Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
November 25, 2010
Every Day Is Special
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times
, Greensboro, NC.
Potter, Bush, Six-Word Memoirs, IFFERISMS
HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 1 made back half
its budget on the opening weekend -- and that's in the U.S. alone. So why do you
need ME to tell you about a movie that clearly everybody knew was coming?
At our house, we had a Harry Potter marathon, watching all six movies from
Friday evening to Saturday evening. And then we went to the midnight showing at
I was pleased with how well the huge crowd was handled. Tickets were presold,
and as each theater filled up, they assigned people to the next one. They could only
seat people in a theater after the last showing of the regularly scheduled movie
ended, but they had plenty of things to look at, take part in, or buy.
Even when we were seated, the movie didn't start right at midnight. It was a little
irritating to some in the audience that our showing didn't start until twenty-five
after. The reason only became clear when the movie ended. Ours was the only
showing that exited at that time -- and it was crowded enough, thanks! By
staggering the starting times, they made it possible to get out of the parking lot in
only a few minutes.
(But it would have been nice if they had told us what was going on. Or maybe they
did, and I didn't hear them over the crowd noise.)
What about the movie itself? There were two strikes against it going in. First, it is
based on the seventh and last book in the series. By this point, they just can't afford
to spend time catching the audience up on what came before. Either you know or
you don't. In other words, this isn't the place to start watching the series.
Second, they split the book in half to make two films. That means that this film has
The good news is that despite these drawbacks, it's a very good movie. There are
just enough reminders that even if you haven't seen the other movies or read any of
the books recently, you can still follow what's happening. The ending came at a
very good spot -- as long as you don't expect it to REALLY end. The writing is
still first rate and the acting has been getting better and better (unbelievably, the
Weasley twins have learned how to act and be funny!).
In fact, the movie is markedly better than the book. J.K. Rowling's inexperience --
and the lack of editorial attention she was getting at the end -- showed in this
seventh book, where she stops the action cold for a long, long time while she does
"characterization." When I was reading it, I thought we'd never got finished with
the endless camping trip as they hide from their enemies. But the movie makes
every moment count.
You may have heard of the mini-firestorm (a candlestorm?) over the "nude scene."
My first thought had been, Why would the producers add a nude scene to the
Then my daughter reminded me that the scene in question was in the book. It
comes when Ron, under the evil influence of one of Voldemort's horcruxes,
pictures Hermione, the love of his life, in the naked embrace of his best friend,
Of course, naked in a book is not the same thing as naked in a movie. In the book,
you can gloss over it as long as the writing is not explicit; but in a movie, the actors
are really naked, and there they are on the screen, second after second.
Still, the filmmakers did a fairly tasteful job. There were no more body parts
visible than you might see on primetime TV, and a lot less than in the SPORTS
ILLUSTRATED swimsuit issue. There was nothing arousing about it -- the whole
thing was just to show us why it was making Ron so crazy.
Could they have cut the scene or made it even less nude? Maybe, and if some
viewers decided to stay away because it's there, I won't argue with them. But I was
not offended or even made uncomfortable with it. No child is going to learn (or
even guess!) the facts of life from the scene. But it's the parents' call.
Remember, though, that this IS the last book, and it's near the climax of a war.
People die. People do bad things. Even people we like.
The eight movies of this franchise are going to make movie history. And, like the
books, the movies have gotten better as they went along. Go see it now on the big
screen. Then rewatch it on DVD or cable just before you see the second half of the
last movie next July.
I just finished listening to George W. Bush's memoir, DECISION POINTS. He
reads the audiobook himself, and he still has that same combination of West Texas
accent and muddy speech that the Bush-haters loved to ridicule. "Nucular" is only
the beginning. But he talks like folks, and that's not a bad thing.
When you consider that Bush graduated from Andover, Yale, and Harvard, it's
actually surprising that he didn't lose the accent, or soften it. Maybe it was a
political decision to keep it, but I think it's a sign that Bush was never impressed
with the intellectual culture of New England and had no interest in emulating it.
The book doesn't try to paper things over. He addresses all the issues that provided
the insane Left (i.e., almost all Democrats) with their frothing points for eight
He forgoes the temptation to settle scores -- most of the attacks on him, he simply
ignores. But every now and then, when a flat-out lie is still widely believed, he
points out the truth -- without rancor.
For a man accused of loving war, he certainly did his best to avoid it. Despite the
false charges of his critics, he did his best to avoid war, short of declaring defeat
and letting our enemies kill Americans with impunity.
He also does an excellent job of explaining why, though he hated the whole idea of
bailouts, he took the actions that were required to stave off economy-wrecking
panics during the financial crisis of 2008. I ended up agreeing with his decisions,
even when they offended my (and his!) philosophy of government.
