A More Perfect Union


One of the new york times best books of twenty twenty. I a- doctors novel homeland. Elegies is now available in paperback. It's a personal story of an immigrant. Father an american son and the post trump america. They call home a reckoning with what it means to belong in a nation coming apart at the seams beautiful echoes of the great gatsby raves dwight garner and the associated press calls it searingly honest and brutally funny read doctors homeland. Elegies today in paperback e book and audio america. Come to embrace same sex marriage. Sasha eisenberg will be here to talk about his new book the engagement. Can you tell the history of hollywood and nine bucks jim. Hoberman will join us to talk about the books that best describe a very particular city and gigantic global industry and art form. Alexandra alter will be here with the latest in publishing news plus we'll talk about what we and the wider world reading. This is the book of your podcast from the new york times. It's june eleventh. i'm pamela. Paul sasha is and joins us now. From santa monica california he is the author of several books including the sushi economy globalization and the making of a modern delicacy the victory lab the secret science of winning campaigns outpatients the astonishing new world of medical tourism and his new book the engagement america's quarter-century struggle over same sex marriage. Sasha thanks for being here thanks pamela. Let's start with something that probably not a lot of your readers will know but you know very well and i know which is that. This book was supposed to come out a full year ago. In june twenty twenty and it was one of those books that was delayed by the covid pandemic but maybe delayed the most. What was that like. It was tough so it got delayed three times in the last year. And i think some of that was in the spring. It was a marketing consideration that with bookstores closed and no live events. A lot of publishers held their books back and then it was supposed to come out last september. And by that point it was sort of a manufacturing problem as best i gathered. Publishers can actually get the books out of warehouses because people were sick. I learned the hard way that book publishing facilities are basically like meat. Packing plants with with wood pulp. So i had a lot set up last fall. And i had to put it all on hold and here i am must be a big relief if nothing else it is and you know. It was pretty cautious in writing this book of understanding that this was a topic where it was possible events in the news could affect it and tried to write it so that when it came out it would be current and i think there was some possibility that things can happen over the last year. That would change that dynamic and they really haven't in a significant way which is which is useful. You mentioned wood pulp and there is a lot of wood pulp in this book. It's over seven hundred pages. I hope that won't deter people. It moves very quickly but obviously you did a lot of research. It must have taken some time to write. And then of course you had that delay in coming out. What has it been like to sit with the subject for long time. How long have you been working on it so i. I had the idea for this a decade ago. And i saw the proposal in the spring of two thousand twelve. I've been living with it for ten years and it was about six years of reporting research and writing and then then the various things we talked about you know the one of the things that the subject changed right. So you know i i look back not long ago the proposal i wrote in two thousand twelve and i used phrases like as the as the nation approaches consensus on this issue. I did not expect when i started this. That there will be a supreme court case let alone a series of supreme court cases that led to a national resolution of the legal issues that the political issue would basically disappears a live political issue in our politics and so it was in a certain way. A smaller subject definitely a less resolved topic. And i went from feeling like i was writing a sort of historical treatment of something that was in the news. Something that feels like a pretty define chapter in our recent history right. You ended up having a beginning middle and an end which you can't say about a lot of books that are on political or topical subjects these days where it's constantly moving target. Yeah and the broader arc of the book ends up being about an issue that sort of came out of nowhere came to dominate our politics in many respects and then disappeared. you know. Politicians aren't asked for their opinions on same sex marriage. We don't debate it. We've moved on to other things. And so what was from a narrative perspective. Yes it was tidy that there was the end at the end of it. But also i think ends up being a really interesting study because you have this twenty five year period where you basically see the invention of a political issue. It's life and its death. And and that i think teaches us a little bit about how political forces can sort of organize around a new issue when you think about cultural and social change and political change all of which this is sometimes very often. It's a kind of you know straight slow growing momentum trajectory in one direction and other times. It's two steps forward one. Step back this to me at least seemed like this issue move very very slowly and then all of a sudden really quickly. What's the accurate way to describe the resolution of this. Yeah i think that's right. I mean one of the animated ing insights i. I hadn't twenty eleven. That made me think that this was about the topic book that the timing was right to do. It was watching the new york state. Senate vote to pass the marriage equality. Act which governor cuomo then signed into law basically immediately in the summer of twenty eleven. That was the first one that i as a having been a political journalist over the decade prior the first time. I was sort of convinced that i knew how this was going to end. I think there was a real question for a number of years. Massachusetts legalized same sex marriage. In two thousand and four. There were marriage activists who who seriously feared that if they could lose marriage in massachusetts if a constitutional amendment passed and you know in that scenario we might look back at this maybe akin to reconstruction but this brief experiment that then sort of got taken away with backlash. I also thought maybe what was likely was. We'd end up in a situation sort of like the death penalty which was its own. Probably the most divisive cultural social top in the united states for period of nineteen nineties and basically reached stasis around it. Roughly half the states have the death penalty roughly half the states. Don't have the death penalty every few years. One moves from one column to another. But we don't talk about it much. Politicians aren't challenged on it the way they once were and it's possible to imagine that as as a place where the marriage debate would have ended up. What happened in the year for between twenty ten in two thousand fifteen was that you had a sort of dramatic political shift public opinion elites like barack obama most famously changing their views to get in line with public opinion it being demonstrated in state ballot measures that this could actually win when put before voters and as it happens