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LizzieMaine

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In the early 1940s, it was widely considered that the contradictions in the American Way were less philosophical than they were substantial and practical. That a family such as the Wilsons of Chicago, scions of the Wilson & Company meatpacking empire -- who get a lavish profile in "How America Lives" -- could live in genteel luxury while families such as the Braceys -- the sharecroppers -- could be compelled under the law to exist in a state of literal serfdom, tied to the land as surely as if they were still in chattel slavery -- was viewed by a great many people in 1941 as a fundamental challenge to reevaluate what "The American Way" actually was. The Goulds, as editors of the LHJ, raised that challenge constantly, and the book really is a monument to that aspect of their work.

the-american-way (15).jpg
 

Harp

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In the early 1940s, it was widely considered that the contradictions in the American Way were less philosophical than they were substantial and practical. That a family such as the Wilsons of Chicago, scions of the Wilson & Company meatpacking empire -- who get a lavish profile in "How America Lives" -- could live in genteel luxury while families such as the Braceys -- the sharecroppers -- could be compelled under the law to exist in a state of literal serfdom, tied to the land as surely as if they were still in chattel slavery -- was viewed by a great many people in 1941 as a fundamental challenge to reevaluate what "The American Way" actually was. The Goulds, as editors of the LHJ, raised that challenge constantly, and the book really is a monument to that aspect of their work.

Philosophy is a constant, and the 1940s were not so long ago, nor the Depression; reference above is boiled down
to economics and the unfairness of life, perennials of long and still standing angst.

Interesting, my dad who quit school at fifteen to break into the Chicago Stockyards later worked as a cattle buyer
for Wilson packing, the company motto: The Wilson Label Puts Food On Your Table still calls to mind.
 
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Homer and Langley by E. L. Doctorow

This E. L. Doctorow effort is kinda sorta a trip through the first-three quarters of the 20th century seen through the eyes of two reclusive and wealthy brothers - one blind, who narrates, and one a WWI veteran with damaged lungs and a damaged psyche owing to enduring a gas attack in the trenches.

Homer and Langley Collyer are the sons of a well-to-do and socially prominent physician, but the loss of sight for teenage Homer, the aforementioned WWI scars for Langley and the early death of their parents left these two boys adrift and alienated in the world. Had they not inherited sufficient funds to free them from work, reality might have forced a normalcy on them, but instead, these two examples of the broken idle rich became, over time, quasi-reclusive hoarders.

From their Fifth Avenue mansion, we see these young men partake in the speakeasy party culture of the twenties, even meeting an up-and-coming gangster who rewards their friendship with a gift of champagne and hookers for the evening. The gifts, despite some compunction, were accepted. Blind Homer, in particular, deeply enjoyed the prostitute as he did his first sexual experience, years earlier, with the family's Irish maid.

During the Depression of the thirties, the boys see the labor protests and encampments of homeless men living in Central Park right outside their mansion's front door. After that, it's on to World War II where Homer, who has made a remarkable adjustment to his blindness, feels his disability greatly for one of the first times as he can make no contribution to the war effort. Conversely, his brother's always-present bitterness toward the world grows with the onset of another global war.

After the war, whose end provides hoarder Langley with an opportunity to stuff the house full of military surplus, the fifties finds the boys more isolated. In the funniest scene in the novel, these two oddballs become hostages to the gift-giving mobster of the twenties when he uses their house, by force, as a hideout for several days while he recovers from a bullet wound received in a failed hit attempt. After a day or so, the gangsters stop guarding the boys as they realize these nutjobs are no threat to them, so everyone goes about their days as if the mobsters and Collyer brothers just happen to be living together.

With Langley's hoarding increasing - he gets on jags for everything from typewriters to art supplies to a Model T and, always, newspapers - and with their bill paying further in arrears - owing to some quirky principle, not because of lack of funds - the house deteriorates to a state many would find unlivable. But the boys persevere into the sixties, even taking in several hippies during the Summer of Love in a quirky moment of Roaring Twenties outcasts meet Flower Power children.

After a sexual encounter for Homer with one of the free-love young-women guests, the coming cold weather sees the departure of their hippie friends.Then, it's the seventies, a further decline in the house, especially when the power and water are cut off as the boys continue to refuse, on principle, to pay their bills. A brief period of unwanted media notoriety follows, then finally, the inevitable passing of the brothers.

