rocketjk keeps up (or tries to!) in 2020

KeskusteluClub Read 2020

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rocketjk keeps up (or tries to!) in 2020

1rocketjk
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 3, 1:27am

I greatly enjoyed my entry into Club Read, and the kindly welcome I received, midway through 2019, so I'm back for another CR spin around the globe. I live in Mendocino County, northern California, USA. 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.

Here's my first book of the year . . .

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



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

The degree to which the Vichy government was complicit in aiding the Axis is examined in a fascinating chapter on the war in Asia in which Root describes how Vichy allowed the Japanese to walk into Indo-China, which they still controlled, at the behest of the Germans, a move that greatly facilitated the Japanese advance throughout the Pacific after Pearl Harbor.

Several chapters describe the rapacious way that the Germans drained the countries they occupied of resources, food and even manpower.

As is obvious from the title, this book is the second volume of what was originally a 2-volume set, but for which Root soon produced a third volume. I completed Volume 1 early in 2019. In those first chapters, Root moved his focus around Europe, showing how relations between between Germany and the various other countries, whether occupied by them, allied with them or neutral. Each of the first two volumes runs to almost 600 pages of small print. The only fault of the writing is that Root often insists in providing every single example he knows of to prove his points, long after those points have already been successfully made.

2jjmcgaffey
tammikuu 3, 2020, 5:21pm

Heh. Sounds interesting, though the "continuing to argue" style drives me nuts. As a Foreign Service brat (though not around then), yeah, he's got a point. Though he (may have) missed the part about the State Department people in Washington not listening to the State Department people on the ground, which continues to the present day...

3valkyrdeath
tammikuu 3, 2020, 6:32pm

Stopping by to star your thread, looking forward to following along with your reading this year! The war book sounds like a worthwhile read to get you off to a good start for the year.

4rocketjk
tammikuu 4, 2020, 1:13pm

It's All In the Frijoles: 100 Famous Latinos Share Real-Life Stories, Time-Tested Dichos, Favorite Folktales, and Inspiring Words of Wisdom by Yolanda Nava



Another "between book" finished (see first post). Yolanda Nava is, according to this book's back cover, "an Emmy Award-winning television journalist, newspaper columnist, educator, consultant and community leader," and the daughter of Mexican immigrants. In this book, she has put together an array of short oral histories from Latin American artists and community leaders, plus folk tales, poems and dichos (proverbs). These entries are arranged in chapters by the various graces, Respect, Loyalty, Charity, etc., all meant to illustrate the ways in which these qualities are an integral part Latin American culture as a whole.

Some of the chapters work better and/or are more interesting than others. Among the most interesting entries are examples of pre-Columbian Mexican and South American folk tales. I wouldn't want to have to sit down and read this book straight through, but reading it a chapter at a time over a year or so as I did helped my enjoyment factor. I don't know that Nava succeeded in convincing me that these qualities were particularly part of Latin American culture (as opposed to other cultures). I would imagine any ethnicity/nationality could legitimately produce such a book. But that wasn't really Nava's intent, anyway. As an introduction (or further education about) Latin American culture, this book has solid charms. And as a teaching tool for educators wanting to enlighten Latin American children about their own backgrounds, I think it would work very well.

5NanaCC
tammikuu 4, 2020, 1:35pm

Happy New Year, Jerry. I look forward to your reading journey this year.

6kidzdoc
tammikuu 4, 2020, 2:05pm

Happy New Year, Jerry! I'm sorry that It's All in the Frijoles wasn't a better book; I'll look for it in my local library.

7AlisonY
tammikuu 4, 2020, 2:34pm

Dropping off a star, Jerry. Happy new year. Your off to a great start already reading-wise. I want to digest your WWII review when I have more time. Sounds very interesting.

8dchaikin
tammikuu 4, 2020, 11:55pm

Enjoying having you in the group and following along. I loved your Singer review (2019 thread). Wish you another good year.

9rocketjk
tammikuu 5, 2020, 4:17am

Thanks to all for the kind words! Happy New Year once again and Happy Reading in 2020!

10raton-liseur
tammikuu 5, 2020, 8:07am

It's nice to have you in the group, I'll try to follow your thread more regularly this year and wish you a happy new year and happy reading!

11arubabookwoman
tammikuu 5, 2020, 10:42pm

Here's wishing a great reading year in 2020. I lurked a bit on your thread last year, but was largely absent on LT. Do I remember correctly that you used to live in NO. We lived there for 18 years, moving to Seattle in 1986. I still miss it very much.

12rocketjk
tammikuu 6, 2020, 12:07am

>11 arubabookwoman: Yes! I lived in New Orleans for about 7 years, and moved to San Francisco in 1986! So we were there at the same time. Ever hang out in the Dream Palace?

13OscarWilde87
tammikuu 7, 2020, 2:02pm

Happy New Year! Just dropped my star. :)

14arubabookwoman
tammikuu 9, 2020, 12:28am

>12 rocketjk: No, should I be ashamed that I ‘ve never heard of the Dream Palace??
I came to NO in 1968 to go to college, ended up going to law school too. I met my husband during our first week at Tulane. We ended up staying in NO by inertia, but after we had 3 kids and were paying private school tuition, we moved ourselves up to Seattle in 1986, and began our careers all over again (husband is an architect). We like it so much in Seattle, we were sure our kids would stay in the area (we ended up with 5), but somehow all our kids ended up on the east coast, so we are in the process of heading to the east coast for retirement.

15rocketjk
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 11, 2020, 9:54am

>14 arubabookwoman: Wow! Great story. No, you shouldn't be ashamed of not knowing of the Dream Palace. Doesn't sound like you were spending too much time hanging out in music bars! The Dream Palace was a great such a bar on Frenchman Street in the Marigny. This was when there were only two such establishments on the street, the Dream Palace and Snug Harbor. Several years after you and I left, the whole street got filled with music clubs and is now quite a mob scene, especially on the weekends. At any rate, I had a lot of friends who frequented the Dream Palace on a regular basis, and I saw many great bands there: The Radiators, Little Queenie and the Percolators, the Neville Brothers and many more. I was in my mid- to late-20s then, leaving town for San Francisco when I was 31. I spent most of my New Orleans time living in Gentilly. I worked at WWNO, the NPR affiliate, which had (and has) studios on the UNO campus by the Lakefront.

16rocketjk
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 10, 2020, 11:44pm

The Rescue by Joseph Conrad



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

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

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

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

17dchaikin
tammikuu 10, 2020, 10:50pm

Interesting that you start ever year with Conrad. Actually that like sounds terrific habit. Really enjoyed your review.

Also, interesting how many New Orleans connections show up. >14 arubabookwoman: I don’t believe I knew about your NO connection. And to think you both overlapped? (I was there for undergrad 1991-5.)

18rocketjk
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 13, 2020, 1:56pm

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande



Well, it came as no surprise to me that I found this book well written, eye-opening and thought provoking, seeing as how much my wife enjoyed it and learned from it and how much it's been praised here on LT. I basically gulped the book down over a weekend. On the other hand, I don't know how much new I have to say about it. What Gawande has to say about the history of the nursing home and independent living movements is extremely interesting and makes a lot of sense. The most powerful sections are those in which Gawande relates the slow evolution of society's and modern medicine's attitudes about end of life care and the transfering of priorities from fighting every symptom and the physical safety of patients to listening to what patients actually want, and how our priorities evolve as we register that our time is becoming limited. It certainly led me to think back somewhat ruefully about my own father's six months on a respirator at the end of his life circa 1990, and our family's attitude about the steps being taken to lengthen his life, and compare that with my mothers last years, just a couple of years back, spent in a pretty decent, all things considered, assisted living facility as she descended into dementia. Happily, the family trust was such that my sister and I were able to get her the additional on-site care that kept us from having to move her to a full-on nursing home. At any rate, Being Mortal is indeed a very powerful piece of writing that gave me a lot to think about as I crash and burn my way toward 65 in a few months.

On the "This is a Book That Absolutely Everyone Should Read"-O-Meter, Being Mortal measures pretty high, although not quite as high, for me personally, as the astounding Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates which blew me away so thoroughly last year.

19rocketjk
tammikuu 13, 2020, 2:58pm

1963 Official Baseball Almanac by Bill Wise



Read as a "between book" (see first post) For baseball fans, and especially for fans of baseball history, this is a fun and fascinating volume. Back in the day, Major League Baseball used to publish an annual pre-season round-up of the previous season and look-ahead to the coming year. With the internet and such, I'm not sure if these books still come out. This is a neat, pocketbook-sized book put out by Signet. The book includes a chapter for each of the 20 teams then in existence. Each chapter contains a chatty, light-hearted encapsulation of team's 1962 season and off-season (i.e. the trades they'd made and why) with a rundown of which players were likely to contribute in '63 and how each team was likely to do, plus full-page profiles of from one to three of the team's important players, and a full roster sheet for each team. It's fun to read these predictions with the knowledge of hindsight, some 57 years later!

The back of the book contains stats and standings tables from the 1962, and a full listing of all-time baseball records as they stood at that time. Lots of fun for baseball fans.

20OscarWilde87
tammikuu 13, 2020, 3:36pm

>16 rocketjk: I enjoyed your Conrad review and I like the idea of staring every year with a Conrad novel. For me it's what I've come to call Steinbeck in summer as I read one Steinbeck novel each summer.

21kidzdoc
tammikuu 13, 2020, 3:57pm

Nice review of Being Mortal, Jerry; I'll probably read it again next year. I'm ashamed to admit that I still haven't read Between the World and Me, but I intend to do so this year.

The 1963 Official Baseball Almanac sounds interesting. Did they say anything good about the Mets or Phillies that year?

22rocketjk
tammikuu 13, 2020, 4:01pm

>20 OscarWilde87: Thanks! It's fun to have one's reading year anchored in that way at one point or another. I only have one more Conrad novel to go. I'm not sure what I'll do going forward. When I started the tradition, I skipped Conrad's first two novels, so I might go back and read those. Or I might try reading the three novels that Conrad co-wrote with Ford Maddux Ford, which I have never heard anyone actually refer to or say that they have read. I might just start over, or I might begin going through the novels of Philip Roth, another great favorite of mine. Again, in that case, I would skip the first two and start with Portnoy. Or it might be fun to select an author whose works I haven't read that much of. Faulkner, say.

23rocketjk
tammikuu 13, 2020, 4:05pm

>21 kidzdoc: Thanks. I have to admit to feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the writing about the book that I'd read recently here on LT, and so decided to keep my own comments relatively brief.

"Did they say anything good about the Mets or Phillies that year?"

Regarding the Mets . . . nope!

Regarding the Phillies, if I recall, big things were expected from Johnny Callison and Art Mahaffey. (Note that the Phillies actually went on to an 87-75 record in '63. And, yes, I had to look that up. :) )

24kidzdoc
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 13, 2020, 4:26pm

>23 rocketjk: I know what you mean regarding Being Mortal. I'm much more likely to write a detailed review of a book that few, if any, LTers have read, or if it's about medicine and I can provide a unique perspective about it.

Ha! The Mets were still awful in 1963, but the Phillies were a year away from their calamitous season of 1964, in which they were seemly headed for the pennant before an epic collapse in the last two weeks of the season kept them out of the postseason.

25arubabookwoman
tammikuu 13, 2020, 11:03pm

>15 rocketjk: During most of our time in NO we lived Uptown. The house we owned was on Chestnut off Napoleon. It was in the neighborhood where the Neville Brothers grew up--I love Aaron Neville. The last three years in NO we lived out by the lake in Lake Vista. Our next door neighbor was an English professor at UNO. After we left, he wrote a book of short stories, which is quite good: The Torturer's Apprentice by John Biguenet.

26rachbxl
tammikuu 14, 2020, 2:44am

Enjoyed your Conrad review. I haven’t read anything by him, and right now he doesn’t appeal (just because too many books), but I love your idea of starting each new year with a (re-)read of a Conrad novel, and i might steal it. Dickens, for example, I have enjoyed what little I have read and would, in theory, like to read more, but I never get round to it (again, too many books). Starting off each year with one imposes a kind of gentle, but completely do-able, discipline, and I quite like the idea...

27AlisonY
tammikuu 14, 2020, 3:42am

>18 rocketjk: I'm another Being Mortal CR fan. I agree it's a very important (and honest) book, and I'm glad that I own a physical copy, as I feel it's a book I will need to re-read in part at certain times in life to remind myself of the core messages.

I've not read Between the World and Me, so that's going on my wish list.

28rocketjk
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 17, 2020, 1:33pm

>25 arubabookwoman: I knew that part of Uptown a little bit, though I can't say I knew it well. Back in the 80s during my day in NO, there was a music bar on Valence Street called Benny's. In NOLA fashion, the music didn't even begin until around midnight. Cyrille Neville had a couple of bands that used to play there. I'm not familiar with Biguenet, although that book looks good. The English professor I knew at UNO was a fellow named Rick Barton. Great guy. He used to do the movie reviews for the radio station and one semester he let me "drop in" on a short story writing class he was teaching, which ultimately led to my moving to San Francisco to go to grad school.

>27 AlisonY: Between the World and Me certainly has a different subject matter than Being Mortal, but both I consider essential reading, the Coates book particularly for Americans, but I think everyone can glean a lot of insight from it. My review is on the book's work page, if you're interested.

29arubabookwoman
tammikuu 14, 2020, 4:53pm

>28 rocketjk: We were just down the street from Tipitina’s on Napoleon. That was a popular place in the 60’s and 70’s, and I gather it’s still around. Did you ever go there?

30rocketjk
tammikuu 14, 2020, 5:05pm

>29 arubabookwoman: Tip's? Oh, yes. So many great memories of that place! And, yes, it's still there. It has undergone one or two changes in layout, and it has been closed once or twice for greater or longer periods, but it is still going strong and still has the same great spirit. I would say my three top music bars were Tip's, the Dream Palace on Frenchman Street and the Maple Leaf on Oak Street. Only the Dream Palace is gone. The other two are still chugging along, thank goodness!

31kidzdoc
tammikuu 14, 2020, 8:00pm

>29 arubabookwoman:, >30 rocketjk: Tipitina's and the Maple Leaf were two of my favorite places to listen to live music as well...along with McAlister Auditorium and the Tulane Quad on campus, and, of course, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

32rocketjk
tammikuu 16, 2020, 1:24pm

To a Distant Island by James McConkey



The late 1980s found me in grad school at San Francisco State University doing, among other things, deep dives into the novels of Joseph Conrad and Philip Roth and the plays of Anton Chekhov (as well as biographies of Conrad and Chekhov) as the "Three Major Authors" on whom I would be taking oral exams for my Masters in English Lit/Creative Writing. Somewhere along the line during those days, a fellow student gave me her copy of To a Distant Island as a gift because it is a memoir by McConkey that has Chekhov as its central figure. How does that work? Toward the end of his life, in 1890, Chekhov made a long arduous trip by boat, train and carriage from Moscow all the way to Sakhalin Island, off Russia's Pacific Coast. McConkey tells us in this book's first paragraph that Chekhov "had been undergoing a depression so severe that his most recent biographer believes he might have been nearing a breakdown" and that this was "a journey of over sixty-five hundred miles, or more than a quarter of our planet's circumference." The trip's avowed goal was to study and document the allegedly horrific penal colonies that the Russian government was running on the Island. But as McConkey, via Chekhov's own letters and the book he wrote about the trip, tells us that Chekhov's real goal was to shake himself loose of this depression by plunging into the unknown and experiencing life away from the restrictions of Moscow society and his own growing fame as a writer. He made it to Sakhalin and spent three months interviewing thousands of prisoners and their families, as well as the island's administrators and other inhabitants of the place. Conditions were even worse than Chekhov had expected. He ultimately wrote a book about his findings, The Island of Sakhalin.

OK, back to McConkey. In the mid-80s, McConkey decided to write a memoir about his family's year in Florence, Italy in the early 1970s. McConkey was on sabbatical from his tenure at an unnamed university, driven away from the school by the late-60s turmoil on campus that he had found himself drawn into but ultimately repelled and distressed by. While in Italy, he came upon a volume of Chekhov's Sakhalin letters and became fascinated, going on to read everything he could find of these letters and of Chekhov's life. From the letters, McConkey imagines and creates a novel-like narrative for Chekhov's journey, interspersing known facts with his own fancy. He makes an admittedly conjectural examination of Chekhov's motivations and psychological evolution during his travels. But this is, as I said up top, ultimately a memoir. McConkey endeavors to thread his own memories of his family's stay in Italy throughout his telling of his Chekhov tale. The problem here is that while the thematic connections between the two story lines were evidently clear to McConkey, he fails, in my view, to present them effectively (or at all) for the reader. Also, McConkey's problems, the issues he's come to Italy to heal from, do not seem that dire. After a tumultuous and depressing year or two on a college campus, he is able to spring free (knowing his job will await him upon return) to have a pleasant year with his loving wife and two sons in Italy. It is hardly on par with a 30-year old man trying to remain in denial about his worsening consumption throwing himself alone through winter across 6,500 miles of wilderness to spend three months in a horrifying prison colony. McConkey tries to bring depth to the work with speculative explorations of Chekhov's mindset and present psychological themes for us to consider. But while McConkey's writing is quite good and his points are generally lucid, it's ultimately hard to care about his speculations, and I ultimately found myself skimming these passages.

I was mostly happy to finally be reading this book. It's been sitting on various shelves in various homes of mine for over 30 years, after all! And I did learn a lot about Chekov's Sakhalin journey, which I had never really explored. Other than reading a short story collection or two over the past three decades, it had been a while since I really visited with Chekhov at all, a writer whose work and life had once been a source of great interest for me and brought me quite a bit of intellectual and artistic enjoyment. But I would recommend this book only to those with a particular interest in Chekhov's life. Anyway, now I can finally tell my friend that I read the book she gave me in 1989!

33arubabookwoman
tammikuu 16, 2020, 3:47pm

Do you have any interest in reading The Island of Sakhalin? I bought it (cheaply) for Kindle several years ago when Lisa reviewed it here, but haven’t read it yet. It ‘s still for sale for Kindle for $4.99.
Re Chekov, in her earlier book about reading/writing (not the one that just came out) Francine Prose wrote that she started each day by reading one of Chekov’s short stories. I once tried that but only lasted a few days. It is an aspirational project I would like to undertake one day.

34rocketjk
tammikuu 16, 2020, 4:03pm

>33 arubabookwoman: Thanks, but I'm not a kindle guy. Paper books only for me. Just my preference. I'll read the Chekhov Sakhalin book one of these days. I love Chekhov's short stories, but generally I start the day by reading the baseball box scores, at least during the baseball season. During the off-season I start the day by dreaming about Opening Day! :)

35kidzdoc
tammikuu 17, 2020, 5:34am

Great review of To a Distant Island, Jerry.

36dchaikin
tammikuu 17, 2020, 1:22pm

>29 arubabookwoman: >30 rocketjk: >31 kidzdoc: my favorite New Orleans memory is watching Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ play in Tipitina’s with Peter Buck (from REM) also on stage and a crazy good opening band (Follow4Now ??). This would have been about 1994.

>18 rocketjk: Being Mortal was a life-view changer for me, so I like it on your essential reading list. Interesting about Between the World and Me being higher on the list - although I do think about it all time.

>19 rocketjk: wow...1963 season preview

>32 rocketjk: Chekhov is fascinating so I loved your review, even if I’ll pass on the book.

>34 rocketjk: as an Astros fan I’ve spent the last several mornings starting the day by cringing painfully and looking for a bag to hide my head in. (Then reading Dante’s hell, which is a much more pleasant place to be - well, as a reader)

37OscarWilde87
tammikuu 18, 2020, 6:01am

>22 rocketjk: I like Philip Roth's novels a lot, too. I especially loved The Human Stain. Faulkner seems a little daunting, but hey, why not? Congrats on (almost) finishing Conrad. I do think that it would be interesting about his less reviewed novels. You could lead this group to new horizons. ;)

38rocketjk
tammikuu 18, 2020, 12:25pm

>37 OscarWilde87: Well, Conrad's definitely not everybody's cup of tea, for various reasons. On the other hand, some of us love his work dearly, warts and all. The Human Stain is one of my favorite Roth novels, too.

39rocketjk
tammikuu 20, 2020, 12:11pm

The Black Camel by Earl Derr Biggers



The Black Camel, the fourth of Derr Biggers' "Charlie Chan" mysteries, was originally published in 1929. In this novel, Chan is back home in Honolulu after solving a big case or two in San Francisco. This is a typical "drawing room" murder. A beautiful Hollywood actress, just beginning the slip into the down side of her career, is murdered just before a dinner party is to start, with, of course, a house full of guests and servants, all of whom naturally become suspects. Charlie Chan is on the case, however, so we know the killer is not going to get away with his or her dastardly deed. Truly, these books are a lot of fun. For one thing, they're well written, both in terms of the plots themselves and also Derr Biggers' skill at using natural descriptions at creating atmosphere. Derr Biggers does have Chan speaking in a heavily accented and even caricature-like Chinese-English. But he is always, clearly, the smartest person in the room and is acknowledged by his boss as the best detective in town. There are even a couple of instances where racists comments are made by obviously obnoxious characters and are slapped down ably by Chan. I recommend this series to mystery fans who enjoy the classic 20s/30s noir era and who don't mind a little trip to the Honolulu of the 1920s.

40dchaikin
tammikuu 21, 2020, 7:56pm

Fun review. I’m entertained by the idea of these Charlie Chan mysteries.

41rocketjk
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 21, 2020, 9:49pm

>40 dchaikin: If you are entertained by the idea of them, you will entertained by reading them. :) They're quite well done for the genre, or at least that's how I've experienced them. I was surprised when I read the first one, expecting it to be hokey like the old movies, but it was instead quite a good mystery novel.

42OscarWilde87
tammikuu 25, 2020, 4:06am

>39 rocketjk: Thank you for putting this on my radar. I had never heard of Charlie Chan until now, but I'm intrigued. Is the whole series worth reading? I just wishlisted it in any case.

43rocketjk
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 25, 2020, 11:59am

>42 OscarWilde87: I've now read the first four books of the series and they were all fun. I knew of the character first through the Charlie Chan movies, which were made back in the 1930s, I think. They are very, very campy, and as I remember them, the portrayal of Chan is much more of an ethnic caricature (I'd have to watch one of the movies again to know if I wanted to use the word "racist") than in the books. At any rate, I was intrigued when I found a reprint of The Black Camel in a used bookstore, not having realized that the movies were based on a book series. I decided to order the first three novels so I could read the beginning of the series in book order and was very pleasantly surprised by the first book, The House Without a Key, because it was a very well written noir mystery, as have been books 2, 3 and 4.

44rocketjk
tammikuu 25, 2020, 1:58pm

The Dragon Scroll by I.J. Parker



This is the first book in Parker's "Sugawara Akitada" series of mysteries set in 11th century Japan. Our man Akitada is a low-level nobleman trying to rise in the bureaucracy of Imperial Japan. In this first story (the LT series listing says this is the first book chronologically though the third book published), Akitada is sent out to a distant province to try to solve the mystery of the disappearances of three straight convoys carrying tax payments to the capital. Murder and mayhem ensue. The plot is engaging, and the story is mostly enjoyable, though there is precious little real character development. The writing is OK, although about halfway through the book I started noticing that people's "eyes lit up" and that their "jaws dropped" with mildly irritating frequency. Once my cliche alarm goes off, it's hard for me not to trip over each instance. Nevertheless, this was a nice, breezy reading experience. On a whim I bought the first four books of this series (there are 14 books in all!) a while back. I will read through those first four gradually, though I doubt that I'll make a point of going much further.

45OscarWilde87
tammikuu 26, 2020, 3:34am

>43 rocketjk: Thank you for the additional info. I am definitely going to give this a try now.

46tonikat
tammikuu 26, 2020, 8:57am

>1 rocketjk: I remember your review of vol. 1. My BA was History & politics - neither of which I read much now. But it is interesting to read this and those themes and as to the appeal of Vichy seems quite relevant to some contexts now. It is interesting how 'style' and time now mean people don't give (or want) all the examples that past writers often gave.

>32 rocketjk: This sounds very interesting. I've not read Chekov and must correct that. But Seamus Heaney has a poem, 'Chekhov on Sakhalin', you may be interested in. I'd thought it was in Seeing Things but find it listed in Station Island on wiki, which does fit now.

47rocketjk
tammikuu 26, 2020, 12:21pm

>46 tonikat: "the appeal of Vichy seems quite relevant to some contexts now."

Absolutely. That is, the appeal they'd have to the current U.S. administration. Root makes the point, and lays out some strong proof, over several chapters in both volumes, that the Vichy rulers were not just collaborators, they were stone cold fascists and as such traitors to the French Republic. Root believes they purposefully kept the French army weak, and substantially and purposefully hindered the army's actions during their short-lived defense once the invasion began. 1) They believed the Germans were going to win the war and wanted to be on the winning side and 2) they had contempt for Democracy and wanted to rule as autocrats themselves. Says Root, at any rate. But his proof is pretty substantial. And the ways in which the Vichy regime hindered the Allied invasion of North Africa are pretty damning, too. I'd be interested in reading a more recent history of the Vichy regime as either a counterbalance or a confirmation.

48tonikat
tammikuu 26, 2020, 6:56pm

>47 rocketjk: wow, and me too - and more relevance in non consensus approaches enforcing their view (maybe).

49rocketjk
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 3, 2020, 12:30am

Where Dead Voices Gather by Nick Tosches



I went into this book expecting to like it more than I ultimately did. Tosches, who died just last year, was one of the first "rebel" music writers on the rock music scene of the 1960s. He was credited, along with Lester Bangs, Richard Meltzer and a few others, with elevating rock journalism to a more literary and raucous level. In fact, Bangs, Meltzer and Tosches became known as the "Noise Boys." By 2001, when this book was published, Tosches had expanded into all sorts writing, from novels to very well received biographies of Sonny Liston, Jerry Lee Lewis and Dean Martin. I, however, had never read any of these books, and I was looking forward to this one. So what is this book?

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

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

But in fixating about Miller, Tosches also comes to identify very strongly with the era of minstrelsy, wherein white singers appeared in blackface and created a false nostalgia for a South that never was and a compliant, easy-go-lucky, sly but ignorant black people who certainly never were. Tosches sees this as benign, more or less, it seems. After all, says he, there were black musicians who also put on blackface to perform in these shows, so how bad could it have been? And anyway, most of the most famous minstrel songs ("Dixie" and "Swanee," for example) were actually written by northerners. Tosches, instead, reserves his strident contempt for basically anything to do with the 1960s (other than Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones). The folk movement of the 60s was fraudulent, in itself the worst kind of "minstrelsy," as middle class kids dressed up in working class clothes and pretended to be poor, and those who promoted the "blues revival," whereby dozens (if not more) bluesmen were rediscovered and recorded because they insisted (says Tosches) that these musicians don the trappings of poverty, regardless of what their real life situations might have been. We can agree to the fact that there was a level of disingenuousness in all of this without insisting, I think, that it was just as bad as the decades long, nationwide, show biz objectification of blacks as ignorant and shambling. Tosches draws, toward the end of the book, direct lines between minstrelsy and the modern, corporation-dominated music industry. Well, OK. Point taken. So it's only hypocrisy, then, to react with distaste toward minstrelsy. There, he loses me.

As mentioned above, Tosches came of age professionally in the 60s, making his mark as a music writer on the rock scene. Like quite a few people who experienced those days first hand, he seems to have eventually reacted quite strongly against the era and the people and all that the times have come to represent. There is "nothing to be said for them." So instead of trying to tell us what there was about the culture of the days of minstrelsy's heyday that would have led talented musicians--people who were used to working with and, one would guess, respecting--their black musical peers, to be so blind to the harms brought about by the music they were making and the performing group they were touring with, Tosches lands instead on a "how is that any worse than this" misdirection which gives him an opportunity to rail against the source of his own cultural aversions. Unfortunately for Tosches, and for the reader, here, nobody likes a know-it-all.

