rocketjk catches up in 2019

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rocketjk catches up in 2019

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1rocketjk
Editado: Jul 26, 2019, 3:30pm

My reading is an eclectic mix of fiction, history, memoirs, bios and more. In addition to the books I read straight through, I like to read anthologies, collections and other books of short entries one story/chapter at a time instead of plowing through them all at once. I have a couple of stacks of such books from which I read in this manner between the books I read from cover to cover (novels and histories, mostly). So I call these my "between books." When I finish a "between book," I add it to my yearly list.

As I noted on the Introduction thread, I intend to "catch up" here on Club Read by posting one or two of the reviews from my 2019 50-Book Challenge thread until I'm caught up, while also posting books I'm reading currently, as I finish them. Please feel free to comment on any and all of my posts.

OK, to start, on January 7, I posted my first book of the year:

The Arrow of Gold by Joseph Conrad



I have a long-standing tradition of starting each calendar year's reading with a Joseph Conrad novel, thereby reading (or in most cases, re-reading) these works in chronological order. 2019 brings me to The Arrow of Gold, the second from last novel published by Conrad during his lifetime (not counting those co-written with Ford Maddux Fod), and one of only two left that I'd never read (The Rescue is the other). Conrad is one of my true literary heroes, but, sad to say, I did not find The Arrow of Gold to be particularly satisfying. It's a "past his prime" work, to be sure. Conrad still has insights to offer about human nature and romantic love, but too much of the story is told through exposition, and the attitudes and actions of the two main protagonists are, at times, inexplicable to me. I'll look forward to reading The Rescue next year, and then a re-read of The Rover after that. Perhaps I'll then go back and read the co-efforts with Ford, or maybe I'll dip back into my favorites of his.

2rocketjk
Editado: Jul 26, 2019, 1:03pm

From January 10:

Scheherezade: Tales from the Thousand and One Nights translated by A. J. Arberry



According to this book's back cover, famed British orientalist A.J. Arberry's translation of these famous tales was "the first new rendering in over half a century." This relatively slim volume contains only four tales, actually, "Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp," "Judar and His Brothers," "Aboukir and Abousir" and "The Amorous Goldsmith." It was fun and interesting, in particular, to read Aladdin as translated directly from the Marmaluke-era Arabic (Arberry estimates the stories to date from around 1500 AD) into contemporary English, as opposed to the Disney version of the tale most American children have come to know. Not surprisingly, elements of the story are darker than the sanitized version we know. Arberry, in his interesting (though frustratingly plot-spoiler laden) introduction points out the degree to which, he believes, these tales were meant as satire on the society of the day. This volume was originally published by George Allen & Unwin in 1953. My copy is a beautiful Mentor Books paperback edition, and a first edition of such, dating from 1955. That makes my copy pretty much exactly as old as I am!

3OscarWilde87
Jul 26, 2019, 3:24pm

Hi Jerry and welcome to the group! I'll be interested to read your reviews here!

4rocketjk
Jul 26, 2019, 3:30pm

5rocketjk
Editado: Jul 27, 2019, 1:58am

On January 14, I posted this:

Miss Mapp by E. F. Benson



This dry British comedy is, depending on which list you look at, either the second or the third book of E. F. Benson's series about the foibles of small town, 1920s English middle-class society called (again depending on your source) either "Make Way for Lucia" or "Mapp and Lucia." My copy calls it Book 3 of Make Way for Lucia. Library Thing calls it Book 2 of "Mapp and Lucia." Queen Lucia is the first book, which introduces Mrs. Emmeline Lucas, a.k.a. Lucia. Miss Mapp introduces Elizabeth Mapp. In subsequent books, the two comic figures interact. Miss Mapp is a busybody and gossip who revels in being first with information (gossip) about events in the village of Tilling. Unfortunately for her, she is often wrong, and to her own disadvantage. This novel is really a series of interlocking incidents, very skillfully set out, and very funny in a low wattage sort of way. The books were written, as mentioned, in the 1920s, and the characters are still dealing, much under the surface, with the consequences of World War One. Hoarding, for example, is still an issue, as we find when our Miss Mapp is found by her circle to have a hidden, and fully stocked, larder. I'm not doing this book justice, I fear, but if dry British humor is your cup of tea, you'll enjoy it. The entire series, as I understand it, had a cult following among literary circles for years, and were for quite some time out of print and hard to come by. There are six books all told in the set. Now that I've read the first two, I intend to gradually work my way through the rest.

It occurs to me that I can supply a good example of Benson's wry way with words by offering this book's very first sentence:

"Miss Elizabeth Mapp might have been forty, and she had taken advantage of this opportunity by being just a year or two older."

6rocketjk
Jul 27, 2019, 2:00am

Next was . . .

The Little Buddhist Monk & The Proof by César Aira



This slim volume contains two novellas by Argentinian author César Aira. The first ostensibly takes place in Korea and the second on the streets of Buenos Aires, but really they both take place in the realm of the senses and the imagination. What they also have in common is that both begin in relatively commonplace settings with seemingly realistic characters, and then spin gradually but inexorably into the realm of the hallucinatory. They are meditations on the nature of reality, perception and cultural expectations. That's a fairly cliched phrase I just wrote, I know, but with Aira's deft way with phrasing and description and, not incidentally, his sense of humor, these swift rides are actually (or at least were to me) happily refreshing and even thought-provoking.

7AlisonY
Jul 27, 2019, 4:47am

Hi Jerry - good to find your new thread!

The Miss Mapp series sounds great. Perhaps a bit like a British version of Mrs Bridge?

8NanaCC
Jul 27, 2019, 7:31am

>5 rocketjk:, >7 AlisonY: Jerry, I loved this series when I read it a few years ago.

I don’t know Mrs. Bridge, Alison, so can’t compare, but I think you’d enjoy the series.

9lisapeet
Jul 27, 2019, 7:44am

>7 AlisonY: I get the feeling Miss Mapp is a good deal more lighthearted than poor battened-down Mrs. Bridge, though I've only read the latter. A few Readerville friends were crazy about the Mapp and Lucia series, and I have The Complete Mapp and Lucia in ebook format, but haven't dipped in yet.

10kidzdoc
Jul 27, 2019, 9:46am

Great to see you here, Jerry!

I haven't enjoyed the books I've read by César Aira, but perhaps I should give The Little Buddhist Monk & The Proof a try.

11rocketjk
Jul 27, 2019, 10:46am

>9 lisapeet: I'm not familiar with Mrs. Bridge, but you're definitely correct the Mapp and Lucia books are lighthearted.

>10 kidzdoc: Both novellas are relatively short, so not that much time invested if you don't care for them. And thanks for the welcome.

12rocketjk
Jul 27, 2019, 10:58am

I'll add one more today. I originally posted this review on February 2.

The Life of Andrew Jackson by Marquis James



This in-depth biography of Andrew Jackson was originally published as two works. Andrew Jackson: The Border Captain was published in 1933, and Andrew Jackson: Portrait of a President. When the two were published together as The Life of Andrew Jackson later in '37, together they earned James a Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 1938.

The work is very detailed and very interesting, offering everything from a picture of life in the pre-Revolution frontier country of the Carolinas and Tennessee to the events of the Revolution itself in those territories (Jackson, still in his middle teens, served as a courier in the Revolutionary forces), to Jackson's ascension to military command (primarily against Indians in Tennessee and Florida) to a fascinating account of Jackson's generalship in the Battle of New Orleans and then on to his political career and, obviously, his presidency. I learned a lot about the issues of the day, and Jackson in James' hands certainly comes off as a figure of strength and integrity. That's the good part.

Unfortunately, to a modern-day reader, Jackson's attitude about and treatment of Indians is essentially brushed over. In particular, his support before and during his presidency for the Indian Removal Act that violated previous treaties and led ultimately directly to the infamous, horrifying and tragic Trail of Tears is pretty much shrugged off. The Trail of Tears is not mentioned specifically, nor even the huge mortality rate of the people forced to walk from Florida to present-day Oklahoma. Also, James, himself a Missourian born in 1891, actually presents a short but jaw-dropping defense of slavery! Jackson was a life-long slaveholder, though James goes out of his way to present his subject as benign and compassionate to his slaves. That's all fine, but by 1938 to still be defending the institution as beneficial to its victims sort of boggles the mind. Nevertheless, it is instructive to know that in 1938 such an opinion (and, again, this is an opinion presented by James himself, not offered as the opinion of the historical figures he's portraying) would not keep an author from such a prestigious prize as the Pulitzer. That's one of the reasons I enjoy reading histories sometimes that are decades old if not more (this one was published, by now, 80 years ago!). I don't like the fact that a distinguished biographer would be presenting those opinions, but it's instructive and important to know it.

Book note: My copy of this book, seemingly a first edition, purchased by me goodness knows when and where, bears what is clearly a rubber stamped name Armin Marden across the bottom page edges. Inside, on the top of the second page, is handwritten in pen, A. Marden. A quick google search provided the following online obituary from the San Francisco Chronicle, dated May 22, 2002:

MARDEN, Armin G. - Died in San Francisco, CA, May 18, 2002. Born in Istanbul, Turkey, educated in Germany and a Graduate of UCLA. Armin was 84 years old. He served as a Bombardier Navigator 1st Lieutenant in the US Army Air Corp B29 Group during World War II. A world traveler fluent in German, French, Spanish and English, he had wide merchandising experience in his business career. He will be missed by his many friends both here and abroad.

So that's who owned this book before I did.

13rocketjk
Editado: Jul 28, 2019, 10:33am

Next up in February was this luminous book that my wife read and, to my great happiness, insisted I read immediately thereafter . . .

Milkman by Anna Burns



Evidently this is a novel of extremes of reaction. People either love it or hate it, for the most part. I found it difficultly depressing in some places and therefore hard to push through, but overall an awe inspiring (not a phrase I'm apt to overuse) achievement. We are inside the head of an 18-year-old woman living in an unnamed city in Northern Ireland which we have no doubt is Belfast during the troubles. We learn very early on that the girl (also unnamed, as is everyone else in the novel) is being harassed by a man more than twice her age, and that the man is a powerful, violent member of the Renouncers (the narrator's name for the IRA), and is known as Milkman. The girl does have a boyfriend her own age, sort of. They have decided that the pressures of being an actual couple are too great, have decided to keep their relationship technically unofficial, and so refer to each other as "maybe-boyfriend" and "maybe-girlfriend." The pressures put on the narrator by the harassment by this shadowing, powerful figure are only part of her problems, although these problems all, in a way, stem from those pressures. Although our narrator is not, in fact, having an affair with Milkman, the rumormongers of the neighborhood, and they are prevalent, assume that she is. Disrespect, fear and resentment come her way. In the meantime the necessities of comportment set down by the Renouncers who run the neighborhood are many. In short, our narrator is living in a pressure cooker sure to have gradual and significant effect on a young, independently-minded girl. The fact that no one has a true name (siblings are called "first sister," "second brother," etc., for example) tightens the narrative vice, in that every character sinks that much into the whole, and the story becomes about the community, about how living in a pressure cooker of violence, forced conformity and innuendo warps individuals into ciphers, those who try to conform as well as those who become "beyond the pale" outcasts.

The story is told in train-of-thought first person. In the reading, I was reminded more than once of Kafka, but I'm sure there's nothing unique about that reaction to this tale. Things are cranked up past "realism" just a touch, by the narrative strategy in particular and the characterizations, until we are nudged into fable-land, with occasional touches of magical realism.

As I read, though, it occurred to me that the core of this story is the fact that the narrator is being harassed by a man more than twice her age. While this is woven into the conditions of the troubles and their inherent violence and pressures, I think you could really peel away those elements and you would still have a powerful tale of the debilitating effects experienced by a young girl being harassed and having no one to believe her story.

14rocketjk
Editado: Ago 13, 2019, 4:53pm

Here was another highly admirable novel I read in February. . .

All for Nothing by Walter Kempowski



This is the final novel of German author Walter Kempowski. Published in 2006, the novel is a harrowing, though purposefully muted, description of life in East Prussia during the final months of World War Two, as the Russian guns become audible just over the horizon and hundreds of thousands of people take to the roads amidst bitter winter cold to try to make their way west. Kempowski, in fact, lived through this time as a teenager.

A once proud family, or what is left of it, is hunkered down in what is left of their estate, surviving on hoarded supplies and "awaiting events." The father is serving in the German army in Italy. The Nazi authorities attempt to maintain control over the populace even as the front is collapsing only 100 kilometers off. The road is full of refugees already, and the family--mother, adolescent son, spinster aunt and three servants--puts people up, one night at a time. The boy's tutor still arrives every day for lessons. And the family's level of denial of their actual circumstances is acute. What will become of them?

As mentioned above, the tone of the narrative is muted. In fact, there is a somewhat surreal quality to the book's dreamlike atmosphere, the characters just a touch absurd. Certain phrases and anecdotes are repeated to create a feeling of stasis and ennui. In my New York Review Classics edition, novelist Jenny Erpenback's Introduction makes an apt comparison to Chekhov.

Despite the somewhat "warped looking glass" quality of the storytelling, we do come to care about the fate of these characters. I highly recommend the book. I never would have heard of it had not my wife read a recent review of it in The New Yorker occasioned by All for Nothing's recent new edition in English as part of the New York Review of Books' Classics series. She thought I would like it and bought for me as a gift, then deciding to read it herself first.

15NanaCC
Jul 28, 2019, 1:10pm

>13 rocketjk: Great review of Milkman. I’m enjoying the audio version.

16rocketjk
Jul 28, 2019, 2:10pm

>15 NanaCC: Wow. It must be powerful and somewhat disturbing to have a real voice (rather than an imagined one) in one's ear spinning this narrative.

By the way, I see you're from Northwest Jersey. I'm from Newark and grew up in Maplewood. Not really your part of the state, but I do have a good friend in Hackettstown.

17RidgewayGirl
Jul 28, 2019, 3:09pm

Welcome to Club Read, and thank you for not adding all of your reviews at once, which would have frightened me off and then I would not have discovered them. Love the Conrad tradition - I have a copy of The Secret Agent on my tbr that I keep intending to read soon. It's been there for years.

>12 rocketjk: I love the history of your copy of the book. I wonder if his collection was sold/given when he died and who else is enjoying his books now.

>14 rocketjk: I've added this to my wishlist!

18rocketjk
Editado: Jul 28, 2019, 3:36pm

>17 RidgewayGirl: Thanks for the welcome! The Secret Agent is one of my very favorite Conrad novels. I did a lot of research into it in grad school (by way of an in-depth annotated bibliography). The book has its flaws, as do all Conrad novels, but its delights are substantial.

"I wonder if his collection was sold/given when he died and who else is enjoying his books now."

That would be my guess, and yes, a fun question to ponder.

I'd love to know your thoughts on All for Nothing, so I hope you read it soon.

Cheers!

19NanaCC
Jul 28, 2019, 3:57pm

>16 rocketjk: Hackettstown is close, Jerry. I’m in Sparta.

20baswood
Jul 28, 2019, 5:11pm

Enjoying reading your reviews - keep them coming. >12 rocketjk: I buy a lot of second hand books and am always interested to read what other owners have written inside.

I am thinking that next time I take some books to the book swop I might write some cryptic message inside - perhaps to puzzle or to make the next reader think on, or even perhaps to give some added enjoyment.

21AlisonY
Jul 28, 2019, 7:58pm

Enjoying your reviews. All or Nothing sounds right up my street. I really enjoy novels that show all different social sides of history, so going to add that one to my wish list. I really enjoyed The Past is Myself by Christabel Bielenberg when I read it last year, as I felt I got some insight into what the war was like for Germans who didn't agree with Hitler and Nazism but had to be seen to toe the line.

Great review of Milkman too. Looking forward to that one.

22rocketjk
Editado: Jul 28, 2019, 9:05pm

>21 AlisonY: Thanks! Just so you don't have trouble finding the book, though, its title is All for Nothing. The Past is Myself looks really interesting. Another essential book on this topic is the searing novel Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada, which I read last year. The book is about life in Berlin during the Nazi era and one couple's attempt to create small subversive acts. Fallada lived through those times in Berlin himself. My full review, posted in 2017, is on the book's work page if you're interested and is also here, on my 50-Book Challenge thread from that year: https://www.librarything.com/topic/245926#6183177.

23rocketjk
Jul 28, 2019, 9:07pm

>19 NanaCC: That's a very beautiful and historically interesting part of the state. Cheers!

24lisapeet
Jul 28, 2019, 9:31pm

I'm also enjoying your reviews, Jerry, and your eclectic range of reading. I also love the odd inscriptions in second-hand books—I don't buy those the way I used to, and miss those little surprises. (And I grew up in central NJ.)

>21 AlisonY: I thought The Past Is Myself was terrific—a small, really valuable book. Funny that there's no touchstone here for it.

25rocketjk
Editado: Jul 29, 2019, 11:11am

February was a good reading month for me. Here's one more . . .

Canaries in the Mineshaft: Essays on Politics and Media by Renata Adler



Read as a "between book" (see first post). Renata Adler is a savagely acute journalist and commentator on politics and media. (Or was. I'm not sure if she's still active, as she's now 81.) She wrote for The New Yorker for a long time (in 1999 publishing Gone: the Last Days of the New Yorker about what she, obviously considers the magazine's demise), reviewed movies for the New York Times for several years, and has published two novels, as well. The essays in these collections date from 1976 to 1980, with a final piece added in from 2000. She is a fierce critic of what she sees (and makes an excellent case for) as the downfall of American journalism, criticizing particularly the rise of the celebrity journalist and the now-ubiquitous practice of using unnamed sources. Perhaps more impressively, she is a deep diver into facts and sources. For example, the first two essays, from the late 1970s, are about Watergate, for which Adler spent innumerable hours going through the bewildering maze of committee reports and testimony to come up with some conclusions of her own about "the real Nixon scandal." Her scathing denunciation of the Starr Report and the conduct of the investigators whose work led to the Clinton impeachment make fascinating reading, as well. The collection also includes a description and history of the National Guard which isn't that interesting until Adler starts describing the ways in which the ineptitude and panic of Guardsmen deployed during the civil unrest of the 1960s led directly to many civilian deaths. In addition, the book includes Adler's infamous attack on famed movie reviewer Pauline Kael. All in all, this collection is fascinating, and I highly recommend it. If I were teaching a class on American political culture of the 60s and 70s, or a class on the history of American journalism, I would assign this.

26AlisonY
Jul 29, 2019, 3:57am

>22 rocketjk: thanks Jerry - I'll check out the Fallada book and your review. Sounds very interesting.

>24 lisapeet: Lisa I got the touchstone for The Past Is Myself to work OK here. For some reason when I occasionally comment on LT on my phone they never work though. Yes - it's a great book. I can't remember where I first came across it but it's a fascinating read.

