Category Archives: Reading

Sure I’ll Explain Ayn Rand for You!

But what’s in it for me?

A joke that made the rounds among sophomores of the mid-1960s.  Came to mind after I posted the book review on The Virtue of Selfishness.

Old Jules

Beating Dead Horses – Lynching Poor Old Ayn Rand Again

Good morning readers.  Thanks for coming by for a read this morning.

I gather from the email forwards that someone’s not satisfied Ayn Rand has been accepted as pathetic enough, wrong enough, dead enough to be left alone.  Subject lines by non-psychiatrists, non-psychologists are taking the trouble to declare her a lunatic.

Poor, sad, bitter woman trapped inside a self yearning for men to be hairier chested, more muscled-up, more knock-em-around, slap-em-down and screw ‘em.  More like the good old days, taking what they want from anyone too weak to keep them from it.

I wonder why they don’t just leave her the hell alone.  The 20th Century had no shortage of miserable, confused people, plenty of them writers, submerged in bitterness and misplaced notions of how it could be better.

In some ways every time Ayn Rand and her wishes come up I find myself thinking of Sylvia Plath, similar in so many ways, but with a different slant on the sort of man Rand longed for:

Daddy   
by Sylvia Plath 

 
You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time–
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
Ach, du.

In the German tongue, in the Polish town
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.
My Polack friend

Says there are a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.

It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.
And the language obscene

An engine, an engine
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.

I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You–

Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.

You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not
Any less the black man who

Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.

But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look

And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I’m finally through.
The black telephone’s off at the root,
The voices just can’t worm through.

If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two–
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.

There’s a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.
12 October 1962
 

But nobody ever bothers dragging Plath up out of the grave and horsewhipping her.  What the hell.

Old Jules

Try, Try Again – Texas Secession, Invasion, Evasion and Forgetfulness

Good morning readers.  Thanks for coming by  for a read this morning.  I promised a few days ago I wouldn’t tell you any Texas history anecdotes, but I’ve already got Old Sol’s sober promise to come up on schedule, the cats are fed, and I probably ought to write about something just to prove I can.

I mentioned Texas invaded New Mexico twice, once in 1841, then again during the early stages of the US War of Secession.  Both of those episodes were characterized by more human folly on both sides than anyone has a right to be part of, but one man, JS Sutton, was right up front for both of them.  First name on the monument. 

Captain in the 1841 Expedition, Lt. Colonel in the second.  Never got another shot at a third try because he was offed at Valverde.  But he must have been considered an expert on the second because the 1841 group surrendered without firing a shot and got frog-marched barefooted southward across the same route Sutton followed north to his death two decades later.

Sutton was a courageous, interesting man, lived a life I’d call worth living, but couldn’t seem to keep his eye on the dirt where he was standing, and it eventually got him killed.  As far as I’ve ever been able to establish, he was the only man involved in both expeditions.

However, there was a Lockridge [second name on the monument] involved in the 1841 debacle, shot himself while they were camped at Bird’s Battleground near Three Rivers.  Maybe this later Lockridge killed at Valverde was a brother, son, cousin.  Almost certainly kinfolk, in any case.

Some other similarities between the two expeditions involved both commanders spending a lot of their time drunk, generally being logistically ill prepared for the task, and plenty of poor command decisions to help it along.

That second expedition, however, came inches from being a success in the sense of achieving the main objective.  Driving the US Army out of Fort Union.  The secondary objective, Sherrod Hunter driving west, taking and holding Tucson, probably was doomed from the first.  Nobody could have anticipated the California Volunteers marching east with the equipment and numbers they managed.

Hunter’s force of 500 retreated from Tucson early in May, headed back to the Rio Grande with plenty of difficulties with Apache and desertion.  Only twelve of the force, including Hunter, arrived in Mesilla finally in August.

Which left them with one hell-of-a-long trek back to Texas and a long war to fight and lose when they got there.

Old Jules

From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler – Book Review

Hi readers.  I don’t know whether I’ve ever mentioned on this blog that I’m a big admirer of a lot of young adult fiction writers.  Mainly Newbery Award folk because I wouldn’t take a chance on anything else that didn’t come highly recommended.  So, when I found From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler, by EL Konigsberg in a 10 cent basket at the dogpound thrift store in Kerrville, I snagged it.  Same as I’d have done with any Newbery.

I’m glad I did.  Fact is, while I haven’t encountered many books with that award I considered unworthy of the time spent reading them, occasionally I have.  But this one’s from back when writers were writers and readers were glad they were.

