Friday, June 29, 2012

Midnight's Children Preview

I'm really looking forward to the film version of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children due out this fall. This film version  is directed by Deepa Mehta and we made a very enjoyable outing of watching her movie Water together. There aren't any trailers available that I can find yet, but Mehta gave the lecture above at Radcliffe recently, taking listeners on a journey through her previous films to show how they prepared her for making this epic. You can skip the first 15 minutes of intro and if you really want the scoop, go directly to about 1:23:00 for a clip reel for Midnight.  Sir Salman, who wrote the screenplay for the adaptation, told Haaretz last year, "I've seen all the material and the one thing I can say is that the cinematography looks breathtaking," and that is certainly borne out in these clips. And while we are waiting, check out the interview for more of Rushdie's thoughts on literary film adaptations and the influence of cinema on his writing, and see this Telegraph article for some insights into how cinema worked thematically in the novel.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Music of Maurice Sendak

I was starting to research my posts for our discussion of Avi Steinberg's Running the Books when I discovered that he had recently done an interview for the Paris Review with the late Maurice Sendak,
In the past, you’ve spoken of listening to music while you draw. What were you listening to with Bumble-Ardy?

There are certain pieces of music that are always attached to certain books. And there is a logic to my choices, even if I don’t always know it. Here, I chose Verdi. I don’t like early Verdi, and I love very late Verdi. I’m eighty-three. When he was eighty-three, after Aida—it’s too bad he didn’t say this before Aida—he said, “Enough already, enough.”  He said that he was done, finished, kaput. And then he met this young man, Boito, composer of Mefistofele, who told him, “You have more in you, old man. You have more in you!” So Boito wrote libretti for Otello and Falstaff, and, by the time they were done, Verdi was eighty-five or eighty-seven and died. But, in my opinion, those are the two greatest Verdi operas in existence. Those pieces are unbelievably fresh, young, fantastically beautiful.
This reminded me that Sendak collaborated with Tony Kushner on a production of Brundibar, the children's opera which was composed and performed at the Nazi concentration camp Terezin. Kushner and Sendak also produced a book version:  Brundibar.  PBS' Now has a useful page for more information about the opera accompanying this great interview with Bill Moyers in which Sendak explains how he became fascinated with the opera. and probes the author on blackbirds and Schubert, bullies and the Holocaust and how you can't get rid of evil.

I also recommend Fresh Air's Sendak tribute and this cartoon by Sendak and Art Spiegelman from The New Yorker.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Health Care is a Human Right!

Vermont Human Right To Healthcare Rally_0184
Source: NESRI
Are you among those political junkies anticipating tomorrow's Supreme Court decision on the healthcare reform bill? Maybe while we're waiting we could take a moment to get a little human rights perspective on what kind of healthcare system we need:
Everyone has the right to health, including health care, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Health care is a public good, not a commodity. The U.S. health care system must fulfill these principles:
Universality: Everyone in the United States has the human right to health care.
Equity: Benefits and contributions should be shared fairly to create a system that works for everyone.
Accountability: The U.S. government has a responsibility to ensure that care comes first.
Visit the AIUSA website and the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative site for more on health as a human right. 

And then to pass the time, sample some of the thoughtful columns Frank Huyler, the emergency room doctor who wrote one of our selections, Right of Thirst, has written  the New York Daily News:
Health care reform was the right thing to do...
Our rotten dental care system...

One young man's war...

And he puts that storytelling experience to good use in One patient's story...
"Ma'am," I said curtly, after introducing myself, "Why did you come to the ER in the middle of the night to get your prescriptions refilled?"

"I didn't come in the middle of the night," she replied. "I came yesterday afternoon."

She spoke sharply enough to get my attention. I glanced at her chart once more. Sure enough, she'd been waiting for 11 hours.
Ask yourself as you read is this a story that shows our health care system to be universal, equitable and accountable? What's your story?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Arizona Repercussions