27rocketjk
Jul 29, 2019, 11:14am

Still reporting from February . . .

The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester



It seems, as this somehow simultaneously dense and airy narrative takes off, that we are in the hands of an amazingly skilled stylist in John Lanchester and an erudite, wry, if somewhat pompous, first-person protagonist. Our narrator, an Englishman, is taking us on a tour of his own family history and of his beloved France, with attention especially paid to gastronomic experiences and history, with plenty of recipes thrown in. What fun! Slowly, however, we become aware that all is not well with our protagonist. We are inside the head of somewhat more than a little disturbed. It is in some ways an entirely exhilarating ride. The problem is that once we know where we are, we also know what's coming. Seeing how it will all work out is interesting, to be sure. But the book becomes an extremely creepy place to inhabit. A reader's tolerance for such an environment will to a large degree determine the amount of pleasure he or she will ultimately derive from the experience. I learned a lot about lots of different sorts of foods, for however much ice that might cut with you.

28RidgewayGirl
Jul 29, 2019, 2:34pm

The Debt to Pleasure was the first book by Lanchester I read and it blew me away with the fineness of the writing. I should probably reread it.

29rocketjk
Editado: Jul 30, 2019, 6:19am

Still in February. . . .

The Land of Cain by Peter Lappin



This is my second book this month about the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Whereas Milkman is about relatively contemporary times, The Land of Cain, first published in 1957, takes us back to the 1920s. The story tells of a Catholic family in Belfast, with three grown sons trying each in his own way to navigate the sectarian violence that breaks out between Catholic and Protestant. This was the author's first novel. There is much fine description of nature and countryside (the family starts out living on a farm). I learned a bit, as well, about the history of the Troubles of that era. The plot is a bit formulaic, and the characterizations could have used a much defter touch. Overall, though, I would say that I did enjoy the reading.

The novel is a bit of a curiosity, I guess, in that only one other LTer beside me has the book listed in his LT library. My copy is a Book Club Edition. Other than "book for sale" sites like abebooks, I only found one reference to this book online, a short Kirkus Review pointing out the same drawbacks I have but taking a much dimmer view of the book all told.

The information in this notice of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Peter Lappin's birth matches that provided on the book's rear inside dust jacket. Pretty interesting stuff.

The 100th Anniversary of the birth of Fr. Peter Lappin, S.D.B. will be celebrated at the Marian Shrine this April 29th, Friday, 12:00 noon Mass at the Marian Shrine.

Fr. Lappin was the definition of a renaissance man. Born in Belfast, he entered the Salisienans where he followed in the footsteps of Don Bosco in his ministry to the youth of China, He was interned successively by the forces of Imperial Japan and Communist China as a political prisoner, but never lost his faith in his God and love of people. He was an accomplished author with over 26 books to his credit. Through all this he had two great loves, his faith and his Irish Heritage which shown forth in his role as Chaplain for the Rockland County A.O.H. and L.A.O.H. for many, many years. He was the catalyst for all things Irish in Rockland for almost forty years.

Let us not forget this wonderful priest and honor his memory on this special day.

30AlisonY
Jul 30, 2019, 3:15am

>29 rocketjk: very interesting - I've not heard of this author before. It's a long time since I studied the history of Ireland around that era leading up to the Easter Rising, and I really should brush up on it again as I can't say I paid full attention when we were studying it in school. The problem with many books written on the Irish / Northern Irish situation by people from NI is that more often than not they are hugely biased towards one side. However, if you are aware of that from the outset it's interesting to get the differing views on why we ended up in such a mess.

>27 rocketjk: The Debt to Pleasure sounds great. I can see this is going to be a dangerous thread for book bullets...

31rocketjk
Jul 30, 2019, 7:02am

This book took me over into March . . .

Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation by Laura Silber and Allan Little



This history by two BBC correspondents does a very good job of presenting the chronology and events of this massive deadly tragedy. The book deftly separates the many different threads of nationalism and nation building that led to the multi-faceted years-long conflict with horrifying atrocities that gave the world the term "ethnic cleansing." The authors are specific and emphatic about the fact that the conflicts were not the inevitable result of ancient ethnic hatreds that were bound to boil over after the death of Tito, who had suppressed all forms of nationalism and ethnic conflict in Yugoslavia during his decades-long rule. Those hatreds certainly existed, but Croats, Serbs and Muslims had for the most part lived alongside each other for a long time and might have continued to do so. Silber and Allan lay the blame primarily on two men: Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević, eventually tried for war crimes, and, to a somewhat lesser degree, Croatian leader Franjo Tuđman. Both, say the authors, pushed their own agendas of nation building, paranoia and desire for power over all other concerns, including the lives of their countrymen. The authors also stress the naivety and lack of resolve of NATO and UN would-be mediators who overall were worse than useless until airstrikes were finally called in in defense of the beleaguered Bosnian Muslims in 1994. The book was published in 1995, with events still very much in flux in Bosnia and in Kosovo. I'll need to do some more reading to figure out how things reached their current state.

My interest in the subject was rekindled a couple of years ago when my wife and I visited Croatia on vacation. This book was recommended to us by a bookseller in Dubrovnik.

32rocketjk
Jul 30, 2019, 1:04pm

From the "They Can't All Be Classics" Department . . .

Slingshot by Matthew Dunn



Sometimes you just need some good, escapist reading, and Slingshot filled the bill for me. This is the third novel in Matthew Dunn's "Spycatcher" series. Will Cochrane is the, of course, super-skilled, super-competent M16 operative and leader of a super-secret combined team of M16 and CIA agents who are assigned only the toughest, unbeknownst to the world crises to handle. They leave bodies in their wake, of course. Waddaya gonna do? It's a tough world out there. These books are fun if you like this sort of thing (obviously, I do). The plotting is pretty good and the seemingly endemic genre-fiction overuse of cliche and clunky metaphors is kept pretty much to a minimum. Cochrane's character even gets a mild dollop of depth applied to him. For now, I'm not going to make a point of reading the two remaining "Spycatcher" novels, but someday I might change my mind about that.

33rocketjk
Editado: Jul 31, 2019, 4:15pm

From the middle of March . . .

Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively



I'm sorry it took my so long to read this beautiful novel, which won the Booker Prize in 1987. It is the story of Claudia Hampton, an adventurer and writer of histories, a woman who spent World War II as a war correspondent in Egypt, who lies dying in a hospital room in England. She thinks back over her life in snatches, only marginally in chronological order. The narrative wafts back and forth from first person to third and moves around, even, occassionally between characters. The descriptions of tank battles in the desert and their aftermath are particularly vivid. The descriptions of the many entanglements of family and romance and the street life of Cairo during the war are all, each in their different ways, compelling, as well. The novel does have the drawback of being a story about the privileged, but Lively seemed to me to be aware of this issue, subverting the characters' own lack of insight on this issue with a subtle one of her own. The core of the novel is Lively's flowing use of language and observation. I particularly like the following passage about English:

We open our mouths and out flow words whose ancestries we do not even know. We are talking lexicons. In a single sentence of idle chatter we preserve Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Norse; we carry a museum inside our heads, each day we commemorate peoples of whom we have never heard. More than that, we speak volumes -- our language is the language of everything we have not read, Shakespeare and the Authorised Version surface in supermarkets, on buses, chatter on radio and television. I find this miraculous. I never cease to wonder at it. That words are more durable than anything, they blow with the wind, hibernate and reawaken, shelter parasitic on the most unlikely hosts, survive and survive and survive.

34rocketjk
Jul 31, 2019, 11:40pm

Mikado, anyone?

Gilbert and Sullivan: A Dual Biography by David Ainger



My mother used to play the Mikado and the Pirates of Penzance for my sister and me when we were little, and my parents took us to productions in NYC from time to time as well. I've loved the movie, Topsy Turvey, about the making of the Mikado and always wondered how accurate it was. So, at long last, a biography of these two men, and a close description of their partnership, was a quite welcomed reading experience for me.

The narrative moves smoothly back and forth between the two lives during their childhoods and their formative years as artists, and this works well for the purpose. Not too much time is spent on either's childhood (a feature in a biography which, I don't know about you, but I always appreciate). We see, in particular, Sullivan's early progress as a musician and a prodigy. Once the two come together to begin producing their brilliant comic operas, things really heat up.

In Ainger's Preface to his book, he makes note of the fact that he had had access while writing to a large trove of letters that previous biographers had not. This might seem like an advantage for him, and I guess it was, but in the reading it turns into what I deem to be the book's major flaw. The problem is that Ainger leans on the contents of these letters too thoroughly. Add to this the fact that Gilbert, in particular, was difficult and quarrelsome. He was the "very model" of a Victorian gentleman, and was quick to sniff out what he saw as questions about his "honor" and suspicious about the actions and motives of people he was doing business with. The letters detail his quarrels, sometimes with Sullivan, often with Richard d'Oyle Carte, the theater manager the team worked with for years, and then with d'Oyle Carte's widow, Helen, who took over operations after d'Oyle Carte's death. Through production after production, Gilbert wrangles over casting, finances, production values and timing, and the reader is taken through letter after letter in exhaustive detail. By the fifth or eighth time, it might have been enough to tell us, "Gilbert and d'Oyle Carte at this point had their normal argument about casting" and left it at that.

Sullivan comes across as an affable genius, a bon vivant whose kidney ailments and "candle at both ends" lifestyle unfortunately brought him to a relatively early death at 58. Gilbert, despite being quick off the mark to a quarrel, is also seen as kindly and considerate to his friends and a good and thoughtful husband. Gilbert and Sullivan's admiration and respect for each other is shown to be very solid, and their working process mostly smooth unless some particular impediment appeared. Often Sullivan was dragged in on one side or the other in Gilbert's issues with d'Oyle Carte, loath as he was to involve himself in such things. But those arguments notwithstanding, Ainger describes the three of them as a triumvirate, for d'Oyle Carte worked extremely hard, and at significant financial risk, for years to set up an independant theater company to champion and produce Gilbert and Sullivan's works. The fact that Gilbert could never see his way clear to recognizing d'Oyle Carte as an equal member of the team was the source of much of the friction, in fact.

We do get to see some depth in Sullivan's emotional life, due probably to the fact that he left a diary that Ainger had access to. But Gilbert's "inner life" we see must basically guess at here, mostly through his actions. We don't get to know why he became so quarrelsome, so quick to get his back up. We read his affection for his wife through the fact that they were basically inseparable throughout Gilbert's life. The actual nature of their relationship otherwise is left out. It would seem there must be some sort of observational material from friends or family that could have filled in this blank at least a little. The reader's foreknowledge of the operas themselves is pretty much taken for granted, as is knowledge of life in England during the Victorian era.

I see I've already gone on at length, so I will close by saying that while, as a Gilbert and Sullivan fan, I did find this biography interesting in the long run, it's not the book I'd recommend for people just coming to the subject.

35rocketjk
Ago 1, 2019, 9:49am

This morning's "catch up" review. This one's a self-published memoir of a fascinating fellow, and a personal friend of mine . . .

Shamrocks & Salsa by Gerald F. Cox



By the time I met Jerry Cox, he was in his mid-80s. He died in February 2018 at the age of 93, so I got to be friends with him for that length of time. Jerry was one of the most admirable people I ever met. The son of Irish immigrants who retained a love for that history and culture, Jerry became a Catholic priest. As a priest, first in Oakland and then in Sonoma County, California, Jerry developed a passion for working with the disadvantaged, particularly among the Mexican community. In addition to supporting and starting many social programs designed to assist in this cause, Jerry became involved in the politics of that world, as well. He was an early supporter of Cesar Chavez, for example, and took part in many protests and marches in support of the United Farm Workers. Then, after close to 25 years as a priest, Jerry fell in love with Kathy Snyder, a nun 20 years his junior with whom he'd been working. In relatively short order, the two left the Church and married. They had two daughters (now grown) and continued to work as educators, counselors and organizers. In time, they moved to Anderson Valley, an area of Mendocino County, CA, where my wife and I now live, and where we met Jerry and Kathy. Kathy was teaching and Jerry working as a part-time counselor at the local high school, where my wife was the full-time counselor. Eventually, Jerry and Kathy moved in right up the road from us. Now that Jerry has passed away, naturally, I wish I had spent more time talking with him. My wife and I can both say that Kathy Cox is one of our best friends.

Shamrocks & Salsa is Jerry's self-published memoir that he worked on intensely with his friend and editor, Mary O'Brien, over the final years of his life. It chronicles the many roads of Jerry's life, the many people he worked with and tasks he undertook. It is good to be able to hear his voice while reading his words, as skillfully edited by Mary, over the past week. There are times one wishes for a bit more depth, and where the memoir seems to become basically of a list of projects and jobs and the people who took part, each only two or three paragraphs long. But Jerry and Mary were racing the clock, as it were, as Jerry was already in his 90s when this work was being done. Overall, even those details help create a tapestry of impressions, painting a vivid picture of a singular man making a breadth and depth of solid and truly moving contributions to the world, all while maintaining a true humility and a devilish sense of humor. Viva Jerry!

36rocketjk
Ago 2, 2019, 10:47am

Here was a very fine book I reported about in mid-April . . .

Netherland by Joseph O'Neill



Netherland is one of those delightful novels that sweeps you into its world on the force of the author's beautiful use of language and narrative insight. Hans van den Brock is an alien in many senses. He is Dutch and living alone in New York City in 2006, as his wife, thrown by 9/11 and its aftermath, has taken the couple's young son and gone back to England, where she is from. Hans' sporting passion is cricket, and he soon gets involved with what he discovers to be a vibrant cricket scene in New York, playing as one of the only white men among a community of cricketers from the West Indies and South Asia. He soon makes the acquaintance of a forceful yet shadowing fellow, one Chuck Ramissoon, who is a-swirl with schemes and dreams and leaking knowledge on all sorts of subjects. The main theme, as I have noted, is alienation, but also perseverance in the face of sadness and loss. There are some passages that struck me so effectively that I went back and read them several times, and the plot moves along nicely, with swooping digressions and flashbacks that are seamless.

The book is not perfect, certainly. Hans is a bit too much of that common fictional character, the emotionally passive person to whom life just sort of happens without his willing it. He is perceptive, so he can describe it well, but he's almost never in control. Also, the side theme of the cultural and national tapestry that is New York City seems a bit overdone to me. Just about every third world nationality is eventually mentioned, either on a cricket pitch or in a taxi cab, or in a restaurant or party. When Hans hails a ride from a Kyrgyz cabbie, I thought, "OK, I get it, already."

But those are relatively minor quibbles. This book won the PEN/Faulkner Award and I can see why. It provides a very rewarding and enjoyable reading experience, and I basically gobbled it down.

37rocketjk
Editado: Ago 3, 2019, 6:00am

Here's another from the "They Can't All Be Classics" Department . . .

The Wrecker by Clive Cussler and Justin Scott



This is the second book in the 10-book "Isaac Bell" series. Cussler wrote the first entry, The Chase, and the rest are credited to Cussler and Scott. Isaac Bell is the creme de la creme detective of the Van Dorn Detective Agency operating across the U.S. in the early 20th century. The agency is obviously modeled after the Pinkertons, if you can imagine the Pinkertons with a conscience, although still more or less favoring management over labor. At any rate, an evil super-villain called known throughout the hobo camps of the western states as "the Wrecker" is sabotaging trains in murderous fashion and Isaac Bell gets the case, and the hunt is on. Who is the Wrecker and what is his motivation? How many more dastardly acts will he execute before he's run to ground, assuming he ever is? If this sounds like your cup of tea, I have to say, you will enjoy this book. I read the first book in the series a while back and decided to try one more. I actually liked this one better, which I suspect is Justin Scott's doing. My guess would be that Cussler mapped out the plots of the series and then hired Scott to actually write them. I say this because The Wrecker seems better written than I remember The Chase being (which I enjoyed nevertheless). You won't find even a smidgen of real life in these characters, although I guess there's some in the historical elements of early 20th-century railroad building and life in the west. Anyway, this book is fun if you like this sort of thing.

38rocketjk
Ago 3, 2019, 1:08pm

From mid-May . . .

A Soldier's Wife by Marion Reynolds



This is a novel about an Irish woman and her family during the early years of the 20th century through the Irish Civil War of the early 1920s. The author, Marion Reynolds, based the story on her grandmother's diaries so there is a ring of authenticity to the story. Ellen is a young woman, one of four sisters living with their parents in Castlebar, County Mayo. Within a few pages, she has married the dashing young James Devereux, a soldier in the Connaught Rangers, an infantry division in the British army. Soon they are off to a seven year hitch in India. James, as a non-commissioned officer can bring his wife. Upon their return at the end of James' tour and mustering out of the Army, they settle in in Dublin to a very hard-pressed life. The story of Ellen and James, and their children, progresses through James' years in the trenches of World War One and the family's hardships during his years at war. Their sons begin to mature and become caught up in the struggles for home rule and then independence from England.

This is Reynolds' first novel, and her writing style while happily uncluttered, is not particularly sophisticated and in some places rather flat. Nevertheless, especially in the novel's second half, the descriptions of the poverty in Dublin, the tensions that grow around, and within, a family with a father overseas fighting on behalf of the British while at home the British are ever more stridently earning their reputation as the enemy of the Irish nation and people is pretty well done. While I have read several accounts, fictional and otherwise, of the Easter Uprising, and even visited the post office building where the rebels held out, I have never read what seems to be a very realistic account of what it would have been like to be living in a poor neighborhood near the outskirts of Dublin during those days with very little knowledge of what was going on and what all the gunfire and artillery was about.

So, while, as I said, the writing here is in some ways unpolished, the storytelling ends up being rewarding. The novel was, as the cover tells us, "a winner of the 2013 Irish Writers' Centre Novel Fair," an event set up to help introduce up and coming novelists to publishers. The book was published by Indigo Dreamers Publishing, a small independent house based in Devon, England.

Book note: I bought this novel in Vibes & Scribes, a fabulous bookstore in Cork City, during my vacation there with my wife a year ago.

39rocketjk
Ago 4, 2019, 12:14am

From the "Fascinating and Very Well Written but Depressing" Department . . .

Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country by Steve Almond



Read as a "between book" (see first post). In this series of clear and insightful essays, journalist/novelist Steve Almond investigates the faulty myths and societal delusions that led to the disaster that was the 2016 American presidential election and the resulting chaos. Essay titles such as "Economic Anguish Fueled Trumpism," "Nobody Would Vote for a Guy Like That," "American Women Will Never Empower a Sexual Predator" and "Our Court Jesters Will Rescue the Kingdom" give an idea of the "bad stories" Almond investigates. The essay that hit closest to home for me was "Our Grievances Matter More Than Our Vulnerabilities."

40AlisonY
Ago 4, 2019, 7:43am

More great titles. This is too dangerous a thread for me in the book buying department!

