Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Canterbury Tales

Thursday night I attended The New American Shakespeare Tavern's adaptation of Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, and it was fantastic! The dialogue had been slightly changed, so though I didn't get to recite the Prologue word for word along with the actors, I was so entertained by the beer cans, Converse sneakers, a ballroom-dancing Chanticleer, tour bus, puppets, two added tales and Southern accents to notice.

I went with my friend, Lori, who gets just as excited about books, plays and history as I do. We had a great time, and hope to do more fun stuff in Atlanta soon.
The New American Shakespeare Tavern has occupied its space on Peachtree Street in Atlanta for 20 years, and they are celebrating all season with a winter schedule that includes several great plays still to come: Romeo + Juliet, King Lear and The Taming of the Shrew.

If you have the chance to see a play at this theatre, you just simply must.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Ronald Regan, Michael Deaver and Harry Potter

I've already gotten going on my 2010 reading list, and I have just finished A Different Drummer: My Thirty Years with Ronald Reagan by Michael Deaver. I was alive during all eight years of Reagan's presidency, but wasn't paying much attention to politics at the time. All I remember is that some of my family members were pleased as punch to have him as president. Others were not. I have to say that until I read the book, I wasn't sure who Michael Deaver was. Now I do.

The book wasn't any great work by any means, and I'm not sure I can even call it interesting. I'd classify it as a memoir, because instead of telling the whole picture, Deaver chose very carefully what to put in and what to leave out. When I finished the book, I couldn't even be sure that Deaver had resigned because of a scandal. Deaver was pretty vague about that, so I Googled it and came across his obituary from 2007 in the Washington Post. You can read it here.

I guess when you're the author you get to choose what you write. Anyway, it's checked off my list and I'm now on to more fun reading.

Speaking of the 2010 reading list and fun reading, my group is very excited about the upcoming opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. Here's an update of the park's progress. We're hoping we'll be making a visit together one of these days.

Author News: J.D. Salinger

"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth." -- Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye

These are the opening lines of The Catcher in the Rye. I read the book for the first time as a junior in high school, and I'll never forget hearing the first few pages of the book as our English teacher read them aloud. It totally sucked me in. It was unlike anything I'd ever read before, and unlike everything I've read since (though James Frey's A Million Little Pieces made me think of Holden).

The author, J.D. Salinger, died Wednesday after living the last five decades as a recluse in New Hampshire. He is considered to be one of the most important writers of the 20th century. I think Holden is one of the most memorable characters in literature. He says and thinks many great things in The Catcher in the Rye. I think my favorite is, "If a girl looks swell when she meets you, who gives a damn if she's late? Nobody."

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The rest of the story...

I saw an interesting news story over the weekend that brought to light the long friendship between radio personality Paul Harvey and former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Harvey often submitted his news to Hoover prior to broadcast, which goes against everything taught in a journalism course. To read The Washington Post story, click here.

I love books and movies with the theme of journalistic integrity. If you're into that too, be sure to check out:

All the President's Men (book by reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward; movie released in 1976)
Good Night and Good Luck (movie released in 2005)
Almost Famous (movie released in 2000)

And, here's another story about how journalism is portrayed in the movies. Click here.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Austen Alert!

Over the next several Sunday nights, PBS will be showing adaptations of three Jane Austen novels. To see the schedule, visit here. Emma will be shown first. To prepare yourself, go head and take the Bachelors of Highbury quiz. Apparently, my best match would be George Knightley.

Also, Sunday night, there is an Emma Twitter Party (read more about that here). Sign up to follow @pbs and @masterpiecepbs. While you're at it, feel free to start following me @betsyrhame.

Also coming up on PBS in April is The Diary of Anne Frank.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Coming soon...

If you're looking for new reading material this winter, USA Today has a list of books that will be published from January to April 2010. You can sort through the list in several ways, or click through the whole list. I have quite a few books to be looking forward to!

See what's coming up:

Friday, January 15, 2010

Two Books to Reread

I'm promoting and planning to participate in two reading programs over the next month or two. Join me!

The books selection for Forsyth Reads Together 2010 is my all-time favorite, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. To celebrate, there are several events in February. To learn more, visit the Forsyth County Library home page.

In addition, The National Endowment for the Arts' Big Read selection is Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. The Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta has several events planned to celebrate. Visit their web page for more.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Feeling Inspired

Last week in one sitting I read Sapphire's novel Push, that has become the movie, Precious. It was very hard to read, but I'm glad I read it. I kept holding out hope that something would click and the narrator's life would improve. How could it possibly have been any worse? I felt particularly grateful to Blue Rain, Precious' teacher, who helps her take control of her life and move forward.

