There's been plenty of talk about “Top of the Morning,” journalist Brian Stelter's inside look at TV's morning news shows. But when it comes to book critics, not all of the words have been kind.
“Top of the Morning,” which hit bookshelves today, aims to examine the “cutthroat world of morning TV,” according to the book’s subtitle. Grand Central, the book's publisher, calls the exposé “a gripping look at the most competitive time slot in television, complete with Machiavellian booking wars and manic behavior by the producers, executives, and stars."
The book is released following the firing of “Today” co-host Ann Curry by NBC. It also details “Good Morning America”’s attempt to defeat “Today” in the ratings struggle as well as “GMA”’s Robin Roberts’ battle with MDS (myelodysplastic syndrome).
Stelter is a New York Times reporter, but even the NYT wasn’t enamored of the book, with reviewer Ed Bark complaining that it “ends up being like a breakfast made not quite to order” and saying that the book has “more than a little overblown prose, some of it just plain silly.” Bark does suggest, however, that Stelter is “just 27, so there’s ample time really to get the hang of this.”
Bark also notes that both “Today” anchor Matt Lauer and Curry declined to be interviewed, which necessarily limits the access to the story of Curry’s departure.
Entertainment Weekly reviewer Henry Goldblatt also found the lack of direct quotes from Lauer and Curry disappointing, opining that while the book's jacket compares “Top of the Morning” to writer Bill Carter’s books about TV, including “The Late Shift,” there's a big difference between the work of Stelter and that of Carter.
“In Carter’s books, you get the sense that the author was in the room when big decisions were made,” Goldblatt wrote. “In Stelter’s debut, you get the sense that he was staring at his smartphone.”
In addition, Goldblatt found Stelter’s prose distasteful, writing of his “Hemingwayesque sentences (in length, not substance), hackneyed analogies (Today is Coke! Good Morning America is Pepsi!), and antipathy for the medium he covers.” Stelter “seems to have a vendetta against Lauer,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, Hollywood Reporter writer Andy Lewis said the book “flops.”
“Stelter is at his best when he lets the story carry itself, offering a fly-on-the-wall view of key moments (including the drama of Curry’s last day),” Lewis wrote. “Still, his enthusiasm often gets the better of him, and the purple prose, strangely dated analogies (the Today-GMA rivalry is like 1971’s Ali-Frazier fight) and fondness For Capitalizing For Emphasis overwhelm the story.”
Lewis was also displeased that the book’s hype presented some of the details inside as Stelter’s own.
“Stelter conducted about 350 interviews, but many details and quotes have been reported in the Times and elsewhere, including by THR,” he wrote.
The event is being held in America this year for the second year in a row. Germany also held its first Book Night last year, while the UK and Ireland kicked off their celebrations for the first time in 2011.
On World Book Night, volunteers hand out free copies of any of 20 pre-selected books to friends, family members, and strangers on the street, all in an attempt to get the public reading. A committee of librarians and those involved in the bookselling business choose the titles to be distributed each year, and for 2013, the books being handed out include titles as varied as “Moneyball” by Michael Lewis; “Bossypants” by Tina Fey; “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood; “Still Alice” by Lisa Genova; and “Good Omens” by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.
Joining in the 2013 celebration will be a Broadway show. At tonight’s performance of the current Broadway revival of the musical “Annie” – which tells the story of a plucky orphan living during the Depression – books will be given to each audience member with a ticket. The books' recipients will be encouraged to pass them along to someone who isn’t necessarily drawn to reading. The three books chosen for distribution at "Annie" – “The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster; “The Lightning Thief” by Rick Riordan; and “Looking for Alaska” by John Green – were picked because they were viewed as titles capable of luring in wary readers.
Naturally, however, different titles appeal to different types of readers. In St. Louis, bookstore worker Katie Stepanek of The Book House told the St. Louis Dispatch that volunteers who were coming in to pick up books to distribute were most often asking for “Good Omens” and “The Lightning Thief.”
Volunteers took to Twitter today to express their happiness about the celebration.
User @jenriosburns tweeted her support for her fellow participants.
