Monday, June 30, 2014

Serving Victoria: Life in the Royal Household by Kate Hubbard (2012)

This one was kind of all over the place.  I enjoyed it - I can't remember the last time I didn't enjoy a book about Queen Victoria and her family - but I don't think the book quite achieved what it set out to do.  Nearly, but not quite.  "Life in the royal household" was described, but often detours through politics or the machinations of government and history were taken. I suppose to provide context, but often it seemed to skate away from the domestic and took some time to skate back.

Hubbard, in reference to Mary Ponsonby, writes of the Queen's "capacity to determine and define the lives of others."  That's an interesting concept.  These people exist in history as prism reflections of Queen Victoria; without her light, these people wouldn't have existed in quite the same way.

Hubbard was sharper towards the Queen's children than I've read in anything recently. There are more barbs towards their ungratefulness, snobbery, and general likability.  The children of royalty seem to have no choice but to be difficult and peevish, throughout history (and Shakespeare).  The princesses all get some knocking about, perhaps because they - unlike the royal rake the Prince of Wales - were around their mother on a more or less permanent basis, so had more interactions with the royal household.  I'm not accusing Hubbard of being purposely mean girlish to the princesses however - she's obviously quoting from the letters and diaries of people who knew them.

Serving Victoria: Life in the Royal HouseholdServing Victoria: Life in the Royal Household by Kate Hubbard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I can't remember the last time I read a book about Queen Victoria and her brood that I didn't enjoy, and this one was no different.  That said, Serving Victoria was kind of all over the place.  Nominally about life in the royal household, the book occasionally skated into biography and politics before skating back.  This is a sharper, more pointed book than some others I've read, particularly towards the queen's children, who don't come out of this looking particularly nice.  I suppose Hubbard's access to unpublished diaries and letters provided some new glimpses into the foibles of the Victorian royal family; Hubbard is particularly mean girlish about the numerous daughters of the queen, who sound like they are all modeled on the Queen of Hearts from Alice (or at very least the Duchess).  If you've never read anything at all about Queen Victoria, this is probably not the place to start.


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Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005)

Ishiguro is good, really good.  And I really enjoyed Never Let Me Go.  I liked the narrative voice, how it bounced backwards and forwards in time, like you were sitting down with Kathy and she was telling you the story.  I liked the layered aspect of the plot, how Ishiguro applied layer after layer of detail, and let the horror of the story fill up all the spaces in your head (sort of like the opening soundtrack for Close Encounters of the Third Kind).  But I don't know, I just thought there was all this buildup for nothing.  What exactly was the point?  Once you had the money shot, the "Soylent green is people" moment,  then everything kind of fell off from there.  Sound and fury writing.

Never Let Me GoNever Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked the narrative mechanism Ishiguro used to tell the story:  Kathy's voice, subtle, moving backward and forward in time, like she had sat down to tell you the story.  I also though the layering aspect of the novel, spreading detail upon detail to build up the plot, was excellent.  But something fell flat for me by the end; once you had the "soylent green is people" moment, it seemed to fall flat after that, and I came away wondering what it was all about.  "Sound and fury" writing.


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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (2012)

Reading Wolf Hall was such an experience, and in re-reading my post, I know I wanted to listen to the audio version of Bring up the Bodies, narrated by Simon Vance - which I did.  I thought the audio book would envelope me in the story, and it did so.  It was incredible, intimate, amazing.  I thoroughly loved it.  Mantel's deep, rich, electric writing shines through in the audio version.  The story becomes so much more riveting.  You aren't necessarily there in the sense of standing next to Henry VIII; you aren't even in Thomas Cromwell's head.  Rather, it's like you're a spirit, becoming one with Thomas Cromwell, a man 500 years dead and executed, able to see through his eyes, hear his thoughts, yet still separately viewing the situation as well.   You don't become Thomas Cromwell; you are more like a mouse in his pocket with ESP.  The dinner party scene, where Cromwell invites everyone to a feast to help him plan the downfall of Anne Boleyn, all his enemies and her enemies in one feast - except the feast is all in his head, a conceit, a figment of his imagination.  That's wonderful writing, and makes for incredible audio theater.

I guess this is historical fiction, but taken to another level.  Mantel's historical accuracy isn't based on the right kind of armor or food; I frankly don't remember anything historically sticking out.  It's not about historical language either; these people all talk like you and me. Rather, Mantel's interest is aimed at historical accuracy regarding power and its corruptible force; women and their role in a male dominated society; politics in a time when making the wrong political choice didn't mean losing an election or the jaunt through the political wilderness, it meant losing your life.

