Friday, August 29, 2008

Death in a Prairie House

A couple of weeks ago I posted an entry about Loving Frank: a novel by Nancy Horan. I was prompted to read more about this fictionalized account of the murders that took place in 1914 at Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and architectural gem, Taliesin. Fortunately, there is also a fairly new non-fiction book about this subject. Death in a Prairie House: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Murders by William R. Drennan is a thorough account of the murders, the fire that destroyed most of Taliesin and some before & after accounts of Wright’s life. Drennan based his book on extensive research including interviews, various Wright biographies, newspaper articles, memoirs and even local gossip. He does an excellent account of comparing various versions of the murders and inserting his own opinions on the events.

The descriptions of the actual murders are somewhat gruesome, but it was a terrible act of violence and this non-fiction account makes it that much more realistic. Drennan’s tone can be casual at times and overly academic at other times. The author also interjects odd facts and anecdotes which lightens the tone and also places the events in their historical context. Drennan includes information about Wright’s childhood and family which helps the reader understand more about his personality, and he ends the book with information about how this event influenced Wright’s future as an architect. I preferred reading Loving Frank first because Drennan’s book makes some assumptions that the reader is already familiar with the story and it also helped me realize which parts of Horan’s book were truly fictionalized. My quest about Wright will continue next with DVDs including the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick film, Frank Lloyd Wright.

Monday, August 25, 2008

This Week in Reading August 24 - 30

Already back in school or still on vacation? This week's list of authors offers mostly older names you might encounter in liberal arts college studies. For example there are philosophers John Locke and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel you'll have to read and perhaps you'll run into Howard Zinn's take on history. If you study anything about fairy tales and folklore you'll encounter Bruno Bettelheim. Humanities students will read the plays of Johann Wolfgang van Goethe and the poetry of Robert Herrick, the main novels of Jorge Borges and Theodore Dreiser, and maybe in elective courses run across the avant garde poetry of Gullaume Apollinaire and the novels and stories of Jules Romains, Christopher Isherwood, Roberston Davies, Martin Amis, and Paul Coelho.

This Week's Question: Like many a reader casually looking to find something to read on a trip one of this week's authors ran across a three volume set of books in a used bookstore that quite incidentally inspired a character that this author used eleven times for a very successful series of novels. Who was it?

Answer to Last Week's Question: Several authors from last week's list had stories published in the New Yorker. Annie Proulx has had several. But the very first one was by the Algonguin Round Table's Dorothy Parker who was a friend of Harold Ross, the original publisher. The magazine had a hard time starting and the offices were so small that Parker quipped when she was seen elsewhere during the daytime that the reason she was not in the office was that "Someone else is using the pencil."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

This Week in Reading August 17 -23

This week offers a fairly recent Nobel prizewinner, V. S. Naipaul who won in 2001 while the world was feeling the effects of 9/11. Though he lives in England and calls himself a "Trinidadian" he has written mostly about the country of his ethnic roots, India and of the problems faced by Third Worlders both back home and in the First World. His works are well worth the reading because what he writes is both elegaic and universal. The other Nobel laureate is little known today and shares an unfortunate name with a classic character, the Italian poet Salvatore Quasimodo who won the Nobel in 1959.

It is also the week of H. P. Lovecraft, M. M. Kaye, and Ray Bradbury for dark, light, and sociallly speculative fantasy fans. There's Annie Proulx, Alain Robbe-Grillet for sophisticated writing, Nelson DeMille for suspense, Brian Aldiss for science fiction, with Jacqueline Susann for wild romance. We find poets Ted Hughes, Edgar Guest, and Edgar Lee Masters. Humorous light versers abound as well from Dorothy Parker and Ogden Nash from the first half of the twentieth century to Mark Russell and X. J. Kennedy in the second. And, as always, many more names and events to fill many more interests.

This Week's Question: At least two authors born this week wrote stories for the New Yorker. Who were they? Who wrote the very first 7,000 word story for that magazine?
Answer to Last Week's Question: The person known as "The Poet Laureate of Skid Row" was Los Angeles' own Charles Bukowski who has achieved cult-like status among aficionados and was immortalized in the movie, Barfly. He lived what he wrote and said once, "The difference between Art and Life is that Art is more bearable."

Friday, August 15, 2008

Read any bad book openings lately?

