Juicy Eighteenth Century Biographies

Gossip about the rich and famous was just as popular in the 18th century as it is now. The library has a great collection of biographies and movies about this period and the fascinating people who lived in it. In Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa, and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832 author Stella Tillyard carefully documents the lives of four sisters via the thousands of letters they left to posterity. Descended from royalty, one sister almost became queen when she attracted the love of then Prince of Wales, while three sisters defied convention and married for love. You’ll be impressed by how modern excerpts of their letters sound! There is also a BBC miniseries based on the books.

In The Lady in Red: An Eighteenth-century Tale of Sex, Scandal, and Divorce covers the divorce trial of Lady Worsley, who ruined her husband’s reputation as well as her own by exposing the scandalous details of her married life to the public.

You’ve probably heard about Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, a contemporary of the Lennox sisters and ancestor of the late Princess Diana and whose biography sparked the 2008 film The Duchess. But did you know that she had a sister? Harriet Spencer lived just as glamorous and scandalous a life as her more famous sibling, having affairs and even kissing voters on the campaign trail to help her favorite Whig candidates win elections!

Even kings and queens had shocking secrets that they would have liked to have kept hidden. A Royal Affair: George III and His Scandalous Siblings discusses the lives of the British monarch’s younger siblings, including Prince William who married secretly for love, and Princess Caroline, who married the mad Danish King Christian and ruled Denmark for a time with her lover, a German physician. Her story has been fictionalized in both the 2012 film A Royal Affair and the 2001 book The Royal Physician’s Visit.

Not even the king's children were free from controversy. In Princesses: The Six Daughters of George III author Flora Fraser recounts the lives of the king's beloved daughters who were kept hidden away during the American Revolution and the the turbulent years of the king's madness in the 1780s.

The Flat

The Flat is an autobiographical documentary centered around family and mystery. When Arnon Goldfinger’s grandmother passes away, her Tel Aviv flat needs to be cleaned out. As family gathers to sort through decades of memories, questions arise. Searching for answers, Arnon turns to his mother, but she is unable to provide adequate information, explaining that her parents did not willingly offer information and she did not ask. The most troublesome discovery is that when Arnon’s Jewish grandparents moved from Germany to Tel Aviv at the beginning of World War II, they maintained friendships with members of the Nazi party. After the war was over they even visited one another and continued a steady correspondence. Stunned, Arnon is sent on a scavenger hunt to discover just how a relationship between two such groups could survive, surrounded by war and atrocities.

Another less pressing question, but equally fascinating, is why Goldfinger’s grandparents were so reluctant to leave Germany and why his great grandmother refused to leave at all. These individuals had such a connection to their home country that even with the threat of discrimination and death, they did not want to abandon it. If you are more interested in this concept, you should check out Bound Upon a Wheel of Fire: Why so many German Jews made the tragic decision to remain in Nazi Germany.

The Flat is poignant and honest. Some people who are shown in the film wrestle with what they discover about their relatives while others walk away with more questions that will most likely never be answered. This is a great film to spark conversation.

Doris Lessing, groundbreaking novelist, has died

Doris Lessing, whose 1962 novel, The Golden Notebook, electrified young women with its forward-thinking themes, died yesterday in London.

Ms. Lessing was born in Iran in 1919 and raised in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) by a father grievously wounded in World War I and a cranky mother who chomped at the bit to escape her domestic responsibilities. Lessing attributed her mother's resentment as a key factor in shaping her own evolving discoveries of the untapped power of women at an early age. She dropped out of school at 14 and discovered writing.

Her first book, the 1950 release of The Grass Is Singing, was instantly controversial. Set in then-Rhodesia, it is the searing account of a bored white farmer's wife and her relationship with one of the farm's black slaves. Lessing's relentless examination of the endless layers of injustice that she saw everywhere was so ferocious that she was labeled a 'prohibited alien' by the governments of South Africa and Southern Rhodesia in 1956 for her inflammatory opinions.

In 1962, Lessing became one of the unwilling literary leaders of the nascent feminist movement, a label eschewed by her because she said the early feminists' embrace of all things political made them angry name-callers. The Golden Notebook tackled head-on the full menu of women's issues that to this day drive many social issues conversations. Marriage vs. freedom, motherhood vs. career, intellect vs. coy submissiveness, black vs. white. She herself lived of what she wrote, abandoning two husbands and two out of her three children when she fled to England.

