Movie trailer for Michael Curtiz’s Young Man with a Horn, based on the Dorothy Baker book of the same name. The film has quite a cast: Kirk Douglas as Rick Martin (in the role of wild artist similar to his later one as Vincent Van Gogh in Lust for Life), Doris Day (who steals the show with her songs), Lauren Bacall (sophisticated bad girl), and Hoagy Carmichael (who actually knew and played with Bix Beiderbecke, the trumpet man whose music inspired the book).
First published in 1962 (her first novel was Young Man With a Horn, about Bix Beiderbecke, but I never got on with that because of my deaf ear for jazz), modern readers will relish the breezily accepted materialism, the pin-sharp portrait of a tiny part of society, as if picked out in Californian sunlight. It is also knowing and wise: a lesson in how wisdom is worth more than intelligence – not that intelligence is to be denigrated. [Deborah] Eisenberg says this book ‘should never be out of print’, and I couldn’t agree more. This novel, despite its specific setting, hasn’t aged in the slightest: really good writing like this doesn’t age. It’s always up to date.
—from Nicholas Lezard’s review of Cassandra at the Wedding in The Guardian. Though we wished he had “got on” with Young Man with a Horn—you don’t need an ear for jazz to enjoy it, though reading it might make you want one.
They played hard and they played well and it wasn’t all solo either. Toward daylight they had built up a blend of melody and harmony that was older and emotionally deeper than the brave virtuosity of the first hours. It was the music of men who look backward with wisdom rather than forward with faith. They were tired now, and dependent on each other, not so ruggedly individualistic. They brought the dawn in with sad and mellow music.
—from Dorothy Baker’s Young Man with a Horn, based on the music, not the life, of Bix Beiderbecke.
Happy publication day to Dorothy Baker’s Young Man with a Horn!
In his afterword to this edition, Gary Giddins mentions that the popularity of the book led to its being parodied in the New Yorker by Wolcott Gibbs. (It also won the prestigious Houghton Mifflin fellowship, which also launched the careers of Philip Roth, Robert Stone, Ann Petry, and others).
Subscribers can read the full, amazingly accurate, spoof here.
Of course, nothing illustrates so vividly as family the essentially unsatisfactory nature of being a person. The first thing one learns in life is that the self is a partial thing; at the very moment of birth one is consigned to terminal separateness. The one attribute we can be sure that we all share is incompleteness. And perhaps that’s our strongest suit, because without it where would we be? Off alone, each of us, in his or her own little tree house, complete, fulfilled, entirely happy in the perfection of solitude—no love, for example, and no family.
If we sought the company of others only for help, say, in building our individual tree houses, human associations would last no longer than it takes to pound some nails into a board. Surely, among the things that draw us together with such binding force is the painful longing to fit our own jagged, torn edges together with those of another, to become complete. And if we think of love as the oblique and approximate remedy for this painful longing which Plato describes so vividly, we could say that family is the arena in which we first encounter that remedy’s comical and terrible disappointment.
—from Deborah Eisenberg’s afterword to Dorothy Baker’s Cassandra at the Wedding. Cassandra is a smart young girl living in Berkeley in the early 60s and very close to her identical twin sister, Judith. Judith’s upcoming marriage to her nice but slightly bourgeois doctor boyfriend from Connecticut in their familial ranch in the Sierras throws Cassandra into an emotional tailspin. Next week we’ll be releasing Baker’s first novel, Young Man with a Horn, both with cover art from the Bay Area Figurative School painter David Park.
— Young Man with a Horn by Dorothy Baker
As we prepare to officially launch our Fall 2012 list we wanted to share our upcoming books. This is the first part of the season, and we’ll post the remainder later:
Growing Up Absurd by Paul Goodman: Paul Goodman was a sociologist, philosopher, poet, writer, educator, anarchist, and gay rights activist. He was one of the most influential thinkers in the second half of the 20th century, and helped inspire the student movements of the 1960s. Growing Up Absurd is his most famous and influential book on education, work, and simply growing up, and was a bestseller in its day.
Voltaire in Love by Nancy Mitford: In the hands of Nancy Mitford the story of the sixteen-year affair between Voltaire and Madame du Châtelet is more than a biography of the world-renowned philosophe and the ground-breaking female scientist: it is an engaging and fresh love story set in a moment of rapidly evolving history.
Young Man with a Horn by Dorothy Baker: Based on the life of the notoriously hip and talented Bix Beiderbecke, this novel shows how jazz music overtook the life of a young man, who, unable to reconcile his music with his life, drives himself quickly to destruction.
Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker: Cassandra Edwards—gay, brilliant, nerve-wracked, miserable—is bent on destroying her twin sister’s wedding. How much of this is her rejection of conventional mores? Or is her own instability stopping her from accepting her sister’s new life?
Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis: One of the most celebrated comic novels of all time, particularly known for its famed hangover scene. It is the story of Jim Dixon who seethingly endures the mediocrity of provincial, collegiate life, until he can take it no longer and lets forth one of the funniest, and ultimately successful, rebellions of all time.
The Old Devils by Kingsley Amis: A story of aging, resentment, enduring love, and friendship that won the Booker Prize in 1986. Martin Amis considers The Old Devils to be his father’s best work.
The Stammering Century by Gilbert Seldes: Before the United States was a global powerhouse, it was a hotbed of religious dissent and movements, whose practioners feared the wrath of God and bravely struck through a harsh landscape to help their distant neighbors find Salvation. Those interested in the foundation of contemporary America’s various faiths will finds the stories here.
The Other by Thomas Tryon: Following closely after the publication of Rosemary’s Baby, The Other was a huge financial and critical hit and a prime example of the birth of modern horror fiction. A scary tale of 13-year old twins, one good and the other very, very evil.
Basti by Intizar Husain: Set in the heart of India and Pakistan’s bloody, and today still resonant, Partition, Basti, similar to Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss, shows how religious intolerance and nationalist politics can tear apart towns, friends, and families. An important novel considering Pakistan’s position in the world today.
Going to the Dogs by Erich Kästner: Berlin during the Weimar era was a time of artistic creation and financial ruin. The characters in Going to the Dogs spend their days hanging on to any job or money they can get, and their nights running riot in cabarets. All the while a political and human disaster is hanging over their heads.