Book Club: “The Stranger in the Woods”

Michael Finkel’s “The Stranger in the Woods” had a spooky quality to it that seemed an appropriate read and book discussion for around Halloween.

I think everyone in our book club had mixed feelings about this book, though. While Christopher Knight’s determination to go out on his own and follow through with it could be considered admirable, it was how he went about it that we found somewhat troubling. He lived secluded in the woods of Maine for 27 years and survived on stealthily stealing from others around him. 51sUo8mZXWL._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg Now, sometimes as someone who likes to write, living alone for short periods of time does have an appealing quality to it, but if I were to do so, I would have a plan. One can understand some of Knight’s motives for doing so because with the good in our society, there is also the bad, and it could be understandable why anyone might decide to take on this life for that reason. Yet, he goes about it in such a way that goes against any type of moral compass. In our discussion, we talked about how the woods of Maine is one of the few places such a feat could possibly succeed, despite the cold winters and such, but then it seems the technology of law enforcement finally was able to catch up with him and track him down.

While the title seems to paint Knight as a legendary character, he clearly does not seem to fit the mold to me, and it seems such an idea was the farthest thing from his mind, when he was out in the woods. The book was very engaging and the narrative writing allows it to reach a broad audience. Throughout, despite Finkel’s lengthy interviews with Knight, the author could have done more to put the reader into Knight’s experiences. To be fair, the author allows us to empathize with Knight, as someone being at one with nature. While I had trouble putting this book down upon reading, I have to admit I was disappointed that the book at times seemed to be more important than Knight’s willingness to be interviewed.

Grade: C, 3.7/5 stars.


Recent Reads

I read Alice Hoffman’s “The Marriage of Opposites” for a recent book club. The discussion was very stimulating, as we touched on a broad range of topics, such as the fact that the title of the book might not have had anything to do with marriage at all. 9781451693591_custom-e31ba7b23a01e1aeb04dd72d9afc9a58969f9a2c-s400-c85 The book provided much insight into Painter Camille Pissarro’s life, and I came to learn of his Jewish heritage and his pivotal role as the father of the Impressionist Movement, and beyond. Through her powerful literary writing, and blending of real and fictional characters/events, Hoffman taps into a story that has universal appeal.

More recently, I participated in a discussion around the Mark Manson book “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.” While I was not too keen on the author’s writing style, I do admire his courage to speak his mind on a variety of topics. 51C2AkS3QdL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_ Having gotten that out of the way, I liked this book very much, as Manson, a life skills coach, provides such lessons as: “Wanting positive experience is a negative experience; accepting negative experience is a positive experience” and the one at the beginning, “Don’t try.” The main theme we seemed to get out of this book is in this day and age we need to keep seeking improvement and to always keep an open mind. As the first half of the year comes to a close, I will look to dedicate myself to a goal I would like to accomplish and see what happens.

In between, I read “The Secret Lives of Bats,” by Merlin Tuttle, who has dedicated his life to something – studying bats. Tuttle, the founder of Bat Conservation International (BCI), chronicles his journey and covers a variety of topics, such as some of the different types of bats, the instruments he uses, obstacles he faces, the critical roles of bats and the movement to save the bats. Further, he uses photography to enhance the reader’s journey. download (1) I was amazed to learn how so different people’s perceptions about bats are in relation to when one sees a bat close up. The writing could be a little bland at times, but I do like how each chapter opens up a new adventure and a new stage in the development of bat knowledge. As Adam West’s role as Batman will live on well beyond his recent passing, I think some consider Tuttle to be a real life Batman, and I’m sure his work and contributions in the world of bats will not go unnoticed.

A Grimm Birthday – “The Brothers Grimm (2005)”

This birthday I chose to watch “The Brothers Grimm” with my family, even before I remembered that I shared a birthday with with the younger brother, Wilhelm (Matt Damon’s character). In the movie, it portrays Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm as legendary heroes that make a profit saving lives in events akin to the ones found in their folktales.

While Wilhelm is most memorable for his charm and wit, the older brother, Jacob (the late Heath Ledger), the introspective dreamer, to me, is the hero in a tale that involves a witch, a spell and missing children. In the beginning, the brothers can be seen listening to and jotting down stories in the oral tradition, much like others have done to preserve stories. The connection to stories is clear from the start and really underscores how in real life they became impacted mv5bmtk0oty1ntc2m15bml5banbnxkftztcwmdkynzezmq-_v1_by fairy tales at  an early age.  For instance, the movie starts off in a childhood flashback that has Jacob trading a cow for some “magic” beans, a reference to “Jack and the Beanstalk.” An action-packed adventure into an enchanted forest ensues that includes a frog that tells them which direction to go, moving trees and a mysterious tower, among other exotic features. Initially, it’s only Jacob, with his knowledge of folktales and his endless imagination, who sees what’s going on, and he must make Wilhelm and the other members of the colorful supporting cast understand the magical world they are in.

I highly recommend this movie to teens, young adults and beyond as an introduction to the Grimm fairy tales.

