Anniversaries, Desserts, White Trash, Texas Noir | Classic Returns

This edition of Classic Returns includes a father of fashion commentary, a mother of crime fiction, a postwar man of letters, and a Texas noir storyteller.

The Glass of FashionBeaton, Cecil. The Glass of Fashion: A Personal History of Fifty Years of Changing Tastes and the People Who Have Inspired Them. Rizzoli. Sept. 2014. 407p. illus. index. ISBN 9780847843855. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9780847844647.  Dec Arts
Fashion photographer, chronicler of taste, and Oscar Award–winning designer (for costume and production design of 1965’s My Fair Lady and costumes for 1959’s Gigi) Beaton (1904–80) is having a moment. In addition to this exquisitely reproduced reissue of his 1954 tome, subtitled A Personal History of Changing Tastes and the People Who Have Inspired Them, a collection of the designer’s photos and commentary (Cecil Beaton: Portraits & Profiles) will be released in October by Frances Lincoln.

In Portraits, Beaton rather cattily discusses his ultra-famous photographic subjects.The Glass of Fashion has a friendlier tone. Its 18 chapters, accompanied by more than 150 line drawings by Beaton, feature his reminiscences of personalities who influenced fashion and decor. Chanel, Poiret, Schiaparelli, Dior (“the Watteau of contemporary dressmakers”), and other well-known creators sit alongside his Aunt Jessie, a Victorian belle, and some forgotten society types, such as Italian opera diva Lina Cavalieri, fashion muse Phyllis Boyd, and Mrs. Dudley Ward, about whom Beaton says, “Mrs. Dudley Ward has been the incentive for a million imitators. Especially in America has her influence been an indelible one, and the idiom has become a part of the American woman’s personality.”

The foreword by Beaton’s literary executor and designated biographer Hugo Vickers (who has written biographies of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Vivien Leigh, and others) notes that The Glass of Fashion “has always enjoyed success and has become essential reading for those who study fashion.” The book is that and so much more. It’s a trip back in time with an observant, effervescent, talented, and opinionated guide. Many of his profiles and observations prove to have withstood the test of time and, as Vickers says, “Although it was written sixty years ago, it has lost none of its zest and allure. It is as fresh today as when it was first published.” Speaking of timely, here is a bit about Millicent Rogers, heiress (Standard Oil) and jewelry designer, from the chapter on the 1930s called “Low Barometer”:

During one period in the thirties, Millicent Rogers chose Charles James, the American dressmaker, to make all her clothes for her. Charles James is a superb tailor in satin and has affinities with the French in his master craftsmanship and attention to detail. He was naturally delighted that her orders should be so extensive, for it kept his business thriving. But after having put so much time and effort into the making of four dozen blouses which he felt were designated for the Manhattan Storage, he rebelled. When Mrs. Rogers’ maid telephoned for a further order, Charles James complained, “Why Mrs. Rogers is nothing but a hoarder!” The maid replied, “Not a hoarder, Mr. James, a collector!” True to the maid’s words, in 1949 Millicent Rogers presented to the Brooklyn Museum a collection of clothes created for her by Charles James.*

*A portrait of Mrs. Rogers in a James gown was prominently displayed in a recent exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “Charles James: Beyond Fashion,” as were many items from her collection.

The WallBecker, Jurek. The Wall: And Other Stories. Arcade: Skyhorse. 2014. 128p. tr. from German by Leila Vennewitz & others. ISBN 9781628723250. $19.95; ebk. ISBN 9781628724028. F
Polish-born German writer Becker (1937–97) has been hailed as a “giant of postwar literature.” His 1969 novel Jacob the Liar won both the Heinrich Mann and Charles Veillon Prize, was published in English in 1996, and made into a 1999 film starring Robin Williams (titled Jakob the Liar). This title is a collection of the author’s short stories that have either not been translated into English or have never been published in book form. It includes an introduction by Becker’s widow, Christine, several Holocaust-themed pieces, two short stories about communist East Germany and the Berlin Wall, and an essay about the Lodz Ghetto in Poland, where Becker lived as a child.

Dark HollowGreen, Anna Katharine. Dark Hollow. Hesperus Pr. Sept. 2014. 300p. ISBN 9781843914907. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781300274179. F
Some call Brooklyn-born Green (1846–1935) “the mother of the detective novel.”  Her 1878 debut, The Leavenworth Case, is considered to be the first American detective novel, and it became a huge best seller (over a million copies sold). Green went on to pen more than 30  books. Her 33rd title, Dark Hollow, written 100 years ago, features a female sleuth heroine. Deborah Scoville, widow of convicted murderer John Scoville, sets out to clear her husband’s name so that her daughter may marry the son of the judge who sentenced John to death. Posing as a maid, Deborah infiltrates the home of the secretive Judge Ostrander in the town of Shelby. She believes the judge is the one person in the world who can help, but she uncovers secrets that will have deep repercussions.

