rocketjk's 2023 Read Yer Own

Discussão2023 ROOT CHALLENGE

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rocketjk's 2023 Read Yer Own

Editado: Set 13, 11:35 am

OK! I'm back for more fun. Three years ago, given my second full year of retirement and first year of Covid, I hit an amazing 82 books read, 31 of which I counted as "Off the shelf." Over the last two years, my reading totals and my "off-the-shelf" reading, were off somewhat, in part due to the fact that I took on quite a few longer books and because I joined a reading group for the first time in my life, and none of the group selections counted as "off the shelf" for mine, except those I selected myself. Anyway, my 2021 totals were 67 books read, with only 22 off-the-shelfers, well short of my 30-book O.T.S. goal. 2022 brought me 53 books read, and 24 O.T.S., just short of my 25-book goal. This year I'll challenge myself to make it to 30 books read from my very crowded shelves. In addition to the books I read straight through, I like to read anthologies, collections and other books of short entries one story/chapter at a time instead of plowing through them all at once. I have a couple of stacks of such books from which I read in this manner between the books I read from cover to cover (novels and histories, mostly). So I call these my "between books." When I finish an "Off the Shelf between book," I add it to my yearly list. I'm nearing the end of quite a few of these as the New Year begins, which helps explain my more optimistic goal for this year. Cheers, all!

Book 1: Show - The Magazine of the Performing Arts, January 1962 edited by Robert M. Wool
Book 2: The Circus of Dr. Lao and Other Improbable Tales edited by Ray Bradbury
Book 3: Best American Short Stories 1957 edited by Martha Foley
Book 4: Sketches from Life of Men I Have Known by Dean Acheson
Book 5: Abraham Lincoln and Civil War America: A Biography by William E Gienapp
Book 6: An Easy Burden: The Civil Rights Movement and the Transformation of America by Andrew Young
Book 7: The River of Dancing Gods by Jack L. Chalker
Book 8: A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
Book 9: Gaza Mom: Palestine, Politics, Parenting, and Everything in Between by Laila M. El-Haddad
Book 10: No Cheering in the Press Box edited by Jerome Holtzman
Book 11: Spring Sowing by Liam O'Flaherty
Book 12: Good for a Laugh: a New Collection of Humorous Tidbits and Anecdotes from Aardvark to Zythum by Bennett Cerf
Book 13: Mission to Moscow by Joseph E. Davies
Book 14: Out of the Red by Red Smith
Book 15: Lunch Poems by Frank O'Hara
Book 16: Life Magazine - October 24, 1969 edited by Ralph Graves

Jan 4, 1:18 pm

Welcome back, good luck!

Also, your book 1 author has the best name ever! Is he even real?! :D

Jan 4, 1:40 pm

>2 Jackie_K: "Is he even real?! :D"

No. The line is just a placeholder for when I finally read/finish an off-the-shelfer this year. It is a good name, though. :)

Jan 4, 3:00 pm

>3 rocketjk: Haha, that's brilliant! I still think it's the best name ever!

Jan 4, 4:54 pm

>4 Jackie_K: Thanks! The P. stands for Placeholder.

Jan 4, 6:14 pm

Welcome back and have a great reading year! Love the idea of "between books".

Jan 5, 5:27 am

>6 rabbitprincess: Yes. I'm thinking I might use litmags for that sort of thing, given that I've subscribed to a few but am not very good at getting round to actually reading them.

Jan 5, 5:30 am

Welcome back!

Jan 5, 7:36 am

Happy New Year, Jerry and welcome to a new year of ROOTing

Jan 5, 12:21 pm

Welcome back!
>2 Jackie_K: excellent sleuthing and >3 rocketjk: so funny!

Jan 5, 12:25 pm

I take a similar approach to anthologies and story collections, Jerry. I've also made a habit of jotting down a one- or two-sentence comment for each story in a small notebook so that when I finally finish the book I can look back and assess what I thought of it as a whole, as well as the individual stories.

Jan 5, 1:48 pm

Happy new year, Jerry! I have you starred. Happy ROOTing :)

Jan 5, 6:36 pm

>11 rosalita: " I've also made a habit of jotting down a one- or two-sentence comment for each story in a small notebook so that when I finally finish the book I can look back and assess what I thought of it as a whole, as well as the individual stories.

Yes, I should start doing that. It's the case that by the time I've finished with a long-ish anthology, I often have to go back skimming through the stories to try to remember what I've read.

Jan 6, 9:30 am

>11 rosalita: That is a very good suggestion I will follow.

Jan 6, 9:40 am

>13 rocketjk: >14 connie53: I hope it works for both of you. I find it's really helped me be more thoughtful about engaging with the collection as a whole, similar to what Jerry said about only reading one story/chapter at a sitting.

