Posts Tagged ‘Time-Life Reading Program Special Edition’

Today’s posting is about a book I’ve just completed last night and a movie I saw today.
The book is titled: “Disraeli: A Picture of the Victorian Age“, (1936©) reprinted in 1980, and written by André Maurois.  Maurois is actually the nom de plume for Émile Salomon Wilhelm Herzog, but interesting enough, he legally changed his real name to that for which he was famous.  Maurois was in the French military when he wrote his first book and the military was banned from publishing.
This book is the second I’ve read from the Time-Life Reading Program series which I collected back in the 1980’s.  More specifically, this is the book upon which I based my decision to begin purchasing the series.  I originally read this book in my young teenage years.  I don’t recall if I was in the eighth grade of grammar school or a freshman in high school.  At any rate, it was a fantastic look at another time (Victorian Age) and political system (British Parliament) which combined political maneuvers with a true romantic background story and it captivated me.
After his wife (Mary Anne) dies from old age (and cancer), Disraeli begins going through their effects in preparation for moving out of her ancestral home which must be passed on to its inheritor:
“Every fortnight for thirty-three years, Mary Anne had cut her husband’s hair, and every time the harvest had been garnered in a small sealed packet.  He found hundreds of them.”
This struck me, even as a teen, as such a personal and loving act (both the cutting and the saving of the cuttings) that I believe it set a standard for me to judge male/female relationships.  To this day, when I watch the movie “Phenomenon“, starring John Travolta and Kyra Sedgwick (and Forest Whitaker), I am reminded of this book.  If you’ve never seen the movie, there is a tremendously sensual scene in the movie where Sedgwick shaves Travolta and cuts his hair.  By “sensual” I mean it exudes sexuality without having any “sex” in the scene at all.
By way of contrast, I discussed the above quote with my daughter and she felt is was “creepy” and “like a stalker”.  She felt there was no romance/affection in either act, at all.
Another point, which may be of interest to only me – I’ve been “saving” this book for almost 40 years, knowing I was going to re-read it, but in no hurry, because it was going to be like re-meeting an old friend.  I don’t often re-read books because most of my reading tends to be technical in nature.  I do enjoy re-reading some books – novels in particular.  I assume it is because they engage me without trying to teach me.  (That’s just a guess…)  In this case, I was waiting for the above story, but I did not recall it was told after the wife’s passing.  When Mary Anne died from cancer, I briefly convinced myself that I must have read a different book when I was young and I had purchased the series based on a complete mistake!  Not that it would have mattered so much, but it seemed an irony that I was looking forward to meeting my old friend, only to find out I would be meeting a distant relative (a book about the same topic, but by a different author).  So I got a chuckle (to myself) when I found it was the correct book.
No, I haven’t said much about the book – by way of review, anyway.  Suffice it to say, it’s a very well written book, a fast read, a romanticized biography, and a fascinating story of a man who rises to great stature on the strength of his intelligence, ability and determination.  Highly recommended!!  As an aside, on researching Maurois, I found dozens of great quotes which you will no doubt be seeing over the coming months.
Today’s movie was: “Lee Daniel’s The Butler“, which depicts a fictionalized version of true story about a man (Eugene Allen) who served eight U.S. President’s over a 34 year period of working in the White House.  The story is one of quiet dignity and strength contrasted against a turbulent period of time which covers the “Civil Rights” movement during the latter half of the 20th century.  The main character (Cecil Gaines is the name used in the movie) is played by Forest Whitaker who I feel will almost certainly get a Best Actor nomination, if not win the Oscar, for this performance.  He is brilliant!  Oprah Winfrey does a very good job in playing the spouse and there is an all-star cast filling out many of the other roles.
In a manner similar to “Forrest Gump“, the movie intersperses historical TV footage with acting.  To this extent, the film is certainly not original, but it is no less powerful.  If anything, there is almost too much happening in Civil Rights for one to take it all in.  Young viewers may be surprised to see how far the nation has come in just the single life-times of their parents or grand-parents.  Having grown up and lived through the period, I was profoundly moved by the entire film.
Is this a “made for Oscar” movie?  Yes, blatantly so.  It vividly shows the horrors of racism and contrasts that with the dignity of a working man who only seeks a safe life for his family and a better life for his children.  The cast is strong and the story is accurate chronologically (if not entirely factual to Allen’s life).  More importantly, it touched me as a father, a working man and a family man with similar goals.  I saw this movie with my mother, sister and nephew (Kyle) and my mom and sister were tearing up just as much as me.  This is a MUST see movie and I highly recommend it!!
On This Day In:
2012 Just Like Bubbles
2011 Caring and Driving
Achieve Greatly
2010 Unwise To Trust
If The Mind Is Not Tired
Irrationally Crazy
2nd Pair – Shoe Review
Ahnu – Gesundheit!
 2009 As for me…
Health Care Reform Now!!

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Last night I completed, “In Defense Of Women“, written by H. L. Mencken and originally published back in 1918.  The book took me about thirty-five years to finish (well, to start and finish).
I purchased this book as one of a series of titles under the banner of Time-Life Books. Part of the Time Reading Program Special Edition.  This just means I bought two books a month for a couple of years.  Way back when I got out of the Army, I decided I wanted to become more “learned”, more sophisticated, so I thought I would accomplish this by reading great books or great literature.  I couldn’t afford the “Great Books” series itself, so I decided to settle for some lesser works.  Hence, this series.
Each month I would dutifully receive them and then place them on my bookshelf, quite proud of myself that I was starting my own library.  Now the books were sold (advertised) as secondary works of great authors.  You weren’t reading their “acknowledged” best work, but you were reading something which had been deemed close.  This attitude of, “No, I haven’t read that, but everyone has…  Have you read this other work by him (/her)?”  seemed to feed easily into my ego.
To make a longer story shorter, I’ve never read any of the books.  More precisely, I have read one of them, but that was before buying it as part of the collection and that was back in my high school days.  So, about three months ago, I decided to crack into one of them.  There was no particular reason to choose this one over the other 30 or so except that my journal has a few quotes from the author (Mencken).
So, what do I think of the book?  Despite the fact it was written almost 100 years ago, it remains remarkably relevant.  It is, however, incredibly non-PC (politically correct).  The author has a fairly low opinion of humankind in general and men in specific.  Compared to men, Mencken finds women to be more than capable in most things.  In those things which Mencken finds tiresome (business and politics), he believes women can do no worse than men, but should not try as this will only lower them to the status of men, not raise those functions to a status worthy of women.
Mencken is a terrific (if flowery) writer of prose and the book is both funny and easy to read.  By easy to read I mean his ideas seem reasonable and coherently presented.  The topics are wide ranging – from marriage, to sex, to suffrage, to roles in modern society.  The only problem I had was sometimes the writing was so flowery, it was almost like walking through treacle – sweet, sticky and almost sickly.
I believe many who read this book will find it objectionable, but there is much to be said for any series of observations which can still raise ire even after this much time.  They each contain the kernel of truth upon which both good writing and good comedy depend to make their audience uncomfortable.  This is a classic and it is free to download from multiple sites.  Highly recommended!!
In case you’re wondering what’s “special” about the Special Edition, the books are published in fake leather red binding.  They are actually cardboard, but with gold lettering and trim, they appear quite a proper addition to a personal library.
On This Day In:
2012 Brain, n.
2011 Styles Of Leadership
2010 Face Front!

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