Books Reviewed:

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Several faculty members recommend their favorite books

Amherst College Books
Quick takes on books by Amherst faculty and alumni

Books Reviewed

Vanity Fair's Hollywood
Edited By: Graydon Carter and DAVID FRIEND '77, with text by Christopher Hitchens. New York: Penguin Putnam Inc. 320 pp. $60.

Vanity Fair's Hollywood is a hefty, oversized volume that arrives sheathed in a silvery gold cover that brings to mind both the bubbly shimmer of champagne and the bright glint of the Oscar statuette.

Which is appropriate, really, since this is distinctly and emphatically Vanity Fair's Hollywood—not the noir Hollywood of Raymond Chandler or Sammy Glick, nor the literal, geographic Hollywood seemingly designed to deflate and disappoint tourists, but the glitzy, glamorous "Industry" Hollywood brought to life each month in the pages of Vanity Fair magazine, a world in which a youthful Doris Day poses in a chiffon skirt next to a rainbow of poodles, where Clint Eastwood squints full-frame and close-cropped into Herb Ritts's camera, where a shocked Sophia Loren eyes Jane Mansfield's cleavage across a table at Romanoff's.

The book-promo promises of "a century's worth of Hollywood glamour, power, glory and scandal," are slightly misleading; Vanity Fair has existed for only 40 years, first from 1914 to 1937 and then again since 1983. In both incarnations, though, Vanity Fair has served as a cultural touchstone for high-powered glamour and style, particularly as they apply to Hollywood. Its cover photos (think pregnant earth mother Demi Moore) and articles are often both news- and buzz-worthy, and in the past four years the mag has won four National Magazine Awards, including two for General Excellence.

This transfers perfectly to VF's Hollywood, the first book published by the magazine in nearly 20 years. Featuring 320 pages of eye-catching photos, the book compels the willing suspension of disbelief, in its photographic focus on the moment daring the reader to equate image and reality, youth and beauty, substance and form.

There's text, too—by early contributors including D.H. Lawrence and Dorothy Parker, and current regulars Martha Sherrill and Peter Biskind, among others. Much of this is good, and worth reading (especially Dick Kamp's piece on "When Liz Met Dick" and Christopher Hitchens's "It Happened on Sunset"). But text, it seems, isn't really the point; the nine-point type is densely distributed in
a tight, two-column layout, and the occasional photos that break up these sections of gray serve primarily to remind the reader of the volume's real purpose, which is, as Billy Wilder would say, "the pictures."

And what pictures they are! David Friend '77 (former director of photography at Life magazine and now the editor of creative development at Vanity Fair) has assembled a stunning collection of some of the all-time greats. Garbo, Gable, Grant, Hepburn and Tracy, Kidman and Cruise, Lennon and Matthau (together, and in drag). James Abbe's 1925 photo of John Barrymore faces George Hurrell's 1984 portrait of pre-teen granddaughter Drew. A smiling, four-color Robert Redford challenges a black-and-white depiction of a grinning Cary Grant. Some of the world's best photographers are represented here, including Cecil Beaton, Edward Steichen, Helmut Newton, Bruce Weber and current VF mainstay Annie Leibovitz. And the works are some of their most memorable best.

There is the occasional miscue: a six-page montage on the fabulousness of VF's post-Oscar party seems more self-serving than historically valuable (although it is interesting to see early snaps of celebrity couples Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston and Ellen DeGeneres and Anne Heche). Gretchen Mol seemed prematurely launched to "It Girl" status when her photo appeared on the cover of the September 1998 issue, and the reiteration of that image here only reopens the question of whether Mol got the cover because of her blossoming talent or the wispy slip dress that (barely) covered it.
And finally, an index would be nice—although there are worse punishments than having to flip through hundreds of pages of remarkable photos to find the one image of Liz Taylor you're looking for.

But these are quibbles. All in all, it's a grand party, and one that most people would be delighted to be invited to. Vanity Fair's Hollywood, after all, is the Hollywood that most people imagine (or want) Hollywood to be. And Vanity Fair's Hollywood is a vivid compilation of the images that and stories that make it that way.

