Monday, October 16, 2017

Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein

Here's a recording of Chopin's complete Mazurkas.  Feel free to listen to a few or all.  They're so cheery, how can you not be cheerful with them?  Especially since here in Texas this morning it is a glorious 71 degrees.

Double StarDouble Star by Robert A. Heinlein

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I like vintage Science Fiction novels and this fit the bill in every way. In many ways the science fiction of the 1950s were adventure stories that just happened to take place in outer space. The characters were even called "Space Cowboys" because the heroes did not act much differently then the romanticized versions of cattle herders.


How did such a tedious job like taking care of cows metamorphose into a glamorous, "good guys conquering the villains" persona? Why did not skilled artisans ever develop such a reputation? 

"Bif, the brick layer smelled trouble. Slowly he pulled out his trowel, and stealthily advanced toward the fast disappearing shadow just around the corner..."

Back to the review:

Double Star is a fun adventure story that had me wondering what was going to happen to the very end and, unlike some stories, resolves in a satisfying, convincing and also poignant way.

"If a man walks in dressed like a hick and acting as if he owned the place, he's a spaceman."

This is the first sentence of the story and the observation is made by our main character, Lawrence Smith, aka "the Great Lorenzo."

He might have been great but now he is an out of work actor trying to avoid creditors. He is sitting inside a bar when he sees the aforementioned man walk in. He strikes up a conversation with him and soon finds himself sucked into the vortex of an adventure.

I do not want to give anything away, but briefly, the spaceman Dak Broadbent needs the great Lorenzo to perform his greatest act ever: impersonate an intergalactic political figure for the future of the universe. If that sounds like a tall order, it is.

John Joseph Bonforte has made great strides in diplomatic dealings with Martians. So much so that the Martians want to make him one of them and have him perform a "nesting rite". Don't ask what that is. The upshot is that it will make Bonforte a fellow Martian and family. This will go far in bringing Martians into the Empire because they will see themselves as having a voice in the intergalactic government, something they don't have now, even though Earth has colonized the planet, although they apparently have not overpowered the Martians, which would make them a formidable foe if uncooperative with the empire's plans.

There is a faction, both human and Martian that are against this kind of union. They have therefore kidnapped Bonforte so he will be unable to attend the Martian rite.

Now, one thinks, so what? Surely the Martians will understand that he has been kidnapped and contrary to his own will, will not attend the ceremony.

No, they won't. Their idea of honor is that one deserves to die if they for any reason, even those beyond their control, do not follow through on their word. They are willing to die themselves for failing to follow through and would expect no less from a human.

The kidnappers know this and hope to destroy all diplomatic relations with Mars and the Empire as a result.

The solution? Hire an actor to impersonate Bonforte for the ceremony. The kidnappers won't dare reveal what they have done because it would turn everyone against them.

At first Lorenzo balks, but he soon grows attached to the idea of not only the challenge of what would undoubtedly be his greatest performance but of achieving something not just for himself but something greater for man (and Martian) kind.

The story is told in first person narrator by Lorenzo. He is a very likeable person and very human as he struggles with the part he is to play in this adventure and also how he thinks and calculates to pull everything off. We see his transformation as he "becomes" Bonforte. Heinlein succeeded in creating a character worth following around on this rather suspenseful story.

Things, naturally don't go smoothly, or it would be a much shorter story, so we get to ride along bumps and twists as unexpected plot turns arise.

This might be called an "old fashioned" science fiction story, but it is my favorite kind and they are mostly be the kind I read.

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Friday, October 13, 2017

The Last Word and other Stories by Graham Greene

 Cooler weather is finally here.  This means reading and writing on the backyard swing with my ever present cuppa cuppa.

Yesterday I read an article in the Washington Post
about the concert pianist Martha Argerich.  It was written last December right before she was to received a Kennedy Center Honor.  

She is a fascinating woman.  Her life is chaotic, sleeping until two p.m. and practicing the piano until the wee hours of the morning, when she practices at all.  Her children would be seen sleeping under the piano.

  Ms. Argerich has a photographic memory and only needs to hear a piece once and can then play it perfectly.

This may or may not be true.  Non musicians are always trying to wrap famous musicians in sensationalist auras of genius.  Otherwise they probably would not be so interesting to read about.  

I'm not sure I could live around someone whose day is that unstructured.

It's also depressing to know that some people can memorize instantly.  Rosa Levine, Van Cliburn's teacher, explained her method of memorizing music.  She went out for a walk to the park, reading the musical work she was going to perform.  By the time she returned to the house, it was memorized.

Little old me struggles to memorize a single page in a week. Then I must daily reinforce what I have previously learned in addition to learning new material.

People ask if you're fine, and you say that you're fine, but you're not really fine....

Actually it depressed me to know that I am such a slow learner until I started practicing.  Then I realized I didn't care because I love spending so much time learning music because it means I am surrounding myself with beautiful sounds all that much longer.

I hope you will enjoy listening to Argerich perform Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1 in E miner Op. 11.
By the way, if you're wondering what the numbers and letters mean in a title of music.  Piano is, of course, the instrument the musical work is written for.  Concerto means that it is written for solo instrument and orchestra in Sonata Form ( Three separate songs or movements written in ABA, The first movement is fast, the second movement slow and the third fast again).

No. 1 means it is the first piano concerto Chopin wrote, he wrote it in the key of E miner and Opus 11 means it is the 11th work that Chopin has written for any instrument.  
Maybe you found the above interesting, enlightening or boring, but nevertheless there it is and there it stays.

But this is a book review lest we forget:

The Last Word and Other StoriesThe Last Word and Other Stories by Graham Greene

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Graham Greene is a relatively new discovery for me and I have come to enjoy his writing very much.

I read this book while flying to Colorado to visit my sister over Labor Day.  This is a collection of short stories that range from a dystopian future to a psychological murder mystery. I will review just a few of the thirteen stories.


The Last Word is about a man who has lost his memory from an explosion due to some kind of war. He has been living the last twenty years alone and on bread. His neighbors are as suspicious of him as they are of each other. It is apparent that a totalitarian regime has been ruling the country.

One day, for some reason, he is escorted from his tiny apartment by a guard who takes him to the general. As the story progresses we find out who this lonely man is and why the dictator wants to see him.

This particular story shows the power of the Spiritual world and how no physical world can defeat it. There are many surprises and the ending brings a final surprise that enforces St. Paul's assertion, "Death, where is they sting? Grave where is they victory?"

The Lottery is about an Englishman who only visits out of the way places such as a tiny village in Mexico. While there he wins the state lottery which is quite a bit of money even by English standards. He doesn't want the money and is embarrassed that he should take money from such an impoverished province, so he donates it back to the state to use for good works. One can imagine the outcome or how the state defines, "good works".

