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Polaris' books 2015

Club Read 2015

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Edited: Jan 31, 2015, 8:03am Top

Well, it's the end of January already - but I love Club Read so much that I would rather have a late starting thread (and one that my recent LT form suggests is likely to be sporadic), than not have one at all. Life since last summer has meant that my reading has slowed slightly, but I'm always gonna at least have a book by my bedside of course, and probably an on-loan audio book in the car. So here I am!

I don't have any plans for my reading this year - except that I genuinely hope to pick off some more of the TBRs as ever. Whenever I near a book's end, and thoughts might wander to that deliciously sweet thing of "what'll I read next?" - I generally tend to either want to 'continue the theme' and stay in the neighbourhood of whatever subject matter I've been reading, or tack sharply away to something completely different. So there may be a pattern here or there, or just as likely there'll be no rhyme or reason and I'll randomly fall upon something winking at me from the book shelf. If I happen to fall into step with an ongoing theme read somewhere, or can coincide with a literary anniversary or two, then great!

Welcome along to my rambling thread - it's always great to hear from you, so feel free to join in!

Edited: Jan 31, 2015, 8:31am Top

I never did really wrap up 2014 properly, so, for what it's worth, here are my top 5 reads of last year:

1) Joe by Larry Brown

2) Journey Through a Small Planet by Emanuel Litvinoff

3) Big Bad Love by Larry Brown

4) Berlin: The Downfall 1945 by Anthony Beevor

5) As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee

Very honourable mentions also for Cormac McCarthy's profound duologue The Sunset Limited and haunting post-apocalyptic The Road; the inspiring Aussie pioneer memoir A Fortunate Life by A. B. Facey; and my best surprise pleasure read of the year: Street People by Helga Dudman - an anthology of essays on the many varied sources that Israel's principle cities' streets are named after. (I HIGHLY recommend this last book for anyone who may be planning on a Holy Land visit, and wants to read something a bit different to the usual guidebook fare.)

As you can see, I LOVE Larry Brown's writing. His deft touch, authentic language and honesty really say 'great writing' to me. I equally enjoy his short stories as much as his novels. To describe his writing as 'grit-lit', 'blue collar fiction' or 'southern realism', or something similar - may all be correct, but doesn't really do the man justice. (My words can't.) He died all too soon, and would have had so many more good books in him. The body of work he has left though is something to savour. An underrated writer I will always champion. I am gradually reading an excellent critical biography of him by Jean Cash titled Larry Brown: A Writer's Life. I pause the read when I reach a part of the book that covers one of Brown's books that I've yet to read, so you can see I'm savouring that one as well!

Jan 31, 2015, 8:37am Top

Who doesn't love a cheeky little book haul? Especially when it only costs £1.80! I picked this lot up yesterday in a local charity shop (almost the only place to buy used books near me these days):

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan (wishlist - unread hardback - 50 pence!)
The Dark Room by Rachel Seiffert (wishlist)
Country of the Grand by Gerard Donovan (contemporary Irish short stories)
The Viceroy of Ouidah by Bruce Chatwin
Eight Men by Richard Wright (short stories)

The Longshoreman by Richard Shelton
The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux (wishlist)

Jan 31, 2015, 11:27am Top

>4 Polaris-:. I'm glad you are back, Paul. And look at that book find - 3 on your wishlist and still a huge bargain!

I'll be following along whenever you pop in.

Jan 31, 2015, 2:27pm Top

Yay! Placing my star on top ....

Your current reads look so good - especially the McCullough!

Jan 31, 2015, 7:25pm Top

Good to see you have started your thread Paul

Jan 31, 2015, 10:17pm Top

I'm happy to see your thread here and will be keeping an eye on it. I'm also highly jealous of the steal of a price you got for the Flanagan book. It's on my wishlist but at the hardback price, and the hardback weight (not good for suitcases), I told myself I'd wait till it comes out on paperback. But that means I won't be reading it anytime soon, alas.

Jan 31, 2015, 10:35pm Top

Welcome over!

Feb 1, 2015, 2:56pm Top

The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer
(First published 1965 - Le Soldat Oublie; First English edition 1971)

Where to start? This book has affected me greatly. I did expect to be shocked, and did expect to read an account of some appalling experiences of a soldier fighting in the heart of an horrendously bloody and grisly conflict. But nothing could really prepare the reader for the overwhelming relentlessness of it all. This is a reading experience that should not be at all taken lightly.

Guy Sajer was a very young Alsatian (barely seventeen I think), of mixed Franco-German parentage, who finds himself in training with the German army during the autumn of 1942. The memoir does not make it clear if he is conscripted or volunteers. The zenith of the Nazi Reich has already passed - unbeknownst to its combatants and civilian populations. After his training in the Fatherland, Sajer is attached to a transport logistics unit supporting the combat troops at the Eastern Front. All too soon he is witness to the horrors of the fighting that follows the fallout from the Wehrmacht's defeat at Stalingrad and the first retreat from the Don.

Writing several years after the event, Sajer pulls no punches with his descriptions of the deprivations of combat, and the depravity. Early in his account though, he makes it clear how inadequate his words will always be in expressing the "cumulative nightmare...an uncommunicable terror":

It is a mistake to use intense words without carefully weighing and measuring them, or they will have already been used when one needs them later. It's a mistake, for instance, to use the word 'frightful' to describe a few broken-up companions mixed into the ground: but it's a mistake which might be forgiven.
I should perhaps end my account here, because my powers are inadequate for what I have to tell.

(This on page 90 of a 560 page book.)

As the war progresses, and following a brief respite of sorts during leave in Berlin (where he witnesses a terrifying daytime Allied air raid), Sajer and his comrades are 'volunteered' into the elite Grosse Deutschland division as infantry. Back at the front, he is thrown right into the abyss again, in time for the chaotic blood-soaked retreat from Ukraine. At times in this memoir Sajer comes out with some truly shocking comments - "Throughout the war, one of the biggest mistakes was to treat German soldiers even worse than prisoners, instead of allowing us to rape and steal - crimes which we were condemned for in the end anyway." - for example. And this from a Frenchman not indoctrinated with Nazi bile prior to the conquest of France in 1940. A second period of leave - later in the memoir - is cancelled before he can even reach his destination, the whole train transport being reversed - back depressingly to the front. Anyone who has served as a conscript will recognise the achingly despondent sense that there is when home leave has to end, but to not even get there in the first place? - only to be sent back into the hell you had just escaped from...

There is a constant sense of fear that pervades everywhere.

I know in my bones what our watchword 'Courage' means - from days and nights of resigned desperation, and from the insurmountable fear which one continues to accept, even though one's brain has ceased to function normally.

There is no mention at all of the ongoing Holocaust against the civilians of Europe, and no mention of Jews, and barely any of the racial Hitlerism at all. (There is though one very sinister glimpse of that horror, and what had thus far been 'dealt with' by the authorities, on the first page, (September '42) when en route to the front from basic training, via Poland, Sajer and co. pass through the Warsaw ghetto:"Our detatchment goes sightseeing in the city, including the famous ghetto - or rather, what's left of it. We return to the station in small groups. We are all smiling. The Poles smile back, especially the girls."

There is a surreal moral code of sorts that exists in his mind - the 'rules' of combat according to the Wehrmacht. When it comes to encounters with the Partisans, he is certain - "Also, partisans were not eligible for the consideration due to a man in uniform. The laws of war condemned them to death automatically, without trial." This coming after a description of how some Red Army POWs were killed mercilessly in a way too graphic to describe here.

The disastrous retreat continues as it becomes clear that all is lost.

Faced with the Russian hurricane, we ran whenever we could...We no longer fought for Hitler, or for National Socialism, or for the Third Reich - or even for our fiancées or mothers or families trapped in bomb-ravaged towns. We fought from simple fear, which was our motivating power. The idea of death, even when we accepted it, made us howl with powerless rage.

Even when writing many years later Sajer seems to pour most of his anger out still on the Partisans. He doesn't ever seem to accept that Germany had invaded the continent, and that people without an army fighting for them, had the right to fight back - by whichever means available. The moral argument he attempts against the 'underhand' techniques of the guerillas is completely flawed. Nevertheless, his memoir, even if factually inaccurate in places as some have suggested, is an important document of witness. I struggled with the utter nightmare of it all, but am glad that I read The Forgotten Soldier. I'm sure I won't forget it.

Feb 1, 2015, 2:58pm Top

Thank you all for stopping by already - Colleen, Avid, Barry, Lilisin, and Dan - good to have you here!

Feb 1, 2015, 6:21pm Top

Excellent review of The Forgotten Soldier But those are experiences I don't want to be reading about.

Feb 1, 2015, 11:24pm Top

>10 Polaris-: Wonderful review. And welcome back - late is the week after Christmas - until then it is always on time around here :)

I am not that surprised that there is no mention of the Holocaust - as much as we are used to thinking of it now and it had made its way in all major memoirs, in a lot of cases it was a hindsight - it was awful and bad but... did everyone really realize at the time just how bad? Or knew what really happens in the camps? Or did they even want to know? It had become customary to write about wars and atrocities using all you know now and not what you thought back when the action was... Which is all good and fine for a biography but when you are dealing with a specific event, it widens your view (or shrinks it) and changes what happened in your mind. And being on the loosing side of the war, closing your eyes now to the realities may allow you to actually live with yourself...

Feb 2, 2015, 12:01am Top

Wow! That sounds like a very intriguing first book to read for the year. It must be fascinating to read about the war from the vantage point of a soldier from the other side. Being in the midst of the fighting, he really wouldn't have had the bird's eye view of things as we see them today.

Feb 2, 2015, 3:59am Top

>12 baswood: Quite understandable. I've read military memoirs before that have been equally scary or overflowing with the stuff of nightmares, yet could have something about them that either inspired or fascinated in some way, but Sajer's book is so unremittingly bleak and exhausting, that it was hard going in places. That said, it is well written and does have a power that can't fail to smack you in the face. For those interested in the Second World War or of the experiences of a soldier fighting a losing war, I would recommend it.

>13 AnnieMod: & >14 fuzzy_patters: Thank you both for your comments.

I honestly think that after reading this, there must have been many many soldiers like Sajer (especially those who had not grown up under Nazi rule, such as some of the French, Hungarians, and others) - fighting for Germany - who would have had very little, if any, idea of the extent of the Jewish persecution. He is very much preoccupied with his own lot, understandably, which I think does only underline, that while, yes, there must have been many, many, Germans (and others) living near camps, profiting from slave labour, 'in-the-know', etc., who did know about the Holocaust; there just as likely must have been many thousands and tens of thousands - especially those away at the fronts - who would have been largely unconcerned and generally oblivious.

Feb 2, 2015, 7:58am Top

There was an interview recently in Le Monde of the Russian soldier who liberated Auschwitz (I think it was Auschwitz) and he admitted honestly that for him, what he saw in the camp was no worse than the scenes of death he had seen so much of as a soldier. I think it's hard to comprehend the magnitude of something like this when you're unprepared. In his case he wasn't that interested in the camp compared to his own preoccupations as a soldier in the middle of a war. It's shocking for us, educated as we have been after the fact, and comfortably reading this in a country at peace, but I can understand it I guess. Or rather, I don't think I am in a position to judge.

