Saturday, February 27, 2010

MLK Birthplace

Today my husband and I visited the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr., in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood in Atlanta. King was born there in 1929. It was the home that his parents and grandparents shared. Our tour guide was excellent and really painted the picture of what the neighborhood was like in the years prior to King's birth, and how the neighborhood was during his lifetime. Fascinating stuff really.

The tour inspired me to request a book from the library that I've been wanting to read for a while called Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn: A Saga of Race and Family by Gary Pomerantz. I'm looking forward to learning more. In the meantime, here is a photo of the house:

And here is another photo I took in downtown Atlanta. Can anyone spot the typo?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Louis Armstrong

I've just finished reading one of the books on my 2010 book list, Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong by Terry Teachout. Fascinating read! I couldn't help but think the whole time I was reading what a great movie could be made about the life of Louis Armstrong. The scenes that could be set in early 20th-century New Orleans, the jazz clubs of New York City and Chicago in the 1920s and 30s would really be amazing. Who would play Louis Armstrong in the film? I have no idea who could measure up to the task.

There is a lot about Armstrong I did not know (almost everything in the book was new information for me). My knowledge of him to this point has been through hearing the most popular songs of his career, seeing Good Morning, Vietnam (One of my all-time favorite movies. I find the scene where his music appears to be very moving.), hearing my grandmother sing "Hello, Dolly!" and seeing my husband and his mother dance to "What a Wonderful World" at our wedding reception. Now I know what an interesting, conflicted, complicated, wonderful character he was.

I did a search on YouTube for some clips of Armstrong performing. Some good ones are here, here and here. Enjoy! And, go read Pops.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Volunteer Opportunity

Since my visit to The Wren's Nest (home of Uncle Remus author Joel Chandler Harris) last summer, I've been reading their blog. Friday they announced on their blog their team effort with the Decatur Book Festival and a local charter school, Kipp Strive, to help 25 fifth graders become better writers and capture stories from their own families. The Wren's Nest is looking for volunteers to partner with the students on Tuesday afternoons from 3 to 4 p.m. from April to June for a total of about 10 hours of service. Visit their blog for more information about how to volunteer.

Movie: To Kill A Mockingbirrd

Yesterday my neighbor graciously agreed to attend a showing of the movie, To Kill a Mockingbird, with me at our local library. Though this is an adaptation of my favorite book, I had only seen the movie once before, which was right after my ninth grade English class finished reading the book. So, it's been a few years.

We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. A local English professor set the stage before the movie started with helpful information about differences between the book and the movie, and historical information about what was happening in the United States in and around 1960 when To Kill a Mockingbird was first published. For instance, Mrs. DuBose's morphine addiction doesn't appear in the movie. Gregory Peck was forever after associated with his Atticus Finch character. The novel tackles important social issues and falls into the category of the Southern Gothic novel genre (I'll likely be looking more into that). The novel also classifies as a bildungsroman for Scout, who grows from innocence to experience over the course of the novel (and movie).

The library had popcorn, water and soft drinks available, and gave out door prizes. My neighbor and I were disappointed to have not won one of the three copies of the novel they gave away or the pair of tickets to the play that will be performed in our county this fall. I'll probably be seeing the play anyway, even though I didn't win those tickets!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


I’ve checked off another book from my 2010 reading list: Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City by Greg Grandin. For me, it was a pretty fascinating read. My perception of Henry Ford before reading this book was that he revolutionized auto production with the assembly line and was one of the most successful businessmen in American history. Now that I’ve read Fordlandia, I know that he did make a few bad business decisions amidst many good ones.

Here’s the good. Nearly 100 years ago, he paid his workers $5 per day, which was much higher than workers at other companies were getting paid. He paid workers the same wages, regardless of their race, which was also unusual at the time. This was in large part the cause of so many African Americans leaving the South to find work up North (specifically in Detroit). He encouraged his employees to plant gardens so they could eat their own fresh vegetables. He advocated for soy in the diet. He didn’t believe in war. He advocated for railroads and telephone service nationwide. He was creative in his thinking about how farmers could produce crops that would benefit American factories. He figured out how to go from assembling a Model T in 12 hours and eight minutes to assembling it in one hour and three minutes. He advocated for work-live communities.

Here’s the bad. He advocated for work-live communities. Here a good idea in theory backfired on him as he tried to set up a community in the Brazilian rainforest. In 1927, he began the process by buying land in the Amazon twice the size of Delaware for the purpose of growing rubber for use in his factories. He soon began shipping down everything he thought he’d need to build a successful and productive community.

It wasn’t long before problems began cropping up. First, Americans, even those who had farmed in the United States, weren’t successful rubber tree farmers in the rainforest. Second, some of the people Ford trusted and hired to make the community work pocketed money and corrupted the system. Mosquitoes, malaria, exhaustion and other inconveniences affected the workers. There were vast cultural differences between the Americans working in Fordlandia and South American natives who’d also been hired to work there. Housing that mimicked that of the American Midwest was ill suited to the jungle. Food was served rotten. At times there was as much as a 300 percent turnover rate among workers. Sexually transmitted diseases spread quickly through the community. Not enough rubber was being produced. Workers were resistant when the community was ordered to begin operating on American Central Standard (Detroit) time, rather than local time. Cooks couldn’t get food ready fast enough for all the people who lined up to eat a meal, which one day led to rioting in the dining hall, and destruction of other public property across the community, and complete disorder.

