Oprah Winfrey stars as Deborah Lacks, Henrietta’s daughter and the character through whom the story is told. Rose Byrne (Damages) plays Skloot. Others in the cast include Renée Elise Goldsberry (Hamilton) and Courtney B. Vance (The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story). George C. Wolfe (Angels In America) wrote the adaptation and will direct.
The book recounts the sad but fascinating story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman from Baltimore who died in 1951. Johns Hopkins Hospital removed cancer cells from her body without her permission They were the first cells to live outside a human body, making them invaluable for medical research. They continue to be used today.
The story is in the news again for reasons other than the HBO series. The Lacks family is suing Johns Hopkins. Lacks’s grandson explains to The Baltimore Sun “Everyone else is making funds off of Henrietta’s cells … I am sure my grandmother is up in heaven saying, ‘Well, what about my family?‘”
A fixture on best seller lists, the book spent a year on the NYT Hardcover Nonfiction list and over four on the Paperback Nonfiction list, falling off that list just a couple of weeks ago.
In addition to several cast members, 97-year-old Katherine G. Johnson, played by Taraji P. Henson in the film, is also expected to attend. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom last year. NASA profiles her as “The Girl Who Loved to Count.”
Below is the ceremony. Johnson’s award begins at 30:24.
Hidden Figures is based on a book that is #5 on Time magazine’s list of the best nonfiction of the year, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly, released as a tie-in last month, (HC/William Morrow Paperbacks; HarperAudio; OverDrive Sample).
“not only stirringly celebrates intelligent women of color (and the very idea of science itself), but it also offers a more realistic-seeming portrayal of racism than we generally get in American movies … Hidden Figures is feel-good history, but it works, and it works on behalf of heroes from a cinematically under-served community. These smart, accomplished women had the right stuff, and so does this movie.”
Oddly enough, part of the answer lies in reading. He says,
“we think of language as what’s on the page. That’s the real thing; speaking is just an approximation … [when] we hear new things … they’re processed as vulgar and as broken. We don’t understand that no language could ever sit still … It’s so hard to perceive this but the way Old English became this English is the same thing that’s happening to this English now. We wouldn’t have wanted those changes not to happen, so why do we want those changes not to happen now?”
In the video below McWhorter explains how reading, print books, and spoken language have evolved and challenge each other.
Proving the topic is in the air, The New York Times also reports on the use of language changing over time, specifically how it shifts based on the national mood. A new study finds evidence that the use of positive words such as “awesome,” “pretty” and “grace” “may change depending on objective circumstances, such as war and poverty, as well as subjective happiness.” The study looked at terms used in “1.3 million texts in Google Books and 14.9 million New York Times articles.”
According to the book’s publicist, quoted by USA Today, the success is due in part to word of mouth and the April release in paperback of Ware’s debut, In a Dark, Dark Wood,which “set the table for Cabin.”
It is fitting then that the most recent interviews with Moore, one published by New York magazine and another by The New York Timesare weighty, too.
The New York magazine interview captures the author in a good, if reflective, mood, except for his take on certain comics. Known for many pioneering comics, including The Watchmen(DC Comics), he says, “I am really in a bad mood about superheroes,” and goes on to say about film adaptations that cycle through the same material, “What are these movies doing other than entertaining us with stories and characters that were meant to entertain the 12-year-old boys of 50 years ago?”
Despairing about much of the comic industry and his own role in creating some of the most iconic comics of the past few decades he says “I probably only have about 250 pages of comics left in me to write. With regard to the superhero characters, my opinion is that they were what I was given to play with when I was starting out in the industry. That’s it. It wasn’t as if I had ever expressed any particular desire to do them.”
The NYT caught Moore in a worse mood, one in which he is both evasive and self-indulgent, but did manage to illicit the news that he is currently obsessed with David Foster Wallace and particularly Infinite Jest.
Jeffrey Toobin wrote the definitive book about one of the highest profile crime of the 1990’s, The Run of His Life, about O. J. Simpson. The popularity of two recent TV series on the case, one of which is based on that book, demonstrate there is a strong interest in revisiting such stories.
Going back even further in his latest book, Toobin takes a new look at the story of the 1974 kidnapping and arrest of Patty Hearst: American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst, (PRH/Doubleday; OverDrive Sample).
