THE WORLD AS A WAITING ROOM: BE STILL! DEPARTURE FROM COLLECTIVE MADNESS

The World as a Waiting Room


ERB-logo-Color-SmallToday The Englewood Review of Books published its book review of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness.



Thanks to Chris Smith, The Englewood Review‘s editor, for including Be Still!, and to Madeline Cramer, the reviewer, for close attention to its themes and substance.

Be StillMs. Cramer’s review is the first to lift up the deep affinity between the book’s cover, Vincent Van Gogh’s “Prisoners Exercising”, and the book’s elaboration of the less obvious forms of imprisonment, and our searches, alone and together, for sanity and stillness.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, September 7, 2017.

“Strange as it may seem, I often feel the way John Lennon did. I dream of a different kind of world…” the Presbyterian minister and social commentator Gordon Stewart says in “Creating Hell in the Name of Heaven”—one of a collection of brief essays in his book Be Still: Departure from Collective Madness. And, considering the timeless popularity of John Lennon’s song “Imagine,” don’t we all long for something more than what we see in front of us? Don’t we all envision a better world? If not, what would motivate us? Who would want to raise children in a world doomed to fail? Who would go to church believing that God’s kingdom would never come? 

Click The World as a Waiting Room to read the review.

ALL ABOUT BOOKS – A FOLLOW-ON

Stolen freely from sparksfromacombustablemind who stole it from purpleslobinrecovery and finally, from Patience of Willow

I’m not much of a rule-follower. I don’t think it’s rebellion, exactly. More like retirement. I followed a lot of rules for a long time. Now, I don’t have to, so I don’t.  You can check out the rules on some of the earlier followers of this page, but I’m going to suggest simply if you like this, then take the questions and write your own answers. I like books, so this appealed to me.

1. What are your top three (3) book pet peeves?  

When character behave out of character. This is especially annoying in a long series. I expect character development and welcome a character finding new ways to behave, but when out of the blue, he or she completely alters the way they act because the author needs it to move the series along, I get annoyed. If I get very annoyed, I stop reading and move on.

I hate fake endings. You can’t just drop an ending in from space. An end should have something to do with the rest of the book. A lot of books seem to run of ideas before the conclusion.

Good writing matters. That sounds so basic, but it isn’t. There are a lot of really dull writers out there. I have no patience with boring books. There’s too much else to read to waste my time. Write well — and find something new to say. I am so tired of books that are copies of other books. I don’t need another fake “Lord of the Rings.”

2. Describe your perfect reading spot.  

Perfection? My living room recliner. But anywhere I am will do in a pinch.

3. Tell us three (3) book confessions.  

A) I rarely read words on pages. These days, I mostly listen to audiobooks. My eyes got very tired and can’t focus for long on a page. I will read pages for the few books I love enough to not miss (even in print), but it is difficult to keep focused for more than a few minutes at a time.

B) I don’t like realistic books. I’ve had more than enough realism in life. Reading is entertainment. I want to be entertained, so it’s usually some version of science fiction or fantasy, mysteries, histories, and occasionally science.

C) I won’t read anything depressing. I won’t read about cancer and disease, the holocaust, genocide, or slaughter of any kind. I won’t read about torture and I don’t find violence sexy. Actually, I often don’t even find sex particularly sexy unless it is very well-written … and that is rare.

4. When was the last time you cried during a book? 

The last of Terry Pratchett’s books when the final old witch died after dancing with her bees.

5. What’s your favorite snack to eat while you’re reading?  Cherries.

6. How many books are on your bedside table?  

Like so many others, there is a Kindle on my night table. On it are probably 500 or more books, audiobooks and print.

7. Name three (3) books you would recommend to everyone. 

I could never do that. Individual tastes are so varied, so how could I? I would suggest that everyone read at least one good history because we should know where we come from. Everyone should also know some science. But which books? That’s not for me to say.

8.  Show us a picture(s) of your favorite bookcase or bookshelf. 

9. Describe how much books mean to you in just three words. 

Totally, absolutely essential.

10.  (Added by Embeecee)  Who was responsible for your love of books?  A parent, a teacher…or were you born that way? 

