Friday, June 30, 2017

Lion in the White House: A Life of Theodore Roosevelt by Aida D. Donald

I thought the forceful drive of Richard Strauss' Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme Suite Op. 60 was an appropriate accompaniment to today's review about a man whose forceful and driving personality changed the face and global reputation of the United States.

Lion in the White House: A Life of Theodore RooseveltLion in the White House: A Life of Theodore Roosevelt by Aida D. Donald

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a brief biography of Theodore Roosevelt focusing primarily on his years prior to becoming president, all he accomplished as president and finally how he spent his time in the few years remaining to him after leading his country and shaping into a world power.

Anyone born with a silver spoon in his mouth as Roosevelt did, would most likely enjoy life to the fullest, travel, hunt, marry well and pretty much make a jolly good time of his life.

That is in fact what Teddy did, but his sense of bon vivre was accompanied with a strong sense of noblesse oblige; that he must change the wrongs being committed against the impoverished and discriminated and in order to do that, he must arise into a position that empowered him to do so.

His first gubernatorial experience was in New York and leader of the Republican party, where he almost singlehandedly kicked out the corrupt crime bosses who were running much of the business, both private and public. As a member of the New York City Commission he radically restructured the New York police force.

This did not endear him to many and it woke up a cranky House and Senate who were well content to sit idly by and not rock a political boat that was already firmly entrenched, but Teddy was his father's child and he accomplished what his father so passionately believed in, but died too early to effect.

Later, he served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President McKinley. Others in office found Roosevelt troublesome and in an effort to neuter him they elected him to become McKinley's Vice President where they believed he could do no harm.

Roosevelt understood just exactly how much a Vice Presidency was worth so after campaigning for McKinley, he went out west to enjoy himself living the Cowboy fantasy.

But then McKinley was assassinated and Roosevelt found himself President.

There are a number of long reaching feats that Roosevelt accomplished. To name a few:

He developed a powerful navy that allowed the U.S. to acquisition the Philippians and picked up the mantle the French left in Panama and finished the Canal there. America became a world power under Roosevelt.

Roosevelt preserved great swaths of land from private ownership and established National Parks.

He culled racially discriminatory hiring practices. He scandalized the south by having Booker T Washington to the White House.

It's interesting that many of the causes and beliefs Roosevelt held have been made a part of the contemporary Democratic platform, at least rhetorically, but Roosevelt was a Republican.

When Woodrow Wilson became president and WWI loomed ahead, Teddy roared at Wilson's inaction. But Wilson had become president based on his pacifist platform, he wasn't about to jeopardize that. This drove Roosevelt almost insane and he considered running for president. He did not win and his health soon swallowed up any future in politics.

I wonder what turn history would have taken if Teddy Roosevelt had become president instead of Wilson during WWI.

We'll never know.

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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Three by Tey: Miss Pym Disposes; The Franchise Affair and Brat Farrar

On YouTube is one of my favorite works by  Paul Hindemith.  I enjoy listening and performing the Flute Sonata.  A few years ago, I worked with a very talented flutist and we performed this work together.  I used to tell Jacquie the flutist who had the body and slender build of a ballet dancer, and was also very beautiful that she was a "skinny flutist with a fat sound" because she created such a full, robust melodic line.  I did not know where she got the lung capacity. This performance is by flutist Paul Michell and pianist Monika Laczofy.

A while back I read two of the three stories by Joephine Tey in this collection.  She is fast becoming my favorite mystery novelist.

Miss Pym DisposesMiss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Not your formulaic crime story. Tey makes use of in depth psychology to expose the human tendency to rely on our own reasoning and to judge people according to our own prejudices rather than with a true and objective eye for character.

This is a very good mystery with engaging characters who discover their own limitations as they uncover the depths of evil in other people.

Tey does not follow the usual storyline common in detective stories of Rex Stout, Dorothy Sayers, Perry Mason or Conan Doyle. Some may find her unusual tack off putting. While it may not be as satisfying as a good old fashioned crime story, it provides something more valuable than that. A peek into the human soul.

