“Space Oddity” and Other Oddities: Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Moonwalk

This July will mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, when a transfixed world watched American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin become the first people to walk on the moon—that we know of.

To celebrate, we’re offering up this brief and non-comprehensive round-up of some interesting pop culture bits and pieces related to that “giant leap for mankind.” Continue reading

50 years of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather

 The landmark crime novel (or is it a family novel?) was a smash hit in its own right and spawned an even more acclaimed and influential movie series. It changed the way America thought about organized crime, birthed some memorable quotes and entered our consciousness like few other works of modern fiction. Here are 50 bullet points to celebrate 50 years of the Godfather phenomenon.

        The Godfather was published on March 10, 1969.

Godfather Original Book Continue reading

The Christmas Song: A Deep Dive into a Holiday Chestnut

This year our holiday theme at Half Price Books is “Make the Season Bright.” Those four words appear in one of the most ubiquitous and aptly-named Christmas songs ever written, “The Christmas Song.” You might know it better by its opening lyrics: “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”

Our line comes in the second section of the song: “Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe help to make the season bright.” We’d argue that books, music and movies also do the trick.

Here’s a closer look at the history of this holiday classic. Continue reading

Smart Patriotic Sounds for July 4

Independence Day is fast upon us, and if you’re like me, that means you’re planning what patriotic American music to play at your cookout or family gathering. I mean, I’m not literally doing a cookout, because I live in Texas and it’s a bazillion degrees out. But I do enjoy making a good themed playlist.

Problem is, you likely don’t own much patriotic music. Besides Sousa marches, the national anthem, songs people think are the national anthem and that one Lee Greenwood tune…what even is patriotic music?

You could take the easy route and play any American music. (For that matter, you could take the super easy route and play literally any music, and no one at your cookout or indoor air conditioned food-eating event would bat an eye, but I’m writing an important blog post here, so don’t do that!) Sure, any American music would do, but this being HPB and all, let’s dig deeper in the crates and find some music that celebrates America, but perhaps not in the obvious flag-waving ways. Continue reading

When Writers Are the Story: Films About Famous Authors

Biopics, movies that tell the story of a famous real-life person, are usually about larger-than-life figures: presidents, prime ministers, war heroes, athletes—people whose lives are full of drama. When it comes to making films about artists and creative types, musicians tend to be the easiest subjects; directors can always fill screen time with the music itself, recreating famous performances or recording sessions.

Writers may be the hardest. Imagine the action in the script: “The writer sits alone at her typewriter. She stares into space. She types some words, stares some more, then types more words. She breaks for lunch.” Fortunately for filmmakers, great writers are often tortured souls with tumultuous personal lives, and that’s what author biopics tend to focus on, for better or worse. The newest example of the genre is Mary Shelley, which opens May 25 and stars Elle Fanning as the Frankenstein author.

Here’s a short rundown of some notable biographical films about writers.

Capote
This 2005 film follows the eccentric writer Truman Capote, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, as he researches and writes his best-known work, the pioneering true crime book In Cold Blood. After reading an article about the murder of a family of four in rural Kansas, Capote decides to write about it and heads to the heartland with his childhood pal and fellow writer Harper Lee, played here by Catherine Keener. Things turn messy when Capote gets emotionally attached to one of the killers, Perry Smith. He intervenes in the legal proceedings to delay Smith’s execution, partly motivated by the need to keep interviewing Smith to glean more info for his book. Hoffman won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance, and the movie also got nominations for Best Picture and Best Director (Bennett Miller). Roger Ebert wrote that Capote “focuses on the way a writer works on a story and the story works on him.”

Continue reading

All Things Printed & Recorded: Fast Forward – Video Hits Home

EDITOR’S NOTE: This year in our HPB calendar, we’re celebrating all things printed and recorded—and played, solved, watched, etc. In other words, all the cool stuff we buy and sell in our stores. For June, we’re hitting rewind to check out the history of home video.

TIMELINE
1950s & 1960s  Early videotape formats are used in broadcasting but are too expensive for consumers.
1975  Sony’s Betamax format debuts. Some early players included a 19-inch color monitor.
1976  The first VCR using VHS (Video Home System), the Victor HR-3300, debuts in Japan.
1977  RCA’s VBT200 becomes the first VHS-based VCR in the US.
1987  90% of VCRs sold in the US are based on the VHS format.
2006  A History of Violence is the last major film released on VHS.
2016  The last known manufacturer of VCRs ceases production.

DID YOU KNOW?

VCR copy.png

  • Betamax had a better picture, smaller tapes and debuted first. But VHS won the “format war” thanks to longer recording times and less costly players.
  • LaserDisc, introduced in 1978, was the first optical disc format for home video. It was a hit with cinephiles and paved the way for DVD and Blu-ray.
  • With the advent of the VCR in the 1970s, consumers could, for the first time, own copies of their favorite movies and record TV shows to watch later.

