That time we saw Hamilton


3 words: overwhelmed, verklempt, ecstatic

We saw Hamilton*, and I’m still floating nearly a week later.

I just keep thinking how lucky we are to be alive right now.

We bought the tickets three seasons ago, and I’ve been flapping with anticipation ever since.

(The flapping last week reached record levels.)



The Dear Man and his dear sister and dear brother-in-law and I went downtown, and we ate lovely food

(photo credit: Dear Man’s dear sister)

and then lovely cookies.

And then: the theater.

And I’m tellin’ you: The experience was overwhelming.

I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for well over a year, and it usually provides my internal background music. (So many phrases set it off… and then I’m helpless…)

So I’ve got the music down.

And I knew what the set looks like, because I’ve read Hamilton: The Revolution twice and flipped through it dozens of times.

But the whole visual experience. I was not prepared. It was overwhelming. In the very best way.

I didn’t realize how hard my brain was going to be working to take in the people on the stage and their mannerisms and their movements and their expressions. There was choreography. There were changes to the set. There were interpersonal dynamics happening up there. There was so much to watch!

My eyes were hungry, and they couldn’t eat fast enough to keep up. I felt like Lucy.

I kept wanting to slow it down so I could savor it.

At the same time, I was completely swept along with the pace and the current of the thing. It was filled with so much energy and it was thrilling.

I felt like I’d internalized the words (by reading them but mostly by listening to them so often I’ve memorized them), and now there was another layer being added to an already extraordinarily rich text.

I knew I’d be awed, but I didn’t expect the way my senses would be swamped because I wanted to take in all the details.

I like having my senses swamped, so this is not a problem. But wow. It was seriously something.

The next day and the day after that, I kept telling the Dear Man the ways the experience was still dawning on me.

The thing that wasn’t surprising: my supposedly waterproof mascara proved my tear ducts are stronger than science. My face was kind of a mess afterwards (expected!) because: all that crying. I cried during the sad parts, yes (Hamilton betraying his faithful wife, their son dying tragically young, Hamilton dying way too young), but the part that always gets me while I’m listening (the part about government that only the Dear Man gets to know is my favorite) had me sobbing.

Ugly crying in the theater?



So, a week later… Am I still overwhelmed? Yes.

Am I Satisfied? HECK YES.


*So we’re doing this  (1:33)

Unspooling a story

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler 

3 words: homey, storytelling, heartfelt 

Just when I think I’ve experienced enough Anne Tyler and I could spend time with some other author’s work instead, she goes and ups her game. 

And now I’m seriously aching for someone I know to read this book so we can talk about the scene where the word “dashiki” made me burst out sobbing. 

Yeah, that was kinda weird. 

But also rather wonderful. 

Tyler has some serious storytelling powers, and she ain’t afraid to wield them.
This family story is fairly quiet, but it runs deep. 

The Whitshanks are a fairly ordinary family, but Tyler’s writing elevates them. And her unmatched ability to weave a story makes their family fascinating. 

Just when I thought the book would focus on the parent/child relationship of a prodigal son with his parents, it veered into the past and picked up the long-hidden, rather scandalous, very sad story of his grandparents. 

Another aspect of the book that had me from the start: the beloved family home is nearly a character itself. 

 At times, the dryly humorous, realistic depiction of family dynamics made me actually laugh out loud. 

And then there was that sob storm. 

Dang, people. This is some seriously good fiction action.

I finally read it

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
words: compassionate, lyrical, wry  
the hype? Yes.
So… Death
as the narrator. I know. But if you can get through the first chapter and meet
the characters he describes (I think Death
is a “he;” at least the audiobook narrator was), you just might get hooked on
the book as fast as I did.
thing is: to describe The Book Thief
makes it sound sad and depressing. Which it is, yet really isn’t. It has too
many moments of light and goodness amidst the difficulties.
Germany, WWII is raging, and Liesel is only 9 when she’s orphaned. Her new
foster parents are a study in contrasts: Rosa is foul-mouthed and harsh (yet a
good woman in a crisis), and Hans is notable for “the brute strength of the
man’s gentleness.” (CD 1, track 13)
then their small household grows in population when Max Vandenburg joins them.
But his presence must remain a secret, because he’s Jewish.
Death tells the story, a person is rather on edge throughout the entire novel. Who’s he coming for? But then Death
becomes rather likeable himself, and that’s even more unnerving. He’s a darn
credible narrator, and he doesn’t sugar-coat things.
audiobook is a remarkable thing. Death’s voice is calm, cynical, wry,
occasionally kindhearted.
has an extraordinarily strong ability to draw memorable characters. The good
ones have flaws that make them real, and they all have quirks that make them
believable. I won’t soon forget them.  

