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rocketjk, 2018, 50 Books

50 Book Challenge

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Edited: Yesterday, 4:14pm Top

Last year (2017) I got to (exactly) 50 books for the first time in seven years, or since I bought my used bookstore. My previous five totals had been 41, 41, 46, 44, 46 and, in the first year of the store, only 40. Let's see if I can make it two years in a row!

In case you're interested:
2017 50-Book Challenge thread
2016 50-Book Challenge thread
2015 50-Book Challenge thread
2014 50-Book Challenge thread
2013 50-Book Challenge thread
2012 50-Book Challenge thread
2011 50-Book Challenge thread
2010 50-Book Challenge thread
2009 50-Book Challenge thread
2008 50-Book Challenge thread

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 straight through. I have a couple of stacks of such books from which I read one story/chapter each 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.

Master List (Touchstones included with individual listings below):
1: Dog Company: The Boys of Pointe Du Hoc - The Rangers Who Accomplished D-Day's Toughest Mission and Led the Way across Europe by Patrick K. O'Donnell
2: The Shadow Line by Joseph Conrad
3: The Conscience of the Rich by C.P. Snow
4: Voss by Patrick White
5: The Armies of Labor: a Chronicle of the Organized Wage-Earners by Samuel P. Orth
6: Commencement by Roby James
7: Wilderness Trek by Zane Grey
8: The Score by Richard Stark
9: The Reporter - A Fortnightly of Facts and Ideas: March 17, 1953 edited by Max Ascoli
10: So Wild a Dream by Win Blevins
11: The Caveman's Valentine by George Dawes Green
12: Beauty for Ashes by Win Blevins
13: The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan
14: Murder in Bloom by Lesley Cookman
15: Teach Your Dog to Shoplift: a Tommy Wayne Kramer Collection by Tom Hine
16: Speak to Me, Dance with Me by Agnes de Mille
17: The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh
18: Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty by John M. Barry
19: If the Dead Rise Not by Philip Kerr
20: Honeymoon by Patrick Modiano
21: Three Street by Will Stevens
22: The Light and the Dark by C.P. Snow
23: The Surrounded by D'Arcy McNickle
24: Madensky Square by Eve Ibbotson
25: The Coast Magazine: April 1938 edited by Christopher Rand
26: Dolly's Cottage: The History of a Thatched House in Strandhill, County Sligo presented by the Strandhill Guild of the Irish Countrywomen's Association
27: Discovery No. 3 edited by Vance Bourjaily
28: The Epic of Gilgamesh translated by N.K. Sandars
29: A Little Bit of Ireland by John Finan
30: The Chinese Parrot by Earl Derr Biggers
31: The Lord God Bird by Russell Hill
32: The Incarnations by Susan Barker
33: On Watch by Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr.
34: Deadly to Bed by Don Tracy
35: Newport - Our Own Place by Macra na Tuaithe Youth Club
36: The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next by Lee Smolin
37: The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
38: Day of Infamy by Walter Lord
39: How Soccer Explains the World: an Unlikely Theory of Globalization by Franklin Foer
40: Dragonfish by Vu Tran
41: The Grandma Stubblefield Rose: The Life of Susan Stubblefield, 1811-1895 by Edna Beth Tuttle and Dennie Burke Willis
42: True North by Jim Harrison
43: When the Yankees Were On the Fritz: Revisiting the Horace Clarke Years by Fritz Peterson

Edited: Jan 6, 2:07pm Top

Book 1: Dog Company: The Boys of Pointe Du Hoc - The Rangers Who Accomplished D-Day's Toughest Mission and Led the Way Across Europe by Patrick K. O'Donnell

This is an ultimately well done history of the Rangers, an elite group of U.S. soldiers, who took on some of the toughest and most deadly missions of the invasion of Europe, starting with scaling massive cliffs under heavy fire on D-Day to go after a set of heavy artillery pieces that had command of the Normandy beaches. As the title makes clear, the book focuses on Company D, or Dog Company.

I actually started this book with a bit of trepidation, as the author is described on the inside back cover as a "combat historian, bestselling author and renowned leadership speaker." It was that third item that set raised my defenses a bit, as I feared I'd be reading a motivational tome rather than a good and accurate military history. There is a bit of ham-fisted writing, especially in the book's early going as the assembling and training of the group is described. The lessons of that training are described as seeping into the soldiers' "every bone and fiber," for example.

Once the men go to war on D-Day, however, that sort of rah rah bravado gets mostly left behind. O'Donnell clearly did a lot of research and conducted as many interviews with veterans of the company as he could, along with walking all of the battlefields. I don't want to give the wrong idea. The achievement of these men was truly impressive and, well, inspirational in many ways. And O'Donnell does not stint from intense, detail-filled descriptions of the moment by moment fears and horrors of combat, particularly the effects of trying to survive, physically and mentally, one prolonged and terrifying artillery barrage after another for days on end. I learned a lot.

Jan 6, 2:24pm Top

Happy reading 2018, Jerry.

Jan 6, 2:28pm Top


Jan 6, 4:31pm Top

Me three.

Jan 7, 12:25pm Top

Good luck reaching 50 again!

Jan 10, 8:53am Top

Good luck with your challenge.

Edited: Jan 10, 2:12pm Top

Book 2: The Shadow Line by Joseph Conrad

For the past several years I have been pursuing my own tradition of making the first book I begin in each calendar year a novel by Joseph Conrad, my favorite author. In this way I am slowly reading (or in most cases re-reading) through Conrad's entire output of novels and novellas in chronological order. I am fairly well along in this endeavor and this year brought me to the short novel, The Shadow Line. This is one of the few Conrad works I haven't read before, and so it stood as a treat to delve into new (for me) Conrad. It was also a treat to go back to sea with Conrad. The Shadow Line of the title is that amorphous line in each person's life between late youth and full adulthood. In our unnamed protagonist's case, that line appears suddenly. One day a young merchant marine officer with the freedom to capriciously give up a good berth in order to head back home to England for no specific reason, the next day he suddenly has the command of a sailing ship thrust upon him, and all thoughts of home, and all traces of that youthful capriciousness, quickly vanish. The story of this voyage, its many troubles, and the personalities of some of the crew members, make up a fascinating tale, with Conrad's usual turn of phrase and ironic touch fully in evidence. This is not one of Conrad's great classics, but it is a highly recommended (by me!) tale.

Book note: My copy of The Shadow Line is part of an Everyman's Library edition which also includes The Nigger of the 'Narcissus' and Typhoon, publiched by J. Dent & Sons Ltd., London. This copy was once in the library of the Stephens Memorial Library at Southwestern Louisiana Institute in Lafayette, Louisiana. This tells me that I most likely bought the book while I was living in New Orleans or when my wife and I visited Lafayette on vacation way back in 2004. The book also at one time belonged to someone named Jackie Burnham. (I ran a google search for "Jackie Burnham Lafayette" and found a listing in a 1955 Lafayette High School yearbook, but you need a subscription to Yearbook Online.com or some such to actually open more than a thumbnail.)

Jan 10, 2:10pm Top

Oh, and many thanks to all who have stopped in with New Year's wishes. It's always great to share each year's reading with this great crowd!

Edited: Jan 10, 3:00pm Top

>8 rocketjk: You're teasing me Jerry. Here's Jackie in her Lafayette High School yearbook, 1955. First person in the 5th row.

ETA: I think Jackie is a sophomore in the 1955 yearbook.

Jan 10, 2:35pm Top

>8 rocketjk: I love buying old books because of the finds in them. Jackie Burnham probably never lived on in any other way. Now, because you get curious, she's here among us one last time.

Edited: Jan 10, 4:11pm Top

>11 richardderus: Well, sure, but giving it a positive spin, she could still be among us. A sophomore in 1955 (the year I was born, by the way) would make her around 15 then, so 77 or thereabouts now. Let's keep a good thought! One thing about that yearbook page (and thanks, again, Ron), which is not a surprise given the time and place: sure is white. I just can never look at segregation without seeing it.

Jan 10, 4:19pm Top

I think Jackie is still with us - she is mentioned in a recent (Dec 2016) obituary


Jan 10, 5:59pm Top

>13 RBeffa:

"He is also survived by the mother of his children and longtime friend, Jackie Burnham Noel."

Interesting way to phrase that. Clearly, since she shares a last name with Karl, she was his ex-wife. I wonder if that's to spare the feelings of his second wife, or if they felt that the nature of their friendship somehow transcended the implications that "ex-wife" would carry.

Jan 10, 6:55pm Top

Judging by a couple city directories it looks like Jackie married the year she graduated high school (1957?). So I'm voting that after a long marriage they were able to be friends still.

Jan 11, 10:06pm Top

>14 rocketjk: So I'm not the only one who reads obituaries for people I don't know, and finds the content interesting...

Jan 12, 12:06am Top

>16 laytonwoman3rd: I taught Creative Writing 101 at San Francisco State for a couple of semesters, and I used to tell my students that if they were stuck for writing ideas to read the obituary page.

Jan 13, 1:39pm Top

Good luck with your back-2-back 50!!! 🥇🥇

Jan 13, 2:39pm Top

>17 rocketjk: I did the same thing with the personals!