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

50baswood
helmikuu 1, 2020, 6:58pm

>49 rocketjk: Enjoyed your excellent review of Where Dead Voices Gather The historical parts of the book sound fascinating, but I get the impression that there maybe issues with the author.

51rocketjk
helmikuu 1, 2020, 7:42pm

>50 baswood: I guess upon reflection I would say that if the subject matter looks interesting to you, the book might be worth a go if you can shunt Tosches' issues to the side as you read.

52lisapeet
helmikuu 1, 2020, 8:36pm

>49 rocketjk: Hmm, sounds like he got a bit reactionary as he got older. That sounds a bit dry and a bit uncomfortable at the same time. My memories of Tosches as a writer are Dino and Hellfire: The Jerry Lee Lewis Story, both good rock'n'roll fun (even Dino), and I think I would have expected a different book from him too. But hey, people change and their work changes right along with them, and not always for the better (speaking purely subjectively).

53thorold
helmikuu 2, 2020, 5:06am

>32 rocketjk: Just catching up — I lost track of your thread somewhere — and I was amused by the coincidence of your mention of Sakhalin. I’m pretty sure I’ve never taken any interest in the place before, but last night I happened to watch a German film about the railway network on the island (https://youtu.be/O9w-DnE1OnU). It looks like a very beautiful place, except for the towns and the open-cast mines. And the bad weather, which they kept talking about, but was hard to take seriously because they did all their filming with the sun shining. Maybe I should read the Chekhov book!

54rocketjk
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 3, 2020, 1:16pm

>52 lisapeet: I don't know if, based on Where Dead Voices Gather, I'd say I thought Tosches got more reactionary, though I can see how you'd come to that from what I wrote above. I think what happened here is that he fell so in love with the idea of his search for Miller, and with the idea of Miller's importance in the chain of development of American music, that he had to somehow be able to brush off the objectionable part of Miller's career, which was that he was a blackface minstrel, and that he insisted on trying to revive minstrelsy long after America had entirely lost interest. So minstrelsy had to become "not that bad," especially in comparison to what we have going on today. How could a modern day critic condemn minstrelsy, he wanted to know, in a culture that is obsessed with Michael Jackson's whiteface? (He was writing at the end of the 1990s, remember.) So it was not that racism is OK (which is how, off the top of my head I would expect him to express himself if he'd become a reactionary), but that the racism of today is just as bad and often perpetrated by frauds who believe they're not racist at all. Therefore, condemning Miller's blackface career is hypocritical and we can get back to talking about how he influenced Jimmie Rogers and Hank Williams. Which, evidently, he did.

At any rate, I'm probably just splitting hairs. I would guess, from this book, that Tosches had, by the end of his life at least, become an intellectual bully and, as I said above, a know-it-all. I wouldn't have wanted to try to discuss any of these matters with him at a cocktail party, that's for sure.

55rocketjk
helmikuu 2, 2020, 11:34am

>53 thorold: Hey, welcome to the thread! That is a cool coincidence. Just to clarify, I would recommend going to the book Chekhov wrote rather than to the book that Mcconkey wrote about Chekhov! Cheers!

56lisapeet
helmikuu 2, 2020, 10:11pm

>54 rocketjk: Yeah, that authorial scenario makes sense—including the intellectual bully part. I guess you can't be the dude who wrote Dino forever... Anyway, I enjoyed your analysis of the book probably more than I would enjoy the book itself, so I consider this a win.

57rocketjk
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 3, 2020, 1:18pm

Reminiscences of a Town With Two Names: Greenwood, Known Also as Elk by Walter Matson



Over the past few years I've made a point of reading histories about Mendocino County, a large, rural area of Northern California where my wife and I have lived since 2008. Reminiscences of a Town With Two Names: Greenwood, Known Also as Elk is a short history (47 pages all told) of what is now a small town on the Mendocino Coast. Back in the day when logging was a major industry here, though, the town had several lumber mills and many more people. This book was originally published in 1980, and Walter Matson was already a longtime resident of the town at that time with access to the memories of the previous generation as well. The narratives are entertaining and at the same time give an idea of the very hard and dangerous nature of the work the men were doing, whether they were in the woods cutting trees, or on the extremely dangerous trains bringing the lumber to the mills, or in the mills themselves.

Matson goes back and forth between the decades, more or less from the 1880 through the 1930s, and he's not always specific about when any particular story or description is taking place, so a reader is not always sure where he or she is in time. It's a small fault. Overall the book is charming.

By the way, the reference to the town's two names comes from the fact that the town in its early days was always known as Greenwood. However, there was another town some distance to the north with the same name. When the U.S. Post Office modernized, they would not offer local post offices to two towns with the same name in the same state. So the Mendocino County town of Greenwood changed its name to Elk. However, the road that goes from the town of Philo (pronounced Fie-Low, not Fee-Low) in Anderson Valley that runs over the mountain and down to the coast is still called the Philo-Greenwood Road.

58rocketjk
helmikuu 3, 2020, 1:18pm

59rocketjk
helmikuu 4, 2020, 3:31pm

Creek Walk and Other Stories by Molly Giles



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

"You could get a job anywhere," Dieter said.

I opened my mouth but did not cut him off. I liked being told that. I felt like a house cat who is being cooed to even as it's being dropped out the back door at bedtime. I'll look for an executive position in Paris, I thought. I'll see what's open in the South Pacific. I'll show her, I thought, and then I thought: no. Calm down. This has nothing to do with Lenora Press. She's a quiet, decent, hardworking, intelligent, and resourceful--child--but it's not her fault. It's not even their fault, the officers. I thought of the three men who had interviewed me for the promotion. One was a closet gay and one was an alcoholic and one was an old-fashioned skirt chaser. They were all depressed and out of shape, and facing retirement, and I wouldn't want to be them, or be like them, and it probably showed. That's what happened. It probably showed.


Shortly thereafter, her adolescent daughter gives her a consoling hug. After a brief sympathetic exchange . . .

I patted her, the way you do when you want someone to let go of you, and after a second she lifted her head and gave me one of those long, full, tragic looks she's picked up from television sitcom shows.

One or two of the stories have a touch of magical realism to them, as well. This collection was published in 1996, and I wondered if they would turn out to be timepieces in some ways. But I didn't get the feeling that the issues these stories deal with, or the way Giles presents them, were dated at all. Though I'll say that it seems very strange to even be considering the possibility that something published in 1996 could be dated. 1996 was yesterday, if by "yesterday" one means almost a quarter century ago!

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

60RidgewayGirl
helmikuu 4, 2020, 10:08pm

>59 rocketjk: I like short stories and this collection sounds very good!

61rocketjk
helmikuu 5, 2020, 12:21am

>60 RidgewayGirl: I do highly recommend it, Kay.

62lisapeet
helmikuu 5, 2020, 4:17pm

>59 rocketjk: I don’t remember that collection or author at all. The book sounds good—I’ll have to look for it.

63rocketjk
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 5, 2020, 5:35pm

>62 lisapeet: Sadly, Giles has never gained the national recognition she's deserved (sez I). She has three short story collections and one novel published. Another of the collections that is very highly regarded (by the people who know of it) is Rough Translations.

64rocketjk
helmikuu 9, 2020, 11:39am

The Bronx Zoo by Sparky Lyle and Peter Golenbock



This is famed relief pitcher Sparky Lyle's day-to-day account of the New York Yankees' fabled 1978 season, in which they overcame the Boston Red Sox's 14-game lead in mid-July to not only win the Eastern Division of the American League but also to go on and win the World Series. You would think this would be a happy story, but throughout the season, the team, and Lyle especially, had to deal with the interference and arrogance of autocratic, meddling team owner George Steinbrenner, contention within the clubhouse, because the team was filled with big-ego stars who didn't always get along, and the volatile personality of manager Billy Martin. Slugger Reggie Jackson is portrayed by Lyle as a particular irritant among the players.

Lyle's complaints were that a) Steinbrenner had gone out and signed several free agents at high prices who were therefore making more money than established Yankee stars who'd been contributing to the team's success (they'd played in the World Series in the previous two seasons) for years and b) although Lyle had won the Cy Young Award (voted to the player deemed the league's best pitcher, a rarity for a relief pitcher) just the season before, Steinbrenner had gone out and signed Goose Gossage, another star reliever, who got most of the closer (pitching the final inning to close out a team's victory) work during the 1978 season. (As star thirdbaseman Graig Nettles famously tells Lyle, "You went from Cy Young to sayonara.") Lyle makes clear that his beef isn't with Gossage, with whom he becomes and remains friends, but with Steinbrenner for creating the situation. Lyle, from about the halfway point of the season, simply wants to be traded.

So, as the season goes along, and the injuries that cause the Yanks' team performance to lag mount, we get an inside look not just at how the team is dealing with these frustrations and with each other, but also of Lyle's bellyaches about being slighted both money-wise and role on the team-wise. Also, though, the portraits of the various players, the descriptions of what it's like to be a major league player (including the goofiness and comradery in the clubhouse despite all the rancor) and to be on the mound during a major league game, especially in the midst of a pennant race, are fascinating for a baseball fan, and lots of fun.

I am a huge Yankee fan, and I turned 23 during the 1978 season. So I remember the events of the season, both in terms of the season as it played out, including the enormously satisfying Red Sox collapse and Yankee come-from-behind division title, and also the headlines and quarrels, to the extent that they were public, and they pretty much were. It was fun to revisit those times again, and all those personalities. Definitely for baseball fans only, however.

65dchaikin
helmikuu 14, 2020, 1:52pm

I am a huge Yankee fan - sorry, our virtual friendship will have to end there. 🙂 Of course, I’m kidding. (And yes, I’m still a fan of the cheaters.)

Before my time as a baseball fan, but I might actually be interested in this book. Does it go into the racism Jackson faced (from, especially, Martin and Munson, but really from everyone)? What would Lyle say about today when teams stock up on closers and mix them up over four or more innings?

I’m catching up. Interesting about Molly Giles, the Noise Boys and the attempt to re-normalize (?) blackface {cringe} in light of, if I understand correctly, maybe the theme of Reel Bug Fish’s Sell Out.

66rocketjk
helmikuu 14, 2020, 3:05pm

>65 dchaikin: "Does it go into the racism Jackson faced (from, especially, Martin and Munson, but really from everyone)? What would Lyle say about today when teams stock up on closers and mix them up over four or more innings?"

Lyle doesn't speak of racism re: Jackson. His own beef with Jackson had to do with Jackson's disruptive ego (his famous comments, for example, to a Sport Magazine writer when he first got to the Yankees that he was the "straw that stirs the drink" and that Munson, the team's captain for several years, could only "stir it bad," a situation akin to the bad feelings set up between Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter by Rodriguez's comment that Jeter didn't know what it was like to have a whole team depending on you). I'm not sure how much of the issue was racism, in reality. I've never read that, but I wouldn't be particularly surprised to learn it was so. On the other hand, Lyle strongly praises other black players on the team like Roy White and Chris Chambliss, so I wouldn't say Lyle himself was racist. Have you read anything specific regarding racism on the Yankees at that time?

Funny thing about Munson. I would not be surprised to learn he had a racist streak. I had always heard that he was anti-Semitic, as well. Then I read Ron Blomberg's memoir, "Designated Hebrew." Blomberg was a much-injured hitting star and credited with being the first player to come to bat as a designated hitter when that rule came into effect in 1973. He was also the first player the Yankees had ever had to come close to being a Jewish star player. Because of his frequent injuries, Blomberg was often accused of malingering. But in his memoir, Blomberg says that Munson was his strongest defender in the Yankee clubhouse. Lyle, on the other hand, has little good to say about Blomberg. (Lyle's criticisms seem reasonable; I didn't denote any anti-Semitism.) I guess on these sorts of issues, a lot of people can be fluid based on the specific person/circumstance they're dealing with.

67dchaikin
helmikuu 14, 2020, 4:23pm

>66 rocketjk: yes, specifically about Munson and Martin towards Reggie Jackson. But where?!! Maybe it was The Unwinding?? Maybe is was Martin Gladwell? I’ve been trying to remember my source for a while because it slipped my mind, whereas the information itself - well, I was shocked when I heard it.

68rocketjk
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 14, 2020, 7:11pm

>67 dchaikin: I ran a google search for "billy martin reggie jackson racism" and came up with the following:

https://www.espn.com/new-york/mlb/story/_/id/7158864/former-new-york-yankees-gre...

It's a link to an interview that Jackson did with Bob Costas in 2011 in which Jackson said:

"I never had an understanding of Billy Martin. I did not accept the way he managed me," Jackson said in an interview with Bob Costas scheduled to air at 9 p.m. ET Monday on the MLB Network. "I did not accept the way he managed Ken Holtzman. I thought there was anti-Semitism there.

"I couldn't accept that. I couldn't accept the racial epithets in reference to players like Elliott Maddox or Billy Sample. There are players that played for him that would tell you that. So there was an uneasiness, a knowledge about the person that I was very uncomfortable with. ... I wasn't his choice and he wanted to show George (Steinbrenner). So that was kind of an oddity, a craziness that I never could follow, and I struggled to have respect for Billy as a person and had it reinforced with the anti-Semitism that I witnessed."


The reference to Holtzman is that he was a starting pitcher who had been a star for years but who Martin essentially refused to allow to pitch for a year or so. I had heard before that the source of this treatment of Holtzman was Martin's anti-Semitism. Lyle refers to the Holtzman situation in the book but does not attribute it to anti-Semitism. We have to remember, though, that the book was published only the next year after the events portrayed and neither Lyle, his "as told to" co-author or his publisher would have wanted to open themselves up to libel proceedings. So who knows whether Lyle was either pulling his punches and/or gave the event a more benign spin in tacit sympathy with Martin's true motives?

At least in that interview, there doesn't seem to be any reference to Jackson receiving racist treatment from Martin personally.

The Billy Martin page on wikipedia includes the following:

"The question of whether the strife between Martin and Jackson involved a racial element has divided Yankee players and those who have written about the 1977 team. In his 2013 autobiography, Jackson stated that there was, and that Martin and some white Yankees would tell racist jokes. Among black Yankees who were there when Martin was, Elliott Maddox agreed with Jackson but others, such as Chambliss, denied there was racism."

(Maddox would have had a double whammy as a black man who had converted to Judaism in 1975.)

The quote above is from the book Billy Martin: Baseball's Flawed Genius by Bill Pennington. Here is a link to a google.books preview of that book in which Pennington, for the most part, refutes the racist charge with quotes from players including Willie Randolph, Rickey Henderson, Roy White and Rod Carew (Martin is Carew's daughter's godfather, and incidentally, Carew is also a black man who converted to Judaism).

"Reggie is a friend," Rickey Henderson said in an interview weeks after {Jackson's book} Becoming Mr. October was released. "But that's the most wrong thing he has ever said."

Roy White: "Billy? A racist? There are plenty of words I would use for Billy. That isn't one."

Rod Crew: "Reggie knows better. I don't know why he would say that. And it's interesting that no one rushed to agree with Reggie. I never met a manager in all my decades in baseball--then or since--who got along better with the guys of color than Billy, So that's just not something I ever saw and I was around the guy for twenty-five years and knew most of the players that played for him in those twenty-five years."

https://books.google.com/books?id=0DbuBwAAQBAJ&pg=PA255&lpg=PA255&dq...

Listen, I really didn't go into this conversation with an opinion one way or another about whether Billy Martin was racist. It wouldn't have surprised me much to find out that he was, although I think that in his era it would already have been pretty difficult for a full-blown racist to have had any sort of success as a baseball manager. I just got interested after your comments and the above is what I discovered.

69dchaikin
helmikuu 14, 2020, 6:33pm

Thanks. Rod Carew is convincing. I need to figure out my source.

70dchaikin
helmikuu 14, 2020, 6:50pm

I suspect it was George Packer’s The Unwinding. And I suspect the source was Reggie Jackson’s Becoming Mr. October.

71rocketjk
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 16, 2020, 12:13pm

The Hamlet by William Faulkner



This is a reread. I first read The Hamlet eight years ago. It was at that time the one and only Faulkner novel I'd read and, sad to say, it still is. The novel is the first in Faulkner's trilogy of novels about the Snopes family. After I first finished this book, which I enjoyed then (and now!) immensely, I meant to move on soon to the second and third Snopes books. But, somehow, I never did. I'm not sure why, but I was recently inspired to finally read them, but decided that I'd best read The Hamlet again first.

Here is the review I posted upon that first reading in 2012:

For years I procrastinated about reading Faulkner. I was intimidated, I guess, by what I'd heard about the difficulty of the language, although generally I'm not put off by such things. And it just so happened that through high school, undergrad and even an English Lit MA, no syllabus containing Faulkner never crossed my path. At any rate, at age 56 I finally decided to start with the Snopes Trilogy, of which The Hamlet is the first novel. And, wow, am I sorry I waited so long.

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

Obviously, many others have written at greater length and with greater scholarship about Faulkner. I'm just saying I loved this, and if there were dense spots at times, I learned to let the language propel me over them rather than trying to hack my cognitive way through them. I'm looking forward, at the very least, to the rest of this trilogy.


Pretty much I can stand by that review now, even though by now I'm 64 and back then I was just a kid of 56. And this time I am going to read books two and three, The Town and The Mansion, within the next couple of months.

72AlisonY
helmikuu 16, 2020, 5:20pm

>71 rocketjk: sounds great. Funny enough, I also have only read one Faulkner (As I Lay Dying), and even though I too loved what I read I also haven't picked up another of his novels yet. I read that one with Spark notes online to keep me straight - I think I'm currently lazy and looking for more straightforward reading avenues.

73rocketjk
helmikuu 16, 2020, 5:41pm

>72 AlisonY: "more straightforward reading avenues"

I'm not for sure about it, but I think the Snopes trilogy is considered to be Faulkner's most accessible work. Or at least near the top. As mentioned, there are times when the language gets into a beautiful swirl, but for the most part it's pretty straightforward storytelling.

74OscarWilde87
helmikuu 17, 2020, 2:02pm

Thanks for putting The Hamlet on my radar! I have only read one Faulkner so far, which was As I Lay Dying. I guess I'm also intimidated by Faulkner.

75rocketjk
helmikuu 27, 2020, 11:00am

Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life by Louise Aronson



I read this book as sort of a companion piece to Atul Gawande's excellent Being Mortal, and on the recommendation of Darryl (kidzdoc) here in Club Read group thread. Aronson is an experienced, well-known gerontologist in San Francisco. She writes here of the problems intendant in growing older in American society, but more specifically within the American medical establishment. One important facet of Aronson's thesis is that the medical community essentially breaks life into only two components: childhood and adulthood, but she makes the point that a 70-year-old body is much different than a 40-year-old body, in terms of the medicines and procedures that are appropriate for the two. So doctors routinely proscribe either or both to older patients that are more likely to do them harm than good. As you'll guess from the book's title, Aronson here is making a case for the creation of a third stage of life, Elderhood, to be built into medical training and consciousness.

Aronson weaves together sections of reporting on scientific research, tales of her own experiences within the medical profession and her often losing battles to get resources from her bosses and enthusiasm from her colleagues for specific protocols and more caring intentional treatment of older patients, and the individual stories of many of her patients. She makes a differentiation, as well, between the young-old--healthy seniors in the 60s and into their 70s, who are often as vibrant and engaged as they were in their 40s and 50s--and the old-old, whose bodies become frailer and whose concerns often pivot from finding cures for what ails them to finding comfort and peace in their daily lives. As Aronson points out, doctors are often still sticking tubes and scalpels into people, in hopes of adding a few months or years to their lives, when all those people want is to live out their remaining days in relative dignity and comfort at home. Aronson also describes the difference, as she expresses, between "medicine" (the search doctors make for each patient's "cure" based on drugs and procedures) and "care" (the concern for each patient's comfort and life priorities), saying that the medical system encourages doctors in particular to concern themselves with the former and barely pays lip service to the latter. As I am about to turn 65 myself, I consider all this an important perspective to start taking into my medical appointments.

Aronson is quite a good writer, and each individual section reads well, although the subject matter is often tough stuff. There are times when it seems that she layers on one or two anecdotes and examples too many, but overall I found this an enlightening and very worthwhile book. I'll just add on a note to say that my description, above, does not touch on all the topics that Aronson covers.

76AlisonY
helmikuu 27, 2020, 1:28pm

>75 rocketjk: great review, Jerry. Gawande's book opened my eyes to such an extent that I think any follow on book on this topic (if done well) is really useful. It sounds like Aronson takes a similar theme of prolonging life versus quality of life.

The support set-up that you mentioned last year that your town operates was very interesting to me. It's so far away from anything we have here, and all ties into the same theme of living the best life you can in later years. We have a great mix of wealth in our towns, however, so I'm not sure how well this model would transfer to other countries - it sounded from your previous description that this works well in towns were a lot of the residents are "comfortably" in retirement.

77rocketjk
helmikuu 28, 2020, 12:05am

>76 AlisonY: " it sounded from your previous description that this works well in towns were a lot of the residents are "comfortably" in retirement."

It is a fee-based arrangement, so that might be a fair assessment, although I guess grants could be written, etc., or government funding acquired in some other way. I don't recall if I gave you any of the Village Movement websites, when I mentioned the movement previously, but here's the website for the national movement:

https://www.helpfulvillage.com/the_village_movement

and here's the website for our local organization:

https://www.andersonvalleyvillage.org/

Cheers!
Jerry

78AlisonY
helmikuu 28, 2020, 3:39am

>77 rocketjk: Thanks Jerry. I work in healthcare tech, so I'm also interested in this from that side as well.

79markon
helmikuu 28, 2020, 2:03pm

>77 rocketjk: Hmmm. . . My local community has a group working on making us a lifelong community. Don't know if they've looked at this model, but hopefully I'll find out when attend their Aging in place event next Saturday.

80rocketjk
helmikuu 28, 2020, 2:53pm

>79 markon: Good luck! I'm sure there are several good models. This is just the one we learned about and so adopted (and adapted). The link to the national website above includes a "Find a Village in Your Area" function. I didn't see anything in Atlanta, but it looks like there are a couple in North Carolina. You might be able to get info from them, maybe via a facetime setup or something similar, somewhere down the line. The important thing, I think, would be to find one in a community similar to yours. In particular, if you are living right in Atlanta, you would want to find another urban group to investigate and see how they do things and what does/doesn't work for them. The first group was right in Boston, so urban setups are certainly in the model. All the best!

81rocketjk
Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 10, 2020, 3:38pm

The Town by William Faulkner



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

In The Town, Flem has begun to acquire more power, and to aspire to actual respectability. While The Hamlet features several interlocking narratives, a series of stories that together paint the picture of the area and its inhabitants (and their varying reactions to the Snopes invasion), the narrative in The Town coalesces around Flem Snopes and his drive for money and influence in the town, as complicated by the open secret of his wife's 16-year infidelity with another important town citizen. But while the story may become somewhat more streamlined, the narrative perspectives do not. While we are never inside Flem's head, we have the story told to us by three rotation narrators, one of whom is an adolescent still trying to make sense of the crazy things grownups are likely to do. The three characters tell the story, then, with varying degrees of knowledge versus conjecture.

In all this, Faulkner is a master at uncovering human nature in all its greed, love, confidence, confusion and hopelessness. What follows is, I'm afraid, a rather overlong quote that somehow captures better than any passage I can recall what's it's like to be an adolescent:

Because I was twelve, then. I had reached for the second time that point in the looping circles children--boys anyway--make growing up when for a little while they enter, live in the same civilization that grown people use, when it occurs to you that maybe the sensible and harmless things they dont let you do really seem as silly to them as the things they seem either to want to do or have to do seem to you. No: it's when they laugh at you and suddenly you say, "Why, maybe I am funny," and so the things they do are not outrageous and silly or shocking at all: they're just funny; and more than that, it's the same funny. So now I could ask. A few more years and I would know more than I knew then. but the loop, the circle, would be swinging on away out into space again where you cant ask grown people because you cant talk to anybody, not even the others your age because they too are rushing on out into space where you can't touch anybody, you don't dare try, you are too busy just hanging on; and you know that all the others out there are just as afraid of asking as you are, nobody to ask, nothing to do but make noise, the louder the better, then at least the other scared ones wont know how sacred you are.

(Note that the lack of apostrophes for contractions is in the text)

The final chapter of this book is ominous indeed, giving us a hint that there will be evil afoot in the third Snopes novel, The Mansion, which I will be reading not right away but shortly.

82rocketjk
maaliskuu 16, 2020, 2:23pm

Soldiers of the Faith: Crusaders and Moslems at War by Ronald C. Finucane



This is a clearly written and (to me, anyway) interesting book about the crusades. Finucane's purpose was not to provide a chronological narrative of the the several crusades that took place over several centuries during the Middle Ages, but instead to provide, to the extent possible from this far remove, a look into what it was like to take part in the events, looking, as the title suggests, from the perspectives of both European Christians and the Moslems they went to do battle with. Finucane began with an overview chapter laying out relatively briefly the timeline, goals and results of the various crusades to provide a context. But then he presents a series of explications of the different factors of the events, showing the patterns that held true throughout the centuries and differentiating between the various eras when appropriate. So we get insights into "Enlisting for the Crusades," "The Journey," "God's Armies," "Fighting and Dying," "Searching for God: Christian Enthusiasm, Moslem Beliefs," "Christian-Moslem Interactions," "Minorities at Risk: Women and Jews" and, finally, "Decline of an Ideal." Finucane didn't romanticize or admire any of this, but instead tried to present a clear-eyed view of it all. His writing was not particularly graceful, but was, as I mentioned up top, clear and straightforward enough to allow for a relatively unfettered reading experience.

The book's 212 pages were just about enough for me, so I will also give Finucane credit for knowing how much detail to include. He illustrates the ways in which, especially, the later Crusades became money-making schemes for the Papacy, the ways in which failure, in the longterm, was assured by the European nobles' rivalries between each other, the reasons why common folk would have signed on to go (from a hope of immediate entrance to heaven to a desire for plunder to a wish to get out from under debts and the drudgery their lives) and the horrors and depravations, not to mention the very high risk of sudden death, that the Crusaders, both high-born and low, were letting themselves in for.

Finucane was a British historian who died in 2009. Here is an obituary: https://www.oakland.edu/history/faculty-staff/ronald-c-finucane/

83lisapeet
maaliskuu 16, 2020, 3:07pm

>82 rocketjk: Noted, thanks—I'm interested in learning more about the Crusades. What a crazy and seismic time in the world that was, and I'm attracted to those periods. Especially now that things feel unstable in the world, it feels like a good time to know what social/political/religious upheavals went before.

84rocketjk
maaliskuu 16, 2020, 3:44pm

>83 lisapeet: Yes, especially since, according to Finucane, the Crusades set the pattern for the suspicion and rivalries between the Christian and Moslem worlds that, of course, reverberate down to our own times. Also, as per Finucane, the Crusades marked the beginning of large-scale anti-Semitic massacres in Europe. In many cases, Crusaders set to leave for the East were encouraged not to leave behind communities of Jews (devil people, etc.) who might do all sorts of harm while they, the Crusaders, were gone. Also, the rabble who often made up a large part of the crusading movements would take out their frustrations of the long march and blood lust on the mostly defenseless Jewish populations they encountered on their way.

85rocketjk
maaliskuu 17, 2020, 1:14pm

The Mentor, November, 1924 edited by W.D. Moffat



Read as a "between book" (see first post). In the closet of my home office, I have a large stack of old magazines that I have picked up here and there along the way. I generally have one going as a "between book." The Mentor was the brainchild of its editor, William D. Moffat, who had worked for Scribner's for 20 years and then, in 1905, gone on to start his own publishing house, Moffat, Yard and Company with fellow Princeton alum Robert S. Yard. In 1912, Moffat founded the Mentor Association with an attendant magazine.

