The genocide trial of former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Rios Montt, the Army general who ruled Guatemala from 1982 to 1983, ended May 10 with a landmark conviction of genocide and crimes against humanity for the 1982 massacre of 1700 Ixil Mayan Indians who were considered sympathetic to left-wing guerrillas. The two-month trial echoed another dark episode from US-Latin American affairs - the 1954 CIA coup that deposed Guatemala's reformist President and later provoked the thirty-six-year Guatemalan Civil War. The new catalog list of Latin America Historical Fiction doesn’t have a fictional account of the Guatemalan civil war, but there is a remarkable collection of short stories, River of Lost Voices, that chronicles life in the impoverished Guatemalan towns of Santa Cruz and nearby Coban, both close to where the massacres took place. Another book on the list, Lost City Radio, is set in a fictional South American nation (Peru) where guerrillas clashed with the government for years. The list of books begins with the 1500s and ends with a book set in Bogota, Bolivia in 2005. They are not all tales of violence. Try Gabriela Clove and Cinnamon to experience love in 1920s Brazil, or The News from Paraguay to learn about a country you may never have thought about. Mario Vargas Llosa has four books on the list, and two are my favorites. The Green House is an epic of life in Peru in the 1950s and Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter is an unforgettable semi-autobiographical novel.
Austin Public Library Blog
I was reading movie critic David Thomson’s latest, The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies (2012), and enjoying it so much that I checked out a bunch more of his books including The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood, but after a few pages of that one, I decided I'd had enough of Thomson's style for now. Maybe another time.
But I did get past the dedication page, and near it are some quotations from people involved in making movies, one of them Gore Vidal, who said “Find out the movies a man saw between ten and fifteen, which ones he liked, disliked, and you would have a pretty good idea of what sort of mind and temperament he has.” I’m sure Vidal meant women, too, so I checked Wikipedia (sorry library gods) for lists of movies made from 1966 through 1971, the years I turned 10 and 15.
My first revelation was that I don’t remember seeing many first-run movies before 1968. I must have, but the earliest, and one of the few that sticks, is Goldfinger, 1964, and I remember it not for gold lamé nudity, but for my sister and me in our jammies in the back of the car trying to sneak a peek at the drive-in screen through the bucket seats of my dad’s Grand Prix. I better remember watching old movies on our tiny Zenith portable TV with a wire hangar antenna, pliers for changing the channel, and a green-tinted screen, and I remember the jingle from KNXT in Los Angeles:
The Late Show / Relax enjoy a snack and watch / The Late Show / Channel 2 is proud to bring the greatest of stars / Here on the great Late Show
(I wish I could link to the tune for you, but it’s nowhere. If you come to the library and ask for me, I'll sing it to you, if you have a library card.)
Late-night movies in those days were beat-up prints from the 30s and 40s—the Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello, Basil Rathbone as Sherlock, Fred and Ginger, Errol Flynn buckling swash, Hope and Crosby, Dean and Jerry, and Bogie. Those movies affected my development; I freely admit I am a Marxist. But doing this exercise made me realize that until 1968 I was either too young, too broke, or too dumb to pay attention to new releases. After 1968 is a different story.
NEXT: Lists of movies. And don’t we all love those?
Many of you may know that this year is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice. Austen wrote the novel in 1797-98, originally calling it First Impressions. Her father attempted to have it published, but the manuscript was rejected. It was not until her first novel, Sense and Sensibility was published in 1812 that Pride and Prejudice was accepted. By that time, another author had published their novel called First Impressions. Austen found another title for her book from a quote in fellow female author Fanny Burney’s novel, Cecila. Thus Pride and Prejudice was born. The novel was an instant success and has proved to be her most popular novel.
While we know much about her life from records and her own letters, there are aspects of her life of which we know nothing because her sister destroyed letters after the author’s death in 1817 in order to protect family privacy. Scholars and authors can only speculate what the subjects of those letters were and what dimensions they could have added to our understanding of Jane Austen.
By Jane Austen:
Based on Jane Austen:
The Twitter feed “Fake Library Stats” recently tweeted “After complaining the pituitary glands of 63% of librarians secrete a hormone that is necessary to keep them alive.” Sure, there’s a stereotype that we librarians like to complain but we can also be overwhelmingly positive when it comes to resources we offer. And I’m about to be super positive about the fact that I just read a library book and did not enjoy it at all.
The Library’s Graphic Novel Book Club just finished reading and discussing Yuichi Yokoyama’s Garden. In Garden, a large group of people with strange masks and costumes on explore a strange garden and describe what they see in terse sentences. That goes on for 300 pages in which none of the characters are developed and nothing really happens in a conventional plot kind of way. As a result, I was feeling nervous before the meeting. I couldn’t think of a single productive thing to say about it. Worse, I was reminded of a frustrating, non-library book club meeting I’d attended to discuss Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore in which most participants could only comment on the weirdness of the novel. Was that going to be me?! After finishing the reading all I could think was, “Huh. Well. I just don’t . . . What?! I don’t get it. It’s weird.” Neither articulate nor a good way to start a conversation. I felt like I was missing something. But this is one of the best things to happen to a book club because it this case everyone felt the same way and was more than willing to talk about how much they disliked the reading experience and why. It turns out this makes for a much more fruitful conversations than when everyone unanimously enjoys a book. In those cases all you can do is say, “yeah, it was good. I liked the art and the characters and the story. Yup.”
I’m willing to consider the possibility that I really just didn’t get it. So give it a try for yourself and see! Maybe ask some friends to read it too. It might result in a heated debate if one of you loves it. Or, you might just have a pleasant time complaining about how annoying it was. Either way is pretty fun.
Side note: Graphic Novel Book Club is free and open to the public. We meet on the third Wednesday of every month at Jo's Coffee Downtown and you can find our reading list on the Events page of the Library's website.
The 2010 novel Anthill is a fictional account of an Alabama backwoods boy who grows up to be a Harvard lawyer fighting to save the woodlands of his childhood, the West Nokobee Tract at the edge of William Ziebach National Forest. It is a privately owned tract of longleaf pine savanna. It becomes his secret place and he bicycles into it every chance he gets to escape his parent's troubled marriage. The woodlands and the national forest are fictional but the ecology is not. Longleaf pine forests are the most diverse ecosystem in North America, with 500 species per square kilometer. In the novel, the eminent Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson tells a southern coming-of-age story while persuading Americans, and especially Southerners, to protect our vanishing natural environment and wildlife.
E.O Wilson also wrote the forward to Longleaf, Far as the Eye Can See: A New Vision of North America's Richest Forest which offers 11 essays on these forests, including numerous photographs that cultivate appreciation for the beauty of the tree itself; of the unique species it supports; and of the breathtaking landscape it creates.
Longleaf pine savanna is one of the only ecosystems that is both forest and meadow. The book reveals this dynamic system in panoramic images of golden light filtering through trees and illuminating long grasses beneath. And there's no shortage of close-ups. Longleaf was once so common that it was hardly remarked upon, and ecologists are only now beginning to understand the forest that once covered 90 million acres of North America and now covers only 3 million acres, some of it in Texas. The final sections of the book detail potential restoration solutions for the longleaf that remains. Longleaf is not a story of loss, but one of deep reverence for the grandeur and mystery of these regions.
Using your Austin Public Library card you can read both books together.