What Are You Reading

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

  1. belfastboy

    belfastboy I'll Lock Up

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    In honour of the life of Sir Roger Scruton I have pulled out my 1985 copy of "The Meaning of Conservatism" and will reread. The world has lost one of its great public intellectuals, the breadth and depth of his scholarship is staggering.
     
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  2. Seb Lucas

    Seb Lucas I'll Lock Up

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    Roger Scruton was a gem. And possibly my favourite conservative thinker. What modern conservatism sometimes forgets is the tradition of Edmund Burke and a veneration of institutions.
     
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2020
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  3. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    Forsaking All Others A Novel in Verse by Alice Duer Miller published in 1931

    I avoid reading verse for the same reason I avoid eating fish, while it can occasionally be wonderful, most of the time it has an off-putting smell and an offensive taste.

    Okay, that's a harsh assessment of poetry/verse (and maybe, even, of fish) and not really fair, as I love some poems so much that I still think about them decades after I first read them (A Great Hope Fell by Dickinson and the Tomorrow and Tomorrow... soliloquy by Shakespeare are two). But those were "picked out" for me by the wobbly 1970's educational system of Central New Jersey; on my own, I just don't read poetry to find the rare good-tasting piece of fish.

    So it was with trepidation that I opened Alice Duer Miller's Forsaking All Others A Novel in Verse. Heck, it was only because one of her novels was made into a B-movie I enjoyed (And One was Beautiful) that I even looked her work up - note the lowbrow way that I found myself in highbrow verse.

    And here's where I'm supposed to tell you how the verse in this quite good - and very short - novel spoke to me / made me more of a fan of verse / blah, blah, blah - but, well, while the rhyming was neat and I occasionally fell into the rhythm, in truth, I enjoyed the novel for the story with the verse serving as an all but ignored sideshow. You can take the boy out of Jersey, but....

    That said, it is a darn good story about a man, his wife and the woman with whom he has an affair. The characters are drawn in an almost The Twilight Zone manner where only necessary details of their lives are given: he's older (50s, my guess), New York successful and handsome; the wife is doughy, dowdy and devoted in a "first wife" way; and the mistress is youngish, but not for a single woman of that time (she's in her early 30s in, about, 1930 when the novel takes place), striking in appearance and embraces her role as mistress until she kinda doesn't.

    To be sure, they all embrace their roles early on: the man genuinely avoids the mistress-to-be as he's been down this path before and doesn't want to hurt his suffering wife again; the wife knows it's going to happen (from the second she sees her husband and the woman meet) and is almost relieved when it starts; and the mistress is, well, hell bent on making it happen as she - unusual for the time - acknowledges her feral physical desire for the man and, call it what it is, stalks him.

    The affair starts and sails along as expected - secret mid-day rendezvous, weekend romps when he's "away on business," fun gifts, little inside jokes, plenty of slap and tickle - while the wife suffers in silence. Yes, you want her to stand up and fight or leave or do something, but she is not a stand-up-and-fight-or-leave-or-do-something wife; she's been down this path before and believes her best strategy is to ignore it and let it burn out as, then, he'll return to her.

    And she's not wrong until she is. After the early perfect, the seams in the affair start to pull apart a bit. When one or the other breaks an assignation, the ugly head of jealously rears up followed by recriminations, anger, explanations, forgiveness and resumption, but with a little less joy each time. Just when it looks as if the affair is about to wind down or, conversely, blow up the marriage - yup, it could either way - a surprising third path appears and changes everything. That I'll leave for those who want to read it.

    It didn't change my opinion about verse, nor is it really a novel - a long short story à la The Saturday Evening Post is more accurate - but it is an interesting approach to, and twist on, the sadly timeless story of married boy meets single girl while wife suffers.
     
  4. Harp

    Harp I'll Lock Up

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    The New Criterion is an excellent conservative journal favoring Burke; also, Bromwich's biography,
    The Intellectual Life of Edmund Burke is quite splendid.:)
     
  5. Harp

    Harp I'll Lock Up

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    The Man in the Red Coat.
    Julian Barnes casts 19th Century surgeon Samuel Pozzi and John Singer Sargent famed portrait figure as literary
    guide through Belle Epoque, revealing Parisian society warts and all; calling to mind Camus' remark
    that silk often hides eczema.

    I was admittedly drawn to the book by its cover portrait-anything by Sargeant grabs me.
    Years ago, when I was a flat-ass GI Bill broke philosophy major I found what I thought an honest
    Singer original inside a Chicago second hand dealer shop, did the dumbass and bought it for $200,
    busted flush of course, but a wild week tracing provenance. :)
     
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2020
  6. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    Good story.
     
