Books

PLUGGING THE HOLES IN THE DAMN

William Barr served as the attorney general during the last two years of Trump and the last two years of the elder Bush, making him the only attorney general to serve two presidents. How does one account for serving two entirely different styles of presidents? Like many others, he was motivated for love of country. His memoir, One Damn Thing After Another, chronicles his life and rise to power in the service to justice.

I sense that I am stuck in a No-Man’s-Land. Trump supporters will accuse me of being a traitor. Trump-haters will never forgive me for my support, however tentative. (If you haven’t followed my blog or previous posts, now’s your chance to catch up.)

Barr lists the positives: tax reform, deregulation, restored military strength, identified threats to US, peace deal in Mideast, pulled US out of ill-advised treaties, moved embassy to Jerusalem, border security, judicial appointments. I would also add that he kept Nurse Wretched from becoming president.

Negatives? A knack for alienating people who might have helped: “His rhetorical skills, while potent within a narrow range, are hopelessly ineffective on questions requiring subtle distinctions. His main tools are hyperbole and ridicule.” Trump asked Barr during a meeting, “Do you want to know what the secret is of a really good Tweet? Just the right amount of crazy.” Ronald Reagan he wasn’t.

“Opportunity for fraud isn’t evidence of fraud.”

Much has been made of the voting irregularities, but Barr counters with evidence of his own. The truth is that “Trump underperformed in key suburban areas in swing states.” In fact, he ran below other Republican candidates on the same ballot. The writer reminds us that he was “disgusted by efforts in 2016 to delegitimize” election results, “[b]ut now the situation was reversed.”

I’m going to repeat two things: 1. Trump didn’t deserve to be elected, but we didn’t deserve Hillary or Biden either; 2. Trump has no one to blame for losing but himself. He LOST. – August 14, 2022

PORTRAIT OF A DISASTER/THE ONLY PLANE LEFT IN THE SKY – GRAFF   

“Hey, Steve, how’s it going?”

“Well, Frank, we’re not having a very good day down on earth.”

Aboard the International Space Station, Frank Culberson, the only American not on earth, held a terse conversation with the flight surgeon during a pass over ground control hours after airplanes flew into the World Trade towers.

It is one of hundreds of snippets of remarks, asides, and observations from Americans most affected by this most singular event. The most poignant are naturally those left on answering machines by those trapped on the floors following the deliberate terrorist attacks on US soil and passengers on Flight 93.

Think of this book as an impressionist painting – thousands of brush strokes making up a vivid portrait of a day on which more Americans died than on any other day in US history.

The book follows the time line of the day’s events: people woke up on a Tuesday in a brilliantly sunny New York for another day of work, school, housework – whatever. Then a plane crashed into a very tall building. Then another one right next to it. Then a plane crashed into the Pentagon. By then, passengers on a fourth plane undergoing a takeover became aware that they were part of a coordinated attack led by bearded fanatics screaming “Allah u akhbar!” 

By sheer coincidence, I happened to finish this just ahead of the pullout of troops and the ensuing chaos in Afghanistan, the very same country which nurtured the fanatics responsible for the attacks. As I write these words, Taliban victors are already executing collaborators with the Great Satan. As the great philosopher Yogi Berra once said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” Expect to hear more from them in the near future. – August 19, 2021 

FOLLOWING THE EQUATOR TO TENOCHTITLAN
"No tribe, however magnificent, and no nation, howsoever mighty, occupies a foot of land that was not stolen." – Mark Twain/Following the Equator

I followed up another of Twain’s travel journals with a book I had read about 20 years ago on the Everyday Life of the Aztecs. As it turns out, many of the observations by Twain made on his trek across Australia may be applied to pre-Columbian life in the New World. Starting with the quote on real estate. All the weeping over the Spanish occupation/takeover of the Aztec Empire by the man-bun protesters pulling down statues of Columbus overlooks the central fact that the Aztecs were unwelcome invaders in the Valle Central of Mexico. 

In fact, the only reason Cortez and the Conquistadores succeeded is because they capitalized on the bitter enmity of the client states such as Tlaxcala. The Aztecs had more in common with the Spaniards than the latter would care to admit. Both viewed their world and events, including war, through the prism of religion. Aztecs fought battles and took prisoners because anything less was an insult to their religion. The Spanish naturally took exception to the Aztec pantheon. Oh, and the fact that the Aztecs practiced human sacrifice to appease their vindictive gods. 