coldLansdale, Joe R. Cold in July. Tachyon. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9781616961619. pap. $14.95. F
This “movie tie-in” reprint of Lansdale’s 1989 novel was recently made into a film starring Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, and Don Johnson and directed by Jim Mickle. (The author makes an appearance in the film, playing a priest in a graveside scene.) A “Texas pulp” novel, it’s about an everyman who kills a burglar in his home and incurs the wrath of the burglar’s father, an ex-con. Things get complicated when the two men are drawn into a conspiracy involving police corruption and mafia skullduggery. They also meet meet an eccentric pig farmer/private eye who may or may not get them out of this mess alive.
Lansdale, whose novella “Bubba Ho-Tep” was made into a cult classic movie in 2003 starring Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis, has been described as “a cross between Elmore Leonard and Louis L’Amour.” He is also the author of the Edgar Award–winning “Hap and Leonard” mysteries and other Texas noir titles, as well as several graphic novels.

more Classic Returns

The Broken RoadFermor, Patrick Leigh. The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos. NYRB Classics. 2014. 400p. ed. by Colin Thubron & Artemis Cooper. maps. index. ISBN 9781590177549. $30; ebk. ISBN 9781590177792.  TRAV
In 1933, Fermor did something, at age 18, that most sane people would never even contemplate. He set out on foot from Holland, destined for Constantinople. The journey took the author over a year but he finally reached his goal, yet not before a long list of near-misses, near-deaths, and other predicaments. He was feted by the high and the lowly and welcomed in many circles. What is really amazing about all of this is the publication history. The memoirs of Fermor’s sojourns (in three volumes, of which this third one is published posthumously) were published decades after the fact. A Time of Gifts (about his trek through Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia) was released in 1977 and Between the Woods and the Water (Hungary to Transylvania) in 1986. His knack for memory and self-reflection is without parallel. As the title suggests, this volume starts in Romania and extends beyond Turkey to his stay at the monastic peninsula of Mt. Athos in Greece. VERDICT Not just an insightful youth’s travelog, this work is the history of countries between World War I and World War II. So many of the places that the author visited would, in a few years, be battle zones and then failed communist utopias. Many of his acquaintances would be dead, imprisoned, or thrown into poverty. But in the meantime, the narrative is to be savored for its clarity of prose and gripping adventure. Recommended for anyone interested in Balkan history, travel adventures, shrouded Mt. Athos, or simply a solid read.—Lee Arnold, Historical Soc. of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

The Dessert BookHines, Duncan. The Dessert Book. Univ. Pr. of Kansas. 2014. 338p. ed. by Louis Hatchett. index. ISBN 9780813144658. pap. $19.95; ebk. ISBN 9780813144665. COOKING
In the mid-20th century, long before the cake mixes that bear his name could be found in every grocery store, Hines (1880–1959) was famous for recommending restaurants in an annual publication, Adventures in Good Eating. In 1955, he published The Dessert Book, which was reprinted in 2002 and is available again (this edition features a foreword by food writers Jane and Michael Stern). For anyone over 50, it may bring back memories of  family desserts. The recipes are arranged by type—cakes, frostings, pastry, cookies, etc. The recipes are from restaurants or individuals, most of whom were family or friends of Hines and his wife. Many of the desserts use gelatin, marshmallows, ice cream made with a crank freezer or “automatic refrigerator,” or graham crackers. The recipes have not been updated for modern tastes and there are safety concerns; a frosting recipe calls for uncooked eggs and one pudding dish is made with suet. Most of the recipes are clear and relatively easy to prepare. Interspersed between the dishes are hints and suggestions. VERDICT This is certainly a classic cookbook. Recommended, along with Hines’s similar, more general Adventures in Good Cooking for historic culinary collections that do not have the 2002 reprints.—Christine E. Bulson, emeritus, Milne Lib., SUNY Oneonta

White Trash UncutMakos, Christopher. White Trash: Uncut. Glitterati. 2014. 128p. photos. ISBN 9780989170468. $50. PHOTOG
The original version of punk pock pictorial White Trash was published in 1977 and quickly became a cult classic among aficionados of the period. This “uncut” reissue contains altered versions of the earlier photographs and includes 20 new images. Regrettably, it’s still a mess, and, other than a brief contextualizing preface by New York gallerist Andrew Crispo, the book does little to define what Punk-with-a-capital-P was. Makos’s route to renown was via friendship with Andy Warhol and as a staff photographer for Interview magazine, leading him into music and art circles that placed performers such as David Bowie, Patti Smith, the New York Dolls, and Iggy Pop before his lens. The images here are unremarkable, save for the reminders of how punk’s austerity and androgyny were a reaction to the efflorescences of psychedelia and funk. The work succeeds in capturing punk’s cacophony, but it’s too brief—the 61 photos amounting to less than the sum of their parts. While the reader will be delighted to see Debbie Harry and Grace Jones in their glorious youthful severity, the rest is little more than a pogoing array of social marginalia adorned with razor blades, dilated pupils, dog collars, urinals, and nipples—of both genders—casting shadows across bony abdomens. Maybe that actually is what punk was in Makos’s world, but take a ride through this book at the risk of getting a really bad hangover. VERDICT  A cultural landmark of relatively narrow interest for culture vultures and rockers.—Douglas F. Smith, Oakland P.L.

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Liz French About Liz French

Library Journal Senior Editor Liz French edits nonfiction and women's fiction reviews at LJ and also compiles the "What We're Reading" and "Classic Returns" columns for LJ online. She's inordinately interested in what you're reading as well. Email:, Twitter: @lizefrench