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S. Theet

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  1. Dress Gray (Book Review)

    Dress Gray, by Lucian K. Truscott If written today, I'm certain that Dress Gray would be even grittier. That being said, for the time it was published, it was an impressive review of West Point. The mystery surrounding the death of a cadet causes the underbelly of the military academy to be exposed and one of its most loyal cadets to question his views. Well presented and thought provoking (although in dire need of better editing.) I do believe the basic honorable qualities of the institution are preserved but, again, the reader may come away with a differing opinion than mine on that point. The author clearly has a negative view and that bleeds into even the obvious attempt to present an unbiased view. I guess it all depends on what the reader's view of military academies in general and West Point in particular might be. Mine is very supportive so I can and did come away from this with an unchanged view: Those academies, thought targeting honor, are run by humans some of which may be honorless. This review, originally published on Amazon by our Au Courant under the pen name Dog Lover, is one of several available at www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A2WC63IB2EUVEO?ie=UTF8&ref_=sv_ys_4, where the book also can be purchased.
  2. 13 Things That Don’t Make Sense: The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Time, by Michael Brooks I cannot remember when I have simply enjoyed a book so much. The writing style makes one think of having a fascinating and enthusiastic dinner guest who starts a conversation with "Guess what!" and then proceeds to bring all the dinner guests into the discussion imparting to them that same enthusiasm. If you are a Scientist of any field, you'll no doubt call this book "science light." However, I feel that Mr. Brooks showed an amazing ability to keep the integrity of the science while recognizing the limitations of his reader. This is no Bill Nye the Science Guy who I respected enormously. This is sort of his older uncle who expects the reader to grasp previously unconsidered concepts and ideas. After all, the purpose of this book is to convince us that science hasn't all the answers... yet. There are things that Mr. Brooks calls anomalies. Things that we may think are just absolute reality might not be when other evidence is considered. He shook me a bit when he put "gravity" on that level! I swear I thought I levitated for a second. Brooks settles on 13 of the myriad anomalies in science: the Missing Universe, the Pioneer Anomaly, varying constants, cold fusion, "life", Viking, the WOW! Signal, a giant virus, "death", sex, free will, the placebo effect, and homeopathy. One of the most charming aspects of this book is how Mr. Brooks transitions to the next anomaly as he finishes with one. In all cases save one, he keeps a scientific perspective and uses the scientific process of discovery and accepted protocols to both define the anomaly and its consequences. The one exception, IMO, was "free will." I am open to a definition of this phrase but Mr. Brooks seems to have one he didn't share with me (at least.) He subsequently in later chapters would refer to this concept as the "delusion." That may be true, but this book didn't get me to that conclusion and, in fact, the chapter on that topic didn't even form the question very well for me. I absolutely agree that if our understanding of "free will" is ever scientifically proven to be in error, then our understanding of ourselves, our place in the universe, and our place in time will suffer an earthquake of readjustment. The language used in this one chapter just didn't move me in that direction. Brooks took a couple of examples that seemed, to me, to be reflex action based on fine sensory perception, as some dna-based instruction of body movement. As I said, that may be the case but Brooks' language in this one chapter didn't carry me to that conclusion. It seems as if he never investigated or reported on investigation about whether we have sensory perception currently unknown or measured. We may not have. This one part didn't carry me (repeating myself.) Every other part did carry me to its intended destination. That targeted locale was a questioning mind that will never look at a glass of water in the same way again, will never sneeze without thinking of Mimi, will always look at the stars and wonder if black matter is distorting my view, will wonder if pounding some lettuce into water and then diluting it 30 times will cure my hiccups, and, last but not least, will hope and pray that young people will become mesmerized by scientific query, explore new territories both cosmically and cellularly, make fabulous discoveries and, one day, enthrall fellow dinner guests by saying, "Guess what!" This review, originally published on Amazon by our Au Courant under the pen name Dog Lover, is one of several available at www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A2WC63IB2EUVEO?ie=UTF8&ref_=sv_ys_4, where the book also can be purchased.
