I read this one on vacation, finished it on the plane coming home:

Man on the Flying Trapeze: The Life and Times of W. C. Fields, Simon Louvish. Five stars. A detailed biography that tries to get to the truth of all the stories Fields told about his origins, and to the man behind the persona he created. Louvish had access to voluminous scrapbooks that Fields kept of all his appearances and to family papers, and he did exhaustive research in to archives at the Library of Congress and other places to seek out old scripts for vaudeville skits, studio correspondence, etc., etc. There are a lot of transcripts of routines (some reviewers didn’t like this, which I found puzzling – surely if you’re reading this, you like Fields and get a kick out of these.) There are great portraits of Eddie Cantor, Bert Williams, Fanny Brice, and others not well known today.

I hadn’t realized that Fields had such a long career as a juggler or that he’d traveled the world in that role for years before he became the comedian we recognize now. I liked it a lot and it was a perfect airplane and poolside book. The last part of Fields’ life wasn’t as well described as I would have liked but overall it was great. Apparently this was the go-to Fields biography for several years but now it’s been superseded by James Curtis’ W. C Fields. I’d like to read that one too.

Then I read this for the rest of the flight:
Swallow the Ocean, a Memoir, Laura M. Flynn. So-so memoir of growing up with a mother who was paranoid schizophrenic. Her father left and wasn’t able to get custody for several years. She does a good job of describing daily life with her mom and sisters, her mom’s many restrictions based on paranoid delusions, and the girls' ambivalence about wanting to get away and live with their dad. A running theme about a story the sisters make up about their dolls who are captives and the dolls' schemes to escape became a bit tiresome.

I had a lot of questions that didn't get answered: How did they learn to live "normal" lives where people have clean houses and don't have arbitrary restrictions on what they can eat? How has her childhood affected her life now - was she able to cast off much of the abuse, or does it haunt her? When her mother rammed her father's car after he got custody, did anyone press charges? (It didn't sound like it - why wasn't she prosecuted?) And finally, why do the girls still maintain contact with their mother? People I know who have relatives with this kind of intractable mental disease seem happy to have them out of their lives. I know it's complicated, but...

Not really "read" but enjoyed very much:
The Face in the Lens: Anonymous Photographs and Anonymous: Enigmatic Images from Unknown Photographers, Robert Flynn Johnson. Anonymous and strange photographs of the sort I collect at flea markets and estate sales so what's not to like? I liked the first one so much I ordered his other books of photos.

Mad forever; a new collection of the best from Mad magazine. A Christmas gift from my dear husband who knows my unhealthy love of MAD magazine. I have a hardbound anthology from 1958 that was my dad’s and didn’t know there were any others till he got me this one from 1959 and another from 1960. I've read all of it before, many times, but the drawings still have the power to make me laugh.

Actual book I'm reading right now: Myself Among Others, Ruth Gordon. Gordon’s acting career started in 1915 and lasted till her death in 1985. She was smart as a whip and a keen observer of all the interesting show people she met, and all her friends were as interesting as she is. This memoir (the first of three), is a collection of anecdotes about them. I first read some of it in Vogue in 1970 and have read it several times; I guess it’s a comfort read for me. I thought of it after finishing the Fields biography because it covers some of the same years though their careers didn’t intersect at all.

May 2016

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