I have a documentary on my viewing queue called "They didn't know?" that discusses how the French could so easily let so many of the Jews on our country be shipped out to camps. It should be interesting I think.

Feb 2, 2015, 8:27am Top

>10 Polaris-:. Excellent review of The Forgotten Soldier.

Feb 2, 2015, 9:14am Top

>10 Polaris-: - it is interesting the stance Sojer takes in the end. I wonder if this isn't a more honest take on (one of the) the German views of war than all the subsequent re-evaluations.

>16 FlorenceArt: - that doesn't surprise me. It is estimated that the Germans killed over 3 million Soviet prisoners of war (some put the total at 5 million plus). (The Russians killed around 1.5 million German POWs - technically most of them are missing). This wasn't an extermination plan but the hatred between the two nations meant that they just let them die of starvation or disease, although some were killed in concentration camps, a mixture of Jewish and Muslims mistaken as Jewish and a random assortment of others. And if that wasn't bad enough the POW survivors were then charged by the Russian authorities, surrendering being a form of treason and often sent to the gulags or other rehabilitation camps.
That soldier's statement does raise interesting philosophical questions - such as, at what point do we become immune to the sensation of horror? if we do become immune does that make us more capable of horrific acts? is immunity to horror a misdirection, a deflection to excuse personal responsibility?

Feb 2, 2015, 10:24am Top

Very interesting discussion. My father was an American G.I. driving an ambulance in Europe during the war. He was at the Battle of the Bulge and he was present when they started opening the concentration camps. He was a quiet man and never talked about the war. But he saw enough that when the draft started for Vietnam, I think he was prepared to do anything to keep my brothers out of it.

Feb 2, 2015, 11:27am Top

I wonder if Sajer's attitude is much different than the attitude of any soldier in any country during any time period. To the soldier, they are carrying out orders out of a sense of duty. I don't know that they really spend much time taking a step back and asking themselves why they are given the orders. It's their job.

Feb 2, 2015, 6:54pm Top

Thank you, thank you for the comments. This is an interesting discussion.

>16 FlorenceArt: Florence, what the Russian said in Le Monde's interview is interesting. I think that soldier's experience chimes in some ways with that of Sajer. Not regarding Auschwitz of course, but regarding how he would have been primarily preoccupied with his own circumstance. Which is totally understandable. As you say, we are not in a position to judge in all honesty.

The "They Didn't Know?" documentary will be compelling I'm sure. I'd be interested in your thoughts after you see it if you feel like sharing them here at a later time. I have no doubt that there will be a lot that was known by all sorts of people for different reasons. The question I always ask myself is would it have been different in other places, or in other times in history? How would I have acted if I had been a privileged person not under any obvious threat from the authorities? Not easy to answer honestly. There are notable exceptions to the general rule (the entire nation of Denmark was honoured as a whole at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem as "Righteous Among the Nations" for example), but on the whole, by the time Europe was fully at war, self-preservation was the dominant principle for most people I'm sure.

>18 Jargoneer: I think the honesty in his writing is one of the big strengths of Sajer's book. There were other comments he made concerning his perception of the supposed superiority of German endeavours, and their righteousness in the fight to halt the 'spread of Bolshevism', but I didn't mark them so couldn't find them when writing my review. They left a sour taste to say the least, but as I digested what he had written I realised that he was guilty of telling how a 17 year old grunt in the shit felt about the war, felt about his comrades in arms, felt about the country he thought he was fighting for. Sajer had many problems relating to his national identity and feelings as 'an outsider' throughout his service, and not being properly "one of them". (His German was only rudimentary for about the first year or so of service, so there would have been no hiding his French origins.) On the other hand, for him to suddenly blurt out some redundant comment on German superiority was perhaps his way of over-compensating for his un-German-ness? It's not easy given his experiences, but I had to remind myself often that he was only a boy, and very naive about so much. Unfortunately not so naive about seeing people getting blown to pieces centimetres away from him.

It was fascinating to read his moderately 'unreformed' take on his experiences, and as you say - perhaps more honest than the sort of thing that one sometimes hears from others.

...if we do become immune does that make us more capable of horrific acts? is immunity to horror a misdirection, a deflection to excuse personal responsibility?

No doubt about it, the continuous exposure to hyper-extreme violence and trauma will surely desensitize the most sensitive souls, or at least those that aren't driven completely insane. I can't answer your second question. Books like these certainly should serve as a warning though that the critical thing has to be that society should always be horrified and outraged when it is truly warranted, and to never tolerate creeping de-humanisation of any sort, in any place. Having lived in the Middle East I am increasingly concerned that the danger is ever-present.

>19 NanaCC: Colleen, your father's experience must have often been a harrowing one to say the least, and to have been present when those places were liberated must have been a trauma that would shape him for the rest of his life. If his selfless contribution served for nothing more than to guide him later in life to keeping your brothers away from war in Vietnam, then that would have been a good thing. The fact that his service counted for so much more than that is something to be truly proud of.

>20 fuzzy_patters: Pat I don't think it is much different in all probability. But from personal experience, I think it's also only fair to say, that a conscripted soldier will quite possibly not be where he/she is because they particularly want to be, or have a sense of a particular duty as such. There are all sorts, and I like to think that there might always be those who are able to step back from what they are facing, and think about what is ethical. All of this though is all an irrelevance as soon as one finds oneself physically under a direct attack - when I am sure that animal instincts for survival will kick in and override all other considerations.

Edited: Feb 7, 2015, 7:12am Top

Welcome back, Paul. I appreciated the discussion. In Vassily Grossman's The Road, there is a stunning essay called "The Hell of Treblinka" -- Grossman was a journalist who arrived with the Red Army when they liberated Treblinka. The notes in the NYRB edition I read detail the things Grossman got wrong, but overall, as I said in my review, "It would take away from the impact of his writing for me to attempt to describe it, but despite all that I have read over the years about the Holocaust, this essay took my breath away with its portrayal of the people entering the camp and the processes that destroyed them, as they traveled through the circles of hell."

Feb 6, 2015, 8:30pm Top

Goodness, miss a few posts and miss a whole amazing conversation. Terrific review, which inspired all this.

Feb 11, 2015, 4:01pm Top

I'm still trying to catch up on posts/threads. Excellent review of The Forgotten Soldier and a fascinating discussion.

Feb 17, 2015, 10:05pm Top

The Forgotten Soldier certainly sounds like an interesting addition the war memoir genre. Certainly it would have been strange to be an outsider in the German army when it was set against anyone perceived to be an outsider.

Feb 20, 2015, 5:02pm Top

Paul, excellent review of The Forgotten Soldier. The conversation about liberation reminds me of comments from one of the profiles in The Oxford Project -- a man named Jim Hoyt, “the last living of the first four American soldiers who liberated Buchenwald concentration camp.”

Mar 3, 2015, 4:46pm Top

Great to see you here Rebecca, Daniel, Vivienne, Meredith, and MJ! Thank you so much for your comments.

1776 by David McCullough
(First published 2005. Audiobook edition - read by the author.)

Perfectly informative and thorough account of the pivotal year. For some unknown reason, my south London secondary school history syllabus didn't spend much time discussing the American Revolution (or the "American War of Independence" as it is usually referred to over here)... Which is a shame, as it would perhaps be an interesting subject for comparison with the Indian independence story of the British Empire's chronological opposite end. (We did though spend an awfully long time at my school on Sir Robert Peel's Repeal of the Corn Laws and the Whigs' 'Great' Reform Act of 1832 which managed to respectively encourage what was then called 'free trade' and enfranchise about an extra 6 property-owning mill owners from Lancashire and the odd London pie shop proprietor or two I think...)

I learnt a lot from David McCullough's authoritative telling of the tale. I had no idea that American independence was quite so insecure at the end of '76, or that the Hessian mercenaries played such an important role, or that there were quite so many American 'loyalists'. Especially in New York apparently. I wonder how this last aspect of the Big Apple's history has gone down through the years with the proud citizens of that fine city?

New York ablaze, 1776

Considering the drama and overall momentousness of the events described, I found the author's narration rather dry in places. I'm beginning to think that unless the reader is some rabble-rousing thespian-type describing their own life's antics, then the narrator is usually better if they are an appointed professional reader.

Mar 3, 2015, 5:36pm Top

"unless the reader is some rabble-rousing thespian-type describing their own life's antics, then the narrator is usually better if they are an appointed professional reader"

My sentiments, exactly!

Mar 3, 2015, 6:36pm Top

>28 NanaCC: ...and seeing as I mentioned thespian antics - this from The Richard Burton Diaries (which I am still merrily ambling through) on his vocation:

March 1969

...I think Mr Thompson {a Sunday Mirror journalist writing "Power and Liz Burton"} was deeply shocked when I told him that acting on stage or films, apart from one or two high moments of nervous excitement, was sheer drudgery. That if I retired from acting professionally tomorrow that I would never appear in the local amateur dramatic society for the sheer love of it. Could he not understand the indignity and the boredom of having to learn the writings of another man, which nine times out of ten was indifferent, when you are 43 years old, are fairly widely read, drag yourself off to work day after day with a long lingering regretful look behind you at the book you'reinterested in. ...They will never understand that E and I are not 'dedicated' and that my 'first love' (God how many times have I read that?) is not the stage. It is a book with lovely words in it. When I retire which I must do before long I shall write a screaming diatribe against the whole false world of journalism and show business. ...

Mar 3, 2015, 6:38pm Top

> So glad to hear your comments about 1776. Glad you liked it. Sadly, I think history is often skewed depending on what side of the "pond" one finds oneself.

I never understood there were Americans here loyal to the crown... we had a bit of a civil war on our hands then. People burning down each other's and what not. But I had no idea about any of that until I was years out of school and read a book on the subject!

Mar 3, 2015, 7:34pm Top

Enjoyed the excerpt from The Richard Burton Diaries

Mar 8, 2015, 11:33am Top

The Best of Sholom Aleichem by Sholom Aleichem
(First published 1979. Edited by Irving Howe and Ruth R. Wisse.)

This anthology was pure reading pleasure. To anyone who, like me, has heard of Sholom Aleichem, and is probably familiar with his character Tevye the Dairyman from the successful 'Fiddler on the Roof' musical play/film - an adaptation of some of the 'Tevye's Daughters' stories, but who has not previously read his work; if you enjoyed that character - and want a bit more - then as far as I can tell you're in for a treat with much of what he wrote. 'The Best of' includes twenty-two stories from his work - many of which are newly translated here with previously omitted material, as well as three appearing in English for the first time.

These hugely enjoyable stories while on the one hand entertaining, are on the other also a moving illumination of a culture now vanished of course, that of the shtetl - the small Jewish semi-rural communities of eastern Europe that were scattered like salt and pepper throughout the Russian Empire's 'Pale of Settlement' and the fringes of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. That small planet of a Yiddish speaking people, the 'old country', their villages and inns, their prayer-houses and bath-houses, the chicken yards, tailors' workshops and market places where they worked, as we know had pretty much all gone by the mid-20th century - ending predominantly in either mass emigration or mass extermination. Reading these stories will momentarily recreate that lost world.