Jan 15, 12:37pm Top

Book 3: The Conscience of the Rich by C.P. Snow

The Conscience of the Rich is the third book of British writer C.P. Snow's "Strangers and Brothers" series. As described by Wikipedia, "{The novels overall} deal with - among other things – questions of political and personal integrity, and the mechanics of exercising power." All eleven novels are narrated by one Lewis Eliot. Some of the stories deal with Lewis' own life, and in some he is an observer of the lives of others. The books were published over a 30-year period (1940-1970). I am (gradually) reading the series in chronological order of their story lines, rather than their publication dates. So, for example, this third book was actually the seventh published.

At any rate, this third novel, chronologically, brings us Eliot's friendship with Charles March, young member of one of England's most prominent Jewish banking families. We are between the World Wars, and the elders of the family (Charles' father Leonard and his brothers) have been aware for some time that the family's time as an economic force in the country for the most part ended with their parents generation. The days of the great banking families are over, as family entities can no longer command anywhere near the kind of funds that private banks can control. In fact, Charles' father has sold out his stake and essentially been living on his wealth for 30 years when the story opens.

While Charles and his sister Katherine both love their father whole-heartedly, they both struggle to free themselves from the constraints of the insular world and expectations of the family, and the implications of their Jewishness. Snow does a great job, I thought, of laying out those implications, the ways in which being Jewish makes the March family into "others" despite their wealth, and the extent to which Charles and Katherine are expected to move "in their own circles" socially, but without laying it on too thickly. This is really a very skillful family drama, with the issues of religion and identify running beneath the surface--always understood--and revealing themselves more explicitly only periodically.

As I mentioned earlier in a post in the What Are You Reading Now group, this is most sympathetic viewing of Jewish characters I can ever remember coming across within English literature. More to the general point, this is a very skillfully rendered novel about the difficulties that changing times bring to family dynamics. All in all, a very satisfying book and the best of the series, for me, so far.

Jan 15, 1:12pm Top

>20 rocketjk: Nice review Jerry. Snow is an author I've never read but I see his books from time to time (and there are many in that category for me). I've added this to that mental list of things to check out sometime. Meanwhile the mountain of to be read books here speaks loudly!

Jan 15, 1:27pm Top

Snow and Anthony Powell both created sweeping time-devouring epics across multiple novels and yes, somehow, they aren't classed as "genre fiction." Wonder why that is.

Jan 15, 1:31pm Top

>21 RBeffa: Yes, I have enjoyed the first three books of this series, which I seem to be reading about one a year. This third book is the best so far, for my money. That may be because I'm Jewish, making the subject matter particularly intriguing to me. I've seen this series compared to Powell's "A Dance to the Music of Time" series and, I think, to Winston Graham's "Poldark" series, but right now I can't find the references.

Jan 15, 1:36pm Top

>23 rocketjk: I've told myself that this is the year I start on Poldark so that will keep me busy on a series read, as if I needed any more!

Edited: Jan 31, 10:44am Top

Book 4: Voss by Patrick White

Voss is considered a classic of Australian literature, and White received a Nobel Prize in literature for his body of work, but I gather from Thomas Keneally's introduction included in my Penguin Classics edition {which I of course read after I had completed the novel} that it is one of those classics that few, or at least few in Australia, read any more. The book is long and often slow, all right. In a post above, I wrote, "Imagine that Henry James drank a Conrad cocktail laced ever so lightly with a spritz of Pynchon." I would amend at this point; I think I would now say more Conrad than James, and replace "a spritz of Pynchon" with "an ongoing fever dream." In the late 1800s, German explorer, Voss, obsessed with the idea of exploring Australia's forbidding and unknown center, arrives at the home of one of his expedition's financial sponsors, a wealthy businessman. At this home he meets this benefactor's grown niece, Laura. Brief though this meeting is, it is enough for them to establish an understanding, and more than that, a mutual fixation which continues and intensifies long after Voss has left with his expedition into the outback. The action takes place in narrative that follows Voss into the wilderness and moves among Voss and the various members of his party, exploring their personalities, backgrounds, hopes and fears, and their diverging reactions to the many stresses of the journey. The narrative following Laura and her life among the Australian upper class is of necessity one mainly of stasis, as the dullness of wealthy society is a major theme. That theme is of course a common one, and so those sections might border on the tedious were it not for White's deft hand with language and character. Still, there is little new territory covered. The intersection between the two narratives is the increasing mystical connection that the two feel as Voss travels further and the miles between them increase. Voss, in particular, often dreams Laura as an almost physical presence. There is much of a mystical nature running throughout the storytelling, here, to some reviewers/readers the book's strength and to some its trying weakness. In the end, this is a book of ideas. What are the kinds of knowledge people can strive for, what are their relative merits, and how much can, or should, be sacrificed for their attainment? For me, the bottom line was, all other factors aside, pros and cons, the beauty of the language that made this reading well worthwhile.

Jan 29, 6:13pm Top

It took me three years to finish Voss. It felt longer.

Jan 30, 12:14am Top

>26 richardderus: I know what you mean, but I found it satisfying, though it's the sort of book I normally don't care for that much. As I said above, mostly, I guess, it was the language. Also, I thought the sections out in the wilderness were quite well done.

Jan 30, 3:14pm Top

>25 rocketjk: That does sound Conrad-ish. I've had this book around for years, as I made some Australian connections early on here on LT who recommended it. I'm not sure whether your review has made it more or less likely that I will eventually read it, but well done, you.

Edited: Jan 31, 10:48am Top

>28 laytonwoman3rd: Thanks! But while some of the matter and the interactions, particularly among the expedition members, definitely brought Conrad to mind, the language and the way the deeper ideas were handled did not. I'm not sure Conrad himself would have had much patience for the mystical elements of the narrative.

Edited: Feb 8, 2:10am Top

Book 5: The Armies of Labor: a Chronicle of the Organized Wage-Earners by Samuel P. Orth

This is a short but knowledgeable survey of the American labor movement from its inception until 1919. The history stops at 1919 because that's when the book was published. It is interesting to read a book wherein the author speaks of, say, "the 40s" and you realize he's talking about the 1840s. Orth was a Cornell history professor and fairly prolific writer who died in 1922 from injuries he suffered in an auto accident. Orth doesn't go very deeply into any of the movements, organizations or personalities he describes, but does provide a very good overview of the efforts and episodes of the first 70 years or so of American labors struggles to gain power and improve the lives of American working families. Orth admires the mainstream movements like the American Federation of Labor but has little use for socialist movements like the International Workers of the World (IWW). Overall, the mainstream movement's successes are described and its failures only mentioned. I did get a good idea of why the labor movements periodic efforts to coalesce into a political party never got any traction in the U.S., and also of the secret labor societies and other antecedents to the labor movement as we think of it today.

The book was part of the Yale Chronicles of America series which has been republished several time since it first appeared in 1919. I have a first edition in my house somewhere, but when I decided to read it, I couldn't find it, so went on abebooks and picked up a 1976 re-issue. Interestingly, although there is no introduction or other information about the different reissues, someone went into the list of suggestions for further reading and added reading listings as recent as the 1960s.

Feb 8, 12:35pm Top

>30 rocketjk: Wow...what a difference a century (doesn't) make.

Edited: Feb 8, 1:45pm Top

>31 richardderus: Actually, in this case a century makes a huge difference. When Orth wrote his book, the American labor movement was in ascendance. Now it's in eclipse, to put it mildly.

Feb 8, 2:06pm Top

The problem? Ascendency always predicts a fall...it's always about who's on top with capitalism and that makes for eternal instability, the vituperative crowing of one side or the other, the slide from ascendency to desuetude...the focus being on battle, on victory, is my meaning that I did not make clear at all.

Feb 14, 2:46pm Top

Book 6: Commencement by Roby James

I had to force myself to finish this book, which was too bad, because many elements of the story were nicely done. Rona, a young girl with the most potent sort of telepathic power her universe knows, has been trained since childhood in the use of that power by the dominant authoritarian government that rules many planets with an iron fist. But upon graduation, as she is ready to take up her role supporting that dominant paradigm, she suddenly finds herself crash-landed on a primitive planet with a male-dominant tribal system, with the most potent part of her power gone and no memory of what has occurred. Drama ensues, and not necessarily in a bad way, except for two crucial factors.

First, much has been made of our heroine's accumulated arrogance, not surprising in a young woman who believes she has telepathic power over just about everyone in the known universe. But within a couple of weeks of her arrival on this planet, she is quickly acquiescing to a society where men refer to their fiances as "my claim" and to their wives as "my bracelet." Rona is quickly referring to the man who has bascially bought her from another tribe as "my lord." She doesn't just call him that to his face in order to get along, she calls him that throughout the first person narrative. It's almost as if the author meant to write a regency romance novel but got a call from her publisher at the last minute asking her to switch to science fiction.

Second, there is a lot of flabby writing on the sentence level. Useless adverbs drive me nuts. You don't need to tell me "I was completely nonplussed." "I was nonplussed" is fine. I mean, has anyone ever been partially nonplussed? At one point we are told that a character is shaken by a piece of news. Well, but not quite. We are actually told he is "slightly shaken." Those are two words that don't go together, unless you're a martini, maybe. That sort of thing is extremely distracting to me, and it happens often enough to interrupt the flow of what could otherwise have been a good, nicely imagined story. If the sort of thing I've described does not seem like it would be as much of an irritant to you as it was to me, this might be a book worth trying. Bear in mind, though, that the book ends mid-story, and there is a sequel which, presumably, ties things up. I have to admit that upon finishing Commencement I was tempted to try to find the next book, for the plot had by this time become intriguing. I had to remind myself how often those adverbs and "my lord"s made me feel like I was being poked in the eye.

