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rocketjk catches up in 2019

Club Read 2019

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1rocketjk
Edited: Jul 26, 3:30pm Top

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

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

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

The Arrow of Gold by Joseph Conrad



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

2rocketjk
Edited: Jul 26, 1:03pm Top

From January 10:

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



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

3OscarWilde87
Jul 26, 3:24pm Top

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

4rocketjk
Jul 26, 3:30pm Top

5rocketjk
Edited: Jul 27, 1:58am Top

On January 14, I posted this:

Miss Mapp by E. F. Benson



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

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

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

6rocketjk
Jul 27, 2:00am Top

Next was . . .

The Little Buddhist Monk & The Proof by César Aira



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

7AlisonY
Jul 27, 4:47am Top

Hi Jerry - good to find your new thread!

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

8NanaCC
Jul 27, 7:31am Top

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

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

9lisapeet
Jul 27, 7:44am Top

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

10kidzdoc
Jul 27, 9:46am Top

Great to see you here, Jerry!

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

11rocketjk
Jul 27, 10:46am Top

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

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

12rocketjk
Jul 27, 10:58am Top

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

The Life of Andrew Jackson by Marquis James



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

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

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

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

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

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

13rocketjk
Edited: Jul 28, 10:33am Top

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

Milkman by Anna Burns



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

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

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

14rocketjk
Edited: Aug 13, 4:53pm Top

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

All for Nothing by Walter Kempowski



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

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

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

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

15NanaCC
Jul 28, 1:10pm Top

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

16rocketjk
Jul 28, 2:10pm Top

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

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

17RidgewayGirl
Jul 28, 3:09pm Top

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

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

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

18rocketjk
Edited: Jul 28, 3:36pm Top

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

19NanaCC
Jul 28, 3:57pm Top

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

20baswood
Jul 28, 5:11pm Top

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

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

21AlisonY
Jul 28, 7:58pm Top

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

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

22rocketjk
Edited: Jul 28, 9:05pm Top

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

23rocketjk
Jul 28, 9:07pm Top

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

24lisapeet
Jul 28, 9:31pm Top

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

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

25rocketjk
Edited: Jul 29, 11:11am Top

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

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



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

26AlisonY
Jul 29, 3:57am Top

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

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

27rocketjk
Jul 29, 11:14am Top

Still reporting from February . . .

The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester



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

28RidgewayGirl
Jul 29, 2:34pm Top

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

29rocketjk
Edited: Jul 30, 6:19am Top

Still in February. . . .

The Land of Cain by Peter Lappin



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

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

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

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

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

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

30AlisonY
Jul 30, 3:15am Top

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

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

31rocketjk
Jul 30, 7:02am Top

This book took me over into March . . .

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



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

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

32rocketjk
Jul 30, 1:04pm Top

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

Slingshot by Matthew Dunn



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

33rocketjk
Edited: Jul 31, 4:15pm Top

From the middle of March . . .

Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively



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

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

34rocketjk
Jul 31, 11:40pm Top

Mikado, anyone?

Gilbert and Sullivan: A Dual Biography by David Ainger



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

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

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

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

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

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

35rocketjk
Aug 1, 9:49am Top

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

Shamrocks & Salsa by Gerald F. Cox



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

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

36rocketjk
Aug 2, 10:47am Top

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

Netherland by Joseph O'Neill



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

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

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

37rocketjk
Edited: Aug 3, 6:00am Top

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

The Wrecker by Clive Cussler and Justin Scott



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

38rocketjk
Aug 3, 1:08pm Top

From mid-May . . .

A Soldier's Wife by Marion Reynolds



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

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

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

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

39rocketjk
Aug 4, 12:14am Top

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

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



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

40AlisonY
Aug 4, 7:43am Top

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

41rocketjk
Aug 4, 12:18pm Top

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

42rocketjk
Edited: Aug 4, 1:00pm Top

Here's another fascinating social study . . .

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



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

43rocketjk
Aug 7, 2:53pm Top

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

The Child of Pleasure by Gabriele D'Annunzio



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

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

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

44rocketjk
Aug 7, 2:54pm Top

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

Amongst Women by John McGahern



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

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

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

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

45ELiz_M
Aug 7, 3:21pm Top

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

46rocketjk
Aug 7, 3:59pm Top

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

47rocketjk
Edited: Aug 8, 1:40am Top

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

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



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

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

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

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

48AlisonY
Aug 8, 5:59am Top

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

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

49rocketjk
Aug 8, 12:30pm Top

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

50rocketjk
Edited: Aug 8, 7:51pm Top

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

Death in the Andes by Mario Vargas Llosa



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

51rocketjk
Aug 9, 12:48am Top

Moving into early June with this review . . .

Mr Standfast by John Buchan



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

52rocketjk
Edited: Aug 10, 2:08pm Top

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

For the Sake of Shadows by Max Miller



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

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

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

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

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

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

53rocketjk
Aug 10, 12:50am Top

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

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



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

54rocketjk
Edited: Aug 10, 10:58am Top

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

The Jugger by Richard Stark



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

55rocketjk
Aug 11, 12:57am Top

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

One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde



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

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

56NanaCC
Aug 11, 7:17am Top

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

57lisapeet
Aug 11, 7:54am Top

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

58rocketjk
Aug 11, 8:46am Top

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

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

59rocketjk
Edited: Aug 11, 8:51am Top

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

Arkady by Patrick Langley



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

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

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

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

60rocketjk
Edited: Aug 12, 1:55am Top

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

New Stories for Men edited by Charles Grayson



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

61rocketjk
Aug 12, 11:20am Top

For sports fans only . . .

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



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

62rocketjk
Edited: Aug 13, 12:39am Top

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

In Shelly's Leg by Sara Vogan



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

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

63AlisonY
Aug 13, 3:17am Top

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

64rocketjk
Aug 13, 11:42am Top

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

65rocketjk
Edited: Aug 13, 11:47am Top

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

Dirty Laundry by Pete Hamill



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

66rocketjk
Aug 14, 12:35pm Top

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

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



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

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

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

67rocketjk
Edited: Aug 15, 11:08am Top

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

68rocketjk
Aug 15, 11:44pm Top

A birthday gift from my lovely wife . . .

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



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

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

69rocketjk
Aug 16, 12:18pm Top

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

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



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

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

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

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

70rocketjk
Aug 17, 12:22pm Top

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

The Apostle by Sholem Asch



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

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

71rocketjk
Aug 19, 12:24am Top

Back to Buchan . . .

The Three Hostages by John Buchan



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

72rocketjk
Edited: Aug 19, 3:47pm Top

And this catches me up!

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



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

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

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

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