Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category

BigHouseI am a loner, an introvert by nature.  I think I have always been that way. Even as a teenager, I preferred reading a book in the backyard rather than going out to “play with your friends” as my mother would often badger. Yet as a twenty-something accounting intern, listening to my supervisor tell about all the different foods his Italian family served on Thanksgiving to the many relatives that congregated for that holiday, I was jealous.

So, part of what attracted me to The Big House by George Howe Colt was the fact that, in part, it was the story of his far flung, old money Boston Brahmin family. The other thing was the fact that the Big House was situated on Cape Cod, not in Chatham where I take a week’s vacation every year, but in Buzzard’s Bay, where George’s ancestors used to ‘summer’, not merely for the week.

I wonder periodically how the descendants of the self-made men of the late 1800s and early 1900s are faring as those fortunes are divided and subdivided, generation after generation. So it was with Colt’s family; the original Atkinson fortune has been divided so many times that none of his generation could afford the upkeep on the one hundred year old, 11 bedroom, 6,000 sq. ft. summer home that has no indoor showers, no heat, outdated electrical wiring, etc. It is with the thought of an impending sale of the house that Colt visits, one last time.

Colt talks of his family history, of the outward appearances of closeness offsetting the inner conflicts going on within his extended family. He describes his ancestors who envisioned the Big House and all the workmen hired to build it. Readers are educated into the Brahmin mindset and get drawn in to his family. oOw wonderful would it be to have three or four generations congregating for the summer!How great would it be to have bunches of cousins that you can play with all day! Readers are saddened, though, as various family members exhibit psychological problems or are afflicted with those ailments common to most senior citizens.

Colt talks about what the Big House meant to various generations: a chance for unity, for family gatherings, a haven against the workaday world. Readers understand, at least I think they do, the need to keep the Big House in the family and the extent to which the Colts go to obtain that end, primarily renting it out in the summer. The house I rent for my measly week in Cape Cod was built in the mid-1800s and has wide plank floors that dip and rise at various points. It has low ceilings, steep staircases and doors with latches, no knobs…just like the Big House. Every year I say to myself that I would do anything to make sure this house would stay in my family, if I was lucky enough to own it. It is a legacy. It is history. Colt describes the Big House in such loving terms, it is clear what the house means to him.

The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home is a biography of a house and a family. It elegantly describes how I feel about Cape Cod, about owning a house that attracts family and leaving it for future generations, about the large family I don’t have but sometimes wish I did. The Big House surprisingly aroused a lot of emotions in me.  I hope it does the same for you.

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My last post was about an anthology of pulp mysteries from the 1920s-1950s. What, you are wondering, does this have to do with a Beth Kephart book? A good question. One of the things you realize as you read pulp mysteries is the authors’ abilities to tell a story in a small space. Some of the stories are 10 pages, some 20. But they all have one thing in common. Through the spare use of words, the right words, they’ve told their tale and captured the readers imagination.

And so it is with Beth Kephart’s works. Every word is thought out, is necessary. In a spare 120 pages, Beth has transmitted to us her musings as she wanders the Chanticleer Gardens near her home. But first, a word must be said about the photos in the book. As you as gaze at them, some are vividly clear. Some have a focused foreground with a blurry background and some, vice versa. But, isn’t that life? Some things in our life are crystal clear, some have moments of clarity amidst a misty, blurry background. As I read Ghosts in the Garden, I felt that that’s part of what the author was trying to say.  William Sulit, her husband, has created a wonderful counterpoint to Beth’s words. (I won’t tell you about the poem he wrote to her which is included in the book!)

But onto the words themselves. Who would have described a garden as a symphony? Certainly not I. But, in Beth’s hands, “After that, to the right, are the strut and tempo of the cut-flower and vegetable garden. The flowers in rows. The vegetables in an enclosure. The upraised arms of espaliers–apples, pears–because something has to conductd this orchestra.” Can you not picture the branches raised, holding a baton?

Or “Now when I went to the garden I’d sit at the bottom of the hill with a book on my lap–sometimes reading, sometimes just looking out on things: a gathering of bees, the sleepy drooping of big leaves, the geometry of the pebble garden that cascaded away from the so-called ruins, down toward the pond.” I can’t count the times I’ve stared at ‘nothing’ while sitting under a tree.

There’s the old cliche about ‘taking time to smell the roses’ and while we all agree its a necessity, here’s someone who did, the result of which is this marvelous book…and hopefully a clearer picture of the life she wants to lead. Ghosts in the Garden is a must read.

P.S. Beth. You say you “…would like to write a book (a page) that is an acorn only. That ripens from green to brown and supposes a tree, yielding something like a garden.” I think you have.

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As some of you may know, I’m a big Allman Brothers Band fan. Not the biggest, but big enough. I’ve seen Gregg perform solo a good number of times and the Allman Brothers Band pretty much regularly at the Beacon Theater in New York. So Gregg’s autobiography was a must read, regardless of the reviews, which were pretty good.

My Cross to Bear is an interesting read. It’s like sitting in Gregory’s (his real friends call him Gregory, not Gregg) living room over a cup of coffee (since he’s alcohol/drug free) and listening to him ramble on about his life, his brother, his wives, bandmates, etc. He doesn’t ‘diss’ anyone nor does he reveal any major revelations. His alcohol and drug abuse, as well as that of his bandmates, made for a turbulent life.

However, My Cross to Bear is more notable for what it doesn’t say. Searching for Simplicity is far and away Gregg’s best solo album as well as, in my humble opinion, one of the best blues albums around. It apparently is one that Gregg’s proud of as well. Yet there’s scant mention of it and there’s no mention of why he never plays songs from it in his concerts.  Hittin’ the Note is the best (and only) Allman Brothers album produced recently and he barely mentions it, other than to say Jaimoe came up with the title from one of Berry Oakley’s pet phrases.

While My Cross to Bear is a must for Allman Brothers fans, I’d rather have heard less about the tos and fros of his travels and more about the making of some of the best music we’ll ever hear.

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