1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die: An Indispensable Guide
Of course, I didn't read this 960 page behemoth in one day. As a matter of fact, the se1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die: An Indispensable Guide
Of course, I didn't read this 960 page behemoth in one day. As a matter of fact, the selected edition is the second of two copies in my library, my personal one, and the one I share with my dearest reading friend and partner, Lynda.
Rather, this is my indispensable guide to broadening my literary horizons. The pictured edition is that published by Cassell in 2012. However, my first edition was the first published in 2006.
I emphasize that this is an evolving series. As such, as successive volumes have been published, some works have been removed while others have been added. My first edition was rather a comfort to me. For it reinforced my selection of books I had read over the course of my life. Let's say the initial volume was "Anglo-centric." Here were the classics of American and English Literature on which I had cut my bookish teeth. The usual suspects are here. Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, William FaulknerErnest Hemingway, and John Steinbeck.
As the series has progressed, the 1001 have taken on a decidedly international flavor. That is an exceptionally good thing. For I have begun to read much further abroad than English and American Literature. These major revisions have occurred in the 2008 and 2014 editions.
This series should not be dismissed as simply another "List of Books." It is far more than that. This series comes with the Literary Chops of Editor Peter Boxall a professor of English in the Department of English at the University of Sussex. He works on contemporary literature, literary theory and literary modernism. The series is further advanced by the work of innumerable scholars, specializing in the works of included authors.
Some readers may well be put off by a book of this scope. Many readers always take exception to works included and excluded. Yet, it must be accepted that Literature is a constantly changing way in which the world is viewed: historically, philosophically, politically, and socially. Otherwise Literature would not have the impact on us as readers it undeniably does.
Those who may be dismayed by the exclusion of beloved works previously included in earlier editions should be assuaged by knowing that most works excluded in later editions are works by authors who have had multiple listings in previous editions. By example, at one time Charles Dickens and J.M. Coetzee were the writers with the most entries; ten for each. Those have been reduced to make room for authors of significant works from different cultures and eras. That suits the mission of this series.
For the Bibliophile, each edition has been a treasure trove of artwork from contemporary editions of the works reviewed. The accompanying artwork for each entry makes this an entrancingly beautiful book on, well, the beauty of books and their wonderful graphic design.
If one were to make a comparison of the various editions in this series, it actually lists in excess of 1300 Books You Must Read Before You Die.
It is quite doubtful I will ever read each and every volume listed in this all encompassing series of books. However, it is a work I return to time and again in looking for that next book to be read. On the other hand, I have frequently said, tongue firmly planted in cheek, that the key to immortality is a stack of unread books. "Wait, wait, Death. I'm not done here."
Yet, this guide has led me to books I might not ever have read otherwise. This series has pushed me beyong the limits of my usual literary comfort zone. For that, I'm exceedingly grateful.
Should you decide to embark on this magnificent Literary Exploration, you, too, may find this your guide for volumes to increase your library for years to come. Oh, I highly recommend delving into this series. It is a joy.
“There isn’t one kind of happiness, there’s all kinds. Decision is torment for anyone with imagination. When you decide, you multiply the things you might have done and now never can.”-Nenna James, Offshore, by Penelope Fitzgerald
Offshore, First Ed., Harper Collins, United Kingdom, 1979
Full review to follow. In the utmost brevity, if you have found the mere thought of reading Middlemarch too dauntiMiddlemarch: A Study in what Matters
Full review to follow. In the utmost brevity, if you have found the mere thought of reading Middlemarch too daunting because of its sheer length, it is time to cast the fear aside and take your copy down from the shelf and begin to read. Find yourself immersed in a world of saints and sinners in rural England of the 1830s. George Eliot's novel breathes of life on every page. Joy in it. Revel in it. Do not think of it as a book from which the dust of a distant past must be blown, that means nothing today. It will bring much to you if you simply open it and begin to read....more
“But that’s what kismet is. It makes us careen off in odd directions from which we learn not only what life is about but what it is for. This journey may be nothing less than your chance to discover these things.”-The Captain, Homer's wise employer
On the surface of things, this is the tale of a great American road trip from Coalwood, West Virginia, all the way to Key West, Florida, in 1935, in the midst of the great depression. The travelers are Homer and Elsie Hickam, the author's parents. The purpose of the trip is to carry Albert home. Albert the alligator, a wedding gift from Buddy Ebsen, whom Elsie had known in Orlando, Florida, before Ebsen decided to journey to New York City in search of stardom as a dancer.
