Friday, July 21, 2017

Emily Dickinson challenges me, you, and orthodoxy

Here is something from Emily Dickinson. 

I will call it a carpe diem warning.
Tell me your understanding of the poem.

The Blunder is in estimate.

Eternity is there
We say, as of a Station --
Meanwhile he is so near

He joins me in my Ramble --

Divides abode with me --
No Friend have I that so persists
As this Eternity.


Postscript: I will be off the air for a while. 

Papa's birthday and his qualified praise of Twain

First there is this from The Writer's Almanac:

     It's the birthday of writer Ernest Hemingway (books by this author), born in Oak Park, Illinois (1899). In July of 1925, he visited Pamplona, Spain, for the Festival of San Fermín, a weeklong celebration that included bullfighting and the famous Running of the Bulls. Hemingway and his wife arrived a few days early to get tickets, and he needed a way to spend the time; so on this day in 1925, on his 26th birthday, he began his first novel. He said, "Everybody my age had written a novel and I was still having a difficult time writing a paragraph." He wrote in the days leading up to the celebration, he wrote in bed every morning during the week of the festival, and when it was over, he continued writing. He wrote in hotels and bars in Madrid and the French town of Hendaye, and in an apartment in Paris. He finished the first draft just two months after he had begun writing. He told a friend years later: "Toward the last it was like a fever. Toward the last I was sprinting, like in a bicycle race, and I did not want to lose my speed making love or anything else."

     He titled his novel Fiesta, then revised the title to The Lost Generation, and finally to The Sun Also Rises. He sent the manuscript to Scribner's, where it was picked up by the editor Maxwell Perkins. Perkins wrote to Hemingway: "The Sun Also Rises seems to me a most extraordinary performance. No one could conceive a book with more life in it." The Sun Also Rises was published in 1926, and Perkins became Hemingway's lifelong editor. The novel got a good review in The New York Times and other New York newspapers, but was generally disliked in the rest of the country, including in Hemingway's hometown of Chicago. His own mother wrote to him: "It is a doubtful honor to produce one of the filthiest books of the year. [...] Every page fills me with a sick loathing - if I should pick up a book by any other writer with such words in it, I should read no more - but pitch it in the fire."
     Perkins regularly defended Hemingway's writing to his boss, Charles Scribner. For Hemingway's second novel, A Farewell to Arms (1929), Perkins had a conference with Scribner to discuss Hemingway's use of four-letter words. Perkins himself did not use obscene language - his strongest expression was "My God," and even that was rare. Although he was defending Hemingway's right to use four-letter words, Perkins was so uncomfortable saying them that he had to write them on a memo pad for Scribner. In the end, three words were not included in A Farewell to Arms, but replaced by dashes. Hemingway wrote those words back in by hand on a couple of copies, including one that he gave to James Joyce. A Farewell to Arms became a best-seller, selling 100,000 copies in its first year, and Hemingway was able to make a living writing fiction.

And there is this from Ernest Hemingway:

"The good writers are Henry James, Stephen Crane, and Mark Twain. That's not the order they're good in. There is no order for good writers.... All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called 'Huckleberry Finn.' If you read it you must stop where the Nigger Jim is stolen from the boys. That is the real end. The rest is just cheating. But it's the best book we've had. All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since." -- from Ernest Hemingway, "The Green Hills of Africa" (1934).

Finally there is this postscript:

I have plenty of misgivings about Ernest Hemingway's writing and life, but I will admit that his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, ranks as one of my all-time favorite's in literature, and I think Perkins was correct about the novel's qualities; as for the rest of Hemingway's novels and stories, I have not much enthusiasm. However, as for his praise of Twain's novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, he might be right about the "real end" of the novel; I've never been comfortable with Tom Sawyer's late-action entry and Twain's deus-ex-machina ending, so Hemingway's assessment strikes me as an astute criticism. When I next read Huck Finn, I might stop reading at the "real end." Moreover, I should read more by all three "good writers" -- James and Crane in addition to Twain. But I might also return to poets of that same era; Emily Dickinson is the obvious (and only?) choice.

