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So Well Remembered by James Hilton originally published in 1945


Most famous for his mystically romantic novels (and their subsequent movies) Lost Horizon and Random Harvest, author James Hilton writes of life more pragmatically in the novel So Well Remembered, his look at England from the end of WWI through WWII.

Hilton drops you into a small depressed mill town and uses a few local characters to explore how England saw itself during that time, how it was changing and how it planned to face its second post-war rebuilding effort in only three decades.

As in all Hilton novels, though, the characters drive the story. In So Well Remembered, he introduces us to George Boswell, a man of modest upbringing with youthful ambitions of an Oxford education and a role in national politics, but circumstances force him to settle for a life of self education and positions in local government.

Boswell comes to see his life's work as bettering the small town he grew up in, which represents the many similar small towns and villages of England, of that era, that were populated by working and middle-class men and women.

Boswell's well-ordered life would not be worthy of a novel if he hadn't married Lavia, the enigmatic daughter of the town’s now-disgraced former mill owner. If George is staid and proper working/middle-class England, Livia represents the decline of the once respected ruling class.

Yet George and Livia are not merely symbols as they come alive in Hilton's hands. George is a kind man who wins his local political arguments by persistence combined with compromise, wrapped inside a sense of morality; whereas, Livia is obdurate and tribalistic - if it's good for her or those she cares about, she wants it, whatever the cost to others.

After a tragedy ends their brief marriage, George stays on in his hometown doing the pragmatic work of making it a better place to live. Livia disappears for most of the middle of the novel only to reappear toward the end during WWII.

An accidental meeting between George and Livia's adult son, a severely wounded RAF pilot, brings Livia back into George's life. We learn that Livia's life hasn't been uneventful as, after marrying the second son of a Lord (meaning her husband won't inherit the title), Livia faced a real-life version of the trolley problem (how do you choose whom to let die when your only options are to let one or another group of people be killed).

Her harsh no-apologies response, followed by the upheaval of the war throws an even more enigmatic and hardened Livia back into George's life where George, Livia and the wounded son represent different approaches to England's post-war future.

So Well Remembered is a journey, not a destination book. Hilton ambles along showing you England in the interwar years through the life of George Boswell's provincial village, while bringing up small and large national and philosophical issues almost randomly.

Hilton also, as always, creates complex and believable characters, while drawing you into a beautifully-limned time and place. However, lacking a well-defined plot, you will either enjoy just experiencing life in England at this time or be frustrated that there isn't "more" to the story.

For new-to-Hilton readers, the suggestion would be to read Lost Horizon and/or Random Harvest first to see if his style and approach are to your liking. If those books deeply resonate with you, then So Well Remembered will probably be an enjoyable journey. If you only kinda like those novels for their mystic and romantic stories, then So Well Remembered will probably disappoint.
 
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Christmas in New York by Daniel Pool published in 1997


Christmas in New York is a fun, short and eclectic look at New York City during the holiday season showing how New York's experience of Christmas, in the late 1990s, had evolved from its past.

The 1997 publication date is important as it was right before the mainstream introduction of the internet, a few years before the 9/11 attack and a couple of decades before the Covid pandemic, all of which would meaningfully change New York City.

It was, perhaps, the last time New York would experience a pre-digital-age Christmas. So, author Pool serendipitously picked a historically delineating year for his brief purview of a New York City Noel.

Breaking his book into chapters on the Thanksgiving Day Parade, Fifth Avenue shopping, the museums, the theater, holiday shows, etc., Christmas in New York is a breezy trip through the city at Christmas in the late 1990s, but with fun historical anecdotes about how its traditions had evolved.

You learn neat tidbits like how the original Dutch settlers of New York, owing to an old Dutch tradition, exchanged presents on New Year's Day, not on Christmas Day. It was a tradition that continued well into the 1800s.

