OK, this is an anthology. Some of the essays are clearly better than others. I certainly didn't love them all! I have put my star rating for each essaOK, this is an anthology. Some of the essays are clearly better than others. I certainly didn't love them all! I have put my star rating for each essay on the content list provided below. When I look back on this book my overall feeling is that if these stories had never been written so very much would be lost. In this respect, for the sake of the best stories/essays, the book is in my mind worth five stars even if some are not that good. As a whole I am giving it four stars. I really did like the whole reading experience. I am really glad I read this book.
How can I describe it? Who will enjoy this? It is not going to fit everybody. I am going to speak about the best stories / essays. As stated below, some are fact some are fiction ,but all are based on the author's interviews with real people - fishermen, gypsies, colored folk, denizens of the Bowery. The characters are those who are ‘down and out’. Are you able to look with compassion on such people? Are you curious about New York and its environs at the turn of the 20th Century and through the Depression? Do you want to get under the surface, to really comprehend people who are not like YOU?
New York City is so diverse; you cannot capture the whole city in one book. If I have to pick one group on which the book focuses it would be the fishing folk. I knew very little about fishing .......baits and nets and barges, culinary tricks, the fishermen's life on New York's waterfront. Not today, but back then. How was life there in the harbor back then. (I am dying to know how much of this world remains.) You leave the book with an understanding not only of the factual details, which I will surely forget, but also about a whole other way of living. This I will not forget. When you read the book use Wiki. Look at maps of the harbor and images of the fish and the boats and the people there. It is pretty amazing how people’s life trajectories can be so varied. What the author does is start with the facts and then he goes deeper and deeper by looking at people who everyday live with those details, those things just described. Mitchell goes from things and numbers to soul. From the outer to the inner. The facts become utterly fascinating because they are tied to flesh and blood people.
It is important to read this book with Man in Profile: Joseph Mitchell of The New Yorker. Mitchell used shorthand to record what people said. He had a knack for listening. You may wonder otherwise how Mitchell was he able to capture such long soliloquies and dialogs?!
What makes a book really good? Along with facts you must be lead to care for the people, so much so that you need to understand their circumstances. Then the details and facts have meaning. Yet you can bend the truth with facts. A talented author can make a message more meaningful and sometimes more truthful through additional fictional elements and composite characters. My favorite section was Old Mr. Flood, a mixture of fact and fiction. Here the author starts with the facts and real people. He has listened to them, and that is an art in itself. Our words, ordinary people's words are history, just as much as dry facts, and they are so much more interesting. Mitchell captures the spirit of a group of people. The following are some of the lines that I loved, all taken from the stories in the The Old Mr. Flood section: -(He) “didn’t see any reason mixing whiskey with water since it is already wet.” -“It’s not what I did I regret; it’s what I didn’t do.” -“It’s easier to have to do with a cranky man, than one that always has a smile on his face.” -“It takes almost a lifetime to learn how to do something simply.“
I very highly recommend listening to the audiobook. I absolutely adored the narration by Grover Gardiner. He reads slowly. He captures with his intonations the character of the people talking. Absolutely wonderful. Could not be improved upon. You do not need the paper book, but sit by your computer and look at maps of the city. Look at the fish and the fishermen and the barges. It is all there on internet and easy to see. Rarely can a book's maps be as informative as what you can find on the net. I don't even know if the paper book has maps or pictures.
At the end of my review is a list of the stories/essays and how they are arranged in the book. I have indicated how I reacted emotionally to each one. 1 star means bad, boring 2 stars means it was OK 3 stars means it was good, interesting, but not emotionally captivating 4 stars means I liked it A LOT 5 stars – these are utterly amazing!
I have for clarity indicated which are fictional and which are factual, also which stories were added by the author and thus not to be found in previous collections.
Joe Gould's Secret can be classified as a novella, but it concludes the set of stories found in The Bottom of the Harbor. It is a perfect ending to the anthology. It was the last of Mitchell’s writing, published in 1964. Joe Gould and Joseph Mitchell, they share an understanding about writing, about what should be written and why sometimes you just cannot write any more. The two men are not the same. There is a lot to think about here.
