Books I like: Blandings’ Way

Recently, I did a Print-to-Screen blog on Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. The 1946 novel  by Eric Hodgins is a treat. I recommend it to anyone looking for a summer read. You can buy it for very little money and in some cases free shipping at:

Amazon

Abebooks

Lines from the book that never made it into the movie:

The building contractor, John Retch, presents a bill for this item:

“Extra Screws . . . $3.00.”

Mr. Blandings comments:

“A very modest sum, but wouldn’t it be more customary for you to pay me?”

The Sequel

When I found out there was a second novel about Mr. Blandings, published in 1950, I wanted to read it. Hodgins claimed it was better than Dream House. It is.

A reviewer at the time said:

Eric Hodgins is going to be a lonely and envied figure in the contemporary writing scene because of his ability to create light fiction which is hilariously funny for page after page, and yet at the same time has its peculiar content of serious significance.

Blandings’ Way is about Mr Blandings trying to come to terms with his life: his well-paid job as a New York advertising copywriter, his good-hearted, well-meaning liberal politics in conservative Lansdale during the McCarthy era (school hot lunches are considered Communistic), the great disconnect between city and  country life (he concludes that city life is far simpler), his feelings for his wife, and his two daughters growing up and going their own way.

Mr. Blandings dislikes the other liberals in Lansdale, an academic-intellectual crowd he calls the Poet and Peasant Party. He himself is disliked and snubbed by the stuck-in-the-mud conservatives who are eager to believe he is a Communist. He finds that he cannot win, maybe because he can see both sides of any question.

He makes this observation about winning:

Winning implied not only achieving an objective but holding it. Sometimes a man or a cause won some objective by a succession of crazy accidents, but holding what you won was done only by design. When you won something, you said to yourself this is for keeps; this is how things will be, and ought to be.

The Media in 1950

Mr. Blandings’ youngest daughter, Joanie, writes a national-award-winning essay in which she praises Marie Curie for her scientific work. Joanie, the Lansdale school system, and her parents are  smeared in the newspapers and radio for having Communistic leanings because:

  • From 1906 until her death in 1934, Marie Curie was a Socialist.
  • Her husband was French (“La Curie’s Frog husband”).
  • Her maiden name was Sklodowska.

The slander flies around, eagerly aided and abetted by the media. They didn’t have the Internet in 1950, but the taste for meanness and fantastic embroidery of the truth will sound familiar. Eric Hodgins was there to observe all of it.

Yet it is a funny book—a sparkling comedy of manners—because Hodgins was too smart and had too good a sense of humor to write any other kind.

He has a fine ear for voices; all his characters have individual ways of speaking and thinking. He writes the kind of easy-going prose that looks simple until you try to write it yourself. He has a splendid eye for detail, for example, the first sentence:

Outside the house it was so cold that the earth rang like slag.

Blandings’ Way is long out of print, but available in the secondary market. It is water from another time: cold, clear, refreshing.

Abebooks

Amazon

 

 

 

 

From Print to Screen: Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House

If you want a witty and light summer diversion, the movie Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House is your piece of lemon meringue pie.

The 1946 best seller on which the movie was based is a fictionalized account of things that actually happened to its author, Eric Hodgins. He got $200,000 for the movie rights, which is about $2.3 million in today’s dollars.

(Ironically, Hodgins had to sell the house at a loss to recoup some of its out-of-control construction costs. After he got rich, he tried to buy it back but couldn’t.)

The house has many of the actual rooms discussed in the movie, including the little room with the flower sink.  A few years ago, it was sold for $1.2 million.

In the novel’s transition from print to screen, several things were abandoned or expanded. But the screenwriters, Melvin Frank and Norman Panama, had sense enough to leave some things alone.

One thing they had sense enough to leave alone: the iconic scene where Mrs Blandings is picking colors of paint. That scene came verbatim from the book, with a few rooms omitted. For example, in the movie, you don’t know that the master bath color “should suggest apple blossoms just before they fall.”

Another thing the screenwriters used verbatim: the $1247 for “changes in closet.”