I've read quite a few books, both fiction and nonfiction, about the Tudors.  Margaret George's The Autobiography of Henry VIII was probably the first fiction I ever read; also Alison Weir; also Philippa Gregory.  Because the all the details from history are hidden to us, the true motives, the personalities, the authors use the characters as ciphers for various reasons - to enhance the plot, to highlight character flaws, to show deeper meaning.  Jane Seymour is almost always a cipher; George's Jane, if I remember correctly (it's been a long time since I read that one) was all blonde innocence; Gregory's Jane was a flirt (Madonna or whore). Queen Katherine takes on various roles - mother, schemer; the Boleyns and their relatives - particularly Norfolk, always have their roles to play (Norfolk is as interesting a study as Jane Seymour, his personality is almost a caricature at this point in literature).  Anne Boleyn, perhaps because we know more about her historically - always seems to be the same:  cold, calculating, deadly.  Henry himself changes with each novel; sometimes more heroic, but as of late emptier and more tyrannical.  Lady Rochford, though, she's the same in each book.  Gregory portrayal of her in The Boleyn Inheritance is more nuanced.  Most of the time, she's portrayed as the meanest of the mean girls.  The grand high mean girl of all time. Whoever gets to play Jane Boleyn, though, they get a meaty role, something to play with.  Cruella DeVil on ice.

After so many years, why does the story of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII still resonate?  There is probably at least one book written about their romance and tragedy every year; certainly more than one.  Fiction is written from the view point of one character or the other.  Minor players get their own books (Mary Boleyn, Jane Boleyn).  The story is so arresting and can be told in so many ways, taken in so many directions, because at its heart it is about women's power and powerlessness during this historical period.  Anne Boleyn reached the very top of the political heap of her time, and disastrously fell from the peak.  Her rise and fall are fascinating because for a woman to rise to far and fall to drastically was unique.  Modern writers of both fiction and nonfiction have put various spin on this tale.  But its still about women's power - not just Anne Boleyn, but Queen Katherine, Princess Mary, even Jane Boleyn and Jane Seymour.  Pawns or queens?  Or both at the same time?

Why did the dwarf lift up her dress and show Cromwell her private parts?  That's the only question I have for Hilary Mantel - a WTF question.

Wolf Hall is the story of More's fall and Cromwell's part in it.
Bring up the Bodies is the story of Anne Boleyn's fall and Cromwell's part in it.
I'm assuming the next book is the story of Cromwell's fall.

Bring Up the Bodies (Thomas Cromwell, #2)Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If reading Wolf Hall was an bewildering and extraordinary accomplishment, listening to Bring Up the Bodies was akin to a sacred experience, literarily speaking.  Intimate, incredible; Mantel's prose is electric, deep, rich; Simon Vance's narration was nigh on perfect, and made the (really, quite familiar) story riveting.  Cromwell has been dead over 500 years; yet Mantel (and Vance channeling her) allows you to slip over him like some sort of ectoplasmic spirit from the future, a mouse in his pocket with ESP, hearing his thoughts, seeing through his eyes, yet also kenning the experience from above and beyond time.  Mantel's historical fiction isn't that of the right armor, the right food, the right language (I don't remember a single thee or thou).  Rather, Mantel's interest is aimed at historical accuracy regarding power and its corruptible force; women and their role in a male dominated society; politics in a time when making the wrong political choice didn't mean losing an election or the jaunt through the political wilderness, it meant losing your life.  At its heart, always, this story, and its many interpretations and renditions, at this point almost a folk story, is about the power and powerlessness of women in Tudor society, a story that culminates with the story of Queen Elizabeth I herself.  When you think the Tudor tale is told out, along comes Mantel to inject new life.  The Tudor tale will probably always be this way; its a story that will never grow old.


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This may be the best way to end a book two in a trilogy ever, every devised.  I loved it so much I had to read it three times, and copy it down here:

“The word 'however' is like an imp coiled beneath your chair. It induces ink to form words you have not yet seen, and lines to march across the page and overshoot the margin. There are no endings. If you think so you are deceived as to their nature. They are all beginnings. Here is one.”