41rocketjk
Ago 4, 2019, 12:18pm

>40 AlisonY: Thanks! Glad you're enjoying my "catch up" thread. It's been kind of fun to go back through these and remind myself of what I've been reading.

42rocketjk
Editado: Ago 4, 2019, 1:00pm

Here's another fascinating social study . . .

Indefensible: One Lawyer's Journey into the Inferno of American Justice by David Feige



David Feige spent fifteen years as a public defender in the hellish court system of the South Bronx. He subsequently became a writer and a frequent guest on Court TV, whatever that is. At any rate, Indefensible is Feige's very well-written and often harrowing memoir/expose of his years as a severely over-worked advocate for those who had either fallen or jumped into the frequently entirely cold-hearted legal system. Feige describes defending both the innocent and the guilty with equal energy. He shows the capricious nature of the system, in which the District Attorney lawyers most often care more about convictions than justice, the off-handed way many judges sentence clearly innocent defendants to prison terms or at least to lengthy stretches in jail to await trial for periods that can stretch into months, and the way innocent people are pressured to take plea deals rather than assert their innocence in court. That's the short list. Feige makes most of his points through specific anecdotes, making the issues personal rather than theoretical. He also describes how hard it is to learn to be an effective public defender, the mistakes that even experienced PDs can make that can result in jail terms, and the dangers of depression and burnout on the job. The only criticism I'd offer is that Feige often interrupts one anecdote to relate another, meant to further illustrate the first, before returning to finish the original story. This can be somewhat confusing at times. On the other hand, it serves also to exemplify the confusing swirl of the public defender's day, which often stretches into the late hours via night court. If the topic is of interest to you, I highly recommend the book.

43rocketjk
Ago 7, 2019, 2:53pm

I've been away from the Internet for a couple of days. Back to this project . . .

The Child of Pleasure by Gabriele D'Annunzio



Published in 1889, The Child of Pleasure is the first novel of Gabriele D'Annunzio, who gained fame in Italy and throughout Europe and the U.S. as a novelist, and went on to political fame (or infamy, perhaps) in post-WW I Europe as the founder of a nationalistic movement that inspired Mussolini. At any rate, in the late 19th century, D'Annunzio's topic was the power of beauty and sensuality. His protagonist here, Count Andrea Sperelli, is a young Roman nobleman who lives in and for luxury and for the seduction of beautiful women. The Child of Pleasure is the narrative of Sperelli's adventures in this arena, particularly as it pertains to two extremely beautiful and cultured women. Throughout the tale, D'Annunzio's eye lingers lovingly on the beauties of the natural countryside, Roman architecture, and the items of antiquity that Sperelli and his friends dote upon. Tellingly, these items are all at least 100 years old. There's little of contemporary (to the characters) vintage held up for admiration.

These descriptions of nature and art were interesting to read, but there was little of Count Sperelli's projects or problems that held any fascination for me. This is one of those books I read more out of an intellectual curiosity about the book's place in the history of literature than from a desire to know, or expectation to enjoy, the story. D'Annunzio himself throughout the tale speaks of Sperelli's gradual and eventually complete abdication of moral purpose or conscience, so at least we're not meant to admire the character, even if we are somehow to empathize with his delight in the purely physical/sensual world. Few modern readers will do so, I think.

One factor that gave me the energy to push through with this novel was the fact that I bought the book four years ago while on vacation in Turin on a glorious avenue of bookstalls and other shops called the Via Po.

44rocketjk
Ago 7, 2019, 2:54pm

Since I'm playing a little bit of catch-up, here's another for the list, originally posted on my 50-Book Challenge thread in mid-May . . .

Amongst Women by John McGahern



In Amongst Women, Irish novelist John McGahern takes us back to the 1950s and inside the home of the Moran family in rural County Sligo. The five children are in their teens as we start, except for Luke, who is already out of the house, living in London, and refusing to communicate with his father or return home for any reason. The mother is evidently dead (she is barely mentioned). The father, Michael (known throughout the narrative almost exclusively as "Moran"), is identified early on as a veteran of the IRA flying columns during the uprising against British rule several decades earlier. He is also identified as a man of smoldering anger whom his children, and soon his second wife, often have to tiptoe around so as not to ignite that fury. In the meantime, life is changing in rural Ireland in ways that Moran is not particularly comfortable with.

This book is considered to be McGahern's masterpiece. It is tersely written, with a particularly effective portrayal of the claustrophobia of rural family life. As such, it's not always comfortable to read, as the tension in the household transmits frequently to the reader. The dynamics of family are also well drawn, as the four children and Rose, the new wife, make excuses for Moran's unpleasantness and revel in the times he flashes humor and warmth instead.

The problem for me is that the daughters seemed barely distinguishable as characters. Only the youngest sibling, brother Michael, and Rose get anywhere near a full fleshing out as individuals. Also, the theme of the household with the angry, abusive (in this case chiefly psychologically) father runs through so many Irish novels that, realistic as it may be, I feel by now that I'd occasionally like a break. The family as a unit is the real character, here, and the strength of that unit is shown as unshakeable. The book is engrossing, but perhaps from my California remove I missed some of its resonance.

Book note: I purchased my copy of Amongst Women during my vacation with my wife in Ireland last summer, at The Bookshop in Westport, County Mayo.

45ELiz_M
Ago 7, 2019, 3:21pm

>43 rocketjk: I feel like this was a theme for a couple of fin-de-siècle authors -- Against Nature by Joris-Karl Huysmans (pub. 1884) springs to mind immediately and I've read at least one other novel published around the same time focusing on extreme sensuality....

46rocketjk
Editado: Ago 28, 2019, 1:53pm

>45 ELiz_M: I'm certainly no expert on the era, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if authors at that time were pushing the boundaries of what they thought they could get away with along these lines and/or if themes of sensuality were making their way into mainstream thinking in new ways. Whether these themes made for good literature I guess is a different issue. :)

47rocketjk
Editado: Ago 8, 2019, 1:40am

Turns out I'm not that nuts about Thoreau . . .

Theodore Dreiser Presents the Living Thoughts of Thoreau by Henry David Thoreau



Read as a "between book" (see first post). In 1939, publishers Longman, Green and Company began a series called the Living Thoughts Library, in which famous authors/philosophers curated small volumes of excerpted passages from other famous writers/philosophers whom they admired. The first four they published were Thomas Mann Presents the Living Thoughts of Schopenhauer, Theodore Dreiser Presents the Living Thoughts of Thoreau, Andre Gide Presents the Living Thoughts of Montaigne and Stefan Zweig Presents the Living Thoughts of Tolstoi (sic). The back dust cover flap of my first edition of the Thoreau book promises eight more volumes to come within the year. They were priced at $1.00 per volume.

For this collection, Dreiser selected excerpts from four different Thoreau books and arranged them by topic category ("Problem of Morals," "Society," "The Good Life," etc.). These bite-sized categories are a very nice way to gain an initial introduction to a writer, and particularly, I think, to a philosopher. Unfortunately, I did not care for Thoreau's writing much at all. I found his style dense, his self absorption irritating, and his ideas mostly obvious. Maybe Thoreau is one of those writers you need to read at a younger age, and certainly he is a writer/thinker of his time.

A funny anecdote as to the "self absorption" factor. I was sitting outside a local market/cafe reading a few pages of this book. A friend passed by and, when seeing what I was reading, asked how I was getting along with it. I told her I was losing patience. Not only was I finding Thoreau's style needlessly dense, but his ego was getting me down. She replied, "Yeah, that's the Transcendenalists for you. Not a self-effacing one in the bunch." I got a good laugh out of that.

Whenever I have a negative reaction to a hugely popular writer, I always assume I'm missing something, or that my reactions are simply atypical, rather than figuring that all the people who do like that writer are mistaken. That's where I'm at with Thoreau. But I don't think I'm going to bother investigating further. There's so much more Clive Cussler to read!

48AlisonY
Ago 8, 2019, 5:59am

>44 rocketjk: Also, the theme of the household with the angry, abusive (in this case chiefly psychologically) father runs through so many Irish novels that, realistic as it may be, I feel by now that I'd occasionally like a break.

I completely get where you're coming from. A lot of people did live in relative poverty and hardship in Ireland at one time, but I agree it becomes a bit 'same old' after a while in terms of reading enjoyment.

49rocketjk
Editado: Ago 28, 2019, 1:55pm

>48 AlisonY: Well, I don't mind the poverty and hardship part so much as I do the abusive father figure. This seems to cut across both farm and urban settings and even across historical periods. So many Irish authors write such characters into their stories that I assume that the culture creates, or has created, such men in bulk. But, as we're agreed, it can be wearying as a reading experience.

50rocketjk
Editado: Ago 8, 2019, 7:51pm

I originally posted this review in the end of May . . .

Death in the Andes by Mario Vargas Llosa



Up in the remote Peruvian Andean town of Naccos, three men have disappeared. Corporal Lituma has been sent to investigate, along with his deputy, Tomas. Naccos, formerly a mining town, is now a construction camp for a road being built through the region. But the Maoist Shining Path rebels rule the countryside, bringing brutal death to villages as they see fit, and the villagers mix their Christianity with ancient beliefs about the vengeful spirits of the mountains. What has happened to these men, then? Murdered by the terrorists? Sacrificed to the mountain spirits or simply wandered elsewhere or fallen off mountain paths? Lituma has the feeling that everyone around him knows the answers to these questions, but for him the locals have only silence or evasions. In the meantime, Tomas keeps Lituma entertained and himself sane by gradually relating the story of his great, lost love. The story is told in a haze of narrative slippage, with point of view frequently shifting within paragraphs. The telling is often hallucinatory, with "reality" becoming but one perspective among many. Most accounts of this novel call it an allegory for the state of Peru itself. I don't know enough about the country to say, myself, but I assume this is the case. Regardless, I very much enjoyed the story about Corporal Lituma's education about the many ways to look at a mountain, and a culture.

51rocketjk
Ago 9, 2019, 12:48am

Moving into early June with this review . . .

Mr Standfast by John Buchan



This is the entertaining third entry in John Buchan's classic "Richard Hannay" espionage series, written during and just after World War One. Buchan wrote the first two books while the war was still ongoing, so, obviously, he didn't know how things were going to turn out. Mr Standfast was written after the war's conclusion. But the war is still going fiercely in the novel, and Hannay is pulled from his command in the trenches to go after a master German spy who has set up a network through which vital British war information is being passed through to Germany. Hannay goes on a difficult chase, indeed, across Scotland, France and Switzerland. The "daring do" of this story has much more to do with endurance than with violence. There is a lot of fine natural description, as well. So the book is fun, although you've got to be willing to work around Buchan's persistent antisemitism and racism.

52rocketjk
Editado: Ago 28, 2019, 1:58pm

Here's a book that's interesting more for its historical elements than it's literary value that I read in June . . .

For the Sake of Shadows by Max Miller



This is the sort of book that's more interesting as an artifact, for lack of a better word, than for the reading experience it represents. Max Miller was a San Diego journalist during the Depression who became nationally known when he published his collection of vignettes about the San Diego docks entitled I Cover the Waterfront. Two movies were based on the book, but neither reportedly bear much relation to Miller's work, other than the title and the setting. Miller spent a very brief period of time (evidently less than two weeks) as a scriptwriter for a Hollywood studio. For the Sake of Shadows is Miller's probably somewhat fictionalized account of that time, published in 1936. There are a few fun vignettes of conversations between screenwriters and between Miller and others who try to give him advice about how to conduct himself in the studio setting. But mostly the book is one long complaint about the crassness and vacuousness of the movie industry and the emptiness of the story Miller has been assigned to work up into a script. The problem is money, of course, the amount the studios insist on making on each picture (locking them into "tried and true" lowest common denominator projects) and the vast sums the scriptwriters are being paid, a week's worth here being equal to a couple of months pay for the reporters doing the real, meaningful, work back home (hooking otherwise talented writers into working well below their capabilities but keeping them from quitting the assembly line). Anyway, Miller makes his point early, and then makes it often. It's quick reading, though. I got through the whole book in one weekend morning and afternoon. But there's not enough detail to make this a truly interesting look at the time and place being described, unfortunately.

As I mentioned above, though, the book is interesting in some way as an artifact, or maybe "curiosity" is a better word. I found a few Miller bios and obituaries online, but none of them mention this book, or even Miller's time in Hollywood. I did find two online references. One a short synopsis on this online bookseller's site. The other is this reference in the googlebooks version of historian Kevin Starr's book, The Dream Endures: California Enters the 1940s. Starr refers to Miller's book as a novel, and puts it within the context of Hollywood screenwriters of the period's "continuing chorus of lament."

As a collectible, this book does have value, to anyone who might care of such matters. My first edition hardcover copy, with dust jacket, seems to worth a minimum of $50 to online sellers.

On the first inside page of the book, someone has written in pencil, "First Edition. Now Scarce." The price $4.50 is written in, then crossed out, to be replaced by $25. I don't recall where or when I bought this book, but I am for sure I did not pay $25 for it! I probably got it at a garage sale or thrift store.

Of much more interest is the inscription on that page. In clearly readable script, and written with a fountain pen, is the name David Heyward. Below that in the same handwriting we see: Heyward Hall - June 30 '38. My guess is that David Heyward lived in Heyward Hall, perhaps a family estate somewhere. Or that David Heyward was given the book on that date by Heyward Hall, in some way a family relation. Google searches for both turned up way too many hits to be able to ascertain this history.

Finally, when I first entered this book into my LT library back in 2008, I was the only LT member to have done so. Now there are two of us listing it.

53rocketjk
Ago 10, 2019, 12:50am

Moving into July, I posted this depressing but very important book . . .

Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security by Todd Miller



Read as a "between book" (see first post). Although obviously far from the only book on the topic, this, I believe, is a crucial book. Relatively short and extremely clear, to the point, and well written, Storming the Wall outlines the politics and economics of climate change. Miller describes convincingly the ways in which the current waves of migration around the world are largely driven by environmental degradation caused by climate change, and the ways in which the political response to that migration is the response one would expect of the "haves" preparing to protect their status from the "have nots" rather than a world bringing its scientific expertise to bear on the ways to prevent and/or ameliorate the problems. While "security" technology has been growing into a multi-billion dollar industry, formerly arable land in Central America, for example, has grown untenable for agriculture with extremely little effort made or money spent on trying to reverse this trend. Miller also demonstrates that, in the U.S., while Republican politicians may still be denying the effects, and even the existence, of climate change, the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and the American military have been convinced of the growing effects of climate change for decades, and have been drawing up strategies and action plans accordingly. And they are not trying to figure out how to help people; they are creating plans for keeping people out. In the meantime, governments are doing what they can to discourage and even suppress grass root movements trying to bring these issues to light and to affect change in a more positive and compassionate direction.

54rocketjk
Editado: Ago 10, 2019, 10:58am

Here's an entry from a "guilty pleasure" series I've been enjoying . . .

The Jugger by Richard Stark



The Jugger is the sixth book in the "Parker" series by Richard Stark (a.k.a. Donald E. Westlake). Parker is a psychopathic thief and all-round criminal who doesn't have any particular desire to kill you but will without compunction if you represent the slightest bit of trouble for him, the job he's in the midst of, or the security of his alias. Parker has been receiving odd letters from a retired former colleague, a "jugger" (safe cracker) who has been in quiet retirement in the fictional town of Sagamore, Nebraska. Parker heads to the town to find out whether his old pal now represents the sort of threat to his peace of mind that must be dealt with lethally, and instead lands in the middle of an unpleasant situation with unpleasant people. Parker has to figure out what's going on, what's in it for him (if anything), and how to get away clean in either case. These books are quick, well written, often brutal, and lots of fun if noir anti-heroes are your cup of poison.

55rocketjk
Ago 11, 2019, 12:57am

From another series, but nothing guilty about this pleasure . . .

One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde



This is the sixth book in Fforde's fabulous "Thursday Next" series. It had been several years since I'd read the fifth, First Among Sequels, and I was a little worried I'd be a bit lost, but I got right back into the swing quickly. Inside of BookWorld, the written character Thursday Next (not the real Thursday, you understand), is trying to deal with keeping the storylines in the first five Next books fresh to combat the loss of readership and potential Remaindering. Nothing is worse for a seriesful of characters than to become Unread. In the meantime, as the book's title suggests, the real Thursday seems to have gone missing just before she was to take part in peace talks within BookWorld centering on the potentially breakaway genre, Racy Novel. So the written Thursday Next is drafted to go looking for her Real World character source. Unless, of course, the written Thursday really is the real Thursday hiding out in BookWorld for safety and just doesn't realize it. Got all that?

This entry isn't quite as strong as some of the other novels in the series, particularly because the written Thursday by definition cannot be as well drawn as the real character. That last sentence actually makes sense within the context of the series. Nevertheless, even a "not quite as strong" Thursday Next book is a hoot, just a lot of fun to read. Wordplay abounds, and the mystery moves along nicely and effectively. Thank you, Mr. Fforde.

56NanaCC
Ago 11, 2019, 7:17am

>55 rocketjk: I haven’t read anything in this series in quite a while, but you’ve made me think about trying to figure out where I stopped. I think it was the fifth book. I actually listened to them on my commute to and from work, or on longer car trips. The audio versions were pretty good, if I remember correctly. It might be fun to re-listen to a couple before going forward.

57lisapeet
Ago 11, 2019, 7:54am

>55 rocketjk: A friend gave me the first two in Fforde's series ages ago, and I've been meaning to read them for years. I think I need a list of books that have been on my shelves for a long time to give at least a little priority to over the new stuff, because those would be toward the top. I've heard such good things about them, and the series feels a little like a club that I'd like to be in on.

58rocketjk
Ago 11, 2019, 8:46am

>56 NanaCC: Interesting. I don't know if I'd be able to concentrate well enough on the Thursday Next books in audio form to be able to get all the wordplay and intricate jest, especially while driving. I suppose it would depend on how they were read, of course. I got to see Fforde reading in person when, I think, the fourth book came out. I have a signed copy of that one. He was terrific in person. This was at the late, highly lamented Clean Well Lighted Place for Books in San Francisco.

>57 lisapeet: Read the first book immediately, or at least as soon as you'd like something lighthearted but also entirely engaging. Cheers!

59rocketjk
Editado: Ago 11, 2019, 8:51am

Closing in on catching up! Here's a book I read in mid-July . . .

Arkady by Patrick Langley



In the first scenes of this skillful and effecting dystopian novel, the mother of a young boy, Jackson, and his toddler brother, Frank, disappears from the hotel the family is staying at, and the last we see of the boys' father he is following a policeman out the door. Not waiting around to see what happens next, Jackson puts his brother halfway into a suitcase and drags him out into the night. . . .

