Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “memoir”

pyrajane’s review #44: Take the Cannoli by Sarah Vowell

 

I love Sarah Vowell because she loves America.  Not in the scary “We need to take our country back!” kind of way where things can go real bad real fast if you don’t believe in the right god or have the right skin color, but in the kind of way where she ponders our history and realizes, fuck yeah!  America!  See the difference?

I really enjoy all of her books because she is so smart and so funny.  I always feel like we’re BFFs and she’s excitedly telling me about the latest thing she’s discovered in the library or sharing a tale of bemused exasperation at her family.  Yes, I know I don’t know her in real life and I’m not going to stalk her and pet her hair until she hugs me or anything, but she is awesome and if I ever saw her in real life I would probably panic and either look away or be all “I know about assassinations because of YOU!!!  …  Because of your book!  YOUR BOOK ABOUT ASSASSINATIONS!” and then other people would be all “WTF?” and if we weren’t in NYC when this happened then the cops would be called but if we were in NYC then, honestly, people would probably just shrug and go about their business.  They might not even shrug.

Read more about why I liked this book, how it compares to her other books, and mutual masturbation in regards to Disney World.

sonk’s #CBR4 Review #13: West With the Night by Beryl Markham

Beryl Markham is definitely one of the top 10 coolest women I’ve ever read about. Seriously–talk about an empowered woman! Markham was smart, independent, and years before her time. In short, she was a total badass.

Markham grew up in Kenya in the early 20th century, living with her father on their enormous property and learning how to hunt, trek, and ride horses. She was the first licensed horse trainer in Kenya; later, in 1936, she became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west. She spent a number of years working as a bush pilot (a nearly completely male-dominated career at the time). She had affairs with dozens of men, including the Duke of Gloucester and Antoine de Saint-Exupery (the author of The Little Prince). She was best friends with Karen Blixen, who wrote Out of Africa, and Ernest Hemingway was one of her biggest fans (of West With the Night, he wrote:

“She has written so well, and marvellously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pig pen. But this girl, who is to my knowledge very unpleasant and we might even say a high-grade bitch, can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers … it really is a bloody wonderful book.”

Well, Papa Hemingway and I don’t agree on a lot of things (wonderful writer, total asshole) but we do agree on this! West With the Night is a really, really good book. The memoir follows Markham from her childhood in Kenya through her experiences as a bush pilot, essentially recounting the cool adventures she had and bizarre characters that she encountered. The prose is stunning and absorbing–I was anticipating it being a little dry, as it was written so long ago, but Markham is an engaging and interesting narrator, and writes beautifully. It’s clear how much she loves Africa, describing it gorgeous and raw language. As someone who grew up there myself (albeit in the south), I found myself filled with nostalgia and recognition at many of her descriptions of the landscape.

I also really liked the interesting themes she explores, such as race and culture. She walked the line between two worlds, African and European, and thus brings a really unique perspective to the familiar discussions of colonialism and culture in the early 20th century. This also brings a really interesting aspect of identity into play–she doesn’t truly belong in either place, as her experiences with each culture preclude her from being completely assimilated into the other. I really related with this aspect of the memoir, and it only deepened my appreciation for Markham’s work.

Overall, I highly recommend this memoir–Markham’s prose and captivating character made this a wonderful reading experience.

Petalfrog’s #CBR4 Review #35: January First by Michael Schofield

January First is a memoir written by January’s father, Michael. The Schofield family, and Jani in particular, first came to the public awareness after being featured on the Oprah Show. Jani, at that time only 7 years old, has a rare diagnosis of childhood schizophrenia. Her parents, Michael and Susan, had made the difficult decision to keep two separate apartments (one for Jani and one for their son, Bodhi) in order to keep Bodhi safe from Jani’s violent outbursts. Jani’s story stood out in many ways, and the Oprah Special was certainly deeply jarring, especially as we saw how deeply invested Jani was in her delusional world, an island called Calalini, and hallucinations (often animals named after numbers). I remember vividly her father saying that their biggest fear is that she would retreat entirely in to her world, and become catatonic.

