Whats everyone reading now and/or read lately

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
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The Build-Up Boys by Jeremy Kirk (a pen name for Richard Powell) originally published in 1951

Somewhere along the way, TV developed the formula for a good type of show: have ridiculously smart and pretty people work at a high level in some insanely competitive field (legal, medicine, law enforcement) by creating and executing incredibly complex long-term strategies for personal or professional gain while never missing an obscure piece of evidence or detail as they engage in speed dialogue with each other and their adversaries where no super-smart quip is ever missed, long philosophical speeches are spit out extemporaneously and no one ever wishes they had said the smart thing later as it's always said at the time.

Oh, and all these good-looking people have sex with each other if their show runs long enough. "The Practice" might have been the first one of these shows that I ever saw, but there are many shows like it as it's a proven formula that's kept series like Grey's Anatomygoing for seventy five seasons.

The only problem is if they don't humanize the characters - don't give them faults and traits we recognize in ourselves and others, don't have them fail at big and small things now and then and act stupid and petty at times - after a season or two (or less), the shows can feel soulless. This is why so many of those characters are given drug or alcohol addictions or the inability to sustain loving relationships as, otherwise, they just become big, boring successful brains sitting on the shoulders of very attractive people.

Okay, that's a long TV-inspired introduction to a book from 1951 when most of TV was, well, not good at all other than, for us today, in a cultural curio way. But this book anticipated all those "smart" shows that were coming decades later. In The Build-Up Boys, we see a handsome public relations man, Clint Lortimer, take an obscure and insecure head of a small dairy company and turn him into a "Captain of Industry" in charge of one of the largest dairy consortiums in the country who, now, is being considered to lead a major government war-recovery program.

Back then, public relations was seen as an offshoot of advertising where you "built up" a client by creating an incredible public image for him or her, while also boosting his or her self confidence. Think of it as combining the flummery of advertising with the cynicism of false flattery. It's all that, but as we saw in Mad Men, it's also a cutthroat business that - when fictionalized, as it is here - has super-smart people hyper competing ruthlessly for clients, copy, connections and power.

Clint jousts with both his ex-boss - an "old pro" who would sooner give up one of his children than an account and who, effectively, exiles Clint from New York (where "anyone who is anyone works") - and his new boss - a (sexually smoldering) middling female ad exec whom Clint builds-up (sleeps with) and then can't control. Along the way, newspaper stories are fabricated (as Clint schmoozes or seduces women reporters), promotional contests are created out of whole cloth and congressional appearances are turned into victories through back-dated stock certificates and brazen lies.

It all happens because the "winners" create incredibly sophisticated long-term strategies that - contrary to the real world - work most of the time. Simultaneously, they engage in rapid-fire conversation that never misses a beat as every brickbat that could be said is while some life-philosophy is mixed in on the fly - and, of course, they all sleep with each other.

In the end, the characters - Clint, his old and new boss and the female reporter he seduced (discarded and brought back, who, then, turned the tables on him) - are, like the reader, exhausted. Yes, similarly to the lead character from the TV show House, these people live for "the game," but occasionally come up for air to see that their lives are missing something - anything - truly soul satisfying. But these brief moment of personal reflection are not enough to make them fully humanized / to make them regular people with faults and foibles / to make them three-dimensional characters.

It's a quick enough read that it's almost, but not quite, over before you end up hating all of them - usually something that leaves me cold to a book. But like the TV shows noted earlier, it is an, overall, entertaining ride and, for us today, interesting to see as an antecedent to an entire genre of TV shows. And if you hate business - especially advertising and public relations - and politicians, you'll feel right at home.
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
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Lady Be Good by Amber Brock, published 2018

A friend passed this one on to me as a "good beach read with some fun '50s time travel to New York, Miami and Cuba," (that hooked me) and, to be fair, that's not a bad description as it is a reasonable page turner that's not challenging, but isn't boring either. And, yes, I've fallen behind on my "beach reads;" hence, the January start date.

The young and pretty daughter - Kitty Tessler - of a self-made hotel magnate partakes in the social life of New York City while looking for a "from the best of families" society husband to scrub clean her Russian immigrant roots so that she can join her - in her mind - proper place at the top of '50s New York's social strata.

Along the way, she tries to break up her best friend's engagement to a cheating, but "from one of those top families," boyfriend while batting away her father's desire to marry her off to his first-generation-Russian hotel manager - a good man lacking any of the polish or social cachet our heroine desires - so that his daughter "will be set for life with a decent man who can also oversee her business interests when he passes."

It's fluffy and saponaceous enough for a beach read, the trouble is, as with so many writers today, the author is so anxious to aver her modern political beliefs in the middle of her period novel that she destroy both the story and its period verisimilitude.

When we meet Kitty, she is smart, spoiled and selfish in an unaware way, conniving in an aware way and ignorant of - to softly indifferent to - the prejudices of the time: It's hard to be sensitive to others when you're plotting a massive social coup. But then Kitty meets a couple of the band members - a Cuban singer, Sebastian, and Jewish trumpet player, Max - at one of her father's hotel's clubs and continues to intersect with their lives on a trip to Miami and, then, Cuba. There, a soft romance develops between Kitty and Max that Kitty allows as a safe indulgence ("nothing will come of it") and because it fits into her scheme to dissuade her father's husband candidate - the burly Russian.

