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Along for the Ride
From music to food, basketball to books, Amy shares her cultural connections.
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From music to food, basketball to books, Amy shares her cultural connections.

amy wilensky

Amy dusts off Juice Newton and The Wizard of Oz series, tells her favorite Larry Bird story, and gives her picks for best in print, movies, TV, music. She also reveals a bizarre family tradition and sheds light on other cultural miscellany.

In Print

A book you're reading this month
The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell. Absolutely fascinating-makes me think about the world in a different way.

3 favorite books
For the ideas and not so much the writing: a good collection of Emerson, in particular "Self-Reliance" and "Experience." The Fountainhead. For personal essays, which I love: The Tummy Trilogy by Calvin Trillin and Joan Didion's The White Album. Common Ground for nonfiction. It's a mind-blowing accomplishment. I was fortunate enough to have J. Anthony Lucas for a teacher at Columbia before he committed suicide. I think about him a lot. For fiction. Off the top of my head: Angle of Repose, The Chosen, American Pastoral, The Hours, Mating, Body & Soul, Flaubert's Parrot. The Golden Notebook. A Prayer for Owen Meaney. I know I'll think of twenty more once I send this. Oh well.

The 3 writers, living or dead, you'd want to have a drink with
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ayn Rand, Mark Twain, Calvin Trillin, James Baldwin. That's off the top of my head-could come up with twenty more in a heartbeat. Have actually met some writers whose work I greatly admire, and I think overall I'll take the work. These five, however, I think would be good in person as well as on the page. Oh, and George Orwell-I love his essay on Ghandi. He'd be very sharp. Dorothy Parker and Grace Paley-two women who lived life on their own terms in sexist times and didn't take any shit from anybody. We could introduce them to Zora Neal Hurston-that would be quite an event. Let's move them up to the top of the list. Oh, I've just thought of more. Mary McCarthy, who isn't one of my favorite writers (she's in the category with Ayn Rand-I'm mostly fascinated by how they thought and lived) but an amazing person. Laurie Colwin and M.F.K. Fisher (with Trillin) to talk about food. Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath-again, not my favorite writers but women I'd love to talk to.

The one standby children's book you give to the children you know
I haven't given many children books-none of my friends have children. But there are so many I will give my friends' children and my own-I love children's books-but maybe most of all the Wizard of Oz series, the whole thing. Most people don't know there are about 40 books. Actually, this is maybe more something I'd like to have myself. Everyone should read The Secret Garden, Charlotte's Web, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Hobbit, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory etc. I have a soft spot for From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. My favorite book when I was a kid is out of print now-it was called No Flying in the House, and it said if you could kiss your elbow you could fly. I used to try all the time. The Great Brain series is great, as is the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series. I also like old-fashioned girly series books, such as the Anne of Green Gables series, The Five Little Peppers series, the All of a Kind Family books, the Louisa May Alcott books, the Betsy-Tacy books. I guess I should stop now.

Name of the book you want to write but know you never will
I hope I'll write all the books I want to write. OK. How about: My Life at the Net: Autobiography of the First Woman in the NBA.

Anything you've ever read that changed your mind drastically
Emerson has had a tremendous influence on me. I used to read all my dad's books on the Kennedys and World War II-my political views were shaped at a very early age by people like Pierre Salinger and Ted Sorenson. The book I'm reading now (The Tipping Point) is making me rethink some preconceived ideas.

Poem you could recite from memory if you had to - to save your life
Emily Dickinson: The pedigree of honey/Does not concern the bee/A clover anytime to him/Is aristocracy. May be the only poem I know fully by heart. But I guess it's a good one in that it expresses a firmly held stance of mine so succinctly.

Favorite expression or literary analogy you (over)use
Jesus Christ! Or, from my mother and grandfather: Jesus M. Christ. Also, You've got to be kidding me. Literary analogy? Hmm. I often quote Emerson: A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

The most underrated piece of writing you've come across
I think Laurie Colwin is an underrated novelist. No one ever reads Zora Neal Hurston's essays, which are remarkable feminist documents for any time.