So what is it all about? On one level, as noted, it's a trip through the 20th century as seen through the eyes of two outcasts who are less-naive Forrest Gumps. It can also be seen as broken people being the ones who see the insanity of the world, but there's also a cheapness to this sentiment as we all are, for example, against war and hate to see young men (and women, today) die in battle, but sentiment won't stop the Hitlers and Stalins of the world.

More narrowly, it's a contrast of a man damaged by failing genes causing a loss of sight being more normal than his brother who was damaged physically and mentally in war. While it appears Langley is taking care of his blind brother, one feels blind Homer could have found a more-normal place in the world - a job (he's a talented pianist) and wife would have made him happy - but he knew his brother needed to take care of him. So, counterintuitively, it is the war-damaged brother who was emotionally dependent on the blind brother.

Maybe it's about hoarders as the junk collectors of our culture - or some such college-term-paper stuff. Or perhaps it simply adds up to a commentary on the absurdity of life. Doctorow is a talented enough author to pull this peculiar novel off, but he's written much better books.
 

Harp

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In the early 1940s, it was widely considered that the contradictions in the American Way were less philosophical than they were substantial and practical. That a family such as the Wilsons of Chicago, scions of the Wilson & Company meatpacking empire -- who get a lavish profile in "How America Lives" -- could live in genteel luxury while families such as the Braceys -- the sharecroppers -- could be compelled under the law to exist in a state of literal serfdom, tied to the land as surely as if they were still in chattel slavery -- was viewed by a great many people in 1941 as a fundamental challenge to reevaluate what "The American Way" actually was. The Goulds, as editors of the LHJ, raised that challenge constantly, and the book really is a monument to that aspect of their work.

Intriguing observation Lizzie that with further reflect merits fuller response.

Capitalism is the only economic system that equitably mirrors human nature, for better or worse, pliable to contours
similar and unique, still reflecting the lesser and least of our all too often human condition. Disparate resultant reflection
can prove distressing but does not justify resort to other forms of commerce that seek to subordinate individualism
for collective vantage such was seen in 1917 with Lenin, later fascism, or current efforts of insidious identity politics
which seek societal divisive rancor along subversive ends.
Philosophically speaking these are exciting times with so much tossed inside a boil caldron lit by passion as much
as reason, if indeed rational can be discerned wheat from chaff, and the founding record of this nation be understood
without endless avoidance conjecture of truth.
 

Harp

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Adding Justices Would Cause Erosion of Trust in High Court, Breyer Asserts; Marcia Coyle, The National Law Journal

Apparently Mr Justice Breyer is blind to the Court's evasion of judicial responsibility under Chief Justice Roberts.
Not that I do not agree with him as to package but the Constitution should be followed current tenure.
 
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^^^How is Angela these days? I understand her initial Easter holiday idea of a five-day break fell flat.

All I see is a total chaos at the Federal Government, here. Remember the pig flu, 2009?? ;)

Still reading Erik Maasch - U115: Hunt under the polar sun. Now, it's getting better and better. The boring part is over, woohoo! :)
 

Harp

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Unusual for me, last Saturday proved productive, got a lot done including picking up two books at UPS,
Kelly Schrum's Some Wore Bobby Sox; and Walter Tevis' excellent The Queen's Gambit.

Schrum details the emergence of teenage girls as a commercial and cultural force by 1945, recognized by marketing
and reckoned as a societal entity which could not be ignored.

Tevis' captures the game of Chess and a young woman's journey from the basement of an orphanage where
a school custodian offers rudimentary instruction to the Moscow grand championship.
 
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Unusual for me, last Saturday proved productive, got a lot done including picking up two books at UPS,
Kelly Schrum's Some Wore Bobby Sox; and Walter Tevis' excellent The Queen's Gambit.

Schrum details the emergence of teenage girls as a commercial and cultural force by 1945, recognized by marketing
and reckoned as a societal entity which could not be ignored.

Tevis' captures the game of Chess and a young woman's journey from the basement of an orphanage where
a school custodian offers rudimentary instruction to the Moscow grand championship.

Just ordered a copy of Schrum's book.
 

