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Reading Slothfully

I was told in elementary school that I only could read at half the speed for success in college. Oh well, one benefit of slow reading is you get to live with the characters a longer period of time. I read in a vain attempt to better understand people. At my other homes, I'm known as a spouse, pop, guy in the choir, physical chemist, computer/web dilettante and child-care provider. In theory, I'm a published author, if you consider stuff like Quenching Cross Sections for Electronic Energy Transfer Reactions Between Metastable Argon Atoms and Noble Gases and Small Molecules to count as publications. I've strewn dozens of such fascinating things to the winds.

Currently reading

Big Red
Carl Pfeuffer, Jim Kjelgaard
The Daughter of Time
Josephine Tey
The Souls of Black Folk
W.E.B. Du Bois
The Green Archer
Edgar Wallace
Davy and The Goblin What Followed Reading 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland'
Charles E. (Charles Edward) Carryl, Edmund Birckhead Bensell
Typography Essentials: 100 Design Principles for Working with Type
Ina Saltz
White Space is Not Your Enemy: A Beginner's Guide to Communicating Visually through Graphic, Web and Multimedia Design
Rebecca Hagen, Kim Golombisky
InDesign Type: Professional Typography with Adobe InDesign (2nd Edition)
Nigel French
Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit
Parker J. Palmer
Native Son
Richard Wright

Casino Royale

Casino Royale - Ian Fleming God, Ian Flemming is an appalling sexist, misogynistic pig. I'm almost ashamed to have read this book.

Back in the day (the 1960s), Ian Fleming was all the rage. Pres. Kennedy said he liked reading him, and so everyone took him up. Movies followed. The first movies came out when I was in college, featuring the real James Bond, i.e. Sean Connery. The guys who came later were all, to use a term that Bond probably used in real life, if not in the polite environs of literature or cinema, wankers. Anyway, we all liked the movies. The sexism seemed good fun then, a sort of boys-will-be-boys thing. And I don't really remember the nasty misogyny that appears in the book. Maybe it was there and I was just too young and insensitive to have noticed.

This is my first experience with the Bond genre in book form. It pretty much has lots to loathe. In addition to the misogyny, we have a setting at a European casino. For some reason, people like to think of casinos as romantic and exciting. Actually, they're full of sick people who never amounted to a damn and are living off someone else's money. The French Riviera is full of such Eurotrash, people—often alleged former royalty—living on undeserved inheritances.

Ok, sorry I got carried away. So, it seems that some spy master under Russian control, rather embezzled the funds of the trade unions he was representing and used such funds to make bad investments, e.g. in a string of brothels just before such places were declared illegal. He knows the Russians will have him executed once they discover his perfidy. So he needs to make a pile of money quickly, before they find out. Apparently, that means gambling.

So, British Intelligence thinks it would be a great idea to prevent the guy from winning at gambling. They send their best gambler, Bond, to the casino to better the master spy. He is given a side-kick, a woman, who has marvelous "protuberances, both front and back". Bond, being a misogynist, hates the idea of working with a woman. On the other hand, he is only too happy to contrive to bed her. His first thought on seeing her is to wonder about her "morals". Morals to him means only one thing, will she put out or not.

If I were still an adolescent male, I might have found this story interesting, although I think that even back in the dark ages of the 60s I'd have been appalled by Bond's misogyny.

Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church

Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church - Rachel Held Evans This is another book I got from NetGalley in exchange for a review. First off, the edition I received is not ready for prime time, although it appears that the book has already been out for close to a year. The edition I got has no functional table of contents and lots of formatting flaws. I think it was based on an Ebook conversion from a .pdf. Suffice to say, this mades reviewing ever so much more difficult.

Anyway, this is a delightful book. It portrays Ms. Held Evans journey from the church of her youth, a southern, white Evangelical congregation, through a series of off-and-on-again church relationships until she finally finds herself in an Episcopalian congregation, feeling included and welcomed, and feeling able to ask questions, whether or not others might find them "uncomfortable".

She has organized her the story of her faith journey (as we UCCs might term it) around the seven sacraments, or "visible signs of God's grace in our lives". I find her structure to be a bit baffling. I grew up in a relatively liberal Protestant tradition (United Presbyterian Church, USA, now after a merger, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). One of the things I was taught was that Roman Catholics had seven sacraments, but we Presbyterians, and by extension, I believe, we "Protestants", held to only two of them, Baptism and Communion (Eucharist). The five additional RC sacraments included Confirmation, Marriage, Penance (Confession), Holy Orders (Ordination) and anointing the sick. So, did this mean that my marriage, which took place in an Episcopalian service, was a sacrament? My spouse doesn't seem to think so, but then she's a bit vague on sacraments in general. Theology doesn't much interest her.

Anyway, I'm not bothered by this organization, just confused. Ms. Held Evans grew up Evangelical, which I always thought were pretty much even less sacramental than Presbyterians (or UCCs, which I am now, essentially Congregationalist). She says that she's never been confirmed and didn't get baptized until she was a young adult (I didn't get the feeling she'd been a Baptist during her youth, just a non-denominational Evangelical). So, I'm not sure why she choose to embrace this organization. Despite my confusion, I found that the organization pretty much worked. She would begin each section with a sort of meditation on the sacrament itself, and then would weave the events in her faith journey that fit with the particular sacramental section.

I found her faith journey fascinating. As I said, she grew up in the southern, white Evangelical sub culture, a sub culture which, beginning in the 1970s began to be less about religion and more about political power. Yes, the Evangelicals use lots of religious language in their discourses, but their prime purpose is now all about political power, not about helping to create the Kingdom of God among us. One of the side effects of this shift in focus is that questions are no longer welcome. Perhaps they never were. I wouldn't know. Therein is where Ms. Held Evans came afoul the Evangelical church. She was a questioner. Questions were welcomed, to a certain extent, of course, but if you didn't accept the canned answers, then you became a cause for distress, or to use Fred Clark's oft-used phrase, controversial. People who became labeled as controversial were edged out of the confines of the Evangelical tribe.

