In Bohemia, a book of essays describing Gold's own adventures in bohemianism with the beat generation, Gold acts as a fly on the wall, collecting stor...moreIn Bohemia, a book of essays describing Gold's own adventures in bohemianism with the beat generation, Gold acts as a fly on the wall, collecting stories, ideas, philosophies, and theories of some great and memorable minds. Each part ranges from so-so to excellent, depending much upon the reader's interest in the current topic. The writing is excellent, as is the humor and insights Gold puts forth, although at times, especially to a younger generation, the subjects themselves seem a bit dated.
The first half was intriguing, entertaining, and captivated my interest, whereas the last half (or perhaps third) kind of flagged for me. All in all, however, an interesting and amusing read, though I wouldn't pass it on to anyone not interested in culture studies, bohemia, or the writers and artists mentioned within its pages.(less)
The first time I read Coming Into Clover, I distinctly remember the ending, specifically the way I bolted down the hall, shoved it in my mother's face...moreThe first time I read Coming Into Clover, I distinctly remember the ending, specifically the way I bolted down the hall, shoved it in my mother's face, and exclaimed, "Read this! It'll feel familiar!" Good times.
My family doesn't identify as Irish American (or anything, really), but I'll be damned if Dezell didn't present a spot on description of every family gathering I've ever rolled my eyes through. From the lightning quick biting wit to the "that's a feeling and we don't talk about feelings" attitude to the Sunday mornings at Mass to the love-hate relationship with alcohol, I spent the pages laughing with recognition or occasionally squirming as she hit a little too close to home on some of the more uncomfortable aspects of the culture. Dezell pulls no punches and doesn't shy away from some of the nastier habits of the culture (the blind eye regarding alcoholism, the racism that marks a cultural history and always seems to pop up in that one family member you wish would just go away, the unfortunate habit certain people have of wearing green checked pants, etc), but she also presents the impressive aspects of a culture you might not even have realized you had, ticking off the positives in a way that can make a reader proud. Dezell presents a wide range of sources and view points, and she does so with a quick, engaging style that makes me suspect she can also claim the charm and "gift of blather" that she expounds within her own pages.(less)
Uncommon Arrangements seems a simplistic title at first, until the reader begins to realize how very complicated and uncommon the subjects are. Though...moreUncommon Arrangements seems a simplistic title at first, until the reader begins to realize how very complicated and uncommon the subjects are. Though the era she focuses on overlaps with WWI, some of the unions author Katie Roiphe details may seem shocking or odd, even to modern readers. There is a general feeling today, what with skyrocketing divorce rates, people living together but not married, and the question over gay marriage, that marriage and relationships in general are more complex, harder to maintain, and more unorthodox than in the past. In her magnificent book, however, Roiphe makes it very clear that such an assumption is naive and, as assumptions usually are, incorrect.
Seven marriages (or "marriages," as some, for various reasons, were never legal) from the turn of the last century are all brought together with themes that still resonate in the 21st as society confronts a divorce rate of nearly half. Stable domestic life inevitably creates a routine to sustain it--laundry, homemaking, coffee making, the familiarity of the body next to you in bed--which can lead to boredom. It is no easy task to keep up lovers momentum and to maintain an active engagement in one another. The couples she highlights--
- Vera Brittain & George Catlin, and Winifred Holtby - Katherine Mansfield & John Middleton Murry - H.G. Wells & Jane Wells, and Rebecca West - Elizabeth von Arnim & John Francis Russell - Vanessa & Clive Bell, and Duncan Grant - Ottoline & Phillip Morrell - Radclyffe Hall & Una Trowbridge
--believed, or at least one in the partnership believed, that human happiness should come of a marriage, and that belief left the way clear to toss aside monogamy in the marriage bed. Communication is vaunted today as the cornerstone of a healthy relationship, and these couples agreed--to the extreme. They believed that as long as they were honest about their affairs and indiscretions, then everything was all right. Many times, it was this same honesty that destroyed what they were trying to create.
