Books & Reading: Alive and Well

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(Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post photo)

From what I saw and experienced on Saturday at the Washington Convention Center, books and reading are alive and well, at least in the DC area.

The Library of Congress’ National Book Festival, first started in 2001 and held on the Mall until this year, moved inside, and all indications are that it was a terrific move.

Last year the Festival had 200,000 visitors over a two day period. This year, the Festival was held for one day, from 10 am – 10 pm. No announcement has yet been made about the attendance, but when I arrived at 9:30, the Convention Center was mobbed with kids and adults of all ages. And none of the activities had even begun.

I attended three separate 45 minute author sessions (E.L. Doctorow, Ishamel Beah and Claire Messud). One was done as an interview, the other two as author talks. For each of these three sessions, the Ballroom was filled (perhaps 1,000 people), and those that did not arrive early had to stand in the back. Each of these three sessions was terrific.

If you multiply what happened in the those three sessions by 100 (there were actually more than 100 authors present throughout the 12-hour Festival), then you begin to get an idea of the success of the Festival.

There were 20 separate author signing tables set up for those who wanted to get their books autographed. And many of those had long lines. You could bring your own book or buy books on site for signing.

At the Politics & Proses bookstore on the second floor, there were 16 cash register stations that were constantly busy throughout the day, with fast moving lines of book buyers, usually holding at least several books for purchase.

The children’s sessions and activities were mobbed too, with well known authors reading from their books.

The 50 state pavilions were also crowded as Festival goers went to see what authors were being featured by the various states.

I had to leave in the early afternoon but could easily have feasted on the offerings until closing at 10 pm. There were panels in the evening, and while I don’t know how well attended they were, I would have liked to have been there for at least one of them — Great Books to Great Movies. Paul Auster, E.L. Doctorow, Alice McDermott and Elizabeth See were on that panel, moderated by Ann Hornaday, Washington Post film critic.

And those were just the parts of the Festival that caught my attention. There was so much more happening and so many competing offerings that next year I will plan to attend for the entire day. (See these two Post articles, National Book Festival Lures Hugh Crowds and Even Indoors, Book Lovers Flood to National Book Festival for more coverage of Saturday’s events.)

I will mark my calendar for next year’s Festival as soon as a date is announced.

And unlike this year, I will give MillersTime readers plenty of advanced notice of the event.

PS – All the sessions were taped and will be available on the Library of Congress’ website. When that happens, I’ll post notification of it and how you can access it.

September Nats’ Tickets…On the Way to the Playoffs?

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Empty seatI have a few September Washington Nationals tickets available, all at no cost to you, other than perhaps buying me some peanuts at the game (if it is a game we are seeing together):

The available dates:

Friday, Sept. 5, 7:05 vs Phillies. Two tickets available. I will not attend.

Sunday, Sept. 7, 1:35 vs Phillies. One ticket may be available. I will attend.

Tuesday, Sept 9, 7:05 vs Braves. One ticket available. I will attend.

Sunday, Sept. 28, 1:35 vs Marlins. Final game of the season. Two or four tickets may be available. I will not attend.

A slight change this time so these offers don’t only benefit those who happened to see this post first.

Between today and Wed., Sept.3, let me know by email or phone what game you’d like to see.

I will give preference first to those who have participated in the MillersTime Baseball Contests, second to those who have not been to a game with me this year, and third I’ll pay attention to when you contacted me about these tickets.

GoNats

(It’s clearly not a GoSox year.)

If You Love Books…

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poster_enlarge…and if you are in or near Washington, DC this Labor Day weekend, you’re in for a treat.

The National Book Festival will take place this Saturday, August 30th, from 10 am – 10 pm, though doors open at 9 am.

And it’s all free.

Since it first began in 2001, it has been held on the Mall, but this year it has moved indoors to the Washington Convention Center.

The list of activities is impressive and includes more than 100 authors, book signings, lectures, panel discussions, activities for children, and the opportunity to meet some of your favorite writers.

