Monthly Archives: September 2017

8 Books that Encourage Discussion – Part 2

Several months ago, I gave some suggestions for books that encourage discussion.  Since that post, I’ve read several other books that would be great for book clubs, talking about over dinner, or reading with your family.

Whether you’re looking for a new book to bring to your group or just like a book that really makes you think, here are 8 more Books that Encourage Discussion.

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8 Books that Encourage Discussion – Part 2

For Interracial Groups:
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Small Great Things, Jodi Picoult – During her shift at a Connecticut hospital, Ruth Jefferson begins a routine checkup on a newborn baby, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents of the newborn, who are high-ranking white supremacists, don’t want Ruth, an African-American nurse, touching their child. But when the baby goes into cardiac distress, Ruth is put in a tough position…does she safe the child or obey the parents’ wishes and leave the baby to die? An emotional and extremely relevant book, Small Great Things tackles race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and acceptance with great empathy and candor.

For Groups with History Buffs:
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Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders – Set over the course of one night, Lincoln in the Bardo is an amazing novel about death, grief, acceptance, and understanding. Two days after his young son Willie dies, Abraham Lincoln goes to visit his son’s crypt in the dark of night. As Lincoln sits with his son’s body, the cemetery comes to life with ghosts of the recently passed and the long dead, talking about death, grief, and the powers of good and evil. With dark humor and grace, Saunders’s novel is unlike anything I’ve ever read and will surely encourage discussions not only about Lincoln himself, but about fathers and sons, life and death, and all the other big and small choices along the way.

For Feminist Groups:
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Becoming Unbecoming, Una – A devastating personal account of gender violence told in comic book form, Becoming Unbecoming is about a woman’s struggle with shame and social responsibility after she becomes the victim of a very violet act. Set against the backdrop of the 1970’s Yorkshire Ripper manhunt, this graphic novel interweaves two emotional stories into one.
Read more by visiting my Becoming Unbecoming review.

For Groups with Lots of Millennials:
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The Circle, Dave Eggers – When Mae Holland is hired to work for The Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The towering glass dining facilities, the cozy dorms, the flurry of activities and clubs to join – it all seems too good to be true. But as Mae begins to learn more about The Circle and her role there, important questions begin to rise about privacy, history, and personal connections. This book is sure to get under your skin and will certainly make you think twice about every email you send, every bill you pay online, and every picture you share – either privately or publicity.
Read more by visiting my The Circle review.

For Groups Wanting to Talk About the Tough Stuff:
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A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness – Around midnight, 13-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom…but this isn’t the monster that’s been haunting Conor’s dreams for the past few nights…this is a new one…it’s ancient and wild. It’s goal is simple…all it wants from Conor is the truth. A book that will shake you to your core, A Monster Calls is about the things that haunt us, both real and imagined, and how sometimes acknowledging those fears is the best way to start healing. Bring tissues for this one, guys.
Read more by visiting my A Monster Calls review.

For Groups Going Back to the Classics:
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Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee – For those book clubs that want to dive back into the classics, there’s no better place to start than To Kill a Mockingbird. A story that can speak to any generation, TKAM is basic book club 101. And if you’re looking to further your conversation, consider the sequel to TKAM, Go Set a Watchman. Set 20 years after we last left the Finch family, Scout returns home to visit her father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, Scout begins to realize how small-minded Maycomb, Alabama remains, even as the rest of the world begins to move forward. Adding depth, context, and understanding to its companion novel, Go Set a Watchman shows readers that things aren’t always what they seem, and sometimes it’s just as hard to come home again as it was to leave in the first place.

For Groups with Dreamers:
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Daytripper, Fabio Moon – What are the most important days of your life? The day you met your spouse? The day your child was born? The day you got your dream job? Or maybe it was just one Thursday when everything just seemed to go right. In this stunning graphic novel, Bras de Oliva Domingos explores the days that changed him. Days that helped make him who he is. A mysterious and moving story about life itself, this journey uses the quiet moments, the stolen glances, the quick brushes of the skin, to ask the big question…what’s it all about?
Read more by visiting my Daytripper review.

For Groups Looking for YA Books:
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Everything Everything, Nicola Yoon – Maddie is sick. She’s allergic to the world. She doesn’t leave her house and spends her days in her white, clean, pristine room. But when a moving truck arrives next door and she sees a tall, lean boy step out, everything (everything) changes. A story about living, in whatever form that may take, Everything, Everything is a modern take on John Travolta’s Boy in the Plastic Bubble, and will surely encourage discussions about what it really means to live your life.

