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Ann Skea's Bookshelf
Chatto & Windus
9781784744564, A$32.99 PB, 288 pages
She dreams of her death.
It comes as a cold October dawn is breaking in the London sky.
A sack is put over her head. Through the weave of the burlap, she can take her last look at the world, which is a cluster of tiny squares of grey light, and she thinks Whyever did I struggle so long and so hard to make my way in a place which was bent on my destruction ever since I came into it?
In a month's time, Lily will be seventeen, but already she is a murderer. We know from the cover of the book that her story is 'a tale of revenge' but we don't know until quite late in the book the reason for this act of revenge, or the identity of her victim, or how Lily carried out this murder.
We do know that she was abandoned by her mother when she was only a few hours old: left at the gates of a London park wrapped in a sack, then rescued by a young London police constable who, in bitter weather, saw her and heard 'the crying of wolves'. Whether there really were wolves in London in the 1850s is disputed by those he tells, but the baby's foot was certainly bleeding, as if it had been chewed. He takes her to the Foundling Hospital at Coram Fields where, much later, she is horribly abused by a vindictive nurse.
It is clear that Lily is angry with the mother who abandoned her, and when she finds Frances Quale, a strange, reclusive woman who sells religious icons and false relics, she believes she has found her mother and sets out to prove it and vent her anger. She also harbours deep anger for the nurse who treated her cruelly from the time she returned to the Foundling Hospital after spending her first six years fostered by a kind and loving farming family.
The shock of being suddenly returned to the Foundling Hospital by her foster-mother, Nellie, as the law required, is huge:
Lily tried once again to turn around, to pull free of the nurse, to run to wherever Nellie had gone... 'Stop that!" said the nurse. 'She's gone and you will not find her. There are no sentimental goodbyes here. We forbid them. Your foster-mother did her duty and that is all. Now, she takes in another baby and you will be forgotten".
Lily kicks the nurse and runs. She is caught but still defiant, and Nurse Maude immediately labels her 'Miss Disobedience'. From that moment, Nurse Maude singles her out for special punishment, and this goes on, in more and more perverted ways, until Lily leaves the hospital to go and work at Belle Prettywood's Wig Emporium, where the sewing skills she had been taught by Nellie make her one of Belle's most valued employees.
Lily is a novel in an historical setting, but Rose Tremain resists the label 'historical novel'. 'When you write about history, you can write anybody's story', she says. 'There isn't this question of authenticity'. The old London in which Lily lives and works is, however, realistically portrayed and the Thomas Coram Foundling Hospital did exist. Its founder and Governors were kindly, god-fearing men; and wealthy women, like Lily's benefactress, Lady Elizabeth Mortimer, helped to support such benevolent institutions. Not everyone who works in such places, however, is as good-hearted as their founders, and harsh punishment and cruelty, then, as now, were not uncommon.
When Lily returns to the Foundling Hospital in order to see the records of her admission, she sees Nurse Maude tormenting another small girl. She is surprise that Nurse Maude has not retired, and expresses this surprise to the hospital official who is handling the records: '...Nurse Maude is a pillar of the Foundling Hospital, so we have kept her on', he tells her. 'We feel that Coram children come to value the rules of behaviour put upon them. Under the tutelage of people like Nurse Maud, they soon understand the difference between right and wrong. Do you not agree?' Lily pretends that she has not heard the question, but he goes on:
One thing we know is that children are often like wild animals when they come to us. You were one such animal - a runaway, weren't you? And look at you now: quite upright and well behaved and earning your living, but only because we tamed you and brought you to God.
Not all of Lily's life is as grim as this. Tremain draws the reader into Lily's happy early life with Nellie at Rookery farm; her work at the Wig Emporium, where Belle (who is 'famous all over London' - and not just for her wigs) is creating wigs for actors in a new performance of La Traviata at Her Majesty's Opera House; and her meetings with Sam Trent, the constable who rescued her and who has remained curious about her welfare.
There are times when Lily savours new, exciting and exotic experiences, as when Belle dresses her and takes her to the opening night of La Traviata and she mingles with the wealthy men and women who frequent such occasions.
The audience in their finery are so held by the drama that they have mostly forgotten which tiaras or mantillas or feathers they are wearing. The ladies are choked by strong feelings and long to cry. They search their tiny purses for even tinier handkerchiefs. Weeping at misfortune which is not theirs is a deep pleasure!
Lily is gripped by the power of this tragic love story:
She has the thrilling illusion that what she has just seen - the wonder and the cruelty of it both - was performed uniquely for her....
She longs for her own 'Alfredo', her own watchful guardian, to come in and take her in his arms.
She dreams of Sam Trent, who seems to be watching over her, and he also seems to have special feelings for her. It is her guilty secret, because Sam is a married man and his wife has been especially kind to her.
Sam is now a police superintendent, known for his skill in solving difficult murder cases. The more Lily sees of him, the more she knows she is in danger of confessing to him. Sam's wife, too, brings up the murder which haunts Lily:
'It upsets you. I can understand that. We won't talk about it any more'
Lily is silent for a moment, then asks, 'Is Sam looking for the killer?'
'No, I don't think so. He always says there are no leads of any substance. But if it really was a murder, he thinks there will be a confession... In his work, so he tells me, you would be surprised at how often a murderer confesses. It's one of those things we find hardest, isn't it, living with our own wickedness?'
Lily's life could change in an instant. She has new opportunities offered to her by Belle; Lady Mortimer has expressed the intention of taking her to live with her as her companion; and there is the potential of a love-affair with Sam. More pressing, however, is her urge to confess. To whom? To Sam?
Rose Tremain has said that she is drawn to narrators on the margins of life, and Lily is just such a narrator. Through Lily, who is a likeable character, and whose joys and fears seem completely understandable, we see the poverty and richness of life in 19th century London. Underlying Lily's story, however, but never spelled out, is Tremain's own anger that historical ills, especially the mistreatment of children in institutions, still exist.
9781925322927, A$29.99 PB, 256 pages
'Parents are only there to be memories for their children...'
Joe, who narrates the first part of this book, certainly seems to believe this. Not long after the birth of his daughter, at a time when his marriage is definitely about to end, he starts to think about his father, who had crashed his car and died when Joe was seventeen.
'At the time, I don't think any of us really believed he was trying to kill himself. What he was trying to do, was crash and claim the insurance. That was the sort of thing he would have done.'
Joe remembers his father as a self-taught handyman, a perfectionist, a man who 'hated authority' - an unhappy man who had 'a rage we all feared'. He also remembers an old photograph which he found after his father had died and which showed him as a young man standing in front of an Indian temple 'in a dirty orange robe' and looking 'extraordinarily happy'. Joe is intrigued by this image, and curious to know what had turned his father from this smiling man into the troubled, lonely, and often angry man he had become.
Joe's mother tells him that his father had once belonged to an Indian ashram, but since she had met him after he left it and returned to Australia, she knew little about it. With his own life in turmoil, Joe decides to seek out his father's old friends, some of whom had shared his experiences in India.
Joe is a likeable narrator whose rocky relationship with his own wife and growing daughter often distract him. His has meetings and telephone conversations with his father's old friends, all of whom seem to lead somewhat unusual lives, but since they seem vague or reluctant to talk about the past, he finds no explanation for the change in his father. He does pick up threads which lead him to do some internet and film research, and he discovers a good deal of information about the Osho Bhagwan Ashram, where his father and some of these friends had lived for a few years:
'There were people weeping in long lines. There were lots of semi-naked people with their hands in the air. There were men in pink jumpsuits with semi-automatic weapons. They were all wearing the same necklace my father had worn in the photograph, a set of wooden beads with a little image of the guru at one end. I read the words 'Sex-Cult'....
'It says here they poisoned people, Mum.'
'Oh yeah,' she laughed, 'but that was after your Dad's time'.'
Part I ends as Joe boards a flight to India. 'What a fucking cliche,' his ex-wife says. 'Do you even realize you're having a midlife crisis?'
Part 2 jumps back in time and begins as Joe's father, Vincent, arrives in India as a backpacker and almost accidentally ends up joining the Shree Rajneesh Ashram (the Osho Bhagwan Ashram) at 17 Koregoan Park in Puna. His experiences of life at the ashram - the daily rituals, the freedom from conventional restrains about sex and drugs, the 'enlightenment intensives' and 'dynamic meditation', and the potential, and sometimes real, violence of 'therapy group' sessions - all these are vividly described. All these, too, are based on the real-life workings of an ashram which was established by Osho in Puna in 1974. Vincent finds the charismatic guru's presence hypnotic, as do most of the residents of the ashram, but his feelings and emotions are mixed:
'He both wants and doesn't want what these people seem to have; their energy, and freedom, and sexual openness. His natural instinct is to get to hell out. But out is hell. That's exactly where he's come from.'
Part 2 ends when Vincent is sent away from the ashram, and part 3 begins as Joe, now in India, meets Vincent's old friend, Abhi, who shared Vincent's experiences at the ashram and who now lives in a run-down, beachside 'Paradise' in Puna. Abhi takes over the narrative and through him we learn what happened to make them both leave the ashram, but he doesn't reveal it all to Joe:
'That was the agreement... So I knew the script pretty well. I half-believed it anyway, after all those years. I said my lines. I wasn't bad. Your dad went home and met your mum and settled down, I told him. Your mum got pregnant. You were born. Life happened, I said'.
Part 4 skips to the near future and to Joe's now-adult daughter, Sylvie. Sylvie can don a 'Skinsuit' which allows her to have intimate contact, from a distance, with her partner, Harlow. She communicates with the internet via her watch, but it is monitored by the government and if she is offline for any length of time she is required to explain this. Phones, too, are monitored; armed soldiers patrol the roads; and police brutality is common. Joe, however, is avoiding this surveillance. He lives off the land, has adapted his phone to disguise his voice, and now runs 'a caravan park for old people' just outside the small town of Katamatite, a short distance from Melbourne.
'Many of the residents, so he claimed, were members of organisations that were illegal. But Sylvie had been out there four years ago, and as far as she could tell, it was just old people sitting around smoking weed and playing computer games.'
It is several years since Sylvie last saw Joe but she is driving to Melbourne to see her mother, so she has decided to call on him. It turns out to be a very odd experience but it brings her closer to her father, who is living in his very run-down old caravan park but seems happy. In this strange setting, Sylvie, comes to terms with her own pregnancy, about which until then, she had told no-one. When she leaves, she glimpses Joe and the dusty park in her rear-view mirror: 'Then the dirt track ended at last, and she turned left, onto the main road, and drove back towards the living'.
Clearly, Joe's caravan park in Australia could be Moonland. But Moonland could be anywhere - in an Indian ashram; at Osho's ashram/ranch in Oregon (to which Abhi had moved for a time); or in Abhi's beachside home in Puna. It is a place of fragile hopes and dreams, a place distanced from the world.
In Moonland tells four stories linked by family connections. Each has a different central character, and each of these has a distinctive voice and personality. Miles Allinson handles this all very skillfully and draws you into his characters' lives so well that you understand their doubts and certainties, share their experiences and feel their shifting emotions. Other characters people this book, too, and all of them turn out to be interesting individuals.
In Moonland is about life, family, and the search for happiness, but it is much more, too, as Allinson explores the complexity of human connections. It is unusual, fascinating, and very enjoyable.
Ann Skea, Reviewer
Brian Wang's Bookshelf
9781250769763, $17.00 trade paperback / $10.00 pbk / $0.99 Kindle, 240pp
Housekeeping is a dive into the murky and impalpable depths of it means to be alive. It is both nostalgic and tragic, but the effect is spookily calm, like a great still lake. Things happen in Ruthie's quiet life, and pass away, like the flowers her grandfather liked to pick, though they always wilted and died. It is an accumulation of years of memory, interlaced with passages of the poetic and profound. A flood, a walk across the bridge, a trip on a boat on a lake - each of these bloom into philosophical meanderings. The writing slips in and out of a flowing stream of consciousness, and dreams blend with reality, and fact with imagination. It reminds you how insignificant you are, floating through life, a whiff, then gone.
Form is inseparable from function in this book. The writing is hallucinatory and entrancing, ambiguous and incoherent: there's no need to understand, only feel - the transcendental. A phone rings, someone calls you to dinner, you walk away from the book and it fades away, soon almost a dream. But combined with life's experiences, it leaves an indelible stain on the fabric of being.
Brian Wang, Reviewer
Carl Logan's Bookshelf
All the Water the Law Allows: Las Vegas and Colorado River Politics
Christian S. Harrison
University of Oklahoma Press
2800 Venture Drive, Norman, OK 73069
9780806169323, $39.95, HC, 268pp
Synopsis: As the population of the greater Las Vegas area grows and the climate warms, the threat of a water shortage looms over southern Nevada. But as Christian S. Harrison demonstrates in "All the Water the Law Allows: Las Vegas and Colorado River Politics", the threat of shortage arises not from the local environment but from the American legal system, specifically the Law of the River that governs water allocation from the Colorado River. In this political and legal history of the Las Vegas water supply, Harrison focuses on the creation and actions of the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) to tell a story with profound implications and important lessons for water politics and natural resource policy in the twenty-first century.
In the state with the smallest allocation of the Colorado's water supply, Las Vegas faces the twin challenges of aridity and federal law to obtain water for its ever-expanding population. "All the Water the Law Allows: Las Vegas and Colorado River Politics" describes how the impending threat of shortage in the 1980s compelled the five metropolitan water agencies of greater Las Vegas to unify into a single entity. Harrison relates the circumstances of the SNWA's evolution and reveals how the unification of local, county, and state interests allowed the compact to address regional water policy with greater force and focus than any of its peers in the Colorado River Basin. Most notably, the SNWA has mapped conservation plans that have drastically reduced local water consumption; and, in the interstate realm, it has been at the center of groundbreaking, water-sharing agreements.
Yet these achievements do not challenge the fundamental primacy of the Law of the River. If current trends continue and the Basin States are compelled to reassess the river's distribution, the SNWA will be a force and a model for the Basin as a whole.
Critique: Enhanced for academia with the inclusion of twenty-eight pages of Notes, a fourteen page Bibliography, and a ten page Index, "All the Water the Law Allows: Las Vegas and Colorado River Politics" is an impressively comprehensively researched and meticulously detailed study. While a critically important and unreservedly recommended addition to community, college, and university library Environmental & Water Policy collections, and Urban Planning & Development supplemental curriculum studies lists, it should be noted for students, academia, governmental water policy planners, political activists, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "All the Water the Law Allows: Las Vegas and Colorado River Politics" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $22.49).
Editorial Note: Christian S. Harrison teaches government at Coronado High School in Henderson, Nevada, and is a board member of the nonprofit Preserve Nevada, where he works to engage public school teachers in historic preservation efforts throughout the state.
Flying Saucers Over America
McFarland & Company
PO Box 611, Jefferson NC 28640
9781476687667, $29.95, PB, 227pp
Synopsis: On June 24th, 1947, a private pilot reported numerous dazzling objects rushing through the sky above Mount Rainier in Washington state. It was the start of the current UFO phenomena, one of the country's most perplexing and persistent mysteries. Within a few weeks, hundreds of sightings of flying saucers were reported to news media. Surprising reports of a UFO crash in Roswell, New Mexico further added to the mystery that July.