  3. Altered States (Book Review)

    Altered States, by Paddy Chayefsky What is reality? What is time? Do we have the ability to constrain time and memory? What is truth? Altered States attempts to answer these questions via psychogenic drug-induced experiments conducted by Professor Jessup and on himself. Chayefsky takes the time-honored route of saying, in essence, "love" is the only reality. Ignoring that trite answer, I found the rest of the book entertaining and thought-provoking. The transformation of Jessup to primordial man form was well done. Trying to keep in mind when it was written (late 70s), I worked hard not to want to slap Emily - Jessup's love interest. I also thought the ending of the book which suddenly put the focus back on the "luuuuvvvv" story was a mite sappy and grossly written. No subtlety here at all. "The final truth of all things is that there is no final truth! Truth is the illusion! Life is the only substance we have! I am truth; it is God that is fiction! This is real! You and me sitting here in this room! That is real! That is substance! That is the only truth there is!" For a literary device, Emily's inability to resist Jessup and, ultimately, to, as he says, become his "redeemer" is boiler-plate application of the feminine to the holy and the reward for unwavering support. I get that. I can (and have done so) write a thesis about this device. Nonetheless, it still makes me a little nauseous. I was more optimistic about Emily when, during the early part of the book, she recognized the unhealthy aspect of her devotion to Jessup. I also was a little impressed with Jessup's accurate self-evaluation. These things, however, are good only when acted upon. Simply recognizing an issue and not doing anything about it seems even worse, IMO, than not recognizing it at all. All in all, it was an interesting little book. I'm glad I read it. The writing is very uneven and slow-going for the first couple of chapters. Picks up mid-way which made the reading experience more pleasurable. I thought Chayefsky's attempt to be specific about work being done by various people in various labs and universities sounded as if he was copy/pasting from notes taken during his preparation for the book. I thought his 'science speak' fairly accurate but done in such a way that it revealed his intent of bolstering scientific integrity which, ironically, had the reverse effect (with me.) Interestingly, Chayefsky's other works (especially "Marty") were so fabulous at revealing the humanity of his characters that it was a profound disappointment to me find Altered States was devoid of his talent in that area. The book read, to me, as if it were the novelization of a movie. One of the few times where I thought a film version would be superior to the written version. This review, originally published on Amazon by our Au Courant under the pen name Dog Lover, is one of several available at www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A2WC63IB2EUVEO?ie=UTF8&ref_=sv_ys_4, where the book also can be purchased.
  4. The Next Best Thing (Book Review)

    The Next Best Thing, by Kristan Higgins Higgins has done it again. The Next Best Thing is several rungs above traditional romance writing. Ms. Higgins takes the time to develop a character and bring a story to a believable conclusion. As always, there are very odd family members - this time on both the sides of the hero and heroine. As always, there was humor - this time less broad and more subtle. As always, there was an animal - this time a cat rather than a dog. If this sounds as though there is a recipe to Higgins' style, perhaps there is. I'm ok with that as long as Ms. Higgins continues to serve up delicious and meaningful stories. Her writing is so good and her characters so awash with personality that any recipe is enhanced. I am usually somewhat nauseated when the hero and heroine have a familial relationship. I am usually reluctant to praise a book where parents show undisguised preference for one of their children. It is thanks to Ms. Higgins' skillful writing that these plot lines that normally cause me to trip instead tied bows around the story. After reading The Next Best Thing (Hqn), I think it entirely appropriate to offer a "toast" to Ms. Higgins. Salute. This review, originally published on Amazon by our Au Courant under the pen name Dog Lover, is one of several available at www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A2WC63IB2EUVEO?ie=UTF8&ref_=sv_ys_4, where the book also can be purchased.
  5. Nemesis (Book Review)

    Nemesis, by Isaac Asimov Nemesis. Interesting name for this book and for the star which is given that name. Not knowledgeable about Greek mythology (or any other kind), I resorted to Wikipedia: "The word Nemesis originally meant the distributor of fortune, neither good nor bad, simply in due proportion to each according to his deserts; then, nemesis came to suggest the resentment caused by any disturbance of this right proportion, the sense of justice which could not allow it to pass unpunished." In this story of how an accidental discovery of another possibly life-giving star led a small group of Settlers - Earth near-space colony residents - to use a technology they had developed to allow close to faster-than-light speed to leave the solar system. This particular Settlement named Rotor did this stealthily because they wanted to escape the horrible existence that Earth had come to represent. It would take them a few years to reach this newly discovered star - a Red Dwarf - that was half the distance to Alpha Centauri which, at that time, was considered the next closet star. They knew that Earth would eventually extend its tendrils but hoped by the time that Earth had also discovered Nemesis and developed the technology to travel as fast, that they would be prepared to deflect any onslaught. They were correct. However, the only planet supported by Nemesis, named Mega, is actually a gas-giant, but it's moon, Erythro, looks habitable. The book is about the way man decides to handle overcrowding. The result of space colonization is entrenched discrimination usually associated with race and/or other genetic characteristics. Each colony becomes very closed both as a society and in physical reality as the colonies are actually man-made stations. Settlers learn to live within walls - both mental and physical. In addition, because the settlements are safe and free of poverty and crime, they also have all the brain power. Earth is becoming the slums of humanity.Although these issues are never directly faced much less solved in the book, they do form the entire basis for why this movement out of the solar system was begun. Unfortunately, along the way to Nemesis, the astronomer who discovered it, also discovered that it was moving. Nemesis was on a collision course with Earth's own sun - or at least would pass so closely that the resulting disturbances would, literally, kill the planet. Rotor's