Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Latest Reading List

Here's what I've been reading lately:

- "And Furthermore" by Judi Dench: Not done with it yet, but it's pure joy reading about the life of one of my favorite actresses, who still is an impressive force in acting.

- "Opera 101" by Fred Plotkin: You can't begin to know what makes you passionate unless you learn all about it. So this is a start. Still reading it.

- "Talk Show" by Dick Cavett: I hope for a paperback edition to make for easier storage in my collection. I really, really, really, really, really want this one. It's like having an endlessly intelligent conversation with Cavett himself. Word usage to admire, sentence structure to mull over in your mind, and thoughts to make you think, "Why aren't there more Dick Cavetts in the world?"

- "Here We Go Again: My Life in Television" by Betty White: This was spurred on by my wishing "Empty Nest" would return, and then getting that wish when Hallmark Channel decided to air a marathon one Saturday, and then put it in its schedule when the demand was so great. It debuts in full form today. We're a Susan Harris household, since my dad loves "The Golden Girls" and watches it every chance he gets. I did the same with "Empty Nest" when it was in reruns in the '90s (I don't remember watching it during its original run), and I will do the same when it airs on Hallmark. I want to memorize it like Dad has every single episode of "The Golden Girls" memorized.

I decided that I wanted to read the autobiographies by Betty White and by Rue McClahanan. White's was a lot of fun, about the advent of television, about how it expanded during her decades in it, and there's a reprint of this book now with an afterword reflecting her resurgence in television. I read the first edition, from 1995, so I haven't read that afterword, but every single chapter has insights that are true marks not only of a television veteran, but of someone who clearly enjoyed every single opportunity afforded her, and it shows in every single paragraph.

I tried reading Rue McClanahan's book after, "My First Five Husbands and The Ones Who Got Away", but McClanahan's prose feels too insular. That might be the word. I don't expect every author to write for readers (though I hope that is the intent), but if it's a world I've not been in, it has to be a little more open. However, with McClanahan's book, I knew exactly why I had checked it out of the library, and flipped to "The Golden Girls" sections. My favorite parts were about the directors of the show, about how veteran Jay Sandrich directed the pilot and then moved on, and then the slot was filled by Paul Bogart, who believed that he should be the go-between for the producers, writers, and actors. But the cast didn't believe that there should be that much difficulty in communicating with those who gave them those jobs, so Bogart was replaced after three episodes.

Then came Terry Hughes, who McClanahan called "the fifth Golden Girl." British, charming, and completely in tune with what the show was, Hughes was the chief director up until the 5th season, when he got an offer to direct a feature film and wanted to do it. McClanahan mentions that there was a revolving door of directors, each coming in for one episode apiece, and then Bea Arthur found a director she liked, who McClanahan called "not inspired, but pliable", and that person, whoever he was (and I intend to find out who it was by the credits in those later seasons), began directing regularly.

- "Fried Chicken: An American Story" and "Apple Pie: An American Story" by John T. Edge: Edge is an outstanding food writer and Southern personality, and I ordered these books off of abebooks.com many months ago, along with "Hamburgers & Fries: An American Story" and "Donuts: An American Passion."

I got to this book by way of the Oxford American food issue from 2005, which Edge guest-edited, and which I read most of while at a roller skating rink, Skating Plus, in Ventura on the day before New Year's Eve. Oh sure, I played lots of pinball while there, but I also flipped through this back issue in awe. There was such a clear passion for all kinds of Southern delicacies and memories galore. Within these various essays, I really felt like I was somewhere else. I circled the names of those writers, too, and looked them up after I was done reading the whole thing, but I knew that because Edge had created this issue, he had to be equally great on his own. And he is. Read the entry I posted a few days ago about his Hunter S. Thompson daydream.

The first two books in that series are wonderful travel for the mind. Not just the foods involved, but the people who make them. Try his words on the hottest fried chicken he could find, and the apple pie with green chiles in it. Very few writers would think to explore like this, to dig this deep, to think about fried chicken and apple pie in this manner. Edge knows both so intimately, and I think the same will probably be found in his books on hamburgers and fries, and donuts, once I get to them.

I'm not sure about upcoming books. Lately, I've just picked up what I've checked out that sounds interesting. Ok, yes, there is that book with Gore Vidal's writings about sex, and the one called "Burning Desires: Sex in America", and "Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex" by Mary Roach. I'm not going to apologize for having a penis.

There's also "A Cup of Friendship" by Deborah Rodriguez, and a book about Lyndon Johnson's first 24 hours as president after the assassination of Kennedy. And I think it would also be best to finally get serious about the research for the two books I have in mind. I have many of the books in stacks right now, and I should take advantage before March 14 hits and I lose big. I know I can keep renewing the books I have from those other libraries in the County of Los Angeles system, but I can't put any books on hold that could come from those branches. If they come from one of the three Santa Clarita branches, fine, but I'm screwed otherwise. So I should work on that as well.

I'm happy. How about you?