Shades of Grey by Jasper FfordeIf you could only see one color, which one would you choose? Blue, so you could see the sky? Green, so you could see the fields? Purple, so you could see the bloom of a delicate orchid? Red, so you could see a person blush at the sound of your voice? Well, that is the world you would be born into if you lived in Jasper Fforde’s latest novel, Shades of Grey, only with one big difference: you wouldn’t get to choose what color you can see. Nope, that would all depend on your parents.

In Shades of Grey, Fforde creates a rather bright & colorful dystopian society where spoons are sold on a black market, doctors use color swatches for healing, and genetics determine one’s color vision which in turn determines a citizen’s place in society. Citizens are expected to marry within their colors, be obedient to the colors higher in the Spectrum and never ever go out after dark. Eddie Russett can see, and thus is, Red, and has always been satisfied with his lower place in the Spectrum. However, soon he finds himself in love with Jane Grey, a rebellious Grey at the lowest point in the Spectrum, who causes him to question everything he sees and doesn’t see. This novel is completely different from Fforde’s quirky meta-literary universes in his Thursday Next and Nursery Crime series, but it still contains his same nonsensical and snarky humor while addressing bigger issues of individualism, government/corporate power, and spoon shortages.

On a tangent: I experienced Shades of Grey in the audiobook format (although I may reread it in the text format–I wonder if there was any visual wordplay that I missed) and I tend to listen to listen to audiobooks while I wash the dishes, so I created a very, very complex formula to determine how much I enjoy listening to a particular book:

[(# of times I wash dishes) + 2(# of times I wash dishes despite it being my husband’s turn) – (# of times I listen to a Shakira playlist instead of audiobook)] / (# of weeks I listen to an audiobook) = x

if x < 1 then I probably never finished the book.

if x = 1 then the book was solidly good.

if x >1 then I enjoyed the book so much that I changed my dish-washing habits just to listen to it more often.

The audiobook for Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde was about a 2.25, thus I REALLY ENJOYED this book!

Good Mood Food, a cookbook by Donal SkehanHave you been languishing waiting for Ireland to produce a chef as healthy and good-looking as Jaime Oliver? FINALLY that wait is over! Let me introduce you to the young, Irish chef/blogger Donal Skehan, aka “Ireland’s answer to Jaime Oliver” (as stated on the cookbook’s cover), who appears to be an expert at creating simple and cozy recipes that make me want to curl up in a country cottage and watch him cook for me. Just kidding! Actually, Good Mood Food is one of the few cookbooks that actually made me want to cook. I do not usually enjoy cooking, and probably only checked out this cookbook because I liked the rhyming words in the title, but within a few days of having the book on my kitchen table I discovered I had made Perfect Parmesan Parsnips! What happened?! I just don’t do things like that! Soon afterwards I found a Bacon Avocado and Sundried Tomato Sandwich in my hands. The recipes are so easy and the photographs so lovely that I couldn’t resist. Yup, this Donal Skehan guy is good. Check out his blog at: www.donalskehan.com.

The French film Séraphine stars Yolande Moreau as the 20th century artist Séraphine Louis–a poor housekeeper/painter who was discovered in 1912 by the German art collector Wilhelm Uhde. Uhde was only able to give Séraphine minor support before he had to flee France due to the war, but he eventually came back to France and happily found that Séraphine was not only alive, but had continued her painting. He immediately became her lead patron, giving her an allowance and finding exhibitors and buyers for her work, until the world economic woes hit the art world and Séraphine’s mental instabilities paralyzed her painting.

I absolutely love to watch people paint–from Bob Ross to Jackson Pollock to craftsters on Martha Stewart–and so I also love films about painters since they often include a variety of short and long scenes where the artists fervidly creates their famous masterpieces. However, the greatest part of this film is not watching Séraphine’s actual painting (although that is fantastic), but seeing her gather pigments and create her own paints (for example: stealing hot wax from the church’s prayer candles). The artist never revealed her methods of creating her vibrant colors, but the film’s version of her ingenuity is, nonetheless, absolutely fascinating!

Lately, my mother and I have been on 1940’s holiday movie binge and they are all FANTASTIC! Of course we watch Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) every year, but here is a list of some of the  films that we have just discovered:

It Happened on 5th Avenue
(1947)
Starring: Don DeFore, Ann Harding and Charles Ruggles

A homeless man and ex-GI secretly move into a millionaire’s empty mansion during the holidays and are soon joined by a young woman after they catch her robbing the mansion of its fur coats. Unbeknownst to the gentlemen, the young woman is actually the millionaire’s runaway daughter and soon she invites her cranky father, the millionaire, to move in with her as an undercover vagrant.