Editado: Jan 25, 1:13 am

Book 1: Show - The Magazine of the Performing Arts, January 1962 edited by Robert M. Wool

Read as a "Between Book" (see first post). I have a stack of old magazines in the closet of my home office that I've picked up along the way at thrift stores and used bookshops and such. I have been gradually reading through them with an eye toward the recycling bin, except for rare occasions when I find them worth keeping. Several on that stack are different editions of Show Magazine. Last year I read the July 1962 edition. And while this January 1962 edition was interesting, it didn't quite match its July cousin in quality.

There were a series of interesting reviews and columns, most notably Virgil Thompson's reviews of the recent operas adapted from the novels The Crucible and Wings of the Dove, John Simon's lament about the ennui of the theater of that day entitled "How to be Bored in Three Acts" and Leonard Feather's unfortunate (as seen from my own tastes) savaging of the avant garde jazz of his day, which he refers to as "anti-jazz." Of the feature stories, the most interesting are theater critic Harold Hobson's interview with John Gielgud, a complaint about the "current" condition of New York's 42nd Street area by Henry Hope Reed, Jr. and Gay Talese, and a feature about Otto Preminger's encampment in Washington, D.C. for the filming of the movie version of Advise and Consent.

The next magazine added to the rotation will be still another edition of Show, this one from March 1963.

Jan 15, 10:30 am

Hi Jerry!

First time visitor. I’m originally from Southern Cal, and if I ever returned to live in CA, it would definitely be Northern Cal, having visited family and camped many times over the decades. I love the pics on your profile page of things found in books. I volunteer for a non-profit, too, the Friends of the Library here in central NC, and while sorting through book donations for our semi-annual sales, we find fascinating things all the time.

Good luck with your reading and Between Book goals.

Jan 15, 11:38 am

>17 karenmarie: Hi Karen, Thanks for dropping in. Yes, those found items are a lot of fun. Adds a whole other level to the story of the book itself. All the best!

Jan 18, 12:30 pm

Book 2: The Circus of Dr. Lao and Other Improbable Stories edited by Ray Bradbury

Read as a "Between Book" (see first post). Finally another off-the-shelfer! This is a fun old paperback, published in 1956. As Bradbury makes clear in his introduction, he has put together a collection of stories that are much more appropriately thought of as fantasy rather than science fiction. It's an entertaining set of stories, although somewhat hit or miss. The famous title story, really a novella, is a tour de force of surrealist storytelling. I'd never read it before and was absolutely entranced throughout. That story sets up a standard, however, that none of the other, shorter, entries never come close to matching, except maybe perhaps Shirley Jackson's well-known "The Summer People." Of the rest, Oliver La Farge's "The Resting Place," with it's elements of Native American legends, and Loren Eiseley's subtle "Buzby's Pertified Woman" were my favorites. Also intriguing was "Earth's Holocaust" by none other than Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Jan 20, 3:08 pm

Good to see you back, Jerry. Sorry I missed your thread earlier.

Editado: Jan 24, 1:21 pm

Book 4: Sketches from Life of Men I Have Known by Dean Acheson

Read as a "Between Book" (see first post). Dean Acheson was a high-ranking U.S. diplomat throughout the WW2 war years and into the years immediately afterwards. He was Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Relations and International Conferences from December 1944 through August 1945, then Under Secretary of State until June 1947 and finally returned to government service to become Secretary of State in the Truman administration from 1949 through 1953. Acheson was Secretary of State between George Marshall and John Foster Dulles.

This book contains a series of reminiscences/portraits of the diplomats and politicians he worked with (or, in some cases, against) and/or under during his time in the diplomatic corps. The book opens with chapters about Ernest Bevin and Robert Shuman, Acheson's opposite numbers for England and France, respectively, during the years at the end of, and immediately after, the war, when the large Western democracies were figuring out how they wanted to administer Western Europe and how to negotiate with Soviet Russia and create a united front against what they saw as Soviet plans for further expansion. There is a chapter, also, on Acheson's dealing with several Russian diplomats and their negotiating tactics. The chapters cover negotiations around the establishment of the United Nations, the administration of the post-war occupation of Germany and the establishment of the western alliance that became NATO. Of particular interest to me were the deliberations that led to the decision to bring West Germany into the alliance (i.e., to rearm them, a development that was viewed with some alarm, as I've learned from other reading, in many parts of Europe). While there was serious reluctance to take this step in some quarters, in the end the West Germans were seen by the U.S. and the Western European powers as a pivotal member of any alliance that would be able to stand up to Stalin and his successors.

Other politicians Acheson profiles here include Winston Churchill, Arthur Vandeberg (a Republican leader in the Senate whom Acheson describes as a tough opponent of the policies of the Truman administration who could nevertheless come around to support individual initiatives if he saw that the administration was, in fact, on the right track), George Marshall and Conrad Adenauer.

