Rebecca Serle’s new book The Dinner List introduces the concept that the main character has a birthday dinner with Audrey Hepburn and three important people from her past. The book is on my TBR list, but hearing about this idea spurred on my own thoughts about which guests, living or dead, I would invite to a dinner party. To fit with the theme of my blog, I narrowed down my list of most desirable guests to five celebrities I’d most want to invite for a meal.
Although I’m sure I could compose an endless list of writers, historical figures, and musicians I’d love to talk with over wine, the simplest solution for now was to pick those who fit within the most traditional idea of celebrity to me. As a result, I have a TV reporter and an actor/composer on my list, but I picked these top five based on what combination of people would create the most enjoyable environment.
My top dinner guests also came about because I would also want my grandfather there. He passed away more than seven years ago, and there’s no doubt in my mind that if miracles happened and this kind of opportunity was feasible, I’d want him right there with me at this table of stars.
You know I love me some Jimmy Stewart. I’d inevitably be so starstruck and flustered about him at my dinner table that I’d be a little shy to talk to him. That’s when my grandpa comes in — I think they’d get along so well! Jimmy Stewart was more than 20 years older than my grandpa, but I feel that they would bond over many generational and personality similarities. Both fought in World War II, and, just like my grandpa, Stewart always came across as an old school gentleman.
These are some of my favorite posts to write. As seen by all of the posts filed in my ‘If These Books Were Movies’ tag, I love talking about a certain actor who appeared almost instantly as a character in a book I was reading. I’m attempting to write a novel now, and I’ve loved putting together a secret Pinterest board of the actors I envision as my characters. The dream castings mentioned in this edition were particularly strong and quick to materialize — Hollywood producers, take note!
1) Julia Roberts and Rachel McAdams as Birdie and Cady (Campaign Widows, by Aimee Agresti)
“Talent could protect and insulate you against the world in so many ways, she had always thought.”
A lot of the characters in this ensemble novel actually appeared very clearly to me, but Julia Roberts as a D.C. socialite whose marriage is failing and Rachel McAdams as the plucky TV producer who has moved her life to D.C. for her fiancé’s career were utter no-brainers. Birdie is an older woman whose fabulous campaign parties make up for the personal turmoil she often faces in regards to her philandering husband, while Cady makes the best of her producer job at a local, lowly ranked morning talk show as her fiancé jets off as a staffer on a prospective presidential campaign. Cady reminded me a lot of McAdams’ Morning Glory character, while Birdie just had the composure Roberts has in so many roles.
I definitely fell behind in reading during August. I really don’t enjoy the end of summer, but not for the reasons you may think. I hate sticky, extreme August heat and the slowing effect it has on me, and two weeks into the month, I inevitably just want autumn, sweaters, and a better feeling of structure back in my life. August was so disgustingly hot this year that it definitely affected my desire to read, and it didn’t help that the books I ended up finishing were a little difficult to get into and not incredibly memorable overall.
In August, I also failed in my goal to read The Handmaid’s Tale once again. I just haven’t been in the mood to take on a such a bleak read, so I may just start the TV series soon and pick up the book if I still want to after seeing the show. I’ve also been on library waitlists for The Wedding Date and The Kiss Quotient for what feels like forever, but my turn with the books should finally come up this month. So, fingers crossed for a more enjoyable reading month after August’s slight letdown!
Crazy Rich Asians, by Kevin Kwan (★★★☆☆)
I would actually rate this as a 3.5-star read. I managed to read Crazy Rich Asians right before seeing the movie adaptation, which was an unexpected win. In case you haven’t followed the hype around this story the past few months, Kwan’s first book of his trilogy series follows Chinese-American Rachel as she and her boyfriend Nick visit his extremely wealthy family in Singapore ahead of his best friend’s wedding. Rachel tries to adjust to the cultural differences and some friends and family members’ disapproval of her, while some of Nick’s relatives face their own issues leading up to the anticipated wedding celebrations.
I grew up loving all of the Mary-Kate and Ashley movies, and I think the twins’ movies about international travel particularly gave me the wanderlust bug early on in life. Of course, the movies totally gave me the false expectation that boys would fall in love with me whenever I went on vacation (this piece sums that theme of the movies up hilariously), but by now, it’s safe to say I’ve recovered from that disappointment.
Looking back at these movies (which are somehow still not available to stream anywhere), I’ve realized they’ve influenced me more than one would initially think. Whether it was a fashion moment, a certain vacation boyfriend, or something that felt dated even when a movie was new, I thought it’d be fun to share my most influential moments from the Olsen twins’ movies and why they’ve always stuck out in my mind.
James taking Chloe to the Peter Pan statue in Winning London, but really just the entirety of Winning London
I feel like I underestimate my love for this movie until I start thinking about it. I loved Anglophiliac stories from an early age via exposure to Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Mary Poppins, and my love of British culture only increased as I grew older and explored the United Kingdom through books. I’m pretty sure my memory of Winning London, my favorite Olsen movie, predates my relationship with Harry Potter. I couldn’t explain why it appealed to my younger self, a version of me whose dream wasn’t London yet, but looking back, I see how this shaped so much of my enthusiasm for the city.
