Monday, September 27, 2010

Furious, Drunken, Obsessive Love

When Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were making the movie, Cleopatra, their days were filled with sex, booze, Roman villas and yachts off the Amalfi coast. How was your day at work?

In the new biography, Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and the Marriage of the Century, the authors paint of picture of a love affair like no other - the infamous coupling of the most famous movie stars on the planet. Their love, their lust, their wealth, their beauty - all on display for an international audience who couldn't get enough of "LizN'Dick."

The story starts in Rome (where else?) when the biggest box office star in the world, Elizabeth Taylor casts aside her new husband Eddie Fisher for her leading man, the Welsh-born Richard Burton. Soon, their indiscretions are captured by the hordes of Italian paparazzi, and Le Scandale as Burton named it, is plastered across every tabloid and screen in the world. Even the Pope notices: he condemns their love affair and denounces Taylor's "erotic vagrancy."

Once they divorce their respective spouses, his first, her fourth, the Burtons nestle into their home sweet home , or more accurately, homes. The Burtons like to spend money, but not pay taxes which means that can not spend too much time in either America or Great Britain, lest they pay their fair share. There are chateaus in Gstaad and Celigny, Switzerland, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, 685 acres in the Canary Islands, 10 acres in Ireland, long stays at the Dorchester Hotel in London and of course, their yacht.

They made many movies together, most notably Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Taylor won her second Oscar but Burton was rebuked for the award for a fifth time. (Richard Burton still holds the record for most Oscar nominations without a win - seven.)

They were so successful, when they contemplated going on a short hiatus in 1968, the industry broke out in a sweat; "nearly half of the U.S. film industry's income... came from pictures starring one of both of them." In fact, during the decade of their marriage, the Burtons would amass more that 615 million dollars in today's market, with the lion's share going to furs, diamonds, original works of art, clothes, travel, food, liquor, a yacht and their private jet. Take that Brad and Angelina!

In the end, however, alcohol and self-loathing trumped love and wealth. Burton drank openly when he worked, and he was one nasty drunk. Taylor was a bit better, but for all her professed love for Richard, she wouldn't stop drinking when he finally went on the wagon. They divorced. They remarried. They re-divorced. Then they married other people.

Years later, Liz N' Dick would appear in a stage version of Noel Coward's Private Lives, a play about formerly married people who run into each other on their respective honeymoons. Elizabeth believed that they would marry again, and Richard confessed to many that she was the love of his life but a third marriage was not to be. Burton dropped dead of a cerebral hemorrhage.

There is one new bit of information that Elizabeth Taylor, now 78 , told these biographers. Two days after Burton died, she received a love letter from him. She put it on her night table, where it has remained for the last 26 years.

Friday, September 24, 2010

All Things Glee

One of my favorite moments on the tv series, Glee, was when music theater geek and budding fashionista Kurt showed up for football tryouts announcing: "Hi. I'm Kurt Hummel and I'll be auditioning for the role of kicker."

Another favorite: when the frequently clueless Finn said of the library, with the guilelessness of youth: "Did you know that you can take books home from there?"

"Yes," said Mr. Schuester.

"For free?"


To which I'd add: "And CDs and DVDs, too, and yes, all for free!"

If you can't get enough of Glee, the Fox tv series about a high school show choir, you can further indulge yourself with Glee related CDs and DVDs from the library.

A great starting place is Glee. Season 1, Volume 1: The Music. A highlight for me is the soaring "Defying Gravity," with Lea Michele as Rachel and Chris Colfer as Kurt trading verses of the Wicked show-stopper. (I confess that Kurt is my favorite, played by Colfer with sweetness, humor and heartbreaking vulnerability.)

Other Glee CDs are:

Glee, The Music. Season 1, Volume 2. Check it out for Lea Michele's performance of My Life Would Suck Without You.

Glee: The Music, The Power of Madonna

Glee. Volume 3, Showstoppers: The Music

Glee, The Music. Journey to Regionals

If you're unfamiliar with Glee but curious, you can also place a hold on the DVD Glee. Season 1, Volume 1, Road to Sectionals or Glee. The Complete First Season, which is currently on order.

