Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Changing by Liv Ullman

Copyright 1977, Knopf, Borzoi
Translated by the author, in collaboration with Gerry Bothmer and Erik Friis.
Value at the bottom of page

Preface:  I am a mediocre reader and by no means believe my interpretation is the be-all and end-all.  Anybody may disagree and will most likely be correct.

Liv Ullmann wrote this book in her late 30’s and was then the mother of her tween, Lynn, from her marriage with the famous film director Ingmar Bergman.  The times she lived in and her writing style may account for hopping about on subject matter without dates.  Also, some of the book is written in first person, other parts, third person, or as a note to her daughter or to her ex-husband.  subsequently, I was confused.

She writes with a naiveté’ that belies her age.  Flowery descriptive detail about realities in her life translated to me that she lives in unreality or is trying too hard.  A startling entry was when she wrote about Ingmar having his secrets with their daughter, Lynn, locked in his study.  In those times, and to the author, that seemed cute, but today that doesn’t sound good. 

The last third of the book gets better as I understood each chapter was going to skip about, and you do start seeing some of the real Liv Ullman—her beliefs in women’s equality, her right to her life, struggling with fame and how different America was from Norway.  For example, the materialism and undue praise for her and her daughter’s looks bothered her.  She saw the sycophantic (paraphrasing) behavior of Hollywood as very unhealthy.

The guilt of a working, single mother plagued her.  Also, she seemed to protect Bergman, maybe because she was intimidated and he was very famous.  In all, she’s very careful not to let the reader too far into her life, but as a result, comes across a bit flippant and nonsensical.  Maybe her need for privacy was greater than the commitment she made to being published.  Understandable.  It may have been hard for her, as for many, to say "no" or know about boundaries.  Really, who thought about those things then?

Still, I give this book Ten steps out of 31 to the attic, because she tried to do this even though she lets the reader know that it was at great expense to her peace.  Also, it’s a little window into another time and the upper echelon she was a part of--that’s interesting.

Below: The dust jacket front cover, the front & back of the dust jacket, the book with silver guilded lettering, the back of the dust jacket, the copyright page, and the Borzoi stamp that signaled a quality book by Knopf.

The Borzoi Stamp

When Alfred Knopf founded his company in 1915, he not only wanted to publish the most distinguished writers of the day, he wanted to present their work in the most beautiful edictions possible.
Relentless in his efforts to produce books that would be the envy of every other publisher, Alfred employed the very best in production and design to that each Knopf book would be treasured as much for its handsome design as it was for its thoughtful prose.  He paid special attention to paper stock, typography, layout, bindings, endpapers, topstains, and jackets.  It had to have the borzoi logo and appears on every title page and casing. The stamp is on the back, bottom right corner of the book and is photographed.

Abebooks value on a book of this condition $15 to $30.  I'll take $15, plus $5 shipping, if you're interested.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Don't Push The River

"Don't Push the River"
Author: Barry Stevens
Publisher: Real People Press
Copyright: 1970

For Friday fun, I'm posting a book I gave up on.  This was a very popular book in the early 1970's because Barry Stevens opened up (pun intended) a new way of thinking to the people of her times.  She promoted the Gestalt Theory of being self-aware, in the moment, and thus, free. Doesn't she look like a fun person?  That said, I only made it to page 38 out of a total of 268.  I will try to re-read, figuring maybe I wasn't in the right frame of mind.

In our pragmatic and polarized world it seemed funny to read, "When I noticed my body, yesterday and let 'it' do whatever it wanted to, let 'it' take over (against all the prohibitions in my society), in the submission of 'myself' (phony self) to 'it,' I became me.  This morning, I am split again. . ."

Right now, I give it 5 steps to the attic because I'll bet she was a great person and was at a higher level of thinking than I am.  I'll try again.

paperback, valued at about $1.00 with $2.95 for shipping.  Contact: or

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Author: Betty Smith
Publisher: Blakiston Company by special permission with Harper & Brothers.
Copyright: 1943

Poverty is the story told by 11-year-old, Francie Nolan, about her life in a 1912 tenement building, Brooklyn, NY.  The frontispiece has verse about the tree that grows where poor people live.  Below are pics, the second one showing the tree verse which seems to be the metaphor of the book.  I included the pages below just to show an example of the great effort it was just to have food, yet Francie's youthful resiliency makes this a page-turner.  

