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The subject of “Ten Thousand Saints” is family; i.e. it is about mothers, daughters, fathers, and sons. The strongest family characters are women. Absent fathers weave in and out of Henderson’s story to show how absence wreaks havoc on family values.
Henderson creates characters that seem destined to die young but are drawn back to living by crises and acceptance of responsibility; not all survive and not all accept responsibility but, like in real life, experience and maturity changes behavior.
“Ten Thousand Saints” is a history of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, but it is also a life lesson for every generation that ignores the importance of mothers and fathers in every human life. “Ten Thousand Saints” is well written, insightful, and entertaining. Sadly, the ending is imperfect; just like real life.
"Legendarium" attempts to break the mold of book publishing with a story that examines the value of literature while tweaking the nose of the industry. Michael Bunker and Kevin Summers attack traditional methods of book selection, publication, and marketing. In the course of the story, the subjective nature of blogger’ book critics is skewered. Presumably, the dual authors’ writing agreement is that each writer refines "Legendarium" until both are satisfied with its story line and quality. With principle consistency, the story of "Legendarium" is self-published by Kevin Summers.
"Legendarium" is interesting but Bunker’ and Summers’ criticism is not new. Writing great fiction will always be difficult and writers will always be challenged by book publishers, marketers, and critics that disagree. Self-publishing is more likely to clog the pipeline of good fiction than reveal tomorrows’ classic. Most would agree that great fiction comes from appreciation of its public, but every public has its own reason for appreciation.
Winnowing poorly written books by publishing houses and able critics seems preferable to adding self-published books to an already flooded market. Bunker and Summers have written an entertaining and creative story which puts the lie to an opinion. But heck, it is only a lie from another blogger.
Julian Barnes writes about life in “The Sense of an Ending”. Barnes reveals the loss of truth in memory’s recollection of the past. This is a memoir of a man’s life; after retirement, after marriage and divorce, and after children’s growth to adulthood. It is an indictment of all who write about the past from memory. It is a mystery with unexpected twists.
The cognitive dissonance that exists when recalling what one thinks they know about what they did in the past is sharply defined by Julian Barnes’ story of reflection.
“The Sense of Ending” is more of a novelette than a novel but it is an entertaining audio book and a cautionary tale about how one should live their life and how human actions have unintended consequences. “The Sense of Ending” shows how memory and history are often misrepresentations of truth when not independently documented.
“Anthill” is compared by some to a Mark Twain’ (Samuel Clemens) saga. In comparison to Twain, “Anthill” is not particularly funny nor is it adventurous. E. O. Wilson is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning non-fiction author. “Anthill”, as a work of fiction, seems out of Wilson’s depth.
The hero, Raff Cody, fails to meet the threshold of identification with a hero; a reader does not get much emotive satisfaction in Raff’s journey from childhood to adulthood. Finishing the book is like finishing a newspaper article; i.e. a little interesting but not something you would tell a friend about.
Expectation is a cruel mistress. If one begins listening to a story about ants and expects revelatory enlightenment about entomology or environment, it is not in “Anthill”. Raff Cody matures to become a pragmatic environmentalist that saves an ant hill, a small part of the Nokobee reserve. If Wilson had developed more of the ant hill entomology, if Wilson had made Raff more rebellious, if Wilson had compared more of ant hill growth to humanity, if, if, if, this could have been a better than average story.
Time and knowledge is too precious to put “Anthill” very high on one’s reading list.
Janet Reitman’s "Inside Scientology" suggests Scientology is a movement gone mad. Scientology began with L. Ron Hubbard, a charismatic leader whose self-examination led to a humanist’ interpretation of mind. (Mind is defined as an element of belief and thought about the world and one’s experience in it.)
Hubbard recognized there was money to be made from ideas revealed in his self-examination; particularly, if “Dianetics” (Hubbard’s book about those ideas) could be classified as a guide to a belief system he christened as Scientology in 1953.
Hubbard, like Vladimir Lenin, initiated an ideological organization that grew into something bigger than its ideas could hold. Reitman offers many titillating stories of famous Scientologists like Hubbard, Miscavige, John Travolta, and Tom Cruise. But, the most troubling aspect of Reitman’s reveal is that even if Scientology is not a legitimate religion, it is not humanly equipped to exclusively manage the human psyche. Scientology needs help from the outside world. After listening to "Inside Scientology", one doubts any religion or organization is capable of exclusive responsibility for the human psyche. Evidence mounts for the opinion that Scientology, under the leadership of Miscavige, is a movement going mad.
It is nearing that time of year when Judy Garland and Toto will, once again, follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City. Listening to the original book, written by L. Frank Baum, Anne Hathaway’s narration reminds one of a loving parent telling a story to an excited child. Excitement begins with a tornado bearing down on a one room farm-house and a little girl running for her dog when the storm strikes. The house is ripped from its foundations, spiraling upward in the wind, but Dorothy feels calm like she is in the eye of a hurricane, waiting for what happens next. With a thud, the house settles; Dorothy and Toto arrive in Oz.
