Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Mr. West and Mr. Adams

Because my youngest daughter will be graduating from high school in June, I have been thinking lately about the high school experiences of both my daughters. In general, I think it has been a successful adventure for all of us. I am especially thankful that they both had the experience of knowing one outstanding teacher. Mr. West was their teacher for AP United States History, but his contribution to their lives involved more than just covering the required material. To my older daughter Mr. West offered encouragement and a boost in self-confidence. In my younger daughter Mr. West lit the spark of life-long learning.

After they covered the period of the American Revolution in class, I was surprised to hear how enthusiastic my daughter was about what they had learned. I said she might enjoy the DVD of the HBO series John Adams , which I had previously seen. We watched it together and she was hooked. “Mom, why didn’t you tell me how GOOD this was?!!” Since that time she has looked over a steady stream of books and articles about John Adams, his family and their contributions to this country’s history.

We began with David McCullough’s biography, John Adams, and his work about that all-important year, 1776. Then she discovered the works of Joseph Ellis: American Creation, Founding Brothers and his latest book, First Family: Abigail and John Adams.

She read more about the life and influence of Abigail Adams in Woody Holton’s article “Abigail Adams’ Last Act of Defiance” in the April 2010 issue of American History magazine. In the future, she can spend more time with this author’s biography, Abigail Adams: a Life and other works such as Dearest Friend: a life of Abigail Adams by Lynne Withey or Founding Mothers by Cokie Roberts.

She will also be able to find out more about the complicated friendship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in books such as Ellis’ American Sphinx: the Character of Thomas Jefferson and Adams vs. Jefferson: the Tumultuous Election of 1800 by John Ferling.

Who would have thought that John Adams would be the passion of my youngest daughter’s senior year? So I say thank you to Mr. West and other dedicated teachers like him for showing students that learning only begins in the classroom.

I have enjoyed reading, viewing and listening to many of these resources along with my daughter and we recommend them to you.

Maryellen @ Warrenton

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bored? You Need Drama!

If you enjoy dialogue, not much detail, but a strong powerful message, a play can be a terrific read.

My mom was a professional storyteller, a playwright, and an actress, so “drama” permeated much of our family life. With Mom in charge, we attended plays, performed skits, and conducted full blown productions. But her church plays did not involve bathrobe costumes and pretend sets. With your eyes closed, you could smell the fish in the Sea of Galilee and feel the disciples’ boat move.

The love of “drama” still grabs me today. Even though I love well-written detailed fiction, I do enjoy the concise conversation of a play. I have been entertained by the comedy of Oscar Wilde in his play The Importance of Being Earnest, which takes place in the late 1800s in England. And I have been drawn into the heartfelt relationship of an elderly Jewish widow and her black chauffeur over a 20-year period in Driving Miss Daisy.

If I happen to be in the mood to change the world, fight for justice, or at least root for someone who does, I can reread A Man of All Seasons by Robert Bolt, Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose or The Miracle Worker by William Gibson.

In Bolt’s play Sir Thomas More takes on King Henry VIII, and fights for morality, while in Rose’s play, jurors vehemently discuss decisions that can change the course of a man’s life forever. In The Miracle Worker Annie Sullivan breaks through the walls of darkness and silence with determination and passion, and helps Helen Keller learn to communicate.

But of course, not every minute of our lives can always be a hair-raising experience. In fact, there are times when we just want quiet and tranquility. Although life doesn’t offer quite enough of the mundane and ordinary for me, I can experience it through the rather pleasant lives of the Webb and Gibbs families in Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town. Here we join these people in their daily lives realizing that this could be any family in any town.
So, if you want drama, read a play.

Shannon @ Bealeton

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

M.C. Beaton-an author by any other name...

Fans of M.C. Beaton's , Agatha Raisin and Hamish MacBeth mysteries series probably know to look for books by Marion Chesney to be treated to a little romance. But if it's really a mystery series you're looking for you might try one of the authors listed below.

Laissez les bon livres rouler, volume deux

Although the Desire streetcar line was discontinued in the 1950s, it lives on in Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire. Marlon Brando bellowed his way into stardom with this shocking depiction of fading Southern gentry and the rise of the industrial South. The film adaptation also features Vivien Leigh as Stella, her other famous faded Southern belle role (censorship codes at the time demanded the removal of certain details from the play).

