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.
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."
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.
A nice blog response to the New York Times piece than ran yesterday: "The [Writers] House reminds me of everything I love about universities -- that in addition to being places to work and to learn, they can also be a home. Not just to the students who live on campus, but to anyone who can find support and friendship and make themselves at home there." MORE>>>
A former Writers House regular wrote: "The notion of the KWH as a little piece of Swarthmore, Reed or Bard in a large Ivy was spot on...yet, as someone who originally fled Williams for its lack of intellectual opportunity, I would have to add that the real magic in the House was/is the critical mass of devoted faculty, students and other fellow travelers may available by the shear size of Penn. It is unfortunate that the modest size of the liberal arts college often stymies their becoming fertile ground for such innovation. And what they do have to offer isn't always a substitute."
An alumnus (lawyer turned writer-thinker) whom I've met once or twice but has participated in various online discussion groups we host: "Yes, your acceptance and encouragement of even a person like me is what makes The Writers' House and its staff bar none the best place for a writer to grow. I hope over the years ahead to be able to be a better supporter. Al(l) best..."
A former undergrad: "I feel honored to have been a part starting so many years ago. I've been thinking about it more and more as I do law school applications since I remember KWH being a huge reason I applied to Penn. That was almost 10 years ago!"
Nick Spitzer, host of radio's American Roots, wrote in part: "You have created at once a a center of artistic and personal social power, a non-bureacratic, unconventional power in one spot without being marginalized in the process. Brilliant."
Someone working deep inside the research projects of the Annenberg School for Communications at Penn: "I've been a secret admirer since I've come to Annenberg and love Kelly as an artifact of a different time and theory of education. Amazing to see this wonderful recognition in the Times."
A former student, now a professor at a midsized public midwestern university: "My warmest congratulations for this well-deserved national recognition. I just sent the link to the president and academic dean of my institution, along with a statement about how we can draw inspiration from what you've accomplished. We'll never have the funding or the elite students, but we can steal some of your ideas and methods. Honestly, a couple of us have already begun. We've set up blogs and wikis, invited students to gather for informal literary events, planned an open mic night and trips to Prairie Lights bookstore in Iowa City to hear big time writer's read. I'm also trying to get the campus radio station out of mothballs and operating again---hopefully with a more creative mix of student-produced programming."