I have not really given a plot summary because the story is hard to explain.  The protagonist, Miss Pym, wrote a book about human psychology that was widely celebrated.  She visits an old friend at the Woman's college where she is the Director. The students all want to meet the famous writer of human psychology.

While she is there she gets to know the different students who are about to graduate and receive assignments. 

 There arises a controversy at graduation concerning the assignment as a teacher to a private school.  One student received it when everyone, student and teachers alike, expected another student to get it.

It is difficult to say who is punished more, the student who "deserved" the position or the poor girl who got it and is consequently hated by everyone.

It takes most of the book, but a tragedy does arise and there is no guessing how it happened and the results are completely unexpected. 

It concludes with Miss Pym deciding she has no business attempting any understanding at human psychology.

The Franchise Affair (Inspector Alan Grant, #3)The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Robert Blair is a lawyer who primarily deals with real estate and wills. The story starts with Blair sitting in his office contemplating the predictability and routine of his life. He looks with satisfaction at the smooth current of his days as they peacefully undulate along. If there exists something down somewhere in his subconscious that pleads surely there must be more to life than this, Blair is able to successfully press that thought down to where it is safe from rising to the surface.

Of course we all recognize this as a classic set up. Adventure is obviously just around the corner.

Blair's adventure starts with a phone call. Marion Sharpe, a woman he knows only in passing as someone he occasionally runs into at the grocery store or other equally innocous places about town, wants him to represent herself and her mother. They have been accused of a strange crime and she is asking Blair to defend them.

Blair protests. He is not a defense lawyer. Surely someone else...No! Only Blair will do and after more feeble protesting, Blair finally decides to at least meet Miss Sharpe and her mother and find out what the charges are.

He arrives at Miss Sharpe's house, called the Franchise to meet her mother and also Inspector Grant, a detective all Tey readers are familiar with as he has starred in five or six of Tey's novels. Inspector Grant enlightens Blair as to what the charges are.

A teenage girl, Betty Kane, claims that while she was waiting for a bus to return home, she was kidnapped by Sharpe and her mother, brought back to the Franchise where she was forced to serve as a menial for them. They kept her prisoner in an upstairs bedroom when she was not working for them and they also beat her.

After presenting the charges, Grant then brings in Betty, who accurately describes the Franchise, including the room and its contents. She also shows the bruises on her body. Sharpe and her mother maintain their innocence.

Someone is lying, but who? Tey admirably keeps the reader in suspense until the end.

Most of the story is constructed slowly over time through interviews of people who know Kane. Blair also finds himself working as an investigator to find any holes Betty's story. In the meantime we grow to appreciate Tey's wonderful insight into the human psyche.

Because this is a tale of human psychology more than anything else. Tey reveals how rumor and suspicion are enough to condemn one in the eyes of the public. Do people really blindly believe everything as unadulterated truth simply because it's in the paper? Do papers really carefully manipulate words in order to direct people's opinions while blithely dodging libel?

Or does the newspaper simply provide people with an excuse to hate people they were already prejudiced against?

In this novel, Tey shows just how far some people will sink with only suspicion for a motive. But she also shows heroism in unexpected corners, their light shining all the more brightly for their minority status.

Most of the plot is developed through reconstruction of events and character studies. Both these attributes provide the reader with a highly satisfactory story as well as a conclusion that resolves in a believable and logical way.

I look forward to reading more Tey.

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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Geniuses Together: American Writers in Paris in the 1920s by Humphrey Carpenter

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The other night I thought I was dying.  I am a bit on the melodramatic side, but not when it comes to money and Josh felt a visit to the ER was necessary.  Luckily for me we have a number of walk-in Emergency Room services around town, one of which was just around the corner.

Mostly it was my right side that felt as if I had either pulled all the muscles in that part of my back or my kidneys were on fire.  Then a series of thoughts raced through my head.

Am I going through kidney failure?  Are any of my family members a match and would they be willing to part with a kidney for poor little me?

