Sunday, March 30, 2008

Countdown to 'The Last Lecture' ...

In January, I wrote about The Last Lecture, the book that my friend Jeff Zaslow wrote about Professor Randy Pausch's presentation at Carnegie Mellon University.

At the time, it seemed like April was a world away. How long can it take to typeset a book in the computer age? Why wasn't it due in stores until April 10th?, I wondered.

And now, April 10th is nearly here.

The site for the book is live, though not all of the content is online just yet.

But I wrote to Jeff earlier today to tell him that I like the site – it's appropriately understated – and he replied with a rundown of all the upcoming coverage, including a link to a trailer for the Diane Sawyer special that will air on April 9, the eve of the book's arrival.

You can watch it here. If you are at all prone to emotion, I recommend having box of Kleenex nearby.

And you can buy the book on Amazon here. When I first started checking its sales rank, it was around 5,000. Then it jumped to around 1,400. Today's high sales rank, so far, has been 170.

Like I've been telling Jeff, it's gonna sell a bajillion copies.

My prediction is that it will be on the New York Times bestseller list for at least a year.

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'Into The Wild' ...

We know how it ends.

Well, maybe you don't know how it ends, but you can guess, can't you?

I wanted to see this movie when it was in theaters, and, as is often the case, I didn't get around to it.

It would have been interesting to see it on the big screen, all those vista shots, the action sequences (sure, let's shoot some rapids in a kayak), but I'm glad that I saw it on DVD. Partly because it's long (about 2 1/2 hours) and partly because I like to cry in the privacy of my own home. (Not that I've never walked out of a theater with tear-stained cheeks.)

It's a beautiful movie. It's a well-acted movie. It's a haunting movie. It was not, however, a commercial movie. It made just over $18 million, which isn't abysmal for a movie that cost around $15 million to make. And I suspect that Sean Penn isn't the kind of director who's expressly interested in making films for their box-office grosses. Still, it would have been nice to see this movie play to a wider audience.

Though I wonder who that audience is, exactly?

One segment, surely, is fans of Eddie Vedder. I bought the soundtrack long before I saw the film. Actually, I bought the soundtrack as soon as it was available. And now, having seen the movie, I appreciate the music even more. I love Eddie's voice and this album thrills me. I regularly find myself spontaneously humming one of his melodies. Probably because he hums it, too. It is infinitely hummable.

Eddie won a Golden Globe for that tune, "Guaranteed." And then, stupefyingly, he was shut out of the Oscar nominations. Which wouldn't be entirely infuriating if it weren't for the fact that three songs from "Enchanted" got nods. Three. Songs. Three songs. From the same movie. Three cutesy Disney songs.

Seriously? "Happy Working Song" got a nod over "Guaranteed"? Don't get me wrong: I think Amy Adams is cute as a bug and I love her voice. You can hear it here. But in my world, a song that includes the words "hairball" and "vermin" and "stinky socks" should not be nominated over a song that plays an integral role in a movie, as did "Guaranteed."

Watch Eddie perform it:

Thankfully, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova won for "Falling Slowly," as you know. Which doesn't entirely make up for Eddie's snub, but I'm grateful that the stinky-sock song was not rewarded.


Friday, March 28, 2008

Ode To Dijon ...

Piquant, sassy condiment
So French yet so likable
You elevate my salads
My chicken
My life
I would kiss you but you burn my lips

© Beth Kujawski 2008

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

On Being Tall ...

I am tall.

Not this tall, but tall.

This essay by Rebecca Thomas was written for a journalism class and ended up on a New York Times blog. Doreen was kind enough to forward the link.

Doreen is that kind of friend. I often receive envelopes in my mailbox – Doreen-o-Grams, I call them – chock full o' interesting tidbits: articles, cartoons, clippings of all kinds. And some days, I receive links instead. The stories are always interesting, but rarely do they resonate with as much depth as the essay today.

In June 2005, I published a blog post of a column I once wrote, thinking I would get it published in the Chicago Tribune. That never panned out, but the sentiment remains the same.

Here's what I said then:

No, I don’t play basketball. And the air up here is just fine, thanks.

