Saturday, April 28, 2012

General Ike by John S D Eisenhower

Published in 2003,  236 pages including three speeches in the Appendix and 41 pages of index and notes by chapter, "General Ike" by his son is a readable, historical series of essays explaining Ike's training, background and character development but primarily his WWII years and  interactions with so many heroes of our time, General Douglas MacArthur, Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, General George "blood and guts"  Patton, General George C Marshall, Field Marshall Sir Bernard Law Montgomery and others who were so influential in his early military career.  There is a chapter dedicated to nearly each one of these.  The writing is excellent, not repetitive as could have been since the time span covered often overlaps.  Initially I was  slightly intimidated by the military maps in the front of the book showing the campaigns of the war and the Allies strategies and  the references to military terms, abbreviations, acronyms, ranks and structure and the like but it is a book I am fortunate to have read.  This was discarded by our local library when they did some shelf purging so I acquired it for $1.   I remember President Eisenhower and the "I Like Ike" slogans; it is the first presidential campaign that I recall as a child.  This book makes the characters real  and does not disguise foibles and issues between the characters.  The author, John S D Eisenhower, is the eldest son, a West Point Grad,  retired Brigadier General,  a historian and by the inside  cover looks exactly like his famous father. He explains for ease of readership his use of "Ike" although he admits to never calling him anything but "Dad."  It is a revealing portrait of history with much information confirmed in other historical accounts and with the addition of Ike only tid bits.  

On page 39, I laughed at Ike's adoption of the "Beer Barrel Polka" a popular tune in the  1940's which Ike enjoyed, his declaring it the official song of the 15th  He so designated it Infantry of the Army at Ft. Ord, CA.  "Military morale is often built on things that seem trivial to a civilian."    So that when there was a marching review of his division the band would suspend whatever march it had been playing and swing into the "polka" until the last man in the regiment passed by, then the band would revert  back to standard military marches.   It was said that the men of the 15th refused to march to any other tune.   I never knew that.

George Patton and Ike had a long history and acquaintance prior to WWII.  There are multiple examples of Patton's outbursts and arrogance and Ike's tolerance.  Pg 61...  "..the type of annoyance Ike  was willing to undergo  in order to save this man for what he was best at, fighting."  in another reference to  Patton.  On pg. 73.."I think that Ike treasured George's memory as a bit of nostalgia for simpler times, a simpler Army.....speaking as President in 1957....he referred to George Patton's old sergeant, who was so disgusted with the men in his squad that he declared them "not even fittin' to be civilians."  Now that's funny too.     On Pg 76 we learn that Ike always tended to worked off stress and concern by making vegetable soup,   like "Lucy Manette's father in Dicken' Tale of Two Cities.  "Perhaps going through an established ritual allowed him to pull his thoughts together." 

There are many touching passages including the eulogy which Ike delivered at Churchill's burial and his "intangibles of freedom:"  in his June 12, 1945 address to the Guildhall in London  slightly one month past the end of the European phase of WWII.   When the European operations ended in 1945, Ike would  still have nearly 25 more years of public service ahead.  This  book  merely mentions here and there  some incidents of Ike's presidency instead it is a heartfelt tribute to his character and his ability to persevere.

 I would keep this book on my library shelf but instead am sending it along to a retired military friend who has not read it and who will enjoy it even more than I did.  It is a great read about the history of our time and how Ike, the consummate soldier led and administered a  coalition of troops and how his character developed as it was destined to be amidst and along with some of the greatest men.   I give this 4 ****. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon

This was our book club's selection for the month and one I would not have otherwise read.  It is OK, those who enjoy light reading, fast reading and nothing of much depth or literary draw will enjoy it.  I thought it trite.  I had read the author's "Riding the Bus with my Sister" years back and had a favorable impression but this novel was disappointing.   This 346 page paperback, published in 2011 was an opportunity for me to dust off my speed reading skills so that I was done in two sittings but really the book deserves no more attention than that.  The story is about people with various disabilities who were institutionalized in the 1950"s and 1960"s and takes place in Pennsylvania; the author dedicates it to "those who were put away" as happened commonly sometimes to those who were slow, illiterate, considered "not quite right" or those who had what today is referred to as a developmental disability. Today there are many services available and fewer institutions; today the individuals would be  mainstreamed in the community.  The novel moves back and forth over lifetimes of Lynnie who is placed in the institution known as The School as a child by her family who are embarrassed by her condition;  Homan, an African American deaf man known only by a number and Martha the widowed school teacher who opens her door to the two who have fled in the night.  The attendants and doctor from the school arrive at Martha's farm and capture Lynnie to return her but Homan escapes.  As Lynnie leaves she asks Martha to "hide her."  Lynnie has given birth to a daughter, unbeknownst to the institution (oh sure she is pregnant and no one knows).    Martha takes the baby and flees but raises her as her granddaughter, Julia with the help of many of her former students.  I mean how far fetched is that, a baby is left with a widow who lost her baby son years back and who knows nothing of mothering but who gives up her  established life and farm to raise the child. The involvement of Lynnie's family and the well meaning social worker move the story along as well as the life Homan forges for himself.   Well, it is a story, an easy read with some twists as paths cross and other paths do not.  There are many questions at the end of the story for reading group discussion.  When asked  what one thing the author would like people to get from this book, she replies, " Everyone deserves to love and be loved--and to live a life of freedom and meaning with dignity and respect."  Oh motherhood and apple pie and sound the trumpets....puleez!   I will be interested in what  others in book club have to say when we meet Tuesday.  I give this 2**; it is a New York Times Bestseller.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Making of the African Queen Katherine Hepbrn

This is a delightful little book, published in 1987 by Alfred A Knopf, only 128 pages and 45 wonderful black and white photos of the time in Africa making this classic movie.  I will have to add African Queen to my Netflix Que now, I know I have seen it but want to see it again now with this insight. 

I am a big fan of Katherine Hepburn, 1907-2003,  a woman I admire for being ahead of her time and for her strength--no shrinking violet.  She did things her way, including her  lifelong partnership with Spencer Tracy.   This is the first book that she wrote and it reads quickly, but like being in direct conversation with her, listening  as she shares her views.  I found this delight at our  book sale. 

One of the best books about her is Kate Remembered, by Scott Berg which I reviewed and posted on my other blog in 2010.  Here is the link and it is the last of the reviews posted that date so you have to scroll along.  http://patonlinenewtime.blogspot.com/2010/08/catch-up-post-on-recent-reads.html

Kate photo from back jacket cover
There is a lot different about Kate here and Kate as her life progresses.  For one, in 1951 during the filming of the Queen she is rather astounded at the drinking of alcohol constantly by Bogart and John Huston, she is almost  tee totaller in Africa when they made the Queen.  However toward the end of the filming she along with many others on the crew come down with "the blight",  as she explains what must have been the African revenge; they had been consuming bottled water which turns out to be contaminated.  She notices that neither Bogie nor Huston get the illness, because they were drinking booze not water, so she switches to champagne.  I don't know where you can get this book now which went through at least 5 printings, but it is a treasure if you appreciate Hepburn and wit.   

Her introductory page, "I've never written a diary--well, I mean,  put down dreary things like when did my eye start twitching?  when did it stop? --well, you know, things the doctor asks you and you"ve always forgotten them because they are really fundamentally dull....then when you've lived as long as I have, you usually wish that you had kept one because you can't remember the plot of many of the movies you've made--or the plays--really not anything about them or who or why.  But there are some happenings you can't forget...."


Kate and Bogie on the set
 I don't want to violate copyright laws, but here is just one more photo from inside the book cover, just for a taste of what is inside.  On page 68 her observation of Africa where she was so  set to go when she agreed to make this film because she wanted the adventure:  "The country is like a great sponge--it finally absorbs you.  Eventually you will get malaria or you will get dysentery and whatever you do, if you don't keep doing it, the jungle will grow over you.  Black or white, you've got to fight it every minute of the day."   Kate appreciates the hardships of the Africans and the  difficulties the natives face in a land without  adequate education,  shelter, transportation, all those things we take so much for granted. 

