Tuesday, December 26, 2017

All Creatures Great and Small; All Things Bright and Beautiful; House Styles in America; Thomas a Kempis of the Imitation of Christ (Selections) Typewriter: The History, The Machines,The Writers by Tony Allan

I am listening to one of the most gorgeous acapella works for the human voice:  O Magnum MysteriumO Magnum Mysterium is a six-voice motet in the Aeolian mode in two musical parts. O Magnum Mysterium is a responsorial chant from the Matins of Christmas.

My husband knows I love coffee and bought me a French press for Christmas!

For those of you who celebrate Christmas I hope you had a blessed time and for all of you I pray God makes his love real to you.  Just know that I pray for all of you (that I know about) every day.

Well, so far I have read 196 books this year.  My goal on Goodreads is 200 hundred. Will I slide into home plate and successfully read four more books before the 31st?  It won't be easy because tomorrow I am driving with my son and Hercaloo to Florida to spend the week with my parents and my two adorable nieces and the people who brought them. (My sister and her husband-that's a joke; I told Debbie that after you have babies no one is interested in you anymore.  She doesn't think it's funny.)  Seriously though, I am excited to see everyone.

It's a ten hour drive and I plan on reading while my son drives, which won't be across Louisiana.  He'll be sleeping since we're leaving early.  But from Vicksburg Mississippi to Mobile Alabama, while I have light, I hope to get through some pages.  I'm reading some great books right now:  two presidential biographies about the same man; a nonfiction account of four people's lives in the South the year the Civil War ended; a fascinating book about Handel and his librettist and how they wrote the Messiah and a fantastic encyclopedia picture book about Irish history.  Let's see if I finish any of these before the new year.  Oh, and I almost forgot I am halfway through the most amazing book on modern architecture from all over the world.  I may throw in a TinTin just to help.

But this is what I have just finished reading over the past couple of weeks:

All Creatures Great and Small & All Things Bright and BeautifulAll Creatures Great and Small & All Things Bright and Beautiful by James Herriot

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a beatuiful edition of two books. I recently bought it because my original books have fallen to pieces from multiple readings over the years. I am cutting and pasting my original review.

This is an old favorite that I've read countless times. What do I like about it? Let me count the ways.

First of all, I like the way Herriot (or Alf Wight, if you like) turns a phrase. His use of absurd imagery to create a comical effect is superb. I found myself re-reading certain paragraphs just because I enjoyed how he expressed certain concepts.

Secondly, I like being taken to another time and place. Reading books is the closest thing we have to time travel. Reading about Yorkshire farmers surviving through the depression with the old dialect that the author uses to good effect provides me with a vicarious experience of life on the Dales and with a group of people I will never meet in real life.

Thirdly, I enjoy the way he intertwines his personal life, the two vets he lives with and their personalities and interactions and also meeting his wife with his veterinary practice. Each chapter involving treating an animal is like a little mystery as he has us follow his exertions to try to uncover what is wrong with an animal and how to treat it. He plainly reveals life before the age of penicillin and antibiotics and how vets struggled with what little resources they had. He also shows with compassion and admiration the grim poverty and grimmer determination of the farmers to make their farms thrive.

Finally, his writing is something I aspire to. I have no hope of ever writing like George Orwell or Evelyn Waugh, but if someone said my writing reminded them of James Herriot's I would feel as if I had arrived.

View all my reviews

House Styles in America: The Old-House Journal Guide to the Architecture of AmericanHomesHouse Styles in America: The Old-House Journal Guide to the Architecture of AmericanHomes by James C. Massey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fabulous book on the various architectural styles throughout the history of America starting with colonial times to the present. Styles include: Roman and Greek Revival; Paladian, Georgian, Colonial, French Creole, to the twentieth century styles of Wright's Prairie Homes, French Creole, Arts and Crafts, Sears and Roebuck pre-fabricated homes and Art Deco.

Each style is thoroughly described accompanied by several examples of actual homes in large glossy, colored photographs. Anyone interested in the development and history of architectural as applied to living residences will enjoy this book.

View all my reviews

THOMAS A KEMPIS' "Of The Imitation Of Christ" IN TODAY'S LANGUAGE by Thomas à Kempis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book as an Advent devotion for the month of December. It is a beautifully rendered exposition of Christ's words of love to his children.

Kempis at times writes in the voice of Christ by paraphrasing Scripture to create a greater sense of intimacy with the reader and God.

