Books & Movies

Here is my (highly idiosyncratic) lists of favorite books and movies I  have enjoyed in the last couple of years.  I really don’t mind books and movies that are depressing, violent, have subtitles, or have a lot of bad language and sex. So my suggestion:  read a little bit about any of these works before you venture into them. Neither list is in any particular order (the movies, more in the order that I saw them, the books at least start out alpha by title).  I have been keeping the movie list since I started my Netflix subscription (and started watching a lot of movies during my daily elliptical workout). The book list I started much later, so it isn’t as complete.  Send me recommendations of things that you think I might enjoy.  I can’t really include a list of favorite classical music because there are so many things I like, but my favorite composer of all time is Haydn. I never get tired of his music!

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Update: June 2017

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My current favorite single author is Anthony Trollope (1815-82).  He is frequently despised by English professors but his stock is coming back, as noted in recent New Yorker article.  He really gets the dance of class, gender, status and has deep psychological insights (along with some lovely humor and irony). A good gateway for Trollope is Dr. Wortle’s School or The Warden followed by Barchester Towers.  These aren’t his best books, but they are short and give you a real feel for what he can do.  The BBC mini-series of The Way We Live Now is fantastic and there is also a BBC mini-series on the Barchester novels. Avoid, please, the recent Amazon mini-series of Dr. Thorne.  It gets the scenery and plot right, but not the subtlety that make Trollope so interesting.

The Secret History, Donna Tartt (reminds me of my Interdisciplinary Humanities Class)

Home and Gilead, Marilynne Robinson. Two beautiful books describing the same characters from different perspectives, both deeply thoughtful and insightful.

Snow Falling on Cedars, David Guterson. Set in the San Juan islands, sort of a mystery/love story.

Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe. Riveting story and incredible social commentary with great humor.  Actually it reminds me of Trollope, my highest compliment .

A Visit from the Goon Squad, Egan (ingenuous and brilliant, and, fortunately, you don’t have to care about non-classical music). Just read the chapter on the safari, and if you aren’t blown away, don’t read the rest of it.

American Rust, Meyer (reminds me of Russo books, but more depressed)

Cloud Atlas, Mitchell. Complex architecture of seven stories, all making a single point. Uncharacteristically, I liked the movie but if you haven’t read the book it won’t make much sense. I just finished his new oneThe Bone Clocks, also great.

Empire Falls, and others by Russo (love these books so much I hate when they are over)

Fateful Lighting , Guelzo (a civil war book that gives the big picture politically and economically, not so much on the battles).f

Freedom, Franzen (wow, just a really great plot with a lot of insight, also sorry when it ended). I liked The Corrections and Purity too.

God of Small Things, Roy (Amazing book set in India).

Guns, Germs, and Steel, Diamond (like Malcolm Gladwell books, this is the sort of thing you have to tell everyone about).

One Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley (the plot of King Lear set in a farm).

Hamilton, Chernow (wonderfully written book about Alexander H, what a tragic figure)

History of the World in Six Glasses, Standage (very amusing history viewed by drinks, beer, wine, rum, coffee, tea, coke).

How it all began and Consequences, Penelope Lively (gentle novels with beautiful plots and deep themes as well).

Interpreter of Maladies, Jumpa Lahiri (great stories about Bengalis living in the US, and about the immigrant experience generally, liked her other books too).

Light Between the Oceans, Stedman (just a charming book club sort of book).

We are Water, Wally Lamb. If you want a really fat book, Lamb is for you.  I liked some of hisother books as well.

Name of the Rose, Eco, and Possession, Byatt (great and clever novels, both of which discouraged me from trying to write a novel).

Old Man’s War (and sequels, first scifi I have enjoyed since Ender’s Game) Scalzi

On Saudi Arabia, House (Saudi Arabia, what a mess, worse than I could have imagined).

Philosophy Made Simple, Hellenga (a novel, not a philosophy book, despite title —  a wonderful whimsical story)

Prodigal Summer, Kingsolver (great blend of storyline, sociology, and easy to understand ecology)

Secret Scripture, Barry (Sebastian Barry is a friend, but this is a fascinating book set in Ireland. If you don’t know Irish history, you might have to read up on it a bit, or just see the movie: The Wind that Shakes the Barley).