We soon learn that this England is a somewhat ratcheted up future England, in which society is a good way toward disintegrating and the government has fairly totalitarian control of the populace. Cities have constricted, leaving dilapidated, crumbling housing complexes standing abandoned. People still have jobs to go to, though, and their cell phones and laptops still work. The story of Arkady is the story of the brothers' life and growth on the edges of this fraying and chaotic world. Langley's prose is often purposefully ragged, but his descriptions of the physical world, both the beauty of the natural and the fractured man-made, help bring the novel much of its gravity. So, too, the perspective of the two brothers, which Langley moves between effectively as best fits each part of their stories. Their resilience is that of a single unit, sometimes on their own and sometimes mixing in fitfully with communities they find along their way. The telling is somewhat hallucinatory, but the world is just close enough to our own to be clearly imaginable.

One review I quickly scanned called this a "post-Brexit novel." It was published just last year (2018) and is Langley's first novel. I will be looking forward to more work from him.

Book note: I purchased Arkady during my last visit to that holy grail of bookstores, City Lights, in San Francisco.

60rocketjk
Editado: Ago 12, 2019, 1:55am

I finished this older, very interesting short story collection in late June . . .

New Stories for Men edited by Charles Grayson



Read as a "between book" (See first post). Yeah, I know. That title, right? This collection was published in 1941, so slack can be cut or not. At any rate, this is a fun collection of mostly good-to-excellent short stories, designed, obviously, to be enjoyed by us guys, at least as an editor in 1941 would have seen it. Naturally, all the writers are men. OK, that aside, I had fun reading these stories. It's a solid collection of short works written from around 1915 through 1940, so a window into that era. Interestingly for me, there is a story by Irvin S. Cobb, who is the only screenwriter mentioned by name in the satiric memoir For the Sake of Shadows, which I read a few weeks back (see above). Other writers I'd heard of that are represented here are Varids Fisher, Paul Gallico, John Huston, MacKinlay Kantor, Sinclair Lewis, John O'Hara, Budd Schulberg, Irwin Shaw, John Steinbeck and James Thurber. Other names I had to look up, often to find interesting, if obscure, back stories. I could have done without the ode to bulldog fighting ("White Monarch and the Gas House Pup" by R.G. Kirk, which, it turns out, was also the title story to a collection by this author), and some of the stories were below par, but all in all, as I've said, this set was a fun one. For all readers!

61rocketjk
Ago 12, 2019, 11:20am

For sports fans only . . .

Book 33: Joe Falls: 50 Years of Sports Writing (And I Still Can't Tell the Difference Between a Slider and a Curve) by Joe Falls



Another "between book" finished. When I was a kid in the late 60s and early 70s, my buddies and I used to read Joe Falls' columns in the Sporting News every week, a publication which in those days was the baseball fan's Bible. So when, many (many!) years later, when one of those buddies saw that Falls was signing copies of his collected essays, he bought a signed copy and sent it to me. It took me a while to get around to reading them, but now I have. In a way, this collection taken as a whole is Falls' memoir of his career. He tells tales of athletes he has met, what it was like to attend events like the Olympics, the U.S. Open and the Indy 500 as a sportswriter, and what the sportswriting lifestyle was like. He also gives a glimpse into the world of the newspaper newsroom (Falls was mostly active in Detroit dailies), complete with tyrannical and not always logical editors, but also with comradrie and excitement, back in the days when newspapers were still viable and important. Falls is an "old school" writer, his style is, while solid, pretty middle of the road and not particularly entertaining. Also, I don't share his interest college football coaches. It was fun for me to read most of these essays, but I wouldn't particularly recommend making a point of seeking this book out unless Falls is a writer you remember and enjoyed when he was working.

62rocketjk
Editado: Ago 13, 2019, 12:39am

This book had a very personal aspect for me . . .

In Shelly's Leg by Sara Vogan



Sara Vogan was a teacher of mine when I was working toward my MA in Creative Writing at San Francisco State University, starting in 1986. During that time she became a friend. I took her class on the Form of the Novella. The works I can remember reading in that class were Sula, Chronicle of a Death Foretold and The Bass Saxophone. There were others, of course, but those are the three I remember. At any rate, although we didn't hang out very much off campus, we were friends on campus, and she became one of my unofficial writing advisors. She was only in her late 30s, then (I was in my early 30s). She had already published this book, In Shelly's Leg, which had earned her some acclaim. Diane Keaton had purchased the movie rights. (The movie never got made.) She was a very good teacher and obviously a caring person, though she wore her emotions very close to the skin. We weren't close enough friends to stay in touch after I finished up my degree, although I stayed in San Francisco. A few years later, I heard she'd died. She was only 43. And while I'd read one of her other novels, Loss of Flight, while Sara was alive, for some reason it has taken me all these years to finally read In Shelly's Leg, her first and best novel. I don't even know what prompted me to read it now, but I dug it out last week. As soon as I started reading, started hearing Sara's voice, those days of 30 years ago, the people of that time and place of my life, all came rolling back to me. So reading this novel was a very personal experience.

Anyway, published in 1980, In Shelly's Leg is a novel about a group of friends who congregate in Shelly's Leg, a bar in a small Montana town. Mostly the story centers around Margaret, a divorced mother of two, and her boyfriend, Woody, who wants to hit the road with his country band and wants Margaret to come along. Also, there is Sullivan, the bar's owner, who is still mourning the death of his lover, Shelly, the bar's founder. Margaret and her best friend, Rita, are the pitcher and catcher for the bar's fast-pitch women's softball team, league champions six years running. The novel suffers from some of the usual drawbacks of books about groups of ne'er do wells congregating in bars or cafes or the like. Some of the characters remain shadows, and there is a romanticizing of their backstories, their problems, and their quirky personae. But I do think Sara handled those issues better than many authors before or since, and the problem was fairly minor in scope, here. What I liked best was that the story moves along nicely, and that characterizations of the main players were well done; their interactions seemed realistic and struck a chord. And though I did not agree with or care for the judgements the other characters made regarding Margaret, the decisions she makes and the reasons she makes them, I'm not sure that I was meant to.

63AlisonY
Ago 13, 2019, 3:17am

>62 rocketjk: nice story. That's interesting that all these years on you still instantly recognised her writing voice.

64rocketjk
Ago 13, 2019, 11:42am

>63 AlisonY: Thanks, Alison. Isn't it amazing how certain things, a song, a voice, a smell, can open up corridors that let your mind step straight back several decades in time?

65rocketjk
Editado: Ago 13, 2019, 11:47am

One more from the "They Can't All Be Classics" Department . . .

Dirty Laundry by Pete Hamill



This mystery was fun almost all the way through. Pete Hamill is a journalist, essayist, critic and occasional novelist who has been active since the 1960s. He's one of those classic New York City whiskey/jazz/boxing-loving/corruption-exposing writers in love with New York and its culture. A kind of Jimmy Breslin type, if that resonates at all with you. At any rate, Dirty Laundry was written in the 1980s and takes place in the Manhattan of the same era. I am, therefore, predisposed to like the book. Though I lived in New Orleans and then San Francisco during the 80s, as a Jersey boy, those days in New York as still a source of affection to me. Sam Briscoe, then, is a recently retired newspaper columnist who gets plunged into a world of danger and deceit by a frantic phone call from a former lover. Well, what other kind of world would we expect? This book is lots of fun until the very end, when the dread deus ex machina rears its ugly head in the final few pages. Hence my three star rating. But if you'd like an entertaining tumble through 1980s New York and also a visit to the Mexico City of those days, pick this book up if you ever stumble upon it at the Goodwill.

66rocketjk
Ago 14, 2019, 12:35pm

This in-depth "history" of World War 2 was written and published while the war was still going on in Japan and reviewed by me in early July . . .

The Secret History of the War, Volume 1 by Waverley Root



Read as a "between book" (see first post). This is a fascinating, extremely detailed book about World War 2, written for the most part while the war was still going on. Root was an American journalist stationed in Paris right up until the German occupation of the city. The book was originally to be co-written with French journalist Pierre Lazareff, but Lazareff understandably became otherwise engaged "in government service." However, he allowed Root to use the material he'd already compiled. At any rate, this long book (I am reporting here on Volume 1 only, which in itself is 650 pages of fairly small print) contains endless interesting details of, particularly but not solely, the political conditions and many machinations of governments before and during the war. In particular, Root (and Lazareff) focus on France, both pre-war and during the Vichy era. Root maintains that a) many in French leadership were, essentially, facists who abhorred their own Republic; b) much of the Germans' meticulous prewar 5th column propaganda activity was done for them by French leaders (Philippe Pétain comes in for particular criticism) and c) the French Army's efforts to resisting the German invasion were sabataged by traitors within the government and the army. These people were either Nazi sympathizers or were so convinced of the Germans' eventual victory in the war that they thought resistance to be futile. I don't know the degree to which these opinions have been backed up or discredited in the intervening years, but Root makes a very, very strong case.

Root goes into some detail about the conditions in France and the other conquered countries during the years of occupation, during which, eventually, near starvation conditions applied as the Germans extracted more and more of the local produce and manufactured goods to feed their armies. When you see movies about the French occupation, you never see the people as gaunt and malnourished as Root describes them.

Also included are chapters on Finland, the history of the German-Soviet Pact and the eventual, disastrous, German invasion of Russia, and events in the Balkans, Africa and the Low Countries. Also fascinating is the chapter about Hitler's continual attempts to make a separate peace with the Western allies in order to be able to concentrate solely on fighting Russia. Again, this is Volume 1 of a three-volume set. I'll be starting on Volume 2 (in the "between book" rotation) very soon.

67rocketjk
Editado: Ago 15, 2019, 11:08am

I reviewed this book in mid-July. It was interesting in a "now I know what they thought in 1902" kind of way . . .

Georgia and State Rights: A Study of the Political History of Georgia from the Revolution to the Civil War, with Particular Regard to Federal Relations by Ulrich Bonnell Phillips



Georgia and State Rights was originally published in 1902 as Ulrich Phillips' doctoral thesis at Columbia University. Ulrich, according to New Georgia Encyclopedia, went on to become "the first major historian of the South and of southern slavery." Writing from 50 to around 80 years after the Civil War, Ulrich during his career never moved off his view of slavery as "a relation characterized by 'propriety, proportion, and cooperation.' Through years of living together, Phillips maintained, blacks and whites developed a rapport not of equals but of dependent unequals. Though masters controlled the privileges that the slaves enjoyed, Phillips considered blacks 'by no means devoid of influence.' Phillips considered slavery to be a labor system 'shaped by mutual requirements, concessions, and understandings, producing reciprocal codes of conventional morality' and responsibility."*

Ulrich was credited with being one of the first historians to make deep dives into published sources contemporary with the period he was writing about. Georgia and State Rights is filled with footnotes referring to newspapers, journals and biographies from the period between the Revolution and the Civil War. As such it is very instructive, once (or if, I guess) you can get around Ulrich's personal perspectives about the history. So, for example, Ulrich considers it perfectly reasonable that "there was apparently a steady advance of sentiment in Georgia against the justice of slavery from the time of the adoption of the Federal Constitution until {William Lloyd} Garrison began his raging." (emphasis mine).

At any rate, the history is an interesting tour through the attitudes about Southern history from the perspective of the South circa 1900. Subjects like the "removal" of the Creeks and Cherokees from Georgia territories and the internal party politics of the state are provided through the lens of the debate between states rights proponents and those hoping to maintain a stronger Federal U.S. government. For example, Georgia states rights advocates were bitterly opposed to the Federal contention that the central government had the right to make states abide by the treaties that Washington had signed with Indian tribes. Luckily for these Georgians (and, of course, to the woe of the tribes), Andrew Jackson became president. That was that for Indian treaties.

Ulrich also makes it clear that the Civil War was fought over the issue of slavery. He says that even the non-slaveholding, poorer Whites became convinced that the economic prosperity of the state, and so their own prosperity, depended on the continuation of slavery. While many/most of Ulrich's attitudes on these issues are unpalatable, the history provided here is interesting.

* Quotes from provided link to the New Georgia Encyclopedia article.

68rocketjk
Ago 15, 2019, 11:44pm

A birthday gift from my lovely wife . . .

The Baby Bombers: The Inside Story of the Next Yankees Dynasty by Bryan Hoch



For baseball fans (and perhaps I should say "For Yankees fans") only. This very recent book provides some background into the development of the current Yankees team with a core of very young and talented players like Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge and Luis Severino. The book tells about the work Yankees scouts and general manager Brian Cashman did finding these players and others, and the trades that have been made along the way, as some top prospects have been kept and some dealt away in order to bolster the team's recent playoff runs. Hoch also goes into the life stories of a few of these players, particularly those mentioned above. There's lots of interesting information about the ins and outs of the development of a major league baseball team in the current era.

Unfortunately, perhaps because Hoch is a Yankees beat writer and so reluctant to damage his relationship with the team and the players, the whole thing is pretty bland. Particularly in Judge's case, the book is filled with the sort of inoffensive quotes that players are taught to feed interviewers. In quote after quote, we're told things like, "Our job is to go out there and battle. We were just battling every game and good things happened." Also, at the end of the 2017, the team decided not to renew the contract of their longtime manager, Joe Girardi. The book mentions Girardi's inability to communicate with the younger players and his high-pressure approach, but there are essentially no examples given, no anecdotes told, of the sort of events or feelings that would lead team management to conclude that Girardi's ouster was required. So while the book was fun and basically well written (although evidently Diversion Books' editors don't know a dangling participial phrase when they see one), I was left wanting more. That said, I still recommend the book to, as noted up top, Yankees fans.

69rocketjk
Ago 16, 2019, 12:18pm

Looks like I've been on a history run this summer . . .

The Longest Debate: a Legislative History of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by Charles W. Whalen and Barbara Whalen



This is a fascinating, in-depth, day-by-day account of the creation, debate and passage of one of the most important pieces of legislation to ever come out of the United States Congress. Charles Whalen served in the U.S. Congress from 1967 to 1979, so although he wasn't part of the proceedings described in his book, he knew a lot of the participants and was intimately familiar with the workings of the two chambers. Barbara Whalen, Charles' wife, was, among other things, a newspaper columnist in their native Ohio.

The book takes the bill from its inception during the John F. Kennedy administration, urged upon the president by his brother, Robert, the attorney general, as a moral imperative, through Kennedy's assassination and to the legislation's passage with even stronger support than Kennedy's by his successor in the White House, Lyndon Johnson. Committee meetings, caucuses, pressure and support from civil rights leaders, individual arm-twisting and cajoling, all are delved into here in a riveting, detailed presentation. The alliances crossed party lines, and it is great to be reminded that in the 1960s, the Republican Party had a very strong liberal wing and the southern Democrats were among the strongest, most stubborn foes of the advances represented by this legislation. But other than the last-ditch defenders of segregation and Jim Crow in the House and Senate, the feeling across both houses was that Civil Rights was an idea whose time had come, and that it was important to get on the right side of history. Nevertheless, the bill's opponents in the Senate mounted the longest filibuster effort in history.

This book was originally published in 1985, only 20 years after the events described. It's not intended as a comprehensive overview of the Civil Rights struggle, but as a close up look at the passage of this law.

However, I have just found a less laudatory review of this book which focuses on the Whalen's historical inaccuracies and omissions written upon the book's appearance by law and history professor Michael R. Belknap: https://conservancy.umn.edu/bitstream/handle/11299/164951/05_01_BR_Belknap.pdf;s...

70rocketjk
Ago 17, 2019, 12:22pm

Just a few more entries and I'll be caught up to my 2019 reading . . .

The Apostle by Sholem Asch



Read as a "between book" (see first post). I wouldn't normally read a novel as a "between book." I'd read it straight through. However, when I started reading The Apostle, I realized that it was promising to be fairly tedious and, given its 775 page length, that's a lot of tedium! Yet I wanted to read the book. Why? Because of its historic standing. Sholem Asch was a Yiddish writer, a Polish Jew who wrote about shtetl life in Europe and became very well known, with his work being translated into many languages. He moved to America in his 30s and began writing about the Jewish immigrant experience here. Late in his career, however, he wrote three books in what became known as his "Founders of Christianity" series: The Nazarene, The Apostle, and Mary. This did not go over well in the Jewish community of the time (The Apostle was published in 1942), and he lost readership and his job. This despite that fact that Asch maintained that the novels were meant to bridge the gap between Jews and Christians by demonstrating in fiction that Christianity was in fact a deeply Jewish phenomenon at its core. As my old man would have said, however, "Lotsa luck." And so I was curious about The Apostle. It is the fictional story of early Christianity as seen through the eyes of Saul, who become the Apostle Paul.

Once he is converted and begins preaching about the Messiah, Paul schlepps back and forth across the Middle East, founding congregations and converting Jew and Gentile alike to the new faith. Being Jewish myself, I never knew the details of Paul's life nor much about the turning point where Paul stopped preaching only to Jews that their Messiah had arrived and instead insisted on preaching to everyone, thus taking the new religion out of the realm of Judaism. (And that is, of course, to whatever extent this book is faithful to what is know of those events.) So that was interesting. Unfortunately about 95% of the storytelling is done in flat, expository prose. There's almost nothing to draw us into the narrative for its own sake. So I plodded through, chapter by chapter, one chapter at a time over several years, and now I've finished! I wouldn't really recommend it to anyone other than the historically curious about Asch and his career. That's probably a fairly small subset of my LibraryThing friends! I do look forward to going back and reading some of Asch's earlier works, which were much praised when he wrote them and are still highly regarded.

71rocketjk
Ago 19, 2019, 12:24am

Back to Buchan . . .

The Three Hostages by John Buchan



This is the fourth of John Buchan's 5-book "Richard Hannay" series of thrillers, written during and just after World War One. Buchan referred to these books as "shockers," by which he meant that they were to be read for fun and not to be inspected overmuch for plot consistency and/or believability. In The Three Hostages, published in 1924, uber-Englishman Richard Hannay is home from the war in France, and from his dangerous and desperate espionage assignments which had repeatedly pulled him away from his men in the trenches. Now he has retired to his country estate, his beautiful wife, Mary (whom he met while they were both involved in foiling a German spy network during the war) and his young son. No such luck. It seems there is another dastardly plot afoot to gain control of the Western World and in particular to destroy all is strong about English society. Worse, this cabal has taken three innocent hostages. Scotland Yard and their European allies are just about to sweep up the conspirators, but first, someone has to find and free these hostages. Guess who? As usual, there is lots of great natural description, this time in particular of the mountain passes of Scotland. And here, the antisemitism gets dialed down from its crescendo in the third book. Being Jewish myself, I'm never surprised to find such elements in English writing of the time, particularly from the upper classes, to which Buchan belonged. I'm able to work around it and still have fun with these books.

72rocketjk
Editado: Ago 19, 2019, 3:47pm

And this catches me up!

