Bookworm: New reads about friends, lovers and foes
“Hank & Jim: The Fifty-Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart”
By Scott Eyman
c. 2017, Simon & Schuster
$29.00 / $39.00 Canada; 384 pages
You and your friend have a lot in common. You both laugh at the same idiotic things, enjoy the same food and drink (often together), and you share similar experiences. You’ve taught your friend a lot and you’ve been a willing pupil, too. If you’re both lucky, as in the new book “Hank & Jim” by Scott Eyman, it’ll be that way for decades.
Born into a large family in Nebraska in May of 1905, Henry Fonda once recalled an aimless, directionless childhood. That’s surprising, since young Hank was a focused boy who always insisted on perfection in everything he tackled, including hobbies, studies, and acting, which he embraced when a local woman invited him to join the community theatre. When he realized that he loved acting – and he was good at it – Hank received the blessings of his parents to move to New York City, to see where his dramatic talents might take him.
James Stewart was born almost exactly three years after Hank, in a similar small town in Pennsylvania. His father was a businessman who owned a hardware store and who made sure that his children weren’t insulated from others unlike them. Young Jim was an easy-going, affable boy who loved animals and model airplanes; in fact, he’d once considered entering the Naval Academy but, while in prep school, he realized that he loved acting – and he was good at it. Even at college, he wanted to see where his dramatic talents might take him.
While at Princeton, Jim briefly met Hank but their meeting was unremarkable: they shook hands, exchanged small talk, then went their separate ways but they had mutual friends so it was inevitable that they’d meet again. Eventually, they shared rooming houses, a love of practical jokes and of gardening, and an obsession with flight. Hank was a Hollywood success first, then Jim. Jim won an Academy Award first, then Hank. They both spent time in World War II, for which they were reluctant to talk. And they shared an obsession with one irresistible woman.
You click through channels on a quiet evening, and find an old black-and-white movie on TV. Those are fun to see – and so is “Hank & Jim.” Much like those classic movies, author Scott Eyman takes readers on a trip back to an innocent time, when drama was for stage or camera only and, because few stars bothered with bodyguards, fans enjoyed more accessibility. It was a time when an actor might be ashamed at his own personal marry-go-round, while other marriages were forever but Eyman also lets his subjects romp: we see bed-hopping and scandals here, as well as stories that frame the lifelong friendship of two stars, as told by themselves, friends, and children.
And on that note, readers who are tabloid-familiar with either man may also shed a tear.
This book is a movie-buff’s dream: there are surprises in here, reminisces, and plenty of “awwwwww”-inspiring moments. For Hollywood watchers and bio-fans alike, “Hank & Jim” is an uncommonly good read.
By Sophfronia Scott
c. 2017, Wm. Morrow
$15.99, $19.99 Canada; 516 pages
You know how to use a hammer. It’s not that hard: just grab the end and swing. Easy enough; in fact, there are probably lots of tools you know how to use, although, as in the new novel “Unforgivable Love” by Sophfronia Scott, do you know how to use people?
Absolutely nobody ever said “no” to Mae Malveaux. Young, beautiful, wealthy, and widowed, Mae ruled Harlem society with a silky hammer, surrounding herself with carefully-chosen sycophants and moneyed men who hoped Mae might fall in love with them.
Mae wanted love, that’s true. But she wanted it her way – which is why she was angry when she saw her former lover, Frank Washington, in a nightclub she considered her domain. How dare he? She was even angrier when she learned that he planned to marry her cousin’s virginal daughter, Cecily. Mae seethed, until she noticed that Valiant Jackson had walked into the club, too.
Of all the men she’d ever had, Mae considered Val her equal. He wasn’t as smart, but he was every bit as devious as she, and he loved a good game. On the spot, Mae cooked up a scheme and promised Val that he could have what he’d always wanted, in exchange for revenge on Frank. What Val wanted was Mae.