A google search reveals, "The Mentor Association is rather like Moffat’s attempt at a think tank. He gathers men who were specialists in their area and, with himself as editor, they proceed to share their information in a publication so that persons might “learn one thing every day.” This publication was The Mentor."

The quote is from this much more in-depth article about the publication:
http://www.inherited-values.com/2011/01/the-mentor-magazine/

The November 1924 edition of The Mentor had the West Indies as its theme. There are a series of very short (from one to three pages) articles about the various West Indies islands, most of which were still colonial possessions at the time. Collectively, they offer an interesting glimpse of those islands and their histories as seen through the lens of white academic writers. The history is interesting, but most notably the racism is instructive in a "that's what I was expecting but reminders never hurt" sort of way. However, some of the photography, presented in sharp sepia-tone splendor, is outstanding. Most of the photography, and some of the text, is by a fellow named Sherril Schell, who, it turns out, was quite a famous photographer. Here is a link with some of his work: http://www.artnet.com/artists/sherril-schell/

Live and learn, eh?

86rocketjk
Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 24, 2020, 2:36pm

The Mansion by William Faulkner



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

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

The Mansion follows/continues/wraps up several different storylines within the narrative of the Snopes and the county, which over the course of the three books moves us from just before the turn of the 20th Century to the late 1940s. Interestingly about the first half of The Mansion is pretty much a recapitulation of action that takes place in the second book. It's normal to have a little bit of exposition in series books to catch readers up/remind them about the action of previous books, but this is something different. The various narrators go back over early events in depth, sometimes even in greater depth, it seemed to me, that those events' first telling in The Town. Faulkner seems to have decided to go back and re-examine all of it from the point of view of different characters before moving forward. You might think this would be repetitive in the reading for someone who has read The Town recently, but it isn't, because of those alternative perspectives and because, of course, of Faulkner's thrilling use of language. The story then moves on to follow the rise and reign of Flem Snopes, the predicament and actions of one of the meanest of the Snopes, Mink Snopes, who is sitting in Parchman Farm prison, nursing his grudges and planning revenge, and Linda Snopes the beautiful and intelligent young woman who is Steven's second unfulfilled love interest of the series.

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

Here's an example of all of that, I think. It's a passage describing Flem Snopes' rise from store clerk to bank vice-president, and the reaction of the town's citizens to that:

" . . . the feller the owners of the custodianed money seen going and coming out of {his large, newly acquired mansion} was the same one they had done got accustomed to for twenty years now: the same little snap-on bow tie he had got outen the Frenchman's Bend mule wagon in and only the hat was new and different; and even that old cloth cap, that maybe was plenty good enough to be Varner's clerk in but that wasn't to be seen going in and out of a Jefferson back on the head of its vice-rpesident--even the cap not throwed away or even give away, but sold, even if it wasn't but jest a dime because ten cents is money too around a bank, so that all the owners of that money that he was already vice-custodian of could look at the hat and know that, no matter how little they might a paid for one similar to it, hisn had cost him ten cents less. It wasn't that he rebelled at changing Flem Snopes: he done it by deliberate calculation, since the feller you trust aint necessarily the one you never knowed to do nothing untrustable: it's the one you have seen from experience that he knows exactly when being untrustable will pay a net profit and when it will pay a loss."

Book note: My copy of The Mansion is, by everything I can determine via an online search, a beautiful first edition hardcover. I bought it at the great Copperfield's Books in Petaluma, CA, but I am for sure that I did not spend anywhere near the amount now being asked for such a first edition online.

87baswood
maaliskuu 24, 2020, 5:25pm

>86 rocketjk: Book note: My copy of The Mansion is, by everything I can determine via an online search, a beautiful first edition hardcover. I bought it at the great Copperfield's Books in Petaluma, CA, but I am for sure that I did not spend anywhere near the amount now being asked for such a first edition online.

Are you now calling yourself Flem Snopes.

Enjoyed your review

88rocketjk
maaliskuu 24, 2020, 8:22pm

>87 baswood: Ha! Sholy!

89rocketjk
maaliskuu 27, 2020, 3:28pm

The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming (a.k.a. The Off-Islanders) by Nathaniel Benchley



This is the book (originally titled The Off-Islanders) that the hilarious movie was based on. During the Cold War (the book was originally published in 1961), a Russian submarine commander brings his sub too close to an island just to the south of Cape Cod and gets it stuck on a sandbank. He sends a shore party onto the island to try to commandeer a boat of some sort to pull the sub free before he's discovered by the U.S. Coast Guard or Air Force. Comedy ensues.

And that short synopsis is about all the book and the movie have in common. Other than that basic premise, just about every plot point in the movie is absent from the novel (and, of course, vice versa). And that was somewhat of a disappointment to me, especially at first, because I list the movie as one of the funniest I've ever seen. All one needs is even the vaguest idea of a) what the cold war was about and b) human nature to love that movie. Says I, anyway. However, once I realized that the novel and the movie were so wholly different, I got into the groove of the book and began to enjoy it much more. What's so different? Well, as I said above, the storyline. But also, the humor in the novel is just a bit darker. The Russians are more threatening, the locals, even the individuals played mostly for laughs, are less comedic and more real. The Carl Reiner character and his family are absent, which was OK with me, because, as great as those characters are in the movie, it's hard for me to imagine anybody getting them quite right in print.

I tried to do a little research about whether the movie script started out as an approximation of the book's plot or in the largely revised state of the movie that got made, and could only find this, on a site called Movie Diva:

Director Norman Jewison was intrigued by the premise of a comic novel by Nathaniel Benchley called The Off Islanders, and optioned it with his own money. When he commissioned the script from William Rose (The Ladykillers, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner) it was only two years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, and a short time since the blacklist of Hollywood writers for alleged Communist sympathies had been broken (by Kirk Douglas and Spartacus in 1960). The creative team, which included producer Walter Mirisch, wanted to make a strong political statement, under the guise of “it’s only a comedy.” The film was a huge hit (and made Arkin a star) but the film lost its bid for the Best Picture Oscar to A Man for All Seasons.

So, evidently, the book was revised immediately by Jewison and Rose.

At any rate, the novel itself is worth reading. Not as hilarious as I find the movie to be, but still funny. It's relatively light entertainment, but still a story with good characters plus good tension and suspense in terms of how it will all turn out.

The movie keeps the story on a small island near Cape Cod, but it was actually filmed in the towns of Fort Bragg and Westport, California, both of which are in Mendocino County, between an hour and an hour and a half's drive from where I am sitting right now.

Some more background about the movie and book of a personal nature:

I have considered the movie to be one of my favorites since college days, mid-1970s. Somewhere around 2000, I rented the movie to show to a woman I'd been dating for about 6 months. We were watching at her place. After about 20 minutes, she got up and started wandering around her apartment. "Aren't you enjoying this?" I asked. "No, not really," she said. "It's too dated and not that funny. But go ahead and finish watching it." Well, I thought, that's a bad sign. Not that I thought she was wrong to not like the film. To each his/her own. But that our tastes on that score would be so different. Our relationship actually lasted quite a while longer, but was never really comfortable. Fast forward several years, and I have a new girlfriend. One night, we got to talking about favorite movies. "Comedies?" she says, "Well, I've always loved The Russians Are Coming." Talk about 180 degrees! Long story short, she and I have been happily married for 15 years.

Some folks who have followed my threads/posts here on LT may know that I owned a used bookstore in the nearby Mendocino County town of Ukiah for almost 8 years, which I sold about a year and a half ago. When I bought the store, my predecessor had a "Books Made Into Movies" section which I decided to get rid of. Many of the books were novelizations of screenplays. All of those went right to Goodwill. The true novels that had been made into movies went into the sections where they otherwise belonged. One of those books was a paperback movie tie-in edition of The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming, which went into the Literary Fiction section. I always thought somebody would buy it. On the front inside cover, in my predecessor's handwriting, is the notation, "Filmed in Fort Bragg. Out of Print." For almost eight years I looked at that small paperback in the B section and wondered how it could still be there. It was still there when I sold the store. About a month and a half ago, my wife went into Ukiah to run some errands. When she got home she said, "I stopped into the bookstore. Jay (the new owner) says 'Hi.' I brought a book home that I thought would be fun for us to both read." She then handed me the very copy of The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming that I'd stared at almost every day for all those years!

90jjmcgaffey
maaliskuu 27, 2020, 5:30pm

Have you ever read The Mouse That Roared? It's...not nearly the same story, but given you enjoyed this I suspect you'd like the Mouse too.

91rocketjk
maaliskuu 27, 2020, 6:34pm

>90 jjmcgaffey: I think maybe my wife did at some point. There's a sequel, too. The Mouse on the Moon, I think. Great movie, of course.

92jjmcgaffey
maaliskuu 27, 2020, 6:37pm

Yes. Mouse on the Moon is funny, but The Mouse That Roared is hilarious. I enjoyed the book more than the movie, but that's generally true for me.

93tonikat
maaliskuu 28, 2020, 6:04am

>89 rocketjk: cool post - I loved the movie in the 70's remember half watching another time since and not getting so much from - but it remained a fond memory, so will have to watch again. That time had some great craziness, Strangelove (just thinking of it and I remember I always want to read Terry Southern), also Catch 22 -- some of that tone seems distant now, or is that just me not feeling it? Lots more. We had Dylan's statement yesterday. Oh yes and I keep getting up forgetful of the current state of the world, that seems to make it distant, except lot of this was in the face of threat.

94rocketjk
maaliskuu 28, 2020, 12:57pm

>93 tonikat: Thanks for all that. Now that we had both finished reading The Off-Islanders/The Russians Are Coming, my wife and I decided to have a Friday night movie night and watch the film again. It was available via our Amazon Prime account, but also for streaming rental. Anyway, it was just as enjoyable as ever. To think that it was Alan Arkin's first film role! (He had been a stage actor.) Your statement about the constancy of the movies you mentioned entail "a state of threat" I think rings true, particularly about Cold War movies.

Here's one line that definitely rings true today:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGgJPmOUmDU

95baswood
maaliskuu 28, 2020, 8:42pm

>89 rocketjk: Nice story

It's got me thinking about my "litmus test" for partners I want to live with.

96tonikat
Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 29, 2020, 5:55am

>94 rocketjk: I've really want to see it again, it was not a good time when I wasn't open to it -- your clip made me think of The Life of Brian 'you are all individuals' 'yes we are all individuals'.

Love the mouse films.

97rocketjk
maaliskuu 29, 2020, 4:22pm

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



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

Bangs was a breathtaking writer, and his reviews could start out as relatively standard record or concert reviews but quickly morph into fascinating (if you like Bangs' style) diatribes into the state of music, or American culture or human nature or all three, composed in a runaway train of stream of consciousness and, sometimes, vitriol. You can't take the opinions entirely seriously, though, because he often changed his opinion about individual musicians or genres. ("I double back on myself all the time" was how he put it to an interviewer.)

There is one particularly meaningful and resonant essay about the amount of racism in the punk rock scene (Bangs was an early and longtime admirer of that scene and is even given credit by some of inventing the term) called "The White Noise Supremacists." Here is a quote:

"Whereas you don't have to try at all to be a racist. It's a little coiled clot of venom lurking there in all of us, white, black, goy and Jew, ready to strike out when we feel embattled, belittled, brutalized. Which is why it has to be monitored, made taboo and restrained, by society and the individual."

This essay is a brutal assault on hypocrisy, not least of all his own. You can still find the whole thing on the website of the Village Voice, which is where it was originally published back in 1979. But beware that it is a howling blast, and it is pretty long. Well worth reading.

At any rate, these essays are funny/disturbing/exhilarating. He died in 1982 at age 36, as Marcus says in his introduction, "accidentally due to respiratory and pulmonary complications brought on by flu and ingestion of Darvon." Marcus believes that Bangs' recent regimen of fighting off his alcoholism (he was succeeding) had left his body in a weakened state, "shaken, vulnerable to even the slightest anomaly, be it a commonplace bug or an ordinary dose of anyone else's everyday painkiller; that he had shocked his system toward health and that that was what killed him." Of course the question of where a writer of Bangs' prowess would have taken is art had he lived is part of the equation of any died-young master. But Marcus certainly did us all who care about this sort of writing a great service by creating this collection, which was first published in 1987.

98lisapeet
maaliskuu 29, 2020, 8:37pm

>97 rocketjk: I read that long ago, when I was reading lots of music writing... but I'm guessing it's probably actually aged pretty well precisely because he wasn't afraid to contradict himself and interrogate his own opinions. One of these days I'll at least dip back into it.

99rocketjk
maaliskuu 29, 2020, 11:54pm

>98 lisapeet: Yes, "aged well" is a good way to put it, especially because he was talking about much more than the specific music he was supposedly reviewing. It does help to have some knowledge of that time, but it's not altogether necessary. Good writing is good writing!

100rocketjk
maaliskuu 30, 2020, 1:42pm

Laugh with Leacock by Stephen Leacock



Another "between book" finished (see first post). Stephen Leacock was a Canadian humorist whose work was widely syndicated in both Canada and the U.S. In fact, his Wikipedia page includes the statement, "Also, between the years 1915 and 1925, Leacock was the most popular humourist in the English-speaking world." They include four sources for that statement, so I think it's safe to say that if it isn't strictly speaking true, it is at least not an unreasonable claim to make about Leacock's popularity at that time. When I was a kid in the early 1960s it did seem to me that every house we went to had a copy of Laugh with Leacock sitting around, often in the same Cardinal Giant paperback version my parents had.

Anyway, as you would guess (if you didn't already know), Laugh with Leacock is a collection of Leacock's most favored columns. The book was originally published in 1913. My hardcover copy is a nineteenth printing, dated 1945, which will give you an idea of Leacock's staying power. Some of these stories/columns now seem dated, but most of them still supply at least a chuckle, and some even had me laughing out loud. Just for an example, here is the opening of "How My Wife and I Built Our Home for $4.90:"

I was leaning up against the mantelpiece in a lounge suit which I had made out of old ice bags, and Beryl, my wife, was seated at my feet on a low Louis Quinze tabouret which she had made out of a Finnan Haddie fishbox, when the idea of a bungalow came to both of us at the same time. . . ."

Not a knee-slapper, but an introduction that promises a column of gentle, effective humor, a take down of "Do It Yourself For Less," which then goes on to deliver on that promise. Once the bungalow idea has been put in motion and a suitable site found and purchased (for $1.50) . . .

Owing perhaps to my inexperience, it took me the whole of the morning to dig out a cellar forty feet long and twenty feet wide. Beryl, who had meantime cleaned up the lot, stacked the lumber, lifted away the stones and planted fifty yards of hedge, was inclined to be a little impatient. But I reminded her that a contractor working with a gang of man and two or three teams of horses would have taken a while week to do what I did in one morning. I admitted that my work was not equal to the best records as related in the weekly home journals, where I have often computed that they move 100,000 cubic feet of earth in one paragraph, but at least I was doing my best."

Well, anyway, if these excerpts seem amusing and/or charming to you, then you will understand my enjoyment of this collection. I can see, though, where this sort of thing wouldn't be everybody's cup of tea. I would say that the book is about a 50-50 split between a little obvious and dated on the one hand and still providing a happy chuckle, at least, on the other.

101rocketjk
maaliskuu 31, 2020, 5:32pm

Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History by Steven J. Zipperstein



This is a fascinating and clearly written book about the Kishinev pogrom. This tragic event took place, obviously, in the town of Kishinev, which is in Moldavia, relatively close to the seaport of Odessa, 1903. Somewhere around 50 of the towns Jews were killed in the riots, many women were raped, and of course many more people were injured. Businesses were destroyed, as well. There were many, many first-hand, written accounts of the violence, which spread over two days, and in particular two journalists who spent weeks in the town afterwards taking down survivor and witness testimony. Zipperstein makes the point that the fact that Kishinev is on the very westernmost area of the Russian Empire made it easier for news and information about the event to get out into the rest of the world than pogroms that took place deeper inside of Russia.

Zipperstein does a very good job of placing the Kishinev pogrom in historical context. In fact, although his description of the violence is detailed, graphic and horrifying, it takes up a relatively small portion of the book's 208 pages. The first several chapters describe conditions in the town of Kishinev, describing the town, the people who live there and relations between the various nationalities and between Christians and Jews. Other historical currents presented are the state of anti-Semitism in Russia in general, the radical and reform movements, both of which had high Jewish memberships that led to suspicion of Jews in general, and the Zionist movement, both inside and outside Russia.

Zipperstein also deals with the several widely believed falsehoods about the pogrom. On the one hand was/is the belief, basically accepted as fact, that the pogrom was planned ahead of time, or at least given permission and concrete support, by elements within the national Russian government. Zipperstein debunks the idea with solid proof and lays the blame for the violence with a prominent local newspaper owner and vicious anti-Semite named Pavel Krushevan. In fact, Zipperstein also provide solid evidence, and a lot of it, that Krushevan was in fact the original author of one of the most notorious forgeries in modern history, and certainly the most damaging as far as anti-Semitism goes, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Another falsehood that has come down through the years mostly unchallenged was the belief that the Jewish men of the town acted in cowardly fashion throughout the violence, frightened to defend themselves from attack or to defend their wives and daughters from being raped. In fact, Zipperstein shows, there was a whole range of reaction, as one would expect, up to and including organized armed resistance on some streets. One of the first journalists on the scene afterward, Hayyim Nahman Bialik, interviewed scores of survivors, and his notes include plenty of reference to these instances of resistance. Yet what he ultimately wrote, instead of a piece of journalism, was an epic poem about the event called "On the Slaughter," in which he chose, while intimately describing the violence and terror being perpetrated, to castigate the Jews of Kishinev for the shame of their supposed cowardice. Bialik, Zipperstein believes, was making a political and cultural point about the dangers of isolated Jewish life in Russia and throughout Europe, including a meekness acquired in the service, over the centuries, of survival. He felt justified, therefore, to employ this strong creative license, which has had many consequences in the intervening century.

The poem became an instant sensation around the world, and has been a staple of the education of system in Israel since even before the inception of Israel of a country in 1948. The ideas presented, according to Zipperstein, has served as a touchstone in the differing viewpoints of Israeli Jews and Diaspora Jews for decades. Netanyahu still quotes the poem, quite selectively of course.

Finally, Zipperman shows how the strong reaction against the pogrom throughout the U.S. became linked to the nascent Civil Rights movement, as some, both black and white, came to see the hypocricy of condemning the anti-Semitic violence in Russia while remaining silent about, or even defending, lynchings and anti-black riots in America.

So, all in all, this is a very interesting history of a dramatic, tragic event placed within the flow of both the events that led up to it and the events and concepts that emanated in its wake.

102rocketjk
Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 3, 2020, 5:30pm

Maravilla by Laura del Fuego



This is a coming of age novel about a young Chicana living her teen years in the Maraville housing development in East LA during the early and mid-60s. The book was published in 1989 by a small publishing house called Floricanto Press from Encino, CA. I bought the book pretty much on a whim, and because it was by a woman writer and a small independent publisher, a few months back in a lovely bookstore in Santa Cruz, CA.

The story is told in first person through the eyes of Consuelo Contreres, known as Cece. We see her home life, with caring but imperfect parents and siblings both older and younger. All and all, it seems like a normal family, happily (for the reader) not over-dramatized, but on the other hand trouble enough for a teenager to handle. But mostly what we see of Cece's is her social life. First, as a young teenager, it's the other girls she hangs out with. Then as she moves into her later teens, her friendships solidify and boys enter the picture. What we get for a while is a seemingly endless parade of cruising, parties, drinking binges and worries about who was dancing, or out cruising in their car, with whom. High school exists on the peripheries. Thoughts of the future are mostly absent. At first I took this for a weakness, but as time, and the narrative, went on, I began to think this was meant to represent the issues of the societal constraints that the culture inflicts on this relatively poor community of color. Things get more serious as Cece's story moves along, she grows into her sexuality, and the people around her start dabbling in, and sometimes succumbing to, harder drugs. The police become more of a presence. Watts explodes. And Cece begins struggling to break away from the continuing patterns of futility.

There is some good writing in this book, both of Cece's thoughts and, occasionally of the outside, natural world. For example:

A light, balmy breeze swayed the palm trees, scattering dead leaves along the road as we drove into the cemetery in a solemn procession of Chevies and Fords, past the mausoleum with Middle Eastern design attesting to grander days, and the hundreds of gravesites on the circular road. I had always enjoyed going to Calvary. I loved the bright flowers scattered over rolling, green manicured hils and the od fashioned tombstones standing dramatically upright and defiant. Even the park wasn't as beautiful. There were never flowers growing in the park. But in the cemetery, any day of the week, you'd drive by and see a whole spectrum of color splashed across the landscape--red, white and pink carnations, purple and yellow daisies, golden marigolds, white calla lilies, sweet peas, geraniums, poppies. In contrast, the rest of the city seemed decayed and dirty.

The most recent information about Del Fuego I could find online came from a 2008 post from the San Francisco Writers' Union:

"Laura del Fuego, a California Arts Council Fellowship recipient for Literature and past featured poet in the Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, has won several awards for fiction, and is the author of Carmen Garcia Was Here C/S (which describes growing up Chicana) and Maravilla, (a story of coming of age in East L.A.). Del Fuego's poetry, essays and stories have been widely published in journals and anthologies. She is also a screenwriter and an editor for Sonoma County Women's Voices."

She has two books listed on LibraryThing.

Though parts of the novel dragged, overall I think it was very much worth reading.

103rocketjk
Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 6, 2020, 10:15am

Tierra Del Fuego by Francisco Coloane



Read as a "between book" (see first post). This is a collection of nine exquisite stories by revered Chilean author Francisco Coloane. Coloane spins tales in spare, expressive prose about life in the lonely pampas, mountains and rugged islands and coastlines of Chile's southernmost country. For the most part, the characters are men, in small groups or in pairs, interacting for good or ill with the hazzards of land and sea and with their own frailties, both spiritual and physical, and, of course, with each other. In one of my favorite stories in the collection, "The Empty Bottle," two men, unknown to each other, meet at random as they ride their horses across the pampas. Their journeys are taking them in the same direction, so they ride along together for a while, lost in their own thoughts. The younger of the two thinks of his fiance, waiting in a far off town, and his desire to return to her. The older thinks of a murder he has committed years back in almost identical circumstances.

One of the blurbs on the book's cover refers to Coloane as "the Jack London of our times." I suppose in terms of subject matter, this might be apt. Stylistically to me it seems less so, though admittedly it's been a long time since I read much London. This is going to be a fairly obscure reference, but Coloane's writing brought to mind for me that of Finnish author Väinö Linna in his "Under the North Star" trilogy. Another of my favorites here, "How the Chilote Otey Died," about a group of survivors of a failed uprising on the run from pursuers intent on deadly retribution, particularly reminded me of Linna.

Here is Pablo Neruda's quote as offered on the back cover of my Europa Edition copy of this collection:

"Long arms, arms like rivers, are necessary to fully embrace Francisco Coloane. Or perhaps it's necessary to be a squall of wind, gusting over him beard and all. Otherwise, take a seat across the table from him and analyze the question, study him deeply; you will surely end by drinking a bottle of wine with Francisco and happily postponing the matter to some later date."

I had never heard of Coloane until my wife and I traveled in Argentina and southern Chile this past November. We spent almost a week on the large Chilean island of Chiloe, and happened to visit the town of Quemchi, where Coloane was born, and where there is a statue of him in the town square. In fact, the square is basically dedicated to him. My curiosity piqued, upon returning home I immediately went online and ordered two collections of his stories in translation, this one, and Cape Horn and other Stories from the End of the World. I will immediately be putting Cape Horn into my "between book" reading rotation.

104kidzdoc
huhtikuu 6, 2020, 9:12am

Nice reviews of Maravilla and Tierra del Fuego, Jerry.

Would that lovely bookstore be Bookshop Santa Cruz? I visited it twice with my best friend from medical school, his wife and young daughter in the early 2000s, when he was completing a pediatric neurology fellowship at Stanford. I loved the shop's physical layout and collection of books.

I'm not working today, so I'll check to see if your radio program is on today.

105rocketjk
Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 6, 2020, 10:13am

>104 kidzdoc: No, not Bookshop Santa Cruz, Darryl, although that is a fine store. I have a longtime buddy who lives in that town and the last time I was there I spent a lovely afternoon checking out several of the excellent used bookstores scattered around the downtown area. I can picture the store I bought Maravilla in, but can't come up with the name offhand.

My show will indeed be on today, at 1 PM Pacific time. You can stream it live at www.kzyx.org I have it all assembled on my hard drive, voice tracks and all, and just have to burn it to a couple of CDs and drop it off at the station's studio, which is only a five-minute drive each way. Recording my shows at home is one of the many drawbacks of the current tragic paradigm. Generally I go into the studio sit amidst LPs, CDs and my computer and produce the show live, with playlist created on the fly, song by song. The show becomes something really creative, built spontaneously. So I miss that. But, of course, all in all my wife and I have things pretty good with a comfortable spot to shelter in place, a country lane to take our walks on, and lots of books and records. So we count ourselves extremely lucky.

My show today is primarily (about an hour and 20 minutes of the show's two hours) a tribute to Ellis Marsalis, who, as I'm sure you're aware, died last week from Covid complications. I got a chance to produce a radio series on jazz history with Ellis back in my New Orleans days (the 1980s), and so consider him an important person in my life, as so many others do, as well.

All the best to you during these extremely difficult days, and thanks for checking in here. Thanks for the kind words about the reviews.

106kidzdoc
huhtikuu 6, 2020, 11:35am

>105 rocketjk: Ah. Thanks for the clarification, Jerry. Unfortunately it will be a very long time before I return to Santa Cruz, if ever, as my best friend now lives in far less scenic Madison, Wisconsin.

Excellent. 1 pm PDT = 4 pm EDT, so I've just set an alarm for 3:55 pm and will listen to your show then. That would be a good time for me to make seafood risotto as well. Yes, I'm unfortunately well aware of Ellis Marsalis' death from COVID-19 last week, and I look forward to listening to your show dedicated to him.

Ellis Marsalis is extremely important, but a greater loss to me was the passing of McCoy Tyner, my favorite pianist, last month. I had intended to listen to WKCR's tribute to him, but I was distracted by taking care of my parents and forgot all about it, unfortunately. I did get to see him perform in San Francisco about 8-10 years ago, and I'm glad that I was able to make that concert.

107rocketjk
huhtikuu 6, 2020, 2:21pm

>106 kidzdoc: Thanks, Darryl. Hope you enjoy the show.

McCoy Tyner, of course, was a giant and a great loss, as well. I got to do a phone interview with him once for an article I wrote in 2004 as a preview to a 2-week Yoshi's residency he was preparing for. Here's a link to that article, which appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle:
https://www.sfgate.com/entertainment/article/Tyner-s-yearly-swing-2829624.php

108lisapeet
huhtikuu 6, 2020, 6:57pm

Jerry, apologies if I've asked you this before, but is your show archived?

109kidzdoc
huhtikuu 6, 2020, 8:01pm

>107 rocketjk: I thoroughly enjoyed your latest edition of Jazz Odyssey, Jerry! I learned a lot more about Ellis Marsalis, who I had heard of when I lived in New Orleans in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but wasn't familiar with. I did recognize that Wynton was his son, when he burst onto the scene in the early 1980s, when his 1983 album Think of One won a Grammy Award; that was one of the first jazz albums I purchased, with the first one being Horace Silver's Song for My Father in 1982 or 1983. I didn't begin to seriously appreciate jazz until I moved from New Orleans back to the Philadelphia area at the end of 1981, and started listening to WRTI, Temple University's radio station, which at that time was a superb jazz station and became my "teacher".

