Don’t miss this beautiful, true story of friendship! Laura Schroff was a successful thirty-five year old advertising sales executive for USA Today walking down a busy New York street when a small voice asked her for spare change. She kept walking until something made her stop, turn around, and face a small, dirty boy with ratty clothes and an outstretched hand. Her response to this needy little boy changed both of their lives.
>Fans of Downton Abbey, the miniseries on PBS that hooked us last year, can now continue watching on Sunday evenings to see how World War II has affected the rich aristocrats and their servants. Margaret Powell lived the life of a servant and has written a revealing book of her experiences in the homes of the wealthy. She began working at odd jobs when she was thirteen, the year she left school. She was allowed to quit her education because she had won a scholarship and was in the top class. There were no government grants at that time and her parents could not possibly afford her books and clothes so she needed and wanted to contribute to the families needs. She began working as a kitchen maid because she hated needlework and every other job in these homes required some mending skills. She worked at various homes, some much more pleasant than others, and tells the story of how the wealthy class treated servants through the transition of war and then the end of the era of servants in England. Life was very hard and the striking inequalities in the social classes seems so tragic. Margaret was especially hurt by one mistress that criticized her for not using a silver salver to present a newspaper, “Tears started to trickle down my cheeks; that someone could think that you were so low that you couldn’t even hand them anything out of your hands without it first being placed on a silver salver”. Margaret became quite a good cook but found that once she married she could not put her skills to use because they could not afford the expensive ingredients she was accustomed to using. Below Stairs is available at Manhattan Public Library as well as the Downton Abby and Upstairs, Downstairs dvds.
There are numerous books recounting Lincoln’s assassination at the hands of John Wilkes Booth, but My Thoughts Be Bloody by Nora Titone puts a whole new spin on it. Instead of focusing on the conspiracy itself or the manhunt after the tragic deed, Titone takes an in-depth look at John Wilkes Booth’s background and what could have possibly motivated him to assassinate a president. Titone’s premise is that Booth’s dysfunctional family heavily contributed to his motivation to murder Lincoln. John Wilkes and his siblings grew up as illegitimate children of Junius and Mary Ann Booth. Junius Brutus Booth was something of a genius and a famous actor, but also an alcoholic. John’s brother Edward, older by four years, became the most famous American actor of his generation. John Wilkes constantly lived in the shadow of his famous older brother and father as he attempted to become an actor himself. While inheriting the striking good looks of his father, John failed to inherit his talent for acting. He bumbles along from one stage performance to the next, seemingly in denial of his lack of talent. He becomes increasingly caught up in the South’s fate in the Civil War while tensions with his older brother also escalate. Titone presents a fascinating look into the psyche and family dynamics of Booth and uses the Booth family’s own words whenever possible to tell the story. Equally interesting are all the facts Titone presents about the life of actors during the 19th century.
After a lackluster performance at Parsons School of Design, Tiel and her closest classmate, Mia Fonssagrives, headed off to Paris to make their names as dress designers in 1964. They knew little about the industry or the intense competition, but they were adventurous and enthusiastic and young, and so disappointments had little effect on their ambitions or their social lives.
Luck was with them. They focused their talents on mini-dresses, jumpsuits and evening wear, and began establishing a reputation when Woody Allen commissioned their costuming talents for his film, What’s New, Pussycat? Along the way, they began designing clothing for stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Goldie Hawn and Raquel Welsh. And they were routinely included in social circles that boasted names like Martha Stewart, Miles Davis, and Faye Dunaway.
Tiel has a great memory for the wild times of her past, and she recounts almost unbelievable stories with a sassy humor. She tells us, for example, how Brigitte Bardot chose her evening’s sexual partners from winning sprinters in random foot races. She tells of Marlon Brando’s teasing comments as she measured him for a film costume. She recalls lavish feasts accompanied by vintage wines, like a particular evening spent in Michael Goldman’s cellar guzzling Chateau d’Yquem 1959 and Mouton Rothschild 1945. She openly discusses the foolish adventures that she attempted, like her ill-planned drive into the territory of Jordan, days after the 1967 Six-Day War. She also speaks freely of her own liaisons and lists details of her seduction techniques.
If you wish to read this romp of a book, but want to justify it with a worthwhile consideration, there are the recipes Tiel includes. Sophia Loren’s pasta or Elizabeth Taylor’s caviar ‘sandwiches’ are highlights of the chapters, as is Dorian Leigh’s plain & simple vinaigrette. And there are the rules of eating that Tiel insists supermodels of Paris follow, rules like never drink anything carbonated and always eat vegetable and fruits skins.
Even more interesting are the little “life lessons” that Tiel has picked up from celebrities over the years. From Coco Chanel, for instance, we read that designers must create something classic that can be worn forever, and they must network in life without shame. Martha Stewart told Tiel that one can turn a failed marriage into a good thing. Miles Davis urged Tiel to surround herself with young people to stay forever young. Kim Novak told Tiel to go barefoot and feel the earth between her toes. And you won’t want to miss Tiel’s advice in which she urges readers to go into business without a backer because backers may want to dictate or fire those they back.
Perhaps the best lesson to be learned from the book is Tiel’s wonderful ability to avoid taking herself too seriously. In the opening of the book she recalls observing two young ladies examining one of the Vicky Tiel designer gowns in Bergdorf Goodman’s. One of two exclaims, “Vicky Tiel? Isn’t she dead yet?” Tiel was delighted with the exchange, and reminded herself that there is much to be learned from watching others. Her enthusiasm and wicked sense of humor make for terrific light reading.
