I just finished reading Karen Joy Fowler's The Jane Austen Book Club -- I really enjoyed it, even though it has been several years since I last read any Austen. It follows six members of a book club as they meet each month to discuss a different JA novel. It helps if you love reading, and it helps if you know something about Austen -- but you don't have to be a JA fanatic to enjoy the book. I'm sure if you were, you'd get more "insider" references to JA texts -- but it's really about the love of reading, and how we use literature to help us make sense of our own lives. A line I especially liked:
What if you had a happy ending and didn't notice? Sylvia made a mental note. Don't miss the happy ending.
I also loved Fowler's first novel, Sarah Canary, which is a fabulous romp involving late-19thc feminism, Chinese immigrants working on the railways in the American West, circuses, and various other ingredients.

My gf and I went to see We Don't Live Here Anymore -- a stunning, grownup film with Mark Ruffalo, who I think is great, and Laura Dern, who gives an amazing performance. It's the kind of movie I tend to enjoy -- four characters, lots of talking -- the complexities of human relationships. In this case, two married couples whose relationships are in different states of disarray -- and which are tested by the affairs all members are having with each other. It's got a very literary feel to it, perhaps because it was adapted from two short stories by the late Andre Dubus. Also really interesting to me was the fact that the men are both supposed to be professors at a small college -- one of creative writing, the other of literature. That's not the focus of the film, exactly, but I thought they got the academic flavor pretty well -- the decoration of their respective houses -- the financial difficulties during the summer -- one couple is better off, but they get regular checks from the wife's mother to help them get by. And their flexible summertime schedules are perfect for adultery. The only off note in the film I thought was that neither wife seemed to have a job -- the gendered issues about family responsibilities & household chores are pretty relevant to many couples, but parts of the film felt kind of dated because of the "housewife" role. I don't know how old the short stories are -- maybe that would explain this.

We also recently watched The Barbarian Invasions, Denys Arcand's sequel to The Decline of the American Empire, which I remember really enjoying in 1986, but haven't rewatched since then. The recent film involves some of the same characters -- one man's terminal cancer is the pretext for gathering together his group of friends again. It's thoughtful, intelligent -- and also, coincidentally, involves academics and intellectuals. (why is it that intellectuals show up so much more frequently in Canadian, French, Spanish films...yeah, I know, duh, it's obvious). As depressing as it sounds, this film is part of a sub-genre I often really respond to -- the "gathering of friends before death." (It's My Party is another one, for example.) Because when done well, such films aren't about death so much as about the connections of our lives.