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Category: history

For Presidents Day, a tower of Lincoln books

It's Presidents Day, which through the years has become a celebration of George Washington, whose birthday was Feb. 22, Abraham Lincoln, who was born on Feb. 12, and other of our commanders in chief. Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C. -- where President Lincoln was shot and which continues to operate as a theater and is a National Historic Site -- is celebrating, bookishly.

Ford's Theater is opening a new Center for Education and Leadership on Tuesday, but inside today is a 34-foot tower of books. A tower of books about Abraham Lincoln.

That is an awful lot of Lincoln books.

The tower is 8 feet in diameter and is more than three stories tall. There are 7,000 books in the tower, while 15,000 books are said to have been written about Lincoln. "It makes a real statement to anyone that this is an important guy and there was a whole lot written about him, and there continues to be a whole lot written about him," Paul Tetreault, director of Ford's Theatre," told NPR.

The only bummer about this extravagant display of Lincoln literary love is that it isn't made of books; the book tower is constructed of aluminum, imprinted with copies of book covers. See photos of the Lincoln book tower at NPR.


Huntington Library acquires trove of Lincoln's Civil War-era communications

Inside "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" with Anthony Mackie

National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medals announced

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: The Lincoln Book Tower at Ford's Theater's new Center for Education and Leadership. Credit: Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press

National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medals announced


The White House announced the recipients of the National Medal of Arts and the National Humanities Medals today. Poet Rita Dove (above) is the leading literary figure among the seven who will receive the National Medal of Arts, joining actor Al Pacino, singer Mel Tillis, painter Will Barnet, sculptor Martin Puryear, pianist André Watts, and creative arts patron Emily Rauh Pulitzer.

Rita Dove served as the U.S. Poet Laureate from 1993 to '95. Dove, born in 1952 in Ohio, received an MFA from the University of Iowa and published her first poetry collection in 1980. She won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for poetry for the collection "Thomas and Beulah." She teaches at the University of Virginia; her many accolades include a National Humanities Medal.

National Humanities Medals will be awarded to eight writers, including another poet, John Ashbery (pictured at the 2011 National Book Awards, where he was presented with the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters). The other winners are Kwame Anthony Appiah, critic Andrew Delbanco, historian Robert Darnton, musical scholar Charles Rosen, historian Teofilo Ruiz, literary scholar Ramón Saldívar, and Amartya Sen, a Nobel laureate in economics. After the jump, brief descriptions of their work.

President Obama will present the National Medal of Arts and the National Humanities Medals at a White House to the above individuals, as well as arts organizations, at a ceremony on Monday, Feb. 13, streaming live at 1:45pm eastern.

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America's most literate cities and more book news

Kerry Slattery in the window of Skylight Books in Los Angeles in 2008
Central Connecticut State University released its annual list of most literate cities Wednesday; Washington D.C. took the top spot. As in years past, Los Angeles didn't fare well. Why should we? We've only got the largest book festival in the country, vibrant independent booksellers, major univeristies, a fantastic public library system, highly literate public radio shows.... Sigh. We ranked No. 59. Oh well -- New York, the center of publishing, was only No. 22.

The Books are no more! The band, that is.

I had no tickets and I must scream. Author Harlan Ellison appeared at the Los Angeles revival house Cinefamily last week to talk about his career writing for television -- "Star Trek," "The Man From U.N.C.L.E," "The Outer Limits," etc. That would have been special enough, but midway through the onstage interview, the comedian Patton Oswalt interceded and took over. Oswalt added hilarity and upped the literary ante too (not that I'm sore about No. 59 or anything) -- he's the author of "Zombie Spaceship Wasteland," an L.A. Times bestseller, and recently wrote an appreciation of Ellison's story "A Boy and His Dog" for GQ. At least there's video.

Are you reading a book on your iPhone? Let the world know with a $35 literary iPhone case. The only catch: for passers-by to be able to judge your book by your iPhone cover, you have to be reading "The Great Gatsby," "A Clockwork Orange," "Moby-Dick" or "To Kill A Mockingbird."

What did Abraham Lincoln telegraph to his military leaders during the Civil War? People who visit the Huntington Library -- in San Marino, part of the literary metropolis that clocks in at No. 59 -- will discover firsthand this fall when part of a new acquisition, the Thomas T. Eckert archive, go on exhibit. Eckert was head of the military telegraph office of Lincoln's War Department; until recently, his archive had been thought to have been destroyed.

