Wednesday, October 04, 2023

Leadership Strategy

Leadership : Six Studies in World Strategy
Leadership : 
Six Studies in World Strategy 

“A leader does not deserve the name unless he is willing occasionally to stand alone.”   ― Henry Kissinger

This is a remarkable book about leadership, as the title suggests, but it also covers a wide range of other topics, such as history, global political strategy, and the value of moral character on the international stage. Six twentieth-century leaders are chosen by Kissinger, the majority of whom he knew personally. His descriptions of each place focus on the legacies that the leaders of each nation left behind and the strategic vision that each leader worked to make a reality. Importantly, this vision would improve his or her people's standing in the eyes of the international community.

The book also highlights characteristics of leadership including personal qualities, limitations faced by each, divisiveness created by the changes sought, and the policy imprint that endured for each nation as a result of the leadership of each of the characters: Konrad Adenauer, Charles De Gaulle, Richard Nixon, Anwar Sadat, Margaret Thatcher, and Lee Kuan Kew.

Kissinger's excellent wording and the manner he gave context and history for each of the stories impressed me. What Kissinger referred to as "deep literacy" was one fundamental idea that each leader shared. That is a mind that has been trained by intense reading, and through this reading and their particular experience, they have developed a profound awareness of and the capacity for concentration on the major problems they confronted. Each reader of his book can apply this lesson to their own situation. Overall, this book improved my comprehension of the world I live in and the contributions made by these six leaders.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Family Saga with Complications

Hello Beautiful
Hello Beautiful 

“We’re part of the sky, and the rocks in your mother’s garden, and that old man who sleeps by the train station. We’re all interconnected, and when you see that, you see how beautiful life is. Your mother and sisters don’t have that awareness. Not yet, anyway. They believe they’re contained in their bodies, in the biographical facts of their lives.”   ― Ann Napolitano, Hello Beautiful

This is a novel that explores themes of family, love, trauma, and healing. The book is about the connections between family and love, and how loyalty and honesty can cost and power.

William Waters was raised in a tragically silent home where his parents could barely bear to look at him, much less love him. When he meets Julia Padavano in his first year of college, it's as if the world has suddenly come to life for him. Since she and her three sisters are inseparable, Julia also brings her family with her. Sylvie, the family's dreamer, is happiest with her nose in a book; Cecelia is an independent artist; and Emeline patiently looks after them all. William finds new happiness with the Padavanos; there is loving anarchy all the time in their home.

Then, however, shadows from William's past come to light, compromising not only Julia's meticulous plans for their future but also the sisters' unwavering love for one another. A devastating family rift results, altering their lives for future generations. Will the ties that previously bound them still be strong enough to bring them together when it counts?

Some say the book is a moving and propulsive work that mirrors real life and inspires readers to address challenges in their own relationships. Others say the book is a beautiful story about family bonds and love. But ultimately, it is an elegant homage to Louisa May Alcott's timeless classic Little Women, paints a powerfully touching picture of what is possible when we decide to love someone not despite who they are but because of it.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Top Ten Tuesday


The selection criterion this week is “Top Ten Favorite Character Relationships”.

I have chosen the following from my reading over my personal reading lifetime, so some of these are from books that have been favorites for many decades, while other are somewhat more recnt reads. Here are ten of my favorites in no particular order. 

Top Ten Tuesday is sponsored  by Jana over at That Artsy Reader Girl

1. Young Harvey Cheyne and the fisherman Manuel in Kipling's Captains Courageous
This book is one I have read and reread over my lifetime and one reason is the development of Harvey under the tutelage of the Portuguese fisherman Manuel in this adventure tale.

2. Frog and Mr. Toad in The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.  Here are two friends who are always there for each other. Frog is enthusiastic and laid back, while Toad is more cynical and uptight. 

3. Achilles and Patroclus in Homer's  The Iliad
The friendship between these two warriors is one of the highlights of Homer's epic poem.

4. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. 
The different personalities and strengths of character make this a memorable literary relationship.

5. Frodo and Sam in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. 
Sam is portrayed as both physically and emotionally strong, and sometimes carries Frodo when he is too weak to go on. 

6. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in Don Quixote by Cervantes. 
This pair of Knight and friendly sidekick are one of the main reasons this novel has enchanted readers for more than four centuries.

