Talking About Books . . .

Lapsing into a Comma

Washington Post copy editor Bill Walsh died recently.  Linda Holmes writes fondly about him in an NPR article that also includes an excerpt from one of his books.

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What’s your “x” rating?  Mine varies from 1.0 to 1.5, but I hope it will reach 2.0 as time goes by.  But it will never reach the 3.0 that some people attain.  The “x” rating in this case is the speed at which you listen to an audio book.  If you read it at the recorded speed the “x” rating is 1.0.  If you read it at 1.25 times the recorded speed, then your “x” rating is 1.25.  The most amazing thing about accelerated listening speeds is that the narrator’s voice does not change its pitch.  It doesn’t sound like The Chipmunks.  You simply hear the narrator speaking faster.  An Audible Range article explains “speed listening” much better than I can.

I recently finished listening to T. H. White’s The Once and Future King which is a 639 page paperback book with small print.  I’m a slow reader, so it would have taken a long, long time for me to  read it.  Even in it audio book format it takes 33 hours to complete.  By listening to it at 1.25 times the normal speed I was able to cut the listening time to just over 26 hours without sacrificing my understanding of White’s masterpiece.  Strangely, listening at an accelerated speed added inflection to the narrator’s voice thereby making the narration more interesting.  That added inflection can turn many a plodding narrator into a peppy, interesting one.  The phenomenon is also discussed in the above mentioned article.

Another fascinating thing that occurs with speed listening is that your brain learns to accommodate higher and higher listening speeds as time goes by.  I could occasionally listen to White’s book at 1.5 times the normal rate.  The speed at which you can listen, however, varies with the complexity of the book.

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Largely because of Thomas Keneally’s book Schindler’s List, we are aware of Oskar Schindler’s heroic efforts  to save concentration camp Jews from death during World War II.  One of the existing lists of Jews working in Schindler’s factories will be auctioned soon.  The Guardian has the details plus a link to the auction site in case you want to put in a bid.  But beware, the list is expected to sell for over $2 million.

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Learn Better

We adults don’t learn as rapidly as we did when we were children.  So, is there a way to optimize the rate at which we learn?  In an Atlantic magazine interview author and  educator Ulrich Boser provides some learning strategies.

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Did you know that Danielle Steele has made a statement about the weather in the opening sentence of 46% of her novels? A Smithsonian article gives some interesting statistics about word usage and many other aspects of the novels of many well-known authors.  I’m not sure that the statistics form easily understood patterns, but they should be interesting to readers and would-be authors alike.

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Scientific Romance

Are you a science fiction fan?  Michael Dirda, book reviewer extraordinaire for The Washington Post, is, and in a recent article he reviewed two anthologies that feature early science fiction.

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“Watch your ps and qs,” is an old adage that probably began with typesetting.  When you look at a p or q while setting type, it is easy to confuse them because they are backward.  To that advice, one might now add, “Watch your Oxford commas.”  The Guardian relates a legal case where the lack of an Oxford comma made a difference in a court decision.

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The PBS Newshour occasionally features a segment called “The PBS Newshour Bookshelf”  In it, authors are interviewed about their books.  The subjects cover a wide range of topics, so you’re sure to find interviews that will interest you.

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Book TV Programs You’ll Enjoy

I love to watch Book TV.  The variety of interviews and discussions – all about nonfiction books – can’t be matched anywhere.  And you can access the most recent offerings as well as a vast library of past programs from anywhere.  Below are a few segments that you might enjoy, but be sure to check out the Book TV website for more.

Mrs. Sherlock Holmes

Grace Humiston was unique.  She was one of the early women in the United States to get a law degree (she finished her degree work at N.Y.U. in two years rather than three, and was seventh in her graduating class), she was a practicing lawyer, and, acting as a detective, she was able to crack crime cases that the men around either couldn’t or wouldn’t solve.  “Mrs. Sherlock Holmes,” as she was called, made headlines all over the world for her successes, but she also made lots of powerful enemies.  Brad Ricca, author of Mrs. Sherlock Holmes, has a fascinating story to tell about a remarkable woman whose story, but for his own diligent detective work, might have been lost to history.

