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
GUEST_ce508407-bbbb-4143-90a7-b65a345a4fcb.jpeg

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
220px-JamesLeoHerlihy_AllFallDown.jpg

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
280821856.0.m.1.jpg

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.
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
View attachment 41197
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.
A story wrapped up so well in so many different ways is to my mind, a must read. Hence, I am back on the hunt....Hope Amazon has a copy! Thank you again for very persuasive and a great book review. ;)
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
A story wrapped up so well in so many different ways is to my mind, a must read. Hence, I am back on the hunt....Hope Amazon has a copy! Thank you again for very persuasive and a great book review. ;)
Thank you for the kind words.

You might want to become familiar with this site (I already set the search for "Beyond Control" for you):


It's a great resource for finding old books at very reasonable prices.

Before you choose your first Rex Beach book, consider these too:

#707





I think I liked either "Padlocked" or "Son of the Gods" best, but they are all good in a page-turner way.

Edit Add: I have no idea who the guy is whose pic shows up in the links to Fedora Lounge - it sincerely isn't me.
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
During this period of ongoing self-isolation I recently read a book entitled "Guts and Gunships," self published by author Mark Garrison.

He describes having to take a semesters break from college, losing his student deferment and being drafted into the Army back in the mid 1960's.

Mark was able to work out a deal that allowed him to go into the Army's Rotary Wing Flight Training Program and he eventually found his OD green festooned butt on the elephant grass fields of Vietnam flying first slicks and soon thereafter UH-1 Huey Gunships, in the face of almost certain death for 13 months.

During his time in the hell of combat he was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross, four Bronze Stars, 25 Air Medals and various other medals attesting to his valor in battle Young men, pulled from lives of relative innocence and thrust into the super heated crucible of war....

Mark Garrison is the real deal, one tested in combat, who has looked Mars, the God of War, in the eyes and Garrison did not blink!

The book is well worth reading...the author earned our brief attention the hard way, earning it by facing the music. ;)
 

Oldsarge

Moderator and Bon Vivant
During this period of ongoing self-isolation I recently read a book entitled "Guts and Gunships," self published by author Mark Garrison. He describes having to take a semesters break from college, losing his student deferment and being drafted into the Army back in the mid 1960's. Mark was able to work out a deal that allowed him to go into the Army's Rotary Wing Flight Training Program and he eventually found his OD green festooned butt on the elephant grass fields of Vietnam flying first slicks and soon thereafter UH-1 Huey Gunships, in the face of almost certain death for 13 months. During his time in the hell of combat he was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross, four Bronze Stars, 25 Air Medals and various other medals attesting to his valor in battle Young men, pulled from lives of relative innocence and thrust into the super heated crucible of war.... Mark Garrison is the real deal, one tested in combat, who has looked Mars, the God of War, in the eyes and Garrison did not blink! The book is well worth reading...the author earned our brief attention the hard way, earning it by facing the music. ;)
And he had to self-publish? With a yarn like that? What has the publishing industry come to?
 

ChrisRS

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
Notes From the Underground. Self doubt, loathing, seeking purpose in world where 2 and 2 is 4 should not predetermine your life. Most agree Dostoyevsky’s most self revealing book following exile.
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
9172ttNgNKL.jpg


I feel sure we have no need to fear the tempest. Let it roar, and let it rage. We shall come through."

- Winston Churchill at the end of his first year and a half as Prime Minister

Not only a dark-horse choice for the best quote about fear ever, but also not a bad summary of the new Churchill biography, The Splendid and the Vile, by Eric Larson.

Larson chooses Churchill's first year-plus as Prime Minister for his time period as he blends the-personal-and-the-private with the-public-and-the-professional Churchill for his approach. It's a wise choice as Churchill himself didn't separate the two as adduced in the famous scene when Churchill, naked from a bath, unexpectedly encountered FDR standing in his guest bedroom at the White House and, instead of hurriedly enrobing, blithely tells the President that he can see that he, Churchill - at the White House on a crucial diplomatic mission - has nothing to hide.

But before all that, Churchill has to become Prime Minister. He does so as Chamberlain's enervated government falls in May of 1940 handing Churchill the reins of power just as Hitler is about to unleash hell-fire from above on England. While a notch below the level of a David McCullough or Stephen Ambrose, Larson is a skilled popular history writer who, citing a wealth of original material, takes you immediately into Churchill's world and his support system of close family members, famous public officials and behind-the-scenes (and super-talented) factotums who provide the Prime Minister with the resources, intelligence and emotional support he needs to succeed.

And Churchill, quite possibly, may have been the singular person for the role; the only man who could hold England together during one of its bleakest periods. But he was also an individual of many moods and emotions, of brilliant ideas and crazy ones, of tempers and doubts that required a strong surrounding coterie who understood his expansive needs to help him translate his unique talents and personality into a successful effort.