When I studied abroad there, I legitimately had a moment of reflection the first time I visited the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens, on an amazing day I had spent crisscrossing the city on my own. Looking at the statue and slowly walking around it just like Mary-Kate Olsen does in that clip, I thought, You did it. You made it here. You’re in London. Through the way the statue is featured in this movie, it had become the ultimate symbol of London for me. When I came home that Christmas, I even rented this movie on Amazon to watch with the perspective of a Londoner, feeling giddy about being able to say, “I went there.”
Happy August! I had a pretty great reading month in July. Within the first few days, I finished a non-fiction book I started in the last week of June, read the perfect romantic comedy to go along with the summer season, and returned to the YA genre for the first time in years. In the later half of the month, I encountered some books with slower, more unexciting paces, but finished July with a beautiful book that totally won over my English major heart.
Some of my early reading plans for this month include picking up Crazy Rich Asians and Curtis Sittenfeld’s short story collection, and I have some fun-sounding books on my Kindle that I bought through my Amazon ebook deal emails. July was definitely a month of preferring to read rather than watch TV or movies. so we’ll see how August goes. Until then, enjoy my insights on the seven books I read in July!
American Princess: The Love Story of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, by Leslie Carroll (★★★☆☆)
I get that it’s way too soon to read a book about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle that really gets it. I think the reason the only royal family biography I’ve finished and really loved was Sally Bedell Smith’s Elizabeth the Queen is because so much of the Queen’s life and reign is already behind her. Delivering a book that feels comprehensive and accurate about any other member of the family is trickier because they’re either still too young or haven’t risen to their full power yet. Wouldn’t you rather read a biography about Prince Charles that handles how he took over his mother’s role as ruler rather than what he’s been doing the past decade to pass the time?
That being said, while reading this, I did learn a lot about Meghan’s upbringing and young adult life that I didn’t know before. The craziness of her love story with Harry still gets me every time. This book shifted between Harry and Meghan’s lives and what they were doing at parallel moments, eventually culminating in how they met and became engaged. Seeing as it was published before the actual royal wedding, the book flanders a bit at the end, hence the lower rating.
Playing with Matches, by Hannah Orenstein (★★★★☆)
I saw this debut author speak at Her Conference on a book-writing panel last summer, and since then, we now work for the same company. I’ve never met her, but I definitely recommend following her great Twitter feed. Based on Orenstein’s own experiences working as a New York City matchmaker, Playing with Matches is about a recent college grad who snags a matchmaking job in Manhattan out of desperation. Working with much older and experienced clients, she basically has to fake it till she makes it. When her longtime boyfriend betrays her, one of her client’s hunky matches may soon complicate the professional approach she has to maintain over her clients’ love lives.
I don’t cry over books as easily as I do in reaction to movies or TV shows. To this day, I can only recall physically crying and even sobbing upon completing maybe two books ever. But I definitely register when I’m so emotionally impacted by a story that I feel numb upon finishing it and need to take a moment for that finality to sink in. No matter how long ago I read these specific books or how well I remember the plot’s fine details, I have a pretty solid memory of when I have that visceral, overwhelming reaction to a story.
I’ve read some great books recently that are relatively happy and engrossing, but the thought of talking about the sadder books that grabbed a fierce hold of me just popped to mind. There are spoilers mentioned below, so proceed with caution if you plan on reading any of these books.
1) Now I’ll Tell You Everything, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
I’ve definitely spoken about my intense reaction to the last book in Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Alice series before. The last story, Now I’ll Tell You Everything, was released early in my freshman year of college, and I read the entire book in one sitting soon after it arrived in my school mailbox the week of its publication. These books were in my life for so long that I genuinely have no memory of how I discovered the series or how old I was when I first started reading them. Unlike the previous books, which each usually covered a few chronological months in Alice’s life, Now I’ll Tell You Everything spanned from Alice’s college years to her sixties.
In high school, before streaming was what it is today and I had my own laptop, summer TV was just that — limited to the physical TV and airing exclusively in the summer season. The fact that these shows popped up when I had the most time to keep up with weekly episodes just made them more addictive, and while only one of them is still in my life today, I still equate all three of these shows with summertime.
Technically, the new season of Married at First Sight is also one of my summer watches this year, but the show has pretty small gaps in between seasons and runs what feels like year-round. Is anyone else totally invested in the Dallas season even though they have a feeling it’s going to be a trainwreck? Ah, well, that’s the beauty of summer shows — they don’t need much to keep us hooked.