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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28 Fun Facts about Gossip Girl

Hey Upper East Siders,

It may be hard to believe, but it was 10 YEARS AGO (September 19, 2007) that Gossip Girl aired on The CW.

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Starring Blake Lively, Leighton Meester, Ed Westwick and Penn Badgley, the show about the wealthy elite of New York had “guilty pleasure” written all over it…and was a pinnacle of pop culture and fashion goals during its time on-air.  Filled with everything you could ever want in a teen drama (pretty boys, sexy ladies, love triangles, one-night stands, and AMAZING clothes), Gossip Girl established a bit of a cult following…and still has a loyal fan base to this day.

And any show about drama has to have drama off-set, right?  If your desire for more dirt on this crew of pretty, rich snobs has you scouring the Internet for rumors and secrets, look no further!  Here you’ll find 28 tid-bits about the making of Gossip Girl.

So invite your squad over for brunch and keep the mimosas flowing…here are 28 Fun Facts about Gossip Girl!

28 Fun Facts about Gossip Girl

There weren’t a lot of girls that came in to audition for Serena Van der Woodsen – Blake Lively basically had the role from the start…but she wasn’t so sure.  She wanted to finish college, so she declined the role at first.  The producers told her she could to go Columbia University one day a week to work on her degree, but with the show’s success, she never ended up finishing college.

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Supposedly, Blake and Leighton Meester (Blair Waldorf) were not the BFF’s IRL that their characters were.  They were friendly to each other, but not close like Serena and Blair.

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However, Ed Westwick (Chuck Bass) and Chace Crawford (Nate Crawford) really were tight behind the scenes!  The duo actually lived together in NYC when the show started filming.

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Penn Badgley (Dan Humphrey) has been noted as saying that he didn’t like being on Gossip Girl, but was closest in real life to his character.

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Penn and Blake dated for three years while filming Gossip Girl.  However, they split in 2010 and kept their split a secret for two months.  They didn’t want their personal drama to relate to the show.  #PROS

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The production staff had their own “Gossip Girl”.  Before hacking was even a major problem, someone was stealing the Gossip Girl scripts via email and selling them online.  They found out it was a teenager from Russia or Bulgaria, but they were underage and couldn’t be prosecuted.

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A reboot or spinoff isn’t COMPLETELY off the table…Blake is all about reprising her role, but the rest of the cast and producers are on the fence…no strong yes’s, but no strong no’s, either!

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Then-mayor of NY, Michael Bloomberg, was so impressed with how the show showcased the city that he declared January 26th Gossip Girl Day in NYC.

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It cost between $10,000 and $60,000 per day to film in New York.

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The actors who played Rufus (Matthew Settle) and Lily (Kelly Rutherford) also used to date in real life before the show began.  They’re still great friends! ❤

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Blair’s look was inspired by Audrey Hepburn, while Serena’s look was inspired by Sienna Miller and Kate Moss.

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The Van der Woodsen’s apartment in the Milan Condominiums complex on the Upper East Side sold for $6.8 million.

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Chuck’s hotel – The Empire – is a real hotel.  They serve the “XOXO Cocktail”, with a secret ingredient that they’ll “never tell”.

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Gossip Girl was one of the first shows whose DVR and iTunes numbers were higher than the actual viewing numbers.

The show’s costume designer, Eric Daman, won an Emmy for his costumes that he designed for Sex and the City.

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The Humphrey’s are considered to be ‘poor’ because they are from Brooklyn…but real estate in both Brooklyn and the Upper East Side is about $1,400 per square foot.

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Taylor Momsen (Jenny Humphry) may look familiar to you…she also starred as Little Cindy Lou Who in Jim Carrey’s The Grinch.

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Blake and Penn were also home-schooled together as 11-year-olds.  Aww!!

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Kristen Bell, who did the voiceover for the series, finally appears on-screen to audition for a film adaptation of Dan’s novel.  How meta.

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Serena, Blair and Dan appear in every episode of the show.

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To keep with its pop culture feel, the title of every episode is based around a reference to a film, book or TV show.

Westwick and Jessica Szohr (Vanessa) also dated for a period of time in real life.

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Alexa Chung, Cyndi Lauper, Lady Gaga, Karlie Kloss and Liz Hurley all make cameos on the show.

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Jennifer Behr, the designer of Blair’s iconic headbands, released a gift set of nine replicas in 2012 that would have cost you a cool $4,000.

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Chuck has a pet dog named Monkey on the show, but in the books, Chuck actually has a pet monkey.

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SPOILERS BELOW!

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Producers knew that Blair and Chuck would end up together from the beginning of the series!

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Penn Badgley didn’t know he was ‘Gossip Girl’ until the moment they shot the scene where it’s revealed.

