#amreading: HIS FINAL BATTLE, THE LAST MONTHS OF FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT, by Joseph Lelyveld

Skimmed the last 50 or so pages of Submission. Fascinating, densely written. After the President of France is elected, there’s endless amounts of conjecture about Sharia Law. The last paragraph of the novel was brilliant.

And then she began the next book on her reading list, His Final Battle: The Last Months of Franklin Roosevelt. Self loves World War II history books.  A really good World War II history book can light up her life in a myriad ways. This one had her completely hooked, from page 1.

Self doesn’t know why, but she was completely ready for this book. Against the panoply of war is a sick man who just happens to be the President of the United States. The curtain came “down abruptly” on Franklin Roosevelt in the twelfth week of his fourth term, “on a balmy April afternoon in Warm Springs, Georgia.”

Roosevelt’s fourth term was “the third shortest presidential term” in U.S. history. Shortest was William Henry Harrison’s 32 days, and then the six weeks of Abraham Lincoln’s second term. Roosevelt was, to borrow a term from author Joseph Lelyveld, “plaintive” in his last months.

p. 12:

Mortality is the ultimate reason for feeling plaintive. In our waning hours, we get on with our tasks. Roosevelt was racing, as we all are, against time. If we want to take him in his full measure, we need to see him in his full context, in the round, not just as a dying man in what we may glibly call “denial,” but as an actor playing out his role, simply because he found no alternative; in that sense, a man touched by the heroic. Of all his responsibilities as the war headed into its climactic last year, calculating the date of his own terminus was not necessarily, in that clamorous time, the most pressing.

In other words, people, it’s not always about you. What a contrast to 45, who manages to make even hurricanes seem like personal affronts. 45 addressing the people of Puerto Rico: “Personally, I’m having a horrible day.” Not sure if he said this before or after he threw Brawny paper towels at a roomful of people. Self still doesn’t understand the significance of throwing paper towels to people who are recovering from what @RealRBHJr calls “Big Water”. (A joke, maybe?)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The Extraordinary Life and Momentous Times of J. M. W. Turner

Self began Franny Moyle’s hefty biography of Turner a few days ago.

It begins at the end of his life, which is a little sad. The man lived with his common-law wife in a grotty part of London and no one knew he was Turner. Neighbors thought he was a retired sea captain and called him “Piggy.”

Come to think of it, self hates any biography that begins at the end. She thinks it’s a little bit of a cheat. But that’s the only quibble she has about the book so far.

She was in London just a month ago. Can you believe it? She went to the British Museum and saw an exhibit, Places of the Mind, British Watercolour Landscapes, 1850 – 1950: celebrating “the work of British landscape artists during the hundred years following the death of J. M. W. Turner.”

She’s not reading the Turner biography because of that exhibit. She follows a strict order in her reading list. She read about the biography two years ago, and it took her all this time to work through the books that came before. It’s amazing that she’s reading about Turner when the watercolour exhibit is still so fresh in her mind.

More amazing: the Mendocino Art Center contacted her about submitting a description for the writing workshop she’s teaching there, early next year. The Art Center has a lot of visual artists, and that’s what it’s known for. There’s synchronicity in the universe now.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Three to Add to the Reading List

The first book is one which self initially approached with skepticism because the publisher is an academic press (Oxford) and she still remembers how they mangled a biography of Aung San Suu Kyi and doesn’t think she has forgiven them yet.

But anyhoo, there’s a new biography of Angela Carter (and gives cause to the 13 March 2017 New Yorker to share the interesting fact that she has been “pigeonholed as a white witch”) and self wants to give The Invention of Angela Carter, by Edmund Gordon, a go.

The next two books she’s adding to her reading list are from the Briefly Noted section (other books in the Briefly Noted section: The Schooldays of Jesus, by J. M. Coetzee, and A Book of American Martyrs, by Joyce Carol Oates): a biography called, simply, Jonathan Swift, by John Stubbs, and This Close to Happy, Daphne Merkin’s “memoir of struggling with depression.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Book # 5: Unit # 1, Tyrone Guthrie Centre

DSCN1181

Since Edward Gibbon devoted so much time to describing monastic life in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, self is exceedingly curious about the cloistered life of nuns (which received almost no attention from Gibbon)

Lo and behold, while self continues her exploration of her unit’s bookshelves, she comes across a book about a nun, Dame Laurentia, who became an Abbess.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Books About Eleanor Roosevelt: Reviewed in The Economist, 29 October 2016

  • Eleanor Roosevelt: The War Years and After, 1939 – 1962, by Blanche Wiesen Cook (Viking)
  • Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair That Shaped a First Lady, by Susan Quinn (Penguin)

It is tempting to think that in a different era, Eleanor Roosevelt could have become president of the United States. Widely loved, the longest-serving First Lady was on the right side of history on virtually every subject including civil rights, acceptance of European refugees and the need to end Empires.


“She understood his needs, forgave his transgressions, buried her jealousies, and embarked on her own independent career . . .  FDR encouraged her independence and when he silenced her did so for reasons of state.”

Eleanor Roosevelt: The War Years and After, by Blanche Wiesen Cook

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

GHOST SOLDIERS: Almost Done

Her next book after Ghost Soldiers is a biography of Jesse James by T. J. Stiles. Then, she’ll move back into fiction with Kate Walbert’s A Short History of Women. With any luck, she’ll get to Walbert’s book just in time for the elections.