Yesterday, Amnesty International responded to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Arizona immigration enforcement case welcoming the provisions that were overturned but referring to the provision that requires law enforcement officers to determine the immigration status of anyone who has been stopped for questioning when there’s reasonable suspicion that the person is in the country illegally, warned,
we are disappointed that the Court failed to draw a clearer line in the sand against racial profiling. This leaves the door open for continued challenges as ambiguities in implementation still exist.
So who is going to ensure going forward that racial profiling does not occur? Our old friend Sheriff Joe Arpaio! We've campaigned before on the horrendous conditions at the 'tent city' prison he has created in Phoenix and former Executive Director of Amnesty, William Schulz debated the sheriff on at least a couple of occasions. As it happens, Bill was back in town just a few days ago leading fellow Unitarians in an impressive vigil outside Tent City.  Radio station KFYI reports,
William Schulz, president and CEO of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee and former head of Amnesty International in the U.S., said, "International standards for the treatment of prisoners are simple and straighforward when it comes to the question of prolonged exposure to heat.  This is clearly a violation of those standards."
Schulz said when he was with Amnesty International, he saw prisons in countries around the world, and the conditions at Tent City are nearly as bad as some of the worst he has seen.  Sheriff Arpaio objected, "Don't ever compare my jails with those countries.  That's an insult."
After the Supreme Court ruling, Sheriff Joe, who is also currently targeted in a Justice Department lawsuit, was unrepentant in his response to the Arizona ruling. Arpaio was also one of the guests on KPCC's Air Talk coverage of the ruling yesterday.

It's good to see the Rev. Schulz still on the case. We enjoyed reading a couple of his books. Looks like he's written a few more. Check them out here.

Monday, June 25, 2012

For September: The Devil and Mr. Casement

For September, we have selected Jordan Goodman's book about Roger Casement's anti-slavery work in South America, The Devil and Mr. Casement: One Man's Battle for Human Rights in South America's Heart of Darkness:
In September 1910, the activist Roger Casement arrived in the Amazon jungle on a mission for the British government: to investigate reports of widespread human-rights abuses in the forests along the Putumayo River. Accusations against the Peruvian rubber baron Julio César Arana had been making their way back to London, and the rumors were on everybody’s lips: Arana was enslaving, torturing, and murdering the local Indians. Arana’s Peruvian Amazon Company, with its headquarters in London’s financial heart, was responsible. Casement was outraged by what he uncovered: nearly 30,000 Indians had died to produce 4,000 tons of rubber. When Casement’s 700-page report of the violence was published in London in 1912, it set off reverberations throughout the world. People were appalled that murderous acts were being carried out under the cloak of British respectability. The Peruvian Amazon Company was forced into liquidation, and its board of directors was publicly shamed. From the Amazonian rain forests to the streets of London and Washington, D.C., Jordan Goodman recounts a tragedy whose exposure in 1912 drew back the curtain on exploitation and the wholesale abuse of human rights. Drawing on a wealth of original research, The Devil and Mr. Casement is a haunting story of modern capitalism with enormous contemporary political resonance.
(If you show up for the discussion having read the just-released novel The Dream of the Celt by Mario Vargas Llosa, also about Roger Casement, you won't be turned away!)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Library Rescue!

As follow-up to my previous post on Ray Bradbury and Fahrenheit 451 as well as foreshadowing for our discussion of prison librarian Avi Steinberg's memoir Running the Books coming up in a few weeks and as a fan of creativity in grassroots actions, I thought I would share this video of a clever campaign on behalf of the public library in Troy, Michigan.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Honest Conversation-- and Action-- on Immigration

In my last post, I announced our pick for October, Hector Tobar's The Barbarian Nurseries. Normally, I wouldn't start blogging about the author until closer to our 'due date,' but I thought I had to share this timely interview with the author. Tobar, in addition to his two novels that have caught our attention, has written a nonfiction book on immigration (Translation Nation: Defining a New American Identity in the Spanish-Speaking United States) and writes a column for the Los Angeles Times. After President Obama's announcement regarding relaxing enforcement of immigration rules for undocumented young people, the so-called mini-DREAM, the Times wanted to get his reaction (see above). Plus he has produced a column about the effects of the executive order for one young woman,
A shadow has been lifted — not from the life of Ana Venegas, but from American discourse. Like thousands of others, Ana is here, she's American, and she always has been. Now, perhaps, an honest conversation about immigration can begin.
(The video also gives you a little preview of what to expect from The Barbarian Nurseries.)

Keep the honest conversation going. Join Amnesty International in calling for passage of the full Dream Act here

Friday, June 22, 2012

For October: The Barbarian Nurseries by Hector Tobar

We have selected The Barbarian Nurseries by Hector Tobar for October. We really enjoyed Tobar's previous take on Los Angeles in The Tattooed Soldier and are looking forward to this New York Times Notable Book,
With The Barbarian Nurseries, Héctor Tobar gives our most misunderstood metropolis its great contemporary novel, taking us beyond the glimmer of Hollywood and deeper than camera-ready crime stories to reveal Southern California life as it really is, across its vast, sunshiny sprawl of classes, languages, dreams, and ambitions.