My mother gets mad at me when I call myself a freak of nature. But I’m taller – way taller – than the average female height of 5-foot-4. Five-foot-4 is elfin to me. Adorable. Precious, even.

People ask me, more often than I’d care to respond to, “How tall are you?,” as if it matters. I’m taller than you are, aren’t I?, I want to retort. Actually, I never quite know how to answer them. Which height do they want? The in-my-stocking-feet-with-my-hair-smooshed-down doctor’s office height? Or the ready-for-work-wearing-shoes-with-my-hair-kinda-poofy height? My stock answer has become, “Six three, six six with the hair.”

I suppose I could save myself a few askance glances if I’d just wear my hair like Marcia Brady, but it’s not a good look for me, so I endure.

(For those of you who are wondering about my parents, my father’s peak was 6-foot-4 and mom was always proud to tell people that she was 5-foot-9 “and three-quarters.” She’s very honest. She never rounded up.)

All through my school years, when it came time for class pictures, you could always count on seeing me in the middle of the back row. I was the starting point. Tallest kid in the middle of the top riser, thereby making me taller still.

And clothes? Not as big an issue these days, but when you’re in 7th grade, it’s a different story. My mom used to make my Halloween costumes in grade school, so I suppose I could have donned those every day. What’s weirder? A 5-foot-11 7th grader wearing clothes that aren’t long enough, or a 5-foot-11 ... Lutheran ... who attends public school ... 7th grader wearing a nun’s habit every day?

I’m amused by stores and catalogs that tout “tall” sizes, only to discover that their definition of “tall” is up to 5-foot-9. Ha! Long Gap jeans are too short for me. And yes, you’re right, there are shops for tall women, and yes, the jeans are long enough, although while I suppose jeans for tall women technically do have deeper pockets, I don’t quite understand why I pay $60 for a pair of jeans that are $30 at the Gap. Thirty dollars for a couple extra inches of inseam seems like a bit of a rip-off.

Which brings me to shoes. I wear a 12. Most stores stop at 10. And I get plenty annoyed with my friends who wear a 7 who complain, as if to sympathize with me, that they, too, can never find shoes because 7 is the most popular size and it always sells out first.

Boo. Hoo.

So, off I go to the price-gouging tall-people shoe store in search of some simple, conservative oxfords to go with a simple, conservative outfit recently purchased for some business events. When I tell the salesman what I’m looking for, he half-heartedly shows me what might work, and then adds, “Everything else we carry is a little more … fashion-forward.”

I’m living in the Dark Ages of footwear. Well, here’s a bulletin for this guy: Chunky-heeled, square-toed black leather shoes might look great on, say, Mary Lou Retton, but on someone who’s my height? One word: Frankenstein.

And then there’s dating. The most popular question on that topic is, “How do you find men tall enough to date?” As if the doorframe of my house is notched in 1-foot increments with a big red arrow, a la the rides at Disneyland, proclaiming, “You must be this tall to enter.” The two men with whom I’ve had discussions of marriage are both about 5 foot 8 – and pretty secure with themselves.

Most days, I don't think about how tall I am. I don't feel tall. I feel like me. Go figure. But just like Rebecca, I get my share of stares and unsolicited comments. "Wow, you're tall!" people say, as if I might not have known. Kids can stare, that's fine. That's what kids do when they see anything outside their normal little worlds. But grown-ups? Glance if you must but please, keep your clichés to yourself.

Because some days, I am acutely aware of my height and wish I was shorter. I stopped wearing heels years ago. I just don't feel the need to be even taller (or to risk looking like RuPaul).

Monday, March 24, 2008

'Beowulf' ...

What the hell is this movie?

I stopped watching after about 10 minutes. It's like a freaky hybrid of "300" and "The Polar Express."

But it made more than $83 million and earned a 69% rating on So somebody liked it.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Over Ponder ...

This is in no way a play for flattery.

But lately, something's been on my mind and I'm going to attempt to think it through on virtual paper.

Despite the proliferation of magazines and web sites devoted to all things banal in the lives of celebrities – Here's a photo of Ben Affleck walking down the street with a cup of coffee! Cameron Diaz shops at a grocery store! – there still exists the "us and them" mentality. There are the people who walk the red carpet and there are the people who sit in the bleachers and watch the other people walk the red carpet.