Ms. Lessing also wrote two very popular series. The Children of Violence, which begins with Martha Quest (1952) and concludes seventeen years later with entry number five, The Four-Gated City (1969). During the span of this series, a teenage Martha Quest leaves her life on an African farm and flees to England, endures the horrors of World War II, and forges a new, more independent, if fraught life, in post-war London.

The second series is a five-entry science fiction work, Canopus in Argos: Archives (1979-1983).

Ms. Lessing was recipient of many awards. One of her most notable distinctions was to be named the oldest Nobel laureate for literature, receiving that honor in 2007 when she was 88 years old. She claimed it ruined her life because the demands on her time that accompanied such an honor, made it impossible for her to write.

Her last book, Alfred and Emily (2008) was a study of her parents' life, filled with speculation about what their lives would have been like if World War I had not happened.

Ms. Lessing was 94.

World War II Veterans Tell Fascinating Stories

On Nov. 11, Veterans Day, an Ann Arborite walked into the library and told me about a project she started in the 1980s -- working with about a dozen World War II veterans to record service memories. She produced printed manuscripts -- at no cost to veterans -- to share with their families. One result of her project is that three transcripts are now accessible on her blog, "World War Two Remembered: Veteran Memoirs from World War Two." The blog honors the memory of her father and his father, both veterans, in addition to the men she worked with. "Some of them became good friends, and I miss them," she writes. All her life she has been interested in World War II, particularly the North Africa campaign.

Join Jane Austen and J.D. Salinger at the Michigan Theater next Friday!

Next Friday, September 13th, will be a big literary day at the Michigan Theater with the opening of both Austenland and Salinger.

Austenland, simply put, is a film about a woman who is obsessed with Jane Austen. Keri Russel plays Jane Hayes, a “seemingly normal” 30-something woman who risks “her life savings on a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-crazed women.” Along the way, she finds out that her own Mr. Darcy romance fantasies might not be so far-fetched… This romantic comedy also stars Jennifer Collidge, Jane Seymour and Bret McKenzie, and raises questions such as, "Who doesn't love men in tight breeches?"

Based upon the popular novel of the same title, Jane Austen enthusiasts everywhere will find themselves pulled into the fantasy land along with the characters in the film.

***

Salinger is the long-awaited documentary about one of the world’s most popular and adored authors, J.D. Salinger. The documentary “features interviews with 150 subjects, including J.D. Salinger‘s friends, colleagues and members of his inner circle who have never spoken on the record before, as well as film footage, photographs and other material that has never been seen.

The film is the first work to get beyond the Catcher in the Rye author’s meticulously built-up wall: his childhood, painstaking work methods, marriages, private world and the secrets he left behind after his death in 2010.”

Visit the Michigan Theater's website for more information about the films & showtimes!

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #419 and Other Innocents Abroad

Literary critic and journalist Caleb Crain (author profile), in his exquisite debut novel Necessary Errors brilliantly captures the lives and romances of young expatriates in newly democratic Prague.

Just a year too late to witness The Velvet Revolution, recent grad Jacob Putnam (Harvard) arrives in Prague to discover a country at a crossroads between communism and capitalism, and a picturesque city overflowing with a vibrant, searching sense of possibility. As the men and women Jacob meets begin to fall in love with one another, no one turns out to be quite the same as the idea Jacob has of them - that includes Jacob himself.

This coming-of-age novel, "(s)himmering and expansive" makes immediate the turbulent feelings and discoveries of youth as it transits toward adulthood, when chance encounters will grow into lasting relationships. Jacob's sexual identity meets with acceptance, a lonely and secretive life begins to blossom.

"Crain creates a compelling and heartfelt story that captures both the boundless enthusiasm and naïveté of youth... the detailed descriptions of Prague and Czech culture, in general, are sure to please those interested in this fascinating period in Eastern European history. Fans of Ben Lerner's Leaving the Atocha Station (another FFF from an award-winner) will find themselves similarly enchanted here."

In Kerrigan in Copenhagen : a love story, (a follow-up to the In the Company of Angels and Falling Sideways) by Thomas Kennedy, while researching for a guidebook about the pubs in Copenhagen, American expat Kerrigan consumes endless drinks that only in part numb his memories of a brutal family tragedy, a situation further complicated by his voluptuous research assistant. "(A) deeply human, Joycean romp through a magical city-its people, history, literature, and culture".

