January 28, 2016 by Reader's Connection
I read George Eliot’s Middlemarch in 1972. In that wonderful novel, Dorothea Brooke marries The Reverend Edward Casaubon, in the hope of sharing his intellectual life, but (SPOILER ALERT) Casaubon isn’t a sharing, caring fellow, and the marriage doesn’t go well. He is forever yakking about his ambitious literary project, a “key to all mythologies.” He dies, and Dorothea, looking through his notes, realizes that there was no key to mythologies. Casaubon hadn’t pulled anything together. (END OF ALERT.)
Around the time that I read Middlemarch, I saw Truman Capote on a talk show, talking about his great upcoming novel Answered Prayers. The title was from St. Teresa of Avila: “More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.”
“The novel, Truman maintained,” his editor later wrote,”would be a contemporary equivalent of Proust’s masterpiece, Remembrance of Things Past, and would examine the small world of the very rich . . . ”
You can guess what happened, can’t you? Having just finished Middlemarch, and watching Capote gush about his work-in-progress, I had a vision:
|I didn’t really know which syllable of Casaubon’s name was supposed to be accented, but pronouncing it this way fit right in with my instant theory: There was no key to all mythologies, and there was never going to be an Answered Prayers.|
Parts of the coming novel appeared in Esquire, and Capote was criticized for using his “friends” and acquaintances as characters in the book. Barbara Walters went after him on a talk show, saying that he might be a wonderful writer, but she wouldn’t want him as a friend. Capote snorted.
His response to all criticism was to rave on about how he was one of the century’s great authors; and I kept thinking: He doesn’t really have a book, here. Such intuitions almost never come to me–I don’t have the gift–so other viewers were probably able to make the same guess.
After Capote’s death in 1984, it was revealed that indeed the novel had never been finished. In 1987, three episodes were published as Answered Prayers: The Unfinished Novel. I finally got around to reading them, now, as part of a reading challenge, and I’m annoyed and saddened.
The three sections of the book are narrated by P. B. Jones, one of the least sympathetic narrators of all time. He smears contempt over all manner of characters–many of them real people, with their names unchanged–and the reader isn’t encouraged to give a rip about them, or about Jones.
(The library has different translations of different parts of Proust’s saga, under different titles, and providing you with a link is tricky. If you want to give it a try, enter proust swann’s way in the catalog. That will get you started.)
Reading Answered Prayers, I was reminded that playwright Harold Pinter once wrote a screenplay based on Proust’s epic work (it was never made into a movie), and that John Updike read the screenplay and commented:
. . . we can entertain a suspicion that the most rhapsodic and admiring first-person narrator in twentieth-century fiction has been turned into a surly stick.
Capote’s P. B. Jones is a surly stick from start to finish.
I love the stories of Leonard Michaels and the long narrative poems of Robinson Jeffers and Philip Roth’s novel Sabbath’s Theater. So fiction that is pessimistic about human nature, and our place in the universe, is good by me. I just don’t spend much time reading gossip columns.
Am I coming off as a surly stick, myself? Perhaps I should close by saying that if you haven’t read Capote’s In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences, and you want to be chilled while reading about human lives that mean something to someone, go for it. I think the book deserves all the attention it has received through the years.
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January 25, 2016 by Reader's Connection
We begin the month with a nonfiction account of the first airplanes. Later we read a novel about Charles Lindbergh’s wife–and then later another novel inspired by a real-life air disaster. Down on the ground, we have the battle of Gettysburg and the 1936 Olympics and the incarceration of African-Americans and medical care for the poor in Indianapolis. And time-travelling detectives. As always, we’re all over the map.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner McCullough exhibits his artist’s touch in re-creating the lives of the Wright brothers, their father, and their sister Katharine from historical documents. Mining their letters, notebooks, and diaries, McCullough shows the Wright brothers (snubbed by the British as mere bicycle mechanics) for the important technoscientists they were. With only high school educations, they personified self-reliance and ingenuity, making their own calculations and testing their mechanical skills as they experimented with gliders. Their solution to controlling the gliders’ flight was wing warping, enabling the gliders to bank like a bird’s wings. As early engine designers and mechanics, when they couldn’t find a light enough engine, they designed one that their mechanic built in six weeks. A few days after Langley’s $70,000 failure, the Wright brothers made several powered flights–for less than $1,000–to prove that humans could fly. When the US military rejected their services, the Wrights signed a contract with a French syndicate. From 1910 on, the brothers were much occupied by business and patent infringement lawsuits. Wilbur contracted typhoid and died in 1912, but Orville lived until 1948. The brothers were remarkable for their analytical minds, their skiIl as early pilots, and their brilliance as experimental scientists. This work is their great, eminently readable story. — Choice
The Glendale Library will host its Cooking Chats program on Monday, February 1st from 6:30 p.m. – 7:45 p.m. The theme this month will be “Superfoods.”
