As Oscar night approaches, it has been decided that “12 Years a Slave” – the memoir from which the Oscar-nominated film was adapted – will now be part of the World Book Night celebrations this April.
According to industry newsletter Shelf Awareness, special copies of “12 Years a Slave,” printed for the occasion by publisher Dover Publications, will be made available to various schools as part of World Book Night, which is celebrated on April 23.
“With the attention brought to this important book by the award-winning movie, we felt that we should make it available as part of World Book Night's mission," WBN US executive director Carl Lennertz said. "One third of our half million free books each year go into underfunded rural and urban high schools, and when Dover Publications offered to work with us on this, we jumped at the chance.”
Titles being distributed on World Book Night had been announced this past October and included such works as “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” by Maria Semple, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” by Ransom Riggs, “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed, and more, with 35 different titles being handed out in total.
The event is being celebrated in the US and Germany for the third time this year and in the UK and Ireland for the fourth. As part of the celebration, those who sign up hand free copies of the selected titles to family, friends, or anyone they meet.
Watch old black-and-white Hollywood films and you might find a few things missing, like foul language and overt sexuality. Look a little closer and you might notice that bad guys never get away with it, adultery always gets punished, and homosexuality is never glorified.
These aren't just signs of a more conservative time. They're the product of strict rules that filmmakers imposed on themselves to fend off an even wider crackdown.
Today, the infamous Production Code is largely forgotten. So is a slapstick star whose disastrous real-life hijinks came to represent all the wretched excesses of Hollywood. The very excesses, in fact, that the new restrictions aimed to vanquish on screen.
Now historian Greg Merritt explores the shocking case of an alleged deadly rape in a debauched San Francisco hotel in "Room 1219: The Life of Fatty Arbuckle, the Mysterious Death of Virginia Rappe, and the Scandal That Changed Hollywood."
Perceptive, detailed and convincing, "Room 1219" is destined to become the definitive account of the wrenching loss of a young woman, the downfall of a funny fat man, and the price of carelessness in an era defined by it.
In an interview, Merritt talks about the Arbuckle case, the surprising details he discovered about the dead woman, and the remarkably modern feel of this almost century-old scandal.
Q: For readers who aren’t familiar with him, tell us a little bit about Fatty Arbuckle: How popular was he? Would everyone in the country have known who he was?
After a vaudeville career, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle was a comedic actor in silent films as well as a director and screenwriter. He quickly rose to prominence in 1913 doing frantic slapstick, but his comedic style later broadened.
He was one of the first people to experience what it was like to be a movie star, and he was the first to sign a million-dollar annual contract. By 1921, he was second to only Charlie Chaplin in popularity among actors.
And he was extremely famous not just in America, but around the world. Silent films, with their inserted title cards, could be converted to any language easily, and most of the humor was visual.
Q: Are there any YouTube videos of his movies that you’d recommend readers watch to get a flavor of his comedy?
"The Rounders" (1914) is his best collaboration with Charlie Chaplin.
"Fatty and Mabel Adrift" (1916) is a disaster comedy and a good example of his work with Mabel Normand, and "Coney Island" (1917) is one of his many fine collaborations with the great Buster Keaton. "Good Night Nurse" (1918), another pairing with Keaton, has a macabre and surreal sensibility.
Q: One of the amazing things about your book is how contemporary the scandal sounds: Extramarital sex, a suspicious death of a boldly contemporary woman, a media frenzy, a stream of "expert" witnesses, and even an O.J. Simpson-style face-off over forensic science. What does the story tell us about changing values in that era?
It tells us a lot. The case unfolded during Prohibition and at the dawn of the Jazz Age. Society was undergoing sweeping changes, especially in regards to women, who had earned the right to vote in 1920 and were exerting more independence.
The young woman who died, Virginia Rappe, was an example of this modern, liberated archetype, though the press immediately after her death presented her instead as a violated innocent.
Much was made then of a "shocking" party with married men cavorting with show girls, drinking and dancing in the middle of the day in a hotel room. The media had to use euphemisms for terms like "rape," yet they were painting a colorfully sordid portrait of the modern world, gleefully writing about Hollywood's "orgies" and its supposedly rampant immorality.
Preachers and editorialists condemned Arbuckle and, in a broader sense, Hollywood and its movies. Many felt that Arbuckle needed to be tried and convicted of something just to fight back the immorality of the Jazz Age.
Q: What surprised you when you researched this story? Was anything unexpected or startling?
