I’m here surrounded by books I’ve taken from the library, like a wild party when no one goes home.
Stacks of them by my bed, in the living room, near the front door. Biographies, essays, memoirs and even the occasional novel.
Perhaps it’s the simmer of summer making me crave a classic…a dreamy tale to transport me on the wings of a writer’s imagination.
Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier (1938)
I read it 20 years ago, when the daughter of a friend had to read it for school, so her mother bought copies for everyone she knew. I remember loving it then, but not as much as now. Du Maurier’s prose drips with visuals, the flora of Manderley and its inhabitants springing to life. The film comes to mind with Sir Lawrence Olivier as Maxim de Winter, the moody lord of the manor, and Joan Fontaine, his tormented second wife.
Someone said, “You read that when you’re 17 Susannah.” “Oh yeah? Really? how bout when you’re 62…more coffee?”
I then jumped right into essays needing pith after all that melodrama, so what better than David Sedaris’s classic, You Talk Pretty One Day (2001), a funny, nutty set of stories when he first lived in France. He’s always a good choice, and the only writer who’s ever made me laugh, out loud, on the New York subway.
A Talent to Annoy…Essays, Articles and Reviews 1929-1968, Nancy Mitford (1986). It’s amazing how current her writing is. Wry, candid. A big favorite of mine also living in France in her day, like David.
Take The Cannoli, Sara Vowell (2001), another zany, talented lunatic whose essays rounded out the three. Makes perfect sense she and Sedaris are good friends, and I’m certain, both of them would have hit it off famously with Nancy.
That pushed me back to another classic novel, The Godfather, by Mario Puzo (1969), Vowell’s cannoli having to be responsible. Made me want one at Connie’s wedding while Luca Brasi practices his speech to the Don, and like the film, there are spots, when I need to just close my eyes. “Look, at what they did to my’a boy.”
The Italian theme continues with memoirs by two women very close to Frank Sinatra. His fourth wife Barbara, and middle daughter, Tina. I read Mrs. Blue Eyes, My Life With Frank (2012), first, wondering why there was no mention of Frank’s two daughters with Frank Junior barely in passing.
When I read Tina Sinatra’s book, My Father’s Daughter (2009), it explained everything in a stepmom, stepdaughter nutshell. Did Tina loathe Barbara. Makes her out to be the biggest blonde bandit to ever land a big fish who happened to be her father. Merging famalia isn’t easy, especially when you’re the most famous singer in the world. Heads butt, feelings fray, and there you are in a terry robe in the last leg of your tour, so to speak, while all those you love fight over, not so much you, but your name and money.
The Central Park Five (2011), Sarah Burns, daughter of filmmaker Ken Burns, who did a helluva job writing about the 1989 Central Park jogger who was viciously attacked, and the 5 fellows falsely convicted. Turns out, though no angels, they didn’t do it. A disturbing page-turner, especially for me, who runs in Central Park.
Obsession, The Lives and Times of Calvin Klein (1994), Steven Gaines, a thorough bio of the dashing designer Gaines leaving no stone unturned. His personal life…the swaying between sexes, the love for his daughter Marci who gets kidnapped at age 11 and his rise to fame during the Studio 54 years, will surely hold your attention.
Genuinely Authentic: The Real Life of Ralph Lauren (2004), Michael Gross. Another wild trip through the fashion industry, Lauren coming out not smelling like a rose. Rude, conniving…indiscreetly cheating on his wife with one of his models. No wonder he refused cooperation with Gross on the book. Again, you have to wonder, do you have to be a colossal shit to make it in this world, seeming to be the million dollar question.
The Battle of Versailles (2015), by Robin Givhan, the Pulitzer Prize winning fashion critic for The Washington Post, about a famous fashion show in 1973, held at Marie Antionette’s stomping grounds with top designers such as Halston, Bill Blass and Oscar de Renta, sparring with their French counterparts, Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy and Yves St. Laurent while Liza Minnelli and Josephine Baker shimmy across the stage. I loved its retro glamour and how Givhan brought it to life, like The Day of the Dead of chic.