1) The Next Food Network Star
I don’t keep up with this right now, but for two or three consecutive summers, I was obsessed. This Food Network competition series is basically what it sounds — finalists compete in cooking challenges with twists tied to being TV chefs in order to win their own Food Network series. Honestly, I think it’s the loss of Alton Brown as a judge that made my interest in Food Network Star fade. Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis still judge, but the visual imbalance of two main judges and not having Alton’s witty wackiness just bores me. The show has low-stakes drama with gratuitous food porn, and you never have to pay much attention to it if you’re just not in the mood to think too much. I’d inevitably form a weird crush on one of the long-haired, slightly greasy-looking chefs that I definitely wouldn’t be attracted in real life. That’s what seeing a man cooking can do to you!
I’ve been so distracted with work and other writing projects that I’ve definitely been putting off a recap of my June reads. Plus, I’ve delved into such enjoyable books this month in July that the books below haven’t exactly stuck out that much since I finished them. It wasn’t until the end of the month that I realized most of what I read was non-fiction, but it seems that I’ve recently gone through phases of preferring non-fiction or documentaries over literary fiction and TV shows. Anyone else feel that way every now and then?
July has already gone down a significantly different path in terms of what I’ve read. While I’m so excited to eventually share what books I’ve read in the past two weeks or so, here’s what I have to say about the five books I read in June.
From Little Houses to Little Women: Revisiting a Literary Childhood, by Nancy McCabe (★★★☆☆)
I received this memoir / literary critique for Christmas a few years ago, and while I read about half of it soon after getting it, I never picked it up again. I rarely buy books because of a lack of storage, so I’ve been trying to chug through the stories on my shelves that I somehow haven’t read yet. McCabe’s book follows her adult journeys to the real-life settings of her favorite childhood books, such as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, the Anne of Green Gables books, and Little Women. She takes these trips with her young daughter, who is usually quite indifferent to the meaning of these locations, and looks at these classic stories from her grown perspective, often becoming disappointed with how problematic the stories actually were.
Like many girls, I reread the Little House books so much as a kid, but as I’ve mentioned before, I love going back to the Anne books and try to reread Anne of the Island at least once a year. I’m also fiercely protective of Anne Shirley, and McCabe’s critique of those books didn’t sit well with me. I get that, as an academic, it was her job to be critical of the stories, but at certain points, it just seemed like she was finding reasons to complain. I did like some of McCabe’s insights, but I was glad to part with her voice at the end of the book.
I read so much as a preteen. That voraciousness carried over into middle school, but I have to admit that I was a bit of a risque reader in junior high. I was definitely guilty of reading certain books before being aware of what some of their content even meant or implied. I remember very awkward conversations when my mom discovered that 11-year-old me was reading Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret and one of the more adult Meg Cabot books. Cabot and Judy Blume are essentially my literary equivalent of the freethinking, easygoing aunts who will sneak you magazines explaining everything your mom avoids talking about with you. On the other hand, I still got away with reading raunchy-for-a-tween things like the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books because of the unassuming titles.
Before those experiments with more worldly material and when I was still in elementary school, I stuck to the innocent, episodic chapter book series that were stocked in abundance at the library. Back then, I reread the same books constantly, out of both desire and boredom. While standalone books and the Harry Potter series dominate my reading memories from this stage, it also included so many middle grade series that are easy to overlook at first glance but were still such a huge part of my reading life. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has fond memories of the often forgotten books below!
1) The Baby-Sitters Club series, by Ann M. Martin
I get that the re-design of these covers was an attempt to make the books look less dated, but the fact that the stories themselves are so ’90s is just so charming and hilarious now. You only have to reach as far as one of Claudia’s outfit descriptions to figure out when the series takes place, and that was just one of the many BSC Club charms that kept me invested from about fourth to seventh grade.
Although the series added more main characters in later books, the first few books revolved around three 13-year-old girls who grew up together in their Connecticut suburb. They and a fourth girl, who just moved to town from New York, form a baby-sitting business for local families to use. While the series always focused on their adventures with the neighborhood kids, it also explored the club members’ personal issues, like dating, school troubles, their parents’ divorces or second marriages, and even coping to life with diabetes. I remember coming across many a “where are they now” story during my Harry Potter fanfic-writing days.
I had a special fondness for the BSC Super Specials, which were multi-narrative vacation stories that included trips to Disney World and the girls working as counselors-in-training at summer camp, among other special vacations. There was also the Little Sister series that focused on a baby-sitter’s stepsister in second grade, and before graduating to the main series, I flew through those too.
For me, it started with Shirley Temple movies.
In childhood, my local library was tucked away in a school district building, limited to a long stretch of a hallway and two cramped children’s rooms. The library has since become a sprawling, gorgeous building a block away from this old location, but my formative memories as a reader rest within visions of that confined space, its dirt-brown carpet, the holiday season’s glass case display of a wintry village, and the chapter book alcove’s solar system mural.
At the end of the long hallway were the shelves of VHS tapes, when DVDs were still a novelty, when your main hope for a movie selection was that the person who checked it out before you had rewound the tape. In a time when our movies now start within a short series of clicks, I marvel over how foreign rewinding seems to me now. God forbid you check out a dramatic epic that was split between two VHS tapes.