Feb 14, 3:30pm Top

Good idea failed by mediocre execution = literary blue ones. Hate that worse than a crash-and-burn because you just *know* a good/better editor could've fixed it.

Feb 15, 1:38pm Top

>35 richardderus: Amen, brother!

Edited: Mar 11, 12:36pm Top

Book 7: Wilderness Trek by Zane Grey

As I mentioned on a couple of conversation threads as I was reading this book, I selected it off of my pulp paperback shelves at home thinking I'd be reading a classic Western, only to find to my surprise that the book takes place in Australia! Well, really it's a Western, anyway, as the story concerns the adventures of two American cowpokes who venture to Australia during the 1880s because one of them, Sterl, has decided to take a shooting rap for his cousin (a noble act, for the girl they both love loves Sterl's cousin best), not by admitting to the deed, but by lighting out so that he looks guilty. The cousin only reluctantly agrees to this scheme, but insists on bankrolling Sterl handsomely in return. Sterl's good pard, Red, insists on accompanying his buddy across the seas. (Note: none of this counts as plot spoiler, as it is all laid out in the first three pages.) At any rate, Sterl and Red are barely in Australia an hour before they are signed on as experienced cattle drive hands to help man an epic adventure running a giant herd of cattle across the uncharted Australian Outback. And here am I, just having finished Voss, which took me out into this unforgiving vastness, as well!

This story is a little slow getting going, but once we are out in the wilderness, there are dastardly villains and lovely damsels enough to satisfy the most hard core Western fan. Plus, Grey, who made extensive visits to Australia, was obviously in love with the place, and his descriptions of flora, fauna and topography are detailed and fascinating, adding a dimension to the storytelling that I frankly wasn't expecting. The characters, especially the two protagonist pals, are to some extent comic book figures. But all in all I found this book fun and worthwhile.

Feb 24, 10:07pm Top

One of these days I'm going to read a Zane Grey novel. I think there's a copy of The Thundering Herd here that belonged to my FIL in his younger days.

Edited: Mar 11, 12:37pm Top

Book 8: The Score by Richard Stark

The Score is the fifth entry in the "Parker" crime noir series by Richard Stark (a.k.a. Donald Westlake). Parker is a psychopathic anti-hero criminal who doesn't want to kill you but will if you make the slightest bit of trouble for him. He is also always the smartest and toughest guy in the room. Like many of the Parker novels, this one is what I call a "criminal procedural," showing us the details behind the planning and execution of a heist. In this case, it's a major heist, as an assemblage of professional ne'er do wells put together the cleaning out of an entire small town in North Dakota. The planning is detailed, indeed, and these desperadoes know just what they're doing, but you just know something's got to go wrong . . .

These books are snappy and fun and have almost a cult following. They were written in the 1960s and take place then and have stood the test of time. Parker definitely puts the "ant" in anti-hero, though. I raced through this book in a couple of sittings.

Mar 2, 10:27pm Top

>39 rocketjk: I remember reading one Parker book and thinking, "...and...?" It was long ago and far away, though, so permaybehaps it's time to revisit the series. Is this one of those that one needs to read in order?

Mar 3, 11:37am Top

>40 richardderus: Yes, I think reading them in order is a good idea, at least for the first three or four of them. They're not very deep, that's for sure. I think part of the attraction is Westlake/Stark's audacity at creating such an unlikable, but very smart, anti-hero protagonist. Plus the writing is quick and snappy without being cliched. The fun of Parker, once you get past his ruthless quality, is that he is generally smarter than everybody else he comes into contact with, so he's sort of like a small-time thug Jack Reacher. Finally, these books are fairly short and quick in the reading, so they can serve as pallet cleansers between longer works.

Edited: May 13, 10:40am Top

9: The Reporter - A Fortnightly of Facts and Ideas: March 17, 1953 edited by Max Ascoli

Read as a "between book" (see first post). For many years I have been going through some stacks of old magazines I'd accumulated, with a mind to reading them and then getting rid of them. I generally read an article or two with each session of "between book" reading. Last year, I completed this task for the relatively recent issues (going back as far as the 1980s) and then started in on a tall stack of older editions, 1950s and older. Because these older magazines are of such fascinating historical value (at least to me), I began including them for the first time as counting toward my 50-book goal and, accordingly describing them on my thread in this group. OK, so much for my annual description of the practice.

Last year I read several editions of The Reporter Magazine from the 1950s. Again repeating information from last year's thread: the Reporter labeled itself "A Fortnightly of Facts and Ideas." According to the Wikipedia entry on the publication, "The Reporter had a huge influence in its day, both among policy makers and the educated public. One author, writing in Commentary in 1960, praised The Reporter as 'represent{ing} the concerns of intelligent American liberalism.' In a 1962 survey of reporters asking what magazines they cited in their work, The Reporter came in fourth place after Time, U.S. News & World Report, and Newsweek, with no other publication coming close."

OK, the issue I recently completed is dated March 17, 1953. The issue has "Reports on the Middle East" as its main theme, with three full-length articles on that subject. "The Moslem Brotherhood - Terrorists or Just Zealots?" is the most fascinating, and at the time was considered dangerous enough to write that the author used a pseudonym in the magazine. The answer to the titles question was, basically, both, depending on which faction had control at the time. But it was clear that the organization was one of power and influence within Egypt. Additionally, there is "Iraq: Dilemma for the West" by Ray Alan and "The Sudan Faces Independence" by Odin and Olivia Meeker.

Other pieces in the magazine include a profile of Eugene Millikin, a highly influential conservative senator from Colorado. Also, appearing in publication for the first time, is the Ray Bradbury short story, "Sun and Shadow," later anthologized in the collection The Golden Apples of the Sun.

Mar 4, 1:17pm Top

>41 rocketjk: Okay, #1 is requested. Thanks.

Mar 6, 4:57pm Top

Book 10: So Wild a Dream by Win Blevins

So Wild a Dream is, as described by Blevins in his afterword, "the first of the (six-part) Rendezvous series, which tells the tale of the fur trade of the American West from its optimistic beginning in the early 1820s to its fading in the late 1830s, when westward immigration began."

So, wow, between Voss and Wilderness Trek and now this book, I've read three books this year that take place on journeys across the wilderness, the first two in Australia and now west of St. Louis in the early 19th century. Plus I finished up last year reading about 19th century travels in the mountains of Washington State via Jonathan Evison's West of Here.

Well, anyway, So Wild a Dream is detailed and well written, if a bit slow getting going. Young Sam Morgan leaves his family's Pennsylvania farm to follow his dream of seeing the wild country of the continent. He soon falls in with an assortment of colorful characters who help him learn the ways of the world. A few chapters later, Sam is, indeed, off on a trapping expedition deep into Indian territory.

Throughout, Blevins' narrative is detailed and engaging, with action galore and quite vivid accounts of the lifestyles of both the trappers and the Indian tribe they encounter. Gratifying descriptions of the physical environment complete the experience. In all, we believe we are in the hands of a writer who knows what he's talking about. On the books's inside back cover, Blevins is described as "an authority on the Plains Indians and fur trade era of the West." This seems a believable claim, given the depth of the writing, here. Blevins is not the greatest at creating a full-dimensioned protagonist, but Morgan's character is well enough drawn to carry the action.

Although I don't necessarily plan on completing the entire 6-book series, I do have the second book, Beauty for Ashes, lined up for reading in the very near term.

Edited: Mar 11, 1:05pm Top

Book 11: The Caveman's Valentine by George Dawes Green

The Caveman's Valentine is a murder mystery with a very singular protagonist. Romulus Ledbetter is a Julliard dropout, a brilliant pianist who has been derailed by clinical paranoia and now lives in a cave in New York City's Inwood Park, at the very northern tip of Manhattan Island. At times he can cope quite well, but when he's upset, the seraphs in his head take over, and he is likely to begin angry rants about Cornelius Gould Stuyvesant, the evil genius bent on world domination whose headquarters is the Chrysler Building, whence he sends out his evil Y-Rays. So when Rom finds a dead body near his cave entrance in the dead of winter, realizes that the dead man is the lover of his friend, Matthew, and that there has been foul play, he has trouble convincing the police of . . . well, of anything. So he sets off on his own investigation, using as cover his former identity as a musical prodigy.

There are some rather too convenient plot points in the novel, such as Rom's musical brilliance that opens doors for him and the fact that Rom's daughter happens to be a police officer, which provides a "benefit of the doubt" element for him that most cave-dwelling paranoid bums would not experience. These gave the book a slightly off-kilter element for me. I could, in fact, easily imagine this book as a graphic novel. However, that reservation aside, I really did enjoy reading The Cavemen's Valentine. It was original and moved right along, and the plotting was mostly fine, as well. Also, there was some very nice writing, indeed. For example, we get this description of a vase falling off a piano during a scuffle:

"The vase in front of him leapt up and dove down and hit the floor, and it was every shard for itself."

