Saturday, February 13, 2016

How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee by Bart D. Ehrman

Another fascinating book by Ehrman who, like me, is agnostic and was once "born again". I love his history and the facts that he garnered as a minister, clergy, educator. His realization that the stories and the God concepts do not hold together has not diminished his curiosity and his search for historical perspective. 

Religion is fascinating because we encounter it everywhere driving behavior or more likely justifying behavior. One religion demonizes the next, but in fact has no stronger claim. In fact religion is simply a belief in god that is expressed through choosing from 100s of options (including 100s within the existing primary religions).

The very Tower of Babel of conflicting views is enough to confuse any earnest believer, but it is through this morass that the author seeks to figure out how the preacher in Galilee became a god and when. Of course the search is thorough and takes us to dates, writings, and people who have disappeared from common knowledge, but in the end the answer is not certain and promises to not be certain in the future either.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Hemingway The Paris Years by Michael Reynolds

Hemingway in Paris is more than a companion to Shakespeare and Company and A Moveable Feast, it is almost the essential Hemingway book.  Reynold's amazed me with the details and the understanding that cover these years of writing that could be called the apprenticeship.  It details the difficulty of the writer in getting his voice and getting it published.

It is insightful in diagnosing writing and also the writer.  Hemingway is a mix of a good-time companion and a vicious antagonist.  He goes through friends with abandon and seldom recognizes the aid that the Lost Generation Parisians gave him.  Or rather, he used their help, and then because of his own strained sense of who he was, he turned on them.  He did not end friendships easily, he burnt them.

His wife was tremendously supportive, but the new life, like the new book will demand a new wife - lover.  It was appalling to see how Hemingway's psychosis could turn him to a brute.  It is hard to like him, but at the same time it was apparent that there was a mental condition that he could not control.  Like a contemporary - Edith Piaf - he was self destructive, but it was the people around him that would be harmed.  Like Edith, he rose from the ashes, but neither of them could really grasp what was true and worth thanking as they gave themselves to their art.

The love of war, bullfights, boxing, and drinking are all here.  As is his writing and rewriting, the help of Fitztgerald on two primary works, and the bitterness he had towards Ford Madox Ford for reasons no one could understand.

He was a prime player in the Lost Generation - Pound, Stein, Joyce, Dos Passos, Fitzgerald, MacLeish, Eliot and all the characters of the Paris scene move through the chapters.  They appear and disappear as they have been used up.

Insights into writing are liberally sprinkled in the text and a person wanting to write will do well to see what they are and how they were applied to Hemingway's work.   The text displays his short stories and then transitions to his novels which is the turning point in his career.  But through events that should have been happy, there is the demon that stalks his mind and mood and threatens to eventually overtaken Ernest - something that will take decades, but it will happen.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

American Nomads: Travels with Lost Conquistadors, Mountain Men, Cowboys, Indians, Hoboes, Truckers, and Bullriders

American Nomads by Richard Grant
's review 
Jan 23, 16  ·  edit

really liked it
Read in January, 2016

Richard Grant has a way of ingratiating himself with people on every status level and uses that to great success so that readers can vicariously travel the west in railroad cars, campers, and trucks with people who would scare the S--- out of them if encountered in some wild open place.

Rodeo riders looking to win the big prize so they can squander the money on booze and "Belt Bunnies", Hobos,tramps and other rail riders as well as the organized gangs that prey on these riders, A-campers - the alcoholics and derelicts that camp off the main area of Rainbow Gatherings, but get assistance when they need it. There are senior nomads in their expensive RVs, and historic wanderers like Joseph Walker, the underestimated Mountain Man who may have been the greatest of them all.

From Montana to Arizona there is a culture of Nomadism, but the story starts in Florida and the early Spanish expedition that spawned the wanderings of Cabeza de Vaca.