Petite Anglaise : a true story Catherine Sanderson recounts in delightful tone how she dealt with motherhood, a stale romance, and the daily grind of life in the City of Light by starting a blog under the name Petite Anglaise, which became an outlet for her reflections on expatriate life, her most intimate desires, her personal identity, and her quest to integrate her real life and her virtual one.

Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls

David Sedaris, a comedic author of several bestselling books, recently published Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls. This satirical work of subtle humor makes the reader giggle and occasionally laugh out loud. Much like his previous publications, this book is a compilation of essays about Sedaris' personal life. But the all-new, hilarious stories and ridiculously funny descriptions make it worth your time.

Although the tales of David Sedaris cannot be considered 100% factual, his actual experiences show through the exaggerations with biting realism. In two essays he writes from the perspective of a murderous man followed by a female Tea Party activist -- vehicles he has chosen to convey his political leanings. In his more realistic essays, he describes his frequent visits to the dentist, a lack of support from his father, and his experience abroad when President Obama was elected. In total, these stories give the reader a glimpse into Sedaris' comedic perspective on life and leave one curious about his daily ruminations. Similar works by Sedaris include: Me Talk Pretty One Day, Barrel Fever, Naked, and Holidays on Ice.

Michael Hastings, brilliant journalist who brought down a General, has died

Michael Hastings, author and award-winning journalist for Buzzfeed, died yesterday in Los Angeles.

In the June 22, 2010 issue of Rolling Stone magazine, Hastings wrote a blistering piece on then-General Stanley McChrystal who was commander of American forces in Afghanistan. Quotes from McChrystal and his aides were so highly critical of President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden that the General resigned shortly thereafter. Hastings received a 2010 Polk Award for this article.

Hastings' early career as a driven, heat-seeking missile for the truth included writing for Gentleman's Quarterly and Newsweek. Then in 2007, Hastings' world was rocked. He and his fiancee, Andi Parhamovich were both stationed in Baghdad (he was writing for Newsweek; she was an aide worker for The National Democratic Institute. Andi died in an ambush on January 17th and Hastings returned to his parents' home in Vermont, where holed up in their attic for two months while he wrote I Lost My Love in Baghdad: A Modern War Story (2008), a keening, bitter, loved-filled tribute to Andi.

Hastings' last hard copy book, The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War on Afghanistan came out last year. His last book, published earlier this year in Kindle-only format, is
Panic 2012: The Sublime and Terrifying Inside Story of Obama's Final Campaign

Author Richard Snow Discusses His New Book: I Invented The Modern Age: The Rise Of Henry Ford

Monday May 20, 2013: 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm -- Downtown Library: Multi-Purpose Room

Richard Snow, acclaimed popular historian and former editor-in-chief of American Heritage Magazine, will discuss Henry Ford and Snow's just-released new book "I Invented The Modern Age: The Rise Of Henry Ford," a meticulous and entertaining account of Ford, the Model-T, and the remaking of American industry in the early 20th century. This special event will also include a book signing and books will be for sale.

George Jones, Country-Western heartbreak crooner, has died

George Jones, whose beautiful sad country ballads consoled countless broken hearts, died today in Nashville.

Born in Pensacola, TX in 1931, Jones lived his songs. Famous for missing concerts when he was on a drunken tear, he survived drugs, car crashes, several divorces and repeated financial ruin. His third marriage, in 1969, to Tammy Wynette took the meaning of tempestuous into the stratosphere. They wrote and sang of the endless drama and tragedies in their relationship which lasted just six years, but produced some real blockbuster country songs, such as Good Year for the Roses and \We're Gonna Hold On. Their daughter, Georgette, told their story from her point of view in her 2011 memoir, The Three of Us: Growing Up with Tammy and George.

One of his most wrenchingly sad songs; He Stopped Loving Her Today, was pure George Jones at his mournful best. The song's subject yearns tragically for years for a lost love and dies with a smile on his face.

Jones won countless awards for his body of work. He was honored by the Country Music Association, was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and last year he was presented with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Jones, who had been hospitalized on April 18th, was 81.

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