—Stacey Schmeidel
Director of Public Affairs


You Are What You Say
By Matthew Budd, M.D. '56 and Larry Rothstein, Ed. D. New York, Crown Publishers, 2000. 253 pp. $24 hardbound.

In a disarmingly personal way, Matt Budd describes his medical training and practice and then tells us how inadequate he came to feel about it. The problem was that he was highly competent in treating disease, but frustrated in not being able to treat the whole person. This sense of his own dis-ease led him to search for "new teachers, new insights, and new practices." The outcome of his journey was the founding of the first behavioral medicine department at the Harvard Community Health Plan and the Ways to Wellness program, which is now marketed nationally as the Personal Health Improvement Program.

In his book, Budd takes the reader through a set of exercises which, if followed faithfully, provide a disciplined way to monitor one's own thinking, emotionality and behavior. The title of the book indicates the crucial importance of language as creating a sense of who we are and how we function. It reminds me of Bill Cosby's question to a group of graduating seniors last year. Cosby said: "How do you know whether the glass is half full or half empty?" And his answer is: "It all depends on whether you are a pourer or a drinker." Language does make an enormous difference!

As we move through his book, we are introduced to four of Budd's patients who were part of the Ways to Wellness program. They continue to appear (disguised, of course) as persons with whom we can identify, and from whom we can learn. Budd calls them "The Perfectionist," "The Angry Man," "The High Achiever" and "The Depressed Woman." We are presented with three tests that measure our self-efficacy, social ease and emotional skills. We are then invited to enter the world of meditation and use the exercise of "automatic writing," in which, for a short period of time, we are asked to write whatever comes to mind. The core of this first section is to concentrate on ourselves as learners.

While acknowledging our primitive relationship to animals, and the importance of being aware of our bodies, we are encouraged to go beyond biological determinism. We are also heirs of our own history, individual, societal and cultural.

In his central chapter, using the title of the book, Budd cites a Buddhist saying that claims that the thought gives birth to the word which, in turn, gives birth to the deed. Words, and how we use them, can create in us moods of discouragement and despair, or of hope and joy. He claims that "your use of language shapes your life." "Language brings forth the world that you live in. If you want to change, it's profoundly useful to observe how you language yourself into being and in your relationships." I am reminded that in the Biblical narrative in the book of Genesis, the Almighty does not create the world by deeds but by words. Budd describes for our computer-friendly generation "linguistic viruses." They have to do with not making requests of another, but assuming that he or she will simply "know" what we want, making unclear requests of another, or making requests in the mood of a demand, not saying "no" to an unreasonable or impossible request by another, or by asserting one's ungrounded opinion as factual for everyone.

In a poignant narrative, Budd tells of what he calls "Reynell's Gift," named for a young woman who was in the end stage of breast cancer. As he cared for her as a physician, with medication to ease pain but not stunt alertness, Budd learned (or re-learned) a lesson. "Reynell was an important teacher to me. She showed me that listening was as powerful as telling and that supporting others was as important as a prescription."

In referring to a book by another Amherst alumnus, Emotional Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman '68, Budd cites the importance of "embracing" our emotions. He claims that "it is the only way to alter . . . moods and emotions and significantly affect . . . (the) . . . body's structure."

In putting together his book, Budd says he has drawn on his medical training, but also Eastern meditation, biology, philosophy, linguistics, and psychology. I would also add that he has incorporated significant spirituality in his dealing with his patients and with us, his readers. The book has an annotated bibliography, an index and an introduction by Patch Adams. This is not just another "self-help" book, although it is that. Rather, Budd has led us into ways to come to greater peace with ourselves, to affirm the ability to learn and change, and to be able to offer significant gifts to others.

—James C. Blackburn '56


Iconoclasm in Pontus
By MICHAEL KASPER, Reference Librarian. Rosedale, NY: Women's Studio Workshop, 1999. 20 pp.
Spiral-bound, $10.

