Wednesday, February 26, 2014

famous couples

The Genre Reading Group will meet again on Tuesday, March 25th at 6:30pm to discuss books about women and women's history in recognition of Women's History Month.  Read a book, watch a movie, listen to an audiobook, (your choice!) then come tell us about it.

Last night, we met to talk about famous couples, real and imagined.

Angelmonster by Veronica Bennett
( Veronica Bennett's lush reimagining of the life of Mary Shelley — on the eve of her authorship of the classic gothic novel Frankenstein — is a gripping story of love and obsession.  In the spring of 1814, poet Percy Shelley enters the life of young Mary Godwin like an angel of deliverance. Seduced by his radical and romantic ideas, she flees with him and her stepsister to Europe, where they forge a hardscrabble life while mingling with other free-spirited artists and poets. Frowned on by family and society, persecuted by gossip, and plagued by jealousy, Mary becomes haunted by freakish imaginings and hideous visions. As tragedy strikes, not once but time and again, Mary begins to realize that her dreams have become nightmares, and her angel . . . a monster. Now the time has finally come for the young woman who would become Mary Shelley to set her monster free.

Both of Us: My Life with Farrah by Ryan O'Neal
( Ryan O'Neal and Farrah Fawcett: One of the most storied love affairs in Hollywood history, their romance has captivated fans and media alike for more than three decades. Fans of each other from afar, Ryan and Farrah met through her husband, Lee Majors, and fell passionately in love. Soon, however, reality threatened their happiness and they struggled with some serious matters, including the disintegration of Farrah’s marriage; Ryan’s troubled relationship with his daughter, Tatum, and son, Griffin; mismatched career trajectories; and raising their young son, Redmond—all leading Ryan and Farrah to an inevitable split in 1997.

Ryan fought to create a life on his own but never stopped longing for Farrah. Older and wiser, he and Farrah found their way back to each other and were excited to start a new life together. But their bliss was cut short when Farrah was diagnosed with cancer and passed away just three years later. Ryan’s deep love for Farrah and his devotion to preserving her memory are evident in Both of Us.

GENERAL DISCUSSION: Many just remember Farrah Fawcett from her stint on Charlie's Angels, but she was a wonderful actress in her own right, starring in such gripping films as ExtremitiesThe Burning Bed, and Logan's Run.

The Commoner by John Burnham Schwartz
( In 1959, a young woman, Haruko, marries the Crown Prince of Japan. She is the first nonaristocratic woman to enter the mysterious, hermetic monarchy. Met with cruelty and suspicion by the Empress, Haruko is controlled at every turn, suffering a nervous breakdown after finally giving birth to a son. Thirty years later, now Empress herself, she plays a crucial role in persuading another young woman to accept the marriage proposal of her son, with tragic consequences. Based on extensive research, The Commoner is a stunning novel about a brutally rarified and controlled existence, and the complex relationship between two isolated women who are truly understood only by each other.

Princess Masako: Prisoner of the Chrysanthemum Throne by Ben Hills
( The tragic true story of Japan's Crown Princess.  It's the fantasy of many young women: marry a handsome prince, move into a luxurious palace, and live happily ever after. But that's not how it turned out for Masako Owada. Ben Hills's fascinating portrait of Princess Masako and the Chrysanthemum Throne draws on research in Tokyo and rural Japan, at Oxford and Harvard, and from more than sixty interviews with Japanese, American, British, and Australian sources-many of whom have never spoken publicly before-shedding light on the royal family's darkest secrets, secrets that can never be openly discussed in Japan because of the reverence in which the emperor and his family are held. But most of all, this is a story about a love affair that went tragically wrong.  The paperback edition will contain a new afterword by the author, discussing the impact this book had in Japan, where it was banned.

Happy Trails: Our Life Story by Roy Rogers and Dale Evans with Jane and Michael Stern
( The warmhearted, intimate story of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. From Roy's success with the Sons of the Pioneers to the couple's meeting, marriage, and rise to superstardom, Happy Trails decribes Roy's and Dale's professional trials and triumphs, and tells movingly of their personal tragedies, including the deaths of three of their children.