All's fun and good with the story so far - with some neat '50s details popping up along the way - but, then, shallow and narcissistic Kitty morphs into a super-modern and "woke" woman when her selfishness destroys both her best friendship and her relationship with Max. In the blink of an eye, she's apologizing to everyone, has given up her goal of social conquest, is demurely trying to get Max back (the "Jewish thing" no long matters to her) and is joining her dad at work where she miraculously has a preternatural talent for business.

Oh, and this is my favorite one, in a rage against some obnoxious club patrons who insult Sebastian's ethnicity, she jumps into a fight and smashes a chair over the back of one of the antagonists. A silly tick of modern TV and movies is having 120-ish pound, small-frame women beat up over-six-feet tall, 200-plus pound men in fist fights (I'm sure it's happened once in the history of the world, but come on). Here at least, slim Kitty, who's never thrown a punch in her life, uses a chair, but still.

So, a good beach read that could have shown Kitty becoming realistically more enlightened in a way consistent with the period; instead, transmogrifies in a virtue-signaling exercise for the author willing to burn down any realism in her fun story in an embarrassment of political pieties.

And here's the thing - I shared ninety-plus percent of the author's views; but that's besides the point as 1950s' women didn't (ever and spontaneously) change into modern heroines with out-sized physical strength whose morals and values perfectly align to 2018's ideals. What a better story it would have been had Kitty grown - via experience and embarrassment, as real people do - into an imperfect '50s-style feminist (plenty existed), but that, I guess, wouldn't have been as satisfying to the desperate-to-score-modern-political-points author.
 

Oldsarge

Moderator and Bon Vivant
Now that I have perfected sourdough pancakes for one person (and a poodle) I am breaking out The Italian Baker and investigate the possibilities of long sponge sourdough bread. Then I'll go back to Land of Rice and Fish.
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
Our local book clubs selection for this month is Kristan Hannah's "The Great Alone," a title that stands as a very accurate representation of life in the unforgiving Alaskan wilderness. The Allbright family; mother, father and pre-teen daughter Leni, emigrate from Seattle to The great Alaskan Wilderness to escape the realities of a toxic love relationship between the two adults and the reluctant acquiescence of an 11 year old child. It is a sick and twisted effort to escape the societal condemnation of a violent drunk, allegedly suffering from chronic alcoholism and a severe case of PTSD. and the wife and child who serve as his victims. Interestingly, in the isolation of the Alaskan wilderness, when the domestic violence reaches it's zenith and it appears that Leni, now a 17 year old, will be beaten to death by her drunk and anger crazed old man, Mama grows a set and takes a hunting rifle, putting two rounds into the human monster she calls her soul mate and Leni calls dad.

While most might conclude the actions of mom to be in self defense and an effort to save her young daughter from being beaten to death, no one could consider what happened next to be legal, as they drug dads lifeless body out to the sled attached to a snow machine, added six 80 pound bear traps and hauled the body out to the middle of the lake. After drilling a hole in the ice with an auger , then enlarging same with a chainsaw, they clamped the bear traps on the body and dropped it through the ice to forever conceal it. Then it was time to enlist the aid of helpful neighbors to engineer their escape from Alaska and hide for the next decade from the authorities that were assuming dear old dad had killed the family in a drunken rage and gone into hiding. After Mom, a heavy smoker, dies of lung cancer, Leni sees fit to return to Alaska and turn herself in. I won't tell you how it happens, but it all works out and Leni, her (eventual) three children and her beloved husband Michael live long and happy lives in a small town, nestled in the wilderness of Alaska! It is a great read...so read it! ;)
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
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Forsaking All Others A Novel in Verse by Alice Duer Miller published in 1931

I avoid reading verse for the same reason I avoid eating fish, while it can occasionally be wonderful, most of the time it has an off-putting smell and an offensive taste.

Okay, that's a harsh assessment of poetry/verse (and maybe, even, of fish) and not really fair, as I love some poems so much that I still think about them decades after I first read them (A Great Hope Fell by Dickinson and the Tomorrow and Tomorrow... soliloquy by Shakespeare are two). But those were "picked out" for me by the wobbly 1970's educational system of Central New Jersey; on my own, I just don't read poetry to find the rare good-tasting piece of fish.

So it was with trepidation that I opened Alice Duer Miller's Forsaking All Others A Novel in Verse. Heck, it was only because one of her novels was made into a B-movie I enjoyed (And One was Beautiful) that I even looked her work up - note the lowbrow way that I found myself in highbrow verse.

And here's where I'm supposed to tell you how the verse in this quite good - and very short - novel spoke to me / made me more of a fan of verse / blah, blah, blah - but, well, while the rhyming was neat and I occasionally fell into the rhythm, in truth, I enjoyed the novel for the story with the verse serving as an all but ignored sideshow. You can take the boy out of Jersey, but....

