When was the last time you stayed up all night with a good book? Sharon is often up with a good book, in part because her internal clock wakes her up at 3:18 a.m. consistently. So what do you do when you don't feel like working, the sun isn't out, and you can't sleep? Read, of course. Here's what my friend Sharon has been reading in the middle of the night.
is a piece of romantic fluff based on the lives of the Ladies of Llangollen,
who defied their good Irish families to live together in a cottage in Wales.
The difficulties of getting to this place, both physically and emotionally,
are fun reading, and the ladies' committment to each other admirable.
Eventually, the beautiful gardens that they created become a favorite stopping
place for artists and the socially acceptable, and their tales of meeting
famous people are amusing. While the basis of this tale is factual,
it's hard to categorize the book as anything other than romance, and I
must say, it's been awhile since I read fun trash of this ilk. Nothing
dirty, mind you, just a fun quick read.
Grumbach, Doris. The Ladies. E.P. Dutton, 1984.
would have thought that a diary written in code would reveal the life of
an upper class British butch lesbian living in the early nineteenth century?
This frank diary, as decoded by Helena Whitbread, tells of her day-to-day
activities of the leisure class, the social mores of the times, her finances,
her relationships with friends and family, and her loves. Plural.
She reveals more than might be expected, and freely discusses her passions,
jealousies, and difficulties with her honest, although necessarily closeted,
sexuality. Her attitudes are at times snobbish, but this glimpse into a
world now past is startling.
Whitbread, Helena, ed. I Know My Own Heart: The Diaries of Anne Lister 1791-1840. New York University Press, 1992. Paperback, G. $10
Ehrenreich gave up her regular job, her car, her bank account and her family,
to see what it is like to live as a minimum-wage worker. She moved
about from state to state and wrote about her experiences waitressing,
Wal-Marting, and other assorted "unskilled" labor jobs, and the stress
of poverty. Her experiences are enlightening, her mission noble,
and her writing expressive, but it's hard to divorce this view of working
class America from her voyeurism. While Ehrenreich lived through
difficult times, it's hard to forget that she could return to her middle-class
home, and that her very premise was to experience and write about what
she considered "other." At one point, her cruel humor towards a fat
woman are unsympathetic and judgemental. On the other hand, her writing
is lively and informed, and I'll never think of Wal-Mart the same.
This is an interesting look at socio-economic America.
Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. Metropolitan Books, 2001. Hardcover, F/F. $12
title of this book comes from a quote of Romaine Brooks: "My dead mother
gets between me and life." After reading the book, this comes as
no surprise. What a horrible childhood, what a crazy and evil mother!
Is it any wonder that Romaine's paintings (quite famous and well-respected
in France during the war years, virtually forgotten by all but fans of
the American ex-patriot set and women's history) are dark, somber, and
eerily menacing? I thought Mary McCarthy had it bad, but when young
Romaine ran away from home, she denied knowing where she lived, and savored
her few days of freedom and peace. If you can get through these difficult
beginnings, rest assured that Romaine does okay for herself, but never
fully escapes the shadow that haunts her.
Secrest, Meryle. Between Me and Life: A Biography of Romaine Brooks. Doubleday, 1974, first edition. VG/VG $25
didn't read the reviews on this book until after I read the book (fortunately).
Actually, it was an interesting book, if a little gossipy and clearly biased.
Hillary Rodham Clinton is indeed a fascinating woman, and looking at her
life as an ascention of ambition, political intrigue, and astute calculations,
the usual feminist questions crop up so frequently you wonder why a woman
needs a man at all. As the title makes clear, this was Hillary's
choice, and she worked it, protected it, and crafted her own life and aspirations
around her husband like some puritan necessity. There are other viewpoints,
other statistics, other theories to consider, but as one snapshot of a
life, this is a good read. The relationship works both ways, and
I'm eager to read about Hillary's continued life course as NY Senator.
At least she's sporting her own title these days.
Sheehy, Gail. Hillary's Choice. Random House, 1999, first edition. Small red pen mark on bottom edge. VG/VG $12
at 3 a.m. it's too much work to read. Sometimes you just want to
look at pictures. Well, here's a wonderful series that took me through
almost the entire century, and in a nice small square format for holding
in bed. The photographs are fabulous, but there is some reading too,
because the captions are poignant and interesting. Looking at the
century's history from Britain's perspective is also intriguing, as the
balance is a little different from school texts I remember.