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Blake was fitted for her wedding dress for Dan and Serena’s wedding the day after her real-life wedding to Ryan Reynolds.

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Sometimes you just need a little fun in your life! Check back every week for a new “Just Bee-cause” post, where I discuss everything from celebrity news to favorite videos and websites!

 

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DIY Floor Pouf

So my husband and I recently moved into a new apartment…in an effort to be more “adult”, we got rid of all our furniture and decided to upgrade to couches and chairs that didn’t come from the cesspool that is Craigslist…been there, done that…and it’s gross.

We’ve yet to purchase a couch for our new place, but we still needed a place to sit and chillax while we watched TV or what have you, so I decided to make some floor poufs.

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I had a ton of extra fabric laying around and these poufs put a serious dent in my stash, which my storage closet very much appreciated! 😉  They’re great for beginners and involve very little measuring, which my brain very much appreciated!

You’ll need about 2 yards of fabric, depending on how big you want your pouf to be.  You’ll need two panels that measure 24 in. X 24 in. – these will be the top and bottom of your pouf.  For the sides, you’ll need four panels that measure 24 in. high X 16 in. wide.  Then you’ll pin them together (front side down) like so:

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Then you just run this baby through the sewing machine!  Start by sewing all the side panels to the bottom square, then sew the top panel to the top side panel.  Finish by sewing the top square to the front panel, being sure to leave a good 4 inches or so to turn right-side-out and stuff.

Once you’re done sewing, turn your piece right-side-out.  Fill with stuffing of your choice – I used Poly-Fill (I used 3 of the big bags).  Once filled, sew up the remaining hole and enjoy!

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Celebrate creativity every Wednesday with a “Creativi-bee” post, where I share easy craft tutorials, project ideas, and craft collections.

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Shake it Off!

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“So I keep cruising
Can’t stop, won’t stop moving
It’s like I got this music
In my mind saying, ‘It’s gonna be alright.'”
Shake it Off, Taylor Swift

Come back every Tuesday for “The Bees Knees”, where I post the best quotes from my favorite movies, TV shows, songs, and books.

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Honey and Peanut Butter Energy Bars

I always seem to be on the move…and though I often fail, I try to pack my purse with healthy snacks.  Energy bars, fruit, or cheese sticks are my go-to’s…but those energy bars and power bars are often packed with tons of sugar and carbs and may not be as healthy as they seem…

So I’ve decided to start making my own!

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Packed with protein and natural sugars for a burst of energy, these Honey and Peanut Butter Energy Bars actually taste delicious and are super filling.  The addition of dates helps give these bars a great chewy texture, and they’ll last a good 2 weeks in the fridge.

One batch will make about 8 large bars or 10-12 smaller bars.  I go smaller with these because they are filling, but they are great for breakfast on the go or a snack before a workout.

Honey and Peanut Butter Energy Bars

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 10 dates, pitted
  • 1 cup peanut butter (the drippy kind works best)
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 scoops vanilla protein powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips (optional)

Instructions:

Prep an 8 in. or 9 in. square pan with parchment paper, letting excess paper hang over edges.  If you don’t have parchment paper, you can also spray the pan with non-stick cooking spray.

Place rolled oats in food processor and process on high for about 1 minute, or until oats have been turned into oat flour.  Remove and set aside.

Combine the dates, peanut butter, honey, vanilla extract, protein powder, salt, and walnuts in food processor and pulse a few times to chop up the dates.  Add the oat flour and process until well combined.  Pour into prepared pan and press into cake pan.  Top with chocolate chips, if desired.

Place in freezer for 30 to 60 minutes to set.  Remove and cut into bars.  Store in fridge in plastic bags for up to 2 weeks.

Every Monday is a “Reci-bee” post, where I share my favorite recipes, recipe collections, and cooking and baking hints and tips. 

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24 Authors Share Their Favorite Books

Good writers know the secret to writing…they read. They read a lot. When I took writing classes in college, most of our time was spent reading and analyzing various novels and poems to help inspire a jolt of creative energy – and your favorite writers are no exception.

Below is a list of books well-loved by some of our most popular writers, both past and present. J.K. Rowling, Maya Angelou, Mark Twain, and many more share their top pick of favorite book. Do you share any favorites with these authors?

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24 Authors Share Their Favorite Books

Ayn Rand (Atlas Shrugged)
Favorite Book:  Calumet K, Henry Kitchell Webster
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A novel about the problems encountered in building a grain elevator in Chicago. It’s a refreshingly honest portrayal of labor unions and morality.