I think I was always kind of bookish, but my mother was a big encouragement. Neither my brother or sister were big readers. My mother read everything she could get her hands on. It made up for the education she never got. When she realized I was a reader too, she fed me books. Lots and lots of books. Crates of books. Rooms full of books. There was never a limit to what I could read, no age limit on anything.

I’m not sure I’d have survived childhood without books.

WHEN DOGS RULE THE WORLD – CITY (1952), CLIFFORD SIMAK

City is a 1952 science fiction novel by Clifford D. Simak. The book is episodic with eight or nine (depending on which version you read) short stories that have “bridges” between episodes. Version of the book after 1980 includes the ninth tale, “Epilogue.”

The novel contains eight stories which are the mythology of the Dogs. Each tale is preceded by doggish notes and learned discussion. An editor’s “preface” notes after each telling of these legends, suggest that puppies will ask many questions, for example:

1st-edition by source fair-use en wikipedia.org

“What is Man?” they’ll ask.

Or perhaps: “What is a city?”

Or maybe:”What is a war?

There is no positive answer to any of these questions.”


In the world where these stories are legends, there are no humans, no cities, and no war.

Generally, I find old science fiction awkward and occasionally dull. In City, the technology and science is dated, but the concepts are as innovative and unique as they were when I first read the book in the 1960s.

This “remembered human world” questions whether or not humankind will continue as a species, but not for the usual reason. Quite the opposite.

In these stories, earth was repaired in every way you can imagine. There is enough of everything — food, money, housing. Roads are useless because everyone flies. Cities are empty. Everyone lives in the country. Crime disappears and mutants have strange powers, especially telepathy.

The stories focus around one wealthy family named Webster and their robot Jenkins, . Over time, the name Webster becomes the noun “webster,” meaning “human.” Each story builds on a previous one. All discuss the breakdown of the urban world. The breakdown isn’t a bad thing because human life is enormously better.

And then, there’s Jupiter.

Doug Webster hates the new world. He’s an agoraphobic. Although the word “agoraphobic” is never used, Webster (all his family members share the same issue) becomes ill if he is has to go out into the bigger world. At some point, Webster provides dogs with speech and improved vision. Meanwhile, the breakdown of civilization allows roaming mutant geniuses to make their own odd changes to earth. Joe, a wandering mutant, decides to see what would happen to ants if they remained active and free of hunger year round.

The ants form an industrial society and eventually take over “our” earth while humans go somewhere else — as do the dogs. A lot of stuff happens and there isn’t a lot of specific information provided. You will need your imagination.

Dogs see other worlds. They always have. Their worlds are “cobbly worlds.” In case you were wondering, cobbly worlds are why your dog barks at seemingly nothing. Dogs bark to warn the cobblies to stay away. Other worlds familiar to us, are invisible to Dogs.

Ultimately, humans abandon earth and dogs have nothing but mythical memories of humans. They are not even sure we ever existed. The stories in this book are their myths and legends. A few dogs believe humans existed, but most do not. I really enjoyed the book. I also enjoyed the audiobook. If science fiction is your thing, this book is worth your time.

And don’t forget about those cobbly worlds.

PONDERING PUBLISHING AND THE WORLD GONE BY

I usually say I wouldn’t want to ever work again, but I got to thinking about that. I realized if I could get back my job as editor at Doubleday? I’d do it in a heartbeat. How many jobs give you unlimited sick days, two-hour lunches, and require you to read sleazy novels during the day? And pay you for the privilege? And give you the best bunch of people as colleagues you could hope for.

We met at Doubleday!

I also had to write stuff about the books I read, but a long review was still shorter than any of the pieces I write for this blog. Even in my crumbling state of health, I think I could handle it.

The trouble is, the job doesn’t exist. Publishers are thoroughly conglomerated. Each is a subsection of some über corporation where books are one of many products — and not an important product, either.

The 1970s were wonderful years for reading. It was a tremendous period for books and book clubs — and for literature as an art. In those days, reading was major entertainment. People read books and talked about them by the water cooler. If you got excited about a book, you told all your friends … and they read it, too.


Before the internet.

Before cell phones.

Before cable and satellite television.

Before computers and many years before WiFi …

We had books.

