Thursday, January 31, 2008

Pg. 99: Jim Endersby's "A Guinea Pig’s History of Biology"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: A Guinea Pig’s History of Biology by Jim Endersby.

About the book, from the publisher:
Among the praise for the book:
"Try to skim this book and you'll find yourself drawn into reading every word. Eye-opening and entertaining, this is cutting-edge history of science that everyone should read. Discover why Charles Darwin puzzled over passion flowers, and how the most unlikely of experimental organisms -- from guinea pigs to an unprepossessing cress plant -- contributed to what are now hailed as landmark discoveries, as well as leading to a lot of dead ends. Throughout his gripping narrative, Jim Endersby shows how today's right answer is almost always tomorrow's wrong one."
--Gail Vines, New Scientist

"Jim Endersby's book is packed with strange lore about the creatures that live in laboratories, but it is no mere miscellany. He has hit upon the bright idea of telling the story of reproduction, inheritance and evolution--and how we learnt about them, by focusing on the handful of creatures that have provided most of our knowledge: the fruitfly, the zebrafish, the bacteriophage, Darwin's passion flowers, maize, the evening primrose, the cress plant Arabidopsis and a few others. Oh, and not forgetting Homo sapiens. Endersby's technique is a wonderfully roundabout way of telling some of the great stories of modern biology."
--Peter Forbes, Daily Mail

"Over the past two decades, dozens of popular books discussing the Darwinian perspective on the history of biology have appeared, many of them derivative and stale. Some of us are feeling rather Darwinned out. But Jim Endersby has come up with a fresh and rewarding approach. He illuminates the story of our understanding of life since 1800 (when the word biology was coined) by focusing on 12 organisms that have been most useful to natural scientists in illuminating one of life's central mysteries, inheritance. The result is a hefty, easily readable account of the remarkable progress biologists have made over the past two centuries to enrich our understanding of life...Much of the charm of Endersby's account derives from his meandering style and his eye for the telling incident...Endersby's account of how zebra fish became one of nature's most revealing organisms is a gem of popular science writing, both an entertainment and an education. It demonstrates that a talented historian can illuminate science that has come to appear jaded after too many retellings by authors with a meagre grasp of their subject's past."
--Graham Farmelo, Sunday Telegraph

"The incredible intellectual journey from Charles Darwin's first experiments with orchids and passionflowers--starting in 1854 as he sought to unriddle the elements of heredity--to the patenting of the world first transgenic animal, OncoMouse, in 1988, is an intense and exciting voyage of discovery whose fascinating zigzags, cul-de-sacs, and milestones have seldom been charted in a more entertaining fashion than in Jim Endersby's A Guinea Pig's History of Biology."
--Paul DiFilippo, Barnes and Noble Review

"A Guinea Pig's History of Biology is a fascinatingly different take on the history of evolution, showing how science developed as a complex and fruitful interaction between individuals and the scientific world. As entertaining as it is enlightening."
--Judith Flanders, author of Consuming Passions: Leisure and Pleasure in Victorian Britain

"In this astute, charming and witty book, Jim Endersby follows the careers of passionflowers and fruit flies, mice and fish and helps overthrow a host of myths that have beset the history of biology. He brings uncommon enthusiasm and infectious passion to his accounts of gardeners and travellers, farmers and priests. He shares his joy at gazing through microscopes at zebrafish, offers indispensable information about the roots of genetic modification and vivisection and concludes with a superbly judged exploration of the significance of campaigns around biotechnology and eugenics. This book will become a vital resource for anyone who cares about where our biological knowledge came from and why it matters so much to our future."
--Simon Schaffer, Professor of History of Science, University of Cambridge
Read an excerpt from A Guinea Pig’s History of Biology and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

Jim Endersby is a lecturer in the History Department at the University of Sussex. A Guinea Pig’s History of Biology is his first book. His monograph – Imperial Nature: Joseph Hooker and the Practices of Victorian science – will be published by the University of Chicago Press in March 2008.

Learn more about the author and his research and other publications at Jim Endersby's faculty webpage and his personal homepage.

The Page 99 Test: A Guinea Pig’s History of Biology.

--Marshal Zeringue

Top 10 books about Congo

The Daily Telegraph's Middle East correspondent Tim Butcher -- whose first book, Blood River - A Journey To Africa's Broken Heart, uses his expedition across the Congo to tell the region's turbulent history -- named his top 10 books about Congo for the Guardian.

One predictable but deserving book to make the list:
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad (1899)

What Conrad saw on the Congo in 1890 while serving briefly as a steamboat skipper burnt in his soul for eight years until, in a few hectic months, he ran off this most haunting of novellas. Is it a racist attack on the savagery of black Africa? Or, maybe, a lament for the evil that bursts from all of us when our moral compass starts to spin?
Read about a more recent novel to make Butcher's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Jeffrey Hantover's "The Jewel Trader of Pegu"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Jeffrey Hantover's The Jewel Trader of Pegu.

About the book, from the publisher:

A melancholy young Jewish gem merchant, Abraham, born in Venice, has lived his life behind the ghetto walls of that damp, oppressive city. He has lost a wife and the son whose difficult birth killed her. Now there is nothing left for him there.

In the autumn of 1598, Abraham chooses to seek his fortune far from the painful familiarity of Europe and travels halfway across the world to the lush and exotic Burmese kingdom of Pegu. An overpoweringly strange mélange of sodden heat, colorful customs, and odd superstitions, it is a place and a people completely alien to him. Yet in Pegu, the jewel trader is not hated or shunned for his faith. Here Abraham is a man. Here he is free.

But there is a price for his newfound freedom. Local custom demands that foreigners perform a duty Abraham finds both troubling and barbaric. While it is a responsibility many men would embrace eagerly, it mocks Abraham's moral beliefs and fills him with dread and despair ... until Mya arrives to briefly share his bed.

Barely more than a girl, she awakens something within him far more profound — and more pleasurable — than the guilt he anticipated. And when tragedy destroys the future that was planned for her, Abraham takes Mya in, offering her his home, his protection, and, unexpectedly, his love. But great social and political upheaval threatens to violently transform the entire Peguan empire — and the actions of the powerful will force fateful choices that could have devastating consequences for Abraham and Mya and their dreams for the future.

Among the early praise for The Jewel Trader of Pegu:
“Dreamy and lyrical, steeped in the customs and atmosphere of a world long lost, The Jewel Trader of Pegu takes the reader on a deep emotional journey through the meanings of what is precious.”
–Liza Dalby, author of The Tale of Murasaki

The Jewel Trader of Pegu is a thinking reader’s tale with all the trappings of an exotic historical romance.”
–Debra Dean, author of The Madonnas of Leningrad

"They [readers] will be swept away by Hantover's lavish descriptions of an exotic, lost Asian kingdom; the gentle love story; and the tale of one man's thoughtful journey to his heart's home."
–Sarah Johnson, Booklist

"Making his fiction debut, Hantover intercuts Abraham’s letters with short chapters from Mya’s point of view with delicacy and grace. He evokes the lush setting and gives clear voice to Abraham’s doubts, fears and passions."
Publishers Weekly
Read an excerpt from The Jewel Trader of Pegu, and learn more about the author and his work at Jeffrey Hantover's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Jewel Trader of Pegu.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is J. Allyn Rosser reading?

