Book of the Week, non-fiction, Uncategorized

Book of the Week: Catch and Kill

It may have been a shorter than some reading list again last week, but nevertheless I am back to normal service with the BotW posts today and I’ve got a cracker for this week’s pick. And yes it’s had a lot of hype but it’s really worth it.

Cover of Catch and Kill

I think you’d have to have been under a rock to have missed the Harvey Weinstein story breaking last year. The former movie mogul – the producer behind many Oscar-winning movies – was accused sexual harassment and paying settlements to women in a New York Times article by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey and then five days later by multiple women of a pattern of predatory behaviour of sexual assaults (including rape) in a New Yorker article written by Ronan Farrow. Weinstein has always denied wrong doing, saying that via his lawyers that any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied and there are cases still making their way through the courts in the US. But Farrow’s investigation of Weinstein originally started as part of his work for NBC News. This is the story behind that original New Yorker article – of how Farrow assembled the witnesses and evidence to stand the story up and of the efforts that he says were being taken to stop the story getting on air.

Two years after those first articles (which saw Kantor, Twohey, Farrow, the NYT and New Yorker share a Pulitzer Prize) we already know most of the allegations about Weinstein and this book has mostly made headlines because of the allegations made about the attempts to suppress the story. But it’s also a pacey and incredibly readable piece of narrative nonfiction. It’s very easy to read, and Farrow is realistic about his role and position in the world – in case you’ve missed it, he’s the son of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen and was a child genius who went to college in his teens and who is estranged from his father. Farrow has a way with words – this reads almost like a thriller novel, and not just because of the presence of secretive Israeli spies. It’s also wryly funny in places – mostly when Farrow’s partner, podcaster and former Obama speechwriter Jon Lovett, appears, something that Lovett has Thoughts About when it comes to the audiobook:

This is one of the best nonfiction books I’ve read this year and would make a great Christmas book gift – even though the subject matter doesn’t sound like it would. I borrowed my copy from the library, but you should be able to get a copy of Catch and Kill from all good bookshops (I’m thinking it’ll be on a table/new books display), as well as on Kindle, Kobo and Audible, although I understand that there have been some problems in some territories with legal threats.  Is it any wonder that I’ve read and rewritten this post several times?!

Happy Reading!

book round-ups, non-fiction, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Rich People Problems – Non-fiction Edition

Regular readers of the blog may be aware that I’m somewhat fascinated by the interwar period.  I love Golden Age crime novels, like my beloved Peter Wimsey, one of my all-time favourite novels is Laurie Graham’s Gone With the Windsors and I’ve read a lot about of some of the notables of the period  – some of which I’ve written about here before – like Flappers, Bright Young People and Queen Bees.  And after a recent jag of books about the era (and slightly beyond), now seemed like an ideal time for a bit of a round up of the best bits of the non-fiction.  You’ll hear more about the fiction anon…

Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell JrCover of Empty Mansions

This is another one of those books that I’ve wanted to read after I saw the author interviewed about on the Daily Show before Jon Stewart left and have recently got around to reading (see also: Jim Henson) and it is really something.  Huguette Clark died in hospital in 2011 at the age of 104. The fact that she died in hospital is about the only “normal” thing about her life. She was worth $300m. She’d been in the hospital for 30 years. She hadn’t been photographed – in public at least – for nearly twice that. Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Bill Dedman and one of Huguette’s cousins, Paul Clark Newell Jr, look at her life, her family’s fortune and why she retreated to the confines of one room (and progressively smaller one at that) of a hospital for so long when she had apartments and riches that most people can only dream of.  And it’s one hell of a ride.  I read it as an ebook, which is good because it’s long and dense and has footnotes that you might want to flick back and forth to. As well as being fascinating it leaves you with lots of things to ponder – why did she retreat from public life in the 1930s? Was she exploited by the hospital or her carers? And what do people who have made huge fortunes owe to the people and the towns they made the money off? Well worth a look.

