(B)read and Circuses
Posted May 29, 2008
Not many animals have received the full biography treatment over the years, but one large exception has recently been made for Jumbo the Elephant, for whom the adjective “big” just wasn’t adequate. The new biography Jumbo: The Greatest Elephant in the World by Paul Chambers tells the full story. Born in Africa, the world’s most famous pachyderm spent years in Paris at the Jardin des Plantes and later at the London Zoo before P.T. Barnum transported him to America where he delighted children by the thousands as the star of The Greatest Show on Earth. Of course, Jumbo inspired the story that became Disney’s Dumbo, which continues to delight children to this day. Jumbo’s life was not without its hardships, however, ending tragically during a railroad accident while the circus was touring Canada, and Chambers raises important questions about the treatment of animals.
Still, Jumbo was one of the great celebrities of his day. His epic story brings to mind the many fine circus stories in the Library’s collection. Here’s a sampling:
The Circus in Winter by Cathy Day
A Cabinet of Wonders by Renee Dodd
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
The Final Confession of Mabel Stark by Robert Hough
A Son of the Circus by John Irving
The Circus Fire by Stewart O’Nan
The Aerialist by Richard Schmitt
Chang and Eng by Darin Strauss
The Thin Man
Posted May 27, 2008
Here at Chicago Public Library we spent April celebrating Raymond Chandler and crime fiction, but if you missed those events or haven’t had your fill, today provides a reason to revisit the genre as we celebrate the birth of another hard-boiled master, Dashiell Hammett (May 27, 1894). If you know and love Chandler’s Marlowe, you’ll no doubt want to acquaint yourself with Hammett’s Sam Spade. This tough guy, featured in one of Hammett’s best-known works, The Maltese Falcon, was brought to life by Humphrey Bogart in the 1941 film adaptation of the same name. But Hammett is not just a Chandler wannabe. He’s the real deal. Before he began his writing career Hammett worked as an operative for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. He became disillusioned with the agency and quit, but not before gathering much inspiration for his detective stories. Many, including Chandler, have given Hammett his due for his contribution to the crime fiction genre. The New York Times went so far as to anoint him the “dean of the…‘hard-boiled’ school of detective fiction” upon his death in 1961. Follow the links below for more books by and about Hammett.
The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett (also available: the film adaptation starring William Powell and Myrna Loy)
Complete Novels by Dashiell Hammett
Selected letters of Dashiell Hammett 1921-1960
Dashiell Hammett: A Daughter Remembers by Jo Hammett
Hellman and Hammett: the Legendary Passion of Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett by Joan Mellen
Happy Birthday, Jimmy!
Posted May 22, 2008
Over a hundred years ago, James Stewart was born in a small town near Pittsburgh to Elizabeth and Alexander Stewart. An American icon, Stewart starred in over 50 films covering nearly every genre and worked with some of the finest directors including Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, Billy Wilder and Frank Capra. He was nominated five times for an Academy Award, and 10 of his films are preserved in the United States Film Registry. He was a close friend of fellow actor Henry Fonda, whom he met in the summer of 1932 while both were working with the University Players acting troupe. His first prominent role was in 1936’s After the Thin Man starring Myrna Loy and William Powell (which can be found in The Complete Thin Man Collection). He was awarded his only Academy Award for his performance as a tabloid reporter in the comedy The Philadelphia Story (1940). Perhaps Stewart is remembered best as George Bailey in Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), which flopped at the box office but is now considered a Christmas classic as well as one of the most popular films of all time. Stewart began working with Hitchcock, making some of the best films of his career, including the iconic and suspenseful Rear Window and Vertigo. Later in his career he starred in many westerns, including John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Stewart’s final Academy Award nomination was for his work in Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of Murder (1959). Stewart continued acting until the 1980s. He died on July 2, 1997 in his Hollywood home.
Any of the above would make a great DIY film fest, but if you need more Jimmy Stewart (and who doesn’t?), why not try:
Caught Reading on the CTA
Posted May 15, 2008
What are other people reading? Isn’t that the question that sends us scurrying to the bestseller lists, asking friends for recommendations or – yes, we’ve seen you do it – peeking at the shelving carts at the local library? Of course, in Chicago the traditional place to snoop on your fellow readers is on the CTA. For all of the hassles of public transit (and don’t get us wrong, we’re happy to see all the construction projects), one of its joys is that the commuter can spend that time blissfully reading instead of brimming with road rage behind a steering wheel. (Just don’t get us started on cellphone abuse.)
So we’ve been snooping on you, Chicago, checking out what you’ve been reading on the Red Line, and we have to say, we’re impressed. We’ve spotted you reading King Lear by William Shakespeare, The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, not to mention American Pastoral by Philip Roth, Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson and recent mega-bestseller Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.
Here are some of the more surprising books we spotted:
Death Masks by Jim Butcher
River of Gods by Ian McDonald
Random family: love, drugs, trouble and coming of age in the Bronx by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
Mayflower: a Story of Courage, Community and War by Nathaniel Philbrick
Earthly Joys by Philippa Gregory
Who knows where we’ll snoop next?
Indie Rocker’s Reads
Posted May 13, 2008
Over at Found In The Margins, they do a terrific job of tracking what various creative types like to read. Recently they featured Brendan Canning of Broken Social Scene. He shared some of his favorites including Mr. Vertigo by Paul Auster, Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. He also talked about what he looks for in a book. He’s a plot man, and when he’s touring he likes to take along some fairly heavy stuff judging by his recent picks, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah and What is the What by Dave Eggers. But Canning isn’t without a sense of humor or a taste for some intrigue. He’s currently enjoying David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day and Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love and Betrayal by Ben Macintyre. The guy certainly likes to change things up.