Since then, UFOs have sparked a slew of incredible claims and speculations. "Flying Saucers Over America: The UFO Craze of 1947" by academician Gordon Arnold is a sober and honest history of America's first major saucer craze, based on many sources including previously classified government records.
"Flying Saucers Over America: The UFO Craze of 1947" cuts through decades of mystique and confusion, beginning with the 1947 UFO wave and ending with the launch of Project Blue Book in 1952. Balanced and comprehensive, this specialized history provides background, social context and other tools for reframing perceptions of a continuing and controversial subject.
Critique: Extensively researched, exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Flying Saucers Over America: The UFO Craze of 1947" is an extraordinarily informative and welcome addition to the growing body of UFO literature and is a unique and recommended addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library UFO Studies collections.
Carole Mertz's Bookshelf
9781950730223, $16.00 Paperback, 50 pages
Beate Sigriddaughter's Emily presents an intriguing persona. She appears as a possible alter-ego of the author herself. But that is presumptuous; we cannot know for sure. What we can know about her is what we learn from the beauty of the poet's lines on the page. This persona recognizes insignificance.
Emily cares for Nature's beauty surrounding her, as in "On Her Climb to Gratitude" (p. 37) where we discover the lines: "She feels / the loud black wings of ravens beat / as though they were her own."
But in most of these poems she reveals herself to be a near-defeated figure who does not totally give in. She chooses, rather, to contemplate options. Consider the poem, "Sartre by the River," for example. Emily goes out to church, her parents suppose. But in her purse instead of a hymnal is Being and Nothingness, "of which / she doesn't understand a word, even / in translation. No matter. The title, / lovely, certainly intrigues. She wants / to say no to something without hurting / anyone. And so her life begins / with secrets..."
But in "Emily's Letter to Her Husband's Lover," (p.21) Emily must subordinate herself to the lover. This is difficult. "I slip the curtain from each morning," she writes, "step / into the sunlight of regret. I almost kept him / on the shelf with all the trophies." (Here is admirable tongue-in-cheek.) To the lover she says, "Perhaps you can keep desire alive. / I yearn for my own season of hunger."
In "Desire" (p. 26), Emily reaches again, but again she rejects.
Emily stands surrounded by glitter,
Typical temptations, silk fabric,
Color threads, rhinestones, beads, //
Even that leaves her cold. In the end
She doesn't even want to dance tonight.
Is this enlightenment? She wonders.
If so, she doesn't want it.
In a beautiful poem about insignificance, ("Emily Celebrates her Insignificance," p.27), the poet juxtaposes nature adjacent to self-awareness: "A garland of sleek cormorants / glides low above the water." From the third stanza: "If she weren't so insignificant, / she would have important duties..."
I like the imagination I see embedded in this small but mighty collection that speaks to the role of women in contemporary society. One wonders what (or who) will follow Sigriddaughter's Emily.
Interview with Beate Sigriddaughter
Beate Sigriddaughter, author of hundreds of poems, is winner of the 2014 Jack Grapes Prize and a multiple Pushcart Prize nominee. She has promoted women's writing at her blog Writing in a Woman's Voice for many years, an activity which grew out of her earlier Glass Woman Prize. Siggriddaughter is the author of Emily
and Dancing in Santa Fe and other poems
Her forthcoming Dona Nobis Pacem will be issued December, 2021 by Unsolicited Press.
CM: Emily, in your latest collection, assumes a unique voice, so different from the personas you presented in Dancing in Santa Fe. Can you tell us a little about how Emily originated? Did the collection fall together, for example, over a period of months, or years?
Sigriddaughter: In late summer to early fall 2017, I had an opportunity to have a solo writing retreat in a friend's condo near the ocean at California's Central Coast for about two months. Beautiful! Especially since I normally live in contrasting New Mexico mountain desert terrain. I challenged myself to write a poem each day and I did that, although the daily poems did not all survive into final form. The Emily collection came from those poems. A month after my return, I had the collection in its present form. "Emily Celebrates Her Insignificance" is probably the theme poem for that creative situation. I had hoped to be a participant in a local writer's conference, which, as new poet laureate, I had imagined would automatically happen for me, but it wasn't to be. So then I was determined to at least celebrate my insignificance by walking by the ocean and writing and having a great time anyway. I can't remember how the name Emily came about. I've been asked if it has to do with Emily Dickinson, and I personally never made that connection; I connect the name more to a vague memory of a Simon and Garfunkel song, "For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her."
CM: When did you first know you wanted to write poetry? How did you begin? Is it your major genre?
Sigriddaughter: Talk about insignificance! I could probably blame my entire writing career on insignificance: I grew up the youngest in a family where everybody was too busy to pay much attention to me, all in the nicest way, but still, I didn't count for much. I was polite in turn, but once I knew how to read and write, that was it. I started rewriting things to my satisfaction or copying things in my flavor. I still have a poem, in German, I wrote about the twelve months of the year. It's not very good, but I've had 60 years of practice since then. Then later, in college at Georgetown University, I had the privilege of being accepted into a coveted poetry workshop with Roland Flint - one had to submit sample writing anonymously, and I got in. I also write fiction. I can't say which of the two, poetry or fiction, are my major genre. Lately poetry has been dominant, but I do love writing fiction which, to me, is a fantastic way of telling the truth without endangering victims or directly enraging bullies.
CM: Your website Writing in a Woman's Voice, by its very title, has been an encouragement for many women writers. How did you conceive it, and when did you develop this important literary hub for female poets and writers?
Sigriddaughter: Back yet once more to the concept of insignificance: I do believe that women's voices have been undervalued in our world for a very long time. To the point where in the 19th century, if you were a woman and wanted to have something published, you were wise to do it under a man's name. Along with that came the phenomenon of trying to impress and/or imitate men. When I was in college, "you think like a man" was still a great compliment. Rebel that I am, and confident - albeit shakily - in my own intelligence, I really wanted to have a venue for women's unapologetic voices where material that won't necessarily impress men but is nevertheless foremost on our minds is welcome. From everyday beauty or pain to experiences or observations of epic proportions, I want to honor it, not dismiss it as it has been so often dismissed as feminine fluff. An old memory comes to mind: very early on I wrote a story about Socrates's much-ridiculed and maligned wife, Xanthippe, and I submitted it to a literary magazine. The response I got from a male editor was that it was a very interesting concept, but it was a shame that I didn't give any weight to Socrates's point of view in my story. I didn't argue with the editor, but privately I thought, hadn't Socrates's point of view already been amply represented in the last few thousand years? Unfortunately my story which dated back to pre-computer days got lost in one of my many transits in life. I wish I could reread it.
In 2007, I started a fiction contest, the Glass Woman Prize, for fiction written by women. I funded it with 10% of my income, sort of like religious groups do with tithing. Women are in many ways my religion anyway. Then I stopped working a day job and had no income for a few years, so that project ended. Unfortunately in late 2018, the web program I used for the Glass Woman Prize and my own website ceased being supported by its developer, and it would be far too costly and time-consuming for me to reconstruct the archives online, so they are history. Once I started collecting Social Security, though, I wanted to resume tithing in support of women's writing. I went to a blog format and decided to include poetry as well. The prize I offer, $91 once a month on the full moon, is small, and I wish I could pay every contributor, but at this point I am not rich enough. I really love reading the different voices of women that come my way. Not everybody thinks like I do (surprise!), and yet we all have so much in common (surprise once again!).
CM: As your work accumulates during your creative periods of writing poems, how do you organize the poems? Do you write by hand, or use a computer? Do your poems move through various files, for example, filed according to subject matter, or style, or poems completed, poems to revise? How do you keep track of everything?
Sigriddaughter: Truth is, words are always getting out of hand. There are so many! And they are all so gorgeous! I have voluminous files and subfiles, by subject matter, by genre, by year, by project. I do write a lot by hand at first, then transcribe what I like on my computer. Microsoft Word is pretty sophisticated these days and I can sometimes find things I even only vaguely remember. It does get pretty unwieldy, though. I've "scribbled," as one of my post-college roommates called it, regularly since the college poetry workshop I mentioned earlier, and even before then I'd often sit with my family back in Germany, writing something or other while everybody else was watching TV (which usually didn't greatly interest me). I do my best to pick what interests me the most and work on it. I have worked on certain projects for decades before they see the light of day. Happy to say I've had the luxury of decades.
CM: Is it important to you to remain persistent in your writing? Do you ever feel fluctuations in your ability to create, or do you maintain a steady output? Your Emily came fast on the heels of your delightful Dancing in Santa Fe and Other Poems. Are you a consistent writer or do you sometimes experience dry spells?
Sigriddaughter: I do write every day, even if it's only journal entries. I never had a dry spell where in order to fill a page I had to write 100 times I must fill this page. There are of course times when life and chores interfere with organized writing, but I always have projects lined up, and if they get interrupted, I have no problem getting back to them. But a lot of my work ends up getting pitched as far as offering it to the public is concerned, so my visible productivity does fluctuate. What's visible also depends of course on finding publishers for what I have to offer, as well as the oftentimes lengthy publishing process of literary magazines and small literary presses.
CM: Were you able to compose during the first four months of our current pandemic?
Sigriddaughter: Yes. I've been working on my writing the same as always. Maybe a tiny bit less, as I tend to take longer walks or sometimes find myself staring off into the distance while the flavors of anxiety and unfamiliarity hang over everything.
CM: Your collection Emily elicited from me a sense of compassion toward your persona - I felt as if I must protect Emily. She seems to me a wonderfully vulnerable soul, which is what draws me to her. Was it difficult for you to allow her to speak so openly? Have you had other reactions to this volume you'd care to share?
Sigriddaughter: I like that Emily elicits compassion and protectiveness in you. Another favorite comment I had about Emily was by another woman writer who told me she loved Emily and that she sometimes was Emily. What made it less difficult for me to write about Emily so openly was that I decided to create a certain distance by observing her from a third person perspective rather than writing in first person, as many of my other poetry has been written. Third person makes confession a little less disturbing and intimate. In other words, I'm not claiming the reader's sympathy or negative judgment for myself, but for Emily. She's out there somewhere meandering through her everyday reality. Make of her wanderings what you will.
CM: The poet David Chorlton calls your poetry "skillfully balanced" as you juxtapose hard world news against the simple beauties of nature. I found that especially true in your poem "The River." In it you move from crevices and canyons, and "capricious waterfalls" to the "magic of indifference" and "the sultry patience." Could you explain what the "magic of indifference" means to you in that singular poem?
Sigriddaughter: I'm quite ambivalent about the "magic of indifference." I obviously admire it greatly in nature. I have elsewhere written about the admirable indifference of the sun - here it's the river. Sun and water: without them we, life, wouldn't exist. They couldn't care less if we're righteous and noble, or bullies intent on grabbing pleasure and satisfaction to the detriment of everything and everyone else. Sun and water just shine on or flow on, making it all possible. So I admire nature's ability, or the universe's ability, if you will, to carry on and make it all possible without judgment and favoritism. Being human, though, I can admire and even long for that magic, but I can't ultimately participate in it because I do have judgment and the desire for at least doing my best to preserve this world that I love and, yes, if possible to protect it from "unnecessary evil" as I mention later in that same poem.
CM: Do you have social media, other links you'd like to share so readers can learn more about your work?
Sigriddaughter: Yes, my links follow:
Pequod Poems: Gamming with Moby-Dick
9781949229608 $17.00, 123 pages
Wilda Morris's latest collection, Pequod Poems, is delightful for its vibrant story telling through poetry. Its publication commemorates the 200th anniversary of Herman Melville's birth, and consists of poems written in an outstanding variety of forms, some rarely used, and even some invented by the author. Each poem relates in some way to Melville and his famous whale and each one attests to Morris's artistry and vivid imagination.
In her Preface, the poet explains how she began considering her theme several years ago and continued her work at a writer's residency on Martha's Vineyard, sponsored by the Noepe Center for the Literary Arts. We can thank this sponsor for providing Morris the setting and space she needed to develop the back-stories to the characters she included in her charming and well-considered volume. The characteristics of the New England setting, with its seaside influences, aptly enter the contents of the volume.
The collection is organized into five sections. The poems in Part I serve to introduce us to the major characters as they appear in Moby-Dick. Morris presents Ishmael, the narrator, by way of a Mesostic poem. All of the letters in the epigraph weave vertically through this poem, forming the sentence: "What a fine frosty night; how Orion glitters..." (See "Ishmael in New Bedford," p. 17) "Oceans," (p. 19) uses the Pleiades form (seven lines, each of six syllables), in which the first letter of each line is the first letter of the poem's title. "The Captain," (p.23) is rendered as a spiraling (and double) Abecedarian.
The full enjoyment of her poems, however, lies not only in Morris's use of an abundant variety of poetical forms. It is the way her content brings us into the atmosphere of Melville's ocean experience and lets lovers of classical literature recall that important novel of the 19th C. In "A Pequod Sailor Speaks," (p.20) Morris imagines the watery vistas the captain and crew might have seen on the Pequod (Captain Ahab's ship). A quote from this poem delivers descriptive scenes of the sea and concludes with a remarkable metaphor in its final lines:
Sudden winds bellow, curdle foam.
Sword-sharp, they rip the sails, shriek
and break the mast. Lightning stabs
The turncoat sea leaps over the bulwarks,
Judas, kissing the captain.
In Part I we also discover Ahab considering the wind; we encounter poems written from the viewpoint of Ahab's wife and from that of Ishmael (Melville's narrator); and we learn of Pip, the tormented cabin boy.
"Stubb Ponders Shadow and Substance," (p. 56-57), delivers its story in sestina form. Intricate in its use of the movable end-line words, it tells of a sailor confronting his death:
...when the Angel of Death knocks and I hear
the window of my life closing, when it's true
that what I want more than safety is Nantucket cherries. A shadow
crosses the deck. I try to be bold, look into the face of death.
Ahab vows the finish of the great white whale in "Prophecy." In "White" we find "...like tempestuous / wind and breakers, the spun / water that the white whale / whipped into a fury..." The Captain's monomaniacal quest to avenge himself of his dismemberer is ever present in the lines.
The "Sonnet 80 Suite" appears in Morris's Part II. In this outstanding set of poems, (pgs. 63-66) the first rhyme gives us Ishmael, recalling "the captain of the ship, that man of might / whose hubris doomed his crew..." Here Morris is playing with the specific end words Shakespeare used in his Sonnet No. 80. She does this in bouts-sonnet form but manages to remain in the theme of Moby Dick. In the next three poems, she writes in the form called "a gram of &s." For this form, she must use pre-selected end words that appear in each poem's title. I found these to be ingenious in their adherence to the structure while simultaneously delivering fine narratives.
In "Soundless - Starbuck Ponders,"(p. 64), the end words, "sound," "soul," "loud," and "send," for example, are all formed by the letters in the word "Soundless." Each line adheres to the "rule."
While the sinking Pequod sounds
the sea, I sound my soul,
its clamoring a loud
racket I try to silence. I send
The final poem in the Sonnet Set is an erasure poem, itself an intriguing form and a visual delight.
