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Summer Reading Round-Up

September 26, 2013 in American Authors, American literature, Book Review, Classic Literature, Classic Writers, Summer Reading

I had an interesting start to LT’s Summer Reading Challenge. I was already immersed in two books from our extensive Summer Reading List (Herman Melville’s classic, Moby Dick and MT Anderson’s Feed) when the Challenge list was ultimately decided. Neither of these books made the list. Nevertheless, I vowed to finish them both and at least one or two of the challenge list books by the end of summer.

Once Labor Day, the unofficial end of the season has passed, I decided to continue this pursuit until the technical end of summer, which gave me until September 21st. And I needed the extra couple of weeks. Amazing, isn’t it, how one day you can be on such a roll, laying on the beach and reading for hours at a time, tearing through chapters, and then, seemingly in the blink of an eye, some form of “life” happens and the book gets stuffed in the bottom of your bag, not to see the light of day or reading lamp for weeks. This is what happened to me and why I am failing the summer reading list challenge. I lost momentum.

I like to read two books at once. I like one hard copy (NO, not an e-book, an actual book with paper and a cover and pages you can flip) for the beach and the outdoors, and one audio book for the car. I don’t usually get the stories mixed up, and I don’t find it difficult to follow two stories at once. But there is a significant difference in the amount of quality reading I can partake in at the beach versus in the car. The beach is for my reading the legal equivalent of what steroids are for a workout. With open space, the white noise of waves lapping at the shore, and the feeling of the sun warming my back, there is little distraction other than the occasional nap. In the car, on the other hand, there is many a distraction. A phone call, being late for work, a traffic jam, an interesting talk radio show, a favorite song (or that terrible one you can’t stop singing), all can cause my focus and my “reading” to slack severely.

That being said, I chose to listen to Moby Dick on Audio. Why? Because it’s free on the Audiobooks app and I had never read it before. Because I thought driving while consuming classic literature was a great use of multitasking abilities. And after the wonderful Charlotte Bronte Audiobooks experience, it seemed like a great idea. Now, only at chapter 89 of 136, I am starting to think I’ll need to double up, with an e-book and audiobook, if I’m to finish this before summer’s end…or before year’s end. To add insult to injury, this book is not even on the Summer Reading Challenge that I agreed to partake in.

Not to worry, though. In the meantime, while Moby Dick is snailing along, I read Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises for the first time. I completed the first half of the book in a day or two but then, after the aforementioned “life” experiences—weddings, weekends away, moving—I lost steam and took about three weeks to finish the remaining half. I’m a newcomer to Hemingway, having only read a book of short stories by the prolific author, so I was excited to get started and to experience the magic of Hemingway for myself. His style of writing, at once beautiful and yet simple and straightforward, makes one question how something so skillful can appear so effortless. The content of the stories, the places and well-developed but never cartoony characters, make one question whether her own limited life experience could ever warrant great writing. I won’t get too far into summary or review, but The Sun Also Rises was a long-anticipated journey into the world of Hemingway; one which I will be making again.

After the sun also rose and set, I dove into a book from our “fantasy” genre, E.B. Hudspeth’s The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black. When I say “dove in,” I mean that I am still swimming (and floating) in the sea of quirky darkness that is The Resurrectionist. A tumbler of scandal, science and docu-bio unveilings, this book has left me scratching my head wondering whether it’s fact or fiction. Seems too strange to be either. I’m midway through Dr. Black’s story, and I’m looking forward to getting to the good stuff. I’ll also be checking out the second volume of the book, an encyclopedia-esque index of sketches depicting mythical creatures and hair-raising skeletal structures thought, by Dr. Black, to be early descendants of humans. Just creepy enough to be interesting, but not enough to cause sleeplessness.

By the end of “summer” I hope to have finished four books from the LT Summer Reading list, two of which are LT Summer Reading Challenge books. Not to be mistaken for an overachiever, I’ve got a long way to go.

“Before” and After: An Unconventional Love Story for the Modern Age

November 29, 2012 in Film

This post contains spoilers for the films Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. 