Murder for the Wrong Reason
is about a murder narrated by the Chief of Police. His conclusions about the perpetrator brings an unexpected conclusion.

Finally, An Appointment with the General is about an arrogant French journalist for a socialist magazine that goes to a Latin American country to interview the general who runs the country. She thinks she is going to intimidate the general by accusing him of not being "socialist enough". She finds the tables quickly turned on her.

All the stories are fascinating to read made all the more so by Graham's fluid writing.  I recommend them to all fans of Greene's writing or people who would like to become fans of one of the last centuries foremost authors.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Five Passengers from Lisbon by Mignon G. Eberhart

I am listening to Mozart's Die Zauberflote.  I am not a huge opera fan but I do love Mozart's operas because they're so witty.  Die Zauberflote is pretty out there and the production we watched was a modern take and maybe a little too over the top in some of its costumery, but the singing was superb, especially the Queen of the Night.  The above link is only for the overture since singing might be intrusive to your reading.

Five Passengers from LisbonFive Passengers from Lisbon by Mignon G. Eberhart

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this out loud to my parents and to make the book more readable I skipped all the description of irrelevant detail. One thing I did learn is another lesson in good writing, but first the storyline:

WWII has just ended and Europeans and Americans are scrambling to get out of Europe to North or South America as fast as possible to bury the past and start over. We are introduced to five such people.

Luther and Daisy Belle Cates: millionaires who stayed in France throughout the war, even though they are American. Why? Will we find out?

Gili: A European woman from unsure origins and even less sure morals. We do not know what she did to survive the war but it probably wasn't pretty.

Mickey: A man who had a rising promising career as a concert pianist before the war. He became a part of the French resistance before getting captured by the Nazi's and held in a concentration camp until the end of the war. To torture him they mutilated his fingers.

And our protagonist who also serves as our third person limited narrator:
Marcia Colfax: Marcia is an American living in Paris and she fell in love with Mickey before the war. When he was captured, she was determined to wait it out until he was released, a big assumption on her part. She moved to Marsailles, and, when the war ended, she and Mickey meet up again, only now he is Andre Breton and she mustn't forget it, because his passport says so.

All five of our characters have purchased passage on a Portuguese carrier to South America which is where the story starts. Unfortunately for them, the boat is sinking and they find themselves on a lifeboat with three Portuguese sailors in the dead of night in the middle of the Atlantic trying to negotiate stormy waves, each of which threaten to overturn their boat.

Finally dawn turns the sky to gray and also shows an American Red Cross ship heading toward them. All is saved!

Except for one. One of the Portuguese sailors collapses after fighting the waves all night with an oar.

Or so it seems. After everyone boards the Red Cross Ship it is discovered that the Sailor is dead and not from exhaustion. He has been murdered and the knife in his back proves it.

Who on board the lifeboat murdered him? And why? That is what the rest of the story leads you to (um.. to who did it and why).

The mystery was good enough to hold one's attention but the unnecessary description of every item in a room, of how everyone was dressed, the color of the skin, how one always bit her lip, how the captain furrowed his white eyebrows or studied the painting across the room etc...

And the smoking! It seemed after every paragraph our characters had to take a smoking break and we get to read about it from the pulling the cigarette from the package to the lighting to the exhaling to the flinging the butt over the rails.

If what you're describing does not propel the plot forward leave it out. At least that is the most valuable thing I received from reading this novel.

This book was written in 1946 so the war was still painfully fresh in people's minds, and the characters, how each are revealed to be a certain type that existed during the war is interesting. Some are desperate to erase their cowardly acts, others are appalled to find themselves on the losing side after they invested so much in that side and others were just innocent victims that managed to weather the storms of war. I felt Eberhart could have done to develop these characters more rather than bore the reader with minutia.

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Thursday, October 5, 2017

A Dark night's Work and Other Stories by Elizabeth Gaskell

The Case of the Phantom Cat

The other night Josh and I were in our front roomWe have two living rooms; the front room has a bay window that faces the street.  This is where I keep my piano and where we watch TV.

I give you a brief description of our house to understand what happened next.  We heard a noise like something falling down.  I ran out of the front room, through the back room past the dining room and into the kitchen.  There used to be a way from the front room directly into the dining room but we made a wall out of bookshelves that now separates the two rooms.

 All that to say that I lost precious seconds getting to the kitchen to find out what the noise was.  I assumed it was Breeya our little geriatric dog who often wanders aimlessly around the house, neither seeing nor hearing nor knowing where she is (sad).

I went through the kitchen to the utility room and out the back door where the motion sensor light was on.  I looked around for Breeya but couldn't find her.  When I returned to the front room, she was there lying under the piano, peacefully sleeping.

That could only mean one thing.

It was the cat!  We have a cat that is sneaking into our house through the doggie door at night.  She is helping herself to Breeya's food dish and pushing things off our kitchen counters for her personal amusement.

I don't know for a fact it is a cat.  It could be a 'possum or a raccoon, but I doubt it.  Either of those animals probably wouldn't be able to tear out of our house with the lightening speed of this animal.  I have not seen it yet.  

But I know you're there, cat, and if you're reading this, know you will be discovered and face the due penalty of your sins.  I'm not sure what that penalty will be, that's between you and God, but know that the wicked do not prosper.

Les Oiseaux  Tristes by Maurice Ravel is playing. The composer is also the performer in this vintage recording. Les Oiseaux Tristes is French for sad birds. I think that this is how my little Hercaloo is feeling because I now have to keep her in the cage when I go out for fear Senor don Gato eats her.

A Dark Night's Work and Other StoriesA Dark Night's Work and Other Stories by Elizabeth Gaskell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Dark Night's Work and Other Stories are a small collection of short stories by the Victorian author Elizabeth Gaskell.

Gaskell was close friends with Charlotte Bronte, or at least as close as anyone could get with a recluse in five years, which was how long they knew each other before Bronte died.

Her work does not come near the power of Bronte's but still deserves a place in British and world literature.

Her work can often be dark and suspenseful as is the first and longest story in this anthology. This affected the way I read the other stories, reading them in fearful suspense, waiting for something dreadful to happen to the protagonists who were so vulnerable.

In A Dark Night's Work, a man does something criminal which is witnessed by his man servant and his daughter. They all agree to cover it up to preserve his tenuous standing in his social circles. They all pay a price however that permanently alters their lives.

The next story, Libbie Marsh's Three Eras, is about a poor homeless girl and her relationship with a crippled, lonely boy who she first sees through her window lying in bed next to the window of the house opposite.

