I’ve been plugging away on my manuscript for Anonymous Prestigious University Press, working my way through the checkered careers of…

(Which is like a party game. What do these people have in common?)

Whenever I leave my work for the day, I put a Post-It on my keyboard telling me what my last thought of the work session was, and what page I was working on. I’m currently laboring away on Jimmy Carter, and as I write my way forward I keep realizing that I need to go back and explain backstory (i.e.: why were evangelicals buying the Late Great Planet Earth in such staggering numbers in 1972?) So I go back ten or twenty pages and start to work my way forward again. For some reason (the Matrix sending me a message?), whenever I stop for the day I’m still on Page 132. I’ve been on Page 132 for about two weeks now. I’m hoping I’m almost done with backstory and can move on to something exciting, like Page 133.

Anyway, I’m still working towards my Great Break. Thanks to all your input so far, I have assembled a list of novels to read and things to do (see below). If you haven’t provided me with suggestions yet, please post.

Now I need something else–a list of movies to rent for those relaxed nights when I don’t have to get up early to write the next morning. What are your favorites?

I’ll take any suggestions. But just so you know, I have a particular liking for:

1. Disaster movies. I adore enormous fictional catastrophes with lots of fire, flood, and earthquake. (My husband thinks this is weird and unbalanced.) I own the “classics” already: Deep Impact, Dante’s Peak, Volcano, Armageddon (Liv Tyler and Ben Affleck were an almost-fatal error, but the explosion scenes are still very cool), even Titanic (although I fast-forward past all the parts where Leonardo DiCaprio is actually speaking). If you can suggest others, please do.

2. Time travel.

3. Anything with Cate Blanchett in it.

4. Anything directed by, produced by, or starring Kenneth Branagh. (Except for Wild Wild West, which should have resulted in mass firings of any agent who convinced a client to be associated with it in any way.)

5. Fencing movies. As in swords, not pastures. There ought to be more of these around.

So what are your favorites? Post themb below. Meanwhile, here are my temporary and growing lists of:

Books to read….

Stephanie Barron, Jane and the Barque of Frailty
Robertson Davies, Cornish Trilogy
Umberto Eco, Baudolino
M. M. Kaye, The Far Pavilions
Madeleine L’Engle, Two-Part Invention, An Acceptable Time and The Crosswicks Journal books
Miss Read, Over the Gate and Storm in the Village
Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
Anya Seton, Katherine
Alexander McCall Smith, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle
Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety and Angle of Repose
Neal Stephenson, Baroque trilogy and Cryptonomicon
Angela Thirkell, Summer Half and High Rising
Anthony Trollope, The Last Chronicle of Barset and Barchester Towers
Charles Williams, Descent Into Hell and All Hallows’ Eve
P. G. Wodehouse, The Code of the Woosters and My Man Jeeves

Things to do…

Go to the Outer Banks
Cook a couple of four-course meals for a few close friends
Practice Bach’s Preludes and Fugues
Build a paddock fence (for possibly getting a horse back into the old barn by October)
Go the the movies at LEAST once a week and eat popcorn and hold hands (with my husband, that is)

Showing 44 comments
  • Mary Ellen

    Best of Youth. It meets none of your criteria. It is six hours long. It is in Italian, but it is absolutely amazing. I don’t know that I have ever seen anything better.

  • Ron

    Oh, one more. Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespeare is great, but he and Emma Thompson did a thriller called “Dead Again” that was fun, with plenty of twists in it. Good performances by Andy Garcia and Derek Jacobi as well.

  • Sandy

    Because our reading lists have nothing whatsoever in common, it scares me to recommend a movie, but I’ll take a chance on anyone who can list Deep Impact or Dante’s Peak as a favorite :-). We recently enjoyed Deja Vu (time travel) and Breach (which fits none of your criteria, but we still enjoyed it).

  • Juanita

    Back to books:

    Have you read Connie Willis? Wonderful time travel & some really amazing (read “weird”) science fiction.

