Things to Do If You’re Stuck at Home

Many people are stuck at home during this pandemic.  It may be a new and unsettling situation since we all live at a frenzied pace most of the time.  So what can you do for yourself, and what can you do to keep your children or grandchildren busy during this time?  I’ve come across some ideas.

The most interesting is that Audible is making certain audiobooks available free to children as long as the schools are closed.  That’s right, you and your kids can listen free to books for children who are only a few years old up through the teen years.  Categories include “Little Listeners,” “Elementary,” “Tween,” “Teen,” “Literary Classics,” and “Folk & Fairy Tales for All,” as well as books in French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Japanese.  The books they’ve chosen are not obscure books that they can’t sell, they’re books that will enrich the lives of the children (or adults) who hear them.  Books include Timeless Tales of Beatrix Potter, The Wheels on the Bus (21 songs for children), Anne of Green Gables, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, The Reluctant Dragon, White Fang, The Mystery of Alice, Brave New World, Roots, Pride & Prejudice, and Romeo and Juliet.  These are only a few of the hundreds of books that are available.  You don’t have to be an Audible member, you don’t have to sign in, you just go to the Audible link above, click, choose a book, and listen.

I am proud to be a member of the Audible community.  What they are doing shows that they truly care about enriching the lives of others.  I salute them, and highly encourage you to give these books a try.  And if you haven’t listened to audio books before, you might be surprised at how much you enjoy them.

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Architecture Digest lists (with links) 10 of the world’s leading museums that you can explore online.  They include the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, The Palace of Versailles in France, The Uffizi Gallery in Florence, and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

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 USA Today has a list of 100 things you can do while you’re stuck inside.  The list is wide-ranging.  You might read one of those huge books (like Les Misérables) that you’ve been meaning to read for many, many years, watch films that won the Oscar for Best Picture, spend some time coloring in an adult coloring book, video chat with your far-away friends, or simply “text all your exes just in case you have one more thing you wanted to get off your chest.”  You might even make a list of all the things you want to do when this is finally over.

How about listening to Music on the Sunny Side on WBRH (90.3 FM in the Baton Rouge area or wbrh.org on the internet) every Sunday morning from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Central Time? Who knows, you might even hear the mellifluous voice of Gerald Lively occasionally.

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Another superb resource is The Great Courses.  I’ve listened (and watched) many of their courses over the years and have thoroughly enjoyed them.  They are taught by people (mostly university professors) who have won awards for their excellent teaching.  I defy you to look at the list of available courses and tell me that none of them interest you.  If I started listing the courses they offer, I’d be listing for many hours, but the categories include music, literature, history, medicine, philosophy, and science.  Some of the audio courses are only available now through Audible.  Many libraries offer their patrons free access to the audio courses through RB Digital and to the video courses through Kanopy.  Check these sources out before you buy anything.

Libraries have many digital resources, so check all of them out as well as those associated with The Great Courses.

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Classic Arts Showcase is a service of the Lloyd E. Rigler – Lawrence E. Deutsch Foundation.  It is fully funded by the Foundation and they do not accept contributions.  At the website they state that it “is a not-for-profit 24-hour satellite programming service offered free of charge through local public service channels, and both cable and broadcast stations.  It is available in more than 50 million homes.”  Here in Baton Rouge it is only on for a few hours each day, but I (and you) can access it any time through the link above.  I have found it easiest to access it with my Chrome browser.

The segments range over the spectrum of the performing arts including dance, drama, vocal, and even clips from movies.  The variety will keep you watching for hours if you enjoy the performing arts.  You owe it to yourself to check it out for a while.

I hope I’ve given you some ideas about how to keep yourself and the little ones entertained during these trying times.  I’ll keep in touch, but meanwhile, take good care of yourself.

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Talking About Books . . .

Mobituaries

Mo Rocca is a correspondent on the popular CBS program, Sunday Morning. He is also the author of Mobituaries: Great Lives Worth Reliving and of the popular podcast of the same name.  Somehow he has managed to put a unique spin on an old subject: biographies.  Rocca and Rita Braver discussed Mobituaries and more in a very interesting Book-TV segment some months ago.

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Why are new books published in hardcover format long before they’re released as paperbacks?  Your first thought is probably that the publisher makes more money, and you’re right.  They make a lot more money  But there are other reasons as well and a Mental Floss article gives you the details.

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What do Voltaire’s Candide and P. G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster have in common?  They are both “passive protagonists.”  It seems that novelist Jessi Jezewska Stevens never gave the idea of a passive protagonist a second thought (or even a first thought) until someone she met on a book tour to promote her novel, The Exhibition of Persephone Q, brought it up because it pertained to Persephone.  So don’t assume that novelists have more insight into what makes their characters tick than you do.

