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Simone de Beauvoir is tough to assess

simoneAttempting to review a book by Simone de Beauvoir means I must be either supremely stupid or incredibly naïve. I guess I’m a bit of both. Another reason for my caution is a throw-back to my high school English Literature classes when our excruciatingly boring teacher would attempt to wake us up by asking, “And what do you think Shakespeare meant by that?”. I always think it’s somewhat arrogant to presume to know what any author meant unless you ask him specifically.

Two years ago I read a thoroughly enjoyable biography of Simone de Beauvoir by Deirdre Bair, an exhaustive account of her childhood and her many decades as lover and part-time partner of Jean-Paul Sartre. As early proponents of the existentialist movement in Paris, they were respected and well-known for their intellectual ideas related to social issues.

After reading her biography I was naturally curious to investigate her writing. I chose Les Belles Images because the subject matter was something I could relate to since I spent most of my career in corporate marketing. I also visited Paris in 1968 and that time period has special memories for most Boomers, regardless of where we were. I ordered it from the used books section of Amazon for the amazing price of one cent plus the cost of shipping. When it arrived, I opened a musty yellowed, pencil-annotated paperback edition from 1968.

The story centers around the life of Laurence, a troubled thirty-something advertising executive in 1960s Paris, who is the mother of two young daughters and is married to Jean-Charles, her arrogant architect husband. Laurence’s life is complicated by having a lover, Lucien who has outlived his usefulness, and a high-powered interior-decorator mother, Dominique, whose fifty-eight-year-old lover has just abandoned her to marry the nineteen-year-old daughter of a friend. Laurence is a worrier. Like many parents who want to prolong their children’s belief in Santa Claus for as long as possible, she is preoccupied with keeping her daughters forever innocent. She carefully monitors their friendships and forbids them to read newspapers or watch television news for fear they will be traumatized and unable to mentally cope with all the violence the world presents.

For many years Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre held court in Cafe Flore or Les deux Magots where they wrote and met friends.
For many years Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre held court in Cafe Flore or Les deux Magots where they wrote and met friends.

There were minor issues with the translation that made the book awkward to read at times with old-fashioned word sequences like “He was much upset” and “They shan’t do what they’ve done”. De Beauvoir’s narrative continually slips back and forth between first and third person which also makes for a tricky read; I had to keep adjusting my perspective.

Les Belles Images is an observation of Parisian life in the mid-sixties as lived by upper class professionals who appear to be unabashedly self-involved and superficial. Their struggles are not terribly different from those experienced by today’s double-income working couples. They’re living in their “now” and within the context of their own lives are subject to the same stresses and rewards as contemporary working couples. De Beauvoir has taken a minor soap opera and used it to illustrate her perception of social issues. I guess I need to talk this over with people a lot smarter than I am to understand why this writing is significant. But it was rather fun glimpsing into daily life in 1960s Paris without having to analyse “what she meant“.

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Everyday life can be a mystery

train1The Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins was a gift from a friend. Murder/mysteries are not a genre I read often but this one was captivating and I can see why it’s a current best-seller. Rachel has been dumped by her husband Tom in favour of a prettier model and adding agony to insult, her replacement, Anna produced the baby with Tom that Rachel craved but did not conceive.

Rachel is not successful in rebuilding her life. Moving in with a single female acquaintance from university, her drinking problem increases to the point she has blackouts and her lack of control costs her her job. Rather than admit that she’s been fired, Rachel takes the same commuter train at the same time to and from London every day, riding past the back yard of the home she shared with her ex-husband who now lives there with Anna and their baby daughter.

A regular signaling stop for the train permits her to spy on her old neighbourhood which includes a seemingly idyllic couple who live a couple of doors down. Through a combination of peculiar coincidences and intervention, Rachel becomes involved once again in the lives of both her ex-husband and their neighbours that result in a series of events that are both tragic and revealing.

One thing that always makes me uncomfortable, whether in life, in media or in the books I read is lying. I have zero tolerance for liars and little sympathy for the messes they create for themselves. Such was the case when I recently read Emma by Alexander McCaul Smith but even more so in this book. Much as I loved the story with all its twists and surprises, I always find myself thinking how much simpler life would be if people simply told the truth. Telling stories makes for good fiction but has questionable merit in real life, although withholding truth sometimes has its place to prevent hurting someone.

The Girl on The Train is a fun read and in view of the fact this is the author’s first book of fiction, I’m sure we can look forward to more.

