rocketjk's off-the-shelve 2020 adventures

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rocketjk's off-the-shelve 2020 adventures

Editado: Dez 21, 2020, 2:36 pm

I'm back for 2020. Last year I had a 20-book goal but read 26 books off my own shelves. So this year I'll try to do just a bit better and set the goal for 27!

Book 1: The Secret History of the War, Volume 2 by Waverly Root
Book 2: The Rescue by Joseph Conrad
Book 3: To a Distant Island by James McConkey
Book 4: Where Dead Voices Gather by Nick Tosches
Book 5: Creek Walk and Other Stories by Molly Giles
Book 6: The Hamlet by William Faulkner
Book 7: The Town by William Faulkner
Book 8: The Mansion by William Faulkner
Book 9: Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung by Lester Bangs (edited by Greil Marcus)
Book 10: Istanbul Passage by Joseph Kanon
Book 11: Magazine Digest - August 1949 edited by Murray Simmons
Book 12: Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini
Book 13: Scribner's Magazine - March 1936
Book 14: A House Divided by Fredrick Barton
Book 15: Growth of the Soil by Knut Hamsen
Book 16: The Swordsman of Mars by Otis Adelbert Kline
Book 17: Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein
Book 18: Argosy Magazine - April 1958 edited by Henry Steeger
Book 19: The Unknown Soldier by Väinö Linna
Book 20: Mr. Lincoln's T-Mails: How Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War by Tom Wheeler
Book 21: Leaves in the Wind by Alpha of the Plow (a.k.a. Alfred George Gardiner)
Book 22: The Hucksters by Frederic Wakeman
Book 23: Born on the Fourth of July by Ron Kovic
Book 24: The Norton Book of Women's Lives edited by Phyllis Rose
Book 25: Ragged Dick or, Street Life in New York with the Boot-Blacks by Horatio Alger, Jr.
Book 26: The Death of Methuselah by Isaac Singer
Book 27: The Crust on Its Uppers by Derek Raymond
Book 28: Nine Greek Dramas edited by Charles W. Eliot
Book 29: Great Irish Tales of Horror: A Treasury of Fear edited by Peter Haining
Book 30: The Pittsburgh Pirates by Frederick G. Lieb
Book 31: What I Think by Adlai Stevenson

Jan 3, 2020, 4:55 pm

Book 1: The Secret History of the War, Volume 2 by Waverly Root

This fascinating, if somewhat over-detailed, work about World War 2 by journalist Waverly Root was published in 1945 after the end of the war in Europe but before the Japanese surrender. However, some of the chapters were written even before V-E Day and so speak of the war in Europe as still ongoing. The "Secret" of the title refers to the fact that Root's primary themes are not the military conduct of the war (although that is certainly referred to), but the diplomatic, propaganda and economic machinations of the various powers, both public and, as the word suggests, clandestine. Although Root writes about events and power relationships all over the globe, his two main theses are that a) France was betrayed by traitors highly placed within their government and military who were themselves fascists and wanted to see the Republic eliminated and that b) the U.S. State Department made one wrong-headed move after another, particularly when it came to their decision to legitimize the collaborators within the Vichy government and freeze out De Gaulle and his Free French movement as much as possible, despite the fact that Vichy was willingly cooperating with the Axis and De Gaulle was actually fighting alongside the U.S. and England. The book's final 140-page chapter details at great length the ways in which this dynamic played itself out in France's vast colonial territories before, during and after the Allied invasion of North Africa. Root's thesis about why the State Department was so consistently pointed in the wrong direction was that the department was basically a clubhouse of Ivy Leaguers and others of the patrician class who had little comfort with or respect for the average American and, in actual practice, the ideals of Democracy. He believed that these men were more comfortable with their fellow rich kids within the Vichy government and not particularly uncomfortable with the fascist leanings.

Jan 3, 2020, 8:27 pm

Welcome back and good luck with this year's goal! How neat that your first ROOT was by an author named Root :)

Jan 3, 2020, 9:31 pm

>3 rabbitprincess: Holy cats! I didn't even notice that!

Jan 4, 2020, 3:08 am

Welcome back, Jerry. Happy ROOTing in 2020

And don't forget to copy your ticker to the Ticker thread.

Jan 4, 2020, 8:40 am

Good to see you again! Enjoy your reading!

Jan 4, 2020, 12:21 pm

Jan 4, 2020, 12:42 pm

Welcome back and happy ROOTing!

Editado: Jan 10, 2020, 3:49 pm

Book 2: The Rescue by Joseph Conrad

For over a decade, now, I've begun each calendar year with a reading (or, in most cases, a re-reading) of Joseph Conrad novel, in this way reading through all of Conrad's novels in chronological order (or their publishing). This year's reading, then, was The Rescue: A Romance of the Shallows, Conrad's next to last novel. This was the last that I hadn't read before, as I read The Rover some years back.

The protagonist of The Rescue is Tom Lingard, who also appears in Conrad's first two novels, Almayer's Folly and An Outcast of the Islands, although the events here predate those two stories in Lingard's life. Lingard is the owner and captain of the brig, The Lightning. He plies his trade, such as it is, among the islands and mists of the Malayan archipelago, where he has gained outsized status as a man of power and prestige, while at the same time almost entirely, by design, cut off from English civilization. In flashback we see the story of Lingard's life being saved by a young prince, Hassim and learn that Lingard has in turn saved Hassim's life, helping him escape from, basically, a coup. Lingard has sworn to help his friend gain back his rule, and as the action opens here has been planning and plotting this action for two years. He is gathered his forces and is almost ready to put the plan into action, when unexpected events, as events usually will, intercede. The novel revolves around Lingard's attempts to overcome a succession of potentially fatal roadblocks thrown in his way.

There's nothing new about a Conrad plot being slow to get itself going (in fact, sometimes they never really do!). In this case, however, once we go into action, the story moves along quite well. Which is not to say that the novel is plot-driven only. The ins and outs of Lingard's thoughts and motivations are certainly delved. And always, Conrad uses the natural surroundings almost as a character itself, darkness and mist in particular. Finally, Conrad is quite deft at creating and maintaining suspense, and the periods of tense waiting for events to add fuel to the heat the story even while slowing down the action.

This is not Conrad at his height or at his most skillful. But I still found it to be very good storytelling, and since I love Conrad's voice, I enjoyed this novel very much indeed. And, happily, at the points where I thought Conrad might be about to fall into cliches of plot, he twists himself out of those traps deftly.

