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RED QUEEN’S RACE — JUST LIKE REAL LIFE

“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else — if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”

Alice-Red-Queen

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

Lewis CarrollThrough the Looking-Glass


That’s the way life used to be. Lucky me, I’m not trying to go somewhere else any more. Being here is fine.

Phew. I guess I can finally stop running!

WHAT MAKES A BOOK?

I read a lot and almost entirely on a Kindle. I feel about my Kindle the way I feel about computers: it’s a better way.

Especially as I’ve gotten older and my eyes tire quickly, being able to adjust size and style of the fonts has become increasingly important. Kindle is lighter than a paperback and has its own light. My Kindle isn’t a book — it’s a portable library that I can take with me wherever I go.

A while back, I had to read a “real book” because it wasn’t available on Kindle. I found it heavy and worse, I had to turn a light by which to read. I’m not used to that! Kindle HDX 1When we travel, I no longer need to haul a trunk full of paperbacks. My Kindle fits neatly in my shoulder bag, camera bag or laptop case. My wrists don’t get tired from holding it. I can read one-handed. The Kindle keeps my place for me, even if I’m reading more than one book at a time. And the bookmarks never fall out.

75-MyBooks-NK-05 I grab my Kindle on the way out when I’m off to the doctor. Having stuff to read takes some of the sting out of waiting. At home, I don’t have to figure out where to put books. For the first time in 30 years, there’s a bit of wiggle room on my book shelves.

I get annoyed by people who tell me electronic books aren’t “real books.” I’m sure when books replaced papyrus scrolls, a lot of people complained. And when the printing press replaced scribes, whew! That was major change. For me, it’s contents that makes a book, not format.

A couple of years ago, we gave away hundreds of books. They went to our local library, two high schools, the senior center and to any friends who wanted them. And there are plenty more where they came from if anyone wants them.

Yet I still love old-fashioned paper books. There’s nothing like the smell of paper and ink when you open a new book. Nothing sounds sweeter than the soft crack of a book’s binding as it loosens for the first time. The rustle of paper when you turn pages is music to my ears.

If I had unlimited room, I’d have a library with every book I love filling the shelves. But I’d do my reading on the Kindle anyway. Because it weighs almost nothing and it’s lit from within. I’ve gotten spoiled by the lightness and the light.

There’s room in the world for all kinds of things. Paper books will never be obsolete. Buy them as long as you have room in your bookcases.

For everything else, there’s a Kindle. Or a Nook or a tablet or whatever device you prefer.

Reading is important. The rest is semantics.

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POEM TO THE THAWING WIND

A Poem to the Thawing Wind

By Robert Frost

 

Come with rain, O loud Southwester!
Bring the singer, bring the nester;
Give the buried flower a dream;
Make the settled snow-bank steam;
Find the brown beneath the white;
But whate’er you do to-night,
Bathe my window, make it flow,
Melt it as the ice will go;
Melt the glass and leave the sticks
Like a hermit’s crucifix;
Burst into my narrow stall;
Swing the picture on the wall;
Run the rattling pages o’er;
Scatter poems on the floor;
Turn the poet out of door.

Send in the clowns … Marilyn Armstrong

America, land of the brave and the free. Photo by Turtsman.

My father was not a wise man, but a smart one who knew how to make money. He was a lifelong Democrat, small businessman and other things I would prefer not to delve into right now. A big part of his salesman’s repertoire were one liners and jokes. This was a favorite of mine.

It isn’t what you don’t know that will get you. It’s what you DO know that’s wrong.

Albert Friedman
Self-Made American (1917 – 2010)

How true it is, and also, how sad. So many people knowing with complete certainty so much that is so wrong. For them, the motto will forever be thus:

Don’t confuse me with facts! My mind is made up.

So, I guess if you want to maintain your bona fides as a Real American, you should continue to watch ONLY Fox News. It will help to reinforce your unfounded opinions by presenting pseudo facts and speculation in lieu of real information and you, dumbass, will believe every word of it. Rupert Murdoch is laughing at you all the way to his offshore accounts.

Don’t read anything that contains facts unless they comply with your preconceptions. In fact, it might be best to avoid reading entirely. Make a flag of your ignorance and close-mindedness; wave it proudly. Tell the world you know nothing and don’t want to learn nothin’ neither.

Finally, proclaim that you are the prototypical American, unlike the rest of us snobbish book-reading socialist anti-Christian liberal Nazis who don’t agree with you. Don’t be concerned that you don’t know what prototypical means. I didn’t expect you to understand. Too many syllables.

After that, you can wonder why the world is losing respect for the United States. Maybe it has something to do with “true Americans” like you with your passion for ignorance, bigotry, hatred, and stupidity.

