Armbruster, Ann. The Life and Times of Miami Beach. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.
Reason read: Hurricane Irma blew into town on September 10th, 2017.
The Life and Times of Miami Beach would make a good coffee table book; one of those gorgeous to look at and flip through (even if you don’t have the time to read) books. The photography (in both black and white and color) is spectacular.
We begin in 1900. Miami Beach was nothing but spits of sand and swamp. By 1915 keen-eyed entrepreneur Carl Fisher looked at the bug and alligator infested mangroves and said resolutely why not? Why not create a vacation hot spot out of an uninhabited peninsula? In the beginning business was slow. Marjory Stoneman Douglas wasn’t impressed with a tourist season that was only two months long.
By the 1920s Miami Beach was a real estate developer’s dream. Hotel growth exploded with expensive, over-the-top, grandiose places to stay. Prohibition was a joke as rum runners smuggled alcohol in disguised as fish and shipped it inland marketed as grapefruits or tomatoes. Swim suits could be rented for twenty five cents.
In the 1930s the big names wanted to be seen in Miami Beach. Names like Firestone, Ford, Maytag, Honeywell, Florsheim, Hoover, and Hertz. Eleanor Roosevelt and Charles Lindbergh came to visit.
In the 1940s Miami became a haven for military men.
By the late ’50s and early ’60s Miami Beach’s identity was changing again with visits from tourists from all over. Over two million people were flocking to the Beach paradise. Jackie Gleason, the Beatles, Debbie Reynolds and Desi Arnaz (to name a few) added to the publicity.
Armbruster ends her coffee table book with the wrap up “1970s to present” present means the ’80s). The last chapter is a quick four pages dedicated to Miami Beach’s flagging economy and reputation and its rebirth and redevelopment.
As an aside, Phish had a New Year’s Eve run in Miami Beach a few years ago. I didn’t attend but I heard the show was epic.
Author fact: Armbruster has no outward connection to Miami. According to her bio she was born in Michigan, raised in Ohio, and studied in New York. My guess is that someone she is related to has the connection to Miami.
Book trivia: The Life and Times of Miami Beach can be called a gorgeous book with over 200 photographs and illustrations.
Nancy said: Nancy didn’t say anything specific about Armbruster’s book.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the obvious chapter called “Miami and Environs” (p 145).
I don’t post a lot of personal stuff on this side of the writing. Not usually. Typically, I leave all that other blathering on JustCauseICan. I may write about the run or the island, a brief sentence here or there, but of little else…except for today. When you lose someone you adore it is hard to focus. That is precisely my problem today. I am shattered by grief and only put back together again by words. So, I must read. Here are the books planned for September. I hope they heal:
- Babylon Rolling by Amanda Boyden – to remember Hurricane Ivan as it wreaked havoc on my 2004 September wedding.
- The Most Offending Soul Alive: Tom Harrisson and His Remarkable Life by Judith M. Heinmann – in honor of Harrisson’s birth month being in September.
- Life and Times of Miami Beach by Ann Armbruster – in honor of Hurricane Irma.
- Workshop: Seven Decades of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop: 43 Stories, Recollections, and Essays on Iowa’s Place in Twentieth Century American Literature edited by Tom Grimes – in honor of Grimes’ birth month being in September.
- Fuzz by Ed McBain – to end the series started in July in memory of McBain’s passing.
- Case of the Man Who Died Laughing by Tarquin Hall – to end the series started in August in honor of Rajiv Ratna Ganghi, India’s youngest Prime Minister’s birth month.
- Spring of the Ram by Dorothy Dunnett – to continue the series started in honor of Dunnett’s birth month (August).
- Holding the Dream by Nora Roberts – to continue the series started in honor of August being Dream Month.
- Tandia by Bryce Courtenay – to end the series started in August in honor of Courtenay’s birth month.
Early Review for LibraryThing:
Confessional: I am still reading Where Eagles Dare Not Perch by Peter Bridgford.
What can I tell you about August? I still have moments of wanting to hurl myself off a cliff. But, but. But! The good news is, by default, that recklessness has made me shed my fear of flying, ants, and flying ants. I went zip lining in Alaska and found myself the first to volunteer; literally throwing myself off every platform.