More recently, we learn that it was only in 1984 that the popular (giant and well-lit) seasonal snowflake decoration that is suspended over the marque intersection of 57th Street and Fifth Avenue was first installed. Amazingly, the sponsor was able to get the necessary consent and participation from the four different companies that owned the intersection's corner buildings.

Restaurants, the theater district, Times Square - which got its name because The New York Times built its pioneering skyscraper in 1904 in that then "remote" area - early television and the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall are all touched upon.

Also explored are the traditions of some of New York City's famous thoroughfares, like Park Avenue's holiday lighting of the trees on its center median with only white lights, a tradition which continues to this day.

Christmas in New York is not comprehensive, nor was it trying to be, but if you like your history in small bursts, it is a fun and easy Christmas time read. Plus, there's a little bit of a time-capsule feel as the book captured New York City at a moment right before many historic technological and geopolitical changes and shocks were about to hit the famed metropolis.
 
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I Lost My Girlish Laughter by Jane Allen published in 1938


Written by a former personal secretary to famed producer David O. Selznick, Ms. Allen's breezy novel I Lost My Girlish Laughter is a scathingly enjoyable roman a clef of Hollywood's studio system in its early heydays of the 1930s.

Jane Allen is the pen name of author Sylvia Shulman Lardner who worked for David O. Selznick at the time he produced Gone With the Wind, which put her right at the center of the creation of one of the studio system's most famous and successful movies.

Shulman used her insider's access to create an only slightly fictionalized version of Hollywood in her novel; a novel whose publication had many in 1930s Tinseltown nervous that they would be parodied. The rest of the community, though, was atwitter over the scandals, foibles and insecures the book indirectly exposed.

Told mainly through letters that Shulman's doppelganger in the book, Madge Lawrence, exchanges with her friends and relatives, plus interoffice memos and wires, I Lost My Girlish Laughter is a page-turning fun reveal of the backstabbing, egotism, insecurity and sexual peccadilloes of Hollywood.

The world Lawrence limns - a studio headed up by a demanding, self-centered boss, Sidney Brand (Selznick's fictional stand-in), producing a "prestige" picture with a new foreign female star who has looks, a difficult personality and limited talent - is consistent with many tales of the "Golden Age" of Hollywood.

We meet insecure actors and actresses who become, maybe less insecure, but definitely more selfish as their star rises, assistant producers who seem to produce not much more than ego-soothing bromides for their bosses and studio publicity men who work hard to mask their studio's behind-the-scenes chaos from the Hollywood press.

The full venality of Hollywood is on display as we see Brand try to use the threat of blackballing to get out of honoring a no-longer-wanted actor's contract or when we see studio heads negotiate over "lending out" stars with bad faith and deceit that would make embezzlers and fraudsters blush.

We also get a window into the sausage-making process of writing, casting, filming and promoting a movie itself as we see how not-advertised-to-the-press out-of-town previews can, literally, cause the entire story to be reworked.

With the feedback gained from those previews as a guide, entire scenes are reshot as actors or actresses are demoted or promoted in the movie. The "genius" producer and "brilliant" director bow to the will of the preview audience.

It's fun, too, seeing notables of the era such as Clarke Gable, Marlene Dietrich, Louis B. Meyer, William Faulkner, Victor Fleming, Louella Parsons and other big Hollywood names make appearances as themselves or in easy-to-see-through fictionalized surrogates.

There's also a bit of a love story woven into the novel, which also echoes author Shulman's real-life love affair and marriage to publicist Ring Lardner Jr. (yes "that" Ring Lardner's son).

Yet you don't read I Lost My Girlish Laughter for its literary value or its romantic threads, you read it for its contemporaneous takedown of Golden Era Hollywood from someone with a front-row seat.

To that end, I Lost My Girlish Laughter doesn't disappoint, but it also shouldn't be a reader's introduction to 1930s Hollywood.

There are too-many inside-Hollywood references and La-La-Land tales and characters being exposed and parodied for the novel to be enjoyable to someone without, at least, a surface knowledge of Tinseltown at that time.

