Spotlight On: Labor Day Reads
In search of a good book to close out the summer season?
Here are three new reads to keep you busy this Labor Day Weekend, handpicked to delight a variety of literary appetites.
But they do share one thing in common: the promise of escape.
by Stephanie Clifford
In a Nutshell
Social climbing and the gilded world of the moneyed elite — it’s a tale as old as time. The latest entrée is Everything Rise, which follows a path familiar to anyone who’s read The Bonfire of the Vanities, Bright Young Things or House of Mirth but smoothly updated for today. There are double kisses, charity benefits, debutantes, pedicures and names like Bing, Preston, Push, Souse and Char. There are judgmental mothers (“I wanted you to look like you were dressing to watch the lacrosse game, not playing in it”), and a protagonist daughter who is just trying to fit in. Author Stephanie Clifford’s detail in painting this tony world is — pardon the pun — right on the money.
Our protagonist is Evelyn Beegan, who has a new job at a social networking site called “People Like Us.” As you could guess from the name, it’s aimed at the crème de la crème one percent. Her position? Recruiting members, and so she dives into the old-money world of the Upper East Side and its surrounding environs (Hamptons, Adirondacks). Her mother has social-climbing stars in her eyes; her father, meanwhile, faces prison for bribery. Camilla Rutherford, the associate director of special events at Vogue, is the novel’s It Girl, the apex of social circles, the well-heeled, perfectly accessorized envy of everyone.
A reporter at The New York Times, Clifford has covered various beats — business, media and New York City. She’s currently a federal and state court reporter. This is her first novel.
There are enough fashion credits to rival your September fashion glossies. Checked purple shirts from Thomas Pink. Gucci loafers. Hermès bracelets. Lilly Pulitzer dresses. Chanel heels. Triple-gold Cartier rings. Marni jackets. Naeem Khan dresses. “Michael Kors’ fall collection is all Gatsby and Love Story. Rugby stripes everywhere.”
Chapter One Begins
“‘Your pearl earrings are rather worn down. They’re starting to look like molars,’ Barbara Beegan said to her daughter, poking with a cocktail knife at pâté that was so warmed by the sun that it was nearly the consistency of butter. ‘Don’t you ever take them off?'”
Expect to see the Beegan clan at a theater near you. Clifford’s already sold the film rights to Everything Rise — to the production company behind The Devil Wears Prada, no less.
The Complete Stories
by Clarice Lispector
In a Nutshell
Stateside, Clarice Lispector’s name may not ring a bell, but she’s a literary legend in her native Brazil, where her face has adorned postage stamps and her works are taught in school. Now, she’s getting a whole new audience with Complete Stories, the English translation of her short-story oeuvre — 86 works in all. Lispector, whose writing tends to focus on the internal mind reflecting, even when depicting as simple a subject as an egg — “seeing an egg never remains in the present: as soon as I see an egg it already becomes having seen an egg three millennia ago” — has a beautiful way with words, arranging and rearranging them, toying with the syntax and grammar, so the result is equal parts prose and poetry.
Lispector’s own life is the stuff of novels (making 2012’s Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector an equally compelling read). Born in what is now the Ukraine, Lispector relocated to Brazil with her Jewish family as they fled the country’s racial wars. In 1943, at the age of 23, she published her first novel, Near to the Wild Heart; it was an immediate success. Lispector married, became a diplomat’s wife and lived around the world, before divorcing, returning to her home in Brazil and devoting herself to her writing while taking on side jobs like ghostwriting and translations. Her subjects range from women in various stages of their lives (teenagers, wives, mothers) to portrayals of the cities and towns of Brazil.
Lispector began her career as a journalist, working for the government press service and the newspaper, A Noite. She would continue to write for various publications throughout her life — there are books dedicated to her journalistic works, such as Selected Cronicas: Essays, which features her columns in the Jornal do Brasil, and De Corpo Inteiro, a collection of her celebrity interviews.
There are few write-ups on Lispector that don’t mention her bewitching beauty and glamour. Gregory Rabassa, who translated a previous work, once described her as “that rare person who looked like Marlene Dietrich and wrote like Virginia Woolf.” But she was on the other side of the fashion equation, too, and also spent stints as a fashion journalist, both under her own name and under pseudonyms.
Chapter One Begins
“The clock strikes nine. A loud, sonorous peal, followed by gentle chiming, an echo. Then, silence. The bright stain of sunlight lengthens little by little over the lawn. It goes climbing up the red wall of the house, making the ivy glisten in a thousand dewy lights. It finds an opening, the window. It penetrates. And suddenly takes possession of the room, slipping past the light curtains standing guard.”
Stop by Green Apple Books on September 8 and Two Voices Salon on September 24, both in San Francisco, for events on Complete Stories.
The Last Love Song: A Biography of Joan Didion by Tracy Daugherty
In a Nutshell
The fascination with Joan Didion continues… The Last Love Song is over 700 pages worth of the Joan Didion story, an in-depth biography written, partly, in the style of its subject. While author Tracy Daugherty didn’t have access to Didion herself, there’s a lot out there about her, including, of course, what she’s written about herself in her memoirs. Daugherty is a tireless researcher, and brings it all together. His interviews with Noel Parmentel, an early boyfriend of Didion’s, and her step-grandson Sean Michael offer intriguing glimpses into different stages of her life. Parmentel, for instance, is the one who introduced Didion to her future husband, John Gregory Dunne (who also gets the spotlight treatment in this book).
Didion doesn’t just have admirers; she has a cult following. Often called America’s greatest living writer, the California native is equally at home with fiction and nonfiction, and has a number of screenplays to her name, too — including the 1976 retelling of A Star Is Born, with Barbra Streisand — written with her husband Dunne. And as influential as Didion was writing about others (Nancy Reagan; the Central Park jogger case of 1989), her memoirs are indelible. Case in point: The Year of Magical Thinking, which covers the heartbreaking years her husband died and her daughter was hospitalized (she eventually passed, too).
The Saturday Evening Post, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Life, Esquire, The New York Review — Didion, who was at the forefront of New Journalism, has written for them all and spun off plenty of books from those works.
Where to begin? Didion has long captivated the style set. Designer mood boards abound with early images of an effortlessly chic Didion covering the “hippies” in Haight-Ashbury, in 1967; of Didion looking coolly nonchalant, cigarette in hand, posing with her Corvette; of Didion in her trademark oversized shades. She worked at Mademoiselle and Vogue, and then there was her fronting a campaign for Céline earlier this year…
Chapter One Begins
“Writers used to choose their pasts, before literary tradition began to erode our culture. The Great Dead with whom writers would speak were invited to sit or snuggle beneath the bedcovers. Didion was a writer early.”
Didion’s nephew Griffin Dunne is working on a documentary about her life. We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live — which has her participation — began as a Kickstarter campaign last year, and more than doubled on its $80,000 goal.
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