The current featured contributor to Writers Read: J. Allyn Rosser, whose new collection, Foiled Again, won the 2007 New Criterion Poetry Prize. Her previous books are Misery Prefigured, and Bright Moves. She has received numerous other awards for her work, among them the Morse Poetry Prize, the Peter I. B. Lavan Award for Younger Poets from the Academy of American Poets, the Crab Orchard Award, the J. Howard and Barbara M. J. Wood and Frederick Bock prizes from Poetry, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Yaddo, Bread Loaf, the Ohio Arts Council and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. She currently teaches at Ohio University.

One paragraph from her entry:
Beside my favorite reading chair, books by three strangely underrated poets: Josephine Jacobsen’s In the Crevice of Time, Chase Twichell’s Dog Language and Claire Bateman’s Clumsy. On the same table is one of those books I can pick up any time and slip inside anywhere, happily: Barbara Hurd’s Stirring the Mud, whose sagacity and refreshing perspective provide great mental ventilation.
Read on to discover Rosser's take on a couple of classic novels, "a very good experimental novel involving Alzheimer’s disease by a Parisian writer," "[o]ne of the very few contemporary poets who can write about political matters unstridently," "an intriguing novella" by a Turkish writer, and one of my favorite novels of last year.

Writers Read: J. Allyn Rosser.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Pg. 99: Sarah Graves' "The Book of Old Houses"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: The Book of Old Houses by Sarah Graves.

About the book, from the publisher:
Once upon a time, Jacobia "Jake" Tiptree was a hotshot money manager to Manhattan's rich and dreadful — until she left city life behind for a centuries-old fixer-upper in the quaint seaside town of Eastport, Maine. But even this tiny haven has its hazards — and they can be astonishingly deadly....

When a mysterious book is unearthed from the foundation of Jake's 1823 fixer-upper, she immediately sends it off to local book historian Horace Robotham. After all, there must be a logical explanation for why the long-buried volume has her name in it — written in what looks suspiciously like blood. But all logic goes out the window when the book disappears — and Horace turns up dead.

The suspects include Horace's spoiled daughter, who has enough credit card debt to give killing her rich daddy a certain appeal. And just about everyone's pointing fingers at a local crackpot with a penchant for black magic and an unholy lust for its artifacts — including antique texts inked in blood. To complicate matters further, there's a mysterious stranger in town with vengeance in his heart and a gun in his pocket.

Never mind that Jake's just taken a sledgehammer to her ancient bathroom. Or that she forgot she's set to host a party for Eastport's most treasured teacher. She's also about to lose her beloved housekeeper on account of her father's hasty marriage proposal ... and her son, Sam, has just taken his first tentative steps toward sobriety.

But all that will have to wait, because when two more victims turn up in a town better known for its scenic views and historic homes than its body count, she and her comrade-in-sleuthing, Ellie White, need to go on the prowl to find someone who may believe that the pages of an ancient book are the blueprint for a perfect murder.
Among the early praise for The Book of Old Houses:
“Mixing slaughter with screwdrivers, renovator-author Sarah Graves wields the pen and paintbrush behind the Home Repair Is Homicide series.”
Miami Herald

“Packed equally with incidents and tips on household repair.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Multilayered.… engaging.”
Publishers Weekly
Read an excerpt from The Book of Old Houses and learn more the author and her books at Sarah Graves' website.

Graves lives in Eastport, Maine, where her "Home Repair Is Homicide" mystery novels are set.

The Page 99 Test: The Book of Old Houses.

--Marshal Zeringue

Most important books: Ha Jin

Ha Jin was awarded the PEN/Faulkner Award for Waiting and War Trash; Waiting also won the National Book Award. His other books include the novel The Crazed; three short story collections: The Bridegroom, which won the Asian American Literary Award, Under the Red Flag, which won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, and Ocean of Words, which won the PEN/Hemingway Award; and three books of poetry.

His latest book is A Free Life.

He recently told Newsweek about his five most important books. And addressed two related issues:
A classic book that you revisited with disappointment:

Nabokov's Pale Fire. Forced myself to reread it, and I still don't think the novel's poetry works compared with the prose.

A classic book that you haven't read:

Nabokov's Ada, partly because several friends have started it but never finished it. I will dip in soon.
Read more about Ha Jin's most important books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Summarizing Sundance '08

Summarizing Sundance 2008
by Ray Taras

It's the first weekend of Sundance that attracts the media frenzy. The "Cannes of the Indies" looks little like Cannes as temperatures turn frigid and Main Street in Park City is battered by wind and snow. As the second weekend approaches it becomes getaway time for the directors, celebrities, and film industry distributors. Those involved in making a film have already given their best shot at promoting their film. For filmmakers who haven't wrapped up a deal yet the future looks as grim as the Wasatch winter. Pre-screening has meant that some films were already locked up before the Festival but others explode on the Sundance scene and are sold for millions.

Locals can't wait for the tourists to leave. The nearly two-week long Festival pays their bills, but they miss getting out on their boards to ride and skis to schuss while Sundance is on. Volunteers and parking lot attendants who have braved days of cold can begin to relax and replace the constant smiles on their faces with an indulgent frown. The barristas at the Wasatch Pub don't have to explain that the beer is every bit as alcoholic as microbeers anywhere in the U.S. The annual visitors to Park City are convinced there's a Mormon conspiracy to water down their beer. How many visitors know that the 2007 Great American Beer Festival award for Large Brewpub Brewer of the Year was handed down to Redrock Brewing Company down Interstate 80 in Salt Lake?

My motto is make virtue out of necessity. I could only attend the last five days of Sundance, thereby failing to take full advantage of winning the ticket lottery that allowed me an online crack at buying tickets to screenings of my choice. The political scientist in me was drawn to Dinner with the President: A Nation's Journey, the first film I saw at this year's Sundance, at the venerable Egyptian Theatre on Main Street. It is a paean to Pakistan strongman Pervez Musharraf by a Pakistani who believes she is the only woman documentary artist working in the country. Certainly her access to the president is extraordinary, ranging from a dinner invitation at his home to interviewing him after the state of emergency was imposed in late 2007.

The film includes only about 15 minutes of footage showing co-directors -- and husband and wife -- Sabiha Sumar and Sachithanandam Sathananthan dining with the Pakistani leader and his mother. The rest of it is a cinematic social survey of what Pakistanis think of Musharraf -- from mullahs in the Northwest Frontier Province, to affluent Western-educated young people partying on a beach with wine and DJs, to families of poor villagers eating out in the open. It seems most people like the president--or at least feel they enjoy personal freedom under his rule. There is consensus that things are getting better, that women are not treated as harshly as before, that there is more democracy under Musharraf than there was under the democratically-elected leaders of the past -- like Benazhir Bhutto. The directors got it right: Bhutto was not liked by most Pakistanis and her return was a staged event, as the film shows, that was always going to collapse like a house of cards. The film is honest in including interview footage of older mullahs who lament how much they envy Sabiha for her education and worldliness. If only life was fairer to wise old men, these mullahs think.