It took me quite a while to find this, what I considered one of the best lines in the entire book, read so well by Simon Vance.  They have just arrested Anne Boleyn and are taking her to the tower.  "He, Cromwell, takes hold of her -- since no one else will do it - and sets her back on her feet.  She weighs nothing, and as he lifts her, her wail breaks off, as if her breathe had been stopped.  Silent, she steadies herself against his shoulder, leans into him, intent, complicit, ready for the next thing they will do together, which is kill her."

That last sentence, those last words.  So powerful.  Wow.  That's the climax of the whole book.






Friday, June 20, 2014

Some Books I'm Not Going to Read Afterall

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks.  I've previously loved her books, but this one left me flat.  Could not get into it.  Got great reviews too.   Oh well.

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett.  I may come back to this one sometime in the future.  But a page or so in, and I was like "not now."

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Florence Harding: The First Lady, The Jazz Age, and the Death of America's Most Scandalous President by Carl Sferrazza Anthony (1998)

I think I tried to read this once before and put it down after a chapter or so.

I'm doing that again.

Florence Harding isn't all that interesting.  Anthony tries to make her so, and you can tell he loves his subject to death. But nope.  Just doesn't do it.

Florence Harding: The First Lady, The Jazz Age, And The Death Of America's Most Scandalous PresidentFlorence Harding: The First Lady, The Jazz Age, And The Death Of America's Most Scandalous President by Carl Sferrazza Anthony


Nope.  Florence Harding isn't interesting enough to warrant this big of a book.


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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Then Again, Maybe I Won't by Judy Blume (1971)


 

I just finished The Catcher in the Rye, and reviewed it with a statement that the kids in Judy Blume are all the nieces and nephews of Holden Caulfield.  I'm right too.  I just finished Then Again Maybe I Won't, which took me all of 30 minutes to read.  Here is my evidence.  Exhibit A:  Angst and isolation.  How awful and different it is to be 13.  Exhibit B:  Much obsession about sex.  Exhibit C:  Phoneys.  Lots of phoneys.

Judy Blume now makes me vaguely nervous to re-read, because I always know that there is some point in the book that made me feel creepy or gross or terrible as a kid.  Such as the word "period" in Are You There God, It's Me Margaret.  Or Peter always being embarrassed by his stupid little brother Fudge is such realistic and cringe-worthy ways.  Or Sheila the Great and that stupid slam book - and those gross scabs on whatever her friend's name was (Mouse?  But that's the friend in The Witch's Sister).  And let's face it, Blubber is one long feeling-like-shit book.  And I knew that something in Then Again, Maybe I Won't drove me nuts.  So like all my Blume re-reads, I approached it hesitantly - but I wanted to see how much it was like The Catcher in the Rye.  Guess what - it's not as bad as I remembered.  I guess reading about wet dreams and boners and masturbation as a 12 year old IS probably pretty embarrassing.  Not so much as a grown up.  Even the shoplifting scene, which as I approached it in the book remember being quite a Big Thing seemed sort of flat.  I was more interesting in some of the things I probably missed as a kid or didn't totally understand.  Like his mother trying to "keep up with the Joneses" in such an obvious way.  Or the shitty way they treated his grandmother, who I realized was his mother's mother, not his father's mother.

So Judy Blume is Salinger for what tween set.  That sounds about right.

Something that never occurred to me reading this as a kid:  why DID Lisa change clothes with her shades open unless she wanted people to watch her?

The paperback version I had as a kid (pictured above, looking very seventies); I thought it was pretty creepy looking.  He looks a bit like Robby Benson as a young serial killer.  But the modern paperback, his eyes even look more like Ted Bundy.

Then Again, Maybe I Won'tThen Again, Maybe I Won't by Judy Blume
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Judy Blume is J.D. Salinger for the tween set.  Like The Catcher in the Rye, Then Again Maybe I Won't has the same elements, just a younger protagonist.  Exhibit A:  Angst and isolation; it's lonely being a 13 year old boy.  Exhibit B:  obsessed with sex; at least Holden Caulfield, as creepy as he was, wasn't a peeping tom.  Exhibit C:  Phoneys.  Lots of phoneys.  I always approach Judy Blume cautiously, because I know as a kid whenever I read her books, something happened that made me feel weird or gross or guilty about something.  Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret had the word "period" (among many, many other things).  Superfudge had the many realistic and cringeworthy scenes of crap Fudge torments Peter with.  Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great had that damn slam book. Blubber is just one big story of feeling like shit and remembering every single person you ever bullied or didn't help who was being bullied.  Then Again Maybe I Won't has boners, wet dreams,masturbation, embarrassing stuff for a fifth grade reader.  As a grown up reader, what was far more interesting - and cringeworthy - was the commentary on class, and the need for Tony's mother to fit in with all her neighbors (the same thing her son was trying to figure out in junior high).  That was too subtle for me way back in fifth grade; there was actually some depth here and not just pedantry or shock value. That was a fun discovery, and really made this re-read well worth my time.  


