Reading–GENTLEMEN’S AGREEMENT (1947)
(This is the first in a series of posts about books that I’m reading. I have never just casually read a book. I’ve always read a book either to learn something from it, as with a nonfiction book, or to study the writer’s style and use of words, as with fiction.
(This series will be both a departure and addition to this site. As you know, in addition to my filmmaking as director-cameraman-editor I am also the writer. I’ve written two books that you can find–and buy!–on Amazon. Hopefully there shall be more to follow.
(With this new series of blogs I shall talk about the books I’m reading. Why I’m reading them. What I’m looking for in them. What I’ve found.
(I will be continuing the filmmaking articles. And the TV news articles. This is another side of me. With the accomplishments of writing of writing & publishing my first two books I’ve rediscovered reading–and I’ve become somewhat voracious about it. I’ve rediscovered fiction. And I’ve discovered that I have a hunger to learn more about the novelists who were giants in the 1950s and 1960s, when the drive of young writers was to see their names on the spines of books and not on movie posters or projected onto a screen.
(With that as an introduction, let’s begin with the first book, which I’ve only just finished:)
It’s curious reading an older book that’s so much about the time that it’s set in. Almost like a historical/anthropological experience.
Gentlemen’s Agreement by Laura Z. Hobson had been a huge bestseller when it was published in 1947, going on to become a movie starring Gregory Peck that won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1947. I’ve only seen the movie one time that I can remember, an afternoon matinee movie on TV when I was young and, frankly, did not think that much of it. The story deals with anti-Semitism in America in the time immediately following World War II when GIs are returning home.
The book’s style of writing and dialogue is purely 1940s. Much of it plays like a 1940s movie. I don’t know how much this reflects how people actually talked back then or how much the movies of the time influenced the popular fiction being written then.
I picked up this 1947 edition of Gentlemen’s Agreement at a Sacramento Friends of the Library book sale. I couldn’t believe it still had the original paper book jacket on it. I’ve don’t TV news stories on their sales where spend six dollars and fill up a grocery bag with as many books as it can hold. I have a great soft spot for old books from the 40s, 50s and 60s.
Part of the new wave of “kitchen sink”-“searing social commentary” books, plays and films of that era that explored and exposed the previously unspoken of topics of those times – poverty, prejudice, drug addiction, vice, mental illness, the organized labor movement, disillusionment of returning veterans and the middle class, etc.
Today, the book reads more like a made-for-TV movie. Perhaps it’s from books like Gentlemen’s Agreement that movies of the week emerged from.
In truth, I think this could best be described as a melodrama.
Gentlemen’s Agreement is only 270 pages long—and could easily be half that, for my taste.
I read books like this to get an idea of what works and what doesn’t work on the printed page.
It has far too much internalized description. And I like internalized thoughts. A good third of the book tells what’s going on in the minds of the characters.
The story focuses on a journalist, Phil Green, writing a story about anti-Semitism. However, there is very, very little of him working on the subject as there is of him thinking about the process and about writing the story, but, as a reader, you honestly don’t know much of what Phil Green is writing about to. There’s also an awful lot dealing with his private life and a woman, Kathy Lacey, who he’s falling in love with.
There was one very interesting scene in the book, around 80 pages in I believe. Phil Green is a WWII veteran and widower with an 8-year-old boy. Kathy is divorced. They meet very close to the start of the book at his magazine editor’s place for dinner. They soon start seeing each other. But this turns into longing and desire. One evening he goes to her apartment to discuss the project he is doing for the magazine and, in the most veiled of language, they fall into each other’s arms and sleep together. Their mutual passions and satisfaction is described but, again for the period, only in the most tasteful terms. After the scene they describe themselves as “lovers.” This moment was interesting and refreshing. It must be noted though, the sexuality of the scene was written in such a way that at times it was almost vague.
There’s also a lot of description about the views out the windows and how the light looks at the end of the day or—blah, blah, blah. Frankly, I have difficulty understanding some of it. It’s definitely written by someone with a great understanding of the English language, but not so much about writing gripping drama. Much of the time I wanted run a red pencil through lines on the page and shout out, “Get on with it!”
But it is interesting reading as a historical example of a time in our not too distant past. The time of our parents or grandparents generations.