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text 2016-06-09 00:27
Vanity Fair Icons Marilyn Monroe - Special Collector's Edition
Vanity Fair Icons: Marilyn Monroe - Conde Nast

If I've never mentioned my fascination with MM, well, I'm telling ya now. Ran across this copy at the bookstore and I couldn't resist plopping down $15.00 for the magazine. I tried to pass it up but...I sort of figured that there was little more for me to learn about this mesmerizing icon. I mean, I've read and own so many MM books and bios that it's just impossible to tell me anything new. Alas, NEW STUFF! Pics I've never seen (or forgot I've seen. Maybe.) Different sections offer different stories. For example, on page 32, there's an article entitled A SPLASH OF MARILYN that was originally published in June 2012 and adapted from Marilyn & Me (Doubleday). Stunning photographs by Lawrence Schiller. Fascinating behind the scenes look from Larry's point of view. Don't know Schiller? I can assure you. You've seen his work. Schiller famously shot the pool scenes of a naked Marilyn on set of Billy Wilder's Something's Gotta Give. Larry also shot candid photos on set of Let's Make Love and Some Like It Hot. I think this was one of my favorite parts of the magazine. While I knew Larry enjoyed a certain comraderie with Marilyn, and I knew a bit about the infamous shoot, I'd never read Schiller's actual words. He gives an insightful look at the business side of MM. Monroe had final approval over all photos and publicity stills, which was almost unheard of back then. According to Schiller, 

 

"When it came to looking at photographs of herself, Marilyn was all business. I gave her the small contact sheets and a magnifying glass. 

Marilyn didn't have a preconceived idea of how she wanted to be seen by the public. All she wanted was to make sure that her face or body didn't appear blemished in some way: a line here or a wrinkle there. She was interested in the total image; if the whole picture worked, Marilyn was happy." 

 

There are also documents, poems, and journal entries excerpted from Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters by Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn used writing as a means of expressing herself. Some of her poems take a dark turn but they're actually quite good. Contrary to the image Marilyn portrayed onscreen, she was hardly a dumb blonde. She loved intellectuals and reading was something she enjoyed. Like most book lovers, reading was an escape for her and it was helpful during her bouts with chronic insomnia. I can relate to that, too. Marilyn had an extensive book collection consisting of over four hundred books. 430 to be exact. Most of her collection was auctioned off at Christie's in October of 1999. How awesome would it have been to own those books once owned by MM?! From authors like James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, poet Heinrich Heine, and Walt Whitman. Lots of great books in her personal collection. 

 

I love Marilyn and I'm happy to include her as a fellow book lover. I may not own any books from her personal stack but I'm utterly happy to include this edition of Vanity Fair Icons to my ever-growing book collection. 

 

 

 

 

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review 2015-07-16 00:00
Vanity Fair
Vanity Fair - John Carey Vanity Fair is a big surprise for me. I was expecting a story about the trial and tribulations of a couple of plucky lady friends what I discovered was a witty, satirical novel that made me laugh several times, engaged my attention always and even moving at times.

On the surface Vanity Fair is a story of the two main characters Becky Sharp and Amelia Sedley, two childhood friends from the opposite ends of the moral and intellectual spectrum. Becky is ambitious, conniving and smart, Amelia is humble, kind, simple, and rather dim. The novel concurrently charts Becky’s rise from her humble station in life to the rank of the fashionable high society, while Amelia meets with several misfortunes and becomes penniless. It is quite a lengthy novel of more than 800 pages with a large cast of characters who revolve around the lives of the two protagonists.

The most interesting feature of Vanity Fair is how meta it is. Thackeray often breaks the fourth wall to address the reader directly with sly and humorous asides, making light of the novelist’s omnipotence. This is a difficult book to review because it is so densely plotted with something happening on every page.

The characters are very well developed, particularly Becky who is basically a femme fatale but still manages to show the odd flashes of conscience. Amelia is too virtuous for her own good yet unintentionally takes advantage of a man who has an unrequited love for her. It is an interesting trope of a lot of fiction that the nicest, kindest man is immediately friendzoned by the love of his life. This is very much the case for William Dobbin the man who longs for his (dead) best friend’s girl Amilia like a Norwegian Blue parrot pining for the fjord*

My only minor criticism of the book is that some of the characters are just a little too stupid to be realistic. Amelia is well aware of Dobbin’s love for her but feels unable to return his love because she feels that she would be betraying the memory of her dead husband. Although Amelia is naïve, dimwitted and does not care for him Dobbin – an intelligent fellow – cannot get over his obsession with her. Amelia’s brother Jos is even worse, he has seen with his own eyes that Becky is dishonest, mercenary and cannot be trusted but he still falls for her entrapment. His stupidity is surprising because he is described as talented and singlehandedly recues his father and his sister from extreme poverty.

Thackeray’s writing is wonderful, excessive usage of the word “prodigious” notwithstanding. I don’t think I have read anything this witty since [b: The Picture of Dorian Gray|5297|The Picture of Dorian Gray|Oscar Wilde|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1424596966s/5297.jpg|1858012]. Like all long novels it is something to sink into and live with rather than just passively reading.

The book makes me reflect that being virtuous is not enough to be of much use to the world if the virtue is not supported by intelligence and wisdom. On the other hand being clever like Becky and achieving wealth and fame is a hollow accomplishment if you are left with no genuine friends and family and viewed with disdain everywhere you go.