Still in the book's first section:
Some sketches are marvelous because they capture an individual or the feel of a place. Some you read for the interest of the topic covered - Calypso music, gypsies, the Bowery, the New York waterfront or the Fulton Fish Market. The setting is New York City, the early 1900s and the Depression years.
Up in the Old Hotel is split into three sections: "McSorley's Wonderful Saloon", "Old Mr. Flood" and "The Bottom of the Harbor". Each section is composed of different character sketches/essays. Some sketches are factual, some fictional. All in "The Bottom of the Harbor" are factual. The stories/sketches in "Old Mr. Flood" are fictional. The stories/sketches in "McSorley's Wonderful Saloon" are factual OR fictional.
Does it really matter if a fictional composite figure is created by Mitchell? He based even his fictional characters on real people he has rubbed shoulders with. Sometimes you can say more, get closer to the essence of a being through fictional characters. Facts can misrepresent the truth. (Harold Ross, the editor of The New Yorker, where all the sketches were originally published, was fully cognizant of the situation.)
When I have finished the book I will add a complete list of the names of the separate stories. The book starts with an introduction by David Remnick and then an author's note which explains how Mitchell organized this, his last anthology. Seven additional sketches were added: The Gypsy Women, The Spism and the Spasm, The Deaf-Mutes Club, Santa Claus Smith, The Mohawks in High Steel, The Kind Old Blonde and I Couldn't Dope It Out. The Mohawks in High Steel was used as an introduction to Edmund Wilson's Apologies to the Iroquois with A Study of the Mohawks in High Steel. None of the other additions had been reprinted. All sketches from his previously published collections McSorley's Wonderful Saloon (1943), Old Mr. Flood (1948), The Bottom of the Harbor (1960*) and Joe Gould’s Secret (1965) are in this anthology, but reorganized.
*According to the author's words in Up in the Old Hotel. Other sources set the publication date for 1959!
Audiobook Contents: Introduction, by David Remnick Author's Note
McSorley's Wonderful Saloon
Section 1 (factual) --The Old House at Home (4 stars) --Mazie (3 stars) --Hit on the Head with a Cow (2 stars) --Professor Sea Gull (2 stars) --A Spism and a Spasm (added) (3 stars) --Lady Olga (3 stars) --Evening with a Gifted Child (2 stars) --A Sporting Man (3 stars) --The Cave Dwellers (4 stars) --King of the Gypsies (3 stars) --The Gypsy Women (added) (2 stars) --The Deaf-Mutes Club (added) (2stars) --Santa Claus Smith (added) (2stars) --The Don't-Swear Man (2stars) --Obituary of a Gin Mill (5 stars) --Houdini's Picnic (2stars) --The Mohawks in High Steel (added) (3 stars) --All You Can Hold for Five Bucks (3 stars) --A Mess of Clams (3 stars) --The Same as Monkey Glands (3 stars)
Section 2 (fictional) --Goodbye, Shirley Temple (2 stars) --On the Wagon (3 stars) --The Kind Old Blonde (added) (1 star) --I Couldn't Dope It Out (added) (2 stars)
Section 3 (fictional) --The Downfall of Fascism in Black Ankle County (2 stars) --I Blame It All on Mamma (2 stars) --Uncle Dockery and the Independent Bull (2 stars)
Old Mr. Flood - (fictional)
--Old Mr. Flood (5 stars) --The Black Clams (5 stars) --Mr. Flood's Party (4 stars)
The Bottom of the Harbor – (factual)
--Up in the Old Hotel (4 stars) --The Bottom of the Harbor (3 stars) --The Rats on the Waterfront (3 stars) --Mr. Hunter's Grave (5 stars) --Dragger Captain (3 stars) --The Riverman (4 stars)
Out of Africa was first published in 1937, after the author's return to Denmark. Shadows on the Grass consists of four more essays. The first three we Out of Africa was first published in 1937, after the author's return to Denmark. Shadows on the Grass consists of four more essays. The first three were written in the 1950s and the last, titled 'Echoes from the Hills', was written in the 60s. They just add a few more details about events and characters mentioned in the original book.