The wanderings are fascinating, but the conclusions are loose and not particularly enlightening. It is just a good read with great characters - including the author.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Wrestling with the Angel - Edith Rylander

An engaging book of poetry. The images are straight from the heart and the country. Edith has a feeling for the Earth and, in this book, aging. There is human, sadness, and insight. The poet's husband, a retired writer and professor is also a subject for insights and I can see John as she writes - 
The thing is, the old guy in the familiar chair
Harumphing over the news 
Is a couple of inches shorter now.
(The gravities of living
Beat us all down.)

And I can see myself and other men as we shrink over time and still grasp for our place in the world. There are national and local events that invade the peace of their rural landscape and we all benefit from the sharp wit and insights that Edith shares. 

"Onto the pedestal that supports Big Ole.
Twenty-six feet of Viking Warrior, executed
In bright, weather resistant plastic.
Big Ole gazes out watchfully over the quiet streets
Of this modest Midwestern city, 
Spear at the ready."
from the Horsebone Sofa.

Humor invades the day to day choices and frustrations like this portion of the poem - At The END - that describes the endless battle between humans and some of natures relentless players like ants.
Hunkered like regulars leaning on a bar,They circle their drop of golden death, and guzzle
Their bellies full, then take it home to the hill.
They are sociable and industrious. They share
What I have poured from my skull-and-Cross-boned-bottle,
Till all have tasted, Then they come no more.

And of course every poem has layers of meaning beyond the obvious. Discover this poet!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

That Summer in Paris by Morley Callaghan

As a follow up to Shakespeare and Company by Sylvia Beach and A Moveable Feast by Hemingway, this completes a set - each perspective a little different, but the players the same - at least the major ones.  Callaghan does not make it into the other two books, but his role and interactions with Scott and Hemingway are fascinating and his insights into the Paris scene add to my overall impression of this creative age.

I am glad to discover Callaghan who is Canadian and therefore does not get as much attention, but it is the subtle personalities and insecurities of the Two Great American Authors that really makes the book valuable.

It is a memoir and as such has most value to those of us curious about these individuals what the muse was that had them revolving around Joyce, Stein, Ford, and other lesser known, but important figures.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Shakespeare and Company - Sylvia Beach


I know of  know institution in Paris that captures the Lost Generation - Hemingway, Joyce, Eliot, Stein, MacLeish, and Fitzgerald - than this small bookstore and the memoir of the bookstore by Sylvia Beach who owned and operated it is a classic peak into that era and literature.
Monnier in front of Shakespeare and Company

Sylvia Beach inside Shakespeare and CO. 
Across the street from Monnier's French bookshop Sylvia had a friend and partner in the book trade.  They collaborated and brought together the artistic stars of their era. Shakespeare and Company sold books, but it seems that the primary importance was serving as a subscription lending library.   For a fee customers could take home and read and enjoy the books without buying them.

Writers, like Hemingway, used this library service to hone their skills, study style and words, and educate themselves.  Each of those "Customer - client - friends" is featured in this book and their portrait  provides and excellent insight.

But the most engaging effort was the publication of James Joyce book - Ulysses.  Beach published no other book, but this was an effort that for love, not for money - Joyce burnt through all the money that came in for the book.  James Joyce has a special place throughout the book and this complex Irish Writer comes through the simple, but insightful short essays that serve as chapters.

James Joyce

Rawhide Justice - Max Brand

I have to read 2 -3 westerns a year for relaxation and nostalgia. Most Westerns follow a formula that is predictable, but still fun. In Rawhide Justice Brand created an unusual set of characters and tweaks the formula to make a very enjoyable storyline. A hero who is slim and wiry instead of muscular, who carries a rope instead of a gun, and a number of amoral characters who spice the book up. There are gypsies, a jailbreak,horses, and a set of three challenges that the hero - Reata must face. Like Hercules he must take a different tact to solve and survive each.

It is a clever story and despite the fact that it could never be considered great literature, it was still engaging.  Max Brand's most famous book and one I really enjoyed too was Destry Rides Again which was made into a movie.  Frederick Faust was a prolific writer who published over 500 books and 300 hundred of them were under the Pen Name - Max Brand. 