chief executive, Janus Pitt, doesn't care. He isn't going to warn Earth because Rotor would be far away and safe. In fact, it is then that the name Nemesis starts to earn its reputation - it will be the avenger for the depravity of man. Pitt just wants a place where Rotarians can be isolated and can develop the perfect society. Ultimately those on Earth do discover both Nemesis and their impending doom. They develop true faster than light speed and a small ship takes off after Rotor. The reason, by the time this technology was developed, that they headed that way was to force proof to humanity that it was possible for such travel. Evacuating the billions on Earth to avoid disaster would require that those billions know that space had a place waiting for them. There were also retribution intentions but, as this story takes place over a time span of 15 year, that purpose died with those who held it. Then there is Erythro itself. Barren except for microorganisms and unwelcoming due to the pink light so different and more diffuse than Earth's sun, the Rotarians built only one observation and drilling site fully enclosed in a Dome. All this is discovered by the reader via the trials and tribulations of a 15 year old girl named Marlene. She has never "belonged' on Rotor even though she was born there. She has an almost mystical ability to read people via their expressions and mannerisms. She is not empathic - just extremely observant. Her own mother is uncomfortable around her. However, Marlene is drawn compulsively to get to Erythro. Political machinations and personal disgust by Pitt for Marlene, ultimately makes that happen. Marlene is the only human who has been able to handle the planet - others, when exposed outside the Dome, fell victim to a "plague." Come to find out this was just the result of the microorganisms' attempt to read the brains of these intruders to Erythro's domain. An accident. However, Marlene has a perfect 'brain" and can handle the communication. When the Earthlings, including Marlene's father, finally get to Erythro, this communication method enables Erythro's 'people' to explain how Earth can avoid disaster. A happy ending... right? Well... I really enjoyed this read. The summary and review was difficult to write because, frankly, bless her heart, Marlene was never the focus of the story - she was just a tool used to reveal the various anxieties and issues Pitt was managing. The "love stories" are only to make more readable the scenarios of possible elimination of mankind. Earth is saved from destruction by Nemesis but, as Pitt fears, that just means that Earth will spread its degeneration even further outside its own celestial borders. Not such a happy ending after all.
  6. Thomas Jefferson (Book Review)

    Thomas Jefferson, by R.B. Bernstein Well written. Well organized. Enjoyed this read very much. Learned several things about the period and Jefferson's role in it. Learned very little about the man. This is a brief recounting focusing on Jefferson's political life. Despite the fact that the man wrote literally 1000s of letters, Jefferson remains one of the most, er, "hidden" figures in American History from a personal standpoint. Bernstein acknowledges this with his closing paragraph in the book: "...whether he would even comprehend the United States in the first years of the twenty-first century, Jefferson's shadow looms large over us, thanks to the conflicting influences of his thinking, doing, and - most important - his writing. That truth alone requires each generation to reacquaint itself with the life and work of Thomas Jefferson, and to grapple with his ambiguous legacies." If you are lookin' for a brief catalog of important events driven or influenced by our third president, this is a book fabulous for that purpose. If you are lookin' for an indepth character evaluation and to learn more about the man himself, you'll need to look elsewhere. Good luck with that. From what I've been able to determine such a book does not exist. I have come to the conclusion that it never will. The great enigma of the Revolutionary period. Thomas Jefferson. This review, originally published on Amazon by our Au Courant under the pen name Dog Lover, is one of several available at www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A2WC63IB2EUVEO?ie=UTF8&ref_=sv_ys_4, where the book also can be purchased.
  7. John Jay: Founding Father, by Walter Stahr John Jay: Founding Father is impressive. Considering that it is Stahr's first book, my regard increases. It has been collecting ether-dust on my "I am reading" shelf for some months. I didn't want to start it until I could give it due attention and other things were taking up my time and energy. Good thing I waited because once I read the first page, I didn't stop until I was done except for 5 hours of sleep and occasional required online activities. Stahr, like his subject, avoids dramatization but somehow manages to convey the person of John Jay. Presented in a factual and time-line structure, the book still conveys the rigors of the time and the complexities of the struggle for independence. The book is the result of significant research and well-balanced. It has an oddly defensive tone as if Stahr considers Jay's treatment by other biographers and historians to be if not negative, at least unduly dismissive. I do think that Jay is not given his true due for his contributions but, as with our society today, the nation at that time was more fascinated with the "stars" - Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, and to a lesser degree because he suffered the same "lack of sexiness problem", Adams. I suspect that there were many "quiet heroes" during that period who were patiently and continually actually doing the work of the nation rather than just talking about it. Jay appears to have been an intellectual, quiet, and steady man of firm principles and true devoted Christian belief. He said on one occasion when begged to push back against unfair practices that cost him his first run as New York Governor, "It will be of more importance to me to have governed myself than to have governed the state." He put honor above office. He proved this on many occasions. A man of some contradictions, he absolutely believed that slavery was wrong but he, himself, owned slaves. He argued against admitting Missouri as a slave state but for existing states wanted slavery to be abolished slowly over time. He was averse to confict and considered the behavior of the French Revolutionaries to be like that of animals but, earlier, when first meeting with officials of Britain during our own Revolutionary War, he refused to start negotiations until he was personally addressed as and the first drafts of the agreements indicated that he was the representative of the Independent United States of American - not of a colony. He was a devoted family man and absolutely faithful husband and yet several of his children were almost