Sunday, February 1, 2015

The “Bright Shiny Object” Method of Book Selection

Lady Diana Cooper
(Mother of John Julius Norwich)
My friend, Suzanne, tells a story of having a meal with her daughter. The waitress takes their order without writing it down, and comes back some minutes later, saying, “I thought I remembered what you wanted, but then I was distracted by a bright shiny object.”

I fear that when selecting books I am too often distracted by bright shiny objects.

Duff Cooper
(Husband of Lady Diana,
father of John Julius Norwich
and Bill Patten)
My new year always starts with diaries or letters, usually by someone British. I stuck to that resolve and read Darling Monster: The Letters of Lady Diana Cooper to her son, John Julius Norwich, 1939-1952. John Julius was evacuated to Canada during the war and Lady Diana, married to Duff Cooper, who would resign from the Conservative government of Neville Chamberlain after Chamberlain came back from talks with Hitler declaring that he had found “peace for our time”, stayed in London and provided fabulous accounts of that city during the Blitz. The letters are informative, gossipy and wonderful.

John Julius Norwich
(father of Allegra Huston)
Enrica Soma Huston
(mother of Allegra Huston)
Normally, I would then have read a mystery but I developed a cold. When I can’t breathe, I read nonfiction. In the process of looking for more information about John Julius Norwich, I found Love Child, a memoir by Allegra Huston who believed herself to be the daughter of John Huston. She finds out that while her mother was married to John Huston at the time of her birth, she is the daughter of one of her mother’s lovers, John Julius Norwich.

Susan Mary Patten
and hr son, Bill
In this memoir there was a reference to Susan Mary Patton so I read her biography, American Lady. Her son believes his father is Bill Patten and only finds out quite late in his life that his father was Duff Cooper which would make him John Julius Norwich’s half-brother. In case you’re wondering, Mr. Patten has written a memoir, My Three Fathers (referring to Bill Patten, Duff Cooper and Joseph Alsop), I’d already read that memoir so decided to check out Reflected Glory, a biography of Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman. Her life is fascinating but also exhausting so I thought I would renew my energy with a novel. I was derailed again.

Pamela Digby etc.
(Her life was exhausting)
Martin Luther King Day was approaching and while I’ve read quite a lot about the Civil Rights Movement during many different times of the year, I always mark Dr. King’s birth by reading something about him. I’m not really in any shape to participate in a service project but I can read and remember. This year I read The Bill of the Century: The Epic Battle for the Civil Rights Act by Clay Risen. It’s a fine book that reminds us that it took many people to pass that bill. Alas, it also makes our current legislators look very small. Risen spends some time discussing the press coverage of the Senate debate and filibuster. Roger Mudd from CBS News provided daily reports of what legislators were doing. Guess what? He’s written a memoir, The Place to Be: Washington, CBS and the Glory Days of Television News. It’s highly entertaining and the chapter on Eric Sevareid is worth the price of the book.

I swear that when I finish this book, I will cleanse my palate with fiction. It’s as easy as avoiding footnotes, bibliographies and Wikipedia.

© 2015 Stephanie Patterson


  1. As one of my favorite pastimes is studying and analyzing people - yes, I should have been a shrink - and what they do at various times and why. One aspect of interest is what they read under different circumstances and why... I'm on a kick of reading juicy mysteries by lawyers right now. Then there are my friends who simply don't --- READ books! I am baffled by this. Some of them have advanced degrees and heavy I Qs... And the people at the beauty salon who love the latest junk magazines. I guess we are all like cats - we are curious about our fellow humans! I'd love to know what the reading habits of the rest of our gang on CWC are!!! T. J. Straw

    1. Thelma: The largest share of my fiction reading would be mysteries. My non-fiction tends to be historical (often bios) and true crime, I love to read about scandals. I like con artists and books that try to answer the question "How could they have got away with that for so long?" There was a point years ago when I think I had much of The Smartest Guys in the Room (about Enron) memorized.

  2. Steph: I love the line "When I can’t breathe, I read nonfiction." I've added these books to my to-read list. I admit I enjoy reading about how the refined upper crust in the glamorous years of strict decorum was bed-hopping with abandon. Was anybody really related to the man they called 'dad'?