Check Out-Check In – June 2014

Janet Mills

Jim Henson – A Biography by Brian Jay Jones. This detailed account of Jim Henson takes the reader from Jim as a child growing up in the small town of Leland, Mississippi to New York City with his Muppet family. Along the way Jim had many projects. His first project working with puppets was when he was 21. His partner was Jane and between the two they had many ideas. They did commercials for a coffee company named Wilkins. In the commercial Wilkins was one man and Wolkins was another. Their puppets carried on a conversation about the coffee. Jane stayed with Jim for some time and finally they decided to get married. After the first child was born, Jane decided to retire and Jim hunted around for a special type of man to help out with the puppets. As Jim came up with more and more projects he needed more men to work and to help with making the puppets. His puppets were tools of the trade and when some were not used they were given to his children to play with when they were not being used anymore. Sesame Street became his most well-known. The core group that created Sesame Street was the Children’s Television Workshop co-founder Joan Ganz Cooney “but there was only one real genius, and that was Jim.” There are lots of pictures in the book and they show Jim as a youth and then during his life. Jim Henson was just 53 years old when he died in 1990.

Falling Upwards – How We Took To The Air by Richard Holmes. When I started reading this book I assumed that it would be all about balloons and man’s desire to fly but I had no idea that the entire book would be about the facts and fiction of classic balloons. Even from the beginning of balloons they were used as weapons. One of the earliest specimens shows a British cartoon dated 1764 entitled The Battle of the Balloons. Benjamin Franklin was interested and was not surprised when the first regiment was French. As years passed, the balloon became a navigable sailing ship but it was not very practical. It was used for taking landscape pictures and in warfare to spot the enemy before a battle. Jules Verne’s first true science fiction novel was about ballooning in Africa and it opened up an entire new world with its special geography, anthropology, natural history, geology and climate to a popular readership. Balloons in the present are wonderful exhibits of unusual shapes as seen in the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta; there was a Pepsi Cola can, Darth Vader, Airabelle the Cow and Mickey Mouse. There are many photographs and drawings all the way through the book and it was a fascinating read.

Provence, 1979 – M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard and the Reinvention of American Taste by Luke Barr. This story is about a winter in Provence, France when the most prestigious chefs in the United States and France were all in Provence at the same time. Most had written books about cooking or were cooks themselves. Luke Barr was the great nephew of M.F.K. Fisher and had access to many of her writings. Julia and Paul Child had just finished the sequel to Mastering the Art of French Cooking written with Simone Beck. James Beard had finished his America Cookery and was trying to lose weight in George Pate’s Diet Clinic. Richard Olney was a local food writer who lived nearby. M.K.F. Fisher and her sister, Nora Ephron, arrived for the winter. Another group of sisters were Lord and Bedford. The group gathered often and the discussion was food and cooking it. In one chapter, Paul and Julia invited James Beard and M.F.K. Fisher and Lord and Bedford. Beard came early and started cooking soup. When two others arrived they started working in the kitchen. The group had a wonderful time cooking dinner together. Barr’s retells of the story of those few months that led to change America’s eating habits and enjoyment of food. He also tells of unspoken rivalries, arguments over food and conversation. It was a fun book to read.