Category Archives: THE ARTS

The Arts: New York City Ballet

The New York City Ballet is one of the featured organizations in America's pantheon of dance. Photo by Paul Kolnik, uploaded by

If you want to establish the credibility of your dance organization, one method is to point to the company’s founders. In the case of New York City Ballet, that would be a couple of pretty decent choreographers – George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty darn impressed.

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I’m the first to admit that while I know (and care) next to nothing about ballet, I do admire any endeavor that rises to the top of its genre. New York City Ballet has certainly done that. Playwright John Guare said, “I think that every year that the New York City Ballet is alive is worthy of celebration. Because otherwise the terrible thing is just that we take it for granted. ”

This exceptional company doesn’t perform every month, so you’ll want to check their website ( for its performance schedule. Or head to Lincoln Center in December (get your tickets early) for the company’s annual performances of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker. Can I give you one more great quote from John Guare? “I think of the New York City Ballet,” he said, “as the Yankees without George Steinbrenner.”

Book: Catch-22

Joseph Heller's Catch 22 is listed as the seventh greatest English-language novel of the twentieth century by The Modern Library, and one of the 100 greatest of all time by The Observer. Uploaded by

“Catch-22” has come to be a popular phrase that today means “a frustrating situation in which one feels trapped by contradictory regulations or conditions.” It comes from Joseph Heller’s breakthrough novel of the same name.

Yossarian, the main character of Catch-22, would be right at home dealing with the American bureaucracy in the second decade of the twenty-first century. His particular frustration came in dealing with the bureaucracy of the U.S. Army during World War II. But people who have to make their way through today’s heavily regulated society often invoke the phrase, or the spirit, of Catch-22.

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Yossarian wanted to stop flying missions in the war. But he saw what happened to his buddy Orr. As Joseph Heller describes it in his groundbreaking novel:

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to.

Published in 1961, Catch-22 is ranked as the seventh-greatest English language novel of the twentieth century by The Modern Library, while The Observer lists it as one of the 100 greatest novels of all time.

Book: The Great Gatsby

Neither Fitzgerald nor The Great Gatsby were revered when the book was first published in 1925. Now, Modern Library ranked it the second best novel of the 20th century. Uploaded by

I just re-read The Great Gatsby, having skimmed my way through it somewhere during what’s called my “formal” education. May I encourage you to go back now and re-read some of those books you only endured before? Stick to the 20th century – I wouldn’t read Moby Dick again for a thousand dollars. Shoot, I wouldn’t read Wuthering Heights for ten grand.

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But I thoroughly enjoyed The Great Gatsby. It’s easy to understand why F. Scott Fitzgerald is revered as one of our greatest authors, and why this is his prize. As a reader, I like tight plots, and I’m not much for descriptive language. But how can you not appreciate writing like this depiction of a character early in the book:

He had changed since his New Haven days. Now he was a sturdy, straw haired man of thirty with a rather hard mouth and a supercilious manner. Two shining, arrogant eyes had established dominance over his face and gave him the appearance of always leaning aggressively forward. Not even the effeminate swank of his riding clothes could hide the enormous power of that body – he seemed to fill those glistening boots until he strained the top lacing and you could see a great pack of muscle shifting when his shoulder moved under his thin coat. It was a body capable of enormous leverage – a cruel body.

Published in 1925, The Great Gatsby wasn’t a commercial success. The book’s reputation, as well as Fitzgerald’s, have improved over the decades, such that he is considered one of our great novelists. And Modern Library ranked The Great Gatsby at number two in its list of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century.

Writer: Carl Sandburg

Perhaps because of his strong Midwestern, especially Chicago, roots, it's not surprising that Sandburg wrote several biographies of Abraham Lincoln - one of which won a Pulitzer Prize (to go with the two he won for poetry). Uploaded by

California has its artists and writers, as does New York. Lots of writers are associated with the South and New England. For some reason, those born in the Midwest – the staid, stolid, hard-working Midwest – often move to a coast to practice their art. That’s one reason Carl Sandburg is celebrated, because he made his reputation in Chicago, and only moved to North Carolina to retire.

