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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Books on Stage

Not long ago, Joan Didion’s memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, topped bestseller lists and was a favorite among book groups. It is an eloquent study of Didion’s year of grief following the sudden death of her husband and the terminal illness of her daughter Quintana. It seems an odd book to turn into theater, but local actress Helen Hedman has done just that at D.C.’s Studio Theatre, recreating a one-women show that featured Vanessa Redgrave in the 2007 New York version ("A Writer's Vivid Portrait of Grief -- Her Own," Washington Post, June 25, 2009).

Books live on for generations – not only in print, but in other art forms – whether theatre, film or even opera and dance. Here are some other books that made it to the stage:

The Color Purple by Alice Walker (Broadway Theatre, NY, 2005-2008)

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (Broadway Theatre, NY, Imperial Theatre, NY 1987 – 2003; Broadhurst Theatre, NY (revival) 2006-2008)

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (Hilton Theatre, NY 2007 – 2009)

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (Cort Theatre, NY, 1990)

Native Son by Richard Wright (St. James Theatre, NY, 1941)

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (Madison Square Theatre, NY; Garden Theatre, NY; New Amsterdam Theatre, NY, six productions from 1887 – 1907).

Friday, June 26, 2009

Remembering Michael and Farrah

Popular icons have it tough, sometimes. That is certainly true of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett who both died yesterday – one suddenly and the other after a long, public battle with cancer. Many of us, who never met either, share their loss. If we marveled at “Thriller” and Jackson’s moonwalk or became addicted to “Charlie’s Angels” Michael and Farrah are part of our life experiences.

The Washington Post ("Michael Jackson, 'King of Pop,' Dies of Apparent Heart Attack in L.A.," June 26, 2009) perhaps summed up Jackson’s complex legacy best as “. . . two sides to the record: The tabloid caricature and the provocative, genre-changing musical genius that his fans will always treasure.” Even the book titles on Jackson in our library such as Michael Jackson: the Magic and the Madness or Michael Jackson: Unauthorized reflect the ups and downs of his life.

Farrah Fawcett is remembered for the one season on “Charlie’s Angels” that transformed her into a celebrity that could sell 10 million famous posters. She also shared more serious acting roles, such as the abused wife in the 1984 T.V. movie “The Burning Bed” with her audience. In recent years it has been her struggle with cancer and the devotion of long-time companion Ryan O’Neal that has made her story familiar to us.

Both Michael and Farrah will be remembered by many of us who they never knew. They will be missed.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Mistresses of the Thriller: Part I: Tess Gerritsen

A while ago, a post on, a social networking site for writers and readers of crime fiction, asked for readers’ favorite female thriller writers. Tess Gerritsen's name came up more than once.

Gerritsen, a Chinese-American writer well-known for her medical thrillers, received her M.D. from the University of California at San Francisco. She began writing while on maternity leave from her practice as an internist. Her first book, a romantic suspense novel, was published in 1987. It was followed by eight others in that genre.

Her first medical thriller, Harvest, was published in 1996. It made the New York Times Best Seller List. It has been followed by 10 popular novels, the latest is The Keepsake published in 2008. Her books have been published in 33 languages and 30 million copies have been sold worldwide.

Gerritsen lives in Maine with her husband, a retired physician. Interviewed in the Portland Press Herald in 2007, the author admitted that she writes her first drafts by hand – four pages a day – and then moves to a computer for the final editing.

She thanked a local library director for the idea for her book The Bone Garden (2007), a historical thriller, because he invited her to speak on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein a few years ago and during her research discovered that Shelley’s mother had died of childbed fever, spread by the doctors’ bad hygiene in hospitals at the time. She placed Oliver Wendell Holmes in the novel and read Nathaniel Hawthorne to get the cadence of the language.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Masters of the Thriller – Part III: John le Carré

For those who love tales of espionage, John le Carré (David John Moore Cornwall) is definitely one of the masters of this subgenre of thriller. Born in Dorset, England, the author worked for the British Foreign Service in the late 50s and early 60s, before the popularity of his third novel, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, allowed him to become a full-time novelist. Since he began writing in 1961 he has produced 21 novels, seven have become award-winning films or TV series. Books le Carré considers to be his best include Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, The Tailor of Panama and The Constant Gardener . His most recent book is A Most Wanted Man.

The most famous character in le Carré’s novels is George Smiley, who some critics have called “the anti-James Bond.” He is a major character in five of the author’s novels and makes appearances in many others. An intelligence officer in M16, Smiley is a mild-mannered man, expert at navigating government bureaucracy, who gets by on his wits. When Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was published, one reviewer called Smiley “a brilliant spy and totally inadequate man.”

In a statement on his official Web site, le Carré, however, minimizes the influence of his brief career as a spy on his writing:

“In the old days it was convenient to bill me as a spy turned writer,” says le Carré. I was nothing of the kind. I am a writer who, when I was very young, spent a few ineffectual but extremely formative years in British Intelligence. . . . Nothing that I write is authentic. . . . I am flattered that my fabulations are taken so seriously. . . . Artists, in my experience, have very little centre. They fake. They are not the real thing. They are spies. I am no exception.”