The Conquest changed the world in profound ways. We can be thankful that ripping out the hearts of victims was replaced by Christianity. Still, it’s worth remembering that “There are many humorous things in the world; among them the white man’s notion that he is less savage than the other savages.” (Twain)

JACK LONDON’S NORTHERN LIGHT
Two works by Jack London explore the balance of nature versus nurture. Both stories are told from the four-legged perspective of Buck and Wild Fang.

In The Call of the Wild, Buck, a St. Bernard/Collie mix is shanghaied from the sunny climes of a soft life in California into pulling sleds in the wilderness of Alaska, enduring treatment as harsh as the climate. After months of abusive treatment, a kindly prospector named John Thornton rescues Buck. Thornton doesn’t stay long – he appears two-thirds into the novelette. By this time, Buck has become attuned to the life of the wild. So the death of Thornton releases his last tie with civilization:

“He walked to the center of the open space and listened. It was the call, the many-noted call, sounding more luringly and compelling than ever before. And as never before, he was ready to obey. John Thornton was dead. The last tie was broken. Man and the claims of man no longer bound him.”

White Fang, on the other hand, more wolf than dog, begins in the wild and ends in the same sunny demesne as Buck began. His treatment would make the hair of any SPCA member stand on end: “The clay of White Fang had been moulded until he became what he was, morose and lonely, unloving and ferocious, the enemy of all his kind.”

Making a film version presents a few problems, not least of which the works follow the development of the animals’ mental development. Another is the lack of a single human character throughout the works. So, seeing a recent movie preview of The Call of the Wild starring Harrison Ford made me wonder if the studio also expected him to narrate the whole thing to get the most out of his contract. As much as I admire Ford’s work, I’m ambivalent about this project. I’m sure it’ll be a fine movie, but it won’t be Jack London’s work. - January 27, 2020

EPIC TALES AND WHALES
An epic is a novel that needed a better editor. An unsentimental grouch would stare at the padding and decide a scythe would be more useful than a scalpel.

A month ago I finished another one of those works that would have been much better with a couple hundred or so fewer pages. You can probably guess the author if I told you it was a classic. Victorian Era, you say? This is too easy - Charles Dickens! It’s often alleged he got paid by the word. They should have paid him by the pound.

As epics go, Bleak House ranked somewhere near the bottom. You know you’re in trouble when a notebook is required to keep track of all the characters. Of course, Dickens always had a knack for memorable figures, and this work was no exception. 

Unfortunately, you have to wade through a lot of glue to find the better parts. It could have been worse. It could have been translated from Russian.

Maybe I’m being unfair. Some stories need a grand sweep of time and a cast of characters up to the challenge of carrying the burden of history and thematic elements. Below is my list of best and worst contributions. In other words, writers with a gift for erudition, down to the ones afflicted with logorrhea.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin/Harriet Beecher Stowe – Abraham Lincoln, upon meeting her, allegedly said, “So, you’re the one who started the Civil War.” True or not, history records that her book was a huge international success, shining a spotlight on the savagery of slavery. This should be required reading.
Gone with the Wind/Margaret Mitchell – Don’t think of it as the flip-side of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Think of it as the portrayal of the slaveowner class losing hegemony on Southern culture. Yeah, you’ll give a damn.
Count of Monte Cristo/Alexandre Dumas – I didn’t realize I read an abridged version, so maybe the full-blown version needed to lose the pages I inadvertently missed. In any case, this is a book that no movie could ever do justice to.
Les Miserables/Victor Hugo – This is where the wheels came off the wagon. Oh, Lord, Lord, LORDY-Lord LORD! ENOUGH with the chapters on Paris sewers!
Moby Dick/Herman Melville – Cut every other chapter and you get a great nautical yarn. Leave them in, and you’ll be groping for a harpoon to impale yourself.
Aeneid/Virgil – Latin is a dead language. Too bad this epic didn’t die with it. - November 25, 2019

Remembering Miep Gies
“I took out all the papers, placing the little red-orange checkered diary on top, and carried everything into Mr. Frank’s office. . . I held out the diary and the papers to him. I said, “Here is your daughter’s legacy to you.”