Jan 16, 2020, 1:27 pm

Book 3: To a Distant Island by James McConkey

This is a memoir by McConkey that has Anton Chekhov as its central figure. How does that work? Toward the end of his life, in 1890, Chekhov made a long arduous trip by boat, train and carriage from Moscow all the way to Sakhalin Island, off Russia's Pacific Coast. McConkey tells us in this book's first paragraph that Chekhov "had been undergoing a depression so severe that his most recent biographer believes he might have been nearing a breakdown" and that this was "a journey of over sixty-five hundred miles, or more than a quarter of our planet's circumference." The trip's avowed goal was to study and document the allegedly horrific penal colonies that the Russian government was running on the Island. But as McConkey, via Chekhov's own letters and the book Chekhov wrote about the trip, tells us that Chekhov's real goal was to shake himself loose of this depression by plunging into the unknown and experiencing life away from the restrictions of Moscow society and his own growing fame as a writer. He made it to Sakhalin and spent three months interviewing thousands of prisoners and their families, as well as the island's administrators and other inhabitants of the place. Conditions were even worse than Chekhov had expected. He ultimately wrote a book about his findings, The Island of Sakhalin.

OK, back to McConkey. In the mid-80s, McConkey decided to write a memoir about his family's year in Florence, Italy in the early 1970s. McConkey was on sabbatical from his tenure at an unnamed university, driven away from the school by the late-60s turmoil on campus that he had found himself drawn into but ultimately repelled and distressed by. While in Italy, he came upon a volume of Chekhov's Sakhalin letters and became fascinated, going on to read everything he could find of these letters and of Chekhov's life. From the letters, McConkey imagines and creates a novel-like narrative for Chekhov's journey, interspersing known facts with his own fancy. He makes an admittedly conjectural examination of Chekhov's motivations and psychological evolution during his travels. But this is, as I said up top, ultimately a memoir. McConkey endeavors to thread his own memories of his family's stay in Italy throughout his telling of his Chekhov tale. The problem here is that while the thematic connections between the two story lines were evidently clear to McConkey, he fails, in my view, to present them effectively (or at all) for the reader. I would recommend this book only to those with a particular interest in Chekhov's life.

Jan 31, 2020, 8:59 pm

Book 4: Where Dead Voices Gather by Nick Tosches

Where Dead Voices Gather is music writer Nick Tosches' personalized and opinionated account of the life of Emmett Miller a by-now very obscure black face performer who had a brief moment in the sun in the 1920s, when minelstry was already beginning its decline, leaving behind a handful of recordings that have since been rereleased. Miller had a singular vocal style, full of leaps and whoops. He is considered one of the earliest yodeling singers and it is known that he was a major influence on Jimmy Rogers and Hank Williams. There is, however, very little known about Miller's life. What was known, however, was enough to create an obsession for Tosches that he spent decades indulging, finally tracking down enough information to write this book, sort of.

I say, "sort of" because this book is not just about Miller, or about Tosches' search for Miller, which was really what I was expecting: sort of a travelogue that would take us through the American south with Tosches as he did his research, followed up leads and reported not just on what he'd found out but also on the experiences he'd had, the people he'd met and places he'd seen, along the way. What the book is instead is mostly Tosches' presentation of the research he, and others, have done on Miller and his life and career. What we get for much of the book are details about recording dates, songs and bandmates. Tosches will often then spin out the narrative to provide information about the careers of those bandmates, and then about the careers of people they've performed with, across the realms of minstrelsy, blues and early jazz, black and white. This all could be quite dry if one doesn't already come to the material with one's own love of music and fascination with American music history. The effect of all this is a tapestry of information, a weaving together of the almost infinite strands of influences and counter-influences in American music. Tosches, in fact, is not shy about bringing his strands all the way back to the ancient Greeks, to Homer and his unknown influencers. The dead voices of the book's title are all of those unknown ones, the musicians, particularly American, who's names and faces are lost to our recorded national history and to our memory, the ones who came before and created the foundations of all we now know. Tosches relatively frequently writes quite rhapsodically, and quite wonderfully, about all these threads, connections and reverberations.

I learned a lot, a whole lot, about music history, about minstrelsy, and about the confluence of musical influences that have worked together to create the great, expansive body of American music. I've even come to appreciate those dead voices that Tosches evokes. But in the end I'd only recommend this book to people with a very focused interest in the subject matter.

Editado: Fev 16, 2020, 12:19 pm

Book 5: Creek Walk and Other Stories by Molly Giles

This relatively slim volume contains 14 acutely drawn stories about women, almost all of whom are marginalized and cut adrift by cultural expectations. Divorced, widowed or in unhappy marriages, with and without lovers, but mostly with kids to care for, these women fight to attain the feeling that their lives are relevant to those around them, or even to themselves. Much of what I found powerful in these stories was transmitted through Giles' ease with details, and the ways in which she always pulls back before her characters can descend in maudlin excess or self-pity.

One or two of the stories have a touch of magical realism to them, as well. This collection was published in 1996, and I wondered if they would turn out to be timepieces in some ways. But I didn't get the feeling that the issues these stories deal with, or the way Giles presents them, were dated at all.

One point of full disclosure. Molly Giles was on the faculty of San Francisco State University when I was working on my MA Degree in Creative Writing there. I never took a seminar with her, but she did substitute for one of my seminars when the teacher had to step away for a few weeks for health issues. Everybody in the program liked her, and she liked the one story of mine she had to read for that seminar.

Fev 16, 2020, 12:19 pm

Book 6: The Hamlet by William Faulkner

The Hamlet is the first book in Faulkner's "Snopes" trilogy. The novel tells a series of interweaving stories with a core set of characters moving throughout and an interchanging series of part-time players revolving around them. This is life in small town deep South in the late 19th/early 20th centuries: grim, ruthless and hard, with a few hesitant glimmers of grace woven in. The writing hurtles headlong with dense, flowing language, memorable characters and beautiful, lush descriptions of nature and location that serve as much to set the tone of the characters' actions and frames of mind as it does to offer an acute sense of place and time. Powerful and absorbing.

Mar 10, 2020, 3:43 pm

Book 7: The Town by William Faulkner

This is the second novel in Faulkner's "Snopes Family" trilogy. The action has moved from the hamlet of Frenchman's Bend to the town of Jefferson, still, of course, in Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi. In the first novel in the trilogy, The Hamlet, Frenchman's Bend and to a lesser extent Jefferson have become overrun with Snopes sibling and cousins following the beachhead established by Flem Snopes. The Snopes slowly begin usurping the money and, especially, the power in the community from Varners, the longtime ruling family of the area. The word Faulkner uses for this new clan, over and over, in both novels, is "rapacious."

In The Town, Flem has begun to acquire more power, and to aspire to actual respectability. While The Hamlet features several interlocking narratives, a series of stories that together paint the picture of the area and its inhabitants (and their varying reactions to the Snopes invasion), the narrative in The Town coalesces around Flem Snopes and his drive for money and influence in the town, as complicated by the open secret of his wife's 16-year infidelity with another important town citizen. Faulkner's breathtaking ability to peel back human motivations, for good or evil, make these novels extremely rewarding reading experiences.