I particularly liked the selections from the albums A Night at Snug Harbor, New Orleans, Whistle Stop, the live album from the 2012 New Orleans Jazz Festival, Marsalis Family Celebration, and the 1963 album (is that one under his name?). I loved the two (or three?) versions of "Monkey Puzzle", which I could listen to all day. I missed the name of the New Orleans artist who performed "Love Dance", and your choice of that Art Pepper ballad to close your show was very nice.

I'll give your show a 5 star rating, and since I'm not working two Mondays from now I'll listen to it then.

Nice article about McCoy Tyner. I suspect that I saw him at the Herbst Theatre in 2007 as part of the SF Jazz Festival's Spring Series, although I don't think I knew that that evening's performance was being recorded, which was released in 2009 under the name Solo: Live from San Francisco. Sadly I don't remember much from that performance, as I had to work late the previous night, took a late morning flight from Atlanta to San Francisco, and struggled to stay awake during his performance, because of my utter exhaustion and because his beautiful playing left me relaxed and extremely sleepy! I left at intermission, mainly as a sign of respect, as I had a seat in, I think, the fourth or fifth row, and I didn't want him to think that I found his performance to be a bore!

110rocketjk
huhtikuu 6, 2020, 11:49pm

>108 lisapeet: Yes, Lisa, the show is archived. Just go to www.kzyx.org and access the Jukebox feature. Then scroll down until you find the most recent Jazz Odyssey show. Because of copyright laws, music shows can only be archived for a relatively short period of time, two or three weeks, I think. But there are always one or two of my shows available. Thanks for asking!

>109 kidzdoc: Sincere thanks for your comments about the show today. It was definitely a labor of love (and sadness). Here's a link to the CD rerelease version of the 1963 Marsalis Quartet album: https://acerecords.co.uk/classic-ellis-marsalis

As to your experience at that McCoy Tyner show, I can relate. I've had the frustration of having a hard time staying awake during a performance of musicians you admire at a concert you've been looking forward to for weeks. I barely stayed awake through a Wayne Shorter/Herbie Hancock reunion concert about 15 years ago. Can you imagine?

Oh, well. It's almost 9 pm here. I have to go snooze while pretending to read.

All the best.

111baswood
huhtikuu 8, 2020, 3:33am

Sorry to hear that McCoy Tyner has passed. I saw him with his trio in 2008 at the Marciac Jazz festival. I never got to see John Coltrane and so seeing McCoy was like being in the presence of one of the Gods. It was a good night because the Brad Mehldau quartet played the first half of the concert. In fact 2008 was a good year at the Festival because Sonny Rollins opened the first night.

I did get to see Ravi Coltrane in 2013 at the festival: he played with Steve Coleman as a guest in his group and the sparks flew particularly as Joshua Redmond's quartet followed them on stage and Joshua played like a man possessed that night. An incredible version of the tune Stardust was a highlight.

112rocketjk
Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 9, 2020, 1:34pm

Istanbul Passage by Joseph Kanon



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

113rocketjk
huhtikuu 11, 2020, 12:49pm

Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel Garcia Marquez



It took me just about a day of "shelter in place" reading to enjoy this short, charming novel. It had been a while since I read any Marquez and was happy to return to his world, if only for the day. The story takes place in coastal city of an unnamed South American country during colonial days. The beautiful, young Sierva Maria, the only daughter of a dissolute nobleman, is bitten by a rabid dog on her 12th birthday. Are the subsequent manifestations of her wild, unruly spirit manifestations of the disease or of demonic possession? Marquez skillfully weaves themes of the passions of love, the ills and absurdities of a repressive culture, especially when it comes to powerless young women, and the inevitable dissolution of a bankrupt colonial system ruled from a distance of thousands of miles into 147 pages of floating, lyrical fable.

114dchaikin
huhtikuu 11, 2020, 2:45pm

Glad you enjoyed. You should revisit a good Repunzel story, if you haven’t. All the key elements are there - the hair, the witch, the tower, the blinded prince and other playful elements.

115rocketjk
huhtikuu 15, 2020, 2:04pm

Prague Fatale by Philip Kerr



This is the eighth book in Philip Kerr's addictive "Berlin Noir" detective series featuring Bernie Gunther. The series starts out with Gunther as a wise-cracking, Nazi-hating homicide detective in mid-1930s Berlin, only surviving in the post--for a time--because he's good at his job. Over the course of the series, Kerr has already taken Gunther through World War II, as a very reluctant officer (and even more reluctantly technically a member of the SS) on the Eastern Front, and then out the other end to his post-war life. Prague Fatale, however, is a flashback, taking Kerr back to 1941, and back to his forced work relationship with Reinhard Heydrich, the real life "Butcher of Prague." It is Heydrich who calls Gunther to his headquarters outside Prague to solve a murder that's taken place in that headquarters during a gathering of top Nazi officials. There is much less espionage intrigue here than in most Gunther novels. This one's more straight-forwardly a murder mystery, but with several twists, of course, and the standard amount of historical content, some straightforwardly factual and some as imagined by Kerr. While not quite up to the top standards of the series, this is still a very entertaining entry. Philip Kerr passes away a while back, but I still have six more Bernie Gunther books to enjoy.

116jjmcgaffey
Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 15, 2020, 8:38pm

BTW - if you use an Amazon cover, I can't see it (that is, if you use an image sourced from Amazon). I can see LT covers. Your last several reviews have had* broken image links for the covers - last one I can see is Laugh with Leacock at >100 rocketjk:.

ETA - * for me. I don't know if others can see the covers; presumably you can.

117rocketjk
huhtikuu 15, 2020, 10:29pm

>116 jjmcgaffey: Bizarre. Why would that be?

118AlisonY
huhtikuu 16, 2020, 3:23am

>113 rocketjk: You remind me that I haven't read any Marquez yet (has been on my list since Dan did a Marquez marathon a while back). I haven't had much time to comment on threads lately, but enjoying your reviews.

(And I can see your images OK),

119jjmcgaffey
huhtikuu 17, 2020, 10:01pm

I don't know - you're the second person I follow who started using Amazon cover images and I stopped being able to see the covers. It's not an HTTPS thing, it's not anything I (intentionally) set in my browser, I have no idea what it is. But I can see covers that are sourced from LT but not ones sourced from Amazon. ????

120rocketjk
huhtikuu 18, 2020, 2:08am

>119 jjmcgaffey: The funny thing is that there are a few folks' threads on which I can't see some images either and, as for you on my thread, I get only "broken image link" symbols. Gremlins, I guess.

121jjmcgaffey
huhtikuu 18, 2020, 5:02am

If you right-click and View Image Info, where are the broken images sourced from? That's how I know I can see LT images and not Amazon. If it is that only the person who got the images can see them...I have no idea how they'd do that. But Amazon has thrown fits about their images being used elsewhere...(not recently, but memorably).

122rocketjk
Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 18, 2020, 12:33pm

Magazine Digest - August 1949 edited by Murray Simmons



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

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

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

123kidzdoc
huhtikuu 20, 2020, 6:13pm

Thanks for another great episode of Jazz Odyssey, Jerry! The only album that was familiar to me was "The Awakening" by Ahmad Jamal. I appreciated the introduction of several artists that were unknown to me (Lynn Arriale, Rachel Z, Tia Fuller, Al Smith), and I enjoyed the tribute to the late Lee Konitz.

124rocketjk
huhtikuu 20, 2020, 6:16pm

>123 kidzdoc: You're welcome, Darryl. Thanks for listening and for letting me know! Next show, in two week's time, I'll try to remember to reach out to see if you have any requests. Cheers!

125dchaikin
huhtikuu 22, 2020, 9:40am

Finally caught up here. Fascinated by your review on Pogrom. And really enjoyed your posts on Faulkner’s Snopes trilogy. I kind of inherited this trilogy over ten years ago, but haven’t cracked them open yet.

126rocketjk
huhtikuu 22, 2020, 4:22pm

Hi Dan. Thanks for checking in. I do highly recommend Pogrom. Also, I can only offer you my most enthusiastic encouragement to give that Snopes trilogy a go. Finally, I think you would particularly enjoy Chilean author Francisco Coloane's collection, Tierra del Fuego. I found Coloane's writing exhilarating.

Cheers!

127rocketjk
huhtikuu 24, 2020, 11:46am

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini



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

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

128rocketjk
huhtikuu 26, 2020, 12:05pm

Scribner's Magazine - March, 1936



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

129rocketjk
huhtikuu 27, 2020, 6:31pm

At Death's Door by Robert Barnard



This is a nice and breezy, good-but-not-great English murder mystery, first published in 1988. Barnard, who died in 2013, was a prolific and popular mystery writer. He wrote two books featuring Inspector Idwal Meredith. I read the first, Death of a Mystery Writer a short time ago and enjoyed it, deciding at the time to read this second Meredith case as well. Like the first Meredith mystery, we get about half a book's setup here before the crime is even committed. So part of the fun is guessing who is going to be murdered before trying to think along with Meredith to figure out who done it. We have here an aged famous writer on death's door in an upstairs bedroom, his soon and step-daughter tending to him, his much younger daughter, product of his scandalous second marriage showing up with her boyfriend, the second wife, a famous and revered professionally if roundly loathed personally also coming by with her new husband, plus other assorted family members and connective characters putting in appearances. Lots of ego, jealousy and questionable motives. An enjoyable diversion, all in all.

130rocketjk
Muokkaaja: toukokuu 4, 2020, 4:20pm

A House Divided by Fredrick Barton



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

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

131kidzdoc
toukokuu 5, 2020, 7:24pm

Great review of A House Divided, Jerry. The topic and, of course, location are of great interest to me, so I'll add this novel to my wish list.

I enjoyed what I heard of yesterday's show, although I was cooking red beans and rice and talking with my parents and their neighbors, so I wasn't paying as close attention as I did during the previous two shows.

I saw your comments about Shakespeare on Dan's thread, and was pleased to see that your mother and I are fellow Rutgers alumni! Did she attend Douglass College? It was the women's college at Rutgers, as Rutgers College was all male until 1972.

132rocketjk
toukokuu 6, 2020, 2:02pm

>131 kidzdoc: Oh, man. Red beans! I made dirty rice a couple of weeks ago, but . . . red beans. With some fried chicken or a pork chop.

Glad you got to hear some of the show. Full concentration is not required. There will not be a quiz.

Yes, my mom went to Douglass. English and education major, but she never taught. Instead she took a job in NYC with a Jewish refugee relief organization. Before and during the war this group had been trying to get as many Jews out of Europe and away from the Nazis as they could. By the time my mom went to work there, it was post-war and they were trying to help get as many of the homeless and destitute survivors as they could resettled. I came upon her resume from those days recently. Her work was administrative, but, to put it mildly, she was evidently, according to this resume, an organizational badass and her work had far-reaching effects on the outfit's efficiency across Europe. I guess if I'd have understood that better when I was a kid, I wouldn't have given her such a hard time when she tried to get me to keep my bedroom neat!

133RidgewayGirl
toukokuu 6, 2020, 4:25pm

>130 rocketjk: Ok, that one sounds interesting.

134kidzdoc
toukokuu 6, 2020, 7:27pm

>132 rocketjk: Great account of your mother's career, Jerry! IIRC Douglass, at least at one time, was the largest women's college in the country. I took one or two liberal arts courses on the Douglass campus during my last year at Rutgers. The five campuses that make up Rutgers's New Brunswick campus are connected by a free university bus system, which made it easy to leave your car on one campus and take buses to other campuses for class.

I'll post the recipe for red beans and rice in La Cucina tomorrow. I need to learn how to make dirty rice.

135rocketjk
toukokuu 7, 2020, 4:02pm

Hardwired by Walter Jon Williams



This was a reread of a book I first read in 2015. I've read it again now because I'm finally ready to read the second book in the series and thought five years was too long a lag time. I remembered enjoying the book and found that I enjoyed rereading it almost as much. One review here on LT says that, while the book was one of the early works in the cyberpunk genre, much of what was new about it upon publication in 1986 have by now become almost cliches of the field for current cyberpunk fans. (The reviewer took pains to say that this was not, of course, Williams' fault.) Luckily for me, at least in those terms, I read very little cyberpunk. Anyway, here's my 2015 review, which still works for me:
_________________________________________

I'm only an occasional reader of Science Fiction these days, but, wow, what an entertaining and thought provoking book. A good story, interesting and realistic (from a human nature perspective) characters and some very intriguing ideas about the nature of individuality and society.

Those who rule--and are despoiling--earth live in orbit, having solidified their power over earthbound society via a bloody and ruthless war of suppression. A small group of individuals are attempting to live outside the power of the Orbitals, as outlaws, via their own cunning and strength. Cue the action, and there is a lot of it, and it is very good.

The imagination and overall conception incorporated into this book is extremely impressive. I am very much looking forward to continuing on with this series, not immediately but in the near, if I may use the term, future.

I did find one thing amusing. The book was written in 1986, and imagines all sorts of cyber-based technology, including human-technological interactions, but there are no cell phones and the characters often pull up at public phones in order to speak with each other with minimized chance of being traced. I mean, Maxwell Smart was making phone calls into his shoe in the 1960s, so it's not like the idea hadn't already been thought of. But, look, I'm just saying this was amusing to me, not calling attention to something I found to be a flaw in the story. If Williams didn't foresee the ubiquitous nature of cell phones in what for him at that point was the near future, so be it. I couldn't have imagined any of the rest of it, let alone have written any of it.

136jjmcgaffey
toukokuu 8, 2020, 3:43am

There is an apocryphal story of a teen's book report about...I think it was The Lord of the Rings. "It's full of cliches! Elves and dwarves and stuff - no interesting twists or anything, just handled straight." Amazing how that happens when something (some book) creates a new universe type for others to play in...

137rocketjk
toukokuu 8, 2020, 11:29am

>136 jjmcgaffey: Ha! Yes, now that you mention it, I remember reading about that Lord of the Rings book report.

138thorold
toukokuu 8, 2020, 12:33pm

>135 rocketjk: I don't think anyone even vaguely interested in technology in the mid-80s could have been unaware of mobile phones as the "next big thing". I was working in an electronics lab at that time, and any project proposal that didn't use words like "gigahertz", "mobile communication", or "cellular radio" would have come straight back for rewriting.

Might the omission of mobile communication devices not be simply a plot choice? Having characters able to exchange information about anything at any moment must make it very difficult for writers to build tension — recent novels always seem to be full of characters losing their phones, having no signal, running out of battery, or simply calling someone who refuses to pick up. Just think how many Dickens novels would have been cut to half the length if characters had been able to talk on the phone.
I should think someone writing in the pre-cellphone age might have been quite happy not to face that challenge until it was inevitable.

139rocketjk
toukokuu 8, 2020, 3:07pm

>138 thorold: "Might the omission of mobile communication devices not be simply a plot choice?"

Sure. Who knows? It would be interesting to read an interview with Williams to find out how he views the question now. But I'd agree that it's highly unlikely that Williams didn't know that mobile phones were coming and that they were going to be big.

140jjmcgaffey
toukokuu 8, 2020, 6:44pm

Yeah...but in the mid-eighties cell phones (or other mobile phones - satellite) were big, clunky, awkward, _expensive_ (to buy and to use) semi-replacements for real phones. In a lab, looking forward...even there, I doubt there was any idea just how ubiquitous they'd be - let alone how much they'd turn into little computers. I'd love to read that interview, but it may just have been that no one (including Williams) pointed out to his author-brain that mobile phones were going to change things, so he just wrote what he was familiar with - on auto-pilot, more or less (focusing elsewhere).

141rocketjk
toukokuu 9, 2020, 12:37pm

>140 jjmcgaffey: I looked around a little yesterday and found a page on Williams' website that provided links to about 20 different interviews he'd given over the years. The page features a hand search engine, and I ran a search for Hardwired, went to several of the interviews that mention that book, and did a control F search for "phone." I didn't find anything that related directly to the question. However, by the series' second book, Solip: System (really more of a novella at 71 pages), the characters are already able to communicate if they wish via a plug-in interface with a global (and orbital) data stream. This was evidently a work that Williams went back later and slipped in between the original books 1 and 2 of the series. I'll look forward to seeing how these things are handled in Book 3 (originally Book 2), Voice of the Whirlwind.

142rocketjk
Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 10, 2020, 2:30pm

Blues for Mister Charlie by James Baldwin



This is James Baldwin's 1964 play about a murder of a young black man by a white man in a small southern town. The story, according to Baldwin in his introduction, was loosely based on the case of Emmett Till. The play is still very powerful. For one thing, Baldwin had the ability to see into the hearts of all of the characters. The tragedy becomes all the more powerful through the fact that none of the characters are cartoons. All are human, many, though, with evil baked into them. I think most people will react to a play like this, a play about power, race, hatred, evil and the possibility--or impossibility--of redemption based upon their own starting points, their own perspectives.

One compelling focus point is in the relationship and conversations between Meridian Henry, the town's black minister and leader of the black community, and Parnell James, the white editor of the town's paper and the town's only liberal. Parnell has friends in both camps, including Meridian, who is the father of the murder victim, and Lyle Britten, the white man accused of the murder. Toward the end of Act I, Meridian pushes Parnell to find the limits of their friendship in comparison with Parnell's friendship with Lyle. And, in the course of the exchange, Meridian indeed finds those limits.

Towards the end of the exchange, Parnell finally says, "Meridian, when I asked for mercy a moment ago--I meant--please--please try to understand that it is not so easy to leap over fences, to give things up--all right, to surrender privilege! But if you were among the privileged you would know what I mean. It's not a matter of trying to hold on; the things, the privilege--are part of you, are who you are. It's in the gut."

To which Meridian replies, "Then where's the point of this struggle, where's the hope? If Mister Charlie can't change--" To which Parnell, after having grown up in this town, still has the ignorance to ask, "Who's Mister Charlie?"

In this world, the whites of the town are just normal people wanting normal lives ("normal lives" including plenty of male privilege along with white privilege) but who have this tragic, baked-in, horrifying and evil hatred--that they don't even recognize as hatred--"in the gut." And the blacks are normal people wanting normal lives, too, without the crushing weight of the racism that infects and hampers every second of their lives.

Baldwin, in his short introduction, says, "What is ghastly and really almost hopeless in our racial situation now is that the crimes we have committed are so great and so unspeakable that the acceptance of this knowledge would lead, literally, to madness. The human being, then, in order to protect himself, closes his eyes, compulsively repeats his crimes, and enters a spiritual darkness which no one can describe. But if it is true, and I believe it is, that all men are brothers, then we have the duty to try to understand this wretched man; and while we probably cannot hope to liberate him, begin working toward the liberation of his children. . . . The play then, for me, takes place in Plaguetown, U.S.A., now. The plague is race, the plague is our concept of Christianity: and this raging plague has the power to destroy every human relationship."

If only these words and this play, written, now, 56 years ago, were obsolete.

Book note: My copy of Blues for Mister Charlie is a Dell first printing which it so happens I purchased in Walrus Books, a small but wonderful English language used bookstore in Buenos Aires when my wife and I visited that fabulous city on vacation last November. It's a great memory and we had a great time. But, yes, I'm aware of what the ability to get on a plane and spend three weeks in Argentina and Chile for fun says about privilege.

143dchaikin
toukokuu 10, 2020, 5:00pm

Enjoyed your review. When i read through some of Baldwin last year, I decided, questionably, not to read his plays, and instead read more of his other works. Of course, that has left me with a whole lot of curiosity about his plays.

144AlisonY
toukokuu 15, 2020, 3:31am

Catching up and enjoying your reviews. I'm getting very little time to come onto LT during lockdown, between my job and homeschooling my kids, but I try and at least lurk on as many people's posts as I can, even if I don't have time to post.

145rocketjk
toukokuu 15, 2020, 3:00pm

>143 dchaikin: I remember when you were reading through the Baldwin novels, which helped motivate me to read Mister Charlie. I'd only read that Baldwin bio we've discussed. Hope to finally get to some of his novels myself soon.

>144 AlisonY: Thanks! Great to know you're dropping in from time to time. I always keep up with your thread, as well, although I don't post comments as much as some others do. Cheers!

146rocketjk
Muokkaaja: toukokuu 19, 2020, 12:32pm

Growth of the Soil by Knut Hamsun



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

As I began reading Growth of the Soil, it occurred to me that I had relatively recently read an essay about Hamsun by John Updike in an old New Yorker magazine. I remembered that there was something disturbing about Hamsun revealed in Updike's essay, but I couldn't remember what it was, and the magazine was gone. So I looked up Hamsun on wikipedia and, lo and behold, I'd remembered correctly all right. Hamsun, as time went by, became a Nazi admirer and remained one throughout World War 2, although he evidently used his meeting with Hitler to petition for the release of Norwegian political prisoners. It isn't until page 72 (in my copy) of Growth of the Soil's Book 2 that we get a hint of the sort of sentiments that might have led to pro-Nazi sympathies. Lapps do not come off particularly well in the story, but now we read, "Lapps always keep to the outlying spots, in dark places; light and air distress them, they cannot thrive; 'tis with them as with maggots and vermin." And towards the very end of the book, Geissler, one of Isak's oldest friends, explains, "My son, ay, he's the modern type, a man of our time; he believes honestly enough all the age has taught him, all the Jew and the Yankee have taught him; I shake my head at it all." (America, as is hinted in this passage, also comes in for scorn in a spot or two.)

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

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

147AlisonY
toukokuu 20, 2020, 3:53pm

>147 AlisonY: Interesting review. I'm on the sixth (and last) book of Knausgaard's 'My Struggle' series, and he often refers to Hamsun. I'm just about to hit a (rather random) 400 page segue on Nazism in this last book, so it will be interesting to see if there are any references to Hamsun in that section.

148kidzdoc
toukokuu 25, 2020, 2:44pm

>142 rocketjk: Great review of Blues for Mister Charlie, Jerry. That's one I haven't read or seen, so I'll get to the book (and hopefully the play) soon.

>146 rocketjk: Very nice review of Growth of the Soil. I do own his early novel Hunger, which I haven't read it yet.

I had heard about Hamsun's Nazi sympathies and extreme racism, but I can't remember where.

>147 AlisonY: Thanks for the reminder, Alison. I had intended to complete the My Struggle series this year, so I should read Book Five this summer.

149rocketjk
Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 1, 2020, 1:13am

The Republic: The Fight for Irish Independence, 1918-1923 by Charles Townshend



I read this as a follow up to Townshend's Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion. The two books were recommended to me, along with Tom Barry's Guerilla Days in Ireland, by a bookseller in a great store in Cork City when my wife and I were there on vacation a few years back. I had asked him about the best books to read to learn about the events of those years.

The Republic is very detailed and so is not particularly a fast read. Interestingly, during the course of the narrative, Townshend often compares earlier published histories to demonstrate how knowledge and perspectives about particular events have evolved as attitudes have changed and new information has been uncovered or new interviews given. Townshend also does his best to unravel fact from legend. Probably the toughest job for anyone, like myself, who did not grow up learning this history, is keeping straight all of the factions in the struggle and all of the chief figures. Given all that, my opinion, like that of many others evidently, is that Townshend has done an admirable job of it. In particular he shows the glories and the bravery of the revolutionaries, but also their frequent viciousness and incompetence. Also, the ways in which the English frequently and tragically misjudged one situation after another. In the end, it seems it was more global opinion, and British political exhaustion, than military achievements that got the British to the bargaining table and led to the treaty that created the Irish Home State, less than the full independence the fighters wanted, but perhaps as much as they might have expected given the totality of the Irish ability to carry on armed conflict and the British belief that control of Ireland was critical to their own self-defense.

By the time Townshend comes to describe the Irish Civil War between the pragmatists who wanted to get on with building a government and considered the exit of the English Army from their island victory enough (despite having to live with the dreaded partition of the three northern counties from the rest of the country) and the purists who swore to fight on against whoever stood in the way of a fully independent Irish Republic, Townshend stops describing the combat itself. The reader, after all, has already gotten enough of a picture of what the guerilla combat of the past years had looked like. Townshend focuses instead on the personalities and politics of that conflict.

His short description of the final end of the Civil War is extremely evocative, I think: " . . . {Eamon} de Valera issued his order to the 'Soldiers of the Republic, Legion of the Rearguard' declaring that 'the Republic can no longer be defended successfully by your arms.' Military victory 'must be allowed to rest for the moment with those who have destroyed the Republic.' Nearly a month after that, on 24 May, {IRA Chief of Staff Frank} Aiken issued the final command to the IRA to dump its arms. There were no negotiations, no truce terms: the Republic simply melted back into the realm of the imagination."

This is a very good resource for anyone looking for a comprehensive and readable, if not always flowing, account of these fascinating but tragic times. Perhaps at least a bit of foreknowledge about the subject matter might be recommended, though, to keep the details from becoming too confusing. Anyway, four stars from me.

150stretch
toukokuu 31, 2020, 7:22pm

>149 rocketjk: Sounds like a great resource, a detailed and comprehensive history. Add it to the pile.

151rocketjk
Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 3, 2020, 1:14pm

Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin



This short novel by Argentinian writer Samanta Schweblin ushers us into a hallucinatory world where a dying woman in a hospital ward is conversing with a mysterious, possibly imaginary, possibly ghostly young boy who speaks as an adult. As the woman, Amanda, replays the past few days of her life, we are brought to understand the ways in which even the privileged will eventually share in the miseries currently being visited on the poor and indigenous people of the world by the environmental degradation going on around us. The narrative is powerful, but because of the story's brevity, I think we are in and out of the reality it creates too swiftly for full effect. Schweblin's short story collections have won numerous awards. I will be on the lookout for English translations.

Book note: I bought my copy of this slim volume at an impossibly beautiful bookstore in Buenos Aires, El Ateneo Grand Splendid. https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/el-ateneo-grand-splendid

152rocketjk
kesäkuu 3, 2020, 1:07pm

>150 stretch: Yes. Very valuable and well written.

153dchaikin
kesäkuu 3, 2020, 1:35pm

>146 rocketjk: “ Hamsun is placing these mostly admirable people before us in contrast to his disdain for modernism” - that comment had me thinking already of extreme conservatism. It’s your line, of course, but still to go from that line into Nazi support is...well, it’s surprisingly consistent in my world view of the moment. I mean, to be clear, it doesn’t need to be, logically... but it’s how I’m programmed these last 3 years. I have Knausgaard Vol 1 on the shelf now. Curious what he says.

>149 rocketjk: how interesting!

>151 rocketjk: sounds terrific. How old is this book?

154rocketjk
Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 3, 2020, 4:26pm

>153 dchaikin: Re: Hamsun . . . Yes, he is offering the hard-laboring, noble, plain-thinking farmers who mostly work out their problems amongst themselves, have a code they follow that includes some wriggle room for compassion and understanding of circumstances, and don't think too hard about the complexities of human nature as the paradigm. It's when the intellectuals start mucking up society with their theories and new ideas about behavior and complicated commercial ventures that things threaten to go down the tubes, rumbles Hamsun between the lines (or sometimes, especially toward the end of Growth of the Soil, in them). Too much of that sort of thinking, or at least taking it too seriously or with too little balance, and pretty soon you can see how the idea of bringing in the Cossacks to clear the countryside of liberals and commies and, if you're Hamsun, Lapps gets to feel appealing.

Is that the sort of thing you were getting at?

Also, Fever Dream was first published in 2017.

155dchaikin
kesäkuu 3, 2020, 7:50pm

Idealizing what never existed as “traditional” to show the present is flawed and everyone other than I and my idealized creation is wrong. It’s another form of maga (or mnga?).

156rocketjk
kesäkuu 9, 2020, 1:28pm

The Only Rule Is It Has to Work: Our Wild Experiment Building a New Kind of Baseball Team by Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller



In 2015, Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller, a pair of sportswriters, bloggers and podcast hosts got the owners of an 4-team independent baseball league* to agree to allow them to apply the relatively new ideas about baseball that are generally housed under the broad term, "sabermatrics." Sabermatrics is the philosophy/practice of developing rosters and considering in-game strategy that is based on deep dives into performance stats and probabilities rather than going by old-school, we've always done it that way attitudes.