7. Frankenstein and his creation in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.  
The world of speculative fiction has seldom seen a duo of this nature in the decades since a young Mary Shelley told her story.

8. Levin and Oblonsky in Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.  
These two characters were my favorites for their humanity and sincerity. Oblonsky and Levin have a relationship that works because Levin has no one else.

9. Lee and Cal in East of Eden by John Steinbeck. 
This is my favorite Steinbeck novel and one of the reasons for this is the relationship between these two characters. Lee is intelligent, thoughtful, well-read, and kind, while Cal takes Lee's advice that each individual has the power to choose between good and evil in life. 

10. The father and his son in The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Of all of McCarthy's novels these two characters demonstrate the best in humanity while facing the most difficult of times in McCarthy's novel of a dystopian future.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

A Lesson Learned

Captains Courageous
Captains Courageous 

"Over and above the darkness and the mystery of the procession, Harvey could feel the land close around him once more, with all its thousands of people asleep, and the smell of earth after rain, and the familiar noise of a switching-engine coughing to herself in a freight yard; and all those things made his heart beat and his throat dry up as he stood by the foresheet. . . somebody waked with a grunt, threw them a role, and they made fast to a silent wharf flanked with great iron-roofed sheds full of warm emptiness, and lay there without a sound."

Although Captains Courageous is not a particularly complex story, it is nevertheless rife with concepts that serve as a foundation. It reflects the author's moral philosophy as well as his way of thinking about life. The relatively short novel focuses on 15-year-old Harvey Cheyne, the sole child of an American business magnate, as he grows up. Harvey, a once-pampered youth, learns what the American dream is via his interactions with unspoiled nature, hard work, and common guys, and he prepares himself to achieve it.

The book illustrates enduring American values while being on one level a sea adventure with a joyful ending. Harvey gains respect for hard effort, honesty, and social equality via his exploits. He also develops a sense of adventure, self-reliance, and pride in a task well done. As a result, he is ready to participate in the developing American drama. This is a great work to read as a young boy, but also warrants rereading when you are no longer quite so young. It bears the telltale signs of the great novelist who would go on to write Kim. one of my favorites.

Friday, September 08, 2023

The Hidden Code

The Lost Books of the Odyssey
The Lost Books of the Odyssey 

“As their song crescendoed I had the sudden conviction that the world, which I had considered the province of meaningless chances, a mad dance of atoms, was as orderly as the hexagons in the honeycombs I had just crushed into wax and that behind everything, from Helen's weaving to Circe's mountain to Scylla's death, was a subtle pattern, an order of the most compelling lucidity, but hidden from me, a code I could never crack.”   ― Zachary Mason, The Lost Books of the Odyssey

The Lost Books of the Odyssey is a fascinating and seductive debut book. It retells the traditional Homeric tale of the hero Odysseus and his arduous return trip following the fall of Troy. In it the Trojan War is retold alongside flashbacks as Odysseus travels from Troy to Ithaca. The chapters flow with witty turns or neat bows, more in the style of a short story writer. 

The book is a deft and subtle translation of Greek literature for the present day. Personhood, storytelling, memory, and self-awareness are some of the subjects it examines. According to how much light the story decides to shed, Mason's characters can change shape and become elusive, just like the ones in Homer's original.

The traditional Homer stories are transformed into new episodes, fragments, and revisions using beautiful prose, a vivid imagination, and stunning literary skill. When read as a whole, these additions expose the timeless Greek epic to countless resonant interpretations. The Lost Books of the Odyssey is  It is laced with wonderful wit, elegance, and playfulness. 

I found that it was worthwhile, but only for those who have already read Homer's original epic saga.

Thursday, September 07, 2023

Poem for Today

 "The Makers"

By Howard Nemerov

 I frequently draw inspiration from writers of different genres, especially those who write outstanding books. However, in order to convey a message that has significance for readers who value the written word's creators, poetry may occasionally be necessary. The poem, "The Makers" by Howard Nemerov, makes a stronger argument for this.

We can never locate that initial item that got us going, that initial spark that spans generations. In his poem "The Makers," Howard Nemerov strives to trace the history of poetry and comes to the realization that what counts most is that all of those concrete, physical feelings are transmitted throughout time through poetic tropes and pictures. It makes no difference who the first poets were or the specific tree, rock, or star that was first mentioned. What matters most is that we can relate to each other through these descriptions. The repetition of these sensory cues reveals a fundamental truth about the human condition.