Mar 24, 2020, 2:44 pm

Book 8: The Mansion by William Faulkner

This is the final novel in Faulkner's "Snopes Family" trilogy. The three novels tell the story of the arrival and expansion of the Snopes family as they arrive in the hamlet of Frenchman's Bend in fictional Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, expand into the town of Jefferson and eventually, in the person of their most successful member, Flem Snopes, rise to power and even respectability. The action is mostly seen throughout through the eyes of three characters, none of them a Snopes, who provide a perspective on the action that is in turn bemused, alarmed and outraged. One of the three, V.K. Ratliff, has the advantage of being a traveling sewing machine salesman who's secondary (or maybe primary) stock in trade is information received and offered. Gavin Stevens is the town's primary attorney and the county's attorney as well. He is also the intellectual and idealist of the group and the one who twice experiences the intense love that is one of the trilogy's central themes. The third perspective comes from Stevens' nephew Charles, who begins by narrating events that have happened before he was born but were only told to him, and ends by being a lawyer himself and World War 2 veteran.

The various Snopes have all (or almost all) one thing in common: they are "rapacious" (Faulkner's word for them, especially in the trilogy's second novel, The Town), with the "moral values of a wolverine." Some rise into state government or bank presidencies, some, at least figuratively, remain mean scrabblers in the dirt.

The overall theme of the trilogy seems to be the ways in which the rural American South was thrown completely off the rails of American society and political progress by the Civil War and Reconstruction, and the long, tortuous, and inevitably bent process by which these regions slowly--achingly and tragically slowly--eventually drifted or were pulled back into something like actual participation with the country as a whole. Faulkner ruefully kicks over rocks and logs to show the anthills and mold thriving beneath. But, and this is important in understanding this work, he is also very frequently and very wryly quite funny.

Mar 29, 2020, 5:11 pm

Book 9: Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung by Lester Bangs (edited by Greil Marcus)

Lester Bangs was a prominent rock critic from the late 60s through the early 80s, when he died suddenly. He was one of a trio of rock writers, along with Nick Tosches (see above) and Richard Meltzer who were known as the "Noise Boys" for their irreverent self-referential style of writing. Gonzo journalism, in other words. This book is a collection of Bangs' writing, some pieces relatively well known/notorious and other culled by editor Greil Marcus (a rock writer of high quality himself and a friend of Bangs') from notes and unpublished writing Bangs left behind.

Bangs was a breathtaking writer, and his reviews could start out as relatively standard record or concert reviews but quickly morph into fascinating (if you like Bangs' style) diatribes into the state of music, or American culture or human nature or all three, composed in a runaway train of stream of consciousness and, sometimes, vitriol.

Abr 12, 2020, 12:36 pm

Book 10: Istanbul Passage by Joseph Kanon

This is a fun, engaging espionage thriller about a low-level U.S. operative trying to navigate all sorts of mayhem in 1945 Istanbul to try to save a high-level escapee from the Soviets because the American government thinks this fellow has information they can use about those darn Ruskies. The war is over and all the spies are leaving Turkey. Well, not quite all the spies, of course. Anyway, the plot is pretty good and the various twists and turns enjoyable, with just enough history worked in to add spice. Just a smidge of character development, but, how much do you need in a "entertainment" like this one? I read Kanon's The Good German a while back, and enjoyed it a bit more than this book, but still I would recommend Istanbul Passage to fans of the genre. Kanon does employ a narrative tic I can do without, the cobbling together, by comma, of phrase smash-ups meant to approximate train of thought breathlessness. Occasionally, annoying, but not so much as to ruin the fun.

Abr 18, 2020, 12:36 pm

Book 11: Magazine Digest - August 1949 edited by Murray Simmons

Magazine Digest seems have been somewhat more intellectually minded competitor with Reader's Digest. At any rate, the cover of my August 1949 edition of Magazine Digest tells us that they were in their “20th Year of Publication” at that point. As the title suggests, this small magazine (7 ¼ “ x 5 ¼”) consisted of short articles drawn from other periodicals of the day. The editors would find two or three articles on the same or similar topics from different publications and meld them together. So, for example, the article “U.S. Labor’s Secret Agents Behind the Iron Curtain” provides a list of “References” including World Affairs, International Free Trade Union News, New York Daily Mirror, Monthly Labor Review, American Federationist and Labor Leader. That’s probably the longest such list in the magazine. Two or three sources is more the norm. This fairly interesting piece describes American organized labor’s attempts to put representatives in both Eastern and Western Europe to try to promote the cause of “free trade unionism” in order to oppose Communism. Remember, we’re talking now about 1948 and 1949, with the rubble and dust still settling and the Cold War just getting going.

Some of the articles are more interesting than others. “Your Personal Prejudices Trick You” is a short piece about our vulnerability to various advertising strategies that will surprise very few current readers. Same story with “The Cigarette Makers Are After the Children.” “Morons Can Be Millionaires,” however, despite its regrettable word choice, turns out to be an article about how people with mental challenges are able to thrive in society to a much higher degree than was generally supposed. “What Happened to the Tucker Car?” provides an interesting story of Preston Tucker’s hucksterism and American gullibility. But “Your Money is Out of Date” is a call to do away with nickels and dimes as obsolete coins.

While this is not the most fascinating of the old magazines I’ve been reading through lately, it has its moments and makes for an interesting enough time piece.

Abr 25, 2020, 10:44 am

Book 12: Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

Sometimes I just feel like diving into a good, old fashioned romance/adventure and Scaramouche certainly filled the bill. Sabatini is, perhaps, best known as the author of Captain Blood, a swashbuckler that many of us read in adolescence and that became an Errol Flynn movie. Scaramouche is a bit subtler in subject matter, although there is a fair amount of sword play. The action takes place in Paris, commencing just before the onset of the French Revolution. The title character, of uncertain parentage, has nevertheless been brought up in privileged circumstances in Brittany. He is, of course, one of those whimsical characters who becomes master of any trade or skill he sets his mind to learning or which fate tosses him into. Romance, adventure, narrow scrapes, dastardly noblemen, friendship and treachery ensue, at a fast pace and with a genial tone. The writing is fine and the book is fun. Long live Scaramouche!

Book note: My reading experience was enhanced by the fact that, as you can see from the image I've included here, I chose this book off of my pulp fiction shelf. This is a second printing (1946) of the Bantam Books edition of 1945. The book was originally published in 1921.

