Saturday, August 30, 2014

Today we remember the 'fifties, and more:

sLibrary of Congress
                                                                     National Book Festival

National Book Festival ImageJames Conaway

At the 2014 National Book Festival

James Conaway


  • Special Programs
    Saturday, August 30
    3:30 pm - 4:15 pm

Book Signing: The Forgotten Fifties

  • Saturday, August 30
    5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
James Conaway is a former Wallace Stegner fellow at Stanford University and the author of three novels, including, most recently, “Nose,” set in northern California’s wine country. He is also the author of nine books of nonfiction, the most recent being "Vanishing America: In Pursuit of Our Elusive Landscapes.” Conaway’s first novel, “The Big Easy,” is based on his experiences as a police reporter in New Orleans; his second novel, "World's End", is a Louisiana coastal saga of politics and crime. His new book is “The Forgotten Fifties: America’s Decade from the Archives of Look Magazine” (Skira Rizzoli). The Look archives are held in the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Conaway will appear with Amy Pastan and Tom Wiener.
    And these four titles are now available in new quality paperback editions, two novels, a memoir, and a book of travel reportage:                                          
This novel of violence and racial strife set in New Orleans is full of social and physical contrasts. Comiski, a newspaper reporter, descends into an underworld of corrupt policemen, narcotics dealers and black militants in an attempt to unravel a mysterious grave-robbing and find some meaning in his own life. Powerful and compelling. (Originally published in hardcover by Houghton Mifflin)
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH: “Grim, gripping, violent and practically impossible to put down.” PUBLISHERS WEEKLY: “The scene is unglamorous New Orleans — decay, dirt, garbage... smell, every kind of filth, hu- man and animal, in a brief, well-written novel of hopeless degradations that has a unique impact.” LIBRARY JOURNAL:“A short- fast-paced and absorbing novel... that probes deeply into the texture of the contempo- rary South, and entertains from first page to last.”                                                       

World’s End is about love, corruption, and retribution in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina swept much of that world away. Nostalgically bittersweet, intricately plotted, it works on several levels -- as a family saga, a political thriller, and a kind of generational noir. A compelling literary experience, and a complement to the author’s novel The Big Easy. (Originally published in hardcover by William Morrow)
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: “If tight melodrama laced with sex, power grabs and corruption is your dish, you’ll devour World’s End with the relish of a hungry mule in a cornfield...a spellbinder.”
KIRKUS: “This Louisiana tale, with its Mafia crime barons pitted against corrupt-government barons, expertly lifts numerous Puzo-ian scenes and motifs — tit-for-tat violence, family honor — while adding some strong local colorations and cinematic effects... there’s enough action and avarice down among the bayous to make this a solid, never crass or tasteless, commercial entry.”                                                                         
A touching, sometimes hilarious memoir of the 1950s when southern propriety was giving way to bourbon, Elvis, and sexual discovery. With rueful wit the author artfully renders a youth of hunting and fishing giving way to brawls, debutante parties, and literary exploration. The story is told against a wistful background of the poignant portrayal of a father struck by Alzheimer’s. (Originally published in hardcover by Houghton Mifflin)
Jim Lehrer in THE WASHINGTON POST — “Profound... hilarious... honest and serious... proof that the gods look more favorably on some writers than they do on others... Conaway moves through his family and life in Memphis in the ‘40s and ‘50s with the flow and grace of an impressionist painter.”
Tracy Kidder (Mountains Beyond Mountains, House) — “Exemplary... absorbing... sad and funny... It awakens our own memories, makes our own lives more available to us.”                                     

A vast, sprawling land of eternal hope and busted dreams, of grizzlies, dune buggies and range wars, dope growers, corporate bandits, ecotage and, yes, even gun-slinging. With grace and humor the author takes the reader along on an exhilarating land voyage from the Pecos River to the Pacific Northwest and south again to the Mexican border.... (Originally published in hardcover by Houghton Mifflin)
Jim Harrison (author of Legends of the Fall): “A wonderful and well-considered evocation of the New West, all the better because it reads like a fine novel.”
Wallace Stegner (Angle of Repose): “He got into places and activities that most native Westerners never even get close to, and he reports them with verve, wit, irony, and a very sharp eye. He gives us, pretty much from the viewpoints of the antagonists, the battles between those who want to use the West, even to death, and those who want to preserve it... A sound and very lively book.”