In "Memos to Herman Melville," Part III, Morris speaks in slightly more philosophical tones. Here she sometimes addresses Melville directly. In "Theology," (p.84) we find:
At the end of your book,
Ahab lies down beside Quaker Starbuck,
and Fedallah, the Parsee, beside Portuguese,
Tahitian, and Maltese sailors////
all manner of men in a democratic grave.
Morris's Part IV brings a bit of backtalk. This assumes new pitch, as compared with the poems in the other sections. In "Meditation by the Water," (p. 91) a speaker asks just what the psalmist means when he declares "the Almighty will keep you / under his wings." And in "No Harm in Ahab," a poem significant for our current times, Morris delves into the theme of evil and the question of righteousness. (It is the single poem in this collection where I discovered a minor misprint.)
Five poems in Part V bring the volume to a close. Here, forms used that I haven't previously mentioned are the "Golden Shovel," the "lipogram," and "the snake," a form Morris herself devised.
For its rich content and variety, the skillful manipulation of words into logical form, and for her imaginative imagery, Wilda Morris's Pequod Poems is a colorful collection. One can read it for story, for a poetic reconnection with Melville's novel, and for pure delight in the richness of Morris's descriptive and rhyming techniques.
Poet Wilda Morris serves a wide community of poets both through her own published poems, and through the many workshops and courses she has taught in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa. In addition, she holds leadership positions in major artistic organizations throughout Illinois. These include the Illinois State Poetry Society and Poets & Patrons of Illinois, both for which she has served as president.
Zinger in the Woods
Live Grow Sustain
9798616441805 $12.99 Paperback, 21 pages
Lessons Learned from a Doggie Adventure
I loved Zinger in the Woods for the way it helps children understand the concept of trust. Nestled into this lesson (written for tweens or a younger age group) is an adventure in which one dog rescues another and then finds a new home for himself. Quite a number of delightful surprises present themselves in the language m.t. becker used: "their hooves are harder than jawbreakers," "it was a pawtastic time," "her eyes were like shiny gold coins," and the use of scientific terms (for rabbits and squirrels).
A few other concepts the book teaches, some overtly, some subtly, include the use of traction, the effects of gravity, and the purposes of natural remedies. After her rescue, Ginger really wants to play with Zen, but she turns homeward knowing her family is looking for her, an example of deferred gratification.
Kids reading this book witness a child's concern for her pet, parental consolation, the idea of being on a mission, the meaning of such terms as "ordeal," and "mesmerized."
A few elements not fully explained include: why is Zinger used in the title? and where did Zen get the rope for the rescue he performs? But let's not concern ourselves with such minor things in doggie-land, as defined by Mark and Tie Becker. (Note - m.t. becker represents a husband-wife team.)
Able Muse Press
9781773490434, $29.27 Hardcover, $18.57 Paper, $9,99 Kindle
Motherland moves me more than any poetry I've read in recent months. Through Sally Thomas's lines we experience Life as God's sacred offering to us, and ordinary living, a kind of sacred offering in return. This giving and receiving, both ordinary and extraordinary, is present in almost all of Thomas's poems, no matter what poetical form the author chose. (She uses the sonnet, sestina, villanelle, and other forms.)
A memorable poem opens the collection. Thomas presents "Change-Ringing" (3) in six beautifully rhymed quatrains; the subject, a woman, recalls a time of nursing a child. The ringing of the church bells ("a wordless shape-note singing") resounds through the poem, as the mother holds the child through "the sigh and suck," and through the clamor she's "caught by the memory's glamor."
In "Lamplight" (59) the narrator has stepped outside and stands viewing her house at night. The poem expresses a gentle domestic contentment. The second stanza follows:
Leaked lamplight, a gold spill on the dry
Black stalks of black-eyed Susans beneath the window.
Behind its veil, the room shone privately
As with a happiness, a mystery to me.
I stood outside and wondered at that glow.
"Angelus" (8), a poem pregnant with anticipation of future children is written in second person; the persona imagines the awaited children as dresses hanging in the closet "timeless, never out of style. One of them could choose you." Using a sacred evocation, she speaks the words spoken by the Biblical Mary, "Be it done to me, according..."
Another remarkable poem, "Morning, with Goldfinches" (37) offers six stanzas of fourteen lines each. The final line of a stanza becomes the opening line of the next. The rhyme scheme is sustained with delicate rhyming reverberations, as when "curtain" rhymes with "when," "molt" with "throat," and "plenty" with "flinty." Spring comes with "trees in flame like angels," Thomas tells us, and "Sweet brevity, newest hour, everything most lovely, most loved, goes singing." With such fine lyricism, we feel as if we, too, want to sing as we await the coming of spring.
Throughout the collection, Thomas's sure control of poetic form, rhyming, slant rhyme and enjambment techniques is constant and consistent. Many of the poems depict instances of domestic life, memories of family members, the intimacies of married life; but on page 77, she shifts into a final segment.
The twenty poems in the "Richeldis of Walsingham" segment, the most numinous of the entire collection, relate to an ancient shrine in England, destroyed during the reign of Henry VIII, then rebuilt as a Roman Catholic shrine in 1934. These poems use double titles, given in English and Anglo-Saxon. Often they reference specific years. They allow the reader to traverse through a long period of English history, both its language and happenings. Through them, Thomas presents a predominantly mystical view of the world and its future. "Stangefeall (fallen stones)," for example, speaks of a quiet wood: "It's quiet there, and old. / In the bluebell woods, silence / speaks in tongues." (81) And "bidden"(to pray)" is beautiful in its solemnity:
There is the lick of Lauds-bell, the wind's weeping.
Biddan: Ic bidde. We bidden.
Bed-making. Bidden, the soul's housewife sweeps
Clean the clod-cold hearth, furnishes fire
To see by, with sighs more wordful than words. (77)
Again, through Thomas's well-chosen words, we experience the sacred element of the ordinary and extraordinary in her beautiful Motherland. It's a volume to hold close for years to come.
This review first appeared at Mom Egg Review
The Man in the Pines
Orange Hat Publishing
9781645381297, $15.00 paperback
Because of its beautiful descriptions, offered right from the start, I thought The Man in the Pines would be a fun-to-read historical novel. But the book is more than a historical novel.
Nash invites us into the story by way of an old man inside a cabin as he peers through a distorted glass window. He's searching for a view of the path that leads down to a lake. It's a beautiful chapter that depicts the man planting saplings, taking the seeds from a crude, homemade rucksack he carries with him. He talks to a rabbit while going about his labor. The time is 1983, the State is Minnesota.
The next chapter shifts to Maine and the year 1870. It was at that point I noticed that a silhouette of a rabbit precedes the chapter heading, and each subsequent chapter. (Kudos to the publisher for that important touch. It appears, at first, as a charming addition; but proves to be a significant image, as well, and vital to the story.)
A child is delivered to Samantha and Andrew Cunningham as they experience a fearful, life-threatening Maine blizzard. But hearing the cries of a child, Samantha rips the door open against the pulls of the wind. And so we meet Paul, the abandoned tiny infant, who grows into a towering legend. He becomes a lumberjack, and it was not until about page 60, that I recognized the familiar legend, as you will, too.
You will recall the tale, so artfully told through Nash's imagination and what must be recognized as careful research, as soon as you envision this giant of a man, as he swings his way through expansive pine forests. As a side note, this story carried me easily to an excerpt of a poem I was reading at the time, by J.J. Schoolcraft.* She sings wistfully of the pines: "The pine! The pine! I eager cried, // As first that cherished tree I spied." But Schoolcraft would have her pines growing again, and her lands restored. Oddly enough, that is what Paul himself will desire, as told by Nash. But first, the very pines called out to Paul for cutting, and ultimately provided him his major life's work.
The chapter, on page 38, opens with Nash's poem: "Moving with the waterways / I whisper to the sky / for I am / the man in the pines." Campfire tales about Paul begin to proliferate. A simple object, a piece of wood and metal, makes Paul feel complete, as he hacks his way through the forests, felling more trees in a day than any man. His body seems daily to grow taller and taller, as do the tales about him.
Paul had sensed the pull further westward for some time now. He was always keen to listen for stories of bigger trees and untamed wilderness. The trees were magnets calling to the iron surging through his veins. (p. 41)
We soon learn how, nicknamed by his French-Canadian friend, his name Bon Jean, gradually elides into "Bunyan." But along the St. Croix River, Paul experiences a foreboding:
At twenty-three years old, Paul didn't altogether mind being a role model..., [to his fellow loggers] but the thought that these forests were drying up made him uneasy, anxious even. An image of a land with nothing but tree stumps flashed before him, and a warm tingling crawled up the back of his neck as a stab of nausea sunk into his belt. He blinked the scene away. Nah! I'll be logging until I die, and there'll always be more for me to cut. (pp. 41-42)
Though I may seem to have disregarded spoiler alerts, in actuality I have not. There are many surprises yet disclosed in Nash's telling of the tale. And you can read the volume for the unfolding of the plot and for the ample satisfactions his syntax and writing style provide, rich with poetry and with metaphors always appropriate to the volume's subject matter.
A case in point appears on page 54. Paul suffers a deep loss. He builds a wall around himself, as his father had done. The author describes it this way: He recognized the strength required to be an island and tried to embody it. Nash typically mixes the concrete with the abstract.
I wept through some of the passages in which he describes other particular losses, and I especially appreciated Nash's sensitivity in his portrayal of Bunyan's relationship with his beloved friend, Babe. Of special note is the worthy lesson Nash brings to the fore in his final chapters, which I leave for the reader to discover.
A Man in the Pines is a novel to be enjoyed by those who especially treasure the beautiful topography of the Midwest, from its trees to its rivers and lakes, and by those who appreciate a long-lasting American legend, told here with a respectable, contemporary spin.
A native of Minnesota who now resides in Wisconsin, Nash is a pediatric ophthalmologist and an award-winning singer-songwriter. I welcome future novels from him.
*Included in Joy Harjo's collection, When the Light of the World was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through (Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry, 2020).
Carole Mertz, Reviewer
Chris Molinari's Bookshelf
The Midnight Library
c/o Penguin Group USA
9780525559474, $26.00 HC, 9780525559481, $10.99 Kindle, 304 pages
In a recent statement, Matt Haig noted that "the library is heaven," a place he sees as a twilight zone occupying the space between life and death. Many have yearned for a chance to visit the Library of Babel, the eternal library that served as the inspiration for Haig's recent novel The Midnight Library. Haig's library mirrors the upward spiraling hexagonal circles in a Borgesian world, a labyrinth without an obvious exit, a place so replete with information that it would require the services of an expert librarian to help visitors find their way out the door.
Today's midnight libraries exist in the circumpolar north, where they stay open twenty-four hours during the vernal equinox so that patrons can visit the library all night long. As opposed to the Borgesian library, however, Haig's midnight library reflects a multiverse that is tailored to the specific needs of the individual patron. The library is a gift that is offered to each one of the patrons who assume the guise of Schrodinger's cat, a companion who creeps into the stacks and leaves behind two trails, both here on earth and in the library.
The Midnight Library opens a vista onto the life of Nora Seed, who at the beginning of the book is having a very bad day. Everything falls through all at once: her beloved cat dies; she is fired from her job at String Theory; she forgets to show up for the tutoring session she is giving at a friend's home; to her sorrow, she even leaves behind a suicide note. Her negative capability is all she knows; the factory wasteland owns her property, and tomorrow is at an end.
Then it happens. The clock strikes 00:00:00. Prompted by a cosmic irony, Nora crosses the divide between her previous existence and all her potential ones. A gabled building looms in the distance. She walks up to the door and goes in. There she sees endless rows of nameless books. For an instant, the place looks oddly sinister, but soon she recognizes a familiar face. It's her friend Mrs. Elm, the beloved librarian, a woman she knew in school.
Nora wonders where she is. Mrs Elm seizes the chance to tell her: "Between life and death there is a library." Has Nora stepped into a multiverse of choices, or is she part of a grand conspiracy? Nora gets a copy of The Book of Regrets, a masterful volume containing the history of her past mistakes. In time, Mrs. Elm takes on the role of Cato, the Stoic philosopher who led Dante through purgatory. She promises to show Nora the rational path through the library. Relying on Mrs. Elm, Nora is able to observe her own conduct as she relives each of her past actions, one at a time. The librarian further shows Nora which life to lead and gives her advice on how to improve her many lives.
With each new chapter, Nora undergoes a previous life. Some adventures are merely cathartic, providing Nora with a chance to ameliorate her past. This moment occurs when the solipsistic Nora assumes the reincarnated guise of a country pub owner. Although she had not married him, Nora gets a chance to see what it would be like to be his wife and decides that their marriage would have been a total merry-go-round. Her dreams are not as important as his plans for their future life together. She simply cannot find the Herculean strength within her heart to repair the strain in their affairs.
As a divorcee, Nora is free to try on multiple roles. When she embarks on each new phase, she sometimes develops a dissociative amnesia about who she is. This trick device can be read in a number of ways. Perhaps Nora is making herself up; furthermore, Nora could be experiencing physical barriers preventing her from remembering who she is. Once and for all, it is the omniscient narrator who controls the language of the book; it is tempting to view the narrator's role as that of deceiver. The reader is ultimately unable to locate the correct facts about Nora without the narrator's convoluted intervention.
The Midnight Library is a clever book, one where the suspense goes on and on. If there is a moral to the story it may reside in this stoic ideal: a lonely past can heal a broken heart, something we all may have once known. A sequel to this outstanding book would be most welcome.
Clint Travis' Bookshelf
Suruthi Bala & Hannah Maguire
9780762473793, $27.00 hc / $13.99 Kindle
Synopsis: After meeting at a house party in London, where they discovered a mutual obsession for all things true crime, Suruthi Bala and Hannah Maguire drunkenly promised to one day start their own murder podcast. Six weeks later they ordered their first microphones and the rest is history. From the hosts of the hit podcast RedHanded (dubbed by Anna Paquin as her "all- time favorite true crime podcast"), Bala and Maguire have amassed a cult following of "spooky bitches."
What is it about killers, cults, and cannibals that capture our imaginations even as they terrify and disturb us? Do we find these stories endlessly and equally compelling and frightening, because they hold up a mirror to society's failings and to the horrors that we humans are capable of? RedHanded rejects the outdated narrative of killers as monsters and that a victim "was just in the wrong place at the wrong time." Instead, it dissects the stories of killers in a way that challenges perceptions and asks the hard questions about society, gender, poverty, culture, and even our politics.
With their trademark humor, research on real-life cases, and unflinching analysis of what makes a criminal, Bala and Maguire take you through what drives the most extreme of human behavior to find out once and for all: what makes a killer tick?
Critique: Based upon the popular true crime podcast by Hannah Maguire and Suruthi Bala, RedHanded: An Exploration of Criminals, Cannibals, Cults, and What Makes a Killer Tick explores the nature of horrific violent crimes, and rejects common explanations the quest to understand what truly drives a killer. RedHanded does not spare any hard questions about gender, poverty, culture, or politics in its close examination criminality. Thoroughly fascinating from cover to cover, RedHanded is a welcome addition to true crime collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that RedHanded is also available in a Kindle edition ($13.99).