No experience from being drenched in equatorial downpours to having to raise the Queen from the murky mud of the river when it sinks, to the outhouse treks, diminishes her enthusiasm.  She does share that she is looking back and  with time  we lose the bad memories (if we are wise) and remember only the good.  repeatedly she comments that making this film was "great fun." She had the attitude of perseverance and a get on with it outlook.  That served her as well in this adventure as the rest of her life. 

This book is  5 *****  Very entertaining and a quick read.  
 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Over Here, Over There by Maxene Andrews and Bill Gilbert

The most interesting thing about this 260 pages book  published in 1993 is the cover jacket shown to the left and the photos inside.  "Over Here, Over" There proves that it only takes money to publish a book but not everyone is a writer.  I skimmed this because after  30 pages of reading it was so boring I did not want to waste my eyeballs.  I am usually attracted to any memoir of this era and thought surely this might have interesting experiences about the Andrews sister, the  well known musical trio of World War II.  Maxine could  have shared interesting experiences but instead this is merely the musings or ramblings of a person who does not know what to say. The jacket claims this is the story of the  sisters--Maxene, Patty and La Verne who immortalized the songs of the late 1930"s and the 1940's, and the experiences of other USO entertainers.   I can  see why it was discarded by our local library to our book sale. She mentions their songs and even includes the words to some.  She rambles about how these sisters from Cincinnati ,Ohio and Minneapolis, Minnesota were driven to performances by their Daddy in the 1939 auto during times of gas rationing. She mentions other entertainers  with the USO.  But there is no there here or there.  Very boring  and most disappointing.  I give it 1 *, for the photos.   

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens

I did it!  I have accomplished one of my goals for 2012, in honor of  the 200th year of the birth of Charles Dickens.  Each year I read or reread a classic or two, breaking away from all modern literature, non-fiction or fiction;  this has been something I have done the last several years in retirement.  It  helps me justify the shelves of books including many classics that adorn our study.  In the long ago past when there were not so many books published daily, and ever so  long, long, long before anyone ever imagined an e-reader, educated people read the classics.  If people owned any books, they were the true classics Homer, Aeneid, Mythology, Socrates and then Shakespeare, Chaucer, finally journeying to Charles Dickens and the colonies with Nathaniel Hawthorne, and the like.  But today with computers books spew out daily, back then it was an accomplishment to produce a written work.  My education beginning in junior high school and really elementary school then on to high school and college included wide readings of the classics.  We all read them and generally we grumbled, they did not appeal to us; it took time but then  we learned to appreciate literature, something that endures, compared to what is written today little of which will last.   

For 2012 I wanted to read at least one work by Charles Dickens because June 8 is the 200th year since his birth.  Most people know about his Christmas Story, Scrooge and Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchitt.  It amuses me how popular television and the movies have made this classic.  We read it starting in elementary school, so we grew up with the story.

I have several Dickens on my shelves but I did not recall reading The Old Curiosity Shop, and as I first browsed the pages spotting characters I believe I may have read  selections, but never the entire book.  A quick scan of the book is a technique we used in school in reading classics, it was to  quickly familiarize ourselves with characters or places or other names prior to delving into the reading.  I still use that  tactic today  to read classics or  very large  books. 

The Old Curiosity Shop is an adult story, novel, about Little Nell, the orphan, being raised by her grandfather, the elderly proprietor of the Old Curiosity Shop.  But grandfather has a gambling  addiction through which he intends to make their fortune but by  which puts Nell in charge of making their way through  indescribably trials.  Her evil conniving brother, Frederick Trent, wants to take the fortune he believes the Grandfather has hidden  but Frederick  is second to Daniel Quilp the sinister, grotesque  dwarf who too has plans for pretty little Nell.  Quilp is one of Dickens' most memorable villains.  The dwarf is a symbol of lies and distortions and pitting one person against another.  Kit Nubbles is an errand boy who tries to help and who is devoted to providing for his widowed good natured mother, Mrs. Nubbles.  On their flight  Nell and Grandfather encounter a traveling puppet show, a troupe of dancing dogs, more gamblers and scoundrels, and the jovial, stout, beribboned Mrs. Jarley, proprietress of Jarley's Waxworks who does befriend them.  There are  several more characters in the book. 

