Tag Archives: New York

Book Review: The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe

bestofeverythingThe Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe was a book I was inspired to read by the wonderful TV series Mad Men, much at the same time as I decided I would read The Group by Mary McCarthy which also featured in the show. Mad Men was a big inspiration a couple of of years ago, prompting book choices and Spotify playlists to accompany it and seeing Don Draper reading this book in bed in his pyjamas trying to get a better understanding of women really had me intrigued.

Set in 1950s New York, The Best of Everything tells the stories of several young women starting off their careers, fleeing their past, drawn by the lights and promise of the big city. I really wanted to love this book, and there were aspects of it that I did enjoy – the tales of excess in the publishing world, editors taking three-hour boozy lunches, the descriptions of the girls’ lives and everyday things such as clothes and hairstyles.

typingpoolI understand it’s popularity at the time – it doesn’t shy away from pre-marital sex or alcohol abuse or abortion. And it does portray a glamorous lifestyle, if not glamorous then certainly exciting. I liked the author’s note at the beginning, which described the young women in the typing pool who were typing up Rona Jaffe’s manuscript, and how they took to sharing the manuscript in a bid to find out what would happen next. It was the first time they felt that they had read about women just like themselves. I was intrigued by the characters, but I found myself incredibly frustrated by most of them too. All of them, at one point or another, are under some kind of illusion about a man. I wanted to shake them and tell them not to be so naive. I find it saddens me that even the more successful women (like Caroline with her career as an editor just kicking off) dreaming of finding a husband and spending days playing house. I know that says more about me and the time I live in (for which I am eternally grateful!) but I think I was looking for something a bit more feminist, about women making their way despite the cultural expectations. It’s not the book’s fault it didn’t do this and it is possibly ‘more fool me’ for expecting something different.

It has lead me to do a bit of internet browsing on the topic and I find it so fascinating, listening to women (and men) speaking at the time and the views they expressed. There’s an eye-opening video on youtube about Attitudes towards working women in the 1950s which I just had to share. I think it portrays very well the threat mean felt by what they called ‘career girls’, which lead them to patronising women in an effort to reinforce the expectation that a woman’s goal in life should be to have a husband, settle down and have a family, whether she thinks so or not. This video in particular is so condescending towards a young ‘career girl’ that you can but shake your head in disbelief. Of course, I’m looking at the book (and this video) with my 21st-century views and cultural landscape. I really do wonder what I would have done if I had been born 60 years ago and had been starting my career in the ’50s. Saying that though, both of my grandmothers continued to work after they were married, and returned to work when their children were at school so perhaps life in the US in the ’50s for young women was a different experience to the UK.

I have recently been given a Nook from my work and it just so happened that this book had already been loaded up there. It was an odd experience, especially when the book is set in a publishing house and there is often talk of carting manuscripts about. I started writing this review and it ended up as much a discussion about the Nook as the book itself so I have split it into two separate posts – so my post On eReaders will follow.

On a side note, if you haven’t watched Mad Men then I encourage you to do so – the writing is brilliant, and the characters (although flawed) are just continually interesting. I love that the show treats its characters like real people – the writers realise that their characters are changeable, that they grow and make mistakes and can often do surprising and unexpected things – it is very hard to pigeon-hole any one of them. And the setting and weaving in of different historical and cultural events is just brilliant, I can’t recommend it highly enough. But I’ll stop rambling about the greatness of Mad Men now, I promise. The Best of Everything ceratinly got me thinking even if I found it frustrating. Definitely a book to read with it’s time and setting in mind. I’d quite like to see the film as well (which was filmed in the late ’50s) – the movie poster is pretty enchanting…the-best-of-everything-movie-poster-751438

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Book Review: Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

Valley of the Dolls was originally published in 1966 – the edition I have dates from 1982.

This book was passed on to me by mum, after I read and enjoyed Lace by Shirley Conran. Although I can see the similarities between them, Valley of the Dolls was quite different. I enjoyed the book and the escapism of it, sometimes it feels nice to just allow my brain to relax and get sucked in to a story.

If Lace was over the top in its fashion and sex scenes, then I reckon Valley of the Dolls could match that with its views of Hollywood, alcoholism and drug abuse. That makes it sound quite dark, and it is, I suppose. As in Lace the story follows the lives of a group of women, this time from 1945 to 1965:

Anne comes to New York with dreams of escaping from her small town hometown full of small-minded people. She falls in love with the wrong man and spends the rest of her life picking up the pieces.

Neely is a Vaudeville singer, loveably naive and desperate to become a star, who becomes a Hollywood sensation with a fierce temper and self-destructive tendencies…

Jennifer is a rising star at the beginning of the novel, not a particularly great actress or singer, but famous for her curves, struggling to support her family and overcome the nagging feeling that no one will ever love her for more than her body.

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A Book That Will Take and Break Your Heart – Book Review: The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

Publisher: Penguin
Selected Edition: Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-14-101997-0
Published: 2005
No. of Pages: 252
Price: £8.99
SHORTLISTED FOR THE ORANGE PRIZE FOR FICTION 2006

I had heard good things about Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love and it had been on my To-Be-Read list for a while, so when I stumbled across it last week in my local Oxfam bookstore I grabbed it greedily off of the shelf. I was not disappointed. In fact, I think it might be one of my favourite books of the year so far, and that it has changed the way that I feel about reading and writing. But first, what is the story of The History of Love?

SYNOPSIS

In New York, Leo Gursky, a Polish immigrant is living each day as it comes, trying to survive in a lonely world, spending his days going out just in order to be seen and prove to himself that he still exists in the world. He passes the time thinking about his first and only love, Alma, and desperately trying to hold on to anything that connects the two of them.

Meanwhile, Alma Singer, a fourteen-year-old girl is trying to deal with her own loneliness and grief after losing her father, and help her mother through her grief. She spends her days researching how to survive in the wilderness, keeping her father alive in her memory as he had been a bit of an adventurer. Her brother, Bird, is losing himself in Jewish religion and clinging to a janitor as a replacement for the father he barely knew.

Alma’s mother is a translator and has recently received a request to translate a book called The History of Love, written originally in Spanish by a Polish writer living in Argentina. The book had been given to her by her husband in the first days of their relationship and feeling a special sentimental attachment to it, she agrees. What follows are stories of lives that intersect and influence each other, leaving behind a trail of coincidences, contradictions and fictions.

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Book Club – First Meeting

The Group by Mary McCarthy

I’ve started up a book club with a few of my friends (all female). Our first meeting took a while to organise – turns out we all have quite hectic schedules! When we finally managed to get together there wasn’t really that much book chat. We focussed more on catching up on gossip and drinking tea but we did however decide on our first novel – Mary McCarthy’s The Group.

I was given the task of picking the first novel as I was playing hostess and since this had been on my reading list for a while (and I already had it sitting on my shelf) it seemed like a natural choice. It follows a group of young female graduates, trying to start up their careers and find love in 1930s New York and I’d say that my friends and I are at a similar stage, having graduated within the past couple of years. Perhaps the central belt of Scotland in 2012 is not quite as glamorous as the Big Apple but I hope we will all get something out of it. We’ll find out next month if it was a good choice! Looking forward to getting started and meeting up next month to discuss it. Will update after our second meeting!

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