Wilson, Sloan. The Man in Gray Flannel. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2002.
Reason read: Wilson was born in the month of May. Read in his honor.
This is the story of Tom Rath and economic survival in the 1950s era. Tom’s wife, Betsy and their three children want the good life. Tom is determined to give it to them, even if it means slogging to work doing a job he doesn’t completely enjoy. When a new prospect for employment pops up Rath jumps at the chance to move up the ladder but it is not without consequences.
The Man in Gray Flannel epitomizes the proverbial meaning of life in a material world. It is also a study of 1950s conformity and climbing the corporate ladder. You have one man who is a slave to his workaholic lifestyle and is miserable because of it while another man is angry because he can never get ahead. Tom’s boss, from the outside, projects an image of ease and calm amidst his wealth while Tom encounters roadblocks in every aspect of his life. The new higher paying job is not what he thought it would be. Secrets from his time as a solider in World War II will not stay buried. His wife wants more and more. Even the seemingly straightforward last will and testament of his grandmother’s estate doesn’t seem to be in his favor.
Confessional: the odd thing is, despite all of Tom’s setbacks and struggles, I couldn’t entirely feel for him. I felt more for his boss.
Author fact: This is Sloan Wilson’s first book.
Book trivia: The Man in Gray Flannel is autobiographical.
Nancy said: Pearl said absolutely nothing about The Man in Gray Flannel.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade:1950” (p 177).
Smith, Thorne. Topper Takes a Trip. New York: Modern Library, 2000.
Reason read: to finish the series started in March in honor of Thorne Smith’s birth month.
When we pick up with Mr. Topper and his wife, Mary Topper, they are in the South of France enjoying a holiday on the Riviera. After his adventure frolicking with ghosts and nearly becoming one himself in the last installment Cosmos Topper decides to take his wife on a vacation to the beaches of the French Riviera. He is hoping to rekindle his marriage and make up for his previous shenanigans. Mr. and Mrs. Kirby and their companions have been left far behind…or have they? While taking a bath Mr. Topper washes someone else’s foot. And so it begin again. Only this time Mr. Topper’s ghostly girlfriend decides he would be more fun as one of them. The only problem? Mr. Topper is still alive.
I have to admit there were some scenes so outrageous I was embarrassed to read them. I don’t think I am spoiling the plot any by saying this, but when Mrs. Topper takes Marion’s leg and swings it around like a weapon I cringed throughout the entire scene. It was beyond ridiculous. I can only imagine what the movie version was like.
But back to the plot. As I was saying, this time Topper’s friends have missed him so much they want to make him one of them. Sound familiar? It’s a repeat of the end of Topper when he crashes into the infamous tree. I couldn’t help feel sorry for Mrs. Topper the whole time.
The best line I liked, “A cat had to get used to so many disagreeable facts of life” (p 121).
Author fact: Thorne Smith was a huge fan of Dorothy Parker’s.
Book trivia: my copy of Topper Takes a Trip has an introduction by Carolyn See. Very cool.
Nancy said: Pearl said nothing specific about Topper Takes a Trip.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Ghost Stories” (p 101).
Ferber, Edna. Giant. Garden City, New York: International Collectors Library, 1952.
Reason read: Texas became a state in the month of March. Read in honor of that little event.
On the surface, Giant is twenty-five years in the life of a Texas family from 1925 to 1950. In reality, Giant is a social commentary on the wealthy. Ferber writes, “We know about champagne and caviar but we talk hog and hominy” (p 17). Ferber’s book was controversial because it revealed a stark truth about society in early twentieth century Texas. Take for example, Vashti Hake. As a daughter to a wealthy rancher, Vashti was shunned because she married a lowly cowhand, Pinky Snyth. There was class and there was Class.
The story opens with a group of wealthy and influential people coming together for the celebration of Jett Rink’s new airport. This is a bitter pill to swallow for cattle owner Jordan “Bick” Benedict. Bick sold Jett a seemingly worthless sliver of land on his sprawling Reata Ranch. The meager land just happened to sit on an untapped oil field. Suddenly, there is competition. Who is the richest? But, the competition runs much deeper. In order to understand these important characters and their significance the story needs to first take a detour. We go twenty five years in the past to explain how Leslie the society girl from Virginia ended up marrying ruggedly handsome Bick, moving to big ole Texas, and creating drama with Mr. Rink. Using the differences between Leslie and Bick Ferber does a good job laying out the different conflicts within Giant:
Geographically – the west versus the northeast. Texas being sprawling, dry and much hotter than lush and green Virginia.
Racially – the treatment of people of color. Virginia’s inclusion of African Americans while Mexicans in Texas are treated as invisible slaves.
Gender – a woman’s role in the household. For example, Leslie doesn’t understand why Bick wants his sister, Luz, to run the household while Leslie thinks, as woman of the house, she should assume the responsibility.
Economically – with the border of Mexico so close the socio-economic borders were bound to clash and blur.
As an aside, I really liked Leslie. She’s smart, funny, and adventurous. In all aspects she truly is a fish out of water but she perseveres.
Lines I needed to quote, “In the Texas the women talked a lot, they chattered on and on about little inconsequential things calculated to please but not strain the masculine mind” (p 73), and “You can’t judge a man by his hat” (p 85).
Author fact: Ferber wrote many, many other books including So Big (which won a Pulitzer in 1924), Show Boat (the 1926 musical), Cimarron (the 1929 movie), and Ice Palace in 1958. None of these titles are on my list. The only other Ferber I am reading is Saratoga Trunk.
Book trivia: Giant was made into a 1956 movie starring some pretty big names you might recognize: Rock Hudson, James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor.