The basic plot’s just a brother and sister who decide to run away from home.  But beyond that summary it becomes a reading experience, as opposed to the alternatives too frequently provided in best selling books.

The kids each have talents, each balancing the weaknesses of the other, each recognizing that fact, and the entire plot and characterization orbits it, relies on it.  The brother’s the financial side of things.  The sister’s a planner.

So she plans where two youngers could probably really have gotten by with hiding in 1967 for a couple of weeks without being discovered, without getting bored.  And the brother provides the funds needed to get there with his winnings from cheating at cards on the school bus.

What’s not to like?  Hell, nothing’s not to like.  It’s a fast read, so it leaves the reader with plenty of time to read it twice, which he’ll want to do if he’s an admirer of good, serious wordsmithing manifested in plots, characters and fast moving events.

They hide in the Metropolitan Museum, evade guards, study a sculpting by a master, discovering secrets about it,  and bathe in the fountain at night fishing for coins.

Great read if you aren’t a snob who only reads really good Stevie Ray King, Norbert Robbers and Louis L’Amour.

Old Jules

Waldo – Robert A. Heinlein – Book Review

My first introduction to science fiction came in the Portales Junior High School Library around 1958.  One of the first of the hundreds of Sci-Fi books read over the course of a lifetime was Red Planet, by Robert A. Heinlein.  Probably Keith, one of the readers of this blog, stood beside me in PJHS Library and argued over who’d get to check it out first. 

The library didn’t include a lot to select from and we pored over them all.  Thunder and Roses, by Theodore Sturgeon.  City, by Clifford D. Simak.  The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury.  The Stars are Ours, and Star Born, by Andre Norton. And anything by Robert Heinlein.

Written in 1940, Waldo must have been one of Heinlein’s earliest novels.  By the late 1950s it was still too early to be profound.  Most of the setting, plot, concepts Heinlein visualized in 1940 hadn’t yet come to pass.  Hadn’t made their way into human reality in a form more concrete than a pleasurable indulgence in imagination set to words.  My memories of reading it were vague compared to hundreds of other works by Heinlein and other visionaries who hammered and blasted the new genre into mainstream readership. 

So when Waldo showed up in a box of books in the Saint Vincent de Paul Thrift Store in Kerrville for a dime each and I bought them all, noticing Waldo among them, I was only mildly interested.  Another couple of hours of something to read before dropping off to sleep, I figured.

I was wrong and discovered how wrong I was roughly 20 pages into the book.  Squinted, read and re-read it far past my normal sleep time.  Read it again the next day.  Twice.

Aside from a goodly other phenomena Heinlein described in 1940 that eventually came to pass decades later, he discusses others that haven’t yet made it into mainstream thinking.  One of which includes something I’ve been examining with insane intensity during the past several years, began experimenting with during the late 1990s.  Dropped, partly because of Y2K, partly because the Internet and home computer RAM didn’t yet allow the accumulation and examination of sufficient evidence to arrive anywhere beyond conjecture and assertion.

Thankee, Saint Vincent de Paul Thrift Store.  And thankee Robert Heinlein, particularly for this one.

I keep Waldo close at hand, thumb through it when I’m pondering where things are going as I go through my daily downloading rituals, working my way through the maze to the center. 

You mightn’t, probably won’t be as impressed with this tome as I am.  But I’m betting if you can find it you’ll be more than mildly surprised.  Find yourself asking, “How the hell did Heinlein figure all that out in 1940?

If not, you’ll at least enjoy a fun plot, good characters, a couple of hours of science fiction back when that’s what it was.

Old Jules

Advice and Consent

Good morning readers. Thanks for coming by for a read this morning.

Ring

Me:  Wassat?  The damned telephone?  Where the hell is it?  Ahh!  Under that.  Get off there, cat!

Ring. 

Me:  [scowling.  Into the phone.] This better be good.

Telephone:  Old Jules?

Me:  Who’s asking?

Telephone:  This is George Armstrong Custer MacGruder.  I’m calling for the president.

Me:  President of what?

Telephone:  President of the United States.

Me:  What?  The black guy?  Tell him I don’t vote.

Telephone:  He knows you don’t vote.

Me:  Then why the hell are you calling?

Telephone:  He reads your blog.  Hopes you’ll answer some questions.

Me:  I don’t want some president nosing around in my affairs.  I don’t stick my nose into his business.  He needs take care of whatever it is he does up there.

Telephone:  Nothing he’s tried so far is working.  He’s casting around for ideas.  desperate.