Ernest Hemmingway (A Farewell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises, The Old Man and the Sea)
Favorite Book:  Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
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A story about a woman who has an affair and is given a choice between going into exile or remaining with her family and abiding by the rules of discretion.

Joan Didion (The Year of Magical Thinking, Slouching Towards Bethlehem)
Favorite Book:  Victory, Joseph Conrad
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Axel Heyst, a dreamer and a restless drifter, decides to cut himself off from humanity on a remote island. When he rescues a young English girl, their relationship becomes a perceptive study on power and love.

Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451, Dandelion Wine)
Favorite Book:  John Carter: Warlord of Mars, Edgar Rice Burrough
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John Carter is the greatest hero of two worlds! Marvel at these classic tales of danger and daring as Carter battles deadly opponents, warring civilizations and a host of Barsoomian beasts.

George R. R. Martin (A Game of Thrones)
Favorite Book:  The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
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You know the story…hobbits, rings, friendship, talking trees…

Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl)
Favorite Book:  And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie
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First, there were ten – a curious assortment of strangers summoned as weekend guests to a private island. Their host is nowhere to be found. All that the guests have in common is a wicked past they’re unwilling to reveal. One by one they fall prey…and only the dead are above suspicion.

Vladimir Nabokov (Lolita)
Favorite Book:  Ulysses, James Joyce
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Ulysses stands as an inventive, multiple-point-of-view (there are eighteen) vision of daily events, personal attitudes, cultural and political sentiments, and observations of the human condition.

Mark Twain (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn)
Favorite Book:  King Arthur, Sir Thomas Malory
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In a time when there were damsels in distress to save, and mythical dragons to slay, King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table were there to render justice in the face of any danger. From the incredible wizardry of Merlin to the undeniable passion of Sir Lancelot, these tales of Arthur and his knights offer epic adventures with the supernatural, as well as timeless battles with our humanity.

Meg Wolitzer (The Interestings)
Favorite Book:  Old Filth, Jane Gardam
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An old man slips back into the past with ever mounting frequency and intensity, and on the tide of these vivid, lyrical musings, he approaches a reckoning with his own history. Not all the old filth, it seems, can be cleaned away.

Erik Larson (The Devil in the White City)
Favorite Book:  The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett
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Sam Spade is hired by the fragrant Miss Wonderley to track down her sister, who has eloped with a louse called Floyd Thursby.

F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby)
Favorite Book:  Sister Carrie, Theodore Dreiser
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The tale of Carrie Meeber’s rise to stardom in the theatre and George Hurstwood’s slow decline captures the twin poles of exuberance and exhaustion in modern city life as never before.

Samuel Beckett (Waiting for Godot)
Favorite Book:  The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
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Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, a young boy leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days. Insanity ensues.

R.L. Stine (Goosebumps series)
Favorite Book:  Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury
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A magical, timeless story about summer in the life of a twelve-year-old boy named Douglas Spaulding.

J.K. Rowling (The Harry Potter series)
Favorite Book:  Emma, Jane Austen
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Nothing delights Emma more than interfering in the romantic lives of others. But when she ignores the warnings of her good friend Mr. Knightley and attempts to arrange a suitable match for her protegee Harriet Smith, her carefully laid plans soon unravel and have consequences that she never expected.

Maya Angelou (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings)
Favorite Book:  Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
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Following the lives of four sisters on a journey out of adolescence, Little Women explores the difficulties associated with gender roles in a Post-Civil War America.

Henry Miller (Tropic of Cancer)
Favorite Book:  Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
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Wuthering Heights is a wild, passionate story of the intense and almost demonic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, a foundling adopted by Catherine’s father.

John Steinbeck (Of Mice and Men)
Favorite Book:  King Arthur, Sir Thomas Malory
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In a time when there were damsels in distress to save, and mythical dragons to slay, King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table were there to render justice in the face of any danger. From the incredible wizardry of Merlin to the undeniable passion of Sir Lancelot, these tales of Arthur and his knights offer epic adventures with the supernatural, as well as timeless battles with our humanity.

Cheryl Strayed (Wild)
Favorite Book:  The Dream of a Common Language, Adrienne Rich
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A powerful collection of poetry about power, sexuality, and violence against women.

Joyce Carol Oates (We Were the Mulvaneys, Blonde, The Gravediggers Daughter)
Favorite Book:  Crime and Punishment, Fydor Dostoyevsky
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Through the story of the brilliant but conflicted young Raskolnikov and the murder he commits, Fyodor Dostoevsky explores the theme of redemption through suffering.

Judy Blume (The Romona Quimby series)
Favorite Book:  American Pastoral, Philip Roth
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In American Pastoral, Philip Roth gives us a novel of unqualified greatness that is an elegy for all the twentieth century’s promises of prosperity, civic order, and domestic bliss.