* * * * *

Now, as for my inevitable question(s) at the end of every posting, I have a surprise for you: I have no question(s). But the door is open, and you are invited to comment on Hemingway, Twain, or anything else that suits your fancy.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Going abroad as an innocent with Twain

First there is this from The Writer's Almanac:

On this day in 1869, Innocents Abroad was published, firmly establishing its author, Mark Twain (books by this author), as a serious writer. The book, Twain's second, was an outgrowth of an assignment from a California newspaper, which had sent him around the world to write travel sketches. It remained his best-selling book throughout his lifetime.

And then there is this personal postscript:

I suppose no other writer is more American than Twain. And I suppose no self respecting champion of American literature can avoid reading everything written by Twain. Moreover, I suppose any reader of Twain should also read about Twain. So, I guess I have no choice. I should read more by and about Twain. Perhaps I should start with Innocents Abroad. So I will. And all of this leads to an invitation: 

Tell me about your favorite experiences when reading anything by or about Twain.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Five burning convictions about literary classics

So, with some time on my hands this afternoon, after my unsatisfying encounter with Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility (which you can read about in my previous posting), I just read the opening pages of a book that for some time has been collecting dust on my shelves, Invitation to the Classics: A Guide to Books You've Always Wanted to Read (edited by Louise Cowan and Os Guinness), and I took note of "five burning convictions about the worth of the classics [in literature] and our responsibility to them." It is probably appropriate to note that the editors of the book are writing with a specific perspective, and they respond to literary classics from that perspective: they are followers of Christ. I will not be surprised if that point of view affects some readers' acceptance of or interest in what follows.

Well, here are the "five burning convictions." 

1. First, literary classics [many of them recommended and discussed in some detail in the 365 pages of the book] represent "the supreme value of words and their inescapable importance for the life of the mind and the human spirit."

2. Second, we "return to first things" when "we recognize the classics' lyric beauty, their aching tragedy, their probing intellectual inquiry, their profound imagination, sympathy, and wisdom."

3. Third, the "classics have an intrinsic human, cultural, and spiritual worth"; moreover, the classics represent a "great conversation" involving "the primary themes of life and death, right and wrong, triumph and tragedy, which we all confront in being human."

4. Fourth, in our contemporary society, "it is time and past time for a new championing of the great literary classics of our Western civilization."

5. Fifth, readers of literary classics, especially "individual followers of Christ and the church of Christ as a whole have a unique responsibility to guard, enjoy, and pass them on [...] because they are privileged to share the faith that animated the majority of these masterworks." 

* * * * *

There you have the "five burning convictions." Tell me your thoughts about the editors' arguments. As for my thoughts, perhaps those will become more clear in our discussions.

Sense and Sensibility -- a reader's response

First of all, this is not a review of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensbility.  It is instead a reader's response, one in which I hope to avoid any "plot spoilers."

So, subjective and brief, and probably not well received by some die-hard Austen readers, here is my response:

While I admire the author's good sense and sensibility in her elaborate narrative style and vivid characterizations, I come away from the reading experience disappointed in having spent time reading a novel in which love, marriage, and money dominate Austen's focus, and I arrived at the end not particularly interested in either Elinor's or Marianne's outcomes.

Now here comes the paradox: if anyone is interested in reading a well-crafted 19th century English novel, Sense and Sensibility is a first-rate choice; however, if readers would rather avoid reading all about good-hearted, single-minded, happy-endings characters whose lives are nearly too much determined by the cruelty, selfishness, and insolence of other characters, then avoid reading Austen's early novel. 

Perhaps I did not recognize and appreciate the ironies in Austen's novel. Perhaps I neither understand nor appreciate the society about which Austen writes. Indeed, perhaps I am an insensitive lout who lacks the good sense and sensibility needed to be an enthusiastic and appreciative Austen reader. 

Now, as I wait for the Austen fans' attacks upon my insensitive and superficial response, I will think about my next reading selection(s). I might give Austen another chance, but I will have to be in a different frame of mind before doing so.

So, Austen readers, it's now your turn.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Miscellaneous musings from an over-the-hill reader

Here are some odds-n-ends (perhaps) worth pondering.

Today is William Makepeace Thackeray's birthday. Read more here.

Today is the birthday of Clifford Odets. Read more here.

Jessamyn West's birthday is celebrated today. Read more here.

Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf was published on the 18th of July in 1925. Read more here.

And, just to wrap everything up here, I must note that Jane Austen died on 18 July 1817. Read more about her life and work at this Wikipedia article.

Now, here is a personal postscript:

I was reading the opening chapters in Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility last night, and in an abbreviated reader-response statement, I offer you two words that encapsulate my assessment of the characters -- money and selfish.

Oh, I could offer many more words -- verbose, formal, detached, pointless, irrelevant, and boring -- but those words and anything I could say at this point about the novel must be combined to with two other words (both of which I need to keep in mind as I continue reading) -- irony and sensibility.

Well, now it's your turn.
Perhaps my miscellaneous links and musings will pique your interest.
So, fire away.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Jane Austen 200 years ago (18 July) and today (17 July)

First there is this.

And there is this: 

After too many postponements, I am prepared now to read (and in several cases reread) Jane Austen's novels, and I begin this evening, one day before the 200th anniversary of her death. 

I begin at the beginning with Sense and Sensibility even though three other novels are contenders for my favorite. I will say more about my favorite(s) in future postings. As a matter of fact, the next several weeks here will be all about Jane Austen and her novels. Perhaps you will also be reading something by Austen. 

Now, though, I invite you to tell me about your favorites by Miss Austen.

Gardner, Mason, lawyers, detectives, and questions

First there is this from The Writer's Almanac:

     It's the birthday of detective novelist Erle Stanley Gardner (books by this author), born in Malden, Massachusetts (1889). He earned money through high school by participating in illegal boxing matches. He went on to Valparaiso University to study law, but after only a month, he got kicked out for boxing. So he studied law on his own, and he passed the California bar exam when he was 21. He went to his swearing-in ceremony after a boxing match, and said that he was probably the only attorney in the state to be sworn in with two black eyes.
     He liked working as a lawyer, but it wasn't enough to keep him busy, so he started writing detective fiction for pulp magazines. In 1933, he published The Case of the Velvet Claws, his first novel featuring detective and defense attorney Perry Mason, who always pulled through and won cases for the underdogs. Gardner wrote more than 80 Perry Mason novels, and his books have sold more than 300 million copies.
     He said: "I still have vivid recollections of putting in day after day of trying a case in front of a jury, which is one of the most exhausting activities I know about, dashing up to the law library after court had adjourned to spend three or four hours looking up law points with which I could trap my adversary the next day, then going home, grabbing a glass of milk with an egg in it, dashing upstairs to my study, ripping the cover off my typewriter, noticing it was 11:30 p.m. and settling down with grim determination to get a plot for a story. Along about 3 in the morning I would have completed my daily stint of a 4,000-word minimum and would crawl into bed."


And in my personal postscript, because of Gardner's story, I have two observations and two questions?

(1) It's interesting that the article describes Perry Mason as both detective and defense attorney. The description leads me to stretch things a bit with my question. So, who are your favorite fictional detectives who had primary careers in something other than crime detection?

(2) It's also interesting that Gardner, at least for a while, worked as a lawyer while he wrote stories in his "spare time." See the linked Wikipedia article (click on the author's name at the beginning), and read details about Gardner's career trajectory and personal life. Well, Gardner's time as both lawyer and writer leads me to a question. Can you come up with names of other famous writers who had primary careers and worked as writers in their "spare time"?

"An author's pen must write of the acts of God"

First there is this from The Writer's Almanac:

     It's the birthday of fiction writer Shmuel Yosef Agnon (books by this author), who wrote under S.Y. Agnon, born in Galicia in what is now Ukraine (1888). He spoke Yiddish at home, and read Hebrew and German.
     When he was 20 years old, he moved to what is now Israel, and he started publishing stories. He moved back to Germany for a few years, where a prosperous Jewish businessman named Salman Schocken took Agnon under his wing and gave him a monthly stipend so that he could devote himself to writing full-time. Agnon's books include Hakhnasat Kalah (The Bridal Canopy, 1922), Oreach Nata Lalun (A Guest for the Night, 1939), and Shevuat Emunim (Two Tales, 1943). He won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1966.
     At a big party for his 70th birthday attended by several hundred people, he gave a speech and said: "I did not recount great things and wonders about myself. Who more than I knows of my impoverishment? I say this not from false modesty, but from my own opinion - that an author who believes he has great things to tell about himself misappropriates his mission. The individual to whom God gave an author's pen must write of the acts of God and his wonders with human beings."