conservatives had had made. What in retrospect looks like a major strategic error in the nineteen nineties by taking naturally would be a local issue a state level issue over. Who could get married and making through the defense of marriage. Act something that was in the federal code and thus the supreme court might have to take on as a constitutional question and and that's what allowed for the tidy resolution is that this could be settled by nine justices and not by our very messy state level political processes. Okay let's go back to a couple of the key points. The key moments that you mentioned new york state passed that marriage bill. In two thousand eleven obama reversed his position shortly thereafter. And there's kind of a distinction to be made. Sometimes people change their mind and sometimes they change their political position and occasionally they changed. Both obama was one of them. Another one. interestingly that you talk about a little bit later on is rob portman talking about why he was so important so rapport minutes in the spring of two thousand. Thirteen is the first marriage. Cases are headed to the supreme court and just a couple of weeks before he gives an interview to cnn and and writes in bed in some ohio paper saying that he had changed his position on the issue. He was always fairly moderate republican. Who is more interested in budget issues. Not a culture warrior but he'd been within the mainstream of his party on lgbt issues but he had a son who came out as gay and as he as he wrote rather movingly like back changed his views about not just gay rights issues but about what marriage meant from the perspective of a family member and it was a luster. Tive of the way in which i think. A lot of public opinion moved in this country. Which is you know. It was always the best predictor of of support for marriage for other gay rights issues. That the survey question. Do you have a coworker. Family member friend. Who's who's gay or lesbian. And you know when that. I got asa in the late. Nineteen seventies a number pretty close to zero. And now it's pretty close to one hundred and political opinions have moved alongside that but but portman ends up in the political sphere driving elite opinion not among his fellow republicans but among democrats because it becomes instantly impossible for a senate democrat to be to the right of a republican on this issue. And so what you see. Is that over the course of of just a couple of weeks. Basically every democrat in congress gets asked about this regularly and they all announced that they now support him sex marriage to who had some of the key people who reversed their position at that time on the democratic side of claire. Mccaskill is a great example of that cautious politician. Who comes from a conservative leaning state. She was perfectly fine up until that moment. It went from being that the politically safe place to be for a moderate democrat was opposed to same sex marriage and then immediately was on the other side of her then then she had to switch. Interestingly since he's in the news i'll note that they're only two democratic senators who got through that period post portman without changing their positions on them. One of them is mark. Pryor who's no longer in the senate. The other is joe manchin. Who by all accounts still to this day is opposed to same sex marriage but as is the lesser of the turn. This issue's taken and nobody ever asked him about it anymore. One of the big players opposing same sex marriage was the church of jesus christ of latter day saints. How unified was the movement against gay marriage. To what extent was it religiously motivated and organized before nineteen ninety-three. There was hardly anyone who is opposed to same sex marriage in the united states. Just like there was hardly anybody who was forced sex marriage in the united states and that changed with the court decision in hawaii which were the state. Supreme court becomes the first court on earth to recognize that the fundamental right to marriage could extend to same sex couples and the mormon church is the first institution in the united states of any significance to fully appreciate the gravity of that state supreme court decision. That that decision that bear verses lewin nineteen ninety-three and so the church had always had a significant footprint in hawaii because of historical missionary. Work that it did there and they start organizing to try to effectively defeat this legal decision for the political process and they go in but a lot of money detail. Some fairly prominent figures including ronald reagan's former pollster dick wirthlin who are sent on on mission to do political work in favor of this and create a coalition with the local catholic archdiocese of honolulu and the mormons are very savvy about their politics and that is that they're willing to throw a lot of resources into places where they can have an impact but they also have a keen view of how they are seen by the broader population. And they understand that if the face of this political movement in hawaii is mormon that will make it very difficult to build relationships with legislators that they need and so the effect of deal that they strike with with the catholic church is that the catholics will be the face of this. The mormons will offer a lot of the money and expertise behind it. And we see that a version of that for formulation again during proposition. Eight in california in two thousand eight at that point you have a coalition of. It's sort of spurt along by some evangelical pastors in san diego but ultimately it's the catholic church especially through the san francisco san diego archdiocese in with tons of money from both institutional and individual mormon sources. And one thing about mormons. Is they have a lot of experience knocking on doors and talking about tough issues and so they were sort of exceptional based to build a field operation for for a statewide ballot contest. Okay so unwanted side. You have a well organized. Politically savvy lots of money religious opposition. Who's on the other side so the coalition's started to grow and one thing that you see. Is you know in hawaii early on. You have the fairly small gay and lesbian community in in hawaii the aclu some national gay organizations you know at that point. Some democratic politicians are actively opposed to same sex marriage over the course of the next decade. You have thirty five states that have statewide ballot measures and the coalition the pro same sex marriage coalition starts to expand to include labor. Unions are non gay civil rights groups and that is both a huge opportunity for gay rights activists but also poses a challenge. Because you end up with these committees were there are so many stakeholders in them trying to come up with a message that the n. Double acp and the auto workers and the bar association and like the libertarians. From the cato institute can all get behind since they're all decision makers on this committee and the the lowest common denominator messaging is almost always version. Don't mess with our constitution which is so emotionally inert compared to what the opposition is doing which at this point is some version of this is going to either turn your children. Gay or schools are going to have to teach. The gay. marriage is all right or kit. Your kids are gonna come home and ask you. Because i heard it