Written by Elizabeth McCullough Friday, 05 August 2011 14:46
BookBalloon is very pleased to announce a new feature in the Forum: One Story at a Time, led by Katharine Weber. If you're already a registered member of BookBalloon, click this link to go straight to the discussion. If you're not already a BookBalloon member (and why not? It's free!), click here to begin.
Here's Katharine's vision for the discussion:
I am delighted to be curating and leading the new One Story at a Time discussion here at BookBalloon. Our intention is to have a focused conversation about each story in the series over the course of approximately two weeks. We will announce each selection well in advance of the scheduled discussion, and there will be a link to each story (every selected story will be available online). One Story at a Time will offer a rare opportunity to stay focused on this one topic so we can bear down on it collectively. In this time of fractured and atomised focus, it has become rare to the point of quaint to do just one thing at a time.
There are no requirements about participation. You are welcome to be present for one story at a time, as it suits your inclination, taste, and availability.
The first story up for discussion will be Flannery O'Connor's "Everything That Rises Must Converge." Katharine calls it "a terrific narrative condensation of O'Connor's strange and intoxicating literary legacy. It's a magnificent story to analyze and appreciate, a story about which there is always more to say, and it promises a great first discussion to launch One Story at a Time."
Join us beginning Monday, August 22. If you are not already a member of the Forum, registration is free.
Katharine Weber is a short story writer, essayist, and the author of five novels. Her newest book, The Memory of All That, combines insightful memoir with a fascinating family history and reflects on many of the themes of her past work.
Written by Elizabeth McCullough Thursday, 18 August 2011 23:47
Dove Creek is a novel that tells the story of Patricia Faye Morrison, a native of Kentucky who goes west to become a U.S. Public Health nurse on the Nez Perce and Coeur D’Alene reservations. As is the way of these journeys, Patricia learns more from the Native Americans than they learn from her, and her experiences eventually bring her enlightenment and free her from the demons of bad relationships and heavy drinking.
The story of Patricia’s inner and outer journeys is framed by a camping trip she takes with her two sons during which she reflects on her past and tries to figure out what life’s all about. This framing device keeps popping up unexpectedly throughout the book, making it hard to keep track of the chronology of events. And there are other problems. The novel switches off among several different narrative styles, including expository passages of American Indian history (with footnotes) and diary entries, but the sudden changes in style and pace don’t seem to add up to any larger effect. There are some charming descriptions, for instance, “Aspen trembled as if filled with the Holy Ghost,” and the anecdotes of Patricia’s life as a public health nurse are full of drama.
But all in all, this is a book that doesn’t know what kind of a book it wants to be. In fact, as I read I gradually began to suspect that Dove Creek is not really a work of fiction. Extraneous details and bits of information -- the kind that only make sense in the context of real life -- kept intruding on the story. It turns out that the author, Paula Marie Coomer, is a native of Kentucky and a former nurse with the U.S. Public Health Service. She worked on the Nez Perce and Coeur d’Alene reservations. She shares some other characteristics with her protagonist: they both have two sons; they both have mothers with disabilities; they both have grandfathers who spent time in prison.
On the assumption that Dove Creek is as much fact as fiction, I have to wonder: Why not just write a memoir? There are a lot of good reasons for choosing fiction. Perhaps there are people still living who would be offended. Perhaps the author wants the freedom of changing details, rearranging events, or combining or leaving out characters without having to answer to the petty facts of the matter. Maybe reals events are just the seeds of a larger, more universal story that needs to be told.
The difficulty with fictionalizing the truth is that even if you don’t want to satisfy the restrictions of memoir, you still have to satisfy the requirements of a good novel. That means shaping the story, disciplining it, making it true in a different way than the way mere facts are true, and finding the proper narrative distance from which to observe its characters, including the “I” who is telling the story. It’s not as simple as just changing some names and details.
But then nothing about this business of writing is simple. If it were, authors wouldn’t be getting in so much trouble over fictionalizing their memoirs. Dove Creek made me wonder if you can also over-factualize your fiction.
Written by M. Zook Thursday, 04 August 2011 16:36
WASHINGTON – In a move that caught many Republicans by surprise, President Obama today dropped in the Rose Garden the announcement that he will immediately realign his party affiliation, becoming a Republican in time to enter the Iowa caucuses in seeking re-election.
“This will come as a surprise to many of you, although it shouldn’t if you have carefully studied the accomplishments of my administration,” Obama said, as the First Lady stood behind him. “Our first act was to sign onto a bailout plan for the financial and automotive industries, and other corporations in need of welfare.
“Our adoption nationwide of Mitt Romney’s healthcare plan locked in our Republican bona fides.
“And, the debt reduction package should make apparent a shift in direction that actually began before I officially took office,” Obama said in prepared remarks.
“Hey man. You don’t have to tell me which way the wind’s blowing,” the president remarked to Vice President Joe Biden after his official remarks. The aside to Biden was caught on an open mike that the president thought was off.
“No f’in’ big deal,” responded Biden.
Republicans, on the other hand, were struck nearly speechless by the president’s announcement.
