On My Nightstand

Recommended Reads & Reviews


MillValleyLit publisher J.Macon King’s debut novel: set in 1979 San Francisco’s cultural, sexual and political maelstrom. In the wake of his girlfriend leaving him, young musician Jack has sworn off women, yet the reforming bad boy cannot resist the incandescent, liberated artist Bretta and her creative entourage. The pair sense they have found their Masterpiece of Love—until the return of Bretta’s enigmatic friend unveils disturbing secrets.

“The prose leans towards the poetic, which results in gorgeous, Kerouac-ian vignettes…seeming like a movie played on fast forward…” Kirkus Reviews. Amazon $15.95.

Circus of the Sun:

“A great, lyrical portrait of an era…a spot-on recreation about a great time of history…and I enjoyed the sheer trip of it. Beautifully observed writing—the emotions in the story are true and moments of life are rendered with clarity.” Louis B. Jones, author of four New York Times Notable Books, including Ordinary Money and Particles of Luck.

Could be a good time to do this, instead of laying around in pajamas and eating ice cream. Ok, maybe a little later…. but, you could at least read it! Or maybe just watch the movie.

We at MillValleyLit have been reading more poetry while cowering in place, and along with the rest of the mundane world, yep, watching more TV and movies. To assuage our guilty pleasures, we have found a way to combine both in a silver linings playbook. Here are the:


Total Eclipse

Young, wild poet Arthur Rimbaud and his mentor Paul Verlaine engage in a fierce, forbidden romance while feeling the effects of a hellish artistic lifestyle. Director: Agnieszka Holland , Writer: Christopher Hampton (screenplay) Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio as Arthur Rimbaud, David Thewlis as Paul Verlaine (Remus Lupin in the Harry Potter film series and Ares in Wonder Woman) and Romane Bohringer. Based on a 1967 play by Christopher Hampton, who also wrote the screenplay. Based on letters and poems, it presents a historically accurate account of the passionate and violent relationship between the two 19th-century French poets at a time of intense creativity for both.

A visually appealing, but theatrical to the point of “stagy,” insight into two hard-drinking, possibly mad poets. DiCaprio is brilliant. The film stock, or the lighting director, appears to have changed when they setting moves from France to England. An uneven but worthwhile movie. 

Other literary figures Leonardo portrayed in his early movie career include the titular character in the hip redo of Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996), directed by Baz Luhrmann; and a drug addict in one of his most challenging roles as Jim Carroll in The Basketball Diaries (1995). (Jim Carroll lived in Bolinas, CA near Mill Valley at one time) This was a role which the late River Phoenix originally expressed interest in (and perhaps , considering his overdose, would have been better suited). Later Leonardo was tragic Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby (2013).

Dead Poets Society

Dead Poets Society is a 1989 American drama film directed by Peter Weir, written by Tom Schulman, and starring Robin Williams. Set in 1959 at the fictional elite conservative Vermont boarding school Welton Academy, it tells the story of an English teacher who inspires his students through his teaching of poetry. John Keating, played by the late, great local Robin Williams, who had a home in Tiburon, CA. Keating famously says: “Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”

Dead Poets Society remains a beloved film despite its faults, despite its foreshadowing of Robin Williams’ suicide, and despite its controversial Oscar Best Screenplay win. It beat out four arguably superior-constructed films, Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors, Nora Ephron’s When Harry Met Sally…, and Steven Soderbergh’s sex, lies & videotape.

Despite critics’ complaints that Keating’s essential credo to his students, “Seize the Day,” the wimpy students could not even pinch the day when they absolutely needed to save their teacher. However, this moment of betrayal is what gives the movie its realistic juice. Besides writer Tom Schulman receiving an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, Williams received a Best Actor nomination for a measured inspirational performance.

John Keating is a nod to 19th-century Romantic poet John Keats, who has his own movie:  Jane Campion’s gorgeous film Bright Star (see below).

“O Captain! My Captain!” is an extended metaphor poem written in 1865 by Walt Whitman, about the death of American president Abraham Lincoln. After actor Robin Williams’ death in August 2014, fans of his work used social media to pay tribute to him with photo and video reenactments of the Dead Poets Society “O Captain! My Captain!” scene.

Literary notes: Includes a play within a play – A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Williams also previously played the lead in the poorly received TV movie version of Seize the Day (1986). (Robin’s early, rare dramatic role—after Garp.) Seize the Day is a novel by Saul Bellow(1956), his fourth, which was also published as Carpe Diem. Thankfully, the actual book was not printed in Latin.

Seemingly forgotten now, Bellow was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the Nobel Prize for Literature, and the National Medal of Arts. He is the only writer to win the National Book Award for Fiction three times. Much like Joyce’s masterpiece Ulysses, Seize the Day follows a Jewish protagonist, through the course of one day while simultaneously painting the larger portrait of the character’s life history. Called ‘the most Russian novella written in America’ by critic James Wood, one of Seize’s greatest successes is the enormous accumulation of ideas, social, spiritual and psychological commentary, and pure literary vitamins packed into this snack of a novel that rivals the depth of novels three to four times it’s length, not to mention the enrapturing prose that pulls this story along.

Bright Star

Bright Star is a 2009 British-French-Australian biographical fiction romantic drama film based on the last three years of the life of poet John Keats and his romantic relationship with Fanny Brawne. It stars Ben Whishaw as Keats and Abbie Cornish as Fanny. It was directed by Jane Campion, who wrote the screenplay inspired by Andrew Motion’s biography of Keats; Motion served as a script consultant on the film. The film was in the main competition at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival, and was first shown to the public on 15 May 2009. The film’s title is a reference to a sonnet by Keats titled “Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art”, which he wrote while he was with Brawne.

In addition to “Bright Star” several other poems are recited in the film, including “La Belle Dame sans Merci” and “Ode to a Nightingale”. Both Campion and Whishaw completed extensive research in preparation for the film. Many of the lines in the script are taken directly from Keats’ letters.

These reviews drew on various web sources: Wikipedia, Goodreads, IMDb, etc. with editing and additional commentary by J. Macon King.