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  7. Harp

    Harp I'll Lock Up

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    Madison's proscription of Blackstone excised maladministration as acceptable criterion for impeachment;
    said ban cited by Alan M Dershowitz in his editorial Noncriminal behavior isn't impeachable featured Saturday in USA TODAY,
    which proved an interesting catch for a former prodigal professor; whom earlier in his career wholeheartedly
    embraced and embellished constitutional inane penumbra so dear to liberal academe and lost souls such as the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law Emeritus at Harvard Law, veritas, veritas. The prodigal prof is back on the straight and narrow now of strict construction tethering law and attendant theory to the Constitution. And the burden has not been met.
    Still, his evolution in this regard is most unusual. Madison was quite clear on the subject, and, like many law profs
    Dershowitz deliberately chose to stray. I have always found the prof a fascinating fellow; all the more so now
    because he had the courage to admit his earlier errors. :)
     
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2020
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  8. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    Maybe his thinking truly evolved that way over time or maybe it opportunistically evolved, who knows? And now a break from all that stuff for my very tiny Dershowitz connection. He lives near me and I see him on the street now and again. That's it, that's my story.
     
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  9. Harp

    Harp I'll Lock Up

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    [QUOTE="Fading Fast, post: 2641434, member: 26387" And now a break from all that stuff for my very tiny Dershowitz connection. He lives near me and I see him on the street now and again. That's it, that's my story.[/QUOTE]

    One of the things about the Big Apple-ya never know whoz gonna meet, and great pizza is always just around the corner.:):):):)
    Next time you see the prof, please say hi for me!!!:D
     
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  10. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    One of the things about the Big Apple-ya never know whoz gonna meet, and great pizza is always just around the corner.:):):):)
    Next time you see the prof, please say hi for me!!!:D[/QUOTE]

    Agreed on pizza and people spotting, to great NYC activities.
     
  11. Harp

    Harp I'll Lock Up

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    Stone's The Trial of Socrates is superb.
    Stone taught himself ancient Greek to properly research his late masterpiece but his style was always thorough,
    hard edged reporting. A number of his collected WWII and Korea era columns have been published, available.:)
     
  12. Harp

    Harp I'll Lock Up

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    Last night while seated next to a lovely female physician aboard the 17.55 Rock Island out of LaSalle Street Station-
    juggling a plastic cup of Pinot Grigio and the Yale Law Journal recent review of the Bobbitt-amended Black's
    Impeachment: A Handbook, the young lady asked if I knew anything about constitutional law:D;) since she had
    some questions I might be able to answer. I explained the facts of the recent case and the rule of law, comparing
    Blackstone with Madison and Hamilton; and the need for factual foundation prior to bicameral process.
    She was too young to remember the Nixon administration or Clinton's tenure; yet seemed overly hostile to
    executive privilege, so I explained the differences encountered by the Court in US v Nixon/Clinton.
    It all went over like a lead balloon. Crashed and burned, rolled over in a ditch. There were no survivors.:eek::oops:
    I enjoyed myself immensely. The lady then asked whether I planned to read the YLJ when I got home.
    Nope, I said, gonna grab Moser's bio of Clarice Lispector and munch fontina and provolone cheese
    with some more wine. Her eyes lit and she smiled. Lispector was her favorite gal author and I expressed
    my appreciation for CL's mystery, a Kabbalistic mysticism surrounds her. Turned the conversation on the dime,
    and she asked for my cell #. Its all very chaste of course. ;)
     
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  13. Paisley

    Paisley I'll Lock Up

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    I'm reading Safe Uses of Cortisol, whose author graduated from medical school in 1940. Where has this advice been all my life?
     
  14. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    The Hucksters by Fred Wakeman published in 1946

    "My Theory on making friends," Vic said, "I am a man of many friends. They get me railroad reservations, hotel rooms, steak, scotch, all sorts of friendly things. But is it because of my personalty? Because they like me? No, I just give them money. The cleanest, simplest basis of friendship you can find."

    And with that early cynical quote from Vic Norman, a senior advertising account executive, The Hucksters is off and running: a book that can narrowly be seen as an indictment of the advertising and radio businesses in the mid 1940s. But it can also be seen as an indictment of all business; however, that's only on the surface, as this is also the story of a flawed Ayn Rand character trying to find himself spiritually who discovers he is in the wrong business.

    It's 1945 and Vic is a thirty-five-year-old bachelor and returning desk-jockey war vet trying to reestablish himself in the advertising business after his time in Washington and overseas (all far from the front). Broke, but confident, he talks himself into a senior role at a thriving advertising partnership as the account executive for its principal account, "Beautee Soap" owned and actively managed by the tyrannical (and wonderfully named) Evan Llewellyn Evans.

