In this edition of Lagniappe (a Cajun French word that means “something extra”), I’ve gathered together more items than I normally include in a single post.  It seems appropriate to do so in view of the pandemic that has most of us at home – or at least avoiding social settings.  I hope you find something here that interests you.

By the way, let’s hope that 2021 is a better year for us than 2020 has been.  I’m glad to see 2020 end!

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I recently read an article in The Guardian that shocked me.  The title was “Not a wonderful world: why Louis Armstrong was hated by so many.”  It seems that some jazz aficionados fault him for abandoning the jazz he played in the 1920s, and some African Americans saw him as an “Uncle Tom” – a black man who sold out to whites in order to lead the good life.  I often play music featuring Armstrong on the radio show that I co-host with Winston Day on WBRH, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Armstrong in movies such as The Five Pennies, and High Society. Some of the live recordings I have of Armstrong feature him in numbers with performers like singer Bing Crosby and trombonist Jack Teagarden.  In both the movies and the recordings I felt that Armstrong was being treated with respect and as an equal.

In his book Heart Full of Rhythm: the Big Band Years of Louis Armstrong, writer Ricky Riccardi tries to set the record straight about what Armstrong accomplished, and he goes into the complexity of the matter in doing so.  Armstrong accomplished a number of “firsts” for black men even while being victimized by racism.  Perhaps he abandoned jazz and concentrated on popular music because he wanted to make money.  So what?  Perhaps he worked within the system rather than screaming angrily for his rights.  Some people are like W. E. B. Dubois, others are like Booker T. Washington.  Both helped to make life better for future generations of black people, but they did it in different ways.   Armstrong did the same thing, but perhaps not in the way some preferred.  Music is the universal language of mankind, and Louis Armstrong used it to make this a better world for all of us. 

Note: Riccardi is also the author of What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong’s Later Years.

As lagniappe I offer two of my favorite Louis Armstrong numbers.  The first is “Now You Has Jazz” a Cole Porter song from  the 1956 movie musical High Society which starred Bing  Crosby and Grace Kelly. The second is “The Dummy Song,” a delightful novelty number featuring Mr. Armstrong.  The song  was written by Lew Brown, Billy Rose, and Ray Henderson.

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I have been a fan of The Great Courses for many years.  When I listen to or view a course, I feel like I’ve gone back to college, but without leaving my home and without those tedious exams.  Looking at it that way, the cost of the courses is extremely reasonable.  Let me assure you, I’m not here as a salesman for The Great Courses or anything else.  In fact, I’m here to let you know about free access to various Great Courses lectures and informative articles that you may not be aware of.  If you go to the two websites I’m going to recommend, be prepared to stay for a while.  You won’t want to leave.  The first website is The Great Courses Daily.  There, you’ll find video lectures from various courses, blog posts, articles on the arts, history, literature, philosophy, and other subjects.  And under the “Free Video Lectures” tab, you’ll find many family friendly videos – many of which are both informative and entertaining.

At one time The Great Courses had a podcast called The Torch.  Each podcast featured a different teacher from The Great Courses.  You can listen to (and in some cases watch) each podcast, or you can read the content.  The podcasts are about a great variety of subjects including the removal of Confederate statues, making math fun, Edgar Allan Poe’s place in the modern mystery genre, and America’s founding fathers.

If you have a broad range of interests, you’ll love the two websites associated with The Great Courses.

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Here are some reading lists that might interest you:

100 Must-Read Books of 2020 from Time magazine

NPR’s Book Concierge 2020

Book of the Day from  The Guardian

How about a reading list based on chess?  Before you answer, “No thanks!” and move on, take a minute to look at “22 Books for Fans of The Queen’s Gambit” compliments of the New York Public Library.

Literary Hub asks two interesting questions: Where do reading lists come from? (And why do we love them?) Then they answer the questions here.

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What was the link between writer Vladimir Nabokov and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg?  Mental Floss has the answer.

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John le Carré, probably the greatest of the Cold War spy novelists, died from pneumonia on December 12, 2020 at the age of 89.  The articles I’ve chosen about him talk about his life, his works, and about interactions that other famous people had with him.  The articles are from CBS News, The New Yorker, The Guardian, and NPR.

