A late Labor Day and temporary physical disability have extended my usual orgy of summer reading, with both non-fiction and fiction offerings to share with you. Because time is running out, I’ll keep the list short. In the first category, the book Frank seeks to answer the question of “how did a disheveled, intellectually combative gay Jew with a thick accent become one of the most effective (and funniest) politicians of our time.” You know who this is, of course.
Barney Frank traces his growing awareness of himself as a gay from his early teens in Bayonne, NJ through the evolution of the GLBT movement, in which he became a pivotal player and tracks his concomitant emergence as a leading political figure. Because my journalistic career coincided with his evolution from staffer for Kevin White through his state rep activities and on to Congress, and because I had covered him and the events he writes about, I found this a fascinating read. A tract on how to combine a liberal philosophy with strategic pragmatism, the book reveals a level of self-awareness, shortcomings and all, not hitherto associated with a man most often described as arrogant, impatient, rude, and hurtful, notwithstanding his intellect, humor and political skills.
My second recommendation for non-fiction is Jonathan Kozol’s book “The Theft of Memory: Losing my Father One Day at a Time.” I knew Jonathan back when we were teenagers. As a writer and educator, he would go on to become one of the nation’s foremost experts on race, poverty and the public school system. His father, Harry, was a brilliant neurologist and psychiatrist whose work included involvement in the Massachusetts mental health system and serving as an expert witness in infamous cases like those of Albert De Salvo, the Boston strangler, and Patty Hearst, held captive by the Symbionese Liberation Army. I learned from the book of Harry Kozol’s long and intense role as psychiatrist to Eugene O’Neill, who actually moved to Boston for two years to be seen daily by Harry Kozol. The Theft of Memory is a deeply personal chronicle of a relationship between father and son, each brilliant in his own field, whose understanding and love for each other seemed to strengthen even as Harry Kozol’s inevitable demise from Alzheimer’s disease neared.
Disgraced South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s speechwriter Barton Swaim gives us The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics. Sanford, you may recall, had been viewed as young Republican Presidential potential until he revealed that rather than being away hiking the Appalachian Trail as his office had announced, he was off visiting his hot Argentine mistress. The role of Sanford’s speechwriter, a transplant from academia, was anything but smooth even prior to that debacle. The “bruising workplace” at Amazon, portrayed by the NY Times, isn’t much worse than the hostile environment working for Sanford. Swaim gives insight into how politicians use language to manipulate public attitudes, disguise their own hypocrisies, and displace their private neuroses in the public arena. While illuminating, Swaim’s experiences would be much more amusing if what he recounts were not so typical across parties and at all levels of government.
Final non-fiction recommendation: noted French political journalist Anne Sinclair’s My Grandfather’s Gallery, a memoir of her grandfather Paul Rosenberg. For half a century, he was Europe’s preeminent art dealer; his collection was confiscated by the Nazis. Rosenberg had been the original collector of the works of Picasso and a leading promoter of Matisse, Braque, Léger, Modigliani Courbet, Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir and Toulouse Lautrec. Discovering a cache of family papers, Sinclair ably researches Rosenberg’s efforts to preserve his collection and his flight from occupied France to Spain, Portugal and from there to New York. At one point, Rosenberg’s occupied gallery on the Rue Boetie housed the Gestapo’s Institute on Jewish and Ethno Racial Questions. Sinclair’s story of Rosenberg is mesmerizing.
As for that “temporary disability” I mentioned at the beginning, for more than a month I have been on crutches, with my left leg in a boot due to a torn tendon. The top fiction I’ve read while being immobilized will be in tomorrow’s blog.
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