Sabiha's previous films include Who Will Cast the First Stone? (1990) and Silent Waters (2004) -- activist films decrying the lot of women in her homeland. The first addresses laws -- since rescinded -- that punished women with death by stoning for violations of sexual mores. I asked about what her next film project would be. It will be a narrative about a young girl undergoing an education in modernity -- as Pakistan itself is embarking upon, Sabiha responded. Tongue-in-cheek, I asked whether her next documentary could be about Imran Khan, a Western-leaning politician, founder of a large cancer hospital providing free care for indigent patients in Lahore, and cricketing legend. "He has no importance to Pakistan," Sabiha snapped testily.

In her cinematic narrative about Pakistan, no one other than Musharraf holds importance. Feudalism is one of her favorite terms: Musharraf may suffer from a "democracy deficit" and an "Islamic deficit" but he is against feudal aristocrats like the Bhutto clan and that is all that counts. If she thought that through this film she was educating an ignorant American audience, she stood to be corrected. In the post-film Q & A, an audience member commented that he had said much the same thing about feudalism several years back while reporting for a national TV newscast.

When Sabiha mentioned Condi Rice, much of the audience howled with derision at the U.S. Secretary of State. We all seemed to be white American liberals here. I spotted no South Asians in the early morning audience. Worth noting is that the first two film slots of a typical Sundance day usually play to half-empty theatres with the glitterati appearing only in mid-afternoon.

Directors rush frenetically to complete films in time for Sundance screening. Dinner with the President was partly funded by the Sundance Institute but it appeared it would not be shown because when it first came in, at barely an hour in length, it was too short. The directors hastily inserted outtakes but, to be fair, they were impossible to spot.

Non-documentary foreign films did not have a major impact at this year's Festival. The audience award for best World Cinema Dramatic film went to Captain Abu Raed -- the first independent movie to come out of Jordan. It focuses on an elderly janitor at Amman's international airport who dreams of the faraway places the airline crews are heading for. He makes up stories to the children of his neighborhood and inspires one boy, Murad, to aspire to be a captain. Abu Raed also comes to the rescue of a battered woman living next door to him at great personal danger to himself. The panorama of Amman from his terrace is wondrous. Whether there is enough weight to this film to go beyond an audience award is an open question.

The Peruvian film Máncora -- named after a beach town in the country -- ends up a tangle of stories about hallucinatory South American drugs (ayahuasca), sexual dalliances, and killing. Santiago, the lead character, is overwhelmed by guilt. He was too preoccupied with lovemaking in a public toilet that he did not answer the phone call his dying father made to him. He heads out of Lima for the seaside town and comes across an international cast of characters -- which director Ricardo de Montreuil set out to include in his second feature. Unfortunately the plot runs out of steam and the built-in ambiguities -- did Santiago survive after being thrown into the Pacific? -- remain unresolved. de Montreuil coyly did not try to unravel these in his Q & A session. The coast was clear for a feature film about teenagers playing ping pong to win the Grand Jury Prize in this category (more on this later).

One of the biggest buzzes at Sundance 2008 was around Bottle Shock. The film came out of nowhere. It was shot over a six-week period in Napa and Sonoma, California, in August-September 2007 when the vineyards were sagging with grape varietals and the annual vendange was about to kick off. The director's cut was submitted to Sundance in early November and it was chosen for the Festival just before Thanksgiving. The last of the editing took place the Monday before the Festival opened!

Bottle Shock relates the mostly true story of how California wines won top awards in a French wine-tasting contest -- largely conceived as a publicity stunt by a British wine merchant -- in 1976. The story is surprisingly poorly known to American wine lovers but it is legendary in the northern California vineyards. I have a passing interest in the topic since a member of the family is related to the Jordan family running the celebrated winery of that name in the Alexander valley.

What I did not know about the 1976 Californian wine breakthrough in Paris was that the wine tasting competition was not some annual event but specially staged to include Napa varietals. The French tasters were indeed surprised that they had selected a Napa Chardonnay (which had days earlier been brown in color) as their top white. It was the bicentenary of America's founding and the film hints that some people in the wine industry wanted to give the U.S. a unique birthday gift. As it happened, in the fall of 1976 I worked as a vendangeur in Pauillac, in the Bordeaux. If I had known that the French monopoly on grand cru was about to end, I would have walked off of the tortuous job.

The film is served by great acting performances, none better than that of Alan Rickman (who played in Love Actually and Sense and Sensibility). Another actor, Chris Pine, recruited off an LA theatre stage for this film, has subsequently been cast as James T. Kirk in the about-to-be-released Star Trek. The soundtrack has a lot of 1970s rock favorites and the Doobie Brothers, who got their start in northern California venues, are who we hear most.

Women were not well treated in another recent film about wine, Sideways. In Bottle Shock, too, with the exception of one female who serves as a love interest to two competing male viniculteurs, women are relegated to the background. The wine industry emerges as machismo driven. One red herring in the film is product placement for The Ridge winery which is located in the Santa Cruz mountains (though it does have vineyards in Sonoma). The Ridge was hardly a part of the 1976 story.

Director Randy Miller made clear to us that his is not a film intended to boost American patriotism. The 1976 oenophile paradigm shift might have meant a lot to California winemakers but it leveled the vineyard field for wineries from all over the world. Sundance audiences often ask about a film's budget. "Between that for Waterworld and that for Supersize Me," Randy allowed. "I've been negotiating all this week about rights so how can I give away what the budget was?" The hitherto grouchy filmmaker -- no buzz? late nights? bad sex? -- sitting next to me who had once made a film about the shellfish industry in Chesapeake Bay grunted his approval for such secrecy.

As the Festival was drawing to a close frayed nerves were abundantly on display. But there are always fresh bodies in an audience, some who came specially to see one particular film. Two recent graduates from Berkeley flew in from San Francisco to see their grandfather, who lives in Sonoma, appear as the driver of a Citroen Deux Chevaux in a bit scene of Bottle Shock.

Two Sundance Premieres -- understood as authentic world premieres or merely the latest work from established directors -- I saw were The Visitor and Incendiary, each dealing with topical political subjects. The first portrays a mild-mannered white American economics professor who has become bored with his job. A chance encounter with a couple -- he from Syria, she from Senegal -- struggling to make a life in the U.S. brings him newfound interests: playing drums in Central Park, listening to Fela Kuti's music, pursuing the attractive mother of the Senegalese woman. But he also becomes entangled in a nightmarish immigration case that threatens deportation of his new Syrian friend. Director Tom McCarthy (Station Agent, 2003; Year of the Dog, 2007) deftly tells a complicated story simply. Well acted, polished, and moving, this understated film shows how vicious and pitiless officials charged with policing the U.S. have become since 9/11. The way that racial profiling can spin out of control is a particularly grim lesson given by this narrative.