Harp

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A thoroughly researched and exceptionally well written look at teenage evolve and commerce recognition.

Gambit's good. A "cozy" as described by Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine staff, fits the T and hits the spot.
 
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Trio by William Boyd published in 2021

I make an effort to read a few newly published books each year as my lean is to older fiction, but I don't want to lose touch with the current vibe of publishing. Since William Boyd is one of my regular authors, this one was an easy choice.

The reviews and jacket snippets of Trio, which I skimmed to get a feel, but tried not to read in detail as I like to form my own opinion, billed this one as a trip back to Swinging '60s London seen through the interconnected lives of a movie producer, film star and novelist.

On the surface, sure it is, but otherwise, not really. The title is a more-accurate giveaway as the book comprises three character studies of the aforementioned producer, actress and writer whose lives overlap, but only in a meaningful way a few times.

Trio should have been broken into three novelettes, one for each character, where we see the interconnections in the separate novelettes in a cool, "ah, I get it way," versus one book where we expect a more integrated tale. But "A Study of Three Characters" would probably sell less books than a "Rollicking Romp through Swinging '60s London" (which it, pretty much, isn't), so we got a book and not three novelettes.

A late middle-aged film producer, Kyle Talbot, a conventional family man on the surface, lives a double life as a gay (maybe bi-sexual) man who maintains a "photography studio" for his separate life. Through him, we see how late-sixties England is adjusting to the end of the sodomy and indecency laws as gay bars open up and homosexuals begin to come out in the open.

We also see Talbot's struggles to raise the money for the movie he's making - a very of-the-moment '60s-crazy-drug-trip-metaphor film - and then deal with all the problems and ego clashes that come up during filming. This also introduces us to the second of the trio, young, lithe, pretty American film star Anny Viklund.

Viklund seems to have it all - looks, wealth, a rock-star boyfriend and a successful career - but no one in this book is close to whom they appear to be on the surface. Viklund is also an unreliable narrator of her life as we eventually learn, contrary to her telling, that her casual attitude masks an odd mix of radical sixties politics and drug use that leads her, as happened in that era, down a very dangerous legal road.

The last of our trio is the film director's wife, Elfrida Wing, who is all but unconnected to the main story. A former successful novelist, she hides her writer's block to herself with an impressively masked but devastating alcoholism. Funny at first as she tells it - vodka in her morning orange juice, "reinforcing" flasks always at hand and buried empty bottles - her descent into crippling alcoholism is frightening when we see she, too, has been lying to us all along.

Talbot, Viklund and Wing are all interesting characters with engaging story arcs that reflect the madness, social change, increasing personal freedom, extreme politics and excessive drug use of the period. They just don't come together in a particularly well-integrated narrative, which leaves the book feeling like less than the sum of its parts.

It's still an enjoyable effort by William Boyd who has always been more of a character-than-plot-driven author. For modern fiction, he, refreshingly, doesn't twist himself into knots trying to pay homage to every au courant political fetish. He has more of a post-'60s/pre-'90s view of individual freedom and responsibility; hence, every personal problem isn't the result of some victim-privilege construct that absolves almost everyone, except those deemed "privileged," of blame.

If you're new to Boyd, I'd recommended some of his earlier works first, but if you're a fan, Trio is a good, quick read with some fun '60s cultural references and singular characters to enjoy.
 

Harp

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The other day I picked up two local minor league sheets: South Side News and Cook County Chronicle.
Both freebies focus on police shootings, innocent or not so guilt free victims are given sympathy deserving or not;
and, of course, the Chicago Police are pilloried, vilified, while objectivity is tossed for the quick fix.

Of interesting note, progressives tend to ignore the larger story. Homicide in the African American community
is at a crisis point but reading SSN and CCC one would never know this, since the shell game is deliberately intended
to side step any issue of accountability much less corrective measures necessary. Therefore the police are convenient
blame game substitute targets and the resultant print isn't worth the paper, thin skinned, underneath.
 
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The Disenchanted by Bud Schulberg originally published in 1950

In 1937, a dissipated F. Scott Fitzgerald facing, as always, financial troubles and fighting, as always, the bottle, came to Hollywood (MGM) to make money and revive his career. Often partnered with young writers, the result was a small amount of work that was, maybe, sometimes brilliant, but rarely usable screenwriting. Three years later, at the age of forty four, enervated Fitzgerald was dead of a heart attack.