Kamila Sidiqui is an Afghani teacher whose life was changed drastically in the 1990′s when Taliban forces took over the city of Kabul. Kamila’s family was forced to separate–her parents leave for the northern provinces in fear for their lives, as her father had supported a previous government. Her older brother flees to Pakistan to avoid being forced to join the Taliban army, leaving Kamila, her sisters and younger brother in Kabul, as it is too dangerous for women to travel. With strict rules enforced by the Taliban, women who previously held positions in government or jobs teaching or in hospitals, were no longer allowed to be outside in public without a male escort, and were forced to live their lives indoors. When outside their homes, they were forced to wear chadris, which covered them head to toe. As the violence in Kabul increases and the Taliban regime imposes more and more rules upon the citizens, Kamila realizes that they will not survive without an income with which to purchase the basic necessities. She learns to sew from her older sister, and they begin a dress making business in their home. As the word spreads about their business, more women ask to participate, wanting the opportunity to learn a trade and to support their families. Under the ever-present threat of discovery, Kamila and her family continue to build a business that helps to support and empower the women of her neighborhood.
The Dressmaker of Khair Khana is a fascinating look into the lives of women in war time, responsible for the support of their families, who have the courage and creativity to build a business under the watchful eye of the Taliban regime–an inspiring story of courage and resourcefulness.
I am almost afraid to pick up any book by Rick Bragg, because I know that once I read the first sentence I will immediately get lost in his story and not emerge until there’s nothing left. Even then, the words stick with me, floating through my mind for days. The Prince of Frogtown confirmed this fear for me. Bragg had briefly touched upon the story of his father in All Over But the Shoutin’ and Ava’s Man. Then, at the age of 40, Bragg becomes a stepfather to a young boy. This experience forces him to go back and search for who his father was. He has few memories himself, so he interviews relatives and old friends of this extremely complicated man, a Korean War veteran, raised in a notoriusly difficult family. We get to listen in as Bragg comes to terms with his father and learns what fatherhood is about. We also get to read some great storytelling.
Stranger than fiction may be a cliché, but it is one that succinctly describes many of my favorite non-fiction works. No book embodies this more than Angela Bourke’s The Burning of Bridget Cleary. This true story, set in 1895, is often referred to as Ireland’s last case of witch burning, but the reality of Bridget Cleary’s horrific murder was more complex. Believed by her husband and a group of extended family members to be a changeling – a sickly double or imposter left by the fairies in place of the real Bridget – the young dressmaker was burned to death in the hearth of her own cottage in an effort to release her from her captors and destroy the evil spirit that had taken her place. Bourke describes the crime and those whose lives were altered by it with vividness and compassion, and the story is both sad and fascinating, exploring as it does the explosive mixture of traditional folk beliefs, gender roles, and the societal changes of late nineteenth-century Ireland that combined to bring about such a tragic occurrence.
It has been quite the revolutionary year in politics for women. Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin have both made great strides in affecting how U.S. citizens think of a woman in our presidential role. But we shouldn’t neglect those who came before them.
In 1884 Belva Lockwood, an educator, lawyer and advocate for women’s rights became the first woman formally nominated for the U.S. presidency. This was five years after she was the first woman admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme court.
> Slaughterhouse Five was a touchstone work for a generation scarred by the Vietnam conflict. Now that the U.S. is again embroiled in a long cultural war, it’s fitting to hear one last time from Kurt Vonnegut. Armageddon In Retrospect, revisits the major themes of Vonnegut’s work–war and peace, good and evil. The short stories, speeches, and letters suit Vonnegut’s talents perfectly. As he aged, Vonnegut’s vision became at once more cynical and more compassionate.
In the introduction, Mark Vonnegut sums up his late father’s work with:
“If you can’t learn about reading and writing from Kurt, maybe you should be doing something else. His last words in the last speech he wrote are as good a way as any for him to say good-bye. ‘And I thank you for your attention, and I’m out of here.’”
Edmund Hillary, along with Sherpa Tenzig Norgay, were the first to summit of Mt. Everest on May 29, 1953. Hillary describes the climb in his book “High Adventure“. An unpretentious adventurer, Hillary was the first man to stand at both north and south poles as well as at the summit of Everest. He wrote 13 books in his lifetime and was a champion for conservation efforts.
Besides writing and lecturing, he formed the Sir Edmund Hillary Himalayan Trust, a foundation that has raised millions of dollars to build schools, hospitals, clinics and other facilities for the Sherpa villages in Nepal. Hillary lamented the commercialism of recent expeditions, expressing his criticism at the 50th anniversary of his climb in 2003.
Manhattan Public Library owns several books and videos about ascents of Everest and mountaineering–if you are interested in reading about Hillary, Everest or climbing, check our catalog for titles or ask at Reference.
And don’t forget–tomorrow (Tues. Jan. 22 at 7pm) is a discussion of Jon Krakauer’s gripping account of the disastrous Everest climbing season in 1996, “Into Thin Air“. Join That Book Club for Men for the discussion!
This isn’t so much a funny book, as a book about the art and science of being funny. Steve Martin developed a style of stand-up that was radical at the time. Blending magic, banjo, visual gags, and philosophical comments, it was sometimes closer to performance art than stand-up. Martin writes about his early influences, catching the political winds of the seventies, and honing his act through thousands of performances. He revolutionized stand-up comedy, went on to write for the Smothers Brothers then SNL, then quit at the height of his stand-up career.
Martin is acutely intelligent, self-aware, and objective about his fame. He once ended as gig with : “Well, we’ve had a good time tonight, considering we’re all going to die someday.” Maybe that’s as good as it gets for a performer.