Book news

  • Dolce Vita Confidential by Shawn Levy review – swinging Rome in the 1950s
    Bee Wilson

    The post-Mussolini capital of Italy was a glamorous ‘Hollywood on the Tiber’, even if Fellini’s famous film is now misunderstood

    Her mane of wet peroxide hair is flung back and she is almost busting out of her strapless black gown as she wades recklessly through the fountain. Anita Ekberg in the Trevi fountain scene in Federico Fellini’s 1960 film La Dolce Vita has become an instant visual shorthand for a brief era – 1948 to 1960, give or take – when Italy in general and Rome in particular seemed like the most photogenic place in the world.

    La Dolce Vita is a cynical, sprawling work depicting Rome as a superficial Gotham of prostitutes, orgies and paparazzi

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  • The Gastronomical Me by MFK Fisher review – a food writing classic
    Kathryn Hughes

    Fisher exposed the private appetites most of us struggle to hide. Her celebrated book from 1943 has been reissued and reads very differently now

    WH Auden’s famous observation on the writer MFK Fisher – “I do not know of anyone in the States who writes better prose” – has been pressed into service on the cover of this reprint of Fisher’s most beloved book The Gastronomical Me (1943). The power of the puff lies in the fact that Auden wasn’t praising another poet or even a novelist but a food writer, a species conceived at that time as a domestic science teacher with a fail-safe recipe for meatloaf. Implicit in Auden’s praise was the suggestion that Fisher should be removed from this category and set alongside Hemingway or Faulkner as a literary practitioner in her own right. These days we would get around the whole vexed business by saying that Fisher’s hybrid of culinary and memoir writing falls into the category of the personal essay, the kind of thing that has launched a thousand blogs and become a staple of the New Yorker’s annual food issue.

    Related: Rereading: Great food writers

    We addled our palates with snipes on cushions of toast softened with the paste of their rotted innards and fine brandy

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  • Between Them: Remembering My Parents by Richard Ford – review
    Blake Morrison

    The novelist makes no grand claims for this memoir, and it is his unembarrassed love for his mother and father that comes through

    What ultimately came between Richard Ford’s parents occurred on 20 February 1960, when his father suffered a heart attack. He’d had one 12 years previously but recovered, eased up, seemed (though overweight) relatively well – until Richard heard his mother call out early that morning and came through in pyjamas to find his father gasping for air. He shook him by the shoulders then tried artificial respiration, something he’d heard about but never practised. It didn’t work.

    His father (Parker) was only 55, his mother (Edna) 50, Richard himself (an only child) 16. A lesser writer would milk the trauma. But Ford studiously avoids the word. Unjust though it was, his father’s early death “surrendered back to me nearly as much as it took away”, freeing him to live by his own decisions and designs. Even for Edna, who never married again, there was consolation of a kind in the jobs she was forced into, the last of which, at a hospital, she greatly enjoyed. Ford takes his cue from her stoicism. “The chore for the memoir writer is to compose a shape and economy that give faithful, reliable, if sometimes drastic coherence to the many unequal things any life contains,” he says. What his parents had between them, rather than what came between them, is the thing he wants to understand.

    Related: Richard Ford: ‘Who needs friends?’

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