Even more interesting is Steven’s contention that we (and she) are perhaps passive protagonists in our own lives.  She might have a point.  The Literary Hub article is certainly worth exploring.

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The Mirror & the Light

Hilary Mantel has just published her third and final book about the life of Oliver Cromwell.  She discusses The Mirror & the Light and much more in a Barnes and Noble book podcast.

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Hachette Book Group recently announced that it would publish Woody Allen’s memoir Apropos of Nothing. on April 7, 2020.  This past Friday they announced that they have decided not to publish the book and have returned all book rights to Allen.  The change is due to backlash from many who consider Allen a child molester, and due to a walkout of some Hachette employees in New York City.  Read more here.

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And now an article for all of you bibliomaniacs.  There’s a new documentary film, The Booksellers, about the folks in New York City who are obsessed by rare books. An NPR film review gives you a preview of what you will see if you watch the documentary.  You can see the official trailer here.

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Rules for Perfect Murders

Author Peter Swanson’s latest novel, Rules for Perfect Murders, gave him a reason to research fiction to find some mystery novels with perfect murders.  In a Guardian article Swanson discusses some of the fictional perfect murders he found during his research.

Swanson mentions many authors in the article including Patricia Highsmith who wrote five novels about Tom Ripley who committed a number of perfect murders.  While Highsmith’s novels are interesting, they’re not nearly as interesting as her life story. Don’t believe me?  You will once you read my 2013 post about the strange Ms. Highsmith.

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“It Was a Dark and Stormy Night”

Snoopy

“Old man Buckman had been murdering and dismembering teenagers in our town for years, and getting away with it, and it’s important to emphasize this right up front, because young readers like you have painfully short attention spans, and unless a story grabs you right off the bat, you’ll be back on your video games or phones or skateboards in the blink of an eye.” – John Hardi, Falls Church, Virginia

Did the above sentence get your attention?  Probably so, and that’s the whole point of opening sentences in fiction and, really, in all writing.  The above quote is the winner in the Children’s Literature section of the 2019 Bulwer-Litton contest for the best worst opening lines in fiction.  That’s right, “the best worst opening lines.”  You can enjoy more of the winning opening sentences here.

Another aspect of the Bulwer-Lytton prize is that the opening sentences should be exceedingly long and difficult to follow like the one Edward-Bulwer-Lytton (and Snoopy) are remembered for:

“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.” – from Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s novel Paul Clifford (1830)

Both of the above quotes are what is known as “purple prose” which, by definition, is ornate, draws excessive attention to itself, and is so convoluted that the poor reader (bless his/her heart) may quickly lose a sense of the meaning of what he or she is reading except in those exceedingly rare, praise-worthy cases where said reader possesses an exquisite mind, has the gift (or “ability” if you don’t believe in the concept of “giftedness”) of processing many ideas at one time while making sense of each and every one (and putting each and every idea in its proper place) in a way that normal people could not master (or even nearly master) if they tried for years and used every means (including hypnosis or lots of caffeine) at their disposal to do so.

A brief review of the history and importance of first lines is the subject of a fine BBC article by Hephzibah Anderson.  While you’re there, check out their Books section.  When you scroll down the page you’ll see “Load More Items” just above the “Around the BBC” section.  You can click on “Load More Items” multiple times to see additional book articles.

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Music Notes

Ken Burns has a new film on Public TV and it’s one you shouldn’t miss.  Country Music is an eight-part program that traces the history of country music from  its birth up to the present.  The first of the two hour segments will air on Sunday, September 15th from 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time.  Parts 2, 3, and 4 will air on September 16th, 17th, and 18th at the same time.  The final four parts will air on September 22nd, 23rd, 24th, and 25th from 8:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time.  Check your local PBS station to make sure that the series will air on the dates and times shown above.

On Sunday night September 8th a two hour program, “Country Music: Live at the Ryman, A Concert Celebrating the Film by Ken Burns,” which was taped at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville some months ago, was aired on PBS.  It served as a preview of the upcoming series and featured some great country music entertainers in live performances.  It was a fabulous concert which any country music lover would have enjoyed attending.  If you have a chance to see a rerun of the show,  watch it or record it.  In my area, it will be rebroadcast the afternoon that Burns’ film begins.  Again, check your local PBS station to see if it is available to you.