completely raised by others. This was not just due to the extensive traveling to which he was subjected and the reasons were never explained. Very early in his career - well prior to the Revolution, he advocated a separate and independent judiciary and, in fact, forcefully argued for a 3-house government of the state of New York. He followed up with this in his awful time trying to be President of the Continental Congress. He was a man of great dignity and careful attention to detail always striving to not only directly avoid misconduct but even the appearance of it. Yet, he accepted George Washington's plea to be the Envoy Extraordinaire to Britain to forge an agreement - while he was the sitting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Jay was first to state the premise of the Supremacy Clause - even though that label was applied later. He favored a strong National Government but wanted restraints. "The national government has only to do what is right and, if possible, keep silent." A primary contributor to the Federalist Papers, his words helped convince New York to support the constitution. During the Revolutionary War, he was the "master" of an important American spy, Enoch Crosby. In his later years, Jay related most of Crosby's activities to James Fennimore Cooper who used it to write The Spy. A note from Stahr about this extraordinary part of Jay's contribution to the Revolution says, "The CIA recently honored John Jay by naming a conference room after him as America's first counter-intelligence chief." Who'd a thunkit? The one part of Jay's history that did disturb me was his forceful support of Loyalty oaths and treatment of Tories. I found this very distressing and don't remember seeing much about this in the biographies of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson which I recently read. Was this more an issue in New York than elsewhere or was this topic just not deemed important enough to these other "stars' and their biographers? The other alternative is that I just missed any mention of it although I do clearly remember Flexner saying that Washington required his troops to be careful with Tories and forbade mistreatment of them. Curious. Jay was always aware of the historically important events of the time. He instructed clerks during the Continental Congress to spend at least an hour each day recording events for posterity. He said, "Americans are the first people whom heaven has favored with an opportunity of deliberating upon and choosing the form of government under which they should live." The best quote, though, was about the constitution which he personally ensured that New York ratify: "...it is yet to be animated, and till then may indeed excite admiration, but will be of no use. From the people it must receive its spirit, and by them be quickened. Let virtue, honor, the love of liberty and of science be, and remain, the soul of this constitution and it will become the source of great and extensive happiness to this and future generations." And so it has. This review, originally published on Amazon by our Au Courant under the pen name Dog Lover, is one of several available at www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A2WC63IB2EUVEO?ie=UTF8&ref_=sv_ys_4, where the book also can be purchased.
  8. The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway I'm working my way through the list of Pulitzer Prize winners and this title is on both that list and the BELF list. A double hitter! Four Stars: Can't say that I "like" Hemingway but few writers can match his imagery. That specific talent soars in this book. Well, in this novella. I was surprised by how short it was when I first picked it up. Santiago, a very old man in a fishing village has earned respect over his long life but he has been unsuccessful in bringing in fish for a very long time. He has a young protogee, Manolo, who is very fond of him. Manolo's family has made him leave Santiago's skiff work though because they wanted Manolo to actually get some fish. Manolo is very considerate of Santiago and, while obeying his family, manages to ensure that Santiago has food and is kept as warm as such proverty-stricken conditions allow. One day, Santiago, alone in his skiff, decided to go further out on the sea to look for fish especially when he detected a large bird diving in a specific area - a sign that fish should be close. Hemingway's prose is gripping that describes this decision and the rowing and care for the lines as Santiago worked his way further out. A long wait and continual checking on the lines finally gives an indication that the decision was a correct one. One line is grabbed by what must be a huge fish, Santiago thinks. The fish is so large that he actually towed Santiago's skiff out further to sea. For three days and three nights, Santiago's skiff is towed but refuses to give up. Santiago must manage the lines, literally, with his bare hands (and his back.) That is the equipment used at the time - no automated assistance available in this time period. He is convinced the fish will tire and that will enable Santiago to capture him. Santiago, as opposed to Ahab, considers this great beast to be his brother. He regrets the need to kill him but believes that "his brother" understands the things in life and that he will provide nourishment to many people. The physical pain and injury that Santiago experiences and how he manages those obstacles was inspiring. Santiago felt proud of himself. Santiago captured my heart with his humility and endurance. He is said, at the beginning of the story, to understand that he is humble in nature and doesn't question that. That humility is tested when after succeeding in capturing a fish of almost historically unmet size and weight, he has to fight off the sharks that want to take his prize. He loses that fight. He wonders if he really was happy about the catch because it would feed so many people or did pride, for once in his life, make him take chances that were so outrageous. A true pyrrhic victory. I was so impressed by how Hemingway wrote both the struggle with the fish and against the marauding sharks. I was so gripped by Santiago's discussions with himself about how he would handle his injuries so that he could continue to work toward capturing the fish and, again, defeating the sharks. I was so moved by how he kept wishing "the boy" was with him. Without being heavy-handed with symbolism, Hemingway still makes the points of being reborn (3 days and 3 nights); that maturity of age and the energy of youth having equally valid strengths; that, on occasion, simply knowing that you won will just have to be enough. The spoils of war are sometimes spoiled. Enchanting read. This review, originally published on Amazon by our Au Courant under the pen name Dog Lover, is one of several available at www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A2WC63IB2EUVEO?ie=UTF8&ref_=sv_ys_4, where the book also can be purchased.
