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  • Kat Rosenfield 8:15 pm on 2016/10/18 Permalink
    Tags: closed doors, ,   

    6 Incredible Memoirs by Defectors from Closed Societies 

    What lurks behind the doors and beyond the borders of the world’s most shuttered societies?

    It’s a question that fascinates us, and the answers are elusive—which is exactly how the leadership of these well-guarded communities prefer it, whether they’re operating within the closed borders of North Korea or holding forth in the secretive inner circle of Scientologists. But when a defector emerges from one of these places that’s so shrouded in mystery, sometimes, they bring the truth out with them. And when they do, it makes for a story more fascinating than any work of fiction. Below, some of the best memoirs by authors who risked it all to share their stories.

    The Girl with Seven Namesby Hyeonseo Lee
    Since the end of the Korean War, North Korea has been a country shrouded in secrecy, and best-known by the average American for being the butt of various jokes by irreverent comedians and filmmakers. But for people like Hyeonseo Lee, who grew up with famine, fear, and public executions of anyone who dared criticize her country’s dictatorial leadership, life in North Korea is anything but funny. In The Girl with Seven Names, Lee tells stories of her life under the Kim Jong-Il regime and her harrowing escape through China, an experience she relived vicariously when she conspired to help get her mother and brother out of North Korea years later. Lee was initially made famous by a TED talk in which she described her struggle to defect; now, she works to help deprogram other escapees from North Korean oppression.

    Troublemaker, by Leah Remini
    After being indoctrinated as a child into the church of Scientology, Remini made a highly public split with the organization after being declared a “Suppressive Person”—the Scientologist’s version of persona non grata, disavowed and disconnected from the church and everyone in it, including her own family. Remini’s memoir of her path to intellectual freedom contains plenty of juicy gossip about Scientology’s famous adherents (she was a guest at Tom Cruise’s wedding to Katie Holmes in 2006), but it’s her funny, poignant journey from indoctrination to independence that makes this a truly gripping read.

    Escape, by Carolyn Jessop
    Carolyn Jessop had $20 to her name when she fled the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, where she was married off at the age of 18 to a man 32 years her senior. Merrill Jessop was Carolyn’s first husband. She was his fourth wife. When she escaped the community, a radical offshoot of the Mormon Church known for its polygamist practices and oppressive patriarchal power structure, she was not only destitute and terrified, but bringing her eight children with her. Carolyn Jessop’s memoir takes readers inside the guarded world of the FLDS church, which grew its ranks over the years by brainwashing its members, especially the women, into dutiful subservience. In the end, Jessop not only made history by escaping to freedom with all her children in tow; she was also instrumental in the prosecution brought against notorious FLDS leader Warren Jeffs.

    Banished, by Lauren Drain
    Most of us know the Westboro Baptist Church for making a frothing, hateful spectacle of itself at every available opportunity (they’re the ones who show up to the funerals of soldiers killed in combat holding “God Hates Fags” placards). But for Lauren Drain, the Westboro Baptist Church wasn’t just a public embarrassment or infamous hate group; it was her home for the better part of a decade. Drain and her family moved to the church’s compound when her father began producing a documentary about the group; seven years later, Drain was exiled from the church and disowned by her now-avid WBC family when she began to question its hateful practices. Her memoir is a chilling, unflinching look inside the cult that destroyed her family and very nearly claimed her identity.

    The Witness wore Red, by Rebecca Musser
    Like Carolyn Jessop, Rebecca Musser was a dutiful member of the FLDS church, and like Jessop, she was ordered into a polygamist marriage at an early age. She was just a teenager when she became the 19th wife of 85-year-old “prophet” Rulon Jeffs, a marriage so horrific that she ultimately had no choice but to flee. Musser’s memoir is a harrowing account of life inside the cloistered compound of Short Creek, where isolation, secrecy, abuse, and fear were the ruling forces. It’s also a triumphant story of her return years later, not as a wife, but as a witness, in the 2007 trial that finally saw Warren Jeffs, Rulon’s son, sentenced to life in prison.

    I Chose Freedom, by Victor Kravchenko
    It’s an oldie, but a goodie. Published in 1946, Kravchenko’s memoir drew back the curtain on the collective society of Soviet Russia—and roundly ticked off a lot of Communists in the process. Kravchenko defected to the United States during World War II, in which he served as a Captain in the Soviet army. His memoir, published two years later, was an explosive tell-all about life in the Soviet Union, the ghastly practices of the Soviet prison camp system, and the country’s penchant for penal labor. At the time, Kravchenko’s defection was a big enough deal (and embarrassing enough to the USSR) that he lived under a pseudonym in the U.S. to avoid detection. But despite his best efforts, his choice to tell the truth may have cost him his life; he died 20 years later, in 1966, under decidedly mysterious circumstances.