Albert represents something decidedly different to Homer and Elsie. Elsie viewed Albert as a gift solely to her from a handsome young man who became a star, the possibility of a love that might yet be fulfilled. She hates the West Virginia town of Coalwood. She wonders whether she should be married to coal miner Homer Hickam.
For Homer Hickam, Albert represents a competitor for his wife's affections. Buddy Ebsen is a phantom he cannot fight. Homer knows he is a coal miner, that he will never be a star, that he cannot even dance. When Albert clamps his toothy grin on Homer's pants leg, Homer issues an ultimatum. Either Albert goes, or he goes. To his dismay, Elsie thinks about it a week before she agrees to give up Albert, but only if Homer carries Albert home to Florida. With Elsie, of course, who never wants to return to Coalwood again.
What follows is a series of adventures and misadventures of epic proportion through great depression America. With $100.00 borrowed from the coal company and a 1925 Buick Touring Car, Homer doggedly drives south towards Florida. Albert rides in the back seat in a wash tub, showing his approval by his happy sounds of "Yeah, yeah, yeah." A mysterious rooster flies through the window to either perch on Albert's head or Homer's shoulder. Neither Albert nor Elsie ever understand why the rooster is there. Perhaps, it's pointed out by more than one person they encounter on the journey, he's a guardian angel, or spirit.
And perhaps there's more to this journey than the simple purpose of carrying Albert home. Both Homer and Elsie have a lot to learn about themselves and each other. Sometimes the point of a journey lies not in the destination but journey itself. Isn't that the perfect allegory for what we call life?
So, it should come as no surprise that Homer's attitude toward Albert should begin to change. How many alligators can stop a bank robbery? Nor should it come as a surprise that Elsie increasingly notices Homer's dependability in doing what is necessary to take Albert home.
“So, you met Steinbeck,” mused Hemingway over his port after the women had left. “It is a fateful peculiarity that you might meet him and me at virtually the same time. To what do you attribute that, Homer?” “I don’t know, sir,” Homer answered. “Just the way it worked out, I guess.” “Don’t you believe it. There are no coincidences in life. Although the big God of the Hebrews might be the greatest of them, I believe there are small gods who watch out and sometimes determine our fate. I believe they also like to have a little fun with us from time to time. Kismet. You heard of it?”
This is tall tale telling at its best. Hickam weaves his story in the loom of family legend. Each of us have similar stories passed down within our own families. These tales are the ones we cherish and serve as the glue that blesses the familial ties that bind. As the little man Michaleen Oge Flynn said in John Ford's The Quiet Man "Homeric! Impetuous!"
A story that's almost true? I believe every word of it.
Ebsen showed up in NYC in 1928 with $26.75 and his sister, Vilma. Ebsen took a job in a soda fountain. Both he and his sister were dancers and began their professional career in Broadway chorus lines. He broke into films in 1935. Ebsen signed with MGM at $1500 a week. Not bad for the great depression. He was set to star as the Tin Man in "The Wizard of Oz." The aluminum makeup made him seriously ill. Throughout his life he referred to Oz as "that damned movie." Ebsen pulled out of the cast.
Ebsen is best remembered as Jed Clampett. But he was also Doc Golightly, Holly's much older husband in "Breakfast at Tiffanys." After the run of Beverly Hillbillies, Ebsen put in eight seasons, nearly 180 episodes of "Barnaby Jones," from 1973 to 1980.
