Hi folks. With no progress on openings, we’re digging into what’s available in the online world. 

I have three book recommendations this week. The first is “Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick: Stories from the Harlem Renaissance” by Zora Neale Hurston. When this book came out earlier this year, 60 years after Hurston’s death, you could not escape the buzz about it.

The Harper Collins publishing house described it as “an outstanding collection of stories about love and migration, gender and class, racism and sexism that proudly reflect African American folk culture.” 

While most of the stories are set in rural Florida where Hurston grew up, there are also eight “lost” stories set in Harlem where she lived for a time.

Tales include a young man wanting to go to sea, but finding himself held back by family; a love triangle in which a man’s considerably younger wife grows attracted to his son; a man trying to quit a life of drinking and gambling to woo a young beauty; and a woman fighting off the attempts of her no-account husband to push her out of a house she spent years paying for. 

“Hurston’s short fiction is ripe with imagery and narratives that blend the real and the idyllic, the whimsical and the serious, the natural and the cultural,” a review in Time magazine said. “Her stories evoke the forces that shaped African-American lives in the 1920s — from farmers to gamblers to factory workers — without making suffering the defining feature of those lives.”

It is suggested that you either listen to the audio book version, which is what I did, or read the print version out loud so you can get a feel for the richness of Hurston’s use of African-American vernacular.

The Great Influenza

My second recommendation is John M. Barry’s “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic.” The scale of the 1918 pandemic is stunning, with estimates of deaths worldwide ranging from 50 to 100 million. In the United States, 675,000 people died. In comparison, the COVID-19 pandemic has killed, as of this writing, over 165,000 in the United States and over 740,000 worldwide.

The flu, commonly — and wrongly — referred to as the Spanish flu, likely started at a military camp in Kansas and quickly spread eastward with the movement of troops. It spread across the country and across the world, killing more people in one year than the Black Death killed in a century. 

While this book came out well before our current pandemic, you’ll see similar issues — lack of preparedness, ignored medical advice, crackpot remedies and politicians downplaying the severity of the situation. What is perhaps more alarming is Barry’s belief that another pandemic on the scale of 1918 — or even greater in scope — is quite possible.

My third recommendation is “Mexican Gothic” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, a book The Guardian described as “Lovecraft meets the Bronte’s in Latin American.

The set-up is this: A beautiful, willful socialite, Noemi, receives a frantic letter from her newlywed cousin begging to be rescued from an unspecified danger. The letter also raises questions about the cousin’s mental health.

When Noemi travels to her cousin’s aid, she finds her living in a decaying mansion, a scene of horrific tragedies. 

The cousin’s husband and his family are a creepy lot. The family patriarch, whose decaying health seems to match that of the mansion, is fascinated with eugenics, his daughter is a mean, humorless woman and the cousin’s husband is alluring and menacing. Noemi’s only friend in the bunch is the youngest of the family, but even he might be hiding secrets.

Women and the Vote

The Natural History Museum and the journalism organization Zocalo are partnering to present a series of online panel discussions about women and voting. The first, titled “How Have Women’s Protests Changed History?” will be at 6 p.m., Thursday.

The panel discussion will look at such questions as how have women risen up to create change, what has made women effective protesters and how women have changed the art of protest. 

The series will continue with a discussion titled, “Why Don’t Women’s Votes Put More Women in Power?” on Sept. 16, and “What Are Today’s L.A. Women Fighting For?” on Dec. 3. 

For details and to register, visit nhm.org or www.zocalopublicsquare.org


Now playing in virtual cinemas is “Jazz on A Summer’s Day,” a concert film from the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. 

The film, directed by Bert Stern features performances by an all-star line-up of musical legends including Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Gerry Mulligan, Anita O’Day, Chuck Berry, Dinah Washington and closes with a beautiful rendition of The Lord’s Prayer by Mahalia Jackson.

The Alamo Drafthouse (https://ondemand.drafthouse.com) virtual cinema has it available for $10. 

Potter — going, going, gone

If you have HBO Max and are a Harry Potter fan, be advised all eight of the movies will be leaving Aug. 25. Binge now or wait until they pop up over at the new Peacock streaming service.

Speaking of HBO Max, there’s been a considerable amount of buzz surrounding the series “Doom Patrol.” I resisted it for a long time — who needs yet another show about mutant superheroes fighting crime? I finally caved and was pleasantly surprised at how the show mocks and celebrates the mutant superhero genre. 

Along those same lines is DC’s “Legends of Tomorrow,” airing on the CW network with some of the previous seasons available over at Netflix. I watched this show when it first came out, hoping to like it, but ended up being disappointed. It took itself too seriously and was just a C grade Sci-Fi drama.

Apparently, the showrunners got the memo and the series has since found its sense of fun. Recently I checked out an episode where our superheroes found themselves stuck in a TV world. The episode had fun parodies of Friends, Star Trek, and Downton Abbey. So it’s worth another look.

Funny like Lucy?

The annual Lucille Ball Comedy Festival is going virtual this year. It opens today with discussions with Jay Leno, Roy Wood Jr. of “The Daily Show” and Margaret Cho.

The festival, which runs through Aug. 30, will also feature Bill Engvall, Howie Mandel, Kenan Thompson and Weird Al Yankovic, among others. There will also be an interview, pulled from the archives, with the late, great Carl Reiner. There’s a suggested donation of $10 to view the festival, which can be streamed at https://anywhere.comedycenter.org/pages/livestream and at  Facebook.com/NationalComedyCenter

Musicals that aren’t ‘Hamilton’

Here’s three Broadway musicals that aren’t “Hamilton” that you can stream:

The 1989 production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods,” which looks at how complicated life gets after “they lived happily ever after,” can be found on YouTube or rented from Amazon for $2.99. This production, which originally aired on PBS’s now defunct “American Playhouse,” features the wonderful Bernadette Peters as the witch. You can find the live-action movie with Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick and other notables on Disney+.

You can find the show “Newsies,” filmed in Los Angeles in 2016, on Disney+ or you can rent it from Amazon. Also available for rent at Amazon is the 1992 film with Christian Bale, Robert Duvall and Bill Pullman. It was a box office flop and roasted by critics, but scored an 88% approval from Rotten Tomatoes reviewers. 

Over at Netflix, is “Shrek the Musical,” described by Paste Magazine as “one strange show,” but “still good family fun.”

That’s it for this week. Let’s hope for cooler weather — and some good news on the COVID-19 front. Until then, keep safe, keep strong.

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