Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Cultural Prescience: Television as Crystal Ball

Television, in the modern day and age, has become little more than a spectator sport. The lucky few chosen at random to participate, the countless masses laughing at their follies, and the producers heightening reality as far as possible—so much so as to make the real unreal—are all analogous to gladiatorial sports in ancient Rome. Reality TV and the paparazzi have made normal people into extraordinary brutes, cast into unbelievable situations and forced to react for the cameras. A simple look into the E! reality show “Bridalplasty” from a few years back puts our horrific cultural values on shocking display.

As an intern, one of my main duties at the TCU Press from day one has been proofreading Dan Jenkins’ and Bud Shrake’s Limo, a 1976 novel that predicts with incredible precision (and utter hilarity) the future state of television programming.

Through the eyes of Frank Mallory, a TV producer, the reader is taken through several satiric situations—including a mid-morning drag race—that only serve to highlight the eventual unreality of “Just Up The Street,” a three-hour prime-time program that exists solely at the whim of the Big Guy (read: executive/Frank’s boss). In contrasting Frank’s personal life with his professional struggles, Jenkins and Shrake place a lens firmly into the entertainment mores of the 21st century.

In reading this book, I was struck by the rich narrative, the (often hysterical) dialogue, and the believable characters’ interactions, culminating in a climax that I not only wanted to read, but had fun experiencing. Every misstep (or correct step) was a joy to see; Jenkins and Shrake truly come into their element. Though the book' s diction is a bit dated—“groovy” and “pad” are peppered through the work with surprising abandon—that aging just exacerbates how spot-on (and early) Jenkins and Shrake were in their prediction.  Overall, this is a book I’d definitely recommend, and I don’t recommend books lightly. Pick up a copy when you can.

by Luke Miller, intern

Monday, March 25, 2013

Piecing the Past Together

My knowledge of my family’s immigrant past is collection of fragments—a memory of my Nona Rosa’s wrinkled smile, a brief report I gave in elementary school, a faded photograph from Ellis Island. I know that my great-grandparents came to California from Northern Italy in the early twentieth century, but the details are blank.

As one of my intern duties at TCU Press, I have been assisting in editing The Harness Maker’s Dream, an ancestral narrative by author Nick Kotz.

In this book Kotz tells the story of his family’s patriarch, Nathan Kallison, on his mission to build a life in the United States after escaping from czarist Ukraine in 1890. Drawing from newspapers, interviews, official records, and a variety of other sources, Kotz pieces together a history that most members of his family had long since forgotten.  After a period of struggle and adjustment, Nathan works to become one of the most successful retailers and ranchers in San Antonio, Texas. Throughout his life, Nathan was respected for his character; his children, his business, and his status in the community reflect his unwavering integrity. The narrative records the life of a man whose efforts earned him “the American Dream.”

Kotz hopes this book will inspire its readers to study their own past, learning more about themselves and our nation in this process. Through his research, he discovered that “the most important history of our country is not found in the grand events of wars and presidencies, but rather in the everyday lives of our citizens—how they worked hard to support their families, how they coped with hardships, discrimination, and human tragedy, and how they contributed to their own communities and nation.” These people built the foundations for the thriving society we enjoy today, and their stories deserve to be told.

After reading The Harness Maker’s Dream, I am encouraged to dig into my own past. My grandfather is now the only living child of his immigrant parents—the last guide into a vast landscape of invaluable memories.  I intend to ask him all that I can about our history while I still have the chance. Who knows? Maybe it will lead to my own book one day. 

by Leah Fiorini, intern

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Hurricanes and Their Destruction

If you’ve ever been in a hurricane, you know how scary that experience can be. As a former resident of Louisiana, I also know how regular and sometimes harmless hurricanes can appear. I have vivid memories of friends praying for what we called a “hurrication,” a free vacation from school because of a category 1 or 2 hurricane that might knock out a power line or two. These were always the best vacations; however, sometimes these hurrications weren’t worth the damage.
I remember when my father had to stay in Lake Charles- my hometown- because my grandparents refused to leave their home during a particularly bad storm – Hurricane Ike. Even when the governor issues a mandatory evacuation, some people refuse to leave their homes. This made me particularly nervous, because though Ike hadn’t caused much wind damage, water from the lake and the surrounding rivers was beginning to rise. My grandparents’ home remained untouched, fortunately, but others weren’t so lucky.
My own family only lost one or two shingles from our roof, and despite the fact that we lived so close to the water, our house had received no water damage. But the home of a friend of mine, who lived three minutes down the road from us, had six feet of water damage. This was the second time their home had been flooded. Luckily this time they had flood insurance. Her family lived in her aunt’s pool house for about a year while they filed paperwork, gutted the home, and rebuilt the first story.
These are only a few stories that I have in my bank of memories concerning hurricanes. Because of this, it was only too real when I read Thomas Zigal’s new novel Many Rivers to Cross, a fictional narrative about the happenings in New Orleans after the levees broke during Hurricane Katrina. Based on extensive research, Zigal’s new novel explores the horrors of a drowning city as told through one family’s struggle for survival. Teeming with suspense, loss, and hope, Zigal’s story is one that will captivate readers with its genuine scenes of struggle balanced by Zigal’s lively sense of humor. 

by Hannah Hughes, intern