In Six Weeks at Heppenheim a British man touring Germany becomes ill and is bedridden in an inn for several weeks in a small German village. While there he gets to know the inmates of the inn and their inner dramas, finding himself drawn in and finally a participant in their lives.

Cumberland Sheep-Shearers is without much plot and is mainly an observation of farm life during sheep-shearing time, although there is a slight story of romance between a man and woman which is hardly referred to but nevertheless makes a strong social statement, a statement that is prevalent in all Gaskell's stories.

The piece de resistance, however, is the last story. What the Grey Woman lacks in length, it more than makes up for in horror and suspense. A young, inexperienced girl is swept off her feet by a French count who carries her away to his remote and isolated chateau in the Swiss mountains. The terrifying discoveries awaiting her there induce her to finally escape with a loyal maid. What follows is a suspenseful chase scene that kept my stomach in knots to the end.

None of Gaskell's stories can be called profound and certainly don't hold a candle to the great's of the 19th century such as Jane Austin, the Bronte sisters, Trollope, or her good friend Thackery. She can rightly be accused of sentimentality at times approaching the maudlin. In Hollywood, she would be a "B" actor. Incidentally, the BBC has created several fine productions of her novels, my favorite being the Cranford series.

However she ably paints the English landscape in a way that reminds one of a Hudson School painting. Perhaps the others made clearer exposes of human character, but Gaskell showed the complicated social strata that afflicted a class conscious society and that by itself makes her books worth reading.

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Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Case of the Musical Cow by Erle Stanley Gardner

Josh surprised me this weekend by announcing that we should visit our public library because it was holding a book fair.  He said I could buy one book.  Now in case any of you think "you're husband gives you PERMISSION to buy a book?!?!" you have to understand that my book buying has gotten out of control and has deteriorated into hoarding.  I was not even buying for pleasure but out of compulsion and I wanted to escape from what felt like a bondage.  Please don't laugh, it was serious. I am ashamed at how much money I was spending.

Josh agreed to be my accountability partner.  Every day he asks if I bought a book.  Knowing he's going to ask helps counter that sense of panicky urgency I feel when I come across a book I must, must have.

So off we merrily skipped to the library.  At least I was skipping in my heart since we drove.  Below is the treasure I found.  Price?  Seven dollars.  The Harvard Classics set was five dollars.  The O'Henry biography and Ghost Story anthology were a dollar a piece.

Later we visited Bed, Bath and Beyond because we love looking at the Coffee makers and coffee accoutrements.  Do I really need another set of espresso cups?  No.  But I did buy a bag of Italian espresso.  It makes a great Cappuccino.

I am reading through the Ghost Story collection. Expect a positive review in the future.

I am listening to Molto Moderato from the Suite for Flute and Piano by J. Berger as I write this.  I hope you will enjoy it as you read.

The Case Of The Musical CowThe Case Of The Musical Cow by Erle Stanley Gardner

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I mention writing a positive review about the Ghost Story collection because this is going to be a negative review. I wasn't going to write a review for this book because I didn't like it.  Then I thought that I should write one and present this book as an example of how not to write a novel.

First of all, I was disappointed that even though Erle Stanley Gardner wrote the story, it was not a Perry Mason story. I would not have gotten the book otherwise.

Gardner has mastered the court room scene climax and this book is no exception. I don't think I am spoiling by saying the ending arrives at a satisfying conclusion with a suspenseful courtroom scene where classic Gardner lawyers play a game of wits matching any chess game Kasparov could arrange for the board.

It was everything else that dismally fails.

What makes any story succeed? The believability factor.

I understand, through my own writing, that in order to make a plot work you have to provide the characters with plausible reasons for acting the way they do. This holds true inside any genre, be it science fiction, dystopian. apocalyptical, classic, or fantasy. Whether the story deals with space aliens, zombies, women in petticoats, hobbits, they have to act according to the rules inside that paradigm.

That would make a fascinating dissertation: what makes a plot inside any story reality believable? I think it is universal truths about human nature. Regardless of what planet they are living on or what shape they exist in, there are rules the characters must follow to allow the reader to believe in the storyline.

What makes the story of the Musical Cow unbelievable? The protagonist does things that are unbelievably stupid.

The skinny: Rob Trenton takes a cruise to Europe where he intends to tour for several weeks. On the ship he meets Linda Carroll, a beautiful (naturally!) but distant lady with whom he becomes immediately smitten.

The story actually starts at a Paris cafe where Rob has planted himself in hopes of meeting Linda. He has met every tiresome person he hoped to avoid from the ship, but no Linda. Happily, Linda does pass by his table and joins him.

With her are another couple. The three of them plan on traveling across Europe in Linda's car which she has brought with her on the ship. Linda is rich (naturally!) Linda and the couple ask Rob to join them.

OK, this is not entirely unbelievable but it certainly is not wise to travel with people you don't know. What is their character? Are they drug smugglers? Sociopathic serial killers? Nevertheless, people-really, really stupid people usually on college spring break, have been known to do this.

By the time they get to Switzerland, the couple who have barely entered the stage are called off on a emergency and have to fly home. We never see them again. They were apparently written in to provide Rob a reason to travel with Linda. Rob is no Mr. Ripley.

They arrive in the Alps where they stay in a lodge and meet another American. Tragedy has struck the lodge; the inn keeper's wife has died due to eating poisonous mushrooms. Strangely enough everyone else ate the same mushrooms but did not die. Hmmm....

The other American Merton Ostrander (where did Erle get that name?) immediately attaches himself to Rob and Linda, much to Rob's consternation. When Linda and Rob prepare to leave, Merton insists on joining them, without even saying goodbye to the Innkeeper, even though he's stayed at the lodge for a few months and was like a "member of the family" according to Merton.

It's time to return to the ship but Rob becomes seriously ill, apparently due to food poisoning. Merton says, "so sorry, but we're rushing to the ship, too bad you can't make it, bye!" and hussles Linda off, leaving Rob in a hospital.

Rob is not ready to admit defeat yet, and still ill, staggers to the boat before it leaves port.

Strange things happen on the boat. Another American asks Rob a lot of questions. It becomes obvious that he is a detective and he is looking for any signs of smuggling. Rob finds his room has been searched.

Another strange event: Merton dumps boxes of Cow Bells overboard. He had collected these for a lecture he was going to give back at the University in the States. No explanation is given other than that he has changed his mind. Okey dokey. Strange and barely plausible. Now comes the unbelievable part on which Gardner builds his case, so to speak.

At the port in America, Linda informs Rob that she is going home with friends and if he likes, he can take her car and she'll come back the next day to pick it up. Rob agrees to this.

On the way home, a tire blows out. As Rob changes it, he notices that something is attached to the bottom of the car. He removes it and finds a container containing....da da da DUM!...drugs!!!

