Friday, December 28, 2012

Elvis and Me by Priscilla Beaulieu Presley

Priscilla at age 15 with Grandma Presley
I could not continue to torture myself further  by slogging through this trite writing in an excuse of a book published in 1985 and sold today at Graceland.  It has only 214 pages of which I read as far as pg 150; the best thing about the book are the photographs and the fact that I picked it up at a garage sale for only 50 cents, about 25 cents more than the worth of it.  It  is donated to the sale shelves next month.   Whoever told this woman she could write and that she would write this for their daughter is amazing. Bedding with Elvis and both using uppers and downers?  Perhaps the descriptions and too much detail turned me off from the start, she is a mere child when Elvis seeks her out while her family is in the Air Force in Germany.  That's when Elvis was in the Army there.  And her parents?  Well, what kind of people allow a 14 year old to go be with Elvis?  What kind of people allow extended overnight visits of a child with the man?  What kind of people allow her to live in the US while they are in Germany?  What kind of person allows herself to be dressed, heavily made up, beyond her years.  Yuck.  He sounds like a pervert.  She a star struck child set up for abuse.  Meantime, I'm thinking not a nice legacy for their daughter, but that's just my opinion.  I remember their marriage because as a teeny and preteen I and my friends listened to Elvis on  45 rpm records, loved the music.  Still love the music but this book, not so.  I give it less than a star but would have to go with a negative.  No stars and no further interest.   
Page 123, sums it up, an odd life that she and Elvis, had    "  There were nights when he slept restlessly, beset by worries and fears.  I lay silently beside him anxious about what he might be thinking and whether there was a place in his life for me....Lost in our separate miseries, we were unable to give each other strength or support.  He was controlled by his inability to take responsibility for his own life and for compro,isng his own standards--an I was controlled by him, compromising mine......"     

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Bookstores and New Book website

This is the first time I have posted something other than a book review on this blog.  The November 18 Sunday Parade magazine article , "Places of Wonder" by novelist Richard Russo where he describes the first great bookstore of his life, Alvord and Smith on Noah Miles street in Gloversville, NY, the first stop  on Saturday  errands with his mother.  He goes on to tout bookstores and declares while many people love good bookstores, writers lose their heads over them.    Then he discusses his intense dislike of e-books which he believes are leading to the decline in real literary works.  I fully understand and agree, because I have been to events when bookstores introduced new writers.  Thnakfully our local library and librarian have a heart to do the same today though often confined to MN writers who are willing to trek to this small town.  A conversation with an author is stimulating and often insightful, "wow if  she/he can write so can I.   

Here is a link to the website for Good Reads and information about Richard Russo, an author who has a Pulitzer as well as acclaim.  http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7844.Richard_Russo  The Sunday article is an excerpt from a new book, on my wish list at Barnes and Noble (B&N), an anthology of essays by famous writers, "My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop"    by Ronald Rice.  

And another thing, those who claim I am hard to buy for, as recently voiced by a relative who chooses to do whatever is easy to assuage any feelings of obligaton, would do well to visit my B & N wish list.  There is always something there.  Often I will spot a book at Sam's, that  I must have shortly after release like "Killing Kennedy" but other times I will wait for awhile for the paperback release or a sale copy at our library book sale.  Another book I'm waiting on is JK Rowling's new adult mystery,  "The Casual Vacancy."  I think if people took a minute  to think they could easily find a book I would enjoy.  But that is another post and for the other blog, inability or refusal to think, part of the culture of flashing plastic and making it easy while it's the thought that is missing.   

Today we settle with Barnes and Noble our chain bookstore at the mall, and while I am grateful we have it nearby while many communities lack any bookseller save the Wal-Mart or grocery paper back stacks, I long for the independent bookstores that we had once upon a time in California. There were three in the  Auburn area near our home.  My friend Roberta and I would spend our lunchtime browsing in the  Beers Bookstore which moved close to my office my last years of work; Beers was famous for  an array of used as well as new books, and for many unusual subjects.  There is something extra satisfying about handling the book and glimpsing passages here and there, before purchasing that is just not the same on line despite features on Amazon and B & N online.  Russo claims that the point and click crowd undermine the next generation of writers by not supporting independent booksellers who were the best resource for promoting new writers. 

My books to read shelf December 2012
While there were no bookstores in our town or  that I knew of growing up, I was a perpetual inhabitant of the local People's Library and checked out as many books as I could at a time, down the hill and up the hill again, carrying a heavy stack of books in the days prior to backpacks and with out regard to the extra weight.  Books that I would read and then make a repeat trek to the library.  We did not buy books and believe me when I got my very own book, I treasured it.  Maybe that is why I have always maintained a home library including a too big of one today, or so commented another relative on a visit, another non reader who cannot fathom what one would do with books.    Much has changed over the years but not my love of reading, however the rise and fall of bookstores across the country proves the dynamics at work, few read and fewer buy books.  I am a book store junkie, an addict to a book sale, and can always find something to add to the shelf in my home library of books to be read.  There is always space for another book.   I do not lack for books to keep me company over a snowed in day like today. 

Over the weekend at a recommendation from the local book reviewer in the Sunday newspaper I logged onto  Storyverse, a website dedicated to literature and books, excerpts of books and  reviews  this is different and interesting to me and likely to other readers.   One small semi annoying aspect is its name, "Small Demons"  I suppose this is cool with younger people and likely of some  significance which I do not get.  Still, the site is worth visiting when interested in what to read next.   https://www.smalldemons.com/books   

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Fantastic The Life of Arnold Schwarzenegger by Laurence Leamer

Fantastic:  The Life of Arnold Schwarzenegger by Laurence Leamer  published in 2005 by St. Martins Press,  362 pages or 401 with the notes.  This book  was a gift to me that has languished at the back of my "books to be read shelf " all these years.  Arnold has since released his own biography and of course the news of his infidelities, love child right under Maria's nose, ending  with their  divorce have captured the rest of the story and likely dimmed any further political hopes  for this rising star, a hero figure to many who achieved the immigrant's dream.  The story begins in his native Austria and follows him as he makes his way and name through bodybuilding, coming to America and not just surviving but thriving. an endearing story of rags to beyond riches.

I can  still hear his "fantastic" proclamations about everything,  it was one of his favorite expressions, we wondered if he knew other adjectives, and a fitting title.  This is a part of history of which I lived and participated fully,  California  in it's heyday and then it's beginning decline though it was not so recognized at the time.  Arnold was the last governor of California  for whom I worked.  I have a fancy personal proclamation signed by him awarded to me at my retirement from California state service in 2005,(I know  the gala was 2004 but I was on the books and returned  briefly until 2005), Arnold wrote wishing me all good luck, etc. in the future.  I had always intended to frame and display it, but it resides today somewhere on a closet shelf with other  political memorabilia.  Yet another example of what seemed so important in my career days is beyond irrelevant to my life today.  Actually I prefer my "Remarkable Women of Clifornia" t-shirt from Maria to the proclamation. 
I  like the way the chapters flow and are organized in this  biography which reportedly was written with cooperation of Arnold and Maria.  However,  I noticed inaccuracies from the beginning of the book, so that kept me reading with a skeptical eye, the mention that Arnold is  6 foot 2 made me laugh out loud!  I remember being surprised  the first time we saw Arnold in person at one of the campaign events during the Grey Davis recall election, he is a short man about maybe 5 foot 9 inches max who wears lifts to make himself taller.  Yes, he has very broad shoulders  and an imposing stature but he is not that tall. 

