1. What are you currently reading? Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann. I've seen the movie about a gazillion times (the best bad movie ever made) and, decades upon decades ago, read and made fun of but never finished my mother's hardcover copy. Now, as a reasonable facsimile of an adult woman, I'm giving this 1966 book a serious shot. After all, I read Peyton Place this past spring and enjoyed it immensely, as both a story and a cultural artifact. Maybe it's time to give Jackie Susann and Dolls their due.
Oh. My. God. This book is ridiculous. Seriously dopey. And yet it's compulsively readable. The dialog is stupid. ("I want to meet a decent guy and get married. Then I'd be somebody. I'd be Mrs. Somebody.") The plot is implausible. (Anne got every job she interviewed for, even though she had no training or experience. Oh well, it's not like New York is competitive or anything.)
And yet I can't wait to get back to it. It's like Jackie Susann eavesdropped on every scenario pre-adolescent me acted out with my Barbies. It's sheer fantasy. Silly, a little dirty, and loads of fun.
BTW, compared to Dolls, Peyton Place is Jane Austen.
2. What did you recently finish reading? Paul Newman: A Life by Shawn Levy. I like Paul Newman's movies. He always seemed to be striving for quality, even if sometimes he missed the mark. And he was charismatic. After he does some genuinely awful, truly despicable things, Hud explains himself by saying, "My mama loved me, but she died." And from the audience, I'm all, "OK! You're forgiven!"
This book leads me to believe I'd like Newman the man as well. He was a hard-worker, always self-deprecating and humble (even when he was box office champ and the screen's reigning male sex symbol). He took nothing for granted. Considering himself lucky, he gave back to his community and the world in spades. In comparison to his wealth, he was one of America's premier philanthropists.
He had an enduring fondness for popcorn, practical jokes and silly hats. He took his politics and the world around him seriously. As he was dying, his last words to his daughters were, "It's been a privilege to be here."
So while he was very good company for 500 pages, he wasn't perfect. Clearly he was a functioning alcoholic for decades. He cheated on his first wife with Joanne Woodward, and then cheated on Joanne with a publicist he met while on location making Butch Cassidy. He had six children but no real gift for parenting, alternating between benign neglect when he was working and intense involvement with them between films. But as with Hud Bannon, Joanne, the girls and we readers forgive him.
The problem I have with this biography, though, is two-fold. It's repetitious at times. (For example, the story of how Newman's Own Organics came to be is told twice, and to be honest, it's not that interesting. Also, either Newman was one of the crankiest celebrities, or Levy liked reiterating how intolerant he was of the price of fame.) And then there's Joanne Woodward. Clearly Newman loved her very much and regarded her as his life partner. But hell if I know why. She comes off as a bit of cypher. I wish I knew more about the woman who wooed him from his first wife and three children, and then married him herself, gave him three more kids and sustained him emotionally for 50 years.
3. What will read next? I don't know.