Sunday, July 31, 2016

Mount TBR #35

I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2016. The challenge is to read books that you already own.

Miss Mackenzie – Anthony Trollope

The titular heroine of the novel at first seems a paragon of unworldly altruism. Margaret Mackenzie selflessly nurses her aged parents and consumptive brother till they check out of this vale of tears. In her dealings with the world in her secluded life, she evinces a disarming naivety. But after she inherits her brother’s well-heeled estate, the mercenary suitors - the subtly named Handcock, Rubb, and Ball - come calling thick and fast. In her dealings with guys and their mixture of romance and self-interest, Trollope reveals her as less simple and less malleable than she appears. Really vexing things happen to her, but she is adept at accepting whatever happens with good grace.

This novel has the usual dings we find in Trollope. Like Dr. Thorne, this novel starts oh so deliberately. Then more than a couple of patches feel quite sluggish and leisurely, to the point where the post-modern reader starts stamping a foot and thinking about 70 pages should have found themselves on the cutting room floor. I think Trollope rather teases us by spinning things out, especially with proposal scenes and over-delicate feelings  that stop people from doing what they naturally want to do. A novel, like the law, is slow, says a joshing Tony. This, about our old friend from The Three Clerks and Orley Farm, a long-time lawyer:

Mr. Slow was a grey-haired old man. ... He was a stout, thickset man, very leisurely in all his motions, who walked slowly, talked slowly, read slowly, wrote slowly, and thought slowly; but who, nevertheless, had the reputation of doing a great deal of business, and doing it very well. He had a partner in the business, almost as old as himself, named Bideawhile; and they who knew them both used to speculate which of the two was the most leisurely. It was, however, generally felt, that, though Mr. Slow was the slowest in his speech, Mr. Bideawhile was the longest in getting anything said.

Generally speaking, Trollope’s sentences are extremely easy to read but his grammar gets convoluted on occasion. In his novels, there’s always at least one sentence that is so twisted up as to be incomprehensible.

The paper in question was not a wicked paper, nor were the gentlemen concerned in its publication intentionally scurrilous or malignant; but it was subject to those great temptations which beset all class newspapers of the kind, and to avoid which seems to be almost more difficult, in handling religious subjects, than in handling any other.

Something gets garbled starting with “class newspapers of the kind.” My mildly lazy brain struggles to take in the meaning of everything after that garble. Oh, well, as the Japanese say, even monkeys fall out of trees.

But Trollope skillfully portrays Victorian codes of conduct with rigid social rules, the constant hunt and fighting for money, and the persistent female concern at the time, looking for a husband. The plot includes the machinations of contenders for her hand, lawyer and financial intriguing, and much quiet comedy from Trollope. Though Trollope signals what ultimately is going to happen, he tosses in unexpected developments  (I won’t say “surprises” – I think Trollope saw surprises as unworthy and tricky) keeps us readers in agreeable suspense. The other appeal of Trollope is that his stories offer soothing escape from the reality of sweltering weather and bloodthirsty talk in an election year.

Click on the title below to go to my review.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Mount TBR #34

I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2016. The challenge is to read books that you already own.

Travelers and Travel Liars, 1660-1800 - Percy G. Adams

When I lived overseas, I wrote letters and a zine about expatriate life, thus becoming a travel writer of sorts. I had the irresistible impulse at times to stretch the truth to make the topic more vivid and real. But even when giving in to impulse prevailed, I never came close to the whoppers that travel liars told in the age of exploration and expansion. For instance, suspect reports about native peoples provided the basis for Rousseau’s ideas of the “noble savage,” a cultural stereotype that is still very much with us today, especially in the TV dystopias that are so popular today.

In my job, I often gather information, compare sources and decide where the truth is likely to be found. Adams was quite an inspiration because he’s skillful at going over differing accounts in order to figure out who plagiarized whom or exactly how and why, for example, the reputation of Capt. Bligh was besmirched. He also reveals the truth behind faking about the giants  of Patagonia, the Mississippi valley explorations that were never made by Hennepin and the tall tales of Lahontan and the respected Chateaubriand. There are many more topics in this relatively short book.

