What Are You Reading

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

  1. Tiki Tom

    Tiki Tom One Too Many

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    These days, with almost everything I read, I have to put on special glasses to screen out all the proselytizing that’s going on. It is simply the fashion in writing these days. I understand that in the 1930s many also pushed the idea that writers should “take a stand”, so the fashion is not even particularly new or original. I just hate it when it is done with a heavy hand.
     
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  2. Julian Shellhammer

    Julian Shellhammer Practically Family

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    600
    The Big Book of the Continental Op, a collection of the short stories by Dashiell Hammett, with contextual notes and background information. Hammett has long been a favorite of mine, and this collection is providing much enjoyable reading.
     
  3. AmateisGal

    AmateisGal I'll Lock Up

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  4. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    Kipps by H.G. Wells published in 1905

    In the early 20th-century world of England's rigid class and social order, what would happen if a young man from a lower-middle-class family who works as a sales clerk in a drapery and fabric store inherited (in today's terms about) $5,000,000?

    That's the premise in this fun story from Wells about the challenges inheriting money can create especially in a not-particularly-sure-of-himself young man with, surprisingly, little interest in material possessions.

    Kipps, the young man in question, before his windfall, follows the path laid out for him by the uncle who raised him: he becomes an apprentice in a drapery shop. Initially, after the windfall, all he does is buy a few modest things and helps out a few friends. However, it is his passion to court a woman in society whom he knew before he was rich (and who was out of his league back then), which leads him to find a mentor to teach him how to be a "gentleman."

    While this entails having to buy a lot of accoutrements, the real hurdle for Kipps is the social customs and manners he has to learn to become a real "gentleman." Besides his mentor, Kipps studies a manners guide only to learn the challenges of trying to follow a rigid set of rules set down in a book versus the fluidity of real-world social situations.

    In a insightful twist on the old adage to be careful of what you wish for, after becoming engaged to his society avatar, Kipps accidentally meets an old childhood, kinda, sweetheart - now "in service" as a maid - who reminds him of the joy of sincere love not complicated by social status or motives about money. Additionally, he simply likes his old friend; whereas, his fiance has become unpleasantly didactic to him about the ways of society.

    You're now about two-thirds in and all heck is about to break out. (Spoiler alerts) Kipps breaks his engagement, ditches society, marries his childhood friend, losses his money (which he gave to his society fiance's brother to manage - he embezzled it), and, Candide like, he and his wife have to restart their lives poorer but wiser (a cliche, but true in this case). There's one more twist to come - it's a fun one - but you want to discover it in the book.

    Toss in some innocent ruminating about socialism - not having had the ensuing hundred years of socialism's history to edify, Welles' pondering feels naive not misguided - and that pretty much covers the book. In the end, Kipps is basically an enjoyable homily about being true to yourself, the value of sincere love, the dangers of money, the pretentiousness of status and the rewards of work and purpose.
     
  5. MisterCairo

    MisterCairo I'll Lock Up

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    The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. Considered the first "sensation" novel, it is a page turner about a man's run in with a mysterious woman dressed all in white, and her connection with the family he is about to work for as a drawing master (instructor of water colour) and restorer.
     
  6. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    Years back, a friend of mine who is in a "classic" book club recommend that one to me.

    It's been too long to remember specifics (and the movie's muddled up in my head with the book now, too), but I remember being underwhelmed. Not that it was a bad book, but it was "sold" to me as this "unknown masterpiece" and I felt disappointed versus its billing.

    Have you seen the movie?
     
  7. MisterCairo

    MisterCairo I'll Lock Up

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    No, will track it down once I've finished the book.

    In the introduction, it is mentioned that the work is not regarded now (nor was it then) as a "classic" novel, a la David Copperfield or Pride and Prejudice, but as an entertaining character study and mystery. It was Collins's first commercial success and has never been out of print.

    I am but 100 pages in, and I can describe it as a fun "what happens next" type thing. It is noted that no less than William M. Thackeray read it all in one night, and (future) PM Gladstone cancelled a theatre engagement to read it.

    Collins is also credited with creating the modern detective mystery novel, The Moonstone. I bought a copy for my mum, it is next on my list.

    19th century fluff if you will!
     
  8. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    As someone who spends a lot of time reading 1900-1960s fluff, I will hurl no rocks at 19th-century-fluff readers.

    Kidding aside, there are a lot of well-written books the aren't and shouldn't be considered classics that are both entertaining and windows into a past era that, for me, are well worth reading.