The whimsical and somehow perfectly descriptive nature of that "every shard for itself" somehow encapsulates much of what I found admirable in this novel.

The book was published in the mid-1990s, and the AIDS epidemic serves as a mostly unspoken but strong underlying current to the narrative.

Mar 15, 7:26pm Top

>45 rocketjk: Intriguing....

Mar 15, 7:48pm Top

>46 richardderus: Yes, Richard. I think you might like it. Evidently it was fairly well known when it came out in the mid-90s. There's even a movie version starring Samuel L. Jackson.

Mar 15, 7:50pm Top

I swaNEE! And I never so much as heard a *peep* about it until this good moment.

Edited: Mar 25, 12:40pm Top

Book 12: Beauty for Ashes by Win Blevins

This is the second book of Win Blevins' 6-part "Rendevous" series about the mountain men, trappers and Indians living across the North American frontier during the 1820s and 1830s, when the whites who ventured west of civilization were adventurers, before the days of homesteading and land rushes brought hoards of whites into Indian lands. Young Sam Morgan, who left his family home in western Pennsylvania and traveled west in the series' first book, So Wild a Dream, has now made his name among his compatriots as a trapper, fighter and survivor. What's more, he has spent time with the Crow Indians and learned their ways, as well. Beauty for Ashes continues Morgan's progress in all these directions, and adds for him a love interest, the Indian girl, Meadowlark.

Blevins tells a very good story, and his obviously very deep knowledge of and extensive research into the way of life he is describing here, both Indian and white, informs that telling in satisfying ways. There are times when the story slows to a crawl as we instead get detailed descriptions of processes like beaver hunting and sweat lodges. These are fascinating and well described, although I admit there were times when I was ready for the action to resume. The characterizations are fun, if not very nuanced, other than our man, Sam, who does have some depth to him.

All in all, I recommend these books to anyone with an interest in the time and place. Blevins really does do a good job of bringing us there. However, while there are four more books in the series, for now I am going to leave Sam and his friends and enemies be and move on to other reading. Someday, though, I may well return to see how Sam gets on.

Apr 5, 1:52pm Top

Book 13: The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan

This classic history of the Normandy invasion was extremely readable and very interesting. Writing only 15 years after the events described, Ryan, a combat correspondent during the war, was able to conduct a great many interviews (wikipedia says around 1,000) with planners of and participants in the battle, including many on the German side. Liberal use of the observations and experiences of those interview subjects make The Longest Day part standard history and part oral history. Ryan weaved these elements together quite well. It's easy to see why the book was such a hit upon publication. I remember seeing the movie version of the book way back when I was a kid. Good to have finally read the book.

Apr 10, 6:27pm Top

Book 14: Murder in Bloom by Lesley Cookman

This is the 5th book in Lesley Cookman's "Libby Sarjeant Murder Mystery" series. These are "cozies" that take place in Kent, England. I bought this book in Trinidad when my wife and I were on vacation there a few years back. When I got home I discovered I'd bought the 5th book in a series. Well, I had to read the book I'd bought in Trinidad, and I'm for some reason constitutionally unable to jump into a series at book 5, so I've been slowly reading my way along until I finally got here. I can't really give these books a fair assessment, because cozy mysteries are simply not my style. I found the books well enough written, in terms of writing and plot. A nice middle-aged woman, our Libby, solves mysteries, aided by her friend Fran, who has just a touch of psychic ability to help with clues and such. The two also have personal issues that are followed through the books. I was never really captured, but if this sort of book is your cup of English tea, then there's no reason why you shouldn't be more enthusiastic about them than I have been. There are many more books in the series still to go, but now that I've read my Trinidad and Togago book, I think I'll retire. I will add, though, that this fifth book is the best plotted of the set so far, so maybe they keep getting even better. Somebody will please let me know.

Edited: Apr 12, 8:57pm Top

Book 15: Teach Your Dog to Shoplift: a Tommy Wayne Kramer Collection by Tom Hine

Read as a "between book" (see first post). This takes some explaining. Teach Your Dog to Shoplift is a collection of newspaper columns. Tommy Wayne Kramer is writer Tom Hine's alter ego. Tom writes these columns for the Ukiah Daily Journal, which is the daily paper for Ukiah, California, the county seat of Mendocino County. I know Tom because he is a customer in my used bookstore, which is also in Ukiah. Tom Hine is a nice guy, but Tommy Wayne Kramer is a crotchety old coot who likes nothing better than a good gripe fest and the thing he likes to gripe most about is the assorted self-appointed, busybody do-gooders who have ruined Ukiah. In other words, the basic reason for these columns is to make fun of liberals. The good old days, says Kramer, were much better. As a liberal fellow myself, sometimes Tom's writing stings a bit. Mostly it's all in good fun and satire, but occasionally the barbs are quite pointed. You would think that the capital of Mendocino, smack in the midst of the "green triangle," would be liberal down to its core, but the population of this county is much more diverse, politics-wise, than you would think. Essentially, Ukiah is a factory town that lost its factory 17 years ago.

At any rate, I mostly enjoyed the columns, even those I thought went a bit too far for satire. I had come to the conclusion, though, that Tom and I would just never see eye-to-eye on some things. After a hiatus from writing the column that lasted a few months, I think, Tom is now back at it. A couple of months ago, he wrote a column about how cool my bookstore is. (He also had kind words for the excellent store in Willits, the Book Juggler). So now I can see what a wise fellow he is after all.

Apr 12, 8:58pm Top

Post above amended to include my comments.

Edited: Apr 21, 7:36pm Top

Book 16: Speak to Me, Dance with Me by Agnes de Mille

Speak to Me, Dance with Me is a memoir by famed dancer and choreographer Agnes de Mille. The book covers the years 1933 through 1935, when de Mille, an American, was struggling to make her name as a dancer and dance designer in England. I found that a very interesting world, time and place to learn about. I'm not really that interested in dance and dance history, to be honest, but I am interested in the creative process and in human nature, and both are on vivid display in this book. It is interesting that many of the key dance/ballet troupes in England at that time were led by women.

But when it came to theatrical or concert productions, usually men had the money and made the decisions. de Mille chronicles the ways in which her struggles to gain support among important men (and even women) were affected by the fact that she was not deemed glamorous enough. At one point de Mille has it explained to her that the reason two particular producers had lost interest in her as an artist was that she was not well dressed enough at rehearsals.

Finally, her uncle, the famous movie director Cecil B. de Mille, calls her to Hollywood to create and perform in a dance number for his production of Cleopatra. The experience is a horror for Agnes, as her uncle wants something artistically vulgar, Agnes refuses to go along, and she is ousted from the production. The following passages explain de Milles' frustration:

Mim {a dance troupe leader in London and de Mille's teacher and employer} later asked, "Whatever made you think you could collaborate with this kind of taste?" He was my uncle who had excited me all my life and I thought I could. I believe had I been a man I would have been given a second chance. Men give men second chances, never women, except as an act of courtship. Cecil liked a show of spirit in a girl, but only as a gambit in flirtation; he liked sauciness, the devout preparation for his attention and then the taunting. That was high coquetry. One could say "no" if one was irresistibly gotten up. I've seen his daughter and my sister tease jewels out of him. But I met him eyeball to eyeball in football regalia and said like any man, "I won't budge. My soul forbids it."

My work marched on its own feet. But not very far, alas! I should have been able simply to dress better and to flirt. It was not simple. To me it was basic.

Mary Austin, the writer, had once said to me, "In all the history of art I have never heard of a man helping a woman because of the quality of her talent, not once. If they helped, they were seduced into helping the woman first and, if needs must, secondly the talent. Men's talents are, of course, something else."

I don't want to convey the idea that this book is a feminist polemic. It is about the struggles of an artist to gain a foothold in a tough, tough world where she doesn't quite fit in. The narrative is helped enormously by de Mille's considerable talent as a writer. Also, I should say, a second theme of the memoir (second but not secondary) is de Mille's relationship with a young man named Ramon, paralyzed from the waist down since his early teens but beautiful, articulate and sensitive. Great company for a struggling artist in need of cheering, in other words.

Because of the circles de Mille is moving in (and the family she comes from), there are many friendships and encounters (leading to sometimes fascinating written portraits) of famous people of the day. Gertrude Lawrence, Cole Porter, Elizabeth Bowen and George Bernard Shaw all play roles in de Mille's story to a greater or lesser degree.

Later, de Mille gained considerable fame and success, particularly for her choreography on Broadway hits like Oklahoma and Brigadoon. But this book is about the early years of struggle, and that later success is only alluded to in passing once or twice.

I picked this book up basically at random from the shelf of my used bookstore and it opened up a world I had never really thought to explore at all. That's one of the very best things about reading, for me.