Jeannette Walls (The Glass Castle, Half Broke Horses)
Favorite Book:  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
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The beloved American classic about a young girl’s coming-of-age at the turn of the century, Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a poignant and moving tale filled with compassion and cruelty, laughter and heartache, crowded with life and people and incident.

Emma Donoghue (ROOM)
Favorite Book:  Far From the Tree, Andrew Solomon
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Solomon’s startling proposition in Far from the Tree is that being exceptional is at the core of the human condition—that difference is what unites us. He writes about families coping with deafness, dwarfism, Down’s syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, or multiple severe disabilities; with children who are prodigies, who are conceived in rape, who become criminals, and who are transgender.

Paula McLain (The Paris Wife)
Favorite Book:  The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey
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A couple living in Alaska build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone…but they glimpse a young blonde-haired girl running through the trees.

Garth Stein (The Art of Racing in the Rain)
Favorite Book:  The Music Room, Dennis McFarland
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In an incredible novel of devastating beauty, Martin Lambert must come to terms with the aftermath of his brother’s suicide. Replaying sad melodies of his affluent youth, Martin embarks on a poignant journey through his family’s haunted past.

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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13 Fun Facts about As Good as it Gets

Nothing makes you feel older than realizing how old some of your favorite movies are…in December of this year, As Good as it Gets will be 20 years old…

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Jeebus.

I loved this movie then and I love it even more now.  Filled with some of the best quotes in cinematic history, this movie was probably one of the last times a romantic comedy pretty much dominated the Oscars.

Starring Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt (both won Oscars for their performances), AGAIG tells the story of a man with OCD who falls in love with a New York waitress.  It was a movie that could only exist in the time it was made, making sexual and racial jokes that would NEVER have the same impact in today’s culture.

Still, this is maybe one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen, and surely was one of Nicholson’s best.  To celebrate it’s almost 20th birthday, here are 13 Fun Facts about As Good as it Gets.

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13 Fun Facts about As Good as it Gets

At the 1998 Oscars ceremony when Jack Nicholson won for Best Actor, he gave a little nod to his character of Melvin Udall by carefully stepping over the cracks between the tiles on stage.  He dedicated his Oscar to his A Few Good Men co-star, J.T. Walsh, who died shortly before the ceremony.

The scene where the dog mimics Melvin’s movements as he walks over the cracks was done by placing obstacles on the sidewalk so the dog would have to step over them.  Those obstacles were then later digitally removed.

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Melvin’s response to the question about how he writes women so well (“I think of a man…then I take away reason and accountability.”) was an actual response given by author John Updike when asked the same question.

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Only seven films have won Oscars in both the Best Actor and Best Actress category, with As Good as it Gets being the most recent addition.  The other movies include It Happened One Night (Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher), Network (Peter Finch and Faye Dunaway), Coming Home (Jon Voight and Jane Fonda), On Golden Pond (Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn) and The Silence of the Lambs (Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster).

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Nicholson must be some type of golden ticket – Both he and Helen Hunt (Carol) won leading Oscars for As Good as it Gets, while Greg Kinnear (Simon) was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, but did not win.  The same thing happened in 1975 when Nicholson and Louise Fletcher both won leading Oscars for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, while Brad Dourif was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, but did not win (but he should have!!).

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The light-upbeat soundtrack to the film was composed by Hans Zimmer (Pirates of the Caribbean, Gladiator, The Dark Knight Trilogy).

As Good as it Gets was a box office hit, opening at #3 (behind Titanic  and Tomorrow Never Dies).  It is Nicholson’s second most lucrative film behind Batman.

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Nicholson also wasn’t supposed to kiss Hunt at the end of the film, but director James L. Brooks yelled, “Kiss her, man!” from behind the camera.

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The couple Melvin insults at the restaurant (“Appetites aren’t as big as your noses?”) is played by Peter Jacobson and Lisa Edelstein, who would go on to star together in the TV show, House.

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The dog Verdell was played by six Brussels Griffons: Timer the Dog, Sprout, Debbie, Billy the Dog, Parfait, and Jill the Dog.  Jill got the most screen time.

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Nicholson said that playing Melvin was difficult, but the character was “the most loveable character I’ve ever played.”…which, when you think about it, isn’t wrong…

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Similar to his character Simon, Greg Kinnear had a hard time getting along with Verdell the dog.

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As Good as it Gets was also actor Maya Rudolph’s first speaking role.

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Sometimes you just need a little fun in your life! Check back every week for a new “Just Bee-cause” post, where I discuss everything from celebrity news to favorite videos and websites!

 

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