    I've learned a lot about the time period I noted by reading the popular novels from then as the novels had fewer restrictions than the movies. Hence, you get a more realistic picture from the era's books of what people were thinking and reading about than in a code-era screwball comedy.

    And books written then, suffer from no modern biases. Sure, they had their own biases, but today's period novels - ninety percent of the time - are just constructs for modern authors to virtue signal their political-correct and identify politics ideology.
     
  9. AmateisGal

    AmateisGal I'll Lock Up

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    Have to add another one to the list...I currently am reading three books at the moment. LOL

    Double Agent: The First Hero of World War II and How the FBI Outwitted and Destroyed a Nazi Spy Ring
    by Peter Duffy
     
  10. belfastboy

    belfastboy I'll Lock Up

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    I had to stop doing that as I would get characters and plot conflated and confuse the hell out of myself.
     
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  11. AmateisGal

    AmateisGal I'll Lock Up

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    I usually only read one fiction book at a time; but nonfiction is a different story! LOL
     
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  12. Touchofevil

    Touchofevil

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    It is hot and Summer so it seems like a perfect time to read a Ross MacDonald novel, The Drowning Pool. As always, I find him to be very entertaining.
    :D
     
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  13. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    Lilies of the Field by William Edmun Barrett published in 1962

    Always read the book first. Great advice, but sometimes not possible as, occasionally, you find your way to a book via the movie, as I did with Lilies of the Field.

    The movie (see comments here: #27661) is fantastic; it's a little gem of a film. The book, to, is a little gem, but surprisingly, the movie might be slightly better.

    The story is the same: a young black Baptist man, Homer Smith, driving cross country and living out of his beat-up station wagon stops at a poor Midwest, desert outpost of five nuns, escapees from East Germany, trying to scrape out an existence and build a chapel for the surrounding and poor community of, mainly, Mexican Catholics.

    The nuns, led by the indomitable Mother Maria Marthe, the "Mother," engage Homer to do some work for them for a day in exchange for food and some not-discussed wage. Immediately, Homer and the Mother lock horns as she, in her broken English, decides his name is "Schmidtt" and refuses all entreaties by him to correct her mistake. She also decides that God has answered her prayers by sending him to her to build the chapel; a thought he laughs at as he plans to leave at the end of the day.

    But intrigued by the imperious Mother and her quirky and pleasant band of nuns - trying to learn English from lessons on a record, the nuns incorporate the record's scratches and skips into their English - Homer stays on "for one more day" to do "a little more work."

    Despite continually butting heads with the Mother - you don't reason with her as her English seems only to work when she's telling "Schmidtt" what to do - he stays on a bit longer and, then, longer still, but, finally leaves in frustration (there's little food and no pay), only to come back as he can't get the nuns, the Mother or their chapel out of his head.

    Once back, it's full steam ahead on the chapel-building effort with Homer working for a construction crew twice a week to help pay for building supplies and food for the nuns and himself (he's all in even if he doesn't admit it to himself). But even with his wages, there's still not enough money to buy all the supplies, which worries Homer, but not the obdurately faithful Mother who believes her prayers will produce the necessary materials. Homer and she do not see eye to eye on this point.

    (Spoiler alerts, next two paragraphs) Just in time, the poor Mexicans begin randomly bringing supplies to Homer as the story of the chapel building by a black man working without pay for the East German nuns inspires the town to rally around the effort. From here, it's non-stop work for Homer, now aided by the Mexicans (who know much better than he how to work with adobe bricks), evenings teaching English to or singing with the nuns and more butting of heads with the Mother.

    As the chapel is being completed and the first service is planned for the following Sunday, the Mother tells, yes tells, "Schmidtt" that he'll be sitting in the front pew with her. He knows this is her way of thanking and honoring him, so despite being a Baptist with no desire to pray in a Catholic church, this man who went round after round with the Mother, can't say no.

    It's a story of faith and good will bridging cultural, racial and ethnic gaps. It's presented as a fable or legend and, to be sure, it is fable-like as it is all too easy. But that's what good and hopeful stories do: they inspire us to be better people and to make a better world than we have today.

    While, as noted, the movie might nudge out the book, I'd start with the book because, one, it is an excellent, short and inspiring read and, two, you want to form your own images of the people and places in your head before seeing the movie.
     
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2020
  14. Harp

    Harp I'll Lock Up

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    Chicago, IL US
    Have I ever been meaning to read this.
     