                "The Makers"

Who can remember back to the first poets,

The greatest ones, greater even than Orpheus?

No one has remembered that far back

Or now considers, among the artifacts,

And bones and cantilevered inference

The past is made of, those first and greatest poets,

So lofty and disdainful of renown

They left us not a name to know them by.

They were the ones that in whatever tongue

Worded the world, that were the first to say

Star, water, stone, that said the visible

And made it bring invisibles to view

In wind and time and change, and in the mind

Itself that minded the hitherto idiot world

And spoke the speechless world and sang the towers

Of the city into the astonished sky.

They were the first great listeners, attuned

To interval, relationship, and scale,

The first to say above, beneath, beyond,

Conjurors with love, death, sleep, with bread and wine,

Who having uttered vanished from the world

Leaving no memory but the marvelous

Magical elements, the breathing shapes

And stops of breath we build our Babels of.

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Magic When Needed


“truth didn’t mean anything without someone to share it with; you could shout truth into the air forever, and spend your life doing it, if someone didn’t come and listen.”   ― Naomi Novik, Uprooted

The dismal, brooding descriptions and magical atmosphere sometimes appealed to me. The storyline, the valley, the tainted forest, the ominous tower, the names of the people and places... You may like this read if you're searching for an atmospheric book that's ideal for fall, with a little romance and a lot of magic to spice it all up.

I can admit, though, that I did not find this to be a particularly compelling read in which I was eager to find out what would happen next. I didn't like this book, even if it was a relatively atmospheric read. Even in the middle of a "action" sequence, I could always put it down. Which may or may not be a good thing. Uprooted can be an excellent option to pass the time if you know you'll be busy at work or your child will interrupt your reading a thousand times a day. Like a haven of warm tranquility in the middle of a dreary day.

The author has a highly illogical approach to using magic. The lack of regulations or restrictions on magic in this universe, as well as the fact that everything was extremely individualized, further irritated me. It seemed a little too haphazard, and I dislike it when magic that seems overly convenient is used to advance the plot.

Regarding the romance, I wouldn't describe this book as very romantic. I still got a strong sensation that they could be a terrific couple, despite the fact that I wished there were a few more embers between them. I had the impression that they were connected in some way the entire time. And I much prefer that profound (albeit not fully explored) connection than platitudes and extravagant declarations of love. The bottom line is that I was disappointed and would not recommend this book.

Monday, August 28, 2023

The Story of a Writer's Life

The Magician
The Magician 

“He wanted that which had been so fleeting to become solid. The only way he knew to make this happen was to write it down. Should he have let it pass so that it would have faded completely, this, the story of his life?”   ― Colm Tóibín, The Magician

An impressive novel based on the life and work of Thomas Mann, this book extends Colm Toibin's foray into biographical fiction following his novel,The Master, based on an episode in the life of Henry James. Having read most of Mann's oeuvre and biographies of the author, I came to this book with a background that made reading it easier, while providing a basis for criticism of a kind that someone unfamiliar with the work of Mann may not have.

The book's title comes from a scene in which Mann's son Klaus became alarmed by what he thought to be a monster in his room. Mann claimed to be a magician and promised to expel the beast using magic. Since the plan worked, his six children referred to him as the magician. However, the word has a deeper meaning in Tóibin's book since Mann is a character who has the ability to work magic with words, whether in his books, letters, or speeches.

This book is a work of magic by Tóibin, himself. He has given the reader an intimate look at a great writer who lived with contradictions by bringing Thomas Mann to life in stunning prose. His recognition as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century was at odds with his hesitant and secretive inner life. His happy marriage to Katia and their six children also was at odds with his repressed homosexuality, while his love of Germany and its culture was at odds with the Nazi ideology he loathed.

Tóibin explores the themes of living abroad, the creative process, and the preservation of personal identity (and in particular, homosexual identity) throughout the majority of his works. These issues are explored in The Magician through Thomas Mann's difficulties with them. It was enjoyable to read as it painted an exceptional writer's life in moving prose. I hope it would encourage those who have not experienced Mann's magnificent oeuvre to explore some of his many now classic novels, stories, and essays.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Mythic Literature

Literature and the Gods
Literature and the Gods 

“Whatever else it might be, the divine is certainly the thing that imposes with maximum intensity the sensation of being alive.”   ― Roberto Calasso, Literature and the Gods

This brief book is one to read, reread, and consult when reading the great literature with ancient beginnings since it provides an extraordinary and perceptive analysis of the nature of the literature of classical mythology. The Weidenfeld Lectures Calasso delivered at Oxford in 2000 represent Calasso's lifetime investigation into the gods providing the basis for Literature and the Gods. The book follows the reemergence of paganism in Western literature from the early modern period to the present.