Readers interested in the history of travel narratives and literary history will get a kick out of this book. Adams makes a persuasive argument that travel books were the major influence on the evolution of the novel, especially the picaresques such as Smolett’s Roderick Random. At the very least, he persuades me that there are very fine distinctions to be made among geographical tomes to memoirs by captains to embellished tales to plagiarized materials to tall tales to outrageous hoaxes.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Mount TBR #33

I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2016. The challenge is to read books that you already own.

The Struggles of Brown, Jones, and Robinson - Anthony Trollope

This novel is very unlike Orley Farm, the novel he was writing at more or less the same time, the early 1860s. SBJR comes in at about 150 pages, OF about 600. SBJR tickles the funny bone compared to somber OF. The boisterous and quarrelsome characters in SBJR live and work in the lower middle class while OF features mainly well-off  temperate people. Instead of a social comedy of life in the country, we get a satire on the rough and tumble of a retail shop in London. The best scenes in OF are intense conversations in pretty rooms while in SBJR they feature slapstick shenanigans in a magenta shop.

At the time, used to quiet novels such as The Warden, the critics and reading public hated this novel. Reviewers called it “coarse,” “odiously vulgar,” and “unmitigated rubbish;” in our time, scholars have called it “ghastly” and “the least funny of Trollope’s novels.” I wonder if these  sensibilities were made squeamish by Trollope’s home truths and dark realism. I mean, members of the middle class resent it when it is implied middle class people are no more or less honest than the upper or lower classes. Imagine their umbrage when Trollope has the boldness to have Mr. Jones, a villain in this novel, describe a job satisfaction thus: 'And though I looked so sweet on them,' said he, 'I always had my eye on them. It's a grand thing to be down on a well-dressed woman as she's hiding a roll of ribbon under her cloak.’

Matrons shoplifting – the very idea! Sons-in-laws and daughters stealing from her father! An owner using the firm’s till as his personal piggy bank! Lead me to the fainting couch, Beulah. And like Balzac in Père Goriot, Trollope presents two daughters that are after their father’s money, even to the point of tossing him out on the street without remorse. For all the shenanigans, messages dark haunt the heart of this novel, messages that we post-moderns affirm as a matter of course.

But it’s pretty funny. In chapter fourteen, Trollope writes slapstick romp in which imperious Irishwoman Mrs. Morony and her henchwoman Miss Biles insist on the sticker price for an item displayed in the shop window as the villain Jones tries to deflect them with bait and switch. Trollope also tips his hat toward Dickens. Miss Polly Twizzle (now there’s a Dickensy name) calls upon our hero Mr. Robinson with a message from the evil-tempered Maryanne Brown, daughter of his partner in the store. "The long and short of it is this: is Barkis willing? If Barkis is willing, then a certain gentle- man as we know in the meat trade may suit himself elsewhere. Come; answer that, Is Barkis willing?" And Mr. Robinson answers, "Barkis is willing" much to his pain later on.

I mean, I like comic novels though I know that often comedy is so hard to sustain that it inevitably poops out near the end. But interest was sustained to the end because the main character, Robinson, is quite likable, clueless and vulgar as he is. Robinson, by the way, is also the narrator, which is another departure from OF, where Trollope was his usual genial and nearly omniscient narrator.

I think that readers who know they are devoted to Tony and his works will like this novel, like I know I did. But I’m pretty sure readers new to Trollope should start with one of them below.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Mount TBR #32

I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2015. The challenge is to read books that you already own.

The Big Change: America Transforms Itself, 1900-1950 – Frederick Lewis Allen

Frederick Lewis Allen edited Harper’s Magazine from 1941 to 1953. In the early Thirties, he found a formula: writing pop history by the decade. His big seller Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the Twenties persuaded more than one generation to divide history in terms of decades. Only Yesterday was so readable for the general audience that it was assigned in high school history classes, at least up the early 1970s. Then Since Yesterday: America in the 1930s was in print for a very long time as well, though not quite as successful. Both books covered big social and economic trends along with fads, customs, ideas and inventions in accessible journalistic prose. Allen modestly avoided calling himself an “historian” and preferred “retrospective journalist.”

The Big Change was his last book, written before he passed away in 1954. Allen describes the economic and social changes in the first half of the busy American 20th century. Having written a book about plutocrat Pierpont Morgan, Allen starts this one on familiar ground, describing the lavish lifestyle of the upper tenth of one-percent and their predictable ways of blowing through money, mainly with building and furnishing tasteless houses with gaudy ornamentation. His thesis is that a “momentum of change” occurred mainly through the advent of a really big federal government, in addition to private car ownership, the Depression, WWII, and the mixed responses to the US becoming to be the only superpower.