I was forced to dedicate more time to the run while I punished myself with late-read books from July. As a result of all that, August’s mileage was decent considering 10 days were spent traveling (25 – the most since April) while the reading list was a little lackluster:
- Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein (AB left over from July)
- In Tragic Life by Vardis Fisher – such a sad book!
- Hawthorne: a Life by Brenda Wineapple (left over from July)
- Miami by Joan Didion
- The Eagle Has Flown by Jack Higgins
- Henry James: the Middle Years by Leon Edel (left over from JUNE)
- Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color by Andrea J. Ritchie
- Pharos Gate by Nick Bantock – I know, I know. I shouldn’t be reading anything for fun while I had so many July books still on my plate. This took me all over an hour to read and besides, Bantock is one of my favorites. How could I not?
Didion, Joan. Miami. New York: Vintage International, 1998.
Reason read: Here’s the whole train: Miami has an extremely strong Cuban culture. Fidel Castro was Cuban. Fidel Castro also had a birthday in August. Reading Miami to acknowledge the connection.
It took me some time to navigate Didion’s true focus for Miami. I was expecting an overarching, historical portrait of a city in Florida which is rich in culture and diversity today and yesterday. Instead, Miami started out as a tirade about how Cubans in Miami are often ignored (when they aren’t being misunderstood). Cuban ethnicity is left out of the equation when Anglos describe Miami. The naive gringos err on the side of stereotypes or misconception when trying to describe or name something that is uniquely Cuban. I wasn’t expecting this us against them narrative. It is more accurate to say Didion’s Miami is about the Cuban Exile Community, past and present. Didion moves the reader directly into the eye of a political hurricane which is in a nutshell government conspiracies and corruptions, the underbelly of wheeling and dealing like failed and successful assassinations. Organized crime and car bombs that go boom in the night. Bay of Pigs. Watergate. Ronald Reagan. Nightmares in the light of day. Sunny Miami.
I am distracted easily. Put in front of me a sentence that is too long winded and my mind starts to wander and my eyes jump all over the page, forgetting what I just tried to read. Miami is full of crazy long (in my mind run-on) sentences that drove me to distraction. Case in point: “On the morning of the anniversary ground was being broken for the renovation of the bungalow, an occasion for Claud Pepper, fresh from the continuing debate in the House of Representatives over aid to the Nicaraguan contras, to characterize the landing at Giron as “one of the most heroic events in the history of the world” and for many of those present to voice what had become by that spring the most urgent concern of the exile community, the very concern which now lends the occasion its retrospective charge, the “the freedom fighters of the eighties” not be treated by the Reagan administration as the men of the 2506 has been treated, or believed that they had been treated, by the Kennedy administration” (p 16).
Here is a short quote I liked, “To spend time in Miami is to acquire a certain fluency in cognitive dissonance” (p 99).
Author fact: At the time of Miami’s publication Didion had published a combined ten books, both fiction and nonfiction.
Book trivia: I was hoping for some good photographs of historic Miami but none were included.
Nancy said: Pearl said Miami had gorgeous writing (p 146).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the incredibly obvious chapter called “Miami and Environs” (p 145).
If I was California dreaming in July, then I will be Alaska cruising in August. Since there were a few books on the July list I didn’t finish I am punishing myself by not starting my August list until the July list is completely cleared. This is a first and totally off the Challenge protocol. Here’s how the reading should go:
- Henry James: the Middle Years by Leon Edel (280 pages to go)
- Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein (300 pages to go)
When those are finished I can tackle the AUGUST READS:
- Possession by A.S. Byatt ~ in honor of Byatt’s birth month
- Miami by Joan Didion ~ in honor of Castro’s birth month
- Henry James:
the Masterthe Treacherous Years by Leon Edel (will this series ever end? Apparently, I am eager for it to be over since I skipped a volume!)
- Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color by Andrea J. Ritchie
What can I say about March? The snow is (finally, finally) beginning to melt and kisa and I are starting to think spring even though it’s still cold, cold, cold and more snow is expected for tomorrow. We made some pretty sobering decisions. No huge projects for Hilltop and no expensive vacations. We’re taking a year off from spending. It’s a good choice, I think, given all the work drama we both have been through recently. Family life is starting to even out. For awhile I wasn’t feeling the proverbial pressures, but then again I had been shutting my phone off at night! March was also a Natalie night with the best company a girl could ever have. Here’s the list for March books:
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte ~ in honor of Book Month. I had forgotten about all the sighing and sobbing! *sigh*
- Blind Descent by Nevada Barr ~ in honor of Barr’s birth month. I will never look at cave exploring the same way again!