And there is this personal postscript:

I had not heard of S. Y. Agnon prior to reading the article above, and now I hope to track down and read the cited books, but -- in the meantime -- I am fascinated by what Agnon said at his 70th birthday party. I've given some thought to Agnon's comment about an author's responsibility to "write of the acts of God and his wonders with human beings," and I would like to paraphrase Agnon by suggesting a label for such writers: Writers of Faith. 

Well, I have been trying to recall the names of Writers of Faith with whom I am most familiar. Certainly Flannery O'Connor is one such writer who comes to my mind. Gerard Manley Hopkins is another. I might even include William Blake. 

So, now, good friends, do me a favor. Ponder Agnon's words and my suggested label, and tell me about your favorite writers who could be called Writers of Faith.


Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sailing to Byzantium

First there is this from The Writer's Almanac:


That is no country for old men. The young 
In one another's arms, birds in the trees, 
—Those dying generations—at their song, 
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas, 
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long 
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies. 
Caught in that sensual music all neglect 
Monuments of unageing intellect. 


An aged man is but a paltry thing, 
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless 
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing 
For every tatter in its mortal dress, 
Nor is there singing school but studying 
Monuments of its own magnificence; 
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come 
To the holy city of Byzantium. 


O sages standing in God's holy fire 
As in the gold mosaic of a wall, 
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre, 
And be the singing-masters of my soul. 
Consume my heart away; sick with desire 
And fastened to a dying animal 
It knows not what it is; and gather me 
Into the artifice of eternity. 


Once out of nature I shall never take 
My bodily form from any natural thing, 
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make 
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling 
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake; 
Or set upon a golden bough to sing 
To lords and ladies of Byzantium 
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

W. B. Yeats, “Sailing to Byzantium” from The Poems of W. B. Yeats: A New Edition, edited by Richard J. Finneran. Copyright 1933 by Macmillan Publishing Company, renewed © 1961 by Georgie Yeats. Reprinted with the permission of A. P. Watt, Ltd. on behalf of Michael Yeats.
Source: The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats (1989)


Personal Postscript: I like this poem, but will say nothing about it. I leave the exposition and responses to you. However, I must apologize. All past announcements about reading plans have been cancelled. Because of recent events, I will instead be going in different directions. Where am I going? Why there? Future postings will make things clear.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Trying to Pray

The following is from The Writer's Almanac:

With my arms raised in a vee,
I gather the heavens and bring
my hands down slow together,
press palms and bow my head.
I try to forget the suffering,
the wars, the ravage of land
that threatens songbirds,
butterflies, and pollinators.
The ghosts of their wings flutter
past my closed eyes as I breathe
the spirit of seasons, the stirrings
in soil, trees moving with sap.
With my third eye, I conjure
the red fox, its healthy tail, recount
the good of this world, the farmer
tending her tomatoes, the beans
dazzled green al dente in butter,
salt and pepper, cows munching
on grass. The orb of sun-gold
from which all bounty flows.

"Trying to Pray" by Twyla M. Hansen from Rock. Tree. Bird

© The Backwaters Press, 2017


Personal Postscript:

As I try to pray, tell me what you know or think about prayer.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Because I could not stop for Death (updated)

First there is this from Emily Dickinson:

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.

We passed the school, where children strove
At recess, in the ring;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.

Or rather, he passed us;
The dews grew quivering and chill,
For only gossamer my gown,
My tippet only tulle.

We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.

Since then 'tis centuries, and yet each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses' heads
Were toward eternity.

* * * * *

And there is this personal postscript:

There is a reason for this poem's appearance on my blog this evening. Since midday, even though I have been posting and commenting on other matters, death has been much on my mind. That is because my wife has been away from home for a while; she is now at her sister's side in an ICU unit in a Mississippi hospital. And, in case you are wondering, the reasons for me being here rather than there are complicated, logistical, and not relevant to this posting. But back to my sister-in-law's condition: the doctors say only that she has mere days or weeks but not months remaining. She cannot stop for Death, but the carriage awaits.