Cowboy Princess: Life with My Parents Roy Rogers and Dale Evans by Cheryl Rogers-Barnett
( He was the King of the Cowboys. She was the Queen of the West. They were the idols of boys and girls everywhere who thrilled to their exploits in the movies or on TV and grew up humming their theme song, "Happy Trails." They were the author's idols as well. But they were also her parents.

Cheryl Rogers-Barnett practically grew up on the Republic Studios lot where her parents made their great movies. She remembers, as a little girl, rehearsals with the original Sons of the Pioneers. She was aware of Roy and Dale as celebrities-but also saw them as loving parents to a large and very diverse family. She shared their joy when they received honors and fame, and wept with them through the tragic loss of three siblings. Through it all, her parents remained in private what all of their fans wanted them to be - honest, straightforward, loving people who lived lives of generosity, adventure, and humor-especially humor.

Cowboy Princess: Life with My Parents, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans tells the story of Cheryl's beloved parents from a point of view that is uniquely hers. It's filled with hilarious and touching stories of their relationship with each other and with their children and includes countless behind-the-scenes stories of Roy and Dale's movies, television appearances, and music. Leavening the warm and illuminating stories and memories are dozens of rare photographs-family snapshots, studio portraits, behind-the-scenes stills-most of which have never been published in a book and many of which have never been published anywhere.

For fans of the King of the Cowboys and the Queen of the West-and for anyone interested in the great performers of yesteryear-this book provides an up close and personal introduction to Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, their family, and the many colorful characters who rode beside them on those happy, happy trails.

The Genius and the Goddess: Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe by Jeffrey Meyers
( The 1956 wedding of Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller surprised the world. The Genius and the Goddess presents an intimate portrait of the prelude to and ultimate tragedy of their short marriage. Distinguished biographer Jeffrey Meyers skillfully explores why they married, what sustained them for five years, and what ultimately destroyed their marriage and her life.

The greatest American playwright of the twentieth century and the most popular American actress both complemented and wounded one another. Marilyn craved attention and success but became dependent on drugs, alcohol, and sexual adventures. Miller experienced creative agony with her.  Their marriage coincided with the creative peak of her career, yet private and public conflict caused both of them great anguish.

Meyers has crafted a richly nuanced dual biography based on his quarter-century friendship with Miller, interviews with major players of stage and screen during the postwar Hollywood era, and extensive archival research. He describes their secret courtship. He also reveals new information about the effect of the HUAC anti-Communist witch-hunts on Miller and his friendship with Elia Kazan. The fascinating cast of characters includes Marilyn's co-stars Sir Laurence Olivier, Yves Montand, Montgomery Clift, and Clark Gable; her leading directors John Huston, Billy Wilder, and George Cukor; and her literary friends Dame Edith Sitwell, Isak Dinesen, Saul Bellow, and Vladimir Nabokov.

Meyers offers the most in-depth account of the making and meaning of The Misfits. Written by Miller for Monroe, this now-classic film was a personal disaster. But Marilyn remained Miller's tragic muse and her character, exalted and tormented, lived on for the next forty years in his work.

GENERAL DISCUSSION: As our topic this month was in recognition of Valentine's Day, we did have a short discussion on love and the nature of love.  Topically, we talked about it in relation to technology, but we certainly weren't the first.  Two wonderful (awful?) 80's films that explore the issue are:

Electric Dreams (1984)
( Lonely architect Miles (Von Dohlen) purchases a fancy new "Pine cone" personal computer and clumsily spills champagne on it which, of course, imbues the computer with human (or more than human) intelligence, prodigious musical talent and the voice of Bud Court. The computer (now called Edgar) proceeds to fall in love with Miles' upstairs neighbour, beautiful cellist Madeline (Madsen) with whom it engages in anonymous musical duets thanks to the talents of iconic 80's film composer Giorgio Moroder. Madeline of course assumes the music comes from the obviously shy Miles and a romance ensues. A romance which stokes the fires of jealousy on the part of Edgar. By way of revenge, Edgar cancels Miles' credit cards and wreaks various other havoc on his on-line accessible identity. Meanwhile Madeline cannot understand why Miles won't play music with her when he obviously has such talent. Nonetheless, human love prevails and Edgar nobly commits suicide when he realises that he will never, can never, win the heart of his human love.The film contains several neo-classical musical numbers, various examples of state-of-the-art 80's computer graphics and 80's sexology icon Dr. Ruth in a cameo.

