In this acclaimed autobiography, Roger Angell takes an unsentimental look at his early days as a boy growing up in New York with a remarkable father; a mother, Katharine White, who was a founding editor of The New Yorker; and a famous stepfather, the writer E. B. White. In intimate, funny, and moving portraits, Angell remembers his surprising relatives, his early attraction to baseball in the time of Ruth and Gehrig and DiMaggio, and his vivid colleagues during a long career as a New Yorker writer and editor. Infused with pleasure and sadness, Angell's disarming memoir evokes an attachment to life's better moments.
|Publisher:||Houghton Mifflin Harcourt|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
ROGER ANGELL joined The New Yorker as a fiction editor in 1962. He is the author of seven celebrated baseball books, including Game Time: A Baseball Companion. He lives in New York and Maine.
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Let Me Finish
By Angell, Roger
HarcourtCopyright ©2006 Angell, Roger
All right reserved.
One spring Saturday when I was seven going on eight, my mother brought me with her on an automobile outing with her young lover and future husband, E. B. White. She took our family car, a slope-nosed Franklin sedan, and we must have met Andy by prearrangement at our garage. He did the driving. We left New York and went up into Westchester County for lunch--this was 1928 and it was still mostly country. On the way back, my mother, who had taken the wheel, stripped the gears while shifting, and we ground to a halt, halfway onto a shoulder of the Bronx River Parkway. Disaster. Andy thumbed a ride to go find a tow truck, and my mother, I now realize, was left to make this into an amusing story to tell my father and my older sister at dinner that evening. She almost never drove--thus the screeching and scraping sounds beneath us and the agonized look on her face when she got lost in mid-shift and we broke down. It was also unusual, an adventure, for me to be alone with her and her office friend Mr. White, as she'd described him. I think I wasn't meant to be there; maybe a Saturday date with a schoolmate had fallen through, and she'd had no recourse but to bring me along. But she never would have taken me off on an outing that would require me to lie about it to my father afterward, so the trip must have beenpresented to him beforehand as a chance for her to practice her driving, with the reliable Andy White as instructor. I had no idea, of course, that she and I were stranded in a predicament, but I recall sitting beside her on the running board of the ticking, cooling Franklin while we waited, with the pale new shrubs and pastoral grasses of the Parkway around us, and the occasional roadster or touring car (with its occupants swiveling their gaze toward us as they came by) swooshing past. Then a tow truck appeared around the curve behind us, with Andy White standing on the right-hand running board and waving excitedly. Yay, I'm back, we're rescued! My father would never have done that--found a tow so quickly or waved like a kid when he spotted us.
The story stops here. I don't remember that night or anything else about our little trip, but in less than two years my parents were divorced and my mother and Andy married and living on East Eighth Street. They soon had their own car, or cars: they kept changing. The Depression had arrived, but they were a successful New Yorker couple--she a fiction editor; he a writer of casuals and poetry and the first-page Comment section--and they loved driving around in an eight-year-old Pierce-Arrow touring car, with a high-bustle trunk, side mirrors, and flapping white roof. After their son was born--my brother Joel--they moved up to a staid seven-passenger Buick sedan. In the mid-thirties, Andy also acquired a secondhand beige-and-black 1928 Plymouth roadster--country wheels, used mostly around their place in Maine. The Buick still mattered to him. Back when it was new, thieves stole it out of a garage on University Place one night and used it in a daring bank stick-up in Yonkers. Andy was upset, but when he read an account of the crime in the newspapers the next day, with a passage that went "and the robbers' powerful getaway car swiftly outdistanced police pursuers," he changed sides. "C'mon, Buick!" he said. "Go!"
Every family has its own car stories, but in another sense we know them all in advance now, regardless of our age. The collective American unconscious is stuffed with old Pontiacs, and fresh reminders are never lacking. Weekend rallies flood the Mendocino or Montpelier back roads with high-roofed Model A's and Chevys, revarnished 1936 Woodies, and thrumming, leaf-tone T-Birds; that same night, back home again or with our feet up at the Hyatt, we click onto TCM and find The Grapes of Wrath, or Bonnie and Clyde, or Five Easy Pieces, or Thelma & Louise, waiting to put us out on the narrow, anachronism-free macadam once again. (A friend of mine used to drive around the Village in his 1938 De Soto hearse, except when it was out on lease to still another Godfather movie.) Grandchildren, clicking to 50 Cent or Eminem on their iPods in the back seat, sigh and roll their eyes whenever the old highwayman starts up again. Yes, car travel was bumpier and curvier back then, with more traffic lights and billboards, more cows and hillside graveyards, no air-conditioning and almost no interstates, and with tin cans and Nehi signs and red Burma-Shave jingles crowding the narrow roadside. Give us a break.
