Very readable and thorough, if not especially deep, book about the men's clubs in English-speaking upper-class society in the 18th Century, with a foc...moreVery readable and thorough, if not especially deep, book about the men's clubs in English-speaking upper-class society in the 18th Century, with a focus on those that secretly celebrated blasphemy and sexual deviance. There is not a lot of historical context only because to provide it woudl require a 1200-page history of the period, or something, and the sources are thin enough and unreliable enough that much of the information is spotty. Even so, Lord does a wonderful job of weaving it all into a wicked narrative that's skeptical toward the claims of contemporaries and later writers, but still has plenty of fun with the misbehavior of the wealthy. Anyone but a history nerd would probably find it fairly dry, but I loved it. The references are exceptional, which is valuable when looking at a fairly obscure topic like this.(less)
Good book, great piece of journalism, but for the general reader WAY too much of a good thing. About 1/3 of the way through, I was ready for the story...moreGood book, great piece of journalism, but for the general reader WAY too much of a good thing. About 1/3 of the way through, I was ready for the story to start wrapping up. It transitions from family drama to corporate drama and includes way too much detail to stay vibrant over the length of this book. As a result, in its full length it is probably only of serious interest to people with HUGE amounts of buy-in to the Mondavi story. Fascinating story but... just too, too much of a good thing.(less)
A completely amazing book of stories, reminiscences and legends from 1890s San Francisco, this book reads like a sourcebook for fiction writers wishin...moreA completely amazing book of stories, reminiscences and legends from 1890s San Francisco, this book reads like a sourcebook for fiction writers wishing to rip off the esteemed Mr. Lewis and, purportedly, history itself. No sawed-off shotgun required.
This is not the sordid, purposefully sensationalist history of The Barbary Coast by Herbert Asbury -- which I loved, but which reported bizarre drunken barroom raving as fact, whereas this reports only mildly buzzed gaslit tearoom conjecture as fact. Bay Window Bohemia also concerns itself less with the criminal element -- though that's covered a bit -- and more with the generally outrageous-slash-puritanical character of San Francisco, and with the life of arts and letters as the 1890s saw it.
The book was originally published in 1956. The foreword of the later paperback reprint edition I read is by Kenneth Starr, the official historian of the California state government and an estimable writer.(less)
I liked this book, but not as much as I wanted to.
This is ostensibly a history of Lily Dale, New York -- a community that has been ectoplasmic since...moreI liked this book, but not as much as I wanted to.
This is ostensibly a history of Lily Dale, New York -- a community that has been ectoplasmic since the late 1800s. I made my way to the book being most interested in the Victorian/Gilded Age Spiritualist era, rather than the world of today's New Age Feel-Gooderies.
The author's accounts do cover the 1800s happenings a bit, but there's much more time given to the spiritual quests of the current Lily Dale residents, mostly a bunch of spooky-ooky older ladies whom the author resoundingly disbelieves, though she struggles to be open and respectful.
It's not to the author's discredit, really, that she disbelieves them -- come on, these people are table-rappers to rival the Fox Sisters -- but it makes for a less interesting book than would have John Keel style weird-ass credulity.
The author is a former Baptist and a reporter on religious matters, and to be honest I found her more interesting than many of her subjects. The places where I loved this book the most were when she cut loose with her own reminiscences, insecurities and first-person experiences from her outside life. I found that utterly captivating, whereas many of the interview portions felt sort of underdramatized and over-paraphrased.
I assume that's because more direct quotes from the mediums and spiritual seekers in question would have come across like raving and drooling disjointed lunacy, and made them seem far crazier than they actually seem in person. I'm guessing. There's an old reporter's trick -- if the subject's quotes are completely incoherent and weird, best to paraphrase rather than file an incomprehensible story. There's a lot of paraphrasing in this book. Just a thought.
What I did take away from the author, and what made me like her own voice so much, was a sense of compassion for the trials these women have gone through that bring them to that community. Nonetheless, I'm left seeing Earthly reasons for their troubles -- and their questions have financial, feminist, libertine, educational answers for me, not the spiritual ones the mediums and seekers find. The answers are easy, so very easy. The only sacrifice Lily Dale enlightenment requires is death -- which I knew already.
Like I said... I wanted to like this book more than I did. But I suspect it'll stick with me, and I'm actually contemplating a vacation to Lily Dale. I doubt I'll like what I find, but then that's hardly the point, is it?(less)