This novel is set in southern England between the fall of the Roman empire and the driving out of the Celtic tribes (Britons) by the invading Saxons dThis novel is set in southern England between the fall of the Roman empire and the driving out of the Celtic tribes (Britons) by the invading Saxons during the first generation following the death of King Arthur. Though this novel has a historical time and place, it does not qualify as historical novel per my definition because it describes a world full of ogres, fiends, dragons, and a mysterious mist that seems to cause people to lose their memories. Thus a surface level reading of this story clearly places it within the fantasy genre.
However, the reader is given hints that beyond the story's mysterious mist there may be an allegorical interpretation applicable to both personal relationships and modern racial conflict. As the plot unfolds there are first, repeated references to lost memories, and second, ominous suggestions of repressed guilt caused by past wrongs. These are clues to the reader that the story must be trying to convey truths deeper the surface level story.
All through the story I was wondering what sort of symbolic interpretation the book was leading up to. The overt message seems to be that peaceful living in the here-and-now may require forgetting (a.k.a accepting or coming to terms with) the past. I presume various readers will reach their own individualistic applications for this truth, varying from personal to world politics. The most obvious application for me are those societies that have experienced genocide in their recent past.
The novel is framed by following an elderly couple trekking on a long trip to visit their son. Their goals seem ambiguous which places a question in the mind of the reader regarding their destination. Their multiple encounters along the journey result in clearing the mysterious memory masking mist and consequently regaining their previously lost memories.
But there are good memories and bad memories. We learn that old memories of past injustices will lead in the future to the Saxons destroying the Britons. At their personal relationship level the couple can recall past hurts and infidelities, but because of their years during which those memories were lost their love has been able to grow sufficiently strong to withstand the impact of remembering the past.
In the last chapter we learn what it means to visit their son. There's a ferryman at the shoreline to take them to the other side. But only one can cross over at a time. By this point in the book the perceptive reader knows what that means.
Flannery O'Connor died in 1964 at the young age of 39, but she managed in her short life to produce a collection of literature that has been the subjeFlannery O'Connor died in 1964 at the young age of 39, but she managed in her short life to produce a collection of literature that has been the subject of enduring praise from literary critics. It was because of this reputation I decided it was time to checkout this collection of short stories. This is the first work of hers that I've read (or listened to on audio).
Most of the stories in this book take place in the rural part of the state of Georgia in the first half of the twentieth century (probably 40s after WWII). The rural people are generally portrayed as poor and exhibiting little appreciation for people from outside their own community. They are often portrayed as not being very intelligent, and at times it seems the author was going out of her way to make the people of the rural south appear foolishly ignorant. The author was a native of the southern USA (from Georgia) so it's not clear to me whether she's purposely writing to make fun of the South or whether she's simply writing descriptively about the world with which she is familiar.
Many of the stories in this book have dark and shocking endings. At the end of almost all the stories my reaction was to think, "This is the end? Huh!" In other words, not all dilemmas portrayed in the story have been resolved by the end, and the reader is left wondering what was going to happen next.
The last story titled "The Displaced Person", did provide a wrap-up of events toward the end which gave the reader a sense of an ending. This story is my favorite of this book's collection probably because it touches of the subject of immigration which is a current hot-button issue today.
Many of the stories contain irony and can be interpreted through multiple layers of meanings, some of which include religious overtones. Wikipedia and other on-line sources contain articles describing and analyzing each of the short stories in this book. I'll not discuss the stories in detail other than to provide the short descriptions below.
One of the reasons I don't enjoy reading collections of short stories is because when I'm finished they all sort of conflate in a blur of memory. To help overcome this problem I have prepared the following very short summaries of each of the stories as reminders to myself as to what story goes with which title. The links provided are to the respective Wikipedia articles for the stories. The numerical numbers in parentheses provide the story's location in the audio edition of the book. Those numbers can give the prospective reader an indication of the approximate time required to read that story.
The River (00:39:09—01:23:00) A 4-year-old boy is brought to a Christian revival meeting by his babysitter. The boy is baptized in the river. He later returns to the river to re-experience the events of the preceding day and (view spoiler)[drowns while attempting to find the Kingdom of Christ that he understood to be under the river. (hide spoiler)]
A Temple of the Holy Ghost (02:21:00—02:51:32) A pair of 14-year-old cousins who are Roman Catholic convent school girls visit home of a 12-year girl. The older cousins go to a fair and see a hermaphrodite. Upon returning the cousins describe what they saw to the younger girl who (view spoiler)[misunderstands their explanation and comes to the conclusion that the body is in fact a temple of the holy ghost. (hide spoiler)]
The Artificial Nigger (02:51:32—03:43:17) A grandfather takes his grandson to Atlanta to see the big city. They get lost and are lucky to find the train depot so they can return home. They decide to never visit the city again. (view spoiler)[The story gets its title from an incident near the end of the story during which they pass by a figurine of a black lawn jockey which prompts the grandfather to say, "They ain't got enough real ones here. They got to have an artificial one." (hide spoiler)]
Good Country People (04:55:05—05:48:07) Mrs. Hopewell lives on a farm with her 32-year old, one-legged daughter Joy. A Bible salesman shows up and persuades Joy to enter a barn loft in which he manages to (view spoiler)[steal and run off with her prosthetic leg. (hide spoiler)]
The Displaced Person (05:48:07—07:36:00) Mrs. McIntyre operated a farm in Georgia. A Polish refugee begins to work for her, and she decides he is so efficient and such a hard worker that she can lay off all her negro hired hands as well as the white foreman. (view spoiler)[The Polish refugee is killed by an "accident." Everyone leaves and Mrs. McIntyre suffers nervous breakdown. (hide spoiler)]...more
The story's protagonist has a messed up life that matches the surrounding scenery of his neighborhood, the post-Katrina Mississippi Gulf coastal area.The story's protagonist has a messed up life that matches the surrounding scenery of his neighborhood, the post-Katrina Mississippi Gulf coastal area. Many things in his life and community are damaged, both metaphorical and physical. First his wife asks for a divorce. Then a year later his ex-wife calls to report that she's been beaten-up by a boy friend, she's afraid, and asks Vaughn and his new live-in girl friend to move into her house until she feels better. What could go wrong?
The main message in the novel is not the resulting action and relationships. Rather, it's conveyed through flash backs and internal ruminations that explore the despair of past regrets, despair of growing old, and pondering of the apparent pointlessness of life. All the characters in the book are profoundly common but uniquely weird in their own individual ways.
The following soliloquy caught my attention. It could pass for free verse poetry.
When you live with a woman for a long time, after a while you make a lot of excuses for what you don't feel. But unless you're a fool you don't believe the woman is at fault. It's that the world changes beneath your feet. Things go slow at first and the changes are so small that it's almost imperceptible and you pay it no mind. And then later, years later, the change seems huge, and it seems to have occurred overnight. Suddenly you aren't the person you were. And then where once you thought not wanting what you used to want was punishment, suddenly you think it may be a blessing, and things stand still.
You watch the moon reflected on the swarming Gulf water, and you think that's enough, that's all I want. I just want to sit on this broken down deck on this night in this cool weather with this breeze blowing over me and watch this moon lift into the sky, remarkably oval, remarkably pearly, remarkably aloft. And you want to think this in just these words, and you know the words aren't right. They aren't even close, and that doesn't matter. The deal is that it's just the moon in the sky reflected on the Gulf, the water hissing and receding. And you're in the middle of it, and you're just a small part, an unimportant part, but a part nonetheless. Your job is to be something so the moon can hit something when it shines at the earth. You are something to hit. And that's the way it is for the rest of the world too. What people say and what they think, who they are, what they think about you, what they ask of you. What you want, what you give them does not matter. It's that way for everything. ... .... ..... You're something to hit, you're a receiver, you're an antenna.
These ponderings can serve as a summary reflection on the overall mood of the book. They provide a feeling of acceptance and resolution for the confusion contained in the preceding story.
The overall feeling of the book for me was depressing. There are plenty of things in the book to not like. But that may make it a good book selection for a book group discussion. I've observed that group discussions generally go better when there are plenty of things in the book about which to complain....more
Are we special? Just how unique is the occurrence of life in our universe? This book is an attempt to answer those questions. The Copernican principleAre we special? Just how unique is the occurrence of life in our universe? This book is an attempt to answer those questions. The Copernican principle has long insisted that the laws of physics and chemistry were universal and humans cannot claim a "special" time and place for our location in the universe. This book offers no definitive answers to these questions, but it does suggest that, “Our place in the universe is special but not significant, unique but not exceptional.”
To begin with, of all the planetary systems detected thus far orbiting neighboring stars it has been determined that only two percent have conditions that would permit life to exist. (Per Wikipedia, as of March 1, 2017, there have been 3,586 exoplanets in 2,691 planetary systems and 603 multiple planetary systems confirmed.) When it comes to predicting the likelihood of life to evolve given the proper conditions, we simply don't know.
