Points of Departure, Literary and Otherwise

LincolnMovieAs I sat watching “Lincoln” this past weekend, my teenage son, a U.S. history buff, very kindly explained to me who the main characters were in the debate over the 13th Amendment, which forms the heart of the movie. I realized I really needed to read 2005’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book upon which the movie is based. The New York Times book review says it’s about how “Lincoln forged a team that preserved a nation and freed America from the curse of slavery,” which sounded fascinating.

The movie also inspired me to watch Young Mr. Lincoln, the 1939 film starring Henry Fonda, about the president’s early life as a lawyer in Illinois.

And it reminded me of how many other movies and books inspired me to read other books and watch other movies. Or listen to a particular piece of music. Or cook. Here are a few of my favorite jumping-off points -- and where they’ve led me.

The Eyre Affair. In 2001, British author Jasper Fforde introduced the world to Thursday Next, a literary detective who resides in an alternate 1986 with her pet dodo, Pickwick. In Next’s world, the U.K. and Imperial Russia have been fighting the Crimean War for 100 years, a company called the Goliath Corp. runs the country, and human and fictional characters  jump easily between books and the real world. Thanks to Fforde’s funny, clever and inventive story, I was inspired to reread Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and got a new appreciation for the drama and romance between Jane and Rochester.

Wine and War: The French, the Nazis & The Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure. Don & Petie Kladstrup tell the true story of how winemakers in France, after their country fell to Germany, hid their wines from Nazi looters who were sending thousands of barrels back to the Third Reich. Some winemakers went so far as to wall in their wine cellars, covering the walls with dust and cobwebs so the Nazis wouldn’t find the hidden wines. 

Not only did the book inspire me to drink more wine, but it also got me looking at other efforts to save things during World War II. That inspiration led me to Rescuing DaVinci, Robert Edsel’s amazing tale of how the Allies recovered the great stolen art of Europe. The 460 photos are worth your time. It also drew me to The Train, a gripping 1964 film with Burt Lancaster about how the French Resistance stopped the shipment of art masterpieces from French museums to Germany. I loved it.

Walk the Line, a movie about Johnny Cash, inspired me to find a copy of his album At Folsom Prison. Cash recorded two shows at Folsom State Prison in California on Jan. 13, 1968, and 17 tracks made it on to the album. Folsom Prison Blues is definitely worth a listen, on vinyl if you got it (and a way to play it!).

The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson, tells the true story of a serial killer who stalked his victims at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, also known as The World’s Columbian Exhibition. That book got me totally hooked on what went on at the World Fair, in large part because of the buildings and pavilions created as part of the “White City” just for the event. Did you know that the fair was the site of the original Ferris Wheel, and what a sight it was: 264-feet tall, with 36 cars, each fitted with 40 revolving chairs holding up to 60 people. The Chicago Wheel, as it was called, could hold 2,160 people at a time and carried about 38,000 passengers a day. The World’s Fair also introduced Cracker Jacks, Juicy Fruit gum and shredded wheat.

Big Night and timpano. There’s a feast in 1986’s Big Night where two Italian immigrant brothers, Primo (Tony Shalhoub) and Secondo (Stanley Tucci), make timpano at their Italian restaurant on the Jersey Shore in the 1950s. Timpano is a gigantic pasta dish, with meatballs and hard-boiled eggs and sausage, baked into a crust. Words cannot describe it. You have to see it (just google tampano) -- and eat it. I’ve only ever made it once and it took a really long time, but it was worth using almost every pot and pan in our house. Here’s a recipe for Big Night timpano from the New York Times and another from a Big Night fan. I dare you. -- Connie Guglielmo

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