Cover image for Screening room : family pictures
Title:
Screening room : family pictures
Author:
Lightman, Alan P., 1948- , author.
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Pantheon Books, [2015]
Physical Description:
247 pages : illustrations, genealogical table ; 22 cm
Summary:
"Lightman's grandfather M.A. Lightman was the family's undisputed patriarch: it was his movie theater empire that catapulted the Lightmans to prominence in the South, his fearless success that both galvanized and paralyzed his children and grandchildren. In this ... memoir, the author chronicles his return to Memphis in an attempt to understand the origins he so eagerly left behind forty years earlier. As aging uncles and aunts begin telling family stories, Lightman rediscovers his southern roots and slowly recognizes the errors in his perceptions of both his grandfather and his father, who was himself crushed by M.A."--Dust jacket flap.
General Note:
Subtitle in pre-publication: A memoir.
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780307379399
Format :
Book

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PS3562.I45397 Z46 2015 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
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PS3562.I45397 Z46 2015 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
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PS3562.I45397 Z46 2015 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
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Summary

Summary

From the acclaimed author of the international best seller Einstein's Dreams, here is a stunning, lyrical memoir of Memphis from the 1930s through the 1960s that includes the early days of the movies and a powerful grandfather whose ghost remains an ever-present force in the lives of his descendants.
 
Alan Lightman's grandfather M.A. Lightman was the family's undisputed patriarch: it was his movie theater empire that catapulted the Lightmans to prominence in the South, his fearless success that both galvanized and paralyzed his children and grandchildren. In this moving, impressionistic memoir, the author chronicles his return to Memphis in an attempt to understand the origins he so eagerly left behind forty years earlier. As aging uncles and aunts begin telling family stories, Lightman rediscovers his southern roots and slowly recognizes the errors in his perceptions of both his grandfather and his father, who was himself crushed by M.A. The result is an unforgettable family saga that extends from 1880 to the present, set against a throbbing century of Memphis--the rhythm and blues, the barbecue and pecan pie, the segregated society--and including personal encounters with Elvis, Martin Luther King Jr., and E. H. "Boss" Crump. At the heart of it all is a family haunted by the memory of its domineering patriarch and the author's struggle to understand his conflicted loyalties.


(With black-and-white illustrations throughout.)


Author Notes

Alan Lightman was born in Memphis, Tennessee on November 28, 1948. After completing an A.B. at Princeton University in 1970, a Ph.D. at the California Institute of Technology in 1974, and postdoctoral studies at Cornell University in 1976, he moved directly into academia, teaching astronomy and physics at Harvard University, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In the 1980s, he found a way to combine his literary and scientific interests when he began to write essays about science. He explored astronomy, cosmology, particle physics, space exploration, and the life of a scientist, writing about these topics in a way that makes them understandable to the average reader. Many of his essays can be found in the collections Time Travel and Papa Joe's Pipe and A Modern-Day Yankee in a Connecticut Court and Other Essays on Science.

He is the author of Ancient Light: Our Changing View of the Universe, which won the Boston Globe's 1991 Critics' Choice award for non-fiction; and is co-author of Origins: The Lives and Worlds of Modern Cosmologists, which received an award from the Association of American Publishers in 1990.

In the 1990's, he branched out into fiction, although still with a focus on science. His novels include Einstein's Dreams, Good Benito, and The Diagnosis.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 2

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Over the course of a dozen original, mind-spinning books, Lightman, a theoretical physicist turned writer, has brought science to fiction (Mr. g, 2012) and story to nonfiction (The Accidental Universe, 2014). So naturally, instead of writing a straightforward memoir, he has created a subtly fictionalized, emotionally refined, and radiantly descriptive chronicle of his stirring family history and often confounding boyhood within a colorful Jewish enclave in sternly segregated mid-twentieth-century Memphis, Tennessee. His commanding and cunning Hungarian immigrant grandfather, M. A. Lightman, anchors this tale just as he dominated the family after building a movie-house empire comprised of 60 theaters and employing many relatives, including Alan's father. As irresistible as M. A. is, however, it is Alan's frank and tender portraits of his grossly mismatched and sadly derailed parents and his candid tribute to their African American housekeeper, Blanche, that give this remembrance such poignant dimension. Lightman purposefully illuminates Memphis' checkered past, especially its ethnic and racial divides, as he provides glimpses of himself as a budding scientist punished for ruining the rugs with his chemical experiments, a teen employee at his family's movie theaters, and an underage music lover slipping into Beale Street clubs. Heck, he even tells an Elvis story. Lightman's utterly transfixing screening of soulful and funny family memories projects a quintessentially American tale.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2014 Booklist


