books, books, books

This is for all non-EC or peripheral-EC topics. We all know how much we love talking about 'The Man' but sometimes we have other interests.
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bambooneedle
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Re: books, books, books

Postby bambooneedle » Fri Oct 22, 2010 9:42 pm

Christofer Sjoholm wrote:Have been working my way through the just published Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics [1954-1981] With Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes by Stephen Sondheim. This is a treasure trove and the title captures with zest the fun that is between the endboards. What I appreciate most about his book is that he still cannot treat the finished words as 'finished'; they still seem to be living constructs for him which he cannot resist revisiting and revising in that eternal quest for him to get it right on the page or in the ear. He is a master of rhyme and every page gives one vivid examples of his skill. He even gives word to my feelings on the subject "lyrics are an unforgiving-ly compact form- less is more". Every writer, even aspirants, should be made to read his convincing argument for using 'exact' and 'properly stressed' rhymes. A real treat throughout is the reproduction of working lyric sheets- the compositional notes and constant editing. His assessments of fellow writers are funny, scathing and most entertaining. PD, you might enjoy this book given your appreciation of the craft of songwriting; beautifully self-critical, this book captures the 'work' that goes into making a good song.


I must read that, thanks Sjhoms.

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Re: books, books, books

Postby alexv » Sat Oct 23, 2010 10:17 am

Haven’t posted here in a while. Looks like CS is single-handedly keeping the thread alive. Been reading lots of Elmore Leonard stuff. Every book a gem. Also a Louis Armstrong biography. Not the Giddins one, but by a guy with a funny name, Teachout. NO. Music, pot, and suppositories= genius or something like that.

And now back in the Letters kick. Picked up Hemingway’s Selected Letters, by Carlos Baker, and didn’t come up for air until he blew away his entire cranial vault 920 pages later. Never a big fan of his; read some of his stuff in high school and college, and was never all that impressed. Knew enough, or I thought I knew, about his personal life to steer clear. But it’s a whole other story when you dig into the letters.

What a life!! Forget the books, the Nobel, the fame. He leaves Michigan as a kid to volunteer for WWI; almost dies; returns a hero; leaves home never to return or settle, really, anywhere. A nomadic life: Toronto; Paris, but not really Paris since he’s always off to Spain and the bulls, to Germany to hunt, to ski in Austria and Switzerland, to visit Pound in Italy; and then to Key West; and then to my little Cuba (his true home I would say), and then Wyoming; and sometimes NYC. The pace is incredible: he writes in the morning, every morning no matter where he is, and then the afternoons are made for killing: fish, birds, wild animals; and most of the day is of course also just an excuse to drink. He’s accompanied through all of this by a sequence of wives: four I think, plus a squadron of whores and other available birds. Did I mention WWII? He is in his early 40s then, but old Hem is a patriot. He transforms his boat into a sub chaser and spends part of the war chasing subs in the Caribbean. Then he goes to Europe as a “reporter”, but of course ends up leading a platoon and “freeing” The Ritz. Oh, and then there’s Africa. You’d think he’d just go there to kill precious animals. And of course he does that, duh. But this is no normal human. He attaches himself to a tribe, learns the dialect, becomes an honorary member (“marries” a nubile native), and helps them out by killing lions who prey on their cattle.

Oh, and he’s a bullfighter, and a boxer…and advices Fitzgerald on writing, Zelda and the size of Scott’s penis (Zelda thinks it’s too small; Hem disagrees). He also witnesses Gertrude Stein’s submissive lesbian tendencies (Alice cracks the whip), and Joyce’s suburban insecurities (Joyce: Hem, I fear my insights are all about the suburban; Hem: that’s all right, Jim. It’s what you know), and helps to get Pound out of the loony bin.

And through it all, he manages to be there at exactly the coolest time for a human to be there: Paris in the 20s; Key West before the tourists; Cuba before Castro; Wyoming before it became touristy; Africa when practically no else went. It goes on and on. Amazing man and an amazing life, although I could do without the cranial vault ending. I think I’ll add another post with some stuff from the letters.

