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Bohemians, Bootleggers, Flappers, and Swells: The Best of Early Vanity…

by Graydon Carter

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Bohemians, bootleggers, flappers, and swells. The best of early Vanity Fair is an anthology of essays and articles that appeared in the early editions of the magazine Vanity Fair. The book is compiled and edited by Graydon Carter the current editor of the magazine.

Vanity Fair was the name of no less than five different magazines. There was an American Vanity Fair magazine that was published between 1859 and 1863. The second Vanity Fair was a British weekly published between 1868 and 1914. For only two years, from 1902 to 1904, another American magazine bearing this name was published. Then, a new American Vanity Fair was published between 1913 - 1936. This magazine was revived in 1983, and published from 1983–present, known as Vanity Fair, currently being edited by Graydon Carter. The introduction to the book does not mention the capricious history of the magazine, somewhat suggesting a steady, continuous publication, firmy claiming the 1913-1936 magazine as belonging to the history of the current magazine, which may be discutable. Thus, "early Vanity Fair is meant to mean the Vanity Fair magazine that was published between 1913 - 1936. The introduction of the book highlights the importance of the owner and particularly the then-editor of the magazine, Frank Crowninshield, who had a particularly good nose for talent. As Vanity Fair the world's most modern magazine at the time, it attracted many of the most important authors to contribute essays and poems. Modernity is made an issue in several of the contributions, contemplating was it means to be modern.

Bohemians, bootleggers, flappers, and swells. The best of early Vanity Fair is divided into three parts, the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s. As the magazine started in 1913, and folded in 1936, only the second decade was a full ten years long. The contributions in the 1920 are definitely the most interesting.

The selection for the 1910s is rather boring and uninteresting with essays by P.G. Wodehouse, Stephen Leacock and rather a lot of poetry by Dorothy Parker. Arthur Symons' 1918 essay comparing hashish and opium is interesting as a forerunner of the experimentation with various drugs, although it is more likely to have been written since the British government banned trade in opium in 1918. The 1920s opens with a biographical sketch on Somerset Maugham by Hugh Walpole, praise for the coming author by the going author of the day, soon to be trampled and ridiculed by the newcomer. The most interesting contribution selected for this decade are certainly Djuna Barnes portrait of James Joyce and Aldous Huxley's essay on modernity. Many essays contemplate the position and rights of women, including as essay by D.H. Lawrence. The single essay by Scott Fitzgerald is a very weak contribution. Strong contributions are an essay by Jean Cocteau: "The Public and the Artist" and a biographical sketch on Pablo Picasso by Max Jacob. There is a choice of some good poetry, notably by Edna St Vincent Millay and T.S. Eliot. The selections for the 1930s are weak. They mostly ponder on the Great Depression, and it must be said that J.M. Keynes' essay "Banks and the Collapse of Money Values" could as well have been written for the 2008 financial crisis.

Altogether, the reader is presented with a very large selection of now long forgotten authors, writing on issues which are no longer of any importance. The very few interesting essays hardly justify reading through 400+ pages of rather mediocre stuff. ( )
  edwinbcn | Jan 24, 2017 |
Sarcasm as humor
The nice thing about this book is that it's just a bunch of short essays. They can be read in any order, picking and chosing whatever seems interesting at the moment, skipping here and there. The essays are short, most of them only a few pages, although some come closer to 10 pages. And they present an interesting perspective into the times - 1910s, 20s, and 30s - and many of the articles were written by a literary who's who of the times: F. Scott Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot, e.e. cummings, Carl Sandburg, Aldous Huxley, Bertrand Russell, D.H. Lawrence, P.G. Wodehouse, etc. (although some of the lesser-known writers are more interesting). It's the kind of book I like to have around for those lazy Sunday afternoons when I want something to read but not the book I'm currently reading.

Unfortunately, some of the articles I've read so far have missed the mark for me. A few were very interesting (I enjoyed the ones about Edgar Rice Burroughs - I live near Tarzana - and Babe Ruth, as well as A.A. Milne's "autobiography") but most have an overwhelmingly sarcastic tone bordering on caustic, that just left me feeling... turned off. Maybe it's a reflection of the magazine and it's readership - I've never read Vanity Fair but my impression is that it's a higher-class version of People magazine (if such a thing is possible), so perhaps that would explain some of the... shallowness, shall I say? Still, it's kind of interesting in small doses and okay for that occasional lazy day reading. ( )
  J.Green | Nov 22, 2016 |
Wildly interesting collection of poems, short biographies, songs, satire, and history. ( )
  Martholamew1729 | Jul 17, 2016 |
A special thank you to Penguin First to Read for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Vanity Fair, the modern and dazzling magazine of the Jazz Age—and celebration of its 100th anniversary, delivers a remarkable anthology from 1913 to 1936, showcasing an impressive lineup of the “best of the best” creative and talented literary icons of this era.

The Golden Age is so exciting and glamorous as well as tragic. From the highs to the lows—of the Roaring 20’s, the glitz, wealth, fashion, art, music, romance, sports, nightlife to the depression, addiction, drugs, stock crash, war, suffrage and Prohibition.

As a lover of this era, and Gatsby, am quite intrigued and fascinated with the legendary writers (especially F. Scott Fitzgerald and T.S. Eliot) and other contributors which captured the essence of this time; an adventure, and a changing era as we relive a time rich in history.

Bohemians, Bootleggers, Flappers and Swells: The Best of Vanity Fair offers an impressive lineup of contributors as well a collection of poems, essays, and profiles broken down by year for a thought-provoking read, not to rush, but to ponder and reflect.

An absorbing read for literary lovers everywhere, and those who appreciate the talents, humor, and insights (even cynical, controversial, and scandalous at times) of those courageous enough to convey their thoughts, dreams, and hopes for a better future. The collection is well laid out, with a brief summary of each contributor at the end.

I am enjoying many of the new books out today exploring and capturing the details of important times and commentary of historic authors with "books about books", and "books about writers"; with new insights into the depth of their writing to create awareness and meaning for this generation and those to follow.

A beautifully packaged and entertaining collection of the finest pieces and topics in the Jazz Age. Vanity Fair, a magazine predicting which cultural forces would leave a lasting mark, and pushing boundaries from men’s rites to women’s rights, to the destructive fascination with the entertainment industry and our addiction to organized sports.

Seventy-two of which are collected, focusing on how Americans, especially New Yorkers in confronting the Machine Age, radical art, urbanization, communism, Fascism, globalization (epitomized by a World War), and the battle of the sexes, were coping with the growing pains of a new phenomenon: modern life. Well Done!

Judith D. Collins Must Read Books
( )
  JudithDCollins | Nov 27, 2014 |
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