  9. All I Ever Wanted (Book Review)

    All I Ever Wanted, by Kristan Higgins It was so nice to read a good romance book! Ms. Higgins has been a consistent pleasure for me. The storyline was charming with (as always) interesting characters. I was rewarded with two dogs this time although I really think that the Husky should have had some cover space too . ~smile~ I like the way that Higgins allows her heroines to develop over time - she doesn't tend to go in for single life-changing events to push that development. Of course, Callie needed remedial work in this area as she had fixated on a love-interest at a very early age and held onto that fantasy until she turned 30. That is either an indicator of true fidelity or OCD. Callie had to figure out which. I loved the "voices" she chose for her mental arguments with herself. I like that the hero, Ian, wasn't a knight-in-shining-armor. He had his own issues to manage and, boy, were they doozies! I also like Higgins' ability to not make "bad guys" out of characters. She makes them human. However, I did succumb to a "she deserved it!" as Callie got one of them back at the end. Won't say which one because that would be a true spoiler. That being said, Higgins is far more willing to forgive marital infidelity than am I. I don't forgive the breaking of vows. Ever. Higgins hasn't yet (that I remember anyway) had one of her heroines forgive the infidelity of her own spouse/lover but she always has the father/brother/friend/etc forgiven by the woman to whom he was unfaithful. It isn't just "forgiveness," it mean resuming the relationship. I won't do that and I wish that Higgins wouldn't always do it but would give at least one story where those bridges stayed burned. 2009 and 2010 have been awful years for new Romance offerings, IMO. Higgins has been the only author who I haven't panned in those years. Hope she keeps up the good work! This review, originally published on Amazon by our Au Courant under the pen name Dog Lover, is one of several available at www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A2WC63IB2EUVEO?ie=UTF8&ref_=sv_ys_4, where the book also can be purchased.
  10. My Reading Life (Mini-Book Review)

    My Reading Life, by Pat Conroy Magnificent. Not only was I (as always) overwhelmed by Conroy's stellar use of the English language, I was (as always) drawn into his experiences as a fairly isolated child. I was (as always) almost brought to tears by the realization that I would never be able to write as well as he and that, further, I have no "stories" in me to tell anyway. I am jealous of the intellectual nurturing and mentoring he was given as a child (from some surprising sources too.) I am jealous of his ability, even at such a young age, to take from violence in his personal life the lessons he ultimately used to benefit my own life. I LOVE his reverence for language. I have that myself and have never read anyone express my own feelings about it so elegantly. I LOVE how he expressed his firm opinion (mine too) that the "story" in a fiction offering is important and that those renown literary experts who belittle that aspect of literature are mistaken. I ended up buying three books based on Conroy's description of how those books changed his life. I marked many MANY passages on my Kindle as highlighted/favorite quotes. Just fabulous reading and so fascinating to see how a great book can truly affect the life of a reader. I'm grateful to the writers of those "great books" for influencing Conroy to become the writer he is. Overwhelmed, jealous, and love - the emotions he said are required for a reader to experience before a fiction book can be called "great." I experienced those while reading this non-fiction offering. This review, originally published on Amazon by our Au Courant under the pen name Dog Lover, is one of several available at www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A2WC63IB2EUVEO?ie=UTF8&ref_=sv_ys_4, where the book also can be purchased.
  11. Rereadings: 17 Writers Revisit the Books They Love, by Anne Fadiman (Editor) In pain and discomfort enough so that I could not sleep, last night I decided to take a powerful pain killer (I'm greatly reluctant to use chemistry for such trials.) While waiting for the medicine to take effect, I picked up Rereadings - edited by Anne Fadiman. Being a collection of 17 essays, I reasoned that I could stop reading when my body granted me the ability to sleep because of the easy breaks provided by the book's structure. Hah! This was such enchanting reading that I ended up reading through to the end - sleep is over-rated. I'd never heard of any of the contributors but the writing is so mesmerizing that I am anxious to seek out any published work by each of them to see if that writing excellence is found in other offerings. One essay even convinced me to give Whitman another chance when (after 3 attempts) I had decided my mind just didn't accommodate itself to that writing. The subjects (and the books referenced) are widely varied from 9/11 to plant biology to Sargent Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band while including timeless works from such titans as Stendhal, Rimbaud and dancing across Jane Austen, Colette, and Joseph Conrad. Unfamiliar-to-me authors such as Katherine Mansfield and Knut Hamsun sent me immediately to Amazon to seek out purchases but convinced me that I am most likely unable to appreciate Christina Stead - I am too weak-minded! I no longer associate Salinger only with that twit - Holden Caulfield. I am much more willing to investigate more of Waugh and will look at Shakespeare with a new eye. One phrase from the essay featuring Rimbaud (A Companion of the Prophet by Luc Sante) neatly sums up my delight in this book: "...alchemy of language." Indeed, some magic has transformed these collections of words into solid gold. Simply outstanding. This review, originally published on Amazon by our Au Courant under the pen name Dog Lover, is one of several available at www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A2WC63IB2EUVEO?ie=UTF8&ref_=sv_ys_4, where the book also can be purchased.
