Category Archive 'Books'
30 Sep 2021

End of Debutante Balls in Britain

, ,

Via LithHub:

After social norms had been inconveniently interrupted by the Second World War, presentations at court were revived by George VI in 1947. But the business was less exclusive, less glamorous than before. And it felt uncomfortably anachronistic in a postwar Britain which was struggling with rationing and bomb damage. The presentation party went into a slow decline until finally, in November 1957, the lord chamberlain’s office announced that there would be no more presentations after the following year’s Season. “The present time is one of transition in the sense that the traditional barriers of class have been broken down,” admitted the author of a rueful leading article in the Times the following day. “It has long ceased to be true to say that the Court is the centre of an aristocracy, the members of which form a clearly recognizable section of the community.” Princess Margaret was more succinct: “We had to put a stop to it,” she said. “Every tart in London was getting in.”

So 1958 was to be the last royal Season, and anxious social commentators predicted that its demise heralded the end of the Season altogether. In fact, the hectic round of social activities continued into the 1960s, with the overlapping worlds of aristocracy and plutocracy simply getting on with the business of bringing out their daughters and advertising their availability for marriage. Traditional fixtures were maintained—Queen Charlotte’s Ball, the Royal Caledonian Ball, both held at the Grosvenor House Hotel in Mayfair—as were the great sporting occasions—Royal Ascot, Henley Royal Regatta, Wimbledon, and the Royal International Horse Show at White City Stadium.

There were also the private events, the cocktail parties, the “small dance” in Holland Park or Hampstead, perhaps shared between two or three debutantes, the grand ball with royal guests. There were around a hundred private dances each year well into the 1960s. Mothers whose own debuts had taken place in prewar days went for familiar venues—stalwarts like the Hyde Park Hotel and Claridge’s, the Ritz, the Dorchester. Others, with impressive addresses in Mayfair or Belgravia or Chelsea, opted for their own town houses.

But around half of the coming-out dances held both before and after the end of presentations at court didn’t take place in London at all. In 1956, for instance, Lady Cynthia Asquith gave a ball for her granddaughter at Stanway House in Gloucestershire, the Jacobean country home of her nephew Francis, Earl of Wemyss and March. Also in Gloucestershire, Mrs J. H. Dent-Brocklehurst gave a ball for her daughter Catharine at the family’s 15th-century seat of Sudeley Castle. The Marchioness of Abergavenny brought out her daughter, Lady Anne Nevill, at Eridge Park in Sussex; Mrs Bromley-Davenport did the same for her daughter at Capesthorne Hall in Cheshire, which had belonged to the Davenport family since the mid-18th century.

The country house was coming to rival the traditional hotel and the Mayfair mansion as a fashionable venue for a coming-out ball, as indeed it had been for years both in Ireland, where the season revolved around the Dublin Horse Show in August, and in Scotland, where the best of the Northern Season’s autumnal entertainments had always taken place in private homes. And while the country house made for a very different experience—guests were more likely to meet with country doctors, inebriated clergymen, and horse-mad matrons rather than the determinedly sophisticated types that might be found at the big London dances—it was usually a pleasant one.

“The best dances were in the country, in some castle or huge house,” remembered Angela Huth, who came out in 1956. Fiona MacCarthy, who came out two years after Angela and, like Angela, went on to forge a distinguished career as a writer, reckoned that “the Season only came alive out in the country.” People dressed less formally and were generally more relaxed. “In the last hour or two of a good party in the country, as dawn rose on dancing partners sleepily entwined on the dance floor in the garden, even girls who had their reservations about the Season felt fortunate indeed.” Angela Huth agreed: “The unforgettable part of the country dances was the return to the house at which we were staying to find the brilliance of the previous evening veiled in early mist, melancholy wisteria drooping more heavily, mourning doves cooing—all so uniquely English that tears came to tired eyes.”

23 Jul 2021

Sakya Monastery’s Hidden Library

, , , ,


Library of Sakya Monastery, Tibet. (Click on image for larger version.)

Wikipedia:

A huge library of as many as 84,000 scrolls was found sealed up in a wall 60 metres long and 10 metres high at Sakya Monastery in 2003. It is expected that most of them will prove to be Buddhist scriptures, although they may well also include works of literature, history, philosophy, astronomy, mathematics and art. They are thought to have remained untouched for hundreds of years.