DIY Film Fest: Mothers (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly)
Posted May 8, 2008
Jodie Foster stars as Annabel Andrews and Barbara Harris as her mother in this 1976 comedy film (based on the 1972 book by Mary Rodgers) in which a mother and daughter switch bodies and get to walk in the other’s shoes one Friday. The experience of struggling through one another’s day leads them to appreciate each other more. This film was also remade in 2003 with Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis.
Faye Dunaway stars as Joan Crawford in this 1981 film based on a memoir by Christina Crawford, her adopted daughter. A very unflattering portrait of her mother as neurotic and abusive, the movie was panned by critics but became a cult classic. This 1996 version contains the added bonus of a commentary by filmmaker John Waters.
Based on a novel by James M. Cain, Joan Crawford stars as Mildred Pierce, a newly divorced housewife with two beloved daughters,Vera and Kay. Mildred goes to great lengths to provide a comfortable lifestyle for them, but spoiled Vera never seems satisfied. Finally, the increasingly ungrateful daughter commits a terrible crime that her mother cannot cover up.
Imitation of Life
This 1959 film is an adaptation of the 1933 novel by Fanny Hurst. Lana Turner stars as Lora Meredith, a widowed mother with dreams of stardom, who hires Annie Johnson, also a widowed mother, as a nanny for her daughter. Meredith becomes a famous Broadway star, but her relationship with her daughter suffers, and Johnson deals with her own heartbreak as her light-skinned daughter attempts to pass as white. The DVD also includes the 1934 version starring Claudette Colbert.
Susan Sarandon stars as Marmee March, the strong-willed, loving mother of four adolescent girls, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, as they share joy and struggle while their father is off fighting in the American Civil War in this 1994 adaptation of the popular book by Louisa May Alcott.
A successful television journalist, Vera (Jane Fonda) has just been fired from her job and is now faced with the possibility of losing her son to his new fiancée, Charlotte (Jennifer Lopez). Determined to scare away the bride-to-be, Vera sets out to be a monstrous mother-in-law, but Charlotte isn’t quick to walk away from the man of her dreams.
This film revolves around the lives of a group of female friends who regularly congregate at a beauty salon in a small town in Louisiana. At the center of the group are M’Lynn (Sally Field) and her diabetic daughter, Shelby (Julia Roberts). When Shelby’s health begins to decline, the women come together to comfort and support one another.
Edgar and Nebula Awards Announced
Posted May 6, 2008
There are dozens of literary awards given out each year, with lots of press and prestige (and sales) flowing to winners of the Pulitzer Prize or the National Book Award. But in the world of genre fiction, there are also a large number of awards given out for outstanding writing in a particular field; awards that make people even outside the genre sit up and take notice. For the mystery genre, the big award is the Edgar, named after Edgar Allan Poe (whom some consider the father of the modern mystery), and it is presented annually by the Mystery Writers of America. This year the top prize, best novel, went to Down River by John Hart. This novel, set in small-town North Carolina, is about a man who returns to his hometown after a long absence. Five years earlier, he had been accused of murdering a family friend, and although a jury acquitted him, his family and friends did not. So he stayed away until a mysterious call from an old friend draws him back. The other books nominated in this category are:
Another award given out at the same ceremony is the Edgar for best first novel. This award is worth watching, as some of the most respected names in the genre first appeared on this nomination ballot (James Patterson, Michael Connelly and Patricia Cornwell all won this award for their first novels). This year’s winner was In the Woods by Tana French.
But the Edgars weren’t the only important genre award given out recently. The Nebula Award, given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, is one of the biggest awards in the speculative fiction genres. This year’s winner was a bit of a surprise, as it had been marketed outside of the genre and was written by an author more known for his literary fiction. But The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon does qualify as speculative fiction, set as it is in an imaginary alternate history where the Jewish homeland was set up in Alaska, not Israel. This whimsical setting allows Chabon to play with a lot of “what ifs?” as well as telling an intriguing hard-boiled mystery story. It is worth noting that this novel was also nominated for the Edgar this year, the first time the same novel was nominated for both awards. The other nominees for the Best Novel Nebula Award were:
Knit One, Read Two
Posted May 1, 2008
Knitting has had a resurgence in popularity over the past several years, and it’s not just your grandmother’s hobby anymore; a younger generation of both women and men are toting their yarn and needles around town. In part, the 2003 book Stitch ’n Bitch: A Knitter’s Handbook by Deborah Stoller, with its irreverent tone and stylish projects, prompted the trend. Stoller has published several books, including one on crochet, The Happy Hooker: Stitch ’n Bitch Crochet, and her most recent, Son of Stitch and Bitch: 45 Projects to Knit and Crochet for Men. Stitch ’n Bitch groups, social groups that meet to knit, have been around since at least WWII and have also regained popularity. The Museum of Contemporary Art holds a popular Stitch ’n Bitch group.
The trend has also inspired novelists. The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs and The Knitting Circle by Ann Hood have both connected with knitting fans. And in the world of cozy mysteries, knitters solve crimes. Maggie Sefton’s Knitting Mysteries began with Knit One, Kill Two, and her most recent novel is A Killer Stitch. Author Mary Kruger kicked off her knitting mystery series with Died in the Wool.
Want to learn to knit? The Chicago Public Library has materials for new as well as seasoned knitters. Start by checking out some of the new and classic knitting books in our collection.