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Becoming Grandma

Lesley Stahl, who has been a TV reporter for many years, became a grandmother a few years ago.  Her book  about the joys of grandparenthood, Becoming Grandma, is filled with delightful stories that any grandparent – make or female – can relate to.  In an interview from the Newseum in Washington, DC she shares some of them with us.  One of the funniest of all is the story behind the photograph on the cover of her book.

By the way, if you ever go to Washington don’t miss the Newseum.  Unlike the Smithsonian museums you have to pay to see the Newseum, but it’s worth the money.

Another must-see in Washington is the Folger Shakespeare Library.  It has possibly the largest collection of Shakespeare folios and related items in the world.  It’s also a research library for Shakespeare scholars.

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The Gene

Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of the fantastic book The Emperor of All Maladies has received wide praise for his follow-up book The Gene: An Intimate History.  He is extremely good at making complex medical ideas accessible to us common folks.

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Chasing the Last Laugh

“There are two times in a man’s life when he should not speculate,” wrote Mark Twain, “When he can’t afford it and when he can,”  Unfortunately, he didn’t take his own advice.  The result was a huge financial crisis – one that would have finished off many lesser men.  On top of that many of the people he loved most died too young, resulting in depression and bitterness.  Instead of giving up, he went on an around-the-world-speaking tour.  Chasing the Last Laugh: Mark Twain’s Raucous and Redemptive Round-the-World Comedy Tour by Richard Zacks gives us lots of tidbits to enjoy about the unique Mr. Twain.

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Quotes of Note

Throughout Guns, Germs, and Steel author Jared Diamond makes the point over and over that we shouldn’t judge “primitive” people as being unintelligent simply because they don’t possess the same knowledge database that we have.  In the example below Diamond gives us an example of how knowledgeable the Foré tribesmen of New Guinea are about the practical things they must be aware of in order to stay alive, and how stupid they think some American “experts” are. 

“For the last 33 years, while conducting biological explorations in New Guinea, I have been spending my field time there constantly in the company of New Guineans who still use wild plants and animals extensively.  One day when my companions of the Foré tribe and I were starving in the jungle because another tribe was blocking our return to our supply base, a Foré man returned to camp with a large rucksack full of mushrooms he had found, and started to roast them.  Dinner at last! But then I had an unsettling thought: What if the mushrooms were poisonous?

“I patiently explained to my Foré companions that I had read about some mushrooms being poisonous, that I had heard of even expert American mushroom collectors dying because of the difficulty of distinguishing safe from dangerous mushrooms, and that although we were all hungry, it just wasn’t worth the risk.  At that point my companions got angry and told me to shut up and listen while they explained some things to me.  After I had been quizzing them for years about names of hundreds of trees and birds, how could I insult them by assuming they didn’t have names for different mushrooms?  Only Americans could be so stupid as to confuse poisonous mushrooms with safe ones.  They went on to lecture me about 29 types of edible mushroom species, each species’ name in the Foré language, and where in the forest one should look for it.  This one, the tánti, grew on trees and it was delicious and perfectly edible.”

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“Litigations between husbands and wives exceed in bitterness and hatred those of any other relationships.  I have represented defrauded businessmen who fight their deceivers for fortune and power.  I have seen them pour out their venom against their opponents until they suffered heart attacks or were ulcerated.  I have witnessed struggles for the protection of copyrighted property, where the pride of authorship, being dearer than life itself, consumed the creative artist.  I have seen public figures libeled or accused of wrongs which could wreck their life’s work, strike back at their detractors.  I have observed men with spotless reputations who were indicted, suffer nervous breakdowns.  I have witnessed children sue their fathers to deprive them of their businesses, or brothers engaged in fratricidal contests without quarter.  I have seen defendants in antitrust suits beleaguered by plaintiffs seeking treble damages or defending themselves against Government actions aimed to break up their enterprise, painstakingly build over a lifetime.  I have participated in will contests in which relatives were at each others’ throats for the inheritance.

“All these litigations evoke intense feelings of animosity, revenge, and retribution.  Some of them may be fought ruthlessly.  But none of them even in their most aggravated form, can equal the sheer, unadulterated venom of a matrimonial contest.  The participants are often ready to gouge out the eyes or the soul of the once loved, without any pity whatsoever.” – Louis Nizer, My Life in Court

“Hot lead can be almost as effective coming from a linotype as from a firearm.” – John O’Hara

“It’s not that I don’t like things, I mean some things are very nice, but they certainly take a distant second place to being able to live your life and being able to do what you want to do. I always knew that I didn’t want to work.” – Cormack McCarthy

“We do not need magic to change the world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already. We have the power to imagine better.” – J.K. Rowling

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Anthropologist Margaret Mead

“Be a first-rate version of yourself instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.” – Judy Garland

“There are five stages in the life of an actor: Who’s Mary Astor? Get me Mary Astor. Get me a Mary Astor type. Get me a young Mary Astor. Who’s Mary Astor?” – Actress Mary Astor

 

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Lagniappe

Happy Mardi Gras!

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An unpublished novel by Walt Whitman was recently found in the archives of a Victorian era New York Sunday newspaper. It was discovered by Zachary Turpin, a PhD candidate in English at the University of Houston.  You will find the novel in a .pdf file here.

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golden-legacy

Do you remember the Little Golden Books from your childhood? I remember them  from both my childhood, and from those of my children and my granddaughter.  The wonderful series turns 75 this year and is still popular.  National Public Radio recently interviewed Leonard Marcus about his book Golden Legacy: The Story of Golden Books.

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word-by-word

The Boston Globe has an article that will appeal to every word nerd.  It’s about the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a new book about words by a Merriam-Webster lexicographer (see image above), a Mel Gibson-Sean Penn movie based on Simon Winchester’s book The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary and much more.

You may also enjoy the word games at the Merriam-Webster website.

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According to author Phillip Lopate, Ernest Hemingway was a “contradictory, alternately smart and stupid, blustering, fragile man who was also a giant of modern literature.”  As evidence he points to the letters of Hemingway which are in the process of being published in 17 or so volumes.  Volume three gives some valuable insight into the psyche of one of the twentieth century’s greatest novelists. You can read more about volume three here.

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take-courage

The novels of Charlotte and Emily Brontë are staples of the Western Canon, but those of their sister, Anne, are hardly remembered at all – despite the fact that she may have been  the best writer of the three.  In Take Courage: Anne Brontë and the Art of Life, biographer Samantha Ellis makes the case for Ann’s greatness. You can find out more about Ann Brontë and about Ellis’ book here.

Anne Brontë’s two novels are in the public domain (as are those of Charlotte and Emily) and can be obtained free from many sources on the internet

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BookBrowse routinely interviews authors about their works.  Here are 10 of their favorite interviews from 2016.  Note that if you click on the title of the book (to the right of “Read the Interview”), you will find some or all of the following extras: a summary, an excerpt, a reading guide, and a discussion.  You might even find an interesting book or two for your favorite book club.

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I will host Music on the Sunny Side on WBRH-FM here in Baton Rouge on Sunday, March 5th from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. CT.  The show will be a mix of Big Band music and some music that is a bit more contemporary.  Two of the highlights will be selections from George Gershwin’s 1934 American opera Porgy and Bess.  Only one of the songs will be sung by opera stars (bass-baritone Willard White and  soprano Leona Mitchell).  The others will be sung by Harry Belafonte, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, William Warfield, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Carmen McRae.  The other highlight will be selections from a salute to Tony Bennett on his 90th birthday.  Singers will include Michael Bublé, Kevin Spacey, Diana Krall, Rufus Wainwright, and k. d. lang.  The segment will end with Mr. Bennett singing “The Best Is Yet to Come.”  His voice is still incredible at 90.  You can join us locally at 90.3 FM or 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, March 5, 2017 from noon to 3:00 p.m. ET.  The featured guest will be author and columnist Dave Barry.  His books include Best. State. Ever.: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland and Dave Barry’s Greatest Hits.

 

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Lagniappe

stories-of-your-life

The 2017 Academy Awards will be presented on Sunday night, February 26thElectric Lit has a list of the nominated movies that are based on books. Be sure to also see the Electric Lit article on the best 2016 literary adaptations for both movies and TV here.

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A recent article in The Washington Post questions many of the prevalent ideas about how to read faster.  In fact, the article suggests that we “ignore the rules of the speed-reading gurus.”

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the-novel-of-the-century

David Bellos, who specializes in translating French language books into English, recently completed a book about the history of Victor Hugo’s 1,500 pages masterpiece Les MisérablesA Guardian article tells us about Bellos’ book, and about the life of Hugo.  Bellos’ book will be available in the United States on March 21, 2017.

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Flavorwire has an ongoing series that you might enjoy.  It’s called “The Sweetest Debut,” and it is made up of  interview with authors about their debut (or near-debut) books and about their lives.  You will find the articles in the series here.

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Five Books bills itself as the site that has “the best books on  everything.”  I can’t disagree with that.  Explore the site and you’ll find something that interests you.  Go to the site, scroll down the home page, and you’ll find many, many categories of books that are recommended.  Each category features an interview with a notable person who offers five books on the chosen subject.  Many of the categories have numerous interviews based on multiple aspects of that category.  For instance, click on “Theatre,” and you’ll find articles about the best plays of Shakespeare, the best books about Broadway, the best books about twentieth century theatre, and the best books about opera.  It’s a wonderful site to explore, but it’s addictive!

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On Sunday morning, February 5, 2017 I will host Music on the Sunny Side from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. CT on WBRH public radio (90.3 FM in the Baton Rouge area).  WBRH is also available on the internet at wbrh.org.  Most of the music is from the Big Band era, but some is much more current.  Highlights will include Glenn Miller and his orchestra “live” with five numbers that have the word “blue” in their titles, an edition of G. I. Jive with guest host Ann Rutherford, two versions of Duke Ellington’s “Concerto for Cootie,” The Camel Caravan radio show with Benny Goodman and his orchestra (from November 18, 1939) with special guest Mildred Bailey (a.k.a. Mrs. Swing), three numbers featuring Bob Hope and some of his friends, and the delightful “Johnny Be Fair” featuring Buffy Sainte-Marie.  Some of the very talented musicians and singers featured on the show include Django Reinhardt, Stephane Grapelli, Fats Waller, Doris Day, Renee Olstead, Les Brown, Al Hirt, Al Martino, Jerry Vale, Irene Daye, Patti Page, Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, Bert Kaempfert, Nat “King” Cole, and Tony Bennett.

Fritz McCameron, a retired professor from LSU, hosts the show every Sunday except for the first Sunday of each month.  Fritz is a walking encyclopedia concerning music – especially Big Band music.  You can comment on any of the shows or make requests by calling us at 225-388-9030.

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The next edition of the live author interview program In-Depth on Book TV (C-SPAN2) will air Sunday, February 5, 2017 from noon to 3:00 p.m. ET.  The featured guest will be author and political commentator Nick Adams.  His books include Green Card Warrior: My Quest for Legal Immigration in an Illegals’ System and Retaking America: Crushing Political Correctness.

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Did You Know . . . ?

Kurt Vonnegut was a masters student in anthropology on the G.I. bill at the University of Chicago after World War II.  He completed his course work and proposed a subject for his thesis, but it was turned down.  He proposed another, and it was turned down as well.  In 1971 he finally received his master’s degree – for his book Cat’s Cradle.  Read this to see how it happened.

You have to wonder if Vonnegut would have become a writer if he had obtained his master’s degree as  scheduled.

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hamilton

The hit Broadway musical Hamilton was inspired by Ron Chernow’s nonfiction book Alexander Hamilton.

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Aldous Huxley, the British writer best known for the 1932 novel Brave New World, collaborated with others on a number of movie scripts including Pride and Prejudice (1940), Madame Curie (1943), and Jane Eyre (1944).  Huxley died from cancer in Los Angeles, California on November 22, 1963 – the same day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

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Thomas Lanier “Tennessee” Williams III was born in Columbus, Mississippi, died in New York City, and is buried in St. Louis, Missouri.  He left his literary rights to The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee in honor of his grandfather, Walter Dakin, who graduated from there.

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Fay Weldon, an established author, was paid £18,000 in return for her promise to mention the jeweler Bulgari at least 12 times in one of her novels  The Bulgari Connection, published in 2001, mentions the jeweler 34 times.    Many writers protested what The Guardian labeled a “Faustian pact with commerce” in return for monetary enrichment. Weldon was unapologetic.

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Writer Truman Capote and Joanne Carson, who was once married to The Tonight Show host Johnny Carson, were close friends.  In fact, Capote died at her mansion in Bel-Air in 1984 at the age of 59.  She kept Capote’s ashes in a carved wooden Japanese box because it made her feel close to him.  She died last year and Capote’s ashes were recently sold at auction in Los Angeles to an anonymous buyer for $42,750. The clothes he was wearing when he died sold for $6,400, and a collection of his prescription pill bottles sold for a total of $9,280. I promise, I didn’t make this up.

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the-robe

Lloyd C. Douglas was a minister until age 52.  At that point he left the ministry to write religion-themed novels full time.  He was quite successful, and received many letters from fans each week.  One letter, from a woman named Hazel McCann, asked Douglas what he thought had happened to Jesus’ robe after His death on the cross.  Douglas found the idea intriguing, and eventually wrote his bestseller The Robe based on his answer to McCann’s question.  If you look at the dedication page in the book, you will find that The Robe is dedicated to Hazel McCann.

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According to the book  Now I Know red-headed sperm donors are not very popular because women don’t want their children to have fathers with red hair.  In the book Orphan Train, a novel based on facts, the red-headed New York City orphans who (along with other children) were taken to the west in the early part of the twentieth century in hopes that someone would adopt them, were seldom adopted, so they were returned to their orphanages.

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When author Thomas Hardy died in 1928 it was assumed by his second wife, Florence, that he would be buried in Stinsford parish churchyard in Dorchester, Dorset, England beneath the tombstone of his first wife, Emma.  In fact, he had left room for his name to be added to the tombstone.  However, many including J. M. Barre wanted him to be buried in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.  Florence decided that his heart would be buried in Stinsford parish churchyard while his ashes would be buried in Poets’ Corner.  Consequently, Hardy literally had two funerals.

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We find typographic errors in books all the time, but what are the consequences if they occur in the publication of a Bible?  What if, for instance, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” should be published as, “Thou shalt commit adultery”?  Could this ever happen?  Yes, it has happened a number of times with varying consequences for the printer.

The above mistake was made in a Bible printed by the printing firm of Barker and Lewis in England in 1631.  The fact that they were the king’s printers did not save them from a £300 fine which put them out of business.  This Bible became known as “The Wicked Bible.”

In 1653 a Bible printed in England contained this statement from 1 Corinthians: Know ye not that the unrighteous shall inherit the Kingdom of God?”  That Bible became known as “The Unrighteous Bible.”

You can read about other Bible bloopers here.

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Quiz of the Month – January 2017

This quiz will test your knowledge of books that have been made into movies and your knowledge of the actors who played in the movie adaptations.  In each case I will list a character followed by the book (and its author) in which the character appears.  We will begin with a few simple examples.  As always, you will find the answers on the Quiz Answers page.

  1. Rhett Butler in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind
  2. Dorothy in L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
  3. Yuri Zhivago  in Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago
  4. Sam Spade in Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon
  5. McMurphy in Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  6. Scarlett O’Hara in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone  with the Wind
  7. Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams’ play A Streetcar Named Desire
  8. The Cowardly Lion in L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
  9. Benjamin Braddock in Charles Webb’s The Graduate
  10. Celie in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple
  11. Michael Corleone in Mario Puzzo’s The Godfather
  12.  Hermione Granger in J. K.  Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone)
  13. Forrest Gump in Winston Groom’s Forrest Gump
  14. Princess Buttercup in William Goldman’s The Princess Bride
  15. Aibileen Clark in Kathryn Stockett’s The Help
  16. Katniss Everdeen in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games
  17. Tom Joad in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath
  18. John Hammond in Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park
  19. Lora Meredith in Fannie Hurst’s Imitation of Life (1959)
  20. Sophie Zawistowska in William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice
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