By Deborah Royce
Portrait by ChiChi Ubiña

Hello and Happy Holidays to the readers of Fairfield County LOOK…my neighbors and friends! This has been quite a year and nothing will end it better than curling up with a good book, movie, or streaming series! I am delighted to share with you some of those that I am obsessed with right now and I hope they carry you away as much as they have me! We could all use a little carrying away right about now!

Books

 

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
This is a lyrical and sweeping novel that follows the life of a young black slave from the age of ten, when he toils on a brutal Barbados sugar plantation, through many years to follow when he escapes (by a very early version of a hot air balloon!) to Virginia, to the arctic, to Canada, to England, and eventually to Morocco. By turns deeply moving, highly introspective, and fantastical (bordering on magical realism), this is a book that will take you into a tough world that existed, and a little bit of an imaginary world that did not. I highly recommend it!

 

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Because, really, who doesn’t need to go back to Jo and Meg and Beth and Amy—that fractious but deeply solid band of sisters—right now? Who doesn’t need the love and comfort of Marmee right now? Who doesn’t need to fall in love with Laurie, the heavenly boy next door, right now? This has been a year for the record books and I strongly suggest you grab some hot cocoa or a glass of wine, abandon the gift wrapping and every other item on your to-do list, and remind yourself how the March sisters got through an even worse period in our history. With grit and wit and togetherness, that’s how. You’ll feel better for it!

 

Sisters by Daisy Johnson
I JUST finished this beautiful novel and loved it. it is short and moody and will draw you into a world where a trauma has been sustained by two sisters and they struggle to cope with its aftermath. In the realm of the collective unconscious—which I firmly believe exists from my own experience reading scripts for a living when I was the story editor at Miramax Films in the 90s—I have seen that writers and other creative folk tap into a zeitgeist and often produce similar material at the same time. I think it happens in science and other creative worlds, as well. On that note, Sisters taps into a similar vein as my next psychological thriller, Ruby Falls, which comes out on May 4, 2021. The stories are different but the mood is uncannily in synch—dark, dreamy, and highly unreliable. So, as someone who has written a book that plays with similar themes of how truly fragile we can be, I strongly recommend this novel!

 

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Continuing with the theme of the collective unconscious, I will add this fantastic non-fiction book by the writer of Eat, Pray, Love. In it, through example after example (including an amazing one involving herself, the writer, Ann Patchett, and two crazily similar stories taking place in the Amazon!), Gilbert reminds us that we are really all connected. That we really do draw from the same source. And that inspiration is available to ALL of us, if we take it. And if we don’t, it will go to someone else. Just look at Marconi and Tesla and their simultaneous invention of the radio!

Movies

 

Art and Craft
This is a thought-provoking documentary that came out several years ago but I just watched through a special event at our very own Avon Theatre in Stamford. We all had a week to watch the film through a special link, then we were treated to a Zoom Q & A with the filmmakers and the subject of the film, art forger, Mark Landis. Mr. Landis is a complicated and highly sympathetic individual who will have you thinking a little bit differently about intellectual property once you’ve watched this movie. It is available for rental on Amazon Prime.

 

Elf
The Avon is open and screening films in a safe and socially distant way! Grab your kids and hop over to The Avon this Saturday morning, December 5, at 11:00 a.m. for our annual FREE Christmas movie! This year it is Elf and what better way is there to kick off the holiday season? Wear your mask, your temperatures will be taken when you arrive, but once you are in your seats, it is fine to enjoy your popcorn and beverages!

 

It’s A Wonderful Life
For all the reasons that Little Women will comfort you right now, so will It’s A Wonderful Life! Jimmy Stewart plays the consummate Everyman. He is us. We relate to his longings to get out of his two-bit town and we relate to the reasons he ends up staying. We relate to his despair at the loss of his dreams and we relate to him finding his belief in the meaning of life again. We all need to remember that we hold our own equivalent of Zazu’s petals in our very own pockets. If you ever need a movie to make you BELIEVE again, this is it. It is worth watching a thousand times.

 

Fanny and Alexander
This is my personal all-time favorite annual Christmas movie! Some of my family think I am nuts for saying that and some join me for the ride. In it, Ingmar Bergman tells the story of a large, rambunctious, artistic, and complicated Swedish family at the turn of the last century—seen through the eyes of two children—that is part autobiography and part fantasy. For me, the comfort and the transcendence of this film come from Bergman’s ability to weave together the sublime and the horrible in a way that, I think, is true to life. We understand the troubles this family endures, the aching beauty they can create, the love (and the loathing) they share, because we have all experienced it. It is life and life is messy and beautiful all at once. The movie is long but worth it! Look for it through the Criterion Collection.

Streaming Series:

 

The Crown by Peter Morgan
For me, for whatever reason, this entire pandemic—this entire year—has been made more manageable by following the exploits of the British Royals. I mean, those people ENDURE! And they do it in great houses and clothes and jewelry. Okay, that may be shallow, but—really—bad things happen to everyone. Everyone. You don’t get out of here without going through terrible trials. There is something comforting about watching reenactments of the full range of human frailties and struggles as experienced by royalty.

 

Victoria
Ditto. I mean, Prince Albert died of CHOLERA from drinking contaminated water! Victoria could barely walk after giving birth to nine children! They messed up. Their progeny REALLY messed up (World War I played out between ALL of her descendants and wiped out royalty throughout most of Europe and Russia). And yet, it is comforting to watch them endure.

 

The Tudors
If you’re going to steep yourselves in British heads of state, there is no more riveting a character than Henry VIII! He was pretty bad husband material (divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived!), but—as played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, he is hard not to watch. And it is clear to see that he would have been hard not to marry! I don’t think the real Henry ever looked that good, but this is Hollywood, after all! And they had their fair share of plagues in those days which sent them scurrying to country houses, which will remind you all of how many new folk live with us in Greenwich now. Welcome to all of you!

 

The Flight Attendant
If you cannot stand another minute of the British royal family (have I made you an anti-monarchist? I hope not!), this new streaming series is a delight. It follows the very bad decisions made by one very messed up flight attendant—played delightfully by Kaley Cuoco, an actress who is new to me but someone I will watch. She drinks too much, sleeps around too much, is late for every appointment, and can’t even seem to comb her hair—but I really like her and I really relate to her—and it all culminates with her waking up in a strange bed with a strange guy. Who just happens to be dead! But that isn’t the end, at all, in fact it is only the beginning. I am riveted by this series and cannot wait for the next installments!

So those are my recommendations for getting through the rest of what remains of this year with grace, humor, fun, and even learning a little something (I confess that I often Google facts when watching series like The Crown, Victoria, and The Tudors!). I wish you all the very best of health and happiness in 2020 and in the year to come.