Duke University Alumni Magazine

We checked in with our book-seller connection for a few reading recommendations. In addition to a couple of titles, we also got some insight into world book commerce.

John Valentine '71, M.Ed. '73, a co-owner of Durham's Regulator Bookshop on Ninth Street, has discovered, with his daughters' help, "the best family read-aloud book this side of Narnia, Tolkein, or Watership Down." His choices: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

"Scottish single mother Jo Rowling has crafted one of literature's most enduring heroes for readers of all ages. Harry Potter is a wizard, a curious, engaging, brave ten-year-old boy trapped in a muggle ( non-wizard) household," says Valentine. "Invited to attend the grandest wizard academy in the land, Hogwarts, Harry has the most wonderful adventures imaginable...winning wizard soccer matches, struggling with bullies of the Dark Arts, and befriending some other pretty cool wizard classmates and ghosts.

"When we finished Sorcerer's Stone (titled the Philosopher's Stone in Great Britain), we found out the second book wasn't set for release in the United States until August. What's a bookseller to do? Like hundreds of other households in the United States, we went online and ordered the second book from England. Six nights later we were huddled again, continuing our delight in Harry's battles with evil wizards, serpents, and school trustees.

"An international bookseller/ publisher rights battle-royal has ensued as eager readers in the United States flood English websites with orders, threatening copyright agreements. An eighteen-month delay in publication dates, from abroad, for first novels in not rare, but Harry Potter has become an international phenomenon.

"Frustrating the stateside publisher even more is the knowledge that the third (of seven!) Harry Potter books, Prisoner of Azkaban, is slated for release in Great Britain on July 10. My kids have already got it on order. We can't wait to welcome Harry back."

"We've got this theory of everything. But that sounds kind of obnoxious: If you're not working on that theory, you're working on nothing."
-- astrophysicist and Duke adjunct professor of physics Brian Greene, in a March campus address on his best-selling book, The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory

"I'm glad Duke doesn't have a school of journalism."
-- Clay Felker '51, who chairs the Duke Magazine Editorial Advisory Board, speaking at its December meeting in New York on the university's legacy of on-campus opportunities for budding media professionals

"It's kind of like big-game hunting. The hackers talk to one another in chat rooms and they brag about their latest conquest. It's like having a rhinoceros head on your wall."
--Charles Register '72, Duke's information technology security officer, commenting to The Chronicle about a computer "hacking" incident in March

"This is a fictional account. Historical accuracy is harmful to television ratings."
--University Archivist William E. King '61, A.M. '63, Ph.D. '70, speaking to the alumni board of directors in February about a TV "docudrama" on the life of Doris Duke

This year's Academy Award nominations for "best picture" raise several interesting questions. Why were they all for historical dramas? Why were three of them war movies? And why were all three war movies about World War II?

Just as Shakespeare found material for his plays in history, so too does Hollywood turn regularly to historical drama. Lack of imagination might also be at work, but one suspects that this year's nominees are simply a coincidence. The nomination of three war movies in a single year is more exceptional. It has happened only twice before, in 1935 and 1943, when there were twelve and ten nominations, respectively. Hollywood did not move to the current format of five nominations in each category until 1944. But there have been two war movies nominated seven times. War simply makes good theater. When pacifist/philosopher J. Glenn Gray revisited Europe in 1959 to try to make sense of his own participation in World War II, he found a director's paradise. His book, The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle, chronicles the soldier's delight in the spectacle of war, in comradeship, and in destruction. Gray discovered four kinds of love in war and an exhilaration that made the experience for most men "the one great lyric passage in their lives." Little wonder that producers and directors find themselves drawn to it. More remarkable is that all the nominated war movies chronicle the same war. The popularity of World War II has been demonstrated by three past "best picture" awards: From Here to Eternity (1953), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), and Patton (1957). But the next two awards for war movies went to Vietnam films: The Deer Hunter (1978) and Platoon (1986). Now, it seems, "the good war" is making a comeback. Perhaps we are simply putting Vietnam behind us. More likely, the producers and directors who are at the peak of their powers are paying tribute to their fathers' generation. Surely that seems to be the case for Steven Spielberg, whose Schindler's List won him the 1993 "best picture" award, by focusing on World War II. It can hardly be coincidental that Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation sat atop the New York Times bestseller list when the envelopes were opened in Hollywood.

-- Alex Roland Ph.D. '74, an expert on military history and the history of technology, is a history professor and chair of the department

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