And now for the disgustingly unbelievable part that caused me to lose all respect for Rob:

Rob concludes that it is impossible that his lovely Linda could in any way be involved in drug smuggling and he must protect her. What does he do? He drives farther down the highway, stops on the side and buries the drugs. (Linda's car happens to have a shovel.)

While burying the drugs, a police officer pulls up beside him. Rob tells him he had a blow out and just finished changing the tire. He opens his trunk to show the blown out tire. The policeman touches the tire checks Rob's driver's license and leaves. He has to touch the tire because this propels the plot.

Because later at the station the officer has a flash: the tire was cold! That means that he hadn't recently changed the tire. That means he was at the side of the road for a different reason. He and another officer return to the spot and, unsurprisingly, discover the buried drugs. They arrange for policemen to lie in wait for when Rob returns.

Rob doesn't return. He has no plans to return, but the next morning he finds that Linda's car is gone. He drives to her residence in another town (she gave him her address) to find that Linda Carroll does indeed live there but she is an older woman who lives alone.

What does Rob conclude? Why, that there are two Linda Carrolls, of course.

Shortly after leaving Linda's house Rob is kidnapped by a gang of drug traffickers who want their dope. I'll stop there in case anyone out that actually wants to read the story.

Gardner does make everything work out in the end and Rob's time with the drug gang is quite suspenseful. It's just that the premise is so weak. It reminds me of the end of Stephen King's Pet Sematary, the movie version. All of us in the theater groaned together in disgust (yes, it was an audible groan). Stupid has a price and he paid it.

Rob does not pay for his dumb acts, other than being arrested and having to go to court to clear himself on drug and murder charges (the ship detective gets murdered).

Gardner wanted to create a story where the skills of a forensic doctor were needed to prove how Rob could not have killed the detective. That takes place in the courtroom and it is interesting as is the verbal dueling between the lawyers. But Rob did not get what he deserved.

He deserved to go to jail, not because he was guilty of murder, but for being such a dunderhead. Maybe a year or so would have ironed some sense into his sweet, pathetic head.

As for Linda Carroll, Merton Ostrander and the detective, they needed to play larger parts in order for us to fully appreciate who and what they actually are. A fuller character development would have made the story more interesting, but the three of them are merely skeletal figures.

In conclusion, this book serves for me as a cautionary tale and I hope to hone my own writing skills so as to draw the reader in, hold them captive and never make them sneer in disgust at an implausible story development.

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Sunday, September 24, 2017

That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis

I heard music on the radio from a composer I did not previously know.  His name is Simon Laks and he was a Polish composer who was sent to Birkenau-Auschwitz concentration camp during WWII. While there he became the head of the prisoner's orchestra there.  Here is a link to his Sonata for Violincello and piano the 3rd movement.

Some of you have read so much or listened to so much music, do you feel an excitement when you come across an author or composer you've never read or listened to before?  I know as we age that becomes rarer which makes the excitement all the more acute when it happens.  Please share your personal experience and the music or author you "discovered."

That Hideous Strength (Space Trilogy #3)That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I first read That Hideous Strength, it was my least favorite of Lewis' Science Fiction trilogy. Now I believe it is my favorite.

Evil forces have gathered for a showdown on Earth. We have seen some of this in the first two books but now the "bent" Eldil and their minions are showing their hand in hopes of destroying Earth.

It is insightful to see how much the evil Eldil hate mankind, because, of course, they hate mankind's Maker.

They are a pragmatic sort, however, and tell whatever lies, power hungry, perverse men are willing to swallow to achieve that end.

Our story starts out with a young couple, Jane and Mark. Jane and Mark are a modern, progressive couple and they have no patience with old fashioned notions of women and men's roles. Jane's ambition is to finish her thesis and Mark's ambition is to join the "inner ring" at the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments or N.I.C.E. for short.

This starts the trouble because Mark is invited to join N.I.C.E. He thinks. They certainly have invited him and have intimated that they want him, but for what? He cannot get a definite answer as to what his occupation would be or that he is even hired. When he demands clarity, he is warned that he will offend the director. Anxious to please, Mark subsides.

Meanwhile, Jane is having some very non progressive, non modern dreams. They are strange and disturbing and it seems they have something to do with an ancient man lying in a tomb.

All is not as it seems, to coin a phrase. It turns out the institute is not interested in Mark but want Jane. Her dreams will tell them the location of this mysterious man. Why do they want him? They believe he possesses power that will help them control the world.

At least that is what the men think. In reality, it is the Eldil who want the man to help them destroy the world. They play on certain men's lust for power to achieve their ultimate goals.

Lewis creates a brilliant expose on human nature and our reality on a metaphysical level.

Each person is a type and Lewis reveals their nature by narrating their thoughts to the reader. We smile and sometimes laugh in acknowledgement because we recognize ourselves and others in the different characters. We also are filled with loathing as we recognize the perversity and arrogance that characterizes so many people in our world.

I especially appreciate his descriptions of the men at N.I.C.E. Each one wants something from the Eldil. One wants superior knowledge and scientific advancement; another seeks supernatural experiences, a third wants freedom to experiment on animals and humans for his personal increase in knowledge and biogenetic engineering. Not one cares how many people they expend to achieve their selfish goals and they see the Eldil as a means to their own ends without considering that they are actually meeting the Eldils' ends.

In the end each of them find themselves, their person, individuality, and finally their soul, absorbed by the Eldil.

Dr. Ransom, the man who traveled to the planets in the first two books, is keeping a group of people safe from N.I.C.E in his house. These are the few that have not either capitulated to N.I.C.E.'s side or been jailed. Jane, at first unwillingly, then later most willingly joins them.

Ransom informs his small group that the scientists and professors at N.I.C.E. do not realize that the Eldil hate them as much as they hate everyone else and as soon as their usefulness is gone, these "intellectual" men will find themselves deserted and finally destroyed.

There are moments of real horror. The Head of the institute turns out to be exactly that; the decapitated head of a criminal who was executed in France. One scientist obsessed with creating life from dead men, like his own Frankenstein, has invented a method to infuse the head with saliva, blood, and oxygen. The Head then speaks and gives orders.

This is scary enough but worse revelations about the Head are around the corner and I won't reveal anything else so as not to spoil it for the reader.

There are also turning points. This happens primarily in Jane and Mark who at first are against Ransom's side and his group in that they dismiss them as antiquated and backwards in their "old fashioned" thinking about morals or believing in a Spiritual world. Both come around as they personally experience undeniable evil.