Abr 26, 2020, 12:07 pm

Book 13: Scribner's Magazine - March, 1936

Here's another one completed from my huge stack of old magazines. This is a very interesting edition of what I'm sure was a consistently interesting publication. Just about all of the articles are written by authors who have lengthy wikipedia entries, people who were famous in their day as journalists, scientists and politicians. "Behind the Scenes in 1916" is a fascinating look into the "smoke filled rooms" that brought about the Republican nomination of New Yorker Charles Evans Hughes, a compromise choice nobody really wanted, who went on to lose the election to Woodrow Wilson. The piece was written by Nicholas Murray Butler, who was a part of the negotiations. Butler wanted Elihu Root for the nomination, and in 1936 still thought Root could have beat Wilson. "The New National Domain" by Rexford G. Tugwell is a piece pleading support for the new U.S. Government policy of land conservation and management. It was at this point that the government had decided to stop making all unclaimed land available for homesteading and instead decided to maintain open spaces as communal federally maintained grazing land. Short stories by Mary M. Colum and Vardis Fisher are quite good, while a third story, by Nancy Hale was not as enjoyable for me. All in all, an extremely interesting trip back to 1936.

Maio 4, 2020, 4:21 pm

Book 14: A House Divided by Fredrick Barton

The title of this novel serves double duty, as the book is at once an historical novel about the Civil Rights movement in New Orleans and a family drama about the relationship of a father and son. The father, Jeff Caldwell, is a Baptist preacher and is one of the most prominent white figures in the civil rights movement of the 1960s within New Orleans. Tommy Caldwell, Jeff's son, comes of age within that movement as well. The stories are told in narratives that skip back and forth time-wise, and we separately see both men's life stories from childhood to adulthood. Issues of promiscuity and faithlessness run like tendrils that interweave both lives. Barton rises the conflict level of the movement in New Orleans for dramatic effect, which is the sort of creative license I don't mind. In the event, while the struggles for integration and the elimination of Jim Crow in New Orleans were certainly difficult, they were not as violent as in other parts of the South. But Barton is himself a New Orleanian (full disclosure: he was a friend of mine when I lived there in the 1980s and one of my first fiction writing teachers) and so it is natural and--to me at least--effective for him to create a world within that city and have it stand for the struggles across the country as a whole. For me, the pieces did not always fit together as tightly as I would have liked. But in the end, this was an interesting look at the Civil Rights movement, albeit from a white perspective, and a good family drama.

A note that the book was the winner of the William Faulkner – William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition when it was first published in 2003.

Maio 11, 2020, 12:34 pm

hi Jerry. just popping in to see what you have been reading. I hope you are fine!

Maio 11, 2020, 6:07 pm

>22 connie53: Hi! Thanks for checking in. We are doing OK. My wife and I are both retired and we live in a very rural area with a nice quiet lane to take walks on and a new pet (4-year-old shelter rescue German Shepherd) to take walks with. How are things with you?

Maio 13, 2020, 4:46 am

Things are all right here. We are still healthy and just stay at home as much as possible. We live on the outskirts of a small town and have a nice garden to sit in and read. I'm not much of a walker. We are both retired too and things did not change much for us. I only miss my babysitting day with two of my granddaughters. They live in another town and my daughter and son-in-law do not want me to take the risk of infection in the train or bus. And the government forbids the use of public transportation if not necessary. My daughter is working at home so there is no need to go there. Lonne, my third granddaughter lives near by and she comes over sometimes with my son, her dad, but she is only two years old and does not understand that I can't be close to hear while we read a picture book. But they come by sometimes and that's just precious.

Maio 13, 2020, 12:00 pm

Thanks for the update! Glad to hear you're doing OK. That's hard about the grandkids, though. Never having had any kids, of course I have no grandkids. The closest I come are my niece's twin sons, who are now about six. I have not gotten to see them enough over their lives. I got mad at myself because I had promised myself to go visit them (along with my sister, brother-in-law, niece, nephew, their spouses and my niece's kids) in February, but didn't get it together. I finally had a reservation and flight booked for late March but then had to cancel! Oh, well. I will see them soon, fingers crossed.

By the way, in terms of seeing what I've been reading, this thread only has my "off the shelf" reading, which is about a third of my total. You can see my whole list for the year, if you're interested, here:


Maio 13, 2020, 12:06 pm

Seen the list but I could not reply because I use the Dutch site. But really impressive list of books.

Maio 18, 2020, 6:42 pm

Book 15: Growth of the Soil by Knut Hamsun

This novel is a classic of Norwegian literature. First published in 1917, it won Hamsun a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1920. The book is Hamsun's ode to hardy settlers and farmers of Norway's rugged and remote areas. A long, hard day's work is a man's greatest accomplishment, and Isak, the strong, simple, unremittingly persevering farmer is Hamsun's hero. The storyline follows Isak's early days carving out a farm, his taking on of a helpmate, Inger, who becomes his wife, and the growth of their family. Along the way, there are problems aplenty, of course, some of their own making. Hamsun often uses a sort of stream of consciousness narrative to good effect to get inside of his characters' minds. Even when they are flawed and troubled, they are characters we are happy to follow along with through life. We get a close up, if certainly idealized, picture of the tough life of these country communities. But also, as the narrative progresses, we come to understand that Hamsun is placing these mostly admirable people before in contrast to his disdain for modernism, and especially for new more or less liberal ideas about human nature.

So it was enjoyable to read Growth of the Soil. And interesting to read this acclaimed example of the early 20th-century style, Norwegian New Realism. Hamsun's prose here is certainly engaging, as is his humor and eye for the foibles of human nature, and his extremely deft touch at describing the intense beauty of the Norwegian countryside. But it's also the case that Hamsun was a Nazi sympathizer, and I have to admit that knowing, as I read, that the author was at the very least an admirer of people who would have been very happy to murder my grandparents and my parents drained a bit of the enjoyment out of the experience for me.

Book note: I was reading from a beautiful first Modern Library edition which itself dates back to 1925. On blank very last page I found stamped in dark blue, "Retailed by Macy's".

Jun 17, 2020, 1:53 pm

Book 16: The Swordsman of Mars by Otis Adelbert Kline

This is the "Planet Stories" restored original edition of The Swordsman of Mars. The history of my start on my Ace pulp edition (the "true" off-the-shelfer), stumbling over what appeared to be a reference to the Korean War (in a story originally published in 1933) and subsequent ordering of this newer edition (sort of a faux off-the-shelfer) featuring Kline's original published text can be found here:

In the meantime, The Swordsman of Mars is a fun, old adventure story, originally published in serial form in Argosy Magazine in, as mentioned, 1933. Our hero, Harry Thorne, agrees to have his mind transported via telepathy into the body of a Martian who looks just like him so that he can do battle against another Earthman, an evildoer trying to take over the Red Planet. Adventure ensues! For a modern reader, the story definitely puts the "willing" in "willing suspension of disbelief," and calls for racism blinders as well (yellow people bad, white people good). But I had a good time reading it.

Editado: Jun 24, 2020, 5:09 pm

Book 17: Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein

This is a well researched and extremely readable book about life in Janesville, Wisconsin, from 2008 through 2013, in the years following the closure of what had been the longest-running GM plant in the country. Literally generations of Janesville residents had made their livings from the plant and the many manufacturing companies that existed to supply parts to the cars built there. Interestingly, Janesville is also the hometown of Paul Ryan, Republican champion of governmental austerity and former Speaker of the House, a somewhat ironic fact given how solidly Democratic and pro-union the town has always been.