This memoir, however, tells the story before Oprah and before Jani’s diagnosis. Michael is telling the story of everything that happened leading up to Jani’s diagnosis, including his own thoughts and feelings during that time. I understand, from some googling, that Michael Schofield is quite a controversial person as he has admitted openly in hitting and restraining Jani on his blogs. I have to say though, that his candidness and honesty in this book is incredible, for whatever it is worth. He is open throughout the memoir that he felt that he was the only parent that could help Jani (before her diagnosis) and feeling during that time that his wife Susan, quite frankly, could not handle the situation. He is also open about his attempts to train the bad behavior out of Jani by locking her in her room, often shoving her inside because of her powerful fight against them.

Again, this is all pre-diagnosis, and after years of living with Jani’s ongoing violent outbursts with minimal help from medication. His marriage was strained, his job was compartmentalized, and he had his own history with depression. Quite frankly, I’m amazed they held it together as well as they did. Michael is also incredibly candid about his own descent into despair, as all his hopes and dreams for his genius daughter were smashed as they received no answers and things got worse. Jani was asking to be hospitalized, and also expressing ongoing suicidal ideation, at FIVE years old.

It is notable that Michael is frequently unlikeable, so don’t expect this to be a super inspirational “super-Dad overcomes all” tale. Michael often behaves in an immature way, especially early on before Jani’s symptoms get too bad when he tries to foster her genius.

The book is incredibly well-written and compelling. We all have a natural curiosity, I think, about unusual psychiatric cases, and January First shows us that Jani’s case, while unusual is not something to gawk at. Her story is unbelievably sad and the impact on her family, devastating. There is not a lot of positivity once she receives the diagnosis of childhood schizophrenia, except knowing that her family has answers after years of not knowing what was going on with their child.

Shallow note: the cover, while soft and pretty, is somewhat of a fail as Jani has an incredible head of curly hair, but the little girl on the cover has straight hair.

Read more reviews on my blog!

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 42: Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

Description from Amazon: “Into Thin Air is the definitive account of the deadliest season in the history of Everest by the acclaimed journalist and author of the bestseller Into the Wild. On assignment for Outside Magazine to report on the growing commercialization of the mountain, Krakauer, an accomplished climber, went to the Himalayas as a client of Rob Hall, the most respected high-altitude guide in the world.  A rangy, thirty-five-year-old New Zealander, Hall had summited Everest four times between 1990 and 1995 and had led thirty-nine climbers to the top. Ascending the mountain in close proximity to Hall’s team was a guided expedition led by Scott Fischer, a forty-year-old American with legendary strength and drive who had climbed the peak without supplemental oxygen in 1994. But neither Hall nor Fischer survived the rogue storm that struck in May 1996.

Krakauer examines what it is about Everest that has compelled so many people — including himself — to throw caution to the wind, ignore the concerns of loved ones, and willingly subject themselves to such risk, hardship, and expense. Written with emotional clarity and supported by his unimpeachable reporting, Krakauer’s eyewitness account of what happened on the roof of the world is a singular achievement.”

I don’t really have a lot to add to the official description, as this is a nonfiction memoir, so a lot of the “stuff” I assess and critique in fiction are off the table here. I will note that Krakauer is an exceptional writer, so reading this does have the feel and pace of reading a suspenseful novel. It’s obvious that, as a reporter, Krakauer has made a point of gathering as much information and as many interviews as he could, and doing so has resulted in — what seemed to me to be — a comprehensive, insightful, empathetic, and reasoned take on the events of May 10/11, 1996. Into Thin Air is not without its controversy and detractors, but I think for his part Krakauer was able to elegantly cover a very sensitive subject.  In addition to the straightforward recollection of the summit attempt, Krakauer also engages in fascinating personal reflection and reveals a great deal of his own survivor’s guilt and grief. And, even though I know everyone loves to play psychologist on the internet, I wouldn’t be surprised if his emotional state after the disaster could be considered straight-up PTSD.

