Banned in a small town

September 22 – 28 is the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week. In honor of the week, I am spotlighting the Movie, “Storm Center” (1956):

In cities and towns everywhere, there are those people who are checking the shelves of libraries and bookstores to find out if there is one of those books. Those books that have radical ideas. Ideas they don’t want others to discover. Because the ideas might pollute the minds of their fellow citizens or maybe their fellow citizens will discover the foolishness of these ideas.

Or maybe there’s some words in a book that might be bad. Books like the “n-word” in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. After all, George Orwell in his 1984 warned us that language can be manipulated.

Or maybe there’s a scene where the characters are doing something that’s “bad”, scenes like the ones in Ulysses or Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

In the movie, “Storm Center,” the Town Council of Small Town USA wants the local library director to get rid of one book, The Communist Dream. They are receiving letters from people that don’t like that one book. It’s the 1950s, and the communists are out to destroy us and our way of life. Just one book.

Alicia Hull, the library director, agrees that she’ll take the book off the shelves. in her office, she asks herself, and her employee, “How do you get rid of a book?”

She could burn it. But then she remembers that they burned books in Germany that the Nazis didn’t like. Then she remembers her principles. Even though it may cost her the children’s wing of the library, she won’t be bought off.

Back at the City Council, she stands by her principles. She will not remove the book. Then one of the Council brings up organizations she belonged to. He insinuates that she must be guilty by association. After all, this is the 1950s. Tailgunner Joe is running wild in Washington, pointing fingers at this one and that one, bringing down the high and the mighty with accusations of communism.

If her association with these organizations gets out, there’s no telling what will happen to her. They might even have to fire her. They can’t have their children associating with a librarian who is a communist.

Just remove that book. And any others the town council doesn’t approve of and everything will be a-okay.

First it was just one book. Now it’s two or three or ten or a hundred.

Alicia Hull refuses to remove the book. And so she suffers the consequences. What the town council doesn’t realize is that their decision will have ramifications for the whole community.

As Alicia Hull, Betty Davis delivers one of her best performances. The film may be dated. After all, people wear bibs as they eat their lunch in the movie. Still it has a powerful impact on the viewer when the viewer asks, “What if?”

Since the 1980s, the American Library Association has celebrated the freedom to read by honoring those books which are challenged or banned. So be a rebel and visit your local bookstore or library and check out a copy of one of those books. You’ll find a list on this page.

In Praise of the eReader

The eBook has taken a bad rap over the years. Like so many readers, I like the feel of a physical book myself. Especially if it’s a graphic novel or an art book or a book of photographs or a book that’s well designed. There’s nothing quite like cozying up to a good physical book. In fact, I have several book shelves stacked with “me beauties”. And I still enjoy browsing bookstores and libraries.

When the kindle and the nook first came on the market, I was resistant. I thought it was just a fad. There wasn’t going to be a large supply of eBooks. The eReader was going to be like that pet rock I adopted in the seventies. Boy, was I wrong.

After a bit, I downloaded the kindle app on my computer and gave it a try. I was surprised how much I enjoyed my experience. So I bought my first kindle and the experience didn’t hurt. It didn’t hurt at all. In fact, it was downright pleasurable. This was back in Ought-twelve. These days I carry my kindle everywhere the way I used to lug around books.

So here are ten reasons why I fell in love with the kindle and keep the affair going on.

1.Out-of-print books available.

2.Very portable.

3. Lightweight.

4. I don’t have to struggle to read at lunch at work. There’s no universal bookholder for paperbacks, large books and epic war-and-peacers.

5. My reading speed improved.

6.It’s an ecological thing to do. Think of all the trees saved.

7. Libraries have gotten on the bandwagon, offering eBooks through apps like Overdrive.

9. Price. Through programs like bookbub, very inexpensive books. Many of the classics are free.

10.Unpublished writers now have a chance to become successful authors.

So, as you can see, it’s not an either/or. I have the best of both worlds. The physical book for my sitting alone reading at home and the eBook for my carrying around reading and for research projects. Whoopee!! I am a happy camper. And may I wish all of you Happy Reading!

Maurice Micklewhite’s Road to Success

Hardcover: 288 pages Publisher: Hachette Books (October 23, 2018)

It’s only occasionally that I read autobiographies or memoirs but I was attracted to Michael Caine’s new book. It’s not just a memoir. It’s more of a philosophy on how to be a great actor. And it’s also a master class in life.

And I have to tell you this one was a delight to read. In addition to being a great actor, he is a pretty darned good writer too.