Always his lively prose sparkles. His stance is as objective as a middle-class, eastern, urban, educated (Groton and Harvard, no less) journalist is going to be for that time. Given that time, he devotes not much attention to religious, racial, ethnic, geographical and cultural tensions and grievances in US society. He relies much on secondary sources. He likes FDR like a Democratic liberal should. He boosts the free market system like a Republican nationalist. I think for thoughtful readers who want an informal primer on this slice of US history, this would be a worth-while book. Just cut slack for sweeping generalizations and flimsy evidence.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Back to the Classics Wrap-up

I read these books for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016.

Click on the date to go to the review.

1/ An adventure classic (fiction or non-fiction): Tent Life in Siberia by George Kennan

2 / A volume of classic short stories: Trouble is My Business – Raymond Chandler

3 /A 19th Century Classic:  : The Three Clerks - Anthony Trollope

4 / Re-read a classic: Catch-22 – Joseph Heller

5/ A classic by a non-white author: Life and Times of Frederick Douglass

6 / A classic detective novel: Over My Dead Body – Rex Stout

7/ A classic in translation: Uncle Charles has Locked Himself in – Georges Simenon

8 / A classic which includes the name of a place in the title: London Labour and the London Poor - Henry Mayhew

9/ A fantasy, science fiction, or dystopian classic: Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

10/ A classic by a woman author: The Englishwoman in America – Isabella Bird

11 / A 20th Century Classic (1900 to 1966): Jesting Pilate – Aldous Huxley.

12 / A classic which has been banned or censored: Tropic of Cancer - Henry Miller

Classic #12

I read this book for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016.

Tropic of Cancer – Henry Miller

This book was first published in 1934 in Paris. Because of the filthy words and alleged pornographic nature, it had to be smuggled into the US until Grove Press in 1961 published it in paperback. The cover was very unassuming and discreet, quite a far cry from the usual lascivious covers of paperbacks of the time. The shy cover did not stop about 50 prosecutors across the US from bringing criminal cases against wholesalers and retailers for hawking the book.

The free association narrative chronicles the adventures of an American expatriate in Paris just after the worldwide economic slump. The shocking contents still curl the hair, to be honest. The dirty words impress, even though we’ve all seen swearing-fests like Full Metal Jacket and Death to Smoochy and heard teenagers at the mall. The frank sex scenes strike me as not so much erotic as desperate and meaningless. The whole mental atmosphere is bedbug-ridden, debauched, and rootless. The women-hating stance of the narrator is hard to take and must have been objectionable even when it was written.

I think the redeeming social value of the novel is its embrace of life. It praises hedonism and quietism in straight-forward prose, with no fine writing, which I think Miller couldn’t have given a damn about. Eat, drink, get as much you-know as you can. What’s going to happen to the world is going to happen whether or not we as individuals do anything about it. Miller doubts human beings, being such half-witted predators and prey, have the kind of cosmic importance that the religious and ancient philosophers teach. Respect people – please. Be fair – who says? Be brave – sure, if it doesn’t get your butt shot off. Be wise – and see what it gets you. He doesn’t want to harm anybody, but he’s not going to worry about what he can’t control as capitalism blows itself up. Miller flips a middle finger to the fall of Western Civilization. It’s the end of the world as we know it. Miller feels fine.

I liked the free-wheeling prose in easy words. I like the attitude of owning nothing and not worrying about it. It's very funny in places. This, on a conversation with a mystic:
He chewed my head off about the "threadsoul," the "causal body," "ablation," the Upanishads, Plotinus, Krishnamurti, "the karmic vestiture of the soul," "the Nirvanic consciousness," all that flapdoodle which blows out of the east like a breath from the plague . . . he had worn himself out, like a coat whose nap is worn off.
Flapdoodle, indeed. Just throw me an antique Americanism and I'm easy to please. I’m going to keep this for re-reading. Recommend it? I think most people who read this book won't like it. But I don't care.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Mount TBR #31

I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2016. The challenge is to read books that you already own.

For once, this blog is timely: the Met currently has on Diane Arbus: In the Beginning.

