Elliott Holt’s first book, You Are One of Them, is the story of friendship and of the momentous changes in Russia in the 90’s.
The first part of the book is about the friendship of Sarah and Jennifer, 10-year-olds in Cold War Washington D.C. Like the real-life Samantha Smith, Sarah writes to Yuri Andropov, asking for peace between the two nations. Jennifer decides to write a letter as well, and her’s is the one that attracts the attention of Andropov and the world media.
The friendship doesn’t survive and neither does Jennifer, who dies in a plane crash.
The second part of the book is about Sarah’s time in Moscow just after the Soviet Union breaks up. She tries to track down Jennifer, after receiving a letter saying that Jennifer is alive and living in Russia.
The book has a lot to recommend it – the depiction of the life in the 80’s in suburban Washington, D.C., and the adolescent friendship of the two girls. Holt does an excellent job in painting a picture of what it was like for Muscovites and “New Russians” as they desperately try to adapt to consumerism in a chaotic new market economy.
A couple things are bothersome, though. Sarah is rudely unrelenting in her criticism of the way things are done in Russian business and social life. And the ending, to me, is disappointing. To say more would be a spoiler.
Tornados are featured in several recent books – from literary fiction to genre mysteries.
In Sing Them Home by Stephanie Kallos, a tornado is the catalyst for the trajectory of the lives of several people. A 1978 storm takes the life of a mother; many years later the dysfunctional siblings gather for a funeral.
The Stormchasers by Jenna Blum is another story about the effects of tornados on a family. A sister joins a group of storm chasers in order to locate her mentally ill brother, who is a storm chaser, himself.
A 1963 tornado in Oklahoma changes the lives of four people in crisis in Five Days in May by Ninie Hammon.
There are rumors of a movie of The Breathtaker by Alice Blanchard. Set again in Oklahoma, this is a fast-paced thriller about a police chief who realizes that foul play, rather than the storm is the cause of death for several deaths. The murders mount as the tornado season progresses.
In other books, a tornado is not the driving force in the narrative or psychology of characters, rather it’s a convenient plot point.
The Riesling Retribution by Ellen Crosby is a mystery that begins with a skull discovered after a tornado.
Similarly, in A Bad Day for Pretty by Sophie Littlefile a body is found in the aftermath of a tornado.
The Intercept is Dick Wolf’s first book. Unsurprisingly, it feels like the start of a long-running series. The master of the successful drama, Wolf is the creator of Law & Order and its many spin-offs.
Jeremy Fisk is an NYPD detective who works in the Intelligence Division, where police officers comb through bits of information from surveillance cameras, email and other computer data in order to uncover terrorist plots.
When a group of passengers and crew foil an airplane hijacking, the new heroes are sucked into a media and pr machine. Some bask in the limelight and some are desparate to avoid it.
After chasing a few false leads, Fisk begins to suspect that the original attempt is a distraction and another bigger plot is the ultimate goal.
Fast-paced and full of insider information about terrorism and forensics, Wolf writes with an assurance and cool confidence well suited to the thriller genre.
Elizabeth Berg’s newest is about Cece, a motivational speaker, and her friendships, Tapestry of Fortunes has a romantic thread but mostly it’s about Cece and her best friend, Penney, and later about a new set of friends.
Cece decides to make changes in her priorities – travel more, work less, and downsize. She sells her house and moves into a house with three other women.
The book is also about change and renewal when one’s circumstances take an unexpected turn. Cece and her roommates take a road trip in order to deal with unresolved relationships – driving from Minneapolis to Winona and Des Moines and Cleveland, stopping along the way to visit diners, bowling alleys and oddball museums.
Berg writes with customary directness and immediacy.The reader gets a motivational boost and a bit of bibliotherapy, too.
If you’re a fan of Mad Men, you’ll appreciate this Mad for Mod series. The hero is Madison Night, an interior decorator, who models herself after Doris Day. One subplot revolves around a local theatre that is gearing up for a Doris Day festival.
Pillow Stalk by Diane Vallere appeals to those who may have an interest in mid-century design, a unique Dallas neighborhood (the M streets), and, to a lessor extent, an actual mystery.
Madison and her circle of acquantances (swimming, decorating, and film) are well-drawn and their various interactions serve to flesh out the philosophy and aesthetic of fifties and sixties clothes and furniture. The appeal of the colors, textures, and fabrics of this era are made tangible and specific when she discovers a great bedroom set, pillows, crockery or formica table. Part of her business model is to dress the part – always outfitted in color-coordinated outfits and high heels.
