By Beth Wareham
(With thanks to feminist biographer Oline Ealon for the title.)
I have a thing for Arthur Miller. Yup, “Attention must be paid!” Arthur Miller, Mr. Death of a Salesman himself. I can’t explain this crush; his glasses were too large. He was from Harlem, seemed like he knew gangsters, talked like a tough guy, WAS a tough guy and wrote great plays. His creative leap between Joe McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee and the Salem Witch trials in The Crucible was breathtaking. His appearance in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee more so.
His wife, Marilyn Monroe, was by his side as he testified. I never really did see what he saw in her. Not really. All pouty wet lips and whispers. Seemed to me that Arthur would like somebody who pushed back, somebody hyper-real.
Marilyn was all pink bubbles to me, impossible to visualize as the wife of a man like Miller, until, that is, I read about the 430 books catalogued in her library at her death. (Thanks, Booktryst.com)
I’M IN LOVE WITH THE NERDY MARILYN MONROE.
The list is long and strange and exciting. Zola, Proust and Moliere lived with Harold Robbins (The Carpetbaggers, one of my favorites.) The poetry section was huge, as were books of prayer and spirituality. Goodness Has Nothing to Do with It by Mae West sat by Minister of Death: The Adolf Eichmann Story by Quentin Reynolds. She read many plays as well as the ancients: Lucretius, Plato, Aristotle. I list below the books that Marilyn owned and read that I owned and read and loved. And if you don’t love her for her taste in literature, you’ll love her for another title in her library: Pet Turtles by Julien Bronson.
That Marilyn, she had it all.
(Click on title to buy book.)
1. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Lady Brett Ashley, love triangles, and the running of the bulls in between the great wars in Europe.
2. The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell
Four books, written between 1957 and 1960, exploring modern love in the ancient city of Alexandria, Egypt.
3. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
You know of this beautifully written book about the sad man with all the money: it’s America.
4. From Russia with Love by Ian Fleming
There was good reason James Bond went to film. You’ll find out why here.
5. The Fall by Albert Camus
Jean Paul Sartre’s great frenemy leaves us guessing with The Fall, his most challenging, mysterious work. Camus was in the Resistance against the Nazis, Sartre was not. Rancor ruled.
6. Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
Here are the joys, secrets and strangeness of a small American town in the hands of a master.
7. The Little Engine That Could by Platt and Monk
Who couldn’t use a little “I think I can” everyday of their life. Her copy had a childlike MM scrawled on it and no doubt took the 36-year journey through life with her.
8. My Antonia by Willa Cather
Willa Cather’s cornflower blue eyes saw it all, including this story of one kind of love turning into another.
9. The Collected Short Stories of Dorothy Parker
From the woman who said, “what fresh hell is this?” Dorothy Parker’s sharp tongue and command of language never cease to amaze.
10. The New Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer and Marion Rombauer*
A huge all-purpose cookbook, this is America at the supper table with Irma at the head, issuing orders in her no-nonsense voice. Marilyn used the 1952 edition, no doubt.
*This was long before I edited an edition of this book. Marilyn clipped recipes, wrote notes in the margins of cookbooks and cooked. I wish she’d marked her favorites.
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