If C is for Cookie, E is for Elmo and e-books. Random House and Sesame Street have extended their licensing deal to include e-books and apps. The e-books "Elmo Says Achoo!" and "Elmo’s Breakfast Bingo" are available now; 17 more are on the way. 


Interview: 28 year-old John Corey Whaley on winning the Printz Award

National Book Critics Circle announces awards finalists

George R.R. Martin at the Golden Globes

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Kerry Slattery of Los Angeles' Skylight Books in the store's front window in 2008. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times

National Book Critics Circle announces finalists for 2011 awards

The announcers at the NBCC Awards

The National Book Critics Circle announced the finalists for its 2011 book awards at a public ceremony on Saturday in New York City. Two Southern California writers are among those up for the awards, which will be presented on March 8 in Manhattan.

"It Calls You Back," an intergenerational tale of life in and out of Los Angeles gangs by Luis Rodriguez, a follow-up to his classic memoir "Always Running," is among the finalists for autobiography. Jonathan Lethem, who holds the Roy E. Disney Chair in Creative Writing at Pomona College, is a finalist for his collection of critical essays, "The Ecstasy of Influence." Another finalist, the novel "Stone Arabia" by Dana Spiotta, is set in the San Fernando Valley.

Awards will be made in six categories: fiction, nonfiction, biography, autobiography, poetry and criticism. For 37 years, the National Book Critics Circle has annually presented awards to books of excellence. Previous winners include Cormac McCarthy, John Updike, John Ashberry, Jennifer Egan, Alex Ross, Roberto Bolano, Susan Sontag, Martin Amis and Junot Diaz.

The 30 2011 NBCC finalists include many who have been previously recognized for their work: two Pulitzer Prize winners, one winner of the Booker Prize, two previously NBCC award winners, and one author who has received the National Humanities Medal. Yet the NBCC board also recognized two debuts: Teju Cole's novel, "Open City," and "Pulphead," a collection of essays by John Jeremiah Sullivan.

L.A. Times book critic David L. Ulin and staff writer Carolyn Kellogg sit on the 24-member board of the National Book Critics Circle.

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Interview: When 'L.A. Noir' meets 'The Walking Dead'

FrankdarabontmickeycohenWhat do zombies have in common with the toughest Los Angeles gangster of the 1950s? Director Frank Darabont.

Darabont was executive producer and visionary behind AMC's zombie series "The Walking Dead." After the first season, he was mysteriously dismissed (and the show took a turn for the worse), and apparently, he was looking for something else to do. He's been drawn to literary properties in the past -- Stephen King's "The Green Mile" and "The Shawshank Redemption," and "The Walking Dead" was a comic book series by Robert Kirkman and artists Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard. Last week, it was announced that Darabont is developing a pilot for TNT based on the true tale of Los Angeles cops and gangsters in the 1950s, John Buntin's "L.A. Noir."

"L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive City," Buntin's first book, was published by Crown in 2009. He answered Carolyn Kellogg's questions via email.

Jacket Copy: So, wait. Are there any zombies in your book "L.A. Noir"?

John Buntin: "L.A. Noir" is full of dead men walking. Mob kingpin Mickey Cohen was eerily unkillable -- so much so that his competitors (the local Italian mob) became quite spooked. Sniper attacks, shot gun assaults, bombings -- nothing worked. To superstitious Sicilians, it was deeply unnerving.

JC: What do you think drew Frank Darabont to the material?

JB: The era "L.A. Noir" describes -- Los Angeles in the '30s, '40s, and '50s -- was ground zero for so much of what defines our culture today. Hard-boiled detective fiction's big bang may have occurred in San Francisco -- I'd never slight Dashiell Hammett -- but it took root in L.A. Raymond Chandler, James Cain, and the great writers that followed all start then and there. Mid-century Los Angeles also gave us film noir and the first police procedural ("Dragnet"), not to mention stars, celebrity sex, and the scandal sheets, strippers, serial killers, and a lot of great jazz. So the possibilities of writing a show in this era are incredibly diverse. And the places they happened are in many cases still there!