    Enjoy your break!


  • Dee in MI

    “My Man Jeeves” is on librovox.com and I love to listen to librivox books while I read. Also “read” Wilde’s “Canterville Ghost” and Twains “Extracts from Adam’s Diary”. (Eve’s isn’t as much fun.) “The Scarlett Pimpernel” was good for running, too, and the reader was fantastic.

  • Charlie at Peace Hill Press

    Susan –

    On one of your movie dates, take Pete back to see Live Free or Die Harder. It’s not apocalyptic, but there’s an explosion every couple of seconds.

    In terms of books, if online books count, I really enjoyed the zombie trifecta from David Wellington, Monster Island, Monster Nation, and Monster Planet. I actually think I only read the first two, as they were serials, and I didn’t have the patience to keep waiting every few days for a new chapter. But they’re all out now, and free, and good. If you like zombies.

  • Phyllis Geleynse

    If you haven’t yet read Alexander McCall Smith Professor Von Igelfeld series, you must try them: Portuguese Irregular Verbs, The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs, and At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances. A wild and fun movie that I enjoyed was the new King Kong.

    Have a great break!

  • Trish

    Day after Tomorrow (disaster movie) and Under the Tuscan Sun (not a disaster movie) are my two standby movies that I never tire of when I need a brain rest. And Seasons 1-3 of Gilmore Girls.

    For a dark read, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield; for a light read, Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, by Ayelet Waldman or Department of Lost and Found by Allison Winn Scotch.

  • GJR

    Rent the DVD for Doctor Who! If you haven’t seen the new series, it’s great. I’m not a big sci-fi fan, but I love this show. The first 2 seasons are out now and the third season just started on the Sci-Fi channel.
    And I second the recommendation for reading I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith.
    Have fun!

  • Kristen

    You may also want to read A Live Coal in the Sea by Madeline L’Engle. It’s fiction, unlike the other books of hers you’ve picked out. I just finished it and thought it was fantastic.

  • Bet

    My favorite Cate Blanchett movies:
    -Notes on a Scandal (rivetting psychological drama)
    -Veronica Geurin
    -Bandits (one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen)

    I didn’t make it through The Good German, though some people love CB in it. And I’m sure I’m forgetting some essential oevre, but that’s a start. Have fun!

  • Rick Hurst

    My son, who was homeschooled since grade 6 and will be attending Lynchburg College as part of their Westover Honors program, has been fencing for 6 years. He will be thrilled you like fencing movies.

  • Kristin

    I HIGHLY recommend Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It’s funny, relevant, and inspired by the work of Wendell Berry. Very good (and convicting).

    As for movies, I just saw Last King of Scotland and loved it, but it lacks Cate Blanchett, fencing, and natural disasters.

    Good luck,

  • mary kathryn

    I want to see HENRY V soon, because I just bought the sheet music for Non Nobis Domine (Love that music!) – you must admit the battle scene is worth watching.
    Great fencing in Scarlet Pimpernel. How long has it been since you watched the OLD Poseidon Adventure?
    ICK to Under the Tuscan Sun. Sorry. How many times does a woman have to accept second best?

  • mary kathryn

    Oh, BTW – all those men have this in common – they kept their hair. Is THAT the magic quality of a public figure?

  • Sylvia

    For sword play and word play try Cyrano de Bergerac, either the old black and white or the newer version with Gerard Depardieu. Wasn’t Cate Blanchett in “Beautiful Creatures”? (or was that Kate Winslett?) but “Orlando,” of course, and “Elizabeth.”

  • Sylvia

    Oh, I forgot Hidden Dragon, Crouching Tiger. Wow! incredible sword play by the leading ladies.

  • e

    Look into the Duellists, directed by Ridley Scott. It’s based on Joseph Conrad’s ”Point of Honour” (also known as ”The Duel”), which I’d highly recommend as a quick read. There are a series of duels, with different mediums. The fencing duel, I believe, actually resulted in some real injuries.