But if you are even just a bit familiar with Hollywood in the 1930s, I Lost My Girlish Laughter is a fun and scathing book that will disabuse one of the romanticized view history often affords this amazingly creative and successful period of movie making.
 
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Christmas Eve by Alistair Cooke published in 1952


Christmas Eve is a collection of three Noel-themed essays that were originally broadcast on Christmas week in the early 1950s on Alistair Cooke's long-running radio program Letters from America.

The essays, all still-entertaining reads today, are a blend of Christmas-time whimsey, wit and mirth, with a touch of wryness mixed in that provide a nice, but not-treacly mid-century view of the holidays.

The first - the story of a banker wiped out in the Great Depression in the 1930s, who now lives in a state retirement home while also working as a department-store Santa during the holiday season - has a "Miracle on 34th Street" charm-mixed-with-sadness feel.

The second - a tale about the travel hassles incurred by a Hollywood set designer trying to fly east on Christmas Eve to visit his sister, but really to experience a white Christmas - will feel familiar to any modern-day holiday flier traveling home with mixed emotions.

The final and most seasonal-evocative tale is about the fictional Dutch family the Van Dams living in New York City in the 1700s whose stern father, in order to save face, creates a providential myth around the gifts he gives his deserving daughters at Christmas. This, it is not-seriously avered, was the spark that led to the creation of Santa Claus.

Our culture today is proud of its cynicism, so most modern adult Christmas stories are dark, or snarky or bitter (or some combination of all three), but Christmas Eve reminds us there was a time when adults could see, with clear eyes, the commercialization of Christmas, but also its joy and deeper meaning.
 

AmateisGal

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Stuart M. Kaminsky's mystery novel, Mildred Pierced, set in Hollywood in 1944. This is another in the Toby Peters detective series, where Toby helps Hollywood stars out of the jams they find themselves in. As you can probably guess, this one features Joan Crawford.

I have abandoned the biography of Barbara Stanwyck I was reading by Axel Madsen because many of his claims are unsubstantiated. According to him, every male actor in Hollywood was gay or bisexual, Joan Crawford and Stanwyck were lovers, Robert Taylor was also gay, and on and on. While yes, there were many LGBTQ actors/actresses in Hollywood, many were not, and his sensationalism of this one aspect of their lives is just that: sensationalism. He claims that Tyrone Power was strong-armed into his first marriage and that's simply not accurate. There are other very dubious assertions, as well, so that makes me wonder what else he got wrong.

It's hard to find a good bio of Stanwyck because she was very private.
 

FOXTROT LAMONT

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Christmas Eve by Alistair Cooke published in 1952


Christmas Eve is a collection of three Noel-themed essays that were originally broadcast on Christmas week in the early 1950s on Alistair Cooke's long-running radio program .

Our culture today is proud of its cynicism, so most modern adult Christmas stories are dark, or snarky or bitter (or some combination of all three), but Christmas Eve reminds us there was a time when adults could see, with clear eyes, the commercialization of Christmas, but also its joy and deeper meaning.

Cooke cut a figure no doubt. Christmas cynicism in mix with various cynicisms running about the West
these days are pressed against the larger backstory, Ukraine, and how the Slav gargoyle broke free the
Pandora Box the Atlantic alliance had forced this terrible genie inside. My particular box, economics and finance
is seeing less cynicism but History itself what with crypto, China gold hoard, and Saudi lean away toward the East.
 
Messages
16,047
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Stuart M. Kaminsky's mystery novel, Mildred Pierced, set in Hollywood in 1944. This is another in the Toby Peters detective series, where Toby helps Hollywood stars out of the jams they find themselves in. As you can probably guess, this one features Joan Crawford.

