Quiz of the Month – September 2016

This month’s quiz will test your general knowledge of books.  As always you will find the answers on the Quiz Answers page.

  1. From what illness do the two protagonists in John Green’s novel The Fault in Our Stars suffer?
  2. Where does the title of the book The Fault in Our Stars come from?
  3. Who was Hamnet?
  4. In 1535 the first English translation of the Bible was printed in England.  Who is credited with the translation?
  5. The first volume of this magnificent dictionary was published on February 1, 1884 – a quarter-century after it was begun.  Name the dictionary.
  6. What famous American writer was a prisoner of war in Dresden, Germany when it was extensively bombed by the United States during World War II?
  7. Where was Elmore Leonard born?
  8. What is the real name of the author who published a novel under the name of Currer Bell?
  9. Heathcliff is one of the main characters in Wuthering Heights.  What is his full name?
  10. Many authors had full-time professions before they became writers.  What was the profession of Arthur Conan Doyle? John Grisham?
  11. The Kitchen God’s Wife is the follow-up to what well-known novel by what well-known author?
  12. In a well-known short story by Herman Melville the title character says repeatedly to his employer, “I would prefer not to.”  What is the title of the short story?
  13. Name Joan Rivers’ last book.
  14. What contemporary of Shakespeare wrote the plays Doctor Faustus and The Jew of Malta?
  15. Donna Tartt won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for what novel?
  16. Juno Díaz won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for what novel?
  17. What Irish writer wrote the play Juno and the Paycock?
  18. Who wrote the 1957 novel Doctor Zhivago, and who played the part of Zhivago in the 1965 movie adaptation of the novel ?
  19. Colson  Whitehead’s latest novel is an Oprah Winfrey book club pick.  Name it.
  20. This  2010 book by Rebecca Skloot was very popular when published and remains on the New York Times paperback nonfiction bestseller list to this day.  Name it.
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The Lady Chablis, who gained world-wide attention as one of the character’s in John Berendt’s book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, has died in Savannah, Georgia at the age of 59.  She insisted on playing herself in the 1997 movie adaptation of the book, and gave a memorable performance.  There were many strange characters in Midnight, but The Lady Chablis was by far the most popular according to Berendt.

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Charles Osgood has just retired after hosting Sunday Morning on CBS for 22 years.  He is a multitalented man as you can see from the clips at the Sunday Morning website.  You might also enjoy some of his far-ranging radio pieces from the so-called Osgood File.

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You read lots of books, I’ll bet, but do you know the process that takes place between an author’s idea and the physical book?  You can follow the process with a nice article on the Chronicle Book Blog.

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The Royal Mail is issuing some new Agatha Christie stamps with hidden clues included, but that’s just one of the many Agatha Christie related articles you’ll find here.  Check them out – including the Christie quiz.

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I have a friend who is an attorney with a sense of humor.  He loves to tell lawyer jokes.  He, and you as well, will probably enjoy an article I found in The Guardian that discusses 10 Dodgy Lawyers in Literature.

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Harry Potter fans will enjoy a chart from Mental Floss that illustrates some magical items from the wizarding world.

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On Sunday morning, October 2nd, I will once again host “Music on the Sunny Side” from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. CT on WBRH public radio.  I’ll present a feature called “Name That Year” in which I give my listeners information about a particular year, play music from that year, and invite them to guess the year in question.  It’s lots of fun if you like history and music.  I’ll also feature songs that contain the names of U.S. cities with a very special number at the end that will blow your mind.  The other feature will be a segment from The Bickersons which was a comedy routine done by actor Don Ameche and vocalist Frances Langford on both radio and TV.  As you might have guessed, John and Blanche Bickerson don’t get along very well.  Their back and forth grousing is quite funny – as long as we are only observers.

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The next edition of the live author interview program In-Depth on Book TV (C-SPAN2) will air Sunday, October 2, 2016 from noon to 3:00 p.m. ET.  The featured guest will be author and historian Gerald Horne.  His books include The Counter Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America and Confronting Black Jacobins: The U.S., The Haitian Revolution, and the Origin of the Dominican Republic.

