Happy Birthday, Toni Morrison

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Today, February 18, marks the 82nd birthday of Toni Morrison. Morrison was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for her novel Beloved.  She is the United States’ only living literary Nobel Prize winner (awarded to her in 1993).

Morrison was born  ‘Chloe Wofford’ to working class parents in 1931. She grew up in Lorain, Ohio and converted to Catholicism at age twelve.  Her baptismal name was “Anthony,” which is where “Toni” comes from; Morrison is her married name. In 1958, she married fellow Howard University professor Harold Morrison. The couple had two children but divorced in 1964.

In the late 1960s while a professor at Howard, Morrison began writing with an informal group of friends. She developed her first story there about a black girl who longed to have blue eyes. This story was the basis for her novel The Bluest Eye (1970).  Other novels have enjoyed both critical and popular success, including  Sula (nominated for a National Book Award in 1975), Song of Solomon (1977), Beloved (1987) and Jazz (1992).

Morrison has been called a writer “who has enriched our literary heritage over a life of service, or a corpus of work”  and one whose  “novels [are] characterized  by visionary force and poetic import [and] give life to an essential aspect of American reality.”

Here are ten of the most memorable lines from Morrison’s works and lectures:

1.  “Make up a story… For our sake and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light. Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief’s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul.” ―  The Nobel Lecture In Literature, 1993

2.  “She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order.”  - Beloved

3.  “Don’t ever think I fell for you, or fell over you. I didn’t fall in love, I rose in it.” - Jazz

4.  “I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.”

5.  “What difference do it make if the thing you scared of is real or not?” - Song of Solomon 

6.  “In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.”

7.  “Along with the idea of romantic love, she was introduced to another–physical beauty. Probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. Both originated in envy, thrived in insecurity, and ended in disillusion.” –  The Bluest Eye

8.  “Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t love at all.” - Beloved

9.  “Gimme hate, Lord,” he whimpered. “I’ll take hate any day. But don’t give me love. I can’t take no more love, Lord. I can’t carry it…It’s too heavy. Jesus, you know, You know all about it. Ain’t it heavy? Jesus? Ain’t love heavy?” - Song of Solomon 

10.  “All paradises, all utopias are designed by who is not there, by the people who are not allowed in.”


The Great American Teach-Off for 2013!

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Know a teacher who could use and deserves $10,000?

Well, hurry, as it is almost last call for nominating an educator who shows innovation and dedication to their craft.  The $10,000 classroom grant will be awarded by GOOD Partnerships and the University of Phoenix. There will be twenty finalists selected from teachers of grades Kindergarten through Twelfth this February 15, 2013 at noon PT.  

Voting for the finalists begins March 4 and “in a course of five weeks, the GOOD community will vote for their favorite teacher. At the end of the five weeks, the top voted K through 6 teacher and top voted 7 through 12 teacher will each receive a $10,000 classroom grant.”

What are the judge looking for? “[T]eachers that are not only changing the lives of their students, but also their community. We want to hear all about the teachers that are integrating technology into the classroom, doing community outreach with their students, or pushing their students to learn and think in different ways so that they can graduate successfully and achieve beyond the classroom.”

For ideas and inspiration, you can watch videos of last year’s winners, Terry Dougherty and  Daryl Bilandzija.  Good luck to all the great candidates out there and don’t forget: the deadline for applications is this Friday


National Book Critics Circle Finalists Announced

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It’s award season, not just for movies, but for books as well. Yesterday, the National Book Critics Circle announced its finalists for the 2012 publishing year.  Since 1976, the  National Book Critics Circle has given the award in order “to promote the finest books and reviews published in English.”  The American organization has selected thirty books eligible for a total of six prizes.  Those six categories are autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

Two of the titles in contention have already received much critical and popular acclaim, Katherine Boo’s  Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. 

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and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk  by Ben Fountain

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Other Fiction Finalists:

Laurent Binet’s HHhH, about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich

Zadie Smith’s London-set NW

Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son, a frightening look into Kim Jong Il’s North Korea. (Both Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk and  Binet’s HHhH are first novels.)

Biographies

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Robert A. Caro’s The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson 

Tom Reiss’s The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo , about General Dumas, father of the famous novelist

Lisa Cohen’s All We Know: Three Lives  about early 20th-century trend setters Esther Murphy, Mercedes de Acosta and Madge Garland

Lisa Jarnot’s Robert Duncan, The Ambassador from Venus: A Biography

Autobiography

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My Poets by Maureen N. McLane

Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton

The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande

In the House of the Interpreter by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East by Anthony Shadid

Poetry 

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Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations by David Ferry

Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys by D. A. Powell

Olives: Poems (Triquarterly) by A.E. Stallings

Non-fiction

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Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon

Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen

For a complete list of finalists, click here.

