Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Reggie's Bedside Reading

I recently realized that it had been some time since I last posted about what it is that I am reading for pleasure.  In fact, I haven't done so since May of last year.  So, herewith, I remedy that unfortunate situation.

My current bedside reading

The first book on my bedside table, and which I am now almost finished reading, is Frances Osbourne's excellent and compelling The Bolter.  Written by the subject's great-grandaughter, it is the story of Idina Sackville, an English aristocrat who "ran away to become the chief seductress of Kenya's scandalous 'Happy Valley set.'"  The book is ultimately a sad and tawdry tale of a once-enchanting woman who made many rather unfortunate choices in her messy, pleasure-filled life, and who ultimately bore the consequences of same.  It is a delicious, cautionary tale, indeed.

The next book in my stack is Louis Auchincloss' A Voice From Old New York: A Memoir of My Youth.  It is a slim tome, published (I believe) posthumously, of the recollections of the male Edith Wharton of my parents' generation.  I've read about half of it (Reggie, like many, keeps several books running at once), and I find it to be moderately absorbing so far.  Mr. Auchincloss provides a crystalline view into the rarified world of what was once left of the old Knickerbocker families, a subject he considers with somewhat mixed emotions.

I look forward to burrowing into John Julius Norwich's Trying to Please: A Memoir once I finish the first two books on my table.  The author is the son of the celebrated Sir Duff and Lady Diana Cooper, both of whose fascinating memoirs I read with pleasure in years past.  I am intrigued to read the perspective that Norwich, their only child and heir, brings to their stories, as well as to his own.

The fourth book on my table is Ethan Mordden's The Guest List: How Manhattan Defined American Sophistication—From the Algonquin Round Table to Truman Capote's Ball.  Back in my late twenties and early thirties I enjoyed reading (and in some cases re-reading) Mr. Mordden's collections of short stories about a group of young men who frolicked on the Manhattan/Fire Island Pines axis that I also frequented at the time.  Since then we've both grown up, and I look forward to delving into his book on a subject that Reggie always enjoys learning more about: life among the social moths that once circled the flames in the city he is most fortunate to call his home.

The last book in my bedside stack is Kay Thompson: From Funny Face to Eloise, a biography by Sam Irvin.  I've always wanted to know more about the enigmatic Miss Thompson, star of cabaret, movie musicals, and authoress of the famed Eloise at the Plaza series and, apparently, one of the great (and more complicated) creative characters of the twentieth century.  Now that Mr. Irvin has come out with his well-received book I have my chance.

And there you have it, Dear Reader, Reggie's current bedside reading.  I am particularly pleased with this selection of books, and I look forward to wiling away many delicious hours between their covers.

Tell me, what's your current reading list?

Photograph by Boy Fenwick


  1. Mordden's having a new book is very happy news, and one more nod to the dear Algonquin will really not be too many. May I say, not that it's germane, that I'm always sorry when Capote is not approached primarily as one of our extremely fine writers - which Mordden's certainly able to do, and possibly does in the book. When we are gone, you know, the parties and the namedropping will at last be over, and "Other Voices, Other Rooms" will still be on that raft with Huck Finn and Holden Caulfield.

  2. One of the most unfortunate books I have read was a whiny, over confessional 'Mommy Dearest' by Susan Mary Alsop's son, Bill Patten (I have no oar in the fight over whether or not she was all he says--it's the utter lack of enlightenment or grace with which he says it). The only reason I mention this is that part of his reason for writing it is his mother's deathbed confession that he was really the son of her supposed lover, Duff Cooper.

    An interesting list. I've had about all I can stand of the Happy Valley set already, but I'm going to run out and pick up the Auchincloss and the Thompson. When Pantone announced that 'Honeysuckle', or whatever they call it was to be color of the year (although I say it's really a shade of pink), I went straight to her famous 'Think Pink' scene in funnyface...

    But I digress

  3. Loved The Bolter! Heard mixed reviews of the Kay Thompson and I was a bit scared off. Thinking of reconsidering since it is at your bedside.

    Today's reading: The Collected Writings of Beatrix Farrand.

