A Year in Books/Day 96: Marilyn Mon Amour

  • Title: Marilyn Mon Amour The Private Album of Andre de Dienes, her preferred photographer
  • Author: Andre de Dienes
  • Year Published: 1985 (St. Martin’s Press)
  • Year Purchased: 1991
  • Source: I bought this book in high school. I remember the mall (City Center) and who I was with (my mom and her best friend Debbie) but I cannot recall the name of the book store!
  • About: However slight the connection, men just love to claim that they had an affair with Marilyn. Usually in book form. Fancy that. It’s almost a sub-category of the cottage industry that is the Marilyn biography. And they were never simply lusty flings or misbegotten one-night-stands. They were all, pretty much to a man, life-altering, planet-shifting Love Affairs. According to the gents in question, that is. The reality must be very different. Out of all of these claimants, Transylvania-born photographer de Dienes stands out as one of the most believable. The hundreds of photographs he shot of Marilyn between the years 1945-1953 testify to the fact that they had a viable working relationship; there’s obviously a sense of trust and friendship between photographer and subject. Since I don’t want to turn this from a review into a treatise, we’ll leave the veracity of his story for another day and another form. Instead, we’ll hone in on the real focus of his book: the photographs. What photographs they are! The majority date from the earliest days of her modeling career; they are undoubtedly the best pre-stardom images ever taken of her. They’re lovely. That’s right. Lovely. No big, loftily descriptive words are necessary, not when one word is so wholly perfect and concise. Her wardrobe of all-American basics (she was broke and had to supply her own clothes for the road-trip shoot of 1945) remain fresh and alluring; they set off her glowing, innocent beauty without detraction. This is the definitive Marilyn Monroe book.
  • Motivation: I was a teenage girl, studying acting. This play world was extremely compelling to me at that time.
  • Times Read: Countless
  • Random Excerpt: “I was impatient to train the camera on her, to choose the right light to set off her skin and her hair, to capture her expression, to make her move, run, stand still, arch her back, stretch. I wanted to catch hold of whatever it was I sensed lay behind that candid smile, those blonde curls and the pink sweater. In one fell swoop I was intrigued, moved and attracted by her.”
  • Happiness Scale: 10+++

A Year in Books/Day 95: John Sloan Painter and Rebel

  • Title: John Sloan Painter and Rebel
  • Author: John Loughery
  • Year Published: 1995 (Henry Holt and Company, Inc.)
  • Year Purchased: 2001-2003
  • Source: Barnes & Noble clearance rack
  • About: Even though I’ve worked in galleries on and off for years, I had never heard of John Sloan before I bought this book; he’s now one of my favourite twentieth century painters AND iconoclasts. Although he is considered a founder and leading light of the “Ash Can” school of painting, it is a term and categorization that he disliked. Loughery’s biography is almost a twin study-that of its avowed subject and the New York City that he called home for decades. This now-vanished world was peopled by an inspiring cast of real-life eccentrics (Robert Henri, John Butler Yeats, Sloan’s wife Dolly). The result? It almost reads like a novel.
  • Motivation: I’m such a sucker for a good biography, even (especially?) someone I have never heard of or know little about.
  • Times Read: 2
  • Random Excerpt/Page 273: “He wanted no budding academic painters in his class, but neither was he sparing of those students who didn’t worry about technique because of some natural facility. Facility struck him as dangerous. Anything that mattered should come hard, should require thought and labor. To one student whose drawings seemed effortless, Sloan suggested that he use his left hand or, failing that, his feet. Resist anything that comes too easily, he warned. Resist an empty show.”
  • Happiness Scale: 9
    Yeats at Petitpas (1910) by John French Sloan ...

    Yeats at Petitpas (1910) by John French Sloan oil on canvas, Corcoran Gallery of Art (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


A Year in Books/Day 94: 1900

  • Title: 1900
  • Author: Rebecca West
  • Year Published: 1982 (Crescent Books)
  • Year Purchased: 2000-20002
  • Source: Unknown
  • About: I just realized that this is the second book with the title ‘1900’ that I have profiled this year. They both set out to chronicle the massive changes that brought the Victorian Era gasping and screaming into the modern world. While the goal is essentially the same, the methodology is jarringly different. The clear victor in the battle, if a battle it be, is the sublime Rebecca West. She, of course, had the same advantage as the writers compiled in the later volume-that  of living through the time and world that she wrote about (although she waited eight decades to do so). As an eight year old, she may not have understood things on an intellectual level but she had a child’s intuitive emotions; she experienced the excitement and unease that comes with the changing of the centuries. Her edge is the result of two things: of living long enough to have perspective and, as the sole writer of her book, a cohesion of intent and style. The 90-year-old Rebecca covers a wide swath of historical territory-arts, literature, science, psychology, music and politics-while maintaining clear-eyed yet evocative prose. The photographs spread throughout are stunning and add considerably to the book’s appeal.
  • Motivation: Repeat after me, “Rebecca West.” The turn of the twentieth century is also one of my favourite periods for literature, fashion, activism, plays and music.
  • Times Read: 1
  • Random Excerpt/Page 129: “My father guessed that the designer had probably been a man no longer young, impressed in his childhood by the sort of lectures which were given in mid-Victorian days at working men’s clubs such as the Mechanics’ Institutes. It was possible. The chiton and the amphora and the tag from Epictetus exemplified a curious tendency manifested by many of the new proletariat, which felt herself ill done and wanted a larger share of the best. They craved to be accepted in all the institutions which served the upper classes, though they did not think much of the upper classes.”
  • Happiness Scale: 10 1/2