- Flint by Paul Eddy ~ in honor of Eddy’s birth month.
- The Bold Vegetarian: 150 Innovative International Recipes by Bharti Kirchner ~ in honor of March being “noodle month.” I kid you not.
- Cross Creek by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings ~ in honor of Florida becoming a state. This was made into a movie…interesting.
- God’s Bits of Wood by Sembene Ousmane~ in honor of African American Writers Month.
- Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks ~ in honor of March being family month. This was a behemoth to read – over 700 pages!
- Raising Holy Hell by Bruce Olds ~ in honor of family month (read with Cloudsplitter because they were on the same topic).
- Cosi fan Tutti by Michael Dibdin ~ in honor of March being Dibdin’s birth month.
Confessional: I skipped Famished Road by Ben Okri and added God’s Bits of Wood by Sembene Ousmane instead. Somehow I had forgotten that I had already tried that book a few years ago. It just wasn’t my thing. However, I did write a review for LibraryThing. I just wish I had remembered that before ordering it a second time. I hate making more work for librarians! Here’s what I said for LT:
The Famished Road by Ben Okri is all about spirits. Azaro is a child in Africa struggling between two worlds: that of the spiritual and that of the Earthly. His parents on Earth are well meaning, but poverty driven, people. the basic theme of Famished Road is the definitive difference and ultimate struggle between good and evil. Azaro’s personal struggle is with spirits that can only exist if Azaro is dead. Azaro’s father struggles with abuse and power. Starting as a boxer he soon delves into the world of politics to gain power. Madam Kato is a simple bartender who begins her part of the story by wanting more profit but as a result of greed, sinks lower and lower. Along with the ever-entwining magical realism is the drifting of morality.
Other books I read in March not on the BookLust list: Miss Timmins School for Girls: a novel by Nayana Churrimbhoy ~ an Early Review book for LibraryThing. This was great! Definitely one of my favorite reads of the month. I also started reading Clean Food by Terry Walters and Now Eat This by Rocco Dispirito (reviews coming soon).
June is fishing month. Go figure. Ninety-Two in the Shade is about a man (Thomas Skelton) who has always wanted to run a guided fishing tour off the Florida Keys. Not the fishing I had pictured for the month of June, but a form of it, I guess. Thomas is new to the business and even newer to competition. He is not without his share of problems. The opening “scene” is Thomas waking up in a hotel and finding four people standing naked in a tub. Right away you know this isn’t your typical River Runs Through It fishing story! Other quirks: violence that does (or doesn’t) happen, relationships that are (or aren’t) good, and the entire book is absent of chapters. I may have come across other books like this but never noticed this chapterlessness before. The only reason why this seems odd is because not having chapters makes it difficult to know where to stop!
I did a little extra research and found out that Ninety-Two in the Shade was made into a movie not long after it was written and while it’s Thomas McGuane’s third work of fiction many critics consider it his best.
I never did get used to McGuane’s “gritty” style of writing, but here are some quotes (and scenes) that caught me: “He walked to Homestead, then right on through town, tripping his brains out in the emptiness of 5 a.m.” (p 4).
A conversation between Skelton and “his girl.” May it confuse you as much as it did me:
Miranda~ “Tom, I had this incredible orgasm.”
Tom~ “Do I have to hear about your organism too?”
M ~ “Just this one. It was like a whole dream of sweet things to eat…Spun sugar, meringue, whipped egg whites…”
T ~ “How about when your chum shot off? Was it a blintz or an omelet?”
M~ “Ask him.”
To say that Ninety-Two in the Shade isn’t without humor would be a lie: “You should never kill somebody if it isn’t funny” ( 34).
BookLust Twist: In both Book Lust and More Book Lust. Book Lust: in the chapter “Montana: In Big Sky Country” (p 156) because Thomas McGuane is from Montana. This, by the way, takes care of a November read because that’s when Montana became a state and Ninety-Two in the Shade was on the November list. More Book Lust: in the chapter “Gone Fishin'” (p 101).