Lagniappe

The Haunting of Hill House

Deadline is reporting that Manning Marable’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography Malcolm  X: A Life of Reinvention is set to become a TV series.

Deadline is also reporting that Shirley Jackson’s 1959 ghost story The Haunting of Hill House is being developed in a “modern reimaging” for Netflix.

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Actress Vivien Leigh was quite a book collector.  Her library, which contains many books signed by their authors, will  be auctioned off on September 26th at Sotheby’s and is expected to bring in more than £500,000.

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Two years ago my wife and I spent 10 wonderful days going through the many museums in Washington.  They were wonderful.  One of the most memorable, though you have to pay to get in, is the Newseum which celebrates the history of one of our greatest treasures: a free press.  Now I read that the Newseum is in such dire financial condition that many think it will not survive much longer.  What a shame.  I don’t know that anyone can save it, but I urge you to visit it while you still can.  A Washington Post article tells the story of its plight.

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Behold the Dreamers

I’ve found a website that features interviews with some impressive authors.  It’s at the Creative Live website and is called “Between the Lines.”  Author Kelly Corrigan interviews 16 well-known authors including Margaret Atwood, John Grisham, Imbolo Mbue, and Alan Alda.  You can watch the interviews free, but you have to log in to do so.  Logging in is simply a matter of providing your e-mail address, choosing a password, and providing a few other bits of information.  I watched Corrigan’s interview with John Grisham, and found it very worth my time (about 27 minutes).

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Kookie

I’ll once again host Music on the Sunny Side on WBRH Public Radio this Sunday, September 3rd from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. CT.  The music will feature a quick biography of songwriter Harry Warren – probably the best tunesmith you’ve never heard of – and eight songs that he wrote (including “Chattanooga Cho-Cho” and “That’s Amore”).  I will also play an episode of the Alka-Seltzer radio show featuring Curt Massey and Martha Tilton.  Massey had a voice and laid-back style similar to that of Perry Como, and Tilton was one of the most popular female vocalists of the Big Band era.  I’ll also play “Angel Eyes” featuring Jesse Belvin. Belvin had a beautiful voice, but he never attained the fame he deserved due to his tragic death at the age of 27.  If you watched TV during the late ‘50s and early 60s you probably remember a detective series that starred Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. and featured Edd Byrnes as a handsome young hipster named “Kookie” who was forever combing his hair.  We’ll listen to the theme from the series and to “Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb),” a very popular song from 1959 performed by Connie Stevens with Kookie himself laying some jive on her (and us) throughout the number.

You can hear Music on the Sunny Side in the Baton Rouge area at 90.3 FM or over the internet at WBRH.org.

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The next edition of the live author interview program In-Depth on Book TV (C-SPAN2) will air Sunday, September 3, 2017 from noon to 3:00 p.m. ET.  The featured guest will be author and radio host Eric Metaxas.  His books include Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World and If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty.

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Talking About Books . . .

Rockwell

If you are “of a certain age,” you probably have one or more coffee tables books containing prints of some of Norman Rockwell’s paintings.  Rockwell’s paintings generally picture America as the land of the good and kind.  One painting shows a kindly old doctor listening to the heartbeat of a little girl’s doll.  Another depicts a “typical” family gathered around the table ready to enjoy a Thanksgiving turkey dinner together.  I don’t know if such an America ever existed, but I would like to think that it did – somewhere at some point in time.

Less well-known is the Norman Rockwell who was driven to paint about the darker side of American life.  He was socially conscious, and wanted to express his feelings in his art, but magazines like The Saturday Evening Post didn’t want that sort of thing on their magazine covers.  It clashed with the mood they were trying to create for their readers.  Upsetting people might lead to lower magazine sales.

An article at the Pop History Dig website delves into both sides of Rockwell.  I highly recommend it to you, and I hope you will explore other articles at the site while you’re there.

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Cesar Millan, known as The Dog Whisperer, has been teaching us about how to understand and handle unruly dogs for years.  Nevertheless, I was quite surprised when I saw that he is now advocating the use of audio books to keep dogs calm and happy while their humans are away.  Is he serious?  Absolutely.  You can get a free 53 minute audio book from Audible to find out more about his theory.  He has also chosen lists of audio books that he thinks might be just right for your pooch.  I’ve listened to his sales pitch, but I’m still not convinced that anyone should spend money buying audio books for their pets.  However, a lot of sound information about how a dog’s mind works is mixed in with his spiel, so I recommend that you get the audio file – especially since it’s free and only requires that you have an Audible app, which is also free, in order to hear it.