According to World Book Night’s website, hundreds of kick-off events and celebrations of those who are giving out books will be held today all over the world.
Wondering what’s going on in your area? Check out World Book Night’s events page.
Just after World War II, Texas City – next to Galveston and not far from Houston – was the boom-iest of boom towns. The population was zooming skyward thanks to an influx of workers seeking jobs in the gritty worlds of oil, gas, metal, and chemicals.
"Everyone who lives here," a local priest said, "is a refugee steered to Texas City by a rising tide."
But the sea itself brought horror 66 years ago last week. A ship full of ammonium nitrate exploded in the Texas City port, setting off a disastrous chain reaction that left the city in ruins. Hundreds died, and thousands were wounded.
Ammonium nitrate appears to also be responsible for the deadly explosion last week at a fertilizer factory in West, Texas.
Why is this chemical compound so dangerous? How does the 1947 disaster compare to this week's tragedy? And what is the legacy of Texas City? No one may know the answers better than Texas journalist and historian Bill Minutaglio, author of 2003's well-received "City on Fire: The Forgotten Disaster That Devastated a Town and Ignited a Landmark Legal Battle."
Q: When I think of fertilizer, manure comes to mind. How does ammonium nitrate fit in?
A: Ammonium nitrate can be used to fertilize farms and fields because it is high in nitrogen. In large amounts, given the right conditions — including heat and fire – it can explode. People intent on malevolence have long known about the compound's explosive capabilities.
Q: What was ammonium nitrate used for in 1947?
A: The ammonium nitrate that blew up in 1947 in Texas City, which what some say is the greatest industrial disaster in the most industrialized nation in the world, was intended to be used as fertilizer. It was packed in bags that were stamped with the word "fertilizer" and was going to be sent from Texas City to Europe, on freighters, in order to assist in the revitalizing of farms in Europe.
Q: Why was the Texas City disaster so widespread and deadly?
A: According to official reports, 581 people died. Some believe the number to be higher. Some say as many as 5,000 people were wounded.
There were multiple explosions and fires. Enormous petrochemical plants and oil tanks were destroyed and the disaster resulted in untold amounts of toxic chemicals being released into the land, air and water.
Q: With the limited information we have now, can you compare the 1947 explosion way to the disaster this week?
A: I don't think it is entirely fair to compare these disasters because the time periods are different, the geography is different, and there has been significant attention paid to ammonium nitrate and combustible fertilizers since 1947.
That said, these incidents both occurred in small towns that were just horrifically overwhelmed, towns filled with hard-working folks, people who work with their hands in farms or factories or plants. Similar questions are emerging: Could this have been prevented?
Q: How is the Texas City disaster memorialized, and how has it affected that community to this day?
A: It is recognized in various ways – with a memorial area, with anniversary commemorations. The city is well aware of its history. The main library in Texas City is a wonderful repository of history, oral histories, photographs.
It's hard to say how the event affects the community now. I think, in general, people in Texas City are mindful of the giant, sprawling industrial complex that rings the city.
It is enormous, and the people in the city are very proud of the fact that large portions of America would not function as they do without the goods and services from Texas City. America would be radically different, probably malfunctioning according to some people, without the energy and petrochemical nexus of Texas City.
Q: Why do you think the Texas City disaster is largely forgotten? Does it just not fit into a wider historical narrative?
A: People remember Texas City when they want to, through the prism of the media that revives the story when events like the one in West occur. There have been other disasters in Texas City, by the way, including one in 2005 when 15 people died and 170 or so were injured.
Q: What lessons can we learn from Texas City that will help the community in West?
A: Greater attention has to be paid to safeguard communities, to provide oversight, to commit to government inspections, to err on the side of caution.
In Texas City, in 1947, people said they were simply not made aware of the dangers of ammonium nitrate. They wished they had been told.
Q: What is the ultimate legacy of Texas City?
A: Texas City is taught in emergency response schools. People who work at FEMA and other response agencies know about Texas City and study it. If they don't, they should.