Editorial Note: Hannah Maguire and Suruthi Bala are co-hosts of the smash hit true crime podcast RedHanded, which offers a weekly dose of murder, wit, and WTFs delivered with facts, anecdotal tangents, serious scrutiny, and real British flavor. RedHanded prides itself on looking past sensational headlines and getting to the truth of every murder, cult, and serial killer.
Curse of Salem
c/o Penguin Group (USA)
9781984802927, $27.00, HC, 304pp
Synopsis: The small town of Salem has been quiet for months -- or so a man named Bishop and his elite Special Crimes Unit believe. But then Hollis Templeton and Diana Hayes receive a warning in Diana's eerie "gray time" between the world of the living and the realm of the dead that a twisted killer is stalking Salem, bent on destroying in the most bloody and horrifying way possible the five families that founded the town.
The stakes are high, especially for new friends Nellie Cavendish and Finn Deverell, both members of the Five, and this time Bishop and his wife Miranda will lead the team to hunt down a vicious killer and uncover a dark and ancient curse haunting Salem.
Critique: The newest addition to author Kay Hopper's 'Special Crimes Unit' series, "Curse Of Salem" will be of special and particular interest to paranormal suspense fiction. Memorable crafted characters and plot twists, "Curse Of Salem" will prove to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to community library Mystery/Suspense and Supernatural Thriller collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Curse Of Salem" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.99) and as a complete and unabridged audio book (Blackstone Audio, 9781094092164, $29.95, CD).
How Progressivism Destroyed Venezuela
c/o Histria Books
9781592111343, $29.99, HC, 188pp
Synopsis: On December 6, 1998, the Venezuelan people voted in an election that would drastically change the course of the country. After Hugo Chavez Frias won the 1998 election and assumed office in 1999, most Venezuelans felt hopeful of the promise of change and the opening up of new possibilities, and perhaps the return of an era of prosperity such as Venezuela had known in the 1950s. The ensuing reality, however, would proved much different.
The Venezuelan people slowly came to realize that they had voted for something that could no longer be simply voted out of office. Over the past two decades, Venezuela experienced a massive political, socio-economic, and ideological transformation. It has gone from one of Latin America's most stable democracies to a failed, impoverished state. Some believe this marks the end of what once was a bastion of freedom in South America; others, more optimistically, believe the nation can once regain its former glory despite the devastation.
"How Progressivism Destroyed Venezuela: A Cautionary Tale" by Elizabeth Rogliani explores the causes of the disaster facing this proud and once prosperous nation. Although the most obvious explanation for Venezuela's tragic situation is Hugo Chavez, his corrupt government, and his failed policies, the seeds of this disaster were planted in the country long before he ever set foot in the Presidential Palace. "How Progressivism Destroyed Venezuela: A Cautionary Tale" explores the progressive ideas and events that led up to the election of 1998. It discusses the events, policies, and attitudes that defined the late Hugo Chavez Frias's government and how his once unexpected leadership in the country managed to become entrenched, despite its colossal failures and popular protests.
Critique: A definitive, informed and informative study, "How Progressivism Destroyed Venezuela: A Cautionary Tale" is an extraordinary account of a failed state. Thoughtful and thought-provoking, "How Progressivism Destroyed Venezuela: A Cautionary Tale" is very highly recommended, especially for personal, professional, community, college, and university library International Studies collections in general, and 20th Century Venezuelan History supplemental curriculum studies reading lists in particular.
Editorial Note: Elizabeth Rogliani is an immigrant from Venezuela who grew up watching her country deteriorate through the eyes of her parents at a very young age, and all through her early teens. She grew up in Venezuela's capital city of Caracas, and made the decision to finish her high school abroad, always with the plan of returning home. In 2010, she moved to the United States, where she found herself ten years later, watching her old home from afar, recognizing it is not the place where she grew up. She studied Political Science and International Affairs in college, and in 2020, on an unexpected twist of fate, one of her videos warning Americans of a possible political decline went viral.
Israel Drazin's Bookshelf
Cain v. Abel: A Jewish Courtroom Drama
Rabbi Dan Ornstein
The Jewish Publication Society
9780827614673 $23.95 pbk / $11.99 Kindle
The Cain v. Abel Trial
Rabbi Dr. Dan Ornstein has just written an easy to read Jewish courtroom drama "Cain v. Abel" that is interesting, thoughtful, eye-opening, and thought-provoking based on the rather short close to two dozen biblical sentences in Genesis 4 that report the fraternal murder of Abel by his brother Cain. He includes the rather exiting imaginative additions to the biblical episode by the individual or group that wrote an Aramaic translation of the biblical Hebrew known as Pseudo Jonathan, which added events to the Five Books of Moses that the original Hebrew does not even hint. The Aramaic translation adds to Eve's statement "I have gotten a man with the help of [an angel] of the Lord." It is saying that an angel impregnated Eve. Rabbi Ornstein suggests in his version of the drama that Adam is angry at her infidelity and that he and Eve have been banished from Eden and that he must henceforth be a farmer of land that produces little and only after extremely difficult work. He blames his wife for both events and decides to separate from her. The couple does not reunite until they are 130 years old when they have a third son. Ornstein suggests that the infidelity produced a toxic family situation during the 130 years that affected them and their two sons. During the period Eve showered Cain with more love than Abel and Adam did not disguise his angry feelings toward the illegitimate boy Cain.
Truth was the prosecutor at the trial and Lovingkindness was Cain's defense attorney. The prosecutor condemns humanity as being dishonest and violent. He reminds God during the Lord's testimony that he and other angels advised God not to create such beings. The defense attorney defends humanity as having the potential to be just and kind. But we in the jury wonder if they ever behaved in this way. The witnesses were Adam, Eve, God, Abel's blood, and Sin. Their testimonies are fascinating and make us, the jury to the trial, consider many important issues such as are humans expected to be their brother's keeper, should Cain be found guilty despite confessing when he was raised by a dysfunctional family, should he be punished when he was never told that it is wrong to kill another person? Is God to blame? Rabbi Ornstein comments on each of the testimonies and this also makes us think.
To Be a Holy People: Jewish Tradition and Ethical Values
Rabbi Eugene Korn
Jewish Ethics is preferred over Jewish Law
Most people, Jews and non-Jews, think that Judaism prefers that Jews observe Jewish Law, called halakha, rather than ethics, and if the two come in conflict the Jew must follow the halakha. Rabbi Dr. Eugene Korn shows in his excellent easy to understand book "To be a Holy People: Jewish Tradition and Ethical Values" that they are wrong. What is Jewish Ethics? How does it differ from Jewish law?
Three things must be understood about Jewish Ethics. The first is to recognize that the goal of the Torah is proper behavior and many practices were essential only in the early history of the Jewish people. For example, the Torah requires certain procedures in regard to sacrifices, but Jewish tradition has understood that the Bible wants people to behave properly with one another not spend time trying to please God.
Second, we need to identify overarching values such as the Tzelem Elokim, the image of God which is implanted in all human beings, Jews and non-Jews, as reflected in Genesis 1:26. The concept of Tzelem Elokim proclaims that human life has immeasurable value. Mishna Sanhedrin 4:5 states it clearly: "One who saves a single life is [i.e. morally equivalent to] as if he saves the entire world; one who destroys a single life is as if he destroys the entire world." Another significant value is to implement justice as required in Deuteronomy 16:20 "Justice, justice you shall pursue." Others include love of neighbor in Leviticus 19:18, holiness in Leviticus 19:2, peace as emphasized in Isaiah 57:19, and the general concept of moral rightness and goodness in Deuteronomy 6:18.
Still other fundamental guiding value in Jewish ethics include the imperative to imitate God, to clothe the naked, feed the poor, visit the sick, comfort mourners, and perform acts of loving-kindness - because Jewish tradition understood that God did these acts. Another, one that recognizes that the commandments were not the goal but a path toward the goal, is lifnim meshurat ha-din, going beyond the requirements of the commandments, the halakha. Another aspect of Jewish ethics is Tikkun Olam, commonly translated repairing the world, the requirement to be active, to improve one's self and society, not to sit passively studying halakha or praying or reciting Psalms.
The third item that must be understood about Jewish Ethics is that its final objective, the vision that animates the commands and the ethics they teach, is the messianic vision of a society suffused with peace and justice. The goal of the commandments is not the doing of the command; the goal, indeed the purpose of the command is to live ethically according the above-mentioned values.
The ancient rabbis recognized the importance of ethics. They said such things as Derekh erets kadmah l'Torah, "Proper behavior preceded the Torah itself." And R. Yohanan said, "Jerusalem was destroyed only because [Jews] judged according to the law of the Torah." In essence, R. Yohanan's assertion is saying that Jews who wrap themselves in a life of halakha, ignoring Jewish Ethics are laying the groundwork to Judaism's destruction.
The classic example of Jewish ethics vs. "the law of the Torah" is the story of Shimon ben Shetach in the Palestinian Talmud Baba Metsi'a 2:5. Simeon ben Shetach, circa 140-60 BCE, was a Pharisee scholar and Nasi of the Sanhedrin, i.e. head of the seventy-one-member court. His students bought a donkey for him from a non-Jewish trader. After the sale, they found a precious gem on it. They told their teacher that he was now rich and did not need to work anymore. Their teacher asked if the trader knew about the gem. "No," they replied. He then said. "Go and return it." His students argued, "Is it not the law that you are permitted to keep the gem?" Shimon ben Shetach answered them: "Do you think that Shimon ben Shetach is a barbarian?"
We should note that it is clear, beyond dispute, that halakha allowed the teacher to keep the jewel. But Shimon ben Shetach knew that following the law was morally wrong and he must "go beyond the strict line of the law." His use of the term "barbarian" is shocking, but it indicates his moral outrage," an outrage against those who follow the law when morality is demanded.
The prophets stressed ethical behavior before Shimon ben Shetach. Micah wrote in 6:8, "It has been told to you man what is good, and what the Lord requires of you; only to act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." Zechariah proclaimed in 7:8-9, "This is what the Lord almighty said, 'Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.'" These are example of many similar statements, none of which mention halakha.
The rabbis continued the teachings of the prophets. Shimon Ben Azzai of the second century CE asserted that the basic teaching of the Torah is that all humans were created in the image of God, as stated in Genesis 6:1, "God created man. In the likeness of God, He made him." Rabbi Akiva (50 CE -135) said that Leviticus 19:18 has the Torah's basic teaching, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Hillel (circa 110 BCE-10 CE) said it this way to a would-be convert to whom he was teaching Judaism, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole of the Torah, the rest is explanation, go and learn," Nachmanides (1194-1270) explained that Leviticus 19:2's "You shall be holy" and Deuteronomy 6:18's "You shall do what is right and good in God's eyes" requires Jews to go beyond the requirements of halakha and promote human welfare, interpersonal relations, and protect individual interests fairly. Maimonides (1038-1204) before him said the same.
It should be clear that a central purpose of halakha is the realization of moral values. But this realization does not go far enough. Jewish ethics needs to honor tradition while taking into account the modern sensibilities of justice and equality. The ancient rabbis did it by doing away with slavery, sacrifices, allowing interest on certain loans, stopping executions, turning "an eye for an eye" into monetary compensation, and dozens of other practices. Rabbi Shlomo Goren, the first head of the military rabbinate in the Israel Defense Force (1917-1994), ruled for the IDF, "God forbid that those laws [in the Torah] are applied to non-biblical wars or wars of our times." We need to copy the initiatives of the rabbis who stressed Jewish Ethics and urge them to do more.
"Like the Torah itself, Jewish ethics may have started at Sinai, but it no longer resides there. The Torah and our talmudic rabbis tell us Lo ba'shamayim hi - "It is not in heaven" (Deuteronomy 30:12). Jewish life, and the possibilities of holiness and ethics are in our hands. There is much that still needs to be done. While the fundamental Jewish values of justice and mercy are eternal, how, when, and if they are realized are up to us.
Dr. Israel Drazin, Reviewer
Jack Mason's Bookshelf
Tech Trends 24/7 and the Impact of Covid-19
James P. Quinn
9781736648100, $25.99, HC, 258pp
Synopsis: Simply stated, "Tech Trends 24/7 and the Impact of Covid-19" by James P. Quinn is a game-changing study. During this current decade, we will experience the greatest change in technology innovation in history driven by massive technology disruption that has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic -- especially with the impact of seemingly endless variants of the original virus.
These technology forces will have a riveting effect on our everyday personal and business lives. "Tech Trends 24/7 and the Impact of Covid-19" provides a captivating fast-paced tour on how technology innovation is enhancing our world covering important technologies and areas such as: Office of the Future, Smart Cities, Sustainability for Cities, Transportation as a Service (TaaS), Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), 5G, Digital Twins, Fashion and Health/Wellness.
With the publication of "Tech Trends 24/7 and the Impact of Covid-19", Quinn (who has been at the forefront of technology real estate) delivers a positive perspective on how these trends will lead to dynamic changes to the business world and personal landscape. Quinn describes these disruptive technologies and important areas on how they will revolutionize and dramatically change the status quo.
"Tech Trends 24/7 and the Impact of Covid-19" also provides insightful interviews with key innovators in areas such as Office of the Future, Sustainability, Smart Cities and Corporate Technology. Quinn also writes an inspirational chapter on how Technology Innovation is contributing to making a difference to really assist People with Disabilities.
"Tech Trends 24/7 and the Impact of Covid-19" also has a bigger purpose of leveraging technology to help people in need. After realizing technology is impacting people's lives, Quinn had an epiphany to start a charity with the focused mission to leverage technology to help people.
Critique: Timely, informative, exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Tech Trends 24/7 and the Impact of Covid-19" is an extraordinary read that is as informed and informative as it is thoughtful and thought-provoking. It should be noted that a portion of the proceeds from the sale of "Tech Trends 24/7 and the Impact of Covid-19" go directly to this charity- Beacon of Hope 365 that is already doing great work. While also available in for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99), "Tech Trends 24/7 and the Impact of Covid-19" is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, corporate, college, and university library collections.
A Dangerous Parting
Nathan L. Shedd
Baylor University Press
One Bear Place, #97363, Waco, TX 76798-7363
9781481315227, $44.99, HC, 228pp
Synopsis: Execution by beheading is a highly symbolic act. The grisly image of the severed head evokes a particular social and cultural location, functioning as a channel of figurative discourse specific to a place and time -- dissuading non-ideal behavior as well as expressing and reinforcing group boundary demarcations and ideological assumptions. In short, a bodiless head serves as a discursive vehicle of communication: though silenced, it speaks.
Employing social memory theory and insights from a thorough analysis of ancient ideology concerning beheading, "A Dangerous Parting: The Beheading of John the Baptist in Early Christian Memory" explores the communicative impact of the tradition of John the Baptist's decapitation in the first three centuries of the Common Era.
In "A Dangerous Parting" Professor Nathan Shedd argues that the early memory of the Immerser's death is characterized by a dangerous synchroneity. On the one hand, John's beheading, associated as it was with Jesus' crucifixion, served as the locus of destabilizing and redistributing the degradation of a victim who undergoes bodily violence; both John and Jesus were mutually vindicated as victims of somatic violence.