    There’s also a bit of fencing in Liasons Dangereus, the old version, as far as I can remember.

    Sigh, had you wanted duels in literature….

    Look to The Shipping News for more Cate, also The Life Aquatic (funny funny) is a great flim.

  • Trish

    ETA: If you’re a Harry Potter fan, HP5 is fantastic. Great movie to go to with hubby (and hold hands). We did. 🙂

  • I asked my teenage son recently if we had watched a certain TV movie. He asked what it was about so I read the Direct TV description, which went something like “something is heading for the earth which will cause the end of the world as we know it”. He replied that we hadn’t seen that movie but “it sounds like something we would watch”. Sigh… We, too, have a love for TEOTWAWKI movies that my husband does not understand.

    Yes to The Thirteenth Tale, loved it! Even though it is a rather dark Gothic style mystery, it is one of the best written books I have read (new ones that is) in a very long time.

    My married daughter was visiting about a month ago and we watched the BBC DVD called North & South together. It is now one of our favorites! Excellent acting and it shows the grittier side of England. It was a miniseries in England so it is four hours long but we actually watched it twice while we had it from the library.

  • CatsAcreFarm

    Dare I recommend ‘Timeline’. Billy Connolly, Gerard Butler, and Paul Walker star in this Richard Donner film. It is complete fluff, and my husband bemoans the departures from the book. But it is one of my favorites anyway. How shallow am I? 🙂

  • Michelle in New Zealand

    My favourite Cate Blanchett film would have to be Charlotte Gray – a must see. As for Kenneth Branagh try Much Ado About Nothing – very entertaining. My husband and I watched a very old b-grade sci. fi. a little while ago called It Came from Beneath the Sea about a giant octopus taking over San francisco. One of my all-time favourites though, would have to be The Great Race with Jack Lemmon & Natalie Wood – it has a great (albeit totally unrealistic) sword fighting scene. BTW enjoy the summer while it lasts – we’re freezing down under!

  • A Circle of Quiet

    Charlie — what in the world is a zombie trifecta? It sounds like a painful virus (-:

    Some of my favorites are your list: Stegner, L’Engle, Eco, Wodehouse. I have also enjoyed McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland St. series. Two-Part Invention made me sob…and want to go to the movies and hold my husband’s hand, so it’s good you’re planning ahead.

    I think a four-course meal in California is a GREAT idea (-: Just send me a shopping list (hehehe)

    No movie suggestions — I’m stuck in food movies in foreign languages (Mostly Martha, Babette’s Feast) and their soporific effect is definitely NOT what you are looking for. What about Alan Rickman? Something the Lord Made and Truly, Madly, Deeply are favs.

    Hope all is going well in the penitential chair,

  • melissa

    I suggest The Towering Inferno, for disaster viewing. And moving Gilead to the top of your list, if you haven’t already read it, because it is such a treat. Enjoy your break!

  • Meira

    Hmm . . I got sucked in by the party game ;o). Spouse guessed that what they have in common is that they’re all from the south, and possibly southern Baptists? My guess is they’ve all publically admitted/apologized fro some form of adultery.

  • Carolyn

    Peace Like a River by Leif Enger is a very worthwhile read. The world is a better place because this novel is in it!

  • JFS in IL

    You will enjoy Miss Read (our library has them all, so I have read them three times)…but WHERE on your list are the Aubrey/Maturin series of books by Patrick O’Brian????? Ahem???!!!

    Films – Somewhere in Time for time travel, The Day After for disaster films (Day After is nuclear doom and a bald Steve Guttenburg- the old tv film still packs a punch despite Steve 😉 – the Day After Tomorrow is the newer global warming doom flick that freezes poor Bilbo Baggins).