Texas City offered manifest lessons on how to control chaos and how to manage emergencies. That's an important and enduring legacy, and many people in the United States are completely unaware of it.
Texas City also led to the first massive class-action filed against the federal government. It opened the door, in its way, for ordinary people to challenge the government on a legal basis.
Whether by accident or design, there have been far too many unfolding tragedies involving loss of life and large numbers of injuries. I hope that the lessons of West, Texas City, Newtown, and Boston will make us even more aware and make us think more about how to perhaps anticipate problems while still encouraging our children to meet the world with open arms.
Randy Dotinga is a Monitor contributor.
Children’s author E.L. Konigsburg, a two-time Newbury Medalist for her books “From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” and “The View from Saturday,” died on April 19 at the age of 83, according to her family.
Konigsburg was perhaps best known for the 1967 book “From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler,” which followed a brother and sister, Claudia and Jamie, who ran away from home and hid inside New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Konigsburg, whose full name was Elaine Lobl, grew up in Pennsylvania and attended Carnegie Mellon University, majoring in chemistry. Konigsburg began writing and illustrating books after her youngest child had entered school and published her first book, “Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth,” in 1967. “From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” came out later the same year.
The author’s other works included “Up from Jericho Tell” and “The View from Saturday,” which was released in 1996 and followed a group of middle-schoolers who enter an academic competition. “From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” won the Newbery Medal in 1968 and “Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth,” secured a Newbery Honor that same year, making her the only author to win both a Medal and an Honor in the same year. Konigsburg later won the Medal again in 1997 for “The View from Saturday,” making her one of only five authors to have been given the prize twice.
“From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” was adapted once as a 1973 film called “The Hideaways,” in which actress Ingrid Bergman starred as the title character, and again in 1995 as a TV movie in which Lauren Bacall took on the part.
Konigsburg wrote that she was inspired to create the story of “From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” after she and her family went on a picnic and her children complained of the discomfort involved.
“What, I wondered, would my children do if they ever decided to leave home?” the author said. “Where, I wondered, would they go? At the very least, they would want all the comforts of home, and they would probably want a few dashes of elegance as well. They would certainly never consider any place less elegant than the Metropolitan Museum of Art."
In Konigsburg’s novel, protagonist Claudia “knew that she could never pull off the old-fashioned kind of running away,” the author writes. “She didn't like discomfort; even picnics were untidy and inconvenient: all those insects and the sun melting the icing on the cupcakes.”
The author’s last book, “The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World,” was released in 2007.
“I think most of us are outsiders,” Konigsburg told the Dallas Morning News of her characters. ”And I think that’s good because it makes you question things. I think it makes you see things outside yourself.”
The popular "Berenstain Bears" series by Stan and Jan Berenstain are the latest children’s books to allow young readers to put themselves in the middle of their story.
The Berenstains have teamed up with the company Sourcebooks to release versions of at least three of the "Bears" books within the Put Me In The Story e-reading app. "The Berenstain Bears’ Home Sweet Tree," "The Berenstain Bears’ Pet Show," and "The Berenstain Bears and the Talent Show" will all be coming to the app this fall.
Other kids’ titles that have already been made available for personalization through Put Me In The Story include “My Name is Not Alexander” and “My Name Is Not Isabella” by Jennifer Fosberry and Sesame Street Workshop’s “Elmo Loves You.”
“We are delighted the Berenstain Bears will be part of the exciting interactive experience of Put Me in the Story,” Mike Berenstain, son of Stan and Jan, said in a statement. (Stan died in 2005 and Jan passed away in 2012. Mike illustrated many of the “Bears” titles.) “We hope kids and families everywhere will be able to enjoy our books in a fun new way by becoming part of the story themselves.”
In addition to putting a child’s name in stories through the Put Me In The Story app, Put Me allows parents to purchase print versions of the book with a special name, and Berenstain print versions with a child's moniker added will be available beginning in June.