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I am not usually a fan of sequels.  For me, they feel like forced afterthoughts or a way to cash in on a previous success.  Very much like literary adaptations, they are often watered-down renditions that fail to do justice to the original work. But there are always exceptions to every rule, and it so happens that one of my favorite films, Before Sunset (2004), is a sequel to Before Sunrise (1995), another one of my favorite films. Therefore it should come as no surprise that I was absolutely ecstatic when I heard the recent news that Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy just finished covertly filming a third installment, Before Midnight, this past summer.  The first two films came out nine years apart, and if Before Midnight is released in 2013 as planned, another nine years will have passed.  If only for the sake of cinema, let’s hope the Mayans are wrong.

The series, directed by Richard Linklater, begins in Before Sunrise with Jesse (Ethan Hawke), an American twentysomething backpacking his way through Europe, meeting Celine (Julie Delpy), a French grad student, on a train bound for Paris.  The two feel an instant connection and he convinces her to get off the train with him in Austria, where they spend the entire night together wandering through Vienna.  It sounds cliché, and as a woman, relatively dangerous.  The chance of me disembarking a train with a stranger in a foreign country is highly unlikely, even if he does look like Ethan Hawke.  I’ve seen Taken and my dad, though amazing, is no Liam Neeson. So, sad to say, if I am fated to meet my soul mate this way, I will have to come to terms with the missed connection and a future full of cats.  Luckily for Jesse (and viewers), Celine does not share these fears.

Linklater takes a plot that at first glance seems like a formulaic rom-com and turns it completely on its head.  For one, although the attraction is there from the beginning, the characters are smart and level-headed.  She might get off the train with him, but Celine is far from a starry-eyed ingénue.  It is in fact a film of dualities, with an attitude about love that is romantic and cynical at the same time.  The film unfolds over the course of one night and besides a lot of talking not much appears to happen.  Yet by the end of the film even the most cynical spectator becomes swept up in a dreamy Gatsby-esque notion of love.  However it isn’t all flowers, rainbows and green lights on the ends of docks, because these characters are not hopeless romantics drinking poison and falling on daggers at the thought of being apart.

They are a far cry from Romeo and Juliet and I only hope that the Twilight generation stumbles across these films at some point. Unlike Edward and Bella, Jesse and Celine know from the start that they are on different paths and when the morning comes they will go their separate ways and live their separate lives.  Celine is not going to quit school and move to America as easily as Bella agrees to give up being a human. They are not dramatic about it, and therein lies the beauty.  As they say goodbye without exchanging last names or telephone numbers in a pre-Facebook world, there is this sense of sadness in the knowledge that they are making a mistake. Yet the film leaves you with hope of their meeting once again in Vienna six months to the day and time.

This only makes the 2004 sequel even more wrenching.  Before Sunset opens with Jesse on a book tour in Paris promoting a novel inspired by Celine.  The question on everyone’s mind: did the two meet again?  Like Vienna in the first film, Paris becomes a third character as the two wander around the city in real time, the eighty minutes Jesse has before his flight back to the US.  Almost a decade has passed and while the first film is ripe with the promise of youth and the ending full of potential, the second film finds the two in their thirties contemplating the regrets that led them to the present moment.

The ending of Before Sunset is beautifully ambiguous, leaving it to the audience to decide the fate of these much loved characters.  The Guardian calls the final scene “one of the most tantalizing and ingenious endings in all cinema.” As Celine dances goofily around her living room impersonating Nina Simone, Jesse watches rapt from the sofa.  She, in character as Simone, purrs “Baby, you’re gonna miss that plane.”  He barely registers her words, replying with a simple, “I know.”

Each of the films can stand alone, but viewed sequentially they paint a brilliantly hazy and bittersweet rendition of real life where love, no matter how true, does not necessarily conquer all.  And, as the films posit, maybe that is the point.  In Before Sunrise, Celine tells the story of her grandmother, who “spent her whole life dreaming of another man that she was always in love with…she just accepted her fate.”  In response Jesse muses, “I guarantee you it was better that way…I am sure he would have disappointed her eventually.”

