Sunday, November 30, 2008


One of my favorite websites is Goodreads, a network where fans of reading and books can gather and see what their friends and other people are perusing. It is especially good for introducing one to new books, finding books along similar lines and genres that you enjoy, providing an opportunity to manage one's reading list and to give reviews. I have discovered a number of really good books and authors there. And I have met some very nice people as well. I check the site just about daily and I enjoy it immensely. But there are quirks I don't like:

1: Although I am not sure what the worth of ranking people is, they should be ranked according to the number of books they have actually read. Not by the number they hope to read. I have a large "to-read" list and it is quite handy---I always seem to lose the little scraps of paper I use to write potential reads upon.

2: Some people apparently have reviewed absurd numbers of books weekly (or so the site seems to indicate). That is ridiculous. The number of reviews is immaterial; the quality or honesty of appraisal is more important. There should be a board or committee, say, that gives a special mark to a well-written or insightful review. It shouldn't be based on the fact that you have a zillion "friends" who all get a look at your review and then it gets ranked highly.

3: Don't know how it can be done, but bookstores and promoters should be blocked. Some people clearly are more interested in hawking their volumes than truly being part of a social or reading network.

4: How can someone have 2000+ friends and two books? Why exactly are they part of the site? To accumulate numbers? To make themselves feel worthy or special? Wouldn't you think it would be based on people who like to read?

5: I wish people would spend a little more time separating (organizing) their lists. It takes a lot of time to wade through the standard "read" file. It doesn't have to be elaborate, but it sure would help if history books were clearly marked, or YA literature, or fantasy. . .you see where I am going.

6: No offense to adults who read with their children (I do it just about every day) and to children's librarians, but do we really need reviews and listings of pre-highschool volumes? I have suggested to the managers that they develop a separate site especially for children's literature. A few postings of kid's books is fine (I have done so for a few volumes I especially liked), but if you choose to do so, put them in a clearly marked file.

7: It seems that some people love every book they read. OK, nothing wrong with that (thought I doubt it is true), I guess. But if you are taking the time to list and review a book, try to be at least a little critical. It is not required that one write a review for every volume one reads, but if someone gives a really high or low mark, shouldn't they state why they did so, even if it is a simple "it just didn't agree with me."

8: What's with all the craft books? Shouldn't a site like this be confined to literature and humanities? Ok, I know, people like to read about embroidery and crochet and other fun activities, but listing your entire bookshelf on crafts is a bit much. However, if people clearly marked their file as such, maybe it would be more manageable. I am almost of the opinion that textbooks should also be banned.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Anxiously, I keep my eyes glued to the plate-glass window of the Orleans bar for the porkpie hat and stretched Hawaiian shirt, afraid Purcel will soon track me down, ready to put one in my ear, knock the mashed potatoes out of my mouth, and try to drown me in the mens’ room toilet. That’s what I get for even thinking about dissing his pal, Robicheaux. But what can I say: I have a love/hate relationship with James Lee Burke’s award-winning series featuring the flawed, tough, principled Louisiana cop/bait-house operator who often carries too heavy a load and struggles to control his anger. I better finish my po’boy sandwich and crawfish, and sneak quietly out of town before. . .

I was introduced to Detective Dave Robicheaux last August and I have been enjoying his travails ever since. The protagonist is a flawed, honest, Vietnam vet; former NOPD cop and homicide detective; recovering alcoholic, and current denizen of New Iberia, where he runs a small family business with an aged black man (he has known since childhood) named Batist, and has an on-again/off-again relationship with the local Sheriff’s department. Burke’s descriptions of life in New Orleans and areas surrounding are often colorful, entertaining, and illuminating; there is an ever-changing crew of miscreants and psychopaths to deal with, as Robicheaux and Purcel (as well as other characters, such as his lesbian, tightly-wound partner Helen) doggedly run roughshod over the community, often clueless as to the underlying motives or activities, but gradually uncovering the truth. Thrice married (up to this point: his first wife left, second was murdered) and the adoptive father of a Latin American daughter that he pulled to safety from a ditched airplane, Robicheaux battles internal demons and despicable criminals. His buddy Clete (who deserves a book of his own) is even more interesting---often described as the best cop Dave ever knew, but whose addiction to alcohol, women, and violence knocked him off the force and into LA exile, though now he serves mostly as a PI in New Orleans for some bail bondsmen---and is guaranteed to be loyally by his pal’s side when trouble comes down or out making trouble for the bad guys in the community no matter what havoc he wreaks.