school today. You know that. Heather has two mommies or whatever to explain this to them and one of the challenges that gay marriage activists faced in the wake of their defeat in proposition eight was figuring out how to refine their message and some of it was building a structure that got beyond the kind of broad coalition politics. That had prevailed in these states are it. Let's talk about the moment. This ends on june twenty six twenty fifteen talk about the decision itself and remind us who was on the court at that time. And was this a foregone conclusion. People think do they know this was going to pass. Anthony kennedy was the swing vote on the court and this was the third in a series of major gay rights opinions that he had written starting nineteen ninety-six and by that point it. Was this very unusual. I think in american history confluence of being a landmark court decision. That was also seen as at that point completely. Foregone and a number of district courts had struck down. State bans on same sex marriage and they'd been upheld at the district level and when those cases got peeled over the course of twenty fourteen to the supreme court. The supreme court didn't want to hear any of those cases which permitted the states in many cases to start marrying same sex couples but also created huge problem. If the court was later going to come in. And try to overturn those decisions. All you now would have tens of thousands of couples who married under the new regime and the court does not like to be a source of regardless of ideology. The justices do not like to be a a sort of source of uncertainty and chaos in american life and after they had allowed all those lower court rulings to stand. It seemed very hard that they were going to come in at a later. Date an overturn them and so the question became not is the court going to rule that there is a fundamental right to marriage for same sex couples and overturn all of the state bands. That still existed. But how was that opinion going to be written. What was its breath gonna be. Ineffectively was going to be written as an opinion about marriage. Or was this can be written as a gay rights or lgbt rights. Opinion and there were sort of two ways added and kennedy. Who has who always you know. A republican appointed justice. Conservative in many respects had always been very skeptical about traditional civil rights jurisprudence and he ultimately wrote this as a marriage case about the institution of marriage what it would mean for gays and lesbians what it means for them to have been excluded for children of those couples to be excluded but he did not write this. As many gay activists came to hope he would as a case about how sexual minorities should be treated under civil rights law. And what that meant was that. The impact of this was circumscribed entirely to state marriage laws. And it's part of the reason that we're having debates we're having now about trans rights and why they're still a push in congress to pass the equality act for basic nondiscrimination protections because the court chose in a certain way the language was was was inspiring but the the legal reasoning was very narrow in particular when it comes to supreme court decisions on very divisive issues even when there is a major decision that seems to settle it once and for all. We know that that's not always the case. Prime example obviously is roe v. Wade is the settled and done. I mean is there any danger that this could be reversed undermined. I think it's really hard to imagine a circumstance in which the central holding of oberg afoul which is that same sex couples have a right to marry under. The us. Constitution could be overturned. What we are seeing is efforts to define religious liberty exemptions in a way that could limit who has to recognize those marriages. There is a case that went before the supreme court about a colorado baker who do not want to make a wedding cake for married gay couple. There's now a case of this before the court. Now that the rule on this month about whether catholic social service agency has to place foster children with same sex couples. And i think that we could see sort of years of pushing the envelope to see how far a conservative court would go and maybe a few years from now. They're hearing cases where an employer says that the that the religious beliefs of its owners mean that medical in health insurance should be extended to opposite sex spouses of their employees but not the same of their employees. And so i think you could end up. Not really getting at the core of obergefell but dramatically changing the place that the institution of civil marriage has an american life if all sorts of private actors are basically given permission to disregard it if it goes contrary to their beliefs there is a movement right now with storytelling. Where some people question. who's right. It is to tell a certain story. And you yourself are in heterosexual marriage. Did you ever think at any point like this isn't my story to tell or. Did you get any resistance from people. You're interviewing or talking to as part of your research along those lines. I had people who asked questions about my personal life. That i think at the beginning of interviews were more than just idle small talk. I was not married at the time i got married. Turns out if you take ten years to write a book. A lakensha clued in not just with marriage nationally. So i was straight and single when i started this book and i get the sense that people were trying to politely. Feel out where. I was coming from on this. I was sort of conscious of the idea. That people would sort of interrogate. What right. I had to tell the story you know and i saw this not as just a lgbt history story but very much a story about a national debate that they came to engulf the whole country. It's a it's a story not about the people who fought for the right to marry people who oppose the right to marry and people change their minds. And i did not want it to be received as just a matter of lgbt history. And i think that that may maybe in some respect made me feel comfortable that i had standing to tell it civil rights. Is everyone story. I want to ask about one final thing. Which is there was an interesting story. Recently in the new yorker by the writer andrew solomon looked at marriage new frontier in marriage rights around polygamy and polish wrists and this kind of unexpected alliance between men or offshoots of mormonism polygamists and poly-amorous and and this question of does gay marriage set precedent for being married to more than one person. Have curious what you think. Does that feel like that could be a next debate in terms of marriage rates. It certainly could be. I mean i think one thing that's happened over. The course of this debate is it has fully enshrined marriage as the sort of gold standard of relationships. There's an active debate that chronicle in the in the nineteen eighties with in the gay and lesbian community mostly among lawyers and legal theorists about whether marriage was something worth fighting for whether it's actually a desirable goal for the gay rights movement. And you had folks who came from a sort of liberationist background folks primarily lesbians who had been informed by second wave feminists thinking about marriage is a patriarchal hetero normative institution and they argued that the goal of gay rights