In the wake of the plant closing, the town's economy and lifestyle were devastated. Amy Goldstein skillfully and compassionately details the rising and pervasive unemployment, the lowering of standards of living of previously solidly middle-class families, to near the poverty line. School systems begin struggling, with students often going hungry and short on basic supplies, parents working two jobs just to try to get half of the income their union jobs had paid or driving four hours each way--generally staying away from home from Monday through Friday--to take jobs in still running plants. Goldstein also chronicles the efforts of local agencies to provide help in the form of job training and pro-active economic boosterism that tried to bring new corporations to town. In the midst of this came the election of Scott Walker-an avowed enemy of unions and government subsidies alike--as the state's governor. Soon the teachers' union was under attack from above, as well.

Goldstein's reporting method was, in addition to providing a comprehensive overview of events, to tell the town's story through the eyes of several families, people she clearly got to know well. In so doing, Goldstein was able to paint detailed portraits of the day to day lives and struggles of the people of Janesville during these extremely difficult years. She also chronicles, although not in great detail, the ways in which these events gradually created "two Janesvilles," as the interests of the still thriving upper class and the increasingly desperate middle and lower classes began to diverge more and more dramatically.

I feel strongly that this book is an extremely valuable resource for understanding the economic and cultural issues besetting so much of American society today.

Jul 8, 2020, 3:43 am

Just popping in to see what you are reading. Good job, past the half way point.

Jul 8, 2020, 11:04 am

>30 connie53: Thanks for checking in. Nice to see you here. Hope all's well in The Netherlands and that you're holding up OK and that you've gotten to see the grandkids a time or two.

Jul 12, 2020, 12:19 pm

Book 18: Argosy Magazine - April 1958 edited by Henry Steeger

I finished another off the stack of old magazines that I've been going through gradually for several years now. Argosy billed itself as "The largest selling fiction-fact magazine for men." "Men's Magazine" and all that that moniker brings up aside, there were a lot of very good entries in this edition. There were four short stories which ranged from pretty good to very good, including an "adventure" story set in the days of early Christianity by G. C. Edmondson. Other story authors include William Brandon, and Robert Fontaine, with a very interesting Western by Homer Croy.

The non-fiction is highlighted by a piece by famed sportswriter Red Smith about the real reasons for the then recent move of the Dodgers and Giants from New York to California. The piece's title will give you an idea of Smith's opinion on the matter: "The Big Sellout." Most fascinating of all was a piece called "Final By-line: The Murder of George Polk" about the killing of an American journalist in Cold War-era Greece, murdered while on his way (or so he thought) to an interview with a Greek Communist guerilla leader in the hills. This story was written by Martin Ebon.

There are several stories about fishing and hunting, including a photo essay on piranas by Michael Crichton.

All in all, this was a fun addition to my vintage magazine reading. Unfortunately, as often happens, the magazine basically fell apart while I was reading it. At any rate, the goal of this project is to read these volumes so that they can be thereafter recycled.

Jul 24, 2020, 6:03 am

Hi Jerry, Yes we have seen the grandkids a few times. But things are getting worse corona-wise again in the Netherlands, so measures will be stricter. A lot of people are on holiday in Spain or France and they are bringing back the virus, specially the young people partying on Ibiza are doing that.

Editado: Dez 21, 2020, 2:38 pm

Book 19: The Unknown Soldier by Väinö Linna.

Considered a classic of Finnish literature, The Unknown Soldier tells the story of Finnish Soldiers fighting in the Continuation War (as it's known in Finland) between Finland and Russia from 1941 through 1944. The novel presents a gritty depiction of the experiences of soldiers of one Finnish company.

Linna creates a memorable group of soldiers and follows them from the initial invasion and success, to the stalemate that develops at the point of the invasion's furthest advance, and then through the interminable retreat. Death stalks the company throughout, of course. Men die throughout the narrative in ways foolish, cowardly and brave, in attempts to accomplish specific objectives or randomly. But also, these men are portrayed as individuals, with a wide spectrum of personalities, bravery or cowardice, with a wide range of ideas about the war and what they're doing there, and a very specific attitude about the advantages or (mostly) disadvantages of the officers above them, whose success as leaders is generally tied to their willingness to forego the trappings of their rank and insistence on military discipline.

The novel, published 10 years after the war's end, became an instant success in Finland and propelled Linna to literary hero status within the country. It was, according to what I've been able to read, the first novel in Finland that portrayed the war and its soldiers in anything close to realistic, rather than idealized, fashion, and veterans of the war were evidently vocal in their praise. The novel is harrowing, to be sure, full of bitterness and, especially at the end, despair, but also full of life and humor, frailty and honor. What are human beings willing to do, and how do we stand up, principles intact (or not) in the face of deprivation and almost certain death? Linna doesn't really ask these questions, but he does provide his own answer to them.

The narrative remains quite focused on the "here and now." Linna dispels almost entirely with digressions about the backgrounds of individual soldiers. We don't travel back to childhoods or to marriages and children or businesses left behind. We are, almost wholly, with these men in this place with shells falling all around. Also, Linna, who himself fought in this war, provides gripping, horrific and seemingly very realistic combat scenes.

There is certainly, from our contemporary view, a limited world view among these soldiers. Their perspective is almost entirely bordered by the quarrels between Russia and Finland, and Germany's early successes and eventual defeats are seen only through their filters of what it all means for Finland and for their own situation.

The most consistent hero of The Unknown Soldier is Vilho Koskela, the calm, veteran lieutenant, survivor of the Winter War, caring and inspirational leader of his men. In fact, after the success of The Unknown Soldier, Linna went back and wrote his Under the North Star trilogy which begins with Koskela's grandfather breaking ground on a wilderness farm and takes the family up through Vilho's service and beyond. While on vacation in Finland with my wife several years back, I was told in a Helsinki bookstore that I should read this trilogy if I wanted to understand Finnish history and the character of the Finnish people. That trilogy provided me one of the most memorable reading experiences I've ever had. It's been a couple of years since I finished Under the North Star. I've been saving this book, but finally decided it was time to read it. When Koskela makes his appearance on page 4, I actually said to myself, "Ah, there he is!"

By the end, more than one of the characters is of course asking, as the reader will, "What was the point of all that horror?" Linna mostly leaves those questions to history, and to the reader the task of understanding the ultimately tragedy and futility of the endeavor.

Ago 17, 2020, 12:01 pm

Book 20: Mr. Lincoln's T-Mails: How Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War by Tom Wheeler

This was a very interesting trip through the American Civil War with a close focus point of how the use of the telegraph gave Abraham Lincoln the ability both to communicate with far flung generals and gather information about unfolding events in real time. More importantly, due to how new telegraph technology was, Lincoln was the first head of state to have that ability.