Library Journal Review

Lightman's acknowledgements section reveals that he has made up two key characters in his book-an "aunt" and an "uncle." He then makes the more typical disclaimer about stories being compressed, combined, etc., in order to not impede the flow of the narrative. These two details may lead readers to question if this is a memoir at all, if by "memoir" we mean a more or less true accounting of events in one's life. Those considerations aside, this is a fairly straightforward book, written in a discursive style. The focus is on Lightman's grandfather and father, especially the harsh influence the former had on the latter. Lightman's own relationship with his father is conflicted, but he increasingly comes to sympathize with him. Later chapters relate conversations he had with his father shortly before his death. Ultimately his father becomes the centerpiece of this book, a sensitive and artistic man compelled to work in the family business-managing and operating movie theaters-with his domineering father as his lifelong boss. VERDICT A fine addition to Lightman's oeuvre, this a great story tinged with nostalgia for an America that no longer exists. The author grew up in Memphis, TN, and the book is full of quirky history and details about that iconic American city. [See Prepub Alert, 8/4/14.] (c) Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Rememberings 1955. A lady's pink boa flutters and slips through the air. All down the street, Negro janitors shuffle behind white horse-drawn floats and scoop up piles of manure. I am carried along by the heave of the crowd, the smell of the popcorn and hot dogs with chili, the red-faced men sweating dark rings through their costumes, the Egyptian headdresses, the warble of trombones and drums of the big bands from New York and Palm Beach--me six years old wearing a tiny white suit with white tie clutching the hand of my six-year-old date, both of us Pages in the grand court, trailing the Ladies-in-Waiting gorgeously dressed in their gowns made of cotton, the white gold of Memphis. Cotton town high on a bluff. Boogie town rim of the South. Far off through colored balloons, I glimpse the King and Queen, just off their barge on the muddy brown river. They solemnly stride through an arch made of cotton bales. Bleary-eyed women and men reel in the streets, drunk from their parties and clubs. From an open hotel window, someone is playing the blues. Music flushes the cheeks of the coeds and debutantes, dozens of beauties from the Ladies of the Realm who flutter their eyelashes at the young men. I am lost in this sea, miraculously picked from a first-grade school lottery; candy and glass crunch under my feet, wave after wave of marching youth bands flow through the street. Then a young majorette hurls her baton high in the air. Before it can fall back to earth, the twirling stick touches the trolley wires and explodes in a burst of electrical fire. Pieces of baton rain on the heads of the crowd. Summons to Memphis It began with a death in the family. My Uncle Ed, the most debonair of the clan, a popular guest of the Gentile social clubs despite being Jewish, had succumbed at age ninety-five with a half glass of Johnnie Walker on his bedside table. I came down to Memphis for the funeral. July 12. Midnight. We sit sweating on Aunt Rosalie's screened porch beneath a revolving brass fan, the temperature still nearly ninety. For the first time in decades, all the living cousins and nephews and uncles and aunts have been rounded up and thrown together. But only a handful of us remain awake now, dull from the alcohol and the heat, sleepily staring at the curve of lights that wander from the porch through the sweltering gardens to the pool. The sweet smell of honeysuckle floats in the air. Somewhere, in a back room of the house, a Diana Krall song softly plays. I wipe my moist face with a cocktail napkin, then let my head droop against my chair as I listen to Cousin Lennie hold forth. Now in her mid-eighties, Lennie first scandalized the family in the 1940s when, in the midst of her junior year at Sophie Newcomb, she ran off to Paris with a man. Since then, even during her various marriages, she has occasionally disappeared for weeks at a time. "With due respect to the dead," Lennie whispers to me, "Edward trampled your father. Always." She pours herself another bourbon and stirs the ice with her finger. "When he was about fifteen years old, your Uncle Ed opened a bicycle shop. He got some tools, read a magazine article, and started repairing his friends' bikes. Charged them their allowance money. Your dad begged Edward to let him work in the shop. At first, Edward refused. This, of course, made Dick even more desperate to help; he was dying to work in that shop. Finally, Edward agreed, but he charged Dickie money every week for the privilege." "Shush," says Rosalie. "Did you know how your grandfather M.A.'s heart attack really happened?" Lennie says to me, smiling slyly and sipping her bourbon. "What do you mean?" "Exertion, bien sur. The best kind. And not with your grandmother." Forty years ago, I escaped Memphis, embarrassed by the widespread belief that southerners were ignorant bigots, and slow. I returned only for brief visits. Now I'm back again, for an entire month, caught by things deep in me I want to understand. Lennie lights a new cigarette and wriggles her stocking-covered toes, poised to let fly another story. Cousins nudge forward in their reclining chairs. In my mind, I am sitting at the breakfast table with my grandfather, watching with delight as he butters my silver-dollar pancakes, then lathers on grape jelly and honey, finally sprinkling sugar on the entire concoction. Sweet as pecan pie. Muddy like the Mississippi River. Fragments of visions of Cotton Carnival. Elvis. Malco. BBQ at the Rendezvous. Someone moans from the pool, the next generation, and Lennie exhales a cool cloud of blue smoke. Excerpted from Screening Room: A Memoir by Alan P. Lightman All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.