I wanted to plug a book by a friend of mine, David Evanier– called: All The Things You Are, the Life of Tony Bennett.
David is a short-story writer, novelist (Red Love, The Great Kisser) and screenplay writer.
He has written two previous biographies of Italian Pop singers, one about Jimmy Roselli (Making The Wiseguys Weep) and another about Bobby Darin (Roman Candle).
David writes with honesty, clarity and passion for his subject and the music. He also does exhaustive research on his subject and dozens of interviews.
Obviously, you have to be interested in these guys and/or the kind of music they recorded. If you are, you couldn’t find better books on their lives and music.
And now, (as Mr. Python used to say), for something completely different…
I’m listening (audiobook) to Henry Fielding’s The Life of Tom Jones, A Foundling–published in 1749.
I’ll tell you, if I thought I knew what cynicism was before–at least in a literary form, I was wrong. This book is the most cynical and sarcastic book I’ve ever read– Almost nobody gets away free; The hero, the heroine, supporting characters, parsons, doctors, lawyers, landlords, soldiers, the rich, the poor.. everybody gets skewered for their hypocrisy, mendacity, greed, stupidity, inhumanity, etc. etc.
There is one character in the book that does consistently rise above all petty and nasty thought and behavior–a Squire Allworthy (reputedly, this character, the one thoroughly decent and almost faultless person in this whole tale, is based on a mentor that Fielding had).
If you’ve seen the movie, it is–with the necessary abridging of story (the book is very long)–very faithful to the tone, descriptions and dialogue in the book.
You can easily see Fielding’s influence on Dickens and other 19th century big-tapestry writers; even Dickens’ wonderful choice of names for his characters might owe something to Fielding, who selects perfect names for his characters (i.e., A fat, pompous parson named Mr. Thwackum)
Often, people say, cynicism is just repressed or blighted idealism. Not with Fielding. He is more like Mencken or Ambrose Bierce.
Since it’s one of the earliest English novels, Fielding, who has a very high opinion of his intellect and judgment (well-deserved, I’d say), occasionally takes a break from the narrative (like a lot of the great 19th century novelists) and delivers a sermon or lecture on art, literature, criticism, or some facet of human nature.
He will also tell you, at the beginning of each chapter, just exactly what you’ll be hearing in the chapter– Sometimes he’ll tell you that if you have trouble understanding it, you’re basically a blockhead, or–for instance–if you don’t believe in Selfless Love or Universal Hypocrisy, you should just skip the chapter entirely or even go find a another book to read!
There is also (Fielding was a very educated man) a lot of Latin in the book– and since I never studied it, I know I’m missing out on a lot… But that’s what happens when your mother refuses to send you to Oxford and makes you commute to Hofstra College in the 1960’s.
So I didn’t learn Latin, so what! At least I got to play the trombone in the college marching band. What’s Latin compared to that, I ask you?!
But, tempis fugit- back to the book…
Anyway, with the drawbacks (The Latin, the occasional long, almost stodgy sermons on all matters), the book is still wonderful. A hysterically funny story with terrific characters and great dialogue.
Oh, also, if you want hear some part-maniacal, part fascinating stream- of consciousness radio, check out my yesterday show (Thurs. Aug. 4th) on PRN: http://www.progressiveradionetwork.com/the-turning-point/
– Mike Feder (New York City – August 5, 2011)