Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Dispatches from Sundance 2012: 3

Ray Taras regularly reviews world literature for the Campaign for the American Reader and has represented the site at the Sundance Film Festival since 2008.

Taras's third report from Sundance 2012 (read Dispatches from Sundance 2012: Part 1 & Part 2):

Sundance Festival has earned a reputation for lionizing documentary films that take on large issues and causes. The winner of the 2012 Grand Jury Prize for best U.S. documentary comes as no surprise, therefore - Eugene Jarecki’s (Why We Fight) penetrating account of the damage done to American society by the War on Drugs launched by President Nixon in the 1970s. The House I Live In describes how Nixon launched this war by funding largely preventive measures, for example, rehabilitating existing drug abusers. This policy is far removed from the coercive, punitive approach taken by President Reagan and followed by his successors.

Once a policy has been implemented, it cannot easily be undone, Jarecki shows. Many economic interests have been created by this capital-intensive program: the ever-expanding judicial and prison systems, the need for more police and probation officers and, most surprisingly, a growing new economic sector that does something – it incarcerates them – about the burgeoning American population unneeded by the postindustrial economy. Forty-five million arrests made in the U.S. over 40 years have created scores of jail jobs, enriched many arresting officers, kept paper pushers and lawyers busy - and forced growing numbers of defendants and convicted “criminals” into the drug trade to pay for freedom from prison. But the war on drugs has failed to undermine the drug market – illegal drugs are cheaper and easier to buy than ever.

The House I Live In shows how in the 1970s many poor people still had jobs; today the poor have no jobs and are socially and economically redundant. The film highlights the shift in the targets of the drug war that is being fought in the U.S., from poor Blacks smoking crack to middle-class Whites who are into meth. The result of the incarceration of more and more Americans on drug charges, often involving long mandatory minimum sentences, is that the U.S., with about five percent of the world’s population, accounts for 25 percent of global prison inmates. Minorities are dramatically overrepresented among them.

Talking heads define Jarecki’s films and in The House I Live In most of these are people who have been harmed by the war on drugs – not drugs themselves. David Simon, creator of the HBO series The Wire, is the film’s articulate anchor. At 110 minutes in length, Jarecki’s film seeks to be comprehensive. “The silence on this war must be broken,” he urged his audience at the “Best of Fest” screening. Yet the fiasco caused by the war on drugs, in the U.S. but above all today in Mexico, is self-evident and not complicated to understand. To sustain a longer documentary such as this, aesthetics needs to play a supporting role. Instead, this raw, issue-centered story runs out of steam due to its didactic, repetitive, tedious character.

No one will accuse Danish director Mads Brügger of tedium. His earlier documentaries – The Red Chapel about a small theatre troupe that goes on a cultural exchange to North Korea (the 2010 Sundance World Dramatic Jury Prize winner) and the satirical Danes for Bush - combine subtle irony with slapstick parody. The Ambassador, which left 2012 Sundance without an award, is in fact a tour de force – with equal emphasis on tour and force. How many of us are aware of the perfectly-legal trafficking of diplomatic passports? From this documentary we get fresh insight into the blood diamonds trade in the Central African Republic, the uranium mines here that the Chinese are interested in, and France’s continued manipulation of the country’s politics. But it is the straight-faced Brügger’s acquisition of diplomatic documents to represent himself as Liberia’s official consul to the CAR – a man more Danish than the name Mads – that opens our eyes to the sham of politics in developing countries and the West’s lurid role in them.

Not only is his status as a Liberian diplomat officially acknowledged, so is Brügger’s simultaneous interest in opening up a match factory in Bangui, the capital city. To better brand his product, he intends to name the matches l’Ambassadeur and to advertise them as having been manufactured by Pygmies. Two outlandish scenes from the film stand out. One, taken from a camera on the shore of the river, captures the lanky, head-shaven-bald Dane sailing in a canoe puffing at an oversized cigar while his Pygmy assistants sit nervously behind and in front of him – a parody of colonialism that might have got even Joseph Conrad to laugh out loud. The second is of Brügger ordering the Pygmies to listen to “the sounds of sea creatures” in his office: he puts on a tape of whale songs that his little African assistants become mesmerized by.

The deeper the business roots the Danish director sinks in the country, the more dangerous it becomes for him and his associates. As we learn at the end of the film, several of his interlocutors featured in the documentary have died mysteriously in the year since the film was shot. We do not know how Brügger gets out of the CAR. We do not know who put up the hundreds of thousands of euros needed to purchase the Liberian passport, pay enormous bribes to CAR government officials, and put a vast deposit down for a business partnership with a CAR diamond dealer. A woman at Sundance, who told me she works in the U.S. intelligence community in Washington – a typical character you find attending the Festival - suggested that I should not rule out the CIA. As with his visit to North Korea as a member of a touring comedy group, Brügger has uncanny social skills and cutting edge technology, including undetectable hidden cameras, to dig out prize information even as he acts the buffoon’s part. One Sundance critic described him as “A singular voice in the documentary world.” Few who have seen his films would disagree.

I’ve lived and worked in both Denmark and Sweden. I spent last year in Malmö, across the Oresund from Copenhagen, and so I wanted to interview Malmö-based Swedish documentary filmmaker Fredrik Gertten at Sundance about his latest project, Big Boys Gone Bananas. It is the story of the Dole Food Company’s lawsuit – and multifaceted public relations campaign - against him for having made BANANAS!* and shown it at the Los Angeles Film Festival. That documentary investigated Nicaraguan banana workers’ health problems, including sterility, that might be the product of pesticides used by Dole.

If you do not believe that Danes and Swedes come from different planets – not opposite sides of the Sound – then the contrast in filmmaking, risk-taking, belief systems, and political values between Brügger’s and Gertten’s films might change your mind.

Big Boys Gone Bananas is a courageous, earnest film about the limits on freedom of expression set by international corporations within which artists today must navigate. After unimaginable stress that, fortunately, many Swedes seem to have an innate capacity to adapt to, Gertten held out long enough to convince Dole to drop its increasingly counterproductive lawsuit. Critical to Gertten’s victory were important actors in Sweden: the Max hamburger chain that stopped carrying Dole products because of fair trade issues; two members of the Swedish Parliament who had the film shown in the Riksdag, mobilizing more lawmakers against Dole; and a counterattacking Swedish media campaign that raised new issues about Dole.

As signs point to Gertten’s success over Dole, the camera pans to a shot of the Swedish flag flying over the Parliament Building in Stockholm. Gertten objected to my suggestion that his documentary fed the image of Sweden as self-righteous moral crusader. But he did laugh when I said that the best public relations operation anywhere in the world is the Swedish state.