As the editors suggest in their epistolary introduction (which I found extremely worthwhile reading having finished the stories first) - If you follow the line of the plot, {referring to the Tevye stories} it traces nothing less than the breakup of an entire culture. ... Tevye, who is actually defenceless against the barrage of challenges and attacks that lay him low, should have been a tragic victim. Instead, balancing his losses on the sharp edge of his tongue, he maintains the precarious posture of a comic hero.

Sholom Aleichem - the pen name of Solomon Nahumovitch Rabinovitch (1859-1916)- was a master humourist. A master of character, of setting, of timing, of leaving you wanting more - everything you would want from a great teller of tales. This collection - clearly a labour of love for the academic editors Ruth R. Wisse and Irving Howe - is not just a selection of the Tevye stories - not that I'd be complaining - but effectively is a retrospective representation of his different story themes and many memorable characters that he created. There's Shimon-Eli a haunted tailor, Mottel the cantor's son, Benjamin Lastetchke (the richest man in Kasrilevke. There is no end to his greatness!) and the Krushniker delegation to name a few. The fictional shtetl of Kasrilveke itself is perhaps his greatest creation of all. He takes you there with just a few strokes of his pen. The honest hard-working mensch, the idle beggar, the gossip, the unfortunate entrepreneur, the fool, the con-artist, the sage, the spirit of beloved grandparents long gone - they're all here.

But don't read Sholom Aleichem if a little chauvinism here and there offends. Tevye the milkman has a wonderfully mischievous line in matrimonial put-downs:

"What do you say?" I ask my wife. "What do you think of his proposition?"

"What do you want me to say?" she asks. "I know that Mencachem-Mendel isn't a nobody who would want to swindle you. He doesn't come from a family of nobodies. He has a very respectable father, and as for his grandfather, he was a real jewel. All of his life, even after he became blind, he studied the Torah. And Grandmother Tzeitl, may she rest in peace, was no ordinary woman either."

"A fitting parable." I said. "It's like bringing Chanukah candles to a Purim feast. We talk about investments and she drags in her Grandmother Tzeitl who used to bake honeycake, and her grandfather who died of drink. That's a woman for you. No wonder King Solomon traveled the world over and didn't find a female with an ounce of brains in her head."

One of the stories translated here for the first time - "The Krushniker Delegation" - highlighted a different aspect of his work that particularly interested the history buff in me. The editors write that being written toward the end of his life, it deals with the experiences of east European Jews caught in the First World War between Germans and Poles. Elements of the traditional Sholom Aleichem are still there, but the tone and substance have changed - ...as if the great humourist is giving way before the blows of modern history. There is a dark edge to his writing that surfaces and has a knack of almost catching the reader off-guard.

From the story 'Once There Were Four' - a frame tale (with the author as one of the eponymous characters along with three of the greatest Jewish writers of the age) in which four "anecdotes" on the subject of forgetting reveal how even those great writers are revealed as ordinary, anxious Jews, faltering and trembling in ordinary, if not humiliating circumstances:

There are moments you want to forget, to blot out from memory - but it is impossible. We forget what should be remembered and remember what should be forgotten. That, in a nutshell, is the moral of the story. Now it's someone else's turn.

Mar 8, 2015, 12:22pm Top

So Polaris, SA prefigures the end of that culture years ahead of its actual demise? With what -- the rise of the modern, the march of acculturation, the temptations of the gentile world?

Mar 8, 2015, 12:44pm Top

>33 stellarexplorer: I'm not sure really how to answer you or if I've understood the question. Probably each of those things you list play their part. SA is never particularly overt about it, but there is a creeping sense in his stories that the world is on the cusp of major changes:

The political changes afoot in Imperial Russia (or Austria-Hungary for that matter); the drip-drip of emigration to the west and better opportunities; Mottel Kamzoil the tailor (Tevye's son-in-law) and his sewing machine; the younger generation losing the faith (and in some cases "marrying out"); the modern age of communications beginning to play a part (the interested mob surrounding Zeidel - the only newspaper subscriber in town - for the latest in"Dreyfus in Kasrilevke"; the slowly burgeoning awareness of Zionism's relevance.

All of these elements suggest that SA was aware that his stories to a certain extent chronicled a place in time. That he or anyone could anticipate that the culture's end (in that geographical location at least) would come about so abruptly and in the way that it did - I'd put beyond him.

Mar 8, 2015, 1:31pm Top

>32 Polaris-: This is a great review, I'm very tempted to add this to the ever-growing TBR pile (If I were a rich man, I'd sit around and read all day).

Edited: Mar 8, 2015, 7:01pm Top

I was just following up on this line above: "As the editors suggest in their epistolary introduction (which I found extremely worthwhile reading having finished the stories first) - If you follow the line of the plot, {referring to the Tevye stories} it traces nothing less than the breakup of an entire culture. .."

The elements you mention are readily seen in Fiddler. From all this it would seem that SA, consciously or otherwise, envisioned the shtetl world as destined to come to an end, even if not as catastrophically and murderously as it did...

Mar 8, 2015, 8:48pm Top

>35 reva8: Hi Reva! Welcome to my thread and thank you. If I were a rich man... - yes, I think I'd do much the same! One of the stories in this collection is actually called "If I Were Rothschild", and I think it must have been an influence on the composer of the musical's book.

>36 stellarexplorer: Ah yes I see now - yes, I think you're right. I was being a bit dense earlier today! Good to see you here Stellar!

Mar 9, 2015, 12:33am Top

>32 Polaris-: Wonderful review! This one is definitely going on the wishlist. Who doesn't love "Fiddler on the Roof?" Nobody that I'd want to know, that's for sure. ;)

Mar 9, 2015, 1:29am Top

Thought you might like this article on the Jerusalem literary cafe Tmol Shilshom: http://www.timesofisrael.com/jerusalem-literary-landmark-tmol-shilshom-looks-to-...

Adding Sholom Aleichem to my reading list, I'm sure he's already there but adding just to be sure. Worth looking out for is Bernice Rubens Brothers which covers four generations of a Russian Jewish family.

Mar 14, 2015, 9:08am Top

>38 avidmom: Pleased to hear it Avid! I'm glad you liked the review. It was a pleasure going back through the book for the reminders I needed to write it up.

>39 avatiakh: Thanks for stopping by Kerry - and thanks for the 'Tmol Shilshom article. I'm gonna settle down now with a coffee to read it. I'm sure you'd like Sholom Aleichem as well. Yes, Bernice Rubens' Brothers - I have a copy on the TBR shelves upstairs. It's been near the top of my virtual "get to soon" list, but now it's definitely peaking. I'm drawn next to some light autobiographical fayre, and then want to dive in to one of the 3 Daniel Silva thrillers I've accumulated recently for the hell of it (those departure lounge type books) are not normally my thing...) - but I think that your nudge, and my recent big strides with some of the old family genealogy have inspired me to pick up Brothers very soon. I think it will strike a chord.

I love Saturdays and LibraryThing.

Mar 14, 2015, 9:18am Top

"Book Crowbars"

An infrequently sporadic, utterly irrelevant, and meaningless series of attempts to crowbar book titles, authors' names, or other literary references into everyday working life communications/conversations/reports, etc.

1) No Highway by Nevil Shute

- While commenting on an enquiry yesterday concerning a tree that was assumed to be on council (Highways department) land, I had to point out that there was indeed "no highway" in that particular location.

Mar 14, 2015, 10:30am Top

>39 avatiakh: Good article. It is such a shame that such a great little cafe/bookshop and cultural institution like Tmol Shilshom has such a struggle to remain viable. Just as sad though is the probability that the heart of its problems - as the piece suggests - lies more so with the gradual long-term de-secularisation of West Jerusalem rather than with the more readily noticeable ups and downs of geo-politically related tourism. I hope to enjoy the shakshuka the next time I visit the city, though right now I have no idea when that will be...it's been almost 9 years and counting...

Mar 14, 2015, 1:39pm Top

I read a lot of Sholom Aleichem years ago in college (in a Yiddish literature in translation course) and just a few years ago read his Wandering Stars, which i loved.

Mar 14, 2015, 5:31pm Top

>42 Polaris-: The entrance to Tmol Shilshom is at the back of the building so is not that easy to stumble across unless you know that it is there. We had spent the morning at Yad Vashem and that had taken much longer than expected. I last went many years ago but now there are several sculpture gardens of remembrance and the walk through the museum is one that cannot be rushed.
Like it says in the article there is more cafe competition for Tmol now, we ate lunch at one of the newer places in the Mahane Yehuda market and only my insistence on visiting Tmol carried us further up the street towards the Old City. Really pleased that we did as we then continued on to visit the King David Hotel. Bonus was that we got to ride the tram back to the bus station, up till then we'd taken taxis or walked.
We stayed in Tel Aviv, and as you know, many Tel Avivians are inward looking, so getting to Jerusalem twice in our stay was a minor miracle.

Rubens' Brothers is a memorable read for me, especially the Soviet Jewry section.

Mar 15, 2015, 6:42pm Top

Loved your review on Sholom Aleichem. And very entertained by your British perspective on 1776. As kids we don't learn about the royalists..."we" being Americans. We don't learn about any uncertainties or fluid or mixed feelings. It's very simply Americans in heroic self-righteous guerrilla warfare against stodgy Red Coats. : )

Edited: Apr 3, 2015, 4:53pm Top


Minotaur by Benjamin Tammuz
(First published in Hebrew 1980, English 1981. 2013 English edition by Europa Editions - World Noir, translated by Kim Parfitt & Mildred Budny.)

There's something to be said for not writing a review as soon as you finish a book. Let it settle, digest what's been taken in and reflect a little. When I closed Minotaur my initial feeling was one of having been blown away by the taut and refined writing style, the way the plot unwinds gradually, revealing part of the truth, only then to be quickly snapped back like a spring to an earlier scene in the protagonists' stories - revealing more as it went. At least a week has passed and now I find on reflection a sense of depth to the plot that didn't immediately occur to me as I was reading. This is one that I think I'd like to one day return to afresh.

Tammuz' book chiefly involves four main characters - all brilliantly drawn - and the book is divided into four extended chapters covering each's story from their particular perspective. There is a lot of overlap, and more than a touch of mischief at play as the author teases the reader with subtle misdirections - almost as the characters in his story will at times play with each other's emotions.