Michael Kasper is an established author/creator of artists' books, a small but delightful world where creativity and limited-edition production live in the ever-lengthening shadows of commercial publishing. His previous books include The Shapes and Spacing of the Letters (1995, illustrated essays on writing and art), All Cotton Briefs (1992, illustrated short prose), Plans for the Night (1987), Verbo-Visuals (1985, a portfolio of graphics mixed with words), Billy! Turn Down That TV! (1983, short prose and photo collages, on the theme of TV), and Chinese English Sentence Cards (1979, an illustrated novelette).

Iconoclasm in Pontus, like Kasper's other works, combines prose and computer-enhanced graphics. The text moves between a present-day travel diary of Kasper's own adventures along the Black Sea coast of Turkey—travels that are themselves a retracing of his own life of 30 years ago when he taught English in the coastal town of Samsun—and in a (fictional) Byzantine past in the same geographical space, a past when iconoclastic controversies raged, a time "a bit like ours, with church fanatics, techno-functionaries, and rich families vying for control, forming and breaking alliances in a dizzy round of corruption, while most people lived short, fraught lives."

Kasper's journal entries of today end with an epitaphic rumination (which I won't give away here), providing the perfect transition into the second half of the book: a series of (fictional, I hope/think) Byzantine gravestones, marbleized at the top, epitaphs at the bottom. Some are vulgar, others clever; all are witty and make great reading. One of my favorites: "Zoe Xanthopoulos drank a potion of powder scraped from holy images and was cured—as always—but temporarily."

The epitaphic theme carries through the book into its physical shape, which Kasper designed to look very much like a gravestone. The publisher, Women's Studies Workshop, is a respected source of artists' books which are selected in an annual juried competition.

Iconoclasm in Pontus is a thoroughly enjoyable book: it can be read and reread, is a visual treat, and has some very intelligent things to say about the human condition. If you can find it, buy it.

—Jamal J. Elias
Associate Professor of Religion

Editor's Note: Kasper's book can be ordered from Women's Studio Workshop,
P. O. Box 489, Rosendale, N.Y. 12472


Garden Structures
By Linda Joan Smith '79.
New York, N. Y.: Workman Publishing Company, Inc. 2000. 246 pages. $35.

Landscape designers talk incessantly about the "bones" of a garden. Anyone who doesn't understand what they mean should read Linda Joan Smith's book Garden Structures. Here you can learn about garden gates, New England stone walls, paths of gravel, grass or brick, trellises both utilitarian and decorative, ornate gazebos, hedges and fences—all the skeletal bones of the landscape.

This is a very visual book with stunning photographs by renowned garden photographers such as Ken Druse, Derek Fell and Karen Bussolini; but it is more than a coffee table book. Smith writes clearly, explaining how the pictures can come to life in your own landscape. She skillfully weaves landscape history into her narrative about design.

Paradise, she writes, originally meant an enclosed park. Gardens are meant to have definition, not just spread like amorphous blobs spilling over the lawn. Creating that definition is the work of garden structures.

The book opens, appropriately, with garden gates, inviting the reader into formal or informal landscapes. Each chapter features at least one practical section from "Building a Garden Gate," with details on reinforcing wooden gates, to "A Fruitful Fence," with instructions on training a fruit tree as an espalier. You will probably need a more detailed guide to follow through on these projects, but at least you'll get an idea of how easy or difficult it could be. One intriguing project is creating stepping stones with shell or stone inlays from hypertufa, a combination of cement, peat moss and sand.

Height is one dimension in a garden that is often overlooked. Smith has several chapters on structures to support climbing plants to lift the garden off the ground. No matter what your garden style, from urban formal to casual suburban to rustic country, you can find a trellis or an arbor or a pergola to fit your needs.

"Trellises are the teachers of plants; they take young sprouts and shoots firmly in hand and guide them along whatever path we dictate." So begins an inspiring chapter on trellises, subtitled "climbing lessons." Smith describes the nature of various climbers from twiners to clingers and then offers a variety of methods of helping them climb. Whether you want to grow pole beans, sweet peas or roses, you're sure to find a solution for your latest project with climbing plants.

This is a book to savor during the winter months for inspiration on building a garden structure in your garage or hiring a contractor to create a gazebo by the time mosquitoes emerge this spring.

—Cheryl B. Wilson, garden writer
The Northampton, Mass., Daily Hampshire Gazette