Stereotypes have Danes as worldly, happy, moral relativists, Swedes as self-abnegating pained, moral absolutists. One Danish writer told me that under the conservative Danish prime minister and current NATO chief, the Danes joined several wars on the urging of U.S. leaders. Sweden’s image remains one built in the Olaf Palme era underlining its fearless, moral opposition to American foreign policy. We see this contrast in the cinematic styles and methods of inquiry employed by these two Scandinavian directors.--Ray Taras

Ray Taras is professor of political science at Tulane University in New Orleans where he also directed its World Literature Program until Hurricane Katrina forced its closure. Comparative literature and world cinema have been teaching and research interests of his for many years.

Read--Dispatches from Sundance 2012: Part 1 & Part 2.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Lucy Burdette reading?

Today's featured contributor at Writers Read: Lucy Burdette (aka Roberta Isleib), author of An Appetite For Murder.

Her entry begins:
Ever since I signed a contract with NAL/Penguin for three books in the Key West food critic mystery series, I've had a marvelous excuse to immerse myself in foodie books--both fiction and nonfiction. I've always loved reading culinary mysteries, like Diane Mott Davidson's Goldy Schultz series about a caterer in Colorado or Julie Hyzy's White House chef mysteries or Krista Davis's domestic diva series. In these books, I can enjoy the pleasure of reading about food, cooking, and eating, but in addition, the character's quirks and personality are revealed in the way she deals with food. Heaven! Barbara O'Neal's How to Bake a Perfect Life is another recent favorite about a woman who owns a bakery while struggling with a difficult family and her own yearning for love that will be as dependable as her yeast. And don't let me forget...[read on]
About An Appetite For Murder, from the publisher:
Hayley Snow’s life always revolved around food. But when she applies to be a food critic for a Key West style magazine, she discovers that her new boss would be Kristen Faulkner—the woman Hayley caught in bed with her boyfriend! Hayley thinks things are as bad as they can get—until the police pull her in as a suspect in Kristen’s murder. Kristen was killed by a poisoned key lime pie. Now Hayley must find out who used meringue to murder before she takes all the blame.
Learn more about the book and author at Lucy Burdette's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: An Appetite For Murder.

Writers Read: Lucy Burdette.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five best books on theatre

John Heilpern's books include Conference of the Birds: The Story of Peter Brook in Africa and How Good Is David Mamet, Anyway? Writings on Theater—and Why It Matters. He writes the "Out to Lunch" column for Vanity Fair.

One of his five best books on theater as told to the Wall Street Journal:
The Empty Space
by Peter Brook (1968)

Peter Brook's manifesto was considered revolutionary when it was first published—yet, more than 40 years on, it remains urgently needed, and my copy is well-thumbed. "I can take an empty space and call it a bare stage" go the famous director's opening words, like a clarion call. "A man walks across the empty space while someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged." Brook—who is still directing in his 80s—was sounding the battle cry for a theater of unadorned simplicity that trusts the power of our imagination. This formative book is an antidote to the facile faux-magic of video tricks and high-tech sets that dwarf and dominate the stage (and the performer). Brook is saying: "Look! The magician has nothing up his sleeves."
Read about another title on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Mark Peel's "Miss Cutler and the Case of the Resurrected Horse"

Today's feature at the Page 99 Test: Miss Cutler and the Case of the Resurrected Horse: Social Work and the Story of Poverty in America, Australia, and Britain by Mark Peel.

About the book, from the publisher:
Social workers produced thousands of case files about the poor during the interwar years. Analyzing almost two thousand such case files and traveling from Boston, Minneapolis, and Portland to London and Melbourne, Miss Cutler and the Case of the Resurrected Horse is a pioneering comparative study that examines how these stories of poverty were narrated and reshaped by ethnic diversity, economic crisis, and war.

Probing the similarities and differences in the ways Americans, Australians, and Britons understood and responded to poverty, Mark Peel draws a picture of social work that is based in the sometimes fraught encounters between the poor and their interpreters. He uses dramatization to bring these encounters to life—joining Miss Cutler and that resurrected horse are Miss Lindstrom and the fried potatoes and Mr. O’Neil and the seductive client—and to give these people a voice. Adding new dimensions to the study of charity and social work, this book is essential to understanding and tackling poverty in the twenty-first century.
Learn more about Miss Cutler and the Case of the Resurrected Horse at the University of Chicago Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Miss Cutler and the Case of the Resurrected Horse.

--Marshal Zeringue

Hillary Jordan's "When She Woke," the movie

Now showing at My Book, The Movie: When She Woke by Hillary Jordan.

The entry begins:
I can never see real people as my characters until I’m done creating them—I suppose I prefer to make the actors fit the characters rather than the other way around—so I didn’t start thinking about the casting for When She Woke until I was doing final revisions in early 2011.

The book is set in an unspecified near future and centers on a young woman named Hannah Payne, who begins the story as a beautiful, innocent, sheltered evangelical Christian. But after she has an illicit affair with a married minister, she becomes pregnant and has an abortion, for which she is convicted of second-degree murder and “chromed,” her skin turned lurid red to mark her for her crime, and then released to survive as best she can in a hostile world. The novel chronicles Hannah’s ordeal as a stigmatized woman and her journey toward freedom and self-agency. The actress who plays her has to have enormous range; must be able to project innocence and carnality, fear and courage, vulnerability and strength, shame and pride. She also has to be beautiful enough to look attractive with fire-engine-red skin for most of the movie, which few women are! When I saw Natalie Portman in Black Swan I thought, bingo. I could also see Carey Mulligan, who was amazing in An Education, Scarlett Johansson, Mila Kunis or...[read on]
Learn more about the author and her work at Hillary Jordan's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Mudbound.

My Book, The Movie: Mudbound.

The Page 69 Test: When She Woke.

My Book, The Movie: When She Woke.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 30, 2012

Dispatches from Sundance 2012: 2

Ray Taras regularly reviews world literature for the Campaign for the American Reader and has represented the site at the Sundance Film Festival since 2008.

Taras's second report from Sundance 2012 (read his first dispatch here):

The worldwide movement against apartheid launched in the 1970s constituted one of the rare instances during the Cold War of Western and Eastern bloc nations working in tandem so as to rid South Africa of white-minority rule. Fidelista Cuba and the Labour government in Britain, Brezhnev’s Russia and progressive Western states like Canada and Germany, were aligned on the same side in the struggle to end the long history of injustice and oppression of Blacks in the former British colony. The U.S. was one of a handful of countries which had political reservations about bringing down a pro-Western government in Pretoria. Its replacement might be led by the communist-influenced African National Congress.

What was an artist to do in support of the anti-apartheid struggle? In the 1980s the options seemed to be limited: the ANC was insisting on a total international boycott of cooperation with South Africa in cultural, sporting, and trade matters. By and large, this boycott was respected by musicians, many of whom took their cue from South African exiles Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela; by actors led by the South African-born Shakespearean actress Janet Suzman; by rugby and cricket teams (grudgingly); and even by universities, many of which agreed to divestment in South African business.