Incendiary, directed and written by Sharon Maguire (Bridget Jones's Diary, 2001), tackles the worrisome issue of terrorism in England. On a May Day Arsenal's football stadium is blown apart by suicide bombers and a thousand fans are killed. A thousand Zeppelins with the image of the victims are hoisted above London. The principal character is a married woman and mother who loses her husband -- a bomb disposal expert -- and four-year-old son at the stadium. There has probably never been quite been a scene of coitus interruptus in cinema as the one injected into this film. The grieving mother herself has to survive several life-threatening incidents -- let's call it "the character with nine lives" cinematic device -- before coming to the belief that there is no substitute for a dead child like a new pregnancy. It struck me as ironic that the English should be thinking in the same terms as the disadvantaged and destitute parts of the world have -- that only increased birth rates offer consolation for the loss of children.

The film contains multiple false endings. Its overwrought last scenes include an overstated dramatic message delivered by the mother to Osama bin Laden about how London will bounce back. Then there is the cry of the newborn child that will deafen bin Laden. Incendiary disproves one myth -- so much for the idea of English understatement.

Sundance's Spectrum series pays tribute to new voices in independent filmmaking. Other than Bottle Shock, the other film in this series that I saw was Red. A virtuoso performance by Brian Cox (The Bourne Ultimatum, Match Point) delivers an edgy story about Avery, a solitary and sullen widower, coming to grips with outrageously provocative acts committed by some teenagers. It is a gathering gothic confrontation between an older man whose old dog is randomly shot by a punk and the juvenile's influential family. Avery is a modern-day gunslinger seeking justice rather than revenge for the loss of the last love of his life. A simple apology from the boy would suffice. Instead, every act of mercy shown by the dog owner elicits an escalation in violence. It is fortunate that Avery is one of those "characters with nine lives."

Avery had had two sons himself who came to grief in different ways. He was now on a quest to do the right thing -- this time around -- when entangled in a teenager's folly. The audience applauded the scene in which Avery, a Korean war veteran, roughs the punk up. In an ineluctable but low-key way this film turns viewers into stakeholders who demand that rectificatory justice be done. Like the lead character in Captain Abu Raed, then, Avery is an older man who wants to scale the moral high ground before his innings are over.

The movie was begun by director Lucky McKee but other film projects forced him to hand over to Norwegian Trygve Allister Diesen, who makes his American debut with Red. Trygve told us that he wanted as simple a story as possible to explore small-town American society. What is the future for this film? "I wish I knew," Trygve worried.

At Sundance it seems sometimes that little or nothing separates a film leaving the festival as a big winner -- either as a jury or critics' award winner or as a distribution deal success, and one leaving with a murky future. Of about 120 films shown, when the Festival ended only 20 had wrapped up deals with studios for theatre or television release. Take the Swedish entry, King of Ping Pong, which was awarded the Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema Dramatic as well as the corresponding cinematography award. Would anyone other than Swedes living above the Arctic Circle want to go see it? Every bit as dry as the Norwegian-directed Red without its High Noon ambiance, the movie focuses on a lonely boy's embrace of the one game said still to be egalitarian -- where money, politics, or drugs do not taint the sport.

All around Rille, a 16-year-old plump and nerdy boy, life is unfair. His kid brother Erik is popular with the girls and is the glue that holds a teenage gang together. How could two siblings be so different -- one fated for ostracism, the other only for happiness? The twist in the movie plot is that the two boys discover they are only half-brothers. What is more, their respective fathers -- one a glamorous deep-sea rescue diver, the other a dull sports store owner -- are not whom we would have guessed were each boy's father given their different personalities. Mamman, played masterfully by Anne-Sofie Nurmi, is a statement in praise of obesity.

Filmed just below the Arctic Circle around the town of Luleå, this movie brings simple truths home about sibling relationships, youthful fears, and parental angst. In many ways it is the polar opposite of Fucking Åmål (1998, titled Show Me Love in the U.S.), a multiple award winner in Europe which also dealt with the anomie, boredom, and hostility of teenagers living in what is regarded as Sweden's dullest town. Ping pong, swimming, and a chaperoned adolescent dance -- all at the town rec center -- are what teenagers in King of Ping Pong can enjoy. Not surprisingly, the humor of this film -- there is plenty if you watch closely enough -- is very Swedish.

Swedes are experts at marketing their products and King of Ping Pong has a promising future in movie theaters. But it probably won't be as successful at the box office as the film that received the Grand Jury Prize for best U.S. feature. Frozen River is another film shot in winter in a northern location -- this time it is in Plattsburgh, New York, a town I lived in for several years in the 1990s. Maybe I'm flattering my skills of discernment but from the first I thought the ice-covered body of water at the center of the film could only be the shores of Lake Champlain -- which I regularly crossed on an icebreaker ferry in winter on my way to teach at the University of Vermont -- not a river. Indeed I was proved right by the director. Perhaps the Ice Storm that hit the area in 1998 taught all of us to distinguish different varieties of ice. The scenes of backcountry roads with homey wooden cottages interspersed with the occasional mobile home reminded me of my old running route. I found the North Country accents flawless. And the story of smuggling is always in the back of your mind if you have lived up there and regularly crossed into Canada through small border points like Rouses Point, Lacolle, and Mooers.

Courtney Hunt, the film's director and screenwriter, told us her budget came in under $1 million. So having Sony Pictures Classics purchase the rights may represent the biggest Cinderella story of the 2008 Festival. Courtney explained that she became intrigued by women becoming involved in such a bold and risky occupation as human smuggling. The film shows how illegals are brought over from Canada into the U.S. The Mohawk reservations -- sovereign lands spilling over both sides of the frontier -- are obvious conduits for such operations. As a Montrealer, for a long time friends have boasted to me how they buy cartons of tax-free cigarettes from Mohawks in Kahnawake and other reservations close to the U.S. border. Human smuggling is an altogether different proposition, however. And smuggling Pakistanis across with their baggage makes even the casual smuggler worry whether he or she isn't bringing in a terrorist, as a dramatic incident in this film highlights.

Strong and daring women having to raise young children in conditions of abject poverty are the centerpiece of Frozen River. Great performances are given by the two female leads, Melissa Leo and Misty Upham. The Mohawk sense of justice -- say you're sorry and that is enough (as in Red too, curiously) -- stands as a counterpoint to the fear inspired by the immigration authorities. To be sure, these authorities near Massena, New York (where the film is set) act in a humane, civilized way compared to their counterparts in The Visitor.

I had wanted to see a well-received film about Mardi Gras in Mobile -- the city which had Carnival parades, krewes, and balls before New Orleans did. I had heard that the premiere of The Order of Myths was attended by the king and queen of the main Black Mobile Carnival krewe and by the queen of the White one. In their own ways they spoke about the interracial politics of celebrating Carnival. Integrating krewes was not a policy either group wanted, it seemed, and you could feel the exasperation on the part of film director and screenwriter Margaret Brown (Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt, 2005). What would be lost if the krewes were racially fully integrated? Black parades were laid back and funky, White ones were concerned with honoring tradition and formality. Each krewe let the good times roll. The filmmaker apparently found racial attitudes at Mardi Gras Carnival both palpable and inscrutable -- a common observation made by liberal outsiders, this one from Austin. Stereotypes of the South are alive and well. Reconstruction of the South is on the minds of so many visitors to the area. Unfortunately I could not catch a screening of the film to see whether the director's cinematic arguments were persuasive.