And so, Ms. Held Evans no longer felt comfortable within the Evangelical tribe, and, one presumes, they not comfortable with her. So she searched elsewhere to find a group of people still more concerned with God than with mammon, so to speak. She tried for a time going to other more liberal churches. Then she helped found and run an "emergent church", whatever that is. We generally have a summer supply pastor who is involved in the emergent church movement, but I've yet to figure that out. She's a bit goofy, but I'm not sure that's not just her personal style. I wouldn't think that goofiness would be a prerequisite for emergent churching.

But eventually, Ms. Held Evans found a home with the Episcopalians. I find that interesting as well. Of course, I'm not clear with which "type" of Episcopalians she is consorting, the high-church smells and bells types or the low-church, plain-folks types like my in-laws. I'm guessing the high-church ones. Either way, she has found a home in a tradition where formal liturgy is the order of the day. A tradition with a set organization to worship, including set corporate prayers, as opposed to the more loosey-goosey organization of most Evangelical services, and even the services of the UCCs and Presbyterians. A tradition probably more similar to the early church than to most churches in the US today. Back in my youth, I would have considered the more liturgical approach to be overly "Papist" for a Protestant service, but in my twilight years, I think I might be able to fit comfortably in a more liturgical setting. But, that's not likely to happen yet, rather than seek elsewhere, I'll still hang (and sing—for me it's mostly about the singing) with my dwindling group of UCC friends. They tolerate my questions and eccentric differences.

Ms. Held Evans is a wonderful writer. Some of her descriptions are lyrical, and she writes with much good humor. This book is well worth one's time and attention.

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner: Stories

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner: Stories - Alan Sillitoe For some reason, I got conned into a NetGalley subscription (membership?). Well, not really "conned" actually, one of my friends mentioned it and I checked it out and thought, "why not?" So, in some instances, apparently, they'll give me an advance copy of a book in return for my promising to review it. And so I have (read it), and so I shall (review it).

This book is a collection of nine short stories. The title comes from the title of the first story, which might be more considered to be a novelette (7500–17,500 words)—this story was about 17,000 words based on an estimate of ~25 words per "position" in a kindle e-Book). It is roughly two to four times longer than any of the other eight stories in the collection. This collection of stories was originally published in 1959. The current edition was re-issued in April 2016 [i.e. shortly before I get this review up].

I've long had a fascination for long-distance runners. I remember fondly reading about Roger Bannister's breaking the 4-minute mile when I was in junior high school. Then, in college, the movie, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner came out, and we all hustled down to see it. As I recall I was rather enamored with the film. My room mate was a runner who set our school's half-mile record (broken by someone else before we graduated). Although I'd long been intrigued by distance running, I didn't actually take up running myself until I was 31 (unless you count my humiliation at cross country in 11th grade when I was the second-to-worst runner on the JV-B squad. To be fair, we were the JB-B county champions). I did get into it, however and, for a time, had regular 10-mile runs before breakfast three times a week. I even completed a marathon in under four hours. Now, I can barely lumber through 3+ mile runs three days a week, including many short breaks while my furry companion sniffs here and there, seeking out dead animals with which she can perfume herself. So, anyway, I do know first hand about the loneliness of the long distance runner. There is none. We're at home with our thoughts and free.

Anyway, I've a history, or sorts, with long distance running and with the actual subject matter of this book. To be fair, however, I can't say that in reading this book that I remember much from the movie I saw some fifty years ago. So, naturally, I jumped at the chance to snag this book from Net Galley.

The Novelette is well written and quite good. Basically, it deals with a young delinquent who was sent off to Borstal, or as we Yanks might term it, reform school. He has a talent for running. The powers that be have high hopes that he might win a school prize for "them". Much of the story then, consists of the young delinquent's thoughts during his early morning training runs, what he sees and feels, but more importantly, how he views "the Governor" and his cohorts and whether or not he'll ever come to "heel" just to please them. It's really a quite fascinating look into the mind of a young working-class kid.

The other stories in this volume are similar in that they deal with the lives of the working class, sometimes delinquents and sometimes just the downtrodden. We get to know something about the lives of the unglamorous: A lonely, old man who befriends two young girls in a snack shop; A school teacher living in a fantasy world populated by the young women he sees in the shop window across the street; An estranged couple visiting off and on over an old picture that used to hang in their house, "the last of the fleet"; Two boys with little money between them trying to crash carnival rides; A young man's attempt to escape his smothering mother; Two men at a "football" match (soccer to us Yanks), one newly married, one more interested in football than his own marriage. And so on. It's all quite fascinating.

The book ends with a short biography of the author, Alan Sillitoe, written by Ruth Fainlight, his long-time companion and spouse.

I'm not generally one to read short stories. I like the longer glimpses into peoples' lives that I get inside a good novel. But the stories in this volume were well worth the diversion from my norm. Thank you Net Galley.

Death Wore White

Death Wore White - Jim Kelly My friend, Angela, who got me into playing flutes in church some twenty years ago, but whom I've not seen in a number of years, recommended this to me. I'd been commenting (of FaceBook) to someone else from church about the audio book series that were so popular with the two women who ring handbells next to me (the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny). For some reason, Angela jumped into the thread and recommended this series to me, albeit a readable series. I don't do audio books yet. I don't spend enough time in my car.

Anyway, I snagged a copy from BPL and checked it out. It's an interesting, albeit rather convoluted story. It begins with a bunch of people being directed into a small lane/short cut by a sign claiming the main road was out. They are trapped on one end by a felled tree, and at the other end by a slewed car. So they can't drive out, nor back up. Also, the lane is a mobile dark spot, so they can't call for help. Eventually, the police, who are nearby fishing a body out of the sea, notice their presence and show up to help get them out. They find that the first vehicle in line, a pick-up truck, has a dead body inside. The driver was stabbed through the eye with a chisel. Several other bodies show up in the area, and Detective Inspector Shaw wonders if they're related.

