Tuesday, September 27, 2011

You Made the List

Salman Rushdie, Jeffrey Archer and Julian Barnes out on the town.

Bless their hearts, the British really do make me smile.  The link above is a power ranking of the top 100 "people exercising the greatest influence over the UK's reading habits - right now" as compiled by two non-tabloid papers, The Guardian and The Observer.  Better still, a portion of the British public actually care.  Certainly not all of them but it is heartening to see that this list even exists in a mainstream publication, let alone two.  Then again, Britain is also a country whose bookmakers post odds on the shortlisted authors for the Man Booker Prize. 

Here in the US, we'd be far more likely to compile the top 50 nip slips seen on network television or the biggest blunders on Dancing With Survivors at the Bachelor Pad while Hoarding and Hillbilly Handfishin' with an Ice Road Trucker.  

Now I'm not idealizing the Britons, as they certainly have their ways and stays, but can you imagine The New York Times and US Today compiling such a list and the American public giving a shite?  

Now THAT would make me smile.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mr. S: My Life With Frank Sinatra

In 1953, George Jacobs became Frank Sinatra's valet, when Sinatra 'stole' him away from super-publicist Swifty Lazar. To be 'valet' to Sinatra meant being more than his butler.  It encompassed being his aide de camp, his enabler, his babysitter, his beard, his bitch, his alibi, his whipping boy and perhaps his closest friend while keeping in mind he was always and ever Sinatra's employee.  A tightrope at best but by Jacobs' account, he loved his job and his boss and was adept at wearing the many hats it took to be that close to Mr. S. He stayed with Sinatra for fifteen years until 1968 when he was shown the door because he danced with Mia Farrow, then Sinatra's wife, at a club in Los Angeles.

Those fifteen years saw Sinatra at the absolute height of his considerable powers, beginning with a career rebirth in '54 with his Academy Award for From Here to Eternity.  As you might imagine, Jacobs saw it all--the fabulous wealth and splendor of Palm Springs and Reprise Records alongside the vanity and hypocrisy that was Frank Sinatra, he of the shoe lifts and hairpieces and hookers (man, were there a lot of hookers!).  Often while reading Mr. S, it seemed as though a dumptruck pulled up and left a load on my lawn littered with Kennedys, mobsters, showgirls, and many of the biggest names in Hollywood.

Considering the wealth of existing biographies about Sinatra, what I found most interesting about Mr. S was the first-person account by Jacobs.  He was there when Bobby Kennedy boxed Mr. S out of Camelot and Jack stopped returning his calls, when Sam Giancana 'relieved' Sinatra of his precious Mob connections, when Ava and Betty Bacall and Marilyn all were in the picture and then abruptly out of it.  

As has been written in the past too, Sinatra was two people much of the time: the bully who loved to pull sophomoric pranks on his friends (cherry bombs were a Frank favorite) and the Sinatra who bought people cars because he genuinely appreciated their talent or friendship.  This was the guy who thought he'd have access to the White House but whose casino was as mobbed up as the Copa scene in Goodfellas.  

Jacobs also shows the failure of Sinatra's persona, a man afraid to be alone but who had to be the life of the party, an outright bigot but who felt persecuted for being a "Jersey dago" among the Hollywood elite. Jacobs also describes just how cruel and cowardly Sinatra could be and his description of his own ex-communication by Mr. S. is just heartbreaking. 

 Mr. S is a quick and dirty read with heavy emphasis on the dirty.  Ring-a-ding-ding indeed.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The shortlist for this year's Man Booker Prize

Here's the shortlist for the Booker:

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch 
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt 
Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan 
Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman 
Snowdrops by A.D. Miller

I've read two of them and loved both.  The Sisters Brothers was such a surprising read.  Here's what I thought of it: http://goo.gl/fozJQ

Stephen Kelman's Pigeon English was as delightful as it was haunting.  I still need to post about this but don't let that stop you from reading it.

I've no idea what kind of odds the British bookmakers are putting on these books but I'm guessing they are longshots.  The winner will be announced on October 18 in London.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

I have procrastinated on this post because I want to write it perfectly.  The problem is I simply can't.  There is nothing in my tiny writing arsenal that will do justice to how good I believe this book is.  Instead I will gush.

This was one of the big buzz books, post- BEA.  Advance copies, rumored to exist in obscure places, were nowhere to be found and ultimately went the way of the dodo as Viking ran out.  Friends were asking if I'd read it, telling me how much they loved it but I couldn't get my mitts on a copy. Another friend, one of the finest booksellers I've ever known, was so impressed, she pre-ordered 10 copies so she could hand them out to people the day it pubbed.  I was enthusiastically recommending it to people and had yet to read a word.  

Fortunately and for once, I don't look like a complete ass  because The Rules of Civility is that good.   

At least to begin, all you need to know is that it is New Years Eve, 1937 in a Manhattan jazz club when a couple of regular gals from the secretarial pool, Kate Kontent (accent on the second syllable) and Eve Ross, meet a handsome, well-heeled, cashmere-coated banker, Theodore Grey.  But "my friends call me Tinker. Couldn't you have just guessed it? How the WASPs loved to nickname their children after the workaday trades: Tinker. Cooper. Smithy.  Maybe it was to hearken back to their seventeenth-century New England bootstraps--the manual trades that had made them stalwart and humble and virtuous in the eyes of their Lord.  Or maybe it was just a a way of politely understating their predestination to having it all."  

That's from page 19!  Kate's description of Eve on page 14 is so perfect, I read it four times and twice aloud to Mrs. Next.

This debut novelist (whose names sounds like Chico Marx making a room service request) will have a high mark to meet in any subsequent work as the prose is exquisite throughout, the use of alliteration artful, the characters believable and endearing.  It is a Gatsby-esque tale extremely well-told that will tug at your heart and your conscience and will leave you wanting more.  Is it a "classic"?  I'll leave that to time and taste.  Is it one of the best novels of recent memory?  I think so.