Banned Books That Shaped America: To Kill a Mockingbird

The Library of Congress created an exhibit, “Books that Shaped America,” that explores books that “have had a profound effect on American life.” Many of the books in the exhibit have been banned/challenged.  Give yourself the gift of a beautiful story and read one and them imagine what your life would be like if you were never given that gift.

Fight censorship.

This book has quite possibly the very best opening page that I have ever read, it draws you in, creates a mystery, and makes you want to know everything.  Even if the rest of the book was a complete brick, that first initial burst of energy would be enough to propel the story for the next several hundred pages.  Buy a used copy of this book, reacquaint yourself with Scout and the rest of the characters, then give it to someone you know will love it.

When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. When it healed, and Jem’s fears of never being able to play football were assuaged, he was seldom self-conscious about his injury. His left arm was somewhat shorter than his right; when he stood or walked, the back of his hand was at right angles to his body, his thumb parallel to his thigh. He couldn’t have cared less, so long as he could pass and punt.

When enough years had gone by to enable us to look back on them, we sometimes discussed the events leading to his accident. I maintain that the Ewells started it all, but Jem, who was four years my senior, said it started long before that. He said it began the summer Dill came to us, when Dill first gave us the idea of making Boo Radley come out.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, 1960

Harper Lee’s great American tome stands as proof positive that the censorious impulse is alive and well in our country, even today. For some educators, the Pulitzer-prize winning book is one of the greatest texts teens can study in an American literature class. Others have called it a degrading, profane and racist work that “promotes white supremacy.”

 

Scout Finch lives with her brother, Jem, and their widowed father, Atticus, in the sleepy Alabama town of Maycomb. Maycomb is suffering through the Great Depression, but Atticus is a prominent lawyer and the Finch family is reasonably well off in comparison to the rest of society. One summer, Jem and Scout befriend a boy named Dill, who has come to live in their neighborhood for the summer, and the trio acts out stories together. Eventually, Dill becomes fascinated with the spooky house on their street called the Radley Place. The house is owned by Mr. Nathan Radley, whose brother, Arthur (nicknamed Boo), has lived there for years without venturing outside.

Scout goes to school for the first time that fall and detests it. She and Jem find gifts apparently left for them in a knothole of a tree on the Radley property. Dill returns the following summer, and he, Scout, and Jem begin to act out the story of Boo Radley. Atticus puts a stop to their antics, urging the children to try to see life from another person’s perspective before making judgments. But, on Dill’s last night in Maycomb for the summer, the three sneak onto the Radley property, where Nathan Radley shoots at them. Jem loses his pants in the ensuing escape. When he returns for them, he finds them mended and hung over the fence. The next winter, Jem and Scout find more presents in the tree, presumably left by the mysterious Boo. Nathan Radley eventually plugs the knothole with cement. Shortly thereafter, a fire breaks out in another neighbor’s house, and during the fire someone slips a blanket on Scout’s shoulders as she watches the blaze. Convinced that Boo did it, Jem tells Atticus about the mended pants and the presents.

To the consternation of Maycomb’s racist white community, Atticus agrees to defend a black man named Tom Robinson, who has been accused of raping a white woman. Because of Atticus’s decision, Jem and Scout are subjected to abuse from other children, even when they celebrate Christmas at the family compound on Finch’s Landing. Calpurnia, the Finches’ black cook, takes them to the local black church, where the warm and close-knit community largely embraces the children.

Atticus’s sister, Alexandra, comes to live with the Finches the next summer. Dill, who is supposed to live with his “new father” in another town, runs away and comes to Maycomb. Tom Robinson’s trial begins, and when the accused man is placed in the local jail, a mob gathers to lynch him. Atticus faces the mob down the night before the trial. Jem and Scout, who have sneaked out of the house, soon join him. Scout recognizes one of the men, and her polite questioning about his son shames him into dispersing the mob.

At the trial itself, the children sit in the “colored balcony” with the town’s black citizens. Atticus provides clear evidence that the accusers, Mayella Ewell and her father, Bob, are lying: in fact, Mayella propositioned Tom Robinson, was caught by her father, and then accused Tom of rape to cover her shame and guilt. Atticus provides impressive evidence that the marks on Mayella’s face are from wounds that her father inflicted; upon discovering her with Tom, he called her a whore and beat her. Yet, despite the significant evidence pointing to Tom’s innocence, the all-white jury convicts him. The innocent Tom later tries to escape from prison and is shot to death. In the aftermath of the trial, Jem’s faith in justice is badly shaken, and he lapses into despondency and doubt.