Nor did I see another film dealing with Blacks in the south living in abject poverty -- Ballast -- which won both directing and cinematographic awards in the U.S. Dramatic category. But I did see a film about nearby New Orleans on the last day of Sundance. Trouble the Water was given the Grand Jury Prize for best U.S. documentary for its story of a young Black couple from the Lower Ninth ward going through hurricane Katrina as it struck The Big Easy, then evacuating to family in Alexandria and Memphis. I was not in the city when the storm struck and to the extent that I have been traumatized it is purely by what I found in the city four months later. I did not think that the critical acclaim lavished on the film by the national media was anything more than a way of making up for the continued guilt that the concerned parts of America feel about the Katrina calamity and its aftermath. So I was overwhelmed by this documentary's take on the storm.

I told Tia Lessin and Carl Deal, the two directors, in the Q & A following the Sunday screening that I believe no other imagery has captured the horror and grief experienced by the poor inhabitants of the city better than their film. No film, including Spike Lee's, unpacks the circumstances under which some two thousand people died horrific deaths and so many others died lingering deaths in the months that followed -- of trauma, frailty, and despair. No document makes clearer who the principal victims were -- and who the victimizing were too. The footage shot in the streets of the Ninth Ward by Kimberly Rivers with a camcorder she had bought the day before Katrina's landfall is harrowing because it brings home how little people knew about the extent of the unfolding crisis. The film also highlights the injustices that continued long after Katrina hit. The symbolic coup de grace is learning that Kimberly and her husband Scott's dog -- which had survived the storm by himself -- was shot by a National Guardsman a year after the storm.

In possession of a Sundance Institute grant, the directors had originally intended to film the return of Louisiana National Guard units from Iraq to their devastated state. They ran into Kimberly and Scott by chance, at a Red Cross center when they couldn't get into the city. The Ninth Ward couple does not come across as destitute -- there is a lot of gold in the teeth, around the neck, and on the fingers. In the film they explain how without education they could never have earned enough money in legal ways to live decently. Indeed, the Park City audience learned that when the couple flew to Sundance for the premiere it was their first time in an airplane. Kimberly attended the premiere, then was rushed to a maternity ward at the University of Utah Medical Center where she gave birth to a daughter, Skyy. She has now been fondly nicknamed the Sundance Kid. The couple returned to New Orleans by car -- award and baby in hand.

I asked what kind of contract was concluded for Trouble the Water to include Kimberly's footage. A very good deal and a lot of love was the answer. Kimberly had always wanted her film to have a worldwide audience and this was the best way for her to get it. Unfortunately, on the last day of Sundance, this film, too, had not been sold and may not therefore be accessible to most of America -- let alone the world. On the other hand, Kimberly's rap soundtrack -- it's "amazin,'" as one of her songs is titled -- is being released soon under her rapper name Black Kold Madina. As Rolling Stone put it, Kimberly is "the real force of nature."

The local man -- grizzly face with a black cowboy hat over it -- that had been sitting beside me left for his condo off Main Street, vacated by renters earlier that day after a lucrative two-week rental. The barrista was getting an early night for a change and would no doubt hit the slopes early next morning. A foot of powder was expected overnight. I left Park City in blustery weather, groppel lashing my face -- the front edge of this particular storm. This isn't the Arctic Circle but, back in Salt Lake 30 minutes later, I found out that an avalanche warning had been issued for the upper elevations overlooking Park City.--Ray Taras

Ray Taras lives in Salt Lake City and New Orleans. He teaches literature courses at Tulane including "Politics, Fiction and Film." This is his third Sundance.

Pg. 69: Emma Anderson's "The Betrayal of Faith"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Emma Anderson's The Betrayal of Faith: The Tragic Journey of a Colonial Native Convert.

About the book, from the publisher:Among the praise for The Betrayal of Faith:
Read about The Betrayal of Faith at the Harvard University Press website. Learn more about Emma Anderson's teaching, research, and other publications at her faculty webpage.

Emma Anderson is Assistant Professor of North American Religious History, University of Ottawa.

The Page 69 Test: The Betrayal of Faith.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Edward G. Lengel's "To Conquer Hell"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Edward G. Lengel's To Conquer Hell: The Meuse-Argonne, 1918.

About the book, from the publisher:
The authoritative, dramatic, and previously untold story of the bloodiest battle in American history: the epic fight for the Meuse-Argonne in World War I

On September 26, 1918, more than one million American soldiers prepared to assault the German-held Meuse-Argonne region of France. Their commander, General John J. Pershing, believed in the superiority of American “guts” over barbed wire, machine guns, massed artillery, and poison gas. In thirty-six hours, he said, the Doughboys would crack the German defenses and open the road to Berlin. Six weeks later, after savage fighting across swamps, forests, towns, and rugged hills, the battle finally ended with the signing of the armistice that concluded the First World War. The Meuse-Argonne had fallen, at the cost of more than 120,000 American casualties, including 26,000 dead. In the bloodiest battle the country had ever seen, an entire generation of young Americans had been transformed forever. To Conquer Hell is gripping in its accounts of combat, studded with portraits of remarkable soldiers like Pershing, Harry Truman, George Patton, and Alvin York, and authoritative in presenting the big picture. It is military history of the first rank and, incredibly, the first in-depth account of this fascinating and important battle.
Among the early praise for To Conquer Hell:
"Edward Lengel has filled an inexplicable gap in the American history of World War I with this vivid, deeply researched account of the Doughboys’ heroism – and agony – in the Argonne. Anyone interested in military history should have it on his bookshelf."
—Thomas Fleming, author of The Illusion of Victory: America in World War I

"Each First World War battle deserves a historian; not every battle finds one. Those who fought on the Meuse-Argonne in 1918, and all Americans interested in their national heritage, are fortunate that Edward G. Lengel has written this deeply researched book – bringing the strategy, the commanders, the officers and men, the tactics, the horror and the heroism together in a moving, dramatic, and intensely human account. One of the most powerful war books that I have read."
—Martin Gilbert, author of The First World War and The Somme

“There have been several efforts by American authors since the Armistice of 1918 to retell the story of the American Army's engagement on the Western Front during the First World War. Ed Lengel's book is a superior achievement and will be greatly enjoyed both by experts and by the general reader.”
—John Keegan

"Ed Lengel's account of how American doughboys died in their tens of thousands to end the First World War is one of the great war stories of all time. In Lengel's skilled hands, the last great battle of the Great War is both riveting and deeply affecting. Authoritative, vividly drawn, and packed with arresting anecdotes and new material, To Conquer Hell is destined to be a classic. I cannot recommend it highly enough."
—Alex Kershaw, author of The Few and The Longest Winter

Learn more about To Conquer Hell at the publisher's website.

Edward G. Lengel is an associate professor of history at the University of Virginia. He is the author of several books on military history, including General George Washington: A Military Life. A recipient, with the Papers of George Washington documentary editing project, of the National Humanities Medal, he has made frequent appearances on television documentaries and was a finalist for the George Washington Book Prize.

The Page 99 Test: To Conquer Hell.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Caroline Tiger reading?

The latest featured contributor to Writers Read: Caroline Tiger, a Philadelphia-based freelance magazine writer and author of a few books, including a new and improved edition of The Long-Distance Relationship Guide: Advice for the Geographically Challenged and How To Behave: Dating and Sex.