The 2008 Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest has announced its winners, and as promised here it is. The contest, run by a professor at San Jose State's English and Comparative Literature Department, is in the spirit of the nineteenth century novelist Edward Bulwer Lytton who is best known for his famous first line that begins "It was a dark and stormy night ..." The professor seeks to find the worst opening sentences to novels of many genres.

This is year's overall winner: Theirs was a New York love, a checkered taxi ride burning rubber, and like the city their passion was open 24/7, steam rising from their bodies like slick streets exhaling warm, moist, white breath through manhole covers stamped "Forged by DeLaney Bros., Piscataway, N.J."

There are dozens of other gems, in nearly every genre, with good puns and vile, and some defying description. For a good read of some very funny bad reads go to the Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest website. Compare them with the books you're reading now. Click on "comments" and tell us if you see anything as bad opening a book you've checked out from the library.

Loving Frank

I recently joined a book club and it was my turn to pick a book. I am not a big reader, but I do enjoy biographies and historical fiction. While browsing the library’s catalog and some bookstores I stumbled upon Loving Frank: a novel by Nancy Horan and immediately knew that would be my selection for the next book club title. It combined my love of the arts and historical fiction, so I knew I would not be disappointed. The book is an excellent read and can be read fairly quickly. Some surprising facts about this novel are that it is the author’s first book and it took her seven years to complete. She spent much time researching Frank Lloyd Wright, the Frank referred to in the title, and his mistress Mamah Borthwick Cheney in order to write about their story.

Some of Wright’s biographies and his autobiography make reference to their affair but the full story about their relationship has never been told. Much of the novel is based on facts and sources include newspaper articles, Wright’s archives, and historical events so it is difficult to easily identify when the author used her artistic license. The book also includes wonderful descriptions of Wright’s architectural gems including his home Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin. I was fortunate to read a Random House Reader’s Circle paperback edition of the book so it included a reader’s guide section which includes an interview with the author and reading group questions and topics for discussion. I recommend reading it cover to cover and do not skip the Sources, and Acknowledgements sections at the end. The novel is of love and tragedy and if you do not already know the story of Wright and Cheney’s relationship you may want to investigate it either before or after you read this novel.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

This Week in Reading August 10 - 16

Here come the August doldrums. There’s a little literary action this week, especially near the end and mostly older writers. There are two Nobel Prizewinners again but who today has heard of the 1922 winner, Spanish playwright Jacinto Benavente, or seen one of his plays? Well, then, how about a play or saga about social issues from England’s prolific John Galsworthy, the 1932 recipient? Speaking of sagas, the American Edna Ferber was extremely well read in the 1920s and 1930s and her works were made into very popular plays, muscials, and movies.

Two other names from memory come up this week. Yes, we all know of Sir Walter Scott but how many have actually slogged through Ivanhoe rather than remembering it from the movies? (Or was it the movie that was dull and the book lively?) And is T. E. Lawrence known more for his adventures portrayed in the movie Lawrence of Arabia than for his book Seven Pillars of Wisdom? (By the way, the screenplay of that film was by a renowned playwright born this week, Robert Bolt.)

Lots of people have read Danielle Steel , also incredibly prolific, and Georgette Heyer however. Steel is likely the most read name in contemporary romance but there are many, many challengers. Heyer, back in the first half of the twentieth century, essentially invented the genre of historical romance, particularly Regency romances by writing “in the style of” Jane Austen and explaining that period of English history to her readers. Heyer also wrote very popular historical mysteries, too. From the same era, millions were thrilled by the romantic, gothic mysteries of Mary Roberts Rinehart.

This Week’s Question: What poet born in this week was known as the “Poet Laureate of Skid Row?”

Answer to last week’s question: From now on the Glendale Central Library is open from 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM Monday through Thursday, and will still be open from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM on Friday and Saturday, as well on 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM on all Sundays except those on holiday weekends.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Reading allows us many pleasures aside from the enjoyment of good story. It can allow us a peek into another world or in the case of the following two titles, another person’s life. Both of the following are autobiographies from authors whose lives have given them very different points of view.