There were a lot of things, including some overlooked coroner's inquest testimony which I believe is crucial to solving the case. But the biggest overall surprise was the wealth of information about Virginia Rappe. Previous writers offered barely anything about her life other than the worst rumors about her, and yet there was a lot of fascinating information in newspapers waiting to be discovered.
She was adept at promoting her modeling, fashion design, and acting careers. She was profiled in the Chicago Tribune when she was a 17-year-old model and she continued to give interviews or pen her own articles throughout the remainder of her life. One of the most interesting things about her is how innovative her fashions were.
In some ways, just as Arbuckle was the archetype male movie star with his partying entourage and ostentatious spending, Rappe was the prototypical Jazz Age woman: an unmarried, outspoken entrepreneur. Both images would later be twisted to sinister meanings.
Q: What impact did this case have on Hollywood and the movies?
First it halted Arbuckle's movie career in September of 1921. Silent comedy legends Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd made most of their best movies after that date. So we never got to see how great Arbuckle could've been.
In a broader sense, there was a wave of government movie censorship after Arbuckle's arrest. The film industry countered this with its own self-censorship measures, culminating in the establishment of the Production Code in 1930. This was enforced in 1934 and lasted until 1968, when a rating system was established.
Those 34 years had a great impact on movie content, as some topics were never broached and others were couched in innuendo. The Arbuckle case wasn't the only reason for the establishment of the Code, but it was the major early impetus.
Q: How unfair was the justice system to Arbuckle?
He should never have been arrested for murder, and it's debatable whether or not he should have ever been tried for manslaughter – let alone three times.
Nevertheless, that pales in comparison to his press treatment. He went from one of the world's most beloved figures to one of its most hated in the course of a few days as a result of horrendously scandalous newspaper coverage.
The reputations of some witnesses and Virginia Rappe herself were tarnished during the trials, though much of that is to be expected. Rappe's reputation suffered much worse in the decades following the trials. In popular conspiracy theories, she became a perpetrator instead of a victim.
I assign some condemnation to Arbuckle for his cavalier, playboy attitude and what I argue was his perjurious cover story.
Q: How certain are you of your opinion?
I'm confident that I present what most likely happened in room 1219 on Labor Day, 1921. But we can never be certain. So I also present the other options and explain why I think they're less likely explanations.
Q: Why is this case worth talking about today?
This was a very popular and influential criminal case – tried both in the courts and in the media – and it's a lingering unsolved mystery.
Clearing away misinformation and finally offering a solution to the mystery that's consistent with the known facts is important for the reputations of Arbuckle and Rappe and for gaining a full understanding of the scandal's effects on movie history, the press, and American society.
Randy Dotinga is a Monitor contributor.
Today, one of John Steinbeck’s most famous novels, “The Grapes of Wrath” (released in 1939 and celebrating its seventy-fifth anniversary this year), is celebrated as one of the best American works of all time, with the book securing Steinbeck the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
A 1940 film version, released the year after the novel, was nominated for several Oscars, including Best Picture, and won director John Ford the Best Director prize and actress Jane Darwell, who portrayed Ma Joad, the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
However, not everyone adored “Wrath” when the novel was first released. According to NPR, some of the residents of Kern County, Calif. objected to the book. Kern County is where the Joad family ends up at the end of the novel, and the board of supervisors in the county believed the book downplayed the aid Kern County was trying to give migrant workers. One member of the board called the novel a “libel and lie,” according to NPR. One farmer named W.B. Camp said it was “obscene in the extreme.”
So the book was banned from libraries and schools by the board of supervisors in the county in August of that year, with those for the ban triumphing four to one. Camp is one of the people featured in a photo of three men burning “Wrath” over a trash can.
Rick Wartzman, who is the author of the book “Obscene in the Extreme: The Banning and Burning of John Steinbeck's 'The Grapes of Wrath,’” noted that a librarian named Gretchen Knief tried to fight the ban.
“There are some incredibly brave and sensible letters she wrote to the Board of Supervisors about the dangers of censorship,” he told the Bakersfield Californian. “Those were her bosses. She served at their pleasure.”
The ban ended up lasting for a year and a half.
“It's such a vicious and dangerous thing to begin," Knief wrote of banning books in her letter to the board of supervisors. "Besides, banning books is so utterly hopeless and futile. Ideas don't die because a book is forbidden reading.”
Apple said the judge’s ruling “is a radical departure” from modern antitrust law that will “chill competition and harm consumers” if allowed to stand.