Magazine, journal, or zine we'd be most likely to find if we searched your bag
The New Yorker, Gourmet. Maybe fashion mags too, and In Style, but I try to read them in secret.


A favorite song from your adolescence
The Rolling Stones "Ruby Tuesday." I used to listen to it over and over.

A piece of music you hate to admit you like
Broadway musical stuff: My Fair Lady, Annie Get Your Gun; also bad fifties music, such as the song that goes, "Sugar, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, Oh, honey, honey." And the Carpenters "I'm on the top of the world·"

A song that makes you dance
Anything fast with a good beat. The Twist.

The kind of music you listen to when doing housework
Loud, fast, catchy, so I can sing along: Buddy Holly sometimes. Blondie.

The last CD you bought
The Beatles #1.

The album on your shelf with the most worn grooves (metaphorically-speaking for CDs)
Rolling Stones.

Your favorite venue for live music
Haven't seen much-I wish I'd seen the Stones in the old Boston Garden. Saw Peter, Paul and Mary in a little theater in the round in Rhode Island, which my friends find hilarious. I've seen them a bunch, as well as the Beach Boys-Sloop John B is my favorite Beach Boys song, although I like most of their stuff. We used to listen to the 8-tracks in my mom's MG all the time when I was a kid.

3 tunes you'd include in a soundtrack of your life
Billy Joel's "Only the Good Die Young." (and maybe "My Life.") Green Day's "I Had the Time of My Life." And my wedding song, "Can I Have this Dance, for the Rest of My Life·." (Speaks to the tiny sentimental bone in my body.)

Music you listen to in the car
Country stations or oldies stations. Beach Boys. Kid Rock.

Music you woo with
Juice Newton-"Angel of the Morning."

A song you wish you'd written
"American Pie." I know it's annoying, but still. Elton John and Kiki Dee "Don't Go Breakin' My Heart." Rolling Stones "Satisfaction."

The instrument you studied as a child
Cello, piano, recorder for a few years too. Is that really an instrument anymore?

A tune you like to wallow in
Jim Croce "Lover's Cross." Rolling Stones "Beast of Burden." Kenny Rogers "The Gambler." Garth Brooks "I Got Friends in Low Places."

Movies, Theater, TV

The last movie or play you loved
I really liked Traffic and You Can Count on Me.

Your all-time favorite scene
Too many to say.

The best movie to see on a date
I don't like romantic comedies. A good action movie. Die Hard-the trilogy. Although the third one's pretty bad.

Director to watch
I thought Traffic was well directed. And American Beauty.

Is there a show you can't miss
I love the X-Files and I'm now addicted to the Sopranos.

Are there TV shows you grew up watching
We weren't allowed to watch much TV, but when I did I guess the same stuff everyone my age watched: Brady Bunch, Scooby Doo, Family Ties, Facts of Life, the one with Arnold-Different Strokes. My favorite was Little House on the Prairie on Monday nights. When I was older I liked the Loveboat and Fantasy Island, which I remember as being terrifying.


Team you follow rabidly
Boston Celtics.

Favorite on-field or on-court moment
I was at the game when Larry Bird stole the inbound pass with seconds on the clock and flipped the ball to DJ, who hit the lay-up to win the game. Also, the Dominique Wilkins/Larry Bird shootout quarter, which I saw live too. Red Auerbach night and Larry Bird night were pretty emotional.

Back Home

The thing that's changed the most in the place you grew up
Not much, surprisingly. There's a Starbucks now, and a Blockbuster, and a few Japanese restaurants, but it feels pretty much the same to me. Most of my family still lives there, which helps.