We even have a novel for teens based on the show, Glee: The Beginning, an Original Novel.

One final Glee tidbit: one of the co-creators and writers, Ian Brennan, grew up in Mt. Prospect and attended Prospect High School, where he was a member of the show choir. Nominated for an Emmy award, Brennan writes the gleefully wicked Sue Sylvester's witty and biting dialog. ("Your hair looks like a briar patch. I keep expecting racist animated Disney characters to pop up and start singing songs about living on the bayou.")

Do you have a favorite Glee character, moment, song or line of dialog?

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Good Stuff: A Gate at the Stairs

Literary fiction - everybody thinks they know what it means but no one has a decent definition. Rather, we describe it by what it's not.

It's not popular. It's never on the best seller list. James Patterson, Danielle Steel and Dan Brown don't write it. High school students groan when they're assigned it. It doesn't have a plot. It never ends happily. It ain't mystery, sci-fi or romance. There are too many words and absolutely no pictures.

Sound horrible? Many are, even though they win Pulitzers and National Book awards like moths to light. So what good are they except to make yourself sound smart at cocktail parties? Why bother?

I'll tell you why to bother: Lorrie Moore's novel A Gate at the Stairs. I can't stop thinking about it and I want everyone I love to read it. Why do I feel so strongly? I have no idea.

And thus we come to my own personal definition of literary fiction: a novel with characters so vivid that you feel you either know these people or are these people, which uses language instead of plot to do the heavy-lifting of conveying meaning and which, in answer to the question, "what's that book about?", the reply is always "life".

Lorrie Moore has written about life in the shape of college student Tassie Keltjin. Tassie was raised on a small farm and is now enrolled in a big liberal state college (think Madison or Ann Arbor). What Tassie lacks in experience, she makes up for in intelligence, humor and keen powers of observation - great qualities for a character-narrator. Tassie faithfully describes college life from the inanity of some of her classes, to the loneliness when her roommate "Murph" ditches her for a boyfriend, to the excitement when Tassie herself first falls in love.

But there's that lack of experience thing again. Tassie confuses sex with love. Her boyfriend Reynaldo does not. When he leaves college suddenly, Tassie is devastated. She has neither Murph nor her family back home to comfort her.

But the real education results from Tassie's job. She becomes a nanny for a newly-adopted baby, and the adoptive parens Sarah and Edward Thornwood-Brink become Tassies "life teachers" in a manner of speaking.

Sarah explains that she is unable to have children, and now in her forties, she and Edward have decided to adopt as a last chance. She takes Tassie to meet various birth mothers, all Tassie's age, all in trouble. One of the girls chooses Sarah and Edward as suitable parents for her two year old baby Mary, whom Sarah immediately renames the tonier "Emma".

Even when Emma comes home and the family settles into its new routine, Tassie can not forget the birth mothers she met. Will they be alright? Will they always miss their babies? She googles Emma's birth mother and sees the same name in an obituary.

But the authentically sad characters in this book are the adults. Like most young people, Tassie implicitly looks to the grown-ups for answers but the grown-ups don't seem to know any more than the college kids. Sarah deludes herself into believing that she can run her successful restaurant and be a successful mother. She can't. Edward deludes himself into thinking he wants to be a father. He flirts with Tassie instead. Tassie's own father drinks and her mother is a minor mess.

Which begs the question, what exactly do we expect kids to learn when they go away to college? Tassie studies Sufism and wine-tasting. Is that enough? Or do we want to offer them a safe 4-year introduction to adulthood? Just enough time to insure safe transit to "the real world." If that's the case, college surely didn't help any of the adults in this novel. Tassie draws her own conclusion: there's no such thing as wisdom but there is definitly lack of wisdom.

The beauty of this book is not the story: it's Lorrie Moore's telling of the story. It's rich in figurative language (the autumn moon is a "tangerine shard - an orange peel stuck up there like the lunch garbage of God") and void of cliche. Moore never tells us what to think. She just shows us Tassie observing the world, interacting with the world and let's the reader draw his own conclusion.