Alexander Abramov is a mid-20th century Israeli secret agent, but he is not really the hero, or even anti-hero of the spy thriller that I was expecting to read. It is his 41st birthday, and he is alone in rain-soaked London, finding himself living in isolation and distanced both physically and metaphorically from his wife and children, his home and his origins. Into his life appears Thea, an unnervingly young beauty with dark copper coloured hair, who he instantly infatuates himself with. At a distance, Abramov observes her going about her life as his obsession grows. The manipulative techniques of his profession allow him to make her existence an inseparable part of his own; an increasingly despairing one that depends on a perpetually out-of-reach and exponentially damaging and unbalanced love affair. But it would be wrong to dismiss Abramov as a creepy stalker. Yes, he can certainly creep with the best of them, but his irregularly frequent letters to Thea - the pair have never met face to face, necessitating an elaborate Le Carresque arrangement via post restante collections - are anticipated by her with a flattered and romantic sensibility that is somewhere between bemused fascination and distracted fantasy.

The years, and letters, pass and we learn of Thea's other suitors, thankfully more conventional than the strange and melancholic Abramov. There is GR - a somewhat preppy and straight contemporary, who is supposedly more suitable, as well as the enigmatic Greek intellectual and academic Nikos Trianda, who also, like his fellow Mediterranean Alexander, falls in love with Thea at first sight. She is entirely convinced that he is in fact her mysterious and "anonymous friend" himself.

The author's spare style, and poetic prose, successfully moves the story along at a fair old pace - it is very well written. By the halfway mark of this slim novel, I was amazed at quite how much ground had been covered by the writing, and the years that had passed in its story.

The final and longest chapter (almost half the book) takes the reader back initially to Alexander's childhood, and his parents' stories of Europe and their self-imposed exiles of sorts in Ottoman/Mandate-era Palestine. The elements of his earlier life that formed his character become ever clearer against a background of isolated privilege, distant parents, nascent Israel, first loves, and existential wars.

Ostensibly a beautifully penned book about obsession and where it might stem from, as well as unfulfilled love, there are many passages that subtly suggest there could be more on Tammuz' mind. I'm not sure, but think that (writing in 1979) he is also saying something about Israel's place in the Levant, and in turn perhaps raises questions of isolation, belonging, and acceptance. I don't know if the last sentence will mean anything to anyone but myself, but Minotaur certainly made me ponder far more than I bargained for when Graham Greene's "The best novel of the year" blurb caught my eye. Have to say also that I kept on thinking what a terrific film this would make in the hands of the right director. Well worth the diversion, and I'll gladly read anything else by Benjamin Tammuz.

*A post script of praise for the jacket design with this one - by Emanuele Ragnisco. It is after all both eye-catching and stylish - and deftly drops the very merest hint of the story within: a man sitting alone, in an apparently enticing location, face hidden, somehow lost in thought, possibly unhappy, or both?

Edited: Apr 3, 2015, 5:06pm Top

>43 rebeccanyc: This was my first of his - but I'll definitely be reading more. Wandering Stars looks excellent, and I loved your review of it!

Apr 3, 2015, 5:10pm Top

>44 avatiakh: Well done Kerry for getting to Jerusalem twice! (And I'm very jealous of your visit to Mahane Yehuda - one of my favourite places in the world.) The tram is an experience I've not yet had - must have made a nice change. Really looking forward to reading Brothers as well.

Apr 3, 2015, 5:13pm Top

>45 dchaikin: Thanks very much Dan. And yes, the subjects or fields of study we're not taught at school teach us almost as much as the subjects that are taught.

Apr 3, 2015, 8:18pm Top

Great review of Minotaur, Paul!

Apr 3, 2015, 9:18pm Top

Minotaur sounds interesting. I am completely unfamiliar with Benjamin Tammuz, but I think I will add this to my wish list.

Apr 3, 2015, 9:45pm Top

I enjoyed reading Minotaur a couple of years ago and loved your review, gave you a thumb on the review page.

Apr 3, 2015, 10:49pm Top

I've been meaning to read something by Sholom Aleichem for awhile and your review is pretty tempting. Sounds like that one is a very informative collection. I also enjoyed Minotaur several years back - that's a twisty one that keeps you guessing, good to see it getting a boost.

Apr 3, 2015, 10:50pm Top

Great review of Minotaur, Paul. It sounds quite interesting.

Apr 3, 2015, 11:31pm Top

>46 Polaris-: Enjoyed your review of Minotaur. What really struck me about the book cover is that it reminded me and my son of the "Mad Men" series opening picture.

Apr 4, 2015, 5:52am Top

Excellent review of Minotaur

Apr 4, 2015, 7:16am Top

Thank you so much for the comments everyone. And the thumbs! While I was reading Minotaur, every now and then I found myself thinking 'how on earth are you going to review this?' - and when it came to it I didn't really have a starting point at all, or any highlighted passages. It just sort of all poured out.

>55 avidmom: Yes - you said it! While I was reading it, the missus and I did mention on more than one occasion how reminiscent of Mad Men the design was. The main character of Minotaur - Alexander Abramov - is supposed to be an extremely handsome but very aloof, and not entirely comfortable in his own skin sort of individual. Ever-so-slightly similar to a certain Don Draper. Jon Hamm naturally comes to mind when I mentally cast my own fantasy film adaptation of the book.

By the way - we are VERY excited, as well as a little sad, that the final season of Mad Men is upon us (this coming week in both the US & UK I think). Our son bought us the last season's (part one) DVD for Christmas, so we've been doing one episode an evening for the last week or so - following up each episode with the creator Matt Weiner's commentary on each one with either the head writer, or director, costume/casting directors, etc. It is a brilliant thing - and I still say the finest television that I've ever seen.

Happy Easter and Hag Pesach Sameach (Happy Passover) to those who celebrate. I have an old friend from Israel coming to stay later today so will mark the occasion with some unkosher-for-Passover burgers tonight (we're both pretty much on the 'secular' side of the faith!), and some spicy shakshuka for breakfast tomorrow. He lives in London now, so will hopefully be missing some tastes of home and won't mind my cooking too much!

Apr 4, 2015, 12:02pm Top

Enjoyed your review of Minotaur. I have some Israeli fiction on the TBR but not that, and I feel I should get to what I own first . . .

Apr 4, 2015, 3:04pm Top

>57 Polaris-: Glad I'm not the only one who saw it! The main character in the book does sound very Don Draper-ish! Wasn't sure if you would know the show across the pond.

I probably would have skipped "Mad Men" as far as TV goes, never watched it when it was on TV. But then a friend of mine told me she was an extra on the show. Now that we have Netflix, my son and I have been watching an episode every day or so. (He can only handle one at a time, too slow for him.) I'm constantly trying to spot my "extra" friend; kind of like a game of TV "Where's Waldo." LOL! She's one of the few red-haired gals in the office. We're only up to the middle of the 3rd season. And I am anxiously awaiting the JFK assassination... because my friend tells me she has a line in that episode (something along the lines of "Oh, dear God.")

So, I may have just started watching to spot my friend, but now I'm hooked on the show. It has become a bit of an addiction for me. :)

Happy Passover to you!

Apr 10, 2015, 12:08pm Top

>27 Polaris-: You caught my attention with your review of 1776 by David McCullough. My knowledge of the topic - from either point of view - is embarrassingly meagre. This looks like a book that I would enjoy. I'll forgo the audiobook and try print.

Apr 23, 2015, 3:18pm Top

Sorry I've been pretty absent lately. Very busy time at work and people visiting over Easter holidays so - have not had as much LT time...

Just included this little PS in a message to my brother in Kyoto by way of a :

Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England - very good so far about a third of the way in - sort of a mafia thing with whatever they wore 50 years before ruffs and tights - quite spooky as well. "Le Carre type thriller" says some of the blurb - and it is building very nicely with a rich cast.

Edited: Apr 26, 2015, 3:21pm Top

Bit of catching up to do -


Going to Sea in a Sieve by Danny Baker
(First published 2011.)

While for some Danny Baker is a slightly annoying type who has made a career in UK broadcasting out of being a sort of professional semi-intelligent oik, for me he is a personal favourite, and a welcome and irreverent bastion of intelligent quippery, good musical taste, and most of all how to have complete fun with the British people who tune in to his (now) weekly radio show. Trading in a charming blend of amusing audience contributions with a cheeky repartee backed by a musical bed of cartoonish sound affects and mood music, his show appeals to a certain silly British sensibility equally at home with the likes of Spike Milligan (and all the Goons for that matter), or a Ronnie Barker if you prefer. If nothing else, he is probably the best interviewer of musicians and singers going in the business on this side of the pond.

I was happily surveying street trees in Ealing a few years ago - happy chiefly because of Danny's then daily afternoon show on BBC Radio London coming through my earphones; it was the last day of his Halloween spooky specials - when to my horror, the listeners learnt straight from the horse's mouth that the BBC in their infinite wisdom had effectively sacked the man who single-handedly constituted the best thing about the whole station. Danny defiantly berated and humiliated the bigwigs responsible while delivering a faultless performance at the microphone for the ensuing two hours of his last show with that station.

The period covered in this first volume of his memoirs includes his lively and generally happy childhood in working class south London of the 1960s and '70s, as well as his working at one of London's pioneering independent record shops - where the likes of Elton John and Marc Bolan were regulars on first name terms. Then came his entree to the world of music journalism: a DIY punk fanzine leading to a job with the (then relevant) New Musical Express before his first forays into TV broadcasting. I will be on the lookout for his second volume, which covers his further career in television, before finding his best calling (my opinion) in radio and bringing the story up to date.

With his simple and immediate writing style he brings to life the atmosphere of life in 1970s England, and in particular the musical soundtrack to that era. Full of great stories and plenty of fun and laughs, this is a very entertaining read for all, and a must for any of his admirers.

Apr 26, 2015, 3:47pm Top


In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway
(First published 1925.)

His first published book. This is a very good collection of shorts by a young man clearly confident in his own style and with an ability to write stories that have a straight and clear voice, and that I think (with one or two cultural exceptions) has aged really well.

The book's structure in itself has a modern feel to it - the stories alternate with very short bursts of what would probably now be called micro-fiction. There are tales here covering subject matter that would become especially familiar to followers of his writing: of soldiers returning home from battle; vagrants on the road; young Americans at leisure in Europe; assorted 'butch' pursuits that you'd wear a cosy plaid shirt for: hunting, fishing, skiing, boozing, etc. I enjoyed most of the stories, but the stand-outs for me were: "The Battler"(I wanted more of those characters!), "The Three-Day Blow", "Soldier's Home", and "Big Two-Hearted River" (both parts).

Hemingway introduces his character Nick Adams in many of these stories. From boyhood to manhood we see the character grow, passing through the horrors of service in the First World War, returning back home to small town America. The writing is really very good. Hemingway's skill as a nature writer alone is remarkable - his ability to describe with such clarity - yet without verbosity - and so beautifully, precisely what the reader needs to 'see' in their mind's eye, has very few equals. Very hard to believe that this collection is not far off being a hundred years old! Well worth reading.

Apr 26, 2015, 8:13pm Top

Great review of the Hemingway.

Apr 27, 2015, 5:14am Top

>63 Polaris-: I enjoyed your review of Hemingway's In Our Time. It's interesting that he was so confident in his voice and style early on: don't most authors have a sort of hesitating debut?

Apr 27, 2015, 6:15am Top

>64 avatiakh: Thank you Kerry.