Departures

Role of William Cole

William Cole was an actual attorney, a friend of the author’s, but his fictional role in the book is minor. He gives Mr Blandings some pointed advice and then mostly disappears.

The film makers built up the part for Melvyn Douglas, who is very funny as Cary Grant’s lawyer and best friend. The triangle between him, Cary Grant, and Myrna Loy is original to the movie.

The “Wham!” subplot and Gussie the maid

In the book, the Blandings have no maid and Mr Blandings’ success in the advertising business is because of his brilliant work on a laxative account.

A great line versus a good line

Good line from the novel: “I don’t want to get a reputation for ambulance chasing when my client doesn’t even know he’s been run over.”

Great line from the movie: “You’ve been taken to the cleaners and you don’t even know your pants are off.”

A first-name basis

In the book, for some reason, Mr and Mrs Blandings are never given first names. In the movie, they are Jim and Muriel.

The happy ending

I am glad the film makers did not use Hodgins’ ending: which is of Mr Blandings lying in bed, smiling uneasily in his sleep and dreaming of the house being on fire.

Bunny Funkhauser

In the book, his name is Savington Funkhauser. He is an architect, not an interior decorator. He is not gay. He does not suggest remodeling the Blandings’ New York apartment, which is not bursting at the seams with possessions.

Savington Funkhauser is hired to remodel the Blandings’ new house, but things do not work out. After an article about the new house is printed in a magazine called Home Lovely with a mildly critical remark about his “impracticalities,” he decides to sue.

Abandonments

Mr Tesander, the artesian-well digger

In the movie, Mr Tesander is a laconic old New Englander whom Mr Blandings suspects of flim-flamming him.

In the book, Mr Tesander grew up in Bosnia, of all places. He has the face of a scholar, he is an adept worker, and Mr Blandings likes and respects him from the first.

The name of Betsy and Joan’s progessive summer camp

Camp Mahottapottawamagog.

The number of closets Mrs Blandings wants in the house

Thirty-two.

How Mr Blandings gets out of that locked room

In the movie, he is rescued by his wife. In the book, a committee of local women drop by looking to register people into the Republican party.  To get their help, Mr Blandings, a lifelong Democrat, agrees to become a Republican.

Where the Blandings live in NYC, exactly

“In New York, the Blandings’ dignified seventeen-story-and-penthouse apartment building stood next door to a garage; four doors farther up the block was a ‘converted’ brownstone on whose top floor a drunken maniac had methodically slain a family of five one Thanksgiving Day just two years ago. It was a quiet, orderly block with a liquor store on one corner and a funeral home on another; rather a higher-class block than the average on New York’s fashionable upper East Side.”

What Mr Blandings says when presented with the construction bids

“Jesus H. Mahogany Christ!”

The book

The novel is tart, not sweet.  However, it is  a fun companion to the movie. Available at:

Amazon

Abebooks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virtual realities

A brilliant company called Immersive Entertainment recently optioned the rights to produce Susan Kaye Quinn’s Debt Collector series (“What’s your life worth on the open market?”), which is also quite brilliant.

Facebook recently acquired the rights to Oculus VR. Oculus will enable the type of thorough-going virtual experience that Immersive Entertainment has under development.

Last night, I attended a Facebook party hosted by Susan Kaye Quinn, where Bart Potter, the  CEO, Dan St Pierre, Chief Content Officer, and Jeroen Van den Bosch, Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Immersive Entertainment, discussed the realities of creating this kind of virtual experience.

What will it look like?

What will it feel like?

Will you, the player, be the main character?

Or will you be an observer touring this vivid land?

What will it do to you to be immersed in a fictional world in that way?

Imagination

Virtual reality has been around forever; it is called imagination.  A person can read a book in bed while in imagination be in the world of the book.  Actors can take you to the place in their imaginations where their characters live and breathe, and make you believe, too.

Music opens so many doors that they cannot be numbered.