Tiger has written for many different magazines -- including Philadelphia, Philadelphia Home & Garden, Boston Home & Garden, Town & Country, Real Simple, Fortune Small Business, Marie Claire, Budget Living, and New Jersey Life -- and writes the Philadelphia design blog, design-phan.

Part of her entry at Writers Read:
I'm having a Francophile moment right now having recently read Antonia Fraser's biography of Marie Antoinette followed by Caroline Weber's Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution. I didn't think I needed to read Weber's book after finishing Fraser's very thorough tome, but then I saw Weber speak at a local Alliance Francaise event, and the first thing I did when I got home was order her book. It was very much worth it -- she goes into fascinating detail about how the queen's clothing choices influenced her fate. The book reads like a novel written by a fashion junkie. [read on]
Visit Caroline Tiger's website.

Writers Read: Caroline Tiger.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 28, 2008

Rhonda Pollero's "Knock 'em Dead," the movie

Now showing at My Book, The Movie: Rhonda Pollero's Knock 'em Dead, the second humorous mystery featuring Finley Anderson Tanner.

From the publisher's introduction to the main character:
Meet Finley Anderson Tanner. F.A.T. to her enemies. Underachiever extraordinaire. This West Palm Beach paralegal hates the gym, still rents her condo, and loves two-hour lunches with her friends. But what really gets Finley’s blood pumping is the thrill of the hunt — shopping for deeply discounted designer goods she can wear at her upscale law firm. Hey, if she holds that Chanel bag just right, no one will ever notice the weird smear on the pale pink lambskin.

Too bad work isn’t all about fashion. Especially when a grieving widow is sitting in your office, convinced that her husband’s accidental death was really murder. Okay, so she’s sincere … but crazy. She’s also a close personal friend of the boss, and the boss wants Finley to personally oversee the investigation. Good-bye outlet malls; hello pain-in-my-Asprey.

Investigating murder isn’t really Finley’s bag. (That would be Prada, 75% off.) But the deeper Finley digs, the stranger things get. There are an awful lot of “accidental” deaths out there. This discount shopper knows slightly irregular when she sees it, and this case is clearly not right. Kind of like sexy Liam McGarrity. Everything about the hot, hunky P.I. assigned to the investigation screams, “Get out while you still have your underwear!” When he’s not working the case, he’s working on Finley.
Learn about the actors the author has in mind for Finley in a film adaptation.

Visit Rhonda Pellero's website and her blog; learn more about the Finley Anderson Tanner books.

Read an excerpt from Knock Off and an excerpt from Knock 'em Dead.

The Page 69 Test: Knock Off.

My Book, The Movie: Knock 'em Dead.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Eli Gottlieb's "Now You See Him"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Eli Gottlieb's Now You See Him.

About the book, from the publisher:

His name was Rob Castor. Quite possibly, you've heard of him. He became a minor cult celebrity in his early twenties for writing a book of darkly pitch-perfect stories set in a stupid upstate New York town. About a dozen years later, he murdered his writer-girlfriend and committed suicide....

The deaths of Rob Castor and his girlfriend begin a wrenching and enthrallingly suspenseful story that mines the explosive terrains of love and paternity, marriage and its delicate intricacies, family secrets and how they fester over time, and ultimately the true nature of loyalty and trust, friendship and envy, deception and manipulation.

As the media takes hold of this sensational crime, a series of unexpected revelations unleashes hidden truths in the lives of those closest to Rob. At the center of this driving narrative is Rob's childhood best friend, Nick Framingham, whose ten-year marriage to his college sweetheart is faltering. Shocked by Rob's death, Nick begins to reevaluate his own life and his past, and as he does so, a fault line opens up beneath him, leading him all the way to the novel's startling conclusion.

In this ambitious and thrilling novel, award-winning author Eli Gottlieb — with extraordinarily luxuriant and evocative prose — takes us deep into the human psyche, where the most profound of secrets are kept.

Among the early praise for the novel:
"Now You See Him is a true literary page-turner in which a string of startling revelations unfolds within the constructs of lush and beautiful prose. It is at turns both heartbreaking and breathtaking."
—Ann Patchett

"A mesmerizing blend of suspense and long-buried family secrets, Gottlieb’s second novel (after 1997’s The Boy Who Went Away) culminates in shocking revelations that rock a quiet upstate New York town. Nick Framingham is still reeling from the recent death of his childhood best friend, the writer Rob Castor, who committed suicide after killing his ex-girlfriend in Manhattan. Nick’s own marriage to his college sweetheart, Lucy, begins to unravel as he struggles to understand what drove Rob to murder. Rekindling an old relationship with his first love, Belinda, Rob’s volatile and beautiful sister, Nick begins to retrace not only Rob’s last days but also their shared childhood, looking for clues to explain his friend’s actions. Gottlieb skillfully ratchets up the suspense by doling out the details of Rob’s death in bits and pieces, until everything falls into place in a startling conclusion that will rattle even the genre’s most experienced readers. With his pitch-perfect dialogue and flawed yet empathetic characters, Gottlieb’s sophomore effort should win him widespread recognition."
Publishers Weekly, starred review
Read an excerpt from Now You See Him, and learn more about the book and author at Eli Gottlieb's website and blog.

Eli Gottlieb has worked as a Senior Editor of Elle Magazine and taught American Literature as a Lecturer at the University of Padova, Italy. His first novel, The Boy Who Went Away, won the prestigious Rome Prize, the 1998 McKitterick Prize from the British Society of Authors, and was a New York Times Notable book. He is a contributing editor for 5280 magazine.

The Page 69 Test: Now You See Him.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Pg. 99: Jana Richman's "The Last Cowgirl"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Jana Richman's The Last Cowgirl.

About the book, from the publisher:

They say you can't go home again, but sometimes, you don't have a choice

Dickie Sinfield was seven years old when her father decided to become a cowboy and move his family from their comfortable suburban home to a small run-down ranch in Clayton, Utah. From her first stock show to the day she turns eighteen and flees for the comforts of the city, Dickie bucks the cattle-ranching lifestyle and yearns for manicured lawns, housebroken pets, and neighborhood playmates. Yet she reluctantly finds herself drawn to the vast, desolate landscape of the desert and the solitude it offers — a feeling she won't acknowledge even within herself.

Now a grown woman, Dickie is a respected reporter in Salt Lake City, convinced that physical distance and a convenient but passionless relationship will erase the memory of her painful childhood. But when her brother dies in a tragic accident, Dickie finds herself back in the farmhouse she tried so desperately to abandon. Suddenly, she is faced with her family's past and a love she's never admitted to, bringing down the walls of her carefully contrived existence.

Accustomed to the physical boundaries city life entails, Dickie feels emotionally exposed by the fenceless expanse of the ranch. As she navigates her past, piecing together relationships, romance, and the pull of the mountains themselves, she finally confronts the pivotal moment of her childhood — the horrifying discovery that made her flee the desert so many years ago.

A novel that spans two generations and vast landscapes, The Last Cowgirl brings to mind the writing of Pam Houston and Barbara Kingsolver. Richman's provocative prose, pulled from personal experience, will strike a chord with anyone who has been faced with demons from their past and found solace in the space around them.