I confess that Death, whenever I have witnessed his carriage carrying others away into eternity, saddens me and leaves me without adequate words.

Moreover, I am frightened about my own impending carriage ride past the gazing grain and setting sun. It is, indeed, a sobering, terrifying prospect.

And, good friends, I believe my time on this earth has been ironic: I have been preparing for and avoiding that carriage ride for as long as I can remember. But I suppose that is almost everyone's ironic predicament.

In any case, Emily Dickinson's poem is a terrifying and reassuring poem. How is that for paradox?

What say you?

My sister in law passed on into Eternity at 3:00 a.m., Saturday morning, 15 July 2017.

"We are a pretty sordid lot" -- Quentin Roosevelt

First there is this from the History Channel website:

    On this day in 1918, Quentin Roosevelt, a pilot in the United States Air Service and the fourth son of former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, is shot down and killed by a German Fokker plane over the Marne River in France.
    The young Roosevelt was engaged to Flora Payne Whitney, the granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt, one of the country’s richest men. The couple met at a ball in Newport, Rhode Island, in August 1916 and soon fell in love, although the alliance between the modest, old-money Roosevelts and the flamboyantly wealthy Vanderbilt-Whitneys was at first controversial on both sides.
    Quentin’s letters to Flora, from the time they met until his death, charted the course of America’s entry into the war. Theodore Roosevelt, incensed at America’s continuing neutrality in the face of German aggression–including the sinking of the British cruise liner Lusitania in May 1916, in which 128 Americans drowned–campaigned unsuccessfully for the presidency in 1916, severely criticizing Woodrow Wilson, who was reelected on a neutrality platform. While he was initially neutral, Quentin came to agree with his father, writing to Flora in early 1917 from Harvard University, where he was studying, that “We are a pretty sordid lot, aren’t we, to want to sit looking on while England and France fight our battles and pan gold into our pockets.”
    After U.S. policy, as well as public opinion, shifted decisively towards entrance into the conflict against Germany, Wilson delivered his war message to Congress on April 2, 1917. At age 20, Quentin was too young to be drafted under the subsequent military conscription act, but as the son of Theodore Roosevelt, he was certainly expected to volunteer. His father, at 58, had expressed his own intention to head to France immediately as head of a volunteer division; upon Wilson’s rejection of the idea, TR declared that his sons would go in his place.
    Before the month of April 1917 was out, Quentin had left Harvard, volunteered for the U.S. Air Service and proposed to Flora. The young couple received their parents’ consent, at first reluctant, only to say goodbye to each other at the Hudson River Pier on July 23 as Quentin set sail to France for training. Over the next year, Quentin struggled with difficult flight training (on Nieuport planes, already discarded by the French as a second-rate aircraft), brutally cold conditions, illness (in November he caught pneumonia and was sent to Paris on a three-week leave) and derision from his older brothers, Ted, Archie and Kermit, all of whom were already on their way to the front. Quentin also suffered from the separation from Flora, whom he urged to find a way to come to Paris and marry him; though she tried, she was ultimately unsuccessful. Despite the pain of separation from his beloved, Quentin was determined to get to the front, to silence his brothers’ criticism and prove himself to them and to his father.
    In June 1918, Quentin got his wish when he was made a flight commander in the 95th Aero Squadron, in action near the Aisne River. “I think I got my first Boche,” he wrote in excitement to Flora on July 11, referring to a German plane he had shot at during a flight mission. Three days later, during the Second Battle of the Marne, his Nieuport was engaged by three Boche planes, according to one of the other pilots on his flight mission. Shot down, Quentin’s plane fell behind the German lines, near the village of Chamery, France.
    Flora Payne Whitney saved every one of Quentin’s letters to her. She became a surrogate member of the Roosevelt family for a time, nursing her own pain and comforting Theodore Roosevelt, who was by many reports shattered by the loss of his youngest son, until his death in January 1919. She would later go on to marry twice, have four children, and follow her mother, the sculptor and art patron Gloria Vanderbilt Whitney, into a leadership role at the famous Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. She died in 1986.

