Dear Reader

Random musings on reading and books from a librarian in training.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Angel at the Fence debunked

Turns out what was dubbed the Holocaust's 'greatest' love story was not quite what it was billed.

If you haven’t read about Angel at the Fence, in it Herman Rosenblat claims that his future wife would toss him an apple over the fence of the concentration camp where he was interred during World War II. He claimed that they met years later on a blind date and have been married for 50 years.

People were entranced – his story appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul, he was on Oprah and a book and movie were in the works. The publisher has since pulled plans to publish the “memoir.” A children’s book based on part of the story, “Angel Girl” was pulled from the shelves.

According to CNN, Rosenblat issued the following statement: "Why did I do that and write the story with the girl and the apple, because I wanted to bring happiness to people, to remind them not to hate, but to love and tolerate all people. I brought good feelings to a lot of people, and I brought hope to many. My motivation was to make good in this world.”

One of the many sad aspects is that it sounds like Rosenblat probably could have told his story without the lies. He really did survive a Nazi concentration camp and has been married for 50 years.

A lot of people have egg on their face right now. Others probably feel hurt and betrayed.

And sadly it seems like much of the heartache could have been avoided. After A Million Little Pieces and Love and Consequences – two recent high profile memoirs that were exposed as fakes – publishers really need to place more safeguards in place. I realize a New Yorker level fact checking may not be feasible or affordable. However, there should be some fact checking/ verification process. When something carries the label non-fiction it should mean something.

Apparently some scholars had questioned the veracity of Rosenblat’s tale. According to CNN, Professor Ken Waltzer, the director of Michigan State University's Jewish Studies program, tried contacting the publisher with his concerns, but got no response.

Reading The New Republic’s story that raised the alarm bell, it certainly seems like the writer, Gabriel Sherman, made numerous attempts to reach the publisher and was rebuffed.

It’s unfortunate all around. It’s another black eye for the publishing industry, which once again fell for a story that really was too good to be true. It’s damaging to others who really do have amazing/ moving tales to tell. And sadly, it gives ammunition to Holocaust deniers.

Deborah Lipstadt, the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University is quoted telling The New Republic: "If you make up things about parts, you cast doubts on everything else. … When you think of the survivors who meticulously tell their story and are so desperate for people to believe, then if they're making stories up about this, how do you know if Anne Frank is true? How do you know Elie Wiesel is true?"

I even feel sorry for Herman Rosenblat, who sounds like he got caught up in forces beyond his control. I’m sure he never imagined when he sent his love story to the local newspaper that he’d wind up on Oprah and the subject of a movie.

But at the end of the day, a lie is a lie. There are no winners in this story and I worry what harm will come of this. There are some brilliant/amazing/moving stories to be told, but will fiascos like this make publishers and readers more leery of them. Hopefully, publishers will start more closely vetting memoirs and pay attention when red flags are raised.


Lerner Pulls 'Angel Girl' --

Anger, sadness over fabricated Holocaust story –

Colby Cosh: The fraud of Angel at the Fence

Holocaust 'greatest' love story a hoax

Monday, December 29, 2008


This was the second book that I've read by Octavia Butler and like Fledgling, it almost defies description.

Kindred centers around Dana, an African-American woman in the 1970s. When Dana and her white husband, Kevin, are moving into their new home, Dana finds herself transported in time/space. When she sees a child drowning, she jumps in and saves his life.
That boy is Rufus -- one of Dana's ancestor -- and the son of plantation owner/slave owner.

Dana keeps finding herself transported back in time every time Rufus' life is in danger. While she may be there for months, her time away from home is only hours. She needs to keep Rufus at least until her ancestor -- Hagar -- is born.

The novel, although it's considered science fiction, never delves into the mystery of time travel or how it is that Dana is transported back in time. It does focus on Dana's experiences of being treated like a slave. While she's there she goes through many of the hardships slaves went through -- working in the fields, being whipped, seeing close friends sold away. When her husband is transported with her once they have to lie about their relationship, since interracial marriage was illegal.

Dana's life on the plantation is grim and Butler explores the true brutality of slavery. I thought it was interesting that the time travel aspect was downplayed and the book focused more on race and slavery.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


For some reason, it took me forever to finish eclipse, the third book in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series. I don't want to give away anything for those still making their way through the series. The time it took me to read it isn't necessarily a reflection of the book, more of a reflection on my recent reading habits.

::spoiler alert!!::

For those of you unfamiliar with the series, it follows Bella and her involvement with Edward Cullen, a vampire
, and his "family" of vampires. Book three explores Bella's relationship with Edward and her friend, Jacob. As usual, danger is always lurking around the corner.

My own complaint with Meyer's books is a find them overly melodramatic and feel like most of them are too long. I felt the latest could have been pared down 50-100 pages.