Ebsen was married three times. He died in 2013. His exact net worth is unknown, but he died a multimillionaire.
Rich? Depends on how you define wealth. I put my money on Homer, Sr. and Elsie.
Buddy Ebsen, Promotional Photo, Circa 1928
Buddy Ebsen as the Tin Man
The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935
The 1935 Labor Day Hurricane is the strongest and most intense hurricane to make landfall in the United States and the Atlantic Basin in recorded history. The second tropical cyclone, second hurricane, and second major hurricane of the 1935 Atlantic hurricane season, the Labor Day Hurricane was the first of three Category 5 hurricanes at landfall that the United States endured during the 20th Century (the other two being 1969's Hurricane Camille and 1992's Hurricane Andrew). After forming as a weak tropical storm east of the Bahamas on August 29, it slowly proceeded westward and became a hurricane on September 1. Northeast storm warnings were ordered displayed Fort Pierce to Fort Myers in the September 1, 9:30 AM Weather Bureau advisory. Upon receipt of this advisory the U. S. Coast Guard Station, Miami, FL, sent a plane along the coast to advise boaters and campers of the impending danger by dropping message blocks. A second flight was made Sunday afternoon. All planes were placed in the hangar and its door closed at 10:00 AM Monday morning.
The 3:30 AM advisory, September 2 (Labor Day), predicted the disturbance "will probably pass through the Florida Straits Monday" and cautioned "against high tides and gales Florida Keys and ships in path." The 1:30 PM advisory ordered hurricane warnings for the Key West district which extended north to Key Largo. At around 2:00 PM, Fred Ghent, Assistant Administrator, Florida Emergency Relief Administration, requested a special train to evacuate the veterans work camps located in the upper keys. It departed Miami at 4:25 PM; delayed by a draw bridge opening, obstructions across the track, poor visibility and the necessity to back the locomotive below Homestead (so it could head out on the return trip) the train finally arrived at the Islamorada station on Upper Matecumbe Key at about 8:20 PM. This coincided with an abrupt wind shift from northeast (Florida Bay) to southeast (Atlantic Ocean) and the arrival on the coast of the storm tide. Eleven cars were swept from the tracks, leaving upright only the locomotive and tender. Remarkably, everyone on the train survived. The eye of the storm passed a few miles to the southwest creating a calm of about 40 minutes duration over Lower Matecumbe and 55 minutes (9:20 - 10:15 PM) over Long Key. At Camp #3 on Lower Matecumbe the surge arrived near the end of the calm with the wind close behind. On Long Key it struck about midway through the calm. The waters quickly receded after carving new channels connecting the bay with the ocean. But gale force winds and high seas persisted into Tuesday, preventing rescue efforts. The storm continued northwest along the Florida west coast, weakening before its second landfall near Cedar Key, Florida on September 4.
The compact and intense hurricane caused extreme damage in the upper Florida Keys, as a storm surge of approximately 18 to 20 feet (5.5–6 meters) swept over the low-lying islands. The hurricane's strong winds and the surge destroyed nearly all the structures between Tavernier and Marathon. The town of Islamorada was obliterated. Portions of the Key West Extension of the Florida East Coast Railway were severely damaged or destroyed.
Soon after the clouds had cleared, leaving a crystal blue horizon, the dead were counted. Between 400 and 600 people perished. What made this storm all the more tragic was that among the dead were 265 World War I veterans. At the height of the Great Depression these veterans had been sent to build a road on the low lying islands of the Florida Keys as a part of the Public Works for Veterans programs. While working, they were housed in inadequate tent-like structures provided by the Roosevelt administration. When the National Weather Bureau issued warnings for a hurricane they were not evacuated.
Shortly after the natural disaster had occurred, writer Ernest Hemingway was contacted by the editors of New Masses to write an account of the storm from an insider's perspective. Hemingway's response was the article, "Who Murdered the Vets?: A First-Hand Report on the Florida Hurricane," published September 17, 1935, just weeks after the event. Although billed as a personal account, in reality it was an outraged demand for accountability for the needless death of the veterans.
