Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Beatles Flat

Three weeks ago, NASA sent the Beatles song “Across the Universe” on its own magical mystery tour, well, across the universe. Now the apartment that manager Brian Epstein obtained for the Beatles to cushion their move from Liverpool to London, in wake of the September 1963 record-breaking No. 1 single “She Loves You” is for sale. It’s a two-bedroom flat, about 986 sq feet, on the fourth floor of Mayfair’s Green Street, and it's the only place that the band lived together. Sotheby’s International Reality is asking £1.75 million for this slice of “Beatlemania.” See pictures of the flat and its renovated rooms on the realty’s website here.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Napoleonic Buzz

This post inaugurates a new series highlighting recent books of interest for anyone, who, like me, devours accounts of Napoleon and the Napoleonic Age.

In Book Three of War and Peace, Pierre Bezuhov stumbles
onto the Raevsky Redoubt and witnesses the Battle of Borodino; Tolstoy paints an unforgettable portrait, but how accurate is it really? Read Alex Mikaberidze's first-rate The Battle of Borodino: Napoleon Against Kutuzov, (Pen and Sword's Campaign Chronicles) and find out. Mikaberidze's colleague at the Shreveport campus of Louisiana State University, Michael V. Leggiere, also has an outstanding new book, the first in a two-part study that examines Napoleon's brilliant campaign of the spring of 1814, and, at the same time, unravels the complicated series of events and forces that led to Napoleon's fall. Leggiere's The Fall of Napoleon: Volume 1, The Allied Invasion of France, 1813-1814 (Cambridge University Press) will be continued in The War in France, 1814. And don't miss the extraordinary excitement that followed shortly afterwards, when the victorious powers (and a horde of others) poured into Vienna to redraw the maps, divide the spoils, and celebrate, which will be told in Vienna 1814: How the Conquerors of Napoleon Made Love, War, and Peace at the Congress of Vienna. Of course I'm not exactly unbiased, given my obsession with the dazzling, though little-understood Congress of Vienna, and well, you know.

In the not too distant future, too, I look forward to reading my friend Jeremy Popkin's forthcoming history of the revolution on the French half of the island of Santo Domingo (Haiti), which had important repercussions not only for France, but also the young republic of the United States. I'm also very excited about General Michel Franceschi and Ben Weider's Wars Against Napoleon: Debunking the Myth of the Napoleonic Wars, which was just published by Savas Beatie in December 2007. Read J. David Markham's excellent review here.

Rocket Men

Chris Gainor, author of Arrows to the Moon: Avro's Engineers and the Space Race, has a new book detailing the early history of rockets from ancient China to Yuri Gagarin. Ever wondered when the blast-off countdown began? Watch Fritz Lang's 1929 silent film, Frau im Mond (Woman in the Moon/By Rocket to the Moon), where the rocket and space cabin, incidentally, were designed by the astrophysicist Hermann Julius Oberth. Gainor will undoubtedly tell many great stories in To a Distant Day (University of Nebraska, April 2008).

Friday, February 15, 2008

Rogue Surfer of Malibu

David Rensin has an exciting new book about the legendary surfer Miki Dora, or Miki, Mickey, Miklos, or just Da Cat, a veritable virtuoso of the waves whose life spanned the emergence, and indeed explosion of surfing as a sport. Dora's skill and grace kept him in high demand as a stunt man in beach party films of the early sixties, and he later played himself in the 1990 film, Surfers: The Movie. Notoriously, Dora made little attempt to conceal his disgust at the sport's creeping commercialization. At the 1967 Malibu Invitational Surf Classic, for instance, Dora surfed past the judges, and, as Drew Kampion put it, bent over, dropped his black shorts, and exposed his naked ass to the gathered dignitaries and spectators.

