Writers Block

Sat 17 Jan 2009 - Filed under: 1960s,Historic Images,Lit — Christian
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In 1962 Life ran a group of photos of American authors. Pictured above is James Baldwin, while below is Philip Roth. Click on images for hi-res version: (Continue)

Poor Richard

Tue 30 Dec 2008 - Filed under: 1990-present,Lit — Christian
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Richard Yates was one of those guys who adopted the Ivy look early in life and never let go of it. Whether due to good taste, lack of imagination, or being too impecunious to afford new clothes, Yates’ perennial style was recently described by Dan Wakefield (author of “New York in the Fifties”) as follows:

Yates never lusted for riches, and I can’t imagine him wearing anything other than his daily uniform of Brooks Brothers navy blue blazer, button-down blue shirt with rep tie, and gray flannel trousers. Whether I saw him in New York in the ’50s or Boston in the ’80s he was always dressed the same.

Now, like so many other writers, Yates is finding posthumous success, thanks in part to the new film adaptation of his novel “Revolutionary Road.”

Those who use “The Official Preppy Handbook” as their literary canon as well as sartorial breviary will already be familiar with his novel “A Good School,” which is on the OPH’s recommended reading list.

For those unfamiliar with Yates’ work, here are some places to start:

Wakefield’s article on Yates, from The Boston Globe. Yates at Amazon. “Revolutionary Road” reviews at Rotten Tomatoes. — CC


Building Character

Sun 28 Dec 2008 - Filed under: 1920s-'40s,1990-present,Lit — Christian
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Though he never graduated, F. Scott Fitzgerald attended Princeton and remained ever loyal to his alma mater. So loyal that while most of his characters attend an Ivy League college, Fitzgerald specifically sent his most autobiographical protagonist to Princeton.

In the wake of the new film “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” which is based on a 1921 short story by Fitzgerald, Slate has posted an article analyzing Fitzgerald’s heroes and whether they went to Harvard, Yale or Princeton.

Fitzgerald has Amory Blaine, hero of “This Side of Paradise,” his first novel, offer the following assessment of the three schools:

I want to go to Princeton. I don’t know why, but I think of all Harvard men as sissies, like I used to be, and all Yale men as wearing big blue sweaters and smoking pipes. … I think of Princeton as being lazy and good-looking and aristocratic—you know, like a spring day.

The Slate article concludes:

Amory’s choice of Princeton makes perfect sense—and not just because he’s charming and rather idle. For This Side of Paradise, Fitzgerald borrowed heavily from his own life. Both Amory and Fitzgerald are from the Midwest, go to boarding school on the East Coast, and have failed romances with debutantes. Fitzgerald went to Princeton—he called it “the pleasantest country club in America”—so naturally he sent Amory there, too.

A selection of the reviews for “Benjamin Button” can be found here at RottenTomatoes.com. — CC


Boy George

Tue 23 Sep 2008 - Filed under: 1920s-'40s,Lit — Christian
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The October issue of Men’s Vogue devotes its “Examined Life” column to the late literary lion George Plimpton. The piece consists of excerpts from Nelson W. Aldrich Jr.’s forthcoming oral-history bio, “George, Being George.”

Included are various reminiscences by former boyhood pals, including classmates from the Phillips Exeter Academy, which Plimpton attended from 1940-1944, getting expelled three months before graduation.

The expulsion was for a prank accidentally pulled on Plimpton’s housemaster, Bull Clark (pictured), who gets the best photo in the article.

The expulsion episode, remembers classmate Buzz Merritt, goes something like this:

As luck would have it, in his last year George had found himself in Bull Clark’s dormitory, one of the most prestigious. It had circular stairwells between both floors, and therein lay some of George’s undoing. Someone had given George a Revolutionary musket, and one night, after lights out, they were having a battle in the ground-floor hall. When George heard the noise, he grabbed the gun and ran down the stairwell, and as he did he heard someone coming up and thought it was a student. So he came down the spiral pointing the gun and yelling, “Bang, bang! You’re dead.” It was Bull Clark coming up to see what the excitement was about. According to George, Clark yelped in fright when he said “Bang, bang!” — a very unmanly reaction.


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