A hostile tone was established within the first few lines. "Whom did they annoy and to whom was their possible presences a political danger?" Hemingway asked. "Who sent them down to the Florida Keys and left them there in hurricane months?"
Hemingway presented the veterans not merely as murdered but almost as though they had been assassinated for someone's personal political gain or simply that they were disposed of as an unnecessary burden to the public after courageously serving their country.
Hemingway continued by pointing out that the men in charge certainly knew the possible consequences of being in Florida during hurricane season, let alone in insufficient shelter.
The writer of this article lives a long way from Washington and would not know the answers to those questions. But he does know that wealthy people, yachtsmen, fishermen such as President Hoover and Presidents Roosevelt, do not come to the Florida Keys in hurricane months.... There is a known danger to property. But veterans, especially the bonus-marching variety of veterans, are not property. They are only human beings; unsuccessful human beings, and all they have to lose is their lives. They are doing coolie labor for a top wage of $45 a month and they have been put down on the Florida Keys where they can't make trouble. It is hurricane months, sure, but if anything comes up, you can always evacuate them, can't you? By making these statements Hemingway was not only making an argument that the government was ineffectual; he was also stating that class distinctions had played a major role in the disaster. Not only had the government failed to save its veterans, officials had felt the veterans were disposable. Hemingway went on to illustrate the experience common to most Floridians preparing for a coming hurricane in a pre NOAA, pre Weather Channel era. His account reinforced to non-coastal readers the reality of hurricanes with which coastal residents were familiar.
Hemingway's anger at what happened was palpable on every page:
It is not necessary to go into the deaths of the civilians and their families since they were on the Keys of their own free will; They made their living there, had property and knew the hazards involved. But the veterans had been sent there; they had no opportunity to leave, nor any protection against hurricanes; and they never had a chance for their lives. Who sent nearly a thousand war veterans, many of them husky, hard-working and simply out of luck, but many of them close to the border of pathological cases, to live in frame shacks on the Florida Keys in hurricane months? After making the argument that the veterans had no business being sent to build a road on a narrow low-lying island during hurricane season, Hemingway turned to the aftermath of the storm.
The railroad embankment was gone and the men who had cowered behind it and finally, when the water came, clung to the rails, were all gone with it. You could find them face down and face up in the mangroves. The biggest bunch of the dead were in the tangled, always green but now brown, mangroves behind the tanks cars and the water towers. They hung on there, in shelter, until the wind and the rising water carried them away. Hemingway's ability to ask questions while simultaneously and subtly pointing fingers throughout the article stimulated public discussion. Though Hemingway later refused to admit that he had purposely written the article to instigate political change, his account helped stimulate vigorous debate. The article in particular drew attention to the issue of class, raising awareness of inequities between the upper and lower classes.
Hemingway ended "Who Murdered the Vets?" with the final questions, "Who left you there? And what's the punishment for manslaughter now?" The first question was officially answered privately behind the closed doors of politicians. The second went unanswered. No person was ever formally charged with the neglect of the veterans. But one result of the tragedy was that the public began to demand that in the future government leaders had to be careful not to be careless with other peoples' lives.
Brute in Brass: A Cop on the Take and an Innocent Man on Death Row
Paperback issue of Brute in Brass
Lieutenant Mark Ballard is a dirty cop. Works ViBrute in Brass: A Cop on the Take and an Innocent Man on Death Row
Paperback issue of Brute in Brass
Lieutenant Mark Ballard is a dirty cop. Works Vice. Knows where it is, but doesn't take it down. What he does is live high for a cop. It takes brass to live like Ballard. Driving a shiny Olds 98. Wearing tailored suits. The regular guys on the force don't see the inside of his apartment. There's wouldn't compare to his, put togetther by an interior decorator.