06 Jun 2021

That Over-Priced City By the Bay

,

LithHub excerpts Grant Faulkner’s new book repining the technocrafication of San Francisco that prices out creative Bohos like himself.

Our sense of place is as important as the other senses because it provides the sense of belonging, and without knowing it, I belonged in San Francisco in the early ’90s, no matter that I wasn’t quite as hip as the other hipsters (I thought about but eventually balked at getting a tattoo of barbed wire around my bicep), no matter that my leftist politics placed me nearer Jerry Brown than Che Guevara. Whether I was doing yoga in the attic of an old Victorian on Dolores Street (yoga studios were still rare and exotic in the early ’90s) or going on my weekly pilgrimage to Fort Mason on the 49 bus to page through the slim binders of jobs at Media Alliance, desperately trying to find a job that better suited my college education than my gig as a waiter, or walking with hordes of people through Golden Gate Park for a free concert, I belonged to San Francisco, and my Midwestern self was fading away.

And yet, the place I belonged to was just about to depart. To be usurped, really. As the dot-coms rolled in, finally providing those jobs that were better suited to my college education, some of my poor writer friends became digital marketers and content providers and would soon climb the ladder to earn more money, and then more again, because it took more and more to live here. Others left for places like Portland, LA, and Austin, places they hoped would provide an easier and more creative life. The rest were pushed out. Rudely pushed out by escalating rents. We thought the Mission, the city, was ours, and didn’t understand how such a thing could be for sale. We were futurists looking in the wrong direction.

RTWT

02 Jun 2021

Woke Parents’ Bedtime Reading

, , ,

Babylon Bee:

Here are a few classics that every woke parent should read to their kids at bedtime.

1. Communist Manifesto (Illustrated Kids Edition): This beloved classic by Karl Marx has been rewritten for young audiences! Follow your friend Karl as he teaches your child everything from seizing the means of production to throwing your enemies in the gulag!

2. The Very Gay Caterpillar: Follow the beloved central character as he goes through 7 same-sex partners in 7 days! This is normal and should be celebrated.

3. Are You My Birthing Person?: The classic-yet-problematic Are You My Mother? has been updated with more inclusive language. About time!

4. All 371 of Barack Obama’s memoirs: Open one of Obama’s many memoirs and let your child bask in the warm glow of the light-bringer himself. Read it, and hide his words in your heart. …

7. Harry Potter but just say “Trump” instead of Voldemort: To drive the point home, make sure and scream at the sky every time you say his name.

8. The Little Engine That Was Held Back By Systemic Oppression So She Shouldn’t Even Try: An essential life lesson for every woke child.

9. ‘Men Can Have Periods’ pop-up book: If your child throws up while you read it to them, remind them that they are a bigot.

10. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad USA: Another children’s classic rewritten for modern audiences. It teaches one of life’s most important lessons: America is bad.

RTWT

19 Apr 2021

“The English Gentleman”

, , , ,

A Yale classmate recently sent me a link to this book coming up for auction at Swann: Lot 0021: Richard Brathwait (1588?-1673) The English Gentleman.

We both thought the frontispiece, showing the English Gentleman in Youth, during his Education, his Recreations, Vocation, Disposition, &c., His “Hope in Heaven, but His Feet on the Ground” attired in Carolingian fashion delightful.

I would certainly have purchased this curiosity if it were not horribly expensive. Alas! it went for $1700, with Buyer Premium: $2210. The book is quarto sized, and I fear a lot of people like framing and hanging that amusing and evocative frontispiece.

I looked for a free ebook, but was disappointed. There isn’t one.

HT: Tom Weil.

09 Feb 2021

Bindings from the French Renaissance at the Morgan Library

, , ,


Jacopo Vignola (1507−1573), Regola delli cinque ordini d’architettura (Rules of the Five Orders of Architecture), [Rome: s.n., 1562–64]
The Morgan Library & Museum, Purchased in 1960; PML 51314.

Claude III de Laubespine commissioned the binding, executed in Paris circa 1567–68 by the Atelier au Vase. Morgan Library director Frederick Adams declared that this elegant example “sends a tingle of pleasure down the spine.”

The Morgan Library in New York will be exhibiting through May 16th extraordinary bindings from the Laubespine-Villeroy Library.

