After an 8-year hiatus, Tom Wolfe is back in Wolfian style, taking on another city (Miami) with a sweeping social portrait painted through a cast of larger-than-life characters tackling familiar Wolfian themes: race, class, social striving, vanity, and prejudice.
“It’s really a novel about immigration,” Wolfe tells the UK’s Telegraph about his new novel, “Back to Blood.” “Miami is a melting pot in which none of the stones melt. They rattle around. A lot of Russians are there now, Haitians, Nicaraguans. Miami is plan B for everyone in Latin America at this point. And everybody hates everybody, as my guide put it.”
“Back to Blood,” Wolfe’s first novel after 8 years, tries to do for Miami what “Bonfire of the Vanities” did for New York, and “A Man in Full” did for Atlanta, as The New York Times tells it.
And try Wolfe did. The 81-year-old journalist-turned-novelist carried out years of exhaustive first-hand research – including dropping in at a strip club, participating in an orgiastic yachting regatta, and visiting a slew of black crack slums – before penning this 3-pound, 722-page Goliath that aspires to be a sweeping social novel that tries to tell the story of Miami.
But by most accounts, he fell far short.
The New York Times calls “Back to Blood” “a soapy, gripping and sometimes glib novel that’s filled with heaps of contrivance and cartoonish antics.”
“This is the sort of material Wolfe used to eat for breakfast, back in his journalism days,” writes the LA Times, adding, “The plots he creates feel contrived in comparison to those he has discovered in the world.”
The New Yorker’s James Wood disparaged “Back to Blood’s” “yards of flapping exaggeration.”
You see, Wolfe, a National Book Award winner and bestselling writer, was a pioneer of “New Journalism,” the now widely used technique of applying techniques of fiction (descriptive language, dialogue, rich scene setting) to nonfiction. And that’s why his best works remain his early nonfiction, “The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby,” “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” “Radical Chic.”
But the widely accepted understanding of Wolfe is that his journalistic acumen doesn’t transfer to his novels.
“He is a giant among nonfiction writers, but the rap on him as a novelist is that he thinks wide and not deep,” writes The Washington Post.
Still, it’s difficult to argue “Back to Blood” fails to entertain. Wolfe tackles the larger-than-life city of Miami through a colorful cast of characters including a Cuban-American policeman in too-tight uniform, a WASP newspaper editor, a swaggering Russian oligarch (read: mobster), and a randy psychiatrist who treats pornography addicts.
Though the characters suffer from sarcastic generalizations, over-stereotyping, and noxious personalities, Wolfe nonetheless “depicts a dog-eat-dog world in which people behave like animals, scratching and clawing their way up the greasy social pole,” writes the NYT. “As he’s done in the past, Mr. Wolfe excavates the world of the superrich with cackling glee, reduces politicians to caricatures of self-interest and mocks or eviscerates practically everyone else.”
Preposterous, overwrought, contrived, wildly ambitious, and outrageously entertaining. It is, in other words, classic Wolfian fare.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
'Don't Know Much About the American Presidents': Kenneth C. Davis reveals strange facts about America's leaders
Did you know that Americans didn’t start voting for president on the same day until 1845? Or that George Washington wasn’t our nation’s first president? Another Virginian, Peyton Randolph, a longtime member of the House of Burgesses, won an election as the first president of the Continental Congress in 1774, succeeded by a baker’s dozen of leaders before the ascension of Washington to the presidency as we know it.
What about the presidential origins of the word “okay”? Thank Martin Van Buren, whose birthplace of Old Kinderhook, N.Y., in initials, made way for okay. Or OK, if you prefer.
Did you know that Jimmy Carter was our first president born in a hospital? Or that, 225 years ago during the debates that led to the creation of the commander-in-chief, the job “was being invented by men who didn’t necessarily think that having a president was such a great idea?”
The latter quote comes from the pen of Kenneth C. Davis, a man known to millions of readers for posing endless questions and then answering them with detailed but snappy historical facts and anecdotes. This accidental historian, nudged by his wife into writing while working at a bookstore, burst on to bestseller lists in 1990 with “Don’t Know Much About History,” a pop history confection that spawned a series of similar titles on geography, the Bible, and the Civil War.