When an honest cop is down on his luck, Ballard is the go to guy for a loan. Wife's in the hospital at Christmas? All the bills come due at the same time? Your three kids need Christmas? Santy Claus ain't gonna come on your honest cop's lousy take home pay? Ballard will spot you. You'll feel like less of a man. Maybe he'll pause, look at you, make you spell out your problems before he opens that shiny wallet and takes out two crispy fifties. You promise to pay it back. But Ballard says that won't be necessary. No, it won't. But it don't make you feel any better.
Maybe Ballard was a good cop once. Like his Dad was. But wearing the Badge got his old man nothing. Nothing but a grave. And Ballard. When Ballard made Vice, Ballard tried to bust the rackets. But the higher ups they protected the rackets. The guys in the suits that went to the same church on Sunday. Played Bridge in the same club on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Busting the rackets was a no go.
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Say, Luxtro, he's one of the biggest. He wants a man on the inside. One with all the scoop, the low down. Take Luxtro's money. Get somewhere. Drive the Olds, wear the suits, live in the decorated apartment. But don't get close to nobody.
Take Hilma, she looks good. Good in bed. Put her kid in private school. Drop a hundred a month for her private apartment. Visit when the itch needs scratching. But now she's whining about a gold ring. That's a no go. Every visit is a fight. It's not worth it. Easy enough to go to a whore house. What's the difference. He's paying Vilma. It's expensive snatch.
Then there's this poor shmuck Earl Walker. Calls Ballard up to the Pen where his clock is ticking down on Death Row. Going to sizzle for offing a high class call girl. But the guy says he's innocent. Well, don't they all. Jesus Christ, the guy cries. Damn, how he hates it when the dumb shmucks cry. And Walker says he's prayed for Ballard to come see him. Don't they all pray the closer it come s to sittin' in the chair.
Walker says, "You was the only one decent to me. Treated me like a human being. Didn't beat out of me what you wanted to hear."
The look on Walker's face when Ballard told him he was nice to him because he just didn't give a shit about him. Didn't give a rat's ass about anything anymore. And you don't, when you been through everything Ballard has and seen how the whole damn system stinks. Why care. Take what you can while you can.
Then Walker's wife Peggy comes to visit. Peggy with the pert breasts filling out the gray dress she chose to make an impression. Peggy who's not like all the other little hausfraus down at the super market. Peggy who's been a good girl but obviously never known what it's like to be with a real man. You know, maybe Ballard maybe should look into this Walker case more.
Damned if Ballard doesn't go and fall in love with Peggy Walker. And where Harry Whittington starts off spinning a yarn with all the trappings of a classic Noir tale, the trolley slips the line. Because Ballard starts doing the honorable thing no matter the cost. Jesus, he believes Earl Walker is innocent!
BUT IS IT NOIR?
Which brings us to the point to talk a little about just what Noir Fiction is about. You can't get a better definition for my book than Otto Penzler, the founder of The Mysterious Press. As he has so aptly defined it, Noir fiction is about losers, not P.I.s, or in this case Police Detectives. Their motives are greed, lust, jealousy, or, as Penzler puts it a form of alienation. See Noir Fiction Is About Losers, Not Private Eyes, Otto Penzler, Huffington Post, Books, 08/10/2010, updated May 25, 2011, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/otto-pe.... My grandmother would have said, "He just doesn't look quite right out of his eyes." Think of The Killer Inside Me.
So, what we end up with here is something of a hybrid Noir-Hard Boiled Detective Novel. Without giving away too much of the plot, let's just say Mark Ballard, with all his faults, having fallen in love, strikes out on a path to redemption.
Otto Penzler tells us, "The characters in these existential, nihilistic tales are doomed. They may not die, but they probably should, as the life that awaits them is certain to be so ugly, so lost and lonely, that they’d be better off just curling up and getting it over with. And, let’s face it, they deserve it." Ibid
Don't get me wrong. Ballard has no easy time getting to the end of Brute in Brass. The tables are turned. The cards become stacked against him. The odds are high. The corruption of Luxtro's rackets extend all the way to the Office of the Police Commissioner.
