Information, Answers & Reviews

Those Magnificent Men and their Flying Machines

In 1965, there were two racing comedies released both of them set during the first 10 years of 1900’s.  The more popular of two was “The Great Race,” which was about an around the world automobile race; the second was Those Magnificent Men and their Flying Machines, about an air race between London and Paris in very early  and flimsy aircraft.  While I will admit there is something special about The Great Race and it certainly had more stars who were known in the United States, Those Magnificent Men and their flying Machines had something the other did not … History.

What do I mean by history?  First of all, there is the light-hearted review of man’s attempts to fly featuring the comic skills of Red Skelton mixed with historic footage of some of the more outrageous of man’s attempts and failures to fly before the opening credits.  You are not likely to see more historical film footage of man’s failed attempts to fly in another movie.  But of even greater interest to someone like me is that every plane used in the film was a recreation of a historic airplane from the birth of aviation.  In a few cases, they added some safety devices or a small change was made to better protect the pilots, but the planes did fly, or, at least, those that were supposed to fly did, and they were actually flown for the movie’s footage.

Half-Earth: our Planet's Fight for Life

The central premise of this book is that in order to save many of the world’s species, humankind has to do something truly radical, that is, create wildlife and nature preserves over half the earth. 

Renowned entomologist and conservationist, Edward O. Wilson, presents in this book many examples of how interconnected life is in on our planet, and then makes a clarion call to save it. As someone who has actively worked for conservation for decades, Wilson is very knowledgeable.

He points out that of all the fauna and flora now on earth, we know only 20% of them at most at the species level. And much less about how they work together to maintain this web of life. To learn all these species, even were they to survive, would take at least a couple more centuries.

My Name is Lucy Barton

If you ever worried as a child about bringing other children home from school and their possible reaction to your home and family life, this book will resonate with you. If you ever reconnected with a close relative after a long absence, ditto.

Lucy Barton had a pretty horrific childhood: dirt-poor for many years the family lived in an actual garage without running water. And not only was there little money, food, or clothes, but her parents provided little emotional sustenance. 

Strout takes you deep into the mind and heart of her protagonist, a young mother in her twenties, recently hospitalized after an operation.  Lucy is happily married with two young children whom she feels she has abandoned because of her illness. She also is a new writer, proud of her work, but still not at ease calling herself an author.

The present time of the book occurs in a New York City hospital where Lucy is amazed to see her mother, who’s come all the way from Iowa to take care of her daughter.  But this is so out of character for her, that Lucy can scarcely believe she has arrived. Neither parent has ever visited Lucy before and neither attended her wedding. At his one meeting with their future son-in-law, Lucy's father flipped out because her fiancée was German.

The Blob (1958)

If the stories I’ve heard are true there is a five-gallon bucket somewhere in the United States that contains a batch of red silicone still moist from the 1958 production of The Blob.   Supposedly it is brought out and displayed at the annual Blobfest in Phoenixville PA where many of the scenes for the movie were shot.   The Blob is one of many science fiction movies of the 1950’s that told of some unknown horror coming from outer space that endangers the world.  A lot of these were extremely low budget and featured extremely bad special effects even taking into account the time they were produced. 


The Nest

Tolstoy’s quote from Anna Karenina applies to this book: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

The Nest is about three generations of Plumbs: Francie, the matriarch, the middle generation that consists of Leo, Bea, Jack, and Melody, plus two of their spouses, and Melody’s two girls, the twins, Nora and Louise.

At novel’s opening we find Leo, the eldest, who long ago made a bundle on a trendy magazine, and has just been released from rehab, wandering through Central Park trying to score some drugs.

The twins, who are playing hooky from their senior year SAT prep class, watch as their uncle falls to the ground. They decide not to rescue him because he will most likely tell their mom, Melody, where he saw them, thus getting them into trouble.

At that very moment, Leo was supposed to be attending a family lunch. It’s about the nest, which is the money their Dad set aside for them in trust that comes due at Melody’s 40th birthday.  The elder Mr. Plumb wanted his kids to inherit something but not a grand inheritance, nothing that would create havoc in their lives or make them too dependent on his money.

American President

Not too long ago I was reminded of one of my favorite romantic movies, The American President.  The film stars Michael Douglas as President Andrew Shepherd and Annette Bening as Sydney Ellen Wade, a lobbyist for an ecological group.  President Shepherd is something unusual in the U.S. Presidency, though not in movies, a single father.  Shepherd is nearing the end of his first term, up for re-election and wondering if the real reason he was elected was due to a sympathy vote after his wife died of cancer during his campaign.  Now, after a little over three years of widowhood, he spots Sydney at a meeting taking place at the White House and decides he would like to ask her out.  The problem, obviously, is that he is the President of the United States.  His life is a fish bowl and there is a dignity that goes with the office that makes it difficult to have close friends.  His oldest and best friend now refuses to call him anything other than “Mr. President” even during their private games of pool.  So just how does a President ask a woman out on a date?  What happens when that date is successful and they find themselves strongly attracted to each other?


This compelling novel does what few do these days—it discusses subjects and ideas with intelligence and feeling.  In this case the primary subject is the new field of anthropology presented through the viewpoints of three field scientists in the 1930s. It’s based upon the real lives of Margaret Mead, Reo Fortune, and Gregory Bateson although the novel’s ending veers far from the historical record.

What a captivating novel this is--set in exotic Papua New Guinea, where hundreds of native tribes lived, speaking different languages with vastly different cultures and customs.

It hooked me right away. Was that a baby, the Mumbanyo just threw in the water?  Nell, the character based upon Margaret Mead, couldn’t see because her husband had broken her glasses. When she and Fen (based upon Mead’s second husband, Reo Fortune) arrive back in civilization (of a sort), her eyes are malarial and she has welts over her body as well as bruises on her ankle. Two English ladies express shock at her appearance as they guzzle liquor on the boat.

Hairspray (1988)

You may have seen the musical.  You have most likely seen the movie starring John Travolta, Queen Latifah, and Nikki Blonsky, but have you see the movie that started it all?  The original 1988 comedy Hairspray, directed and written by John Waters, featured Ricki Lake as Tracy Turnblad and Divine as Edna Turnblad.  This movie has a grittier, earthier feel than either the musical or the 2007 movie.   This is not too surprising as Hairspray was the first film by John Waters to receive less than an “R” rating.  Prior to this film John Waters had been justly known in Hollywood as “The King of Bad Taste.” Hairspray was the first John Water’s films to even attempt to appeal to the general public. 

Jane Steele

This book retells Jane Eyre in the voice of a serial killer. No, the novel is not some bizarre mocking of a great classic, but a humorous, well-executed pastiche --literary even—of Charlotte Bronte’s favorite book.

Jane’s first killing is accidental. When Jane was only nine, her annoying first cousin, Edwin, who was thirteen, kissed Jane and then tried to force himself upon her when they were playing outside. She shoved him away, perhaps with more strength than she’d intended.  His head slammed on a rock and he died. 

It happened during an awful period for Jane. Her French mother had just died from a self-inflicted draught of laudanum, and her Aunt Patience, her cousin’s mother, had decided to send her off to boarding school.

But according to Jane’s mother, whom Jane shared a lowly cottage with, the whole vast estate belonged to Jane and she would inherit it when she came of age.


Subscribe to RSS - Information, Answers & Reviews