Some years ago I saw his lecture on “Acting in film.” It’s on DVD and I would highly recommend it. After seeing that film and reading this book, I have come to see just how hard acting on film is. It’s darned hard.

Despite all that seems glamorous about the profession, it isn’t all that glamorous. It’s only glamorous because we don’t see all the hard work that goes into the work.

Even though his lessons apply to acting, they can apply to any passion. “Find something you want to do and learn how to do it really well.”

For an English working class kid named Maurice Micklewhite, it didn’t look so good early on. But he had one thing going for him. He decided what he wanted to be when he grew up. An actor. And he stuck to that passion no matter what. There wasn’t an obstacle that was going to stop him. It’s as he writes, “No matter where you start in life, you can get up and out.” But “learn what you can from what you get.”

You want to be an actor and you can’t go to acting school? You want to be a writer and can’t afford writing lessons? Do what he did. As he points out, his main education came from two sources. “You couldn’t find two more richly educational surrogates than the cinema and the public library.”

And he lays it on the line that he didn’t expect it to be easy. Even when he was doing all right. In fact, doing all right didn’t mean an easy road ahead. Because he learned and he has kept learning the secrets they don’t tell you in acting school.

Secrets such as you’re always auditioning and nice guys do finish first. He once overheard a journalist ask his wife, “What first attracted you to Michael?” Her reply, “It was the way he treated his mother.”

And be easy to work with. As you can see, Michael Caine is a roll model for that lesson. He was so easy to work with directors and writers keep inviting him to the party.

Persevere and don’t take no for an answer. Use every thing along the way as an opportunity toward your passion. See your failures as opportunities and lessons to learn. “Discipline and a sense of purpose are more important than they have ever been.”

When you are invited to the party, be prepared. “Preparation, focus, hard work and resilence” are the elements which will get you through even the worst of situations. As he puts it, “luck favors the prepared.” At one point, he is asked, “What is your secret to success?” His answer, “Survival.”

Of course, there’s tales of his relationships with many of his colleagues in the industry, colleagues like Sean Connery and Roger Moore. His insights working with directors like Christopher Nolan.

But this is more than a recipe to career success. This is a recipe for a long lasting marriage. He’s been married to Shakira for forty-six years. And it’s a recipe for a good life.

I will leave you with two final pieces of advice from philosopher Michael Caine: “The only way to be sure you never fail is never to do anything at all. And the only way to really, truly fail is not to learn from your failures. Any time you learn from a failure, it’s a success.”

“In the end…find what you love, and do it as well as you can. Pursue your dream and, even if you never catch it, you’ll enjoy the chase. The rest comes down to luck, timing and God: even if you don’t believe in him, he believes in you. And when all of that runs out, use the difficulty.”

I give a two thumbs up to that.

 

Book Review: “The President’s Hat”

The President's Hat

By Antoine Laurain
209 pages,
Publisher: Gallic Books, March 28, 2013

Summer’s good for light reading entertainment. And The President’s Hat just fits that bill.And it will charm your socks off.

The President’s Hat is not the hat of Donald Trump or Barack Obama. Not the hat of George W. Bush or Bill Clinton. It is the hat of Francois Mitterand, President of France during the 1980s.

Antoine Laurain’s story is how four different individuals come into possession of the extra special hat. A hat that can do magic for its wearer.

The story begins with Daniel Mercier. He is a low level bureaucrat. His wife and son are out of town, so he’s been batching it. The night before they return, he decides to splurge. He goes out to eat. While he’s enjoying his meal, the President of France takes a table next to his. Mitterand is joined by two other men.

He overhears Mitterand say, “As I was saying to Helmut Kohl last week…” “Never again, he told himself, would he be able to eat oysters without hearing those words: ‘As I was saying to Helmut Kohl last week.'” (p.20) For the next two and a half hours, Daniel makes his fish platter last so that he can let Mitterand’s person shine on him. He has never been that close to fame before.

Unfortunately Mitterand forgets his black homburg. Daniel takes it. This act changes not only his life. It changes the lives of a semi-professional writer Fanny Marquant’s, a perfumer Pierre Aslan, and the conservative upper class Bernard Lavalliere as they come into possession of the hat.

Bernard Lavalliere’s attitude about so many things change. He goes to a party he wouldn’t have been caught dead at in his previous life.