I have abandoned the biography of Barbara Stanwyck I was reading by Axel Madsen because many of his claims are unsubstantiated. According to him, every male actor in Hollywood was gay or bisexual, Joan Crawford and Stanwyck were lovers, Robert Taylor was also gay, and on and on. While yes, there were many LGBTQ actors/actresses in Hollywood, many were not, and his sensationalism of this one aspect of their lives is just that: sensationalism. He claims that Tyrone Power was strong-armed into his first marriage and that's simply not accurate. There are other very dubious assertions, as well, so that makes me wonder what else he got wrong.

It's hard to find a good bio of Stanwyck because she was very private.

That sounds sadly agenda driven.

I have not read it, but I have read good things about this Stanwyck bio: https://www.amazon.com/Life-Barbara-Stanwyck-Steel-True-1907-1940/dp/0684831686

But again, want to emphasize that I have not read it.
 

AmateisGal

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That sounds sadly agenda driven.

I have not read it, but I have read good things about this Stanwyck bio: https://www.amazon.com/Life-Barbara-Stanwyck-Steel-True-1907-1940/dp/0684831686

But again, want to emphasize that I have not read it.
I looked at the reviews of this last week and I'm not sure I want to try it - apparently it is overloaded with details and it becomes almost too much. Sad considering it's written by a former book editor! But I might check it out from the library.
 

LizzieMaine

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"Mother Finds A Body," by Gypsy Rose Lee.

1942 was, as readers of the Day by Day thread well know, the Year of Gypsy in American popular culture -- with a hit Broadway show, two best-selling novels, assorted magazine pieces, and ubiquity on the war-bond-show circuit to her credit, Miss Lee had secured her place as the stripper everyone with the possible exception of Mayor LaGuardia could love. "Mother Finds A Body" is the second and final of her two murder mysteries published that year, a direct sequel to "The G-String Murders," featuring the same cast -- but this time, in a far different setting.

We pick up Gypsy, her newly-wedded husband and ace burlesque comic Biff Brannigan, her pals Gee-Gee and Dimples, a monkey, a guinea pig, and Gypsy's imperious mother Evangeline heading back east in a trailer after an unseen adventure in Hollywood that didn't, apparently, end well. But a stop for the night in a Texas trailer camp doesn't improve the situation -- when a strange odor inside the overheated and underventilated trailer reveals a decomposing corpse stowed in the drawer under the bed -- the corpse, it turns out, of the best man and Gypsy and Biff's recent wedding. Evangie, refusing to let anything interfere with the trip, hauls the unfortunate victim into the woods outside the camp and buries him -- and from there, the situation piles complications upon complications until two more corpses turn up and the troupe ends up in the thick of a small-town murder investigation headed up by an officious sherrif, and involving a sinister and sleazy nightclub operator, a former burlesque queen now down on her luck, a local doctor who may or may not be on the square, a marijuana smuggler, and something funny going on with Evangie's "asthma powder." Gypsy solves the case in best Ellery Queen style, but not without a few bumps and grinds along the way.

"The G-String Murders," set almost entirely backstage in a claustrophobic theatre, benefitted immensely from its careful observation of the world of small-time burlesque. "Mother Finds A Body" is more of a fishes-out-of-water story, but it doesn't take the easy, predictible "big city sophisticates vs. small-town busybodies" angle. The people of this Texas town are in no way surprised or even all that impressed by a carload of New York burlesque talent, because they've got plenty of experience with their own such shows, and the primary conflict is what you'd expect in any town when a bunch of strangers show up hauling a mysterious corpse. As in the first book, though, plot takes second place to characterization -- and it's enough that you get to spend a bit more time with these engaging people, who, behind all the flash and spangles, are just hard-working actors trying to get along. As with the first book, I was sorry to see this one end, because these were people I enjoyed being around.
 

AmateisGal

I'll Lock Up
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Location
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"Mother Finds A Body," by Gypsy Rose Lee.