That said, it is a darn good story about a man, his wife and the woman with whom he has an affair. The characters are drawn in an almost The Twilight Zone manner where only necessary details of their lives are given: he's older (50s, my guess), New York successful and handsome; the wife is doughy, dowdy and devoted in a "first wife" way; and the mistress is youngish, but not for a single woman of that time (she's in her early 30s in, about, 1930 when the novel takes place), striking in appearance and embraces her role as mistress until she kinda doesn't.

To be sure, they all embrace their roles early on: the man genuinely avoids the mistress-to-be as he's been down this path before and doesn't want to hurt his suffering wife again; the wife knows it's going to happen (from the second she sees her husband and the woman meet) and is almost relieved when it starts; and the mistress is, well, hell bent on making it happen as she - unusual for the time - acknowledges her feral physical desire for the man and, call it what it is, stalks him.

The affair starts and sails along as expected - secret mid-day rendezvous, weekend romps when he's "away on business," fun gifts, little inside jokes, plenty of slap and tickle - while the wife suffers in silence. Yes, you want her to stand up and fight or leave or do something, but she is not a stand-up-and-fight-or-leave-or-do-something wife; she's been down this path before and believes her best strategy is to ignore it and let it burn out as, then, he'll return to her.

And she's not wrong until she is. After the early perfect, the seams in the affair start to pull apart a bit. When one or the other breaks an assignation, the ugly head of jealously rears up followed by recriminations, anger, explanations, forgiveness and resumption, but with a little less joy each time. Just when it looks as if the affair is about to wind down or, conversely, blow up the marriage - yup, it could either way - a surprising third path appears and changes everything. That I'll leave for those who want to read it.

It didn't change my opinion about verse, nor is it really a novel - a long short story à la The Saturday Evening Post is more accurate - but it is an interesting approach to, and twist on, the sadly timeless story of married boy meets single girl while wife suffers.
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
View attachment 39078
Forsaking All Others A Novel in Verse by Alice Duer Miller published in 1931

I avoid reading verse for the same reason I avoid eating fish, while it can occasionally be wonderful, most of the time it has an off-putting smell and an offensive taste.

Okay, that's a harsh assessment of poetry/verse (and maybe, even, of fish) and not really fair, as I love some poems so much that I still think about them decades after I first read them (A Great Hope Fell by Dickinson and the Tomorrow and Tomorrow... soliloquy by Shakespeare are two). But those were "picked out" for me by the wobbly 1970's educational system of Central New Jersey; on my own, I just don't read poetry to find the rare good-tasting piece of fish.

So it was with trepidation that I opened Alice Duer Miller's Forsaking All Others A Novel in Verse. Heck, it was only because one of her novels was made into a B-movie I enjoyed (And One was Beautiful) that I even looked her work up - note the lowbrow way that I found myself in highbrow verse.

And here's where I'm supposed to tell you how the verse in this quite good - and very short - novel spoke to me / made me more of a fan of verse / blah, blah, blah - but, well, while the rhyming was neat and I occasionally fell into the rhythm, in truth, I enjoyed the novel for the story with the verse serving as an all but ignored sideshow. You can take the boy out of Jersey, but....

That said, it is a darn good story about a man, his wife and the woman with whom he has an affair. The characters are drawn in an almost The Twilight Zone manner where only necessary details of their lives are given: he's older (50s, my guess), New York successful and handsome; the wife is doughy, dowdy and devoted in a "first wife" way; and the mistress is youngish, but not for a single woman of that time (she's in her early 30s in, about, 1930 when the novel takes place), striking in appearance and embraces her role as mistress until she kinda doesn't.

To be sure, they all embrace their roles early on: the man genuinely avoids the mistress-to-be as he's been down this path before and doesn't want to hurt his suffering wife again; the wife knows it's going to happen (from the second she sees her husband and the woman meet) and is almost relieved when it starts; and the mistress is, well, hell bent on making it happen as she - unusual for the time - acknowledges her feral physical desire for the man and, call it what it is, stalks him.

The affair starts and sails along as expected - secret mid-day rendezvous, weekend romps when he's "away on business," fun gifts, little inside jokes, plenty of slap and tickle - while the wife suffers in silence. Yes, you want her to stand up and fight or leave or do something, but she is not a stand-up-and-fight-or-leave-or-do-something wife; she's been down this path before and believes her best strategy is to ignore it and let it burn out as, then, he'll return to her.

And she's not wrong until she is. After the early perfect, the seams in the affair start to pull apart a bit. When one or the other breaks an assignation, the ugly head of jealously rears up followed by recriminations, anger, explanations, forgiveness and resumption, but with a little less joy each time. Just when it looks as if the affair is about to wind down or, conversely, blow up the marriage - yup, it could either way - a surprising third path appears and changes everything. That I'll leave for those who want to read it.

It didn't change my opinion about verse, nor is it really a novel - a long short story à la The Saturday Evening Post is more accurate - but it is an interesting approach to, and twist on, the sadly timeless story of married boy meets single girl while wife suffers.