The Riviera Set by Mary S Lovell

Hardback of The Riviera Set

Want to know how the French Riviera become the playground of the rich and famous?  This book will tell you.  Lovell’s book starts by introducing you to Maxine Elliott and showing how she established herself as one of Edwardian society’s notable hostesses before building Chateau de l’Horizon, the modernist villa at the centre of the book.  Between the wars, Maxine’s house hosted all the notables of the time – the Churchills, the Windsors, Noel Coward and more – and after the war it transitioned into a party house for the Hollywood set under the ownership of Aly Khan.  I learned new things about some familiar faces from the interwar years – as well as being introduced to a 50s and 60s jet-set that I wasn’t really very knowledgable about.  This mixes royal history, political history and Hollywood history as it shows how the Riviera evolved through the years – although it stops well before the coast became the exlusive playground of oligarchs and the super rich.  Very readable and just gossipy enough. I liked it so much it’s still on my downstairs shelves, nearly two years after I first read it.

Chanel’s Riviera by Anne de Courcy

hardback copy of Chanels Riviera

Once you’ve read about Maxine, go straight on to Anne de Courcy’s new book and see what happened to the Riviera when the Second World War hit it.  The Lovell – which focuses on the villa and the rich – covers the World War Two in one chapter, mostly about how everyone got out.  Chanel’s Riviera will fill in the gaps – and make sure that you don’t go away with the idea that the Riviera wasn’t really affected by it all.  There is plenty about Chanel herself in here, mostly around her time on the Riviera and her friends there, but there’s a lot more detail about the more normal people down there – and not just the rich.  There are expats who had moved down there for their health and the people who had moved down there to work for them or with them.  This one only just came out – it’ll get a place on my shelves just as soon as I get it back from my mum…

The Unfinished Palazzo by Judith Mackrell

Cover of The Unfinished Palazzo

This is a group biography of sorts of three very unconventional for their time women who all owned the titualar Venetian Palazzo during the twentieth century. I found this while scouring my shelves looking for something similar to The Riviera Set after reading that – and it even has some crossover in the cast list (if you know what I mean!), as Doris Castlerosse is a principle figure in this after being a side character in the Lovell.  Luisa Casati was what probably what we would consider now to be a performance artist – albeit one with a pet cheetah. Doris Castlerosse was a socialite who married money and was close to Winston Churchill. And Peggy Guggenheim was an heiress who renovated the building and used it to showcase her collection of modern art (yes, one of those Guggenheims).  Although this was less satisfying than the Lovell overall,  and would serve you well as an entry point into any of their lives.  I would happily read more about any one of the women in this.

So there you have it.  Four more books to add to the list.  This has been mostly European focused – even Huguette – who was part French and spoke with a French accent!  If you’ve got any recommendations for more stuff about America or the rest of the world in this period, hit me up in the comments. Equally if you’ve got an historical rich people problems novels that you think I should read let me know – because they are also my catnip.

Happy Reading!

American imports, Book of the Week, memoirs, non-fiction, Uncategorized

Book of the Week: Southern Lady Code

I had a really lovely week of reading again last week. And there were difficult choices for book of the week this week, but actually I haven’t picked a book of essays in a while and this one was just delicious.

Cover of Southern Lady Code

I wrote about American Housewife back in 2016 and I’ve been waiting for more from her ever since.  American Housewife was a short story collection though, and this a bit different. Across more than twenty essays, Ellis examines what it means to her to be a Southern Lady – and in particular what it’s like to be a Southern Lady living in Manhattan.  Her mantra is “If you don’t have something nice to say, say something not-so-nice in a nice way” and there are a lot of laughs to be had because of this, but there are also ghosts, retro buffets, cleaning as a method of keeping the spark in a marriage and how to shop for a formal event.  It’s funny, clever and true – or at least mostly true. Probably.  But basically Helen Ellis makes me laugh.  I’m not a Southern lady, and I’m a bit younger than Ellis, but there was so much here that amused me and spoke to me.

If you like wry sideways takes on American life, this would make a great addition to your autumn reading list. It was definitely worth waiting two months in the hold queue for it.