The latest entry, "Don’t Know Much About the American Presidents," follows the popular formula Davis established throughout the series. He offers the basic cornerstones – biographies of each president, important legislation and decisions, controversies and scandals – along with all manner of Oval Office bric-a-brac, starting with origins of the Oval Office itself, which was built during the administration of William Howard Taft (who weighed 300 pounds and still ranks as the heaviest president in history), but never described as the Oval Office until the days of FDR.
Beyond history and historical oddities, Davis weaves in memorable quotes from the presidents and supplies extensive lists of essential reading and websites for those wanting to learn more about various presidents and aspects of the presidency.
As the nation stands on the cusp of Election Day, following a 220-year tradition that formally began with Washington in 1789, Davis is happy to remind us of how we, and POTUS (that would be the President of the United States), got here. Following are excerpts from a recent conversation Davis had with the Monitor on mudslinging campaigns, overlooked presidencies and more.
In the introduction, you mention a school project from 1963 about the presidents and your admiration for JFK. Is he still your favorite president?
I would not say he’s my favorite president. The history behind that ... and I’m actually holding it in my hands as we speak, this piece of art, as I call it, from 1963, my third-grade school project. I did go to the Holmes School in Mount Vernon, New York, of course named for Washington’s famous plantation and, obviously, when I was nine years old, I was still thinking about this stuff. Of course, October 1963 was a month before the world changed for all of us in the loss of Kennedy.
When I look back at this [childhood] book, which I wrote 49 years ago, it’s funny because I did ask questions from the first page. So I was obviously interested in information about history from a young age. And I say this very, very seriously, I also have on my desk a toy wooden revolver that I was given as a souvenir from going to Gettysburg in the summer of 1963.
It’s very significant to me because I remember being a young boy standing in that field and having this palpable sense of something extraordinary having happened in that battlefield – not really understanding the issue of war, of course, but having a sense that history happened here. That sense that history is something that happened to real people in real places is a fundamental sense I had largely because my parents took us to places like Gettysburg and Valley Forge and Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York on campaign trips. It can’t just be a recitation of dates and battles and legislation and court decisions.
What surprised you most as you researched this book on the presidents?
Obviously, I know the history pretty well, having written about American history for more than 20 years, starting with "Don’t Know Much About History." A lot of the basics were familiar to me and certainly, some of the more notable presidents I had done a great deal of research on over my career writing about history.
But I am always constantly amazed at the new discoveries I make. Little surprises I learn almost every day. I tell people, if I don’t learn something every day, it’s kind of a disappointment. You can take the most fundamental story – we all think we know the Washington story pretty well, but I’m constantly amazed at the things I learned about him. With Washington, my surprising discovery was the revelation about what he did with his slaves when he was president.
We all know Washington kept slaves and some of us may know he wanted to emancipate some of them in his will; he couldn’t emancipate all of the slaves because they didn’t all belong to him. But this curious connection between Washington and slavery has always fascinated me. What I did not know was that when he went to Philadelphia as president – it was the temporary capital of the United States – he brought slaves with him, but Pennsylvania then had a law under which slaves were emancipated if they were in the state for more than six months. Washington had to shuttle slaves back and forth every six months to keep them from being freed even though the state law in Pennsylvania specifically said that that was illegal. They figured someone was going to try and get around that loophole.
So Washington clearly broke a law in Pennsylvania. Several of (his slaves) did escape there. One of them was named Oney and he spent spent a good deal of time, money, and effort trying to recover her. And she was eventually found. They tried to talk her into coming back to Mount Vernon, which she refused to do. She had no interest in returning to a life of slavery.
One of the points you make is that campaigns and elections have been fraught with ugliness from the beginning. Why do Americans forget that each time another election comes around?
Because we do have short historical memories and most of us have no historical memory for this. Also, there’s a very important point about the early years of the republic and the early presidents. We tend to paint a picture of the past that is filled with pride and patriotism that leaves out the seamier side of the story.