As I anticipate the release of Before Midnight, I am reminded of one of my favorite moments from Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.  As Brett and Jake are pushed together in a taxi, Brett laments, “we could have had such a damned good time together” to which Jake responds, “isn’t it pretty to think so?”

I imagine it’s the same for Jesse and Celine. Or maybe, in Before Midnight, they will finally get their happy ending.

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For Literary Travelers planning trips abroad, The Worldwide Guide to Movie Locations offers detailed information on each of the locations utilized in Before Sunrise (Vienna) and Before Sunset (Paris).

 

 

The Truth About Cuba: Seven Recommended Reads for the Curious Traveler

November 7, 2012 in Cuba, Literature, Politics

1. The Old Man And The Sea

Ernest Hemingway (fiction, 1952)

The Old Man And The Sea was Ernest Hemingway’s last fiction published during his lifetime. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1953. The novella tells the story of Santiago, an aging fisherman, and his attempt to transcend natural laws. In Santiago we find a hero, and a representative of Cuba and its people through the eyes of Hemingway.

2. Trading With The Enemy: A Yankee Travels Through Castro’s Cuba

Tom Miller (non-fiction, 2008)

Tom Miller chronicles his eighth month trip with unrestricted access to the country and its people in this recent and eye-opening account of modern day Cuba.  Ripe with literary history, Miller follows the paths of Jose Marti, Graham Greene and Ernest Hemingway.

3. Cuba Diaries: An American Housewife in Havana

Isadora Tattlin (non-fiction, 2003)

Tattlin, after moving to Cuba in the early 1990s because of her husband’s job, kept a detailed narrative of her time in a country full of contradictions, and her reflections of being a wife, a mother, and an ex-patriot in a simultaneously beautiful and troubled country. It takes place during the peak of Castro’s reign.

4. Our Man In Havana:

Graham Greene (fiction, 1958)

A true page-turner and espionage thriller, Our Man In Havana follows the story of former vacuum cleaner-salesman-turned-secret-agent James Wormwold and his experience working in Cuba. Written by British author Graham Greene, (who was a part of M16) the book is part satire, part black comedy, and is a humorous and eye-opening view of Cuba during the Batista regime.

5. Cuba: Another Side of The Story: Memoirs of A Cuban Childhood

Iris M. Diaz (non-fiction, 2010)

The story of Ms. Diaz is the story of many Cubans who left the island in 1961, with no money in their pockets and dreams of a brighter future. Diaz’s story is one of struggle and tenacity, and her eventual success as a contemporary American citizen who remains loyal to her Cuban heritage.

6. The Splendor Of Cuba: 450 Years of Architecture and Interiors

Written by Michael Connors, Photographed by Brent Winebrenner (Art, architecture 2011)

In this stunning visual and literary history of Cuba’s architecture, Connors and Winebrenner capture not only the derelict Cuba of Castro’s reign, but also the lavish beauty of Cuba’s Spanish Creole aristocracy.  The book travels from Havana to Finca Vigia, (Hemingway’s home) and provides close-ups of balustrades, grilles and all that is Cuba’s faded glory and meticulously kept majesty.

7. Lonely Planet: Cuba

(Travel, 2009)

Included is a full color section on Cuba’s music, festivals, natural beauty and architecture, and a unique green index that makes eco friendly travel easy. Lonely Planet provides vital information on anything from deep-sea fishing to dining and traveling safely and efficiently.

The Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival

February 16, 2012 in American literature, Literary Festivals, New Orleans, Southern Writers, Tennessee Williams

Self-Portrait by Tennessee Williams

While many are drawn to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, there’s another late Winter festival worth its weight in gold. After all the beads have been tossed and the confetti has been swept away, it’s time for literary travelers from around the world to take over the resplendent city.  March 21st marks the start of the five day Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival.  The Festival started in 1987 to celebrate the city’s immense literary culture.

According to the press release, “The five-day fête honors the legendary Tennessee Williams, his works, and literary life in the adopted city he called his ‘spiritual home’ and features two days of master classes; a roster of lively discussions among distinguished panelists; celebrity interviews; theater, food and music events; a scholars’ conference; a poetry slam, writing marathon and breakfast book club; French Quarter literary walking tours; a book fair; short fiction, poetry and one-act play competitions; and special evening events and parties.”  With so many events to choose from, five days doesn’t seem like nearly enough time to experience the festival as well as get a taste of all the city has to offer.  In order to squeeze the most into your experience there are a few easy ways to multi-task.

Since no literary trip to New Orleans would be complete without a walking tour of the multitude of literary landmarks that cover the city, make sure to get your fill with Heritage Literary Tours.  Led throughout the year by retired University of New Orleans Literature professor Dr. Kenneth Holditch, as part of the Festival he will be offering a tour that focuses on landmarks relating to Tennessee Williams in particular.

As for accommodations, there is no shortage of literary culture at the historic Hotel Monteleone, which is offering a limited number of rooms at a discounted rate for attendees of the festival. The 125 year old hotel is a literary landmark in and of itself, as it was once frequented by Truman Capote, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty and Williams himself, as well as being featured in the writing of Ernest Hemingway in “The Night Before Battle.”  Suites at the hotel now bear the names of Welty, Williams, Faulkner and Hemingway.  The Hotel Monteleone also offers a Literary History Walking Tour, which spotlights the hotel’s place as a literary landmark.  Led by local historian Glenn De Villier, the tour begins and ends in the hotel’s Carousel Bar, which was a favorite of Williams’ and immortalized in the works of Williams, Hemingway and Welty.

In lieu of souvenirs, do a little shopping while experiencing further literary heritage by visiting Faulkner House Books, located at the site of Faulkner’s 1925 residence, where he wrote his first novel, Soldiers’ Pay.  This new and used book store specializes in Faulkner, Williams, and Southern Literature with an emphasis on New Orleans and Louisiana. Faulkner House is a national literary landmark, and for book lovers and history aficionados, not to be missed.

Williams once said, “if I can be said to have a home, it is New Orleans, which has provided me with more material than any other part of the country.” So, take a page from the literary sentinel and find inspiration in the sites and sounds of the city of New Orleans.  Whether traveling to New Orleans for the Festival, or just to experience the city’s rich culture, there is no time like the present to book your trip. 

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Featuring Tennessee Williams

Key West Friday: Having Dinner With Tennessee Williams 

The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond

Key West, Day One: An Overview

January 8, 2012 in Florida Feature, Hemingway in Key West, Key West Travel, Uncategorized

Arrive approximately 7:00pm at apartment/hotel. Clearly people live in this building full-time (“I’ve lived here five years and never taken the elevator,” one resident confessed), but we pickup our key from a “concierge” in another building; the one across the pedestrian bridge from the Sunrise Suites, our temporary home. The apartment smells like a hotel and the distinctly Floridian odor of sun-baked mildew.

As we head out for dinner, we weave through a parking lot full of white vans decorated with competitive messages and symbols. Each one ends up looking the same. The relay-race from Miami to Key West supports the Florida Special Olympics and hosts hundreds. Many of the runners at the Sunrise Suites wear tall striped socks and mill aimlessly. In addition to the literary conference going on, the tours, cruises and themed retreats, a 199 mile race stops here. Key West is full to the brim with visitors who want to have a good time.

On nearly every downtown corner, large groups of strapping young lads built like Hemingway roam like big cats, and I wonder, is everyone here to do something? Has anyone come to Key West to relax, or is it the kind of place fun looks tiring? The “rummies” look a wee bored, cigars fashioned listlessly in their lips. And fun-havers everywhere, stepping over obstacles, have their eyes fixed upon the next bar. Occasionally I witness a tourist stop to sniff out a particularly gorgeous scent in the air (which is where Key West gets truly interesting): ocean air, roasting meat, cigars rolled in the Cuban tradition. These are the real charms of Duval Street. The lights and shops are only a glint in her vast sparkling eyes.

