Showing posts from June, 2012

Truth Like the Sun by Jim Lynch: A review

"I don't have a plan," Elvis volunteers. "I just have a feel. Trying to get a better understanding of myself. The mistakes I make always come back around.  Truth is like the sun, isn't it?  You can shut it out for a time, but it ain't going away." That snippet from a conversation between Roger Morgan and Elvis Presley in September 1962 gives Jim Lynch's novel its title and is a quick summation of the plot. Indeed, it could be the summation of the plot of many novels and many lives. The mistakes that we make always seem to come back around, often when we least expect them. The place is Seattle. The novel switches back and forth between the time of the World's Fair that took place there in 1962 and the year 2001, a time of other momentous events. The man most responsible for the Fair's success was Roger Morgan, the mastermind of it all. It was an event that transformed the city from a sleepy outpost of the past to a place that embraced the


Just because you've been so good this week, here is some Friday cat frivolity for you.

The conflicted court

The Supreme Court of the United States has appeared less and less supreme in recent years. Not that its power to interpret the Constitution has been impaired but that its interpretations have seemed more and more politically partisan and less and less actually based on the rule of law. Two high points of this politically partisan court are usually cited by its critics as evidence of its right-wing bias. The first, of course, was the Bush v. Gore decision in 2000 that stopped the count of votes in Florida and substituted the Court's own vote for the popular vote of the people in that year's presidential election. The reasoning behind this decision was so flawed and convoluted that even those who wrote it (Scalia) stipulated that it could not be cited as precedent in any other case. The second was the notorious Citizens United decision which declared that corporations have the same rights as people! In fact, in the view of the Court, they have even more rights than people be

Hillary Clinton, my hero

There is a long and very positive piece in The New York Times Magazine about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton entitled "Hillary Clinton's Last Tour as a Rock-Star Diplomat."   I read it with some avidity since Clinton is a hero of mine, one of the people that I admire most in the world. I am certainly not unique in being a Clinton-admirer. She is the most admired woman in this country, topping that list year after year and is arguably the most admired woman in the world. There are good reasons for all that admiration. Wherever life has taken her, Clinton has always worked to make the world a better, safer, more equitable place, especially for women and children. She has taken up the cause of women and children around the world and made elevating their status a prime aim of her professional life. By all accounts, she has been relentless in pursuing her passion for women's and children's rights. Everywhere that she goes in the world as Secretary of State -

The Spellmans Strike Again by Lisa Lutz: A review

The wacky family of San Francisco private investigators is back in #4 of Lisa Lutz's Spellmans series. Nothing has changed. They are just as quirky and paranoid as ever. They still spend way more time investigating each other than they do working for paying customers. No wonder the business is sinking into the toilet. Daughter Isabel (Izzy) has finally committed to the family business and will take it over when her parents retire. If there is anything left to take over by then.  Pater familias  Al has lost a chunk of money in the stock market and there don't seem to be enough paying customers to put the family business back on a firm financial footing. What to do? Meanwhile, Isabel's romantic relationship with bartender Connor seems to be failing as well and her mother is blackmailing her into dating at least one lawyer or other professional each week because she's convinced that Connor is wrong for her. Son David seems to be faring better in the romance departm

Silent Sunday: Summer beauty


Canada by Richard Ford: A review

Dell Parsons, a 66-year-old soon-to-be-retired high school English teacher in Canada, looks back at his life and tells its story. In particular, he tells of the two defining and cataclysmic events that happened when he was fifteen and that set him on the road to his life that would become. Parsons' voice is a flat, laconic, stream-of-consciousness type story-telling that is deceptively simple. You read a sentence, a paragraph, a page, and think, "Huh, not much there." Then you read on and suddenly it grabs you and you begin to see the significance of that bland sentence pages back and just how it fits into a whole that is greater than its parts. This is the work of a writer who knows what he is doing, who is, in short, a master of his craft. The first paragraph of Richard Ford's book, Dell Parsons' story, is a hook. First, I'll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later. The robbery is the more important

The body as universe

Scientists say that there are 100 trillion microbes that call our bodies home. These are creatures, bacteria, that have co-evolved with us and that work to keep our bodies healthy. Because our healthy body is in their self-interest.  So what happens when we take antibiotics? The medicine that may kill what is making us sick also kills millions, or billions, or trillions of those friendly bacteria that are our allies. It is a virtual holocaust which may, in fact, leave our bodies prey to opportunistic viruses or bacteria because our army of defenders has been laid low. Our body's population of microscopic creatures is called the "microbiome" and I read an interesting article about it in The New York Times earlier this week. The article attained a certain relevance for me because I was getting sick at the time. It started with sinus pressure which then drained and gave me an inflamed and irritated and extremely painful throat. Fortunately, after 24 hours of that, my