Moana (2016)

The animated Disney adventure film “Moana” came out around Thanksgiving, and is still out in select theatres. While many Disney princess films of the past have been adapted from the fairy tales and folktales of the likes of Hans Christian Andersen and the Brother’s Grimm, this one moves away from these sources. One of the film’s most memorable lines by Maui is as follows: “If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.”  


The film is appealing on many fronts, as it draws from Polynesian legend. Every place and culture has its stories, and it seems the legend involving the shapeshifting demigod Maui, has a profound effect on the film’s young and determined heroine, Moana (spiritedly voiced by Auli’i Cravalho), early on. She is instantly drawn to the ocean, but that is the one place she is forbidden, due to its dangers. But it seems, for as young as she can remember, the ocean has always been her friend. And it is no different when she is coming of age and thrust on a perilous journey to set out to find the haughty animated-tatooed Maui, (voiced convincingly by Dwayne Johnson) and save her island and its people. In the process these two characters develop an unlikely chemistry, as Maui mentors Moana on the ways of wayfaring, and Moana steadily breathes new life into Maui. The original music with such songs as the timeless “How Far I’ll Go” help set the pace for this movie and rival those of other successful Disney movies. The scenery is visually-pleasing with its vivid colors, picturesque landscapes and a keen eye for detail. I highly recommend this animated adventure movie as a great family movie, as it appeals to people of all ages. 

Jim Henson’s Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas (1977)


Jim Henson’s “Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas” is a really short, delightful and heartwarming movie. The film is based on the children’s book by the author / illustrator team of Russell and Lillian Hoban. We can empathize with the two main characters, Ma and her son, Emmet – a family of otters that have to take on odd jobs just to get by. Christmas is approaching, and each wants to give the other a special gift. So, when a talent show comes to town, both Ma and Emmet put it all on the line to win a $50 prize. What they learn at the end will surprise you. This movie, with its puppetry effects, musical depth and picturesque setting, is my recommendation for a family movie this holiday season.

Columbia Marionette Theatre – “Legends of Ancient Greece”

Hurricane Matthew put me in Columbia, South Carolina, during the latter part of this week. So I was able to enjoy a few of the wide variety of events Columbia has to offer, including the “Legends of Ancient Greece” puppet show at the Columbia Marionette Theatre. 

“Legends of Ancient Greece” provided the audience of mainly children and their parents with introductions to some classical mythology stories, with the narrator being Pan, the downloadGreek God known for his musical talents, among other things; therefore, it does seem natural for Pan to be telling these stories. These stories are told in an engaging way using both marionettes and shadow puppets, and the myths are woven together seamlessly, throughout. The puppets’ movements and mannerisms mirror reality, and enhance the show; the animated illustrations throughout are simple, but effective, as well. The stories, including “Pandora’s Box” and “Orpheus in the Underworld” are told very simply, but at the same time, I felt each story seemed to have an added layer of meaning to it that presented a fresh way to look at it. If I had the opportunity, I would definitely see it again; I definitely think to see a quality performance such as this combining myths with puppets is a rare gem nowadays, and therefore, it is not to be missed, if the opportunity arises.

Movie Review – “Labyrinth (1986)”


The thirty-year anniversary showing of Jim Henson’s “Labyrinth” provides an enriching movie experience, as it includes a behind the scenes look into the movie and sheds light on a new exhibit at the Center of Puppetry Arts in Atlanta that includes puppets from the movie. The Fathom event could not have been more timely, especially with the recent passing of one of the movie’s stars, Musical Legend David Bowie.

Bowie plays the cunning Goblin King, Jareth with incredible ease, while a young Jennifer Connelly lights up the screen as the film’s charming herione, Sarah. Sarah is an over-imaginative teen girl who recites the words from her favorite fantasy novel that make her crying baby brother, Toby, get taken away by Jareth. Early on, we learn Jareth has magic powers, as can be seen by what he can do with crystal balls. Unless Sarah rescues Toby in 13 hours, her brother will turn into a goblin. But first, she must conquer the labyrinth outside the castle. It doesn’t help that many of the characters she meets there, such as the worm and the dwarf Hoggle, are as deceptive as the labyrinth, itself. Sarah realistically portrays a teen girl, who perhaps, escapes reality through this fantasy world, which includes the colorful cast of Jareth, Hoggle, a giant beast, named Ludo and the fox-terrier Didymus. The crisp dialogue moves the movie along well and greatly contributes to its whimsical nature, as well. Henson’s puppets are imaginative, and yet seem real to life, as well. This would make a great family movie, as it has a little something in it for everyone – from the catchy music to the many well-detailed scenes.

Some fun facts: “Labyrinth” is more humorous and light-hearted than “Dark Crystal,” Henson’s first fantasy movie to not feature The Muppets. It took 48 puppets  and 53 puppeteers to shoot the “Magic Dance” scene. Bowie performed music he made specifically for the movie. Brian Froud’s influence in the conceptual designs for the creatures can be seen throughout. I recommend checking out the DVD’s in-depth look into the making of the movie to really see all that went into it.