blue-collar mind's Reviews > Vogue's First Reader

Vogue's First Reader by Conde Nast International
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Dec 05, 2010

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Recommended for: writers of short pieces, students of American imperialism, Ilka Chase fan Club members
Read 2 times. Last read January 1, 1981.

When you pick up old magazine anthologies in dusty bookshops, you can usually make a bargain. And get 15-45 authors for one low price. Browsing through history I say.

The interesting thing is that looking through the table of contents, you will often find excellent pieces by top-notch authors side-by-side some puzzling names that are just as prominently displayed.
This volume contains good pieces by Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, Rebecca West, William Saroyan, Carson McCullers. Rebecca West's is an excerpt from her brilliant non-fiction book on the political and cultural history of Serbia and Croatia "Black Lamb and Grey Falcon" (reviewed by me on my Goodbooks shelf), although Hemingway's is a brisk 2 page travelogue of Wyoming. Carson's charming piece on her then home on Brooklyn makes it sound like a land away from any hustle or even bustle. Katherine Anne Porter is also here a few times, and her piece on St. Francisville, LA is fascinating to someone who is there often, 50 plus years later ("Steamboats brought wealth and change to St. Francisville once, and oil may do it again.")
Since those names are all still known to the modern reader, one can understand why it's a bargain. To me though, the bargain is the extra of the deep loyalty to writers like Ilka Chase (3 pieces in here) and Frank Crowninshield (also 3) and at least one by Cecil Beaton and Margaret Case Harriman among many other even more unknown.

To understand the breadth of the choices (thereby explaining a piece of pre-WW2 publishing to those of us so far away from that time now, Mrs. Parker could cry) you would need to find an ancient copy editor from the Conde Nast empire who still lives in a cozy, cat-filled rent-controlled apartment in the mid '50s living blithely without knowledge of the collapse of the publishing world.

Or have been grounded for what seemed to be a lifetime while in your teen-aged years with bookstores specializing in 1920s-1950s literature and essays as your only acceptable outlet. (why the long searching look?)

So what I know is that Ilka Chase was the daughter of long time Vogue Editor In Chief Edna Woolman Chase and a radio personality. Frank Crowninshield was the editor of Vanity Fair, another Conde Nast publication. Cecil Beaton was the brilliant designer and photographer who was on the staff of Vanity Fair, while Margaret Case Harriman was the daughter of the owner of the Algonquin Hotel, the home for many writers.
What this news probably shows (besides my mostly useless, bizarre base of knowledge) is the small circle of writers who served the magazine world while a larger one of personalities were also allowed to be taken seriously as authors and commentators. Many of the pieces show the New York obsessions: charming theater and cafe life, charming travel, charming society stories and then rather sophomoric and often jingoistic humor about the above subjects ("Waiter Bring Me Anything" is about the failure of restaurants in Mexico to write their menus in English and Spanish-I swear to god).
Then there are serious and timely pieces that elevate some to "I feel I was there" history lessons. The piece on Nehru, the careful one on China from a Chinese writer's point of view ("Whenever I read a book by American novelist who enjoy a mass circulation in exploiting the illiteracy and economic misery of the Chinese I want to scream"), West's Slavic piece, Wolfe's breathtaking rocket ship description of America ("The vision nears and deepens with the speed of light: the million smaller shapes and contours of the earth appear. And now, for the first time, through that steep silence of the moon, a sound is heard. Vast, low and murmurous and like a sigh that breathes forever at the ledges of eternity, it is the sea, that feathers constantly on the shores of time and darkness--and America.")

I have owned this volume more than once. In the past, it's gone away to make room for more anthologies and midlists of favorite writers. I think I will stop trying to rid myself of these friends and odd charmers and let them live here with someone who still finds them entertaining.

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