The "Berenstain Bears" books, the first of which was released in 1962, followed a family of bears that included blundering Papa Bear, wise Mama Bear, and their two children Brother Bear and Sister Bear (a third sibling, Honey Bear, was later added). The family usually learned lessons on topics like telling lies and behaving in public. The series was adapted as several TV specials in the late 1970s for NBC and has since been adapted for other channels such as PBS.
As World Book Night approaches, the organization behind World Book Night US has released a list showing which US cities have the largest number of volunteers handing out books.
The event, which came to the US for the first time in 2012, is being held April 23 and centers around volunteers who give free copies of books to family, acquaintances, and people they meet on the sidewalk. A particular list of titles is selected each year (this year's list includes picks like Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” and Tina Fey’s “Bossypants”) and volunteers sign up to participate. April 23 was chosen as the official date because it’s also the day on which playwright William Shakespeare’s birthday is celebrated. The event began in the UK and Ireland in 2011. Last year volunteers in the US and Germany participated as well.
World Book Night US combined two lists when ranking participation. One ranking calculated the amount of givers by city or town per capita, while the other lists the amount of givers by region per capita.
When calculated by city or town, St. Louis, Mo. has the highest number of volunteers in the US, followed by Wichita, Kan. at number two. Louisville, Ky. and Salt Lake City, Utah are close behind them at slots three and four, respectively.
But those figures don't tell the whole story, says executive director Carl Lennertz. “Doing it just by pure number and by individual towns and cities didn't capture the full picture of where the most givers are," he explains as reported by independent bookstore industry newsletter ShelfAwareness. "Yes, the five big cities top the list in order of population, but then it begins to follow along the lines of both very involved bookstores and libraries, as well as places with community-minded citizens and/or a population in need.”
When calculated by region, an area delineated as West Seattle Sound, which includes Bainbridge Island, Kitsap, and the Olympic Peninsula, tops the list. The portion of Michigan that includes Lansing, Grand Rapids, and Kalamazoo comes in at number two, while the section of New York consisting of Buffalo, Rochester, Oswego, and Brockport is at number three. An area titled “Los Angeles beach towns” is ranked at number four.
The bomb exploded in the very center of American capitalism on a weekday afternoon, just steps away from the New York Stock Exchange and the famed statue of George Washington at Federal Hall. Thirty-eight people died and hundreds were injured, several losing limbs to the explosive power of an estimated 100 sticks of dynamite.
As in Boston this week, the bomber had rigged the device to not only kill but maim through the spread of shrapnel packed into the bomb.
Despite its horrific toll, the Wall Street bombing of 1920 is largely forgotten today. New York City instantly cleaned up the scene and moved on. No one was ever charged with the crime, and no memorial was ever built. Only the pockmarked stone of the former Morgan Bank building remains as a grim if subtle reminder.
The bombing is worth remembering. It reminds us of an era when terrorists horrified the world but had yet – until that September day – to make a point of targeting ordinary Americans in public. And it shows how the US refused to take the wrong path in the wake of tragedy.
Beverly Gage, a history professor at Yale University, wrote the definitive book about the attack, 2009's "The Day Wall Street Exploded: A Story of America in Its First Age of Terror." I asked her to reflect on the similarities between the bombings in New York and Boston, the evolution of terrorism in the US, and the legacy of that distant but familiar day of horror.
Q: What struck you as you learned about this week's bombing in Boston?
A: We think of these kinds of mass bombings as being symptomatic of the terrible things about our own contemporary world, at least since Oklahoma City. But this kind of event has been going on as long as technology has existed to set off bombs in crowded places.
Q: Was this fact of history the reason you wrote the book?
A: I set out to write that book because I came across a mention of the 1920 bombing, which killed 38 people and injured hundreds more people, many of them quite seriously. I was shocked that I had never heard of this. What's going on that allowed this big event to be lost to history?
The other thing that surprised me was how many people at that time were saying "Ah ha! Of course. We all knew this would come."
I thought, "What? How did they assume that?"
I began to look not only into anti-Wall Street history but also the long history of anti-capitalist bombings that had been going on for 30 to 40 years, going back to the Haymarket bombing in 1866 [in Chicago], the most famous of them all, all the way up to the bombing of the Los Angeles Times in 1910, the bombing at a Preparedness Day parade in 1916 in San Francisco, and a series of coordinated bomb attacks in a number of different American cities, including the bombing of the US attorney general's home in Washington D.C.