A Gate at the Stairs is a thoughtful and loving examination of the rigors of college. Not the rigors of classes. Rather, the rigors of first discovering that life does not come with operating instructions.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sweet Indulgence

I love magazines but I consider them to be a complete indulgence. After all the other reading and information gathering has been done, then dessert is served. Shiny, colorful, focused, creative --- who can resist?

Unfortunately, a lot of people.

2009 was rough for magazines.

Gourmet, Metropolitan Home, Country Home, Domino, Electronic Gaming Monthly,Figure, Teen, Travel & Leisure Golf, Advocate, Vibe are just a few of the titles discontinued last year. 2010, so far, is shaping up to be a better year with less disappearances.

Many magazines that were canceled in print maintained an online presence. Understandable to some degree as reading via an electronic device is gaining popularity with all the new gadgets out there. But in my opinion, the pleasure of the magazine comes from its sensory appeal. How will they ever market fragrances via I-Pad?

There's a magazine consulting professional known as Mr. Magazine who researches and writes about the business. His site is an interesting one to peruse. Not quite dessert but a pretty tasty side dish.

See his list of notable magazines in the past 25 years. Then see how many you can find on the third floor here at the Des Plaines Public Library.

Here's a head start:
Men's Health
Cooking Light
Entertainment Weekly
Martha Stewart Living
Fast Company
In Style
O, the Oprah Magazine
Real Simple
In Touch

Friday, September 10, 2010

Bad Language

I am not a huge fan of swearing. Mostly, I just don't find it pleasant to listen to. There has been a lot of talk about the NY Jets on HBO's Hard Knocks and the coach's potty mouth. Usually when people swear they're just trying to get attention. In this case it worked. The Jets are the talk of the NFL and Hard Knocks got it's highest ratings ever.

With that said, I am reading the book Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern. It is one of the funniest books I have ever read, ever! And it kind of makes me want to swear more. A lot more. I have to remember, just because Justin's dad says it, doesn't mean I need to. Funny in that context, but out of my mouth it would just be vulgar.

In 2009 Justin Halpern moved back in with his parents. Thinking the things his dad said were hilarious, he started tweeting them (tweeting is posting them on his twitter internet page and sending them out to his subscribers). It became so popular he wrote a book. Here are some of the cleaner quotes:

"I didn't say you were ugly. I said your girlfriend is better looking than you, and standing next to her, you look ugly."

"A parent's only as good as their dumbest kid. If one wins a Nobel Prize but the other gets robbed by a hooker, you failed."

The use of swearing for comedic purposes goes back a long way. I guess it doesn't bother me as much as long as it's funny. I always liked Richard Pryor and George Carlin. But I also felt comedians like Andrew Dice Clay took it too far (or maybe I just didn't find him funny enough). By the way, we have a good selection of stand-up comedy on both CD and DVD at the library. If you don't care for the swearing we have Bob Newhart and Bill Cosby.

What do you think about all the bad language in TV and the media?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Let's Get Laura!

"I am a librarian's daughter."

Well, I'm not, but that sentence caught my eye while researching something on the Internet. It turns out that mystery writer Laura Lippman made that proclamation recently -- loudly and proudly. And while she loves to sell books, she loves libraries and has many stories to tell about how they have influenced her.

Now she wants to hear your stories about your library. Laura is sponsoring an essay contest and the prize is Laura! She'll come to the library and do an author talk for free. Most authors, especially highly acclaimed popular authors charge big bucks.

Let's get Laura!

The deadline is September 30, 2010 and the details are at her homepage LauraLippman.com

Friday, September 3, 2010

Are You Ready for Some Football?

It is autumn, the kids are back at school, college football starts this weekend and the NFL follows next week. How about getting in the mood by watching some football films?

It just so happens that one of our most popular DVDs right now is The Blind Side. It features Sandra Bullock and is the true story of how a homeless teen went on to become an NFL offensive lineman. You will have to get on the waiting list for that one.

To fill the football fix sooner, try these DVDs.

Any Given Sunday
The Comebacks
The Express: The Ernie Davis Story
Facing the Giants
Friday Night Lights
Gridiron Gang
Knute Rockne, All American
The Longest Yard
We Are Marshall

(Thanks Joel for helping with this post)