Farewell, Miss Bunny!

Former Chicago librarian Lillian R. New passed away on Tuesday at the age of 98.  She was best known to Chicagoans as “Miss Bunny, the Story Lady.”  New’s WTTW show, Story Time with Miss Bunny, aired after school during the ‘50s and ‘60s and featured her reading stories to children.  Read more about “Miss Bunny” in a recent article in the Chicago Tribune.

The True Meaning of…whatever: Soothing your Inner Grinch

In 2nd grade, I played the title role in my school’s production of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, an experience that clearly warped me for life. Although I enjoy conspicuous consumption and fatty foods as much as the next person, the enforced jollity of the holidays has always grated on my embittered soul. For those of you who share the pain of repressing your inner grinchiness, here’s my essential holiday reading and viewing list.

You can take your Dickens, your Clement C. Moore, your Garrison Keillor.  For my money, no author captures the elusive spirit of the holidays like…Lemony Snicket. What true grinch  doesn’t identify with the misunderstood, Christmas-phobic Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming or the artistically frustrated  Lump of Coal whose holiday destiny falls short of his dreams?

Saving Hanukkah and Kwanzaa: The Hebrew Hammer

Santa Claus has been eliminated by his evil nephew, who plans to wipe out Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and all other competitors to Christmas. Who can save the day but a street smart  Jewish detective  and his bros from the Kwanzaa Liberation Front? This ethnic inflected parody of the Shaft/Superfly genre will have you laughing so hard you’ll plotz over the kinara. Sadly, EPL doesn’t own a copy but if you enjoy this preview, we’ll be happy to get it for you from elsewhere. Stars Adam Goldberg, Mario Van Peebles and Andy Dick. Rated R, 2003.

In God We Trust; All Others Pay Cash

Cult radio personality Jean Shepherd created the immortal Ralphie and his Red Ryder b.b. gun in this hilarious novel about Christmas in small town Indiana. Of course it became the basis for A Christmas Story, that refreshingly unsentimental look at mean-spirited Santas, overly confining winter garments, and unwise holiday gift choices.

If You Think Your Family is Nuts During the Holidays…

…try sipping mead Christmas Eve with a Dad who’s put Mom in prison, and 3 brothers who may be plotting to kill each other. Such is the happy family dynamic behind The Lion in Winter, the classic Peter O’Toole, Katharine Hepburn film about the dysfunctional, yet highly entertaining home life of megalomaniac monarchs Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine.  There’s a tv version with Patrick Stewart and Glenn Close, but it doesn’t quite match the fire of the original. Rated PG, 1968.

No true grinch list would be complete without Holidays on Ice, the modern classic that first brought David Sedaris and the caustic “Santaland Diaries” to national attention. The 2008 edition adds 6 new stories to the original collection; check out the audiobook to fully experience the Sedaris wit, or  download the e-audiobook version to your iPod or mp3 player!

Lesley W.

…but would it have sold any better?

Try this odd fact out as a conversation starter. Back in the 1950’s, poet Marianne Moore, recipient of the Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award, was asked by the head of Ford’s marketing department to submit possible names for their “e” or “experimental” car due to be released in 1958. One of Ms. Moore’s suggestions was the Utopian Turtletop.

And to think they chose the name Edsel over that one. Check out the link at Entertainment Legends Revealed where there is also a piece on Shel Silverstein.

Have You Read . . . ?

The Red Couch: A Portrait of America by Kevin Clarke & Horst Wackerbarth

When most people decide to take to the highways and road trip across the country, the idea is generally to travel fast and light and leave all excess baggage behind you in your asphalt wake. Taking an 8-foot red-velvet couch along for the ride doesn’t figure in to most sane road tripping plans. But that’s just what photographers Kevin Clarke and Horst Wackerbarth did over the course of a four year art project begun in 1979.

In 1976, while moving the couch from a NYC apartment onto a moving truck, a shaft of morning sunlight fell across the couch sitting in the middle of street. Photographer Clarke (who had been sleeping on the couch at a friend’s loft) was struck by the beauty of the scene, decided to take a photo of the couch sitting in the road, and an idea was born. Along with his West German photographer friend Horst Wackerbarth, Clarke began planning and raising money for the project: they would rent a van, cart the bright red sofa around the country, and photograph the artistic results of placing this large, slightly garish, and incongruous piece in the middle of everyday American life. After having a replica couch made, Clarke and Wackerbarth both began touring around the country, working independently of each other, and snapping photographs of the couch. Some of the images are just pictures of the couch in strange and beautiful places, but the more interesting photographs feature people that the photographers met in the course of their travels and asked to pose with the couch. These pictures feature everyday people (and a few celebrities for good measure) in the everyday situations of their lives, from a stockbroker on the trading floor, to a family that has just been evicted from their apartment building.

The fixed visual element of the couch lends a powerful unifying element to these photos of incredibly diverse people and places. What would otherwise be a fine collection of portraits depicting the vastness of the American experience is here given a strange and surreal edge by the constant presence of the couch. In this age of Photoshop, where virtually no image is what it appears to be, looking at these beautiful, sometimes eerie photographs it is often necessary to remind yourself that these pictures are the real thing. The bright red couch you see sitting in the middle of a Long Island landfill, or attached to a window-washer’s scaffolding high above the ground, or straddling a canoe in the middle of a glacial lake in Alaska was actually hauled, hoisted, or dragged into position by hand, not by the click of a mouse.

The Red Couch is definitely a  strange and beautiful book to be hunted down off the shelves. With an unusual visual surprise on nearly every page, it is a welcome reminder that art and magic can be found on any day, in any direction you care to look.

A Christmas Carol

Every year during the holiday season, the Morgan Library and Museum in New York exhibits one page of Charles Dickens’s handwritten manuscript of A Christmas Carol. The page is displayed under glass in what was once the library of John Pierpont Morgan.

Now, for the first time, the Morgan has allowed The New York Times to photograph and post the entire manuscript online. See for yourself the editorial changes Dickens made before he sent it to the printer. The public is also invited to submit which edit is the “most interesting.” For more, click here.

Want Cormac McCarthy’s typewriter?

Well, you’re in luck! After 46 years, Cormac McCarthy’s Olivetti Lettera 32 will be auctioned by Christie’s on December 4th. According to the man himself:

“It has never been serviced or cleaned other than blowing out the dust with a service station hose. … I have typed on this typewriter every book I have written including three not published.”

While it might not work very well (if at all), just remember that this is the typewriter on which every McCarthy novel (including All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, Cities of the Plain, Blood Meridian, No Country for Old Men, and The Road), short story, play, screenplay, draft, and correspondence was typed. Purchased for $50 in a Tennessee pawnshop in 1963, it is expected to sell for $15,000-$20,000. Proceeds will go to the Sante Fe Institute.

And don’t worry – Cormac McCarthy will now be typing on a “new used” Olivetti that his friend bought on eBay for $9 (plus $20 for shipping).