This is an interesting chronicle of his youth in Austria and his body building endeavors and achievements, his absolutely driving and perseverance,  his  rise to Hollywood stardom as an action hero, though robotic (Terminator)  at times, his decade long affair with Maria and their marriage, his election as Governor of California, where this story stops. 

Page 23 is an accurate harbinger of the man's personality..."Bodybuilding was the vehicle that carried Arnold away from Thal.  He was a natural athlete who could have made his mark in any number of sports.  He has said that he liked bodybuilding because it was not like soccer, which required him to share his acclaim with others.  With bodybuilding the glories were his alone.  He had no team mates in bodybuilding.  He alone determined how he worked .......Although Arnold celebrated the solitary competitive nature of a bodybuilder, he did not like to be alone and was a natural participant in the boisterous camaraderie of the sport.  .....Arnold enjoyed the banter and the manly fraternity."     It was this manly fraternity that would create difficulties all his life in his treatment of women, what he believed as fun was deemed insensitive to abusive by the more  politically correct.  Reading his back ground and that of the gymnasium work out behaviors gives insight into his character.

Pages 174-175 .."Arnold is a man who knows what he knows and what he does not know.  He knows how to learn and when to learn.  ...if you say something he doesn't understand he'll say, "What is it?"  The least introspective of men, unconcerned with the foibles and failures of the past, Arnold took what he needed from his earlier life and moved on."  I wonder but suspect  he still does this today.  

The help that Arnold received from the Kennedy's was not so much the political acumen and advice although that came in spades but it was the unwavering support.  It was California and none of us were amazed at the Kennedy's clan rallying for a Republican.  Partisan allegiance did not dominate and after all it was the Kennedy clan.    Page 186..."Arnold was not only the great love of Maria's life but her great project too.  She taught him more than anyone he had ever met. ...she took a rock and made him into  a gem, polished him..."  I am not so sure of this because clearly he was quite influenced by the Joe Weiders and before that  local Austrian politicians as well as his distant almost abusive father and his mother whom he adored all her life.


Back jacket of the book
 Page 324..."His optimism was the crucial quality Arnold brought to Sacramento, not a thought out ideology."  Amen to that, we wondered why he didn't carry out the huge  reforms he'd promised but reality became the political.  When he could not get  his budget passed on time, he showed frustration but  with humour at least to many of us, he unleashed on the legislature, calling them "girlie men."    I remember the rancor of  the legislature, especially his  nemesis John Burton and the very  liberal Senator Sheila Kuehl who accused Arnold of homophobia. 

Arnold was  more adept at dealing with the media than any other politician of that time,  pg. 347..."Arnold's attitude toward the media had grown originally from his experience with bodybuilding and the Weider publications.  ...Over the years he had developed a justifiable suspicion of the press but his attitude now was not simply about containing the damage that he might suffer from what he considered  biased liberal journalists.  As he saw it, all journalists could be a problem and they had to be contained and harnessed to his will.  Arnold usually fed reporters like squirrels in the park, .."

Pg 355 is the gist of what happened in California in Arnold's gubernatorial reign..."The cheerful excitement Arnold brought to governing was the essence of the man, and it spilled over onto almost everyone who came in contact with him." 

Reading how the Los Angeles Times editor had assigned a full investigative team of reporters to ferret out Arnold's  philandering  or any smut they could during his run for the recall, I pondered how they managed to not learn about his live child.  Apparently Arnold outsmarted or outmaneuvered all of them as they tried to get to blood in the water.  Maria's skillful defense of him when the groping allegations were revealed minimized the concerns and we all went along our way, paying it no attention.   

I give this  book about 3 1/2 stars  ***   It may have been of more interest to me than the average bear reader because I participated in his election and was awed by his tactics.   

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Paperback, 2011 published by Penguin Books, 335 pages including the Appendix which is amusing to read, The Young George Washington's  110 Rules of Civility & Decent  Behaviour in Company and Conversation,  from whence comes the title.  This is the first novel by Amor Towles who is a principal at an investment firm in Manhattan, where he lives with his wife and two children.  He  opens  with Matthew 22: 8--14.  I was pleased with the depth of understanding and presentation of the  book's characters.   It is a tale of lives, chance encounters, decisions and how they affect outcomes. 

The cover is misleading because it is not a story of the idle rich, lounging about  but  women's struggles through the post depression between 1937 and 1969.  It is introduced as Katey and Val attend a portrait exhibit by  Walker Evans at the Museum of Modern Art and she notices portraits of Tinker Grey, a wealthy man she used to know back when.  The tale weaves around the lives of  Katey Kontent and Eve Ross, a transplanted midwesterner, both career girls working  in New York.  In 1937 Eve and Katey meet Tinker in a jazz bar in Greenwich Village.  The novel twists with Eve snagging Tinker after a horrific accident, for which he feels guilty.  They live the high life as Eve recuperates and Tinker cares for her and the  solid friendship between  the women falls apart. Life goes on and they reconnect.    Other wonderful characters some mysterious until the ending are Dicky Vanderwhile, Wallace Woolcott, Bitsy, Peaches, Hank and Anne Grndyn.  Each character helps shape Katey's future, just as all the people of our lives shape us.   Meantime Katey  continues to advance in the secretarial pool and ultimately goes on to work for an editor .  It is a good story, surprising in outcomes.  Each  section  has an era photograph, images that fit the story. The writing is good with memorable lines portraying life in  an era in the big  city with all levels of society and culture from  melting pot to the most elitist. 

Pg 18,  .."He had that certain confidence in his bearing that democratic interest in his surroundings  and this understated presumption of friendliness that are only found in young men who have been raised in the company of money and manners.  It didn't occur to people like this that  they might be unwelcome in a new environment--and as a result they rarely were."  

Pg 37..."be careful when choosing what you're proud of--because the world has every intention of using it against you."

Pg 128.."Uncompromising purpose and the search for eternal truth have an unquestionable sex appeal for the young and high minded, but when  a person looses the ability to take pleasure in the mundane--in the cigarette on the stoop or the gingersnap in the bath--she has probably put herself in unnecessary danger.  What my father was trying to tell me as he neared the conclusion of his own course was that this risk should not be treated lightly.  One must be prepared to fight for one's simple pleasures and to defend them against elegance and erudition and all manner of glamorous enticements.  "

Pg 150..". I think we all have some parcel of the past which is falling into disrepair or being sold off piece by piece.  It's just that for most of us, it isn't an orchard, it's the way we've thought about something or someone." 

Pg 323 "It is a bit of a cliche to characterize life as a rambling journey on which we can alter our course at any given time--by the slightest turn of the wheel, the wisdom goes, we influence the chain of events and thus recast our destiny with new cohorts, circumstances, and discoveries.  But for most of us, life is nothing like that.  Instead we have a few brief periods when we are offered a handful of discrete options.....In that sense life is less like a journey than it is a game of honeymoon bridge.  In our twenties, when there is still so much time ahead of us, time that seems ample for a hundred indecisions  for a hundred visions and revisions--we draw a card and we must decide right then and there whether to keep that card  and discard the next, or discard the first card and keep the second.  And before we know it, the deck has been played out and the decisions we have just made will shape our lives for decades to come." 

Pg 324.."I know that right choices by definition are the means by which life crystallizes loss." 

The author hints at a sequel in his reading guide.  I give this  4 ****. 

