Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Ambition, Folly, Originality: Fascinating Women. . .

There are so many interesting fall books landing in the office these days;  Dangerous Ambition: Rebecca West and Dorothy Thompson by Susan Hertog, is one of them. There was a time when I was completely enamoured of all things Rebecca West, working my way through her novels (The Judge, for example is quite extraordinary) and journalism, particularly during her suffrage period.   I still think she's one of the greatest writers and most fascinating women of the 20th century.  I know nothing at all about Dorothy Thompson but after reading the jacket flap of this biography, I can see why the author has paired these two together (beyond their friendship). Thompson, an American, was also a journalist and the first female head of a European news bureau. And as West conducted a tempestuous affair with H.G. Wells, Thompson had a similar relationship with Sinclair Lewis. Both also had troubled relationships with their sons, who were jealous of their mother's success.  From Hertog's introduction:

. . . the lives of these women are important, not only in and of themselves, but because they are emblematic of female consciousness at a time of great social and moral upheaval and escalating scientific discovery - when psychological survival required the redefinition of one's relationship to oneself, society and the universe, both physical and divine. Few were up to the task, and the trajectory of most lives was an exercise in experimentation, frustration and failure. Thompson and West, however, had the extraordinary advantage of raw intelligence, along with the desire to make a difference in the world.

November also sees the publication of Hedy's Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World by Richard Rhodes.  I was looking through her filmography and while I don't think I've ever actually seen any of her movies, her life could be a Hollywood script.  Fleeing Germany and her marriage to a Nazi arms dealer, she landed in Hollywood via 1920s Paris, and in addition to her successful career, she was also responsible for inventing technology that created a jam-proof radio guidance system for torpedos; it's also used in today's cell phones and GPS devices.

And speaking of Hollywood, though I usually shun celebrity memoirs, I'm making an exception for Diane Keaton's Then Again.  I've always loved her movies and admired her original style. The focus of this memoir is really about her relationship with her mother who kept these incredibly thick journals, part scrapbook, part honest accounting of her life and thwarted ambitions, right up until she succumbed to Alzheimer's.  The book is wonderfully designed (and you'll be awed when you see the photos of these journals) but I'll probably be listening to the unabridged audio which is read by Keaton herself, if only for the trademark laugh and quirky inflections.

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