Here’s how he famously described his adopted hometown:

Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:

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During his lifetime, Sandburg published 22 books of poetry in addition to a number of biographies and children’s books. It’s probably no surprise, considering his Illinois heritage, that Sandburg wrote several books about Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, one of which won a Pulitzer Prize. He won two other Pulitzers for his poetry. He said, “Here is the difference between Dante, Milton, and me. They wrote about hell and never saw the place. I wrote about Chicago after looking the town over for years and years.”

Architecture: The Brooklyn Bridge

When completed in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world, and would remain so for 20 years. It was so well designed and built that it's still going strong while others built in its era have been replaced. Uploaded by

It takes an abundance of confidence to decide to build a suspension bridge that’s fifty percent longer than the longest one in existence. But that’s what bridge designer John Roebling and his son Washington Roebling did. Until their work was complete, the only way to get from Manhattan to Brooklyn was by ferry. The Brooklyn Bridge, opened in 1883, turned out to be 5,989 feet long. Now, more than 125 years later, it still carries more than 120,000 vehicles a day over the East River, along with untold pedestrians and bicycles.

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Although 27 people died during construction, the Roeblings’ design and construction turned out to be ahead of its time. The Brooklyn Bridge is a suspension/cable-stay hybrid, and Washington Roebling tried to build a structure that would be six times as strong as necessary. He succeeded, and the Brooklyn Bridge still is a key part of the New York City transportation matrix long after other bridges have been replaced.

The Brooklyn Bridge became a National Historic Landmark in 1964. The Bridge’s distinctive Gothic design is one reason it ranked number 20 in the AIA’s list of America’s Favorite Architecture. It’s the second bridge on the list, trailing only the Golden Gate (Great American Things, August 21, 2010).

Book: The Road

Cormac McCarthy's postapocalyptic vision of a father and son trying to survive a devastated world won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2007. Uploaded by

When you read The Road by Cormac McCarthy, you find yourself asking a lot of questions. The main question is, What happened? An unnamed father and son make a pilgrimage in a world that’s been all but destroyed, and we want to know what caused it. It doesn’t seem like nuclear war is the answer, there’s never any discussion of radiation. Everything is covered in ashes. Whatever the cause, it’s a world with few people, and circumstances have caused many of those who survived into predators – or even cannibals. The father and son remind each other that they “carry the fire,” the spark of goodness in humanity.

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For me, The Road is one of the three or four most memorable and haunting books I’ve ever read. It’s hard to imagine that a book can be simultaneously so difficult to face and yet keep the reader eager to find out what happens next. I read the book about a year ago, and the details are still vivid. That’s the impact it had on me.

The Road was made into a movie in 2009, and I’m sure it’s fine. But this, more than just about any story I can remember, lives in the mind. Letting one director’s vision be the visualization for the story is simply wrong. The Road won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2007, and the next year Entertainment Weekly called it the best book, fiction or nonfiction, of the last 25 years.

Advertising Agency: Wieden+Kennedy

The Wieden+Kennedy client list includes Old Spice, Coke, Chrysler, Nike, ESPN, and Target. That's especially impressive for an agency headquartered in Portland, Oregon. Uploaded by

Chances are, you don’t know this agency unless you’re already in the business. But you know their work. If you’re a sports fan, you probably have your favorite This is Sportscenter commercial for ESPN. You may remember the fabulous Bo Knows campaign for Nike. More recently, the agency had a huge hit with The Man Your Man Could Smell Like for Old Spice.

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W+K, founded in 1982, now has offices in New York, São Paulo, London, Amsterdam, Shanghai, Delhi, and Tokyo. But its headquarters and flagship office is in Portland, Oregon. In fact, W+K did something that happens occasionally – it made Portland a prime advertising center just because of its presence there. Its current clients include Chrysler, Coke, Converse, Levi’s, Nike, Old Spice, Procter & Gamble, and Target. Yeah, a pretty decent client list. It’s won many awards, including being chosen Agency of the Year in 2010 by Creativity.

