Friday, June 20, 2008


Here it is again - do they seem to come around faster as we get older?

I share my birthday with quite an impressive group of talented, creative, successful people in the Arts world:

Jacques Offenbach

Lillian Hellman

Gus Schilling

Errol Flynn

Gail Patrick

Terence Young

Audie Murphy

Chet Atkins

Martin Landau

Olympia Dukakis

Brett Halsey

Wendy Craig

Dan Greenburg

Stephen Frears

Brian Wilson

Anne Murray

Tina Sinatra

Lionel Richie

John Goodman

Vikram Seth

Cyndi Lauper

Chuck Wagner

Nicole Kidman

Maybe there's hope for me yet?

I've never gotten a birthday card from any of them, by the way. No matter - I'd rather have one from my parents, or from Aunt Lillian and Uncle Sam, but neither will happen again. I'm glad I saved the cards I received from them over the years.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

That WIND is Back!!!

After an absence of two years or so, Gone With the Wind has made a reappearance in what is known as mass-market (or rack-sized) paperback format.

I’m a long-time GWTW fan and collector, and I hate to say this, but I don’t like it!

There have been many such paperback editions of Gone With the Wind published in the U.S. over the years, and I have most of them – several feature cover-art inspired by the famous film (the familiar “flaming love” motif depicting Rhett Butler/Clark Gable carrying an apparently-subdued Scarlett O’Hara/Vivien Leigh against the background of Atlanta in flames), others artists’ renderings of the characters bearing no resemblance to their film counterparts, and at least two which featured virtually no cover illustrations at all, just the book’s title and author.

The new one features an artists’ rendering of Rhett once again carrying Scarlett, but they’re full-figure this time, although half of Rhett’s head and one-third of Scarlett’s are off-cover – Pocket Books, once again GWTW’s publisher after more than 35 years, apparently wasn’t about to pay this time around to license the Gable/Leigh images from Turner Entertainment (although their 1960s paperbacks featured them). Previous paperback editions published by Pocket ran to 862 pages in length and were 7 ¼ high (the industry standard for paperback for decades) by about 1 ¼ inches thick – some of the editions reprinted by Avon Books from 1973 through 1993 were just shy of two inches thick, and the Warner Books reprint published in 1993 (which used the same 1,024-page pagination as the Avon edition) and recently phased-out was about 1 ¾-inches thick.. Pocket Books brand-new 2008 edition has been printed from newly-set type (well, do they still actually set type?) which expands the book’s pagination to a whopping 1,448 pages! And although at 6 ¾ inches in height it’s shorter than previous editions, it’s girth sets a record – 2 3 /4 inches – wider than any standard hardbound edition of the novel!

So what don’t I like about this new edition? Well, I’m not wild about that cover, for one thing – it’s more appropriate for a historical romance รก la Rosemary Rogers than Margaret Mitchell, and will blend right in with the hundreds of similar covers that still grace many a “bodice-ripper” on store shelves. And somehow the book’s thickness makes it look awkward, almost too short (and it is shorter than the average paperback is these days – height for mass-market paperbacks has become variable these days, depending on the publisher’s whim). And while the thickness of the spine should have made it practical to show the book’s title horizontally, as


with the


they instead turned it on its side so that customers have to twist their necks to read the title (could this be an accommodation to at least one of the major chain bookstores who seem to spine as many books as possible, regardless of thickness, thus discouraging many booklovers from browsing and necessitating a trip to the information desk?). The only plus: Pocket is attempting to depict the book’s title as Margaret Mitchell intended it, with a lower-case “w” for "wind".

There’s some biographical data about Margaret Mitchell inside the front and rear covers on the book which is placed too close to the inner spine of the book to be read comfortably. Worse than that, it contains misinformation! I don’t like sloppy jacket-copy – supposedly there are people whose job it is to make sure that facts are checked inside and outside of a book – we’re informed here that Margaret Mitchell “began work on what her friends called ‘the great American novel.’ She showed the finished manuscript, all 1,037 pages of it, to a visiting New York publisher, and on June 10, 1936, Gone with the Wind was published.” Any fan even casually acquainted with the novel’s history knows that when Mitchell unwillingly presented her novel to Macmillan’s Harold Latham in 1935, it was anything but a “finished manuscript” of "1,037 pages" (which was actually the final page tally of Macmillan’s hardcover edition published over a year later) - he had to buy a suitcase in which to transport the disorganized manuscript, which resided in several manila envelopes that had been known over the years to prop up furniture in the apartments in which Mitchell resided with her husband, John R. Marsh – Latham recalled Mitchell warning him: “You may take it, but it’s incomplete, unrevised, there are several versions of some of the chapters, there is no first chapter. . . I hadn’t any intention of letting you or any publisher see it. I only wrote it for my own entertainment.” And Gone With the Wind’s publication date was June 30th, 1936 – not June 10th.

All of these facts could have been easily verified.