Cherry 2000 (1987)
( Cherry 2000 is the heartwarming tale of Sam Treadwell (David Andrews), who will stop at nothing to find another model of his broken companion android, Cherry. Griffith plays E. Johnson, the tough-as-nails tracker who helps him track her down. As deliriously chowderheaded as the premise of the movie sounds, it's actually not half bad and immensely fun to watch. The surprisingly mature plot (nobody gets naked!) involves Treadwell's gradual discovery that there's more to a good woman than a beautiful body and perfect subservience. Don't worry, there are plenty of explosions to keep you from getting bored. Griffith absolutely owns the movie--she looks like a complete badass handling surface-to-air missiles, though of course she still sounds like she picked up diction tips from early Shirley Temple movies.

A recent film that explores this idea for smartphone users is Her, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams.
( Joaquin Phoenix stars in Spike Jonze's soulful sci-fi drama about a lonely writer who falls in love with his computer's highly advanced operating system. Theodore Twombly (Phoenix) has built his career on expressing the emotions that others cannot. His job is to pen heartfelt, deeply personal letters to complete strangers based on details provided by the clients of the company he works for, and he has a knack for finding just the right words for every occasion. Meanwhile, reluctant to sign the papers that will finalize his divorce to his childhood sweetheart, depressed Theodore has slowly withdrawn from his supportive social circle, which includes his longtime friend Amy (Amy Adams), herself floundering in a failed marriage. When Theodore purchases a new state-of-the-art computer operating system with the ability to learn and grow with the user, he sits down at his desk and prepares to get his life in order. Adopting the name Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), the perceptive software slowly begins to bring Theodore out of his shell by encouraging him to start dating again, and joining him everywhere he goes. Very quickly, their relationship turns intimate, with Theodore teaching Samantha what it means to feel human and Samantha giving him the strength to walk away from his failed marriage. Things soon get complicated, however, when Samantha's rapidly evolving knowledge base begins to alter the very core of their relationship.

This same premise showed up in an episode of The Big Bang Theory too.  Raj, unable to speak to women face to face, is delighted because he has no trouble talking to Siri, the voice of his new iPhone.

 Who is YOUR favorite couple, real or imagined?

Monday, February 10, 2014

the Civil Rights movement in America

While January's Snowpocalypse canceled our Genre Reading Group meeting last month, the readers are still eager to share the great material they read, watched, and listened to for the meeting so we had an impromptu email meeting.  Here's a list, with reader descriptions included where I received them!

Alabama Civil Rights Trail: An Illustrated Guide to the Cradle of Freedom by Frye Gaillard (2010)

(Reader's description) The book tells you about areas throughout the state that have something historic about the civil right.  There are pictures and details on how to get to the sites.  For example: Lowndes County has a Blank Panther symbol for their freedom organization.  Bobby Seale saw it and used it for his Blank Panther group.

( No other state has embraced and preserved its civil rights history more thoroughly than Alabama. Nor is there a place where that history is richer. Alabama’s Civil Rights Trail tells of Alabama’s great civil rights events, as well as its lesser-known moments, in a compact and accessible narrative, paired with a practical guide to Alabama’s preserved civil rights sites and monuments.

In his history of Alabama’s civil rights movement, Cradle of Freedom (University of Alabama Press, 2004), Frye Gaillard contends that Alabama played the lead role in a historic movement that made all citizens of the nation, black and white, more free. This book, geared toward the casual traveler and the serious student alike, showcases in a vividly illustrated and compelling manner, valuable and rich details. It provides a user-friendly, graphic tool for the growing number of travelers, students, and civil rights pilgrims who visit the state annually.

The story of the civil rights movement in Alabama is told city by city, region by region, and town by town, with entries on Montgomery, Birmingham, Selma, Tuscaloosa, Tuskegee, and Mobile, as well as chapters on the Black Belt and the Alabama hill country. Smaller but important locales such as Greensboro, Monroeville, and Scottsboro are included, as are more obscure sites like Hale County’s Safe House Black History Museum and the birthplace of the Black Panther Party in Lowndes County.

Birmingham Sunday - Larry Dane Brimner (2010)

(Reader description) Story of Birmingham at the time of the bombing.  Lots of pictures.