Despite the verdict, Bob Ewell feels that Atticus and the judge have made a fool out of him, and he vows revenge. He menaces Tom Robinson’s widow, tries to break into the judge’s house, and finally attacks Jem and Scout as they walk home from a Halloween party. Boo Radley intervenes, however, saving the children and stabbing Ewell fatally during the struggle. Boo carries the wounded Jem back to Atticus’s house, where the sheriff, in order to protect Boo, insists that Ewell tripped over a tree root and fell on his own knife. After sitting with Scout for a while, Boo disappears once more into the Radley house.

Later, Scout feels as though she can finally imagine what life is like for Boo. He has become a human being to her at last. With this realization, Scout embraces her father’s advice to practice sympathy and understanding and demonstrates that her experiences with hatred and prejudice will not sully her faith in human goodness.

Banned Books That Shaped America: The Jungle

The Library of Congress created an exhibit, “Books that Shaped America,” that explores books that “have had a profound effect on American life.” Many of the books in the exhibit have been banned/challenged.  Give yourself the gift of a beautiful story and read one and them imagine what your life would be like if you were never given that gift.

Fight censorship.

The Jungle, Upton Sinclair, 1906

For decades, American students have studied muckraking and yellow journalism in social studies lessons about the industrial revolution, with The Jungle headlining the unit.  And yet, the dangerous and purportedly socialist views expressed in the book and Sinclair’s Oil led to its being banned in Yugoslavia, East Germany, South Korea and Boston.  Good job Boston!

 

Upton Sinclair was born on September 20, 1878, in Baltimore, Maryland. His family had once belonged to the southern aristocracy but, at Sinclair’s birth, the family hovered near poverty. Sinclair graduated from high school early and enrolled in the City College of New York at the age of fourteen. When he was fifteen, he began writing to support himself and help pay his college expenses. During his college years, Sinclair encountered socialist philosophy, the influence of which is evident in his writing throughout his life, and became an avid supporter of the Socialist Party. After he graduated from college, he enrolled in Columbia University as a graduate student in 1897.

Sinclair published five novels between 1901 and 1906, but none of them generated much income. Late in 1904, the editors of the popular socialist newspaper Appeal to Reason sent Sinclair to Chicago to examine the lives of stockyard workers. He spent seven weeks in the city’s meatpacking plants, learning every detail about the work itself, the home lives of workers, and the structure of the business. The Jungle was born from this research and was first published in serial form in Appeal to Reason. The first few publishers whom Sinclair approached told him that his novel was too shocking, and he financed a first publication of the book himself. Eventually, however, Sinclair did find a willing commercial publisher, and in 1906, The Jungle was published in its entirety.

With the instant success of The Jungle, Sinclair took his place in the ranks of the “muckrakers,” a term that Theodore Roosevelt coined in 1906 to refer to a group of journalists who devoted themselves to exposing the ills of industrialization. The Jungle raised a public outcry against the unhealthy standards in the meatpacking industry and provoked the passage of The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. No novel since Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, first published in 1851, had made such a social impact. The novel’s success satisfied Sinclair’s financial concerns but not his political motivations for writing it. Sinclair had intended the novel to elicit sympathy for the working class and build support for the Socialist movement. His readership, however, was more moved by the threat of tainted beef than the plight of the worker. Sinclair tried to translate the success of The Jungle into large-scale social change by building a utopian colony in New Jersey with the profits from the novel, but the colony burned down four months after its inception.

In 1911, Sinclair divorced his first wife and married Mary Craig Kimbrough, a writer. They moved to California, where Sinclair continued to write in support of socialism. During the Great Depression, Sinclair organized the End Poverty in California movement. In 1934, he ran as a democrat in an unsuccessful campaign to become California’s governor. During the 1940s, he returned to writing fiction. He enjoyed a revival in popularity and won a Pulitzer Prize for Dragon’s Teeth, a novel dealing with Nazism in Germany.

Sinclair and his wife moved to a small town in Arizona in the 1950s. After Kimbrough died in 1961, Sinclair married again. His third wife died in 1967, and Sinclair died in 1968. Though he published more than eighty books after The Jungle, he is most remembered for this novel. In the aftermath of the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact, and the Berlin Wall, the novel’s idealistic glorification of socialism may seem naïve, but the novel remains an important social record of the psychology of American capitalism in the early twentieth century.

