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Book Review. Talk of the Town from the New Yorker

Johan has a Diploma from the SA Bible College, a BA and B.Ed. from the University of SA and a MA from Abilene Christian University in Texas

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Book Review: The Fun of It –Stories from “The Talk of The Town” - The New Yorker.

There are interesting books that I discover from time to time and then occasionally I find a “Wow” book. In this paperback, Lillian Ross chooses 274 articles that appeared in the New York Times between 1920 and 2001. The articles are short, between one and a half and three pages each, and cover a marvellous variety of topics. The talented writers of this addition to the New York Times interview people and visit places of interest in or near New York. As I began to read about people who lived in the early 20th century I was introduced to many wellknown figures from the art, music, sporting, political and business worlds. Some I knew a bit about but the writers found interesting facts about their past and present that was at the same time interesting and insightful. Often they were amusing and brought a smile to my face.

I learned that Fred Astaire and his sister Adele danced together for over twenty years from when she was 6 and he was 5. They started by doing a clog dance at a vaudeville house. Then after 22 years, Adele decided that she wanted to get married and planned to move to England. Fred then teamed up with a variety of actresses to star in Hollywood musicals. A pair of the Astaire’s dancing shoes lasted only about three weeks and so they must have gone through many in their career of 22 years.

The book of selected articles covers almost everyone who was of interest during those 81 years and who either came to visit New York or was resident there. Other topics dealt with, often tongue in the cheek, such topics as “The Smell” a mysterious stink that permeated New York streets for some time before the source was discovered to be rotting shark fins. An interview with two young surfers about surfing at Gilgo Beach gave an interesting look into a sport that one does not normally associate with New York. A visit to some and illicit/illegal bungee jumping at night showed another unexpected activity.

As the book comes towards the end it enters the time of Bill Clinton who is targeted in several articles. Garden Shows, Texas Tasting Events and a variety of other special events find their way into often humorous stories. The description of the Monster Vehicles Show and the beginning of the restaurant chain “Bojangles,” are examples of topics that enthral the reader. Visits to the many art galleries, museums and theatres open up the art scene and many singers, actors, or artists arriving in New York are interviewed and their stories often make interesting reading.

The sporting articles include the many wonderful moments of magic that took place in the baseball arenas and in the book we are introduced to such greats as Babe Ruth and Joe Di Maggio. Articles like “The Kings Pajamas” and “Dead Pan Joe” tease the readers and then introduce these interesting and famous characters.

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Elvis Presley, David Cassidy, Dianna Ross and David Bowie to mention just a few, make their appearance in often amusing articles but always filled with interesting background. The article on “Leaving Motown” written in the 60’s was of particular interest.It was about the Jackson Five and their decision to leave Motown Records and enter a contract with CBS. The writer asked the 16 year old Michael: “Did you try to renegotiate a contract with Motown?” The answer was yes, but they offered us peanuts.

Sometimes I read an article that introduced me to a person I had never heard about but knew about something that they had done. So I learned about the life of the author of “Raising in the Sun”, Lorraine Hansberry and W.C. Handy who composed St Louis Blues. Faith Popcorn was someone I had never heard of before and enjoyed meeting, as was Vachel Lindsay. the poet. And so one could go on and on with interesting people met and places visited. A treasure trove of interesting experiences, all under one cover

A fascinating pair of articles was about a photographer who published a book of nude photos supposedly of his past girl friends that became a best seller. A later article exposes the fact that the nudes were models that he hired rather than the fictitious girl friends he claimed they were.

If I have any suggestions to make about the book it would be to add a list of the names of people mentioned in the book and the pages that they appear on. Going back to reread a particular article is difficult because often the headings don’t really give an obvious clue to what is in the article.

Reference: The Fun of It - edited by Gillian Ross Published by The Modern Library. New York Times. 2001

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