* Independent leagues are the lowest level of professional baseball. The leagues are "independent" because they have no affiliation with major league teams.

The book is, basically, a co-memoir. The two men take turns writing chapters. Together, they describe their progress through the season with their team, the Sonoma Stompers. While they don't get to create the team's entire 22-man roster, they are able to add several players of their own choosing for which they study databases of players who had remained undrafted by major league organizations and whose stats indicate potential success based upon the "new" theories. The writers describe the coming together of the team, their struggles to gain the respect of the players and coaching staff for their roles in the team's performance, their growing understanding of the dynamics of clubhouse culture and the specific problems of players performing at such a low level of organized ball. As the season progresses, the two writers, together, weave together a very engaging story and they don't stint in self-examination, either. There's a lot of learning done.

There is also a very interesting section of the narrative about the coming out of one of their pitchers, Sean Conroy, to become the first openly gay ballplayer in American professional baseball. When Conroy starts on the mound for the team's Pride Night that June, the program for the game, signed by every team member, ends up in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. The biggest part of the story, in a way, is Conroy's teammates' easy acceptance of his sexuality.

Lindbergh and Miller are both quite good writers, so the book flows very nicely and remains interesting throughout. It's a study of baseball, certainly, and as such is more or less of interest to baseball fans only. But this is also an interesting and acute study of human nature.

A personal note that the town of Sonoma is, you'll not be surprised to learn, in Sonoma County, California, just a touch south of where I live in Mendocino County. Yet I'd never even heard of the team, or the league, until I happened to notice an article online about their having fielded the first women players in organized baseball. (They did that the next year, after Miller and Lindbergh had ended their active participation in the organization.) That led me to the team's website, and to their "products" page, which features this book. I was looking forward to driving down to take in some games this summer. Oh, well.

Anyway, I highly recommend this book, though for baseball fans only.

157janemarieprice
kesäkuu 9, 2020, 3:30pm

>156 rocketjk: I'm a big baseball fan though maybe not so much that I've done a lot of reading in that area. This sounds right up my partner's alley though - he plays a version of fantasy baseball where you're the manager!

158rocketjk
kesäkuu 9, 2020, 4:01pm

>157 janemarieprice: Yes, he'd probably like it.

"he plays a version of fantasy baseball where you're the manager!"

So do I!

159sallypursell
kesäkuu 10, 2020, 12:01am

>151 rocketjk: Thank you for the picture of the Ateneo Grand Splendid. I enjoyed that so much.

160sallypursell
kesäkuu 10, 2020, 12:09am

>156 rocketjk: I am a fan of an Independent League team near me. Going to see them is inexpensive, intimate, and really fun. I've taken one of my grandchildren, too, and we had so much fun. We can sit in the first row, and talk to the players, at times. Last time we even made them some cookies and took them. The players were really pleased. My grandson liked it much better than going to see the Cardinals (I live in St. Louis). I like the Cardinals a lot, but I admit it is better to go see the River City Rascals. And they won the Championship for their league last year, too.

161janemarieprice
kesäkuu 10, 2020, 10:21am

>160 sallypursell: I agree. We did a trip a few years back where we went to a bunch of baseball games and the minor league game we went to in Memphis was so much fun.

162rocketjk
kesäkuu 10, 2020, 11:21am

>160 sallypursell: & >161 janemarieprice: You're both on to something! Although I've never been to an independent league game (as I mentioned in my review, above, I was looking forward to seeing some Sonoma games this summer), I have been to a few San Jose Giants games in the A level California League. They are, you'll not be surprised to learn, a Giants low-level farm team. Their games have all the attributes of the independent league games you've described. Super fun.

163rocketjk
kesäkuu 10, 2020, 1:47pm

Living in the Weather of the World by Richard Bausch



Read as a "between book" (see first post). I would call this selection of short stories good but not great. Bausch is certainly a good writer, as his long list of publications and critical kudos attest, but I found that too often in these stories "concepts" and "emotions" were being written about. Passion! Old age and regret! The Kennedy assassination (one of the stories I liked best, actually). Not that these aren't topics worthy of writing about, of course, but only that the telling is just a bit too unsubtle. The very best story is the final one, in which two very old men, a German and an American who had a fateful meeting during World War 2, prepare to have a very public reunion in front of family members and television cameras. I could certainly see other readers enjoying these stories better than I did. Part of the problem may be that I'm also in the midst of luminous short story collections, which I will report on as I finish them, by Isaac Singer, Lucia Berlin, Chilean author Francisco Coloane and Haitian-American Marie-Hélène Laforest.

164dchaikin
kesäkuu 10, 2020, 2:07pm

>163 rocketjk: interesting. I still think about his novel Peace. But now I want to hear about these other collections, especially the Singer.

>156 rocketjk: this sounds like great fun to me. I’m interested. We have an independent team near Houston, the Sugarland Skeeters. I admit I did not enjoy my one game. The players were mostly one-time prospects that have already peaked, some I recognized, and I couldn’t get out of my head how depressing it was that they haven’t been able to move on. I once went to a single-A game (the Asheville Tourists, associated with the Colorado Rockies) and I loved it. I also enjoy college games. Rice and U of Houston are both competitive and fun to watch, although a bit of a drive away.

165rocketjk
Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 10, 2020, 2:21pm

>164 dchaikin: Based upon the stories in this collection, I could easily see how Bausch could be a better novelist than short story writer.

The Sonoma Stompers seemed to be mostly a collection of players who just wanted to keep playing baseball before getting on with their lives in other fields, with only a few who had aspirations for higher levels, so that would be a different vibe than the one you're describing, which I can see would be a bit of a downer.

Ah, college ball! I lived in New Orleans during the 1980s when there was no minor league team there. All we had was college baseball, which was, in fact, very popular in the city. Because I lived in the Gentilly neighborhood and worked at the University of New Orleans, I was a UNO fan, with Tulane our hated frat-boy rivals. (UNO was a state school, originally called LSU - New Orleans, and mostly a commuter school with very few dorms.) Goodness, those UNO games were fun and very well attended. UNO and Tulane played three games a year for New Orleans bragging rights, a series called The Pelican Cup, with one game at each home field and the third game, I kid you not, played in the Super Dome! I have very good baseball memories from those days.

As mentioned, I'll report on the other collections as I finish them, but as an FYI, the Coloane collection is the second I'm reading this year. The first you can read about up-thread, in post 103. Cheers!

166janemarieprice
kesäkuu 11, 2020, 11:25am

>165 rocketjk: I'm a big college baseball fan - went to LSU. UNO has a great coach right now, Blake Hebert a former Tiger great. I know myself and some other fans are hoping he does well so when our current coach retires he'll be a good candidate.

167rocketjk
kesäkuu 11, 2020, 12:39pm

>166 janemarieprice: Thanks for that info! I can only remember to check in on UNO games occasionally these days (or at least going back to when we actually had college baseball). I was in New Orleans in the 1980s. UNO had a great baseball program then, too. The one player I can recall seeing who went on to a relatively substantial major league career was a pitcher, Wally Whitehurst, who played for the Mets and possibly one or two other MLB teams. Also, Glen Kuiper, brother of major league infielder Duane Kuiper, played at UNO when I was there. Glen never made it to the majors as a player, but he is currently a very good TV announcer for the Oakland A's. Of course Duane Kuiper is the absolutely superb announcer for the SF Giants. Anyway, the coach in those days was a fellow named Ron Maestri (I think the school renamed the baseball field after him). He was such a popular fellow in town that, in the days of Billy Ball (after Billy Martin), baseball at UNO was dubbed Maesball. For a while I had a free giveaway Maesball baseball hat. I used to see Ron Swoboda, who was (and I think still is) a TV sports reporter in New Orleans in those days, in the stands. I always thought it was very cool that he sat in the stands and not in the press box. He was very approachable and known as quite a nice guy. Sorry for the long reminiscence, but your post set off a chain of memories, indeed!

168rocketjk
Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 13, 2020, 12:32pm

Bad Guy by Rosalyn Drexler



This sly dark comedy, Drexler's seventh novel, was first published in 1982. It takes place, and pokes sticks at, the New York City intellectual scene of the 1970s, pop psychology in particular, as well as all-pervasive American media/TV culture. Jesus Allendez is a young, very confused man from a broken home who has committed, and confessed to, a brutal rape and murder of an older woman, a neighbor who had interrupted Allendez's robbery of her apartment. (So, yes, echoes of Raskalnikov.) Dr. Mathilda Brody is an adolescent psychologist with professionally controversially theories of treatment who, takes on Allendez as a patient. In the novel's first reality-bending development, she is allowed to take Allendez out of jail and put him up in her own high rise apartment for round-the-clock treatment. Soon, she is also treating the grieving adult daughter of the murder victim.

The novel is presented through Dr. Brody's perspective, and we are pretty sure from the beginning that we are in the hands of a somewhat less than reliable narrator. Despite that factor, Drexler is able to skillfully tread the line between dark comedy and caricature, and the characters are shown to us as complex and more or less relatable humans, even our murderer. The novel, I guess, is an artifact of late 70s-early 80s satire, but certainly, for me at least, enjoyable and worth reading. It's also a quick read, which doesn't hurt.

I had never heard of Drexler, which I'm now pretty much ashamed to say. My edition of this novel was published in 2018, and the back cover text tells us, "Bad Guy is the first selection in a new series from Pushcart under the editing of celebrated novelist Jonathan Lethem." I don't know whether that series got carried on or not, but I mention it because Lethem, in his brief introduction, provides this fascinating info about Drexler:

"Drexler is a multiple-Obie-winning playwright, one of the pillars of New York's off-Broadway movement in the '60's and '70's and '80's; an Emmy-award winning comedy writer who helped create Lily Tomlin's television special, Lily; a prolific and distinctive cult-literary novelist, her work effusively praised by Donald Barthelme, Norman Mailer, Annie Dillard, and others; under-the-radar pulp novelist and self-appointed hack, whose move and TV tie-in books include the widely read novelizations of Rocky and Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway; and, perhaps the most unrepeatable act in U.S. arts history (though, I suppose Andy Kaufman came close), Drexler's stint as a "lady wrestler", touring the country as Rosalita, The Mexican Spitfire . . . . Whew. All this leaves out what many would claim as Drexler's central and most imperishable accomplishment: as the nearly-erased female member of the first and central group of innovators of Pop Art--a generation of artists coming on the heels of Abstract Expressionism that included Warhol, Lichtenstein, Samaras, Grooms, Oldenberg, et al. These are the artists in whose company, in the early '60's and ongoingly, Drexler showed, mingled daily lives, shared mutual influence, and among whose work her sculptures and paintings stand tall, looking better and better with each passing year, even if her name is somehow nearly always left out of the annals (hmmm, wonder why?)."

So, wow! Shame on me! But, anyway, now I know.

Book note: My wife and I were in New York City during the holidays and were on our way to a family gathering. I was given leave for a slight detour to visit Three Lives & Company Booksellers on West 10th Street, which Google said was quite close. But there would be no browsing time. I would get to see the inside of the store, which I'd never visited before, and buy a book. Quickly, as our scheduled arrival time at the party was looming. So we dashed in, I had a quick look around, promised myself a longer visit on our next trip to NYC (who knew, right?) and then grabbed a book off the fiction shelf basically at random and bought it. It was this book, and, you'll be relieved to know, we were on time to the party.

169rocketjk
kesäkuu 17, 2020, 2:10pm

The Swordsman of Mars by Otis Adelbert Kline



This is the "Planet Stories" restored original edition of The Swordsman of Mars. The history of my start on my Ace pulp edition, stumbling over what appeared to be a reference to the Korean War (in a story originally published in 1933) and subsequent ordering of this newer edition featuring Kline's original published text can be found here: https://www.librarything.com/topic/321000

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

170thorold
kesäkuu 17, 2020, 2:28pm

>169 rocketjk: Otis Adelbert Kline

As P G Wodehouse was fond of saying, there’s a lot of dirty work done at the font!

171rocketjk
Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 2, 2020, 7:25pm

Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein



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

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

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

At one point, soon after Walker's election, he visits town and attends a banquet where a leader of the town's business community asks him in a one-on-one conversation, "Any chance we'll ever get to be a completely red state and work on these unions and become right-to-work? What can we do to help you?"

Walker's response is, "Oh, yeah. Well, we're going to start in a couple weeks with our budget adjustment bill. The first step is, we're going to deal with collective bargaining for all public employee unions, because you use divide and conquer."

The business leader's response: "You're right on target."

A sad aspect to all of this is Goldstein's reporting, and documenting, that job retraining, as hard as people worked at making it available and as hard as people worked to receive it, in the end did little to improve the lives and incomes of most of the people who took such training.

This book does a lot to bring all of these issues--for those of us not living in areas like Janesville--into sharp, human-dimensioned focus. I suppose one of the drawbacks is that the viewpoint of many of her sources is somewhat self-selecting. By that I mean that the blue collar families that moved into conservatism and eventually, perhaps, into Maga territory, were probably nowhere near as likely to agree to spend quality time with a reporter.

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

172rocketjk
Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 2, 2020, 4:00pm

Trailblazer: A Pioneering Journalist's Fight to Make the Media Look More like America by Dorothy Butler Gilliam



I was about to say that the headline across the top of this important book's front cover says it all: "A memoir by the first black woman reporter at the Washington Post. But, really, that bit of copy, while accurate, only tells part of the story. For while Gilliams was, indeed, when hired in 1961, the first black woman reporter at the Post, the role she has played and the work she has done to advance the cause of black representation both in American's newsrooms and on the pages of those publications, goes far beyond the role that the words "first black woman reporter" convey.

Gilliam's career spans the Civil Rights era of the late 50s and 60s through the Black Power movement and all the way through to the present day. She began her career as a typist for the black weekly, the Louisville Defender in the mid-50s but was soon editing and writing stories. In 1957 she was working for the Tri-State Defender when, at the age of 21, she went to Little Rock to cover the tumultuous, violent, hate-filled proceedings of the attempts to integrate the public schools there. She went to work for the The Washington Post, as mentioned, in 1961, and as a Post reporter went to Oxford, Mississippi, to cover the equally violent and ugly events around James Meredith's attempts to become the first black to enroll at the University of Mississippi. She spent several years as a beat reporter in Washington, retired for several years to raise her three daughters and support her husband's growing art career, and then returned to the Post as the editor of the newly expanded and influential Style section that covered a wide range of artistic and cultural issues in the city. And that's the short list of her accomplishments.

Surprisingly first quarter to third of the book, as Gilliam was telling the story of her early life and career, were a bit worrying and frustrating, as Gilliam was short on detail about her own actions and provides events in what seemed to me a disorganized manner. For example, she tells about the events in Oxford before describing the events of Little Rock, and in both cases spends much more time providing an historical overview of the events than in giving specific biographical details or personal memories. And even what's there can be frustrating. For example, as a very young reporter covering the Little Rock story, sitting around a private home with all of the black reporters who'd come to town (black reporters of course couldn't find hotel rooms in Little Rock) she says, "I soaked up the atmosphere and wisdom as they sat around the bar talking in the basement rec room. . . . Down in the Bateses' basement, I learned more about these newsmen as I listened, fascinated and horrified. As they talked about what had happened that day and about other civil rights struggles, they drank scotch and bourbon at the Bateses' bar." Reading that, I wanted to know details about the wisdom she soaked up. I wanted to know what she'd learned about the newsmen and their tales.

It's not that that part of the book is bereft of detail. The tale of driving through the night on a dark road with photographer Ernest Withers and being stopped by two whites in a truck and only escaping a serious incident because Withers, a veteran of such situations, knew how to talk his way out of that sort of trouble, was harrowing in and of itself. And Gilliam's description of the frustrations and humiliations of her early days in Washington, DC, were effective as well, as she spoke of her problems getting back to the newspaper after covering stories in time to make her deadlines because most DC cab drivers would not pick up black riders, and the newsroom colleagues who would be cordial at work but would refuse to acknowledge her greeting if they met in the street. Still, there is a lot left out of that part of her memoir, such as details about specific stories she covered and what she learned from them.

From there Gilliam takes us on a journey through her personal life, up through and including her 20-year marriage to Sam Gilliam, whose career as an abstract artist takes off and gives them both an opportunity to travel and meet influential people across many fields. The pressures of their dual careers, and Sam's bouts of depression, eventually led the couple to divorce, but Gilliam describes the love and support that she got from her husband in detail, as well. Even during her time away from the paper, while family was her primary focus, Gilliam stayed busy with freelance writing and some TV work.

In 1979, Gilliam returned to the Post and took an editing position at the Style section which allowed her to assign stories covering a wide range of social and cultural issues in Washington. It is at this point that this memoir really takes off. Gilliam describes for us with great power and passion the ways she fought to include stories about the large black DC population (DC actually had a black majority) in all its many facets. Covering the issues of African Americans was something white editors and newspaper owners thought was a losing strategy, and hiring minority reporters was something they basically never considered, but with the advent of the Black Power movement, and a rise in African American influence in the arts and across the board culturally, these factors began to change.

Gilliam, as editor of the Style section and then as an influential columnist for many years, and as a founding member of the Institute for Journalism Education and the National Association for Black Journalists fought hard for decades to nurture diverse journalistic talent and to help push open doors for them in media outlets nationally. Gilliam describes the famed Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee as generally sympathetic to this cause, but cautious and slow off the mark unless pushed. Eventually however, the Post came around and gave Gilliam and the organizations she championed quite a lot of support. Sadly, Gilliam reports at the end of the book that progress is still slow, and the staffs of the country's newspapers and other news outlets are far from proportionally representative of America's black, Latinx and Native American populations.

So, wow, this might be the longest LT review I've ever written. There's just so much in this memoir, despite what I found to be it's somewhat uneven nature, that it was hard for me to summarize more briefly. All in all, Gilliam is an extremely admirable person, a tough fighter and a hero, who is reporting a crucial story

173dchaikin
heinäkuu 2, 2020, 4:24pm

Really enjoyed these last two. WI has a big problem, and it was interesting to get a little insight from your review of the wealthy and their relationship with Walker. As for Gillian, I enjoyed your take on her story and your comments about the struggle to summarize it all - “it all” Including an apparently varied life.

174rocketjk
Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 2, 2020, 7:23pm

>173 dchaikin: Thanks!

Trailblazer is a fascinating book in a lot of ways, although looking back over my review, I see that I soft-pedaled somewhat the fact that I found the writing oddly flat in many places. For one thing, Gilliam was often "thrilled" by developments, or writes "I cheered when . . . " Well it's a jam-packed book of almost 300 pages, so maybe Gilliam felt that she just needed to get through it and didn't always take the time take a critical look at every paragraph or add anecdotes of personal experiences for narrative depth. But the overall story she is telling is so crucial to our times, and her life itself is so fascinating, that the book in the end stood up well for me for all of those flaws.

Janesville is really quite good, indeed.

Now that I think about it, it is an interesting dichotomy reading these two back-to-back. Trailblazer is, of course, predominantly a story about racial issues in America. Janesville never mentions race at all, which doesn't surprise, as according to the 2010 census the town is 2.6% African American and 5.4% Latinx.

Put the two of these books together and it's a fairly effective overview of the pickle this country is in today.

175AlisonY
heinäkuu 7, 2020, 1:28pm

Really interesting last couple of books, Jerry. I've enjoyed catching up.

176rocketjk
Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 8, 2020, 5:42pm

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones



This is a terrific novel full of great writing at a sentence and paragraph level, live, realistic and sympathetic characters and a story that is, as the best ones all are, both specific to its time and place and universal in its treatment of the human condition. Jones sets her story of love, commitment, betrayal and family within modern day Atlanta and rural Louisiana. This is a novel, also, about being black in America. The pivotal, horrific incident toward the beginning of the book around which the rest of the story revolves makes this clear (an incident that could happen to a person of any race, but that happens to black Americans with particularly vicious frequency), to the daily lives, experiences and reactions of every character. Issues of family, and particularly family ties and lineage, are strong currents within the stories of all three main characters. How long can love last given the absence of the loved. How strong a power is loyalty, and when does it remain the defining essence two people's ties to one another? Where does forgiveness come from? These could, of course, be the elements of a cheesy, cliche-ridden "family drama." But not with Jones in control. Because the characters in this novel were so real to me, and the plot developments both fresh and believable, I was quickly able to put myself fully in Jones' hands and trust that she would take the story on a path that was both subtly complex and true. I never felt manipulated and I often felt moved. The ending, I thought, was perfect.

177rocketjk
heinäkuu 8, 2020, 5:42pm

> 175 Thanks! And thanks for dropping in.

178AnnieMod
heinäkuu 8, 2020, 6:21pm

>171 rocketjk: >172 rocketjk:

Wonderful reviews for some very interesting sounding books...

179lisapeet
heinäkuu 8, 2020, 6:47pm

>176 rocketjk: I've seen that book everywhere I turned for years and kind of ignored it, maybe because it was so ubiquitous? But now I'm a bit more interested—and your review bumped it up some in my estimation. Trailblazer also looks good to me—I'm a journalist and I love reading accounts of that golden age (of newsrooms, that is—hardly a golden age for social justice). Thanks for these!

180rocketjk
heinäkuu 8, 2020, 7:11pm

>178 AnnieMod: Thanks!

>179 lisapeet: I highly recommend An American Marriage. Bottom line, it's a very, very well told story. As to Trailblazer, if reading about newsrooms is your passion, don't expect too much, here. Gilliam doesn't spend a lot of time describing her actual time and interactions in the newsroom itself. There is some of that, but not much. Frankly, I was expecting much more of that myself when I bought the book. The very impressive "fight to make the media look more like America" that she wages takes place much more in the nation as a whole, via her work taking part in and leading both the Institute for Journalism Education and the National Association for Black Journalists. But even there, there's not as much "insider's" perspective as one might like. Nevertheless, the events of her story are important, and there was a lot of it I knew nothing about before reading the book.

181AlisonY
heinäkuu 9, 2020, 1:56pm

>176 rocketjk: An American Marriage goes onto my wishlist now too. You sell it well.

182rocketjk
heinäkuu 9, 2020, 5:12pm

>181 AlisonY: I hope you like it. I've been reading a lot of non-fiction this year for some reason, but An American Marriage is certainly the best novel I've read this year so far.

183rocketjk
heinäkuu 10, 2020, 11:42am

Argosy Magazine - April 1958 edited by Henry Steeger



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

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

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

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

184rocketjk
heinäkuu 11, 2020, 5:25pm

The Lost Memoir by Lou Gehrig, edited by Alan D. Gaff



Toward the last months of the New York Yankees' famed 1927 season, Lou Gehrig's agent arranged for him to keep a diary to be published in segments, as he wrote them, in several newspapers across the country, primarily, somewhat surprisingly, the Oakland Tribune. The pieces began appearing in August, 1927. Gehrig's columns first covered his early life and career, and then, once he'd caught up, began talking about the season as it was unfolding. There was no drama, as that team, which became known as Murderers Row and featured Babe Ruth's 60-home run season (Gehrig hit 47 while driving in an astounding 173 runs and won the MVP award) and the team one the AL pennant by 19 games. So Gehrig settled for talking about his teammates and, especially, their strengths on the field and in the clubhouse. So these columns ran in three or four papers, including one for each of the four games of the World Series (the Yanks swept the Pirates in four), and then were forgotten by posterity. That's until historian Alan Gaff, doing research about something else among old newspaper clippings, came upon them and decided they needed a dusting off. That's this book.

The first 100 pages consist of the columns themselves, somewhat edited by Gaff. The second 100 pages bring us Gaff's biographical essay about Gehrig.

The columns give us a nice, if surface, insight into life in a Major League clubhouse during that era. These pieces were for public consumption during the season being described. Even if Gehrig was the kind of guy to dish the dirt on his teammates (he evidently wasn't), this wouldn't have been the venue to do that. And Gehrig was clearly most comfortable writing about his colleagues in glowing terms. But still, this is a fun reading experience, especially when Gehrig describes his early days on the Yankees, which he joined as the rawest of raw rookies. He talks about how much encouragement and help he got from Ruth, already a veteran and a star when Gehrig arrived. Gaff's essay adds some nice perspective, as well, and takes us through Gehrig's sad and much too early death of the disease that's now named after him. Gehrig was, evidently, a genuinely nice guy as long as he lived who worked very hard to become a good fielding first baseman and one of the all-time greats at the plate. Endearingly, he retained his Achilles heal on the field--he was a terrible base runner.

This is a fun volume for baseball fans, especially those interested in the game's history. It is a very recent publication, purchased for me as a birthday present by my wonderful wife.

185rocketjk
Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 19, 2020, 3:53pm

Strange Defeat: A Statement of Evidence Written in 1940 by Marc Bloch



This is a fascinating testimony about the factors in the French army, government and society in general that, according the author, accounted for the French collapse and premature (in Bloch's opinion) surrender in the face of the German invasion in 1940. Marc Bloch was a veteran of the trenches of World War I and by trade a highly respected historian, so analysis of the type he undertook here was his stock and trade. When war was declared in 1939 with the invasion of Poland, Bloch returned to the military as a reservist, and was set to work as an officer working out the tracking and distribution of petrol supplies for the French First Army. As such, Bloch was in a position to see first-hand the hardening of the arteries that had taken place within the French military, both during the long period of inactivity known as the Phony War and then during the tragically short period of actual fighting once Germany invaded. Bloch describes, here, the scene on the beaches during the Dunkirk escape. Among those taken off the beaches, Bloch spent a short time in England, and then returned to what he thought would be the battle to defend his country. Attempts to assemble French troops to create a counter-attack came to an end with the capitulation by the French government. Bloch describes his thought process at the time, feeling that the honorable thing to do would be to allow himself to be captured as a soldier. But he had five children, and didn't think abandoning them for the duration of the war for the sake of symbolism was the right thing to do. Do to the fact that he was by this point a middle-aged man, he was able to simply put on civilian clothes and disappear in plain sight without drawing suspicion from the occupying forces who were soon everywhere. Eventually, he made his way home. Living in Vichy France and trying to return to his academic work, Bloch (according to the wikipedia page on his life) found his activities greatly curtailed by the Vichy regulations that severely limited where and how Jews could find work. When the German army rolled into Vichy in 1942, Bloch joined the underground. He was caught and executed in 1944.

This book was written in 1940, almost immediately after the French surrender. There are a few footnotes that Bloch entered to amend or add to the information presented in around 1942. Bloch discusses a great many reasons that came together to create a France wholly incapable of fighting off the German Army. A top-heavy military structure with too much jealousy and too little cooperation between branches, a complacency born of a wholesale refusal to take a clear look at the way warfare had changed since the first world war, the widespread loathing for and distrust of the working classes and the democratic process in general among the country's governing and industrial classes, to the extent, Bloch says, that some even thought that not only was it inevitable that Germany's autocratic system would defeat France, but that perhaps it was preferable that they would. In the field, according to Bloch (and he certainly wasn't alone), the French Army was done in by a lack of adequate training and equipment, poor leadership in crucial posts, and the dismay and sometimes even panic derived from the surprising speed and fury of the German attack (which Bloch takes pain to point out should not have been surprising). Bloch describes commanders who ordered withdrawals from perfectly defensible positions without orders and before the German army had even arrived because they couldn't imagine their troops (or themselves) standing up to such a lightning attack. In addition, the refusal to look clearly at how war was evolving added to the French leaderships' refusal to bulk up their supply of tanks and aircraft. (Elihu Root, in his The Secret History of the War, reviewed above, finds even more sinister sources for these withdrawals, claiming that they were ordered by traitors within the French high command. Root has a similar theory about the refusal to modernize the French Army. Bloch doesn't quite go that far, but in 1940, writing from home, he wouldn't have the evidence Root might have had for that surmise.)