The winners will be announced on Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 6:00 p.m.


And the Oscar Goes To…

The books that were made into Oscar-nominated films of 2013.

If you’re following this year’s awards season, you may have noticed that many of the movies receiving the highest accolades were adapted from novels. Some of the big winners at last night’s Golden Globes made me want to compile a small list of the books that inspired the movies. While many viewers of the awards season make it their mission to watch all of the nominated films, wouldn’t it be an interesting idea to read the book behind each lit-inspired movie? If you care to tick off that list, it is…

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

8 Nominations

Someone over at Goodreads likened this book to “The Perks of Being a Wallflower for adults.” That’s probably on account of the novel’s tender qualities, quirky humor, and soul. Warm your heart with this debut novel from Matthew Quick.

 

Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History by Antonio J. Mendez

7 Nominations

The book and the movie provide a behind-closed-doors look into an almost unreal CIA mission to save six embassy workers from Iran in the 1970s… by impersonating a sci-fi film crew. Don’t get a manicure before watching or reading this entertaining political thriller.

 

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

11 Nominations

A boy, a boat, and a tiger — one might say those are the main components of Martel’s novel, and correspondingly director Ang Lee’s movie. But both deliver much more: spellbinding visuals, philosophical themes, and yes I just have to reiterate, an amazing tiger called Richard Parker.

 

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

3 Nominations

Adaptations of Tolkien’s works have dominated cinema for the last decade, so unless you call the lonely space beneath a rock your home,  you’ll probably know what you’re in for with Jackson’s latest movie. Yet, returning to Middle Earth to recount the fantasy of your childhood will yield memories that might not have made it to the film (despite it being the first three-hour installment of a trilogy).

 

Team of Rivals: the Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

12 Nominations (for the film Lincoln)

Though of course Spielberg’s biopic is based on actual history, it had a helping hand from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography. But beware, it’d probably be faster to complete an AP course on U.S. History than to read this 944-page tome. For the ambitious among you, the biography reveals the brilliance behind one of America’s most cherished forefathers and comes highly recommended by the elite who have the will to sit down and read it.

 

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

8 Nominations

The musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s sprawling tragedy set during the upheaval of the French Revolution has been on stage for years and has now made its way to the silver screen. But if you want a reading of the work that does not involve singing every line, try picking up Hugo’s original. Of course, if you enjoy the catharsis of singing every line as you read them, by all means go ahead… so long as I’m not anywhere near you at the time.

 

What Oscar-nominated adaptations did you enjoy this past year? Which did you enjoy that did not make it into the Academy’s good graces? Share with us in a comment below!


Hmmm… Seems to be a Book! Ten Gift Suggestions for Christmas Reading

Among my friends, (who, lets face it, often regard sunlight as the enemy) there can never be a better Christmas present than a coveted book. Most of our friends, family members, and colleagues know we love to read. However, what to get your favorite bibliophile can be daunting:

“Hmmmm… well, Diana sorta likes cats. How about this special, 40 lb tome of Cats Through the Ages?” 

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“Who doesn’t want to learn the ancient art of origami?” (*Me) …Variation: “Who doesn’t like spy novels?”  (*Also me).

So, instead of grabbing a random book, here are ten suggestions from my well-read friends that may help you select a welcomed gift that will actually be read:

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10.  Bringing Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel 

This Man-Booker prize winning sequel, as well as  Mantel’s first novel Wolf Hall (which also won the Man-Booker!) are both on my personal list.

From Publisher’s Weekly: Henry VIII’s challenge to the church’s power with his desire to divorce his queen and marry Anne Boleyn set off a tidal wave of religious, political and societal turmoil that reverberated throughout 16th-century.

9.  Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats 

A required volume for lovers of poetry. Both newcomers and those already familiar with the work of Yeats will appreciate this collection which ” includes all of the poems authorized by Yeats for inclusion in his standard canon. Breathtaking in range, it encompasses the entire arc of his career, from luminous reworkings of ancient Irish myths and legends to passionate meditations on the demands and rewards of youth and old age, from exquisite, occasionally whimsical songs of love, nature, and art to somber and angry poems of life in a nation torn by war and uprising.”