There are many reasons why spring is a wonderful time to visit New Orleans, and the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, marking Williams’s 100th birthday in 2011, is one of them. Along with the usual myriad of theater productions, writing workshops, contests, and lectures is the legendary “STELLA!” shouting contest (there’s a “STAANLEY!” yelling competition for women, but they can choose to enter the Stella contest if they want to). Also set in New Orleans is Williams’s Vieux Carre, which is loosely autobiographical.

Of course, I can’t talk about New Orleans without talking about food! Reading Sara Roahen’s Gumbo Tales: Finding Myself at the New Orleans Table makes me long for an overstuffed po-boy or a steaming cup of gumbo. Written after Hurricane Katrina, this Wisconsin native’s love letter to New Orleans cuisine might just make you hop on the next plane to the Crescent City for a chow down.

I also can’t talk about New Orleans without talking about my Saints, Super Bowl XLIV champs. Coach Sean Peyton and quarterback Drew Brees became authors this year (along with being the 2010 Super Bowl champs!) with the publication of their books, Home Team: Coaching the Saints and New Orleans Back to Life (Peyton) and Coming Back Stronger: Unleashing the Hidden Power of Adversity (Brees). Great if you’re in need of a pick-me-up and think that there aren’t any good guys left in the sports world.

If you are interested in more New Orleans nonfiction, let me know in the comments field.

Jennifer @ Warrenton

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Laissez les bon livres rouler, volume un

When you think about New Orleans culture, what names come to mind? If you’re a foodie, probably Emeril Lagasse and restaurants like Commander’s Palace. The more musically inclined among us probably envision Louis Armstrong and Preservation Hall. New Orleans is proudly and rightfully known for its contributions to the culinary and music worlds, but it’s also been the inspiration for many classic and bestselling novels.

It wasn’t until I took several English literature courses at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge that I became interested in Louisiana fiction. A Confederacy of Dunces, written by the late John Kennedy Toole and winner of the 1981 Pulitzer Prize, has special pride for the LSU community, for it was first published by LSU Press.

Featuring a cast of “only in New Orleans” characters, this book is considered by many to be a quintessential New Orleans novel and one of the great Southern novels. Although some of Ignatius Reilly’s New Orleans was gone long before Hurricane Katrina hit (such as meeting under the clock at D.H. Holmes), this remains a fascinating atmospheric novel of New Orleans. A movie version has been in development for ages; in my mind, part-time New Orleans resident John Goodman would be the perfect Ignatius Reilly (unfortunately, he’s probably too old for the part now).

Although not specifically set in Louisiana, All the King’s Men is also a book frequently encountered in LSU literature classes. Written by Robert Penn Warren, an LSU professor and the only person to win Pulitzers for both literature and poetry, the novel chronicles the rise and fall of a charismatic and power-driven Southern politician. Although Warren never intended it to be a fictional biography, it is undeniably inspired by the still-controversial and larger than life Louisiana governor, Huey P. Long. Winner of the 1947 Pulitzer Prize and named one of the greatest novels of the 20th century by Modern Library, All the King’s Men is a fascinating look at the corruption of power, told through the eyes of a political reporter.

If you think brooding vampires begin and end with Twilight, then you must not have read Anne Rice’s Lestat novels (her vampires do NOT sparkle). In Interview With a Vampire, Rice creates an exotic and otherworldly New Orleans that’s seductive and addicting. This is not for the fainthearted; Rice often gets disturbing and unsettling. The film adaptation is average, but who cares about that when pretty boys Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, and Antonio Banderas are playing moody vampires! Woo hoo! The movie was filmed in and around New Orleans, which was a huge deal for the city (now, it’s not a big deal if a TV or film is filmed in New Orleans).

More of a mystery buff, particularly historical mysteries? Try Barbara Hambly’s Benjamin January series. Set in 1830s New Orleans and featuring a free biracial man, Hambly’s well-researched but incredibly readable series chronicles the interchangeable world of Creole and Caucasian New Orleans. The rich and scandalous life of Creole and upper-class Caucasian New Orleans society is juxtaposed against the frightful reality of enslaved African-Americans.

If you find it difficult to get into A Free Man of Color (the first book), be patient; Hambly needs to explain pre-Civil War New Orleans class society in order for you to fully understand the whys and wherefores of the series. The most recent entry in the series was published this year. If you’re in the mood for contemporary thrillers, read John Grisham’s The Client and The Pelican Brief.

I hope this whetted your appetite for fiction about the Big Easy! For a brief look at some New Orleans based nonfiction, stayed tuned for next week's entry. Or, if you need more inspiration or are interested in more nonfiction, let me know in the comments field.

Jennifer @ Warrenton