Among the early praise for The Last Cowgirl:
“Richman’s mastery of the emotional geography is illuminating and call(s) to mind the work of Pat Conroy.”
Kirkus Reviews

“A warm story of good folks who make bad decisions and then have to live with them.”
Publishers Weekly

“Readers will be irrevocably drawn into this top-notch fictional debut from an amazing new talent.”
Read an excerpt from The Last Cowgirl and learn more about the novel from the publisher's website.

Jana Richman is also the author of the memoir, Riding in the Shadows of Saints: A Woman's Story of Motorcycling the Mormon Trail.

The Page 99 Test: The Last Cowgirl.

--Marshal Zeringue

Critic's chart: top six romances

Christina Koning is a novelist and short story writer. Her novels include A Mild Suicide, Undiscovered Country, and Fabulous Time. She named her top six romances for the (London) Times, the newspaper for which she regularly reviews paperback fiction.

One book on her list:
Possession, by A.S. Byatt

Two young academics are united by their passion for two long-dead poets - who were also once lovers, it transpires.
Read about Number One on Koning's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Pg. 69: John Allen Paulos' "Irreligion"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: John Allen Paulos' Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don't Add Up.

About the book, from the publisher:
A Lifelong Unbeliever Finds No Reason to Change His Mind

Are there any logical reasons to believe in God? Mathematician and bestselling author John Allen Paulos thinks not. In Irreligion he presents the case for his own worldview, organizing his book into twelve chapters that refute the twelve arguments most often put forward for believing in God’s existence. The latter arguments, Paulos relates in his characteristically lighthearted style, “range from what might be called golden oldies to those with a more contemporary beat. On the playlist are the firstcause argument, the argument from design, the ontological argument, arguments from faith and biblical codes, the argument from the anthropic principle, the moral universality argument, and others.” Interspersed among his twelve counterarguments are remarks on a variety of irreligious themes, ranging from the nature of miracles and creationist probability to cognitive illusions and prudential wagers. Special attention is paid to topics, arguments, and questions that spring from his incredulity “not only about religion but also about others’ credulity.” Despite the strong influence of his day job, Paulos says, there isn’t a single mathematical formula in the book.
Among the praise for the book:
“He’s done it again. John Allen Paulos has written a charming book that takes you on a sojourn of flawless logic, with simple and clear examples drawn from math, science, and pop culture. At journey’s end, Paulos has left you with plenty to think about, whether you are religious, irreligious, or anything in between.”
—Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, American Museum of Natural History and author of Death By Black Hole and Other Cosmic Quandaries

"For years John Allen Paulos has been our guide for reading newspapers, playing the stock market, and understanding what all those graphs and charts and formulas really mean. No one knows how to dissect an argument better than Paulos. Now he has turned his rapier wit to the grandest question of them all: is there a God? Those who are religious skeptics will find in Paulos’s analysis new ways of looking at both old and new arguments, and those who believe that God’s existence can be proven through science, reason, and logic will have to answer to this mathematician’s penetrating analysis."
—Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, monthly columnist for Scientific American, and the author of How We Believe, The Science of Good and Evil, and Why Darwin Matters

"Using the methods of mathematics, reason and logic, Paulos wrestles religious belief systems to the ground and in the process proves he is as good a writer as he is a mathematician. The book is short, to the point and humorous, and God knows, this subject could use more humor."
—Joan Konner, Dean Emerita of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and editor of The Atheist’s Bible

"Another virtuoso performance from a master in the use of mathematics to explore the conundrums and mysteries of everyday life."
—Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind

"John Allen Paulos has done us all a great service. Irreligion is an elegant and timely response to the manifold ignorance that still goes by the name of 'faith' in the 21st century."
—Sam Harris, author of the New York Times best sellers, The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation
Read an excerpt from Irreligion and learn more about the author and his work at John Allen Paulos' website.

John Allen Paulos is professor of math at Temple University, "an extensively kudized author, popular public speaker, and monthly columnist for (archived or current) and the Guardian."

The Page 69 Test: Irreligion.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Elizabeth Wein reading?

The latest contributor to Writers Read: Elizabeth Wein, author of The Winter Prince, A Coalition of Lions, The Sunbird, The Lion Hunter, and the forthcoming The Empty Kingdom.

Wein, on her work:
I write fiction for teens based on Arthurian legend and early African history. I was intrigued with archaeological and scholarly evidence suggesting there were major events going on in the ancient Ethiopian kingdom of Aksum at just about exactly the same time as the historic Arthur existed, so I've imagined a genial relationship between the two kingdoms. My young hero, Telemakos, is the son of an Ethiopian noblewoman and a British prince.
Part of her Writers Read entry:
I'm in the middle of The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: Volume 1, The Pox Party (heck of a title!) by M.T. Anderson. This is a truly brilliant period crafting of the life of a young slave at the time of the American Revolution. Octavian is raised as a human experiment to try to discover whether blacks are as intelligent as whites (Octavian, it is clear, is considerably more intelligent than most of either race). I'm also in the middle of Corydon and the Island of Monsters by Tobias Druitt — a pen name disguising the mother-son writing team of Michael Dowling and Diane Purkiss. The Corydon books are based on Greek myth, but cast from the point of view of the underdogs — the outcasts, the so-called monsters, sphinx and minotaur and gorgon. I love the way this imaginative twist reframes familiar myth in a dark mirror. [read on]
Visit Elizabeth Wein's website and her blog.

Writers Read: Elizabeth Wein.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Glenda E. Gilmore's "Defying Dixie"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Glenda E. Gilmore's Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919–1950.

About the book, from the publisher:
A groundbreaking history of the Southern movement for social justice that gave birth to civil rights.

The civil rights movement that loomed over the 1950s and 1960s was the tip of an iceberg, the legal and political remnant of a broad, raucous, deeply American movement for social justice that flourished from the 1920s through the 1940s. This contentious mix of home-grown radicals, labor activists, newspaper editors, black workers, and intellectuals employed every strategy imaginable to take Dixie down, from a ludicrous attempt to organize black workers with a stage production of Pushkin — in Russian — to the courageous fight of striking workers against police and corporate violence in Gastonia in 1929. In a dramatic narrative Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore deftly shows how the movement unfolded against national and global developments, gaining focus and finally arriving at a narrow but effective legal strategy for securing desegregation and political rights. Little-known heroes abound in a book that will recast our understanding of the most important social movement in twentieth-century America.
Among the praise for Defying Dixie:

“[W]ith the publication of Glenda Gilmore's remarkable new book, Defying Dixie, the left-wing origins of the civil rights movement have risen to the surface of historical debate.... [N]o one who reads this eye-opening book will come away with anything less than a renewed appreciation for the complex origins and evolution of a freedom struggle that changed the South, the nation and the world.”
Raymond Arsenault, Washington Post

Defying Dixie tells of the most marginal of southerners: fierce radicals who at the height of Jim Crow dared to demand a world free of racial oppression and economic exploitation. Scorned and scarred for their beliefs, these courageous men and women risked everything to build a civil rights movement that shook the south to its core — and transformed the nation. Glenda Gilmore’s evocative, sensitive account endows their extraordinary story with the majesty it deserves.”
—Kevin Boyle, Ohio State University, National Book Award-winning author of Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age

