Recent landings

Books I have enjoyed in the last several months.

We see the positive up-close view of JFK that only Jackie could have provided. JFK described himself as an “idealist without illusions” and he elevated our lives us with that idealism. He often stood for the interests of less advantaged segments of the country, and started the Peace Corps.

When she was asked about how she could countenance JFK’s extra-marital affairs, Jacqueline’s answer fully supported her dead husband, saying he was an incredibly charismatic person, at ease with people, and that this was an integral part of who he was. The book comes with CDs of Jackie being interviewed by Schlessinger. The text contains a full transcription of those many hours of interviews, covering all phases of JFK’s presidency, the decade leading up to it, and the couple’s dealings with world leaders, especially Harold MacMillan, and their private and social lives surrounding that presidency.

Footnotes are sprinkled throughout the text, giving Michael Beschloss’s descriptions of the people Jackie refers to. I found it best to listen to the CDs to get the benefit of the inflection of Jackie’s voice, following along in the text and pausing the CD to read the footnotes as I came to them.

Maya Angelou makes it incredibly real and moving. A semi-autobiographical account of a bright black girl growing up in the 1940s in a poor neighborhood in Louisiana with a younger brother, with a side trip to Los Angeles where her mother had moved. Appealing, positive, coherent narrative, highlighting some of the girl’s friends, relatives, home life and the general store, and her experiences at school. Well fleshed out settings. The author is a gifted story-teller. Plus, now I know which two herbs to use when cooking roast beef.

A short story by Hemmingway, about 30 pages long. The thoughts, feelings, and reminiscences experienced over a two-day period by a vital, virile man as he lays dying of gangrene. He was on a hiking trip near Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa with his girlfriend, a wealthy widowed women, when he got a scratch which became infected. Too isolated to get medical attention. We even get Hemingway’s imagining of what it is like for the man right towards the end, as death overtakes him. The feeling is powerful. Ambrose Bierce broached the same area, of illusory images conjured up in the human mind just before impending death, in his short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.”

This is the career memoir of Michael Korda, who served as editor, rising to editor-in-chief at Simon & Schuster for many years. He became friends with Dick Snyder (wiki Richard E. Snyder) who gave most people a very hard time, but not Michael. Snyder blew on the scene, and, with his hard-driving ways, became publisher there, supplanting founder Henry Simon. Korda tells the story of Dick Snyder's rise and his battles with the top brass at Gulf+Western. He also recounts Snyder negotiating and wining and dining (mostly whiskey) to sign up the book All the President's Men by Woodward and Bernstein. Korda also sketches a character named Swifty Lazar, a well-known book- and actors-agent. Other lives that come in to view, through the eyes of an editor working with these people and their books, are Carlos Castenada, Tennessee Williams, Ronald Reagan, and Richard Nixon.

Publishers love to send their authors out to market their book: "The biggest revolution on the book business has been brought about by the curious symbiosis that established itself between television's need for free talent and the need of book publishers to reach the public". pg 448

More info about the book business on pg. 480: "Perhaps the greatest mistake a publisher can make is to think in categories in the first place. Categories are the hallmark of mass-market publishing, in which it is necessary to stock the shelves with so many mysteries or so many science-fiction novels every month and in which the important thing is that the books themselves (and their covers) fit into a given category—the twenty-first novel in a paperback science-fiction series had better be as much like the previous twenty as possible, or there will be trouble from readers, jobbers, and retailers. In hard-cover publishing, almost the reverse holds true, which explains (with a few notable exceptions) why so few mass-market people become successful hardcover editors or publishers. What works in hardcover is generally what is different, unexpected, and new, and even when people seem to be writing the same kind of book over and over again—as many best-selling novelists do—they need to be reinvented from time to time, and they can't be imitated or cloned. Danielle Steel and Mary Higgins Clark write books that sell in the millions, but anybody setting out to create a stable of writers to provide books in their styles or following their formats would likely fail.

"Doubleday was perhaps the only major hardcover house that succumbed to the notion of cranking out hardcover books in ever larger quantity as if they were paperbacks. This might have been because Nelson Doubleday was more interested in his baseball team than in books, or possibly because Doubleday owned the Literary Guild, an enormously successful book club, and category publishing is the lifeblood of book clubs, or even because Doubleday owned its own printing plant, which needed to be kept busy. Whatever the reason, Doubleday became an unwieldy giant and for a time collapsed, until revived in a smaller form by a new owner-an object lesson, one would have thought, to everyone in the business." Korda pg. 480


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