You vote against your own best interests because you vote not for people who will help you, but for those who share your hates. Anyone can have you by preying on what you hate. You hate so many things that you are easily had. You are America’s fools and losers, the people about whom H.L Mencken spoke when he said:

Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.

H. L. Mencken
US editor (1880 – 1956)

THE KOREAN WORD FOR BUTTERFLY – JAMES ZERNDT – ENTER TO GET A FREE COPY!

“Americans. They think everybody is snowflake. Only one snowflake. Only one you. But in Korea we think like snowball. Everybody snowball.” Yun-ji packed an imaginary snowball in her hands, then lifted it, palms up, as if offering Billie a present. “You see? Snowball.”

Both of them looked at Yun-ji’s hands holding nothing.

“Snowball,” Yun-ji repeated, then looked at Billie, at her unhappy mouth, at her face that looked like it had been bleached, and she pictured that soldier sitting in the tank, listening to head phones, maybe reading a Rolling Stone magazine, then the call coming in over the radio, the hurried attempts to think of an excuse, some reason why he didn’t see two fourteen-year-old girls walking down a deserted country road in South Korea.

“Never mind,” Yun-ji said and dropped her hands.

KoreanWordForButterfly

There are a lot of levels to this book. It’s a book about cultures and differences, but it’s also a book about the similarities that underlay human societies. In the end, our humanity trumps our differences and enables us to reach out to those who seem at first unreachable.

It’s about women and men, their relationships, their failure to communicate. The endless misunderstandings arising from these failed efforts — or failed lack of effort. It’s also about the assumptions we make based on appearance and how terribly wrong are the deductions we make based on what we think we see. And how we use bad information to make our choices.  And finally, the pain that results from choices — even when the choices are the best available.

The story takes place in South Korea. Billie, a young American woman, is in the country to teach English to grade school children. She has come there with her friend, lover and partner and shortly realizes she is pregnant. It’s as wrong a time in her life to have a baby as there possibly could be and probably the worst possible place she could be — far away from her home and isolated by distance and culture. The story is told in the first person by Billie as well as two other first person narrators, both south Korean.  Yun-ji is a young woman approximately the same age as Billie who also becomes pregnant and a man named Moon who is divorced and suffering through a painful separation from his son.

All the characters deal with problems springing from damaged relationships and miscommunication, misunderstanding, problems with parenting, pregnancy and abortion. Despite cultural differences, in the end the pain is very personal — and remarkable similar — for each.  There are no simple, happy answers.

It’s well-written and held my interest from start to finish. Whether or not the book will resonate for you may depend on your age and stage in life’s journey. For me,  it was a trip back in time to the bad old days before Roe Vs. Wade made abortion a viable choice. Of course, one of the issues made very clear in the book is that the legality of abortion doesn’t make it less of a gut-wrenching, life-altering decision. Anyone who thinks abortion is the easy way out should read this. Whatever else it is, it’s not easy.

It’s a good book. Strongly written, presenting highly controversial issues in a deeply human context.

The Korean Word for Butterfly is available in paper back and Kindle.

CLICK TO ENTER THE DRAWING FOR
A FREE COPY OF “THE KOREAN WORD FOR BUTTERFLY
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OPPOSING IDEAS CREATE A NATION – JEFFERSON AND HAMILTON

Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry That Forged a Nation

John Ferling

Publication date: October 1, 2013

coverJeffHam-medium

One of my professors in college was Broadus Mitchell. He was the foremost Hamiltonian scholar of his day, author of multiple biographies of Hamilton and associates. Not surprisingly, my freshman year at Hofstra’s New College with Broadus Mitchell was an intensive study of Alexander Hamilton and the founding of America. The textbook was (surprise!) one of the several biographies of Hamilton authored by Broadus Mitchell.

When I was given the opportunity to review this book, I was intrigued. I wondered what the author could tell me I hadn’t read elsewhere and if he could tell the story better or differently, perhaps offer some fresh insights.

I have patience with history books. I don’t expect it to read like fiction. Much to my delight, John Ferling’s opening chapters in which he compares and examines the youth, upbringing and psychological makeup of both men is beautifully written — entertaining and lively. Perceptive. Astute. What drove them, what inspired them to become the men who built America.

All was going swimmingly well for me until the war began. The Revolutionary War.

I am not a war buff. I was not expecting a play-by-play of the revolution. But there it was. Battle by battle, troop movement by troop movement. I could feel my brain switch to off. I’m not sure why the full details of the war are included. Aside from showcasing Hamilton’s military career (doable in a few paragraphs), it adds little to my understanding of either man. As far as I’m concerned, it mainly adds hundreds of pages where a page or two of summary would have sufficed.