Edited: May 6, 5:04pm Top

Book 17: The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh

The synopsis on the back of my edition of The Glass Palace says it is "set in Burma during the British invasion of 1885." In fact, this 470-page novel begins at that point and covers a sweep of around 120 years, right through the "present" day (the book was published in 2000). That narrative sweep is one of the book's thematic strengths but also it's major narrative flaw, in my view. The thematic strength arises from Ghosh's deft examination of the complicated relationship between Burma (now Myanmar), India and the British Empire which occupied and ruled both for so long. One of the most fascinating episodes revolves around the Japanese invasion of Burma in World War 2, and the complicated and varied reactions of the Indian soldiers serving in the British army (a generations-long tradition), just as agitation for independence from the Raj had been growing. And while much of the narrative drive of the plot is interesting enough, there are long stretches of the book where the characters seemed to me to be more in place to serve these thematic ends then to present the reader with engrossing personal tales. One of the problems for me was that, while one of the main characters begins life as a young ragamuffin, he soon uses his wiles and ambition to gain success. From then on, the book focuses on characters of relative privilege. Such stories have always held less fascination for me than tales told from closer to the bottom of the ladder looking up. I can't help but compare this book to Väinö Linna's brilliant Under the North Star trilogy, which shows us the struggles and triumphs of three generations of Finnish tenant farmers and which, to me, was so much more moving.

Your mileage may well vary on this book, but for myself, I would have preferred the Ghosh focus in more closely on a specific time period and set of characters. I'm going to say, though, that overall I'm glad I read the book, and remember to point out that in most places the actual writing and descriptions are very, very strong.

May 10, 12:07pm Top

I remember several people praising this book when I first started dipping into the threads on LT, and it's here somewhere. I like a well done "saga", but your point about focusing on the privileged classes is well made. Still, I thank you for reminding me that I do mean to read this one of these days.

Edited: Aug 24, 1:59am Top

Book 18: Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty by John M. Barry

This is a very readable and interesting book for anyone interested in the development of the political and, especially, religious ideas that drove the Puritans to North America and the story of the first brave leader to lobby, at the very real risk of his own life, for the separation of church and state. Barry begins with a detailed explication of the tensions between King James and the English Parliament in the early 17th century that would eventually lead to the English Civil War. The arguments were about the limits of royal power and the degree to which Parliament could curtail that power, but religion played a central role, as well. Who among them would decide how much toleration the state-sanctioned Church of England would show toward English Catholics, on the one hand, and the growing Puritan movement, on the other. No matter what camp you were in, though, everyone agreed that the state had the power, and the duty, to decide on issues of worship, and the right to punish, even to ghastly degrees, non-conformists and "heretics."

When the Puritans settled in North America, and particularly in Massachusetts, their lock-down was complete. Their Godly "City on the Hill" was one of enforced conformity, for they were sure that they were living the word of God. Along came Roger Williams, who had been a protege of one of England's greatest legal minds in his young adulthood and whose mind roamed free. His insistence that the state had the right only to enforce Commandments 6-10, which directed how humans should act toward each other, but not 1-5, which dealt with man's direct relationship with God, earned him banishment into the howling winter wilderness. Williams survived, though, with the help of the local natives, and went on to found the town of Providence and eventually what became the State of Rhode Island, all founded on his principles of toleration of conscience and religion. Barry's thesis is that the tension between the ideas of the Puritans of state control over the hearts and souls of its citizens and Williams of obedience to civil laws but freedom of worship have become the enduring tensions of America. I highly recommend this history/biography for those interested in such issues.

May 26, 8:32pm Top

>57 rocketjk: You remind me that I have a copy of Jon Meacham's American Gospel on the shelf waiting for my attention. I imagine it covers some of the same territory.

Jun 5, 2:30pm Top

Book 19: If the Dead Rise Not by Philip Kerr

This is the 6th book in Philip Kerr's excellent "Bernie Gunther" noir crime series. This entry does an interesting job of filling in more of Gunther's backstory trying to survive as an honest, Nazi hating, cop in pre-war National Socialist Berlin (1934 in this case), and then moving his story forward, as the second half of the plot jumps us forward to Havana in 1954. As always in this series, Gunther has to weave his way around the immoral, the cruel and the blase people he comes up against. Gunther will make the right choice . . . most of the time. The plotting is crisp and, mostly, believable (and what we can't believe we can hang with). As only, my only real complaint is Kerr's insistence on peppering the narrative with over-wrought noir tough-guy metaphors. It's a minor complaint. Sadly, Kerr died recently, but I still have a lot of his books left to enjoy.

Edited: Oct 3, 12:04pm Top

Book 20: Honeymoon by Patrick Modiano

This short novel by Nobel Prize winner Patrick Modiano is a beautiful reverie about memory, melancholy and regret. A documentary movie maker, tired of his life of traipsing around the world after adventure and exotic cultures and locales, wonders what it's all been about, and begins to dwell upon a chance encounter he'd had many years ago with a couple 20 years his senior when he learns, by random chance, of the woman's suicide. His recreation of the couple's lives and his meditations about his own are woven together seamlessly to produce a vivid waking dream of a narrative.

Jun 10, 7:38pm Top

>60 rocketjk: That sounds interesting. I've added it to my mental watchlist.

>59 rocketjk: Kerr's style put me off even though the subject matter was of great interest. I very much prefer David Downing and Alan Furst.

Edited: Oct 3, 12:05pm Top

>61 RBeffa: "Kerr's style put me off even though the subject matter was of great interest. I very much prefer David Downing and Alan Furst."

I understand what you mean about Kerr's style. I wish he could have cooled it with those tough guy noir metaphors. For me, the excellent storytelling makes that a relatively minor annoyance, but I could see how it would be a deal killer for some. I've only read one Furst novel, which I enjoyed a lot. I have not read anything by Downing yet.

Jun 14, 10:18am Top

>60 rocketjk: Hmmmm....I've never read Modiano, and yours is the first review to make me think I might want to.

I can never remember if it's Furst or Kerr that I tried and didn't care for. I have at least one of each of their books around here somewhere.

Jun 14, 11:26am Top

>63 laytonwoman3rd: Re Modiano: Honeymoon is only 120 pages, so it's not that much of a time investment. I'd say that if my review interested you, it would be worth giving Modiano a go. I think I read somewhere that most of his novels are on the short side.

Edited: Jun 15, 4:14pm Top

Book 21: Three Street by Will Stevens

This was a fun book in a lot of ways. Will Stevens was an award-winning journalist for the San Francisco Examiner back in the 50s and 60s. This novel was published in 1962. It's a fable-like series of tales about the neighborhood around Third and Mission Streets in San Francisco, where the major newspaper offices, including the Examiner and the Chronicle, were located right up against the city's Skid Row. Stevens' tales are about a group of those Skid Row denizens, with some of the other neighborhood locals mixed in. These Skid Row folks are colorful, and all bear colorful monikers such as Windmill Willie, Loop the Loop Murphy and Friendless Alice. Collectively this group of friends has dubbed themselves The Happy Ones, because they have maintained their ability to laugh and enjoy life amidst the hopelessness and abandoned dreams of their daily lives.

Stevens was shooting for a Damon Runyonesque quality to his novel, clearly, but the book's weakness stems from his over-romanticizing of his characters. He speaks of their poor lot and, to a certain extent, the grimness of their lives, but on a scene-by-scene level that grimness rarely appears. We do not go with them to their tenement slums or bedrolls under highway bridges. We do not smell their unbathed grittiness and only rarely experience the real consequences of their alcoholism. As I said above, the book is more a collection of street-life fables than a real picture of down-and-out street life circa 1962. So one can see why the book has faded into obscurity (although, if we can believe the listings on Abebooks, collectible obscurity, at any rate).

Still, though, even with those reservations, the stories and characters are just loopy enough to be enjoyable, once a reader understands what is and isn't on offer. So I'm happy to have this book in my collection and glad to have read it.

Book note: I am one of only two LT members to have this book listed.

Here's an interesting article I found online about the book and its author:

Edited: Jul 14, 3:58pm Top

Book 22: The Light and the Dark by C.P. Snow

This is the fourth novel in Snow's excellent "Strangers and Brothers" series and it is the best so far. Ongoing character Lewis Eliot this time narrates the story of his friend, Roy Calvert, a brilliant linguist and charismatic figure who is beset by depression. As Snow moved along in this long series, his writing skills seem to have matured and strengthened. This is one of the most effective, and therefore often hard to read, fictional depictions of depression I've ever read. And yet, overall, I found the novel uplifting rather than depressing. Good writing will do that. I should add that the book also provides an interesting perspective on the varied attitudes of the British upper classes as the world edges closer to World War Two. Should Germany be opposed or appeased?

Edited: Jul 15, 10:57am Top

Book 23: The Surrounded by D'Arcy McNickle

First published in 1936, this compelling novel describes life on the Salish (Flathead) Indian Reservation in Montana during the 1920s. Archilde Leon, whose mother is Indian and father is Spanish, has just returned to the reservation after being educated at a federal Indian school and then making his way in white society for several years, earning his living playing the fiddle. His plan is to make one final visit to the reservation and then turn his back on that world forever. But soon he feels the rhythms and philosophies of Indian life and family and community ties attracting him anew, complicated by the misdeeds of his ne'er-do-well brothers and the antagonism of white authorities. McNickle, who, like his character, was half Native American and half European, wrote two novels (this is his first) and several works of anthropology/history. What makes The Surrounded so quietly powerful is McNickle's ability to get inside the complexities of his characters' motivations, including both of Archilde's parents, as well as the mix of dignity and despair that attend the tribe as white society pushes in on them, literally from all directions.

Book note: I purchased this 1977 edition of The Surrounded in a Montana gift shop when my wife and I were on a train/driving vacation through the area two years ago.

