Monday, January 08, 2007

Readin' and Writin'

Yesterday my wife took me to see "The Holiday," a film in which Kate Winslet (above left) and Cameron Diaz play women who try to mend their broken hearts by swapping their homes in England and Hollywood for two weeks over Christmas. It's what some would call a "chick flick," a genre for which I actually have some tolerance, and I think I spoil no surprises by revealing that hearts are indeed healed with the help of Jack Black (above right) and Jude Law. I appreciated the fact that the emotional arcs for the Winslet and Diaz characters weren't mirror images of each other--they start out in different places and end up in different places--and I think the filmmakers even pull off the improbable use of Black as a semi-romantic lead.

What really impressed me about the movie, and the reason I'm bothering to write about it, is something hinted at by the full bookshelf behind the characters in the photo above: it is a love letter to writing. Winslet's character is a newspaper reporter and Law's is a book editor. Houses are full of cabinets that are packed with books (I noted that the set decorator seemed to have a fondness for Jonathan Franzen). And in what my wife and I agreed was the best subplot in the movie, Eli Wallach plays an elderly neighbor of Winslet's who was one of the great screenwriters in the Golden Age of Hollywood, his dusty study studded with honors and Oscars (and books). Winslet befriends him and tries to convince him to accept the gratitude of younger generations of writers who revere the words he wrote. I thought theirs was the most warmly satisfying relationship in the film. This through-line of literary appreciation was an unexpected pleasure and added depth to what could have been a pleasant but routine romantic romp.*

Reading and writing have always been important to me. Writing is how I've earned a living for about half of my adult life. I knew I was going to buy the house we live in now when I walked into the family room and saw that the owner had surrounded the fireplace with floor-to-ceiling oak bookshelves. One of the two big rules my wife and I made when we had children was that if either of the girls asked us to read a book with them we'd drop whatever else we were doing to do it. (The other big rule was that we'd never contradict each other's discipline or permission decisions even if we privately thought the other was wrong. "Divide and conquer" never worked on us.) As the girls got older we pretty much bought any books they wanted, which can get expensive but was still cheaper than the clothes, cars, make-up, music and bail money their peers demanded from their parents. I can't guarantee my child-rearing tips will work--in fact, I'm increasingly convinced that babies emerge pretty much as the people they're going to be, and if either of my girls had been wired to become a delinquent moron I don't know how we could've stopped them--but I'm ecstatic at our results.

I don't like recommending things. Any things. It's too much responsibility. I'd feel terrible if I advised someone to spend their time and money on a movie, book, restaurant, CD, piece of hardware, piece of software, or barber and they hated it--and worse, doubted my taste and sanity for inflicting it on them. So I'm not recommending "The Holiday," just mentioning something about it I enjoyed and appreciated. If you decide to see it it's your fault, not mine.


*I tried real hard to think of another word here besides "romp." Couldn't do it. Sorry.

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