The public telling of young Ben Underwood’s inspirational life and untimely death began with a series of stories by Sacramento Bee reporter Cynthia Hubert, published between May 2006 and January 2009. His story now continues in “Echoes of an Angel: The Miraculous True Story of a Boy Who Lost His Eyes But Could Still See,” written by his mother, Aquanetta Gordon, and co-writer Chris Macias, The Bee’s food and wine writer.
It’s the Bee Book Club’s special-edition choice for April.
At age 2, Ben lost both eyes to retinal cancer but taught himself to “see” through a technique called “echolocation.” It’s the navigation system used by dolphins and bats, allowing the detection of objects through the reflection of transmitted sound waves. In Ben’s case, he would make clicking noises with his tongue and listen to the resulting bounce-back. In that way, he could identify objects – their sizes, shapes and locations – and maneuver in the world with relative safety.
With his mother’s encouragement, Ben went to public schools in Elk Grove and was involved in the usual activities of boyhood – sports, bicycling, karate, skateboarding. He even taught himself to play video games.
The deeply religious boy became an international sensation, appearing in documentaries, on YouTube, in print and broadcast interviews, and on TV shows with Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah Winfrey.
Tragedy visited again when Ben was 15. The retinal cancer returned, soon taking his life. An estimated 2,000 people attended his funeral on Jan. 26, 2009, on what would have been his 17th birthday, gathering to say farewell to “the boy who could see with sound.” Stevie Wonder, who had befriended him, played a musical tribute at the ceremony. Afterward, his mother said, “I am so sad that I won’t be able to see him physically anymore. But I’m praising God because I know he is happy right now.”
Gordon and Macias will appear at 6 p.m. April 22 at the Tsakopoulos Library Galleria, 828 I St., Sacramento; (916) 264-2920. This is a free event, but tickets are required. Get them at www.beebuzzpoints.com starting today (click on “Bee Events”). Information: (916) 321-1128.
Barnes & Noble will be on site to sell “Echoes of an Angel” for 30 percent off retail price (Tyndale Momentum, $15.99, 296 pages).
The book will be offered at a 30 percent discount now through April 22 at these stores: Barnes & Noble, Avid Reader at the Tower in Sacramento, Avid Reader in Davis, Face in a Book in El Dorado Hills, Time Tested Books, Underground Books, Hornet Bookstore at California State University, Sacramento, the UC Davis Bookstore and the Bookseller in Grass Valley.
Schemers on the page
Netflix viewers have been in thrall to the award-winning political drama “House of Cards,” set in contemporary Washington, D.C. It stars a vengeful and manipulative Kevin Spacey as South Carolina Congressman Frank Underwood in Season 1; Spacey’s character becomes the vice president of the United States in Season 2. Showing that bad guys do get promoted, Netflix announced there will be a Season 3, so binge-watchers can rest easy.
Award-winning actor Spacey shows all the evil charms at his considerable disposal, and plays off co-stars Robin Wright, Kate Mara and Corey Stollin. The series is the American version of the British series of the same name, based on the now-best-selling novel “House of Cards” by Michael Dobbs (Sourcebooks, $14.99, 400 pages). The book has been described as“a dark tale of greed, corruption and unquenchable ambition.”
Taking matters a step further, BuzzFeed contributor Lincoln Michel writes on the culture-centric website, “With some help from fellow writers, I’ve compiled a variety of fiction and nonfiction books to read while you wait for Season 3 to be filmed. These books feature ruthless rulers, Machiavellian plotters, devious political machinations, intrepid journalists, and other elements that fans of ‘House of Cards’ will love.”
Among the chosen titles are “The Prince” by Niccolò Machiavelli, “The Talented Mr. Ripley” by Patricia Highsmith, “I, Claudius” by Robert Graves, “After the Banquet” by Yukio Mishima, “The Last Thing He Wanted” by Joan Didion, “A Song of Ice and Fire” series by George R. R. Martin and “All the President’s Men” by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. For the complete list, go to www.buzzfeed.com/lincolnmichel/house-of-cards-reading-list.
One of the great characters in literature and onscreen is Mammy, the steadfast house slave in Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Civil War epic “Gone With the Wind.” As played in the 1939 film by Hattie McDaniel, Mammy was the stabilizing influence on the willful character Scarlett O’Hara, played by Vivien Leigh.
Now comes word from Simon & Schuster that a “GWTW” prequel is in the works for release in October. The novel “Ruth’s Journey” will trace the young Mammy – whose name is Ruth – as she travels from her birthplace in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (a.k.a. Hailti) to a new life in Savannah, Ga.
The author is Donald McCaig, who wrote the “GWTW” sequel “Rhett Butler’s People” in 2007. Both that title and “Ruth’s Journey” were sanctioned by the Mitchell estate. McCaig also wrote the Civil War novel “Jacob’s Ladder.”
The New York Times quoted McCaig as saying there are “three major characters in ‘Gone With the Wind,’ but we only think about two of them. Scarlett and Rhett Butler are familiar, but when it comes to (Mammy), we don’t know where she was born, if she was ever married, if she ever had children (or) even her (real) name.”
The publisher plans an initial printing of 250,000, which in the publishing industry is a huge commitment.
Lost and found literature
The Strand has an illustrious history as the magazine that originally serialized many of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle. Its current managing editor, Andrew Gulli, has a talent for finding and publishing lost writings by famous authors, including Joseph Heller, Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett, Graham Greene, Ray Bradbury and H.G. Wells.
He called to say he’d been poring over thousands of archived documents at the University of Texas in Austin and discovered an unpublished short story by a young Tennessee Williams. “Crazy Night” appears in the current issue of Strand.
“It’s set in the 1930s, when Williams was a student,” Gulli said. “It bears his trademarks of cynicism and unrequited love, but there’s a twist at the end. It shows the beginning of his great narrative voice, and contains elements of three plays he would later write – ‘The Rose Tattoo,’ ‘The Glass Menagerie’ and ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.’ ”
Look for Strand at Barnes & Noble and other bookstores ($6.95). To subscribe to the quarterly: (800) 300-6652 or www.strandmag.com.
Gulli and his sister, Lamia Gulli, are co-editors of the fundraiser “No Rest for the Dead,” a serial by 26 A-list mystery writers (Touchstone, $24.99, 272 pages). So far, more than $350,000 in royalties have been donated to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Call The Bee’s Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128. Follow him on Twitter @apierleonisacbe.