Did I end up agreeing with everything he did? No. But I ended up understanding
why he made the decisions he made; they were honorably arrived at. But then, we
always knew that most of the repulsive attacks on him were simply his opponents
revealing the kinds of motives THEY would have had for such decisions. Cynical,
arrogant, and stupid (as they have shown in the two years since they came to the
ascendancy), they assumed that Bush was, too.
But he wasn't.
I already thought he was a great president -- measured by what he did with the
crises and events he was given to deal with -- but by the end of DECISION
POINTS I realized that he was something much harder to find in politics: he is a
good, kind, and patient man. He is not afraid to face his own mistakes and tell what
he (and we) can learn from them. Nor does he toot his own horn. He was President;
he made choices; some of them worked brilliantly, some of them were adequate,
and some few of them were wrong. But history will judge, as I judge now, that his
mistakes were astonishingly few, and his achievements large.
I get asked why, if I admire Bush so much, I'm still a Democrat. The reason is
simple: I keep hearing Republicans condemn Bush for not being conservative
enough. But after hearing his reminders of what he achieved and what he tried for,
and how he managed to fight two wars and two recessions while shrinking the
deficit and keeping taxes relatively low, I wonder what fairy godmother these
Republicans think should have been President instead.
In the real world, Bush was that marvelous thing: A conservative with the sense to
compromise and achieve the possible instead of insisting on the impossible and
And if the Republicans don't come up with somebody as moderate as George W.
Bush in 2012, so that independents and moderate Democrats like me have
somebody to vote for, they're going to force us to reelect Obama against our will.*
A friend of mine had a chance to see the traditional Radio City Christmas
Spectacular (starring the Rockettes) a couple of weeks ago. According to her,
there's a reason tourists and New Yorkers alike still support this show year after
year: The show is terrific.
But what impressed her the most as that after all the glitzy, wonderfully
entertaining secular Christmas numbers -- you know, reindeer, Santa, toy soldiers,
and so on -- the final number of the show opened with three children sitting around
a Christmas tree, reading from the Bible: the St. Luke account of the birth of Christ.
"As they read," my friend writes, "the curtain opened on scenes of, first, the
shepherds (complete with live sheep), then the wise men (yep, live camels), and
finally a beautiful, reverent Nativity scene with Mary, Joseph, the manger, the star
above them, and all of the sheep, wise men and animals.
"It was very tastefully done. And as part of that portion of the show, they sang
several religious Christmas songs, like "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing."
"And that was the portion of the show that got the biggest applause from the
audience. Not Santa, not the kick lines, but the Nativity. It was very touching and
refreshing -- a perfect way to launch the holidays."
Sometimes it's nice to be reminded that not EVERY show in New York is cynical
Books are tricky to give as gifts -- that's why the bookstore is one place where a
gift certificate is often the best solution. Even if you know that someone is a
reader, how do you know what particular book they'll like?
You can't just say, "I know he likes Grisham," and buy him the newest Grisham
novel -- because for all you know, he's already bought it and read it.
And tastes are so individual, and change with time. I've stopped reading Stephen
King and John Grisham, for instance; but if we haven't talked lately, would you
know that? If you gave me one of their books I'd look at it in consternation,
wondering if now I have to read it out of duty to YOU.
In short, receiving a book as a gift can be a burden or a disappointment -- even if
you know the person pretty well and choose the kind of gift you've seen them
enjoy in the past!
But there ARE books that work very well as gifts, even if you know nothing about
their taste in SERIOUS books. I'm talking about books of quotations, adages, or
witticisms -- books that have no plot, no through line. When someone gives it to
you as a gift, you don't have to commit to reading the whole thing. You just pop it
open somewhere and read a quote or too and ... you're hooked, if the book is any
good at all.
Dr. Mardy Grothe seems to have a nice career going, assembling such books. Not
massive collections, but short ones, little cheap books that are so much fun you'll
end up reading quotes aloud to whoever happens to be nearby.
Grothe's titles include I NEVER METAPHOR I DIDN'T LIKE,
OXYMORONICA, VIVA LA REPARTEE, and IFFERISMS.
I NEVER METAPHOR is a collection of analogies, and often they require an
explanation to be understood in context. For instance, there's the account of Daniel
Webster's Senate speech in support of the Compromise of 1850, in which he
argued for the rigorous enforcement of the fugitive slave laws.
His constituents in abolitionist Massachusetts were so outraged that Webster
resigned his Senate seat, recognizing that his political career was over. But what
brought him down most particularly was an analogy. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote,
"The word LIBERTY in the mouth of Mr. Webster sounds like the word LOVE in
the mouth of a courtesan."
But since the word COURTESAN was almost as little understood then as now,
Emerson's analogy was soon adapted to this: "The word LIBERTY in the mouth of
Mr. Webster is like the word LOVE in the mouth of a whore."
It can fairly be said that no political career could withstand that line -- not when
everyone who heard it agreed that it was true.
OXYMORONICA is a collection of paradoxes and wise contradictions. For
instance, here's a few about love:
"When my love swears that she is made of truth, I do believe her, though I know
she lies" (Shakespeare).
