Adam's Book Reviews
By: Adam O ('21)
Clara Bow: Running Wild by David Stenn
I’m definitely not a fan of nonfiction usually. I tend to think of reading as a form of escapism, and I use it to relax and disconnect from troubles I’m dealing with in the real world. So it surprised even me when I picked up (and couldn’t put down Clara Bow: Running Wild. In the biography, David Stenn puts together a surprisingly enchanting narrative of the life of Clara Bow, from her early years to her retirement. Bow was a 1920s film star, and the most popular one at the time. I’m sure you’re familiar with the phrase “they have It!” This phrase originates with Clara, dubbed by America as “The It Girl,” because, well, she simply had It. Everyone loved her.
Stenn only briefly writes of the techniques used by Clara to account for why she got so famous (crediting most of it to her individuality), but instead focuses on her life and her various transitions throughout the film industry. He discusses Bow’s issues with education, self-esteem (America’s first sex symbol was called “too fat to get a lead,” for most of her early career), and eventually discusses her battles with mental illness, relationships, parenting, and childhood trauma. All of this is formatted wonderfully, with the first three quarters of the novel being mostly the fascinating tales of Bow’s exploits, and the last quarter being an examination of her life, and how things like her mental illness may have played into her actions.
Once again, I cannot stress enough how long it’s been since I’ve sat down and read through a biography. I use my brain enough at school, and in the rare moments I can find time to not think, I would prefer to not do so, if possible. But Bow’s story enchanted me, and I can’t help but credit some of that to Stenn’s humanizing writing. This biography has actually become the most accredited, leading biography on Bow, which surprised me, because at some points I even forgot that it was something that was historically accurate. On a side note, after doing some research on Stenn, I found out that he has written another biography about another 1920s silent film actress. That’s an interesting genre specialization, I suppose. It was only when I stumbled upon the bibliography, which is over 90 pages long, that I remembered that I was reading something that was actually informational. Many of these citations are interviews however, used to provide the reader with a sense of how Bow actually spoke. This results in a really odd bond forming between the reader and Bow, one that I can’t shake, 2 months later.
Overall, if you’re looking for something to read, and are either interested in the golden age of America and Hollywood, film, flappers, or just an interesting piece of history, that shockingly isn’t something that many of us are informed on today, I would recommend Clara Bow: Running Wild. It’s simply formatted well, written beautifully, and provides a non-rose-tinted perspective on a woman seen only on a golden screen. Biographies about silent film stars might seem like an oddly specific genre, but I’d definitely give it a try, if there’s even the smallest amount of interest there. You might find yourself like millions of (mostly late) Americans, absolutely enchanted by Bow.
Circe by Madeline Miller
I read a lot of fiction. I literally do not know where I find the time, but over and over again I find myself drifting to novels to distract me from all of the school work I should actually be doing. In one of these many procrastination-y moods, I found myself looking at Madeline Miller. Miller wrote The Song of Achilles, one of my other favorite novels of all time. However, I realized that I had never even glanced at her other novel, Circe. So the next time I was at the bookstore, I picked it up, and realized that I love it as much as her other work.
Circe is a modernization of the story of Circe, that we briefly get taught as freshies in our Odyssey curriculum. Miller’s characteristic inherent poeticism returns, and her writing is not only incredibly easy to read, but also resonates deeply with the audience. She brings in some very complicated and delicate topics, but seemingly handles them with relative ease, providing a novel not only with substance, but one that is a joy to read through.
Anyway, Circe follows Circe, daughter of the sun god Helios, through most of her life. After a run in with Prometheus, Circe is exiled to island of Aiaia, where she is cursed to spend her entire life. It is here, on this island that she meets Daedalus (that famous Greek inventor who personally I knew from the Percy Jackson books), Hermes, Odysseus, and more. I thought the idea of a setting staying relatively the same would result in an extremely boring novel, but through flashbacks and other creative choices, Miller manages to make the time that Circe spends on Aiaia fascinating. Circe, although a goddess, is an extremely weak one, possessing almost no godly powers except for immortality, but by her adolescence, she realizes that she is a pharmakis, the Greek word for witch. However, as opposed to gods, who can naturally control things, witches require work for their spells to succeed, which allows Miller, through Circe, to make some very interesting claims on immortality, and what we as humans revere.
I realize I’m making this book sound incredibly dull by droning on and on about Miller’s literary prowess. It’s truly a delightfully easy story to read and digest. It was a breeze to get through, and while I found myself noticing beautiful sentences and such the first time through, I didn’t analyze any of that, as I was too invested in the narrative to think about the book in a technical, boring manner. Which is personally exactly how I want my fiction. Well written, about interesting, potentially historical topics, but ultimately a story that I can lose myself in and just get swept away by, and that’s exactly what Miller has done with Circe. I genuinely think Circe is a novel that can be pretty much universally enjoyed. The combination of writing and the themes discussed just works, even if you don’t have a lot of interest in mythology. With Circe, I think Miller takes the place as my favorite fiction author, and I hope that maybe you’ll give Miller, and Circe a chance too.