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Re: books, books, books

Postby mood swung » Sat Oct 23, 2010 11:46 am

Wyoming is touristy? Wow.


Still working on Stephen King's Under the Dome, and it is my least favorite book by him. EVER. Also working on a list book, Wise Blood (Flannery O'Conner) and a book on operant conditioning called Don't Shoot the Dog! by Karen Pryor.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby alexv » Sat Oct 23, 2010 2:12 pm

You are right, Mood, Sun Valley was Hem's private Idaho, not Wyoming. Silly me. Don't get out to those parts much.

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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Sat Oct 23, 2010 2:33 pm

You are not half wrong, Alexv- perhaps a residual memory from when you did read Hem- locked deep in the recesses of your mind his late story "Wine of Wyoming" yet more killing and it's repercussions.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby alexv » Sat Oct 23, 2010 3:31 pm

Here are some snippets from the letters:

“The report is that he [Joyce] and his family are starving but you can find the whole Celtic crew of them every night in Michaud’s where Binnie and I can only afford to go about once a week.”

On New York: “There are some fine buildings. New ones. Not any with names that we’ve never heard of. Funny shapes. Three hundred years from now people will come over from Europe and tour it in rubber neck wagons. Dead and deserted like Egypt. It’ll be Cooks most popular tour”.

On Canada and Canadians: All the humane society does is kill animals. Women call up the humane society to kill woodpeckers that knock on their roofs…Canadians are all gasbags…It’s a dreadful country….I would like to swing a crochet on the menton of Canada…

Not a fan of FM Ford’s wife: “on the slightest encouragement when dining out she will start on the tale of her 50 hour confinement that produced Julie. I am going to interrupt some time with the story of the time I plugged the can in Kansas City…so that the plumbers had to be sent for with a turd produced after 5 hours of effort after no peristaltic action over a period of 9 days. If we must go in for recounting these Homeric physical exploits leave us all go in for it”.

On critics: God knows people who are paid to have attitudes toward things, professional critics, make me sick; camp following eunochs of literature. They won’t even whore. They are all virtuous and sterile.

Hem’s heaven: “to me heaven would be a big bull ring with me holding two barrera seats and trout stream outside that no one else was allowed to fish in and two lovely houses in the town; one where I would have my wife and children and be monogamous and love them truly and well and the other where I would have nine beautiful mistresses on 9 different floors and one house would be fitted with special copies of the Dial printed out on soft tissue and kept in the toilets on every floor and in the other house we would use the American Mercury and the New Republic. Then there would be a fine church like in Pamplona where I could go and be confessed on the way from one house to the other and I would get on my horse and ride out with my son to my bull ranch named Hacienda Hadley [wife’s name] and toss coins to all my illegitimate children that lived along the road and I would write at the Hacienda and send my son in to lock the chastity belts onto my mistresses because someone had just galloped up with the news that a notorious monogamist named Fitzgerald [he’s writing to F.Scott] had been seen riding toward the town at the head of a company of strolling drinkers”

On writing/politics/religion: Remember [addressing Dos Passos] don’t let yourself slip and get any perfect characters in –no Stephen Daedeluses- rember it was Bloom and Mrs. Bloom that saved Joyce…if you get a noble communist remember the bastard probably masturbates…keep them people and don’t let them be symbols…remember the race is older than the economic system and that the YMCA was once a noble movement as was the Methodist Church, the Lutheran Church, the French Revolution, all badly managed by human beings…Wilson has forgotten that Christian religion started as violently anti-capitalist jewish system. It is the management that ruins things and the fact that everything is done by human beings—no unit larger than a village can function.

On the Spanish War: My sympathies are always for exploited working people against absentee landlords even if I drink around with the absentee landlords and shoot pigeons with the. I would as soon shoot them as the pigeons.

He drinks: Well here is your regular Sunday hangover letter. We won again at the pelota last night and stayed up till three a.m. So today will have to take Marty [wife] to the movies as a present for being drunk Saturday night I guess. Started out on absinthe, drank a bottle of good red wine with dinner, shifted to vodka in town before the pelota and then battened it down with whiskys and sodas until 3 a.m. Feel good today. But not like working.