In the process of addressing the question of the probability of life elsewhere in the universe the author ends up providing a summary overview of current scientific knowledge spanning all the way from the quantum world of elementary particles, to the microscopic biological world of DNA and RNA, and on beyond planets and exoplanets to the grandest scales of space and time encompassing all the stars and galaxies, matter, dark matter, and cosmic radiation. Through these discussions the author alternates between the case for uniqueness and the other extreme of mediocre or common. He also explores the tools of probability that can be utilized to find a middle ground between the two extremes of rare and common. In the following quotation he suggests that humans are closing in on the answer:
So are we unusual or not? Our powerful tools of mathematical probability and the objective truths about the bias and retrospective interpretation of events clearly indicate that neither side is yet a winner. But we are much much closer to an answer than we've ever been in the history of the human species. We are on the cusp of knowing.
Humans have assumed for many years that they were God's special project. It was a bit of a blow to our egos when scientists said we were mere star dust that just happened to end up in a life form. This book says we can be somewhat comforted by knowing there is indeed a degree of specialness in our existence. And there is reason to expect human knowledge regarding our uniqueness to continue to expand in the future....more
A 17-year old troubled foster child (Molly) connecting with a 91-year old (Vivian) former orphan train rider, both have experienced sad losses and rejA 17-year old troubled foster child (Molly) connecting with a 91-year old (Vivian) former orphan train rider, both have experienced sad losses and rejection, and both have something to learn from the other—this is a plot that can pull on your heart strings. As a matter of fact I was sucked into the emotion of the book and was anticipating giving it five stars until (view spoiler)[I learn about Vivian giving away her baby for adoption during WWII. I can understand why the author wanted that to happen because it made the story's plot more complex, but for me it knocked the emotional steam out of the story because I couldn't understand why she would do that. If she had given birth out of wedlock I can understand that in the early 40s that was considered shameful. But that wasn't the case. Also, in Vivian's early years she seems to have had the spirit of an "Anne of Green Gables" who happens to have had two very unfortunate placements as an orphan before finding a good forever family. But I was disappointed with how she lived the rest of her adult life as she seems to have lost her spirit because of her first husband's death during the war. Then late in her dotage at age 91 she is brought back in touch with her inner self by her encounter with the young 17-ye ar old foster child with a life history similar to her own. (hide spoiler)]. So I then demoted the book to four stars.
I still enjoyed the book and consider it an inspirational story of the lives of two women from opposite ends of the age spectrum who have learned to view their own lives differently because of the perspective of learning to know the other person....more
The Paying Guests is a novel that reveals its plot at a slow and deliberate pace causing the reader to wonder, "Is anything going to happen?" during tThe Paying Guests is a novel that reveals its plot at a slow and deliberate pace causing the reader to wonder, "Is anything going to happen?" during the first half of the book and then changing to wondering, "Oh my God! What's going to happen next?" in the second half of the book. It provides a thorough description of a time and place, 1922 post-war (WWI) London. It's a time when many families are missing some of their sons and fathers who were war fatalities, many of the war survivors have debilitating injuries, and unemployed—or under employed—veterans are perceived to be the cause of increased crime.
This book tells the story of the Wray family that's been decimated both financially and numerically by the war—two sons killed in the war and the father died of natural causes which revealed serious financial problems caused by failed investments. The sole surviving daughter, Francis, and her mother are left with a big house with no servants, mounting debts, and virtually no income or savings. This novel begins with a young couple, "paying guests," who are in the process of moving into the Wray home. The rent they pay for their room is needed to help pay the household bills. This will create an unsettling familiarization between members of the gentry class and the young couple from the lower "clerk" class.
The plot continues to be revealed, layer by layer, with every detail thoroughly described. The overall pace of the narrative reminds me of a nineteenth century novel when people apparently had more time to read. The book clocks in at 576 pages of apparently small type (over 21 hours of audio). It's frustrating for the modern reader to get through all the text, however the writing is of such superb quality that it's difficult to be critical. I actually enjoyed the writing while also resenting all the time it required to get through it. But let me clarify, this book provides suspense and introspection of feelings, not "joy" as in sense of entertainment.
Some of the major features of the book includes; (1) lesbian relationships and romance, (2) unhappy marriage and multiple romantic triangles, (3) British self-consciousness about class, (4) accidental murder and intentional coverup, and (5) trial for murder. The climax of the book is the trial. By the time the reader of this book reaches the part about the trial they are fully aware that the defendant did not commit the crime. The reader, along with the main protagonists in the story, watch the trial proceedings on pins and needles wondering what its conclusion will be. Will an innocent man be sentenced to execution? Will the actual guilty party let that happen?
(view spoiler)[I'm not going to tell you what the trial's verdict is. But I would like to comment on an almost comical aspect to the murder investigation by Scotland Yard in 1922 as portrayed in this story. They can imagine that a heterosexual romantic triangle could be the motive for murder, but the possibility of a lesbian relationship being part of that triangle is beyond there wildest imaginings. I'm not sure they know that such a relationship can exist. (hide spoiler)]
The following is from the February 22, 2017 PageADay Book Lover's Calendar:
The Paying Guests takes place in 1920s London, where life feels anything but easy. People are out of work, hungry, and supremely frustrated. Mrs. Wray and her unmarried daughter Frances find themselves alone in their big house in South London and utterly impoverished. They take in boarders, never imagining how drastically Lilian and Leonard Barber will change their lives. Be warned by what the Newsday reviewer Marion Winik had to say: “It's been a while since a book kept me up until 3:30 a.m.” THE PAYING GUESTS, by Sarah Waters (Riverhead, 2014)
Diana Nyad is my nomination for patron saint for those over age sixty who are searching for new challenges. Those striving for persistence and enduranDiana Nyad is my nomination for patron saint for those over age sixty who are searching for new challenges. Those striving for persistence and endurance can also find solace in her story as well.
She first tried to swim from Cuba to the United States in 1978 at age twenty-eight and failed. Then she went on to her midlife career consisting of broadcast journalism and motivational speaker. As she approached her retirement years she decided to try that swim again at age sixty. Again she failed, but she began to learn some things needed for the crossing and kept trying. In all she made five attempts finally succeeding in 2013.
This book is her memoir in which she skillfully interweaves personal aspects of her life together with her endeavors at endurance swimming. Some of intimate details she shares with readers includes accounts of sexual abuse, first from her stepfather and later a swimming coach. In her coverage of her adult life she has chapters addressing her lesbianism and atheism. Her accounts of her swimming the Florida straight are rendered so skillfully that some readers find themselves gasping for breath and grimacing in an effort to help Diana persevere during her crossing attempts. Below is a map that records the routes of those efforts.
DIANA NYAD'S CROSSING ATTEMPTS—CUBA TO USA
Jellyfish, sharks, weather, lightening, and rough seas all play roles in determining if a crossing attempt is successful. But the above map also raises the obvious question, "Why is it so hard to swim in a straight line?" This is a result of the unpredictability of the Gulf Stream Current. Its predominate flow is from west to east in the Florida Straight, but eddies and changing current directions form where flow can actually cause a swimmer trying to swim north to actually go south. One of the reasons the 2013 crossing was successful is because of favorable currents. In the latter part of the 2013 crossing Diana was ordered to swim toward her left side in order to make desired landfall. She was so delirious from sleep deprivation and muscle exhaustion that the support crew had a hard time making her swim toward the left.
Endurance swimming is a team sport in many ways. In the case of crossing from Cuba to USA getting needed governmental permissions is a significant obstacle. Then there's the virtual flotilla of boats which involved a crew totaling forty-four individuals that provided navigation, coaching, continual kayak escort, shark protection swimmers, shark repellant equipment, and most important, protection procedures from box jellyfish.
Anyone who reads this book will come away with a sober appreciation of the dangers posed by the box jellyfish. As a matter a fact Diana came close to death from her encounter with them during here second 2011 try. Development of techniques to protect her from them was a major problem that needed to be solved in order to achieve a successful crossing.
I listened to the audio of this book in the years before Goodreads.com, thus I've not written my own review. I was reminded of it today by the followiI listened to the audio of this book in the years before Goodreads.com, thus I've not written my own review. I was reminded of it today by the following review contained in my PageADay Book Lover's Calendar (2-16-2017).
It's impossible not to fall in love with Francie Nolan in this turn-of-the-century classic about life in Brooklyn. Francie is growing up in the slums of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, but her outlook remains ever colorful and rich. The book is blunt and unflinching about the harsh realities that the Nolan family faces—from poverty, hunger, and grief to alcoholism and death, but Francie's bravery and optimism always prevail. It is immediately evident why this book has moved millions of readers. A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN, by Betty Smith (1943; Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 1996)...more
As a reader going through the book, I was aghast at the brutal descriptions of murder and coverup contained within the first two-thirds of the book. IAs a reader going through the book, I was aghast at the brutal descriptions of murder and coverup contained within the first two-thirds of the book. I don't normally read this sort to stuff. Nevertheless, I recognize the book as a realistic depiction of the ravaged world of urban African Americans of the 1930s (published 1940) with repercussions remaining today.
The story is told with the highly charged consciousness of an uneducated and embittered black man who has been radically cut off from the mainstream of American life. It's a view of the ghetto from the standpoint of one of it victims. Feelings of anger and hate are described with visceral realism. It attacks the old taboo of mentioning the relationships between sex, race, and violence.