Detective Inspector Shaw has been teamed up with Detective Sergeant Valentine. Valentine was once the partner of Shaw's father. But ten years previously, Shaw's father bungled an investigation. The father was essentially kicked off the force and died a year later. Valentine was demoted and sent to the hinterlands of Norfolk, the northern part of East Anglia, in England, where he languished for a dozen years. So, there's a certain tension between the two.

The problem with the dead guy in the truck, is that it was snowing at the time people got backed up in the blocked "short cut". But there's only one set of foot prints going up to the truck in front and then back again. Those are of the guy who was third or fourth in line. He claims the driver was alive when he walked up to him, and that he had a young-woman passenger with him. The woman who was second in line confirms that there appeared to have been activity in the truck. She saw motion in the cab, and also noted that the sounds in the truck, some kind of loud rock, eventually changed to a slightly more muted radio program. But, the police found only one body in the truck. His passenger, the young woman managed to disappear without leaving a single foot print.

Well, other bodies show up. People are found to be lying. People in the pile up appear to be more related than one first thought, or than they admitted, and so forth. It makes for an intriguing story.

I found several problems with this book. The author keeps trying to soar off into artsy/fartsy flights of description. Rather than being evocative, I found them forced, sometimes inapt, and a distraction. For example, in one place we are told about the dried grasses appearing in footsteps which disturbed the snow. Well, dried grasses might appear if the footsteps are disturbing an inch of relatively wet snow. But only a page or so earlier, we were told there was a foot of snow on the ground. No way a foot step is going to scuff up enough snow that's a foot deep that you'll see dried grasses at the bottom of the foot print. There were other "details" that didn't gibe with settings we'd been given only a few pages earlier. So, neither the author nor his editors were paying much attention when they read the rough draft for editing.

Then, lots of acronyms are thrown around. They might make sense to Brits, but certainly not to us more mundane 'merikans. I'm not sure if this is a problem per se. The book was probably meant to be read only by Brits. But it was a problem for those of us who spent most of our lives on the western side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Finally, I don't think I've ever read an allegedly professionally prepared book with so many typos. In my experience, books produced by professional publishers rarely have even one or two noticeable typos. In the case of books produced by scanning dead-tree manuscripts, and then performing optical character recognition (OCR) to render them into electronic format, you might get a typo or two, but generally not oodles, unless it's a scan uploaded to a place like Archive.org, where no one follows up. Properly produced OCRed books from places like Gutenberg tend to be well enough proof read that only one or two typos show up.

This book, however, had dozens of typos. Given that the book was published in 2008 if seems reasonable that the original manuscript was produced on a word processor and that the e-book version was produced from an electronic manuscript. Apparently, this particular publisher, Minotaur Books, is too lazy to pay editors to check manuscripts (although the author praises a number of editorial helpers in his acknowledgments), or else too cheap to use decent software than can create a useful EBook from a word-processed manuscript. How in the hell is that possible?

So the story itself was rather fun, but the poor quality of the background detail and of the production was not so fun. Hence, what should probably warrant 4*s, gets only 3*s from me. I'm seriously on the fence regarding whether or not I'll try reading another book by Jim Kelly.

The Homesteader: A Novel

The Homesteader: A Novel - Oscar Micheaux It seems that my spouse and I have a video collection of 100 "classic" mysteries. There's some hyperbole in there, not all are classic. But they're all good-old black and white films from the 30s and 40s (some 50s). One we watched recently was Ten Minutes to Live, which came out in 1932, and featured an all African American cast. It turns out to have been written, directed, and produced by an African American, Oscar Micheaux. The movie was a bit difficult to follow in parts, perhaps due to the poor quality of the digitization and sound. So, I tried to look up the story on which it was based to get a better handle on the plot.

I didn't find the story, but I did find out that Oscar Micheaux started out his adult life homesteading on the prairies, moved on to writing novels, from there to film, and finally back to novels in his later years. Well, I like stories of life on the prairies some century or so ago. After all, that was the life my grandmother experienced as a young girl, first in South Dakota and later in Kansas. Anyway, I found The Homesteader: a Novel on Gutenberg and read it forthwith. The book would also fit in with my off-and-on-again forays into trying to understand race relations. The protagonist is, after all, an African American, or as he had it in the book itself, of Ethiopian extraction.

I adored this book. It's an old fashioned romance/melodrama, but actually quite well done, a compelling read. Some of the writing is rather poetic and beautiful. Occasionally a phrase or word choice comes up which seems awkward to me, but then I think Micheaux was mostly self taught. Plus, I'm not a writer by any means, so how can I be so caddish as to criticize the writing of someone who made his living writing?

Whatever, overall the plot line is gripping. It's been quite some time since I found a book so compelling that I was hard pressed to put it down for more mundane domestic duties like child care, dog walking, and cooking. Probably one reason the book was so interesting was that it was semi-autobiographical. Thus Micheaux was writing from experience, which in turn, gives a better sense of reality to the action than one gets from made-up books.

A Most Contagious Game

A Most Contagious Game - Catherine Aird My spouse saw me reading two dead-tree books in a row, and thought to try to get me into the habit. So, she insisted I read this. It was an ok book, but I'll be glad to be getting back to my kindle. So will my tired arms and hands. Books are so heavy and unwieldy. ;-)

Anyway, this is one of those archetypal cozy-British-village, murder-mystery books which have been all the rage for close to a century now. This particular book came out not quite 50 years ago. We have a middle-aged man (50 something), who made a pile in London, but who also had a heart attack. So the "cure" was to quit work and go rest in the country...forever. I guess that was in the days before by-pass surgery and angioplasties (thank God we had angioplasties by 1987). Anyway, he buys an old Tudor manor house in a small village and is bored to tears.

But, he doesn't stay bored long. It seems that the house has a secret room, a place to hide Roman Catholic priests from back in the days when they were all being hunted down and executed, i.e. back in the late 17th century. It turns out there's a skeleton in the priest's hole, a skeleton that is roughly 150 years old, i.e. dating back to 1800 plus/minus. So, Thomas, the rich invalid, gets interested in tracking the family history of the people who lived in the house before him.