* * * * *

And there is this personal postscript: 

As I am posting this, I am at the same time watching a documentary film on television about World War II battles. Well, as I combine everything I read and see about the world wars of the 20th century with my memories from 25-year U.S. Navy career, I am left with two questions to which I have no answers, but you are invited to offer your responses:

Why do some people put on uniforms and take up arms in defense of their countries?
Why do others resist and avoid putting on uniforms and taking up arms?

Zoo Station by David Downing (Soho, 2007)

First here is a book review, reprinted from BookLoons where it appeared in 2007:

Here is an absolutely first-rate espionage thriller for fans of historical suspense novels. When readers join the action of Zoo Station, Nazi Germany is on the eve of war, and British-American journalist John Russell is about to become involved in a situation that will severely test his moral principles and his survival skills.

Approached by the Russians in early 1939 to write a series of articles about everyday German life, the Berlin-based Russell cannot pass up the lucrative opportunity, though he wisely has reservations about the level of his commitment to the Russians. At the same time, as a condition of his permission to continue working as a journalist in Berlin, the Nazi officials announce that they must preview and approve each of Russell's articles before it is dispatched; there is, though, another troublesome condition to the Nazi oversight: Russell must also fully apprise the Germans of whatever he discovers about the level and purpose of Russian interest and the potential for Russian threats to the Reich.

Caught in the middle and full of misgivings, Russell nevertheless goes ahead with playing out his commitments to the Russians and the Germans. However, a complicated situation becomes even more complex when an American journalist tells Russell about a sinister Nazi plan that would call for the mercy killing of more than 100,000 incurables within the Reich. And - at the same time - Russell finds himself drawn into helping a Jewish family whose future survival is doubtful. Walking a dangerously taut tightrope, and knowing that any misstep will almost certainly lead to failure and death for himself and others, Russell must find a way of doing the right thing but at the same time also protect his German girlfriend and son.

Zoo Station is a terrifying wartime thriller that I am recommending to everyone! As a top-notch tale of an ordinary man living in extraordinary times, David Downing's Zoo Station is a powerful rendering of one of histories most horrible periods and Nazi Germany's shocking capacity for evil. Zoo Station is, quite simply, an absolute must read.

* * * * *

And here is a personal postscript:

If you read my previous posting, you will understand that I have decided to focus on military history and aviation. Well, as a supplement to that focus, because I embrace an eclectic approach to my "research" interests, I will also be including books reviews and discussions of novels and nonfiction books in which the world wars of the 20th century are featured. The foregoing is one such review. Please stay tuned for more. Now, though, let me ask you a question:

What are your favorite novels or nonfiction books in which the world wars of the 20th century are featured?

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Up, up, and away (and the need to know more)

Life has a strange way of throwing up new challenges when I least expect them. This afternoon presented me with a different kind of challenge. But this is an opportunity that I welcome. Let me explain.

I have been asked by a friend to "work" a little bit as a volunteer in a military history museum at which aviation is featured. My fun-filled "job" will be limited to a few hours a week during which I will be available to answer visitors' questions about hundreds of military aviation exhibits. I think the people at the museum must be desperate for volunteers if they will recruit an over-the-hill hobbled curmudgeon like me. However, I've been told that my involvement at the museum might help slow down the enlargement of those holes in my Swiss-cheese memory. Well, maybe. We'll see.

, I guess I had better learn a few things before I'm confronted with those visitors' questions. Because I need to know more than I know now, I will be reading as much as I can about 20th century military history and aviation. And because I have a limited capacity for concentration -- yes, as an obsessive-compulsive, I have a one channel mind -- this blog will be dedicated to my full immersion. Therefore, postings, when (and if) they appear, will be reports on my discoveries. 

f you are interested in 20th century military history and naval aviation, welcome aboard. 

Robert Southey: Entire Man of Letters

And since my mind is preoccupied with Romanticism today -- note my previous posting -- I think you might be interested in this review of a biography of Robert Southey which I wrote ten years ago for The American Spectator.