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Gathering ’round the old radio

Love the ladies on What She Said, CBC Canada Talks.Sharon, Kate and Christine on Canada Talks' What She Said.
Love the ladies on What She Said, CBC Canada Talks.

what she said2As a Baby Boomer woman who loves to read, there are two radio shows I don’t like to miss as they both feature authors on a regular basis. The first one is What She Said which can be found on SIRIUSXM Satellite Radio, Channel 167 Canada Talks. It airs at ten o’clock in the morning on weekdays and is hosted by Christine Bentley, Kate Wheeler and Sharon Cady. In fact, yours truly was once one of the authors interviewed on their show. What She Said appeals to a wide audience but the topics they cover are particularly relevant to women and very often Baby Boomer women.

The other show I really enjoy is The Judith Regan Show which airs once a week on SIRIUSXM Satellite Channel 106 at eleven o’clock on Saturday mornings for two hours. Judith Regan is a gregarious Boomer Broad from New York whose career spans publishing, broadcasting and journalism. She’s informed, funny and provocative. Her guests are most often authors of books covering wide-ranging topics including self-help, fiction, non-fiction, business and wellness. Now that she’s in her sixties, Regan jokingly describes her vagina as “closed for business”.

When satellite radio was first introduced I resisted the idea of paying for a subscription service when I’d never known anything but free radio programming all my life. It’s proven its worth many times over. Although it claims to be free of advertising, that’s not entirely true and every time I hear an ad for some product or service slipped I get extremely annoyed. One of these days I’ll have to e-mail them about it.

Flashback to the sixties. I worked weekends as a carhop at a drive-in restaurant (how many people can include that on their resume) when everyone listened to music engineered specifically for car AM radios.
Flashback to the sixties. I worked weekends as a carhop at a drive-in restaurant (how many people can include that on their resume) when everyone listened to music engineered specifically for car AM radios.

As well as What She Said and The Judith Regan Show I’m a fan of many other shows such as Ward & Al on SIRIUSXM Canada Talks, as well as CBC FM radio on Sunday afternoons and, of course, the channels dedicated to fifties and sixties music when I feel like singin’. Satellite radio also affords me the benefit of listening to programs on long trips without switching channels. I can catch real-time CBC news in Florida (which cannot be said for television) and continuous programming without changing channels during my six-hour drive to visit my parents.

The beautiful music by Simon & Garfunkel still resonates.
The beautiful music by Simon & Garfunkel still resonates.

Is it a characteristic of getting old that I no longer listen to music as much as I used to? Public radio and talk shows are my programs of choice these days and I learn so much about what’s going on in the world, without the grimness and negativity so prevalent in television news. We’re continually bombarded with so many forms of media today that I quite enjoy the simplicity of the good old radio. And when I’m not listening to the radio, I often spend vast stretches of time in complete silence just to clear my head and savour the peace and quiet. As I said in an earlier blog (Feeling uninspired, take a nap), we often do our best thinking when we’re idle. We need time to recharge our batteries and I find this is best done in silence. Paul Simon said it so eloquently when he sang with Art Garfunkel:

“Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

But for those times when silence isn’t on your agenda and you need some good old fashioned girl talk you can relate to, tune in to What She Said or The Judith Regan Show on SIRIUSXM Satellite Radio. (This is definitely not a paid advertisement; just good old fashioned sharing a good thing from one girlfriend to another.)

Click on the link to order directly.For further insights into the Boomer perspective on business, fashion, mind and body, book and movie reviews, order my book, BOOMERBROADcast. It makes a great hostess or birthday gift as well as just a fun read.

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Celebrating freedom for elephants

Wild animals performing undignified circus acts has always made me feel sick to my stomach.
Wild animals performing undignified circus acts has always made me feel sick to my stomach.

Ever since I was a young child growing up in the fifties, I’ve always hated circuses, and the main reason is the treatment of the animals. From a young age I instinctively knew that seeing lions, tigers and other wild animals being caged in small pens and forced to perform undignified circus acts to entertain humans was just wrong. At that time I didn’t even know about bull hooks, chains and beatings, but my heart broke for those beautiful creatures living such miserable lives. I still have a similar reaction to most zoos although I do acknowledge that some are better than others and serve as sanctuaries for many species.

Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus have finally announced they are no longer including elephants in their “Greatest Show on Earth”. Is there anyone out there who can possibly not celebrate this wonderful news? If you have any doubts, read Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen or Last Chain on Billie by Carol Bradley and you’ll change your mind.

Cruel training of elephants begins at a young age.
Cruel training of elephants begins at a young age. The souls of these intelligent, sensitive creatures are broken in the name of entertainment and making money.

The Feld family who owns Ringling Brothers Circus will be retiring their elephants to the 200-acre Center For Elephant Conservation in central Florida. While the family denies succumbing to pressure from animal rights groups, there is no doubt that public opinion and new laws forbidding elephant acts in various Canadian and American cities has finally brought down the curtain on this sad form of entertainment. Hopefully, the next step will be similar actions in the name of other circus animals. One small step for humanity. One giant leap for elephants.