    The post 6 Incredible Memoirs by Defectors from Closed Societies appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Kat Rosenfield 7:30 pm on 2016/08/09 Permalink
    Tags: , , , ,   

    6 Stephen King Adaptations to Watch Now (or Get Stoked For) 

    Stephen King is one of the world’s most prolific authors — but even he can’t write fast enough to satisfy the appetites of his biggest fans. Fortunately, there’s an answer for that: the ever-expanding collection of King books that were, are, or will be adapted for movies or television.

    Although many a Stephen King novel, novella, or short story has found its way to screens big and small over the years, the author is having arguably his biggest moment in Hollywood yet. Two fresh adaptations of his work are available for your viewing pleasure right this minute, and another four are coming down the pike. Below, we’ve rounded up all the titles getting some well-deserved screen buzz.

    The story of a signal, sent via cell phone, that turns everyone who hears it into part of a murderous hive mind, Cell features an all-star cast that includes The Hunger Games‘ Isabelle Fuhrman; it also stars John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson reteaming up for their second King movie (they starred together in 1408, adapted from a short story in Everything’s Eventual, back in 2007.) Out on demand and in select theaters now, Cell had a rocky road from conception to screen—but as adaptations of King’s novels go, it’s not a bad little movie, particularly in a signature moment involving a gasoline truck and a snoozing flock of phone zombies.

    This terrifying tale of seven tweens who reunite as adults to battle an unspeakable, ancient evil was adapted once already as a TV miniseries—which unfortunately failed to age well, making the upcoming release of a new It a timely entry on the pop culture landscape (not to mention the perfect way to introduce a whole new generation to a well-founded phobia of clowns.) This time, the giant book is being split into two feature films, the first of which hits theaters in September 2017. Fun fact: kid actor Finn Wolfhard, who was so awesome as the wide-eyed hero of the very ’80s, very King-inspired Stranger Things, is part of this production, too.

    The Dark Tower
    After stagnating forever in development, this year brought some big news for fans of King’s magnum opus fantasy series: amovie is finally in the making, and some serious stars are being brought on board. The first of what will hopefully be many movies set in the Dark Tower alternaworld, where Gunslinger Roland Deschain (played by Idris Elba) hunts the appallingly evil figure known only as the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), is slated for a 2017 release.

    The Stand
    The good news is, King’s epic postapocalyptic novel about a flu epidemic that wipes out 99% of the American population is being developed into a feature film—or two, or maybe even four. The bad news is, the adaptation is in a holding pattern while filmmakers try to figure out how (and whether) to break up the mega-long book into multiple movies, or whether to start it out on TV and segue into a feature-length film, or…well, the options are limitless, and that’s part of the problem. However, there may be one bright side to the delays: By the time the movie gets made, Matthew McConaughey might be available to take on the role of villain Randall Flagg (because as any Stephen King fan worth his salt knows, Flagg and the Man in Black should really be played by the same fellow.)

    While The Stand sits in limbo, its scriptwriter isn’t sitting still. Josh Boone, personally selected by Stephen King to pen the movie adaptation of The Stand, has already gone ahead and begun developing another of the author’s novels: Revival, a terrifying story of religious fanaticism, scientific experimentation, and two men battling different kinds of demons. There’s no studio attached to the script yet, but considering Boone’s clout in Hollywood (he also directed The Fault in Our Stars), you’ll likely be seeing it in theaters sooner rather than later.

    King’s brick of a novel about a 21st-century schoolteacher who goes back in time to stop the assassination of JFK is a perfect encapsulation of why it’s so hard to adapt his books as feature films—and this TV serial take on 11/22/63 shows why the author’s sprawling plots and peculiar pacing are basically made for an eight-episode format. The Hulu original stars James Franco in a perfectly frantic performance as hero Jake Epping, and draws out the drama almost as well as its source material. (If you hurry, you can still catch this one for free before Hulu phases into its subscription-only model.)

  • Kat Rosenfield 4:15 pm on 2016/08/04 Permalink
    Tags: , doris kearns goodwin, , happy birthday mr. president, , lauren groff, , ralph waldo emerson   

    Celebrate Barack Obama’s Birthday with 6 of His Favorite Books 

    Happy birthday, Mister President, happy birthday to you!

    It might be an historic election year, but on this date, our commander in chief is celebrating his own milestone: Barack Obama, 44th President of the U.S., turns 55 years old today. And to honor the Prez on his birthday, we’re rounding up a list of recommended reads vetted by the man himself. Because in addition to being our fearless leader, President Obama is also quite the fearless reader.