Still, we drove, and what startles me from this great distance is how often and how far. I was a New York City kid who knew the subways and museums and movie theatres and zoos and ballparks by heart, but in the 1930s also got out of town a lot, mostly by car. I drove (well, was driven) to Bear Mountain and Atlantic City and Gettysburg and Niagara Falls; went repeatedly to Boston and New Hampshire and Maine; drove to a Missouri cattle farm owned by an uncle; drove there during another summer and thence onward to Santa Fe and Tesuque and out to the Arizona Painted Desert. Then back again, to New York. Before this, in March, 1933--it was the week of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's first inaugural--I'd boarded a Greyhound bus to Detroit, along with a Columbia student named Tex Goldschmidt, where we picked up a test-model Terraplane sedan at the factory (courtesy of an advertising friend of my father's who handled the Hudson-Essex account) and drove it back home. A couple of months later, in company with a math teacher named Mr. Burchell or Burkhill and four Lincoln School seventh-grade classmates, I crammed into a buckety old Buick sedan and drove to the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago; we came back by way of Niagara Falls, and, because I had been there before and knew the ropes, took time also to visit the Shredded Wheat factory, some tacky mummies, and a terrific fifty-cent roadside exhibition of dented and rusty, candy-wrapper-littered barrels and iron balls in which various over-the-brink daredevils had mostly met their end. With one exception, all of us in our party were still speaking.
If I now hop aboard some of these bygone trips for a mile or two, it is not for the sake of easy nostalgia--the fizz of warm moxie up your nose; the Nabokovian names of roadside tourist cottages; the glint of shattered glass and sheen of blood around a tree-crumpled gray Reo; or the memory of collies and children, unaccustomed to auto-motion, throwing up beside their hastily parked family vehicles--but in search of some thread or path that links these outings and sometimes puts Canandaigua or Kirksville or Keams Canyon back in my head when I wake up in the middle of the night. Effort can now and then produce a sudden fragment of locality: the car stopped and me waking up with my sweating cheek against the gray plush of the back seat, as I stare at a mystifying message, "VEEDOL," painted on a square of white tin so bright in the sun that it makes me wince. Veedol? Beyond it, against the stucco gas-station wall, is a handmade sign, wavery in the gasoline fumes rising outside my window. Where are we? I want to sit up and ask my father, standing out there in his sneakers, khaki pants, and an old shirt with rolled-up sleeves, who is fishing his thick brown wallet--we're on a long haul to somewhere--out of a hip pocket, but I'm too dazed to speak.
The first day of that 1933 school trip to the Chicago World's Fair went on forever, and it was after dark when we topped a hillside in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, slowed at the vision of Pittsburgh alight in the distance, and felt a little lurch and jolt as the right rear wheel fell off the Buick and rolled gently on ahead for a few yards by itself. I can't remember dinner, but it was past midnight when, rewheeled, we pulled up at the McKeesport YMCA and settled for two double rooms, plus cots. Jerry Tallmer, a surviving member of the party, tells me that a fellow traveler, less suave than the rest of us, confessed to him later that until this moment he'd held a childhood notion that if you weren't in bed by midnight you died. Out in Chicago, we took in the House of Tomorrow and Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion Car; ogled Sally Rand's "Streets of Paris" but didn't attend; went to the Museum of Natural History; laughed at Chicago's dinky elevated cars; and in our little notebooks wrote down that Depression soup kitchen lines in Chicago looked exactly like the ones in depressed New York. We were smart and serious, and would be expected to report on this trip in Social Studies, come fall. The Century of Progress, we concluded, was mostly about advertising. One afternoon, the temperature went down twenty-nine degrees in an hour and a half as a black storm blew in from over Lake Michigan; the next morning we read that the sightseeing plane whose ticket window we'd seen at the Fair had crashed, killing all aboard. Three days later, wheeling south from Niagara Falls, my companions (including the heroic Burkhill or Burchell, who did all the driving) offered to pay me two dollars apiece if I'd just shut up for a change, and not speak another word for the rest of the trip. Unaffronted and short of cash, I agreed, and collected my princely ten bucks while we were passing under the new George Washington Bridge, just about home.