family law should be to. You know what they is called. Multiple families to create a legal regime in which a wide spectrum of family types were treated equally and that could be couples of any gender or sexual combination but also single parents multiple partner setups communal living co parent adoption. Let like everything should be treated the same under the law and there should be no benefits or privileges that are extended to just one type of family arrangement in what has happened as gay rights opponents focused on this issue unified the gay and lesbian community about fighting for marriage rights. And what they have done. Alternately is help to enshrine both in the legal process end in american culture a sense that the marriage is a unique institution and the language they use to talk about it about. Love and commitment is so particular i think to the dynamic between two people that in a certain respect you know marriage is a more central institution in american life now than it was thirty years ago because we went through this political fight over it and i don't know whether the sort of feelings that would extend to marriage will naturally translate to ta- versions of it that don't have the essential codependence of two people at its heart all right. Well let's end on the note of love. It's june it's pride month. It's also a very popular for weddings. It's the month in which the supreme court decision was made legalizing gay marriage and it's the month of the publication of this long in the works. Book sasha congratulations again. The book is the engagement. America's quarter century struggle overseas sex marriage. Thank you panel. I love spelling my boyfriend. And i often place telling be together by together. I mean sitting next to each other playing individually and not cheating sometimes when i open up spelling bee. I see that you have completed a few words on your own a little portrayed. It may have happened again. You did it again. I have one friend who i will send screenshots from spelling bee of inappropriate words than i always get nervous that i sent it to my parents or something like that dad. We like together. And shay a she k. p. o. T. jack jack panicking. I'm same as their ski. The digital puzzles editor for the new york times. You can try spelling bee and all our games at ny times dot com slash games. Tina jordan joins us now to help. Celebrate the one hundred and twenty fifth anniversary of the book view. Hey tina hey pamela. Such talk about the best seller list which actually goes back. I think a lot further than you would imagine. In fact decades before the book review was even born. The newspaper was really interested in what books were selling and there were often reporters whose regular beats involved like around to the city's individual stores to see what was selling on october thirty first eighteen ninety six which was just the third issue of the book review. It reprinted the bestseller lists collected by a literary journal called the book man and that was just the first of many. There's a brief period of time where it published the bestseller lists curated by publishers. Weekly for example even later baker and taylor but before all that and before it had figured out a way to create its own bestseller list. It kept finding new and different ways to report on what books were selling and part of that involved writing about what the most checked out at libraries where i mean for years. The book review ran a regular weekly segment called most check out books at the new york public library in. Nineteen o one. It started a regular column called books and demand in which basically a reporter went out and interviewed librarians booksellers about most requested. Titles and finally the very first official new york times book review bestseller list appeared on august ninth nineteen forty two and it actually looks a lot different than the bestseller list. Does today. it was divided into fiction and nonfiction and it then was a charts lit into cities. So you could see what the bestsellers were in boston in atlanta cleveland. Detroit chicago saint louis new orleans and so on but in new york anyway that week. The number one novel was something called and now tomorrow by rachel field. And it's about a death heiress. That's all i can tell. And elliott polls. Last time i saw paris was number one on the nonfiction list. So there you have it and it'd be continue to publish those bestseller lists weekly from there. We did indeed all right. Thanks for the lookback. Tina thanks family. Jim hoberman joins us now from new york. He is a recovering film critic and the author of my day movie culture in the age of reagan this week in the book review. He wrote a history of hollywood in nine bucks so book view of the movie industry. Jim thanks for being here. Oh my pleasure this a fun project to work on. Absolutely i mean hardest thing about it was Narrowing down the list of books. Art was well. I knew that it had to be nine. So i probably had in mind off the top of my head sort of about twenty books and then begin naturally. Nme painful to lose well. There's one that is. I think it's going to appear online. But it's not gonna be in the Paper that was a book called hollywood's sensor by thomas doherty and it was a kind of biography. Or you know. In terms of film industry of joseph i breen who is the head of the production code in the thirties and forties. And i this gave a fascinating. Look at. How movies were made through the Perspective of a center of the production code. I thought that this guy probably had as much influence on the American movies period as as anybody did. And it's not something that's generally considered in you know in the movies then were so integral to public opinion that this guy's mindset is invaluable to study one interesting thing about the choices you make here you start with a book published in one thousand nine hundred fifty. Two picture by lillian ross. I want to talk about that. But of course this is a history of twentieth century america and so i have to ask were their books. That were good that were published prior to that midway point in the century about hollywood or was it not until then that people maybe started to write seriously about hollywood culture and the movie business. No there were. There were certainly books that were published before. I mean i'm in the twenties by terry ramsey Movies and billion in one nights which is incredibly detailed in explaining how the movie industry worked during that decade. But i wanted to start with the fifties because that's the period you know. In which in the sense the the industry became self conscious. You know if you if you think about what was came out around that time. I mean that's the year of sunset boulevard. Where the movie's sort of looked at themselves. And it's also the period in which movies were being supplanted by television and. I think that that caused a degree of introspection. The the period when when movies were the dominant popular art form was over and what was ending. And i think that that's really you know. When when more analytical books were written and also a number of popular ones part of my criteria for a books was our enjoyable. I thought they would be to read. Some of the books are well known. I think probably should readers still today and a few of them are maybe slightly less well known and you didn't pick some of the obvious