Some interesting parts of the book: “A wonderfully quick trip,” wrote Edith Wharton after crossing first class on a liner from New York to Cherbourg wiSome interesting parts of the book: “A wonderfully quick trip,” wrote Edith Wharton after crossing first class on a liner from New York to Cherbourg with over a thousand other souls: “Literally not a human being on board with whom to exchange a word.”
"Money made the difference. Contrast the contents of the pockets of two Titanic corpses recovered from the ocean: John Jacob Astor IV (“Colonel Jack”), the richest man on board, had $4,000 in sodden notes in his pockets; but the jacket of Vassilios Katavelas, a nineteen-year-old Greek farmworker, had more meager treasures: a pocket mirror, a comb, a purse containing ten cents, and a train ticket to Milwaukee."
It is still unbelievably poignant and fascinating story, but today we might see it from different perspective - nowadays we actually care for the third class passengers and unlike majority of public back than, we are not blinded by wealth and entitlements, we do care for the fates of all those unfortunate people who just happened to be on "Titanic" because other ships were on strike. Since I work in a cruise industry, everything connected with "Titanic" have strong effect on me (yes, I read this book while sailing around Halifax where "Titanic" victims were buried - and even visited the cemetery) but not just from some morbid curiosity, its because life boats, drills, captain's announcements and life at sea are my reality. My roommate actually survived sinking of Italian "Costa" ship (and is back on the ships, I think for me that would be enough). I still love Walter Lord's classic but Davenport-Hines in his way might be the last word on the subject. It is very detailed and extremely well researched book....more
Other authors have written about lives of various musicians and some have even focused exclusively on music, but Matt Dobkin goes one step further andOther authors have written about lives of various musicians and some have even focused exclusively on music, but Matt Dobkin goes one step further and focuses exclusively on one particular album. Mind you, its not just any old album but the album that caught the defining spirit of late 1960s, reflected civil rights movement and catapulted Aretha Franklin into stardom as enthroned Queen of Soul, female answer to brother Ray Charles. It is perhaps difficult to understand today how strict the racial barriers were up to that point and how important was that this particular release suddenly became hip, trendy and accepted by general audiences all over the world (encouraged by admiration of local rock stars, audiences in UK were already long enamored with soul music). This was not just any sugary pop Motown cookie cutter or whitewashed version refined for wide market but a full-blown battle call for attention and yes, R-E-S-P-E-C-T. It truly (and deservedly) shook up the pop world, bringing the whole avalanche of spectacularly gifted performers for whom Franklin opened the doors.
Dobkin writes with passion (how else can you write about this album?), fascination and knowledge, going so far to actually interview people involved in creation of this masterpiece. He carefully examines the social climate of the times, background of main characters, Franklin's past and influences, the difference between her Columbia and Atlantic music and how it came to be that previous recording company failed to do what Jerry Wexler and his bunch of Southern white musicians achieved so spontaneously. (It comes as a surprise to realize that this, quintessential soul album actually had studio full of Caucasian musicians - led by self-confident and determined singer who actually co-produced the whole thing.) Even years after the fact, everybody remembers the recordings vividly, as it changed their lives and became a benchmark against future soul music was always compared. "She certainly has been a beacon" poet Nikki Giovanni said " I mean, there are ships out there and she's been the lighthouse. And it's been good. Because some of us do crash. But it's nice to know where lighthouse is."
This is so far the best book focused on single album that I have ever came across. You can't help but run and play the Aretha Franklin music immediately....more
In his collection of essays, published as "Why Read Classics?" Italian writer Italo Calvino explains that classics are works we re-visit and re-read aIn his collection of essays, published as "Why Read Classics?" Italian writer Italo Calvino explains that classics are works we re-visit and re-read again - not only they create our collective memories, they never exhaust possibilities of interpretations, although they sound familiar they might surprise with new discoveries and they have power to enchant the reader although they might have been created in completely different times. "Robinson Crusoe" neatly fits all these definitions: simultaneously ancient museum piece and exciting adventure novel, it has been translated and re-created into various media to the point that we feel as we know everything about it, but if you attempt to actually re-visit this old friend, you might be surprised how strongly it still hold the spell on the reader. It is a perfect and quite unforgettable piece of escapism literature, camouflaged as adventure novel but in fact Crusoe's journeys are inward as much as outward - superficially we might see the main character just as a young and hot-headed adventurer who falls from one danger into another, however since he is stranded alone on desert island for a lengthy period of time, its just natural that he reflects and meditates about the life, destiny, faith and providence that brought him there and saved his life.