( Racial bombings were so frequent in Birmingham that it became known as "Bombingham." Until September 15, 1963, these attacks had been threatening but not deadly. On that Sunday morning, however, a blast in the 16th Street Baptist Church ripped through the exterior wall and claimed the lives of four girls. The church was the ideal target for segregationists, as it was the rallying place for Birmingham's African American community, Martin Luther King, Jr., using it as his "headquarters" when he was in town to further the cause of desegregation and equal rights. Rather than triggering paralyzing fear, the bombing was the definitive act that guaranteed passage of the landmark 1964 civil rights legislation. Birmingham Sunday, a Jane Addams Children's Honor Book, NCTE Orbis Pictus Honor Book, and Kirkus Reviews Best Children's Book of the Year, centers on this fateful day and places it in historical context.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963 - Christopher Paul Curtis (1995)

(Reader description) It was a fun book about a family in Detroit with lots of humor.  They go back home to the mother's house to leave their eldest with the grandmother in Birmingham.  The bombing happens while they are there.  The bombing was covered with a few mentions, but it mainly was a story of a close-knit family.

(  A wonderful middle-grade (3rd-6th grade) novel narrated by Kenny, 9, about his middle-class black family, the Weird Watsons of Flint, Michigan. When Kenny's 13-year-old brother, Byron, gets to be too much trouble, they head South to Birmingham to visit Grandma, the one person who can shape him up. And they happen to be in Birmingham when Grandma's church is blown up.

Safe from the Neighbors by Steve Yarbrough (adult fiction)

( In a small town in the Mississippi Delta, Luke May teaches local history to students too young to remember the turmoil of the civil rights era. Luke himself was just a child in 1962 when James Meredith’s enrollment at Ole Miss provoked a bloody new battle in the old Civil War. But when a long-lost friend suddenly returns to town, bringing with her a reminder of the act of searing violence that ended her childhood, Luke begins to realize that his connection to the past runs deeper than he ever could have imagined. An intricate novel of family secrets, extramarital affairs, and political upheaval, Safe from the Neighbors is a magnificent achievement.

A Thousand Never Evers by Shana Burg (juvenile fiction)

(  In Kuckachoo, Mississippi, 1963, Addie Ann Pickett worships her brother Elias and follows in his footsteps by attending the black junior high school. But when her careless act leads to her brother’s disappearance and possible murder, Addie Ann, Mama, and Uncle Bump struggle with not knowing if he’s dead or alive. Then a good deed meant to unite Kuckachoo sets off a chain of explosive events. Addie Ann knows Old Man Adams left his land to the white and black people to plant a garden and reap its bounty together, but the mayor denies it. On garden picking day, Addie Ann’s family is sorely tested. Through tragedy, she finds the voice to lead a civil rights march all her own, and maybe change the future for her people.

Birmingham, 1963 by Carole Boston Weatherford (juvenile nonfiction)

(  A poetic tribute to the victims of the racially motivated church bombing that served as a seminal event in the struggle for civil rights. In 1963, the eyes of the world were on Birmingham, Alabama, a flashpoint for the civil rights movement. Birmingham was one of the most segregated cities in the United States. Civil rights demonstrators were met with police dogs and water cannons. On Sunday, September 15, 1963, members of the Ku Klux Klan planted sticks of dynamite at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, which served as a meeting place for civil rights organizers. The explosion killed four little girls. Their murders shocked the nation and turned the tide in the struggle for equality. A Jane Addams Children's Honor Book, here is a book that captures the heartbreak of that day, as seen through the eyes of a fictional witness. Archival photographs with poignant text written in free verse offer a powerful tribute to the young victims.

Four Spirits by Sena Jeter Naslund

(Reader description)  Anyone born and raised in Birmingham like I was will love this book. There is so much Birmingham history. There were times when I was reading that I just had to stop and think about what I was doing at that time. I was just a child but can still remember going downtown with my Mom and sitting at one of the big department store counters to have lunch. Being so young, I was totally oblivious to the fact that only whites were allowed or that there were separate bathrooms. I also have a very close friend whose father is a retired Birmingham police officer. I have listened to him tell stories about his time on the force, and after reading this book, it made me see him in a little different light, and I am sorry to say that it wasn't a very good light. I loved this book and would recommend it to anyone who wants to know what it truly felt like to live in the city of Birmingham during the Civil Rights Movement.