Maybe it's because I also just finished Stones into Schools (Greg Mortenson), but there seems to be a pattern here for education as a means of propulsion, among other things. It has brought to mind other books and movies with similar themes that make me feel inspired.

Here's a list I've come up with:

The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson with David Oliver Relin
Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Greg Mortenson
Black Boy by Richard Wright
Teacher Man by Frank McCourt
Stand and Deliver (1988)
Dead Poets Society (1989)

There must be more. What have I left out?

Three Cups of Tea

I take for granted that I have the freedom and ability to read anything I can get my hands and eyes on. It takes books like Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson with David Oliver Relin to remind me that not everyone has the freedoms I'm privileged to enjoy. I read Three Cups of Tea about a year ago. This morning I just finished the follow-up, Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Greg Mortenson.

I was just as fascinated by this book as I was Three Cups of Tea a year ago. Some interesting facts from the new book include:

  • Girls' education leads to increased income for the girls themselves and for nations as a whole. Increasing the share of women with a secondary education by 1 percent boosts annual per-capita income growth by 0.3 percent.
  • Educated women have smaller, healthier and better-educated families.
  • The better educated the women in a society, the lower the fertility rate. A 2000 study in Brazil found that literate women had an average of 2.5 children while illiterate women had an average of six children. Also, the better educated the women, the lower the infant mortality rate.
  • Educated women are more likely to insist on education for their own children, especially their daughters. Their children study as much as two hours more each day than children of illiterate mothers and stay in school longer.
  • Educated girls and women are more likely to stand up for themselves and resist violence.
  • Studies show that education promotes more representative, effective government.
(Source: Pages 399-401 of Stones into Schools.)
These two books are fascinating tales of how Mortenson performs extraordinary tasks with limited resources. If you haven't read these books, I highly recommend that you do so. You can also learn more about Mortenson and his projects with Central Asia Institute at Also, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran a San Francisco Chronicle review of the book a few weeks ago. You can read it by visiting here. Last month, USA Today interviewed Greg Mortenson. You can read that article here.

A Review of 2009

In thinking ahead about what I want to read in 2010, it seems like a good thing to do to reflect back on what I read in 2009, which included 69 books either read or listened to. Some of my favorites were:

Julie and Julia by Julie Powell
Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory
The Senator’s Wife by Sue Miller
Beach Music by Pat Conroy
The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory
South of Broad by Pat Conroy
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
The Year of Pleasures by Elizabeth Berg
Souvenir by Therese Fowler (a classmate of mine in the English department at NC State)
Beyond Belief by Josh Hamilton
Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson with David Oliver Relin

Last week, USA Today marked the end of the decade and listed the bestselling books of the 2000s. I have read them all. See the article here.

Miep Gies and Anne Frank

I heard the news this morning that Miep Gies, 100, passed away in The Netherlands. She was one of around 20,000 other regular Dutch citizens who hid people of the Jewish faith from the Nazis during World War II. She was the last living member of the group who hid the eight people and provided for them for more than two years. After the Frank family and the other four people hiding with them were found, Gies found Anne's diary and kept it hidden until she gave it to Otto Frank, Anne's father, after the war had ended. She had been Otto's secretary before the war.

Otto decided to publish an edited version of Anne's diary in 1947. I received The Diary of a Young Girl from my grandmother for Christmas when I was only 11. I read it very soon after receiving it and I remember feeling fascinated by this girl's diary and all that was in it. Of course, as a fifth-grader, all of the political undertones and much of what was going on outside the walls of The Secret Annex were lost on me at the time. However, I've read it seven more times since then, and reading it has meant more to me each time because I knew a lot more about the circumstances that brought Anne and her family into hiding, and what the world has been like since. As you can probably imagine, my paperback copy is one of the most dog-eared books I have.

My grandmother must have known I'd like the book, because she also purchased Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family by Miep Gies with Alison Leslie Gold in 1988 at an Anne Frank exhibition that came to her city. She may have purchased the diary for me at the same time, but waited a few years before giving me Gies' book.

A few years after I received The Diary of a Young Girl, a new edition was published that includes material Otto opted not to publish in the original version. I have a copy of the newer one too and have read it once. It includes Anne's writing of her own sexual discovery and rants about other residents of The Secret Annex. The newer version is about a third longer than the older and more well-known one.