This started before Washington left office. The two parties began to form. Washington warned against it before he left, most of the Founding Fathers, the framers of the Constitution, talked about how bad the party [system] was. Washington warned against the “baneful effects” of party. But it is, as Washington himself said, human nature, that we seek out those who are like-minded and form alliances. Just like on “Survivor,” [that’s] how I explain it to kids who want to know about [political] parties. We band together out of mutual self-interest and find those people who are going to achieve our ends. That is essentially what the parties are.
What you can see right away in 1796, the first contested election, is that as soon as parties form, the knives come out. And they were sharp and they were very deep in people’s backs. This notion that somehow the good old days were gentlemen who debated fine points and there was none of this mudslinging is simply a myth, one of the many myths that we have about American history.
In 1796, John Adams was being assailed in the newspaper as an overweight monarchist. He was publicly accused of sending a vice presidential candidate – although they weren’t specifically called vice presidential candidates at the time – his running mate was sent to procure four young mistresses for the two of them. Adams had the good humor to say he didn’t know what the general who had gone to do this had done with his two, but he never saw them. But you also had around this time Thomas Jefferson being called a deviant, a Jacobin – which at that time meant a left-wing terrorist – and, worse, a coward. This was the Swift-boating of its day.
From the scandalmonger days of Jefferson to Grover Cleveland enduring the jeers of “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa?,” it seems clear that this kind of fighting comes with the territory. Would you agree?
It’s human nature to strike back, and sometimes you strike back in the most vicious, partisan [manner] and finding scandal is a way to do it. Jefferson’s relationship with a slave is revealed [during Jefferson’s presidential tenure] by a journalist who is angry because he didn’t get a job [as a postmaster through presidential appointment]. His revenge was as a muckraker [against Jefferson], but that is part of the political game in this country.
It does us no service to pretend that somehow it was so much better. The element of money in the campaign has always been an issue, as well. Certainly by the late 19th century, a tremendous amount of money [was being spent], and there were no federal election laws at the time. Money and politics have always gone hand in hand. Theodore Roosevelt was talking about how dangerous it was that men of great wealth were influencing and corrupting the political process. That’s 100 years ago.
It didn’t start with Citizens United [the 2010 Supreme Court decision that lifted independent spending restrictions on corporation and other interest groups in campaigns] and it certainly didn’t start with Richard Nixon and slush fund, which was the real reason for the Watergate crisis and the beginning of a Federal Election Commission and the beginning of controls on campaign spending, many of which have been thrown out by Citizens United.
It seems as through Presidents Grant and Eisenhower are enjoying favorable reassessments for their presidencies of late. Why do you think that is?
That’s a good question, because I certainly would probably have to classify myself in that category of giving slightly better marks to both men than they have had in the last 20 or 30 years.
Of course, Grant was roundly criticized, and rightfully so, for the corruption in his administration. It was not that he was personally dishonest in any respect. He was more naïve than dishonest. That in its own way is a problem. Grant is enjoying [more praise] because he was trying to bring a shattered nation back together, especially after the incompetence of Andrew Johnson. Grant also had a very progressive attitude toward African-Americans and bringing them into the political process.
With Eisenhower, there was a period when he was seen as the genial guy who did nothing for eight years. Part of the reassessment there is we see more of the documentation, more of the letters, more of the diaries, more of revelations of how involved he was. An era of relative peace and prosperity, but still troubled by things. While Grant was very good on racial issues, Eisenhower was not very progressive about bringing the country forward. He did bring the troops in to support the Little Rock Nine, but he really did that almost because he had to. That’s still a serious mark against Eisenhower by most modern historians.
Which of the lesser-known presidents do you find most interesting?
I would like to emphasize that each of these 43 men who became president, whether they were great or not-so-great, dim bulbs or bright lights, they were all extraordinary in their time in some respect. They didn’t get to be there just because they happened to be in the right place in the right time.
Andrew Johnson, for his very flawed presidency, is still an extraordinary personal story. The equal of Lincoln in many respects. He was born into extraordinary poverty, almost sold into indentured servitude, is illiterate well into his youth, becomes this self-educated person, eventually becomes a lawyer. And if he were a greater president, we would put him on a pedestal as an exemplar of the American dream.