This book was first published in 2005, and Wheeler makes effective comparison, as book's title suggests, between the advent of the telegraph and email, making a credible case that the telegraph was actually the much more revolutionary development. Wheeler avers early on that the Congress members of the early 1960s were much more able to conceptualize (and therefore vote funding for) sending a man to the moon that those of the early 1850s were to wrap their brains around the concept of sending electronic pulses long distance across wires.

We see through Lincoln's telegraphs, all of which are on archive, the poor quality of the Federal commanders over the early years of the war, and Lincoln's frustrations with their dithering and reluctance to go on the offensive. Eventually, Lincoln, who was also receiving telegraphs from post commanders and so knew where enemy forces were and which way they were going, became less and less reluctant to provide strategic recommendations.

Wheeler makes the point that Lincoln's gradual ability to fully master this new communication tool and its functions is one more indication of the president's remarkable character and intelligence. He was learning these things on the fly with--because the technology was so new--no blueprint to follow and nobody to advise him as he learned.

Ago 20, 2020, 6:36 pm

Book 21: Leaves in the Wind by Alpha of the Plow (a.k.a. Alfred George Gardiner)

Read as a "between book" (see first post). This collection of delightful essays, originally written for a British evening newspaper called The Star, was published in 1919 as a followup to Pebbles on the Shore, another collection by this British author who was very popular in his day. Although they were written while the slaughter in the trenches of World War I was still going on, and is often referred to, Gardiner's writes with a light hand and a wish to be uplifting. The war is a necessary evil, with a noble aim. In the meantime, it is possible, and necessary, to see the beauty in nature and in life. So writes Gardiner. Many of the pieces are nicely humorous (I should say "humourous.") "On a Distant View of a Pig," for instance, or "In Defense of Ignorance," from which . . .

"When I was young I was being driven one day through a woodland country by an old fellow who kept an inn and let out a pony and chaise for hire. As we went along I made some remark about a tree by the wayside and he spoke of it as a poplar.'Not a poplar,' said I with the easy assurance of youth, and I described to him for his information the characters of what I conceived to be the poplar. 'Ah,' he said, 'you are thinking of the Lombardy poplar. That tree is the Egyptian poplar.' And then he went on to tell me of a score of other poplars--their appearance, their habits, and their origins--quite kindly and without any knowledge of the withering blight that had fallen upon my cocksure ignorance. i found that he had spent his life in tree culture and had been forester to a Scotch duke. And I had explained to him what a poplar was like! But i think he did me good, and I often recall him to mind when I feel disposed to give other people information that they possibly do not need.

And the books I haven't read, and the sciences I don't know, and the languages I don't speak, and the things I can't do--young man, if you knew all this you would be amazed. But it does not make me unhappy. On the contrary I find myself growing cheerful in the contemplation of these vast undeveloped estates. I fell like a fellow who has inherited a continent and, so far, has only had time to cultivate a tiny corner of the inheritance. The rest I just wander through like a boy in wonderland. Some day I will know about all these things. I will develop all these immensities. I will search out all these mysteries. In my heart I know I shall do nothing of the sort. I know that when the curtain rings down I shall be digging the same tiny plot. But it is pleasant to dream of future conquests that you won't make."

Many of the essays are gentle paeans to British country life, with a rueful foreknowledge of the changes to come and the damage sure to be done to that lifestyle in the decades to follow the war. And not all of the pieces seem particularly meaningful 101 years after their original writing. But overall, I found the essays to be happily good-willed and calming.

According to Gardiner's wikipedia page, "He was also Chairman of the National Anti-Sweating League, an advocacy group which campaigned for a minimum wage in industry."

Book note: My copy of this collection is a first edition, beautifully bound, with thick paper and lovely illustrations. As noted above, it is now 101 years old.

Set 4, 2020, 4:54 am

Hi Jerry. just popping is to see what you have been reading. I hope you are doing fine!

Set 4, 2020, 7:09 am

>38 rocketjk: Hi, Connie. Thanks for stopping by. We are doing well, here. Hope things are OK with you.

Set 4, 2020, 9:14 am

>38 rocketjk: Yes, we are fine. A bit fed up with the situation, but there is really nothing we can do about what's going on in the world. We do our best to keep our distance as requested by the government. Things are losing up a bit.

Set 26, 2020, 2:18 pm

Book 22: The Hucksters by Frederic Wakeman

Frederic Wakeman's social satire about the advertising world just at the intersection between the end of World War 2 and the beginning of the post-war boom was one of the best-selling novels of 1946 ( There were, evidently, plenty of fiction readers around willing to see the world through the lens of quick-witted cynicism.

The year is 1945. The war is still going on, but with its outcome by now a foregone conclusion. Our man Victor Norman is back home from his stint as a radio propaganda/public relations man in the Army. His self loathing, due to the fact that his 4F status has kept him out of a combat role, is doing battle with his instinct for self-presevation and advancement, and he wangles himself a high-level job at a New York ad agency whose principle client is a soap manufacturing company run by its autocratic and sadistic owner. Norman's advantage is that he really doesn't give a damn. Plus, he's generally the cleverest person in the room, able to out-strategize clients, bosses, co-workers and potential opponents. But that cynicism and lack of engagement is also Norman's fatal flaw for the lack of self-respect and despair is always riding just below the surface. Will he give in to the pressures of prestige and wealth and allow himself to tumble into the spiritual black hole of the Ad Biz, or will something occur to show Norman another way?

Out 14, 2020, 1:32 pm

Book 23: Born on the Fourth of July by Ron Kovic

It's a bit hard for me to believe that I hadn't read this book already. There was a time in the 1980s that I devoured everything I could read about the Vietnam War. It was fascinating to me in its horror, grotesqueness and absurdity. I guess the fact that I turned 18 in 1973, thus missing the draft by only a single year, somehow added to that. (A draft lottery was held that year just in case the U.S. government/military changed their minds -- I got a high number, a good thing.) Anti-war activist or pro-war flag waver, I think one of the big dividing lines between American generations is whether or not you grew up with the Vietnam War draft hanging over your head (or the heads of one's children).

At any rate, I came upon my paperback copy of this book on my memoir shelf and realized that I'd never actually read the thing. It only took me three or four sittings to finish this. Kovic is a very effective writer. This work is extremely powerful. There's nothing dated about it now, and it's easy to see why it gained such attention then. The memoir begins with the moment Kovic is wounded during a firefight and immediately loses all feeling from the middle of his chest downward. The horrors of life in a VA hospital and the darkness that descends on Kovic as he grapples with the realization that his condition is permanent are graphically and powerfully rendered. Kovic also flashes back to his (in the telling) idyllic Long Island middle-class upbringing that led him to the patriotic "God and Country" perspective that drew him to the Marines and to enthusiasm for the war in the first place. He details his life for the first decade after his wound, including his evolution into a strong anti-Vietnam War activist, in often compelling fashion as well. As an anti-war statement and a chronicle of personal darkness and perseverance, this memoir stands up very well, indeed.

