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Donald Spoto writes lots of books, many about show biz people. His new book, "Enchantment: The Life of Audrey Hepburn," (Harmony Books, $29.95) is typical Spoto. Well researched, written in workmanlike prose, and always a bit titillating, although Spoto rightly remarks Hepburn was never a big sexual turn-on. He says it's because Hepburn was always teamed with co-stars old enough to be her fathers -- Gary Cooper, William Holden, Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart. Despite her cool demeanor, Hepburn had her share of sexual adventure.
When I was a little kid, my favorite politician got himself into all kinds of hot water. Harry S. Truman was the new president and his daughter, Margaret, an aspiring singer, performed a solo operatic performance in Washington, D.C. One of the local critics was not kind to her performance. Her proud father, the president, wrote a letter to the critic, called him an S.O.B.
"Is this the face that launched a thousand ships And toppled the towers of Ilium?" That's what the hero asks in Christopher Marlowe's Renaissance play, "Dr. Faustus" when he gets a glimpse of Helen of Troy. Madison, Wis., author Margaret George has just published "Helen of Troy." (Viking, $27.95). She is the author of "The Autobiography of Henry VIII" and "The Memoirs of Cleopatra." These books are not dry historical accounts of Tudor England or Ancient Rome, but novels told in the voice of the titular character. The same goes for her new book.
Poetry lost a treasure in August with the death of John R. Mitchell, age 66, just retired from the English Department at Augsburg College, where he taught for 37 years. Poetry bubbled out of Mitchell's fertile mind in great abundance. Many poems were published in Minneapolis's venerable North Stone Review. Still others appeared in Murphy Square, the college's literary magazine. And thousands -- yes thousands -- showed up in friends' mail and later e-mail. Many of Mitchell's students succeeded spectacularly, including the late John Engman, a poet.
"The Broken Branch," by Thomas E. Mann and Norman Ornstein (Oxford, $26) can attach itself to the mid-term elections coming up and sell some books. The branch that has been broken, according to the authors is Congress. When once this august body debated issues, paid attention to committees, etc., it now resorts to political bickering. First the Dems controlled Congress for a decade, then the Republicans came roaring back in 1994. And that's where the rubber hit the road and politics, the authors say, replaced deliberations for the good of the country.
It's time to gather together easy reading for the chilly nights ahead before the fireplace. Here's a potpourri of novels to get you started. "The Other Side of the Bridge" (Dial Press, $25) by Mary Lawson is out this week. Lawson, a Canadian who received raves for her first novel, "Crow Lake," in this outing tells the story of two farm boys, beginning before World War II and ending in the 1950s. Arthur's the good, hardworking kid, his brother Jake is mercurial, a misfit, who likes to torment his docile brother. Enter a beautiful woman who marries Arthur.
Years ago a very nice elderly gentleman from Savage, Minn., mounted a campaign to get the great sulky horse Dan Patch on a U.S. postage stamp. I followed him around and wrote a story about how he lectured to grade school and high school kids, how he talked to fraternal organizations and how he spent lots of money on mailings, trying to convince the U.S. Postal service that it would be a good thing to put the world's greatest pacer on a stamp. They, of course, ignored his pleas, preferring instead to issue five different stamps with Elvis Presley's mug on each.
Remember John Dean of Watergate fame? He's back in the news with his latest book, "Conservatives without Conscience" (Viking, $25.95).
What's in a title? "The Most Famous American," by Debby Applegate (Doubleday, $27.95) promises a good deal. Who is it? George Washington? Abe Lincoln? Daniel Boone? It turns out to be none of the above. Applegate's most famous American turns out to be Henry Ward Beecher. I figured that was a bit of a stretch and then I read the book and found out what a fascinating character this brother of author Harriet Beecher Stowe was back in the Civil War era. Beecher came from a famous New England family.
There's a little town in my home county called Trempealeau. Years back, while excavating for a new building, diggers found an old fur trading station from the early 19th century, long before Wisconsin became a state. In grade school our teachers told us about it over and over again and explained it was a fur collecting outpost sponsored by John Jacob Astor.