Or maybe the lesser-regarded, such as Warren Harding?
Warren Harding is getting a reflected notoriety these days because of [HBO’s] “Boardwalk Empire," seeing this very elaborate drama play out against the era of Prohibition and the fact that Warren G. Harding briefly appeared in the series. But his attorney general, Harry Daugherty, is really a major-minor character, and he was a real person and did do those things that they talk about in the series. To me, that’s wonderful.
Warren G. Harding was very popular when he was elected, but a great disaster for the most part. He was surrounded by, without question, the most corrupt administration in history. He was not personally ever accused but, again, completely naïve. That’s a fascinating story.
On the brighter side, I think one of the most interesting is William McKinley, who also has an extraordinary young personal story. Born into poverty, loses his father. So many of the presidents did grow up without fathers, it’s interesting. They either didn’t have fathers or their fathers were not significant figures or even worse. Lincoln, for instance, had a very testy relationship with his father, George Washington’s father died when he was 11, Herbert Hoover’s parents both died by the time he was nine.
McKinley, to go back to his story, [was] raised in rural poverty in Ohio, pulls himself up by the bootstraps, enlists in the Civil War when’s very young, drives a wagon into the front lines at Antietam to deliver meals to the men who were under fire, rises up through the ranks and eventually becomes a politician and president. He takes the presidency at this turning point from the 19th century into the 20th century, sees America through this war with Spain and is bringing America into the global spotlight. He’s a transitional figure and he’s assassinated early into his second term and replaced by Theodore Roosevelt. That’s one of the reasons he is overshadowed.
Your prediction for Election Day: Obama or Romney?
I’m glad you asked me for a prediction and not a preference. My prediction would be, speaking as an historian, that the powers of incumbency are pretty large [favoring Obama].
Erik Spanberg is a Monitor contributor.
Think the only reading your Facebook-updating, Twitter-posting, Google-addicted Millennial is doing is skimming 140-character-or-less Tweets?
Not only is the Facebook generation reading and visiting their local library, they’re actually more likely to read and more likely to use their local library.
Yup, that’s right – 18 to 29-year-olds are actually reading a whole lot more than tweets, and more than other adults. Some 8 in 10 Americans under the age of 30 have read a book in the past year, compared to about 7 in 10 adults in general.
That unexpected good news comes courtesy of the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project which conducted a study examining the role of books, libraries, and technology in the lives of young readers ages 16 to 29.
“A lot of people think that young people aren’t reading, they aren’t using libraries,” Kathryn Zickuhr, a research analyst with Pew told the New York Times. “That they’re just turning to Google for everything.”
Pew’s findings, it turns out, have proved that notion wrong.
• 83 percent of Americans between the ages of 16 and 29 read a book in the past year, compared with roughly 70 percent of the general population. Some 75 percent read a print book, 19 percent read an e-book and 11 percent listened to an audio book.
• 60 percent of Americans under 30 used a library in the past year. Some 46 percent used it for research, 38 percent borrowed books, and 23 percent borrowed newspapers, magazines, or journals.
The study also revealed some surprising insights about the use of e-books among younger readers. First, not surprisingly, younger readers are more comfortable with reading digital materials – but they aren’t ditching print books for digital.
“We heard from e-book readers in general [that] they don’t want e-books to replace print books,” Zickuhr told NPR’s Morning Edition. “They see them as part of the same general ecosystem; e-books supplement their general reading habits…We haven’t seen for younger readers that e-books are massively replacing print books.”
There’s also troubling news for tablet makers. Those under 30 are more likely to read e-books on a cell phone or computer than on an e-reader. Pew found that 41 percent of readers under 30 view books using a cell phone and 55 percent read them on a computer. In contrast, only 23 percent used an e-reader and 16 percent used a tablet.
“That’s definitely something we will keep an eye on,” Zickuhr said.
Tablet makers aren’t the only ones who should pay attention to this study. Libraries, listen up: According to Pew’s study, many readers under 30 have expressed a desire to borrow e-books on pre-loaded e-readers from the library. The catch: most libraries today offer this and young readers simply don’t know they can borrow e-books from their local library.