This is a brilliant, imaginative, and beautifully scholarly work. Calasso gives us a renewed understanding of the mystique and magic of great literature by revealing the divine whisper that lurks underneath the greatest poetry and prose from throughout history. Even though it is a brief yet deep essay, it takes the reader on a personal tour of contemporary European literature and philosophy. I found it was not only smart, but inspired and intellectual as well.

The history of the gods can also be interpreted as a ciphered and magnificent history of creative inspiration, from the exile of the classical divinities during the Age of Reason to their release by the Romantics and their role in the literature of our own day. By rewriting that tale, Calasso creates a hallowed literary realm where the gods' influence can be felt. His investigation into "absolute literature" takes us to the worlds of Dionysus and Orpheus, Baudelaire and Mallarme, and inspires a clear-eyed and passionate defense of poetic form, even when it appears to be detached from any social role. Literature and the Gods, a lyrical and confident work of literary affirmation, is deserving of reading among the greats.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Top Ten Tuesday


The selection criterion this week is to pick a genre and list your top ten selections based on that genre.

I have chosen the Historical Fiction genre. Since I've read more than a hundred novels in this genre from a variety of authors, I have listed ten of my favorites in no particular order. They all represent historical fiction by writers that I love to read.

Top Ten Tuesday is sponsored  by Jana over at That Artsy Reader Girl

Cloudsplitter: A Novel by Russell Banks

Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker

Wolf Hall: A Novel  by Hilary Mantel

The Siege of Krishnapur

by J.G. Farrell

 Night Soldiers: A Novel by Alan Furst

 I, Claudius from the autobiography of Tiberius Claudius 

by Robert Graves

Memoirs of Hadrian

by Marguerite Yourcenar

 The Covenant by James A. Michener

 An Instance of the Fingerpost

by Iain Pears

 The Leopard  by Giuseppe di Lampedusa

Monday, August 21, 2023

Musical Thoughts

Arnold Schoenberg

 "I never was very capable of expressing my feelings or emotions in words. I don't know whether this is the cause why I did it in music and also why I did it in painting. Or vice versa: That I had this way as an outlet. I could renounce expressing something in words." - Arnold Schoenberg 

"All good music resembles something. Good music stirs by its mysterious resemblance to the objects and feelings which motivated it." - Jean Cocteau 


Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951), a native of Vienna, was forced to work at a bank from 1891 to 1895 after his father passed away, but he still found time to further his musical training through amateur chamber music performances and composition sessions with Alexander von Zemlinsky. The early String quartet in D from 1897, which was successfully performed, displays the influence of Dvorak and Brahms.

However, Schoenberg's subsequent piece sparked the controversy that would follow him throughout his career. The Vienna Music Association rejected the string sextet "Verklarte Nacht" (Transfigured night) due to certain uncomfortably discordant chords, despite its Romantic nature and emotional richness of harmony and color recalling Wagner and Richard Strauss. In 1901, Schoenberg wed Zemlinsky's sister and settled in Berlin. There, he orchestrated operettas in a cabaret theater to help pay for the composition of the symphonic poem "Pelleas und Melisande." On Richard Strauss's advice, he was hired to teach at Berlin's Stern Academy, saving him from this drudgery. This marked the start of Schoenberg's lengthy career as a renowned educator. 

He came back to Vienna in 1903 to give private lessons. The following year, he began teaching Alban Berg and Anton Webern, who would go on to form the "Second Viennese School" alongside Schoenberg.  This atmosphere of creative stimulation produced bold and rapid developments in Schoenberg's style, with the First chamber symphony pushing and the Second string quartet breaking the limits of tonality ( the traditional method of composing a piece of music in one particular key). The soprano that Schoenberg added to the quartet sings words that appear symbolic and significant: "I breathe the air from another planet."