  

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Greater Journey Americans in Paris by David McCullough

The Greater Journey  Americans in Paris  by David McCullough    published 2011,  
460 pages,  +76 pages source notes, +19 pages Index      ***** 
The front  jacket

This was one of my last  reads in 2011 and appeared on my other blog last  December.  If I selected one book to be my very top nonfiction read of the year this marvelous, wondrous book must be it.  I enjoy everything that McCullough writes with his intense research, reminiscent of James Michener.  This book details  the stories  of the prominent and aspiring American artists, writers, doctors, pre-med students, politicians, architects and other professionals who go to Paris between 1830 and 1900 to study, learn and fine tune their skills while experiencing the broadening they believe can only come from Europe.  The go to experience the "prestige of age"  and they do so in a different way,  Pg 20.."Even without the impertinence, the whole requirement of passports--the cost, the vexatious ceremony of it all was repugnant to the Americans.  ....no one carried a passport in America, not even foreign visitors. " There is such a difference between the Europeans and the Americans and many of these travelers had never been away from home before, never experienced  the older cultures, there was no guarantee of success.   On pg 67 Nathaniel Willis describes his fascination with faces and how one could "always recognize an American.There was something distinctive about the American face, something he had never noticed until coming to Paris....the distinctive feature ...,the independent self possessed bearing of a man unused to look p to anyone as his superior in rank, united to the inquisitive, sensitive, communicative expression which is the index to our national character."

Inside  the book cover

I learned so much reading this book that covers history of the time, the arts, artists and more about authors, for example James Fenimore Cooper was an advocate for Polish freedom. The famous pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk launched his career in Paris at age 15. The experiences of  George PA Healy, Samuel FB Morse, Elizabeth Blackwell, Oliver Wendel Holmes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain and Henry James  are only a few of whom  we read about in this volume.  It is interesting to follow lives through the popular rise of the automobile.  
I wondered why McCullough emphasized Augustus Saint Gaudens, the sculptor and on pg 455 in the Epilogue I learned that Homer St. Gaudens  was  the director of arts at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, PA.  Likely more data was available through that resource and McCullough is from Pittsburgh.  I could not pick one favorite tale in this book, the world's fair, the Eiffel tower, the revolutionaries. I shuddered  reading about  the early days of medical practice and how poor it was, even in Paris, where they went to learn.  I wonder how much worse it was here in the states, lack of sanitation and so on at that time.  This is a book I will keep and read again sometime, there is so much here. It is McCullough's latest contribution to we lovers of  history and art.  
5 *****   Not one my local book club is willing to tackle.   

The Scalpel and the Soul by Allan J Hamilton MD,FACS

Another review moved from my other blog.  Read this December 2011.
The Scalpel and the Soul  by Allan J Hamilton MD, FACS, paperback, 
published in 2008, 241 pages, *****
This was a selection from our local book club and an outstanding read.  The group facilitator has given copies of this this book as a gift and reported all readers were delighted as we were.  It is about the medical experiences of a neurosurgeon who specialized in brain tumors and the science of psychoneuroimmunology at the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center. 

 He explains the difference between a doctor and a surgeon and beginning with his trip down the Ogoue River in Africa as a Schweitzer fellow, we learn about the link between the supernatural and medicine. He emphasizes the importance of connecting with a medical professional and of bedside manners.   

The writing is exceptional,  surprising for a doctor, but not so when he reveals his interests,  pg. 28, "Some folks never listen to the little hairs when they stand up on the back of the neck.  I listen hard to those hairs, because they're my intuition.....There's a distinction between a decision and choice.  ...superstition, I choose to believe it."   Through stories based on actual patients we learn so much about what lies beyond  modern medicine and its miracles. 

My favorite patient tale was about the gypsy queen, whose family takes her to the roof of the hospital so that her spirit may leave and be free from the body a process facilitated by Dr. Hamilton after the nurses complain about all the candles the family set up in the patient's room.  His patients are  terminal, at the best he buys them some time with surgery  but often their tumors reoccur.  This is an amazing read, very different from anything else I've read in years, when I started it I feared it might be too technical with medical terminology that would lose my intetest, that was an unreasonable suspicion.  

His final chapter has 20 rules for patients with explanations of each one; here are 1--10:
1 Never under estimate luck--good or bad;
2 Find a doctor who cares about you; 
3Never trade quality for quantity of life; 
4 Live your life with death in it;   
5 You cannot dodge the bullet with your name on it,   
6 Ask your doctor to pray with you,
7 Never believe anyone who says "nothing will go wrong"
8 Don't be turned into just another patient
9 Listen to your favorite music
10 Never let hospital rules interfere with patient visiting hours

 Pg. 167, "What one is to become is largely predetermined by forces beyond our control, ...we ride our destiny....the sensibility of discipline and self determination draws its inspiration from an earlier stage in life for which we are hardly able to assume responsibility."   He explains that luck and hope are flip sides of a coin and gives a harrowing example of what occurs in medicine when hope is removed.  However he does not advocate sugar coating nor deluding oneself in a terminal status, he acknowledges there is a time to not pursue further treatment.   I am purchasing  another copy of this book to give to our wonderful family physician at Mayo.  I hope he will be as intrigued as I was.  It is brave and different  for a prominent physician to write such a book, especially in these times of health care reform; his acceptance of the alternatives  to medicine is refreshing.

As noted at the start tis is a 5 *****   The book club members varied from  4 to 5 stars. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

I moved this over from my other blog; read in 2010 and the other day someone mentioned it again; I  pulled it off my shelf and looked for my review.   I  appreciate  a novel that teaches me something and this one  did; well if the research that goes into the book is good, it follows there is often something to learn.  That is why James Michener is my all time favorite author and now David McCullough.  I enjoy and appreciate authors who research their subjects so thoroughly as this author did.  

First "The Kitchen House" by Kathleen Grissom, published by Simon and Schuster in 2010, 377 pages, selected  by our book club, a story set in post colonial  (1790's) Virginia about Lavinia, an Irish orphan girl who becomes an indentured servant to the tobacco plantation owned by the captain of the ship on which she'd been migrating with her parents and brother.  When both parents die the children are separated and sold off.  A seven year old girl is alone, that is Lavinia who is sold to the captain.  Lavinia is raised with the black slaves particularly by Belle who runs the kitchen house where the meals are made for the family.  True to the history of the era, there was a separate house behind the plantation where meals were cooked.    The novel spans the life of the Captain, reaches back to the time of his parents and then forward to his son and is narrated alternately by Lavinia and Belle.  It is  a good tale with many intriguing characters, Mama Mae, Papa George, Uncle Jacob are all slaves to the household and compared to the field slaves, they are better off.  The captain's wife and mother of Marshall and Sally battles opium addiction and finally loses herself in that after Sally's tragic death.  The story calls attention to  some of our nation's history that I had forgotten, that of the indentured servants, mostly white Europeans, many Irish  who lived on the plantations and were part of the slave community despite their white skin.  This is not a pleasant story in many parts but it is well written and compelling reading.  The characters do not always do what the reader thinks they will and that draws us along.

Grissom is a new author to me, but I would read other of her books; she explains in her extensive Author's Notes and Conversation at the end of the book  that she felt guided by voices from the past to  develop this tale while she was researching the history of the area.  Pg. 368, " I tried on a number of occasions to change some of the events (those that I found profoundly disturbing) but the story would stop when I did that, so I forged ahead to write what was revealed.  I am forever grateful to the souls who gifted me with their sharing." She explains that she wrote the prologue in one sitting after being inspired by a map she found while renovating an old plantation tavern in Virginia.  When asked if she will write a sequel she says perhaps.  She took the names of the slaves found in her research for the numerous characters.  She offers advice to aspiring writers, first to read and to have an excellent foundation in reading and then to persist.  I am sorry that I will miss our book club  discussion about this  good read, but we will be traveling.