books that people talk about like you didn't pick william goldman you didn't pick a few other widely read bestsellers. Was that deliberate to kind of draw attention. To maybe some less well-known books it was part of my mindset as film critic in looking for things that i thought might have been overlooked or were not as well known. We're not necessarily best-sellers. I don't know that any of these were were bestsellers. I guess Peter biscuits book easy. Riders raging bull. Might have been the closest to that. But you know it's enjoyable for me to bring to the foreground books. That may not have been as well known and i should say that these were all books that impressed themselves on me when i read them. So there's there's a personal aspect to this. Also let's go back to that first book in chronological order on your list. Picture by lillian. Ross i guess this is part of a sub genre of books that focus on a single movie. Yeah she invented the genre. I mean it's the first example and in some respects. It's it's the best you know. She was a a terrific journalist and she practices kind've fly on the on the wall report. Taj which is in itself very cinematic. Got behind the scenes of this ill-fated. But you know well publicized. Production adaptation of the red badge of courage. Bhai john houston. Who is probably the american filmmaker taken most seriously in nineteen fifty. I mean i think that it was fourth that orson welles self destructive but houston was was there and was active and she just gets a fantastic cast of characters here all these producers talking in addition to house an end you know it's much more interesting ultimately than the movie and she demonstrated that the backstory could be the real story. There have been many many books written about the vote individual movies in fact. I just finished one myself. What's your new book. It's a monograph on duck soup the marx brothers comedy. Which i wrote i mean that had been my f- my favorite movie when i was fifteen so i was happy to revisit that project. Oh completely yeah but my my point is that she was on the set and in the in the offices wall. This movie was being made and the end product was not as important to her really as the process and she made that process fascinating. She illuminated it. And it's it's also phenomenally well written too so there's that book has a lot going for it. It's interesting that those single movie bucks that ross as you say invented. Sometimes they're about great films. It seems more often that they were about movies that were total disasters. Or maybe those are just the ones that are more well known in this case. The movie was really neither a total hit nor a complete flop. It sounds like yeah it was. I would say it was a disappointment. It was it was a disappointment. There was a what would have been called a prestige project that failed and it also had kind of larger implications for the movie industry. Because you know. Mgm the studio that produce it had been the leading studio and was undergoing kind of changing in management. And the idea of a loss leader was still very important to hollywood. The idea that they could make the prestige film. That might not make that much money but everything would balance out because they had their theaters and so on so that people would have to book it and that idea i think lost traction in the nineteen fifties. So you in a way. It's it's also a study of something which was going out of existence. You put your history in nine bucks here with another single film film. buck will always have casablanca by noah. Eisenberg was that a deliberate choice. Oh yes oh yes. I i wanted to bring things full circle. Also i mean casablanca is by some standards can be considered the most successful hollywood movie ever made because necessarily made the most money or you know. Got the most oscars. Although it did make money they'd get a lot of oscars but because people love it so deeply and to me. This is something to take the title of other book. Which i could have included. But didn't it opinions as the genius of the system. There's not really any one person who made casablanca. It's almost like a natural occurrence. Somehow you know that would come into existence or the whole system brought it into existence and eisenberg is a terrific study of the film in that context. He really goes at a number of ways. It's very entertaining. But again you know i i see it as as a retrospective it's a. It's a work of history about something that's not going to happen again. There's not going to be another movie like casablanca which i think is part of the the sort of fund irony of his title will always have casablanca paraphrase. We'll always have paris famous line from from the movie. So i like the way that that brought. You know a certain closure to the set of books. And it's a recent book. Which i which i like books that you include on your list look at politics and hollywood politics in hollywood. The way in which hollywood movies reflect politics. And i'm out of order here. But i'd like to talk about three of them. They are naming names by. Victor nevada. Ski the former editor of the nation from reverence to rape by the film critic. Molly haskell and toms coons ladas mommy's and bucks by donald bogle let's start with. What's this spoke about. This is an example of of a book that i read when it came out. I think actually bought it in hardcover. I think that he really just shifted the focus of hollywood history by looking at it from a An african american perspective. I mean so. Crucial to You know america's identity in his and so on and no one has really ever done this before it's written from the perspective of a fan which is to say that there's a lot of passion. I mean he really loves movies but he's also has a critical. I i mean. I i just think that it was a. That book was kind of revelation. I think that's molly haskell's book is something similar from reverence to to ripe molly. Haskell was a working film critic also quite passionate. And you know a real advocate. For classic hollywood and writing in the seventies which was the period of of the so-called new hollywood when much more. Let's say adult movies were were made. She takes his point of view which was very radical where where she goes and she sees many progressive aspects in terms of particularly in terms of female stars in classic. Hollywood and points out that it's not you know in this moment. I mean the book is written. I think ms magazine was founded. When and seventy one. Seventy two or seventy three. I mean this is right after that. You know when feminism is is an idea. that's getting a lot of attention and you would think that that is. The attitude would be reflected in the movies but she's taking the point of view that in fact it's not that the movies of the Post code era of the sixties and seventies or some ways very retro. Although she does find stars to champion. I mean jane fonda being sort of the exception who proves the rule so i think that that that was an enormously influential book and then the the nevada book which comes out. You know a few years. After that goes back and recounts what to me is the most compelling of hollywood back stories and i say this because i myself. I'm very interested in the ways. In which movies hollywood movies in american politics. Were in. some sense symbiotic. And you know that. The connection. And i've written on that as