An excellent read to enter into the spirit of Christmas.

View all my reviews

And last but not least:

Typewriter: The History - The Machines - The WritersTypewriter: The History - The Machines - The Writers by Tony Allan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A cute small book with glossy pages, lots of photos and a concise history of the invention and development of the typewriter.

View all my reviews

I know that you are all on the edge your seat wondering if I'll finish my books on time.  I'll let you know in my next post, same Bat Time; same Bat Channel!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Diane Arbus: A Biography by Patricia Bosworth; Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer by Arthur Lubow

These are my raggedy jeans that I wear around the house.  They keep getting more and more ripped as time goes by.  Why am I wearing them?  Because if I have some spare money I will use it to buy a book.

It's a beautiful time of the year! Enjoy it by listening to Corelli's Christmas Concerto!

One of my passions is photography.  Arbus was always a favorite but I had no idea how tragic her life was until I read these biographies.  She was a fascinating but also a sad and even repulsive individual but I still find her photos fascinating.

Diane Arbus: A BiographyDiane Arbus: A Biography by Patricia Bosworth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a briefer biography than Arthur Lubow's by about two hundred pages. While Bosworth did not shy away from Arbus' deviant sexual proclivities, she avoided that salacious detail Lubow enjoyed indulging in, which may account for the shorter version.

Also, this biography was written in 1984 and without the cooperation of Arbus' husband, lover Marvin Israel or her daughters, Amy and Doon, which could also explain a greater lack of detail than Lubow's book. Her brother, Howard, mother Gertrude, and some of Diane's close friends, and about two hundred others did contribute. Having read Lubow's book, I see where he used Bosworth's biography as a resource.

It is also interesting to see how much time has changed things. Many of the important or remarkable people Bosworth includes in her biography as reference points are unknown now. One, Richard Avedon, is still known, if for no other reason that a biography has just come out on his own life. The others you'll be lucky to find a Wikipedia bio.

Arbus was a sad, tragic figure. She grew up in a rich, privileged home on Park Avenue with nannies and servants. Her parents were self-made businessmen whose families escaped the Jewish pogroms of Europe and created wealth through the fur coat business.

The only thing her parents did not provide her or her brother and sister with was love, affection and attention. Gertrude Nemerov, Diane's mother, was self-absorbed and suffered from acute depression. David, her father, played mind games with his children. When he was angry with them he completely withdrew until he chose to "forgive" them.

Diane, according to her own accounts was already showing signs of emotional disturbance at a young age. In fact she sounds like she may have suffered from Radical Attachment Disorder, something children from neglected households can develop.

Whatever the reasons, Diane's heart gravitated toward the deviant and marginalized in society, "freaks" as she called them.

Her photographs focus on circus entertainers, midgets, giants, deformed people as well as the grungier streets of New York City. A large part of her repertoire include transvestites, lesbians, and drug addicts.

Arbus said that everyone has a secret and she wanted to pull that secret out of them with her camera.

She was largely unrecognized during her life time. Many found her photos to be repulsive. Since her death in 1971 she has been considered one of the defining photographers of the sixties.

View all my reviews

Diane Arbus: Portrait of a PhotographerDiane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer by Arthur Lubow

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Arthur Lubow's biography is the most thorough one of Diane Arbus to date. While crediting Patricia Bosworth's 1984 biography for its valuable original information, his is almost three hundred pages longer.

One of the reasons is because archives and information have been released since Bosworth wrote her biography. Lubow took over a decade to write his biography and he had access to many people who were personal friends with Arbus. These friends have also since passed away which may be why Lubow's book is much more detailed and graphic about the less savory aspects of her life than Bosworth's biography.

Arbus was born into wealth. Her parents and grandparents were self-made wealthy businessmen. Immigrating to America to escape the Jewish pogroms of Europe, possessing nothing but the clothes on their back, they pushed against the Anti-Semiticism that was prevalent at the time and soon were living the lavish lifestyles of their WASP predecessors. I have to admire a people who never made excuses for themselves but simply worked hard and succeeded.

However, Arbus rejected her privileged upbringing, but she was still very much a product of her environment. Her childhood was without any affection or attention from her parents. According to Lubow she and her brother Howard tried to compensate by being absorbantly affectionate with each other, beyond what would be considered healthy. I do not know how accurate some of Lubow's information is, because Bosworth makes no mention of this and the people involved are all dead, but Arbus apparently casually remarked to her therapist that she and her brother carried on an incestuous relationship since she was very young.