The way this book has written gives it wide-ranging appeal beyond the obvious target group of mountaineers and lovers of the outdoors. Though this bestseller is some 15 years old at this point, it’s well worth a read if somehow you, like me, had managed to miss it up until now.

Sara Habein’s #CBR4 Review #52(!): The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch

Friends, Romans, Cannonballers. Today, at The Quivering Pen, is my 52nd review aka my Full Cannonball. Go read what I had to say about The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch.

An excerpt:

The thought that most often occurred to me while reading was that The Chronology of Water is perhaps the truest thing I’ve ever read. Even if I have not personally experienced the same things, I know many who have, and in the parts where Yuknavitch and I overlap, her words feel so true that they hurt in the same way a massaged, sore muscle does. I wince for a moment, then think, Please keep going. And within all the turmoil, I find a certain amount of peace.

*confetti*

pyrajane’s review #37: How To Be Black by Baratunde R. Thurston

A few years ago my friend Tamatha (organizer of last year’s CBR!) told me about Pajiba.  Later she told me about CBR and got me started last year.  This year she verbally attacked me with excitement over How To Be Black.  I don’t even think she had actually read it yet, but she was going to, and by god, I was too.  She posted her review back in May and would occasionally ask me if I had gotten a copy.  I told her it was on my To Be Read list (along with, no lie, around 600 other books) and I’d get to it.

I finally got to it.  And she was right to demand that I read it.  It’s smart, funny and honest, and since I didn’t read it during Black History Month, I am totally ahead of the game.

Please please go read my review.  This book is amazing and I think maybe I’m not racist anymore, but I’m not sure.  (I should have bought it and not gotten it from the library!)

xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #49: The Making of Some Like It Hot: My Memories of Marilyn Monroe and the Classic American Movie, by Tony Curtis

“Some people say that Some Like it Hot is the funniest movie ever made. I don’t know. All I know is that it gave me a chance to work with four comic geniuses: I.A.L. Diamond, Jack Lemmon, Billy Wilder, and Marilyn Monroe.”

Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon

In Tony Curtis’s memoir, The Making of Some Like It Hot: My Memories of Marilyn Monroe and the Classic American Movie the well-known Hollywood actor tells his version of what went on behind-the-scenes of one of the funniest movies ever made. Written with the assistance of film historian Mark Vieira, the book is packed full of great color and black and white photos from the set.

Curtis, who died in 2010, had already written two memoirs, Tony Curtis: The Autobiography (1994) and American Prince: A Memoir (2008). So why write a third? Two reasons. Some Like it Hot’s recent heralding as the #1 American comedy of all time by The American Film Institute (AFI).  And cashing in on the enduring popularity of Marilyn Monroe, which would certainly guarantee book sales.

While Curtis is always an entertaining read, his never-ending ego does grow tiresome after a while. He tries to sound humble, but can’t help pondering that he was possibly “the handsomest” actor in Hollywood: “Some Like it Hot did a lot for my development as an actor. It was enough for me to be a handsome actor, maybe the handsomest in town. It wasn’t enough to learn the lines and show up. Being around artists like Jack and Billy and Marilyn affected me. I wanted to know more. I wanted to get closer to the source of the art. I wanted to know how to create that magic, like stars did in the pictures I’d seen when I was a kid.”

Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe, and director Billy Wilder

He complains endlessly about the “special treatment” that Marilyn received. “I looked at the film and I thought that in the beginning of it I was weaker than I really was. Everything was done to keep Marilyn happy. She was chosen, favored over Jack and me. That’s what colored my perception of the film for a long time. Too long. But I finally got past that.” He may have gotten past those feelings, but that didn’t stop him from writing about them, repeatedly. He clearly felt that Lemmon was director Billy Wilder’s favorite and that Marilyn’s difficult behavior earned her special privileges. But for all of the stories about Marilyn’s reputation for keeping people waiting or blowing lines, Curtis has just as many instances where she was letter-perfect or got a scene in one take. The scene where Sugar meets Shell Oil, Jr. on the beach had to be filmed quickly, as noisy jets from a nearby naval base were taking off every ten minutes. Marilyn got everything right on the first take.

Marilyn seemed to flub her lines more often when the camera shot was a close-up, when the pressure was on her and her alone. There are numerous accounts of how well she did in group scenes, getting everything right, and right away. As Curtis recounts, “I had seen her last picture, The Prince and the Showgirl. She did long scenes where the camera kept moving and there were no cuts. She was excellent, holding her own against the great Laurence Olivier. We saw the same thing in our film. She did well in uninterrupted scenes, yet when it came to two-shots or close-ups, she suddenly lost confidence.” Billy Wilder observed, “I’ve noticed that if she gets past the first two or three lines she sometimes can go on and on, even if it’s a long speech. She doesn’t seem to get tired. She’ll do take after take. She poops out the other actors, but she blooms as the day goes on. She’s at her best in the late afternoon, when the other actors are dropping like flies.”

Jack Lemmon had a different perspective on why Marilyn needed multiple takes to get a scene right: “Marilyn had a kind of built-in alarm system. It would go off in the middle of a scene if it wasn’t right for her, and she would stop. It would look like she was doing exactly what she’d done in the previous take. But for her, something wasn’t clicking. She knew she was limited. She knew what was right for Marilyn. She wasn’t about to do anything else. So would stand there with her eyes closed, biting her lip, and wringing her hands until she had worked it out.”

Joe E. Brown and Lemmon

Curtis repeats the now-infamous anecdotes of the “Where’s the bourbon?” scene which took 59 takes; and how the studio wanted a “big name” like Frank Sinatra to star (who didn’t seem at all interested). What I hadn’t heard before was that Danny Kaye wanted to be in the film, but that Wilder turned him down and requested Jack Lemmon. Curtis comes up with an elaborate explanation for his “like kissing Hitler” quote; and is still smarting from jokes about his line reading, “Yondah lies da castle of my faddah,” from an early film, Son of Ali Baba.

Even with all of his grand-standing, Curtis can’t help but be interesting on how Hollywood shaped his life. He describes how intense ambition for Hollywood success was the cornerstone of his marriage to Janet Leigh, “Our marriage changed that [feeling like he was a long way from stardom]. The explosion of publicity pushed both of us much farther than we would have gone in the same amount of time if we hadn’t gotten married.” He is unapologetic about his countless affairs — he had a reputation for having affairs with his leading ladies, and wife Leigh was used to it — it was part of the territory.

But he always comes back to Marilyn, which does make for the most interesting stories in the book. He claims to have had an affair with her, when they were both just starting out in Hollywood. That seems possible, but all such claims are suspect when they appear so long after the other party has died. What doesn’t ring true at all are his claims that later he had a one-night stand with her on the set of Some Like it Hot,which resulted in her becoming pregnant, complete with a show-down scene with her husband Arthur Miller.

Curtis signing autographs

Curtis clearly had no love lost with the famous playwright. He repeats a wicked quote from Wilder about Miller, “In meeting him, I had at last met someone who resented Marilyn more than I did.” Ouch, but observant. Curtis can’t wait to share another story which shines an unflattering light on Miller. At at a pre-movie Hollywood party he witnessed Miller being pretentious to Billy Wilder and co-writer I. A. L. “Izzy” Diamond, pontificating on comedy and tragedy. “Billy and Izzy just stood there, with faces down, listening to this bullshit. Finally Billy rolled his eyes and shifted his weight. Arthur backed off. I could see Marilyn. She was standing off to the side, watching. She looked uneasy. She knew that her husband had made a fool of himself and had insulted Billy’s intelligence. It was not a happy scene. It was not a happy way to start a picture.”

