Providing reader advisory services to movie and TV stars may sound like it's all glamor and glitz - private screenings at Matt Damon's place, long walks with Taylor Kitsch, tequila shots with Cameron Diaz - but in reality, it's hard work. It's a year-round, always-on-call job that requires constant monitoring of tons of information sources. You should see my office - a dozen laptops and giant flatscreens feeding me 24-hour updates from Cynopsis Kids, Early Word, Rama's Screen, and the Hollywood Reporter.
But that's what it takes. What would happen if, out of the blue, Hailee Steinfeld chased you down in a hallway at NBC panting, "I have to read a science fiction novel for English but I hate science fiction!" It wouldn't do to flail around until you lamely suggest she reads Virus on Orbis 1. Nooo. That kid, she needs more action. Not so much character development. Black Hole Sun is the book for her. She'd be perfect as the voice of the AI that is the main character's advisor, conscience and best friend. Or she could be the kick-ass love interest Vienne.
Tune in to my wave as I provide book advice to the attendees of the 84th Annual Academy Awards from my perch by the bar at the Governor's Ball...
That's right, it's Oscars night. The moment when the glitterati can finally quit concentrating on the last project and start seriously considering the next. Or when Susie Movie Star or Alphonse Actor can stop sucking in the stomach and look forward to a long lounge by the pool with a good book.
This Sunday I barely had time to duck under the buffet table for a quick... debrief... with Robert Downey Jr. before the lords and ladies of Hollywood came a-knockin'. Maybe it was the lameness of the show, maybe it was the boringness of the prestige projects they had been touting for lo these many months - but all of haute Hollywood was in the mood for something new to read. Seven of the nine Best Picture nominees this year were based on books, and although none of those seven came away with the statuette, people are nonetheless looking to literature for the next starmaking story.
Nice try, honey.
Octavia Spencer showed up first, super friendly in her awesome sparkly gown, super funny, even while hyperventilating. Octavia's co-star Viola Davis has signed up for the movie versions of both Ender's Game and the Southern gothic romance Beautiful Creatures. For Viola, I've had my eye out for a Southern sci-fi paranormal war romance novel with overtones of class consciousness, and I swear I'm allllmost there. Were there any ghosts in Ship Breaker?
But for Octavia, who is from Alabama and whose next movie is some thing with "trailer trash" in the title, I recommended Sophie Littlefield's Stella Hardesty books (A Bad Day for Sorry, A Bad Day for Pretty, etc.). Stella is a self-styled 'parole officer' who checks up on perpetrators of domestic violence in her rural Southern town, using physical intimidation to convince them to pay their child support but otherwise stay away from the women in their lives. And then she solves mysteries. Octavia clearly has a great deal of badass in her and doesn't mind a project that contains an unequivocally socially conscious message, so this no-nonsense, middle-aged Nancy Drew is for her.
Next up we meet Captain von Trapp in one of his million velvet smoking jackets. One might think that a man this sophisticated, this - let's face it - elderly might not need or want advice about what books to read. What you don't know about Christopher Plummer, however, is that the man is a positive action addict. "But something urbane," he says. "None of that sexist Muchamore stuff."
I ponder for about one second, and ask, "You wouldn't have a problem with a CGI role, would you?"
"Worked for Bill Nighy, didn't it?" he replies.
"Chris, baby - read Derek Landy's Skulduggery Pleasant books. Or better yet, listen to them on audio. You could be the supernatural skeleton detective in a heartbeat," I tell him with a smile.
"Librarian," he says, "you will always be sixteen going on seventeen to me."
A big hug from the Captain, and then...
Oh Jesus, the French. I have had all the interns (library school students selected for their technical savvy, literary taste, and excellent hair) racking their collective brains for something to recommend to the team who brought us The Artist. The obvious answer is The Invention of Hugo Cabret by author/illustrator Brian Selznick, of course, but we hear that one's been done already. I was almost ready to give up when I saw William Joyce step up on stage to accept the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film - and I had that moment of Ah-HA!
Joyce is demonstrably a talented animator himself (although do I get ostracized from kidlit criticism if I quibble that The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore lags in the middle?), but his gorgeously baroque new series The Guardians of Childhood seems to demand a Continental touch. What? It's been optioned already? I care not. Berenice Bejo's husband is the man to make that movie. I just know that those two are going to love reading those books to their kids.
Gwyneth never asks me, and that's ok. She has the entire book review staff of The Guardian feeding her advance review copies, and telling her what to think about them. Always good to have a cadre of experts in every area.
The Jolie-Pitt clan during reading hour.
Clooney and Brad and Angelina skipped the party, of course. They'll text me later. Pitt practically has me on speed dial. Lord. Zahara reads nothing but Fancy Nancy and W magazine, Pax is a giant One Piece junkie, while the twins favor anything with a bouncing repetitive rhyme. Those nannies were so relieved to find out there are seven Sheep in a Jeep books.
(Confidential to Stacy: honey, if nobody ever hears from you again - you might enjoy the Airhead trilogy by Meg Cabot, about a smart girl who woke up after an accident to find her brain transplanted into the body of a supermodel. Baltimore will always remember you, hometown girl.)
My last visitor of the evening was Meryl, already half in the bag and looking a little like a fancy wine bag herself - that gold lame bathrobe of hers was more than a little askew after smooching her way through all her fellow winners and most of the presenters, half the press corps, Colin Firth, the Oscar statue, and the Italian lady who won set decoration for Hugo (if you don't believe me, do a Google image search of "Meryl Streep hug" and you will see how thoroughly that woman got around Sunday night).
Oh wait that's not Meryl. That's not even the Oscars! How the heck did that get in there?
"Librarian!" she screeched. "I'm headed back to Connecticut to spend the rest of the winter with a bottle of hard cider under an afghan! And Downton Abbey is done! What do I read? And don't tell me State of Wonder - no way am I doing a location shoot in some godforsaken jungle!"
"Meryl," I reply soothingly, "That book's about women who go on bearing children into their old age - it sounds like hell. How 'bout we find you something a little closer to home, huh?" I don't mention that the female lead in State of Wonder is nowhere close to 62 years old. Nuh-uh. Smoochy or no, lady actresses will whip out their claws in a heartbeat if you mention their age. Did you see Amy Adams last year when the ABC doofus said, "It's been quite a year for you, and you're only 36!" I'm surprised she didn't explode into glass shards and slice him to ribbons. Who knew Amy Adams was 36 years old? I thought she was like 22.
So Meryl and I chat a moment or two about life in Connecticut and then I casually say, "When's the last time you read From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler?"
Meryl cocks an eyebrow at me.
"Girlie," I say. "You are Mrs. Frankweiler and that youngest girl of yours..."
"Louisa," she interjects.
"Louisa," I say, "is Claudia."
"Louisa's 21," she says doubtfully.
"So Chloe Moretz," I shrug. "The first time they made that into a movie, they got Lauren frickin' Bacall to play the lady. She was 69 when she played that part. If you're going to be 70 eventually, shouldn't you be Lauren Bacall 70?"
I think I sold that.
So while Meryl moves in for the inevitable sloppy kiss, I catch Downey smirking at me from over the rim of his club soda with lime... and I know my work here is done. But the fun is just beginning.