Copyright © 2006 by Roger Angell
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Table of Contents
Movie Kid 21
The King of the Forest 29
Twice Christmas 52
Early Innings 57
We Are Fam-ilee 92
Getting There 138
Dry Martini 156
Permanent Party 165
Ancient Mariner 194
La Vie en Rose 203
At the Comic Weekly 215
Here Below 257
Hard Lines 287
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Let Me Finish based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
A series of memories constituting a memoir, by the baseball writer and New Yorker fiction editor. He writes about the romance of driving across country in the 20s and 30s, about the movies during the golden age in the late 30s and early 40s, ¿when the studios were cranking out five hundred films each year¿ and he went every day after school and before his father came home from work. He writes about his father, whose bitter divorce from Roger¿s mother Katharine eventually resulted in Roger and his older sister¿s fairly unhappy five days a week with their father and happier weekends with their mother and her new husband E. B. (Andy) White. He writes about playing and watching baseball in his childhood. ¿Sports were different in my youth¿a series of events to look forward to and then to turn over in memory, rather than a huge, omnipresent industry, with its own economics and politics and crushing public relations.¿ He describes a subway trip with a friend and Angell¿s king snake, to the Bronx Zoo for a ¿Consultation¿ about the snake¿s imperfect shedding of its last skin. Another chapter tells about interesting family members such as Aunt Elsie, Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant, who was wounded in WWI and almost supported herself with her literary biographies and articles for magazines, but looked down on her sister¿s work at The New Yorker, and Hildegarde, who walked naked on a Provincetown beach, wrote a biography of Simon Bolivar, married an oil man named Granville Smith with whom she bought a sheep and cattle farm in Missouri, and when she died was almost immediately supplanted by Evelyn Dewey, John Dewey¿s daughter. A whole chapter is devoted to Andy White, who married Katharine in 1929. Another chapter celebrates the martini, yet another details Angell¿s stateside war experiences of early marriage and teaching the Browning .50 caliber machine gun to new inductees. Travel in Europe and en route via liner is the subject of ¿La Vie en Rose.¿ Angell writes about the pleasures of sailing.In a chapter titled ¿At the Comic Weekly¿¿what Harold Ross once called The New Yorker¿Angell talks about Ross (¿It¿s surprising that Ross never saw himself as a writer¿), William Maxwell, William Shawn, Emily Hahn (¿perfect pitch in the little aria of the casual¿), and Gardner Botsford. Angell and his wife visit area graveyards, including their own plot in Brooklin, Maine. The concluding chapters are downbeat: In ¿Jake,¿ Angell writes about a fiction writer, John Murray, whose second story had not yet appeared in The New Yorker when he committed suicide, and in ¿Hard Lines¿¿the expression is the equivalent of ¿Tough Luck¿¿Angell talks about his friend Walker Field, dead of a glioblastoma at thrity-eight, and some other losses.
Roger Angell, at 88, is a lucky man. He thinks so himself. He's survived his knocks, his various unhapinesses - divorced parents, a divorce of his own, friends gone but not forgotten - and he appreciates what he has now, as well as what life has dealt him along the way. "Hard lines" is a phrase recalled from his college days, a shouted or whispered expression that could mean anything from "Buck up," or "Get over it, to "I'm so very sorry." Another reviewer noted he was glad that Angell spent more time talking about his childhood and youth than he did on his days at The New Yorker, where he worked as an editor for over fifty years. Me too, I guess, because remembrances from childhood and young adult years when we're all so fulla juice are often the most interesting. But when, in the latter part of the book, Angell does in fact get around to discussing the magazine and all the luminaries and characters who passed through its doors and pages, that part too is intensely interesting, especially if you're a "book person," as I have always been. I found myself taking notes, writing down names of authors and book titles I'd never heard of. And a few of those are already in my cart, waiting until I can sneak another Amazon order past my wife. This is not just a lot of fond reminiscing about "the good old days." This is memoir writing of the very highest calibre. I knew before I began this book that E.B. White was Angell's stepfather, so I expected to learn a bit more about that famous author of Charlotte's Webb and Stuart Little. And I did - in fact there is a whole chapter on "Andy" White - but I found myself perhaps even more interested in what Angell tells about his real father, Ernest Angell (called "Serious Cupid" by his school chums), a not particularly successful lawyer. What impressed me most about Angell's father was the seriousness with which he took his role as a "single parent," something rare among men in the 1920s and -30s. This is such a fascinating book I'm not quite sure what else to point out. I was interested to learn that Angell spent his summers for most of his life near Brooklin, ME, not far from Sargentville, ME, where writer Doris Grumbach plunked herself to spend the "end" of her life, and where she has resided mostly happily for the past 20 years. Grumbach is now 90 (and I just read two of her memoirs). I wonder if the two know each other. Perhaps one of the things I like most about Roger Angell is that despite a very successful professional life he refuses to take himself too seriously, but yet he recognizes the seriousness of what he has lived through and what might still be coming. Here's an excerpt from the "Hard Lines" section: "It's my guess that we cling to the harsher bits of the past not just as a warning system to remind us that the next Indian raid or suddenly veering, tower-bound 757 is always waiting, but as a passport to connect us to the rest of the world, whose horrors are available each morning and evening on television or in the TIMES. And the cold moment that returns to mind and sticks there unbidden, may be preferable to the alternative and much longer blank spaces ... Like it or not, we geezers are not the curators of this unstable repository of trifling or tragic days, but only the screenwriters and directors of the latest revival." At 88, Roger Angell may be on the downslope career-wise. However, as a writer he's at the top of his game - no "geezer-ness" in sight. He clued me in on a couple of other former New Yorker memoirs from Gardner Botsford and Emily Hahn, which I look forward to reading. But mostly I am grateful Angell has finally told his own story, honestly, without bitterness - even about its painful memories - and with humor and flair. This is one terrific book.
A warm collection of mostly previously published essays that embrace Angell's formidable literary genaology. Particularly memorable are descriptions of early Christmas celebrations split between his mother and father's homes in New York (they were divorced) and a skate on Boston Common with stepfather, EB White.
The self importance of the New Yorker lifer oozes through.