The movie Out of Africa, starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, was produced and directed by Sydney Pollack. It was based not only on Blixen's Out of Africa, but also Judith Thurman's Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller, Errol Trzebinski's Silence Will Speak and Blixen's Letters from Africa, 1914-1931. The movie and Out of Africa / Shadows on the Grass are quite different. The movie is best classified as a couple's love story! The book, if it is to be classified as a love story, is of a love between a woman and a land, Africa, more specifically the Kenyan highlands and the Ngong Hills, southwest of Nairobi where she had her coffee farm. She moved here in 1914 after marriage to her Swedish second-cousin, Baron Bror von Blixen-Finecke. She remained almost eighteen years, running the farm alone after she and her husband were divorced in 1925. Much of her writing is under the pen name of Isak Dinesen, her father being the Dane Wilhelm Dinesen.
This book is not an autobiography of her life. She writes of the land and the people on her farm. She says very little about family or her personal relationships, except those with her workers. In fact not one word is mentioned of her husband, and very little about her lover, the English big game hunter Denys Finch Hatton. What you are told is of his airplane crash in 1931 and of his burial on her land. In fact you do learn who she was by following her thoughts and what she does. The book is more a set of essays on events that occurred on the farm and her relationship with Kikuyus, Somalis and the nomadic Maasai. It is not complete and it is not told in chronological order. One whole section is devoted to short, short tales about animals, about African folklore and about customs. These read as fables, each with a message. She loved the Africans for their stories! She is a lovely storyteller herself. She writes about the way the Africans honor that which is written, by relating amusing stories. You learn about traditions, the dances and festivals, clothing and food. This is a book about the African world she lived in, and it is beautifully, lyrically described - particularly the landscapes, the air, the views. She is also adept at “seeing” animals. They are not merely furred beasts. They have souls. They have personalities. Her stories about animals are funny and moving, and will appeal to all animal lovers.
I was brought to tears, not when Denys died, but when she had to leave Kenya. The farm failed; it was a hopeless endeavor.
I cannot give this more than three stars. Some sections are hard to follow. Some sections are overly philosophical, but the real problem I had is of how she speaks of “the natives” in a paternalistic, if not racist tone. I do understand that this was the era of colonialism. She respects the "natives", some of them at least, and she acknowledges the wisdom and abilities they have and which Whites often lack, but she doesn't see them as equals. She looks down on them. She sees them with condescension. This disturbed me; I am of a different era! In the beginning sections I wasn’t sure if I was simply misinterpreting her words, but her outlook became blatantly evident in her first essay of Shadows on the Grass, the one entitled Farah.
The narration of the audiobook by Susan Lyons was excellent. The author writes of her African life having returned to Denmark. Sections are nostalgic in tone and Lyons reading reflects this. Clear and easy to understand. After a humorous line she pauses. You have a chance to think and then smile. ...more
Marvelous book. Look, if you are a dog owner, or have been or love dogs you have to read this book. I don't think dog books usually work, but this oneMarvelous book. Look, if you are a dog owner, or have been or love dogs you have to read this book. I don't think dog books usually work, but this one does.
You are in the head of a dog, Mr. Bones. You say, “It just cannot be good!” but I swear it is. Mr. Bones is a scruffy dog. He has a hard life, all sorts of different owners. His first owner was Willy, a bit of a tramp but he had hard times, and then he died. Seven "good" years with Willy, but life goes on.....unless, unless he can get back to Willy!
What makes this book special is that Paul Auster knows how dogs think. Yeah sure, a dog can get confused, but who doesn't?! Secondly, it is so damn funny. And sad....because sadness is tied to good memories. Love and happiness, hard times and good times and sadness, well, they all go together. Don’t they?
One thought of Mr. Bones: "Just turn around the letters of dog and what do you have?"
The narration by Joe Barrett was superb. Couldn't be improved. He just reads the lines, adds only a bit of inflection just when needed. He knows when to pause.
Tell me, does a book have to be serious to be considered worthy of four stars? I don't think so. Read this. It is LOTS of fun.......and sad.