  12. The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time, by David L. Ulin IMO, this is a very important book. To emphasize that point, I'll just say that when I started drafting my review, I found that that review, itself, would end up being as long as this small published essay. I'll spare you my superlative thoughts and just encourage you to read "The Lost Art of Reading" for yourself. The only reason I didn't award 5 stars was because, ironically, the first 100 pages or so demonstrated a writing style that annoyed me even while I appreciated and approved the message Mr. Ulin was sending. The last 50 pages or so, though, showed the style to even out somewhat. The ending was simply beautiful. I'll be thinking about this topic and Mr. Ulin's thoughts on it for months to come, I'm certain. My personal experiences with distraction and having to relearn "how to read" after being part of the computer industry for 30 years is anecdotal evidence to support his positions. Those positions, btw, are very balanced - he recognizes that society is in a transition state and thus has it ever been. This current transition may be caused by technology but what we do with it and how we use it is, as always, up to us. One of the numerous quotes I copied was "If we frame every situation in terms of right and wrong, we never have to wrestle with complexity." My own paraphrase with which Ulin may or may not agree is that we tend to bow to information overload and allow ourselves to equate that to learning because we are, at heart, lazy. Yes - we feel that if we pause for a nano second to immerse ourselves in deep thought that can result from contemplative reading, then we will automatically be left behind. Scrambling is the order of the day. Parts of our minds, though, simply waste away from disuse if we follow the scramble to the extremes. Deep reading - again, my word - is harder for me than it once was. My pace has altered. I'm having to reteach myself the "how" of reading anything of substance. My career compelled me to a "nut it out" approach to reading. That habit, the same as I can no longer run a 10K without training (again) first, has to be broken by a similar exercise in training my mind. Deep contemplative reading allows us to mentally process all (or, at least a lot) of that information that bombards us. I believe that it is not only worth the time and effort to retrain my mind, I believe it absolutely necessary to avoid becoming a data-filled reservoir of non-critical thinking. Sheesh - looks as if I'm about to write that long essay after all. I'll just close with a few concerns: 1) Mr. Ulin is pretty specific in his political opinions. He uses some political references to make his points about non-critical thinking and reaction vs thought. These are very good examples and I believe he uses them well. My concern is that people who don't agree with those political views will, which is exactly the point he is making with the examples, overlook what he is saying because his politics may not be acceptable. Sad. Really sad that I have that concern but, there it is. 2) He also is a little more a fan of the iPod and Apple than I am. Hey! I can overlook that to get the points he is making. (He is in factual error about a couple of things where eReader access to titles is concerned though.) 3) Ulin never makes the point that I feel is important to some degree: "what" we read is important as well as "how" we read. He never cites any distinction about WHAT is being "deeply read." I could see where it doesn't really matter when the reader is in "training", so to speak. However for the result to be, as Ulin says, "... the blurring of the boundaries that divide us, that keep us separate and apart" can depend on the content of the read. It takes some mighty fine writing for those boundaries to blur for me. As Mr. Ulin is an LA Times book critic and teaches at UC , I suspect he just takes for granted that we will read "the good stuff" deeply. Good essay. People need to "deeply read" this! This review, originally published on Amazon by our Au Courant under the pen name Dog Lover, is one of several available at www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A2WC63IB2EUVEO?ie=UTF8&ref_=sv_ys_4, where the book also can be purchased.