Also, our very own treasure, Politics & Prose Bookstore, has been chosen as the first independent book store to sell books at the Festival. If you want a book signed, you can buy it from them on the second floor of the Convention Center. But you can also bring your own copy of a book to be signed.

You can see a list of the authors, the activities and a map of all the events by clicking on this website.

Maybe I’ll see you there.

 

Three Movies to Consider

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I enjoy movies as readers of MillersTime no doubt know. Of late, however, there haven’t seem to be too many ones to recommend for your consideration.

Here are three, however, that on various levels I found enjoyable:

A Most Wanted Man ****

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From a John le Carre book, this spy thriller is entertaining and not exactly formulaic.

What was best about it for me was the performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman in the lead role as Gunter Bachmann, a German spy who is the head of an anti-terrorist organization.

Knowing that this film was Hoffman’s final performance (he died of an overdose earlier this year) possibly affected my judgment as I was conscious of watching a favorite actor act. But he certainly is (was) a craftsman at what he does.

If you are looking for a mainstream movie that is engaging and doesn’t insult your intelligence, A Most Wanted Man fits that bill.

Get on Up ****

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The best thing about this film for me was the performance of Chadwick Boseman portraying the life story of James Brown.

Boseman, who played the role of Jackie Robinson in ’42, is totally convincing as he gives us a look into the life of the “Godfather of Soul.”  His performance is terrific.

In fact, he’s better than the picture itself, which is long and skips back and forth as it tells the story Brown’s life.  We learn much about Brown’s early life, his climb to fame, and his ups and downs, but there was something lacking in the script.  I can’t quite put my finger on what, but Get on Up, because of Boseman’s performance, is good enough.

Abuse of Weakness ****1/2

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I suspect this film will be hard to find (I saw it at the Film Society of Lincoln Center); plus, it is a hard film to like.

It’s based on the life of film maker Maud Schoenberg (well played by Isabelle Huppert) and what happens in her life once she suffers from a crippling stroke. Clearly an intelligent and talented individual, Maud/Isabelle makes a number of life decisions that are hard to understand.

Film director Catherine Breillat doesn’t give us easy explanations for these decisions, and we are left to try and understand why Maud/Isabelle makes the choices she does.

In addition to two very good performances (Huppert’s and Kool Shen’s), there is something intriguing about this film, particularly about it’s central character.

Abuse of Weakness is unlikely to find a very wide audience, but if it shows up in your area (or through any of the ways you see films), I’d be curious to know what you think of it.

 

(PS -I also saw the film Frank in NYC. Lots of film critics seem to love this movie. Neither Ellen nor I could understand what was likeable or good about it.)

“Ever Since Columbine…”

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A friend sent me the article linked to below.

Since many of you who ‘read’ MillersTime are (have been teacher) or worked in education and many more of you are involved with schools in one way or another, I thought I’d pass along this wonderful example of what one individual is doing in her classroom.

It should only take you a few minutes to read.

Feel free to pass it on to others.

One Teacher’s Brilliant Strategy to Stop Bullying, by Glennon Doyle Melton.

Why Is President Obama Such a Polarizing Figure?

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My daughter asked me last weekend, “Don’t you think {President} Obama should go to Ferguson?”

I immediately said, “No. I don’t think he should.” And I talked briefly about the issue of local and state control. Although there was increasing tension and violence (on both sides), I didn’t believe it was the President’s role to go to the scene of the turmoil in that city.

But I also felt that Pres. Obama could not go, even if he wanted to.

For a variety of reasons, he has become a polarizing figure in our country. (See Why Obama Won’t Give the Ferguson Speech His Supporters Want).

A number of years ago, perhaps it was in early 2007, I was spending a good deal of time in Orlando, FL, visiting my aging parents. In the evenings, after they had gone to sleep, I turned on the radio and was stunned to hear what was being said about Hilliary Clinton, then the leading Democratic candidate for the Presidency (Sen. Obama was not yet an announced candidate).