Christmas in Connecticut
(1945)
Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan and Sydney Greenstreet

A Martha-Stewartish journalist becomes frantic when her publisher insists she treats an injured GI to a real family-oriented Christmas at her Connecticut home–what will happen when they find out she has no cooking skills, no husband, no baby, and no home in Connecticut?!

The Shop Around the Corner
(1940)
Starring: Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart and Frank Morgan

Two workers in a Budapest gift-shop absolutely loathe each other, but are unaware that they are each other’s beloved anonymous pen-pal. Who will be the first to discover the truth? This is the original movie that inspired You’ve Got Mail starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks!

Holiday Affair
(1949)
Starring: Robert Mitchum, Janet Leigh and Wendell Corey

Classic romance where a single mother struggles to choose between a comfortable fiancé and an unexpected romantic stranger on Christmas.

I thought I knew all about bacon but --, ca. 1930sIf you are a fan of cookbooks, or any type of book related to food, then take a quick trip to Iowa City to see the The Chef Louis Szathmáry II Collection of Culinary Arts housed in the University of Iowa Libraries’ Special Collection Department. This collection contains over 12,000 items relating to the art and science of cooking and eating, including cookbooks, fiction, pamphlets, artist books, manuscripts and much more. Louis Szathmary (1919–1996), was a Hungarian-born chef, restaurateur, food writer and owner of The Bakery restaurant in Chicago who built one of the largest culinary arts archives in the United States; in fact, the University of Iowa is housing only a fraction of his collection. In Books at Iowa 42 (April 1985), Szathmáry wrote: “To house this large and varied collection requires 31 rooms in the residential area above my restaurant (The Bakery) in Chicago.” That is a lot of tasty print!

However, don’t worry if you prefer to be an Armchair Cook– The UI Special Collections and Digital Libraries have digitized a huge selection of Szathmary’s Recipe pamphlets, such as “I thought I knew all about Bacon–“, that you can view online at http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/szathmary/!

The Wedding Girl by Madeleine WickhamOnly a couple more months until my wedding (GAH!) so I picked up Madeleine Wickham’s The Wedding Girl, hoping that the funny, whimsical hijinks of Milly Havill, the main character, would distract me from stressing out. Unfortunately, those hijinks turned out to be kind which cause more panic than giggles.

The story begins when eighteen year old Milly travels to Oxford on her first summer away from home and gets swept up in an intimate friendship with two gay men, Allan and Rupert. Soon the men approach Milly with an elaborate favor–Would she agree to marry American-born Allan so that he can remain in England to be with Rupert? Milly doesn’t hesitate before saying yes and soon finds herself smiling and waving at passerbys as she stands arm-in-arm with Allan in front of the registry office.

Ten years later, Milly has four days until she weds Simon, the son of a local millionaire, and her secret marriage has begun to leak out sending Milly and everyone around her in a downward spiral as they try to make the wedding still happen. This seems like it may just be the perfect set-up for a witty, British comedy ala Death at a Funeral, does it not?! But no! It is heavy and melancholy, but still every bit a page-turner thanks to the questions surrounding the whereabouts of Rupert and Allan. Although I enjoyed The Wedding Girl, I would instead suggest Meg Cabot’s Queen of Babble for Brides who are looking for a fun, romantic read with lots of wedding drama.

Herb & Dorothy, an Arthouse Film by Megumi Sasaki, tells the amazing story of the Vogels–a couple who built one of the most extensive collections of minimalist and conceptual art despite their modest incomes.

As former artists themselves, Herb and Dorothy began collecting other artists’ work in the early 1960’s with two rules in hand: 1. the piece had to be affordable and 2. it had to fit in their small, one-bedroom apartment. They decided to live on Dorothy’s salary from working at the Brooklyn Public Library and use all of Herb’s Postal Clerk earnings to buy art. But Herb and Dorothy didn’t just buy art, they also cultivated intimate relationships with some of today’s most famous artists who were virtually unknown at the time they were sought out by the Vogels.

In 1992, the over 4,000 piece collection was moved from the Vogel’s tiny apartment to the National Gallery of Art after much wooing from museums and institutions around the world. In the film, Herb explains how important it was for him and Dorothy to donate their priceless collection to the very people who paid their salaries (taxpayers) and thus made their means of collecting possible. The Vogels have since created the Vogel 50×50 program where 50 of their works were donated to a museum in each of the 50 states, and Iowa’s recipient was the fantastic Cedar Rapids Museum of Art (their first exhibit of the donation, Less is More: The Vogel Gift of Minimal and Conceptual Art, just ended in May).

