I’ve been on a French kick…
so try picturing me in a beret with an Hermes scarf tied coquettishly around my neck, humming Frère Jacques.
Books can do that, change your identity so even your own mother wouldn’t know you.
A very eclectic list.
Close Up and Personal: The Private Diaries of Catherine Deneuve…2005. A short film diary she casually kept, along with an in-depth interview at the end, launching my gay Paree reverie. Fiercely independent, having two children out of wedlock, her notes leaving you yearning for just a little more of her elegant, edgy allure.
Depardieu: A Biography, Paul Chutkow…1994. After reading about Madam, I wanted the male version, so who better to canoodle with on the page than with France’s hottest leading man. Wonderfully written though a bit restrained being authorized by his subject, but peeking between the lines you’ll glean all those naughty nuggets the author possibly at gunpoint, graciously left out. I guarantee, even edited, Monsieur Depardieu, bigger than life, will not disappoint. Who said he’s fat? That just means there’s more of him to canoodle with.
Bardot, Deneuve, and Fonda: My Life With The Three Most Beautiful Women In The World, Roger Vadim…1986. I had no idea Roger Vadim was such a good writer, only the director of the cheesy film Barbarella, and first husband of Jane Fonda. Shame on me since he speaks of these three women with such touching, reverent regard minus bitterness nor rancor that, well, if he hadn’t gone to that big director’s chair in the sky at the age of 72, I’d call him.
Chanel’s Riviera: Glamour, Decadence, And Survival In Peace And War 1930-1944, Anne De Courcy…2020. You glimpse the opulence of the rich right before the Germans march in. What moved me most was how it blatantly displays the horrors of The Holocaust. How swiftly it took so many lives on many different levels reminding me that, though our past year has been rough, it’s been a stroll in the park compared to what these people went through.
Conversations…2019, he said, this was one of his favorite books, and do I see why. The vividness of Zola’s prose…the food, the people, the shop keepers selling their succulent wares, made me fall blissfully back in time, my mouth watering. Imagine a book so old that can still do that. I warn you though, you’ll be eating like an ape while you read.
Madame De Pompadour, Nancy Mitford…1953. The most famous femme fatale of her time, offering no apologizes for her occasional naughty, bawdy behavior that only a writer like Madam Mitford could convey with such wicked delight. Now it would have been a runaway hit, but in 1953, it was panned as history written as a novel. Nancy was just ahead of her time is all, her critics needing to catch up.
The Coldest Winter: A Stringer In Liberated Europe, Paula Fox…2005. Again, I was bitch-slapped over my mewling of masks and a non-existing social life learning what it was like in Europe after World War II. How people struggled and survived by their wits and divine determination to just stay alive. Ms Fox dying in 2017 in her 93rd year, as a young reporter, her recollections 80 years later still fresh and raw… compelling.
The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir, Andre Leon Tally…2020. Look out, here comes the Czar of Chic. Did I enjoy this, especially all his recaps of the many legendary Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Galas he attended with all its fashion bells and whistles. Discovered by the eminent Diana Vreeland, partnered with Vogue’s Anna Wintour, the Devil Wears Prada who really only wears Chanel, along with his take on all he saw, many of the players long gone, made me read this in one lavish sitting tempted to change into a little black dress and pumps. Now that’s what I call a night out, without leaving your apartment.
A Movable Feast, Ernest Hemingway…1964. How could I not add this to my list, a book that encapsulates Paris in the early 1920s when you were young, in love, broke, well read and hopelessly hopeful. Published after he died, Papa had no idea he hit such a grand slam (my homepage, courtesy of writer/artist David Stewart, displays an excerpt).
Mike Nichols: A Life, Mark Harris…2021. I devoured all of its 594 pages, my only complaint, wanting more. Mr. Harris respectfully acquaints you with the whole man…his home runs, strikeouts, a lifelong struggle with depression, a limitless, lavish lifestyle along with his legendary generosity, leaving you loving this rare, talented man, his humanity howling on every page.