If you are a military history buff, you will want to read it. I’ve read other accounts of the military side of the Revolution and this is as good or better than any other book I’ve read on the subject. Perhaps that’s the reason I didn’t want to read it here. It’s your choice. You can choose to skim sections. It’s a long book and there’s plenty of excellent material to engage you. When Ferling is writing about the character and personality of his two extraordinary subjects, he’s brilliant. It makes everything else worthwhile.

Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton were two of the most influential men in American history. The author said it well when he commented (sorry, this isn’t a quote … I’m paraphrasing) that there are lots of statues dedicated to Jefferson, but we live in Hamilton’s world. True enough. Hamilton was the consummate advocate of a strong central government with economic control through a central bank. Jefferson advocated extreme individual freedom, leaving most government to local authorities.

It amuses me that Hamilton is the darling of the conservatives while Jefferson is a liberal ideal. Given Hamilton’s belief in strong central government and Jefferson’s preference for isolationism, individualism and decentralization — well, it pretty much defines our nation’s problem with cognitive dissonance.

If you’re a serious history buff, there is much to like, even if not every part of the book is equally gripping .

It is said that “Both men were visionaries, but their visions of the United States were diametrically opposed.” That may have been true in 1780, but it has long ceased to have any relevance. The strands of their initially opposing philosophies have twisted into a single ball. Both strands are necessary to our American dream.

Jefferson and Hamilton is the story of the struggle — public and ultimately personal — between two major figures in our country’s history. It ended when Alexander Hamilton died in a duel with Aaron Burr, Jefferson’s vice president.

Worth reading for sure, but it’s not light entertainment. This is history buff material. Fortunately, there are still a few of us around.

Of all the reviews I’ve written, I’ve gotten the most feedback on this one (especially on Amazon), both pro and con. I didn’t expect that kind of response and it’s a pleasant surprise. Apparently there are still people out there interested in history, interested enough to argue about it. I find that very encouraging. Maybe there’s hope for our future after all!

About the author:

John Ferling is professor emeritus of history at the University of West Georgia. He is the author of many books on American Revolutionary history, including The Ascent of George Washington; Almost a Miracle, an acclaimed military history of the War of Independence; and the award-winning A Leap in the Dark. He and his wife, Carol, live near Atlanta, Georgia.

Niniane – The Lady of the Lake

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TALLHWCH The pursuit of history using the newest and most creative methods necessary


The first mention of either the Lady of the Lake or Ninian (Niniane, Vivian, etc.) is to be found in the late work Prose Merlin.  Her character remains much the same through to Sir Thomas Malory, who simply makes the story more complex.  In all the stories that name her Ninian is a fully developed character.  She is the original owner of Arthur’s second sword and later becomes Merlin’s pupil.

However, as with many aspects of the Arthurian literary world, there are serious gaps in reasoning with her story, and these gaps suggest a very different origin for her.  For instance, Merlin somehow knows she will betray him, but teaches her anyway.  The romances explain that he does so because he loves her, but that sounds like more of a rationalization of something not understood than an historical fact that is.

The end of her story is that Niniane does trap Merlin in a cave the moment her studies are over.  He is left there, alive (again, no serious explanation).  It certainly is not out of malice for Arthur.  Ninian takes over as his counselor for the remainder of his reign and does her best to help him.  She is also one of the four women who takes him to Avalon.  That is the extent of Ninian’s literary career.  Clearly her original character and the transformation have been hidden by chance and misunderstandings.

Uinniau was a prominent ecclesiastic of sixth century Britain who may have been Columba’s teacher.  He was known as Ninian in Welsh saints’ lives or Nynia by Bede.  However, much of Scotland has place-names derived from his proper name of Uinniau.  This Uinniau was known for three things mainly.  First, he was one of the most knowledgeable persons of his age.  Second, he was a great teacher who made his monastery of Whithorn was a primary center of learning in Britain.  Finally, it is known that he would occasionally go on a retreat to a nearby cave, known as St. Ninian’s Cave, which was several miles away from his monastery.

Ninian would eventually became the form by which Uinniau was exclusively known.  In fact, the process must have been an early one.  Bede, writing in 725, knew him only by that name.  It was an unfortunate circumstance that Ninian was a Celtic name, and the romance writers who would treat Arthur on the continent spoke Germanic and Latin languages.  The unfamiliarity with Celtic would lead to confusion over his gender, and he became a she there.

Arthur was an attractive figure in the literature of the Middle Ages, gravitating all manner of figures, motifs, and stories to him.  In previous blogs I have mentioned the attraction of the Myrddin (Merlin) legend and the figure of Urien.  The same sort of fate awaited Uinniau.  Long before Arthur had become a figure of romance, Uinniau’s dominant name-form had become to Ninian.  For the Celtic speaker that was still a male name, but for continentals it was female.

