Monday, March 30, 2020


When I was a boy in Brooklyn, horses were still used to pull delivery wagons, and the gutters were spattered with the droppings of those animals. It always amazed me to see songbirds alighting on the fresh manure to extract oat grains that had passed through the equine intestinal tract.

You must find it difficult to believe that anything good could possibly emerge from a disaster like the coronavirus pandemic we are presently experiencing, but I will tell you how something positive came out of a pandemic like the present one when a germ that normally sickens animals made the jump to humans. In the 14th century, a disease called the Black Death or Bubonic Plague invaded Europe and killed about 25 million people -  25-50% of the population.

The city of Florence was overwhelmed with the disease, attracting the attention of Giovanni Boccaccio, a prominent writer. He decided to write a story that would help alleviate the distress of the plague.  His story, The Decameron, describes how seven young women and three men departed the stricken city for a safe location in the countryside a few miles away.

One of the women was elected Queen for the day. She used her authority to determine what the rest of the party would do to remain happy. Some of their hours would be spent in wandering around the pleasant pastoral surroundings. Later, after dinner, all would gather together and each would relate a brief tale for the amusement of the group. All were pleased with her decision and each new Queen behaved in a likewise fashion. The subjects of these tales involved every type of character- monks, abbots, and bishops to miscreants of all sorts including lovers, faithful and un. Some of the tales were ribald and involved descriptions of sex. The group was delighted with this arrangement and so each day was spent with joy in a pastoral setting.  In this manner, over a period of ten days about a hundred tales were told to the delight of all.

Thus, we have an example of how days of tragedy were lightened. I wouldn’t be surprised if some creative forms of entertainment utilizing current technology appear in the days that follow, and of course, there’s reading.

Thursday, February 13, 2020


We are spending our seventh season here on Hilton Head Island in the Low Country of South Carolina to escape the snow, ice, and low temperatures of Connecticut.

Hilton Head is a huge (69 square miles) island separated from the mainland by the Intercoastal Waterway. Originally it was occupied by Yemassee Indians and later by escaped and freed slaves known as Gullah who still remain in isolated communities. Over the years the island morphed from a producer of cotton and lumber to a manicured resort development with hotels, grand homes, condominiums, marinas, tennis courts, and golf courses with no resemblance to the genuine Low Country surrounding it.

The South Carolina Low Country was the home of Pat Conroy who became one the South’s prominent writers still endeared in this locale. He wrote many novels including Beach Music, The Citadel, The Great Santini, and The Prince of Tides published in 1986.  Although I read this book when it was first published, listened to it, and saw the movie, I decided to listen to it again.

What prompts someone to reread a book? I believe it is a combination of unforgettable characters with whom the reader identifies and a unique story. I have reread many books. For example, I read Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers three times in print and twice in audible format. I read Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer once in print and three times as an audible book. And so, I decided to listen to The Prince of Tides again. Like listening to a favorite piece of music, rereads often reveal something new each time.

The Prince of Tides is not an easy book to read. The story line is not chronological, which is particularly disturbing to those who saw the movie. Each chapter is a piece of the whole and does not follow sequentially with many flashbacks. The family includes the grandfather Amos, the father Henry who was a pilot in WWII shot down in Germany who returns to become a shrimper, and his wife, Leila, and their three children Luke, and the twins, Savannah and Tom. The story describes the children’s escapades when they are young, several of the grandfather’s and father’s unusual performances, and a major tragic event that affects the lives of the family members.

I doubt if many of you will read or reread The Prince of Tides, but for those dedicated booklovers who might, it will be a rewarding experience.

Thursday, December 5, 2019


The Dutch House by the best selling author Ann Patchett is truly a fairy tale with elements of Cinderella, The Little Princess and Hansel and Gretel. 

Patchett may be one of the most beloved authors known for her novels The Patron Saint of Liars, Bel Canto, and This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. I must read some of these.