Following in the footsteps of Toobin’s O.J. title, Deadline Hollywood reports film rights were acquired prior to publication.
Libraries ordered the book modestly and holds are growing as a result of media attention. In an almost hour long conversation on NPR’s Fresh Air, Toobin talks to an enthralled Terry Gross about the case.
Hearst was the 19-year-old granddaughter of the famous newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst and while her case was a sensation at the time, Toobin found that nothing new had been written about the case in decades and decided to investigate it again.
Placing the story in its time, Toobin calls the period a “toxic, dangerous, scary time in America. … During the early and mid ’70s, there were 1,000 — 1,000!— bombings a year in the United States … [due to] a violent political culture.”
In this environment “the Symbionese Liberation Army, a small, armed revolutionary group with an incoherent ideology and unclear goals” kidnapped Hearst – at a point in her life where she was at “a particularly vulnerable and restless moment in her life … uniquely receptive to new influences.”
Against the standard story line that Hearst was brainwashed or suffering from Stockholm syndrome, Toobin argues that she “responded rationally to the circumstances she was confronted with at each stage of the process” and joined her kidnappers in their crimes.
Under her own power, says Toobin, she committed real harm, “She robbed three banks. She shot up a street in Los Angeles. She helped plant bombs in several places in northern California.”
Toobin says she “had multiple opportunities to escape over a year and a half. She went to the hospital for poison oak and she could’ve told the doctor, ‘Oh by the way, I’m Patty Hearst.’ She was caught in an inaccessible place while hiking and the forest rangers helped her out, and she could’ve said, ‘Oh by the way, I’m Patty Hearst.’ She didn’t escape because she didn’t want to escape.”
She was eventually captured and sent to prison for 7 years, but only served 22 months before President Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence. President Bill Clinton pardoned her years later. Toobin calls both actions “the purest example of privilege on display that frankly I have ever seen in the criminal justice system.”
In her advanced NYT review, Janet Maslin writes, “As Mr. Toobin sees it, Patty — now Patricia again — was always an adroit opportunist, never a deep thinker, and remained an artful pragmatist under any circumstances.”
The Washington Post calls it “terrific” and “riveting” book, a “lurid crime story with its own toxic mix of race, class, celebrity and sex.”
Why do some people get car sick? Why do humans exaggerate? Why are some people great at Jeopardy and awful balancing a checkbook?
Terry Gross explores those questions and much more during a Fresh Air interview with Dean Burnett, neuroscientist and author of Idiot Brain: What Your Head Is Really Up To (Norton; OverDrive Sample).
The two talk about how the brain is highly illogical – if it were a computer it would alter the information stored within it to “suit your purposes, to suit your preferences … [its] egotistical … the brain tweaks and adjusts the information it stores to make you look better.”
Burnett also explains what happens with short-term memory: why you can walk into a room and forget why you went there in the first place. He calls it as fleeting as the “foam on your coffee.”
The fascinating and oddly practical information clearly engages Gross, who applies what Burnett says to her own life.
He offers more tidbits in a Smithsonian interview, where he explains what causes us to feel like we are falling in our sleep only to jerk awake (“It could have something to do with our ancestors sleeping in trees”) and how Tylenol can soothe a broken heart – because the brain actually feels the loss of a romantic partner and acetaminophen effects that part of the brain.
Burnett writes the “Brain Flapping” column for The Guardian. One of its competitors, the Independent, calls his book “a wonderful introduction to neuroscience [that] deserves to be widely read.”
Libraries have bought fairly low but are seeing growing holds.
Retellings of well-known books make good reading club fare. This month, Slate Audio book club reconvened to discuss Eligible (PRH/Random House; BOT; OverDrive Sample), Curtis Sittenfeld’s “modernization” of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, part of the ongoing Jane Austen Project (a similar project, that reimagines Shakespeare, recently launched with Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl).
Reviews for Eligible were mixed, but it was a #1 LibraryReads pick for April and it debuted on the NYT Hardcover Best Seller List at #5. The Slate panel calls it “pure pleasure” and “keenly observed half-satire/half-wish fulfillment” that provides a wonderful way to reconnect to Jane Austen and appreciate Sittenfeld’s earlier novels, American Wife and Prep.
They particularly appreciate the re-creation of Elizabeth Bennet as a modern character and the author’s “feats of re-soulment” in translating an 18th century character to the modern age, cleverly incorporating reality TV as the modern equivalent of social climbing.
