Thursday, January 26, 2012

Weekend Miscellany


A few things I am excited about right now...

I can't let the week go by without mentioning Edith Wharton's birthday on January 24.  This year is the 150th anniversary of her birth.  There is probably no American writer who gets mentioned more often than Edith Wharton, especially in terms of old New York.



For example, the enchanting new book "Rules of Civility" by Amor Towles ( a love letter to New York) has a lovely tribute to Edith Wharton.  My book club just discussed it yesterday and loved it!  As the characters celebrate New Year's eve the narrator describes the scene:



"Powdered with snow, Washington Square looked as lovely as it could.  The snow had dusted every tree and gate. The once tony brownstones that on summer days now lowered their gaze in misery were lost for the moment in sentimental memories.  At No. 25, a curtain on the second floor was drawn back and the ghost of Edith Wharton looked out with shy envy.  Sweet, insightful, unsexed, she watched the three of us pass wondering when the love that she had so artfully imagined would work up the courage to rap on her door.  When would it present itself at an inconvenient hour, insist upon being admitted, brush past the butler and rush up the Puritan staircase urgently calling her name?
Never, I'm afraid."


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The Fifth Avenue Hotel, center of the gilded age social scene
Photo from the New York Times

Th New York Times recently featured a long and fascinating article with many great photos about Edith Wharton in honor of her 150th birthday.  The author of this excellent article entitled "Tales of New York," with a subtitle: "For Edith Wharton's Birthday, Hail Ultimate Social Climbers" writes about the New York heiresses of that time and the locations "where Edith and the gilded girls roamed," including the photo above.  What a great piece about the world in which Edith lived.

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The Mount, Edith Wharton's House in Lenox, Massachusetts

If you go to the website at The Mount, Edith's home in Lenox, Massachusetts, you will find many articles about and tributes to Edith Wharton in celebration of her big birthday.  One interesting piece of information I read was that Julian Fellowes cited Wharton's "The Custom of the Country" as one of the influences on "Downton Abbey."  In that book Edith was writing about American girls going to England in the late nineteenth century and marrying English aristocrats. I think you will enjoy this website as it gives so many examples of the influence of Edith Wharton on writers and filmmakers.

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I seem to be on a roll right now with some really good books.  I just finished "Old Filth" and "The Man in the Wooden Hat" by the English writer Jane Gardam.  Old Filth is the nickname of the main character, whose real name is Edward Feathers.  "Filth" is an acronym for "Failed in London, Try Hong Kong."  Feathers is an English solicitor and judge who made a great success in Hong Kong and has retired in his later years to Dorset, England with his wife Betty.  He is an elderly man who is looking back on his life and his story is fascinating, funny and heartbreaking.  The second book "The Man in the Wooden Hat" is the same story, but told from the wife's perspective.  What a portrait of a marriage! You are in for a treat.  I loved these books and recommend them both, but read "Old Filth" first.

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"Midnight in Paris"
Photo from the New York Times

The Academy Award nominations just came out and Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" got four nominations!  I was thrilled because "Midnight in Paris" is my favorite movie of the year.   There is a great article in today's New York Times, "Unlikely Routes Lead to Oscars," about how this movie almost didn't get made.  One producer wondered who would want to see this film since nobody even knows who Gertrude Stein is anymore.  But Woody argued that you don't really need to know those people to appreciate the film.  The film turned out to be his most successful.  Let's hope it wins some Oscars!

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So many people have been saying good things about the new biography of Charles Dickens by Claire Tomalin.  I just started it and I can tell I am going to be swept away by this one.  

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What are you up to this weekend?  I would love to hear what books you are reading and which movies you have seen lately.  I'm going to the Getty Center this weekend to see the new art exhibition "Pacific Standard Time."  We are having gorgeous weather in Los Angeles and it should be a beautiful day up at the Getty with its amazing views of the city.  Have a great weekend!


8 comments:

  1. Oh, I'm so glad you mentioned Rules of Civility. I saw it the other day at our neighborhood bookstore and was intrigued, but didn't buy it. Now I'll have to check it out. As for Midnight in Paris, I haven't seen it yet. I've only been to one movie in the past year--I'm getting to be as bad as my grandmother, who swears she hasn't been to a movie since she took me to see Babe!

    Anyway, my plans for this weekend include a going-away party for friends of ours and some serious estate-sale shopping. Enjoy the Getty and the weather!

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  2. I'm tempted to leave your gorgeous flowers up on my monitor to dress up the place! It's half rain, half snow in our neighbourhood today and quite grey outside, very blah. On a cheery note though, my current Bowen book 'A House in Paris' is being savoured slowly as her writing begs you to. And the last movie my husband and saw was 'The Iron Lady' proving once again that Meryl Streep is impossibly gifted.

    Enjoy your weekend and the exhibit! Photos please...

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  3. I am embarrassed to admit how long Rules of Civility has been sitting on my nightstand. I can't seem to keep up these days - thank goodness for friends like you I can count on to keep me in the loop!!

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  4. Rules of Civility was one of the best reads of the past year - couldn't put it down. Going to read Old Filth next, as you've never steered me wrong. I'm going out on a limb here, but we went with another couple to see Midnight in Paris the day it opened. The four of us didn't like it at all, and we're all huge fans of both Woody Allen and Paris. Lots of reasons, which I won't go into here, but maybe I should give it another try? Melancholia was my favorite movie of the year. Saw The Grey yesterday, which is an amazing film. Beautiful and universal allegory.

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  5. Sorry to disagree about Rules of Civility. I thought it was trite and condescending. It reminded me of my pledge never to read fiction when a man writes about a female protagonist. I pledge to keep that up after this read. Love Wharton. House of Mirth is forever a favorite.

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  6. Lauren, I hope you get a chance to read "Rules," it's a treat! My book club loved it and it has some very beautiful writing. Have fun at your estate-sale.

    Darlene, oh I hope your weather improves! I am an Elizabeth Bowen fan also and a few years ago bought all of her books in paperback. I have read several, including "House in Paris" but I think my favorite it "The Death of the Heart." I loved Meryl Streep in "The Iron Lady"!

    Kathy, I hope you enjoy "Old Filth." I haven't seen the two movies you mentioned and will try to find them now that you've recommended them.

    Home before dark, Wharton is a favorite of mine also. I was interested to hear your opinion of "Rules" and your thoughts about men creating female protagonists. My next book for my book club is "Breakfast at Tiffany's" which will be another book by a man with a female protagonist. I have read it before and I look forward to revisiting it.

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  7. just digging into rules of civility - wonderful. am thrilled about midnight in paris. wonderful photos of old new york - edith wharton was a favorite a while ago - I need to reread a few of her books to recall why she plays such an important role in my bookshelves!

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