Into the center of this political standoff stepped a most improbable figure – the songwriter and performer Paul Simon, he of sentimental ballads that alternated with nonsensical lyrics. A White American at that, with none of the rebellious cachet of a Joan Baez, Bob Dylan or Stevie Wonder.

Under African Skies, which was shown at Sundance 2012 as one of its documentary premieres, offers a richly-textured, joyous cinematic narrative of Simon’s poorly-documented visit to South Africa in 1985 to collaborate with some of the country’s great Township musicians, like the Boyoyo Boys and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. This breech of the cultural boycott of the apartheid regime – by a seemingly politically unengaged, blasé New Yorker – is judged differently today than it was at the time. The extraordinary impact of the crossover sound heard on the album “Graceland” and on its promotional world tour represents a caesura in the emergence of world music. Oprah Winfrey calls “Graceland” her favorite album of all time. In 1992, shortly after he was released from prison, Nelson Mandela invited Simon to return to South Africa to give a concert. There were to be no hard feelings over Paul Simon’s decision.

Filmmaker Joe Berlinger has interspersed video footage from Simon’s first visit with his more recent concerts in southern Africa, including a celebrated performance in Namibia with Makeba, and also a reunion tour on the 25th anniversary of “Graceland’s” release. Interviews with Philip Glass, Harry Belafonte, David Byrne, Quincy Jones, and Paul McCartney explore the choice the musician must sometimes make between serving the interests of music and those of politics. There is unanimous agreement that Simon’s choice reflected his deep commitment to advancing a musical genre, and he comes across as a remarkably engaged man – in his music. The classical composer Glass put it best: Paul was right to avoid being less than himself for the sake of political correctness by going along with the boycott. Under African Skies is, then, exhilarating and also an intelligent, agonized reflection on the rank order of politics, ethics, creativity, and aesthetics in a humanitarian crisis.

It was another film about a musician that won one of the top awards at this year’s Festival – the World Cinema Jury Prize for best dramatic film. Violeta Went to Heaven tells the story of Violeta Parra [photo right], a Chilean Edith Piaf, as she leaves behind an impoverished rural and Indio childhood to capture the hearts of Chileans with traditional folksongs, political ballads, and a steely resolve to overcome social injustice. “Pain cannot be sung by trained singers,” is the basis for her popularity, she explains. Born in 1917, she travels to Poland in 1955 to sing at an international communist youth congress. She moves to Paris for a short time and sufficiently impresses the Louvre curator to have her visual art, primarily weaving but painting and graphic art as well, exhibited at the museum. “Creativity is a bird without a flight plan” – the reason for her artistic successes across genres though, the film subtly suggests, the force of her personality plays a part. In this string of artistic conquests, her roles as mother and spouse begin to unravel.

Accomplished Chilean film director Andrés Wood completed a degree in economics at the Catholic University in Santiago before changing course and studying at New York University’s Film School. Violeta is not a linear biography but jumps breathtakingly across the time and space inhabited by this chanteuse. For instance, we see her singing and playing for a group of Chilean aristocrats at the national museum, and as she finishes and is told that she can now go eat with the kitchen staff, Wood cuts to a scene of her singing the same song for some rapturous villagers in her rundown home.

Violeta becomes more depressed as her family life and artistic career begin to go awry. “Life is stronger than a canvas or a poem or a song,” she despairs. Neither her art nor her politics can save her: in 1967 she kills herself, though the screenplay leaves this ending out. Today she is firmly established in the Chilean cultural pantheon alongside poet Pablo Neruda and singer Victor Jara. The Sundance Jury believed that Wood’s film was an artistic achievement in capturing this bigger-than-life story.

A third film about a musician is worthy of note. Neil Young came to Park City this year, again with film director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs and three other films about the Canadian singer including Neil Young: Heart of Gold, which premiered at the 2006 Sundance Festival). But their newest collaboration, Neil Young Journeys, was shown at the Slamdance Film Festival, the rockers’, bad boys’ alternative to genteel Sundance, which is headquartered in a banged-up hotel at the top of Main Street. I couldn’t attend the reception but a friend told me Neil was unusually affable. Had he forgotten he was not at Sundance?--Ray Taras

Ray Taras is professor of political science at Tulane University in New Orleans where he also directed its World Literature Program until Hurricane Katrina forced its closure. Comparative literature and world cinema have been teaching and research interests of his for many years.

Read--Dispatches from Sundance 2012: 1.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Philip Gooden reading?

The current featured contributor at Writers Read: Philip Gooden, author of The Ely Testament.

His entry begins:
I’ve just read Piece of Cake by Derek Robinson. It came out about 30 years ago as a kind of sequel to Goshawk Squadron, Robinson’s novel about aerial combat in World War One. Seen largely through the eyes of the young pilots of the fictional Hornet Squadron, Piece of Cake takes us from the build-up to the outbreak of WW2 in September 1939 and into the heart of the Battle of Britain a year later. It’s a long, panoramic book which avoids cynicism, sentimentality and hero-worship. Yes, Robinson pays tribute to the bravery of the pilots and the skill of the ground-staff, the fortitude and optimism required of both the men and the (few) women directly involved in the war. He shows them buckling and sometimes breaking under pressure, but also he describes people who can be petty and unscrupulous immediately before or after they’ve risked their lives for their country. The cast is mostly British but, as the fighting really gets underway, there are fliers from occupied Poland and Czechoslovakia, as well as an American who...[read on]
About The Ely Testament, from the publisher:
Third in the highly-acclaimed nineteenth-century 'Cathedral' mystery series

When Mr Lye, an elderly partner at Tom Ansell's law firm, drops dead at his desk, Tom is dispatched to Ely to search for Mr Lye's will at Phoenix House, the home of his brother, Ernest. At the same time, Tom's wife Helen has been commissioned by New Moon magazine to write a piece on a town with 'inner beauty' - and what better place than Ely But shortly after they arrive at Phoenix House, their host is arrested for murder - and Tom and Helen find themselves at the centre of an ever-deepening mystery...
Read more about The Ely Testament and visit Philip Gooden's website.

Writers Read: Philip Gooden.

--Marshal Zeringue

Ten of the worst nightmares in literature

At the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best nightmares in literature.

One novel on the list:
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Poor Lockwood gets snowed in on a visit to Wuthering Heights and has to stay the night. He dreams that he puts his hand through the bedroom window and has it seized by "the fingers of a little, ice-cold hand". There is a sobbing voice and suddenly a terrifying child's face. It is Cathy, and the rest of the novel is an explanation of this dream.
Read about another bad dream on the list.

