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Ernest Hemingway is by no means a beloved American author in the minds of many people. He had his moments as a novelist when he turned out books like "The Sun Also Rises," but he had his bad moments as well, not only as an author, but also as a human being. He was boorish, cruel to friends like F. Scott Fitzgerald, and full of himself. Woody Allen's recent movie, "Midnight in Paris," shows both sides, as Hemingway helps a young writer meet Gertrude Stein, but also bores that writer to death with his "Hemingway-esque" platitudes.
Even before Michael Lindsay-Hogg made his name as a director of films like "Brideshead Revisited" and the Beatles' "Let it Be," he led an exciting life as the son of the talented actress Geraldine Fitzgerald ("Wuthering Heights," et al.) and a father who was a baronet. Lindsay-Hogg (Hogg is pronounced "Higg") recalls his life in "Luck and Circumstance" (Knopf, $26). It's full of juicy anecdotes because his mother hung around with the rich and famous.
Here's a book that should make it from the region all around the country. It's "A New Billy Collins: Keeping an Eye on Death," by Joy Lee Davis (Trade Press, Inc., 4312 Pond View, White Bear Lake, 55110, $20.) I remember the first time we went to a party at the home of John and Joy Davis. Joy, a literary scholar and the author of several books of memoir and literary criticism, had just discovered poet-laureate-to-be Billy Collins and was busy proselytizing her guests. My wife and I became converts and always looked forward to reading something new by Collins.
I remember my political science professor telling us naïve freshmen that if you took strip of plastic and bent it into a hula hoop, fascists and communists would end up together at the juncture where the two ends meet. I've just examined two biographies one from the left, another from the right, that seem to bear out the old prof's metaphor. First there's "Leon Trotsky: A Revolutionary Life," by Joshua Rubenstein (Yale University Press, $25). It tells the story of an implacable, rigid communist, who sort of fell into the party and met his end with an axe in his head in Mexico.
Two months from last Friday marks the 100th anniversary of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen's historic arrival at the South Pole. To commemorate the event, Knopf has published "South With the Sun," by Lynne Cox (Knopf, $25). Cox, an accomplished open water swimmer and the author of "Swimming to Antarctica," describes reading about Amundsen when she was a 15-year-old and how he inspired her to lead a life of adventure, how she unwittingly set out in Amundsen's route, swimming in open waters off Antarctica and Greenland.
Several years ago, my more sophisticated colleagues on the National Book Critics Circle Board were raving about a new book. It was called "Maus" and it was by Art Spiegelman, a book and an author I had never heard of. Well, if they liked it I might as well have a look and ordered a review copy from the publisher. It turned out to be a comic book! About the Holocaust! Undaunted, I read it and was totally taken aback; terribly impressed. Since then Spielgelman's "Maus" has become a classic in the genre called graphic novels, or just plain comic books.
The girl looks up at him again. Dark eyes narrow beneath her curls. The teacup on the desk begins to shake. Ripples disrupt the calm surface as cracks tremble across the glaze, and then it collapses in shards of flowered porcelain. Cold tea pools in the saucer and drips onto the floor, leaving sticky trails along the polished wood. The magician's smile vanishes. He glances back at the desk with a frown and the spilled tea begins seeping up from the floor.
Forty years ago, when Amish families began buying up farms in western Wisconsin, my father wasn't too enthused. He owned a business on Main Street in Whitehall, and worried that the incursion of buggies, beards and black bonnets might hurt his business. I asked him what he had against these peaceable folk.
Today, two books about two very different men who were born not very far from my own natal place. The first is Arvid B. Erickson, the Green Bay & Western depot agent in my hometown for more than a quarter of a century. The other is Nicholas Ray, "enfante terrible" movie director of such classics as "Rebel Without A Cause," "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," "Knock on Any Door," "Johnny Guitar," "55 Days at Peking" and dozens of other movies, many of them avant garde.
I've never thought much about our 20th American president, James Garfield. I knew he was from Ohio, so I simply consigned him to the dust heap of really bad to mediocre presidents from the Buckeye State: Harding, Taft, McKinley, Grant, Hayes, Harrison and Garfield. There's a classical legend about the sack of Rome. The Huns came to an elegant villa, knocked on the door and were greeted by the lady of the house. The Huns said "Give us your jewels." The woman obliged, bringing her seven children and telling the Huns, "These are my jewels." The Huns left her alone.