Young, handsome, and highborn, Claude III de Laubespine lived in luxury after marrying an heiress and obtaining the favor of King Charles IX. His brilliant career at court was cut short in 1570, when he died at the age of 25. He left behind a splendid library, which was dispersed, and only recently have his books been identified and properly appreciated for their superb quality and fine bindings. Laubespine now ranks among the great collectors of the French Renaissance.

For the first time in more than 400 years, this exhibition brings together some of the most spectacular bindings in that collection, exquisite examples of Renaissance ornamental design. They will be shown along with related artwork and literary memorials of Laubespine. He left his books to his sister, a patron of the poet Pierre de Ronsard, who praised her country estate, the library, and its perfumed bindings, which, he said, “smells as good as your orange trees.” This exhibition will evoke the sensual pleasure and literary connoisseurship implicit in a noble library of that era.

————————————

11 Nov 2020

Sloan Wilson’s WWII Trilogy

, ,

Sloan Wilson, now largely forgotten, was once famous for his 1955 novel The Man in the Gray-Flannel Suit, which captured, and did much to define, the 1950s ethos of corporate conformity.

I recently stumbled upon Kindle versions of his WWII Trilogy, which delivered somewhat fictionalized versions of his war-time experiences as a Coast Guard officer.

Most of us were not actually aware that, during the WWII Emergency, the Coast Guard sailed far beyond the coast, operating as an extension of the US Navy.

In the first book, Ice Brothers, the protagonist, just out of college and married at the outbreak of the war, having a recreational yachting family background, wangles himself a commission as an officer in the Coast Guard, and finds himself immediately appointed Executive Officer of a meagerly-armed fishing trawler destined to fight the ice, deliver supplies, and finally eliminate German weather stations on the Greenland coast. It’s a darn good story.

In book 2, Voyage to Somewhere, after shore leave and recovery following two years service on the Greenland coasts, the protagonist (now with a different name) is handed command of a brand-new, hastily constructed and far-from-fully-equipped freighter with a crew made up of 26 newly enlisted seamen, all with surnames beginning with W, tasked to sail from California to Hawaii then on to New Guinea and every small island in between.

Book 3, Pacific Interlude, the same Sloan Wilson-figure, again with another name, has his third command: a decrepit, rusty and leaky tanker loaded with high-octane aviation fuel for delivery to brand-new American bases on the Philippines. His chances of survival look slim.

Wilson’s alter ego knows perfectly well that he could easily escape this assignment, but just can’t bring himself to do it.

Did he really have to accept the likely death sentence of being assigned to the Y – 18? Like the woman who did not want to make love, a man who did not want to fight for life in a war could get constant headaches and backaches. If he complained enough to some doctor here in Brisbane, the word would be sent to the personnel officer in New Guinea and a replacement would arrive. Headquarters didn’t want skippers who are chronically ill. No one was forced to command a ship. So why not just beg off this crazy assignment?

He would not do that because he would not do that. Not much of an answer, but it was the truth. He remembered his father telling him that the Grants and his mother’s people, the Garricks, had fought in every American war and probably in the wars of England and Germany, where they came from, back through the centuries… “Wars never make much sense if you try to find fancy causes for them,” his father Charles had said. “No country is morally much superior to any other, if you think of history, the battles over religion and politics always seem ridiculous in retrospect. One fact remains: it’s the nature of any human society to expand until it collides with another. It then is repulsed or swallows the other. A nation without enough good fighting men is bound to be swallowed. In time of peace no one likes fighting men — they are a reproach to our morality. But when the bugle blows as it does and will in almost every generation, a nation stands or falls according to the strength of its fighting men. Nowadays industry and science have a lot to do with the fighting of wars, but they would be useless without the cutting edge of fighting men. Never be ashamed that all your people have been fighting men.”

10 Oct 2020

Ray Chandler’s Letters to James M. Fox

,

Ray Chandler’s correspondence with James M. Fox (an obscure writer of crime and espionage novels) offers interesting glimpses of Chandler’s tastes and responses to the work of other authors.

