Tuesday, April 07, 2009

A few follow-ups: White House, family travel, and some films

Another book on life in the White House

Petro, Joseph, and Jeffrey Robinson. Standing Next to History: An Agent's Life Inside the Secret Service. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2005.

My January 2009 entry was about books showing life behind the scenes at the White House. I can now add Standing Next to History, which is more about "behind the scenes of the presidency." Many of the anecdotes take place on the road. Ronald Reagan is the president he worked with most closely, and he clearly admired him, and admires Nancy Reagan. So the Reagans and their staff dominate the book, but Petro also talks about the other people he's guarded, the Quayles when Dan Quayle was VP (and we thought our leaders couldn't get any shallower), and Pope John Paul II on one of his trips to America. Petro also writes about his experiences serving in the Vietnam War, some of his other work for the Secret Service (they do more than guard officials), and the internal politics of the Secret Service. I found the things the Secret Service has to take into account, especially when a protectee travels, very interesting. (He explains why the Secret Service doesn't like the president to stay in hotels on trips abroad, preferring the U.S. ambassador's residence instead.) I liked the personal glimpses of the famous people. And having just watched Obama inaugurated shortly before I started reading this, it reassured me a bit about the Obamas' safety.

I looked at Entertaining at the White House with Nancy Reagan, but didn't find it too compelling. Not enough inside detail; mostly pictures.

Travelling with children
Dodson, James. The Road to Somewhere: Travels with a Young Boy through an Old World. New York: Dutton, 2003.

I wrote about travelling with children last on June 26, 2008. It took me a while to get into The Road to Somewhere, but I'm very glad I persisted. I wouldn't call Dodson a humor writer per se; I would say he's a non-fiction writer who uses humor liberally in his books (at least, that's what I gather from reading about his other books; this is the only one of his I've read). His humor tends a little bit to the frat-boy end in this book. I think that's what I had a problem with. In a way, it fits, because this book is Dodson's account of travelling through western Europe (Great Britain, Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Italy, Greece) with his 10-year-old son. Oddly enough, for about half the trip (the first country, and the last two), they're accompanied by female relatives. Anyway, I loved Dodson's descriptions of perfect afternoons and evenings when his son made connections with local kids, or when they connected with other travellers. I also liked reading some of Dodson's musings on fatherhood and growing up. It's not a "let's get to know the locals and local way of life" book--it's more "this is what it's like to travel."

Films to go with booksI recently attended the Wisconsin Film Festival, and two documentaries reminded me vividly of books I've reviewed here.

Book: Cabin Pressure, by Josh Wolk, reviewed September 8, 2007.
Movie: Win or Lose: A Summer Camp Story
I think the Win or Lose camp in northern Wisconsin takes sports just a bit more seriously than at Wolk's camp (I hope that's the case; it's hard to imagine a more competitive camp than the one in this film). The emphasis is definitely on sports, but there are some lovely shots of the camp, and the film is full of the energy and testosterone of growing boys, as is Wolk's book.

Book: Fashion Cycle: A Behind the Scenes Look at a Year With Bill Blass, Liz Claiborne, Donna Karan, Arnold Scaasi, and Adrienne Vittadini, by Irene Daria. Reviewed May 2, 2007.
Movie: Eleven Minutes
This movie is a must-see for fans of the TV show Project Runway; it focuses on Jay McCarroll, the talented, hilarious designer who won the show's first season. Fans of fashion in general will enjoy it, and McCarroll is so funny I think people not into fashion can enjoy it too. For PR fans, if you've ever wondered why you haven't seen PR winners' clothes in stores, this film gives you the answer. Making it in the fashion business, especially producing your own line, is HARD! The movie covers everything from coming up with a concept for a fashion line, to producing a fashion show (that lasts about 11 minutes), to figuring out what pieces to market. Fashion Cycle wasn't one of my favorite books, but watching this movie made me want to re-read it. If I had to choose between the book and the movie, I'd go for the movie, no doubt.

A couple other documentaries from the Wisconsin Film Festival that I'd recommend:
Paper or Plastic follows eight grocery store baggers as they compete at the national grocery bagging championships. It's funny and affectionate, but doesn't laugh at the competitors. It respects the competitors' attitudes that any kind of work has dignity, and is worth doing well. The community and family support that most of the protagonists get is wonderful to see as well.

Sons of Sakhnin United: Imagine the pressure on a pro sports team (in this case, soccer) from a small city the season after it won the big championship to repeat that success. If your team doesn't do well, it might be dropped from the country's top league. Now imagine that, in addition to that pressure, you carry the weight of a country's hopes for peace, a beleagured ethnic/religious group's quest for pride and respect. That's the situation the soccer team B'nei Sakhnin, from the Arab town of Sakhnin, in Israel, finds itself in in this movie. It's a great sports movie, a great human interest movie, and it shows a bit of what everyday life is like in Israel.