The Pursuit of Happyness

The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) PG-13
A poignant, inspiring film that is based on Chris Gardner’s true story of overcoming huge odds to found his own highly successful investment firm. In 1981, Gardner (Will Smith) watched his business selling bone density scanners decline along with his marriage. He accepts an unpaid internship with Dean Witter as a chance to improve his life and his young son’s, for whom he has custody. Together Gardner and his young son endure many hardships, including homelessness, as Gardner pursues his dream.

Check out Chris Gardner's autobiography of the same name. You can also read a Business Week article.

In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs by Christopher de Ballaigue

In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs: A Memoir of Iran by Christopher de Bellaigue (2004)
A British journalist living in Iran provides an insider’s view of the cultural and psychological nuances of contemporary Iranian life.

Read about the author, view the reading guide, and read The New York Times review.

Out of the Deep I Cry by Julia Spencer-Fleming

Out of the Deep I Cry by Julia Spencer-Fleming (2004)
This is the third mystery in the series with Episcopalian priest Clare Fergusson and Sheriff Russ Van Alstyne set in the Adirondack community of Miller’s Kill. Dr. Rouse, of the Ketchum free medical clinic, disappears shortly after a confrontation with a young mother protesting the clinic’s vaccination policy. Debba blames Dr. Rouse for her son’s autism, which he developed after being vaccinated at the clinic. The doctor’s disappearance stirs up local memories and police interest in a cold case from the 1930s involving the disappearance of Mr. Ketchum. The attraction between Russ (who is married) and the Rev. Clare heats up while the two tackle the interwoven cases.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
D.C. insiders deride a young freshman Senator Jefferson Smith (James Stewart) as a political appointee who is too inexperienced and idealistic. When Senator Smith sponsors a bill to build a national boys camp, he unwittingly stumbles into a corrupt political machine that has controlled his state and its senior Senator (Claude Rains) for years. Aided by savvy political insider Clarissa Saunders (Jean Arthur), Smith retaliates against a smear campaign through a filibuster. Smith breaks the corrupt machine and renews the Senate chambers with a spirit of purpose and common good.

Directed by Frank Capra, the film received eleven Academy Award nominations. Look back at the original New York Times review and check out the clip below.


The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry

The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry (2008)
One hundred year old Roseanne McNulty has spent most of her adult life in the Sligo and Roscommon mental hospitals. Roseanne has been secretly recording her life's story in a journal which she keeps hidden under the floorboards in her room. Dr. Grene, the psychiatrist of the soon to be demolished Roscommon mental institution, must assess whether or not Roseanne can be released. He begins to read the official report of her institutionalization, much of which is based on the account of the local Sligo parish priest Fr. Gaunt. The two narratives of Roseanne's life reveal how her life is inexorably and tragically interwoven into the troubled history of the Irish civil war and the strict Catholicism that governed all aspects of life in the rural west of Ireland.

Read a biography of the author, visit for a review, and check out an interview by The Guardian (UK).

The Curse of the Golden Flower = Man cheng jin dai huang jin jia

The Curse of the Golden Flower = Man cheng jin dai huang jin jia (2006) R
Set in the 10th century Tang dynasty, this film is as dark and full of intrigue as a Shakespearean tragedy. The Empress is a beautiful, strong willed woman who is held virtually captive by the Emperor. For ten years, every two hours she must drink a medicinal tea at the Emperor's insistence. When the Emperor discovers the liaison between the Empress and her stepson Prince Wan, he begins to add a poison to the tea. The Empress plots with her middle son to overthrow the Emperor. Director Yimou Zhang's elaborate and breathtaking setting and the ornate costumes are a thin veneer that covers the corruption of the imperial family.

In Chinese or English with English or Spanish subtitles.

Visit the movie's website to watch trailers and featurettes.

Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam, Jr.

Rocket Boys: A Memoir by Homer Hickam, Jr. (1998)
As a teenager, in October 1957 Hickam watched Sputnik travel across the night sky from his backyard in Coalwood, West Virginia. That night he decided he would learn how to build rockets and join the U.S. space race. Joined by like minded friends, the “rocket boys” launched not only homemade rockets, but dreams that took them beyond their tight knit community of Coalwood.

For more on Sputnik, visit The New York Times website created to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Sputnik. The site has the original 1957 articles from the newspaper, in addition to an interview with NASA's chief historian.

Homer Hickam's website has more about the book, including why he wrote it. You can also discover more about Coalwood and the original Rocket Boys. Check out for a review, excerpt, and discussion questions.

October Sky is the movie (starring Jake Gyllenhaal) based on Rocket Boys.