That change from male to female, from independent ecclesiastic to intelligent layperson was where Uinniau became a different literary figure.  Once Uinniau was a part of the Arthurian universe, his reputation for intelligence would have drawn him to the already established Merlin; in an irony of history a lunatic (Myrddin) became the teacher of one of the best-read people of the age (Uinniau).  Once that  transformation was accomplished, the latent aspects of Uinniau’s memory easily made their way into Arthurian the tales, and Merlin was trapped in the cave Uinnau had used as a refuge.

I won’t pretend to know how Ninian became the Lady of the Lake.  However, she would not have begun her Arthurian career that way.  She would have started off as Merlin’s pupil and successor with the qualities of her historical precursor intact.  She was associated with a lake only by Robert de Boron, an author that I have discovered in my research was not one to stick with his traditional sources.  It is possible he knew of some Celtic tale which he used to enhance Uinniau’s mythology.  It is equally possible he used something more contemporary.  That part of the history of the Lady of the Lake we may never know.

Marilyn Armstrong‘s insight:

From my favorite blog, one of my favorite mysteries … partially solved, but leaving enough unanswered questions to hold my interest. I love this stuff. If you have never visited TALLWCH, you are missing a treat. Check it out at – http://tallhwch.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/niniane-the-lady-of-the-lake/

See on tallhwch.wordpress.com

DYSTOPIA DOWNSTREAM – DHALGREN, SAMUEL R. DELANEY

Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany

Open Road Integrated Media

Publication Date: January 7, 2014

coverDHALGREN

In The Recombinant City, A Foreward, William Gibson says of Dhalgren:

It is a literary singularity … a work of sustained conceptual daring, executed by the most remarkable prose stylist to have emerged from the culture of American science fiction.

I have never understood it. I have sometimes felt that I partially understood it, or that I was nearing the verge of understanding it. This has never caused me the least discomfort, or interfered in any way with my pleasure in the text.

It caused me discomfort. A lot.

Maybe if I’d read Dhalgren in 1975, I’d have liked it more. I was 28, part of the youth culture, active politically and close enough to my college days that Dhalgren would have resonated and had context. But that was nearly 40 years ago. The world and I have come a long way since then.

When Dhalgren was originally published, I didn’t read it. I was working, taking care of my son, possibly too stoned to focus on a page. It was like that. Back then. Hey, how old are you? Have you qualified for Social Security? Almost there? Minimally, you have your AARP card? If not, you probably won’t understand this novel — and even if you are old enough to have been there back when, you may find — as I did — that the time for this book has passed.

To use an analogy, I read Thomas Wolf’s Look Homeward Angel when I was 14. I adored it. Pure poetry end to end. Five years later, you couldn’t have paid me to read it. The story was perfect for an adolescent trying to grow up in a world that didn’t understand her but was irrelevant to a young, married woman in the suburbs. Context counts.

The writing is beautiful and the analogy to Wolfe not accidental. Like Wolfe, Samuel Delaney wrote prose that is pure poetry, rich with symbolism. Nonetheless, this isn’t a book I would have chosen at this point in my life. I might have loved it at a different age and stage.

The story centers on a bunch of kids in a city called Bellona in which something very strange and evil occurred. Exactly what? Well, something. The TV, radio and telephones don’t work. Signals don’t work. People have reverted to a sort of feral hunting society, in an urban way. The Kid (whose name may or may not be Kidd) comes down from the mountain. He meets other kids. They talk about stuff. Poetry. People. Random events. Think Thomas Wolfe on purple haze with a beer chaser. Beautiful words, haunting images. Poetry that never ends and a plot that never begins. 

The publisher puts it this way:

In Dhalgren, perhaps one of the most profound and bestselling science fiction novels of all time, Samuel R. Delany has produced a novel “to stand with the best American fiction of the 1970s” (Jonathan Lethem).

Bellona is a city at the dead center of the United States. Something has happened there…. The population has fled. Madmen and criminals wander the streets. Strange portents appear in the cloud-covered sky. And into this disaster zone comes a young man–poet, lover, and adventurer–known only as the Kid. Tackling questions of race, gender, and sexuality, Dhalgren is a literary marvel and groundbreaking work of American magical realism.

It may be all those things and I’m not sufficiently intellectual or appreciative of art to enjoy it. After the first couple of hundred pages, I found it meandering and more than a bit pretentious. But to be fair, it’s a matter of taste. I have friends who really liked James Joyce and actually read Ulysses, not the Cliff Notes. Go figure, right?

This edition includes a foreword by William Gibson as well as a new illustrated biography of Samuel Delaney.

Dhalgren is available in paperback, hardcover and Kindle.