Me:  That’s laudable, anyway.  You’ve got the wrong number.  I don’t have any ideas.  Tell him to take up Zen.  Learn to use the I Ching.

Telephone:  I Ching?

Me:  Yeah.  The Book of Changes.  Chinese.  Divination.  Confucius.  All that.  The John Richard Lynn translation of Wang Bi’s the best one I’ve found.  Yarrow stick method.  Damned coins will throw you off.    Tell him to pay close attention to the changing lines.  You still there?

Telephone:  I’m taking notes.  Sorry.

Me:  Anything else you need?  I’ve got things to do here.

Telephone:  So you’re saying the President needs to consult an oracle?

Me:  You said nothing else is working didn’t you?

Telephone:  Can you think of any other advice you’d like to give the President?

Me:  I don’t give advice.  Except I advise you not to call me again.  I get pissed off sometimes when people bother me.

Telephone:  Could he send you an email?

Me:  As long as he’s not trying to sell anything, persuade me to vote, or ask my advice.

Telephone:  Thanks.

Me:  Sure.  Anytime.

Old Jules

The Mountain Meadows Massacre – Juanita Brooks

I’m re-reading The Mountain Meadows Massacre, by Juanita Brooks at the moment.  Twenty or thirty years ago when I submerged myself in everything I could find about the event I concluded the Brooks work was the best out there.  When it came into my hands again recently I held back beginning it again to savor the anticipation.  Now I’m midway through it again and it’s as fine a piece of research as ever.

Brooks was a Mormon lady, which made the Mountain Meadows Massacre a work of courage on her part.  The LDS church had spent a century suppressing the realities about the mass homicide of an estimated 60-120 men, women, and children of the Fancher wagon train journeying through Utah to California in 1857, by Mormons and members of a tribe of Native Americans.

The event happened at a time when there was plenty of massacre going on across North America, but was unusual for a couple of reasons.  First, because the people involved were Mormons killing Christians, as opposed to Christians killing Mormons, and the motivation wasn’t acquisition of territory belonging to someone else.   Second, because the circumstances surrounding the massacre involved ‘normal’, dutiful, pious people behaving in ways anyone outside the context could only consider far from normal.  Believing the killing was defensively justified and necessary.

Brooks establishes clearly and thoroughly that the heads of the LDS ordered the massacre and that John Lee, who’d been hanged for it and handed full responsibility by the LDS Church, was carrying out those orders.

An excellent read for anyone interested in history, human behavior, duty, and the ability of the human mind to justify anything it applies itself to.

Old Jules

A Side to ‘Freedom’ Worth Considering

Those of us spoiled to a particular concept of freedom and the fear it’s coming unravelled might be well served to read Papillon once in a while.  I didn’t mention it in my review of it here, but I should have:  Papillon.

From one perspective the entire book is about freedom of a sort we, confined to our mental boxes containing what freedom is, refuse to acknowledge exists, can exist, for ourselves and those around us.  It’s the story by Henri Charriere of his own life, searching and occasionally finding that kind of freedom while trapped in an environment few slaves in history could match for savagery endured.  A deliberate, carefully devised savagery imposed by a modern, civilized nation.

A nation, I’ll add, not too unlike our own.

But what I intended to say about Papillon this post is one of the corner-of-the-eye aspects of freedom and Charriere’s finding of it during the most trying of times.  Once when he was in solitary confinement so severe as to be intended to drive him insane, to break him, destroy him.  Another when he was confined to a boat with other escapees mid-ocean.

These shreds of rhetorical freedom we savor can be unravelled like a wool sweater with a touch of pen to paper.  The freedom Charriere describes are immune to confiscation.   But they’re the responsibility of each of us to find within ourselves.  Nobody’s capable of giving them to us by signing a paper.  We can’t win them by force of arms by storming a Bastille, or Winter Palace.

The winds of history are eroding away those easy freedoms written on parchment and signed into some illusion of reality for most of the citizenry.  That’s happening and there aren’t any heroes likely to ride in on white horses, nor White Houses to save them. 

But we don’t have to allow ourselves the anguish of loss.  A piece of each of us lives outside the rules and the rule-makers, the savages, the rapacious Viking kings of government and finance.

Maybe the starting place for finding real freedom requires losing the illusion that Viking kings can give it to us and take it away.

Choose Something Like a Star

 

 Choose Something Like a Star

by Robert Frost – 1947

O Star (the fairest one in sight),
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud –
It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.
Some mystery becomes the proud.
But to be wholly taciturn
In your reserve is not allowed.

