April 23, 2011

What is Ms. Edna reading?

Here then in answer to your comments-

The first book on my bedside table, and which I am almost finished reading, is James B. Stewart's Tangled Webs: How False Statements are Undermining America. What Stewart has put together is less a fretful rumination on this country's moral failings than an extraordinary forensic analysis of the high-stakes American liar and revealing the alarming extent of this national epidemic. As I read the book, I could not help, but recall this incident:

At the close of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on September 18, 1787, a Mrs. Powel anxiously awaited the results, and as Benjamin Franklin emerged from the long task now finished, asked him directly: "Well Doctor, what have we got a republic or a monarchy?"
"A republic, if you can keep it" responded Franklin.
Franklin's words were quite telling. He could have simply said, "A republic", but he added the five words, "if you can keep it." By uttering those words, Franklin was suggesting that a republic is not something that can survive without nurturing and constant attention. If we take this responsibility lightly, that republic will grow into an unrecognizable monster, defiant and thirsty for self-gratification. Franklin saw the very real possibility that the infant republic might not stand the test of time; indeed, he recognized the thirst for tyranny among some of those that sat right there in the room with him, crafting our Constitution.
The choice is ours. As someone said, "let it not be said that we did nothing."


Next is Sara Wheeler's Too Close to the Sun. Sara Wheeler is the latest in a long line of women to fall under the Finch Hatton spell. Beryl Markham, who wrote about him in West With the Night, and he inspired Karen Blixen to write her stories in Out of Africa. In many ways, though, Finch Hatton makes an unlikely biographical subject. He left no diaries and only spartan correspondence. He never achieved much. He moved around a lot. He is best known for being a lover of interesting women. There are certainly worse reasons for being famous. In painting the portait of this irresistible man, Sara Wheeler has captured the glamour of the vanished paradise of colonial East Africa. Everyone liked and many people loved Denys Finch Hatton. Few knew him well, and no one could ever fully understand him, certainly not his lovers, and, ultimately, not Sara Wheeler. But just as Blixen might have said, knowing him a little was worth the ride. Wheeler has found the archetypal wanderer forced to straddle multiple worlds. He embodies the contradictions of the early modern age and, in some ways still, of ours. “He was,” she writes, “the open road made flesh.”

I look forward to burrowing into Janis Ian’s Society’s Child. This should be an interesting social study. Below is an excerpt -

“I was born into the crack that split America. On one side of the chasm was the America my parents lived in. There, the country was still congratulating itself on winning the war after the War to End All Wars. Men wore suits and ties to work, or laborer’s uniforms. Women wore stiletto heels, and kept themselves pure for marriage. Females did the housework, males did the heavy lifting. Blacks knew their place, whites knew theirs, and there wasn’t much room between.

On the other side of the crack was the America I grew up in, bounded by anarchy and a passion for truth. In that America, all wars were meaningless, born out of governmental greed and disregard. Vietnam was just the latest in a series of events to help the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. People on my side of the crack” .....
-from "Society's Child - My Autobiography" by Janis Ian


 The next book in my stack is Ethan Mordden's The Guest List: How Manhattan Defined American Sophistication—From the Algonquin Round Table to Truman Capote's Ball. Back a few years, I enjoyed reading (and in some cases re-reading) Mr. Mordden's collections of short stories about a group of young men who frolicked on the Manhattan/Fire Island Pines axis that I observed as a spectator. Since then, we've both grown up, and I look forward to delving into his book on a subject that I always enjoy learning more about life among the social moths that once circled the flames.



I recently was given a copy of Paula Byrne's Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead, by my friend Alistair. Alistair gave me the book after he read my post on Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. The biography explores the period in Waugh's life when he knew, and then immortalized, members of the Lygon family, which he used as the basis for the Flytes in his opus novel of remembrance.

Alistair also gave me his copy of The Big Short, by Michael Lewis. In his book the author profiles the ones who "got it right" and profited during the market meltdown of 2008, when trillions of dollars of market value vanished.

There you have it, Ms. Edna’s current bedside reading. I look forward to wiling away many delicious hours between their covers.

April 2, 2011

Going, going, gone…

Spring cleaning, again. Ah, the things you round-up. The memories you re-live. The ‘stuff’ you coveted!

Doris Duke, the Lucky Strike cigarette heiress, once deemed the richest woman in the USA in many ways had been a Renaissance figure, she used her fortune to endow academic and charitable institutions on a stunning scale, but her wealth did not bring her true love. Surprise, surprise. I researched her life after I received an invitation from a client to an auction of furnishings from some of her properties. For a quick introduction to an extraordinary life, Hugo Vickers' elegant obituary of Duke in The Independent will inform and entertain you.

Re-reading the auction catalogue, I still had mixed feelings and felt intrusive going through her possessions with a critical eye. Her domestic taste was eclectic and uncertain. I imagine she was well advised by decorators like Tony Duquette, but no money in the world can give you that  je ne sais quoi.

I am not saying that there were not many interesting pieces at this auction. Alas, her collection of antiquarian books and Asian art had already been actioned off by Millea Bros.

Here then, is the one that got away (just what I needed)-


Lot 846 - James Buchanan Duke's horse-drawn buggy

I am reading...

  • scribble, scribble, scribble, Simon Schama
  • Julia's Cats, Patricia Barey and Therese Burson
  • London, Edward Rutherfurd
  • I'll Drink to That, Betty Halbreich