Burke is an excellent writer. His stories flow and keep the reader’s interest, and some passages are absolutely beautiful, and often funny. Loved the line "you hide your feelings like a cat in a spin dryer." I full intend to complete the series. The best volumes (of the one’s I have finished so far), in my estimation, are Neon Rain, Jolie Blon’s Bounce, Black Cherry Blues, In the Electric Mist with the Confederate Dead, Dixie City Jam, and A Morning for Flamingos. So, what’s to dislike?

In any series, especially a long-running one, the reader comes to expect a certain amount of repetition---the retelling of the character’s backstory (in this case, for example, such things as his father’s death; mother’s infidelity; wife’s murder; daughter’s rescue; relationship with Batist, Purcel, and other individuals). Burke always includes AA material, a reference to Evangeline, accounts of Robicheaux’s experiences on the bayou and battlefield, and widespread literary references.

It’s all good. But after a while some of Burke’s writing seems almost lazy (or his editor was too afraid to have him change things), as he often uses similar references and words, occasionally several times within an individual book. I wish I had started recording some passages. It is not that bothersome when an individual character uses the same words, but when several different characters use the same phrases in the same way in several different books. . .then I start to feel bothered. Some examples are: being "taken over the hurdles," "take the (marshmellows, mashed potatoes, marbles, rocks, etc) out of your mouth," "dimpled," "flecked," "hot pillow joint," etc. Pretty much, you know there will be a reference to fish "flopping," to an individual being turned into or worthy of being turned into soap (Holocaust-style), to dry lightening, to some sort of malfunction in one’s bowels, to nutria screaming, to a description of a poboy sandwich. Although my memory fails me, I think he even referenced the same song in several volumes.

The other thing that bothers me, is race. Burke appears to be a social liberal, and I expect a protagonist telling a story to reflect viewpoints of his time and place, but every once in a while a passage (or utilization of a disturbing word) sets my skin on edge and strikes me as perhaps reflecting racist thinking in Burke. For instance, in one section in the last novel I read, while retelling a story of a black/white second-storey team, Burke complained that one couldn’t expect much from "watermelon pickers." Maybe it was just the way I read it. . .I hope so. But there have been several occasions when passages gave me pause.

Will I stop reading Burke. No. I really enjoy these stories.

Monday, November 24, 2008


How exactly did Mohammed Hanif escape not being put on some notorious fatwa (akin to the one ordered against Salmon Rushdie) for having written the blasphemous, Catch-22-like A Case of Exploding Mangoes? At least, you would think, some mysterious Moslem assassins or shadowy Pakistani military death squads would be hunting down the author, angry over his humorous, cynical take on General Zia-al-Huq, Islam, government, intelligence services, US-Pakistani relations, jihad in Afghanistan (against the Soviets), and many other topics, not to mention the naughty language and homosexual encounters. Just the sentence "Allah’s house was just a dark, empty room," should have sparked slogan-shouting in the streets---you know, with banners and all. Certainly the family of dictatorial General Zia wanted to haul Hanif into court for slander!!! Of course, these things apparently have not happened, thankfully. So, is this book worth reading? Hell, yes. And this his first book to boot. Maybe that is why Hanif lives in London.

What a perfect scenario for a fiction writer to play with. The mysterious death by plane crash of Zia, several of his generals, and the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan had left many conspiracy theories---a wonderful happenstance that allows Hanif to apply his imagination and sharp critiques in a readable and funny book. Sinister undertones are teased from the mess that is the protagonist Ali Shigri’s life. A junior air officer in training, he is the son of a deceased (suicide or murder, you decide) highly decorated Pakistani military officer who helped run the jihad against the Soviets (and may or may not have been involved in siphoning off a little American green).

The book says a lot about the paranoia and stupidity of military dictatorships. He comments on the cruelty and illogical thinking of religious fundamentalists, the backstabbing and mentality of men in military hierarchies and intelligence services. He pokes fun at bumbling American foreign service personnel and military advisors, as well as at American culture. He even takes a humorous shot at a young Osama bin Laden.