  4. In order to read and knit simultaneously, I am listening to Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson. An amusing and well written novel about a somewhat stodgy retired English major and his encounters with modern England.

  5. In many ways, I can imagine myself as Alice, but making fewer serious mistakes! A fascinating read.

  6. Dear Reggie, I've been meaning to order The Bolter forever. I'm off to do it now. My stack next to the bed is getting slightly out of hand but I still can't resist buying them. Hope you're having a good week, London is terribly dreary I shall be glad when January is over xx

  7. Reggie you have listed some books I definitely want to add to my list to read.

    To see some of my recent reads, I was given an award and listed several on my site if you would like to see.

    Art by Karena

  8. It would be a look in my Nook, rather than bedside table: The Given Day, by Dennis Lehane, set in 1919 Boston.

    I would love to run away and become a scandal ~sigh~. Actually I would love to have already done it, as it sounds tiring at my age.

  9. Dearest R, What an eclectic mix you feature here. The JJN memoir certainly looks to be my kind of book so I shall be seeking it out forthwith.

    Recently acquired, and now part of my bedside reading is 'The English Country House' by Ralph Dutton. Published in 1935, this forms part of the British Heritage series and is well illustrated with black and white plates. A foreword is written by Osbert Sitwell.

  10. It's funny, but our taste in reading is so similar that I always enjoy these posts. Loved the Kay Thompson book, btw. Not perfect, but a very good look at this wildly unusual personality. Love Mordden, so I just ordered that.

    I recommend Cleopatra -- it's brilliantly written. Can't remember if you've mentioned Chips Channon's diary, but it's a must read. Also, of course, the James Lee Milne diaries.

  11. The Bolter was amazing! Don't you want to drop everything -or bolt- to Clouds in Kenya? Someday when I have my estate I'll leave silk pajamas and a bottle of whisky on each of my guest's bed like she did. I thankfully read that book before 'The Pursuit of Love' by Nancy Mitford and it made the Bolter scenes all the better! The Ethan Mordden looks great. I've never read anything by him, but seems I should...

  12. I had forgotten about the JJN so thanks for the reminder. Am loving Aline Saarinen's "The Proud Possesors" (1958). She was the wife of Eero and associate art critic of the N Y Times. Marvelous accounts of personalities and tastes of Freer, Havemeyer, Isabella Stewart Gardner, JP Morgan, and others. Others are "Toast", autobiography of British food writer Nigel Slater and "The Wisdom of the Desert" by Thomas Merton.

  13. Reggie --

    I see where you're going with this and I won't bite.

    Because, really, martinis are radically incompatible with piles of books by the bed.

    For just this reason, I recently procured a first edition of Leo Strauss's The City and The Man, which has been sitting on the bed table --tempting and inviolable -- for several months.

  14. The last looks interesting- My pile(s) include
    Ted Gup's, A Secret Gift, Louisa Mae Alcott, by Susan Cheever, (an old copy) of Ordinary Magic,John Wellwood. Color and Light, James Gurney; and a fluffer-nutter horse novel... Happy reading!

  15. Since you've asked:
    Wait for Me by Deborah Mitford Devonshire
    Queen Victoria by Lytton Strachey
    Sodomme et Gommorhe by Marcel Proust
    Biography of Proust by George Painter
    And I always seem to be re-reading Alan Hollinghurst's first
    and best novel, The Swimming Pool Library

  16. Dear Reggie,
    your list is an amazing one, with the first three books I'd like to read, and two unknown to me.
    I read an Romanian author, in fact re-re-re-read Igirosianu. Never translated, unknown in his own country.
    And Abel Hermant's La Carriere said to be the most relevant for what was that period.
    And Paul Morand's Diary.

  17. My husband's latest manuscript and marking it with a big red pen. I keep drifting off - this may not be a good sign!

  18. Carter: You have excited Reggie's interest in dusting off his Capote collection. I am embarrassed to write that I have never read "In Cold Blood" which I know I must remedy, soon. Reggie also admits, as should be clear from this pile of books on his bedside table, that he gravitates to autobiographies and examinations of those of a more elegant bent than murderers, unless they are stylish ones...

