Around the World With Mysteries: Venice
Posted August 31, 2010
Considered one of the most romantic cities in the world, Venice also has a seamy underside — at least in mystery fiction. One of mystery’s most popular police commissioners, Commissario Guido Brunetti, works in and around Venice, and was created by Donna Leon, an American who’s lived in Venice for 25 years and undoubtedly knows her setting well. Brunetti is a cynic about the corrupt environment in which he works, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to solve the case or from enjoying a pleasant home life with his wife, Paola, and their children. The Washington Post has stated that “Brunetti is a marvel: smart, cultured and dedicated to his work.” Going strong now for nearly 20 years, the series started in 1992 with Death at Le Fenice in which Comissario Brunetti tries to solve the murder of a German conductor during the intermission of La Traviata. In the recently published A Question of Belief, Brunetti wants to escape the oppressive Venetian summer heat by heading to the mountains with his family, but he must first he tie up a few cases. If you haven’t already, we recommend picking up this very popular and entertaining series.
Another American author who has spent ample time in Venice is Edward Sklepowich. His Venetian mystery series features Urbino Macintyre, an American expatriate and amateur sleuth. There are nine installments in the series. In the most recent, Veils of Venice, Urbino tries to unravel the murder of his friend Contessa Barbara’s cousin, Olimpia. Publishers Weekly noted that “Sklepowich dramatically juxtaposes the splendor of Venice against the dark deed of murder.”
For historical fans, check out Beverle Graves Myers’ unique series set in the 18th century and featuring a castrato sleuth, Tito Amato. The series, which according to Publishers Weekly brings “18th century Venice to vivid life,” has five installments. The series started with Interrupted Aria, in which a prima donna is poisoned during a performance; when Tito’s friend Felice is jailed, Tito is determined to prove his innocence.
The Pen is…More Lucrative than the Sword?
Posted August 26, 2010
Forbes recently published a list of the world’s highest-paid authors. Most authors, of course, don’t make a great living, and it would be extremely unwise to take up writing as a way to make a fortune. Surely the greatest reward comes from connecting with an audience. But it’s nice to daydream, and the list is certainly interesting as evidence that these authors are all extremely popular. Of course, many of them are also quite prolific, none more so than the man at the top of the list, who hits the bestsellers lists regularly several times a year.
James Patterson was profiled back in January in the New York Times Magazine. From that article: “Since 2006, one out of every 17 novels bought in the United States was written by James Patterson. He is listed in the latest edition of Guinness World Records, published last fall, as the author with the most New York Times bestsellers, 45, but that number is already out of date: he now has 51 — 35 of which went to No. 1.” And that was only as of January. Interestingly, Patterson compares his brand to that of Crest toothpaste. Make of that what you will. Meanwhile, here’s the complete Forbes list. Surely Suzanne Collins and the estate of Stieg Larsson can’t be far behind.
Down by the Schoolyard
Posted August 24, 2010
With the kids heading back to school it’s easy to get into a “hit the books” mentality. Before you put summer fun behind you, we thought we’d put in a plug for continuing to make time for play as we head into fall.
In David Elkin’s The Power of Play: How Spontaneous, Imaginative Activities Lead to Happier, Healthier Children, he advocates for more unstructured play for children. He stresses its developmental importance at all levels of childhood and adolescence and asserts that it leads to more well-adjusted kids who are more likely to succeed academically. In Einstein Never Used Flash Cards: How Our Children Really Learn—and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less we find three more psychologists promoting more play and less academic rigor for today’s kids. Play, in their opinion, is what fosters creativity and independent thinking, two skills they say will help them fare better in our changing world. Expanding on that theory we have Daniel H. Pink’s A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. He argues that the future belongs to those right-brained creative types. And finally, we have Stuart Brown and Christopher Vaughan who advocate for play for everyone. In Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul they present similar findings that indicate that play develops creativity and empathy, promotes fairness and overall makes for happier individuals.
The True Chicago Story
Posted August 19, 2010
A successful play, musical and movie, Chicago tells the story of Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, two attractive Jazz Age women on trial for murdering their lovers, who charm the jury and the public. This scandalous and intriguing story wasn’t something cooked up in a creative writing class: Maurine Watkins, the original playwright, covered the true story for the Chicago Tribune as a reporter. Chicago was a violent place in the 1920s, and apparently beautiful women were in on the act: Beulah Annan, “the prettiest murderess,” and Belva Gaertner, described as “most stylish,” helped usher in the era of the celebrity criminal. There were no entertainment news networks or gossip blogs to fill the public in on the lurid details, but the sensational stories in the newspapers did a pretty decent job. The real story Watkins covered is now told in Douglas Perry’s recently published The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust and the Beautiful Killers Who Inspired Chicago, which Booklist notes is is “a well-researched, fast-paced story” and Kirkus describes as “consistently entertaining.”
Here are a few other new Chicago-related books:
Get Capone by Jonathan Eig
The Wagon and Other Stories by Martin Preib
Angel of Death Row by Andrea D. Lyon
Edgar Miller and the Handmade Home by Richard Cahan and Michael Williams
Chicago Television edited by Daniel Berger and Steve Jajkowski
A Game of Character by Craig Robinson
For You, I am Trilling These Songs by Kathleen Rooney
Family Affair by Sam Giancana and Scott M. Burnstein
Posted August 17, 2010
Jonathan Franzen, author of The Corrections whose long-anticipated follow-up Freedom will be published at the end of the month, graces the cover of the latest issue of Time magazine. They say he’s the first living novelist to be on the cover since Stephen King was featured 10 years ago. (A couple years before that, Time’s cover featured Toni Morrison, whose A Mercy is the Library’s fall One Book One Chicago selection.) The Observer’s books editor does a nice job contextualizing the Time article.