Happy Birthday Jean Harlow

Today is the 104th birthday of the original blonde bombshell:  Jean Harlow.  It is amazing to think that someone can die at 26 over 70 years ago and the world can still adore her.  Watch a few of her films and the biopic Harlow with Caroll Baker, you will become a lifelong fan.  Some people just have IT, although IT never gets any better defined than that.  Just something that draws us moths to their flame, something that we see, admire, perhaps even aspire to, but IT is something that attracts us on a biological level.  The world is a better place because she was in it and still feels the loss that she left.

 

NAME: Jean Harlow
OCCUPATION: Film Actress, Pin-up
BIRTH DATE: March 03, 1911
DEATH DATE: June 07, 1937
PLACE OF BIRTH: Kansas City, Missouri
PLACE OF DEATH: Los Angeles, California
ORIGINALLY: Harlean Carpenter

BEST KNOWN FOR: Jean Harlow was an American actress who proved herself a platinum-blonde sex-symbol and able comedian in 1930s Hollywood.

Jean Harlow (March 3, 1911 – June 7, 1937) was an American film actress and sex symbol of the 1930s. Known as the “Blonde Bombshell” and the “Platinum Blonde” (due to her platinum blonde hair), Harlow was ranked as one of the greatest movie stars of all time by the American Film Institute. Harlow starred in several films, mainly designed to showcase her magnetic sex appeal and strong screen presence, before making the transition to more developed roles and achieving massive fame under contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). Harlow’s enormous popularity and “laughing vamp” image were in distinct contrast to her personal life, which was marred by disappointment, tragedy, and ultimately her sudden death from renal failure at the age of 26.

Harlow wrote a novel, entitled Today is Tonight. According to Arthur Landau in his introduction to the 1965 paperback edition, Harlow stated her intention to write the book around 1933–1934, but it was not published during her lifetime. After her death, Landau writes, her mother sold the film rights to MGM, but no film was made. The publication rights to the novel were passed from Harlow’s mother to a family friend and the book was finally published in 1965.

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Happy Birthday Alexander Graham Bell

Today is the 168th birthday of Alexander Graham Bell.  Your life today is different and better because of his inventions.  The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.

NAME: Alexander Graham Bell
OCCUPATION: Educator, Linguist, Inventor, Scientist
BIRTH DATE: March 03, 1847
DEATH DATE: August 02, 1922
EDUCATION: Edinburgh Royal High School, Edinburgh University, University College in London
PLACE OF BIRTH: Edinburgh, Scotland
PLACE OF DEATH: Cape Breton Island, Canada

BEST KNOWN FOR: Alexander Graham Bell was one of the primary inventors of the telephone, did important work in communication for the deaf and held over 18 patent.

Alexander Graham Bell (March 3, 1847 – August 2, 1922) was an eminent scientist, inventor, engineer and innovator who is credited with inventing the first practical telephone.

Bell’s father, grandfather, and brother had all been associated with work on elocution and speech, and both his mother and wife were deaf, profoundly influencing Bell’s life’s work. His research on hearing and speech further led him to experiment with hearing devices which eventually culminated in Bell being awarded the first US patent for the telephone in 1876. In retrospect, Bell considered his most famous invention an intrusion on his real work as a scientist and refused to have a telephone in his study.

Many other inventions marked Bell’s later life, including groundbreaking work in optical telecommunications, hydrofoils and aeronautics. In 1888, Alexander Graham Bell became one of the founding members of the National Geographic Society. Bell has been described as one of the most influential figures in human history.

Honors and tributes flowed to Bell in increasing numbers as his most famous invention became ubiquitous and his personal fame grew. Bell received numerous honorary degrees from colleges and universities, to the point that the requests almost became burdensome. During his life he also received dozens of major awards, medals and other tributes. These included statuary monuments to both him and the new form of communication his telephone created, notably the Bell Telephone Memorial erected in his honor in Brantford, Ontario‘s Alexander Graham Bell Gardens in 1917.