Please go to:

Friday, August 29, 2014

Finally a reviewer picks up on the real subject of my book

(Thanks Neil Pond)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

My new piece on National Geographic Traveler's primo website, Intelligent Travel:

The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., provides a stunning home for 4,000 European and American paintings, 3,000 sculptures, 31,000 drawings, 70,000 prints, 12,000 photographs, and much more. It’s an awesome trove, to be sure, but approaching it requires planning.
Most of the art is not on display at any one time, of course, but some spectacular pieces always are, and they provide the best starting point.
Finding them can be exciting, and satisfying, a treasure hunt for the aesthetically minded traveler drawn to one of the U.S. capital’s prime attractions.
It helps—a lot—to have the guidance of a curator like Eric Denker, who shared his favorite masterworks in the museum’s permanent collection, all of them priceless.
1. “The Alba Madonna,” by Raphael (Gallery 20)
“Several of the [National Gallery's] paintings were acquired from the Hermitage [Russia’s premier art museum] back in the 1930s by Andrew Mellon,” Denker says, “including ‘The Alba Madonna,’ by Raphael, which belonged Czar Nicholas I.”
Originally painted around 1510 on a wood panel and later transferred to canvas, what Denker describes as “a dangerous procedure” where gauze is placed over the painting and covered with hot wax, which holds the work in place while the wood is removed. “The painting is then glued and ironed to the canvas,” he says. “You have to be careful.”
Quite an understatement. Gallery officials don’t discuss the worth of the works of art on display at the museum, but this painting is no doubt worth upwards of $200 million.
"The Alba Madonna," the most important painting in the U.S. from Raphael's time in Rome, according to the National Gallery. (Photograph by NGA Images, National Gallery of Art)
“The Alba Madonna,” the most important painting in the U.S. from Raphael’s time in Rome, according to the National Gallery. (Photograph by NGA Images, National Gallery of Art)
2. “The Annunciation,” by Jan van Eyck (Gallery 39)
Another priceless Hermitage acquisition, “The Annunciation” was painted by the Dutch master van Eyck in the 15th century on panel and transferred to canvas while still in Russia. It depicts the annunciation of Jesus as described by St. Luke in the Bible and was probably once part of a religious triptych.
Critics point out that the artist managed to convincingly portray even the textures of materials ranging from polished stone to the soft petals of flowers. It belonged at one time to William II, King of the Netherlands and also to Czar Nicholas. It was purchased by Mellon in 1930. Looking at it, you can convince yourself it was painted yesterday, the detail in the fabric and are stone so bright and realistic.
3. “Self-Portrait,” by Rembrandt van Rijn (Gallery 48)
Rembrandt produced this masterpiece in 1659 in Amsterdam, where he was the leading artist of his time. One of many self portraits done throughout his life that provides a chronological pictorial record of the famous Dutch master, it was done following a period of financial difficulty for Rembrandt, and the burden is evident in his mien.
This painting is part of the museum’s extraordinary acquisition from the Hermitage collection. “It was exceptional to get that group of paintings,” Denker says, referring to the works that originated in St. Petersburg. “Anyone under Rembrandt’s deep, melancholy gaze feels the weight of responsibility inherent in owning them.”
"Self-Portrait," by Rembrandt van Rijn  (Photograph by NGA Images, National Gallery of Art)
“Self-Portrait,” by Rembrandt van Rijn (Photograph by NGA Images, National Gallery of Art)
4. “Ginevra de’ Benci,” by Leonardo da Vinci (Gallery 6)
The same feeling comes over anyone looking at another of Denker’s picks, “Ginevra de Benci,” painted by Leonardo da Vinci between 1474 and 1478, yet another hot wax transfer from wood panel. “It’s the only [permanent] Leonardo in America,” he says of the portrait of a wealthy Florentine banker’s daughter.
The painting was misattributed in 1780 to a lesser painter and only discovered to be a Leonardo much later. After World War II it was acquired by Prince Franz Joseph II, and then by Andrew Mellon for the National Gallery.