“He can’t do that, can he? He’s a socialist,” said Sarah Palin before delivering the keynote address at the Prosperity Conference, sponsored by Koch Industries, which beamed in Obama’s announcement as the invitation-only audience filed into the gold-festooned Free Enterprise conference center in Wichita. When asked to elaborate on her assessment, Palin searched her ink-stained hands but could not find a comment that matched the question.
“This does pose problems. I mean, look at him, he’s not like us,” said a winking national leader of the Tea Party, who requested anonymity on the grounds his remarks are not officially sanctioned. “Oh, I don’t have a problem with it,” remarked a founding father of the Tea Party: “As long as he gets his gluteus maximus in line behind Boehner. These guys in Washington need to understand who’s driving the bus.”
While the door is open for the incumbent president to defect, it is not clear that lesser Democrats will be welcomed in the Grand Old Party. “We’re in the process of developing a purity test,” said Sen. Gall Paul, the newly elected Tea Partier from Tennessee, adding, “something based on that turn your head and cough exercise. That would definitely leave the blue dogs in the dog house.”
“Hey, our tent is big, but there are limits,” said a staffer at the Republican National Committee. “We like beating up on these guys, so while it’s ok to have some of them in the pews, we at the same time prefer opponents who seem so satisfied with us sticking it to them.”
In a somewhat unrelated development, plans to replace Punxsutawney Phil with a Democratic member of Congress were scratched. Officials cited Democrats’ inability to cast a shadow.
Written by Elizabeth McCullough Thursday, 21 July 2011 19:34
It’s a story with enough glamour, intrigue, romance, and heartbreak for a dozen Broadway musicals, but every word of it is true. The Memory of All That is Katharine Weber’s memoir of her remarkable, maddening, fascinating family – from her father, a philandering filmmaker, to her influential Warburg relations. At the heart of the story is Katharine’s grandmother, Kay Swift, an accomplished musician, composer and author, and George Gershwin’s long-time friend and lover.
Weber is the author of the novels True Confections (2010), Triangle (2006), The Little Women (2003), The Music Lesson (1999), and Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear (1995).
Katharine Weber will be at BookBalloon beginning Tuesday, July 26, to discuss The Memory of All That and answer questions in the Forum. Please join us next week.
Forum participation requires registration, which is free.
- Read an excerpt from The Memory of All That.
- Can't We Be Friends? The Sly, Sublime Writings of Katharine Weber at Litkicks.com.
Written by Rodney Welch Thursday, 30 June 2011 15:37
After years of making great slice-of-life films of Italian life, Federico Fellini in 1960 turned his attention to Italy itself—Italy and, by extension, life in the modern world. The result was La Dolce Vita, a three-hour epic about a philandering tabloid journalist, Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni), who is torn between settling down with the one woman who truly loves him, the needy, fiery Emma (Yvonne Furneaux) and the many women he attracts. Marcello is torn in other ways as well, as he dreams of being a real writer but is a little too intoxicated by "the sweet life"—the great Italian nightlife of cafes, cabarets, beautiful homes, whores, long drives, and impulsive romantic escapades.
Marcello's story, his rise and eventual fall, is the framework for a bigger story, an examination of a society where sensation has taken over, where values (whatever they once were) no longer matter, and where the fake has long since supplanted the real. From beginning to end, the world of La Dolce Vita is filled with masks and fakery, in ways both obvious and not. It begins with one of the signature shots of 1960s cinema: in which a statue of Christ, dangling from a helicopter, wafts through the air in transport to the Vatican—a suggestion, perhaps, that this is as close to a Second Coming as this society is going to receive, that religion is either as much of a sham as everything else, or in any event that it no longer connects with the lives of people.
What does connect? What is it that has meaning, value, purpose? The question lingers in the background as Fellini takes us from one crazy event to the next. There's Maddalena (Anouk Aimee), Marcello's lover, whose life is full of as many random encounters as his, whose idea of spicing up her sex life is to pick up a hooker and then seduce Marcello on the bed in the woman's flooded apartment. There's Sylvia, the busty American actress (Anita Ekberg) who is all body and no brain—a child in a woman's body—as vapid as she is sexy. There's Emma, the soul of the film, the fiercely passionate lover who wants only a home and family, which is just the kind of environment that for Marcello offers nothing but sterility. And, most painfully of all, there is Steiner (Alain Cuny), Marcello's idol, the man he wants to be, and a man so burned-out on life he would rather be anyone else.
Widely controversial in its own day—for reasons that seem rather quaint to us 50 years later—and hugely influential, La Dolce Vita became one of the key movies of its day to examine the jet set; lots of movies have since penetrated the not-so-secret world of the rich and famous, but it was one of the first and it remains the best. Also, it's a work that is steeped in ambition, as Fellini erects one ambitious sequence after the next, creating scenes (particularly the orgy at the end) that would define him forever.
A brilliant reflection of Italy in a certain era, it is also a work that ages well, not only in the way it addresses the search for values, but also the search for love. It's a movie about mostly superficial people, but it is itself anything but superficial.
Nominated for four Academy Awards and winner of the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival, it was voted the 6th Greatest film of all time by Entertainment Weekly, ranked #11 in Empire magazine's "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema", and continues to show regularly on lists of great films.
Available for free streaming at Netflix or for purchase at Amazon.
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