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100 years of UCLA on your coffee table

UCLA in 1929
Of the many photographs in a new history of UCLA, one is especially arresting. The photo, from April 1929, shows the school’s first four buildings on its soon-to-open Westwood campus with little else around for miles but rolling hills and a few  houses. “The campus is so far out in the country that it’s obvious only farmers will ever be the students’ neighbors,” the caption reads, quoting a not-particularly-far-sighted journalist at the time.

Clearly, the growth of UCLA and surrounding Westside neighborhoods was never a given. The school’s unusual journey to academic prominence -- with political intrigue and student unrest along the way -- is the basic narrative of “UCLA: The First Century,” a lavish 360-page coffee table book by Marina Dundjerski. (Truth in advertising, the actual centennial doesn't really come around until 2019.)

Pushing against the Berkeley-centric education establishment, Southern Californians undertook much politicking for the state to finally authorize in 1919 “the Southern Branch” of UC on the site now occupied by Los Angeles City College in East Hollywood. The move 10 miles west a decade later was followed by the Depression’s austerities, the Red Scare’s challenge to academic freedom, the Baby Boom’s construction frenzy, the Vietnam War protests, affirmative action debates and the current budget crises. 

Dundjerski, a 1994 graduate of UCLA and a former campus correspondent for The Times, researched that history for eight years, conducting more than 200 interviews and searching through archives for documents and historical photographs. She came away impressed, she said, about “how much risk everybody took in building UCLA to become the institution it is today.”

The book was commissioned by alumni leaders in advance of the centennial and the research was funded with grants from two alumni organizations and the Ahmanson Foundation. It is being published by Third Millennium Publishing Limited of Britain in conjunction with UCLA History Project/UCLA Alumni Association, and officially hits shelves in March; the UCLA bookstore already has it in stock, and Amazon is taking pre-orders.

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In Sunday books: On Patti Smith, Tolstoy and life in the marginalia


What's in a book? Ideas and language, of course, and, remarkably, Lynell George has been able to trace her mother's life in the marginalia she left in many of her books. As George notes in her essay, "A Life in the Marginalia," that starts on the cover of this Sunday's Arts & Books section, to open her mother's books was "to reveal all manner of ephemera -- from transit passes to cards to notes in her mother's elegant English teacher cursive -- and all marking chapters in a rich, full life. And, in a way, a gentle guidance." Just as her mother's books and love of reading were a gift to her, George's memoir reminds us of the gift of books in enhancing the fabric of a home.  

Also Sunday,  David Ulin checks in on Patti Smith's "Woolgathering," a collection of prose poems that Ulin says speaks volumes about the broad diversity that makes up the life of Smith as a rocker, mother, poet, artist.

You can also listen here to an excerpt of Smith reading from her award-winning memoir "Just Kids," which has just been released as an audio book: Pattismithexcerpt

Daniel Handler, known more familiarly to some as Lemony Snicket, is back with his YA-debut "Why We Broke Up," which Susan Carpenter describes as "a brief but intense teen relationship gone wrong." Carpenter says that few of these "tragic trajectories have been written about as poignantly" as in this book, which is illustrated by Maira Kalman.

Then there's Tolstoy. Yes, the life of the count is detailed in Rosamund Bartlett's "Tolstoy: A Russian Life." Reviewer Martin Rubin notes that Tolstoy was "a loner, a quintessential outsider and a generally awful and quarrelsome individual." So how was he able to "understand and evoke the glittering social whirl and intricacies of fashionable salons" that made up much of his fiction?

Shari Roan reviews Mary Johnson's "An Unquenchable Thirst: Following Mother Teresa in Search of Love, Service and an Authentic Life," a memoir that will "fascinate not only Catholics but anyone who has wondered about the human capacity to vow lifelong celibacy, poverty and charity" and gives us a fascinating portrait of Mother Teresa. Online at The Siren's Call, Nick Owchar talks to novelist Richard Zimler about his recent visit to Poland to discuss the novel "The Warsaw Anagrams" with Polish audiences.

And, of course, we have our Best-Sellers lists of what's hot at Southern California stores.

Again, thanks for reading (and for listening).