Cyril Conroy, a poverty-stricken real state agent, makes a lucky investment and becomes wealthy. He enjoys buying old buildings and collecting monthly rent from the tenants.  Cyril buys The Dutch House, a 1922 grand mansion in a Philadelphia suburb as a gift for his wife Elna. Their children Maeve and Danny, seven years younger, are the central characters in the story related by Danny and form a close bond from early childhood. Elna hates the house and abandons the family, disappearing for parts unknown. Cyril eventually divorces Elna and brings in Andrea as a stepmother. Like Hansel and Gretel, Danny and Maeve are driven from The Dutch House, returning to a life of poverty and maintaining a close relationship that continues throughout the story.

Don’t let the fairy tale concept turn you off. This story is one of human relationships with unexpected twists and turns. It is a page-turner and if not already a best seller it almost certainly soon will be. I highly recommend it.

Monday, October 7, 2019


Until I read The Last Thing You Surrender by Leonard Pitts, I never realized the depth and degradation of Jim Crow.  Pitts has skillfully crafted a novel describing the futility of Negro existence under the Nazi-like laws of Alabama, which prohibit the misogyny of the blacks with whites and the contempt of the whites for the Negro. When George Simon, a white Marine from Mobile, is trapped in his ship in Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack, Gordy saves a black mess man who dies in the effort. George is returned to Mobile and visits Thelma, Gordy’s widow hoping to console and explain the details. Rejected initially by Thelma, we read how definitive changes occur in both.  The novel describes in gruesome detail the lynching of Thelma’s parents and horrible battle scenes in both the Pacific and European theaters of war where Negro units distinguish themselves by their bravery. Most of all the author describes the hate, mistrust, and contempt between the races. Although desegregation and the Negro rights movement would not begin for another 10 years, the idea was brewing in the minds of a few Southern whites.

This book is truly a page-turner, and I highly recommend it.

Monday, September 9, 2019


This recent non-fiction book by Richard Preston, a noted writer and journalist with an interest in infectious diseases, is already a best seller. Crisis in the Red Zone: The Story of the Deadliest Ebola Outbreak in History, and of Outbreaks to Come is a tour de force of the latest Ebola epidemic in 2013-2015 in Africa.  The author discusses the people and the caregivers as well as the scientific achievements related to the virus.

Preston starts by describing the African people who are confused and terrorized by this disease that has spread from the Central African Republic to Sierra Leon, Liberia, five other countries, and three continents. The clinical appearance of the victims includes hemorrhages from every part of the body, projectile vomiting, and bloody diarrhea. African, European and American nurses, physicians and epidemiologists come to the affected areas in a desperate but vain attempt to stem the disease. Many of them are from Doctors Without Borders. The author describes hospitals that have been deserted with vomit, feces, and body fluids left around. Scientific efforts to determine the genetic make up of the virus as well as several new antibodies and drugs never yet tried in humans.

Although this book is certainly everything anyone would want to know about the Ebola epidemic, it may not be for the casual reader because of the repetitive descriptions of the victims.

As a more palatable alternative to Preston’s superb story, I offer a book called The Ebola Connection, which I published in 2017.  This book contains a description of the same Ebola epidemic described by Preston.

My story is about the lives of two brothers that are tragically shattered by war and calamity. My description of The Ebola Connection is accurate although fictionalized, and may be found in my blog of November 26, 2018.

Friday, August 23, 2019


Today’s book, Chances Are, is a new novel by Richard Russo, published July 2019. The author distinguished himself in 2001, with Empire Falls, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Russo has the unique ability to capture and describe the relationships between and among men of various classes, ages, and backgrounds.

For this story, he selected three young men, Lincoln, Teddy, and Mickey who meet at an elite college in Connecticut during the Vietnam War. They have been awarded working scholarships to labor in the kitchen of a sorority house for the next four years. The other significant character is Jacy Calloway, a beautiful, wildish girl from a wealthy family, also a student at the college who carries a tragic secret. Each of the three men fall in love with her. Following graduation, the three go to Martha’s Vineyard to spend a celebratory weekend in a house owned by Lincoln’s family. Even though Jacy is engaged, she elects to accompany them without her fiancĂ©. On the third day the men awake to find Jacy has departed, never to be seen again, leaving only a note.