He drinks and boxes: Did I ever write you about seeing Morley Callaghan in Paris?...one time I had a date to box with him at 5 pm--lunched with Scott...at Pruniers--ate Homar thermidor--all sorts of stuff--drank several bottles of white burgundy. Kenw I would be asleep by 5 so went around with Scott to get Morley to box right away. Had a couple of whiskeys en route. Scott was to keep time and we were to box 1 minute rounds with 2 minute rests on account of my "condition"...

Fiftieth birthday: To celebrate my fiftieth birthday I fucked three times, shot ten straight pigeons at the club, drank with five friends a case of Piper Heidsick Brut and looked the ocean for big fish all afternoon.

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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Sun Oct 24, 2010 7:41 am

Great piece by Janet Maslin in today's Times in anticipation of the publication of Keith Richard's autobiography Life. I too have great expectations for this one, particularly as he claims he has not forgotten a thing. Maslin intimates it could be as good as Dylan's Chronicles. Some great photos in the article as well- one a striking photo of the well groomed family as they posed at their home in Weston, CT, mom,dad and the kids- it looks like it could go in the annual Christmas card. His is a 'Dionysian' life I want to eagerly read about.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby alexv » Sun Oct 24, 2010 8:31 am

Yeah, Keif is a neighbor. Well, he lives in the same town, but definetely toward the ritzier side. But he hangs. Sent his girls to the public school in town (Mick's kids were in Swiss boarding schools). My next door neighbor's boy was in class with one of them, and would visit Keif's house. Keif was always kind, drunk but kind. Patti was at one of our back to school nights about a decade ago. Most gorgeous looking soccer mom you ever saw. Actually, Keif is not the scariest celeb in our town. Running into Chris Walken on a Sunday morning as he picks up the Sunday Times at the local pharmacy, that's scary. "I .... would like....a copy of....The....Times. Please."

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Re: books, books, books

Postby mood swung » Mon Oct 25, 2010 7:35 am

and I just get to see Elvis impersonators at the p.o.! Rolling Stone has an excerpt from Life in the current issue and it is infinitely readable. But someone needs to call a moratorium on publishing good books until I get caught the hell up.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Thu Oct 28, 2010 4:10 pm

Alex- did you catch Maureen Dowd's op ed piece in the 10/27 Times. Seems she 'used to be a Mick girl, now I'm a Keith girl". Who would have thought that Keith is the 'cuddler' with a deep respect for women. His respect for women is refreshing.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Wed Nov 10, 2010 6:10 pm

Finished recently John Updike's last collection of stories, My Father's Tears. I had put off reading over the last year and half because his passing was still too soon for me. I cannot think of a better send off for an author who bestrode American Literature in many ways over the past 50 some years. These stories are tender summoning ups for characters and perhaps for Updike himself. Going back to childhood memories, old loves, revisiting exotic places as a traveling adult and mostly putting in final comments on his eternal subject love and the sexes as they coexist, I was saddened to close the final page at the thought that this voice was now silent. There is a strong and soothing comfort in the final paragraphs of the final story in the book, "The Full Glass". They go like this:

"I listen for the first car downtown to make a move toward dawn; I wait for the wife to wake and get out of bed and set the world in motion again. The hours flow forward in sluggish jerks. She says I sleep more than I am aware. But I am certainly aware of when, at last, she stirs: she irritably moves her arms, fighting her way out of some dream, and then in the strengthening window light pushes back the covers and exposes for a moment her rucked-up nightie. I see in silhouette her torso lift through a diagonal to a sitting position. Her bare feet pad around the bed, and, many mornings, now that I'm retired and nearly eighty, I fall back asleep for another hour. The world is being tended to, I can let go of it, it doesn't need me.