Along with "his" murder, Thomas becomes inadvertently involved in a more recent murder, a "village" murder. It seems that a young woman was just strangled. Her husband disappeared, and the police are trying to track him down to question him, perhaps arrest him and try him for the murder. Everyone in the village knows he didn't do it, so they're not much help to the police.

So, we get lots of background on priest holes and some history of the persecution of Roman Catholic families in those days, which is rather fun, and also some "mystery" bits, which are just so-so. I think the story about the 150-year-old murder mostly hangs together. The more recent murder not so much. Perhaps the author just forgot to add in some important details, or forgot to notice that some things just plain don't much make sense. Not unusual in this genre. Whatever, it's a reasonably GoodRead, though perhaps not a great one.

Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race

Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race - Debby Irving I believe this book was to be for some study group at church (in which I didn't participate). I snagged a copy, figuring it would be good for me to read. I thought I might read it in bits over breakfast. But that never happened. So, after having been forced to read a dead-tree book, that could be considered vaguely related, In His Steps, I decided to keep the trusty kindle in it's case and try another dead-tree book. Since I felt guilty about not having read this book—which if truth be told, I stole from a church table (I'll try to return it this week...promise)—I gave it a fly. Once again, I'm weirded out about all the strange coincidences between peripheral things in the book that have touched on my own life (about which, more later).

This is the story of a woman who grew up in extreme "white privilege" in Winchester, MA. She thought she was a good person, so what's the deal? Over a period of about 25 years, she eventually learned how she had been born to many of the advantages in her life, not the least of which was white skin. Yes, she "made it" in part from hard work. But she was also given all the tools to "make it": comfortably well off (if not rich; I think being part of the country-club set is a bit more than "comfortable"), ready access to good education, and, just as importantly, a white skin. One's white skin opens many doors and eases many relationships in the wider world which are just not available to "people of color", without much more effort on their parts.

So, Ms. Irving walks us slowly, step-by-step on her long journey into understanding the racial divide, why the mere state of one's skin color either makes life easier or more difficult, even absent other issues such as economic status and general ability. She does a reasonable job and is somewhat convincing, I think, but then I have also been working my way slowly through this journey over many years myself.

Almost 40 years ago, when I first moved to Reading, there were four scary, bearded guys in the First Congregational Church of Reading, UCC (FCCR). Dick Reed, the choir director (a bit of an ass hat, who eventually drove me into a five-year exile from the choir), the spouse of the Assistant Pastor, Johanna Fine (not sure of his name though, John?), me, and an older guy named Horace Seldon. Horace Seldon was an ordained pastor, but he was no longer tending a flock. I'm not sure why he was coming to FCCR. That was back in the days when people still actually went to church more often than not, so perhaps he just needed a place to be, and we were a bit more liberal than the folks in the surrounding towns. After a few years he stopped coming. Then one day some years later, I "ran" into him on a jog around Lake Quannapowitt. "You're Horace Seldon", I said. "Yup", he said, a bit taken aback. So, we jogged together and chatted.

It seems that at some time in his life (late 1960s), Horace had a vision, which told him that he should do something about racism. So, he founded a group called Community Change, which was supposed to combat racism. I think, perhaps, I was on the Outreach Commission at that time, and I invited him to come to FCCR to chat with us about his group. Perhaps we could sling a few dollars their way. Their focus for combating racism was to address the "white" problem.

There are many things white people do as a matter of course, which don't make sense to people of color. And there are assumptions white people make that imply to them that people of color are somehow defective because they don't act like white people. One of the things Community Change would do is audit various other organizations to see what kinds of things were going on that would imply some kind of white bias, often a totally unintentional bias. It bugs lots of us to hear such charges, we don't do any lynching, right? So what do you mean we perpetuate racism? Nope, we don't lynch, but we constantly show people how little we respect them, and this lack of respect spills over into unintended modes of behavior toward others, which ends up with people's underachieving in school (low expectations), living in poorer neighborhoods served by worse schools (low tax base), living in more unsafe neighborhoods (despite having to pay relatively more to be in those neighborhoods thanks to red lining and realtor re-direction), and so forth.

Some of these things can be as subtle and not bothering to learn how to pronounce names of people from other cultures. We're mostly better about this than we used to be. Most of us will now properly pronounce Jesus Alou's first name, Hay soos', as opposed to Jeeee' zus! But the Red Sox broadcast team still can't figure out how to say Uehara, even though Japanese pronunciation is very straight forward (Oo ai ha ra, with no particular stress on any of the syllables—the 'e' in Japanese is pronounced as a long 'a', whereas 'a' itself is always a short 'a'. If Koji's last name were really you-ee-hara, it would be spelled as Yuihara in Japanese, well in romanji, the spelling out of Japanese words using roman letters). Japanese is much easier to pronounce than Spanish, French, or German. Having been sensitized by Horace 20 or 30 years ago, I still feel like someone's scratching a black board with their finger nails when Koji comes in to pitch and they can't show enough respect for him to pronounce his name properly. He's a good guy and a good player. Why in the hell don't you learn to pronounce his name? WTF?

Or, you might be assuming this Japanese-looking person across the table from you at a church's ham 'n' bean supper doesn't speak very good English, so you don't bother to make any engagement. Later on, you might learn the woman is Joann and she's from Chicago, has the accent to prove it, and is a thoroughly delightful person.

I'll spare you all more from my own journey. But as anyone who is paying attention to this year's Presidential election knows, racism is still a problem in the U.S. It's more subtle and less overt in some ways than it was less than 50 years ago, when the "good folks" of Reading drove the greatest basketball player in the history of the game out of town (Bill Russell. Yes, he was less gifted physically than Michael Jordan or LeBron or Kobe, but Bill's teams always won because Bill knew how to make everyone around him better players. LeBron, Kobe and MJ were too ego driven to care about anyone's performance than their own.). But it's still pervasive, often in little unseen assumptions we white folks make to exclude people of color from full participation in our society or, sometimes, even to put them in their places.