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Classic Crime

If you love crime novels, you must read Michael Dirda’s Washington Post column about the best crime novels of the first half of the 20th century, and about two books that have to do with them.

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Fodor’s Travel has released a list of the 10 best new museums in the world.  First on the list is the American Writer’s Museum in Chicago.  Another of the top 10 is The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum in Springfield, Massachusetts. There is a brief description of each museum listed along with a link to the homepage for each.

Speaking of Dr. Seuss, you may be interested and surprised by what he did during his early career.  You can find out what he did here.

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Could you write a short story in only six words?  Hemingway did: “For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.”  You don’t get the whole story, but your mind creates a story line that fits those six meager words, doesn’t it?  That’s genius.  And what you imagine probably makes you sad.

According to The New Yorker Hemingway was so pleased with the response to his six-word story that he wrote some sequels to it.  I assumed that something tragic happened to the baby before it could wear the shoes, but Hemingway’s stories make me think that I was totally mistaken.

Quirk Books recently featured 15 six word Hemingway-esque short stories.  Note: these stories were not written by Hemingway.

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A Lesson Before Dying

Looking for Something to read?  Southern Living magazine has a list of recommended novel associated with each state plus what you might call “runner-up” selections for each state.

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You can thank Alfred A. Knopf book editor Judith Jones when you read Ann Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl and Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child.  Frank’s book, which had been published in Europe but not the United States, was about to be rejected by Knopf when Jones picked it up and read it.  She knew immediately that it had to be published in the U.S.  The 2009 movie Julie and Julia tells the story of Child’s entry into the world of famous chefs.  The movie starred Meryl Streep as Julia Child and Erin Dilly as Judith Jones.  Jones recently died at the age of 93.  USA Today has an article about Jones’ long, illustrious career.

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William Faulkner’s The Reivers

The Reivers, which was published in 1962, the same year its author, William Faulkner, died is a coming-of-age story that takes place in northern Mississippi and southern Tennessee in 1905.  It concerns a stolen car, a horse race, and some very colorful rural people – both black and white.  The book won a Pulitzer Prize the following year.  This was Faulkner’s second Pulitzer Prize.

Despite the ease of reading and enjoyable story, and despite the fact that it won a Pulitzer, The Reivers is not nearly as well known as some of Faulkner’s other novels such as The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, and Light in August.  In fact, that’s a bit surprising because it contains three elements that people seem to enjoy in a novel: sex, drugs, and violence.  One thing that some might possibly see as a negative is the leisurely pace at which the story proceeds, but other people may say that Faulkner is simply taking time to develop his very entertaining and sometimes comical characters.

The movie adaptation of The Reivers was released in 1969.  It starred Steve McQueen as the wild and unpredictable Boon Hoganbeck and was narrated by Burgess Meredith, as Lucius, who is telling the story of what happened to him, Boon, and a wise black man named Ned McCaslin (Rupert Crosse) 60 years before.  The music was composed by the great John Williams before he became famous for the music scores of such movies as Jaws, the Star Wars series, the Indiana Jones series, and Schindler’s List.

When movies were first made there was a debate about whether or not music should be used in films.  But even during the age of silent movies, pianists were often hired by theater owners to play music during the showing of a film – though the music might have also been used to mask the sound of the noisy projectors which were routinely placed in the same rooms as the audiences.

Once most people in the movie business accepted the idea that music was an essential part of setting a mood, signaling impending danger, or raising the level of interest in an action scene such as a sword fight, the debate became about how noticeable the music should be.  Some argued that it should be perceived subliminally while others insisted that it should register almost as strongly as the dialogue.

Williams has weighed in on the side of those who think we should be conscious of the music by showing the opening scene of Jaws, where the young woman is swimming in the ocean, with and without the music he wrote for that scene.   Without the music the young woman might simply be enjoying a moonlight swim.  With the music added you know that something horrible is about to happen to her and you’re on the edge of your seat or hiding your eyes.  Once you’ve seen the movie that music will forever be imprinted on your brain.