William Wordsworth at Tintern Abbey

First there is this from The Writer's Almanac:

It was on this day in 1798 that the English Romantic poet William Wordsworth, while on a walking tour of Wales with his sister, Dorothy, saw the ruins of Tintern Abbey, which inspired his poem "Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour. July 13, 1798." Wordsworth claimed the lines came to him with the greatest of ease, entirely in his head. He said: "No poem of mine was composed under circumstances more pleasant for me to remember than this. I began it upon leaving Tintern, after crossing the Wye, and concluded it just as I was entering Bristol in the evening, after a ramble of four or five days with my notes. Not a line of it was altered, not any part of it written down till I reached Bristol."

And there is this personal postscript:

Even though I said recently that I would be limiting my blogging schedule and focus, the foregoing article about Wordsworth forces me to contradict myself. Yes, I know I know I am an impulsive and fickle fellow. Such is life. Forgive me. So let me ask you a question: Do you have a favorite Wordsworth poem? 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

New blogging schedule

In the future this blog will be limited to less frequent postings. The postings will probably include some of my previously published book reviews and some miscellaneous musings about my current reading adventures. Of course, as I am an impulsive and fickle fellow, you never know what might show up here. So be patient and stay tuned.

The Kennedy Half-Century by Larry J. Sabato (2013)

I wrote the following book review for BookLoons in 2013, and I have revised it and presented here for your convenience.

For any American born before the mid-1950s, there is an indelible memory: Friday, 22 November 1963. It was then that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. As for myself, I remember sitting in class as a college freshman when I heard the horrible news. Within that personal memory is an instructive irony: the course was American history, an academic subject that is always subject to revision with each successive generation.

Mindful of that irony, I am pleased to announce that now, so many years after that unforgettably dark day in modern American history, Professor Larry J. Sabato offers readers a brilliant analysis and historical revision of the rather brief political life, the horrific murder by Lee Harvey Oswald (always a controversial topic), and the remarkably mythic afterlife of President Kennedy.

The three-year presidency (characterized as that brief, shining moment, Camelot, by Kennedy's perceptive widow) then featured in starring roles the seemingly perfect and universally admired Guinevere (a.k.a. Jacqueline Kennedy) and the idealistic and far-from perfect but mythically enhanced Arthur (a.k.a. John Fitzgerald Kennedy).

All that happened politically prior to Kennedy's phenomenal ascent to the presidency, all that happened during his White House years, all that happened on the wretched day in Dallas, all that happened in Kennedy's posthumous apotheosis after 1963, and all the ways in which Kennedy has become the political touchstone for all subsequent presidents - all is meticulously researched and presented by Professor Sabato in this impressive 603-page study.

Readers will be particularly surprised to learn that much they thought they knew about Kennedy is either wrong or incomplete; readers will also be surprised to learn how the public mind of the nation has been a participant in the arguably inappropriate beatification of a president who accomplished a great deal but far less than readers had imagined. Professor Sabato, the acclaimed political scientist at the University of Virginia, gives readers the whole story - the good, the bad, and the ugly. There are, indeed, within this highly recommended book, many intriguing episodes for each of those three categories.

If you were to choose only one book to read about John F. Kennedy, maybe this should be the one. You will find few better. Professor Sabato's book has earned my highest praise.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Woodrow Wilson puts me back on the road (again)

First there is this from the History Channel's website:

    On this day in 1916, in a ceremony at the White House, President Woodrow Wilson signs the Federal Aid Road Act.  The law established a national policy of federal aid for highways.
    From the mid-19th century, the building and maintenance of roads had been seen as a state and local responsibility. As a result, America’s roads were generally in poor condition, especially in rural areas. As the so-called Progressive Era dawned near the turn of the 20th century, attitudes began to change, and people began to look towards government to provide better roads, among other infrastructure improvements. The first federal aid bill was submitted to Congress in 1902, proposing the creation of a Bureau of Public Roads. With the rise of the automobile–especially after Henry Ford introduced the affordable Model T in 1908, putting more Americans on the road than ever before–Congress was pushed to go even further.
    In the 1907 case Wilson v. Shaw, the U.S. Supreme Court officially gave Congress the power “to construct interstate highways” under its constitutional right to regulate interstate commerce. In 1912, Congress enacted the Post Office Department Appropriations Bill, which set aside $500,000 for an experimental program to improve the nation’s post roads (roads over which mail is carried). The program proved too small to make significant improvements, but it taught Congress that federal aid for roads needed to go to the states instead of local counties in order to be effective.
    Serious consideration of a federal road program began in early 1916. There were two competing interest groups at stake: Farmers wanted sturdy, all-weather post roads to transport their goods, and urban motorists wanted paved long-distance highways. The bill that both houses of Congress eventually approved on June 27, 1916, and that Wilson signed into law that July 11, leaned in the favor of the rural populations by appropriating $75 million for the improvement of post roads. It included the stipulation that all states have a highway agency staffed by professional engineers who would administer the federal funds and ensure that all roads were constructed properly.
    In addition to enabling rural Americans to participate more efficiently in the national economy, the Federal Aid Road Act was a precursor to the Federal Highway Act of 1921, which provided federal aid to the states for the building of an interconnected interstate highway system. The interstate highway issue would not be fully addressed until much later, when the Federal Highway Act of 1956 allocated more than $30 billion for the construction of some 41,000 miles of interstate highways.