Thanks to the diary of a young Jewish girl, the whole world knows about the struggle of at least one family hiding from certain death during the Holocaust. But how many people are aware of the selflessness of the couple who protected the family and friends of Anne Frank? This short autobiography by Miep Gies demonstrates the pluck and resourcefulness of at least one woman and her husband who thwarted the murderous Nazis for as long as possible.

Life in Amsterdam, already hard enough with shortages of food, clothing, transportation, and so on, became immeasurably harder for those providing shelter for innocent people. How much easier it would have been to simply turn in all the Jews and spend the reward for much-needed resources. Instead, Miep struggles to provide for herself and eight others, in spite of the threat of punishment for keeping others from certain death.

Gies relates a harrowing incident in which thieves break into the hiding place. Did they simply steal anything of value? With a touch of bitterness, she tells that they “could easily go to the police and report the presence of people in hiding. The Germans were paying hard cash for this information. A reward was given for each Jew who was found in hiding. The times were such that a thief was safe and a Jew was not.”

Now and then one ought to take the time to read how others endured privation and risked so much without recognition. Thanks to the heroic efforts of Miep Gies, we at least have the recorded hopeful thoughts of a girl just coming of age amid so much hate.



“Annie’s voice tumbled out of the book, so full of life, moods, curiosity, feelings. She was no longer gone and destroyed. She was alive again in my mind.” - June 6, 2019

Friday Football Frenzy

Friday Night Lights is a cautionary tale of what happens in an atmosphere where nobody sees anything on the horizon past the football field, unless it’s another football field at a tier-one university. Add to that a layer of people who have no sense of fiscal restraint making insane amounts of money overnight, and you have a good idea of the state of Texas education in Midland four decades ago.

This is not limited to Midland. Everywhere in Texas, a depressing similarity existed. Economic, social and race barriers are overcome to make all men equal, as long as they can run 40 yards in 4.4 seconds, throw or connect with a perfect spiral, or block a linebacker who outweighs you by 35-50 pounds. “Play through the pain” is taken to a whole other excruciating level as hopefuls endure blown kneecaps, fractured ankles, even a herniated disc. The only injury that hurts is not making the team.

Some districts are worse than others, but overall the football gods make a mockery of academic standards, receiving special treatment, not just candy-laden lockers or candy on two legs. There are answer sheets, free passes on infractions, even exams.

The most egregious example of skewed values comes courtesy of Dallas Carter HS where one high-school algebra teacher with a smidgen of ethics records the grade a star athlete earned, resulting in a train of panic-driven meetings after the principal presumptuously changes the grade to improve their chances for a state playoff. The superintendent, TEA officials and even a state judge become involved. The teacher was rewarded for his audacity with an “unsatisfactory evaluation rating, placed on probation for a year, and had his salary frozen.”

Fortunately, during my years as a high school teacher in Victoria, I never had to face problems like this. In fact, having athletes in my class invariably ran in my favor. If I had any issues with a student, all I had to do was suggest to the student that the coach might be interested. They weren’t all perfect, but they certainly weren’t outrageous. - October 15, 2018

JUDE THE OBTUSE

“The theologians, the apologists, and their kin the metaphysicians, the high-handed statesmen, and others, no longer interest me. All that has been spoilt for me by the grind of stern reality!" – Jude the Obscure

Thomas Hardy wrote a book that appeals to bitter souls lurking in basements, clad in sweatpants and white tube socks. The idealism is far beyond sadder but wiser. It’s more like sadder, but without a prescription for Cymbalta and verging on suicide but determined to live just long enough to bring everyone around him down. Even Angela’s Ashes had a soupcon of hope as the writer of that unrelentingly depressing (and therefore perfect) Irish morality tale left the environment for a better one.

