"The man he became : how FDR defied polio to win the presidency" by James Tobin delves into the battle Franklin Roosevelt waged to overcome polio and fulfill his life's goal of becoming president. This is not new ground, as FDR's polio has been the topic of conversation, speculation and misinformation since 1921 when he contracted the virus. But Tobin cuts through the misinformation to dispel some of the lingering myths about how FDR and those closest to him dealt with the crippling illness that threatened to sideline him. Tobin posits that Roosevelt did not win the presidency despite his affliction, but because of it. He has plenty of ammunition for the argument.
Saoirse Ronan never shies away from an acting challenge. Her roles in "Atonement" and "Lovely Bones" shows she tackles literary masterpieces with verve. "How I Live Now" is based on the book by Meg Rosoff and is different from the recent dystopian teen onslaught by giving a view of what would happen if a major world war happened not in the distant future, but tomorrow. Ronan stars as Daisy, a typical U.S. teen always attached to her ear buds and concerned with fashion and her weight. She's sent to relatives in Britain because her father believes war may break out.
Recent disturbing news of an outbreak of Ebola virus in Guinea has got me thinking about Richard Preston's chilling book "The Hot Zone." Preston presents what his subtitle calls "a terrifying true story." In 1989 a strain of Ebola appeared in a Virginia laboratory, and a military biohazard SWAT team worked frantically to identify and contain the virus. I read it many years ago and still remember the gruesome descriptions of what happens to a human dying of Ebola. This 1994 book is nonfiction but reads like a thriller and leaves the reader with an uneasy fear of this deadly virus.
Shirley Jones: a memoir by Shirley Jones and Wendy Leigh is a very few holds barred account of the singer's life. Whether you recall Shirley from movies such as "Oklahoma" or "Elmer Gantry", from her television role as the mother on "The Partridge Family," or as the step-mother of teeny bopper idol David Cassidy, her life is unique in entertainment history.
Twined through the ivied walls of Princeton University, vampirism spread like a virus in 1905. Though not all fell prey, no one escaped exposure.
Who better to invent this contagion than Joyce Carol Oates, Princeton professor since 1978? She knows the streets, the customs, the genealogies and secrets both chronicled and disavowed. In "The Accursed," an unnamed fictional narrator reveals this "history," writing in the late 20th Century. Diaries, correspondence, hearsay, legend and conjecture combine to expose the visitation of vampirism at a particularly fecund period in Princeton's history. The environs are traversed by luminaries such as former president Grover Cleveland, burgeoning author Upton Sinclair, Sherlock Holmes, Mark Twain, Jack London and, most prominently, Woodrow Wilson during his tenure as president of the school.
Huguette Clark was a very well-educated, sophisticated lady who inherited a lot of money, property, art jewelry and other valuables from her very wealthy parents. Although she had an amazing oceanfront estate in Santa Barbara, California and three uber-plush apartments overlooking Central Park, she preferred to pull the shades and retreat into one room in a New York City hospital. Although she was not ill, she lived in the hospital for 20 years!
"Empty mansions : the mysterious life of Huguette Clark and the spending of a great American fortune" by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr. uncovers some of the mystery of Huguette Clark, but leaves plenty intact. She was such a recluse that people who worked for Huguette Clark for decades never met her. But she was also generous and loyal, not just to employees but to their relatives.
If you're waiting for "Muscle Shoals" to be released on DVD and still in the holds queue for "Twenty Feet From Stardom" consider watching "Standing in the Shadows of Motown" to make it worth the wait. Like the other titles, "Standing in the Shadows of Motown" gives belated credit to the extraordinary musicians who created Motown hits like "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" and "I Heard it Through the Grapevine." Dubbed the "funk brothers," these talented men descended into the creative snake pit of Motown Records on a daily basis and spun gold nearly every time.
Patty Griffin's 2013 CD "American Kid" is getting some competition from an earlier recording that was hung up in record company purgatory. Entitled "Silver Bell," Griffin here is electrified both musically and metaphorically. Always mixing a little rock n roll in her country, with a full band she cuts loose on "Little God" and "Boston." That is not to say her lyrics don't have their usual clever precision or heartbreaking themes. They wend their way throughout, possibly most devastating in "Mother of God" and "Top of the World," a song that received a wider audience thanks to the Dixie Chicks who covered it and several other Griffin tunes.