Poetry...an intriguing way to script a novel! How on earth did you happen to discover this literary treasure? I suspect I will be on the hunt to discover a local copy and give this one a read. ;)
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
Poetry...an intriguing way to script a novel! How on earth did you happen to discover this literary treasure? I suspect I will be on the hunt to discover a local copy and give this one a read. ;)

I backed into it by accident only because I liked the movie "And One Was Beautiful." So, I looked it up on IMDB.com and found out that the author of the novel that the movie was based on is Alice Duer Miller. After that, it was all Googling and then to one of my favorite old book sites:


I just did a search for the book there (use this link ⇩):


Plenty of good copies available for less than $10.

Take a look at this copy ⇩ ($8.89 all in with shipping):


I've been buying books from ABE for (wild guess) about two decades now and have almost never been disappointed with the condition of the book versus its description - 99% of the time, the description is accurate.

Good luck - it's a quick but interesting read.
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
I backed into it by accident only because I liked the movie "And One Was Beautiful." So, I looked it up on IMDB.com and found out that the author of the novel that the movie was based on is Alice Duer Miller. After that, it was all Googling and then to one of my favorite old book sites:


I just did a search for the book there (use this link ⇩):


Plenty of good copies available for less than $10.

Take a look at this copy ⇩ ($8.89 all in with shipping):


I've been buying books from ABE for (wild guess) about two decades now and have almost never been disappointed with the condition of the book versus its description - 99% of the time, the description is accurate.

Good luck - it's a quick but interesting read.

Thanks for the leads...that will save me a lot of looking and the prices are pleasantly reasonable. I willl provide a report after reading the book! Take care and have a great day.
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
Two days back I finished reading David Baldacci's novel, The Hit, another mission for CIA assassin's Will Robie and Jessica Reel. Interestingly, in this present yarn, Will Robie is assigned to take out Jessica Reel, a fellow CIA assassin who has apparently gone rogue. Two senior CIA managers have been killed by a supremely skilled assassin and Reel is the apparent suspect. Robie has his doubts and elects not to pull the trigger when he has her in his gun sights and elects to work with her on something bigger than the obvious!

As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that there is a Deep State conspiracy to eliminate a litany of world leaders, in the absence of sanction and in a misguided effort to change the balance of power around the globe, for the foreseeable future. The two gentlemen taken out by Agent Reel were just two of what turned out to be a collection of eight traitors, including the man who sits at the left hand of the President of the United States, acting more in their own, rather than in the State's best interests. Thank gawd, Will Robie and Jessica Reel saved our collective posteriors once again! A fast and excellent read...Baldacci never disappoints. ;)
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
This past weekend I read David Baldacci's The Innocent, the Will Robie yarn published by Baldacci just prior to The Hit. Robie, just back from an assignment to kill a terrorist who is an oil rich distant relative of the Saudi Royal family, is assigned to carry out the assassination of a reported traitor within the US Government. After he stands at the foot of the bed of this sleeping alleged traitor and realizing the facts are not falling into alignment, he refuses to take the shot and in that instance a back-up shooter takes the shot and Will Robi, the hunter, becomes the hunted. Teaming up with a 14 year old, who has been orphaned by the assassins targeting Robie and Super FBI Agent Julie Vance, he manages to stay one step, or should that be one gun shot. ahead of the bad guys , as one by one they wipe out an entire squad of Army Gulf War veterans. However, Robie, as he always does, unravels the mystery of the subterfuge and brings the bad guys to heel! A good read, I slept well last night and so will you...read the book. ;)
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
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The Hucksters by Fred Wakeman published in 1946

"My Theory on making friends," Vic said, "I am a man of many friends. They get me railroad reservations, hotel rooms, steak, scotch, all sorts of friendly things. But is it because of my personalty? Because they like me? No, I just give them money. The cleanest, simplest basis of friendship you can find."

And with that early cynical quote from Vic Norman, a senior advertising account executive, The Hucksters is off and running: a book that can narrowly be seen as an indictment of the advertising and radio businesses in the mid 1940s. But it can also be seen as an indictment of all business; however, that's only on the surface, as this is also the story of a flawed Ayn Rand character trying to find himself spiritually who discovers he is in the wrong business.

It's 1945 and Vic is a thirty-five-year-old bachelor and returning desk-jockey war vet trying to reestablish himself in the advertising business after his time in Washington and overseas (all far from the front). Broke, but confident, he talks himself into a senior role at a thriving advertising partnership as the account executive for its principal account, "Beautee Soap" owned and actively managed by the tyrannical (and wonderfully named) Evan Llewellyn Evans.

Evans wields his huge radio-sponsoring and advertising-buying dollars as a massive hammer that he smashes down on anything and anyone in his way or anyone who simply bothers him. The quick-and-dirty is that Vic's firm needs Evans' business to thrive; Evans knows this and uses it to hammer Vic to give him all his attention and to twist and shape the radio shows he sponsors to his whims. Evans is part Ayn Rand villain - he takes pleasure in torturing those whom depend on his business - and part carnival barker who believes sales pitches are best if loud and grating.

Nothing here about advertising or radio is pretty - the sponsors (like Evans) support the programs; the advertising companies, effectively, act as producers creating both the shows and the commercials supporting the shows to meet the desires of the sponsors; and everyone in it - including all the Hollywood writers, actors, directors and talent agents - make a lot of money, but hate it as they believe they are peddling pablum to the masses.

