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.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #397

For over a decade, US publishers have been looking for English language books that deal with Chechnya, a volatile and bloody Russian Republic consistently in the news. They were thrilled when Whiting Award & Pushcart Prize winner Anthony Marra, (Stegner Fellow, Iowa Writers' Workshop) submitted his novel A Constellation of Vital Phenomena *.

In the final days of December 2004, in a small rural village in Chechnya, eight-year-old Havaa hides in the woods when her father is abducted by Russian forces. Fearing for her life, she flees with their neighbor Akhmed, a failed physician, to the bombed-out hospital where Sonja, the only remaining doctor treats the wounded rebels and refugees. Over the course of five dramatic days, Akhmed and Sonja reach back into their pasts to unravel the intricate mystery of coincidence, betrayal, and forgiveness that unexpectedly binds them and decides their fate,

"Marra collapses time, sliding between 1996 and 2004 while also detailing events in a future yet to arrive, giving his searing novel an eerie, prophetic aura. All of the characters are closely tied together in ways that Marra takes his time revealing, even as he beautifully renders the way we long to connect and the lengths we will go to endure".

"...simply spectacular. Not since Everything Is Illuminated have I read a first novel so ambitious and fully realized". ~ Ann Patchett

"Remarkable and breathtaking,... a spellbinding elegy for an overlooked land engulfed by an oft-forgotten war. Set in the all-too-real Chechen conflict, Marra conjures fragile and heartfelt characters whose fates interrogate the very underpinnings of love and sacrifice.” ~ Adam Johnson

For readers who enjoyed The Tiger's Wife; Cutting for Stone; and City of Thieves.

* = starred review

The picture book Woolbur has won the 2013 Michigan Reads! Award

The 2013 Michigan Reads! title has been announced! The award goes to the picture book Woolbur, written by Leslie Helakoski and illustrated by Lee Harper.

Woolbur is a unique story about a young sheep who is not afraid to be himself! Some of his antics include running with the dogs and dying his wool blue! His mom and dad are worried about him at first, but his grandparents tell them not to worry. In the end, the other sheep start to see the beauty in Woolbur’s creative ways and realize it is not so bad to live outside the box of a “normal” sheep life.

Helakoski, originally from Louisiana, is a graduate of Northern Michigan University and currently resides in southwest Michigan near Kalamazoo. Her picture book Big Chickens also won the Michigan Reads! Award for 2007.

The Michigan Reads! One State, One Children's Book program “focuses on the importance of reading and sharing books with children, especially toddlers through early elementary, and the vital role libraries play in providing access to the quality books, programs and services that lay the foundation for reading and school success.”

The 2013 Pulitzer Prizes have been announced

The Pulitzer Prizes for 2013 were announced today.

In 1917, Joseph Pulitzer established these awards to recognize excellence in 21 categories, which include journalism, fiction, drama, music, poetry, and non-fiction. More recently, online reporting was added.

Some of the winners this year include:

Fiction -- Adam Johnson, for The Orphan Master's Son, a timely choice, tells the story of Pak Jun Do, who is sent to the orphan camps in North Korea. First trained as a tunnel soldier (fighting in pitch darkness beneath the DMZ), he is 'elevated' to kidnapper.

History -- Fredrik Logevall, for Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's Vietnam -- Logevall spent 12 years looking at primary diplomatic sources in the archives of Paris, Washington, D.C., and Hanoi to get at the heart of the conflict.

Biography -- Tom Reiss, for The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo -- Reiss delves into the life of the father of Alexandre Dumas, General Alexandre Alex Dumas. Born in Haiti, sold into slavery by his own father, the General eventually went on to military greatness when he reorganized the army of the French Republic.

In 20 categories, each winner receives $10,000 and a certificate. In the Public Service category, a medal was bestowed on the Florida newspaper, the Sun Sentinel, for its investigation into off-duty police officers who endangered the lives of citizens by speeding.

For a complete list, check here.