But she wasn’t the only woman Val had his sights set on. Elizabeth Townsend, a friend of Val’s Aunt Rose, seemed to be the challenge he craved; Elizabeth was beautiful, pious and straight-laced, and was passing time at Rose’s house while awaiting the return of her lawyer-husband.
Val knew she was wedded, but could she be bedded? He thought so.
But could Elizabeth be distracted while Val seduced Cecily – or, at least, while he waited for Mae’s latest young lover to seduce Cecily for him? It would all hinge on secrets kept, but the outcome would be a win-win for both Mae and Val.
And that was fine with Mae. She loved those kinds of schemes. Destroying people was one of her better talents.
Obviously, the very first thing you’re going to notice about “Unforgivable Love” when you see it is its 500-plus-page heft. It’s a big book and yes, it’s wordy sometimes, but don’t let that scare you off. This is a great story.
Based loosely on a book first published in 1782, but set mostly in Harlem in the post-World War II years, this novel offers readers some shockers, right from the outset, when we see from where the character Mae’s nastiness sprang. Author Sophfronia Scott takes the tale up from there, in twisty turns that include a huge cast that’s surprisingly easy to keep track of, despite the numbers. Add in a background soundtrack of Big Band music and a whiff of gin and cigar smoke, and you’ve got a rich, multi-layered novel you’ll love peeling apart.
Now, admittedly, that may be a slow peel at times, but sticking with it has its rewards.
In the end, “Unforgivable Love” is a very good use of your time.
“Power Up: How Smart Women Win in the New Economy”
By Magdalena Yeşil (Seal Press)
One. For many years, that’s the number of women there were in your department at work. One (you), or maybe a few more, but not many. You survived it, for sure, but times have absolutely changed since then – and in the new book “Power Up” by Magdalena Yeşil, they’re still changing, even now.
For generations, women in business have been told how difficult it is to break through a “glass ceiling” at work. Having grown up in Turkey, Yeşil knew a little about that but she wasn’t fully prepared for what faced her in the traditionally male-dominated American world of tech engineering. To survive, she had to learn American culture, English-as-a-fourth-language, and to allow herself to “make big bets and lose several.”
As an immigrant, she says being “humbitious” (humility + ambition) was part of her make-up, but it’s particularly something women should cultivate; one “keeps you grounded,” while the other “propels you forward … ”
There are a lot of personal stories inside “Power Up.” In fact, the abundance makes it seem as though that’s all you’re going to get – but no. When author Magdalena Yeşil begins sharing tales of being the lone woman in a team of men, the tone of this book shifts from cheerleading to empowerment. When she offers advice, it’s from the POV of someone who’s dug a foxhole in a career in a mostly-male business. And when she begins sharing tales of how she dealt with harassment, this book immediately jumps to the headlines.
“Hiddensee: A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker”
By Gregory Maguire (Wm. Morrow)
You never knew you could hold a note. But then one day – you just did. You opened your mouth and music poured forth from a talent you didn’t even know you had. Keep it up, and you might have something there. As in the new novel, “Hiddensee” by Gregory Maguire, a little practice and you could do amazing things.
As told through a charmingly droll narrator, “Hiddensee” reads somewhat like an old Grimm’s Fairy Tale, with quaint language and character mannerisms that, sadly, seem to get carried away sometimes.
Indeed, author Gregory Maguire keeps readers in the palm of his hand with this pre-tale based loosely on Tchaikovsky’s ballet, but there are times when its fancifulness is just too head-scratching much. That comes-and-goes distraction doesn’t last long before the story returns to its delightfully Old-World tone but it may, however briefly, cause some discombobulation. Thankfully, the wonderful characters, the dialect, and the lush German scenery make the occasional bewilderment worth enduring.
This book feels like something you might’ve found on your grandmother’s bookcase on a snowy winter weekend, years ago. It can be hard to follow sometimes, but try anyhow. For readers of childhood fairy tales and fantasy, or fans of the iconic ballet, “Hiddensee” should strike a note.
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.