Say something to us we can learn
By heart and when alone repeat.
Say something! And it says “I burn.”
But say with what degree of heat.
Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade.
Use language we can comprehend.
Tell us what elements you blend.

It gives us strangely little aid,
But does tell something in the end.
And steadfast as Keats’ Eremite,
Not even stooping from its sphere,
It asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.

It isn’t as though you have a more favorable alternative.

Old Jules

Graham Greene – The Heart of the Matter – Book Review

[With the exception of Brighton Rock] I’ve never read a book by Graham Greene I didn’t consider worth tucking away for at least one future reading.  I encountered The Heart of the Matter too late in life to feel any confidence I’ll live long enough to enjoy this one again, but that’s the result of the aging process, not the book.  It will be there with the others still waiting if I kick before I get around to it again.

Set in an imaginary West African British colony early during WWII, The Heart of the Matter is vaguely reminiscent of  Maugham’s Ashenden series in some ways, Of Human Bondage, in others, with a touch of Heart of Darkness thrown in for seasoning.  Scobie, the aging, passed-over-for-promotion Deputy Commissioner of Police, is the primary character and the only European character in the book who loves Africa and wants nothing more than to remain there his entire life.

However, his wife, Louise, hates it, bludgeons him with his lack of upward mobility, harnesses his kindness and determination to avoid causing her pain even though there’s no love left between them, and tortures him with guilt.  She frequently declares tearfully he doesn’t love her and draws his assurances, “Of course I love you.”

The native population loves his unique respect and fairness in the execution of his duties whenever the individuals are not involved in crime.  When they are involved they despise him for identical reasons.  The Indian and Syrian merchants and Neutral Nation Shipping and Smuggling concerns mostly just would rather he could be bribed or tricked into seeming to be vulnerable to bribes.

Through this tightening stricture of War, Colonial idiosyncracies, needy personal relationships, and intrigue Greene threads Scobie’s strait-jacketed life along a complex and interesting plot worthy of far more well-known and durable writers.

I’d suggest readers who’ve only been exposed to Brighton Rock might find themselves surprised to discover in The Heart of the Matter that Greene is a writer they want more of.  Same as so many other of Greene’s works.

Old Jules

Greg Bear – The Forge of God – Book Review

Greg Bear gave himself a hefty job of work for this 473 page tome.  The subject is the arrival of aliens on the surface of the earth, the gradual discovery of their motive to ‘eat’ the planet, and the reactions of science and politicos as the realization becomes certainty.

In some ways the internal plotting resembles Heinlein’s, The Puppet Masters, in others, Larry Niven’s, Lucifer’s Hammer.  However, if you’re a reader who finds himself studying the characterization as the author develops it, the tool used in furthering the plot, you might find this one a bit annoying.

Although Greg Bear’s handling of the plot requires the introduction of a lot of characters for the reader to attempt to keep track of, he does a fairly craftsman-like job.  He’s obviously aware of the problem and uses a lot of internal plotting to provide the reader with anchors of segment  for each of them to assist.  If he hadn’t been a workmanlike writer he’d never have succeeded as well as he did, which isn’t to say he succeeded completely.  Greg Bear’s skill at characterization kept the work from becoming a complete disaster.

The plot develops rather slowly, and to keep the interest of the reader the author introduces a number of not-often-used event features as crucial pieces of his plot.  This served in my instance to keep me determined to finish the book. 

The concepts Greg Bear introduces are compelling enough to cause me to pause in the reading about 2/3 of the way through to allow some digestion of it all before continuing.  There was no temptation to leave it alone after a day, but I found when I returned I found I already had to reorient myself, reacquaint myself with the individuals connected to names among his multitude of characters, briefly re-study which sub-plot I’d absented myself from when I stopped to contemplate what he was doing.

I believe authors could gain a lot of benefit by carefully studying Bear’s handling of a complex plot broken constantly by updating internal, brief sub-plots, and constant shuffling a population of characters within.  Before reading the book I might have thought it was an impossible task.  After reading it I’d conclude it was merely improbable in a Tolstoyesque sort of way.

I’ve pondered how he might have done it better, considering the task he set for himself, and haven’t thought of any way it could have been done without removing some of the sub-plots, which he’d made essential to the overall plot development.  A trap he’s too competent an author to have caught himself in unaware.

Too busy might be how I’d describe the book, but still compelling enough to cause the reader to work hard to struggle through.  At least some patient readers.

Old Jules