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The Fifties


Like many people, I feel that I grew up in a very special time.  I saw the birth of television, and everything that followed its birth: nightly news programs, beloved series like I Love Lucy and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, live coverage of world events, riveting congressional hearings, The Ed Sullivan Show, the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports (mostly remembered for its very popular Friday night boxing matches), and so much more.  I saw the birth of what was truly the fast-food industry with the growth of a chain of restaurants started in California by the McDonald brothers.  I saw the birth of something called a “motel” which is a portmanteau word formed by combining motor and hotel.  I saw the birth of rock and roll, and the rise of Elvis Presley – one of the greatest entertainers of the twentieth century.  I saw the rise of two of the most beautiful actresses in the history of cinema: Marilyn Monroe and Brigitte Bardot.  I saw some of the most beautiful automobiles that have even been built – many of them thanks to the genius of a gifted designer named Harley Earl.  I saw the beginning and end of the Korean War and the fall of a warrior who thought he could defy his superior, the President of the United States, with impunity.  I saw the rise and fall of a truly despicable man who recklessly destroyed many lives: Senator Joseph McCarthy.  I saw the birth of suburban subdivisions that sprang up out of farmland and were made up of ticky-tacky houses that seemed to appear in the blink of an eye.  And I saw the beginning of the space race when Russia successfully launched a satellite named Sputnik into outer space.

All of the events catalogued above took place during a single decade – the 1950s.  And most of them are discussed in considerable depth in David Halberstam’s marvelous 1993 book The Fifties.  Halberstam, born in 1934, obviously thought the 1950s were a special time, too.  His book, which is over 700 pages long, would have been 500 pages longer if his editor had not insisted that he reduce its length.

One of my favorite parts of the book has to do with Kemmons Wilson who started the Holiday Inn chain.  Wilson asked a draftsman friend named Eddie Bluestein to draw up the plans for his first proposed motel.  When Bluestein delivered the drawings he had the name “Holiday Inn” on the motel.  He had seen the Bing Crosby movie Holiday Inn (which introduced Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” to the world) the night before and liked the name.  Wilson went with it.

Wilson had an uncanny ability to go into a city, analyze the terrain and the traffic flow and to choose just the right location for his Holiday Inns.  He was literally a legend when it came to choosing locations.  After the motel chains had become very popular someone at a conference asked Marion Isbell of the Ramada Inn chain how he chose the locations for his properties.  “All I do,” answered Isbell, “is go into a city and find out where Kemmons Wilson has a good Holiday Inn and I put a Ramada Inn right next door.”

Ed Sullivan, who had a tremendously popular variety program on CBS every Sunday night from 1948 to 1971, had no obvious talent for show business, but did have the ability to choose performers that America loved.  He seemed so uncomfortable and wooden on stage that he became known as “The Great Stone Face.”  Sullivan had no tolerance for crudeness, and so he refused for a while to invite the pelvis-swiveling Elvis Presley on his show.  Eventually, due to Presley’s fame, Sullivan was forced to relent.  After interacting with Elvis, he realized that he was a clean-cut, polite young man. (I remember a lowly wardrobe lady on one of Elvis’ movies praising him because he always called her “ma’am.)  At the end of Presley’s third performance Sullivan walked up to him on stage and made aments on the air by saying, “This is a real decent, fine boy. We’ve never had a pleasanter experience on our show with a big name than we’ve had with you.  You’re thoroughly all right.”  I doubt that Sullivan ever made another apology like that.

Sullivan often featured black entertainers – a practice that angered some in the deep south where I grew up.  In fact, I remember asking a friend of mine if he had seen the Ed Sullivan show the night before.  My friend grinned and said, “Our TV doesn’t pick up that show.”  I understood.

I could go on for hours telling you about my favorite decade and Halberstam’s enthralling book, but I’ll leave it to you to find out more elsewhere if you’re interested.  David Halberstam did an interview on Book TV with its founder, Brian Lamb, back in 1993 that might interest you, and The History Channel did a multi-part series on The Fifties that is available (without commercials) on YouTube.  Both are worth your time.

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Talking About Books . . .


Books (in many different forms) have been around for a long time, but there may never have been a book about books quite like the one written by Keith Houston.  An article in The Dallas Daily News will convince any book lover that his/her library will be incomplete without The Book.  My copy, incidentally, is on its way.

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 What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions is a strange but fascinating book that answers questions about subjects that most people wouldn’t even think about.  What would happen if the earth suddenly stopped rotating, but the wind didn’t?  If each of us had only one “soul mate” on this planet, what are the chances that we could find him or her?  If everyone on earth pointed a laser pointer at a dark area on the moon, would that area light up?  The book’s author, Randall Munroe, was trained as a physicist, but he couldn’t control his desire to think about questions like those above, so he spends his time considering (and writing about) scientific questions mostly submitted by others.  He mixes his responses with a generous helping of interesting background information that keeps the reader from becoming bored with the often-strange questions.  NPR interviewed him and you can hear that interview here.  You can also find out more about Munroe’s obsession at his website, xkcd.  Don’t miss the What If? section.