He’s alternately full of praise for Marilyn and knocking her down, saying she had hips “like a Polish washerwoman” and “an incredible, unique body.” Like so many, he couldn’t understand why she found some things so difficult. “She was the most important star in movies, she didn’t really understand that. She had so much power. She could have used it in so many ways, become so great. … So much of Some Like it Hot rested on her. If only she used her power to bolster her self-confidence. But she didn’t. Even if she was turning in this miraculous performance, she was losing her sense of self.”

Fun facts he includes about Marilyn:

Marilyn “stole” one of Jack Lemmon’s black dresses from wardrobe for herself to wear in the film.

She recorded her songs for the picture and then, unsatisfied, re-recorded them, “A picture has to be great to be good.”

She posed for countless publicity stills but only approved a few, as she was self-conscious about her weight gain — of which the press was unremittingly unkind. Marilyn had to put up with a lot of crap during filming about her weight. Wilder asked if she would consider losing a few pounds. She used humor to deflect the insult. “You want your audience to be able to distinguish me from Tony and Jack, don’t you? And besides, my husband likes me plump.” She was pregnant at the time.

She traveled with an entourage — secretary May Reis, acting coach Paula Strasberg, dance director Jack Cole, and hair designer Sidney Guilaroff.

Marilyn was unsatisfied with her first scene in the film, which consisted of just walking past the train, and complained to Wilder. He and Diamond then came up with the burst of steam that gooses her — and makes a much funnier, more memorable entrance.

Everyone came to see Marilyn on set, from extras to Montgomery Clift and Maureen Stapleton — they all were enthralled with her.

Curtis, Lemmon, and Montgomery Clift

Possibly the most important thing that Curtis reminds us of is that the two guys being in drag for most of the picture was quite daring and unusual for its time. That edge is exactly what makes Some Like it Hot still so brilliant, so entertaining, so funny today. But Curtis can’t just end his story there. His ego demands additional soothing. He quotes a review of the film by Philip Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times: “‘Curtis is good enough … But his Cary Grant accent (not his doing) annoyed the hell out of me.’ Some actors never read reviews. I do. Mr. Scheuer’s review annoyed the hell out of me. To make myself feel better, I bought the rights to the autobiography of the Italian poet Gabriel d’Annunzio, a wild, sexy artist not unlike myself.”

Photos from Some Like it Hot

You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e

Enhanced by Zemanta

xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #48: The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down, by Andrew McCarthy

Andrew McCarthy is a familiar face to anyone who grew up in the ’80s, for his film work with the “Brat Pack” and beyond, with contributions to movies that have entered American pop culture — Pretty in Pink, St. Elmo’s Fire, and Weekend at Bernie’s. McCarthy has been acting steadily since his first film, in 1983, Class, which co-starred Jacqueline Bisset. But what some may not be aware of is that McCarthy is also a director (a short film and television) and has found a second career as an award-winning travel writer, contributing articles to such publications as National Geographic Traveler (where he is an editor-at-large), Travel+Leisure, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Slate.

His new book, The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down combines his flair for writing about exotic locales with his personal quest to commit to marrying his long-time girlfriend.

The Longest Way Home is an interesting combination of memoir and travel writing. McCarthy is engaging whether he is telling stories about his childhood in New Jersey, his early Hollywood success, trying to conquer his demons, or recounting his trip to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

McCarthy is unfailingly honest as he confronts his fear of commitment. He had already been married and divorced, an although deeply in love with his new partner, is wary of taking the next step towards marriage. Prone to self-examination, he realizes that he has always been a bit of a loner and an outsider, and doesn’t want to repeat his previous mistakes of distancing himself from his wife and family. As he and his fiancée plan their upcoming nuptials, he accepts a series of travel assignments, which at first may seem like an escape from home and planning their wedding, but which actually helps him confront his fears and prepare him for his future life with her and their children.