Jan 24, 1:52 pm

Whoops, I just realized I never included here my review of my third Off-the-Shelfer, so here it is:

Book 3: The Best American Short Stories 1957 edited by Martha Foley

Read as a "Between Book" (see first post). Going by what's found in this collection, the late 1950s was certainly a fertile time for American fiction. This excellent volume includes stories by Nelson Algren, Gina Berriault, Evan S. Connell, Jr., William Eastlake, Flannery O'Connor ("Greenleaf"), and Tillie Olson, to name the more famous authors.

Of the writers who were new to me, the highlights were "Man's Courage" about a Black officer at an Army training camp in the South, by Wyatt Blasingame, "Run, Run Away, Brother," about a man thinking back ruefully about his boyhood treatment of his brother, who has died in World War 2, by John Campbell Smith, "Saturday is a Poor Man's Sport," a story about sadness and loneliness (but still somehow beautiful) in a boarding house, by Henrietta Wiegel, and a quiet lovely story, again about brothers, called "Escape to the City," by Gordon Woodward.

Editado: Mar 9, 6:20 pm

Book 5: Abraham Lincoln and Civil War America: A Biography by William E. Gienapp

This is a very enjoyable, well written and relatively brief (200 pages) biography of Abraham Lincoln. The title infers that the book describes only Lincoln's term as president, but in fact it is neatly divided, pretty much in half. The first 100 pages provide a description of Lincoln's childhood and then his career in law and politics leading up to his Civil War administration, from his farm-bound childhood through his early adulthood working any odd job to keep afloat, to his apprenticeship in the legal field, his coming into his own as a lawyer and his career in Illinois state politics. It was interesting to learn that the upshot of the famous Lincoln-Douglass debates was that Lincoln lost the subsequent election to Douglas. This was all great, as far as I was concerned, because while I had read several accounts of Lincoln's presidency and handling of the war, my knowledge of Lincoln's pre-White House life was essentially made up of legend and shadow.

It was nice to learn that many of the legends surrounding Lincoln were essentially true. He did spend his early childhood living with his family in a log cabin. He did quickly become physically strong, able to wield an axe and cut wheat for hours, though he essentially disliked this sort of labor. He did become an almost unbeatable wrestler, and he was self-taught, taking any moment between farm labors to open a book. Also, he did, indeed, earn himself (and keep throughout his life), a reputation for honest dealings and personal integrity. And finally, he retained throughout his life a genuine humane touch and a desire to speak with and learn from farmers, laborers and merchants, men and women. Also, he was, indeed, afflicted with melancholy and depression throughout his life.

The second half of the book covers Lincoln's presidency and the war years. I already mostly knew the details of the progression of the war and Lincoln's struggles to get the commanders of the Army of the Potomac (from McClellan onward) to go on the offensive against the Confederate armies in the east, but Gienapp also did a fine job of filling in the political details of Lincoln's presidency, as he strove just as hard to hold together the coalition of extreme and moderate Republicans and Democrats. The Republicans wanted to press the war and were in favor of emancipation (gradually in the case of the moderates, immediately and fully in the case of the extremists). The other difference between the two were the degrees to which they believed the Southern states should be punished after the war's end. The Democrats believed in pressing the war only to keep the Southern state from seceding, but wanted to leave slavery in place. The extreme Democrats, who came to be known as Copperheads, were actually opposed to the war and wanted to begin negotiations to end it, allowing the Confederacy to remain in place. Though Lincoln, a mostly moderate Republican, had no patience for the Copperheads, he was skillful in keeping a mix of the rest in his cabinet and even in insisting on political appointments of generals of all political camps in order to ensure that all parties felt they had a stake in the outcome of the war. This ability to give his political rivals some ground, and the thick skin that enabled him to shrug off personal attacks and avoid grudge holding, Gienapp describes as among Lincoln's greatest strengths as a politician.

Book note: This book has been sitting in my Biography bookcase since my LT Big Bang, when I first posted my library here in 2008.

Fev 2, 10:31 am

>23 rocketjk: while I had read several accounts of Lincoln's presidency and handling of the war, my knowledge of Lincoln's pre-White House life was essentially made up of legend and shadow

If you're interested in a different slant on Lincoln's pre-presidency years, I can heartily recommend Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer by Fred Kaplan. I enjoyed learning about Lincoln's literary influences and how he used writing to work out his own views on the matter at hand.. If I may be so immodest as to direct you to my 2018 review:

Fev 2, 12:03 pm

>24 rosalita: Thanks! I will check out your review. Gienapp talks about those issues some. I was also interested to see that Lincoln would work out his opinions, often, by finding people to discuss them with, but taking up, in those discussions, the opposite side of the matter than the one he was leaning toward.