The shaving mirror hangs in front of a window overlooking the sea. The sea is always full, flat as a floor. Or almost: there is a delicate planetary bulge in it, supporting a few shadowy freighters and cruise ships making their motionless way out of Boston Harbor. At night, the horizon springs a rim of lights-more, it seems, every year. Winking airplanes from the corners of the earth descend on a slant, a curved groove in the air, toward the unseen airport in East Boston. My life-prolonging pills cupped in my left hand, I lift the glass, its water sweetened by its brief wait on the marble sink-top. If I can read this strange old guy's mind aright, he's drinking a toast to the visible world, his impending disappearance from it be damned."

I cannot think of a more fitting way to bow out by this tremendous observer of the world around him. I miss him.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Sun Nov 21, 2010 3:58 pm

Most enjoying Mozipedia by Simon Goddard. Otis was right last year to recommend this book. The sheer multitude of facts and stories make for great light reading, particularly love the little 'factoids' as they pop up on the pages. It is well written and catches the unique qualities of this man and of his former band, The Smiths. The sheer mass of information and background as it relates to individual songs, albums, and performances is exhausting. The background on the band and Morrissey is illuminating. Hard to put down once one starts reading.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Otis Westinghouse » Tue Nov 30, 2010 6:52 pm

It's a work of brilliance. On a related theme, Manchester University Press have published a collection of papers on The Smiths (from a conference a while ago), with a fun title referencing the favourite lyric (and for me one of the best ever written) quoted elswhere on this board:

http://www.manchesteruniversitypress.co ... id=1204732

I have a friend who works at the MUP, but didn't make it to the launch event. Apparently there were lots of Mozalikes there!
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Re: books, books, books

Postby mood swung » Tue Dec 07, 2010 2:49 pm

Finally finished Odd Thomas, a Dean Koontz book my husband insisted I read. My opinion on his writing remains unchanged and I was just left wondering what might have been if Stephen King had thought of it first. Nevertheless (again! I've used this word like 500 times today! just not "here"), I got out of bed at 5:30 Monday morning to finish the last 20 pages because I had a horror of it turning out a certain way that it did not, if that makes sense. I will not be reading the sequels. Now on the The Stranger, which I thought was a list book, but when I looked at the list, it wasn't on there. But wait, there's more than one way to skin a cat en Français and look, it's there but it's The Outsider. Camus, you rascal.

I also have a John Irving that I got for Christmas last year and have yet to read. On a related note, I moved all the piles of books out of the living room area and into the laundry room where they do not taunt quite so loud.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Tue Dec 07, 2010 5:32 pm

Always loved reading in the laundry-mat-somehow found the agitation of the machine soothing, allowing me to concentrate on the page. Sounds like you might have created the best of all worlds- a productive work space.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby mood swung » Thu Dec 09, 2010 1:34 pm

Oh, I just barely do laundry in there. No room for reading or folding, because it's cram full with books, recycling, appliances, junk. I'm just glad I'm no longer in danger of a book avalanche. Finished Camus, on to Things Fall Apart. Short books!
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Thu Dec 09, 2010 6:33 pm

Trying to think of short books- lists be damned. Probably not on your list but just a tremendous novella- William Trevor's Nights at the Alexandria, if you have not already read it- he is a master story teller and creator of characters out of few well chosen brush strokes. Perhaps the best short story writer currently alive and writing in English.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Thu Dec 16, 2010 7:05 pm

Just a splendid book I have finished and perhaps my favorite book of 2010 so far- How To Live or a Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer by Sarah Bakewell. I have said in the past how Montaigne and his essays never leave my night table. I love how I can go to sleep and wake up with his gentle and convivial company. This book explains why I, and others, feel that way. Ms. Bakewell captures so delicately the conversational tone of the master, his life loving vivacity, and reminds you why after 400 some years these words are some of the most important ever committed to paper. It is a biography but the story it tells is done by making you revisit the man, to listen to him speak, think and write as a man to men. She reminds me how he makes me see myself in his pages, something every person who reads him assiduously experiences for their own being, individually. You are made lovingly to revisit that eternal question for Montaigne- How to Live? in all its variations. It is just a splendid study of the man, his thought and his life.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/18/books ... ?ref=books
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Wed Dec 29, 2010 6:30 pm

Have devoured Letters by Saul Bellow- a Christmas present to me- in a short span. This book is that good. It is no doubt my favorite book from this year along with the recently read biography of Montaigne by Sarah Bakewell. As Philip Roth says in a book blurb on the back, "it comes as no surprise to find that the great novelist was a great correspondent as well". Not a surprise at all. My appetite for this book was whetted when The New Yorker published samples earlier this year. I am not disappointed in the least. In fact I would eagerly appreciate a Volume 2. These letters constitute the autobiography he never wrote.