But here's the thing - author Wakeman, through Vic, tries to convince us that this is all sinister, but is it? The goal of the sponsor, the advertising agency and the Hollywood talent is to get the highest "Hooper" ratings (think Nielson ratings) for their shows, meaning to get the most people possible to listen to those shows. So, the goal is to please the most people. Is that bad? Or is it elitist arrogance that looks down on shows that "the masses" like because everyone involved believes his or her taste in entertainment is "better," is more "highbrow," is more "intellectual?" A narcissistic system effectively devotes itself to creating shows that it hates, but a large number of people enjoy.

In creating these shows and commercials for Beautee Soap, Vic navigates his way with Evans early by, like a Randian hero, being straight with Evans and telling him when he disagrees with him or when he thinks Evans has a bad idea. Evans, use to a surround of sycophants, is initial amused and bemused by Vic - a feeling boosted by Vic's early Beautee Soap campaign successes - but it all feels tenuous as even Vic knows you can't play it straight with Evans all the time as Evans' ego couldn't take it.

Vic tries to decide how much flattery he can tolerate doling out and still look in the mirror (Howard Roark in Rand's The Fountainhead quit a career in architecture to work in a stone quarry when he hit his limit). While doing so, Vic also tries to reshape his love life from casual sex (yup, forget '40s movies, in '40s books, people have causal sex and handsome Vic gets more than his share) to a serious relationship.

But here too, Vic draws a hard assignment as - on a train trip to Hollywood - he meets a beautiful married woman (Katherine) with two children and a husband away at war. They form a quick, platonic bond, but with plenty of sexual verve pinging between them. At the same time that Katherine is making it clear that no hanky-panky is going to happen, Vic is swatting away the sexual advances of a young attractive woman on the train and, back in New York, the "I want to get married" lament of one of his regular dalliances.

Once in Hollywood - there to sign a second-rate talent that Evans wants - everything heats up for Vic. Vic knows that Evans' choice for the star of the new show will not work; so, while trying to put the pieces of the show together, Vic also tries to find a way to get Evans to cancel the show, but of course, that idea has to appear to Evans to be all his. Simultaneously, Vic - who contrives to be at the same hotel as Katherine and her kids - continues his soft romancing until it heats up; which means, Vic ends up sleeping with a married woman whose husband is away at war. They both know it's wrong, but the heart and libido want, what the heart and libido want.

Of course, in an Ayn Rand novel - Vic just tells Evans the star won't work and he also doesn't sleep with the married woman - well, maybe he would have slept with the married woman as Rand liked her sex and there was plenty of extra marital funny business, even between the heroes, in her novels. However, in The Hucksters, the denouement of the two threads in Vic's life - Evans and Katherine - is more complicated than in a black-and-white morality tale, but it holds your attention in this page-turner right to the end.

And here's the thing about that opening quote on money and friendship - Vic doesn't believe a word of it. Here's Vic on what really means something to him [emphasis is mine in bold]:

That was one good thing about New York business - at least the bluechip, Wall Street kind of people the the big advertising agencies dealt with. There was a tradition and an ethic in their world of mass production and mass selling. When a man gave you the nod, that was it. The contracts could come later. Not that these well-bred men could not clip you as hard, or harder, than the sharp ones. But the wouldn't renege, once they gave you the nod. Old Man Evans spoke for them when he told Vic, 'A contract is a contract. A man's word is his word. That's how Beautee Soap Company operates. It's not that way with talent and their agents. A contract, or a spoken pledge, is something they try to weasel out of the minute they find it not to their liking.'

A man who believes that, is not a man who believes money buys friendships; that is a complex man living in a messy world trying to hold himself up to a Randian ideal. That is a man who wants to live in a world of "your word is your bond" and "your reputation is everything." Rand saw money as nothing more than a symbol of value whose value came from personal integrity, talent and effort - not some cynical view of everything being "for sale."

Vic grows into understanding himself as, essentially, wanting to be a Randian hero in a not-Radian world, which is much harder than being a fictional hero in a Rand novel. So, for Vic, no more meaningless sex with women looking for him to boost their careers or to cash out; no more pandering to small men with big egos; no more cynical meaninglessness, period - but what is next for Vic? He now has his personal compass set to true north - a hard step in and of itself - but as the novel closes, he's just starting his new journey.

One final thing (if anyone has read this far), author Wakeman's description, through Vic, of the feel and atmosphere of the 20th Century Limited and the Super Chief (that period's go-to luxury train combo for cross-country travelers) - the way the train's gentle rocking and tilting and numerous sounds and noises affects one's circadian rhythms and emotions, and the way the environment/ambiance of a train changes from car to car and as day turns to night - surpasses all the "travel writer" paeans to train travel that this rail fan has read. Which proves something I've always felt - most "travel writers" (not all) are "travel writers" because their writing abilities are limited.