Mark's conversion is the best part. He transforms from being a self-absorbed toady to seeing N.I.C.E. for what it really is and no longer fears rejection of the "inner circle" or losing his job. Once he becomes fearless, he stops thinking only of himself and the reader sees Mark become more fully a man, more fully human as though the character change fleshes him out to where previously he was merely a thin out line of a person.

I should point out that not all Eldil are evil. As we learn in the first book, Out of the Silent Planet, most Eldil are good. Only the ruling Eldil of planet Earth is "bent" as the good Eldil call it.

And we eventually learn that Earth is not completely deserted by good Eldil. They are also here on Earth. They have traveled from other planets to battle the evil Eldil, something the bent Eldil did not anticipate.

I find the whole story a perfect analogy to the battle going on Earth now between good and evil.

And, as with all of Lewis' work. The reader is never deserted. We are reassured that good and the Author of good conquers evil. And again, we learn to love Lewis' characters as much as Lewis obviously loved people and consequently made lovable reflections of humans in his stories. We love them because we see them around us.

Lewis once said of Nathaniel Hawthorne that "he shows the darkness in men without ever providing light to pierce that darkness" (I am paraphrasing because I wrote it down from memory).

Lewis succeeds in piercing the darkness with his light-suffused stories.

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Monday, September 18, 2017

The Abolition of Britain by Peter Hitchens


I have no voice.  The change in weather always does this to me.  I get a cold in my head, it sinks to my chest...up and down and on the way it takes my voice away.  Luckily you can't hear me. I sound like a fog horn.  A fog horn with laryngitis.  I'm just croaking my days away.

 You, however, can listen to the smooth and luxuriant sounds of Jean Sibelius' Symphony Number Five.  It will be a much more aesthetically pleasing experience.

The Abolition of Britain: From Winston Churchill to Princess DianaThe Abolition of Britain: From Winston Churchill to Princess Diana by Peter Hitchens

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Peter Hitchens is in a sense is a prophet. Not the type that predicts the future, but the sort that clearly looks at the world and sees what is right and what is wrong.

In his book, The Abolition of Britain: From Winston Churchill to Princess Diana, he traces how the culture in the UK changed dramatically from a people owning a proud nationalist identity and Christian morals, even if they weren't particularly religious, to what we have today: people who are ashamed to possess anything other than a "global" identity and accepting any sort of social more or amoral code whatever.

He explains how this happened. Mostly through ideologues who made good use of the new medium of Television to change how people think about themselves and others. They did this through sitcoms that provided a "normal" that in the fifties and sixties was not normal and in fact different than most people's lives. However, as people lost contact with their community and spent their free time in front of the TV they developed a sense of community with the characters on the shows they were watching.

Lifestyles that had historically been considered perverse or deviant were now normalized. People can only be shocked once. Then it is accepted. Which means the shows' producers have to come up with even more shocking subject matter, which is then normalized and so on. I would point out certain televisions shows that are popular today as examples of how far we have sunk, but people I know personally watch those shows and far be it from me to offend anyone.

I especially like his observation that TV doesn't really show how people live, because if it did, it would show people sitting around for hours watching television.

He describes how legislation ostensibly designed to help the downtrodden has proliferated the downtrodden population.

Making divorce no fault, even if someone is at fault and forcing the man to financially support the woman, even if it was her fault and allowing her custody of the children regardless of the reason has simply multiplied divorces, and increased the number of women and children living off the state in poverty.

The other tool used by ideologues is education. Discipline and strong lines of right and wrong were dismissed, as was classical training. The rich plethora of classical literature that should rightly be the pride of Britain has been moved aside in favor of popular literature.

This came home to me one day when I met a young woman who had moved back home after teaching literature in various European countries for several years. I asked her if she was eager to begin this fall.

She said that she did not look forward to teaching the required reading list because it was all about college entrance.

"Oh," I said. "That must be limiting. What do you have to teach?"

"Greek and European literature from the last two thousand years. It's all Western culture. It doesn't represent other parts of the world."

"What country's literature would you like to teach?"

"I like Japanese."

I personally like classical Japanese literature so I asked, "Have you read 'Tale of Genji'? Or 'Shirobamba'?

She had never heard of either the oldest novel in the world or the classic story of a young boy's life in pre WWI Japan.

"What do you want to teach then?"

She then listed a number of current best sellers by popular Japanese writers.

"The problem is," she said, "is that the parents at school are hung up over language and sex. I didn't have that objection when I taught in London."


All that to say, Hitchens acutely diagnoses England and frankly, the western world's cause of cultural deterioration.

His best point is to expose the "imaginary" Puritan. This is the mythological person that is "shocked and appalled" over the "morally reprehensible" lifestyles of anything non conforming to Victorian cultural norms.

This person, as Hitchens points out, doesn't exist. But the media needs him and her to exist to feel as if what they are doing is "cutting edge" and "revolutionary". After all, you can't be a rebel unless you are rebelling against something. That something disappeared fifty years ago.

Today's ideologues have mastered the art of shaming to perfection. No one is going to publicly admit they think that certain modes of living is wrong or, dare I say, immoral. All sorts of "deplorable" names will be attached to you.

The final thing I admire about Hitchens' book, or at least Hitchens himself is that, as opposed to most authors who only include blurbs of glowing recommendations on the flyleafs, Hitchens includes people's remarks that obviously don't agree with him. Here are a few:

"Hitchens can do what he does best: provoke."

"Some passages are almost laughable in their old fogeyness while others are just plain offensive."

And my favorite:

"He stands like a latter-day King Canute, trying to turn back a tide of progress."

I have over simplified all that Hitchens has to say. He says much more. Such as how such a development took place in the first place without any kind of fight back from Traditionalists. The reason being that tradition is not a good reason for preserving anything, only immutable design and purpose of life that has always existed since the dawn of time stands the test. You cannot have a moral code without admitting that Someone created that code in the first place. And if this is true, society will flourish under that code and it will destruct if it deviates from it.

His writing style is fluid and I personally consider this a perspicacious declaration of where society is and how it got there, even if he was only talking of Britain.

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Sunday, September 10, 2017

Anatomy of a Ponzi: Scams Past and Present by Colleen Cross

I am a huge fan of Paul Hindemith.  Not everyone is, I know.  I accept that.  But I have also learned not to apologize when I tell people I'm performing a work by Hindemith.  Everyone assumes that because the piano part is a beast to play that I must hate playing it.  No, I love playing everything by Hindemith.  I, in fact, know what I am getting into when I decide to learn a Hindemith piece.  Music that requires several hours of practice is what I signed up for when I became a professional musician.

The piece I am listening to now is Symphonic Metamorphosis.