One of the young writers that Fitzgerald was teamed up with is author Budd Schulberg (writer of the screenplay On The Waterfront amongst other notable movies). In The Disenchanted, Schulberg pens a roman a clef of his time with Fitzgerald in Hollywood, substituting young fictional screenwriter Shepard Stearn for himself and fictional author Manley Halliday and his wife-from-Pluto Jere for F. Scott and his wife-from-Pluto Zelda.

But Schulberg doesn't stop with just dissecting Fitzgerald's/Halliday's troubled time in Hollywood as, through flashbacks, he also recounts Fitzgerald's/Halliday's glory years and flameout with Zelda/Jere in the Roaring Twenties. If Fitzgerald's famous life and Hollywood's Golden Age in the thirties are your things, Schulberg's book is an enjoyable page-turner that weaves two fantastic early twentieth-century cultural narratives into one.

By the time Halliday/Fitzgerald hit Hollywood in 1937, his career, marriage and health were close to flatlining. While the studio's money was crazy good, $2000 per week (approximately $36,000 in 2021), Fitzgerald/Halliday's fragile ego and spirits, toggling back and forth between arrogance and insecurity, seemed to be further broken by Hollywood's unforgiving demand for "product." Authors were just another cog in the "studio system" that expected its writers to hit deadlines with assembly line regularity.

Schulberg excels at revealing the mindset and process of the studio system. In fictional studio head Victor Milgrim, subbing for MGM's head Louis B. Meyer, we meet a "self-made" man whose business talents include managing an insanely large organization and controlling, by alternating encouragement and threats, the sizable egos that report to him.

Milgrim is also trying to scrub the immigrant dirt off himself with custom-tailored suits, studied speech, over-stylized manners and, even, by hiring literary giants to write for him. Yet, all his new posh can slip away in a tense business conference where the old street fighter once again appears. Milgrim does have a respect for art and artists - that's partly why he all but pulled Manley/Fitzgerald out of the gutter - but he still wants to force art into his production schedule as, well, it's a business he's running after all.

Manley/Fitzgerald, drunk more than half the time, off kilter from poorly managing his insulin for diabetes and flipping from extreme egotism to extreme self doubt minute by minute, is not the writer to give Milgrim on-demand art. So Milgrim and the studio system continually bodycheck manic-depressive Manley/Fitzgerald into a further downward spiral.

How did the golden-boy writer of the Roaring Twenties end up financially broke, mentally broken and desperately hawking himself to one of the dream factories? Halliday/Fitzgerald's own analysis, as penned by Schulberg, avers that he and Jere/Zelda never grew up as the money and fame of his early success allowed them to ride the twenties' wave of wealth and irresponsibility without doing the hard work of maturing his prodigious talent or controlling his and Jere's/Zelda's many vices.

Jere/Zelda might have been his "one love," but he would have sincerely been better off had he settled for number two. Her excessive drinking, drug use, partying, spending, philandering (yup), obsessive-compulsive behaviour and stunning negligence (including horribly indifferent and inconsistent parenting of their one child) greatly exceeded and exacerbated Fitzgerald's similar weaknesses. This was a man who needed to marry a responsible woman to manage his career and life, but instead he married a super enabler.

When it all came crashing down with the stock market in 1929, Jere/Zelda ended up in a series of expensive asylums as Halliday/Fitzgerald, whose writing was now out of favor with the Depression-era zeitgeist, struggled to pay all the bills (and pay off their debt accumulated in the twenties). He spent a good part of the thirties hawking uneven short stories to popular magazines. Though, these stories would introduce a generation of high-school students to his work several decades later.

Halliday/Fitzgerald even avers that he and Zelda, both in body and memory, would have been better off dying with the end of the twenties. But they didn't, so by the second half of the thirties, the man who coined the term and symbolized the excesses of the Jazz Age was, out of desperation, working in Hollywood with author and newbie-screenwriter Schulberg.