Yapp, Nick. The Hulton Getty Picture Collection. Decades of the 20th Century. Konemann, 1998. 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s. Each volume sold individually, $10
didn't know much about Mary McCarthy, but she was an interesting person.
Her childhood was pretty awful, she had four marriages (some of which were
also awful), but she grew to be a famous and well-respected writer who
said what she felt and meant. I enjoyed meeting familiar characters
from other biographies I've been reading, but most interesting was McCarthy's
Vietnam war correspondence, which was very insightful.
Brightman, Carol. Writing Dangerously: Mary McCarthy and
Her World. Harvest, 1994. New hardcover, $18.95
mother gave me this book for Christmas because she knows I enjoy biographies.
This is wonderful! Flannery O'Connor is so smart, so funny,
and she knew lots of people I've already read about. Highly recommended.
Now I'll have to go read her fiction and short stories!
Fitzgerald, Sally, ed. The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor. Noonday, 1988 reprint. New paperback, $20
reading a book about Violet Trefusis. It contains letters in the
back from Violet to Vita Sackville-West (I think Vita's letters to Violet
were destroyed). The first book I read focused on relationships between
Violet and her mother, Mrs. Keppel, and Violet and Vita Sackville-West.
Violet had a deeply emotional and turbulent relationship with Vita. I didn't
like the way Vita treated Violet, and reading about either of them can
be disappointing or disturbing. But they were both fascinating people
and lived in an interesting time.
Jullian, Phillipe. Violet Trefusis:
A Biography, Including Correspondence with Vita Sackville-West.
Harcourt Brace, 1985. New paperback, $10
Gordon Woodhouse was a woman of many passions and incredible musical talent.
Her mastery of the harpsichord led her to revive the early music of Bach,
Scarlatti and Purcell, and her music salons were attended by the most important
artists of the day: Picasso, Diaghilev, Rodin, TE Lawrence, Bartok, Ezra
Pound and Vaughan Williams. Her beauty and flamboyant clothing also
attracted many admirers, and her unconventional lifestyle raised more than
a few eyebrows and yet more admirers. She is the first person ever
recorded on the harpsichord, and is important in the movement of
playing early music on period instruments.
Douglas-Home, Jessica. Violet: The Life and Loves of Violet Gordon Woodhouse. Harvill Press, 1996. Hardcover, as new, $12
if Clare Boothe Luce wasn't enough, there was Helen Lawrenson. She
knew everyone, gossiped mercilessly, was the subject of much gossip, and
travelled in the same circles as people like Luce, even if you haven't
heard of her. This reads as a juicy tell-all kind of memoir, a bit
too juicy for my taste at times, but as a portrait of an age and a class
seemingly now past, it is an interesting tidbit of social history.
Lawrenson, Helen. Stranger At The Party: A Memoir. Random House 1975. VG/VG $8
became an overnight sensation with The Women and knew powerful
and rich people on several continents. But I'm not sure I'd want
to call her a friend (I wondered if she considered anyone to be a friend),
and I know I wouldn't want her for an enemy. It already sounds like
I'm describing a racy, gossipy book, but in terms of Clare Boothe Luce's
life, it would hard for a chronicle to avoid that. This book is well
written and interesting, and not as gossipy as it might be, but my goodness,
Ms. Luce! What one will do to achieve power and riches...
Morris, Sylvia Jukes. Rage for Fame:
The Ascent of Clare Boothe Luce. Random House, 1997.
Used Hardback, F/F, $15 (New Hardback, $30)
thanks to Harriett, I found another fascinating person to read about.
Eva Le Gallienne was an amazing actor who decided that it was ridiculous
for the United States to support the visual and musical arts and to ignore
the theatre: so she started her own company called the Civic Repertory
Theatre, sought government support for its operation, and kept tickets
prices insanely low. Her theatre was well respected, famous, and
the source for some of this country's greatest actors. Her struggle
to keep the actors in theatre when Hollywood beckoned was difficult, however,
and her Civic Rep was short lived...
Sheehy, Helen. Eva Le Gallienne: A
Biography. 1996. As new hardcover with dj, $25
just made a movie of this true story that became a bestselling book in
Britain. I haven't seen the movie yet (I don't think it's reached
Cleveland), but I did read the book. The story concerns a married
German mother who falls in love with a Jewish lesbian during WWII.