Music for Stage and Screen

Williams’ CD, Music for Stage and Screen, contains a track that tells the most interesting part of the story from the movie adaptation of The Reivers.  Like the movie, this quick sequence of pivotal events is narrated by the very capable Burgess Meredith.  Remarkably, the 18+ minute track has relatively long segments that are only music.  Meredith could have filled in those segments with dialogue, but he didn’t need to.  Williams did a great job of moving the plot along without Meredith’s help.  You only hear music, but you’re never in doubt about what is taking place.  And in every case your mind is creating the scenes just as surely as if Meredith was describing them.

I found this track from Music for Stage and Screen on YouTube, and I encourage you to listen to it.  Then consider watching the entire movie.  Or better still, take time to read The Reivers.

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Can People Change?

A Confederacy of Dunces

Must characters in a novel “grow”?  The Guardian has an article about John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces in which the article’s author, Sam Jordison, explores this question.  In doing so he cites the “lives” of characters created by Charles Dickens and P. G. Wodehouse as well as those created by Toole.  Once you’ve read the article, consider this: Do adults – I mean real people, not fictional characters – grow over the years?  My belief is that some do and some don’t.  But fundamentally, I think that change is difficult once we have become mature adults.  What do you think?

A Confederacy of Dunces was The Guardian’s reading group pick for June 2017.  You can find more articles about this book and many other reading group picks here.

Flanagan

Shortly after writing the above, I saw something that relates to it.  It was a segment that NBC did about the upcoming 100th birthday of Boys Town on December 12th.  Father Edward J. Flanagan, the founder of Boys Town, began working with homeless men in Omaha, Nebraska in 1916, but quickly realized that the men would never change.  He interviewed about 2,000 of them to find out what made them the way they were, and found that most had been on their own as children.  There was no one to guide them, no one to set boundaries.  That’s when he realized that he had to work with children rather than adults. And that was the beginning of a program that has changed the lives of thousands of boys.

In 1938 a wonderful movie was made about Father Flanagan and his struggle to found Boys Town outside Omaha.  Spencer Tracy portrayed Father Flanagan and won an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role as a result.  Mickey Rooney did a great job playing the trouble Whitey Marsh, but the kid who will steal your heart is Pee Wee played by Bobs Watson.

It’s a great movie, and it will renew your faith in humanity – should you need it.

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Words at Play

All of the articles in this edition of Words at Play come from the venerable Guardian.  There are many more articles about words at the newspaper’s website, but I found those below to be particularly interesting.

“What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose would by any other name smell as sweet,” says Juliet in Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet.  But is that true about the names that we are given – or give ourselves?  If true, then why did Frances Ethel Gumm change her name to Judy Garland?  Why did Reginald Kenneth Dwight change his name to Elton John?  (Actually, he changed his name to Elton Hercules John.)  Would Roy Harold Scherer, Jr. have had a successful movie career if he had not changed his name to Rock Hudson?  And finally, Barbara Streisand, dropped the second “a” from her first name because she hated the name, but didn’t want to totally change it  The Brooklyn-born Streisand, considered a bit of a kook early in her career, also claimed to have been “born in Madagascar and reared in Rangoon.”

So, what’s in a name?  A lot according to this article.

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Is British English being Americanized?  And does that worry the British?  The answers are “yes,” and “yes.”

English continues to change in another way: through the coining of new words.  The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) just received its quarterly update and about 1,000 new words were added.

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What are emojis, where do they come from, and why are they so popular?

Here is another interesting article about emojis and the OED word of the year for 2015.

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The Oxford University Press recently published a four volume dictionary detailing the origins of nearly 50,000 surnames from Britain and Ireland.  Even if your surname is not British or Irish you might still find it in the dictionary since people from many countries have settled in Britain or Ireland over the last few hundred years.  Just reading the article was fascinating.  For instance the surname Baxter originally meant “baker,” and the surname Short might have originated as a facetious nickname for someone who was tall.

You can purchase the dictionary through Amazon for $329.30, but you might also be able to access it free through your local library’s internet resources.

Be sure to watch the embedded videos in the article.

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Music Notes

For many years I produced a program called Opera Showcase on WRKF Public Radio here in Baton Rouge.  The local opera lovers who did most of the shows were as knowledgeable about opera as anyone in the United States.  In fact, when the Met Opera Saturday matinees would feature an opera quiz during the intermission between acts, I would often think about how my people could have answered more questions than the opera cognoscenti who participated in the quizzes. Our local audience was small compared to those who preferred classical music or even Big Band music rather than opera, but the shows were top-notch, and the opera lovers gave more per pledge than any other group of listeners.