I picked this up because I’d read Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Far from the Madding Crowd and enjoyed them immensely. The descriptions are beautiful. Hardy writes poetry set in prose with a philosophical scaffolding. As it turns out, the philosophy in this work veers away from the Victorian moral outlook of its time; indeed, it rather crashes headlong into it. Very well, sometimes a writer has to question social conventions. - July 17, 2018

RETURN TO MY OLD KENTUCKY HOME

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

Years before Sam Walton launched his discount chain, there was always the icehouse on Telephone Road in Houston for a peek at the kind of people described in JD Vance’s memoir of his life in Appalachian Kentucky. I was reminded of something my grandmother always said: “There’s no shame in being poor, but you don’t have to ACT poor.”

Hillbilly Elegy is a combination of Angela’s Ashes and Tobacco Road. Chapter after chapter portray the kind of people that can only be charitably referred to as dysfunctional. This is not a sociological study; this is a memoir of a man who escaped through sheer dint of effort and study. He joined the Marines thinking the toughest branch would shape him up. It worked. The worst insults a DI could hurl bounced right off him. His own mother said worse when she was sober. From there he went on to Ohio State University then Yale, of all places, to earn a law degree.

Vance does not spare his family. In spite of the unflattering picture, he admits that he owed his success to a dedicated grandmother who always made sure he was welcome. He lived with her throughout his high school years. She took a dim view of his plan to join the Marines because they have a reputation for giving orders, something hillbillies don’t take kindly to, but she supported him nevertheless.

It’s an inspiring read, but brace yourself for an unrelenting, depressing view of an underclass that revels in its hillbillyness. – June 14, 2018

THE PLAINSONG OF WILLA CATHER
I didn’t set out to read all the novels by Willa Cather, but as of this week, I’ve gone through her canon, including a collection of short stories. Ironically, the last novel I read was her first – Alexander’s Bridge.

I first encountered Cather as a college sophomore. We had finished William Faulkner’s Light in August, so A Lonely Lady was like reading a comic book. (Come to think of it, Faulkner is a little too easy to parody.)

Willa Cather’s works touch heaven when she matches vivid scenery with memorable characters. My Antonia captured my attention and my heart. Next was O Pioneers! Sympathy for Catholic belief imbues Shadows on the Rock and Death Comes for the Archbishop. I’m a sucker for World War I, so I naturally enjoyed One of Ours which portrays a young man who joins the military to do his part in the Great War. Song of the Lark impressed no less than H.L. Mencken. The theme of a heroic loner runs through all her works, but the theme works best when she provides someone who rises to the occasion.

Alas, A Lonely Lady fell short. But it was better than the forgettable Lucy Gayheart and Alexander’s Bridge. In between were The Professor’s House and Sapphira and the Slave Girl. In my view, Cather provided better work as a literary critic, in the manner of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. In a preface to the otherwise forgettable Alexander’s Bridge eleven years later, Cather frankly admits that “it is not always easy for the inexperienced writer to distinguish between his own material and that which he would like to make his own.”

“When a writer once begins to work with his own material, he realizes that, no matter what his literary excursions may have been, he has been working with it from the beginning—by living it.” - June 11, 2018

RADICAL CHEEK
Only two people in America could get away with wearing white after Labor Day. Mark Twain’s excuse was, having buried his wife and one of his three daughters, he was sick of black and refused to wear it again. The other was Tom Wolfe, who shuffled off his mortal coil three days ago. If he had an excuse for wearing white, I'm not aware of it. If I were a famous talented smartass, I'd do it to emulate Twain.
Wolfe was one of my favorite writers. I’ve read The Right Stuff several times because I’m infatuated with the NASA glory days and test pilot bravado. I’ve also read From Bauhaus to Our House, Hooking Up, Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. His prose sparkled with urbanity and wit. One phrase in particular stands out from his paean to the Mercury 7: “It could blow at any seam.” In other words, always be prepared for the worst.
Rest in peace. - May 17, 2018

A REAR VIEW OF A WONDERFUL LIFE 
Jimmy Stewart: A Biography - Marc Elliot
Jimmy Stewart is among the most revered of movie matinee idols, arguably the most beloved. He was certainly one of the most done by impressionists, with a stammering voice as ungainly as his walk. He wasn’t a heartthrob on the level of others of his age, such as Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, Cary Grant, but everyone pulled for him to win the woman. And he pulled in some good ones, too: Kim Novak, Grace Kelly, Claudette Colbert, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, and Ginger Rogers, to name a few.