Please call 275-4412 to register for the program.
Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness will be discussed at the Brightwood Library on Tuesday, February 2nd at 2:00 pm.
Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that “[w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as “a system of social control” (“More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850″). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the “war on drugs.” She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates “who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits.” Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: “most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarceration”–but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that. — Publishers Weekly
The New Jim Crow is also available in a revised edition with a new foreward by Cornel West, as a downloadable e-book, and as an audiobook on CD.
Biographical novel of Anne Morrow and her troubled marriage to pioneering aviator Charles Lindbergh . . . At first, the glamorous couple’s life consists of flights all over the world: Anne becomes a pilot and navigator and Charles’ indispensable sidekick. However, when in 1932 the Lindberghs’ first child is kidnapped from his nursery, the resulting press furor almost destroys Anne. In addition to her grief over her lost firstborn, a grief that Lindy doesn’t appear to share, Anne suffers the downside of fame as public adulation turns to prurient sensationalism. The couple takes refuge abroad, where they enjoy the orderly routine and docile press of the Hitler regime, as long as Charles is willing to accept a Nazi medal and attend rallies. However, Kristallnacht proves too much even for Lindbergh’s anti-Semitism, and he and Anne return to the States as war threatens. As more children arrive, Anne is beginning to bridle at Charles’ domineering ways, however the aspiring author is too insecure to contradict him even as he offends her liberal friends and family by siding with right-wing groups who claim that the Jews are trying to force America into war . . . Although the portrayal of such a passive character could easily turn tepid, Benjamin maintains interest, even suspense, as readers wonder when Anne’s healthy rebellious instincts will burst the bonds of her dutiful deference. — Kirkus Reviews
The novel was the basis for the made-for-TV movie Gettysburg. In a New York Times article, Phil Leigh wrote that Michael Shaara handled the battle of Gettysburg “so brilliantly that he shifted the accepted historical interpretations and even changed the park’s landscape.”
Click here to read Leigh’s article.
Join them on the Fridays in February–the 5th, 12th, 19th and 26th–from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m.
If Henry James has never come alive for you, this is your chance to change that. And to munch on delicious refreshments while you listen.
The front cover’s tagline for Monroe’s new novel declares “Every family’s got something to hide.” Bingo! Kenneth and Vera Lomax co-exist in an uneasy marriage laced with cheating. Vera, although well north of 50, enjoys a stable of young lovers–several as young as 19. Kenneth is also no saint and has fathered a child with his secretary. Years pass, and Kenneth’s daughter, Sarah. moves into their San Francisco mansion. Conniving Vera sees Sarah as an opportunity to manipulate Kenneth’s wealth when the old guy kicks the bucket. Joining the quirky cast are cousins Bo and Cash arriving from Houston to feed off of Vera’s scheme. Things get more complicated when Sarah falls in love with Bo, but she also feels an itch to cheat. All this creeping builds to a situation best described as, “You can cheat but cannot hide.” At one point a frustrated character blurts, “The more dirt I have on her, the deeper the hole I can bury her in–and I’d like to throw a snake in behind her.” Hmmm, I’d hate to sit in on this crew’s Thanksgiving dinner. — Library Journal
On Thursday, February 11th at 1:30 p.m., he will appear at the Fountain Square Library to help lead the discussion of his book The Poor with Me: Reflections on a Career of Healthcare in the Inner City.
Nora Quillen spends her days contentedly helping with her husband’s veterinary practice and enjoying the beauty of the small town they call home. While helping her daughter prepare for college, though, she is brought face-to-face with, first, an old name and, then, an old love, remnants of a former life she has been hiding since one fateful night during the anti-Vietnam War movement almost 30 years ago. Unable to deny her past any longer, she is forced to look inside herself and make decisions that will inevitably alter the lives of everyone she loves. Shoup takes readers alternately to Indiana University during the 1960s antiwar movement and to northern Michigan at the beginning of the Iraq War, addressing the moral dilemmas of each while exploring Nora’s feelings of guilt and helplessness. Fans of Jeffrey Eugenides or Tatiana de Rosnay will appreciate her ability to capture the spirit of a time and place while asking serious social questions. However politically minded, though, this poignant and stirring novel is at its root a moving and passionate love story. — Booklist
An American Tune is also available as a downloadable e-book.
Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics will be discussed at the Pike Library on Monday, February 15th at 6:30 p.m.