Born in Seattle (1892), Faust moved to the San Joaquin Valley California at a young age where he became orphaned and raised by High School Principal Thomas Downey.  Downey introduced him to classical literature which added to the romantic adventure books he had been devouring and influenced how he would eventually write. 

In 1921 he developed a heart condition that threatened his life.  A contemporary and competitor with Zane Grey, he was able to be independent in style - the Grey formula was not yet set for the genre - and yet, in pursuit of lifestyle he also followed Grey - lavish spending, acquiring lots of showy items and finding both a wife and a set of lovers. 

His Westerns were turned in to Tom Mix movies and his doctor series under another pseudonym was the source of a series of Dr Kildare movies.  He died as a War Correspondent in Italy in 1944.  

Monday, September 14, 2015

Ty Cobb - A Terrible Beauty by Charles Leerhsen

I read this to learn more about the first of the modern era superstars (Cap Anson had been the deadball era superstar). In my brain Cobb would be followed by Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Mays, Aaron, McGwire, and Bonds as the icons of their age.

But I soon found that there was a second story that was just as fascinating.  If Cobb was not quite the monster that was in the movie and if he was not the man who was featured in the previous biography, how did we swallow this myth?  Why did we believe it?

The book does tell about Cobb's life, especially his baseball career, but it also lets us in on a secret that has been kept for decades - Al Stump, the previous biographer was a liar.

He lied in many ways throughout his life and as Leershsen tries to fact check the Stump story he finds that one lie leads to another and then another.  Stump saw gold in the lies he told and he also got fame.  His follow up article in True Magazine got him his biggest pay day and added layers of lies to what he had already written.

The difficult and well handled truth of this biography is that Ty Cobb was not particularly lovable.  He was complex and he did have a hair trigger temper, but he was not the racist, killer, spike sharpening ghoul that many of us had been taught.

His popularity was up and down with the fans and the other players like Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez, but his play on the field was always intense and it was a style that no one else has had, except maybe Rickey Henderson.  It was a psychological style of intimidation on the bases.  Henderson had this too and unnerved many pitcher and player, but he could not get on base like Cobb, a .366 lifetime average.

Cobb played against Ruth and lived to see the long ball take over.  It was hard for him to accept the change, but that is true of many of us "old-timers".

Through the biography you will meet many of the stars and characters of the early stage of modern baseball and it is a fascinating and well written journey.

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

David McCullough just demonstrated how little I knew about these two important brothers and their unknown sister.  Almost everyone remembers that they made bikes and flew the first flight at a place called Kittyhawk.  And that is all most of us know.

But there was much more to their story than waking up and telling each other, lets build a flying machine.   They did research, they connected with the leading men in the small aviation world, and they did prototypes and gliders.

They not only built a plane, they also learned how to fly.  They used gliders to hone their skill and they build small scale wind tunnels to test ideas.  These men were engineers and scientists as well as the first pilots.

Then the big moment happens and the first reaction in the US was a yawn, but this did not discourage them.  They believed in what they were doing and even though they had to travel to France to get the encouragement they needed and some financial reward, they knew that eventually the US would discover and act on their work.

Their persistence with their own time and their own money to build this plane was amazing and well documented in a McCullough classic.  No write today does research better than this author and the writing is so clear and factual that you finish the book feeling like you know the subject.

Well organized and thorough, flight is the fourth character in this book, its early history and people like Langely who headed the Smithsonian and had lots of money and resources, but was secretive and did not share with the brothers and Octave Chanute, born in Paris, an American Civil Engineer, who did encourage and share his knowledge are part of the flight story.

Wilbur and Orville Wright almost come out as one character.  They were so close and stayed that way, unmarried except to their project, we start to see the subtle differences in the two dedicated men.

And ultimately the cast of characters will have the man they hired to run the shop and do their mechanical engineering as well as the sister who takes a prominent role after the flight.

The final important character is their father, the bishop, who is in the background of the story, yet is the key to the inspiration through a toy he gave the boys when they were young.

Great read and