I give this 4 ****

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

Another worthy read by Larson.  The Devil in the White City is about building the Chicago World's fair exposition in the late 1880's, the architects and engineers who dreamed and brought their designs to reality to amaze the attendees.  Along with the history there is a sinister mystery happening, murders unnoticed, missing women whose families did not search for them, all victims of a psychopath, a Jekyll and Hyde type personality.  Published in 2003 it is making a resurgence featured at Barnes and Noble and with readers who appreciate a touch of mystery and fright along with history.  I enjoyed reading the acknowledgements and the citations with the research  notes as well as the 396 pages of the  book. (See "In the Garden of Beasts" this blog, June, 2012)

 Daniel Hudson Burnham was the architect with the dream, the driving force to bring a world's fair to Chicago looked down upon by the urban elite of the East coast who considered it a town of butchers and hogs attributable to the stock yards.  Burnham  vowed to outdo the Paris Exposition.  He had to first convince the board to choose Chicago, not an easy task bidding against New York City, which was seen as far superior in culture and achievement  in  the US.  The book is the story of his trials, challenges, attention to detail and of others the likes of John Olmstead the country's preeminent  landscape architect who'd designed New York's  Central Park and the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, those visionaries who engaged with Burnham once Chicago was chosen. I tried to anticipate how Burnham would harness and entice the best of the American achievers to top the Paris feat as I recalled some details about the Paris exposition from reading McCullough's "The Greater Journey" (See review on my other blog in December 2011   http://patonlinenewtime.blogspot.com/2011/12/last-books-of-2011-continued-from.html )   The obstacles he overcomes from man and nature are a testament to holding onto the vision and persevering in spite and in the face of tragedies.

Pg.4-5  "Its official name was the World's Columbian Exposition, its official purpose to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of America, but under Burnham, its chief builder, it had become something enchanting, known throughout the world as the White City.....It had lasted just six months, yet during that time its gatekeepers recorded 27.5 million visits, when the country's total population was 65 million...On its best day the fair drew more than 700,000 visitors......"

When he solicits proposals for a structure that will overshadow the grand Eiffel tower in Paris, Eiffel himself  responds.  But the selection goes to  a young engineer from Pittsburgh, PA  who proposes to erect a vertical revolving wheel, 250 feet in diameter, yes, it is the world's first ferris wheel,  brainchild of  George Washington Gale Ferris. It would hold 36 specially built Pullman rail cars to transport people  264 feet into the air.  That is just one of the famous accomplishments.  Others more earthly  would be introduction of Cracker Jack snacks, Juicy fruit gum,  Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and Nabisco shredded wheat, something few imagined  would be enjoyed let alone survive as a cereal today.  Elias Disney, Walt's father  was a carpenter and furniture maker among the  4,000 workers employed to build the  fair; the stories  he would tell later on about the construction of this magical realm beside the lake would inspire Walt in designing Disneyland.  Francis J Bellamy composed   The Pledge of Allegiance for the dedication.  The Bureau of Education mailed it to every school in the country to be recited by schoolchildren nationwide on the day of the dedication. The term "snapshots" was derived when Kodak introduced the folding version of its model No 4 box camera for the fair.  Anyone who wanted to bring his own Kodak to take photos had to buy a permit for two dollars and inside the fair there were additional one dollar fees for taking photos.  Today with out digital cameras and smart phones, I find this an amazing reflection however in 1893, few people could afford their own cameras; professional photographers who  brought  tripods, etc. were  charged an additional $10 which was what many out of town visitors paid for the full day at the fair including lodging, meals and admission.  These are just tidbits of the history divulged throughout the book.  Paraphrasing a comment on the back cover, how couldn't I have already know so much of this?  But I did not so I learned a lot in this reading.
Back  cover of the book

The psychopathic murders and  mysterious disappearances of many young women that coincide with the process of the  fair are told parallel; introducing H H Holmes at the start of the fair, Larson easily weaves that tale through to the end of the book to the disastrous resolution.  Because it is a mystery I do not want to spoil the tale for other readers by revealing much here.  But even with this, Larson gives us history of how the term psychopath evolved in 1885 in the Pall Mall Gazette which described it as a new malady stemming from what had previously been described as "moral insanity"  done by "moral imbeciles."

The author writes in his introduction to his Notes and Sources, "The thing that entranced me about Chicago in the Gilded Age was the city's willingness to take on the impossible in the name of civic honor, a concept so removed from the modern psyche that two wise readers of early drafts of this book wondered why Chicago was so avid to win the world's fair in the first place.  The juxtaposition of pride and unfathomed evil struck me as offering powerful insights into the nature of men and their ambitions.  The more I read about the fair, the more entranced I became.  That George Ferris would attempt to build something so big and novel--and that he would succeed on his first try--seems, in this day of liability lawsuits, almost beyond comprehension."

This book is a 5 *****; history and mystery conveyed in  wonderfully chosen vocabulary, words to dwell with.  I absolutely enjoyed it.   I would be an outstanding movie, but likely loose much in the showing.  There is nothing like a well written book to inform and tell a story and Erik Larson does so superbly.
 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Let's Roll by Lisa Beamer

I have transferred this review which I wrote in 2010 from my other blog, where for some reason it has been attracting spammers.  (This is the third older post which I've pulled from my first blog, the other two are sitting as drafts for a time, one from 2009.  The pesky spammers are from Turkey, Korea, Russia and God knows where; fortunately because they are focusing on previously published  posts on  which  publication of their solicitous comments requires my approval,  so I simply mark them as spam and  then  set the post as draft.   I wish that Blogger had  the block feature but it does not. ) Well I finally had to bloc the ability to post comments anonymously and that took care o the problem.  Of course it locks out those who do not have a URL as well, se la guerre!

Let's Roll by Lisa Beamer, wife of Todd Beamer, a 9-11 Hero on Flight  93that  crashed near Somerset, PA is an excellent, easy  faith filled read that was released in 2002.   I marvel at this young woman's strength, she,  who is living proof of the benefit of a life long faith.  Only a few pages into the book reveal  that her strength comes from her very deep solid Christian faith.  To lose her husband that way while she was pregnant with their daughter and raising two young sons and to remain steadfast in  faith in God is her testimony.  The book is simply  written , assistance by Ken Abraham, a professional writer.  However, Lisa is not just a simple stay at home mom as she claims; she is an educated woman  who has traveled to foreign countries, a professional who was employed by  Oracle as was Todd before they had their first son. They met when both were attending Wheaton College.  She has joined that elite but Job like club of those of us who have been tested by a loss beyond what we life long believers should have to endure and she has  pulled on her  strength from her faith, the only way we make it.

I have seen Lisa on TV interviews and  admire her.  I know she will survive and thrive because she has it all pulled together with strong support of wonderfully close family and outstanding church friends.  True friends in faith are the best kind! The book is 312 pages and at the end   she scripts the names of all those  who were on Flight 93.  Romans 11:33-36 is one of her spiritual sources; she has memorized much scripture being  a lifelong believer.