And there is this personal postscript:

If you are visiting this blog for the first time, some of what follows might not make sense to you, but other visitors (i.e., the small corps of loyalists and friends) will understand my words. 

The foregoing article from the History Channel's website serves as a metaphor for my blogging efforts. In other words, the road ahead needs improvements. 

My past blogging efforts have been marred by inconsistencies, contradictions, deletions, questionable content, occasional flashes of brilliance (I say immodestly), broken promises, and too many impulsive declarations. I make no excuses for all of that has been good, bad, and ugly. The past is simply the past.

Now, with this posting, I simply hope that the road ahead, for as long as I can keep moving forward, will be marked by improvements, consistencies, fulfilled promises, and -- above all -- blog content that is often interesting and sometimes provocative but always clear and concise. 

* * * * *

Now, with all of that out of the way, I turn my attention to the foregoing article more specifically. I observe the evidence of something dangerous in Wilson's signature of the Federal Aid Road Act. You see, beginning with the Articles of Confederation, continuing into the drafting of United States Constitution, and moving forward with relentless force through amendments and statutes and regulations and judicial decisions, the federal government has become more (too) powerful while local and state governments have become less autonomous. Some of the early Founding Fathers would be horrified by the trend; others would be over-joyed.

Well, as for myself, I see Wilson's presidency (represented in small part by the Federal Aid Road Act) as just another nail in the coffin of the United States of America, originally conceived as an aggregate of mostly independent but united and protected states within the umbrella of a limited federal government responsible for national defense and protection of individuals' inalienable rights.

Perhaps I am not correctly stating the case.
Perhaps I misunderstand American government.
Clearly I need to learn more in order to better understand the issues.
Now, though, it is your turn:

Tell me what you think.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Reviewing and Revisiting Tudors by Peter Ackroyd

This review, which I wrote in 2013 for BookLoons, is reprinted here for your convenience.

Tudors: The History of England from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I by Peter Ackroyd 
(St. Martins, 2013)

First things first: Peter Ackroyd's Tudors is the only book you need to read if you want to understand one of the most fascinating periods in English history - the 16th century.

Beginning with an extended focus upon the ruthless Henry VIII (for 40% of the book), touching briefly upon the youthful Edward VI (for barely 10% of the book), looking only momentarily at the abbreviated reign of Lady Jane Grey (the usurper remembered by nearly no one), and focusing far too quickly upon Bloody Mary (another 10% of the book), Ackroyd finishes his presentation with an examination of the powerful Elizabeth's reign (the final 40% of the book).

It must be noted that Ackroyd's overarching theme throughout this book is the political and cultural transformation of the English Church. If you want to know how the Tudor monarchs were responsible for this transformation, one sentence says it all: 'Power may be glorious but it can quickly become fierce.' And two words in that sentence say it even more succinctly: fierce power (with an added emphasis on fierce).

I could write a dozen paragraphs, heaping effusive praise upon Ackroyd's book, the second in his magisterial English history series, especially by telling you of the engaging style, the richly abundant (sometimes horrifying) details, and the accessible scholarship, but I will say it all instead in an abbreviated way: I have read dozens of books that focus on this historical era, and Tudors is absolutely the best. This is the one you must read!