  • Anne Bradshaw

    Hmm! Afraid I’m the exact opposite. Catastrophe movies give me the shivers, to say nothing of nightmares. I’m all for a gentle life, with happy ever after endings in movies and fiction. Hey, might as well get the feel-good factor somehow. Strange thing is–I use conflict a lot in my writing–along with the happy endings 🙂

    Top of my list this week is the Miss Potter DVD. If you like Sense & Sensibility type movies, this is for you. Unfortunately, only Blockbusters seem to carry it right now. It’s worth standing in line for, believe me. Oh, and another excellent movie is Amazing Grace. If you love history and true stories, go for both of these.

  • Miz Booshay

    Time Travel.
    Back to the Future is fun to watch with the children.
    Somewhere in time. I have never seen this but I know loads of folks who LUV it :o)

    Independence Day is a big flashy ‘disaster flick’.
    I love this movie!

    The Princess Bride has a good fencing scene in it.
    The book has wonderful descriptions of sword making and fencing.
    William Goldman is a very funny man.
    If you haven’t read The Princess Bride,
    I highly recommend it. It’s funny!

  • Christina

    I just wanted to post that I just watched “Much Ado About Nothing” with Kennith Branagh and I think that would be a great one for a break.

  • Heather in Virginia

    I’ll second Charlotte Grey if you haven’t seen it. It was entertaining. Armageddon would have been so mush better without Liv Tyler and Ben Afflicted.

    I prefer water for my disaster movies. The Abyss is good, but old. It has aliens in a sort of weird, disconnected ending. It practically makes me hyperventilate when they send the guy down the side of the abyss. Josh says it isn’t really that scary, but if you have a drowning phobia, it is pretty good.

    Josh and I are working our way back through the X-Files via dvd. That has been not nearly as frustrating as watching the show. It has everything… disaster, time travel… Not Cate or Kenneth though and I haven’t seen any fencing. The BBC P&P has fencing. : )

  • Under the SKy

    OK, I am ALL over the disaster flick thing. I love them! I walk the isles at Blockbuster looking for ones I have not seen. I know, it is an illness. :+) I do not watch these movies for the acting – just want to point that out before I recommend them. :+) My list: The Day After Tomorrow, The Core, War of the Worlds, all seasons of Battlestar Galactica, Twister, and for the comic book/character end-of-the-world flicks: Transformers and The X-Men Series. (The last one is especially catastrophe-oriented.)

    Timeline – time travel movie (based on Michael Crichton’s book). The Island is a very interesting scifi action movie on human cloning from a surprising perspective (due to the subject matter, it is, in some places graphic). Independence Day is also a good one. Will Smith is going to be in another catastrophe movie coming out in December – I Am Legend. It looks great!

    I cannot *ever* recommend the nonsense Tribulation Force/Left Behind movies even though they are catastrophe. I cannot stomach the faulty theology! :+) (Can you tell I’m not a pre-tribber?) :+)

    Enjoy the end of the world! :+)


    PS: Did you get my email about the book?

  • Katrina

    Okay, you didn’t mention it, but if by a slim chance you haven’t seen it…Independence Day is just about my favorite disater movie ever. Also seconding a couple of recommendations already made: Princess Bride and Day After Tomorrow.

    You might want to rent the series Fire Fly. An episode even has sword fighting. (my family loves, loves, loves Fire Fly.)

    Um…about cooking a four course meal for friends, since this is a vacation, if possible have it CATERED!

    Have fun!

  • heathersfolly

    it’s great fun to go through independence day and find the ‘homages’ or down right theft from other sci-fi movies, tv shows or books. i found 27 when i saw it in the theatres, and it’s one of my favorites. also, i second the above suggestion of books/stories by connie willis. start out with night watch-a short story, then the doomsday book-a wonderful novel which does concern the end of the world-in the 14th century. then follow it up with…to say nothing of the dog (or how we found the bishops birdstump.) when you’ve finished those three, it should be time for the sequels to be published-i think the first one is “all clear”. enjoy. i envy you.

  • Cindy

    We love “The Stand” – a great end of the world mini-series based on the book by Stephen King, which is the only Stephen King novel I’ve read (and I’ve read it twice).

