A Year in Books/Day 220: The Secret (No, Not That One)

  • Title: The Secret The Strange Marriage of Annabella Milbanke and Lord Byron
  • Author: Ashley Hay
  • Year Published: 2000/This Edition: 2001 (Aurum Press Ltd)
  • Year Purchased: 2002/2003
  • Source: Barnes & Noble clearance rack
  • About: This is way more interesting than the “self-help” book by Rhonda Byrne. It’s also real. We all know that Lord Byron (and his buddies) had some hellacious and salacious adventures. Carousing, hell-catting, what-have-you. They were a lot of things, but boring wasn’t one of them. With all of that knowledge in the back of our heads, you’d think that any biography focusing on his personal life couldn’t offer up an intriguing perspective. You’d be wrong, and thank goodness for that. History has certainly seen its share of romantic mismatches and marital disasters. The union between Lord Byron and Annabella Milbanke deserves a fairly high position on any informal ranking. Lest you worry that The Secret is trashy tabloid-esque fodder with a historical spin, fear not! Hay has written a fine exploration, taken from the couple’s journals and correspondence, that gives her subjects a respectful, though not heavy, seriousness.
  • Motivation: We always hear of Byron and his conquests, yet few words are devoted to the women he loved; and most of those are given over to his sister, not his wife. An entire book dedicated to the odd, brief relationship he had with the out-flanked Miss Milbanke? Oh, yes please.
  • Times Read: 1
  • Random Excerpt/Page 38: “At the same time, she became convinced that Byron was about to announce his engagement to someone else-to the young lady, in fact, whom he had told he wanted to see no more of Annabella’s poems. All the light, all the spark, went out of her and out of her effervescent summer: she told her aunt of this imminent announcement so definitely that Lady Melbourne took the idea to Byron as a fact, not a rumour, and he was at a loss to explain its origins or its vehemence.”
  • Happiness Scale: 8 1/2
    Portrait of Annabella Byron (nee Anne Isabella...

    Portrait of Annabella Byron (nee Anne Isabella Milbanke) (1792-1860) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



A Year in Books/Day 219: American Moderns

  • Title: American Moderns Bohemian New York and the Creation of a New Century
  • Author: Christine Stansell
  • Year Published: 2000 (Metropolitan Books)
  • Year Purchased: 2000
  • Source: History Book Club
  • About: American Moderns is one of my favourite non-fiction books. It was published on the edge of our own new century, and chronicles the birth and growing pains of the one then ending. The narrative focuses on the considerable contributions of the various bohemian elements that came to brilliant prominence in the promising light of this new era. Feminism, labor activism, and radical intellectualism, all action-oriented, fused together to form a progressive platform that, for the first time in America, allowed for a broad, increasingly inclusive, though still problematic, alternative to traditional and oppressive modes of being. These movements were peopled with characters worthy of grand, gritty fiction, including: Louise Bryant, Emma Goldman, John Reed, Hutchins Hapgood, Neith Boyce, Margaret Sanger, Randolph Bourne, Margaret Anderson, Max Eastman, Crystal Eastman, and Susan Glaspell. The resilience of the women is particularly striking. Stansell’s clear voice and excellent scholarship couldn’t be put to better use than they are here, in the complicated telling of this compelling, fractious, and momentous period of history.
  • Motivation: I was thirteen or fourteen when I became interested in the history of activism and feminism. The only things that have changed since then are my knowledge and level of personal involvement in these areas. I also love the literature and pop culture of the earliest years of the twentieth century.
  • Times Read: 3 or 4
  • Random Excerpt/Page 28: “As women lingered at the edges of these urbane circles, they added a sense of themselves as heroines in a new story to bohemia’s increasing store of plots. Just as bohemian identity was intimately intertwined with its representation in print, so was being a New Woman: what one read shaped how one lived.”
  • Happiness Scale: 10+++
    Crystal Eastman was a noted anti-militarist, w...

    Crystal Eastman was a noted anti-militarist, who helped found the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



A Year in Books/Day 218: Max Factor’s Hollywood Glamour

  • Title: Max Factor’s Hollywood Glamour
  • Author: Fred E. Basten (with Robert Salvatore & Paul A. Kaufman)
  • Year Published: 1995 (W. Quay Hays)
  • Year Purchased: 2003/2004
  • Source: Barnes & Noble clearance rack
  • About: Max Factor isn’t just a name on wands of mascara and tubes of lipstick found in the beauty aisle at your local grocery store. The Max Factor cosmetics line wasn’t invented and branded by impersonal, slick-suited admen in a glossy boardroom. He was a pioneer who not only shaped and defined the aesthetics of classic cinema (from glamour girls to tough guys and everything in between) but he brought make-up to the masses in a way that was, and is, distinctly modern. His genius for invention and marketing, as well as his humble beginnings in Central Europe, make his story a neat parallel to those of the movie moguls who were his contemporaries. Continue reading