Then in the final third of the book the intermingling of the powers and promises of religion, capitalism, racism, and communism is explored with explicit thoroughness. The summary arguments of the defense counsel at the trial near the book's end is long and passionate in which the argument is made that the violent criminal acts of this defendant are products of our unfairly segregated society which predictably has led to anger and resentment. The countering summary arguments by the prosecution are equally passionate maintaining the position of the blind justice in a nation of laws. (view spoiler)[The defense asks for sentence of life imprisonment. The prosecution asks for death sentence. [additional layer of spoiler]—>—>(view spoiler)[The sentence given was death by execution. In those days things happened fast. Time before execution was only a couple weeks, and apparently there was not possibility of further appeals. (hide spoiler)](hide spoiler)]
There are two conversations between Bigger Thomas, the book's protagonist, and his defense attorney in which Bigger discovers for the first time a glimpse of what perhaps may be purpose and meaning in life. Ironically, this life changing experience occurs shortly before his life is to be ended by execution.
The first conversation occurs before the trial when the attorney asks Bigger, "Tell me about yourself." The subsequent recounting of his life's dreams and disappointments creates feelings that are new and have not previously been experienced by Bigger.
After the trial is over there is a second conversation between the two in which Bigger strives to revisit these new feelings and insights. There's something about these conversations I find particularly poignant, but it's difficult to explain why.
Could the tragedy of this story have been avoided if these sorts of conversations have occurred earlier? Or is it the message of this book that these conversations cannot take place when needed because of society's structural flaws?
Considering the year that this book was published in 1940, the ideas explored in this book were particularly prophetic in light of the civil rights movement that appeared in the second half of the twentieth century....more
I am not a fan of Bill O'Reilly's TV show. But I'll grant that he has a knack for writing "popular" books about interesting events in history. NumerouI am not a fan of Bill O'Reilly's TV show. But I'll grant that he has a knack for writing "popular" books about interesting events in history. Numerous acquaintances of mine have recommend The Killing Series of history books to me. This is the first of that series that I've read, and I'll have to admit that it's as enjoyable (dare I say entertaining?) presentation of history as can be made.
This book is actually a history of the western European front of World War II with a focus on General Patton's statements and actions. The book's narrative jumps numerous times from Patton to other places and individuals. Included are vignettes of FDR, Stalin, Churchill, and Hitler (and probably others I can't remember). O'Reilly keeps the book narrative flowing by skipping over burdensome details and ambiguities in the historical record that frequently bogs down academic writing of history.
I've been puzzled about the details of Patton's death by car accident for some time, and I hoped that this book would clear things up for me. Well, the details are here, but whether it was an accident or not is not a settled question. Readers who gravitate toward conspiracy theories will probably be convinced from this book that the KGB orchestrated his death. I think it was an accident....more
This book is a history of the American Revolutionary War structured around the life of Lafayette (full name: Marie-Joseph-Paul-Yves-Roch-Gilbert du MoThis book is a history of the American Revolutionary War structured around the life of Lafayette (full name: Marie-Joseph-Paul-Yves-Roch-Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette). This is enjoyable history that fashions a braid of past and present with sparkling prose. It's part history, travelog, political commentary, and comedy. And in spite of the writing style aimed at a popular reading audience, it's informative and really does manage to disclose some facts often missed by "serious" history literature.
With a name so long (see above) one would think he must surely be an old military man with much experience sent by the King of France to help the Americans. Instead I was astounded to learn that he was nineteen years old when he first landed in North America. He was technically AWOL from the French Army and had left his young pregnant wife and angry father-in-law without notice in order to seek adventure in the manner of a typical irresponsible teenager.
So how did Lafayette manage to be taken seriously, actually welcomed, by George Washington and his staff? Well, it turns out that he must have been blessed with the necessary social skills and charisma to be accepted. It didn't hurt that, and probably most importantly, he was heir to one of the largest estates in Louie XVI's France.
And he seems to have immediately become a most enthusiastic devotee of George Washington's. In an environment where most of the officers in the Continental Army were jealous of Washington, the presence of an energetic and supportive friend was received quite favorably by the General. And it turns out that Lafayette performed fearlessly under fire and always approached hard times with an optimistic bias.
I found it particularly interesting to compare the tone of his letters home during the difficult times with the concurrent letters being written by others in the same circumstances. Lafayette was obviously an optimistic guy, and as it turned out he was lucky to have chosen to align with what was ultimately the winning side.
Years later his American friends saved his life when during the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution the American Embassy in Paris intervened to allow him to escape the guillotine. He lived to be an old man, and revisited the United States in 1824 at the invitation of President Monroe. He traveled to all twenty-four of the then existing states and was cheered as a hero at every stop. Consequently, it seems that every American city has a street or square bearing his name (actually Lafayette is his title, not his name)....more
This is the author's account of his 1995 experience of riding a canoe down the Missouri River from Helena, Montana to Kansas City, Missouri. This bookThis is the author's account of his 1995 experience of riding a canoe down the Missouri River from Helena, Montana to Kansas City, Missouri. This book is a sequel to his previous book, Seldom Seen: A Journey into the Great Plains, in which we walks (mostly) from Kansas City to Helena.
First I need to point out that he actually didn't cover the complete distance in his canoe. The Missouri River has a number of large dams holding large reservoirs and can be seen from this map which shows the names of the biggest reservoirs. The author decided to catch a ride around most of the reservoirs. Thanks to his gift of gab he was able to get a free ride of a couple hundred miles for both himself and his canoe. The average velocity of the river flow is about three feet per second, so moving on the flowing water of the river requires considerably less paddling effort than what would be required crossing a reservoir.
The total trip is about 1400 miles so he still spent plenty of time on the river. This provided him an abundance of time to ruminate about his life and, in this opinion, what a mess of things he had made. So he made his journey down the river into something of a self directed therapy session. Of course he camped at night, and encountered other people, including police, on a regular basis.
He encountered another canoeist on the river in Nebraska and thus was able to travel the final couple hundred miles with some companionship.
It's good to read a book that reminds the reader of how adventure can be found on the river. For most of us land lubbers the river is only a barrier where most of the roads and streets stop and in order to get to the other side requires finding a highway or main thoroughfare with a bridge....more
This novel reviews the life of a seventy-eight-year-old woman named Harriet Chance. It is a life filled with many regrets and disappointments. As theThis novel reviews the life of a seventy-eight-year-old woman named Harriet Chance. It is a life filled with many regrets and disappointments. As the book progresses additional layers of difficult history are revealed.
She was born ten years too early to benefit from the liberating effects of the book Feminine Mystic (published 1963) so she dutifully gave up a budding career and got married. Her enduring patience managed to allow the marriage to survive in spite of her husband's difficult personality. In his later years he suffered from Alzheimer's which she patiently cared for as long as she could. His death brought relief for her, but then she learned that (view spoiler)[her husband had carried on an affair with another woman for over forty years, and he had apparently saved his courteous behavior for that elicit relationship in contrast to the way he treated Harriet. And to top it off, this other woman was a person who Harriet thought was her friend (hide spoiler)].
That was bad enough but then additional layers of Harriet's background are revealed. Her relationship with her parents was strained, and as a young person she had experienced sexual abuse from an uncle. Then the reader is shocked to be informed that (view spoiler)[her daughter was fathered by an unwanted sexual encounter, not her husband. She kept this a secret from her husband and her daughter. Near the end of the book she reveals this history to her daughter (hide spoiler)].
As this story drew near its end I thought surely something optimistic or uplifting would occur. There is some resolution of feelings in Harriet's relationship with her daughter. But overall I experienced this book as a downer.
The omniscient narrative speaks to Harriet in second person voice bouncing through time, first stating the age, year and then proceeding to say, "Harriet, then you did ___, or ____ happened to you." Exceptions to this second person voice occurred when her dead husband shows up and there's dialog between the two.
At first I as a reader took this to be an indication of Harriet's dementia, but then the book provides a couple scenes showing her husband's afterlife (presumably heaven) where he has to bargain for permission to return to earth to try to straighten things out. So I guess the author is trying to let the reader know that her husband's spirit is indeed returning from the dead to speak to her.
I'm trying to think of what sort of person to whom I would recommend this book. Well, perhaps an older reader who feels their life has been miserable might be made to feel better by reading this story about Harriet who had a more miserable life....more
This memoir is an account of the author's 1995 trip from Kansas through Nebraska and Wyoming to Three Forks near Helena, Montana which is generally coThis memoir is an account of the author's 1995 trip from Kansas through Nebraska and Wyoming to Three Forks near Helena, Montana which is generally considered to be the beginning of the Missouri River. The reason for choosing Three Forks as his destination was to begin his trip down the Missouri River in a canoe to his home town, Kansas City, Missouri. This return trip via the river is covered in his second book, Canoeing the Great Plains: A Missouri River Summer. So in many ways this book serves as a lead up to that book.
He set out on this trip walking with a backpack. He did walk much of the distance. However, he did get numerous unsolicited offers of rides, and his gift for gab availed frequent invitations to stay overnight in various people's homes.
Traveling this way obviously brought him in close contact with people and the small towns through which he passed and his descriptions provide random portraits of the various people he met along the way. The book thus provides an insight into the sort of folks who live on the American Great Plains.
