Friday, May 25, 2007

Three Old Favorites

My new blog friend Walnuts (who I imagine looking like the Sopranos guy) tasked me with the following endeavor: The Little-Known Favorites. Rules: List and describe three of your favorite books that other people might not be familiar with. Then tag five people. I've been tagged. So here I go.

Schoolboy Johnson by John R. Tunis. I read this 1958 book when I was a kid back in the 1970s, which probably had something to do with the beginnings of my love of all-things Mid-Century. Schoolboy is a pitcher for the Dodgers who overcomes his travails and masters the change-up under the wise and steady influence of the old veteran Speedy. And as the bookjacket says, "But it took even more than the change-up Speedy taught him, to turn the Schoolboy into a winning pitcher, and a man." Uh, OK. I know how that sounds, but I swear to God it doesn't end up like The History Boys. Anyway, flash forward from fourth grade to college. One of my great professors at Texas, Bill Stott said in passing that the works of John R. Tunis would make a great master's thesis for someone. I decided to be that person, then promptly forgot about it. Sorry, Bill. But, years later, I found this copy of the book at the flea market in Canton, helping me formulate my estate saling thesis that sometimes you find things and sometimes things find you.

Cowtown Moderne by Judith Singer Cohen. This book is a love letter to Fort Worth if there ever was one. My city is blessed with a rich architectural heritage (which you can find out more about here) and some of my favorite buildings are from the 1920s and 1930s -- the Art Deco or Moderne period. Open these pages, and you can find out the detailed history of some of Fort Worth's Art Deco gems like the Kress Building and the Sinclair Building. I first learned about this book during my UT days thanks to Jeff Meikle in the American Studies Department. I loved it and made it my mission to procure my own copy, which wasn't easy because it seems only about five were printed. I found my copy at the old Barber's Books in downtown Fort Worth. Barber's was an old Art Deco-style bookstore that was bought out by Larry McMurtry in the mid- to late-nineties. Larry moved all of the books to his book-o-plex in Archer City, but he didn't get this one. It cost me $75 in 1991, which was about 40 percent of my weekly paycheck, so you know I wanted this book REALLY bad. And I've never regretted buying it. It's a priceless resource.

Slightly Out of Focus by Robert Capa. This is an amazing book by one of the great photographers of the 20th Century. Capa, a Hungarian Jew who fled the rise of Fascism in Europe. Capa tells us about his World War II with a light tone, always displaying humor and humility. It's quite a stunning achievement for someone who was not a native English speaker. Did he have help? A ghost writer? I don't want to know. The narrative flows so easily that I imagine it being told in Capa's heavily accented English. For me, there is another, more personal reason for loving this book. My old family friend, Marcus O. Stevenson, pops up from time to time in the story -- in North Africa, in Sicily, in Normandy. Stevenson lived most of his postwar life in Dallas selling construction equipment. But during the war, he was aide-de-camp to Teddy Roosevelt Jr. and was by his side when the General won the Medal of Honor on Utah Beach on June 6, 1944. Later had the distinction of being Ernest Hemingway's chaperon during the liberation of Paris. On page 166, you find Hemingway, Capa and Stevenson tear-assing around Normandy in captured Mercedes-Benz with full ration of scotch and enough weapons to arm a full platoon. They soon found themselves caught in the middle of a German ambush that very nearly moved Papa's expiration date forward by 17 years. You want adventure? You want name-dropping? This book is full of great stories like that.

But Slightly Out of Focus is more than a gripping narrative, it's a collection of photos that capture the moments, big and small, of a war. You are there when the Americans storm Omaha Beach, but you also see a little boy sitting on top of a tank during the celebration accompanying the liberation of Paris. The full range of human emotions are there but mostly you find images of life at its most raw. Joy, happiness and exultation. Hate, fear and malice. It's all there.

Thanks for letting me play, Walnuts. Now to tag other people.

UPDATE: The Stash Dauber picks up the gantlet! Good on ya!


The Stash Dauber said...

ah, barber's...a fave lunchtime haunt when i usedta work downtown at radioshack (1993-2002). didn't realize it was mcmurtry who bought it out.

the most incredible thing about capa's d-day photography is that most of the film he shot that day was destroyed by water; what we've seen is just what was left. amazing.

Steve-O said...

If you've never taken the road trip to Archer City it is WELL worth it. Larry is usually there and it is a great way to blow an entire day surrounded by the most amazing collection of books I've ever seen. It's like seven buildings of books.

Doug said...

Steve-o, I'm far less threatening than you imagine ;)

This is an interesting exercise IMO. We find out a lot more about one another than with the typical meme.

That Capa booksounds especially interesting.