Q: What made this bombing stand out as unusual?
A: A lot of the previous bombings had been much more targeted, very deliberate acts of assassination aimed at particular people. This one hit messengers, tourists, and several veterans of the first World War who had gotten jobs on Wall Street and were killed at home instead of on the fields of France.
This was one of the reasons people thought this really might be an accident. Even those few political revolutionaries who embraced terrorism most often were talking about deliberate acts of assassination or political violence. This level of mass violence was unusual and tragic.
Q: Had terrorism evolved from targeting specific types of people to the public at large?
A: Terrorism revolves around using targeted forms of theatrical violence to foster social instability. In modern form, it goes back to about the mid-19th century, when you began to get technologies like dynamite. You could plant a bomb and leave and wait for it to go off. As anarchists of the 19th century would have said, it allowed people to strike anonymously from afar.
But much of the discussion tended to be about targeting business and political leaders. One of the questions is: How did we get from that vision to where we are today?
Part of the story is that there's a certain kind of escalation built into terrorism itself to maintain the ability to shock and public attention.
Terrorism is fundamentally about capturing people's attention. One of the reasons 9/11 was so shocking is that we hadn't seen anything quite like it before.
Q: Who was behind the bombing?
A: The main suspects were either anarchists, who are the most likely culprits by the judgement of history, or communists.
The country had been through a whole series of crackdowns on political radicals already. The most famous was the Palmer Raids, a series of deportations that had been aimed at anarchists and communists. By the time the Wall Street bombing happened, there had been a pretty public backlash because those efforts had been poorly handled.
You got an elaborate effort to go beyond the Palmer Laws, to crack down, have elaborate arrests, and even outlaw criticizing capitalism. A lot of that doesn't come to much because they don't solve the bombing, and there's never a lot of certainty about what actually happened. Things end up remaining in this uneasy state, and people move on.
Q: Why isn't the bombing remembered today?
A: The generation of people who lived through this bombing all remembered it. The day after it happened, the first 17 pages of the New York Times were devoted to that event in particular.
But there was never a memorial, and the leaders of Wall Street were pretty serious about not wanting to bring it up or reference it. They had a pretty deliberate strategy of letting the event recede into the past.
There isn't really anybody, except the families of the victims, who had a lot of interested in maintaining the memory of the bombing. The radical left didn't want to remind anyone of this, as it was a hugely discrediting event. People on Wall Street didn't want to preserve that memory. And the police investigators who utterly failed to solve the Crime of the Century had very little interest in keeping this going.
Q: Is there something positive we can take from this story?
A: In many ways, it's a story about political restraint.
Even in the face of a really serious tragedy, great mourning and very heated discussion and suspicion, people for the most part avoided jumping to conclusions and engaging in the kind of most draconian reaction that was being suggested at that moment.
However, had the police actually arrested a genuine suspect and had a big show trial, the story of the consequences would have been very different.
Randy Dotinga is a Monitor contributor.
Do e-readers hamper reading comprehension?
As e-readers and tablets become increasingly popular, that question is the crux of a new article by Scientific American that examines the brain’s response to reading on paper versus reading electronically. When we move from one medium to another, for example, do we retain the same level of information? Do we absorb the message as completely? Do we enjoy the same quality of concentration in reading?
Though research – and indeed, our own adaptation to electronic reading – is ongoing and changing, the SA article suggests reading on electronic devices can inhibit reading comprehension by hindering readers’ ability to fully absorb and process content. But that may be changing.
“[E]vidence from laboratory experiments, polls and consumer reports indicates that modern screens and e-readers fail to adequately recreate certain tactile experiences of reading on paper that many people miss and, more importantly, prevent people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way,” writes Ferris Jabr for the Scientific American. “In turn, such navigational difficulties may subtly inhibit reading comprehension.”
One reason for this is that screens are visually taxing to look at, causing eye fatigue, especially after reading for long periods of time.