N.B. The titillating blurb on the book's cover (at top) isn't subtle, but it isn't wrong, as a lot of the "bom chicka wah wah" from the book - Vic and Katherine basically spend a long weekend going at it (she fobs the kids off to a maid as they hightail it off to a hotel) - is expurgated from the movie. Unfortunately, this diminishes the movie as the story loses some of its logic and consistency without it. Thoughts on the movie here (second one down): #293
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
Newt Gingrich, the 50th Speaker of the House of Representatives, a male Republican version of Nancy Pelosi, has never allowed much moss to grow under his vocational moccasins. A long time politition, a historian, a college professor, a keystone speaker of note and now an author, Newt collaborated with Jounnalist Pete Earley to write a novel, titled Treason. The book is an arguably spell binding yarn about international and domestic terrorism in this beloved Country we call home. An Islamic extremist bad guy calling himself "The falcon," is orchestrating acts of domestic terrorism in the US of A, through the efforts of another Islamic extremist Jihadist calling himself Viper, who is a highly placed mole in the the DC political apparatus. Attempts are made on the Presidents life, The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff takes a shot to the head in an assassination attempt, eight young school girls and two instructors in a ritzy Virginia private school are murdered and two other girls , one the daughter of a congressman and the other the ward of a distinguished, highly decorated female member of our military, are kidnapped and will be murdered unless the USA agrees to release 100+ Islamic Terrorists from GITMO.

Newt Gingrich is one who understands our Federal Government and has a solid understanding of International and Domestic Terrorism and that understanding shows through in the telling of his first novel. The book will secure your attention and hold it firmly from the first to the last pages. It is a good read! ;)
 

Big T

Senior Member
Newt Gingrich, the 50th Speaker of the House of Representatives, a male Republican version of Nancy Pelosi, has never allowed much moss to grow under his vocational moccasins. A long time politition, a historian, a college professor, a keystone speaker of note and now an author, Newt collaborated with Jounnalist Pete Earley to write a novel, titled Treason. The book is an arguably spell binding yarn about international and domestic terrorism in this beloved Country we call home. An Islamic extremist bad guy calling himself "The falcon," is orchestrating acts of domestic terrorism in the US of A, through the efforts of another Islamic extremist Jihadist calling himself Viper, who is a highly placed mole in the the DC political apparatus. Attempts are made on the Presidents life, The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff takes a shot to the head in an assassination attempt, eight young school girls and two instructors in a ritzy Virginia private school are murdered and two other girls , one the daughter of a congressman and the other the ward of a distinguished, highly decorated female member of our military, are kidnapped and will be murdered unless the USA agrees to release 100+ Islamic Terrorists from GITMO.

Newt Gingrich is one who understands our Federal Government and has a solid understanding of International and Domestic Terrorism and that understanding shows through in the telling of his first novel. The book will secure your attention and hold it firmly from the first to the last pages. It is a good read! ;)

Newt wrote a series of "what if" books on the Civil War-all excellent reads. Anyhow, the point of my reply was that I met Newt about 15 years or so ago, and had a brief, but very engaging discussion (more a lecture!) with/from him, concerning politics. My view was that of a conservative Republican, and I made a generalized statement against Democrats. Newt proceeded to lecture me about the absolute need for a two-party system in this country, along with respect between the parties.
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
Newt wrote a series of "what if" books on the Civil War-all excellent reads. Anyhow, the point of my reply was that I met Newt about 15 years or so ago, and had a brief, but very engaging discussion (more a lecture!) with/from him, concerning politics. My view was that of a conservative Republican, and I made a generalized statement against Democrats. Newt proceeded to lecture me about the absolute need for a two-party system in this country, along with respect between the parties.

Thanks for sharing your enounter with Speaker Gingrich with us! Rest assured that I will be reading more of his fictional, as well as factual writing in the future. He is a very talented and devoted Patriot. :)
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
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The Maids by Junichiro Tanizaki published in 1963

Tanizaki, the author of The Makioka Sisters - considered one of the most important Japanese novels of the 20th Century (comments on The Makioka Sisters here: https://www.thefedoralounge.com/threads/what-are-you-reading.10557/page-380#post-2302937 ) - takes the same upper-middle-class family from The Makioka Sisters and looks at it from the perspective of the many maids that worked for it form the '30s through the '50s.

Less a traditional plot-driven novel than a collection of vignettes about the different maids, the books works as a series of engaging stories - a maid having an affair with a local taxi driver (and ignoring her work), another suffering from epilepsy (and scaring the other maids) and another going home to take care of a sick mother and coming back with a changed personality and on and on - but it is also a window into a now-vanished world of more rigidly defined class roles: in the '30s, the maids were given new names by the family when they "entered service," but by the '50s, they kept their birth names.

And as a Westerner used to reading about maids "in service" in English households, the relative informality of being "in service" in a Japanese household versus an English one is striking. Maids in Japan had much more freedom to go out, control their day and even be confrontational with the family for whom they are working. There's also more of a feeling of family between the two groups as, often, the family will help the maids make marital matches and, with the girls far from home, will act in a parental way by vetting potential husbands and making the weddings.

The real joy in the book is getting "lost" in a foreign world at a different time so that you're halfway through a chapter and realize you're truly worrying about Hatsu's need to buy a "proper" kimono for her wedding while also trying to send money home to her widowed mother who still lives in the poor fishing village where she grew up. Tanizaki shines at liming such humanizing "mundane" details that bring these past worlds alive to us.