I have bought another book by this talented author. I cannot stop here! ...more
I LIKE my three star books. I recommend them to others. I think in fact others may enjoy this book more than I did. It is very much a love story. I alI LIKE my three star books. I recommend them to others. I think in fact others may enjoy this book more than I did. It is very much a love story. I also gave the author’s The Paris Wife three stars, but Circling the Sun is in fact better. There is an epilogue where the author reveals that she too was separated from her mother at an early age, just as Beryl here. You can feel this connection in the writing.
What the book does tremendously well is draw Kenya - the landscape and the social climate of the expatriate community at the beginning of the 1900s. I liked learning about WW1 in Kenya. I felt Beryl's and Karen Blixen's love for Kenyan soil - the land, the vistas, the air, the fauna. All this becomes tangible through the author's descriptions. Beryl was the first licensed female racehorse trainer in Kenya. Her love for horses shines throughout the book. You feel her enthusiasm for the race - not the money, not the prestige but her love of the animal and her sense of accomplishment to achieve what she set out to do. There is much more about this than her love of flying. (See below.) You learn who Beryl was, what pulls her, what motivates her. By the book's end you also understand what she couldn't do, what she lacked.
She could not (view spoiler)[relate to her lovers, and there are several! Primarily because the one she loved most (Denys Finch Hatton) wasn't accessible. Denys was a free-spirit, like her, but I do believe Beryl would have married him if she could have. There are other reasons too. The social milieu of the expat community to which she belonged abounded with extramarital love affairs. Her inability to connect to others must also have been shaped by her mother's early desertion. In the book, very little is explored concerning her father's decision to move to Cape Town, and subsequently her hurried first marriage. How good a father was he? What were the psychological consequences of this for Beryl? We are only told how much she adored him. (hide spoiler)]
People said to her she lacked fear. She replied she was filled with fear, but she did not give up. I agree. She had great strength. Her fear doesn't show in the book because she would not let it show in real life. When I came to understand the grit of this woman, I also came to understand her floundering behavior with men, which bothered me in the middle of the book.
Still, only three stars. This is because I prefer biographies...and I am giving the stars. Large parts of Beryl Markham’s life are only briefly covered. So much is lacking. The book essentially stops (view spoiler)[when the love of her life is killed in a plane crash (hide spoiler)]. There is not one bit of humor. Not one smidgen.
The narration by Katharine McEwan was good, but her voice fits better the young naive Beryl of her youth rather than the determined woman she came to be. It was slow, which I like. Sometimes I could not distinguish every word clearly.
My thoughts after listening to only a few chapters:
I will say this Circling the Sun sgrabs your attention from the very first pages. It starts off with Beryl (Clutterbuck)Markham's solo flight over the Atlantic in 1936. She was the first woman to do this, flying east to west. This is harder than west to east because you have to fly against the prevailing Atlantic winds. In 1932 a Scot, Jim Mollison, had flown solo from east to west. His intention was to fly from Dublin to NY, but was forced to land in New Brunswick, Canada. Nevertheless, he DID make the first westward solo flight over the Atlantic. Beryl Markham's perilous flight is in the prologue, then it immediately switches to the scene where Beryl, at the age of five is left alone with her father, her mother and older brother having departed back to England. It is dramatic and heartfelt. Only when she receives a box of licorice from her Mom does she realize she is not coming back. The Kipsigis Kenyan tribe near her father's farm metaphorically speaking "takes her in". You immediately sense the child's personality being molded by the desertion of her mother, the determination and will of her father and the native Kenyans. You parallel her native African upbringing with her desire to conquer the skies. Kenya is wonderfully described and you feel for the child.
Could the book possibly remain this engaging?!
The beginning at least is even better than the author'sThe Paris Wife. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Sam Keith, the author of this book, has taken Richard Proenneke's daily journals, recorded from his sixteen month stay during 1968-1969 alone in the ASam Keith, the author of this book, has taken Richard Proenneke's daily journals, recorded from his sixteen month stay during 1968-1969 alone in the Alaskan wilderness, and set them into a book. Proenneke was fifty-two.