The WRKF membership drives occurred twice a year and my associates and I would use any means to get our listeners to pledge.  For instance I used to compete with Lew Carter who did a Big Band show called Music Makers just prior to Opera Showcase.  Lew had more listeners than anyone else at the station, but his listeners gave relative small pledges.  So Lew and I could compete without things being too one-sided.  The winner would receive one dozen chocolate covered donuts from the loser.  I usually lost, but not always.

The Glory of the Human Voice

One way I used to entice my listeners to quickly make a pledge was to play the absolutely worst opera recording ever made.  The threats usually works, the phones started ringing, and I ended the torture.  The “soprano” who butchered arias like “Lakme’s Bell Song” from Delibes’ Lakme and the “Queen of the Night Aria” from Mozart’s The Magic Flute was a New York socialite named Florence Foster Jenkins.  I knew little about her other than that she had a devoted following despite her truly awful voice.  She was a mystery who we all laughed at as we covered our ears to close out her screeching.

Streep

Now, imagine my surprise when I learned that the great Meryl Streep would portray Jenkins in a movie.  Not only had Streep committed to the movie, but Hugh Grant would portray Jenkins’ common-law husband St. Clair Bayfield.  Truly, it was hard to imagine what was so fascinating about Jenkins’ life that two A-list stars and millions of dollars would be employed to make a movie about it.  This was very strange.

Florence Foster Jenkins

Soon after learning about the up-coming movie I discovered that a biography of Jenkins’ life had recently been published as well.  The book is Florence! Foster!! Jenkins!!!: The Life of the World’s Worst Opera Singer by Darryl W. Bullock. Even stranger.

I decided to read the book and then to watch the movie.  It turned out to be the best sequence.  You definitely have a much better understanding of the movie by reading the relatively short book first.  You also better appreciate the excellent acting by Streep and Grant.

As it turned out Jenkins’ life was quite interesting.  Jenkins (1868 – 1944) was born into a well-to-do family in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.  She was a gifted pianist, so she definitely wasn’t tone deaf.  She wanted to study music in New York, but her wealthy father opposed the idea.  He did, however, allow her to travel to New York City and to remain there for short periods of time.  When he died Jenkins and her mother were able to do as they pleased for the rest of their lives without worrying about where the money would come from.

Jenkins soon gave up her dream of being a famous pianist due to an accident to one of her arms.  The cause or exact details of the problem were never known.  Jenkins couldn’t be a concert pianist, but her life revolved around music, so she joined and even started numerous organizations that promoted the love and public performance of music.  Often her money was used to keep these enterprises operating.

One of her devoted followers was a man named St. Clair Bayfield.  He was a sophisticated Brit who occasionally performed Shakespeare and other plays on stage.  They fell in love and for 36 years he assisted her in her endeavors and shielded her from anyone or anything that might harm her.  In the biography he comes across as truly loving Jenkins, not merely using her for his financial well-being.  Hugh Grant does an admirable job of portraying Bayfield in a similar manner in the movie.  The aforementioned undying love didn’t, however, stop Bayfield from carrying on a 14 years affair while he professed his love and devotion for Jenkins.  After Jenkins’ death Bayfield married his lover, but declared his love for Jenkins until the day he died.  Bayfield was as enigmatic as Jenkins.

I don’t know how to explain Jenkins’ blindness to reality.  She had a few quirks, but she seemed fairly normal except when it came to her singing.  How could someone with her musical knowledge – remember she had been a pianist – perform in public and not hear how horrible her voice was?  Even more, how did she fail to understand the people were laughing at her?  The few selections we have of her singing are the result of vanity recordings she made (with piano accompaniment by Cosme McMoon) to give to her friends.  The human mind is quite complex, so she somehow didn’t realize (or accept) that she was a joke until a few days before her death in 1944.

Truly, there was much more to Florence Foster Jenkins than I ever imagined way back when I used her recordings to aurally bludgeon my listeners into making pledges.  Knowing what I know now, I’m sorry that I used her lack of self-awareness  to raise money for WRKF.  On the other hand, lover of music that she was, she might have enjoyed knowing that she helped to keep opera alive on public radio.

