books, art, culture, and other things I love

Bookminded Recommends: Harry Connick Jr.

The first time I was introduced to Harry Connick Jr., I was a teenager. My friend S. had cassette tapes of the albums 20 (1987), the When Harry Met Sally (1989) soundtrack, and We Are In Love (1990), which she brought back after a trip to her father’s house in Pennsylvania. This was during our high-school self study of the ‘Great American Songbook’—inspired, no doubt by our choir director’s predilection for Gershwin, Porter, Rodgers, and Bernstein.

We favored female vocalists like Etta James, Sarah Vaughan, and Nina Simone. We listened for hours to Mahalia Jackson—and even performed our own rendition of “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” one sleepy Sunday morning in our small Cape Cod town.

But Harry Connick Jr. also made the cut—fitting into our preference for vocal delivery that was never forced—i.e. not the overworked vibrato that punctuated the performances of many of our teenaged choir peers—and always original.

Over the years, my admiration for Connick’s talent and musicality never waned—and in fact, given his prodigious output of albums, I can chart the course of my adult life thus far alongside his musical soundtrack. Some albums hold a special place in my heart—like 1994’s She, Connick’s exploration of New Orleans funk music—which I played on my Discman walking back and forth to class. Or Songs I Heard (2001), a wonderful collection of classic songs from film and stage, that was on repeat during the first two years of my son’s life and is an album that we still listen to often as a family. When I was writing my dissertation, I loved to listen to Oh, My NOLA (2007) as I pecked away at my laptop. (In retrospect, it could have been the metaphor provided by “Working in the Coalmine” that I identified with!)

So given all of this, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to see Connick perform at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall earlier this month. What a show he put on! In addition to his mastery of the piano, he also jammed on the trumpet—holding his own alongside Lucien Barbarin on the trombone. Though he covered many standards, like the Cole Porter classic “I Concentrate On You” popularized by Frank Sinatra, he also threw in some originals—like “City Beneath the Sea” from Star Turtle (1996) and even serenaded wife Jill (seated in the front row) with “One Fine Thing” from Every Man Should Know (2013). But perhaps my favorite moment of the evening was when Connick offered a joyful and nuanced rendition of “How Great Thou Art.”

What a talent and what a night! Although there is now a new generation of fans introduced to Connick through his success as a judge on American Idol, this is a musician and performer with a rich and varied archive of work that proves he has staying power—for sure.

Photos/videos were prohibited (and honestly, it made for a much more enjoyable concert experience, not having people waving their phones around obscuring the view) but I did sneak just this one toward the end. Note: HC is in the far left of the frame.

Photos/videos were prohibited (and honestly, it made for a much more enjoyable concert experience, not having people waving their phones around obscuring the view) but I did sneak just this one toward the end. Note: HC is in the far left of the frame. 😉


Culture Watch: The Intersection of Two Modern Masters.

“We would rather be ruined than changed/We would rather die in our dread/Than climb the cross of the moment/And let our illusions die.”

W.H. Auden’s The Age of Anxiety is not an easy read. As a cultural artifact (published in 1947, as the modernist moment is fading), it is fascinating as it exhibits the underpinnings of all modern literature: the competing sensibilities of loss and liberation. The very form of the poem, an eclogue, gestures toward this sense of loss as it holds on to this classical convention as if to center its subject–how to find meaning in a changing and increasingly industrialized world. That said, the choice of the eclogue, the domain of Virgil and all that is pastoral, is deliberate and disrupts and dislocates the images of metropolitan life we see in the text.  Set in a NYC bar and told through the conversations between four characters, Auden’s poem considers man’s quest for understanding at the dawn of a new era. The poem won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948 and inspired a musical composition by Leonard Bernstein, The Age of Anxiety, Symphony No. 2.

Last weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of attending a concert performance of Bernstein’s piece by Boston’s New Philharmonia Orchestra. In the first moments of the score, I was so moved by the plaintive sounds of the woodwind instruments, I felt my eyes well up. And that emotional connection continued throughout the whole piece. Just lovely. And the performance inspired me to reread the poem this week, which is a good thing. 

Here is the gorgeous concert stage in Newton’s First Baptist Church…as you might imagine, the acoustics are fantastic.

And here is my seven-year-old concert date, who gave the music two thumbs up!

It’s been a long week.

A Short Biblio Blog-o-graphy, Pt. 1.

People often ask which blogs I read regularly, and though my list often rotates, there are a handful that I check in with routinely.

Design Mom (lifestyle and family–all seen through a designer’s eye)

A Blog About Love (love, relationships, inspiration!)

NYC Taught Me (learning about life in NYC with three kids and a husband)

Little Green Notebook (the ultimate DIY–very aspirational, for me at least!)

Dinner: A Love Story (my favorite source of dinner inspiration, and other fun tidbits)

The Sartorialist (because I’m a sucker for fashion and street photography; also frequently features my style idol Giovanna Battaglia)

What blogs do you like to read?