He takes the reader along with him as he walks the route of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, hikes across a glacier in Patagonia, travels the Amazon via boat, explores Baltimore with a close friend, and climbs Kilimanjaro. Most of McCarthy’s traveling is done solo. He doesn’t tend to want to share his travel experiences with others — his trips are more personal quests. Most of the time he feels rather separate from the world he is visiting. After strolling by houses in Patagonia with families crowded around the TV or doing some domestic chore he observes:

“I’ve seen similar scenes in small towns in Brazil and Cambodia and even the American West — lives being lived with unselfconscious deliberateness. There’s no desire, or no energy, to pretend anything. I see desperate disappointment and loneliness in such scenes of domesticity and routine. I feel far removed and want no part of them. Yet I can’t look away. What hunger of theirs is being fed, when they seem to me instead like scenarios of slow decay? What is it about these scenes that I don’t understand?”

He is always interesting in his descriptions of the sights he sees, finding hidden treasures in unfamiliar and familiar places. A visit to Baltimore and the house where Babe Ruth was born is an opportunity for McCarthy to talk about one of his favorite things — the home as micro museum. He first visited such a museum with his first wife in Stockholm, Sweden — playwright and novelist August Strindberg’s house.

“What I feared would be a dreary and dull hour proved be a fascinating look inside the writer’s life. His desk and chair, his pens and notebooks and letters, his eyeglasses and walking stick, relics of his life, proved fascinating. I have sought out home museums ever since.”

The more McCarthy travels, the more he finds himself being pulled towards people, and wanting to involve his family in this part of his life. As the book progresses, he’s no longer quite the loner that he used to be. Readers will enjoy taking this journey with McCarthy, and may be tempted to plan some soul-searching travel of their own.

Article first published as Book Review: The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down by Andrew McCarthy on Blogcritics.

You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e

Enhanced by Zemanta

Krista’s #CBR4 Review #14 – 20, too many books to mention

You guys! I have totally hit 52 books (actually, just finished #53 tonight!) and have been thinking about how it is going to be impossible to write these dang reviews. But here I am, sitting down and doing it because I don’t want all of that reading to go to waste! Of the 53 books I’ve read, I’ve already reviewed 13 of thew (PHEW!) and tonight I got seven more reviews down (to varying degrees of reviewiness). Here are the links to the full reviews on my review blog:

14. You Have Seven Messages, Stewart Lewis
really, really wanted to like this novel. I was — and still am — in love with the concept. Conceptually, it is a great idea, and one that could work very well in the hands of a skilled writer. Unfortunately, Stewart Lewis is not that author and while I did enjoy, for the most part, reading this book, there were a lot of things that just. didn’t. work.

15. Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys
I’m no history buff and I don’t know a lot — if anything! — about this part of World War II and the Holocaust, but I really found this to be a well-written, touching novel. The level of human suffering that was experienced made my heart ache, and I wanted to find Sepetys personally and give her a giant hug.

16. Interrupted, Jen Hatmaker
I think this book nails the gospel message on the head. It’s funny, as per Jen’s usual MO, but it’s although amazingly thought-provoking. Jen shares some staggering statistics about poverty, orphans, and disease that exists not only in the world but in the US.

17. Mended, Angie Smith
Mended is Angie’s 3rd book and is pretty amazing. It’s a collection of blog posts written throughout the years, edited and condensed into a format that would work well for a book. Most of the chapters I’ve read before in their original blog format. Many people might find it kind of sucky to read a bunch of blog posts again, only in a book format, but I was really happy with the way this turned out. It was such an inspiration to read through these funny, honest, raw posts. I’m reminded time and time again that there are Christian authors whose works are not full of cheese and sap.