Some generalities I noticed about the people he met are that they are trusting and friendly (at least to a white man of nonthreatening appearance), many of them smoke cigarettes, and many are religiously and politically conservative. The author is from Kansas City coming with a generally more liberal orientation, so in some ways the author is taking the trip on behalf of the curious urban reader who finds this material interesting but who would never want to take this sort of trip themselves.
Part of the author's motivation for this cross country trip was to serve as an emotional reset in his life. He wanted a break from his life of work, eat, sleep and more work. Therefore this experience was to serve as more than a vacation. He wanted a new life. As a reader I was the least interested in this emotional striving part of the book. But this isn't the first book written by an author trying to recover from emotional upheaval in their personal lives....more
This book provides a history of antiwar sentiments at the time of, leading up to, and after the American entrance into World War I. These political baThis book provides a history of antiwar sentiments at the time of, leading up to, and after the American entrance into World War I. These political battles of a hundred years ago regarding whether to enter a European war are largely forgotten by historians today—another example of how the losing side doesn't write the history books.
Once war was declared there was also broad resistance and non-participation in the military draft. Based on modern expectations, it is surprising how many people failed (or refused) to cooperate. It is estimated that three million eligible young men failed to register. That's fifteen percent of the twenty-four million who did register. That's a much higher percentage than what was experienced during the Vietnam War.
Of those who registered for the draft, sixty-five thousand registered as conscientious objectors. Of those fewer than four thousand refused orders after being drafted. It's my understanding that the point on non-cooperation for the four thousand generally occurred at the point when they refused to wear a military uniform. The conscientious objectors willing to wear the uniform were given non-combatant roles. Those who didn't wear the uniform were sentenced to prison. Many of these were treated roughly (i.e. tortured).
Two imprisoned Hutterite conscientious objectors died in the Leavenworth military prison as a result of being tortured. They had refused to wear the uniform. The army added insult to injury by sending their bodies home dressed in army uniforms.
I had two uncles who were drafted during WWI. One wore the uniform but was never sent to Europe. The other uncle reported for induction as ordered but refused to wear a military uniform for reasons of conscience. He spent the war years in prison.
An aspect of this history that's surprising to modern sensibilites is the severity of the enforcement of the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Seditiona Act of 1918. Many people were sentenced to long prison terms for doing little more than griping about inconveniences caused by the government.
One famous prosecution and conviction was that of Eugene V. Debs, the five times the candidate for President for the Socialist Party. Debs' speeches against the Wilson administration and the war earned the enmity of President Woodrow Wilson, who later called Debs a "traitor to his country." On June 16, 1918, Debs made a speech in Canton, Ohio, urging resistance to the military draft of World War I. He was arrested, charged with sedition, convicted, and sentenced to ten years in prison.
There were no reliable nationwide polling services at the time which can be used to document public sentiment. But most historians agree that the majority of the electorate opposed the war at the time of the 1916 election. Wilson's motto for reelection was, "He kept us out of the war." My own grandparents voted for him because he was considered to be the "peace candidate." Then almost immediately after winning the election Wilson began using his persuasive powers to change sentiments toward acceptance of a declaration of war.
Wilson's ability to get Congress to declare war is an example of what we now call the "only Nixon goes to China" phenomenon. An argument can be made that only a President with the reputation of being the peace candidate could have managed to carry a majority to war.
"Without the President's forceful and persuasive message," recalled Fiorello La Guardia, then a pro-war Republican House member, "I am not sure a majority could have been obtained for the declaration."
Would a president Charles Evans Hughes done as well? If the dour jurists eked out a win in California and moved into the White House with just 46 percent of the popular vote, the opposition in Congress may have been more implacable and a good deal larger. La Follette and Kitchin might not have been lonely outcasts but confident leaders of the opposition, one swelled by dozens of Democrats freed from the obligation to support a president of their own party and by progressive Republicans who had long clashed with the pro-war chieftains of the GOP. Indeed, a President Hughes would have found it difficult to persuade the many disciples of Bryan and allies of Kitchin in the House and Senate to give up objections they had voiced consistently since the summer of 1914. Representative George Huddleston—who represented Birmingham, Alabama—had lambasted support for the war "as a racket foisted upon the country by eastern bankers, industrialists, publishers, armchair jingoes from the Yale and Harvard clubs … the natural enemies of democracy." He opposed every preparedness bill. But on April 5, as a loyal Democrat, Huddleston sided with the majority."
The ironic and cynical lesson here is to vote for the opposite of what one wants because politicians will always do the opposite of what they promised.
Early in 1937, a time when memory of the war was fresh in the minds of most adults and to no one's surprise at the time, "the Gallup Poll found that 70 percent of American believed it had been a mistake for the United states to fight in World War I." It certainly didn't make the "world safe for democracy" nor did it turn out to be "the war to end all wars."
The author of this book will be one of the keynote speakers at a conference planned to be held October 19-22, 2017 at the National World War I Museum and Memorial, Kansas City, MO. The title of the seminar is "Remembering Muted Voices." Papers will be presented focusing on "Conscience, Dissent, Resistance, and Civil Liberties in World War I through Today." More information is at the following link: https://theworldwar.s3.amazonaws.com/......more
This is a biography of a gifted artist who unfortunately also possessed a proud and difficult personality that got him into frequent trouble with theThis is a biography of a gifted artist who unfortunately also possessed a proud and difficult personality that got him into frequent trouble with the law. Ironically, much of what is known about Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610) comes to us from the criminal archives that document his frequent arrests and various depositions in legal interrogations. Of course his paintings are also a permanent record of his life's work as is also the milieux, both churchy and raunchy, within which he lived that offers a fairly complete biography of the sort of life he lived.
His early career was influenced by the resurgent Counter Reformation Catholic church that sought a style of art to counter the threat of Protestantism. Caravaggio is generally credited with being part of the early Baroque movement. Caravaggio's innovation was a radical naturalism that combined close physical observation with a dramatic, even theatrical, use of chiaroscuro which came to be known as tenebrism (the shift from light to dark with little intermediate value).
The author pieces together circumstantial evidence to suggest that Caravaggio may have had a second avocation of pimping. If so it helps to explain why he repeatedly is apprehended in the middle of the night prowling the streets (curfew violation) and armed with sword and dagger (unlawful without a license).
I was interested to learn that Orazio Gentileschi was an acquaintance of Caravaggio's. I've listened to the book The Passion of Artemisia which is a historical novel about Artemisia Gentileschi, the daughter of Orazio. Caravaggio was NOT involved in the notorious trial regarding the rape of Artemisia; however an excerpt from the trial records is included in this book in order to provide background information and an example of the dangers found in Rome in those days.
The artist community in the city of Rome of that era was filled with rivalries and jealousies that tended to lead to situations of slander and insult. In retrospect it's almost predictable that an environment such as this would lead to homicide, and indeed it did. Caravaggio killed a man and fled the city to escape prosecution. The story at the time was that it resulted from an argument about a tennis game. The author sites evidence which indicates that it was actually a duel with swords involving two combatants, two seconds (who became involved in the fighting), and four witnesses (two on each side). The cover story of a tennis game was used to avoid the laws against dueling.
As an exile from Rome Caravaggio traveled to Naples and then Malta. He was imprisoned in Malta for rowdy behavior and made a miraculous escape, the details of which are unknown. He escaped as a fugitive back to Sicily and then back to Naples where a gang, probably sent from Malta, attacked him, held in down, and carved cuts on his face to create scars. In the author's opinion this cutting of the face was intended as payback for an insult given by Caravaggio to somebody from Malta. (The author, who seems quite sure of himself, provides the name of the person who had Caravaggio tracked down.)
Caravaggio painted two paintings after being attacked, and they show signs of being physically compromised.
...the brushwork is so broad, the definition of forms so unsure, that the painter seems to have fallen prey to some form of essential tremor, an uncontrollable shaking of the hands, as well as perhaps to damage of the eyes.
Caravaggio's reputation as an accomplished painter enabled him to win prestigious and well-paid commissions at all the places he visited after fleeing Malta even though he was a fugitive and probably knew that he was being tracked by Maltese agents.
He died, reportedly due to a fever, in 1610 during a trip back to Rome where he expected to receive a pardon arranged by powerful Roman friends. It was from this later part of his life that he reportedly refused holy water at a church "on the grounds that it was only good for washing away venial sins. 'Mine are all mortal,' were Caravaggio's words, hardly those of a man untroubled by questions of salvation or damnation."
This book was published too early to include information about the recent findings of an excavated grave in Italy that is likely to be that of Caravaggio's. Bones in the grave contained high lead levels which is probably related to the paints used at the time which contained high amounts of lead salts. Thus it is likely that some of Caravaggio's violent behavior was caused by lead poisoning.
This is a big book (514 pages including Notes, Further Reading, and Index) that thoroughly covers the subject. Insightful commentary is provided in the book for almost all of the surviving works of Caravaggio. I believe these descriptions would be constructive reading for anyone who anticipates visiting a museum where the paintings are on display.