The very first letter sets the tone as a 17 year old Bellow writes to a friend in a preternaturally adult manner touching on themes that will fill his ensuing life- women, politics, and an avid alertness to the world around him and the language and phrasing that goes into it, that intellectual slang that peppers his prose and gives it its spark and bite. The last letter in the book is completed by a 90 year old man who is weighing the dwindling time left to him, acknowledging he does little these days spending most of his time indoors entertaining his four year old daughter, Rosie, and remembering a pair of patent leather sandals his parents bought for him at that age with an elegantissimo strap. The memories flood him and he recalls rubbing them with butter to preserve the leather and surmising that it is amazing that life "boils down to a pair of patent leather sandals" reminiscent of Charles Kane letting loose the snowglobe and as it tumbles out of his hands muttering "Rosebud". It is a touching moment.

In between is a lifetime of beguiling, funny, petulant, argumentative epistles to friends, family and colleagues that reveal a most complex man with a world of talent and a need to make it come to fruition. His engagement with the world is exhausting and it is hard to conceive how he produced his books, taught college, played with family and friends and still found time to write these letters. I particularly love the letters to his friends the writers Stanley Elkin and John Cheever. He is most alive when he writes to them. Here is an example:

"Will I read your book?[regarding Falconer] Would I accept a free trip to Xanadu with Helen of Troy as my valet? [He greatly admired the work of Cheever] In his letters to Elkin he is the paterfamilias as he dispenses advice, the same going for letters to Cynthia Ozick and Philip Roth. I love this in a letter to Roth "when I read your stories[I knew]that you were the real thing. When I was a little kid, there were still blacksmiths around, and I've never forgotten the ring of a real hammer on a real anvil." This comes from a letter to Elkin in 1992- "When I was young I used to correspond actively with Issac Rosenfeld and other friends. He died in 1956, and several more went in the same decade, and somehow I lost the habit of writing long personal letters- a sad fact I only now begin to understand. It wasn't that I ran out of friendships altogether. But habits changed. No more romantic outpourings. We were so Russian, as adolescents, and perhaps we were practicing to be writers. Issac himself made me conscious of this. When he moved to New York I wrote almost weekly from Chicago. Then, years later, he told me one day, 'I hope you don't mind. But when we moved from the West Side to the Village I threw away all your letters.' And he made it clear that he meant to shock me, implying that I would feel this to be a great loss to literary history. I felt nothing of the sort. I was rid of a future embarrassment. But it wasn't a good thing to be cured of- the habit of correspondence, I mean. I'm aware that important ground was lost. One way or another it happened to most of the people I knew- a dying back into private consciousness and a kind of miserliness. It is extraordinarily moving to find the inmost track of a man's life and to decipher the signs he has left us."

That is what his Lettersdo. They track a great writers inmost life in an extraordinary manner-opening him up to his readers in a way that no biography ever will. This is a book and a writer to treasure. I do not think we will see a book like this in the coming years as the Twitters and emails of the world take over. That makes me incredibly sad.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Sat Jan 08, 2011 5:17 pm

Found this the other day in a profile piece on Annette Bening- among the books she is currently reading is Bellow's "Letters" which she catches the tone of quite nicely:

"Starting from the very first letter, he's basically talking about the themes that I've always loved in his work, that there's a pulse of life, that life is painful and complicated, but ultimately there's a joy and an optimism and a kind of thirst for life that he's always managed to maintain, despite all the reality." She has caught the feel of this book.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby alexv » Fri Jan 14, 2011 1:00 pm

Christopher, I haven't gotten around to getting Bellow's Letters, yet, but I've been spending lots of time at a book store up on Lex. where they conveniently have a chair for lazy people like me who sometimes just read the books right there. The Bellow Letters are indeed terrific. I love reading Collected Letters and this may, as you say, be one of the very last ones to come down the pike, at least in the US. My favorite section of the letters, right now, deals with the time during which he finished Augie, and the post-publication period. You really get a sense of the massive task he set himself: to tell an american story in a completely different way. It's there in the Letters. And then you see how the original reviewers, for the most part, just did not get it.