A HOLIDAY LONGMIRE STORY – THE SPIRIT OF STEAMBOAT, CRAIG JOHNSON

Spirit of Steamboat: A Walt Longmire Story

SnapIt-165By Craig Johnson

PENGUIN GROUP Viking
Viking Adult – 161 Pages

A holiday tale from the New York Times bestselling author of the Walt Longmire mystery series, the inspiration for A&E’s hit show Longmire

“It’s a question of what you have to do, what you have to live with if you don’t.”

As Sheriff Walt Longmire is reading A Christmas Carol in his office on Christmas Eve, he’s interrupted by a mysterious young woman who claims to know him. And Lucian Connally, Walt’s predecessor who now lives in a retirement home.

She is indeed a ghost of Christmas past. It takes Walt a while, but when he sees the scars, one that runs across her forehead, the plastic reconstruction work around her mouth and nose — he remembers. When the young lady is introduced to Lucian, he claims to not recognize her … but it’s not true. He knows who she is. They both do and soon, Walt is deep in memories of the hellacious blizzard of December 24, 1988.

It’s the story of a rescue, a decrepit B-25 bomber named “Steamboat.” How, after three people die in a terrible crash, a girl survives, in desperate need of immediate medical care far in excess of what this small, snowbound community can provide. How Lucian flies that old, leaky plane through the worst blizzard in memory — while Walt, the doctor and a co-pilot white-knuckle onward against all odds.

It’s a novella with a lot of back story for the ongoing Longmire series. It’s a touching Christmas story, full of valor and determination in the face of impossible odds and an epic storm. The girl will die if they can’t beat that blizzard — and they are not about to let her die.

If you have read, or are in the process of reading the Longmire series — or if you are following the story via the A&E television series, this is a worthwhile addition to your reading. It’s available from Amazon and on Audible.com.

SPIRIT OF STEAMBOAT is a wonderful, inspiring holiday read — an excellent read any time!

YOUTH IN FREEFALL — THE DUKE OF URANIUM, JOHN BARNES

DUKE OF URANIUM COVERIn a future a few thousand years from now, Jak Jinnaka and his pals are having a grand old time. Partying hearty and ignoring everything he’s supposed to be learning at school, he hasn’t spent any time or effort thinking about the future. Any future, but especially his own. His got a great best friend, a gorgeous girlfriend and no responsibilities.

But that ends abruptly the day his girlfriend, Sesh, is kidnapped. He’s beaten senseless and  discovers the world is nothing like he thought it was.

It’s a brand new reality. The beautiful, free-wheeling party girl Sesh is Princess Shyf of Greenworld, heiress and only daughter of the rulers of a powerful kingdom. Jak’s Uncle Sib is not merely the kindly old guy who controls the family money, but a legendary spymaster. Now, it appears Jak is about to enter the family business with no training or time to think about possible repercussions.

It’s the first book in a new series obviously aimed at a teen audience. As was Harry Potter, so I didn’t consider its youthful skew an obstacle to enjoyment. I did sometimes find it a bit young for me … but I also found it witty and frequently laugh-out-loud funny. Barnes’ observations on society and culture is razor-sharp.

The characters are fun and interesting. They grow and change, something I always appreciate in a book. This was promoted as being along the lines of Heinlein’s young adult literature, but Barnes writes nothing like Heinlein. I like Heinlein — that’s not true. I love Heinlein. But I like Barnes too. You don’t need to lure me with promises of “another Heinlein.” I don’t need the incentive. I’d read it anyhow.

The book takes a long time to catch fire. Barnes has created a world and needs to explain it. I’d prefer he showed us more and told us less because the book plods for the first half. After that, it takes off and steps out lively.

Not only has Barnes invented a world, but he’s invented a language. It uses a lot of words that are sort of English, but not really. We’re supposed to figure out what they mean by context and mostly, I did. Eventually. It would have been easier if he had included a short glossary or footnoted the words or … just used English. I don’t think the unfamiliarity of the language added anything but confusion.

That being said, I enjoyed the book. It dragged  in the beginning, but the end was fast with plenty of action. Predictable? I didn’t think it was all that predictable … no more than any other book of this type I’ve read. It has a lot of potential as a series and I’ll be interested to see where Barnes takes it.

CONSUMING A WORLD OF WORDS – ALICE IN WONDERLAND

alice cover christie

ALICE IN WONDERLAND, NANCY CHRISTIE

19 pages
Pixel Hall Press (November 25, 2013)

In a mere 19 pages, Nancy Christie paints an amazingly vivid portrait. A complete world.

A woman of indeterminate age, Alice is trapped in the walls of her mother’s house. She has surrendered her life. Nothing exists but tending her bedridden shrew of a mother. Bereft of a life outside, she escapes by reading and consuming books. Literally.

Alice has slipped emotionally beyond despair and lost touch with her own soul. Her life is empty and ugly. No joy, hope or companionship. So Alice dreams, fueling her dreams by reading of faraway places. Somewhere along the way, dreaming morphed into physically consuming the pages she reads, as if by eating the words, they will grow in strength and overpower misery and replace reality.