  13. Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, by Anne Fadiman I am not like Anne Fadiman who, apparently, had memorized the Oxford English Dictionary (unabridged) shortly after exiting the birth canal. I am not like Anne Fadiman who is tiny, extraordinarily intelligent, and extremely - EXTREMELY - articulate. At times even poetically articulate (an inside joke that I hope she would appreciate.) I am not like Anne Fadiman who is absolutely and completely charming. Amazingly charming and sweet-hearted. How do I know this about Anne Fadiman? It is easy - I read Ex Libris. I, who have reveled in the truth that I am not a "fan" and have been brutish with those who behave as fans of anyone or anything, find it necessary to confess that I am now one of "those" people: a fan - truly devoted - of Anne Fadiman. Never had the slightest desire to meet a writer or celebrity or any famous person, I would cringe at the thought of actually meeting AF. Technology would allow me to carry that OED on my Kindle. I'd need it, I'm certain, were I to engage Ms. Fadiman in conversation. Envisioned scenario - "Me": (shuffling feet) uh, well, um, LOVED your books! "AF": Really? How sweet! Let's compose a villanelle about it! "Me": (cranking up the Kindle OED)...uh, well, um.... What I would really like is to be able to sit off in a corner during one of her dinner parties. Oh my. I defy anyone to read Ex Libris and not finish with some degree of envy that s/he (one of the possibilities AF overlooked in her essay that touched on the male default pronoun rule in English) doesn't have the mind and the sheer love of language and reading that propels this tiny dervish of literature. Loved every word in every one of the 18 essays in Ex Libris, my favorite, were I forced to choose, would be "Nothing New Under the Sun" where she takes on plagiarism. Hysterically funny itself, it is the reams of footnotes - none found anywhere else in the book, IIRC - that made it so special. By God, Ms. Fadiman would give no one the opportunity to say SHE didn't attribute! She even included as a source a post-it note given her by her brother. Some of the footnotes were footnotes about footnotes - just too funny. That helped, somewhat, mitigate my outrage about the story of Neal Bowers and David Jones. I ended up going straight to Amazon to purchase "Words for the Taking." That wasn't the only purchase inspired by this book either. These were new but I still quote AF or, rather, Charles Lamb second hand, "Rejoice with me." Throughout the whole book, though, Ms. Fadiman's humour and wordsmithing is delightful. One of the (few) things I do share with her is the love of books and the certainty that if everyone else in this world loved them too, we'd have no more of this silly nonsense about wars and rumours of wars. Completely content with my own, I must admit that I am somewhat jealous of her life, her Fadiman family, the family she built with her husband, her friends and educational experiences. I think I'll go buy another of her offerings and read more about that life. I do, though, wonder how on earth she can live without dogs! Also, I have something she doesn't have. I have a GOAT! (p 121) In fact, I have three! Permit me the luxury of an ultra-literary and sophisticated "neener, neener, neener!" (There is also one use of the word "prized" which I will have to investigate should I ever be able to locate it in the book again. What joy I'd have in being able to write her about the possible misuse of a term! I think it is a vernacular use but I'll go check the OED before I presume to challenge this expert.) Using Ms. (wonder how she pronounces that pronoun now?) Fadiman's term (attributed correctly to V. Woolf), I am truly a "common" reader. Her humility to the contrary, there is nothing common about Anne Fadiman. Ex Libris - a complete pleasure of a treasure about reading and books. This review, originally published on Amazon by our Au Courant under the pen name Dog Lover, is one of several available at www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A2WC63IB2EUVEO?ie=UTF8&ref_=sv_ys_4, where the book also can be purchased.
  14. John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life, by Paul C. Nagle. (Part of Chronological Read of American History group assignments.) I am able to read biographies about complete villains and come away thinking the books were excellent. I suspect this is due to my prior knowledge that the subject of that biography would not arouse my admiration and probably not my affection. Therefore, I will admit that poor JQA, as he apparently did all his life, was put up against my expectation that he would be reminiscent of his father and a sufficient heir to that admirable man. He wasn't. I ended up just not liking or respecting JQA very much. Perhaps my expectations were too high for him? Apparently he struggled with having such high expectations foisted on him all his life. Feel a little guilty for continuing that almost 200 years after his death! One of my favorite quotes from John Adams (McCullough) is "I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy." Problem wtih that is something is even more precious to us when we've had to fight to achieve it. JQA is the first of the Presidents who had not participated directly in the Revolution. I think that showed in his attitude toward being part of the development of the country. My own expectations of a president having honor, strength, and passionate devotion to the new country having been more than met in the first five presidents (even if each had significant human and personal failings), I found disappointment in JQA where the last two criteria are concerned. My impression, which may be inaccurate due to Nagel's over-reliance on JQA's personal journals, is that JQA wanted fame and recognition but, though intellectually more than competent in evaluating issues for the nation, felt no real passion for the nation. This was reflected most clearly in the Monroe Doctrine which Nagel and JQA himself, apparently, attributed to JQA. Yet even here, my impression was that he wanted to "win the argument" (against other cabinet members) rather than being passionately concerned about the nation. During his entire time in the Monroe cabinet, Nagel focuses on JQA's feelings of injury - very very quick to detect a conspiracy against him in any word spoken or written. There was some justification for that but, notice, that JQA never is presented as forming alliances, much less friendships, with other political members. He, evidently, just expected them (and all the voters too!) to "trust him." Ain't how it works now and wasn't how it worked then. His personal energy was almost never spent on the interpersonal relationship requirements of political office. There are people who can, with great ability, perform even the most difficult work while being only mentally-involved in that work. This book made me feel this to be the case with JQA. I came away from this book not liking the man very much and having little respect for him. I was surprised as the first few chapters made me dig right into the book because I felt a personal link to him (his zeal for reading, his matutinal habits, his quest for intellectual gain, etc.) Didn't last long and, I must admit, I blame Nagel for this. I have the following issues with the JQA book: 1) Nagel doesn't seem to present a biography - he seems to just summarize JQA's personal diary. I felt a major portion of that period and JQA's role in it to be presented only from JQA's viewpoint. 