Rowan Oak

During our visit to Mississippi last week, we spent a day in historic Oxford, home of William Faulkner and many other quite famous writers through the years. We visited the wonderful Square Books bookstore on the town square.  It's an outstanding independent bookstore that carries a wide variety of books but specializes in Mississippi authors. There are a lot of them. While at the store, I purchased a couple of autographed first editions of John Grisham and Ace Atkins, as well as two paperback mysteries by Carolyn Haines, a writer whom I had not read. My "to be read" shelves are beginning to groan under the weight of all the books there. We could not be in Oxford, of course, without visiting the home of the most famous Mississippi author of them all, William Faulkner, so we headed out to the house called Rowan Oak. Faulkner had bought the house, a primitive Greek Revival structure that was built in the 1840s, in 1930 and had named it after the rowan tree, a symbol of

Mister Rogers lives!

My children grew up in Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Never was there a better neighbor for young children Fred Rogers' passed from our physical presence a few years ago, but his spirit lingers in the hearts and minds of all those children he influenced and in reruns of his show that are still being broadcast somewhere. And on YouTube. Someone has done a remix featuring Mister Rogers and it has been making the rounds of the Internet recently. Have you seen it? Mister Rogers - still teaching us to grow things in the gardens of our mind.

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel: A review

I took Hilary Mantel with me on vacation last week. She proved to be a fascinating companion. I had read Wolf Hall , her Man Booker Prize-winner, in 2010 and enjoyed it immensely, even though I was sometimes annoyed by Mantel's eccentric punctuation and her often failing to enumerate who "he" was in her telling of the story. Usually, it would be Thomas Cromwell, but not always. It was sometimes confusing. In Bring Up the Bodies , she seems to have addressed my quibbles or maybe I've just gotten used to her style of writing. Maybe a little bit of both. This book follows the downfall and execution of Anne Boleyn and the Master Secretary Thomas Cromwell's part in it. Cromwell was Henry VIII's right-hand man. Henry spoke his desire and Cromwell made it reality. When he wanted to get rid of his first wife Katherine so that he could marry his inamorata Anne, Cromwell made it possible. But at the opening of this book in 1535, Anne and Henry have been married for

Vacation time

For the next week, I'm going to be on the road. Blogging will be sporadic.

Wordless Wednesday: Beauty in waiting - Giant Swallowtail caterpillar


Truth, justice, and the American Way

There are a lot of bad things going on in this country. In all too many instances, our government "of the people" is actually government "of the rich people and rich corporations" as the super-rich have bought and paid for the politicians who run the government. We have become an oligarchy of the rich and this is fully sanctioned by the Supreme Court which is supposed to uphold the Constitution and support our individual rights. The Roberts Court, though, is simply an extension of the oligarchy. Moreover, in many states, the oligarchs are attempting to steal the presidential election by preemptively removing from the rolls of eligible voters Democrats and minority voters who presumably would not be voting for their preferred candidate. They claim widespread voter fraud, but the only noticeable fraud is that perpetrated by these states in trying to deny their citizens their rights. These are examples to make any American who loves this country and what it has sto

Pompeii by Robert Harris: A review

With the passage of time, history often gives way to legend and legend becomes myth. Thus it is with the story of what happened to Pompeii in 79 C.E. It is so far removed from us that it  seems  almost a myth. And yet it did happen. Vesuvius exploded and erupted and covered the prosperous cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum and, in the process, preserved them so that we can actually see the incredible riches that existed there as well as the casts of the bodies of people and animals that died there during those horrible days of late August. Unlike Atlantis, we can actually walk the streets of Pompeii. It is no myth. The story of Pompeii has long fascinated me. I well remember the first book I ever read about it,  The Last Days of Pompeii  by Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, he of "It was a dark and stormy night" fame. I was sixteen years old at the time, a very impressionable time in my life and the book certainly made its mark on me for life.  More recently, I have also read a co

