What Are You Reading

Discussion in 'The Reading Room' started by Lancealot, Aug 13, 2006.

  1. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    Journey into Christmas
    and Other Stories by Bess Streeter.

    Every year, I try to read a "Christmas" book around this time to help set the mood, with Ms. Streeter's collection of short stories about Christmas being this year's offering.

    Written in the '30s and '40s, these stories - just my guess, but they feel like "Saturday Evening Post" or similar periodical efforts - are theme, not plot, driven. Set mainly in either the mid-to-late 1800's "prairie" or 1930s/'40s small midwest towns, the stories emphasize the importance of family and community without being mawkish.

    Instead, you see real families and communities that argue, do stupid things and petty things, but also, usually, rally around the right choice - raise the kids, help the needy, visit lonely relatives, etc.

    Also, a sense of hardship and keeping it at bay - surviving the trip out West and building a life on the prairie or keeping a roof over your family's head / your business going / food in everyone's belly during the Great Depression - pervades these stories in a visceral way that our two-car families, smartphone-carrying, the poor-have-obesity-issues present-day society doesn't.

    And all our complaints - Christmas is too much about presents, spending, decorations, competition - are here too (not so much on in the prairie stories, but the ones set in the towns in the '30s and '40s). But despite that, just like today, out of the big giant ball of Christmas does come some real charity, some real giving, some real caring - some real decency.

    If it's your cup of tea, these are good Christmas short stories that capture its vibe, focus on the good - but not to excess - and, for us today, provide a little time travel to an earlier period. To wit, people travel great distances by trains not cars, cook from scratch because that's their option, put real candles (not lights) on Christmas trees and remember when they got their first radio.
     
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  2. tmal

    tmal One of the Regulars

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    I feel so nonintellectual. I'm reading a Zane Grey western.
     
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  3. jackpot

    jackpot New in Town

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    Hi Everyone,

    This is my first post on Fedora, and right now I'm reading "The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot", by Robert MacFarlane. Prior to that I read "When Gravity Fails", by George Effinger.

    Happy Holidays!
     
  4. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    Welcome. Glad you joined us.
     
  5. jackpot

    jackpot New in Town

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    thanks!
     
  6. Harp

    Harp I'll Lock Up

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    The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison; ed John F Callahan and Marc C Conner

    On Xmas order.
    Ellison, always something of an enigma; yet compelling by his literary recuse post great American novel debut.
     
  7. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    The Wolf That Fed Us by Robert Lowry

    A collection of short stories mainly about American soldiers who fought in Italy in WWII. This is no "Greatest Generation" view nor is it a battle-scene view; instead, these are stories about soldiers on leave, during downtime or immediately after the war who cheat civilians, patronize whores, drink to oblivion and suffer from what today we call PTSD.

    I discovered this collection from the movie "That Kind of Woman -" a surprisingly good and complex story about a GI (Tab Hunter) on leave who meets a kept woman (Sofia Loren) on a train and has an affair (I know - whoever thought to put those two romantically together, but it works). [Comment on movie here: https://www.thefedoralounge.com/thr...ovie-you-watched.20830/page-1347#post-2573353] The darkness of the movie should have prepared me for this collection of stories as no one is happy, well-adjusted or positive in Lowry's world.

    One of the standout stories, "The Gold Button," shows a soldier after the war mentally breaking down despite having returned to a good job with "a bright future," as everything - Americans who didn't suffer during the war, businessmen looking to expand, young women on the make - remind him, by contrast, of the misery of Italy during the war.

    It all comes together in his mind to say regular life is a meaningless charade. It's no surprise he drinks during the day just to make it through. And in a moment of honest insight, he recognizes that it isn't the Americans fault for not having suffered through a war the way the Italians did, but his mind can't accept the inequality even if, as he expresses, it is deserved.

    Other standout stories include, "The Wolf That Fed Us," about a soldier on leave who, effectively, blows off seeing his family as he chases a kept woman. Yes, this is the basis of the "That Kind of Woman" movie, but the story is different - and bleaker - here as his affair is blunted time and again by the other man in his girl's life, yet, instead of getting mad, he just sort of apathetically hangs around. Any thought that casual sex and living together were not done back then are thoroughly put to rest by this and other stories in the collection.

