Tudor Queens

As Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her birthday last weekend, it might be fun to take a look at her female predecessors on the throne, especially the mightiest of them all: the Tudor queens. Alison Weir made her name writing biographies of English royals, including the excellent The Life of Elizabeth I. Her new fictional series, […]

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Meet Samuel Beckett, Master of the Absurd

Sam Beckett

I have just finished reading the delightful A Country Road, A Tree by Jo Baker. This is the new fictional account of the writer Samuel Beckett's sojourn through WWII. Knowing he cannot write in the placidity of neutral Ireland, Beckett returns to France and the privations of occupation. However, he can't just write, he has to […]

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Art and Power

Lenin pin

Samuel Goldwyn, the movie studio head, told his writers: "If you want to send a message, call Western Union." What he meant was that he was not interested in scripts that expressed social or political opinions. Lenin and the soviet leaders after him, on the other hand, felt that all art should have a message: theirs. With […]

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Love and War: Novels of World War II

WWII Women

Nothing in the 20th century seems to capture the imagination quite like the Second World War. Lots of books have been written by and about men, but there are also some very good books written by and featuring women. These are just a few of the most recent. Martha Hall Kelly has never written a […]

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Books for Opera Buffs

Civic Opera 1

Chicago Lyric Opera recently announced its next season, and while only subscriptions are currently on sale (tickets for individual performances become available in July), this is a good time to look at recent novels that involve operas and those who sing them. The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee is as full of drama and incident […]

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Marshall Field and the Gilded Age

MF Dome

Renee Rosen has written an interesting biographical novel: What the Lady Wants. Through the eyes of socialite Delia Caton, Marshall Field and his social set come alive. Though twenty years separate their ages, Delia and Marshall turn to each other for relief from their unhappy marriages and scandalize Chicago society. But as much as this is […]

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If It Weren’t for Shakespeare…Ten Book Titles That Quote Shakespeare

Cover of The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet by Myrlin A. Hermes. Portrait of Hamlet seen as a young renaissance artist/poet.

William Shakespeare had that certain type of genius. He could basically steal from disparate sources and make something brand new. He is said to have lifted from Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, The Danish History of Saxo Gramaticus' Gesta Danorum, Seneca, Plutarch, Giovanni Boccacio, Arthur Brooke (or Broke,) Thomas Kyd, and local folktales. But, it's as if he invented the […]

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Women of Terrible Virtue

Margaret Sanger

Margaret Sanger came by her beliefs honestly. After watching her mother suffer through nearly 20 pregnancies and listening to her ex-Catholic father's radical speeches (often at the neighborhood watering hole), she took up the cause of women controlling their own sexuality and fertility. Ellen Feldman's biographical novel, Terrible Virtue, captures her zeal. Told mostly in […]

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#TBT: The Godfather Film Released

Book cover of the Godfather by Mario Puzo.

When Francis Ford Coppola became the go-to director for Paramount's next big picture—the film version of a pulpy novel called The Godfather by Mario Puzo—he was apprehensive. He thought it glorified violence and the criminal lifestyle and made Italian-Americans look bad. After a second read, he saw and put into the film the subtexts of family, […]

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Medieval Mysteries

Renn Fair 3

Around this time of year, my thoughts turn to the Middle Ages. Not sure why, but they do. So, in that spirit, I offer these often overlooked medieval mysteries. The ones set earliest in history are the King's Hounds mysteries by Martin Jensen. In them, Winston, an ex-religious and illuminator, and his man Hafdan, a former nobleman, do […]

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