In addition to his acting prowess, Stewart also proudly served in the Army Air Force during World War II, rising to the rank of brigadier general after earning the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Croix de Guerre. To his credit, he refused to allow studio moguls to capitalize on his honors.

Stewart received world-wide accolades. Thanks to a growth in demand for old movies on television, then videocassettes, then film classes, new generations became exposed to the mostly underappreciated talent showcased in black and white. In fact, the negatives for It’s a Wonderful Life, a holiday favorite, almost turned into powder in the can until it was rescued by more receptive audiences. The movie, one of the Stewart’s first after returning from combat, did not overwhelm audiences. Nor did Vertigo, Rear Window, Harvey or even Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Some of the movie examinations seem overly Freudian. For example, Eliot writes that Lisa (Grace Kelly) in Rear Window disapproves of Jeff (Stewart) spying on others as a “perverse form of nothing less than masturbation.” There’s also something about a gun shooting off likened to an ejaculation. Gimme a break. Sometimes a gun is just a gun. This is reductionism, pure and simple.

Eliot describes the ongoing battle between him and father, first because he couldn’t do anything right, then because he could do no wrong. Alexander Stewart, also a veteran of the previous World War, bellowed in indignation in the presence of studio brass when he learned his son might not get the part of Lindbergh in The Spirit of St. Louis.

Most touching is the anecdote related by a member of a tour bus which stopped in front of the Stewart home. By now, Jimmy Stewart not only did not object to the gawkers, he knew all the bus drivers by name. One day a bus door opened and a little girl ran to see him. He picked her up and gave her a kiss. The parents rushed over to apologize. He responded by inviting them inside for ice cream and soda. Someone asked them how they felt during this impromptu visit: “Right at home!”

This is the genuine Jimmy Stewart. A man beloved even in Hollywood, a town famous for backstabbers. A man who married once and stayed with his wife to the very end. When she passed away in his arms, he said, “The only consolation is knowing that we will soon be reunited. Our love will continue in heaven.” A man with conservative convictions who stayed as a guest numerous times in the Reagan White House. And a man who returned to Washington to express his outrage over Ted Turner’s “colorizing” the classic black-and-white movies. He thundered, “The colorization idea is a vicious lousy unkind thing to do to a motion picture.”

Unfortunately, this biography reminds us that not everyone gets to have his life rendered into print by Plutarch, Samuel Johnson or David McCullough. At least Kitty Kelly didn’t write it. But she might as well have.April 19, 2018


DULL AS A CONVENTION OF CITY PLANNERS
Njal's Saga -  transl. Magnusson/Palsson
My wife affectionately calls me a “book snob.” Of course, she calls me a lot of things – yes, they’re all printable – but I’m proud of it. My own daughter also calls me “nerd dad.” I can’t seem to shake the idea that literature should be worth reading and educational.

Mark Twain famously described a classic as “a book which people praise and don't read.” Here are my top three classics you won’t miss: Conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar, Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, and Njal’s Saga. The last one is of Icelandic origin. Dull does not come close to describing it, so I made a sort of Cliff’s Notes version:

“There was a man named Grrot, son of Grynngynn the Shaky. He was a powerful chieftain. On one occasion a tribe of Krysspy-Kryyms crossed the Fjord of Thjord and met the Hakkyssaks head on. Whereupon Hammer-head smote Flytty the Impertinent and pierced his shield and shattered his sternum. Following this shtus, he struck a marriage contract with Pryssy the Pink and her father, Thor the Llowbyddr.
“The sage now moves to Innaggaddadavydda where Thor the Iron Butterfly and his comrades valiantly fought the Hwlloskulls and burned their houses. The fire drew boatloads of Troggs led by Lyr-Lyr-Pants-on-Fyr. They planted their axes in their heads, then called for their lead arbitrator to lead a council. Fflysswatr made a pact with Smellyyffrt and concluded with a concert performed by Bjork the Weird.”

Okay, I made up the part about Bjork. But you get the dryfftt. The only redeeming quality is that it wasn’t written in Latin so professors can’t torture students translating it. You can thank me later for saving you the bother of reading it. My motto is “I read them so you won’t have to.”