During all of this, Ford produced propaganda to suggest to the American people that all was well in the Amazon, despite the onslaught of the Great Depression. Fordlandia seems to be something that’s left out of many history books. It was so interesting to read this from the standpoint that Ford did do something that didn’t work well for his business. I definitely recommend this book as it’s a fascinating piece of American history.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Author News: Lucille Clifton

Lucille Clifton, former poet laureate of Maryland and a National Book Winner, died Saturday in Baltimore after a battle with cancer. I had the pleasure of promoting her visit to Meredith College, my alma mater, as an intern in the Marketing and Communications office. Her visit created a lot of anticipation on campus in the spring of 2000, and she did not disappoint. She was a great speaker and read some of her poetry aloud.

Margaret Mitchell Exhibit

I've covered all sorts of Margaret Mitchell and Gone With the Wind stuff here on my blog (if you need to review, click here, here, here, here and here). On Friday, I finally got around to seeing the exhibit that's on permanent display at the Central Library branch of Atlanta-Fulton Public Library. Though the current building was constructed in 1980, the previous Central branch was where Mitchell conducted much of her research on Atlanta and the Civil War during the writing of her famous novel. Today, the square on which the library sits is named for her, and an exhibit on the fifth floor honors her. To see more information on the exhibit, click here.

I was unsure if photography was permitted, so I turned the flash off on my camera and snapped a quick picture of the item I thought was most interesting: her typewriter. A gift from Mitchell's husband, it is what she used to write Gone With the Wind.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Listen up!

I've found the perfect way to pass the time while putting the miles in to train to walk my second half marathon: book podcasts. Listening to books seems to keep my mind occupied more than just listening to music. Before I know it, I'm finished with a workout! Currently, I'm listening to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and I have A Tale of Two Cities waiting in the wings.

To find your own free audiobook podcasts, search iTunes. Two of the podcasts I like most are called LoudLit and Audiobooks by Annie.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Love Stories

In honor of Valentine's Day on Sunday, I've compiled a list of my favorite love stories. In no particular order, they are:

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller
A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare
The Senator's Wife by Sue Miller
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Jane Austen's Emma

The third and final installment of PBS's new production of Emma aired Sunday night. I was sure I had the DVR set properly before my husband and I headed out to a Superbowl party. Unfortunately, it taped another show, Miss Austen Regrets, which I'm sure is great, but since it wasn't Emma, in my disappointment, I deleted that. Now I'm on the waiting list on Netflix for this version of Emma, thankful it's already available, I'll just have to wait a bit for my turn.

I have to say that on the first two Sunday nights of Emma, I thoroughly enjoyed being a part of the Emma Twitter Party, tweeting during the show and seeing what everyone else was saying about casting, costumes, and all other things Austen.

There's still more PBS fun to come, which I will make sure the DVR is set properly for, or watch it while it's airing. This Sunday night is Northanger Abbey (on my 2009 book club reading list), and Persuasion is February 21. Check your local listings for times.

Besides all of that Austen fun, I'll soon be reading my 2010 book club Austen selection, Sense and Sensibility. And, I have the Hugh Grant/Kate Winslet/Emma Thompson movie on VHS to watch once I'm finished.

I recently listened to a podcast hosted by the book publisher, Penguin, on Elizabeth Gaskell and Jane Austen, and why the stories of both these novelists have been adapted to the screen so often. The general consensus is that Austen's novels are funny and engaging with a lot of dialogue, so therefore, they translate easily into movie form. In another episode called "Why We Love Jane Austen," socially accepted behavior, Austen movie adaptations and her influence on contemporary literature is discussed (Ian McEwan's Atonement=Northanger Abbey and Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series=an updated Pride and Prejudice plot). To subscribe to this podcast, visit the iTunes store and search for "Penguin Classics on Air." (NOTE: A blog post on literary podcasts coming soon.)

Here's an article worth checking out from the Wall Street Journal called "What Would Jane Do? How a 19th-century spinster serves as a moral compass in today's world." To read it, click here.

Even as I've been writing this blog post, I saw a tweet from PBS's Masterpiece Theatre with a link to an article entitled, "What Did Jane Austen Know About Social Media?" To see that interesting article, click here.

A Gone With the Wind Sequel

I've just finished reading Rhett Butler's People by Donald McCaig (he was chosen by the Margaret Mitchell Estate to write this authorized novel), and it was great! I've had it on my radar since it was published in 2007, and have gotten around to reading it just now because it's on my book club's 2010 reading list. I plowed right through it over the weekend while my husband did some handyman work (more about that project coming soon!). It's 500 pages, half the length of Gone With the Wind. I haven't read that novel in nearly 20 years, but I've seen the movie about a trillion times (for a recap of seeing the movie last year at Atlanta's Fox Theatre, click here). Time for me to reread the novel? Maybe so.

