Modern “dance was a visualization of divinity, a way for dancers to realize that they were not in their bodies – their bodies were inside of them.”
Sixteen-years old Louise Brooks embodied the spirit of the Denishawn dance company noted for freeing the “human body from the ugly, crippling, unhealthy clothes that prevailed around the turn of the 20th century.” She was a maverick in every aspect of her colorful life.
17 met at the home of Bonnie Magee co-hosted by Rosemary Farmer. Barbara Creach, recovering from her “Alabama arm-twisting” led the discussion of this month’s selection. The author, a Kansas-native, imagines the life of the Wichita matron, Cora Carlisle, the thirty-six-year-old chaperone who accompanied future silent film star Louise Brooks to New York City in 1922. Cora’s story takes precedent over that of her larger-than-life fifteen-year-old “charge” as we discover the real reason she is interested in escorting her to the Big Apple where Louise is enrolled in dance school. Cora lived in a Catholic orphanage in Manhattan until she was seven and she yearns to learn about her parentage. She finds time to seek out the information she desires in spite of watching over a precocious, sexual, beautiful and brainy teenager and discovers the missing link in her life as she is liberated in a way she could not have imagined. The five weeks they spend together transforms their lives forever. Cora represents the history of women’s rights in the 20th century, applauding the end of prohibition, championing birth control and racial equality. Louise stood alone in a crowd – she was striking, extremely talented, self-absorbed, and self-destructive – a victim of abuse, an unwanted child of a mother who lived her dream vicariously through her daughter. She flew in the face of morality with the bravado of a street savvy professional no doubt begging for someone to love her for herself rather than a means to an end. Readers are introduced to the rich history of the 20’s, 30’s and beyond – from the orphan trains to Prohibition, flappers, the onset of the Great Depression, and the movement for equal rights and new opportunities for women. We learn how rapidly everything changed from fashion and hemlines to values and attitudes and what a difference it all made for those who lived in the midst of this tumultuous climate. Through their unconventional and brash war of wills relationship, Cora and Louise provided the other a sense of belonging, mutual respect, and unconditional love neither had experienced.
Our discussion included the sad relationship between Louise and her mother, Myra, who viewed her daughter only “as a limb of her own body” resenting Louise for “throwing away more than she (Myra) ever had.” We talked about the contrast in preferred reading materials between the star and the chaperone – Louise preferred German, Arthur Schopenhauer, nicknamed the Philosopher of Pessimism, whose thinking praises beauty and compassion and was one of the first to write extensively about sexuality. There was no God in his world – the original sin is the crime of existence itself…we are nothing but a set of desires (our desire to stay alive or have sex) or drives (heartbeats or the need to reproduce.) His opinion of marriage – getting married is like grabbing blind into a sack of snakes and hoping to find an eel. Cora preferred The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, winner of the 1921 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It is a love story on many levels and a documentary of a culture – the elite rich society of New York – set in the 1870’s detailing how they buried their own dreams and deepest desires behind a greater need to be accepted and approved by their own “reference” group as “people are chained to separate destinies” true of the rich and poor alike. We examined the oddity (to our generation at least) that Lysol was promoted through advertising as a feminine hygiene product also useful as a means of birth control. We talked about the necessity that the secrets within the Carlisle family be held forever – the ramifications of their discovery would shatter too many lives – and for what purpose? We discussed how much of Louise Brooks’ behavior would be considered scandalous today – most agreeing in light of the escapades of celebrities such as Tiger Woods, Woody Allen, Monica Lewinsky, Richard Nixon, Penn State sex abuse scandal, U.S. Olympic gymnastic team doctor, Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas, New York governor, Eliot Spitzer…to name a few – Louise Brooks self-medicating drinking, affairs, marriages, etc…might not even make The Enquirer. I did have a “peeve” with the 79 times “fine” was used by the author…I’m letting go!
The ending of the book reminded us we are not just one person identified by a moniker, but an accumulation of the “hats” we’ve proudly worn.
COLOR CODING SYSTEM
WHITE: LIGHT READ
PINK: MODERATELY CHALLENGING
December 10: Show up with the Christmas spirit in your heart – the one that causes the weary world to look beyond what confronts us daily and for a little moment forget the things that are small and wretched. I’m in charge. No book to buy just enjoy a dusting of Ho Ho Ho and bring one pair of warm and fuzzy tootsie covers to exchange (Christmas themed or fun slippers or socks) in a gift bag, no tag.
Home of Jane Shaw
Program: JoDee Neathery
Bonnie Magee will again coordinate the food and beverage.
January 14, 2020: The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni
Sam always saw the world through different eyes, born with red pupils he was called “Devil Boy” by his classmates: “God’s will” is what his mother called his ocular albinism. His unique condition, his mother’s devout faith, coupled with his father’s practical wisdom and his two other misfit friends makes for an entertaining read.
Home of Beverly Dossett
Discussion Leader: Ann Ireland
February 11: Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris
A scrawled sign peddling young siblings on a farmhouse porch captures the desperation sweeping the country in 1931. A struggling reporter snaps a photograph which changes his life with consequences he never expected.
Home of Daryl Daniels
Discussion Leader: Rokhshie Malone
March 10: The Roots of the Olive Tree by Courtney Miller Santo
A debut novel set in a house in an olive grove in Northern California, a touching story bringing to life five generations of women, including an unforgettable 112 year-old matriarch determined to break all Guinness longevity records – the secrets and lies that divide them and the love that ultimately ties them together.
Home of Patty Evans
Discussion Leader: Katherine McDonald
April 14: Beloved by Toni Morrison
In honor of the late Nobel Prize laureate’s finest achievement which stares unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery transforming history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby…filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope.
Home of Jean Alexander
Discussion Leader: TBD
May 12: TBD
Home of TBD
Discussion Leader: TBD
Summer read: TBD
We are born from the same artist that created sunrises, sunsets, and rainbows corroborating that different shades of life make the painting more beautiful.