Wuthering Heights appears on Mullan's list of ten of the best foundlings in literature, Valerie Martin's list of novels about doomed marriages, Susan Cheever's list of the five best books about obsession, and Melissa Katsoulis' top 25 list of book to film adaptations. It is one of John Inverdale's six best books and Sheila Hancock's six best books.

The Page 99 Test: Wuthering Heights.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Bill Fitzhugh's "The Exterminators"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: The Exterminators by Bill Fitzhugh.

About the book, from the publisher:
All Bob Dillon ever wanted was a truck with a big fiberglass bug on the roof. All he had to do was survive a half dozen assassination attempts, pull a ten million dollar con on a Bolivian drug lord, and then fall off the face of the earth with his family and his new best friend, Klaus. Six years later, in The Exterminators, they surface in Oregon where they continue Bob’s work creating an all natural means of pest control. But now, instead of cross breeding different strains of assassin bugs, they’re using advanced gene sequencers to consolidate the perfect insect killing traits into one deadly bug. Only one problem: all this serious DNA tampering is expensive and they’re running low on funds. The venture capital outfit that wants to invest turns out to be a front for DARPA (the Department of Defense agency charged with R&D for exotic weapons). It seems the U.S. Government wants to enlist Bob, Klaus, and the bugs in the War on Terror. Oh, and did we mention unlimited funding? An offer too good to refuse, they move to Los Angeles and get to work. Things go swimmingly until that Bolivian drug lord discovers he was conned out of his ten million. Vowing revenge, he offers twenty million to whoever kills Bob and Klaus. Some of the world’s best assassins descend on Hollywood and, before you can say “It’s an honor just to be nominated,” the weirdness level reaches apocalyptic levels. It’s a battle pitting the far right against the far left with Bob stuck in the middle and subjected to some serious post 9/11 thinking.
Learn more about the book and author at Bill Fitzhugh's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Exterminators.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Fritz Allhoff's "Terrorism, Ticking Time-Bombs, and Torture"

Today's feature at the Page 99 Test: Terrorism, Ticking Time-Bombs, and Torture: A Philosophical Analysis by Fritz Allhoff.

About the book, from the publisher:
The general consensus among philosophers is that the use of torture is never justified. In Terrorism, Ticking Time-Bombs, and Torture, Fritz Allhoff demonstrates the weakness of the case against torture; while allowing that torture constitutes a moral wrong, he nevertheless argues that, in exceptional cases, it represents the lesser of two evils.

Allhoff does not take this position lightly. He begins by examining the way terrorism challenges traditional norms, discussing the morality of various practices of torture, and critically exploring the infamous ticking time-bomb scenario. After carefully considering these issues from a purely philosophical perspective, he turns to the empirical ramifications of his arguments, addressing criticisms of torture and analyzing the impact its adoption could have on democracy, institutional structures, and foreign policy. The crucial questions of how to justly authorize torture and how to set limits on its use make up the final section of this timely, provocative, and carefully argued book.
Learn more about the book and author at Fritz Allhoff's website and blog.

The Page 99 Test: Terrorism, Ticking Time-Bombs, and Torture.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Rosamund Bartlett's "Tolstoy: A Russian Life," the movie

Now showing at My Book, The Movie: Tolstoy: A Russian Life by Rosamund Bartlett.

The entry begins:
The image of Tolstoy as an old sage is now deeply ingrained thanks to The Last Station. Christopher Plummer did a marvellous job, even if his character lacked Tolstoy’s gravitas. If they ever made my biography into a film, I'd like to concentrate on Tolstoy’s earlier years, when he was a reckless young man of extraordinary physical and intellectual prowess who caroused with the gypsies, bedded peasant girls, fought bears single-handed, served with honour in the Crimean War and gambled to excess while at the same time developing superlative literary gifts and the stamina to write War and Peace. Tolstoy was not a refined aesthete, but gruff and down to earth despite his aristocratic pedigree. He was an eccentric - a man who always went against the grain and against his class by siding with the beleagured peasants.

He abhorred convention and the hypocrisy of the society world he belonged to by birth, and he loved the natural world of rural Russia which was his home for the best part of his life. I think Russell...[read on]
Visit Rosamund Bartlett's website and learn more about Tolstoy: A Russian Life.

Writers Read: Rosamund Bartlett.

My Book, The Movie: Tolstoy: A Russian Life.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five top books on dissent in Central Europe

Timothy Snyder is professor of history at Yale University. His books include Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin.

One book tagged in his dialogue with Alec Ash at The Browser about books on the experience of dissent in Central and Eastern Europe:
Homage to Catalonia
by George Orwell

Your first book is Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell, which you describe as a prehistory of dissent.

Generally when people talk about Orwell in this context, they start with Animal Farm because it’s a retelling of Soviet history, or with 1984 because it’s an account of what a totalitarian society would look like, at a time when communism was spreading to Eastern Europe. The reason why I am so fond of Homage to Catalonia, and see it as an even more relevant precursor to dissent, is that in it you can see a man of the Left learning to make the distinction that breaks down the Left with a big L into lots of little lefts. He comes to understand what Soviet power actually is, and that it is qualitatively different to the other sorts of Spanish left, or to European left-wing intellectuals or Labour in England.

The difference is not just a matter of being on a different point of the spectrum. It is to do with the immediate violence of Soviet means which were visible to Orwell at that time and place. That’s the second thing which I find important about the book as a precursor to dissident literature. To the end of dissident literature, in the seventies and eighties, people defended themselves by making observations and elementary distinctions, preserving certain concepts, not allowing things to be vague. They defined themselves as individuals by their capacity to be specific about what was going on around them. And Orwell is wonderful at that. It is his creative gift.

He describes what is happening in Catalonia [during the Spanish Civil War] in such a way that we are able to see why he’s so upset about Soviet power. His argument is not one of category and concept but of irresistible observation, that builds itself up into facticity with a literary quality that is strong enough to contend with, if not defeat, ideological certainty. The dilemma that the dissidents had to face later on was that they had to build up a view of the world which was non-ideological, yet could somehow contend with and subvert ideological views of the world. Orwell did that on the basis of good observation and good prose.

Was it that fixed ideological dogma that repelled Orwell’s moral compass most?

My sense was that the ruthlessness of Soviet communist actions in Spain led him to an intuition about the wrongness of the total certainty of a worldview that could justify any action at any place and any time in service of the larger story. I think Orwell grasped that there was an almost arrogant coherence to Soviet activity when he saw the ruthlessness of Soviet behaviour, against a background where other people on the left were much less sure and confident, and were fighting for things that were much more immediate and palpable.
Read about another book Snyder discussed at The Browser.

Homage to Catalonia also appears among Carne Ross's five notable books on leaderless revolution, Samuel Muston's ten best travel books, Harold Evans's five best books on reporting, and Michael Symmons Roberts's ten best books on civil war.