The story is similar to the film, but not quite the same. There are two witches in the film; four in the story. The Great and Powerful Wizard, just as shown in the movie, is found to be a humbug, but a kindhearted one. Like the film, the wicked witch of the west is killed with water. The Scarecrow gets a bulging head, stuffed with rice for brains (no college degree as in the movie); the Tin Man is given a hacky-sack like heart that pushes out the tin on his chest (no tick-tock clock as in the movie), and the Lion is shown how courageous he is by the deeds he has done and all that he needs is self-confidence (no medals as shown in the movie). The journey on the yellow brick road in Baum’s book shows Scarecrow always had a brain; the Tin Man always had a heart, and the Lion always had courage. The Good Witch of the South, who is beautiful, explains to Dorothy that she has always been able to return to Kansas. All she has to do is click her silver heals twice.
In the end, a listener concludes the original story is good but the movie is better.
"It Can’t Happen Here is a satire"; not a great fictional story. This Sinclair Lewis’ book does not reach fiction’s gold standard qualifier; i.e. suspension of disbelief. This is not to suggest Sinclair Lewis is not a good writer. (Lewis is the first American to receive the Nobel Prize for literature.) Suspension of disbelief is less important to Lewis than elucidating a political and social point of view. Lewis’s story comes from imagination, more than precise observation; i.e. Lewis focuses on American’ political and social tendencies with a story about the destructive potential of populism. (Populism is belief in the power of the general public to govern better than elected representatives and appointed professionals.)
Nearly a century has passed since Lewis’s satire was completed. Americans continue to search for a middle road, a government of moderation that represents the best of capitalist democratic values; i.e. values of liberty, equality, and fraternity. In the meantime, it seems fair to say that no demagogic tyrants have been elected to the highest office of the land. No Hitler, Mussolini, or Stalin has ruled America’s citizens; American’ Presidents have made mistakes, but balance of power has always righted government’s listing ship of state. Media continues to promote the news as independent owners’ see, hear, and understand their different audiences; i.e. freedom of the press remains a critical component of American’ society.
Balance of power still exists in American’ government; however–caution, frustration, and discontent make it prudent to believe "It Can’t Happen Here", can happen here.
“The Wealth of Nations” is often referred to but rarely read or listened to in the 21st century. Thirty Six hours of an audio book is punishing. However, one is surprised by Adam Smith’s prescient understanding of the value of freedom and his appreciation of American and British conflict over American’ colonization. “The Wealth of Nations” is not only about economics. It is about politics as an essential ingredient of economics.
Visiting “The Wealth of Nations” is a worthwhile journey into history. One wonders–Is there a 21st century Adam Smith in America’s future or is he/she pottering around Asia, Europe, the Middle East, or Africa and not yet recognized? Is there an alternative to free market capitalism that insures freedom and offers prosperity?
"The Glass Cage", written by Harvard alumnus Nicholas Carr, ironically places him in the shoes of an uneducated English textile artisan of the 19th century, known as a Luddite. Luddites protested against the industrial revolution because machines were replacing jobs formerly done by laborers. Just as the Luddites fomented arguments against mechanization, Carr argues automation creates unemployment, diminishes craftsmanship, and reduces human volition.
Unquestionably, the advent of automation is traumatic but elimination of repetitive industrial labor by automation is as much a benefit to civilization as the industrial revolution was to low wage workers spinning textile frames. There is no question that employment was lost in the industrial revolution; just as it is in the automation age, but jobs have been and will continue to be created as the world adjusts to this new stage of productivity. Carr carries the Luddite argument a step further by inferring a mind’s full potential may only be achieved through a conjunction of mental and physical labor. Carr posits the loss of physical ability “to make and do things” diminishes civilization by making humans too dependent on automation.
This period of the world’s adjustment is horrendously disruptive. It is personal to every parent or person that cannot feed, clothe, and house their family or them self because they have no job. Decrying the advance of automation is not the answer. Making the right political decisions about how to help people make the transition is what will advance civilization.
“Operation Mincemeat” is a history of the real story of “The Man Who Never Was”, a book and movie produced in the 1950s about a British Secret Service operation to mislead the German Axis powers on the planned invasion of Italy in WWII.
Though this history is enlightening, Macintyre’s account makes the early British Secret Service look like an upper class boy’s club. The master minds of early British Secret Service espionage, MI5, are pictured as aspiring novelists from privileged, wealthy, Ivy League, English families playing in a game of war.
The author’s characterization of the early days of the British Secret Service is not particularly heroic. There are pictures of real heroes in this history but they are soldiers in a real war. Much of MI5’s depiction is of upper class rich boys playing war at their desks in blacked out offices near Piccadilly.
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