The reader follows how Proenneke constructed his cabin from scratch. Even if exact measurements and construction methods are related, if one is not a carpenter I doubt you would be able to use this as a manual....and maybe then you can wonder if such detail is necessary. After the two month construction of his cabin and its interior furnishings, Proenneke is free to spend more time fishing, hunting for necessary food and observing the fauna and flora around him. The weather, the seasons and the animals - they are his day to day companions. Caribou, rams, wolverines, bears, wolves, lynx, squirrels. He counts them and he takes photos. He records the temperature, the depth of the ice on the lake and daylight hours. I particularly enjoyed his growing friendship with animals and birds. Some of the birds came to eat from his hand.
Proenneke is not living completely solitary. On and off food and mail are flown in. He does use tar paper and polyethylene plastic in the construction of his cabin. Still, you get the sense of living with only the most basic products.
Norman Dietz gives a good narration. It is kind of weird but the author doesn’t use adverbs.
I feel it is important that such an experience is recorded just as our need for nature reserves. His cabin is today part of the Lake Clark National Park. ...more
First of all, it IS engaging. I didn't want to stop listening. It is full of information. It keeps you thinking,Oh my, this book is hard to explain.
First of all, it IS engaging. I didn't want to stop listening. It is full of information. It keeps you thinking, and it doesn't necessarily provide answers. Definitely four stars.
It starts and ends with the line "The unexamined life is not worth living." I guess you would have to classify this as a cerebral novel, but also the parts set in Africa are dramatic; one thing happens after another - a civil war and infanticide and aggression and cannibalism and murder. Not one, but several. Murder of chimpanzees, but they are so similar to human beings that these too must be seen as murders. Chimpanzees and bonobos are the closest living relatives to human beings. Chimpanzees are more aggressive than bonobos.
There are three threads which flip back and forth. This is, until you get the knack of it, confusing. One thread is years ago when Hope is in England then married to John, a mathematician. Another thread is in the Republic of the Congo at a chimpanzee game reserve, a research center. Hope is both an ecologist and an ethologist. The African setting occurs later in time, after her marriage has dissolved. A third thread is when she later looks back on her experiences with her husband and then in Africa. She is trying to figure out what went wrong, and why and if she was guilty and what could have been changed. She is an ethologist! She wants to understand....just as her husband had been a mathematician and he too wanted to understand, to simplify life, to get it into a formula, something to put on a paper in black and white. Isn't life for observing and for trying to understand? Do we ever understand? Maybe that is the whole point of the book. Life is a wondrous puzzle that we must try to understand, even if we never will understand. I am not sure, but reading this will keep you thinking. That I guarantee.
I would have appreciated an author's note to place the years of the civil war of the Republic of the Congo / Congo Brazzaville. I call it the little Congo, the one on the ocean, not the big one that is called Democratic but isn't...... I needed to know. I NEVER found an answer and that too is so typical for this book! The book is published in 1990 and the only civil war I could find for this country was from 1997-1999. I sent a question to the author c/o the publisher. Will I get an answer? What is important is that the author has experienced civil wars in Africa, The Biafran War, so the war episodes feel pitch perfect. We know for sure is that the Biafran War is over and that ended in 1970.
The author superbly looks at our closest relative and makes us think about human behavior. There is abundant sex, and it is physical, but human sex IS physical, just as it is with chimps. I think the sex is well done. It might bother some. Not me. There is discord and aggression and manipulation. The parallels are intriguing. I told you it was cerebral. Continually you are comparing chimps and humans and mathematical axioms.
I really liked the narration by Harriet Walter. There is not much she can do to alert the reader to the changes of setting in both time and place. You just have to pay attention. The audio format is challenging but I enjoyed it tremendously. You get help with the setting changes from the point of view used. The African thread is told in first person and the English setting is in third person. There are also short quotes concerning mathematical theories. Sounds complicated? It is, but it is still very, very good. A puzzle to be solved, just like life.