--Marshal Zeringue

Dispatches from Sundance 2012: 1

Ray Taras is professor of political science at Tulane University in New Orleans where he also directed its World Literature Program until Hurricane Katrina forced its closure. Comparative literature and world cinema have been teaching and research interests of his for many years.

He regularly reviews world literature for the Campaign for the American Reader and has represented the site at the Sundance Film Festival since 2008.

Taras's first report from Sundance 2012:

On cue, it began snowing over the Wasatch Mountains days before the 2012 Sundance Film Festival opened. Snow is not essential to Sundance’s success, but it is a different matter for the U.S. national ski team, also making Park City its base. The old silver mining town is just 30 miles up the steep interstate from Salt Lake City, where the total precipitation for December was 0.03 inches. There are many reasons why Sundance is magical, and snow-covered slopes around the town is one of them.

One of the film categories of the Festival is called Spotlight, which is intended as a tribute to “impressive films that have played throughout the world.” One of the chosen films which I went to see late at night on the last Friday of the Festival was Elena, a 2011 Russian production directed by Andrei Zvyagintsev. It had premiered earlier that year at Cannes where it was awarded the Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard category. The night I saw it in Park City, Zvyagintsev was in Moscow collecting Golden Eagle Awards given out by the Russian Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Elena was chosen as best film of the year and Zvyagintsev was named best director. The film’s Sundance connection comes full circle when we recall that the Russian’s director had been awarded a highly-competitive Sundance Institute grant for the film project that ended up with Elena.

The original idea, we were told at Q & A by one of the film’s production members, was to be one of four regions of the world which would make an English-language film on the theme of apocalypse. This grandiose idea did not materialize but maybe for the better, as Elena is a rooted Russian film examining the pathologies of wealth making in a country still in transition. Vladimir, a prosperous elderly man who married the nurse who had looked after him during one of his hospitalizations, is pressured to provide for his wife’s dysfunctional son and his family. When it is time to make a will, he tells Elena, his late-in-life wife, that most of his wealth will be left to his prodigal daughter, coquettishly played by Elena Lyadova. We cannot tell whether Elena is truly the subtle schemer that her step-daughter accuses her of being. But the transfer of wealth from a cultivated Russian gentleman to a family of low-lifes has apocalyptic dimensions that would make Chekhov shake in his grave. Philip Glass’s music resonates perfectly within these atmospherics.

Danish directorial debutante Lise Birk Pedersen received considerable attention at this year’s Sundance Festival for her documentary Putin’s Kiss. It may not have been her intention to attract so much interest, but inserting Vladimir Putin’s name in a book or film title will do that – helped by the series of oppositionist rallies in Russia in December. Pedersen provides an illuminating, even plodding study of the pro-Putin nationalist youth movement called Nashi (‘Ours’). It focuses on one of its leaders, a young girl named Masha Drokova, and it becomes a political coming-of-age story as we observe how her enthusiasm for the movement wanes, largely the result of personal intrigues.

It is easy to lose sight of the smaller picture here – how organizational politics, career ambitions, and the role of gender play out. While interviews with several major oppositionist figures, most noteworthy of these blogger Oleg Kashin, suggest that Nashi have developed into a brown-shirts movement, Pedersen might be uneasy with such an inference based on her account. The film is about Masha, a young Moscow woman with above-average leadership skills and circumspection (who now works in public relations for a multinational firm, the director informed us). It is not about Putin, who seemed blindsided by a hug he received from her when she was still in her teens.--Ray Taras

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Elizabeth Popp Berman reading?

The current featured contributor at Writers Read: Elizabeth Popp Berman, author of Creating the Market University: How Academic Science Became an Economic Engine.

Her entry begins:
I have more time to read fiction in the summer, when I’m not teaching. And I’m the kind of person who likes to create arbitrary projects for herself. So last summer I started reading the Man Booker Prize winners in reverse order. I started with 2009, Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, which I loved. It’s a long historical novel about Thomas Cromwell, a nobody who, sphinxlike, rises to become Henry VIII’s right-hand man. It was completely gripping, and I can’t wait to read the sequel, which is coming out this year. Unfortunately, we know how Cromwell’s going to end up—the same way all those wives did.

From there I worked my way...[read on]
About Creating the Market University, from the publisher:
American universities today serve as economic engines, performing the scientific research that will create new industries, drive economic growth, and keep the United States globally competitive. But only a few decades ago, these same universities self-consciously held themselves apart from the world of commerce. Creating the Market University is the first book to systematically examine why academic science made such a dramatic move toward the market. Drawing on extensive historical research, Elizabeth Popp Berman shows how the government--influenced by the argument that innovation drives the economy--brought about this transformation.

Americans have a long tradition of making heroes out of their inventors. But before the 1960s and '70s neither policymakers nor economists paid much attention to the critical economic role played by innovation. However, during the late 1970s, a confluence of events--industry concern with the perceived deterioration of innovation in the United States, a growing body of economic research on innovation's importance, and the stagnation of the larger economy--led to a broad political interest in fostering invention. The policy decisions shaped by this change were diverse, influencing arenas from patents and taxes to pensions and science policy, and encouraged practices that would focus specifically on the economic value of academic science. By the early 1980s, universities were nurturing the rapid growth of areas such as biotech entrepreneurship, patenting, and university-industry research centers.

Contributing to debates about the relationship between universities, government, and industry, Creating the Market University sheds light on how knowledge and politics intersect to structure the economy.
Learn more about Creating the Market University at the Princeton University Press website and Elizabeth Popp Berman’s website.

Elizabeth Popp Berman is a sociologist at the University at Albany, SUNY.

Writers Read: Elizabeth Popp Berman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Pg. 99: Meredith H. Lair's "Armed with Abundance"

This weekend's feature at the Page 99 Test: Armed with Abundance: Consumerism and Soldiering in the Vietnam War by Meredith Lair.

About the book, from the publisher:
Popular representations of the Vietnam War tend to emphasize violence, deprivation, and trauma. By contrast, in Armed with Abundance, Meredith Lair focuses on the noncombat experiences of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam, redrawing the landscape of the war so that swimming pools, ice cream, visits from celebrities, and other "comforts" share the frame with combat.

To address a tenuous morale situation, military authorities, Lair reveals, wielded abundance to insulate soldiers--and, by extension, the American public--from boredom and deprivation, making the project of war perhaps easier and certainly more palatable. The result was dozens of overbuilt bases in South Vietnam that grew more elaborate as the war dragged on. Relying on memoirs, military documents, and G.I. newspapers, Lair finds that consumption and satiety, rather than privation and sacrifice, defined most soldiers' Vietnam deployments. Abundance quarantined the U.S. occupation force from the impoverished people it ostensibly had come to liberate, undermining efforts to win Vietnamese "hearts and minds" and burdening veterans with disappointment that their wartime service did not measure up to public expectations. With an epilogue that finds a similar paradigm at work in Iraq, Armed with Abundance offers a unique and provocative perspective on modern American warfare.
Learn more about Armed with Abundance at the University of North Carolina Press website.

