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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Mark Twain Autobiography

The new Autobiography of Mark Twain is a whopper. It weighs a ton. All 800 pages..... but in any case the subject was known for telling whoppers. And a wonderfully skewed and satirical sense of humor.
As you may know, Twain wanted his writings on his own life to be unpublished for a hundred years after his death. The team of "friends," that published this monster, took numerous pages to explain Twains complicated reasoning for his 'don't publish till death wish." Then, on top of all this, Twain did not believe a chronological life story was the way to go. Another fifty pages by the editors, were required to unravel this convoluted reasoning . Then there were the several authors whose previous biographies of Twain violated his wishes on this subject and using his voluminous notes and discarded autobiographical attempts published anyway. The editors of the current biography required much tut tuting and footnotes to show why the previous authors had screwed up. I figure about half the book is comprised of this kind of editorial gobbledegook. All of that might possibly appeal to those in depth literary experts and analysts who make a career of deciphering hieroglyphics and the like. Not for me though. I ended up skipping thru most of it.
Now as to what Twain actually wrote himself, it's as you might expect wonderfully interesting. I had to laugh out loud (lol) many times and then read it to my spouse who kept on giving me that "so what’s so funny look." There is much here in the way of little anecdotes and short sketches of people, famous and not so famous, that the author knew. Is the book worth purchasing? For the average reader, like myself, probably not. The parts that I read and really enjoyed I got from the book which was obtained at the public library. I reasons why I skipped about half of this book , I’ve already explained. I think Mark Twain might have chuckled at that.....

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Pacific

The Pacific by Hugh Ambrose was written as a companion to the HBO series of the same name. Ambrose follows five Marines to trace the character of the Pacific War. The vast and complex nature of that part of WWII makes the effort to give it depth, continuity and the personal touch to it much more difficult than the authors father faced when he described the European part of the war, by following a company of the 101st Airborne from training ground to victory. I rate this book "good" rather than excellent. The narrow scope of the narrative makes it difficult to follow the big picture....but to be fair it wasn’t supposed to do that anyway. Guadalcanal, Midway, Peleliu, Tarawa, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, etc. was war, which is always ugly and brutal, at it's very worst. The Japanese invariably chose death over surrender, offering no quarter. They did not accept any of the restraints of the Geneva Convention. The Marines often were forced to respond in kind. Take a look at a few pictures from the battle of Iwo Jima.... then and now.

Mount Suribachi overlooks the landing beaches. During the battle for Iwo Jima, Mt Suribachigave the defending Japanese forces a perfect vantage point from which to direct lethalartillery fire on the Marines' hastily dug positions on the beach.
Futatsune Beach, today known by visiting Marines as Invasion Beach, is where on19 February 1945, the Marines landed on D-Day of the invasion of Iwo Jima. This picturewas taken from near the top of Mt. Suribachi. Forward Observer's dream!
Marines race across the beach to experience a fraction of the experiences the Marines whofought for Iwo Jima might have had on D-Day of the Battle. The major difference betweentoday and 1945 is that today no one is shooting at them!
The guide for this trip asked the Marines to rush this dune to get an idea of what the Marineswho took Iwo Jima faced. Every step you take up, you slide down and into the dune. Youhave to work hard to get to the top. Imagine doing it with 100 lbs on your back while beingshot at and artillery raining down on you.
At this place at that time "uncommon valor was a common virtue." Admiral Nimitiz

Saturday, December 4, 2010


No, it’s not War & Peace, although not happily married Patty identifies with Natasha. The enemy is not at the city gates of Moscow, yet there is an "enemy" that lurks within. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen is a rare best seller in the old tradition of classic nineteenth century novels. It has both style and substance. I believe Freedom does compare favorably with all those classic novels of the past. The book is a family socio-cultural tale that begins slowly and then draws you deeply into the hearts and minds of four people who struggle with their own versions of freedom. This serves to not only illuminate the society we now live in but also provides numerous opportunities for self examination. What could be worth more than a book that can help a reader look more closely into their own values and ideals? Some years ago, I’d given up hope on most contemporary American novelists. This was because I felt many history and biography authors had replaced them in terms of both quality of writing and substance. In the last fifty years, with few exceptions, American novels have diverged into those which have won critical acclaim and those which made the best seller lists. Franzen, the best American novelist of the 21st century (so far), has given me some hope for the future. Of course, their still is the disgracefully degrading and overwhelming mass impact of television on our culture....but that’s a subject for another day.For another bloggers wonderfully thoughtful outlook on freedom (both the concept and the book)you might find the following link interesting.....