He could have used a better editor though, as several times very similar passages were used (such as "the asphalt melting under his boots"). Overall, though, I would encourage people to try this book.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


When done well, such as in Shaara's The Killer Angels or Graves' I, Claudius, historical fiction can inspire, entertain, and teach. Granted, there is a pit in my stomach when an author puts words in the mouths of historical figures, but the end result cannot be that much different than what professional historians sometimes do with the facts. And when the story involves the heroic stand of men against enormous odds and with little to expect but death, such as at the Alamo, then the story can be so much more riveting. I must have developed an interest in this type of story when I was a wee lad, enjoying volumes such a We Were There at the Battle of the Alamo, and later stories of Custer and other engagements where everyone or nearly everyone is killed. Yes, I am morbid. I would put Steven Pressfield's Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae in this catagory. The general outline is fairly well known to any student who has even had a smattering of ancient or Western history. I studies ancient history as an undergraduate, so I also am predisposed to liking it as well.

Pressfield lets the story of Greece and it's heroic stand against the massive invading armies of the Persian king Xerxes be told by a mortally wounded, ex-helot weapon-bearer and aide to a Spartan officer. He is the sole survivor of the final assault and has been pressed into service as storyteller for the Persian king. Xeo tells of his roots, how his family is massacred in one of the frequent intra-Hellenic wars, and after surviving in the wild with a female cousin and an old slave, he ends up going to Sparta to offer his services. His true love goes to Athens. This part of the story could have been dull and lifeless, but the author does a good job in detailing Spartan life and culture without losing the reader. Particularly interesting characters are two other non-Spartan warriors, Rooster and Suicide, who nevertheless are warriors in their own right.

Where Pressfield excels is in developing the story of the bonding and training, as well as philsophies, of Spartan soldiers. It is difficult for me to imagine such a complete immersion into martial life from the earliest age until old age, the development of human fighting machines capable of bearing enormous pain and yet dealing amazing death. I can see why this volume has apparently been a hit with American officers in Iraq and Afghanistan. I do not know enough about the small details of the actual battle, but as far as I am concerned I think he tells the tale well enough. I was happy to see that he allowed the heroics of soldiers from other Greek city-states to shine, as in many histories one would think only the Spartans and a handful of Thebans gave their lives. And he likewise is complimentary of the heroic actions of the Persian forces, mostly conscripted men from captured territories, who fought bravely and hard, even when they were outmatched by the superbly trained and disciplined Greek warriors. He emphasizes the respect, even for enemies, that professional soldiers seem to have when their opponents fight with heart.

My only misgiving is that the dialogue at times feels too modern, the inclusion of thoughts or even curses that probably would not have been spoken then. But it is a minor matter.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


I have been thinking much about Iran lately, reading several books on the country and culture. My fascination likely stems from working many years ago with a half dozen Iranians, a collection of disparate and unique personalities, led by the cheerful yet devious Mustafa Abdoli. I named them Mustafa and the Roving Iranian Review. They all seemed to have different backgrounds and interests: a nationalist Kurd, a fervent pro-Ayatollah Khomeini supporter, a world-wise somewhat slick businessman (Cyrus), a womanizing dandy, a wallflower who was almost invisible. They argued and disagreed about almost everything (almost playfully at times), but they were always polite and usually friendly. They had a nickname for me (I know I am spelling it terribly, but it sounded like Couzee, which I was told came from the shape of a pot they said I looked like, which I am sure was not flattering). Mustafa was known for his withering pantomime of coworkers. I even once dated an Iranian woman, a beauty named Fatemeh (though she went by Fay); it was the only time I was ever chaperoned on a date (her aunt). She was gorgeous (though my Iranian pals assured me that the women in Lebanon were considered more lovely). I fondly remember being invited for a traditional Iranian meal, the food served to me and my host, but his family hidden away.

I have read Alavi’s Persian Pilgrimages; Nafisi’s interesting memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran; Satrapi’s graphic novel of the Revolution, Persepolis; and Gharamani’s My Life as a Traitor. There were also travelogues, such as Bellaigue’s In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs, Kaplan’s The Ends of the Earth (only a short, but interesting, portion focusing on Iran), and Thubron’s Shadow of the Silk Road (also only slightly devoted to Iran).

My latest literary foray into this ancient country is journalist Hooman Majd’s The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran. It is an insider’s explanation of the nature and culture of the Iranian people, especially designed for Americans; he explains behaviors that are confusing and contradictory to us. The Iranians seem almost culturally schizophrenic. They often lead outwardly devout and strictly male-dominated lives, yet behind the tall walls of their gardens and the privacy of their homes they party hard, enjoy western culture, and allow women a much greater level of influence---generally flaunting their disagreement with the repressive government and religious restrictions in the knowledge that unless they were rattling the entire neighborhood that they would likely be left alone by the authorities. I was astounded by the high level of drug use, especially opium (but also many more). In some ways Iranians, like other Middle Easteners, are hypocrites. They condemn moral failings in others and argue for the moral superiority of their culture, but engage in a whole gamut of illicit activities, finding ways to circumvent the rules. Much of their lives seem to be taken up with a formal form of discourse of falseness, from the exchanges involved in simply paying a cab fare to the more elaborate business deals.