Diane was casual about her sex life. She did not believe in prohibitions of any kind. This belief is partly what drove her to photograph deviants of society. She felt like a freak and identified with them. She detested normal people and loathed privilege ones. Her photographs reflect this.

She claimed to be pulling truth out of her subjects but all a photographer can really do is reflect themselves. If they love people, it shows; if they hate people it shows as well.

Arbus hated regular people. Her "regular" people are shown to be ugly, jaded and nightmarish in her photos. People belonging to an underworld, of circus freaks, prostitutes, transvestites, lesbians and drug addicts, are shown with compassion. Interestingly she refused to photograph hippies, insisting that they were fabricated. They weren't truly freaks or outsiders.

She also took photos of people engaged in group sex, in which she participated, and nudists, which she also participated in.

Several people remarked that she dressed and talked like a little girl. This is classic symptoms of sexual abuse as a child and may explain her attraction to the rejects of society.

Diane did not see any reason for sexual fidelity to one's spouse and was open about sleeping with another man to her husband. Lubow claims that her husband, Allan, had no problem with this, but shortly after, he began seeking girlfriends and finally left Diane who was devastated.

Diane also had a lover who was married. She did not care he was married but did not understand why he did not spend more time with her. It's as if she had created her own moral code and could not understand why the rest of the world did not live by its rules.

When someone is intimate with everyone, they can get close to no one and Diane, for someone who only wanted truth, discovered this painful truth as she became more and more isolated and alienated from the people around her. She suffered from severe bouts of depression that was only alleviated when she threw herself into photographing.

Everything she did was an attempt to "feel". She felt numb and wanted to know she was really alive. The sex and photography did this for her, but it did not last and she finally reached the end of her endurance.

One day, she took an overdose of barbituates, got into her bath tub fully dressed and slashed her wrists. She was found by her lover Marvin Israel who never visited her, but came when she did not return his calls. He told no one and her funeral was sparsely attended. This angered many of her friends because they did not know about her death until it was too late.

Biographies are useful in that after reading them one feels as though one has almost acquired a new member to their family. For all of Diane's complexities, I feel an attachment to her and an appreciation for her photography that I did not previously possess.

View all my reviews

Neither of my reviews do these books justice.  There was so much more to Diane Arbus.  Both books quote her feelings and beliefs about how to take photos and why she took them.  A lot of her explanations are rather rambling and incoherent but are still worth reading.  Both of these books allow one a bit of an inside to this mysterious woman who died so tragically.

The books do not have any photos of her work (they were not given releases) but one can buy collections of them from Amazon, eBay or simply look them up on the internet.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Unnatural Death by Dorothy Sayers; The Case of the Horrified Heirs: a Perry Mason mystery by Erle Stanley Gardner; Ancestral Shadows by Russell Kirk

 I've made a recent discovery in piano music, the compositions of Arthur Farwell.  He wrote some reflective tone poems that I like to listen to when I write.  Here is Roses and Lillies  from his collection called Tone Poems After Pastels in Prose.

 It's Advent and I did not have candles so I went to Walmart.  They did not have Advent candles but they did have this Starbucks mug for five dollars so the trip wasn't a waste.  To me at least.  According to my husband it was.

We're nearing the end of the year and I am scrambling to make my Goodreads goal of 200 books this year.  I thought such an ambitious target would get me to read through more of my TBR pile but all it's made me do is cheat and read a bunch of picture books to make the quota. 

Today I am going to combine three book reviews.  They are not long nor are they very profound but I hope you enjoy reading them, or better, are inspired to read the books.  If you have already read them, tell me whether you liked or hated them and why.

Unnatural Death (Lord Peter Wimsey, #3)Unnatural Death by Dorothy L. Sayers

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another good mystery by Sayers.

An elderly woman dies. She was terminally ill with cancer, so no one is surprised that she dies of heart failure. Except the doctor doesn't think she should have died so soon. Peter Wimsey picks up the scent and begins to investigate. It turns out the lady's niece, who happens to be a nurse and who was caring for her, also is going to inherit all of her aunt's money. (The aunt was very rich). No one suspects foul play and an autopsy does not reveal anything but heart failure. Yet Wimsey is not persuaded.