Breakdown of the Oscars: An Award Show Geek’s Perspective
By: Emma T ('22)
As an avid fan of award shows, from the nomination ceremony to the red carpet, I try my hardest to walk into the evening as prepared as possible. While I am not, and probably never will be, 100% prepared for the Oscars, I do my research on the films I was not able to see.
After another year of record-breaking, show-stopping movies, it does not surprise me that the Academy Awards Best Picture list almost hit its max with nine films nominated (Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, Marriage Story, 1917, Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood, and Parasite.) I was able to get around to seeing four out of the nine contenders which, considering the fact that I am a full-time student, I am very proud of. I thought I would break down the ones I was able to see, including how I feel about the other nominations (or lack thereof) that each movie received. I will be providing Wikipedia synopses of each film, that way I do not shed any bias into what the film is about.
If you are reading this and did, in fact, watch this movie, congratulations! You are in an elite club of high school students who truly wanted to see this film. Wikipedia’s synopsis says: “A stage director and his actor wife struggle through a grueling, coast-to-coast divorce that pushes them to their personal and creative extremes.” Adam Driver (Star Wars, BlacKkKlansman) and Scarlett Johansson (Avengers franchise, Jojo Rabbit [yes, she is a part of two Best Picture films]) play Charlie and Nicole and are both nominated in the Best Actor/Actress categories for their performances. Laura Dern (Jurassic Park, Little Women [just like Johansson, she is also a part of two Best Picture nominees, so clearly this movie is packed with stars]) plays the divorce lawyer for Nicole and is nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category. While the director of the film, Noah Baumbach, was nominated under the Original Screenplay category, he was not nominated for Best Director, which, in my opinion, is a big snub. This movie is worth watching if you feel like you will truly enjoy it. The only way to figure that out, however, is to start watching it. If it is still boring after about fifteen minutes in, it will be boring to you for the rest of the film. Marriage Story is not targeted at the high school age group; however, I personally like traditionally simpler films that will force you to think both immediately and long after you watch it. If you enjoy movies that do exactly that, I strongly recommend this film to you.
(Post Oscars Discussion):
Marriage Story ended up taking 1 award, out of the five categories in which they were nominated. They won Best Supporting Actress (for Laura Dern). I feel as if Noah Baumbach should have won the Best Original Screenplay award, but I am glad they at least walked way with an award.
As someone who would normally do most anything before seeing a war film, I really enjoyed 1917. Wikipedia’s synopsis says: “During World War I, two British soldiers -- Lance Cpl. Schofield and Lance Cpl. Blake -- receive seemingly impossible orders. In a race against time, they must cross over into enemy territory to deliver a message that could potentially save 1,600 of their fellow comrades -- including Blake's own brother.” The two male leads in this film, George McKay and Dean Charles-Chapman, were two names I had not heard of before, but was delightfully surprised with the level of talent these people had. While a few big names hit the screen, like Dr. Strange actor Benedict Cumberbatch and Mamma Mia! Star Colin firth, I never felt like the movie was trying to milk the stars they were able to wrangle. It was simple and easy to watch. The action in the film was not forced upon people, it happened in the right moments in the film. 1917 opened up a new door for how I view filmmaking and the power of a simple, yet complex story. If you are looking for something that will keep your eyes open and alert and have you walk away with new ideas, I strongly recommend 1917.
(Post Oscars Discussion):
1917 ended up grabbing 3 out of the 7 awards they were nominated for and, because the competition was very strong this year, I am very impressed. They won: Best Cinematography, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects, all of which I believe they greatly deserved.
As a major Greta Gerwig stan, I walked into Little Women with very high hopes and I was not disappointed. The Wikipedia synopsis says: “In the years after the Civil War, Jo March lives in New York and makes her living as a writer, while her sister Amy studies painting in Paris. Amy has a chance encounter with Theodore, a childhood crush who proposed to Jo but was ultimately rejected. Their oldest sibling, Meg, is married to a schoolteacher, while shy sister Beth develops a devastating illness that brings the family back together.” Little Women is a graceful but powerful film that brought back the March sisters when we needed them most. Each of their stories were highlighted perfectly and I feel that each of them had their story told in full. Saiorse Ronan (Lady Bird, Brooklyn) beautifully played Jo March, a young woman who is eager to break the societal norms placed on her. Florence Pugh (Midsommar [one of my favorite movies of this year, a must see], Lady Macbeth) stood out in this film as the traditional, yet strong Amy. Emma Watson (Harry Potter series, Beauty and the Beast) played the kind hearted and rock strong Meg. Eliza Scanlen (Sharp Objects, Babyteeth) was a name I had not heard before, but greatly enjoyed her performance as the innocent, but ill Beth. Some other big names were Timothée Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name, Lady Bird), Laura Dern (Big Little Lies, Marriage Story), and Meryl Streep (lots of movies). Little Women is basically a guaranteed movie that you will love. Something I loved about the film was the fact that you did not need to know the story prior to viewing. While I did know the plot, my sister did not but was easily able to catch on.