well. But but vaske interviewed a number of writers and producers and and someone who had been blacklisted and also talk to the people who are responsible for implementing the blacklist and. It's another amazing way to look at film history when you see this other dynamics going on this struggle within the industry and i think that these three books together is an attitude which their political but they're also they see movies as a form of social history more that that social history is embedded in the history of of the movies and i think that was was a very important way to look at them and certainly affected my view at at the time some of the most popular in terms of bestselling books about hollywood are of course celebrity memoirs for better or for worse. And you don't have a lot on the air in fact you only have one and it's by louise brooks lulu in hollywood. Why did that would make the cut. Brooks was not a household name. I mean certain film historians in central falls and so on think that she's she's one of the greatest film actresses ever and i and i wouldn't dispute that she is pretty remarkable in her And a handful of movies that she made but the thing is that she was a remarkably clear eyed observer of what was going on and embarked in the whole storm making thing with a healthy degree of ambivalence and so she's able to write about herself and about the conditions under which movies were made and the people that you met in hollywood and someone in a in a way. That's both personal and detached. There aren't too many other memoirs like this also again. I would say you know the quality of the writing and i mean she was. She was a really good writer and and highly intelligent and i. I don't want to necessarily disparage but most of these books are ghost written. You know there is toll to and I think that the fact that she found her own voice years after she had been a movie store is another remarkable thing about it occupies its own sphere. All right i'm going to lump the last three books together and sort of loosely being about the business and we don't have time to talk about all three but maybe we can talk about one of them and those three books are nineteen. Sixty is the stars by edgar moran. The movie moguls by philip french from nineteen sixty nine and book. We mentioned earlier. Easy riders raging bulls by peter biscuit and we tell us about one of those. Well i would like to mention the sars by edgar moran which is a book that came out well over half a century ago and book that i read. I think maybe when i was in undergraduate is a relatively brief and elegant analysis. Some of the greatest you know most iconic stores but also about their fans and also about how they were marketed by the studio. And you know. I found this kind of revelation when i read it. I mean. it's quite poetic. Because he's completely comfortable. Discussing them is kind of divinities. You know which way they were. They could be every place at once. They seem to live forever. I mean you know. He's perfectly at home talking about kind of religion that grew up among classic hollywood but he also is a very astute at talking about this sort of material aspect of this. I mean there is a fantastic chapter. On james dean which i discovered much later actually was was taken out of the book and ran and the evergreen review which was sort of like the beatnik journal record in the late fifties early early sixties that really catches you know what what was going on and why he thought that dean developed this kind of aura. So i i just think it's a wonderful book. It did come back into print. Recently that one was a great personal favorite of mine all the time for recommendations on about film. You've been doing this for a long time. What's the book most frequently recommend to people. They're like well. I just wanna read like one book about. The movies are about the industry. Or what's that one book that i should read. I taught film history to undergraduate cooper union for a few decades. So i certainly have the book that i used to use as a history and that's american-made movies by robert sklar which is an incredibly readable comprehensive and intelligent history of american movies even the updated if you time it was published right around the same time as from reverence to rape in the mid seventy s. So that i think is the best single history of hollywood single popular popular history. I didn't include it in these books. Not well i wanted to keep something reserve in case you asked me that question here. We go all right. Well that makes it a good final question. Then tell us the title again of your next book and your most recent book. That's coming out in. The fall is duck soup. It's published by the british film institute that they have a whole series of monographs which they've been doing for years and the the recent book that i had published is make my day movie culture in the age of reagan. Which is the last installment of a trilogy of books about hollywood in the cold war which deals with the intersection of movies and politics. And of course the culmination of that in my view is reagan. You know the second movie star. Come to power in the united states so it from the perspective of this series. Reagan is the ultimate hollywood production. Well that was a lot of fun for me. I think as fun for me to discuss. Hopefully as it was for you to put it together jim. Thank you for being here again. It was my pleasure. Thank you tim. Hoberman is a film critic who this week put together a history of hollywood in nine bucks in the booker. Alexander altered joins us now with some news in the publishing world. Sanjay gamla so this week. There was a controversy surrounding the work of the author ellen hildebrand. She's very popular author and known for her summer reads and her latest novel. Golden girl takes place in untuckit. Where a lot of her work is set and some of her readers. I would say not the majority because she's a massively bestselling author and has a huge audience but a small number of readers were offended by something that one of the characters says in the book when one of the character suggests that the other one hide out in the attic and the character of their teenage characters girls. The character replies like an frank and they both laugh. Some people found that remark by fictional character to be insensitive diminishing the holocaust and some even went so far as to call anti semitic but what was interesting. I think in terms of how this impacts the publishing industry where. There's a lot of debate over. Who can write. What and which topics or stay for authors in which ones should be off limits with with the fact that allen hill. Lebron responded by not only apologizing but saying that they would delete the sentence from upcoming editions of the novel and take it out of the book. So you immediately saw a lot of very intense debate on social media as to be on social media tends to be with some people saying you know this is going a little far little firm to not only look at what nonfiction writers are saying what their views are or how a fictional rare maybe portrays a character whose unlike themselves these are all topics that have been intensely debated recently when you think about all the controversy surrounding american dirt which is subject. We've talked about a lot on this. Podcast this was like somewhat of a different animal into in terms of you know