Anatomy of a Ponzi: Scams Past and PresentAnatomy of a Ponzi: Scams Past and Present by Colleen Cross

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

" My game was simple. It was the old game of robbing Peter to pay Paul." -Charles Ponzi

In anatomy of a Ponzi, Colleen Cross endeavors to expose the world of investment scams to protect future victims and also hopefully create laws that provide more than a slap on the wrist to scammers.

The first section of the book is a general overview of the sort of mind that creates Ponzi scams. They share ten characteristics with psychopaths. In fact she calls them financial psychopaths:

1. Superficial Charm.
2. Grandiose Self-worth
3. Need for Stimulation, easily bored
4. Pathological liar
5. Manipulative
6. Lack of remorse
7. No emotional depth
8. No empathy for others suffering
9. Parasitic Lifestyle- lives off others money
10. Poor self-control

Hmm...reminds me of a man I once dated...

After giving the general description of Ponzi schemers she gives us the history of several from the past century, starting with the one who gave his name to the fraud, Charles Ponzi.

In 1920, Charles Ponzi discovered that the United States would redeem stamps from around the world at the US rate, even if the stamps were purchased more cheaply in European countries, like Ponzi's home country Italy.

He sold stamps to thousands of people leading them to believe that they could get great returns. He bought the stamps from relatives, then sold them to Americans, assuring them that they could then redeem them with profit.

The problem was that there were no where near enough stamps to accommodate all the thousands that wanted in on the deal. Ponzi did not want his clients to know that so he would pay out the initial investors with the money later investors gave him and hoped nobody would ask for a redemption.

As eventually happens with Ponzi schemes, people want their returns. Often this is provoked by a financial crises that has everybody running to get their money. Of course in a Ponzi scam, there is no money because the scammer was actually spending the money on a lavish lifestyle, giving back just enough to make people believe their investments were making money.

In the end Charles Ponzi defrauded investors of 20 million dollars (225 million in today's dollars).

His prison sentence? 12 years.

Cross devotes several chapters each to other scammers ending with the biggest, Bernie Madoff who defrauded his investors of 65 billion dollars.

Each chapter is a case study of the scammer, his particular investment, how he carried out the scam and his final fate. With the exception of Madoff who got a life sentence because of the publicity, most only got a few years in prison, even though they scammed people out of their life savings.

Ms. Cross also lists the signs of a scam and how they can be avoided. To simplify, if it's too good to be true, it is not true. Any investment that promises unrealistically high returns that over shadow any other investment is probably a scam. She admonishes investors to do their research and provides resources that help to learn the integrity of professional investors and also where to turn if you suspect that you have been the victim of an investment scam.

All of the book was highly informative and if she had stopped with what she knew it would have been a highly instructive book. Unfortunately she felt she had to make her dig against the capital market, pointing out the such scams can only happen where there is free enterprise because countries where governments control business, one will be free of fraud.

Right. Because socialist governments are comprised of people with sterling morals and capitalist governments produce politicians that are greedy goons. Human nature is apparently determined by government structure.

The final mistake Cross made was to predict the next big Ponzi scheme. She asserts that a 100-plus billion dollar Ponzi scam will take place during the next presidential election, on a Monday to be exact, November 14, 2016 to be even more exact in a New York hedge fund. It will be exposed by a rival hedge fund. He will be a highly respected man in his fifties, a lawyer or an accountant. And he'll be driving a Bentley.

Most of her prediction is unimpressive because with the exception of one woman, all the Ponzi scammers in her book meet her description so all she has done is create an amalgamation. The same goes for the type of investment fund.

Ms. Cross took her own gamble and lost. She wrote this book in 2013, and 2016 has come and gone. But hey, it could still happen.

At least I learned a lot about hedge funds, reverse engineering, and how former communist countries are the most vunurable to scams. Ioan Stoica defrauded 4 million Romanians out of 1 billion dollars in 1994 with his Caritas Company, mutual aid scheme. He even had commercials on TV promoting his wonderful "investment". One out of every five Romanians were greedy for high returns on their newly acquired money.

If one doesn't quibble over Ms. Cross' presumption over economic systems or her own fortune telling; if you are interested in the design of a Ponzi scheme and the sort of criminal minds that create them or if you'd like to understand how to avoid them, I would recommend this book.

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Thursday, September 7, 2017

Take A Girl Like You by Kingsley Amis

Schubert's Trout Quintet is playing.  You should really wait for the last movement with the piano bubbling all over  the place like a trout swimming through a frothy river.

 My birthday month is August and Josh gave me a generous Amazon gift card.  I kind of went berserk.  These are the complete collections of the museum and cities I visited in Italy a couple of summers ago.  I am so excited to dig into these!!

 Take a Girl Like YouTake a Girl Like You by Kingsley Amis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I hardly know what to say about this book. I do not know whether Kingsley Amis is approving of his characters' life choices or trying to come to grips with the abruptly changing moral landscape of England in 1960. Does he really believe the moral paradigm that traditional relationships grounded in Christian principles to be outdated and incapable? Or is he simply calling it as he sees it?

He certainly does not glamorize what he sees as traditional morals' replacement. His characters lead quite dreary lives. But to sum:

Jenny Bunn is a twenty year old girl from the North of England who has traveled south to a town near London to work as a teacher. She lives with Dick and Martha Torkington who rent a room to her and a French girl named Anna.

Jenny is very pretty and she is conscious of that without being particularly concerned, and even if she was unconscious she is constantly reminded of her looks by the wolfish and lustful gazes of every single man she comes into contact with. Even Anna is attracted to her.

Amis' male characters are all lechers who cannot stop themselves from groping, leering, propositioning and otherwise sexually harrassing women. Not that any of the women mind, not even Jenny, who, though a good girl, does not seem to possess any kind of discernment as to the quality of men she should associate with. She doesn't even appear to mind when Anna sexually harasses her, although she makes it clear she's not interested.

Jenny is old-fashioned. She's not particularly religious, but she does believe she should remain a virgin until she's marries because that's how she feels and she's quite firm about it.

Patrick Standish is a young headmaster who teaches at a nearby secondary school and happened to be at the Torkington's when he meets Jenny. He immediately goes about trying to seduce her. Jenny likes Patrick and wants to pursue a relationship with him but makes it clear that they will marry before any sex happens.

Patrick makes it equally clear that marriage is not a goal of his, only sex. And he doesn't have any intention of being monogamous either. He does not hide his opinions from Jenny in either word or deed.

One asks oneself why Jenny would remain interested in someone whose quality of character is laid out so clearly before her. But Jenny seems to live in kind of a somnambulic state as she passively watches her world go by.

Patrick is determined to have her and sleep with her. He gets himself quite worked up to the point where he sleeps with a divorcee while dead drunk (he was dead drunk not she and I'm not quite sure how he accomplished that) and also with an underage girl for whom he "magnanimously" finances an abortion.

