Recommended diversions

“The Painted Veil”

Kitty (Naomi Watts), a bored London socialite, marries Walter Fane (Edward Norton), a doctor and student of infectious diseases who is returning to his work in China.

Unable at first to reciprocate her husband’s love, Kitty has an affair with Charlie Townsend (Liev Schreiber). Walter then gives her the choice of a nasty divorce — the film is set in the 1920s when divorce was still a scandal — or of a trip upriver with him into the heart of a cholera epidemic. Saying more would destroy the story of this fabulous film, directed by John Curran and taken from a book by W. Somerset Maugham. This movie is one of the few films I’ve ever seen where I left the theater wanting to lead a better life. Highly recommended. Rated: PG-13.


I’m not sure how much his countrymen read Kenneth Roberts these days, but if you enjoy fine historical fiction, he’s a hard man to beat. His stories are intriguing, honestly written, and historically accurate. In Arundel, his first novel, he tells the story of Benedict Arnold’s bold but ultimately doomed march on Quebec in 1775. Here he recreates the bravery of Arnold and his men through the narrative of Steven Nason, a soldier from Maine in the Continental Army. Another Roberts book which I particularly enjoyed was Oliver Wiswell, another first-person fictional account of the Revolution but told this time from the viewpoint of a Tory. Occasionally an author seems to possess a magical touch in recreating the past. Roberts is a magician whose books deserve a place among the classics of American historical fiction.

Best of Randy Newman

I’ve enjoyed Randy Newman’s music since I first heard “Short People” many, many years ago. Though Good Old Boys remains my favorite album — I can still knock out the words to “Rednecks,” “Louisiana 1927,” and half the other songs on that album — I had fun listening to this recent compilation and hearing some of his other more recent songs. I get a kick out of hearing Newman do the music for some of the Disney films. There’s something both ironic and sweet when an American master of irony can make such good music for such a general audience. If you’re familiar with Randy Newman, take a day or two to listen again to his music. If you’re not a fan, pick up the Good Old Boys album and see what happens.

— By Jeff Minick

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