Mar 9, 6:20 pm

Book 6: An Easy Burden: The Civil Rights Movement and the Transformation of America by Andrew Young

Andrew Young's memoir of his life and, most importantly, his experiences working alongside Martin Luther King in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, is extremely detailed and, at 531 pages, takes a while to get through. However, the journey is very much worthwhile for anyone interested in reading a comprehensive history of the Civil Rights Movement in America. As a young Congregationalist minister and Civil Rights worker in the Deep South, Young, through his strong organizational skills and ability to communicate with young workers, eventually rose to a leadership position in the SCLC. Young's blow by blow account of Martin Luther King's growing prominence and the SCLC's growing importance on the national stage is truly fascinating and he recounts in detail the individual campaigns organized and carried out by the SCLC, either on their own or (most frequently) in tandem with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The rise and fall of the SCLC, SNCC and other organizations, and the Civil Rights Movement itself, all placed firmly within the context of a broad range of cultural, historical, political and economic factors, makes for very enlightening reading. Since this is a memoir rather than a straight history, Young is able to provide, also, a personal dimension that frames the events extremely well.

Mar 16, 3:52 pm

Book 7: The River of Dancing Gods by Jack L. Chalker

Wanting something a little lighter to read after An Easy Burden, I decided to visit our pulp fiction shelves. The River of Dancing Gods is the first book in Jack L. Chalker's 5-book Dancing Gods fantasy series, vintage 1980s. Joe is a cross country trucker, divorced and cut off from seeing his child barreling across a lonely nighttime highway. Marge is a woman in her 30s, on her own after leaving an abusive marriage and out on that same highway going she knows not where. Jumping out of the car of a would-be molester, Marge is hitchhiker through the night, when Joe picks her up. Soon, however, the road becomes hazy and seems to split in two. They take what seems to be the correct fork but in moments are confronted by a strange character standing in the middle of the road, which has, in fact, now disappeared. Long story short, Joe and Marge are recruited to come with this fellow to an alternate world where they will be able to help the good guys in a battle between good and evil in a world that's pre-technology. Well, of course they will. And of course they go. (Joe's alternative, so says the stranger, is to go back to the main road and die in a truck crash within minutes.)

Anyway, after a bit of training, Joe is super strong and has a magic sword. Marge has become a witch (that's a good thing) with ever heightening knowledge of magic spells. Off they are sent, with a few others, on a quest. Well, of course they are! All in all, I'd say there are some very clever bits, and even some humor. (Joe is instructed to give this magic sword a name, and is pleased to settle on calling it Irving, for example.) But there are a lot of holes left where the reader is left to fill in the blanks, world-building wise. Well there are plusses and minuses to fantasy series where each entry is only 263 pages rather than what seems to be the requisite 600 nowadays. There are lots of lazy use of empty-calorie adverbs like "incredibly" and "unbelievable" but otherwise the sentence-level cliches are kept down to a dull roar. We also get a fair helping of 80s-era sexism. Other than that, I found the whole thing to rather genial, but not particularly satisfying, and I won't be reading any more in the series.

Book note: I purchased this paperback from the "used-books for sale" shelf on the second floor of a pub somewhere in the middle of Ireland during a vacation there my wife and I took seven or so years back, so I do have a bit of sentimental attachment to my copy.

Editado: Mar 25, 2:07 pm

Book 8: A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin

This is a reread, picked up again because it was my turn to make a selection, this month, for my reading group, and this is what I picked. I originally finished the collection in 2021, and I'm just going to repost my review from that first reading:

This is a wonderful collection of short stories, full of writing that manages to be heartbreaking and life affirming at the same time. The tales are loosely interconnected and reflective of Berlin's own life. Teaching, single parenthood, childhood time spent in South America, dealing with the grim lifestyle of the alcoholic and the relative peace of recovery, odd jobs, teaching, lovers and marriages, loneliness, spending time in Mexico City with her sister who is dying of cancer . . . the stories in this collection circle back around to these themes, inspecting them from a variety of perspectives. The observations are acute and Berlin's sentence-and paragraph-level writing often made me stop and reread. The title story is a tour de force, the building of a life on the page, minute detail by detail.

From the next to last story in the collection, "Wait a Minute:"

Time stops when someone dies. Of course it stops for them, maybe, but for the mourners time runs amok. Death comes too soon. It forgets the tides, the days growing longer and shorter, the moon. It rips up the calendar. You aren't at your desk or on the subway or fixing dinner for the children. You're reading People in a surgery waiting room, or shivering outside on a balcony smoking all night long. You stare into space, sitting in your childhood bedroom with the globe on the desk. Persia, the Belgian Congo. The bad part is that when you return to your ordinary life all the routines, the marks of the day, seem like senseless lies. All is suspect, a trick to lull us, rock us back into the placid relentlessness of time.