On that website Munroe informs us that xkcd is, “not actually an acronym. It’s just a word with no phonetic pronunciation — a treasured and carefully-guarded point in the space of four-character strings.”

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 Flavorwire lists 10 Guinness Book of Records world records associated with books.  Click on the right-pointing arrow in the box just below the first paragraph to get started.

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Here’s a sentence that I want you to read carefully: Santa Claus is an old, jolly, large man.  Do the descriptive adjectives seem out of place?  Most people would say they are, simply because we have learned that the sequencing of adjectives should follow a certain rule – a rule that we couldn’t define if we had to.   In his book The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase, author Mark Forsyth (who also wrote Etymologicon) gives us the rule which you can study here.

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 Shortly before F. Scott Fitzgerald died in 1940 he completed a short story collection.  Due to the content of the stories he determined that they would have to undergo heavy editing before they could be released, so he set them aside.  Finally, the collection is about to be published.

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The Broadway musical, like jazz, is a musical art form that was developed here in the United States.  Normally a musical is described by naming its composer and lyricist – Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady and Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate are examples.  Seldom is the author of the “book” – the person who creates the story that links the musical numbers together – even mentioned.  A few years ago The Library of America set about rectifying this oversight of an essential partner in a musical’s creation by publishing the books for 16 essential Broadway musicals.  The project was the brainchild of Laurence Maslon.  Robert Gottlieb discusses the musicals in a Wall Street Journal article, and in a Slate article Maslon tells us why he chose the musicals that are included.

I hosted a public radio program which featured Broadway and movie music for many years, so I found these articles to be quite interesting.  If nothing else, I hope you will be enticed to explore this wonderful art form through revivals or the movies that were made of most of them.

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 A Book TV interview with Ron Charles of the Washington Post give us an insider’s view of the world of book reviews.

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Quotes of Note

“When it [Rachel’s get-together with her family] was finally over I was so happy to get back to my own home-sweet-home [a hotel that she owned] that I had a double vodka tonic, kicked off my shoes, turned up the tape player and danced the Pony right in the middle of the restaurant. . . I declared to my guests: ‘Friends, there is nothing like your own family to make you appreciate strangers.’  Then I kissed them all on their bald heads and gave them a round on the house.” – The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver

“I beg permission to mention by name only four people who have given me the most affection, appreciation, and encouragement, and constant collaboration. The first of the four is a film editor, the second is a scriptwriter, the third is the mother of my daughter, Pat, and the fourth is as fine a cook as ever performed miracles in a domestic kitchen. And their names are Alma Reville.” – Alfred Hitchcock speaking of his wife, Alma, when he received the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award in 1979

“True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.” – Kurt Vonnegut

“Don’t be afraid of death; be afraid of an unlived life. You don’t have to live forever, you just have to live.” – Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt

“Once you’ve decided that something’s absolutely true, you’ve closed your mind on it, and a closed mind doesn’t go anywhere. Question everything. That’s what education’s all about.” – Belgarath the Sorcerer, David Eddings

“It’s impossible to go through life unscathed. Nor should you want to. By the hurts we accumulate, we measure both our follies and our accomplishments.” – Inheritance, Christopher Paolini

“To look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.” – A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith

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 In The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1933) Vincent Starrett (1886 – 1974) includes a chapter entitled “Sherlock Holmes in  Parody and Burlesque.”  In it Starrett catalogues some of the many attempts to poke fun at the world’s best-known detective.  The quotes below come from that chapter.

 Possibly the most humorous libel ever perpetrated upon the name and fame of Mr. Sherlock Holmes was a drawing that appeared, a decade or so ago, in a leading comic journal. One remembers it with happiness.… With the utmost consternation depicted upon his familiar features, the great detective is shown upon a pebbled beach, his hand clapped wildly to his brow, what time his tragic eyes consider the stones that lie around him. Millions and millions of them, far as the eye can reach. And underneath the print the artist’s casual comment: “Portrait of a celebrated detective regretting his rash decision to leave no stone unturned.”