Hemingway’s Key West: How to Travel like a Literary Icon

December 2, 2011 in American literature, Hemingway in Key West, Key West Travel

  “Then we came to the edge of the stream and the water quit being blue and was light and greenish and inside I could see…the wireless masts at Key West and the La Concha hotel up high out of all the low houses”  – Ernest Hemingway, To Have and Have Not

If you are planning a trip to Key West, there are plenty of hotels to choose from, but for the literary traveler the choice is easy.  Dating back to 1926, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the La Concha not only provides you with luxurious accommodations amidst the excitement of popular Duval Street, but it also gives you access to a lush history without even leaving your hotel room.  The La Concha boasts a rich past, with former guests running the gamut from Harry S. Truman to Al Capone, and of course, literary legend, Ernest Hemingway.

At only seven stories high, the La Concha is the tallest building in Key West and one of its best known features is its rooftop bar and observation deck, which offers incredible views of the infamous Key West sunsets.  It is easy to picture Hemingway tossing back a daiquiri against a backdrop of dusky island ambiance.  In fact, he started work on his 1937 novel, To Have and Have Not, in a suite at the La Concha.  The novel, set in Key West, pays homage to the hotel, noting its prominence on the horizon as the protagonist, Harry Morgan, leaves Key West for Cuba.

Hemingway initially made the move to Key West with his second wife, Pauline, at the suggestion of fellow writer John Dos Passos.  In 1936 he met Martha Gellhorn at his favorite watering hole, and present day hot spot, Sloppy Joe’s.  If the walls of the La Concha could talk they would tell tales of their affair, which ultimately led to his third marriage.  For the true literary traveler, a stay in Hemingway’s suite at the La Concha is a very real possibility. While in Key West you can definitely walk a mile in his shoes, but why not kick off those shoes and spend a night in his suite?

While the literature aficionado and history buff alike will take pleasure in sitting where Hemingway sat as he penned his classics, a warning to those looking to stay in the room where he wiled away his days.  According to a chapter on the hotel in Greg Jenkin’s Florida’s Ghostly Legends and Haunted Folklore, strange and possibly otherworldly happenings have been reported in the suite, and one possible culprit is believed to be the ghost of a mischievous Hemingway playing tricks on guests who have taken over his space.  For those who enjoy a little mystery with their history, a tour of haunted Key West landmarks actually starts in the lobby of the La Concha.

For further information on Hemingway’s ties to Key West and the La Concha check out Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon’s 2008 literature themed travel guide, Novel Destinations, a very comprehensive handbook for the literary traveler that The Chicago Tribune calls “a fun read whether for armchair travelers or actual literary pilgrims.”  Now doesn’t that sound like a great book to peruse en route to Key West?  So pack your bags, find a sitter for your six-toed cats, and we will meet you on the rooftop of the La Concha for a mojito in Hemingway’s honor.

Happy Key West Friday! Why Don't You Have A Drink?

November 4, 2011 in American literature, Classic Writers, Cocktails Inspired by Literature, Hemingway in Key West, Key West Travel, Recipes, Travel Writers

Hemingway drinks in the Plaza Del Gastillo, July 1959.


Today’s edition of Key West Friday is going to focus on something very near and dear to my own heart: literary cocktails. More specifically, I want to talk about one of the greatest mixologists of the 20th century—I’m speaking of Ernest Hemingway, of course—and his personal creations.

Though some may think of Hemingway as just another author you had to read in high school, overlooking Hemingway’s massive influence on American culture, masculinity, and writing would be a sorry mistake. Even if we leave aside his incredible literary talents, Hemingway was far more than simply a writer. He was a celebrity before we truly had celebrities; he single-handedly defined a generation in a way that few authors have since. While his perpetually disillusioned anti-heroes certainly played a role in capturing and symbolically creating the post-war American, (Hemingway’s case is, I happen to believe, one of those chicken-or-the-egg issues. Did he simply record what he saw, and capture the disenchanted drifting of many young men, or did his novels contribute to a certain image of the American identity that was beginning to coalesce? I imagine it was a bit of both) his actual person was just as instrumental in the process. He was, according to those that knew him, a force of nature.