Want to dive deeper? Check out these great products!
book VHS: Absurd, Odd, And Ridiculous Relics From The Videotape Era, Joe Pickett & Nick Prueher
book VHS Ate My Brain, Andrew Hawnt
book The Last Days Of Video, Jeremy Hawkins
book Video Revolutions: On The History Of A Medium, Michael Z. Newman
book Videoland: Movie Culture At The American Video Store, Daniel Herbert
slate_film-512 Rewind This!
slate_film-512 V/H/S
slate_film-512 Clerks
slate_film-512 Be Kind Rewind

What’s on the Menu?: Serving up Books & Movies for National Waiters & Waitresses Day

Yes, people, National Waiters & Waitresses Day is a real thing. NWWD (I just invented this abbreviation) is May 21, a day to eat out and tip generously as we pay a little extra attention to the hard-working, often underpaid folks who serve us in restaurants. To celebrate, we’re serving up a a six-course meal of waitstaff-centric books, movies and more.

DRINKS:
Cheers
One of the greatest TV comedies of all time, Cheers (1982–1993), focuses on the employees and patrons of a Boston bar. Cheers.gifHere we encounter two common waitress tropes: Diane, played by Shelley Long, is highly educated and thinks waitressing is beneath her, but she takes the gig in a moment of desperation after being jilted by her fiancée. Then there’s Rhea Perlman’s Carla, the wisecracking, hardened “career” waitress who becomes Diane’s comic foil. The first couple of seasons are like a sitcom writing masterclass.

Sweetbitter

APPETIZER:
Sweetbitter
Waiting tables is a common job for college students or other young adults—a thing to do while waiting (sometimes in vain) to do something else. Stephanie Danler wrote Sweetbitter during grad school while she worked at NYC’s Union Square Café, and the novel takes an unflinching look at the glitzy but grueling world of an upscale Manhattan eatery. Based partly on the author’s real-life experiences, the book was a bestseller and literary sensation upon its 2016 publication. Danler told Vanity Fair: “I’ve seen so many women move to New York City, think that they’re going to get a temporary job in the restaurant industry, and then get sucked into that world.” Sweetbitter will also become a TV series on Starz!, premiering May 6.

Continue reading

Tree-mendous Books, Movies and Music

Arbor Day is April 27, so we’re going out on a limb to highlight a few of our favorite trees in literature, film and even music. There’s no shortage of choices, given that humans have coexisted with and been fascinated by trees—sometimes even worshiping them—for all of history.

To_Kill_a_Mockingbird
The Radley oak tree in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
Trees loom large in Harper Lee’s beloved 1960 novel, so it’s no surprise that most editions of the book feature a tree on the cover. Trees, after all, are where mockingbirds hang out. And, as Atticus Finch tells us, “it’s a sin” to kill a mockingbird because all they do is make music for us to enjoy. Furthermore, a tree plays an important role in the plot, as the mysterious recluse Boo Radley uses the knothole of a neighborhood oak tree as a place to leave small gifts for the Finch children, Scout and Jem.

Continue reading

All Things Printed & Recorded: Puzzles Rise to the Challenge

This year in our HPB calendar, we’re celebrating all things printed and recorded—and played, solved, watched, etc. In other words, all the cool stuff we buy and sell in our stores.

For March, we’ve exercised our brain to bring you some fascinating info about puzzles.

PuzzleMainVisualTIMELINE
1760s  Londoner John Spilsbury creates early wooden jigsaw puzzles.
c.1900 A jigsaw puzzle craze sweeps the US.
1920s  Jigsaw puzzles become an inexpensive Depression-era pastime.
1932  Jig of the Week, a weekly 25¢ puzzle, is a hit on newsstands.
2011  The world’s largest jigsaw puzzle, with 551,232 pieces, is assembled in Vietnam.

DID YOU KNOW?

  • A 1514 engraving by Albrecht Dürer featured a “magic square,” a distant ancestor to sudoku and other number-based puzzles.
  • Jigsaw puzzles emerged in the 18th century when maps were mounted on wood and cut into pieces along national borders. Known as dissected maps, they were used to teach geography to children.dissected map.png
  • In the early 20th century, the high cost of wooden jigsaw puzzles put them out of reach of average consumers, but they became a staple of the high-society party scene.
  • The first known published crossword puzzle appeared December 21, 1913, in the New York World. By the 1920s they were carried in most US newspapers.

DISCOVER MORE
book The Jigsaw Puzzle: Piecing Together a History, Anne D. William
book The History and Craft of Wooden Jigsaw Puzzles: From Historical Source Instructions to Modern Tools and Techniques, Carrie Franzwa
book Crossworld: One Man’s Journey Into America’s Crossword Obsession, Marc Romano
book A Clue for The Puzzle Lady, Parnell Hall
book The New York Times Sunday Crossword Puzzles: 50 Sunday Puzzles from the Pages of The New York Times, Will Shortz, ed.
book Sudoku Mania, Book 1
clapperboard Wordplay