As you might guess from that, my copy of Southern Lady Code came from the library, but I’ll be buying myself a copy when it’s out in paperback here. It’s available in hardback, kindle and kobo.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Jim Henson

So many good books on holiday last week. And if all goes to plan, you’re going to be hearing a about a lot of them. Just as soon as I have time to read a few more books and write the posts. But I’ve got it all planned out in my head. Trust me. Ahem.  Anyway, this week’s pick is Jim Henson: The Biography, Brian Jay Jones’s look at the life of the innovative puppeteer, animator and filmmaker.

Cover of Jim Henson: The Biography

If you don’t know who Jim Henson is, I think you must have been living under a rock, or just not paying attention. Henson was the creator of the Muppets and the puppet characters on Sesame Street. Exactly. I think everyone has grown up with Bert and Ernie, Elmo, Big Bird and of course Kermit and Miss Piggy. This is a big, in-depth look at the man behind the puppets and what drove him.

Going in to reading this, I knew about the Muppets, and I knew he died in the early 90s – there’s a dedication to him at the end of the Muppet Christmas Carol, which is of course one of the all-time great children’s Christmas films – but that was about it. It turns out that he (and his creations) were a TV sensation in his local area before he was out of his teens, he was hugely affected by the early death of his younger brother which lead to a breakneck work ethic, but who also was devoted to being a good dad to his five kids. It’s really a remarkable life.

This book came out in 2013* and Brian Jay Jones had the cooperation of the Henson family, access to all the archives and interviewed all the key players. It was the first full length biography of Henson and Frank Oz (aka Miss Piggy aka Yoda) said that it captured Henson’s genius and his flaws. And I found that very true – it’s not a hagiography. You get a real sense of the amazing mind and vision that Henson had, but also that he must have been a difficult man to live with at times – and definitely a difficult person to manage!

It’s a fascinating read not just because it’s about a great subject but because it’s really well written. Jones has since written biographies of George Lucas and Dr Seuss and even though I’m not hugely interested in either of those men, I enjoyed this so much I would probably still borrow them from the library or buy them in a kindle daily deal just because this was so well researched, thoughtful and readable.

My copy of Jim Henson came from the library but it’s available on Kindle, Kobo and Audible and in paperback and hardback – although mostly via secondhand sellers and coming in from the US.

Happy Reading!

*and I’ve had it on my to-read list since seeing Brian Jay Jones interviewed on the Daily Show soon after it came out, which tells you a lot about how long it’s taken me to get around to getting hold of a copy – thank you library!

Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud

As I said in yesterday’s Week in Books, it turns out that the week after the move is also super busy.  And I have so little brain space going on for anything that it’s not funny. Anyway, another non-fiction pick this week.  What can I say, all my library holds for non fiction books are coming in and I’m trying hard to read them as soon as I get them so I don’t run out of time on the loans!  And this is one that I’ve heard a lot about – including some great interviews with the author Anne Helen Peterson.

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud’s subtitle is The Rise and Reign of Unruly Women and examines a series of women and what it is about them that the media and society finds so difficult to deal with.   Each woman is picked for one specific trait that makes her unrulyy – Serena Williams is too strong, Kim Kardashian is too pregnant, Hillary Clinton too shrill.  And in examining these women it sheds light on to how society views women and challenges assumptions that you may have made yourself.  Anne Helen Peterson is a senior culture writer at Buzzfeed and this is incredibly readable, as well as packed with what was clearly a lot of research.

Even if you don’t like all of the women here – and there are definitely some that I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of – but I found that there was something in every chapter that made me think, or reconsider some of my preconceptions.  And as someone who used to be a radio newsreader, I’ve had a lot of comments about my voice over the years, so there was definitely some stuff in the too shrill chapter that I had a lot of feelings about.  But I think most (every?) woman reading this will recognise something that’s been said about her or too her in this.

I know this review is shorter than the usual – but that’s mostly my brainfade talking.  This is a really, really good and interesting read – I raced through it – and fits in really well with some of the other writing about women and society that I’ve read recently.  Peterson is currently writing a book about burnout – if you haven’t read her essay about how Millennials became the burnout generation, you really should – and I’m very excited to see what she has to say about it.