Diane Arbus: A Biography – Patricia Bosworth

Worth reading for readers interested in the influential photographer. In the late Sixties and early Seventies, Arbus gained notoriety for her pictures that seemed to reveal the psychological states of her subjects. Critics praised and certain kinds of fans were attracted by her photos of unusual people such as circus performers, transvestites, dwarves, and nudists. But she also took stark unsettling photos of the notable (Mae West, Mia Farrow, Twiggy, etc.) and more or less ordinary people like patriots and anti-war protestors, babies and children, families, and platinum blondes with beehive hairdos.  Her studies of identical twins influenced Stanly Kubrick to insert the ghostly twin sisters in The Shining.

Arbus’ wealthy parents thought that the less experience of street life a female child received, the better for her development. Arbus consequently grew up afraid of the unknown and unusual. She knew anxiety and isolation would choke anything like a life so she confronted her fear by being fearless. Protected by cameras slung around her neck, she would charm would-be subjects on the street, in parks, at the automat, or marginal venues such as nudist camps, circus sideshows, backstage at cross-dressing clubs, or group gropes.

She also got in people’s faces. Germaine Greer and Jacqueline Susann’s widower tell stories of Arbus deliberately trying to get a rise out of them to get memorable portraits. I imagine her work comes up in discussions of the ethics of creative endeavors. How far can a photographer play unfair, act unjustly, or disrespect subjects to get a great photo? When covering the cognitively disabled at a Halloween picnic, should, and if so how, the photographer obtain their or their guardians’ legally effective consent to take and release their images? Or is this needless because they are wearing masks and thus anonymous? Or needless because a person's appearance is already public? Do photographic subjects have any claim to fairness, respect, or kindness? Or is the argument – hey, you want a great shot, you wanna say something real, you gotta break some eggs?

Her photography  was driven by her desire to communicate about people that we usually overlook or think about in stereotyped ways. She challenges us to think about how it feels to be somebody else, feeling the unease about inevitable sickness and mortality, but facing a legion of differing circumstances. She said, “I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn't photograph them.”

The quintessential lonely artist, Arbus pursued her vision at all costs, to herself, or to her family, or to her subjects. She had a wide circle among photographers and helpful mentors, but she didn’t pursue success with parties, schmoozing, and networking. She was subject to bleak depressions which exhausted her friends and relatives. Sadness also undermined her dealing with the demands of success and fame (but shockingly little money) on her financial resources, time, energy, and thought. She did not deal with the prospect of ageing gracefully. Although she was in therapy, the sessions seemed not to help. After a couple of serious bouts with hepatitis, her depressions became all consuming, until she took her own life in 1971.

The biography is credible because Bosworth interviewed Arbus' mother and brother (the estate, run by her daughter Doon, did not cooperate), friends, colleagues, models and subjects. There are endnotes and citations that lend this popular biography some scholarly heft. She also uses Arbus’ own notes and interviews she did, for example, with Studs Terkel. This book is as intellectually satisfying as her exceptional biography of Montgomery Clift, which is also well worth reading. Bosworth is particularly informative about scenes I had no idea about such the fashion world of the 1950s and the NYC art scene of the 1960s. People interested in the milieu of Andy Warhol, Richard Avedon, and Robert Frank will get much from this book.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Mount TBR #30

I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2016. The challenge is to read books that you already own.

Appleby’s Answer – Micheal Innes

Like Nicholas Blake, Cyril Hare, Mary Fitt and Josephine Tey, Michael Innes wrote mysteries with bookish people in mind. His vocabulary makes readers run to their dictionary: weedy, embrocation, and inamorato. His grammar will become intricate too. Being a scholar of Conrad, Kipling, Hardy, and Shakespeare, his copious and learned allusions dazzle and intimidate. His Dickensianism depends on farce, satire, faux pas, and zany characters in bizarre situations. All in all, a pleasure for hard-core readers, the kind of people who read Anthony Trollope for fun, the reader who doesn't expect to take all novels seriously.

This one opens with Innes’ poking gentle fun at mystery writers who write cozies like Murder in the Cathedral and Vengeance at the Vicarage. Authoress Priscilla Pringle is gratified to spy a fellow train passenger reading one of her whodunnits. Her curiosity is quickened when the fellow passenger seeks her advice on how to commit murder, blackmail, and arson. She gets the feeling that the passenger indeed has nefarious plans. As the plot unfolds, lucky coincidence takes a hand and enter our series hero John Appleby.