"Pierrot lunaire", a setting of 21 poems for speaker and chamber ensemble, was premiered in Berlin in 1912 under the direction of Schoenberg, who had returned to the city. The surrealist writings of Albert Giraud, which portray the realms of latent brutality, lunacy, and desperate nostalgia that were implied in the musical worlds Schoenberg was investigating, served as the inspiration for this important work of the 20th century. Sprechgesang, a vocal production style that straddles singing and speaking, is highlighted throughout the piece. The methodology of serialism, an atonal approach in which the 12 notes of the chromatic scale are treated with equal emphasis, is the product of Schoenberg's creative experimentation. The Piano Suite and the Suite for Eight Instruments are two early examples of his compositions in this genre that date back to 1923.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Serious Thinker

Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Volume 1, 1913-1926
Walter Benjamin: 
Selected Writings, 
Volume 1, 1913-1926 

“Work on a good piece of writing proceeds on three levels: a musical one, where it is composed; an architectural one, where it is constructed; and finally, a textile one, where it is woven.”   ― Walter Benjamin

Although he wrote these essays when he was young, in his first thirteen years of writing, they belie his youth and ooze confidence while displaying a vast range of reading. His perspective on tragedy suggests studying both history and art in the quest to find significance in the terrible. The analysis of critique of German romanticism looks deeply into the inspiration behind the criticism as well as the ideas of intellectuals like Schelling and Fichte.

Benjamin consistently offers insights that continue to be relevant more than a century later, whether he is discussing the nature of translation or explaining how we use language. His reflections on the nature of being, along with the prerequisites for writing and the appropriate format for expressing ideas, most inspired me.

The writings by Walter Benjamin collected here offer opinions on a wide range of subjects, including language, translation, criticism, tragedy, and writing. Their superior writing and thoughtfulness are the only things they have in common. There is a message that emanates from a curious mind and permeates the pages of this anthology, regardless of how basic or flippant it may appear. His Arcades project is complemented by three volumes of essays, the first of which is this one. It is a good place to start exploring this writer who challenges you to think seriously about ideas.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Fools & Madmen

King Lear (Shakespeare, Pelican)
King Lear 
“This cold night will turn us all to fools and madmen.”       ― William Shakespeare, King Lear

The division of the Kingdom begins the play with first, the Earls of Kent and Gloucester speculating on the basis for the division and second, the actual division by Lear based on professions of love requested from his three daughters. When this event goes not as planned the action of the play ensues and the reader is in for a wild ride, much as Lear himself is. The mythic nature of the drama impressed me this reading. One might compare it to the Greek dramas like Oedipus at Colonus.

The play provides one of Shakespeare's most thoroughly evil characters in Edmund while much of the rest of the cast is aligned against each other. The story of Lear and his daughters is mirrored by the suffering of  the Earl of Gloucester who is tricked by his bastard son Edmund into believing that his other son Edgar is plotting against him. While there are a few lighter moments the play, often produced by the commentary of Lear's Fool, the tone is generally very dark filled with the bitter results of Lear's poor decisions at the outset. It is difficult to understand how little that Lear really knows his daughters. Interestingly we do not get much of a back story and find, other than his age of four score years, little else to suggest why Lear would surrender his power and his Kingdom at the outset. The play is certainly powerful and maintains your interest through dramatic scenes, while it also provides for many questions - some of which remain unanswered.

Monday, July 31, 2023

Things Happen in England and Italy

Where Angels Fear to Tread (Vintage Classics)
Where Angels Fear to Tread 

"Miss Abbott, don’t worry over me. Some people are born not to do things. I’m one of them … I never expect anything to happen now, and so I am never disappointed … I seem fated to pass through the world without colliding with it or moving it’ […]
She said solemnly, ‘I wish something would happen to you, my dear friend; I wish something would happen to you."   - E. M. Forster

E. M. Forster's first novel tackles issues of national identity and the potential for interpersonal connection despite societal inequalities that would preoccupy Forster throughout his career. The action is split between England and Italy. Where Angels Fear to Tread culminates in a "song of madness and death" similar to the sad opera Lucia di Lammermoor, which turns raucously amusing in one of the novel's most memorable sequences, yet at times veers into farce.