    From novels to biographies to classic children’s books, these are the titles the President has namedropped over the years as his faves (or in one case, clearly enjoyed so much he didn’t have to).

    Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff
    This novel shot to the top of bestseller lists everywhere after the President named it as his favorite book of 2015, but let’s be honest, it was probably already on its way there to begin with. Groff’s intricate, ambitious, mesmerizing portrait of a marriage—and the revelation of the mysteries and lies contained therein—is a seriously gripping read.

    For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway
    Hemingway’s sweeping war novel was named by President Obama in a Rolling Stone interview as a work that inspired him as a young man, with its themes of love, loyalty, idealism, and courage. Interestingly, this is also a book with documented bipartisan appeal; it’s a big favorite of one-time Republican presidential nominee (and Obama political opponent) John McCain.

    The Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri
    Lahiri’s tale of two brothers coming of age in 1960s Calcutta, set against the backdrop of the Indian quest for independence, was cracked open by the President in a very different setting last summer: among others titles, it was brought along as a vacation read during the first family’s trip to Martha’s Vineyard.

    Self-Reliance, by Ralph Waldo Emerson
    Along with Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, this title is listed as one of the President’s faves on his Facebook page. A passionate argument in support of individualism as a vital founding principle of a free and civilized society, Emerson’s essay is just the kind of thing you’d expect the leader of the free world to appreciate.

    Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin
    With his measured, strategic approach to policy and amazing skills as an orator, Barack Obama has long been compared to a certain Presidential predecessor—and this book might be a reason why. In 2009, the President noted that Doris Kearns Goodwin’s expansive biography of Lincoln gave him an insight into how best to shape his own cabinet. Among the moves he pulled from the 16th president’s playbook? Naming former rival (and now Democratic nominee) Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State.

    Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak
    The president may not have ever specifically named this classic as a fave, but you can’t watch the video of POTUS and FLOTUS reading it aloud at the White House annual Easter Egg Roll and pretend they don’t both love it. Let the wild rumpus start!

  • Kat Rosenfield 8:00 pm on 2016/08/02 Permalink
    Tags: , , ,   

    Megan Abbott’s You Will Know Me Is an Unsettling Teen Girl Noir 

    On the eve of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, few events will inspire as much slack-jawed amazement—or furious debate—as the women’s gymnastics competition. Inside every spangled leotard, under every perfectly made-up face, is a fierce athlete who has pushed herself to unthinkable limits for a chance at Olympic gold. Working through devastating injuries, racing against the clocks of their own biology, elite gymnasts give up their girlhoods to training in the hopes of achieving greatness in the narrow window of time between peak skill level and the onset of puberty—knowing the development of womanly hips or breasts will effectively end their careers.

    For these reasons, women’s gymnastics has long been side-eyed as a breeding ground for eating disorders and body image issues. But in Megan Abbott’s ninth novel, You Will Know Me, it’s a place for much darker things to grow—in the hearts of the gymnasts themselves, in the tangled web of glad-handing and fundraising that fuels Olympic hopes, and in the cracks that form in a marriage and a family where one person’s dreams are so big there’s no room for anyone else to have dreams of their own.

    Katie and Eric Knox are not the type of helicoptering, high-achieving couple who pinned expectations on their kid before she even left the womb. In fact, they’re not the kind of couple who had much in the way of expectations at all—not even of making their relationship work after marrying young and hastily in the wake of an unplanned pregnancy. But Devon, their daughter, turns out to be gifted not just beyond her parents’ expectations, but beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. By the time she’s a teenager, her promise as a gymnast is not only the driving force of her life, but the glue holding her family together. Katie and Eric, and their younger son, Drew, are nothing but accessory planets orbiting the bright star of Devon’s athletic hopes.

    For Eric, being Devon’s biggest supporter is a role he was born for; he’s a big shot by association thanks to his gift for fundraising on behalf of the BelStars gym where Devon trains, and a serious feather in the cap of the booster club made up of fretful (and kinda thirsty) gymnastics moms who hope some of Devon’s lustre will rub off on their own girls. Katie, by contrast, still occasionally finds some distance and perspective—feeling in turns awestruck by her kid, amused at the way gymnastics has overtaken her family’s life, and concerned by the sense that she understands Devon less and less as Devon’s achievements get greater and greater. And when tragedy strikes, and a beloved member of the gym community is killed in a hit-and-run accident just weeks before a major qualifying tournament, Katie is the closest thing to a voice of reason amid a chorus of parents whose primary concern is that the funeral will put a real crimp in the girls’ training schedules. But even she can’t fathom the truth that’s about to emerge, or the lengths to which members of this insular, cutthroat community will go to protect one of their own—or their own interests.