A good companion would be The Thing About Jane Spring by Sharon Krum. The heroine of this novel adopts the clothing, attitude and lifestyle of Doris Day in order to improve her romantic prospects.
This blog is written by the staff of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (the 11th stack refers to the top floor of their library). The posts are quirky and thought-provoking. I love this one, Hot Makes Angry, in which the author likens himself to the Incredible Hulk. During the current heat wave, his emotions were on edge, so he delved into the IH graphic novels (bit of trivia: the original Hulk was gray, not green).
A recent post, Batman. Dark Knight Looming, notes that, last summer, Pittsburgh was the site for some of the filming for Dark Knight Rises.
The staff biographies are as fun to read as the blog posts. If they are anything to go by, this is a fun and diverse library to work at. For example, Holly’s hobby is “thrifting,” (I need to find out what this is), Leigh Ann “practices mad science,” Bonnie likes “gluing and taping things,” Maria, who would “love to meet other Michigan transplants so that she can talk about Michigan without seeming weird (such as using her hand as a map)” and one I’m on board with: Tara, who is into “making soup and napping.”
Adam Sorkin’s new HBO series, Newsroom, brings to mind 1987’s Broadcast News starring Holly Hunter and William Hurt. Reading reviews of the show, it sounds as if the themes of this show are reminiscent of other great “news” movies.
Like Newsroom, the focus of Broadcast News is the integrity of the news anchors and producers. And, like Jeff Daniel’s anchorman, the William Hurt character yearns for the spotlight and big ratings, yet has his conscience pricked by a woman with whom he has a quasi-romantic relationship with.
Network and Good Night, and Good Luck are much edgier films about television news, while Morning Glory is on the other end of the continuum. Journalistic ethics are discussed, but the real fun of the movie are the sparring amongst Diane Keaton, Harrison Ford and Rachel McAdams.
Take a history ride through tv news – the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Somehow I never got around to watching 1979’s Being There . A cultural touchstone at the time; it still holds up when you watch more than thirty years later. I was looking for movies set in Washington, D.C. and thought now was the time to watch this – thinking it would be a bit of a chore.
However, it is wonderfully absorbing. A certain calmness and serenity takes hold of you, the longer you watch it. Peter Sellers was nominated for an Oscar for his performance as Chauncey Gardiner, (the character tries to communicate his name as, Chance the gardener and is mis-heard by a wealthy benefactor played by Shirley McLaine). Melvyn Douglas (who did win an Oscar) becomes very fond of Chauncey and imbues his simple statements about gardening and nature with metaphorical wisdom.
This is a beautifully made and acted film. Peter Sellers, in his last role, inhabits the character with a solemnity and simplicity that makes it a completely unique character. Chance/Chauncy’s only experience of the outside world was through television, and there are frequent clips of commercials and shows of the day. It’s really fun to see “Basketball Jones,” again.
Coincidentally, I watched two Gary Oldman movies in quick succession. In Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, he plays the subdued but heroic George Smiley. More recently, I watched The Contender. The multi-talented Oldman also produced the film.
Oldman’s character, this time, is the polar opposite of Smiley. Congressman Shelley Runyon, is malevolently and unappetizingly evil. Even the way he eats bloody steaks (and talks with his mouth full) is disgusting.
He abuses his power as the head of the judiciary committee with a ruthless relish. Hearings to confirm a vice presidential nominee (Joan Allen) serve as a vehicle for Runyon to retaliate against the president and, if the career of Senator Laine Hanson (Allen) is ruined, that’s just collateral damage. This is a darker, more disturbing version of The American President. However, a marvelously inspirational closing speech by the president (Jeff Bridges) provides catharsis and hope.
If you cared to, you could do a total immersion TTSS (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) experience using library materials.
Prompted by the recent movie starring Gary Oldman as George Smiley, I went back to the BBC version on DVD, in which Alec Guinness plays the recently retired spy. At the same time, I listened to the BBC radio play as an audiobook. Like the funhouse mirror world of espionage, each iteration was faithful to the original source material of the book in some aspects, and each one edited parts of the narrative, as well as completely changing essential plot points.
For example, the catalyst for the investigation of a mole in the 1980 miniseries is a night time chase in the dark woods, while the 2011 movie accomplishes the same end with a shootout in an outdoor cafe.
The TV version is more thorough and straightforward in its storytelling, while the movie, is, of course, abridged and cinematic. Because it is more elliptical, it is helpful to have read or listened to a more unedited version.
I won’t spoil the ending; suffice it to say, the recent movie rivals The Godfather in it’s elegiac yet violent ending.