The career your parents wished you'd pursue - that you didn't
They knew from pretty early on I was going to be a writer-I never wanted to be anything else, except for a few months when I was three and wanted to be an archeologist who specialized in dinosaurs. My dad would have liked to have a professional athlete in the family, but I don't think the WNBA would have been as much as thrill for him as the NBA. My mom would have liked to have a teacher, I guess, but I do some of that now and will do more. Maybe they both secretly wish I was a computer guru with an Internet start-up-that's what I want my kids to be. Just kidding.

An unusual family tradition
Once when I came home from college my dad hung my favorite kind of potato chips from the tree branches around the driveway. My sister and I sing the Celtics Pride song at emotional occasions.

The high school clique you most wanted to be in (or most hated)
I didn't go to a cliquey high school. The kids who played chess and Dungeons and Dragons at recess were called "Corner People," which is pretty awful, now that I think about it. But I guess I wouldn't have wanted to be one of them.

What's the neighborhood like you live in now
Upper West Side? Racially diverse, but as is true these days of most of Manhattan, pretty white-collar, highly educated, a lot of families with young children, tons of dogs. Less youth-oriented and trendy than downtown.

What are the pressing cultural issues in your neighborhood
I really like seeing the different groups in my neighborhood bump right up against each other. That's why I live in New York. There are some big public schools in my neighborhood, and when school gets out you have all these teenagers in big parkas gathered in clusters on the street corners, with women in fur coats, nannies with strollers and work-at-homes like myself weaving in and out. There's one sidewalk; everyone walks on it.


Fill in the blank. There ought to be a law against
Snobbery. Prejudice. Complacency. Judging people on external appearances. People who mistreat children or animals. Instant messaging. Migraine headaches. Dying young.

Describe your favorite teacher
I had a lot of good teachers. The best were lively, funny, warm, didn't play favorites and didn't talk down to kids. My mom was never my classroom teacher, but I think she was the best teacher I ever had. She was certainly the best teacher thousands of kids (so far) have had.

Name your pet peeve
Phoniness. In art, in other people. It turns me off instantly. People who say they're bored.

If you were to make a meal of your comfort foods, what would be on the menu
Fried chicken, French fries, Diet Coke, pasta carbonara, Caesar salad, fritos, coffee milkshakes, chicken pot pie, bacon.

What's the funniest epitaph you can dream up for yourself
Kind of a gruesome question, no? How about: Here lies Amy S. Wilensky. She lived hard for 150 years and took nothing for granted. Not funny, I guess, but I like it.

What interest of yours would most surprise the people who don't know you well
Depends on who you asked. Some people would be surprised that I like to sew and embroider and am good at it. Others would be surprised that I am a sure bet to win most NCAA tournament office pools, that I usually cut my own hair, talk baby talk to animals, have a decent outside shot if I'm not being defended. Recently I've been really into canning, but this would only surprise people who really don't know me well at all.

Any good stories about pets you have (had)
How much time do you have? I have the best pets in the world. But I always have the best pets. Our dog Grapes, who was my age exactly and died when I was fourteen, was a hero of a dog, and our cat, Midnight, who lived to be 21, was perhaps the most remarkable cat to ever prowl the planet. She was family-she could open and shut doors, play hide and seek, and was a great listener. If you think I sound crazy, you should ask my dad about her. Our cat now, Rory, attacks the television set when animals come on, especially other cats, and bites people who aren't us-she's a one-family cat. Johnson, the dog, sleeps in our bed, under the covers, with his head on the pillow, and tries to herd us out of the house-including the cat-during thunderstorms. What more can I say?

Make your own headlines for recent news
Election 2000 a total travesty. Democrats rise and deport entire Bush family, as well as several members of the so-called Supreme Court.

In your ideal world, what are the headlines
How about: Amy Wilensky first to win National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize and Academy Award for best screenplay in one year!
Also, Fried Food Discovered to Be Cure for Cancer, Among Countless Other Amazing Health Benefits!
And finally, Boston Celtics Dynasty Lives Again-Championship Banners Now Too Plentiful to Hang from Rafters!

Websites you use