I rarely recommend any product I haven’t used or read, but I’m making an exception in the case of the new e-book The Hall of Nearly Great because it includes so many great writers, telling the stories of good big leaguers who were never good enough to earn legitimate Hall of Fame consideration. (I do have a copy of the book, but haven’t started it yet.) It’s available now for just $12 through that link.
I wrote yesterday about improved and declining farm systems for Insiders.
Anita Loos’ 1925 comic novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is best remembered now for Howard Hawks’ movie adaptation, starring Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell, but at the time of its release it was an enormous best-seller, second only to John Erskine’s The Private Life of Helen of Troy among novels published in the U.S. that year. Loos’ book, a scant 120 pages, is now typically sold with its sequel, But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, a weaker sibling that doesn’t have the same high or low comedy of the first book.
The blonde in question is the shameless gold-digger Lorelei, who narrates the novel in diary form, detailing her exploits in convincing various witless suitors into buying her expensive meals, clothes, and jewelry, while also taking her from California to New York to London and across Europe. What Lorelei lacks in brains she makes up for in cunning, manipulating multiple men simultaneously without any remorse for the way she leads them on and leaves them once she finds a better offer. She’s accompanied by her sarcastic friend Dorothy, whose lack of decorum and interest in men without money confuse and aggravate Lorelei, whose only end seems to be having a good time through someone else’s wallet. For the time, Lorelei’s casual attitudes towards love, sex, and money, as well as a disinterest in then-traditional female roles of doting wife and mother – even when she settles on one man at the end of the novel, it’s more about what he can do for her budding career than about love or family.
The book is extremely funny between Lorelei’s own observations and the occasional cutting line from Dorothy; Lorelei is always talking about “educating” herself by reading, yet confesses that she and Dorothy “do not seem to be mathematical enough to tell how much francs is in money.” She says her friends told her she had talent for music, but “I mean I simply could not sit for hours and hours at a time practising just for the sake of a career.” (Spelling errors are rampant throughout her diaries, accelerating once she and Dorothy reach Paris.) And because she’s beautiful and, presumably, because she’s blond, men fall all over themselves to buy her affections – in a rare turn of events, it’s a book where the thinly-drawn characters are males, a sort of anti-Sorkinism that had to be even more unusual in the ’20s.
But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes doesn’t live up to its predecessor’s humor, as Lorelei only appears as the narrator of Dorothy’s life story, from a very rough upbringing to her eventual pursuit of a wealthy New York scion whose mother rather thoroughly disapproves of the match, setting various schemes in motion to save her son from a disastrous marrage. The narrative is more traditional, but aside from the slapstick nature of Dorothy and her beau chasing each other while her would-be mother-in-law interferes, it lacks the farcical nature of the first book, in part because Dorothy is no longer the wise-cracking observer but is enmeshed in the plot. It’s as short as the Blondes, though, and with the original illustrations by Ralph Barton taking up a number of pages, you could probably knock off the pair of novels in three hours or so.
Next up: I’ve finished Mario Livio’s The Golden Ratio (about the irrational number φ) and moved on to Michael Ruhlman’s The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America.