Visiting the Anne Frank House

Anne Frank House: A Museum with a Story published by Anne Frank House

Back when I first read Anne Frank’s diary, I dreamed of visiting the house where she and her family and the others were in hiding. And I swore that when I first went overseas, that would be my destination. And then I wondered whether it ever would really happen.

A decade or two passed (or maybe three) and finally the opportunity presented itself. And I kept repeating to myself, “Lucky, lucky, lucky…” because really: how many of us get to actually realize a childhood dream?

And then I thought of how Anne’s childhood dream—of publishing her story—came true, but how it happened only after her much-too-young, much-too-terrible death. And then I felt that awful sick feeling that comes over me when it hits me that that was really real.

So when I visited the Anne Frank House recently, the experience was very real and also surreal.

And when I saw the swinging bookcase, I stopped in my tracks and blinked a whole bunch to keep from crying.

People, it’s an emotional experience to visit that place. 

The good people at the Anne Frank House museum have put together a remarkable website that allows virtual visits.  

But there’s nothing that really compares to being in that space. My God. Anne’s movie star pictures are still on the walls of her room, and one of the doorways still contains the marks the Franks made to record their daughters’ growth in height. 

It’s devastatingly moving.

The museum’s book, Anne Frank House: A Museum with a Story,
is a wonderful companion. It provides photos of the spaces with the furniture in place, so you can get a sense of what it was like when the Frank family, Van Pels family, and Fritz Pfeffer lived there. (The rooms are now devoid of furniture.)

At the end of the book, there are pages about the fate of each of the occupants of the secret annex. And it was in this section that I struggled to keep it together.

A small book, but an important one.



Anne Frank: The Diary

(photo credit: Anne Frank Stichting, Amsterdam)

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

When I was in 6th grade, I read a book that captivated and devastated me. And those feelings have remained the same ever since.

The first time I read Anne Frank’s writing, I experienced shock and amazement and horror and wonder. Marveling that a girl my own age could write the way she wrote. Horrified at the hatred that caused her death.

And when my book club read her diary earlier this year, those feelings returned tenfold. Because reading her words and her ideas as an adult reader, I realized from a completely new perspective how remarkable she was.

And then I said some really strong curse words because she was killed.

When I read her diary earlier in life (all those times I re-read it), I was reading the edited version. The first time I’d read The Definitive Edition was this year, and I kept wondering if the reading experience was different only because I was now an adult, or whether reading the longer edition made that big a difference. I’ll never know. I’d’ve had to have read the edited version this year, followed by the definitive edition, to have gotten a good sense.

But these two things kept making me pause and feel a sense of admiration: her insightful commentary on herself and her situation, and her marvelous prose style. The girl could write.

The only saving grace is that her diary was salvaged and published. When a book becomes a stronger work upon re-reading it, you know you’re reading something of enormous power.  

The Anne Frank website states these words, and they fill me with hope for humanity: 

“Otto often concludes his letters with the words: ‘I hope Anne’s book will have an effect on the rest of your life so that insofar as it is possible in your own circumstances, you will work for unity and peace.'”


Update… In late 2013, I visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, fulfilling the dream I’d had since sixth grade — of standing in the space where she lived and wrote. A remarkable experience. I’m still overcome by it.

Real Short Re-Cap: Making Toast

Making Toast: A Family Story by Roger Rosenblatt
Don’t go reading this book in public. I’m serious: Don’t Do It.
That is, if you’re anything like me, meaning: you’re a weepy reader.
Rosenblatt, who is a genius of a writer, describes the first year after his adult daughter Amy’s death. And this is painful stuff. Amy, a mother of three, was 38 years old when she died from a heart condition no one knew she had.
I shied away from this book for quite a while, because I knew it would be hard. I was actually partly wrong about that; it was a beautiful thing to read, and I’m glad I did. But also, it was hard.
Rosenblatt and his wife moved in with their son-in-law and grandchildren, and they become part of the family in a whole new way. There are moments that are charming and funny and dear, and others that make you just want to curse the universe for stealing people away too soon.
Resounding positive review: I’m glad I read it.