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton (2008)
Ninety-eight year old Grace’s memories of a shattering event that occurred in 1924 at Riverton Manor reawaken as she is interviewed by a director who is making a film of the event. Grace was fourteen when she began working as a housemaid at Riverton for the aristocratic Hartford family. From her position she watches the family, especially daughters Hannah and Emmeline, as they mature from young girls at the outset of WWI to complex young women experiencing the changes of the roaring twenties. Guilt ridden, the aging Grace reveals secrets that she has carried about what happened that tragic evening at Riverton. Full of atmosphere and interesting characters, this novel is an enjoyable read.

Visit the author's website to read a synopsis, an interview with the author, and the story behind the book. Also check out the discussion questions.


Ratatouille (2007) G
This delightful animated film will appeal to gourmands and kids alike. Remy is rat with finely tuned taste buds. As he watches famed Parisian chef Gusteau’s cooking show from his perch on a farm house kitchen counter, Remy aspires to become a chef. When Remy finds himself separated from his colony, he discovers that all his life he’s been living under the famed gastronomical capital of Paris. When he befriends Linguine, an orphaned, hapless dishwasher at the now deceased Gusteau’s restaurant, they conspire to create culinary masterpieces—with Remy directing Linguini from under his chef’s cap. Remy and Linguine prove Gusteau’s motto that “anyone can cook!”

The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood

The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood (1954)
The Berlin Stories are actually two novels (The Last of Mr. Norris and Goodbye to Berlin) about an expatriate Brit living in pre-World War II Berlin. Goodbye to Berlin became the basis for the 1972 musical Cabaret.

What the Dog Did by Emily Yoffe

What the Dog Did by Emily Yoffe (2005)
Yoffe’s hilarious depiction of her conversion from a cat lover to the reluctant owner of a rescue beagle is full of laugh-out-loud dog tales. The author also provides interesting tidbits about dog breeds, rescue shelters, and the unique bond dogs share with their owners.

Listen to Emily Yoffe on NPR.

The Straight Story

The Straight Story (1999) G
Seventy-three year old Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth) lives with his mentally challenged daughter Rose (Sissy Spacek) in Laurens, Iowa. Alvin can’t see well enough to drive a car and his hips give out. What Alvin lacks in dollars, he makes up in determination and survival skills. He purchases a 1966 John Deere riding mower, rigs up a trailer, stocks up on “wieners” and braunschwager and rides his lawnmower 300 miles across Iowa to visit his estranged and ailing brother in Mt. Zion, Wisconsin. Based on a true story, this warmhearted account of Alvin’s journey explores the kindness and generosity of strangers, the simple beauty of the Iowa landscape, and the importance of family.

Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh

Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets by Sudhir Venkatesh (2008)
If you’ve read Freakonomics, then you will be familiar with the chapter discussing the economics of a crack-selling gang. In Gang Leader for a Day, Venkatesh describes the seven years he spent studying J.T. and his crack selling Black Kings gang at the Robert Taylor housing project. With J.T.’s protection and friendship, Sudhir had a unique opportunity to study the gang’s economic, social, and political impact upon the community. This is a fascinating book that reads very quickly. While the author has garnered acclaim for his study, the community he came to know has not fared as well. The Robert Taylor homes were demolished, scattering the residents to other neighborhoods and destroying the tight web of social support that many had created.

Check out the Freakonomics blog for an interview with the author featuring questions from readers. To listen to an interview or read an excerpt, visit

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan (2007)
Sure to be popular on the book club circuit, Loving Frank is Mamah Cheney’s story of her affair with Frank Lloyd Wright. Horan uncovered what little information exists about Cheney to create a portrait of an intelligent woman constrained by the conventions of her time. Mamah meets Wright after her kindhearted husband commissions him to design their house. In Wright, Mamah discovers the passion and intelligence lacking in her marriage. Horan skillfully explores Mamah’s scandalous decision to leave her husband and her two young children to be with Wright.

Find everything you wanted to know about the novel or the author at the Loving Frank website. Get an author biography or interview; learn more about the book, the true story, and the reader's guide; and so much more. Discover the Prairie School of Architecture. Read and listen on the PBS site dedicated to Frank Lloyd Wright -- and you can request the accompanying Ken Burns documentary from the library.

Sweet Land

Sweet Land (2005) PG
Inge, a German mail order bride, comes to Minnesota after WWI ends to marry Olaf, a Norwegian immigrant farmer (Elizabeth Reaser, Tim Guinee). The minister (John Heard) and the local judge refuse to marry the couple when they learn that Inge is German and a socialist. Olaf refuses to send Inge away, and Inge is determined to make a home with the quiet, steadfast Olaf. The minister’s condemnation of the couple leads the tight knit Norwegian community to ostracize Olaf and Inge. When Olaf stands up for his best friend whose farm is foreclosed by a ruthless banker (Ned Beatty), the community finally accepts the couple.

Visit the official movie website for clips, reviews, and more.