A Year in Books/Day 223: Swanson on Swanson

  • Title: Swanson on Swanson
  • Author: Gloria Swanson
  • Year Published: 1980/This Edition: 1981 (Random House/Pocket Books)
  • Year Purchased: Mid-1990s
  • Source: Antique Barn, Ohio State Fair
  • About: “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”-George Bernard Shaw. Every Hollywood memoir should come with the preceding GBS quote as a disclaimer. That, or the generic perception is reality. Either will do. With that out of the way, we could get down to the important business of enjoying good Tinseltown autobiographies for what they are: damn fun entertainment. Underneath the ego and the stage-managed pathos, these one-person exercises in reputation preservation usually contain heaping amounts of self-deprecation, humor, and memorable industry anecdotes, with the self-subjects somehow, through a strange, magical process, coming across as down-to-earth and larger than life; normal and privileged; lucky and talented; flawed and beautiful. 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 197: Me of Little Faith

  • Title: Me of Little Faith
  • Author: Lewis Black
  • Year Published: 2008 (Riverhead Books)
  • Year Purchased: 2010
  • Source: Clearance rack, unknown bookstore
  • About: During the 90 minutes it took to read Me of Little Faith, I did so with Lewis Black’s voice in my head. It was like a book-on-tape experience without the tape part. Or disc, as this isn’t 1984. If you’ve ever seen Black do, well, anything, you know what to expect from his religious diatribe/angry memoir. It reads like one of his stand-up routines, which is a good thing: he’s witty, smart, articulate, inappropriate, honest and decidedly on-point about nearly everything he touches. Unless you disagree with him, in which case you’ll find this book, and my review of it, a miserable read. Continue reading

A Year in Books/Day 193: Elegy for Iris

  • Title: Elegy for Iris
  • Author: John Bayley
  • Year Published: 1999 (St. Martin’s Press)
  • Year Purchased: 2001?
  • Source: Barnes & Noble clearance rack
  • About: I get it, I really do: Iris Murdoch is one of those love them or hate them writers. The Sea, The Sea is one of my favourite novels of the later years of the 20th century, but I understand why her work isn’t for everyone. I don’t care  where you stand on the subject of Iris-as-writer, if you aren’t affected to the point of tears whilst reading her husband’s memoir it can mean only one thing. You are dead inside. Continue reading

A Year in Books/Day 191: Laurence Olivier On Acting

  • Title: Laurence Olivier On Acting From Hamlet and Heathcliff to “Brideshead” and Marathon Man, Our Greatest Actor Candidly Discusses His Triumphant Career in an Extraordinary Examination of His Profession and Craft
  • Author: Laurence Olivier
  • Year Published: 1986 (A TOUCHSTONE BOOK)
  • Year Purchased: 1992
  • Source: A bookstore at an outlet mall.
  • About: Every actor, young or old, has something  many things to learn from Olivier. If they say otherwise, they’re just in denial. Or ignorant. Perhaps I should strike a line through that as well and replace it with the (softer?) word naive. Nah. I’ll stand by my original assessment. Let’s move on to the good stuff. Even if you don’t care about the craft of acting (and have never been silly enough to work in or, sanity forbid, train for the theatre), On Acting is really entertaining. Part autobiography, part theatre/film history, and part textbook, it is a mixture that  works. He exposes the thought processes behind his roles, but dishes enough behind-the-scenes stories to keep most people interested. It is superior to his traditional memoir, Confessions of an Actor.
  • Motivation: I was an acting student then; the cover blurb was an excellent sales person.
  • Times Read: 2 or 3
  • Random Excerpt/Page 65: “New actors, new waves, new ideas-it’s all been done before. What we forget is that every new generation is the modern man. We are only watching things repeated with different costumes, new settings, original surrounds. However we look at it, it is still the same jewel, shining from the crown, that was mined between 1564 and 1616.”
  • Happiness Scale: 10+++
    Laurence Olivier, June 17, 1939

    Laurence Olivier, June 17, 1939 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