In the course of their letters, he comments on, mostly disparages:

Ross Macdonald (The Drowning Pool)

Dorothy B. Hughes (The Davidian Report)

Julian Symons (The Broken Penny)

Eric Maschwitz (Little Red Monkey)

John Dickson Carr

Agatha Christie

Ian Fleming (Casino Royale)

William Campbell Gault

Jacquin Sanders (Freak Show)

James M. Cain

Holly Roth (The Content Assignment)

And, last and perhaps least: James M. Fox.

05 Oct 2020

A Kindred Spirit

, , ,

The late Professor Macksey had books the way Karen and I have books.

02 Oct 2020

The Ultimate Rare Book Collection

, ,

Alison Flood, of the Guardian, interviews a very knowledgeable book dealer and authority.

Edward Brooke-Hitching grew up in a rare book shop, with a rare book dealer for a father. As the author of histories of maps The Phantom Atlas, The Golden Atlas and The Sky Atlas, he has always been “really fascinated by books that are down the back alleys of history”. Ten years ago, he embarked on a project to come up with the “ultimate library”. No first editions of Jane Austen here, though: Brooke-Hitching’s The Madman’s Library collects the most eccentric and extraordinary books from around the world.

“I was asking, if you could put together the ultimate library, ignoring the value or the academic significance of the books, what would be on that shelf if you had a time machine and unlimited budget?” he says.

Following up anecdotes, talking to booksellers and librarians and trawling through auction catalogues, he came across stories like that of the 605-page Qur’an written in the blood of Saddam Hussein. “If that was on a shelf, what could possibly sit next to it?” he asks. “I mentioned it to a bookseller and they told me about a diary that they’d had, from the 19th century, written by a shipwrecked captain who only had old newspaper and penguins to hand. So Fate of the Blenden Hall was written entirely in penguin blood.”

There’s the American civil war soldier who inscribed his journal of the conflict on to the violin he carried. There’s the memoir of a Massachussetts highwayman, James Allen, which he “requested be bound in his own skin after his death, and presented to his one victim who had fought back as a token of his admiration”. Or the diary of the Norwegian resistance fighter Petter Moen, pricked with a pin into squares of toilet paper and left in a ventilation shaft; although Moen was killed in 1944, one of his fellow prisoners returned to Oslo after it was liberated from the Nazis and found the diary. Or the entirely fabricated book An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa: its author George Psalmanazar, a blond-haired, blue-eyed, pale-skinned man with a thick French accent, arrived in London in about 1702 and declared himself to be the first Formosan, or Taiwanese, person to set foot on the European continent. (“Obviously no one had been there and nobody knew what Taiwanese people looked like, and he became the toast of high society,” says Brooke-Hitching.)

RTWT

11 Aug 2020

Publishers Hurt by Obama’s ‘Failure to Perform’

,

VodkaPundit is amused by the Great One’s famous work ethic.

It looks more and more like Barack Obama has made chumps out of yet another publisher:

    Book contracts routinely include a “failure to perform” clause. Contracts that come with a reported $65 million advance, such as the one signed by Barack and Michelle Obama in February 2017 with Penguin Random House (PRH), will inevitably include such a clause.

    Among the most common of such failures is the failure to complete a contracted work by an agreed-upon deadline. PRH is staring down one such failure right now. At the time the Obama deal was made in early 2017, insiders were telling Publishers Weekly that books by both Michelle and Barack would be released in fall 2018.

Michelle’s book did great, although Insanity Wrap believes there might have been some sales shenanigans as is sometimes the case with Democrat-penned political biographies.

That aside, here we are nearly two years after Barack’s deadline, and the publisher still has nothing to publish:

    “The delay is wreaking havoc with print scheduling and of course budget planning,” one publishing insider told me. “The enormous advance is starting to ‘raise’ concerns within the publisher. While Michelle’s book performed well, Obama needs to deliver the book and sales to make the overall deal worthwhile.”

Back in the early ’90s, Obama took a $125,000 advance for a book on race and voting rights he never finished, although he did manage to hand in “bloated, yet incomplete drafts.” He also never repaid the advance, claiming he had too much student debt.

Some of the pages Obama did turn in, he wrote on a third-party’s dime:

    He also did some writing at the offices of his new employer, Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland, the town’s leading civil rights firm. Some of his new colleagues were reportedly less than thrilled to see their young associate, feet up on his desk, doodling on his book on company time. The named partners, however, indulged him.

Insanity Wrap is impressed: Obama managed to get two organizations to pay him for a book he never wrote.