>65 reva8: I'm glad you enjoyed it Reva, and thank you. Yes, I had to double check that this was his first published book. There was a privately published collection in 1923, running to 300 copies, but In Our Time in 1925 came along a year before The Torrents of Spring and The Sun Also Rises - his first published longer works. He does have a remarkably clear and almost fully formed voice in his writing here, possibly as a result of his own experiences of life up to his mid-twenties, and from his journalistic education.

Apr 27, 2015, 5:07pm Top

I had no heard of the In Our Time collection enjoyed your review and that excellent old fashioned book cover you posted.

Apr 28, 2015, 8:31pm Top

Thank you Barry. If there isn't a matching cover to the one I have (or borrowed), then I usually just pick the cover I think looks the best. For that matter, I often just pick the cover I like the best anyway - even when my cover is one of those available.

Apr 29, 2015, 8:26am Top

>68 Polaris-: When I am reading a Kindle book, I pick the cover I like best too. :)

Apr 29, 2015, 10:25am Top

>69 NanaCC: (I have a strong bias toward tree imagery!)

Apr 29, 2015, 10:10pm Top

>46 Polaris-: that is a gem on Tammuz. Sorry i took so long to get to your review.

>62 Polaris-: no clue who Danny Baker is, but i do love his title.

>63 Polaris-: i'm tempted to just say, "cool"' although it ruins the affect when I put it this way. Anyway, enjoyed learning about Hemingway's first book.

Caught up now, momentarily.

May 15, 2015, 7:18pm Top

Rest in peace B B King. Thanks for the music.

May 15, 2015, 7:36pm Top

>72 Polaris-: I'm sitting here thinking about a concert I went to in the 70's, where B B King was the opening act for Gladys Knight and The Pips. He was phenomenal. The entire concert was awesome.

May 16, 2015, 12:30pm Top

>57 Polaris-: I’m bereft and knew I’d find a Mad Men mention here :) AMC network has been airing the series's episodes in order since Wednesday evening and I’ve had it on from time to time. I’m not sure how synced the airing of the finale will be, worldwide, so I won’t make any comments on your thread until you post that you’ve see it.

fyi there are a couple official events leading up to the finale, specifically a live panel with cast and crew on Sunday at 2pm Pacific Daylight Time (10 or 11pm your time?) that will be streamed online at TelevisionAcademy.com. That will be followed by a table read (by non-Mad Men actors) of an episode from Season 1, which I’d love to see but can't find a link/site. Maybe video will be available later.

May 16, 2015, 1:45pm Top

>71 dchaikin: Thank you so much Dan!

>73 NanaCC: Colleen that sounds like a really great night - what a line-up! Only last night I was saying to Gaynor how I wouldn't have minded being a Pip...

>74 detailmuse: Hi MJ - thanks for stopping by! I think the UK broadcast of Mad Men is only a few days behind the US one. So we get it on Thursdays - and we have JUST ONE EPISODE left next Thursday! I can't believe it! We keep speculating about where Don will end up...I might offer up my theories once the final show has aired...but in the meantime, we've been loving these final shows. We've been sent reeling by some of the developments (especially Betty...). Gonna miss this show for sure, but we've resolved to watch a weekly episode from our boxset right from the very beginning as soon as its over. (I still never did see the 1st series episode with the Israel tourist board storyline! (I think it's the only episode I missed of it.)

Gaynor asked me if I'd prefer to see the show continue with the characters and their lives through the 1970s and beyond, or if it's better to end right here in 1970? Even though the thought of Don and Peggy and Roger and Joan and all the main characters living their lives beyond the '60s, I think ending it here now (at the moment anyway) is the better option. As a piece of drama or commentary or art or whatever, it works perfectly, I think, as a story of the 1960s (as much as it is about identity, and advertising, and America, and all the rest) - being such an interesting and transformative decade. I wonder what Matt Weiner will do next? I've read online that there are some rumours of various spin-off series, but I'm not sure how credible any of them are.

May 16, 2015, 1:55pm Top

...and thank you for sharing those links! I will try to remember tomorrow to catch the live webcast (if it works over here!) - but I don't want to watch if the show already finished in the US. You still have one episode left right?

May 16, 2015, 1:55pm Top

We had to change DVR's, so I lost the first 3 episodes. I like to wait until they are all recorded, and then watch in a binge. Thank goodness for the reruns, because now I can watch all of them after they are all recorded. When I saw the marathon, MJ, I was tempted to record the entire thing from Season 1 forward. I held off though. I just wouldn't have the time to enjoy them all.

May 16, 2015, 2:18pm Top

>73 NanaCC: BB King opening for Gladys Knight and the Pips? Much as I like their sound, that seems like an inversion of the natural order. It would have been a fabulous concert though.

Nowadays, whenever I hear Midnight Train to Georgia, as well as singing along at the top of my lungs, I think of Albert Brooks in Broadcast News singing along. Then more recently there was Denzel Washington the doing Pip moves in The Equalizer.

May 16, 2015, 3:51pm Top

>78 SassyLassy: I know what you mean, Sassy, but the Pips were at the top of their game at that time. It was kind of like another concert I went to in the 70's where Steve Martin was the opening act for Andy Williams. :)

May 16, 2015, 4:19pm Top

>76 Polaris-: yes one episode left, the finale airs Sunday, May 17 at 10pm New York City time. The webcast in the link is before the finale, so (especially with Weiner involved) no spoilers. Other than that, I think I'd avoid media till after Thursday!

May 16, 2015, 4:43pm Top

>77 NanaCC: re: the marathon -- part of me feels bloated from even my limited binge and part of me wishes for a 24/7 Mad Men channel...

>75 Polaris-: I agree, it's better limited to the '60s. A time of revolutionary change in culture and these characters. Afterward, changes will be evolutionary.

Not to distract, but have you watched Breaking Bad? I failed to finish even the first episode (twice!), but then during a marathon of the full series last fall I got hooked by the third episode. I have a softer spot for Mad Men, but think Breaking Bad is the best TV drama ever -- disturbing and hilarious, incredibly creative in the writing and filming.

May 16, 2015, 4:50pm Top

My hubby watched Breaking Bad faithfully. I never started, because I felt that I was watching too much TV. It is one of the shows I regret having skipped.

Edited: May 23, 2015, 9:06am Top

Now that they've finally all arrived...I can post up my birthday haul from a fortnight ago:


The Collected Stories of Leonard Michaels

"At every stage in his career, Leonard Michaels (1933-2003) produced taut, spare tales of sex, love, and other adult intimacies: gossip, argument, friendship, guilt, rage. His collections are among the most admired, influential, and exciting of the past half century."

The Collected Short Fiction of Bruce Jay Friedman

..brings together Friedman's fifty-seven greatest stories, which appeared in Esquire, Playboy, The New Yorker, and other magazines from 1953 to 1995. "Friedman is more interesting than most of Malamud, Roth, and Bellow. . . . What makes him more important is that he writes out of the viscera instead of the cerebrum." -- Nelson Algren, The Nation.

The Prone Gunman by Jean-Patrick Manchette

"Fast, rough and forensically violent, The Prone Gunman is a masterful thriller considered Manchette's finest."


Writing Blue Highways - The Story of How a Book Happened by William Least Heat-Moon

I'm so excited to get this! Published last year, from one of my favourite writers, more than 30 years after Blue Highways (a definite personal favourite), Heat-Moon revisits the story behind the writing of that best-seller:
- an adventure story of its own, a journey of "exploration into the myriad routes of heart and mind that led to the making of a book from the first sorry and now vanished paragraph to the last words that came not from a graphite pencil but from a letterpress in Tennessee."
- This is probably gonna be one of my next reads.

New Orleans, Mon Amour: Twenty Years of Writing from the City by Andrei Codrescu

"One of our most prodigiously talented and magical writers" reflects on his twenty years in the charmed, sexy, and soulful city that will never again be the same. (New York Times Book Review)

"This transplanted Transylvanian with the bateau-mouche mustache always manages (in his consideration of All Things) to create a craving for the subversive - something that is much needed in these days of 'friendly fascism.'" (Lawrence Ferlinghetti)

Deserter: A Hidden History of the Second World War by Charles Glass

"Deserter tells the story of three remarkable soldiers who fled battle for very different reasons. The mental collapse and desertion of such men constitute one of the last great untold stories of the Second World War. Engaging and compassionate, Deserter explores the limits of human endurance."

The Ash Tree by Oliver Rackham

Published last year, this is the last word from the don of British naturalists who sadly passed away in February. His landmark earlier works Trees and Woodland in the British Landscape and The History of the Countryside have never been surpassed on the subject. The Ash Tree - currently a species under well-publicised threat from Ash Dieback disease - "...is Rackham's call for a radical shift in our attitude to trees - how we plant them, how we care for them. There is no more urgent message for our times. We cannot go on treating trees like cars or tins of paint to be traded around the world."

It's a beautifully designed small book with countless colour and b&w images throughout. I have been needing to read a book to reconnect me to my vocation that I find myself increasingly dissillusioned with. Rackham's polemic was the only candidate for me.

May 23, 2015, 10:09am Top

Nice birthday book haul! I loved New Orleans, Mon Amour.

May 23, 2015, 10:25am Top

Happy birthday Paul! I have just found this thread, lots of interest and I am especially looking forward to your review of Winter King. I made the mistake of getting it on audiobook, and I don't think I am very good at listening to non-fiction. Classics and genre are the best listens, for me.

May 23, 2015, 12:36pm Top

Nice haul, and happy birthday!

May 23, 2015, 3:56pm Top

Thank you all! wandering star it's great to have you here. I'm very impressed by Winter King so far.

May 23, 2015, 5:01pm Top

I have Winter King on my wishlist. I think Barry and Jane put it there quite a long time ago. I'm looking forward to your thoughts, as well.

Edited: May 24, 2015, 9:26pm Top


Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto
(First published 2010. Audiobook edition read by Michael Kramer.)

Nic Pizzolatto is an author well worth keeping an eye on. This book is very good. Considering it is his debut novel, I think it's superlatively good! Like others, I became aware of him after watching, and thoroughly enjoying, the highly charged and super-atmospheric Louisiana-set 'True Detective' TV series, which he created for HBO after deciding to leave the writers' room of the US adaptation of 'The Killing' - "I want to be the guiding vision. I don't do well serving someone else's vision." Well, I think he definitely knows what he's doing.

Galveston is a similarly atmosphere-heavy and gritty Gulf Coast crime thriller, though the story unfolds this time from the perspective of our anti-hero Roy Cady - a New Orleans mob hand. Cady has learnt he has a terminal lung condition when his boss sends him on a job that he is not supposed to come back from. Just about making it out of an ensuing bloodbath, he goes AWOL - taking with him the young hooker he's inadvertently 'rescued' from the sting.

As the escape takes Cady and the girl, Rocky, out of New Orleans on an uneasy road trip west into Texas and eventually to a downmarket Galveston island motel; the story flashes forward to a present day small town in Texas: hunkering down as the approaching Hurricane Ike gathers strength, and a broken man with a bad hobble hides in the shadows from a mysterious suit who's been asking around...