    Abbott excels at delving into the dark underbelly of teen girl–world and unearthing the worst of what’s buried there, and You Will Know Me is no exception. Foreboding hangs in the air from the first, and there are no lulls once the tension begins to build. The expertly woven mystery unravels from Katie’s point of view, which for readers creates the alluring but ultimately mistaken sense of knowing exactly what’s going on; we can see Katie’s blind spots, but what lurks behind them isn’t always what we think.

    Ultimately, it’s that sense of misdirection even more than the mystery’s ultimate conclusion that makes this such a compelling read, and an unsettling one. Through her mother’s eyes, we see Devon not as a person but as a series of inscrutable metaphors. As Katie sits in the bleachers, separated from her daughter by barriers both physical and ephemeral, Devon is a bouncing ponytail; a distant goddess; a well-oiled machine; a body of knotted muscle with a girl stuffed somewhere down inside it. She is made of stone, of sinew, of meat. Her baby brother insists she once climbed out the window and took flight, a raptor with beady eyes and claws for feet—and though everyone laughs and says he was only dreaming, there are parts of that vision that feel like the truth. Do the Knoxes truly know their daughter? Do they truly know each other?

    The whodunit resolution in Abbott’s story is satisfying, but it’s not the point. Rather, it’s the questions that linger on after you’ve closed the book that opened with a promise: You Will Know Me. But do you? And are you sure you want to?

    You Will Know Me is on sale now.

  • Kat Rosenfield 3:00 pm on 2016/08/01 Permalink
    Tags: , art imitating life, , , Colette, iris murdoch, , mary wollstonecraft, , , ,   

    The Bell Jar Gets a Movie, and 5 More Biopics About Women Writers 

    Sylvia Plath is one of modern literature’s most celebrated, complicated women, which is why it’s astonishing that it has taken this long for her famed novel The Bell Jar to get an outing in Hollywood (unless you count the awful, unsuccessful 1979 attempt by an all-male writing and directing team to adapt the novel for the screen…and really, it would be best for all of us if we just pretend that never happened.)

    But now, per a report from Deadline, The Bell Jar is finally getting the movie adaptation it deserves, with Kirsten Dunst directing and Dakota Fanning in the starring role of Esther Greenwood—a character who’s more or less an avatar for Plath herself in the largely autobiographical story about a young woman struggling with mental illness.

    Production on the movie won’t start until early next year, so it’ll be awhile yet before we see whether Dunst and her crew can do this story justice. But knowing that the lives of fierce literary ladies tend to make for great movies (when they’re done right), we’re feeling optimistic! Consider these five grand dames of literature who have gotten (or are about to get) a big-screen outing.

    Virginia Woolf
    Although The Hours was written by a man, it was Virginia Woolf’s life and legacy that inspired the Pulitzer Prize–winning novel—and when the novel was adapted for film, it was Nicole Kidman’s searing performance as the author that won the Academy Award.

    Mary Wollstonecraft
    While big sister Dakota is gearing up to play Plath’s heroine, Elle Fanning has signed on to star in a biopic of another awesome woman writer: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, founding mother of feminism and author of the seminal sci-fi novel Frankenstein. That movie, A Storm in the Stars, will be out later this year.

    Jane Austen
    It is a truth universally acknowledged that the makers of Becoming Jane probably took a few liberties vis-a-vis the seriousness of Jane Austen’s IRL romance with Thomas Langlois Lefroy, but that’s probably because so frustratingly little is known about the personal life of the woman who introduced the world to Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy that even the most knowledgeable Austen biographers have had to fill in the blanks.

    Colette’s novels, Cheri and The Last of Cheri, have already been made into a delicious (and highly underrated) film starring Michelle Pfeiffer as an aging courtesan and Rupert Friend as the bratty, beautiful title character, but the writer herself had a fascinating life—which will be the subject of an upcoming biopic starring Keira Knightley.

    Iris Murdoch
    The Irish writer—who penned more than two dozen novels, four books of philosophy, five plays, and a libretto before succumbing to Alzheimer’s disease in 1999—was portrayed as a young woman by Kate Winslet and an old one by Judi Dench in the 2001 biopic Iris. In addition to being a literary powerhouse, Murdoch was one half of a fascinating, eccentric literary power couple (not unlike Plath was with Ted Hughes); her husband, John Bayley, wrote the memoir that served as source material for the movie about her life.

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