Nancy Christie is an author who creates unforgettable images. She writes tightly, nothing wasted. Rarely have I read anything as evocative. So much is conveyed in few words. Too soon over. I avoided short stories for years because they left me feeling unsatisfied, but Alice In Wonderland is a most satisfying morsel, a world in a few heartbeats.

The only thing that could have improved this story would have been another story.

About Nancy Christie:

I am a writer both by trade (magazine articles and corporate projects – see my site’s About Me section for more details) and by preference.

Although I enjoy “business writing,” my passion is for fiction. Long fiction, short fiction, bits and pieces of fiction (character sketches, dialogue)–any kind of “make believe” writing that takes me from my reality into my characters’ reality. I’ve been fortunate to have several pieces published in literary journals. With the release of Annabelle, my first e-book and now Alice in Wonderland (both published by Pixel Hall Press), I have moved further on my path to achieving recognition for my fiction.

As for what writers have inspired me, some of my favorites include Agatha Christie, Shirley Jackson, Ray Bradbury, Mark Helprin, Carolyn See, Elizabeth George–a mixed bag, to be sure, and just a few of those with whom I “keep company.”

I write, I read, I write some more and so it goes …

A CURIOUS ACCOUNT OF NATIVE PEOPLES IN NORTH AMERICA

THE INCONVENIENT INDIAN – A Curious Account of Native People in North America

By Thomas King

University of Minnesota Press
Publication Date: September 1, 2013

272 Pages

Before starting it, I was a bit dubious about the book. The title seemed just a bit … I don’t know. Off-center? I wasn’t sure if I was about to read history, anecdotes, opinion, humor or what.

It turned out to be all of the above and more. This is an entertaining book — humorous, elegantly written and witty. It’s also serious, but the seriousness is somewhat cloaked by its style. Unlike so many books written by oppressed minorities that aim — almost exclusively — to make one feel guilty for not being one of the oppressed, this book helps you help see the world through the eyes of Native Americans. What we see is beauty, horror and hilarity … a mad world in which you can’t trust anyone and you have to make your own rules because that’s the only way to survive.

We have slaughtered our Native Americans. Hated them, admired, adulated, tortured, enslaved, jailed and utterly misunderstood them since our first encounters.

The single thing we non-Natives have never done is accept the Native American claim to this country as more legitimate than ours. At the core of the relationship between Native peoples and the white “settlers” was and will always be land. It was theirs. We wanted it. We took it. They objected. We killed them. And we kept the land and tried improve our position by slander and slaughter.

These days, feelings towards Native American runs the gamut from awe, to bigotry and loathing. Despite the passing of centuries, there is little understanding. That the Native community is less than eager to let outsiders into their world should surprise no one. Their experience with us has not been reassuring. To quote Calvera from The Magnificent Seven: “Generosity. That was our first mistake.”

For anyone interested in discovering the meaning of cognitive dissonance, growing up Native in today’s America is a good start. Natives are by no means the only minority to have to hold completely incompatible world views simultaneously, but Natives have a legitimate claim to first place for the most cock-eyed and complex relationship with the larger society in which they must live.

This isn’t exactly history. It isn’t exactly not. It’s stories, history, opinions and anecdotes presented in a non-linear, almost conversational style. It is easy to read, lively and not at all pretentious. It shouldn’t surprise anyone, but probably will. Logic would dictate that our Native population regard us with at the very least, skepticism and possibly deep-rooted hostility.

This isn’t a deep analysis of the history of this relationship, though for some I suppose it would be revelatory. I would call it “Native American History Lite.” It is a good starting place for those who don’t know anything — or know a lot of things, all of which are wrong.

About the author:

Thomas King is an award-winning novelist, short story writer, scriptwriter, and photographer. His many books include the novels Medicine River; Green Grass, Running Water; Truth and Bright Water; two short story collections, One Good Story, That One (Minnesota, 2013) and A Short History of Indians in Canada (Minnesota, 2013); nonfiction, The Truth About Stories (Minnesota, 2005); and the children’s books A Coyote Columbus Story, Coyote Sings to the Moon, Coyote’s New Suit, and A Coyote Solstice Tale. King edited the literary anthology All My Relations and wrote and starred in the popular CBC radio series, The Dead Dog Café. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Western American Literary Association (2004) and an Aboriginal Achievement Award (2003), and was made a member of the Order of Canada in 2004. He has taught Native literature and history and creative writing at the University of Lethbridge, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Guelph and is now retired and lives in Guelph, Ontario.

The Inconvenient Indian is available in Kindle, Hardcover and Paperback and worthwhile in any format.