Shulberg's alter ego, Shepard Stearn, goes from, initially, hero worship of Halliday/Fitzgerald to disgust at his immaturity and self absorption. Schulberg also begins to blame Halliday/Fitzgerald, as a representative of the twenties, for the woes of the thirties. This was part of a wider and understandable intergenerational war of that period pitting those raised in the depredation of the thirties against those who enjoyed the profligacy of the twenties.

Even when angry at Halliday/Fitzgerald - when Halliday/Fitzgerald is drunk, abusive and ignoring his screenwriting responsibilities - Stearn is still awestruck by Halliday/Fitzgerald's preternatural writing talent. Halliday/Fitzgerald can, off the cuff, pen a passage or create a realistic atmosphere for a scene that shows genius is still alive inside the devitalized famous author.

That's really what Schulberg leaves us with at the end. Halliday/Fitzgerald was a man already broken by the 1929 crash when desperation landed him in the movie capital in the late thirties. Busted or not, Halliday/Fitzgerald was a horrible fit for Hollywood's time-management approach to writing, which wanted the literary shine of a famous author, but also wanted him to punch a time clock with its carpenters and cafeteria workers.

It wasn't going to work and ended up angering the studio and further breaking Halliday/Fitzgerald. Schulberg avers that literary geniuses, like all special horses, need to be allowed to run free even if, as with Halliday/Fitzgerald, they ultimately destroy themselves. For whatever time they do run, the brilliance they create and share with us is the point of their existence.

Schulberg, writing before Fitzgerald was rediscovered in English classes in the sixties and seventies, was prescient in his assessment of Fitzgerald's lasting artistic contribution. Fitzgerald's work is brilliant, even if cancel/woke culture will, probably, during its benighted reign, remove Fitzgerald's Jazz-Age genius from school curriculums.

For Fitzgerald fans and fans of Hollywood's studio system at the pinnacle of its power, The Disenchanted is an entertaining trip through a moment when these two separate threads had a brief and inauspicious intersection.


P.S., Written in 1950 about the twenties and thirties, the casual racism and antisemitism of both those times is jarring and dispiriting to our modern ears. In particular, the anti-semitism in The Disenchanted, which is a much larger part of the book than its racism, while repugnant, isn't Nazism, but shows a culture with a generally accepted negative attitude toward Jewish people. It's odd because this antisemitism was inconsistent and amorphous as, sometimes, Jewish people were integrated and accepted in certain places and, then, viciously excluded and denounced in others and all by the same people.
 

Harp

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Citizens for Responsibility And Ethics in Washington v US Department of Justice

Amy Berman Jackson, Judge, US District Court, District of Columbia
Memorandum Opinion

The Barr memo as regards the Mueller Report yet stirs controversy anew. Judge Jackson chips in her opinion,
however, the underlying report itself is brazenly miscast as anything approaching erudite, reasoned, well considered
judgement based upon factual analysis. The Mueller Report amounts to little more than a bluff; therein obstruction
of justice is stretched far beyond 18 U.S.C. ~1503 in what amounted to asinine shirtfront legal poker.

Her Honor should have carefully considered the facts before leaping into this particular caldron.
 
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Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote originally published in 1958

After decades of watching the movie and "hearing" the book is darker, I finally gave the original source material a read.

Yes, it is darker - the ending in particular - but the movie changed the story in a structural way that made its happier ending holistic to the movie's story and not just "slapped on" as many upbeat Hollywood endings are to darker books. Yet, the real surprise is that the one key change made for the movie's screenplay improved the story.

The broad outline of the story in both the book and movie are the same: "glamorous New York playgirl" Holly Golightly, really a reinvented "hillbilly," funds her outwardly expensive city lifestyle as, effectively, a high-priced courtesan. Additionally, she, somewhat obliviously, earns extra money masquerading as the niece of an incarcerated mob boss from whom she brings back "the weather report" to his "lawyer."

Holly keeps this fragile world together with a combination of innate guile, force of personality, looks and luck. She's somewhat helped in this effort by her new friend and upstairs neighbor Paul Varjak. Through Paul, we see that "free-spirit" Holy is really an emotionally struggling young woman looking to find a place for herself in the world.

When she was growing up, poor country-girl Holly's parents passed away early leaving her and her simpleton brother Fred to bounce in and out of a few abusive surrogate homes until fourteen-year-old Holly married a kindly, but much older man.