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Masters of the Thriller – Part II: Brad Meltzer

Another Florida-based suspense author is Brad Meltzer. Many of his books have made the New York Times best-seller list, including The Tenth Justice, Dead Even, The First Counsel, The Millionaires, The Zero Game and The Book of Fate. Meltzer is also a comic-book author, known for contributing to The Justice League of America and Identity Crisis comic series. The author has led a campaign to save the house where comic-book artist Jerry Siegel, the co-creator of Superman, invented the superhero.

Meltzer was raised in Brooklyn and Miami. He attended the University of Michigan and Columbia Law School. He received credit from Columbia Law School for the book that became The Tenth Justice, his first published novel. Meltzer says his true first novel was rejected 24 times and still sits on a shelf “published by Kinkos.”

Meltzer’s newest novel, The Book of Lies, tackles both a Biblical mystery – a chase for the world’s first murder weapon used by Cain to kill his brother Abel – and a more contemporary real-life mystery, the search for the gun that killed Mitchell Siegel, the father of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel.

If you like historical thrillers such as The Book of Lies, you may also want to try David Liss, the author of A Conspiracy of Paper, The Coffee Trader, A Spectacle of Corruption and The Whiskey Rebels among others.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Masters of the Thriller -- Part I: Michael Connelly

A glance at the most recent New York Times best seller list reveals that The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly tops the list. While probably not as familiar as other suspense authors, such as John Grisham or James Patterson, Connelly has penned more than 20 page-turners since 1992.

Connelly decided to become a writer after reading the work of Raymond Chandler while a student at the University of Florida. He majored in journalism with a minor in creative writing. He worked for several Florida newspapers after graduation, primarily on the crime beat. He moved to the L.A. Times after a story he wrote with several other reporters almost won a Pulitzer.

The author published his first novel, The Black Echo based partially on a true crime, in 1992. It introduced Los Angeles Police Department Detective Hieronymus Bosch, a mainstay in many of his books. The Black Echo won an Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Social Books

While there has been some hang-wringing about the future of books, Clive Thompson, writing in Wired, believes that books – and more importantly reading – will survive if the printed word embraces the digital and social media revolution ("The Future of Reading," June 2009). One e-publishing veteran put Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook online with a commenting system and hired seven writers to read it and comment. Nowadays, content can go viral and foster global conversations. “Imagine a world where there’s a URL for every chapter and paragraph in a book – every sentence,” Thompson writes.

For the early-adapters among you who are already experimenting with the newest crop of e-readers, the library offers a large collection of books in digital format. See our Web site and scroll down to How To … Read an eBook.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Opening Lines – Test Your Knowledge

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness . . . .” Dickens’ start to A Tale of Two Cities is one of literature’s most recognizable opening lines.

You can test your knowledge of the openings of other classic novels courtesy of MSN Encarta:

1. “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

a. 1984, George Orwell
b. Miss Lonelyhearts, Nathanael West
c. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
d. The Stranger, Albert Camus

2. “124 was spiteful.”

a. My Antonia, Willa Cather
b. The Color Purple, Alice Walker
c. Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
d. Beloved, Toni Morrison

3. “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say
that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

a. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
b. A Room With a View, E.M. Forster
c. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling
d. Possession, A.S. Byatt

For the answers and the remainder of the 10-question quiz, see MSN Encarta's Novel Quiz: Famous Opening Lines.

Don’t Miss . . .

First Anniversary Celebration at Burke Centre Library. Saturday, June 13, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. A brief ceremony followed by birthday cake at 10:30 a.m. Other events include the following:
• 11 a.m. visit and book signing by children’s author Laura Elliott;
• 2:30 p.m. discussion by suspense author John Gilstrap of his forthcoming novel “No Mercy”;
• All-day silent auction of special donated books and a mini book sale.

The celebration is being hosted by the Friends of the Burke Centre Library. For more information, call 703-249-1520.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Readers Online

One of the better online resources for literary types is Arts & Letters Daily. Each day it offers links to articles of note, new books, essays and opinions, plus links to 22 newspapers across the globe including the Chicago Tribune, Jerusalem Post and Beirut Daily Star. In addition there are links to favorite articles and more than 90 magazines ranging from Time to American Conservative and Salon. There are also links to book reviews, columnists, blogs, radio and T.V. outlets and much more.

Articles listed in the June 2 edition include the popularity of Donald Duck in Germany, the paranoia of UFO enthusiasts, the codes of moral conduct found in animals and more. It is a great resource for both mainstream and more obscure articles or blogs published around the world.

For more great Web sites that have been vetted by librarians see the library’s Web site. Click on Research Tools and then Web Sites by Subject.

If you have a good Web site you think should be added, let us know.

Don’t Miss . . .

Saturday, June 6, 2:00 p.m. Patrick Henry Library
Introduce kids to opera. The Washington National Opera presents Madama Butterfly. Free opera workshops for children. Led by WNO Teaching Artists, families are introduced to the story and music of opera, by exploring how music communicates plot, character and emotion. Children participate through hands-on crafts and creative music activities. Age 6-10.