It will be interesting to see what Rensin has uncovered about this iconic rebel surfer, and apparently, he has conducted many interviews of people who knew him well. I'm also looking forward to seeing what he has discovered about Dora's later adventures after he left Malibu and traveled the world, living by his longboard and his wits, that is, before credit card schemes resulted in a prison sentence. Dora died in 2002 of pancreatic cancer. Rensin's All for a Few Perfect Waves: The Audacious Life and Legend of Rebel Surfer Miki Dora will be published in April 2008.

1,071, 213 Words Later

Science fiction author Neil Gaiman's blog recently turned seven years old, and to celebrate, he is offering any one of his books to his readers as a free download. You can help him decide on the book. Pop over to his site, and cast your vote. Polls close soon.

Years ago, after one of my lectures on classical myth at university, several students stopped by my office to continue the discussion, and, in the process, enthusiastically recommended Neil's books. Same thing happened the following semester after my Norse mythology seminars. So, if you don't already know Neil's work, here's a good chance to sample it. American Gods currently leads the pack, followed by Neverwhere, Fragile Things, and M is for Magic. Vote for your choice here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Kentucky Fried Oscars

Which state is Kentucky in, again? Okay I've never actually been asked that question, but it's a wonder and probably only a matter of time. In the six years or so that I lived and traveled in Europe, I was continually struck by what was by far the most common image of our state: Kentucky Fried Chicken. This was the case, too, despite the fact that KFC had been sold eons ago to Pepsi, and Harland David Sanders, or Colonel Sanders, had little experience of Kentucky before his fortieth birthday.

Our little state seems to excel at flying under the radar, merrily going about its business making booze, breeding thoroughbreds, and actually, in the last decade or so, producing some of the highest-profile celebs in the country. Two of the five Oscar nominees for Best Actor in a Leading Role this year, for example, are Kentuckians: George Clooney and Johnny Depp, and another Kentuckian, Ashley Judd, is surely up for something, or probably should be. (Image of Clooney and Depp above is from People's best dressed of 2007 issue and fashionolic). Beyond that, Kentucky continues to thrive in the literary arts, a long tradition that includes Robert Penn Warren, Hunter Thompson, Wendell Berry, Barbara Kingsolver, Sue Grafton, Silas House, and Jane Gentry Vance, now Poet Laureate. Kentucky's Gurney Norman wrote the counterculture classic, Divine Right's Trip, and Ed McClanahan lives here as well as all McClanafans know, he was one of the colorful Merry Pranksters who lit up the psychedelic Day-Glo magic bus Further with his good friend Ken Kesey. There isn't time to recount all the music and arts figures in the area. Let's just say that many came, saw, and left, but others have stayed, like Star Trek's William Shatner, who lives right down the road.

Yes image and reality don't always march hand-in-hand, or at least in the ways we often suspect. It should be interesting to see which impressions of the region stick, and which ones change, if any, as thousands descend on the Bluegrass for the upcoming World Equestrian Games.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Havana Confidential

Award-winning true crime writer T. J. English has a new book exploring mobster Cuba under Batista, Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost It to the Revolution. English has an excellent background for such a work, having written about everything from the Irish mob of Hell's Kitchen to a Vietnamese gang in Chinatown. So pour yourself a mojito, and enjoy. English's Havana Nocturne will be out in early May 2008.

The Graduate: A Sequel and A Look Behind the Scenes

Last month, Charles Webb published the long-anticipated sequel to his 1963 novel The Graduate, continuing the story eleven years later in Home School. Now, Mark Harris takes us behind the scenes of Mike Nichols's 1967 film, in his upcoming book Pictures at a Revolution. Harris will provide many more details on the difficulties of the legendary 100-Day Shoot. As for Dustin Hoffman, he had his own concerns about his post-Graduate future: He survived for a few months on the $4,000 he had saved while working on the picture and then registered for unemployment, lining up on East 13th Street every week to pick up a $55 check while he looked for acting jobs.