Song of Achilles, Miller (very clever retelling of Trojan war story)

The Big Short, Lewis (on the financial collapse, beautifully written, now I understand what a credit default swap is).

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Diaz (fascinating storyline also takes you through the horrifying world of the D.R)

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Skoot (science, sociology, history, racism, medicine, all in one fascinating book. Set in Baltimore, so I especially like it.

The Imperfectionists, Rachman (interlocking stories about a newspaper in Italy)

The Power of Habit (I love all of these popular social psychology books, but this one was especially interesting).

Transatlantic, Colum McCann (liked it especially having been to Northern Ireland during some of the time periods described),

Windup Bird Chronicle, Murakami (weird and wonderful)

Marriage Plot, Eugenides (another blockbuster old fashioned novel)

Some favorite multi-volume series: The Raj Quartet(Paul Scott) – also check out the BBC mini-series, The Jewel in the Crown. Explores the issues of colonialism and race.  Also loved: A Dance to the Music of Time, 12 volumes from Anthony Powell, sort of a portrait of English society through the middle of the 20th century (mini series of this one too, but not so great).  Robertson Davies also wrote several great series – I enjoyed The Fifth Business and What’s Bred in the Bone.  And finally, of course, the Karla novels of John LeCarre, starting with Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and, of course, the amazing mini-series and recent movie based on those.

Room, Emma Donohue (although superficially unrelated, this is really about Plato’s allegory of the cave)

Sweet Tooth, Ian McEwan (an interesting perspective on the traditional spy stories)

A Suitable Boy, Virkam Seth (over a 1,000 pages but worth it – a tale of modern India)

The History of Love, Jennifer Eagan

A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki (fascinating picture of modern Japan, with deeper themes)

Goldfinch, Donna Tartt (main character is sometimes kind of nasty, but I couldn’t put this book down).

The Big Short, Michael Lewis.  A great business book, and now I know what a credit default swap is.

Augustus, John Williams.  Clever historical novel about the emperor, I also liked Williams’ other book: Stoner.

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, Siddartha Mukerjee (an insight on virtually every page).

Life after Life, Kate Atkinson. Perhaps a bit drawn out but a clever literary device and an insightful look at the WWII years. I also liked her related story:  A God in Ruins.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin, a sweet, short, heart-warming love story, mystery.

An Officer and a Spy, Robert Harris.  Amazing historical novel about the Dreyfus affair.  What a story! They should make it a mini-series.

The Garden of Evening Mists, Tan Twan Eng. A beautiful and meditative book that touches on some painful events, but is ultimately about forgiveness and recovery.

The Husband’s Secret, Liane Moriarty.  Great vacation reading, fast paced, enormously clever.  I liked her other books like Big Little Lies and What Alice Forgot.

I enjoyed The Art Forger by Shapiro. Although the plot gets a bit farfetched you also learn a bit about art.

Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, i. I found this very interesting in thinking about my own recent transition of retirement.

I think Daniel Mitchell’s books are extremely imaginative and engrossing. So far I liked Cloud Atlas best (the movie version is interesting after you have read the book but otherwise incomprehensible) but I also really enjoyed Bone Clocks and Slade House.

Kate Atkinson is another recent favorite, I especially liked A God In Ruins, but I thought Life After Life was also excellent. The two books together are companion volumes that give a good sense of history of the WWI and WWII years in England and Germany.

A Gap of Time, Jeanette Winterson turns Shakepeare’s bizarre play, Winter’s Tale, into a modern novel (not an easy task) that is interesting on its own.

A lot of artist biographies are boring, but I really liked The Art of Rivalry: Four Friendships, Betrayals, and Breakthroughs in Modern Art, by Sebastian Smee.

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout — I also read some of the stories from Olive Kitteredge.

I just reread Chaim Potok’s book, The Chosen. It is always a risk to read a book that one enjoyed 30 years ago, but this one holds up well.  The tensions within religious movements — a theme of this remarkable book — have only become more intense since it was written.