I had a couple of issues with this book. Not so much about the "whiteness" issue. I'm well aware of it, and am glad to have been made more aware. But, even though I used the phrase "people of color" above, I don't like the term. Perhaps we need something else. I do understand we can't use the term "colored people" as was done 50 or so years ago. David Ortiz is dark skinned, and therefore, I suppose, a person of color, but he most certainly is not a "colored person". On the other hand, I am hard pressed to view my friend Joann from Chicago, or my grand nephews Jay and Kosei as being "people of color", although I expect both Joann and my grand nephews will likely experience some discrimination in their lives based on their not being quite so lily white as I am.

My other problem is with the phrase "one's truth", as in the sentence,

Knowing that speaking one's truth and listening to others' truth is a crucial step in racial healing is one thing.

I know it's popular for touchy-feely types to think that truth is mutable, and varies according to the observer. It has meaning, therefore, only as one wishes it to mean. As a result, we have a whole political party and a whole journalistic establishment who cheerfully imply things and print things about anthropogenic climate change which are demonstrably not true. But given the widely held belief that truth is a matter of an individual's perception, that makes sense to all these people. So, we're more than happy to consider electing as President someone who's policies guarantee that significant portions of his home state will be under water in another generation. That will be everyone's truth then, i.e. actual truth of drowning, but at the moment, our politicians and journalists ignore this actual truth for the more touchy-feely "truth" as being whatever one wishes to make of it, even if they don't actually know what the hell they're talking about.

So, I would very much like people to use the word truth for something that is demonstrably true, and find some other term for people's experiences and perceptions. Yes, "it's true" that most people of color are likely to be given a ticket for a minor traffic infraction, whereas a soft-spoken middle-aged white man like me can almost always get off with no more than a "warning". But that's not so much "truth" as commonality of experience. But then, as Pilate is alleged to have said, "what is truth?"

Anyway, on to weird coincidences in life. The woman who wrote the book grew up in Winchester, MA. I lived in Winchester about the time she was in high school. I'm guessing that if her family were church types, she might have gone to the same one I attended. It certainly was a rather up-scale church. I don't remember any Kitteridges there, but then rich folks, even then, weren't so much into church going as us more "common" types. Hell, they could hang out at the country club, where the the important business and social connections were to be found, and the chaff, like myself, were winnowed out. Then, it seems, that her husband was a producer or something on This Old House. One of the This Old House guys has lived down the street from me ever since I moved to Reading almost 40 years ago, once I realized I would never be rich enough to buy a house in Winchester.

Sorry, I seem to have digressed away from the book mostly. You all will be thankful that I excised quite a lot of my extraneous thoughts so as not to digress even further afield. Whatever, it's a good enough book which treats a topic on which we should all be better educated and more aware.

In His Steps

In His Steps - Charles M. Sheldon I carried a lot of baggage into this book, but perhaps I'll defer that for later on. I ended up liking it fairly well.

The book arose from a series of sermons or "stories" Rev. Charles Sheldon told to his parishioners. He was pastor of a Congregational church in Topeka, Kansas, some 120 or so years ago. The weekly stories became quite popular and his church was bulging by the time he finished up.

The hook in the stories was about a preacher who decided that before he did anything, he should ask himself what Jesus would do in a given situation. He then invited those of his congregation, who were willing, to try a test. For one year they would try not do anything without first asking themselves what Jesus would do in a given situation, and then do that thing. One church member who signed up was a newspaper editor, so he set about changing his paper to a "Christian" paper. No more ads for liquor and tobacco, and no more idle society gossip or stories about prize fights. Another member was a beautiful young woman who sang rather stunningly. Rather than go on tour with a musical group and become rich and famous, she decided to sing at a local tent meeting, to draw in fallen souls for salvation, and to give lessons to poor people who wouldn't be able to afford lessons for themselves. A local merchant realized that he should, among other things, treat his staff as partners, not servants. And so it went with others. Some people suffered financially after their decisions, but they all felt more spiritually fulfilled, and also felt a greater sense of community and belonging with their fellow church members.

The movement spread to Chicago, where some local, well-off clergy resigned their fancy positions and set up a settlement house for less-well off people, a place where people could live decently and also become better educated so as to get jobs to support themselves. A young woman with a flair for cooking gave classes to the young women so that they'd be able to get jobs as domestics in local households. And so forth.

The movement also spawned political action. It seems that folks back in olden times believed that the major block to people's living a good life was the temptation put in front of them by the "liquor interests". Just get rid of the saloons, and people would no longer fall into sin and degradation. Something like that. When it came out, the book helped spawn a movement of Christian social action. It wasn't just about closing down the saloons, but also about feeding the hungry and caring for the sick. That stuff one reads about in Matthew 25, unless one is a modern American White Evangelical, in which case Matt. 25 has been purged from the Good Book, or at least re-interpreted out of all recognition.

So, this book really does have a good point. Those of us who aspire to live as Christians probably would be well advised to ask ourselves what Jesus would do in certain situations. Would Jesus take music lessons so as better to praise Him on Sundays and also attract new members by dint of having less dreary services, or would that money be better spent stocking the food pantry? Would Jesus work on defense-department projects so long as they were related to actual defense and not to creating ever more deadly offensive weapons, (although some would argue that the best defense is a good offense), or would one be better advised to take on more mundane work so as to avoid potential conflicts with one's conscience? Would Jesus invest his 401K in stocks in companies that invested in the Southeast Asian fishing industry where most of the workers are defacto slaves, or would he just not have a 401K and hope he died before he got too old to work? Would Jesus engage in social action and thereby try to better the lives of all, or would he be more likely not to draw people outside their comfort zones? And so forth.

But then we get to the baggage. First the more fun baggage. When I read "Topeka, Kansas", the first thing I thought about was Fred Phelps, a preacher who decided that the only thing Jesus would do is "hate fags", and hate them very publicly. That's not even remotely my idea of a Christian approach to living. I also remembered that my current Congregational church used to have a Rev. Sheldon, who was rather a polarizing figure. That was well before my time, but some 50 years after Rev. Sheldon left, some of the scars are still with us.

