Screening Room: A Memoir Of The South by Alan LightmanScreening Room: A Memoir Of The South by Alan Lightman

Screening Room: A Memoir Of The South

byAlan Lightman

Paperback | February 23, 2016

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Alan Lightman’s grandfather M.A. was the family’s undisputed patriarch. It was his movie theater empire that catapulted the Lightmans, a Hungarian Jewish immigrant family, to prominence in the South; his triumphs that would both galvanize and paralyze his descendants. In this evocative personal history, the author chronicles his return to Memphis and the stifling home he had been so eager to flee forty years earlier. As aging uncles and aunts retell old stories, Alan finds himself reconsidering long-held beliefs about his larger-than-life grandfather and his quiet, inscrutable father.

The result is an unforgettable family saga set against the pulsing backdrop of Memphis—its country clubs and juke joints, its rhythm and blues, its segregated movie theaters, its barbecue and pecan pie—including encounters with Elvis, Martin Luther King Jr., and E. H. “Boss” Crump. Both intensely personal and quintessentially American, Screening Room finely explores the tricks of light that can make—and unmake—a man and his myth.

(With black-and-white illustrations throughout.)
ALAN LIGHTMAN is the author of six novels, including Einstein’s Dreams, which was an international bestseller, and The Diagnosis, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. He is also the author of three collections of essays and several books on science. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, Granta, Harper’s, The New Yorker, T...
Title:Screening Room: A Memoir Of The SouthFormat:PaperbackDimensions:270 pages, 8 × 5.2 × 0.66 inPublished:February 23, 2016Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0307739848

ISBN - 13:9780307739841

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Read from the Book

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.

Editorial Reviews

“This brilliantly observed and poignantly written memoir . . . is about what really defines the South—the real common denominator in our contested little matrix of blacks and whites, Jews and gentiles: family.” —The Washington Post“Sensual. . . . Rich in detail. . . . Lightman, a physicist and novelist, shines a lush and tender light on his family’s storied past.” —The New York Times Book Review“Raises goose-pimples of readerly delight. . . . Lightman bends his nostalgia through the prism of a writer’s creativity the way light through a projector blooms into a story on the screen.” —The Boston Globe“A celebration of life’s possibilities and the way we remember them.” —Los Angeles Review of Books “Screening Room features the usual graceful prose and style of Lightman as he recalls the Memphis of his youth and compares it to the city in modern times. . . . The stories he tells and characters he describes paint a vivid portrait of his family’s life.” —Saint Louis Post-Dispatch “Written in the elegant, precise style that makes Lightman’s novels so pleasurable to read, and the compelling concerns of his fiction—the slipperiness of memory, perception, and time, and the mystery at the heart of existence—are at the center of this book, as well. In Lightman's hands, this story of a family becomes a meditation on the fleeting nature of our lives and the precious flashes of love and communion that illuminate them.” —Knoxville News Sentinel “A subtly fictionalized, emotionally refined, and radiantly descriptive chronicle of [Lightman’s] stirring family history and often confounding boyhood within a colorful Jewish enclave in sternly segregated mid-twentieth-century Memphis, Tennessee.” —Booklist (starred review) “The physicist . . . returns to Memphis after a death in the family to ponder a Southern boyhood as rich and complex as science itself.” —O Magazine  “The Lightman family’s rise to prominence is an exceptional one; a Jewish tale of resilience and daring and imagination.” —Jewish Journal“The cumulative effect of Lightman’s memories is wrenching: loss and illness and death wander freely in his pages, reminding us of the evanescence of youth and promise. The author shows us many small moments, igniting each with sparks of passion, memory and intelligence.” —Kirkus Reviews