 George Orwell once wrote, "When Dickens has once described something, you see it for the rest of your life."  Absolutely true.  Dickens touches us with his descriptive characters and situations including the ugly side of the Industrial Revolution, poverty where people survive on stone soup or no food at all, wretched villains who seem unstoppable.  I will not attempt to tell all of  this story but  the final sentence is glorious, "Such are the changes which a few years bring about, and so do things pass away, like a tale that is told!" But Dickens' tales do not pass away,  they endure.

Charles Dickens and his characters

Dickens was only 29 when he began to write The Old Curiosity Shop but he had already triumphed with three big novels,  "The Pickwick Papers", "Oliver Twist" (one of my favorites, and "Nicholas Nickleby."  My edition of Curiosity is 517 pages published in 1988 but using illustrations (sketches) from the 1897 edition.  The book is too thick and cumbersome to scan any of those, but I can share this lithograph from another work in the World's Best Reading Series where it seems to me Dickens is portrayed like Gulliver with minions of characters surrounding him. 

Two of my favorite  quotes from this book:
pg 74,  about waiting...."None are so anxious as those who watch and wait: at these times, mournful fancies came flocking on her mind, in crowds."

pg. 115,  about leaving..." Why is it that we can better bear to part in spirit than in body, and while we have the fortitude to act farewell have not the nerve to say it?     On the eve of long voyages or an absence of many years, friends who are tenderly attached will separate with the usual look, the usual pressure of the hand, planning one final interview for the morrow, while each well knows that it is but a poor feint to save the pain of uttering that one word, and that  the meeting will never be.  Should possibilities be worse to bear than certainties?  We do not shun our dying friends; the not having distinctly taken leave of one among them, whom we left in all kindness and affection, will often embitter the whole remainder of a life."

Oh it is a 5 ***** Classic

Monday, April 16, 2012

When Character Was King, A Story of Ronald Reagan by Peggy Noonan

Published in 2001, 326 pages this is an outstanding book that I  acquired at our library book sale and one that will remain on my collection  shelf of the political and famous.  I admit before I say another word to being very fond of Ronald Reagan, his philosophy and his accomplishments, a Reaganophile if there is such a term.  I admired him from his time as Governor.  I was  fortunate to personally know Maureen , his eldest daughter, who did not always agree with her father politically.

  Peggy could have written most anything from her career  experiences in the White House , but the way she presents this autobiographical sketch demonstrates her skills as a writer.  She is a fantastic writer who emphasizes thru her story telling the character and dedication of Ronald Reagan as our President.  This book ends prior to his death while he is suffering from the incurable Alzheimer's that robbed him of the wonderful memories he built with his beloved Nancy.  He died in  2004, three years after this book was published. 

I was struck by the similarities between the characters and the backgrounds of  Reagan and Harry S Truman, maybe I was more alert to this because I had so recently read  David McCullough's "Truman", reviewed on this blog.  Then Peggy reveals similarities in both their characters and the  times of their presidencies and the crises they handled.  It thrilled me to read (pg 197) during the mid 1990's, when the University of Texas in Austin held a  symposium about a few  presidents where she represented Reagan and McCullough represented Truman and others represented Jimmy Carter, elder George Bush and Franklin Roosevelt.  I would have relished hearing both Peggy and David. 
This chapter which she titled, "The Power of Truth"  describes the special challenges an author faces in  capturing the work of a great leader.  "When you work for such a man,  when you're in the thick of it each day, you don't, as a rule,  talk about it in a fully forthcoming way to friends and family and reporters and curious people.  Part of the reason is loyalty.  Discretion is a way to demonstrate the loyalty you feel, or to show you feel it to people around you who might be watching.  Part of the reason is sheer busy-ness--people who have some role in a White House, for instance are so consumed with their part of the drama, with smoothing over the scheduling problem or planning the summit, that they don't take time to observe as much as they later wish they had.  Or if you do observe, you tend to see mostly your small area and can't always connect it to the big flow of events around you.  You're too busy to keep a diary (or now too afraid of subpoena)."  A  well written reasoned explanation as to why often it is difficult to write the truth about a leader.  She concludes that by the time  the people who were involved feel free to be somewhat indiscreet, they have often gotten very old.  Their memories  fade.  I am not so sure this is true today which shows yet again the immense differences in character of people  between then and now.  I think they lived in better times.   The copy to the right is the Contents and the titles of chapters.