Be it his wife, Clementine, ameliorating a roughed-up-by-Churchill public official (or friend or staff member or...), Lord Beaverbrook, as Minister of Aircraft Production, angering almost everyone in the Royal Air Force as he drove critical-to-survival aircraft production up throughout the crushing bombing of England's factories during the Blitz or one of Churchill's several personal secretaries staying up through yet another fourteen-hour day to capture Churchill's late-night thoughts and directives (or to just be a sounding board for his overactive mind), Larson shows how Churchill was only able to be Churchill by having, through both luck and shrewd choosing, the right private and public people supporting him.

This allowed Churchill, a font of ideas and emotions about almost everything, to lead his country with, yes, strategy (some right, some wrong, but more right), but also with sheer willpower, an outsized personality and several of history's most famous speeches that inspired both his inner circle and the entire country.

And let's just say it, Churchill was handed a hot mess as an under-prepared-for-war England was about to endure months of intense aerial bombing of its cities, airfields and production facilities from the greatest air armada ever assembled while simultaneously worrying that a German invasion (which England knew it couldn't repel) was imminent.

Upon appointment, with almost no time to plan or even think, Churchill immediately made crucial strategic-military, high-level-staffing, factory-production and civilian-defense decisions that - despite sometimes over-delegating and at other times micromanaging - somehow where right enough to keep England breathing. As each Prime Minister must, Churchill, even while facing an onslaught of overwhelming challenges that would have broken many other men, defined the role to fit his sui generis talents. He kept his military leaders, the enlisted men and the civilian population believing he - and they - could do the impossible.

And it was Churchill's personal courting (it went well beyond usual diplomacy) of the President of the United States, FDR, a man sympathetic to England's struggle, but leading a country opposed to America's involvement in "another war in Europe," that resulted in England receiving some much needed civilian and military resources (increased when FDR shepherd the famous Lend Lease program through Congress) during its most troubled hours.

By keeping it to a crucial year and a half, Larson can dig in and reveal much of Churchill's day to day: His trips to war rooms and weapons laboratories; his visits with the King, his advisors, the world's top diplomats and the President of the United States; his personal time spent with his wife, children, friends and staff (he is somehow both an elitist and a man of the people); and his crucial visits to bombed-out sections of several of England's cities where he showed and shared both his pain and fortitude in a way that somehow emboldened a beaten-down population to believe - against all odds - that Churchill would lead them to victory.

About a year and a half into his term as Prime Minister, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and Germany declared war on America. This led to America joining England in the fight of the century. And that prompted the speech that included the opening quote above because Churchill then knew what he believed, or wanted to believe, all along - the tempest could roar and rage, but England and the free world would come through.

After the fact, it all looks preordained; Larson shows us that it wasn't at all, but that it took a man - a Churchill - to heroically shepherd England and the free world to the point where victory - after much blood, toil, tears and sweat (yup, Churchill's words again) - could and would be won.
 
Last edited:

Peak and Pine

Connoisseur
^

Thank you for this. Even tho I did not read it. I'll explain, though I'm sure it was informative, insightful and thorough as your movie and books reviews always are.
.
Larson is an absolute favorite of mine, having read three earlier ones, Devil and the White City, In the Garden of the Beasts and Dead Wake*

I'm thanking you for a Larson title I'd not heard of, and not reading you because I don't want a single Larson word to be spoilered. But I've bookmarked you for later.

*Larson's stuff is non fiction written like fiction. But Fast may have told you that. Of the three titles I've mentioned above, the first is about the 1897 Chicago World's Fair and the serial killer loose there, the second is set in Germany in the four Hitler years before WWII and Dead Wake is about the sinking of the Lusitania.
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
⇧ Completely understand, I like to go into books free of others' opinions.

I read "In the Garden of Beasts -" very good, but think he did an even better job with TS&TV.

The other two are on my to-be-read list.
 

Dhaller

Advanced Member
I'm just finishing "Last Child in the Woods" by Richard Louv, which is a critique of the loss of "nature" in modern children's lives and education, and a survey of what can be done (and is being done, mostly in Scandinavia and the Netherlands) to recapture it. Highly recommend, and a *must* for parents.

Now, I often read with amused skepticism the many claims here of people reading things like Francis Bacon or Aquinas (oh let me grab my copy of "City on a Hill"), but now I myself am using this quarantine to kind of resume an old reading project: getting through the whole of Mortimer Adler's recommended reading list (1972 revision, which numbers hundreds of volumes and 137-ish authors). Pretty much the Western Canon.

I started reading Herodotus' "The Histories" last night (Robert Strassler's excellent version for Landmark, which is chock full of maps, so much candy to this lover of history!)

My "action plan" is to read my Adler selections an hour a day... forever. Assuming an hour is about 30 pages of the kind of *reflective* reading demanded by important works (versus the gobbling-up of lesser ones), and an average book is ~400 pages ("The Histories" is 900 or so), I should be able to read ~10,000 pages a year, or 25 books. I estimate this will take 15ish years, maybe 20 if I reread the stuff I read as a youth (I had the good fortune to attend a prep school which offered a heavily classical education.)