As the story progresses we wonder who is going to win? Jenny or Patrick? Jenny never compromises. She gets roofied at a party and Patrick takes advantage of her. Hence he gets what he wants but without her permission.

One then wonders what is going to happen. Is Jenny going to wake up? At first she seems to. She gives Patrick a telling off and asserts she is never going to see him again. I gather that women did not report date rape to the police back then or statutory rape or consider that someone like Patrick is a repulsive sleazeball. Patrick however does not give up and she finally relents.

Her conclusion is that it was unrealistic of her to believe in commitment and marriage and all that. In fact, it was selfish of her to expect more than to be one of Patrick's many amours.

As I read the book, aside from the brilliant and witty writing at which Amis is a master, I wondered if Amis' real point was to show how modern (at the time) life had emptied out all real meaning as regards relationships. That the Church had rendered itself obsolete but had left a moral vacuum into which the young generation had climbed. What was left?

"I don't love you, you don't love me; I am using you but that's all right because you are using me as well and that is the most anyone can expect while they are alive."

If Amis was intending to create a scene of hopelessness and despair, he succeeded.

Luckily, I don't mistake his book for the Gospel.

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Sunday, September 3, 2017

Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

I had a growing collection of books that I decided to get rid of and I thought, since they're in good condition, I'll sell them on ebay.  What I earn would help feed my little book habit, while clearing the house of books whose only future was to collect dust and take up valuable shelf space.

It took three hours to photograph the books from every angle, inside and out, decide on a decent price and post.  That was three days ago and so far, nobody is nibbling.

I'm trying not to check the status on my account every hour. Ebay is supposed to notify me if anyone orders a book.

Do people really make money selling off ebay?  Maybe not with books unless you have a warehouse full.  Oh well.  It seemed like a good idea.  Live and learn.

I am listening to some gorgeous music by Anton Bruckner  Symphony No. 2 in C minor, conducted by George Solti

Out of the Silent Planet (Space Trilogy, #1)Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Around the turn of the last century and a little before, a number of 19th century writers turned their hand to a brand new genre. Nowadays we call it Steampunk, which is just a hipster name for Science Fiction written during the late Victorian and pre WWI years.

Most of them painted a bleakish picture of our future. Maybe they were afraid of change or had a pessimistic view of man's ability to rein in the technological age the industrial age was ushering in. There were many unknown factors. Would the power received from all sorts of wonderful inventions make life easier for the general populace? Or would it make it easier for power mongers to destroy the world as it was known and create an enslaved class of proportions never before seen in the history of mankind?

H.G. Wells is our best known Science Fiction writer of the time and he certainly expressed in stark descriptions the sort of world we would all be living in if man learned how to become invisible or create giants or time travel.

Even E.M. Forster provides a provocative possibility in his short story "The Machine Stops" of how alienated humans could become to each other thanks to modern inventions "taking care" of our every need.

As much as I enjoy Wells, Forster, as well as any number of Steampunk authors, the fact is none of them inspire hope. The landscape is gray, desolate and godless.

Which brings me to why I love C.S. Lewis's Science Fiction trilogy so, so much.

Lewis has the ability to give the reader a clear-sighted view of man's heart (which is desperately wicked) while showing that there is a Power higher than that desperate wickedness that is ultimately going to triumph.

As a result, one finishes Lewis' Science Fiction heartened, encouraged, and ironically feeling greater love for humankind and hope for the future and the human race, at least a portion of us. Some of Lewis characters willfully rush towards eternal destruction.

Out of the Silent Planet is the first book in a trilogy. I have read the first and last and will soon start on the middle. There is a reason I read it out of order that I won't get in here, but this is the third time reading it so it doesn't really matter.

Our hero is Dr. Elwin Ransom, and the inset of the dustcover informs us that Lewis based this memorable character after his dear friend J.R.R. Tolkien.

Ransom is a philologist. Like Lewis and Tolkien were fond of doing, Ransom is on a walking tour through the countryside. Soon he is tired, hungry, and hopelessly lost. He approaches a house where he hopes for a little hospitality.

What he finds there, to his surprise, is an old schoolmate named Devine, the least favorite of his old schoolmates and with good reason as we'll see, and another man, Weston, who turns out to be a megalomaniac scientist. Of course Ransom doesn't initially know Weston is megalomaniac but he soon discovers it as he realizes the two man have nefarious plans for him.

Those plans consist of kidnapping him and taking him to another planet. The planet is called Malacandra and I won't tell you which planet that is so as not to ruin the surprise.

I also won't tell you too much of Ransom's adventures there for the same reason. However, being Lewis, the creatures are of such a sort as to inspire awe, fear, dread and respect and also love.

There are certain beings that exist there that are unknown to humans but actually exist on Earth as well. Because of humankind's fallen nature and the "bent" Oyarsa that rules the planet, these beings are invisible to the human eye. Man's corrupted eye cannot see them although originally they were supposed to.

Ransom learns all of this while he is on Malacandra after talking with the Oyarsa of the planet, but we meet him only later in the novel. We first meet the physical beings that Ransom can see and gets to know.

Eventually, Ransom discovers why Devine and Weston have brought him to Malacandra. But even they do not realize that they are merely tools unwittingly carrying out the evil intent of Earth's bent Oyarsa.

This final revelation is a prelude to the second and third novels in the trilogy.

This story is adventurous and suspenseful but most of all, it inspires the reader to care about all of the characters, even the bent humans, because Lewis is able to project his own unconditional love onto each person, terrestrial and extraterrestrial, and in turn make them lovable to us.

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Sunday, August 27, 2017

Zelda: A Biography by Nancy Milford

Mozart's Rondo in C major K 373 arranged for flute is playing.  Rain has finished falling outside, providing much relief from the relentless heat here in Texas.  There's an old folk song about the Devil asking the Lord for a bit of land so God gave him Texas.  The Devil gave it back saying the place was hotter than you-know-where.  If you have ever visited in the summer, which I don't recommend, you will appreciate the Devil's lack of gratitude.

I wrote the above a couple of weeks ago before the hurricane.  My prayers to those in South Texas.  Fortunately, we up here in NE Texas are safe.

Giant Oak outside my dining room window.

ZeldaZelda by Nancy Milford

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some biographies can trudge along but this one bubbled and flowed as Zelda would probably say based on her writings and her penchant for using loads of metaphors for absolutely every concept she was trying to express.

Nancy Milford spent years producing exhaustive research and it shows.

She starts with Zelda's parents and Zelda's birth in Montgomery Alabama. We get an idea of the sort of family Zelda was born into and it gives us a better idea why she developed into the sort of woman she ultimately became.