ETA: This I forgot. Recognition, people want and need recognition, but to what degree?! I saw a difference here between John and Hope. John's need of recognition/acclaim was monumental. Hope's less so. I look at Hope and I admire her. She is the central character. She is s modern woman. She is strong and wise and loving and she doesn't expect as much as John. She doesn't demand as much recognition. Who is happier? ...more
The book description says exactly what the book is about. There are numerous stories about specific birds. It is these stories that capture the readerThe book description says exactly what the book is about. There are numerous stories about specific birds. It is these stories that capture the reader’s attention and heart. I was amazed by the antics of some of the birds. With other stories I laughed, and some saddened me. I was amazed by the communication and the strength of the bond between some of these birds and Michele, the author of the book and founder of the Pandemonium Aviaries. This conservation organization is dedicated to saving abandoned / damaged birds and breeding birds threatened by extinction. By reading these stories you understand what we will lose if these birds and others like them become extinct.
Good narration of the audiobook by Tamara Marston. ...more
I see no need in repeating what is stated in the book description.
On completing this book I knew immediately why I liked this book so much. Two reasoI see no need in repeating what is stated in the book description.
On completing this book I knew immediately why I liked this book so much. Two reasons, the first, the most important, being that the author captures how people think and talk and relate to each other. Time after time I felt that the relationship between the Lesters, Elise and Herbie, was so realistically drawn that the author must have understood them. They are people that really existed, as well as the first family followed in the book. Neither is fictional. Don't you ever look at a person and only because you know that person well can you understand why they act, say or do what they do? What that person does seems so foreign to your own way of thinking, but you do understand. It is in this manner you look at these characters. This is not the only relationship that is so perceptively portrayed; many relationships were pitch-perfect in their accuracy.
The second reason I liked the book is how the author never distorted the facts. Every single historical or geographical element and character that I checked was correct. I found myself both looking up the island San Miguel and the central characters. They are all true. The book centers around two different couples that lived on San Miguel, the first in the 1880s and the second during the 1930s. San Miguel is one of the Channel Islands off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. I like historical fiction that teaches me history AND has characters that live and breathe. This book has both. The island, its history and geography, its flora and fauna and weather is interesting. The people that lived there are equally interesting.
The language isn't lyrical, but it describes events in a manner that is exciting and gets you thinking.
What did I think about besides relationships? I thought about how different the island was perceived by the two different families that lived there. I think this leaves an important message. Our personal attitude shapes events, but also that no two people will ever see things similarly. None of us have the same health problems or past experiences, and we are all born different. You cannot help but compare the two families.
I bet socially oriented people will be more moved by the first family's experiences, while people like me who instinctively love the thought of living alone on an island will understand the second family more easily. In that these two families were real, many factors complicated their lives.
I liked that what happens to Edith Alice Scott Waters/Inez Dean, from the first story, is clarified in the second story. I like the connection between the two. There is more that I liked. I liked the compassion Herbie Lester felt for animals.
Barbara Caruso ‘s narration of the audiobook was wonderful. Zero complaints.
Rather than repeating all my thoughts I post the link.
I don't give that many books five stars. They have to qualify as amazing. The author writes so you understand the value of nature, of the gift that is given to all of us. She shows us that a gift is tied with responsibility. Only if you understand that you have received a gift do you feel the responsibility to reciprocate. She opens our eyes to what has been given us. She also shows us how to handle the despair one can so easily feel. What is the point? I can do nothing. She gives us hope, and that is what is necessary so we don't just give up!
She wonderfully intertwines science with marvelous tales of the indigenous people. You can read the book just for these tales. You can read the book to learn scientific detail of flora and fauna. For example about strawberries, pecans, cattails, salamanders, maples and of course sweetgrass. Absolutely fascinating! You can read the book for inspiration; she is a single mother who has raised her kids alone. And what a fantastic job she has done. She remains humble. To top it all off she writes beautifully.
Occasionally I felt she was long-winded, but her message had to be made clear so we all really understand. Her message is SO important - to all of us!
This book is available on Kindle. If you try it and you don’t like it, you can get your money back if you return it within a week. What can you lose? I know, I am too pushy……. but I think this is such an important book. ...more