Category Archives: humor

Mary Astor’s Purple Diary – The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936

9781631490248_p0_v4_s192x300Whenever I watch old movies, I cannot resist looking up the background of the players, wondering what their lives were really like.  Edward Sorel’s Mary Astor’s Purple Diary was satisfyingly short and funny – with pictures – and  Woody Allen’s review in the New York Times piqued my interest.  Maybe he’ll turn the book into a movie?

Edward Sorel’s Mary Astor’s Purple Diary focuses on a long forgotten scandal involving the movie star well known to old movie fans for playing the deceiving foil to Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon and the wise mother in Meet Me in Saint Louis and Little Women. At a time when movie moguls used the casting couch for plum roles but concealed their movie stars’ indiscretions to gain approval from the “legion of decency,” Mary Astor’s love life was front page news when her diary was discovered.  Her descriptions of her many lovers became fodder for a real-life courtroom drama that could have been right out of the movies.

Sorel is well known for his political caricatures and his “unauthorized portraits”  of the famous.  No modern president or president-elect has escaped his fervor to “attack hypocrisy in high places.”  His style is easily recognized on covers for The New Yorker.

Sorel punctuates this book with a few hilarious scenes of Mary Astor as she negotiates her scandal. unknown-3 In a sideways tale of Astor’s life, Sorel includes facts about her family and background, but in his imaginary interview with the dead actress, he manages to include a funny perspective on her lovers – names old movie fans will recognize, including John Barrymore and George S. Kauffman.  At times, Sorel’s irreverent style and his tangents into his own marriages reflect a Woody Allen style with wry observations and self-deprecating humor.

I cannot imagine why Mary Astor kept an incendiary diary about her lovers; somehow written secrets always find their way out. But thanks to Sorel, it made for fun reading – like flipping through that Entertainment Weekly or People magazine in the doctor’s office.

Related Article: Woody Allen Reviews a Graphic Tale of a Scandalous Starlet

Gift Giving: If You Find One Great Book…

Have you finished your shopping for Christmas?  Are you still trying to find the best gift for each individual?  John Tierney of the New York Times suggests – The Perfect Gift? It’s the One They Asked For.  Don’t make gift-giving complicated.

“If you can find one sure thing, don’t be afraid to give it more than once.”

In that spirit – not overthinking – find a great book and give it to everyone.

Vanity Fair offers “The Bookworm’s Bespoke Gift Guide” from Juniper publishing, and the New York magazine lists 15 of the year’s most giftable books including 9781609452926  Frantumaglia “for the Ferrantephile “who just can’t get enough,” and Hillbilly Elegies for anyone who keeps asking who voted for Trump. The Journal Sentinal has an exhaustive list, including some of my favorites from Maria Semple, Ann Patchett, and Amor Towles. The Star-Tribune includes a few classics in its 50 best books for holiday giving – many I have on my to-read list, but their best suggestion may be Jon Klassen’s We Found a Hat.

9780836221367_p0_v1_s192x300My favorite book to give at Christmas is Bill Watterson’s It’s A Magical World.

What great book have you found to give?

 

 

 

 

Hygge – The Danish Anti-Depressant

As I was walking through the park this morning, I was startled out of my musings when an older woman, looking a little like Mrs. Santa Claus with her red hat and spectacles, cheerily accosted me with her babble. I stopped, not sure what she had said, and wondering if she was someone I had once met but forgotten. Determining she was not among the homeless or crazy inhabitants of the area, I smiled and walked on. Could it be she was just happy and living in the moment? Was she enjoying hygge and passing it on?

Whether it’s joie de vivre, being in the moment, or Christmas spirit – all similar to the concept – hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) seems an idea with merit – although not so new.

The plan is to make simple pleasures matter. Slow down and smell the roses – preferably the fresh cut ones in a crystal vase on your dining room table. Brew some coffee and sip it slowly in a heavy white mug. Enjoy. Slow down. Sound familiar? It’s the runner-up word of the year in Britain – behind Brexit, but the word and concept is Danish.

51q1o69sy3l-_sx331_bo1204203200_  A friend’s email had alerted me to the hygge phenomenon, and I did a little research to discover what I had missed. I’ve downloaded How to Hygge: Thirty-Three Ways to Lead a Happy, Healthy, Contented Life Through the Danish Art of Hygge on Audible to accompany me while I walk (and discourage anyone else from talking to me).

The BBC has a more comprehensive definition in its article – Hygge: A Heartwarming Lesson from Denmark   

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Jojo Moyes – the Modern O. Henry

9780735221079_p0_v6_s192x300 While reading Jojo Moyes Paris for One and Other Stories, I could not help thinking of William Sidney Porter’s short stories.  Better know as O. Henry, Porter’s romantic tales always ended with a surprise, whether in the selfless romance of The Gift of the Magi or in the story of a sick woman hanging on with The Last Leaf.  In this collection, Moyes offers her wry outlook and, like O.Henry, ends each with a jolt.

The title story, “Paris for One,” is the longest – all 150 pages – and could easily be an hour long Christmas special.  When Nell’s boyfriend is not at the London station, she gets on the train anyway, hoping he is just late for their romantic weekend in Paris. Feeling alone in a strange city, Nell receives his message that he is not coming and decides to return to London. In a series of serendipitous occurrences, the story evolves into Nell’s emergence as a determined woman who finds true love in Paris.  Only Moyes could transform a melodramatic interlude into a funny and heart-warming story, leaving the reader satisfied and smiling at the ending.

The “Other Stories” include brief tales, peeking into the windows of familiar lives: the has-been actor who is being tortured with racy tweets, the frumpy mother who finds a pair of expensive shoes that change her outlook, the taxi driver who gives a harried woman the courage to live her own life, the jewelry store clerk who saves a burglar, the husband who buys his wife a coat they cannot afford, the couple who find their afternoon delight again after years of marriage, the woman who meets her old lover at a party, and the secret communication of a woman with a stranger’s phone.

If you enjoyed Moyes’ novels (see my reviews below), you will be delighted with this collection.  Not all the stories have happy endings but each has the author’s trademark wit and charm.

Reviews of Other Moyes Books:

 

Today Will Be Different

9780316467063_p0_v2_s192x300    No matter how miserable or crazy your life might be, Maria Semple manages to make her characters’ problems worse, and in Today Will Be Different – more poignant.  Eleanor Flood, a quirky graphic artist married to a serious hand surgeon, battles her past and struggles with her present. Of course, she wins, as do all Semple’s idiosyncratic heroines.

The story unfolds in one day, packed with more trouble and good intentions than most of us have in a year. The theme, however rings true: how many of us wake up each morning determined to turn over a new leaf and reform our ways. Despite the one day format, Semple delivers Eleanor’s backstory and reveals her past demons through her interaction with other characters. As she tracks down her husband who is missing from his office, Eleanor has a series of missteps.  She sabotages the opening of an art exhibit, steals a set of keys from a parent at her son’s school, loses her contract for an unfinished graphic novel based on her childhood, and more.  Sample was the screenwriter for several successful television series, and she packs a season’s episodes in this book.

For fans of Where’d You Go Bernadette?, this story is also set in Seattle.  Those blackberry bushes reappear, Eleanor’s son Timby attends the infamous Galer Street School, and Semple can’t resist a few disparaging remarks about Amazon “squids.”

Although the plot jumps around and takes a while to get settled into the story,  this latest Semple offering will have you laughing, nodding in agreement at her pithy views on life, and hopeful – maybe life will be different – tomorrow.