Back cover of book

My heart went out to her reading  the book.  On  pg 287 she asks "why would God allow the baby to be  born without a father?"  Or why did  God allow her to get pregnant when He knew Todd would not be alive?  She answers that, again with faith,  pgs. 287 and 288 " I know the only answer was to trust God to provide everything I needed.  .....He was teaching me that I could trust Him  moment by moment even for mundane needs....."   She shares the story of weeding and her friend showing up just when she needed her, an example of how God can  answer in the smallest way.  I have had that same  experience many times through my life from a  phone call at the right  time to an email to a card in the mail to an old friend  from long ago showing up again in my life.  Serendipity of faith rewarded..

More than 45 widows of the September 11 attack had given birth by the time Morgan Beamer, their daughter  was born.  This is striking to me because  you know I was born to a young widow and never knew my father, a WWII pilot whose plane went down months  prior to my birth.   I know that Lisa and her children will be more than OK in life.  She is  balancing sadness with hope.   She has established the Todd Beamer Foundation http://www.beamerfoundation.org/ which has as its  purpose "seeks to equip children experiencing family trauma to make heroic choices every day.  

This is an excellent book for Christian women to read.  I picked it up at Book Sale and will share it with others now.  I have kept special prayers for all the surviving families of 9/11 victims.  Don't even get me started about the mosque proposed to be built  in New York at ground zero. 

Addendum,  my book  club read this in 2011 at my suggestion and all gave it 4 or 5 stars.  To me it is a 4 star. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

American Elegy by Jeffrey Simpson

Front cover, notice the compliment
by McCullough
American Elegy by Jeffrey Simpson is a  rare  lifetime book as well as  a model of how to write a family memoir so that people who never knew your family will want to read it.  At a concise, 227 pages, this story published in 1997 is one of the best books I have read period.  And if you read  here you know I have read great  books, works by McCullough and more.  I might be smitten because I have not read much about our Pennsylvania home town, and by a contemporary;  although Jeffrey (I feel I know him now but did not before) focuses on Parnassus, which was merged into New Kensington and out in the country around there.  That was not my neighborhood growing up as Mom and  grands had moved up the hills to Catalpa.  My great uncle Bill Austin did live in Parnassus with his wife, Louise for whom I was given my middle name.  Even though Parnassus did not exist as a separate town, old habits and haunts of home do not fade and still today some of us  recognize what was Parnassus.  Sadly today it is desolate and dreary like most of the downtown New Kensington of which is was a  sideboard and has been decimated by cruder inhabitants, low lifer's who are an insult to the old town and once grandly built and maintained  homes now in shambles.  My friend Carlie sent me this book for my birthday with some hints about who was who because Jeffrey did fictionalize names for some of the  people and places. Some needed no explanation, I knew immediately who the Martinelli's were, the syndicate family that kept New Kensington safe for all of us back in our day just as I knew that the Titanic was the old Kinloch coal mine. Some are not changed, such as the drive down Coxcomb Hill, immediately recoznizable to a local, even a transplanted like me.  Carlie was reminded about this work on her visit to a friend in Chautauqua and I am so grateful that she made that trip and shared with me.

Jeffrey Simpson is one superb writer, he knows how to use words, and not just ordinary trite words.  His descriptions reverberate with exquisite language  a tribute to his ancestors and family who told him these stories and to his own experiences for a short time in the old family area.  Although  his parents moved to Pittsburgh in his early years, they returned for family visits each Sunday to Parnassus to the home of two maiden aunts.  His stories begin with an ancestor in 1792, Mary,  aka Massy,  Harbison who is abducted by Indians and sees her family not only murdered but scalped.  I do not recall her story despite learning about the Indians and the early settlers from elementary school at Third Ward.  I understand, from Carlie that the Massy Harbison cabin has been restored and is standing today near the high school.  This flows along like the Puckety Creek and Allegheny Rivers up to his parents' last days in a nursing home. 

Back cover
I disliked having to put this book down, much like I did  reading both O'Reilly's Killing Lincoln and Kennedy books, indicative of how enveloping the book becomes.  It may be available on Amazon today and has been sold in Canada and Australia.  Jeffrey has written for Architectural Digest, or a similar type magazine but he would do us all a favor by writing more personal tales.  Some stories of his family resounded with familiarity of my own, even though they were staunch Presbyterians (aspiring if not achieved WASPs) and mine just as staunch Catholics whom the Presbys considered unknown to God, and the Catholics felt the same about all Protestants.  Hearing his stories about the grand parents farm, and the country setting resounded of my family, especially my aunt Jinx who generally referred to "way out in the country" long after the autos made it a short doable drive. So much similarity in memories is attributable to that wonderful area of New Kensington that made us all who we are today.  But enough of my interludes.

From the first page to the last, the  descriptions and language flow along, like the Allegheny River there along New Kensington.  There are  no duplicate trite words and each description suitably adapts and gives the reader a presence of the personalities and the events.  The family tragedies kept almost secret and not discussed are typical of the times and not unique to his family. 

Selecting a few quotes from this writing is a challenge.  If I were not going to pass this book along to another friend, I would have hilited so extensively on pages for the words worth reading that the book would appear to be printed on a canary not paper.   Here are but a few examples....and some of my impressions. 

Page 70..".life seems to have flowed into the mainstream of Parnassus life, the voices multiply and the pictures called up by the voices are as multitudinous and varied as the quickly moving scenes of a magic lantern show flickering across a sheet hung up in the back parlor for a children's party."  Memories of the past and  our stories arise and can overtake us, there is so much back there to hear, observe and know.

Page 72....".Again, that was all; the black heavy newsprint with its old-fashioned smudged edges on the yellow paper, not much more durable than a soap bubble."    Now that's some description of fading! 

Pg 73 where his mother describes how she dreaded when a bird flies into a window,  it means death is the same prophecy my Mom had and why she would not allow the birds to nest under the awning  eaves of her front porch.  Here is another familiarity of the thinking of the area over generations and amongst people who never knew each other.  I  thought the omen of death when a bird pecked at the window was a Polish legend, not so.

Pg 103.."she shook her umbrella slightly.  It was a grey drizzly day, with leaves stuck like wet newspaper to the slate sidewalks of the old town.  Murky light, which obscured rather than illuminated, filled every corner of the hall like fog."  This book reminded me about the old slate streets, do any exist anywhere anymore?  The old slates were the best to chalk up for a game of hopscotch.

Pg 117  ...."Aspiration and retribution, the fullness of life and punishment for it, were the oxymoronic companions of Western Pennsylvania life."   This is may be my favorite quote from the book and reminds me of my own family.... 

Pg 162..."The next afternoon I walked up to Monticello Hill, where Aunt Myra lived, climbing the worn cement steps, which mounted the bluff behind old Parnassus, shortcutting the switchback road angling across the cliff face.  ... sagged around the top of the hill in concentric circles.  Rows of 1920's bungalows tired as banners hanging in the VFW hall....."  We native sons and daughters will recognize this as the steps to Mt. Vernon whose name he has changed to Monticello. 

Page 219...."I had learned late in life, that you could usually harness anger and only release it for a full gallop when it suited you; it was a good tactic, but, as with many of my perceptions my performance fell far short of my knowledge, ..."  This certainly is admirable to channel and harness anger yet,  I like him do not match performance with knowledge.

 The book manifest qualities I treasure in writing:
      Outstanding literary vocabulary, punctuation and grammar;
      Enticing characters who are portrayed just right, not tediously detailed;
      Historically based;
      Something to which I absolutely relate. 

