Monday, September 7, 2020

THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER


For Labor Day, I have chosen something short so it will not require much labor. It is probably my favorite short story and is not inappropriate today, since New Hampshire with its motto “Live Free or Die” is considered a “swing state”.

The story, The Devil and Daniel Wesbter, was written in 1936 by Stephen Vincent Benet.

Daniel Webster, a lawyer, an intensely patriotic statesman, and an almost mythical character, is asked to defend Jabez Stone, who had made a contract with the Devil. Resolved to come to the aid of a fellow New Hamshireman, Webster accepts the challenge.

I think, like many others, that this story is indeed a classic and may be a metaphor for our current political turmoil.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

THE SOUL OF AMERICA


Yesterday afternoon I sat by the TV listening to Joe Biden introduce his running mate Kamala Harris. In this speech, and others, Joe has often referred to the “Battle for the Soul of America “.

Almost all religions believe that everyone has a soul, the spiritual part of a person regarded as immortal. In modern times, some people believe that the concept of a soul can also apply to a nation.  This concept brought to mind a book The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels by Jon Meacham published in 2018. The author points out that Abraham Lincoln often referred to the soul as “the better angels of our nature”.

Meacham, a biographer, has written several books about our presidents and other historical figures.  In this fascinating bookMeacham describes many events in detail including the “bad” times contributing to the development of our nation when Lincoln maintained “our better angels” would prevail. 

His message is one of hope. Meacham recounts the troubled times in our past as well as the brighter episodes which support the development of a stronger nation. This book is a must read for all especially for those distressed by the fury of these turbulent times!  

Monday, July 13, 2020

RIGGED

RIGGED: America, Russia, and One Hundred Years of Covert Electoral Interference by David Shimer is a must-read for anyone interested in the competition between two great powers.

When David Shimer entered Yale, he majored in History under the guidance of his Professor Timothy Snyder. The reaction of our government and the media to Russian tampering with our election in 2015-2016 piqued his interest while working as an intern for the Clinton campaign. In 2017, he went to West Germany to investigate the 1972 Russian interference in the parliamentary election.  He interviewed an East German government individual who had been involved in that process which changed the shape of the Cold War. Was there a similarity between these two events? His investigation began to take on a life of its own.

He soon focused on the mechanism of influencing the election process of a foreign country by both Russian and the U. S.  America sought to support democracy whereas Russia focused on controlling the county with communism.

Shimer graduated in 2018 with both a Baccalaureate and Master’s degrees and secured a Fellowship at Oxford University to complete a Doctorate in International Relations. He published his book in June of this year. The genius of this book reflects Shimer’s ability to “connect the dots”.

I must credit the assistance of my wife Connie in the preparation of this Blog.



Friday, June 19, 2020

THE BLACK AND THE BLUE

I selected this book, The Black and the Blue, by Mathew Horace, because I wanted to understand the frequent killing of unarmed African Americans by police. The author is an Afro-American who has spent his entire life in law enforcement.  He is concerned with the racism that has permeated the police in most cities in the United States.  Horace started his career as a policeman and rose through the ranks until he reached important positions in the Federal government, especially with Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco, that permitted him to investigate police practices in major cities. What is most revealing is how difficult it is for a Black man to be in a blue uniform. His personal experiences are enlightening and well worth your time to read. It may help you to comprehend what is going on in our country at this time.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

THE GIVER OF STARS

This novel, The Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes published in 2019, was brought to my attention by cousin Pam.

Jojo Moyes is a British journalist and novelist. She has published twelve novels, some of which have been made into movies. She has obviously researched the background for this novel very well.

Southeastern Kentucky, where the story takes place, is mountainous and drained by the Ohio River. It is part of a region known as Appalachia. In colonial times, the area was known as “the bloody ground of Kentucky” because of the frequent and violent confrontations with Indians. As the years passed and Kentucky became a state, its reputation for violence was undiminished. Feuds between families often lasted for generations with dead on both sides.

Kentucky is a coal mining state and wealthy men have been mining for years. Many of the mines were dangerous and tragic collapses occurred in the shafts often with fatalities. Clashes occurred between the mine owners and miners seeking unionization.

The story begins during the Depression and Roosevelt’s “New Deal” efforts like the WPA to ameliorate the hardships. The time was ripe with racism, ignorance, and corruption. What makes this novel unique is that there are five protagonists, all women. Some were trained librarians. They form a group which came to be known as the “Packhorse Librarians” since the only way to reach their distant readers was by horseback. The experiences of these women provide a fascinating tale.

The intended recipients of the books were small families living in isolated log cabins who subsisted by hunting, gardening, working in a mine, or moonshining.  Some could not read but clamored for more books. The varied reception of the librarians by these families and other challenges they endured makes for exciting reading.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

THE STORYTELLER'S SECRET

I am grateful to cousin Pam Townshend for bringing this book to my attention. Today’s recommendation is a novel entitled The Storyteller’s Secret by Sejal Badani in 2018. The author, a retired attorney, has a paperback to her credit before publishing this wonderous story.

This tale of love and anguish, loyalty encompassing several generations, is threaded with mystery. The protagonist Jaya, a young journalist, is living in Brooklyn, New York with her husband Patrick, an attorney. Her happiness begins to fade when her first pregnancy ends with a miscarriage. She becomes increasingly miserable when she endures two more miscarriages. She is desolate. Deserted by Patrick and finding little solace with her mother, she decides to go to India to accept a gift intended for her mother from her dying father.  In India Jaya is introduced to a culture thousands of years old. She meets Ravi, an untouchable, who had been elevated to be a family servant by her grandmother. Ravi turns out to be her best source of family history. She gets perspective on her life through the story of Amisha, her maternal grandmother, as related by Ravi. Jaya learns that Amisha made important decisions that affected future generations.

In addition to being an exciting story, this book will give the reader some insight into Indian life under the strict control of the British occupation called the Raj.


Sunday, April 12, 2020

CHILDREN'S BOOKS FOR ADULTS

Today I’m thinking about fiction, specifically the novel, a product of the writer’s imagination. I must confess that I cannot abide current novels where a single voice describes the entire story. It is like seeing actors walking onto the stage and standing there while a loudspeaker describes to the audience what the actors are doing.  No child would sit through that.

Children’s books appeal because there is always action and dialogue as adults discovered when Lewis Carroll wrote Alice in Wonderland in 1865. Really good children’s literature has always been enjoyed by adults. Many of you may recall reading with pleasure E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web.

J.K. Rowling published and sold millions of her Harry Potter series. Starting with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1997, her books are avidly read by adults as well as children.  The stories describe Harry Potter, a young English boy, who is unhappy living with his adoptive parents. With the help of a friendly owl, Harry escapes into a magical world and has many wonderful adventures.

Why bring up children’s literature now?  The action and dialogue in certain children’s stories, even though fantasy, may provide temporary relief from the present grim reality of the pandemic.  I don’t hesitate to recommend them to you.



Monday, March 30, 2020

PLEASURE FROM A PLAGUE

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

THE PRINCE OF TIDES

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.