    The Terminator Triology is great fun – lots of explosions and fire.

    “The Day after Tomorrow” is okay – political stuff will might you laugh out loud or yell at the tv screen “Oh come on!”

    I second “Live Free or Die Hard.” Some really great stunts, and lots of fire-spewing explosions.

    Enjoy your Great Break!

  • nrg

    Have you seen “A Month in the Country” starring Kenneth Branagh?

  • Lizzy

    This has been a fun thread to read… I’m happy to see a few familiar authors on your list, (Miss Read and L’Engle). I have to second the suggestion to find and read all of Madeliene L’Engle’s fiction… besides A Live Coal I would also recommend A Severed Wasp and The Small Rain. Also, The Other Side of the Sun which takes place in South Carolina? if I remember right. I just like her themes, regardless of the age/genre they were published for.
    Um, for movies I’m sort of stumped… but I keep thinking you might like this sci-fi movie we were bowled over by… Gataca?
    I really liked everybody’s suggestions. Not only do we all fantasize about taking a break, but now we want to stretch yours to about two years… which is what you might need to do/read/watch all of this. Let us know the final outcome. Above all, may you emerge contented and inspired!
    P.S. my hubby went to see Transformers with the guys and said it was purely guy-movie action fun. I prefer movies like Stranger than Fiction (Will Ferrell, Emma Thomson). That’s my recent fave!

  • Sebastian

    What about Van Helsing (vampires) or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (real adventures of fictional heros). There is a bit of both swordplay and imminent doom in both of them. Do Troy or Gladiator fit in these categories? (Or does that feel too much like work?)
    All of the Scarlet Pimpernel movies have a bit of swordplay (Anthony Andrews is the bomb).
    And I’ll play the party game. All four men pictured were defined largely by their Baptistness, either in adherence or in deviation from its tenets.

  • Lori M.

    Foyles War . There are several sets.
    Great mystery with WWII info woven in.

  • Lexie

    2 of my favorite fun movies perfect for not thinking:

    Hoodwinked – Charming rendition of Little Red Riding Hood. Great for teaching point of view. 🙂 It’s the one “menu song” I don’t mind hearing repeated indefinitely when the kids have fallen asleep and I’m at the computer.

    Elf – Will Ferrell does a great job of conveying innocence. A refreshing “fish out of water” scenario full of lines that have made their way into our family vocabulary.

    About the swords – what about Highlander, the TV series? It’s not fencing, but their are sword fights, plus time travel. Quite the two for one. BTW, you can rent those via Netflix.

    Have fun!

  • Guinever

    I just had to laugh when I saw the picture you posted of Jim and Tammy Fae Baker because my husband and I were just talking about them…my grandparents had 40 acres in the woods and built a rustic cabin (and I mean rustic because the bark was still on the logs). The satellite dish on their roof was bigger than the cabin, and with it they watched televangelists’ shows all day long for years and sent loads of money to all these ministries. Anyway, they bought me and all my cousins (and our parents too) lifetime memberships to Heritage USA. We actually vacationed there once in the mid 80’s before the whole thing tanked.

  • Kim

    A great action/catastrophe movie… Live Free Die Harder… not as much bloody violence as in the first one… very exciting and on the edge of your seat… good reason to hold your hubby’s hand so you can see both of you jump.

  • Becky in KCMO

    I second whoever recommended Firefly. Sometime the Scifi channel has marathons, or you can rent the episodes at blockbuster or any online rental place. It is one of the greatest TV shows ever. Then they made a movie that picks up where the cancelled show left off. It’s called Serenity. Great content, great characters!!! (I would recommend starting with the episode called “Out of Gas” first. Then you can go back to the beginning.) You will love it. I have very similar tastes to yours. My husband loves that I like all the guy movies, too.

  • scrappyhappymama

    I’ve no doubt this is already on your list, but the new Elizabeth movie comes out on October 12. I am drooling with anticipation- we loved the first movie and I’ve heard this one will be even better.

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