There it is  a 5 star read *****
       

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Game Change by Heilemann and Halperin

"Game Change"  was published in 2010, co-authored by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin was recommended by a friend who enjoys political discussion.  I  have always been intrigued by how Barack Husein Obama, a little known Senator from Illinois could best the Clinton political machine and rise to be elected President out of relative obscurity.  That friend  said it is all in this book, well she exaggerated or oversimplified but the book is very well written and revealing about the personalities in the 2008 election.  I read it about a month ago.  

 This book,  well worth reading at 436 pages, validates much of what I suspected, the  arrogance of the  president himself and his narcissism and the oldest adage that politics makes strange bed fellows.  It begins with the specious  initial campaign of the unknown Obama and ends with his first election and Hillary Cinton's acceptance as his Secretary of State.  I picked this  book up for only $3 at Big Lots, in PA on my travels and will be sending it along to another friend, in CA whose birthday is imminent.  I hope she reads it.  
Page 24, "  Precious few people in any walk of life could even faintly comprehend what had happened to him and what it meant.  But Hillary would understand completely, Obama's view of her husband was complicated, there was much about Bill Clinton and the creed of Clintonism that he admired, but also much that gave him pause...His feelings about Hillary were, however, more straightforward.  He'd liked her from the moment they met.  Obama was wonkier, more enthralled by policy than most people understood and he  saw in Hillary a kindred spirit.,...He wanted Hillary's assistance in the minefield stretched out before him. ..Clinton believed that success in the Senate required the sublimation of the ego..."

Page 25, "He could come across as cocky, that was for sure--and not just to people outside his circle.  He was smarter than the average bear, not to mention the average politician, and he not only knew it, but wanted to make sure that everyone else knew it too."  Recognize  who that is? 

 I learned some things from reading this book but primarily confirmed what I suspected.  I do not know why it never surged on the best seller's lists or if it did I was not aware of it then.  I confirmed that Axelrod who is still with Obama has been a long time operative in the liberal end of the  democratic party and  both Edwards and Obama were clients.  I learned that Rahm  Emmanuel, who would become  Obama's first chief of staff and then return  to Chicago to run for mayor was one of the few people in the campaign counseling both Obama and the Clintons.  I read of Hillary's betrayal and abandonment by the powers of her party, including the Kennedys who were swayed by their younger children all smitten by Obama.  As I suspected these movers and shakers and old time king makers wanted the Presidency and figured this articulate unknown could be the first black president.  

There is a lot of  detail about Obama's and Michelle's dislike for the Middle of the country as well as Hillary's disdain for Iowa.  

Page 251 describes "bitter people" as the Obama code name for  white working class voters, something I wonder about.  How about all those of that code who voted for him yet again, re-electing him?

The last part of the book covers the McCain Pailin campaign and immediately paints McCain as  erratic at best and downright crazy at first.  So if I had not been part of this I would have quickly gotten the idea that the Republicans had a losing team from the  beginning, I thought so too but supported them in the voting booth.  

Well we have now passed the 2nd election and are stuck with this Obama presidency for another 4 years.  I hope it will not be the undoing of the country but I think we are in for the worst with this narcissistic man and his wife.  Time will tell.     Too bad more people do not learn before they vote.  

  I give this book 4****  it is well worth reading.   

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Charleston by John Jakes

I appreciate historical fiction but I cannot believe that perhaps in my early 20's I might have enjoyed reading this book. I have matured considerably in my readings.  I picked this up for 50 cents at a book sale, with my renewed interest in Civil War era, and continued interest in the history of Charleston.  Well, it does have history for the less curious reader,  at several  times the author recites a litany of historical events by way of introducing a chapter or event in the book.  It is the saga attempt  about the fictitious Bell family  and follows them  from  the American Revolution  through the years after the Civil War.  I cannot believe I continued to slog through all 524 insipid pages, likely I kept expecting surely something will improve.  It reads like a mix of Danielle Steel and or other  prolific modern writers who churn out books that sell well.  There are hosts of characters and some are more interesting than others, but over all there were no surprises about outcomes to any of the personal tragedies, trials and triumphs.  It was a very fast read for me but I will not entertain myself  again with this author who is popular from his high sales.     I give this 2 ** and that is generous, I'm not awarding half stars. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Killing Kennedy by Bill O'Reilly ad Martin Dugard

I could not wait to  receive this book as a gift because I loved the Killing Lincoln by the same authors and  yet I did not think they could do it again.  They have!  This is a wonderful book, all 311 pages including the references and I  devoured it.  I was a Kennedy kid in college, he was my first exposure to politics, I adored JFK and the Camelot mystique.  When he was assassinated I was devastated.  Over the years I have read everything about the  Kenndys and the investigative reports, I even have Sotheby's massive tome published when Jackie's Estate was being settled.  I was a Kennedy junkie with JFK  and Bobby; that stopped with Ted Kennedy especially his Chappaquidick adventure. 

I was intrigued, what could they write that I did not already know?  But they did. Some  small details such as pages 135-137,   the bringing and transporting the Mona Lisa, Lisa Gherardini, not sure I ever knew her name before.  I well recall the publicity in  January 1963 about bringing her to the White House, then again, I remember  most of the events described in this excellent work.

I read  this book accompanied by a nagging feeling of impending doom; yes I knew what would happen, but I knew what would happen with Lincoln as well and did not experience that same sensation reading Killing Lincoln.   Perhaps the feeling stemmed from the history that I lived.  The same old questions rattle through my mind, what if Oswald had not bee permitted  back to America?  What if JFK had not gone to  Dallas?  What if this never had happened?  But what if's are fantasy and all that pondering is meaningless.  Today in our polarized country with the poorest excuse of a President in my life time, I loved reading about JFK and how he was the President of the country, of all the people.  O'Reilly and Dugard write that JFK stopped defining himself  by party affiliation, yes he was a consummate politician, but he was the people's man, for the entire nation.

I learned that he was far worse a philanderer than I ever knew with his various bimbos escorted to the White House in Jackie's absence; he outdoes Bill Clinton.  I imagine today he would not get away with that conduct.  He as a faithful Catholic attended mass regularly; I wonder if he confessed or did not consider his trysts sinful.   I also learned that JFK suffered far more from physical complications than I ever imagined and even used crutches sometimes to walk, though not in public.  It sounds odd to read about JFK taking a bath, when showers predominate today.  I remember huddling with the other girls from our 4th  floor in the  TV room, (we shared a room and did not have our own TV's back in those dark ages!), October 22, 1962, and I remembered  the JFK TV speech about the Russians and missiles in Cuba.....page 117 " The 1930's taught us a clear lesson:  Aggressive conduct if allowed to  grow unchecked and unchallenged, ultimately leads to war.  This nation is opposed to war.  We are also true to our word.  Our unswerving objective, therefore, must be to prevent the use of these missiles against this or any other country and to secure their  withdrawal or elimination from the Western Hemishpere."   On page 119, the authors  say that  most  Americans today who lived through that event  remember where they were and what they were doing...just as their parents remembered  Pearl Harbor and the death of President Roosevelt.  "The terrible news that he now delivers to the public, will make this moment stand forever in the minds of everyone who is watching."  We in the east  were sure the end was near; the depth of detail in this  book confirms, had those missiles gone off most of the East coast and inland would have bee decimated.  He ended that  speech as his 1961 inaugural, "grabbing his listeners by the heart--or by "the nuts" as he often likes to say--and rally their emotional support."  That closing line,  "Our goal is not the victory of might but the vindication of right.  Not peace at the expense of freedom, but both peace and freedom--"" 
   On page 242 the authors pose how and when the "destruction of Camelot" might have started--the Bay of Pigs, the  anger of Fidel Castro, and the furious reaction in the CIA,  or when JFK severed his ties  with Giancana, Sinatra and the Mafia and allowed his brother, Bobby to prosecute them as Attorney General.   