Some 58 percent of readers under 30 said they would be “very” or “somewhat” likely to borrow pre-loaded e-readers if their library offered that service. About 52 percent were unaware they could do so at most libraries and only 10 percent of e-book readers said they borrowed an e-book fro their library.
The good news: libraries have massive potential with younger readers, they just need to understand how best to reach out to this age group.
“...a lot of libraries are really looking at how they can engage with this younger age group, especially with Americans in their teens and early 20s,” Zickuhr told NPR. “And so a lot of libraries are looking at ways to sort of give them their own space in the libraries, have activities just for them. Some libraries even have diner-style booths for the teens where they can just socialize and hang out, and so that they can think of the library as a space of their own.”
We’re tickled that younger generations appear to be avid readers and eager to see how that plays out as these younger readers grow up and help shape the marketplace of books.
Millennials, it turns out, might just help reinvent libraries – and reading – in the new millennium.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
It’s a rough time for journalism: Even Clark Kent is throwing in the towel.
Superman’s human alter ego Clark Kent will quit his job at the Daily Planet in this week's latest edition of "Superman." Kent quits after becoming angry over what he sees as the industry’s declining standards.
In Wednesday’s edition, which will be “Superman” issue No. 13, writer Scott Lobdell said personal issues will cause Kent to vent his frustrations by quitting his job in front of the Planet staff. A 2011 reboot of the Superman story broke up the marriage of Superman and flame Lois Lane, and Lobdell said that Kent’s feelings for Lane – despite his fling with Wonder Woman – are part of what brings about Kent’s resignation.
“This is really what happens when a 27-year-old guy is behind a desk and he has to take instruction from a larger conglomerate with concerns that aren't really his own,” Lobdell told USA Today. “Superman is arguably the most powerful person on the planet, but how long can he sit at his desk with someone breathing down his neck and treating him like the least important person in the world?”
Kent objects to recent coverage by the Daily Planet, including a story Lane did on a sex scandal which he sees as lowering the standards of the paper.
Lobdell said Kent won’t be applying at other newspapers in town.
“He is more likely to start the next Huffington Post or the next Drudge Report than he is to go find someone else to get assignments or draw a paycheck from,” the writer said.
Writers have tried to move Kent into new media before. In a 1971 plotline, after Galaxy Broadcasting System president Morgan Edge bought the Daily Planet, Edge combined the newspaper’s building with the studios for the TV station WGBS and made Kent the anchor for the channel’s nightly news. At another point, Superman nemesis Lex Luthor bought the Planet, fired almost everyone and created LexCom, a news website.
A new film adaptation of the Superman story titled “Man of Steel” and starring “The Tudors” actor Henry Cavill as the hero will be released this summer.
Greg Smith, the former Goldman Sachs employee who carried out one of the most public resignations in history when he quit Goldman the same day The New York Times published his high-profile New York Times op-ed “Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs,” is back with another salvo, this time in the form of a tell-all memoir.
“Why I Left Goldman Sachs” describes Smith’s ascent from summer intern in 2000 to equity derivatives salesman in Goldman’s London office, the position he quit in March 2012. Along the way, the 277-page memoir paints a critical picture of Goldman, accusing it of “routinely deceiving clients and relentlessly pursuing profit at the expense of morality,” according to the AP.
But while Smith’s March op-ed struck a nerve and went viral, leaving Smith a hero in some readers’ eyes for taking a stand and revealing the corruption at Goldman, his follow-up book, at first glance, doesn’t appear to contain any groundbreaking news – or to be generating the same praise.
“Preliminary reviews of Greg Smith’s ‘Why I Left Goldman Sachs,’…have been lackluster,” writes Reuters. “Critics say the book contains few revelations, given that it had been hyped as a ‘tell all’ look at the investment bank.”
Echoes the Financial Times, “While the 277-page book, ‘Why I Left Goldman Sachs,’ paints an unflattering picture of Goldman in the years before and after the financial crisis, it does not contain any blockbuster discoveries that could lead to trouble for the bank’s top executives.”