Book/reading note: It's been a long time since I saw the movie that was made from this book. I had to struggle to keep the image of Tom Cruise out of my mind as I read, (My antipathy to Cruise as an actor is profound.), but mostly I succeeded.

My copy of the book is a first Pocket Book paperback edition. My birthday, like Kovic's, is also the 4th of July, and I remember exactly the occasion that I was given the book as a birthday present.

Out 15, 2020, 8:20 am

You are almost there, Jerry.

Out 20, 2020, 6:17 pm

Book 24: The Norton Book of Women's Lives edited by Phyllis Rose

Read as a "between book" (see first post). This is a wonderful anthology of excerpts from memoirs written by women from a wide range of eras and nationalities. There are 61 entries in all, from around 8 to 20 pages in length. A few are excerpts from books I'd already read, such as Beryl Markhan's West with the Night and Anne Frank's diary. Others were from memoirs I feel like I should have already read, like Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior and Anne Moody's Coming of Age in Mississippi. Others were memoirs by women I'd never heard of and who lived lives sometimes privileged, sometimes horrifying and depressing, but always fascinating. Cultural Revolution China, both Revolutionary Era and Soviet Era Russia, India and Pakistan are just a few examples. Kate Millet, Vita Sackville-West and Zora Neale Hurston and M.F.K. Fisher are just three of the famous women who are represented. The collection is a very fertile resource for further reading and is just downright enjoyable in the extreme.

It took me three years to gradually read through this anthology, and I am considering simply starting at the beginning and reading through it again.

Out 21, 2020, 5:56 am

>43 rocketjk: That sounds brilliant!

Out 21, 2020, 11:53 am

>44 Jackie_K: Yes, very much so!

Nov 12, 2020, 10:33 pm

Book 25: Ragged Dick or, Street Life in New York with the Boot-Blacks by Horatio Alger, Jr.

Horatio Alger, Jr.'s name became synonymous in late 19th century (and thereafter) America with rags-to-riches, by-his-bootstraps boys' stories, wherein the hero starts out with nothing and, by pluck, honesty, hard work and a little (or a lot of) luck begins his way up the ladder of success. With Ragged Dick, Alger, who had been trying to make a name as a writer, had found his niche. This book is the first of six "Ragged Dick" novels and Alger wrote many other books of the same genre. But according to Alan Trachtenberg's interesting forward, Ragged Dick was Alger's only true best seller.

At any rate, this was a quick and pleasant read. I can see how it would have held fascination for me had I read it, say, at age 10 or 11. As Trachtenberg points out, Dick and his boot-black pals, at least those with gumption and grit enough to want to improve themselves, are not necessarily looking to get rich right away. Their goal is simply to raise themselves up from their street lives of danger and hunger into a more respectable life path. They just want a chance, in other words. In addition to making a name for himself as a writing, Alger was hoping with these books to create a bridge between the upper classes and the lower, to create some sympathy among the former for the latter, in other words. The coincidences and lucky breaks pile one upon the other in quick order here, too frequently for the plot to be taken seriously. But, again as per Trachtenberg, what Alger was creating was more along the lines of mythology than of straightforward fiction.

Dez 1, 2020, 12:10 pm

Book 26: The Death of Methuselah by Isaac Singer

This short story collection was published in 1988, when Singer was 75. It is his final published collection, though he went on to publish four more novels thereafter. Even though Singer lived in the U.S. for decades, he continued to write only in Yiddish. My love for these stories about older Jewish characters, mostly men, runs deep. A lot of the stories remind me either of my father or of my father's gin rummy cronies.

Singer wrote about passion, hope, frustration and folly, about the strange course that life could take, with clear, usually straightforward language, gentle humor and a great affection for humanity and for the human condition. Though much of Singer's earlier writing concerns both city and shtetl life in pre-World War II Poland (where Singer was born and lived until moving to the U.S. in 1935) and often features strong elements of Jewish mysticism, only two or three stories in this collection fit those categories. Mostly here we have older men in the U.S. and sometimes Europe or Israel, looking back on their lives and/or musing about human nature. Many of the tales intersperse storytelling with philosphising either by the narrator or another character. Often, there is no closure or culmination of plot in the standard sense: just, instead, a rambling tale of a life, or of one or two lives intersecting, which, when you turn the last page, simply stops short.

A couple of examples of Singer's humor and of his observational style: In one story a retired man, bored with his life of inactivity, meets a stranger in a cafeteria who soon is trying to entice him to buy a store and start a new business. Tempted, but worried that the exertion will be too much for him, the man asks, "Who should I start a new business for, my wife's next husband?"

But a bit more deeply, here are some passages from the beginning of the story, "House Friends:"

We were sitting in the Cafe Piccadilly, Max Stein and I, and our talk turned to married women with lovers tolerated by their husbands. "House friends" we used to call such men in the Yiddish Writers' Club. Yes, women--what else could we have talked about? Neither of us was interested in politics or business. . . . Max Stein, a frustrated painter, tried to make a drawing of me on a sketch pad, but without success. He said to me "One cannot draw you. Your face changes every second. One moment you look young, another moment old. You have peculiar tics. Even your nose changes from minute to minute. . . . Love is supposed to be an instinct, but what is instinct? Instinct is not blind, or what they call unconscious. The instinct knows what it wants and plans and calculates perfectly. It is often shrewd and prescient. Schopenhauer dwells constantly on the subject of blind will. But will is far from blind--the very opposite. The intellect is blind. Give me a cigarette."

Dez 2, 2020, 4:17 pm

Book 27: The Crust on Its Uppers by Derk Raymond

Published in 1962, The Crust on Its Uppers is a sly takedown of the British upper class disguised as a noir caper novel. The protagonist a young man with the advantages of that upper class background and education, has become disillusioned with what he sees of the rot, the lack of joi de vivre and purpose, of that class, and has submerged himself instead in the South London grime scene of con men, sharks and shady players. Dark bars, drugs, booze and dodgy business dealings fuel the scene. Readers have to fight their way through Raymond's use of London rhyming slang, and often I found myself just sort of skating along on top of that, going with the rhythm and the flow instead of worrying about the meaning of every word or phrase. Never did I feel like I didn't know what was going on, however, plus my edition had a handy glossary that I used sometimes more and sometimes less. The first half of this relatively short novel is more of a character/class study than anything else, with the caper part of the proceedings not really getting going until about the midway point.

I consider the novel to be, at heart, a takedown of the upper classes rather than an exploration of the dodgy criminal scene because to me the central theme is the protagonist's need to enter that latter world in order for his life to have meaning. A visit to his parents about two-thirds through show them as vacuous but basically harmless.