In the week leading up to last night’s Oscars, I was thinking about authors who are also actors or actors that are also authors (whichever order you prefer). Certainly many actors write. Some even write the screenplays or television shows in which they act—in this category, Woody Allen, Lena Dunham, Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling are some of my favorites.

When talking about actor/authors who garner a lot of attention, there are some names that come to mind immediately: James Franco, anyone? There are some, like Steve Martin, who have created parallel (and acclaimed) careers on the literary scene and the Hollywood set. And others, that might be a bit surprising—like Amber Tamblyn, who is a published poet and blogs for The Poetry Foundation (General Hospital’s original Emily Quartermaine has come a long way!).

Ethan Hawke (from this year’s nominee Boyhood) wrote has written two really good novels. Lauren Graham, star of the dearly departed Gilmore Girls (and most recently of Parenthood), penned her debut novel in 2013 to positive reviews. And earlier this month, David Duchovny released his debut novel, Holy Cow, which is on my list.

Have any of your favorite actors written books that have captured your interest?

As a related aside, over the weekend, John Calhoun, librarian at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts offered a reading list for the Oscar watcher that he called an “Oscarologist’s syllabus,” that is, a list of nine books that “provide some insight and context on some of this year’s nominees and on the awards process itself.” Enjoy!

Pay Yourself First.

Personal finance experts always advise individuals to “pay themselves first,” that is, to invest in their futures (through saving or investing) before paying bills and other expenses. Important advice, no doubt–which could also be applied to other situations.

Case in point: this Friday evening, I came home from work exhausted and frazzled. My husband innocently asked how one of my writing projects (with a looming deadline) was coming along.

I admitted that I let the whole week go by without even opening the file on my computer. I was too bogged down with things at work, shuttling kids around, keeping things running smoothly at home to do anything else, I said. And furthermore, once I was through with all of the daytime activities, I had no energy for anything else.

My husband thought for a moment and then spoke. “You just need to pay yourself first,” he said. “Work on your projects first–even for an hour, right when you get up–and you’ll feel much better because you’ll be making progress on the work you love.”

An important reminder that we are not defined by our “day jobs” if they are different from what we really wish we are doing.

In her book, The Artist in the Office: How to Creatively Survive and Thrive Seven Days a Week, Summer Pierre writes about the “wage slave” mentality that people often lapse into. It is easy to adopt that mindset–that our other work is keeping us from the work we were meant to do–but it is not productive or helpful. Pierre suggests that it is all about priorities. It is easy to bemoan one’s lack of time due to a crummy job, but if the creative work (writing, visual art, music, etc.) isn’t important enough to fit into your life right now in your current circumstances, you may never do it.

Pierre’s book is fantastic–think of her as a cheerleader for your creative endeavors. She offers practical suggestions for ways to make one’s creative life a reality 24/7, not just something that is saved for after-hours when the work day has ended.

Author Danny Gregory echoes Pierre’s message in his new book Art Before Breakfast–and talks about the importance of “injecting creativity into our already over scheduled lives.” In this excerpt from the book, he gives his own pep talk on why creativity matters and how we can fit it into our own lives:

But creativity isn’t a luxury. It’s the essence of life. It’s what distinguishes us from the mush. And it’s why our ancestors survived while other less adaptive critters perished. They responded to change by being creative in some way, by inventing a new answer to the chaos.

And that’s what you need to do to make the most of your life, every day of it. To be inventive, open, flexible, in touch. To have perspective on what matters to you. To deal with change without being overwhelmed. And that’s what creativity offers you.

Creativity can become a habit that fits into your life, like Pilates or flossing, only a lot more fulfilling. You just need to shift your perspective on what it is to be creative. It doesn’t mean you have to be a full-time artist. It doesn’t mean you need lots of training or supplies. Or time. It doesn’t mean you need to be a so-called expert.

You just have to be you—and express what that means.

Listen to his interview on WBUR’s Here and Now.

What are ways that you make your own creative life a priority?


Writing and Routines.

True confession time: I have been in a terrible writing slump. I have felt little motivation to blog or to work on my other writing. I have even found it a chore to respond to emails. It is easy to blame it on the weather (nearly 100 inches of snow in less than a month here in Boston), and while the reason for my lack of productivity is *related* to the weather, the actual reason is that I am out of my routine. There has not been a full week of work or school since before Christmas, which means that it is very difficult to carve out consistent blocks of time–and my running routine has fallen by the wayside over the last few months as I was first sidelined by an injury, and now, am stalled because of unsafe road conditions. (And as an aside, I think the lack of regular exercise has made me cranky too.)

This disruption in the order of things has left me with a feeling of literary aphasia–that is, the feeling that I am completely out of words. If I am being rational, I know that is not the case, and that the solution to my problem is simple: to get back into a routine.