Stay tuned! or whatever the reading equivalent of "tuned" is!

DH

 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
md11256650458.jpg


It comes at you hard and fast as the men of Fredrick Wakeman's 1944's Shore Leave are naval aviators, on leave from the cauldron of war, who hold up in a San Francisco hotel suite to drink excessively, have sex with random women and, occasionally, actually sleep so that they can do it all again tomorrow or until their leave is over. Wives, children, former relationships, commitments - none of it matters to these men, as, they believe all the rules are suspended for "the duration". They get drunk everyday, cheat (almost) everyday and care little for the consequences.

"This damn war...it not only kills half our men off, it also ruins the other half for the domestic life -" this lament of one of the fly-boy groupies perfectly sums up the "message" of Shore Leave. The premise is that these exceptional aviators, who stare death down daily, have been broken by war.

Yes, most are still elite fliers (some are crushed by no longer being able to do that), but the fear of death or, presented here as worse, being permanently disfigured or disabled has taken regular young men and turned them into...what? While carrying themselves with bravado, the underlying vibe is that they are mentally damaged with their drinking, sexual infidelities and devil-may-care attitude being just a coping mechanism for living with the daily fear of death. There's also a "screw society" stance to these men implying "you don't know what we've been through so 'eff' you and your norms, rules and judgement."

And this all comes at us through the lives of four, but really two, servicemen, both married with children. One, an officer but not a combat pilot who kinda, sorta stays faithful as he sees the value of his family, but the other - the all American, good looking flyboy and naval aviator hero (high number of kills and a smile that lights up a r̶o̶o̶m̶ woman's libido) and his aviator friends - go through each day laughing, drunk, numb and on the hunt for women.

San Francisco of 1943 is portrayed as a town apart from "normal" America. Most of the men are on leave and most of the women who engage with them understand the game. No man presented here forces a woman, nurse, etc., into a bar, into a hotel suite, into a car, into bed; the women go because they want to. What these woman want / and the men too - as is discussed enough to become almost numbingly repetitive - is sex or a connection through sex or something, blah, blah, blah sex.

Read form the perspective of 2020, we get it. We are aware of PTSD and all the other ways war can harm men and women physically and mentally. We get that war - right or wrong - does suspend the rules of behavior for many and we get that the firestorm of war creates an equal and opposite force of an aggressive pursuit of pleasure.

But these things weren't widely known or acknowledge publicly in 1943; hence, the book was one of the shocking ones of its day. You mean our boys aren't fighting for freedom and democracy? Maybe they are just up there trying to survive. You mean they aren't pining for the girl or wife left behind? Maybe they turn to whores or hook-ups as an anodyne.

And while it reads almost like a series of vignettes, the novel's plot - the conflict that drives the narrative - gets going when our all-American hero hooks up with a society girl who falls madly for him while he pauses his pursuit of other women for the moment. Like the green light in The Great Gatsby that represents Gatsby's dreams (societal acceptance / Daisy), the constant and ignored call from all-American boy's wife - "Operator six, Great Neck is calling sir" - represents a past he's trying to forget or simply doesn't care about, but it's also one that complicates any potential long-term romance.

Will he or won't he leave his wife to marry the society girl is the climax of the surface story, but the real story is the broken airmen, their wanton and sad pursuit of a moment of pleasure and, then and now, how there are no easy answers to any of it. Definitely not your typical 1944 war novel.


A double N.B., There's a wonderful scene where one of the officers on leaves takes a girlfriend to see Frank Sinatra perform live on radio. The description of the Sinatra teenage fans foreshadows Elvis' as the young girls are the most passionate - screaming, tearing at Sinatra's clothes, fainting, etc. - while the boys are fans but some with a hint of jealousy.

The frenzy is described as all but uncontrollable with the stage mangers having to remove some screaming girls who are disrupting the show. Many of the girl (most under eighteen) have joined fan clubs and now don't like men with broad shoulders (owing to Frank's narrow ones). Fast forward ten or so years and, other than that his shows were on TV and not radio, the description of the fans' demographics and behavior would equally apply to Elvis's early performances when he was rocketing to fame. So little is new.

And one more fun thing from a pure time-travel perspective: There's a scene where New York steak houses are passionately compared and argued over (who's best, etc.) with four of them - The Palm, Peter Lugers, Christ Cella and The Pen and Pencil - being ones that were still in business when I started working in NYC in the '80s. The first two are still going strong today. And today, fans of each - and the many new ones - still argue passionately over who has "the best steak in NYC." So little is new.
 
Your email address will not be publicly visible. We will only use it to contact you to confirm your post.

IMPORTANT: BEFORE POSTING PLEASE CHECK THE DATE OF THE LAST POST OF THIS THREAD. IF IT'S VERY OLD, PLEASE CONSIDER REGISTERING FIRST, AND STARTING A NEW THREAD ABOUT THIS TOPIC.