18. Christian History Made Easy, Timothy Paul Jones
This will be my most concise review ever.

19. Friends Forever, Danielle Steel
I don’t usually by Danielle Steel books because a) she is an awful writer and b) nope, mostly because she’s just an awful writer. I’ll read them if they were free from the library or from a friend, but for some reason I thought I’d read this. I’m not sure what possessed me to buy this one because I hadn’t read any especially heavy books before this, so… call it a moment of insanity.

20. The Condition, Jennifer Haigh
To be honest, I was initially disappointed when there wasn’t actually that much focus on Turner Syndrome as the description of the book made out, but after reflecting on what “the condition” even meant, I realized it was something that had so much more meaning than Gwen’s condition.

xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #44: Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters, by Marilyn Monroe, edited by Bernard Comment and Stanley Buchthal

In 1982, after his death, Actor’s Studio Director Lee Strasberg’s widow, his third wife Anna, found two boxes of poems and other writings by Marilyn Monroe. Monroe had named Strasberg the primary beneficiary in her will. Strasberg, however, had not followed Marilyn’s final wishes:

With the exception of two letters, which he returned to their authors, during his lifetime Lee Strasberg never sold or gave away any of Marilyn’s personal effects — this totally contravened the instructions in Marilyn’s Will. It is clear that she did not intend for Lee Strasberg to keep her possessions, which included clothing, letters, documents, furniture, all her personal effects that she absolutely clearly stated, that she wanted distributed amongst her friends. — from Loving Marilyn

Although this action, or more accurately, inaction on Strasberg’s part would have disappointed Marilyn, it is because of his neglect that so many of her personal items remained intact, and are able to be viewed as a whole. Anna Strasberg, who had never even met Marilyn, asked family friend Stanley Buchthal to help her determine what to do with the boxes’ contents, and he soon enlisted the help of editor and essayist Bernard Comment. Together the pair sorted through the materials and created Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters a glimpse into Marilyn’s life and mind in book form.

photo

Buchtal and Comment have tried to present Marilyn’s writings in as straightforward a manner as possible, keeping things chronological. A photograph of the original item, in Marilyn’s handwriting,is presented on a left-hand page, while their transcription, sometimes joined by notes of explanation, appears opposite, on the right.

Black and white photographs of Marilyn, frequently reading, also accompany the text. Marilyn wrote poems, letters, and kept journals. While perusing Fragments it is unavoidable not to feel as if one is prying, sneaking a peek at her diary. We are. But it is undeniably fascinating. Her notebooks contain notes from classes she took on Italian art, as well as from acting class. Some of her note-taking seems to meld with her poetry and become stream-of-consciousness prose poetry, as does this fragment, c. 1955:

On the stage — I will
not be punished for it
or be whipped
or be threatened
or not be loved
or sent to hell to burn with bad people
or feeling that I am also bad
or be afraid of my genitals being
or ashamed
exposed known and seen —
so what
or ashamed of my sensitive feelings — they are reality
or colors or screaming or doing
nothing
and I do have feeling
very strongly sexed feeling
since a small child — think of all the
things I felt then

Some of her notes are like puzzles or maps. Talk about fragments. She writes a paragraph in her notebook on the left hand page, and then continues, sometimes at an odd angle, on the opposite page, and then back again, drawing arrows, linking one thought to the next. She may not have been writing continuously, and went back to add ideas at a later time, or she may have purposely wanted to keep her writing difficult to understand and more private.

photo

Especially revealing are two poems she wrote, on Parkside House stationery, during her stay in England when she was filming The Prince and the Showgirl. Marilyn, newlywed to playwright Arthur Miller, was already feeling insecure about the marriage:

I guess I have always been
deeply terrified to really be someone’s wife
since I know from life
One cannot love another,
ever, really.

where his eyes rest with pleasure — I want to still be — but time has changed
the hold of that glance.
Alas how will I cope when I am
even less youthful —

Back in the U.S., at their home in Roxbury, CT in 1958, her life with Miller hadn’t improved much:

starting tomorrow I will take care of myself for that’s all I really have ever had. Roxbury — … I think I hate it here because there is no love here anymore. I regret the effort I desperately made here. … what I could endure helped both of us and in a material way which means so much more to him than me. … When one wants to stay alone as my love (Arthur) indicates the other must stay apart.