Leonardo's "Ginevra de' Benci" (Photograph by NGA Images, National Gallery of Art)
Leonardo’s “Ginevra de’ Benci” (Photograph by NGA Images, National Gallery of Art)
5. “Venus With a Mirror,” by Titian (Gallery 23)
The last painting acquired from the Hermitage, this gorgeous canvas comes complete with adoring putti (angels). Rendered in Rome in 1555 during the Renaissance’s classic revival, this painting seems convincingly modern, with colors and attitudes strikingly sensual.
"Venus with a Mirror," by Titian (Photograph by NGA Images, National Gallery of Art)
“Venus with a Mirror,” by Titian (Photograph by NGA Images, National Gallery of Art)
6. ”Daniel in the Lions’ Den,” by Peter Paul Rubens (Gallery 45)
Some paintings have unusual distinctions, Denker says. “Daniel in the Lions’ Den,” by Peter Paul Rubens, happens to be the largest painting done by the artist’s own hand.” In his time, popular painters often had understudies working under their direct supervision.
This work, undertaken between 1614 and 1616, illustrates the Old Testament story of the biblical hero condemned for worshipping God.
"Daniel in the Lions' Den" (Photograph by NGA Images, National Gallery of Art)
“Daniel in the Lions’ Den” (Photograph by NGA Images, National Gallery of Art)
7. “Woman With a Parasol – Madame Monet and her Son,” by Claude Monet (Gallery 85)
Another of Denker’s favorites, Monet’s “Woman with a Parasol” was painted in 1875 in the French countryside. “It was in the second exhibition in Paris in 1876,” Denker says, and represented a bold rejection of the rigidity of academic portraiture then in vogue.
It’s one of two paintings in the National Gallery’s collection that were part of the Parisian exhibition of work by so-called “Intransigents,” visionaries in rebellion against the accepted artistic norms.
Claude Monet's iconoclastic masterpiece, "Woman With a Parasol" (Photograph by NGA Images, National Gallery of Art)
Claude Monet’s iconoclastic masterpiece, “Woman With a Parasol” (Photograph by NGA Images, National Gallery of Art)
8. “Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl,” by James Abbott McNeill Whistler (Gallery 69)
“The White Girl,” completed in 1862, was also snubbed by the Paris tastemaker elite in the form of a rejection by the prestigious Royal Academy exhibition, Denker says. But sometimes being passed over has its rewards.
Whistler’s mysterious portrait went on to become part of an avant-garde protest in 1863 known as the “Salon des Refus├ęs” (Exhibition of Rejects) that generated much controversy—as well as plenty of attention to the emerging artist’s work.
"Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl" (Photograph by NGA Images, National Gallery of Art)
“Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl” (Photograph by NGA Images, National Gallery of Art)
9. “The Shaw Memorial,” by Augustus Saint-Gaudens (Gallery 66)
While not an original, Denker has a particular fondness for “The Shaw Memorial.” The gilded plaster cast of an identical bronze high-relief sculpture in Boston dedicated in 1897, is on renewable loan to the National Gallery by the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in New Hampshire.
Considered by many to be the best American sculpture of the 19th century, Saint-Gaudens’s masterpiece honors the service and sacrifice of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the men of the 54th Massachusetts, one of the first official Civil War regiments of African-Americans enlisted in the federal army.
10. Family of Saltimbanques,” by Pablo Picasso (Gallery 80)
Painted in 1905 in Paris during the young artist’s struggle for recognition, Pablo Picasso’s “Family of Satimbanques” shows circus performers in repose that symbolize “the melancholy of the neglected underclass of artistes,” the most important painting of Picasso’s early career and an indication of the monumental success that would follow.
James Conaway is a featured contributor for Intelligent Travel and writes for other publications devoted to travel, history, and culture. Read more from James on his wine blog and check out his latest book, Nose.                                                                   

Saturday, August 23, 2014

What were we thinking?

Marilyn Monroe showing everybody how to walk, photo from The Forgotten Fifties. I'll be reading from that book Saturday, Aug. 30, at the  national book festival on the Mall which this year's in the convention center.