When Jerry Seinfeld was asked by a young comedian for tips on how to become a better comedian, Seinfeld advised him to work on writing new material every day.  Then he shared his secret: his “Don’t Break the Chain” strategy. The premise is simple: get a large wall calendar and a marker. Every day that you complete work toward a goal (for example, my goal is to resume my daily writing practice), mark off that day with a big “X”. Over time, the “X” marks will add up and serve as a visual record of your progress as well as where you need to go. Brad Issac (who was the recipient of this advice) writes this:

Over the years I’ve used his technique in many different areas. I’ve used it for exercise, to learn programming, to learn network administration, to build successful websites and build successful businesses.

It works because it isn’t the one-shot pushes that get us where we want to go, it is the consistent daily action that builds extraordinary outcomes. You may have heard “inch by inch anything’s a cinch.” Inch by inch does work if you can move an inch every day.

Daily action builds habits. It gives you practice and will make you an expert in a short time. If you don’t break the chain, you’ll start to spot opportunities you otherwise wouldn’t. Small improvements accumulate into large improvements rapidly because daily action provides “compounding interest.”

Skipping one day makes it easier to skip the next.

I’ve often said I’d rather have someone who will take action—even if small—every day as opposed to someone who swings hard once or twice a week. Seinfeld understands that daily action yields greater benefits than sitting down and trying to knock out 1000 jokes in one day.

Think for a moment about what action would make the most profound impact on your life if you worked it every day. That is the action I recommend you put on your Seinfeld calendar. Start today and earn your big red X. And from here on out…Don’t break the chain!

Simple and easy. I am starting today.

Read about the daily routines of these great writers.

What do you do in order to establish a routine? Any tips or recommendations?





Bookminded Recommends: A Snow Day Movie.

Looking for the perfect snowy day movie? Then reach back into the archives and watch one of my all-time favorite movies–1996’s Beautiful Girls (and as a side note, how is it possible that this movie is almost 20 years old?!).
beautiful-girls-poster-2Set in a small Massachusetts town called Knights Ridge, the movie begins in the days leading up to the ten-year high school reunion of a group of friends. Most of the group have stayed in town (running a snow plowing business–ha!), but one of them–Willie Conway (Timothy Hutton)–has achieved some success with his music career in NYC. He comes home not just for the reunion, but hoping he will find the answers to his big city problems in the slower and simpler way of life in his hometown.

But of course his friends are facing the same life problems and questions–just in a different setting.

Featuring all-star cast including Timothy Hutton, Matt Dillon, Michael Rapaport (hilarious!), Mira Sorvino, Rosie O’Donnell, Uma Thurman, and a young Natalie Portman, this comedy is as poignant as it is funny.
Unknown-1Portman shines as the Conway family’s 13-year-old neighbor, Marty, and in many ways serves as a moral compass for Hutton’s character Willie Conway. We get the sense that given a different place and time (that is, if Marty was closer to Willie’s age) these two would be “walking through [this] world together.” Watch this scene for some of their literary repartee:

And watch the trailer here:

Have you ever seen Beautiful Girls? What other recommendations do you have for snow day movies?

NB: Beautiful Girls is available for viewing via Amazon Prime and Netflix.


Here in Boston, we are in a Snowy Vortex–think 2014’s Polar Vortex–only less convenient. In the last two weeks, we’ve had so much snow here that I’ve lost track of the totals. Suffice it to say, it is A LOT. Service from the MBTA (our local public transit system) has been spotty or completely shut down, businesses have been closed, roads have been clogged with traffic and basically everyone you talk to has had enough.

Unless you happen to talk to a school-age child, that is! They love the snow.
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I think my dog does too.

After reading this Cognoscenti piece by Barbara Howard last Friday, I regained my own composure and perspective. It offered a good reminder that while for some, extreme weather is a matter of inconvenience, for others it can mean the difference between making it to work in order to make ends meet or not. So now, I am all about finding my zen–even in the midst of this snowy disruption.

Taking a walk helps–the fresh air and exercise truly does help to stave off cabin fever! And even this reader needs to get her nose out from behind her books.

While I was out for a walk this afternoon with my pup, I thought of this 1921 poem from Wallace Stevens.

The Snowman

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Wallace Stevens, 1921.

Maybe thinking of the harsh weather as a catalyst to artistic expression is a good mindset to adopt.

And the snow does look pretty in the moonlight.

Bookcase Envy, Pt. 2.

Last summer, I posted images of dream bookcases as well as photos of my own. I have continued to steadily collect more of these dream bookcase images on Pinterest (despite not having any more wall space in my house!). Here are some of my favorites. Which do you like?


The green walls and shelves appeal to me here. As do those leopard print ottomans.


I like this–very Scandinavian-looking, I think.


An excellent use of hallway space, in my opinion.

I love this little shelf. And the window, too.

I love this little shelf. (And the window, too.)