The best part of having a couple of bad weeks of teeth-and-jaw-pain is not feeling bad about doing the things you most enjoy to the exclusion of almost all else. Reading in my case. I often put holds at the library on some of the newly published books, and wait my turn to read them. Sometimes, as happened recently, they all seem to become available at the same time. I was reading the new book about the Duchess of Windsor THAT WOMAN, when suddenly SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED, Anne Lamont’s new book written with her son Sam, came up. I read reasonably fast, but not that fast, and besides, there are all kinds of other things to interfere in my schedule. I decided all I could do was carry on, read as fast as I possibly could and hope it worked out.
Then I fiddled away an hour and a half at the library while Hubby attended a meeting there. Have you ever noticed how some things just seem to call out to you only, so loudly you can’t possibly resist? Like Oreo cookies for one. And books. With so many books all around, how could I resist picking up another to have a look at while I waited? Bad mistake. By the time we left, I had another book checked out–now I had three books I needed to finish in three weeks! THAT WOMAN, SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED, and HINDI BINDI CLUB.
I was already well into THAT WOMAN (by Anne Sebba). I had read quite a bit of books about Wallis Simpson, beginning in the late 1950s with her own autobiography (1956), THE HEART HAS ITS REASONS, so I already had an idea of who this Mrs. Simpson was. Social climber, right? I thought so then. I find that reading now, at 70, as opposed to reading about her when I had barely reached the age of majority, gave me quite a different take. I plead guilty to falling for all the hype about this “poor relation of a southern bourgeois class,” but by the time I finished this book, I’d changed my mind. At least I’d decided that no one except the Duke and Duchess themselves will ever know the truth, and they’re not talking. What seemed to be true isn’t necessarily. Depends on viewpoint, and mine had changed a lot the past 50+ years.
I remembered a taped interview of Martha Gelhorn I’d seen a few weeks back–after I watched the HBO movie about Gelhorn and Hemingway. In fact I’d viewed her through the same lens I’d used to look at Mrs. Simpson. I wished I could see or hear her to see for myself. That’s what led me to find the archived video interview with Gelhorn herself on YouTube (26 minutes). She may have started off hanging onto the coattails of Ernest Hemingway, but she sure learned to make her own way by the time that interview was done.
Wouldn’t it be nice to hear what the Duchess really sounded like? I thought I remembered seeing the two of them on 60 Minutes once. Maybe I could find that, leading me to still another online search that turned up a fascinating BBC broadcast from 1970. For about 48 minutes The Duke and the Duchess together discuss their lives, expressing opinions on modern youth, smoking, the Establishment and the role of women in society. The duke speaks candidly about his lack of a conventional job in the working world, and shares memories of his royal family. Makes me glad I wasn’t born royal. The question came down to Duty to family and country, or the right to love and marry the one who makes you happy, and we know what he decided. Who can say he was right or wrong? For sure the Monarchy under King Edward VIII (and Wallis?) would have been far more modern than it was under King George V and Queen Mary or, for that matter, the present queen Elizabeth II.
On to Anne Lamont’s new book written with her son, Sam, SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED, which is her take on becoming a grandmother and Sam’s on becoming a father at 19. Like all Lamont’s books, for me thi was not a disappointment. What she brings to her writing is the feeling that she’s just like the rest of us, living from day to day trying to make sense of it all, looking for the answers when we don’t even know the right questions to ask. I especially enjoyed the several chapters (she hesitatingly spent away from her grandson) as she accounted her visit to India. She said it all the way I wish I could have. I’d recommend anyone who wants or plans to visit India to read it before you go, if for nothing else, then for the advice about how to respond to the deluge of beggars, not to mention the guilt you feel for having so much when so many poor and uneducated people there have little or nothing.
Well, now that I’d heard Martha Gelhorn, and Wallas Simpson and the Duke speak, my inquiring mind needed to know what Anne sounded like, so off I went to find her. Here she is in a video taped interview with her son. At just under an hour it’s a tad long, but I fast-forwarded through parts of it. When I was finished I wanted to move to California and become her neighbor.
Two down, one to go; it was time to pick up the impulsive pick from the library, a debut novel from 2007 by Monica Pradham. Clearly a “fast read.” THE HINDI-BINDI CLUB wasn’t written quite as well as the other two books, and I admit I couldn’t help comparing it unfavorably to Amy Tan’s JOY LUCK CLUB, but the recipes for regional Indian dishes at the end of some chapters looked tantalizing. No doubt I’ll have to try a few.
I decided to give the novel some slack–it was a first book after all–I thought there were enough really good moments that made up for it. To my surprise, I began to like the characters, even though it was difficult at times to discern who the speakling. and I even look forward to book two if/when it comes along. The theme weaves the stories of different generations of women, mothers who grew up in different parts of India in different class systems and from what became Pakistan and their American-born children. They learn from each other, after a series of life tragedy, what they need to know in order to sustain traditional old-world values while accepting the inevitable differences of their daughters. Likewise, the women growing up in the U.S. learn to appreciate the people their mothers were and are. Several visits to India reveal India herself changing subtly along with them. As much as I thought I already knew a lot about India, I still learned from this book. Isn’t that what we’re all hoping to do when we read?
One final word about Miss Pradham. I learned in the credits at the end that her parents settled in Pittsburgh in the late 1960s where she was born. Hubby and I lived there several years from the mid-1960s, and we were somewhat active in the Indian Society at the University. It’s quite reasonable to think our paths may have crossed somewhere. Small world, isn’t it?