8. The Language of Flowers by Vanesa Diffenbach

Consider picking this New York Times best-seller and recent book club favorite:

The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen and emancipated from the system with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But an unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger has her questioning what’s been missing in her life. And when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

7.  January First: A Child’s Descent into Madness and Her Father’s Struggle to Save Her by Michael Scofield

A good choice for a lover of non-fiction reads, one friend says the memoir is “heartbreaking and engrossing at the same time. I couldn’t put it down and read it mostly in one day.”

At six years old, January Schofield, “Janni,” to her family, was diagnosed with schizophrenia, one of the worst mental illnesses known to man.  What’s more, schizophrenia is 20 to 30 times more severe in children than in adults and in January’s case, doctors say, she is hallucinating 95 percent of the time that she is awake. Potent psychiatric drugs that would level most adults barely faze her.

7.  The President’s Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy 

Got a political junkie on your list? A friend tells me this is a Can’t-Put-It-Down choice.

Starting with the surprisingly effective relationship of Harry S. Truman and Herbert Hoover, and following through “Obama and His Club,” TIME Magazine‘s Executive Editor Nancy Gibbs and Washington Bureau Chief Michael Duffy trace the surprising, complicated story of “the world’s most exclusive fraternity.” Sitting presidents and their predecessors have at times proved remarkably simpatico, at others impossible thorns in each other’s sides. The authors’ extensive research demonstrates that ex-Presidents have a penchant for morphing from consummate team players into irascible rogues, sometimes within weeks, as they strive both to remain relevant and to shape their own legacies.

6.  The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide by Eva Talmadge and Justin Taylor

Under that frayed sports coat lies the heart of a beast! Your English professor or quiet librarian may well be hiding a little secret… tattoos that express their love of literature. This beautiful text is “a collection of more than 150 full-color photographs of human epidermis indelibly adorned with quotations and illustrations from Dickinson to Pynchon, from Shakespeare to Plath. With beloved lines of verse, literary portraits, and illustrations—and statements from the bearers on their tattoos’ history and the personal significance of the chosen literary work—The Word Made Flesh is part collection of photographs and part literary anthology written on skin.”

5.  Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Perfect for both the  book lover, bookstore lover, and mystery fan, Sloan’s novel is “a gleeful and exhilarating tale of global conspiracy, complex code-breaking, high-tech data visualization, young love, rollicking adventure, and the secret to eternal life—mostly set in a hole-in-the-wall San Francisco bookstore.”

4.  Fairy Tales from the Brother’s Grimm: A New English Version by Philip Pullman

Most people know that the versions of the Grimm Brothers’ tales many of us grew up with were “sanitized” verisons of the original stories. In this new edition, author Philip Pullman “retells his fifty favorites, from much-loved stories like “Cinderella” and “Rumpelstiltskin,” “Rapunzel” and “Hansel and Gretel” to lesser-known treasures like “The Three Snake Leaves,” “Godfather Death” and “The Girl with No Hands.” At  the end of each tale he offers a brief personal commentary, opening a window on the sources of the tales, the various forms they’ve taken over the centuries and their everlasting appeal.”

3.  Judging a Book by Its Lover: A Field Guide to the Hearts and Minds of Readers Everywhere by Laura Leto 

This is another entry from my personal Wish List. Do you know how some people snoop through bathroom medicine cabinets or desk drawers? Personally, I eye their bookshelves. Most book lovers do. We want to know what we have in common or who we need to stay away from, often making instant friendships or enemies based on libraries alone. In her study, Leto provides a “hilarious send-up of—and inspired homage to—the passionate and peculiar world of book culture.”

2. Cezanne: A Life by Alex Danchev

Okay, I confess. This is also on my list (get yer own blog!).  Cezanne’s life has long fascinated me, and after hearing an interview with Danchev, I am eager to learn more.  Here’s an overview:

With brisk intellect, rich documentation, and eighty-eight color and fifty-two black-and-white illustrations, Danchev tells the story of an artist who was originally considered a madman, a barbarian, and a sociopath. Beginning with the unsettled teenager in Aix, Danchev takes us through the trials of a painter who believed that art must be an expression of temperament but was tormented by self-doubt, who was rejected by the Salon for forty years, who sold nothing outside his immediate circle until his thirties, who had a family that he kept secret from his father until his forties, who had his first exhibition at the age of fifty-six—but who fiercely maintained his revolutionary beliefs.

1.  Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kerns Goodwin

Steven Spielberg’s wonderful new film Lincoln was largely based on the research of famed historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. Anyone interested in politics or history will certainly enjoy this compelling re-examination of the drama surrounding the eventual adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment.


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