   My other book about the 'Fifies, Memphis Afternoons, was recently re-released.      

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

New York Magazine on "The Forgotten Fifties"

       (The reviewer failed to note that my book's really about the darker side of the fifties - sexism, racism, the struggle to get by, and Americans' search for a real identity amidst the rise of advertising and corporate power.)                                                          

Revisit the Golden Era of Look Magazine

From its founding in 1937 until the early ’70s, Life Magazine — the first American weekly picture magazine — was the most popular rag in the country. But it was not without its competitors: 1937 also marked the founding of Look Magazine, run by Des Moines Tribuneeditors and brothers Gardner and John Cowles.
Derided as “barber shop reading” in the ’40s, Look — known for its large-scale photographs and very short articles — lacked the high aspirations and self-seriousness of Life. At the time of its launch,Time described the magazine as having “reader interest for yourself, for your private secretary, for your office boy — a magazine mostly for the middle class and for ordinary lives.”
Look had sold 3.7 million issues by the mid 1950s, but the biweekly went out of print in 1971 (a year before Life) and largely faded from historical consciousness. This month, a new book, The Forgotten Fifties, celebrates the magazine’s heyday. Mining the publication’s archives from the Library of Congress, James Conaway compiled photographic highlights that include rare shots of Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and Jackie Kennedy, as well as photographs by a young Stanley Kubrick — who began his career as a staff photographer at the magazine in the late ’40s.
         My other book about the Fifties:                                                        

Monday, August 18, 2014

Haut Okanagan: "A bottle of wine, a loaf of bread [and some cheese], and thou..."

             A surprise in New Zealand two years ago - - led to the rediscovery of a great wine in British Columbia...                                                    
                                               Torsten Allander's vineyard on the
                            Naramata Bench north of Penticton


                                    The scent that binds...                                                                    
                       Monkica Walker's Okanagan Grocery, Kelowna
                                               On the altar of the goat...                                                                        
            Ofri and Ofer Barmor's Carmelis Goat
                               Cheese,  just south of Kelowna

For newly released titles go to:

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A new book - mine - and my first experience with this literary form...

The Forgotten Fifties Written by James Conaway, Contribution by Library of Congress, Introduction by Alan Brinkley
I was asked to write a book about a decade I lived through (barely), using old Look photographs as inspiration. That's what I did, thumbing bound copies at the Library of Congress and imagining myself a kind of American everyman, for want of a better word. What emerged was a narrative in first person plural, a surprise and an inspiration in itself: suddenly I was both myself and my parents, looking at the Fifties as a kind of disembodied version of the present, the words pouring from a reservoir of experience I hadn't looked into since writing my memoir, Memphis Afternoons...
                                       From  Rizzoli New York

The Forgotten Fifties: America's Decade from the Archives of LOOK Magazine

Written by James Conaway, Contribution by Library of Congress, Introduction by Alan Brinkley
  •  August 26, 2014
  •  Hardcover
  •  Photography - Photojournalism
  •  Skira Rizzoli
  •  9 x 9
  •  $45.00
  •  $45.00
  •  978-0-8478-4373-2

About This Book

From the pages of Look, the magazine that defined the fifties, comes a photographic portrayal of the dynamic era that sparked a transformation in America’s political and cultural identity. From the Red Scare incited by Joseph McCarthy to the election of John F. Kennedy as president in 1960, the 1950s heralded some of the most striking and clashing aspects of twentieth-century America: the Korean War and I Love Lucy; the Bunny Hop and Brown v. Board of Education; bikinis and UFOs; Disneyland and the polio vaccine; Elvis and Allen Ginsberg; the Invisible Man and Roman Holiday; Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy. The evocative images in this volume—many never before published—chart a contradictory decade, transcending what we have come to know as "the age of Ozzie and Harriet." Provocative and endearing, best-selling journalist James Conaway’s entertaining and highly readable year-by-year survey will resonate with a generation that came of age in the 1950s but also prove compelling to younger audiences who identify with that hopeful yet uneasy epoch.