Jul 21, 4:26pm Top

Book 24: Madensky Square by Eve Ibbotson

Wow, did I ever enjoy this charming book. Susanna Weber is a successful dressmaker with her own shop in Vienna's (fictional, I take it) Madensky Square in late 1910. Weber has a keen and compassionate eye, for human nature, for her urban surroundings, and for the natural world. The novel is her fictional journal, covering the space of a year, in which she describes her own romances, joys, tragedies and trials, as well as those of her friends and neighbors. Most of these people are just a touch on the quirky side, but in no case do they cross the line into caricature or cartoon. Told through the eyes of a graceful, perceptive woman, Madensky Square creates a fine, colorful reading world for a reader to pass through. The book also presents a sly, subtle insight into the politics of the day.

Ibbotson, mostly known, evidently, for her novels for young adults, wrote three or four novels for adults as well. She was born in Vienna in 1925, though she went to live in England as a young girl. Madensky Square was first published in 1988.

Edited: Jul 23, 6:06pm Top

Book 25: The Coast Magazine: April 1938 edited by Christopher Rand

Read as a "between book" (see first post). This is another periodical off my stack of old magazines. The Coast was a California-based monthly about which I can't find a thing via Google. This edition is Vol 1, No. 5, so evidently 1938 was the first year of publication. How many years there were after that I can't say.

At any rate, I was immediately won over by the wonderful cover, which, as this is the April edition, is a salute to the beginning of baseball season with a drawing by Parker Edwards with whimsical representations of every Pacific Coast League team. (Before the days of expansion, the PCL was pretty close to being a third major league.)

The magazine includes, among other items, some lively, humorous artwork, a profile of Paul Smith, who at the time was the new wunderkind editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, and a series of short short stories, most of which I enjoyed but none of which featured authors whose names I knew. There is one short piece on Hollywood culture by William Saroyan! All in all, this was fun to read.

Edited: Jul 24, 6:47pm Top

Book 26: Dolly's Cottage: The History of a Thatched House in Strandhill, County Sligo

This book, really better described as a booklet, doesn't list an author. The cover and title page say only that the book is "written and compiled" by the Strandhill Guild of the Irish Countrywomen's Association. My wife and I were in Ireland on vacation earlier this month. During a conversation in a lively Sligo Town pub, a local recommended that we visit this cottage while in the area, and so we did. Dolly Higgins lived in this cottage, built in the early 1800s, until she passed away in 1970. At that time, it was one of the last, if not the last, thatched roof cottages still in use in the Strandhill area of County Sligo. Even in the 1960s, Dolly lived happily in "the old way," without running water or electricity. Soon after Dolly's passing, the house was taken over by the Strandhill Irish Countrywomen's Association to be maintained in Dolly's memory as an historical structure for visitors to enjoy. That was 45 years ago, and the house is still a cozy, welcoming historical site, open free of charge to one and all. We were welcomed by a very friendly and knowledgeable docent, and though plumbing and electricity have been added and the cottage is now near a fairly busy road and in a neighborhood with a suburban feel, it is still easy to experience the atmosphere of the place and get a feel for what life there would have been like for Dolly and her forebearers. Among other gifts, I picked up this short booklet that effectively describes, with photos and text, the history of the house and some of the events that would have concerned its inhabitants over the years.

Jul 24, 7:18pm Top

>70 rocketjk: perfect.

Edited: Oct 3, 12:27pm Top

Book 27: Discovery No. 3 edited by Vance Bourjaily

Read as a "between book" (see first post). Back in the '50s and '60s, when the general reading public was more literate, I guess, or at least imagined to be, there were several series of literary anthologies published as paperback books rather than as magazines. The two that come most easily to mind are the New American Review series and this one, the Discovery series. Published in 1954, this third edition of the series, like all of them, is a combination of essays, poems and short stories. Taken together, the anthology presents an interesting literary time capsule. There was very little here that I would consider excellent literature, though there was much that was enjoyable. Herbert Gold's short story, "The Burglers and the Boy," was particularly good. So was the collection's final entry, the story "So, O.K." by Mary Barrett, who turns out to be the daughter of Irving Berlin! (It's fun to google authors who appear in a 1954 anthology whom you've never heard of.) The authors here whose names were already known to me when I started this collection were Victor Chapin, Max Steele, Lloyd Alexander and Gold.

This is one of those publications that probably appear on Librarything in several different guises, depending on the exact title it gets entered with and whether or not the editor is included in the author field. Somebody who knew what they were doing with the Combine function (which seems to me to have become more difficult to use lately) could probably gather them all together. In the iteration of the publication that I have used, at any rate, the only two LT members listed are me and Ernest Hemingway!

Edited: Aug 4, 5:37pm Top

Book 28: The Epic of Gilgamesh translated by N.K. Sandars

N.K. Sandars' prose translation of The Epic of Gilgamesh is fascinating, for Sandars' well constructed and insightful introduction as well as for her rendering of the story itself. The introduction fills in the background of the discovery of the ancient tablets that contain the story, plus the mythological and cultural background of the mythology. The introduction in itself takes up the first half of this Penguin paperback edition's 120 pages, but no complaints on that score. I had heard of this classic, but knew essentially nothing about it. I found it particularly interesting to learn that our understanding of the work has been formed by excerpts of carved stone tablets found hundreds if not thousand miles about, written by people of widely divergent cultures, centuries apart from each other. All of it buried and entirely unknown to us until the archeological digs of the 1800s began across the Middle East. My edition was printed in 1972, at which point it already contained two revisions as new information has arisen with new research. I don't know how much new information has been discovered since that time. According to wikipedia, though, the most recent revised edition came out in 1987, so I guess that means my copy is somewhat out of date. Sandars died in 2015 at the age of 101. Seems she had a fascinating life: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nancy_Sandars

Normally I wouldn't read an introduction or forward before reading the work itself. Too often you'll find irritating plot spoilers therein. In this case I broke that rule, and I'm glad I did. Having that foreknowledge helped me very much to enjoy this tale of an all powerful king who goes on a quest for immortal life that captured the imagination of so many for so long.

Aug 7, 3:15pm Top

Book 29: A Little Bit of Ireland by John Finan

This is a very slim book of short stories about rural life in County Mayo, Ireland. I bought the book when my wife and I were on vacation in Ireland in early July and we wandered into a pub owned by the author in the town of Charlestown. To give you an idea of this great pub, which you have to walk through a small hardware store to get to, take a look at this very short (1:30) youtube clip:


There was a poster advertising the book hanging on the wall, so of course I asked to buy one. The bartender told me the author was in the back room, so we went back and had the book signed. I didn't realize he was the owner of the pub, as well. The internet calls the pub Finan's Pub, but as you see in the video, the door has a different name. At any rate, we talked to Finan for a while. During the conversation he grumbled to us that "people only want to read about scandal." They wanted his stories to be about fist fights at the bar, he said, not about calmer things that happen in life. It's funny, though, because there are no fistfights in the bar described in any of these stories. Mostly (not entirely), they are charming tales about friends and couples who have reached a graceful old age, looking back with affection and a tear or two on good times gone by. Finan has a fine ear for conversation, a gentle touch with character and a lovely gift for descriptions of nature. A few of the stories are a little sappy. So be it.

Aug 22, 3:31pm Top

Book 30: The Chinese Parrot by Earl Derr Biggers

This is the second book in Biggers' "Charlie Chan Mysteries" series. The book was originally published in 1926. I read the first Chan book, The House Without a Key, a couple of years back and was surprised at how good the writing was, and how different (in a very good way) the book was from the hokey (but fun!) old Charlie Chan movies. In this book, Chan, outside of his native Hawaii for the first time in his life, is pressed into service to help safeguard the sale of a string of precious pearls, said sale to take place in a tiny town out in the California desert to a well known business tycoon. With Chan goes young Bob Eden, the son of the jewelry dealer facilitating the transaction for a cash-strapped friend. Mystery and puzzlement abounds out in the desert. There is one appallingly convenient and unlikely coincidence near the end of the story, but otherwise, this is a tautly plotted adventure.

Edited: Aug 30, 8:31pm Top

Book 31: The Lord God Bird by Russell Hill

This is a brooding novella about a pair of young lovers who head south into the Louisiana bayou in hopes of being the first people in decades to lay eyes on an ivory billed woodpecker, a bird so rare and so beautiful that when people do see it, their first words are "Lord God!" The pair run afoul of the local law but gain protection from the black community living at the edge of the swampland. It's a bit derivative, maybe, but very well written and absorbing. A short, clean tale.

Sep 23, 2:21pm Top

Book 32: The Incarnations by Susan Barker

Wang is a taxi driver in modern day Beijing who begins receiving mysterious and disturbing letters left in his cab. The letter purport to describe past lives of his, and to be written by someone whose soul has been connected to Wang's throughout these incarnations. Wang, in the meantime, struggles to make ends meet and to maintain his family, his wife and little girl, and to keep them safe from the letter writer, whom Wang assumes and fears is an unhinged stalker. His wife's job--she is a masseuse--disturbs him, but as she rightly points out, they need the money. We gradually have Wang's own background filled in, and then we have the letters to read, vivid and often harrowing descriptions of lives lived throughout the history of China, beginning with a small girl in a rural village in 637 A.D. and running up through the Cultural Revolution. All of these lives, including Wang's "current" life driving and walking the streets of Beijing, are described in admirable and convincing detail. Barker is English, but she lived in Beijing during her research for this novel. The many strands of this story come together well, although I found the ending unfortunately abrupt. The Incarnations is not always an easy reading experience, but I would rate it a very worthwhile one.