  15. Harp

    Harp I'll Lock Up

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    Chicago, IL US

    The scandal itself was always a bugaboo in my Sox family. This is blood feud fightin' stuff here on the South Side,
    but the subject sours still cross town rivalry; all the more so since sweet '!6, but down to brass tacks there is enough
    dirt in town anywhosecaresanymore, so bygones are bye-the bye. My great grandmother was a Soxer of the more
    serious stripe but thankfully she passed before this Cub fan was born.
    I need to read this and any new stuff just to get up to speed and stay current on the Side.
     
  16. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    Location:
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    Also, check out this link (from my post on the book) for a 2012 update: https://jacobpomrenke.com/black-sox/the-black-sox-scandal-a-cold-case-not-a-closed-case/
     
  17. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    14,067
    Location:
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    Voyage in the Dark by Jean Rhys originally published in 1934

    New York has always been a tough city as it was when I first came to it in the 1980s. Many hopeful young men and women try to make a go of it, but sadly, many don't.

    I knew several young women (the book is about a young woman) back then who got to the first wrung of a career - a small part in a play, a junior trading seat on Wall Street, an assistant-buyer position at Macy's - only to stall there, or worse, be let go.

    The competition for every job, every position, every opportunity is intense as people from all over the country and the world come to New York City to make a start. Just holding a job is a challenge; getting ahead; an epic struggle. New York companies fire average-good workers all the time simply because they believe they can "upgrade" from New York's massive talent pool (this human-resource strategy is built into the business plans of many New York companies).

    And when you stumble, without parents with funds behind you, there is no net - the rent, the food, the utilities, the taxes, the medical bills are all meaningfully higher here and there are ten people who want your apartment if you can't pay your rent. Landlords (also facing insanely high expenses) don't carry too many, too far. The downward spiral is awful; the exit, oftentimes, swift.

    Voyage in the Dark avers that 1930s London was no nicer than 1980s New York, specifically, to one young English woman just arrived in London from a colonial outpost in the West Indies where she was born. Anna Morgan starts out okay; she gets to that first wrung as a chorus girl in a traveling production that winds up its season in London.

    Living in various cheap London boarding houses or in small flats with girlfriends, she gets by with, initially, a little help from an indifferent stepmother. Pretty in a wan, fragile way, she has an affair with a married man - at nineteen, she's naive enough to believe it's true love and he'll leave his wife for her. When he ends the affair, but surprisingly continues to provide her with some funds, she goes into a downward emotional spiral resulting in, what today we'd probably call, clinical depression.

    She's always tired, always cold, sleeps most of the day and makes little effort to find another show in which to act. Her friends try to help, but struggling themselves, and with Anna making no effort and, frequently, sad to be around, she slowly pushes many of them away. A few other men show interest, but her heart's not in it, and they too get pushed away by her ennui.

    Written from Anna's perspective, we don't initially see how depressed she is or how she's wrecking her friendships and opportunities as she - as most people will do - make her actions seem justified and reasonable to herself and, initially, the reader. And that's part of the beauty of the writing here as it only slowly dawns on you that Anna, and not everyone else, is the reason why Anna is failing. Even knowing that, you still fall into the trap of seeing things from Anna's perspective and having to remind yourself that her view is not reliable.

    As money and opportunity become scarcer, Anna slides into, not hard-core prostitution, but a pattern of passively finding wealthy men to have affairs with for support. And while this succeeds for a bit, her depression pushes even these men away. Now the spiral down is almost complete, hastened by a crisis that leaves Anna even more damaged.

    The details are different, but Anna is several young women I knew when I first came to New York. It's awful to see the slide; you and other friends try to help - and can bridge a short set back - but in an expensive, heavily taxed and merciless city, you either right yourself and earn your way, or the city will shove you aside.

    The blurb on the cover of my edition says "A dateless classic." Yes it is as Anna's 1930s experience aligns to the experiences of young women in New York in the 1980s and, I'd bet, pretty much, at any time in any expensive and hard-driving city.
     
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  18. Robert Heyer

    Robert Heyer New in Town

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    Attached Files:

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  19. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    KItty Foyle by Christopher Morley originally published in 1939

    You can ignore most modern historical fiction and most movies made after 1934 (under the code) if you want a clear window into the 1930s; instead, read the novels from the era. While not as sexually explicit and graphic as modern novels, they don't hold back about sex, or, pretty much, anything else.

    Kitty Foyle, the character, is a woman in her late twenties in 1939 looking back on her life that, like most lives, had a heck of a lot of unpredictable twists. Born into working-class Philadelphia in 1911, Kitty quickly learned her place in a very class-conscious city. But after her mother dies and her father gets sick, she's shipped off to comfortably middle-class relatives in the Midwest for high school. This less-hidebound, less-hardscrabble culture opens her eyes up to life's opportunities, in general, while shrinking the importance, in her mind, of "Main Line" Philly.