But then I also realized that my great grandmother was a stalwart member Women's Christian Temperance Union member in Augusta, Kansas, near Wichita. On the side, she managed to have 11 children, only one or two of whom didn't make it past 90, and all of whom seemed to have been successes in their lives. I also remembered that I'd been active in a Congregational church in Manhattan, Kansas for a time, and still think well of my experience there. So I felt somewhat better about Kansas and Congregationalists.

Unfortunately, I also began thinking about the more recent WWJD movement that rose in the 1990s. For some reason, I associate that movement with the election of George W. Bush, which is never a good association. But it's not poor Mr. Bush, it's the white Evangelical folks who took up the WWJD brand who elected them, and who have pretty much given up religion for politics, very toxic politics. They are, if nothing else, decidedly not into social justice. It rather saddens me that a century after Sheldon's book, the people who ask the same question he asked, come up with completely different answers than Sheldon's flock, answers that have done and continue to do real harm to millions of people in our world. [further pungent remarks excised for civility]

Four Faultless Felons

Four Faultless Felons - G.K. Chesterton I'm a sucker for alliteration. I once wrote flack for a community theater group and would get the paper to print my offerings under such headlines as "Strong Singers Staged Stunningly", and so forth. So naturally, I couldn't pass up this book. For some reason, I had problems getting into it, but after a while, it did grow on me. Chesterton has some interesting viewpoints.

This isn't really a novel but a collection of four short stories, or perhaps novelettes (15,000–17,000 words) tied together with a common conceit. The book begins and ends with four men around a table in the presence of a noted journalist. In the prologue, the journalist is introduced to the four men and learns that the one thing they all have in common is that they have committed crimes, one a murderer, one a medical quack, one a thief, and one a traitor. They seem like normal people, so what is it about them, the journalist wonders, that led them to crime? Good journalists in those days, we are told, were excellent listeners. People like to tell their own stories, so one just needs to listen with encouraging interest. Bullying people to get their stories isn't remotely necessary. Thus, he elicits each "felon's story, one novelette at a time. Yes, each did commit the crime associated with him, but in each case it was to provide a better overall result than if he'd not acted out his crime. Something like that.

So, it was an ok read, but not special, basically, just thin entertainment of no particular consequence, and something merely to be finished so I could go on to something better.

The Mayor of Casterbridge

The Mayor of Casterbridge - Thomas Hardy Damn, it looks like a half dozen or more pages were missing from Chapter 20 in the version I downloaded from Amazon. I wonder what else is missing? So, anyway, I downloaded a version from Gutenberg.org. I'm surprised that Amazon, who only just poach out-of-copyright stuff from other people, can't even be bothered to fix mistake-riddled poaches. Shame on them. It turns out that the version on Gutenberg.org was better formatted as well. For example the table of contents was functional.

This book is essentially an old-fashioned soap opera. It's kind of fun. I'm not sure the story alone, however, would carry the book. Hardy has an amazingly poetic way with description that I find engaging. That makes sense, of course, apparently Hardy considered himself a poet first, and only wrote novels to make enough money to pay for his poetic endeavors. Or something like that.

Anyway, we open with a man and a woman with a babe in her arms walking down the road. They stop for some food, furmity, which is basically a kind of boiled grain mush with some milk and eggs and stuff thrown in. In this case, brandy was also thrown in and the man gets nasty drunk. He offers to sell his wife and child and a sailor takes him up on the offer, paying five guineas for her. Later, the man, Michael Henchard, feels some remorse and tries to find the woman he sold off, Susan, and daughter, Elizabeth-Jane. He doesn't find her, but eventually enters a church where he makes a vow to stay sober for the next twenty-one years.

So, then we jump some 18–20 years and find that Henchard has prospered as a dealer in hay and grain, and become the mayor of the town of Casterbridge. But then, slowly and inexorably, stuff begins to collapse around him.

His spouse, Susan, returns to find him with a teen-age daughter, Elizabeth-Jane in tow (who may or may not be the original Elizabeth-Jane). Then he makes friends with an itinerant Scotsman, Donald Farfrae, and hires him to help out in his business, and things prosper...for a time, at least. A former mistress shows up, and other stuff. Anyway, these lives all get tangled up and Henchard begins a long, downward spiral, much of it due to his own ego-driven impetuousness. I won't go on. Read it yourselves. It really is a good book, although as I said above, the writing is better than the story line.

But, one interesting thing I found was a new word, larry. I've never seen it used before, except as a name. Hell, I've lived that word as a name since before I can remember. As nearly as I can gather from the context, larry is a 19th century word for "tizzy", or applecart upset, or to use a more modern terminology, cluster f*k, or something. Anyway, because, I can, I've appended three quotes from the book below. Perhaps any English majors who pass by can enlighten me on the etymology and use of this word and where else it shows up in literature.

"Oh, please, ma'am, 'tis this larry about Mr. Henchard. A woman has proved that before he became a gentleman he sold his wife for five guineas in a booth at a fair." ch 28

"Yaas, Miss Henchet," he said, "Mr. Farfrae have bought the concern and all of we work-folk with it; and 'tis better for us than 'twas—though I shouldn't say that to you as a daughter-law. We work harder, but we bain't made afeard now. It was fear made my few poor hairs so thin! No busting out, no slamming of doors, no meddling with yer eternal soul and all that; and though 'tis a shilling a week less I'm the richer man; for what's all the world if yer mind is always in a larry, Miss Henchet?" Ch 31

"That I can. But the worst larry for me was that pheasant business at Yalbury Wood. Your wife swore false that time, Joe—O, by Gad, she did—there's no denying it." ch 36

The Far Country

The Far Country - Nevil Shute Nevil Shute never fails to deliver. At least he hasn't yet failed in the 11 books of his that I read. This wasn't quite so good, perhaps, as some of the previous ones because if felt a bit polemic in parts. But, none-the-less, it was surely a GoodRead.

