Not to be confused with the Richard Price novel of the same name (which takes its title from the same source) this isa thoughtful, excellently-writtenNot to be confused with the Richard Price novel of the same name (which takes its title from the same source) this isa thoughtful, excellently-written life of an under appreciated American artist. Strayhorn turns out to have been extraordinary not only as a composer and arranger but also as a collaborator--with Ellington, of course, but also many others including Rosemary Clooney--and friend. Hajdu does a beautiful job of making Strayhorn a presence. ...more
Wonderful book. It's what used to be called "a cracking good story:" successful rancher visits the big town, gets fleeced by a ring of con men but ultWonderful book. It's what used to be called "a cracking good story:" successful rancher visits the big town, gets fleeced by a ring of con men but ultimately tracks them down and brings them to justice--and does it by running a version of the big con himself, in order to sucker the con men into incriminating themselves .
But Reading not only tells the tale with convincing vividness , she also puts it in context as a chapter in the great change America underwent as a culture of thrift and cash payment gave way to one of credit and consumerism. The dance of mark and player, the foggy zone where sound investment, speculation, and bunco collide, the shifts in law and culture--Reading's commentary enriches her yarn. (And by "commentary" I do NOT mean academic vaporing.) Fine work from start to finish--in fact the very last paragraph of the Note on Sources at the end carries a really tasty payoff. ...more
Just two years after World War Two ended, the upscale travel magazine Holiday sent S.J. Perelman and Al Hirschfeld on a tour of Asia and Europe, withJust two years after World War Two ended, the upscale travel magazine Holiday sent S.J. Perelman and Al Hirschfeld on a tour of Asia and Europe, with a stopover in Egypt.
The idea of a leisurely survey of Asia--particularly Indonesia, Vietnam, and India--was certainly timely. With Japan defeated and the European colonial powers in retreat, and with Communism's advance in China, the US was expanding its reach into Asia to confront the only remaining rival for power, the USSR; as in Latin America and Africa, the Cold War took the form of competing for the attention of emerging independent states which, no matter what they said about military non-alignment, were seen as facing a clear-cut choice between superpower patrons. American tourism had barely touched this part of the world, but visitors with dollars were more than welcome, and if they needed reassurance that they were safe, a series of vivid, lighthearted reports could provide it. The European tourist trade needed rebuilding too, so the Holiday tour included stops in France and England.
But it was a very odd idea to send Perelman, whose general outlook is captured in the titles of his collections: "Old Vinegar Puss," "Baby, It's Cold Inside," "The Rising Gorge" etc. What Holiday got was a couple of chapters devoted to leaving the US--including a devastatingly funny riff on LA and the movie business--and a series of very entertaining grumbles about nightmare hotels, repellent food, horrible colonials (the Dutch in Indonesia come in for special scorching), venal border officials, sniffy French intellectuals, and unbearable fellow-tourists. Perelman fell in love with Bangkok, but the rest of the time seems to have been unremitting misery--if this was the white man's postwar burden, he implies, he would be glad to unshoulder it.