ENTITLED TO A DECENT RESPECT OF THE OPINIONS OF MANKIND
THOMAS JEFFERSON: ARCHITECT OF AMERICAN LIBERTY – JOHN  BOLES
When I picked up “Thomas Jefferson: Architect of American Liberty” at the local library, it looked more like a project than a book. It ran 640 pages and weighed as much as my dog. Okay, he’s a wiener dog, but he’s a lot of trouble to pick up. And probably 40 pages consist of footnotes and index. Still, it looked like a prodigious tome.

I was pleasantly surprised to find myself turning page after fascinating page. The author, a professor at our town’s Rice University, performed a civic duty by giving a fair estimation of not only Jefferson’s strengths, but his weaknesses and his constraints. JFK famously remarked at a dinner honoring Nobel Prize recipients, “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

Nothing escaped Jefferson’s interest. He read voraciously, especially science, then known as “natural philosophy.” He studied architecture, and used his knowledge to design his Monticello. He owned patents on a number of items, including the pedometer. Thanks for keeping track of my steps, Tom. He made improvements in agriculture. As a statesman, he wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom which guaranteed, as the name implies, freedom of religion for all faiths. He used a fledgling Navy against pirates trolling the Mediterranean trade ships. When Marines sing the line "to the shores of Tripoli,” they are paying tribute to Jefferson. As if all this weren’t enough, he found time to found the University of Virginia, bequeathing his collection of books.

Above all, Jefferson was devoted to his family. He opened his home to his adult children as well as some ne’er-do-well relations. He hated to be alone.

Of all the Founding Fathers, Jefferson elicits the most ambivalent reaction among historians: “He composed the Declaration of Independence, for cryin’ out loud. Couldn’t he at least have released his own slaves?” Regarding manumission, Virginia law mandated that freed slaves must move to another state. That meant that our third president would have to find and buy property for them outside of the state in order to survive. He chose to keep them where at least he knew nobody would maltreat them. It’s not an excuse, but he thought it was the best he could do under the circumstances. - August 5, 2017

ON TWO WINGS AND A PRAYER
THE WRIGHT BROTHERS – David McCullough
Just over one hundred years ago two indefatigable brothers decided to test the notion that man was not meant to fly. They studied birds and their wing motions. They built gliders, and even created a wind tunnel to test small-scale models. Nothing was left was to chance.

Wilbur and Orville innovated bicycle design during the years they also innovated their aircraft. They endured numerous Jobean obstacles – illnesses, crashes, clouds of mosquitos – but nothing deterred them from their mission. At last, the hard work paid off with brief but encouraging proof that it could be done! The brothers flipped a coin to see who would be first to fly their ungainly-looking contraption a distance less than a football field.

The commemorative quarter for the state of Ohio depicts the Kitty Hawk aircraft and an astronaut with the inscription “BIRTHPLACE OF AVIATION PIONEERS.” Isn’t Kitty Hawk in North Carolina? Indeed, the aviators traveled there, having learned that the prevailing winds offered the best chance to test their craft. They left nothing to chance.

In short time, air flight has become so routine that living near an airport is less trouble than living near a railroad line. - July 17, 2017 

SMOTHERING NIGHTS
Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
I took on Wuthering Heights for the same reason one takes on reading Moby Dick and Crime and Punishment, and climbing Mount Everest, and sailing the Pacific Ocean, and swimming from Florida to Cuba, and . . . well, you get the idea. Because it’s a challenge. And it’s a classic. As Mark Twain would say, Wuthering Heights is a book which “people praise and don’t read.”

Well, that’s not entirely true. Wuthering Heights clings to required reading lists because, in addition to being a classic, it’s written by a woman, which gives it sachet in the diversity curriculum, although more recent non-European woman writers are starting to elbow Bronte aside.

The main character, Heathcliff, is a thoroughly despicable character with no redeeming qualities whatsoever who never gets his comeuppance. Chances are you won’t relish the conclusion.
Spoiler alert: The main character dies at the end. Nobody mourns him, and the rest of the characters aren’t manifestly improved. In a nutshell, the loathsome Heathcliff has a dalliance with Cathy Linton, who is already married to another for all the wrong reasons. Heathcliff, a thoroughly Satanic creature, sucks Cathy and most of the characters around the drainhole in the eponymously named mansion.