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Daily Prompt: Simply the Best – AS FAR AS EYES CAN SEE

It’s not everything, but it’s a lot. Ancient and modern, classical and just plain fun. From a rollercoaster ride to a sleek motorcycle. From the roads to a bridge and a dam. The music we make, things we fashion with our hands or create with our minds. My vision of the best. We’re going to need a very big rocket!

GOT A KINDLE? MEGA BARGAINS FROM AMAZON TODAY!

Need something to read? Like mysteries? How about the classics? These are some of the amazing values you can get free or for very short money from Amazon.These are currently available. You can’t beat the prices, so if you’re a reader, there’s no downside except possibly that some of these books are huge.

Even if you don’t own a Kindle, the Kindle app is available for PC, Mac and a variety of mobile phones and tablets. Truly a win-win. This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are lots more.

Delphi Complete Works of Mark Twain (Illustrated) [Kindle Edition] Samuel Clemens … $.99

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (37 plays, 160 sonnets and 5 Poetry Books With Active Table of Contents) [Kindle Edition] … $.99

Alice in Wonderland: The Complete Collection (Illustrated Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Illustrated Through the Looking Glass, plus Alice’s Adventures Under Ground and The Hunting of the Snark) [Kindle Edition] … $.99 (My all time favorites!)

Oz: The Complete Collection (All 14 Oz Books, with Illustrated Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and Exclusive Bonus Features) [Kindle Edition] … $.99 (Note: I would have given a body part for this when I was a kid.)

The Detective Megapack [Kindle Edition] Dashiell Hammett, Agatha Christie, much more … $.99

The Classic Mystery Collection (100+ books and stories) [Kindle Edition] Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, Anna Katharine Green, Sax Rohmer, Edgar Allan Poe, Wilkie Collins, Honore de Balzac and more … $2.99

Agatha Christie Collection (Illustrated): The Secret Adversary AND The Mysterious Affair [Kindle Edition] $.99

The Dashiell Hammett Megapack [Kindle Edition] … $.99

“All You Zombies-” [Kindle Edition] Robert Heinlein (Possibly the best time travel short story ever written) … $1.25

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes [Kindle Edition] Sir Arthur Conan Doyle … $0.00

THE COMPLETE SHERLOCK HOLMES and THE COMPLETE TALES OF TERROR AND MYSTERY (All Sherlock Holmes Stories and All 12 Tales of Mystery in a Single Volume!) …  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle | The Complete Works Collection) … $.99

H.G. Wells Collection, Over 50 Works: The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, Time Machine, Island of Dr. Moreau, Little Wars, World Set Free, Tales of Space and Time, When the Sleeper Wakes & MORE! [Kindle Edition] … $.99 ( I don’t know how many pages this is, but it’s a huge file, so I’m better a thousand or more pages.)

Charles Dickens Collection 55 Works: David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, Christmas Carol, Pickwick Papers, Nicholas Nickleby, Bleak House, MORE! [Annotated] [Kindle Edition] This is 15 novels and all the short fiction … an entire library … $2.99

Jane Austen Collection: 18 Works, Pride and Prejudice, Love and Friendship, Emma, Persuasion, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Lady Susan & more! [Kindle Edition] … $.99

The Complete Little Women Series: Little Women, Good Wives, Little Men, Jo’s Boys (4 books in one) [Kindle Edition] (807 pages) Louisa May Alcott … $.99

The Bronte Sisters – The Complete Novels (Annotated) + Extras [Kindle Edition] by Emily Bronte, Anne Bronte, Charlotte Bronte (894 pages) … $.99

Jules Verne Collection, 33 Works: A Journey to the Center of the Earth, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World in Eighty Days, The Mysterious Island, PLUS MORE! [Kindle Edition] (8876 pages — apparently not a misprint). … $.99 (You may never need another book!)

Truly, the selection is huge, the prices are more than reasonable. If you’re short on money, long on loving literature, you’re going to love this! And there’s so much more. I kid you not. SO much more.

MURDER AND MURK – THE BONES OF PARIS, LAURIE R. KING

BonesOfParis

The Bones of Paris
A Novel of Suspense
By Laurie R. King

Random House Publishing Group – Bantam Dell
Publication Date: September 10, 2013

Set in a strange world of weirdos, artists, authors and perverts in post World War I Paris, this Jazz Age murder mystery has some of the creepiest characters I’ve ever encountered in a long time. Historically, this was indeed a strange time. The Lost Generation of Hemingway, Fitzgerald in a Paris seething with new art forms and angst.

Flappers meet  old aristocracy. Painters and photographers hook up with roaming flotsam and jetsam of a displaced generation. These are people well and truly lost in time and space.

Tournee du Theatre du Grand Guignol de Paris -...

Amidst this odd collection of geniuses and madmen, comes private investigator Harris Stuyvesant, an American ex-FBI agent. Down on his luck and much in need of a paying  job, he’s gotten the plummy assignment of finding Philippa “Pip”Crosby, a young American woman.

