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Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Lifestyles of the Rich But Not-So-Famous

If reading a book is a journey, the traveling I've done this past week has been pretty fabulous. In Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune, Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr. bring to life the history of a family once as eminent as the Rockefellers, now practically unknown. You might have even walked through the exquisite 19th century period room that the family donated to the Corcoran Gallery of Art without ever learning their name. The story takes you from the rise of William Clark’s fortunes in Wild West copper mines and ends with an eccentric heiress and the highly-publicized battle for her estate. 

The major focus of this book is the poignant saga of William Clark’s reclusive youngest daughter Huguette, a passionate, eccentric and extravagant collector. While she rarely appeared in public during her lifetime, she kept up an immense correspondence with a small group of friends, artists and employees. After entering the New York hospital in 1991 for a series of surgeries, Huguette chose to spend the last 20 years of her life in her small, austere hospital room. Even though she had completely recovered, she remained in seclusion and saw only a select few staff members. During this time, she continued to maintain several unoccupied mansions and luxury apartments, filled with priceless furnishings, cars and art.

This meticulously-researched book began when author Dedman's curiosity was piqued by the discovery of a multi-million dollar home that had sat empty since its  purchase in 1951. His research brought him into contact with coauthor Newell, a distant relative of Huguette’s. Newell had established contact with Huguette as a part of his research into the Clark family history. Although she called or wrote him several times a year over a nine-year period, he was never given her address or phone number. Their joint exploration into the Clark family is a fascinating look at both the possibilities and pitfalls of wealth. 

My journey with Empty Mansions began when a customer mentioned that her book club was reading a really interesting book, something that she never would have picked up on her own. When I saw a copy sitting on the Hot Picks shelf, I decided to give it a try. Without this customer's recommendation, I too would probably never have picked up this fascinating book.

As librarians, we spend a lot of time researching books to recommend to our customers. We use a variety of sources, from publisher press releases to Goodreads, to help us find great titles. But my favorite way to discover a book is still an old-fashioned recommendation from a friend. So go ahead and let me know.  What are you reading now?

Rebecca Wolff, Centreville Regional Library


Anonymous said...

I tend to read the same type of books all the time, so I've recently begun exploring outside of my "reading comfort zone."

Using a list found online, I've started reading five classics and five up-and-coming authors from a variety of genres.

I started out with mysteries, reading Anne Perry, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Agatha Christie for the "classics" and Tana French and Louise Penny for more contemporary examples. My next genre will be either historical fiction or fantasy.

I may not read all of the genres again, but right now I'm really enjoying branching out.

Rebecca Wolff said...

Good for you - you came up with a great list of authors to start off your new genre reading! I've always loved mysteries, but had never read any books in the action adventure/thriller genre until a few years ago. Much to my surprise, I found a new favorite in my own efforts to branch out - Lee Child's Jack Reacher series.