I cannot recount all that was included in the book, but there were interesting sections: on the Holocaust denial, Iranian driving, the acceptance and protection of dissent from some mullahs. I loved the conversations about modern technology in the most unusual places: such as on cell phones, "Does it get good antennae?" I was surprised that Khomeini was of Indian background.

I would love to visit Iran.


This is hypnotic, and I loved it during the campaign. Whenever I got a little down or apprehensive about the election I would play it to buck myself up.

Monday, November 17, 2008


It was a beautiful Carolina Sunday yesterday and a wonderful afternoon for a memorial service. Inside the Law School Auditorium at the University of South Carolina, it seemed apropos that a giant photograph of Dr. Matthew J. Bruccoli, peering out at the assembled crowd, dominated the stage. You wondered if he was going to scowl and order us to immediately return to our normal tasks. I guestimate that around 300 to 400 of Bruccoli’s friends, colleagues, and former employees showed up to honor this larger-than-life dynamo and scholar, who left us too early last June. The memorial was wonderfully done; I think he would have liked it. Moderated by Australian author (friend and colleague in the USC English department) Janette Turner Hospital, it featured tributes from authors John Jakes and Budd Schulberg, as well as by USC President Harris Pastides, publisher Frank Menchaca, and life-long friend Michael Lazare. The short video clips that bracketed the tributes were very nice, especially the closing section, of Dr. B lecturing to a small group of students. I wish they had played a little of the jazz that Bruccoli loved so much.

Dr. Bruccoli was the foremost authority on the life and work of F. Scott Fitzgerald, as well as O’Hara, Hemingway, Heller, Chandler, Cozzens, Millar/Macdonald, and a host of other twentieth-century literary figures. He specialized in several genres (ranging from hard-boiled fiction to graphic novels). More than anything else, he considered himself a teacher. He wrote or edited hundreds of volumes, including the premier literary reference work, the Dictionary of Literary Biography, and he loved his role as publisher, producing many additional works, both through the University of South Carolina Press and his own company, Bruccoli Clark Layman. He developed and donated several library collections, the most important being the wealth of Fitzgerald and WWI items that now reside at USC (but he managed to pull in the papers of many other writers as well). He fumed and stormed when others ("bookdopes") disagree with his assessment of collections and failed to come up with funds to purchase the important ones. He seemed to know everyone in the publishing business and dozens of important writers as well. He was great friends with (and later the literary executor for) poet and novelist James Dickey. And he had many other interests: cars, boxing, movies, good food.

I had the honor and pleasure of working for Dr. Bruccoli for the last decade. It was a stressful job at times; many people reacted with disbelief and surprise that I seemed so normal or lasted so long after working daily next to such a tornado of energy. But I got to know some of the real man (I firmly believe that impressions many had of him were deliberately projected by him in a theatrical sense) and I will always remember him with affection and awe. True, I steeled myself for his dramatic arrivals, cringed if he came to work in a bad mood (often), and worriedly prepared answers to the cascade of yellow legal-size papers with handwritten noted signed MJB that often littered my desk when I arrived (especially Monday mornings, when the pile left for me from his work during weekends was greatest). His slamming of the front door was unique and resonated throughout the who building---everyone damn well better know that he had arrived and was ready for his audiences. I also had to be ready for last-minute inquiries (he wanted it right, and he wanted it right now). Yes, he was hardly perfect (though he would disagree). There were many times, however, when he quietly helped me (and many others) out with personal problems.

He dominated my recent life (and I strove to live up to his demands, almost like trying to please a dictatorial father), as he did many others, insisting that I do the best work I could do. He was a force of nature. For the last five or so years, I was in close---nearly daily---contact with him at BCL. It was my job to answer and write up his email correspondence (which he hated), do research (often on the "telly"), and keep him up-to-date on the status of forthcoming volumes. I really was little more than a clerk in the grand scheme of things (though I also editied, indexed, and performed many other tasks). Yet, he graciously listened to my ideas and suggestions, some of which he accepted and then turned into volumes. Even when he disagreed with a proposal, he seemed happy that I was coming up with ideas. Over the past two years I helped sell his large collection of personal books (I have held in my hands some of the most-rare and unique items related to literature). One of my most-fond memories will be spending nearly three hours sitting and chatting with him at a book conference last Spring. Although he could angrily go after people who he felt had not accomplished some task, often over small mistakes (though strangely, he often was less angry when some people really screwed up), he surprisingly never really took me to task (and I certainly would have deserved his wrath a few times). Somehow I was blessed. Still, I always feared that my turn on the docket was forever one arrival away.