    A few more to look out for include "Visitors to the Castle" where a scam artist GI bilks an entire Italian town out of money on the premise that Mayor Fiorello La Guardia of New York - presented here as a hero to the Italian nation - was going to visit this remote, one-radio, town and another story, "The Terror in the Streets," where a women who presents herself as a war widow was really just deserted by her husband when the war was over. Her mid-'40s Greenwich Village world shows early signs of the menace that would descend on all of New York City by the '70s.

    More nihilist than noir in their arrant rejection of any meaning in life / any better angles / any hope, one can still see the literary parallels to Hollywood's post-war film-noir efforts in this challenging collection of short stories.
     
  8. Harp

    Harp I'll Lock Up

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    Death of character; and/ or, the demise of religious belief; semblance of happiness occasioned by war
    strikes to the essence of being human and its struggle is the most elusive and mercurial of literary themes.
    I once met Ellie Wiesel, author of Night at a university reception after he spoke about his captive experiences,
    bewildered how he overcame his personal memories bestowed by the Second World War.
    Viktor Frankel, a psychiatrist concentration camp survivor penned an extraordinary memoir: Man's Search for Meaning,
    which I've read every year since adolescence. Frankel credits the power of love over hate as the ultimate human achievement.
     
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2019
    Fading Fast likes this.
  9. Julian Shellhammer

    Julian Shellhammer Practically Family

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    As I always do, the first week in December I read Peter Spier's Christmas, a wordless book that follows a family from Christmas prep though to putting the tree curbside and returning the big cardboard boxes to the attic.
    It looks like it takes place in a New England town, sort of around the 1980s.

    And right after that, it's Santa Calls, by William Joyce. What a wonderful book. If I had a gazillion bucks I'd make a movie out of it.

    Currently, I'm a little more than half-way through A Christmas Carol. My copy is a 1966 reprint of an edition that was published in 1940, illustrated by Philip Reed.

    Finally, the Missus and I are nearly done with our annual reading of Merry Christmas, Mr. Baxter, by Edward Streeter, illustrated by Dorothea Warren Fox, originally published in 1956.
     
  10. Touchofevil

    Touchofevil

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    A lot of Georges Simenon as of late. :D
     
  11. Someone knew I often read the authors Blog, so fresh off the press this came as a Christmas gift.

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  12. GHT

    GHT I'll Lock Up

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    Angela Kelly is the Liverpool docker's daughter who became the Queen's dressmaker. It's a candid insight to a, behind the scenes, look at life in The Royal Household when the cameras are not there. I'm far from being a royalist but I am enjoying this book.
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    Billy Connolly's joyous romp through life. His humour has no mercy, he mocks his own Parkinson's Disease. "I've got Parkinson's," he tells the reader, adding, "and I wish he had kept it to his ****ing self!" He was as ribald about his prostrate cancer. "There's two ways to examine the prostrate," he informs us, "they can put a wee camera down the hole in your d**k." Here he pauses, then goes on. "F*** that!" He then explains that the other way is in through the rectum, adding, "not my idea of a fun time, but it's more preferable than a camera crew going down the hole............"
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  13. Harp

    Harp I'll Lock Up

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    Casting around internet legal opinions regarding the FISA/FBI conundrum only to find pedestrian oracles
    such as David Kris (Further Thoughts on the Crossfire Hurricane Report); and Benjamin Wittes
    (Thoughts on the Horowitz Report).
    Shakespeare's dictum in Measure For Measure aptly sums the scribble:
    but let your reason serve
    To make the truth appear
    Where it seems hid
    and hide the false seems true.


    The Constitutional chess match currently in play falls outside laconic directive; and, though while interesting
    to observe and read attendant commentary, the Executive pragmatically cannot be held captive by legislative
    fiat bereft of factual foundation, nor does the former exists in perpetual obeisance to congressional partisan vindictive.