Other entertainment? Of course there were movies, but you had to see them in a movie theater. Television was there, but it had limitations. We had — in New York which was entertainment central — seven channels. Unless you had a really good antenna on the roof, you rarely got a clear picture. There was interference called “snow.” Pictures rolled — up, down, and side-to-side. Vertical and horizontal holds on your TV were designed to help control it. Sometimes, they did, but I remember many nights of giving up and turning the set off because we couldn’t get a decent picture. Meanwhile, many of us used a set of rabbit-ear antennas that worked sometimes — if the wind was blowing due west.

I spent more time trying to convince the rabbit-ears to receive a signal than watching shows.

Doubleday in Garden City, NY

Not surprisingly, television wasn’t our primary source of entertainment. Instead, we read books — and we talked to each other — something we old folks continue to do. Sometimes, we had conversations that lasted for hours and in my life, occasionally ran into weeks. Blows your mind, doesn’t it? All that talking without a phone? Without texting, either.

Books were big business. If you wrote anything reasonably good, there were more than enough publishers who might be interested in printing it. I miss that world, sometimes more than I can say.

All of this got me thinking about how hard it is to get books published these days. So many people I know have written really good books and have never found anyone to back them. It’s rough on writers, and it’s not a great sign for the art of literature. Not only has our political world caved in, but our literary world is sliding down a long ramp to nowhere. In theory, many more books are published today because anyone can publish anything — and sell it on Amazon. All books — the great, good, mediocre, and truly awful are lumped together. Most of them are rarely read since none of them are being promoted by a publisher. This isn’t a small thing. Publishers were a huge piece of what made books great. If your publisher believed you’d written something excellent, you could count on being visible on the shelves of bookstores everywhere. You’d also be part of book club publications. People — reading people — would see your book. There were book columns and reviews — and people read them they way they read stuff on upcoming television shows today.

Of course, we are also suffering from the vanishing bookstore … a whole other subject.

A great idea followed by a well-written manuscript was just the beginning of a book’s life story. From the manuscript, publishers took books and did their best to sell them to the world. Today, all that pushing and pitching is left to authors, including those whose books typically sell well.

Can anyone imagine how Faulkner, Hemingway and Thomas Wolf would do trying to “work the marketplace”? No doubt there were writers who were able to do the balancing of writing and marketing, but many authors are not particularly sociable. A good many are downright grumpy and a fair number are essentially inarticulate. They are not naturals to the marketing gig.

And … ponder this … what kind of blog do you think Faulkner … or … Eugene O’Neill … would have written?

I miss books. I miss authors. I miss publishers. I miss carefully edited manuscripts and beautifully published books where you could smell the ink and paper as you cracked the cover open. It was a heady perfume.

DON’T TALK TO ME ABOUT LIFE


Marvin: Life? Don’t talk to me about life!

– Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, 1979

There’s a lot of stuff going on. Most of it is exhausting and annoying — and all of it, expensive.

In a world where I find myself wondering if I’m going to live long enough to make it worthwhile to get the “lifetime warranty” on the water heater, please do not try to placate me with a platitude. I know them. I’ve heard them. I’ve probably even used them. I just can’t bear the idea of listening to one of them right now. Please don’t.

In honor of the one author that has always found a way to make me laugh — and the only famous person born on my birthday, here are some of my favorite quotes from Marvin, the depressed robot with a mind the size of the universe.

72-$ Ten thousand dollar bill

P.S. Someone in New Hampshire won $457 million dollars on a $1 lottery ticket a little while ago. It wasn’t us.


A Sunny Disposition:


Marvin: “My capacity for happiness you could fit into a matchbox without taking out the matches first.”
Arthur: “I think that door just sighed.”
Marvin: “Ghastly, isn’t it?”

Marvin: “Sorry, did I say something wrong? Pardon me for breathing which I never do anyway so I don’t know why I bother to say it oh God I’m so depressed.”


A ‘Can Do’ Attitude:


Arthur: “Marvin, any ideas?”
Marvin: “I have a million ideas. They all point to certain death.”

Trillian: “Marvin… you saved our lives!”
Marvin: “I know. Wretched, isn’t it?”

Marvin: “I’ve calculated your chance of survival, but I don’t think you’ll like it.”


A Strong Work Ethic:


Marvin: “I think you ought to know I’m feeling very depressed.”
Trillian: “Well, we have something that may take your mind off it.”
Marvin: “It won’t work, I have an exceptionally large mind.”