The novel is gruesome, accomplished, and darkly humorous. The best intentions fail and well-known ideas of virtue and vice fall to pieces in it. This kind of tragedy is distinctively Jamesian, and Philip's tale unmistakably invokes The Ambassadors' storyline. Similar to Strether in James' novel, Philip goes to the continent in order to save a fellow countryman from disgrace (first Lilia, then her son), only to fall in love with the place, find himself in the unlikely position of defending it, and have additional "ambassadors" (Harriet and Caroline Abbott) sent in order to save his mission. John Marcher, the main character of Henry James' "The Beast in the Jungle," and, in a way, the model for Strether, have similarities with Philip in his disengagement from life and inability to make snap decisions. However, Philip's tragedy is more difficult to accept because of his conviction that nothing can save him, which is actually the reverse of Strether's.

The action of this novel somewhat presages aspects of Forster's third novel, A Room With A View. As first novels go, this one is one of the best with a literary touch that Forster would continue to develop in his more famous later novels.

Friday, July 28, 2023

A Renaissance Diary

At the Court of the Borgia
At the Court of the Borgia 
On Christmas Day the pope came in procession to the Basilica where he celebrated High Mass with all traditional ceremony and splendour.  -  John Burchard, At the Court of the Borgia

This book is structured as a diary that narrates a description or overview of Pope Alexander VI's reign. written by Johann Burchard, the Borgia pope's master of ceremonies, on life under his rule. The pontificate of Alexander VI (born Rodrigo de Borja and lived from 1431 – 1503) stands out in Papal history with a reputation that is infamous and unmatched, and the name Borgia symbolizes for everything that is regarded as corrupt and unlawful in the church of the fifteenth century.

Following Columbus' discoveries in 1492, Alexander's papal bulls of 1493 recognized or reaffirmed the Spanish crown's rights in the New World. Alexander VI served as Cesare Borgia's condottiere for the French king during the second Italian war. His foreign policy's main objective was to secure the best possible conditions for his family.

The author tries to avoid some of the more salacious stories about Alexander and he never disclosed the work during his lifetime. It wasn't until the beginning of the twentieth century that a complete edition of his diary was published. Even though I am not a Catholic, nor am I a scholar of the Renaissance, I found this book fascinating. For those interested in the history of the Borgia's or of the Renaissance culture and politics this is an excellent source.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

A Romance and a Book

The Bookman's Tale
The Bookman's Tale 

“That must be something to discover a book that nobody's ever heard of or everybody thought was lost."
"It's every bibliophile's dream," said Francis, and Peter knew in a second that it was his own.”   ― Charlie Lovett, The Bookman’s Tale

The Bookman's Tale by Charlie Lovett is a literary mystery with elements of intrigue and conspiracy. It is an extremely compelling narrative of one vintage bookseller's healing from the death of his beloved wife. The author, a former antiquarian bookshop owner himself, spins an engaging story that examines the impact of literature, the agony of dying, and the potential for redemption.

1995 at Hay-on-Wye, England. Peter Byerly is unsure of what brought him to a specific bookstore. He had been devastated by the loss of his cherished wife, Amanda, nine months ago. The young antiquarian bookseller moved to the English countryside from North Carolina in an effort to rekindle his love of collecting and restoring old books. Peter, though, is startled when a picture of Amanda jumps out of an eighteenth-century study of Shakespeare forgeries. Naturally, she isn't there. Clearly a Victorian work of art, the watercolor. However, the similarity is uncanny, and Peter gets fixated on discovering the image's history.

Peter communicates with Amanda's spirit, discovers the truth about his own past, and comes across a manuscript that might provide conclusive evidence that Shakespeare was the author of all of his plays as he follows the trail back first to the Victorian age and then to Shakespeare's time. Characters in Lovett's debut book are interesting, and the plot is intriguing. It is filled with everything, including romance, mystery, and book restoration. It was a pleasure to read and, since I love books about books, it is sure to have a place as one of my favorite reads.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Lost in the Game of Chess

The Defense

“The recollection also came back empty, and for the first time in all his life, perhaps, Luzhin asked himself the question – where exactly had it all gone, what had become of his childhood, whither had the veranda floated, whither, rustling through the bushes, had the familiar paths crept away?”   ― Vladimir Nabokov, The Defense

The story centers on Luzhin, a melancholy, lonesome ten-year-old boy at the start of the book, spending the final days of summer at the family's country home outside of St. Petersburg. His father just broke the bad news that he must start school when they get back to town. He despises going to school. He only has any passion for his attractive young aunt, who turns out to be his father's mistress. On the same day that his mother discovers the affair, she teaches young Luzhin how to play chess. He rapidly becomes a prodigy making his debut in front of the public the following summer.

