Sunday, January 14, 2018

Death is Nothing at All

By Henry Scott-Holland

Death is nothing at all. 
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Nothing has happened.

Everything remains exactly as it was.
I am I, and you are you,
and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.

Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity of sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.

Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
There is absolute and unbroken continuity.
What is this death but a negligible accident?

Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval, 
somewhere very near,
just around the corner.

All is well.
Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!

Book Review

Murder on the Orient Express (Hercule Poirot, #10)Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"I have been very fortunate in my profession. I have made enough money to satisfy both my needs and my caprices." Hercule Poirot

First I came across Steve Hayes' fun review of the 1974 movie 'Murder on the Orient Express'( The film is every bit as fun as his review; all 1940s glamour and fluff. Still glowing from the movie I started reading Agatha Christie's book.

The book is very good, of course, but not quite as much fun as the 1974 film(I haven't seen the 2017 film version yet). However, I've learned I'm no great fan of mystery novels. I enjoy the movies and TV shows made from them but the reading not as much. I did read 'And Then There Were None' and liked it a little bit better.

But Agatha Christie fans will love this. It's Hercule Poirot in all of his fastidious glory.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Book Review

Sing, Unburied, SingSing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Before she was more gone than here. Before she started snorting crushed pills. Before all the little mean things she told me gathered and gathered and lodged like grit in a skinned knee."

I heard about this book when my friend Sheryl shared an article on Facebook about NPR's new book club Now Read This and this book by Jesmyn Ward as their first selection. I've never jumped on a book club bandwagon before, but this one resonated and, having just finished a book, I downloaded it and started reading. I'm very glad I did.

Sing, Unburied, Sing centers around a biracial(I kind of hate that word; we're all one race, but people with a black parent and a white parent do have a very different experience than the rest of us) boy growing up in the rural American South. His life is kind of brutal but he's got the strength for it.

While the book centers around Jojo, it's written in first person and each character tells their own story giving the reader insight into all of their strengths and blemishes. The sultry, humid Southern countryside is its own character woven throughout the story so that the people seem to grow out from the land and the land gets its character from the people.
"The music, all violins and cellos, swells in the room, then recedes, like the water out in the Gulf before a big storm."
I loved this book. I think you will, too.

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Friday, December 22, 2017



Before you know what kindness really is 

you must lose things,

feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend

Book Review

O Pioneers!O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"One January day, thirty years ago, the little town of Hanover, anchored on a windy Nebraska tableland, was trying not to be blown away."

Not quite "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times," perhaps, but still, to my mind, one of the great opening lines of a novel. And all of her writing is like that; powerful, evocative, setting a strong image of time, place, and mood in just a few words. Leon Edel said of Willa Cather; "The time will come when she'll be ranked above Hemingway." I prefer Cather to Hemingway. Both are efficient in their prose. But Hemingway wrote wonderful stories about life, while Cather wrote wonderful stories teeming with life.

Like Joseph Conrad's jungle and Herman Melville's sea, Willa Cather's land is, in many ways, the main character of this book. The characters seem to rise up out of it. She gives it her most poetic language:

"Winter has settled down over the Divide again; the season in which Nature recuperates, in which she sinks to sleep between the fruitfulness of autumn and the passion of spring."

But her people are no less three dimensional for their brevity of description. Touching on misogyny and racism, the novel centers around a smart, strong woman with great instincts who helps her family, and by example her community, prosper, but doesn't get bogged down with marriage and the men in her life, which I found very refreshing.

Before this I read her short story "The Enchanted Bluff" and her short novel "My Mortal Enemy" and loved those. I'll definitely be coming back for more by Willa Cather. Most highly recommended.

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Saturday, December 16, 2017

Quote: "What Makes a River..."

“What makes a river so restful to people is that it doesn't have any doubt - it is sure to get where it is going, and it doesn't want to go anywhere else.” Hal Boyle

Friday, December 15, 2017

Book Review

Be Like the Fox: Machiavelli In His WorldBe Like the Fox: Machiavelli In His World by Erica Benner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"...instead of praying for some new holy man to save you, learn the way to Hell in order to steer clear of it yourself." - Niccolo Machiavelli

I became aware of, and interested in, this book when I came across this interview with its author:

Erica Benner asserts in the interview and in the book that Machiavelli was not Machiavellian. Though his oft quoted Prince is How-to-Be-a-Tyrant, he wrote it ironically. Knowing that tyrants always eventually implode, he set out to encourage the current one to implode fasterc so better men could set about establishing a more stable republic.