Nancy said: Pearl said Edna Ferber’s Texas is “an oldie-but-goodie” (p 233).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter “Texas: a Lone Star State of Mind” (p 233).
Smith, Thorne. Topper: a Ribald Adventure. New York: Grosset & Dunlap Publishers, 1926.
Reason read: Thorne Smith’s birth month was in March.
Cosmo Topper is an odd duck and his story is an even goofier one. After hearing about a young couple tragically killed in a car accident he sets out to buy their automobile from a mechanic. He has never driven a car and so obviously he doesn’t have a license. Despite all that, something prompts him to hide the purchase of the car from Mrs. Topper as well as keep secret the subsequent driving lessons he needs in order to operate the motor vehicle. But the trouble really begins when the ghosts of George and Marion Kirby, the couple killed in the accident, start haunting Mr. Topper and their old vehicle. For lack of a better word they are troublemakers, materializing at will and causing general mayhem. Things turn scandalous when Mr. Kirby leaves his wife. Vixen Marion is left to haunt Mr. Topper by her playful self.
Quotes I actually smiled at: “Mr. topper could excuse nature and the Republican Party, but not man” (p 9), “Nearing forty and acquiring flesh” (p 17), and “Mrs. Kirby’s smile had caused Mr. Topper to feel much less married” (p 25).
Confessional: is it terrible that my favorite character was Scollops, the cat?
Author fact: Thorne lived from 1893 to 1934 and died at age forty one years of age.
Book trivia: Topper was made into a movie.
Nancy said: Pearl said “not to miss out on discovering or reacquainting yourself with Topper.” (Book Lust p 101). She then goes on to explain the plot.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Ghost Stories” (p 99).
I will make a return to racing in two weeks. My last public run was in July. I’m not ready. Simply not. March is also two Natalie Merchant concerts. A return to my favorite voice. Here are the books:
- Monkey’s Raincoat by Robert Crais – in honor of March being a rainy month. Dumb, I know.
- Topper by Thorne Smith – in honor of Smith’s birth month being in March.
- Giant by Edna Ferber – in honor of Texas becoming a state in March.
- Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam – in honor of March being the month the U.S. finally pulled out of Vietnam.
- Cherry: a Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard by Sara Wheeler in honor of March being the month Apsley ended his depot journey.
- Gemini by Dorothy Dunnett – to finally finish the series started in August in honor of Dunnett’s birth month.
- Blackout by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza – to finish the series started in February in honor of the Carnival festival in Brazil.
- Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov – to continue the series started in honor of Asimov’s birth month.
- The Moor by Laurie R. King – to continue the series started in January in honor of Mystery Month.
- Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver – still reading
- Sharp by Michelle Dean – still reading
- Calypso by David Sedaris – needed for the Portland Public Library reading challenge.
- Living with the Little Devil Man by Lina Lisetta – written by a faculty member.
- Hidden Southwest edited by Ray Riegert – for my May trip.
- 1,000 Places to See Before You Die by Patricia Schultz – for my May trip…and the 2020 Italy trip.
I can only describe February as falling up because health-wise I am up on upswing. I’m still not really running yet (I’ve gone for four under-three-mile runs, but who’s counting?). I’m not really running but I haven’t fallen down either. Hence, falling up.
We had a snow day from work, I took a few days off for my birthday and we took a trip to New Jersey so I was able to get in a fair amount of reading. I spent President’s Day reading, too. Oh, and I almost forgot. I’m barely running so there’s that, too. Needless to say, I’ve been reading a lot. Weirdly enough, for all the reading I’ve done you would think there would be more books. Oh well. Speaking of the books, here they are:
- Dead Room Farce by Simon Brett. Read in three days.
- Captivated by Nora Roberts. Read on my iPad in four days.
- Backup Men by Ross Thomas. Read in five days.
- The Almond Picker by Simonetta Hornby.
- Color of Money by Walter Tevis. Read in five days.
- City of Falling Angels by John Berendt.
- Full Steam Ahead by Rhoda Blumberg.
- Beyond Euphrates by Freya Stark.
- Ready, Player One by Ernest Cline.
Tevis, Walter. The Color of Money. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1984.
Reason read: Tevis was born in February. Read in his honor.
“Fast” Eddie Felson was a pool shark twenty years ago. He dominated the underground pool circuit as a hustler for big bucks. Now he is playing exhibition competitions against his former rival Minnesota Fats in shopping malls for cheap prizes. His future looks bleak as he sips his Manhattans. Thanks to a failed marriage Eddie has lost his pool hall business and he has no other real world skills to make a living. He has never had a 9 to 5 job that he liked. All he can do is what he has known since high school, shooting pool, playing the shark. He needs to reenter the world of competitive pool for money. But, how? He is an old man playing a young man’s game. The rules have changed along with the style of play. He has a lot to learn and Minnesota Fats can only take him so far.
As an aside, when The Color of Money was made into a movie I didn’t care for it. I had this opinion that Tom Cruise only starred in movies where the protagonist had to lose something big in order to shape up and fly straight (think Risky Business, Top Gun & Cocktail). This was one of those plots.
Author fact: Tevis was known for his short stories. He often wrote for Playboy magazine.
Book trivia: The Color of Money is the last novel Tevis wrote. Second book trivia – I did not know the Hustler should have been read first. “Fast” Eddie Felson is the protagonist in both stories. Once again, I have read them backwards. Sigh.
Nancy said: Nothing about The Color of Money.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Child Prodigies” (p 43). For the sake of argument I must say I don’t think The Color of Money belongs in this chapter. No one in this book is a child or a prodigy.