Silents, Please

I was on a silent movie kick in April: three Buster Keaton shorts and Harold Lloyd’s Girl Shy. One of the most thrilling movie experiences I’ve ever had was seeing Keaton’s The General at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood with a live orchestra in 2013.

Silent movies are great for stretching the imagination. The experience they provide is unique.

In his book Buster Keaton: Tempest in a Flat Hat, Edward McPherson wrote “With sound, the dignity of silence was lost.” His choice of words is odd. I had never thought of dignity in connection with silent movies, but the more I considered it, the more I understood.

There was a wall between movie and audience—the wall that virtual reality will appear to bring down. You here, movie there.

The dignity is in the space between movie and audience; the excitement is in the connection.

In Sherlock, Jr, Buster Keaton stepped out of the theater and into the screen. That was 1924. Soon, a simulation of  this experience will be possible for anyone who has the hardware and software.

What book/music/art/movie/virtual reality experiences left a strong impression on you?

 

Destinies of rust – Gordon Bottomley and the early days of eco-poetry

Lindsay Edmunds:

A striking epigraph, a very early example of eco-poetry, and a memory of the great writer Russell Hoban.

Originally posted on what a lot of birds:

Destines of rustI came across this while archiving: an epigram to an unpublished work of the late Russell Hoban. It’s beautiful, and makes me want to read more of Bottomley’s work.

O, you are busied in the night,

Preparing destinies of rust;

Iron misused must turn to blight,

And dwindle to a tetter’d crust. 

It’s part of the poem “To Iron-Founders and Others”, an amazingly early piece of eco-poetry. I think it deserves posting in full. 

Can we also bring back the word tetter’d? Please?

View original 242 more words

Shirley Jackson’s The Sundial

A new Penguin Classics edition of The Sundial is out.  This is Shirley Jackson’s apocalypse novel. (Did you know she wrote one?) The end is nigh, and a thoroughly nasty New England family plus a few  other people believe they alone will be saved. . . .

At Slate you can read an appreciative review.

When you read Jackson, she stays read. There is no higher compliment for a writer than that.

Buy The Sundial at Amazon.

Digital Book Today blog: Imaginary places

Another week, another blog at  Digital Book Today:  I wrote this one after reading a remarkable book by Robert Geraci titled Apocalyptic AI: Visions of Heaven in Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and Virtual Reality.

Geraci writes about what futurist Ray Kurzweil calls “functional immortality” and about gamers who think they live their real lives online. Transcending reality (meaning the natural world) is big. Are we going to make the jump?

I write about Murphy’s Law, the fact that my computer connection went out for 20 minutes in the middle of composing the blog, and the fact that mind-to-mind connections are not new.

Imaginary Places is the name of the blog.

“A room that so achingly missed its owner”

Paul Cooper is the archivist with the job of curating the work of writer Russell Hoban (1925-2011). He writes brilliantly about the process in Archiving Russell Hoban’s Work.

Almost in passing, he provides this excellent description of what it is like to read Hoban’s books:

I found Hoban’s novels hard going at first, but it didn’t take long for him to win me over with his weird and idiosyncratic style. I found his writing to have more in common with music than with other prose: more than mere mimicry of life, his work is a symphonic arrangement of signs and symbols, so that the more you read, the richer your engagement becomes.

Every author should be so lucky as to have Paul Cooper as a curator.

(Note: You don’t need to have read Hoban to appreciate this article.)

Kind winter books

If you are thinking what I am thinking right now (“How can it snow so much when it is so cold?”) and if temperatures are heading to -12F later this week, then you are in need of the comfort books can provide. These two titles  provide rest and ease, and a drink of clear water from another time.

They also are cheap because they have been forgotten.

The Woman’s Day Book of House Plantsbook of houseplants

The author is Jean Hersey; the illustrator is Harry Marinksy. It is worth noting both their names. Hersey writes about houseplants as if they were friends, and Marinksy draws them the same way.