Dropping out of school, Luzhin devotes himself exclusively to chess until he falls ill. During a prolonged recuperation, he resides in a German health resort where, by chance, a major international chess tournament is being held. Luzhin’s career is launched. In the space of one paragraph, sixteen years passes, and Luzhin is still at the same spa, speaking to his future bride-to-be. At age 30, Luzhin hasn't changed much socially from the melancholy, reserved boy he was as a child. In the intervening years, a Svengali-like chess promoter named Valentinov has been in charge of managing his young prodigy's career. Now that he must compete in a significant competition, Luzhin has traveled to the resort to get ready. He leaves for his tournament in Berlin, the city where his fiancee's horrified parents reside, after an odd romance.

Luzhin plays superbly, moving on to the last round against Turati, whose original opening move he has developed a new defensive for. (He had previously fallen to Turati in a match.) Luzhin spends his evenings at the tacky house of his fiancée's philistine parents. As the days go by, Luzhin, who at best has a shaky hold of reality, loses himself more and more in the chess patterns he imposes on his surroundings. The initial move against which Luzhin had created his unique defense is absent when the final match versus Turati starts. Luzhin is so immersed in the world of chess that he cannot return to reality. He hears a voice say, "Go home," as the game ends for the night.

The denouement that follows is as fascinating as the narrative that precedes it, while Nabokov's novel ends with a strange vision of eternity. This was the third of Nabokov's first ten novels originally written in Russian. It is one of his best.

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Transcripts of a Life

Stella Maris (The Passenger, #2)
Stella Maris 

“If you had to say something definitive about the world in a single sentence what would that sentence be?
It would be this: the world has created no living thing that it does not intend to destroy.”   ― Cormac McCarthy, Stella Maris

BLACK RIVER FALLS, WISCONSIN - 1972 Twenty-year-old Alicia Western checks herself into the hospital with $40,000 in a plastic bag. Alicia is a paranoid schizophrenia patient who is a doctorate candidate in mathematics at the University of Chicago. She does not want to talk about her brother Bobby because of her illness. Instead, she ponders the nature of madness and how people insist on having a single experience of the world. She also remembers a time when, at the age of seven, her own grandmother was worried about her. She also examines the nexus of physics and philosophy and introduces her cohorts, her chimeras, and the hallucinations that only she can see. She continues to be sad for Bobby, who isn't quite dead and isn't quite hers.

Stella Maris is a conceptual novel that is told entirely through the transcripts of Alicia's psychiatric sessions. It examines subjects such as the nature of consciousness, gnosticism, literary allusions, and the eschaton while remaining utterly grounded in reality. It is likely to make you question whether your life is being written by fate. It is a probing, meticulous, and intellectually demanding conclusion to The Passenger, a philosophical investigation that challenges our beliefs about God, reality, and existence. 

If you are a reader like me you will want to immediately reread these two novels after finishing Stella Maris. The combination of these two novels provide a fitting postlude to the literary life of Cormac McCarthy.

Friday, July 14, 2023

Morality and Science

The Passenger (The Passenger, #1)
The Passenger 

“Mercy is in the province of the person alone. There is mass hatred and mass grief. Mass vengeance and even mass suicide. But there is no mass forgiveness. There is only you.”   ― Cormac McCarthy, The Passenger

PASS CHRISTIAN, MISSISSIPPI, 1980 Bobby Western jumps from the Coast Guard tender into the dark at three in the morning after zipping up his wet suit jacket. Nine people are still fastened in their seats, with hair floating and eyes empty of speculation, when his dive light illuminates the sunken jet. The tenth passenger, the black box of the aircraft, and the pilot's flight bag are all missing from the crash site. Yet how? Western is haunted in body and spirit by men with badges, the ghost of his father, the man who created the atomic bomb that burned glass and flesh in Hiroshima, and his sister, who is both his soul's love and its ruin. Western is a collateral witness to plots that can only lead to his injury.

It is Alicia, his sister, who is the most interesting, yet curiously difficult to understand as she has conversations with hallucinatory images. The story explores a plethora of ideas , centered on the nature of mathematics and the limits of using words to describe the world. This leads one to wonder about the nature of literature itself and the reason we tell stories.