When someone has a terminal disease, the soothing churn of time is shattered. Too fast, no time, I love you, have to finish this, tell him that. Wait a minute! I want to explain. Where is Toby, anyway? Or time turns sadistically slow. Death just hangs around while you wait for it to be night and then wait for it to be morning. Every day you've said good-bye a little. . . . The
camote man whistles in the street below and then you help your sister into the sala to watch Mexico City news and then U.S. news with Peter Jennings. Her cats sit on her lap. She has oxygen but still their fur makes it hard to breathe. "No! Don't take them away. Wait a minute."

Abr 4, 4:52 pm

Book 9: Gaza Mom: Palestine, Politics, Parenting, and Everything in Between by Laila M. El-Haddad

Read as a "Between Book" (see first post) Laila El-Haddad is a very influential Palestinian blogger and journalist from Gaza (although I can't find much about her that's recent and even her own blog hasn't been updated since 2016). Gaza Mom is a compilation of her blog posts and other writing from Gaza and elsewhere throughout the 2000s. She chronicles the oppressive tactics of the Israeli government and, especially, military to keep the Gazan people bottled up and subjugated. She describes everything from indiscriminate deadly gunfire, frequent flyovers by fighter jets to create havoc- and depression-inducing sonic booms, closing of border gates for weeks at a time to prevent people from getting in or out of Gaza, trade and import embargoes to create artificial shortages in goods and services . . . the list goes on and on. El-Haddid also describes the disfunction of the Gazan government and the inter-party violence that occasionally fills the streets of the city. She notes with mounting frustration the worldwide public inattention to all this and the information vacuum, courtesy of the international press, that prevents even well-meaning people around the world from understanding the real plight of the Palestinian people. This is all described within the context of El-Haddid's own family frustrations, including life as experienced by her own parents and her own young child, as well as the fact that her husband is prevented from joining them in Gaza because the Israeli government refuses to supply him the proper visa. The book is very detailed and, quite properly, depressing to read, which is the reason I decided early on to go through the volume one chapter at a time as one of my "between books." El-Haddid makes no attempt to create a "balanced" or "objective" journalistic account. This is the story of her own experiences and that of her family, as well as her observations of the maddening cruelty imposed by Israel. It's a tough read. You have to take El-Haddid's account at face value, and whether or not she's leaving any "balancing" information out, what she does provide is vivid enough to be convincing. Even if things were, let's say, not quite as bad as she was portraying them because she was leaving out this or that bit of information, it's all bad enough to be a demoralizing education, especially for those of us who grew up being taught to think of Israel as a country with a strong moral compass. Well, I was disabused of that myth long ago, but the details here are still difficult, and extremely important, to read. I can't imagine things have gotten any better over the 14 years or so since this book was published.

Editado: Abr 5, 12:45 pm

Book 10: No Cheering in the Press Box edited by Jerome Holtzman

Another "Between Book" finished (see first post). The full title of this collection, as you might be able to see in the cover image, is No Cheering in the Press Box: Recollections--Personal & Professional--by Eighteen Veteran American Sportswriters. And that pretty much sums up this marvelous book, first published in 1974. The interviewer and editor of the book, Jerome Holtzman, was himself a very well known sportswriter at the time, writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, the Sporting News and other national sports publications. Holtzman set out to record interviews with, as noted, 18 famous veteran sportswriters. One thing I appreciated about Holtzman's approach was that, in the presentation of these interviews, Holtzman took himself out of the narrative entirely. These aren't, then, question and answer type interviews. We have only the interview subjects speaking, so what we get are much more akin to oral histories.

Cumulatively, these oral histories present a picture of American sportswriting, and very much the American newspaper world, in general from the 1920s through the 1960s. For one thing, there were no journalism schools in those days. Most of these writers became newspapermen by showing up in newsrooms and wrangling a position whereby they made coffee and emptied wastepaper baskets. Maybe, eventually, they'd be sent out to cover a high school basketball game when whoever was originally assigned called in sick. If you did a good job, you might get another assignment.

Another part of that world described by many of the interviewees is the different relationship the reporters built with the players and managers (I should have noted earlier that the interviews deal mainly with baseball writing) in the earlier decades of the 20th century. The writers rode in the same trains during road trips, played in the same poker games, and often went on the same hunting and fishing trips. The writers describe the difficulty of still having to criticize a player's performance or a manager's decision making when it was someone you were friends with otherwise. On the other hand, they were much less likely to write about a player's personal flaws or misadventures of the field than sportswriters today are. Many of the writers offer their memories and impressions of particular players, people like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and Ted Williams, and even earlier players and managers. All in all, these writers were fine storytellers, which makes their oral histories fun to read. They paint a mostly romantic picture of that bygone era of American sports, though the difficulties of spending so much time on the road and in hotels are noted, as are the pressures of writing on deadline.

