I realize that by having the rating in the title, there is no incentive to read the review! So be it. But at least read the blurb (it's a little bit long):
I'll Take You There tells the story of Felix Funicello, a film scholar who runs a Monday night movie club in what was once a vaudeville theater. One evening, while setting up a film in the projection booth, he's visited by the ghost of Lois Weber, a trailblazing motion picture director from Hollywood's silent film era. Lois invites Felix to revisit - and in some cases relive - scenes from his childhood as they are projected onto the theater's movie screen.
In these magical movies, Felix reconnects with the women who are the most important in his life. There's his daughter, Aliza, a Gen Y writer for New York Magazine who is trying to align her postmodern feminist beliefs with her lofty career ambitions; his sister, Frances, with whom he once shared a complicated bond of kindness and cruelty; and Verna, a fiery would-be contender for the 1951 Miss Rheingold competition, a beauty contest sponsored by a Brooklyn-based beer manufacturer that became a national phenomenon for two decades. At first unnerved by these ethereal apparitions, Felix comes to look forward to his encounters with Lois, who is later joined by spirits of other celluloid muses.
Against a backdrop where politics, pop culture, family secrets, and Hollywood iconography converge, Felix gains an enlightened understanding of the women closest to him, and of the feminine ideals and realities that women, of every ear, must face.
There's obviously a bit of the fantastical in this book, since there are visits by ghosts. But I've got news for you: This book read like non-fiction to me. I know that sounds crazy, and I don't know how to explain it. All of the lengthy sections of him at various stages of childhood just seemed real to me. And when he actually had the opportunity to relive different stages of his life, I felt I was standing right next to him. This is in direct contrast to The Glass Castle, which always felt like fiction to me. Anyway, onward.
What else did I like about this book? Being a huge movie fan (my wife and I go to 65-70 movies a year! - in fact, just saw #64 today), I really liked learning so much about early films and some of the original female actresses and even a female director/filmmaker. I had never heard of Lois Weber and some of the silent movie actresses. But based on my quick research, Lamb has depicted all of them accurately.
I also liked learning about the Rheingold Girl, based on the Brooklyn beer company. This contest ran from 1941-1964. I had never heard of the beer or the contest. But it definitely existed. And here's something else I learned:
Using photographs of pretty women to sell products had not been an advertising industry standard until the mid-1920s, when it came about as the result of a labor strike by commercial artists. It's hard to believe, but prior to this, advertisers had relied on illustrators to draw the imagery that promoted their clients' wares. But a desperate mail-order company preparing a spring catalog needed pictures pronto. And so, comely chorus girls were borrowed from Broadway and photographed. Their halftone images replaced the hand-drawn illustrations that had been the norm and sales improved significantly. As a result, a new Manhattan-based industry - professional modeling - was born.
How cool is that?
Finally, I liked the relationship between Felix and his daughter, Aliza. And I liked learning history through Aliza's articles for the magazine.
I'll Take You There is not the best book I have recently read, but it's definitely one that I would recommend. It is available to purchase this coming Tuesday, November 22.