Talk about “Hot Dudes Reading,” the Washington Post‘s book critic Ron Charles proves that being a hot dude during Summer Reading season is not as easy as it looks (happily, Ron’s tongue-in-cheek series, “Totally Hip Video Book Reviews” has returned)
In 2010, Helen Simonson’s debut novel Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand put a modern twist on the tradition of British novels about village life. The gentlemanly Major Pettigrew of the title falls for a lovely Pakistani widow who runs the local tea shop.
Critics were charmed and so were booksellers, making it a #1 Indie Next pick. It hit the lower rungs of the NYT best seller list and spent many more weeks on the paperback list.
Simonson’s new novel, The Summer Before the War (PRH/Random House; Random House Audio; BOT; OverDrive Sample), is taking off more quickly, arriving at #7 on the NYT Hardcover Fiction list in its first week of publication.
The #1 March LibraryReads pick, USA Today sums it up as “Julian Fellowes meets E.M. Forster.” The Washington Post calls it “a delightful story about nontraditional romantic relationships, class snobbery and the everybody-knows-everybody complications of living in a small community” and says “The novel’s amusing dialogue enlivens its compelling storyline and is sure to please fans of Downton.”
Entertainment Weekly gives it a B+ and offers: “within the framework of a wartime love story, Simonson captures the contradictions of small-town life perfectly: the idyllic pastimes, the overly involved neighbors, the hints at secrets and unspoken truths.” The goes on to say the novel is ” thoroughly enjoyable” and “addictively readable.”
The one nay-sayer is Miss Manners, reviewing the book for the NYT Sunday Book Review under her real name Judith Martin, carping over “an annoying caricature of Henry James” and adding that she prefers the Lucia and Mapp series by E.F. Benson, novels that are also set in the British town of Rye during the early 20th C.
Holds are growing at many libraries we checked, with some wait lists topping a 3:1 ratio.
A caution, since it’s early in the year, most of the list-makers haven’t yet read these books (Entertainment Weekly makes this clear, headlining their list “25 books we can’t wait to read in 2016“), so they are based on buzz and author reputation, and are not guarantees of success. Also, most of the lists are by critics, so they tend to focus on literary titles and rarely include genre titles destined to become bestsellers.
Innocents and Others, Dana Spiotta (S&S/Scribner; Mar. 8) makes it onto five of the seven lists we checked, with Entertainment Weeklywriting, “The Stone Arabia novelist’s anxiously awaited new work is about two best friends — both L.A. filmmakers — who tangle with a mysterious older woman who likes to seduce men over the phone.”
Alexander Chee’s The Queen of the Night (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Blackstone Audio) and Emma Cline’s The Girls (Random House; Random House Audio; June 14) fared well too, making five of the lists.
As we reported earlier, Chee’s book, published last week, has received significant review attention and is even one of those rarities, a literary author who appeared on a late night talk show.
Cline’s novel was picked as one of the featured titles in PW‘s “Booksellers Pick Their Top Early 2016 Books.” Unlike the critics’ list, which represent titles they expect to review, this one features titles booksellers expect to handsell. Kris Kleindienst of Left Bank Books in Saint Louis, Mo. remarks that Cline’s novel about a murderous cult in the late 1960s (think Charles Manson) offers a “creative use of a historical incident to build a story [that] stays with you.”
Other titles that made the top 15 include two that librarians have been talking about on GalleyChat.
Authors following up breakout successes include Chris Cleave whose Little Bee was a #1 best seller in 2009. His next book, Everyone Brave is Forgiven(S&S, May; eGalleys available for download now) is a novel set in WWII London. Emma Straub follows the 2014 summer reading hit, The Vacationers, with Modern Lovers (PRH/Riverhead), about three college friends now facing their fifties.
The story mentions her stance on keeping books, “still-unread means never will be read, and that, once read, books shouldn’t be retained for rereading.” That got us wondering, have libraries seen an uptick in donations since the first book was published?
Admitting that this kind of writing is much different than his usual form, Coates explains why he accepted this challenge, “I took it on for the same reason I take on new stories—to grow intellectually and artistically. In this case it’s another genre—fictional, serial story-telling—one a good distance away from journalism, memoir, and essays.”