraits” of the famous. No modern president or president-elect has escaped his fervor to “attack hypocrisy in high places.” His style is easily recognized on covers for The New Yorker.
Sorel punctuates this book with a few hilarious scenes of Mary Astor as she negotiates her scandal. In a sideways tale of Astor’s life, Sorel includes facts about her family and background, but in his imaginary interview with the dead actress, he manages to include a funny perspective on her lovers – names old movie fans will recognize, including John Barrymore and George S. Kauffman. At times, Sorel’s irreverent style and his tangents into his own marriages reflect a Woody Allen style with wry observations and self-deprecating humor.
I cannot imagine why Mary Astor kept an incendiary diary about her lovers; somehow written secrets always find their way out. But thanks to Sorel, it made for fun reading – like flipping through that Entertainment Weekly or People magazine in the doctor’s office.
Have you finished your shopping for Christmas? Are you still trying to find the best gift for each individual? John Tierney of the New York Times suggests – The Perfect Gift? It’s the One They Asked For. Don’t make gift-giving complicated.
“If you can find one sure thing, don’t be afraid to give it more than once.”
In that spirit – not overthinking – find a great book and give it to everyone.
Vanity Fair offers “The Bookworm’s Bespoke Gift Guide” from Juniper publishing, and the New York magazine lists 15 of the year’s most giftable books including Frantumaglia “for the Ferrantephile “who just can’t get enough,” and Hillbilly Elegies for anyone who keeps asking who voted for Trump. The Journal Sentinal has an exhaustive list, including some of my favorites from Maria Semple, Ann Patchett, and Amor Towles. The Star-Tribune includes a few classics in its 50 best books for holiday giving – many I have on my to-read list, but their best suggestion may be Jon Klassen’s We Found a Hat.
My favorite book to give at Christmas is Bill Watterson’s It’s A Magical World.
As I was walking through the park this morning, I was startled out of my musings when an older woman, looking a little like Mrs. Santa Claus with her red hat and spectacles, cheerily accosted me with her babble. I stopped, not sure what she had said, and wondering if she was someone I had once met but forgotten. Determining she was not among the homeless or crazy inhabitants of the area, I smiled and walked on. Could it be she was just happy and living in the moment? Was she enjoying hygge and passing it on?
Whether it’s joie de vivre, being in the moment, or Christmas spirit – all similar to the concept – hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) seems an idea with merit – although not so new.
The plan is to make simple pleasures matter. Slow down and smell the roses – preferably the fresh cut ones in a crystal vase on your dining room table. Brew some coffee and sip it slowly in a heavy white mug. Enjoy. Slow down. Sound familiar? It’s the runner-up word of the year in Britain – behind Brexit, but the word and concept is Danish.
A friend’s email had alerted me to the hygge phenomenon, and I did a little research to discover what I had missed. I’ve downloaded How to Hygge: Thirty-Three Ways to Lead a Happy, Healthy, Contented Life Through the Danish Art of Hygge on Audible to accompany me while I walk (and discourage anyone else from talking to me).