Bloch takes the reader on a tour of French pre-war society, taking industrialists, labor leaders and academics (including himself) to task for the ways in which the nation fell short and laid themselves open to defeat. Bloch goes on to provide a more global context with a final section acute and highly readable political philosophy. The combination of Bloch's status as an expert historian and as a first-hand participant in so many of these events, plus Bloch's lucid and enjoyable writing style, makes this an entirely fascinating testimony and analysis of a fascinating if tragic historical saga. Bloch hid the manuscript of the book but provided instructions about where it could be found. It was first published in 1946.

This book was a birthday gift (along with the recently reviewed Lou Gehrig memoir) from my wonderful wife, who knows what I like to read!

186baswood
heinäkuu 19, 2020, 5:34pm

Enjoyed your excellent review of Strange Defeat: A Statement of Evidence Written in 1940 That one goes on my to buy list.

187rocketjk
heinäkuu 19, 2020, 5:38pm

>186 baswood: Thanks! And, yes, an entirely fascinating and informed testimony for anybody with an interest in the subject matter.

188rocketjk
Muokkaaja: lokakuu 20, 2020, 12:19am

A Treasury of Great Reporting: "Literature Under Pressure" from the Sixteenth Century to Our Own Time edited by Louis L. Snyder and Richard B. Morris



Read as a "between book" (see first post). It took me several years to gradually go through the stupendous anthology of great journalism. Included here are 130 examples of great journalism covering important moments and memorable events in (for the most part) Western history, beginning with a 16th century account of the "confessions" of a witch, from a newsletter published in Vienna and ending with the trial in Israel of Adolph Eichmann. The Battle of Lexington, the storming of the Bastille, the horrors of slavery, the corruption of Boss Tweed, the massacre at Port Arthur, and scenes from wars all over the world, writing by Hugo, Twain and Dickens, the Dreyfus trial, the Turkish massacres in Armenia, bloodshed in Little Rock and the first American manned space flight are all represented. Given that the volume was originally published in 1949 (my copy is from a "revised and enlarged" 2nd edition published in 1962), it's no surprise that World War Two is heavily represented. This is simply a fascinating compendium of first-hand accounts of historical events and conditions over several centuries of American and European history.

189rocketjk
Muokkaaja: lokakuu 20, 2020, 12:18am

The Unknown Soldier by Väinö Linna



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

A bit of historical background. The first fighting between Finland and Russia during this period took place in what is known as the Winter War (December 1939 through mid-March 1940). Russia had demanded a large piece of territory in Karelia that they thought they needed to defend Leningrad from the German army in the invasion they were sure was coming sooner or later. When the Finns refused, the Russians attacked to take the territory by force. Expecting a walkover, the Russians evidently did not send their best troops in and were shocked by a series of early defeats by the outnumbered but tougher Finnish forces who were in addition fighting to defend their own homes. Eventually, however, the Russians sent in more seasoned troops and the Finns were worn down and defeated. The armistice terms saw the Russians gaining control of essentially the exact territory they'd originally demanded.

In The Unknown Soldier, Linna deals with this defeat thusly, on Page 1:

"Finland's Winter War had been fought--that war which had been the best to date, for in it both sides had won. The Finns, though, had won slightly less than the Russians in that they had had to cede territory to their enemies and withdraw behind a new frontier. . . . In warm spring weather the veterans departed, wearing their fur caps, tattered sheepskin coats, knitted jerseys and felt boots. For them where were no 'difficulties of readjustment.' Finnish fashion, they got dead drunk, sobered and then went too work. Had the nation's sacrifices been in vain? That was a question for those who had no spring planting to attend to."

A year later, the Finnish government made ill-advised and regrettable common cause with Nazi Germany. While Russia was still retreating before the initial German invasion, Finland attacked in the north with the announced goal of getting their ceded territory back. This is the war known as the Continuation War. Things went well at first, as the Russians were reeling before the German attack. The Finnish army took back their lost ground and continued into Russian territory. Eventually, though, greater Russian numbers and resources took their toll and in bitter fighting the Finns were forced to retreat. Eventually, the Finns and Russians made a separate peace more or less along the same borders that had been set at the end of the Winter War, with the caveat that the Finns would be responsible for expelling the German army from Finland.

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

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

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

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

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

By the end, more than one of the characters is of course asking, as the reader will, "What was the point of all that horror?" Linna mostly leaves those questions to history, and to the reader the task of understanding the ultimately tragedy and futility of the endeavor. I think it's giving away nothing to tell you that the final line of my edition's translation is, "These were good men."

190rocketjk
heinäkuu 30, 2020, 2:56pm

In the Distance by Hernan Diaz



In the mid-19th century, a naive Swedish farmboy named Hakan heads off to America with his brother, but soon finds himself alone. Arriving in Gold Rush era San Francisco rather than New York, the destination he and his brother had set out for, and with virtually no knowledge of geography, Hakan decides to set out walking to New York, where he's sure he will find his brother. Over it's first half, In the Distance is a picaresque novel, with Hakan falling into a series of situations, seemingly randomly, through which he gains a strange, piecemeal sort of knowledge about human nature and about the natural world. The writing, especially the descriptions of the mountains, plains and deserts of western America, is detailed and exquisite. The life that Hakan falls into, via a combination of circumstance, ignorance and choice, is also intimately and lovingly described. I found this novel to be an interesting reflection, almost a reverie, about humankind's place in the grander scheme of the natural world. In didn't work as well as a character study for me, because of Hakan's (and his story's) "larger than life" qualities. At any rate, the story's quick arrival into the realm of fable is certainly intended. This novel was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2018, losing out to Less (which I haven't read but which my wife found underwhelming). Picaresque novels are always somewhat troublesome for me, because in terms of plot, it's often difficult for me to discern, at the end, what they've added up to. In the Distance is absolutely an admirable piece of writing and a mostly engaging story, most moving for me in terms of the philosophical issues I mentioned above. It didn't add up, for me, to the most gripping of novels, but, obviously, many readers have been more taken with it than I was.

Book note: I bought this book in the wonderful new/used bookstore in Petaluma, CA, Copperfield's Books. That, I think, was the last time I shopped in an actual bookstore before the beginning of shelter in place and other covid procedures. I have one more book from that in-store visit that I'll be reading soon.

191rocketjk
elokuu 6, 2020, 4:02pm

Naked She Died by Don Tracy



From the "They Can't All Be Classics" Department. This is the second book in Tracy's "Giff Speer" series from the early 1960s. Giff Speer is a tough WW2 vet who is a member of the U.S. Army's super secret undercover MP unit. The murder of the adult daughter of a longtime Army sergeant in charge of providing the physical training for the astronauts of American's new space program sends Speer to Fort Beauregard in southwest Louisiana to find out who killed her and why. More murders follow, and corruption on the base is rampant. But what's the connection between it all? Speer, is, of course, the man for the job. A fun diversion and a pretty good tale for the genre. Well written enough, and mostly devoid of cliche. The sexism common to books of the genre and era is certainly present. This was written in 1962, and I enjoyed reading my 1st edition Pocket Books pulp paperback.

192rocketjk
Muokkaaja: lokakuu 20, 2020, 12:19am

Sudden Death by Alvaro Enrigue



This is a fanciful, inventive novel by Mexican writer Alvaro Enrigue about the twin seismic events in Western history of the Counter Reformation that sought to crush Protestantism under the weight of Inquisition and expulsion and the destruction of the Aztec Empire by Hernan Cortes and creation of New Spain which brought new wealth to Europe. The narrative mostly jumps back and forth between two scenarios. First is a whimsically rendered tennis grudge match played between the Italian artist Caravaggio and the Spanish poet Quevedo. Much is made over the rules of early versions of tennis, the differences in the composition of the balls, as well as the symbolic (and invented) detail of four tennis balls filled with the hair of Anne Boleyn, shorn just before her execution. Second is the progress of Cortes and his relationship with Montezuma, whose world he is about to destroy. The tone of almost all of this is deceptively light, often played for laughs. But the veil is often pulled back, the smile shown to be the grin of a death's head. For focus also spins out from the tennis game to show us the nobles and religious figures who sponsor and support both artists--and those figures' forebears--men who can at the same time appreciate a revolutionary use of lighting in a painting and condemn thousands and thousands of people to death via the headman's axe and the pyre. The Aztec culture is identified as tyrannical and murderous, and the conflict between Cortes and Montezuma as resulting in a sea of misery and blood. With all that being true, how to reflect accurately how delightful a reading experience I found this? Let's go back to the start and speak of a novel fanciful, slyly humorous and inventive.

193baswood
elokuu 13, 2020, 4:13pm

>192 rocketjk: neat review.

194stretch
elokuu 13, 2020, 4:57pm

>192 rocketjk: That sounds like such a cool book!

195lisapeet
elokuu 14, 2020, 7:33am

>192 rocketjk: That sounds really intriguing. On the wish list it goes.

196rocketjk
Muokkaaja: elokuu 17, 2020, 1:34pm

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



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

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

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

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

Wheeler starts with a clear and to-the-point background about the advent of the telegraph. He makes the point that of the three technological advances that changed the nature of warfare as the Civil War progressed--the rifle bored musket, the proliferation of the railroad and the telegraph system--the South largely rejected the last two of those, the railroad and the telegraph, because they saw these inventions as promoting centralized authority over the regional identities and states' rights philosophy that they favored and were will to fight for. (Ironically, Wheeler identifies the Confederate victory at the first Battle of Bull Run as being made possible by the first ever transport of troops directly to a battle by rail.)

I found this book to be very well organized, clearly written and sharply edited, and quite interesting. I certainly don't consider myself any sort of an expert on the Civil War, but I have read quite a few histories of the period. It was nice to read a book that provided me a previously unrealized perspective and new insights.

197rocketjk
elokuu 17, 2020, 1:36pm

>193 baswood: Thanks for the kind words.

>194 stretch: >195 lisapeet: Definitely cool and worth reading.

198rocketjk
elokuu 20, 2020, 6:35pm

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



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

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

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


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

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

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

199jjmcgaffey
Muokkaaja: elokuu 21, 2020, 12:20am

Ooh, that sounds really good. I love (as in, have read at least a dozen times) Mrs Miniver, which is of the same flavor and period (or possibly WWII - but war in England, as a backdrop to mild and penetrating observations of her world). I shall have to see if I can find his books.

Excellent! Project Gutenberg has both, and Windfalls (apparently not (yet) on LT) as well.

200rocketjk
elokuu 21, 2020, 12:21am

>199 jjmcgaffey: Hope you enjoy them. They're not earth shattering, but gentle and in most cases, at least for me, thoughtful and enjoyable.

201jjmcgaffey
elokuu 21, 2020, 12:23am

I expect I will. Not as pretty as your copy, but I'm all about the words anyway...

202sallypursell
elokuu 21, 2020, 12:32am

>19 rocketjk: Your Baseball Almanac from 1963 sure sounds like fun! I was a St. Louis Cardinals fan then, as I am today. I think I will give this a look.

203rocketjk
elokuu 21, 2020, 11:06am

>203 rocketjk: Yes, for baseball fans with a long memory, those old yearlies are a gold mine of information. It's fun to see who they thought was going to be a big star, and to read the predictions about which teams were going to be good for the coming season.

204rocketjk
elokuu 27, 2020, 4:32pm

A Deadly Shade of Gold by John D. MacDonald



This is the fifth novel in MacDonald's classic and beloved "Travis McGee" mystery series. McGee is the classic world-weary, heart-of-gold, uber competent private eye who only gets involved in trouble when a friend is in trouble or he runs out of money. Here, it's the former, as McGee heads off to Mexico looking for information about and revenge for the killing of a friend. At the heart of the search is a collection of ancient gold figurines.

As always, great plotting, great observations about the acquisitive, materialist drain the world, and U.S. society in particular, is circling around (circa mid-1960s!). The plotting, pacing and writing quality are all quite good. It's no wonder that this series has remained so popular. The sexism is baked in, I'm afraid.

205kidzdoc
syyskuu 17, 2020, 3:53pm

I particularly enjoyed your review of Sudden Death, Jerry. I own one of Álvaro Enrigue's novels, Hypothermia, but I haven't read it yet, and I'll be on the lookout for this intriguing book.

206rocketjk
syyskuu 17, 2020, 6:12pm

>205 kidzdoc: Yes, I think you'd like it, Darryl. It's quite good, indeed.

207rocketjk
Muokkaaja: syyskuu 20, 2020, 2:54pm

208rocketjk
Muokkaaja: lokakuu 20, 2020, 12:22am

A couple of months ago, my friend Kim Nalley, who is both an internationally know jazz and blues singer and a Ph.D. candidate in history at UC Berkeley, sent around a list of suggested reading about the African American experience and the history of racism in America. I will be going back to that list perhaps every third or fourth book I read until I've worked my way through it.

Checking in at 556 pages, Been in the Storm So Long constitutes a commitment of time and energy, but an extremely worthwhile commitment. I was under the impression that the book would provide an overview of the Reconstruction Era, but in fact Litwack stops right as Radical Reconstruction get going. Instead, the book starts with a description of the conditions endured by the prisoners of slavery as the Civil War neared, continues on to describe conditions and events during the war years, and then covers the first few years after Emancipation. Litwack makes detailed use of letters, diaries, newspaper articles and interviews. He lays on example after example after example of each condition and development he describes. At times it seems like perhaps he's still doing that even after the points been effectively made. However, at all times I felt like the effect created with this tactic was an important one. Because it made each element not just something to be told and then to be moved on from, but instead something to consider over and over again until something like knowledge perhaps had seeped in.

Some of the key historical points, some of which I can say that I knew, perhaps, but often only in a vague manner and are extremely important for every American (at least) to be strongly aware in more detailed ways:

1) Slavery was a horror.

2) The crossing of thousands of escaping slaves across the advancing Union lines and, eventually, into the Union army, was an extremely important factor in the North's military victory.

3) The Southern planter class was determined during and after the war that Emancipation would not in any way mean the end of White supremacy. Acknowledging that slavery was over did not in any way signify to them that Blacks should have any rights whatsoever. That included voting, testifying in court, serving on juries or, in many places, owning land.

4) The occupying Union forces sympathized much more with the White aspirations listed above than with helping protect ex-slaves from getting cheated out of the wages their former "masters" were now supposed to be paying them or even physical attack and murder at the hands of whites displeased by their behavior in one way or another.

That's a very, very short list of the major issues covered in this fascinating and essential history.

209rocketjk
Muokkaaja: lokakuu 20, 2020, 12:22am

The Hucksters by Frederic Wakeman



Frederic Wakeman's social satire about the advertising world just at the intersection between the end of World War 2 and the beginning of the post-war boom was one of the best-selling novels of 1946 (https://www.librarything.com/topic/29306). There were, evidently, plenty of fiction readers around willing to see the world through the lens of quick-witted cynicism.

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

The writing in this novel is very sharp and the reader is generally engaged and often amused, though the satiric, not-quite-real-life qualities of the story are always apparent. The whole production is a warning shot across the bow of American culture: Wakeman is telling us that, while of course there was nothing new about hucksterism, consumerism was coming for America and it was coming hard, with the mass-media of radio at that point leading the way. The reader remains interested in how all of this is going to work itself out for Norman. Will he give in to the pressures of prestige and wealth and allow himself to tumble into the spiritual black hole of the Ad Biz, or will something occur to show Norman another way?

Unfortunately, at least for me, the final quarter of the book includes a plot development that, while mostly believable, is rendered in an entirely overwrought manner, explaining to me why this book is essentially unknown to us despite its popularity in the late 40s. Still this novel was very much worth reading, I thought, as an interesting time piece. Also, for the most part, it was an enjoyable reading experience for me.

Book note: I have no idea how long this book has been sitting on my shelf. I entered it into my LT library back in 2008 during my first wave of posting my library. My copy seems to be a first edition. But most interestingly, it is inscribed by Anne Eloise Sweeney who according to Wikipedia, was "a U.S. Army officer who achieved the rank of Lt. Colonel and served as deputy director of the Women's Army Corps." It seems likely that this is the same Anne Eloise Sweeney who owned my book, as the Lt. Colonel was living in Marin County (CA) when she passed away in 1989, and is buried at the San Francisco National Cemetery, and I lived in San Francisco from 1986 through 2008.

210rocketjk
Muokkaaja: lokakuu 4, 2020, 3:49pm

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance



Hillbilly Elegy was very popular when it was first published in 2016, and I can see why. Vance's first-person description of the distressed working class (and below) "Hillbilly" communities of the Appalachian Mountains he grew up in is pretty good reading. The first half to two-thirds of the book are more interesting than the final chapters, to put it mildly. Vance is a good writer, and his narratives of his early family troubles, his mother's addictions, his grandparents' taking over of his and his sister's raising and the ways in which these events are indicative of the conditions and problems of their rural Kentucky community are absorbing. The points Vance has to make in retrospect about these matters ring true enough.

But I found the final 60 pages or so of Vance's memoir to be excruciating, unfortunately. Vance is, of course, a success story. That success was hard earned and, as Vance certainly allows, against the odds, a product, to a large extent, of the support of his grandparents, a type of familial help that many young people of his world don't receive. As admirable as Vance's "against the odds" success is, though, his attempts to jam the square peg of his upper mobility into the round peg of his community's problems don't ring true. So his long description of his time at Yale Law School, for example, simply made me impatient. He wants the reader to believe that his discomfort at entering the elite and singular social world at Yale was due to the fact that he had no one to tell him what to expect, his coming from Appalachia and all. I really don't think anybody knows what to expect at Yale until he or she gets there. Once Vance rises above the lifestyle problems of his community that do, in fact, hold down many of his peers, I would have found it more useful, and interesting, for Vance to circle back and take a hard look at that community from the outside, rather than giving us a blow-by-blow description of his life at Yale and afterwards. Vance's description of his own struggles to control the anger and overreaction that pervaded his home, and all the homes he knew, as a youth are fair enough. But mostly, for the last few chapters I felt like the story was over but Vance was still talking.

Overall, I felt that this memoir was worth reading, even with its flaws.

Book note: Given the up and down reviews I've seen of this book over the years here on LT, I doubt I would have chosen to read Hillbilly Elegy on my own. One day recently, however, the book appeared in my mailbox in an Amazon mailer. I certainly hadn't ordered it, and I wasn't waiting for any other book to arrive, so this one hadn't been sent by mistake in some other book's place. Plus, I never order from Amazon. I remembered, though, that recently I had responded to a friend's Facebook post, a Send a Book to a Stranger chain letter sort of thing. Knowing the odds of getting anything back, I went ahead and signed up and sent off a book to the next person on the list and forgot about the whole thing. So my guess is that my copy of Hillbilly Elegy was my good karma gift via that Facebook post. I actually got a book from a chain post! I felt like the least I could do was to read the thing!

211rocketjk
lokakuu 4, 2020, 3:49pm

Cape Horn and Other Stories From the End of the World by Francisco Coloane



Read as a "Between Book" (see first post). Earlier this year I read another collection of stories by Chilean writer Francisco Coloane, Tierra del Fuego. I loved them so much that I immediately plunged into this collection. As it happens, quite a few of the stories are offered in both collections. No matter, I happily reread those.

I had never heard of Coloane until my wife and I traveled in Argentina and southern Chile this past November. We spent almost a week on the large Chilean island of Chiloe, and happened to visit the town of Quemchi, where Coloane was born, and where there is a statue of him in the town square. In fact, the square is basically dedicated to him. My curiosity piqued, upon returning home I immediately went online and ordered both these collections of his stories in translation. I will simply repost my review of Tierra del Fuego, since the stories mentioned are in both volumes:

This is a collection of nine exquisite stories by revered Chilean author Francisco Coloane. Coloane spins tales in spare, expressive prose about life in the lonely pampas, mountains and rugged islands and coastlines of Chile's southernmost country. For the most part, the characters are men, in small groups or in pairs, interacting for good or ill with the hazzards of land and sea and with their own frailties, both spiritual and physical, and, of course, with each other. In one of my favorite stories in the collection, "The Empty Bottle," two men, unknown to each other, meet at random as they ride their horses across the pampas. Their journeys are taking them in the same direction, so they ride along together for a while, lost in their own thoughts. The younger of the two thinks of his fiance, waiting in a far off town, and his desire to return to her. The older thinks of a murder he has committed years back in almost identical circumstances.

One of the blurbs on the book's cover refers to Coloane as "the Jack London of our times." I suppose in terms of subject matter, this might be apt. Stylistically to me it seems less so, though admittedly it's been a long time since I read much London. This is going to be a fairly obscure reference, but Coloane's writing brought to mind for me that of Finnish author Väinö Linna's "Under the North Star" trilogy. Another of my favorites, here, "How the Chilote Otey Died," about a group of survivors of a failed uprising on the run from pursuers intent on deadly retribution, particularly reminded me of Linna.

Here is Pablo Neruda's quote as offered on the back cover of the Europa Edition collection:

"Long arms, arms like rivers, are necessary to fully embrace Francisco Coloane. Or perhaps it's necessary to be a squall of wind, gusting over him beard and all. Otherwise, take a seat across the table from him and analyze the question, study him deeply; you will surely end by drinking a bottle of wine with Francisco and happily postponing the matter to some later date."

Cape Horn was originally published in 1990 as translated by David A. Petreman. Tierra del Fuego is a 2008 Europa Editions volume, translated by Howard Curtis. I found the Curtis translation a bit more flowing, and on that basis only I recommend Tierra del Fuego over Cape Horn.

212AlisonY
Muokkaaja: lokakuu 6, 2020, 8:01am

Enjoying your reviews, Jerry. Hillbilly Elegy has intrigued me on other people's reviews as well. Sounds like there are a few annoyances in it that remind me of some of my issues with Tara Westover's Educated (me, me, me syndrome), so I'm still on the fence about actively searching out a copy of this one.

213rocketjk
lokakuu 5, 2020, 3:35pm

>212 AlisonY: Thanks, Alison. i can't say I heartily recommend searching out Hillbilly Elegy. On another thread of mine, somebody recommended Rick Bragg's All Over But the Shoutin' as a memoir with similar subject matter that hit the target in a more satisfying manner. Maybe someday I'll read that one.

214thorold
lokakuu 5, 2020, 4:28pm

>211 rocketjk: That sounds really interesting: I ought to check out Coloane.

215rocketjk
lokakuu 6, 2020, 4:55pm

>214 thorold: Yes, I would love to know how you like these stories. You will be reading them in the original Spanish, I think, yeah? You will have more than these two story collections to chose from. These were all I could find in English translation.

216markon
lokakuu 9, 2020, 3:30pm

>210 rocketjk: It's been several years since I read I Hllbilly elegy so I only have my impressions to rely on, but I remember being unsatisfied with this book. I somehow got the feeling of the author's blaming the victim (not himself, but others who didn't make it out), and wished he had done some social analysis of his situation and the community he came from, rather than describing his success.

217rocketjk
Muokkaaja: lokakuu 20, 2020, 12:24am

>216 markon: "I somehow got the feeling of the author's blaming the victim (not himself, but others who didn't make it out), and wished he had done some social analysis of his situation and the community he came from, rather than describing his success."

Yes, I agree wholeheartedly. That's pretty much what I was getting at when I wrote this in my review:

"I would have found it more useful, and interesting, for Vance to circle back and take a hard look at that community from the outside, rather than giving us a blow-by-blow description of his life at Yale and afterwards."

Great readers think alike!

218rocketjk
Muokkaaja: lokakuu 20, 2020, 12:25am

Capitalism and Slavery by Eric Williams



Eric Williams was prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago from 1961 until his death in 1981. Before that, he was a professor of political and social science at Howard University. His book, Capitalism and Slavery was published in 1944 and, as per Colin Palmer's introduction to the 1994 UNC Press edition I read, met with mixed reactions due to the new perspective it provided. As a West Indian, Williams' focus was slavery in the British Empire, and especially in the West Indies sugar colonies. General belief had it that the abolition of slavery in the Empire had been driven primarily by humanitarian movements in England.

Williams' thesis was that the proliferation of slavery was driven by the mercantile system, in which British colonies could only trade with the mother country, and protective tariffs made it prohibitively expensive for British companies to buy raw materials from anyone but those colonies. However, the capital accumulated in England via this system became substantial enough to fund inventions like the steam engine that eventually rendered this protective system obsolete, creating a clamor for free trade instead. Once this happened, the West Indian sugar plantations, were doomed. Sources of raw material, such as India, where slavery was not in widespread, or at least universal, practice, made it impossible for the slave colonies to compete. The industrialists in England no longer wanted to pay high tariffs to protect the trade of slave colonies. They no longer wanted to build ships for slavers because, Williams shows that the slave trade was a high risk proposition for ship owners and for sailors, whose death rate on slave ship duty was significantly higher than on other sort of merchant duty. (Williams never expressly says why that was.) Also, once the American colonies had won their independence, new markets were opened up for British importers. Finally, slave uprisings in the West Indies, in one colony or another, were relatively frequent, adding to the sense of unease and the reluctance of the English public to continue to countenance slavery. It's not that Williams didn't think the abolitionists were important. He devotes an entire chapter to their work. But the theme of his book was that they were not the primary drivers of slavery's end in the British Empire. Slavery ended, said Williams, when it was no longer economically viable. Members of Parliament who were supporters of slavery in one decade attacked the slave trade in the next. But when it came to the economic prosperity of the Empire, most British lawmakers and influential citizens, were willing and able to shrug off slavery's injustices and horrors. Humanitarianism simply wasn't their brief.

Williams does a great job of illustrating the ways in which, during British slavery's heyday, the entire economy of the Empire was tied up in the practice. Slaves had to be bought and transported (slavers and ship builders), they had to be clothed (cotton and wool manufacturers) and they had to be restrained (miners and forgers of handcuffs and other such devices). Food had to be imported, as well, because most of the islands, such as Barbados, crammed sugar cane into every arable acre.

The ideas behind the book are fascinating. Unfortunately, as a historian, Williams could not ask his readers to take his word regarding his research. He had to provide details about the rise and fall of mercantilism and slavery and then the free trade movement. There are a lot of such details, numbers regarding exports and imports of a wide range of colonies and industries, etc. One can understand Williams' need to include them, especially as he was proposing a new theory of events, but they can be slow in the reading.

Again, this book was first published in 1944. Palmer, in his introduction, tells us that subsequent research has in most cases confirmed Williams' thesis, but in some cases has contradicted some of Williams' ideas. He doesn't specify, however. So we read this book with the thought that, while Williams was creating a new and mostly valid framework for understanding the history he's dealing with, not every detail held up to the research done over the next half century.

Book note: This was the second book I've read from a list of important books about racism and African American history provided by my friend Kim Nalley, a great jazz/blues singer and a PhD candidate in American History at Cal Berkeley.

219rocketjk
lokakuu 12, 2020, 1:43pm

Sport Magazine - November 1971 edited by Al Silverman



Read as a "between book" (see first post). The November 1971 edition of Sport Magazine marked the publication's 25th anniversary. There were some interesting and fun articles, including an entertaining essay, "My Life in the Great Soo League, by Eugene McCarthy (yes, the politician) about playing baseball in a local town league when he was a teenager. Sports-wise, I am primarily a baseball fan these days, so I was most interested in the feature about Catfish Hunter as well as Bill Mazeroski's piece, "My 16 Years With Roberto Clemente." This article is very insightful, with lots of first-hand observations about Clemente the player and the person. But a modern reader will be saddened by Mazeroski's closing observation that he believes Clemente still has several years of baseball greatness left in him. Baseball fans will know that Clemente died in a plane crash just a year later while bringing food to earthquake-hammered Managua, Nicaragua. Finally, Roger Kahn's piece on Preacher Roe, the last pitcher to throw a legal spitball in Major League Baseball, is terrific.

Instructive is the feature article on Tom Gatewood, "Notre Dame's New Style All-American." What made Gatewood a "new style" football player at Notre Dame in 1971 was the fact that he was black.

