A site of satirical musings, commentary and/or rhetorical criticism of the world at large.

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Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Return of the Book Reader

I took pride over the years in a habit which carried over from childhood: reading books.  Most of the books I have devoured over the years were history of one sort or another.  In adulthood I read the occasional novel, but most of my reading was spent immersed in film history and Hollywood biography.

I drifted away from my habit during the last three or four years.  I would start a book, lose interest, put it down with a mental note to pick it up the next day, and read on.  Unfortunately, too many days passed without the book being picked up. Days became weeks, week turned to months, months became years and the rest is history…a history that is unread and lying on a This End Up bedside table where it gathers dust.

History that is never read is never learned, and that makes it a terrible thing to waste.

I believe I have completed perhaps two books during these years.  Evan S. Connell’s Son of the Morning Star and a biography about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  Connell’s book focused on a famous battle known to the Lakota Sioux as the Battle of the Greasy Grass, AKA Battle of the Little Big Horn, AKA Custer’s Last Stand.  The former book managed to explain more than just a battle in the Old American West.  It also presented the best historical interpretation (if any exists) for the American government’s nearly successful genocide of the Native American cultures.  Both were fascinating stories.

I always thought in the back of my mind that something would push me back into reading a book.  It was the appearance of character actor William Demarest in a Frank Capra movie that pushed me to read again.

I started to watch Mr. Smith Goes to Washington the other night on Turner Classic Movies.  This would be my first time to see it all the way through.  Sadly, I only got about a half hour in before the fatigue of the day set in and I retired for the night.  Yet this was long enough to see a great group of character actors and enjoy their work as if I was reuniting with old friends. 

There was Edward Arnold, Guy Kibbee, Eugene Palette, Charles Lane, Beulah Bondi all supporting James Stewart, Jean Arthur and Claude Rains in another wonderful Capra film.  Then Demarest appeared and I got to thinking how could Capra manage to assemble such a great number of character actors in film after film.  It was almost like they were part of a group which we could call the Frank Capra Stock Company.  So where could I find the answer to my question?

Then I remembered: I had Capra’s autobiography The Name Above the Title somewhere in my library.  I found it within minutes, and remembered further that I had bought it through the now defunct Nostalgia Book Club over 40 years ago. My memory was an embarrassment: I had never read the book in all those years and I had perhaps opened it twice during that time to look up specific Capra films.

Capra, we should note before going further, was an influential, award winning filmmaker during Hollywood’s Golden Age.  He acquired a reputation for directing films with populist — some would say cornpone — themes.  The term “Capricorn” has been used on occasions to describe his body of work.  There is just one difference between the populist movement then in Capra’s time: populism was considered to be progressive. In more recent years, populism seems to be regressing back into downright racist tendencies.


So far, I have read the first chapter which recounted his immigration with his parents and siblings from Sicily to be reunited with an older brother he barely knew in Los Angeles.  From there, Capra wrote about his families struggles to rise out of the Italian ghetto, a brief fling with prosperity as lemon growers before his father’s untimely death, then back to poverty. 

Throughout those early years, Capra worked two to three jobs at once as he became the only member of the Capra clan to attend high school and earn a college degree.  Then he enlisted to serve in World War I, where his mathematics degree was used to instruct other soldiers, but not, to his chagrin, fight on the front lines in France. From there, he endured a post-war depression where no veterans could find employment.  As the chapter closes, he starts a job tutoring a spoiled heir to the Comstock Lode fortune so he can gain admission to college.

And this is all in Chapter One!   Ahead lays amazing tales of writing and directing silent comedies with Harry Langdon, then It Happened One Night, then…then….  How could I let this immigrant rags-to-riches tale languish in my library for four decades?  I can’t wait to finish the rest of the book.

Immigrant rags-to-riches?  Hmm.  Perhaps Congress should read this book before they shut the door on the people who could possibly enrich America’s future.

(Thank you for reading.  And thank you, Mr. Capra, wherever you are!)


Blogger Bob Slatten said...

Perhaps Congress could ask a simple question, "Where would we be, and who would we be, without immigrants?"

February 18, 2018 at 12:10 PM  
Blogger Fearsome Beard said...

I need to start reading again as well. Thanks for inspiring me.

February 22, 2018 at 8:58 AM  
Blogger todd gunther said...

Congress should ask this question, but they won't do so in public. Thank you, Bob.

You're welcome, Fearsome Beard.

February 25, 2018 at 7:56 AM  
Blogger Ur-spo said...

opps what happened to my comment?

March 4, 2018 at 8:37 AM  

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