The Book of the Week is “Cavalcade of the 1920s and 1930s” edited by Cleveland Amory and Frederic Bradlee, published in 1960. This compilation of Vanity Fair magazine articles showcases two decades of literary luminaries; some of whom were discovered by Frank Crowninshield, the magazine’s editor. Currently, those names, such as P.G. Wodehouse, Gertrude Stein, Dorothy Parker, Amy Lowell, Robert C. Benchley and many others, are fading in the public’s memory. However, they were witty, humorous and entertaining for their era. A perusal of this book today indicates that certain aspects of American life never change. Wodehouse wrote of monies going to the government in an article on family involvement in completing tax returns (which during WWI, were due in March), “…I can only hope that they will not spend it on foolishness and nut sundaes and the movies– but apparently, they needed a few billion dollars, and you and I had to pay for it.”
The Book of the Week is “Walking After Midnight” by Katy Hutchison, published in 2006. This book tells the suspenseful story of how a woman channeled her grief over her husband’s death into a public service. Her twin daughter and son were four years old at the time. Eventually, she turned the tragedy that had befallen her family into a potentially life-saving endeavor. She began lecturing teens on alcohol-related behavior; the kind that led to the situation that killed her husband on New Year’s Eve (no, it was not drunk driving). Read the book to learn the details of this inspiring story.
The Book of the Week is “Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found” by Suketu Mehta, published in 2004.
The author is a fiction writer and journalist who grew up in Bombay and Jackson Heights, New York. He discusses in intimate detail, the culture of Bombay (now called Mumbai), a city of 14 million people. Mehta also examines the lives of several Bombayites living in extreme situations, including an organized-crime detective and “mob” members, a strip club dancer and a club patron, a partial transsexual, and a Jain. He graphically depicts the activities of people living in the Bombay slums, and his own reasons for moving back and forth between India and New York.
He writes, “…because your family misses you. It’s the reason I’ve gone back, been pulled back, again and again…What I found in most of my Bombay characters was freedom… Most of them don’t pay taxes, don’t fill out forms. They don’t stay in one place or in one relationship long enough to build up assets… Surviving in a modern country involves dealing with an immense amount of paper.”
Mehta is torn between New York, in a country with modern conveniences (but with paperwork and financial worries) and Bombay, where his family lives (but with the stresses of simple survival– its poor or nonexistent sanitation, and rampant corruption that obstructs the attainment of even basic services, such as water and electricity.)
The extreme contrasts were interesting.
The Book of the Week is “Confessions of A Raving, Unconfined Nut: Misadventures in Counter-Culture” by Paul Krassner, published in 1994. Paul Krassner was a radical in the 1960’s, in Abbie Hoffman’s crowd. He wrote that when radicals are bored, they start a magazine. Hence, at the end of the 1950’s, he founded the publication “The Realist,” consisting of “social-political-religious criticism and satire.”
True to the title of his book, he was also quite the irreverent smartass. On one occasion, when his significant other hid a marijuana cigarette in a bodily orifice of hers so as not to be charged with possession in a police raid, he could not resist remarking, “What’s a nice joint like that doing in a girl like you?”
Krassner confesses that his divorce was due to his unfaithfulness. He describes an episode of “quality time” with his 15-year old daughter in South America, where they participated in a drug trip they perceived to be mind-enhancing, in a controlled environment with a group.
Krassner discusses his and other counter-culture members’ anti-war activities, including burning (illegal) photocopies of his draft card at numerous protests on college campuses across the nation.
This book provides an entertaining, informative introduction to the societal outliers of the 1960’s.
The Book of the Week is “Crossing the River” by Victor Grossman, published in 2003.
This autobiography tells how an American defected to East Germany during the Korean War. A very unusual story, indeed. He was brainwashed by both his parents, intellectual Communists, in the 1930’s and 1940’s.
He tried to rationalize his penchant for suffering by saying that the cruel and unusual goings-on in the US actually provided a worse way for people to live, than the East Germans did. In the early 1950’s, the McCarthy era was in full swing, the US had ousted the leader of Guatemala in a bloody affair, and instigated another shameful coup in Iran; there was the ugliness at Peekskill, there was still segregation; besides, the Soviets had helped defeat Germany. Comrade Stalin was a god, to the Communists.
The author argues that in 1960, the quality of life wasn’t so bad in East Germany. Yes, there were severe food shortages, but everyone’s medical care was paid for, and everyone had a job or was provided with necessities for survival, and assistance for finding a job, according to his own need. Of course, the people also spent needless hours every day manually washing clothes and dishes, lighting a fire in the pot-bellied stove, and patiently waiting for unreliable public transportation, or hoofing it, because they couldn’t afford a car.
In the early 1960’s, the East Germans kept trying to attack the integrity of the Federal Republic (of West Germany) (with good reason) by publicizing the fact that a large number of ex-Nazis (who had committed unspeakable war crimes) were working in civil service– as judges, even(!) and in the West’s armed forces. It was somewhat alarming that so many Nazis were helping Germany to re-arm, and becoming a pivotal force in NATO.
In the late 1980s, the East German leaders staged a few media incidents, trying to continue to isolate the “German Democratic Republic” (the misnomer that was East Germany) clinging to power, believing that only they could be keepers of the flame. The East Germans, like the Chinese, were into self-criticism circles. They had “tutors”, who bullied doubters and discouraged free-thinkers, cutting them down with questions such as, “Are you questioning the collective judgment of experienced Marxist leaders, able to assess factors far better than any individual? Could you be more correct than they are?”
It was a traumatic time for the author when Khrushchev revealed Stalin’s crimes in the mid 1950’s. But the author continued to rationalize that his adopted homeland was still a better place to live than imperialist America. It’s an excellent book anyway.