In the "Top Performers of the Past 25 Years" section, I enjoyed the short profiles of Doak Walker (College Football) and Lew Alcinder (College Basketball). Alcindor was of course soon to change his name to Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Also, the piece on Willie Shoemaker (Horse Racing) was interesting. Unfortunately, women athletes, you'll not be surprised to learn given the vintage of the magazine, are relegated to a photo essay.

220rocketjk
Muokkaaja: lokakuu 14, 2020, 1:28pm

Born on the Fourth of July by Ron Kovic



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

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

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

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

221VivienneR
lokakuu 16, 2020, 12:35am

>220 rocketjk: Great review, Jerry! I too saw the movie a long time ago, so long ago that I'd forgotten who the actor was. I know how you must have felt because I had a hard time keeping Cruise's image from my mind as I read Lee Child's Jack Reacher after I heard Cruise got the movie role.

I too was born on the 4th of July (a few years before you) and even though I was in a different country I remember the nightly news and the feeling of despair for those facing the draft.

Born on the Fourth of July goes on my wishlist.

222dchaikin
lokakuu 19, 2020, 12:56pm

Just caught up from a long way back. Thoroughly enjoyed your reviews. I’m quite fascinated that you’re working through these long difficult books on racism and African American history. Your reviews of Coloane and Williams are terrific.

>220 rocketjk: the movie is my entire impression of this. Interesting to read your review of the actual book.

>219 rocketjk: so, who is on the cover?

223RidgewayGirl
lokakuu 19, 2020, 1:51pm

>220 rocketjk: & >221 VivienneR: Fourth of July babies represent!

I'm very much enjoying your comments on the books you're reading from your friend's list.

224rocketjk
Muokkaaja: lokakuu 20, 2020, 12:28am

>221 VivienneR:, >222 dchaikin:, >223 RidgewayGirl: Thanks for all the kind words.

Dan, the cover story of the Sport Magazine is a profile on San Francisco 49ers running back Ken Willard. It is well done, although nothing out of the ordinary run of those sorts of articles. I was 16 when this edition of the magazine was published. In those days I would have cared more about a story on an NFL player. Nowadays, I basically watch and care about baseball only, with an occasional foray into "real" football (i.e., soccer). Anyway, all that by explanation of why I would have forgotten to mention a cover story about a football player.

The next book from Kim's list will be another long one, Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow by Leon Litwack, the same historian who wrote Been in the Storm So Long. It's actually not on the list, but I saw good things about it here, and thought it would be worthwhile to read Litwack's follow-up.

225rocketjk
lokakuu 20, 2020, 6:13pm

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



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

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

226rocketjk
Muokkaaja: lokakuu 24, 2020, 12:10pm

The New Men by C.P. Snow



This is the 6th novel in C.P. Snow's Strangers and Brothers series. Goodness how I have been enjoying these books, which I've been reading through at the rate of one or two per year. The series takes protagonist Lewis Eliot, and English society, from the mid-1920s through the mid-1960s. Eliot is a "self-made man" who has battled his from working class roots into the relatively high echelons of British government work, his early plans to become a high-powered attorney having been short circuited by his love and loyalty to a depressive wife who know will barely see him, so reclusive has she become. Now we are back in the years of World War 2, where we also spent much of The Light and the Dark. Eliot finds himself as, more or less, second in command to a cabinet minister whose portfolio lands Eliot in the midst of gathering funding and manpower for the British attempt to create an atom bomb. The ethics of creating such a weapon, Eliot's relationship with his younger brother, a scientist whom Eliot wishes to help "get on" in ways he himself had not been able to, the gathering of middle age and the interpersonal and power-related relationships of scientists, politicians, friends, brothers and lovers are all deftly handled. Snow was an acute observer of the human condition, a writer with a keen eye to human ego, frailty, desires and strengths. He has the grace not to descend into cynicism. In fact, Nicolas Tredell's study of Snow and his works is entitled C.P. Snow: The Dynamics of Hope. The writing is always low key, with the first person narrative infused with what we Americans, at any rate, would describe as a standard English diffidence. Within this, however, the language is alive with wit and the sort of tiny detail of speech and thought that makes characters really come alive, at least for me. Some might find this writing too slow, I suppose, but for me Snow's writing is entirely delightful.

Book note: My copy is a 15th printing (1982) British Penguin paperback. At the bottom of the inside cover is handwritten in ink in very neat script, "Charing Cross Road, London, 17 August 1983."

227rocketjk
marraskuu 9, 2020, 1:04pm

Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow by Leon F. Litwack



It took me more than two weeks to read this horrifying, depressing, infuriating and absolutely essential history. This is not one of the books on my friend Kim Nalley's list of important books about racism and African American history, but it is the follow-up to Litwack's Been in the Storm So Long, which I read earlier and which is on that list. The first book, Storm, covers the period from the days of slavery through the beginning of Reconstruction. Trouble in Mind covers the period from the end of Reconstruction, when the brief period of black enfranchisement ended as southern states moved to brutally and emphatically reassert White Supremacy throughout the American south, through what is known as the Great Migration, when blacks in great numbers moved north to fill factory jobs that came available during and just after World War I.

I had thought I had an idea of what the term "Jim Crow" represented to the people who lived under the weight of that oppressive system, but it turns out I had only a relatively shallow understanding. It wasn't just a question of separate railroad cars and exclusion from restaurants and stores. It wasn't just being prevented from voting, although many of the problems stemmed from that. It was about vicious, all-pervasive, horrendous oppression. If you were black and you were perceived as getting "above your place," you could have your house burned down and your crops destroyed. You could be run off your land. Or you could be murdered. What did "above your place" mean? If you had raised enough cotton on your land so that you could pay your rent and your bills at the store and still have enough left over to sell a couple of bales at market and keep the money for yourself, that was an offense for which you and your entire family could be, and might well be, murdered. Or if you were able to fix your house up so that it was more presentable that a rundown shack. Or if it was learned you had money in the bank. Or if you questioned the white man who was cheating you out of wages or payment for crops. Or if you were a teacher in a black school. And so on. Black lives, in this time and place, were meant to be, and most often were, unending hours, days and years of drudgery with no chance to improve one's lot in life. There are a lot more details here about this era, the horrors of lynching (often preceded by long hours of torture and frequently accomplished via burning at the stake). These conditions, again, prevailed across the south through World War One, and, of course, beyond.

I am appalled that it took me until age 65 to understand these details. This book, or at least knowledge of this history, is essential, I think, to any attempt at a comprehension of racial issues in America today, including the Black Lives Matter movement as well as a myriad of deeply rooted economic and cultural problems. Of course I am talking to my fellow white people. I would assume that most black Americans are already well versed in this history. But the next time somebody says anything along the lines of "Slavery ended 150 years ago. Time to get over it," I'm going to want to shove this book, all 500 pages of it, down that person's throat.

I have only touched on some of the major subjects that Litwack addresses in Trouble in Mind. His writing is clear and as concise as it can be with such a sprawling topic. He lays on the examples. Sometimes I felt like I'd already gotten the point while he was still illustrating it over and over, but I never begrudged Litwack these details even then. I felt that they were necessary to impress upon the reader the degree to which the violence and suppression he was describing were all pervasive and relentless, and also to illustrate the horrible toll it all took on the daily lives of millions of Americans.

It's unclear to me whether I can possibly have encouraged anybody to read this book with this review, but, at any rate, I do urge people to read it.

228ELiz_M
marraskuu 9, 2020, 3:31pm

>227 rocketjk: I've requested the Brooklyn Public Library purchase the ebook (as well as Been in the Storm So Long).

229rocketjk
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 9, 2020, 5:21pm

>228 ELiz_M: I guess reading these books via ebook might make it a bit easier to read them in chunks instead of immersing yourself in them for long, depressing stretches. Whatever works for you is best, of course. I hope you get to read these books soon, but be aware that you are in for some dark reading. Absolutely essential, though, to my view.

230RidgewayGirl
marraskuu 9, 2020, 6:18pm

>227 rocketjk: One of the things I learned from So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo is that it's not my job as a white person to show Black people how antiracist I am, but to have conversations about racism with other white people. It's always awkward and I often find out things about my acquaintances and neighbors that I didn't want to know, but I'm convinced that until white people come to terms with what has been done and what continues to be done, we can never be the America we idealize.

And, yeah, the last lynching in my town took place in 1947, in my father's lifetime.

231rocketjk
marraskuu 9, 2020, 8:15pm

>230 RidgewayGirl: ". . . it's not my job as a white person to show Black people how antiracist I am, but to have conversations about racism with other white people."

Haven't read the book but that seems like extremely sound advice to me.

232tonikat
marraskuu 10, 2020, 6:22am

I just caught up from Capitalism and Slavery to date - so this theme of Black experience really hit home at a time I am opening my eyes. I must reflect that in more of my reading, as one of thsoe white people. Great reviews (again). I'm also interested in the book Women's Lives, for obvious reasons, having been thrown somewhat into having many illusions and privileges shown for what they were.

233rocketjk
marraskuu 10, 2020, 10:56am

>232 tonikat: Women's Lives is a fascinating and eye-opening collection. There are attitudes of privilege to be found in its pages, as a fair portion of the women included start from upper or upper-middle classes themselves. But all in all, a strong component of the book's excellence stems from Rose's care in assembling memoir segments from women from a wide variety of backgrounds and nationalities.

234tonikat
marraskuu 10, 2020, 11:42am

I'll look forward to it some time. I didn't mean their privilege, but my own former ones that disappear in the female role. I had no idea really.

235rocketjk
marraskuu 10, 2020, 12:54pm

>234 tonikat: "I had no idea really."

Same here, in so many ways.

236markon
marraskuu 11, 2020, 3:11pm

>227 rocketjk: I know I couldn't stomach this right now. I'm trying to work up my courage to listen to Buried Truths 3rd season, on Ahmaud Arberry. (I live in Georgia)

237RidgewayGirl
marraskuu 11, 2020, 4:54pm

>236 markon: That's an excellent podcast. The AJC's podcast, Break Down, is also covering the murder of Ahmaud Arberry.

238rocketjk
marraskuu 12, 2020, 7:48pm

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



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

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

This book even has a connection to the history of the Jim Crow south that I read just one book up-thread. Leon Litwack points out, in that book, that these sorts of "by his boot straps" stories were constantly being held up to southern Blacks as models for how they themselves could improve their lots in life. The only problem was that any success they might have along these lines would put them in immediate and dire jeopardy. For example, starting a bank account and having money in the bank is one of Ragged Dick's great milestones. A Black person in the late-19th century American south who was found to have put aside enough money to have a savings account was likely to be lynched for getting above his/her station.

239rocketjk
marraskuu 15, 2020, 4:24pm

Foreign Shores by Marie-Hélène Laforest



Read as a "between book" (see first post). This is a slim collection of wonderful, haunting short stories by Haitian-American writer Marie-Hélène Laforest. The stories cover life in Haiti, the perils, joys and regrets of those who immigrated to America, and the lives of those who had either stayed behind or returned to Haiti. Many, though not all, of the stories deal with poverty and longing. The tales that take place in the U.S. usually add strong themes of displacement. Parents in the U.S. try desperately to save enough money to bring their children out of Haiti, or grown children to bring their elderly parents. Meanwhile, back in Haiti, life becomes more dangerous, political murders more frequent, in the stories dealing with the DuValier regime. The stories are grouped into four sections: Island Life, Some Drifted, Many Stayed, A Few Returned.

Says George Lamming in his Foreward to the collection, the stories speak of "the more somber theme of involuntary migration and slave labor on arrival at the metropolitan ports that promise rescue from the grim legacy of the Duvalier regimes. The name, Duvalier, defines an epidemic which extends its blight on the expectations of those who have never surredndered to despair."

Here, from the story "Language of the Gods" (from Part II: Some Drifted) is a longish excerpt to give an idea of Laforest's use of language and imagery to get at the dislocation many of her characters feel. Marinette's husband Charles has just died of a heart attack. She walks through their New York City apartment afterward, waiting for her two children, May and Roger, to return home from grocery shopping:

She walked to Roger's room. A picture of his football team hung up alongside the triangular banners that read Chess Club, Book Club, Softball Club. Charles insisted that they place a desk in the room for the large dictionary paid in installments. She needed both hands to lift it when she dusted. A room in black and white Roger had asked for. Too funereal for her. But what did her children know about funerals and mourning until two days ago? About wearing black for a year, then white and black or gray for another six months? Mourning then half-mourning, that's what they said back home. She ran a hand down the front of her black dress to smooth out a crease that was not there. Death in a family, black dresses ready overnight. A sewing machine stitching black cambric white cotton . . . long ago . . . for a ceremony to the wrong gods, those that come from Guinea, the mecreants their followers, white head ties, white dresses in swirls around a pole, spinning, whirling. Goatskin drums, the deep sound of hollow bamboos resounding in the countryside, beating in her head now. In the dark night flashes of red kerchiefs in the shadows of vast trees. Invoke the spirits. The Iwa comes. White forms thrash to the ground. The other gods, which her family renounced.

Mariette brought her hands to her temples. That disorder in her head, those strands of memory, they had come so unexpectedly, so wrongly. "Mourning," she said aloud to hear her voice, "then half-mourning," she added for the sound of her voice to stop that reeling out of a skein in the mind, to wind up all those threads somehow, to pin them somewhere.


I will think of this collection often, and may even read it again soon. It seems that Laforest has spent much more of her career in research and academia than in fiction writing, which is sad for us. I couldn't find reference to any other fiction other than these stories, in fact.

Book notes: Foreign Shores was published in Quebec in 2002. I bought the collection in a wonderful bookstore in the Little Haiti neighborhood of Miami during a trip there a couple of years back. At this moment I am the only LT member with the book listed in his/her library.

240baswood
marraskuu 15, 2020, 6:46pm

>239 rocketjk: Nice one, enjoyed the extract.

241rocketjk
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 18, 2020, 4:19pm

Bushville Wins!: The Wild Saga of the 1957 Milwaukee Braves and the Screwballs, Sluggers, and Beer Swiggers who Canned the New York Yankees and Changed Baseball by John Klima



This could have been such a fun and enjoyable baseball history to read. The story of the 1957 Milwaukee Braves is indeed an interesting tale, and the players who made up the team are a colorful lot. The story of the team's owner, Lou Perini, having the vision and the guts to move the team from Boston to Milwaukee, and thereby foreshadowing the move of the Giants and Dodgers from New York to California is a significant part of the tale, as well. Also, the city of Milwaukee's acceptance of the team and the town's desire to be considered "major league" rather than "bush" by the rest of the country rings true. The author, John Klima, does a good job of relating the growing tension as the team fights through and ultimately prevails in a tough, multi-team pennant race. And the defeat of the seemingly unbeatable New York Yankees in the World Series that season makes for an exciting finale. Hank Aaron's coming out party to the nation as a true superstar adds to the poignancy of the story.

In addition Klima, clearly interviewed as many people as he could, and did a lot of deep diving into contemporary newspaper reports.

And yet, I can't really recommend this book, even to avid baseball fans. Because, unfortunately, the book was in large part ruined for me by Klima's overwrought style and scattershot use of cliche and word-salad sentences. Just some examples that come to mind:

* People are often "having none of that" and are frequently "beside themselves."

* Adverbs and adjectives are thrown together in thoughtless and even contradictory fashion. For example, Klima describes one pitcher, mid-game, who is pitching "cautiously and menacingly." Can one be cautiously menacing?

* Thoughts are put into people's heads that Klima couldn't possibly have any authoritative knowledge of. In the seventh game of the World Series, with the Yankees behind with two outs in the 9th inning, but with runners on base, Yankee manager Casey Stengel sends his pitcher, Tommy Byrne, up to bat instead of pinch hitting. Byrne is a pretty good hitter for a pitcher, and in fact keeps the game going, and loads the bases, with a single. but still he was a pitcher with only a .237 batting average. Klima tells us with great certainty, "Stengel never thought about pinch hitting." Well, but given that Stengel died in 1975, how does Klima know that? It seems like he made it up, or if he has some source for this assertion (as in, "Stengel later told sportswriter P.J. Scribbler that he never thought about pinch hitting for Byrne . . . ") he keeps it a secret.

All of these, again, are just individual examples of things that Klima does over and over. I began tripping over Klima's shoddy writing at about the one-quarter mark in the book and the potholes began showing up four or five to the page thereafter. It's really too bad. With some attentive editing, this could have been an excellent baseball history.

242dchaikin
marraskuu 18, 2020, 2:42pm

>241 rocketjk: appreciate the analysis. These problems seem too common these days (although I don’t know when this was published)

Catching up again, always enjoyable here. Terrific review of Trouble in Mind in >227 rocketjk: and enjoyed the quote on >239 rocketjk:

243rocketjk
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 21, 2020, 12:09pm

>242 dchaikin: Thanks, Dan.

"These problems seem too common these days (although I don’t know when this was published)"

The book was published just a few years ago and, yes, the days of most publishing houses caring enough to assign editors to the books they plan on publishing seem to be over.

244kidzdoc
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 21, 2020, 11:59am

Great review of Trouble in Mind, Jerry. You are correct in assuming that most African Americans are well aware of the stories of oppressive racism in the Deep South, and many can probably cite examples of relatives who were threatened, had property destroyed or claimed, or were beaten or killed for being "uppity" or moving "above their place". My paternal grandfather decided to escape from Troy, Alabama to NYC during World War II, along with his wife and three daughters, including my mother, for this very reason. He was a skilled glazier in his home town, who got into trouble when he insisted that Whites pay him the same amount as a White glazier would charge.

Foreign Shores sounds interesting, so I'll keep an eye out for it.

I'm very disappointed that Bushville Wins! wasn't a better book. As an Atlantan (I guess I should claim it, as I've lived here longer than anywhere else) and a baseball fan I'm interested in the history of our local team, which as you know moved here from Milwaukee in 1965.

I apologize for not listening to your show for the past few weeks. I haven't had a free Monday in at least two months, as I've either been working or busy caring for my parents. I'll get back in the groove next month!

245rocketjk
marraskuu 21, 2020, 10:24am

>244 kidzdoc: Thanks for those comments, Darryl. Just as an fyi, if you go to my station's website, you can access the Jukebox function and hear my show whenever you like. Music shows are archived for a couple of weeks. The function is very old and clunky, though. As happens with these things, I don't think there's anybody around the station anymore with the institutional memory of how to update it, and there's no money in the budget for replacing it, so we muddle through with what we've got. But it is functional, in case you want to check out some or all of the show, at kzyx.org.

246kidzdoc
marraskuu 21, 2020, 12:00pm

>245 rocketjk: Thanks, Jerry. Will do.

247rocketjk
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 11, 2020, 11:54am

Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party by Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin



This is a fascinating and comprehensive history of the Black Panther Party, which rose quickly to assume a place at the vanguard of the Revolutionary/New Left movement in the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s but disintegrated just as quickly once the political situation in the U.S. changed to make the Panthers' philosophy of armed self-defense untenable rather than attractive to the party's allies.

The authors describe the rise of the Panthers within the context of what many blacks considered the Civil Rights Movement's weaknesses. The Movement had succeeded in defeating institutionalized Jim Crow via the Voting Rights Act and other such legal measures, but ending de facto segregation and repression was another matter. In addition, many blacks living in northern and western ghettos did not feel that the Civil Rights Movement had touched their lives much at all. The Black Panther Party was started by Bobby Seale and Huey Newton and coalesced around their opinion that a) the black population in America was in fact a colonized nation, occupied and repressed in particular by the brutality of urban police forces that were largely white and extremely hostile, and was entitled to join in the struggle for freedom and self-determination that other colonies across the world, especially in Africa, were engaging in. Seale and Newton insisted that blacks arm themselves, but insisted that those arms should only be used in self-defense. In fact, the official name of the group was the Black Panther Party of Self Defense. Party members were ordered to defend themselves in the event of police raids on party offices and private residents when the police had no warrants, as was almost always the case. The more successful the Panthers became, and the higher their profile, the more frequent and violent such raids became.

However, the Black Panthers expressly rejected the idea of separatism, which was being promoted by other black revolutionary groups. Newton, Seale and other Panther leaders insisted upon the advantages of making common cause with any other groups, including whites, who wanted to take part in efforts to subvert the dominant political and cultural paradigms in the U.S. and globally. Most famously, they teamed up effectively with Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which had become active on college campuses, primarily as a radical voice against the Vietnam War. It was Seale who urged SDS leaders to expand their protests off of college campuses and onto the streets.

The Black Panthers, from their Oakland beginnings, soon had offices in urban areas across the U.S. The more violent repression they experienced, the more support they got from New Left allies and even more moderate black organizations, such as the NAACP, who disagreed with the Panthers' philosophies but knew anti-black violence when they saw it. But as the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and, most specifically, the draft, ebbed away, the less firm the Panthers' support from white allies became. And as establishment concessions began arriving, in the form of affirmative action programs and the like (instituted by Richard Nixon!), support from moderate black groups declined as well. In the meantime, the Panthers had instituted social programs in their neighborhoods such as free breakfast programs for children and free bus service to and from prisons (so family members could make frequent visits). As the national Panther leadership was realizing that armed struggle was becoming less and less practical and tried to turn to more political strategies, not all of their membership across the country was willing to act accordingly. Violent confrontations between Party members and police--in defiance of Black Panther leadership policy--became more embarrassing and debilitating to the national efforts, and caused schisms within the Party which it ultimately could not withstand.

This is another book from my friend Kim Nalley's list of essential reading about African American history and race relations. I was just coming of age during the years and events being described here. I turned 13 in 1968 and so have memories of many of the events described. But, being only 13-15, I did not have a full understanding of what was going on. So I was very interested to read this history, and grateful to the authors for illuminating the issues so clearly and comprehensively. Be assured that I have barely scratched the surface of the history presented. Black Against Empire puts the Black Panther Party, and indeed much of the fury of the late 60s and early 70s, in excellent perspective. In addition, the themes running through my earlier reading on Jim Crow, this history of the Black Panther movement, and the Black Lives Matter movement are unmistakable. In many crucial ways, things have barely changed at all in the U.S.

248baswood
marraskuu 27, 2020, 5:07pm

>247 rocketjk: Fascinating to read your summary of the History of the Black Panther Party. I certainly remember the American athletes on the Olympic podium raising their black gloved fists back in 1968.

249rocketjk
marraskuu 27, 2020, 8:05pm

>248 baswood: Yes, that was a dramatic and important moment.

250rocketjk
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 1, 2020, 1:42pm

The Death of Methuselah by Isaac Singer



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

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

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

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

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

Several of the stories consist of one person telling his life story to a listener. In "A Peephole in the Gate," a young man in pre-war Poland looks through the aforementioned peephole and sees his fiance making love to a janitor's son. In despair, he runs off to New York, thus being spared the Holocaust. Many years and twists and turns later, he is an old man, now called Sam, telling his life's tale to another old man on a cruise ship bound for Buenos Aires. After hearing the man's long and complicated life story, the narrator/listener goes back to the beginning of the man's tale . . .

"It may be," I said, "that if you didn't look through the peephole that evening you would never have gone to America. You and Eve and your children would all gave been burned in Auschwitz or tortured to death in some other concentration camp."

"Yes, I thought about that, too. One look through a peephole and your whole life is changed. You would still have been here at this table, but not with me. . . . What does all this mean? That everything is nothing but a miserable accident."

"Perhaps God wanted you to live and therefore he mad you look into the peephole."

"Now, my dear man, you talk nonsense. Why should God want me to live while millions of other people are destroyed?"


Just before this passage, Sam has said, ". . . I had hoped that old age would bring me peace. I reckoned that after seventy a person stops musing about all petty things. But the head does not know how old it is. It remains young and full of the same foolishness as at twenty. I know that Eve is no longer alive. She mush have perished in the Nazi slaughter. Even if she were alive, she would be a tottering old woman by now. But in my mind she is still a young girl and Boleck, the janitor's son, is still a young boy and the gate is still a gate."

Book note: As you might be able to tell by the cover image, my copy of this book is a Franklin Library first edition. As you cannot tell by the cover, it is a signed first edition. On the very first blank page when I open the book, I find Isaac Singer's signature, personally scrawled with what's seems clearly to be a fountain pen. Somehow, having a copy of this book that I know was personally handled by Singer means a lot to me, but I'm not sure if I can tell you why. Some sort of a totem, I guess. I came by the book because one day, when I still owned my used bookstore, a man came in with a box of books for me. His mother had died and he had just gathered up her books and put them in this box and brought them to my store. It was just part of the cleanup process to him and he didn't even want payment or store credit. I was doing him a favor by taking them off his hands.

Well, from the looks of the box, I was. The whole top layer was old mystery and romance paperbacks, in good enough shape to sell, yes, but no great value to any of it. After the man left, I began emptying the box, only to find at the bottom a layer of signed Franklin Library leather-bound editions. The woman must have had a subscription to the service. Whether she read them or not, or had maybe received the subscription as a gift from a grandchild or niece, who knew? I don't recall any of the other titles other than, oddly enough, a copy of The Day of the Jackel signed by Frederick Forsyth. In a situation where a customer brought me a book clearly more valuable than they suspected, I always made a point of informing them of the book's value and offering it back to them, telling them that even if they didn't want the book themselves, they could make more money selling it on eBay than I could possibly give them for it. My store was in a relatively small city (Ukiah) in rural northern California and my antiquarian/rare book trade came through the place at a trickle. But I had no way to contact the fellow. He hadn't left a name. Why should he? He was just giving me the books. Anyway, as I rummaged through these books, I came to a complete halt when I found myself holding a signed Isaac Singer. Normally I had an almost-strict rule that nothing that was brought to the store could cross over the line into my private collection. The store was the store, and home was home. But as I said, the rule was "almost strict." I brought this volume home with me without a second thought.

251dchaikin
marraskuu 30, 2020, 2:16pm

>250 rocketjk: terrific review and story. Makes me want to get my unread Singers out and start reading through them.

>247 rocketjk: This was also a terrific review of Black Against Empire.

252rocketjk
marraskuu 30, 2020, 4:28pm

>251 dchaikin: "Makes me want to get my unread Singers out and start reading through them."

I wish you would, Dan. I feel certain you'd enjoy them.

253rocketjk
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 3, 2020, 1:26am

The Crust on Its Uppers by Derek Raymond



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

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

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

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

254thorold
joulukuu 3, 2020, 1:13am

>253 rocketjk: Another writer I didn’t know about! Sounds interesting, although he does have an extraordinarily gushing Wikipedia page...

255rocketjk
joulukuu 3, 2020, 1:29am

>254 thorold: Yes, evidently he is a cult figure, with Crust the first of several relatively influential novels. I would definitely read some more of those if I came across them, but will probably not make an effort to seek them out. The book was in a stack of books given to me several years ago by a friend who'd read them and wanted to pass them along. The LT entry date for my copy is 2008, which was the time of my introduction to and first large wave of entries onto this site. So I've had the book awaiting me for at least 12 years.

256rocketjk
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 11, 2020, 11:42am

Nine Greek Dramas edited by Charles W. Eliot



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

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

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

257dchaikin
joulukuu 3, 2020, 1:32pm

Historical translations of historical plays, and a frog chorus to boot. I read through many of the classic greek plays a few years ago (using more recent translations) and found it great fun. If I remember correctly, there are only about 33 or so preserved.

258rocketjk
joulukuu 3, 2020, 1:43pm

>257 dchaikin: " . . . and a frog chorus to boot."

I don't know how the more modern translations have this, but the section in The Frogs where Aeschylus demonstrates to Euripides that the beginning of every one of Euripides' verses can be concluded by the line, " . . . and lost his bottle of oil" was a hoot.

259dchaikin
joulukuu 3, 2020, 7:12pm

I don't remember this line. : ( Aristophanes needs a revisit.

