Books I read this week: May week 2

Here’s what I read this week. Apparently I’m on a non-fiction roll.

To Marry an English Lord by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace is one of the most enlightening books I’ve read in a long time. It’s about American heiresses in the late 1800 whose families weren’t old money enough to be accepted into NY high society, so they went to England to find dukes to marry. It’s one of those books where you pick up so much history in the reading of it, and as I read there were so many circumstances in other books and movies that suddenly made sense. THAT’S why people reacted the way they did in The End of Innocence! THAT’S why Tracy Lord’s family has that huge house in High Society! I suddenly had context for so many situations. The whole time period is fascinating, as what was acceptable and desirable in society was changing, and the heiresses’ transition to life in England was also just so interesting. I really highly recommend it.  I should note that half of the book is a directory to heiresses of the time and bibliography, so if you’re reading on a Kindle, just know that at the 50% point you’ll be finished.

It wasn’t that American women had never before sailed to Europe. It was that they’d never before had fun when they got there.

American women were braver than the staid Englishwomen and considerably more profligate than the Parisiennes, who were liable to choose three exquisite costumes and make them last a season or more- true elegance but not about to make Worth a rich man. Americans like Jeannie never stopped at three dresses; they were hard put to stop at eighty or ninety.

Any man who reverses (changes the direction in which he’s spinning his partner during a waltz) is a cad.


Gospel According to Coco Chanel: Life Lessons From The World’s Most Elegant Woman by Karen Karbo is an enjoyable, chatty book. Part biography of Chanel, part memoir, part self improvement guide, it’s kind of light, but has some thought provoking sentences.

Cut to the chase, don’t waste time doing stuff that seems to be essential to your life and business, just because other people do it. A smart friend once summed it up thus- why make nachos if what you really want to do is puck the browned shreds of baked cheddar off the cookie sheet? Just cook the cheese and be done with it.

I miss the romantic notion that there are crossroads in life, and one must make an irrevocable choice to go this way or that, then live with the choice without apology.

Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter: A Memoir by Melissa Francis is a difficult book to describe my reaction to- it’s by turns heartbreaking, inspiring, and eyeopening. Francis grew up acting; from her “discovery” when she was less than a year old and appeared in a No More Tears commercial, she worked in commercials and TV through her teenage years. Her career, and that of her sister, is managed by her mother, who becomes addicted to being on set, having successful daughters, and the money that comes from their work. She never lets them forget her sacrifices on their behalf, and though she claims (and perhaps starts out) that she is doing all of it to give them a better life than she had, her actions are abusive- physically and mentally. She has no hesitation to literally push one of the girls out of the (stopped) car when she dares to talk back to her, tell her that she never wants to see her again, and drive away- waiting a good couple miles before going back for her. The little girl is 8. It’s horrifying, and yet it’s the life the girls know, and they bend over backwards to placate her. Francis really enjoys acting, and continues with it long after her sister has stopped, which means that she gets her mom’s attention, while her sister is neglected. As Francis gets older and attempts to stand up to her mother, she has to fight for what is hers, and she really does come into her own.

The book brings up some interesting questions about working children- her parents tell her that all of her paychecks are going into a bank account for her college fund, but she discovers that they’ve been using them to pay for her private school, horse riding hobby, and even the BMW that they give her as a birthday present. It’s not that the money shouldn’t be used for those things, but the whole time it’s presented as them sacrificing so much to give her all these things and then when the money is gone when she wants it for a summer session at Stanford, they accuse her of spending it irresponsibly (even though she never knew it was being spent). Her mother dedicates years to “making her a star”, and has no skills to show for it when she (Francis) goes off to college, so feels entitled to some of the money – in short, I feel like I understand the whole Lindsay/Dinah Lohan dynamic better now. Francis’ relationship with her sister is difficult and lovely and painful. It’s a great book, and I really enjoyed it.

My mom had held a power over me, over all of us, for a long time. I was a hostage to her moods, her violence, her praise, her favor, all doled out in random doses and with confusing inconsistency, which had been designed to control me, training me to crave her attention like a starving dog.

[On her mom wanting to open a B&B after Francis’ marriage] “So she’s taking all the things she didn’t do for us growing up, and turning that ball of wax into a career? Those would be some disappointed and confused guests”

A fire-breathing dragon of a mom may produce a champion, or she might burn her child to death.


Now I’m reading Ade: A Love Story by Rebecca Walker because I opened it by accident after finishing the previous book and thought, why not? It’s quite good so far.

What are you reading?

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