The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View by Richard Tarnas



Read as a "between book" (see first post). This is a relatively comprehensive survey of Western thought from the early Greeks through modern times. Tarnas takes us through the several stages of Greek thought, through the rise of Christianity and and the evolution of Westerners' view of themselves and their place in the universe over the centuries. Tarnas also does a good job of taking us through our various changes as science, on the one hand, and spirituality (outside of organized religion), on the other, become sort of dually transcendent in modern humanity. The writing is clear, meant for "laypersons" rather than academics, although things do get kind of dense, in a way that seemed mostly unavoidable to me, when the concepts become particularly complex.

This is a discussion of relatively mainstream ideas, however. I recall little, if any, discussion, for example, of the religions that Christianity supplanted as it spread through Europe, or of the repression of those religions practiced at the time, so often including the repression (to put it mildly) of women. A look at the index, in fact, reveals that the term "Goddess worship" appears once, and not until page 443. This is the book's very final chapter, when Tarnas finally comes around to discuss these issues and to say . . . "As Jung prophesied, an epochal shift is taking place in the contemporary psyche, a reconciliation between the two great polarities, a union of opposites . . . between the long-dominant but now alienated masculine and the long-suppressed but now ascending feminine. . . . But to achieve this reintegration of the repressed feminine, the masculine must undergo a sacrifice, an ego death. The Western mind must be willing to open itself to a reality the nature of which could shatter its most established beliefs about itself . . . . And this is the great challenge of our time, the evolutionary imperative for the masculine to see through and overcome its hubris and one-sidedness . . . " As point of reference, Tarnas was writing in 1991. He goes into much more depth in this final chapter about these concepts, but it's too bad that it all had to wait for, basically, a post-script. (And who does he mean precisely when he says, "The Western mind must be willing . . . "?)

So, all in all, this is a very useful, just detailed enough and mostly clearly written survey of the history of patriarchal Western thought.

73AlisonY
Ago 27, 2019, 3:47am

>72 rocketjk: sounds interesting. Yet another title to keep an eye out for - this thread is dangerous! Have enjoyed your other recent reviews too, although I've lurked rather than commented.

74rocketjk
Editado: Ago 27, 2019, 2:55pm

>73 AlisonY: Yes, Passion of the Western Mind is interesting. Glad you're enjoying the thread, and thanks for checking in.

OK, as noted above, I'm now caught up and henceforth will be posting in "real time."

Anybody's Gold: The Story of California's Mining Towns by Joseph Henry Jackson



This is a brightly written, very well researched and extremely readable history of the California Gold Rush. Jackson was a well-respected California historian and editor, serving as the literary editor for both the San Francisco Argonaut and then the SF Chronicle. (Here's a short biography.) He did an impressive amount of research for this book, delving into the historical archives of several libraries and museums. He was thereby able to find primary resources, including newspapers of the mining towns and the personal journals of the miners.

Beginning with a short history of pre-Gold Rush California, Jackson traces the discovery of gold and the at first gradual, and then torrential, growth of the arrival of the fortune seekers and the proliferation of mining camps and towns. We are taken through the evolution of the Gold Rush, starting with the early arrivals, the individualists who panned the relatively easily acquired gold out of the rivers and streams and lived together with a code of etiquette and honorable behavior that could lead to extremes, especially quick use of the hangman's rope. As the gold-rich areas became more populated, these codes would often break down. Later, as getting at the gold became harder, mining cooperatives, and even later relatively well organized large scale companies, ruled the day.

Jackson successfully puts lots of color and movement into all of this. He revels in offering characteristic incidents, gleaned often from those newspapers and journals mentioned above. He also enjoys describing the miners' superstitions, and narrating the prevailing legends and tall tales, some of which were still being offered to visitors when Jackson was doing his research. (The book was published in 1941.) Jackson, however, is not shy about immediately debunking those legends when appropriate, and rightly (in my view) saying he had providing each legend as a way of filling in the color and atmosphere of the times and of how those times have come to be viewed by subsequent generations.

There is a dark side to all of this, which Jackson mentions fairly often but doesn't delve into much or even seem particularly troubled by. That dark side, of course, is the era's racism. Mexican miners were routinely run off their land and their claims. Indians had no rights at all. Chinese people were allowed to work only those claims that whites had already worked over and abandoned and were tolerated in some areas only because they were willing to pay an additional tax for the privilege. For a modern-day reader, these facts will not be dismissed during the reading, and they do take the luster off of Jackson's overall glee in describing the times.

The final third of the book is a travelogue through the mining country, section by section, starting in the area's southernmost towns and moving north. Of course, this driving trip was taken in around 1940, pre-Interstate and pre-fast food restaurants and other chains. Jackson was driving 2-land roads, and the towns he was describing I'm sure are mostly far different today than they were 80 years ago when Jackson was describing them. There are small long-abandoned camps that Jackson describes as having only some tumbled-down buildings left to see. Those ruins are most likely by now long gone. The small cities have no-doubt grown and the relatively isolated towns either expanded or shriveled, depending on how close the Interstates came to them. I live in Mendocino County, CA, not within the Gold Rush territories but enough, and I have driven through most of Gold Rush country over the years. My wife and I spent time in the northernmost town described here, Weaverville, in northern Trinity County, and it is still a small, charming town.

I taught San Francisco/Gold Rush history a couple of times as an advanced class during the days I was teaching ESL to adults in a small private San Francisco ESL school. In those days I did a lot of research into the topic (so that I could teach it). So a lot of the material was somewhat of a review for me, but I did enjoy relearning it and also taking Jackson's deep dive, circa 1941.

Book note: My copy is a first edition bought who knows when and where. About three quarters of the way through, I found tucked between some pages a bookmark sized piece of paper on which was written in pencil, in very neat flowing handwriting, "Society for the Preservation of Negro Spirituals, Charleston - 2 records."

75rocketjk
Set 3, 2019, 3:28pm

No Simple Highway: A Cultural History of the Grateful Dead by Peter Richardson



This book was published in 2014, and Richardson attempted to differentiate his book from the (at a wild guess) dozens of previously published band biographies and musical histories of the Grateful Dead by, as the title suggests, writing a book about the ways in which the band shaped, and was shaped by, the important cultural events of their era(s). All in all, I'd say that Richardson succeeded in this goal quite nicely.

Richardson does a nice job of providing an overview of the background to and creation of the original Counter Culture/Hippie movement as it developed in San Francisco. It is fair to say that that movement and the Dead were organically joined, and that probably neither would have developed as they did without the other. As Richardson portrays it, the Dead's style of performance, in which they aimed to tear down the walls between musician and audience and to create music that would lend itself to ecstatic dancing in particular, placed them squarely at the center of the growing scene. Acid was definitely a vital component of the philosophy.

As the movement faded and/or evolved, the Dead tried their best to stay true to their core values, while changing themselves as their organization grew along with the sizes of the crowds that came to see them and the necessity for larger venues became clear. Richardson also shows how the Dead became lightening rods for the anti-counter culture politics of the Reagan Revolution, all the while remaining a touchstone of value for their fans, old and new, who still wished to find an alternative to the growing clampdown that the 80s represented in American society.

Richardson makes clear the damage done to the band, and especially to Jerry Garcia, by the pressures of their fame, as well as to the myriad ways, sometimes wise but also foolish, that the musicians insisted on supporting their extended "family" and also of trying to wrest control of their own fortunes from corporate entities. At the same time, the group strove to remain a collective as much as possible, with no one person having control over the band's decisions or destiny.

But as his topic was the Dead's cultural role, Richardson does stay away from a lot of biographical material regarding the band members. Other than Garcia, whose role as musical leader and philosophical guru make his life central to the greater story being told, details about various band members' marriages, breakups, etc., are mostly left out, and even the musicians' intra-band relationships are touched on only lightly, and only when specific to the book's central theme. This aspect of the book I found refreshing and appropriate.

I have been a fan of the band and their music since my college days (mid-1970s), though I would not go so far as to say that I've ever been a Deadhead. Back in my younger days, when I was eagerly gobbling up anything I could find about the counter culture and its icons, I did read a couple of those earlier books about the Dead, but it had been at least 20 years since I had done any of that reading when I decided to pick up this book and see what Richardson would have to say about the Dead phenomenon from this relatively far chronological remove. While a lot of the information was already familiar to me, going through the history again was fun, and reflecting on Richardson's perspectives was worthwhile.

76rocketjk
Set 12, 2019, 3:37pm

The Woman Who Died a Lot by Jasper Fforde



This is the seventh entry in Jasper Fforde's absolutely delightful "Thursday Next" series. It would have been hard to imagine a Thursday Next novel in which our heroine never enters Bookworld being so satisfying, but Fforde pulled it off. An older and not a little battered Thursday has to deal with multiple issues, including the bending of time, the rearranging of personal destines, and the ever-malignant machinations of Goliath Corporation, all the while taking charge of Library Services (Chief Librarian of the Swindon All-You-Can-Eat-at-Fatso's Drink Not Included Library, to be precise) and also going in and out of consciousness that her youngest daughter, Jenny, who she thinks is in the next room, does not really exist, but is instead a mindworm planted inside her brain by the evil Aornis. That's all clear, right? If you love, literature, wordplay, puns, made up science, and astoundingly inventive, good-hearted falderal, this series is for you.

77NanaCC
Set 12, 2019, 10:57pm

>76 rocketjk: I really should get back to this series. I forgot about how much fun they are.

78rocketjk
Set 12, 2019, 11:21pm

>77 NanaCC: Indeed, you should! Book 6, One of Our Thursdays is Missing, was just a touch below par (but still very enjoyable), but this one is right up there among the best of the series. A book 8 is promised. We'll keep our fingers crossed.

79lisapeet
Set 15, 2019, 8:18am

>76 rocketjk: I commented on this in your other thread, but I've been meaning to get to this series for probably a decade now. I have the first two books, and I think I'm going to make at least the first one a priority after I've finished my latest round of work and book club reading. I keep meaning to get to some of the older stuff on my shelves and they always get bumped for newer and shinier (or books I need to read for one reason or another), but I really should mix it up just a little more.

80benitastrnad
Set 15, 2019, 7:08pm

I have read the first five in the Thursday Next series and I should go ahead finish them out. I have them on my shelves. I also have read all of the Nusery Crimes series. The books are so full of literary puns and such fun that I wonder why I haven't finished reading them?

81rocketjk
Set 15, 2019, 8:29pm

>80 benitastrnad: That's funny. I, too, left a long gap of time between the first five books and the sixth, One of Our Thursdays is Missing. If I remember right, there was a time lag between the publishing of books five and six, which might explain why some of us got out of the rhythm of reading them right away, which certainly had been my habit once I latched on to the series.

82rocketjk
Set 22, 2019, 3:42pm

Action at Aquila by Hervey Allen



Action at Aquila, published in 1938 is an historical novel, and a semi-romance, taking place in and around the Shenandoah Valley during the last months of the American Civil War. Allen was a well-known author in his day, and I guess is mostly remembered today as the author of Anthony Adverse. Colonel Nathaniel Franklin is a Union Army officer, commander of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry. As the story opens, Franklin is on leave from his command. He returns home but is dismayed by the harsh attitudes that have developed against the Confederacy among the uninformed (in Franklin's view) non-combatants, there. So he leaves to undertake a 3-week wandering journey across southern Pennsylvania and then down into Virginia to eventually return to his men as Sheridan finished the job of clearing the last of the Confederate forces from the Shenandoah.

During Franklin's journey, we get some very good natural descriptions of this beautiful part of the U.S. Also, we learn of the experiences of the Pennsylvanians who have recently lived through Lee's invasion on his way to Gettysburg and then the Confederates' retreat after their defeat in that battle. Allen makes clear that, other than their resentment at having their towns and houses burned, the local inhabitants grudge against the Confederates was not slavery but secession. Eventually Franklin gets back to his troop. In the meantime, we have been introduced to several secondary characters. Franklin's relationships with these characters largely informs the narrative, mostly in ways that are predictable but enjoyable. The battle that Franklin is plunged into upon his return (the "action" of the title) is described in horrific detail. The honor of the soldiers on both sides may be romanticized, but war, in the actual event, is certainly not. It is a bloody and mostly futile business.

The reason I refer to the book as a semi-romance is that most of the interactions between character are predictable in ways you would expect from a romance. But the high quality of the physical descriptions of the countryside, and the historical representations of the setting and action, raise the novel significantly above the negative connotations of the "romance" genre. My copy of the book is a first edition hardcover missing its dust jacket. So I had to go online to find a couple of contemporary reviews (Kirkus and the NY Times) to learn that Allen claimed his information about the attitudes and actions of populace he was writing about came from years of research and conversations with people who remembered the times, or their children. Allen was writing roughly 70 years after events, approximate to someone today writing about World War Two.

Despite the somewhat predictable nature of some of the relationships, here, we do come to care about the characters all in all, and the narrative itself is well presented and Allen's writing is very strong. So while this is not at the very highest level of historical novel that contemporary readers might wish for, I did enjoy the book quite a lot. The attitudes expressed by the characters are, similarly, not sentiments we'd wish our protagonists to have, but I do think they are probably accurate to the time. Finally, through Allen himself, we get whispers of how Americans in the 1930s stood on some of these issues, as well.

83rocketjk
Editado: Out 2, 2019, 1:10pm

The Masters by C. P. Snow



This is the 5th book in Snow's "Strangers and Brothers" series. The series follows the life and career of Lewis Eliot from his early struggles in the 1920s to become a lawyer and to deal with marriage to a mentally troubled woman through his time as a Cambridge don, and then through the years of World War Two and into the 1960s. Through Eliot's eyes we see the changes in British society (mostly upper class and academic circles) that take place during these decades. In The Masters, we are in the late 1930s, and Eliot is a don in an unnamed college within Cambridge University. The Master of the college has terminal cancer, and the deliberations concerning who his successor will be have begun, with two main camps quickly forming. The plot of the book concerns these deliberations and negotiations, and the personalities and relationships of the men struggling through the process.

I am slowly reading through this series, which has, in all, 11 books, usually one or two books per year. I enjoyed reading the first four, and very much enjoyed this book as well. Given the subject matter, I really wasn't expecting to find The Masters compelling, but I did. It's about a bunch of relatively privileged men in the 1930s deeply involved in the politics of a decision that could be of importance only within their fishbowl world. Why would I care? The answer lies in Snow's deft touch with character, and his obvious somewhat wry affection towards his subjects. The dons cover a spectrum of ages, and Snow ably shows us how each man's experiences and expectations regarding the college and its traditions is rooted in whatever era he came of age. The oldest of the dons has been in his position since the 1880s! The youngest of the dons, a scientist, is working on problems of physics that, we are told, will eventually help in the creation of radar. Through their varied eyes, we are shown the evolution of English university life and academia as a whole.

Snow used an interesting method in his storytelling, here, in that the action of The Masters, actually steps back in time a few years from the series' previous book, The Light and the Dark, which takes the narrative into the middle of World War Two. So we know what the future will hold for some of the characters we're reading about, and we also understand how this world that the Cambridge dons are so concerned with preserving is soon to undergo drastic changes that all of their deep deliberations and politics will be entirely unable to prevent or even influence.

All in all, this is a very fine novel of ideas and personalities. Understanding the characters' backgrounds through a reading of the previous books in the series would be helpful, but I don't think in this case wholly necessary.

84dchaikin
Out 2, 2019, 1:51pm

Jerry - I’ve been slowly working my way through your thread and have finally caught up (for the moment). Really enjoyed it. A great deal is new to me, as in I had never heard of it, actually without your comment I likely never would have heard of many of these. Really fascinating, even when some of these old attitudes you mention are cringe-worthy. I admit Sholem Asch really fascinates - even if I’m maybe not up for that book, I’m still super curious.

85benitastrnad
Out 2, 2019, 7:09pm

>83 rocketjk:
Ka-thunk! - you got me with a book bullet. Turns out that our library has most of this series, so now I am adding another series to my reading. I have been slowly working my way through the Winston Graham Poldark series. I am on book 4, Black Moon and hope to get finished with it by the end of the year. This sounds like it might be the next series on the list.

86rocketjk
Out 2, 2019, 7:40pm

>84 dchaikin: Hi, Daniel. Thanks for checking in. Glad you're enjoying my thread. It's amazing to me, too, as I read through everybody's threads here in Club Read and elsewhere on LT as well, how many folks are reading books I've never heard of. Just goes to show you how many interesting books there are out there to read. Sometimes when I'm reading something relatively obscure and a friend asks me, "Why are you reading that?" I'll answer, "Because it was on the list." And they usually ask, "What list?" And I say, "Well, I'm trying to read every interesting book ever written, and this one's on that list." It gets a laugh usually, anyway.

I don't recommend The Apostle, but I am very interested in reading some of Asch's "core competency" books (as my marketing friends would say), his books about Jewish life in Europe and about the Jewish immigrant experience in the U.S. I remember reading up on Asch's "Christian Trilogy" novels and found that his regular translator (from Yiddish to English) thought the final book in the series, Mary, was such a muddle that he refused to work on it.

87rocketjk
Out 2, 2019, 7:42pm

>85 benitastrnad: I haven't read any of the Poldark books, or watched the TV series, either, so I don't know how the two series compare. But I do know that, especially once I got first the first novel, I'm enjoying this series quite a lot. I, too, am in the midst of several series, but most of them are mystery series of one sort or another. Cheers!

88dchaikin
Out 2, 2019, 9:25pm

I like your list. With the mostly easy availability of books today, my perspective on what I pick to read is different than what it might have been 20 years ago. In a way, the world is my TBR...or potentially my list.

I looked Asch up a bit just now. For the last several years, I pick an author and read their books roughly in the order published, but Asch has a lot of books... A collection of stories might be a good place to start for me. Not sure.

89rocketjk
Out 3, 2019, 12:12am

>88 dchaikin: "A collection of stories might be a good place to start for me. Not sure."

If you're going to start with a collection of short stories by a Yiddish writer, I highly recommend putting off Asch a bit and reading Tevye's Daughters by Sholem Aleichem. These are, obviously, the stories that inspired the play, Fiddler on the Roof, but they are, not surprisingly deeper and also darker than the play. And not all the stories in the collection are Tevye stories. I was profoundly moved by this collection when I read it a couple of years back. Not having read any Asch short stories, I certainly can't compare the two, but still I heartily recommend the Aleichem collection. Of course, if your goal is to dip your toe into Asch's works, I'm sure a collection of shorter works is a good place to start. If you do that, let me know what you think. You may well get to those Asch stories before I do. fyi: My review of the Tevye stories is on the book's work page.

90dchaikin
Out 3, 2019, 7:22am

Thanks Jerry! I wasn’t aware of the nature of the Fiddler on the Roof connection, and also another author I would like to get to...(another classic Jewish author I’ve wondered about for a long time and haven’t read.)