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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1951)

I've lived under a rock my whole reading life, as this is the first time I've read The Catcher in the Rye.  I think maybe I tried to read it one other time, and didn't get past the first few pages.  I made it to the end this time.

Over the years, people (I don't know who) cast a spell of glamour over The Catcher in the Rye.  It has Mystique.  Not the blue mutant.  The other kind.  It's about teenage angst and rebellion and the isolation of adolescence.  At least that was my impression of The Catcher in the Rye from having not read it.  Now having read it, I think my impression was right.  It's about angst and isolation and rebellion.   So no surprises there.

What I was surprised about was how little I liked Holden Caulfield.  A good friend of mine, who is younger than I by 20 years, gave me the book, and said it was his favorite book ever.  When I asked him why, he said when he was in high school, he wrote me back via Facebook:  "Holden's character is totally what I felt like when I was in high school."  And what I kept thinking, the entire way through the novel, was how much I liked my friend, and how little he was like Holden, mostly because my friend was likable.  But I also thought only a teenager would even want to be like Holden.  Angst is so boring.

Some of the book was funny, but I don't remember which parts now, so they must not have been that funny. 

 Re-reading that makes me sound like a dimwit.

The word I'm going to take away from The Catcher in the Rye is "flit."  That surprised me, the discussion of gays (flits) and gayness (flittishness).  So teen boys have been worrying about gayness since at least the 1940s.  Holden's attitude towards flits wasn't as hateful as it could have been.  He didn't seem disgusted.  

So Holden grows up and in my mind becomes Bobby from Company.  The entire book reminded me of Judy Blume as well.  Twenty years later, Blume writes Then Again, Maybe I Won't, about a boy just a few years younger than Holden and his views on sex.  I'm reading Then Again Maybe I Won't right now for the first time in - 30 years? - so see if I'm correct in relating the two.  

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
A glamour has been cast over The Catcher in the Rye since its publication; it has Mystique (not the blue mutant, the other kind).    I, who apparently lived under a rock since I learned how to read in second grade (that's when we were taught how to read back in the dark ages; none of this bullshit about kindergartners reading; all we did in kindergarten was played), had never read The Catcher in the Rye until now, at age 44.  I hate to say this, but I think it's definitely a book for teenagers.  Could it be called the first YA book?    I think I would have enjoyed it immensely at age 15, and also been highly embarrassed by all the sex talk and swear words; I certainly would have hid it from my mother.  Holden's rebellion, angst, and isolation isn't quite so interesting to me now, and quite frankly, I thought he was an asshole.  He's not attractive.  I was (pleasantly, I guess) surprised at homosexuality "flitting" about the book and appearing in various chapters; I always seem to forget that gays and lesbians weren't invented at Stonewall in 1969, and I'm ALWAYS stupidly astonished when they pop up in books written prior to this modern age (Love in a Cold Climate instantly came to mind).  I'm going out on a limb to suggest that Holden Caulfield grew up to be Bobby in Company: A Musical Comedy or that the children of Judy Blume (Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret and especially Then Again, Maybe I Won't) are at the very least Holden's nieces and nephews.  I say if you haven't read it, and you are old like me, then you should.  But be warned; it's not as interesting or well written as you've been led to believe all these years. If you are a teenager, however, go for it and love it heartily.  You may feel differently about it re-reading it in middle age.




Pioneer Women: Voices from the Kansas Prairie by Joanna Stratton (1981)

I consider these pioneer stories to be the stories of my people.  Anyone who romanticizes this time period or has a Little House on the Prairie fetish needs to read this book.  These women - and men - worked their asses off for everything.  In modern times, we forget that those pioneer women had to make almost everything from hand and from the land.  And that waiting, always waiting, was Nature to take it back, to take back the land, to take their livelihood and lives away from them.  We can't judge them by our morals and mores; they didn't know how long lasting and detrimental their impact would be on the environment; they didn't know about forced relocation or genocide (at least not in those words).  If some of the things they did were offensive to our modern sensibilities, what they were trying to accomplish was heroic.