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss

Today is the 111th birthday of a man considered to be the most popular children’s book writer in American history, the best-selling children’s book writer of all time, and a man who revolutionized the way children learned to read: Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss.  I have been obsessed with “The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.” since watching it one christmas at my mother’s house.  It is insane.    I am not the only fan, there are legions of them, many honoring him with similarly-rhythmed writing.  What David Rakoff did in his book Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish: A Novel is brilliant.   You can listen to some of it read (it is absolutely best when read by the author) in an episode  for This American Life called “Oh The Places You Won’t Go” (TAL Show #470:  Show Me The Way).   You can listen to it here and I truly wish you would.  The world is a better place because he was in it and still feel the loss that he has left.

drseusswartime1

NAME: Theodor “Ted” Seuss Geisel
OCCUPATION: Illustrator, Author
BIRTH DATE: March 02, 1904
DEATH DATE: September 24, 1991
EDUCATION: Dartmouth College, University of Oxford
PLACE OF BIRTH: Springfield, Massachusetts
PLACE OF DEATH: La Jolla, California

Best Known For:  Throughout his career, cartoonist and writer Dr. Seuss published 60 children’s books, including The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham.

Today is the 110th birthday of a man considered to be the most popular children’s book writer in American history, the best-selling children’s book writer of all time, and a man who revolutionized the way children learned to read: Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, on this day in 1904. He’s the author of more than 60 children’s books, including Horton Hears a Who! (1954), One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish (1960), Green Eggs and Ham (1960), Hop on Pop (1963), Oh, the Thinks You Can Think! (1975), The Butter Battle Book (1984), and of course, The Cat in the Hat (1957).

“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

He was the grandson of German immigrants, a lifelong Lutheran, a Dartmouth graduate, and an Oxford dropout. His mom was 6 feet tall and 200 pounds, a competitive platform high diver who read him bedtime stories every night. His dad inherited a brewery from his own German immigrant father a month before Prohibition began in the U.S., and eventually became a zookeeper who took young Theodor with him to work. The future Dr. Seuss grew up around the zoo, running around in the cages with baby lions and baby tigers.
At Dartmouth, he majored in English and wrote for the campus humor magazine. But one night he was caught drinking gin with some friends; since this was during Prohibition, it was an illegal act. The Dartmouth administration did not expel him, but as a disciplinary punishment, they did make him resign from all of his extracurricular activities, including the humor magazine, of which he was the editor-in-chief. From then on, he wrote for the magazine subversively, signing his work with his mother’s maiden name, Seuss.
His mother’s family pronounced it “Soise,” the way it’s said in Germany, but people in the States kept mispronouncing it Seuss. He eventually embraced the Anglican mispronunciation: After all, it rhymed with Mother Goose, not a bad thing for an aspiring children’s book writer.

In 1937, he published his first children’s book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, which he said was inspired by the rhythms of a steamliner cruiser he was on. He wrote the book, and much of the rest of his life’s work, in rhyming anapestic meter, also called trisyllabic meter. The meter is very alluring and catchy, and Seuss’s masterful use of it is a big part of why his books are so enjoyable to read. The meter is made up of two weak beats followed by a stressed syllable — da da DUM da da DUM da da DUM da da DUM, as in “And today the Great Yertle, that Marvelous he / Is King of the Mud. That is all he can see.”

A big study came out in the 1950s called “Why Johnny Can’t Read.” It was by an Austrian immigrant to the U.S., an education specialist who argued that the Dick and Jane primers being used to teach reading in grade school classrooms across America were boring and, worse, not an effective method for teaching reading. He called them “horrible, stupid, emasculated, pointless, tasteless little readers,” which went “through dozens and dozens of totally unexciting middle-class, middle-income, middle-IQ children’s activities that offer opportunities for reading ‘Look, look’ or ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘Come, come’ or ‘See the funny, funny animal.'”

William Spaulding, a publisher from Houghton Mifflin’s educational division, thought that maybe a guy named Dr. Seuss, who’d published a few not-well-known but very imaginative children’s books, might be able to write a book that would be really good for teaching kids how to read. He invited Dr. Seuss to dinner and said, “Write me a story that first-graders can’t put down!”

Dr. Seuss spent nine months composing The Cat in the Hat. It uses just 220 different words and is 1,702 words long. He was a meticulous reviser, and he once said: “Writing for children is murder. A chapter has to be boiled down to a paragraph. Every word has to count.”

Within a year of publication, The Cat in the Hat was selling 12,000 copies a month; within five years, it had sold a million copies.