Now a 60-year-old retiree of the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police, Sir John and sculptress wife Judith investigate what may be a complex criminal plot or silly damn malice. Published in 1973, this is very much a late entry in the canon, which began in 1936 with Seven Suspects (aka Death at the President’s Lodging). Appleby’s Answer is a novelette, which is okay with me. With age, I grow impatient with mysteries that seem more wearying and otiose the longer they are. New readers of Michael Innes would do better to test the early ones such as Hamlet, Revenge!, Lament for a Maker or Stop Press; fans of Innes – readers like me – will like regardless.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Mount TBR #29

I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2016. The challenge is to read books that you already own.

Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression – Morris Dickstein

Released in 2009 to wide acclaim, this accessible cultural history explores the response of writers, moviemakers, composers, photographers, dancers, artists and ordinary hard-pressed Americans to the Great Depression. Dickstein takes the title of his book from a 1931 ballad  about feeling joy despite the trials of life such as economic insecurity and instability. This song becomes a metaphor for this study of the role of the arts – creative works that bring joy – in a decade of economic crisis. Cultural creation plays a crucial role in rallying people when times are hard. Remember that when mouth-breathing louts in the legislature want to cut funding to the humanities in public education and state universities.

Dickstein, a literature critic, examines a range of topics such as Dust Bowl photography and writing such as Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, the forgotten man meme, and Art Deco design, to name just a few. He provides fresh interesting takes on Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night, West’s Miss Lonelyhearts, and Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.  He also discusses a variety of movies: the inevitable Frank Capra, Citizen Kane, gangster movies, screwball comedies such as It Happened One Night, and Fred & Ginger dance musicals. His treatment of Busby Berkeley movies made me re-evaluate my previous dismissive attitude (see Remember My Forgotten Man). Dickstein makes persuasive arguments that pop entertainment was not merely escapist but uplifting as well.

The chapters are easy to read because they focus around a theme. One is that the Depression beat up the old meme of “the rugged individualist” so the arts depicted an alternative model of community ideas. Programs in the New Deal represented investments not only in infrastructure and the social safety net but also in the arts such as in photography, post office murals, folklore collecting and travel writing, with an accent on developing an inspirational consciousness and attitudes among ordinary Americans.

Another chapter focuses on the theme of motion, or movement. He sees It Happened One Night, a wacky comedy, as representing high speed, rapid wit, energy and independence that contributed to the  can-do attitude that we associate with old-timey American values. The dancing of Astaire and Rogers “appealed to people whose lives felt pinched, anxious, graceless, and static.”

In a book of almost 600 pages, there are bound to be assertions that a reader finds dubious. For instance, Dickstein posits the characters in The Wizard of Oz experience a disaster in the form of tornado (the Great Depression) and they band together to face visible (cops and bureaucrats) and invisible (economic forces). Well, maybe some people made those connections but it seems a stretch.

Still, I think this is a lively read for readers interested in cultural history or those readers interested in comparing how pop entertainment dealt with prolonged economic insecurity from 1930 to WWII and from 2008 to our present. Dickstein writes clear prose for the thinking reader, not the jargon of Theory for fellow experts.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Mount TBR #28

I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2016. The challenge is to read books that you already own.

The Allingham Case Book – Margery Allingham

Readers and critics place this mystery writer among the best old time cozy writers such as Sayers, Christie, and Tey. Allingham’s series hero was mildly eccentric Albert Campion and his police buddy Charlie Luke. She was a professional writer down to her toes, able to construct solid plots peopled with peculiar characters in the Dickensy tradition.

This is a collection of 18 short stories that were collected in 1969 after her early passing in 1966. Some of the stories feature Campion though mainly as a listener to crime stories told by Luke. In a collection this large, there will be stories any reader likes a lot better than the others. But overall, the stories are charming, ingenious, and readable. Some do not turn on a murder, but a con game or clever theft. Her spirit of fun appeals to me.

The edition I read was the 1972 Macfadden-Bartell one. It has a good introduction written by her widower. But, as is usual with cheapskate publishers,  it gives no indication when the stories were written or what magazines they were published in. Some of them feel pre-WWII, but some are oddly timeless. I know that most readers don’t care, but I like to know what year or era a story is taking place.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Mount TBR Checkpoint #2

Checkpoint #1 (unofficial)

I read these books in the second quarter of 2016 for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2016. The challenge is to read books that you already own.

