Sunday read: The book of forgetting and forgetting

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Do you remember Fred Allen?

You probably don’t. You probably have never heard of Fred Allen. But at his peak, in the 1930s and 1940s, he had one of the most popular radio shows on the air, was hailed as one of America’s foremost humorists, and influenced everybody from contemporaries Jack Benny and Groucho Marx to future talk-show host Johnny Carson (the “Mighty Carson Art Players” was a take on the “Mighty Allen Art Players”). One of the characters on his show, Sen. Beauregard Claghorn, was the inspiration for the Warner Bros. character Foghorn Leghorn.

Do you remember Harold Robbins? James Michener? Fannie Hurst? They were some of the best-selling authors of their day. Robbins was greatly responsible for the kind of sex-dripping novel we now think of as an airport potboiler. Michener wrote doorstops, such as “The Source” and “Hawaii,” that tried to sum up centuries of history through a handful of characters. Hurst, who is name-dropped in Mel Brooks’ song “Hope for the Best, Expect the Worst,” wrote some of the best-selling books of the 1920s and ’30s. She was, perhaps, the Jodi Picoult of her day, seizing on social themes and getting hooted at by critics.

Do you remember “Imagine”? The 1971 John Lennon song?

Of course you do. It’s practically an anthem. As recently as last year, Gal Gadot rounded up a bunch of celebrities to sing it in the face of Covid. It didn’t go over well, but it wasn’t the song’s fault.

But if you asked one of Cesar A. Hidalgo’s students at MIT about “Imagine,” she would be clueless, as Hidalgo found out while listening to the song one day.

“Is it Coldplay?” the student asked.

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The ends of the earth

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I’ve got a couple Sunday reads lined up, but I don’t feel like writing about them. I’d rather write about something more immediate: the end of the world.

What? The world’s not ending?

I don’t know if I agree. Did you think the apocalypse would come from a nuclear conflagration or an asteroid strike, something that would wipe out all life (except the roaches and ants, of course) instantaneously? Or even a pandemic resembling the one we have, except more dramatic, like Stephen King’s Captain Trips?

No, I think this is the way the world ends – not with a bang, but a whimper.

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Sunday read: Three love stories for Valentine’s Day

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Today is Valentine’s Day, so instead of whining about the state of the world, I figured I’d look up some nice love stories on the web. But clickbaity websites being what they are, the headlines were enough to make even a Hallmark executive retch: “18 True Romantic Stories That Will Make You Believe in Love,” “True Love: Real-Life Couples Share Their Adorable True Love Stories” (which is the Google headline, not the website headline), “inspiring real-life love stories that will deeply touch your heart and restore your faith in love.” (That last is a description.)

I actually believe in love — hi to my wife, who I hope is enjoying those chocolate-covered strawberries — but as much as I want to go “aw,” I know from experience that love isn’t just those bubbly hearts that fizz in cable movies. It’s friendship and acceptance and — dare I say it? — a little work, too.

So for my Sunday read, I decided to go with something more low-key. Not depressing, not tragic, just three stories with a touch of wisdom about them.

They’re from the Guardian and they’re told matter-of-factly. Two of them feature older couples who have seen a few things — widowhood, divorce, rejection. A third is the best kind of right-place-at-right-time story. (I’ve got a friend who has a wonderful one of those featuring an Atlanta ice storm.) I hope they provide some pleasure on this sometimes too-sentimental occasion. (Take it from a sentimental fool.)

You can read “‘Fate brought us together’: three stories of serendipitous love” here.

Sunday read: Sing a song of Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett. Photo via the Palm Springs Desert Sun/Gannett.

Tony Bennett struggles to remember.

Faces can prompt blank looks. Words don’t come easily. Events from his past — a career that’s included Number One hits, success across the decades, praise from Frank Sinatra — have apparently vanished in the recesses of his mind.

Tony Bennett has Alzheimer’s disease. He was diagnosed in 2016, when he was 90. He’s 94 now, and though he still has many moments of clarity, the isolation of Covid hasn’t helped his condition.

But do not weep for Tony Bennett. He is actually an example of what staying active can do to keep the disease in the background. He even performed right up until last March, when Covid brought the curtain down on live performance, and his pianist, Lee Musiker, comes to Bennett’s apartment twice a week to rehearse. (Musiker succeeded Ralph Sharon, who worked with Bennett for five decades.)

Bennett is the subject of an extensive profile by John Colapinto, “Tony Bennett’s Battle with Alzheimer’s,” in the current AARP The Magazine. It’s my Sunday read.

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