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The Mills Brothers

The Mills Brothers

On the most recent edition of Music on the Sunny Side on WBRH Public Radio I  included a segment called “Ella & Friends.”  The “friends” were three well-known vocal groups: The Ink Spots, The Mills Brothers, and The Delta Rhythm Boys.  I was delighted to then find an excellent article at udiscovermusic entitled “Pitch Perfect: A History of Vocal Groups.”  It’s too good to pass up if you enjoy the above mentioned groups or The Fisk Jubilee Singers, The Andrews Sisters, barbershop quartets, The Boswell Sisters, The Dinning Sisters, The Mel-Tones, The Temptations, The Supremes, The Beach Boys, or even New Jack Swing.

A wonderful bonus at the end of the article is the inclusion of 27 songs featuring many vocal group mentioned in the history.  This is an awesome article.  Don’t miss it.

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Adios

While you’re at the udiscovermusic website, check out their articles about Glen Campbell the popular singer and guitarist who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.  One article gives you information on his life while three other articles (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3) are about the recording of Adios his final album.  It was recorded shortly after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  Campbell is 81 years old.

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Lagniappe

Quantum Physsics

Chris Ferrie is a quantum theorist.  On a lark he created a book to explain quantum physics to babies.  He was surprised when he learned that his wife and children loved Quantum Physics for Babies, so he set about getting it published in paperback format.  Then Mark Zuckerberg and his wife posted a picture on Facebook that showed the couple reading the book to their newborn child.  That’s when the book really took off.  It was so popular that he has now published a number of additional board books: General Relativity for Babies, Newtonian Physics for Babies, Rocket Science for Babies, Optical Physics for Babies, and Quantum Entanglement for Babies.  Of course a newborn won’t actually be able to understand the ideas in the books, but they’re cute gift ideas for newborns as well as for those of us who are physics-ly challenged.

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Being a ghostwriter can be quite lucrative, but there’s a downside to it as there is with most things in life.  Andrew Crofts, who has ghostwritten many books, discusses the positives and negatives in a Times Literary Supplement article.

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The Social Life of Books

“In theory, book clubs are supposed to be about reading and discussing books. In practice, they are often more about hanging out with a group of people, drinking, gossiping, and generally having a nice evening. Depending on the percentage of the group that has actually read the book, it may be discussed, or it may not. The book is the excuse, not necessarily the point.”

That’s the way many book clubs are today, but have they always been that way?  You can learn a lot about the early days of book clubs in an interesting article at the Atlas Obscura website.  You should also check out the site while you’re there.

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Design for Dying

Nancy Pearl, “America’s librarian,” has issued her reading recommendations for this summer.  You can read the list here.  Be sure to check out other recommendations by Ms Pearl at the end of the article.

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In my last “Lagniappe” post I asked you to name two things that Sigmund Romberg, Rudolf Friml, Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick, Alan Jay Lerner, Frederick Loewe, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Lorenz Hart, Leonard Bernstein, Steven Sondheim, Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Jerry Herman, Burton Lane, Yip Harburg, and Jerome Kern have in common.  I provided the answer during the June 4th edition of Music on the Sunny Side on WBRH.  The answer, in case you missed the show, is that they all wrote the music and/or lyrics for well-known Broadway musicals, and they are all Jewish.

One of the few non-Jewish Broadway greats during the golden age of Broadway was Cole Porter (1891 – 1964).  Porter wrote both the music and lyrics for his shows.  And what lyrics!  They are often labeled as “sophisticated,” though I think a more appropriate word would be “catchy” – more so than the lyrics of any other Broadway songwriter. Porter loved to ride horses, but unfortunately, his right leg was crushed when his horse fell on him in 1937.  Though he had 34 operations and endured ceaseless pain over many years,  he was still able to produce some of the most remarkable and upbeat Broadway music ever written.  Finally, his leg had to be amputated in 1958.  He lived for six more years, but never wrote another song.

During the July 2nd edition of Music on the Sunny Side I’ll present five numbers from five different Porter musicals to demonstrate the remarkable talent of this gifted songwriter.  The show airs between 8:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. CT.  If you’re in the Baton Rouge, Louisiana area, you can listen at 90.3 FM.  We’re also on the internet at WBRH.org.

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The next edition of the live author interview program In-Depth on Book TV (C-SPAN2) will air Sunday, July 2,  2017 from noon to 3:00 p.m. ET.  The featured guest will be author, journalist, and history professor Herb Boyd.  His books include Black Detroit: A People’s History of Self-Determination and By Any Means Necessary Malcolm X: Real, Not Invented.

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