On the other hand, as John's head was remembered in the second and third century, localized expressions of the "Parting of the Ways" were inscribed onto that parted head with dangerous anti-Jewish implications. Justin Martyr and Origen represent an attempt to align John's beheading and Jesus' crucifixion along a cultural schematic that asserted the destitution of non-Christ-following Jews and, simultaneously, alleged Christians' ethical, ideological, and spiritual supremacy.
"A Dangerous Parting" also uncovers interpretive possibilities of John's beheading, especially regarding the deep-rooted patterns of thinking that have animated indifference to acts of physical violence against Jews throughout history. With this work, Professor Shedd not only pushes John the Baptist research forward to consider the impact of this figure in early expressions of Jewish and Christian distinction, but also urges scholars and students alike to contemplate the ethics of reading ancient texts.
Critique: With the publication of "A Dangerous Parting: The Beheading of John the Baptist in Early Christian Memory", academician Nathan L. Shedd (who is an adjunct instructor at William Jessup University (Rocklin, CA) and Johnson University (Knoxville, TN), makes a unique contribution New Testament Bible Studies, History & Culture. A work of meticulous and original scholarship, exhaustive documentation, and impressively informative research, "A Dangerous Parting" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, community, seminary, college, and university library Christian History/Theology/Christology collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists.
John Burroughs' Bookshelf
Edge of Armageddon
The Sager Group LLC
9781950154715, $18.99, PB, 552pp
Synopsis: Set during the 13th century, "Edge of Armageddon" by Brad Graft introduces us to Esel, a respected bowmaker in her nomadic tribe who is seized, enslaved, and sold to a wealthy arms merchant in Syria. Overhearing her master plotting against Baybars, a nephew she has not seen since his adolescence, Esel risks her life to flee Damascus and warn Baybars of the coming betrayal.
Embraced in Baybars' camp, Esel plunges into the hazard and intrigue surrounding her ambitious nephew. Soon, she is aiding Baybars in his quest to win the sultanate and countering the efforts of a female spy who stalks the roving Bahri.
Tension builds as the Mongol army slashes a bloody path through Mesopotamia and northern Syria, eyeing Cairo as its prize. In a fateful battle on the wide plain just east of the biblical site of Armageddon, Egypt's Mamluks come face-to-face with the seemingly unconquerable Mongols, who sacked their Kipchak tribes twenty-four years prior. At stake for Esel and the Mamluks is the survival of their people, preservation of their fledgling empire, and the continuance of Islam itself.
A gripping tale of betrayal and love, retribution, mercy, abandonment, and redemption, "Edge of Armageddon" is also a compelling account of the historical Battle of Ayn Julut -- an unheralded and heretofore obscure clash whose outcome leaves crucial repercussions still felt today.
Critique: An inherently fascinating action/adventure novel written with a great deal of attention to authentic historical detail and deftly crafted, memorable characters, "Edge of Armageddon" (Book 3 of the Brotherhood of the Mamluks trilogy) is a compelling page turner of a read from cover to cover. Certain to be a welcome and enduringly popular addition to community library historical fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that ""Edge of Armageddon" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).
Editorial Note: Brad Graft is a dedicated history buff whose research on the Brotherhood of the Mamluks series took him to the Middle and Far East, where he studied Medieval-era routes and fortresses and trekked the Mongolian steppe on horseback, learning the ways of native hunters and nomadic herders.
Ulrich L. Lehner
c/o Baker Publishing Group
6030 East Fulton, Ada, MI 49301
9781540964779, $39.99, HC, 184pp
Synopsis: Today it seems that America is dominated by half-truths, illogic, and intellectual laziness. "Think Better" by Ulrich L. Lehner will help readers understand what reason is and how to use it well.
Reason is a powerful tool not only for finding our way in an increasingly complex world but also for growing intellectually and emotionally. "Think Better" is a short, accessible volume that unlocks the dynamics of human reason, helping readers to think critically and to use reason confidently to solve problems. It will also enables readers to think more clearly and precisely about the world, and it tackles a number of profound philosophical questions without getting bogged down with jargon.
The topics covered in "Think Better" include knowledge, identity, leadership, creativity, and empathy. Written in an accessible style that integrates philosophy, illustrations, personal anecdotes, and statistical data, "Think Better" is well suited for use in undergraduate, classical school, and home school contexts. It is an invaluable guide for anyone interested in gaining better reasoning skills and a more rational approach to life.
Critique: Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Think Better" will prove to be of value to both academia, the clergy, philosophy students, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject. While highly recommended for community, seminary, college, and university library Philosophy & Religion collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Think Better" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781540964762, $21.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $20.89).
Editorial Note: Ulrich L. Lehner (PhD, University of Regensburg; DHabil, Central European University) is the William K. Warren Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Indiana. He is a trained philosopher, theologian, and historian and has published widely on the history of religion, culture, and thought. Among his more than 20 authored and edited books is the bestseller God Is Not Nice and the groundbreaking Catholic Enlightenment. Lehner lectures at universities worldwide and is frequently interviewed in the media. He has been featured on CNN and in the Washington Post and the National Review.
Julie Summers' Bookshelf
Star Origami: The Starrygami Galaxy of Modular Origami Stars, Rings and Wreaths
Tung Ken Lam
A. K. Peters/CRC Press
9781032022338, $24.95, PB, 173pp
Synopsis: Origami (Japanese: from ori meaning "folding", and kami meaning "paper" is the art of paper folding. In modern usage, the word "origami" is used as an inclusive term for all folding practices, regardless of their culture of origin. The goal is to transform a flat square sheet of paper into a finished sculpture through folding and sculpting techniques. Modern origami practitioners generally discourage the use of cuts, glue, or markings on the paper. Origami folders often use the Japanese word kirigami to refer to designs which use cuts. (Wikipedia)
"Star Origami: The Starrygami Galaxy of Modular Origami Stars, Rings and Wreaths" by origami expert and mathematician Tun Ken Lam is an exciting collection of origami rings, stars and wreaths made using the modular technique, including clear instructions for making them.
Featuring more than sixty paper stars, all made without cutting, gluing or decorating using the modular origami technique; hundreds of clear step-by-step instructions show you how, based on the technique of folding a small number of simple units and joining them together as a satisfying puzzle; and secret tips to make new shapes just by varying a few lengths and angles, "Star Origami" is especially suitable for teaching and learning art, geometry and mathematics. Of special note is that classroom teachers will appreciate the practical advice to succeed in using origami for education.
Critique: Profusely and effectively illustrated step-by-step instructions, "Star Origami: The Starrygami Galaxy of Modular Origami Stars, Rings and Wreaths" is an ideal introduction to the mathematics of creating origami stars. While highly recommended for school, community, college, and university library origami collections, it should be noted for students, academia, professional and non-professionals with an interest in the subject that "Star Origami: The Starrygami Galaxy of Modular Origami Stars, Rings and Wreaths" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $23.70).
Editorial Note: Tung Ken Lam is an origami creator and qualified mathematics teacher. He is also the author of Action Modular Origami to Intrigue and Delight (Tarquin, 2018), and coauthor of Learning Mathematics with Origami (Association of Teachers of Mathematics, 2016). He has taught and presented his origami work in France, Italy, Sweden, Japan, and USA. He has run many events for teachers, learners, and the general public. He accepts commissions for origami projects and creating bespoke origami to order. Clients have included Bletchley Park Trust, The Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, EuroStemCell (formerly the Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine) and Honda UK.
I Wore This Dress Today for You, Mom
Red Hen Press
9781636280233, $19.95, HC, 128pp
Synopsis: Acclaimed for combining the accessible and profound, Kim Dower's poems about motherhood are some of her most moving and disarmingly candid. "I Wore This Dress Today for You, Mom: is an anthology of her poems on being a mother from childbirth to empty nest, as well as being a daughter with all the teenaged messiness, drama and conflict, to finally caring for one's mother suffering from dementia.
Carefully culled from her four collections as well as including a selection of new work, the poems comprising "I Wore This Dress Today for You, Mom" are heartbreaking, funny, surprising, and touching, explore the quirky, unexpected observations, and bittersweet moments mothers and daughters share. These evocative poems do not glorify mothers, but rather explore the deep crevices and emotions of these impenetrable relationships: the love, despair, joy, humor and gratitude that fills our lives.
Critique: Deftly constructed, inherently interesting, impressively insightful, thoughtful and thought-provoking, and truly memorable, poet Kim Dower's "I Wore This Dress Today for You, Mom" is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, community, college, and university library Contemporary American Poetry collections.
Editorial Note: Kim Dower, Former City Poet Laureate of West Hollywood, has published four highly acclaimed collections of poetry, including the Gold Ippy Award winning collection Sunbathing on Tyrone Power's Grave. She has been nominated for four Pushcarts, is widely anthologized, and teaches writing workshops for Antioch University, the West Hollywood Library, and UCLA Writer's Extension.
Typhoon Honey: The Only Way Out Is Through
Kris Girrell, author
Candace Sjogren, author
9781950328963, $19.95, PB, 218pp
Synopsis: Co-written by Kris Girrell and Candace Sjogren, and starting with a foundation of understanding how we, as physical and psychological beings actually function, "Typhoon Honey: The Only Way Out Is Through" lays out a path toward how to become the sole and undisputed author and authority of one's life they call "being the source".
"Typhoon Honey: The Only Way Out Is Through" explains with ample case examples and exercises how to: Release limiting self-concepts; Understand what reality is and isn't; and Become totally and powerfully accountable in determining your own personal future.
Critique: Drawing upon effective transformational technologies, while pulling back the curtain on how those techniques actually work, "Typhoon Honey: The Only Way Out Is Through" is essential reading for anyone aspiring to achieve a new level of life and living, personally and professionally. Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, especially for the non-specialist general reader with an interest in the subject, "Typhoon Honey: The Only Way Out Is Through" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, college, and university library Self-Help/Self-Improvement collections and reading lists.
Margaret Lane's Bookshelf
Mary Lou Williams: Music for the Soul
The Liturgical Press
2950 Saint John's Road, PO Box 7500, Collegeville, MN 56321-7500
9780814664018, $16.95, PB, 168pp
Synopsis: With the publication of "Mary Lou Williams: Music for the Soul", author, musician, composer, and biographer Deanna Witkowski brings a fresh perspective to the life and music of the legendary jazz pianist-composer Mary Lou Williams (born Mary Elfrieda Scruggs; May 8, 1910 - May 28, 1981).
As a fellow jazz pianist-composer, adult convert to Catholicism, and liturgical composer, Witkowski offers unique insight gleaned from a twenty-year journey with Williams as her chosen musical and spiritual mentor. Viewing Williams's musical and corporal acts of mercy as part of a singular effort to create community no matter the context, Witkowski examines how Williams created networks of support and friendship through her decades long letter correspondence with various women religious, her charitable work, and her tireless efforts to perform jazz in churches, community centers, concert halls, and schools.
Throughout this fascinating story told with equal amounts of deep love and scholarly research, Witkowski fully illumines Williams's passionate mantra that "jazz is healing to the soul."
Critique: An impressively informative and exceptionally well written biography of a remarkable woman and her equally remarkable talent, "Mary Lou Williams: Music for the Soul" will prove to be of special and particular interest to fans of jazz, gospel, swing, third stream, and bebop music. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library 20th Century American Biography and American Popular Music History collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that ""Mary Lou Williams: Music for the Soul" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $10.49).
Editorial Note: Deanna Witkowski is a professional jazz pianist, composer, and liturgical musician. She is the winner of the Great American Jazz Piano Competition and most recently, a featured performer with the Pittsburgh Symphony. As a noted Williams scholar, Witkowski is dedicated to bringing the pioneering jazz pianist-composer Mary Lou Williams's soulful legacy to communities across the United States.
Patricia A. Muehsam, MD
New World Library
14 Pamaron Way, Novato, CA 94949
9781608686995, $17.95, PB, 304pp
Synopsis: A pioneer in the synthesis of science, holistic health, and contemporary spirituality, with the publication of "Beyond Medicine: A Physician's Revolutionary Prescription for Achieving Absolute Health and Finding Inner Peace", Dr. Patricia Muehsam introduces and explores a path to health and well-being that is extraordinary in its ease and profound in its results.
"Beyond Medicine" is a groundbreaking work that explores what physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health and healing really mean and offers a revolutionary new way to think about health. The reader will discover experiences of illness and healing that defy conventional thinking, explore the ancient wisdom and the modern science of consciousness, and learn practical tools for experiencing Absolute Health -- which are also the tools needed for navigating being human.
Critique: Very well written, organized and presented for the benefit of the non-specialist general reader with an interest in the subject, "Beyond Medicine: A Physician's Revolutionary Prescription for Achieving Absolute Health and Finding Inner Peace" is an extraordinary and life-enhancing DIY instruction guide that will be especially appreciated as an addition to community, college, and university library physical, mental, and spiritual health and healing collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Beyond Medicine: A Physician's Revolutionary Prescription for Achieving Absolute Health and Finding Inner Peace" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).
Editorial Note: Patricia A. Muehsam, MD, is a pioneer in the synthesis of science, holistic health, and contemporary spirituality, has distinguished herself as a practitioner, educator, and research scientist and has been an influential force in shaping the landscape of health-care options available today. Dr. Muehsam is also the founder of Transformational Medicine, a whole-person approach to health and well-being, offering tools and resources for individuals and communities in person and online. She maintains an informative website at www.TransformationalMedicine.org
The Plant Clinic
Erin Lovell Verinder, author
Georgia Blackie, photographer
Thames & Hudson, Inc.
500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110-0017
9781760761721, $29.95, HC, 312pp
Synopsis: "The Plant Clinic" is a revolutionary new guide to reignite your health and transform your life. Expert herbalist Erin Lovell Verinder decodes healing with plant medicine to manage over 150 common health concerns, including: Vitality; Immunity; Detoxification; The Gut; Hormone Health; Mums and Bubs; Hair and Skin; and Emotions, Mind and Spirit.
This user-friendly guide presents simple recipes for each condition and provides step-by-step dosing and treatment protocols throughout. Readers learn that "Nettle and Oat Straw Infusion" is essential to bring people back from burnout; "Liver Loving Greens Powder" is a wonder for detox support; "Iron Lift Slow Brew Syrup" is for everyone with low iron levels; and the "Lovers' Oxymel" is a delicious, helpful, and transformative libido support. With over 150 recipes, including "Lung Love Syrup", "Zen Day Tea", "The Breakout Salve", "Eczema Cream", "Kidney Tone Tea", and "Shifting Stagnancy Tea", this book is the definitive healing bible for modern day living.
Sharing deep herbal wisdom along with the ultimate first aid kit for soothing bruises, aches and pains, and much, much more, this is the book for anyone looking for natural ways to promote good health.
Critique: Profusely illustrated throughout in color photography by Georgia Blackie, "The Plant Clinic" is exceptionally well organized and presented, making it of special interest to academia and the non-specialist general reader with an interest in herbal remedies, homeopathy medicine, and the role of flowers in the medical/biological sciences -- making it an especially recommended addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library Alternative Medicine collections.
Editorial Note: Erin Lovell Verinder is a fully qualified herbalist and nutritionist, wellbeing expert, and author. She runs a bustling clinic and works with clients worldwide. he is also the author of "Plants for the People" (Thames & Hudson).