260rocketjk
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 11, 2020, 11:46am

Valleys of Mendocino County by Ray Shultz



This was a quick read; only forty-two 8 1/2 x 11 inch pages. This short book was first published in 1980, when the author was 82 years old. Over his time living in Mendocino County, Shultz, who raised and sold livestock of various kinds, was also a explorer of this large county's (as large as the State of Rhode Island in square miles) extremely rural and mountainous countryside. Located about 120 miles north of San Francisco, Mendocino was logging, ranching and farming country, with many areas extremely isolated due to those mountain ranges and the lack of good roads. This book covers as many of the local valleys as Shultz could learn about about. Some of the valleys are really only small indentations or clearings within mountainous locales. Shultz visited many of the areas mentioned, either in the course of his business dealings or social activity or later, as he became an historian looking for information. He also did what he could to contact people who were able to provide oral histories of the various regions covered. In some cases, all Shultz has is a paragraph's worth of information, but he duly provides that (and hurray for him for not padding!). At any rate, this was a fun book to wander through, and only took a couple of sittings to complete. My wife and I moved to one of the larger and more prominent of Mendocino's valleys, Anderson Valley, in 2008, and I have been making a project of gradually reading through as many of these local histories as I can.

Even when he was writing in 1980, Shultz spoke of places from his childhood that have been covered over by development. Sometimes this goes the other way, however, as he describes settlements, villages and roads abandoned. I very much enjoyed this quickly and valuable work.

261dchaikin
joulukuu 5, 2020, 7:44pm

>260 rocketjk: cool find.

262rocketjk
joulukuu 5, 2020, 7:47pm

>261 dchaikin:, Well, not really a "find" in that sense, as I volunteer with the Anderson Valley History Museum and we have a whole shelf full of these sorts of books for sale.

263jjmcgaffey
joulukuu 5, 2020, 8:30pm

Cool! Sounds like a fun read.

264rocketjk
joulukuu 6, 2020, 11:07am

>263 jjmcgaffey: Fun, yes, but one thing I was remiss in not mentioning is that there are several disturbingly casual references to the shooting of Native Americans.

265rocketjk
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 11, 2020, 11:49am

The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson



This classic novel of the Harlem Renaissance (although it was first published a bit earlier) is Johnson's exploration of the schizophrenic, frustrating and tragic existence of black Americans in post-Reconstruction America. The unnamed protagonist, born in Georgia just after the Civil War, is a black man light-skinned enough to pass as white, the child of a rich white man and his black servant. Mother and child are sent north to live outside of the worst of Jim Crow (and away from his father's "real" family). Talented and smart, our narrator takes us through his education, his desire to spend time in and explore his native Southland, his long period in the "sporting life" of the lower echelons of New York City society, and his months exploring Europe, thanks to a rich benefactor who takes him along as a companion.

The narrator is particularly well-spoken and an extremely talented pianist, both conditions facilitating his journeys. The narrator's light skin allows him to step back and forth between the races as if stepping through a membrane, and to observe conditions for blacks both from within and from without. The irony of the white refusal to acknowledge the black middle and professional classes become most apparent to the narrator. Johnson, through his narrator, was a most acute observer. It is only occasionally that we are shown the true violence and tragedies of Jim Crow, but those realities always are present in the background. That the character must even think about choosing between being white and being black, instead of just concentrating on being himself, struck me as a dominant theme of the novel, as are the ways in which life as a black man will as a matter of course be limited, again making that choice fraught with the possibilities of danger and regret.

This was another book from my friend Kim's list of important books about African American history and racism in America.

266rocketjk
joulukuu 8, 2020, 3:49pm

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



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

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

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

267rocketjk
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 11, 2020, 11:57am

Sport Magazine - August 1973 edited by Dick Schaap



A quick one from my magazine pile, read as a "between book" (see first post). This was another fun trip in the Wayback Machine for me, as I had just turned 18 when this edition of Sport Magazine was published and the stories are mostly about athletes I remember pretty well. The cover story is about Yankee centerfielder Bobby Murcer, one of my favorite ballplayers from that era. The question was whether he was, or was eventually going to, measuring up to the two famous Yankee centerfielders that had preceded him, Joe Dimaggio and Micky Mantle, and also about the relationship between the three of them (all, obviously, were still alive) as Yankee icons. The knowledge that the relationship between Dimaggio and Mantle had always been frosty was just seeping out from under the blanket of the efficient Yankees PR department and this article puts that in some context. Well, at any rate, Murcer was a very good ballplayer and had a very good career, although not with the Yankees throughout, but he was no Mantle/Dimaggio.

But this being an August edition of the periodical, a lot of the articles are about football. One interesting piece is about Joe Thomas, the man who, hired as the new general manager of the Baltimore Colts, proceeded to dismantle what had been a near-legendary team, starting with the trading of all-time great Johnny Unitas. My sports fandom is pretty much limited to just baseball now, for a variety of reasons (with the occasional soccer game thrown in), but it was fun to read these pieces about football written back in the time I still followed the sport and its players closely.

Finally, the edition concludes with a highly entertaining story about tournament pool by a writer named James Morgan titled "No More Yellow Cabs for Boston Shorty."

268dchaikin
joulukuu 9, 2020, 12:48pm

>265 rocketjk: The Autobiography of an ex-colored man sounds terrific. Great review.

And fun stuff on August 1973. I turned four months old that month. Great days for the Miami Dolphins (and their ex-Baltimore coach).

269kidzdoc
joulukuu 11, 2020, 11:05am

Thanks for these fabulous reviews, Jerry. I'll be on the lookout for Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party, in particular. Hmm...that might make a good Christmas gift for my father.

270rocketjk
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 11, 2020, 12:07pm

>268 dchaikin: & >269 kidzdoc: Thanks for the kind words, my friends!

Darryl, the Black Panther book is excellent. I want to spend a little time, though, looking up published reviews of the book to see if there are any prominent historians and/or activists who take exception to the authors' presentation or conclusions. I'm not saying I'm expecting to find any, just that I try to remain wary of taking any single historical perspective as gospel. I'll report back if I find any such noteworthy comments.

eta: This review from the LA Times helps point out what I'd agree is the book's main flaw, a lack of depth in the portrayals of Seale and Newton:
https://www.latimes.com/books/la-xpm-2013-jan-24-la-ca-jc-joshua-bloom-20130127-...

271kidzdoc
joulukuu 11, 2020, 1:44pm

>270 rocketjk: Thanks for the link to that review, Jerry. I didn't realize that Black Against Empire isn't a newly published book!

I remember Bobby Murcer. I saw him play at Yankee Stadium in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as the church and affiliated elementary school I attended in nearby Jersey City routinely offered chartered bus trips to see the Yankees and Mets play, back when tickets weren't at all expensive. I wasn't a Yankees fan at all, but I did follow them sporadically on television, as WPIX broadcast their games almost daily, and in the pre-cable TV era we could still watch NYC stations (including WOR TV, which carried Mets' games) when we moved to suburban Philadelphia in 1974, due to the stations' strong signals.

272rocketjk
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 11, 2020, 3:57pm

>271 kidzdoc: "as WPIX broadcast their games almost daily, and in the pre-cable TV era we could still watch NYC stations (including WOR TV, which carried Mets' games)"

Yes, I was in Newark and then Maplewood during these years (my dad was a Newark native; my mom from Bayonne, where my grandparents still lived when I was a kid), so of course recall the WPIX and WOR broadcasts. I became a Yankees fan rather than a Mets fan in the mid-1960s because I liked listening to Phil Rizzuto much better than I enjoyed hearing Lindsey Nelson.

The Yankees were sponsored by Ballantine Beer* and the Mets were sponsored by Rheingold.**

*
Baseball and Ballantine
Baseball and Ballantine
What a combination
all across the nation!

**
My beer is Rheingold, the dry beer
Think of Rheingold whenver you buy beer.
It's not bitter, not sweet;
it's the dry flavored treat.
Won't you try extra dry Rheingold beer?

273kidzdoc
joulukuu 11, 2020, 5:28pm

>272 rocketjk: I became a Yankees fan rather than a Mets fan in the mid-1960s because I liked listening to Phil Rizzuto much better than I enjoyed hearing Lindsey Nelson.

*gasp* I loved listening to Lindsey Nelson, far more so than Phil Rizzuto!

Three classic Ballantine Beer commercials, from Mel Allen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCm3UEfRQv0

A Rheingold Beer commercial, featuring Mets play by play announcer Bob Murphy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCalyfwLg2A

I don't recall those commercials, even though I was old enough to, but I certainly remember the Schaefer jingle, as sung by Louis Armstrong: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRecWSp4VFg

274rocketjk
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 13, 2020, 1:48pm

The Pittsburgh Pirates by Frederick G. Lieb



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

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

The real stars of the first half of the book are Dreyfuss, who bought a team in Louisville and brought it to Pittsburgh in the early days of the NL, and Honus Wagner, one of the all-time greats of the game who played for the Pirates in the early 20th century. The book takes us right up to slugger Ralph Kiner's rookie year.

At times, the whirl of player names, trades and statistics becomes a blur, especially towards the book's final quarter. I got the idea that a) this was all recent enough information that Lieb thought his readers would already be familiar with it and b) perhaps Lieb was rushing through these most recent (to him) seasons to be done with the project. At any rate, it's still fun to read.

For baseball fans, the differences in the game between then and now will jump out. The most glaring is Lieb's frequent reference to the criteria that allowed a pitcher to be considered a "regular pitcher." One needed to have pitched at least 10 complete games during a season. Each staff was expected to have three or four such pitchers. Those were the days. Writing in 1948, Lieb simply takes segregation for granted and never mentions it. Jackie Robinson's entry into the game in 1947, the final season Lieb describes, is ignored. The one and only reference to integration at all is this one:

"And even though the Pirates rode seventh or eighth through the late spring and summer months, they had their moments, as when the Buccos gave Brooklyn a stunning setback by crushing them in a midseason Sunday double-header and later ruined the debut of big Dan Bankhead, {Branch} Rickey's Negro pitching find."*

Also, while we are told early on that Barney Dreyfuss was a German-born Jew, the subject is entirely dropped thereafter. We are either to understand from this that Dreyfuss never had to deal with antisemitism in the higher rungs of baseball ownership or, perhaps more likely, that Lieb was aware that his readers wouldn't find antisemitism any more noteworthy than baseball's segregation. That's looking at things with my 2020 readership glasses on, of course. I suppose such things simply wouldn't be discussed in polite society in those days.

Anyway, for readers interested in baseball and, more specifically, baseball history, this book is a lot of fun. Perhaps it's best to think of it, in some ways, as more of an oral history than as an authoritative historical work. On a personal note, it was good to read another baseball history, and one that I enjoyed, after the frustrating reading experience of Bushville Wins.

* A quick check online tells us that the mostly forgotten (not very successful) Bankhead was, nevertheless, the first African-American to pitch in the Major Leagues. One would think Lieb would have found that event more interesting than he evidently did.

275kidzdoc
joulukuu 13, 2020, 1:43pm

Great review of The Pittsburgh Pirates, Jerry! I'll definitely have to look out for it. Forbes Field was directly adjacent to the campus of the University of Pittsburgh, my medical school alma mater, and the stadium's home plate now lies under glass on the ground floor of Hillman Library, the largest library on Pitt's campus. The ivy covered outfield still stands, and is on campus as well.

That's a fascinating piece of trivia that Dan Bankhead was the first African American pitcher in major league baseball! I would have bet (and lost) good money that "Newk", Don Newcomb of the Dodgers, was the first one.

276rocketjk
joulukuu 13, 2020, 1:47pm

>275 kidzdoc: "I would have bet (and lost) good money that "Newk", Don Newcomb of the Dodgers, was the first one."

Yep, me too.

277rocketjk
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 14, 2020, 2:02pm

Fun and Deadly Games by Don Tracy



It only took me one rainy Sunday afternoon and evening to make my way through this enjoyable mystery. This is the third book in Don Tracy's Giff Speer mystery series. Speer is an investigator in a department of the U.S. Army so secret that only a few higher-ups in the Security Community even know if its existence. But despite the book's 1968 vintage, this is not super-whizzbang secret agent stuff. In fact, at one point, Speer's boss is quoted as having told him in the past, "Save the oh-oh-seven seven stuff and just bring me the killer." This is much more prosaic stuff, in other words. So far, all three of Speer's investigations have taken place on military bases within the U.S. In this novel, an army widow and her 18-year-old step-daughter are living near an Air Force base in rural Florida. The presumed dead husband/father had disappeared in Saigon on the night that of the coup that overthrew the Diem regime. They are at this remote Florida locale because the mom is trying to land one of the base generals as a new husband. The step-daughter becomes involved in civil rights demonstrations, drawing the enmity of the local pseudo-Klan. And someone is harassing either the mother or daughter or both. A strangled dog, snakes in the mailbox, even the occasional cross burning. Giff Speer is sent, undercover as a handyman, to figure it all out and keep everyone safe. There are an impressive amount of plot twists and turns for a 144 pulp paperback novel. Mainly these are kept at least within hailing distance of plausibility. As will happen in such tales, two large chunks of information are provided during conversational exposition, including the falling action conversation as Speer lays the whole thing out for his boss. However, we may say that Tracy has laid out all the clues for us to find ourselves beforehand if we're paying close enough attention. All in all, I call this a fun, fuzzily plausible (but anyway, who looks too hard at these things?) mystery.

278baswood
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 14, 2020, 6:27pm

>277 rocketjk: Internet site what-when-how tells me that Don Tracy has a cult following in France. He started getting novels published in 1934. Interested to read your review because he published a novel in 1951 Streets of Askelon or The strumpet city which I will try and get a copy of. There are plenty of rainy Sunday afternoons this time of year.

279rocketjk
joulukuu 14, 2020, 6:47pm

Yes, I found that he had a French following, as well, but at a different website. I've read the first three Giff Spear books, plus a standalone called The Hated One. Not great literature, but any means, but fun.

Here's the site I was referring to:
https://spyguysandgals.com/sgShowChar.aspx?id=818

Here's another nice Tracy/Speer listing I just found:
https://thrillingdetective.wordpress.com/2020/07/25/giff-speer/

280AnnieMod
joulukuu 15, 2020, 7:32pm

>277 rocketjk:

Classic mysteries tend to surprise you when you least expect it - while the character development had become the hallmark of modern series, the old ones can easily beat them in pure mystery-land... even when they are 1/3rd the length of the newer offerings. :)

281rocketjk
joulukuu 15, 2020, 8:18pm

>280 AnnieMod: Yes, that's a really good point!

282rocketjk
joulukuu 21, 2020, 2:33pm

What I Think by Adlai Stevenson



This is a collection of speeches and print articles delivered/written by Stevenson between his two runs for president in 1952 and 1956, both of which he lost to Dwight Eisenhower. Stevenson was an intellectual and a proud liberal, the former quality perhaps serving as an impediment to winning over the American electorate. His writing was certainly thought-provoking and offers a very interesting window into Democratic thought circa 1955.

For one thing, we learn that the negative tactics of the Republican Party are older than we might today suppose. Writing just ahead of the 1954 mid-term elections, Stevenson writes:

"All thoughtful citizens have been concerned about the progressive degeneration of this present political campaign. We have observed with sorrow the effect that the pressures of partisanship and political ambition have had on the top leaders of the Republican party. When the campaign began, the President (Eisenhower) said that the only issue was the record of his administration. but the end is a reckless campaign of smear, misrepresentation, and mistrust. No reputation, no record, no name--no Democrat in short--has been immune from savage or sly attack on his integrity, his good sense, his very loyalty. . . . Yesterday on his airport tour the President himself found it in his heart--or in his script--to take up these themes himself.

This Republican campaign has become a program of slander that began a year ago when Mr. Bownell, President Eisenhower's Attorney General, impugned the very loyalty of President Truman, when Governor Dewey identified all Democrats with death and tragedy in Korea, and when the Republican National Committee sent Senator McCarthy around the country to characterize the Democratic administration as 'Twenty Years of Treason' . . .

If ever our system should rise to the highest dignity of its tradition and its responsibilities, it is today. If ever we needed politics which would leave our people informed and united, not confused and divided, it is now. If ever smears, slander, innuendo, misrepresentation were out of place in our national life, it is in this time, at this place, in this world. . . . Instead, the nation has been recklessly torn apart in the search for votes with careless disregard for our self-respect and our unity of national purpose."


Sound familiar?

In the mid-1950s, Stevenson was of course concerned greatly with the Cold War and the campaign of ideas against Communist Russia and China for the friendship of newly independent countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Also, the possibilities for atomic warfare weigh heavily in his thinking. He is at his most impressive when he speaks of the changes being wrought on society by technology:

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

Writing in the 1950s, Stevenson foresaw neither the weakening of American industrial production nor global warming, though he does speak frequently about the need for soil, water and other resource conservation, deploring the Eisenhower administrations rush to cede mineral and oil rights from public lands to corporate interests. He also speaks up in favor of integration and civil rights in general. He was a man of his times, though. His commencement speech to the 1955 graduating class of Smith College is titled "Women, Husbands, and History" and begins:

"Countless commencement speakers are rising these days on countless platforms all over the world to tell thousands of helpless young captives how important they are--as citizens in a free society, as educated, rational, privileged participants in a great historic crisis. But for my part I want merely to tell you young ladies that I think there is much you can do about that crisis in the humble role of housewife--which, statistically, is what most of you are going to be whether you like the idea or not just now--and you'll like it!"

Ouch!

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

283markon
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 23, 2020, 9:17pm

Thought of you tonight. I was reading a blog I follow. The author was talking to his sister and when she brought up politics & Trump he warned her off, saying,

"I’ve given enough to Donald Trump this year. He’s reduced himself to being one of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s demonic dybbuks."

May he be an ineffective dybbuk and wither away

284rocketjk
joulukuu 24, 2020, 11:36am

>283 markon: "May he be an ineffective dybbuk and wither away."

To the depths of Gehenna!

285rocketjk
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 28, 2020, 10:29pm

Women, Race & Class by Angela Y. Davis



This was another book from my friend Kim Nalley's list of recommended reading about African-American history and race relations in the U.S. Davis provides a very effective history of the first half century of the Womens' Movement. Its earliest days, the movement's strongest activists often made common cause with, and in fact intersected with, the Abolitionist Movement. But after Emancipation, the movements diverged, especially when Reconstruction collapsed and Blacks became disenfranchised. Many leaders of the Women's Movement were not in favor of the 15th Amendment, for example, which assured Blacks the legal right to vote. These leaders felt that Blacks as a group should not receive the vote before women did. Soon, strains of racist ideology were creeping into the rhetoric of important Women's Suffrage leaders.

Davis also describes the early Women's Voting Rights movement as essentially middle- and upper-class. Not only did they shy away from supporting Black rights, they also made relatively little common cause with immigrant and other working class women crowded into tenements and sweatshops, much less with poor Black women toiling in Southern cotton fields and sugar plantations. Although there were several powerful Black women active in the movement in its earliest days (Sojourner Truth's famous "Ain't I A Woman" speech was delivered at the mostly white Ohio Women's Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, in 1851), a few decades later the organizers of such conventions were refusing to seat Black delegates, and separate Black women's rights organizations began to spring up. In the meantime, most working class women, according to Davis, were much more concerned with fighting for better working conditions than in worrying about their voting rights.

Davis also examines the rise and pervasiveness of lynching and rape in the Jim Crow South, and the ways in which anti-lynching laws became a core goal of Black Women's groups in the North. Most white organizers, on the other hand, kept such issues at arms' length.

To be honest, I was expecting more analysis here of the Women's Liberation Movement of the 1970s. In fact, there is almost none. That's not to find fault with Davis' choices, though, but just to say I was expecting something a little different. This book was first published in 1981, so maybe Davis didn't feel there was enough separation for an accurate examination and presentation of such recent events. Davis also published a book called Women, Culture & Politics in 1990. Perhaps she covers the more contemporary scene there. The only investigation of Davis' contemporary era here is in the book's final chapter, "The Approaching Obsolescence of Housework: a Working-Class Perspective," which is the book's least effective section. Although interesting at the start, as Davis describes the evolution of women's traditional household roles from full partner to "housekeeper" as industrialization sets in, the chapter loses steam as Davis moves on to her criticism of the then active movement to create a government pay structure for housework. The writing becomes less an examination of events and influences and more a Marxist dialectic. The surprise for me was only that Davis seemed to assume that her readers were naturally in agreement with this perspective. At any rate, I'm only talking about the final 20 pages of a 244-page book.

Davis' writing is clear and well-organized. I learned a lot, and I do recommend the book.

On a personal note, I spent two semesters, in 1988-89, teaching English composition and creative writing at San Francisco State University immediately after completing my Masters Degree there. At that time, Davis was also on the SF State faculty. As we were both employed by the Humanities Department (she was a professor; I was a part-time lecturer), we both had mailboxes in the department office. Well, they were little cubbyholes, really. At any rate, they were in alphabetical order, and it just so happened to work out that Davis' box was directly above mine. I never took a photo of this, but I always got a kick out of looking at that wall and seeing Angela Davis directly above Jerry Karp. There was a charming coffee shop directly across the street from the campus that a lot of instructors used for student-teacher meetings. I frequently saw Davis there, having such meetings with her students. I was always impressed by the degree to which this extremely famous woman was clearly focused and caringly attentive to each young college freshman or sophomore she was speaking with. (Another famous figure who had this quality was Howard Zinn, by the way. He taught my freshman history seminar at Boston University in 1973.) I never had a personal interaction with Davis myself, though.

286kidzdoc
joulukuu 28, 2020, 6:01pm

Nice review of Women, Race & Class, Jerry. I own three of her more contemporary books, only one of which I've read so far, so I'll have to make room for them in the near future.

Thanks for another splendid episode of The Jazz Odyssey! I missed the first half hour, but I'll listen to it later this week, and check out the playlist, as I wasn't paying as close attention as I normally would. I'm off next Monday as well, so I'll be sure to tune in on time next week.

287rocketjk
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 1, 2:04pm

Early Riser by Jasper Fforde



I do love Jasper Fforde. This standalone humorous dystopian fantasy has Fforde's normal amazing complement of whimsy and mad by-the-paragraph inventiveness. Fforde lately has loved to slice societies up into intriguing, fantastical have/have not dynamics. In Shades of Grey, only the top-of-the-heap Haves can see the full color spectrum. In Early Riser, most people hibernate through the winter, but a select, unfortunate few have to "overwinter" through what have become fierce, sub-zero winter months. Our hero, to escape an otherwise drab existence and to maintain his supply of the drug that helps people sleep soundly through their hibernations (but is expensive and comes with certain horrifying risks), volunteers for the Winter Consul Service. Needless to say, adventure and danger ensue. Both Shades of Grey and Early Riser are darker than Fforde's sublime Thursday Next series. I very much enjoyed Early Riser. Names and terms come flying at your quickly, especially at the beginning of the narrative, and I had trouble keeping track of it all at first. But that's standard with Fforde, and I've come to trust him as an author enough to know that eventually things all come clear, so it's not necessary to strain one's brain too much trying to juggle concepts to fastidiously. This book is only for fans of suspension bridges of disbelief. As usual for Fforde from me: high grades.

I've got one more entry to go to tidy up 2020, and then I'll be posting a 2021 thread.

288rocketjk
tammikuu 1, 2:55pm

Free France Magazine - June 15, 1945



Read as a "between book" (see first post). Another from my stack of old magazines, this fascinating publication is the June 1945 edition of an English-language periodical that was published in New York City during the years of World War Two by "the French Press and Information Service (an agency of the Provisional Government of the French Republic)." In other words, the American propaganda office of the Free French who, by the time this edition came out, were in control in France under the leadership of De Gaulle. The magazine is a compendium of official government releases and excerpts from newspaper and magazine reports. This edition came out post V-E Day, and there is a great photograph of the V-E Day celebration on the Champs Elysee. But the war was still going on in Asia, and part of this edition consists of reports on the ways in which French forces were in action against the Japanese, as well as an account of the battles fought by French land and naval forces to get the last German divisions out of France, in a piece titled, "The Victory at Royan."

The magazine also includes reports on French programs for the administration of their African and Asian colonies and planned efforts towards (as they tell it) preparing those colonies for independence. Dakar and Madagascar get the most detailed treatment.

There is a fascinating section of reports about "The Syrian Affair," which I had to look up but which was a very big deal at the time. Violence erupted in Syrian over French efforts to reestablish control over the country, which had been a French Mandate between the wars. It got to the point that the English Army was sent in to get between the two sides, causing a rift between De Gaulle and Churchill. The French explanations of the ways in which their actions had been misunderstood, of their good and ultimately benign intentions toward the Syrians, and their confusion over why they shouldn't have the same rights over their former Mandate as the English were enjoying in their own makes for interesting "this is what they were saying at the time" reading for the historically minded.

Finally, there is an unexpectedly interesting section entitled "France and the San Francisco Conference." This is a series of short reports about the French participation in the series of conferences aimed at creating a new worldwide organization to replace the League of Nations, but this time with American participation. This aborning organization had not yet been named the United Nations. Part of this section has to do with France's efforts (this is actually a theme that runs throughout the magazine) to reassert itself as one of the world's major powers. The most interesting to me was the initial article in this section: Trade Unions and the Conference. It seems that France had backed the claims of what was then called the World Trade Union Conference to take official part in these organizational deliberations. According to the article, every other major power said no. I'm guessing that the French position had mostly to do with De Gaulle's desire to signal his support to French labor unions, and thereby receive their support for his government in return. One can hardly imagine the major capitalist countries like the U.S. and England going along with this idea. I assume Russia and China would have thought odious giving voice/power to an independent, international Labor group, as well, and anyway officially redundant, being, anyway, utopian workers' states, as they were. It would be nice to think of a world where the major national powers would actually say, "Well, dang, we can't set up a world peace organization without giving the workers their say." Maybe in some alternate universe!

The magazine is full of interesting black and white photos.

And that's a wrap for me for 2020. 82 books (and periodicals)! That's a record for me and then some. Between retirement and Covid, there was a lot of reading got done around here! I'll be posting a 2021 thread soon. Cheers!

289baswood
tammikuu 1, 3:43pm

>288 rocketjk: That is a very interesting historical document and its funny how events suddenly appear. I knew nothing about the German resistance at Royan until I read about it in Nicholas Monsarrat's The Cruel sea earlier this month and now I see it features in your periodical.

290rocketjk
tammikuu 1, 5:37pm

>289 baswood: Yes, I've found that sort of confluence myself quite often. Always fascinating.

291dchaikin
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 1, 9:21pm

Enjoyed your last several reviews a lot. This last of fascinating. But also The history of the Pirates sounds actually terrific, and your commentary was interesting too. ... And I don't know anything but Adlai Stevenson, so that entire review and all the quotes were fascinating to me. Had no idea these dirty politics went back that far...I'm kind of horrified on the implied scope of manipulation. ... finally, I encountered this racism of the Women's suffrage movement in the recent biography of Frederick Douglass (Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight). That was new to me and horrifying to see the dark side of these famous feminist heroes. Wonder how much, if anything, Blight pulled from Davis.

292rocketjk
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 2, 12:50am

>291 dchaikin: Thanks, Dan. As to your final point, there, my guess would be that Davis and Blight were working from the same primary sources rather than that Blight pulled much from Davis.

Stevenson is an interesting figure. He was later the U.S. representative to the U.N. and was there during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He was the one who told the stonewalling Russian ambassador that he was willing to wait for a straight answer about whether there were Russian missiles in Cuba "until Hell freezes over." If you ever saw the movie about that crisis, Thirteen Days, you may recall the scene. But here's an historical account of that:

https://www.cfr.org/blog/twe-remembers-adlai-stevenson-dresses-down-soviet-ambas...

I'd like to find a good biography of Stevenson sometime.

293rocketjk
tammikuu 3, 10:38am

OK! My 2021 thread is open for "business" here: https://www.librarything.com/topic/328303

Come on over!