Cookbook Award Winners

The International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) has awarded the following books (see full list here):

Cookbook of the Year & Best International Cookbook: Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi: 120 recipes that highlight the flavors of Jerusalem

Best American Cookbook: Hiroko’s American Kitchen: Cooking with Japanese Flavors: how to combine Japanese cooking flavors with Western style fare

Baking: Savory or Sweet: Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza: must-have baking guide to breads and pizzas providing the techniques and equipment advice to make them

Chefs and Restaurants cookbook: Vietnamese Home Cooking by Charles Phan, the award-winning chef from San Francisco's Slanted Door restaurant presents his life story along with a guide to making delicious Vietnamese food

Culinary History: The Cookbook Library: Four Centuries of the Cooks, Writers, and Recipes That Made the Modern Cookbook, tasting their way through centuries of cookbooks and recipes they have been collecting for 45 years, authors Anne Willan and her husband Mark Cherniavsky provide a fascinating history of cooking & cookbooks, lore, and of course recipes from as far back as medieval times

Culinary Travel:Burma: Rivers of Flavor: Burma is opening its doors and this book is a wonderful introduction its culinary marvels

First Book: The Julia Child Award: Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deborah Perelman: if you aren't familiar with the author's blog, go to it and see why this book is so popular

Food Matters: Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics: well-researched and written for the average joe, the science behind what a calorie is and much more

Literary Food Writing:Yes, Chef: A Memoir: life of chef, Marcus Samuelsson, from humble beginnings as an orphan to world-renowned chef

Les Blank, innovative documentary filmmaker, has died

Les Blank, whose much-praised documentaries covered topics as disparate as garlic, the blues, and shoe diets, has died.

Born in Florida in 1935, his first documentaries focused on musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie and Lightnin' Hopkins. Then he broadened his subjects to include food, women with gapped teeth, and the German director, Werner Herzog.

In the 1980s, Blank came to The University of Michigan for a showing of his sweetly weird Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers. To the delight (and digestive torture) of his audience, Blank had arranged to have garlic roasting in the back of the theater. Currently, this iconic Les Blank film is unavailable in DVD format, which is a shame. In 2004, the Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the United States’ National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Another famous Blank documentary made in 1980 is Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, a 20-minute film of the famed director fulfilling a bet he lost to eat his footwear. Herzog wagered that director Errol Morris would never make a film. Morris collected on the bet with the release of his first documentary, The Gates of Heaven,1978, about a California pet cemetery. This odd meal can be seen in the DVD, Burden of Dreams, 1982, Blank's examination of Herzog's challenges in filming his award winning Fitzcarraldo, 1982.

Blank, who had been diagnosed with cancer less than a year ago, was 77.

Roger Ebert, beloved Chicago movie critic, has died

Just one day after announcing he was taking a 'leave of presence' from his 46-year gig as movie critic for the Chicago Sun-Times and his 31-year career on TV reviewing films, Roger Ebert lost his long public battle with salivary and thyroid cancer.

His announcement yesterday said he would just review the movies HE wanted to see and leave the rest of the reviews to his trusted colleagues at the paper. When he lost part of his jaw and thus his ability to eat or speak, he used his good humor and courage to write about his experience fighting, and often triumphing, against, his devastating illness.

Ebert's long career resulted in a 1975 Pulitzer Prize, the first movie critic to receive this honor. The Webby Awards named him their 2010 Person of the Year. And Hollywood, which lived and died by Ebert's laser-beam ethical demand for excellence in all things film, honored him with his own Walk of Fame star in 2005.

Ebert's career took off in a new direction when he and Chicago Tribune movie critic, Gene Siskel, took their 'point/counterpoint' routine to television in 1975. Originally titled Coming Soon to a Theater Near You, PBS picked it up and renamed it Sneak Previews three years later. There were two more name-changes: In 1981, it morphed into At the Movies. Five years later, accompanied by their signature 'thumbs up, thumbs down' rating system, it settled on Siskel & Ebert & the Movies.