One of my favorite Victorian novels, if you like reading the classics Vanity Fair is a must.

______________________________________

Notes
For a change the free audiobook does not come from Librivox.org, they have their own edition but it is read by multiple readers several of them are very bad. The edition I listened to is from Lit2Go, beautifully read by Amanda Elan.

My favorite quotes are not included on GR’s quotes page for this book so I’ll drop them here:

LOL:
“Though he was familiar with all languages, Mr. Kirsch was not acquainted with a single one, and spoke all with indifferent volubility and incorrectness.”

Meta:
“If, a few pages back, the present writer claimed the privilege of peeping into Miss Amelia Sedley's bedroom, and understanding with the omniscience of the novelist all the gentle pains and passions which were tossing upon that innocent pillow, why should he not declare himself to be Rebecca's confidante too, master of her secrets, and seal-keeper of that young woman's conscience?”

* Hi Cecily! ;)
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review 2015-01-04 14:12
Vanity Fair, Thackeray
Vanity Fair - John Carey

Excessively Long Book Syndrome: It takes ages to read and it's more than a 100 years old, therefore it must be great, right? Wrong! So wrong, in this case, that the editor's claim that it "has strong claims to be the greatest novel in the English language" is laughable. It's not even the greatest such novel of its century by a huge stretch - seriously, the best works of Hardy, the Brontes and Austen are all better by a country mile, not least because they don't carry such a ridiculous weight of excess verbiage. A modern editor would need to employ slash and burn to prune this jungle back. Most of the excess is Authorial Voice going off along lengthy tangents before getting back to describing the action. It's extreme even by Victorian standards.

 

Leaving the sheer length aside, the tone of the book ranges from scathing, sarcastic and satirical to farcical, comical and ironical by way of such stations as bitter, sympathetic and moralistic - with the clear message that Earthly pursuits are all vanity, as encapsulated in the title metaphor, which is repeated ad nauseum through-out. Beyond that there are clear attitudes in regard to the conduct of both women and men that go back-and-fore across the line between cliche-Victorian stereotypes and socially progressive campaigner. The over-all bitter and satirical tone, however, seems to detract from rather than strengthen the power of these themes; Hardy's all-out Tragic approach is much more effective (and he is far more advanced in his views anyway). The same goes for Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, where the real terrors of marriage to an addict are laid bare. Austen's wit and humour and wish-fulfillment in Pride and Prejudice is far more entertaining and has a female character everyone can get behind and root for. That's completely absent here; the two contrasted female protagonists are on the one hand, increasingly evil as the story progresses and on the other, dull and lacking all perception of character in others. It's hard to like either of them after about the first third of the book. Instead we have a Stoic hero, who whilst admirable in many ways, is also unexciting for the most part.

 

By now you may be wondering why I staggered through all the 811p of relatively small print constituting the main text. (The rest is notes and other "apparatus'). Occasionally I wondered whether it was worth it, myself, but in fact, there is a good, if diluted, story here and some snort-worthy humourous cracks and comic scenes as well as drama: there are times when Thackeray focuses on his story-telling and the book becomes involving. Sufficiently so to drag the reader (or at least this one) through to the end simply to find out how the whole mess of family conflicts and marital disasters turns out for everybody (and there are so many characters that even Thackeray can't keep them all straight at times, renaming a serving maid or two here and there and the like.) And there are two great moments, two great sentences, one at the half-way point, at Waterloo, the other right at the end in the closing paragraphs, that show a way forward to a superior kind of writing - but I can't tell you what they are without spoiling everything.

 

Over-all, yes it was worth the effort, but when it comes to famous gigantic novels, Les Misearbles and War and Peace are vastly more rewarding.

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review 2015-01-04 05:16
Bohemians, Bootleggers, Flappers & Swells - a review (and isn't that a great title?)
Bohemians, Bootleggers, Flappers, and Swells: The Best of Early Vanity Fair - Vanity Fair editors,Graydon Carter,David Friend

As a devotee of Dorothy Parker and someone who greatly enjoys literature from the 1920's and 1930's, I was excited to win a copy of this book through the GoodReads First Reads program. I hoped to find early writings of authors I know, and to discover more. I was not disappointed. Bohemians is filled with what I suspect truly is (not having read any of the early issues myself) the best of Vanity Fair's early publishing days.

 

Yes, there are some of the expected self-congratulating smugness of the members of the Algonquin Round Table and vanity pieces where one writer or actor profiles another, but there is also a good dose of interesting cultural and political commentary. I particularly enjoyed two such entries in the 1920's section by Sherwood Anderson ("Hello, Big Boy: An Inquiry into America's Progress During One Hundred and Fifty Years") and Clarence Darrow ("Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Why Rights for Women Have Brought About the Decline of Some Notable Institutions") as well as the poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay.

 

Definitely pick this book up if you are curious about early 20th century views of life and politics, if you enjoy early 20th century personalities and literature, or if only to read Robert C. Benchley's "The Art of Being a Bohemian."

 

My copy has inspired a reorganization of my bookshelves, with a newly defined area for early 20th century literature.

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text 2015-01-03 18:16
Reading progress update: I've read 733 out of 867 pages.
Vanity Fair - John Carey

Five chapters to go!

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