Of the eighteen journalists interviewed, I had only heard of seven: Paul Gallico, Shirley Povich, Abe Kemp, Ford Frick, Red Smith, John R. Tunis and Jimmy Cannon. Anyway, I highly recommend this book for anyone with an interest in baseball and baseball history, or even maybe just in the history of American journalism in general, as seen through the lens of the sports section.

Abr 5, 1:26 pm

>30 rocketjk: Pretty sure you already got me with this one, Jerry. I need to look for it at the library next time I go.

Editado: Abr 24, 2:54 pm

Book 11: Spring Sowing by Liam O'Flaherty

Read as a "Between Book" (see first post). The short story collection was published in 1926 by Irish writer Liam O'Flaherty. The stories are almost all "naturalist" (I don't know if that's a real term) in style. Some of the stories depict small town/rural Irish life of the era, and some actually see the world through the eyes of animals: a cow in a fever over the loss of her calf, a young seagull learning to fly, a rabbit being chased by a young boy and his hunting dog. The human-centric stories show us events like a humorous hoax perpetrated by one villager over his neighbors over a so-called treasure, group of villagers waiting anxiously on shore, hoping against hope that their friends, sons, husbands will return from the days' fishing expedition despite a fierce, unexpected storm that has suddenly blown their way, snipers on opposite roofs--and opposite sides--during the 1916 Easter Uprising. The two best stories are the collection's first and last. The opening title story shows us the first day of married life of a young farming couple. Clearly in love and exulting on their strength and energy for the day's tasks, the day passes wonderfully. And yet we are clued into the lifetime's worth of repetition and labor awaiting the two. The final story, "Going Into Exile," brings us the moving tale of a loving farming family whose two oldest children are about to depart, probably forever, for America. For the most part beautifully and simply written, in this collection O'Flaherty has provided us a vivid, humorous and affection (if occasionally melancholy) picture of life in rural Ireland during the early 20th century.

Maio 19, 7:49 pm

Book 12: Good for a Laugh: a New Collection of Humorous Tidbits and Anecdotes from Aardvark to Zythum by Bennett Cerf

Read as a "Between Book" (see first post). Back in the days when publishers and columnists could be celebrities, Bennett Cerf lived the life. He was an observational humor columnist, frequent story-telling raconteur guest on the Johnny Carson and Merv Griffith shows and the like, and also a serious publisher. If you've ever seen the documentary made about John and Yoko's "Bed-In For Peace," you might recall Cerf as the smug, condescending "establishment" interviewer trying to trick John into admitting that the whole thing was a gag. On the other hand, in 1925, at the age of 27, Cerf, a vice-president at Modern Library, bought the company, and soon founded Random House, as well. Part of Cerf's public reputation was as a jokester and punster. Good for a Laugh is a 220-page collection of puns and humorous anecdotes, gathered roughly into topics like "D is for Doctors" and "I is for Intoxicants." Not all of them are knee slappers. In fact, relatively few of them are. Given that the book was published in 1952, you'll not be surprised to learn that there is plenty of sexism disguised as yuks. Somehow or other, I found browsing gradually through these chapters amusing, but I think it was more a case of happily imagining my father enjoying these jokes than of enjoying them myself. A note that I've just spent a few minutes paging through the volume again hoping to come up with something actually humorous enough to post here as a positive example, but couldn't really find anything worth sharing. Oh, well.

Jun 21, 8:11 am

Book 13: Mission to Moscow by Joseph E. Davies

Mission to Moscow is Joseph E. Davies' memoir, sort of, of his two years (1936 through 1938) as U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union. I say "sort of" because the book is not a narrative but a series of journal and diary entries as well as many of Davies' official reports and correspondences with Secretary of State Cordell Hull, President Roosevelt, and other government officials. There is quite a bit of repetition, as sometimes, for example, a report to Hull is immediately followed by a very similar report to Roosevelt. That said, the accumulation of information and insights that Davies provides ends up being pretty interesting for someone (like me) with an interest in the events of this era. Davies was in Moscow, and part of the inner diplomatic circle, during the purge trials and the run-up to World War Two. Interestingly, this book was published in October 1941, just 6 weeks or so before Pearl Harbor.

Davies was not a career diplomat, but a lawyer and businessman. He'd met Roosevelt when they were both in the Wilson administration, where Davies was first Commissioner of Corporations and then the first Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. Because of his interest in industry, and because he thought it was his job, Davies spent a lot of time touring Soviet Union examining the progress the country had made in the realm of factories, mining and agriculture. He was surprised and extremely impressed with how far they'd come so fast since the Revolution. Davies reports on this are interesting at first, but they become extremely detailed and repetitive, sad to say, long past the time that the point has been made.