     
  14. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    City Boy by Herman Wouk published in 1948

    I was never a boy of eleven growing up in the late '20s in the Bronx, but now I feel I had a front-row seat to the experience as eleven-year-old Herbie Bookbinder - like Edgar from E. L. Doctorow's World's Fair - provides a child-like freshness with sprinkles of adult-like perspective to his view of that world.

    With Herbie, you get the childhood day-to-day: playing stick ball (Herbie is horrible at sports - as he notes, he just accepted that he'd be picked last for whatever team and in whatever sport) or begging a dime from your mom for a movie and soda. But also, you see Herbie's wise-beyond-his-years observations: he knows that talking about "The Place" (the Bookbinder Ice company - co-owned, in debt and threatened with a hostile takeover) was what animates his father or recognizing the little cheats the owner of the summer camp - that Herbie all but tricked his parents into sending him to - does to squeeze a little more out of each dollar.

    Surprisingly driving the story, though, is "fat" little Herbie's growing interest in girls - most of whom he and, as he says, all eleven-year-old boys, all but, put in a class of untouchables. But to his surprise, he finds a few puzzlingly infatuating to the point of obsession. It's wanting to be with his current obsession - Lucille - that motivates Herbie to cadge summer camp from his cash-strapped parents despite Lucille's on-again-off-again callous treatment of Herbie's affections.

    Wouk brings Herbie's 1928 summer-camp world alive to us as we see tightfisted owners trying to control kids and keep costs down while giving them enough fun to convince them and their parents it was all worth it. From the train ride up - singing camp songs - through the horrible meals, the morning bugle wake-ups and the oddly forced competitions, I enjoyed it as a window into the past but with a feeling of relief at not actually having to be there.

    While the book is more of a slice-of-life than plot driven, the story does excitingly climax as lazy Herbie - inspired to action in a last desperate attempt to regain Lucille's affections, now directed at the camp's sports hero - concocts a crazy scheme to build an elaborate ride for the camp's annual fair. Herbie's beyond-his-years machinations include taking an unchaperoned trip to New York to execute on a complex crime scheme for an eleven year old trying to obtain money to build the fair's ride. It ends in some timeless lessons about right and wrong and - most importantly - learning about the grey of adult-world morals. It's all a bit nuts, but at that point, you're just along for the trip and rooting for the little "fat" kid to succeed.

    And while the plot will surprisingly hold you, for us today - and I'd bet for Wouk's 1948 audience, also - the book is a time capsule where early radio shows, empty lots in the Bronx for kids to play, the aforementioned ice company, ten-cent chocolate "Frappes" and a harsh discipline in school that is stunning (at least to us today) provides an, overall, fun and enlightening window into an earlier time. Kids' worlds were never the "safe" or "innocent" places we sometimes believe they were - Herbie sees plenty of adult deceptions, and worries, and failings - but there was much more of a separation between the two worlds than we have today.

    This was Wouk's second novel and, while not up there with his The Caine Mutiny or The Winds of War timeless bestsellers, for a trip back to childhood and back to the 1920s, it's held up very well.


    H/T to @LizzieMaine for the recommendation.
     
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  15. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    Glad you enjoyed it. I read that book for the first time in the eighth grade and have loved it ever since. Herbie, for all his faults, is a good kid at heart, and I often wonder how he turned out as an adult. Maybe the dawn of 1940 finds him an apprentice gagwriter on a radio comedy show, living in a Greenwich Village walkup and still dreaming of the one big scheme that'll take him to the top.
     
  16. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    I agree - Herbie is a real-life good kid, meaning he makes mistakes and lies and cheats here and there, but big picture, his heart's in the right place and, heck, he's still learning. The other kid that impressed me is Cliff - a good friend with a light attitude to life. I could see him doing well as an adult or, unfortunately, being taken advantage off. I could see Herbie sister going either way as an adult. What's funny is my childhood wasn't much like Herbie's at all as the place, family, day-to-day and surroundings are different, but if you adjust your focus for time and place, etc., the similarities are there.
     