Apple asked the Second US Court of Appeals to overturn the judgment in Apple’s favor, or grant a new trial with a different judge. It also said its court-appointed monitor was “unprecedented and unconstitutional” and asked that the monitor’s work be suspended until an appeals court decides if it was correctly appointed.
Apple had indicated it would seek an appeal if the judgment was not in its favor.
In April 2012, the Department of Justice sued Apple and five of the six major US publishers for conspiring to set e-book prices in order to break Amazon’s dominance of the market. The publishers all eventually settled, leaving Apple to resolve the matter in court.
Last July US District Judge Denise Cote ruled that Apple had colluded with major book publishers to raise the price of e-books in a price-fixing conspiracy. The company was given a court-appointed monitor and could pay up to $840 million in antitrust claims.
But in papers filed Tuesday, Apple refuted the ruling, saying it “had no knowledge that the publishers were engaged in a conspiracy at the time.” Apple also argued that by entering the e-book market, it “kick-started competition in a highly concentrated market, delivering higher output, lower price levels, and accelerated innovation.”
The appeal extends a high-profile, high-stakes case that will shape the future of the e-books industry. We’re expecting more legal battles to come.
One clip featuring wry court schemer Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) has the camera zooming through stone hallways until it arrives at Tyrion, sitting in what looks like a prison cell.
“Come for a last look?” he inquires.
Another trailer shows what’s happening with hopeful queen Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), who has conquered a few kingdoms but finds herself struggling to keep control over her three dragons.
“They can never be tamed,” her advisor Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) tells her. “Not even by their mother.”
Meanwhile, a third clip shows what’s happening with the Stark family.
“The first time I saw you, you were just a child,” king’s counselor Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen) tells oldest daughter Sansa (Sophie Turner). “A girl from the North come to the capital for the first time. You’re not a child anymore.”
Intriguing, “Thrones” fans? The fourth season of the show debuts on April 6.
“Motherless Brooklyn” was originally released in 1999 and follows Lionel Essrog, an orphan diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome who attended St. Vincent’s Home for Boys and now, with other St. Vincent’s attendees, works for a detective agency run by mobster Frank Minna. When Frank is attacked, Lionel’s life is turned upside down.
The novel won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction.
According to Deadline, Norton will switch the setting of the novel from contemporary to the 1950s.
His previous directing credit is the 2000 film “Keeping the Faith.” Norton recently starred in the 2012 films “Moonrise Kingdom” and “The Bourne Legacy” and will next appear in the Wes Anderson film “Grand Budapest Hotel,” which will debut on March 7.
Indies First isn’t just for the fall anymore.
Last year, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” author Sherman Alexie created the Indies First movement, suggesting that writers go and work as booksellers in independent bookstores on Small Business Saturday (traditionally the Saturday after Thanksgiving). The idea was a success, with more than 400 stores participating and more than 1,000 authors working that day. Some indie stores also reported that the day was a financial boon to them as well.
So now the American Booksellers Association, the Children’s Book Council, and the organization Every Child a Reader are suggesting Indies First come to springtime as well. Rather than work in a store, suggest the organizations, authors could come to an indie location and read a book. They’re calling it Indies First Storytime Day and it’s set for May 17, set to coincide with Children’s Book Week, which is from May 12 to 18 this year.
Author Kate DiCamillo, who was recently appointed National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, is Storytime Day’s spokesperson.
“Come in and read a story (a story that you didn’t write) out loud,” DiCamillo wrote on the page for Storytime Day on the American Booksellers Association site. “The point is to show up and to read aloud, to celebrate stories and to celebrate the indies who work so hard to put our stories in the hands of readers.”
DiCamillo explained to Publishers Weekly why it’s suggested that writers don’t read from their own book.
“That way the event can be less about us as authors and more about the power of story and about bookstores as a place to gather for story,” she said.
Check out a map of what stores will be participating here (and it will be updated leading up to the day itself).
Many of us have probably eagerly solicited a recommendation from a bookstore owner.
Jill Hendrix, owner of Greenville, S.C.’s Fiction Addiction, recently decided to capitalize on that special relationship between customer and bookstore owner and created the “Trust Fall” program for her store. In an e-mail to customers, Hendrix said she had fallen in love with a book that would be released in February but worried that either the title or the cover of the book would dissuade some customers from picking it up.