The writing transcends time even though it was written in the '40's about 1912, maybe because suffering has no time limit.  Smith surprises the reader by showing kindness strolling alongside grit.  She didn't clean it up; so this isn't a New York "Little House on the Prairie."   Francie and her brother, Neeley, were called ragpickers, though many children did this to help the family.  Their mother was a "janitress," so they got dibs on their tenement's garbage.  The "junkie" paid: 
1 cent for 10 lbs. of paper
2 cents for 1 lb. of rags 
4 cents for 1lb. of iron
10 cents for 1lb. of copper
They dragged whatever they found on a piece of burlap since they didn't have a wagon.  Girls got an extra penny if they let him pinch their cheeks. 

When they didn't have any food, their mother invented a game where they pretended they were on safari and it was too dangerous to stop and eat.  This only worked when they were little, of course.  As I read, I was keenly aware of our warm radiators, the fully-stocked kitchen, the clothes, and all the other things I take for granted.

With great empathy and through the father, aunts, and neighbors White presents the bitter realities of  alcoholism, racism, prostitution, starvation, etc.  In addition to these hardships, there is a rapist somewhere in one of the buildings in Francie's neighborhood.  

Hard as life is at times Francie knows her father and mother love her.  She has extended family who are warm and funny.  Watch Francie's love of reading and the library link her to her future.

It's 31 steps to the attic and this book was worth every one!  

I've sold my volume, but check, or Amazon, or Ebay.  It's great to have.  I'm having seller's remorse.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

"The Mauve Decade, American Life of the End of the Nineteenth Century" by Thomas Beer-

The Mauve Decade,
American Life of the End of the Nineteenth Century
 by Thomas Beer
Publisher: Garden City Publishing Co., Inc, NY
copyright 1926, by Alfred A Knopf
First Edition?  signed in 1928 by the owner Helene Michell (our home's previous owner's child)  Some sun fading, but type is clear and clean.  $35
please email: if you'd like photos.

In an effort to understand the confusion I experienced reading this book, I looked up Thomas Beer.  He was born in Council Bluffs, Iowa, 1889-1940, undergraduate at Yale University, and graduate in law at Columbia.  Though he wrote over 130 short stories for Saturday Evening Post, he was best remembered for his biography of Stephen Crane (1923).  In 1980 it was discovered that he altered chronological events and fabricated letters to make it a better read.

The Mauve Decade has this quote on the title page, ". . .Mr. Whistler said: 'Mauve?  Mauve is just pink trying to be purple . . ."  From what I can decipher and I'm no code-breaker, the entire book is Beer's metaphor for the United States trying to be Britain.

His three-page appendix was easier to understand than the book for three reasons I'm guessing at:  

1)  He was referencing a lot of current news and names of the times, of which I have no knowledge.  His book is dated due to that.  I've read elsewhere that he was name-dropping which might have been effective during the times he and all these people were alive. 

2)He's so impressed with his heightened academic gifts that he writes with a great effort  to seem extemporaneous but instead showed a conceited sort of elitism (snorting).  Basically, he's too big for his britches or is at least attempting to be, by writing half to full page run-on sentences.  So while he's impressing the reader with his great writing skills and all the famous people he knows, he uses bits and pieces of ideas which somehow are connected in his mind.  Maybe they are and I would know this if I lived in his day.  But, try as I might by re-reading, I finally had to just ride the wave and figure it would all make sense in the end.

In the end he does a very poor job keeping the focus on the issues of the day which seem to bother him.  Some of them are very worthwhile and ring true today.  He wrote of how Wall Street  had buggered (my word) the masses, and that was interesting.  Humans just don't/won't learn from history.  Beer is so sarcastic and impressed with himself that HE gets in the way.  For example he uses this quote, "A gentleman in the American description is a man who bathes and hasn't been in jail."  He seems to speak to hypocrisy whether it's in the form of business or wealthy women who exert their need for power through Christianity.  He seems to be bothered most by the trammelling of the First Amendment of free speech in this puritanical, hypocritical empire.

Beer's point of view seems liberal for the times,  but I couldn't tie his seemingly endless and unconnected examples together.  There might have been a melodramatic performance aspect, as if he was imagining himself reciting this on stage like a pump organ or a hell and brimstone preacher using volume for earnestness.  Maybe I'm being too hard on poor Mr. Beer, but why was his Appendix so suddenly pragmatic and understandable?  He was clearly able to write naturally.

INTERESTING FACTOID:  In the July 19, 1886 "Tattle" gossip paper in New York, a controversial quote for the times ran in its pages,  "It's Naughty, but It's Nice."  I found a button in our attic that says that and it's fun to know the back story.