The story opens 44 years later when Lincoln, Teddy, and Mickey each now 66, meet for a final weekend on the Vineyard to reflect on the past years and wonder about Jacy’s disappearance. Lincoln, now married with six children, is a successful commercial real state agent in Las Vegas. Teddy is the editor of a religious press in New England, and Mickey, a musician with a small band, still rides a motorcycle. I marvel at Russo's dissection of each of the three men in turn with detailed pathos, humor, and nostalgia as well as their interactions with Jacy.

Although at times the story touches on fantasy, it has some surprising episodes. I found this book to be a genuine page-turner headed for popularity and awards.

Saturday, July 27, 2019


Speak No Evil is the 2nd novel by the Nigerian author, Uzodinma Iweala.  Although not yet a best seller, it has already won a number of literary awards.

This book moved me more than anything since Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytale The Little Match Girl.   The story is about many things namely homosexuality, racism, the coming of age, the relationship between a boy and his father, cultural differences, and the propensity for hearsay and the media for misrepresentation and invention.

Niru, a sixteen year old Nigerian boy, comes to Washington D.C. with his wealthy parents, who place him in an exclusive private school. He   is the only black in a small class of fourteen.  Niru relates most of the story

Meredith comes to Washington with her parents leaving a boyfriend in New York. She is in the same class as Niru and becomes attracted to him.  Their teacher is Mitch McConnell, a woman who has been all over the world. This book has many metaphors only a few of which I understand. Niru and Meredith become friends, visit each other’s family, study and run together sometimes competing. A year later, a blizzard hits Washington interrupting transportation.  Mitch McConnell dismisses the class, and Meredith invites Niru to her house where they are alone.  After some kissing, Meredith disrobes completely.  Niru has never seen a naked woman. She proposes they have sex, but to her surprise Niru refuses.  Hurt and angry, Meredith insists on an explanation.  Niru tells her he thinks he might be gay.  He prays in vain not to be gay.

Meredith surreptitiously loads his cell phone with many gay apps and sends him away.  She doesn’t respond to Niru’s calls for almost a year. Niru’s father finds his cell phone, is enraged, and demands an explanation. In Nigeria Homosexuals are detested and considered unclean.  His father continuously berates him. Eventually, Niru runs away from his family.

Niru is on the track team. No one can beat him in practice sessions,  but he fails to win in a competitions. His coach urges, “You have to really want to win.” In one competition, Niru sees his father watching and manages to win that race.  His father calls ,“I’m proud of you”, which pleases Niru.

Niru has no friends. He is physically attracted to Damian, a gay college boy. Damian invites Niru to his apartment and proposes they have sex.  “I can’t do this,” Niru says. “It’s unclean, and I’m not unclean.” Niru leaves the apartment.

Niru and Meredith are now seniors. Meredith becomes friendly with Niru again, and they study and run together. Niru wants to be a surgeon and applies to Harvard.  Meredith applies to Harvard Law School. “Maybe we’ll see each other at Harvard, “ she says.  “And when we’re finished, we can go out west somewhere and live together and raise bi-racial kids.” Niru does not respond. They spend a lot of time together. Meredith realizes she cares for him. They go out drinking and sometimes have friendly quarrels, pushing each other around.  On one such evening, Meredith playfully pushes Niru away.  As he moves to embrace her, a tragedy occurs.  Meredith is confused. Suddenly there are police cars and ambulances. Meredith is taken to a hospital. “Where is Niru?” she asks, but her question is ignored.  When she learns what has happened, she accepts guilt.

“It was my fault, I shouldn’t’ have pushed him, but nobody pays attention to her. By the next day, word of the shooting has leaked.  There is a student protest in Washington. Somehow the story has gotten out that Niru was trying to rape her. The media gets the story and soon it is all over the country.

Meredith relates the rest of the story, trying in vain to explain the truth. She feels she cannot continue to live with this misjudgment of Niru.

One of the reviewers of the book wrote, ”It broke my heart.” Maybe I’m too sensitive to some of these things, but I will never forget this book.