Meredith H. Lair is assistant professor of history at George Mason University.

The Page 99 Test: Armed with Abundance.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five best books by the homesick

Susan J. Matt is Presidential Distinguished Professor of History at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. She is the author of Keeping Up with the Joneses: Envy in American Consumer Society, 1890-1930 and Homesickness: An American History.

For the Wall Street Journal, she named a five best list of books by the homesick.

One title on the list:
Twelve Years a Slave
by Solomon Northup (1853)

In 1841, Solomon Northup, a free black man living with his wife in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., met two men who promised him a job playing the violin in a circus. He followed them to Washington, D.C. There he was drugged and, upon awakening, found himself the prisoner of traders who sold him into slavery. "Thoughts of my family . . . continually occupied my mind. When sleep overpowered me I dreamed of them—dreamed I was again in Saratoga—that I could see their faces and hear their voices calling me." It would be a dozen years until he saw them again. During that time, he was sold and resold, eventually landing in Louisiana. He labored there until he was finally able to get word to friends and family, who, with the support of New York's governor, sent a party to rescue him in 1853. Northup's account of his enslavement describes the arduous work, his masters' violence and, most tragically, the cruel shattering of families by slave auctions.
Read about another book on the list.

The Page 99 Test: Susan J. Matt's Homesickness.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Chris Morgan Jones's "The Silent Oligarch"

This weekend's feature at the Page 69 Test: The Silent Oligarch by Christopher Morgan Jones.

About the book, from the publisher:
A London intelligence agent pursues a money launderer to expose the dealings of a shadowy Russian oligarch.

In a world where national borders shrink to insignificance in the face of colossal wealth and corporate power, The Silent Oligarch offers a new kind of hero to combat a new kind of crime. Drawing on his decade of experience at the world's largest corporate intelligence firm-where the wealthy buy the justice they want and the silence they need-Chris Morgan Jones leads us down into the unvarnished realities of our time in the grand tradition of John le Carré. Bearing news from a world hidden behind closed doors, The Silent Oligarch effortlessly creates a new genre in its wake.

Deep in the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources sits a nondescript bureaucrat named Konstantin Malin. He draws a nominal government salary but from his shabby office controls half the nation's oil industry, making him one of the most wealthy and feared men in Russia. His public face is Richard Lock, a hapless money launderer bound to Malin by marriage, complacency, and greed. Lock takes the proceeds of his master's corruption, washes them abroad, and invests them back in Russia in a secret business empire. He knows little about Malin's true affairs, but still he knows too much.

Benjamin Webster is an investigator at a London corporate intelligence firm. Years before, as an idealistic young journalist in Russia, Webster saw a colleague murdered for asking too many hard questions of powerful people; her true killers have never been found. Hired to ruin Malin, Webster comes to realize that this shadowy figure might have ordered her gruesome death, and that this case may deliver the justice he has been seeking for a decade.

As Webster peels back the layers of Malin's shell companies and criminal networks, Lock's colleagues begin dying mysteriously, police around the world start to investigate, and Malin begins to question his trust in his increasingly exposed frontman. Suddenly Lock is running for his life- though from Malin or Webster, the law or his own past, he couldn't say.

Leading us into a world we can know little about, The Silent Oligarch is the brilliant overture of a major new literary talent.
Learn more about the book and author at Christopher Morgan Jones's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Silent Oligarch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 27, 2012

What is Rosamund Bartlett reading?

The current featured contributor at Writers Read: Rosamund Bartlett, author of Tolstoy: A Russian Life.

Her entry begins:
I’m particularly pleased to be asked this question now, as I’m currently abroad and having a bit of time off, so have been reading all kinds of things simultaneously. When I am at home in Oxford, I usually have my head in a book, but mostly with a view to writing about an aspect of Russian culture, so these last few weeks I have been enjoying getting away from my usual commitments and reading purely for pleasure, which for me is the best kind of holiday.

In November I was invited to lecture at the University of North Carolina, and was amazed and delighted to discover a second-hand book shop in the departure terminal at Raleigh-Durham Airport. I wonder if it’s unique? The literature usually on offer at airports makes one despair. Naturally I had to buy a book on principle, and to support the cause of reading, and was happy to find a book about the American Civil War dealing with the part of United States I had just been travelling in: Tony Horwitz, Confederates in the Attic (Vintage/Random House, 1998). It’s an amusing read, and...[read on]
About Tolstoy: A Russian Life, from the publisher:
The first new biography in twenty years of the literary colossus, spiritual leader, and icon of the nineteenth century

In November 1910, Count Lev Tolstoy died at a remote Russian railway station. At the time of his death, he was the most famous man in Russia, with a growing international following, and more revered than the tsar. Born into an aristocratic family, Tolstoy had spent his life rebelling not only against conventional ideas about literature and art but also against traditional education, family life, organized religion, and the state.

In this exceptional biography, Rosamund Bartlett draws extensively on key Russian sources, including much fascinating new material made available since the collapse of the Soviet Union. She sheds light on Tolstoy’s remarkable journey from callow youth to writer to prophet; discusses his troubled relationship with his wife, Sonya, a subject long neglected; and vividly evokes the Russian landscapes Tolstoy so loved. Above all, she gives us an eloquent portrait of the brilliant, maddening, and contrary man who has, once again, been discovered by a new generation of readers.
Visit Rosamund Bartlett's website and learn more about Tolstoy: A Russian Life.

Writers Read: Rosamund Bartlett.

--Marshal Zeringue

John Burdett's "Vulture Peak," the movie

Now showing at My Book, The Movie: Vulture Peak by John Burdett.

The entry begins:
I have always wanted Tony Leung (The Lover) to play Sonchai. That bony face and the way he can play the put-upon Asian to perfection seems right to me. Also, that obvious intelligence strikes me as fitting for my central character. Of course, I'm thinking of the movie as something with psychological content - which is not a popular idea with the studios. These days the only movies that make money seem to be crude action flics which I cannot say I dislike, because...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at John Burdett's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Godfather of Kathmandu.

The Page 69 Test: Vulture Peak.

Writers Read: John Burdett.

My Book, The Movie: Vulture Peak.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: William Cook's "In Pursuit of the Traveling Salesman"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: In Pursuit of the Traveling Salesman: Mathematics at the Limits of Computation by William J. Cook.