I recommended reading the Makioka Sisters first as, bluntly, it is the more engaging novel of the two, but as a followup read, The Maids is a well-drawn portrait that broadens our view into, and understanding of, the world of those, now, famous fictional sisters - the world of 1930s - 1950s upper middle class Japan.
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
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All Fall Downby James Leo Herlihy published in 1960
Ring-a-ring o' roses,
A pocket full of posies,
A-tishoo! A-tishoo!
We all fall down.

--An old English Nursery Rhyme
From Wikipedia:
The Great Plague explanation of the mid-20th century
...The invariable sneezing and falling down in modern English versions have given would-be origin finders the opportunity to say that the rhyme dates back to the Great Plague. A rosy rash, they allege, was a symptom of the plague, and posies of herbs were carried as protection and to ward off the smell of the disease. Sneezing or coughing was a final fatal symptom, and "all fall down" was exactly what happened.
All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
― Leo Tolstoy , Anna Karenina


In All Fall Down, we meet the very unhappy Williams family of Ohio - a mother, father, teenage son and absent young twenty-one-year-old son who spend their days nipping at each others heals as they pine for the "on-the-road" older son seemingly holding all the dreams and aspirations of this family in his wayward life.

Annabell Williams, the slim, pretty 50-year-old matriarch of the Williams clan, is perfectly captured in an early scene when the family is moving into an old Victorian in a new-to-the-them neighborhood. Trying to ingratiate herself to the neighborhood children, she pleasantly offers them marshmallows and seems to be winning them over. Then, spying a mover not being careful with an antique, she angrily scolds him as the children move away unwilling to come back even when Annabell restores her former pleasant mien. The kids weren't fooled. Annabell had lost them on day one.

Annabell also pings back and forth between pleasant kindness and scolding meanness with her family leaving them aloof - inured to both her charm and anger. Being ignored is, probably, the worst punishment for attention-needing Annabell and is just what her youngest son and husband dish out.

Husband, Ralph, an acknowledged communist from the '30s - when, in his heyday, he traveled the county preaching the gospel of the Marx, the worker and the evils of capitalism - is now a dispirited (seemingly) semi-retired successful real estate broker drinking his sorrows away in his basement redoubt. He is alternatingly presented as a hero for fighting the good fight for a losing cause or a sellout who traded his ideals for a bankroll.

Annabell, clearly not a communist nor any longer impressed with Ralph's ideals, gets some sort of cosmic marshmallow revenge when her husband brings home three random bums to Annabell's perfect Christmas Eve diner and threatens her with corporal punishment if she doesn't ingratiate herself to them.

Showing herself equal to the challenge, she offers the bums perfect hospitality or ten dollars (~$90 today) each if they, instead, prefer to leave. The choice is theirs - hospitality, food and the warm bed that Ralph says is all they want or money for booze that Annabell says they'll choose.

The scene comes to a standstill with Ralph and Annabell smiling at the bums while shooting laser looks of hate at each other; the bums happily grab the money and leave. Ralph is broken and Annabell has only moments to enjoy her Pyrrhic victory before realizing it's just another crack in their shattering marriage.

The third leg of this wobbly family stool is fifteen-year-old Clinton who doesn't attend school - which, other than Annabell, everyone seems okay with - but instead spends his days sneaking around the house writing down everything everyone says, reading their mail and listening in on their phone calls and private conversations. He still comes off as saner than the two broken parents as he seems to get that he lives in crazy town but can't center himself amidst the insanity - who could at fifteen? He, too, drives Annabell half nuts by alternatingly showing her compassion and ignoring her when she starts in on him.

Yet somehow this broken family moves forward held together, in part, by Annabell's force-of-will efforts to present a normal appearance and everyone's odd worship of absent son, the ridiculously named, Berry-berry (the name is explained, but the bottom line is the name is stupid). For half the book, "hero" Berry-berry calls home for money for bail, car repairs and clearly false reasons that, somehow, the family takes as evidence that their fair-haired son is doing something great in life as he sows his wild oats. Uh-huh

Into this sinking family ship walks thirty-year-old, spinster cousin Echo, who, with her ethereal beauty and preternatural ability to fix her 1928 Dodge, shines a light of hope and revival in the William's house on her regular weekend visits. Echo, we learn, "wasted" her youth on a boy who killed himself. We later come to know that the boy came back from the war impotent - something Echo was willing to accept - but he wasn't. Echo's calming presence, quiet enthusiasm for life and seeming ability to see and bring out the best in others lifts the William's household from despair, brings Annabell and Ralph closer together and starts to right Clinton, but then in blows Berry-berry.

Where to begin? Maybe here as it highlights aspects of both Berry-berry and his father Ralph.

Ralph had also said that in a capitalistic system a man's only chance at winning out over this evil [working for others] was to become an employer himself. But Berry-berry quickly observed that most of the employers he had known seemed to put out a good deal more effort than the men who worked for them. If they made a lot of money, chances were they had big families to squander it on. But Berry-berry was alone and money was a secondary matter; what he wanted was ease and pleasure and freedom.


