Focus on China
Posted July 31, 2008
As we close in on the Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, the whole world will be turning their attention to Beijing and China. A country still mysterious to most Westerners, the Olympics are an opportunity for the world to learn a little more about this exotic and diverse country. Even those not interested in the sporting events that will be broadcast from Beijing may find themselves itching to see more of China. The Library has a variety of books for those interested in Chinese history and culture, as well as some outstanding fiction titles. Those wishing for an overview of the country might enjoy the heavily illustrated China: People, Place, Culture, History. A reader of current affairs could get a good sense of the current political climate by reading the recent book by The Washington Post’s recent China Bureau Chief, Philip Pan, called Out of Mao’s Shadow. A look at the changes happening in China today through the eyes of a traveler could hardly have a more insightful guide than Rob Clifford in his journey across that country detailed in China Road: A Journey into the Future of a Rising Power. Peter Hassler is another writer who has done much to shine a light on the mystery of China and her people. One of his best books is Oracle Bones: A Journey Through Time in China. But why stop at nonfiction? Fiction can often offer us an even more vivid window into how people really live. For a fictional look at China and her people, try a novel by one of these terrific Chinese writers:
Based on the Books
Posted July 29, 2008
Books and movies, movies and books. They go together like Romeo and Juliet…or at least chocolate and peanut butter. At the moment there are several movies in Chicago theaters that were based on books, and as always there are several more to come. We’ve got everything you need but the popcorn. Here’s a handy rundown:
Currently in Theaters:
Tell No One
The American bestseller by Harlan Coben has been adapted into a terrific French thriller about a man whose wife dies in mysterious circumstances. (Incidentally, the film is being nationally distributed by Chicago’s own Music Box Films.)
A Journey to the Center of the Earth
Jules Verne’s classic science fiction novel has been adapted for the big screen again, this time starring Brendan Fraser.
Evelyn Waugh’s novel of love, religion and money in pre-WWII England has previously been made into a well-known 11-hour miniseries starring Jeremy Irons but has now been made into a feature-length film starring Emma Thompson.
Preview of Coming Attractions:
Midnight Meat Train
The short story by master horror writer Clive Barker can be found in the collection Books of Blood.
Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2
The new Sisterhood movie draws on elements from throughout the beloved series of books by Ann Brashares but is mostly based on Forever in Blue: the Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood.
A child criminal is released as an adult after serving time and struggles to assimilate back into life outside in this British novel by Jonathan Trigell and its forthcoming film adaptation.
Man on Wire
The documentary about Philippe Petit and his famed 1974 tightrope walk between the towers of the World Trade Center isn’t based on a book, but readers may wish to check out his autobiography, To Reach the Clouds: My High Wire Walk Between the Twin Towers or the Caldecott Medal-winning children’s book The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein.
This drama starring Ben Kingsley and Penélope Cruz is based on Philip Roth’s novel The Dying Animal.
A mass epidemic of blindness breaks out in Portuguese author José Saramago’s book club smash.
Clare Boothe Luce’s play The Women was previously made into a classic film starring Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell and Joan Fontaine, among others, and the new version is no slouch in the casting department. It stars Annette Bening, Candice Bergen, Meg Ryan, Jada Pinkett Smith and many many others.
How to Lose Friends & Alienate People
Toby Young’s snarky memoir has been made into a feature film starring Simon Pegg, Kirsten Dunst and Jeff Bridges.
Joyeux anniversaire, Alexandre!
Posted July 24, 2008
One of the most prolific writers in world literature, Alexandre Dumas was born on this day in 1802. At the mention of his name, two titles instantly come to mind: The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo. While these are his best-known works, Dumas wrote volumes. Some attribute the abundance of his writing in part to the day’s marketplace. At the time serial-novels, published in popular periodicals, were all the rage. Often, Dumas would work on more than one novel at a time to meet demand. Others attribute Dumas’ drive to produce to the lavish lifestyle he led. Successful as he was, he needed to constantly churn out work to pay off debts and continue to lead the high life. Dumas may be most remembered for his novels, but early in his career he worked as a playwright and later in life he published travelogues and memoirs. To this day, his classic adventure stories resonate in popular culture. They’ve been made into feature films and can be found in various incarnations in places you’d least expect. Take, for instance, the premise of The Count of Monte Cristo. The hero, Edmond Dantès, is falsely accused of a crime and is imprisoned for many years only to escape capture and return to France to carry out his revenge. Sound familiar? Last year’s hit Sweeney Todd starring Johnny Depp offered up its own take on the timeless story of revenge. And in the 2006 film V for Vendetta the tortured V refers to the 1934 classic film as his favorite movie because he identifies with the plight of Edmond Dantès. Clearly Dumas’ stories have left a lasting impression. To read more about Dumas’ work and his very colorful life, check out Claude Schopp’s Alexandre Dumas : genius of life. Ready to add some adventure to your summer reading? Check out one of the hefty tomes listed above or try The Last Cavalier, one of Dumas’ serialized novels just discovered by Schopp at the Bibliothèque Nationale earlier this decade. Not ready to make the commitment? Try one of his shorter works like The Black Tulip. If you’d rather while away a lazy summer night with a swashbuckling film, CPL owns the 2002 film adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo starring Jim Caviezel and Guy Pearce. Or, if you’re already a Dumas fan, try Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte in which the lead character, a book detective of sorts, gets lured into a sinister plot after a book collector is found hanged, leaving behind a part of the original manuscript for The Three Musketeers. Pérez-Reverte will have you riveted with his cast of characters that bear resemblance to those in Dumas’ classic tale.