Much of the story revolves around a "station" in Victoria, southeastern Australia, not too far from Melbourne. A station was a sheep ranch. Jack and Jane Dorman had struggled for quite some time to get situated, but in the past few years (1950+/-), the price of wool was quite good and they finally managed to pay off all their mortgages and had some money left over to throw around. They sent some back to England to their Aunt Ethyl. England's recovery from World War II was slow, and there was rather a lot of rationing still. Aunt Ethyl had been the only one in Jane's family who accepted Jack as spouse worthy back in the day. Aunt Ethyl was not faring well with the restricted life in England and was essentially starving herself to death, not willing to bother her children with her care. Her grand daughter, Jennifer Morton, hears of her problems and shows up to pitch in a bit to help "Granny" back on her feet. Just before Granny dies, she signs over the check from Jack and Jane Dorman so that Jennifer could go off to Australia to have a better life. Maybe things in Australia are like in the good old days in England, Granny thought, when everyone had nice garden parties, no worries about having enough to eat, and plenty of servants to do their bidding. Ah, the good old days.

Jennifer went to Australia, and very quickly felt at home. While out and about with Jack Dorman, they come upon a logging accident, in which one man has his foot trapped under a log (or bull dozer?) and another has his skull bashed in. They can't get the local doctor, so ask "Splinter", one of the loggers to help out. It seems that "Splinter", actually Carl Zlinter, had been a doctor in Europe before the war, and had come out to Australia as a displaced person. His medical credentials weren't recognized in Australia, so he was working as a logger. But, given his medical knowledge, he was the go-to guy to patch up folks injured in logging accidents. So, he amputates the foot of the guy trapped under the bulldozer (or log) and trephines the skull of the other guy to move the skull bones away from the brain tissue. The only person at the site with adequately clean hands is Jennifer. In addition, Jenny's bright as a penny ("her equal would be hard to find") and immediately becomes an asset to the surgical procedures. Naturally, Jenny and Carl slowly develop a relationship.

But a bit later, Jennifer's mother dies and she has to go back to England to keep house for her father. Will she and Carl ever get back together, one in Australia without job prospects and one in England with a grieving and overworked father? Well, read the book and find out.

The only blemish for me in this book was Shute's harping on how awful things were in England and how good they were in Australia. I know that England paid a high price during WWII and it took them a while to rebuild their economy, but I'm not convinced things were all that bad in 1951 or so when this book was supposed to have taken place. Then too, it seems that what Shute was really bemoaning was that rich people were less rich for a while after the war. They no longer could have a bunch of servants. For the regular Brits, I doubt 1950 was much worse than had been the case in 1920, when they were working in the ruling class sweat shops or being servants for the ruling class. But what do I know? I was only 6 when I lived in England in 1951, so perhaps I was too young to notice the deprivation. I certainly didn't feel any deprivation during my year there. Shute also has only scorn for the National Health Service. It seems that, like our current GOP, he didn't think poor people deserved to have health care and we'd all be better off if they just died. I dunno, I believe my brother broke a collar bone or ribs, or both in 1951, and the NHS patched him up just fine. Then, when I lived in England again in 1974, I was well served by the National Health Service when my daughter was born and when I stabbed myself with a piece of broken glass and bled all over my little closet of a lab.

Anyway, despite the polemical blemishes, this book, like every other one Shute wrote, is well worth one's time.

The Black Abbot

The Black Abbot - Edgar Wallace Edgar Wallace certainly has a fine mind for thinking up skulduggery and clever ways for people to defraud each other. Throw in some legends involving ghosts and lost gold, and you've got quite a story.

So, we have Harry Alford, Earl of Chelford who lives in Fossaway Manor, where his family has lived for centuries. There used to be an Abbey on the grounds as well, and there's a legend that a "black abbot" haunts the place. People within the manor, i.e. servants, and the rubes in the environs begin to tell tales of seeing, once again, a "black abbot" stalking the grounds. Who or what is he? What is his purpose? Certainly something isn't quite kosher. Harry is obsessed with an old legend about buried gold in the manor and is determined to find it. He is much more interested in finding the gold than in spending time with his finacée Leslie Gine.

Then we have the "second son", Richard Alford or Dick, who actually runs the estates for his older brother. He is also clearly in love with Leslie Gine and she with him.

Leslie's brother, Arthur Gine, has been handling family finances for quite some time and has managed to embezzle and fritter away not only Lord Chelford's money (or maybe just his mother's money), but Leslie's considerable fortune as well. He has a serious gambling problem. His trusted advisor, Fabrian Gilder, also fancies Leslie, and appears to be more involved in his employer's financial tribulations than one might first imagine.

Toss in Mary Wenner, who used to be Lord Chelford's private secretary, and who was heavily involved with the research related to finding all the buried gold. She set her cap toward Lord Chelford, and Dick manages to save his brother from such an entanglement and has her dismissed. But she figures she can sell what she knows about the hidden gold to Arthur Gine in exchange for his promise to marry her, and barring that, Fabrian Gilder will do. It seems that she just wants to be married, despite repeatedly disavowing this desire: "I should no more think of throwing myself at his head than I should of flying to the moon".

So anyway, there's lots interesting and colorful characters and lots of opportunities for skull duggery, murder, lurking around in the shadows and so forth. All in all an engaging tale. I'm becoming rather fond of Edgar Wallace.

The Red House

The Red House - Mark Haddon Last summer, my spouse and I began to watch an old movie, The Red House, starring Edward G. Robinson and Julie London (she of the smoky voice: Cry Me a River). My spouse didn't like the beginning. Something about abusive behavior towards young women, I think. I got intrigued and decided I might try the book on which it was based. Well, it turns out that that Red House wasn't really available, although I might be able to get a dead-tree version via interlibrary loan were I persistent enough. Instead, I settled for this Red House, which was written in 2010 instead of 1943, and takes place in England instead of America's rural south.