Mari Carlson's Bookshelf
Crawl Space & Other Stories of Limited Maneuverability
9781950730810, $20.00 paperback
Get ready to go spelunking in these cavernous stories. More than entertain with escape, they descend, ascend, and pierce into the substance of being.
With the introduction of some themes the book - sex, punishment, family, and irony, among others - the disturbing opening tale of abuse and pleasure, and their intersections, is indicative of the exposition that follows. There is no gently going into the night in this book, rather, characters grope around in a gaping, ever-present abyss of traumas past and present. The stories get inside of a multitude of feelings, indulge and expose, poke and question, but never judge. Judgement is reserved for institutions, like repressive cultures, the law, war, some churches and schools, that limit maneuverability among feelings. "He was the instrument that brought the best out of us" (28), but the music teacher in one story was fired. What could come out is meant to stay inside, festering and fostering internal judgement and strife in several stories. A father combats feelings of inadequacy toward his son and his gregarious friend. A teacher's high ideals prevents him from accepting love from a desirous woman. In a few stories, men imagine they've killed someone by dint of will, with their lustful thoughts. With characters becoming their own enemies, the stories offer an omniscient point of view. Often told in the subjective first person, the audience is invited in as "we." An objective reality is established through repeated dialogue, reiterating others' undeniable perspectives. Questions posed throughout the text operate similarly, the stories remind readers of a vast mystery that goes largely unsolvable despite efforts to get to the bottom of things.
The middle stories are shortest, each elucidating one metaphor, like Bull, Pelican, Teddy Bear. Seemingly innocuous subjects become passages into fraught histories. These shortest stories serve as palette cleansers before the beefiest tale: Crawl Space in which a homeowner searches his house's air ducts for the source of a noxious smell. He's convinced it's from a girl he stalked, who haunts him. Alongside the humorous physical contortions required of him to find her, run his anguished thoughts. A ripe combination of creepy and funny produce an absurd, tantalizing, and unforgettable result in this latest collection from master storyteller, Richard Krause.
Mari Carlson, Reviewer
Mark Walker's Bookshelf
Mario Vargas Llosa
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
I immediately picked up this book upon learning it was available in English, as its story is so relevant to the challenges facing Guatemala today. I'm producing a documentary on immigration and social justice challenges in Guatemala, Trouble in the Highlands, and this book deals with international intrigue and the control of land by international/U.S. corporations.
A Peruvian writer, Llosa is one of Latin America's most significant novelists and some critics consider him to have had a larger international impact and worldwide audience than any other writer in Latin America. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 2010.
I recently heard an interview on NPR in which Llosa reflects on his response and that of many of Latin America's writers about the CIA toppling the democratic government of Jacobo Arbenz in 1954, and the assassination of his successor, Carlos Castillo Armas. It made Guatemala a "frantic country" gripped by a ruinous and wholly unnecessary antipathy towards something that never threatened, as it is soon "racing backwards towards tribalism and absurdity."
Vargas Llosa adheres to historical facts, but vividly creates the inner lives of his historical and invented characters (often difficult to differentiate), allowing the novel to speculate and illuminate both detail and motive. This is where fiction informs and expands one's appreciation of reality.
Harsh Times is a story of international conspiracies and conflicting interests in the time of the Cold War. The author invents vivid characters who go to the heart of dilemmas of Guatemala's history. He brings to bear his impressive research from The Feast of the Goat about the downfall of the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic to bear on this story, since some of the characters went back and forth between these two international conspiracies.
The author uses some humor when describing the links between the staggering profits selling Guatemalan bananas and the financial links to the Republican U.S. secretary of state, John Dulles, and his brother, Allen, director the CIA. They "hadn't invented the banana, of course" he quips, but they "never paid a cent in taxes" and treated their workers little more than slaves.
The press played an important role, along with the U.S. government in protecting United Fruit, as articulated by the head of United Fruit:
We are the ones who have to enlighten the government and public opinion about Guatemala, and to do it in such a way as to convince them the problem is so serious, so grave, that it must be taken care of immediately. How? With subtlety and good times. Organizing things to that public opinion, which is essential in a democracy, pressures the government to act in order to head off a serious threat. What threat? The very same one I have just told you Guatemala doesn't represent: the Soviet Trojan horse sneaking through to U.S.A.'s back door...
The dialogue between the Guatemalan President and the U.S. Ambassador reveals the power dynamics which existed between the two countries, starting with the Ambassador, "Forty communist members of your government," the Ambassador said with extremely undiplomatic curtness. "I am asking you in the name of the United States to remove them from their posts immediately as infiltrators in the service of a foreign power working against the interests of Guatemala.
The Guatemalan President glanced at the list, which included some good friends, close collaborators and a few self-declared leftists, many no more communist than he was. To which the President says, "We're starting off on the wrong foot, Ambassador. You've been badly informed..." And ends with, "Have you forgotten that Guatemala is a sovereign nation and that you are an ambassador, not a viceroy or proconsul?"
Following the fall of President Arbenz, there were five military juntas, each of them closer to the United States than the last, all "buckling" under the U.S. Ambassador's demands, each trying to outdo its predecessor in its willingness to "persecute, capture, torture, and execute communists. He goes on to reveal that following Castillo Armas's rise to power, "approximately 200,000 Mayans, terrified by the slaughter, managed to flee to Chiapas in Mexico... Not since the era of the Inquisition had political repression in Guatemala taken the form of burnings of pernicious and subversive documents, which occurred now on the military bases and in the public squares."
The book ends with a good "summing up," "...the United States erred terribly in preparing a coup against Arbenz with Colonel Castillo Armas at the head of the conspiracy. The victory was fleeting, pointless and counterproductive. It helped foment anti-Americanism in Latin America all over again, invigorated the Marxists, the Trotskyites, and the Fidelists. It radicalized Fidel Castro's 26th of July Movement and pushed it toward communism..."
Vargas Llosa is one of the literary giants of the Americas or, as Raymond Sokolov of The Wall Street Journal put it, "In the star-studded world of the Latin American novel, Mario Vargas Llosa is a supernova."
Author Vargas Llosa has won the Miguel de Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world's most distinguished literary honor. His many works include The Feast of the Goat, In Praise of the Stepmother, and Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. Like many Latin American writers, the author has been politically active throughout his career. While he initially supported the Cuban revolutionary government, he later became disenchanted with its politics, particularly after the imprisonment of Cuban poet Heberto Padilla in 1971. He ran for the Peruvian presidency in 1990.
Mark D. Walker, Reviewer
Mark Zvonkovic's Bookshelf
All Things Left Wild
9781799956464, $17.99 PB
A masterpiece of tragedy without closure.
Pathos starts early in All Things Left Wild. The novel's protagonist, Caleb, at his mother's graveside observes his father on his horse on the ridgeline above them, wearing a black coat, leaning on his saddle, like the drunk he was, too far away to hear the minister and "too far away for anything." The story marches forward with imagery of perdition, relentless until the end of the novel's epiphanic plot, when Caleb observes in his sadness that the answers, which have been denied him, are beneath "a morose mask" behind which "the secrets of the soul are no closer to my revealing them than they were to my father and his father before him and all the fathers back to a time unknown." So much for redemption born of revelation, a favorite outcome for many novels depicting tragic events, like the inadvertent murder of a boy at the beginning of Wade's novel. All Things Left Wild does not deliver a successful atonement. The final pages of the novel hint that the soul's camouflage can be stripped away for a young boy about to be told the story of Lightning. But the novel's events before the ending suggest that such hope is fleeting.
The novel is set in the American west beginning in 1910, mostly in places described in Colin Woodard's American Nations as El Norte. Caleb and his brother, Shelby, leave the scene of their crime and make their way through Phoenix and Tucson into the desert where Caleb's sunburnt skin competes with remorse for his attention. The Arizona Territory and the New Mexico Territory have yet to become states. Crossing briefly into Mexico through the Sonoran Desert they briefly encounter a torrential rain that "turned dirt to mud" and "pooled at the rim of [Caleb's] hat and hesitated there, as if unsure what to make of this newfound freedom, then continued on to the ground, where it was lost to the silt and slush of a saturated truth." Randall Dawson, the parallel protagonist in the novel, in the rain at the burial site for his murdered son, observes "the rain was like a crawling shadow," which when it fell "turned dark brown on the dust before him," as he looked into the emotionless eyes of his wife where he saw "a hollowness to rival any canyon." Meteorologic imagery continues throughout the novel, as the plot moves toward and into Texas, where the "stars bore out from the darkness, glowing indentations to remind us of all we don't know." As Caleb's journey moves toward its reckoning, "Lightning fractured the sky and kissed the horizon... and this was the storm I had seen coming for what seemed like my entire life."
The plot of the novel advances in two alternating segments, the first in chapters narrated in the first person by Caleb, and the second told in the third person about Randall, who pursues Caleb and Shelby to avenge the murder of his son. The juxtaposition of the first and third person narratives adds an interesting element to the story, its contrasting rendition of the characters creating nuanced portraits of all the characters in the story, particularly Sophie, Caleb's romantic interest, and Charlie, an unusual frontier woman with whom Randall plans to escape from his loveless marriage. The events encountered along the paths followed by Caleb and Randall create a cumulative polymorphous portrayal of early twentieth century America, one in which racism thrives, local society teeters on the edge of lawlessness, and morality is twisted in meaning, both for obtainment of money and by a twisted religious fervor by a cult leader who believes that "Moderation is for the weak. It is good only as a tool for evil men to control populations." The similarities to our current times are haunting, even if we hide them today with clever subtleties.
From one chapter to the next, Wade deftly adds psychology and intensity to bring his characters toward a reckoning. The action is never murky, and the flowing suspense is never allowed to crest its banks, managed in many places by recollections of better times or brief bouts of positivity. Charlie's dying is paused a moment by her telling Randall of a vision she has of "loblolly pines and the great big shade oaks and honeysuckle growing up over everything and giving the whole world a sweet smell." Wade uses his wonderful nature imagery to soften what the reader by then knows will follow. For Caleb, he looks out over "the thick grass just outside our pine grove and the banks of the Brazos beyond to the blue water and great hills dotted with green and then finally the horizon as it held up the clouds bleeding into the purple sky." And then he says to Sophie, "Nothing's ever been more perfect."
All Things Left Wild is refreshing for its paucity of political commentary, an affliction so many modern novels are currently afflicted with. Wade's sensibilities are reminiscent of those of Michael Ondaatje, who also never permits his characters to lapse into political rhetoric. In Divisadero, the three narrators experience early in the story the horror that is to follow them through years of desperation during which redemption is glimpsed but not found. For Ondaatje, a final attempt to see everything clearly, to make sense of all that has gone before, is spoiled on the final page of the novel by the breaking of "the one crucial bone in the body that holds sanity, that protects the road out to the future." For Wade's novel, it is Caleb looking at a buck and realizing, "It's a terrifying thought, that when we close our eyes there's nothing waiting, and after working so hard on being human it turns out we're just that - and that means goodbye."
Most modern novelists, even literary ones, take a different direction from that of Wade and Ondaatje. Grave uncertainty whether life has any purpose just doesn't sell books. Readers want closure, if not a happy ending. A hero must triumph over pathos for a book to avoid the remainder bins. With All Things Left Wild, James Wade bravely resists the demands of modern entertainment. A tragedy without closure can be a masterpiece, but it takes an extraordinary writer to pull it off.
Mark Zvonkovic, Reviewer
Matthew McCarty's Bookshelf
Here, Right Matters: An American Story
9780063079427, $26.99, $33.50 CAN HC, 248 pgs
Polarization in the American political scene is nothing new. Opinions seem to be getting farther and farther towards the extreme and leaving Americans who want a return to a true American dream to wonder what has happened and if they need to choose a side. Americans like Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman have chosen their side. They work to help America leave the polarization pundits and their sycophants behind and restore a faith in government that has been dissolving for decades. Vindman's memoir, Here, Right Matters: An American Story (New York: Harper Collins, 2021, 248 pgs, US$26.99, CAN $33.50) is a great example of the efforts taken to restore America to a place of respect and dignity on the world stage.
Lt. Col. Vindman found himself thrust into the national spotlight on July 25, 2019 when he took part in a conference call with the president of Ukraine. It was during this call that the President of the United States, Donald Trump, uttered what eventually became an impeachable offense by asking the Ukrainian president to conduct an off-the-books investigation of a political rival. Vindman did what a true American is supposed to do: report potential wrongdoing and rely on his superiors for guidance and support. However, Lt. Col. Vindman did not receive that guidance and support. He retired from the Army out of fear of a concerted effort at retaliation by the Trump administration.
Here, Right Matters is a great read. Lt. Col. Vindman writes with a comfort and ease that onlycomes with knowing that right does indeed matter. His ability to leave a career he loves and enter a life he does not understand, could have caused him to become bitter and jaded. Here, Right Matters is Vindman's antidote for that bitterness and jaded feeling. This positive and engaging memoir deserves a place on the leadership shelf of any American looking to make a difference in their lives, their community, their state, their country, and their world.
Matthew W. McCarty, EdD.
Michael Carson's Bookshelf
Death, Where Is Your Sting?: Dying and Death Examined
Christian Alternative Books
c/o John Hunt Publishing
9781789042474, $16.95 pbk / $8.99 Kindle
Synopsis: Death, Where Is Your Sting? is about both the process of dying and the question of what, if anything, happens after death. Robert Reiss knows the answers to his questions have eluded philosophers and theologians past, but he gives a compelling argument as to why we should continue to ask the question in light of new evidence from neuroscience and new interpretations of the New Testament. Paying close attention to the contested issue of assisted dying, Reiss shows that questions of life after death are not only eternal, but urgent, as lawmakers continue to use religion and religious ethics as a guide.
Critique: Death, Where Is Your Sting?: Dying and Death Examined explores the existential dilemma of death, which has confronted philosophers, theologians, and every human being. Death, Where Is Your Sting? draws upon both scientific evidence and the Christian New Testament to weigh questions of life after death. Thoughtful, evenhanded, deeply spiritual, yet practical-minded in its approach to real-world quandaries, Death, Where Is Your Sting? is highly recommended. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Death, Where Is Your Sting? is also available in a Kindle edition ($8.99).
Editorial Note: Robert Reiss was born in 1943. He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, and Westcott House, and ordained in 1969. He is Canon Emeritus of Westminster.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad: Islamist Writings on Resistance and Religion
9780755635924, $115.00 hc / $97.49 Kindle
Synopsis: Founded in 1981, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) is one of the most important yet least understood Palestinian armed factions, both in terms of its history and ideology. Yet no in-depth translation of its ideological corpus exists. This book is the first to provide a comprehensive account of the ideology of PIJ in the movement's own words. Based on the author's extensive fieldwork and archival research in the occupied Palestinian territories and Lebanon, the book comprises the PIJ's written texts produced since 1979, translated here into English for the first time.