In bohemian circles in pre-WWI through WWII circles, to be artsy was to defy convention. (That same belief is alive and well today, though the context is very different. At the turn of the century, to turn one's back on conventional society and financial stability in order to pursue the arts was tantamount to ruin. One had to succeed; that was the only option. There was no welfare and no government programs designed to help the impoverished, let alone those who chose that poverty. The term "starving artist" has a very real basis in fact.) In nearly everything they did, these individuals were challenging the social and cultural mores of their day, consciously, purposely, as a matter of principle, and with varying degrees of success. Born in the Victorian age and straddling the post-WWI era, Roiphe's subjects were tossing off the conventions and rules of the old, straight-laced society in favor of a new, looser, more creative way of being. Naturally, their efforts extended into their marriages, manifesting in a multitude of ways. Vanessa Bell managed to create a "family" of friends, lovers, ex-lovers, her children, and her husband with success that would boggle the minds of many of today's blended families. In other instances, there were menage a trois, multiple affairs, jealousies, broken hearts, new loves, and new ideas sprouting all around. Roiphe manages to weave the intricate workings of these relationships--with such large casts of characters--into a coherent, thoroughly enjoyable read.
One aspect of the book I truly enjoyed was the way in which the individual subjects, all contemporaries more or less, were observers of and commentators on each others' relationship dramas. For instance, Roiphe draws on letters of the time to give Ottoline Morrell's opinion of the affair between H.G. Wells and Rebecca West; later, Ottoline herself is studied. Virginia Woolf, sister of Vanessa Bell, lends commentary to every single segment, her voice charming, witty, opinionated, and woven neatly throughout the text. Moving from one household to the next, familiar voices of the period comment through letters and memoirs, and names crop up repeatedly in chapters that aren't necessarily their "own." There are myriad ways these figures are all related to one another, and one of the joys of Uncommon Arrangements is realizing this. Brilliantly, Roiphe manages to keep the reader from being overwhelmed by these complexities of relationships with a knack for clarity and story-telling that keeps the reader moving along with her.
With such an intimate subject matter, it would have been quite easy for Uncommon Arrangements to have a creepy, voyeuristic quality. Roiphe has done a fantastic job in avoiding that, making a concentrated effort to keep the the subject matter from being distasteful or exploitive. She's straightforward and factual without being judgemental, and the lightness of the writing helps keep things moving along without getting bogged down in potentially gossipy-type moments. Very nicely done.
Roiphe has done excellent research for this book, putting forth a huge amount of primary material--journals, memoirs, letters, etc.--without getting bogged down in the sheer amount of names, places, and facts. She also does a decent job of setting the social and political context of these times and relationships out for the reader, so as to make the study more full. As I said before, she completely avoids judging her subjects, and she tells the story in such a way that one never forgets they are reading a history. There is sheer enjoyment in these pages, and I was pleasantly surprised just how much I loved this book.
One thing of note:
During the section on Vanessa and Clive Bell, the author gently handled the subject of their children...and she did so honestly. Many biographers and idealists (see Virginia Nicholson's "Among the Bohemians" for an example) tend to gloss over the children, especially how growing up in such an environment affected them. Roiphe is direct and honest about how poorly the Bell children were tended by their parents and the Bloomsbury circle.
Incredible book with incredible writing. Well done, Katie Roiphe! Highly recommended.
Focusing on the relationship between artistic creativity and manic-depressive illness, Touched With Fire is rewarding, interesting and full of informa...moreFocusing on the relationship between artistic creativity and manic-depressive illness, Touched With Fire is rewarding, interesting and full of information. However, this is a book that requires an effort, expects you to be paying attention fully at all times. This is no quick, relaxing beach read. Jamison brings her scientific and academic background to her subject, which makes for a fascinating but difficult read for anyone lacking her extensive background. Her constant references to scientific studies can get confusing, despite extensive notes, graphs, and charts, but if you can make it through the first half, the work is worth all the effort.