Davies writes about the Soviet Purge Trials at some length. Davies wondered whether the execution of so many high ranking officers would cause the Red Army to turn against Stalin, but concluded in the end that the Stalin administration had instead cemented its power quite effectively. Davies also tells us that many in the Diplomatic Corps (in other words, other countries' ambassadors to Russia) concluded that many of the defendants were probably actually guilty. Davies describes a period of "terror" in which the arrests and executions numbered into the tens of thousands, and reached from the highest levels of military and government down onto the factory floor. In hindsight, in an addendum added in 1941, Davies also observed that Russia had been the only country invaded by Germany that hadn't had a significant problem of fifth columnists creating trouble from within. He concluded that the Purge trials had served to eliminate any potential fifth columnists. I haven't read any more contemporary histories of these trials and their actual purposes and results, so I don't know how accurate Davies observations are now considered.

Davies reports on the Soviet government's increasing frustration with Neville Chamberlain's appeasement politics towards Germany and their eventual outrage when they are left out of the negotiations that led to the infamous Munich Agreement. In fact, according to Davies, the Russians had been prepared to come to the aid of the Czechs militarily (as per the mutual defense treaty the had with Czechoslovakia and France). From the Munich Agreement, says Davies, the Soviets concluded that England and France were willing to give away Eastern Europe to Hitler in order to keep from being attacked themselves, and were probably willing to let Russia have to take on Hitler by themselves. This led them to the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact that would allow them to at least forestall a German attack.

In the book's opening sections, there is much talk of an American loan to Russia that hadn't been paid back, and had become a diplomatic sticking point. As I understood the issue, the U.S. Government didn't officially recognized the Soviet Government as the legitimate government of Russia until 1933. At that point, the Russians began to be attacked by Japan. Wishing to be able to purchase arms from the U.S., the Soviets had concluded a deal with the U.S. that included the proviso that, in exchange for official recognition, they would agree to pay back a loan that the U.S. had given to the Kerensky government. By 1936, the Russians had followed through with actual payment, and it was getting to be a problem between the two countries. During Davies time this matter was finally settled, with Stalin's direct intervention. The whole thing was evidently a big deal at the time but has been pretty much forgotten now, I mention it here only because it takes up so much of Davies' descriptions. I was surprised to learn that it wasn't until 1933 that the U.S. recognized the Soviet government, but in retrospect I shouldn't have been.

Davies prediction that a post-war Soviet Union would have little interest in trying to expand Communism further into Europe turned out to be short-sighted.

Well, that turned into a long review! But then again, the book is 513 pages plus another hundred or so pages of appendices. It is always of interest to me to read books about this era written before the war has played itself out. In 1936 and 1937, Davies was writing about trying to figure out ways to keep the peace in Europe. By 1938, he was writing about the importance of being prepared for war. The book can be very dry at times, but I did learn a lot about what the perspective of an ambassador in the Soviet Union would have been like during these years.

Book notes: My copy of Mission to Moscow is a sixth printing of the 1941 first edition. It's been on my shelf since before my 2008 LT "Big Bang."

Jul 25, 5:14 pm

Book 14: Out of the Red by Red Smith

Published in 1950, Out of the Red is a collection of columns written from 1946 through 1949 by one of America's pre-eminent sportswriters of that, or any, era.

Rather than being arranged in chronological order, the columns are grouped here by subject matter: predominantly baseball, boxing, college football, horse racing, fly fishing and basketball (which Smith famously abhorred). These columns, being published immediately post-WW2, very much reflect mainstream American attitudes of the era, which do not always wear well. For one thing, what we see reflected is very much a scotch and soda, back-slapping, mutuel window, locker room "man's world." Women are barely there, unless they're hosting cocktail parties for charitable organizations. And although Smith is scornful of Major League Baseball's pre-Jackie Robinson Jim Crow paradigm, in later columns Smith's own racism comes to the surface several times.

Smith, though, could indeed turn a phrase. For example:
"In the eighth Hermanski smashed a drive to the scoreboard. Henrich backed against the board and leaped either four or fourteen feet into the air. He stayed aloft so long he looked like an empty uniform hanging it its locker. When he came down he had the ball."

Smith's 1946 pre-Kentucky Derby column began like this:

"A consignment of apprentice horse lovers who have been touring the bourbon quarries and oats disposal plants of the bluegrass country pulled in here a trifle lame today and the bellhop rooming one of them clutched the newcomer's lapels before he grabbed his luggage.

'Look,' this one-man reception committee whispered huskily, 'Get down on Golden Man in the fifth today. And I'll see you afterward. Don't forget my number.'