Riding in a Rolls-Royce on the way to the party: “It was one of those nights that take you back to the magical nights of youth, filled with fun, freedom and boundary breaking–the kind of nights that naturally exist only in your imagination. The makers of this track were at the top of the charts, he was riding in a Rolls-Royce to meet the high priest of publicity and the man behind the wheel could knock any price down by thirty per cent. Winners, all of them.” (p. 155)

At the party: “Leaving the three of them to squabble over the mysterious painter, Bernard picked up another glass of champagne and turned his mind back to his ancestor. Charles-Eduard was a shrewd character, no doubt about, but in common with many of his peers, the Impressionists had completely passed him by. A single Money, a single Renoir–not to mention a Gauguin or a Van Gogh–would now be worth a hundred times the legacy he had built up over his lifetime. The Lavallieres had displayed a dubious penchant for paintings of ruins–as  far as the romantic landscapes went, they had it covered–but had never had the sense to invest in anything of artistic worth. A repulsive image came into his mind: the little landscape with its broken clock.” (p. 158)

This is a tale about how an object can change your life. It reminded me of a story of mine that I had posted called “Edna’s Feet“.

And there’s lots of French cuisine in this short novel. Since I’m not a gourmand, I wasn’t sure what many of the food’s dishes were. But they were delightful. The characters sure enjoyed them.

And I sure enjoyed the book.

Uncle Bardie’s Creator Spotlight: Ken Burns & The Vietnam War

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Creator is Ken Burns and his magnificent 10-part documentary series, “The Vietnam War” (2017):

The Vietnam War

By Geoffrey C. Ward & Ken Burns 637 Pages Publisher: Knopf September 5, 2017

It seems to be ancient history now. But it’s only forty-four years since the fall of Saigan when the last Americans left. Ken Burns in his ten-part documentary and his book with Geoffrey Ward have parted the curtain that divides then and now. And America left behind a country and a war that costs the lives of over fifty-eight thousand Americans and three million Vietnamese. And countless others who were injured and crippled.

Unlike his other series, this is a series about a disaster. And Ken Burns reveals just how much of a disaster. A disaster that lasted for twenty years from 1955 – 1975. Why didn’t the United States just have the good sense to get the hell out?

First of all, it was over dominoes. President Eisenhower believed that if Vietnam fell to the communists of North Vietnam, it would be the first of a series of Southeast Asian countries–Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, maybe even India–to fall to communism like dominoes.

Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon knew that it was a no-win proposition. So why didn’t they just get out? Because they didn’t want to be the first Presidents to be straddled with losing a war. And the generals were like the generals of World War I. They didn’t have a strategy to win.

Without a strategy to win, their mantra became “More. More. More.” Give us more troops. More toys. More time. We’ve got this devil under control. Till we had a half million troops in Vietnam and had spent billions, almost bankrupting the country. And the American people said, “Enough is enough.”

If the American strategy was “More,” the South Vietnamese strategy was “leave us the hell alone.” Just give us the support we need to win what we see as a Civil War. For the North Vietnamese, it was a war of national liberation. They had kicked out the French. And they were intent on getting the “Yankees” to go home. Their strategy to accomplish this was “Adapt. Adapt. Adapt.”

Ken Burns begins his story with Ho Chi Minh. In 1919, before he was a communist, he went to the Paris Peace Conference, asking that Vietnam be independent. Mostly his request was ignored. Only the French commented and their comment was “No.”

From then on, he gives us a narrative filled with primary sources and interviews from all sides. From American diplomats and decision makers. From Americans who served in Vietnam. From the journalists who covered the War. From the anit-war protesters. From the South Vietnamese who lived and fought it. And from the North Vietnamese. And like Ken Burns’ document series of “The Civil War”, the viewer–and the reader—get a perspective of the War we may never have had if Burns had not tackled it.

I had not seen the series when it first appeared on PBS. I wasn’t ready to grasp the confusion, the horror, the divisions of the War. Recently I’ve been working on a Sixties project for work, and I thought it was time I made the effort.

In the past, I have only watched the Burns’s series. This time I thought it might be a good exercise to read the book while I watched the series. I am glad I did. Much of the book was the same as the documentary. But there were times when the documentary presented things that weren’t in the book and vice versa for the series.

For instance, the Tet Offensive was covered in depth in the documentary. But the narrative of the Offensive in the book made much more of an impact.

So I highly recommend that this exercise be tried. Not only for the Vietnam War, but also for other Burns series.

It was a process that took me a month. At the end of the whole process, I walked away from the War with four feelings. The first was I wanted to know more. The second was a feeling of tremendous sadness. A third, the impact of the Wall in Washington, DC, not only on the veterans and their families. But also on the anti-war protesters.

One of the lessons that came out of the series, for me, was the veterans from both sides who had forgiven their enemies. It made me realize that there is only one way forward. it is not hate that will save us all. It is friendship and forgiveness.