2) Over the time spent reading it, I became VERY tired of JQA's apparent absolute self-focus. Completely opposite to his father's focus on the nation and the philosophies and importance of how the nation should grow, this book gave me the impression that, intellectual, intelligent, and superbly-read though he might be, JQA didn't feel a vested interest in the nation. He was concerned only with "his" legacy. (Made me think of recent national leaders.) Added to that, JQA's own seemingly hypocritical position on fatherhood and the book's (IMMHO FAR overrated) "evil mother" role attributed to Abigail (especially considering the accepted role of parentage in that time period) made this whole book appear to be more of an apologia rather than a disinterested biography. When I shared the "self-focus" comment with a fellow CROAH member and reader of this book, he correctly reminded me that "... after all, when is a person more narcissistic than in their diaries?" Very true. I believe that it is possible to have had a slightly higher opinion of JQA if Nagle hadn't relied so much on those personal journals. It was, IMMHO, very telling that Nagle deliberately spent very little time on JQA's actual term in office. If nothing else, that confirmed to me that the office itself and being responsible for the country was not the driving factor for JQA. It was the winning of that office that meant so much to him. Again - reminiscent of more modern Presidents. The parts that I did really like (and caused me to like JQA a little more) involved his tenure at Harvard and the tales about the books he read. I was amused (and impressed!) by his works on weights and measures. We tend to not appreciate how important such things were (and are) and how much effort would be involved in attempting standardization of them. The writing was very good and I appreciated the detail of the living arrangements for JQA and his family during his various assignments abroad. I liked very much JQA's ability to appreciate other countries and to attempt to favorably impress foreign dignitaries so that that respect would be a reflection of the USA. Still, though, according to Nagel's interpretation of those journals this was still "all about me, me, me, me..." where JQA was concerned. He should have been Harvard's president rather than the USA's president. I seldom critique a biography based on how much I "liked" the subject of it. This time, however, I will. I give this book only 2 stars because it is my opinion that Nagel let JQA down - he invested too much in those personal journals. When we view a person primarily through only one window, we will never get a very complete impression. This review, originally published on Amazon by our Au Courant under the pen name Dog Lover, is one of several available at www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A2WC63IB2EUVEO?ie=UTF8&ref_=sv_ys_4, where the book also can be purchased.
  15. A Time to Keep Silence, by Patrick Leigh Fermor Amazing. I was drawn to this book because of my life-long interest in, what I understood to be, the monastic life. Not Catholic and not well-read, this book confirmed my ignorance of the whole topic! Wonder how true Fermor's findings would be if he revisited these monasteries today. Do they even exist? I live a similar life, by choice, but my choice is birthed by selfishness. A remote ranch, I actually see people about once every six weeks or so. I use television only for DVDs that greatly appeal to me - one per month, at a guess. Before I retired, I had music in the background at all times. Now, it is impossible for me! I find that such silence, as Fermor mentions when he exited St. Wandrille the first time, makes one so sensitive to sound that a very little of it becomes overwhelming. I find that if I wish to listen to music or play the piano or sing, I have to concentrate only on those activities. There is no place, in my life, for background "noise." Such seclusion really does allow one to more clearly identify personal priorities. After a while, that priority list becomes smaller and the items left on it can be very surprising. What I learned from this book was astonishing! I had simply never considered that a monk or a monastery abiding by St. Benedict's rules and vows of silence considered themselves to be active in the greater community of Christendom. I had always thought that, like my own self-imposed isolation, monasticism was very personal - one-on-one with oneself to, perhaps, further one's relationship to God. When Fermor explained that those organized and virtually continuous (in one way or the other) prayers of the monks in St. Wandrilles and the extreme - really really extreme- living conditions and self-flagellation of the Trappes were as bolsters to the external Christians and as vicarious penance simply floored me. Incredible and deeply moving. If I weren't such a complete and absolute coward and if it still exists, I can think of few things more desirable than to visit The Rock Monasteries of Cappadocia. No words come to mind to express my awe over the descriptions. Such a dangerous part of the world today. I can't imagine that any of it remains or that an American Woman would be permitted to visit. The histories of the founders of these monasteries and of the rise and fall of that part of Catholicism (and of some of Anglicanism) was fascinating. My true problem with this book is that I have not the personal lexicon to read it easily. Only 96 pages and it took me WEEKS to read. I had to take recourse to online dictionaries on every page which, then, would require me to re-read the page(s.) That was just the ENGLISH part! I gave up on the French parts about 10 pages in. My high-school-learned French was clearly not sufficient and online translators were less than helpful. Even so, the writing itself, apart from the fascinating subject, was so fluid and so rich that I suspect I will reread this on occasion - just to experience that flow. This review, originally published on Amazon by our Au Courant under the pen name Dog Lover, is one of several available at www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A2WC63IB2EUVEO?ie=UTF8&ref_=sv_ys_4, where the book also can be purchased.