Marilyn Monroe: The Last Interview and Other Conversations…2020. How I adore this series, and Norma Jeane Mortenson doesn’t disappoint. After being in more than 20 foster homes, running away, becoming who she was when the lady, deep down, was so much more, the exchanges making me understand her better. What I loved most, it’s as if she casually stopped by for a chummy visit.
Fred Rogers: The Last Interview and Other Conversations…2021. I owe Mr. Rogers an apology after my snarky remark…what, they choose him over Carrie and Maya…really? Well Fred, in your neighborhood up in the ether, of the 21 Interviews I’ve read, you sir are in the top 5, kindness towards all children your eternal theme.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Last Interview and Other Conversations…2020. Never realizing how important this woman was and continues to be, her voice still echoing among the great in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol where she, as the first woman to hold the honor, laid in state. When her fellow Supreme, Antonin Scalia would correct her grammar privately, rather than get rattled, she’d thank him with the grace of a Supreme Court Justice we may never see the likes of again. I wish I could claim a tenth of the integrity, Ruth Bader Ginsburg had.
Rage, Bob Woodward…2020. I’m not a Woodward fan but did like this simply because, as an old school journalist, showed you the whole board on Donald J. Trump’s presidency, rather than just what he wanted you to see. It’s a fast, furious read you won’t put down, shaking your head as you turn each page.
Eleanor, David Michaelis…2020. A fascinating read since you learn why and how Anna Eleanor Roosevelt became who she was. Betrayed by her husband, losing her beloved father to alcoholism, a mother embarrassed by her plainness, neither living to see their only daughter become one of the greatest, most important women in history.
The Dead and the Rising: The Life of Malcolm X…Les Payne and Tamara Payne…2020. A hero and then some that after reading, trained it to Harlem where the Audubon Ballroom once stood on Broadway and 165th Street, where at the age of 39, Malcolm was gunned down in 1965, a plain copper plaque commemorating his last day. The man, so brave, so righteous deserving much, much more than a mere sign. A great read that sheds much light, as one reviewer puts it.
She Come By It Natural: and the Women Who Lived Her Songs, Sarah Smarsh…2020. Simply short and sweet packed with delicious Dolly lore. A true philanthropist doing more for others than any of her peers, placing her on the same heroic pedestal as Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates, her song, I Will Always Love You, having a whole new spin.
The Best of Me…David Sedaris…2020. A collection of essays, that if you’re a fan, a must-have. My only disappointment, my favorite, The Santaland Diaries when he was an elf at Macys, wasn’t included. I’ve said this before, but Sedaris is the only writer who’s ever made me laugh on the subway.
I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti: A Memoir Of Good Food And Bad Boyfriends, Giulia Melucci…2014. Love and food do a poignant duet as this clever, funny, foodie cooks for her readers wrapped in heartbreak. A great, fearless story-teller, the title alone deserving a nod.
One Last Lunch: A Final Meal with Those Who Meant So Much to Us, edited by Erica Heller…2020. Is there someone if you had the chance, you’d like to have one last meal with? A clever, entertaining collection compiled by Joseph ‘Catch 22’ Heller’s daughter, an apple that didn’t fall far from the tree.
My favorites: Christopher Hitchens, Frank McCourt, Paul Newman and Jackie Onassis.
Dark Night Dawn: On Revival And Courage, Anne Lamott…2021. It just may be her best, in inspiration and hope for a brighter post pandemic future. Part poet, part Catskill’s comic with her Christianity woven in like a silky thread, a mere 200 pages you won’t regret.
A grand finale that belongs on my shelf next to Ernest and Madam De Pompadour to remind me of the best places to go the next time I find myself on the Left Bank for real.
An elephant, after all, especially one so well dressed who can read a wine list, never forgets how to have a good time.
Remember folks, when you have a book, you always have a friend.
Happy reading 🙂