Book Review: Seabiscuit

Seabiscuit and Charles S. Howard

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I wasn’t going to read Seabiscuit, by Laura Hillenbrand. Something about the glossiness of the hardback edition, the size of it, perhaps its sheer presence, put me off. I never heard of it before it was made into a movie, and I tend not to read books that I find out about when they are made into movies. I distrust popular taste, especially in the form of a movie being made from a book. If it is such a good book, why didn’t I find it in the library or bookstore and read it before it became popular? Can it really be such a good book if I didn’t read a review of it or see it somewhere before it was popular?

But it is possible to be wrong, and I am here to tell you that I was wrong about Seabiscuit. It really is an incredibly good book. I found the paperback edition at the library book sale for 50 cents, and it seemed silly to pass up what everyone said was a very good book at that price. At that price, I figure, I’m not out much if I don’t like it.

And I opened the book, read a few pages, and was hooked. Ms. Hillenbrand spins sympathy for her characters almost out of thin air, fills the pages with tons of historical detail, and carries the gripping narrative along all the way. Who would think that an account of the automobile industry in San Francisco in the early years of the 20th century is page-turning material? Actually, my only disappointment with the book is that after making the reader care deeply about Charles Howard, owner of Seabiscuit, and his business in the first part of the book, nothing more is heard about any of that, except for Mr. Howard’s attitude towards Seabiscuit, after the other characters are introduced and we begin to follow Seabiscuit’s career. I can see that a definite editorial decision had to be made, and to talk about the auto industry any more would have been a distraction, but I am still disappointed.

I was sorry to reach the end of Seabiscuit’s career, and then the end of the book as we found out what happened to all the characters later, but I enjoyed every minute of reading it.

Five out of five stars!


Movie Review: Over The Hedge

I saw Over The Hedge the other day. I know I’m a little late reviewing it, since it came out over 4 years ago, in 2006, but in my defense, I don’t watch many movies.

While I was uncomfortable with the way the wild animals were thriving on human junk food (umm, no, human junk food is really bad for wild animals), the rest of the movie struck me as, well, a movie. Until my little daughter asked, “Mommy, why did they make the woman a bad woman?”

If you haven’t seen the movie, there are two main human characters. One is a parody of an exterminator (male), and the other is a single, well-dressed woman, president of the Homeowner’s Association, and the villain of the piece.

I told my daughter that they (the makers of the movie) hadn’t made the woman bad because she was a woman, but because they needed a bad person, a villain. I ended up explaining how a movie plot generally works and left it at that.

Until I started thinking more about the original question. Because, on second thought, the woman seems to be a caricature of a high-powered female executive. She’s dressed in a power suit (or expensive-looking pajamas), her hair is nicely styled, and she’s always on the go. She doesn’t seem to have a family, or even a significant other, just a snooty Persian cat.

She’s portrayed as obsessive, uptight, and terrified of wild animals or anything else disturbing her precious orderly neighborhood. Why should the single woman doing well in life be the villain? I can easily see a mother being much more worried about the wild animals in the neighborhood — what if they bite one of her children, she might think.

But no, the one mother in the movie who has a speaking part is portrayed as kindly and concerned for the animal, although she doesn’t want her children to touch it (understandable, considering it’s a possum playing dead).

Now, the traits of the villain I have described could easily also apply to a high-powered male executive. So why don’t they? What is it that makes the villain perfectly cast (if such a term can apply to an animation) as a woman?

If you know me, you know that I don’t generally consider myself a feminist. And you know that I don’t rant on about discrimination against women. But sometimes, I still feel the need to speak out.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the way this woman is portrayed in this movie (and the way she is humiliated at the end) makes me think that the directors are threatened by competent, capable women and felt the need to bring them (or at least one) low.

It makes me sad that my little daughter (and my son) saw this humiliating portrayal of women and that strong women need to be brought down.

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