While Zelda's father, Judge Sayre, was strict, formidable and emotionally detached from his family, her mother Minnie, doted on her and let her do whatever she wanted.

Zelda's natural inclination was to be strong-willed and she thrived on attention. Reading about her social life exhausted me. She must have dated every single young man in Montgomery. Every weekend was filled with dances.

And she was rather daring for the age (this was the 19-teens). She wore a nude colored bathing suit, not just at the beach or pool but around town. She was flirtatious, bold, and addicted to attention.

She met F. Scott Fitzgerald when he was stationed in Montgomery for the war (WWI). Fitzgerald, according to his own temperament, fell for her with all the neurotic passion that forever colored his life.

Through a lot of rolling hills of conflict between themselves, between her family, they finally married in 1920. Zelda was twenty years old and Fitzgerald was twenty-four.

Zelda left her small, warm Southern community for the Big Apple. This might have intimidated some small town girls who had spent all their life in a certain culture but not Zelda. For her New York meant everything she adored on a larger scale: parties, drinking, and being the center of attention.

Neither Fitzgerald nor Zelda had temperate personalities and everything was done in excess. They spent more than they had, they drank more than they could handle. Friends began to dread their parties. A stint in Paris was no different except that Fitzgerald's fascination with the Manic Pixie Girl he had married was beginning slightly to wane. He needed to write and their lifestyle was interfering with that.

At first Zelda seemed to spur his writing, after all, all of his stories are centered around her. Reading about their life together I can safely say most of his books are autobiographical. The heroine is Zelda over and over.

Some have criticized Fitzgerald saying he "stole" her writings or her ideas. That is nonsense. Milford includes scads of Zelda's writings to allow the reader to make an informed comparison. While Zelda is certainly intelligent and at times bordering on brilliant, her writing is no match for Fitzgerald's. After one gets past the glitzy gloss of her descriptive phraseology, one finds very little and much of it is incoherent.

My only criticism of Fitzgerald's writing is that he simplified her. The real Zelda was more complex as Milford's biography shows.

She did try to write and get published and some of her work did get published but I doubt anyone would have looked twice if she had not been Fitzgerald's wife.

She also became obsessed in her late twenties, while they were living in Paris, in becoming a classic dancer. She practiced hours and hours each day with a Russian teacher. There is no coherent reason why she wanted to become a professional ballet dancer. Perhaps to find an identity seperate from her husband, but those who knew her saw strangeness from the get go.

I think without her life with Scott she probably would have become insane anyway, but the excessive drinking and night life probably accelerated her decline.

Frankly I don't know who was worse, Zelda, who ended up in an insane asylum or Fitzgerald, who drank and smoke himself to death at forty with a sudden heart attack.

It's a fascinating study in people who are desperately trying to find meaning in their lives through outside stimulation to the point it pushes them over the edge. Maybe they were terrified of what they might have seen if they stopped and stayed still for a few moments. Their frantic rushing off the cliff was a continual running away from what was inside of them.

Eventually Fitzgerald resorted to writing Hollywood scripts in order to pay debts, including Zelda's stay at a good hospital and their daughter, Scottie's, education.

Very little is mentioned about Scottie. One can only wonder how the effect of two narcissistic and unstable parents affected her. She's seems to have turned out OK and married outside the glamorous world of her parents.

While Fitzgerald stayed in Hollywood, Zelda had returned to Montgomery and lived with her mother, a rather invisible life it seems, after the legendary one. Her illness finally deteriorated where she had to return to the mental hospital. Her last words to her mother was, "It's OK. I'm not afraid of dying." and she ran off. Was this prophetic? She was to die in the hospital as it burned to the ground.

She still outlived Fitzgerald by eight years.

I suppose there will be endless fascination over this infamous couple and this is a good biography, but I don't know if it is necessary because after reading it, I realize that Fitzgerald faithfully recorded their lives in all of his stories.

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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks

I cannot get enough of French music.  Here is Debussy's Pour Le Piano L. 136 no. 11 performed by Cecile Ousset.

The Case of the Broken Butter Dish.

The other night, or I should say early morning (five-thirty am is still night for me) my son Derek was leaving for work when he saw a cat underneath the bird cage.  She bolted out of the house as soon as she saw Derek, but this was disconcerting to say the least.

We have a doggie door and that is undoubtedly how the cat entered but why?  

I understand that Breeya is past her prime.  Poor Breeya.  Her littermate Odie has crossed the river Jordan a few weeks ago and she's alone.  Deaf and mostly blind as well, she's just our little geriatric dog.  In a human nursing home, she'd be the old person in a corner by herself rocking back and forth in her wheelchair asking for  family long gone.

There was a time when a cat would not show her head in our yard and now one is coming into our house?

I started shutting the dog door at night, but one morning after spending an hour cleaning up doggie do off the floor (in the washroom, in the kitchen, in the living room...) I started leaving it open again.

Then we woke up to find our butter dish  on the kitchen floor broken into little pieces.  All human members of our household claim innocence.  My son thinks the cat did it.

Why, cat, why?  Why are you persecuting our household?

I'm not sure what to do.  I hate to leave Breeya outside all night.  I don't like broken butter dishes and I really don't like cleaning up dog manure.

So far I have not come up with a solution.  But Josh did get the cutest little butter dish.

CloudsplitterCloudsplitter by Russell Banks

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I bought Cloudsplitter because the Wall Street Journal's book club had decided to read this book together on Facebook.

Synopsis: John Brown the slave abolitionist insurrectionist is already hanged and dead. Several years later, one of his sons, Owen, in old age relates his life story to an unnamed journalist.

First the positive:

The writing is gorgeous. Banks creates a luscious backdrop as he paints people and landscapes in a pre-Civil era. The reader easily enters into that time period.

Secondly, he writes a good story. If one ignores that he is writing about historical figures, the events and interpersonal relationships and how they are carried out is interesting.

The negative:

Owen Brown has apparently spent his life fighting his inner demons and trying to make sense out of what his father did.

The narrator's voice is spoken in a relentlessly heavy monotone which casts a grey haze over everything as one is imagining the story playing out in one's head while reading the words. It makes reading the book a practice of self-discipline and at 728 pages it can at times be tortuous.

Secondly, Banks is obviously superimposing 21st century cultural attitudes on a bygone time. That is not only annoying it makes the story telling suspect. How accurate is it? I have arrived at the conclusion that if I want to learn about historical events it's better to read several non fiction sources.

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 I think someone asked this on another blog but I also ask:  what are people's feelings about historical fiction.  Do they enjoy it or do they prefer to non fiction history books? And why?