Nice work if you can shirk it.

RTWT

21 May 2020

Reviewing With Good Taste

, ,


The late David Foster Wallace.

I’m going to have to start reading Dale Peck‘s novels. He has the good taste to recognize that Pynchon, DeLillo, and especially David Foster Wallace are not any good.

The US literary world can be divided into two camps: those who think Thomas Pynchon is a very clever guy, and those who also think he’s a great writer. As it happens, I’m of the former camp. While I admit that Pynchon’s writing is packed with all sorts of ideas, ultimately the novels strike me as more crudités than smorgasbord: the appetisers keep coming (and coming, and coming), but the main course never arrives. Pynchon’s hallmarks are his tentacular – I might almost say his amorphous – prose, which can and does snare just about any philosophical concept or pop cultural phenomenon in its grasp; and his sense of satire, which can be awfully funny if your taste runs to broad humour. Neither of these traits is necessarily ruinous, but it’s Pynchon’s particular conflation of them that can limit his appeal. Given a choice between pathos and bathos, Pynchon errs on the side of farcical melodrama again and again (and again), and while I admire him for his efforts to undermine traditional narrative tyranny with humour rather than resorting to a Barth-style hatchet job, all four of his novels offer the same one-dimensional commentary on contemporary US society, and, in the end, a thirty-year writing career hasn’t produced a single memorable or even recognisably human character.

Pynchon does have his admirers, and he also has his followers, or people who are labelled his followers, and they do keep cropping up. I think there’s more than a little Pynchon floating around John Kennedy Toole, whose A Confederacy of Dunces is a book nearly as bloated as its protagonist; Don DeLillo’s social, um, satires owe more than a little to Pynchon’s work; and in a recent essay in Harper’s magazine the young novelist Jonathan Franzen declares Pynchon a personal hero. David Foster Wallace moves beyond admiration to adulation – if not, to put it more plainly, outright imitation. It is, in fact, a virtuoso performance that has eclipsed its progenitor: Wallace out-Pynchons Pynchon, and his third book, Infinite Jest, may well be the first novel to out-Gravity’s Rainbow Gravity’s Rainbow.

If nothing else, the success of Infinite Jest is proof that the Great American Hype Machine can still work wonders, in terms of sales. The novel has moved some 60,000 copies and racked up a stack of glowing reviews as thick as it is. What makes the book’s success even more noteworthy is that it is, in a word, terrible. Other words I might use include bloated, boring, gratuitous, and – perhaps especially – uncontrolled. I would, in fact, go so far as to say that Infinite Jest is one of the very few novels for which the phrase ‘not worth the paper it’s written on’ has real meaning in at least an ecological sense; but to resort to such hyperbole would be to fall into the rut that characterises many reviews of this novel.

As the preceding paragraph should make clear, I found Infinite Jest immensely unsatisfactory. I resent the five weeks of my life I gave over to it; I resent every endlessly over-elaborated gag in the book, like the ten-page riff on why video telephones are unviable, or the dozen pages on the teenager who won all his tennis games by playing with a pistol held to his head, or the thousands and thousands and thousands of words devoted to pharmaceutical trivia on all sorts of mind-altering drugs; and I resent especially the 96 pages of tinily typed and deliberately pointless endnotes and ‘errata’, 388 in total, which make the novel a two-bookmark experience. In a hoped-for effort at balance, I also slogged my way through Wallace’s freshman effort, a novel called The Broom of the System, which, at 450 pages, is a relative lightweight next to Infinite Jest; nevertheless, what the novel saves in brevity is more than made up for in banality. The only thing even remotely interesting about Wallace’s first novel is that it reads like a study for his second. Both novels are set in an imagined United States; both revolve around an emotionally disturbed family full of geniuses, cripples and money; both feature a manmade wasteland which becomes central to the national imagination (in The Broom of the System it’s called the Great Ohio Desert, which is why the book is set in Ohio of all places; in Infinite Jest it’s called the Great Concavity); both, most importantly, work up an elaborate – and elaborately digressive – plot which deliberately ends as unsatisfactorily as possible.

RTWT

Your are browsing
the Archives of Never Yet Melted in the 'Books' Category.











Feeds
Entries (RSS)
Comments (RSS)
Feed Shark