Americus Times-Recorder, Americus, Georgia

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February 26, 2013

Beth Alston: Getting backlogged ...

AMERICUS — Getting  backlogged ...

AMERICUS — I am getting backlogged now. Not in my reading, but in my reviewing. I have no trouble at all ripping through all these interesting books; it’s sitting down and writing about them that takes longer.

I also have a bad habit of reading several books before writing about them. That’s dangerous for a middle-aged brain which fails to hold on to details sometimes.

And so, my reading resolution for 2013 is to review soon after reading; keep it fresh. I also resolved not to purchase any more books in 2014, until I’ve read the thousands I already have. I have only purchased three so far, but have committed to several more coming from publishing houses.

First a little ATR Book Sale humour: Colleague Keven has a knack for ferreting out the unusual in the stacks of books and magazines in the front lobby of the Times-Recorder. He recently came up with a real prize winner, a VHS tape of Ray Stevens. The tape, titled “Comedy Video Classics,” contains eight videos and has Stevens looking really goofy on the cover. I’ve decided to purchase this tape. It might make my father laugh and he really needs to laugh these days.

Keven later found a book by Ludlow Porch, stepbrother of Lewis Grizzard. Porch, who had a successful career in southern humor himself, died in 2011. The book, “Beating a Dead Horse is More Fun than You Think — A Partisan’s View of the Southland,” is signed by the author with this inscription: “To Jean The only woman I ever loved.”

After a cursory look at Wiki, I learned that Porch had been married three times and was once divorced, once widowed and was married to a woman named Nancy at the time of his death. We don’t know who Jean is. My bet is that at a book signing, a woman steps up to the table, gushing that she’s read all his books and just loves all of his work, blah blah blah, and asks him to sign a copy. When Porch asks to whom he should sign it, she titters and says “Jean.” When the author asks what he should write, Jean titters and blushes, and mutters, “anything; it doesn’t matter.” And so Porch, employing his ever-present sense of humor, signs it.

So here we go. This is what I’ve been reading recently.

• “What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship & Love” — Carole Radziwill — Scribner — 2005

I’ve always been fascinated by the Kennedy family and have read many books about them over the years of my adulthood.

I found this book in a roundabout way. My secret weakness is watching The Real Housewives of New York City, Miami, Atlanta, Beverly Hills, etc. I admit it. I am guilty.

On the RHNYC, my favorite last season was new to the show, Carole Radziwill. She’s intelligent, cool, hip and well mannered. I liked everything about her and wondered over and over why she was even on this crazy show in the first place. She’s so much more normal and nice than any of the others on it. She kept referring to her book: finding a publisher, editing and finally having it launch. I bought it on Amazon.com and devoured it.

You see, Carole is the widow of Prince Anthony Radziwill, whose mother Lee is the sister of the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. That makes Anthony first cousin to John F. Kennedy Jr.

Carole and Anthony were very close to JFK Jr. and his wife Carolyn Bessette, before and after their marriage. This book tells of Anthony’s battle with cancer, which he ultimately lost, and also the tragedy of John and Carolyn’s deaths.

Carole, from a small-town, working-class background, worked for ABC News and that’s how she met the man she would come to marry. She and Carolyn were very close and this book relates the tender friendships and relationships between these real people.

Radziwill writes lyrically and while you know what the ending will be, you find yourself hoping something might have somehow changed the outcome. She describes how she had to treat the disappearnce of JFK Jr.’s plane like a news story, working slowly and deliberately and attempting to remain detached. It is devastating to read.

This book is a true gem, filled with love and loss and what makes life worth living. I respect Carole Radziwill even more after having her beautiful book.

• “Following Atticus: Forty-eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship” — Tom Ryan — William Morrow — 2011

This Amazon find’s cover is what caught my eye. How can anyone resist the image of a cute little dog wearing shoes and socks? And because it includes several of my favorite things — dogs and their relationships with their humans, the great outdoors and newspapering, it was sure fit.

Ryan was a newspaper founder, publisher and editor for many years before Atticus M. Finch, a miniature schnauzer, entered his life. I don’t want to give away too much of this true story, but Ryan mostly gives up newspapering and takes to the mountains with Atticus. Their adventures are thrilling and their love for one another boundless.

Ryan writes so poignantly about the glories of nature that it takes your breath away. And guess what? Atticus is not just any dog; he communes with the world of the outdoors and seems to have been made for mountaineering. Man and dog learn from each other and forge a partnership that seems unbreakable.

This touching story could also be brought to the big screen and I sure hope so.

I very strongly recommend this book. I love this story.

• “White House Diary” — Jimmy Carter — Farrar, Straus and Giroux — 2010

I plucked this meaty, 550-page-plus book from, of all places, Dollar Tree. I was thrilled at my find!

I sometimes receive copies of the former president’s books but finding this was like finding the golden egg at the Easter Egg Hunt.

In the preface, Carter writes that he didn’t unpack these diaries until February 1981 after he and Rosalynn has returned to their home in Plains. He said he was surprised to find 21 volumes of double-spaced text, more than 5,000 pages.The book is deeply personal, containing entries from Carter’s White House diary as well as noted.

On the preface, Carter reveals, “Despite a temptation ro conceal my errors, misjudgmentd of people, or lack of foresight, I decided when preparing this book not to revise the original transcript, but just to use the uncganged excerpts from the diaries that I consider to be most revealing and interesting.”

It’s good to be reminded again that Jimmy Carter is human just like the rest of us, one who can make mistakes in judging people, etc. I’ve known that for many years.

He also says in the preface that it was “somewhat painful for me to omit about three-fourths of the diary,” but he concentrated on a few themes that remain pertinent today: “Middle East peace negotiations, nuclear weaponry, U.S.-China relations, energy policy, anti-inflation efforts, health policy, and my relationships with Congress.”

For this reader, I appreciate that he also included, “some elements of my personal life that illustrate how it feels and what it means to be president.”

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It never lagged in interest; it moved along at a good pace and it was thought-provoking, heart-breaking and humorous by turns. Being the captain’s seat is difficult for any leader and Jimmy Carter suffered during the time our hostages were held in Iran. He writes of his angst and his prayers.

The president’s notes also help to understand the context of his diary entries.

“Whenever possible, I attempt to articulate what lessons I learned and offer my own frank assessment of what I or others might have done differently,” he writes in the preface. A wise man indeed.

I highly recommend this book. My mother is reading it next.

• “This Side of Paradise” — F. Scott Fitzgerald — 1920 — Charles Scribner’s Sons

I borrowed this book along with three others by Fitzgerald a couple of years ago from my mother. I read the others, but somehow this one got stuck behind other books and I just pulled it out again.

Fitzgerald’s the master, all right. He can spin a tale and sculpt a character like no other.

This story takes place before, during and after World War II with Amory as the central character. Can you say “vapid”? Can you say “self-centered”? Can you imagine how much energy it takes for this guy to function every day? I mean the universe revolves around HIM.  Everyone around him is for his benefit. Even the war fails to make any lasting imprint on this prima donna’s character.

As I read this tale of Amory’s downward spiral into self-indulgence and excess, I felt some compassion for him, albeit it rare.

In the end it is too late, as it always is.

A human tragedy. Makes one wonder how depressed Fitzgerald really was for all those years ....

Beth Alston is executive editor,Americus Times-Recorder.

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