About the Author

James Conaway is the author of nine books of nonfiction, among them Memphis Afternoons and Napa: The Story of an American Eden, and several novels, including Nose and The Big Easy. 
  To order Memphis Afternoons click on:

    Friday, August 8, 2014

    Writing Redux IV: That would make a good novel...

    Not necessarily                                                                         
                                          (He died with Billy Budd unpublished,  in a drawer.)

        Often journalists finding that an assignment has dropped out of the ether - they once dropped out of stamped envelopes - and that they themselves are about to be transported to a realm unknown, think, “This would make a good novel.” As if in the unrealized state a novel depends solely upon access to a world apart, and our own lovely sentience, and all we have to do is write it.
         Nice to think so, and almost impossible not to say those words aloud from time to time, but no, those experiences rarely make good novels. They don’t even make coherent ones.
         The reasons for this are almost as varied as life itself but basically boil down to the fact that good novels come out of loss - of love, fortune, ideals, experience, writing itself. Whatever emotions you were originally possessed of are transformed into something less than the experience itself, and the cherished illusion that worked so beautifully in the imagination is either reduced, or frittered away in the rendering.
         Most people are unable or unwilling to endure for long the second sort of loss, which involves attempting, over and over again, to get it right, followed by the spectacle of the thing itself evaporating into the slip-stream of constricting distance. This usually means, at least in my case, that the experience hasn’t been pushed through the filters enough, or it has been pushed through too often and all perspective lost, making of the original experience something else entirely. 
         Not the crystalline truth you were so sure of, but a candidate of last resort which is in fact what most novels, even good ones, turn out to be. I suspect that even the most celebrated examples of fiction are unacknowledged compromises. In Remembrance of Things Past , for instance, the subject was so masticated in the author’s mind over a long period of dissolution and decline that it sprang full-blown decades later from an almost sexual encounter with a cookie dipped in tea.
        There’s that most extraordinary American example, Moby Dick of the long-gestating novel and forceful emergence of an entire world out of the fecund rot of the re-imagined past. In it, an aging Melville sets sail again in a great sloshing, mnemonic vessel of obsession, transcendental belief and yeomanly know-how; what works its way up from the seemingly depthless springs of his brain is part of the culture now, an exuberantly alive story in language of the same ilk.
          How I would like to know what Melville thought as he struggled with that experience, seeing it evanesce beneath his pen into characters of another world as well as his own, all set on a narrative course to the literal end of things and infused with a vision most novelists yearn for but never glimpse.
          Melville’s loss must have been three-fold, including the first two I mentioned – diminishment of the experience by the very act of setting it down, and any author’s knowledge that the novel could have been just a bit better – and the fact that few appreciated Moby Dick when it was published. Melville then passed into obscurity, in his time, a kind of scribal Van Gogh sitting out the February of the soul somewhere in New England and gazing out onto sere, dry land lit by the descending sun.
          There are quicker and more satisfying ways than a novel to replicate and cherish a moment in life and impose a modicum of control you never really had. Doing this can preserve something of the moment’s essence, but in what form? Memoir may be the most obvious and approachable, redeploying the past as revelation for writer and reader, but memoir lacks the sheer exuberance of the imagination and, more importantly, can’t easily accommodate the unforeseen. And memoir’s really lost to the liberating, sometimes demonic possibility that is the novel’s glory, even though memoirs’ strengths and satisfactions are many.
          Non-fiction in general has the same limitations as memoir, only more so, enjoying the underpinning of constant factualness the novel lacks in all but the particulars but fatefully bound by the same thing. Fact sets nonfiction on its way and provides confabulatory tree blazes through lands both wooded and desolate, but it’s always “real” and the journey’s outcome usually known before boot meets ground.
          Which brings me to my own novel, Nose, set in a vernal, isolated valley in northern California, bound by the great prospects and occasionally great fortunes of wine. I'll get to that, but be prepared: the journey from imagining to actually holding a book in covers is harder than ever these days. So much has changed in the process that it’s almost unrecognizable to a writer remembering the hopeful, once quite wonderful not-so-long -ago.
    (Writing Redux series starts with the July 29 post, Tempest in a Wine Glass, in the archive to the right.)
        My earlier novel about love, eating, crime, politics and revenge in southern Louisiana,
     is commented upon at: