Books we recommend
An Out of Print Book We Love…
Out of print books are recyclable and inexpensive. Not to mention, often superb. If you don’t mind reading on a screen, they can even be downloaded for free. No virtual strings attached.
THE TWILIGHT YEARS: Paris in the 1930s by William Wiser
Carroll & Graf, 2000, $7
Maybe there will come a day when I don’t want to read about Paris and its famed personages of times past. But that day hasn’t come yet. Not even close. At the Strand Bookstore in New York, William Wiser’s The Twilight Years called out to me. Skimming the book’s back cover, I soon learned that the 30s were vastly different from the 20s. The decade was a reverse commute of sorts, with Americans using their return tickets to leave Paris and scamper home.
Turns out the bubbly champagne days were over in 1930s America AND in Paris too. Reasons include the residual impact of World War I, later the American Great Depression, and as Wiser writes, “the threat of Europe plunging towards another disastrous conflict.” Something undefinable, but ominous, was in the air.
The book begins with Henry Miller. But he dug in his heels and refused to go back. Having recently arrived in Paris at his wife’s urging to follow his dream as a writer, he was soon penniless and homeless, sponging off anyone he could for a bit of food, a few francs or shelter. His wife June, a “taxi dancer” who had remained in New York supported him. (There were many of these taxi dance hall establishments at the time where men paid women to dance with them, and sometimes more than dance.) June’s admirers kept her financially afloat, and when she remembered she sent her husband a bit of money too. We enter Miller’s life through a postern, that is, a less glorious secondary door and learn in detail how he met AnaÏs Nin, their mad love affair, and how Nin’s banker husband knowingly supported the whole lot. When June came to Paris unannounced, as was her style, it was Nin’s turn to fall in love with her, as readers of Anaïs Nin’s diaries or Henry Miller’s thinly disguised autobiographical novels well know.
In our reading, we also come across Josephine Baker, Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Beach who shuts down Shakespeare and Company after a German officer’s visit, Coco Chanel, Misia Sert, James Joyce, Pablo Picasso, Peggy Guggenheim and many other so familiar names. When Guggenheim crashes one of Picasso’s parties and makes a lowball offer for a painting, before turning away on his heel he retorts, “Madame, lingerie is on the second floor.”
One can’t help but marvel: what a time it must have been! Some of the 2Oth century’s greatest artists were then only a bit famous, or not even at all. Whether hungry or coolly indifferent when it came to the promise of worldly success, it was all there for them in Paris, until it wasn’t – and to quote Poe’s knowing Raven – nevermore.
~ Helen Mitsios
THE LAST FOLK HERO: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson By Jeff Pearlman
Mariner, $30 (2022)
If you watched TV in the late ‘80s / early ‘90s, you probably saw those “Bo Knows” commercials, showing all the things that Bo Jackson can do. That was just the tip of the iceberg. Called the “last folk hero” by sportswriter Joe Posnanski, Vincent Edward Jackson is considered the greatest athlete of all time. He played football, baseball and ran track. He was super-fast and super strong and didn’t like lifting weights.
Jeff Pearlman, who’s written in-depth sports books on the New York Mets, Los Angeles Lakers, Walter Payton, among other teams and athletes, chronicles Jackson’s meteoric rise from a shy boy with a stutter from Alabama who wanted to quit football at Auburn, into the two-sport legend, to only having his career cut short due to injury. We even learn how he was given the name “Bo.”
Before Jackson ran up the wall while playing baseball for the Kansas City Royals or plowed through Brian Bosworth for a touchdown while playing football for the Oakland Raiders, he was already beyond gifted. The myth – and actual physical size – of Bo Jackson, this specimen, built like a Greek god, started growing during high school and college. He was described by some folks as being built like a tank, faster than any wide receiver, stronger than any lineman, a special athlete. He hit baseballs so far they’re still traveling into orbit.
He once jumped flat-footed out of a pool onto the deck.
He once jumped over a parked car.
He once ran the 40-yard-dash in 4.13.
He even helped land a plane that could have killed the entire 1991 White Sox.
There was never an athlete like Bo Jackson before him and there will never be another one like him. Ever. He’s more than a mythical creature, like Paul Bunyan. He is simply, Bo.
~ Jason Stahl
THE LEGO STORY: How a Little Toy Sparked the World’s Imagination By Jens Andersen
Mariner, $32.50 (2022)
Is there anyone who has never played with LEGO? At the very least stepped on a LEGO piece? One experience brings joy, the other, well, let’s not even go there. But if you want to learn anything – and everything – about the Billund, Denmark-based company, The LEGO Story reveals all the building blocks that went into making this brand into the most notable toy company on the planet.
Author Jens Andersen was given unprecedented access to LEGO’s archives to write “the first and only fully authorized history” of the company, which has been owned by the same family – a very private one at that – since its inception 90 years ago.
Founder Ole Kirk Kristiansen was a carpenter, and religious, and looked to his faith to get through the toughest of times – on the verge of bankruptcy, his workshop burning down, the Great Depression and World War II, his first wife dying – to persevere and create toys for children. He believed children have the right to play, hence the company name. LEGO, for those not in the know, comes from the Danish words “leg godt,” meaning “play well.” This was a battle cry for Ole Kirk and subsequent generations who ran the company, knowing how important it is for kids to be kids.
~ Jason Stahl