Rhett Butler's People is told, obviously enough, from Rhett's perspective. We learn about his childhood in Charleston, SC, and his read on Scarlett from their first meeting forward. Some characters we met in passing in Gone With the Wind have a major role in this one, like Belle Watling. We get the full story throughout the book of all the ways the Butlers and Watlings are connected from their years together in Charleston. We also get a fuller picture of Melanie Hamilton Wilkes in this book.

It won't surprise you that I highly recommend this book. I'm fairly certain I'm the first in my book club to get to this one; I won't be able to talk with them about it until we've all read it. It will be all I can do to not ruin the surprises for them.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Books and Movies

I love to watch movies adapted from books I've already read. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the book is better. Recently, I've read two World War II novels, and over the weekend I watched the movies that correspond with each.

Late last year I listened to The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. I enjoyed it, but found it just a bit harder to follow the story via audiobook than I'd hoped. Over Christmas this year, I read The Good German by Joseph Kanon and I just could not put it down. Because of this, I was especially interested in the movie version that came out in 2006.

I liked that The Good German movie was filmed in black and white. I really think that added so much to the destruction of Berlin and the hopelessness felt by many of the characters. Thumbs up for that. Also thumbs up for Cate Blanchett. She is especially glamorous filmed in black and white. Thumbs down for most everything else, though. I like Tobey Maguire just fine, and I liked his performance a lot in Seabiscuit, but I thought he was terrible in this movie (and not just because he plays a jerk). Thank goodness the audience doesn't have to endure it for too long before his character is killed (I don't think I'm giving away too much by saying that; it's an integral part of the story). There is a lot from the book that is left out of the movie. Unfortunately, all of them are things that gave such depth to the novel, and wove a complex tale of amazing interconnectedness. Very little of this comes through in the movie. It's too bad that the movie left me feeling so unfulfilled after reading such an excellent book version.

The English Patient, however, was a great movie. I would go as far as saying that I liked the movie version better than the book, though I realize I might have liked the book better having read it rather than listened to it. The scenery was gorgeous and so is the story. I liked the book, but the movie really made the story come alive for me. I thought the casting was excellent. And, I didn't realize until I started watching the movie that Colin Firth played in it. I was also surprised to see that Naveen Andrews, who plays one of my favorite characters on the TV show, Lost, had an important role. Definite bonuses!

I'm not the only one who thought this movie was great. It won Academy Awards in 1997 for Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction, Best Sound, Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Director, Best Music Score, Best Picture, and Best Supporting Actress, and it was nominated in several other categories. It also won five Golden Globes in 1997, including Best Motion Picture.

So, I highly recommend reading both books and watching the movie version of The English Patient if you haven't already. I have to say that I'm fascinated by World War II stories. Between these two and hearing of Miep Gies' death, I think I should probably reread Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl soon, especially as the PBS adaptation is coming in April.

As a side note, my husband and I are headed to Las Vegas for a few days in March. I've done some research, but can't seem to find any fiction or interesting non-fiction books where Las Vegas is the setting. I'd love to be reading something Vegas-related on the plane ride. Does anyone have any suggestions? To cover all our bases, we watched Rain Man over the weekend, and Honeymoon in Vegas and What Happens in Vegas are both coming soon via Netflix.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Two Must-See Atlanta Exhibits

One is already here, and one is coming.

"Diana: A Celebration" is at the Atlanta Civic Center through June 13. Previously, the exhibit visited Philadelphia, and Atlanta is the exhibit's last stop in the United States. Over 150 items from Diana's estate are on loan from her family, including her royal wedding gown with its 25-foot train from her wedding to Prince Charles in 1981. Tickets are $18.50 for adults, $15.50 for seniors and students,$12 for children, and are available through Ticketmaster. For more information, call 1-800-745-3000 or visit the exhibit's web site. Some area hotels are offering deals for those traveling to Atlanta to see "Diana: A Celebration." Click here for more on hotel discounts.

Opening February 14 at The William Bremen Jewish Heritage and Holocaust Museum is "Dr. Seuss Goes to War...and More." This exhibit will showcase World War II editorial cartoons by Theodor Seuss Geisel. Geisel was a newspaper cartoonist from 1941-43 for the New York newspaper, PM, and he produced about 400 cartoons during his time there. Visit the museum's web site for hours and admission information.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Celebrate Black History Month by Reading

February is Black History Month, and what better way to celebrate than to read or reread books written by African American authors. Here are a few suggestions:

The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Black Boy by Richard Wright
Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
Langston Hughes' poetry
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Anything by Toni Morrison
The Known World by Edward P. Jones

Yesterday marked the 60th anniversary of the start of the Civil Rights Movement with the staging of the country's first sit-ins in Woolworth's in Greensboro, NC. That's where I was born (a few years later, mind you). Yesterday, the International Civil Rights Center and Museum opened to the public in this historic spot. I can't wait to make a visit.

February is also American Heart Month. Don't forget to wear red on each Friday in February, and take control of your own heart health.