In a Wall Street Journal review, Matt Levine, a former vice president in Goldman’s investment banking division, says the memoir lacks specifics and though it presents itself as an expose, “it is really a typical Wall Street memoir, in which the author wistfully recounts his youthful exploits and trading-floor antics before haranguing others not to follow in his footsteps.”
By all accounts, Smith was a “true believer” who posted Goldman’s 14 “Business Principles” to his wall and “bled GS blue.” He championed the firm’s spirit of teamwork, industriousness, humility, and putting the client first.
But as time went on, Smith became troubled by what he calls a change in the Goldman culture. Salespeople referred to clients as “muppets,” slang for “idiot,” and were concerned not with clients’ actual needs, but with making money for the firm, sometimes to the detriment of the clients. The culture, he says, became “toxic and destructive” and the bank began “ripping their clients off.”
“The wheel had turned,” Smith writes in his book about Goldman’s evolution following the financial crisis. “The banking world had become a trading world, and that was Lloyd Blankfein’s world. Goldman Sachs was becoming a hedge fund, and as part of the evolution, the bank was getting into new conflicts of interest. This new direction was a significant departure from what Goldman Sachs had become known for.”
For the record, Goldman has denied Smith’s allegations and said its investigations turned up no evidence of Smith’s allegations, including the use of ‘muppet’ in emails.
“The Goldman Sachs Mr. Smith describes is not one our employees would recognize,” a spokesman for the firm told Reuters Sunday. “Mr. Smith has asked for answers, yet he did not respond to our repeated attempts to contact him after his abrupt departure earlier this year.”
Smith, who was making $500,000 a year when he left Goldman and reportedly received $1.5 million for the book deal, has responded by saying he’s not trying to expose Goldman per se, but shine a spotlight on a deepening culture of greed on Wall Street and fuel a public conversation on how to fix it.
“I am in a rush to spread a message and get mainstream people to realize there is a big problem and to be outraged that no one fixed it,” Smith told Reuters. “There is a real absence of people within the financial industry trying to advocate for positive reform. I would like to try to be part of that conversation.”
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
Pippa Middleton, sister of the future queen of England, will be releasing her party-planning book “Celebrate” later this month, and in the guide, she writes of being baffled by the fame she has achieved based on whom she is related to and her physical appearance.
“One day I might be able to make sense of this. In the meantime I think it’s fair to say that it has its upside and its downside,” she writes in the book, according to an excerpt published by You Magazine. "I certainly have opportunities many can only dream of – but in most ways I’m a typical girl in her 20s trying to forge a career and represent herself in what can sometimes seem rather strange circumstances. I am by nature an optimist so I tend to concentrate on the advantages. One of the most attractive has been the chance to publish [this book] Celebrate.”
Middleton writes that she sees the book as an opportunity to tell the world about her true self.
“I know many of you will pick up the book out of nothing more than curiosity,” she writes in the book. “[But] I can assure you that it feels even stranger to me than it probably does to you to have seen so much written about me when I have done so little to paint a picture of myself. This is my first chance to do that and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
The book “Celebrate” will give party-planning tips and will be published by Viking. The Middleton family runs a supply website for children’s parties.
It’s the story of an embattled president trying to end one of the country’s most destructive wars while bargaining with Congress to see through one of the most transformative pieces of legislation in history.
It’s also one of the most anticipated movies of the season – and we’re all getting a sneak peek this Sunday.
CBS’s Lesley Stahl interviews Steven Spielberg on his upcoming film, “Lincoln,” a dramatic look at a four-month period in the life of the sixteenth president. The interview, which airs Sunday, Oct. 21 at 7:30 PM EST, also contains the first clips from Spielberg’s film.
“I’ve always wanted to tell a story about Lincoln,” Spielberg tells Stahl in an interview preview released by CBS. “I saw a paternal father figure, someone who was completely, stubbornly committed to his ideals, his vision. I think the film is very relevant for today. It’s about leadership.”
“Lincoln” is loosely based on historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 2005 biography, “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.” (Incidentally, it’s also the first read on CBS This Morning’s book club, “CBS This Morning Reads.)