It becomes clear that many of these fragments are first drafts for notes or letters. One page in her notebook, scribbled in pencil, which she signs with multiple pet names, was confirmed by close friend Norman Rosten as a letter he received from her. Some of her notes seem to be character studies. There are also thoughtful observations about not just the character she would be playing, but other characters in a film with her, like this one about The Misfits:

I feel the camera has got
to look through Gay’s [the character played by Clark Gable]
eyes whenever he is in a
scene and even when he
is not there still has to be a sense of
him
He is the center and the
rest move around him
but I guess Houston [sic – director John Huston] will
see to that
He is both subtle and overt in his meeting them
and in his cruelty and his tenderness
(when he reaches out of himself for her – R. [R stands for Roslyn, Marilyn’s character in the film])

There is a really interesting letter to Lee Strasberg, dated December 18, 1961, where Marilyn tells him she is forming an independent production company, possibly jointly with Marlon Brando, and that she would like him to be a part of it. Marilyn definitely had some big plans for her future, and was constantly trying to get more control over her career.

Strasberg wouldn’t accept Marilyn as a student unless she agreed to undergo psychoanalysis. This led to a whole additional host of problems for the already insecure star, and doctors who may have done her more harm than good. After her break-up with Miller, her New York psychiatrist Marianne Kris had her committed to Payne Whitney’s psychiatric ward — Marilyn thought she was only going to a hospital for a rest cure. This was one of the most traumatic events of Marilyn’s life. She reached out to Kris and the Strasbergs, but only ex-husband Joe DiMaggio was able to secure her release. Once she moved to Los Angeles, her psychiatrist Dr. Ralph Greenson crossed all the boundaries of doctor/patient relations by having Marilyn socialize with his family. He may also have been instrumental in her taking more barbiturates than were necessary on the day of her death.

Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters stresses Marilyn’s love of books and her lifelong respect for writers. Writers also seem to have admired her greatly, as Buchtal and Comment take pains to point out.

In 1959 Karen Blixen asked to meet her, “… she radiates, at the same time, unbounded vitality and a kind of unbelievable innocence. I have met the same in a lion-cub … I shall never forget the most overpowering feeling of unconquerable strength and sweetness which she conveyed.”

Truman Capote, who met her in 1950, dedicated his short story “A Beautiful Child” to her.

Through husband Arthur Miller Marilyn befriended Carson McCullers, who wrote about her in “Illumination and Night Game.”

Norman Mailer tried to cultivate her friendship, but she demurred. He wrote the controversial “Marilyn,” which started the unsubstantiated-by-fact Kennedy/Marilyn rumor mill going on 1973.

Somerset Maugham approved of her proposed role as Sadie Thompson in a television production of “Rain,” which was never produced.

She admired British poet Edith Sitwell and met with her both in Hollywood and London, while filming “The Prince and the Showgirl.”

Marilyn met Carl Sandburg in 1959, and their appreciation of each other was very mutual. She loved his biography of Abraham Lincoln and he wrote, “She was not the usual movie idol. There was something democratic about her. She was the type who would join in and wash up the supper dishes even if you didn’t ask her.”

Buchtal and Comment also include some selected book covers from her personal library, which included:

Mme. Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad
The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett
Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
The Fall by Albert Camus
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Once There Was A War by John Steinbeck

Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters is an interesting, even unexpected look into Marilyn’s life, with the accent not on glamor, but on her thoughts and aspirations. Marilyn was always trying to learn new things and improve herself, and many of these fragments show her progress.

You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e

Enhanced by Zemanta

Post Navigation