The Grand Ole Opry is not the only venue that featured country music live and on the radio.  Another was The Louisiana Hayride (it originated in Shreveport, Louisiana and thrived from the late-1940s to the early-1960s) which featured some country music hopefuls who went on to stardom (including The Grand Ole Opry) as a result of their appearances on the Hayride.  Those performers included Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, Sr., Kitty Wells, and George Jones.  Hank Williams, Jr., narrates a 90 minute history of the Hayride, “Cradle of the Stars: The Story of The Louisiana Hayride,” on Public TV here in Louisiana just prior to the beginning of Ken Burns’ new film.  Perhaps it’s being offered elsewhere as well.

On Sunday, September 22nd, I’ll host another three hour edition of “Music on the Sunny Side of the Street” on WBRH public radio here in Baton Rouge.  During the first hour (which airs from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. Central Time) I’ll feature three songs written and sung by someone who appears prominently in Ken Burns’ film.  I’ll give you a hint to his identity: He was known as “the hillbilly Shakespeare.”  Tune in to find out who the mystery man is.  You can hear the program locally at 90.3 FM or over the internet at wbrh.org.

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It’s common for the bad guy in a movie to listen to classical music while doing his dastardly deeds.  How did evil and classical music become synonymous? Find out here.

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Most mornings when I get up I fix my coffee and drink it while listening via the internet to classical music from WQXR in New York City.  I enjoy the music but even more than that I enjoy the host who is on from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time weekdays.  His name is Jeff Spurgeon and he’s upbeat and overflowing with tidbits of knowledge about the music he plays.  His selections are a series of short classical pieces which is especially good if you’re rushing around getting ready for work.  He mixes music by the greats like Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Vivaldi with music written by composers you may never have heard of before.  For instance yesterday morning he played music by Johanna Kinkel, Francois-Andre Danican Philidor, and Agathe Backer Grondahl.  He even played a concerto by “Anonymous.”

I don’t know where Spurgeon gets so much energy so early in the morning, but I’m glad he’s there.  Give him a try.

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Talking About Books . . .

The Testaments

Margaret Atwood has just released a sequel to her popular 1985 dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale.  Her new book, The Testaments, takes place 15 years after The Handmaid’s Tale ends.

CBS news correspondent Martha Teichner recently interviewed Atwood about both books for Sunday Morning.  While the excellent interview on CBS was short on details about Atwood’s newest book, many media outlets have provided more in-depth reviews of The Testaments.

The Guardian has an excellent review, as do National Public Radio’s Fresh Air (you can either read or listen to the review), BookPage, and Kirkus Reviews.

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Sandra Newman, writing in The Washington Post, suggests that we often reduce great writers, such as Toni Morrison who recently died, into folksy characters who have only produced brief quotes that are “raw ingredients for the next edition of Chicken Soup for the Soul.”  Morrison, Newman contends, didn’t win the Nobel Prize for “dispensing banal platitudes,” she won it for writing works that share her wisdom and touch our souls.  By taking a sentence here and there out of context Newman believes that we trivialize the authors and their writings and miss the opportunity to explore the meaning and wisdom of those words within the framework of an entire work.

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Catch-22

I’m always amazed when I read about books that were rejected by publishers over and over again.  No one can say why some people love a book and others hate it, but an article in The Guardian highlights a number of classics which wouldn’t exist if their authors had been less tenacious.

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Faber & Faber, the venerable old British book publishing company has rejected its share of books that went on to become classics, but it has made enough good calls to be celebrating ninety years of existence.  Not only that, it’s one of the few independent book publishers left.  Toby Faber, grandson of the founder, has written a book about the company’s history entitled Faber & Faber: The Untold Story.  A New Yorker article gives you some essential information about the company and explains the link between Faber & Faber and Andrew Lloyd Weber’s musical Cats.

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The Historian

Since you may be running short of books to read, I’m including some candidates for your future attention – all from BuzzFeed.

17 of the Most Can’t-Put-Down Books People Have Ever Read

34 Classic Books That Won’t Actually Bore You

31 of the Most Heartwarming Books You’ll Ever Read

31 Books That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity

31 Books You Won’t Be Able to Stop Thinking About

29 Short Stories You Need to Read in Your Twenties

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Emily Temple with LitHub has come up with a unique book quiz.  She lists Library of Congress card catalog information from 70 books and challenges you to guess the name of each book and its author based only on that information.  To see the answer for an entry (while using a laptop computer), go to the word “Answer:,” move your pointer to the right side of the colon (:), press and hold down the left button, and drag your pointer to the right (as if you’re trying to highlight something).  The answer will magically appear.  Cool!

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Desert Island Reads

You’re visiting this website because you love books, and you’re probably hoping to come across some interesting books to add to your “to read” list (as if it isn’t long enough already).  But consider the many books you’ve already read or really want to read.  If you were to be placed on a desert island with ten or so books, what would they be?