In addition to the primary texts, the book includes expert commentary from the author for each source to help explain the context and the broader significance of the documents. The key contention of the book is that although PIJ employs Islamic signifiers and symbolism, its ideology is strikingly similar to the anti-colonialism of the PLO in the 1960s, and in stark contrast to Hamas. A comprehensive resource on the PIJ, it covers:
PIJ beliefs about the Palestinian problem
what type of Islamism the PIJ espouses
how the PIJ regards Shiites and Iran
how it can be understood as an Islamist organization
what it envisions for Palestinian society in the future
This is the only sourcebook available on the PIJ.
Critique: Palestinian Islamic Jihad: Islamist Writings on Resistance and Religion is the first academic resource to provide a comprehensive accounting of the ideology of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), which has been labeled a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Israel. Chapters scrutinize the history and beliefs of the PIJ, the interaction between the PIJ and the Shiites of Iran, estimates of how the PIJ will affect Palestinian society in the future, and much more. Palestinian Islamic Jihad: Islamist Writings on Resistance and Religion is an invaluable contribution to college library collections, highly recommended. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Palestinian Islamic Jihad: Islamist Writings on Resistance and Religion is also available in a Kindle edition ($97.49).
Editorial Note: Erik Skare is a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for International Studies, Sciences Po, Paris, France. He is the author of Digital Jihad: Palestinian Resistance in the Digital Era (Zed Books, 2016) and he specializes in the study of violent and non-violent Palestinian resistance. Skare has conducted extensive fieldwork in Lebanon and the occupied Palestinian territories since 2014.
Michael J. Carson
Paul Lappen's Bookshelf
The Big Nine: How the Tech Titans and Their Thinking Machines Could Warp Humanity
Public Affairs Books
c/o Hachette Book Group
9781541773752, 320 pages, $27.00
This book is all about the present state of artificial intelligence (AI). It is a lot more than just Alexa and smart thermostats.
China has made no secret of its plan to be the world leader in AI in the next few years. They are spending hundreds of billions of dollars at it. They are also building alliances with countries all over the developing world that may be rich in natural resources, but have not much infrastructure. America's response is to cut federal funding for basic scientific research, walk away from international treaties and alliances, and build a wall to keep people out of America.
Despite all the talk about getting women into STEM fields, AI is still very much of a boy's club. The percentage of women in the field is pretty dismal, and, for people of color, the numbers are even worse. The author presents three scenarios for the future of AI. Does America "get it," and build international alliances, on the way to becoming the world leader? Does China become the world leader, and control or occupy, the whole world, including America?
What can America do about it? Get away from the requirement that a company like Google or Apple must release a new AI gadget each year, or the stock price plummets. It takes time to do AI properly. Colleges currently restrict AI students to just technical courses. It must be possible for students to do a double major, like AI and politics. Ethics should be a central part of the curriculum, not just a one-semester course.
This book is very easy to read for everyone, not just people in the AI field. This easily reaches the level of Required Reading, in the classroom and the boardroom.
Paul Lappen, Reviewer
Robin Friedman's Bookshelf
Typee, Omoo, Mardi
Herman Melville, author
G. Thomas Tanselle, editor
Library of America
9780940450004, $43.89 hardback
The Growth of a Seeker
Among the early products of the Library of America Series were three volumes devoted to the novels of Herman Melville. This volume, LOA No. 1, consists of Melville's first three novels, Typee (1846), Omoo (1847) and Mardi (1849).
Melville's novels are based, more or less loosely, on his life at sea. The first two novels describe voyages to the Marquesas and to Tahiti. They are filled with lush descriptions of scenery, and tales of adventure. Of the two, Typee is filled with encounters with cannibals and Polynesian maidens while Omoo presents a wider canvas of characters and scenes. Both books emphasize the sexual openness and relative simplicity of Polynesian life as compared to life in the United States and both books are critical as well of attempts to Christianize the islanders. These are not unusual themes today and probably were not as radical in the 1840s as one might suppose. The stories are well told and the descriptions alluring. These books made Melville's reputation as a young writer.
Mardi, however, is the gem of this collection. Its relationship to the earlier novels can be analogized, say, to the relationship between the young Beethoven's first symphony on the one hand and the growth of language and thought in the second and third symphonies on the other hand. Melville prefaces the book with the note that his first two books were fact-based but were received with "incredulity" while Mardi was pure romance and "might be received for a verity." (Little likelihood of that)
The book is written in a baroque, ornate, and bravado style that Melville would bring to completion in Moby Dick. It is an allegory involving the search for Yillah, a strange, mythical maiden, through the seas of Mardi -- Polynesian for "the world". The narrator is accompanied by King Media, by the philosopher Babbalanja, the singer Yoomi, and the historian Mohi. There are many wonderfully exasperating discussions. They wander far and wide in search of Yillah and in there wandering we here many religious allegories and many depictions of the Europe and United States of Melville's own time. There are shadowy maidens, villains, long scenes in the empty wide ocean, and pages of Melvillian thought and bluster.
The book is high American romanticism and presents a religious and personal quest by the narrator that resounds of similar quests by many in our own day. For example, there is a famous unfinished novel of the religious quest called Mount Analogue by a French writer, Daumal, which fits quite compactly into just a few chapters of Mardi. Mardi is a long, maddeningly difficult book but worth the effort.
Americans can learn about themselves by learning about their literature and this book is a fitting place to start (or continue). For those with the patience, it is worth reading these books in order (perhaps with other reading sandwiched in between) to discover the growth of a great and troubled American writer and chronicler of the inward life, as well as of sea journeys.
The Winter of our Discontent
9780143039488, $17.00 paperback
Loss And American Regeneration
"The Winter of our Discontent" was published in 1961, just before Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize in 1962. The story is set in the late 1950s in New Baytown, a small (fictitious) New York -New England town which, Steinbeck tells us, had flourished during the whaling days of the mid-19th century. The main protagonist of the book is Ethan Allen Hawley. Ethan ("eth" to his friends) is descended from early pirates and whaling captains. His family had lost its capital through speculative business ventures during WW II and Ethan, with his background and his Harvard education, is reduced to working as a clerk in a small grocery store he once owned. Marullo, an Italian immigrant, owns the store and calls Ethan "kid".
For a short novel, the book includes a wealth of characters, many of which I found well described. There is Ethan's wife Mary who is impatient with the family's impoverished lot. She is eager for Ethan's economic success and for the success of the couple's two children: Allen, who is writing an essay called "Why I Love America" and the sexually precocious daughter Ellen. We meet the town banker, Mr. Baker, a bank clerk and a friend of Ethan's, Margie Young-Hunt, twice married and the town seductress, and Danny Taylor, Ethan's childhood friend who has thrown away a career of promise and become a drunk.
The book describes the deterioration of Ethan's life as he gradually loses his integrity and succumbs to temptations to lift his life, and the lives of his family members, from its materially humble state to a state consistent with Ethan's felt family heritage and education and with the desire of his family for material comfort. The story is sad and told in a style mixing irony and ambiguity that requires the reader to reflect and dig into what is happening. The story ends on a highly ambiguous note with Ethan's future left in doubt.
The book describes well the lessening of American standards and values. The book seems to attribute the loss to an increasing passion for commercial and economic success among all people in the United States. Juxtaposed with the economic struggle are pictures of, in Steinbeck's view, what America was and what it could struggle to be. I think the images are found in religion (much of the story is, importantly, set around Good Friday and Easter and these holidays figure prominently in the book), and in America's political and cultural heritage.
In the old town of New Baytown, America's history casts a long shadow with speeches from American statesmen such as Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and Abraham Lincoln tucked (suggestively) in the family attic. The book is set against a background of New England whaling and reminds the reader inevitably of a culture that produced Melville and a work of the caliber of "Moby Dick".
The most convincing scenes of the book for me were those where Ethan reflects in his own mind upon his life and compulsively walks the streets of New Baytown at night. I was reminded of Robert Frost, a poet of New England and his poem "Acquainted with the Night" which begins:
"I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain -- and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light."
Steinbeck captures much of the spirit of this wonderful poem.
The plot of the book seems contrived at is climax and depends too much on coincidence. The characters, and their inward reflections on themselves, the descriptions, the setting, and the theme of the book, mingled between a love for our country and a sense of despair, make the book memorable.
Sinners Welcome: Poems
9780060776565, $17.00 paperback
A Poet's Conversion
In this short volume of confessional poetry, Mary Karr describes her difficult conversion from irreverence and agnosticism to Catholicism. Karr is Professor of English at Syracuse University, the author of several earlier books of poetry and memoirs, and the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship. The volume also includes an Afterword consisting of an essay Karr wrote for "Poetry" magazine: "Facing Altars: Poetry and Prayer" in which she describes in prose her religious conversion and the relationship she sees between poetry and religion. The essay rambles, and I found some of its colloquial, rough-talking character forced. It works far less well than the poems in this collection, which are generally moving and restrained.
Karr converted in mid-life. Prior to her conversion, her life was marked by a difficult childhood in a small Texas town, an ambiguous and violent relationship with her mother, unhappy sexual relationships, a failed marriage, and heavy drinking. In short poems, she writes about her early life experiences from the standpoint of her newfound life -- following her conversion. The poems are tart and sharp but they include an undercurrent of reflection and compassion.
Karr also writes poems describing her life following her conversion. Karr is emphatic that prayer and religious experience have not taken her from the realm of earthly sorrow. Karr describes her life as a single mother, her hopes for her son, and her loneliness when he leaves for college. She describes her continued and frequently unhappy experiences with lovers, and her ongoing difficulties with alcohol. Karr struggles with her religious faith as she struggles with events in her life. But she receives, undeniably, comfort in the church and in her personal experience of prayer.
Karr's autobiographical sequence of poems in this collection is punctuated by a series of five separate poems called "Descending Theology" which reflect upon the Nativity, the Life of Jesus,, the Betrayal, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. These poems are meditative in character and based, Karr tells us, on her eight-month study of Jesuit prayer. These five poems reflect upon and illuminate the way in which Karr responds to her experiences in the personal, confessional poems.
Many of the poems in this collection are harsh and tough-minded. Karr describes well her friends, family, and acquaintances as well as her own life. I tended to like best the poems with a more reflective tone. One of my favorites was "Elegy for a Rain Salesman" in which Karr puts the following words into the mouth of a recently-deceased friend:
"... I wanted to be a rain salesman,
carrying my satchel full of rain from door to door,
selling, thunder, selling the way air feels after a downpour,
but there are no openings in the rain department,
and so they left me dying behind this desk -- adding bleeps,
subtracting chunks -- and I would give a bowl of wild blossoms,
some rain, and two shakes of my fist at the sky to be living ..."
As I am, Karr is an admirer of the concert pianist, Awadagin Pratt. Her poem "A Major" celebrates her experience in hearing Pratt perform in a way that I understand first-hand. The poem begins: "I've come to see a dread-locked man/play Mozart like a demon(someone said) with angels/harrowing his back, or like a seraph/ sought by succubi." Karr concludes her experience with Pratt's performance:
"He's sprung our sternums wide
and freed us from our numbered seats.
We levitate as one and try to match
the thunder in his chest
with all our hands."
Some of the other poems I especially liked include "Hypertrophied Football Star as Serial Killer" the mystical and almost erotic title poem, "Sinners Welcome", "Winters Term End" which describes Karr's responses to the literary enthusiasms of a young student, and the religiously symbolic "For a Dying Tomcat Who's Relinquished his Former Hissing and Predatory Nature."
I had the good fortune to read this book at the same time that I was working through William James's "The Varieties of Religious Experience." James's book includes a lengthy discussion of religious conversion and awakening which distinguishes between a gradual conversion process and an instantaneous conversion experience. Karr's conversion fits the former pattern as James explained it. I found Karr's poetry and James's philosophy mutually illuminating. Readers interested in the extensive religious poetry written in the United States may also wish to explore the recent Library of America volume, "American Religious Poems: An Anthology" edited by Harold Bloom.
What is Metaphysics?
9781509546497, $19.95 paperback
Studying Metaphysics With Professor John Heil
The study of metaphysics differs from most other endeavors in that, for example, in the study of introductory chemistry one begins with relatively simple lessons which gradually develop and become more specific and complex. In metaphysics, which is vaguely the study of the most general aspects of reality, one is plunged into difficulty from the beginning. In thinking about metaphysics, one is in the heart of the discipline from the outset.
John Heil's new book "What is Metaphysics" (2021) is one of many books with a similar title (Heidegger, "What is Metaphysics" or Bergson "An Introduction to Metaphysics") Heil's book is short and he writes lucidly and appealingly, a different matter entirely from making metaphysics simple. A professor of philosophy at Washington University in St. Louis, Heil has written extensively on metaphysics and has been listed as among the fifty most influential living philosophers.
Heil's primary aim is not to teach a hodge-podge of metaphysical doctrines but is instead to convince the reader that metaphysics is an important, seriously human endeavor. He wants to show that metaphysicical questions arise from reflections on life rather than from airy abstractions. Metaphysical thinking can help in the understanding of oneself and of the place of humans in the world. This aim in teaching the importance of metaphysics is directed both at those new to metaphysical thought and to other philosophers as well. Many philosophers from the time of Kant, at least, and increasingly in the 20th century have strongly criticized the possibility of doing metaphysics and have pronounced it dead. (The American philosopher Richard Rorty, not mentioned in this book, is a prominent example.) Heil writes from the analytic tradition in American/Anglo philosophy as is evident by the philosophers he sites in his Acknowledgements as influences. For readers with a philosophical background, the influence of the logician Alfred Tarski (also not specificically mentioned) is evident. In many places, Heil follows the analytic tradition by arguing that metaphysical problems arise from early, unexamined assumptions in the use of language. Still, Heil is much more convinced of the importance and inevitability of metaphysical thought than are many philosophers in the analytic tradition. In fact, as Heil's work illustrates, metaphysics has become revitalized in much contemporary thought.
In the short chapters of his book, Heil takes the reader through metaphysical issue to show that they arise from experience rather than from philosophical perversity and to consider different ways that have been offered to deal with these issues. Each chapter concludes with a glossary and a list of suggestions for further reading Heil begins with broad questions about the nature and reality of time, followed by a short but pivotal chapter on "appearance and reality" and on the apparent difference between the scientific and common sense view of reality. Heil gives several chapters to ontology -- the basic metaphysical inquiry into "what there is". He then moves into a more historically oriented discussion into questions of causality, necessity, the relationship of mind and body, and free will in which the insights associated with Aristotle, Hume, and Spinoza come to serve, if loosely, as guides.
Throughout the book, Heil's goal is less to convince the reader of his own approach to these questions than to encourage the reader to engage, to the extent he or she becomes interested, with the issues for oneself. Another goal is to show the reader the inter-relationship of the issues discussed in the book. Although the presentation of issues in piecemeal, Heil endeavors to show the systematic character of metaphysical thought and of how one's thinking about time, say, will necessarily become part of one's thought about the other broad issues about reality and the human place in the world explored in the book. In a chapter about the nature of necessity and of what has become known as the question of possible worlds, Heil writes:
"This excursion into speculative cosmology is meant to illustrate a theme pervading this book, namely that metaphysics is a package deal. I have marched you through the territory in a linear fashion (how else could you march?) but metaphysical theses are not evaluable on their own, in isolation from one another. The question is always, how do they hang together -- and with whatever we think we know about the universe as revealed by everyday experiences and the sciences?"