Both the talk show hosts and the callers seemed to me to be salivating at the thought of having Hilliary Clinton as the Democratic opponent to a Republican candidate. It is not an exaggeration to say that what I heard was “vile.” After listening for a few evenings, I felt sick by what I was hearing and stopped tuning into those stations.

When Obama announced his candidacy and began to challenge Clinton, I was intrigued. Tho I knew he hadn’t had the experience that Clinton had, I felt he was a fresh face and could possibly be a less polarizing candidate.

When Candidate Obama gave his ‘race’ speech in Philadelphia in 2008, A More Perfect Union, I was convinced he was the best shot we had as a country to move beyond our racial divide. After all, he was very different than a Jesse Jackson and had spent much of his life walking that thin line between a white and a black world. (You can read the full text of his speech or you can watch a video of it, 37+ minutes.)

How naive I was.

Now, six over seven years later, even if it was determined that a President’s presence in Ferguson was called for, Pres. Obama could not go. He is simply too polarizing and likely would only add to the tension and to the crisis. Not calm nor help it.

And so the question I’ve been wondering about, not only since Ferguson but for quite a while now is this:

Why has President Obama become such a polarizing figure?

A number of possible answers come to mind for me, but I would be interested in what readers of this website would say about that question.

As always, if you weigh in, and I hope you will, please keep your responses civil, no matter how strongly you may feel about this President, this Presidency, or what is happening in our country.

My hope is that we can have a thoughtful conversation in the Comment section of this post.

NYC in August

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It was Ellen’s idea.

“Let’s plan a trip in August to NYC,” she said. “It’ll be similar to our one-week-a-year trips to a foreign city.”

I was skeptical: “NYC in August?”

But then I”m a married man, and so we headed to NYC last Friday, returning home today, five nights, six days later.

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Stepping Back from the Precipice…for the Moment.

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Twenty-four hours ago I asked my wife Ellen to lock up all the sharp knives and put a barrier across the stairs to the third floor.

It was clear to me that the Sox were about to explode, that GM Ben Cherington was about to cast off, minimally, our two top pitchers and one of our top relievers.

For what? A bunch of prospects?

My well being was threatened, and I needed protection from acting impulsively.

This morning I told Ellen she could unlock the knives and take down the barrier to the third floor.

For the moment at least, things didn’t seem so dire.

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Favorite Films from First Half of 2014

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Compiled below is the list of films I saw between Jan. 1, 2014 and July 31, 2014 that I rated from three and a half to five stars.

These categories are somewhat arbitrary, but generally the five and four and a half star films are pretty close, and I enjoyed those tremendously. The four star ones were all good, but I had some (minor) reservations. The three and half star ones were more problematical films but still worth checking out.

If a film did not make it into one of these categories, I did not write a review.

The ones listed below I recommend for your consideration.

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Looking for a Summer Read?

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Many of you know that each year readers of MillersTime succumb to my pleading and endless reminders to send in the titles of books they’ve most enjoyed reading in the past year, not necessarily new books, just ones that have been their favorite reads of the year.

If you are looking for something to read as the summer moves into August, click on the link below, and I’ll bet you can find some good reads.

The Books Most Enjoyed by “MillersTime” Readers in 2013

PS – I’m also taking this opportunity to remind you that I will again seek your favorites come December, 2014. So be warned.

Finally, if you have a particular book you have read recently that you would like to suggest now (and not wait until the end of the year), please put the title and perhaps a one or two sentence reason in the Comment section. You could also send me an email with the title, etc., and I can add it to the Comment section.

“Life Itself” – The Documentary and The Memoir

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Life Itself ****1/2

Often, a movie, particularly a documentary, sends me to the book upon which the film is based.

And usually, almost always, I find the written work better than the film version.

In fact, I don’t think I can name more than a handful of films that I found superior to the written ‘version.’

The current documentary, Life Itself, about the life and ultimately the death of Pulitzer Prize (1975) winning film critic (Chicago Sun-Times) Roger Ebert, is one of the instances in which I’d choose the film over the memoir.

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