Books, Movies and Les Misérables

The movie Les Misérables (Les Mis, or “Lay-MIZ”) won ‘Best Comedy or Musical’ at last night’s Golden Globe Awards, a fact which made me très contente.

The ‘Best Drama’ award went to my other favorite movie of 2012: Argo.

I didn’t watch the Golden Globes — I was just too tired after watching the Atlanta Falcons come back to beat the Seattle Seahawks in the last 34 seconds of the NFL playoff game yesterday afternoon, but that’s another post. I love to know who wins the Globes (and the Oscars), but malheureusement, I don’t always hardly ever stay up to watch the award shows; pour moi, seeing the highlights (and the outfits) the next morning suffit.

I’d only seen 2 or 3 of the other films being considered (I just saw Les Mis last week), though I plan to watch most of the rest. Pourquoi? Parce que I LOVE movies, almost as much as I love books.

Les Mis has a special place in my heart and mind for many reasons. One reason, of course, is that the story is adapted from the French novel by Victor Hugo. Another reason is that it’s a musical, an opera really, and the songs are fantastique; I grew up in a household where musicals weren’t admired, so maybe that’s why my rebellious self loves them that much more.

But the third reason I love Les Mis is that one of my sons acted in the play in high school a few years ago, playing the role of the innkeeper Thénardier, and he was amazing, funny, and terrific.

The Playbill


This son (who had played basketball, baseball, soccer, football and had run cross country) began acting and singing in high school plays at the age of fifteen. Two years later he joined a wonderful cast to sold-out crowds; the production, now a legend at his school, was marvelous, and standing ovations were standard. It was a high school play, like unlike any other.

I saw the film Argo not long ago, and found it intriguing and fascinating. Based on real events,* it takes place in 1979-1980, the time setting of my new novel MAKE THAT DEUX. I was captivated not just by the story or the actors, but their clothes and hairstyles, since Jenny and her friends in MAKE THAT DEUX were in college during that era.

So it was a bit like seeing the Golden Globe “casual” outfits of my novel.

Which brings me to books. I love them, more than movies, and the best movies are those that are adapted from books: novels, non-fiction, even children’s books.

My favorite children’s books are those written by Dr. Seuss, and I believe one of them was made into a very entertaining movie a few years ago (“A Person’s a Person, no matter how small.”)

While browsing in a shop today, I came across these 2 Dr. Seuss editions that I just had to purchase (guess why?)


Hmm…if only I’d had these when my kids were little. Then, they would might have learned to speak français as well as English…

* A captivating and compelling book about the Iranian Hostage Crisis of 1979 is Mark Bowden’s Guests of the Ayatollah. I highly recommend it.

Exchange students: Les étudiants en échange

The Iranian hostage crisis began November 4, 1979, less than three months after I arrived in the south of France as a 19-year-old university exchange student.

I was part of a group from the University of North Carolina that attended a French university in Montpellier, France. We followed the crisis that gripped the world from the French perspective and read about it in Le Monde as we waited for it to end. But we went home to America long before it did.

I was a legal adult at the time, old enough to vote and drink alcohol, but much more concerned with my own life than with American security issues or the lives of the hostages. The crisis ended while I was still in college; a new president was elected, I graduated from UNC, found a job, married and raised a family. Then in 2006, I read Mark Bowden’s brilliant and suspenseful account of the story, Guests of the Ayatollah, told through the eyes of those who lived it.

The events of that year and the attitude of the time are relevant today, and the world is perhaps more dangerous. But more and more young people are choosing to spend time as exchange students in other countries, to experience another culture and learn a foreign language. Several colleges, including UNC, still offer a study-abroad program in Montpellier. In 2010, “Kim,” one of my American roommates in France,* sent me an article titled French Lessons by Aubrey Whelan, a Penn State student who attended the same French university that “Kim” and I had. As I read about Aubrey’s experience in Montpellier, I was amazed to learn that many things about life as an exhange student there hadn’t changed.

A month ago, my husband and I visited the city and Université Paul Valéry at the end of our week in the south of France. When I was a student there, costs were much lower, but still high, relatively speaking. Bureaucracy, a fact of life in France, was just as frustrating, and strikes just as frequent. The architecture of “Paul Val” was the same Soviet-chic, only a younger version, and class formats were the same. Like the students of today, my friends and I gathered at Place de la Comédie and at discos, and hung out at cafés and on the beach. Like Aubrey’s, our French skills fluctuated even as they improved.

And just like for Aubrey, my time in France was a life-changing experience.

In recent years, my family hosted two French high school students as part of a three week summer exchange program, and my teenage daughter was hosted by a French family on the same program. She hopes to study somewhere in France for a semester or a year during her time in college.

I think that’s une très bonne idée.

* “Kim” and I shared an apartment with “Lisa” during our year in France because there weren’t enough French host families for everyone in our UNC group of exchange students.

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