The tenderness of this book!   You have to be in a certain mood to appreciate it, but if you are (say, on a snowed-in weekend), the book can make you happy. For example:

“Perhaps a window garden is at its best on a chilly winter day when icicles fringe the eaves, when the wind howls in the chimney, and when the sun shines on your small indoor tropic. . . . You draw up a chair beside your plants, perhaps you water, turn a plant, trim off a straggle, or maybe you just sit. Soon your awareness quickens , you begin noticing new things.”

An aside: I know grammar; it is one of the things I am paid to know, and it is a faint surprise to see Hersey’s adeptness with a sentence. I doubt she was an English major, either.

Abebooks has it for prices ranging from $1 to $4.

Goldfish Varieties and Water Gardensgoldfish book

I cannot reproduce the state of mind I was in when I bought this book for a few dollars at Abebooks last year; maybe I just knew a bargain when I saw it. This 1947 volume by William T. Innes is richly illustrated with both drawings and photographs.

I don’t know anything about goldfish or water gardens, which is why reading around in this book is such a pleasant, naive experience. Innes communicates his experience, which is considerable, and his enjoyment, also considerable. I looked him up once; he lived well into his nineties, healthy and productive to the end.

Like Hersey, Innes is a freaking fantastic grammarian. He knows his way around a sentence. This is how the book begins:

“A lady wrote the author, I have just bought eight pretty goldfish in a cute little globe. I feed them three good meals a day and change the water often, but they are always at the top of the water with their mouths partly in the air. This makes a little sound. Do you think they are trying to speak to me?

This letter sounds funny, of course, but it really was not intended as a humorous effect. That makes it sad. Those four short sentences are unique in that they have compressed or crystallized  into a few simple words the substance of a vast popular ignorance on the subjects treated in this chapter. The lady should be awarded a medal for crowding the greatest amount of aquarium ignorance into the fewest possible words.”

This book can get pricy because some sellers have noticed how beautiful it is. But it still can be had at Abebooks for $9-$15.

A Fantastic Flying Books experience

There is an enchanting 2011 animated film called The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore, in which books transport the main character to another world. It is free on YouTube right now, because the directors are releasing another movie that they are using this one to promote.

If you love books and your books developed the ability to fly, it would be surprising, but you wouldn’t kick them out of the house. You’d say, yeah, I thought you’d do that someday.

I had a Fantastic Flying Books experience this past weekend. Although no actual flight was involved, a book that had sat unread on a shelf for 20+ years suddenly came to life.

Sometime in the mid or early 1990s I bought a book called The Wiccan Path: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner. I don’t remember why I bought it. Possibly I thought the “solitary practitioner” part of the title might relate to a writer’s work. It wasn’t because I wanted to learn how to be a witch. Still don’t.

The Wiccan Path survived three moves and probably a dozen book sales and donations. In other words, I looked at that book over and wiccan pathover, and chose to keep it.

In all that time, I never had any interest in actually reading it. Until last weekend.

Now that Warning: Something Else Is Happening is only a week or so away from being published, a new novella is taking shape in my mind. It features a heroine who leads others in a good direction and is therefore a target for assassins, liars, and torturers.

I was wondering what forces formed her. Instantly I imagined that she was raised by a pair of white witches in a tight, closed community. She rebels against all this and leaves that world behind, but as her heroic journey progresses, she finds that doors opened during that time serve her well. Not that she is a witch—no. It is not that simple.

Gee, I didn’t know anything about white witches. Nothing whatsoever. Where could I find out?

The Wiccan Path, written by Rae Beth, gave me the exact information I was after. It is a fascinating, likable book. Parts of it read like a role-playing game:

You will leave the clearing and follow a winding, downhill path, until you see a cave. The entrance is not much more than a crack between two rocks. But you slip inside, following your familiar. A candle will be waiting for you, standing upon a rock. Pick up the candle and look all around. The cave is clean. Perhaps it is a crystal cave. The floor is sand. At the back is another opening. You go through and a passage winds away downhill, deep into earth. . . .

And so on.

I own a few other books like The Wiccan Path—unread but still there, waiting to take flight. The people who made Fantastic Flying Books would understand.

What books have a permanent place on your bookshelves?