Some important goals of Heil's study become clear towards the end. Heil writes that with all the broad areas of disagreement among metaphysicians, there are even broader underlying areas of agreement, referring to the discussion in his book of Hume and Spinoza. Heil writes:
"Philosophical disagreement can mask wide avenues of agreement. My discussion of a surprising convergence of Hume and Spinoza was taken up to illustrate precisely this point. Once you look below the surface, you can see that this is the rule, not the exception."
Finally, Heil wrote his book to teach something of the value of metaphysical inquiry to newcomers but found that, with all his prior study and writing, he had also been teaching himself. The value of teaching others is that it helps the teacher understand. This is particularly true with the difficulty of metaphysics where it is notoriously easy to become lazy and ensnared in words. Heil concludes:
"I was moved to write this book in part because I believe that the best way to ensure that you understand a difficult subject is to explain that subject to someone unfamiliar with it. Too often we think we understand something when really all we have are words, statements of positions, the familiarity of which means we no longer need to think about them."
I have been a student of metaphysical philosophy for many year and learned a great deal from studying it anew with Heil. The book is part of a series by Polity Press titled "What is Philosophy?". Polity kindly sent me a review copy.
Ryan Blacketter's Bookshelf
The Step Back
9781947845268, $16.00 PB, $8.99 Kindle, 256pp
In J.T. Bushnell's novel The Step Back, we meet the flawed and compelling protagonist, Ed Garrison, in his senior year of high school in California. He's a self-appointed leader who feels the need to dispense caveats to his little brother and teammates - to avoid pot use, especially, his most urgent campaign. Though Ed can be hard to take in his zeal to manage others, we see flashes of his innocence now and then - a vulnerable, kidlike self emerges when he's playing basketball, for instance - and we care for him. "We gulped Gatorade, tore at Velcro, yanked laces..." in a "serenity of exhaustion." He burns to lose himself in this good world, as if he senses the one at home isn't quite stable.
When his mom announces she's leaving California - leaving her boys and their alcoholic father - to move in with a woman across the country, Ed's innocence goes away. Her choices become increasingly sympathetic throughout the novel. At first, though, Ed fakes indifference to events at home, burying his frustration.
When his mom leaves town, the new fiction Ed reports about himself is that everything is great - regarding himself. His coach is worried about him, but Ed says, "The one to worry about is my brother," who's younger, smoking a lot of pot, and still has to make it through high school.
Ed says he doesn't take the breakup of his family as a big thing. He keeps saying so. But when he slides into toxic behaviors, he does so with all the weight behind him of one in pain. He knocks on his little brother's door and hears the desk drawer slam shut in there.
I walked in, ignoring Charlie's protests, and opened the drawer. The album cover showed a hollow-eyed man wearing a white latex suit that gave him breasts and ambiguous genitalia. 'Marilyn Manson?' I said. 'You like this crap?'
'I'm just listening to it.'
'The guy is a freak, Charlie. Look at him.'
'I already have.'
'Those kids who shot up Columbine last year? This is what they listened to.'
When Ed lashes out, his mom's presence seems to draw closer, as his love for her is large and troubled. He's destructive, it's true, but he has lost everything and has no resources to carry on. This is no garden variety and unforgiveable rage, but the highly personal and sympathetic sorrow of a teenager.
At times he locates a gentler self during this suffering. During a telephone conversation with his mom when she's living in Vermont, for instance, he's almost soft in his cruelty. He delivers his quiet rebuke, but he doesn't bully her the way he does with other family members.
She'd adopted a cat, she said, and enumerated all the cute and funny things it had done, then started giving play-by-play commentary of what it was doing right at that moment . . . My mother, sweating in a gym. My mother, roaming a big-box bookstore, wearing an earpiece, asking customers if they were finding everything they needed. My mother, burying her head between some other woman's legs . . .
Every once in a while she had to ask if I was still there. I would say yes, and she would continue the monologue. Then one time she got to talking about the things she missed in San Seguro - the kinds of trees, the churros stand on Broad Street, the quality of the sunshine, us boys. When she asked if I was still there, I stayed silent, pivoting the receiver from my mouth and breathing quietly as she said, 'Ed? Ed? Oh, shoot. Ed?' Then she was silent too, and for a couple minutes we listened to the susurrus of the long-distance wire.
'Those things didn't leave,' I finally answered.
The road to his possible forgiveness of his mom is slow, and there's no guarantee that it will arrive. But the stakes are high, and the hope for it in the reader is deep.
I loved spending time with this narrator. This book is my favorite literary title over the past year. The novel is various and large, all 288 printed pages of it, and ushers Ed toward a gathering maturity and intelligence, in a landscape of great emotional power.
Ryan Blacketter, Reviewer
Susan Bethany's Bookshelf
Max Your Immunity
Pamela W. Smith, MD, MPH
Square One Publishers
9780757005121, $16.95 pbk / $8.49 Kindle
The word immunity has unfortunately become an all-too-common term in our vocabulary, and for good reason. When the pandemic hit, many of the major drug companies created vaccines that offered us "immunity" against this specific virus. Yet, few of us understand that almost all these vaccines work based upon their activating our own built-in systems of defense. It is our very own immunity to these viruses that can make the difference between illness and health. To help clarify what each of us can do to protect ourselves and our loved ones, Pamela Wartian Smith, MD has written Max Your Immunity. Here is a complete guide to understanding and maximizing your natural defenses against various infectious diseases.
Max Your Immunity is divided into three parts. Part One explains how our innate and adaptive immunity systems work. Our innate immunity system is based on our built-in barriers designed to fight or separate us from infectious agents. Our adaptive immunity, also called acquired immunity, is composed of lymphocyte cells that are triggered when a specific pathogen enters the body. These cells learn to identify the invading pathogens and hunt them down. In this section, each component in both systems are clearly identified and explained. Part Two provides ten important things that you can do to increase and strengthen all of these components. And Part Three provides specific nutritional plans to increase your body's immunity to help defend against the most common health disorders.
By simply having a clear understanding of how our internal defenses work and what we can do to increase our immunity, we can play an important role in maintaining good health. Max Your Immunity can help show you what you need to know to protect yourself and your family.
Critique: Pamela Smith, MD presents Max Your Immunity: How to Maximize Your Immune System When You Need It Most, a guide written for lay readers to good lifestyle habits anyone can adopt to better support their own immune system, especially amid threats such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Max Your Immunity is not about measures such as vaccination or wearing masks, although it should be emphasized that Max Your Immunity is absolutely not an anti-vaccination or anti-mask book - it simply focuses on good health habits that work well in addition to vaccination and wearing masks. Chapters discuss the importance of limiting alcohol or sugar consumption, avoiding smoking, regular exercise and sleeping patterns, keeping one's gut healthy, managing stress, and more. Max Your Immunity is an excellent supplementary resource for personal health and wellness collections, highly recommended. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Max Your Immunity is also available in a Kindle edition ($8.49).
Editorial Note: Pamela Wartian Smith, MD, MPH, MS, is a diplomate of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Physicians and past co-director of the Master's Program in Medical Sciences, with a concentration in Metabolic and Nutritional Medicine, at the Morsani College of Medicine, University of South Florida. An authority on the subjects of wellness and functional medicine, she is also the founder of the Fellowship in Anti-Aging, Regenerative, and Functional Medicine. Dr. Smith is the best-selling author of ten books, including What You Must Know About Vitamins, Minerals, Herbs & So Much More; What You Must Know About Women's Hormones; and What You Must Know About Memory Loss.
Michelle Schoffro Cook
9781953295514, $16.95 pbk / $9.99 Kindle
Synopsis: If you're struggling with chronic or acute pain, you may find that commonly prescribed medications are often expensive, and often ineffective. They can also lead to unwanted side-effects or serious drug interactions.
That's where Pain Erasers can help. This long-awaited guide to drug-free pain relief offers a wide variety of natural alternatives to help you take control of your pain - and ultimately, your life.
Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM is a trusted natural medicine expert and the internationally recognized author of 60 Seconds to Slim and The Ultimate pH Solution. After suffering from serious car accident injuries, she found that conventional medicine failed to ease her intense pain. Desperate for relief, she launched a search for natural alternatives - and discovered a whole new world of safe, effective pain relief.
Within these pages, Pain Erasers: A Natural Doctor's Guide to Safe, Drug-Free Relief will reveal new ways to naturally erase your pain, often permanently! You'll discover dozens of natural painkillers, from a little-known but highly effective resin from the rainforest, along with such standbys as ginger and turmeric. And to boost the effects of these remedies, you'll get helpful tips on how to change your diet and lifestyle for optimal health and pain and inflammation management.
Because not every remedy works on every type of pain, Dr. Schoffro Cook guides readers through the best methods for specific conditions, such as back pain, fibromyalgia, joint pain, migraines and headaches, neck pain, plantar fasciitis, temporomandibular joint syndrome, tendonitis, trigeminal neuralgia, whiplash, and more. No matter what type of chronic or acute pain you're struggling with, this guidebook will help you navigate information on dozens of natural remedies, setting you on a path toward long-term healing.
Critique: Pain Erasers: America is suffering from an opioid overdose crisis, fueled in part by the medical industry's over-prescription of dangerous and addictive narcotic painkillers. Pain Erasers: The Complete Natural Medicine Guide to Safe, Drug-Free Relief lives up to its title as a guide to opioid-free alternative medicines for pain relief, including cannabis, essential oils, licorice root, white willow, and more. A final section dedicated to pain-erasing diet and lifestyle changes rounds out this excellent supplementary resource for anyone suffering from chronic pain. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Pain Erasers is also available in a Kindle edition ($9.99).
Editorial Note: Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook is an international bestselling book author and a popular natural health blogger. Her health articles have appeared on Yahoo, WebMD, Reviews.com, Yahoo Shine, Yahoo Green, Discovery's Planet Green, DivineCaroline, Huffington Post, and many other popular sites. She is a board-certified doctor of natural medicine, doctor of acupuncture, registered nutritionist, certified herbalist, and aromatherapist with over 25 years experience in these and many other forms of natural medicine. Thousands of people in over 100 countries subscribe to her popular e-news World's Healthiest News, available for a free subscription on her website DrMichelleCook.com
The Bitcoin Bride
Obstacles Press, Inc.
9780999044094, $15.00, PB, 272pp
Synopsis: Marcus Coleman may not know anything about winning over his potential father-in-law, but he does know about Bitcoins. Before the end of his trip to Italy, Marcus must clearly explain the greatest breakthrough in the history of money. If he fails, the expensive engagement ring tucked away in his suitcase will never be worn. And success may prove more difficult than he assumed. As Marcus gets to know the enchanting Italian countryside, culture, and cuisine, he'll have to balance Bitcoin explanations with romance.
Critique: A fun and thought-provoking blend of finance and romance, "The Bitcoin Bride: A Rascal Money Story" by author Chris Brady (who has been recognized by Inc. Magazine as being among the Top 50 Leadership and Management Experts and is one of the Top 100 Authors to Follow on Twitter -- and in 2017 was listed Richtopia's Top 200 list of most influential authors in the world) is exceptional in both concept and execution. While especially and unreservedly recommended, especially for community library Contemporary General Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Bitcoin Bride" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $15.00).
Willis Buhle's Bookshelf
Genesis: A Torah for All Nations
Jeffrey M. Jaffe
Gefen Publishing House
9789657023181, $19.95 hc / $9.86 Kindle
Synopsis: Over seven billion people live on earth. According to Jewish tradition, they are obligated in the seven universal commandments, the Noahide laws. Where does God elaborate on His expectations for mankind? This book posits that the first eleven chapters of Genesis, which have little to do with the Jewish people per se, are thematically set apart as a teaching for all of humanity, a Torah for all nations.
Jeff Jaffe's deep dive into the first eleven chapters of Genesis reveals a tapestry of forty-two essential messages. They address fundamental philosophical themes: the nature of God, reward and punishment, confession and repentance, the World to Come, and more. This handbook for humanity incorporates surprisingly contemporary messages about gender equality, the role of science and technology, stewardship of the environment, and the necessity of a positive partnership between Jews and the nations of the world. Traditional scholars will appreciate new insights, while all people will find here a unique perspective on the Bible s expectations of them.
Critique: Genesis: A Torah for All Nations is a unique Religious Studies work that examines the Biblical book of Genesis as a religious text with philosophies and messages that speak not only to Jews (as part of the sacred Torah) but to all nations of the world. Chapters explore principles taught in the books of Genesis including "Mankind Is Steward of the Planet", "Marriage Is an Imperative", "Procreation Is an Imperative", "Earthly Possessions Have No Eternal Value", "Human Life Has Supreme Worth", "We Mustn't Rely on Miracles", and much more. While one may not necessarily agree with all of the theological evaluations presented, Genesis: A Torah for All Nations is a carefully reasoned and constructed work, worthy of extended contemplation and discussion. Highly recommended, especially for personal and public library Religious Studies collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that Genesis: A Torah for All Nations is also available in a Kindle edition ($9.86).
Editorial Note: Jeff Jaffe is Chief Executive Officer of the World Wide Web Consortium at MIT. Previously he served in various senior roles at IBM (including Corporate VP of Technology), President of Research and Advanced Technologies at Bell Labs, and EVP/CTO of Novell. Dr. Jaffe holds a doctorate in computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
And Still We Rise
Jordan Steven Sher
9781639881161, $18.99, PB, 312pp
Synopsis: Based on real-life events that took place in Prijedor, Bosnia during the spring of 1992, "And Still We Rise" by author Jordan Steven Sher is the story of the Kovacevic's, a Muslim family, who are confronted with the harsh reality that they have become the targets of a brutally lethal campaign to rid the country of non-Serbs. Neighbors turn on neighbors as the nationalist Serb propaganda leads to the so-called "cleansing" of communities that destroys families and their homes.
Elvir, and his fifteen-year-old son Amir, are sent to the Omarska concentration camp where torture and death haunt them daily. With a world that turns a blind eye, both suffer physically, psychologically, and spiritually. Yet they must rely upon each other if they are to survive.
Hajra, Elvir's wife, and mother of their two younger children, Halima and Danis, are imprisoned in another camp called Trnopolje. They, too, must survive the atrocities that visit them including rape and witnessing beatings and murder. Hajra and the children encounter Elvir's brother, Tarik, who has been transferred to Trnopolje from another camp, only to see him disappear a short time later. As they all have learned too well in the camps, many disappear never to return.
The Kovacevic's eventually leave the camps and reconnect with Tarik's wife, Merjem, who is unable to accept the possibility of the loss of her husband. The families' trajectories lead them to journey together as they face unforeseen obstacles that must be overcome if they are to find true freedom from the trauma that continues to inform their decisions.
As refugees, they move to Germany and then to America seeking to rediscover meaning in their lives after surviving genocide, grieving their losses, and to place roots in their new home.
Critique: A deftly crafted, completely riveting and brutally honest novel based upon the genocide perpetrated against the Muslim communities in Bosnia, "And Still We Rise" is a compelling and fact based novel that is timely and timeless given the current ethnic conflicts taking place around the globe. While also readily available for personal reading lists in a digital book format (Kindle, $7.99), "And Still We Rise' is especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library General Fiction collections.
Willis M. Buhle
James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
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