-- Jon Thurber, book editor 

Photo: One of several books that were part of writer Lynell George's mother's collection. George's mother imprinted the book with a hand and footprint of her daughter when she was a baby. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times


Harvard historian Niall Ferguson threatens suit over bad review

Niall Ferguson, a historian who teaches at Harvard, has responded to a negative review of his book "Civilization: The West and the Rest" with an angry letter and by saying, "Don't force my hand by forcing me to put it in the hands of lawyers." The long review, threaded through with analyses of Ferguson's previous works and related histories, was written by Pankaj Mishra and appeared in the Nov. 3 issue of the London Review of Books:

Ferguson himself is homo atlanticus redux. In a preface to the UK edition of Civilisation: The West and the Rest, he writes of being seduced away from a stodgy Oxbridge career, early in the 2000s, to the United States, ‘where the money and power actually were’....

Ferguson, setting aside his expertise in economic history, emerged as an evangelist-cum-historian of empire. He was already arguing in The Cash Nexus, published a few months before the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, that ‘the United States should be devoting a larger percentage of its vast resources to making the world safe for capitalism and democracy’ – if necessary by military force. ‘Let me come clean,’ he wrote in the New York Times Magazine in April 2003, a few weeks after the shock-and-awe campaign began in Iraq, ‘I am a fully paid-up member of the neoimperialist gang.’...

Which gang you belong to may be at the heart of the conflict arising between right-leaning Ferguson and left-leaning Mishra. In a letter to the editor that the London Review of Books printed Nov. 17, Ferguson writes:

It is not my habit to reply to hostile book reviews, but a personal attack that amounts to libel is another matter. Pankaj Mishra purports to discuss my book Civilisation: The West and the Rest, but in reality his review is a crude attempt at character assassination, which not only mendaciously misrepresents my work but also strongly implies that I am a racist....

The London Review of Books is notorious for its left-leaning politics. I do not expect to find warm affection in its pages. Much of what I write is simply too threatening to the ideological biases of your coterie. Nevertheless, this journal used, once, to have a reputation for intellectual integrity and serious scholarship. Pankaj Mishra’s libellous and dishonest article brings the LRB as well as himself into grave disrepute.

It's worth noting that being perceived as racist might particularly rile Fersugon, who is married to the Somali-Dutch writer and activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali. But Mishra, in a reply to Ferguson's letter, maintains that he does not see Ferguson as a racist:

Ferguson is no racist, in part because he lacks the steady convictions of racialist ideologues like Stoddard. Rather, his writings, heralding an American imperium in 2003, Chimerica in 2006, and the ‘Chinese Century’ in 2011, manifest a wider pathology among intellectuals once identified by Orwell: ‘the instinct to bow down before the conqueror of the moment, to accept the existing trend as irreversible’.

That wasn't enough for Ferguson. "If he won't apologise for calling me a racist, I will persecute him until he does," he told The Guardian on Nov. 25. ""The basic insinuation [I am making] is that Mishra either did not read my book properly or if he did he was reckless. I find it staggering that the LRB is standing by him. I spoke to the editor Mary-Kay Wilmers and said: 'Don't force my hand by forcing me to put it in the hands of lawyers.'"


Britain's Telegraph ordered to pay $100,000 over book review

Maid's lawsuit over "The Help" thrown out by Mississippi judge

Niall Ferguson in the L.A. Times opinion pages: America, the fragile empire

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Niall Ferguson at the New York Stock Exchange in 2007, when he hosted the PBS television show "The Ascent of Money." Credit: Dewald Aukema / Chimerica Media / Bloomberg News

A whirlwind year for 'Unbroken's' Louis Zamperini

At 94, Louis Zamperini, the resilient hero of Laura Hillenbrand's "Unbroken," just keeps on goingAt 94, Louis Zamperini, the resilient hero of Laura Hillenbrand's "Unbroken," just keeps on going. Would you expect anything less from the Olympic runner who survived 47 days adrift on a raft in the Pacific Ocean and then spent two years in Japanese POW camps?

This month "Unbroken" marks a year on the L.A. Times bestsellers list. Since the book's publication,  Zamperini has become one of the hardest-working men in the books biz, making nearly 50 appearances at World War II veteran events, Olympian luncheons, Italian halls,  USC functions and churches across the country. He continues to inspire audiences with his unbelievable story of perseverance, faith and forgiveness. His travels have taken him to Washington, Boston, the Billy Graham Center in North Carolina. He's been invited to appear on CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman" in December.