Anyway, I had a bit of a problem getting into this book. It's written in an artsy/fartsy style, and it's tough to tell what's going on, or even who is involved. We have splashes of scenes, which may be actually happening or perhaps just being recreated in people's minds. We have snatches of dialog, which, again, might be in real time or perhaps flash backs to an earlier time. We're not always sure who is involved in the scenes or dialogues. After a while, one can figure out most of what is going on, but as I said, the first quarter or so is a tough slog before one becomes vaguely acclimated to the artsy/fartsy style.

We have a sort-of family spending a week together at a house in the countryside over near Wales. Angela and Dominic have three children, a teenage boy who is into working out, a teenage girl who recently became an ardent convert to Christianity, and a young boy who likes swords and knights in armor and such. Then we have Angela's brother, Richard, and his trophy wife, Louise, and her teenage daughter, Melissa. Basically, they're all stuck in this house together; none of them really knowing each other; all having skeletons in their personal closets. They can't decide if they want to get along or to flee. Something like that.

It was ok, but not enthralling. I think part of that might be my own problem. I'm more comfortable, it seems, in an earlier age.

Get Real (Dortmunder, #15)

Get Real (Dortmunder, #15) - Donald E Westlake Back in the dark ages, before we could afford things like a TV, my spouse and I read a lot, often reading to each other. We became quite fond of Westlake's books about the burglar, John Dortmunder. That was long ago. But, my spouse finally got to the "Ws" in her dogged determination to read all the "Mystery" books in our local library in alphabetical order according to author. As a result, she came home with a Dortmunder book. It caused me to reflect on the "good old days", which then led to my determination to revisit Dortmunder myself. It turns out my library had only one available in kindle edition. So I snagged it.

Reading this book involved a bit of cognitive dissonance for me. My earlier forays into the Dortmunder books were before the days of cell phones, computers and the internet. So, suddenly, we have them all here. Not only that, but reality TV has become all the rage. I never imagined anything so stupid as reality TV back in my youth. The closest we got was Dick Clark's American Bandstand, and I was suspicious of that.

Anyway, Dortmunder and his pals are enticed into becoming involved in taping a reality TV program showing them planning and executing a burglary. They, of course, aren't that stupid, so decide to do a pretend burglary of the properties of the production company, all the while being pretty certain that they can find something else in the production company's building worth a lot more. So, in essence, their involvement helps them case the joint, so to speak.

So, we have lots of absurd goings on, both within Dortmunder's "gang" and within the reality show production company. All good fun.

My Mortal Enemy

My Mortal Enemy - Willa Cather Ah, always nice to get back to Willa Cather. I think with the reading of this one that I've read all her books except a few of her short stories. I'm wondering how long I can hold out before I begin re-reading them all.

Anyway this book is a sort of meditation on the life of a woman named Myra Henshawe, as seen through the eyes of the much younger Nellie Birdseye. Myra was quite popular in her small, midwestern town and an especial friend Nellie's Aunt Lydia. Myra elopes, against the wishes of her uncle and is disinherited. But she makes a good life for herself—well the hard work of her husband, Oswald, does—in New York city. Teenage Nellie meets her once when Myra comes by to visit the town where she grew up and where Nellie lives. They meet again when Nellie and Aunt Lydia stay with the Henshawes for a week or so during their Christmas holidays.

Some ten years later, out in San Francisco, where she has gone to study, Nellie again runs into Myra. Oswald, has fallen on hard times, and they are not so well off. In addition, Myra has become an invalid. Nellie rekindles their friendship.

So, there's not lots of action: no explosions, no sword fights, no hot archer chicks. Just glimpses of the lives of ordinary people some 100 years ago. Glimpses which are very beautifully and poignantly written, and which detail people's motivations, triumphs, and failures.

Some day, I hope to find Miss Garner, my 11th-grade English teacher and apologize to her for having snickered at the thought of Willa Cather ("that midwestern hick") back when I was a callow teenager. Willa Cather is one of my five or ten favorite authors, right up there with Murakami, Dickens, and Shute.

Busman's Honeymoon: A Love Story with Detective Interruptions

Busman's Honeymoon: A Love Story with  Detective Interruptions - Dorothy L. Sayers Not too long ago, my spouse read this book and intrigued me into doing the same. Back in the dark ages, when we lived in Pittsburgh and didn't have a TV or any money to speak of, we would entertain ourselves by reading Dorothy Sayers to each other in the evenings. I think we pretty much read them all, except for this one. So, now I've read this one as well. It's quite good.

My spouse vowed to divorce me if I didn't give it at least 4*s, but it's not too great a stretch for me to do so. Although, were I able to give +s or -s, I might rank it 4*-. The reason for her dictate is that I gave 4*s to The Diva Detective, which my spouse views as an inferior work. The Diva Detective actually quite good, and y'all ought to go read it yourselves.

Anyway, back to Busman's Honeymoon. Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane finally get married, after having known each other for six years. I guess that back in 1937 that was a long time. A few years earlier than that, my mother made my father wait three years before she would wed him, and up until she died at 106, she continued to lament about how long she had made him wait. My spouse barely gave me a year before we had to tie the knot. Now days, however, modern young folks wait for over a decade, it seems. I have kids to prove it.

Anyway, back to Harriet and Peter. They go off on their honeymoon to a small village near where Harriet grew up, planning to live in a house she remembers fondly from her youth. They had bought the house and it was supposed to have been pimped up for them. But when they got there, no pimping had been done, no one was there to greet them, and no one even knew they were to come. The previous owner had apparently run off, leaving oodles of debtors holding their bags, so to speak. Eventually they get inside. A day or so later, they discover the body of the guy who sold them the house in the basement, with his head bashed in. He'd been there for a week.

So we wander back and forth between Peter and Harriet getting into the swing of finally being married, so to speak, with interludes of musing about the murder, the suspects and possible motives. Well, they don't do much about motives. Their motto is that when one knows how a thing was done, one will know who dunnit, so to speak. For some reason, I found the musings about marriage and relationships rather interesting. I found much of the speculation and conjecture regarding who dunnit a bit tedious.

Whatever, it's a GoodRead for those of us who would still prefer to be reading rather than watching something stupid and trivial on the TV.