Marvin: “Here I am, brain the size of a planet, and they ask me to take you to the bridge. Call that job satisfaction, ’cause I don’t.”

Marvin: “‘Reverse primary thrust, Marvin.’ That’s what they say to me. ‘Open airlock number three, Marvin.’  ‘Marvin, can you pick up that piece of paper?’ Here I am, brain the size of a planet, and they ask me to pick up a piece of paper.”


A Good Education:


Marvin: “It gives me a headache just trying to think down to your level.”
Arthur Dent: “You mean you can see into my mind?”
Marvin: “Yes.”
Arthur: “Well?”
Marvin: “It amazes me how you manage to live in anything that small.”

Marvin: “I am at a rough estimate thirty billion times more intelligent than you. Let me give you an example. Think of a number, any number.”
Zem: “Er, five.”
Marvin: “Wrong. You see?”


A Positive Approach To Health And Well-being:


Zaphod Beeblebrox: “There’s a whole new life stretching out in front of you.”
Marvin: “Oh, not another one.”

Marvin: “Do you want me to sit in a corner and rust or just fall apart where I’m standing?”

Marvin: “The first ten million years were the worst. And the second ten million: they were the worst, too. The third ten million I didn’t enjoy at all. After that, I went into a bit of a decline.”


A Keen Interest In Philosophy:


Marvin: “Life? Don’t talk to me about life!”

Marvin: “I ache, therefore I am.”

Marvin: “Life. Loathe it or ignore it. You can’t like it.”


There, now don’t we all feel like better people already?

Douglas Adams, I miss you.

ALERT! TURKEY LEAKS SECRETS …

So I saw this headline:


Turkey Leaks Secret Locations of U.S.
Troops in Syria


and I thought — “What a strange business. Turkeys don’t usually have media ties.”

It took me a few minutes to remember that Turkey is a nation and not necessarily a gobbling bird trying to avoid Thanksgiving. This probably speaks to my overall loss of sanity regarding the world in which I live. I’m pretty sure that in earlier days, I’d have instantly recognized Turkey as the nation and not the bird.

Sanity is gone. What is left is a sense of being desperately short of sleep, broke … and holding a list of things I need to fix that exceeds any rational likelihood of doing them. Ever.

What to do next?

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve had more reality than I can handle. I’m going to read a book. Take me away, magic words.

THE SOIL, GROWTH OF AND OTHERWISE

When I was a teenager, my mother plied me with books. Some were entertaining. Then, there was Knut Hamsun.

Knut wasn’t a fun sort of author. In “Growth of the Soil” he wrote about the grim, hardscrabble life of the desperately poor farmers trying to survive in places where obviously no humans were supposed to be living. I’m not sure why my mother felt I should read these books, but I know I found them depressing. Not like my regular life was such a bundle of yuks that I needed something earthier to keep me from flying off into the world of the rich and giggly.

I was not rich and nor was I giggly.

I slogged my way through Growth of the Soil and I felt really bad for those sad people. This book was followed up by one of my mother’s favorites, “Jean-Cristophe,” This is  the novel in 10 volumes by Romain Rolland for which he received the Prix Femina in 1905 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1915. It is actually a fictionalized story of the life of Ludwig Von Beethoven. And although it is certainly interesting on many levels, it is also really, really, really long. About 1800 pages in small print.

I read it. All of it. But I was not yet finished with Romain Rolland. There were a few more — and they were also long, though nothing (except “Lord of the Rings”) was ever longer than “Jean-Cristophe.” Actually, I’m not sure how long “Lord of the Rings” is since it depended on the printing, font size, and so on … so let’s call them even. But “Lord of the Rings” was far more fun. We had eating and drinking parties while dressed in appropriate Middle-Earthen costumes.

Hobbits were also fond of the soil. They lived in houses dug into the earth. I hope it didn’t rain as much in Hobbiton as it does around here. A house in mud doesn’t seem as much fun as a warm, cozy hobbit hole.

I’m pretty sure that this early exposure to painful books about grinding, desperate poverty may have skewed my reading interests into lighter weight subject matter. Lighter weight everything. Between learning everything I might ever need to know about the Holocaust and my mother’s policy of serious reading, nothing made me happier than the discovery of historical romance and science fiction. Maybe that was really the idea?

SOIL | DAILY POST