Hillenbrand, who suffers from a debilitating case of chronic fatigue syndrome, was unable to go on a traditional book tour, so Zamperini stepped up, taking the reins in promoting "Unbroken."  Just a few weeks ago, he finally met Hillenbrand in person at his home in Los Angeles. Previously, she had only spoken to him on the phone for the bulk of her research.

"He's devoted the rest of his life to getting the most people to read Laura's book," said John Naber, who accompanies Zamperini to his appearances. A fellow Olympian (five medals in swimming at the 1976 Montreal Olympics), Naber met Zamperini in 1983 but didn't hear about his WWII exploits until 13 years later. Read more about their special bond in Thursday's Sports section.

Zamperini, ahe Torrance native and USC alum, lives quietly in the Hollywood Hills, where he was once a neighbor At 94, Louis Zamperini, the resilient hero of Laura Hillenbrand's "Unbroken," just keeps on going of Aldous Huxley. A photo discovered in our archives shows Zamperini and his wife, Cynthia (she died in 2001), standing among the charred remains of Huxley's home, which burned (along with many of his manuscripts) in a brush fire in 1961.

Several film versions of Zamperini's life have been in discussion over the years. The first was based on his 1950s autobiography, "Devil at My Heels," with talks of Tony Curtis as the lead. In 1998, Nicholas Cage expressed interest after watching a CBS segment on Zamperini during the Nagano Olympics. The most recent rumors have Ryan Gosling starring as Zamperini in the "Unbroken" adaption. Now that Zamperini and his son are involved, hopefully he'll finally get to see his story told on the big screen.


Book review: "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand

- Liesl Bradner

Upper photo: Louis Zamperini, "Unbroken," author Laura Hillenbrand and John Naber. Credit: Louis Zamperini.

Lower photo: The ruins of Aldous Huxley's home are surveyed Zamperini and his wife, Cynthia, after a May 13, 1961, fire. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Marie Curie, in 'Radioactive'

RadioactiveToday's Google Doodle let searchers know that Nov. 7 is the 144th anniversary of Marie Curie's birth. That seemed like the perfect occasion to take a quick look at one of the most unusual books among this year's National Book Award finalists: "Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love And Fallout" by Laura Redniss.

Redniss is an author and artist; her version of the story of Nobel Prize-winning scientist Marie Curie's life (and Pierre's) is up for the nonfiction award. What makes that unusual is that "Radioactive," published by It Books, a pop culture imprint of HarperCollins, is a blend of artwork and text wherein the art is just as important as the words. It's not a graphic novel, exactly -- for one thing, it's not fiction, and for another, it has no pages in which panels advance the story. The artwork and text take over each page or page spread completely. Maybe that is a graphic novel -- and graphic nonfiction? A graphic dual history-biography?

What looks like pretty, slightly sadly romantic artwork is actually well-researched. Redniss visited the house in Warsaw where Marie Curie was born, interviewed her granddaughter at the Curie Institute in Paris, went to Idaho to learn about nuclear research and space, visited Nevada to talk to nuclear weapons specialists and went to San Bernardino to learn about new radiation treatment for cancer.

But what's really lovely about "Radioactive" is how closely the form of the book hews to the content (see some pages here). On her website, Redniss writes:

I made the artwork for the book using a process called “cyanotype.” Cyanotype is a camera‐less photographic technique in which paper is coated with light‐sensitive chemicals. When the chemically treated paper is exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, it turns a deep blue color. Photographic imaging was critical to both the discovery of X-rays and of radioactivity, so it made sense to me to use a process based on the idea of exposure to create the images in Radioactive.

The cover of the book is even printed, in part, with glow-in-the-dark ink. "I always loved things that glowed in the dark," she told the Economist's More Intelligent Life earlier this year. "I love anything from underwater creatures that phosphoresce to luminescent ink. I went through a period a few years ago when I was doing a lot of silkscreen printing, and in every print I included luminescent ink. So all of those prints would have one presence with the lights on and if you turned the lights off they would become different prints. I just find it magical."

The National Book Awards will be Nov. 16 in New York.

-- Carolyn Kellogg


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