American Tragedy: The Uncensored Story of the Simpson Defense (1996), Lawrence Schiller and James Willwerth. I read all 685 pages riveted, feeling as if I were there, ringside, in 1994. The unrecorded details, of what’s been called, The Trial of the Century, especially held my attention. The ego wars among the defense team. One lawyer wanting OJ to plead manslaughter while the others swore he couldn’t have killed two people so savagely, while according to his acquittal, the real murderer has yet to be found. Yes, well…read it, then you tell me who you think did it.
Perfect Murder, Perfect Town (2002), Lawrence Schiller, the 1996 unsolved slaying of 6 year-old, JonBenet Ramsey, in Boulder, Colorado that 20 years later has yet to be solved. Packed full of mind-boggling data, you walk away thinking, our legal system needs a serious rewrite. Schiller seems to have found his calling, grisly as it is.
Diana, The Last Year (1997), Donald Spoto. I suppose it was her humanity that perpetually pierces my skin. The People’s Princess, as she was aptly named, whispers to the reader’s heart, Spoto hitting his marks sparingly with great poignance. Just don’t mind a few unexpected tears.
Gable and Lombard (1974), Warren Harris. Another read that seeped through my bones, Carole Lombard now becoming a hero much more than her cheap, philandering husband she loved so much. Patriotic to a fault, losing her life in a plane crash alongside her mother at the age of 34 after passionately selling war bonds, rushing home to her beloved, you truly wonder why the good always do die young. As for Gable, despite his antics never got over her, buried side by side, 16 years later.
Bombshell…The Life and Death of Jean Harlow (1994), David Stenn. A close friend of Gable and Lombard’s, her story leaving me speechless. Dead at 26 from kidney failure, ruled by a pariah of a mother whose Christian Science faith kept her from sending The Baby to a doctor. More proof that organized religion can kill you. I wept when I read Jean was reading Gone With The Wind when she died.
The Residence (2015), Kate Anderson Brower, The Downton Abbey of the White House…what the workers have to say. Talk about being a fly on the wall. LBJ and Nancy Reagan fare the worst, while the senior Bushes come out like starlings. Daughter of writer Christopher Anderson, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
First Women (2016), Kate Anderson Brower, a look at our First Ladies from Michelle Obama back to Jackie.
I LOVED THIS.
Shadow (2000), Bob Woodward, the presidency after Watergate ending with Clinton who always makes P.T. Barnum seem shy. Not a big Woodward fan, but he had me this time.
Destiny and Power…George H. Bush (2016), Jon Meecham After reading what swells they were in the White House, the Bushes began to intrigue me, and Meecham, one of our finest historians, was just the man to make the introduction. Despite their offspring, I came away really liking George and Barb.
Franklin and Winston (2003), Jon Meacham. Read it a second time not getting enough of the esteemed author. History’s Huck and Jim, FDR and Winnie steal your heart as well as your respect for the times in which they lived.
The Making Of Donald Trump (2016), David Cay Johnston, a fascinating account of The Donald’s rise to Trumphood. All I’ll say is, Hillary isn’t the only one with a rap sheet.
The Red Bandanna (2016), Tom Rinaldi. On September 11th 2001, a 25 year-old fellow named Welles Crowther, working as a trader on the 104th floor of the Trade Center’s South Tower, helped a great many people get out losing his life as a result. His dad, when he was very young, gave him a red handkerchief he was never without. People who lived tell their stories about the guy with the red bandanna. A very touching read indeed.
Making Rounds With Oscar (2010), Donald Dosa M.D., a sweet, poignant true tail about a cat in a nursing home who knew instinctively when someone was about to check-out. For anyone needing comfort or knowledge about Alzheimer’s disease, or just the perils of the elderly, it’s a very special read.
The Travels of Babar (2002), Jean De Brushoff. I always like to end with a little light reading, so Babar and his wife Celeste, are the perfect couple to spend a cozy, wintry night with. Funny, smart… Illustrations that will charm…and that Celeste, a real clothes horse for such an elephant.
I warn you, she’ll make you want to shop.