In recreating the lives and dreams of courageous Southerners, black and white, who posed an alternative vision for their tortured region based on social justice and racial equality, Glenda Gilmore has forever changed the way historians will write and teach about the roots of the modern civil rights movement. Elegantly written, chock full of historical nuggets, Defying Dixie is a work of stunning originality.”
—David Oshinsky, Jack S. Blanton Chair, University of Texas, and 2006 Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Polio: An American Story

“The map of the history of the civil rights movement will never look the same. Professor Gilmore has given us a new highway. Bypassed are all the biblically-named exits; gone too are all those black men guarding the ramps. The terrain is now radical country. Communists, once trolls under the bridge, are now sentinels of the new route. And Pauli Murray leads the way. A wonderful book.”
—William S. McFeely, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Grant: A Biography and Frederick Douglass

Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore’s fascinating account gives us the civil rights struggle from the Left–its more vigorous side before the 1950s—with the individuals and all their quirks left in. Lovett Fort-Whiteman and Pauli Murray head the cast of intriguing activists, whose personal character and their historic achievements Gilmore presents in her signature lively prose.”
—Nell Irvin Painter, Princeton University, author of Creating Black Americans: African-American History and Its Meanings, 1619 to the Present

“Glenda Gilmore's Defying Dixie is a triumph of narrative synthesis, a powerful meld of storytelling and interpretation that puts the radical and too often marginalized forerunners of the post-WW II civil rights generation front and center where they belong.”
—David Levering Lewis, New York University, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of W.E.B. DuBois, 1919-1963: The Fight For Equality and the American Century

Read an excerpt from Defying Dixie and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

Glenda E. Gilmore is the Peter V. and C. Vann Woodward Professor of History at Yale University. A North Carolina native, she writes extensively on Southern history. Her previous publications include Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1986-1920, which won the Frederick Jackson Turner Award, the James A. Rawley Prize, the Julia Cherry Spruill Prize, and Yale's Heyman Prize. She edited Who Were the Progressives (2002) and co-edited Jumpin' Jim Crow: Southern Politics from Civil War to Civil Rights (2001).

The Page 99 Test: Defying Dixie.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 25, 2008

Five best: books about the challenges of living with illness

Laura Landro, an assistant managing editor at the Wall Street Journal and its Informed Patient columnist, is the author of Survivor: Taking Control of Your Fight Against Cancer (1998). She named a five best list of "books about the challenges of living with illness" for her newspaper.

One book to make the list:
Love and Other Infectious Diseases
By Molly Haskell
Morrow, 1990

Andrew Sarris and Molly Haskell were star film critics in New York in the 1980s -- husband and wife with a shared passion for movies and each other -- when Sarris was struck with a frightening and devastating illness that tore through his body and ripped up their lives. Initially diagnosed with a form of encephalitis, he was later found to have a viral infection and a neurological disorder caused by inflammation of the spinal cord. Sarris suffered every complication in the book, from pneumonia and a perforated colon to paralysis, bedsores, septicemia and hallucinations. His care and all the chores he had once taken care of, including paying bills, fell to Haskell, who soon faced her own medical crisis after months of reserving her strength for her spouse. Though the bonds of marriage and family in the face of illness sometimes stifle and enrage her, Haskell emerges "feeling deeply and continuously in the marrow of my bones a reason for staying alive."
Read about the book that tops Landro's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Sandeep Jauhar's "Intern: A Doctor’s Initiation"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Sandeep Jauhar's Intern: A Doctor’s Initiation.

About the book, from the author's website:
Intern is Dr. Sandeep Jauhar's story of his days and nights in residency at a prominent teaching hospital in New York City, a trial that led him to question every conventional assumption about doctors and medicine — and that makes him an ideal figure to speak to our own misgivings about doctors and medicine today.

Residency — and especially its first year, called "internship" — is an apprenticeship legendary for its brutality. Working eighty or more hours per week and staying up "on call" every fourth night, most new doctors spend their first year in a state of perpetual exhaustion, shunning family, friends, food, sex, and other pleasures — and asking themselves why they ever wanted to be doctors in the first place.

Jauhar's internship was even more harrowing than most: The younger son in an intensely competitive family, he switched from physics to medicine in order to follow a more humane calling — only to find that medicine is often a "cookbook" craft with little regard for the patient. He struggled to find a place among the hospital's squadrons of cocky Type-A residents and doctors. A journalist on the side, he challenged the spirit-breaking practices of the internship in The New York Times, attracting the suspicions of the medical bureaucracy. Then, suddenly stricken, he became a patient himself — an experience that gave him rare insight into the doctor-patient relationship, enabling him to see that today's high-tech, high-pressure medicine can be a humane science after all.

Now a thriving cardiologist, Sandeep Jauhar has all the qualities you'd want in your own doctor: expertise, insight, a feel for the human factor, a sense of humor, and a keen awareness of the worries that we all have in common.

His beautifully written, deeply felt memoir explains how he and his fellow interns survived — and explains the inner workings of modern medicine as no guidebook or magazine article can.

Among the praise for Intern:

"Brutally frank... Rarely has a more conflicted or unpromising candidate entered the field of medicine, and this mismatch gives Intern its offbeat appeal. There are many accounts of American medical training, but none related by a narrator quite so wobbly, introspective, crisis prone and fumbling.... In a book filled with colorful medical anecdotes, Dr. Jauhar's own case stands out. Half the time it's not clear whether he should be treating others or others should be treating him, which does in fact happen when he develops a herniated disc midway through his training, complicated by a deep depression associated with a rolling existential crisis. The inside look at the workings of the medical internship system is fascinating, but it cannot compete with Dr. Jauhar's own psychological adventure, a quasireligious journey from agnosticism to robust faith, with occasional dips into outright atheism..."
New York Times

"In Jauhar's wise memoir of his two-year ordeal of doubt and sleep deprivation at a New York hospital, he takes readers to the heart of every young physician's hardest test: to become a doctor yet remain a human being."

"Jauhar's candid account of his stressful journey is enlightening, educational and eye-opening. After ten successful years in the profession, the author dolefully admits that he is unfazed by the 'small injustices' in hospitals today. Required reading for anyone seriously considering a career in medicine."
Kirkus Reviews

"What sets Jauhar's internship story apart from the norm is his candor."

"Honest and vivid... A well-written medical memoir."
Library Journal

"Very few books can make you laugh and cry at the same time. This is one of them. Jauhar reveals himself in this book as he takes us on a wondrous journey through one of the most difficult years of his life. It is mandatory reading for anyone who has been even the slightest bit curious about how a doctor gets trained, and for physicians it is a valuable record of our initiation."
—Sanjay Gupta, CNN medical correspondent and author of Chasing Life

Read an excerpt from Intern and learn more about the author and his work at Sandeep Jauhar's website and blog.

Sandeep Jauhar, MD, PhD, is the director of the Heart Failure Program at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. He writes regularly for the New York Times and The New England Journal of Medicine.

The Page 69 Test: Intern: A Doctor’s Initiation.

--Marshal Zeringue