    Back in Philly after high school, she begins work as a secretary and, more life-altering, starts dating a Main-Line banker scion. He's nice, but his family doesn't embrace Kitty. To be fair - and against simple stereotypes - they do not snobbishly reject her as some of the family welcome her as a potential fresh addition, while others, not mean-spiritedly, just prefer someone from "their" class. Kitty, smarter than her boyfriend, realizes that he can't live without his family's support and that she doesn't want to be smothered by it.

    From there, it's a breakup, Kitty moves to New York, she and Philly boy kinda date again, she gets pregnant (yup), doesn't tell him, has an abortion (yup, again), he gets engaged to a Main-Line girl and Kitty moves on as much as she can. After that, she builds a career in the cosmetics industry, meets a Jewish doctor and debates an inter-faith marriage versus staying single while still carrying a lightly glowing torch for her Main-Line Ex.

    Kitty also drinks regularly, gets seriously drunk now and then, smokes up a storm, is indifferent to religion - basically, she is a "modern" girl in the 1930s with, for the time, progressive views on society and life. And that's why, if you care about what people in the '30s really thought, you want to read these novels as Kitty's liberal views are aligned to their times and not, as modern historical fiction writers portray, aligned to today's liberal views.

    Hence, Kitty has an abortion, but sees its downsides and suffers some reoccurring guilt afterward. Today, liberal orthodoxy requires even period characters to only have positive, nearly one-hundred-percent guilt-free views about abortions (that's fine if that's your view, but it isn't period accurate). The same goes for Kitty's views on equality of the sexes - she's a strong advocate for it, but as is not allowed today, she still sees inherent differences in the sexes and fully respects those women who choose to be housewives.

    These period differences also apply to her views on race. Kitty sees positive traits in blacks that puts her in the vanguard of 1930s progressive thought, but her approach sounds like a needle scratching a record to our 2020 ears. From a modern lens, she'd be denounced as a racist by today's implacable liberal views. To wit, modern authors would never deign to write a character that has KItty's views on race; instead, they'd write characters that could be best described as time travelers in a science fiction novel sent back from 2020 with fully modern race views.

    And even as Kitty considers marrying a Jewish man, she notes several of his characteristics, some positive and some negative, as being representative of Jewish people in general - an unacceptable framing to us today. Kitty, like most of us, can only see so far past the biases and boundaries of her day. Sadly, as we see antisemitism on the rise again in 2020, this is one where Kitty might be ahead of our "modern" times.

    Again, this is not debating the merits of these views, just their period accuracy and the condescending passion of modern writers to put virtue signalling ahead of period verisimilitude.

    Away from all the above, the beauty in Kitty Foyle - the book and the character - is Kitty's stream of conscious thoughts on so many things that ring true, at least to the period.

    On work, Kitty is a self-described "white-collar girl," who notes that it will be hard for women like her to give up earning an income in exchange for taking care of a husband and home. But as she approaches her late twenties, she also sees that just being a business woman is not completely fulfilling for her and many of her friends.

    On sex, while it's the 1930s, Kitty neither denounces pre-marital sex nor fist-pumps her advocacy for it. To her, it's just something a single woman in her twenties is going to do from time to time.

    By the end of Kitty Foyle, you feel as if you've just sat down and had a long conversation with a young woman in 1939. And judging from its contemporaneous reviews, Kitty Foyle was viewed just that way in her time: she represented a young modern woman to 1939 America. Oh, and how 'bout this, Kitty Foyle was written by a man.
     
  20. Harp

    Harp I'll Lock Up

    Messages:
    5,708
    Location:
    Chicago, IL US
    A recent visit to the VA turned up two foundlings inside the patient complimentary book cart:
    Henry Fielding's bawdy 18th Century romp Tom Jones and Soren Kierkegaard's Heglian moral reply,
    Fear and Trembling. Kierkegaard draws parallel to Samuel Beckett as philosopher-playwright,
    and The Long Sonata of the Dead by Michael Robinson is a fine study of Beckett from the grounded
    view of a non-academic amateur scribe who runs a London bookshop. Schopenhauer believed that philosophic
    advance birth outside the Academy, rightly so, and Robinson's prose style is impressive.

    Saratoga hosts a rich card this Saturday with the Whitney; Jerkens; Personal Ensign,
    while Del Mar runs a full card topped by the Bing Crosby. The Corvid-19 virus ripped most earlier
    horse travel scheduling so races adjusted and play dealer-trainer choice cards. Lots of racing material to fast study.
     
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2020

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