Harry Whittington: King of the Paperbacks
Harry Whittington (February 4, 1915 – June 11, 1989)
Born in Ocala, Florida, Whittington wrote over eighty five pulp novels, sometimes writing as many as seven a month. You'll find many of his titles in the original Fawcett Gold Medal Editions that sold for 25 cents a copy. His most influential titles are his hard-boiled and noir titles appearing in the 1950s and early 1960s. However, he wrote 200 novels under nearly twenty pen names. He was also known as a writer of westerns. Among his screen credits is the Lawman television series airing on ABC from 1968 to 1972.
Brute in Brass: The Verdict
This is a quick, entertaining read. Whittington holds your attention. 3.5 Stars out of 5. For those interested, Mark Ballard returns in Any Woman He Wanted. The action takes up four years after that of Brute in Brass.
Don Winslow has written the epic "Dope" novel in The Power of the Dog. It is a mean, dirty story where it is not always easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys.
This is not a mere cop and crime story. Winslow goes much deeper than that. While not strictly historical fiction, because Winslow tends to change the names to protect the guilty, and omit the names to blur which Presidential Administration particular acts may be attributed to, consider this a sweeping look at "The War on Drugs" from the founding days of the Drug Enforcement Administration in the mid-1970s to the end of the Nineties.
Winslow's protagonist is Art Keller, a Vietnam Veteran. More fitting for having been an intel operative in the Phoenix Program during the Vietnam War, the program for the assassination of suspected Viet Cong leaders. Keller is not regular army. He is CIA.
When the Drug Enforcement Administration was founded in the Seventies, many former Vietnam vets found themselves recruited into DEA ranks, including former CIA operatives. They found themselves on the outside, at odds with other law enforcement who had not been recruited from the Vietnam experience. Known as "Cowboys," they were spurned by their civilian counterparts and locked out of intel and operations when possible.
Art Keller finds himself "Locked out" by his supervisor Tim Taylor who has stationed him in Mexico to shut down the heroin trade. But Keller has something going for him Taylor hasn't counted on. Keller's mother was a Latina. Essentially abandoned by his gringo father as he grew up in the barrio, Keller understands what it means to be Mexican. By apparent luck he finds himself in the boxing ring as the sparring partner of Cesar Barrerra, managed by brothers Raul and Adan. Keller is accepted. And wouldn't you know it, Tio, Uncle, Miguel Angel Barrerra, is a ranking Mexican police official who leads Keller to credit in shutting down the heroin traffic in Mexico and killing the heroin kingpin.
Here's the complication. Tio has a motive. Keller was actually a tool. Tio Barrerra establishes a Federacion to distribute cocaine the up and coming drug to the streets of the United States. Enter the Columbian Drug Cartels. Enter the Mafia Connection. Oops. Enter the Contra Connection. Uh-oh. Enter the CIA support of the Contras who are under indictment for Trafficking Cocaine.
Faster than you can say Ollie North, here portrayed as Major Scott Craig, Art Keller finds himself caught between the CIA and the Barerras fighting the good fight in the war on drugs. However the Barrerras are always just one step ahead of him.
The key to any good narcotics investigation is the development of intel. Best source? Informants. However, now one tips on the Barrerras. It will get you killed. Keller gets antsy and practical. Following Tio Barrerra, he discovers Tio has taken a young lover and an apartment as a secret love nest. In a "Say it ain't so Keller" moment, Art plants an illegal bug. The intel is golden. On the basis of information received from a "reliable confidential informant" Keller begins to do serious damage to the Barrerra Operation.
Keller has two partners, one, Ernie Hidalgo, kidnapped by the Barrerras. Hidalgo is brutally tortured to discover the identity of Keller's informant. Of course, Hidalgo doesn't know. In the process of the torture Hidalgo dies.