If Jesse Owens is rightfully the most famous American athlete of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, repudiating Adolf Hitler’s notion of white supremacy by winning gold in four events, the gold-medal-winning effort by the eight-man rowing team from the University of Washington remains a remarkable story. It encompasses the convergence of transcendent British boatmaker George Pocock; the quiet yet deadly effective UW men’s varsity coach, Al Ulbrickson; and an unlikely gaggle of young rowers who would shine as freshmen, then grow up together, a rough-and-tumble bunch, writes Brown, not very worldly, but earnest and used to hard work. Brown takes enough time to profile the principals in this story while using the 1936 games and Hitler’s heavy financial and political investment in them to pull the narrative along. In doing so, he offers a vivid picture of the socioeconomic landscape of 1930s America (brutal), the relentlessly demanding effort required of an Olympic-level rower, the exquisite brainpower and materials that go into making a first-rate boat, and the wiles of a coach who somehow found a way to, first, beat archrival University of California, then conquer a national field of qualifiers, and finally, defeat the best rowing teams in the world. A book that informs as it inspires. — Booklist
In the winter of 1951-52, three separate airplanes crashed into Elizabeth, NJ, near Newark Airport. Blume was a young teen at the time, and she revisits the events of those months in her latest novel . . . The main character, 15-year-old Miri Ammerman, lives in Elizabeth with her single mother, Rusty. Miri’s Uncle Henry is a small-town journalist who makes a name for himself writing about the crashes for the local paper. Miri’s grandmother Irene keeps the family fed and befriends a man who was widowed in the first crash. These and other protagonists’ viewpoints help to build a picture of life in New Jersey in the early 1950s. Although there are many voices, Blume skillfully weaves their stories together so that it is always clear who each character is and what their connections are to one another. Miri experiences first love (with a non-Jewish boy) and begins to learn the truth about her father and his family. Her best friend Natalie, whose family and life Miri has always envied, begins a downward spiral into anorexia and believes that she is hearing messages from a dancer named Ruby who died on the first plane. This is a wonderful picture of a community living their lives while responding to not just one catastrophe but three. — School Library Journal
The first of four programs called “The Celebration of The Grapes of Wrath will be held at the Glendale Library on Monday, February 22nd at 6:00 p.m. The other four programs will occur in March at the Warren Library, the Franklin Road Library and Bookmamas Bookstore.
Share your thoughts about John Steinbeck’s classic, in a discussion led by an expert from the Indiana Writers Center. Attendees will receive a discounted ticket to the storytelling performance of “Steinbeck Out Loud” told by Carol Birch presented on March 19 at 7:30 p.m. at the Indiana History Center. This program is presented in partnership with Storytelling Arts of Indiana and the Indiana Writers Center.
Also at Glendale: Portal, the Indianapolis Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Discussion Group, will meet on Sunday, February 28th at 1:00 pm.
This month’s theme will be “Whodunit? High-tech or magical mysteries – time-traveling detectives, wizard police, and criminal computer programs!”
January 21, 2016 by Reader's Connection
From Selector Emily Chandler:
When a person becomes a reader, it’s a love affair that lasts for a lifetime. The accessibility to books are as vital to a reader as the air we breathe, and we are constantly in a voracious search for the next great read. In fact, the only thing we readers like more than reading is to talk about what we are reading and share our favorite books with fellow readers. Yet the road to becoming and staying a reader can be difficult sometimes. Yes, we encourage children at a young age to become lifelong readers through our early childhood literacy efforts. But what happens when they become adults and the distractions and responsibilities of everyday life discourage or even prevent time for reading? Moreover, what if the access to books is difficult or non-existent? This sentiment is reflected by the newly released The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald.
This critically acclaimed international bestseller follows Sara, a Swedish bookseller, as she visits the town of Broken Wheel, Iowa, to stay with Amy, a pen-pal and fellow bibliophile she has been corresponding with for several years. Dismayed to find Amy had passed away shortly before her arrival, she is nonetheless embraced by the eccentric townspeople with open arms and encouraged to stay for the duration of her visit.
Yet, when Sara decides to open up a bookstore using Amy’s books, she is met with a bemused skepticism by the nonliterary townsfolk. They conspire to make it a success and recognize the potential prosperity the shop would provide for the struggling town, but they struggle with understanding the personal benefits that easy access to books would provide for them. They slowly come around, however, as Sara introduces them to books that transport and entertain them. Whether it be a 60 year old recovering alcoholic man entranced by the antics of Bridget Jones, a woman getting hooked on GLBT literature she was initially reading to understand what she was going to fight against, or even a female bartender bolstered by the girl power embodied by Idgie Threadgoode, the townspeople grow to understand the value of reading by the end of the story.
Interspersed with humorous events, books, and even a bit of romance, this story also touches upon deeper socio-economic and discrimination injustices that plague our society today, both in rural and urban communities. Ultimately, this a must-read for readers, as well as a great reminder of what a wonderful thing it is to be a reader. And, if you would like to read other stories that revolve around reading, check out this list of titles, available for checkout from the library!