But let’s revisit some of Wieden+Kennedy’s best work. And see the refreshing creativity that inhabits all their work.

Bo Knows, for Nike:

Old Spice:

This is Sportscenter, ESPN:

Architecture: Hotel del Coronado


The Hotel del Coronado, opened back in 1888, was selected 18th in the AIA's survey of America's Favorite Architecture. Uploaded by

The “Hotel Del,” as it’s colloquially known, isn’t just one of Southern California’s inspired architectural masterpieces. It holds that honor for the entire country. The American Institute of Architects’ survey of America’s Favorite Architecture, placed this National Historic Landmark at number 18. That ranks higher than such national treasures at Monticello and any Frank Lloyd Wright creation.


The Hotel Del and Marilyn Monroe were both featured in Some Like it Hot. Uploaded by

The Hotel Del, located in Coronado, California (just across the bay from San Diego), is one of the last surviving examples of the Victorian wooden beach resort. Built in 1888 from architect James Reid’s plan, it was at the time the largest resort hotel in the world. And it was the first to use electric lighting. In fact, Thomas Edison came out to supervise the installation of the hotel’s wiring.

Today, the mammoth property contains 680 rooms and suites, many of them beachfront. It offers many of the activities and luxuries you’d expect from a luxury resort named one of the Top 10 Resorts in the World by USA Today, and the number two best place in the world to get married by The Travel Channel.

Architecture: The Lincoln Memorial


Construction on the Lincoln Memorial began in 1914. Robert Todd Lincoln, the President's son, was present for the dedication in 1922 at the age of 79. Uploaded by

Several wonderful monuments dot Washington, DC to honor past presidents and veterans of our foreign wars. But none are as inspiring, as beautiful, and as beloved as The Lincoln Memorial on the Mall.

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Architect Henry Bacon designed the memorial, and Daniel Chester French created the immense sculpture of Abraham Lincoln. Oddly, some people during the planning stages thought the design too gaudy for the simple Lincoln; some even thought it should be a log cabin. Fortunately, the design we now see won the day, and it’s considered one of America’s architectural masterpieces. It’s ranked seventh on the list of America’s Favorite Architecture as chosen in a survey by the American Institute of Architects.

Construction on the Memorial began in 1914, and it was dedicated in 1922. Lincoln’s son Robert Todd Lincoln, then 79 years old, attended the ceremony. The steps leading up to the Memorial have been the scene of many historic events, including Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech in 1963. Today, some 3.6 million people visit the site annually, and it’s not at all unusual to see tears in their eyes as they take in the moment.

Kid Stuff: Bridge to Terabithia


Bridge to Terabithia won the Newberry Medal for children's literature in 1978. It was made into a feature film in 2007. Uploaded by

I read lots of great children’s stories to my boys when they were growing up. Made up quite a few, too. I don’t know if they remember them after all these years (Guys?), but I remember Bridge to Terabithia best because it’s the one that got to me as I read it.

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I don’t want to spoil the plot if you haven’t read it, so I won’t do much of a  summary. The story revolves around a boy and girl, friends and neighbors who are both very creative and enjoy fantasy stories. So they create a “magical kingdom” which they name Terabithia, in which the boy (Jess) is king, and the girl (Leslie) is queen. Let’s just say that a tragedy occurs, and that’s where I broke up. After all these years, I still remember that moment.

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson is a beautiful book that won the 1978 Newberry Medal for children’s literature. Paterson, a Christian, was asked whether her faith influenced her writing. She answered, “C.S. Lewis said that the book can’t be what the writer is not, and I think you write out of who you are.  In fiction, you don’t start out to teach a lesson (because that’s propaganda, that’s not fiction), you start out to tell a story.  What you believe deeply will come out and the story will reveal you, whether you mean for it to or not!”