However, this comes from someone whose favorite book has this passage:

"I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you -- especially when you are near to me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame. And if that boisterous Channel, and two hundred miles or so of land, come broad between us, I am afraid that the cord of communication shall be snapped; and then I've a nervous notion I should take to bleeding internally. As for you - you'd forget me."

Jane Eyre.

I find it interesting how Bella loves reading Wuthering Heights, by another Bronte. I'm hoping to re-read it. I think it'd be interesting to read with Meyer's love triangle in mind.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Children's board books for the holidays

One of my favorite gifts to buy are children's books. There are so many wonderfully illustrated books now as well as some timeless classics. Here are some of my favorite board books.

The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton. Perhaps best known for Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. The Little House is a charming tale of a house in the country that gradually becomes neglected and lost amongst the developments of a big city.

Hug by Jez Alborough. I saw this book a few years ago and fell in love with it. As says "How can it be that a book with only one word--hug--repeated throughout, can be so good? The proof is in the pudding (or the wilds of Africa) in Jez Alborough's picture book Hug, a delightful mini odyssey of a baby chimpanzee on the hunt for his mum and a cuddle."

Just a very sweet book and a great gift.

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems. Disaster ensues when Trixie can't find Knuffle Bunny after a trip to the laundromat. The illustrations are really cool. My niece and nephews used to love this book.

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai
Gerstein tells the true story of Philippe Petit's tight rope walk between twin towers. "Once there were two towers side by side. They were each a quarter of a mile high... The tallest buildings in New York City."

This Land Is Your Land by Woody Guthrie/ Kathy Jakobsen (Illustrator). A great introduction to Woody Guthrie's famous song.

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost/ Susan Jeffers.

NY Times Gift Suggestions

The holidays are a great time to gather reading recommendations and gift ideas. Almost every publication has round up on best books of the years and/or gift guides


The New York Times has several lists:

The Book Review’s Top 10 books of 2008:

Michiko Kakutani's 10 Favorite Books of 2008

Janet Maslin’s 10 Favorite Books of 2008

100 Notable Books of 2008

I haven’t delved too deeply into any of the “adult” lists, but was not wowed on my first pass through. I would like to read Ten Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America, which is currently with a stack of books I meant to read this year.

I also bought: Lincoln: The Biography of A Writer for my dad after reading about it. According to the Times, “This resonant biography looks at the role that Lincoln’s avid reading of the Bible, Shakespeare and other works played in shaping his gifts as a writer, and how his literary skills in turn helped him articulate — and promote — his vision of a new America rising from the ashes of the Civil War.”


Best Illustrated Children’s Books 2008:

Notable Children’s Books of 2008

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Book vs. Movie

I always get excited when a book I enjoy is turned into a movie/ tv series, but that excitement inevitably turns into disappointment when I see the final product. I'm not sure why this is. Maybe books are too nuanced to successfully translate onto the screen. Or perhaps my expectations are too high.

Recent disappointments

True Blood. I had really high expectations for HBO's series, which is based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels. I was irritated that there wasn't more Sookie. While there were some quotes/ passages lifted directly from the book, there were new subplots that weren't in the book. I understand the need to pad the book a little, but at the same time felt that the weakness of the subplots were due to how one dimensional the characters were.

I was particularly peeved with the ending. In the book, Bill is not brought before the tribunal for killing another vampire. Rather he's away securing his position amongst the New Orleans vampires to have more independence from Eric and he does not try and rescue Sookie from the killer. He's out of town.

Silver lining: If more people are reading Charlaine Harris because of this show, that makes me happy. I also discovered Octavia Butler as a result of the documentaries HBO did before the show. (Seeing Stephen Root aka Jimmy James on tv is also a plus!)

Twilight. I just felt like it really didn't capture the essence of the book and rather came off as kind of cheesy. The low-budget special effects and giggling teenage girls might have distracted me. I also wasn't crazy about the makeup job for Edward and the music was slightly grating.

Some movies really capture a book ... Antonement, A&E's Pride & Prejudice and Masterpiece Theater's Jane Eyre and Anne of Green Gables. But the clunkers are what stand out. I still wonder if the people involved with Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont ever read the novel they "based" their movie on.

Maybe a book's appeal lies in the fact that your imagination shapes what you read. After creating an image of the characters and becoming emotionally attached, it's difficult to accept someone
else's vision. Perhaps the magic of books can't be captured in a tv series or movie. Doesn't mean I'll stop going to the movies though, I'm just resigned to that fact that I'll probably leave the theater feeling let down.

Do you have a favorite movie adaptation or a real stinker you can't get out of your mind?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Bookworm returns

Dear Reader,

Let's call the abysmal absence of posts a hiatus. Life got a little bit in the way bringing reading (and blogging) to a screeching halt. But just in time for the holidays ... did some say gift suggestions?! I'm back.

I'm hoping to post gift suggestions, tackle why is the movie/ tv show NEVER as a good as the book and resume my usual rambling, er, pontificating.

So welcome back!

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