    Evans wields his huge radio-sponsoring and advertising-buying dollars as a massive hammer that he smashes down on anything and anyone in his way or anyone who simply bothers him. The quick-and-dirty is that Vic's firm needs Evans' business to thrive; Evans knows this and uses it to hammer Vic to give him all his attention and to twist and shape the radio shows he sponsors to his whims. Evans is part Ayn Rand villain - he takes pleasure in torturing those whom depend on his business - and part carnival barker who believes sales pitches are best if loud and grating.

    Nothing here about advertising or radio is pretty - the sponsors (like Evans) support the programs; the advertising companies, effectively, act as producers creating both the shows and the commercials supporting the shows to meet the desires of the sponsors; and everyone in it - including all the Hollywood writers, actors, directors and talent agents - make a lot of money, but hate it as they believe they are peddling pablum to the masses.

    But here's the thing - author Wakeman, through Vic, tries to convince us that this is all sinister, but is it? The goal of the sponsor, the advertising agency and the Hollywood talent is to get the highest "Hooper" ratings (think Nielson ratings) for their shows, meaning to get the most people possible to listen to those shows. So, the goal is to please the most people. Is that bad? Or is it elitist arrogance that looks down on shows that "the masses" like because everyone involved believes his or her taste in entertainment is "better," is more "highbrow," is more "intellectual?" A narcissistic system effectively devotes itself to creating shows that it hates, but a large number of people enjoy.

    In creating these shows and commercials for Beautee Soap, Vic navigates his way with Evans early by, like a Randian hero, being straight with Evans and telling him when he disagrees with him or when he thinks Evans has a bad idea. Evans, use to a surround of sycophants, is initial amused and bemused by Vic - a feeling boosted by Vic's early Beautee Soap campaign successes - but it all feels tenuous as even Vic knows you can't play it straight with Evans all the time as Evans' ego couldn't take it.

    Vic tries to decide how much flattery he can tolerate doling out and still look in the mirror (Howard Roark in Rand's The Fountainhead quit a career in architecture to work in a stone quarry when he hit his limit). While doing so, Vic also tries to reshape his love life from casual sex (yup, forget '40s movies, in '40s books, people have causal sex and handsome Vic gets more than his share) to a serious relationship.

    But here too, Vic draws a hard assignment as - on a train trip to Hollywood - he meets a beautiful married woman (Katherine) with two children and a husband away at war. They form a quick, platonic bond, but with plenty of sexual verve pinging between them. At the same time that Katherine is making it clear that no hanky-panky is going to happen, Vic is swatting away the sexual advances of a young attractive woman on the train and, back in New York, the "I want to get married" lament of one of his regular dalliances.

    Once in Hollywood - there to sign a second-rate talent that Evans wants - everything heats up for Vic. Vic knows that Evans' choice for the star of the new show will not work; so, while trying to put the pieces of the show together, Vic also tries to find a way to get Evans to cancel the show, but of course, that idea has to appear to Evans to be all his. Simultaneously, Vic - who contrives to be at the same hotel as Katherine and her kids - continues his soft romancing until it heats up; which means, Vic ends up sleeping with a married woman whose husband is away at war. They both know it's wrong, but the heart and libido want, what the heart and libido want.

    Of course, in an Ayn Rand novel - Vic just tells Evans the star won't work and he also doesn't sleep with the married woman - well, maybe he would have slept with the married woman as Rand liked her sex and there was plenty of extra marital funny business, even between the heroes, in her novels. However, in The Hucksters, the denouement of the two threads in Vic's life - Evans and Katherine - is more complicated than in a black-and-white morality tale, but it holds your attention in this page-turner right to the end.

    And here's the thing about that opening quote on money and friendship - Vic doesn't believe a word of it. Here's Vic on what really means something to him [emphasis is mine in bold]:

    That was one good thing about New York business - at least the bluechip, Wall Street kind of people the the big advertising agencies dealt with. There was a tradition and an ethic in their world of mass production and mass selling. When a man gave you the nod, that was it. The contracts could come later. Not that these well-bred men could not clip you as hard, or harder, than the sharp ones. But the wouldn't renege, once they gave you the nod. Old Man Evans spoke for them when he told Vic, 'A contract is a contract. A man's word is his word. That's how Beautee Soap Company operates. It's not that way with talent and their agents. A contract, or a spoken pledge, is something they try to weasel out of the minute they find it not to their liking.'

