Friday, May 18, 2012

Dorothy Parker

'The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue' 

This week I've been enjoying the writings of Dorothy Parker. In 1944 a volume compiled over two dozen of Parker's short stories and selected poems with an introduction by Somerset Maugham. It was released in the United States under the title The Portable Dorothy Parker. It is one of only three of the Portable series to remain continuously in print, the other two being Shakespeare and The Bible, showing how the forever quotable Parker's literary output and reputation for her sharp wit have endured, though she was dismissive of her own talents, deploring her reputation as a 'wisecracker'.

I listened to the audio. It’s interesting what you might take from a book if you listen instead of read (what it is you take and what you miss I’m not quite sure, an interesting blog post on  the subject by Eva, who reads a lot, here). The first story, Big Blonde, is a perfect piece of layered story telling. The final piece, A Phone Call, is wonderfully read by Hollywood legend Shirley Booth, heart rendering in its emotion. A lot of audiobooks become unbearable when an actor really tries to make a mark, putting on ridiculous voices for different characters and screaming some parts so you need to be on constant volume control. On the other side of the spectrum, some readers go for a one pitch monotonous grumble, especially if trying to capture the attitude of one of the hard-boiled or beat writers. When the story is told truly its just right, and what a nice touch if the author does the reading.

In the 30s Parker travelled to Hollywood to pursue screenwriting. Her successes there included two Academy Award nominations. In the 30s and 40s she became an increasingly vocal civil rights advocate and a frequent critic of those in authority. She was listed as a Communist in the McCarthy era and was placed on the Hollywood blacklist by the studio bosses.

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