Posted August 28, 2008
Jazz Fest kicks off this weekend, bringing thousands of music fans and dozens of world-class jazz musicians to various stages in Grant Park. The headliners for this year’s fest are two legendary saxaphonists: Sonny Rollins and Ornette Coleman. You can check out CDs from our colllection by Rollins and Coleman, or countless other jazz greats to put you in the mood for the fest. If you are looking for a starter book, why not try What jazz is: an insider’s guide to understanding and listening to jazz by Jonny King, which hopes to guide those new to the genre through some of the basics of this musical genre, as well as giving a list of seminal recordings. Another good choice in the same vein would be Jazz 101: a complete guide to learning and loving jazz by John Szwed. But if you are new to jazz and want to know where to start, a great visual introduction would be the wonderful 10-part DVD series Jazz from Ken Burns. He walks both fans and the uninitiated through the history of this very American musical form. There is also a series of CDs put out around the same time focusing on some of the icons of jazz. These CDs can be a way to get a sampling of the hits of these great artists, but jazz purists will always go for the orginal albums. A guide to some of the landmark jazz recordings can be found in The Penguin guide to jazz recordings.
Oprah with a British Accent
Posted August 26, 2008
In the United States, it’s almost impossible not to have heard of Oprah’s Book Club, which has a massive effect on book sales. Across the pond in the U.K., television stars Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan, a married couple who host the Richard and Judy Show, have a similarly popular book club. However, there’s a twist that makes their club a bit different. Every year the club reads 10 or so titles, but at the end of the season, the public votes on their favorite selection, Idol-style, and the winner gets a “Book of the Year” award, presented at the British Book Awards:
Richard and Judy Book Club Winners
2004: The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
2005: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
2006: Labyrinth by Kate Mosse
2007: The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld
2008: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Looking beyond the winners to the full list of club selections, it’s clear there’s been no slighting of American authors: books by Alice Sebold, Audrey Niffenegger, Nicole Krauss and Joshua Ferris have all been chosen. (Sebold’s book was voted the best of its year.) It’s also interesting to look up titles that have gone unpublished or uncelebrated here in the States. There’s The Know by Martina Cole, a writer who’s a bestseller in the U.K. and who recently made her U.S. debut with Close. Some books are perhaps a bit too regional to have crossed over: there’s Feel, Chris Heath’s biography of U.K. popstar Robbie Williams, and Nigel Slater’s Toast, a foodie’s memoir that sounds steeped in British cuisine. Other titles, like Danny Scheinmann’s Random Acts of Heroic Love and Katharine McMahon’s Rose of Sebastopol, are scheduled for release in the United States in the next year. But if you’re looking for something good to read now, there are plenty of enticing Richard and Judy selections that were published in the United States to relatively little fanfare. Here’s a sampling:
Starter for Ten (U.S. title: A Question of Attraction) by David Nicholls: 1980s-set tale of quiz shows and love
Star of the Sea by Joseph O’Connor: a tale of immigrants during the Irish famine
The Promise of Happiness by Justin Cartwright: a family is reunited with a prodigal daughter
The Conjurer’s Bird by Martin Davies: a historical mystery with a dash of romance about the quest for a rare bird
The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice: glamour and romance in 1950s London
The Girls by Lori Lansens: heartwarming tale of two sisters who were born conjoined yet learn to lead full, independent lives
The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson: a Scottish minister who doesn’t believe in God meets the Devil
DIY Film Fest: Back to High School
Posted August 21, 2008
Summer is winding down, and Chicagoans of all ages are preparing to return to school soon. Even if your formal education is long behind you, there isn’t a better time for reminiscing about your own school days than at the end of summer. We are feeling the back-to-school spirit too and have put together a list of some of our favorite high school movies for you to enjoy. So sharpen some No. 2 pencils, pack your lunchbox, grab a spot on the couch and head back to school.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Feigning sickness, Ferris takes the day off with his best friend and girlfriend and spends the day in Chicago while his high school principal desperately tries to catch him skipping school.
Greaser Danny and good girl Sandy have a memorable summer romance. When they find themselves enrolled in the same high school, Danny tries to protect his cool image by snubbing wholesome Sandy. Could a few changes by both Sandy and Danny draw them back together?
The Breakfast Club
Five very different students find themselves in Saturday detention. They think they have nothing in common, but by the end of the day barriers are broken and friendships are formed.
Set in 1952, Hoosiers tells the story of a small-town Indiana basketball team’s remarkable trip to the state championships.
Underachiever Max Fisher, a student at Rushmore Academy, finds himself in a battle for the affections of teacher Ms. Cross with his good friend, wealthy industrialist Herman Blume in this Wes Anderson comedy.
Stand and Deliver
Based on a true story, this films stars Edward James Olmos as Jaime Escalante, a Los Angeles high school math teacher who rigorously prepares a group of students for the AP calculus exam.
Homeschooled by her parents for her entire life, Cady enrolls in a public high school after her family moves from Africa to the United States. She quickly climbs the social ladder until she develops a crush on the ex-boyfriend of the most popular girl in school.
Dead Poets Society
An emotionally moving film about an English teacher whose unorthodox teaching methods at a boys’ preparatory school inspires a group of his students to embrace their passions.
Oddball Napoleon befriends new student Pedro and helps him run for school president in this offbeat comedy.
This satire, based on a book by Tom Perotta, tells the story of go-getter Tracy Flick’s pursuit to get elected as student body president and her teacher Mr. McAllister’s attempts to thwart her.
Ooh La La
Posted August 19, 2008
Fashion icon Coco Chanel was born on this day in 1883. Chanel opened her first dress shop in Paris in 1914. She first became known for her ready-to-wear designs for women, but it was the launch of her classic fragrance, Chanel No. 5, in 1922 that really helped keep her growing fashion empire going during the ensuing difficult years of World Wars I and II. Along with her signature fragrance and her ever-popular “Chanel suit,” we also have her to thank for the “little black dress” and jersey fabric. Yes, that’s right: Coco is credited with introducing the soft, light knit, previously only used for undergarments, into the fashion foreground. Thanks for that, Mademoiselle Chanel. The Chanel name is still going strong, and today the coutre line is designed by Karl Lagerfeld, a fashion icon in his own right. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who isn’t familiar with the name Chanel today, but few people probably know much about her life. That is easily remedied by picking up her biography by former editor-in-chief of French Vogue Edmonde Charles-Roux, Chanel and Her World: Friends, Fashion and Fame. Yet another pick for some insight into the world of Chanel is Axel Madsen’s Chanel: A Woman of Her Own. If what you really want is a glimpse of her fabulous designs, check out the catalogue from the Chanel exhibit held at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2005. For another fun look at Parisian fashion, check out Alicia Drake’s The beautiful fall: Lagerfeld, Saint Laurent and the glorious excess in 1970s Paris. And for an interesting look at the perfume industry, check out the recent book by New York Times perfume critic Chandler Burr, The perfect scent: a year inside the perfume industry in Paris and New York. Burr chronicles the creation of two new fragrances: One by a designer at Paris’ Hermes who is charged with creating a scent that will “challenge le monstre of the industry, bestselling Chanel No. 5,” the other, a fragrance created by Sarah Jessica Parker and Coty Inc.
Age of Napoleon
Posted August 14, 2008
In honor of the birthday of Napoleon Bonaparte, who was emperor of France in the early 19th century, we’d like to suggest you spend some time with us in the Napoleonic era. Napoleon was born August 15, 1769 on the island of Corsica. He came to power after the French Revolution, through his numerous and successful military campaigns. Considered by many to one of the greatest military leaders of all time, he expanded the French Empire aggressively and eventually plunged all of Europe into war. The period of Napoleon’s reign and the Napoleonic wars has long been a fascinating one for writers and has spawned some of the greatest adventure stories ever written. The writings of C.S. Forester would be a great place to start, especially any of the novels in the Horatio Hornblower series set in the British navy. These novels were also made into a terrific collection of movies. Speaking of action on the high seas, another outstanding series of novels is about Captain Jack Aubrey and his friend and fellow adventurer Dr. Stephen Maturin, by Patrick O’Brian. The Aubrey/Maturin books are considered some of the greatest examples of historical fiction, richly detailed and with characters that you will want to follow from adventure to adventure. If you prefer your military adventure on dry land, you can hardly go wrong with the Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell. These novels of British soldier Richard Sharpe are set throughout Europe and follow many of the actual battles of the period. And, finally, for a more fanciful take on the age of Napoleon, try the Temeraire novels by Naomi Novik. In this fantasy series she reimagines the Napoleonic wars with an aerial squadron made up of dragons. And yes, I know how that sounds, but fans of both historical fiction and fantasy will be happily surprised at how well it works.
David Sedaris, Rock Star
Posted August 12, 2008
An actual author on network television? David Sedaris was a guest on The Late Show with David Letterman a few weeks back. Not only did the legendary talk show host invite Sedaris to his deskside for a chat (rare enough for an author), but after a commercial break he turned the show over to him completely, like he was the musical guest or something, and there was Sedaris behind a podium reading from his latest book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames. Sedaris, of course, is a mega-bestselling author who came to prominence on NPR reading his now-famous Santaland Diaries. His last five collections of humor pieces have hit the New York Times bestsellers list, and Engulfed has perched triumphantly atop the chart since June 22. The guy will even be doing an evening at the Auditorium Theatre in October where top-tier tickets are selling for $100. If you’ve never heard of Sedaris before, please excuse us for thinking you need to get out a bit more. He’s a rock star. Still, Sedaris has only written so many books, so if you’re looking for more books to tickle your funny bone, consider these recent successes:
Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea by Chelsea Handler
I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley
The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy by Robert Leleux
(Not That You Asked): Rants, Exploits and Obsessions by Steve Almond
Things I’ve Learned from Women Who’ve Dumped Me ed. Ben Karlin
Bright Lights, Big Ass: A Self-Indulgent, Surly, Ex-Sorority Girl’s Guide to Why it Often Sucks in the City, or Who are These Idiots and Why Do They All Live Next Door to Me? by Jen Lancaster
I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell by Tucker Max
My Custom Van: And 50 Other Mind-Blowing Essays that Will Blow Your Mind All Over Your Face by Michael Ian Black
Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip—Confessions of a Cynical Waiter by Waiter (coming soon)
Swish: My Quest To Become the Gayest Person Ever by Joel Derfner
The Idiot Girl and the Flaming Tantrum of Death by Laurie Notaro
I Am Not Myself These Days: A Memoir by Josh Kilmer-Purcell
Dark at the Roots by Sarah Thyre
Beijing 2008 Olympic Games
Posted August 7, 2008
Tomorrow evening the Summer Games opening ceremonies will take place in Beijing, and thousands of athletes will compete in over 300 sporting events until the closing ceremonies on August 24. The games date back to possibly 776 B.C., although historians are uncertain of the exact date, and were celebrated every four years until 393 A.D., when they were stopped by Roman emperor Theodosius I. The documentaries The First Olympics and The Real Olympics explore the history of the ancient Olympics. In 1894, 1,500 years later, the International Olympic Committee was created by Pierre de Coubertin and the first modern Olympics were held in 1896 in Athens, Greece with only a handful of countries participating. Over 500 athletes will be representing the United States at this year’s games, including swimming superstar Michael Phelps, who has a shot to win eight gold medals to top Mark Spitz’s seven gold medals in the 1972 Munich games, the most gold medals won in a single Olympics. Those who are interested in Phelps should check out Amazing Pace: The Story of An Olympic Champion. Be sure to watch 41-year-old Dara Torres, who will be the first swimmer to compete in five Olympics. Torres is competing in the 50m freestyle and two relays. To learn more about what it takes to be a 41-year-old Olympic athlete, check out Torres’ recent profile in the New York Times. Another remarkable American athlete to watch is Sheila Taormina. Taormina competed in swimming in 1996 and the triathlon in 2004, and at the 2008 games she is participating in the pentathlon! Perhaps not the most popular event, the pentathlon requires a large skill set. Participants compete in epee fencing, pistol shooting, 200m freestyle swimming, show jumping on horseback and a 3km cross country run. How about the Lopez siblings? Steven, Mark and Diana are all competing in Taekwondo, and elder brother Jean is their coach. This is just a sampling of many phenomenal athletes who will be competing this year. Over the next two weeks there are certain to be stories of glory and heartbreak from Beijing.
Caught Reading on the CTA: Blue Line Edition
Posted August 5, 2008
We’re at it again. We’ve been peering over our own books to catch a glimpse at what you’re reading this summer. Turns out you’re into a little bit of everything. We spotted two David Sedaris titles, his latest, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, and an oldie, Me Talk Pretty One Day. Another recent release spotted was Lavinia, the latest from fantasy maven Ursula K. LeGuin. On the chick lit front, a copy of Sleeping Arrangements by Madeline Wickham (otherwise knows as Sophie Kinsella of Shopaholic fame) caught our eye. Looks like classics remain popular with commuters. The Great Gatsby, One Hundred Years of Solitude and Antigone (!) are making the rounds. One title that really made us perk up was The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. This piece of nonfiction examines what would become of our cities and our environs if humans were to disappear. It’s an interesting take on the hot topic of the environment, which just so happens to be the theme of our Summer Reading program, Read Green, Live Green. Of the many books we spied on the train, two in particular made us want to run to our computers, sign on to Goodreads and add to our to-read shelf: Motherless Brooklyn (we are long overdue to read Lethem’s works) and Monster Island: a zombie novel by David Wellington (zombies!). Here’s what else Blue Line riders are reading:
Bomb the Suburbs by William Upski Wimsatt
Bright Lights, Big Ass: a self-indulgent, surly ex-sorority girl’s guide to why it often sucks in the city, or Who are these idiots and why do they all live next door to me? by Jen Lancaster
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon.
Clinton Wars by Sidney Blumenthal
What is the What by Dave Eggers
War by Candlelight: stories by Daniel Alarco´n
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard
Afterglow by Catherine Coulter