She’s been missing for months, last seen in the company of some of Paris’ more dubious denizens. Harris has previously met Pip, albeit briefly, and wonders if his knowing her was how he got the job in the first place.

At first, Harris assumes she has gone off to do whatever young women do when they want to have a good time. Perhaps the Riviera or some other resort. She has nothing to hold her in any particular place. Inquiries lead nowhere. Her trail stops abruptly at the Théâtre du Grand-Guignol in Montmartre. Harris Stuyvesant finds himself in a world in which art and sexual depravity are indistinguishable. His fears for the young woman grow increasingly dark.

Because she’s not the only one who has gone missing in this murky society of the talented and the strange. In fact, more than a dozen missing women may have fallen victim to the same killer … and the number of suspects keeps multiplying. Somewhere, a savage killer is roaming free and he’s isn’t finished yet.

I’ve read a lot of Laurie King’s Sherlock Holmes books and enjoyed them very much. This was not at all the same. In the end, I liked the book, but it took me quite a while to really get into it. The problem was, I didn’t like any of the characters. They were smug. They may have been the élite of the art world, but they were also bores, boors, braggarts and self-absorbed snobs — the kind of people I make it my business to avoid. Eventually, as relationships began to sort out, I grew to like the detective and the French policeman with whom he is working … and even develop a mild affection for some of the women, though they will never be my kind of gal pals.

This is a work of fiction, so despite the familiar names — Hemingway pops up a lot as well as Cole Porter — they are not real, though I suspect they were modeled on real people.

It’s a good mystery and Harris Stuyvesant is an interesting guy. I didn’t love the book, but it’s well-written. If you like your villains insane and creepy, you have a whole slew of them to choose from. Harris Stuyvesant is a sturdy character with plenty of back story. I think he will grow up to be likeable and interesting. However, he isn’t there yet.

Laurie King is an exceptionally literate writer. She uses lots of big words, so if you like your reading easy, this isn’t the book for you. The elegance of her language is one of her most attractive qualities as an author. I would have read to the end for that alone.

On the plus side, the Parisian setting is well-drawn. You can virtually see and smell the city as you read. Especially smell.

The Bones of Paris is worth your time, though how much you like it is a matter of personal taste. I prefer more modern settings and people to whom I can better relate. If you really like a bit of Poe-esque creepiness in your mysteries, The Bones of Paris has it.

Available on Kindle, audiobook, paperback and hardcover.

The Testament of Mary — Audible.com — Meryl Streep, Narrator

The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin

TestamentOfMaryAudible

This is another in a long line of alternate versions of the life of Jesus Christ. This one is written as if by Jesus’ mother, Mary.

As a book, it suffers from not being entirely sure what the author believes or wants us to believe. Does she — or does she not — believe in the divinity of her son? For most of the book, I would say she doesn’t, that she rejects his divinity and believes his death was avoidable and pointless. Not to mention horrible, painful and cruel beyond words.

By the end of the book, what Mary believes — or what the author would like us to believe — is abstruse, to say the least. My suspicion is that the author was either unclear where he stands, religiously speaking, or chickened out and decided it was safer to hedge his theological bets.

Judas, My Brother

Whatever the reason, the lack of a clear point of view eventually made me wonder why I bothered to read it. It’s vivid, ugly, graphic and very confused.

In this genre, I have read many other books that are better written, including Naomi Alderman’s The Liars’ Gospel and my all-time favorite, Frank Yerby‘s Judas, My Brother – out of print, but available used from Amazon.

Which brings me back to the question of why I purchased it. Simply put? I bought it because Audible had it on sale … and I was curious about Meryl Streep‘s narration.

I didn’t think much of the book and the narration didn’t improve the experience for me. Meryl Streep is a brilliant actor, not a brilliant narrator. As a narrator, she is a brilliant actor. She doesn’t get the difference between narrating and acting. It is, of course, a matter of taste, but since this is my review — in my opinion, she puts way too much passion into the narration. She doesn’t read the book. She acts it.

At no point could I forget the narration and hear the voice of the author. Never did the narration free me to become immersed in the story. Granted, the story itself wasn’t all that great, but a different narrator might have made it easier to get involved in the story.

Streep’s presence is very dominant. You will listen to her performance. If you like that sort of thing, Meryl Streep does a fine acting job, but to me, the best narration is one you don’t notice. I want to hear the author, not the narrator. If I’m conscious of a narrator, it’s a problem. Audiobooks are not theatre. They are books. Listening is another way to read, not radio drama.

I didn’t think the book was particularly good, even though it has gotten tons of publicity and is being touted from hither to yon. Of this genre, this is one of the weakest books I’ve read.