And ultimately a failure.  The prairie diaspora continues, and those states in the middle will continue to lose population.  The oil field booms are going to be temporary.  The plains will someday return to grass again.

Pioneer Women: Voices from the Kansas FrontierPioneer Women: Voices from the Kansas Frontier by Joanna L. Stratton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

These are my people, and I like reading about them.  Lovers of Willa Cather or Laura Ingalls Wilder should run out right now and find this book.  For those who romanticize the good old days, or who have a Little House on the Prairie fetish, this will definitely open your eyes as to how utterly difficult those days actually were.  Every single thing our prairie ancestors had to do was done by hand, from the land - and Nature was always waiting, waiting to take it back, and maybe take their lives along with it.  Nothing was easy - but Stratton also details, cites and excerpts many, many examples of how wonderfully fun and invigorating that time was as well.  Pioneer women did not know what the future held; they did not know how damaging their impact would be on the environment; their world views did not take into account the people who lived  on the land when they came.  If some of the things the pioneer women did were offensive to modern sensibilities, much of what they did was heroic.  They left everything they knew to build a new land, in a country that was lonely, desolate, and far from hospitable.  It's interesting and sad to think that ultimately though that they failed; the populations of those prairie states continues to decline, and the great homesteading experiment all came to naught.  That does not discount their heroism either.  If anything, we should all strive to find the pioneer woman (or man) inside of us today.


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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Down With the Old Canoe: A Cultural History of the Titanic Disaster by Steven Briel (1996)

I like stuff about the Titanic, but this was too scholarly for me.  I didn't even make it half way through.  Not a bad book, just not for me.

The most frustrating part - I bought this book.  Although used, not full price.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Year Zero: History of 1945 by Ian Buruma (2013)

There are certain years when history-wise and world-wise, everything starts all over again.  312 (Constantine converted to Christianity) or 1815 (Waterloo) are good examples; 1865 (for the United States at least) is another.  2001 was another "year zero;" the previous one (sidestepping the turbulent year of 1968) was 1945, the year World War II ended.  Buruman's book isn't a chronology of that year; rather is a historic and sociological study, a wide shot of 1945 and what it meant then, and what it possibly means now.  It's an intelligent book; I have always liked Buruma's probing writing style, and I've always found his writing to have depth that's quite interesting.  This isn't a romantic Greatest Generation look at the end of the war either.

Year Zero: A History of 1945Year Zero: A History of 1945 by Ian Buruma
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are certain years in which everything history-wise turns back to zero - 1815 is a good world wide example; 1865 is a good American example.  2001 was probably the latest Year Zero.  Buruma's book is about 1945, the year World War II ended.  This isn't a chronological study of the year though; and it's not a Greatest Generation romantic look a the time period either.  Rather, it's a probing, analytical look at the history and sociology; Buruma's peels back some layers of Europe, Asia, Russia and the United States, sometimes exposing some dark unpleasantness that mirrors the black horrors of the war itself.  I've liked Buruma's writing style in the past (Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance was a great look at the paths modern Europe is currently trodding upon) and I thought this one was quite engrossing.


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1968: The Year That Rocked the World by Mark Kurlansky (2001)

In February 2005, I read 1968: The Year That Rocked the World by Mark Kurlansky, and my one line review on Goodreads (which I probably updated from either another social media site or my diary entry for the book) was:  "The protesters of 1968 all seem like rather unpleasant people, and bit like spoiled brats."  That's it. To be honest, when I started listening to this on audio, I didn't even remember reading it until I entered into Goodreads and realized I'd read it all those years ago.  I have more of an opinion about it now, and my feelings about the the people of 1968 is a bit more nuanced, but at its core, most of them still sound like brats.  

I'm not sure if that was Kurlansky's intent.  Several times, he pointedly said the word of the year was "motherfucker."  A word that could be used to describe both authority of the time and some of the protest movement.  But not all of them. There are two chapters, back to back, one describing the end of Prague Spring and the brutal crackdown by the Soviets, the other describing 1968 Democratic National Convention and the brutal crackdown by the Chicago police.  You can't help but the compare and contrast the two events, and my takeaway was that the Czechs were actually protesting against something - a pitiless, authoritarian, remorseless and mechanical Soviet government, protesting for something - reform, freedom, democracy, socialism with a human face.  When it comes to the protesters at the 1968 DNC, I couldn't figure out what exactly they were protesting for or against; it seemed to protest for the sake of protest, without standing for much.  Anti-war, yes - but reform... but I don't know, I just never "got it."  I don't know if that was Kurlansky's fault or not, but I don't think so.  I think rather than with much distance between 1968 and today, the protests that seemed so big and important didn't have a lasting effect.  Perhaps.  I'm not sure. Regardless, the police response was as deplorable as that of the Soviets.  Lots of motherfuckers in 1968.