Narrowing her focus to a select range of artists - Byron, Poe, Coleridge, Melville, Van Gogh, Woolf, etc. - and drawing from myriad scientific studies, Jamison's hypothesis that the "divine madness" often referred to in artistic works is manic-depressive illness and furthermore has a strong overlap with creativity is well-stated with a solid base of information. The extensive family histories of various well-known poets, writers, painters, and artists gathered here are almost worth the list price by themselves. She documents the devastating effects of both sides of the illness on each artist's life, family, and ancestry, as well as puts forth a significant amount of evidence, much of it from the artists' own works or journals, to support the idea that the illness, with its extremes of emotions and its productive hypomanic states, contributed to their subjects genius.
Jamison makes it clear these afflicted artists suffered greatly, and despite her academic approach, her sympathy for them shines through. (And no wonder. As the author of An Unquiet Mind, she's certainly been through many of the trials these same artists suffered in their times.) Such compassion serves to humanize her subjects in an oftentimes dry, distanced text.
Unfortunately, it's this same sympathy that, in a very small way, diminishes from what she is trying to accomplish as an academic. While appropriate in her memoir, her affinity with her subjects introduces an emotional element into an otherwise scientific text that is jarring. Additionally, her respect for these artists trips over into awe. Though she documents their sufferings and repeatedly states how the creative output is certainly not worth the torment of this illness, the reader is left with the impression this is merely lip service, especially as she tends to romanticize even their morbid excesses and most incapacitating depressions. As both an artist and someone who has suffered sometimes crippling depression for years, I find this alarming in an academic work.
Overall, Jamison has written an incredible book, one that takes the romantic notion of the melancholic artist and shows the facts and figures behind it, for better and for worse.(less)
A quick read, intriguing and enjoyable. The insight into human behavior, both rational and irrational, is priceless. The authors do a great job of kee...moreA quick read, intriguing and enjoyable. The insight into human behavior, both rational and irrational, is priceless. The authors do a great job of keeping the text tightly focused and moving, succinctly imparting a lot of information. It's a great start to the subject, more of a jumping off point than an all-inclusive study, and I finished the book wanting to know more, wishing the authors had dug a little deeper, but overall very satisfied.(less)
Making up for what it lacks in clear narrative with an unabashed fanboy mentality, Like a Rolling Stone... is one of those books that you can pick up...moreMaking up for what it lacks in clear narrative with an unabashed fanboy mentality, Like a Rolling Stone... is one of those books that you can pick up and put down at will. None of the segments are very long, and there's no overwhelming need to keep reading. It's light and spends a lot of time rambling and flailing with Dylan adoration, but there are some gems among the essays. Though the ability to put it down and walk away probably leads to a large portion of the readership never returning, this is not a book that should be read in one go. It'll make you nauseous with repetition otherwise.(less)
Five stars for the poem itself; three stars for essays ranging from brilliant to coma-inducingly boring. There were about a hundred more pages than a...moreFive stars for the poem itself; three stars for essays ranging from brilliant to coma-inducingly boring. There were about a hundred more pages than a book like this truly needed.(less)
Easy read but fascinating. Warhol's style is very conversational, very gossipy, and if it weren't for the tragic ends of so many of the individuals fe...moreEasy read but fascinating. Warhol's style is very conversational, very gossipy, and if it weren't for the tragic ends of so many of the individuals featured, Popism would be almost fluffy. The name dropping got to be a little much, as if he were trying to stuff as many big names as possible into the pages, and certain instances were quite clearly sugarcoated to downplay the drama and make himself look better by minimizing his involvement (example: Edie Sedgwick). Not much of a narrative, just vivid memories that Warhol does manage to interweave and bring together into an intriguing tale. I'm neither a Warhol nor New York in the 60s fanatic, but I still found myself interested. Popism definitely held my attention. Recommended.(less)
Brilliant, in-depth narrative that is at times very difficult to read. There were times I actually had to put this down and walk away, a sure sign of...moreBrilliant, in-depth narrative that is at times very difficult to read. There were times I actually had to put this down and walk away, a sure sign of a book with impact. Buford takes the edge off the violence with a dry, well-timed sense of humor. Highly recommended, even for Americans unfamiliar with the history of English football culture.(less)