Tag Archives: Obsession of the Week

Obsession of the Week: “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro

“All children should believe they are special.” So says the Amazon review of the novel Never Let Me Go by British author Kazuo Ishiguro. I just finished reading this novel over the weekend and can’t put it out of my mind. The more distance I get from reading it, the more I am able to connect things in the book.

It’s nearly impossible to tell you about the plot of the novel without giving too much away. I hate when people say that but in this case it’s really true. The Amazon review describes it like this “The students of Hailsham, an elite school in the English countryside, are so special that visitors shun them, and only by rumor and the occasional fleeting remark by a teacher do they discover their unconventional origins and strange destiny.” To say any more than that is to rob you of the joys of reading as this world reveals itself to you.

The book’s slow steady reveals itself as the story moves forward in the lives of three students from Hailsham (Kathy, Tommy and Ruth). I found it to be about the entirety of life: love, regret, hope, disappointment, death and how we look back over the events of our life as we get older. Looking back longing to have those moments again and longing to go back and not just do it all again, but do it all again better than we did the first time.

Like Ishiguro’s most known work The Remains of the Day, the theme of an importance of duty over personal emotion is very apparent and tragic. In that regards the two books are strikingly similar. Unlike The Remains of the Day, Never Let Me Go is strangely set in a non-existent 1990s world. “Non-existent” because, believe it or not, the book has a science fiction element. Don’t let that scare you. There are no aliens or fantasy-type creatures. It’s strictly human. Its style has been compared by critics to Dickens’ Great Expectations.

When it was released in 2005, it was critically hailed. However, the online reviews from readers have mixed reaction. It’s either a book you get or you don’t, and the online reviews are clearly written in those two camps. When I first finished it, I liked it. Now the more I think about it, the more of the depth is revealed to me. The ending is hauntingly tragic.

Fox Searchlight released a movie version late this last year. It’s scheduled for a wide release later this month. I’ve included the trailer to the film. If you want to experience the full effect of the book – DO NOT WATCH THE TRAILER – it’s full of spoilers. I know some of you will want to know more than I am letting on here – so have at it. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

This book is so layered with detail that it feels like it will haunt me for years with details and insight about life. I think it will be a while before I’m able to let it go. For that reason, it’s my obsession of the week. If you’ve read it – leave me a comment on what you thought. I’d love to read what others think about it.

Obsession of the Week: Outdoor Christmas Decorations in January

I walk every morning before I start work and this week my walks have been somewhat depressing. Sure the sun is shining and it feels good to be exercising but there’s just something depressing about seeing outdoor Christmas decorations in January.

I know we’re barely through the first week of January and I’m not one of those who has his decorations taken down New Year’s Day (mine came down on Tuesday). It’s just walking by houses with their deflated inflatable snowmen, wire reindeer and weather-beaten strands of lights gets me down.

First of all, it’s sad that the holidays are over. Then it’s even sadder seeing the nighttime glories of each homeowner by day side. It’s like partying all night in glittery Vegas and then walking the strip in the morning and realizing just how dirty the city is. It doesn’t make you feel good.

The weeks before Christmas, our family celebrated “Friday Night Lights” where we loaded the kids (7 and 2) in the car in their pajamas and toured different neighborhoods for Christmas displays. The kids loved and I have to admit I started to look forward to it too.

What were once glorious inventive demonstrations of holiday cheer now feel like discouraging tacky demonstrations of “Sanford & Son”isms. When you see a nativity where the grass and weeds are so high you can’t even see the baby Jesus – it just feels wrong. When you see the “Gingerbread Express” in the yard but half the train cars are knocked over, you want to pick it all up and stack it next to the garage of the homeowner just so you don’t have to look at it every morning.

I’m hopeful by Monday this will no longer be an issue. It’s only the first weekend after New Years so I really shouldn’t be complaining but seeing these demoralizing scenes every morning hasn’t done much to help me start this year off on the right foot.

Obsession of the Week: 30 Rock’s “Christmas Attack Zone”

Sure “30 Rock” can be extremely uneven. One week it’s great and the next week it’s weak. There Christmas episodes are always highlights. Last week’s episode “Christmas Attack Zone” really struck my funny bone. What’s a “Christmas Attach Zone?” Think of the airing of grievances from Festivus on “Seinfeld” and add in your own family, alcohol and Christmas and you have the CAZ.

What is it about the holidays that brings out the honesty in people – okay, sure, it’s the alcohol. I think Jack Donaghy sums up family holiday stress best when he says We Donaghys believe that when there’s something at all delicate to talk about it’s best to suppress it until it erupts into fist fight at a church barbeque. That’s funny and true about a lot of families. It’s also why some people want to avoid the holidays. They’re hoping to avoid their family’s attack zone. I think its part of what makes this episode hilarious.

Also funny is  this episode’s mild addressing of  the “War on Christmas” issue. Ultra-conservative Jack Donaghy (played by Alex Baldwin – haha!) and his liberal father Milton Green (play by Alan Alda) trade holiday greetings:

Milton: Yes I’d love to come to your Holiday dinner.
Jack: Christmas! Its Christmas dinner!

Then Jack’s conservative girlfriend, Avery Jessup (played by Elizabeth Banks) adds:

Avery: [Reading Christmas Card] Happy Holidays… is what terrorists say!

