Lois Banner: Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox

September 13, 2012 by  
Filed under Non-Fiction, WritersCast

978-1608195312 – Bloomsbury USA – Hardcover – $30.00 (ebook editions available, prices vary)

Marilyn Monroe was one of the great icons of mid-century America.  I grew up while she was in her prime in the late fifties and the early sixties, and the power of her image and beauty was available even to me as a pre-pubescent youth.  Her cultural appeal was remarkable.  But the complexity of her persona was equally powerful, and certainly enabled her incredible charisma and appeal.

Her marriages to the equally iconic Joe DiMaggio and the brilliant playwright Arthur Miller, and rumors of her romantic liaisons to many other well known public figures added to the mythological elements of her story.  And her undeniable skill as a comic actress and amazing on screen sexuality were unmatched by any other actor of her time.  That she died relatively young, and in mysterious and controversial circumstances only added to the ongoing fascination with her life that continues a half century later.

Marilyn biographies (and exploitive tell-alls) abound.  But no biographer has done what feminist scholar Lois Banner has done in Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox.  This is a complex and in-depth examination of a complex and challenging subject.  Through exhaustive research and access to previously unavailable sources, Banner tells the story of Marilyn’s life in incredible (and never boring) detail, begins=ning at the outset of Marilyn’s difficult life and through to her sad and tragic death at age 36.  We learn a tremendous amount about Marilyn, as a person, an actress, a thoughtful and well read intellectual, a star with a created narrative, a lover of men and of women, and in many ways a proto-feminist figure.

Reading this book, I found myself thinking about the distinctions in human nature that enables some of us to use personal challenges to grow and to create ourselves into powerful beings, while others simply suffer.  But most of all, the sheer loneliness and pain of being that beset Marilyn are overwhelming to contemplate.  Reading Banner’s recounting of her final weeks and days is an incredibly painful experience.  And it was eye-opening for me to understand that the circumstances of her death are likely not as most of us have believed, a suicide.

This is really a powerful story, and one that I recommend to readers who may not have felt themselves interested in the details of Marilyn Monroe’s life.  This is a serious biography about a serious and important life, and one that is well deserving of the powerful telling Banner has given to Marilyn.  You can learn more at the author’s website. I really enjoyed talking to Ms. Banner and wished we had more time available to talk together about this book.

Publishing Talks: David Wilk Interviews Bruce McPherson

December 17, 2010 by  
Filed under Publishing History, PublishingTalks, The Future

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals and other smart people about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses.  We must wonder now, how will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics?

I hope these Publishing Talks conversations will help us understand the outlines of what is happening, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

These interviews give people in and around the book business a chance to talk openly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends and they give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed by people in the book business.

I have had some really interesting conversations with people in the publishing industry this year.  The present is a time of great upheaval and change for many in publishing.  Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Andrew Steves of Canada’s relatively tiny Gaspereau Press, just before their book, The Sentimentalists won that country major book award, the Scotiabank Giller Prize.  Soon after, I was able to talk to Bruce McPherson of McPherson & Co., about his many years of publishing and the great news that his recently published Lord of Misrule by old friend Jaimy Gordon had won the National Book Award (quite a surprise for all!).  It’s unusual enough for a major national book award to recognize the work of independently published books, but to have two almost simultaneously in both the US and Canada must mean something about these times.  In other words, I don’t think these are outlier events.

As it happens, I’ve known Bruce and Jaimy for about as long as I have known anyone, going back to when Bruce began publishing as Treacle Press right after graduating Brown in the early 1970’s.  The first book he published was Jaimy’s superb and inventive novel, Shamp of the City-Solo.  I read that book because Bruce told me I must, and loved its wildly inventive story and Jaimy’s brilliant writing.  I’ve been a fan and reader of hers ever since.  Bruce has published a wide range of interesting books in film, art and fiction.  He’s developed a clear vision of who, what and how he will operate as a publisher, and has managed to invent a working business model that in many ways reflects his own independent thinking and unwillingness to compromise art for common business demands.

In many ways, the recognition of Jaimy Gordon as a great writer is a recognition of Bruce McPherson as a great publisher, and a validation of a somewhat old fashioned notion of commitment and loyalty to art, talent and human beings.  Writers as living, breathing, suffering artists whose publishers support them, prod them to do their best work, and love them unabashedly and without compromise.  That may sound sentimental in these harsh times, but it’s a sentiment I am willing to cherish and celebrate.  I admire Bruce and the body of work he has produced in more than 35 years of struggle.

Neither Bruce nor McPherson & Co. promote anything other than the books and authors themselves, i.e., it’s not about the publisher, it’s about the books.  I very much enjoyed the opportunity, therefore, to shine a bit of light on Bruce and his work, and hopefully to illuminate something of what his publishing has meant and means for our culture.  And of course the experience of winning the NBA is present throughout.  I hope listeners will enjoy this podcast in tandem with my current interview with Jaimy Gordon as well.

Publishing Talks: David Wilk Interviews Peter Broderick

April 1, 2010 by  
Filed under PublishingTalks, The Future

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses.

How will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and its economics? Publishing Talks interviews help us understand the outlines of what is happening, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds. These interviews give people in the book business a chance to talk openly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends.

I believe these interviews give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed within the industry.

Peter Broderick comes from an independent film background and has a perspective that I think is terrifically useful and important. Peter is President of Paradigm Consulting, which helps filmmakers and media companies develop strategies to maximize distribution, audience, and revenues.  His work now is completely focused on working with film-makers to utilize new tools in marketing and distribution, and his ideas are very much in concert with my own thoughts about publishing.  I strongly recommend reading his article “Maximizing Distribution” and his reports, “Welcome to the New World of Distribution” and “Declaration of Independence;” as concise and spot on as they are for film, they will be useful to anyone thinking about media distribution today and in the future.

I believe there should be more cross-discipline conversations like this one.