The TODAY Show starts a Book Club and I miss Oprah!

samantha shannon
Samantha Shannon

I don’t know about you, but I was initially mildly interested that the Today Show is instigating a monthly book club.  I remember the good ol’ days of Oprah’s book club.  Month by month it was exciting to see which book she’d choose next.  Almost invariably, they were worthy candidates: classics like Light in August or The Heart is a Lonely Hunter; challenging books like The Road or Night, well-known books like Love in the Time of Cholera, books by popular authors such as Barbara Kingsolver, Anita Shreve, Alice Hoffman, Toni Morrison, and sometimes even first novels by wonderful unknown writers, such as The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton or The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski.  And who can forget The Corrections and Freedom!  Oprah was enthusiastically creating a reading community for literary works, respecting her audience’s intelligence.  From what I understand, she was personally engaged in choosing the books. I was sorry when her book club came to an end.  Her book list from those years is an impressive compendium of mostly fine books.

I turn the Today show on some mornings to see what it’s “doing” (the weather) in New York, plus it gives me a little thrill to see the crowd at Rockefeller Plaza. Having been a tourist in NYC myself (though not one who screams at Al Roker), and hoping to be one again, I get a hit from the street scenes provided by the Today show.  A week or two ago they even had Jimmy Buffett doing a concert out on the plaza. Since I’m a Margaritaville fan, that was a two-fer: Key West and New York City.

Speaking of NYC, did you hear about the accident a day or two ago where a cab jumped a curb near Rockefeller Plaza and hit a woman, severing her leg below her knee!  Right there at 49th Street and Avenue of the Americas!  The accident victim, twenty-three, a British tourist, was sitting on a plaza planter eating a hot dog with a friend.  A plumber who was walking by whipped off his belt to make a tourniquet, probably saving her life. A woman offered her dog’s leash as another tourniquet. A food vendor put her severed leg on ice to try to save it. Ooooooh. People are amazing. To top it all off, Dr. Oz came racing over from his TV studio nearby to offer aid when he heard the sirens.  It’s not worth losing your leg over . . .but still . . . Dr. Oz!

I digress.  Where was I?

Oh.  I heard on the Today show that they were going to start a book club. So I was curious to see what the first book would be.  I stood there in the kitchen breathlessly awaiting the announcement (as breathless as one can be doing breakfast dishes).  Maybe it would be TransAtlantic!  Margaret Atwood has a new novel coming out . . .wouldn’t that be cool.

They did pick a just released book, The Bone Season.  I watched the interview of the young (as in twenty-one years old) author, Samantha Shannon–British, excited, poised, and sophisticated beyond her years. She’s been writing since she was THIRTEEN!  Wow. Ms. Shannon looked bright, flushed, and a little uncomfortable, especially when one of those Today hosts with lots of teeth and a tight dress “sprang” the news on her that her book had been chosen for this honor, the Today show’s debut book club book.  Samantha seemed appropriately thrilled and gracious; she appeared prepared for her success, though, which includes a big movie deal and book rights in twenty-one countries. Maybe this is the kind of success she’s dreamed of (since she was thirteen).  But turning back to the dishes, I had some mixed feelings about the whole thing that I’m still trying to sort out.

Here’s the book description from Amazon:

“A TODAY BOOK CLUB PICK! It is the year 2059. Several major world cities are under the control of a security force called Scion. Paige Mahoney [age19] works in the criminal underworld of Scion London, part of a secret cell known as the Seven Seals. The work she does is unusual: scouting for information by breaking into others’ minds. Paige is a dreamwalker, a rare kind of clairvoyant, and in this world, the voyants commit treason simply by breathing . . .”

What the heck is a “voyant”? Continue reading “The TODAY Show starts a Book Club and I miss Oprah!”

Students and Teachers in New York City

Woman 1 by De Kooning

I’ve just returned from a wonderful, packed week in New York.  There were many highlights, and a running theme, now that I think of it, of students and teachers. 

I went with a former student of mine, Susan, who had been in a graduate fiction writing class I taught at the U. of Minnesota in 1974.  We’ve been fast friends ever since, and now she teaches English at a community college here in town.  We stayed at the apartment of a former teacher of mine: Dale Davis, who was my high school English teacher and who encouraged me in my writing way back then. She has been a constant support and friend ever since.  In 1965, the summer I graduated from high school, Dale, my French teacher Carol, and I drove to NYC from S.C. and spent a glorious week seeing theater: Barbara Streisand in Funny Girl, Yul Brynner in The King and I, along with three movies in one day, which seemed to me a very New Yorky thing to do.  Dale moved to New York over forty years ago and became a theatrical agent, with a rent controlled apartment on West 53rd, seeing just about everything that has played on Broadway and off Broadway ever since. 

I saw three very different plays while I was there.  The highlight was War Horse, which is amazing!  It’s a World War I drama, and while it won a Tony for Best Play this year, the play itself is somewhat simple.  It’s the story of a boy who loves a horse, Joey, which his alcoholic father who is constantly in debt sells to the war effort, breaking Albert’s heart.  Albert joins the War in an effort to find Joey.  Of course, as you probably know, horses and men were mowed down mercilessly by machine gun fire on the battlefield, the horses torn to shreds on barbwire barricades.  What is great, and I mean really great, is the production itself.  Joey is an enormous and magnificent puppet—though maybe puppet is not the right word. He’s structured from steel, leather, and aircraft cables that allow you to see the men working his ears, eyes, legs, and movements as they manipulate him from inside the frame.  But Joey is so artfully created that he seems the platonic ideal of noble horse, with a heart and soul to match.  There’s the foreground story of Albert and Joey, the middle ground of the dreadful Great War, and then the overarching backdrop of War itself;  all three are wrenching.  The play does pull on your heartstrings rather melodramatically, but honestly, I felt like weeping my heart out over the whole thing. It was a thrilling theatrical experience.   


War Horse at Lincoln Center

I also saw Lemon Sky, a 1970 play by Lanford Wilson which is not a great play either, but the acting was amazing, especially a young man named Keith Nobbs whom I swear stared right at me the whole time he was delivering a soliloquy. I was sitting in the middle of the third row so maybe he was; or maybe that’s a theatrical trick they have, of making you feel they’re speaking directly to you.  I also saw a musical, The Blue Flower, which was original and had beautiful singing and lyrics, and alas more war (including a horse that has to be shot in WWI, echoes of War Horse) plus a sad love story. 

Continue reading “Students and Teachers in New York City”