The New York premiere of the film evidently did not raise his spirits: ''That night, the suits, the tuxedos, I can't remember a single laugh,'' says Hoffman. It was disastrous. I saw a lot of Levine's friends there, and they all looked like, what is he doing on the screen? It should be Redford!'' Mark Harris's Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood, will be published later this week by Penguin. Here's a link to his website, and an excerpt from his book in the upcoming February 15 issue of EW, online here.

A Verney Weekend

I finished Adrian Tinniswood's The Verneys about a year ago, and found myself rereading it this weekend, enjoying it just as much. If you don't already know it, Tinniswood's book tells the story of an eccentric aristocratic Buckinghamshire family swept up in the drama of the seventeenth century. One member became a pirate, another went insane, and Sir Ralph (1613-1696) kept just about every piece of paper, as did his son John, later Viscount Fermanagh. The Verneys thus draws on a wonderfully large family archive accumulated over the last few centuries.

My blurb on the back cover calls it a fascinating grand tour through a world turned upside down, showing the seventeenth century in all its splendor and brutality. Ross King, author of Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling and The Judgment of Paris, also on the back cover, calls it "A wonderful group portrait of an eccentric and ill-starred dynasty. Expertly handling the humorous words and unwise deeds of several generations of Verneys, Adrian Tinniswood breathes life into the turbulent history of an entire century." Take the quiz presented by Britain's Channel Four in conjunction with the book here.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Congress of Vienna Site

The Congress of Vienna site coming soon . . . along with more on Napoleon and the Napoleonic Age.

I have been excited, too, to read the first pre-publication reviews of Vienna 1814. Most of these are available online, like the excellent one in Publishers Weekly and the recent one in Booklist, which called it outstanding, but here's an excerpt from a brand new one from the Library Journal. In its starred review, the Library Journal wrote: "King does a superb job of evoking the bedazzling social scene . . . This is a worthy contribution to the study of a critical historical event long neglected by historians. It should be in every European history collection." More to come on the Congress here and at the website, as we get closer to the release date.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Swedish Translation of Finding Atlantis

Finding Atlantis - the story of Olof Rudbeck and his search for Atlantis - was translated into Swedish in 2006 (Drömmen om Atlantis, hardback by Fahrenheit, paperback Månpocket). The translator, Frederik Sjögren, did an outstanding job. He has previously translated Bill Bryson, Mark Kulansky, and Ian McEwan, and has just published a translation of Frank Sch��tzing's The Swarm, film rights of which were purchased by Uma Thurman.

House of the Twenty-Four Hour Party People

In addition to the films Control:The Ian Curtis Film and Joy Division, the latter by Grant Gee, who has also directed Radiohead videos, and the book published a few days ago, Paul Morley’s Joy Division: Piece by Piece, there is another memoir on the way. Bassist Peter Hook will tell about his experiences with Joy Division, New Order, and the legendary Manchester club, Haçienda. (The cedilla was inserted in the Spanish hacienda apparently because “çi” would then resemble the “51” in the club’s nickname “Fac 51”).

Hook’s memoir should be an interesting read, given the history of the Haçienda, which helped launch indie/dance crossover, acid house, rave, and whole “Madchester” music scene that exploded in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Haçienda closed for good in 1997. Director Michael Winterbottom had to recreate the club in an Ancoats warehouse for 24-Hour Party People.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Napoleon at the Super Bowl

Garmin will feature Napoleon Bonaparte in its upcoming Super Bowl XLII commercial. I won’t say anything to spoil it, but it will be shown in the second quarter, or if you want to see it now beforehand, it’s here.

Write Us A Song, Mr.Guitar Man

After deciding to learn to play the guitar and perform in six months, with the help of everyone from Johnny Marr to Roger McGuinn, the adventures chronicled in his Guitar Man, Will Hodgkinson now tackles the challenge of song writing. This time, he’ll seek advice from many others, including Ray Davies, Keith Richards, XTC’s Andy Partridge, Richard Hawley and Chip Taylor, who gave us “Wild Thing” at the age of 22. Hodgkinson’s Song Man: A Melodic Adventure sounds every bit as exciting as his debut.