To say that Jeanette Walls grew up in unusual circumstances would be an understatement. Her parents, a frustrated artist mother and alcoholic father, had a very relaxed attitude when it came to raising children. The kids were pretty much left to fend for themselves because as mother Rose Mary puts it “….kids learn from their mistakes.” Those kids learned how to get the food, though sometimes from trashcans, the clothing they needed, to keep a run-down house from collapsing as well as how to dodge the authorities. What Walls shares in THE GLASS CASTLE is the tale of a journey through childhood that most would consider a nightmare and her ultimate escape from poverty which she tells in a voice that belongs not to a victim but a victor.

Deborah Rodriquez gives us a very different look at Afghanistan that we get on the nightly news in her book KABUL BEAUTY SCHOOL: AN AMERICAN WOMAN GOES BEHIND THE VEIL. She left her family and business behind in Michigan to join an independent aid mission to teach local women beauty techniques that would enable them to open their own salons creating additional income for their families. Overcoming the many cultural and physical obstacles as well as the opposition of the local government Deborah and her students manage to triumph. The real heroes of this story are the students who sometimes took great risks to gain their independence with comic relief is supplied by their intrepid American teacher.

This Week in Reading August 3 - 9

This is a week which many of us would rather forget but there were events which must be remembered so that some of them may not happen again. In this week the United States dropped atomic bombs on civillians twice, in this week years later another war which was not supposed to be a war got extended from dubious actions; in this week one president resigned and another made union members resign; in this week the concept of freedom of the press was engrained on the early American character but also in this week over two hundred years later the fairness doctrine was cancelled by the FCC. It was also the week of some of the most notorious Manson murders.

There are, however, a few literary names to note this week. English poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and Alfred, Lord Tennyson top the list. Crime fans celebrate the birthdays of P. D. James and Jonathan Kellerman. And somewhere there may be a connection between the short stories of Guy de Maupassant and the radio sketches of Garrison Keillor but it may only be the length of each's chosen medium.
This Week's Question: All is not bad this week. The Sistine Chapel opened, the NBA was formed, the World Wide Web was begun, and several fascinating people had birthdays. Yet still, the Glendale Central Library has had to change hours due to city budget restrictions. What are the new hours for the Central Library and your favorite branch?

Answer to last week's question: And as bad as all that was that happened this week, we also put up the wrong information for the weeks of August 1 -7 on our Books and Reading page so you couldn't have answered last week's question if you tried. It will be fixed, however, by the time you read this. We sincerely apologize for the error, (But in fairness it was the perversity of the commercial programming that blew out our local style guide.) Hoping to trick you into thinking Baldwin Park was named after James Baldwin, (it wasn't), the city in California actually named for a writer born last week is Orange County's Dana Point which was specifically named for the nineteenth century writer Richard Henry Dana who wrote about landing there as a sailor in Two Years Before the Mast.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn 1918 - 2008

One of the world's greatest writers, 1970 Nobel prizewinner for Literature, Russia's Alexandr Solzhenitsyn died August 3, 2008, in Moscow. His main works, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, and the Gulag Archipelago dealt with the repressive imprisonment of free thinkers under the Communist regime in the Soviet Union. Solzhenitsyn was himself a prisoner in such camps.

From Contemporary Authors Online, available with a library card at the Glendale Library Online Resources page in BIography Resource Center (under "General Resouces"): "Solzhenitsyn first ran afoul of communist authorities in 1945 while serving in the Soviet Army. Accused of transmitting questionable correspondence to a fellow officer, Solzhenitysn was sent to a Moscow prison, where he became a regular patron of the prison library and absorbed the works of writers ranging from Yevgeny Zamyatin, a Soviet master of the 1920s, to John Dos Passos, the celebrated American novelist. After being transferred to a research prison populated by scientists and technicians, Solzhenitsyn regularly occupied himself by imagining poems and committing them to memory. "

He was exiled from his home country from 1974 - 1994, for a time living in the United States, and returned to Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. Solzhenitsyn was eighty-nine years old at his passing.

Beijing 2008 Is Upon Us

In case you had not yet heard, the 2008 Summer Olympics are set to begin in Beijing, China this weekend, beginning with the Opening Ceremonies on Friday, August 8th and ending with the Closing Ceremonies on Sunday August 24th.

The Glendale Public Library has a great collection of books and other materials on the Summer Olympics, including its history, prominent athletes, and defining moments that influenced the world at large.

There are also guides to help you become familiar with the host city and country, the rules of the various sports on display, and even the history of the participating countries’ flags.

In case that’s not enough, feel free to get a head start on the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

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