"They're just people," some say. Yes, that's true. We all share the same DNA structure, but we live in different worlds. My friends who live in L.A. and other points sunny and west rarely report run-ins with the rich and famous. This morning in last week's Parade, I read that Mariah Carey, who's my age, tools around in a $400,000 car. My car? $27,000. Including taxes and the interest on my loan.

Yeah, we're not the same.

So, since I reconnected with Ciarán a few weeks ago and we made a plan for me to head out to New York, I've been thinking about being friends with someone "famous." Ciarán's not famous like "Russell Crowe" famous or "Brad Pitt" famous, but he has another movie opening this coming weekend ("Stop-Loss") which means he'll have three films open at the same time. ("There Will Be Blood" is still in theaters and "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day" opened a couple weeks ago.)

None of this is to brag about the fact that we're friends. Quite the contrary. Being friends with him makes me wonder why we're friends. It's not as though "famous" people don't have "normal" friends. For them, every day isn't a Vanity Fair Oscar party. They do mingle with the masses. But I wonder about what I bring to the table. What qualities do I possess that makes this man who travels the world and breathes that rarefied celebrity air (air that we manufacture with our collective obsession) return my phone calls and make plans and render my wallet almost entirely worthless and meet me for breakfast even though he could have used a couple extra hours of sleep?

In his case, I'm sure the answer is that he's just one of the most down-to-earth persons I've ever met. I once saw someone refer to him as a reluctant celebrity. Indeed, I fell in love with him the first day I met him when I referred to him as a celebrity and he gently put his hand on mine and said, "I'm not a celebrity, I'm an actor."

And maybe, now that I think about it, it's good for people like him to have people like me as touchstones to the real world.

When we left the theater last week, there was a small crowd gathered, waiting for him to sign their Playbills and pictures and such, but how much of a connection can you have with someone you'll only encounter for 20 seconds, all of it one-sided? Later, as we sat in his favorite Irish pub, we talked about the play and about his movies, but we also talked about his daughter and my friends' daughters and what it is to grow up as a teenager in this era. (I joked that ours was surely the most serious conversation happening in that pub on St. Patrick's Day weekend.) At breakfast the next morning, we talked about politics. And Springsteen.

We met for the first time 11 years ago. We don't see each other often. But it's fun to be back in touch.

And fun to sit in a theater and watch his dashing self on screen and think about him hugging me goodbye last week then heading down the steps to the subway and calling over his shoulder, "Thanks for breakfast!"

We do, after all, share a fondness for Balthazar's roasted pepper, caramelized onion, and Gruyère quiche.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

'3:10 to Yuma' ...

Boy howdy, did I love this movie!

I wasn't sure that I would, you know, because it's not 1950 and I'm not an 11-year-old boy.

But love it I did.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

'Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day' ...

Let's see if I can review this movie in 10 words or less:

Swoon. Swoon. Dashing. Handsome. Swoon. Swoon. Swoon.

There you go: seven words.

Yes, I'm horribly biased when it comes to Ciarán, but oh for the love of God, he's yummy in this movie.

For the life of me, I can't find an image I can crib from a web site, but I did find this nifty video clip. Video! Moving pictures! With sound! (Ignore the horrible edit halfway through.)

Of course, there's much more to this movie than Ciarán looking good enough to eat.

It's completely charming. Amy Adams is charming. Amy Adams' voice is charming. Frances McDormand is charming. The story is charming. The sets are charming.

Last week, Ciarán and I were chatting about Margot at the Wedding and I mentioned that when watching that movie, I couldn't answer the question, "Who was this movie made for?" So when we started talking about Miss Pettigrew ..., Ciarán cracked, "That movie is for the over-90s."

When I got home from New York, I wrote to him to let him know that I was going to see it and that I'd let him know how many nonagenarians I saw, though, I pondered, they likely catch an earlier show.

I'm 38 – not even halfway to 90 – and I loved it. And while this movie probably won't break any box-office records, I suspect it will do very, very well on DVD. And the soundtrack's worth a listen, too.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Beth, Unplugged? ...

Stop the world, I want to get off.

Just for a few days.

I think I need to reboot my brain.