This is the world 1968 hath wrought though.  We can't forget that.


1968: The Year That Rocked the World1968: The Year That Rocked the World by Mark Kurlansky

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I've read this book twice now.  The first review, from back in February 2005, was a stupidly pithy and snarky one line:  "The protesters of 1968 all seem like rather unpleasant people, and bit like spoiled brats."  This second go around, I listened to the book on audio, and my reaction was a bit more nuanced and intelligent. Instead of "unpleasant people," I'm going to use Kurlansky's own words.  He kept saying the word of the year in 1968 was "mother fucker."  I think that a good chunk of these 1968ers, both those in authority and those protesting, were "motherfuckers."  I'm not sure if that was Kurlanksy's attempt or not (he does spend the last chapter distilling some of this down), but that was my takeaway.  His best chapters were the back to back chapters on the brutal and sad end of Prague Spring, and the bloody protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.  I think he forces you into a compare and contrast of the two movements, what they did or did not stand for (reform seemed to be the other word of the year, even more than peace), and the similar outcome for each (authoritarian crackdown).  Listening to this rather than reading it gave it an almost storyteller like quality, like sitting down at the foot of  - well, not exactly someone who was there; more like a gentle easy to understand historian with a good lecture style.  I had forgotten reading it long ago; but I think listening to it will make it stick in my head for sometime to come.  


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Something I wanted to add but nearly forgot to do so.  I was born in 1970, so any memory of the "age of Aquarius"  is a hazy one at best.  What I do know that when I was five or six, I was terrified of "hippies."  Living in the middle of conservative Kansas, I was exposed to Nixon's silent majority more than flower children (although my father was and is a democrat).  I remember one time a motorcycle gang roared by (we lived along a highway), and we were terrified of these "hippies."  I wonder if some of my disdain for Abby Hoffman and the Weather Underground and so on may be residual from this fear of hippies.  




Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Empty Mansion: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr. (2013)

To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, the rich are different, and Huguette Clark was the different-est.  Because she had more money than God (to paraphrase Steel Magnolias), she was able to avoid ending up being on Hoarders.  Dedman's book (Newell, Clark's relative, gets co-authorship but I'm not exactly sure how much he wrote, that was sort of unclear) is both a history of Huguette and a history of the late Gilded Age - with Montana and Las Vegas thrown in (Clark County is named after Hugette's father).

Huguette spent her final twenty years living in a hospital in New York City, sort of like Eloise in the Plaza, and some of its staff, particularly her nurse Haddasah Peri, lived high on the hog off of her (the hospital didn't so so well).  Although nothing illegal was apparently undertaken - at least by the hospital staff (Hugette's lawyer and accountant are another story), the ethics behind accepting millions of dollars from an infirm and maybe mentally ill patient seem pretty clear:  don't take the money, or at least not so much.  

The book ends with an unresolved court case, in which the descendants of Huguette's father are contesting the will.  Since the book's publication, the court granted in favor of the descendants, and forced the nurse to pay back $5 million bucks; the lawyer and accountant had their executor duties stripped as well.  That's a messy case to decide, because the family wasn't around to take care of Huguette in her final years, these other people were - and apparently by Huguette's choice.

Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American FortuneEmpty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, the rich are different from the rest of us, and Huguette Clark was different-er than them.  Being a reclusive billionairess has its perks, one of which is you don't end up featured in an episode of Hoarders, which Huguette could have easily done otherwise.  Dedman's book is a biography of the strange daughter of one of the founders of Las Vegas (Clark County), from her Richy Rich beginnings to her strange last years.  The book is also a biography of the last years of the Gilded Age, as Clark's father was a Copper Baron and Senator straight out of Mark Twain (or  Mr. Smith Goes to Washington); Huguette was the last of the Edith Wharton class (although her family was too Western and déclassé to be a part of the 400). It's interesting to think that she lived long enough to see the barons of the new Gilded Age.  Dedman's book is great fun; it's not exactly "how the other half lives" because even the other half wasn't 1)this rich and 2) this crazy.  


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