Sadly, Siskel died in 1999. He had had brain surgery for brain cancer but it was complications from another surgery that ended his life.

Despite his long fight with illness, Ebert wrote almost seventeen books on movies, the internet, his life (Life Itself: A Memoir, 2011), and yes, even a cookbook for rice cookers (The Pot and How to Use It: The Mystery and Romance of the Rice Cooker, 2010).

Ebert, who was 70, died today in Chicago.

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, award-winning screenwriter and novelist, has died

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Oscar-winning screenwriter and much-honored novelist, died today in Manhattan.

Ms. Jhabvala was born in Germany to Jewish parents who fled to England in 1939. In 1951, Ms. Jhabvala married an Indian architect. They lived in New Delhi for a quarter of century, an experience which informed much of her examination of the privileged lifestyle of the British upperclass in India.

In the early 1960s, she was discovered by filmdom's producer/director power team, Ismail Merchant and James Ivory. They had read her 1963 novel, Householder (on order) and asked her to write the screenplay for the film (on order) by the same name which was released later that year.

Thus began a long successful partnership. The Merchant/Ivory/Jhabvala 22-film collaboration resulted in two Oscars for Ms. Jhabvala -- A Room with a View (1986) and Howards End (1993).

Ms. Jhabvala was also feted with many literary awards, as well. In 1975, she won the then-called Booker McConnell Prize for Fiction (now known as the Man Booker Prize) for Heat and Dust. In 1984, she was tapped for one of the much-coveted MacArthur Foundation fellowships.

Ms. Jhabvala's last novel, My Nine Lives was published in 2004. Her final book, a collection of short stories, A Lovesong for India came out two years ago. Her very last piece of published writing appeared in the March 25, 2013 edition of The New Yorker. It is a short story called The Judge's Will.

Ms. Jhabvala, who was85, died of an unspecified pulmonary ailment.

2013 Hugo Award Nominees Announced

Nominees for the 2013 Hugo Awards, the most prestigious prize in science fiction, were announced Saturday afternoon via livestream. The announcement was also made simultaneously at four major science fiction conventions across the country.

The Hugos have been awarded since 1953, and are given to both written and dramatic works in over a dozen categories. Well-known previous winners include Frank Herbert's Dune, Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, and the Pixar film Wall-E. Check out all the great the nominated works in the AADL collection before this year's winners are announced on September 1st!

Nominees for best novel:

2312, Kim Stanley Robinson
Blackout, Mira Grant
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, Lois McMaster Bujold
Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas, John Scalzi
Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed

Nominees for best film:

The Avengers, Screenplay & Directed by Joss Whedon
The Cabin in the Woods, Screenplay by Drew Goddard & Joss Whedon; Directed by Drew Goddard
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro, Directed by Peter Jackson
The Hunger Games, Screenplay by Gary Ross & Suzanne Collins, Directed by Gary Ross
Looper, Screenplay and Directed by Rian Johnson

Episodes of Doctor Who, Fringe, and Game of Thrones were also nominated for awards in short-form dramatic presentation.

Click over to the Hugo Awards official site for a complete list of nominees, including graphic novels, short fiction, and fan authors and artists.

Benjamin Alire Saenz makes history -- he is the first Latino to win the PEN/Faulkner literary award

Benjamin Alire Saenz, a novelist from Texas, has become the first Latino to win the prestigious 2013 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for his collection of short stories, Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club (on order). Set along the border between the U.S. and Mexico, near the Rio Grande, Saenz's stories focus on the people who live and work along Avenida Juarez.

Saenz is no stranger to awards. Among the honors he has collected over the years as a poet and a novelist are the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry in 1993 and the Southwest Book Award in 1996, given by Border Regional Library Association, for Carry Me Like Water. 1995.

Saenz, 58, was born in New Mexico. A former Catholic priest, he is now the Chairman of Creative Writing at the University of Texas, El Paso. This latest honor comes with a $15,000 check.

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