    A man who believes that, is not a man who believes money buys friendships; that is a complex man living in a messy world trying to hold himself up to a Randian ideal. That is a man who wants to live in a world of "your word is your bond" and "your reputation is everything." Rand saw money as nothing more than a symbol of value whose value came from personal integrity, talent and effort - not some cynical view of everything being "for sale."

    Vic grows into understanding himself as, essentially, wanting to be a Randian hero in a not-Radian world, which is much harder than being a fictional hero in a Rand novel. So, for Vic, no more meaningless sex with women looking for him to boost their careers or to cash out; no more pandering to small men with big egos; no more cynical meaninglessness, period - but what is next for Vic? He now has his personal compass set to true north - a hard step in and of itself - but as the novel closes, he's just starting his new journey.

    Two more quick things (if anyone has read this far), one, author Wakeman's description, through Vic, of the feel and atmosphere of the 20th Century Limited and the Super Chief (that period's go-to luxury train combo for cross-country travelers) - the way the train's gentle rocking and tilting and numerous sounds and noises affects one's circadian rhythms and emotions, and the way the environment/ambiance of a train changes from car to car and as day turns to night - surpasses all the "travel writer" paeans to train travel that this rail fan has read. Which proves something I've always felt - most "travel writers" (not all) are "travel writers" because their writing abilities are limited.

    And, two, a hat-tip to @LizzieMaine for another enjoyable recommendation.

    N.B. The titillating blurb on the book's cover (at top) isn't subtle, but it isn't wrong, as a lot of the "bom chicka wah wah" from the book - Vic and Katherine basically spend a long weekend going at it (she fobs the kids off to a maid as they hightail it off to a hotel) - is expurgated from the movie. Unfortunately, this diminishes the movie as the story loses some of its logic and consistency without it. Thoughts on the movie here (second one down): https://www.thefedoralounge.com/thr...ovie-you-watched.20830/page-1363#post-2626627
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2020
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  15. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    Interesting perspective -- I think, personally, that Vic will up going back into some aspect of show business/advertising/broadcasting just because that's all he really knows. He'll probably go to some small city with a 1000-watt station and try to fit in there, but it'll be a struggle -- because he'll soon find that small-town radio is every bit as venal and cutthroat as at is at the big networks. Or maybe he'll get in on the ground floor of television, producing a smart, intellectually-challenging live-drama "Kraft Television Theatre" type of show and will feel good about himself for about four years until, all of a sudden, all the cheap Hollywood-filmed Western, private-eye, and sitcom shows take over the medium and he ends up out of work again. And finally, he'll write a tell-all novel, which will become a big high-budget film starring Burt Lancaster and Susan Heyward, and he'll retire to Woodland Hills with Katherine and a kidney shaped swimming pool to keep him company...

    They don't waste any time with that cover, that's for sure. I have the hardcover edition, and the dust jacket is plain and austere, with no suggestion of what awaits within...

    One thing that only just occured to me about Evan Llewellyn Evans. A more Welsh name could not possibly be imagined. Was Wakeman trying to imply that despite his fine-sounding words, Evans was in fact like all the rest of the show-biz/advertising crowd -- a "welsher?"
     
  16. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    It's fun stuff to "play out" Vic's life. I could see it going either way, but I lean to him finding a way to make a living and still being able to look at himself in the mirror, many of those livings existed then and still exist today.

    We all bring our baggage and perspective and biases to these things, but I saw Wakeman showing a man at a crossroads in both his personal and professional life and, basically, saying no more "whoring" of myself in either.

    I enjoyed this one so much that I bought, what appears to be, Wakeman's other big novel "Shore Leave." It won't be up in the queue for a bit - unless I reshuffle (which I do now and then) - but I'm looking forward to it.

    In many ways, "The Hucksters" is a better version and predecessor to "The Build-Up Boys."
     
  17. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    And meant to mention, my version of the book looks like this:
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    But when I went looking for a pic for the post, I saw the one I posted and realized how The Boys tried to capitalize on the movie by highlighting the book's much-more-aggressive sexuality.
     
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  18. martinsantos

    martinsantos Practically Family

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    Clarice Lispector has been the most influential writer here in Brazil for a long time!

    Great to know she is being readed outside Brazil. I was sure she was a great writer only known by locals.


     
  19. Harp

    Harp I'll Lock Up

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    Clarice is uniquely herself. An author of extreme depth and emotion.
    Moser's bio, Why This World is fantastic.:)
     
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2020
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  20. Harp

    Harp I'll Lock Up

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    The New Criterion February issue feature Gertrude Himmelfarb & the Enlightenment.
    Keith Windschutte examines the late historian's legacy; including her study The British, French, and American
    Enlightenments
    which should be required college core reading.:)
     

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