It is funny, in the line of later travel whines like "Around the World in a Bad Mood" and "Music in Every Room," and if you like the way Perelman uses language (as I do) you can try to ignore the steady grinding of teeth and the benighted views of Asian peoples. I grew up reading Perelman in the New Yorker, and I'm still an admirer of his "Cloudland Revisited" pieces about movies and books he liked as a kid, before he adopted the sourpuss persona (which, according to his biographer, fit him more and more closely as the years went by.) So I give it four stars, waveringly, because three and a half isn't an option....more
It isn't just the displacement of artists that Solnit deplores; it's as much the erosion of the city that gave artists a place to work and live, whichIt isn't just the displacement of artists that Solnit deplores; it's as much the erosion of the city that gave artists a place to work and live, which was also a city of blue-collar jobs and housing, social and racial diversity, a thriving labor movement that supported artists like Rivera and the Coit Tower muralists. The irony she calls attention to is that developers sold the city as just the kind of place they were energetically destroying, as Urban Renewal ("Negro Removal") wiped out the Fillmore District, Japantown, the South of Market rooming houses and bars and cafes, the industries and warehouses and the break-bulk waterfront. (Hundreds of railroad jobs like mine vanished with the industries we used to deliver freight cars to.) Then development forced rents up (so lenders could recover their investment) so all those groups--the artists too, but not only the artists--couldn't afford to live here, and their employers moved away to cheaper, roomier, less unionized climes. As with the depredations of Robert Moses in New York--the Cross Bronx Expressway, the BQE and LIE--resistance, when it came, was too late and too weak; I worked on the height limit campaigns of the 70's and 80's and we won, or thought we did, but there's a 60-something-story monster defacing the waterfront anyway, because the land is outside the City's jurisdiction. Whining? I think it's lamenting, and I join in it....more
Mostly, writers who know railroad history don't know anything else; Solnit knows how to connect it to stop-motion photography and Stanford UniversityMostly, writers who know railroad history don't know anything else; Solnit knows how to connect it to stop-motion photography and Stanford University and the Modoc war, and the connections aren't forced but persuasively coherent. I'm a one-time San Francisco railroader and I think this is a really terrific book....more
This is the book that gave us "Orwellian" as an umbrella term for the upside-down nightmarish reality that totalitarian states seek to create for theiThis is the book that gave us "Orwellian" as an umbrella term for the upside-down nightmarish reality that totalitarian states seek to create for their obedient people: abrupt reversals of alliances (the Nazi-Soviet Pact, "Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia"), the deft management of cognitive dissonance ("doublethink"), the stereotyped jargon ("Newspeak") whose use is a token of orthodoxy ("the Dear Leader," "socialism with Chinese characteristics"), the disguising of scarcity behind claims of abundance ("the chocolate ration has been increased to thirty grams!" when in fact it had formerly been fifty), etc. His observation of similar habits and styles among prewar Communists in Britain and Spain, and then from official British sources during the war (when he worked at the BBC) gave him a clear insight into the way such practices worked.
Unfortunately "1984" is also "Orwellian" in that it repeats themes from his earlier writing that reveal more about Orwell than about any society, real or imagined. There's his horror of bad smells, his aversion to hearty, tubby men with pink knees visible below their shorts, his fondness for Plain English Fare (the food equivalent of the Plain English Prose he defended elsewhere) and his revulsion from factory-produced ersatz, his belief in the virtue of proletarian genuineness and the dishonesty of intellectual leftism--all these turn up as features, hopeful or disgusting, of his dystopia. And there's also his schoolboy fantasy about a beautiful, sexually available woman, who likes sex just for the act itself (Winston quizzes her to make sure) and as a way of defying the authorities who are Anti-Sex. Julia isn't a character with desires of her own, she's a pure projection of Winston's--I want to say Orwell's--desire; we're told that betraying her is his final surrender, but it's hard to believe he really cares about her that much. And "Anti-Sex" misses the mark: totalitarian societies always encourage their people to breed; what they seek to regulate is sex for fun without the chance of pregnancy, i.e. sex as imagined by adolescent men.
In short: a visionary, influential, important book, together with a catalog of quirks and neuroses presented as plain good sense, and a hopelessly dim idea of women and sexuality. ...more
"Though love is sweet, revenge is sweeter far! To the piazza! Ha, ha, ha, ha, har!"
Yeah, I know, "Savonarola" Brown, like Beerbohm, would have spoken a"Though love is sweet, revenge is sweeter far! To the piazza! Ha, ha, ha, ha, har!"