Handsome and charming, people, especially slightly older women, are attracted to Berry-berry. He is, essentially, a lazy, angry young man who takes without giving which leads to him skirting in and out of both towns and trouble --- leaving behind a trail of brokenhearts, battered women, property damage and misdemeanors in his selfish wake.

Along the way, he learns the prostitution business - which in his violent way includes beating the prostitutes when he has sex with them. It's presented as a combination of the prostitutes' desire for pain and punishment and his angry nature, but who cares the exact dissection as it's all sick, ugly and vicious. Seemingly having worn out his welcome in the rest of the country, he comes back to his hometown where he sets up a shabby whorehouse in a broken-down apple farm on the edge of town before even announcing his return to his family.

When the putative conquering hero does appear, he tells his family he's in the plumbing business while initially charming everyone anew - including a quickly smitten Echo. Despite the age difference (it was a big deal in that day for a woman to be nine years older), the family is thrilled at the budding romance as they believe it will settle Berry-berry (his name, even over time, never becomes anything but stupid) down while bringing angelic Echo closer to the family. (Spoiler alert) Echo, accepting of all of Berry-berry's faults, asks nothing of him even when this until-now virgin discovers she is pregnant with Berry-berry's baby. She wants Berry-berry to come to her out of love, but seemingly genuinely and without rancor absolves him of any responsibility if he so desires.

Angry at getting everything he wants, which pretty much describes Berry-berry, he pushes Echo away in a crushing scene of love meeting hate and each going its separate way. From here, the denouement is awful, but must be read without prior knowledge.

Yes, Berry-berry is the great plague that causes the family to "all fall down." And, yes, all unhappy families are unhappy in their own soul-crushing way. But intentional or not, the real metaphor that comes out of All Fall Down is the Christ story with forgiving-of-faults and life-inspiring-simply-by-her-presence Echo (a mechanic not unlike Christ the carpenter - thinking that's not a coincidence) meeting the devil himself and suffering a Christ-like fate for man's sins. But like Christ, she left mankind a beacon, a light shining-on in apostle Clinton who - in a pivotal near-final scene - stared at evil and chose forgiveness instead of revenge, life instead of death. To fully understand his choice, one must read the end of this rich, engaging and sad, but also, hopeful book.
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
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Beyond Control by Rex Beach published in 1932

What does a love story, wrapped around an international-smuggling story, wrapped around an aviation-adventure story, wrapped around an alcoholic-addition story written in 1932 look like?

Beyond Control is a ripping 1932 page turner by the era's prolific and successful author Rex Beach who wrote books you want to read that aren't "literature ." They won't be studied in any high school English class, but as a window into '30s norms, cultures, interests, pop philosophies and sensationalism, you couldn't do much better.

Beach's books - this is my fifth or six - were popular fiction similar in ways to those of Clive Cussler's or Nelson DeMille's today, except that Beach's themes, stories and plots are all over the place - stock market crashes, racial prejudice, religious fanaticism and women entrepreneurs are just some of the plot-drivers of his efforts.

However, in Beyond Control, Beach grabs hold of aviation in the '30s. There were still daredevil fliers and trans-Atlantic records to be made and aviators and aviatrixes were some of the action-adventure heroes of the day. But they were also that era's Silicon Valley technology leaders - fliers not only had guts, they had to understand and and experiment with their crafts much as software engineers do today (Howard Hughes was a real-life example). Yet, these "engineers" took their lives in their hands when they tested their new technology as a crash wasn't about zeroes and ones refusing to play nice with each other, but a plane falling out of the sky.

Beach, a real-to-the-era feminist, centers his plot around a stunning young aviatrix and heir to a crumbling lace-fabric company who is the fiancee of an international and dashing young entrepreneur with a hobbyist's interest in aviation and a desire to make new flying records. Thrown into the mix are a famous WWI flying ace with a now-checkered reputation owing to his drinking (his picture should be in the dictionary next to "bender"), a sketchy French brother team of navigator and radio operator, a trying-to-make-a-name for himself newspaper reporter (another glamorous '30s business) and the aviatrix's preternaturally young grandmother and current owner of the lace business.

Like all good popular action-adventure writers, Beach whips in some period philosophy. Is bootlegging really immoral or is prohibition itself the totalitarian sin?There is also plenty of sex (tame by today's standards, but a scorecard wouldn't hurt), daredevil stunts, last-minute rescues and nail-biting crashes that make you wonder why it wasn't made into a movie.

All of this takes place around a surface plot of a trans-Atlantic record-breaking flight in a new and untested plane, but with backstories of potential smuggling of liquor, something else or maybe nothing, dirty business and political dealings, a love triangle (the daredevil pilot wants the international entrepreneur's exciting and beautiful aviatrix fiancee...and she's intrigued) and one man's struggle against alcoholism (that feels very modern despite 1930s' norms that don't bow to today's rigidly enforced political pieties).

I get it, why read the popular fiction of the '30s when we have similar popular fiction today that feels more relevant to our lives, especially since none of this is Tolstoy or Wharton? For me, it's still a darn good page-turner of a read and it's an historical window into the 1930s, free of the modern political biases, that (quite often) scream off the page of new period novels set in the 1930s.
 
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