“Compared with paper, screens may also drain more of our mental resources while we are reading and make it a little harder to remember what we read when we are done,” Jabr writes.
But here’s the interesting part: We may actually be adapting to reading on screens.
You see, researchers have been studying reading comprehension on screens as opposed to paper since at least the 1980s. According to the SA, “Before 1992, most studies concluded that people read slower, less accurately and less comprehensively on screens than on paper."
Curiously, however, studies published since then have shown a slow change, namely in that more recent studies have found few significant differences between comprehension of screens versus paper.
“Attitudes are changing as tablets and e-reading technology improve and reading digital books for facts and fun becomes more common,” reports the article, positing that future generations may “grow up without the subtle bias against screens that seems to lurk in the minds of older generations.”
That, to us, is the most fascinating facet of this latest study.
Are e-readers changing the way we read, even changing the way our brains absorb information? Are our brains, unbeknownst to us, in the midst of a literary-cerebral evolution, adapting to new digital formats, e-ink, and screen reading?
While the majority of readers still report a preference for paper books, something tells us the next generation may embrace e-reading as wholeheartedly as our forefathers did the printing press.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
The trailer for the “Hunger Games” sequel, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” shows the world of heroine Katniss Everdeen in increasing turmoil after her victory in the deadly competition called the Hunger Games.
(Warning: spoilers for “The Hunger Games” follow…)
The end of the first movie in the "Hunger Game" series, based on the bestselling novels by Suzanne Collins, finds Katniss (played by Jennifer Lawrence) and her neighbor (and love interest) Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) dual victors of the Games. But a joint victory is technically forbidden by the government, so Katniss and Peeta are urged to fight each other to the death. The two insist, however, that they will instead kill themselves and leave the government without a victor.
This defiance means President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is now wary of the power Katniss holds over the people – well aware that she has become a symbol of rebellion.
The trailer opens with Katniss and Peeta being showed off throughout the nation of Panem as the Games victors. Over the triumphant scene, the president says that Katniss has “become a beacon of hope” for the people and that “she has to be eliminated.”
Snow is seen chatting with Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a new character in the film.
During Katniss and Peeta’s presentation to the people, a man is taken from the crowd and beaten for flashing Katniss a gesture of support. Katniss screams as the man is taken by soldiers and presumably beaten or killed.
Also seen in the trailer is Woody Harrelson returning as Katniss’s mentor Haymitch Abernathy, Elizabeth Banks as peppy Capital staffer Effie Trinket, and Katniss’s little sister Prim (Willow Shields).
The trailer juxtaposes images of Katniss and Peeta in full expensive regalia as the common people fight Capital soldiers.
“We don’t have to destroy her, just her image,” Plutarch tells the president. “Show them that she’s one of us now… they’re going to hate her so much, they might kill her for you.”
Upcoming conflict is also hinted at as President Snow declares that all the victors of the Hunger Games need to be destroyed.
At the end of the trailer, Katniss attempts to stop Gale, a boy who lives in her district, from being beaten, and a soldier aims a gun at her.
“Go ahead,” she tells him.
Check out the full trailer.
“Lennon at Sea” by Thom Donovan, which is a graphic novel, contains pictures taken in 1980, according to Donovan, and the photos seem to be the main objection from Ono. The book details a sailing trip that Lennon took to Bermuda that year.
“Many have not been seen by the general public,” Donovan said of the photos in an interview with the Examiner. “[They] helped tell my story of John's sailing trip and life in Bermuda. Most people have never heard about John's trip.”
The letter from Ono’s lawyers referred to “'rare and unpublished material' provided to you by Fred Seaman,” whom the letter said was barred by the courts from using them. Donovan says he got the photos off the Internet, not from Seaman.
“I am aware that those photos of John belong to Yoko, and I agree to remove them from the book in the next edition, which I am working on now,” the author said.
Donovan said sales of “Lennon at Sea” will be halted for now and that the new edition of the book should be ready by this summer. He estimated the new book will most likely be longer than the original version, which was a slender 60 pages.