(  Weaving together the lives of blacks and whites, racists and civil rights advocates, and the events of peaceful protest and violent repression, Sena Jeter Naslund creates a tapestry of American social transformation at once intimate and epic.

In Birmingham, Alabama, twenty-year-old Stella Silver, an idealistic white college student, is sent reeling off her measured path by events of 1963. Combining political activism with single parenting and night-school teaching, African American Christine Taylor discovers she must heal her own bruised heart to actualize meaningful social change. Inspired by the courage and commitment of the civil rights movement, the child Edmund Powers embodies hope for future change. In this novel of maturation and growth, Naslund makes vital the intersection of spiritual, political, and moral forces that have redefined America.

Martin Luther King speech, "Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam"

(Watcher description)  I saw this video, edited, on The Young Turks website a couple of weeks ago.)  YouTube Video, Excerpts of a Sermon at the Ebenezer Baptist Church on April 30, 1967.

Entire speech:

Goin's Someplace Special by Patricia McKissack (children's picture book)

( There's a place in this 1950s southern town where all are welcome, no matter what their skin color...and 'Tricia Ann knows exactly how to get there. To her, it's someplace special and she's bursting to go by herself.

When her grandmother sees that she's ready to take such a big step, 'Tricia Ann hurries to catch the bus heading downtown. But unlike the white passengers, she must sit in the back behind the Jim Crow sign and wonder why life's so unfair.

Still, for each hurtful sign seen and painful comment heard, there's a friend around the corner reminding 'Tricia Ann that she's not alone. And even her grandmother's words -- "You are somebody, a human being -- no better, no worse than anybody else in this world" -- echo in her head, lifting her spirits and pushing her forward.

Patricia C. McKissack's poignant story of growing up in the segregated South and Jerry Pinkney's rich, detailed watercolors lead readers to the doorway of freedom.

The Silence of Our Friends by Mark Long and Jim Demonakos, illustrated by Nate Powell

(Reader description)  The title comes from the MLK, Jr. quote, "In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."  For me, this graphic novel could easily stand along with To Kill a Mockingbird as an exploration and exposition of its time period.  The art work is spare, adding much to the impact of the story.

(  As the civil rights struggle heats up in Texas, two families—one white, one black—find common ground.  This semi-autobiographical tale is set in 1967 Texas, against the backdrop of the fight for civil rights. A white family from a notoriously racist neighborhood in the suburbs and a black family from its poorest ward cross Houston’s color line, overcoming humiliation, degradation, and violence to win the freedom of five black college students unjustly charged with the murder of a policeman.

The Silence of Our Friends follows events through the point of view of young Mark Long, whose father is a reporter covering the story. Semi-fictionalized, this story has its roots solidly in very real events. With art from the brilliant Nate Powell (Swallow Me Whole) bringing the tale to heart-wrenching life, The Silence of Our Friends is a new and important entry in the body of civil rights literature.

The Summer We Got Saved by Pat Cunningham DeVoto

( Wallace is poised to win the Alabama gubernatorial race. The KKK is going strong. And integration seems like an impossible dream. This same summer, Tab and Tina, Maudie, and Charles's lives will be saved and the South will be transformed. Growing up down the road from the founding place of the KKK, Tab and Tina have always been sheltered. But when their progressive aunt, Eugenia, comes for her yearly visit, Tab and Tina's lives will never be the same. Taken from their conservative town in Alabama to the Highlander Folk School, a place where blacks and whites live together while working for integration, Tab and Tina will see just how similar people really are. A graduate of the Highlander school, Maudie has always known that she wanted to be involved in voter registration and literacy training. When she takes a job in a congregation determined to stonewall her, she has her work cut out for her. But she's determined to change their minds, especially Jessie who isn't her student by choice but who ends up teaching her more than she could ever have dreamed. Charles, Tab and Tina's father, has often supported the safe candidate. With a family to support and property to manage, he has a lot at stake. But when a childhood friend comes to him with passionate support for a dark horse candidate, Charles is intrigued. Can one man really change the world?

Our Year of Themes will continue on Tuesday, February 25th at 6:30pm with a discussion of famous couples, real or imagined!