About the book, from the publisher:
What is the shortest possible route for a traveling salesman seeking to visit each city on a list exactly once and return to his city of origin? It sounds simple enough, yet the traveling salesman problem is one of the most intensely studied puzzles in applied mathematics--and it has defied solution to this day. In this book, William Cook takes readers on a mathematical excursion, picking up the salesman's trail in the 1800s when Irish mathematician W. R. Hamilton first defined the problem, and venturing to the furthest limits of today's state-of-the-art attempts to solve it.

Cook examines the origins and history of the salesman problem and explores its many important applications, from genome sequencing and designing computer processors to arranging music and hunting for planets. He looks at how computers stack up against the traveling salesman problem on a grand scale, and discusses how humans, unaided by computers, go about trying to solve the puzzle. Cook traces the salesman problem to the realms of neuroscience, psychology, and art, and he also challenges readers to tackle the problem themselves. The traveling salesman problem is--literally--a $1 million question. That's the prize the Clay Mathematics Institute is offering to anyone who can solve the problem or prove that it can't be done.

In Pursuit of the Traveling Salesman travels to the very threshold of our understanding about the nature of complexity, and challenges you yourself to discover the solution to this captivating mathematical problem.
Learn more about the book and author at William Cook's webpage and the Princeton University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: In Pursuit of the Traveling Salesman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Ten of the best seductions in literature

At the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best seductions in literature.

One novel on the list:
David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens

We do not exactly see the seduction of Little Em'ly by handsome, heartless Steerforth, for the young David does not understand what he is witnessing. He sees her "listening with the deepest attention, her breath held, her blue eyes sparkling like jewels, and the colour mantling in her cheeks". The trouble is that Em'ly wants to be a lady, so cannot resist a gentleman.
Read about another novel on the list.

David Copperfield is one of Elizabeth Gilbert's six favorite books. It appears on Mullan's lists of ten of the best trips to Canterbury in literature and ten of the best valets in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Pg. 69: Wessel Ebersohn's "The October Killings"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: The October Killings by Wessel Ebersohn.

About the book, from the publisher:
Abigail Bukula was fifteen when her parents were killed in a massacre of antiapartheid activists by white security forces. Because a soldier spoke in her defense, she was spared. Now she’s a lawyer with the new government, and while she has tried to put the tragedy behind her, she has never forgotten that soldier. So when Leon Lourens walks into her office almost twenty years later with a story of how someone is killing off members of the team who murdered her parents, she turns to Yudel Gordon, an eccentric white prison psychologist, for help. To save Leon’s life they must untangle the web of politics, identity, and history before the anniversary of the raid—only days away.

The October Killings brings to life the new South Africa, and also Abigail Bukula—the most determined sleuth in international crime fiction.
Learn more about the book and author at Wessel Ebersohn's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The October Killings.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is John Burdett reading?

The current featured contributor at Writers Read: John Burdett, author of Vulture Peak.

His entry begins:
I'm reading Thomas E. Ricks's Fiasco: the American Military Adventure in Iraq and The Operators by Michael Hastings (inside story of the Afghan war and how Hastings' reporting brought down General McChrystal). They are research for my next novel which features a Vietnam Vet who cannot resist war. I did not set out to educate myself on how many lives and dollars America has spent on unnecessary wars over the past forty years - but once you start to look into it, the conclusion is...[read on]
About Vulture Peak, from the publisher:
Nobody knows Bangkok like Royal Thai Police Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, and there is no one quite like Sonchai: a police officer who has kept his Buddhist soul intact—more or less—despite the fact that his job shoves him face-to-face with some of the most vile and outrageous crimes and criminals in Bangkok. But for his newest assignment, everything he knows about his city—and himself—will be a mere starting point.

He’s put in charge of the highest-profile criminal case in Thailand—an attempt to bring an end to trafficking in human organs. He sets in motion a massive sting operation and stays at its center, traveling to Phuket, Hong Kong, Dubai, Shanghai, and Monte Carlo. He draws in a host of unwitting players that includes an aging rock star wearing out his second liver and the mysterious, diabolical, albeit gorgeous co-queenpins of the international body-parts trade: the Chinese twins known as the Vultures. And yet, it’s closer to home that Sonchai will discover things getting really dicey: rumors will reach him suggesting that his ex-prostitute wife, Chanya, is having an affair. Will Sonchai be enlightened enough—forget Buddha, think jealous husband—to cope with his very own compromised and compromising world?

All will be revealed here, in John Burdett’s most mordantly funny, propulsive, fiendishly entertaining novel yet.
Learn more about the book and author at John Burdett's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Godfather of Kathmandu.

The Page 69 Test: Vulture Peak.

Writers Read: John Burdett.

--Marshal Zeringue

Top 10 books of the night

Ian Marchant's books include two acclaimed memoir/travel books, Parallel Lines and The Longest Crawl, and the recently released night-owl's guide to Britain, Something of the Night.

One of his top ten books of the night, as told to the Guardian:
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

I wonder if the wonderful Ursula Le Guin had read [Cherry Apsley-Garrard's] The Worst Journey in the World before she wrote this, arguably her masterpiece. The climax of the book is a terrifying journey, also undertaken in Arctic darkness and temperatures. But it takes place on the distant planet Winter, and the travellers are an ambassador from a galactic civilisation and the ex-prime minister of a decadent kingdom. Le Guin's twist is that the inhabitants of Winter are all of the same sex, which gives her a chance to explore what gender means while telling a gripping story about love under different stars from our own.
Read about another book on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Eben Miller's "Born along the Color Line"

Today's feature at the Page 99 Test: Born along the Color Line: The 1933 Amenia Conference and the Rise of a National Civil Rights Movement by Eben Miller.

About the book, from the publisher:
In August, 1933, dozens of people gathered amid seven large, canvas tents in a field near Amenia, in upstate New York. Joel Spingarn, president of the board of the NAACP, had called a conference to revitalize the flagging civil rights organization. In Amenia, such old lions as the 65 year-old W.E.B. DuBois would mingle with "the coming leaders of Negro thought." It was a fascinating encounter that would transform the civil rights movement.

With elegant writing and piercing insight, historian Eben Miller narrates how this little-known conference brought together a remarkable young group of African American activists, capturing through the lives of five extraordinary participants--youth activist Juanita Jackson, diplomat Ralph Bunche, economist Abram Harris, lawyer Louis Redding, and Harlem organizer Moran Weston--how this generation shaped the ongoing movement for civil rights during the Depression, World War II, and beyond. Miller describes how Jackson, Bunche, Harris, and the others felt that, amidst the global crisis of the 1930s, it was urgent to move beyond the NAACP's legal and political focus to build an economic movement that reached across the racial divide to challenge the capitalist system that had collapsed so devastatingly. They advocated alliances with labor groups, agitated for equal education, and campaigned for anti-lynching legislation and open access to the ballot and employment--spreading their influential ideas through their writings and by mass organizing in African American communities across the country, North and South. In their arguments and individual awakenings, they formed a key bridge between the turn-of-the-century Talented Tenth and the postwar civil rights generation, broadening and advancing the fight for racial equality through the darkest economic times the country has ever faced.