It turned out to be kidney stones and I hope none of you ever have the misfortune of getting them.

Hopefully they are all gone.  I went to the gym today feeling so so because I had to get out of the house.  I'm also cutting down on the pain killers; they give me peculiar dreams.

On a brighter note, my parrot is screaming at me.  She has become spoiled by Grandma who has given her a lot of attention while she was visiting. She will have to wait until I finish this review.  On the computer, I am listening to a bird making far prettier but also sadder sounds (perhaps you should play it and reread my first couple of paragraphs).  It is the Maiden and the Nightingale by Enrique Grenados from his Goyescas.  These are love songs for the piano he made based on paintings by the Spanish artist Francisco de Goya. I hope you enjoy listening. This performance is by the composer himself. He looks a bit like Salvador Dali in this photo doesn't he?

Geniuses Together: American Writers in Paris in the 1920sGeniuses Together: American Writers in Paris in the 1920s by Humphrey Carpenter

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was not without it good points. The first couple of chapters give us some history of the first Americans to visit Paris such as Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. This was as informative as it was interesting. Then we get to the bulk of the book.

A lot of American writers traveled to Paris in the 1920s; for what reason will remain a mystery after you finish reading the book unless you find another source of information about the literary world in Paris and its attraction to Americans.

This book tells us nothing of Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sylvia Beach, not to mention T.S. Eliot, Ford Madox Ford and Ezra Pound that isn't found in a thousand other sources.

He spends an inordinate amount of time on writers that have long ago disappeared. Has anyone heard of Robert McAlmon, Kenneth Adams or Kay Boyle? Me neither. They were writers, but I don't know if they were ever successful in their own time. Their writing is not known except perhaps for the most devoted readers of that era.

But they were all part of the group that their more famous counterparts made up and they all bar hopped together and spent most of the day drunk. I don't know if this is supposed to make us think what a jolly lot these bohemians were or that being bohemian is something glamorous and exciting, but to me it all sounded boring.

And not only that, they all seemed to loathe each other.  Hemingway took it out in his stories, but the others were also contemptuous of all the other writes.  They truly seemed a lost generation.

In fact by the time I finished reading the book I was surprised that any one of them was able to produce anything worth reading at all. I'll assume that they made their sober moments count. Or they were exceptionally talented writers even inebriated.

I did appreciate the map on the inside of the book's cover; having just visited Paris last Christmas, I could place their hang outs in my mind.

All in all, not a bad read, but I would certainly look to other sources for more thorough or original information.

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My question to the reader:  Can you tell me of a good source about Americans in Paris in the Twenties? Or any time?  One that can tell us why creative Americans gravitated to Paris?

Well, my work here is done.  I'm taking Hercaloo and a book outside to read and visit with the piggies.  A good day to all!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Architecture in the 20th Century by Peter Gossel and Gabriele Leuthauser

I am currently working on Alexander Tcherepnin's Andante, Op. 65 with a Euphoniumist.  Is that correct?  Sounds a little classier than "Euphonium player".  The latter sounds like a rake who happens to have musical talent.  Not that there's any shortage of those.  The young man with whom I am performing is very much a gentleman so we'll stick with Euphoniumist, even if I made the word up.  

Here's a link to the same piece performed by Tubist Philip Sinder and Pianist Deborah Moriarty if you'd like to listen while you read today's book review.

Architecture in the Twentieth CenturyArchitecture in the Twentieth Century by Peter Gossel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a simply dazzling coffee table book filled with glossy photographs on every page. I don't know why the Goodreads picture has two books, mine is only one.  And it was only twenty dollars on clearance at Books A Million (Score!).  Peter Gossel and Gabriele Leuthauser chronicle the development of twentieth century architecture. Backing up to the year 1773 to show how the industrial age prepared the world for twentieth century modernism, the authors take readers through every year from the production of iron to the production of iron structure buildings, such as the birth of sky scrapers.