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Happy Birthday Desi Arnaz

Today is the 98th birthday of Desi Arnaz.  His talent and comedic timing often are overshadowed by Lucy’s loudness, I believe by design.  To say that without him there would not have been a Lucy is an exaggeration, but there would not have been the iconic I Love Lucy.  Not in the way we still watch it today.  The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.

 

NAME: Desi Arnaz
OCCUPATION: Film Actor, Television Actor, Musician
BIRTH DATE: March 02, 1917
DEATH DATE: December 02, 1986
DID YOU KNOW?: Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball gave birth to their actual son Desi Arnaz, Jr. on January 19, 1953, the same day that they gave birth to Little Ricky on the series I Love Lucy.
PLACE OF BIRTH: Santiago, Cuba
PLACE OF DEATH: Del Mar, California

BEST KNOWN FOR:  Desi Arnaz was a Cuban-born actor and musician who is remembered for his marriage to Lucille Ball and their TV show, I Love Lucy.

Actor and musician Desiderio Alberto Arnaz III was born on March 2, 1917, in Santiago, Cuba. Born to a wealthy family, the Arnazes fled Cuba for Miami after a revolution in 1933. After working a number of odd jobs to help support the family, Desi got his first musician’s gig as a guitarist for the Siboney Septet.

After working briefly for Xavier Cugat in New York, Arnaz returned to Miami to lead a combo of his own and introduce the Conga Line to American audiences. It was such a hit, both locally and nationally, that Arnaz returned to New York to start his own band. He was offered a role in the 1939 Broadway musical Too Many Girls and later starred in Hollywood’s film version. It was there that he met his future wife, Lucille Ball. They were married in 1940.

Arnaz made three more films before being inducted into the Army during WWII. During his two years in the service, he was responsible for entertaining the troops. He formed a new orchestra after being discharged and recorded several hits during the late 1940s. During this time he served as orchestra leader on Bob Hope’s radio show from 1946 to 1947.

In 1949, Arnaz turned his efforts to developing the hit television series I Love Lucy, which ran for six years on CBS and became the most successful television program in history. Arnaz and Ball had a clear goal in mind when the series began development. Not only did they request the the show be shot on film as opposed to the cheaper kinescope, but they also retained full ownership of the program under their production company, Desilu Productions. The show aired in 1951.

The show touched on many personal and taboo issues of the time, including marriage and pregnancy. And as a couple both on and off camera, Arnaz and Ball’s show had parallells to their actual marriage, giving birth to their son on the show on the same day that Ball gave birth to their son in real life. The novelty of the series, coupled with Arnaz and Ball’s strong chemistry, proved to be a success. I Love Lucy became the No. 1 show in the country for four of its six seasons. The series ended in 1957.

Desi’s marriage to Lucille Ball ended in 1960. He retired from show business and eventually moved to Baja California with his second wife, Edith. He died in 1986 at the age of 69.

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The Philadelphia Story – Required Viewing

 

I absolutely adore The Philadelphia Story.  It has almost every one of my favorite classic Hollywood actors looking their most beautiful, it is directed by one of my very favorite classic Hollywood directors, it was produced by one of my very favorite classic Hollywood directors, it has snappy one-liners, and it has gallons of champagne.  You really really must watch it, as often as you can.

The Wiki:

The Philadelphia Story is a 1940 American romantic comedy film directed by George Cukor, starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and James Stewart and featuring Ruth Hussey. Based on the Broadway play of the same name by Philip Barry, the film is about a socialite (Hepburn) whose wedding plans are complicated by the simultaneous arrival of her ex-husband (Grant) and a tabloid magazine journalist (Stewart). Written for the screen by Donald Ogden Stewart and an uncredited Waldo Salt, it is considered one of the best examples of a comedy of remarriage, a genre popular in the 1930s and 1940s, in which a couple divorce, flirt with outsiders and then remarry – a useful story-telling ploy at a time when the depiction of extramarital affairs was blocked by the Production Code.

The film was Hepburn’s first big hit following several flops, which had led to her being included on a 1938 list that Manhattan movie theater owner Harry Brandt compiled of actors he considered to be “box office poison.” She acquired the film rights to the play, which she had also starred in, with the help of Howard Hughes, in order to control it as a vehicle for her movie comeback.

The film was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning two: Stewart for Best Actor and Donald Ogden Stewart for Best Adapted Screenplay. It was remade in 1956 as the musical High Society, starring Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong.

The film was produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry in 1995.