A Year in Books/Day 217: The New York Public Library Desk Reference

  • Title: The New York Public Library Desk Reference Fourth Edition
  • Year Published: This Edition-2002 (A Stonesong Press Book)
  • Year Purchased: 2005
  • Source: Writers Digest Book Club
  • About: This is my go-to reference book. It is the perfect companion for when you don’t feel like searching the internet, with the added bonus of being undeniably factual. None of the entries were written by drunken or vindictive idiots trying to mess with us (as far as we know). At nearly a thousand pages, it does the word comprehensive justice. As with all good research materials, it’s fun to read, too. Really. I also love flipping through it for no reason, and randomly landing on facts or figures that have nothing to do with my life, writing career, interests or hobbies. Just like when I was let loose with an almanac as a 3-year-old. What bliss!
  • Motivation: My lifelong obsession with reference books had nothing to do with it, nothing at all.
  • Times Read: Used as reference resource only.
  • Random Excerpt/Page 331: “myth of Er A parable at the end of Plato’s Republic about the fate of souls after bodily death; according to Plato, the soul must choose wisdom in the afterlife to guarantee a good life in its next cycle of incarnation.”
  • Happiness Scale: 10+

A Year in Books/Day 216: Wild Irish Women

  • Title: Wild Irish Women Extraordinary Lives from History
  • Author: Marian Broderick
  • Year Published: 2001/This Edition: 2002 (The O’Brien Press)
  • Year Purchased: September 2012
  • Source: My momma.
  • About: Besides hailing from the fair island of Ireland (or, in some cases, having Irish parentage), all of the women profiled in this book have one thing in common: they are all dead. Just my cup of tea! I love historical ladies, whatever their professional or social province or claim to immortality, however slight. The more eccentric, the better. The 75 women included in this volume, for good or ill, do our complicated place in history justice. The stories of their often oppressive lives are stimulating, maddening, thought-provoking, and inspiring. They were artists, writers, intellectuals, wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, lovers, republicans, actresses, scientists, and activists. One thing they never were, was boring. Since my curiosity about the women who smoothed my path is unapologetically insatiable, I couldn’t flip the pages fast enough. It’s a wonderful tease into the fascinating subject of forgotten women. Distilling-or gutting-the essence of a life, human and flawed and fertile, into a few pages comprised of paper and ink could be, and often is, problematic. Lives aren’t edited, but history is; what is left out is as important as what remains. Take this book as a nice starting point, then go forth and learn more.
  • Motivation: My love of feisty, original, gutsy women is well-known. Naturally, this book reminded my mom of me.
  • Times Read: 1
  • Random Excerpt/Page 49: “However, there was something that lifted the spirits of Peig (Sayers) and the other islanders on the long, dark winter nights: storytelling. This important form of entertainment was part of the old Irish oral tradition. A dail, or assembly, would meet at night in a house, and a comedy, mystery or tragedy would slowly unfold. Peig, with her pure Irish and her beautiful embellishments and turns of phrase, was an acknowledged master of the art. She kept hundreds of stories in her phenomenal memory, and she was able to memorize a story that would take a week in the telling after hearing it just once.”
  • Happiness Scale: 9 1/2

A Year in Books/Day 215: Ariel Poems by Sylvia Plath

English: Digital image of Sylvia Plath's signature

English: Digital image of Sylvia Plath’s signature (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Title: Ariel Poems by Sylvia Plath
  • Author: Sylvia Plath
  • Year Published: 1965 (HarperPerennial)
  • Year Purchased: 1994
  • Source: A bookstore in Tennessee.
  • About: Sylvia was a born writer. She wrote like a lioness: fearless, protective, maternal, bold, ruthless, nurturing, unapologetic. Published a couple of years after her suicide, her estranged husband, Ted Hughes, changed the make-up of Ariel by switching out twelve poems for those of his choosing; it took 39 years for this to be righted. This is the altered edition. No matter, the poems are stunning. My favourites change with the seasons, my mood, my age. They are chameleons, different with each reading. They should, at that, be read aloud. Adding a voice tips the alchemical balance anew. If you haven’t read Plath’s poems in a while, try again. She isn’t just for moody teenage girls. I promise.
  • Motivation: I was young, very young. I bought this slim volume on a road trip to Tennessee. It was autumn, the leaves were falling. I wore a lot of plaid dresses and flat shoes, good for twirling around in the crisp mountain air. The season was a perfect accompaniment for her fierce lamentations and burning clarity, a like-minded companion for the turmoil of my heart.
  • Times Read: Multiple
  • Random Excerpt/Page 57: “I cannot run, I am rooted, and the gorse hurts me/With its yellow purses, its spiky armoury./I could not run without having to run forever./The white hive is snug as a virgin,/Selling off her brood cells, her honey, and quietly humming.”
  • Happiness Scale: 8


A Year in Books/Day 214: Me

  • Title: Me Stories of My Life
  • Author: Katharine Hepburn
  • Year Published: 1991 (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.)
  • Year Purchased: Summer of 2010
  • Source: My momma
  • About: Dear Kate: You were such an iconoclast. I know, I know; what an over-used word. I’m not proud of trotting out something so stale, especially in reference to
    English: Photograph of the actress Katharine H...