Book: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn


Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (note no "The"), published in 1885, is one of the very first books written in the style called Local Color Regionalism. Uploaded by

Who decides which books are the best of all time? Recently, W.W. Norton and Co. (the Norton anthology people) asked 125 of the greatest living writers to make their top ten lists, then crunched the numbers to get a consensus top 10. According to these people, who are a pretty good sample, Huckleberry Finn is the fifth greatest book of all time.

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Mark Twain published Huckleberry Finn in 1885, and it’s one of the first American books written in the style called “local color regionalism.” Oh, there’s lots of color in the book, all right. So much that some super sensitive souls can’t handle it, and want the book banned. These people are on both sides of the political spectrum, showing that you can be a fool with any political leaning.

Actually, the book was controversial from the beginning. The Concord, Mass. library refused to carry it, saying “…the whole book being more suited to the slums than to intelligent, respectable people.” And writer Louisa May Alcott took time out from writing books like Little Women to say that if Twain couldn’t “think of something better to tell our pure-minded lads and lasses he had best stop writing for them.”

Fortunately, cooler heads have prevailed – then and now. Yes, there are parts of the book that are uncomfortable to read. But its place in the history of American literature is secure, regardless of those who would tell us what we should think.

Architecture: The Guggenheim


Frank Lloyd Wright thought New York was a bad choice for the Guggenheim Museum. Too crowded, too many buildings for his masterpiece to stand out. But Mr. Guggenheim prevailed, and those who love NYC are delighted he did. Uploaded by

Isn’t it odd how a unique building can divide people initially, then later be revered as one of the country’s greatest works of architecture? That’s the story of The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, usually called The Guggenheim. It was Frank Lloyd Wright’s last major design, and it polarized the New York creative crowd. Several artists even signed a letter, saying their works couldn’t be properly displayed in such a limited space.

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There’s no question that this isn’t The Metropolitan Museum. Wright worked on the drawings for 15 years before settling on the design. Unfortunately, neither Mr. Guggenheim nor Mr. Wright survived to see the building open. When it entertained its first visitors in October, 1959, it transformed the block at 89th Street and 5th Avenue on which it’s situated. And the amazing thing is that it doesn’t look dated at all. It could have been created today, and been just as beautiful and startling as it did more than a half century ago.

But, as I said earlier, this success didn’t come without significant opposition. Many expressed concern that the building would overpower the art inside. Wright answered, “On the contrary, (the purpose) was to make the building and the painting an uninterrupted, beautiful symphony such as never existed in the World of Art before.”

Poet: Robert Frost


The woods are lovely, dark, and deep. But I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep. Uploaded by

Who’s the greatest American poet? Experts might nominate Longfellow … Dickinson … Whitman … Cummings. I’d no doubt go with T.S. Eliot, and his remarkable mastery of both symbolism and language (Say this aloud: “Combing the white hair of the waves blown back /when the wind blows the water white and black.”) except that he left the good old U.S. of A. and became a citizen of England.

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Which doesn’t mean that Frost merits only first runner-up. Although born in San Francisco, he lived most of his life in New England, and his language reflected the simple things he treasured. As one biographer wrote, “With his down-to-earth approach to his subjects, readers found it is easy to follow the poet into deeper truths, without being burdened with pedantry.”

Is there a more resolute sadness than Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening? Or a better treatise on destiny than The Road Not Taken? Robert Frost spoke for himself, but his words expressed the hopes, dreams, and fears of his countrymen. In my opinion, the Greatest American Poet.

(Originally posted April 27, 2009)

Artist: Jackson Pollock


During his lifetime (and even now), the public and critics can't agree on Jackson Pollock's works. In 1949, Life magazine asked if he was America's greatest living artist. A few years later, Time magazine called him Jack the Dripper. Uploaded to Photobucket by technique 17.

Rarely has there been an artist as admired and simultaneously dismissed as Jackson Pollock. An abstract expressionist, Pollock famously put his large-scale canvases on the floor, and stylistically dripped or splattered paint to fulfill his vision. He’s sometimes called “Jack the Dripper,” but he was unapologetic about his technique. “On the floor I am more at ease,” he said. “I feel nearer, more part of the painting, since this way I can walk around it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting.”