Majority of these probably went over my head when I first read the novel as a precocious little reader and back than I was too excited about adventure aspects of desert island survivor and his daily fights with elements - aspects which are still a thrill to read, mind you - Daniel Defoe had deservedly earned everlasting fame with painstaking description of every little detail his Crusoe had to go trough in order to survive, until it actually hypnotises reader into breathless excitement about mundane survivor techniques. After years of solitude and main focus on food, grain, goats and such, the discovery of another human footprint in the sand comes as the most thrilling moment in the novel - and this is just a start of completely new turn in the story already full of surprises. Reading it again, several decades and a whole lifetime of experience later, these adventures are still thrilling but they take a second place when compared to Crusoe's inner life and journey that his lonely spirit travels between desperation and hope. Separated from any kind of human contact, he is left absolutely alone to either busy himself with basic survival or (on occasion of rainy days and illness) meditate about destiny, God and chain of accidents that brought him here - naturally he gets in low spirits and succumbs to depression from time to time, though eventually the pride in "his kingdom" takes over and at certain point he actually feels affectionately towards the place that at the beginning seemed dangerous and unfriendly. When current of the Sea takes him almost away from security of the island, Crusoe actually feels horrified - on one hand, he wants to escape from this place, on the other, this is only security he knows so he desperately finds his way back. Once Friday comes along, the story picks up though I actually loved everything that led to this moment, years of solitude and hard work. As expected the language and writing style are extremely old fashioned and flowery, which in my opinion gives the whole work even better quality, since its clearly written centuries ago and we are constantly aware this kind of prose serves almost as time capsule - from my middle-aged perspective, this gives the whole novel completely different aspect and I honestly loved it because of the way it was written. ...more
For years, the most famous (and notorious) biography of Piaf was sensationalistic, warts-and-all account by her self-proclaimed half -sister Simone BeFor years, the most famous (and notorious) biography of Piaf was sensationalistic, warts-and-all account by her self-proclaimed half -sister Simone Bertaut, known as Mômone, who sadly was just one the many parasites surrounding legendary French singer during her lifetime and continued to live off her posthumously. Piaf own fanciful memoirs published a year after her death, were apparently romantic re-imagination of what she wanted public to know about her, which along the tons of books written in subsequent decades about her helped to create the perpetual myth that sometimes tend to eclipse facts.
Carolyn Burke approaches Piaf’s life story with a zest of true detective, going trough documents, archives and newspaper clips with passion of archaeologist who finds truth under layers and layers of accumulated gossips, rumours and stories wrongly remembered. She is not exactly Kitty Kelley, as her admiration for subject is palatable and perhaps occasionally hindrance, when she demurely closes her eyes faced with undisputed unsavoury facts. Initially, the book is a delight as it deals with those romantic early years when Piaf clawed her way from the streets into the nightclubs and Burke shows great understanding of social and political atmosphere of France, explaining how this street singer fitted into music scene of the time. Piaf was often compared with Judy Garland, but where Garland had Hollywood machinery behind her, French singer spiritually perhaps had more in common with 1920s blues singer Bessie Smith who was similarly embraced by blasé white audiences that visited New York’s Harlem in search for something authentic - as Burke points, before she became national treasure, Piaf was presented and marketed as singer from the slums and gutters, something refreshingly contrasting with current glamorous stars. That she later managed to educate herself and even inspire celebrated artists is a tribute to her genius and appeal.
Inevitably book slowly turns into long, show-biz list of concerts, tours and airports although Burke heroically tries to keep it interesting with her explanations of singers motivations and inner life. Personally, I couldn’t care less who were her lovers - imagined or real (apparently lots of men looking for her favours were not exactly interested in ladies) - what fascinated me much more were stories explaining background of some classic songs from her repertoire and in all honesty, music is what she is remembered for. When dust settles on all those scandals, sordid stories and melodrama that filled magazines, it is her music that still lives on and touches our hearts - at this point Piaf has been away from this world longer than she had been in it (some half of century, to be precise) but her appeal is universal and timeless. ...more
Very clever and strangely moving forgotten little masterpiece that in my opinion is somehow predecessor to "The Little Prince" (written almost half aVery clever and strangely moving forgotten little masterpiece that in my opinion is somehow predecessor to "The Little Prince" (written almost half a century later) because just as Little Prince ask some important questions about human race and their behavior, this Angel is also completely unaware of people's intentions and can't understand why complete strangers react to him with such fierce anger or arrogance, when he has done nothing to provoke them and is not familiar with these feelings. Fairly short and almost completely unknown today - Wells is far better known for many other works - it is highly recommended and quite unforgettable. ...more