This show is so full of great comedic lines that you miss half of them because you’re laughing so hard. The writing on the show is unbelievably quick and subtle.  Thanks to pregnantcornbread.com I was able to pull up some of this episode’s best lines:

Liz (Tina Fey): You want to go the Penn Station K-Mart with me and then watch Tootsie?
Jack: I’m sorry, that’s what you’re doing instead of spending Christmas Eve with your family?
Liz: That’s my new thing.  Travel on Christmas Day.  That way I avoid the annual Lemon family blow up.  And this year it’s going to be a dozy.  My Aunt Linda is bring her new boyfriend who is neither her age nor her race.  And her ex-husband will also be there with his date, alcoholism.  I swoop in the next day for presents and pie.

Tracy (Tracy Morgan): As an actor it is my job to tell the truth, hold a mirror to humanity and sell Proactive.

Colleen (Elaine Stritch): What are my chums at death’s short retirement community going to say when I tell them my unmarried son has knocked up a Protestant!
Jack: I knew you would do it.  Take a happy moment and ruin it.  Just like you did at when I won that scholarship at my high school graduation.
Colleen: It should have gone to the other boy.

Milton: We have to call an ambulance.  Listen to me, dammit, I’m a doctor!
Jack: Of history. In what emergency would you be necessary?  If someone wanted to know if the 60s were awesome or not?
Milton: They were!

Liz: You know what I learned tonight?  As hard as you try no one can escape the horrors of Christmas, so it might as well be with your own family.  I’m going to get a bus to White Haven now and I should be home in time to see Aunt Linda try to prove she’s sober by holding someone’s baby and cooking.

I love this show! It’s smart, quick, witty, yet unbalanced. It reminds me of me. Ha!

Where else on TV can you have a transvestite and actress dressing up for Elton John’s “New Queers Eve” party as Natalie Portman from “Black Swan” and Pittsburg Steelers Lynn Swann as two black swans? Nowhere I tell ya!

Click here to watch 30 Rock\’s \”Christmas Attack Zone\” on NBC.com

Obsession of the Week: Ray LaMontagne

Last week, the Grammy nominations were announced, one of the “Song of the Year” nominees really stuck out for me. I’d heard the song “Beg Borrow or Steal” by Ray LaMontagne but couldn’t believe this traditional folk artist was up for song of the year. It’s a great song but not your typical Pop, R&B, flash-in-the-pan song that usually gets nominated for a Grammy.

More than likely you’ve never heard of LaMontagne or his music, but you may be surprised to find that this music has been around for the past six years and has been featured on various television shows including this season of “Parenthood” on NBC. For “American Idol” fans, you’re likely to remember Taylor Hick’s version of LaMontagne’s “Trouble” as he performed it on the show to rave reviews.

LaMontagne is the type of singer/songwriter that we haven’t seen the likes of since the 1960s and 1970s. His sound is very much reminiscent of the ballads of Cat Stevens (who LaMontagne also looks like), Loggins and Messina, and Crosby, Stills and Nash. It is said that LaMontagne heard Stephen Stills “Treetop Flyer” and quit his regular job to become a singer/songwriter full-time.

I think the pureness of his music and poetry of his lyrics are genius. His music is both mesmerizing and hypnotic. For a sample of some of my favorites try this year’s Grammy-nominated “Beg, Borrow or Steal”, as well as “For the Summer” from this year’s album, God Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise.  Also try “Be Here Now” and “Empty” from his 2006 album Till the Sun Turns Black, “Sarah” from his 2008 album Gossip in the Grain and “Trouble” from his first studio album of the same name. Take a listen and let me know what you think.


http://www.raylamontagne.com

 

Obsession of the Week: “God in American” on PBS

Without a doubt, this six-part series is the authority when it comes to religion and America. No matter your religious preference, it’s something you should watch to get a better understanding of how religion and the freedom of religion in this country has developed and continues to unfold.

It touches upon America from the first European settlers, Thomas Jefferson and the separation of church & state all the way to present day issues with regards to Atheists and Muslims. I found the material on Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War most interesting. Actually, all six parts are chock-full of great information and insight. If you are interested at all in American history and religion, you have to see this series.

The series is available online at pbs.org (click here for the link) and has been rebroadcast over the past couple of months so look for it. Take a look at this extended preview.


 

Obsession of the Week: TNT’s “Men of a Certain Age”

Alright, it’s been more than a week since I’ve had anything decent to write about or recommend but this one is worth it. This show premiered last year right as I was turning 40 and I loved it. The comedic drama stars Ray Romano, Scott Bakula and Andre Braugher in his Emmy-nominated role as, well, men of a certain age. The lyrics from t he show’s opening credits are from the Beach Boys “When I Grow Up to be A Man” ask Will I dig the same things that turn me on as a kid? Will I look back and say that I wish I hadn’t done what I did? Will I joke around and still dig those sounds when I grow up to be a man? Well, we’ve gotten older but have we really grown up? If you’re anywhere near approaching your late thirties or already beyond that, you’ll definitely identify with this show. It’s a perfect combination of both funny and real (in a good way). The writing is sharp and Romano’s turn as a more serious actor is decent. It was easily my favorite show last year during its first season. Its second season premieres on TNT on December 6, 2011. You can watch Season 1 episodes right now on TNT.com for free. If you’re a guy – you won’t be disappointed. It’s one of those undiscovered gems that you should be watching.