For further insights into the Boomer perspective on business, fashion, mind and body, book and movie reviews, order my book, BOOMERBROADcast. It makes a great hostess or birthday gift as well as just a fun read.

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Glad I went to McFarland

Movies about sports aren’t usually my first choice but the opportunity of a night out with a couple of girlfriends with a tankful of Diet Coke and bushel of movie popcorn was just too tempting to resist. The movie we went to see is McFarland USA starring Kevin Costner and I particularly liked the fact it is based on a true story set in 1987.  It’s the story of a high school physical education teacher and football coach who is dismissed from a series of jobs because of anger issues and is forced to relocate to a poor, immigrant town in Southern California that represents everything he does not want for his family. Ironically, their last name is “White”.

The movie is based on a true story and while the premise is predictable it's also encouraging and inspiring.
The movie is based on a true story and while the premise is predictable it’s also uplifting and inspiring.

Driving into the Hispanic farming community of McFarland, the family is confronted with their what appears to be their worst fears—grinding poverty, language barriers, social problems and cultural alienation. The high school students he teaches get up at forty-thirty every morning, hop into the back of a pickup truck to go and pick vegetables to augment the family income before they run to school a few hours later. After school, they repeat the process, in reverse.

Kostner’s character, Jim White once again is dismissed as football coach at his new school but after noticing the running skills of his students he decides to introduce them to the world of competitive cross-country track. He recruits seven students and after training and winning several events, they defy the odds and prove the value of effort.

I don’t want to give the entire story away but I will say the theme reminded me of why I enjoyed Clint Eastwood’s Grand Torino so much. Too often we judge others by unfair stereotypical preconceptions. Fear of what we do not know or lack of understanding is often at the root of prejudice. We need to be reminded of this from time to time. And to count our blessings that hopefully our children and grandchildren don’t have to pick vegetables for three or four hours before and after school every day to keep food on the family table. For all our bounty, we give thanks. This movie was a lovely surprise and is definitely a thumbs-up.

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Boomer’s family deals with parents’ legacy

Point o' View was the Oakville family home for Plum Johnson and her four younger brothers growing up in the fifties and sixties.
Point o’ View was the Oakville family home for Plum Johnson and her four younger brothers growing up in the fifties and sixties.

Plum Johnson, author of They Left Us Everything is a Baby Boomer raised in Oakville, Ontario. In 1952, her British veteran father and southern American mother landed in the village when it was little more than a farming community with a few stores and a tiny population. Her family bought a nineteenth century twenty-three-room lakefront home with eight bedrooms for a few thousand dollars. They were only the third family to occupy the house which had originally been built as a summer cottage and where her parents lived for the next sixty-five years.

For twenty years, Johnson and her brothers had been caregivers for their once-vibrant and world-travelled parents before they died. Her handsome and very regimented British father suffered with Alzheimer’s for twelve years before he passed away and her mother lived two more years in the massive house with the ongoing help of Johnson, her brothers and a live-in Tibetan couple.

They Left Us Everything is a sensitive and engaging description of her parents’ life and their final decline. Johnson describes her own frustrations as the result of her mother’s frustrations inherent with aging. For a vibrant woman who had once entertained as many as two hundred people during Christmas holidays to be tethered to an oxygen tank and unable to walk more than a few steps without stopping to rest, those frustrations were enormous.

The book was not without humorous anecdotes such as the story of her brother taking their Alzheimer’s-afflicted father on a Caribbean cruise to give her mother a break. Their father was convinced he’d gone around the world visiting such exotic destinations Borneo, London and Japan and regaled the family with his fantasy-based hilarious tales when he returned home. We share Johnson’s grief, not only for the loss of her parents but that of her brother, Sandy who died of cancer at the age of forty-two. The family and the house both have a fascinating history.

Conducting an inventory of the family belongings grew from a six-week project to nearly two years while Johnson occupied the home. During that time, while going through their possessions, Johnson and her brothers learned things about their parents they never knew and gained a new kind of respect for the people they had been. The difficulties and physical demands of dealing with the detritus of a lifetime are detailed in a way that is engaging and educational for the reader. There are numerous situations Baby Boomers will identify with in relation to our own parents. They Left Us Everything is a fast read but it is a book you won’t be able to put down. I loved it and I have a feeling you will too.

For further insights into the Boomer perspective on business, fashion, mind and body, book and movie reviews, order my book, BOOMERBROADcast. It makes a great hostess or birthday gift as well as just a fun read.

Click on this link:   http://www.lulu.com or  http://www.amazon.com

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