So will Freedom live up to such great expectations? It’s too soon to say, but advance reviews are starting to come in. New York Magazine’s Sam Anderson writes that it’s “a reminder both of why everyone got so excited about Franzen in the first place and of the undeniable magic — even today, in our digital end-times — of the old-timey literary novel.” Esquire declares: “It measures up.” And in the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani calls Franzen’s new novel “his most deeply felt novel yet.” But NPR’s Alan Cheuse has a dissenting opinion. Well, unanimous praise is boring, right? Meanwhile, if you’re a Jonathan Franzen fan who’s read all his novels and need something more, consider Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children, which Franzen championed recently. (Update: Franzen breaks “the curve.”)
Don’t Miss This: 1960
Posted August 12, 2010
It’s time once again for a trip down memory lane. This time we’ll stroll through 1960. In January of that year Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts announced his candidacy for president. Later in the year he went on to participate in the first televised presidential debate against his opponent Richard M. Nixon. It was also the year of the famous sit-ins at the segregated Woolworth’s counter in Greensboro, N.C. Now let’s see what was happening in the world of literature, music and film.
Harper Lee published her award-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird. The National Book Award went to Philip Roth for Goodbye, Columbus, while the Pulitzer went to Allen Drury’s Advise and Consent. In genre writing the Hugo for excellence in science fiction and fantasy went to Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein.
The Oscar for best picture of 1960 went to The Apartment starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine and Fred MacMurray, while the Golden Globe for the best picture went to Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus starring Kirk Douglas and Laurence Olivier. Other popular films of the year included Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and the original Ocean’s 11.
Elvis made news in music with his return from a stint in the U.S. Army. He also released two chart-toppers, “It’s Now or Never” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” It seems Elvis’s much publicized draft notice also inspired the story that went on to become the hit Broadway musical released that same year, Bye Bye Birdie.
D.I.Y. Film Fest: Summer Movies
Posted August 10, 2010
The end of summer is nearing, and we’ve been thinking about our favorite summer-themed films. We’ve covered camp, vacation, summer jobs and love — all common to the summer experience — but there are also a few surprises on the list. So turn on the fan or the AC, and enjoy one of the last hot days this season indoors with a movie.
The Parent Trap (1961)
The original Parent Trap starring Haley Mills is a classic that both adults and kids can enjoy. Two girls meet at summer camp and realize they are identical twins of divorced parents. They switch places to spend time with the parent they never knew and concoct a plan to get them back together.
After graduating college, James (Jesse Eisenberg) plans on going to Europe for the summer before heading to grad school but instead finds himself with a job at a local amusement park, Adventureland.
The Endless Summer (1966)
This documentary follows two surfers who, in a quest for an endless summer, travel across the world searching for the perfect wave.
Dirty Dancing (1987)
Vacationing at a resort with her family, Baby (Jennifer Grey) falls in love and has an affair with the resort’s dance instructor, Johnny (Patrick Swayze), in this romance.
Stand By Me (1986)
Based on a short story by Stephen King, a writer recalls a memorable summer when he and his friends set out on an adventure to locate the body of a missing boy.
Say Anything (1989)
The popular but unremarkable Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) tries to win the heart of valedictorian Diane Court (Ione Skye) during the summer after their high school graduation in this romantic film.
Do the Right Thing (1989)
On the hottest day of the summer, racial tensions boil over in an ethnically diverse Brooklyn neighborhood.
On Golden Pond (1981)
Elderly couple Ethel (Katherine Hepburn) and Norman (Henry Fonda) are at their summer home on Golden Pond when their daughter, Chelsea, shows up with her boyfriend and his teenage son. When Chelsea and her boyfriend leave for Europe, the teenager and Norman form an unlikely bond in this heartwarming film.
The Griswolds’ cross-country drive to Wally World doesn’t go exactly as planned in this classic summer comedy.
The Graduate (1967)
Recent college graduate Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) is seduced by an older woman, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft). The situation becomes untenable when he falls for her daughter.
Rear Window (1954)
After breaking his leg, professional photographer Jefferies (James Stewart) finds himself confined to his apartment in a wheelchair. Spending the hot summer days and nights spying on the apartment complex residents, he begins to suspect one of murder. Grace Kelly co-stars as his girlfriend, Lisa, in this Hitchcock film.
Middle-aged, independent Jane Hudson (Katherine Hepburn) fulfills her dream by traveling to Venice and, to her surprise, discovers love.
A Great White shark descends upon the waters of a small resort town in New England and threatens the residents.
American Graffiti (1973)
A group of friends spend their last night cruising the neighborhood before heading to college in this nostalgic look at the 1960s.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Posted August 3, 2010
It’s coming! August 13! And Scott Pilgrim fans could not be more excited. The feature-length movie based on the long-running comic will hit theaters next week. Directed by Edgar Wright of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz fame, this comic brought to life is sure to be a crowd-pleaser.
Let’s bring the uninitiated up to speed. Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a young ne’er-do-well living life, playing in a rock band when he meets dream girl, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). All is right with the world until he discovers that in order to win her heart he must battle her seven evil exes.
The series created by Bryan Lee O’Malley began in 2004 with Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life. It’s now in its sixth and final volume, Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour (available this month and on order for the Library). If you haven’t read any of these fine volumes or you’ve fallen behind, now’s the perfect time to check them out.