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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 the Carousel.

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 no ending.

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 story?

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, Harry Potter.

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 years.

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 accomplishing nothing.

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 and anti-religious.


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.


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 sorry" (Socrates).

"Families with babies and families without babies are sorry for each other" (Edgar Watson Howe).

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 have one.

Churchill replied with a telegram of his own:

Impossible to be present for first performance. Will attend the second -- if there is one.

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 propositions.

"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" (Bill Vaughan).

"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 Sherman).

"If Bret Harte ever repaid a loan, the incident failed to pass into history" (Mark Twain).

"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 words.

The first book was called NOT QUITE WHAT I WAS PLANNING: SIX-WORD MEMOIRS BY WRITERS FAMOUS & OBSCURE. Let me give you a few samples:

"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 done.

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 .)

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