Araceli is the live-in maid in the Torres-Thompson household—one of three Mexican employees in a Spanish-style house with lovely views of the Pacific. She has been responsible strictly for the cooking and cleaning, but the recession has hit, and suddenly Araceli is the last Mexican standing—unless you count Scott Torres, though you’d never suspect he was half Mexican but for his last name and an old family photo with central L.A. in the background. The financial pressure is causing the kind of fights that even Araceli knows the children shouldn’t hear, and then one morning, after a particularly dramatic fight, Araceli wakes to an empty house—except for the two Torres-Thompson boys, little aliens she’s never had to interact with before. Their parents are unreachable, and the only family member she knows of is Señor Torres, the subject of that old family photo. So she does the only thing she can think of and heads to the bus stop to seek out their grandfather. It will be an adventure, she tells the boys. If she only knew . . .

With a precise eye for the telling detail and an unerring way with character, soaring brilliantly and seamlessly among a panorama of viewpoints, Tobar calls on all of his experience—as a novelist, a father, a journalist, a son of Guatemalan immigrants, and a native Angeleno—to deliver a novel as broad, as essential, as alive as the city itself.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Love a Library for Ray

Although we never read Ray Bradbury in our group, I thought his passing deserved some acknowledgement here. His most famous book, Fahrenheit 451 captures so perfectly our commitment to the right to freedom of expression and concern for censorship and banned authors. Plus, Bradbury's passion for books and libraries is a great lead-in to next month's book, Running the Books the memoir of "accidental" prison librarian, Avi Steinberg. The dramatic video above is from a recent "flash theater" reading of Fahrenheit 451 that was produced at the West Hollywood library in conjunction with the National Enowment for the Arts The Big Read. NEA has produced the video below to enhance discussions of the book and allow us all to learn from Ray's passion for books and libraries (and admire his large, fluffy cat!). Love a library today for Ray.

And Bradbury's stories translate so well across cultures. At least one of our authors, Junot Diaz, was a great admirer of Bradbury and wrote this appreciation for the New Yorker,
When I was young, Bradbury was my man. I followed him to Mars, to the veldt, to the future, to the past, to the heart of America, I rode out with him on the Pequod, and on rockets.
I also highly recommend Tanjil Rashid's consideration of Bradbury's Middle Eastern inspirations and his on-going relevance to the cultural life of that region,
When writing Fahrenheit 451, he was in fact thinking of the Middle East all along: “I wasn’t thinking about McCarthy so much as I was thinking of the library of Alexandria 5,000 years [sic] before.” In the Egypt I inhabit “5,000 years” later, voters are currently faced with a choice between Islamist repression or repression of Islamism, two authoritarian candidates with little appreciation of freedom of expression. No one has advocated book-burnings, but book-bannings — a less gruesome cousin — remain the order of the day, many politicians even calling for the infliction of that fate on Egypt’s own greatest novelist, Naguib Mahfouz. No wonder that a few years ago a cultural exchange promoted by the National Endowment for the Arts picked  Fahrenheit 451as the focus of reading groups in Cairo and, unmissably, Alexandria.
Maybe a fitting memorial would be to take action on the Global Online Freedom Act

Finally, I had to include this little nod to our home base at Caltech with this clip from JPL. Thanks Ray!


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Our June Author: Ursula Hegi

This month we are reading Ursula Hegi's novel, Children and Fire. I was a little disappointed that there was not more information available about this book, which I very much enjoyed, and author. Hegi's publisher supplies a Q&A with a few insights into her favorite authors and other tidbits and a brief explanation of her relationship with the English and German languages. The interviews I was able to find were mostly focused on books other than Children and Fire, but as you can see from the video above, most of her work draws on similar themes, so they all contain interesting nuggets. In this NPR interview, she reflects on how the death of her mother when she was a girl has affected her writing. In this interview with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer she discusses her writing process and the reception of her work in Germany. And although this audio interview initially focuses heavily on her book, The Worst Thing I've Done, the discussion comes around to the political themes of her novels. For handy reference, here are links to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum's page on the burning of the Reichstag, and here is Wikipedia for more detail. Finally, here is Friedrich Schiller's poem, "The Diver" which is an important reference in the novel.
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