Posted July 22, 2008
On this day in 1934 America’s “Public Enemy Number 1” was gunned down outside Chicago’s Biograph Theater. Born in Indiana, the small-time crook turned to more serious crime after a nine-year prison stint for robbery and assault. Hardened and embittered after his release, Dillinger took up with more experienced criminals and began his short-lived career as a bank robber that took him throughout the Midwest and eventually brought him to Chicago. After some 10 to 20 bank heists Dillinger was finally brought down by the FBI with the help of his new acquaintance, Anna Sage. Sage had informed the FBI she would be going to the movies (incidentally, Manhattan Melodrama was the movie they saw) with Dillinger and his girlfriend, Polly Hamilton. In order to be more easily identifiable to the agents posted at the theater she dressed all in red, cementing her place in history as “the lady in red” who betrayed Dillinger. As they exited the theater the FBI closed in, killing Dillinger with two shots. It’s the stuff of classic crime films, no? Perhaps that’s why there’s been so much written about Dillinger throughout the years. Originally published in 1963, John Toland’s Dillinger Days chronicles his brief career. In John Dillinger: The Life and Death of America’s First Celebrity Criminal author Dary Matera paints a romantic picture of Dillinger and a less flattering one of his pursuers. Yet another account of the famed robber can be found in Dillinger: The Untold Story by G. Russell Girardin. Looking for another angle at this fascinating period of history? Try Don’t Call Us Molls: Women of the John Dillinger Gang by Ellen Poulsen and for an even broader treatment of the era you might delve into Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34 by Bryan Burrough. Finally, if this has you at all intrigued, be sure to keep your eye out next year for Johnny Depp’s latest project, Public Enemies, a period piece filmed right here in Chicago in which the very talented Depp will play Dillinger.
Pitchfork Music Festival
Posted July 15, 2008
This Friday Pitchfork Music Festival starts at Union Park and runs through the weekend. Organized by Pitchfork, the Chicago-based music website featuring news, interviews and criticism, the festival features a large lineup of musical acts that will draw tens of thousands of music fans. Last year, Sonic Youth performed their classic album Daydream Nation, and this year festival goers can look forward to Public Enemy performing It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back on Friday evening.
On Saturday, the Ivy League-educated Vampire Weekend, whose Afropop-infused self-titled debut fittingly features a song about the Oxford comma, will perform. Brooklyn-based The Hold Steady, whose 2006 release Boys & Girls in America received a whopping 9.4/10 rating on Pitchfork, making it one of the best reviewed albums of that year, will also perform. Sunday’s lineup includes Spoon, whose Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is a staff favorite, Ghostface Killah and Raekwon of the Wu-Tang Clan, and the recently reunited Dinosaur Jr. If you can’t attend, check out these albums by some of the acts that are performing at the fest this year:
Vampire Weekend / Vampire Weekend
For Emma, Forever Ago / Ben Iver
Let’s Stay Friends / La Savy Fav
Boys and Girls in America / The Hold Steady
Legend of Wu Tang / Wu Tang
You’re Living All Over Me / Dinosaur Jr.
Green Mind / Dinosaur Jr.
Gimme Fiction / Spoon
Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga / Spoon
It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back / Public Enemy
Fear of a Black Planet / Public Enemy
Vive Le Tour!
