Hollywood, Broadway, the stars and the Great War: books read

FROM HOLLYWOOD WITH LOVE: The Rise and Fall (And rise Again) Of the Romantic Comedy by Scott Meslow looks at the past thirty years or so of rom-coms, starting with the box office smash When Harry Met Sally and following the genre through Sleepless in Seattle, Four Weddings and a Funeral, There’s Something About Mary and ending with Crazy Rich Asians. Meslow details the backstory and production history of each film, as well as covering other topics, like the “baxter” (the nice guy who gets left behind when the female lead meets The One). He also notes the problems the genre has suffered over the past decade, including preference for blockbuster franchises, sexism (they’re just “chick flicks”), top stars in the genre either aging out of leading rolls or dropping out and an inability to adapt to 21st century dating and mating trends. That said, he has the sense not to bemoan (as many genre-specific movie books do) that rom-coms are done, stick a fork in them (Netflix has taken up a lot of the slack in the genre).

That makes for a good book but I would have liked some historical perspective: is When Harry Met Sally simply a convenient starting point (which is legit) or does he see a clear difference from 1980s rom-coms such as Say Anything or Splash? For example, while Meslow points out how Friends With Benefits, despite its contemporary premise, defaults to old-school monogamous love as The Answer, Hollywood has been pulling that sleight-of-hand for years. Worth reading overall but not classic.

BROADWAY REVIVAL by Laura Frankos (cover by Thonas Nakid) has a gay actor in 2079 channel his grief for his dead husband into a plan to steal a time machine, return to the 1930s and change theater history by giving talents such as George Gershwin, Lorenz Hart and Kurt Weil longer and better careers (Gershwin died young of a brain tumor, for instance, but 2079 meds make that easy to cure).

This is a remarkably niche, low-key novel where high stakes means “can I talk Hart out of drinking himself to death so we get more great lyrics from him?” Which worked for me so I’m not complaining, but I’m surprised anyone would try anything this specialized. But I enjoyed it, so that’s not a complaint.

LAST OF THE STAR KINGS by Edmond Hamilton consists of two short stories in the same timeline as The Star Kings and Return to the Stars, plus a timeline showing how they fit into the same future as Hamilton’s Captain Future series. “The Star Hunter” has an Earth agent going onto the lawless frontier to beat an aspiring galactic conqueror to the secret of the Ultimate Weapon; “The Tattooed Man,” which is probably the better story, has a space adventurer in the post-Star Kings era trying to unravel the eponymous amnesiac’s knowledge of a lost, ancient world where the story’s villain hopes to obtain forbidden secrets (I must admit I’d have liked a twist of “What, you thought a civilization a million years in the past would have more advanced tech than the modern age?”). Enjoyable, though not up to the two novels. Someday I would like to read the last part of this mythos, “Stark and the Star Kings,” but it’s currently running over $100. It’ll have to wait.

You may know that in 1914, a truce broke out along the Great War front, as immortalized in the movie Joyeux Noel. In THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE: Myth, Memory and the First World War, Terri Blom Crocker argues that the popular image of the truce — defiant soldiers on both sides asserting their mutual humanity, followed by reprisals from outraged superior officers—is a myth. As the author shows, the forces on the front in 1914 were career soldiers rather than volunteers or draftees, and they had a professional respect for the pros on the other side; as Crocker puts it, they weren’t disenchanted by the brutality of war because they’d never been enchanted in the first place. Many of the soldiers supported the war; many officers supported the truce, if only as a practical measure buying both sides time to shore up their defenses. A good book, showing how the myth grew as the view of WW I grew bleaker (looking back after WW I, historians saw the Great War as a pointless exercise whose aftermath led to Hitler and the Holocaust).

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