Commentaries - December 2007
Willis Conover, the Voice of America disc jockey who fought the Cold War with cool music, captured the hearts and liberated the spirits of millions of listeners behind the Iron Curtain beginning in 1955 when his show first when on the air.
"Conover would bombard Budapest with Billy Taylor, strafe Poland with Oscar Peterson and drop John Coltrane on Moscow." So reports his obituary.
He was unknown in the U.S. because by law the radio shows of the Voice of American were not permitted to be broadcast in or to this country.
The folks who hang out at the Writers House have book recommendations for the holidays. Yesterday I walked around the house — room to room — talking to people about new books. Listen to our "holiday books" podcast by going here and clicking on podcast #11.
Above left, Max Apple, who recommends the new biography of Marc Chagall. Apple's own new collection of stories, The Jew of Home Depot, is just out and is recommended by Jessica Lowenthal.
By the way, David Kaufmann's review of The Jew of Home Depot in the December 5 issue of The Jewish Daily Forward is called "Even Zhlubs Can Turn Lemons Into Lemonade." Check it out. "When it comes to Max Apple, what’s not to like? Over the past three decades, in six books and two screenplays, he has shown himself to be a funny guy. And he has always been — and remains — a capable and generous satirist. This is no small accomplishment. Satirists usually cannot stop themselves from being ferocious at best or crabby and sentimental at worst. Apple is never ferocious, never crabby and rarely sentimental. He does not dislike his characters, and he refuses to condescend to them."
This time of year: what to get mom, what to get dad. Books, book preferences — where gender differences aren't as stark as, say, in sports equipment. Yes.
Ah, but be sure, folks, when you buy books "FOR MOM" that you don't get anything that solves the world's problems — rather only the problems of one family in a way that will make you chuckle. On the other hand, "FOR DAD" buy a book about mavericks who've made important contributions to history! Yes, shop with two very separate lists. Well, I suppose this sort of booklist division by gender is a thing of the past. The following is an advertisement that appeared in the December 1946 issue of Harper's Magazine. In this special context, I love the phrase "the most gossamer of synthetics."
A Checklist of Christmas Books for the Family
Lost Men of American History by Stewart H. Holbrook. A fascinating parade of obscure or forgotten people — mavericks, unorthodox thinkers, inventors, business men - who made important contributions to America's history. "As exciting as any detective yarn...it moves skillfully through the kaleidoscopic pageant of our past." — Bernard DeVoto. $3.50
Land of Promise by Walter Havighurst. Filled with legends, anecdotes, and colorful episodes, this is the history of the Old Northwest Territory, from wilderness days to the teeming present. Told by the author of The Long Ships Passing. $3.00
The Wall Between by Elsie Oakes Barber. Christy adored her husband, a handsome young minister. But her romantic dreams came tumbling down when she moved into an ugly parsonage at the edge of the city slums. This warm, human novel tells how she finally scaled the wall that religion seemed to erect between her and her husband. $2.75
Uneasy Spring by Robert Molloy. This book is guaranteed not to solve any world problems, but it does solve the problems of one American family in a way that will make you chuckle. It is about a lonely widower, a pretty young singer, a motherly widow, a pretty young singer, a motherly widow, an unhappy little boy, and a pert bobby-soxer. $2.75
America's Fabrics by Zelma Bendure and Gladys Pfieffer. This beautiful book, with more than 800 illustrations, tells the whole story of modern fabrics. It covers well over a thousand different fabrics, from heavy asbestos fire curtains to the most gossamer of synthetics. $10.00.
AT YOUR BOOKSTORE — MacMillan
PoemTalk, a new podcast series that I host, is now officially launched. It's a collaboration of the Kelly Writers House, PennSound, and the Poetry Foundation. Four colleagues in the world of poetry collaborate on a close (but not too close) reading of a single poem.
 the PoemTalk site: link
 find us on the Poetry Foundation site: link
 get the RSS feed and keep up with all the new episodes: link