Ms. Benner has written a sweeping, all encompassing, biography that engaged me like a well written novel. This book deserves to stand with Barbara Tuchman's The Distant Mirror and The Guns of August as important histories that illuminate our present.

Starting in Florence when it was its own republic the book expands to include the Medici, several Popes, the King of France, and the Hapsburg Emperor, all of whom Machiavelli interacted personally with as diplomat for the city he loved and devoted his life to. When he wasn't able to work directly for its welfare he studied the histories of Rome and Greece to learn when states flourished and when they faltered. This scholarship he put into a history of Florence that was a cautionary tale to current and future leaders. When he couldn't get people's attention with history he wrote comedies poking fun at himself, his city, and its leaders.

I love this book. Highly recommended.

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Monday, November 20, 2017

Book Review

Breakfast at Tiffany'sBreakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“’s better to look at the sky than live there. Such an empty place; so vague. Just a country where the thunder goes and things disappear.”

Read Breakfast at Tiffany's. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. It's a short novel(I LOVE short novels) that you could read in a night; a few hours if you're fast. But don't. Like most great writing it's tempting to gobble it up like so much hot fudge sundae. But force yourself to slow down. Digest it slowly, savoring every bite. Read Holly Golightly as Audrey Hepburn spoke with her pauses and stresses.

Holly Golightly is a woman-child with earth-mother people skills and handwriting that's a childish scrawl. She's gone through hell and come out a pure soul who can only be herself. She's totally present in the moment and doesn't hold a grudge. She appreciates all of people, focuses on the good and isn't offended by the flaws.

A friend recommended reading Truman Capote, but I didn't think I was up to In Cold Blood. And it's brilliant. The writing is complete, not sparse like Hemingway. But there's no excess back story that should've been left in the author's notes. The story is a character driven snapshot of these people's lives. Through the author's eyes you fall in love with Holly and through Holly's eyes you love all of the souls who swirl around her. It's not tied up neatly with a bow like the movie, but that's the brilliance of books; they don't have to be. This book isn't more complex as much as it's more colorful. And more satisfying.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Book Review

AwakeningsAwakenings by Oliver Sacks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As World War I drew to a close, besides the great Spanish Flu epidemic there was also an epidemic of a 'sleepy sickness' or encephalitis lethargica in which patients would be unable to stay awake and would sleep for days, weeks, or even months. Often they would seem to recover fully and live full lives for a decade or more only to be struct with a kind of Parkinsonism. They would spend the remaining decades of their lives rigid, catatonic, or a variety of other symptoms that prevented them from interacting normally with their environment. Unable to be cared for by family or even most institutions they ended up in long-term chronic hospitals.

In 1966 Dr. Oliver Sacks joined of Mount Carmel Hospital in New York where over 80 such patients were housed and having their basic needs seen to. Instead of dismissing them or avoiding them Dr. Sacks took an interest in his patients, saw their humanity through their disabilities, and set about doing what he could for them. A new drug, L-DOPA, had possibilities to relieve the Parkinson symptoms. "Awakenings" chronicles the history of the epidemic, Dr. Sacks' and his patients' experience with L-DOPA, and what they learned from their experience.

"Awakenings" is a good example of what Maria Popova calls "the everythingness of everything" of Oliver Sacks. He saw his patients as complete people, not the sum of their symptoms. He chronicles how everything affects their responses to their disease: the hospital environment of space, light and air, hospital policies, family relationships, the emotional investment the staff made in the patients, and the patients' own curiosity and humor towards themselves and their lives. He discusses many theories of people and events, not just medical theories but also physics and the catastrophic threshold of chaos theory.

My take away from the book, besides wishing very much to have a doctor like him who listens and observes and is interested in everything affecting my life, is how everything has a direct effect on peoples' lives; space, light, air, love, respect, support. And how our tendency to want to compartmentalize people's lives and expect exemplary behavior under horrible circumstances has no basis in reality.

Highly recommended

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