  17. Harp

    Harp I'll Lock Up

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    This post reminded me that I never quite finished Youngblood Hawke. I put it down while reading a Thomas Wolfe bio
    and similarities between Hawke and Wolfe were obvious; notably the illnesses both endured-tubercular Wolfe
    acquired the bacillus in youth inside his mother's boarding house and his struggle with the disease marked a
    heroic via dolorosa; while Wouk's Hawke had a cerebral condition which would obviously prove fatal.
    Most of Hawke I missed entirely but revisiting Wouk is always a pleasure.:)
     
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  18. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    The Build-Up Boys by Jeremy Kirk (a pen name for Richard Powell) originally published in 1951

    Somewhere along the way, TV developed the formula for a good type of show: have ridiculously smart and pretty people work at a high level in some insanely competitive field (legal, medicine, law enforcement) by creating and executing incredibly complex long-term strategies for personal or professional gain while never missing an obscure piece of evidence or detail as they engage in speed dialogue with each other and their adversaries where no super-smart quip is ever missed, long philosophical speeches are spit out extemporaneously and no one ever wishes they had said the smart thing later as it's always said at the time.

    Oh, and all these good-looking people have sex with each other if their show runs long enough. "The Practice" might have been the first one of these shows that I ever saw, but there are many shows like it as it's a proven formula that's kept series like Grey's Anatomy going for seventy five seasons.

    The only problem is if they don't humanize the characters - don't give them faults and traits we recognize in ourselves and others, don't have them fail at big and small things now and then and act stupid and petty at times - after a season or two (or less), the shows can feel soulless. This is why so many of those characters are given drug or alcohol addictions or the inability to sustain loving relationships as, otherwise, they just become big, boring successful brains sitting on the shoulders of very attractive people.

    Okay, that's a long TV-inspired introduction to a book from 1951 when most of TV was, well, not good at all other than, for us today, in a cultural curio way. But this book anticipated all those "smart" shows that were coming decades later. In The Build-Up Boys, we see a handsome public relations man, Clint Lortimer, take an obscure and insecure head of a small dairy company and turn him into a "Captain of Industry" in charge of one of the largest dairy consortiums in the country who, now, is being considered to lead a major government war-recovery program.

    Back then, public relations was seen as an offshoot of advertising where you "built up" a client by creating an incredible public image for him or her, while also boosting his or her self confidence. Think of it as combining the flummery of advertising with the cynicism of false flattery. It's all that, but as we saw in Mad Men, it's also a cutthroat business that - when fictionalized, as it is here - has super-smart people hyper competing ruthlessly for clients, copy, connections and power.

    Clint jousts with both his ex-boss - an "old pro" who would sooner give up one of his children than an account and who, effectively, exiles Clint from New York (where "anyone who is anyone works") - and his new boss - a (sexually smoldering) middling female ad exec whom Clint builds-up (sleeps with) and then can't control. Along the way, newspaper stories are fabricated (as Clint schmoozes or seduces women reporters), promotional contests are created out of whole cloth and congressional appearances are turned into victories through back-dated stock certificates and brazen lies.

    It all happens because the "winners" create incredibly sophisticated long-term strategies that - contrary to the real world - work most of the time. Simultaneously, they engage in rapid-fire conversation that never misses a beat as every brickbat that could be said is while some life-philosophy is mixed in on the fly - and, of course, they all sleep with each other.

    In the end, the characters - Clint, his old and new boss and the female reporter he seduced (discarded and brought back, who, then, turned the tables on him) - are, like the reader, exhausted. Yes, similarly to the lead character from the TV show House, these people live for "the game," but occasionally come up for air to see that their lives are missing something - anything - truly soul satisfying. But these brief moment of personal reflection are not enough to make them fully humanized / to make them regular people with faults and foibles / to make them three-dimensional characters.

    It's a quick enough read that it's almost, but not quite, over before you end up hating all of them - usually something that leaves me cold to a book. But like the TV shows noted earlier, it is an, overall, entertaining ride and, for us today, interesting to see as an antecedent to an entire genre of TV shows. And if you hate business - especially advertising and public relations - and politicians, you'll feel right at home.
     