She watched all three debates. This last one was potent: there was one certifiable meltdown. When a man says live, on camera, to an audience of millions, that his opponent is “a nasty woman,” you can forget everything he said earlier about respecting women. He could have said “a nasty person.” But he said: nasty woman. As if her gender made it even more nasty (And you, sir, are a nasty man!)

Someone tweeted that he thought it would be a good idea to re-name all public restrooms to read: BAD HOMBRES and NASTY WOMEN.

All those in favor, say “Aye!”

Anyhoo, Back to Ghost Soldiers. The raid to free the American POWs in Cabanatuan has a very surreal quality. First of all, the POWs do not seem impressed by the American Rangers who’ve just arrived to rescue them, and are reluctant to leave the camp. Quite a few of them have to be actually kicked in the rear end because the Rangers are on a very tight program.

After the camp is completely emptied, the leader of the raid does a last check of each and every barrack. He’s all alone. Satisfied that the Americans haven’t missed a single POW, he fires a flare into the sky, visible for miles, to signal the end of the mission.

But they do leave one man behind. A British POW who’d gone deaf, who was using a latrine, who didn’t come out until everyone — Rangers AND POWs had left. The operation had to have taken at least an hour, so — the man was constipated?

There is also an American Ranger who is shot by one of his own men (by accident), from point-blank range. And this Ranger can’t stop saying, to his last breath, “By my own men. By my own men.” The men around him try to comfort him by assuring him that he was shot by a Japanese, but he refuses to believe it and just keeps repeating, in absolute horror, “By my own men.” Until he dies.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Wall Street Journal Books, July 23 – 24, 2016

Self found a couple of books to add to her reading list while perusing the Books section of the July 23 – July 24 Wall Street Journal:

  • Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln, by Charles B. Strozier (Columbia)
  • The Castle of Kings, by Oliver Potzsch (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) — historical fiction, set in 1524 Germany
  • Abahn Sabana David, by Marguerite Duras (Open Letter) — “minimal, dream-like setting” and narration that has “the bluntness of stage directions.” Self adores Duras.
  • The Brotherhood of the Wheel, by R. S. Belcher (Tor) — Resourceful residents of a small town use a HEXapp — an actual HEXapp! LOL LOL — to show the most recent sightings of the local spectre!
  • Richard Cohen, literary critic and Tolstoy expert, shares his favorite British crime novels: The Cask, by Freeman Wills Crofts; Tragedy at Law, by Cyril Hare; Reputation for a Song, by Edward Grierson; The Shortest Way to Hades, by Sarah Caudwell
  • Brazillionaires, by Alex Cuadros (Spiegel & Grau) — nonfiction by a journalist

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

You May Share My Bed, Mr. A. Lincoln

from the Books section of the Wall Street Journal, Saturday/Sunday, 23 July – 24 July:

On the day Joshua Fry Speed met the 28-year-old Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln was destitute and looking for a place to stay in Springfield, ILL. Speed, scion of “a wealthy Louisiana plantation family”, owned a dry-goods store. “On impulse,” Speed invited “this newcomer to share his his double bed in the room above his store, rent to be discussed later.”

In Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln, biographer Charles B. Strozier “maintains that , at a time when only ‘one percent’ had beds, or for that matter bedrooms . . .  Speed’s offer carried none of the sexualized connotations it would exude today . . .  For Lincoln, who had shared beds with other males throughout his impoverished life, Speed’s offer promised company at night, warmth in winter and split expenses year-round . . .  Of course they tossed and turned against each other every evening, but when they were awake they talked about navigating ‘the uncertain world of women.’ ”

A book about Abraham Lincoln’s sleeping arrangements during his young manhood? What next? Self is so there.

Nice review by Harold Holzer.

Stay tuned.

Preparing for the New Year

An excerpt from Song Lyric # 43 by 12th century Chinese poet Li Qingzhao:

I’ve heard spring is still lovely at Twin Streams,
I’d like to go boating in a light skiff there
But fear the tiny grasshopper boats they have
Would not carry
Such a quantity of sorrow.

A book by Stanford Professor of Sinology Ronald Egan, The Burden of Female Talent: The Poet Li Qingzhao and Her History in China (Harvard Asia Center, 2013), analyzes her legacy.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Pile of Stuff: The New York Review of Books, 26 September 2013

Oh why oh why had self mis-laid this issue. Apparently it lay discarded in self’s clothes closet for over a year. And today is a busy busy Monday (Mondays always are), but she just can’t help perusing the issue. And it turns out, there are so many interesting reviews!

Without further ado, here are a couple of books reviewed in the 26 September 2013 issue of The New York Review of Books:

  • The Girl Who Loved Camellias: The Life and Legend of Marie Duplessis, by Julie Kavanagh (Knopf, $27.95)
  • The Lady of the Camellias, by Alexandre Dumas fils, translated from the French by Liesl Schillinger (Penguin, $16.00)
  • The Force of Things: A Marriage in War and Peace, by Alexander Stille (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28.00)
  • The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson (Random House, $15.00)
  • Calcutta: Two Years in the City, by Amit Chaudhuri (Knopf, $25.95)
  • Subtle Bodies, by Norman Rush (Knopf, $26.95)
  • Mortals, by Norman Rush
  • Whites, by Norman Rush
  • The Mystery of the Hanging Garden of Babylon: An Elusive World Wonder Traced, by Stephanie Dalley (Oxford University Press, $34.95)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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