I recently ran across a website that features desert island reading lists by a vast range of people.  It’s called One Grand and it also happens to be the name of the upstate New York book store owned by Aaron Hicklin, the man who started the website.  The New York Times even featured an article on Hicklin and his book shop back in 2015.

Another good source for books you might want to have on your island is Five Books.  Each entry at this website is associated with a particular subject rather than a particular person’s interests.  You name the subject and there’s probably an article on it authored by an expert.  One of the nice things is that there is a general description of the subject followed by fairly in-depth descriptions of the recommended books and why they are recommended.  And you’ll often find ideas in the articles that make you think.  For instance, in author Philip Davis’ recommendation of books by and about novelist George Eliot he states that, “We write biographies as if they could take the place of novels, yet they can’t: novels offer more truths than biographies ever can.”  I never thought about that, but I think he’s right.

Just for the fun of it, I want to list some of the books I would like to have with me on a desert island.  I would want many of them to be long and dense with ideas because I might be on that island for a long time, and I don’t want to become board with any book after only one or two readings.  With that in mind I would want the following books as companions:

Montaigne

The Complete Essays of Montaigne (translated by Donald M. Frame) – Montaigne is often called the father of the essay form and I have thoroughly enjoyed the essays (on a wide range of subject) that I have read.  When you read his essays you really have to pay attention.  And at least in my case, I can read them two or three times before I feel that I have a clear understanding of what he wrote.  He was a very deep thinker who revised his essays over a period of many years as his ideas and understanding changed.

The Histories

 History of the Persian Wars (aka The Histories) by Herodotus (translated by Aubrey De Selincourt) – Cicero called Herodotus the father of history.  I’ve read The Histories once, but there’s too much to absorb in a single reading.  His primary purpose is to tell us about the wars between Greece and Persia, but he also delves into the customs of other countries and much, much more.  Some of his “facts” aren’t very factual, but others are absolutely correct.  For instance he talks about ants that can run down and kill a camel.  Not so.  He also talks about how, contrary to many rivers, the Nile has its peak flow during the summer months.  That’s true due to the fact that the water comes from the rain forests of Central Africa – with most of the rain falling during the summer monsoon season.  As Arthur A. Rupprecht put it in Invitation to the Classics: A Guide to Books You’ve Always Wanted to Read, “Herodotus includes speeches that cannot have been made and encounters that cannot have taken place.  But what he provides, in the end, is a history true to the spirit of the events if not always to factual details.  He writes a good story.”  In fact, he writes a great story.

Caesar and Christ

Caesar and Christ by Will Durant – I’d love to have the complete set of The Story of Civilization, but I’m limiting myself to a single volume from any set.  Will Durant wrote some of the most interesting books on history that you’ll ever find.  He has been trashed by historians in part because of the sources he used (or didn’t use), but his books are a great introduction to history for those who want interesting anecdotes and background information rather than just dates and dry facts.  This particular book discusses many of the Roman rulers such as Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero in a way that will hold you spellbound.  The book also discusses Christ and is an excellent account of His life and of the period in which He lived.  With Will Durant history is never boring.

The Taming of the Shrew

The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare – I love the story, and the dialogue between Petruchio and Katharina is truly a work of genius.  And much of the action between the lovers is very physical.  This is one of the greatest comedies ever written.  My only problem with the play is the idea that a man could turn a shrew like Katharina into a docile woman.  Personally, I don’t think there is such a thing as a docile woman.

Bleak House

Bleak House by Charles Dickens – This is not Dickens’ best known novel, but I love it.  It’s long and contains numerous plots and subplots.  You have Inspector Bucket, an early example of a detective in fiction; Nemo (“nobody” in Latin), a mysterious character who plays a small but important part in the story; Lady Dedlock, a beautiful, wealthy woman who has a mysterious secret that could destroy her life of privilege; members of the Jarndice family who are fighting a protracted court battle over an inheritance; and even a man who dies when he spontaneously combusts.

Rigoletto

The libretto of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Rigoletto – I had to sneak something musical in somehow.  The music is spectacular as is the story of a hunchbacked court jester whose daughter is seduced by his boss, the Duke of Mantua.  I assume that I wouldn’t have access to music, so this libretto would be my guide to the music and action of the opera that I would hear in my head.  To me Verdi is the greatest of all opera composers, and Rigoletto is my favorite among his many great works.

I would also want to have some books with stories that are simply entertaining for those times when I got tired of Montaigne’s brilliance and the antics of the Caesars.  So what follows might be called my “guilty pleasures.”