HERB & DOROTHY Trailer from Herb & Dorothy on Vimeo.

Herb & Dorothy, an Arthouse Film by Megumi Sasaki, tells the amazing story of the Vogels–a couple who built one of the most extensive collections of minimalist and conceptual art despite their modest incomes.

As former artists themselves, Herb and Dorothy began collecting other artists’ work in the early 1960’s with two rules in hand: 1. the piece had to be affordable and 2. it had to fit in their small, one-bedroom apartment. They decided to live on Dorothy’s salary from working at the Brooklyn Public Library and use all of Herb’s Postal Clerk earnings to buy art. But Herb and Dorothy didn’t just buy art, they also cultivated intimate relationships with some of today’s most famous artists who were virtually unknown at the time they were sought out by the Vogels.

In 1992, the over 4,000 piece collection was moved from the Vogel’s tiny apartment to the National Gallery of Art after much wooing from museums and institutions around the world. In the film, Herb explains how important it was for him and Dorothy to donate their priceless collection to the very people who paid their salaries (taxpayers) and thus made their means of collecting possible. The Vogels have since created the Vogel 50×50 program where 50 of their works were donated to a museum in each of the 50 states, and Iowa’s recipient was the fantastic Cedar Rapids Museum of Art (their first exhibit of the donation, Less is More: The Vogel Gift of Minimal and Conceptual Art, just ended in May).

HERB & DOROTHY Trailer from Herb & Dorothy on Vimeo.

“They can’t make me be a princess…I mean, this is America for crying out loud.”

The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot is not only one of my favorite book series, but also one of my favorite audiobook series. In fact, I have only “read” the final two in the series–the first eight were purely experienced by audiobook! I seem to gravitate towards audiobooks where the story is in diary format (Princess Diaries, Bridget Jones, Confession of Georgia Nicholson, etc). They are usually light and funny, and I do not lose track of the story if I get distracted by something else for a second.

For those of you who haven’t seen the Princess Diaries’ movies starring Anne Hathaway (her first role, in fact!) and Julie Andrews, the series follows a girl named Mia Thermopolis as she deals with being invisible at school, having a crush on her best friend’s older brother, seeing her mom kiss her math teacher, and, oh yeah, finding out that she is the sole heir to the throne of a small European principality (the made-up country of Genovia). Mia is incredibly big-hearted and intelligent, but also quite dramatic and neurotic. Thus, she gets herself into all sorts of hilarious entanglements much to the enjoyment (and sympathy) of the listener. Also, almost everyone I know who has read this series has become infatuated with the character of Michael Moscovitz–as in he is right up there with Mr. Darcy for romantic literary figures. If that won’t get you to read/listen to it, I don’t know what will! (and extra bonus, the movies’ version of Michael was played Robert Schwartzman, who will be in the Quad Cities on August 6th to perform with his band Rooney at the Redstone Room.)

With a few tweaks to design and format, many classics have found themselves again at the top of recent bestseller lists and looking glamorous in the bookstore window displays. Here are a few of my favorite classic updates that would excellent viewing for recent graduates:

Wuthering Heights is all the rage right now due a certain saga of Vampire novels giving numerous nods in Emily Brontë’s direction. And if that wasn’t enough make this classic fly off the shelves, Penguin Deluxe Classics just reissued a new edition of the book featuring a FANTASTIC cover design by fashion illustrator, Ruben Toledo, where Heathcliff is looking particularly handsome and Edward-ish.

One of the most popular trends in publishing right now is the graphic-novelfying of both old and new classics. A People’s History of American Empire: a Graphic Adaptation by Howard Zinn is a great choice for those High School Graduates heading off into the heat of a liberal arts college’s world of discussion and debate.

Nothing gets more classic than a Superhero story of Good vs. Evil. Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is a 3-part musical starring Neil Patrick Harris, Felicia Day and Nathan Fillion was produced by cult hero Joss Whedon and originally released online. Can a classic story get any more updated than that?! It has since been released on DVD with tons of extras and is a MUST SEE for anyone who will be living in a college dorm where spontaneous, amateur performances of the show are not uncommon.

Your graduate has read the books, seen the movies, and listened to Jim Dale’s narration over and over again. But have they rocked out to Harry and the Potters yet? You cannot know the depths of your love for HP until you have sung “Save Ginny Weasley” at the top of your lungs with a hundred other fanboys and fangirls. Don’t believe me that Wizard Rock is one of the awesomest things right now? Come see Harry and the Potters at the Eastern Grand Opening on July 10, 2010!