A few years ago, I happened upon a book called The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank: The Stories of Six Women Who Knew Anne Frank by Willy Lindwer in a used book store. I bought it, but have never read it.

It sounds like it might be time for me to read this and to reread Anne's diary.

Book Club Selections for 2010

Last summer I posted what my friends in my book club and I would be reading over the summer. For 2010, we've already chosen our selections because our list is especially ambitious. I'm already on the waiting list at the library for most of these, or I already own them, so I'll be getting started very soon.

Sweet Tea and Jesus Shoes by Deborah Smith, et al
Knit the Season by Kate Jacobs
Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City by Greg Grandin
A Different Drummer: My Thirty Years with Ronald Reagan by Michael K. Deaver
The Harry Potter series (yes, the whole series!)
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong by Terry Teachout
Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCaig
How the World Makes Love…And What it Taught a Jilted Groom by Franz Wisner
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsen

Have you read any of these already? What did you think?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Whanne that April with his shoures sote...

Every Meredith College student has to take English 111 and British Authors. No matter who teaches your British Authors course, you’ll be required to memorize the prologue to Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. I'm terrible at memorizing lines word for word, but I can still recite the first eight or 10 lines, especially if I’m reciting with a fellow English major (we seem to be the only Meredith alumnae whose eyes start to sparkle at the mention of the Wife of Bath or Chanticleer).

A few years ago, Meredith College gathered up as many students and alumnae possible and attempted to break the Guinness Book World Record for the most people reciting the same lines at the same time (read more about that here).

The New American Shakespeare Tavern in Atlanta has included The Canterbury Tales in its 2009-2010 season, and it is being performed there through the end of January. To learn more, visit the Tavern’s web site.

Monday, January 4, 2010


I used Literary Trails of the North Carolina Mountains: A Guide last week while in Asheville with my family. The book is divided into tours that work geographically. I was able to do parts of tours 8 and 9 (Weaverville and North Asheville, and Downtown and South Asheville, respectively), though a bit out of order.

The night we arrived we visited the Biltmore House for the Candlelight Tour and saw the house in all its Christmas finery. I had read ahead in my Guide to know that:
  • George Vanderbilt’s library housed 24,000 volumes.
  • Henry James and Edith Wharton (childhood friend of Edith Vanderbilt) had visited the house in 1905. Wharton had just published The House of Mirth. Each author is the namesake of a suite of rooms at Biltmore.
We found a monument to O. Henry’s story, “Gift of the Magi” set in bronze in a sidewalk on a street in downtown Asheville, and later we visited the Riverside Cemetery and saw O. Henry’s gravesite.

Also at Riverside Cemetery is the grave of Thomas Wolfe, and the gates of the cemetery also honor him.

My dad and I drove by the Richmond Hill Inn one morning while we were out to see the site where Georgia-born Poet Sidney Lanier camped one winter before he died in 1881. The Inn was later built on the site and the Sidney Lanier Garden was planted behind the Inn. Well, supposedly. When we arrived, the Inn was closed, but a gate was open just wide enough for us to get in to look around. I poked all around but couldn’t find the Garden. Instead, we did find this (see picture below). An arsonist set fire to one of the buildings of the Richmond Hill Inn early in 2009 and authorities have yet to solve the case. It caused $7 million in damages. You can read more about it in the Asheville Citizen-Times here.
Near the Inn is the last building that remains of Highland Hospital. Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, was hospitalized here in the summer of 1936 and several other times before her death. She suffered from schizophrenia. In 1948, hospital’s main building, which housed Zelda and other patients, caught fire and Zelda died of smoke inhalation. Today what remains of the hospital is Homewood, a home on the property for the hospital’s main physician, Robert Carroll. It’s now a special events facility.
In 1936 while Zelda was at Highland Hospital, Scott lived at The Grove Park Inn. He had tried to rent a space at Julia Wolfe’s boarding house, The Old Kentucky Home, but was turned away because Julia didn’t rent to alcoholics. The Grove Park still celebrates Scott’s birthday each year on September 24, though he was reportedly a difficult guest due to heavy drinking, an extramarital affair and a suicide threat during his stay.

A number of other writers have stayed at the Grove Park including Charles Frazier, Margaret Mitchell, Alex Haley and Pat Conroy.

More fun with Where the Wild Things Are

I received another Where the Wild Things Are ornament for Christmas. Since I posted a picture of the first one, here is the new one, front and back.

Happy New Year! I hope you read lots of good books in 2010.