just taking a specific phrase that character said and then responding by taking out of the book so people who were originally offended. Think it's a good thing. She's responding to readers and taking care to listen. But other people including the literary critic laura miller who wrote about this in sleet philip. It's dangerous precedent just sort of allow social media to be your editor and to go so far as to really react to the language of characters who are fictional. We'll have a thousand things to say about the good free eight on because everyone should feel free to say what they want about anything and everyone else should feel free to disagree with it or dislike it but not to stop someone from speaking. So i wanna say that you know. I do think that they are related in that. This is the kind of logical conclusion of that argument. That if you take something an argument to an extreme it often will highlight the absurdity of the original base argument. But the idea that fictional character can't say something unlikable insensitive obnoxious would basically get rid of all the interesting characters in fiction because you know good. Fiction is about complicated people and everyone even. The most likeable character has opinions and characteristics. That not everyone is to agree with exactly. And i think you know. Sometimes that's a good way to introduce. Those arguments is to have a fictional character espouse views that most people would find offensive and then suddenly their topics for discussion. You know the other thing. I thought was notable about hildebrand. Response is that. She posted formal apology on instagram than she said. I revere in frank. Those of you read summer of sixty nine. Another book of hers that in frank was a courageous woman who fear her story remains deeply influential in my life and then she said i always strive to write in good faith golden girls novel i wrote from children and they want them to be proud of every word. It was a pretty extensive in heartfelt apology. But i did wonder what happens the next time. Someone criticises if not her work than else in her genre. Who's very popular. Who has a large following or are people are gonna start retroactively changing their work. I just can't think of precedent for this. It's common in nonfiction for people. You know to address errors in their work. You have a corrected edition leader if there are factual errors. It's much less common for novelist to change their work in response to criticism. Well i think it's disturbing precedent. And i guess my i'm sorry as that. I'm sorry that she felt the need to apologize for a work of fiction. Hopefully other writers won't be pressured into feeling like they have to apologize for acts of imagination. Yes we'll see how it develops wasn't the only recent example. Actually laura miller wrote about another instance of a novelist deleting a passage after people criticized it again a passage. That was a kook from a sectional character. In this case it was casey mick winstons red white and royal blue which is a gay romance novel. It actually came out in twenty nineteen but some of the controversy came recently and it relates to a character description of netanyahu's israel and people said this seemed to cross the line even though again. This was dialogue. That was coming out of the mouth of fictional character. Alexandra i have a solution. All future novels will feature bunny rabbits puppy dogs and kittens. I'm pretty sure. I get in trouble for talking animals too. I mean i haven't heard of this yet and there's no parking. No parking no biting just friendly animals that eat vegetables all right alexander. Thanks so much for being here. Thanks for having me joining us now to talk about what we're reading my colleagues andrew lavallee and liz egan. Hater hamlin andrew. Let's start with you. It's been a while. what are you reading. I am reading. Actually just finished reading liberty by caitlin greenwich This is a novel that came out in march and it's a coming of age novel and coming of age. Novels are one of my favorite types. This book is set just after the civil war in new york and is focused on a young black woman named liberty. Whose mother is dr which has an exceedingly rare thing for a black woman to be at the time. The mother is light skinned enough to palce. Which liberty is not and in the early parts of the book you see her becoming aware that some of the access privilege her mother benefits from will not be available to her but liberty is also becoming aware that she just wants a different life. She goes off to school and discovers a passion for music but she doesn't really like school either and flunks out. She eventually returned to her mother and becomes romantically involved with her mother princess. Who has taken her place and because he is from haiti they get married and return there together. I thought the novel really came alive. In the section because the routine is experiencing the culture shock of a new country and people. She doesn't know along with the feeling that she still isn't finding the freedom that she longs for but also the her relationships with her husband in her mother to are still unfolding and right up to the very end of the book. You see this character. Who's still sort of searching and changing. It's interesting that this book came out so shortly. After the vanishing off by brent bennett. And i'm sure people are making comparisons but just most directly in terms of the idea of the darker skinned daughter of a mother who can pass as white characters awareness of how not just race but color is affecting their lives and and and you know will affect their futures. I thought was really interesting. Can we just pause. Also for a moment on the sisters greenwich because caitlin sister. One of her sisters carrie was a recent guest on the podcast. And there's a third greenwich sister christian a playwright a really kind of amazing and creative trio sisters. I hope there's not like a little brother who you know. Never got off the ground. Because that's a pretty formidable grouping definitely. Liz what are you reading. Actually just finished so unkind of cheating. A book called malibu. Rising by taylor jenkins read which i predict will be one of the big books of the summer and is the perfect book to pick up if you're trying to get into the mindset of the season it's hot sun sandy feet big waves. Fresh seafood gorgeous sunsets. It takes place. Obviously you might guess from the title in malibu and the action unfold over the course of twenty four hours in nineteen eighty three. I did actually read a review that referred to it as a historical novel. Which i take issue with because i don't think of nineteen eighty-three is necessarily canary upsetting. I now i m setting. I found that really hurtful because nineteen. Eighty-three was pretty much my heyday but the book is about four siblings. Who are the children of an absentee father named mick reba. Who is a legendary crooner in. The vein of frank sinatra. He actually makes an appearance in another one of taylor jenkins reads books called seven husbands evelyn hugo but in this book we're getting to know his four children who have kind of raised themselves in malibu with the help of their oldest sister and slash mother. Whose name is nina. And what we know at the beginning of the book is that the rivas who are young adults are getting ready for this annual party