Posted July 10, 2008
For three weeks in July, while most Americans are enjoying barbeques and baseball games, one of the most grueling, exciting, exacting sporting events on the planet takes place in France – a cycling race known as the Tour de France. Truly one of the most incredible endurance events in sports, 199 riders started the race on July 5, and they will ride virtually every day, over 3,500 kilometers until they finish on the Champs-Elysées in Paris on July 27 with one final rider wearing the coveted yellow jersey. Some days of riding are through the gentle rolling countryside of France, giving spectators stunning views of charming rural villages, medieval castles and towering cathedrals. But the real drama always happens in the mountains. As riders struggle up climbs in both the Alps and the Pyrenees mountain ranges, you see why this is an endurance race. The Tour de France has been plagued by scandals galore in recent years, as dozens of the top riders were thrown out for doping. But despite the scandals, the tour is an amazing thing to watch, and Americans have had a growing interest due in large part to the record-demolishing seven straight wins by the now-retired American cyclist Lance Armstrong. Those wanting to read more about the amazing story of Armstrong’s journey from cancer survivor to tour champion could find no better place to start than his memoir It’s Not About the Bike. But perhaps you need a little more background about the race itself? There are some great guides to the Tour, including Tour De France: The Illustrated History and the more intimate and amusing The Tour de France Companion: a Nuts, Bolts & Spokes Guide to the Greatest Race in the World, written by former competitor and current commentator Bob Roll. Read more about the scandals in From Lance to Landis: Inside the American Doping Controversy at the Tour de France by David Walsh. An entertaining look at the event from an amateur insane enough to try and duplicate the route on his own comes in the form of the comic memoir French Revolutions from travel writer Tim Moore. And finally, there are several great movies that celebrate cycling. Why not try Breaking Away, the story of a young man from a working-class family in Bloomington, Ind., who dreams of cycling with the great teams of Europe, or at least competing with the more privileged college kids in a local bike race. For a more whimsical cycling story, you could hardly do better than the animated French film The Triplets of Belleville, about an old woman who has trained her grandson to be a Tour De France champion. Even if your last bicycle had training wheels, hopefully these great titles will inspire you to watch the Tour and maybe even dust off your own bike and take a ride.
Posted July 8, 2008
On June 8, 1907 the first Ziegfeld Follies show opened in New York. Inspired by the Folies Bergères in Paris, Florenz Ziegfeld launched the popular Follies, which ran until 1931 in New York City. The elaborate song and dance revue featured lavish sets and costumes and the best entertainers of the era including Fanny Brice, Will Rogers and W.C. Fields. Barbra Streisand played Ziegfeld star Fanny Brice in the biopic Funny Girl, a screen adaptation of the Broadway musical. The 1946 film Ziegfeld Follies, featuring the real Fanny Brice, is a sequence of musical numbers and comedy sketches.
One of the most popular aspects of Ziegfeld Follies was the chorus girls, known as Ziegfeld Girls. Ziegfeld often featured more than a hundred girls donning extravagant costumes that they changed several time during each show, so it is no wonder they were such a draw. Several women who went on to become Hollywood film stars got their start as Ziegfeld Girls including Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Blondell. Surprisingly, Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer and Lucille Ball were all rejected by Florenz Ziegfeld. The Rockettes, who got their start in 1925 in St. Louis, Mo., and now perform at Radio City Music Hall, are reminiscent of the Ziegfield Girls. The 1941 film Ziegfeld Girl, starring Judy Garland, Heddy Lamar and Lana Turner, depicts three women’s experiences as Ziegfeld Girls. For a more academic treatment of the Ziegfeld Girl and her legacy, check out Ziegfeld Girl: Image and Icon in Culture and Cinema by Linda Mizejewski.
DIY Film Fest: I Was a Ziegfeld Girl
The following films feature former Zeigfeld Girls who went on to become Hollywood stars:
Gold Diggers of 1933 with Joan Blondell
Footlight Parade with Joan Blondell
Dames with Joan Blondell
Nightmare Alley with Joan Blondell
Double Indemnity with Barbara Stanwyck
Lady Eve with Barbara Stanwyck
Christmas in Conneticut with Barbara Stanwyck
The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers with Barbara Stanwyck
The Great Dictator with Paulette Goddard
Modern Times with Paulette Goddard
The Women with Paulette Goddard
Pandora’s Box with Louise Brooks
Posted July 3, 2008
Sir Salman Rushdie (a knighthood was conferred upon him by the Queen last month) will be giving a reading at the Harold Washington Library Center on the evening of Thursday, July 10. Though he may be most famous for his second novel The Satanic Verses, in the literary world the author’s most lauded book has probably been his Booker Prize-winning fourth novel Midnight’s Children. That book won a special “Best of the Booker” award in 1993, and it’s also the odds-on favorite to win again in this year’s 40th anniversary “Best of the Booker” award. The winner is to be announced on July 10, when he is here.
Rushdie is touring to promote his new novel, The Enchantress of Florence, which takes up the author’s perennial theme of East meets West in a tale of classic storytelling set during the time of the Renaissance. Critics have called the novel “enchanting,” “magical and haunting,” and “entertainment of the highest literary order.” In a widely quoted early review, one critic wrote that if the book “doesn’t win this year’s Man Booker I’ll curry my proof copy and eat it.”
Rushdie’s other novels include: Grimus, Shame, The Moor’s Last Sigh, The Ground Beneath Her Feet (which inspired a song of the same name by U2), Fury and Shalimar the Clown. A collection of his major nonfiction work, Step Across This Line, was published in 2002.