Over the holiday (no day job for two weeks!) I spent a lot of time watching DVDs (not just Mamma Mia, I swear!). As you may have noticed, I really love movies, and I’m often very inspired by them to find stories of my own. I watched some that were new-to-me and re-watched some favorites. Among the re-watches–Cranford (I would love to do a sort of village-panorama story, if there was a market for such things), Our Mutual Friend, Anna Karenina (with Helen McCrory), and Topsy Turvy (one of my very favorite movies, though this one was an archaic VHS because for some unfathomable reason it is not on DVD). One of the new-to-me DVDs was The Way We Live Now, from the Trollope novel. Matthew McFadyen as a dim-witted cad, pursued by a wild Shirley Henderson! Miranda Otto pretending to be Scarlett O’Hara, threatening to get out her pistols and whips if a jilting Cillian Murphy doesn’t marry her! David Suchet as the ultimate vulgar arriviste! I really liked it, and am not sure how I missed it this long.

I also watched a couple more of those Shakespeare Re-told movies (a few months ago, I saw their genius version of Taming of the Shrew, also with Shirley Henderson and a cross-dressing Rufus Sewall). This time I watched James McAvoy and Keeley Hawes as a celebrity chef and pushy wife version of Macbeth.

Oh, and I also watched Part One of that new version of Tess of the D’urbervilles on PBS. I have never much liked Tess (maybe Hardy is just too fateful and painful for me?), so I’m not much of a judge of how good an adaptation this might be. It sure looks pretty, with all those green rolling hills and picturesque cows, with Gemma Arterton’s pretty hair and Eddie Redmayne’s pretty lips. I do wonder why Hans Matheson seems to think he is playing Chuck Bass, just as he did as a (very whiny and in need of a bath) Essex in that Elizabeth I series with Anne Marie Duff. He was okay in that new Doctor Zhivago, though.

And speaking of Chuck Bass, I’ve also been watching a few season 1 episodes of Gossip Girl and have to say–season 2 has been much stronger. Now if they would just forget the totally wishy-washy Serena and Dan and make it “The All Chuck and Blair All The Time” show, I will be entirely happy.

Oh, but this is a book blog, yes? Okay, here is what my 2008 reading life looked like (from what I can remember):

I am far behind on romance reading. For one thing, much like Elena I can only hold one couple in my mind at the same time, and I have been on a constant deadline this year. I also don’t like to feel inadequate when trying to finish writing a book, which a really, really good read can easily do. So I buy them and save them as vacation and “finish the book” treats! I think I read 4, and one was Diane’s Scandalizing the Ton. I also totally recommend Nicola Cornick’s Unmasked (dark and dramatic, with complex characters and great writing).

In fiction, I really enjoyed With Violets by Elizabeth Robards, a story of the Impressionist artist Bertha Morisot (this was especially good after my France trip and a visit to the Musee d’Orsay). And What Happened to Anna K by Irina Reyn, a re-telling of Anna Karenina in modern-day New York.

I read a lot more non-fiction. One I loved was Read My Heart: A Love Story in England’s Age of Revolution by Jane Dunn, the tale of Sir William Temple and Dorothy Osborne. The couple fell deeply in love on first meeting, but faced strenuous family objections (the Osbornes were committed Royalists and the Temples sorta Parliamentarians, but the main objection was that neither had money). They wrote passionate letters for 7 years before marrying, and then had a long and loving marriage, despite money challenges, a complex Court career, and the loss of their children. A terrific and inspiring story. (Dunn also wrote some other good non-fiction in years past, like Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens and Moon in Eclipse: A Life of Mary Shelley)

There was Champlain’s Dream by David Hackett Fisher, about the French explorer, soldier, spy, mariner, etc. I actually did not know much about him except his name when I picked up this book, but as I wrote about last week I’m fascinated by 16th century exploration. Champlain fought for King Henri IV, and over 30 years traveled over 6 Canadian provinces and 5 states, founding and administering French settlements in North America. He also faced intrigue and warfare among native tribes and (worse!) court intrigue in Paris.

I received several books about France for Christmas, like the beautiful Marie Antoinette and the Last Garden at Versailles and A Revolution in Taste: The Rise of French Cuisine. I loved Tony Spawforth’s Versailles: The Biography of a Palace, though it was not long enough! I wanted to know more, he had such a great style and way of making life at Versailles (the good, the bad, the ugly) come vividly to life.

So, happy 2009! May it bring us many good reads…