What results is the ultimate vengeance tale. Keller is out to get the Barrerras. The Barrerras are out to get Keller. At the same time there are forces at work to shut Keller up as well. For reasons having nothing to do with his mission to avenge the death of his partner.
Winslow will keep you on the edge of your seat. He provides you with a cast of characters and story reminiscent of The Godfather, but with the intensity of Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone.
This is the thinking reader's dope novel. It is a novel of morality, ethics, and the ease with which those essentials may be lost. Save us from the power of the dog.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.
15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
16 For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.
17 I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.
18 They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.
19 But be not thou far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste thee to help me.
20 Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.
By whatever means necessary get hold of a copy of The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson and read it. Obtain it legally if possible. However, should you read it, praise it, press it into the hands of your book loving friends, don't expect it to be returned. It's that good.
I found I loved Ms. Simonson's writing in Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. This novel gives me even more cause to appreciate Simonson as an author.
The Summer Before the War is an ambitious and finely wrought work of historical fiction set in the East Sussex village of Rye during the summer of 1914. Although Archduke Ferdinand of Austria has been assassinated in Bosnia, few outside the halls of government expect England will find itself embroiled in a war over the troublesome Balkans. In fact, Agatha Kent, one of the indomitable women of Rye has decreed that there shall be no war. Agatha is more concerned with filling the position of Latin teacher at the village school. With a woman. On the Board of Governors of the School, along with Lady Emily Wheaton, they just may do it.
Agatha Kent's candidate to be the new Latin Mistress is Beatrice Nash, an independent young woman who served as her scholarly father's secretary until his recent death. Bereaved and penniless, Miss Nash has resigned herself to making her way in the world with a teaching position and life as a spinster.
However, Beatrice Nash is much younger and far more attractive than even Agatha Kent anticipated. Agatha's village rival, Bettina Fothergill, who lost a suitor to Agatha in their youth, is opposed to Miss Nash achieving the position. She pushes her nephew, appropriately named Mr. Poot, forward for the position.
Agatha married John Kent, a civil servant of long standing in London. Alas, they were never blessed with children. However, they had the benefit of two nephews: Hugh Grange, studying to be a surgeon; and, Daniel Bookham, who intended on spending the next year in France, starting a poetry journal. The two cousins had grown up spending summers and school holidays in the Kent household. John considered the boys the equivalent of the bestowing of fatherhood upon him without the expense of it.
Of course, the chosen professions of the two cousins is fine bit of foreshadowing. However, beforehand, it is essential that Miss Nash's position be secured. Enter Harry Wheaton, the son of Lady Emily. The clown, the prankster. The perfect co-conspirator to lead Mr. Poot astray causing poor Poot to hoist himself on his own petard.
Ms. Simonson creates a wonderful cast of village characters from Romany to Nobles. From that perspective consider this one of those books to love for those who mourn the absence of Downton Abby.
Especially delightful is the insertion of a Henry Jamesian character who resides in Rye. Oh, yes. Henry James, in fact, did live in East Susssex. The American author who would have preferred to have his nation of origin forgotten, having become the true Anglophile, is in full literary bloom. Alternately he speaks with wisdom. At others with arrogance and pomposity. Simonson slyly inserts wonderful little bits of James characater into the figure of "Twillingham" who joys in the adulation of his English reading public and little gems of anecdotes such as visits by Edith Wharton who squired the great man around the Shire in her gauchely large motor car.
With the coming of the Great War, Simonson keeps the reader on the edge of the seat while showing life at the home front and life on the Western Front. Here the cast of characters grows to include heroes for whom to cheer and villains who are devoid of competence and honor worthy of contempt.
The earliest impact on Rye is the reception of Belgian refugees fleeing the invasion of the Kaiser's Prussian troops. While their acts fall far short of the horrendous acts made subject of British propaganda in early days of the war in 1914, atrocities do occur.