"Now what I love in women is, they won't or can't do otherwise than lie, but do it
so well, the very truth seems false" (Byron).
"Doubt the man who swears to his devotion" (Colet).
"It doesn't matter whether you decide to marry or stay single; either way you'll be
"Families with babies and families without babies are sorry for each other" (Edgar
VIVA LA REPARTEE is a collection of snappy comebacks. For instance, when
Woodrow Wilson was governor of New Jersey, it was his duty to appoint a
replacement for Senator John Kean, who died in office. When Wilson received a
phone call from a politician who said, "Governor, I would like to take the senator's
place," Wilson replied, "Well, you may quote me as saying that's perfectly
agreeable to me if it's agreeable to the undertaker."
One of my favorites is an exchange of telegrams between two of the great wits of
the twentieth century, George Bernard Shaw and Winston Churchill. When Shaw's
play PYGMALION (which became the basis of the musical MY FAIR LADY) was
opening in London, Shaw sent Churchill a telegram:
Reserving two tickets for you for my premiere. Come and bring a friend -- if you
Churchill replied with a telegram of his own:
Impossible to be present for first performance. Will attend the second -- if there is
Repartee just doesn't get much better than that.
My favorite of the collections, though, is IFFERISMS. This is a word of Grothe's
own coinage, and it refers to aphorism that take the form of IF ... THEN
"If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious
design of doing me good, I should run for my life" (Thoreau).
"If we had more time for discussion we should probably have made a great many
more mistakes" (Trotsky).
"If there's anything the nonconformist hates worse than a conformist it's another
nonconformist who doesn't conform to the prevailing standard of nonconformity"
"If I had my choice, I would kill every reporter in the world, but I am sure we
would be getting reports from Hell before breakfast" (William Tecumseh
"If Bret Harte ever repaid a loan, the incident failed to pass into history" (Mark
"If builders built buildings the way programmers write programs, then the first
woodpecker that came along would destroy civilization" (Harry Weinberger).
"If you have once thoroughly bored somebody it is next to impossible to unbore
him" (Elizabeth von Arnim).*
Have you heard of "six-word memoirs"? No joke -- SMITH MAGAZINE (and
SMITHTEENS.com online) have developed the concept and opened the doors to
thousands of people to write accounts of themselves, of their lives, in exactly six
The first book was called NOT QUITE WHAT I WAS PLANNING: SIX-WORD
MEMOIRS BY WRITERS FAMOUS & OBSCURE. Let me give you a few
"Lived like no tomorrow; tomorrow came."
"I died at an early age."
"Date with geek yields chip-filled life."
"Always working on the next chapter."
"Poet locked in body of contractor."
"Right place, right time, good lawyer."
"Many hands have kept me afloat."
"Quietly cultivating my inner Lynda Carter."
"Fifteen years since last professional haircut."
It's fascinating -- sometimes funny, sometimes moving, sometimes vaguely
horrifying -- what people choose as a summary of who they are or what they've
But good as NOT QUITE WHAT I WAS PLANNING is -- and it is -- I found the
teen-written sequel to be far more powerful and memorable. Probably because the
people writing these six-word memoirs are so young that everything is still new to
them, and they still have more passion than cynicism.
The title says it all: I CAN'T KEEP MY OWN SECRETS: SIX-WORD
MEMOIRS BY TEENS FAMOUS & OBSCURE. Again, here's a sampling:
"Can't live without a little insanity."
"I was so much happier fat."
"I never got my Hogwarts letter."
"I love you, please stop drinking."
"Playground hierarchy was so much easier."
"I still have nightmares of sixth grade."
"I plan on breaking her heart."
"Honor roll. No friends. 'Bright future.'"
"Not used to smiles. Prefer smileys."
"I never got to tell him...."
"Broken. Loved anyway. I'm so thankful."
These are books that you will read, think about, talk about. Give them as gifts, and
you can be sure they will be noticed and appreciated -- even by people who don't
think of themselves as readers.*
And, on a personal note, my new novel PATHFINDER has just come out. It's
officially a "Young Adult novel," which means that it's aimed at teenagers -- but
the truth is, I made no more concessions to young readers than I ever do.
It's the first volume of a saga about a young man, Rigg, who discovers that he and
his friend Umbo have the power to fiddle with time. He also learns that he's a
member of the royal family, carried off as a baby and raised in a remote forest.
Unfortunately, the royal family are out of power, living in captivity -- and Rigg has
to share that fate until he finds a way to get out of all the walls that have been
keeping him in.
It is my solemn judgment that everybody needs to buy two copies of the book: One
to give to a young person as a gift, and the other to keep and read for yourself. Any
other course of action will leave somebody deeply disappointed.
And if you actually take my completely altruistic advice, I'll be happy to sign both
books at Barnes and Noble on Friday, 10 December, at 7:00 p.m. (More
information about PATHFINDER can be found at http://www.hatrack.com .)