In Born along the Color Line, Miller vividly captures the emergence of a forgotten generation of African American leaders, a generation that made Brown v. Board of Education and all that followed from it possible. It is an illuminating portrait of the "long civil rights movement," not the movement that began in the 1950s, but the one that took on new life at Amenia in 1933.
Learn more about Born along the Color Line at the Oxford University Press website.

My Book, The Movie: Born along the Color Line.

The Page 99 Test: Born along the Color Line.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Henry Alford's 6 favorite books

Henry Alford has written for the New York Times and Vanity Fair for over a decade. He has also written for the New Yorker. It is entirely possible that you have heard him on National Public Radio.

He is the author of a humor collection, Municipal Bondage, and of an account of his attempts to become a working actor, Big Kiss, which won a Thurber Prize. His book How to Live: A Search for Wisdom from Old People (While They are Still on This Earth), which was named a Best Book of the Year by Publishers Weekly.

Alford's new book about manners, Would It Kill You To Stop Doing That?, was published earlier this month.

One of the author's six favorite books, as told to The Week magazine:
The Thurber Carnival by James Thurber.

One of the funniest pieces of cultural dissonance ever produced is Thurber's review of Salvador Dalí's memoir, contained in this collection. Thurber writes, "The naked truth about me is to the naked truth about Salvador Dalí as an old ukulele in the attic is to a piano in a tree, and I mean a piano with breasts."
Read about another book on Alford's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Stephanie Deutsch's "You Need a Schoolhouse," the movie

Now showing at My Book, The Movie: You Need a Schoolhouse: Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald, and the Building of Schools for the Segregated South by Stephanie Deutsch.

The entry begins:
When my friend Tony Rizzoli asked me what Julius Rosenwald looked like I gave a rather flip response. I said, “kind of nebbishy.” But even as these words were leaving my mouth I realized they were incorrect. In his later years Rosenwald actually looked like Tony – thin, not much hair, angular face, friendly, open expression. Twenty five years ago, Tony’s performance in Larry Shue’s play The Foreigner was one of funniest things I’ve ever seen on stage. The sense of humor that lurks behind Tony’s own intelligent eyes was, I realized, a feature in Rosenwald as well. The millionaire president of Sears, Roebuck turned race conscious philanthropist could seem a rather wooden figure on the printed page. But Tony would save him from such a fate by showing his more energetic, playful, humorous side. I had long since decided that Booker T. Washington’s role would go to a rather more prominent actor -- either Morgan...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Stephanie Deutsch's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: You Need a Schoolhouse.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Matt Bondurant reading?

The current featured contributor at Writers Read: Matt Bondurant, author of The Wettest County in the World and The Night Swimmer.

His entry begins:
I’m currently reading Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen, which is one of those great books that has long been on my list and I’ve finally gotten around to it. What is surprising to me is the gorgeous prose; I had assumed I would get plenty of rich scenes of Africa but Dinesen’s gifts go far beyond simple landscapes or even dramatic encounters with wildlife. It is a real meditation on solitude, destiny, culture, and so many other things, written in an often understated but always fresh, lyrical and compelling style. I could...[read on]
About The Night Swimmer, from the publisher:
The Night Swimmer, Matt Bondurant’s utterly riveting modern gothic novel of marriage and belonging, confirms his gift for storytelling that transports and enthralls.

In a small town on the southern coast of Ireland, an isolated place only frequented by fishermen and the occasional group of bird-watchers, Fred and Elly Bulkington, newly arrived from Vermont having won a pub in a contest, encounter a wild, strange land shaped by the pounding storms of the North Atlantic, as well as the native resistance to strangers. As Fred revels in the life of a new pubowner, Elly takes the ferry out to a nearby island where anyone not born there is called a “blow-in.” To the disbelief of the locals, Elly devotes herself to open-water swimming, pushing herself to the limit and crossing unseen boundaries that drive her into the heart of the island’s troubles—the mysterious tragedy that shrouds its inhabitants and the dangerous feud between an enigmatic farmer and a powerful clan that has no use for outsiders.

The poignant unraveling of a marriage, the fierce beauty of the natural world, the mysterious power of Irish lore, and the gripping story of strangers in a strange land rife with intrigue and violence—The Night Swimmer is a novel of myriad enchantments by a writer of extraordinary talent.
Learn more about the author and his work at Matt Bondurant's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Wettest County in the World.

Writers Read: Matt Bondurant.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five top books on mountaineering

One title on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five top books about mountaineering:
The Ledge
by Jim Davidson and Kevin Vaughan

Davidson and his friend Mike Price were coming down Washington State's Mount Rainier when the pair fell 80 feet into a crevasse. The fall killed Price and left Davidson badly injured, stranded on the ledge that gives this harrowing book its title. Against all odds, he crawled to safety. But the joy of making it back was tempered by the loss of his close friend, and Davidson chronicles his conflicted emotions in this story of adventure, grief, and perseverance.
Read about another book on the list.

Also see Andy Cave's top ten books on Alpinism.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Colin Cotterill's "Slash and Burn"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Slash and Burn (Dr. Siri Paiboun Series #8) by Colin Cotterill.

About the book, from the publisher:
Dr. Siri might finally be allowed to retire (again). Although he loves his two morgue assistants, he's tired of being Laos's national coroner, a job he never wanted in the first place. Plus, he's pushing 80, and wants to spend some time with his wife before his untimely death (which has been predicted by the local transvestite fortune teller).

But retirement is not in the cards for Dr. Siri after all. He's dragged into one last job for the Lao government: supervising an excavation for the remains of U.S. fighter pilot who went down in the remote northern Lao jungle ten years earlier. The presence of American soldiers in Laos is a hot-button issue for both the Americans and the Lao involved, and the search party includes high-level politicians and scientists. But one member of the party is found dead, setting off a chain of accidents Dr. Siri suspects aren't completely accidental. Everyone is trapped in a cabin in the jungle, and the bodies are starting to pile up. Can Dr. Siri get to the bottom of the MIA pilot's mysterious story before the transvestite fortune teller's prediction comes true?
Learn more about the book and author at Colin Cotterill's website.

The Page 69 Test: Anarchy and Old Dogs.

My Book, The Movie: Curse of the Pogo Stick.

The Page 69 Test: Killed at the Whim of a Hat.

My Book, The Movie: Killed at the Whim of a Hat.

Writers Read: Colin Cotterill.

The Page 69 Test: Slash and Burn.

--Marshal Zeringue