Fforde, Jasper The Eyre Affair
Fowler, Karen Joy The Jane Austen Book Club
Goldman, William The Princess Bride
Ruiz Zafon, Carlos The Shadow of the Wind
Setterfeld, Diane The Thirteenth Tale
Shaffter, Mary Ann The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Swyler, Erika The Book of Speculation
Wingate, Lisa The Story Keeper
Zusak, Markus The Book Thief
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January 19, 2016 by Reader's Connection
Anne Korkeakivi is the wife of a human-rights lawyer with the United Nations. She has lived in France and Finland, and as of 2012 lived in Switzerland. Perhaps it’s no surprise that her first novel’s heroine is Clare Moorhouse, the wife of a British diplomat in Paris.
Clare’s husband might be promoted to an full-fledged ambassadorship, so the dinner they’re hosting this evening has to go perfectly. An Unexpected Guest tells the story of Clare’s preparations for the dinner–dealing with maids and cooks, going out to buy flowers and asparagus and cheese–and this part of the story is more interesting that you might expect. The book would have been fun even if shopping had filled the whole novel.
Jean-Benoît at the flower shop, for instance, always wants to speak to Clare in English, even though his command of the language is scant:
Jean-Benoît’s insistence on speaking English with her was different from Amélie’s. Her housekeeper was desperate to learn the language to keep her job. Jean-Benoît was desperate to keep French out of a foreign mouth. However, Clare had learned that being condescended to in barely intelligible English, with labial contortions beyond imagining, was the price she had to pay for having a mother tongue that was also the international language of communication. All over the world, people had made English their own; it had spawned bastard children on six continents.
But more than dinner prep is going on in the novel. The ambassadorship that might come her husband’s way will take the couple to Ireland; and Clare has an Irish past of which no one is aware. Also, one of her sons has gotten into trouble at his London boarding school. And while she’s out shopping, Clare encounters a confused-seeming fellow who will become an infamous celebrity in the course of the day.
I enjoyed the way Clare thought her way through mounting complications. A couple of the story’s threads were more conveniently parallel than was necessary, but I had a good time.
And the book has another outstanding feature: I found it in a refrigerator–a refrigerator with a cat on top. As you’re walking into the Indianapolis Museum of Art, before you get to the gift shop or the café, you encounter Cool Books, Food for Thought. This is artist Tom Torluemke‘s contribution to The Public Collection, nine works of art which are also little libraries here and there in the city.
I had the honor of being on hand in 2008 when Torluemke’s mural The Book of Life was being mounted on the sixth floor of Central Library. That was exciting for me, and I thought Cool Books, Food for Thought should be my first Public Collection visit.
The refrigerator made me smile, and it provided nourishment–Korkeakivi’s novel moves smoothly while giving the reader a cagey look at diplomatic life after 9/11–so the first installment of my 2016 reading challenge has gone well. (The second installment is turning out to be less agreeable, but that’s another blog post.)
Before departing, I should say that the opening paragraph of this blog post might be misleading. I just now looked at Korkeakivi’s website, where she says, “Anyone thinking I am married to a diplomat and lead a life like Clare’s in An Unexpected Guest would be mistaken.”
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January 15, 2016 by Reader's Connection
Last year on Martin Luther King Day, Jr. Day, I linked to Danez Smith’s poem, “Dinosaurs in the Hood,” on my wildly personal theory that King would have liked it.
Here, I’ll link to it, again. (Bad Language Alert)
By contrast, W. Jason Miller actually did some research for his 2015 book Origins of the Dream: Hughes’s Poetry and King’s Rhetoric. He has documented King’s love for–and use of–the poetry of Langston Hughes.
So you don’t have to depend on your hare-brained blogger to get an idea of King’s feel for poetry. Here’s a review of the book:
In volume 2 of his The Life of Langston Hughes, Arnold Rampersad suggested that Martin Luther King Jr. was well aware of the poetry of Langston Hughes and sometimes recited Hughes’s poems in his sermons and speeches. Miller documents how extensively King utilized the poems and vocabulary of Hughes. Certainly King was inspired by the “American dream.” However, King often recited Hughes’s “Mother to Son” and commented that life for black people was no “crystal stair.” He borrowed from and paraphrased “Let America Be America Again”: “let it be the dream that the dreamers dreamed.” He borrowed from “What Happens to a Dream Deferred” when he alluded to shattered dreams and deferred dreams. He also borrowed from “I Dream a World.” This brilliant, thoroughly researched book shows how King often had to hide direct mention of Hughes even as he borrowed from his dream motif, because J. Edgar Hoover maintained that Hughes was a communist. Miller’s book will help correct the historical amnesia that has for too long blotted out recognition of the cultural continuity between Hughes and King. A masterpiece. — Choice
Have a safe, warm Martin’s day.
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