Sometimes I feel like the luckiest reader ever

The Fiddler in the Subway: The True Story of What Happened When a World-Class Violinist Played for Handouts… and Other Virtuosic Performances by America’s Foremost Feature Writer by Gene Weingarten
If you were to be within, say, 20 feet of me this fall, here’s what would happen: Within 5 minutes, I’d’ve finagled a mention of this great book I’ve been reading. And then I’d’ve started to rave.
I might even have whipped out the book and read aloud to provide proof. (Actually, only two of my nearest/dearest have been so afflicted. But they thanked me for it. I think.)
Before I begin doing the raving thing here, a disclaimer: Yes, I made the conscious choice to select the deadly, utterly pukey combination of “Laughed Out Loud” and “Made Me Cry” when tagging this sucker. It almost makes me recoil. But I’m telling you the truth here. (Prepare to disengage the gag reflex. Here it comes…) I laughed. I cried. Sometimes during the same blasted article. (“Yankee Doodle Danny”—I’m looking at you.)
Gene Weingarten is a writer for the Washington Post, and he rocks my world.
And here’s one more ginormous reason to love the Post: They’ve got lots of his articles available on their web site. (Thank you!)
Including the title article from this collection (which includes a recording of Joshua Bell’s subway performance, which makes me love the Post even more today than yesterday).

Weingarten’s writing is simply brilliant. By which I mean: simple and brilliant. While these articles are easy to read, it’s because each word is perfectly selected.
And besides that, Weingarten seems to truly like people. And this makes him a delightful companion as he visits the town designated “The Armpit of America,” when he accompanies a man who is a beloved performer at children’s parties, and when he writes about the man who wrote the Hardy Boys mysteries. (I confess: He had me on page v, in the 2nd paragraph of the Acknowledgments, in which he includes “Franklin W. Dixon” among the authors he thanks.)
If you want to test out the “laugh/cry” thing in this book–or just plain read something perfect–I recommend turning to page 155: “If You Go Chasing Rabbits…” This is one of those things I read and know that I’ll always remember. Can’t stop thinking about it, and don’t really want to.

I Read It Against My Will

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

So my sister told me I had to read this book. I knew of it already, having placed holds on it for library patrons day after day. And I was resistant. Here’s the thing: I’m freaked out by circuses, and I knew for a fact this book was set right smack dab in the middle of a circus. Plus, animal books make me cry, and I was sure there were going to be animals in this book. I was running for cover. In the face of such opposition, my sister pulled out her famous line, “Trust me.” So I placed a hold on the book for myself.

And, so, my sister was right. (Stop smirking, S.K.!)

I tend to read for characters, and this book has great characters. And they’re likeable characters (all except for a couple of truly vile villains), and that’s another prerequisite of mine. And frankly, the plot ain’t bad, either. The book alternates between the present-day—when Jacob Jankowski is a disgruntled resident of a nursing home, and the 1930s—when, as a young man, he served as the veterinarian for a two-bit circus and fell in love with the boss’s wife. A story of love in the midst of cruelty and squalor—and, doggone it, love wins.

So, the ending is a bit contrived and sentimental. But heck, it had me struggling to choke back tears. And, doggone it, the tears won.

Childhood on a Dude Ranch

Where Rivers Change Direction by Mark Spragg

The most poignant recollection of boyhood I’ve ever read. While reading the chapter “My Sister’s Boots,” I actually had to put the book down because I almost began to weep (while reading in a restaurant; that will not do). This author is just that good. Spragg grew up on a Wyoming dude ranch, where, from a tender age, he worked alongside the hired men. I’m not sure whether he either inherited his stoic ways from his tough, quiet father or his strong mother; or whether he learned them from the men he worked with (and lived with – during part of the year, he slept in the bunkhouse). An honest, beautiful book about a sometimes brutal, mostly wondrous boyhood and the young adult years that followed. It was awarded the Regional Book Award by the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association. This group has selected a fine list of winners, and Where Rivers Change Direction is certainly award-worthy. It reminds me of other excellent memoirs of rural childhoods: Lazy B: Growing up on a Cattle Ranch in the American Southwest by Sandra Day O’Connor and H. Alan Day, and The Road from Coorain by Jill Ker Conway. But of these three, Spragg’s book is the one I know I’ll need to re-read.

A Sequel That Stands Up

Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos

Cornelia and Teo, who are introduced in the splendid Love Walked In, are newly married and newly arrived in the suburbs, where Cornelia has become quite certain she’ll never fit in. After a few social humiliations, she meets the irreverent Lake, who appears to be a kindred spirit, and the two become fast friends. Lake’s son, Dev, a science prodigy, has a developing story of his own, as he falls in love for the first time and decides to track down the father he never knew. Piper, the neighborhood queen bee who is the root of much of Cornelia’s certainty that the ’burbs are not for her, becomes positively human right before our eyes, as she suffers along with her best friend, Elizabeth, who has cancer. de los Santos has a gift for developing warm, realistic characters who nearly walk off the page. She also has a skill for writing interweaving storylines (which merge here in a way I didn’t see coming). All kinds of good stuff: marriage (beginning and ending), friendship, betrayal, the inability to know truly what our neighbor is experiencing right across the street, and the connections we can make as we build our families.