As a profligate book buyer, I have piles of tomes all through my home, each in various states of consumption. Three of my most recent purchases are memoirs. “Eat A Peach” by Momofuku chef David …
As a profligate book buyer, I have piles of tomes all through my home, each in various states of consumption. Three of my most recent purchases are memoirs. “Eat A Peach” by Momofuku chef David Chang is a startlingly honest book. It is a straightforward, no-holds-barred account of Chang's rise in the world of celebrity chefs and his ongoing struggles with mental illness.
The second book is “Improvising Out Loud” by Jeff Corey, a marvelous character actor who was blacklisted after others made false claims about his politics to Joe McCarthy's infamous House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). HUAC was a case of America getting a bit off-the-rails in the post WWII hunt for Communists. We recovered.
Corey's friend screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who had also been blacklisted, suggested that Corey move his family to Mexico. He was also offered work in Israel. But after thinking it over, Corey says, “I knew I didn't want to leave the United States. I thought to myself, ‘I love this country. I'm an exemplary citizen. I'm not the problem. I'm not leaving.' It was the second time I reaffirmed to myself my true devotion to my homeland, my community, and my life. It felt good to make the decision to stay.”
To support his family, Corey began an acting school in his garage attended by the likes of Leonard Nimoy, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson, James Dean, Anthony Perkins, Jane Fonda, Barbra Streisand, and Robin Williams. Not too shabby. And he went on to act in movies once again, as America came to its senses.
I also read André Leon Talley's memoir “The Chiffon Trenches” about his life in the world of high fashion, especially his relationship with Anna Wintour at Vogue. Talley is unsparing in his assessment of Wintour and, of course, there's lots of snarky gossip and glamourous minutiae included.
Despite my penchant for book buying, there are moments when I come to my senses and instead search for a book at my local library. What a wonderful resource! Libraries are more likely to have copies of those out-of-print biographies and memoirs I discover when I'm down an internet rabbit hole. The regional system of libraries allows access to millions of titles, as well as ebooks, audiobooks and DVDs.
My latest library find is “The King of Confidence: A Tale of Utopian Dreamers, Frontier Schemes, True Believers, False Prophets, and the Murder of an American Monarch” by Miles Harvey. It is the unbelievable but delightfully true story of James Jesse Strang, a professed atheist and con man who claimed to be the rightful heir to Mormon founder Joseph Smith. Like Smith, he based his claim on tablets he found written in a language that only he could decipher. Then he snagged some of Smith's converts for himself and established a settlement.
Strang's cons often involved selling worthless land. Harvey quotes Charles Dickens, who observed on a trip to America in 1842, “The merits of speculation, or a bankruptcy, or of a successful scoundrel, are not gauged by its or his observance of the golden rule…but are considered with reference to their smartness.” Dickens remained astounded by America's love of such rogues.
Ah, the more things change…
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