You knew then you were in Louisville, which may be the only town in America where the tips go from bellhop to tourist instead of vice versa"

The writing is not uniformly excellent, however. Smith is much better at describing events and scenes and people he enjoys and/or approves of, even when poking fun at them (and at himself) than events he doesn't care for. In those cases, he can quickly go from entertainingly humorous to unentertainingly snide.

So this is a time capsule, really, into a certain segment of American life in the immediate post-WW2 era, in sports and in overall attitudes. It's a look back to the time when the Harvard-Yale football game was still a major sporting event, and when boxing matches proliferated, boxers, trainers and managers had colorful tales to tell, and gamblers' activities often brought suspicion to individual fight results. But it was also still the time when men would naturally assume that they were speaking to, and about, other men--other white men--essentially exclusively. A slap on the back and pass the flask. Who ya got in the sixth?

So this collection ends up being a look at that era, faults and all, with a lot of very good, often humorous, writing baked in. In that way, this collection provides a history lesson of sorts. The ability to be entertained despite the sometimes unappealing paradigms of the day will of course vary by reader.

Ago 19, 8:52 am

Hi Jerry. Some interesting books in your posts. I hope you are still doing fine.

Ago 19, 10:34 am

>36 connie53: Thanks, Connie. Yes, all's well here. As you may know, my wife and I moved to New York City from California to begin a year-long stay in Manhattan. For one reason and another, my off-the-shelf completion rate has slowed. One factor, of course, is that I'm now 3,000 miles away from my shelves! But I plan to do some reading of books already in my LT library and count those as "off the shelfers." Anyway, NYC is fun and we're doing lots of exploring. I'm especially fascinated with exploring the many historic and cultural wonders of Harlem, which is where we are staying. Hope all's well with you. Thanks for stopping in. Cheers!

Ago 20, 4:51 am

Hi Jerry, that sounds really exciting. Moving to New York City for a year. I hope you and your wife have a great time there.

All is well with me. Just enjoying the nice weather and my books.

Ago 22, 9:50 am

Book 15: Lunch Poems by Frank O'Hara

This slim volume is from Pocket Poets. The poems were written over the period of 1953 through 1964.

I first started reading these poems about a month ago but didn't like the first few. I couldn't engage with the imagery, somehow, which sometimes seemed more or less random. Then last week I decided to try the poems again. Starting where I'd left off, I found the first few I read to be, in fact, wonderful. So I went back to the beginning and reread the poems I hadn't liked the first time, and, lo and behold! I got those, too! The poems are often very personal, direct observations of life and relationships. There were still some few images that didn't work for me, but I could see better what O'Hara seemed to be getting at: flash portrayals of individual gems of experience, not always necessarily profound in the greater scheme of things but so often worth paying close attention to in the moment. Quite a few of the poems are about the elusive nature of love, or at least that's how I took them. A significant number are veined with eroticism, the joys and pains of desire and physical contact.

Then, when I was about two-thirds through, I got curious and took a look at the Wikipedia page on O'Hara to learn more (my knowledge of poetry and poets being mostly woefully lacking). I found this:

In 1959, he wrote a mock manifesto (originally published in the magazine Yūgen in 1961) called Personism: A Manifesto, in which he explains his position on formal structure: "I don't ... like rhythm, assonance, all that stuff. You just go on your nerve. If someone's chasing you down the street with a knife you just run, you don't turn around and shout, 'Give it up! I was a track star for Mineola Prep.'" He says, in response to academic overemphasis on form, "As for measure and other technical apparatus, that's just common sense: if you're going to buy a pair of pants you want them to be tight enough so everyone will want to go to bed with you. There's nothing metaphysical about it."

Well, so then I had to go back and read the whole collection from the beginning again (we are only talking about 82 very small pages). And, obviously now, this is me finally learning about an extremely important poet that most people with an iota of interest in American poetry already knew of. C'est la vie. Wonderful and, as I now know, extremely influential poems.

Set 13, 11:34 am

Book 16: Life Magazine - October 24, 1969 edited by Ralph Graves

Read as a "Between Book" (see first post). Another old magazine off the stack on the floor of my home office. The edition of Life was particularly intriguing for me due to my memories of so many of the events written about here, as I turned 14 in July 1969. Of most interest was the relatively long article, with photos, about the Vietnam War Moratorium that had just taken place in Washington, DC, hundreds of thousands strong, as well as side pieces about the Nixon Administration's response. Also interesting was the piece on the community that had developed among heart-transplant recipients, very much still a new technology at that time, and on a more humorous note, the dynamic between the Washington Redskins' fun-loving quarterback, Sonny Jurgensen, and disciplinarian Vince Lombardi at the start of the latter's short, post-Packers tenure as head coach in Washington. Finally, there was a nostalgia-inducing piece about the early days of rock "supergroup" Blind Faith. I can still recall what a big deal it was for my high school friends and I when Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker from Cream and Steve Windwood from Traffic got together to form that band.