Yeah, I know, "Savonarola" Brown, like Beerbohm, would have spoken a non-rhotic dialect, so those final "r"s wouldn't sound; it's still a very funny couplet, I think, in a "play" that dares to parody Shakespeare and other Elizabethan/Jacobean playwrights. I also like the abrupt, unmotivated changes of front, in which characters are reviled until dead, then immediately eulogized; not so far from "nothing in's life became him like the leaving it." The other stories are fun too....more
This was fairly lame even when fresh--Mailer's take on Black people is a hopelessly patronizing stereotype, and his parsing of the Hip and the SquareThis was fairly lame even when fresh--Mailer's take on Black people is a hopelessly patronizing stereotype, and his parsing of the Hip and the Square isn't nearly as clever as Lenny Bruce's contemporaneous division of the world into Jewish and Goyish. ...more
Lillian Hellman makes a big deal of having defied the House Un-American Activities Committee and cites her statement of explanation with its much-quotLillian Hellman makes a big deal of having defied the House Un-American Activities Committee and cites her statement of explanation with its much-quoted sentence "I will not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashions." OK, but the committee wouldn't let her read it in the public hearing--they wouldn't let the Hollywood Ten read theirs, either--and she cited the Fifth Amendment in her refusal to testify, and specifically to "name names." She had a perfect right to do this and it's not at all to her discredit, but it wasn't any more heroic than the many others who did likewise; if there was a hero, it was Arthur Miller, who refused to testify and didn't "take the Fifth" in the knowledge that those who didn't--the Hollywood Ten a couple of years earlier--had gone to Federal prison for contempt of Congress, which is what happened to Miller. Hellman made a reasonable, honorable choice in a bad situation, but that's not enough for her--she has to preen as a hero, and it's pretty unpleasant....more
Adams argues that Randolph perverted the Constitutional principle of states' rights to the immoral cause of defending slavery--two sins, in Adams' judAdams argues that Randolph perverted the Constitutional principle of states' rights to the immoral cause of defending slavery--two sins, in Adams' judgment, not just one. I'm far from being an expert on the period but he convinced me; certainly there's no shortage of more recent maneuvers along the same general lines.
(I read the 1961 Fawcett mass-market paperback which can be bought for a few bucks via Bookfinder and has none of the legibility problems of the scanned versions listed on Goodreads.)...more
Loses stars (as other readers have said) for factual sloppiness but gains them back, in my opinion, for Bourdain's admirable sense of craft solidarityLoses stars (as other readers have said) for factual sloppiness but gains them back, in my opinion, for Bourdain's admirable sense of craft solidarity: not only was Mallon treated outrageously (due process of law? not likely), she was a cook, so she deserves his loyalty. (To paraphrase what FDR said about Anastasio Somoza, she may be a disease-carrier, but she's our disease-carrier.) And as he says, while it's true Mallon getting work in a hospital kitchen after the first infection incident was a very bad thing to do, she genuinely seems not to have understood that she could be dangerous even though she was asymptomatic; it's easy for us to forget that the germ theory of disease was still pretty new, not well-understood, and certainly not part of the elementary education of a lower-class Irish woman of Mallon's generation....more
Solid gold--so far everything works. Try the cornmeal cookies and the hazelnut cake (and consider ordering DuChelly hazelnuts from Nuts Online. This iSolid gold--so far everything works. Try the cornmeal cookies and the hazelnut cake (and consider ordering DuChelly hazelnuts from Nuts Online. This isn't a paid plug--I'm just a customer.) as Groucho sang "You can learn a lot from Lidia."...more
Nove makes what I found to be a persuasive case that the system of administered prices for everything leads inevitably to bloated, bureaucratic, authoNove makes what I found to be a persuasive case that the system of administered prices for everything leads inevitably to bloated, bureaucratic, authoritarian political structures--since there has to be a mechanism to enforce exchange at the pre-determined prices--and to corruption, since a parallel market inevitably comes into being, where artificial shortages (one result of the administered price system) create opportunities for bribery, side deals, etc., which then need to be policed and punished--which in turn creates opportunities for corruption of the enforcement authorities. The command economy survived Stalin's Terror, one reason why the bureaucracy and authoritarianism persisted even after they were no longer accompanied by mass arrests and executions....more
My favorite Ambler. It comes smack in the middle of his long arc from a little too hearty to way too talky (The Siege of the Villa Lipp is practicallyMy favorite Ambler. It comes smack in the middle of his long arc from a little too hearty to way too talky (The Siege of the Villa Lipp is practically event-free.) This one starts with a riff on the battle of Eylau (Napoleon, Prussia, freezing cold) and ends up in post-WW2 Yugoslavia, via one of Ambler's customary wide-eyed naïf characters, in way over his head, who narrates the story as he gradually comes to understand it. ...more