Much of architecture's artistic sensiblity accompanied the art world arm in arm down the years. Skyscrapers were Art Deco in the turn of the century until the Depression stripped people of frivolity. The misery of reality was averted through fantasy and in the thirties we see houses and businesses reflecting man's hope in science. Many structures developed then looked like Spaceships out of a pulpy Sci Fi magazine. The Second World War produced edifices that were meant to express power. Albert Speer buildings in Germany hearkened back to the Ancient Roman temples.

After the War, architects became minimalist, striving for homes and offices that offered clean, clear space without clutter, but wrap around glass, which allowed the resident's view to be filled with the surrounding landscape.

Rationality and reason were expressed through materials of concrete and steel. As the sixties, seventies and eighties marched down through the corridors of time, architects combined the rationality of the early half of the century with experimentation and creativity. Some of the buildings are so curvaceous it's amazing they are made out of concrete.

There were many architects I was unfamiliar with, yet their work was no less profound. Japanese architect Tadao Ando seamlessly interwove traditional Japanese form with modern materials. His influence on Frank Lloyd Wright is unmistakable.

And of course we get to read about the more famous ones such as Louis Kahn, Philip Johnson, Louis Sullivan and Le Corbusier, with no shortage of photos of their work.

If you are a layperson, like me, who enjoys a good overview of modern architecture, I recommend this book.

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Monday, June 12, 2017

The Chinese Book of Etiquette and Conduct fo Women and Girls, Entitled Instruction for Chinese Women and Girls by Lady Tsao

For Easter weekend, Josh and I drove to Dallas to spend the time with my sister and her family.  While driving along Hwy 20 I read this slim volume about how Chinese women were expected to conduct themselves two thousand years ago.  I have a feeling Chinese women no longer conduct themselves this way any longer.  I wonder if they ever really did?

The Chinese Book of Etiquette and Conduct for Women and Girls: Entitled Instruction for Chinese Women and Girls (1900)The Chinese Book of Etiquette and Conduct for Women and Girls: Entitled Instruction for Chinese Women and Girls by Lady Tsao

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Written almost 2000 years ago during the Han dynasty, Lady Tsao was a widower and brother of Pang Ku who was president of Hanlin College, the first college of the empire. Pang had been writing the history of the Han dynasty when he became blind. He recommended his sister to the Emperor as a qualified writer and historian to complete the task. Due to the request and gifts of the Han Emperor, Lady Tsao came out of her self-imposed isolation after the death of her husband to finish the Han histories. Her writing so satisfied the emperor that he asked her to serve as an "Instructor of Women." This book is a compilation of her teachings.

It was translated into English one hundred years ago by a Mrs. S.L. Baldwin who served as a Chinese Missionary many years. Her vocabulary in the introduction will probably come across as archaic and even offensive to some (as she refers to the Chinese as heathens), however, she is more complimentary toward the Chinese than she is negative, considering their culture as far more advanced in literature, education and etiquette at a time when the West was still suffering barbaric invasions and widespread illiteracy.

The purpose of the book, while not stated explicitly, seems to imply that the translator wanted to provide the West with a better comprehension of Chinese culture and to hopefully enable them to appreciate and understand a country that, at the time, must have seemed wholly foreign to them.

The book is divided into several sections that instruct woman as to how they should conduct themselves as daughters, wives and mothers. One chapter describes the cultivation of virtue, another the sort of work a women should employ herself with, another on how to behave towards her parents, her in-laws and finally on how to treat her husband.

Largely, a woman's role was to be subservient to everyone. She should not talk, and then only quietly, behind a fan. As a child, she should not run, shout, play or leave the house but only quietly work with her hands.

As a wife she should carefully prepare her husband's food to be ready when he arrives from work, making sure it stays warm. She should feed him first, then her children and finally herself.

As a daughter-in-law she should rise early, before her in-laws and prepare their food and wait for them to help them with dressing, and also to clean their rooms and make their beds. At night she should anticipate their return to the bedroom and should dress down the beds for their rest and have tea ready.

A woman or girl should never leave her house or talk to strangers. She should rarely talk and then only in the most formal of manners. In all things she should show only a gentleness of manner that creates harmony wherever she goes.