The Muppet Personality Theory

The wonderful Dahlia Lithwick of the online magazine Slate has a very perceptive and funny piece in the magazine today called "Chaos Theory: A Unified Theory of Muppet Types."   It's worth your time to go and read the whole article but here's the capsule version. Lithwick maintains that human beings can be categorized as either one of two kinds of Muppets: Chaos Muppets or Order Muppets. As one who grew up with my children as they watched Sesame Street and learned their ABCs, colors, numbers, shapes, and much else from the Muppets, I have to say that her theory makes a whole lot of sense to me. Chaos Muppets are out-of-control, emotional, volatile. They tend toward the blue and fuzzy. They make their way through life in a swirling maelstrom of food crumbs, small flaming objects, and the letter C. Cookie Monster, Ernie, Grover, Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and—paradigmatically—Animal, are all Chaos Muppets. Zelda Fitzgerald was a Chaos Muppet. So, I must tell you, i

Dorchester Terrace by Anne Perry: A review

I have been reading Anne Perry's Victorian mysteries for so long that there is little mystery left to her stories for me. In this latest Thomas and Charlotte Pitt mystery, I had surmised by about a hundred pages in who the villain(s) of the piece were going to be. I read the rest of the book in light of my theory, which did, in fact, turn out to be right.  Figuring out the puzzle early on did not necessarily lessen the pleasure of the read. Actually, there is a certain satisfaction in feeling smarter than the "detectives" and I probably smirked all the way through the last third of the book as Pitt finally caught up to me and began to figure things out. This book features most of the characters readers have come to know so well in the previous 26 books in the series. We have the elegant Aunt Vespasia whose society connections always play a role in the solution of the Pitt mysteries. We have the sister Emily and her husband Jack Radley, now a minor official in the Fore

Wordless Wednesday: Snowy Egret


March Violets by Philip Kerr: A review

March Violets  are those in Germany of the mid 1930s who have lately become a part of the National Socialist movement as a matter of convenience or perhaps even recent conviction. They are spoken of derisively throughout this first in the series of noir mysteries featuring German gumshoe Bernhard Gunther. My husband is a Bernie Gunther fan and has long recommended these books to me. I was hesitant to read them because I OD'd on Hitler and Nazi references long, long ago. I could happily live the rest of my life without ever enduring another one. So that was one strike against this book which is heavily invested in the Nazi culture. Bernie is not a Nazi and is not at all sympathetic with their philosophy, but he is a German and must live in a Berlin that is dominated by them; a Berlin that is hazardous to the health of anyone who does not give what the Nazis believe is due deference to all their institutions. In one instance, Kerr writes of Bernie meeting a torchlight parade at nig

The end of the Game - until next spring

Okay, the second season of Game of Thrones on HBO is over, freeing up an hour of my time on Sunday nights to do...something else. At least until another HBO show comes along to claim my attention. It won't be True Blood which takes the time slot next Sunday. Not my cup of blood - er, tea. I had wondered how the writers were going to manage to squeeze all of the remaining action of the book into one episode and the answer was, they didn't. This season the writers and directors made significant changes to the stories of many of the characters . Moreover, some characters and several of the events of the book were dropped altogether. I suppose at least some of that was necessary to fit the time frames allowed by ten one-hour episodes. Which brings up another point. The books they are dramatizing are very, very long, and I really would like to see them expand the seasons a bit more, maybe to twelve episodes, so that there is a bit more time to spend on each character's stor

Silent Sunday: Bird on a wire


The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta: A review

I am old enough to remember that wonderful sci-fi television series  The Twilight Zone . It was one of the most original and imaginative series of its time and I can't think of any television series since that has surpassed it. For those of us who experienced it first-hand, it has certainly stood the test of time.  The Leftovers  could have been an episode on  The Twilight Zone  and that is high praise indeed. Tom Perrotta imagines a world in which millions of people have suddenly vanished without a trace. Like puffs of smoke on the wind, they have "Suddenly Departed." This rapture-like event, however, does not seem to have had a religious component, although some of those who are left behind, the "Leftovers," try to impose one on it. The people who disappeared were of every possible religious faith or lack of faith and seemingly every possible state of morality and from every corner of the earth. As time passes - three years at the telling of this story - t

As long as Simon has a cat, there is hope for the world

Have you read today's headlines? The stock market is crashing. The economic recovery is stalling. Syria is slaughtering its own citizens and no one seems capable of stopping them. The planet is heating up. The politicians are up to their usual a**holery. My favorite baseball team has lost six games in a row!  And to top it off, there's only one more episode of Game of Thrones on HBO and how the heck are they going to squeeze all the remaining action of the book into one episode ? What can offer us relief from this unremitting avalanche of bad, bad news? It's time to deploy the big guns. Yes, time for another entry of "Simon's Cat." Happy weekend!