He let loose his forceful personality during his time in Key West, where he lived for several years before relocating to Cuba. During this time, Hemingway did little to reel in his natural vivaciousness, and found himself what PBS’s Michael Palin describes as “Hemingway’s wild adventures:”

In a rain-splattered Key West street, he duked it out with Wallace Stevens after the poet had insulted him. In his beloved boat, Pilar, he battled man-sized fish (managing to shoot himself in both legs while trying to gaff one shark). Hemingway belted back drinks at Sloppy Joe’s, a speakeasy that went legal after Prohibition ended. While at his favorite watering hole, he befriended a young journalist named Martha Gellhorn, who traveled with him to Spain to cover the civil war there. Eventually, she would become his third wife.

As Palin makes clear, these episodes were often fueled by alcohol. But what kind of alcohol?

Here we have to turn to another source. According to the wonderful site Codex 99, in 1937, Hemingway created a drink that Charles Barker later included in his book The Gentleman’s Companion. Hemingway called it a “picker-upper” but it went down in history as “Death in the Gulf Stream.” Despite the morose name, the actual mix sounds rather delicious. For those of you interested in celebrating Key West Friday at home, here’s the recipe for Hemingway’s scary little cocktail:

2 oz. Lucas Bols Oude Genever
4 dashes Angostura
1 lime
Add crushed ice to a thin tumbler. Lace the ice with 4 dashes of Angostura and add the juice and crushed peel of 1 lime. Nearly fill the tumbler with Genever.

Of course, you can always go the traditional route and make yourself a mojito, but we think this Death sounds much more impressive. Happy drinking.

Midnight in Paris: A Philosophical Stroll through the City of Lights

July 6, 2011 in Famous Painters, Literary Movies 2011, Pop Culture

Midnight in Paris, Sony Pictures Classics

Amid the tempest of sequels and special effects that currently shrouds Hollywood, it seems difficult to find a good summer movie. Woody Allen’s latest production, Midnight in Paris, might cast off your concerns–it’s a thoughtful and strikingly elegant film.

Owen Wilson plays Gil Bender, a restless, romantic screenwriter, who travels to Paris with his fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams), and her parents. Inez isn’t as enamored by the bohemian lifestyle Paris represents for Gil, so he walks the city streets at night alone, finding himself actually transported into the roaring twenties, an era he considers to be a golden age.

Some of the film’s most delightful moments occur as Gil encounters beloved literary and artistic figures of the time. He comes across a brusque, rugged Hemingway (Corey Stoll), whose blunt remarks on the value of courage, truth and the importance of hunting and making love epitomize (even exaggerate) the persona that is clearly present in Hemingway’s prose.

Woody Allen also attempts to capture Zelda Fitzgerald (Alison Pill) and of course, her husband F. Scott (Tom Hiddleston), as well as Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo), and my personal favorite, Salvador Dalí (Adrien Brody).

The plot thickens when Gil finds himself not only falling in love with 1920s Paris but with Picasso’s young mistress, Adriana (Marion Cotillard). Gil’s relationship with Adriana is no carefree fling though, forcing Gil to ask an uncomfortable question: Can he live happily in the past and forget the present? This philosophical quandary becomes more complicated as Adriana confesses that she would prefer to live in the 1890s, a time she considers a golden age.

This “grass is always greener” mentality is something that resonated with me. I’ve often thought I would love to have grown up in The Sixties, a time when important social movements took the world by storm and rock n’ roll was at its finest. Midnight in Paris reminded me that there are downsides to living in any time period. If I lived during my golden age I would miss the convenience and profound influence of the internet, and been frustrated by the enforced Vietnam draft. But I can certainly relate to Gil’s longing for a perfect, simpler time.

Midnight in Paris not only brings to the screen witty representations of important artists and gorgeous Parisian scenery, but it serves as a commentary on the nature of humans, our longings and awakenings.