The rest of this review is focused on specific paintings by Caravaggio that I found to be of special interest:
One reason for my interest in this book is the fact that the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, located in Kansas City near where I live, contains within its collection the painting St John the Baptist by Caravaggio.
St John the Baptist by Caravaggio (Nelson Atkins Museum of Art)
The following excerpt is what this book had to say about the above painting. I have included it here so I can review it prior to my next visit to the museum.
It was probably in the summer of 1604, between fights, that Caravaggio painted the hauntingly intense St John the Baptist now in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Kansas City. The picture was almost certainly painted for the Genoese banker Ottavio Costa. There is an early copy in the church of the Oratory of the Confraternity of Conscente, in Liguria, which was a fief of the Costa dynasty. The family had paid for the building of the church, so it may be that Caravaggio's painting was originally destined for its high altar, and subsequently replaced by the copy for reasons unknown. Perhaps Ottavio Costa was so impressed by the work when he saw it that he decided to keep it for his art collection in Rome.
The picture is very different to the St John the Baptist painted for Ciriaco Mattei a couple of years before. As in the earlier painting, the saint occupies an unusually lush desert wilderness. Dock leaves grow in profusion at his feet. But he is no longer an ecstatic, laughing boy. He has become a melancholy adolescent, glowering in his solitude. Clothed in animal furs and swathed in folds of blood-red drapery, he clutches a simple reed cross for solace as he broods on the errors and miseries of mankind. The chiaroscuro is eerily extreme: there is a pale cast to the light, which is possibly intended to evoke moonbeams, but the contrasts are so strong and the shadows so deep that the boy looks as though lit by a flash of lightning. This dark but glowing painting is one of Caravaggio's most spectacular creations. It is also a reticent and introverted work—a vision of a saint who looks away, to one side, rather than meeting the beholder's eye. This second St John is moodily withdrawn, lost in his own world-despising thoughts. The picture might almost be a portrait of Caravaggio's own dark state of mind, his gloomy hostility and growing sense of isolation during this period of his life. (pg 277-278)
The following excerpt from the book tells of one occasion when Caravaggio's work was rejected because it portrayed St Matthew with too much appearance of a poor peasant instead of an important saint of the church. I happen to be sympathetic with Caravaggio's preference to show the followers of Jesus as being plain and poor folk.
Despite or more likely because of its brusque singularity Caravaggio's picture 'pleased nobody', according to Baglione. The St Matthew was rejected as soon as it was delivered. Bellori gave the fullest account of events: 'Here something happened that greatly upset Caravaggio with respect to his reputation. After he had finished the central picture of St Matthew and installed it on the altar, the priests took it down, saying that the figure with its legs grossed and its feet rudely exposed to the public had neither decorum nor the appearance of a saint. That was, of course, precisely Caravaggio's point: Christ and his followers looked a lot more like beggars than cardinals. But the decision of Mathieu Cointrel's executors ... was final. Saving Caravaggio's blushes, Vincenzo Giustiniani took the painting of St Matthew for his own collection. .... Giustiniani also prevailed on the congregation of San Luigi dei Francesi to allow the painter to try again.
The resulting picture, his second version of St Matthew and the Angel, was accepted without demur. ... The character of the painting, and indeed the very fact that it was commissioned at all, suggests that those in charge of the commission had few doubts about the painter's ability. As far as they were concerned, it was merely his taste, and the tenor of his piety, that was suspect: if he was given the right instruction, these could easily be amended. (pg 236-237)
Here's the first version of St Matthew and the Angel:
Here's the second version of St Matthew and the Angel:
When this book was published over two years ago I decided not to read it because I'm not interested in the sport of rowing and I've already seen enougWhen this book was published over two years ago I decided not to read it because I'm not interested in the sport of rowing and I've already seen enough newsreels of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Since then some of my friends have recommended the book to me. What are friends for if not to try out some of their suggestions. Thus belatedly I have finally listened to the audio of the book, and I now agree with my friends. It's a good book.
This book takes the reader to a time and place, Washington State during the 1930s depression era, and makes it so real with such convincing detail that it instills visceral emotion within the reader. The author manages to present this detail in such an enticing manner that it puts adventure novels to shame, and this is in spite of the fact that most readers are aware of how the story ends. Yet it still manages to be exciting.
I found the story leading up to the Olympics to be the most interesting part. The Olympic story was familiar enough to me that I didn't find it so compelling. And in spite of my lack of interest in rowing, I now know more about the sport than I ever intended to learn, and I enjoyed every minute of it.
This book emphasizes the unique and almost spiritual experience of being a part of a racing crew—eight oarsmen plus coxswain—that must move in perfectly coordinated rhythm while at the same time expending energy from almost every muscle to the limits of the body's ability.
Physiologists, in fact, have calculated that rowing a two-thousand-meter race—the Olympic standard—takes the same physiological toll as playing two basketball games back-to-back. And it exacts that toll in about six minutes.
A well-conditioned oarsman or oarswoman competing at the highest levels must be able to take in and consume as much as eight liters of oxygen per minute; an average male is capable of taking in roughly four to five liters at most. Pound for pound, Olympic oarsmen may take in and process as much oxygen as a thoroughbred racehorse.
Crew members depend on each other to make every stroke in perfect form and time in order to achieve success. Crew racing at its best is a "symphony of motion." For the members of the racing crew in this story, it was the experience of a lifetime.
Where is the spiritual value of rowing? The losing of self entirely to the cooperative effort of the crew as a whole. —George Yeoman Pocock
When the author interviewed crew member Joe Rantz (1914–2007) shortly before his death Joe insisted the any book written must not be about him, but rather the "boys in the boat." Nevertheless Joe's story was particularly poignant because of his being abandoned by his family at age fifteen. With hard work and determination he managed to enter the University of Washington and win a place on the crew team.
It is my understanding that a movie based on this book is currently under development. I'm not sure when it may be released.
The author obviously did extensive research for this book to provide all the detail contained within it. The book as published includes a condensed version of the endnotes. The book says that the complete version of the endnotes can be found at http://www.danieljamesbrown.com/. But they're not there. At this link it says notes are "coming soon." Since this book was published 2 1/2 years ago I have my doubts that they're ever going to show up.
The story of the gold medal winning crew also inspired a 2016 PBS American Experience documentary The Boys of ’36. ...more
Silence tells the story of a Jesuit missionary sent to 17th century Japan, who endures persecution in the time of Kakure Kirishitan ("Hidden ChristianSilence tells the story of a Jesuit missionary sent to 17th century Japan, who endures persecution in the time of Kakure Kirishitan ("Hidden Christians") that followed the defeat of the Shimabara Rebellion.
A persistent theme of this book is the silence of God for a believer facing adversity.
Questions raised by Silence include:
• Where is God’s voice?
• Why is God silent in the midst of suffering?
• How may an individual’s actions (or silence) contribute to suffering?
• How can human beings inflict such horrors upon one another
• Can concept of God be understood by the Buddhist mind?
• Does veneration of holy icons merit the endurance of torture?
• What is responsibility of Church when their presence causes suffering?
• Suffering on behalf of a God who may not exist is so pointless
• Will Rodrigues (the main character) apostatize? (based on historical Giuseppe Chiara)
• Did Ferreira and Rodrigues gain a more genuine "Christianity" through their experience?
The answers to the last three questions constitute a spoiler. (view spoiler)[They both apostatize. Whether they achieve an enhanced insight into the meaning of religion is for the reader to decide. Needless to say, answers to the other questions remain unanswered. (hide spoiler)]
Another historical question that comes to my mind—not asked by this book—is why did the missionary work of the Jesuits in Japan thrive so robustly between the years 1540 and 1620 when such success did not occur in China or India?
Unfortunately, much of this book is spent describing various forms of torture. This makes for an unpleasant reading experience, and makes me wonder if I really want to see the new movie Silence. Martin Scorsese seems to relish the showing of suffering in his movies. Not sure I care to see that kind of portrayal. Those of you who have seen the movie, do you recommend that I see it?
This book consists of eight chapters, each of which stands as an independent short story that follows a different individual, time and place. But theThis book consists of eight chapters, each of which stands as an independent short story that follows a different individual, time and place. But the reader of this book will notice, as they progress through the book, that some of the characters from previous stories make appearances. These short story chapters build upon each other, and by the time the end of the book is reached it leaves the impression of being a complete and unified novel. It's creatively written with food and beverage playing a role in each chapter, and sometimes the recipes are even included.
The writing style emphasizes character development with a focus on different individuals in the various chapters. The final chapter titled "The Dinner" is something of a reunion with many of the characters that were developed in the previous chapters making their appearances again in this chapter.
But there is one character who keeps making an appearance in each chapter, and with each appearance she's a bit older. It soon becomes apparent that the book is following this individual from her being born and gradually progressing into adulthood as a celebrity chef. That individual's name is Eva Thorvald.
Those chapters dealing with the younger years portray gritty life styles that probably reflect youth culture beyond my understanding as an old person. However, when it got the chapter titled "Bars" where the Lutheran church ladies are competing to win the baking prize at the County Fair, I knew that this was a cultural environment that I could identify with.