    English: Photograph of the actress Katharine Hepburn in the 1932 play The Warrior’s Husband. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    someone as amazing as you were. Really, though, what choice do I have? What else is there? Rebel, nonpareil, maverick? Nonconformist, idol, icon? Legend, paragon, nonesuch? They’re all too pale, weak, humourless. You were too kick-ass to be so neatly boxed-in, anyway. Now let’s get to business. Continue reading

A Year in Books/Day 213: Drinking with George

  • Title: Drinking with George A Barstool Professional’s Guide to Beer
  • Author: George Wendt with Jonathan Grotenstein
  • Year Published: 2009 (Simon Spotlight Entertainment)
  • Year Purchased: September, 2011 (at Oktoberfest Zinzinnati)
  • Source: George Wendt
  • About: George Wendt’s love affair with beer is a thing of epic beauty. Drinking with George is part personal biography and part encyclopedia of beer. It’s a strange combination that pairs as wonderfully as barley and hops. You could really say that he poured his heart and soul into this project. Tee-hee. It’s incredibly funny, informative, and can be read in the time it takes the average person to drink a couple pints of Guinness. It even comes with a bit of real, human romance: his love for his wife Bernadette Birkett (who voiced Vera Peterson on Cheers) is sweet and moving, if nearly as hilarious as his beer-induced exploits.
  • Motivation: The author hawked his book at last year’s Oktoberfest Zinzinnati. Only a humourless, beer-hating twit could resist buying a copy from the man himself.
  • Times Read: 1
  • Random Excerpt/Page 35: “Looking to lighten my load, I packed a leather travel bag I’d overpaid for in Marrakesh with my untouched and completely unnecessary suit and dress shoes. I sent them back to the States via tramp steamer, addressing the bag to my friend Joe Farmar so as not to offend my dad. A few months later, I would try to recover the clothes, only to discover that Joe had torn the suit, the shoes, and even the bag itself to shreds. This was entirely my fault: I hadn’t bothered to include a note, which confused Joe until he put “bag” together with “Marrakesh” and decided that I’d hidden hashish somewhere inside.”
  • Happiness Scale: 10

    George Wendt , with yours truly cropped out.

    George Wendt , with yours truly cropped out.

A Year in Books/Day 212: The White Blackbird

  • Title: The White Blackbird A Life of the Painter Margarett Sargent by Her Granddaughter
  • Author: Honor Moore
  • Year Published: 1996 (Penguin Books)
  • Year Purchased: 2004/2005
  • Source: A bookstore in Buffalo, New York
  • About: I love stumbling across books about people whose names and faces don’t register. It is fair to say that I am obsessed with the obscure and the odd and the oddly obscure, especially when the subjects in question are creative and rebellious women. Anyone determined to live a life of artistry has to break some barriers. Deterrents come in many forms, but we all have expectations that we must push past in order to have the freedom to create. Continue reading

A Year in Books/Day 211: Leading Ladies

  • Title: Leading Ladies
  • Author: Don Macpherson
  • Year Published: 1986/This edition: 1989 (Conran Octopus Limited/Crescent Books)
  • Year Purchased: 1990s
  • Source: It was a Christmas gift from my Aunt Lauree.
  • About: This is a coffee table book, not a scholarly work. The text is nice, but not genre-shattering; it’s the standard drill for this kind of product. The images are from The Kobal Collection, so the writing stands no chance of taking first place, anyway. The whole gang is here, from Theda Bara to Doris Day, Jean Harlow to Jean Seberg, Anna Magnani to Debra Winger, represented by an array of unusually stunning photographs. Since that is the dominant reason for buying a book like this, you’ll walk away happy.
  • Motivation: I’ve been fond of old movies since I was a child.
  • Times Read: Multiple
  • Random Excerpt/Page 22: “By the time she was twenty-five, Colleen Moore was earning a weekly salary of $12,500, a reflection of her value to a studio for whom she was a highly profitable jazz baby. With her bobbed hair, cheeky face and alert eyes, she resembles to modern eyes an uncanny combination of the better remembered Clara Bow and Louise Brooks. But in the 1920s, it was Moore who was the incarnation of the twenties flapper girl.”
  • Happiness Scale: 10++
    Publicity photo of Colleen Moore for Argentine...

    Publicity photo of Colleen Moore for Argentinean Magazine. (Printed in USA) (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Here, in her post-Flapper days.