While we rightly denounce such marriages today, Holly genuinely loves and respects her husband, who also took in and supports her brother. Yet, her youth and adventurism inspires her to run away to the "glamour" of New York where we meet her living in an empty apartment except for the expensive accoutrement of her trade - lacy underwear and champagne, yes; furniture or food in the fridge, no.

In both the book and the movie, Holly's past resurfaces as her confused-but-decent husband, clearly out of his depth with New York City Holly, tries to bring her back home. At the same time, Holly's attempts to marry money - a sexually confused scion or a Brazilian diplomat - both fall through.

Then, when the Feds and media come knocking as the mob-boss connection surfaces, Holly's paper-mache world crumbles. All that's left is her next act as neither returning to her husband nor her old New York City life are on the table for shattered Holly.

In the book, Holly Golightly's friend and upstairs neighbor, Paul, is simply a struggling author and, cloaked a bit, gay. In a stroke of inspired story improvement (forced, one assumes, by the Motion Picture Production Code), Paul's movie version is a gigolo. Like Holly, he supports himself in a posh nook of the sex trade where wealthy older New Yorkers pay young, struggling, good-looking New Yorkers for sex and to be arm candy.

This duality in the movie creates a wonderfully engaging dynamic and immediate bond between Holly and Paul that holds them together in a way that never fully develops in the book. Maybe, reading the book after the movie drives that view, but the book feels somewhat empty as, without a relationship to center it, the Holly Golightly story in the novel lacks the movie's more-compelling story arc.

At the end of the book, Holly appears further lost and speeding to embittered. But in the movie, as Paul and Holly hold a mirror up to each other, they both begin to see the corrosive effect the sex-for-money trade is having on their lives and self respect. They also start to see the benefits of genuinely caring for someone and having someone care for them, not just for sex or money.

Sure, it's a much-less-dark message and ending in the movie, but it's also a believable story of personal growth. Holly and Paul start as shallow "kids" looking for an easy route to money, but end up seeing the value of building something real even if it's harder and takes longer.

Away from the story itself, and as in the movie, the book has a very stereotypical period view of the mannerism and lifestyle of gays and lesbians. It's not one of rancor, anger or hate, that of course existed too, but sort of a de facto "their different and funny" view.

For these, mainly, decent in their day, liberal New York and Hollywood types, this view results in the casual use of derisive homosexual comments, but otherwise a passive acceptance of these "differences." While, rightfully, an unacceptable attitude by today's standards, it also reflects a grayer and more-nuanced societal view of the fifties than is often portrayed in modern period books and movies.

Not speaking to every single line or scene, but Mad Men was a modern period show that got this attitude more right than wrong as many of the characters had a flippancy toward homosexuals reflected in their mocking jokes and comments, but, beyond that, a live-and-let-live attitude, which is what one often sees and reads in books from the time.

There was violence against gays and homosexuality was a crime back then - all horrible things - but in books and movies like Breakfast at Tiffany's, you also see that many didn't have a hostile attitude toward homosexuals. Also tossed into this mix, in the book, Holly expresses some very forward-looking gender-bending views about women or men choosing to love people from the same or opposite sex if so inclined. Nothing was ever as black and white as our thumbnail history of a period suggests.

All these jumbled Breakfast at Tiffany's fifties' views on sexuality are confused, but honest in a way that isn't allowed today. Now, everyone is supposed to think about it all in one prescribed way, which is difficult to keep up with, in part, because the "approved" landing spot keeps moving.

Also, and there's nothing to say about this that we don't already sadly know and feel, but just an alert, the "N word" is used a few times in the book.

Despite being a rare example of a movie improving on the book, the book is still well worth the quick read for its more direct look at fifties sexuality and prejudices in a way that is tamped down, overall, in the movie. You also get a fuller view of Holly's background and motivation. Sadly, though, in the book, there's no Holly Golightly early morning visit - clad in evening gown with coffee and danish in hand - to Tiffany's windows.


N.B. How's this for an adumbration of social-media envy to come. This is how Holly's country husband explains to Paul why a young impressionable Holly left his decent home for the glamour of New York City: "We must've had a hundred dollars worth of magazines come into that house. And ask me, that's what done it. Looking at show-off pictures. Reading dreams. That's what started her walking down the road."
 

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