Checkpoint #2: Click the date to go to the review.

13/ The Case of The Curious Bride – Erle Stanley Gardner

14/ Lincoln and The Civil War - John Hay

15/ Port Hazard – Loren D. Estleman

16/ The Moonstone – Wilkie Collins

17/ Ashes to Ashes – Emma Lathen

18/ Call Me Lucky – Bing Crosby

19/ The Case of the Black Orchids – Rex Stout

20/ Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy – John LeCarre

21/ The Case of the Shoplifter’s Shoe – Erle Stanley Gardner

22/ Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn – David Hajdu

23/ Dark Voyage – Alan Furst

24/ Orley Farm – Anthony Trollope

25/ Red Harvest – Dashiell Hammett

26/ Lincoln Reconsidered– David Donald

27/ Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory - David W. Blight
Post: July 4, Monday

Mount TBR #27

I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2016. The challenge is to read books that you already own.

Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory - David W. Blight

In  paper read before the American Historical Association's annual meeting at Charleston, December 29, 1913, historian W.A. Dunning reminded his learned compeers that, in many cases, “influence on the sequence of human affairs has been exercised, not by what really happened, but by what men erroneously believed to have happened.”

This book examines how African Americans and white Americans on both sides remembered the causes and effects of the Civil War in the fifty years after the conflict ended. Blight analyzes commemoration speeches, newspapers, magazines, memoirs, sermons, novels, letters, government hearings, and autobiographies as contributors to the profound processes and costs of remembering and forgetting the Civil War. How we remembered the war through pop culture, politics, and public rituals, has had a deep effect on the present in which we live.

Blight makes a strong argument that in forging national reconciliation after the Civil War, white Americans basically forgot about justice for African Americans and allowed the South to become exclusive custodian of popular memory on its own white supremacist terms. In America, we reconciled the nation in the 50 years after the war at the expense of the former slaves, at the cost of racial justice. To replace the institution of race-based chattel slavery, we created another kind of racial regime, American apartheid. Jim Crow, the state and local laws enforcing racial segregation, was an invention of the south, at the tacit agreement of the north that was quite content to allow states to run their counties as to civil and political affairs.

Blight’s thesis is that struggles over how to remember the causes of the Civil War and how it transformed our country were associated with whether an emancipatory or racialized reconciliation would shape influence policy and social life and dominate national discourse. Memory is social knowledge that influences how societies allocate resources. What we remember, what we think are facts, influence how we vote, who we hire, where we live, who we approve to marry our kids. Blight points out differences in memory among people in the North and the South; white and black Americans; Plantation School writers of Uncle Remus and intellectuals who supported racial justice; Confederate and Grand Army veterans; and Radical Republicans and states rights' Democrats. For instance, Blight reports instructive points about post-war Frederick Douglass' reaction of nausea in response to Robert E. Lee idolatry.

I can’t recommend this book enough to us readers who are finally waking up from the fog of The Lost Cause notion that has beguiled our romantic, mawkish culture since the last couple decades of the 19th century. Ashley Wilkes, my red Indian ass.

PS: I moderate comments to this blog. If I get any  puke, nonsense, or bilge I will, without remorse, trash them. 

I promise. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

Maigret and the Reluctant Witnesses

Maigret and the Reluctant Witnesses - Georges Simenon

ISBN-10: 0156551594

A century-old family firm once rolled in profits from manufacturing biscuits that Maigret remembers as having tasted of cardboard. Times and public tastes have inevitably changed. The firm should have gone out of business long-ago but for infusions of cash from heiresses the sons of the family have married.

But one night the eldest son, head of the family is murdered in his bed.

When Maigret comes in to investigate he has to fight three problems. The family puts up a wall of silence. Though no charges are pressing, they hire an obnoxious lawyer who seizes every chance to get in Maigret’s face. A young whippersnapper of an examining magistrate involves himself too deeply in the investigation and actually wants to supervise Maigret, who is only two years from retirement.

Generally the mystery is dusty in atmosphere and dour in tone, but the black sheep daughter of the family provides lively relief and not just because she works dressed in a dinner jacket and monocle in nightclub for women of Sapphic and cross-dressing inclinations. While worrying about his advancing age (a marker of the late Maigret novels of the 1960s), Maigret gets to the bottom of the mess.