For the past few weeks, I've been completely unfocused. I am becoming the poster child for adult-onset Attention Deficit Disorder. Focus? What's that?

Thoughts flit in and out of my mind, careening about like the flight path of a housefly. But most of the time these days, I feel like I'm buzzing up against the window, futilely.

Work has gotten busy, but surely that's not the only reason that I feel like I'm living in a constant adrenaline-fueled state. I'm not sure where all this stress is coming from.

I have a week of vacation scheduled in May, my first full week of vacation since I started this job in September 2005. Unless we count that time off around Christmas 2006. But we won't, because what the hell is relaxing about the holidays?

But today, May seems awfully far away.

In the meantime, maybe some breathing will do the trick.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

'The Seafarer' ...

This is not hyperbole: Watching The Seafarer was the most amazing theatrical experience of my life.

As Ciarán and I walked west on 45th after the show, as I gushed about how wonderful a play it was, as I told him that my heart was still racing, I finally settled on this summary: "The cast is alchemy."

Alchemy. Five singularly brilliant performances that, together, add up to, simply, art.

You might suggest that all theater is art. And perhaps you'd have a point. Art is in the eye of the beholder. Art is subjective. But in my view, there is good art. There is bad art. And then there is art that changes you.

The play ends its run at the end of the month. I strongly, strongly encourage everyone – everyone who lives in New York and everyone who doesn't – to see this play with this cast.

Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater will stage The Seafarer next season. John Mahoney will star. I suspect he will play Richard Harkin, and I suspect he will turn in a great performance because he is a great actor. But having seen Jim Norton (whom the New York Times refers to as "brilliant") in the role, I can fathom no other.

After the play, Ciarán and I encountered Jim's wife (I hope my memory is correct in remembering that her name is Mary) on our way to dinner. Jim appeared from the ether and I found myself walking alongside him, chatting easily while Ciaran and Mary walked behind us.

Stage actors amaze me. They so fully and believably embody characters for two hours – sometimes twice a day – for months on end, but every night, with a step off the stage, they set those short-term psyches aside and return to their affable selves.

Jim is not Richard. Ciarán is not Mr. Lockhart. Sean Mahon is not Nicky Giblin. The jaw-dropping Conleth Hill is not Ivan Curry. And the heartbreakingly perfect David Morse is not Sharky.

Except when they are.

Every character is dramatically different. Mr. Lockhart is refined yet dastardly, Richard is upbeat despite being downtrodden, Ivan is the calming force whose hands would shake if it weren't for plenty of whiskey, Nicky is all too aware of the shallow trappings of his hollow life, and Sharky is the brother who has returned home but remains desperately lost.

It is an exquisite psychological symphony, with playwright and director Conor McPherson wielding the baton.

The New York Times is a tough theatrical-review nut to crack, but this piece piles on the adulation: "Mr. Norton’s peevish, self-delighted autocrat will generate the most talk (and surely all sorts of prizes to add to the Olivier Award he picked up in London). But everyone wears his part as if it were a favorite pair of old work gloves. Mr. Hill’s faltering body language as the terminally nearsighted Ivan remains priceless. Mr. Mahon portrays a shallow man without merely coasting on the surface.

"As the central adversaries, Mr. Morse and Mr. Hinds give the show a diamond-hard dramatic center it lacked in London. Mr. Morse locates exactly the fear of going wrong in the hulking, taciturn Sharky’s careful movements and measured words. Mr. Hinds is uncanny in balancing the mortal failings of Mr. Lockhart’s borrowed body and the immortal rage and agony of the demon within."

So while I may be biased, in my opinion I am not alone.

See this play.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

It's Mochalicious! ...

Shortly after I started working with Brandon, I started drinking protein shakes. Mmm, protein shakes! Truly, they're rather tasty. I mean, I don't delude myself. I ain't drinkin' a chocolate milkshake. But they're handy. And they give me a reason to use my fab blender, which in the days of B.P. (Before Protein) sat in a lower cabinet, almost never seeing the light of day. I just didn't have many occasions to blend.

And here's where it gets crazy: One day, I found myself mentioning to Brandon that I was getting sick of the chocolate shakes.


Of chocolate shakes.



I know! It's completely ludicrous!

