15 May 2014


Jacqueline Kennedy reading The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac.

It’s time for the latest edition of Bookshelf—a collection of short reviews of the books that I've recently read. You should be warned that my history crush, Robert Capa, pops up in more than one of these books (at some point I'm going to have to get serious and just write a book about him). Let me know your thoughts on any of these titles and what you've been reading.

Ingrid Bergman: My StoryIngrid Bergman and Alan Burgess
With alternating passages by Bergman and Burgess, Ingrid Bergman: My Story tells how a shy young Swedish girl became one of the great stars of the silver screen. At times modest and often candid, Bergman writes about the importance of acting in her life, her famous co-stars, and of her great loves affairs with Robert Capa and Roberto Rossellini. Her relationship with Rossellini and the worldwide scandal it caused understandably takes up a good portion of the book. Reading this will make you want to go back and watch every Bergman film again.

At the turn of the 20th century, Polish-born performer Anna Held met Florenz Ziegfeld who persuaded her to leave the stages of Europe and come to New York. Held’s charming and slightly naughty personality combined with Ziegfeld’s promotional skills turned her into the toast of Broadway (she also became Ziegfeld’s common-law wife). While the passages about her early life seem rushed (I suspect it was from a lack of source material), Golden does a good job clearing up some of the rumours about Held and painting a picture of what New York theatre life was like at the time. 

Founded by Robert Capa and a small group of photojournalists in 1947, Magnum Photos is a photographic cooperative that continues to be one of the preeminent photo agencies in the world with members who have contributed some of the most lasting images of the 20th century. The book discusses Magnum’s history in detail and includes stories about the famous bickering of the members and of the rivalry between the New York and Paris offices. Seemingly always on the brink of collapse, Magnum has managed to survive deaths, money woes, and a changing industry. A must read for people interested in photojournalism.

The ChaperoneLaura Moriarty
In 1922, 15-year old Louise Brooks left Kansas for New York to study with the Denishawn School of Dance in New York City. Accompanying her was an older woman who acted as her chaperone. In this engaging fictional account of that trip, Laura Moriarty renames the chaperone Cora Carlisle and makes her the story’s protagonist. While attempting to look out for her young charge, Cora discovers some answers about her past and finds a new road for her future. I normally do not like fictional accounts of people whom I admire but I was quite taken with this book save for the one very predictable plot line. I just wish I could have heard more from Louise but alas it isn’t really her story. 

Dimanche and Other StoriesIrène Némirovsky
Confession: I have not read Suite Francaise. My first introduction to Irène Némirovsky was a short story, Dimanche, in Persephone Books’ magazine. I loved that story so much that I went out and bought this collection (Dimanche is the first story). I was moved by the beauty of the language in these ten tales that deal with issues of love, relationships, and class differences. Knowing that she died in Auschwitz in 1942 only adds a bittersweet air to these excellent stories. Highly recommended.

A Russian JournalJohn Steinbeck
In this amusing and informative account of a trip that John Steinbeck made to Russia in 1948 with Robert Capa, he writes about their many obstacles from transport issues to finding places to sleep to dealing with censors while trying to document their encounters with the Russian people. Steinbeck reports on the great hospitality they were shown and how the Russian people were not all that different from Americans. Capa, whose powerful photographs lend credence to Steinbeck’s account, provides a lot of the humour in the book (there’s even a passage he contributed defending himself). Very entertaining.

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