I listened to a borrowed audio version - read brilliantly by Michael Kramer - so am not able to refer to particular lines, but there is some wonderfully written dialogue and a fantastically moody narrative.

With the story cutting between the Galveston scene, and the approaching storm in the future, Pizzolatto's double-headed plot is told from each end with a perfect blend of suspense and pathos. These characters are so well-drawn. They've made some very big mistakes, and done people wrong, but you can't help but empathise with their motivations. You can taste the salty seaside air on every page and truly sense the tension building as the drama unfolds. There are short bursts of occasional but intense violence that really made me grimace, but don't let that put you off what is an excellent thriller from start to finish. Highly recommended.

(Edited to correct silly syntax.)

May 24, 2015, 1:52pm Top

Happy Birthday!

Looking forward to hearing about The Ash Tree and Writing Blue Highways, a big favourite of mine as well, probably the book that got me interested in "road" books. I always take the blue highways now. Galveston looks tempting too.

May 24, 2015, 2:29pm Top

I am a big fan of True Detective good to know that Galveston a novel is good too.

May 27, 2015, 5:47pm Top

Not book related, but I HAVE to say today: God Bless America, and the FBI, for saving football.

Sepp Blatter and FIFA are toast. Good riddance. I hope he ends up in prison for corrupting the world game. Long overdue, but hopefully today's events will prove fatal to the whole rotten organisation. Well done the American authorities for pursuing this when most of the honchos of European football seemed clueless as to how to go about exposing their disgusting greed.

May 27, 2015, 7:17pm Top

>92 Polaris-: Well, look at that, we finally did something right! Ha! Interesting too, since most Americans don't even follow European football.

May 27, 2015, 7:36pm Top

Are you sure Sepp Blatter is toast. He seems to be the great survivor.

May 27, 2015, 7:50pm Top

>94 baswood: I think it is the beginning of the end. It may take a while longer, but FIFA cannot remain as it is, and now all the big money sponsors are going to have to distance themselves if Blatter stays. The FBI, and the IRS, have been pursuing this for 6 years already - and it includes Blatter.

>93 avidmom: Hi Avid! I never thought I'd be so pleased with an IRS investigation!

May 27, 2015, 7:57pm Top

>92 Polaris-:

As soon as I saw this post I had to open up CNN to see the news! (Just woke up here in Japan.) What a wonderful way to start my morning at work. Will be interesting to see how this progresses although, to be greedy and selfish, I really hope we still get a World Cup in 2018.

May 29, 2015, 4:34am Top

The fish always rots from the head down. Blatter stands a good chance of winning today's election, from what I've read, but it should only be a matter of time before he is indicted for corruption as well.

May 29, 2015, 9:55am Top

I like the ridiculousness of Blatter calling for unity within FIFA. Yes, why don't you all unite behind a screen of ignorance claiming no one had any idea this was happening and obviously all guilty parties have already been caught, no need to look further.

May 29, 2015, 3:00pm Top

As expected, Blatter did win re-election to a fifth term as president of FIFA. However, the FBI's web surely surrounds him, and it won't be long before one of his subordinates that are under arrest links him to the rampant corruption that took place under his watch.

May 29, 2015, 4:21pm Top

>99 kidzdoc: Amen to that. Yes, predictably re-elected, but this won't go away for the FIFA Fuhrer any time soon.

>98 mabith: Hi Meredith! You said it. The idea that the man who's been at the helm (as first Secretary General and then Presidente) since the 80s is now SUDDENLY going to flick a switch and knuckle down on the naughty individuals bringing FIFA's glorious name into disrepute is completely preposterous.

Maybe Barry's right, and I've been premature in describing Blatter as 'toast', but it has to only be a matter of time. I only hope that he doesn't snuff it before he has to face justice.

On the other hand, I think I'd settle for him snuffing it. UEFA should have the courage to leave FIFA, or at least boycott the World Cup until Blatter goes and a new constitution is drawn up.

Jun 1, 2015, 9:28am Top

...aaand John Oliver on FIFA: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DlJEt2KU33I (predates the current news).

Galveston now on my audiobook wishlist.

Jun 2, 2015, 2:01pm Top


*...as well as ongoing FBI and IRS investigations - but they don't scan. Great news indeed Darryl!

Jun 2, 2015, 2:08pm Top

Jun 2, 2015, 3:31pm Top

>102 kidzdoc: I agree, this is welcome news.

>103 Polaris-: Try saying that quickly three times - I had trouble saying it slowly once!

Jun 2, 2015, 4:23pm Top

>101 wandering_star: Love John Oliver's take on things always! XD

>103 Polaris-: Brilliant!

Jun 2, 2015, 4:59pm Top

>101 wandering_star: & >106 avidmom: - Yes! Love John Oliver in our house too. His weekly show (almost) makes up for us not having any Daily Show on our channels anymore. He was great on FIFA again last night (UK broadcast - but I think it was the most recent show as it was post-(FIFA)vote.

>105 VivienneR: Nice one Vivienne! I'm not sure if you'll know him, but I enjoy saying it in a Steve Coogan-as-Alan Partridge voice.

Jun 5, 2015, 12:50pm Top

>107 Polaris-: Ah! Now that is even funnier!

Jun 21, 2015, 4:18pm Top

Been a bit busy lately, so have been a little absent...

My brother is in the country as well now in advance of his book launch at the Photographers' Gallery in the West End in a couple of weeks. All the family are coming over from Australia, so I'm very excited about seeing them all! The book looks great by the way - I hope to 'review' it somehow in the near future. It's a photo-book called 'The Middle of Somewhere'.

The weekend before last I had the pleasure to meet up again with Darryl (kidzdoc) in London, on his travels in Europe. It was a lot of fun and we had a delicious breakfast at Cafe Also in Golders Green - the sister shop to Josephs Books next door. It's probably my favourite bookshop in all of London, so it was a thrill to introduce it do Darryl. We went into town afterwards for the forensics exhibition at the Wellcome Collection. Darryl is a book buying machine - but then he's on holiday so why not - but I limited myself to just the two at Josephs:

Terror in Black September: The First Eyewitness Account of the Infamous 1970 Hijackings by David Raab.
How I Became Hettie Jones by Hettie Jones.

Jun 21, 2015, 4:22pm Top


Fatherland by Robert Harris
(First published 1992.)

An excellent alternative history-meets-political thriller from Robert Harris. I was gripped from start to finish by the sinister reality he created that was a 1960s Berlin still very much at the heart of the victorious Nazi Reich. The 'thriller' element was very well done and I recommend this one to anyone who enjoys the genre.

Jun 21, 2015, 4:41pm Top

Rambles and Studies in Old South Wales by Wirt Sykes
(First published 1881.)

Wirt Sykes arrived in Wales during the 1870s as the American Consul in Cardiff. This is the volume that arose from his various excursions and travels into the south Welsh hinterland (he found that there was no such equivalent book available, so wanted to contribute something by way of his lengthy articles for the likes of Harper's, Scribner's, and Lippincott's monthly magazines.

Caerphilly Castle in 1874

Illustrated with 28 engravings, this is an entertaining diversion and interesting record of the south Wales valleys at a time when they were on the cusp of being transformed from quiet rural backwaters to the industrial powerhouse of the late Victorian British Empire. Most of the landscape he describes has all but vanished beneath the trappings of modern urban and suburban sprawl, but it is still possible to trace many of the old druidic sites, wells, castles, churches, and various look out points he visits. I was particularly interested to read of his impressions of Caerphilly and its huge castle, and other locations within the county where I now work. Good fun.

Jul 7, 2015, 1:23am Top

I thought you might find this article about The Seventh Day: Soldiers’ Talk About the Six-Day War and a recent documentary that makes use of the original transcripts interesting, I sure did - http://mosaicmagazine.com/essay/2015/07/who-censored-the-six-day-war/

Jul 7, 2015, 4:47pm Top

>112 avatiakh: Thank you so much Kerry for sharing this here. The article is fascinating, and the documentary looks like it will have a huge impact. If it has only half the impact of The Gatekeepers then that will be a good thing.

You've given me a massive nudge, almost a shove really, to get my copy of The Seventh Day off the TBR shelf and get on with it already. I've so nearly read it once or twice before, but something else always caught my eye. Now I have to make it my next non-fiction read. Must finish what I'm reading quick...

Jul 7, 2015, 5:20pm Top

I'm also going to look out my copy of The Seventh Day, I have so many Israeli history books on my shelves, mostly because I collect them from used bookstores here. I read about two other Israeli documentaries that sound interesting and much less political - Israel: A Home Movie (2013), and Arab Film (2015).
I've just got an interesting book out from the library, not sure if I'll get it read, Information and the Arab Cause by Abdel-Kader Hatam (1974). Hatam was Deputy PM of Egypt and the book is about how the Arabs began to use the media and public opinion as a weapon in the Arab-Israel conflict.
A quote from the introduction: the public 'does no react to the world as it is, but as it is convincingly reported to be.'

How are you finding Arcadia? I just got this at a charity shop.

Jul 7, 2015, 5:32pm Top

I LOVED Arcadia and I didn't really expect to. It was a very immersive experience that really resonated with me. I'm gonna write a review in the next few days I hope.

Jul 7, 2015, 5:37pm Top

Sorry, I meant to add that I've 'favourited' your post and will get back to those links, and the Hatam book sounds interesting. Of course earlier regimes in the region - notably Nasser's and Assad the First's - had no problem with using the state media as a weapon in the conflict.

Edited: Aug 7, 2015, 3:52am Top

Arcadia by Lauren Groff
(First published 2012.)

This book was so unexpectedly moving and beautiful. Yes, I had read that others thought Lauren Groff's writing really quite beautiful, and I was looking forward to a good tale set at a time when communes and co-ops were springing up all over far-flung fertile corners of the USA; but I did not bargain for such a vivid and immersive experience.

'Bit' is a small boy, just "a little bit", born while his hippy parents are part of a caravan of like-minded idealists on the road and searching for their new communal home. Our story begins in the early 1970s, when he is already about five and we see the colourful and stimulating world he and his parents live in - initially through the eyes of a bright and sensitive child. Arcadia is the name of their home, many acres of arable land and woodland surrounding a large and dilapidated old property - Arcadia House. There are fruit trees and a stand of Maples they tap for syrup. We see the Arcadians at work and play as they gradually mould their own society, build their homes, and bring up their own generation of children according to their own values.

The story evolves and we move forward to a time when Bit is about 12, and later still to his mid-teens. Arcadia has grown as well, and predictably undergone subtle though significant changes. Without wishing to give too much of the story away, as Bit and his friends and family absorb those changes, Arcadia's existence and setting in the local landscape develops in ways its founders did not foresee. The imprint of the place's DNA though, remains indelibly present in those whose home it has been.

Later in his life, Bit lives in New York with his daughter, and his parents each have their own life elsewhere. All of the characters are so fully drawn. I cared so much about what becomes of them. Groff takes the reader on a journey through these people's lives, and I went with them almost as if in a dream. The final section of the book is set in a very near-future, as circumstances will lead Bit to return to where everything begins. Completely engrossing, and beautifully written, a really memorable novel.