(Post Oscars Discussion):
Little Women won 1 of the 5 possible awards. They won Best Costume Design. I am disappointed that Greta Gerwig was left out of the Best Director list because I genuinely believe that she could have won. However out of the awards they were nominated, I wish Greta won for Best Adapted Screenplay.
I am not going to lie, I really went to see Jojo Rabbit just for Scarlett Johansson. However, I walked out of the theater delightfully surprised by the movie and the themes that the director (Taika Watiti) explored. The Wikipedia synopsis says: “Jojo is a lonely German boy who discovers that his single mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their attic. Aided only by his imaginary friend -- Adolf Hitler -- Jojo must confront his blind nationalism as World War II continues to rage on.” I laughed, I cried, and I felt a lot of other emotions while watching this movie. Each actor does a great job of showing the layers of their characters. Roman Griffin Davis, the leading man, started his Hollywood career in this film, and did a spectacular job. The female lead, Thomasin McKenzie (Leave No Trace, The King) really made her portrayal of Elsa, the young Jewish girl in Jojo’s closet, come alive, and even though I did not recognize her name originally, I could not picture any one better for that role. Some big names in the film were Scarlett Johansson (Avenger’s franchise, Marriage Story), Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, The Green Mile), and Rebel Wilson (Pitch Perfect series, The Hustle). It was cool to see the director, Taika Watiti, end up being in the film, portraying Adolf Hitler. I recommend this film for people who want to be able to laugh in cry all in one film. This a movie that will stick with you, and if you are looking for that, I strongly recommend Jojo Rabbit.
(Post Oscars Discussion):
The movie won one of the five categories they were nominated in. They won Best Adapted Screenplay (for Taika Watiti’s work). I, being a major fan of both Jojo Rabbit and Marriage Story, feel like Scarlett Johansson should have won Best Supporting Actress, not Laura Dern. I feel like her performance in the film was so impactful and deserved a little bit more recognition.
Ellie's Book Recommendations- Spring 2020
By: Ellie D ('21)
Ellie's Book Recommendations- Spring 2020
Recently, I have gotten into some great books (one of which I consider to be in my top 5 of best books I’ve ever read), and I felt like I needed to share them with The Hook community! I love both giving and receiving book recommendations so readers, if you need some more recommendations or have any to give, please do not hesitate to reach out to me or write an article about them next edition!
The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls:
Before I begin, I want to give a quick shoutout to Mrs. Derby who uses The Glass Castle in the IB English 11 curriculum- our entire IB class was extremely invested in this book, and let me tell you, if you’re not completely furious with some of the characters and emotionally invested in the story I will be surprised. The Glass Castle is a stunning memoir written by Jeannette Walls about her childhood and living with dysfunctional parents with a very unconventional parenting style. Though it is a memoir, the stories Walls’ incorporates in her memoir read like fiction, which keeps you engaged and ever captivated. Though many of the story Walls’ includes are certainly traumatic, she uses a neutral tone and humor to keep the memoir light. Without making the memoir depressing or discouraging, Jeannette Walls exposes the harsh realities of sexual assault, poverty, and racial issues. The Glass Castle was a book our IB class could not put down, and it is easily one of the most well written and eye-opening books I have ever read. I loved it so much I spent an entire family dinner gushing about it and ended up making my entire family read it also. I recommend this book to everyone, as it is excellently written and despite the heavy issues Walls presents, you are left with a sense of peace and hope with the memoir’s end.
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson:
Though I am not very far into Just Mercy, I already know that it is going to be a truly eye-opening read. Just Mercy demonstrates the blatant racism ingrained in the justice system, and the serious repercussions of individuals’ inability to afford decent representation in court. Just Mercy tells the story of Bryan Stevenson, Harvard law graduate and his unwavering dedication to aiding those who have been wrongly confined. It first describes the case of a man named Walter McMillan, who has been sentenced to death despite evidence suggesting his innocence. Just Mercy is a significant reminder of the privilege that exists in the often-glorified American justice system, but also a reminder of racism in countless other American institutions. It is important that individuals in the CCDS community are aware of their individual privilege, whatever it may be, and that we strive to use our individual privilege and education in a way that helps others and does not endorse racial injustices.