91rocketjk
Out 3, 2019, 2:01pm

Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks



Yes, that Tom Hanks. I bought this volume in an airport bookstore mainly out of curiosity. I would say that were Hanks not a famous personality, I doubt he would have been able to get this collection published. Not that the stories are terrible. They aren't. Most of them are mediocre, somewhat below real professional quality, though perhaps three or four of them I would call good short stories. All of the stories either include or at least mention type writers, which is where the collection's title comes from. Anyway, in general I would say that unless you are a particular fan of Hanks as an actor and personality (I think he's fine in both departments, although a bit of a schlockmeister at times), there's no point in seeking out this book. There are many better short story collections/anthologies out there to read. I gave the book 3 stars as sort of an E for Effort rating.

92benitastrnad
Out 4, 2019, 6:39pm

I saw on another thread that you are reading a book by Henrick Van Loon. His book Story of Mankind was the first winner of the Newbery Prize for literature for children. That was back in the 1920'S.

93rocketjk
Out 4, 2019, 7:11pm

>92 benitastrnad: Yes, I saw that. The book I'm reading, The Liberation of Mankind, is described on the dust jacket as a followup to the Story of Mankind.

94benitastrnad
Out 7, 2019, 10:19am

In all the years I have been in this library I think that Story of Mankind has only been checked out once. If this were inside of One of Our Thursdays Is Missing the characters would be in the middle of a long dry spell. Or a big long nap.

95rocketjk
Out 7, 2019, 4:55pm

>94 benitastrnad: I can't remember offhand how Fforde deals with non-fiction, though. These "characters" are for the most part historical figures. Other than that, yeah, I can't imagine Van Loon is read much, if at all, these days, which is a shame. I'm enjoying The Liberation of Mankind a lot and learning quite a bit as well.

96rocketjk
Editado: Out 10, 2019, 6:37pm

The Liberation of Mankind: The Story of Man's Struggle for the Right to Think by Hendrik Willem Van Loon



This is an interesting and very well written history, originally published in 1926. As Van Loon tells us very early on, "This is not a handbook of anthropology. It is a volume dedicated to the subject of 'tolerance.' But 'tolerance' is a very broad theme. The temptation to wander will be great. And once we leave the beaten track Heaven along knows where we shall land." It should be noted that, as it turns out, by "mankind," Van Loon means, essentially, Europeans. Also, as per the book's publication date, we are not surprised to find that basically every single person of influence or note was male.

Hendrick Willem Van Loon was clearly a fascinating fellow. For one thing, he was the recipient, in 1922, of the first Newbery Medal for his book The Story of Mankind. The Newbery Medal is, of course, an award for children's literature. I haven't read The Story of Mankind, but The Liberation of Mankind is described on its dust jacket as more or less a sequel: " . . . these {a series of historical figures} have been re-created in the simple and direct style of The Story of Mankind, of which it has been said, 'The words are for children, but the meanings are for men.'" I bring all this up as context for my observation that I perceive thereby that the standards for what is considered children's writing sure have changed. I don't know that very many current-day educators (at least in the U.S.) would hand this book even to a teenager with any confidence that that person would have the knowledge necessary to make heads or tales out of most of this history or the desire to work through the book's 307 pages. That's not meant as a criticism of Van Loon or of this book. I loved it, in fact. But here is a longish example of the sort of thing I mean. As Van Loon is describing the rise of the early Christian Church and one Roman emperor's reaction, he tells us:

The first elementary missionary work among the heathen of Europe had already been done. But lest the good accomplished by the apostles come to naught, the labours of the individual preachers must be followed up by the organized effort of permanent settlers and administrators. The monks now carried their spade and their axe and their prayer-book into the wilderness of Germany and Scandinavia and Russia and far-away Iceland. They ploughed and they harvested and they preached and they taught school and brought unto those distant lands the first rudimentary elements of a civilization which most people only knew by hearsay.

In this way did the Papacy, the executive head of the entire Church, make use of all manifold forces of the human spirit.

The practical man of affairs was given quite as much of an opportunity to distinguish himself as the dreamer who found happiness in the silence of the woods. There was no lost motion. Nothing was allowed to go to waste. And the result was such an increase of power that soon neither emperor nor king could afford to rule his realm without paying humble attention to the wishes of those of his subjects who confessed themselves the followers of the Christ.

The way in which the final victory was gained is not without interest. For it shows that the triumph of Christianity was due to practical causes and was not (as is sometimes believed) the result of a sudden and overwhelming outburst of religious ardour.

The last great persecution of the Christians took place under the Emperor Diocletian.

Curiously enough, Diocletian was by no means one of the worst among those many potentates who ruled Europe by the grace of their bodyguards. But he suffered from a complaint which, alas! is quite common among those who are called upon to govern the human race. He was densely ignorant upon the subject of elementary economics.


That last paragraph provides an example of Van Loon's sense of humor (in deference to him I should probably say "humour"), with which this book is laced to great effect. And the writing is certainly not dense, but I'm not sure how many "kids these days" would hang with it for too long. I'm not sure I would have tried it with the college freshmen I taught for a couple of semesters back in 1992.

Anyway, as to the book itself, Van Loon starts with the Greeks and then moves through the Roman era and then through European history up through the French Revolution, describing the movements, institutions and individuals who have the most to do with, in turn, enhancing or curtailing the cause of tolerance in society. (In a way, it works as a more entertainingly written companion piece to a book I finished earlier this year, The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View by Richard Tarnas.) Despite Van Loon's relative enthusiasm for the early Christian Church as described above, he is especially critical of the Church as it evolved into the Middle Ages, and then of the murderous leaders among both Catholics and Protestants once the Reformation is launched. The book's second half is composed of short biographies of influential individuals, either via politics or philosophical writing, over the ebb and flow of the idea of tolerance in Western society. Erasmus, Spinoza and Montaigne get particularly interesting treatments, as do the figures of the French Revolution. Van Loon describes the repression in the Puritan settlements, but, disappointingly, misses the admirable Roger Williams. The final chapter, "The Last Hundred Years," is only a few pages long, and Van Loon concludes with some hopeful passages that beg for patience and perseverance in the struggle for overall societal tolerance. He writes with an uneasy eye backwards toward recent history (World War One and the Russian Revolution). But as he was writing in 1926, he could not be expected to be able to see what was coming.

Jeepers, I've written a lot about this book! I found it very interesting and a lot of fun to read. It never would have occurred to me, if I hadn't read it on the book's flyleaf, that Van Loon wrote in with an eye toward young adults. I had a lot of Van Loon's books scattered in various sections of my used bookstore (which I sold a year ago), but I don't recall ever selling one. I don't know how historically accurate all of his descriptions and observations are. Nevertheless, I think he's well worth reading even given, or possibly because of, the book's vintage of close to 100 years old. Van Loon's sense of humor, as already noted, is enjoyable and quite dark. For example, while the book's dust jacket, as pictured above, is certainly benign, the cover of the book itself, a book, remember, about tolerance and liberation, depicts a guiilotine!



Book note: A sticker on the inside of the front cover of my copy of The Liberation of Mankind, which is an eighth printing dating to 1947, denotes that the book was originally purchased at a store called Reader's Corner in Pretoria, South Africa. I have no memory of when and where I bought this volume, but the tale of how it traveled from Pretoria to San Francisco (where I probably picked it up) might be interesting in itself, and certainly provides an intriguing, if unsolvable, mystery. Also, the irony of having a book about the history of tolerance that was originally purchased in South Africa in the late 1940s does not escape me. The sticker also provides the Readers's Corner's street address. Google maps Street View shows the location to now house a restaurant.

97NanaCC
Out 10, 2019, 6:06pm

>96 rocketjk: Very interesting review.. I agree, and can’t imagine this being given to kids to read.

98thorold
Editado: Out 11, 2019, 7:49am

>96 rocketjk: Sounds very much of its time, but interesting to know about it. Your original mention of the name "Van Loon" caught my eye, because I went round the Van Loon Museum in Amsterdam (https://www.museumvanloon.nl) a couple of years ago. From a bit of quick Googling it's not obvious whether he belonged to the same family - Wikipedia says he came from Rotterdam, so it must at least have been a different branch, but it seems likely. They were influential bankers and business people, with branches everywhere, very close to the royal family in the 20th century.

In the museum they told us that the Van Loon family of Amsterdam were particular about sticking to the South Netherlands style, writing the "Van" in their name with an upper-case "V" (Loon, where they came from, is in Brabant). The author seems to have used a lower-case "v" as often as not, as far as I could tell from a scan through internet archive covers (...but many are in all caps). Wikipedia compromises by alternating "v" and "V" - I'm not sure if that's deliberate, though...

99rocketjk
Editado: Out 11, 2019, 12:39pm

>98 thorold: Yes, definitely a work of its time, although Van Loon expresses clear contempt for racial and political prejudice rather than shrugging it off in the "Well, what do you expect?" manner that I've seen in other historians of that era. He also describes, although not at great length, the often less than benign ways that the early Christian missionaries suppressed the local religions of the regions they "won" for the Church. So maybe I didn't give him quite enough credit for those relatively clear-eyed attitudes in my original review.

Re: the van or Van question, I took a look through my copy of The Liberation of Mankind. Van Loon is printed in all caps everywhere except for on the back of the dust jacket, where we find, at the top of a list of "Popular Works written and illustrated by HENDRICK VAN LOON," the book, Van Loon's Lives with capitalization as I have reproduced it here. Also, within the short review excerpts under the listing for The Arts of Mankind, we see this quote from the Sunday Times: "Mr. Van Loon has attempted a task that has never been attempted before." Same story for the excerpt from the Manchester Guardian's review of The Home of Mankind. Finally, in my abridged paperback copy of The Story of America, Arthur Schlesinger, in his Introduction to the edition, presents the author's name as "Van Loon" throughout.

100dchaikin
Out 11, 2019, 1:33pm

>96 rocketjk: very entertaining excerpt. My brain screams mythology, but has no factual pillars to fall back on. 1947 was a choice time for a book on tolerance to be selling in S. Africa, on eve of official apartheid.

101rocketjk
Editado: Out 11, 2019, 2:54pm

>100 dchaikin: "My brain screams mythology, but has no factual pillars to fall back on."

I know. As I mentioned in my review (or at least meant to), I have no idea how authoritative or scholarly Van Loon's history really is. At times he writes with great detail about secondary historical figures about whom he would have had to do a lot of research to know as much as he claims to know. Whether he actually did that research or was just extrapolating from surmises or letting his imagination have reign, I've no idea. I take it all with a pinch of paprika and assume he's got the general concepts correct. I did an online search of the fellow and didn't find any, "this guy was popular but usually inaccurate" sort of debunking.

102rocketjk
Editado: Out 15, 2019, 1:38pm

Saturday Matinee by Maxine Neely Davenport



During this past September, my lovely wife took a cross-country drive with her friend Kathy (see post 35). They passed through Santa Fe, NM, where they went to a book fair, where my wife bought this book directly from the author, who signed it for her! Anyway, this is a collection of interlocking short stories about a family that decided to stay on their Oklahoma farm, rather than light out for California, during the Great Depression. Quite a few of these stories are quite well written. Some are a little less so, but those are still enjoyable. The collection's drawback, I would say, is that while many of the stories effectively show various aspects of family dynamics, often from the point of view of a young girl, and describe farming life as well, there is very little of what we'd expect to read of the hardships of rural life in Oklahoma in the Dust Bowl days. However, as I said, the stories, other than that one proviso, are pretty good, taken on their own merit.

I have an affinity for occasionally reading regional small press or even self-published books by relatively unknown authors such as this one. As one such volume, Saturday Matinee provided some enjoyable reading time for me.

Book note: So far, I am the only person listing this book in on LT.

103RidgewayGirl
Out 15, 2019, 1:41pm

After a few bad experiences, I've avoided self-published novels, and I'm probably missing something good by doing so. I have found that small publishers are fantastic and are publishing some great stuff.

104rocketjk
Out 15, 2019, 1:58pm

>103 RidgewayGirl: When I owned my used bookstore, I would not put self-published books on my shelves, because such books are not curated. There is no editor to decide whether the book is worthy of publishing or not. I generally stay away from reading self-published books, too, for the same reason, unless I personally know the authors. On the other hand, I've read some pretty dreadful writing in books published by major houses.

A method my wife taught me for deciding whether a book/author you've never heard of, self-published or otherwise, is worth a try: You read the first paragraph, then turn to one or two random pages within the book and read a paragraph from each. That's usually enough to discern flabby writing, lousy metaphors, overuse of adverbs and similar reading landmines. I can hang with poor plot development much better than I can tolerate lousy sentence- & paragraph-level writing.

105VivienneR
Editado: Out 15, 2019, 2:31pm

>102 rocketjk: "there is very little of what we'd expect to read of the hardships of rural life"
There are many children living in conditions of hardship who don't recognize that their deprivation is isolated, so it might not figure in memories or later writing.

>104 rocketjk: I agree with the method your wife uses to determine worthwhile reading. The same advice was given to me when I was young (a long time ago) and it has worked well all these years - as long as I remember to use it! I've been known to choose a book for the cover or title on too many occasions!

106rocketjk
Editado: Out 15, 2019, 4:31pm

>105 VivienneR: "There are many children living in conditions of hardship who don't recognize that their deprivation is isolated, so it might not figure in memories or later writing."

Well, I should have been clearer about the fact that these are stories about a family's experiences in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl, a time during which conditions were so bad that families en masse loaded up all their possessions onto their trucks or cars and headed halfway across the country to the so-called bounties of California, either abandoning or thrown off of the land they had worked for years. In these stories, there is no mention at all of Dust Bowl conditions. Also, this is not a memoir. It is fiction written by an adult around 75 years after the event. So even if the protagonist is a child and is not aware herself of the differences between what life is like during the Dust Bowl and what life was like beforehand, we would want to author to be skilled enough to work those factors into the narrative in other ways that would give the reader a better sense of place.

"I've been known to choose a book for the cover or title on too many occasions!"

Yep. I've been guilty of that, as well.

107VivienneR
Out 15, 2019, 9:09pm

>106 rocketjk: Ah, I understand.

108rocketjk
Editado: Out 21, 2019, 10:47pm

White by Deni Ellis Béchard



This is a very tough novel for me to review because its goal is unattainable. Béchard, whose previous novels and non-fiction books alike have been frequent award winners or nominees, is delving in this book into the frustrating puzzles of identity, white privilege and often violent colonial attitudes even in the "post-colonial age," and the labyrinth of unintended consequences that derive from outsiders' attempts at conservationism in Africa.

Bechard gives his protagonist his own name. Both the real and the fictional Bechard are journalists who have reported from war zones and other far flung regions across the world. As the novel begins, Bechard is off to the Congo to do an investigative piece on Richmond Hew, a corrupt and ruthless "fixer" who helps environmental agencies trying to set up preservation parkland in the African jungle. The goal seems noble but the agencies' presumptive ways and Hew's methodology are not. Plus there are the complaints of Hew's sexual abuse of young girls. A ruthless, mysterious white man gone rogue and dangerous out in the far African wilderness will of course bring up images of Kurtz. And, indeed, the thematic similarities to Heart of Darkness are intentional and overt. Hew is not the only character referred to during the course of the story as "another Kurtz."

The storyline moves swiftly and well, here. Each interaction adds to the kaleidoscope effects of Bechard's knowledge (and new learning) about the roles played by race, and of the ways in which all relationships are fraught with that baggage. Bechard thinks he understands the issues, or at least understands the consequences of the incompleteness of his understanding. He has, after all, reported from Africa before. But he is endlessly brought up short by still another landmine of his own lack of insight.

A man, Baraka, who is to drive Bechard on his motorcycle into the jungle so Bechard can try to solve the mystery of another conservationist who has disappeared, her truck found riddled with bullet holes, first reads Bechard a poem he has written about UNIFCEF and asks Bechard's opinion. When Bechard replies that the poem is great but the last two lines possibly unnecessary, Baraka replies, "I'm no schoolboy and wasn't asking for corrections." A bit later Baraka says, "I have other poems. Poems of sadness for small NGOs that vanish before they start, or those that paint their acronyms on walls yet seem not to exist bur for the plump white poeple who eat in restaurants at night with prostitutes." Later still, Bechard asks Baraka if he can write an article about him. "I do not wish," Baraka answers, "to be a sad, comic figure for one of those evaporating internet articles that always appears to be new but is always the same" and then, "I do not care to be a fraught glimpse of my people's humanity, engrossed with the sort of futile romanticism with which your people, being so self-assured, can't be bothered."

Another Congolese man tells Bechard what he knows about Richmond Hew, much of which is horrifying. Bechard observes that the man does not seem bothered by the story:

He stared at me with a level, accustomed gaze, the way a man who has worked in a misty landscape all his life will stare through he fog, already seeing the shapes that will materialize when it disperses. "If I do not appear outraged," he said slowly, as if with great fatigue, "it is because I have worked not only with many men, but with many whites."

There are frequent memorable insights and perspectives along the way, often related as Bechard's own memories:

"Years ago I'd read an online article on how to prevent conflict. It said that people reflect back to us what we perceive in them and that we should picture the child our rival had been, focus on the good and grow that. I'd done this in war zones, approaching foreign soldiers not as terrifying spectacles of male power but as sons, brothers or fathers. I'd felt how we can injure others with our fear, since it presumes their inhumanity."

Speaking of his own childhood in Virginia, Bechard writes,

I was confused as to why white people, with the passion of injured honor, spoke of the War of Northern Aggression, of the harm done to their families and communities, and the destruction wrought on their lands, but almost never of slavery. Black hardship, on the rare occasions that whites spoke of it, was discusses as if it were divorced from history, not as a contextual trait but an essential one, an innate quality of blackness rather than the consequence of violence and oppression."

I've leaned on quoting from the text here much more extensively than is my usual practice. I'll finish up by noting that while the storyline of White is very engaging, and we are brought along smartly in Bechard's continuing advance towards Hew, we do not get, nor are we expecting, an "ah ha" moment where Bechard, fictional or real, provides a sudden unraveling or escape from the issues set forth at the outset: white privilege and white foreigners' paternalistic presumptions of supremacy over the Congolese in their own country, in terms of expertise and motivation and wisdom, to offer a short list. White is, for me, a novel about humanity and quicksand.

109lisapeet
Out 21, 2019, 8:29pm

>108 rocketjk: That sounds fascinating—thanks for putting it on my radar, where it wasn't before. I'll keep an eye out for it.

110rocketjk
Out 21, 2019, 8:48pm

>109 lisapeet: You're welcome. It's not a perfect book, or even, I don't think, a great book. But it's very good and certainly thought-provoking.