Sep 29, 12:34pm Top

Book 33: On Watch by Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr.

On Watch is Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt's memoir of his tenure as Chief Naval Officer, and thereby member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during the Nixon Administration. The book is very detailed, checking in at over 500 pages long. Zumwalt offers his insight into the hazardous labyrinth of naval appropriations, the ways he believed that Henry Kissinger was sabotaging American interests by giving away the farm to the Soviets during the SALT talks on nuclear missile control and Zumwalt's battles with Admiral Rickover about the type of navy America needed (Rickover, who wielded much influence in Congress, demanded a high end Navy, with only expensive nuclear powered ships, while Zumwalt believed in a "High/Low" approach, with a mix of nuclear ships complimented by a greater number of less expensive conventionally powered ships). Zumwalt describes the very real fears among military leaders at the time that the American public's distaste for all things military on the heals of the disasterously unpopular Vietnam War was crippling the country's ability to defend itself and its allies in the face of growing Soviet strength, as Congress had been drained of the political will to appropriate sufficient funds for the country's many defense needs. At any rate, that was Zumwalt's perspective. The memoir was written soon after Zumwalt's tenure concluded, and he did not have the hindsight we now have: however right or wrong he, and his colleagues, might have been on those issues, the Soviets' strength, even superiority, in these areas did not lead to a disasterous war. So maybe the budget cutters were right all along, or maybe we just got lucky. I don't have the perspective or knowledge myself to know.

The two most fascinating components of this memoir I have left for last to describe. The first is Zumwalt's insistence and persistence efforts to drag the Navy into the modern day in terms of its treatment of minorities and women. Truman had ordered full integration of American armed forces, but the Navy, foremost among the service branches, had remained a bastion of segregation and prejudice. Zumwalt took forceful steps to reverse those conditions, and his descriptions of how he went about that and the resistance he faced make quite interesting reading. The second is Zumwalt's description of what conditions were like within the Nixon Administration as the president and Kissinger became ever more focused on saving Nixon's presidency and denying access to Nixon's "enemies" in the face of the growing Watergate scandal. In particular, Zumwalt describes how he had begun as an admirer of Kissinger, taken in by Kissinger's personal charm and charisma. Gradually, he begins to see Kissinger as a rather bizarre, paranoid figure whose ego-driven policies and refusal to brook any dissenting opinions was doing great harm to the country.

There is a lot to wade through in this memoir, but the writing is clear and accessible, which helps a lot. In a way, Zumwalt's book serves best as a fascinating time capsule to what it was like being inside the U.S. military hierarchy looking out (and within) during a fascinating and pivotal time in our history.

Sep 30, 2:35pm Top

Book 34: Deadly to Bed by Don Tracy

This was a fun, quick, pulp fiction mystery, circa 1960, and the first of Don Tracy's "Giff Speer" series. Giff is a member of the Army Military Police's secret undercover investigation arm, trying to solve the murder of an officer's wife on a military base. The base has a crucial missile development laboratory. Is there espionage going on? Or is the murder a crime of passion, revenge for some sexual hanky panky? This mystery was good enough for me to continue on with the series from time to time.

Book note: I'm the only LT member with this book listed in his/her LT library!

Oct 3, 12:33pm Top

Book 35: Newport - Our Own Place

This is the third of the three short books that my wife and I brought back from our recent trip to Ireland. Newport is a lovely town in County Mayo that we passed through and stopped in briefly a couple of times during our time in this part of the country. We didn't explore the town as much as we would have liked, as we were actually staying in the nearby town of Westport, but we did make extremely satisfying use of the Newport tourist information office a couple of times to learn of some very wonderful hikes that we enjoyed immensely. At any rate, my wife picked up this booklet about the history of Newport during a quick trip to the town's post office. The book provides a nice mix of history and local color.

Oct 10, 8:01pm Top

I read Dog Company on the basis of your review and enjoyed it. He pieced together several riveting war stories. Thanks!

Oct 10, 10:39pm Top

>81 bkinetic: Hey, you're welcome! Glad the review was useful and that the book lived up to your hopes. Cheers!

Oct 11, 8:50pm Top

Book 36: The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next by Lee Smolin

I started reading this book several years ago, but when I reported that fact here on LT, I was advised by another member that I'd be better off reading a couple of other books first: Beyond Einstein: the Cosmic Quest for the Theory of the Universe by Michiu Kaku and Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe's Hidden Dimensions by Lisa Randall. The point was that Smolin's book is critical of what he sees as the physics world's focus on string theory, while the first two books give a pretty good background on what string theory is and why so many people are fascinated. I did that, and I guess it was a good idea, although my brain's not anywhere big enough to really be able to grasp what all these folks are describing.

Smolin does his best to write clearly and engagingly, but the subject matter and vocabulary nevertheless left me behind quite often. Frequently I felt myself simply wading through masses of paragraphs describing why one theory or another did or didn't make sense, what it did or didn't suggest, without taking much in. I decided to keep going, though, and just let it all wash over me, confident that general ideas would stick, which often enough they did.

Anyway, while Smolin does spend a lot of time with the technical aspects of these ideas, what the book is really about is not just why he thinks string theory, which is a very esoteric way of trying to explain how the physics of the universe works, is flawed and not likely to be proven in any satisfying way any time soon, but also about the problems with the scientific establish whereby string theory has become pretty much the only avenue of investigation that a young physicist can hope to craft a career in, even though there are many other avenues Smolin, a prominent physicist himself, thinks are just as promising, if not moreso.

Edited: Oct 22, 1:50am Top

Book 37: The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

As part of my ongoing project to working on filling in the huge number of holes in my classics reading, I decided it was finally time to read The Mill on the Floss. The story of the life of a relatively small rural town in early 19-century England centers around Maggie Tulliver and her family. The characters and their relationships are, for the most part, artfully drawn, and the reflections on human emotions and motivations are often astonishingly insightful. Well, you don't need me to tell you about what a good writer Eliot was. Maggie Tulliver is thoughtful, intelligent and free-spirited, too much so for comfort for a young girl and then woman of that time and place. In the meantime, the ups and downs of her family's fortunes, especially the downs, tie Maggie to a dreary, dutiful sort of life. Eventually, love and romance appear. Of course, there's nothing easy about this for Maggie, either. As I mentioned, the observations are often quite breathtaking to read. But my Penguin Classics edition is 544 pages long, and, I confess, at about page 400 I began thinking, all right already! Still a classic for very good reasons.

Oct 25, 2:25pm Top

Book 38: Day of Infamy by Walter Lord

Day of Infamy, published in 1957, provides a minute-by-minute account of the Japanese attach on Pearl Harbor. The author, Walter Lord, also wrote the classic history of the sinking of the Titanic, A Night to Remember. This book is akin to Cornelius Ryan's book about D-Day, The Longest Day, which I read earlier this year, in that Lord ran down as many of the survivors/participants/witnesses to the Pearl Harbor attack as he could and created a "you are there" pastiche, from the planning of the attack by the Japanese, to the innocent, unaware early morning spent by so many around the harbor and the town, to the experience and horror of the attack and battle itself, to the aftermath. Time is spent, also, on the frustrating, tragic string of miscommunication and incredulity about early warning signs of trouble.

I raced through this book in three or four sittings. Lord spends almost no time on the geopolitical context for the attack, nor on the many conspiracy theories that arose later. He just wanted to put you in that place. Thereby, he has created a lastingly important document of what was experienced that day. In addition, the narrative stands as a horrifying testimony for what it's like to be the target of such an attack, no matter who you are or where you live.

Oct 27, 1:25pm Top

Book 39: How Soccer Explains the World: an Unlikely Theory of Globalization by Franklin Foer

This book was very interesting and I read through it quite quickly. It is a series of essays about how soccer, and more specifically love for a particular local soccer team, has affected politics, class identification and ethnic animosities in different countries and cities, mostly in Europe but also in Brazil, Iran and, finally, the U.S. The ways in which politicians, corrupt (mostly) and otherwise have used soccer clubs as bases for political power and the ways in which ethnic hatreds have been stokes and/or exacerbated around them make for frequently fascinating and informative reading. But Foer's thesis that taken together these examples provide a coherent theory of globalization seems forced, to me, perhaps a "unifying theme" suggested by an editor or publisher. Each chapter has a title beginning with "How Soccer Explains . . . ." As in "How Soccer Explains the Sentimental Hooligans," for example. Those chapter titles, too, seem a publisher's conceit rather than an author's wish. More often than actually explaining the cultural phenomenon Foer is describing in any given chapter, soccer comes across in the chapters as a symptom of that phenomenon. So while sneezing might be a symptom of my hay fever, I wouldn't write a chapter called "How Sneezing Explains Hay Fever."