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Pollock’s work is often criticized by the public. “Anyone could drip paint or throw it on a canvas,” some would say. “That’s not art.” Even critics have found fault with Pollock’s work. One wrote that they were “mere unorganized explosions of random energy, and therefore, meaningless.” But the art world has always embraced Pollock, and you have to admire his creativity and the abstract beauty of his finished works. Famed art patron Peggy Guggenheim became one of his earliest supporters, and was instrumental in his acceptance and success.

Unfortunately, Pollock struggled with alcoholism, and died in an alcohol-related auto accident at only 44. Whatever you think of his technique, he’s been a major influence on a generation of artists both in the U.S. and Europe. Of his work, Pollock said, “When I’m painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing. It’s only after a get acquainted period that I see what I’ve been about. I’ve no fears about making changes for the painting has a life of its own.”

Writer: David Mamet


David Mamet won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for his play/screenplay, Glengarry Glen Ross, a tour de force of brilliant and often profane dialogue. Uploaded by

David Mamet is one of the all-time masters of film/stage dialogue. His preference for natural conversation, in which characters often interrupt each other and sentences are left unfinished, has come to be known as “Mamet speak.” He has written fiction, nonfiction, screenplays, and stage plays. He has written and produced. And though his isn’t a household name, he is well respected for his diverse talents.


Alec Baldwin was brilliant in Glengarry Glen Ross. Uploaded by

You’ll recognize a few of Mamet’s works, though they aren’t blockbusters. He received the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for the adult play Glengarry Glen Ross, which waas also a remarkable movie. He also received Oscar nominations for The Verdict (Great American Things, Sept. 18, 2009) and Wag the Dog. Other movies he’s responsible for (as screenwriter) include The Untouchables, Ronin, and Hannibal. He’s also directed a couple of small gems: The Spanish Prisoner and State and Main.


I love this description of Mamet from his biography on

Mamet makes few distinctions between working on the stage and the screen; He believes both involve putting the material on its feet and seeing how it plays. With movies, that’s done in the editing room or sometimes on the set. With plays, it’s done during rehearsals. In neither case does he see himself handicapped by being both the writer and the director. “There are two stages,” Mamet says. “First I write the best script I can and then I put on my director’s hat and say, ‘What am I going to do with this piece of crap?'”

Book: Ender’s Game

Orson Scott Card earned the two most prestigious prizes in Science Fiction - the Nebula Award and the Hugo Award - for Ender's Game. Uploaded by

I have to admit up front that I’m not personally a big fan of science fiction. Never have been. My brother, on the other hand, began devouring books by Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov while we were in high school. I admire the creativity upon which the genre is based, but space and the future aren’t topics I find all that interesting.

So you’ll understand why it’s even more amazing that I loved Ender’s Game. Author Orson Scott Card lives not far from me, and I thought I might run into

Orson Scott Card. Uploaded by

him at some time (yeah, I know) and I should at least be able to say I’d read one of his books. So I picked up Ender’s Game, and loved it. It was enough to cause me to end my personal sci-fi embargo.

The best I can summarize the plot in a line or two is that Ender Wiggin lives in the future and is selected to train at Battle School. He isn’t very enthusiastic about it, but he’s a natural fighter, and his skills take him places he didn’t want to go at a price he didn’t want to pay. Card has written a number of sequels for those who want to follow Ender’s exploits. Ender’s Game won the two highest awards in science fiction, the Nebula Award and the Hugo Award, and placed at number 59 in the reader’s list of Modern Library’s top 100 novels.

Architecture: Grand Central Station


With 44 platforms and 67 tracks, Grand Central Terminal (its official name) handles both rail and subway trains in Manhattan. Uploaded by

As I read about this building in preparation for this post, I find that its correct name is “Grand Central Terminal.” Okay, that’s nice. But most Americans call it “Station,” and that’s good enough for me. Seems to me if you have 44 platforms and 67 tracks, you’re pretty big just to be a simple terminal.