Spielberg tells Stahl “Lincoln,” which stars Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln, is unlike any movie he has ever done, with nary an action scene or special effect.
Instead, the movie centers on the political process Lincoln and his “team of rivals” engaged in to achieve some of the country’s greatest accomplishments, including Edwin Stanton, Salmon Chase, William Seward, and Edward Bates. It’s unique in that it is a multiple biography that profiles each of the key players in the team that led the country though one of its greatest crises.
The film covers a four-month period of Lincoln’s presidency “in which he is absorbed with trying to get Congress to pass the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery,” according to CBS. “It follows the political process closely and accurately portrays a drama few have heard about from the last four months of Lincoln’s life.”
According to early reports, it’s as deeply personal as it is political. “Lincoln” “explores the drama and darkness inside the head of one of history’s greatest figures,” writes CBS.
“I think there’s a sense of darkness... with him,” Spielberg tells Stahl in the upcoming “60 Minutes” interview. “He was living with two agendas, both of which had to do with healing... first, to abolish slavery, end the war. But he also had his personal life and I think there’s darkness in there.”
In the interview, Spielberg also reflects on his own personal life and childhood, which is reflected in this film. CBS has said Stahl will also talk about Spielberg’s childhood with his parents and promises a tantalizing time: “In a fascinating discussion of Spielberg’s childhood, his parents reveal a truth even their son didn’t know for many years.”
Do we need another book or film exploring Lincoln’s life? “Lincoln” is the latest in a spate of recent books and films about the sixteenth president and the latest example of the nation’s Lincoln-mania. (Bill O’Reilly’s “Killing Lincoln” is one prominent example.) Spielberg is betting Americans want more. As those countless books and movies on Lincoln’s life attest, Americans are fascinated by the life of the nation’s sixteenth president, a never-fading passion that perhaps expresses our need to see shining examples during our own dark times, personal and political.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
Co-hosts Gayle King, Norah O’Donnell, and Charlie Rose of “CBS This Morning” launched their new book club on Tuesday. First up for “CBS This Morning Reads” is "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln," by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
“Team of Rivals,” a 2005 bestseller, tells the story of the 16th president and his rise to the title. Historian and Pulitzer Prize winning writer Goodwin takes readers through the Great Emancipator’s mission to abolish slavery and keep America united. The book's focus, however, is not just on Lincoln but also on some of the men who served on his Cabinet. Goodwin makes it clear that Lincoln was not alone in the struggle for peace and the abolition of slavery.
Each week for the next month, “CBS This Morning Reads” will post excerpts from "Team of Rivals," reading guides, web extras, and interactive features on their website. CBS is offering the first chapter for free and can be downloaded here.
“Lincoln,” directed by Steven Spielberg, is set release release in theaters Nov. 16. The film adaption, which stars Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln, will focus more on the last few months of Lincoln’s life – abolishing slavery and the Union victory in the American Civil War. Other all-star cast members include, Sally Field, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Walton Goggins, and Davis Strathairn.
Originally published in 2005, “Team of Rivals” was rereleased to coincide with the highly anticipated film adaptation.
This Sunday, Mr. Spielberg will talk about “Lincoln” on the show “60 Minutes” and on Nov. 15 (the day before the film comes out), Kearns Goodwin will appear on “CBS This Morning” to discuss her book and thoughts on the film.
"Team of Rivals" is published by Simon & Schuster. Simon & Schuster and CBS are owned by the same parent company. Though, as “This Morning Reads” expands, CBS says, the book club “may incorporate additional publishers.”
Who is mysterious children’s author Lemony Snicket?
Well, we’re not sure, but we were able to reach Snicket’s representative, writer Daniel Handler, so that’s something.
Snicket’s new book, “Who Could That Be at This Hour?,” is the first in a planned quartet, titled “All the Wrong Questions.” It will tell the story of Snicket’s childhood and his involvement with a mysterious organization that played an important role in the “A Series of Unfortunate Events” books.
Snicket is the narrator of the "A Series of Unfortunate Events" books, telling the tale of the three Baudelaire children – orphans, whose parents die in a mysterious fire at the start of the books and who are then shuttled from guardian to guardian as the children try to learn more about the truth behind the conflagration – even as he frequently hints to readers at his own involvement in the story and warns them to put the book down before even more sad events occur.