111dchaikin
Out 21, 2019, 9:34pm

I enjoyed all those quotes, especially from his poet. Terrific review.

112AlisonY
Nov 1, 2019, 4:42am

Great review!

113rocketjk
Editado: Nov 2, 2019, 8:11pm

I wanted to let you all know why I've been mostly absent from LT for the past week and a half.

A week ago Thursday night our yellow lab, Yossarian, came around the couch toward us wobbling and barely able to stand. He couldn't even figure out how to sit, but we got him down and tried to figure out what was going on, which we couldn't. The next day we couldn't get hold of our vet (or so we thought, as it turned out he returned out call the next day but we didn't realize he'd left a message). Friday Yossarian just sat listlessly, obviously terribly uncomfortable, hardly eating.

On Saturday morning I had to leave to drive from our home in Mendocino County (CA) to Santa Cruz to attend and speak at the memorial for my oldest friend's wife. She was was also a friend of mine since high school. I had to go all the way down the coast road, Route 1, to go around the Geyserville fire, as the main highway, 101, was closed. So a 4-hour trip became an 8-hour trip. While I was in transit, PG&E initiated their planned power shutoff in Mendocino, where my wife, Stephanie, was with the dog, and also in Santa Cruz, where I was going. Steph was able to get an appointment with a vet in Ukiah for Monday, but with the power still off, the vet did not hold office hours. I attended the memorial on Sunday, an afternoon of celebration and mourning, only to learn thereafter of another fire (Potter Valley) 38 miles to the north of us. I stayed over in Santa Cruz (still no power) and left in the morning, worried about fires and my loving dog. I got home on Monday night (101 by then open). The dog was feeling a little better but clearly still not himself. Finally we were able to find a vet who could see our boy on Tuesday. Still no power, which for us meant no heat. At the vet's, it became clear that our dear friend Yossarian had a malignant tumor. Wednesday was a dark day of grief and deliberation. Still no power, still cold. We decided not to put him through the ordeal of a long car ride for an ultrasound that would only confirm what we already knew. And we definitely weren't putting him through surgery at his age (12). Once he stopped eating, we were sure of our decision. So a traveling vet came yesterday and helped us put our sweet boy to sleep. Happily his last day or so was better. We were able to take him for a couple of walks, he wagged his tail and came to us and even ate a little. We had finally gotten power and heat back early Thursday morning, so at least his last evening with us featured a wood pellet stove he could be near.

As I wrote at the end of the tribute I wrote for him on Facebook yesterday, "I know many people are suffering graver tragedies today. And of course from the moment you bring a pet home you know this day will come. But grief is grief. And love is love."

There is a picture of Yossarian taken soon after we brought him home from the shelter among the few photos on my profile gallery, for anyone who would like to see it.

Also, coincidentally, about a week ago I started seeing disturbing floaters in my left eye that were distracting, especially when I tried to read. Amazingly, I found an optometrist who was willing to see me on Friday. I was sure that the problem had to do with a drop of stain I'd gotten in my eye while weather treating my deck, but the doctor said that was just a coincidence, and what I have is a vitreous detachment, which is not sight-threatening but not treatable, either. It's the kind of thing that sometimes just happens with age (I am 64). The doctor said that eventually the brain sort of becomes used to the floaters and assimilates them, so they become less distracting. Here's hoping.

In conclusion, do me a favor and hug a dog today. Steph and I are mourning in our now quiet house. But we are also preparing to leave tomorrow for three weeks in Argentina and Chile. So life goes on.

Best to all.

114RidgewayGirl
Nov 2, 2019, 4:12pm

My heartfelt condolences on the loss of your dear companion. Yossarian had a wonderful life with you, full of love and security with his pack.

I also hope that you and your wife remain safe through these terrible fires.

115rocketjk
Nov 2, 2019, 4:16pm

>114 RidgewayGirl: Thanks for that. The fire to the north of us (Potter Valley) is mostly contained, and the really horrifying fire to the south of us (Geyserville) is I think 65% contained and, according to officials, no long threatening inhabited areas. We were about 40 miles from both fires, in different directions, but never directly threatened.

116dchaikin
Nov 2, 2019, 6:32pm

I'm hugging my pup now (it helps that she's cold and cuddly when Houston reaches the 60's). Sorry about Yossarian, and I feel that - the line you quoted from your tribute. Your whole experience seems very stressful. Wishing you a cathartic, fire-free and enjoyable vacation (I'm assuming it's a vacation).

117NanaCC
Nov 2, 2019, 7:05pm

How awful for you. I’m so sorry to hear of your terrible week, as well as the loss of your dog. Safe travels.

118lisapeet
Nov 3, 2019, 10:38am

He was a beautiful dog, Jerry. I'm so sorry—it's really gutting to say goodbye to such good friends. I've been hugging my Dorrie constantly lately... she's almost 14-1/2, has bad arthritis, and it feels like she's starting to fade. Wishing lots of cuddles on all the good dogs out there.

119raton-liseur
Nov 3, 2019, 10:48am

>47 rocketjk: Ah, ah. Reading your review on Thoreau as part of my catching up, and I feel relieved: I am not the only one who dislike this author.
Same as you, I might have read it not young enough, but I just can't get to like him or at least be interested in what he had to say. Even worse, I think he infuriates me and I did not manage to finish his Walden.

120raton-liseur
Nov 3, 2019, 11:18am

>76 rocketjk: Thanks (with delay) for reminding me of this series I enjoyed a lot (in translation, but the francophone translators, Roxane Azimi for the four first books and then Jean-François Merle, have done a great job as it is highly enjoyable as well).
I had not noticed the two last instalments, but I think I'll be quick in fixing this oversight!).

121AlisonY
Nov 3, 2019, 12:55pm

So sad to hear of the loss of your pet - they really are such a part of the family. Your tribute quote brought a tear to my eye. Sounds like it was very difficult circumstances as well with all the power outages; scary stuff regarding the fires.

Hopefully your trip away is coming at just the right time. Sounds fabulous.

122baswood
Nov 3, 2019, 1:25pm

>113 rocketjk: Don't worry about your floaters, I have had mine for about five years and I don't see them anymore.

123rocketjk
Nov 3, 2019, 2:44pm

>122 baswood: Thanks! Good info.

124raton-liseur
Nov 3, 2019, 3:48pm

>113 rocketjk: Difficult week and time for you, I am sorry to hear that and hope things will get smoother.
Enjoy your trip to Argentina and Chile (lots of good books were written there!).

125benitastrnad
Editado: Nov 14, 2019, 11:26am

Argentina and Chile. What fun. I have long wanted to go to Argentina - especially to Mendoza. There is so much to see there. And Chile - ever since I read Portrait in Sepia. Maybe it is time for me to revisit the work of Isabel Allende?

Sorry to hear about Yossarian. It is never an easy thing with any pet.

126rocketjk
Nov 27, 2019, 2:15pm

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates



I'll not be able to do this astounding, disturbing book justice. Not only did I finish it just about a month ago, before the three-week vacation in Argentina and Chile that my wife and I just returned from, but also because the book was a loaner that my wife and I both read but that has already been returned to its owner, so I won't be able to find quotes. All that said, I recommend this book to, at least, every person living in the United States.

Coates' subject is the experience/reality of being black in America. The book is written in the form of a long letter to his teenage son. This form is brilliant, in that I'm sure it led Coates to put all his heart and soul into the book, but also because it allowed him to write in relatively basic concepts that facilitated a more effective connection with his white audience. To put it another way, if he had aimed his narrative at black adults, he would have had to take too much for granted, in terms of what his audience already knew, to make the book useful for informing his white audience of much of anything.

So, as a member of Coates' white audience, I can say that this book added in very important ways to my understanding of Coates' subject matter, but more importantly to my understanding of the enormity of my ignorance on these issues. Coates writes of the always fraught experience of walking down the street, any street, in America as a black person. He speaks not of "white people," but of "the people who think they are white" and calls us "Dreamers," people who are able through our own privilege to believe in a dream of an upwardly mobile and potentially color blind society, secure in the fantasy of our own innocence regarding racism. It all touched a nerve for me, having grown up in a liberal household with the mythology of an American Dream hypothetically accessible to all. Please believe me that I am barely scratching the surface of Coates' powerful material with this synopsis.

Another advantage to the form of the memoir is that in writing to his son rather than to, say, me, he is able to infuse the writing with much more love and much less anger than one might expect. It also seemed to me that the book includes grace notes of hopefulness, but that might be wishful thinking derived from my own status as a Dreamer.

As a white American, it's tough to know where I actually stand on the spectrum of knowledge and understanding of these issues, or whether I'm even understanding that spectrum realistically. I heard a native American playwrite interviewed on NPR yesterday who spoke of "performative wokeness," meaning (if I understood her correctly) well-meaning liberals who try so hard to be helpful that they end up missing the point that gains need to be made through struggle rather than through white people trying to smooth the way. Of course nobody likes to think of their own good intentions and attempts at understanding and better behavior to be merely "performative," but I think the point is an important one to keep in mind, regardless, and it resonated with me as I tried to think back on my more immediate reactions to Between the World and Me.

Five stars.

127dchaikin
Nov 27, 2019, 7:28pm

Welcome home, and excellent review. It’s a difficult book to process, I think. And I like your points on how addressing this to his son fundamentally changed his tone and approach.

128rocketjk
Editado: Nov 28, 2019, 3:55pm

Esquire Magazine - 40th Anniversary Celebration - October, 1973 edited by Don Erickson



Read as a "between book" (see first post). In October, 1973, Esquire Magazine published sort of a "greatest hits" edition of their first 40 years of existence. It is a very thick publication with somewhere around 60 articles/essays/short stories grouped in various categories. The authors included are many of the biggest and brightest lights of literature, commentary and journalism over those four decades. Featured is the Hemingway/Fitzgerald dust-up that played out in the magazine's pages, plus a long essay by Arnold Gingrich, who was friend and editor to both. Steinbeck and Styron, Trotsky and Sinclair Lewis, Aldous Huxly and Dorothy Parker are all represented. Highlights for me included journalist Richard Rovere's acute analysis of Joseph McCarthy, James Baldwin's savage yet thrillingly written 1960 essay on race relations, "Fifth Avenue, Uptown,"*
Tom Wicker's "Kennedy Without Tears" and Truman Capote's famous story, "Breakfast at Tiffany's" which, somewhat unbelievably, I read here for the first time. Just a super collection, all in all.

* Here's a link to Esquire's online version of this amazing, disturbing essay, which connects quite closely with Between the World and Me: https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a3638/fifth-avenue-uptown/

129rocketjk
Editado: Nov 29, 2019, 12:47pm

Rampart Street by Everett and Olga Webber



This is the first book I read during my recent vacation. First published in 1948, Rampart Street is part swashbuckler, part romance that takes place in New Orleans from the years just after the Louisiana Purchase, through the War of 1812 and up into the 1830s or so. Woven into the intrigue, murder and passion, however, are lots of interesting historical threads about life in New Orleans during that time, provided in matter-of-fact exposition that lets us see the conditions as the characters would have seen them. For example, we observe the cultural conflicts between the older Creole society and the upstart American newcomers. When the Yellow Fever epidemic hits it is noted that the rise in the mosquito population is a good thing, as mosquitoes are known to help clear the miasma over the swamps that causes the illness.

As we begin our story, the brave and noble merchant captain John Carrick has just fought off an attack in the Gulf of Mexico by a Barbary pirate ship. Carrick is an American is trying to win the hand of the beautiful young Elizabeth, from a Creole family and already betrothed to a rich but (of course) dastardly Creole adventurer. Adventure and intrigue ensues. This book is a lot of fun, if one is in the mood for this sort of thing. Also, while I was prepared to wince at the treatment of race and slavery, expecting a "that's just the way things were" sort of attitude, the book does hold some mildly nice surprises in that regard. The workforce on the property our hero eventually acquires is noted as being all black, but we are told specifically that Carrick will have only free, hired help, and will not own slaves. Also, the last half of the book deals strongly with the absurdity and tragic nature of the city's race laws, wherein a person with even a single drop of black ancestry is black, and therefore of low caste if not an outright slave. That's a distinctly mild form of social consciousness, certainly, but given the time of publication, the setting and the genre, any amount of thoughtfulness in those regards was welcome.

130rocketjk
Editado: Dez 1, 2019, 12:55pm

The Recollections of Ernest Everett "Sharkey" Rawles by Ernest Everett Rawles



This is a slim volume, really more a booklet than a book, only 46 pages long. It's an oral history, told to and transcribed by Ernest Rawles' son, James, about life in the early part of the 20th century in Anderson Valley, Mendocino County, CA. This very rural corner of Mendocino County is the place that my wife and I have lived in for these past 11 years. I've been gradually going through a variety of local historical writing since we moved here.

At any rate, this book is a lot of fun to read, with James doing a good job of keeping his father's conversational tone in the transcription and Ernest telling some fun stories and providing lots of interesting details about the days around a century ago in this valley. Here's a fun example:

"My dad bought the old Sherman homestead. I don't remember what happened to the bill of sale, but the proporty descripion on it ran something like this: 'Starting with a big redwood tree in the gulch 400 feet below my cabin, I run one-half mile south to a point on the top of the ridge near Alec's cabin, from there I run east a half mile across my gulch past the top of the next ridge where Smalley shot the bear, and from there I run back north a quarter of a mile to where Tarwater lost his saddle, and from there back to the point of beginning.'"

This is made somewhat more interesting to me by the fact that from my front deck I can look across the road at what is now called Tarwater Hill.

Here's another:

"Some domesticated hogs kept getting after our sheep, killing lambs. . . . People had these homesteads out through the ranch. There was Charlie Sanders and Jim McNeil, Morris Tindall's father, and the Ferreter people. They were all inter-related and tough as nails. . . . They'd run hogs--just let 'em run wild. We used to let it go until lambing season. At lambing season, we expected them to get their hogs up, and keep 'em up. Sometimes they would and sometimes they wouldn't. It got so finally, that they wouldn't get them up, and we'd have to get them up and bring them in. Pretty soon they'd knock a picket out of the fence, and they'd be out again. They didn't have enough feed for them penned up, so they wanted them out on our open range. It got to the point where we weren't going to take it any longer. We told them we'd shoot 'em. They said, 'Oh, you won't do that!' We said, 'The Hell we won't do that, if you don't get those hogs up!' One day we were out the ridge, and we'd get first one bunch of hogs and find one with their marks on it, and we'd shoot it and leave it right in the trail. We'd go on a little farther and find another one, and shoot that one, and leave that in the trail. We'd come back and tell them where they were--they'd have to go out and get them. That was about the only way we could handle the situation. Once they found out that we were really going to shoot their hogs, they got them up. They didn't want to have to go out and pack them in. We told them where they were.

On time Veron and Fred killed a bunch of hogs during lambing season, and a whole damned bunch {of the homsteaders} came down to the ranch-house. They were going to raise hell, and they all had guns apiece. Dad said, 'Well, you boys come here with guns, then I'm going to get mine!' He went back in the ouse, and you should have seen those guys go bac up the hill . . . Those guys were tough old guys. But you had to be as tough as they were or they'd run you off your place."


131dchaikin
Dez 1, 2019, 9:26pm

>130 rocketjk: Those quotes are pretty awesome.

132rocketjk
Editado: Dez 3, 2019, 12:05pm

The Island of Sheep by John Buchan



This is the fifth and final entry in John Buchan's "Richard Hannay" series which begins with its most famous title, The Thirty-Nine Steps. The first books in the series were written during and just after World War I, and take place during that conflict. This final novel in the set was published in 1936. Our man Hannay is older (in his 50s) and beginning to regret the sedentary is extremely pleasant life he's fallen into on his sizeable country estate in the north of England. Soon, however, the past comes calling. In answer to a long-ago sworn oath, Hannay is brought onto a team to protect Valdemar Haraldsen, the son of a former acquaintance from deadly and sinister villains. The action takes place first on Hannay's estate, and then farther north to Laverlaw, the Scottish estate of one of their team, the ever resourceful Archie (Colonel Sandy Arbuthnot, or Lord Clanroyden to you). Finally, the team removes for their last stand to Haraldsen's estate on the Island of Sheep, an island off the coast of Scandinavia within what Buchan refers to as "the Norlands" but which are clearly (according to Wikipedia, at any rate) to be the Faroe Islands.

This book is a lot of fun despite the fact that a large majority of the action takes place is relayed via exposition. Sandy, a high-ranking investigator, figures out a lot of what is going on and who is taking part among the bad guys, while roaming hither and yon off-stage and returns occasionally to fill the team in. Nevertheless, Buchan's skill at slowly revealing facts, his ability to create entertaining (if less than believable) characters, and his love of and terrific ability to describe the natural world of northern England, Borderlands Scotland and the Scandinavian islands adds significantly to one's reading pleasure. The chapters taking place in Scotland are particularly rich in this vein.

There is the usual Buchan caveat to be included, though here we find only slight dashes of his normal antisemitism. Also, one must have a tolerance for the "White Man's Burden" aspect of Buchan's presupposition of his characters' superiority of their "lessors," although much respect is given to the shepards of Scotland.

A note that the book was evidently also published as The Man from the Norlands in the U.S.

133thorold
Dez 3, 2019, 12:58pm

>132 rocketjk: That’s a blast from the past! I remember being disappointed when I re-read it after I’d been to the Faroes and discovering that only the last couple of chapters were actually set there. I enjoyed the second-generation element, though, even if the portrait of the kids (Peter John is presumably largely based on his eldest son, John Jr.) is a bit too idealised.

134rocketjk
Editado: Dez 3, 2019, 1:34pm

>133 thorold: " . . . is a bit too idealised. . ."

Certainly. Of course, the whole book is a fantasy in many ways. I'll take a wild guess that the depiction of the shepherd life of the Scottish Borderlands in the 1930s is more than a little idealised, as well. :)

How long ago where you in the Faroes? Do you recommend them as worth the journey?

135rocketjk
Editado: Dez 3, 2019, 1:39pm

>134 rocketjk: "How long ago where you in the Faroes? Do you recommend them as worth the journey?"

Never mind. I just read an online article about the damages caused there by over-tourism. Think I'll plant my carbon/tourist footprint somewhere less harmful.

136thorold
Dez 3, 2019, 3:07pm

>135 rocketjk: Oh dear. When I was there in 1995, we saw maybe half a dozen other foreigners outside Torshavn. I suppose it’s the cruise-ship industry that’s changed things. A beautiful place, but terrible weather :-)

137rocketjk
Editado: Dez 4, 2019, 2:06am

>136 thorold: Well, they themselves actually claim . . .

"Notably – and happily – the Faroe Islands currently have no over-tourism problems. However, the fragile natural environment in a few popular tourist locations has felt the effects of an increase in visitors. These areas needed a helping hand to ensure they remain pristine; sustainability is the goal."