But there’s one more thing that’s very disappointing about this new edition, something I’ve never encountered in any other edition of the book, and it’s perhaps the saddest thing of all: Margaret Mitchell’s simple dedication of Gone With the Wind



has been thoughtlessly omitted.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Then and Now

Not long ago I got out one of my earliest journals from the mid-1970s - I knew I'd made some lists of favorite books, and wanted to have a look back at them:

Here are My “10 Best” from March 23rd, 1975:
1. ATLAS SHRUGGED, by Ayn Rand
3. CAPTAINS AND THE KINGS, by Taylor Caldwell
4. CENTENNIAL, by James A. Michener
5. THE SOURCE, by James A. Michener
6. AUNTIE MAME, by Patrick Dennis
7. GONE WITH THE WIND, by Margaret Mitchell
8. THEOPHILUS NORTH, by Thornton Wilder
10. THE BAD SEED, by William March

Two by Rand, two by Caldwell, and two by Michener only left four vacancies! More than a year and a half later, on November 20, 1976, I felt inclined to make another such list:
1. ATLAS SHRUGGED, by Ayn Rand
2. CAPTAINS AND THE KINGS, by Taylor Caldwell
3. CENTENNIAL, by James A. Michener
5. THE BAD SEED, by William March
6. AUNTIE MAME, by Patrick Dennis
7. GONE WITH THE WIND, by Margaret Mitchell
8. LOST HORIZON, by James Hilton
9. TIME AND AGAIN, by Jack Finney

That year and a half apparently brought only minimal changes in my taste: Only Rand is represented by two titles; THE SOURCE, THEOPHILUS NORTH and DEAR AND GLORIOUS PHYSICIAN are gone, the rest (except for ATLAS SHRUGGED, GONE WITH THE WIND and AUNTIE MAME) have merely been shuffled about a bit, up or down a notch, and two that remain favorites to this day – LOST HORIZON and TIME AND AGAIN – have been added. Yet the #10 slot is vacant! Did I get interrupted (the list appears at the end of the entry) or was I just unable to make up my mind?

I suppose these lists should more truthfully have been called "10 Favorites" rather than "10 Best" - there's a big difference between "best" and "favorites"!!! But lo these 30+ years later, several of these titles still rank as favorites with me – AUNTIE MAME, THE BAD SEED, LOST HORIZON, TIME AND AGAIN, GONE WITH THE WIND – and I re-read them every few years – I re-read CAPTAINS AND THE KINGS last year for the first time in 30 years or so (I'd read it four times over a period of 2 years in the early 1970s), and enjoyed it very much – Caldwell was a terrific (if somewhat long-winded) storyteller, and it’s a darned shame that her popularity dwindled after her death – only CAPTAINS AND THE KINGS remains available in paperback. Historical novels are in vogue again and somebody ought to reissue some of Caldwell’s titles. CENTENNIAL is still probably my favorite Michener novel, though it’s been years since I read it (or any Michener novel, for that matter - I simply burned-out). While I still consider ATLAS SHRUGGED and THE FOUNTAINHEAD remarkable and influential books, I haven’t gotten through either of them again in many years – Rand is simply too depressing – her books so shot through with hatred of the human race that one wants to reach for the razor blades...

So, if I were creating that "10 Favorites" list today, what books would appear on it?
1. ASTA'S BOOK, by Barbara Vine (Ruth Rendell writing as)
2. ATONEMENT, by Ian McEwan
3. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, by Harper Lee (I can't believe that both lists above omitted it! What was I thinking???)
4. TIME AND AGAIN, BY Jack Finney
5. THE BAD SEED, by William March
8. THE FORSYTE SAGA, by John Galsworthy (which is actually 3 novels)

See? The old favorites persist - only the first two could be termed "recent"! It's not so easy anymore. My tastes in reading have changed very much over the years - I'm sure there's another list somewhere that includes PENTIMENTO by Lillian Hellman, whose writing I was passionate about for a long time (we share a birthday). I re-read her memoir, AN UNFINISHED WOMAN, earlier this year and still enjoyed it very much, despite no longer being able to trust her (Hellman's veracity has been in doubt ever since Mary McCarthy's declaration during an interview with Dick Cavett that that "Every word she [Hellman] writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the'." Hellman's reputation has never quite recovered - a sad fate for America's foremost female playwright).

Whereas once upon a time I was fairly indiscriminate about reading commercial fiction (yes, I used to read each new Sidney Sheldon novel upon publication), very little of it appeals to me any more, so it's very hard for me to make recommendations to people about recently-published novels. I gave up on Patricia Cornwell and Elizabeth George years ago, and have never read a John Grisham, a James Patterson, a Tom Clancy. I read Stephen King's latest, DUMA KEY, on a whim - my first King novel since BAG OF BONES in 1997 - except for King's insight into the narrator's life-changing physical injuries. Although I enjoyed it, DUMA KEY could have been written the day after he completed BAG OF BONES. King is always praising his editors, who apparently never suggest that he trim a word from his often-bloated novels (after the debacle of THE STAND in 1978, I don't think King's ever been open to trimming a novel - he doesn't have to do that anymore).

One commercial author I did remain oddly loyal to, despite the fact that his books got worse and worse, was Harold Robbins. THE PIRANHAS in 1992 was pretty bad, and was supposedly the last book he wrote on his own, due to health problems subsequent novels were ghost-written - no wonder I only finished one of them, TYCOON, which I think was published either just before or just after his death. I honestly can't recall whether or not I finished THE RAIDERS, which was an unnecessary sequel to THE CARPETBAGGERS (one of his best boos), but I know I didn't finish THE STALLION, an equally unnecessary sequel to THE BETSY (one of his worst). After Robbins death in 1997, his name was "franchised" and various writers hired to write "Harold Robbins" novels (the same had been done with V.C. Andrews, and has since been done with Lawrence Sanders and Robert Ludlum) - I've never bothered with those, but I do re-read Robbins earlier novels from time to time - 79 PARK AVENUE and WHERE LOVE HAS GONE two summers ago, and THE CARPETBAGGERS last year - I had tears in my eyes by the final page of 79 PARK AVENUE, and THE CARPETBAGGERS is still my definition of a "riveting read."