I think you get the idea. The part about making silk was interesting. I was hoping for more enlightenment on particular cultural practices, but only got a primer on how woman should act with everyone: as a quiet, gentle servant.

One wonders how many women put this into actual practice.

I hope not many. Not because women should not be altruistic. Harmony is created in a family when each member acts selflessly, but because if a woman were to actually carry out this sort of conduct she and her family members would tragically remain strangers to each other.

Formal manners are fine for company, but couldn't a wife and husband act a little more naturally toward each other?

Sadly, I think many cultures have created these kind of barriers between the sexes and perhaps is why these same countries have a long historical practice of prostitution. I mean, who's a man going to talk to when his wife only acts in the most reserved manner towards him?

Nevertheless, whether this code of conduct was more theoretical than practical, it is interesting to read what was at least expected of women during a certain epoch of time. Knowing the ideal of a country allows one to better understand the values that helped shape its culture.

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Monday, June 5, 2017

The Case of the Empty Tin by Erle Stanley Gardner

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A symphony is playing on our local APR station.  Sounds like Beethoven. My mistake.  It's Brahms Symphony Number Four performed here by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by George Solti.  Ah, that brings back the memories.  When I was a graduate student at Roosevelt University, I would buy canceled tickets to see performances at Orchestra Hall (now the Chicago Symphony Center) an hour or two before a performance.  It was great; the tickets were for ten dollars back then and sometimes I got a front row center seat, like the time I got to hear Radu Lupu perform Liszt's Symphonic Variations (it's not Radu Lupu on this link; I couldn't find a recording of him performing them).  Other times I got a seat behind a pole, so it was luck of the draw, although usually I could move after intermission.

I've opened the windows of my house because, even though it is slightly chilly and wet outside, the breeze is freshening up my house and keeping it pleasantly cool.  I put my guinea pigs outside just to give them some air.  Even though the ground is a little wet, the clover is green and they enjoy nibbling on it.  They need a bath anyway.

The Case of the Empty TinThe Case of the Empty Tin by Erle Stanley Gardner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The perfect book for a rainy day weekend, which this last weekend was. I curled up in my favorite chair next to the French Doors with a perfect view of the rain coming down in the backyard, making the lawn green.

Florence Gentrie is a loving, doting mother and a conscientious manager of household affairs. In the middle of the night she hears a shot. Worried, she investigates. She looks in the cellar and around the house but sees nothing amiss. Well, one thing is amiss and it really bothers her (anything not in order really bothers her). Among her rows of canned preserves is a tin that doesn't belong there. She picks it up and is surprised to find it is empty, even though it is sealed. Puzzled, she leaves the tin and moves on.

She checks on her son, Junior, who should be back from work, but when she gets to his bedroom, he's not there. Troubled, she goes back to bed.

Perry Mason is pouring over legal books preparing for a case when his secretary, Della Street, tells him a young man wants him to come with him, because his rich uncle wants to talk with him over an incident.

The old man, Elston A. Kaar, is wheelchair bound. He tells Perry that he heard a shot in the apartment below and he doesn't know what happened. He isn't concerned about what happened, he just wants the whole thing to be kept quiet because he is keeping a low profile and doesn't want the publicity.

Incidentally, Kaar lives next door to Mrs. Gentrie.

The man, a Mr. Hocksley, who lives beneath Kaar has subsequently disappeared.

What has this got to do with the empty tin? Has Hocksley been murdered? Has he murdered someone? Why does Kaar wish to avoid publicity? Is there a connection between Kaar, Hocksley, and the Gentrie household?

I'm not going to tell you because I don't want to ruin the story.

This so far is my favorite Mason novel. The facts of the case are measured out spoonful by spoonful. Just enough to give you a good appetite for what is happening. The story builds up nicely, keeping the reader's curiosity whetted leading into a satisfactory conclusion.

I recommend it as a good, cozy read.

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Question for you:  what did you read this past week that you really enjoyed?