(Also, Snicket is actually Handler’s pen name, but go with us on this one.)
In the new book, “Who Could That Be at This Hour?,” a young Snicket comes under the apprenticeship of a woman named Theodora and tries to solve a mystery centering on the (possible) theft of a statue called the Bombinating Beast in a town known as Stain’d-by-the-Sea.
Handler says reassuringly that Snicket had written the book “definitely of his own free will.”
“It was written before the ‘Series of Unfortunate Events’ books and is only being released now, now that it is safe to do so,” he says.
Snicket joins a strange organization in the book which goes unnamed but which “Series of Unfortunate Event” readers might guess is VFD, a group sometimes known as the Volunteer Fire Brigade to which the Baudelaires’ parents belonged. Handler is coy on the question of whether the groups are one and the same.
“It's safe for you, personally, to assume that,” he says (although he also points out that he will not be around if I later discover that my assumption is wrong).
When “A Series of Unfortunate Events” kicked off in 1999 with “The Bad Beginning,” the books – which had dire warnings not to read them plastered on their back covers – were unlike just about anything else on the market. (“I’m sorry to say that the book you are holding in your hands is extremely unpleasant,” begins a letter from Snicket featured on the back of the book.) The series also has plenty of wordplay and literary references, from the Baudelaire children’s temporary guardian Arthur Poe to a young island resident they meet named Friday. Handler says he doesn't worry about language going over children’s heads.
“In my time in the children's book industry, I've heard that children will not understand just about anything,” he says.
Snicket has also written other titles unrelated to the “Series of Unfortunate Events” universe, including “The Composer is Dead,” a children’s mystery set in an orchestra, and three holiday titles, “The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming,” “The Lump of Coal,” and “The Baby in the Manger.” Handler says Snicket chose to set these books during wintertime because of the increased appeal of reading during bad weather.
“During the winter months, people like to escape,” he said. “I probably don't need to tell that to someone with a 617 area code.” (Indeed.)
As for Snicket himself, Handler says that while it had been stated in previous author biographies that the writer was on the run from police, all he can say right now is that Snicket is “still in trouble.”
While actor Jude Law played Snicket in the film adaptation of “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” Handler says that the only resemblance between the two was that “a lot of people have fantasized that he looks like Jude Law."
Handler says he and Snicket have not discussed future plans beyond the projected next three books in the “All the Wrong Questions” series.
“I prefer not to make commitments too far in advance,” he says. “One of us could get hit by a train tomorrow and it could all be over… but it would certainly make your story more popular.”
The Man Asian Literary Prize, which honors the best novel of the year written by an Asian writer and translated into English, is seeking new sponsorship after the Man Group withdrew its financial support.
“We recently announced a program to reduce costs by $100 million by the end of next year, and this decision should be seen in that context," Man Group head of communications David Waller said of the decision.
Man Group CEO Peter Clarke said the company was proud to have been involved with the prize.
"We are committed to supporting the prize organizers in finding a new sponsor to ensure the continued development of this leading literary prize," he told The Bookseller.
The 2012 prize, which will be awarded in March, will be the last given with support from the Man Group.
Executive director of the Man Asian Literary Prize Professor David Parker said that with its current funds, the organization would be able to give out the prize in March, but would need a new source of money after that.
“To put it bluntly, we have got about 16 weeks to find some way of funding the prize, and we are absolutely determined we are going to do it," he told the Guardian. “There is quite a lot of potential value in backing a prize such as this, so we're not entirely desolate at this moment.”
The Man Asian Literary Prize was first given out in 2007, and last year’s went to writer Kyung-sook Shin, the first female winner, for “Please Look After Mom.”
“Of course I was shocked, upset, disappointed to hear about [the sponsorship withdrawal]," Xu Xi, an author who made the shortlist for the prize in 2007 and who is now writer-in-residence at the City University of Hong Kong, told CNN. “There is no other prize in Asia that has any kind of international clout, that helps to bring to the fore writing specifically that is Asia-focused.”