And what of those residents who have ties to family in Germany? Consider that the heads of the British Realm, Russia, and Germany were all cousins, referring to one another by first names as they attempted to avoid the conflagration that erupted with the guns of August. While such connections may be acceptable for royalty, further down the social ranks, they are not. Lady Emily's daughter is married to a German Baron who has been called to his home for military service. Though the couple share a child, the couple is separated by war.
Helen Simonson has done her research before putting these words to paper. Rarely have I come across a work of fiction dealing with the War to End All Wars that so adequately reflects the coming changes this devestating war will bring about on an England that will be changed forever. This is a masterful work.
By all means, oh readers who are prone to pass over an author's acknowledgments and notes following the final page of narrative. This is a section not to be missed. For those interested in reading more about the Great War, there are referenced works here I can also recommend. I also give Ms. Simonson a tip of the hat for acknowledging that for her the poetry generated by the First World War lies at the heart of the story told in The Summer Before the War.
This one comes with my highest recommendation. A solid five star read with a heart rending ending. Hankie consumption will vary according to reader.
Ralph Vaughn Williams was older by ten years than Britains younger composers who served during the First World War. He interrupted his musical career to serve in the Royal Army Medical Corps. Here is his Symphony No. 3, The Pastoral. First performed in 1922, the Symphony was considered a remembrance for those who died in service during the war.
Gustav Holst who will forever be remembered for "The Planets" best known composition for the Great War is "Ode to Death." It has always been held to have been underperformed. However, you can listen to it Here. It will move you, as will each of these pieces.
And, one final note. What is an exaltation of larks? It is a poetic comment on the climb of the skylark high into the sky while uttering its twittering song As I used it in the title to this review it represents the resilient human spirit to endure the withering and winnowing of life, particularly of the young, which always survives and resurges to carry forward the abundance of life even in the face of sorrow.
Rash's poems are rich in the distillation of memory of place, people, nature, and the course of life from birth to death. The expected and unexpected departure of family, friends, and those bound in life through the the community they shared.
The lines of these poems scan perfectly, at times almost seeming to embrace the rhythm of folk ballads and old gospel hymns. The streams and mountains of western North Carolina are captured in indelible imagery through language that is readily accessible, as one might share a colloquial conversation with a neighbor sharing time slipping a line into a trout stream or leafing through one's family Bible at a reunion of relatives tracing a long and hard history of life through ever changing times.
In the collection Raising the Dead readers familiar with Rash's first novel One Foot in Eden will recognize the theme of a way of life lost through the flooding of land to bring progress through generating electrical power. Water emerges as a symbol of death and destruction. These poems are perhaps the most powerful in this collection.
Through Eureka Mills and Among the Believers Rash uses water as a symbol of life and resurrection, a necessity for the baptism of the human soul and a necessity for the growth of essential crops.
Ron Rash serves as historian, naturalist, biographer, and balladeer that serves to bring Appalachia past and present to life. These are lines of verse to read aloud, to hear the perfect lyricism that will remind you of the work of poets such as Wendell Berry and former Poet Laureate Ted Kooser.
Be haunted by the lines of "In Dismal Gorge," in the waterfall country of western North Carolina.
On the Dismal Falls Trail
The lost can stay lost down here, in laurel slicks, false-pathed caves. Too much too soon disappears here.
On creek banks clearings appear, once homesteads. Nothing remains. The lost can stay lost down here,
like Tom Clark's child, our worst fears confirmed as we searched in vain. Too much too soon disappears.
How often this is made clear where cliff-shadows pall our days. The lost can stay lost down here,
lives slip away like water. We fill our Bibles with names. The lost can stay lost down here. Too much too soon disappears.
Then celebrate the joy of hopefulness and homestead in "Brightleaf."
Here a bride planted hundreds of dogwoods, so coming springs branches flared with white blossoms, waking an orchard of light against that bleak narrative of place name, a life scratched out on ground as much rock as dirt. Decades passed as she raised what might look from distant summit like a white flag unfurled, though anything but surrender.