The Passenger is a magnificent narrative about morality and science, the legacy of sin, and the insanity that is human awareness that traverses the American South, from the boisterous bars of New Orleans to an abandoned oil rig off the coast of Florida. It also instills in the reader a desire to read its companion volume, Stella Maris.

Friday, June 30, 2023

The Act of Saying I

Let Me Tell You What I Mean
Let Me Tell You What I Mean 

“In many ways, writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It’s an aggressive, even a hostile act. You can disguise its aggressiveness all you want with veils of subordinate clauses and qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions—with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating—but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.”   ― Joan Didion, Let Me Tell You What I Mean

I have long admired the prose style of Joan Didion and these twelve early pieces never before collected demonstrate that style. This selection of essays offers an illuminating glimpse into the mind and process of Joan Didion.

The varied essays in this collection, which are mainly taken from the early years of her astounding five-decade career, feature Didion writing about a Gamblers Anonymous meeting, a trip to San Simeon, and a reunion of WWII veterans in Las Vegas, as well as about subjects like Nancy Reagan, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Martha Stewart.

Didion has written extensively about the following topics: the press, politics, California robber barons, women, the writing process, and her own self-doubt. I think you will find that each essay is typical Didion: razor-sharp, astonishingly perceptive, and very readable.

Monday, June 19, 2023

An Ecstatic Life


“Nothing is all stark and clear any longer, nothing stands in opposition. Good and evil live together; dark and light. Contradictions can be true at once. The world holds a great and pulsing terror at its center. The world is ecstatic in its very deeps.”   ― Lauren Groff, Matrix

I found this to be a bold and compelling reimagining of the life of Marie de France, a 12th-century poet and nun. While the author does not follow the exact historical record, she produces a powerful story about the life of a woman who struggles to find her place in a world that is both oppressive and liberating.

The novel begins with Marie being banished from the French court and sent to England to become the prioress of an abbey. Marie is a reluctant nun, but she soon finds herself drawn to the spiritual life and to the women who live with her at the abbey. As she learns to lead her community, Marie also begins to write again, and her poems soon become famous throughout England.

Groff's writing is lush and evocative, and she brings Marie to life with great empathy. Marie is a complex and conflicted character, and Groff does not shy away from her flaws. But she is also a woman of great strength and determination, and her story is one of triumph over adversity.

The author  paints a vivid picture of 12th-century England, and her characters come to life on the page. . The novel explores themes of faith, power, and womanhood in a thought-provoking way. While some of the characters are underdeveloped, Marie is complex and fascinating at the center demonstrating strength, intelligence, and compassion. Overall, I enjoyed Matrix and would recommend it to fans of historical fiction, women's fiction, and beautifully written novels.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

The Last Years of a President

When the cheering stopped: The last years of Woodrow Wilson (Time reading program special edition)
When the cheering stopped: 
The last years of Woodrow Wilson 

"We are troubled on every side, yet not destressed,; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed. . ."  - Woodrow Wilson in his last days as President, quoted by Gene Smith, p 143.

This is the captivating account of what transpired when President Woodrow Wilson fell ill at the height of his achievement, leading to the U.S. Senate blocking his intentions for the United States to join the League of Nations. Few Americans were aware of what took place during his final two years in office, but Gene Smith's investigations reveal the truth about what lied beneath the bland statements made by presidential surrogates. The ensuing biography of the Wilson Presidency's final days makes for engaging reading.

It is a skillfully written and thoroughly researched account of a remarkable, horrible, and perplexing period in history that centered on the agonies of Woodrow Wilson's ideal of world peace and the man who devoted his life to pursuing it. Wilson was devastated by the death of his wife Ellen, and he bitterly set about the mission of uniting the world. Wilson traveled to Europe with the conviction that the goal for which he had sent American lads there would inspire Americans to embrace the League of Nations, to which he had already committed this nation. Mrs. Galt was his wife at the time of his rededication. He began his exhausting program of cross-country talks with her at his side to reassure him.

The breakdown manifested as a thrombosis and partial paralysis at the end of the tour. In truth, the United States remained without a president from that point on until Harding's inauguration. His doctor, a political aide, and his fiercely protective wife surrounded Wilson. The author has provided a fairly comprehensive view of the President at this time—physically ravaged, prone to helpless outbursts of emotion but still burning with a fierce sense of mission, a ""eagle chained to a rock""—by drawing on contemporaneous notes and interviews. While not a complete biography this is an essential view of an important episode in American history.