George de Mohrenschildt, a shadowy Russian college professor who befriended the Oswalds when they arrived in Dallas in 1962 also had ties to Jackie  Kennedy; he  was a new character to me.  He committed suicide in March 1977 just as O'Reilly a young reporter knocked on his door.  It adds to the pondering. 

The book ends powerfully   Page 262  "..each person has dreams about the future--dreams that sometimes come true.  Such is life.  Yet life can end in less time than it takes to draw one breath."  Loved this book.

It is clearly 5 ***** +

Monday, October 15, 2012

The House at Sugar Beach by Helene Connor

A benefit of a book club, is to learn about books that  I would not otherwise hear of, books that are not all the current rage, books I have missed over the years.  That introduces "The House at Sugar Beach"  published in 2008, an autobiography of Helene Cooper, a journalist with whom I was not familiar. But having read this, I look  for her columns now.   One of the women in our club has teen age Liberian grandchildren adopted by her  pastor son in law and wife so she found this book in her quest to learn about Liberia.

What little I knew of that country  is the history of how some of  the freed blacks prior to the Civil War migrated back to Liberia and how President Lincoln among others advocated  sending the freed slaves to Liberia.  Helene covers this history and traces her ancestry back to the initial migration in 1822, certainly far ahead of the time in history I knew.  In only 345 pages, Helene writes fully about the history of Liberia, the culture from the 1800's to today and the privileged  family life she experienced there, in a 22 room mansion, as the daughter of wealthy Liberians.  She vacations in America, Spain and Switzerland and a sister is attending school in America.  But in a moment with political uprisings life changes, turns hard and will never be the same.

I so  enjoyed learning about Liberian customs, phrases, and the political unrest and turmoils.  The phrase, "I hold your foot" conveys deepest admiration and is always said when sincerely pleading for something, even as a child.  She traces their ancestry back to Elijah Johnson a free black man in New York in 1787.  This book would be an eye opener for those who do not know much about the history of free blacks in this country and are under the impression that all blacks were slaves.

 The characters in her family are richly described and their experiences are touching and humorous.  The accepted practice of Liberian men having many wives or commonly more than one, or bouncing readily leaving one for another touches her own family although her mother  does not approve, they are a mixed household of children from her father's other wives.  They also "adopt" Eunice, a girl from a nearby village to be a "sister companion to Helene.  The Cooper family treat Eunice nearly as well as their own children, educating her and giving her a private room, which is beyond anything this child could have imagined.  However, when the family flees to America in 1980, following another political revolt, and the rape of Mrs. Cooper while her daughters huddle upstairs, they are not able to take Eunice along.  While Helene will never forget  Eunice, twenty three years pass until she returns to Liberia and they reunite. 

Back cover of paperback edition
As a journalist, she writes her story in a compelling way that made me turn the pages quickly.  I could offer many examples of excellent writing here, but one in particular touched me, page 187,"..  It was the same thing I would do for the rest of my life when something bad happens, I focus on something else.  I concentrate on minutiae.  It's the only way to keep going when the world has ended."  That demonstrates her wisdom.  She weaves all her experiences into the person she becomes, a strong woman, without a grudge.  Someone I know I would enjoy talking with.

Page..344..." In a few days, I would be packing up and leaving Monrovia.  I would bribe my way out of Robertsfield and onto Ghana Airways to Accra, and then onto British Airways to London and then to Washington, where Marlene would meet me and take me back to my house in our nice neighborhood with its quaint front porches and picket fences.  I would leave Eunice with the new Liberian cell phone that I had purchased, so she would never be unreachable for me again.  But phone or not, I would still be leaving her.  Eunice  would return to Firestone, to her husband, to her foster children and Sugar Beach would again be a memory.  Still, I knew which memory would prevail--the Sugar Beach of my childhood,....."

 She does not hide the gruesome  brutality, details of the revolts and the jealousy amongst the different native sects, making for some raw reading.  Yet  a mature reader will recognize this is all fact, truth, not sugar coated.   There are a series of discussion questions at the end and  an interview with Helene  who is a successful White House correspondent for the New York Times and who started after college as  a Wall Street Journal reporter becoming a traveling foreign correspondent which takes her all over the world.

 I give this book 5 ***** and recommend it for book clubs or anyone who wants to learn.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Valley of Decision by Marcia Davenport

Front cover, paperback
It took me some time to read through this wonderful, massive 640 pages, historical epic  novel about the Pittsburgh area and the founding of the steel mills, the Scott family over generations from 1870 through 1940. Add to that the parallel life of Mary Rafferty, their servant who comes up the hill from Irish town and home again on Sundays to care for Dad. It was a saga to savor.  Not fast reading, much consideration as books used to be written.  Such great work, such great writing. 

A friend recommended it long ago but it was out of print for years, first published in 1942.  Now the University of Pittsburgh Press has reprinted it with an introduction written by the author in 1988.  It is an indescribable sweeping tale, Irish immigrants,  the hunkies (a term for the Slavic immigrants stolen by blacks to refer to white people as honkies), the wealth of the Scott family as the steel industry changes directions in war effort and through the ups and downs of the economy.  Perhaps because I know the area, I was smitten with this novel.  The characters and the way people lived back then, the development and the growth.  I had not heard of this novel before a few years ago and wonder how I could have missed it being an avid reader and having spent so much time at our local library in PA when I was growing up.  I am better informed now having read it.  I had forgotten how the European immigrants were enticed to come work in the mills and factories by unscrupulous "human traders",  these immigrants fared no better than the black slaves but our history has been  ignoring the plight of the early Caucasian immigrants, exploited beyond imaginable. 

Back cover
There is so much excellent writing that I cannot select only a few and I offer only one,  Page 466,  (The Twenties), "Why,"  people sometimes asked Mary Rafferty, "do you go on living all alone in that museum of a house?"  She never answered that question, never gave a reason.  She would smile quietly, or raise her bony shoulders to a delicate shrug.  When she was seventy years old, she still carried her white head erect, at a certain proud angle that belied the quiet unobtrusiveness of her clothes.  It was difficult for any person to read her eyes."  Yes Mary is a strong woman.  I like strong women, not whiny characters much as I like good writing.  It seems to me we have lost the art...yes, there are novels worth reading and yes there are many books of interest.  But novels like this, in the same line as Gone With the Wind are seldom if ever written today.  Today, people just  do not read for entertainment as they did back in the day.  And, that comes from lesser education, lesser interest and the availability of television, the preferred mode for ever so many.  I hope I never lose my love of reading.  It transports me and continues to educate me.  It nourishes my imagination, when I read I see the happenings, I am not just brushing over words.  Enough.


The  revised 1988 preface first page by the author...

 5 star ***** no doubt. I may take this back to PA and donate to the local library or I just may keep it on my shelf. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

God's Hotel by Victoria Sweet

I chose this book on our book club reading and may have made a mistake, considering the preferences of the other readers, but I enjoyed it. It is a book I'd have  read with or without the book club. It has depth and value; I learned while reading it.  To me, that is important in books.  A curious reader will  enjoy it.  Someone who wants just light reading,  sheer entertainment will not.  I will pass this book along to my own doctor who does practice spending time with patients, a rarity.  But then I go to Mayo and it is different. 