The emphasis on food will appeal to foodie types. But the book's narrative includes plenty of satire on gourmet enthusiasts of a certain type. I'll have to admit I enjoyed those passages that I perceived as slams against those food snobs who emphasize things other than taste and freshness.
In the following excerpt from the book the down-home Lutheran Church lady character named Pat Prager is encouraged to enter her winning "peanut butter bars" into a contest in the big city sponsored by Petite Noisette, a gourmet magazine. Unknown to her, this contest was completely out of her league, sophistication-wise. The following excerpt describes the reactions of the food snobs when they encounter her food:
Pat and Sam made their way across the room to platter number 49, where Oona had a big smile on her face.
"Wow, guys!" she said. "What's in these? They're amazing!"
"They totally taste like the real thing," Dylan said, and glanced at Oona. "What's in'em?"
Sam looked at his mom.
"Butter," Pat said. "Powered sugar, peanut butter, milk chocolate chips. Graham crackers."
Dylan and Oona stared back.
"Butter?" Oona said. "What kind? Almond butter?"
"No, regular milk butter. Like from cows."
"I don't know. It's just Land O'Lakes butter. It was what was on sale."
"Oh," Dylan said.
"Does their milk have bovine growth hormone?" Oona asked Dylan.
"I don't know, but I think they're on the list," Dylan said. "Are you thinking about the baby?"
"I don't know, do you think I should go vomit it up?"
"I don't know, is that worse? The bile and stomach acids?"
The narrative continues beyond this point, but I'll end the excerpt here. I apologize to any readers of this review who think that Land O'Lakes butter is poison and are sympathetic with the concerns expressed by Oona and Dylan. I happen to not share those concerns, and for me their reactions are so extreme as to be laughable.
One nit-picky complaint I have with the title of this book—there is "The Great Plains" and there is "The Midwest" but there is no "The Great Midwest." That's my opinion. ...more
This novel is about an unhappy recently widowed man who has decided to commit suicide, but nosy neighbors keep interrupting his plans by imposing on hThis novel is about an unhappy recently widowed man who has decided to commit suicide, but nosy neighbors keep interrupting his plans by imposing on him though various requests, gifts, and coincidental serendipity. After repeated frustrated efforts to end it all the story becomes a comic plot to make this angry man into a beloved hero.
Through numerous flashbacks in the narrative we learn about Ove's earlier life that has led up the present situation. In the present his antisocial behavior seems so extreme that it's hard to believe anybody else would make any effort to find something good in him. But as described in this story his new neighbors assume him to be a lovable nice guy in spite of his gruff demeanor.
This plot provides an example of why we should always look for the good in others. In doing so we may be saving their life.
The contrast between the subject of suicide versus a surrounding caring community makes for a feel good story as portrayed in this novel. However, I have some ambivalence about applying a comic plot to the subject of suicide. It's one of those subjects that's almost too serious to be played with in this manner. There are things about this story that could be a bad example to readers who may be depressed. In this fictional tale Ove's efforts at ending his life are always interrupted by fate in some manner. In real life fate can't be counted on to come to the rescue. Also, sad and depressed individuals aren't always befriended by overly friendly neighbors. Usually depressed individuals need to take the initiative in reaching out to others for social interactions that help make life worthwhile.
Nevertheless, this is an enjoyable story that will instill warm-and-fuzzy feelings within the souls of those who read this book....more
This book provides a history of the early days of the American manned space program told from the perspective of the wives of the astronauts. This isThis book provides a history of the early days of the American manned space program told from the perspective of the wives of the astronauts. This is a span of time beginning with Project Mercury in 1959, through Project Gemini, and ending in 1972 with the closing of the Apollo program. This era occurred during my younger years spanning between my high school years to my early professional work career. I found it interesting to recall my memory of that era with the retelling of it in this book through the eyes of the astronaut spouses.
The astronauts were considered to be heros by the American public and media. NASA encouraged this by being concerned about the image and reputation of the astronauts. Thus it was important for the astronauts to have happy marriages, or at least have the appearance of happy marriages. In the early years they successfully projected this image of all-American marriage bliss. However, once the first divorce occurred in the late 60s the floodgates were opened. Out of the Mercury Seven (Project Mercury), the New Nine (Project Gemini), and the fourteen Space Families (Apollo program), a total of 30 couples, only seven couples would stay together.
I was surprised to learn that eight astronauts died in the program’s first 12 years. That's a 27 percent fatality rate over the twelve years which provides an indication that selling life insurance to astronauts is not a profitable prospect. I remembered the death of the three in the Apollo 1 fire, but the other five deaths were mostly from airplane crash accidents which were less directly related to space flight equipment and thus not as easily remembered.
The wives referred to the launches as death watches, and their fears weren't misplaced. Everybody recognized that there were so many things that could go wrong and that the flights were dangerous. It turned out in the end that none of the astronauts were left stranded in space. But at the time nobody knew what the future held. These were stressful circumstances for the wives and families to live through, and they looked to other wives in the group for support.
Extramarital female attention to the astronauts was another source of stress on the marriage relationships. Unfortunately, many of the astronauts didn't keep their pants zipped. The problem was so prevalent that the wives had multiple nicknames for potential temptresses: a Suzy or, if the other woman sought out the men near Cape Canaveral, a Cape Cookie. The journalists of that era turned a blind eye to this sort of infidelity. I don't think journalists today are likely to be so restrained.
The book's narrative makes occasional reference to national social conditions that were taking place at the time: feminism, war protests, hippies, etc. The astronaut families were largely isolated from these things. However, the changing expectations for marriage roles probably played a role in the divorce rate.
The book is reasonably well written, and my two star rating is an indication of my low level of interest in the wives. The only reason I read this book was to prepare myself for a book group meeting.
I'm looking forward to the book, "Hidden Figures" by Margot Lee Shetterly for another view of women involved with the space program....more
This novel is a sensitive reflection on the intermingled lives of two couples. As captured by Stegner's skillful writing it becomes an emotional meditThis novel is a sensitive reflection on the intermingled lives of two couples. As captured by Stegner's skillful writing it becomes an emotional meditation on four lives well lived. The characters in this book are of a generation that began their married and professional lives in the late 1930s, thus they preceded my own "boomer" generation. But Stegner's reflection on their early dreams and subsequent lives emotes similar feelings within myself when I recall my early hopes and compare them with what turned out to be reality.
What ever happened to the passion we all had to improve ourselves, live up to our potential, leave a mark on the world? Our hottest arguments were always about how we could contribute. We did not care about the rewards. We were young and earnest. We never kidded ourselves that we had the political gifts to reorder society or insure social justice. Beyond a basic minimum, money wasn't even very good for people ... . But we all hoped, in whatever way our capacities permitted, to define and illustrate the worthy life.
Leave a mark on the world. Instead, the world has left marks on us. ...
In terms of adventure and action, not much happens in this book when evaluated by the standards usually applied to novels. This book is filled from beginning to end with character development. Things happen in the story, but they're mostly ordinary things that could happen to anyone. There are no incidents of violence nor betrayals to provide tension for the narrative. But the narrative does contain phycological tension in the form of personalty differences and collision of wills. In the end it is the solid loyalty of these couples to their marriage partners in spite of the described tensions that makes this story a hopeful mediation on life.
The book is narrated in the first person voice of Larry Morgan who ends up being a successful novelist. Both he and his wife Sally begin poor, but Larry's success yields a happy life together in spite of Sally's early bout with polio that leaves her crippled. Sally has a patient personality able to show understanding and tenderness to all.
What we learn about the other couple is through Larry's observations. Sid is also a writer and scholar much like Larry except that he doesn't meet with the same literary success. His wife Charity has a controlling personality with an extreme focus on organizing things.
The closing chapters of the book highlight Charity's over-the-top efforts at choreographing her own death. She is dying from stomach cancer, but meanwhile she's trying to organize everyone's activities in such a way that she can slip away (i.e. die) with minimal fuss. It's a plan that doesn't seem to take into account the feelings of her loved ones, her husband in particular.
It is my guess that many book groups that discuss this book end up talking about the psychology of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder because of Charity's behavior. I'm sorry this becomes such a significant issue toward the end of the book because the rest of the book is sort of a nostalgic tale of lives well lived in spite of miscellaneous difficulties. ...more
This book's author, George Hodgman, is facing a problem that will be faced, or already has been faced, by many members of the boomer generation. ThisThis book's author, George Hodgman, is facing a problem that will be faced, or already has been faced, by many members of the boomer generation. This is a memoir framed by Hodgman's move from his New York City life to return to his boyhood home in rural Paris, Missouri in order to assist his 92-year-old mother who has been living alone and is entering midstage dementia.
Hodgman's return in someways is conveniently timed because he is free of marriage obligations since he is single, and he also happens to be free of work obligations because he has recently lost his job as a book editor. However, his return presents a contrasting poignancy between the rural conservatism of his home town and the fact that he's gay.
The framing narrative of the book centers on interactions between Hodgman and his mother. Intertwined within this narrative are numerous flashbacks to his boyhood, college and professional career experiences. These musing function in many ways as a meditation on feelings of not belonging because of his homosexuality.