My copy of Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud came from the library, but you should be able to get hold of it fairly easily – there are Kindle and Kobo editions as well as paperbacks and hardbacks that you can get from places like Book Depository.  I’m not sure how easy it’ll be to get in an actual bookshop – because I still haven’t worked out if these are UK editions or imports.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: The Great Successor

So I did manage to do some reading last week in between packing boxes, moving boxes and unpacking boxes, and in between all the comfort reading to try and calm me down, I finished this fascinating non-fiction read.  But as it’s still all go here, please forgive me if this post is a little shorter than usual!

Cover of The Great Successor

Anna Fifield is currently the Beijing bureau chief for the Washington Post, but her previous beat was the Koreas and Japan.  She’s also worked for the Financial Times in Seoul.  The Great Successor is her look at Kim Jong Un – his childhood, his rise to power and what he’s done since he became ruler of North Korea.  She’s knowledgable and her sources are people with real experience of the regime.  But it’s also incredibly readable – if a little bit terrifying.

Along with pretty much every journalist on the planet, I’ve done a lot of watching of North Korea – particularly since Donald Trump came to power.  And this is the best insight I’ve yet found into what might be going through the mind of Kim Jong Un – who is pretty much the same age as me and who might have the power to change the world as we know it if he so chooses.   Try not to panic.  This is definitely worth trying to get your hands on if you’re interested in international affairs – and if you’ve read some of the books looking at the inside of the Trump White House, this would make an interesting addition to your to-read pile.  Equally, this isn’t the first book about the Korean Peninsular that I’ve read – and it would make a great trio with The Birth of South Korean Cool and A Kim Jong Un Production.

British cover of The Greaet Successor

My copy of The Great Successor came from the Library, but I think it should be available fairly easily – it’s certainly out in Kindle and Kobo and the hardback is out now and available from Book Depository – all though you’ll note the difference in subtitles between the US and British editions!

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Seduction

June’s stats coming up tomorrow, but first, this week’s Book of the Week – where we’re still firmly in non-fiction (that’s three BotW posts in a row now!) and in a different part of my historical sweet spot: classic Hollywood.

Cover of Seduction

As the subtitle suggests, this is an examination of the machinations of movie mogul Howard Hughes.  A controversial and massively famous figure in his day, if you’re not into Hollywood history you’ve probably still seen Howard Hughes references in all sorts of stuff – like the episode of The Simpsons where gambling is legalised and Mr Burns turns weird, or Willard Whyte in Diamonds are Forever or the fact that Stan Lee cited him as an inspiration for Tony Stark.  And of course there’s the Martin Scorsese film The Aviator in which he’s played by Leonardo DiCaprio.  But like Hallie Rubenhold in The Five last week, Karina Longworth is coming at this from the perspective of the women in the case – and there were a lot of them – she examines what Hughes’s obsessions with sex, power and publicity meant for the women in his orbit and how it affected them. Hint: he was a real piece of work, even more than you might already be thinking.

This was where the majority of my commute reading time went last week (five of my six train journeys) because although it’s fascinating it’s also super long. I’m a recent* convert to Longworth’s podcast, You Must Remember This, and was a little bit worried that this was going to be covering some of the same ground that that has already covered, but actually that’s not a problem. Some of the stuff has been touched on, but this is much more in depth and with more space to develop an overarching theme and narrative.

Obviously #MeToo has been much in the news over the last few years and if you want an illustration of what powerful men in Hollywood have been getting away with since the silent era then this is it. It would also serve as a great starting off point for a wider journey into Hollywood lore – I know there’s a few more lives I want to explore and a couple of books off the bibliography that I’ll be keeping an eye open for.

My copy of Seduction came from the library, but it’s out now in hardback, Kindle and Kobo as well as audiobook read by Longworth. NB: if you haven’t listened to her podcast, she’s got a very particular way of talking which can take a bit of getting used to and I know doesn’t work for everyone.  I’m not sure how easy it’s going to be to find in bookstores – it’s available to buy from Waterstones’ website, but not on click and collect – ditto Foyles.

Happy Reading!

*as in a couple of series ago.