At any rate, the caper itself, once it gets going, is handled well and kept me turning pages. I noted that once that action commences, Raymond (whose real name was Robin Cook, in case anyone's keeping score) dispenses to a significant degree, with reliance on slang.

I enjoyed this reading experience, and I believe the book has standing as one of the first examples of London noir. The story is seedy and dark, but often funny, and I never found it to be cynical.

Editado: Dez 3, 2020, 1:19 pm

Book 28: Nine Greek Dramas edited by Charles W. Eliot

Here's another book that I've had on my shelves waiting to be read since before I first posted my library here on LT. The volume contains four plays by Aeschylus, two by Sophocles, two by Euripides and one by Aristophanes. I know I've probably read a few of these in the past, and seen one or two performed. And certainly I knew the classic, iconic story lines of the House of Atreus plays and, more or less, of Prometheus Bound. But browsing my shelves one day, I came upon this book and decided it would be interesting, maybe even fun, to give these plays a read over the period of a couple of months. I haven't, nor am I going to at this late date, going to make a deep study of the archetypical themes found here, although I do recall well my high school English teachers description of these Greek tragic heroes being brought down, each one, by their "fatal flaws," pride being among the foremost. Editor Charles Eliot's, in his introduction to the Euripides plays notes that these plays are often marked as the beginning of the decline of Greek tragedy, as events begin to be driven by happenstance rather than destiny. This opinion was evidently firmly held by Aristophanes, whose entry here, The Frogs, is a hilarious comedic take down of Euripides, who loses a debate with Aeschylus in Hades about quality their verse.

I can't say I entirely enjoyed every minute of this reading. The long expositions in each play by chorus and character alike could be a slog for this poor Philistine. But I always found the reading interesting. As far as the language is concerned, I agreed with Euripides' take that the poetry in Aeschylus was far superior to the other writers here. That might have to do with the translations, of course, as each playwright received a different translator. Aeschylus is translated here by E. D. A. Morshead. And in fact, according to Wikipedia anyway, Morshead's main claim to fame was his translations of Aeschylus.

Book note: My copy of Nine Greek Dramas is, at this writing, 111 years old. It is Volume 8 of the 1909 edition of the Harvard Classics, noted on the title page as "Dr. Eliot's Five-Foot Shelf of Books." Sadly, no, I don't have the whole set. Goodness only knows where I picked up this volume.

Editado: Dez 21, 2020, 2:38 pm

Book 29: Great Irish Tales of Horror: A Treasury of Fear edited by Peter Haining

Although some of the stories in this anthology were quite good, all in all I'd call this a so-so collection. For one thing, Haining's definition of a "tale of horror" differs from mine. I was expecting a collection of stories dealing with ghosts and other paranormal matters, but many of the stories here do not fit that description at all. The opening entry, "The Morgan Score" by Jack Higgins, is a crime/noir story. The final tale, "Last Rites" by Neil Jordan, harrowing and excellent though it is, is a story of the psychology of a working class suicide. A few of the stories are humorous, the "fear" experienced only by characters portrayed as foolish and/or gullible, but not by the reader.

There were, to be sure, several excellent ghostly tales. Familiar names among the author list include Elizabeth Bowen, Sax Rohmer, J.M. Synge, George Bernard Shaw, Patrick Lafcadio Hearn and Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. Even Bram Stoker shows up.

At any rate, not a terrible collection by any means, but I'm sure Irish horror stories are better represented elsewhere.

Editado: Dez 21, 2020, 2:39 pm

Book 30: The Pittsburgh Pirates by Frederick G. Lieb

In the late 1940s, G.P. Putnam's Sons commissioned individual histories of 15 of the then existing 16 major league baseball teams (or maybe the commissioned 16, but at any rate, no history of the Philadelphia Athletics appeared). This history of the Pirates was first published in 1948. In 2002, the Southern Illinois University Press republished several of these team histories as part of their "Writing Baseball" series. Several of the authors hired to write these books eventually made it into the journalists' wing of the MLB Hall of Fame. Frederick G. Lieb is one of those.

At the time of his writing this history, Lieb was already a veteran Pittsburgh sports writer. He had covered the Pirates for many seasons and was friends with the team's long-time owner Barney Dreyfuss, who had died only a few years before the book was written. He knew many of the players and had attended many of the most famous games. He also did lots of good research, so that his accounts of the earliest years of professional Pittsburgh baseball, going back to the National League's 19th-century origins, is lively and, for a baseball fan, very interesting. Lieb was also able to provide perspectives on key events, trades and relationships from the owner's point of view, as well as often taking us into the dugout to see what players and managers had to say about things. Feuds, holdouts, trades good and bad, and in-game strategic decisions are illuminated along the way. The historic perspective is certainly interesting, given that, writing in 1948, to Lieb 1918 was only as distant in the past as 1990 is to us now.

Dez 21, 2020, 2:40 pm

Book 31: What I Think by Adlai Stevenson

This is a collection of speeches and print articles delivered/written by Stevenson between his two runs for president in 1952 and 1956, both of which he lost to Dwight Eisenhower. Stevenson was an intellectual and a proud liberal, the former quality perhaps serving as an impediment to winning over the American electorate. His writing was certainly thought-provoking and offers a very interesting window into Democratic thought circa 1955. For one thing, we learn that the negative tactics of the Republican Party are older than we might today suppose. In the mid-1950s, Stevenson was of course concerned greatly with the Cold War and the campaign of ideas against Communist Russia and China for the friendship of newly independent countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Also, the possibilities for atomic warfare weigh heavily in his thinking. He is at his most impressive when he speaks of the changes being wrought on society by technology:

"Indeed, it seems that at mid-twentieth century, mass manipulation is a greater danger to the individual than was economic exploitation in the nineteenth center; that we are in greater danger of becoming robots than slaves. Surely it is part of the challenge of this next quarter-century that industry and government and the society they both support must find new and better ways of restoring scope to that strange eccentric, the individual. . . . But we shall have to learn the art of coexistence with many strange things in the future, some of them perhaps even stranger than Communism. Technology, while adding daily to our physical ease, throws daily another loop of fine wire around our souls. It contributes hugely to our mobility, which we must not confuse with freedom. The extensions of our senses, which we find so fascinating, are not adding to the discrimination of our minds."

Overall I found this collection a very interesting look into the issues and concerns of the day as seen by one the country's leading liberal Democrats. It has made me think about going in search of an Stevenson biography.

Dez 25, 2020, 9:33 am

Happy Holidays from the Netherlands!

Dez 25, 2020, 11:23 am

>53 connie53: Thanks, Connie! Happy Holidays to you from the Redwoods and wineries of Mendocino County, northern California. I got a special Christmas gift: I've been limbing trees for fire safety and was going to do a small burn today before the forecast afternoon rains began. But I awoke and, behold! The rain was already falling! No burn pile for me today!