(Edited touchstones.)

Edited: Aug 2, 2015, 2:12pm Top

Burning Bright: Stories by Ron Rash
(First published 2010.)

An excellent collection of short stories by a powerful voice from Appalachia.
Ron Rash was an author new to me, but now I know that I'd like to read anything else by him as his simple, spare, and penetrating style really appeals to me.

These twelve stories open a window on life in a part of the world not too often looked at. One of my favourites - "Dead Confederates" - is about two labourers, one trying to exploit the other in a search for lucrative buried artifacts in the graves of Confederate servicemen. Here's a flavour:

He shuts up for a moment then, because he's starting to realise how easy it all sounds, and how much money I might start figuring to be my share. He lays his big yellow front teeth out on his lower lip, worrying his mind to figure a way to take back some of what he just said.

"Course they ain't going to pay near the price I showed you on them sheets. We'll be lucky to get half of that."..."Just wait for a clear night, and a big old Harvest Moon.," Wesley says, looking up at the sky like he might be expecting one to show up any minute. "That and keep your mouth shut about it. I've not told another person about this and I want it to stay that way."
"I'll loosen the dirt and you shovel it away," Wesley gasps, veins sticking out on his neck like there's a noose around it. "We can get it out faster that way."

Funny you didn't think of that till it was your turn to dig, I'm thinking, but that dog has set loose the fear in me more than any time since we drove up. I take the shovel and we're making the dirt fly, Wesley doing more work in fifteen minutes than he's done in twelve years on the road crew.

In "Burning Bright" an east Tennessee rancher's widow comes to the heartbreaking realisation that her quiet and hard-working second husband could be the local arsonist setting fires in the peak of a drought.

The worst drought in a decade, the weatherman had said, showing a ten-year chart of August rainfalls. As if Marcie needed a chart when all she had to do was look at her tomatoes shrivelled on the vines, the corn shucks grey and papery as a hornet's nest. She stepped off the porch and dragged a length of hose into the garden, its rubber the sole bright green among the rows, grasping the hose just below the metal mouth, as if it were a snake that could bite her. When she finished she looked at the sky a last time and went inside. She thought of Carl, wondering if he'd be late again. She thought about the cigarette lighter he carried in his front pocket, a wedding gift she'd brought him in Gatlinburg.

In "Waiting For the End of the World" Devon is a divorced part-time copy proofer who plays guitar at a local roadhouse. His ex-wife's father is out to catch him doing something, anything, with his time that can be used against him - ("We're just getting some additional evidence as to your parental fitness.") so turns up at the gig ready to provoke a fight.

And speaking of gene pools, I suddenly see Everette Evans, the man that, to my immense regret, is twenty-five percent of the genetic makeup of my son. He's standing in the doorway, a camcorder in his hands. Everette lingers on Hubert a few seconds, then the various casualties of the evening before finally honing in on me.
"What are you up to, Everette?" I say.
"What's the problem, Devon?" Hubert says, walking over from the bar.
"This man's working for
National Geographic," I tell Hubert. "They're doing a show on primitive societies, claiming people like us are the missing link between apes and humans."
"That's a lie," Everette says, his eyes on Hubert's ball bat.

These are stories of neglect and want, war secrets and hard times and strokes of luck. Whether they are set in an 1860s Boone smallholding, or 1945 Charlotte welcoming home a returning soldier, or are about middle-class meth addicts in Smoky Mountains National Park; the places and characters that Ron Rash introduced to me will remain vivid in the memory. A very good collection.

Aug 2, 2015, 4:08pm Top

Wow you've gotten me interested in both of those.

Aug 2, 2015, 9:32pm Top

>117 Polaris-: & 118 I'll have to ditto detailmuse!

Aug 4, 2015, 12:39pm Top

Two fascinating books. Arcadia definitely sounds like it would be right up my alley.

Aug 4, 2015, 3:53pm Top

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you do enjoy Arcadia if you get to it.

Aug 4, 2015, 3:59pm Top

MJ & Avid - Thanks both. I'm glad I got something across about these books as I really enjoyed each of them. I finished both a few weeks back and I'm not that good at doing reviews when I haven't very recently just finished the book (especially if it was an audiobook, which Arcadia was).

Aug 4, 2015, 5:10pm Top

Paul - I'm currently listening to the audio of The Prime Ministers, about 6 hours in and really enjoying it. Did you notice that Avner has a fiction book due out co-written with Matt Rees, The Ambassador.

Aug 5, 2015, 1:37pm Top

I hadn't heard of Ron Rash or Burning Bright, but "an excellent collection of short stories by a powerful voice from Appalachia" convinced me. That area is one of my favourite parts of the world to read about.

Aug 5, 2015, 5:56pm Top

>124 avatiakh: Kerry I'm pleased you're enjoying The Prime Ministers - audio sounds like a good way to go with the subject matter. I know where I can get a used hardback copy reasonably locally as well. The Toby Press is great - they're really doing a lot of good Hebrew fiction in translation as well as some factual titles. The Ambassador looks very interesting as well - from what I can learn of it anyway - ...the cover has my imagination whirring... Do you have a link to any reviews pre-release?

I only just realised - searching for The Ambassador that Yehuda Avner passed away only just in March, aged 86. He certainly had an extremely interesting life. Apart from diplomacy and working closely with the PMs, he was one of the founders of Kibbutz Lavi - I used to know someone from there during National Service, a really beautiful place they made in the Galil.

>125 SassyLassy: Hi Sassy, glad to hear that. The stories are original and pack punches.

Aug 5, 2015, 7:01pm Top

Great reviews of Arcadia and Burning Bright, Paul!

Aug 5, 2015, 9:49pm Top

>126 Polaris-: I think even the print edition of The Prime ministers would be good, it is full of personal anecdotes. I knew that Avner had died, though I don't think I've read an obituary. His wife did not want to be a kibbutznik so they moved to Jerusalem and he was lucky to get into the diplomacy game.

Aug 6, 2015, 2:41pm Top

>127 kidzdoc: Thanks Darryl! You can see it took me a while to get round to posting about Arcadia. I loved it.

>128 avatiakh: Kerry, I'll hopefully nab that old hardback the next time I go to Hay on a spree.

Edited: Aug 8, 2015, 7:34am Top

Last week I had a day off with a productive haul in the charity shops of Newport. Mostly non-fiction this time, these were for less than £9, about half hardback, half paperback:

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan - I often get to books that get loads of press about 5-10 years later...
Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem
A Spectacle of Corruption by David Liss - the sequel to A Conspiracy of Paper that I already have TBR
All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy - wishlist

Rommel? Gunner Who?: A Confrontation in the Desert (War Biography Vol. 2) by Spike Milligan
Where Have All the Bullets Gone? by Spike Milligan
The Spy's Bedside Book edited by Graham Greene
The Burning Ashes of Time: From Steamer Point to Tiger Bay, on the Trail of Seafaring Arabs by Patricia Aithie - this seems to be mainly about Yemen and the unexpected Arab maritime connection with Cardiff.
Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout by Philip Connors - wishlist
- and the two hardbacks I'm probably the most pleased with:
The Southern Cook Book by Marion Brown (1968 edition)
Or I'll Dress You in Mourning : The Story of El Cordobes and the New Spain He Stands For by Larry Collins & Dominique LaPierre
- all about the 1960's superstar bullfighter's rags to riches story and life in the Franco era.

Aug 7, 2015, 10:09am Top

Just had a look at The Spy's Bedside Book and it looks like quite a find. There was almost no information on The Burning Ashes of Time, but the connection sounds intriguing. As you say, definitely a productive haul.

Aug 7, 2015, 10:23am Top

Nice haul. I really liked A Visit from the Goon Squad but it isn't for everyone. And a friend gave me All the Pretty Horses but I have yet to read it. The nonfiction books sound intriguing too.

Aug 7, 2015, 12:30pm Top

>130 Polaris-: Motherless Brooklyn!!!!! That book hit my funnybone just right.

Aug 7, 2015, 4:06pm Top

Great list of books! I'm intrigued by the cookbook, of all things. Sweet Tea? Pecan pie? Hush puppies!!!!
What are some of the recipes in that book?

Aug 8, 2015, 2:51am Top

Yes, great list! I haven't read any of those books but added a couple to my wishlist. I read The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem, which is also a lot about being motherless (and with an absentminded father) in Brooklyn. I couldn't say I loved it because it touched on difficult subjects, but it stayed with me.

Aug 8, 2015, 7:03am Top

I never find good book sales near me. I'm quite jealous. You've found quite a few gems.

Edited: Aug 8, 2015, 7:50am Top

Thanks everyone for stopping by.

Jonathan Lethem and Jennifer Egan will be new writers to me, so I'm looking forward to those ones.

>134 avidmom: Hush Puppies? I got 'the history of' and a recipe for 'Morehead City Hush Puppies' (Forty to Fifty, North Carolina). Sweet Tea? There's 'Dr Middleton's', a 'Glenwood Plantation Mint Tea Drink' ("This is refreshing and altogether heavenly".) and 'Russian, Executive Mansion'. There is also a 'Williamsburg Inn Southern Pecan Pie'.

How about fixing some 'Batty Cakes with lacy edges'? Other random selections include 'Mrs. Dingle's Marsh Hen' (from SC); 'Savannah Deviled Crabs' (GA); 'Mrs Neal's Date Whip Souffle' (NC); 'Peach Leather' (NC) (I love fruit leather, haven't had it since the old fuit & veg market in Mahane Yehuda, Jerusalem a long time ago); or 'Coastal Fried Chicken with Brown Crumb Gravy' (from St Simon's Island, GA). The lack of any photos or illustration at all fires my imagination - unfortunately I think I'm gonna have a problem getting hold of quite a few of the ingredients...

But I always wanted to know what Succotash was, and now I know, and also because of Sylvester the Cat (or was it Yosemite Sam?) and the excellent song that opens the album Inventions and Dimensions by Herbie Hancock, I think I'm gonna try and make that soon.

It has 1000s of recipes, but it's great just flicking through it as it has loads of little pearls (accredited) like this on 'Jeff Davis Punch' (for receptions) -
"President of the Confederate States of America Punch is said to have been served in the 'White House of the Confederacy' before supplies ran short..."
Gay Nineties Cook Book by F Meredith & August Dietz, Jr., of Richmond, Virginia.

Also my book's cover is a much better design than those available on LT, but my scanner has died so I've gone for the best of the rest...

(Edited to finish typing a sentence...)

Aug 8, 2015, 3:32pm Top

>137 Polaris-: Suffering Succotash! You're making me hungry. When's dinner?

(Off to see what Succotash is, because I don't know....)

Aug 9, 2015, 7:14am Top

My mother used to regularly make succotash, with sweet corn kernels and lima beans. I can't think of the last time I had it, though.

You should definitely listen to the song when you make succotash, Paul! I like it, and that album, as well.


Nice book haul. When I saw 'Gunner' I thought of Arsenal, and not WWII.

