My Lunches with Orson -- Conversations Between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles, Edited and with an Introduction by Peter Biskind, Metropolitan Books '13, $28, 300 pages, ASIN #0805097252. Notes, appendix, b&w images sprinkled through text.
In the lore of American icon Orson Welles, perhaps the greatest American film director ever, there has lurked for decades the myth that back in the 1980s, he made a cache of tapes recorded over lunch with his friend and fellow-director Henry Jaglom. Well, it's a myth no longer, as the tapes have emerged from dusty storage.
"This is the great director unplugged," writes film writer and author Peter Biskind, "free to be irreverent and worse -- sexist, homophobic, racist, or none of the above -- because he was nothing if not a fabulator and provocateur." Welles agreed to record these tapes in 1983 and 1984 over lunch only if Jaglom agreed to hide the tape recorder so it wouldn't distract from the candid nature of their confabs. What makes the end product so compelling is that these two polymaths ranged over such a wide scope of subjects -- from the film industry to American politics, from sex to personal finances.
In the following brief excerpt from one of their lunches, Welles and Jaglom discuss the the effect of personal wealth on politics:
JAGLOM: "It always struck me that the fact that some of our more progressive presidents -- the Roosevelts and the Kennedys -- came from wealthier backgrounds meant that they were less intimidated by other rich people, and therefore, less susceptible to special interests. The poor kids are the more dangerous ones -- Reagan is so impressed with rich people -- it is such an important part of his life."
WELLES -- "And they had Nixon in their pocket while he was still a congressman. From the beginning. But I still don't think your point is right. It's because of the old tradition of the Whig -- of the liberal rich, the old tradition of public service and of liberalism -- Roosevelt was a genuine, old-fashioned American Whig. The last and best example of it. And --"
JAGLOM -- "But I still say you can't be a poor person in the presidency and be surrounded by wealthy people."
WELLES -- "Well, a senator can be a poor person, but it's true, eventually he'll become a puppet of the rich. A senator used to be a tremendous office. Now it's really, more than it's ever been, what the money buys. The special-interest thing."
Author Peter Biskind has written several books on films and the film industry. He is the former editor in chief of American Film and the former executive editor of Premiere. He lives in the Hudson Valley.
Italian Ways -- On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo by Tim Parks, Norton '13, $25.95, 261 pages, ASIN #0393239322. Unillustrated.
"More than 30 years ago, before Frances Mayes marveled at the warmth of the Tuscan sun, before Mario Batali and Rocco DeSpirito introduced aspiring chefs to the perfect 'polpette,' before the clothing designers Prada and Marni burst onto the fashion scene, Tim Parks put down roots in Verona and began writing about Italian life and culture," writes his publisher in commenting on Parks's new book.
Parks, author of both novels and nonfiction books about life in Italy, whets his readers' interest by writing of his regular commute from Verona to Milan and how the efficient Itaian rail system has lessened the daily agita. Parks illustrates rail's importance to the national psyche with the story of a 'very Italian strike:'
"When farmers brought a group of cows on the tracks to protest European Community milk quotas, Italian police did not clear the train line. It turns out there was a friendly agreement among the railway unions, the farmers, and the police to let the farmers block each train for scheduled half-hour increments -- and Italian travelers simply factored in the half-hour milk-quota delay when planning their journeys."
Author Tim Parks has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize. In addition to his literary output, he has translated works by Italo Calvino, Roberto Calasso, Alberto Moravia, and Nicola Machiavelli. He lives in Verona.
Gettysburg -- The Last Invasion by Allen C. Guelzo, Knopf '13, $35, 630 pages, ASIN #0307594084. Illustration credits, index, notes, grouping of b&w images, other b&w images sprinkled through text.
From the dust jacket:
"From the acclaimed Civil War historian, a brilliant new history -- the most intimate and richly readable account we have had -- of the climactic three-day battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863), which draws the reader into the heat, smoke, and grime of Gettysburg alongside the ordinary soldier, and depicts the combination of personalities and circumstances that produced the greatest battle of the Civil War, and one of the greatest in human history.
"Of the half-dozen full-length histories of the battle of Gettysburg written over the past century, none dives down so closely to the experience of the individual soldier, or looks so closely at the sway of politics over military decisions, or places the battle so firmly in the context of 19th century military practice. Allen C. Guelzo shows us the face, the sights, and the sounds of 19th century combat: the lay of the land, the fences and the stone walls, the gunpowder clouds that hampered movement and vision; the armies that caroused, foraged, kidnapped, sang, and were so filthy they could be smelled before they could be seen...."
Author Allen C. Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era and Director of Civil War Era studies at Gettysburg College.