When Wimsey begins to interview other people who worked in the house before the old woman died and they begin to die as well, his suspicions are confirmed.

This was a very interesting story with many different clues and incidents that do not seem to be connected but all the threads are tied together at the end.

Sayer's always does thorough research when writing a story. In this case we get the low down about wills and the different laws that arbitrate them. She weaves this information into her story to make crucial plot developments.

And, of course, what makes Sayer's mysteries especially enjoyable are the lively characters and Wimsey's sharp and, at times, scathing wit.

View all my reviews

The Case of the Horrified Heirs (Perry Mason Mystery)The Case of the Horrified Heirs by Erle Stanley Gardner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Virginia Baxter is framed for possession of drugs but why? Who did it? Someone is intent on getting her out of the way, not by murder but by having her thrown in prison. What is the motive? Who did she offend or does she know something that could obstruct someone's goal. But what is that goal? What does someone want and how is Virginia in the way?

Lauretta Trent is a wealthy woman in her sixties. She is financially supporting her two sisters and their husbands. She has left a will that was signed by her lawyer and his secretary, who happens to be Virginia Baxter.

For the past few months Lauretta has been hospitalized for digestive upsets. Is it the spicy Mexican food she can't resist or is something else going on? It turns out that her hair and fingernails test positive for arsenic. Who is trying to kill her?

Is it the siblings? They are not given anything in the will. They're better off if she lives. Or is it the chauffeur who stands to gain the most? He also prepares her food.

Nothing is as it seems and what I enjoyed about the story was all the different threads that seemed unrelated and how they come together in the end.

View all my reviews

Ancestral Shadows: An Anthology of Ghostly TalesAncestral Shadows: An Anthology of Ghostly Tales by Russell Kirk

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Russell Kirk is best known for starting the Modern Conservative movement. A devout Catholic, his beliefs permeate each and every story. Therefore, the stories are not simply ghost tales but stories with a higher, other worldly message.

"...the tale of the preternatural- as written by George Macdonald, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and other masters- can be an instrument for the recovery of moral order." -Kirk

All of the stories are surreal, whether they are talking about demon possession, haunted houses, or Native America spiritism. In one story, a man stumbles into a place where dead friends dwell. At first he thinks he is dead, but it turns out that he made a "wrong turn" somewhere. If it was supposed to be heaven, it was a little bleak.

They are not traditional or run of the mill but they are extremely suspenseful and I found them to be rather frightening. Some people will enjoy these stories and some probably won't understand what he's getting at.

You'll have to read them for yourself and decide.

View all my reviews

For Advent devotions I'm reading Thomas A Kempkis' The Imitation of Christ every night.  I'll be reviewing that book at the end of the month.

Monday, December 4, 2017

A History of Chess by H.J. R. Murray the original 1913 edition

Please listen to the beautiful Mozart Requiem as you read today's post.

History Of ChessHistory Of Chess by Harold J.R. Murray

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This incredibly long book is worth reading but only if you enjoy reading encyclopedias. Murray leaves no stone unturned in this giant epitome on the history of chess. He takes us all the way back to India and describes several of the games there that could very well have developed into European chess.

He takes us from country to country, Persia, China, Japan, Malaysia, everywhere some 1500 years ago where they played any sort of game that resembled today's chess game.

If one is a chess expert or afficionado then he will enjoy the very detailed accounts of chess players and moves and rules with all the comparisons and contrasts in existance.

The book is also full of amusing anecdotes about Moguls and Warriors and their chess games. He also notes that chess was taken up over games of chance since chess required strategy and it felt more propitious to engage in games one had control over believing there was a connection between the game and real life war strategies.

He also traces the development of the various pieces, ones starting out as elephants and servants, eventually turning into knights, bishops and also the queen. The Queen had its own evolution from an innocuous player to the most powerful piece on the board.

Murray describes the development of chess in Europe and how it might have arrived there. The church at first was against the game, regarding it as sinful but later embracing it and was also instrumental in changing some of the pieces.

He records every instance of chess being mentioned in Medieval literature and also how the church and Aristocrats created analogies between the game and religious life and courtly behavior.

In the end he records some of the most famous games up to that time (the book was published in 1913) and also some of the more famous sets such as the Isle of Lewis chess set.

While it was a slog, I'm glad I read it and feel I have a better understanding of a game that possesses a rich and diverse history.

View all my reviews