Aug 12, 2015, 7:25pm Top

Or Ill dress you in the Morning. Not fashionable to read about bull fighting, but I think this is a great book.

Aug 13, 2015, 3:46pm Top

Oh excellent Barry - I saw the spine on the shelf and the title grabbed my attention. I was in a charity shop and quickly scanned the other 3 or 4 shelves full of the usual Ludlums, Dan Browns, and James Pattersons, already knowing that I'd hit paydirt in that particular shop... - I was more attracted to the subject matter of life in 1960s Spain, but the bullfighting subject is also interesting insofar as how it sat within the culture of the day, and how the working class Spanish youth saw it as a means to success and riches. I'm very glad you rate it.

Aug 14, 2015, 1:52am Top

>140 baswood: >141 Polaris-: I had no idea Lapierre and Collins wrote a book about Spain and bullfighting. Looking forwards to hearing your thoughts about it.

I adored Freedom at midnight by the same authors.

Aug 31, 2015, 11:14am Top

I was working at a bookstore when Arcadia came out. Didn't gravitate toward it then, other than telling my mom it was time to write her hippy-days memoir and rake in the big bucks. Definitely putting it on the list now.

Nov 29, 2015, 7:35pm Top

Well, I don't have any explanation, but I have not been on LT very much lately. Just one of those things. So I've fallen behind on ALL of the threads and Club Reads I was following, and my own has obviously ground to a halt. I'm going to try to resurrect some sort of thread for what remains of the year.

Anyway, work has me tired out most of the time but I have still been reading of course, and I'm going to post up some nominal ratings and a few comments on those that I have completed since I wrote above about 'Burning Bright'. I won't call them "reviews" because they're not going to be reviews as such - just my thoughts on them overall, and maybe an excerpt or two.

Edited: Nov 29, 2015, 8:02pm Top

Writing Blue Highways: The Story of How a Book Happened by William Least Heat-Moon
(First published 2014.)

For anyone who has read and enjoyed Heat-Moon's 1982 bestseller 'Blue Highways' this is a must-read. I'd also recommend it for anyone interested in the writing process and in particular how the author doggedly pursued his dream of getting the book (his first) published, despite the many seemingly insurmountable setbacks along the way. In the brief appendix ("of sorts") there is a chapter, entitled 'A Writer's Escritoire' which gives a wonderful selection of some of the most indispensable books the author has relied on through his career as a published writer of outstanding creative non-fiction in the years following 'Blue Highways'.

Handwriting his earliest drafts, Heat-Moon calls one of his chapters 'Following a Blackfeet Pencil'. Here's why:

Every morning on a weekend or court holiday - pursuing an obtainable daily goal of five new pages, fifteen hundred words - I'd begin with the venerable and heartening scratch of graphite over paper. This very sentence your eyes are on at the moment, I first set down on notebook paper with my preferred drafting instrument, one called the Blackfeet Indian Pencil, a natural-cedar hexagonal shaft picturing a small embossed warrior on horseback galloping toward the point of the graphite as if making a charge against the threatening whiteness of wordlessness. Standing in a cup on my writing desk, twenty-three other Indians await, each ready for a chance to go forth, none of them needing a power grid any more than do living Blackfeet. In a virtual world becoming ever more paperless, the sound of pencil or pen on paper is a vanishing sensual delight, a reminder I'm not doing a broadsheet or paying a bill or even answering an e-mail but truly writing.

Full of his usual warm humour, and with many a poetic turn of phrase, this slim but punchy little book was one of my favourite reads this year.

Nov 29, 2015, 7:40pm Top

Hey! Nice to see you here!

Nov 29, 2015, 7:51pm Top

So glad you're back.

Blue Highways is one of my all time favourite "road" books, and I have followed those blue roads ever since when travelling. I will have to track Writing Blue Highways down.

Edited: Nov 29, 2015, 8:02pm Top

Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England by Thomas Penn
(First published 2011.)

Overall, I found this disappointing. I had really looked forward to this one and really enjoyed the opening quarter or so. (I remember describing it to my brother as almost like a Tudor-era version of a top-notch Cold War thriller.) But then I found it dragging when it went into the meticulous detail of how Henry's court, and his totalitarian 'Council Learned' operated. I confess that I lost interest in the various methods of taxation and extortion that the king's courtiers and subjects were controlled and oppressed by. Henry VII (like many of his predecessors and successors) was a cruel and ruthless monarch, but his Machiavellian machinations really set the template for how to be the complete bastard dictator. Perhaps this made him a great king? I'm not sure, but it certainly proved a tough act for Henry VIII to follow. Josef Stalin himself would have learnt a lot from reading this. It takes a certain type of tyrant to establish a royal dynasty in late-medieval Europe.

In London, the information-gathering and persecution, the arrests and financial penalties continued unabated.

To its credit, the author does an extremely thorough job, and his book is obviously a consumate piece of research, but I have to admit that I found it verging on the boring in long stretches. That said, it is without doubt a fascinating period of English history and there was much here that I did relish. The later chapters on the youthful heir Prince Henry were of particular interest. It was compelling to read of how the King's young son was gradually groomed for his kingly role, and how young Henry saw the world around him come into focus as he matured.

Henry Tudor's entire world from the court rulings to the court gossip, and from every show trial to each and every royal jousting tournament, it is all bought painstakingly to life within the covers of this book. One for the enthusiasts undoubtedly.

Nov 29, 2015, 8:00pm Top

>146 avidmom: & >147 SassyLassy: - Thank you so much! Now I better get to bed...! More again soon I hope.

Edited: Nov 30, 2015, 5:36pm Top

The Richard Burton Diaries by Richard Burton (edited by Chris Williams)
(First published 2012.)

Fantastic and often fascinating reading. Very revealing and thought provoking insight into the private and professional life of one of the greatest Welshmen of the 20th century, and one of Britain's finest actors. This is long though...very long. Perhaps best read in small doses (as I did), although I did find myself struggling at times to remember all of the stepchildrens' names and the adopted wards and household and office staff and other peripheral characters that Burton would refer to frequently. Very funny in places as well. These diaries convey a true sense of the man better than any other documentary or screen representation of him that I have otherwise encountered.

Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in cinema and/or the mid-20th century. I will selectively insert brief excerpts from this doorstop of a book whenever the mood takes me in future posts as there are just so many to choose from. Lots of fun.

Diolch yn fawr.

Dec 4, 2015, 9:28am Top

>144 Polaris-: we'll need to come up with some kind of punishment for this bout of sanity, but still, happy to have you back. I was looking over your review of No Country for Old Men in Goodreads, but stopped at the spoiler warning. I'm reading it now.

Enjoying your reviews here.

Edited: Dec 5, 2015, 9:48am Top

Glad to read that Dan, and thanks for stopping by. I think I'm going to put the blame on my football team having a rare good early season - winning some big matches we would never normally expect to - the result of which had me pouring over online match reports, blogs, and other such self-congratulatory nonsense...

Now we've returned to form and are bumbling along mid-table, I find I prefer to spend my online time chez LT!


...and I hope you're enjoying No Country for Old Men - the atmosphere and menace in that one is something that lingers long after the story's end.

Since I read that one I've become a firm fan of Cormac's work. Just finished the masterpiece that is Suttree - one of the best books I think I've ever read. I think it was your review of it not too long ago that prompted me to move it up the list... More comments to come on it soon I hope, as soon as I can get my head around how to approach expressing what I thought...!

Dec 5, 2015, 10:38am Top

Welcome back!

Dec 5, 2015, 2:05pm Top

The movie No Country for Old Men sticks with me to this day. Very disturbing. I did catch the movie, The Sunset Limited the other night. There's some fine acting in that movie (mostly I thought from Samuel Jackson). But it's such a different kind of thing (two guys sitting at a table talking) that I'm not sure it's everybody's cup of tea. (My son bailed out on me about 15 minutes in and he loves both those actors.)

Dec 5, 2015, 7:19pm Top

>153 rebeccanyc: Thanks!

>154 avidmom: I loved The Sunset Limited audiobook. Of the four books of his that I've read so far they've all been remarkably different in tone and style and theme. Haven't seen the film version, but if it came on TV I'd love to watch it, as I'd imagine that it must be an acting performance to savour.

Dec 5, 2015, 11:36pm Top

I hadn't considered reading The Sunset Limited,or listening and I didn't know there was a movie.

Paul, you have to tell us why Suttree was one of the best. I'm psyched you read it and that you liked it so much. When I read it, I thought it was fun in an oddball sort of way. I'm kind of surprised how much it stuck with me...and I can't quite tell you why. I guess part of it was how sincere it was.

Dec 6, 2015, 12:04pm Top

Your football team? is it Reading? If it is apologies for getting your manager sacked.

Dec 6, 2015, 2:42pm Top

West Ham United.

Dec 6, 2015, 5:09pm Top

My husband is also a Hammers man. He's a lot happier this season than he's been for a long time :)

Edited: Dec 7, 2015, 8:30pm Top

Hi Alison again! I'm currently reading - and really enjoying Nearly Reach the Sky by Brian Williams, which is a love letter of sorts to West Ham's old ground at Upton Park which we will soon be leaving for our new home at the Olympic Stadium. Trust me, if he's a Hammer, you're husband will love it. (Christmas idea?) It's very well written as the author is a journalist by profession, and a lifelong suffering Hammer with a perfectly accented dash of wit and turn of phrase (with the occasional bouts of unadulterated joy that make the whole thing so insufferably irresistable). So far chapters have included the history of our famous song 'I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles' (American vaudeville/music hall hit circa 1919), a bit on our first manager Syd King who committed suicide soon after being sacked after 30 years at the helm of the club, and one titled 'Trevor Brooking Walks on Water' - a 1970s terrace chant (to the tune of 'Deck the Halls') which the author unashamedly claims to have originated in a spontaneous moment of bravado.

26th January 1929 Crowds of hat-wearing football fans at a cup tie match between West Ham United and the Corinthians at Upton Park. View of North Bank terracing from the main West Stand.

In this already emotional final season at the belove Boleyn Ground, this 21st century equivalent to Nick Hornby's 90's hit Fever Pitch is a must read for anyone with an interest in the club, or indeed a love of the beautiful game....London style....

Boleyn Ground, Upton Park. View of main West Stand from North Bank, circa 1950s

(I particularly love this last picture above, as it is from almost the exact same position where I used to stand on the old North Bank when I once used to go to all the home games... And I also always especially loved the floodlit midweek evening games for the atmosphere.)

Dec 8, 2015, 4:12am Top

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Dec 9, 2015, 12:00pm Top

Excellent Christmas stocking filler idea, Paul - hadn't seen that in any of the shops. I think my husband would enjoy it for sure. His late father even left the crematorium for the last time to 'I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles'.

He took me to Upton Park once when we were first boyfriend/girlfriend. The tickets weren't cheap and we missed the first half as I insisted on going out for lunch and we missed the tube out of Winchmore Hill. He smiled politely through gritted teeth as we'd not long been going out with each other - if it was to happen now he'd kill me, lol.

Great review.

Group: Club Read 2015

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