1942 was, as readers of the Day by Day thread well know, the Year of Gypsy in American popular culture -- with a hit Broadway show, two best-selling novels, assorted magazine pieces, and ubiquity on the war-bond-show circuit to her credit, Miss Lee had secured her place as the stripper everyone with the possible exception of Mayor LaGuardia could love. "Mother Finds A Body" is the second and final of her two murder mysteries published that year, a direct sequel to "The G-String Murders," featuring the same cast -- but this time, in a far different setting.

We pick up Gypsy, her newly-wedded husband and ace burlesque comic Biff Brannigan, her pals Gee-Gee and Dimples, a monkey, a guinea pig, and Gypsy's imperious mother Evangeline heading back east in a trailer after an unseen adventure in Hollywood that didn't, apparently, end well. But a stop for the night in a Texas trailer camp doesn't improve the situation -- when a strange odor inside the overheated and underventilated trailer reveals a decomposing corpse stowed in the drawer under the bed -- the corpse, it turns out, of the best man and Gypsy and Biff's recent wedding. Evangie, refusing to let anything interfere with the trip, hauls the unfortunate victim into the woods outside the camp and buries him -- and from there, the situation piles complications upon complications until two more corpses turn up and the troupe ends up in the thick of a small-town murder investigation headed up by an officious sherrif, and involving a sinister and sleazy nightclub operator, a former burlesque queen now down on her luck, a local doctor who may or may not be on the square, a marijuana smuggler, and something funny going on with Evangie's "asthma powder." Gypsy solves the case in best Ellery Queen style, but not without a few bumps and grinds along the way.

"The G-String Murders," set almost entirely backstage in a claustrophobic theatre, benefitted immensely from its careful observation of the world of small-time burlesque. "Mother Finds A Body" is more of a fishes-out-of-water story, but it doesn't take the easy, predictible "big city sophisticates vs. small-town busybodies" angle. The people of this Texas town are in no way surprised or even all that impressed by a carload of New York burlesque talent, because they've got plenty of experience with their own such shows, and the primary conflict is what you'd expect in any town when a bunch of strangers show up hauling a mysterious corpse. As in the first book, though, plot takes second place to characterization -- and it's enough that you get to spend a bit more time with these engaging people, who, behind all the flash and spangles, are just hard-working actors trying to get along. As with the first book, I was sorry to see this one end, because these were people I enjoyed being around.
I need to read these! I love reading books from the period. The most recent one I read was Gentleman's Agreement.
 

LizzieMaine

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Having followed her career over the past year in the "The Era Day by Day" thread, I'm beginning to think there's nothing Miss Lee couldn't do, or didn't try to do -- it seems like no matter where you turn in 1942, there she is, with some new project on the fire. Books, magazine articles, newspaper columns, plays, movies, radio, war bond and USO shows -- about the only thing she hasn't done is run for office, and she probaby would have tried that too if Claire Boothe hadn't beaten her to it.

There was some debate for years among mystery buffs over whether she actually wrote the novels attributed to her -- the common theory was that they were ghosted by established mystery novelist Craig Rice, perhaps because too many of the detective-story fanboys couldn't accept that a "mere stripper" was capable of writing so well. But modern textual analysis techniques comparing those books to other material she unquestionably wrote, along with surviving notes and correspondence, seem to have established beyond reasonable doubt that she indeed wrote them herself. There's a very distinctive and unmistakable voice in both books that comes thru on every page.
 

AmateisGal

I'll Lock Up
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Diana Norman's A Catch of Consequence. Historical fiction set in America and England right before the American Revolution. Norman is a wonderful writer, with some pretty amazing period details that fully immerse you in the 18th century world.

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FOXTROT LAMONT

One of the Regulars
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I've yet to finish Tetro. Con/Artist lost me to holiday indolence. At Waterstones last week a bit
out of sorts with innui I wandered until Flynn's Economics for dummies caught my eye. I've asked
for the rest of the year what with the tenor and all. So, the plan is to wrap Tetro then jump to Flynn.
And this mild winter just adds misery for a sweater man.
 

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