    DED: I suspected from the review of Mr. Patten's book that it would be rawthuh dreary, so I gave it a pass. My interest in The Bolter stemmed more from learning more of the inspiration of the character in Nancy Mitford's TPOL than other reasons. It's really a worthwhile read, I think.

    Lucindaville: What a marvelous suggestion, thank you!

  19. Sister, dear: Is said Pettigrew a close cousin of mine, perhaps?

    Carol: Don't you mean Idina?

    Christina: I hope you enjoy the Bolter. NY is rather dreary at this time, too. Buried in snow and traffic snarled and at a standstill. Best to stay home and read a good book, I think.

    Patsy: Not to mention, I believe it is easier to recover from a scandal when one is young, or at least one doesn't care as much...

    Edith Hope: Yes, I do look forward to JJN's book. And what a good suggestion you have, right up Reggie's alley.

    Karena: I must check out your list, post haste!

  20. Anon 5:42: I believe we may have exchanged emails on this, didn't we? Your recommendations are excellent. I have leafed through Channon's diaries but haven't sat down to read them yet. And I look forward to filling the gap in my library of Lees-Milne. Thank you.

    Danile-Halifax: Am I missing something here, doesn't everyone retire to bed with a bottle of whiskey?

    Pimms: Marvelous recommendations, indeed. Thank you.

    Izzy: I must look up Cheever's book and add it to my list. Thank you.

    Toby: I just finished the Dowager Duchess' book and enjoyed it. And I, too, adore The Swimming Pool Library. I agree it is Hollinghurst's best, although the Line of Beauty is rather good, too. I must have read TSPL three times by now. Vivid!

  21. On my bedside table, among many others, is a book that always makes me think of you and Boy when I read it. At Home: A Short History of Private Life (or something close to that) by Bill Bryson. Bryson is a charming, discursive, and easily distracted guide as he wanders through his house, a 19th-century English rectory, and comments on the history and implications of its various rooms, parts, and features. An inch or so deep, but miles wide. Even you, Reggie, are likely to find some tasty facts you didn't already know.

  22. Dearest Reggie,

    Major Pettigrew may just be a cousin of yours because, like you, he turns out to be quite lovable and extremely admirable.

    xox Camilla

  23. Reginald...I just finished Auchincloss and have JJ Norwich at the ready. You HAVE to read the Duff Cooper Diaries. Patten's book wasn't so dreary.

  24. Laura: Thank you for the suggestions

    Tabitha: Surely, that is the most vital reading there is, yes?

    Jasper: Thank you -- Boy is, in fact, reading that very book as I write this. Nice to hear from you, dear friend.

    Sister: And a cousin of your, too, then I believe!

    ADG: Thank you. I read DC's autobiography "Old Men Forget" a number of years ago, and enjoyed it. Are the diaries you are referring to one and the same, or separate and distinct?

  25. Reggie Darling, I liked the Bolter much. the others you are working down I have not read.let us know the upshot of Trying to Please-please. I have a silly number stacked and figure it will be the same ones all year. actually reading -or reading again, EF Benson's Mapp and Lucia, which is laugh out loud humor, A Roger Fry Reader Alsop's Lady Sackville,Rodenbach's Bruge la morte- Mus'nt get these story lines mixed. Pgt

  26. Reg: I must side with DED on The Bolter. It will be too soon if I never read another word about the Happy Valley set.I find the antics of self indulgent alcoholics and drug addicts dreary beyond description, and I develop an overwhelming urge to give the authors of these tomes a swift kick in the keester as they solemly delineate the affairs, misbehaviors, financial woes and ultimately sad and lonely ends of their subjects- all the while attempting to determine some "deeper meaning" or "universal truth". All you have to know about these folks is that they were narcissitic, hedonistic drunks and I can write the rest of the story- inappropriate affairs, wounded children, financial mismanagement and an unhappy end. Where was A.A. when it was needed most?

    So much for my rant. Top of my list now is The Shah by Abbas Milani- fascianting study of the last Shah of Iran- and the history of the county to boot.

  27. Excellent book selections. Just the sort of things I would have on my own bedside table! Recently read Frances Osbourne's The Bolter and agree that it was a fascinating, but sad and haunting, story.


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