So Brandon told me to pick up a tub – a vat, a tank, because protein powder does not come in small quantities – of vanilla powder to mitigate the chocolate experience.

And that's what I've been doing ever since. One scoop of chocolate, half a scoop of vanilla, 12 ounces of water, six ice cubes, and blend. (Muscle Provider is my powder of choice. Because that's the kind Brandon told me to buy.)

Until today. Until just a few minutes ago.

Yesterday, Brandon told me about the recipe section of the Beverly International web site. Recipes? There are recipes? There's more to do with protein powder than mix it with water and ice and drink it?

Yup. Though many of the recipes call for artificial sweeteners and I've cut those nasty chemicals out of my diet, so I won't be making "Butterfinger Chocolate Pudding," but whoa ho!, what's this? Add some coffee to your usual shake recipe?

Why did I never think of adding coffee to the blender? The author of the recipe said that the concoction tastes like something from Starbucks and damn if he (or she) wasn't right!

It's a whole new world of protein-shaking!

(Those of you with weak constitutions should stop reading here.)

I drink decaf coffee. I know, I know, you wonder why I drink it at all if I'm not drinking it for the caffeine, but I like the experience of coffee. I just don't like the "it feels like my heart is about to leap out of my chest" experience of that comes with caffeinated coffee.

But coffee + protein shake = mochalicious! I highly recommend it if you're protein-shaking. It's delicious, it's good for your muscles (presuming you weight train and you need to rebuild your muscles), and it doesn't cost $4.50.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Slacking, The Slacking ...

I could say that I've just been too busy to post. That would be true. Kinda. A little.

Last week was indeed a bit crazed, and I spent a good chunk of Saturday working, trying to catch up on some of the work I didn't get to during the first half of the week. Likewise was my plan for Sunday.

Ah, yes, plans. Funny things.

I didn't quite get around to doing any work yesterday. I meant to. Honest, I did. But I told myself that I could watch one episode of Season 7 of Gilmore girls and the next thing I knew, I was popping in the last disc. Mind you, I didn't watch all of Season 7 yesterday. That would have been excessive. But I did watch a few discs' worth. (I really didn't like the way the new writers wrapped up the show. I hold out hope for a Gg movie.)

And today, I hit the ground running again and just turned off my PC moments ago. (I have a PC for my "job," but I remain a dyed-in-the-wool Mac gal in every other aspect of my life.)

From whence comes the dedication, Beth?, you're no doubt asking yourself. And the answer is this:

On Friday, I'm hopping a plane to NYC to see Ciarán in the play he's in and I really want to have everything on my "Open" list crossed off before I head for the airport.

So if that means working until after 10 p.m. every night this week, so be it. It's not that I won't be able to have fun if I know that I have work to do, but it's always such a nice thing to be able to settle into a seat on an airplane and exhale fully.

Ciarán and I haven't seen each other in more than four years, which makes me chuckle. In the time since I last saw him, a person could have started at a four-year college, earned a degree, and started grad school.

But like he said the other night, life gets busy and time goes by. In chunks, apparently. Large chunks. Frighteningly large chunks.

Ciarán, of course, is Irish. We were talking about how busy he's been over the past few years and he said, "Yeah, I've been lucky to keep getting work."

I suggested that his talent might have a little something to do with his never-ending bookings, to which he demurred because he's that kind of guy. But he did point out that he doesn't do horror films. And he's never done a real sci-fi flick, either.

L.A. Dave pointed out that a true Western is missing from Ciarán's filmography, as is a Disney film, so we decided that I should write a mash-up movie that covers all those bases.

And because L.A. Dave and I are great intellects, we cracked ourselves up in writing this title: Horrifying Irish Cowboy Mouse From Space.

I think it has "blockbuster" written all over it, don't you?

Friday, March 07, 2008

A Brief Meditation On Being Single ...

Wednesday morning, I went to a funeral.

The two front pews on the right were reserved for family. The front left pew was reserved for the pallbearers. I sat in the third pew on the right. My cousins, who had come in from New York for services, sat behind me. My brother and sister-in-law sat with them.

My mother and father sat in the front pew. No one sat in the second pew. I supposed I could have moved up, as I fall under the mantle of "family," but I stayed put.