That said, almost all of the individual chapters are informative and enlightening. Particularly interesting and horrifying to me was the early chapter about how soccer was used as a rallying point for ethnic hatred and murder in Serbia at the time of the Balkan Wars. The book was published in 2004, and not all of Foer's cultural observations still seem to ring true. His predictions about the continuing liberalization of society in Iran seem to me on thin ice at this point, for example. Overall, though, there's lots to learn here about Brazil, Italy, Spain, Serbia, Scotland, England, the Ukraine and other spots around the globe where soccer is a mania that's often intertwined with politics, big business and, yes, the effects of globalization.

Oct 31, 1:04pm Top

Book 40: Dragonfish by Vu Tran

This is a very well written noir-type mystery about an Oakland policeman in Las Vegas trying to find and help his ex-wife, Suzy. Although the story takes place years later, Suzy is a refugee from Vietnam who left at the time of the fall of Saigon, and Robert, our hero, has to navigate the seamy side of the Vietnamese refugee community in Las Vegas to figure out what's going on. Suzy's backstory is also presented quite effectively. I enjoyed this book a lot.

Nov 4, 12:07pm Top

Book 41: The Grandma Stubblefield Rose: The Life of Susan Stubblefield, 1811-1895 by Edna Beth Tuttle and Dennie Burke Willis

Susan Stubblefield was born in upstate New York in 1811. She moved progressively west with first one husband, then another (both were drowned). Then, with her third husband and extended family, she went across the continent from Missouri to California in a covered wagon. The family settled eventually in Anderson Valley, Mendocino County, CA, in 1858. I live in Anderson Valley now, and reading this book is part of my ongoing project of reading frequently about the history of the region. This is a self-published book, a fictionalized account drawn from diaries and written by two of Stubblefield's great-great grandchildren. The Stubblefield rose was a small rose bush given to Susan upon her first wedding day by her own mother. The plant had been brought from France two generations before that! Stubblefield brought the plant with her across the country until she eventually gave it two her own daughter. It is used here as a symbol of the continuity of family even withstanding the vast miles of distance that can open up as children travel away from parents.

The details contained in this book, of both the trip across the continent and the early days in Anderson Valley, are fascinating, and one trusts to the authors for their accuracy. It is delightful to read about the family's interactions with some of the other early Valley residents, people whose names are on the roads and valleys and hillsides of this beautiful region.

Nov 8, 9:41pm Top

Hey, it's lookin' like a 50-book year this year! Hope it pans out.

Nov 9, 3:17am Top

>89 richardderus: Hey, Richard! Great to hear from you. Thanks for checking in. I might make it. I'm reading Jim Harrison's "True North" right now, which is kind of a long one, but I'm enjoying it so much I'm going through it fairly quickly, so we'll see. Hope you're well. Cheers!

Nov 9, 5:01pm Top

>90 rocketjk: >90 rocketjk: True North is a worthy way to miss the target should you do so. I'm well, reasonably contented, and quite sure the world will end in a whine instead of some wussy whimper. The problem is timing. I am hoping to be gone beforehand, selfish old sod that I am.


Nov 11, 5:50pm Top

Book 42: True North by Jim Harrison

This is a beautifully written novel about the ways that the sins of the parents are visited on the children. David Burkett is a fourth generation member of a family responsible for the deforestation, in true "robber baron" style, of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Burkett's father is even further flawed. Among other things, he has been a serial statutory rapist throughout David's life. As he grows (during the novel) from early teens through the middle of his 30s, David, an intellectual who wants no part of his father's business dealings, becomes obsessed with discoving, and writing about, the depths of his family's depravations of greed and ecological disaster. And yet he can't get away from the fact that it is only the fact that he is a child of privilege that allows him to live his live this way. David's relationship with his sister, his parents, and the various women he becomes are mostly well drawn. His sister, Cynthia, is a particularly well developed character. In addition, and extremely importantly in terms of the book's overall impact, Harrison's descriptions of many of the natural settings of the Upper Peninsula are admirably rendered. You really feel like you're there.

About two thirds of the way through the novel, however, I grew a bit tired of living inside this character's head. His philosophical meanderings, and the things that occur to him about himself as the narrative rolls along, start to become repetitive. The wonderful quality of the writing, however, pulled me a long nevertheless, and overall with is a terrific novel.

Nov 11, 6:09pm Top

Yay! I loved that book so I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Nov 13, 4:16pm Top

>92 rocketjk: I must get around to reading Jim Harrison. I have several of his books on the shelf.

BTW, I know you're a 50 Book Challenge kind of guy. But over in the 75 Book Challenge Group we've been doing an American Authors Challenge for several years, and this coming year I'm hosting. If you're interested, pop over to the discussion thread and see what's up for 2019. Harrison was one of many authors under consideration.

Nov 13, 7:24pm Top

Thanks, Linda. I will check out the discussion. This is the only book of Harrison's I've read, though, so I'm not sure I'd have much to contribute to a discussion of his work.

Edited: Yesterday, 7:32pm Top

Book 43: When the Yankees Were On the Fritz: Revisiting the Horace Clarke Years by Fritz Peterson

Fritz Peterson was a very good starting pitcher for the New York Yankees during the between-dynasty period of 1965 - 1974. Peterson and Mel Stottlemyre formed a very potent pitching tandem for several years, but unfortunately, other than Stottemyre's experiences in the World Series in his rookie year of 1964, neither ever pitched in a post-season game. This book is Peterson's memoir of those seasons, and his attempt to explain why those Yankees teams were so mediocre during that span despite their normally above average-to-excellent pitching staffs. Horace Clarke was the second baseman for all those seasons, and Peterson uses him to typify the mediocre quality of the position players that dotted the team's lineup. Peterson calls Clarke a good person and a hard worker. He was a mediocre hitter at best, and Peterson claims that Clarke was unwilling to complete doubleplays when there was a runner bearing down on him. He wouldn't "take one for the team," as Peterson puts it.

That period of Yankee history actually corresponds with my most passionate devotion to the team as a young fame, so I was very much looking forward to reading Peterson's memoir. Sadly, the book suffers from several flaws. One is that Peterson was an inveterate prankster and practical joker, and he delights in this book in relating an endless stream of such highjinks. I'm not really a fan of that sort of humor, so these anecdotes eventually made me impatient. Also, Peterson insists on giving thumbnail sketches of just about every player who was his teammate, for no matter how brief a time. In part these serve to make Peterson's point that the Yankees were contenting themselves over those years with bringing in over-the-hill veterans, or trading for "can't miss" young players who fizzled, as illustrations of why the Yankees could never win. But mostly, it seems, each such sketch provides an opportunity to describe the nicknames he gave each player and the pranks he pulled on them.

Finally, this is a self-published memoir, and the editing is simply atrocious. The reader stumbles over everything from egregious grammar and syntax errors, to anecdotes clearly missing entire sentences, to repetition, to the point of whole paragraphs sometimes being recreated in their entirety in multiple chapters. As a matter of fact, I believe the book is created on a "print-on-demand" basis, and I began to suspect that someone had printed out the wrong version of the file for my order. For example, there are frequent references to photographs that do not actually appear.

When Peterson actually gets down to talking real baseball, reminiscing about particular games and pennant races, the book is, indeed, as interesting as I was hoping it would be. Sadly, that doesn't happen often enough.

Peterson has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, so maybe the pre-diagnosis onset of that horrible affliction affected the creation of this book. Illness or not, though, I wish Peterson had chosen to solicit the help of an editor. Anyway, Fritz is, was and always will be one of my very favorite ballplayers.

Yesterday, 5:57pm Top

>95 rocketjk: Harrison was on the great long list we started with, but it's been pared down now and he didn't make the cut. I have several of his books on my shelves, unread, so I do mean to challenge MYSELF to get familiar with his work.

Yesterday, 6:01pm Top

>96 rocketjk: I acquired my baseball with the Miracle Mets of seventh game fame, then was Utterly Appalled and Aghast at the DH rule of 1973 (4?), so Fritz and Mel never made me swoon. Still and all, that topic is a fascinating one and I'm sorry that Fritz didn't focus more on the game in those interregnum years.

Sad about the Alzheimer's too.

Yesterday, 7:27pm Top

>98 richardderus: "Appalled and Aghast at the DH rule of 1973 . . . "

You and me both, my friend. My resentment never has ebbed and never will. And '73 is correct, by the way.

Yesterday, 7:38pm Top

Prissy Pitcher-pooh cannot be speckted to hit a ball, no no, perish forbid! Throwing is enuffs. Yes?

::eyeroll:: 45 years hasn't dampened my ire.

Yesterday, 8:01pm Top

>96 rocketjk: Your mention of Stottlemyre takes me down memory lane—the ’64 World Series was the first one I ever followed on the sports page and he played a big role.

On the subject of “hijinks,” does Fritz talk about the wife swapping thing with Mike Kekich, which worked out rather badly for Mike?

Yesterday, 8:22pm Top

>101 dypaloh: " does Fritz talk about the wife swapping thing with Mike Kekich, which worked out rather badly for Mike?"

Yes, he talks about it, but it is one of the aspects of the narrative that becomes quite disjointed. And although Peterson is still with Kekich's original wife, and Peterson's first wife and Kekich didn't stay together, Peterson never specifically mentions the second part of that equation, other to say that his first wife became bitter about it all and took Peterson for all she could financially, even unsuccessfully trying to get a piece of his pension when he retired.

Group: 50 Book Challenge

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