Obviously their relationship has obstacles few of us can imagine, but interviewed
only a few years ago, the aged Lilly (Aimee) still avows her love for Felice
(Jaguar), who of course did not survive the Holocaust. Depressing
but inspiring reading. What I liked best was the picture of day-to-day
life in pre-war Germany, which was a revelation.
Fischer, Erica. Aimee & Jaguar: A Love Story, Berlin 1943. Translated by Edna McCown. Alyson Publishing, 1998. Just now listed as out-of-print, but I still have a couple. New paperback, $13
needed more good music, but I didn't want to wake up the cats at 3:18 am,
so I started reading biographies about Judy Garland. Several of them.
The one written by singer and friend Mel Torme is understanding yet shows
the drug, marital and financial difficulties clearly; the one by DiOrio
is pure fanfare yet the adoring tone also shows a Judy much misunderstood
and underappreciated. Oh, and Frank! Yes, of course he made
an appearance. In fact, it was Judy's birthday he flew across the
country for, even though he had a concert on the other side of the country
in a matter of hours.
Torme, Mel. The Other Side of the
Rainbow with Judy Garland on the Dawn Patrol.
William Morrow, 1970, second printing. Excellent condition, VG/VG.
Cronkite has witnessed a lot during his long tenure as news reporter, so
I thought his authobiography might be an interesting read. It was,
although it was all men. And you never really did learn what Walter
actually thought, just as you didn't while he was broadcasting all those
years. But wouldn't you know it, there's Frank again. Walter
didn't like him much, but I can't remember why. Some things just
aren't important at 3:18 a.m.
Cronkite, Walter. A Reporter's Life. Knopf, 1996, first edition. Hardcover, excellent condition. F/F $10 Another copy, paperback, VG+. $6
found a copy of Ingrid Bergman's autobiography, and it looked like easy
middle-of-the night reading, so I gave it a whirl. It was entertaining,
lots of celebrity gossip, marriages, and transcontinental tales.
And wouldn't you know it, Frank Sinatra was a good friend of hers, too.
Bergman, Ingrid and Alan Burgess. Ingrid
Bergman: My Story. Delacort, 1980, first printing.
Ex-library copy, G+/G+. $7
Oh, the memories... When I was in 9th grade I received my first record
player; all I needed then were records. My cousin Pat give me a few
of hers. One was a beautiful classical album, one was "The Greatest
Hits of 1965" (instrumental), one was "West Side Story" and the other was
Sinatra." I still know all of the songs from his album by
Came across a number of books on Frank recently. Couldn't resist all the wonderful pictures and stories. Good stuff, great music, really nice guy. He's even more likeable after you get to know him a little better: flying halfway across the country for birthday parties, giving charity concerts, getting dumped by the music industry after the war. Not even the unauthorized biographies can get the best of him,'cause Frank makes sense and makes good music. He was a good friend. And his singing! Frank, Frank, Frank...
Sessions With Sinatra: Frank Sinatra and
the Art of Recording.
by Charles L. Granata, Phil Ramone, Nancy Sinatra. Acapella, 1999.
New hardcover, $30
the most exciting and interesting person by far in Paris Was a Woman
(see below) was Janet Flanner. So I ran out to find more Janet
Flanner. Her 50-year New Yorker column "Letter from Paris" has
been printed in book form in several collections, and are wonderful snapsnots
of a time gone by. But reading about her was even more fun.
There's a new biography out by William Murray, a sort of step-son,
but the best biography I read was Genet. I didn't want
the book to end. I prolonged it, hoping she wouldn't die so the book
would go on forever. But alas, she ran out of time, I ran out of
pages, the night ended and it's back to work for the rest of us.
Flanner, Janet. Edited by
Irving Drutman. Paris Was Yesterday:
1925-1939. New paperback (1989), $16.
probably heard of some of the famous American expatriots living in Paris
in the between-the-war years. Besides Ernest Hemingway, there was
also Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Janet Flanner (of The New Yorker's
from Paris" fame), Sylvia Beach (owner of the great Shakespeare & Co.
bookstore), Radclyffe Hall, Djuna Barnes, Thelma Wood, Nancy Cunard,
Natalie Barney... and they all knew each other. Here's an excellent
introduction to the times, the women, and the West Bank of the Siene.
Weiss made a film of this also, but the book is
Weiss, Andrea. Paris Was a Woman: Portraits from the Left Bank. River Oram, 1999. Currently out-of-print. Oversized trade paperback, VG+