For the second year in a row, this April several of the islands' main tourist attractions will be closed to tourists and open only to people who want to volunteer to help with maintenance. Last year they had over 5,000 people volunteer for 100 volunteer spots, so they've made this into an annual event:

https://visitfaroeislands.com/closed/why-were-closing-again/

At any rate, they reportedly get around 100,000 tourists a year with the numbers going up every year. To get an idea of how things may have changed since you were there, run a google search for "Faroe Islands fine dining".

138thorold
Editado: Dez 4, 2019, 2:09am

>137 rocketjk: ...not quite Venice yet, then, but still quite a change. At least they came up with a good way to deal with it without actually cutting into their tourist income too much. Even at the time, I was made very aware of my carbon footprint: as a vegetarian visiting a place where the only local food products are meat and fish, you can’t help a guilty feeling that everything you eat has come over on the boat with you, and most of the packaging from it will have to go back with you as well...

There’s a famous precedent for not actually going to the Faroes, anyway: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/An_Imaginary_Trip_to_the_Faroe_Islands

Otherwise, the really important thing about the islands (for us readers, at least), is William Heinesen. And you don’t need to leave your armchair to enjoy his books...

139rocketjk
Dez 4, 2019, 2:05am

>138 thorold: Thanks! I'll check out the Nielsen composition and keep an eye out for something by Heinesen.

140rocketjk
Editado: Dez 4, 2019, 2:18am

Blues Poems edited by Kevin Young



Read as a "between book" (see first post). This is a small, very enjoyable collection from the Everyman's Library Pocket Poets series. The first section of the collection is comprised of lyrics from famous old blues songs. The rest of the volume is made up of poems that have been inspired by blues songs and/or by the life and trials from which the Blues arose. Many of the poems here are very moving. My wife brought this book home from her recent cross-country drive with her friend Kathy during which they spent a lot of time in the Deep South.

141AlisonY
Dez 5, 2019, 7:24am

Catching up after a bit of time away from LT.

>126 rocketjk: I think I need to read the Coates book. I may not live in America, but like most people I don't live too far away from prejudice of many forms.

I was helping my son with revision for his RE (Religious Education) exam yesterday, and he was learning about the difference between stereotyping and prejudice, as well as about MLK and the Civil Rights movement. It struck me while we were talking about it that sadly whilst there has been progress, we are still very far from MLK's dream 50 years on.

142rocketjk
Editado: Dez 5, 2019, 10:19am

>141 AlisonY: Seems to me that a conversation about the differences between stereotyping and prejudice could be a very thoughtful and effective way to get at these issues in a classroom setting, although they are not really different phenomena, but rather different sides to the same problem.

I strongly encourage you to read Between the World and Me.

143AlisonY
Dez 5, 2019, 1:00pm

I agree - I think it's great that kids study this stuff now. My eldest goes to what was the first integrated school in Northern Ireland (where Protestants and Catholics are educated together), so they're particularly hot about educating on all aspects of inclusion and tolerance which is so important.

144rocketjk
Dez 5, 2019, 1:48pm

>143 AlisonY: OK, now I have to ask (you probably get this a lot) . . . Have you seen Derry Girls? And if so, did you like it? From our northern California remove, my wife and I loved both seasons.

145AlisonY
Dez 5, 2019, 2:01pm

>144 rocketjk: yes I have seen it, but I'm not wild about it - only because I think some of the acting is very over-done, especially by the lead blonde girl. But I'm in the minority - it's hugely popular here. Our studio scene is starting to really take off now in NI, so it's great to see some home grown writing and directing getting wide interest and acclaim. One of the actresses now teaches at my son's school, so you can imagine how cool they all think that is!

146rocketjk
Dez 8, 2019, 12:25pm

Kate Remembered by A. Scott Berg



A. Scott Berg was already a well-known biographer when, after a long series of requests, he finally got an interview with Katharine Hepburn in 1983. Hepburn was 75 and Berg was 33. The idea was to interview Hepburn for a piece that would run in Esquire Magazine's 50th Anniversary issue. It was a rare occasion for the very private Hepburn to grant an interview in those days. But the two immediately hit it off and began a friendship that last until Hepburn's death in 2003. This book is a memoir of Berg's relationship with the iconic Hepburn in which he provides a picture of the star, gathered during his many dinners and weekends with her both in her New York City apartment and at her longtime family home in Connecticut. During many of these years, Berg was working on a biography of Samuel Goldwyn, and provided Berg background and anecdotes about Goldwyn himself and those early days of Hollywood. Hepburn also made possible the biography of Charles Lindberg for which Berg would go on to win a Pulitzer Prize by providing him a crucial introduction to Lindberg's widow, Anne Morrow Lindberg.

Hepburn also opened up to Berg about her own life, astonishingly long career and romantic relationships, including, of course, the great love of her life, Spencer Tracy. Berg also provides a picture of Hepburn herself: funny, opinionated, often imperious and sometimes more than a little bit of a bully. But it also the picture of a fiercely independent woman, an artist with the highest of standards when it came to acting and the productions she appeared in, whether in movies or in theater. The book alternates between Berg's accounts of his many conversations and experiences with Hepburn and passages that provide a more standard biography of her life. Because Hepburn was such an intriguing figure and Berg is such a fluid and entertaining writer with an enormous amount of affection for his subject, here, Kate Remembered was for me a rewarding reading experience. I would not call it an authoritative biography of Katharine Hepburn, but then neither does Berg.

147rocketjk
Editado: Dez 17, 2019, 1:13am

Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion by Charles Townshend



This is a fascinating, detailed (to the extent possible) history. It gets frustrating to read sometimes (as I'm sure it must have been for Townshend to write), as the actions of the leaders of the Easter Uprising were often inexplicable, and there was precious little put in writing at the time by the participants. Townshend, though, did have access to a trove of new material. In 1947, the Bureau of Military History began to gather accounts from the uprising's surviving participants. This activity went on for ten years, but then the material "disappeared into government archives" instead of being compiled and released to the public. Townshend, in his Preface, writes, "This 'miser's hoard' was at least opened to the public in March 2003 and suddenly, instead of a few dozen accounts, we have many hundred. They suffer from all the problems to be expected in accounts written thirty years after the event, but there are a remarkable source nonetheless."

At any rate, Townshend does an admirable job of assembling the history of the rise of the fractured Irish separatist movement at the beginning of the 20th century. There was a strong party urging Home Rule for Ireland as a first step toward independence, and several groups urging for a more immediate and total independence from Great Britain, obtained through arms if need be. The history moves through the decision for a country-wide armed rising, the damaging confusion caused when a countermanding order was sent across the counties that caused a day-long delay and sent many potential insurrectionists home, never to re-engage. In the end, the fighting took place mostly, and certainly most famously, in Dublin itself, with the most important and memorable (and horrific) action centered around the Dublin General Post Office.

The uprising was hindered not only by the confusion of contradictory orders, but also by the leaders' general lack of military expertise. In Townshend's account, many of the strategy decisions, in terms particularly of which buildings to occupy and which to ignore, are very hard to explain, and it's frustrating, as mentioned, that primary sources are so scarce. Many of the leaders were sure that the English would never use artillery in Dublin, which of course the English considered part of Great Britain. But the battle was put in the hands of the Army, not the politicians, and the big guns came out. It was the fires set off by incendiary shells that finally forced the Irish fighters out of their strongholds under the white flag of surrender.

Townshend goes on to artfully describe the incalculable damage done by the British military commander's decision to execute the uprising's leaders after only the most summary of trials, and action that created martyrs and ensured that even those Irish who were skeptical or even hostile to the Uprising (and there were many) gained a new and bitter resentment against the British throughout the country. Soon new regiments of volunteers were armed and parading once again, and the British thought it wiser not to attempt to disarm them. (The fact that England was considering an Irish conscription law to try to gain soldiers for the World War at that time raging on the continent was a crucial factor in this, as well.)

Townshend considers the questions of whether or not the Uprising did more harm than good. (One point that seems clear is that the Uprising went a long way to cementing the determination of the Protestant-majority northern counties to cut themselves off from Catholic-majority Ireland and remain within Great Britain, as all possibility of negotiation between the groups was instantly destroyed.) He does not come to a final determination on this issue, though, although it does seem that he considers the uprising in sympathetic terms all in all.

And, finally, Townshend portrays the role that the Easter Uprising has had in the narrative of Irish history and Irish national identity. The book is detailed and very well written. Its 360 pages went fairly quickly for me. For anyone with an interest in the topic, I highly recommend it.

148AlisonY
Dez 16, 2019, 6:36pm

>147 rocketjk: great review. It's an area I should read up on again as having to study it at school made me somewhat stubbornly resistant to properly absorbing it.

If you're ever in Dublin I thoroughly recommend a guided tour of Glassnevin Cemetary where many of the prominent characters from Irish history are buried. The tours are fascinating.

Sadly, 6 years after the Easter Rising, a huge amount of Irish public records (census returns, wills, parish registers, etc.) were lost in a fire at the Four Courts building in Dublin caused by an explosion during the Irish Civil War. This makes tracing Irish family trees prior to 1901 hugely challenging which is a huge shame. I guess sadder still, this is probably the least of our regrets given our toxic history on this wonderful emerald isle.

149rocketjk
Dez 19, 2019, 1:22pm

Death of a Mystery Writer by Robert Barnard



This is a fun oldish (1978) English murder mystery by well-known whodunit author Robert Barnard. The book was published as Unruly Son in England. Well known whodunit author Oliver Fairleigh-Stubbs is a tyrant and a bully to his wife, his three grown children and everyone else he has dealings with and runs into. Given the title of the book, we are not surprised when he gets bumped off. The only problem for inspector Idwal Meredith is that the most likely suspect couldn't have done it. Or could he? This book is a load of fun for fans of the genre, well paced and plotted with mostly believable characters and a good dash of humor thrown in. Barnard wrote one additional mystery with Meredith on the case, At Death's Door, which I think I'll read sooner rather than later.

150valkyrdeath
Dez 19, 2019, 5:56pm

I'd completely missed your thread, so I've had a lot of catching up to do. I've enjoyed reading your comments and you've read a lot of interesting books, far too many to mention. Though I did have to do a double take when I saw the book by Max Miller, which just brings to my mind an old English music hall comedian. Death of a Mystery Writer sounds a fun read, I've not actually encountered Robert Barnard's work before.

151rocketjk
Dez 19, 2019, 6:52pm

>150 valkyrdeath: Sincere thanks for the kind words about my thread. Robert Barnard published somewhere north of 70 mystery novels. I think he was considered among the top rank of British mystery writers in the 70s and 80s. I'd never read any of his books either, other than a collection of short stories I didn't really care for. But then, I think the mystery short stories are very hard to do well.

152rocketjk
Editado: Dez 23, 2019, 5:44pm

In My Father's Court by Isaac Bashevis Singer



In My Father’s Court is Isaac Bashevis Singer's memoir about his childhood in Poland in the years leading up to, and during, World War One. Singer’s father was a Hasidic rabbi and the court of the title was the Beth Din, the traditional court in the Singers' home to which community members came to have their divorces, lawsuits and other disputes arbitrated and their questions about Jewish holy books and law answered and illuminated. As Singer wrote in his Author’s Note to his book, “The Beth Din could exist only among a people with a deep faith and humility, and it reached its apex among the Jews when there were completely bereft of worldly power and influence.”

The book is presented as a series of short vignettes, each from five to seven pages in length, told more or less in chronological order, with Singer’s narrative evolving as the small boy begins to grow and to question his surroundings. In the early remembrances, the perspective is kept very tightly on his father’s fierce devotion to God and to Jewish biblical and rabbinical law, custom and mysticism. The tales told are about the people who arrive in the Singers' home, what their problems are, and how his father deals with them. There is a somewhat otherworldly glow about it all, the result, I thought, of Singer’s representing the viewpoint of a small and overawed boy as well as the effect of the author’s journey back through decades of his life.

Soon enough, however, the outside world begins gradually to intrude. The family moves from a small town to the crowded streets of a Jewish Warsaw slum. Next come rumors and then the realities of World War One, with its uncertainties and sharp deprivations. Singer’s older brother becomes more worldly, and young Isaac begins asking questions himself and longing for information about the outside world. Zionism and socialism begin to be discussed among the young, further eroding the hold of the old ways over the community as a whole.

Also, about halfway through, Singer begins dropping in reminders of what we all know will be the ultimate fate of this community. The chapter “Reb Asher the Dairyman” ends thusly:

“After we had left Warsaw (during the First World War), we continued to hear news of him from time to time. One son died, a daughter fell in love with a young man of low origins and Asher was deeply grieved. I do not know whether he lived to see the Nazi occupation of Warsaw. He probably died before that. But such Jews as he were dragged off to Treblinka. May these memoirs serve as a monument to him and his like, who lived in sanctity and died as martyrs.”

The reader is brought up sharply by this passage, because it is the first time Singer raises his focused view from the era he's describing to the greater disasters awaiting. After that, though, perhaps every third tale ends with a notation about the fate of one or more figures in the coming whirlwind.

The stories are all told with affection, humor, with a delightful touch for detail and phrasing. Throughout, we experience Singer’s deep love and respect for the faith of his father and grandfathers, of their longing for the coming of the Messiah, and of their certainty that this miracle will only occur if Jews hold firmly to the path laid out for them by their God. Petty disputes are interlaced with genuine compassion. As Singer’s father often says of the poorest wretch who comes to his chamber, “Who knows? She may be a hidden saint, one of heaven’s elect.”

153rocketjk
Editado: Dez 31, 2019, 3:50pm

Too Fat Too Slutty Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman by Anne Helen Petersen



Read as a "between book" (see first post). Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud is series of essays about women who have gained success, fame and/or notoriety in American culture and the ways in which they've had to go against mainstream cultural expectations about the ways women should behave (hence: unruly) in order to attain their goals.

The premise--that American popular society places restrictive boundaries on its expectations for how women should behave and the ways in which they are and aren't "allowed" to achieve success--is hardly a new one. Nevertheless, while I found some of Petersen's examples and explanations problematic, these are issues that, in my opinion, need to be addressed and brought to our society's (especially male society members such as myself) attention endlessly and in many different ways.

I thought that the best two essays were the first two: "Too Strong - Serena Williams" and "Too Fat - Melissa McCarthy." The "Too Strong" chapter explores the ways in which Serena Williams' physical strength and muscular body--and her unabashed pride in both--confounded the culture's expectations and caused pushback against her successes. Also particularly good was, "Too Pregnant - Kim Kardashian" which examines the ways in which women are and aren't allowed to be pregnant and famous in public.

I did not find all of the chapters to be as strong or as coherent, however. For example, in "Too Old - Madonna," Peterson seems as critical of Madonna for trying to maintain a youthful-looking body and overall appearance as she is of the culture for forcing her into such choices in order to retain relevance in the pop music world. In "Too Queer - Caitlyn Jenner," Peterson criticizes Jenner's attempts to be transnormative, to attain as closely as possible the appearance of a "normal" woman and follows Jenner's progressions and growth via the episodes of her reality television show. So, not until the very end, is Jenner unruly enough to gain Petersen's approval.

These are all, of course, essays about famous women, which may or may not reflect the experiences of "everyday" women (for lack of a better term off the top of my head). This is in one way predominantly a book about celebrity. While the overarching issues discussed in this collections are crucial, I think, across the board, the Kardashian essay about the perils of being pregnant in the media may not necessarily resonate with all women. Peterson, who, according to the back cover of the book, has a Facebook page titled "CelebrityGossipAcademic Style" spends a lot of time describing the reaction to many of her subjects from media outlets like People Magazine. Certainly, the ways in which we measure ourselves against the images and attitudes expressed in mainstream popular media is an important factor in our overall culture. It was problematic at times for me, though, because I have little interest in such publications. I'm so out of the loop culturally, in fact, that I hadn't even heard of some of her subjects. That didn't prevent be from being interested in Petersen's explorations of her topics, however.

So, overall, I'm glad I read these essays. Much of the info will be old news to people who have followed these issues closely. Certainly, the general ideas were old news to me, but I still found the individual examinations of these issues to be useful overall.

So that's my male perspective on this book.

154rocketjk
Editado: Jan 3, 2020, 3:50am

Gods and Generals by Jeff Shaara



Gods and Generals is Jeff Shaara's U.S. Civil War novel that he wrote as a prequel to his father Michael Shaara's famous novel of Gettysburg, The Killer Angels. The book follows four major figures from The Killer Angels (and history), Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Joshua Chamberlain and Winfield Scott Hancock from the 1850s through the Battle of Chancellorville, as tensions across the county increase and secession talk grows louder. We see Lee and Jackson go through the decision-making processes that cause them to leave the U.S. Army and fight for the Confederacy. The war begins, the four major characters, in alternating chapters, follow their paths through the fighting through the end of 1863. Lee's Confederate Army wins battle after battle, given crucial assistance by the incompetence of the succession of Federal commanders. But the Southerners are still losing the war because they cannot catch and destroy the Union Army, and they are getting worn down by the North's great supply of men and supplies.

The battle descriptions are very well done, although they are all "top-down" descriptions, seen through the eyes of commanders rather than foot soldiers. And the novel is an affair of hero worship, as the historic figures selected by Shaara (or perhaps by his father - I haven't read The Killer Angels) are all admirable men (or, again, at least as presented by Shaara). The author's recreation of the four men's thoughts, frustrations, triumphs and personal lives are believable only within that framework. I don't have any idea how realistic they are.

This novel certainly glorifies war. For example, despite Shaara's frequent reference to battle deaths and men going being shot and killed, there is no attempt to really make us see these horrors. Also, Lee and Jackson are given the normal "states rights" motivation for supporting secession: that the Federal government does not have the right to prevent secession and that neither man can take part in a Federal "invasion" of their home states. Their attitudes about slavery, and the consequence of their support of the Confederacy--that slavery will endure--is glossed over pretty much entirely.

Finally, Shaara has (or at least had in this novel) a very pronounced stylistic quirk that I ultimately found very distracting. In trying to recreate his characters' thought processes, he runs sentences and sentence fragments together thusly: "He tried to keep going, the house now hidden by smoke, and he heard men yelling, approaching, saw flags now, officers." There is certainly a logic to that sentence, but the style is too mannered, to my taste, to be repeated often. And repeated it is.

So overall, a good, fictionalized account of this history. But with caveats as above.

And that's a wrap for 2019. I'll have a 2020 thread up within a day or so. Thanks to all who joined in with me this year.

155dchaikin
Jan 4, 2020, 11:35pm

>152 rocketjk: this first Singer autobiography meant a great deal to me when I read it (i read a trilogy in one volume. I can’t say it whether it was exactly the same, but I think it was). I have, unfortunately, forgotten most of it. I really enjoyed revisiting it through your review.