The Godfather

The Godfather by Mario Puzo – I’ve read the novel and seen the movie, but I never get tired of the story.  I think I could read this novel over and over and still enjoy it.  Of course, the characters in the book would look like the characters in the movie, but that’s  fine with me.  And the movie music, composed by Nino Rota, would play in my head as I read the book.

Flashman 3

Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser – Harry Flashman first appeared in Thomas Hughes’ 1857 novel Tom Brown’s School Days. Flashman is a cowardly bully who antagonizes Tom.  According to Fraser, when he becomes an adult Flashman leads a hedonistic, lecherous life then writes his memoirs: memoirs (referred to collectively as the Flashman Papers)  in which he candidly describes, without shame or remorse, all of the despicable things he has done.  His memoirs turn into a series of books with each having a story embedded in actual historical events.  Flashman, the first in the series, takes place, in part, during the First Anglo-Afghan War in 1841, which was a total disaster for the British.

I would like to take at least ten books with me to my desert island, but I see that I’m a few books short.  I’ll keep reading and hoping that I’ll find more books to add to my list.

Do you have any suggestions?

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Lagniappe

Surely You're Joking

Richard Feynman was a brilliant theoretical physicist, bongo player, and safecracker.  He was also an excellent writer – especially about his personal life.  I recommend his books “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”: Adventures of a Curious Character and The Pleasure of Finding Things Out.  I was not surprised that this deep thinker came up with a great technique for learning new thingsOpen Culture has an article and a video that describe his system.  You might also find the “Related Content” links at the end of the article interesting.

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Sapiens

Darius Foroux writes about productivity, habits, decision making, and personal finance.  After running across a question that asked what books expand our minds, he thought for a while and finally came up with a list of 22 books that have expanded his.  You can find his list here.

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Are you over 35 and losing hope that you’ll be the one to write the great American novel?  Don’t despair.  All of the authors in an article from The American Scholar got their starts “late in life.”

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Curioous George

I believe that everyone has an interesting life story to tell, but that of Margret and Hans Rey is a bit more interesting than most.  They, in case you don’t know, are the authors and illustrators of the Curious George books.  As France was being overrun by the Germans in World War II, Margret and Hans – both Jews –  escaped on bicycles that Hans built from spare parts the night before they fled Paris.  That and more is detailed in a New Yorker article.

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Garrison Keillor, of A Prairie Home Companion fame, is once again publishing his daily feature The Writer’s Almanac, and it’s worth reading.  You can subscribe to it at his website, and you can click on any entry there to either read it or listen to it as narrated by Keillor himself.  Be sure to explore the website while you’re there.

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Libraries are offering numerous digital services these days, but they don’t come free.  In fact the New York City Library system has recently cancelled its subscription to the video streaming service Kanopy due to its high cost and low usage among the millions who use the libraries.  A Forbes article details the problems.

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Out of Africa

My Reading the Classics Book Club will meet at the Bluebonnet Regional Library on Tuesday, August 6th at 1:30 p.m. to discuss Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen).  You’re invited to attend if you live in the Baton Rouge area.  You could even fly in if you like.

The readings for the rest of 2019 are:

It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis – September 3, 2019

The Great Big Doorstep by E. P. O’Donnell – November 12, 2019

Goodbye to All That – Robert Graves – December 3, 2019

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I’ll be the host of Music on the Sunny Side on WBRH radio (90.3 FM and wbrh.org on the worldwide web) on Sunday, August 4th.  The three hour show begins at 8:00 a.m. Central Time.  Highlights will include three duets featuring Tony Bennett and some of his friends (Diana Krall, Sting, and Judy Garland); and a set entitled “Tallulah!” that features a Tommy Dorsey number called “I’ll Take Tallulah,” and Tallulah Bankhead and Marlene Dietrich singing “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better” from Annie Get Your Gun.  Bankhead was a free spirit who once described herself as being “as pure as the driven slush.”  I’ll also feature memorable music from six forgotten musicals, and I’ll spotlight some of the beautiful music that Charlie Chaplin wrote for his movies.  I hope you have time to join us.

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The next edition of the live author interview program In-Depth on Book TV (C-SPAN2) will air Sunday, August 4, 2019 from noon to 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time.  The featured guest will be author Lee Edwards.  His books include The Conservative Revolution and Just Right: A Life in Pursuit of Liberty.  Book TV airs each weekend from 8:00 a.m. Eastern Time on Saturday morning until 8:00 a.m. Eastern Time on Monday morning.  You can find the entire schedule here. Over 18,000 past presentations can be accessed at the Book TV Archive website.

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