So my parents were in the front pew, my one brother was behind me, my other brother was with the other pallbearers. I had family there, they just weren't sitting aside me.

While I waited for the service to begin, I started to think about what it means to be single as I get older. I don't have a spouse. I don't have children. I may have both at some point, but then again, I may not.

And so, if I die as a single person – as the youngest in my family, it's possible that I'll be the last of us to go – who will be there in the end?

I want to be cremated, my remains scattered off of Big Sur, but who will carry out that wish? A friend, maybe.

Most days, I don't think about being single. Sometimes, I think it would be nice to get married, but I'm not champing at the bridal bit.

But a funeral has a way of making you stop and think about the direction your life has taken. Is taking. Of course, there's always the opportunity to walk another path but for today, the path I'm on is the only one on which I can base my thoughts. All we have is this moment.

Then again, marriage is no guarantee. One spouse usually outlives the other. So even if I get married, I might find myself in a "single" situation all over again down the road.

Of course, once I'm gone, none of this will really matter.

But at the moment, it was good to keep my brain engaged.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Hello, I Must Be Going ...

Yes, I haven't posted for the past two days, and I probably won't be posting for the next two days.

But I haven't forgotten about you.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

'Pobby and Dingan' ...

At the very end of January, I wrote about this book.

In that post, I mentioned that Mercurie challenged me to read one book of fiction per month in 2008 because he thinks we just don't read for pleasure enough anymore.

"So I thought I'd ease into the year-long challenge with a skinny little novel I've been meaning to read for a few years now, but then my plan changed," I wrote, then.

Indeed it did. I ended up reading Hugh Laurie's The Gun Seller and I loved it.

And then my plan changed again. I started reading Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal. My co-worker Rich received a copy for his birthday last year and when he told me about it, I had to buy a copy for myself, as it is the best-titled book in this history of the written word.

I supped on Lamb with relish in those early days of February, but, as is often the case with me, the bookmark got stuck up near the front of the book. For some reason, Lamb just languished on my bedside table.

And yesterday, as the clocked ticked down the final hours of February, even though I had an extra day in the month, I was all too aware that I hadn't met the February leg of Mercurie's 2008 challenge.

How pathetic. Only the second month and I'd already faltered?

So I tried reading last night, but quickly fell asleep.

And I awoke in March, a challenge failure.

But then I decided to give myself a one-day grace period (who's going to stop me, right?) and this morning, I picked up the "skinny little novel I've been meaning to read for a few years now" and read it.

In about an hour.

I first heard about Pobby and Dingan when I edited the books section of Coverstory, an entertainment publication you've probably never heard of and which ceased to be in 2000 when Thomson, the global corporation, decided to divest itself of Thomson Newspapers, and our Little Company That Could – And Did, Thank You Very Much – went out of business.

Becky May was the reviewer who told me about Pobby and Dingan. She'd loved it. And I made a mental note to pick up a copy.

And I did. In 2005.

And I started it a couple times, got a few pages in each time, but, well, damn those sticky bookmarks.

But this morning, needing to redeem my lapsed book-reading self, I read it, propped up in bed on all my pillows.

It's only 94 pages, so some might call it a novella, but it says "A Novel" right there on the cover, so a novel it is.

The author, Ben Rice, reminds me quite a bit of Colin Firth. His "About the Author" entry is very short: "Ben Rice lives in London. This is his first book."

From what I can ascertain from, there has not been a second.

It's a very sweet little book. I'm sure Mr. Rice is sick of having his novel described as "a very sweet little book," because I suspect a lot of people refer to it as "a very sweet little book," but it is.

Set in Australia, the story focuses on the Williamson family. Dad is an opal miner. Mom is wistful for her life back in England. Ashmol is the smart-aleck older brother. And Kellyanne is his little sister, who, at the beginning of the book, enters her brother's room and says, "Ashmol, Pobby and Dingan are maybe-dead."

To which he replies, "Good ... Perhaps you'll grow up now and stop being such a fruit loop."

But Kellyanne is very concerned about her friends. They're imaginary, but she's concerned nonetheless.

And over the next 93 pages, Rice tells a very sweet little story that sets you to thinking about what's real in life and what's imaginary, what's important and what's not.