September 21, 2018

The Week paper magazine

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Just when I had given up all paper news sources, along came The Week, a weekly magazine that a friend started giving me when he was done reading it. Their tag line below the title says “The Best of the U. S. and International Media” and that about says it all.

This is a concise news source for quick overviews of world and national politics, along with blurbs on issues of culture, science, technology and the arts.There are also editorials from around the world on mainstream and lesser known subjects.

For in depth articles, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and magazine web sites like The Economist and The New Yorker take me further into selected topics, but for general news, The Week is easily perused in one sitting and gets me up to speed on most of the current hot button topics.

Curiously, I have visited The Week’s electronic magazine site, but greatly prefer their old-fashioned paper magazine format. They amply use both eye-catching photos and drawings for many articles, including the always amusing cover color cartoon.

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A black and white cartoon page slants toward the political and is always hilarious. The crossword puzzle on the back page is like dessert after a several course meal of various issues.

Some may criticize the thumbnail approach to hard news, but in the words of Sgt. Friday on Dragnet,  “All we want are the facts, ma’am.”As far as I know, The Week is giving me just that in one digestible format.

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Little Fires Everywhere novel by Celeste Ng

Every so often, a book seems to appear on book club lists across the nation. One such novel is Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng which examines adoption, immigration, abortion, class divisions and family relationships.

Set in the affluent Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights, we are introduced at the outset to the Richardson family’s tragic house fire. Ng proceeds to go back in time to recount the events leading up to the intentionally set blaze.

The Richardsons were renting a small apartment to artist Mia Warren and her teenage daughter, Pearl, mysterious recent arrivals to this privileged enclave. The four Richardson children become entwined with the Asian-American mother and daughter. Mia becomes the Richardson’s housekeeper while also juggling a waitress job and her photographic art projects. Daughter Pearl becomes embroiled with all four of the Richardson children, even having intimate relations with one of the boys.

An immigrant waitress co-worker of Mia’s named Bebe becomes involved with a wealthy couple (friends of the Richardson.) who have contentious custody of her biological daughter. Mr. Richardson is the affluent couple’s legal counsel during the resulting custody trial. Mrs. Richardson, a local journalist, begins digging into the past of both Bebe and Mia and finds some surprising parallels.

Celeste Ng has created a pot-boiler with intricate plot connections that hit many hot button topics of current day. This may not be fine literature, but it is definitely a decently written page turner. I can just imagine the little fiery discussions that this successful novel surely incites at literary gatherings everywhere.

Circe: Author Madeline Miller tackles Greek mythology

Like many high school and college students, do you remember being required to read Edith Hamilton’s classic book Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes? The Greek stories interested me the most, but it also contained Roman and Norse mythology seen through the work of poets, playwrights and historians.

If you feel like revisiting Greek mythology in an engagingly written fiction format, look no further than Circe by Madeline Miller. I must admit that I did not initially appreciate the florid prose but then I got sucked into the timeless tale of Circe and her world of Titans, Olympians and humans brave enough to fraternize with gods.

I felt like I was reminiscing about long-lost relatives and old school chums as I encountered names such as Daedalus, Odysseus, Hermes, Athena, Medea, the Minotaur and Zeus. Daughter to the sun god, Helios, Circe is the underdog child who is banished to a deserted island where she polishes her witchcraft and entertains the occasional visitor. Just let me tell you that she does not reward “piggish” human behavior.

Miller has a previous book entitled Achilles which goes on my “to read” list. I could stand to be refreshed on the Trojan War, with Helen, Achilles, Hector, Paris and that horse.

Circe by Madeline Miller is Greek to you and me, but in a good way.

Janet, Jackie and Lee by J. Randy Taraborrelli

The sub-title of Janet, Jackie and Lee is “The Secret Lives of Janet Auchincloss and Her Daughters Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Lee Radziwill.” Author Taraborrelli who has written a handful of other books on the Kennedys scopes in on the Bouvier sisters and their indomitable mother, Janet Lee Bouvier Auchincloss Morris.

There are some titillating revelations like sister Lee having an affair with Aristotle Onassis well before her sister, Jacqueline Kennedy married the Greek shipping tycoon. Lee frequently was seeing other men while married to Prince Radziwill. Despite the tell-all quality to the book, Taraborrelli’s writing and research are impressive. He seems to have spoken with a myriad of family members, staff, friends and colleagues to paint an accurate picture of the relationships between mother Janet and her two famous daughters.

Lee Radziwill is still very much alive in her 80s and did not want friends to talk to Taraborrelli. Nevertheless, the book contains much information on her surprising friendships (Truman Capote, Andy Warhol and Rudolf Nereyev among others) her romances and her varied career choices.

The book is long but the chapters are short so the pages fly by. Two sections of photos add to the enjoyment. We continue to be fascinated with the Kennedy family and their friends, lovers and in-laws.
Janet, Jackie and Lee definitely feeds that hunger.

Golden Hill: A Novel of Old New York by Francis Spufford

With Golden Hill: A Novel of Old New York, English author Francis Spufford tries his hand at a first novel after having successfully written five non-fiction works.

We are immediately drawn into the world of New York city in the 1700s with language that could have been written during that time period. This is not an easy read with dense paragraphs and archaic vocabulary, but those who persist will be rewarded with writing of the first quality. Spufford has pulled off the challenge of writing as if in that time period but adding issues of homosexuality, the inequality of woman, slavery and race prejudice against those of darker skin.

Richard Smith arrives from England, with paperwork that says he is to be advanced a large sum of money in the New World. He becomes embroiled with two of the local money lender’s daughters, is robbed by a thief, befriends two well-connected young men and partakes in a theatrical work with his new acquaintances, all the while being questioned about his plans for the windfall that will shortly be his.

Smith’s journey takes the reader from high society, to church, to duels and debauchery in a panoramic view of life in the colonies under King George. Gird your loins and dive into this stunning book. Methinks you might just feel a sense of deep literary satisfaction with Golden Hill by Francis Spufford.

The Woman in the Window by author A. J. Finn

There always seem to be one or two fiction potboilers currently titillating the public and seem fast-tracked for Hollywood. One such book is The Woman In the Window by A. J. Finn. The narrator is an agoraphobic child psychologist named Anna Fox who is mad for old suspense movies. Film buffs will recognize the book title as a 1944 Fritz Lang movie with the same name.

Dr. Fox has a lot in common with the Jimmy Stewart character in Hitchcock’s Rear Window, both thinking they may have observed a murder from their voyeuristic window vantage points. Fox ups the ante by recording what she sees with an expensive camera. Anna Fox also suffers from drug and alcohol addiction along with her inability to leave her home so you begin to doubt her perceptions of reality and her very sanity. The book’s depiction of her agoraphobic symptoms when she does venture outside are harrowing and all too accurate.

Players and suspects in the mix are her husband and daughter who do not live with her, a handyman tenant in her basement apartment, a psychologist and a physical therapist who make regular house calls and all of her neighbors who are characters in her personal cinematic production. What is true? Who can be trusted? Is our narrator truthful and trustworthy or able to discern those qualities in others?

And yes, the author (in real life, Dan Mallory, an editor at William Morrow) already sold the film rights for The Woman In the Window to a production company that is developing the property even as you read this.