The novel begins with Mr. Lockwood, an unreliable witness, informing the reader of the scene and the characters. Most of the remainder is given over to a housekeeper, Nelly. Somewhere in there Nelly lets someone else take over the narration. In a more modern novel, a chapter heading would give the reader a head’s-up who is speaking.

In modern parlance, the novel is described as a romance. It is indeed a romance, but not in a Hallmark sense. The book falls in the tradition of anti-Enlightenment sentiment. The British Romantics, following the path of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Blake, John Keats, Mary Shelley, et al, exalted passion over rational thinking. As such, the novel clearly evinces a Romantic strain.

Unlike contemporaneous works as Frankenstein, however, the work does not pretend to present a moral, unless the moral is to warn the reader not to be an asshole to everyone around you.
In that case, yeah, this is a magnificent work. - June 3, 2017

ROLLING STONED

When I visit the library, I always browse through the new books. I’m an avid reader, mostly classical literature and history, but sometimes an odd title gets my attention. That’s the only explanation I have for taking home “The Sun, the Moon and the Rolling Stones” by Rich Cohen.

I’ve never really been a Stones fan. When I was growing up, one pledged allegiance to the Beatles or the Stones. I began in the Beatles camp early on, and remained there ever since. Of course, that was no reason not to enjoy some of their songs - 19th Nervous Breakdown has always been a favorite of mine. It evokes beachfront hotel rooftop parties with teenagers sneaking a smoke and a swig from a hip flask.

I appreciate the fact that the Stones started out emulating the blues masters, such as Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. Then they hit it big with Can’t Get No Satisfaction, one of the most ubiquitous and annoying songs on oldies radio. Fine.

They outlasted the Beatles by several decades. Bully for them. How many recording artists cover their songs? Paul McCartney’s Yesterday is the most-covered song of all time, and that was recorded two weeks after Ed White made the first spacewalk. Before their breakup, Hey Jude and Something have been in continuous play on rock stations. Let It Be was launched the same month as the ill-fated Apollo 13.
If longevity in the recording industry trumps recordability, the Stones win hands-down. The book details prodigious drug consumption of founder Brian Jones and Keith Richards. Mick Jagger was no piker, but he couldn’t hold a candle, however shakily, to others. The very fact that the sad and solemn Richards stalks still the earth is testament to the hardiness of the body and the desire to cling to life. - August 15, 2016


I CAME, I SAW, I ZONKED OUT
Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson
I just read – ingested, more like – The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe’s study of the psychedelic era of the 60s. Imagine test pilots from The Right Stuff on acid and you have a pretty good idea of what to expect. It’s e.e. cummings meets Yoko Ono meets William Faulkner meets bathroom wall scribes at a rave with day-glo paint.




An invented sub-culture needs an invented vocabulary. What exactly is “grock”? There is even some kind of invented punctuation mark that looks like a domino tile with a set of sixes. Sometimes the domino is on its side, sometimes standing up. Sometimes the domino is stacked on another domino. The only thing missing is multi-colored text, sound effects and scratch-and-sniff panels.

So, is it worth reading? I’m certainly in no position to tell Tom Wolfe how to write, but I have to admit that I skimmed a lot. There’s a reason why rational people avoid drug addicts – they don’t make sense. And if your book is mostly recreating the patois of drug-addled Merry Pranksters led by Ken Kesey, well, you get the flavor after a paragraph or two.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas seemed like the right kind of companion reader to learn more about the 60s. The author of this screed is Hunter Thompson, but chances are you’re more familiar with him as Duke in "Doonesbury." He contributed articles for rock journal "Rolling Stone." As Frank Zappa once said, “Rock journalism is people who can't write interviewing people who can't talk for people who can't read.” This certainly applies to Hunter Thompson.

This is a despicable book by a despicable man. I found one passage worth recording out of 200 pages of gonzo journalism, if being in a drug-induced stupor is what "gonzo journalism" means. The book purports to be an account of an assignment to cover a car race. All I know is he abused substances I never even heard of, abused people of all walks of life, and abused the English language worse than public-school in-service providers. – November 5, 2013

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