I think one reason he seemed to like me is that I too love books. He knew that I was an avid reader, even if my preferences were far different from his. He often picked up and perused whatever volume I was currently engaged in, and even suggested others (I probably never would have tried O’Hara or Le Carre). More often than not he was familiar with the book or writer to some degree (even foreign volumes, for which he had less interest). He introduced me to the Armed Services Editions (which I now collect). I managed to find a couple of ASEs he was lacking in completing the full run (now at USC) and have even donated several items (letters, sheet music, books) that I discovered and bought to his WWI collection (he always offered to reimburse me, but I liked being even a small part of his world). Although he would like you to have believed that he preferred dogs over humans, especially kids, he was always nice to my sons when we came in on the weekends. They were very sad when they watched him on the video clips.

It is amazing that I lasted so long working for him; I really feared that I would not last the first three months at BCL. I think I cannot be corrected in saying the he notched up the tension in any room with his arrival, but he insisted on the best and was most often the center of attention (with the exception of when writers were present). I recall the first time I met him, standing in front of his workstation at the front entrance of BCL. He looked up and took me in, but didn’t really address me, other than to say hello. Then he turned to his secretary: he had been asking her to find a phone number. When she exasperatingly said that she could not find it, he yelled, "THEN MAKE ONE UP!" I nearly turned and walked out the door---thankfully I didn’t. He often told me that I was getting the greatest free education any person could get. And there is much truth in that assertion. He had an amazing memory and was seldom wrong (when he was, he often would not acknowledge it!), and I have never met a more opinionated person. I still remember once correcting him (a dangerous thing to do) on some fact relating to FDR (one of my heros, though MJB disliked him); just after I did so, nearly shaking as I quietly berated myself for my stupidity in opening my mouth, he just looked at me with a bemused reaction, but surprisingly he didn’t explode. . .I guess because for once, I had been right. He always grinned when I hit him with one of my bad puns.

In fact, he was a funny and amusing man when he wanted to be, if you paid attention. There was definitely a sense of the theatrical in him. Sometimes his humor bordered on the cruel, and he could shock you, but once you got to know him, he was quite witty. Many of his sayings and jokes you ended up memorizing. He could have succeeded in any realm: he would have been a domineering general, a fearsome bishop, a terrifying industrialist. . .but thankfully, as he said in one video clip, he was a master caretaker and promoter of literature. Those who knew or met him, no matter their reaction, will never forget him.

I miss Dr. Bruccoli. I will always remember him. I know right now he has the angels in an uproar!

Here he is with poet James Dickey, probably late 1990s, probably at Capital City Club.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


I seldom read memoirs, and even less frequently family histories, but found journalist Owen Matthews’ Stalin’s Children: Three Generations of Love, War, and Survival an enjoyable and instructive account of his parents’ family histories and heroic five-year struggle against Soviet intransigence to obtain the marriage they so desperately desired. It is a tale of a family from Ukraine, whose paterfamilias---a dedicated, well-liked Communist propaganda officer who backed the wrong horse in a political struggle---is secretly carted away and executed, with his wife soon to be thrown into and broken by the gulag, and whose two young daughters bravely survive life on the run or in orphanages. The hero of the story, Lyudmila, despite her hardships (including a crippled leg), is inspiring---you just fall in love with her (and maybe it is partly biased by her son's love, but it doesn't matter). Despite the terrible heart-rending stories, I am always heartened and amazed by the bravery of some people (such as the orphanage director who decides not to separate the sisters) in helping others for whom they owe nothing, but they do it anyway. It recounts the brutal famine, murders, and expulsions heaped upon Ukraine (the destruction of the kulaks during the collectivization of farms); the tough, desperate battle of the Soviets against the Germans; the totalitarian oppressiveness of the Soviet state. It recounts the love affair of the author’s English father with Russia, the attempt by the KGB to turn him, and then the difficult years of trying to obtain the release of his fiance from Russia. Just as interesting, possibly even more so, is the search by the author (a large part of which is facilitated by the letters between his parents during their separation) to uncover his family history (even uncovering a KGB file on the tirla and execution of his grandfather), and his descriptions of his work as a journalist (and his personal life) in Russia.
The book made me think of my mother. She was from Lviv & Kiev, Ukraine; she told me stories of the famine and occupations, and of the horrible execution of Jews from Kiev. She was a tough, independent, determined woman, who also became an exile and made a family in a new world. She didn't tell me all of her experiences, but there were always little signs. For instance, she often ate a entire apple, stem and seeds and all, as her disbelieving children looked on, and then she explained how they ate grass soup for months. She told me how a shell-hit horse was stripped clean in the streets as if the starving Ukrainians were piranha, of watching a house they had just run out of explode behind them. I could relate more, perhaps later, but I can say that I really miss my Mom. There was mention of cherry soup, which my mother made for me.
The book does not have a fairy tale ending, but it opens a window into life in Russia. I am sure some will quibble, but I found it interesting. Anyone interested in life under the Soviet regime will find it worthwhile.