Though railroad buildings have stood on this site since 1871, the current structure began service in 1914. Surprisingly, much of the architectural work

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for which the building is noted was not created by a prominent New York firm, but by the firm of Reed and Stern from St. Paul, Minnesota. It did cooperate on some of the Beaux-Arts with the NYC firm of Warren and Wetmore.

Most people recognize Grand Central for its cavernous main concourse, which has been featured in dozens of movies, from North by Northwest to Men in Black to The Freshman. GCS came in number 13 in the AIA compilation of America’s favorite architecture.

Book: The Sound and the Fury


When published in 1929, The Sound and the Fury wasn't a commercial success. But as Faulkner's fame and popularity grew, people came to appreciate it more. Uploaded by

In The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner (Great American Things, September 30, 2010) returns to his fictional Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, where he shows the final destruction of the Old South through the dissolution of the once-prominent Compson family.

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It’s a challenging book to read, told as it is in four sections and four points of view. The first section is narrated by the mentally handicapped Benjy Compson, and uses stream of consciousness that’s difficult to follow. The next section is told by Quentin Compson, a depressed Harvard student who’s tormented by his sister’s promiscuity and ends up committing suicide. The third section is also narrated by a Compson brother, this time Jason. It’s mostly linear and is therefore more easily understood. The last section employs a third-person, universal point of view.

The Sound and the Fury wasn’t a commercial success when published in 1929, but as Faulkner became better known, readers found this book. It’s a significant reason he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949. Modern Library ranked it as the sixth best novel of the twentieth century.  As for the title, it’s derived from a soliloquy by Macbeth: “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Person: Dave Barry


You just look at Dave Barry, and you say, This is a funny guy. This isn't the face of a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist. But he is. It is. Whatever. Uploaded by

Dave Barry is one funny guy. Okay, I suppose that’s like saying broccoli is one green vegetable. Still, he’s funny when he writes, he’s funny when he talks, and forgive me, he even looks funny. Not weird funny, but ha-ha funny. You look at him, and you know you’re not seeing the face of a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist.

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Whoops! Yes you are. Or you would. Or whatever tense I was using. Which leads me to my favorite Dave Barry alter ego, Mr. Language Person. If I can find one (and if it’s legal wink-wink), I’m going to link to one of the Mr. Language Person columns. Dave was syndicated out of the Miami Herald for 25 years, but he retired from the weekly grind in 2004. We can point to that date, and to the date when Bill Watterston stopped producing Calvin and Hobbes (Great American Things, October 8, 2009) as the beginning of the end for America’s newspaper industry.

If you’ve read Dave’s columns or books, you don’t need me to tell you what a funny guy he is. But if you should not know his work, I’ve found an Ask Mr. Language Person column for you. You can then go to your local bookstore and purchase one of his books. Or visit the Miami Herald website, where you can also see some more of his work. Thanks, Dave Barry, for helping us all not to take ourselves so seriously.

Book/Film: The Grapes of Wrath

The novel was published in 1939, and earned John Steinbeck the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. The movie followed the next year, and earned 7 Academy Award nominations. Uploaded by john

The Grapes of Wrath is the moving story of the Joad family, Okies forced from their farms due to the crop failures brought on by the Dust Bowl. Tom and the family make the pilgrimage to what they’ve been led to believe is the promised land — California. But when they arrive, they find that there are too many migrants, and too few jobs.

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Published in 1939, The Grapes of Wrath earned John Steinbeck (Great American Things,  October 24, 2009) the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1940. That’s the year the film version debuted, directed by John Ford and starring Henry Fonda as Tom Joad. As often happens in adaptations, the movie had a slightly happier ending than the book. Part of that can be attributed to the natural inclination of film producers to want audiences to leave happy; part is likely due to the fact that Ford and executive producer Darryl F. Zanuck were more politically conservative than Steinbeck.

The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, and won two. The American Film Institute’s original “100 Years…100 Movies” named it the number 21 film of all time. As for the book, Modern Library honored it as the tenth-best novel of the 20th century.