A Year in Books/Day 160: My Blue Notebooks

  • Title: My Blue Notebooks The Intimate Journal of Paris’s Most Beautiful and Notorious Courtesan
  • Author: Liane de Pougy
  • Translation: Diana Athill
  • Year Published: This Edition: 2002 (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam)
  • Year Purchased: 2003/2004
  • Source: Barnes & Noble clearance rack
  • About: Liane de Pougy ended her long life as a nun. A devout one, no doubt, whose circumstances bore little resemblance to the notorious escapades that made her name more than half a century earlier. She was a premiere good-time girl of the Belle Epoque . A Folies Bergere dancer who, in middle age, married a prince. She knew Proust, and was a vituperative frenemy of Colette. Her journals, which she kept between the ages of 50 and 72 (roughly the years corresponding to her marriage), are nearly as astounding as her life. Although journals are the most intimate of settings, there is always the temptation to gloss over the truth of personal shortcomings or weak moments with the mask of who you wish you were. The projection of a nobler, better self.  There can be no doubt that de Pougy was not entirely inclusive (who is?), yet the woman laid out in her journals is not always likable. She is haughty and self-important and a dozen other meaner things. As the heroine of her own life, she is indelibly grand-and unforgettable: passion, candour, wit, resilience, a genuine desire for self-improvement and intelligence are a few of her finer qualities. She is one of the most interesting women of the century.
  • Motivation: I love weird and controversial women. Those who go against the grain. Oddities. Survivors.
  • Times Read: 1
  • Random Excerpt/Page 47: “I have to admit that I’m up to my neck in frivolity, buried in dresses to the point of ruin! Fifteen different garments! My wardrobe jam-packed! My girl, this is not the way for an old woman to behave-particularly since you never wear anything but black and white, or a little grey, so you always look as though you were in the same dress. Why fritter away your money so absurdly?”
  • Happiness Scale: 8
    A postcard depicting Liane de Pougy.

    A postcard depicting Liane de Pougy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


A Year in Books/Day 123: Within Tuscany

  • Title: Within Tuscany Reflections on a Time and Place
  • Author: Matthew Spender
  • Year Published: 1992/This Edition: 1993 (Viking Press/Penguin Books)
  • Year Purchased: 2004/2005
  • Source: A bookstore in Upstate New York
  • About: This book got off to an agonizingly slow start. Whatever a snail’s pace is in reading lingo, that’s what it was. S-l-o-o-o-o-w-w. I plodded away a few pages at a time, absolutely determined to keep at it until I hit the sweet spot where my interest was finally piqued. That eventually happened about half-way through. It took a long few months for that day to arrive. I read at least three dozen other books during the wait. Was it worth my stubborn insistence? Eh. Yes and no. The over-all feel of the book is marvelous; the individual stories and anecdotes of English transplant Matthew Spender and his wife raising their two daughters deep in the heart of Tuscany are hit-and-miss. If that seems like a contradictory feat, it is: yet, as a whole, it works. Don’t expect it to be an edge-of-your-seat or limitlessly engaging read, and you’ll likely enjoy find it enjoyable.
  • Motivation: It was cheap and looked interesting.
  • Times Read: 1
  • Random Excerpt/Page 91: “I was unused to the etiquette of sitting up with the dead. There are rules to this social ritual, the principal one being that neither the body nor the family should ever be left alone. You arrive: whoever is there leaves, and you remain until someone else appears who can take over from you.”
  • Happiness Scale: 7

A Year in Books/Day 117: Miss Cranston’s Omnibus

  • Title: Miss Cranston’s Omnibus
  • Author: Anna Blair
  • Year Published: 1998 (Shepheard-Walwyn (Publishers) Ltd. for LOMOND BOOKS)
  • Year Purchased: 2002/2003
  • Source: Unknown
  • About: What is it about old folks reminiscing that cuts straight to the bone, brain and heart? Is it because there’s no excess of thought, no emotional grandstanding? There’s a realness that remains-sometimes raw and sorrowful, sometimes light and joyous-but no heaviness. Whatever it is, it’s on stunning display in Miss Cranston’s Omnibus. Author Anna Blair interviewed hundreds of aging Glaswegians about their lifestyles and experiences during the first half of the twentieth century. She wove that material into a larger historical narrative, allowing for as true and clear a picture of the place and time as we’ll ever have. This edition is comprised of two earlier volumes (Tea at Miss Cranston’s and More Tea at Miss Cranston’s), originally published in 1985 and 1991.

    drawing, poster design for Miss Cranston's Tea...

    drawing, poster design for Miss Cranston's Tearooms. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Motivation: Glasgow! History! Nostalgic old people!
  • Times Read: 1
  • Random Excerpt/Page 11: “The photographer of the 1880s swoops under his dark velvet cloth and snaps his fingers at the family group. Breaths are held and, as the cliche says, a moment in time is captured for ever, and with it an array of that era’s fashion from infants’ to grandparents’. Repeat the process every decade and you have a century of change from bonnet to Princess of Wales’ feather, button boot to pink sneaker. Well…You’d have the gamut right enough, as far as the bien-provided were concerned, but for much of that hundred years there was a broad swathe of Glasgow folk a world away from wool and velvet and starched pinafores.”
  • Happiness Scale: 8