Alan Drew’s new novel, Shadow Man, is terrific.  In has some of the characteristics of a thriller, with a page-turning plot and a serial killer.  Its real appeal, however, is the depth of its understanding of some very believable characters.  Full disclosure: Alan teaches at Villanova and I have known him for years.  I liked his first book, Gardens of Water, as well.

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movies:

Favorite Movies

Monsoon Wedding

Bend it like Beckham

Once were Warriors

Ararat

The Hours

Adaptation

Y tu mama tambien

Raise the Red Lantern

The Road Home

Talk to Her

City of God

Mystic river

Italian for beginners

Amores Peres

Whale rider

Lost in translation

21 Grams

Shower

The Station Agent

Day for Night

Mostly Martha

Spring fall winter summer, and spring again

Sideways

King of Masks

The woodsman

Victoria and Albert TV

Lagaan (if you like Ballywood)

Bride and Prejudice (also for Bollywood fans)

Brokeback Mountain

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Capote

Napoleon (TV)

Middlemarch (TV)

The Best of Youth TV

Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of war (highly violent)

Separate Lies

Postmen in the Mountains (Nashan naren nagou)

Fire

Infernal Affairs

Stage Beauty

Eat Drink Man Woman

Babel

Fargo

Tsotsi

Something the Lord has Made

Letters from Iwo Jima

The Queen

Insider

The Departed

Cuckoo

Volver

The Way we Live Now (BBC mini-series)

Band of Brothers (another great mini-series)

Walk on Water

Little Children

Water

The Black Book

In Bruges

Eastern Promises

Gone Baby Gone

Slumdog Millionaire

Rachel Getting Married

Milk

Amu

I have loved you so long

Frost Nixon

Taking Chance

Hurt Locker

The Wire (HBO series)

Rome (HBO series)

Salt of the Earth

Departures

Invictus (and Color of Money)

Rails and Ties

Social Network

Lars and the Real Girl

The King’s Speech

As it is in Heaven

Masterpiece Contemporary: Collision

Red Cliff (international version)

House of Cards (both BBC and Netflix miniseries)

Descendants

Girl with Dragon Tattoo (Swedish and English versions)

Argo

Under the Same Moon

Brides Maids

Vitus

Cloud Atlas

Even the Rain

Late Quartet

Of Gods and Men

Captain Phillips

Newsroom (Season I)

Ender’s Game

Downton Abbey (1-3)

Philomena

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

My week with Marilyn

A better life

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Hitch

The Imitation Game

The Woman in Gold

Premium Rush (not my usual kind of movie but I really enjoyed it)

The Sessions

Brooklyn, didn’t care for the book, but loved the movie. Worth seeing for the star’s eyes alone — amazing.

Room, even better than the book,  which one rarely finds.

Temple Grandin, usually I avoid triumph of the human spirit movie but this rocked.

Bridge of Spies

American Sniper

Big Eyes (this about the woman who painted those children with enormous big eyes and how her husband took credit for her work ).

I watch a lot of Art History videos from Netflix but the one I like best is the BBC series: The Private Life of a Masterpiece. 

Some mini-series that I liked:  The Americans (first season – got a bit bored with subsequent seasons).  I liked the movie of Fargo and but I liked the TV mini series even more (amazingly, both seasons were fantastic, second even better than the first). I also like The Fall and loved  Billions.

Manchester-by-the-Sea, as good a film as it is depressing.

I really enjoyed the new PBS Shakespeare series, the Hollow Crown.  The first season, Richard II, Henry IV pt 1, Henry IV pt 2, and Henry V was amazingly well done, but skip Henry IV, pt. 2.  It is one of Shakespeare’s worst plays, in my humble opinion, and without it the other three really hang together as an integrated saga.  As the critics point out, it really is an Elizabethan “game of thrones.”    Comments on the second season are forthcoming but, so far so good.

Hacksaw Ridge – both very violent and rather heartwarming.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople People. Quirky but delightful and even heart-warming, set in the New Zealand bush.

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