  19. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    Lady Be Good by Amber Brock, published 2018

    A friend passed this one on to me as a "good beach read with some fun '50s time travel to New York, Miami and Cuba," (that hooked me) and, to be fair, that's not a bad description as it is a reasonable page turner that's not challenging, but isn't boring either. And, yes, I've fallen behind on my "beach reads;" hence, the January start date.

    The young and pretty daughter - Kitty Tessler - of a self-made hotel magnate partakes in the social life of New York City while looking for a "from the best of families" society husband to scrub clean her Russian immigrant roots so that she can join her - in her mind - proper place at the top of '50s New York's social strata.

    Along the way, she tries to break up her best friend's engagement to a cheating, but "from one of those top families," boyfriend while batting away her father's desire to marry her off to his first-generation-Russian hotel manager - a good man lacking any of the polish or social cachet our heroine desires - so that his daughter "will be set for life with a decent man who can also oversee her business interests when he passes."

    It's fluffy and saponaceous enough for a beach read, the trouble is, as with so many writers today, the author is so anxious to aver her modern political beliefs in the middle of her period novel that she destroy both the story and its period verisimilitude.

    When we meet Kitty, she is smart, spoiled and selfish in an unaware way, conniving in an aware way and ignorant of - to softly indifferent to - the prejudices of the time: It's hard to be sensitive to others when you're plotting a massive social coup. But then Kitty meets a couple of the band members - a Cuban singer, Sebastian, and Jewish trumpet player, Max - at one of her father's hotel's clubs and continues to intersect with their lives on a trip to Miami and, then, Cuba. There, a soft romance develops between Kitty and Max that Kitty allows as a safe indulgence ("nothing will come of it") and because it fits into her scheme to dissuade her father's husband candidate - the burly Russian.

    All's fun and good with the story so far - with some neat '50s details popping up along the way - but, then, shallow and narcissistic Kitty morphs into a super-modern and "woke" woman when her selfishness destroys both her best friendship and her relationship with Max. In the blink of an eye, she's apologizing to everyone, has given up her goal of social conquest, is demurely trying to get Max back (the "Jewish thing" no long matters to her) and is joining her dad at work where she miraculously has a preternatural talent for business.

    Oh, and this is my favorite one, in a rage against some obnoxious club patrons who insult Sebastian's ethnicity, she jumps into a fight and smashes a chair over the back of one of the antagonists. A silly tick of modern TV and movies is having 120-ish pound, small-frame women beat up over-six-feet tall, 200-plus pound men in fist fights (I'm sure it's happened once in the history of the world, but come on). Here at least, slim Kitty, who's never thrown a punch in her life, uses a chair, but still.

    So, a good beach read that could have shown Kitty becoming realistically more enlightened in a way consistent with the period; instead, transmogrifies in a virtue-signaling exercise for the author willing to burn down any realism in her fun story in an embarrassment of political pieties.

    And here's the thing - I shared ninety-plus percent of the author's views; but that's besides the point as 1950s' women didn't (ever and spontaneously) change into modern heroines with out-sized physical strength whose morals and values perfectly align to 2018's ideals. What a better story it would have been had Kitty grown - via experience and embarrassment, as real people do - into an imperfect '50s-style feminist (plenty existed), but that, I guess, wouldn't have been as satisfying to the desperate-to-score-modern-political-points author.
     
  20. Harp

    Harp I'll Lock Up

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    The Senate Must Reject Trump's Privilege Claim on Witnesses; Ronald J Krotaszynski Jr, New York Times

    RJK is prof of law at Alabama and predictably cites US vs Nixon, which placed limits on Executive privilege
    to accord due process and judicial equity; yet he fails to question the resultant articles validity over House allowance
    failure to permit prior equitable congressional inquiry; leaving open questions of Senate remand or dismissal.

    Not all bad, half of it possesses solid reason and foundation. But it is unfortunate that a flaccid House inquest
    was allowed to proceed so as to disqualify its result.
     

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