Monday, November 10, 2008


If you are the type of reader who enjoys books such as Confederates in the Attic by Horwitz or even Bryson’s Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, you may be a perfect victim for the charms of Sarah Vowell’s delightful Assassination Vacation. A humorous stew of history, historical trivia, personal observations, flippant asides, and almost reverent affection for museum docents and National Parks rangers (the fact that she was a Smithsonian intern is no surprise), the reader is taken along a meandering trip through the historical oddness that is presidential assassination history. One is not quite sure at times when she is poking fun or being serious; you also wonder if all the sidekicks who ferry her to different locations (she claims to be phobic about driving) and accompany her to the sites are fictitious or real. But it is a trip worth taking. Although some of her friends do not feel her excitement or appreciate her morbid interest, I for one would be right alongside her enjoying each new nugget of unusual fact or frippery. I too would be fascinated by the off-the-track museums and historical sites (as one who has driven many family members crazy, and will continue to do so, by stopping during road trips to read every historical marker). Her blatant anti-W and liberal stance endears her to me as well. I must confess, however, that I am envious of her ability to travel so freely, even if handicapped by phobias.
Although much of what Vowell covers is familiar to me (yes, I was a history major), there were plenty of interesting tidbits and anecdotes, delightfully told. I love her descriptions of ghoulish historical artifacts, from skull fragments to railroad-building tiles. Some of the stories are riveting. One Booth kills a president, while his brother later saves the slain president’s son from death in a railroad mishap. What a strange life did Robert Todd Lincoln live (having been in close proximity to three assassinations). While almost everyone knows about Mudd’s incarceration for helping Booth with his injured leg and his later heroics in fighting a yellow fever outbreak while in federal detention off the coast of Florida, her account of his probable complicity and actual life in prison was very instructive. She humorously rehabilitates, to a degree, the memory of James Garfield. The account of the Oneida Community and its role in tolerating Charles Guiteau is interesting. I love the line, in connection with describing the sexually liberated community that later spermed (ahhh, I mean spawned) the kitchenware company, in talking about her favorite tea pot: "but now, when I watch the steam rise from the yellow spout, I like to pretend I’m seeing people breathe." I really smiled when I read her assertion that the secret theme of the 1901 Pan-American Exposition was (in response to Western Hemisphere jitters caused by the US becoming a world power in 1898): "We’re Not Going To Shoot You (Especially If You Buy Our Stuff).
Oddly enough, there is almost nothing, if I remember correctly, on JFK (except for a piece those who highlight the similarities between the AL &JFK events), and definitely no separate section, though choosing not to do a humorous take on this assassination may have been prudent in light of its more recent occurrence, and the fact that still-living individuals who witnessed the horror might stalk the author with terrible designs in their hearts.
Nevertheless, her writing and book are enjoyable. Perhaps she is master at being prepared when she enters a museum or historical site to ask the best questions of the staff. Clearly she is enamored with New York City. I think this would be the kind of book that would draw more young people to history, or at least the pursuit of the unusual. So, where do I sign up for her next vacation trip?

Friday, November 7, 2008


After waiting forever for my good friend to start a blog for me on his site, which never materialized, I decided to begin one here. I can't promise to write anything special or inciteful, nor even will I publish on a regular basis, but I felt the desire to start one. I will try to reserve this space for observations and reviews, while keeping the personal stuff on the older Myspace account. I love to read and encourage folks that also love books to join Goodreads, if for no other reason than to list books you intend to read. I have discovered hundreds of titles that I want to attempt by cherry-picking other contributors' to-read lists. Enough for now.