 Early reviews gave me the impression that "God's Hotel"  was about treatments of  aids patients at Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco, but it is far more than that. Infact, there is little about aids patients.  It  has comedic parts including the chicken of the ward which of course had to be removed when state inspectors arived.  Yes, a real live chicken that kept the patients happy. 

 A fast read at 348 pages, published in 2012 and authored by Victoria Sweet,MD, it is more than aids, it is a history of the medical and non medical treatments at what is one of the last almshouses in the country.  Laguna Honda has cared for the poor, the homeless, the alcoholics, those without resources for a long time.  The city of San Francisco has heavily supported it.  Dr. Sweet  goes there after  med school unaware that she will spend her career there.  Her  sort of memoir of these times describes the changing healthcare system and processes and depicts the plight of the "residents."

I was familiar with  the issues between governmental  bureaucracy, regulation and funding of  Laguna Honda from my career at the state Department of  Health Services.  However, after reading this book, I have to agree with Dr. Sweet, there has been unnecessary  tampering and tinkering by bureaucrats that has not contributed to effective care for patients.  Laguna Honda had a mission from it's founding to care for  those without  resources.  It desperately clung to that.  Dr. Sweet tells the history of Laguna Honda along with her own maturation in medicine.   Page 38,  "Slowly the two of us came to understand that Dr. Fintner had the temperament of the physician and I, although I was an internist, the temperament of the surgeon.  I was interested in action, or not; she was interested in the mos precise action and would spend quite  a bit of time to get it right...."   Pg. 39,  "...seemed to be sleeping.  But as we stood there, waiting or maybe just watching, I gradually became aware of a quality I'd felt before with patients, though never consciously--the quality of shared, peaceful silence.  It was a healing space,, I realized at that moment, and not only for the patient.  For the doctor too, a quiet space of non-asking and non-answering of non-doing."  The techniques, relying on old school time spent and sensing are emphasized and as she admits, not techniques covered in today's medical training which emphasizes technologies. 

Page 98 describes a recurrent theme of treatment, "a tincture of time." "...Not only did her healing take a long time and need a long time, but time was the most important ingredient in her treatment.  Premodern medicine knew about that special ingredient; it was called "tincture of time." Almost everything it had observed, healed in time under the right conditions.....it was watching her healing that was miraculous, that reformed my practice of medicine.  In this day of efficient health care, no one ever gets to see such a process...It seemed to me more than mechanical; it seemed magical a sleight of hand....."

There is detail in the history of medicine going back to Hippocrates and the anima, spiritus, physics.  There is a lot of information as Dr Sweet continues her studies in the practices of  a 12th century healer, Hildegard who knew the essence of spirituality and time.  Pages 160-162 describe her work in the dementia ward and the distinct difference between various dementias and Alzheimers.  However today every dementia is termed Alzheimers when that is not accurate.  Dr Sweet's journey is marked by time off to study early Hildegard, to make pilgramages in Spain and Europe, to learn the lesson of pilgramage is to (pg. 244) "expect the unexpected." 

I was fascinated by her deep historical descriptions and alayses of terms of words.  On page 228 she  describes hospitality, community and charity as the  3 principles of Laguna Honda.  Then  continues to trace the word, "charity" thru history, bringing it bcack to Laguna with a description of "eleos" and alms.    Page 253 she emphasizes an important distinction, "the practice of medicine had become the delivery of healthcare....."  This book weaves a tale of the difference between those two concepts as well as distinguishing between  nursing and medicine. he reorganizations that Laguna uses to react and work along with political and fianancial decisions are also interesting.  My sympathy rests with the worker bees who become entrapped by these changes all in the name of efficiency.

 I give this book a 4* and recommend it to people who are interested in medicine, healthcare, history, words.  I hope my bookclub enjoys it, and will learn about that  in a week or so when we meet.  It  would be a gret text for aspiring doctors but unlikely to be acknowledged in today's training which emphasizes technology, rapid diagnosis and moving on to the next patient. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Dutch A Memoir o Ronald Reagan by Edmund Morris

Dutch is a complex work and the most different style of memoir or biography I have ever read.  This was a $1 book sale find; published in  1999; 672 pages increasing to 874 pages with Appendix, Acknowledgements, Bibliography, Notes, Illustrations and Index.  As I read I flicked back to many of the detailed notes.  I am all the more mystified after reading it as to the writer's opinion of Reagan, I truly cannot tell if he admired him or not.  He emphasizes the riddle of Reagan as an inscrutable but likeable giant personality but one which he does not clarify, one which he believes defies clarification by anyone.  Perhaps that's the true purpose of an excellent biographer, not to persuade the reader about the subject  but just to point them out, and allow the reader to ponder.  

Morris is commissioned by the Reagans to be the official biographer, the first time a sitting president would do so.  As such he spent time on the "front lines" with the Reagans and yet was given literary freedom to write. On the first page of the  Prologue Morris describes a conversation with Reagan, ".. mildly amused but wary.  Most public, yet most private of men, he does not welcome undue familiarity with his past."  Page xii continues..." .. Perhaps his youthful readings in Calvin Coolidge taught him not to encourage interlocutors.  It only winds them up for twenty minutes more. Even as a  teenager, he had taken no personal interest in people.  They were and remained, a faceless audience to his perpetual performance. " 

Morris would  drop insightful  hints throughout the book about the Reagan character,  Prologue xv, ..." how quickly and lightly the words spooled out, every punch line dropping like a fly on the stream.  Joke telling requires a special kind of intelligence, as anyone knows who has tried to write one out: a few syllables too many, a vital phrase misstated and the humor dies.  Reagan lacked wit..he was too cautious to risk repartee and many of his jokes were hoary, but one could only marvel at their apparent spontaneity." 
Back of jacket
The cover flap explains that  Edmund Morris is one of the first literary guests at the White House.  Reagan read and admired Morris' Pulitzer Prize winning biography of Theodore Roosevelt and so engaged his services although the author was reluctant at first to accept because he  is planning further research about Theodore Roosevelt.  I love the quote at the opening, from Charles Dickens "Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain  of iron or gold of thorns or flowers that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day."  That suits Reagan and this book.   

The book begins as though they are childhood acquaintances although the President never so acknowledges.  It had me thinking so but as I read about the author on the  jacket flap I knew that could not be so, he had embellished and in doing so communicated the mystery of Reagan whom he describes as " the dreamy son of an alcoholic father and a fiercely religious mother."  The epic work begins with Reagan's birth in 1911 and ends with his announcement of Alzheimer's. 

This is a book which makes it difficult to select one or two quotes because it is replete with excellent descriptions but as he details Reagan's gravitation toward politics when he is a spokesperson for GE, I think the first line of a speech Reagan gives to the California Fertilizer Association  is a cross stitch for movie buffs:  "The past is a screen on which memory projects movies..."

Pg 414,  "Are there no flaws, then in this image of a supremely happy person?  What do the 42 million Americans who tried to keep him out of the White House worry about?  Well for a start, his Daliesque ability to bend reality to his purposes..." 

It is an intriguing work that took serious reading.  I enjoyed it but would be hesitant to recommend it to a casual reader, even those Reagan fans.  It is contemplative,  historical and grandly presented.  A massive literary work.  I am glad that I read it increasing my knowledge about our 40th President; I have been a fan since he was our Governor in California and more so after I  became acquainted with his late daughter, Maureen.      I  give it 4 stars  ****