The irascible personality of his mother is made apparent by the book's descriptions of Hodgman's conversations with her. Their visit to a nursing home to explore the possibility of his mother living there is particularly painful. It is clear that such a move would be difficult and disorienting for his mother. This presents a sad prospect in the consideration of possible future care of his mother. She did not qualify for independent living which could have made the change easier.
A significant truth revealed by conversations with his mother is that she and his deceased father never discussed their son's sexual orientation. He knows that he had never talked to them about it, but he assumed his life style made it obvious. It did, but his parents simply didn't know how to discuss it or acknowledge it.
Hodgman's background as a book editor serves him well in the writing of this book. The story is well written and maintains the reader's interest. The variety of subjects touched by the book's narrative assures a wide readership. ...more
Comanche history and culture is the focus of this book. The subtitle of the book markets itself as a biography of Quanah Parker, but he doesn't show uComanche history and culture is the focus of this book. The subtitle of the book markets itself as a biography of Quanah Parker, but he doesn't show up until the final fourth of the book.
Starting with the pre-columbian history the book describes the revolutionary change brought about by the advent of horses on the plains. It enabled the Comanche who had been culturally among the lowliest among the tribes to transform into being the invaders from the north. They were a branch that had separated from the Shoshoe of Wyoming that moved into the region of Texas displacing the Ute, Pueblo, Navaho, and Apache from their ancestral lands. They seem to have been the most successful Indian tribe at taking advantage of the horse by becoming skilled as mounted warriors.
The Comanche were the principal opponents of the Spanish as they set up missions in the northern part of old Mexico. The Spanish and later the Mexican government came to accept the Comanche as a protective buffer from French—and later American—encroachment from Louisiana territory.
The beginning of what this book refers to as a forty year Comanche War begins in May 1836 with the attack of the Parker Clan settlement in east Texas. Five men were killed, two women wounded, and two women and three children were taken captive. Among those kidnapped was Cynthia Ann Parker, a blue-eyed nine-year-old. She grew up among the Comanche, married a chief, and had several children one of whom was Quanah who became the legionary leader of the tribe in the latter years of the "Comanche War."
Ever since the book Bury my Heart of Wounded Knee I've been inclined to be sympathetic with the cause of the American Indian as they resisted the white settlers taking away their land. Empire of the Summer Moon shifts this dynamic by making all sides in the conflict look evil. The horrifying atrocities of the Sand Creek Massacre are portrayed together with the nauseating torture Comanches inflicted on their captives. I was surprised to learn that the Comanche inflected their cruelty on their Indian enemies as well. Readers with low tolerance for descriptions of violence should avoid this book.
The final quarter of the book tells of the exploits of Quanah Parker. Quanah emerged as a dominant figure in the Red River War, clashing repeatedly with Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie. With whites deliberately hunting American bison, the Comanche's primary livelihood, into extinction, Quanah finally surrendered in 1875 and peaceably led the Quahadi to the reservation at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. In his years on the reservation Quanah became successful businessman/politician, got himself appointed "principal chief" of the Comanche by the US governement, and even became an acquaintance of Theodore Roosevelt. He died in 1911.
The book has a chapter about the Medicine Lodge peace conference of 1867. I found that of special interest because I have attended, in my younger days, several of the modern day pageants held by that community to commemorate that event. I found the adjectives used by the author to describe the event to be interesting. (Underlined emphasis below is my addition.)
Such beatific urges toward peace, combined with relentless and brutal raiding by comanches in Texas and the Indian Territory led to the last and most comprehensive treaty ever signed by the Indians of the southern plains. The conference that spawned it took place in October 1867 at a campground where the Kiowas held medicine dances, about seventy-five miles southwest of the present site of Wichita, Kansas. The place was known as Medicine Lodge Creek. The participants were members of a U.S. peace commission and representatives of the Comanche, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, and Kiowa Apache tribes. The conference was the last great gathering of free Indians in the american West. The event was magnificent, surreal, doomed, absurd, and bizarre, and surely one of the greatest displays of pure western pageantry ever seen. Nine newspapers sent correspondents to cover it.
Some of the speeches given by the Indian Chiefs at that conference provide a melancholic, poignant, and eloquent summary of the situation of the plains indian tribes at that time in history. The following link is to the speech by Ten Bears, a Comanche chief. http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~ksb...
As much as a third of the Commanche tribe was not represented at the council. Quanah was a member of one of the Comanche bands that was not present, but ironically Quanah himself was present as a young eighteen-year-old because he happen to be visiting a Cheyenne group at the time. ...more
At age seventeen Mary eloped with Percy Bysshe Shelley who was already married to another woman. Mary was pregnant with Percy's child when they returned from their elopement (child did not survive a premature birth). This was considered scandalous by society and they faced ostracism, constant debt. They married in late 1816, after the suicide of Percy Shelley's first wife. Divorce wasn't an option in those days.
That was a rough start for the couple. However, their relationship endured and Mary matured into a stabilizing influence on both her husband and father. The following excerpt from the book provides a summary description of the maturation of Mary after dealing with the death of two of her children, William and Clara, and the patience she demonstrated while dealing with her husband and father.
The death of William and Clara followed by the birth of Percy Florence had completed a process of Mary's maturation. Her husband was still an emotional adolescent in spite of his brilliance, frequently took refuge in psychosomatic illness, and used imagined incidents as an excuse for his erratic behavior. But Mary achieved life long stability by the time she reached her twenty-third birthday. She had learned to curb the melancholia that she had inherited from her mother. She had claimed a remarkable understanding of human nature, and she had gained enough self control to permit reason to guide her feelings. Her teachers were her father and her husband neither of whom was able to practice what he taught. Godwin stifled his emotions until they took command and forced him to behave irrationally, even stupidly. While Shelly who was so complex that he almost defied analysis released his feelings through regressions that denied the validity of the rule of reason that he preached.
Mary gave into neither of these impulses. She had coped with her father since infancy and her husband's since adolescence. For their sakes she had accepted their prejudices, catered to their whims, and allowed their desires to take precedence over her own. Loving them she had done everything in her power to advance their careers, to enhance their reputations at the expense of her own. Sensitive to their genius she had catered to them allowing their whims to stand in the way of her own progress. She knew that Godwin's ambitions for her were unrealistic and consequently he never praised her. Shelly on the other hand always encouraged her but treated her like a tutor dealing with a pupil. Neither man no matter how loudly he preached the doctrine of equality was willing to admit that she was his peer.
Knowing the limitations of her husband and her father, Mary did not expect the impossible from them. By the time she was twenty-three she had achieved an understanding that not only enabled her to admire their strengths and pity their weaknesses, but demanded from society, if not from them, what she so freely gave to them. She would be forced to overcome a series of crises including the tragic premature death of her husband before she would obtain the freedom and recognition that she deserved. Yet she seemed content to advance one small step at a time.
It seems like every time Shelly wrote a poem that was about a woman it caused rumors to spread that he was having an extramarital affair. The following excerpt discusses how their relationship dealt with the rumors:
The significance of the Amelia Viviani episode seen in exclusively personal terms is that Mary sensibly did not allow her husband's sympathy for the girl or the writing of Epipsychidion to influence their marital relationship. It is true that both of the Shelly's sometime suffered from a sense of inadequacy. Shelly apparently feeling that his intellect might be inferior to his wife's, while Mary occasionally believed that she was too undemonstrative for his needs. In the main, however, each felt secure in the other's love. Mary was annoyed now an again by the reactions of outsiders to her husband's relationship with Amelia, but her ire did not include him. And it did not occur to Shelly, who was far less sensible than his wife, that Mary might feel even a twinge of jealousy over the feelings he expressed in the poem that made Amelia Viviani immortal. He and Mary loved over each other in real life, and her understanding gave him the poetic license to indulge in his imaginative fancy in his work.
Mary was obviously an intelligent and gifted woman who lived in a social circle that brought her into contact with some of the leading intellectuals of the era. It is also apparent that some her closest intimates had problematic personality quirks. Through it all Mary, as described in this book, comes across in many instances as the only "grown-up" person in the room. It seems like everybody in the book had money problems. Shelly was from a wealthy family and received a regular allowance, but he was always in debt because all his friends needed financial help. Mary played a role in trying to bring this outflow of money under control.
This book was originally published in hardcover in 1972. It was not targeted to a scholarly audience thus it contains no endnotes or footnotes. It does contain a bibliography which is now forty-four years old. ...more
This book is adapted from the 2003 biography, Revolutionary Heart also written by the Diane Eickhoff. This book is targeted for the young adult readThis book is adapted from the 2003 biography, Revolutionary Heart also written by the Diane Eickhoff. This book is targeted for the young adult reader, and I found it well written for that market. However, one doesn't need to be young to enjoy this book while also learning about the beginnings of the struggle for women's rights.
Clarina Irene Howard Nichols (1810 – 1885) was a journalist, lobbyist and public speaker involved in the causes of temperance, abolition, and the women's rights. The story of Clarina Nichols was largely overlooked by historians of women's suffrage during the twentieth century probably because she moved to Kansas in 1854 away from the New England vicinity where much of that history occurred. This was in spite of the fact that her prominence was sufficient to merit her own chapter in Anthony's History of Woman Suffrage. Fortunately, there have been some recent books such as Frontier Feminist (2009), Revolutionary Heart (2003), and this book, Clarina Nichols (2016) targeted for the YA market, that have raised awareness of her contributions to the cause.
