Don’t-Miss List: ‘The Abolitionists,’ Nicola Benedetti and More

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The Abolitionists, American Experience, PBS 
Premiering Jan. 8
Anyone left with the bitter aftertaste of all the fiscal cliff bickering will appreciate this journey back to a time when the heroic actions of ordinary individuals — people from thoroughly different walks of life, North and South, men and women, blacks and whites — forever changed the fate of our nation. Intertwining the stories of Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Angelina Grimké, Harriet Beecher Stowe and John Brown, The Abolitionists brings to life one of the most inspiring chapters in American history.
Another Insane Devotion: On the Love of Cats and Persons,
Peter Trachtenberg
In the fall of 2008, Peter Trachtenberg set off on an obsessive odyssey to find his disappeared pet. But it doesn't take a cat person to relate to the pilgrimage at the heart of this memoir. The loss of Biscuit is a metaphor for everything about love and life that haunts and evades the author. As The New York Times writes: "He seems to fear moving through the world unseen, to fret about living and dying without witness." Or, as Trachtenberg puts it, “The facts of my life seem less certain to me when I am alone.”
The Guilt Trip
Rest assured, Seth Rogen leaves behind his gross-out tendencies in this Jewish mom-com that pairs him with Barbara Streisand as a frustrated son and overbearing mother on a cross-country journey. Critics contend the film doesn't break new ground, but familiarity is part of its old-fashioned charm — "cinematic comfort food," as one reviewer noted. Anyone who's ever survived a dysfunctional family road trip with sense of humor intact will relate to this refreshing respite from CGI spectacles and Tarantino blood baths.
The Silver Violin, Nicola Benedetti
Just when it seems every young artist is better known for her look (rainbow hair extensions, anyone?) than her music, along comes Nicola Benedetti and her violin. With The Silver Violin, the 25-year-old prodigy offers a classical record that’s lush, romantic and utterly accessible. It features gripping and gorgeous violin music written for Hollywood soundtracks, like the unforgettable theme from Schindler's List.
See the Northern Lights in Juneau, Alaska
Our media-saturated culture tends to binge on natural disasters and entirely bypass natural wonders. But underhyped doesn't mean underwhelming. Now is the ideal time to take in nature's greatest light show: the Northern Lights, vivid curtains of red, green, blue and violet light in the upper atmosphere caused by magnetic disturbances from the sun colliding with atoms there. Visitors usually are forced to trek farther north, but now, with Aurora Borealis at the peak of an 11-year cycle, Juneau is a prime viewing location — and the northern lights are more dramatic than ever.

Pamela Miller is a freelance writer who lives in Los Angeles.

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