On page 200 she describes more of Reagan's character and puts the traits in context of this time in history.  I was delighted to read how she insists on context; so many times we interpret through our own narrow prisms without consideration of what was happening during the time being described.  Peggy's readers need  to have grounding, a certain degree of awareness and a perspective of history.  " .. Ronald Reagan loved the truth.  We all do or say we do but for Reagan it was like fresh water, something he needed and wanted.  He loved the truth for a number of reasons, a primary one of which is that he thought it, in our current political circumstances uniquely constructive.  He thought that by voicing it you were beginning to make things better.  He thought the truth is the only foundation on which can be built something strong and good and lasting--because only truth endures. Lies die.  .....He wanted to put words into the air that were honest and have them take the place of other words that were not.  He wanted to crowd out the false with the true....."   That is powerful and  so similar to Harry S Truman, who remarked, "I don't give 'em hell, I tell the truth and they think it's hell."  How different from what abides in the White House today!   

I loved this book which might not be for an average reader who wants mere entertainment.  I love to gain depth of understanding from non-fiction and when it jives with my personal beliefs so much the better. When it is a great read about someone I admire that is like icing on the cake.

 I give it an easy 5 *****  out of 5.  It is a book I will keep.   Well done Peggy; very well done.   

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Hot Ice by Nora Roberts

A paperback,  356 pages of drivel, which I read thru in two evenings just to see if there has been any improvement to the depth, writing, story line in the work of this popular women's author.  I was told she had branched out into mystery/intrigue so I gave it a shot.  This might be only the 3rd Nora book I have read and it has just got to be the last.  The story could have been done in about 100 pages how Whitney Mac Allister wealthy heiress, socialite, professional dabbler is hijacked by a stranger in black leather  with whom she partners on an "exotic quest" which ends up in Madagascar.  Every time they might have been in the clear something else happens, ala perils of Pauline.  I don't know who reads this stuff, but  hey say it is New York Times Bestselling.  I give this book 2 ** only because I did read through it.   

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs

This 389 page novel by Kate Jacobs truly resembles the wonderful stories of Ice Castles or Steel Magnolias with some Prince of Tides tossed in for seasoning.  First published in 2007, I picked it up at a sale for 50 cents paperback and it sat on my to be read shelf, proving once again that a book does not have to be a new best seller to be an outstanding read.  The main character is Georgia, a single mom who established and owns  the Walker and Daughter Knit Shop and is raising her daughter Dakota in their safe haven amidst the bustle of being in New York City.  Ably assisted by Anita, the older widow of many talents, Anita and her customers  start a Friday Night Club where each life story of each woman makes me so wish there were a similar group around this town, but this is a work of fiction and perhaps there are such communities of women elsewhere, but certainly not where I live. Dakota has a talent for baking and delights the women with a new treat each week.  As much as Georgia tries to remain internally focused her life turns to where she needs the companionship of her friends.  Each compelling story reflects the abundance of tragedies and triumphs in life amongst women of all ages. The knitting projects continue and the chapters are introduced now and then by some knitting instruction or philosophy.  Their collegiality makes me want to dust  off my needles and revive my knitting skills.  Georgia has a distant mother in miles and attitude so as happens, the friends  become her family.    Enter Dakota's father from his life abroad and wanting to become part of his daughter's life.  It is a great story abounding with philosophical moments including the reunion between Georgia and a once high school friend who betrayed her.    I rate this a great chick read with some serious writing here and there,  5 *****.

Following is one of many passages I marked; this is an example of the depth in this story:

Pg 137.....Anita and Georgia are discussing friendships.....Anita says  ".. when you're young you always think you"ll meet all sorts of wonderful people, that drifting apart and losing friends is natural.  You don't worry, at first, about the friends you leave behind.  But as you get older, it gets harder to build friendships.  Too many defenses, too little opportunity.  You get busy.  And by the time you realize that you've lost the dearest best friend you've ever had, years have gone by and you're mature enough to be embarrassed by your attitude and frankly, by your arrogance. "