I highly recommend this book to all young budding feminists. Remember, men can be feminists too. ...more
This book is written in the style of a novel and frames the story by having Rose in her older years reminisce with friends about her past. Thus the vast majority of the narrative is in her first person voice which makes it sound much like a memoir. I'm fairly confident that the author was able to capture the correct facts of Rose's story and the general characteristics of her personality because she left an extensive record was an author of multiple books, many magazine articles, and numerous letters. The novel format allowed the author of this book, Susan Wittig Albert, to assign direct quotations and thoughts to Rose which couldn't be done in the strict biography format. The result is an interesting story that's easy to read, and any reader upon reaching the end of this book will feel a genuine familiarity with Rose Wilder Lane.
As portrayed in this book the market for written material dropped during the 1930s economic depression. Rose was forced to keep writing and submitting articles and books to publishers in a desperate attempt to pay the bills.
Meanwhile her mother wrote a biography of her life titled Pioneer Girl which she asked Rose to type and submit to publishers. The writing efforts of her mother were an intrusion into Rose's other professional writing, nevertheless she complied with her mother's wishes. In Rose's judgement the biography needed extensive rework in order to be accepted by publishers but her mother resisted those changes. As expected, multiple publishers turned down the manuscript. The book was never published in that form, however an annotated version was published in 2014 by the South Dakota State Historical Society under the title of Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography,
Then a publisher suggested that some of the stories in the Pioneer Girl manuscript be turned into a children's book. Rose finally talked her mother into letting her edit the early parts of Pioneer Girls into what became titled Little House in the Big Woods. A publisher accepted the book and contracted for a second book. Rose's mother dug in her heels on the second book and insisted Rose not do extensive editing. Consequently the publisher rejected the second book. After the rejection her mother allowed Rose to edit it. The publisher accepted that version and titled it Farmer Boy
Laura's mother finally realized that she needed to allow Rose to edit her writing in order to be accepted by the publishers. Then came the rest of the books in the series, and the rest is history.
The series was published between the years of 1932 to 1943 at a rate of almost one per year. Laura initially gave her mother full credit as author partly to please her mother and also to provide some income to her parents in their retirement years. Rose didn't consider them to be important books and certainly didn't expect them to be as successful as they turned out to be. Once her mother was designated as the author of the early books it was difficult to make any changes toward crediting Rose's part in the writing.
During this time Rose continued to write her own books and magazine articles which in her mind were more serious than her mother's books. It was also during this period that Rose wrote several articles opposing FDR's New Deal and became involved with the cause that is now known as the American libertarian movement.
It's an irony of history that Rose's mother is widely remembered today as the writer of the beloved Little House series, and that the product of Rose's professional writing career is mostly forgotten. ...more
This book explores technics that can be utilized to remember things. It's not a "how to" book, but rather it's an account of a year in the author's liThis book explores technics that can be utilized to remember things. It's not a "how to" book, but rather it's an account of a year in the author's life dedicated to the training in the use of mnemonics to change from being a person with "normal" memory to winner of the USA Memory Championship. The basic point seems to be that you don't need to have a good memory to remember things. What's needed is to use the human brain's natural abilities at remembering images as a means to remember the esoteric things of today such as telephone numbers, names of strangers, and in the case of memory championships, the order of a shuffled deck of playing cards.
Humans are descended from a long line of hunter gathers who needed to remember where to find food and how to find their way back home. Thus the ability to remember numbers or names of strangers did not play a role in natural selection. That is why today we have minds that can remember images better than we can remember numbers and names. Mnemonics is the technic of utilizing the human brain's natural strength as a means for helping those areas where the brain is naturally weak.
As the book's narrative follows the author's year of mnemonic training it addresses miscellaneous facts about the history of memorization technics, examples of unusual memory abilities, and miscellaneous neurological facts. So the reader of this book can learn some worthwhile facts of history and science which I found to be of more interest than the author's work at mnemonic training.
I feel sorry for any readers who pick up this book with the expectation that it is about Einstein. I went through the whole book and didn't recall any reference to Einstein. So I did a word search of the ebook text and found the word Einstein mentioned two places. One place in the author's training he mentions that he uses the imagined image of "Albert Einstein's thick white mane" as a way to remember the playing card, "three of diamonds." Then later in the book after the author has developed a system of images to remember all possible three card combinations, the word "Einstein" is used again. Under this enhanced system, "Myself moonwalking with Einstein," stands for, "four of spades, king of hearts, and three of diamonds."
The author admits that even though he is able to memorize the order of a deck of cards in less than two minutes, he still can't remember where he left his car keys....more
This novel provides a creatively constructed contrast between the horror and the humanity of war. By using a combination of the plot used in SophoclesThis novel provides a creatively constructed contrast between the horror and the humanity of war. By using a combination of the plot used in Sophocles' Antigone, and the first person narrative of seven different individuals who participated in a firefight at an isolated base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, the narrative reveals the human side of the agony brought by war.
The similarities between this book and Antigone is not subtle. The references to classical Greek plays occur in every chapter of the book. Improbably, most of the young American soldiers in the story seem to be familiar with these Greek plays. It's clear that the author of this book wants the story to be tied to some of the earliest stories from human history that address the interface of humanity and the cruelty of war.
The opening chapter of the book begins with a lone Pashtun woman arriving at the edge of the military base and demands the return of her brother’s body who was killed in the battle. She claims to be the grieving younger sister intent on burying her brother according to local rites. From her first-person narrative we learn that she is the sole survivor of her family following an air attack on her village from an American airplane several months earlier. Her legs were lost during the attack and she has reached the base by pushing herself on a wheeled cart. Her plea for her brother's body has turned the psychology of war on its head.
The base is not given permission to release the body because orders from military headquarters in Kabul insist that the body is to be returned for positive identification as an important rebel leader. Tensions develop among the ranks of the soldiers because of disagreements concerning how to respond to the woman.
This situation inserts a sense of humanity into a war environment that normally requires viewing the enemy as something less than human. War can't continue if the enemy is truly human. This quandary begins to cause dissension and disagreements among the American soldiers on what to do about the woman.
The narrative is well constructed by introduction of an element of uncertainty in the first chapter that isn't resolved until the very end. (view spoiler)[The ending is not happy, but realistic. (hide spoiler)] ...more
This book gets its title from librarians who thwarted the wishes of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) by secretly moving 377,000 ancient manuscriThis book gets its title from librarians who thwarted the wishes of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) by secretly moving 377,000 ancient manuscripts hundreds of miles through a war zone. The terrorists weren't the only threats they faced because the government soldiers at road blocks were also erratic and unpredictable.
This book is part history, part description of Maghreb regional politics, and part adventure story. The book makes clear to the western reader that Timbuktu has a proud history and is the keeper of substantial numbers of artifacts from its cultural heritage.
It has always been my understanding that when people referred to, "a thousand miles from nowhere," they were referring to Timbuktu. That sort of thinking is the result of western oriented education. I've learned from this book that when Europe was mired in the dark ages, Timbuktu from the 13th to the 17th century was a center of intellectual enlightenment of the Islamic world. Scienteists, engineers, poets and philosophers congregated there to debate and share ideas. These exchanges of ideas were committed to the thousands of manuscripts written in Arabic and various African languages.
The golden age of Timbuktu intellectual culture occurred during the 16th century when the population of Timbuktu was approximately 100,000, and about a quarter of that population consisted of students from various parts of the Islamic world. In additional to religious texts the manuscripts included works of poetry, algebra, physics, medicine, jurisprudence, magic, mathematics, history, botany, geography and astronomy. This eclectic mix of scholarship thrived under the tolerant form of Sufism that prevailed during the 16th century golden age.
However, there was also other Islamic ideologies. Radical conservative Islamists saw the manuscripts as heretical. Also, the French colonial forces that occupied that part of Africa during the 19th century considered the manuscripts as plunder. Consequently a third tradition emerged, that of concealment. The native residents of Timbuktu hid these documents inside their homes and desert caves. By the twentieth century the Timbuktu's intellectual inheritance had become invisible to the rest of the world.
During the 1980s there was a concerted effort to collect these scattered and concealed manuscripts into the protected environment of newly constructed libraries. Funding from Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich countries founded the Ahmed Baba Institute of Higher Learning and Islamic Research in Timbuktu. This book gives a thorough accounting of the adventures of one particular manuscript collector named Aabdel Kader Haidara.
Then in March 2012 came the invasion of Tmbuktu by combined forces of the AQIM and Tuareg rebels armed with weapons from the collapse of Libyan regime of Muammar el-Qaddafi. At first the Islamists were preoccupied with the process of religious cleansing of the dress, behavior and music of the Timbuktu residents, and thus they didn't notice the covert hiding and moving of the manuscripts. In the end only a small portion of the manuscripts ended up being destroyed by the time that the Islamists were driven out by the French and Malian military forces in January of 2013.
Ironically, the invasions by the Islamists drew worldwide attention to Timbuktu’s literary heritage and enabled the first full accounting of its magnificence....more