I've been reading Fitzgeral's letters (sent there by the wonderful letters included in the Hemingway Letters), and his letters to Max Perkins about the making of Gatsby have a very similar tone, altough written in an entirely different style. Those letters also mirror Bellow's in that you see the post-publication events from the author's point of view. You see the insecurity as they wait for word from their favorite critics. You see the anger at the critics who miss the mark. Ultimately you see the confidence that even insecure people like F. Scott have in the rightness of their choices.

That reminds me, I'm going to skip lunch and head over to 67th and Lex. to take another look at the Bellow book.

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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Fri Jan 14, 2011 5:21 pm

Watch out, Alexv, that you are not flagged-eg. George! Must be nice to be able to take a leisurely mid-town lunch break and plop oneself in a 'comfy' chair for a good read- that is some cushy job!!!!
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Fri Jan 21, 2011 5:40 pm

I love to read books about how things function and why they became what and how they are as objects or parts of our life. Bill Bryson's At Home has beautifully satisfied my curiosity for such information. He has taken a seemingly innocuous idea, how did the modern home develop the way it did?, and created an immensely entertaining, funny and informative book. In essence, he walks you through the floor plan of his Victorian parsonage in Norfalk, England and room by room, house feature by house feature, illuminates how it came to be a part of the way we live today documenting the historical development and the men and women who were responsible for its creation. The history is enticing and he is seemingly incapable of writing an uninteresting sentence. The information in less capable hands might have been numbing. In Bryson's hands you move effortlessly from room to room and never feel bored and you want him to keep writing. I was particularly surprised at how much of what we consider modern has been around for millennia. I cannot recommend this book higher.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Sat Jan 29, 2011 7:44 am

Medical problems and just plain aging have kept my inevitable demise fresh in my mind but a recently read book has dramatically reinforced the topic for me- This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust.

She has taken a gruesome subject and injected it with a thoughtful historical analysis of the carnage from that conflict. She documents impressively how the death of over 645,000 soldiers[the equivalent of six million today] was instrumental in taking away the romantic notion of dying for one's country or cause. The sheer death toll reverberated through the populace, and continues to do so, economically, politically, socially, spiritually and intellectually. In essence it shattered the belief in a benevolent God and seriously called into question the notion of dying for one's cause or country.

The savagery she depicts in the individual battles is frightening and sickening. The carnage and sheer waste of life lives in her writing with the moans, the stench, the overwhelming bloat of bodies lying in fields and communities. How do you bury and honor them? How do you identify them? The scope of the slaughter is daunting as this is the start of random death with a shell landing on you as you sat in your camp eating or defecting. Of sharpshooters who would terrorize you as you tried to catch some sleep. Of 28,000 men killed in a single day.

What this book does so well is catch the voices of all involved, the politicians, soldiers, family members, poets and writers and medical practitioners- and then recreates in a completely vivid way the reality of the bloodshed as they all experienced it. It is an extremely accomplished retelling of this history. It also makes EC's recent "Dr. Watson, I Presume" all the more poignant for me.
"....there's a merry song that starts in 'I' and ends in 'You', as many famous pop songs do....'

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mood swung
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Re: books, books, books

Postby mood swung » Wed Feb 16, 2011 3:27 pm

Finally finished Everything Is Illuminated, which I have been working on since Christmas or so. I hate when it takes so long to finish a book, you forget what happened at the beginning. Planning on being further illuminated by watching the film version tonight.
Like me, the "g" is silent.


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