Monday, May 27, 2013

Review: Hello, Goodbye, Hello

The world of the famous and infamous is rather small, Craig Brown proves in his delightful book Hello, Goodbye, Hello.  It's like Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon, only across genres.

The book is a chain of 101 meetings: Truman Capote meets Peggy Lee, Peggy Lee meets Richard Nixon, Richard Nixon meets Elvis Presley...  The book blends from one encounter to the next seamlessly with well-recorded conversations and comments from reliable resources: published accounts, diaries, third-party accounts, all verifiable, all more honest than one would expect.

But is it interesting? Mostly. The author is British, so he takes delight in a couple of politicians whose notoriety is lost on me. I could have skipped over them, but I didn't want to miss a single snarky, surprising encounter. And there are plenty.

The encounters I enjoyed most were between the writers and movie actors. I'll never again see Sir Alec Guiness in the same light — his recollection of James Dean was sweet, startling and more than unsettling. Madonna surprised me; Richard Burton did not. Some of the memories were cruel and petty, and a couple of people recorded conflicting encounters with the same people decades after the original meeting. Brown is honest about which he considers most reliable and why, and I am grateful for his commentary.

The encounters are not in chronological order, which was a little unsettling. Reading about Hollywood in the 1950s then Russia in the early 20th century was unnerving, but part of that was my fault: I was so anxious to read the encounters that I sometimes would rush through the title, where the date was recorded.

Read this fascinating book. The chapters are short, the memories pithy, the behind-the-scene flashes utterly enjoyable. I initially read a library copy, but soon had to order a copy for my own library, just so I could share it with friends and family. (Let me know if you do the same.)

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