 For the most part, Sherlockian travesties—whether in prose, or verse, or line—have been a little cruder than that most whimsical conception. Something, perhaps, of this sort has been a bit more common:

 “Ah, my dear Watson! I see that you have put on your winter underwear.”

 “Marvelous, Holmes! But how did you deduce it?”

 “Elementary, my dear fellow. You have forgotten to put on your trousers!”

 Bret Harte (1839 – 1902) is best known for short stories such as “The Outcasts of Poker Flat,” and “The Luck of Roaring Camp,” but he too had a go at spoofing the noble detective and the dog-like adoration of his sidekick, Dr. Watson.

 Best known, perhaps, of the more literary parodies is that by Bret Harte, a better parodist than poet, appearing in that author’s second series of Condensed Novels. The Stolen Cigar Case is the title of the story.… “I found Hemlock Jones in the old Brook Street lodgings,” begins the narrative, “musing before the fire. With the freedom of an old friend I at once threw myself into my usual familiar attitude at his feet, and gently caressed his boot.…

 “‘It is raining,’ he said, without lifting his head.

 “‘You have been out, then?’ I said quickly.

 “‘No. But I see that your umbrella is wet, and that your overcoat has drops of water on it.’

 “I sat aghast at his penetration.”

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Stitcher is a website that features podcast series.  One of them is Footnoting History.  The podcasts in this series, which vary in length, include “The Rise of the British Spy Novel,” “Sherlock Holmes in Popular Culture,” and “The Eleven Lost Days” which deals with the Julian and Gregorian Calendars.  You can also access many other series from this location.  Stitcher claims to have over 65,000 podcasts, as well as radio and TV episodes available.  An app is available for smartphones, and tablets.

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The BBC’s World Book Club podcasts feature authors talking about their works and, occasionally, authors talking about the works of other authors.  The authors include Jonathan Franzen, Elizabeth Gilbert, Maya Angelou, and Günter Grass.

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 Agatha: The Real Life of Agatha Christie is a graphic novel that tells the life story of Agatha Christie.  An article in The Guardian gives you the lowdown on the novel.  Crime Fiction Lover and a Google search give us a peek at the contents of the book.

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 I featured Roald Dahl’s delightful short story “Lamb to the Slaughter” in my previous post, and I thought you might enjoy learning more about him.  So, here is a Smithsonian article that will fill you in on the life of this complex human being.

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 I ran across a Reader’s Digest article about 32 weird kitchen gadgets that is simply too interesting to pass up.  I’ll bet the article features some weird culinary tools that you’ve never run across before.

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 On Sunday, September 4, 2016 I will once again host “Music on the Sunny Side” on WBRH-FM radio here in Baton Rouge.  I’ll include a variety of music between 8:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. CT, but my favorite segment will feature two numbers about trains.  The first is about a man who sells part of his house to a railroad company so it can put its tracks right through the middle of his house.  The deal he cuts allows him to live in the two remaining sections – the front and the back.  As you might expect, some funny things happen.

The second selection is from the 1941 movie Sun Valley Serenade which showcased Glenn Miller and his orchestra in one of the two movies he appeared in before joining the Army Air Force during World War II.  The eight minute long segment from the movie features “Chattanooga Choo Choo” which was written for the movie by Harry Warren (music), and Mack Gordon (lyrics).  The song was nominated for an Academy Award, but lost to “The Last Time I Saw Paris” from the movie Lady Be Good.

In addition to Miller and his orchestra the segment features the Nicholas Brothers doing a wonderful tap dance and acrobatics number and the gorgeous Dorothy Dandridge singing the song.  Dandridge married Harold Nicholas the following year, but they divorced in 1951.  In 1965 Dandridge committed suicide.  She was only 42 years old.  You can watch the entire segment on YouTube.

I invite you to listen to the show, and to call in, if you so desire, at 225-388-9030.  We love to hear from our listeners – wherever they are.

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 The next edition of the live author interview program In-Depth on Book TV (C-SPAN2) will air Sunday, September 4, 2016 from noon to 3:00 p.m. ET.  The featured guest will be radio talk show host Dennis Prager.  His books include Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph, and Happiness Is a Serious Problem: A Human Nature Repair Manual.

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Readings I’ve Enjoyed

One of the most beautifully constructed short stories I’ve ever read is “Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl.  I don’t want to tell you anything about it (just in case you’ve never read it before), but I assure you it’s worth the few minutes it will take you to read it.

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