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A New Yorker article from  December 4, 2020 introduces us to “Books for the Midnight Hour: What We Read When the World Gets Dark.”

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First question: Do you know the meanings of “quarantini” and “Blursday”?

Second question: If you do, did you ever heard of those words before 2020?

Fast Company lists – and defines – six terms you probably hadn’t heard of before this infernal COVID-19 pandemic.

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If you’re a fan of Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 novel Rebecca, you’ll love the Mental Floss article that tells us 11 interesting facts about du Maurier and Rebecca.

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I found a video of someone making a Japanese woodblock print.  You’ll be fascinated by the ten-step process necessary to make a single print.  Be sure to explore some of the “Related Content” links at the end of the article.

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Books by the Foot is a company that provides books to those who wish to be perceived as well read.  During the pandemic their business has seen a shift in its customer base.  Their newest customers are people who will appear on Zoom and want to make a good impression by having impressive books as a backdrop.  Politico has the scoop.

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Island of the Blue Dolphins is a classic children’s novel that was published in 1960 by the respected author Scott O’Dell who wrote a total of 26 novels for young people.  When the publisher, Houghton Mifflin, decided to produce a special 50th anniversary edition of the book, they engaged Lois Lowry, another well-known author of children’s books, to write an introduction.  If you go to the Amazon website, you’ll find the following letter that Lowry wrote to the readers about some encounters she had with O’Dell.

Last summer, when I was asked to write an introduction to a new edition of Island of the Blue Dolphins, my mind went back in time to the 1960s, when my children were young and it was one of their best-loved books.

But a later memory surfaced, as well, of a party I was invited to in the summer of 1979. By now the kids were grown. I was in New York to attend a convention of the American Library Association, and Scott O’Dell’s publisher, Houghton Mifflin, was honoring him at a reception being held at the St. Regis Hotel. I had never met Mr. O’Dell. But because of my own children I knew his books, and I was pleased to be invited to such an illustrious event.

I was staying at a nearby hotel and planned to walk over to the party. But when I began to get dressed, I encountered a problem. I was wearing, I remember, a rose-colored crêpe de Chine dress. It buttoned up the back. I was alone in my hotel room. I buttoned the bottom buttons, and I buttoned the top buttons, but there was one button in the middle of my back that I simply couldn’t reach. It makes me laugh today, thinking about it, picturing the contortions I went through in that hotel room: twisting my arms, twisting my back, all to no avail.

The clock was ticking. The party would start soon. I had no other clothes except the casual things I’d been wearing all day and which were now wrinkled from the summer heat.

Finally I decided, The heck with it. I left the room with the button unbuttoned and headed off. When I got in my hotel elevator, a benign-looking older couple, probably tourists from the Midwest, were already standing inside, and I explained my predicament politely and asked if they could give me a hand. The gray-haired man kindly buttoned my dress for me.

We parted company in the lobby of my hotel and off I went to the St. Regis, where I milled around and chatted with countless people, sipped wine, and waited for the guest of honor, Scott O’Dell, to be introduced. When he was, of course he turned out to be the eighty-one-year-old man who had buttoned my dress.

But wait! There’s more. Ten years passed.

I had never seen Mr. O’Dell during the intervening years, but now, suddenly, we were the two speakers at a luncheon being held on a college campus somewhere. I think it may have been Vassar.

We sat next to each other at the head table, nibbling our chicken, chatting about the weather. I knew he wouldn’t remember me, but I certainly remembered him, and I was secretly thinking that when it was my turn to speak, I might tell the audience the amusing little anecdote about the button on my dress. But he went first. And, eyes twinkling, he started his speech with “The last time I was with Lois Lowry, we were in a New York hotel. I was helping her get dressed.” He was ninety-one at the time. All of this floated back into my mind when I found myself rereading, last summer, The Island of the Blue Dolphins. None of it was appropriate to the book’s introduction, of course, and I went on to write, instead, about the power of the story and the magnificence of the writing. Not that anyone needed reminding! There has never been a question about Scott O’Dell’s brilliance as a writer and storyteller. But it’s nice to have a chance, here, to tell an audience that he was also a sweet and funny man.

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