“What I want to know is whether you'll agree to pre-order this book, sight unseen, just based on our love for it if we give you a full money-back guarantee if you read it but don't love it as much as we have,” Hendrix wrote in the e-mail.
According to industry newsletter Shelf Awareness, the program did extremely well, with 62 copies sold. (By comparison, Fiction Addiction sold 28 copies of big-name title “The Signature of All Things” by Elizabeth Gilbert and 70 copies of “The Death of Santini” by Pat Conroy, both over the course of five months.) And Hendrix said only one customer returned the book, which was “The Martian” by Andy Weir (check out our post on the sci-fi title here). Hendrix said she could see the initiative as an ongoing program.
“I think I'm going to survey the participants at the end of March and see whether there would be any interest in this as an ongoing idea.... perhaps the Trust Fall Bookclub,” she told Shelf Awareness.
The man who helped steer the country through one of its worst recessions in history will write an account of his tense tenure at the Federal Reserve.
Ben Bernanke, former chairman of the Fed, is planning a memoir focusing on the 2008 financial crisis and the Great Recession, two of the most challenging hurdles ever to confront the Fed.
For a man often buffeted for his actions, it seems Bernanke will use his book to defend his sometimes controversial decisions.
“I want people to understand what we knew, when we knew it, how we made decisions and how we dealt with the enormous economic uncertainty,” Bernanke told the AP.
Bernanke, a former professor and head of the economics department at Princeton University, said the book will cover his entire tenure at the Fed, beginning in 2002 as a member of the Board of Governors through his chairmanship under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. After eight years as chairman of the Fed, Bernanke stepped down last month and is now a fellow at the Brookings Institution.
The former Fed chairman has yet to begin writing but told the AP he has been organizing his thoughts, will write the book himself, and expects to take a year to finish. The proposed memoir doesn’t yet have a publisher but expectations are high. According to reports, the deal for former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan’s memoir, “The Age of Turbulence,” was worth more than $8 million.
Though details are sparse, the book will assuredly draw attention both for the stature of its author and for the controversial nature of his tenure.
As the AP reports, “Few Fed chairmen confronted such profound challenges or became so controversial. Under his leadership, the Fed invoked all its conventional tools to salvage the economy. Once those were exhausted, Bernanke turned to extraordinary steps never before tried by the Fed.”
The former Fed leader is widely known for having cut short-term interest rates to near zero, a record low, and for launching an aggressive bond buying program.
For this, he was often censured both by conservatives for doing too much and by liberals for not doing enough. Bernanke told the AP the “political environment was pretty hostile at times” and was called a traitor by GOP presidential candidate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who once told a gathering “we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas.”
Which is why, in his book, Bernanke says, “I’d like to be able to explain that it (the Fed’s handling of the economy) was the right thing to do,” adding jokingly, “and to attest to my loyalty to the United States.”
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
A cozy space with time to write – and no need to pay for that space – is many authors’ dream.
Amtrak may be on the way to providing that.
It all started when writer Alexander Chee mentioned in an interview that one of the best places to write, for him, was on a train. In the interview with Pen America, Chee said, “I wish Amtrak had residencies for writers.”
Writers Zach Seward and Jessica Gross tweeted a link to the article at the Amtrak Twitter account and Amtrak responded to them, writing, “We’d need a test run. You two up for a trip to Chicago and back?”
So Gross embarked on the journey from New York, which Amtrak offered for free as long as she wrote about her trip on social media and participated in an interview conducted by the company, which was posted on the Amtrak blog.
“We loved the idea,” Amtrak staff wrote on their blog of Chee’s suggestion.
According to the Wire, Amtrak said it will make the “writers’ residency” idea a program.
Gross told the Wire that the idea seems to have caught on with others.
“I’ve seen a billion tweets from other writers saying ‘I want one of these,’” she said. Amtrak social media director Julia Quinn agreed, saying that the company has experienced “overwhelming demand.”
And now Chee himself will get to experience a soothing writing experience.
“I can announce my @Amtrak writer's residency dream came true, thanks to them,” he tweeted. “Am set for a trip from NYC-Portland, OR in mid-May.”
Quinn told the Wire that if future writers residency trips aren’t free, the company wants to keep them inexpensive.
She said she doesn’t believe there will be requirements to qualify for the program – for example, needing to be a published author to participate, or only being a creative writer.
“The differences between a journalist, a published author, a blogger – those lines are continually blurred by the Internet,” she said.
What say you, readers? Would you be interested in embarking on a long train ride to get some writing done?