that they throw and it's the lead up to the party and we also know that at the end of the party nina's house will burn down. There's a wildfire. Malibu is often catching on fire. And that's what you know going in. And then the story flashes back to the riva kids growing up and trying to find their footing in the world as surfers and models and just trying to bring themselves up. After their family falls apart i would describe it because i could never resist a hollywood composite. I would describe it as party of five meets soul surfer meets. This is us and it's just a really in depth. Look at these siblings and how they stick together and help each other out and undergo a big transformation from the beginning of the book till the end along with that hollywood composite. Do you have thoughts on how you would cast this book while i picture nina. Riva the oldest sibling as a very young cameron diaz. She's the only one. And of course i was imagining frank sinatra in the role of of makreda. I can sort of imagine the the movie itself you know like it's very sunkissed landscape. Very dry and also. The family owns a really popular restaurant on the pacific coast highway to get these great scenes of them. Trying to save restaurant as it's floundering a little bed and sitting outside and eating these platters of i was imagining fried clams. I can't remember exactly what it's a real page turner and has a lot of heart. And i just loved it enter. You knew that. Liz would have at least one cast member at the ready. I knew she for better or for worse. Pamela what are you reading before you go into what i'm reading. I just have to say that. Close listeners. Of the podcast will note that. Liz just used the word crooner after dwight and and and i discussed the word curbing in recent episode and kerner glad that used and you can't use it without thinking of frank sinatra so all that made sense to me. I also. I'm going to talk about a book that i recently finished. And that is on juneteenth by annette. Gordon reed and of course she was a guest on the podcast recently. Talking about this book. Which i just loved and it's a short book and a very timely book it is june and it's interesting when she was on the podcast. She said that she used as as along the lines of those that were written by james baldwin as kind of model for this book and it's very different from bigger more researched historical books that she generally rights. And what's interesting. Is that one of the things. I enjoyed moose about this book. That she very persuasively an elegantly rights defense of history into this book in that what she's talking about an the book is about the holiday juneteenth which originated in texas. She's talking about her own personal history growing up in texas and she's talking about the history of taxes and in particular as it pertains to race and what she does in. This book is talks about the complexity of all of those things. And the fact that what we would like to believe of our own personal history and of our larger whether it's state history our national history and the stories we tell ourselves about those things in the legends. we create. don't necessarily line up with the historical record. And so she can write about what she grew up believing and what her parents believed in what her ancestors thought and believed in and liked to believe and hoped. And then the reality that is often a lot messier in the fact that as a historian she has to reconcile these things so to give an example. Many people in this country do tend to think of our history in terms of race is black and white and of course it's really not there are so many other populations in this country and it's a lot more complexity it's complex within those white and black populations and texas is probably one of the most interesting cases because of course there are not just black and white but indigenous people and mexican americans and the texans and the fact that taxes for a period was its own country. And so you just have these really interesting allegiances and is but also antipathy. Is that exist. So for example. Her father liked to believe that indigenous americans were naturally aligned with black americans and so it was only as an adult that she realized that in fact many indigenous people in texas were slave owners and so it was not this kind of combat alliance between people of color but in fact was a lot messier and so one of the things that she writes about in. This book is that history doesn't always tell us the story that we want to hear that we would like to believe or the story that will make us feel better but is just a lot more complicated. And she just tells it in a kind of concise. It's almost like misleadingly planned spoken. But it's really well written. And and in her words are chosen. I think with great deliberateness so it's accessible and yet the themes and the issues that she writes about are pretty profound. Pamela how does she manage to squeeze everything you just said into a very short book right. It's not it's only a few hundred pages right. I don't even think it is no. It's one hundred and forty-one pages And so that's exactly at its concise elegant. She tells a few key. This is not an autobiography or even fully a memoir so much as it is a series of interlinked essay. Said all build along these themes. I will forever remember this book as one that i i saw in the hands of two unmasked people outside my bookstore having a conversation about about the book and it it to me was a moment where i realized life is returning to normal. They were just too happy readers reading about the book to one another. And it just. I can't wait to read it. I thought that was the ultimate raving endorsement. See i got nervous when you set that because You know the point in time is so crucial for like the word on mast. What they were massed this post. Cdc okay yes. It was legit and it was outside. Yes well i will say it is short. It is very accessible. It is the kind of thing that you can sit down and read a few hours and yet feel like you've kind of enough to chew on for weeks so interesting too because i feel like at least for me over the past year has spent a lotta time learning about parts of american history that i didn't know about fully and feeling kind of self conscious about it. It's comforting to see that historians are also kind of grappling with this week. We're all kind of relearning a lot of things especially over the past year. I agree and i think we'll probably all taking. Us history around the same time in high school and in different parts of the country. I'm appalled by the gaps in my own. What i thought of is very thorough education so if this year has taught us one thing it's to go back and look again and you can start with at least two of the three books that we've discussed. Let's run down the titles again andrew. Starting with you. I'm reading liberty by caitlin greenwich. I'm reading malibu. Rising by taylor jenkins read. And i read annette gordon reed on juneteenth. Remember there's more. Ny times dot com slash books and you can always write to us at books at ny. Times dot com. I write back not right away. But i do the view. Podcast is produced by the greek pedro rossato from head. Stepper media with a major assist for my colleague john millions. Thanks for listening for the new york. Times i'm pamela paul.

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