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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Flight Behavior

Sometimes there are good fiction authors I've overlooked.  My excuses include my belief that American fiction hit a decline several decades ago to be surpassed by history and biography. Historical fiction did keep pace though. The name Barbara Kingsolver was not unknown to me because many of my friends, blogging and otherwise, had mentioned her.  I knew she was popular with many female readers and not favored by the elitist critics. The same type who don’t like historians who become wildly popular. Hmmm.

I read  my first and her latest,  Flight Behavior.  Her writing is full of striking analogies, glowing adjectives and is very  evocative. Yes, the book centers around the misunderstandings of social class , culture and the facts and the ignorance surrounding  climate change.  In other words,  it would get a bad review on cable if anybody on Fix News read anything other than Ayn Rand (assuming they read anything at all)
Kingsolver has a background in science which she seamlessly combines with wonderful prose. There aren’t many who can do that.  The story revolves  around the struggles  of a young Appalachian woman on the brink of fleeing from a unfulfilling marriage and the flight of Monarch butterflies. displaced from their winter home in Mexico by climate change. The flights, both personal and ecologically based, bring readable science and intriguing characters to the forefront.  This is a book with a good heart. I loved it….

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Mrs. T , friends Steve, Jewel and I took in the much talked about Spielberg film Lincoln recently. Starring Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones and a host of other well known actors, the film focuses on the period shortly after Lincoln’s reelection in January 1865.   Lincoln  knows that the North is going to win the war and is already focusing on “binding up the nations wounds” and making sure slavery is no more forever and ever.   Three commissioners from the Confederacy head up to Washington City, and Lincoln is confident that he could have their surrender within a week. But before that can happen, he is driven to pass the 13th Amendment, which would outlaw slavery. The Democrats hate the amendment, and even Lincoln's  Republican comrades want him to delay the vote. Only Lincoln grasps the stakes: that once the Civil War is over, the amendment won't pass — it will be blocked by the Southern states. Winning the war could prove a Pyrrhic victory. Only by threading the amendment through the eye of a legislative needle can he alter the course of history. Thus the film is really the story of an often overlooked side of Lincoln – his political genius. For those who have read Doris Kearns Goodwins  wonderful book, A Team of Rivals  this is old news and the film is partly based on that book. 
Daniel Day Lewis was Lincoln just a Merly Streep could be Julia Childs or Margaret Thatcher. Oddly enough though, it was the old detective and hard boiled crime stopper Tommy Lee Jones who astonished me as abolishonist Thadeous Stevens . Sally Fields was also spot on as Mary Todd Lincoln.
This is a great film of ideas.  It clearly has current relevance given our presently divided nation and government. I highly recommend it.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Setting The World Ablaze

Book Review: SETTING THE WORLD ABLAZE: WASHINGTON, ADAMS, AND JEFFERSON AND THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION (by John Ferling).  Professor John Ferling is  considered one of the a top experts on the American Revolution. He  teaches at a college in Georgia. His account of that time naturally attracted my interest as I do love American History. 
John Ferling provides an  insightful portrait of three men who led the rebellion of the American colonies against Great Britain. Ferling compares and contrasts Washington with John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, providing  an interesting case study of the factors that enabled a few remarkable men to go with the flow of  history and ultimately shape it.
Comparative history humanizes and adds depth to historical figures. The authors scholarly approach (think footnotes et. all.) to his subject  might remind one of the old school, boring,  approach to historical writing but Ferling overcomes this tendency with an evocative and dramatic writing style.  Washington comes across, not as an icon but as a living breathing human being, who has a few less than perfect points and lot of goods ones.
Not so much for Jefferson. Ferling had one thing good to say about him: the man could write. And that's about it. He was a lousy leader, a self indulgent  and rich Virginia planter, he was a racist who pretended to be otherwise.

And then there's Adams. Ferling's thesis here was that Adams, while ambitious,  did everything in his power to assure the independence of the colonies. I do think this book goes a long way to reinforce the impression many people got from reading  David McCulloughs Pulitzer Prize winning biography on John Adams. That is to say, that Adams supremely important role in the American Revolution had been vastly underrated and largely ignored.
I found this book to be a very honest a fascinating read…..

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Faith of St. Nick

As we approach the beginning of the Advent Season, I just finished reading  The Faith of St. Nick: An Advent Devotional by Ann Nichols.   Ann is a fellow blogger whose unusual and always interesting blog ( focuses on the history of St. Nicholas (a.k.a.), Santa Claus and the many beautiful Greek Orthodox churches throughout the world dedicated to him. Which brings me back to the his faith.
The day by day  devotional tells the story of   the life and faith of the man who was Nicholas of Myra.  Known and revered thoughout Christianity this  man of great faith this iconic figure became the  role model for Santa Claus.   Each days topic includes scripture, history of the saints life and devotions. It is readable for children and would be especially great for parents to read to or with their children.  Think Christmas gifts as Mrs. T and I did....

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Longest Trip Home

Looking for something I hadn’t read in our small town library I ran across a book by John Grogan titled The Longest Way Home.  You remember John Grogan the author of the memorable Marley and Me. Followed up by the movie of the same name starring Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston. This book has to be good, I thought. And so it was…

It turned out not to  be a book about another dog. Instead, it was a family memoir, anecdotal and at the same time heart rending, funny, and deeply moving. Grogan grew up in a deeply pre-Vatican II Irish/ Catholic family, along with three siblings. Grogan was the family brat who get into constant trouble (think lovable Marley). He was trying to be a loyal son while slowly heading down his own lifes path of vocations and opinion.   That is to say he  evolved from apathetic student to anti-establishment underground newspaper editor and found his calling with the encouragement of a high school English teacher. Ultimately, his parents' religious dream for their children created a rift. Grogan failed to share their strict Catholic faith - Sundays were for sleeping in, sex before marriage didn't condemn him to damnation - and finally stops hiding that fact. They tried to avoid the subject, but the religion that bound the young John to his parents separated the adult John from them. The "trip home" in the title described his attempts to cross that divide, with a satisfying result.   This is a great story of how the author painfully redefines his relationship with his parents and copes with their aging. But best of all, his stories of their unconditional love despite his abundant youthful mischief is very satisfying This isn't Marley, the sequel. It's about life before Marley, life in the 1960s and 1970s and how that shaped life in all the decades that have followed.

Not having been raised in a Catholic household I found some of the anecdotes  hard to believe. But then what did I know?  Many of the events of the 60’s and 70’s left me as puzzled as my parents. Coming from a more liberal Protestant tradition some of the social/cultural  changes of that era seemed more natural and necessary. Grogans book though reminded that in the end the tie that binds the best is that of family….